Identity, page 9
“She knows me well,” she said, laughing. “Besides the Meadows work I do makes my number somewhat public knowledge.” Her voice softened, revealing the intimacy she felt upon hearing Shay’s voice. “I’m really glad you called me.”
“Good!” Pleasure rang in the word. “Can you come for dinner Tuesday afternoon? At my house? My friend Don is coming in from DC with his new significant other. I thought you might enjoy meeting them.”
“That sounds great. What time and what can I bring?”
Shay sighed as if thinking. “It’ll just be a simple meal but our Thanksgiving, I guess, so I’ve got the menu planned. Can you come early, maybe one? That way we can eat by the windows to the back deck and enjoy the view. Don’t you think that’s a fun idea?”
“Absolutely,” Liza said, nodding to herself in her truck. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Shay seemed to grow shy suddenly. “Okay then, I…I guess I’ll see you Tuesday.”
Liza was disappointed that Shay was signing off. “Oh, okay. See you then. Shay, thanks for calling.”
Liza studied her cell phone, pressing the save button so she could keep Shay’s number. She had forgotten; it was listed as private. Liza sighed.
She sat back and stared at her father’s large frame house. She let her mind roam. It felt pleasant to sit unfocused for a few minutes. Her eyes fetched up on an errant growth of trumpet vine and she made a mental note to pull it up or relocate it. The roots were extensive, though, so she’d probably have to let it die. If she didn’t, it would burrow under the siding of the house and cause major problems.
A smile nudged its way across her features. The call from Shay had set a deep-seated and totally unexpected happiness into motion. She let herself savor it for a good long while before leaving the truck.
Her phone rang again just as she inserted her key into the lock. Glancing at the caller ID, she sighed. Mary.
Mary Cross and Liza had been best friends since grade school and during those years, Mary had eagerly agreed with Liza that her brother Steven was a total dweeb or a royal pain in the ass, depending on the mood of the day. Then, in their senior year, Mary and Steve had become an item almost overnight. Steve was already working for Bond Insurance over in Fairhope and their marriage right after graduation had surprised Liza and even angered her. She had harbored some hope that Mary would come to her senses before marrying Steve. She often wondered if Mary, who knew about Liza’s lesbianism, had married so hastily in an effort to prove her heterosexuality, not wanting people to think she and Liza were a couple.
And it wasn’t that Steve was a bad guy. Liza did love him dearly, but he was a typical big brother, whose goal in life was to make both his sisters wish they’d never been born into his world.
Too late now, Mary had finally realized the folly of her impetuous decision, and it was a realization she discussed with Liza almost daily.
“Hey, Mare,” Liza said into the cell.
“He’s drunk on his ass,” Mary said without preamble.
“No way. It’s too early. He doesn’t drink this early, does he?”
“On golf days he does.” Mary’s voice was tight with anger or maybe frustration.
“I’m so sorry,” Liza answered finally. “I don’t know what to say or do to make it better.”
Liza could hear her niece and nephew running rampant in the background.
“Will you talk to him?” Mary said, her voice so low, Liza almost didn’t hear her.
Liza sighed again. For someone who hated to get involved in other people’s problems, she sure was of late. “Sure, I will. As soon as I can. How are the kids?”
“Good.” Mary’s tone was still morose. “Stevie lost another tooth, and Mason started at Saturday’s football game.”
“Awesome. He played really well the last game we came to. I can’t say I’m surprised.”
The two made small talk for several minutes, and then Liza signed off. She didn’t take the time to talk to Stevie and Mason as she usually did. The talks with Mindy, Arlie and now Mary had taken their toll, leaving her emotions raw. She didn’t have the stamina to be upbeat for the children.
“Hey, Pop,” she called as she entered the house. “What did the doctor say?” She sincerely hoped it was good news.
Her father sat at the kitchen table, contentedly munching on a fast-food meal, evidenced by the brightly colored to-go bag crumpled on the tabletop.
