Makin' Miracles, page 16
She grinned at him. “Sounds like a good plan to me.”
He laughed. “I like you, Zola. You remember that, and if you ever need me as friend—or a pastor—you know where I am.”
“Thanks again, Perry.” Zola reached out a hand to take his in a handshake. “I really appreciate that.”
She stood on the front porch and waved as Perry drove away.
Back in the kitchen, as she cleaned up, Zola found her thoughts drifting to Spencer. She wished sometimes she could “see” things to help in her day-to-day relationship with him, but it usually didn’t work that way.
“You know, I could use a little help here in unlocking the dark places in Spencer Jackson, Lord,” she prayed out loud. “I’d really like to be able to help him but he sure keeps himself locked up tight.”
Not getting any ready answer, Zola began to put all the sausage balls into a storage container. She had work to do.
The day passed by quickly, and Zola was soon caught up helping Spencer at Raven’s Den get ready for his guests to arrive. And then later, after dinner, enjoying herself thoroughly with a group of close friends.
By eight o’clock, they all sat around together in Spencer’s big living room, finishing up the last of their dessert and drinking after-dinner coffee. The paddle fan overhead hummed softly to accompany their conversation, and the sound of night frogs drifted in from outside.
Aston propped his long legs on a footstool. “I guess you’ve all heard the latest update on Aldo Toomey.” A big grin split his face.
Stacy looked up in surprise. “Isn’t that the guy who threw the bomb into Zola’s store?”
“So fill us in,” David encouraged.
“Well, you know he got off with only probation since Zola wouldn’t press charges and because it was his first offense.” He took a sip of his coffee.
“Plus he got his old job back,” Zola added. “He came by to tell me that. He’d turned in his notice, but the Beardsleys let him stay on.”
Rachel Lee leaned forward. “Ray told me the company came and repossessed his Corvette, though.”
“Well, I’m not surprised at that,” Zola said.
Aston grinned. “But that’s not all.”
Spencer kicked at him with his foot playfully. “Spit it out, Aston. What do you know?”
Aston laughed. “It seems Madame Renee went out of town on a little vacation. While she was gone, someone painted ‘fraud’ in bright red paint across her rooftop, very visible to anyone who drove down the highway and passed her business. They also painted ‘crook’ on her concrete driveway. The graffiti stayed there for almost two weeks until she came back and threw a fit. She went down to the police station sputtering for them to find the culprit who did it.”
He laughed again. “Of course, Madame Renee and everyone else who heard the story had their own ideas about who did the mischief, but there was no proof. And Aldo Toomey acted as innocent as a rose when questioned.”
Zola giggled, in spite of herself—as did the rest of the group.
Rachel Lee put a hand over her mouth. “We shouldn’t laugh about this, but I do admit I’d love to have seen Madame Renee’s face when she got home. She has caused Zola so much trouble ever since she moved here.”
“She isn’t from here originally?” Spencer asked.
“No, from New Jersey.” Rachel Lee made a face. “And I wish she’d go back there. She’s caused a lot of problems for Daddy’s parishioners and for other ministers around the area.”
Carole changed the subject. “Aston and I brought a Catch Phrase game to play tonight—girls against the boys. It’s fun. You give hints so everyone can guess the words that come up. We played it with my sister Clarissa and her friends, and Aston liked it so much he went out and bought the game.”
“Yeah, and since I paid good money for it, we’re definitely going to play it, no arguments!” Aston brought the game out, and soon they were all laughing and passing the electronic device among themselves as rapidly as possible.
By ten o’clock, everyone had said their good-byes, loaded up their dishes and leftovers, and started home. Zola helped Spencer clean up in the kitchen, and then the two went out on the porch to sit and watch the stars in the night sky. A wisp of a moon peeked through the dark trees, looking like a shimmering cradle.
“Everyone had a good time.” She pushed the porch rocker into a soft rhythm with her feet. “And everyone loved your house.”
He stayed quiet for much longer than Zola expected.
“Anything wrong?” she asked.
“No. I was simply thinking how good it can be to spend an evening with friends that you like. To enjoy an easy, comfortable dinner. To laugh and play games without getting overly competitive or without putting someone else down. To feel good when the evening is over.”
Zola knew he was comparing this evening with some past time that had been unpleasant and tense for him. She considered what to say.
“As a girl,” she said at last, “I spent most of my time with adults. I was a late child, with my only brother, Wayland, ten years older than me. So by the time I turned six, he was sixteen. Wayland seldom wanted to play games with a sister so much younger. And Daddy and Mother stayed busy with their lives on the island and Daddy’s practice.”
She paused. “I was different, too, from most of the other island children—my father American and an educated man, my mother from a royal family. We weren’t wealthy by American standards, but we had more than most of the islanders. Our house was a two-storied white one, built on the side of a hill with a red tile roof and open porches all around. A twining road wound up to it from the coast road, and from the front porch we could see down the hillsides and out to the ocean. It was beautiful. Any of my young island friends who came to visit felt somewhat awed. Most of them lived in one-story huts with thatched roofs or in plain board houses. I was always the rich girl to them and the different one—part Tahitian and part American.”
