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Tightly Wrapped by Bill Tope


When Elise remarries she seems so much happier, but her daughter Malorie has concerns about her new stepfather.

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“I’ve never felt this way before,” marveled Elise, fanning herself with her hand. The room was chilly, but she was burning up. She glanced at her daughter. “How are you doing, Mal?” she asked.

Malorie stared at her mother, uncertain just how to respond. “I’m… good,” she said at last.

Elise accepted this at face value. “Good, baby,” she said with a little twist of a smile.

When Malorie didn’t say anything more, Elise asked, brightly, “Well, what’ll we do next?”

Malorie glanced at the clock on the mantle: 11:30. Her mom would be arriving by taxi from the airport in half an hour. With her would be her new husband – Malorie’s step-father – fresh off a whirlwind romance conducted over the past six weeks, while Elise was on vacation in the Caribbean. Malorie was blown away at how rapidly the relationship had developed. Her mom had been so lonely, following the abrupt departure of Tom, her ex-husband, who left in pursuit of a trophy wife, who was just two years older than Malorie’s 19 years. While she was glad that her mom had someone, Malorie would have liked to have had the opportunity to check him out first. She had yet to even meet Michael.

Finally, there was the sound of a key in the lockset and the front door pushed open. Malorie heard them before she saw them; Elise and Michael were jabbering like jaybirds as they entered the room. Malorie heard laughter, which made her smile.

“Mal!” cried Elise loudly, catching sight of her only child. Dropping packages and bundles and bags, Elise rushed to her daughter and enveloped her in a tight hug. Malorie hugged her back. She sniffed. Was that rum? she wondered.

“Hi, Mom!” cried Malorie. “Lemme look at you,” she said, holding her mother at arm’s length. “You don’t look married,” she said. Both women laughed.

“Trust me,” said a deeper voice. “She’s married, alright.”

Elise’s eyes opened wide and she exclaimed. “Michael! Malorie, this is Michael; and Michael, this is Malorie, my daughter.”

Malorie stuck out her hand, but Michael seized her around the waist and twirled her around. Malorie yelped in surprise. “I feel like I know all about you, Mal,” declared Michael, finally setting her back down. “Elise has talked of nothing else.”

Malorie blinked at his use of “Mal,” but figured he was entitled. Again, the smell of rum, and something else – pot? Her mom didn’t smoke weed, at least not before she went to Jamaica. Malorie mentally shrugged. Her mom was a grownup, she could do as she pleased. It might take some getting used to, however, living with a couple of stoners.

She looked appraisingly at the man himself. Fully six feet tall, he was slender and fit-looking, with collar-length blond hair and an earring in each ear. Like his new wife, he was clothed in island garb, which suited him, Malorie thought. He was, she estimated, perhaps fifty years old, or five years older than her mother. He was good-looking, but not reproachably so. They made a cute couple, she decided.

“What did you guys do in Jamaica?” asked Malorie. She wanted to get to know her step-father, and to become reacquainted with a clearly changed Elise.

As Michael began transferring suitcases and packages from the porch to the living room, Elise clasped her hands in front of her. “You’ve no idea! Montego Bay, the Blue Mountains, St. Thomas, the white beaches, the blue skies; I didn’t want to leave, but to come back to you, Mal! Look,” she enthused. “We shopped,” and she handed Malorie an elaborate pen/letter opener done up in the colors of the Jamaican flag.

“Pretty,” cooed Malorie.

Malorie hadn’t seen Elise this happy in the two years since her dad left them both. Malorie had yet to see him again, and frankly, she was not eager to. “I’m happy to see you again too, Mom,” she said honestly. “And it’s nice to finally meet the man of your dreams.” Michael looked up and grinned.

A week into the new living arrangement, Michael turned up with a pet – a wiener dog, which Elise joyfully named Arf. Soon, she was seldom anywhere without Arf, and she took to carrying it around like an infant. Malorie, not a dog person, yet found herself drawn to the object of her mother’s affection. Only Michael seemed immune from Arf’s appeal. Was he jealous? Malorie wondered.

Gradually things began to return to normal, but for the inclusion of a third person in the lives of the two women. Up until now, Elise had done most of the cooking, whereas Malorie had been tasked with much of the other chores. Elise was an excellent cook, and Malorie felt that she had the better part of the bargain. Although Tom had left them well-fixed in the divorce settlement – he was a successful executive – they eschewed domestic help. Malorie was set to begin her sophomore year at university. But Michael, it turned out, was no stranger to the kitchen and was soon creating novel and creative dishes.

