Identity, page 8
Chloe eyed her distrustfully. “Are you sure? Wonder how you spell it...” She was furiously typing with her thumbs.
“Have you heard of any Raynors around here?”
“Can’t say as I have,” Chloe responded, still making notes. “So you want a background only, right? I can do banking and financial, but that gets into a kind of gray area...”
Liza snorted. “No, not necessary. I just want to know who she is and why she’s here.”
“Umhmmm.” Chloe paused and studied her older sister.
Liza shrugged and turned from that penetrating gaze, furious with herself. “I know, damn it! I have absolutely no business doing this. I know it’s wrong, especially if I want to get close to her. She’ll find out someday and when she does, it’ll blow everything.”
She twisted the blameless dishcloth into a pained spiral.
Chloe cooed with sudden compassion. “It’s okay, Eliza Jane. Why are you worried about who she is? Why can’t you just get to know her the old-fashioned way?”
“I told you. The mystery.”
“Liza, everyone’s a mystery, you know that. What makes her so different? What’s the rush?”
Liza pondered the question, finally sitting across from her sister. “I’m not sure, Chlo. I think about her all the time. She’s different from the girls around here. They’re so predictable. With her, I don’t know up from down.”
Chloe holstered her BlackBerry onto the strap of her bag. “What is it you’re looking for exactly?”
“I guess if truth be told, I’m trying to learn how to get close to her. She’s as prickly as a milk thistle, but I sense there’s a lot of pain underneath. I want to know...what happened to her?”
“To who?” Tom entered the room. He was dressed in a casual tan blazer and jeans with a dark blue Oxford shirt. The pleasant scent of his aftershave filled Liza with a sense of comfort.
“Look at you!” Chloe exclaimed, rising to wrap her arms about her father. “So handsome.”
“Yep, he cleans up well,” Liza offered, glad to have sidestepped any explanations. “Pop, I’ll be in the garden when you get back, so make sure you come on around and tell me what Doc says. Chloe, I’ll lay that shirt out for you. It’ll be on the bed, so come in when you get back.”
“I will. I’ll call you later,” Chloe said. She herded Tom out the door while expertly placing her bags on her shoulders at the same time.
The insistent beckoning of her cell phone woke Shay the next morning. Her first, totally irrational thought was that it was Liza, and she fumbled for the phone with a mounting sense of excitement.
That kiss the day before had kept Shay awake most of the night. She had loved the sweetness of it. She had loved the feel of Liza’s sun-roughened lips against hers. And the scent of her. She smelled of new growing things and that scent above a foundation of a woodsy scent that Shay finally realized was sandalwood. Just being near Liza sent Shay reeling off into a sensual world of erotic imaginings. She longed to run her fingers through Liza’s shaggy blond hair and found herself alternately wanting to plunder Liza like ripe fruit and wanting to cuddle with her next to the calm waters of Dooley’s Folly.
Silencing the ring and realizing that it couldn’t be Liza occurred simultaneously. Shay answered cautiously, eyes too unfocused to see the caller ID.
“Good morning, Shay honey. I hope I didn’t wake you up. I have horrendous meetings all morning and wasn’t sure when I would be able to call.” Don’s voice sounded wide awake, irritatingly so.
“Good morning,” she said, yawning. “What time is it?”
“Eight-ten, why?” His voice fell. “Oh right! I keep forgetting you’re an hour earlier. Oh well, nothing like an early start to the day.”
“Right. Dee dear, what do you need, calling me at this ungodly hour?”
He laughed at her mock annoyance. “Just to let you know that Gregory and I are coming to see you!”
Shay bolted upright, wide awake now. Heavy hair fell across her face and she brushed it back impatiently. “No way! You’re not serious.”
“Yes way.” He paused to curse at traffic. “Our flight leaves day after tomorrow at six-forty-five in the A.M. We should be there about two. We’ve arranged a rental car in Mobile, but I have no idea where to go after that. Greg’s picking up a map today and hopefully we’ll be able to find Maypearl with little difficulty. I’ll call when we get close and you can talk us the rest of the way in. Now, what hotels are there in town? I need to make a reservation.”