Zola sighed. “By the time I turned four, my gift had surfaced. That made me even odder to the other children.”
“Was your brother unkind to you?” Spencer asked unexpectedly. “Did he like you?”
It seemed an odd question, but Zola decided not to comment on that. “I always knew Wayland loved me. He teased me, of course, like older brothers do, but I was sure of his affection. Wayland always looked more like my mother’s people, like the Kasiors. That helped him. He seemed to fit in better on the island; he had many friends.”
“How did his friends treat you?”
She laughed. “They mostly ignored me, as older boys are likely to do with a friend’s younger sister. I think my life was relatively typical of what could have been expected being a missionary doctor’s daughter.”
Zola had no idea what that comment meant.
She continued. “Wayland married an island girl he’d known since childhood named Samira. He always loved the clinic where my father worked, so he went away to school and came back to be a doctor on the island.” She giggled. “A funny thing is that Wayland took many veterinary classes on the side so he could also doctor the animals on Mooréa. There is no vet there but him. It always ate at him growing up that the animals had no one to help them.”
She saw a wisp of a smile touch Spencer’s face in the light from the house. She was glad to see it.
“And so there might be a dog or a parrot waiting in the reception room right along with the human patients?”
“Sometimes.” She giggled again. “The clinic was once a planter’s house, donated by the owner when he died with no family. It seemed even more comical to see a goat being led up the sweep of white steps and across the wide colonial porch into the reception room.”
Zola heard him laugh. It was a good sound.
“I like to hear you laugh,” she told him.
He leaned over to catch her hand in his. “You make me laugh, Zola.” He got up and leaned over h
“I’m glad.” She kissed him on the nose playfully.
He sat back down in the rocker beside her, pushing his chair into a rhythm to match hers. A comfortable silence fell between them.
“Spencer, tell me about your family.” She hoped he would answer, that he would talk.
He didn’t answer—simply fell silent.
Zola pressed. “You have an older brother, too.” She kept her tone casual. “How much older is he than you?”
She thought for a moment Spencer wasn’t going to reply again, but then he did. “Bowden is four years older than me. He and my parents wanted a girl the second time to complete the family. My mother came from Savannah originally, and she planned to name me Savannah, had I been a girl. I was told Bowden threw a fit to send me back after I came home from the hospital because I wasn’t Savannah. He kept saying they brought home the wrong baby. My grandfather used to love to tell that story over and over.”
Zola waited patiently, rocking.
“I suppose, from the beginning, my brother didn’t like me much.”
Zola bit her tongue on the words she wanted to say, that Bowden was only four, that little children say all kinds of silly things then.
“My mother had Rita when I turned four.” He ran his hands through his hair. “It didn’t seem right to name her Savannah by then. Besides, it was one of the nicknames Bowden called me when he was in a taunting mood.”
Zola felt a small chill run up her spine.
“Families can be difficult, can’t they?” She tried to interject a carefree tone.
“Yes, and families can be dysfunctional in some ways. Mine was. My Grandfather Stettler ruled our family. My father followed in the ways he was expected to, worked in the family photography business. Fortunately, Grandfather Stettler liked my mother, Marion. She was a Chatsworth, from a fine, old Southern Savannah family. She had graciousness and charm, and she knew how to behave and to do what she was expected to do.”
He paused. “Grandfather Stettler quickly learned the skills my mother had and he liked her earlier dream of wanting to open a catering business in Savannah. Her dream became a catering business added on to the Jackson photography business in Richmond instead. My mother was talented; she made the family richer with her skills. Rita is much like my mother, but less serious and intense. She was the only one in the family who ever seemed to laugh in a way that wasn’t stilted, controlled, or malicious.”
Spencer sighed heavily. “Bowden turned out exactly like my Grandfather Stettler, and Grandfather doted on him from the get-go. Bowden was the favorite and could never do anything wrong. If he got in trouble for anything, Grandfather forgave it and brushed his behavior aside. This gave Bowden the opportunity to perfect being a bully, and he was never deterred in it.”
Zola knew without asking that Spencer had often been the target of his bullying. She winced and fought not to comfort and hug him. She knew it a hard thing for a child to grow up with quiet, subtle abuse—of any kind.
She worked for a light tone. “So, you had a creepy older brother and a somewhat fun younger sister. It could be worse, I guess.”
Spencer looked across at her with a scowl.
A long space of silence fell between them, and then he looked at his watch. “I guess I’d better take you home. It’s getting late. I need to get out early for a photo shoot.”
Zola knew somehow she’d said the wrong thing somewhere, causing Spencer to clam up again.
She went into the kitchen to get her dishes. “It was good of you to host everyone here.” She smiled at him. “And it’s started a pattern. Aston says he’s going to host the next get-together down at his place with Carole to help him.”
Zola gave him a playful punch. “Plus, planning this event helped to get Clark and Stacy together. I really think they like each other. It’s kind of sweet, both of them being a little odd but getting along so well.”
