The Rubies saga actually begins in present day Duluth in 1991 when Kaja’s granddaughter is seeking psychiatric help for a nervous breakdown. She begins our story by telling Gregg Phillips, her psychiatrist, that she and her entire family are living under a curse which was placed upon her grandmother.
Phillips is skeptical of any such things but listens intently as we go back in time to Kaja’s story.
Rubies reverts back to the present day In subsequent chapters as Stacey reveals her story and that of her family to Gregg Phillips.
Today in our Rubies installment we’re going to see a touch of Stacey’s relationship with Gregg Phillips as well as the revelation of the character of Marty, Kaja’s daughter with Hans Berglund.
To recap our story thus far, you will recall that Kaja Ericsen came from Norway to America in 1913 to build a new life. She left two daughters in Norway as a temporary measure to establish her life and then send for them. Her employer, Hans Berglund, is a widower with two children, William and Sophia.
Unfortunately, things don’t go as Kaja has planned when she is raped by Hans and forced to marry him and have his child.
Kaja has a little girl with Hans and then conceives another child, a boy. The little girl, Marty, is burned by hot grease when she is eighteen months old and when Hans refuses to hospitalize the child she becomes terribly scarred. Kaja then conceives another child by Hans, a boy who succumbs to pneumonia shortly after his birth. Kaja’s bitterness towards Hans never leaves her even when he dies when Marty is four years old.
William loves Kaja and thinks of her as his mother but Sophia hates Kaja and blames for her father’s death. When Hans dies, Kaja is left penniless and must now survive with her daughter, Marty. Out of sheer frustration Kaja remarries in the hope of returning to Norway for her two daughters. That hope vanishes when her youngest daughter Janna dies from a ruptured appendix while she and her sister Marty are living in an orphanage in Norway.
Kaja receives a devastating letter from Mary where she breaks all ties with Kaja and refuses to ever see her mother again.
Kaja moves on with her life married to Christian Johnson and raising her daughter Marty. All through her childhood and into her teenage years Marty is afraid of ridicule because of her scarred arms and missing teeth. It’s only William who befriends the child and becomes her protector. She loves him dearly and is crushed when he leaves home to join the Navy.
Kaja then discovers her own heart has been weakened from the rheumatic fever she had as a child. She can no longer take care of herself and Marty is forced to quit school to look after her mother. Marty is elated by the turn of events. She hates school and is glad to out from under the scrutiny of other teenagers.
The Present Duluth 1991 – An introduction to Gregg Phillips as Stacey begins her sessions
The clock struck two and Phillips’ office door opened. A tall Hispanic boy walked through the doorway, followed closely by a middle-aged man.
Just under six feet, Gregg Phillips was several inches shorter than his patient. Though his thick black hair was highlighted by streaks of gray, his full-face beard was tinged by only one small patch on the side. His white shirt was unbuttoned at the neck, his tie loosened slightly at the collar. The turned up cuffs on his shirt emphasized his casual style, but it was easy to see his designer clothing was carefully coordinated and meticulously tailored. Phillips was in his late forties, yet his slim physique was minus the paunch usually predominant in a man his age.
“Set up another appointment for Ramon, Miss Shaffer.”
Phillips gestured towards the Hispanic boy. Then he turned towards Stacey, extending his hand. “Nice to see you again, Stacey. Why don’t you go into my office and make yourself comfortable?”
Phillips joined Ramon at the desk and placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder, escorting him into the corridor.
Stacey stepped into Phillips’ office and quickly sat down on the sofa. She knew better than to venture close to the window and risk another fiasco like last week.
She glanced around the room thinking the office was as warm as Phillips seemed to be. The cozy replica of a living room was arranged at one end while an immaculate walnut desk stood at the other. Seeing Gregg Phillips with another patient intrigued her. Perhaps he was unique: a man of his word.
Phillips joined her quickly and, as he did at their two previous sessions, he sat in the leather chair directly across from her. He casually crossed his leg over his knee. His thoughts, however, were on the previous week’s conversation with his patient.
“In lieu of hospitalization, I’m going to prescribe an antidepressant which I think is necessary at this time.”
She’d silently ripped the prescription from his hand.
“Stacey, depression is an illness just as real as any other illness. Once you’ve taken the medication and are physically rested, we can effectively deal with the problems that are causing you so much anxiety.”
She’d turned away from his gaze. ”I have to stay in control. Anything else would be too much of a risk.”
Today eyeing his patient, Phillips noticed she appeared relaxed and alert. He hoped that meant she was taking the medication, but assumed nothing.
“You’re looking much better, Stacey. Did you get some rest this week?”
Her dimpled cheeks accented her smile. “I would have called if there was a problem.”
He raised a brow. She almost seemed to be toying with him but still her smile never reached her eyes.
“And the medication?”
She squirmed in her seat for a moment, and then laughed softly. “Yes, doctor, I’m taking the meds.”
Last week it was desperation he saw in her eyes, but today she was different. He wasn’t sure if it was hostility he sensed or a facade of confidence designed to overshadow the previous week’s hysteria. In either case, he cautioned himself not to minimize her problems.
“Stacey, I know you are unhappy at the prospect of taking medication, but sometimes learning to trust means taking a risk.”
She looked away from him and began to rub the side of her neck with her fingertips.
Again, the same nervous habit from previous sessions.
“Stacey,” he coaxed, “do you want to trust me?”
“I don’t know how to trust.” Her voice quivered.
Phillips extended his hand and watched as she responded with hesitation before placing her hand in his.
He wrapped his fingers around hers and squeezed gently. “You’re not alone anymore. I’m here for you day or night, but I need your trust if we are to accomplish anything in these sessions.”
Her silent glare seemed to accuse his gesture of a sinister purpose. Phillips subtly ended the contact and leaned back in his chair.
“What are you thinking about right now, Stacey?”
er face was a picture of profound emptiness. As her eyes met his, they suddenly flooded with tears.
Phillips felt an overpowering desire to comfort her. His voice subdued, he spoke. “Stacey, remember what I said about trust.”
“When I left your office last week, I–I had no intention of filling the prescription. Taking the medication was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
Phillips smiled. “Thank you, Stacey. Honesty is a good start.”
Stacey sighed. “I guess I was afraid the medication would make me more vulnerable.”
“You know – lose control.”
Phillips never took his eyes from hers.
“The past hasn’t been easy, I mean–, I guess living in Gary’s house hasn’t helped, but he insisted we stay there after the divorce.”
“But you’re a very beautiful woman and that was a very long time ago. Yet you have never remarried?”
Her face became a portrait of contempt as her voice pitched close to screaming, “I don’t need a man to make me happy. I’ve had all the dishonesty I can handle for one lifetime!”
Phillips brow arched as his tongue slithers discreetly across the inside of his lower lip. Stroking his beard, he carefully contemplated his next statement.
“Tell me why you still stay in the house if living there makes you feel so uncomfortable?”
Stacey quickly straightened her posture. “Selling the house would be breaking a promise to Victoria, but sometimes I feel helpless there, like a caged animal.”
Phillips scowled. “Does your daughter make you feel like a caged animal?”
Her hands were shaking as she clenched them together. “It’s not Victoria — I mean –it doesn’t matter. It’s a big house, and we can easily live together without ever having to speak to one another.”
“Is that the way you want to live, Stacey?”
He could hear the tears in her voice as she shook her head. “I have to stop the curse. It wants to destroy all of us.”
With clasped hands, Phillips leaned back in his chair. His index fingers pointed upward and pressed against his lips, he tried to disguise a smile. “Are you saying cursed as in retribution?”
Her cheeks flushed. “I didn’t come here to amuse you, doctor!”
Phillips sobered. “I apologize, Stacey. I didn’t mean to make light of your fears. You see, I don’t believe in curses, but I do believe in you and your feelings are very important to me. Suppose, for the sake of discussion, I were to assume such a thing were possible. To whom are you referring as ‘all of us’?”
She fidgeted in her chair before continuing. “I — it’s a very long story.”
Phillips handed her a glass of water. “I have plenty of time, Stacey. Why don’t you tell me about it, from the beginning?”
We pick up on Marty’s story as she begins to show us that her life circumstances have made her an unhappy teenager.
“Marty,” Christian shouted. “You go to the movies three times this month, and now you sit and look at pictures of movie stars. Your momma needs help with the housework!”
Sighing, Marty looked up. “Movies are the only good thing about Minneapolis. I don’t have any friends here.”
“We must worry about your momma’s health before we worry about friends. Here there are better doctors. Here they can make her well.”
Leaning back on the frizzy, pink nylon sofa, Marty continued to whine, “I hate this old house. It smells like wet rags and this lumpy couch scratches like pine needles.”
“Then maybe you should spend less time sitting and more time making yourself useful to your momma.”
Marty’s bottom lip jutted out. “You know, Daddy, things are bad enough without you being such a bore.”
“Martha Johnson, I will not have you speak to your papa in this way.” Kaja’s voice was strained but still strong enough to demonstrate a vivid protest to her daughter.
Marty’s eyes widened as she bounced up from the couch. “Momma, I didn’t hear you get up from your rest.”
Kaja shook her head. The child was seventeen and still just as impossible as she was at age seven. Only William was able to reason with her. It was bad enough when he had finished college and decided to make the navy his career; but when he was transferred overseas, Marty’s rebellion heightened.
“You daydream again,” Kaja said. “Do you forget so soon your promise to have all your work done before the celebration tomorrow?”
“Momma, I don’t want to waste my time at that silly Norwegian thing.” Marty pouted while continuing to complain. “There’s a Clark Gable movie out.”
“Uffda, child!” Kaja stomped her foot. “Will you ever think of anything but movie stars? December will bring your eighteenth birthday.”
Kaja wiped her brow. How many times had Marty fallen asleep at school or complained of being sick. The child hated school but how could anyone blame her with all the ridicule she’d received as a child.
“It is four years now since we have been here and yet you have not learned from the books William sent you. I think you can baby-sit just as well, though. Our neighbor, Mrs. Holland, is not even Norwegian but wishes to go to the Syttende Mai celebration. You will stay home with her children.”
Marty’s lip quivered. “But I do not want -”
“Enough! For once, you will do as I say.”
Christian had stood by silently, and now placed his arm around Kaja. “Come my little wife. You are looking very tired now.”
He scowled at Marty. “Your momma is very sick. You will do well to remember that.”
Marty only grunted and slowly gathered up her magazines and pictures from the sofa.
They watched her stomp up the stairs just as Sophia had done as a child.
Christian gazed sympathetically at Kaja. “It is too bad we could not give her a brother or sister. Perhaps then she would not be so spoiled.”
Kaja’s eyes filled with tears. It had been nine years since Janna had died, but Kaja couldn’t stop mourning her little girl. She’d tried everything to locate Mary, but soon realized it was hopeless. Kaja would lay awake for hours at night fighting to remember her face, but the black hate in Mary’s eyes remained her only memory. Now all she could do was pray that Mary would not be consumed by the same bitterness which had destroyed her own life.
She reached out her hand to Christian. “Maybe I deserved to lose both my daughters. If I had been in Mary’s place, I probably would have done the same.”
Christian said nothing but scooped his tiny, frail wife up into his arms and carried her up the stairs.
Don’t miss next week’s installment as Marty meets Sonny Morley, the man who will ultimately destroy her life.
You can purchase Rubies – Escaping the Curse on Amazon here: Rubies – Book One