Shay laughed and twirled an enthusiastic curl with her index finger. “You’re joking. You’ll stay with me, of course. I have gobs of room, and I’ll have the beds made up by the time you get here.”
Now it was Don’s turn to laugh. “Beds? Beds? Only one will be needed, my dear.”
Shay clucked her tongue at him. “You guys always move so quickly.”
“Oh, stop it. I’m blushing.”
“Well, it’s a queen bed. Are you sure it won’t be too big for the two of you?”
He laughed. “Perfectly appropriate, dear girl, don’t you think? Can’t wait to see you.”
“I’m so excited you’re coming. Let’s do an early Thanksgiving dinner. We’ll have a big meal and I’ll invite Liza.”
“Ahh, the tomboy. So things are going that well?” His voice developed a worried cast.
“I don’t know,” Shay said with a sigh. “We’ll see.”
“I can’t wait to hear more details. I’m at headquarters now and have to run. We’ll see you late Tuesday and listen…be really careful, okay? Kisses.”
Shay signed off, excited about seeing her old friend again and thinking how weird things work out, sometimes. She’d been feeling a little homesick about not having family and friends to be with during the holidays and now Dee was coming to her.
His last admonishment to be careful worried her. Did he mean with Liza? Or was there something else he wasn’t telling her? She shook her head, laughing at and trying to disregard her incessant worries.
Sitting in the middle of her bed, she let her eyes roam the bedroom. Boxes in various stages of unpacked readiness mocked her. She flopped back onto the pillows. How would she ever get the house ready in just two days?
The air in southern Alabama is often so thick and heavy that walking through it feels like a caress. Liza could certainly feel it today even though it was technically winter, a season that this far south bore no relation to its hardier northern cousin. And for this Liza was grateful; it meant she was allowed to indulge in her love of green, growing things all year long.
She sighed, trying to gather in enough of the still air to fill her lungs, and stood, both hands massaging her lower back. Her pale brown eyes shone with pride as she studied her masterpiece. Verdant, leafy rows of late season beans and peas stretched a quarter mile on her left. To her right were the fleshier leaves of root vegetables—carrots, beet, turnips and radishes. On the outer rows of each side, the cabbages she had planted were now raising their bright green heads. At the very center of the extensive garden, she had placed long raised beds of lettuce and other tasty greens. It was a vegetarian’s smorgasbord.
She turned and checked the strawberry plants growing in a shady patch beneath a stand of papaya trees. This was an experiment, assuming that the slanting winter sun would give life to these sun-loving plants in partial shade. So far so good, as each low plant bore plump ornaments of reddening fruit. They would be loaded soon and would need harvesting.
Liza knelt, scrounged a berry out and popped it into her mouth. Yep, another week at most. Now she had to make a firm decision. This smaller garden, planted and tended lovingly with her own two hands, had proven more fertile than she could have imagined. Harvesting the vegetables by herself would be close to impossible. An ever-changing, ever-growing crew of workers tended the huge fields in Montgomery, yet she was loathe to pull any away from those primary fields. That
She studied the long rows once more. This experiment had gotten way out of hand, however, and something needed to be done, soon. She frowned and pondered her choices. She needed people. Who would work locally?
A car approaching snared her attention. It wasn’t Chloe’s red Mustang, but Mindy’s copper-colored Dodge Caliber. Surprised, Liza rounded the house and greeted her in the side yard.
“Hey, girl, good to see you.” She drew Mindy into a close hug. “What brings you out when you should be home sleeping off last night’s shift?”
Mindy’s hazel eyes were framed by dark smudges, and her long dark hair was piled carelessly atop her head and fastened with a big clip.
“Can we talk?” she said urgently. “Do you have a minute?”
