Identity, p.17

Identity, page 17

 

Identity
 


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  “Fine!” Liza said petulantly. “I guess I’ll just have to learn by osmosis.” She began earnestly dividing canned goods as the others laughed.

  Tom wandered into the relative safety of the living room, and Shay jumped in to help with the preparations. Rosaries and Liza started talking then, about Liza’s mother, Rosaries’ daughter, Sienna. Thanksgiving had been the time she enjoyed most because she loved her big family after being an only child. This could have resulted in a maudlin discussion, but Shay was amazed to see it veer off into a celebration of Sienna’s life and all the positives she’d brought to the family. Obviously, the upbeat spirit of this woman had made a memorable mark on all their lives.

  The sheer quantity of food amazed Shay as well. It would seem that the Hughes family knew how to eat well. That or the guest list had to be huge. Liza and Rosaries worked well together as they effortlessly produced the immense feast. They prepared the turkey with a coating of herbed butter, stuffing it with chopped celery, onion, and herbs from the garden, and then Liza placed it into the bottom of a two-oven set-up built into one wall of the kitchen. A ham, dotted with cloves, butter and brown sugar went into the top oven. That done, the duo worked as a team to unroll store-bought pastry into six pie pans and mix the fillings. Shay saw a large bowl of pecans become a gooey, caramelized concoction. Green apples, dark, burgundy cherries and canned pumpkin were prepared and doctored to become something magical under Rosaries’ firm guidance.

  Feeling like a third wheel, Shay focused on cleanup duties, steadfastly claiming the territory around the sink to wash and dry necessary pans, implements and platters for reuse. One thing her mother had taught her well was how to make sweet tea and she made pitcher after pitcher of it whenever she had a moment free from dishes.

  Several hours later, with prepackaged items divided into organized groupings on the counter for tomorrow’s preparation, all that was left was to let the meat finish cooking so the pies could bake.

  The three women made themselves glasses of sweet iced tea, Rosaries officially removed her apron, and they retired to the patio just outside the back door. They took seats at the cast-iron table and cooled themselves with the frosty tea and a subtle late afternoon breeze. The sound of the television, watched by Tom and Rich, floated out to them but it was a pleasant background murmur, not intrusive at all.

  Shay studied the attractive, highly functional courtyard that the Hughes family had created outside the kitchen door. Though situated next to the door so groceries could be easily unloaded from vehicles, the gravel drive gave way to soapstone flagstones as the drive passed the house. The patio covered a thirty- or forty-foot circular area that stretched from the side of the house proper across to the scrubby, forested area, bordering the bayou on the far side and the clearing of the Hughes’ house lot. Surrounded by low Mexican palms and other luxurious greenery Shay could never hope to identify, the patio bore several tables and a half dozen redwood benches set into mulched rows along the house wall. Beyond the patio, toward the back was the glorious product of Liza’s green thumb.

  Rosaries studied Liza’s garden as it stretched out before them. “I don’t know how this is,” she said gently. “You have the gift, certainment.”

  Liza nodded and took Shay’s hand, just to connect. “Some people cook. Some people talk to dogs. Some people grow. Now I just need to get some people to harvest. I’m trying to wrap my head around getting the Meadows workers down here at just the right times.”

  “Oh, because the crops ripen at different times,” Shay nodded her understanding.

  “Yep.” Liza nodded in return and lifted her tea. “It’s not cost effective for them to bring the trucks here so many times and leave them while the workers pick. We use those trucks every day for pickups and deliveries. I need to talk possibilities over with Gina, but I guess I’ll wait until after the holidays.”

  “But will the plants wait?” Rosaries commented archly.

  Liza shrugged. “Some are ready now but not much I can do about it.”

  Shay scratched her chin. “Liza, I was just thinking...what if you got up with Ro and maybe used some of the mission people to pick? I mean, they are homeless and not working...”

  If someone had hit Liza in the back of the head with a shovel, her expression couldn’t have been more shocked than by Shay’s idea. She could not believe the notion had never occurred to her in all her agony over getting the crops handled properly. Her mind whirled with new possibilities.