Liza smiled indulgently. Her father looked like a hungry teen, guiltily ramming french fries into his mouth.
“Whoa, slow down, Pop. Whatcha got there?” She stifled laughter.
Her father colored. “Chloe stopped on the way home.”
“Umhm,” Liza said, opening the fridge and pouring a glass of sweet tea. “I see that. Looks good.”
“There’s plenty here if you want some,” he said eagerly, as if begging her to join him in his act of gustatory sin.
Liza did laugh then. “No, you go ahead. Enjoy it, Pop. I’m not hungry yet.”
Liza stood against the kitchen counter wondering whether she wanted to return to work out back or cook something to eat. Or collapse in front of the TV.
“So I guess the treatment went well?” she said.
“Didn’t have one,” her father said around a bite of burger.
“Really.” She was curious. “How come?”
Tom shrugged. “Said I was doing so well, he’s going to hold off until after the holidays. See how I do.”
Liza placed her empty glass in the sink. “Omigosh, that’s fantastic.”
She sat across from him and filched a salty fry, studying his face as he chewed. “So I guess you’re responding well. I am so glad to hear that. No wonder you’re celebrating.”
Her father patted her hand and smiled. “I love you, Eliza Jane.”
Liza blushed. “Aw, Pop, I love you too. You know that.”
He nodded and returned to his burger, taking a mighty bite. “I know.”
Leaving him to his meal, Liza wandered into the living room and switched on the television. Her restless mind wouldn’t calm enough for her to enjoy any program, however, so she rose and re-entered the kitchen. Tom was washing the few dishes that had accumulated during the afternoon.
“If you’re settled, I think I’ll go down and throw a line into the pond.”
“Sounds good,” Tom replied. “Take your spray. Alan says we’ve had a powerful lot of straggler mosquitoes.”
“Will do,” she paused in the doorway. “You want to come with me?”
“Nope.” He shook his head and dried his hands. “All tuckered out. I have a date with an old black-and-white movie.”
Liza laughed. “Sounds like a match made in heaven.”
The amount of work needed to get the house in order was daunting. Shay wandered away from the mound of boxes and paused by the high front window that looked out on the driveway. Usually deer could be seen grazing out there this time of day, but the roadway and surrounding forest was strangely deserted. She sighed, feeling lonely and somewhat vulnerable.
Thoughts and nightmares about Pepper’s abuse persisted. It angered her that she was forced to deal with the past even though she detested it. Resting her elbow on the windowsill and cupping her chin in her palm, she let her gaze roam as if seeking answers for her dilemma from nature’s bible. After some time she realized something was amiss and her cautious nature went into overdrive. What was it? She chewed on a thumbnail as her eyes darted keenly. Perplexed, she finally turned away. Just as she turned, she realized that there was a flash of white at the end of the drive. Overgrowth prevented a dead-on sighting but when the wind stirred, there it was. Something large and white was blocking the end of her driveway.
A gasp tore through her and she pressed her face against the pane as if doing so would allow her to see more clearly. She finally realized there was no help for it; she had to go outside and see to it.
She moved back, te
She twisted her hair in a nervous smoothing gesture and glanced around her living room, seeking some sort of weapon. There wasn’t even a fireplace poker in this Southern-styled home. Making a face of pique, she stamped one foot. Why didn’t she have a dog? She felt a major temper tantrum coming on and tried to calm herself using techniques taught by Dr. Frye.
Breathing deeply, she lifted her keys and phone from the hall table and unlocked the front door. Stepping through it was one of the hardest things she had ever done. Her eyes roamed the forest constantly, seeking signs of ambush as she securely locked the door behind her.
“She’s in jail, she’s in jail, she’s in jail,” she muttered to herself, a protective mantra that allowed her a dozen tentative steps along the drive. As the drive curved, she breathed a deep breath and her knees weakened from relief. It was a Tacoma pickup, a familiar one.
Liza, obviously fishing, had parked it a little further down along Dooley Drive than she had last time, making it more visible from the house.