Spencer tensed with some random thought he was having, his face growing broody and dark.
Great, Zola thought. What a happy ending to the day. Spencer falling into one of his foul moods.
They drove home to Zola’s, almost in silence, and Zola found herself glad to say good-night and leave Spencer to his own gloom at last. It was depressing to be around him when he was like this. And she didn’t know what to do to help him.
Spencer knew Zola was unhappy with him when he took her home. She thought he ought to be able to act cheerful by will—like she did. Well, sorry, but that wasn’t how he was made.
Zola tried to help him see his home life hadn’t been so bad, like Aston often did. But, then, Aston and Zola hadn’t lived through his childhood. They hadn’t watched Bowden get everything he wanted. They hadn’t watched Bowden never get punished for the cruel things he did and said to others—or the cruel things said and done to him.
Bowden’s favorite line, when chastised for taunting Spencer, was, “Oh, I was only teasing. Spencer knows that.” But it was more than that. Bowden had a cruel streak, and Spencer, too often, got the brunt of it.
In a surprising twist, Bowden never acted cruel to Rita. He often called her Rita-Savannah. He acted loving to her and encouraged her talents. It was probably the reason Rita never really understood how Spencer felt when Bowden got in one of his moods to bully and tease. She was never his target.
Bowden most often targeted Spencer outside the house, too, with no family witnesses. This might be in the neighborhood, at school, or in the yard. Perhaps this was why Spencer learned at a young age to retreat, to make himself scarce, to avoid Bowden whenever he could.
Spencer stalked through the fields this morning, thinking these thoughts while he took his photographs. He was taking pictures of rabbits, chipmunks, and random insects today—creatures that made their homes in wild fields, overgrown with weeds and vegetation. He wore boots and jeans to protect his legs from the brambles. His mood was dark, but his pictures didn’t suffer for it. He’d caught a fantastic shot of a rabbit, standing poised and bright-eyed, his ears high in the air.
Spencer had come here today because he knew rabbit burrows lay hidden in the high field grass. He’d even gotten lucky enough to snap a shot of baby bunnies still coiled up asleep in their nest.
After snapping a last close-up of a delicate green praying mantis that almost completely blended in with the green plant he clung to, Spencer closed up his camera to start home. The sun stood straight overhead now, the day heating up to be a scorcher. It was unseasonably hot for late April, and Spencer’s shirt was already plastered to his back with sweat.
He’d been shooting in an open field not far from Zola’s place on Jonas Creek Road. He skirted near her house now as he started his walk back up the mountain to Raven’s Den.
Spencer considered stopping, but he hesitated. He didn’t know what to do with his feelings for Zola. He stayed torn and divided about whether to pursue her more intently or back away.
His thoughts drifted to her again as he approached the waterfall that spilled down the mountain. He remembered the day when Zola kissed him on the rocks in front of the falls with such warm abandon.
As he drew closer to the pool below the stream, he felt a prickling up his spine. He knew that feeling now. It meant Zola was somewhere nearby.
He heard her before he saw her. She was singing, some kind of happy lyrical melody. He stopped out of sight behind a huge tulip poplar tree to listen, captivated with the sound. Spencer peeked around the tree carefully to see where she was and spotted her swimming in the pool below the falls. She’d told him she liked to swim here on warm days. Spencer smiled. Hot as he was from the photo shoot out in the fields, he envied her the feel of the cool water.
Zola found her footing and stood up then, reaching her arms joyously over her head. Spencer caught his breath. She was naked, swimming without a stitch of clothes on.
Zola climbed out of the water then, causing Spencer to almost swallow his tongue. Water sluiced over her lush curves and there was nothing hidden from his eyes. She picked her way gracefully over to a rock and grabbed up a silky pareu she’d left folded there. With deft fingers she tied it around herself into a quick dress and then climbed out of the water to sit on the rock and shake her hair out.
Now Spencer let his fingers snap some candid shots: of Zola shaking out her hair, of Zola leaning back on her arms to look up joyously at the sky, of Zola singing once again and illustrating her song with gestures. It was delightful to watch her and delightful to photograph her. She was a woman so at peace with herself. So happy with the world. So easily able to take delight in simple pleasures. He envied that.
She turned suddenly and saw him.
“How long have you been there?” A butterfly drifted past her shoulder as she asked her question. She held out a hand, and it settled on her outstretched fingers.
Spencer zoomed in for another shot or two. “Not long,” he answered as he walked closer to the water.
Zola stretched her legs out in the sun and threaded her fingers through her wet hair. She looked at him for a few moments thoughtfully and then smiled. “It looks like you could use a swim yourself.”
He looked down at his sweat-dampened shirt.
“Probably could,” he said.
“You can swim in your boxers. I’ve seen native men in Mooréa in less than that many times. I don’t shock easily.”
She sent him another warm smile. “And I won’t take any pictures of you.”
He felt himself frown. “I wasn’t taking them like a voyeur. I was taking them like an artist, catching a beautiful scene that called for remembrance.”
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