Makin' Miracles, page 9
Not able to avoid it any longer, Spencer studied Bowden, Geneva, and their two boys. Bowden still looked smooth, confident, and handsome. But then, he always had. His boy Trevor did look like Bowden when younger. And the other boy, Austin, looked gentle and less confident in comparison—eager to please. Spencer felt a wrench in his gut. Poor kid. He hoped he toughened up.
His eyes slid to Geneva at last. She was still beautiful, yet she looked less soft now, and she’d cut her hair off. It hung short, just brushing her chin. He studied her more closely. She looked older, too. Spencer realized she must be thirty now, as he was, and Bowden thirty-four. It had been twelve years since he’d seen either of them.
Spencer tossed the photo down. He fought tearing it up as raw pain lanced through him and a shaft of old emotions hit his heart. How it had hurt when he learned they planned to get married. When he realized, once again, that his brother had taken one more thing he wanted. Had flaunted one more victory in his face.
He got up restlessly to pace to the window.
“Let’s go out, Zeke.” Spencer watched the dog jump up in anticipation, offering an enthusiastic bark of excitement. “Let’s get out of here for a while.”
Spencer took the path down to the hut in long strides, hungry for the peace he always found in that odd place Zola built on the rocky point of Raven’s Den.
Rounding the corner toward the edge of the ridgetop, he heard a throaty voice and a soft peal of laughter. Zola. He stopped, frowning. He didn’t want her to be here today.
She looked up, catching a glimpse of him, and her face broke into a wide smile. Her dark, curly mane of hair tossed in the April breeze and her warm brown eyes sparkled. She wore jeans today with colorful embroidery stitched down the sides. A bright yellow shirt peeped out from under her old car coat, and a green lizard sat perched on her hand. She’d been feeding the squirrels and birds when he arrived, and all the birds scattered when he and the dog drew near. The two squirrels, however, stayed on the feeder, watching him and Zeke carefully.
As Spencer studied Zola, he couldn’t help but see Geneva beside her in his mind. Geneva was so different from Zola. She’d always been poised, polished, sleek, and blond, her movements, her coy smile, and her voice smooth and practiced, her clothes always impeccable. She was the kind of girl that had always liked Bowden and usually ignored him. But she’d fallen in love with him and not Bowden when he was eighteen and a senior in high school. He still remembered how thrilled he’d felt at her interest in him.
Spencer shook his head and focused on Zola once more. Zola in her bright, scruffy clothes, her hair a tangle, her old hiking boots covered with a thin film of dirt, a stray leaf caught in the tangle of her hair. And holding a green lizard on her hand. Bowden’s words from the e-mail came back to him: Acts a lot like you … Likes strays and weird girls for friends. Spencer could almost see Bowden’s suppressed smile—could imagine him rolling his eyes over Zola and smirking in amusement if he were here.
Spencer stood hesitant in the pathway. He’d worked hard to be successful, to be well-thought-of. To be admired rather than ridiculed and put down. When he was with Zola, his past came back to haunt him. He felt like the young boy with the stutter that the svelte girls, who cruised into the house on Bowden’s arm, giggled at. Zola made him feel conspicuous and awkward again. She was like what Bowden typically termed “the geeky girls” who always liked him in high school.
She cocked her head to one side now. “What’s the matter?”
“Don’t try to read my mind, Zola.” His voice was edgy and curt.
“You know I don’t do that. I can’t do that.” She shrugged her shoulders and walked over to put some more bits of food out on the feeder for the squirrels.
He thought about leaving. Going back to the house. But the hut and the stunning view over the mountains and the valley drew him.
Spencer made his way down the rock path and walked into the wood shelter. He went over to stand by a support beam, gazing out into the blue sky. Puffy clumps of white cumulus clouds floated across the horizon.
He felt Zola walk up beside him after she greeted Zeke. She put a hand on his arm. “That one there.” She pointed to one of the clouds. “It looks like a wolf. See? There are the pointy ears at the top and there’s the snout raised up getting ready to howl. It even looks like he has teeth.” She giggled.
Spencer could see the wolf shape clearly in the clouds as she said it, but it annoyed him to see it. It seemed like the games he’d enjoyed when only a boy. It reminded him of the pleasure he’d always taken in nature because relationships with people had been so disappointing.
“Do you like always being weird, Zola?” He gritted his teeth.
She lifted her eyebrows. “I’m simply myself, Spencer. Not afraid to be who I am. Not afraid to be individual. And not wanting to pretend to be something I’m not.”
He scowled. “Only kids look for shapes in clouds.”
“Is that so?” She laughed a tinkling laugh, annoying him. “I wouldn’t say that to my grandpa. He’s very fond of cloud watching. He likes to brag that he gave me ‘my eye’ for clouds.” She punched at his arm in fun, her nose wrinkling as she smiled up at him. Happy. Relaxed.
He pulled away from standing close to her, trying not to let the apple scent of her drift into his nostrils and play with his mind. At Zeke’s eager request to explore, Spencer snapped off the leash and gave him the okay to head out into the trails and woods around the hut. Zeke, well-trained, wouldn’t go far.
Zola tilted her head to one side, studying him. “What’s wrong with you today?”
“Nothing.” He snapped the word out as he crossed his arms. “I’ve just got a lot of adult things on my mind. And I don’t have time for foolishness and fancy.”
“I see.” She went over and sat down in the rocker to rock, closing her eyes and soon smiling. Obviously blocking him out.
It provoked him. He searched for the peace he saw on her face within himself, but it evaded him. Spencer propped a hip on the wall and looked at her.
“I heard Madame Renee came into your shop and threatened you again.” He knew he was purposely trying to rattle her peace, but he didn’t care.
She opened one eye to look at him and then closed it. “She is often upset with me. We serve somewhat different masters.”
“That’s kind of pompous of you to say, isn’t it?” He wanted to pick a fight with her. “How do you know she’s not a Christian, too?”
“Oh, she says she is.” She continued her rhythmic rocking. “She tells me she prays before she reads her cards or looks into her crystal ball.”
“So maybe she hears from God that way. How do you know?”
She opened her eyes to study him. “You don’t call God up on demand like that, Spencer. Perhaps Madame Renee means well. And I often think she does. But the fortunes she gives people for a fee are not from God, Spencer.”
“And so who made you the great authority on who hears from God and who doesn’t?” He frowned at her.
She stopped the rocker and sat forward. “Do you always try to pick a fight with others when you are in a bad mood, Spencer? I doubt it makes you very popular, if you do.”
“And what would you know about popularity?” He felt his face redden. “I’m sure you weren’t very popular at school when you were younger—with all your odd ways and that seer gift of yours.”
He saw a flash of pain cross her face as she looked out over the mountains. “There are always a small percentage of individuals who seem to rule in every level of schooling. Perhaps even in later life. And, of course, they insist on a specific loyalty and conformity to the popular leaders and their prescribed norms. I may have had my moments when I wanted to fit into those minority groups but I always knew I’d have to compromise my individuality to conform. So I could never do it for any length of time.”
Spencer felt bad for a moment that he’d made her remember earlier hurt and rejection. He understood that. “It hurts to
She looked up at him. “Is that how you always felt?”
“We were talking about you.” He barked the words at her.
“If you say so.” She sat back in the rocker to rock again.
Provoked at the turn in the conversation, he introduced at new topic. “I hear Ben Lee has started telling everyone you are going to get a knowing about who hurt his daughter. That you’re going to find her.”
She sighed. “I guess I need to talk with him again about that.”
Spencer paced over to look out at the view again. “It could be dangerous for you having idle talk like that milling around about you, Zola. What if the killer is still around? He might feel threatened about you. He might decide you know something. Might want to silence you. Did you ever think of that?”
Zola stretched her shoulders. “It would be nice to think you could be worried about me, Spencer. But I think you’re only trying to provoke me or anger me today. To take my peace because you can’t find yours.”
He took a step toward her, scowling. “I told you not to read my mind, Zola. To try to analyze me.”
“Just a lucky guess this time.” She stood up. “I kind of wish you hadn’t come out here today, Spencer. I was having a good time before you did. Enjoying all the signs of spring beginning to pop out. Reveling in new beginnings. Thinking of how nature—and people—can always reinvent themselves. Become new. Shed the old.”
He stepped toward her aggressively, clenching his fists. “You’re preaching at me.”
“No. But it wouldn’t hurt you to shed some of your old garbage.” She shook her head. “It’s as easy to be happy as it is to be miserable, Spencer.”
“So now you’re saying I’m miserable and full of old garbage?” He felt his anger rising.
“You’re taking everything I say and putting it in the worst possible light.” She put a hand on his chest. “I’ve certainly seen a new side of you today, Spencer Jackson. A moody, broody, dark side.”
She tilted her head to one side, considering him. “It’s like you have a foot caught in the past, like an animal with its foot caught in a trap.”
“So what should I do, oh wise Zola, chew off my foot like the old fable?”
She pushed at his chest then. “No. Simply open the trap and let yourself out. Free yourself. I believe you are capable of doing that.”
He searched for an answer, caught off guard by her words.
“God will help you if you ask Him, Spencer.” Her words grew soft.
“Don’t mess with my faith, Zola.” He clenched his fists again. “I have my own kind of relationship with God and it suits me just fine.”
“Does your faith help you? Can you draw strength from it?”
He pulled away from her now. “Stop it. I don’t want you digging around in my life, Zola. I have as much a right to my ways as you do to yours. Besides, who are you to say I’m not happy with my life? I don’t like you always probing at me.”
She watched him quietly for a moment. “You seem so angry at me today. Perhaps you’d like for me to go home. Would you like that, Spencer?”
He could feel the soft peace radiating off her again, and it made him prickly and churlish. “Yeah, why don’t you do that, Zola? Just go home and leave me alone.”
She studied him, gave him a small wave, and then left. Not adding any more words. Not asking any more questions.
He watched her walk down the hill and then slip out of view as the trail switched north and disappeared into a stand of evergreens. She didn’t turn back to wave good-bye at the turn as she usually did.
Zeke sensed her leaving and looked after Zola with questioning eyes, whining with agitation and making Spencer feel worse. He whistled for the dog not to follow after her. He and Zeke often walked part way down the mountain with Zola, and the dog had learned the pattern. The shepherd came back to the hut, obviously disappointed.
Spencer sat in the rocker and tried to find and savor his own peace. But it evaded him. He got up and paced the hut, his thoughts a torment. Surprisingly, he felt worse after Zola left than he had before. He hadn’t expected that.
He knew he’d been unkind to Zola. He wasn’t usually such a jerk.
Spencer kicked at a pinecone on the floor near the rocker. It was all Bowden’s fault. He never should have opened that e-mail.
Spencer brooded for two days after receiving Bowden’s e-mail. There had been a time earlier in his life when he yearned for his brother’s attention, when he’d have been thrilled to hear from him. But over the years Bowden’s teasing, his subtle put-downs, and biting criticism had finally caused Spencer to pull away. When Bowden married Geneva, Spencer lost the last threads of hope for having a warm, loving relationship with his brother. Now, he found it easier to stay away from his family in Richmond—to keep his distance from Bowden.
He unlocked and pushed open the door of the Jackson Gallery on Thursday morning, still feeling broody and preoccupied. Restless and edgy.
“Hello, my brother.” Aston Parker got up from the bench behind the counter in the gallery. As always, he crossed the room to wrap Spencer in a warm hug. Spencer had grown used to Aston’s easy affection over the years. But it had taken time. His own family were not the type to hug each other affectionately.
“I’ve brought Clark some more images to go through.” He laid a stack of digital memory cards on the counter. “I put them on cards so he can load them.”
“He’ll be in later. I’ll see that he gets them.”
Spencer ran a hand through his hair. He hadn’t slept well again last night.
Aston gestured to the little sitting area in the gallery. “Stay for a while. I’ll get us a cup of coffee. The gallery won’t open for another thirty minutes.”
Spencer slumped into one of the sofas, glad for a little company this morning.
Aston brought the coffee back and draped himself across one of the chairs beside Spencer. He was a tall black man, his skin a warm brown, his dark eyes friendly, and his smile a mile wide. Aston and Spencer had been friends for twelve years. They met the first year Spencer started college in Savannah.
“I think I miss having you around, friend.” Aston propped his long legs on the magazine table. “The chalet feels lonely some days.” Aston had stayed on in the chalet he and Aston previously shared further down the mountain.
“Is that right?” Spencer smiled and realized this was the first time he’d felt a surge of happiness in days.
“Hmmm.” Aston studied him. “You look kind of rough, friend. Either you’ve been out in the field too long or something’s troubling you.”
Spencer sipped his coffee, not sure what he wanted to tell Aston.
Aston leaned forward. “I’m your brother, man. There’s not much we haven’t shared. You know about my alcoholic father, my unwed mother, and my brother who spent two years in prison. We’ve had some long nights of sharing our past, you and I. We’ve let down our hair about our past lives and rejoiced in the many ways we’ve overcome.” He elbowed Spencer’s arm. “It’s hardly a time to keep things from me now.”
He spoke the straight truth. That’s one of the things Spencer had always liked about Aston. That, and the fact that he could trust him.
Spencer heaved a sigh. “I got an e-mail from Bowden on Tuesday. A nice, friendly, brotherly e-mail.” He felt his fists clench as he talked and knew his tone was sarcastic. “He even sent me a family picture.”
Aston raised an eyebrow. “Hardly the norm for Bowden. My guess is there were some subtle digs tucked into the commentary. What was the main point he gave for writing?”
“My parents have an upcoming fortieth anniversary. Bowden says he’s working on me to come.” Spencer drank some more of the hot coffee, grateful for the surge of caffeine this morning.
Aston snorted. “Well, I’m sure Bowden didn’t present the invitation i
“We’ve had this talk before.” Spencer knew his voice sounded surly.
Aston crossed his arms. “Yes, and we’ll have this talk again until I can persuade you to face the past and deal with it. It’s hard to move on until you do.”
Spencer looked at Aston over his coffee cup. “Like you did with your dad?”
“Yes. Like I did with my dad.” Aston’s face darkened for a moment. “It was a hard meeting, but I got freed by having it. It was needed.”
Spencer pushed his coffee cup around on the table. “It’s not like I haven’t seen my parents since I left home.”
“Yes, but, man, you haven’t been home once in twelve years. It’s not normal or natural to stay away for so long.”
Spencer snapped his answer. “My home life wasn’t normal or natural.”
Aston waved a hand. “Ahhh. It wasn’t so bad. You were loved, raised with all the advantages, sent away to college, had all your needs met.”
Spencer interrupted him. “No, I didn’t have all my needs met. And my parents always excused the way my brother acted. Even when it was wrong.”
“Your brother is a slick and sly one.” Aston shrugged. “And from what you’ve always said, he’s much like your grandfather Stettler Jackson, another less than admirable character. Your brother’s flaws probably seemed comfortable to your father—and to your mother—having lived around them so long with your grandfather. Excusing the flaws of family members becomes a pattern in some families.”
“They always favored him, too.” Spencer felt himself scowl.
“So? My father always favored my sisters, Letitia and Damika. And he was fond of pounding on Jamal and me when he was drunk.” He spread his hands. “Was it their fault? Should I dislike them for it?”
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