Smiling a goofy grin of relief, Shay turned to return inside. After a few steps, she faltered. It would be nice to see Liza again. They’d parted on such strange terms last time, after that kiss. That memorable kiss. Shay had been having a hard time with that memory. Every time she thought of those sun-roughened, warm lips meeting hers, she turned into a puddle of longing.
Almost as if they were sentient beings, her feet pulled her down the drive.
Liza was indeed in a fishing stance, perched on a cooler next to the pond, but she seemed to be uninterested, pensively holding her pole splayed across her lap. Shay watched her for some time, admiring the normally smiling face in repose. It was a strong face; there had to be Native American ancestry there somewhere. The blond hair threw one off, but Shay could see it in the broad cheekbones and the proud nose.
“So, how long are you gonna stand there,” Liza said lazily as her eyes never left the water.
“Just admiring the view,” Shay said, biting her lip and silently berating herself for flirting.
Liza turned toward her and there was that disarming smile again. “How you been, Little Fluff?”
Shay made a face. “Fluff? Please!” She moved to stand closer to Liza’s The Thinker pose. She indicated the pole’s position. “Won’t catch many fish that way.”
“Not hungry,” Liza replied, lifting an eyebrow and waiting for Shay to catch on to the reference.
Shay did. “Right. For sustenance only. Listen, I was really out of line that day, and I did apologize. Let’s just forget it, okay?”
Liza nodded. “Forgotten, sort of.” She studied Shay’s casual shorts and button-down shirt. “Those aren’t jogging clothes.”
Shay folded her arms across her chest and watched ducks as they meticulously bathed out in the middle of the pond. “No, I’m unpacking. I need to get the house ready for Dee and his new man, Greg.”
“My friend Don. Remember, I called you?”
“Right. I’m sorry. Distracted.”
Liza stood, dwarfing Shay, and Shay moved back as if afraid. Liza noticed but didn’t remark on it. “Need some help? Fishing just isn’t what I’m in the mood for, I guess.”
A war raged inside Shay. Should she let Liza into her fortress? She disliked letting others see her neurotic precautions, worried about what ideas they would form in her silence. Explaining was something she wasn’t able to do just yet. A scheduled visit could be dealt with but a random visit… Her mind listed her last visual references of her house as Liza waited patiently.
“I guess…” she began hesitantly.
“Good.” Liza strode across the road and tossed her pole into the back of her pickup and led the way up the drive. Shay hurriedly caught up, wondering whether she should broach the subject of Pepper. She hesitated, and they were at the front door within moments.
If Liza noticed the number of deadbolts, she didn’t comment on them as Shay leapt forward to painstakingly unlock each one. Instead she talked about how she had always loved this estate and how she had often played there as a child. She complimented Shay’s landscaping improvements.
Hesitating at the door, Shay quit breathing as a new fear beset her. Suppose Liza did want to hurt her? Or perhaps kiss her again?
“Shay?You all right? Did I say something?”
Shay looked up and fell deep into Liza’s concerned gaze. She was watching Shay closely, her face mirroring Shay’s own worry. The gaze was loving and kind and Shay’s fear dissipated like morning mist in sunshine. Shay wanted to kiss her then and it took everything she had not to wrap her arms around the taller woman’s neck and pull her close. Disturbed, she pushed open the door and stepped through.
“Well, this is home, such as it is. Make yourself comfortable and I’ll get us some of that wine you love,” Shay said as she scrubbed her hands together nervously.
Liza sensed the other’s unease and was puzzled by it. “Thanks,” she said, gently trying to force eye contact. Shay lifted her gaze once briefly, then vanished into the kitchen.
Liza took in the large combined family and dining room with its high-stuccoed ceiling and airy comfort. A large navy blue sofa dominated the room, but two red Queen Anne wing chairs complemented it. A darkly polished wooden coffee table rounded out the seating area.