Liza frowned. “Min, you know I always have time for you. I can’t believe you asked.” She turned and made her way to the back door, motioning for Mindy to follow. “Let’s get out of this heat and get something cold.”
Mindy sighed and once in the spacious kitchen took a seat at the table. She laid her keys and handbag atop it.
“Light beer okay?” Liza asked, offering a dark, frosty bottle.
“Mmm, thank you,” Mindy replied, twisting off the cap and taking a healthy swallow. “That’s good.”
Liza nodded agreement as she swigged her own and took the chair opposite Mindy. “So, what’s up?”
“Oh no, what’s happened to her now? She get hurt at work?” Liza harbored a lot of subconscious worry about Arlie because she worked with such heavy machinery at the wood yard.
“Oh no,” Mindy responded hastily. “Nothing like that.”
“Sheesh! Don’t scare me that way.” She eyed Mindy. “So what’s she done now? Another bar fight?”
“Cheated on me.” Mindy’s heartache was evident in her voice.
“No way,” Liza offered with conviction. “She wouldn’t. Not Arlie, not the way she loves you.”
“I’m sure of it.”
Liza shook her head. “No. How can you know for sure?”
“I…I followed her today at lunchtime. I was gonna surprise her, brought her favorite burger and everything.”
She paused and took in a deep, shaky breath. “She got in this woman’s car. One of the rich bitches from the new subdivision…”
“See there? She was probably doing some extra spec work.”
“I thought so too, so I followed them to her house and I got out of the car and was going in after, but I saw them in the doorway, then inside the window and they were...were…”
Liza took Mindy’s hand after understanding dawned. “I’m so, so sorry, honey. I will personally kick her ass. I can’t believe…”
“Will you talk to her, no kidding? I want to know why, Liza. I’m always available to her. I really thought what we had was good, was perfect.”
Tears escaped her eyes and ran with unwarranted eagerness along her narrow cheeks. She didn’t sob and somehow that was worse, breaking Liza’s heart. How could Arlie be so stupid?
“I’m gonna go,” Mindy said abruptly, gathering her things together. “I just can’t deal with this right now. Talk to her, Liza, and call me?”
“Wait.” Liza stood. “What are you going to do?”
Mindy paused at the kitchen door that led outside. She hung her head, a picture of dejection and pain. “Nothing. At least not yet. Maybe when I understand why, then I can make a decision. We have fourteen years, Liza. Fourteen. It seems like it would be hard to piss that away. I want to know how she can do it so easily when it’s just killing me.”
After Mindy left, Liza stood in the center of the kitchen pondering this new information. Absently her hand fished in the pocket of her shorts and pulled out her cell. She dialed Arlie with the push of a button. Arlie answered on the second ring.
“Liza! Hey, what’s up?”
Her voice was overloud so she could be heard above the machine-driven din in the background.
“Hey. What time do you get off today?”
“In about sixty, why?”
“Meet me at Java right after, okay? It’s important.”
Arlie sounded dubious, but she agreed. Liza signed off.
Arlie was waiting for Liza by the time she made it to The Java Cup.
Nora spied Liza when she entered and held up a questioning hand. Liza nodded, indicating to Nora that she would have her usual iced Americana.
She slid into the seat across from Arlie and simply stared at her until the other woman began to fidget uncomfortably.
“You’ll never believe what I heard today,” Liza began slowly.
Arlie leaned back in her chair and tried to look tough and unperturbed. “What?”
“That one of my best and dearest friends is screwing up her life, no, wait, she’s pissing her life away. That was the way it was worded.”
Nora’s granddaughter, Sandy, placed the coffee in front of Liza, and they shared a few pleasantries while Arlie stewed. After Sandy walked away, returning to her crossword puzzle book behind the counter, Liza once more turned her attention to the other woman. “So?”
“So what? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Arlie said with a scowl. “You’ve lost me. Not making any sense.”
Liza took a deep breath and held the cool plastic of the coffee glass between both palms to steady herself. “She saw you, Arlie. The two of you. She followed you today. Saw you through the window.”
Arlie’s jaw dropped as she sat upright. All her tough girl demeanor vanished. She was eight years old again, twisting sulkily in the swing in Liza’s backyard. “No. That’s crazy. There’s no way.”
Liza felt anger stir. Lying about it was only compounding the problem. “Cut it out, Arlie. You’re busted and that’s it. You might as well come clean.” She leaned forward until their faces almost touched. “What the hell were you thinking? Mindy loves you,” she hissed.
Arlie’s eyes roamed as if seeking support from the sparsely populated room. “I…it won’t happen again.” she said, her voice flat.
“Too late. Do you really think you’ll get a second chance?”
Arlie’s face fell and she looked as though she’d been hit by a two-by-four. Obviously, the thought that she might be held accountable hadn’t really occurred to her. “What? What is Min going to do?”
Liza rubbed her forehead with one hand. “Leave your ass, if she’s as smart as I think she is. Arlie, what’s going on? I thought you and Mindy had a real good thing.”
“We do!” Arlie exclaimed. “We did.”
“Then why?” Liza fixed her friend with a damning stare.
To Liza’s amazement, Arlie’s dark blue eyes filled with unshed tears. The large woman sat back and swallowed to maintain her composure.
Compassion welled in Liza, but she knew she had to remain firm for Mindy’s sake. “Why, Arlie?”
“You can’t imagine what it’s like, Hughes,” she said after a short pause. “You’re good lookin’, got a hell of a personality. Can have any woman you damn well please.”
Liza’s mouth fell open. “What the hell…Arlie, you’re crazy. What does this have to do with the price of tea in China?”
Arlie swiped at her eyes, groaning when Liza fell back on one of their pet childhood phrases. “She came on to me, Liza. This big britches woman wanted me, Arlie Russell, giant diesel dyke. Do you know what that means?”
Liza sighed and shut her eyes. “It means she’s married, Woodpecker, and is playing both sides of the fence. You’re not stupid. Wait, maybe you are.”
Arlie angered and puffed up but then deflated before her friend’s steady gaze. “I know,” she whispered. “It was such a rush, though, Hughes, you have no idea.”
“I do know, hon. Swear to God. I’ve been in similar situations. Going for it does nobody any good,” she replied impatiently.
“Are you tired of Mindy?”
“God, no!” Arlie blurted out, lifting a tortured gaze. “Never.”
Liza sighed. “Well, talking to her is the first step. Maybe some counseling if she’s agreeable. I suggest you go home and get started.” She rose and lifted her cup. Arlie stood on shaky legs.
“Are you gonna see the woman again?” Liza asked quietly as they stepped out into the late afternoon sunlight.
“No, I was already breaking it off. It was not a long-term thing, you know?”
Liza pulled Arlie into a sideways hug of encouragement. “Good luck, Woodpecker. Just be honest, okay? Mindy deserves that from you. Promise?”
Arlie nodded, eyes downcast.
“Call me if you need anything, hear? Tell Min to call me if she needs to,” Liza added as they walked together for a few paces.
Arlie awkwardly hugged Liza back, and they parted, each lost in thought, both imagining and dreading the impending confrontation.
Liza’s cell phone rang just as she pulled into the drive. She’d pondered the troubling conversation with Arlie all the way home, so she wasn’t in the best of spirits. Seeing a number marked as private further stirred flags of irritation.
“Eliza Hughes,” she barked into the phone, sure it had something to do with a Meadows snafu. Like she needed more aggravation.
“Liza? Are you okay?”
It took almost a full minute for the soft, low voice to register.
“Shay? Is that you?”
“Yes, I hope I’m not bothering you…”
“No, no, of course not. I’m sorry I was so…such a bitch. Rough day.”
“No problem. I hope you don’t mind, but I got your number from Carol over here at the shelter. I was gonna ask her to call you, but she said you wouldn’t mind…” Her tone was doubtful and Liza hastened to reassure her.
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