Igms issue 15, p.17
IGMS - Issue 15, page 17
"I don't think so," said Deaver.
"Sometimes I wish Ollie would just run off like Roy -- only do it now, before he has a wife and children for his brother Toolie to take care of."
That didn't seem fair to Deaver, and for once he felt bold enough to speak up about it. "Ollie works hard. I was with him all morning."
"Yes, yes," said Scarlett. "I know that. He isn't Roy. He tries to be good. But he always stands there with that little half-smile, as if he thinks we're all so terribly amusing. I saw that smile on Roy's face the whole time he was with us, before he ran off. That smile's like a sign that says, I may be with you, but I'm no part of you."
Deaver had noticed the smile, but he never thought that was what it meant. It seemed to Deaver that Ollie mostly smiled when he was embarrassed about the way his family was acting, or when he was trying to be friendly. It wasn't Ollie's fault that when he smiled, his face reminded people of Royal Aal.
"Ollie's old enough to be on his own," said Deaver. "When I was his age, I'd been driving a scavenger truck for a couple of years."
Scarlett looked at Deaver in disbelief. "Of course Ollie's old enough. But if he left, who'd do the lighting? Who'd keep the truck running? Marshall and Toolie and Katie and me -- what do we know except the shows?"
Didn't she see the contradiction in what she said? Ollie couldn't go because the family needed him -- but all the time he was there, his own mother was wishing he'd run off so he wouldn't cause the harm his uncle caused. There was no sense in it at all. For all Deaver knew, Ollie was nothing at all like his uncle. But if his own mother saw him that way, then it was hard to see how Ollie could ever prove to her it wasn't true.
Deaver had seen a lot of families over the years. Even though he was never really a part of any one of them, he lived right with them, saw how the parents treated their children, saw how the children treated their parents. Better than most people, he understood how it was when something was wrong in a family. Everybody tries to hide it, to pretend everything's OK, but it always squeezes out somewhere. The Aals had all that pain from what Royal did and they couldn't get back at Royal, not a bit. But it so happened that they had a son who was a little bit like Royal. It was bound to squeeze out there, some of that pain. Deaver wondered how long Scarlett had thought of Ollie as being just like Roy. Wondered if Ollie had ever caught a scrap of a sentence about it. Or if one time when she was mad Scarlett had said it right out, "You're just like your uncle, you're exactly like him!"
That was the kind of thing a kid doesn't forget. One time a fostered mother called Deaver a thief, and when it turned out her own kid had stolen the sugar and sold it, even though she made a big deal about apologizing to Deaver, he never forgot it. It was like a wall between them for the months before he was finally fostered somewhere else. You just can't unsay what's been said.
Thinking of that, of people saying cruel things they can't take back, Deaver remembered how Marshall gave a tongue-lashing to Toolie that morning. There was more going on in this family than Ollie reminding his mother of Roy Aal.
"I shouldn't have said any of this to you, Deaver Teague."
Deaver realized he must have been silent a long time, just standing there. "No, it's all right," said Deaver.
"But there's something about you. You're so sure of yourself."
People had said that to Deaver before. He long since figured out that it was because he didn't talk often, and when he did, he didn't say much. "I suppose," he said.
"And when Mother Aal called you an angel."
Deaver gave a little laugh.
"I thought -- maybe the Lord led you to us. Or led us to you. At a time when we are in such great need of healing. Maybe you don't even realize it yourself, but maybe you're here to work a miracle."
Deaver shook his head.
"Maybe you can work a miracle without even knowing you're doing it." She took Deaver's hand -- and now the theatricality was back. She was trying to make him feel a certain way, and so she was acting. Deaver was glad to know he could see the difference so clearly. It meant he could believe what she said when she wasn't acting. "Oh, Deaver," she said. "I'm so scared about Ollie."
"Scared he'll run away? Or scared he won't?"
She whispered. "I don't know what I want. I just want things to be better."
"I wish I could help you. But about all I can do is work the flag in the Betsy Ross scene. And rewire the heater fan in the truck."
