Chapter 15: Independence Day
Tammy felt like a mop that had been wrung out one last time before being discarded. For the past month — starting on the Monday after she discovered that Ryan had left her penniless — she’d been looking for a job. She’d scoured the classifieds of the Asheville Citizen-Times, Craigslist, and the Mountain Xpress, monitoring the online employment websites, signing up with every temp agency in town. In the week just passed she’d gone old school, walking up one side of a downtown street, and then down the other, street after street, going into shop after restaurant after business after office, smiling, upbeat, exuding confidence, capability, and courteousness, asking to speak with the manager or whomever was in charge, inquiring if they had any openings, any needs, any jobs that needed doing, filling out for the future she knew would never come so many employment applications that she was pretty sure the dents in her pen-holding fingers were now permanent.
What’s that? You’re an art teacher? Oh! Well, there’s hardly anyone in Asheville qualified to teach art!
Thanks for coming in!
We’ll call you if anything comes up you’d be suited for!
Now it was the afternoon of the Friday before the Fourth of July. Between her feet barking like the hounds of hell, the oven Asheville had become, and her exhaustion from playing Find the Nonexistent Job, Tammy decided to call it a day. She was standing at the corner of Patton and Biltmore, across the street from the memorial Charlie called In the Pants of Vance and the bronze pigs and turkeys that looked like such fun to hop atop, but which in such hot weather definitely weren’t, as many a yelping tourist had learned.
She was standing right outside the Asheville Art Museum.
She nearly fell to her knees in gratitude for the fact that, back when she had the money for such things, she’d purchased a membership to the museum.
Where, besides all that splendid art, they had all that air conditioned air.
In Tammy went.
The museum was familiar territory for her. As usual, her first stop was the display of photographs on its ground floor, where she fairly reveled in her favorite shots, the ones by Edward Weston and Diane Arbus—and where she rankled at one of the nudes, considering, for the millionth time, the hostility that compelled so many photographers to “capture” or “shoot” comely young women posing in impossibly uncomfortable positions in impossibly uncomfortable terrains. The woman in the photograph Tammy now turned away from looked dead.
Amazing, thought Tammy.
On the second floor were Tammy’s favorite paintings: the large, expansive, exquisitely lit land and mountainscapes.
As always, she studied these thrillingly grand marvels, taking note of the artists’ brush techniques, manipulations of perspective, renderings of light, gradations of shadow, choices of color. Tammy could not help but rank, classify, critique, and evaluate these works. She was too familiar with all of their component aspects to do anything but.
Next Tammy did something she usually didn’t. She ventured into the wing of the museum where more contemporary paintings were shown.
And that is where she saw two paintings that so mesmerized her that it was as if she’d never seen them before. She could only guess, in fact, that she hadn’t, that they’d been hung since last time she was there. Or perhaps she’d always moved through that part of the museum so quickly that she’d simply failed to see them.
Either way, she sure was seeing them now.
Now, suddenly, she couldn’t stop looking at them even if she tried.
One was Old Homestead at Mt. Mitchell, by Robert Johnson. The other was From the Low Grounds, by Maud Gatewood.
She slowly walked back and forth between the two works, as if they were the only two paintings in the museum, the only two paintings that had ever been done anywhere. Like they were the only two things in the world that were capable of being seen.
Each looked like a different dream that she hadn’t had yet, or one she did have, perhaps as a little girl, but was only just now, and almost too vividly, recalling.
More than that, finally: the paintings felt to her like dreams she was having right there, in that museum, in that moment.
And yet neither was her kind of painting. They were not the sort of paintings she did, not the sort of paintings she studied, not the sort of paintings that had ever spoken to her.
But each was speaking to her now, and each in a language she knew before she knew herself. Each was calling to her, whispering to her, beckoning her forth, wrapping her within them.
And she let them. She let them envelop her. She wanted them to. Surrendering herself to everything the paintings were felt like shedding from herself everything she’d never been.
She sailed into From the Low Grounds, floating in the curves of the pink and white sky above its spindly farmland, over and beyond the unobserving black and white cows standing just behind the birch trees that were so immediately in the foreground they seemed, almost upon first glance, to be already behind her.
She gingerly stepped into the magically stylized forest of Old Homestead, treading breathlessly between its tall, thin, parquet-patterned tree trunks, carefully avoiding the odd clumps of radiant lime green growth at the base of each tree, wondering at the old brown boot in the foreground, at the red-capped bird perched upon it, tip-toeing around the little brilliantly colored mushrooms and the green branch sprigs, each like the other, placed so precisely everywhere upon the ground, moving slowly past the trees, one at a time, silently saying goodbye to the watching bluejay high on one of the trunks, making her way back into the cloudy haze into which the trees themselves were fading, pulled deeper and deeper into the forest by a power that was as entrancing as it was ominous.
These paintings she did not evaluate. She did not critique. She did not analyze.
She only looked.
* * * * *
Back home, still in a state of bewitchment cast by the two paintings, Tammy looked at herself in the brightly lit mirror of her bathroom.
She held her own gaze for a long time.
It was almost as if she didn’t know who the person looking back at her was.
But before too long she was realizing who it wasn’t.
It wasn’t a sexy babe, a cutie, a hottie, a kitten, a fox.
It wasn’t a social charmer.
It wasn’t a go-getter, a winner, a hostess with the mostest.
It wasn’t a friend.
It wasn’t a daughter.
It wasn’t a sister.
It wasn’t a teacher.
It wasn’t a wife.
It wasn’t anything at all but the one thing it was.
It was an artist.
It was just an artist.
Tammy smiled ever so slightly before turning away from the mirror and going upstairs to Charlie and Todd’s place, empty for almost a week now. Having searched through the kitchen drawers until finding what she was after, she went back downstairs and into her bathroom.
* * * * *
“You cut off all your HAIR?” said Sam. “When?”
“On Friday,” Tammy into her phone.
“It was just one of those moods you get in sometimes. Although I have no idea why I’m saying that, since I’ve never been in a mood like that in my life. It’s three days later, and I’m STILL in that ‘mood.’”
“Sounds like you’re going through some changes,” said Sam. “Which makes sense. There’s just so much going on right now.”
“I think that’s safe to say.”
“You should come out here, Tammy. Don’t be alone on the Fourth of July. Come downtown! It’s just me and a few friends, chillin’ on our blanket. We’ve got a really good spot on the lawn. There’s room for one more!”
“Really? You’re ‘chillin’?”
“Well, in a totally boiling kind of way. But you should come out! True, it’s super hot, and super crowded. But also true is that all the super food trucks are here.”
“Mmmm, super food trucks.”
“Right? I thought of you when I saw the El Kimchi truck.”
“Mmmm, El Kimchi.”
“Gypsy Queen’s here, Appalachian Smoke’s here, Taste & See, Avery’s Hot Dogs, The Hop—”
“Mmmm, all of those.”
“Paris Festival, Sugar and Snow, Sunshine Sammies—”
“Stop. You’re killing me!”
“Good! Then come down here. You should be here! Independence Day! Fireworks! Fun galore!”
“I do love fun galore. Maybe I will come out there.” Tammy sighed. “It’s not like my own little personal Independence Day here has worked out all that well.”
“Oh, I went to the Asheville Museum on Friday, before I cut my hair, and had an experience that made me want to paint more than I’ve ever wanted to paint in my life.”
“That sounds good. Have you been painting?”
“That’s all I’ve been doing for three days straight now.”
“Yeah—except that it’s not.”
“Because even though I’ve never painted so much in such a short time—I mean, you should see my place, it looks like an explosion happened in an art supply store—I don’t like anything I’ve painted. Which is weird, because I also know that it’s the best work I’ve ever done. I just don’t LIKE it.”
“That is weird. What have you been painting?”
“You know, the stuff I do. Landscapes. I took some beautiful shots out on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so mostly I’ve been painting those. And, like I say, the work itself is going great. But, still, I just—I don’t know. It’s driving me crazy, to tell you the truth. You wait your whole life to finally really be able to DO the work you do, and then you don’t like that work anymore.”