  Rosaries watched the two of them. She chuckled and sighed. “Liza, montrès cher, in this one you have found a...a camaraded’âmie.”

  Liza laughed and nodded her agreement, yet remained distracted as her attention still circled around preliminary plans for Meadows South. A pleasant silence fell.

  Shay fumed, however, growing ever more petulant. “Well,” she said finally, after many minutes had passed. “What does it mean?”

  Liza shook herself from reverie and laughed. She pulled Shay’s hand closer. “She says we’re soul mates. Something we already knew.”

  CHAPTER FORTY

  “Okay, here’s the deal. After you feed and water in the afternoon, take her up to the house and tie her to the porch railing. Do you have the bow? Be sure and put it on the back of the new collar so she can’t chew it. Umhmm, it’s in the drawer under the cat kennels, on the right.”

  Liza sat curled into a fetal position in one of the kitchen chairs, a hot cup of coffee cradled in her free hand. Her other hand held her cell. Shay, she hoped, was still asleep in Liza’s bedroom, snuggled next to the pillow Liza had pressed to her as she left the bed. It was only six o’clock, but Liza knew this would be the best time to talk with Chris, who was at the shelter caring for the animals. It had been several years since Carol and Paul had both been able to take the morning shift off on a holiday and Liza was ever grateful to Christine for that.

  She gave directions to Shay’s house and quickly signed off before someone came into the kitchen and caught her. It was just in time too, for Mémé appeared in the doorway. “Bonjour, Liza. You are early this day.”

  Liza studied her grandmother, who was already dressed for the day in casual slacks, a bright blue blouse and pearls at ears and neck. She even wore low heels. Liza felt way under dressed in her pajama shorts and T-shirt. “Yep, thought I’d get an early start on the cooking.”

  “How did the bird do the night?” Rosaries poured a cup of coffee and then fetched milk from the refrigerator. She drank her coffee as Chloe did, with lots of milk and sugar.

  Liza uncurled herself and moved over to the large industrial cooler situated by the refrigerator. Lifting the top a fraction, she slid her hand inside. “Still cold. Works every year, especially after we got those larger ice blocks.”

  “My Sienna was no fool,” Rosaries stated as she seated herself at the table.

  “I wish she could have met Shay,” Liza said, resuming her seat. “Do you think she would have liked her?”

  “Oui, certainment. My Sienna think like me, what’s not to like? Beautiful, sweet girl. If you happy, Sienna will be good with it.”

  Hearing this meant a lot to Liza. No one knew Sienna as well as her own mother. An only child, Sienna and her mother had been best friends.

  Liza rose, cup in hand, and briefly embraced her grandmother with one arm. “Well, I’ll go shower and see how that beautiful, sweet girl feels this morning. We need to start getting the rest together because the hungry brood’ll be here soon.”

  “Bon,” Rosaries agreed as she stood and buried her head in the crowded fridge seeking breakfast fixings.

  Upstairs, Shay slept on, exactly where Liza had left her. She looked adorable, her body curved into a sprawling letter C around Liza’s pillow. Liza watched her for some time, noting how the deep copper-rust of her hair seemed so brilliant against the white of the bed linens. Having Shay in her bedroom thrilled Liza for some odd reason. It was as if having her in this central point of Liza’s private life somehow mag
ically pulled Shay into a deeper level of importance. Liza felt draped in grateful revelry. They were so fortunate to have found one another. Maybe all the bad that had happened to Shay was for this reason, to bring her to this place of rightness. Liza knew one thing for certain. She’d spend the rest of her life making sure that no one ever hurt Shay again.

  Liza sighed and set her coffee to one side. She slid into the bed and pulled Shay to her, the pillow between them.

  “I wondered how long you were going to stand there watching me,” Shay murmured. “Make any grand decisions?”

  Liza drew back in surprise. “I thought you were still asleep!”

  Shay rolled onto her back, throwing her left arm wide. She groaned loudly. “I was until some lead foot came in bearing the wonderful scent of coffee.”

  “Would you like some?”

  Shay opened one eye and peeped at Liza. “Of yours?”

  “Of course, or you can have your own...” She noticed Shay’s randy glance and stilled. “Oh no you don’t, Rich’s room is right next to this one.”

  “Hmm, guess you’re right. Your grandmother would be embarrassed by the sounds we’d make.” She sighed in frustration.

  “Actually, Mémé is the kitchen...” She reconsidered. “Nope, too much to do. Bad woman, trying to lead me down the path of debauchery.”

  Shay laughed and tried to rise but fell back. “Ouch! That tumble I took did a number on me.”

  Liza was immediately remorseful. “Poor baby, let’s get you into a hot shower.”

  “Alone?” Shay stood carefully and stretched carefully.

  “Well, I do have my own bathroom,” Liza said, lifting her eyebrows a la Groucho Marx.

  Shay grinned and took Liza’s hand, pulling her into the bathroom and closing the door firmly behind them.

  Shay’s hands slid under Liza’s shirt and gently stroked her back as Liza leaned to adjust the water flow and temperature. Liza closed her eyes, relishing the caress. She turned and pulled Shay close. Their kiss lasted an eternity. Liza’s tongue pushed deep into Shay and Shay felt her knees weaken from the erotic onslaught. Within moments, they were undressed and the steamy scent of their passion surrounded them. Liza, eyes dark and demanding, pulled Shay into the shower. They languidly soaped each other’s bodies, eyes full of promise and sharing deep, sporadic kisses that left them dizzy and wanting more. Shay pressed her soapy hand between Liza’s legs as her tongue teased nipples that were erect and insistent. Liza watched the action greedily as her own hand slid easily into Shay. Her thumb strummed Shay’s clit gently. Gasps of delight surrounded them as they merged into one being, erotically charged and eventually, quietly, sated.

  CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

  Shay, as an only child to older parents, was used to family gatherings that were quiet, subdued affairs. Watching Liza’s youthful, energetic family interact was like watching a hilarious sitcom married to a soap opera.

  Everyone seemed happy to gather except for Liza’s older brother, Steve. He was a handsome man, with dark, snapping eyes and sleek black hair, but that was where the goodness ended. He seemed full of superior attitude and unable to relax among the peons of his family. He was dressed in a dark suit and tie. One could tell this was his usual daily garb and that the power suit was what he felt most comfortable wearing. He appeared glad to see his grandmother and father, but Shay could tell there was no love lost between Steve and Liza.

  Mary, his wife, was blond, plump and wore a weary air as though it were a protective robe. Their son, Mason, dark like his father, was a typical preteen attached to ear buds and an electronic game. Their daughter, Stevie, who was only six, was a delight and, Shay could tell, held a special place in Liza’s heart. The child had long blond hair, tied back in a thick ponytail, and huge blue eyes. Her thumb had a sneaky way of finding her mouth quite often and her favorite pastime was lap sitting. Shay adored her immediately.

  Liza’s sister, Chloe, was a knockout; Shay envied her. How could anyone look that well pulled together so effortlessly? Wearing perfectly fitted, low-slung jeans and a form-fitting tank top, she could have been a magazine model come to life. She was with an equally beautiful man named Scott who worked with her at a law firm.

  Shay had a hard time pulling her eyes away from Chloe and several times caught Liza watching her with amusement as they worked with Rosaries to prepare the last of the feast. The family members and guests, for some reason, as they arrived and entered through the kitchen door, invariably huddled around the kitchen table to catch up. This slowed preparations considerably as introductions were made and attention was distracted from the tasks at hand. Eventually, however, everything was prepared or reheated and placed along the countertops in the kitchen. Rosaries fetched Tom from the man huddle in the living room, and he delivered a brief blessing.

  “I only wish our dear Sienna could be here to enjoy this meal with those she loved the most,” he said after the amens had sounded.

  “She is here, Papa,” Stevie said quickly. “Can’t you feel her?” She popped her thumb back into her mouth as Rosaries pulled her close. Tom cleared his throat, as if trying to choke back sudden tears.

  “Well, let’s eat,” Steve said as he made his way to the stack of plates.

  Chatter took over then as everyone filled his or her plate and searched for a good place to sit.

  The Hughes family ate everywhere, a practice very different from Shay’s family who ate at the dining table only. Shay found she rather liked the informality of it. She and Liza sat with Ro and Kim at the table outside by the garden. Stevie had brought her plate along as well and had taken residence in Liza’s lap as she ate. Liza seemed to enjoy the contact even though the squirming girl made it more difficult to eat her meal. Shay realized anew that the woman she loved was as easygoing as everyone said. If she were ever to have a child, this would be the type of person she would want as the other mother. Fantasies of a future family with Liza warmed her into silence.

  “They’re cranberries, Stevie. Try them, they’re good,” Liza said.

  Stevie was not convinced, making a face and spitting the red berries back onto her plate as Ro and Kim laughed.

  “That’s pretty rude, rugrat,” Liza said.

  Her gaze found Shay and lingered lovingly. “Are you okay?”

  Shay smiled and cocked her head to one side. “Absolutely,” she replied. “Aren’t you going to tell them about the garden?”

  Ro speared another forkful of roasted potato. “It’s really beautiful out here, Liza. You have such a green thumb. I don’t know how you do it.”

  “It’s backbreaking labor,” added Kim. “I’d rather make twenty beds than weed just one of those rows.”

  Liza shrugged. “I love it, the quiet, the heat on my back, the smell of the earth.”

  “Ewww,” Stevie offered, wrinkling her sun-pinkened nose. “There’s germs and bugs in the dirt, Mama says.”

  Liza ignored her, pointedly.

  “Tell them,” Shay urged before biting into one of the delicious buttered rolls.

  “What?” Ro queried, looking from Shay to Liza and back again.

  Liza slowly explained Shay’s idea for harvesting Meadows South. As she talked, she could gauge the level of excitement that rose in the two women as their eyes widened and they leaned forward, meal forgotten.

  Shay chuckled, filling with her own excitement to see that the idea was so well received.

  “Oh, no way,” Rosemary sighed. She looked at her partner and they shared a huge grin.

  “Liza, Shay, you guys have hit on a fantastic idea,” Kim said.

  “Now, we can only pay minimum,” Liza cautioned, shifting Stevie’s sprawling weight on her lap. Having lost interest in her meal, Stevie had inserted her thumb into her mouth and was contentedly leaning back against her aunt’s chest.

  “More than enough for these folk.” Ro brushed the issue aside. “I know ten right off the bat who would love this kind of work. You know, some of these older guys were
made homeless by government cutbacks in farming.”

  Liza managed to take a bite. She covered her mouth and spoke around the food. “I know. George and I had a hell of a conversation one day. He used to own an acre and a half of land, grew tomatoes for contract.”

  Stevie wriggled down and ran across the patio toward Chloe and Scott just as a car sounded in the lot out front. By leaning far to one side, Liza alone could see Rich hurry outside via the front doorway and welcome the new arrival with a lingering hug and a look of fondness. She stopped chewing suddenly, the bite in her mouth turning to wood. It was CM. She sat back abruptly.

  “Liza?” Shay asked. “What is it?”

  Liza looked at the tablecloth and swallowed with some difficulty. “Omigosh, I should have guessed,” she whispered.

  Kim studied Liza. “Are you okay, Liza? What’s wrong? Who was it?”

  Liza glanced up, eyes distant. “No one. Just CM.”

  Ro frowned. “CM? He’s never been here before. Did you invite him?”

  “I...I think Rich did,” Liza answered.

  “That makes sense,” Kim said, nodding and cutting turkey into small pieces. “They’ve gotten close, working together so long.”

  Liza smiled finally and her bemused gaze met Shay’s worried eyes. “Yeah, guess so.”

  Later, when Rich and CM came, bearing laden plates, into the backyard to sit together on the low rock wall that bordered the gravel drive, Liza greeted CM warmly, a new sense of love for Rich swelling her heart. He would be fine.

  CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

  By nine that evening the guests and family had all cleared out, the food had been put away and the dishes washed. Shay could not stifle her yawns, some, no doubt, caused by the over-the-counter pain medicines she’d required to get through the day. Liza noticed and knew they needed to leave soon.

  “We need to get you home,” she said, gently rubbing Shay’s back as they stood in the kitchen.

 
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