To the left of the front door was a dining area with a bare, unadorned cherry table and chairs and a large matching china cabinet on one wall and a matching sideboard on the other. Although the china cabinet was filled with pale blue dishes, the rooms were strangely uncluttered. Liza noticed several packing crates occupying a far corner of the main room and remembered how long Shay had lived there.
Photographs speared neatly on a bulletin board over the tidy desk area snared her gaze. Stepping closer she saw one photo of a smiling older couple, probably Shay’s parents. There was a distinct resemblance. The other photos were generally of Shay with dogs, mostly a beautiful, comical boxer. Other photos showed her surrounded by fuzzy collie puppies. In one she had an arm thrown around a heavily beribboned reddish dog with cute, floppy ears. Liza didn’t recognize the breed.
“Hey, what kind of dog is this?”
Shay appeared in the kitchen doorway. “Hmm?”
She saw where Liza was and approached cautiously. As if stalling for time, she handed Liza a cold glass of wine. “This is the Riesling you liked.”
“Ahh, that’s as good as I remembered,” Liza said after savoring a sip. “This one here, the one with all the ribbons.”
Shay cleared her throat. “That’s Candy, or as she’s officially known, Star Farms Wayward Wind M&M.”
“Wow, what a name.”
“Yeah,” Shay replied with a heavy sigh.
“What breed is she? She’s really beautiful.”
Shay smiled and reached out one hand to touch the photo. “Rhodesian Ridgeback. They’re an awesome breed. So intelligent.”
Liza peered closely at the photo. “She looks spirited too.”
“Oh yes, very. But a good girl.”
Liza looked at Shay. “You showed her, didn’t you?”
Shay shook her head. “Not really, only in a pinch. I trained her. My friend Carter was her handler.”
“That is so cool. Now I finally know a little something about you.” Liza studied Shay with amused eyes.
Shay became defensive. “What do you mean? You know just about everything there is to know.”
“Like hell! You have to admit, you’re a little overcautious. I didn’t even know you trained dogs.”
Shay shrugged. “It’s not important. It just never came up.”
Liza’s jaw dropped. “Shay? Remember the day at the shelter? Can you think of a
Shay fluttered one hand, dismissing the issue, yet she bristled angrily. “Look, did you come here to argue or to help me get ready for guests?”
Liza grinned a disarming grin and placed her wineglass on the desk blotter. “Shay, anything for you, honey. Just tell me what you need me to do.”
Pale skin still flushed with anger, but smiling, Shay set her own wine aside and led Liza down a short wide hallway to a large bedroom. It was simply furnished, with a large queen-sized bed, unmade, and a mirrored bureau and tall chest of drawers.
“This is nice,” Liza commented, studying the room with appreciation. “I like the light in here.”
She noticed suddenly that each of the two large windows had a delicate filigree of wrought iron on the outside. She made a mental note to check for an alarm panel by the front door. She hadn’t noticed earlier.
“I thought we’d make the bed and fluff things up a bit,” Shay said, her small teeth pulling at her bottom lip.
“Sounds good. I really like this beautiful quilt too,” she said, pointing to the stacked linens at the foot of the bed. Determined to put Shay at ease, Liza kept up a constant stream of easy chatter as they worked. She rambled on about helping her grandmother make a quilt when she was younger. Gamboling thoughts plagued her, though. What horrible event had happened to Shay?
As they made their way back to the front of the house, Liza, with new awareness, peered into each of the open rooms they passed. Sure enough, each one had windows barred on the outside. Why hadn’t she noticed it from their approach along the drive? She realized then that the filigree panels were so delicate that they added to the overall exterior rather than appearing like the protective bars they actually were. There was an alarm panel by the front door, as well as the four deadbolts on the actual door. The sliding glass doors, a true vulnerability, had an outer cage of wrought iron as well as a thick burglar bar on the inside.
Liza felt a pressing need to know what Shay feared but was afraid to broach it with her. She didn’t want to set off that Irish temper again, preferring to spend quality time with the enchanting woman.
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