“Sounds like you need to get out of the house,” said Sam.
Tammy sighed. “I guess so. I’m just making myself nuts here.”
“I won’t let any of the food trucks leave before you get here!” said Sam.
* * * * *
While driving across the Haywood Road Bridge from West Asheville, Tammy had a moment that left her wanting to find a parking space, but fast. She did so in front of the Wedge Studios.
Slamming shut her car door, she started walking as quickly as she could back toward the bridge. Once on the bridge itself she slowed her pace down, just a bit, before picking it back up again.
Far below her, on the railroad tracks that run between the river and the Wedge, a long black train was crawling north. Unable to see its end, she guessed that about half of the train so far had passed beneath the bridge.
She hadn’t walked on the Haywood Road Bridge since her first morning in Asheville six months before. And every time since then she speeded up her car a little whenever she drove across it.
And now here she was, suddenly compelled for no reason she understood to return to the very spot on the bridge where she’d had one of the most frightening and disorienting experiences of her life.
She kept walking, keeping her eyes straight ahead.
When she reached the point where the bridge was directly over the river, she stopped.
She took a deep breath, exhaled, turned, and put her hands on the bridge’s silver metal railing.
The river was beautiful, the trees lining its banks impossibly lush and green.
As she was taking in the view, the train’s brakes began their piercing squeal.
The instant the train came to a complete stop each of its cars slammed into the car ahead of it, which altogether made a sound like a bomb exploding.
Jumping at the thundering boom, Tammy’s hand flew to her upper chest.
The second she caught her breath again, she started rapidly walking back toward her car. Then she started running toward it.
Chapter 16: Wine and Netflix
When she reached her car Tammy was out of breath. She immediately calmed herself, because she wanted nothing to interfere with her as quickly and efficiently returning home, where waiting for her were her paints and her pallet and a big white canvas, upon which she now knew what she wanted to paint, not just at that moment, but what she’d been waiting to paint – what she’d been waiting to SEE — at least since that unthinkable night after the student art show in college.
Car keys. Open door. Sit. Close door. Keys again. Ignition.
Look over shoulder, press gas.
Go Tammy go, back across the bridge.
With no one to see or hear it, about halfway across the bridge, with the broad river far below stretching out on either side of her, Tammy let loose a wild, piercing, primal yell of joy, of exhilaration, of excitement, of relief.
* * * * *
Twenty minutes later, the paintings on which she had been so assiduously working for the past couple of days were outside on the ground next to the garbage cans, all the furniture in the living room of her flat had been pushed against the walls and hastily covered with sheets and blankets she’d yanked from her bed and linen closet, and Tammy was watching her sketching hand move so quickly and freely across the largest canvas she owned that she almost felt as if she could step out onto the patio, kick back on a lounge chair, enjoy a glass of iced tea, and then return inside whenever she got curious about the progress of the picture being produced by her inspired independent limb.
Not that she’d have wanted to miss a moment of the action as it was happening.
Over the course of her life, Tammy had repressed a lot of anger, and a lot of pain, largely because there was never a time in her life when she hadn’t felt that her feelings were less valuable than the feelings of others.
Never wondering when it might be her turn had made Tammy a dutiful and devoted daughter.
And it was all good. If given the choice, Tammy wouldn’t have taken back one drop of the blood, sweat and tears that any of the love she’d ever given anyone had cost her.
She was playing in a whole new ballgame.
She was feeling ways she’d never felt before.
She was doing things she’d never done before.
She was most definitely painting something she’d never painted before.
* * * * *
A week later, having worked on it almost nonstop since the moment on the bridge when it suddenly appeared so clearly in her mind’s eye, Tammy was nearly finished with her painting. A half-day’s work more and it would be done.
She had just taken a step back to get perspective on the picture when her phone rang. If it had been anyone but Charlie calling she wouldn’t have answered it. She had last spoken to him when he’d called a couple of days before.
“Charlie, how are you?” she said, putting down her brush.
“I’m okay. Better, anyway. How are you?” said Charlie.
Tammy shared with him a little about her new painting. “It kind of looks like something Freda Kahlo might have painted after taking LSD and staring at Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ for four hours straight,” she said.
“Wow,” said Charlie. “Is it a landscape?”
“No, it’d definitely not. You’ll see it when you come home. Speaking of which, how’s everything going up there? How’s Todd and Maggie’s dad?”
Charlie sighed. “Frank is being—well, you know, Frank. Let’s just say that having a stroke didn’t exactly mellow him out. We’ve gotten him to the place where he’s basically okay with coming to live at home with Todd and me. But he’s being impossible about our hiring someone to stay with him during the day. He keeps railing about not needing anyone. Even if we just bring up getting him some in-home care, he starts screaming about how he doesn’t need any so-and-so nurse hovering around him all the time like he’s some kind of baby, how he’s capable of taking care of himself, and he’ll be damned if he’s gonna pay someone perfectly good money to do for him what he can do for himself. All that sort of thing.”
“This must be such a hard time for him.”
“It really is. Frank’s always been so, I would say, ferociously independent. But the fact remains that someone has to go with him on the daily walk he’s supposed to take, since his balance isn’t too good yet. And he gets dizzy. So he needs someone with him pretty much all the time. He needs someone to make sure he takes his meds—which he’s already being impossible about—and to drive him to his doctor appointments, help him with the exercise regime his doctors have put him on, fix his meals for him. All that kind of stuff.”
“Poor guy. But that doesn’t sound too bad.”
“It’s not, really. But he acts like we’re conspiring to hire someone to come beat him up every day. But, again, I know he’s just trying to adjust to what’s happened to him. I do feel sorry for him.”
“I do, too,” said Tammy. She picked up one of her paint brushes, rolled its handle back and forth with her fingers a few times, and placed it back down again. “Charlie, let me take care of Frank.”
“What? No. And, oh my God, I hope you don’t think I’ve been hinting at anything like that.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Because I do NOT want that. And trust me, neither do you.”
“But I do. Charlie, I can’t find a job. I hate not being able to contribute around here. I’m MOOCHING off you. It’s the worst. By taking care of Frank I’d be earning at least some of my keep.”
“You don’t ‘mooch’ off me. C’mon, now: what is that? I love being able to help you out, Tam. And it’s not like you cost a lot to feed, or anything. Plus, your situation will change when you get a job—or, so much better, a good divorce lawyer, which we’re going to start getting for you the moment I return home. There’s no need for you become Frank’s caretaker. You’ve got enough on your plate right now.”
“No, I don’t.” With her eyes on her painting, she said, “I hardly have anything on my plate at all. C’mon, Charlie. Let me help. You, Maggie, and Todd are so busy. I’m not. I’ve got time. When I get a job, or hopefully a lawyer who does to Ryan half of what he did to me, we’ll talk. For now, I’m the perfect person to take care of Frank. I already live here. And it’s not like he needs specialized care or anything. I raised two children — three, if you count Ryan. I’m pretty sure I can handle taking Frank out for a walk, and making sure he takes his meds. And I want to. I want to help. Please let me.”
From the other end of the phone came a long pause.
“Are you SURE?” said Charlie.
“All right, then. I’ll talk to Todd and Maggie about it.”
“I know they’ll be blown away by the awesomeness of your even offering to do this.”
“Well, tell them it’s something I really want. And of course have them call me so we can talk about it.”
* * * * *
After hanging up with Charlie, Tammy stood gazing at her painting.
Now to her eyes it looked stupid, sloppy, ill-conceived, a exercise in the shallowest kind of vanity.
Freda Kahlo might have painted it. That she could have let those words come out of her mouth made her feel nauseous.
She spun away from the picture and headed for her kitchen, where she stood at the sink determinedly scrubbing and rubbing her hands, erasing from them every trace of color she could.
After balling up and dropping into the sink the paper towel she used to dry her hands, Tammy opened her refrigerator door, took from it a bottle of wine, grabbed a goblet from the cabinet, and started climbing up the stairs, to where Charlie’s giant couch and television awaited her.