"Maybe that's enough, Deaver Teague. Maybe just by being who you are, maybe that'll do it. What if God sent you to us? Is that so impossible?"
Deaver had to laugh. "God never sent me anywhere."
"You're a good man."
"You don't know that."
"You only have to take one bite of the apple to know if it's ripe."
"I just happened to come along."
"Your horse happened to die that day and you happened to walk with your saddle so you arrived just when you did and we had brake trouble so we arrived when we did and you just happened to be the first person in years that Ollie's cared for and Katie just happened to take a liking to you. Pure chance."
"I wouldn't set much store on Katie taking a liking to me," said Deaver. "I don't think there's much in it."
Scarlett looked at him with deep-welling eyes and spoke with well-crafted fervor. "Save us. We don't have the strength to save ourselves."
Deaver didn't know what to say. Just shook his head and moved away, out into the grass away from the truck, away from everybody. He could see them all -- the crowd out front, the Aals working behind the truck, getting makeup on, setting up the props so they'd be ready to take onstage when they were needed. He walked a little farther away, and everybody got smaller.
If the crowd kept coming like this, there'd be hundreds of people by showtime. Everybody in town, probably. Pageant wagons didn't come through all that often.
The sun was still up, though, and people were still arriving, so Deaver figured he could take a minute to walk off by himself and think. Old Donna was crazy as a loon, calling him an angel. And Scarlett asking him to somehow stop Ollie from wrecking them. And Katie, wanting whatever it was she wanted.
He only met these people last night. Not twenty-four hours ago. And yet he'd seen them so close and so clear that he felt like he knew them. Could they possibly also know him?
No, they were desperate, that's all it was. Wanting to change and using the first person who came along to help them. What Deaver couldn't understand was why they wanted to keep up their show-gypsy life in the first place. It wasn't much of a life, as far as Deaver could see. Working too hard, just to put on shows in towns that hated them.
Katie, what do you want?
She was probably part of this conspiracy of women -- Scarlett, Donna, and Katie, all trying to get Deaver to stay in hopes he could make things better for them. The worst thing was he halfway wanted to stay. Even knowing Katie was faking it, he still was drawn to her, still couldn't keep his eyes off her without trying. What was it Meech said when a guy left the rangers to marry some woman? "Testosterone poisoning," that's what he called it. "Man gets sick with testosterone poisoning, that's the one disease takes you out of the rangers for good." Well, I got that disease, and if I wanted to I could plain forget everything else except Katie, at least for a while, long enough to wake up and find myself stuck here with a wife and babies and then I'd never go even if I wanted to, even if I found out Katie was play-acting all the time and never really wanted me at all -- I'd never go because I'm no Royal Aal, I'm no foster father. If I ever got me a family I'd never leave my kids, never. They could count on me till I was dead.
Which is why I can't stay, I can't let myself believe any of this or even care about it. They're actors, and I'm not an actor, and I could no more be a part of them than I could be a part of Hatchville not being a Mormon. And as for Katie, I know better than to think a woman like that could ever love me. I'm a fool for even thinking about staying. They're all so unhappy,
Deaver wound up in the apple orchard about a hundred yards south of the truck. Hatchville was enough years back from the fringe that the trees were big and solid enough to climb. He swung up into a branch. He watched the crowd still coming. It was getting late. The sun was about touching the mountains to the west. He could hear Katie's voice calling. "Ollie!"
Like hide-and-seek the neighborhood kids played when Deaver was little. Ollie ollie oxen free. Deaver was a champion hider. He'd heard that call more than once.
Then Toolie's voice. And Marshall's. "Ollie!"
Deaver imagined what would happen if Ollie just didn't come back. If he ran off like Royal did. What would the family do? They couldn't run the show without somebody running lights and firing off the electrical effects. Everybody else was on stage but Ollie.
Then Deaver got a sickening jolt in the pit of his stomach. There was one other person who knew something about the lighting and wasn't on stage. Can you help us, Deaver Teague? What would he say then? No, sorry, I got grass to tend, good luck and good-bye.