“Mom,” Malorie asked a day or so later, “what does Michael do for a living?” She didn’t even know where he was from; he had simply returned from Jamaica with Elise and moved in. Surely he had a job.

“He’s my companion, honey,” explained Elise.

“Doesn’t he work?”

“He did, but he took disability a couple of years ago.

“What did he do?” asked Malorie.

“He was a chef,” said her mother. “In Chicago, he worked in hotels.”

“He has a disability?” asked Malorie, surprised. “He doesn’t seem disabled,” she observed.

“Bipolar,” said Elise, tapping her head with her finger. Malorie only stared at her. “He’s sensitive about it,” revealed her mother, lowering her voice conspiratorially.

“How does it… manifest?” asked Malorie.

“Michael can’t handle stress very well.” At Malorie’s alarmed look, she hurried on. “It doesn’t affect him normally, but in a high-stress environment like a busy hotel kitchen, he doesn’t do well.”

“How did it come about?”

“Drug use,” admitted Elise.

“But, I saw you two smoking pot the other evening,” Malorie pointed out.

“Pot wasn’t the problem,” said Elise. “It was pills and sedatives and stuff like that. He became addicted and strung out for a long time and…”

“Mom,” asked Malorie with concern, “how do you know…he’s alright?”

“We been together practically 24/7 for the past two months,” said Elise a little lamely, Malorie thought.

“But, did you ever seen him… lose it?” asked her daughter.

“Michael takes his medication and other than pot – which is legal now -” she pointed out, “he doesn’t do drugs. And he isn’t in any high-stress situations which might wear on him. He’s fine, dear, don’t worry.” She smiled so happily that Malorie had to smile too.

On Christmas Eve, Malorie, with a sore throat and sniffles, got up from her sick bed after midnight to go to the bathroom for some cold medicine. As she was decanting the syrupy green concoction into the convenient plastic cup, she heard a loud thump against the door of Mom and Michael’s bedroom. Startled, Malorie spilled the medicine into the sink. She stepped into the hall. Had she only imagined it? Maybe her meds were affecting her thought processes. Shaking her head, she returned to the bathroom, only to be startled a second time by a loud thump against the door. It shook the very walls. Walking to the bedroom door, she put her hand on the knob and waited. She could hear raised voices within the room. She said, “Mom?” The voices were replaced with silence. Standing confounded for a moment, Malorie finally returned to the bathroom, took her medicine and returned to her own room.

As January dawned, after the holiday break, Malorie returned to school and as a consequence began spending far less time with her mother and Michael. She began to use the university library a great deal and hang out with friends. Rising early and coming home late, there were days when she didn’t see her mom or Michael at all. Everything seemed alright, though.

Until one Saturday – no school – when Malorie was doing her laundry and Elise bustled into the laundry room and began fussing with some garments.

“I can do the laundry, Mom,” offered Malorie,

“No, Michael is very particular how his garments are laundered,” said Elise, reaching for the soap.

“What,” demanded Malorie, seizing her mother’s wrist, “is this?” There was a deep burn mark in the skin. “What the hell happened?” she asked.

Elise snatched her hand back, looking upset, but then laughed unconvincingly. “It’s just a game,” she said cryptically.

“A game?” spluttered her daughter. “What’s it from, Mom?”

“A… a rope,” said Elise in a low voice. “We were… playing a game.”

“Did Michael tie your wrists together?” asked Malorie incredulously.

“Lovers play games, act out,” explained her mother. “You’re young, but…”

“Mom,” she interrupted Elise. “I may be young, but I’ve been around. And I study psych and I know what sadomasochism and bondage are. Michael did this to you?”

“I wanted him to,” murmured Elise, with eyes downcast. “Really, Mal, he wouldn’t do it unless I agreed. It’s alright, I promise.” Malorie didn’t say another word.

Malorie stood at the kitchen counter, armed with a chef’s knife, chopping veggies. She had resolved to treat her mom and Michael, since she had eaten copious meals that they’d made. Michael entered the kitchen, spotted his step-daughter and came up behind her. “Here, Mal,” he said, reaching around her, “lemme show you how to do that without cutting your hand.” She felt his closeness and was a little uneasy. He was clad in a blue t-shirt that showed off his muscles and she could smell his musky scent. She inhaled. Malorie could see why Elise was attracted to him; he was all man. Suddenly she felt a little aroused, and stepped back and then out of his arms.

“Thank you, Michael, I think I’ve got it now.” Smiling, he withdrew. Had he been trying to seduce her? she wondered. He wasn’t overt, but she felt warm all over. She let out a breath.

Perched on the sofa in the living room, Malorie and Elise sat in companionable silence. Malorie peered at her mother. “What is it, Mom?” inquired Malorie, seeing that her mother looked upset. Elise said nothing at first. “Mom?” she persisted, placing her hand over Elise’s. Arf, sitting at the women’s feet and sensing distress, whined piteously. The burn marks on Elise’s wrists were mostly healed now, but they were still apparent. “Are you and Michael getting along okay?” she asked. Elise didn’t talk about her new husband much.

“Of course,” she replied. “Michael loves me, and he’s very affectionate.”

“You’ve been going out a lot lately,” observed her daughter approvingly. Her mother deserved a good time. Elise nodded. “Where do you two go?” Malorie asked.

“Michael likes Thai restaurants,” revealed Elise. “I like Italian, as you know. We’ve also been to the theater a couple of times, to see films, the art museum.” She paused for a moment, before continuing. “We went to see a friend of Michael’s last night.”

“Who was it? Do I know him?”

Elise shook her head, then she said abruptly, “Michael wanted me to have sex with this man…”

Elise gaped. “What!”

“It’s alright, Mal. I didn’t do it. I told them both I wasn’t comfortable with the idea.”

“Mom,” said Malorie. “That’s insane. He can’t expect you to do something so… outrageous and crazy!”

“Michael is very proud of me,” said Elise apologetically. “He says I’m the best lover he’s ever had, and he wants to share me with Ted.”

“Well, he can’t! What is Michael, a player? He can’t pimp out his wife. Where is he?” asked Malorie, staring around the room. “I’m going to tear him a new one!”

“I can deal with it, Mal. Please stay out of it. Michael would never insist, he wouldn’t force me.”

At that moment, Michael walked into the room, clad in a blue t-shirt showing off his muscles, as usual. “What’s up?” he quipped with a wide grin.

With a brusque look, Malorie said, “I’m late for class,” and she moved out of the room without even looking at him.

Elise looked at him tenderly.

“What did I miss?” asked Michael with a big smile.

Two nights later, Malorie answered a summons from the front door and, sweeping it wide, found there a florid, husky-looking man who was in his early fifties and dressed casually. “Good evening,” he said. “Is Michael home?”

At that very moment, before she could even answer, Michael bustled into the room and said, “Hey, Ted, come on in. I’ll get Elise.” Ted followed Michael from the room.

Ted! thought Malorie. That Ted? What the hell was going on here? She looked round, but found that the two men had disappeared into the bedroom that Elise shared with Michael.

Malorie sat alone at the corner booth in the small diner, awaiting her father. It had taken all her resolve to call him, given his abject rejection of her and her mother. But she’d swallowed her pride: her mom’s continued health and safety were just too important for Malorie to stand on ceremony. Tom had agreed to meet her in a neutral location and they’d decided on this small cafe. Over the phone, he’d seemed surprisingly anxious to talk to her. What was that all about? she wondered. Trouble in paradise? The bell over the door tinkled and Tom entered, glanced around, spotted Malorie and, smiling, walked her way.

“Hi, baby,” he said, standing over her. Was he expecting a hug? Fat chance, she thought. Finally he took a seat across from her. “Have you ordered yet?” he asked.

“I didn’t come here to eat, Tom,” she told him shortly.

He winced. “Tom?” he asked. “How about Dad?”

“You lost your right to that when you walked – should I say ran – out on us.”

Tom sobered at once. “I guess you’re right,” he admitted. “Though I had hoped we could get past the bitterness by this time.”

“I haven’t seen you in more than two years,” Malorie pointed out resentfully.

“Whose fault is that?” he asked unexpectedly.

Malorie shook her head. He was obviously in denial for all the pain he’d caused with his rejection of his family. “I didn’t call to discuss my feelings,” she pointed out. “I called to discuss Mom.”

“How is she?” he asked guardedly.

“She’s remarried,” she told him.

Tom did a double-take. Then he asked, “How’s that going?”

In detail, Malorie filled him in on events of the past four months, as well her other suspicions, which had blossomed into virtual certainties. When she finished, he sat immobile, his face inscrutable.

“Do you want me to talk to your mom?” he asked at last.

“No!” she said, slapping her hand down on the table top. “Not Mom. Michael. Mom is alright, under the circumstances. It’s Michael who’s out of control. He expects her to sleep with his sleazy friends and do drugs and… maybe this was a mistake.” She rose to her feet, took her jacket off the back of her chair.

“Sit down,” Tom implored. “I’m listening. And I’m concerned. I’ll always care about Elise,” he added.

Malorie resumed her seat. “Thanks… Dad.”

Finally, Tom smiled again. “Do you have Michael’s cell phone number?” She gave it to him. “I’ll get in touch with him today,” he promised.

Malorie was just coming out of her bedroom, schoolbooks clutched in her arms, when she heard the sound of shattering glass coming from the bathroom. Without a moment’s hesitation, she pushed through the door and there found Elise, standing nude amongst a splintered pane of glass. “What happened?” asked the younger woman.

“I slipped on a bar of soap and smacked into the shower stall, said Elise sheepishly. “I’m sorry.” The shower was running tumultuously behind her, with the steam billowing.

“I’m just glad you’re alright, Mom,” Malorie assured her. “No scrapes or anything?” she asked, going to the hall closet and finding a handled dustpan and a small broom. She began rapidly gathering up the shards. When she looked up, she found her mother standing in the tub, with ugly, purple bruising festooning her torso. “What the hell happened?” demanded Malorie, gingerly touching the dark marks.

Elise drew soapy hands to her face, and murmured disconsolately, “Mal, I’m so scared.”

“Of Michael?” prompted her daughter. “Did Michael cause this?”

“Michael,” said Elise almost absently, “is an enthusiastic lover.” And she would say nothing more.

Tom placed a call on his land line. In an instant, a man’s voice answered. Tom introduced himself, said, “I was married to Elise for 18 years, Mr. Edgewood – may I call you Michael? Thank you. I know my ex can be a handful and I thought maybe we should touch base. No, I never knew she had remarried. Mal told me. In an hour? I’ll see you then.”

Made increasingly curious by Elise’s proclivity for secrecy, Malorie was prowling through her mother’s mail one day. Taking up a bank statement, she gasped. This couldn’t be right, she thought. When Elise arrived home an hour later, Malorie confronted her.

“What’s going on, Mom?” she asked, proferring the statement. Elise didn’t even look at it.

“What is it, Mal?” she asked blithely.

“$25,000 was taken from our account last week,” she said anxiously.

“That’s mine and Michael’s account,” corrected her mother.

“Did Michael’s remove the money?” demanded Malorie.

“It’s his money the same as it’s mine, dear,” said her mother soothingly. “If the money’s gone, then I assume that he took it. It’s alright.”

“He’s going to bleed you dry!” snapped Malorie, feeling her world slipping like quicksilver through her fingers.

“Michael said you might react this way,” said Elise. “So, I had your name removed from the account.”

“You what?” said her daughter incredulously.

“You still have your cards; Michael felt it was more prudent to remove you.” She smiled uncertainly. “After all, Mal, it is my money – and Michael’s, now.”

Malorie sat on the sofa with the dog. “Life’s a bitch, Arf,” she said, “and then you die.” Arf panted happily and then licked Malorie’s fingers. Out of the corner of her eye, Malorie spotted Michael, watching her.

Two days later, Malorie made a discovery which put her teeth on edge. She found her mother’s beloved dog, Arf, dead in the back yard; its neck appeared to have been broken. Malorie felt a deep, unsettling, frozen feeling, like a spike of ice, running the length of her body. Why would anyone want to harm such a harmless, loving and precious little life? She buried the creature herself, preferring to let her mother think that she had run away.

Sitting in the swing on the front porch, Malorie watched warily as Michael came up the steps and took a seat next to her. She stiffened. “I talked to your dad today,” he said without preamble. She said nothing. “He’s an interesting man,” he added. “He had some interesting things to say to me, Mal.”

“I hope he set you straight,” said Malorie warningly.

Michael nodded. “I took it all to heart,” he confessed. “And I’ll do just as he says.”

Malorie looked at him. “Do you mean that, Michael? I mean, I’ll contact the authorities if I have to; are you really serious?”

“Serious as a heart attack,” he replied, getting up from the swing and continuing into the house.

On April 1st, Malorie felt more alive than she had in weeks. No more worries about Michael or his influence on her mother. She no longer feared for Elise’s safety. So grateful was she for the abrupt turnaround, that he had even made peace with her father. She was scheduled to meet him for lunch at his favorite Thai restaurant the following week. That was curious, she thought: both of Elise’s husbands had a penchant for Thai cuisine. There was a new Thai eatery in the city, so she thought she would scope it out before inviting her father there another time.

So it was probably not so great a surprise as it might otherwise have been, when Malorie walked into the restaurant to find her father sitting at a table with Malorie’s mother and Michael. Apparently no hard feelings existed there. Well and good, she thought happily. Malorie was thoroughly shocked, however, to observe the presence of Ted, Michael’s friend, whom she had met briefly more than a month ago. What was going on?

Hesitantly, Malorie approached the table, where everyone appeared to be engaged in an intense conversation. Stopping before the group, she raised her hand and waved. “Hi,” she said.

The others looked up with unhappiness written all over their faces. Except for Elise, who said gaily, “Now, there’s my girl. Tell these party-poopers I don’t need their intervention, Mal.”

“Intervention?” asked Malorie. “I don’t know what you mean.” She peered questioningly at the faces around the table.

“See?” said Elise. “I knew she didn’t know anything about it. My daughter doesn’t think I’m mad!”

“Mal,” said Tom, “We think your mom needs our help.”

“And Michael?” asked Malorie, turning to Elise’s husband. “Are you responsible for this so-called intervention? If she needs help, it’s because of abuse at your hands.” Michael looked at her silently.

“Malorie,” said Ted, speaking for the first time, “I believe that your mother suffers from NPD; that’s…”

“Narcissistic Personality Disorder, I know what it is,” asserted Malorie. “I’m almost in my third year of psych at State. What do you know about it?” she asked.

Ted looked down for a moment, and then up into Malorie’s eyes. “My full name is Dr. Theodore Rison. I am a professor of clinical psychology at Rutgers. I’ve known Michael for many years.”


“I’ve garnered anecdotal evidence from Mr. Edgemont and from Michael and I’ve met personally with Elise four times so far, which has enabled me to make a preliminary diagnosis, which includes Narcissistic Personality Disorder, in addition to Borderline Personality Disorder. These factors may result, at times, in self-harm.”

Malorie’s mind traveled back to the bruising, the burns on the wrists, the broken shower stall, and other indications of self-harm. Momentarily, she felt overwhelmed with the news, a little dizzy.

“Mal, I’m not crazy,” reiterated Elise.

“Elise,” interjected Ted, “a psychiatric diagnosis does not mean you’re crazy. It does, however, mean that you may need help. The world – life – packs a wallop, and everyone needs a hand now and then.” The two began an intense discussion in low tones, shutting everyone else out.

“Why wasn’t I a part of this, Dad? I’m the closest person to Mom, I should’ve been involved.”

“Well,” said Ted, looking up. “it was your uncontrolled substance abuse which was worrying for me, Malorie.”

“What substance abuse?” asked Malorie, surprised.

“I found several packets of drugs on my visit to your home, with Michael, when your mother and you were away, and I had subsequent analyses done, revealing the contents to be illegals.” Malorie only stared at them all. She didn’t use drugs.

“Go ahead, talk like I’m not even here!” spat Elise, clearly angry. Voices were being raised now, drawing other patrons’ attention to their table.

“Whose ridiculous idea was it to stage an intervention at a busy restaurant?” muttered Tom.

“Yours, I believe,” remarked Michael.

“I think,” began Ted, “that would should adjourn this confab to Forest Acres and proceed in a clinical setting.” He glanced round the table, measuring each individual’s response. There was general agreement, but for Elise, who was visibly distraught, and for Malorie, who seemed genuinely at sea.

“Wait a minute, you can’t just lock Mom up, institutionalize her,” she protested. Now everybody was talking at once.

“You always take her side,” accused Tom sharply.

“Well, a little loyalty isn’t all bad,” countered Malorie angrily.

“That’s the main reason we didn’t include you,” seethed Tom irritably. “You’re an enabler. You keep feeding Elise this steady diet of bullshit and then everyone suffers.”

Suddenly, Elise was on her feet and in her hands the letter opener/ink pen she’d purchased in Jamaica. Drawing it back over her head, she plunged it violently downward and into the chest of her ex-husband. With a strangled cry, Tom collapsed back into his chair. All movement in the restaurant ceased at that moment, then at once there was bedlam: loud voices, clattering dishes and tableware, a dropped tray. In a matter of a few moments, police had been summoned and stood over the table, which was in an uproar. Suddenly everyone grew quiet.

“I handled that well, I thought,” remarked Elise to no one in particular, and ate another spoonful of basil fried rice. Everyone was standing about, staring at them. Having regained her seat, Elise looked at her daughter and asked, “Well, what’ll we do next?”

“The police are here, Mom. Let’s go with them.”


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