It had been a while since she’d watched Netflix. There had to be something good on it by now.
Chapter 17: Love at The Wedge
A week later Tammy was sitting outside at the Wedge Brewery with Maggie, who was wiping tears from her eyes.
“It was just so weird, seeing my dad like that,” said Maggie. She smiled a sad smile. “You know, I think this is the first time I’ve cried about what happened to him. When I was back in Boston with Todd and Charlie, I think I was so shocked by how my dad looked, and how UNDONE he seemed from the stroke, that in a way I couldn’t even process it, you know?”
“Of course. That’s so hard,” said Tammy.
“I still don’t know how to deal with it.” Maggie stared into her beer for a long moment before looking back up at Tammy. “When you see him you’ll probably find this hard to believe, but my dad was always a really powerful person. He was so full of energy, and ideas, and LIFE. He was always talking, telling stories and jokes, making everyone laugh—and just being this force of nature that dominated any room he was in, basically. He’s just one of those people.”
“So are both his children,” said Tammy.
Maggie looked down at her lap and fiddled with the hem of her shirt. “Todd is, for sure. Put those two in a room together—and then add my MOM—and it’s a wonder I survived at all. But now so little of the force of my dad’s personality seems to be there. I mean, it is: he’s still Frank Lyon, for sure. And you’ll know soon enough what THAT all means.” Her eyes suddenly welled with tears. “He’s just not the man I knew anymore.”
After she’d released Tammy and wiped her eyes and dabbed her nose with a napkin, Maggie said, “I know it’s stupid, especially since he didn’t DIE—in fact, his stroke could have been a whole lot worse. But I feel like I’ve lost my dad.”
“In some ways you have,” said Tammy. “That’s just part of getting older. We all want our parents to stay the same age they were when we were kids.”
“Yeah,” said Maggie. “I guess that’s it.” She took a big breath in, straightened her back, and then seemed to exhale all of her concerns. “Tell me about you,” she said. “Charlie said you’re painting something that sounded really major.”
“Oh, no,” said Tammy. “I mean, yes. But no. I mean, I was. But I haven’t finished it. I haven’t even looked at it since—I dunno. Two weeks.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I really, really don’t,” said Tammy.
“I understand. Can I say, then, one thing? And I apologize ahead of time for how I KEEP saying this to you—and I SWEAR I won’t ever say it again. But are you sure, sure, SURE you want to take care of my dad?”
“I’m quadruple sure, Mag. Nothing’s changed. You know why this is important to me.”
“I do. And I totally understand it; I’d be the same way. I just wanted to be sure again. It’s WEIRD, right, you taking care of my dad? I mean, it’s good weird. But a LITTLE weird, right?
“Yeah, I guess it is,” said Tammy. “Honestly, it’s less weird for me than not having a job, and not really having any way to earn my keep at Charlie’s.”
“Charlie doesn’t care about that.”
“I know he doesn’t. But I do.”
Maggie nodded. “Yeah. I get that.”
“So what have you been up to since you got back from your dad’s house?”
Maggie’s eyes widened, and she grinned like a girl one tickle away from spilling her big secret.
“What is it?” said Tammy.
Maggie rolled her eyes to the sky and assumed a mega-casual tone. “Oh, nothing. I just fell in love, is all.”
“ARE YOU KIDDING?”
“You’re in LOVE? Like, LOVE love?”
Nodding her head up and down so fast it made her neck muscles stand out, Maggie nearly yelled, “Yes! I’m in love love! It’s so crazy. But I can’t help it!”
Tammy laughed, “Why would you want to? Love is all you need! I, however, need details. Who’s the lucky guy? How do you know him? What’s his name? DETAILS!”
“Okay, so his name is Kavi,” said Maggie. “That’s the name he’s taken for himself, anyway. He got it from his guru in India.”
“Is he Indian?”
“No, he’s from Santa Barbara, I think. He’s travelled everywhere. ‘Kavi’ is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘enlightened,’ ‘man of understanding,’ ‘leader.’ ‘King.’ It means ‘poet,’ too.”
“Wow. Powerful name.”
“He’s a powerful man, believe me.”
“Oh my GOD!”
Maggie squealed. “I KNOW!”
“How did you meet him?”
“He came to Thrive. I had just finished teaching a yoga class, and when I was leaving he was in the front area, talking to Joanna and Paul, who own the studio. They introduced us—and, I mean, he just looked at me, with these EYES that he has, and I felt like he was looking right into my SOUL. And when we shook hands, I swear I felt a bolt of electricity shoot right through me.”
“This is unbelievable,” said Tammy.
“I know! I was, like, ‘Whoa—who the bleepin’ bleep is THIS?’ It felt like we were instantly bonded. We went straight to City Bakery, and we just sat there talking for, like, the whole rest of the afternoon. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never felt so strongly about a man so fast in my life.”
“And this was after you came back from Boston?”
“It was right before. The whole time I was at my dad’s, I was thinking about him. I mean, obviously, I was thinking a lot about my dad, and everything that was going on with him. But the whole time I was up there, I had Kavi on my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. And then, as soon as I saw him after I got back home, I was like, ‘Okay, so I DIDN’T just imagine this amazing man. He IS real.’”
“Wow. WOW. I can’t wait to meet him.”
“I can’t wait for you to.”
“Where is he now?”
“He’s meeting with this guy, an architect. I forget his name. But Kavi wants to open a kind of ashram, a meditation center, a place where seekers, healers, wisdom students, and anyone into making the world a more positive place can gather, and take classes, and exchange ideas. It’ll be a center for, well, centering. A centering center! Anyway, opening a place like that is why Kavi came to Asheville. And this architect is gonna help him find a space to use for it—but mostly he’s gonna help design the space once they find one Kavi wants. That’s what this architect DOES: his whole thing is to create interior spaces that really work in the whole organic, Feng-shui way.”
“That sounds so great.”
“Are you gonna work at Kavi’s center? Have you guys talked about that?”
“A little. For sure, if he needs a yoga teacher. And he will. So that’ll probably work out. But it’s all just in the planning stages right now. But I’m really excited about it.”
Tammy did a little sing-song. “Maggie’s a smitten kitten.”
“I so am! Kavi’s been so great through everything I’ve been going through with my dad. Before I went to Boston, he said a lot of things that just made me feel better about what had happened. And I talked to him at least once a day the whole time I was up there. He gave me so much strength and support, when I really needed it. It was—oh my God!”
“There he is!”
Tammy turned to look, and saw two men coming down the steps from Roberts Street. The taller of the two was wearing white gauze pants, a matching long-sleeved shirt, sandals, and his dark hair in a bun.
“He’s the tall one?” said Tammy.
“Yeah. I’ll be right back, okay?”
“Of course. Invite ‘em over!”
Maggie skipped over to the men, threw her arms around Kavi, listened to something he said, and then shook hands with Kavi’s companion, who, in jeans and a plain black tee shirt, looked to be about Tammy’s age—though without the paunch of most men their age. Maggie and the two men looked Tammy’s way, and then they all started walking towards her.
Moving casually, so as not to appear to be someone who needs booze in order to meet strangers, Tammy lifted her glass and took a giant gulp of her beer.
Upon reaching her, Maggie chirped, “Tammy, this Kavi. And this is his new friend, Barry the architect.”
Reaching up from her seat to shake hands, Tammy said, “Nice to meet you, Kavi. Nice to meet you, Barry the architect”—to which, in her head, she immediately added, “with the blue eyes.”
“Please,” said Barry. “You can just call me The Architect.”
Tammy laughed a little louder than the other two at what seemed to her an extremely good joke.
“I’m gonna go grab a beer,” said Barry. “You all good? Should I get a pitcher?” Instead of yelling, “Yes! Iron Rail IPA! Now!”, Tammy looked at Maggie.
“I’m good,” said Maggie, retaking her seat across from Tammy.
“Me, too,” Tammy said to Barry. “But thanks.”
“Kavi?” said Barry.
Kavi smiled, showing teeth that could not only get him a Hollywood contract, but that could star in their own movie. “No, but I appreciate the offer, my friend.” He spoke at a regal pace, and in a tone so velvety deep it would make a charging lion stop, roll over, and purr.
As Barry went off to get his beer, Kavi sat down beside Maggie. Rubbing a hand on her back, he said, “And how are you, my sunflower? How are you feeling today?”
Maggie leaned her head against his shoulder. Tammy took a sip of her beer.
“I’m feeling good,” said Maggie.
“Are you?” said Kavi.
“I am so glad to hear it.” He turned his huge, dark brown eyes on Tammy. “And you are the wonderful Tammy, about which I hear such delightful things.”
“Oh,” said Tammy. “You must get my newsletter, then.” That day’s go-nowhere joke count was then two. “No, I don’t really have a newsletter. Anyway, you’re Kavi! Maggie’s told me so much about you.”
“You must tell me all that she said,” said Kavi.
Maggie lifted her head from his shoulder. “No, she mustn’t. How did the hunt go for a place? Did you find anything you liked?”
“There were a few places where the energy felt good. But I think we’ll keep looking.” He smiled at Tammy. “I’m looking for a location I can use as a base from which to teach—and learn.”
“Maggie was telling me a bit about that,” said Tammy. “It sounds wonderful.”
“I believe it will be,” said Kavi. “I teach Ayurveda therapies, as well as meditation, prana elevation, chi channeling, and sound healing. What I’m about is ultimately guiding people to that place within themselves where all wisdom lies. We all have within us the source, or, as I think of it, the font, of infinite knowledge. We just have to get there.”
“And STAY there,” said Tammy. “That’s the hard part, right?”
“That’s exactly right,” said Kavi. A big smile spread across this face. “I do believe that I have found my first teacher, Maggie.”
“Your second, you mean,” said Maggie. “Unless you wanna teach yoga, Tammy.”
“No, I don’t think so,” said Tammy. “I can barely touch my knees.” THAT joke they laughed at.
“Then you found your first student!” Kavi said to Maggie.
“Yay!” said Maggie. She reached across the narrow table and squeezed Tammy’s hand.
Barry returned, holding his beer. Sitting beside Tammy, he said, “I love the beer here. It’s so great. So, what’d I miss?”
“Well, my healing center has begun!” said Kavi. “Here are my first two teachers, AND my first two students!”
“That saves money,” said Barry. Then he pretended to think. “Wait. Does it?”
Tammy laughed. “You’re funny,” she said.
“Thanks,” said Barry. He looked at her a beat longer than was strictly called for. Then he turned to Kavi. “So, whaddya think? Any of the locations we looked at today rockin’ your chakras?”
Tammy almost choked on her beer.
Kavi’s smile seemed just a little bit tight around the edges. “No, no place rocked my chakras. I was just telling these two that I will know the right location when I find it.”
“Using your instincts is one of the best ways to find a place you love,” said Barry. He took a sip of his beer. “Man, don’t you just love this time of day? When it’s been so hot all day, and then all these crazy tall clouds happen, and it suddenly cools down, like it just did? And then it starts to smell like it’s gonna rain—and usually DOES? Can you BELIEVE the storms we’ve been having lately?”
“I know!” said Tammy. “I’m from California, and I feel like before I moved here, I didn’t even know what rain WAS. I’ve NEVER seen rain like we get here.”
“I love the way you love the weather here so much,” Maggie said to Tammy.
“I really do,” said Tammy. “Even in the winter, when I was so cold I was basically walking around in SHOCK the whole time, it was exciting! Weather is fun!”
“Weather IS fun,” said Barry.
As if God himself wanted to join the conversation, a fat drop of rain landed right in the middle of Tammy’s beer.
“Did anyone but me see that?” Tammy asked.
“I did!” said Maggie.
“I did, too” said Barry. “And already I can’t believe it.”
“So it really happened then,” said Tammy. “I didn’t imagine it.”
“You definitely didn’t,” said Maggie. “And here comes all its brothers and sisters!”
Before she’d finished talking it was raining hard. They hurriedly rose from their seats.
While they were trotting across the dirt toward the Wedge building, Tammy semi-yelled, “Still fun!”
“Oh, yes!” called Barry.
Just as Tammy looked over at Barry, a bolt of lightning cut through the darkened sky directly behind him.
She then noticed that only three of them were running from the rain.
While Maggie and Barry continued on to the Wedge’s covered area, Tammy stopped just outside of it. She looked back at their table.
Kavi, having remained where he was, was now sitting calmly in the deluge. He was loosening his hair bun. Just as he was shaking out his thick, dark brown hair so that it fell all around his shoulders and over his face, a heart-stoppingly loud boom of thunder came rolling out of the sky.
Chapter 18: Ghostbustiers?
Tammy, Maggie and Sam were in a booth at Luella’s Bar-B-Que, having just seen the new “Ghostbusters” movie at the nearby Biltmore Grande theater. They had decided on ordering Luella’s famous (and famously huge) Big Boy’s Blue Ribbon BBQ Platter, which serves four, at least.
“This way Tammy can sample all the Luella goodness,” said Maggie, “and we’ll still have leftovers!”
Today was the day that Maggie’s father was arriving at Charlie’s house. All involved had deemed it best if Maggie and Tammy stayed away from Charlie’s house for the day, so that “just the men,” as Frank had put it, could help him settle in.
Hence the trio’s Girls’ Day Out, a chief component of which had been seeing the new movie everyone was talking about.
A very sweet and very pretty twenty-something African-American waitress took their ginormous food order. Once the waitress had left, Maggie teased Sam. “Gush much?” she said.
“What are you talking about?” said Sam.
“You and our waitress. Look at you! You’re STILL blushing!”
“Shut UP,” said Sam. “No, I’m not. Besides, you should see you with Kavi. You two need to figure out how to carry around a portable room with you.”
“Ha!” said Tammy.
Maggie turned to Tammy. “Oh, and the other day you weren’t making goo-goo eyes at Barry the Architect?”
“You appreciated something about him, all right,” said Maggie.
“ANYWAY,” said Tammy, “let’s talk about the movie. First of all, I’m confused. Why was it supposed to be so controversial? Even the trailer for it was crazily unpopular, right?”
“It sure was,” said Maggie.
“Almost one million down-votes before the movie even opened,” said Sam. “It’s one of the top-ten most disliked videos on all of YouTube. Where five billion videos are watched every single day.”
Tammy and Maggie both stared at Sam.
“What?” said Sam. “I know stuff.”
“Then maybe you can explain why so many people hate that movie so much,” said Tammy. “And why people were so mean to Leslie Jones. I love her. All this vitriol over a MOVIE is something I just don’t understand.”
“I do,” said Maggie.
“Explain away, girlfriend,” said Sam.
Maggie said, “The people who are having such a big problem with the movie are insecure white men. Why? Because so many of them are terrified by the fact that every day they’re losing more and more of the privileges that they’ve always had just BECAUSE they’re white men—being the same privileges their fathers had, and their fathers before them, and that all white men have always enjoyed in America. And all this troll-boy complaining we’re always hearing these days—from ‘men’s rights’ activists to Donald Trump’s empowering of racism—is the death rattle of that whole, tired, outdated, grossly unfair social construct.”
“Preach,” said Sam.
Maggie took her up on that. “First we elected a black president,” she continued. “And now we’re gonna elect a WOMAN president. And those white men who don’t really have anything going for them beyond that they’re white—which up until lately was really all they NEEDED to feel like superior beings—are losing their collective shit.”
“Yeah, but over a MOVIE?” said Tammy.
“Well, think about it,” said Maggie. “This isn’t just ANY movie. It perfectly symbolizes everything those insecure white men are losing. ‘Ghostbusters’ is a big-budget comedy action movie. That means it’s SUPPOSED to give them two things: Heroes they can at least IMAGINE themselves being, and hot chicks. That’s what the first ‘Ghostbusters’ gave them. In that movie, Bill Murray was a wise-crackin’, goofy-looking dude who, in the opening scene of the movie, is LYING to one of his hot blonde STUDENTS in order to sleep with her. How admirable! And super-hot Sigourney Weaver ends up BEGGING him to sleep with her. And then he saves her, AND the entire city of New York. It’s the perfect male fantasy.”
“Most action movies are perfect male fantasies,” said Sam.
“But not THIS one,” said Maggie. “This one stars four women who don’t seem to care at all about being sexy. The only sex object in the movie is a man.”
“That whole bit with Chris Hemsworth being their himbo secretary was SO funny,” said Sam. “That guy rocks.”
“Instead of how hot they are, what these women care about is their relationships with each other,” said Maggie. “They just didn’t need men. How DARE that happen in a ‘Ghostbusters’ reboot!”
“I guess men just aren’t used to relating to female characters, the way we’ve been relating to fictional male characters all our lives,” said Tammy. “There used to be such a dearth of female heroes. We were always the ones getting saved. But I guess the idea of female heroes is new for men.”
“Lara Craft’s a female hero,” said Sam.
“Yeah, and she’s hot as hell,” said Maggie.
“Is she?” said Sam. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“HOT female heroes are fine with men,” said Maggie. “But NORMAL females—normal FUNNY females?—as action heroes? Not so much.”
“I hate that crap about how women aren’t funny,” said Sam. “How can that even be a ‘debate’? It’s like debating whether or not women are human.”
“Bingo,” said Maggie.
“Especially since all you have to do is turn on ‘Saturday Night Live,’” said Tammy. “Without the women on that show, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as funny as it is. Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Leslie Jones, Vanessa Bayer, Aidy Bryant, Sasheer Zamata—they are HILARIOUS.”
“Wow,” said Sam. “You really know that show.”
“Yeah,” said Tammy, “I watch it. Because of how funny the WOMEN on it are.”
“Leslie Jones, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Melissa McCarthy are all comic geniuses,” said Maggie. “And people are STILL complaining that ‘Ghostbusters’ can’t be funny because they’re in it. It’s crazy.”
“I loved the movie,” said Tammy. “There was an emotional depth—a gentleness, a kind of female take—to the comedy that I thought was great. I was just smiling the whole movie through.”
“So I think we can all agree on one thing,” said Sam. “The movie would have stood a much better chance at the box office if it were titled, ‘Ghostbustiers.’”
Once their meal had ended, and Tammy, who had driven her own car there, had hugged her two friends good-bye, she got back into her car and headed home. She was pleased that, while she did still rely upon the Google Maps lady to guide her confidently there, it was no longer beyond the realm of possibilities that she could have made it home on her own. She was finally starting to know her way around the confounding maze that was Asheville.
Upon turning her car onto Charlie’s narrow street in West Asheville, she saw, up the street a ways, an ambulance stopped before a house. She slowed down. She was about half a block away when the fear that had gripped her became real. The ambulance, its back doors flung open, was at Charlie’s house.
Chapter 19: Parenting the Parent (Apparently)
As Tammy, her heart in her throat, was coming up the walkway to Charlie’s house the front door opened. Two uniformed paramedics stepped out.
“What’s happened?” Tammy said.
The first paramedic stopped, while his companion politely stepped around them on his way back to the ambulance. “And you are … ?” he said.
“I’m the sister of the man who lives here,” said Tammy.
“Everything’s okay,” said the paramedic. “The elderly gentleman inside was in a little car accident right in front of the house there, and his son just wanted to make sure that he’s all right. And he is. A little rattled, maybe, but he’s fine.”
“There was a car accident?”
“Yes. Nothing too major. Everybody’s inside.”
“Thank you,” said Tammy. A wave of relief rolled over her. “Thank you for everything.”
“Of course, ma’am. Give us a call if you need anything else.”
As she entered Charlie’s house and closed the door behind her, Tammy heard coming from the living room Todd’s loud and stressed voice.
“Listen, boy,” answered a man’s authoritative voice. “I told you: I didn’t come here so you could babysit me. I wanted a drink. You wouldn’t give me one. Do you really think I’m just gonna SIT here while you tell me what I can and can’t do?”
Since her only other choice was trying to creep back out of the house, Tammy called, “Hello?”
She heard Charlie’s voice say, “Tammy!” As she waited for Charlie to come to the entranceway, she fiddled with unzipping her purse and putting her car keys into it in just the right way.
“Is Frank okay?” Tammy silently mouthed back.
Charlie nodded. “He’s fine.” He widened his eyes for the emphasis he couldn’t speak aloud. “He is in rare form.”
“I don’t want to interrupt,” whispered Tammy.
“Nah, you’ll help,” whispered Charlie. “C’mon.”
As they walked back together into the living room, Tammy saw, for the first time, sitting on the oversized, black leather easy chair set in one corner of the room, Frank Lyon. He was a handsome man, in the same blue-eyed, boyish way that Todd was handsome. Tammy was immediately impressed by his size. She had imagined Frank as smaller than he was — an assumption which, it occurred to her at the moment, had no basis whatsoever, given that both Todd and Maggie could pass as professional athletes. It figured that their father would be a physically commanding presence — recent stroke, seated, out of shape, and all.
“This must be the wonderful Tammy that I’ve heard so much about,” said Frank. His voice certainly did nothing to diminish him. He sounded like the colossus of the Lincoln Memorial come to life.
Tammy couldn’t seem to do anything about the manic smile on her face. “That’s me!” she said, giving a little wave. Placing her purse on the floor beside the couch, she walked towards Frank, intending to shake his hand. But halfway across the room she was met by Todd, who had stepped forward to give her a welcoming hug.
The awkwardness of this little collision of purposes vanished for Tammy the moment she was enveloped by Todd’s arms.
After their hug, Todd pulled in a deep, calming breath, and said, “So. We interrupt our current drama to ask you this burning question, Tammy: How was the movie?”
“It was great,” said Tammy. “We all loved it.”
“Oh, good!” said Todd. “In other news, you cut your hair!”
“Literally,” said Tammy. “I did it myself. Long story.”
“It’s fantastic. You look like an Asheville hipster feminist now!” said Todd.
“That’s all I wanted,” said Tammy.
Frank spoke up from his chair. “Did Maggie come here with you?”
“No,” said Tammy. “She’s teaching a yoga class this evening. She’s coming by here after that, though.” Tammy then finished what she’d started. “It’s nice to meet you, Frank,” she said.
Her hand nearly got lost in Frank’s giant mitt.
“It’s nice to meet you, Tammy,” said Frank. “I wish it were under better circumstances.”
Tammy shrugged amiably. “I don’t know what’s going on in this particular moment. What I do know is that, with these two here gone all day, I’ve been looking forward to some company around here.”
“Well, we’ll see how you feel about that after a week or two,” said Frank. “I’m not as charming as you might have been led to believe.”
“Oh, good,” said Maggie. “Because I’m a real crank. So we should get along just fine.”
Frank’s laughter quickly switched into a coughing bout. Todd stepped concernedly towards his father. Still coughing, Frank waved him off. Tammy walked calmly into the kitchen, returning shortly with a tall glass half full of water. The moment his coughing subsided long enough to allow him to, Frank, his hand shaking slightly, took the offered glass of water. In drinking it he made loud gulping sounds. After he’d handed the glass back to Tammy, Frank seemed unaware of the water that had dribbled down the side of his mouth and onto his chin. As she handed him a tissue from the box on the side table next to his chair, Tammy turned to Todd.
“Have you met Maggie’s new beau, Kavi?” she said.
“I haven’t,” said Todd. “She’s talked about him, though. Have you met him?”
“I have,” said Tammy. She glanced back at Frank, who, with some deliberation, was dabbing at his mouth and chin with the tissue.
“Whadcha think of him?” said Todd.
Tammy shrugged. “He’s really — I don’t know — charismatic. He has great hair, I’ll say that. And Maggie sure seems to like him. That’s about all I know.”
Meanwhile, Frank was looking about himself for a place to dispose of the tissue. Tammy picked up the drinking glass, and held it before him. “Here you go,” she said casually. When Frank didn’t seem to immediately grasp her meaning, she added, “I’m headed back to the kitchen anyway.”
“Oh,” said Frank. He reached out and pushed the tissue past the top of the glass. “Thank you, darling.”
As she turned away from him on her way to the kitchen, Tammy raised her eyebrows at Todd and Charlie. “Darling,” she said.
After giving his throat a good clearing, Frank called after her, “Was that too old-fashioned?” To Todd and Charlie, he said, “Don’t tell me it’s offensive to call a woman ‘darling’ these days. I swear, I can’t keep track of what words anybody’s allowed to use anymore.”
“I think ‘darling’ is okay,” said Charlie.
As Tammy was walking back into the room, Frank asked her, a tad too loudly, “Am I allowed to call you darlin’?”
Crossing to the couch and sitting down on it, Tammy said, “I think I’ll be disappointed if you ever call me anything else.”
“Ha!” said Frank. With a look of eminent satisfaction on his face, he sat back in his chair. “See, now, boys? That is a woman.”
Todd sat on the couch beside Tammy. “It is?” he said. He stared at Tammy. “And all this time I thought you were a mermaid.”
Frank waved his hand like he was swatting away a particularly annoying fly. “Oh, you’ve always got to be so goddamn funny, don’t you, smart ass? Ignore him, Tammy. He thinks he’s a comedian.”
“No, I don’t,” said Todd. “I think I’m a chef.”
“I think you’re a fat-head,” said Frank.
“Now, now, boys,” said Charlie, taking a seat in one of the other two big easy chairs in the room. “Don’t make me send you to your rooms.”
“Hey, seriously, Dad, we’ve gotta talk about what happened with that accident,” said Todd.
“We do, do we?” said Frank churlishly.
“Yes,” said Todd.
“Okay,” said Frank. “I backed out of the driveway, and that moron of a neighbor of yours ran into me. There. We just talked about it.”
“Okay, well, first of all,” said Todd, “you shouldn’t have been in my car.”
“I’m sorry,” said Frank sarcastically. “Whose car was I supposed to drive again?”
“You’re not supposed to drive anyone’s car,” said Todd. “You’re supposed to stay home, and take it easy.”
“I wasn’t planning on driving up Mt. Everest,” said Frank. “I was going to the liquor store. I wanted a drink. What was I supposed to do, when you said I couldn’t have one?” His blue eyes blazing from the heat of the argument, Frank seemed to come more alive than he’d been at any time since Tammy’s arrival.
“So that was your solution?” said Todd. “Wait until the ONE moment when Charlie and I are doing something besides watching you, and then sneak out the front door, hop in my car, and IMMEDIATELY get in a car crash?”
“I told you, I didn’t hit him.” Frank yelled now. “HE HIT ME!”
“You backed up right in front of him!” said Todd.
“How the hell do YOU know what happened?” Frank said. “You weren’t even there! What a burden your life must be, being all-knowing like you are.”
Rising from her seat, Tammy said softly, “I’m gonna go downstairs. This is really a family sort of discussion.”
“Don’t leave on my account, sweetheart,” said Frank angrily. “I think you should hear this. Besides, you are family. If these two are married, you’re family.”
Tammy sat back down. “Okay, well—”
“What do you mean, IF we’re married?” said Todd.
“Oh, don’t start with me about that,” spat Frank. “Jesus CHRIST! Can’t you ever leave ANYTHING alone?” It took some effort, but, moving hastily, Frank pushed himself out of his chair. On his way storming out of the room, he stopped in front of Todd. “I’m going to my room, now!” he yelled. “Is that okay with you? Or is there a permission slip you’d like me to fill out first, you little prick?”
“No, go!” screamed Todd. “Go! Please! Do us all a favor, and GO!”
Frank loudly slammed shut his bedroom door.
“I can’t—I just, I gotta get outta here,” said Todd. He headed for the front door.
Charlie said, “Todd, wait!” and went after him.
From her seat on the couch Tammy looked out the sliding glass door at the impossibly green trees in the ravine beyond. It was a gorgeous afternoon. Hot as Hades, but gorgeous. Summers in Asheville were a lot hotter than she’d expected them to be. Winters were a lot colder. Spring was infinitely springier. She hadn’t yet experienced fall in Asheville, but was sure it would be fallier than any fall she’d ever known.
Everything about Asheville was more of what it was than it was anywhere else.
Tammy reached for her purse. While on the freeway driving home from the movies, she’d heard her phone ring. This seemed like as good a time as any to see who might have called her.
She was surprised to find waiting for her a voicemail from one Laurel Payton. She hadn’t heard from Laurel in years. She’d been a standout student of hers in San Diego. A quick-witted and lively girl, Laurel had an an almost sensationally quirky way of seeing the world. Much to Tammy’s delight, she had also embraced both the joy and the discipline of translating that quirky vision into finished works of art. She was someone whom Tammy knew could become a real artist. And, since she seemed to intently want that for herself, Tammy had done everything she could to help her realize that dream.
So she had been especially disappointed when, three-quarters through her second year of art classes, Laurel had dropped out of school. About a month before slipping out of Tammy’s world, she had taken up with a scroungy, tall, handsome boy named Wyatt. He was a couple of years older than Laurel, and had a secretive, wolfish way about him that made Tammy wary of him. He always smelled of skunk weed and day-old beer.
When she stopped showing up for class, Tammy, initially through the occasional phone call, and then here and there on Facebook, reached out to Laurel, encouraging her, first, to come back to school, and, then, later, to be sure to stay in touch. But after a while it was clear enough that Laurel no longer saw Tammy as a key, or even peripheral, character in her life, and Tammy let her go. Such things happen, as all teachers know. They happened all the time, really. Loving students who then go away is basically what teaching is.
And now here was Laurel, all this time later, calling her.
That happened too, sometimes.
Tammy played the message.
“Hi, Mrs. Dulton. You probably don’t remember me, but this is Laurel Payton. I know it’s been awhile since we talked—I mean, it’s been years, hasn’t it? I hope you do remember me, because I definitely remember you. I never stopped watching your Facebook page to see how you’re doing. I’m so sorry I let us get out of touch. I see that you’re in Asheville now. That’s why I’m calling, actually. I’m coming to Asheville, and thought we might get together. I would really love that. I’m going to be out there in just about a week. I know that’s short notice. I’m totally sorry about that. It’s just something that came up kind of all of a sudden. So, anyway, I don’t know anyone in Asheville, and was thinking that, maybe, if you’re up for it and everything, we could get together. I’d love to see you, if that’s okay. I’m still with Wyatt, if you remember him. I’m sure he’ll want to come with me to see you. Okay, well, that’s it! Call or text me if you want to. If not, that’s fine, too. I’ll understand. But I hope I hear back from you. Okay, well, bye.”
After the message was done playing, Tammy sat looking at her phone.
She felt shocked and full of dread.
That wasn’t the Laurel she had known. The Laurel she had known was a confident, bold, optimistic young woman.
But now she sounded meek, unsure of herself, overly anxious to please.
Now she sounded afraid.
When had such an unhappy change come over her?
Chapter 20: She’s being abused
The following Saturday afternoon Tammy was at home with Todd and Maggie. Frank and Charlie had left about a half-hour before; they were going to see the new Jason Bourne movie, and would then grab an early dinner.
“You’re going on a day date!” Maggie had said to them.
“They so are!” said Todd. “Charlie, don’t you flirt too much with Dad. A racing pulse isn’t the best thing for him right now.”
“Are you SURE I can’t flirt with him?” said Charlie.
“Oh, here it is,” said Frank.
“He is, after all, my type,” continued Charlie. “I mean, no offense, Todd, but I HAVE been waiting for you to mature.” He gestured towards Frank like was a brand new refrigerator that he was showing off to a game show audience. “And now here I have this mature and wizened version of you!”
Four out of five people in the room thought that was hilarious.
“I’ll be waiting in the car,” said Frank grimly, walking out the front door.
Todd gave Charlie a quick peck on the lips. “If he decides to stay in the car and be grumpy, don’t forget to roll down the window and leave him some water.” He patted his husband on the arm. “Or not. Your call.”
“I will,” said Charlie. “Give Leslie my love, okay?”
Leslie was Todd and Maggie’s mother. A chief scientist for the National Centers for Environmental Information, she was a formidable woman, in the way that perhaps only women raised in the Appalachian mountains can be formidable. (When Todd first told her that his mother worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Tammy said, “What the what, now?” That night she had visited the NCEI website, where she read: “NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) are responsible for hosting and providing access to one of the most significant archives on earth, with comprehensive oceanic, atmospheric, and geophysical data. From the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun and from million-year-old tree rings to near real-time satellite images, NCEI is the Nation’s leading authority for environmental information.” “Whoa,” she’d said, taking a sip of her wine. “Where the U.S. Government meets All The Weather.”)
* * * * *
“There’s my darlin’s,” said Leslie as she stepped into the house, arms opened wide. After hugging and kissing both her children on their cheeks, she said, “And there’s their savior,” and gave Tammy the same warm greeting.
Leslie had vivid blue-green eyes that could pin a gorilla to a wall, high cheekbones, and black hair cut short and shot through with grey. Though not a tall woman, she was naturally statuesque, not to say downright regal. She gave the singular impression of being too kind not to suffer fools gladly, but too intelligent to ever do so for long.
Soon after the foursome had settled into the living room with tea and a plate of almond-based creme cookies made by Todd’s pastry chef that were so delicious Tammy’s immediate thought upon first tasting one was to ditch all pretense of shame, grab the whole plate, and light out for the hills, Leslie asked, “So, how’s it goin’ with your dad?”
Todd and Maggie looked at each other to see who wanted to answer first. Then Todd shrugged, and said, “So far so good. Depends on what mood he’s in, mainly.”
“Oh, has he developed moods?” said Leslie. “That’s good to hear. He used to only have two moods: angry and grumpy.”
“He’s expanded that,” said Todd. “Now he also has ornery and cantankerous.”
“And sullen,” said Maggie.
“Oh, that’s right — and sullen,” said Todd. “It’s a regular mood extravaganza.”
“How about you, Tammy?” said Leslie. “How you doin’ with him?”
“Oh, pretty well,” said Tammy. “I haven’t really done much. Mostly he just wants to sit and watch TV. I bring him his lunch and dinner, and make sure he gets his meds. So far that’s about it.”
“Does he take his meds?” said Leslie.
“No,” they all said at once.
“Actually, I think he’s getting better with that,” said Todd. “Isn’t he, Tammy?”
“He is,” said Tammy. “At first, I was kind of insisting that he take his pills. But that wasn’t working. So then I started bringing his pills to him on a little side plate, along with his food, without saying anything about them at all. Then he started taking them.”
“He’s like a little kid,” said Maggie.
“This has all got to be pretty hard on him,” said Tammy. “I don’t think he’s used to being dependent on anyone.”
“No, he’s not,” said Leslie. “Frank is the most independent person I’ve ever known. If he thinks someone is trying to make him a part of their agenda, he’ll bolt like a wild horse poked with a cattle prod. Problem is, there’s nowhere he can go now. He’s stuck here. He’s got to allow you three to take care of him. And he knows it.”
“I still don’t understand why he didn’t he just stay in Boston and pay for in-home care,” said Maggie. “He can afford that.”
“That cheap bastard PAY for someone, when he’s got you three to do it for free? Please. He’s cheap, not stupid. He knows a good deal when it lets him move into its beautiful home in one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.”
“Oh, my God,” said Todd. “Do you think he wants to WORK here?”
“If by ‘work,’ you mean develop real estate, the same as he’s done in Boston for the last twenty years?” said Leslie. “Are you kidding me? The man would wheel an outhouse beside a swamp and sell it as a lakeside mansion if he could get away with it. You try so much as walking him by a vacant lot anywhere in this town, and you’ll see. Before you can stop him, he’ll have already peed in every corner of that lot.” She waited while her audience finished cracking up. “Asking Frank Lyon to refrain from developing real estate in Asheville is like asking Scrooge McDuck to refrain from diving into a swimming pool filled with his money.”
“So, what’s your advice, Mom, on how to make what Dad’s going through easier for him?” said Maggie.
“And for us,” said Todd.
“Well, of course, it’s you, Todd, who’s gonna have the most problems with Frank,” said Leslie. “Because he’s living in your house. I know Tammy is spending the most time with him, but she isn’t vulnerable to him in the way you kids are. Todd, the main thing you’re going to have to do with your father—and this goes for all three of you—is to insist on your boundaries with him. You cannot let him take over your life. Because that’s exactly what he’ll try to do. He will push and push and push you, until he breaks you. Because then he’ll feel like he has control over you; then he’s expanded his domain, basically. And he thinks that’ll make him safer.”
“That’s so sad,” said Maggie.
“It is,” said Leslie. “It’s also extremely counterproductive. Frank’s trying to dominate people into passivity doesn’t make him more safe. It makes him more likely to get strangled in his sleep. But he hasn’t learned that yet. You kids—and you, Tammy—can help him learn it. You can do that by doing what’s also best for YOU, which is being your own person. You have to refuse, no matter how many of your buttons he pushes, to play into his bullshit. Insist that you’re his peer, not his child. Not his babysitter. Not his mother. His peer. Do that, and do it consistently, and you’ll gain his respect. It’ll take awhile, but you’ll get it. And things’ll go a lot smoother with him once you do. Frank’s not a bad man. But he’s stubborn as a mule with a grudge.”
“What about his drinking, and all that sort of thing?” said Todd.
“Yeah, like his diet,” said Maggie.
“And his cigars,” said Tammy.
“He does love his cigars,” said Maggie.
“And I just love the way they make the house smell,” said Todd. “NOT!”
“That is still so funny,” said Tammy.
“I agree,” said Todd. “I refuse to give it up.”
“What about that stuff, Mom?” said Maggie. “Are we just supposed to let Dad eat, smoke and drink his way right into his grave? How do we even control that?”
“You don’t,” said Leslie. “All you can do is pick your fights. Frank’s not going to be told what he can and can’t do. Not at his age. So you have to walk that fine line between—”
There was a knock at the door.
“That’s weird,” said Todd, heading for the entranceway. “We’re not expecting anyone.”
When, moment later, he returned to the living room, Todd had with him two people: Tammy’s former student, Laurel, and her boyfriend, Wyatt.
“Laurel!” gasped Tammy. She hastily put down her tea, stood, and crossed to the girl, her arms held open for a hug. Just before she and Laurel would have embraced, though, Wyatt stepped in between them.
“Hey, Mrs. Dulton,” he said evenly.
Tammy found herself face to face with the white and red skull on the front of Wyatt’s heavy metal tee-shirt. Faded and worn thin with time, the shirt was too small for him, so that it flattered his long sinewy arms. He was taller than Tammy remembered him being, and had broader shoulders. He looked down at her from behind the long lock of greasy black hair he let dangle over his face.
“Or I guess it’s Miss Dulton now, right?” he said. He had perfected the smile so slight you more sensed it than saw it.
Tammy had to stop herself from recoiling from the wave of the malevolence she felt radiating off him.
“Hello, Wyatt,” she managed to say politely. “Good to see you.” Then she ended around him to Laurel. “And Laurel! How good to see you!”
Everything that wasn’t right with the girl, though, shot through Tammy’s mind. Too thin. Long, dank-looking hair uncombed. Sallow skin, like she never went outdoors. Wretched posture.
Mostly, though, the entire right side of Laurel’s face was slightly puffy, and colored the black-hued yellow of the healing bruise. You could still see the feint purple-blue running along her jawline, and the stubborn dark line, which she’d tried to conceal with make-up, outlining the lower curve of her eye socket.