Hell, he couldn't say no and walk off like that, and Ollie knew it. Ollie sized him up right off, pegged him for the sort not to go off and leave people in the lurch. That's why he made such a point of teaching Deaver how the lighting system worked. So Ollie could run off without destroying the family. And here everybody thought Ollie had chosen Deaver as a friend. No sir, Deaver Teague wasn't Ollie's friend, he was Ollie's patsy.
But he had to give Ollie some credit here. Scarlett was wrong about him -- Ollie wasn't the kind just to run away like Royal did, and to hell with the family and the show. No, Ollie waited till he had a half-likely replacement before he took off. Too bad if Deaver didn't particularly want to run lights for the Aal family show -- that wasn't Ollie's problem. What did he care about Deaver Teague? Deaver wasn't one of the family, he was an outsider, it was all right to screw around with his life because he didn't amount to anything anyway. After all, Deaver didn't have any family or any connections. What did he matter, as long as Ollie's family was all right?
Even though Deaver was burning, he couldn't help imagining Katie coming to him, frantic -- no actress stuff now, she'd really be upset -- saying, "What'll we do? We can't do the show without somebody running lights." And Deaver'd say, "I'll do it." She'd say, "But you don't know the changes, Deaver." And Deaver'd say, "Give me a script, write them down. I can do it. Whoever isn't on stage can help me." And then her lips on his, her body pressed up against him after the show, and then her sweet hot breath against his cheek as she murmured, "Oh, thank you, Deaver. You saved us."
"Don't do that." It was a girl's voice that snapped Deaver out of his imagination. Not Katie's voice. Behind him and to the north, deeper in the orchard.
"Don't do that." A man's voice, mocking. Deaver turned to look. In the reddish light of sunset, he could see Ollie and a girl from Hatchville. She was giggling. He was kissing her neck and had both hands on her buttocks, gripping so tight she was standing on tiptoes. Not very far away from Deaver at all. Deaver kept his mouth shut, but he was thinking, Ollie didn't run off after all. What he couldn't decide was whether he was glad of it or ticked off about it.
"You can't," said the girl. She tore away from him, ran a few steps, then stopped and turned away. Plainly she wanted him to follow her.
"You're right, I can't," said Ollie. "Time for the show. But when it's over, you'll be there, won't you?"
"Of course. I'm going to watch it all."
Suddenly Ollie got all serious-looking. "Nance," he said. "You don't know how much you mean to me."
"You just only met me a few minutes ago."
"I feel like I've known you so long. I feel like -- I feel like I've been lonely for you my whole life and didn't know it till now."
She liked that. She smiled and looked down, looked away. Deaver thought: Ollie's as much of an actor as anybody else in the Aal family, I ought to be taking notes on how to seduce a Mormon girl.
"I know it's right between us," said Ollie. "I know -- you don't have to believe me, I can hardly believe it myself -- but I know we were meant to find each other. Like this. Tonight."
Then Ollie reached out his hand. She tentatively put her hand in his. Slowly he raised her hand to his lips, kissed her fingers gently one by one. She put a finger of the other hand in her mouth, watching him intently.
Still holding her hand, he reached out and caressed her cheek with his other hand, just the backs of his fingers brushing her skin, her lips. His hand drifted down her neck, then behind, under her hair. He drew her close; her body moved, leaning toward him; he took a single step and kissed her. It was like Ollie had every step planned. Every move, every word. He'd probably done it a hundred times before, thought Deaver. No wonder the Aals were implicated in a lot of ugly stories.
She clung to him. Melted against him. It made Deaver angry and wistful both at once, knowing what he was seeing wasn't right, that Ollie was fooling with a girl who believed all this stuff, that if he got caught he could cost his family their license to put on shows; yet at the same time wishing it was him, wishing to have such lips kissing him, such a sweet and fragile body clinging to him. It was enough to make a man crazy, watching that scene.
"Better go," Ollie said. "You first. Your folks would just get mad and not let you see me again if they saw us come out of the orchard together."
