The Ring of the Queen

Part I

"A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache."

-Catherine the Great

"You know, your mother would probably have a stroke," Dr. Al said to me as I sat in the garage of my grandmother's house.

I knew that he was referring to the bottle of Corona that I was drinking. I know I was only 17 at the time, but I'd had a really rough year. Forget the fact that my grandma's death was the third so far, after my dad and brother. I also had discovered that my boyfriend was gay. At the moment that Dr. Al found me drinking a beer in the garage after my grandma's funeral, the least of my worries was what my mom might think.

Dr. Al was actually Dr. Alfred Dalton. I'd known him my whole life. He was a history professor at Manchester College, or Manchester University, depending on your familiarity with the institution. The name had changed, but I'd been around my whole life and still referred to it as a college. I'd gone to school with Dr. Al's daughter, Penny, up until that year. She was a year older than me and she'd gone off to college at Purdue to get away from home. Dr. Al was a portly older man, who'd been all over the world with students studying history. He and my grandma had always been friends, because they both loved Russian history. Because of that, I'd probably known him even better than I knew his daughter.

"I think I've earned a drink," I replied. If only he knew it wasn't my first beer that day. "I guess the good news is that it should be over."

"What are you talking about?" Dr. Al replied.

"They say that deaths come in threes. I would think that after dad, grandma and Alex it would be over, right?"

But I forgot to say what was making me so depressed about it. First, my family is from a tiny town in Indiana that goes by the name of North Manchester. My grandfather was a farmer there and my grandma's house was the place that she bought after grandpa died of a heart attack. She still didn't like the city, so it sat on the edge of town along State Highway 13 where she could look at the farms across the way, but didn't have to maintain one. Smart move when you think about it. My parents lived in Servia, a sort of a town that was actually on the edge of North Manchester. It was hard to believe that there was indeed a smaller town than North Manchester. My dad and Alex worked at the truck factory in Fort Wayne. There were no longer any farmers in my family.

Things were fine until recently. It was February when Alex and my dad were both killed in an explosion at the factory. I'm not even sure what exactly happened. I figured that I would understand it more later. The report said that a boiler exploded, but I wasn't even sure what a boiler was. I was numb at the time that I heard the news, and I couldn't comprehend much. It was a real shock. My mother was a mess from that moment on. So, for the last three months, I'd been her caretaker. She was pretty much crackers without my dad, and I don't know how to help someone cope with the loss of a child. Pretty much for the last few months I'd been nothing but a last salvation for my mother. I felt like I was suffocating, because she'd decided that nothing should happen to me, and was dead set on personally making sure that nothing did happen to me. She was crazy overprotective at this point, and I didn't want to be within 50 miles of the overbearing person who was once my mom.

Most of my life I had spent a lot of time with grandma. She was pretty much my best friend. My mom had always been jealous, and complained about me being at grandma's all the time. After my dad and Alex died, however, she started insisting that I stay home with her more. She actually decided that I should never leave her side. I was 17 years old, not 7 years old, and didn't want anything to do with that.

Shortly after my dad and Alex died I had the next blow to my psyche. I remember when I found my boyfriend of three years, Virgil, making out with a wrestler after a meet one night. My mom was the last person that I wanted to talk to about that one. She was really self involved after dad and Alex died, and I understood that. I wanted to talk to grandma about the whole thing, even though finding out about it explained a lot of what I'd known was wrong with our relationship. I was so mad at Virgil that I didn't know what I should think about it all. I wanted to go and talk to grandma and mom wouldn't let me. I wanted to punch her right in the face. It took some time, but eventually I got to talk to grandma and she made me see things a little more clearly. Now Virgil was pretty much my best friend and it made sense to me. Grandma had a way of making sense of things for me.

After that, Virgil helped me cope with the deaths of Alex and dad, and everything was fine until the day that grandma died.

"Where is mom, anyway?" I asked Dr. Al.

"She's running around inside making sure that everyone is comfortable and well fed," he

replied.

"Sounds about right," I said.

Virgil came up and handed me another beer. He looked over and saw the same judgmental look on Dr. Al's face that I did. "You won't tell, will you? She's had a rough few months, and just because she isn't 21 yet, doesn't mean that she doesn't deserve a beer at a time like this."

Dr. Al didn't say much at that point. He shook his head and went back into the house.

Virgil sat for a while and didn't say much. We'd always had a good relationship, but by the time I'd found out about his preferences I'd really known that we were destined to be good friends. He was probably more effeminate than me, particularly since I was such a tomboy. Most guys saw me as one of them more than one of the girls. I couldn't help it. I didn't like dresses or heels or make up or getting my nails done. It just wasn't me. I was much more at home in a hoodie and jeans with boots or sneakers on. It was just who I was.

"So, what's going on in that head of yours?" Virgil asked.

"I'm trying not to ask what else could happen, because I don't want karma to kick in and let me know the answer."

"Fair enough. So, does this mean that you have to stay with your mom forever and never have a life of your own?"

I took a swig of my beer. "God only knows."