Tammy didn’t have to guess why, on this blisteringly hot August day, Laurel was wearing a long sleeve turtleneck shirt.
“It’s good to see you, too,” said Laurel. There was that bright, shy smile Tammy remembered; there was her lovely girl. “I like your hair short like that. It looks cool.”
Keeping one arm around Laurel’s waist, Tammy turned to the others. “Todd, Maggie, Leslie, this Laurel and Wyatt. Laurel used to be a student of mine. She was one of the most talented young artists I ever had the pleasure to work with.”
“Is that right?” said Leslie.
“Well, c’mon and have a seat, you two,” said Todd.
Laurel dropped her head, and took a step away from Tammy toward the group.
“No, that’s okay,” said Wyatt. Laurel stopped and looked back at Wyatt. When Wyatt continued talking, Laurel looked Tammy’s way. With an instantaneous and almost undetectable widening of her eyes, she signaled that she wanted help. But when Tammy took an instinctive half-step towards the girl, she quickly turned away to look at Wyatt again.
“You must really like living here, Miss Dulton,” said Wyatt. Putting his arm around Laurel’s shoulder, he let his gaze drift about the room, slowly, seeming to take in everything within it. “It’s a real nice house.”
“Thanks, but it’s not mine,” said Tammy. “This house belongs to Todd.”
“Wait, what? This isn’t your house?” said Wyatt. Looking down on Laurel, he gave her the slightest little shake. “I thought you said this was her house, baby.”
“No, it’s mine,” said Todd. “Guess there’s just been some misunderstanding. But listen, now. You sure you two wouldn’t like to sit and visit a while? Give us a chance to get to know you a little?”
“Yes, why don’t you do that?” said Leslie. She was focused in on Wyatt like a hawk who’d noticed a dozing rabbit.
“So where do you live?” Wyatt said to Tammy.
“I live downstairs,” said Tammy.
“Laurel, do you think you could help me for a minute?” It was Maggie, who hadn’t spoken a word since Laurel and Wyatt’s arrival. She stood up from the couch. “I’ve been doing some art work myself, some painting. I’m no good at it, but I enjoy it. Anyway, I’ve been painting this one picture, and it’s been giving me all kinds of trouble. Would you mind taking a look at it for me? I could sure use a pair of fresh eyes on that thing.”
Laurel looked at Wyatt, and then back at Maggie. Moving her hair behind her ear, she said, “Sure.”
“Bring your painting out here,” said Wyatt. “I wanna see it, too.”
Maggie laughed a bit as she came and stood beside Laurel. “Oh, God, no, it’s much too big to move. And it’s on its easel, and all that.” She slipped her arm companionably around Laurel’s. “C’mon. It’ll only take a second.”
As Maggie and Laurel began walking out of the room together, Wyatt started to follow them. “I’ll come, too,” he said. “I know some art shit.”
Moving quickly behind the exiting group, Todd stepped between Wyatt and the girls. “Stop right there, my young friend,” he said. “Because I’ve got something I want to show YOU. Or, should I say, that I want you to taste. Are you a drinking man?”
“Yeah,” said Wyatt distractedly. He was looking over Todd’s shoulder at Maggie and Laurel, who were now headed down the hallway which led to a small utility and laundry room in the back of the house.
“Good,” said Todd. “Because boy oh boy, do I have a treat for you.”
Wyatt looked at Todd. “What?”
Todd pointed to his mother. “Do you see that woman right there? You might not know it from looking at her, but she makes—well, let me correct that, and say that she KNOWS some people who make—the finest moonshine in all of Appalachia.”
Leslie stood from her chair and crossed to them. “Now, that’s not true, son. I know some people who KNOW some people who make moonshine, is all.”
“Well, be that as it may,” said Todd, “thanks to my dear mother, I happen to have, right now, in my kitchen, a bottle of the very same moonshine that many people say was responsible for making deputy sheriff Barney Fife the way that he was.”
Leslie and Tammy laughed.
“Who’s that?” said Wyatt.
“Nobody,” said Todd. “Just a TV character. But please, step into my kitchen, Wyatt, while I change your ever-lovin’ life. Ladies? Join us for the lightest little trip down Moonshine Lane?”
“Well, if you’re gonna twist my arm,” said Tammy.
Once the four of them were in the kitchen, though, Todd, for the life of him, could not seem to find the bottle of moonshine. He looked in one set of cupboards, and then searched through another, standing on his tiptoes and bending to his knees, exclaiming all the while over his failure to understand what in the world could have happened to the wonderful bottle of moonshine that he had been saving for a day just like today.
He was still hunting for the bottle when Maggie and Laurel returned from the back room.
“So, what did you think of Maggie’s painting, Laurel?” said Tammy. “Pretty great, right?”
Laurel nodded. “Yeah. I liked it,” she said softly.
“What are you all doing in the kitchen?” said Maggie.
“Looking for that bottle of moonshine Mom brought us,” said Todd. “Do you know where it is?”
Maggie shrugged. “Nope.”
“Yeah, I’ll just bet you don’t,” said Todd.
“I DON’T!” Maggie laughed.
“All right,” said Todd, “we’re just gonna let this go for now.” He put his hand on Wyatt’s shoulder. “Sorry about that, buddy. Next time, though, okay?”
Wyatt quickly moved away from Todd. “Sure thing,” he said. He took hold of Laurel’s hand. “C’mon,” he said, heading her towards the front door. “We’re outta here.”
As the two of them were stepping outside, Tammy said, “Call me, Laurel! I’ll call you, too!”
And then Wyatt and Laurel were gone.
Todd, Maggie, Tammy and Leslie stood in the area between the kitchen and the living room, silently staring at one another.
“What the hell was that?” said Todd.
“That was a young girl in danger,” said Leslie.
“What can we do?” asked Tammy.
“When I was back there alone with her,” said Maggie, “I flat-out asked her if she wanted to leave, right then.”
“You DID?” said Tammy.
“Hell yes I did,” said Maggie. “I saw that look she gave you, Tammy. I told her that we could slip right out the back, into my car, and be twenty miles away before her asshole boyfriend even knew we were gone. She almost did it, too. I’m telling you, she almost came with me. But she was just too afraid to. But I gave her one of those trifold cards from Helpmate. I’d slipped it out of my purse while you all were talking. I said, ‘You take this girl. Hide it in your shoe. Read it when you’re alone.’ It’s got Helpmate’s hotline number on it, tips about stuff you want squirreled away for your escape, some questions to ask yourself about the person you’re in a relationship with. Hopefully she’ll read it, and then get the freak away from that creep.”
“But where could she GO?” said Tammy. Her eyes filled with tears. “She doesn’t know anyone in Asheville. And she can’t come here, now, because Wyatt’ll know where to find her.”
“She can come stay with me,” said Leslie.
“At the farm?” said Todd.
“Yeah,” said Leslie. To Tammy, she said, “I keep a place here in town, but my real home—the place where Todd and Maggie grew up, the same place I grew up in—is a little farm way back in the mountains in Madison County.”
“Really?” said Tammy.
“Oh, yeah,” said Leslie. “I’d love to have her out there. I need someone to watch out for the place when I’m not there. Some real country living would be good for her. She could tend to the horses, feed the goats, help stop the coyotes from makin’ off with my chickens. She’ll be baking bread in my outdoor pizza oven in no time.”
“Wow,” said Tammy. “That sounds so perfect.”
Maggie hugged her mother. “I love you so much,” she said.
“I love you too, baby,” said Leslie. “Now you girls try not to let anything happen to that poor young thing. And one way or another, let’s get her up to my farm. And then just let her boyfriend try to find her up there. That dickless bully comes back into those woods, and I’ll see to it he never comes back out again.”
“Is it possible we’re just overreacting?” said Tammy.
“I don’t think so,” said Maggie. “She looks pretty bad. And domestic violence definitely has a tendency to escalate.”
“I’m so worried about her,” said Tammy.
“I am, too,” said Maggie.