"I don't care, I'd see you anyway. I'd come to you at night, I'd climb right out my window and find you, right here in the orchard, I'd be waiting for you."
"Just go on ahead, Nance."
Far away: "Ollie!"
"Hurry up, Nance, they're calling me."
She backed away from him, slow, careful, like Ollie was holding her with invisible wires. Then she turned and ran, straight west, so she'd come up to the audience from the south.
Ollie watched her for a minute. Then he turned squarely toward Deaver and looked him in the eye. "Got a cute little ass on her, don't you think, Deaver?" he asked.
Deaver felt sick with fear. He just couldn't think what he was afraid of. Like playing hide-and-seek, when somebody you hadn't heard coming suddenly says, I see Deaver!
"I can feel you condemning me, Deaver Teague," said Ollie. "But you've got to admit I'm good at it. You could never do it like that. And that's what Katie needs. Smooth. Gentle. Saying the right thing. You'd just make a fool of yourself trying. You aren't fine enough for Katie."
Ollie said it so sad that Deaver couldn't help believing it, at least partly. Because Ollie was right. Katie could never really be happy with somebody like him. A scavenger, range rider. For a moment Deaver felt anger flare inside him. But that was what Ollie wanted. If somebody lost his head here, it wouldn't be Deaver Teague.
"At least I know the difference between a woman and a cute little ass," said Deaver.
"I've read all the science books, Deaver, and I know the facts. Women are just bellies waiting to get filled up with babies, and they pump our handles whenever they get to feeling empty. All that other stuff about true love and devotion and commitment and fatherhood, that's a bunch of lies we tell each other, so we don't have to admit that we're no different from dogs -- except our bitches are in heat all the time."
Deaver was just angry enough to say the cruelest thing that came to mind. "That's just a story, too, Ollie. Fact is the only way you ever get to pretend you're a real man is by telling lies to little girls. A real woman would see right through you."
Ollie turned red. "I know what you're trying to do, Deaver Teague. You're trying to take my place in this family. I'll kill you first!"
Deaver couldn't help it -- he busted out laughing.
"I could do it!"
"Oh, sure, I wasn't laughing at the idea of you killing me
"You think I didn't notice how you tried to learn my whole job today? The way you had Katie hanging all over you? Well I belong in this family, and you don't!"
Ollie turned and started to walk away. Deaver dropped out of the tree and caught up to him in a few strides. He put his hand on Ollie's shoulder, just to stop him, but Ollie came around swinging. Deaver ducked inside the blow, so Ollie's arm caught him alongside the ear. It stung, but Deaver'd been in some good hard fights in his time, and he could take a half-assed blow like that without blinking. In a second he had Ollie pressed up against an apple tree, Deaver's right hand holding Ollie up by his shirt, his left hand clutching the crotch of Ollie's pants. The fear in Ollie's face was plain, but Deaver didn't plan to hurt him.
"Listen to me, fool," said Deaver. "I don't want to take your place. I got me a chance to apply to Royal's Riders, so what in hell makes you think I want to sit and run your damn fool dimmer switches? You were the one teaching me."
"Hell I was."
"Hell you were, Ollie, you're just too dumb to know what you're doing. Let me tell you something. I'm not taking your place. I don't want your stupid place. I don't want to marry Katie, I don't want to run the lights, and I don't want to stay with your family one second after we reach Moab."
"Let me down."
Deaver ground his left hand upward into Ollie's crotch. Ollie's eyes got wide, but he was listening. "If you want to leave your family, that's fine by me, but don't do it by sneaking away and trying to stick me with your job. And don't do it by poking dumb little girls till their folks get your family's license pulled. However much you want to get away, you got no right to destroy your own people in order to do it. When you walk out, you walk out clean, you understand me?"
"You don't know me or anything about me, Deaver Teague!"
"Just remember, Ollie. For the next couple days till we get to Moab, I'm on you like flies on shit. Don't touch a girl, don't talk to a girl, don't even look at a girl here in Hatchville or I'll break more ribs on you than you thought you had, do you understand me?"
by IGMS have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes