Disclaimers: See Part 1
A Special Note to Our Readers: Hoosier Daddy is a work in progress. You will likely notice a few inconsistencies here and there as you make your way through the online version of the story. We have made some tweaks and subtle adjustments to the plot, most specifically to timelines. For this, we ask your indulgence, and promise that in the final, published version of the book, everything will make sense. If not, we reserve the right to blame our editor.
Disclaimers: None. All of the characters are ours.
Violence/Sex: No violence, but some quirky sexual encounters and lots of big trucks. This story does involve a consensual, loving and romantic relationship between two adult women. It's not graphic, but if sexual encounters in bathrooms or behind lemon shake-up stands offend you, you may want to consider another story selection -- or at least one that isn't set in Indiana.
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Copyright: Ann McMan and Salem West, April 2013. All rights reserved. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the authors.
The rest of the week was a blur. I pretty much rolled out of bed at sunrise, and dropped back to the mattress at sunset like a falling rock. Working with Tam's transition team was exhausting, but exhilarating all at the same time. By the end of the third day, we were able to fire up the production lines and return all of Ogata's 4,485 workers to their jobs in a safer—and cooler—environment. Our FTE numbers had decreased slightly due to the early departure of many of the Krylon loyalists and sycophants. Some of them left by escort, others by attrition, and a few more at their own behest.
Two notables among the volunteers who vacated were Pauline Grubb and Misty Ann Marks. No one made much of a fuss about Misty Ann's departure, but Pauline's seemed to do more to lighten and improve the mood of employees than the unexpected boon of now getting thirty minutes during their shifts to have time to eat a prepared meal. Steve Haley was able to engage an independent contractor to manage the cafeteria, but all of its employees continued to work for Ogata. Creamed corn was slated to become nothing but an unhappy memory.
I expected an immediate surge in the colon health of southern Indiana.
Other improvements were longer-reaching in their effects, and would take more time to implement. But the early release of information about Ogata benefit plans, profit sharing programs, and retirement options made for lively discussion around the vending machines, and around butt buckets in the designated outdoor smoking areas.
Even with the bevy of sweeping improvements taking shape, the mood among the rank and file remained somewhat somber. Many people continued to be more motivated by suspicion than elation. Tam even quipped that this transition was about as easy as trying to turn an ocean liner around in a swimming pool. I promised myself that I'd never mention that concept to Doc and Ermaline. At this point, an ocean liner was about the only motorized piece of equipment they were missing at their compound. And with the addition of the Esther Williams “natatorium” over there (Doc rigged an awning for their new pool from a couple of cast-off tents from Colvin's funeral home), anything was possible.
I didn't see El again after our encounter at Hoosier Daddy on Monday night. I figured that she and Tony were as busy busting their humps as we were. It was strange to think that we were both working around the clock on opposing sides, aiming for the same set of outcomes—with one important difference. And sometimes, I thought even that difference was so slight it was barely perceptible.
I wasn't exactly feeling more optimistic about our relationship odds, but I was beginning to think that maybe Grammy was right, and I should take a chance and tell El how I was feeling. I just hoped I'd get the opportunity.
On Monday night, after Grammy left, I sat for a while and stared at the chair seat I'd finally gotten right. It was incredible. When I relaxed and forgot about making mistakes, the strands of cane passed through their tiny holes in exactly the right ways…just like Grammy said they would. I realized that maybe I did tend to overthink things. So I decided to give in to an impulse and send El a text message. It was simple and direct. I hoped she'd understand it in the way I meant it.
I can wait.
As much as I hoped I'd hear back from her, I didn't really expect a reply. So I was stunned when, a minute later, my cell phone beeped.
You couldn't have said this at a better time.
That was it. I didn't write back, and neither did she. Now, most of a week had passed, and I still had no idea where we were.
But I knew where I was right now—at least with regard to the pile of reports I had to plow through before the stand-up team meeting we had every morning at seven o'clock.
At least I was lucky enough not to be assigned to the OSHA unit. For the last few days, I'd been looking at processes and workflow in the paint and plastics area—and my personal learning curve was pretty steep. Janice Baker was bringing me along, however, and she'd told me on more than one occasion that I had real aptitude for the work. I wanted to believe her. It was incredible how much more personally gratifying it was to be able to use some of the skill sets I'd worked so hard to acquire. This was a perk from the buyout that I never thought I'd have. I hoped that my fellow toilers would realize some of the same benefits, but only time would tell where that was concerned. It was clear that union fervor was still riding high in the aftermath of Wanda's death, and many people plainly believed that the UAW was going to be their new path to salvation.
The pop-up meeting reminder dinged on my laptop. I had fifteen minutes until I needed to head for Tam's office—just enough time to grab another cup of coffee in the cafeteria. One of the best things about the new food service was the better coffee. They now carried Darrin's, coffee from a local micro-roaster up in Zionsville. It was wonderful—and one of the things I looked forward to every morning. To be honest, getting coffee in the cafeteria also gave me a chance to connect with my friends, who all would be heading in to begin their shifts.
When I left the front offices and made my way toward the cafeteria, I saw Luanne heading in the same direction. I hurried to catch up with her.
“Hey there, stranger.” I touched her on the back of the arm.
She jumped about two feet into the air—which, for Luanne, was a miracle of physics.
“Lord, God!” she cried out. “You scared the bejesus out of me.”
“Sorry,” I apologized. “Are you getting coffee?”
“Hell, no. I can't drink that stuff they serve in here now…it tastes like tar.”
I didn't bother to disagree with her. Anyone who thought the sun rose and set in a pitcher of Old Style probably did have different standards about what passed for acceptable in a breakfast drink.
“How're things going?”
“Well, I can't say it's not a relief to have things get back to normal—even though them three days off was a nice bonus.”
I nodded. We walked into the cafeteria together. It was buzzing with activity. People were loading up on caffeine and pastries before starting their shifts. Luanne ambled over toward a kiosk and snagged a bear claw off a tray. I filled my travel mug with Indy Brew Espresso and joined her near the checkout line.
I thought Luanne was looking at me strangely, and I wondered what was on her mind.
“Did I spill something on my shirt?” I asked.
“No. I just thought you seemed pretty upbeat, considering the news.”
“What news?” I was confused. Did something else happen in the plant that we hadn't heard about yet?
“About them agitators,” she said.
We'd reached the register. Luanne started to fish in her front pocket for money, but I stopped her and handed the cashier a five.
“My treat,” I said. “What about the agitators?”
She gave me a worried look. “They're gone,” she said. “Pulled up stakes, and left town.”
I felt the floor beneath my feet give way. I swayed, and Luanne grabbed hold of my arm. She hauled me over toward a table.
“You need to sit down,” she demanded. “I shouldn't have just told you like that.”
I still wasn't quite hearing her. Gone? El and Tony were gone? Just like that…and without saying goodbye?
How had I not heard about this?
I looked at her. “When did they leave?”
She shrugged. “Yesterday or maybe the day before? I'm not sure. Aunt Jackie told me last night.”
“That's not possible. ” I sank down onto a chair. It shouldn't have been possible. “What about the vote?” I was grasping at straws. Surely the UAW wouldn't abandon its crusade just like that—without preamble or warning?
“Well, that's just it,” Luanne explained. “They got enough names on them authorization cards to make the vote happen—so their work here was finished.”
I was shocked. “They got to thirty percent?”
She nodded. “Maybe even more.”
My heart was hammering. I set my cup down on the small table so I wouldn't drop it.
“You want to eat a bit of this?” Luanne shoved her pastry toward me." You're lookin' a bit peaked.”
“Oh, god, no.” Her chocolate-covered confection was the last thing I needed. My head was swimming and my stomach was about to follow suit.
So the vote was going to happen. I wondered vaguely if Tam already knew?
But why did El and Tony leave? Somebody had to run things during their “campaign” phase.
“I don't get it,” I looked at Luanne through a haze of hurt and confusion. “Who's going to run things for the UAW until the vote happens?”
“Honey, I don't know nothin' about how them agitators work,” she said. “That Italian feller told Aunt Jackie that the Detroit folks would likely send down a different team to handle the run up to the election.”
“Where did they go?”
“Tony and El.”
“Lord if I know. I think maybe someplace in Texas?” She sighed and shook her head. “Aunt Jackie said they had another hot prospect down there…some Mazda plant or somethin'? Hell… anything in Texas is gonna be hot this time of year. I suppose it's another one of these ‘transplant' operations.”
Texas? El was in Texas? She might as well be in Timbuktu.
So much for my brief sojourn through the land of hope and optimism….
Janice Baker hurried past us carrying her own supersized cup of coffee. She noticed me seated there, and backtracked to address me.
“Jill? Are you coming to the meeting?” She smiled and nodded at Luanne. “Hi there.”
Luanne dropped a protective hand to my shoulder. “She was feelin' a bit woozy, so I told her to sit down.”
I swallowed hard and nodded up at Janice, who was looking at me with concern. “I'm okay,” I said. I got to my feet. “Maybe I can catch up with you after work?” I asked Luanne.
“You know where to find me,” she said. She squeezed my arm and lowered her voice. “It ain't nothin' we can't handle, girl.”
I tried to smile at her, but didn't quite succeed.
I picked up my coffee mug, and headed for the front offices with Janice.
Tam's stand up meeting morphed into a longer, sit-down session in the boardroom. Janice told me on our walk back to the offices that there had been some developments related to the union campaign, and that Tam needed to brief us all about what to expect. I didn't mention that I already knew what those “developments” were. I didn't mention, either, that my heart was now fractured into more pieces than a pre-assembled Outlaw Super Duty King Cab.
I took my seat at the table and tried to compose myself. All fourteen members of the Tiger Team were there. Seven came in with Ogata, and the rest of us had been Krylon employees. Even with my complete level of distraction, it was impossible not to think about the conversation I'd had with Don K. in this very room. Right then, it felt like that exchange had happened in another lifetime.
“Good morning, everyone.” Tam entered the room and took a seat near the door. I thought he looked pretty calm, considering the announcement he was about to make. But I was beginning to learn that composure was something Ogata's senior management team had in abundance. “I apologize for coopting more of your time this morning than our scheduled ten minutes,” he said. “But we have some important news to share, and some specifics related to a new initiative to discuss. I'll try to summarize where we are as quickly as possible, before we shift into a broader conversation about strategies. At that time, I'll introduce you to a couple of new additions to our corporate response team. You'll all have the opportunity to ask any questions you have—but be aware that much of this is developing in real time, so we may not be able to answer every query right out of the starting gate.” He looked at each of us in turn. “All good with that?”
There were head nods all around.
“Great,” he said. “Let's get started.” He opened a manila folder that sat on the table in front of him. “Many of you may have heard by now that the UAW was successful in garnering authorization signatures from more than 30 percent of Krylon—now Ogata—employees.”
There was a chorus of groans.
Tam held up a sheet of paper. “This is a copy of an email I received late yesterday from the NLRB Region 25 office in Indianapolis, informing me that the United Auto Workers have filed for the right to hold an election in this plant. Barring the discovery of any complications or irregularities during their investigation—which we do not expect—that election will be scheduled to take place sometime within the next 30 days.”
“So what impact is that likely to have on the work we're doing now?” Janice asked.
“For all process and systems evaluations—no impact,” Tam replied. “All of your work continues as planned. With regard to certain human resource initiatives, we'll want to refocus our near-term objectives and jump-start some new strategies that address immediate shortfalls in worker engagement. I'm sure that most of you are already familiar with the ‘Who's On First?' routine now playing out at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. People engaged in that debate are changing sides so fast it's hard to keep up with who's on what side of which issue. To put it all simply, the UAW is claiming that it has a mandate to hold union elections in the plant—and, oddly enough, Volkswagen is not opposed to that. However, a contingent of employees backed by a national Right to Work organization has filed a counterpetition to stop the vote, alleging that Volkswagen has unlawfully conspired with the union.”
There were some titters of laughter around the table.
Tam smiled. “To put it in the vernacular—it's a Class A clusterfuck. But there are some important takeaways for us. Volkswagen, because of its roots in the EU, is comfortable with the practice of giving workers a direct forum to discuss job-related issues—although wage and benefit discussions remain off the table. They would like to institute domestic models for these European-style ‘works councils.' But some legal experts allege that those councils are tantamount to employer-managed unions, which are a violation of U.S. Labor law. So the debates, and the battles, continue. Now, the governor of Tennessee, and a U.S. Senator have upped the ante by wading into the middle of the dispute. In an effort to resolve the debacle, Volkswagen has reached out to some high-powered consultants who have expertise in bringing all warring factions to the table to find common ground.”
“I'd pay big money to see Bob Corker split a Wiener Schnitzel with Bernd Osterloh,” Steve Haley quipped.
“Are you kidding?” Janice added. “He'd probably ask for separate checks.”
Even I had to smile at that one. I didn't know Janice had a sense of humor.
“You might get to test the truth of that, Janice,” Tam said. “Because we've engaged the same firm to help us avoid some of the pitfalls our friends in Tennessee are now having to navigate.” He sat back and folded his arms. “Look. Let's be blunt here. We would prefer that OTI remains a non-union shop. And, hopefully, the plans and initiatives we're putting into place will lead our workers to give us that vote of confidence when the election takes place. But we can't rest on our laurels and assume we're doing everything just right, and that our employees will give us the benefit of the doubt. We can have the best-laid plans in the world, but if they're not managed and communicated to our workers in the right ways, or if our workers are excluded from these conversations, or if we don't roll them out in a timely enough fashion, we're going to end up on the same kind of slippery slope, and our carefully crafted business model will be blown to smithereens.”
No one could dispute the truth of that. We all understood that in most cases, workers who voted for unions were really voting against bad management. Once Ogata employees had a chance to compare apples to apples, they'd probably realize that their new wage and benefit packages would outstrip those offered at comparable Big Three plants.
“What happens if the union vote goes the other way?” I asked.
Tam looked at me. “Then we pay really smart people a lot of money to develop ways for us to meet their goals, while maintaining the integrity of our business operations. Ogata is committed to this endeavor.” He looked around the table. “Are there any other questions before I ask our consultants to join us?”
We all exchanged glances, but remained silent.
“Okay,” Tam said. He signaled to his admin. “Kevin, would you go to my office and ask our guests to join us?”
Kevin nodded and left the room.
“I'll save formal introductions until they get here,” Tam said. “But while we wait, let me tell you a little bit about the two people who will lead us through this process.” He referenced another document in his file folder. “One of them was deputy under-secretary of labor during the Clinton administration. During his tenure, he dealt specifically with employer-union relations—including employee participation programs and the TEAM act, the appointment of the Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations, and numerous other issues regarding the National Labor Relations Act. Since 1998, he has gained a solid reputation as a labor relations consultant, and has worked extensively with both organized labor and industrial clients. In the last several years, his firm has focused on issues related to foreign-owned transplants in North America, with special emphasis on automotive manufacturing. He now heads one of the most highly respected consulting firms in the United States.”
Tam flipped to a second sheet of paper. “The other member of this dynamic duo may surprise you. She is an acknowledged expert in the field of U.S. labor law and industrial labor relations, and comes equipped with a thorough, first-hand understanding of the policies and practices of the UAW. She has written and lectured extensively on issues of U.S. labor law, worker rights, and trends in international labor relations. She is a laureate of the prestigious New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and a former associate professor at Cornell. She comes to us highly recommended by the Chairman of Volkswagen's General and Group Works Council, who recently engaged her to consult with his company on the impasse in their Chattanooga plant.”
The door to the boardroom opened, and two people entered. The innocuous looking, white-haired man was a complete stranger to me. The woman who preceded him into the room was someone who could easily add turning heads to her impressive set of credentials. She was dressed to the nines in a tailored, black Armani suit.
Tam was talking again. I made an effort to pick my jaw up off the table and take in what was happening.
“Please welcome Arnie Erdmann and Dr. Eleanor Rzcpczinska.” He glanced down at the sheet of paper he was still holding. “I realize that you're all meeting Arnie for the first time. But several of you may already know the good doctor here by another name.”
El was wearing her glasses, but I could see the smile in her eyes after her gaze swept the room, and landed on me.
“Some called her the agitator,” Tam was still talking, but his voice was fading, like it was coming from a million miles away. “But I'm told that certain others among us know her better as El DeBarge.”
That night after work, I sat on the front steps at Grammy's house and watched Fritz being chased around the yard by the puppies. Even though I was reluctant to admit it, Jimmie and Eddie were kind of cute—in a Yoda-meets-the-Hunchback-of-Notre-Dame kind of way.
Still, I had to wonder about Grammy's sense—or lapse of sense.
But she was right about Fritz. He seemed invigorated by the energy of the two youngsters.
I was still reeling from the revelation about El. The rest of the meeting flew by in a blurry confluence of words and images. I stared at El, and worked not to stare at El, with equal energy. It was all too incredible to take in. It was as if I'd been given a reprieve from a terminal diagnosis. Like I'd walked into my doctor's office and heard him say, “We're so sorry, Miss Fryman. The lab mislabeled the test results. You're not going to die a horrible death, all alone in a barren land.”
El wasn't gone. El was staying . And, for now, El was staying in Princeton…at Ogata.
But was she with me? That last part was the one thing I was uncertain about.
We didn't get to talk after the meeting. Tam whisked El and Arnie off to his office for a conference call with the leadership in Tokyo. I did my best to remain calm. I resisted every impulse I had to call her, to text her, to follow her, or to invent a reason to loiter around outside Tam's office until she reappeared.
I managed not to do any of those things. Barely. And she didn't do any of them, either.
So now, here I sat, ten hours later, at Grammy's house, wondering what was next.
T-Bomb and Luanne both found ways to seek me out once the news about El filtered out into the plant. It didn't take long. News at that place always did travel faster than the speed of light. No revolution in leadership or corporate culture would ever change that dynamic.
I was irrationally pleased that they both seemed happy about the news.
“I always knew things would work out,” T-Bomb declared. “All it took was for you to get your thumb outta your derriere and quit actin' like a doofus.”
I wasn't too sure what she meant by that “doofus” part, but I did have to admit that life was better when my thumb wasn't planted in my…derriere.
Still. There was more unsettled than settled between us. And as happy and exhilarated as I was feeling, it was hard not to be miffed at El for keeping me so in the dark. The days since Wanda's death had been grueling for me…nearly torturous. I had to make a Herculean effort not to be angry at El for not reaching out to me, or finding some way to let me know what was in the works.
But then…if I were fair, I had to admit that she did try. When I thought back through our earlier conversations and recalled exactly what words she said—and not the meaning my pain and disappointment grafted onto her comments—she actually had tried to calm my fears, without breaching any confidentiality constraints that surely prevented her from being more open about her plans.
I heard the grind of a car starter. Across the road at Doc's, Ermaline was trying to fire up the Buick. It wasn't cooperating. After five or six nagging attempts, she got out of the big car and slammed its door in disgust. I saw her look around the yard for some other conveyance that might accommodate her. Apparently, Doc was off someplace in the El Camino. She took a long drag off her cigarette, and then ground the butt out on the sole of her shoe. She glanced at her watch.
Ermaline had someplace to be.
Next up was an old Pontiac Catalina. The car was a shiny, sea foam green color, and had been pretty spiffy before Doc sideswiped the Lyles's Station Bridge one night on his way home from the Elks Lodge. Now the entire driver's side looked concave—like the car was trying to suck in its breath so it would fit better through narrow spaces. Ermaline climbed in and retrieved the key from above the visor. She gave it a shot. The thing roared to life on the first crank. It shuddered and rumbled, and belched blue-black smoke into the sky. Before she pulled out, Ermaline cracked open her door and liberated three or four cats. They did not appear to be happy with the disruption or the ruckus. They fled the scene like rats deserting a sinking ship.
I was worried that Fritz and the puppies might decide to chase after the cats, but, amazingly, they sat down in a nearly perfect straight row, and watched with rapt attention until Ermaline pulled out of the yard and disappeared around the bend. As soon as she was out of sight, they resumed their raucous game of tag as if nothing unusual had happened. It was clear that dogs had some inbred code of conduct that defied human understanding. Or maybe they just liked Pontiacs?
It was a tossup.
Grammy was inside making dinner. I told her not to bother, but she insisted. When I shared the news about El with her, her reaction seemed restrained. It's not that she wasn't happy with the outcome—it was clear that she was. It was more that she was withholding comment until we had more information. And that seemed unlike her to me.
I kept checking my cell phone every few minutes in the hopes that I'd have a message from El. But as the minutes ticked by and piled up into quarter hours, half hours, and hours—I knew it wasn't looking very likely.
Grammy was cooking a pork loin with sauerkraut, and it smelled wonderful. I caught whiffs of it whenever the wind shifted and pushed the early evening air through the open doors and windows of the house. I lifted my head into the breeze and basked in the wonderful medley of smells surrounding me on the porch. They were like warm hugs.
I hoped she'd make mashed potatoes, too.
It was amazing how my appetite was returning. For weeks, I'd had little interest in anything related to food. Now I found myself thinking about things like eggplant bisque, and wondering if Grammy could spare a few quarts of the German Johnson tomatoes she'd been canning.
The dogs all snapped to attention again. They heard the approaching car before I did. I figured it was probably Ermaline, coming back to retrieve something she'd forgotten. There generally wasn't much traffic out here on these county roads after six o'clock—unless it was Wednesday night, and people were headed for prayer meeting.
It wasn't Ermaline. I saw the sun glinting off something…purple. Bright purple. It was an odd-looking car. Small—like a motorized roller skate. A flaming purple roller skate. It slowed down and turned off into Grammy's driveway.
All three of the dogs went nuts and roared out to greet it. The puppies did their best to keep up with Fritz, but they had their customary difficulty getting their back ends pointed in the same direction as their front ends. Watching them was like watching one of those demolition derbies, where the cars all ran at break-neck speeds in reverse.
When the car came to a halt and its door opened, I recognized the fantastic pair of legs that appeared before the driver climbed out.
El was still wearing her power suit, and she didn't seem the least bit bothered that Fritz and the puppies were climbing all over her. I could hear her cooing and talking to each of them in her silky, low voice. My heart was racing, and I was torn between wanting to rush out there and join in the frenzied bout of licking, or staying put on the top step and pretending to remain calm until El made her way to the house.
Forget remaining calm. I lasted about two seconds before I was off the porch and running toward the driveway.
El met me halfway.
We stood together in the middle of the yard, with the dogs dancing in their ageless, wild patterns around our feet—clinging to each other like beggar ticks on a wool sweater. Neither of us said anything. We just held on. Finally, El pushed back and looked at me. Her gray eyes were shiny.
“I hoped you'd be here,” she said.
I nodded. My throat was thick. “I came for dinner,” I said. I knew it sounded stupid…obvious. I had a hard time finding my words. They were tumbling all over themselves inside me. I couldn't latch onto the ones I really wanted because I wanted them all, in every possible combination.
El smiled, and I felt my insides melt. It was so palpable that I was tempted to look down at the ground beneath us, just to see if all of my pent up hope and longing was seeping out between my toes. This was it. This was my moment. And I knew that I would never get another one. I knew that I needed to tell her—and I knew that I needed to tell her now, while I still had the chance.
I dropped my head to her shoulder. El raised her hand and rested it on the back of my neck. Her palm felt warm and strong.
“I love you,” I said.
She hugged me closer. She muttered something indistinct. It sounded like “thank god.”
It didn't really matter. None of it mattered.
For once in my life, I was fully, completely, and one hundred percent present. I no longer saw my world through a glass darkly; I saw it face-to-face—in bold, brilliant, and breathtaking color. And I understood that the fullness of life that spread out before me in that single explosive moment would be enough to light my path for the rest of my days.
After dinner, El and I walked together through the waning light. It was a warm evening, but cooler breezes continued to blow in from the north, and that made it feel almost fall-like. The dogs raced off ahead of us, but occasionally, they would stop and look back, just to be sure we were still following along. We didn't have any particular route in mind, although El said she wanted to visit the rhubarb patch again. I thought it was likely that Grammy's garden would always serve as our self-styled Mecca. Somehow I knew that this would be a pilgrimage we would make often, and always together.
I had been shocked to learn that Grammy knew all about El's career transition. I had no idea that all through the days leading up to Tam's big announcement, El had been spending a good deal of time with Grammy, trying to sort through the tangled web of her feelings for me, and her uncertainty about her future with the UAW. I was equally stunned to learn that El had actually been staying at Grammy's since her resignation from the union. I made that discovery when she reemerged after a so-called trip to the bathroom, dressed in shorts and one of my old, faded Salukis t-shirts. When I looked at her new ensemble in confusion, she just shrugged and smiled.
“She's staying in your room,” Grammy explained. “I told her to help herself to any of those old work clothes you keep here.”
Even more surprising was my discovery that the puppies weren't Grammy's—they were El's. She explained that adopting them was the first thing she did when she made her decision to leave the UAW and accept the offer from Arnie Erdmann. Apparently, Arnie's firm had been pursuing her for some time.
“I wanted to put down roots, and they seemed like the best way for me to start,” she said.
As we meandered along the path that led to the garden, and I watched her “girls” lope ahead of us in their curious, non-linear patterns, I asked her about their names.
“I get the whole giving them boy's names as a homage to Lucille thing,” I said. “But why Jimmie and Eddie?”
She had her arm linked through mine and she tugged me closer as we continued along the path beside the garage.
“My father's name was James Edward. His memory is very important to me—it still drives everything I do in my work life. I guess I wanted him to have a connection to my personal life, too.” She looked up at me and smiled. “That's a new thing for me…a personal life. I know now that I deserve to have one.”
Her simple explanation filled me with happiness.
“We both do.”
“I need to figure out a way to get my car and the rest of my things here from Buffalo.”
“Oh,” I teased. “That purple, side-loading dish washer you rolled up in isn't your car?”
She bumped my side. “Nice try. It was the only thing they had at Enterprise when I turned in the SUV.” She looked at me. “Beggars can't be choosers.”
“You know I'll help you move,” I said. Then I grinned at her. “We can use Grammy's pickup.”
“Great idea,” she replied. “You can ride in the back…you already have the outfit for it.”
“As charming as I'd look, those aren't exactly moving clothes.”
“True,” she said. We walked on for a bit. “I also need to find a place to live.”
I was tempted to tell her she could just stay with me. I nearly said it, too. I think El realized that I was biting something back.
“I can't move in with you,” she said.
Even though I knew she was right, I still felt disappointed. “Why not?”
“Because we're not teenagers,” she replied. “I want us to take our time and do this right.”
“I want that, too.”
“Besides,” she said. “I'm pretty sure we're both aware that we'll be spending all of our time together when I'm not in Tennessee. It's better for us to at least have the illusion of maturity.”
I smiled at her. But the mention of her travel schedule made me think about something else.
“You don't seriously expect me to take care of those two spawns of Cerberus, do you?”
She looked offended. “Of course I do.”
“It'll cost you.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”
“What did you have in mind?”
I shrugged. “I'm not sure yet…but I think you'll probably enjoy it.”
“Well, that sounds like a win-win proposition to me.” She gave me one of her professorial looks. “Maybe we have this whole thing backwards?”
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe you should be the high-powered negotiator and I should be the one who gets paid to play with Legos?”
She looked up at me. “Isn't that what you do all day now?” she asked. “Make little models of toy assembly lines?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes. Exactly. That's precisely what I do all day.”
We rounded a corner and entered Grammy's garden. The mid summer heat had taken its toll on the plants, but they were still loaded with fruit. Cucumbers, tomatoes and bright yellow peppers glowed in the fading light. Thick vines loaded with butternut squash sagged toward the ground.
“The green ones are my favorites,” I added.
El gave me a confused look. “Excuse me?”
“Legos,” I said. “I'm partial to the green ones.”
She socked me on the arm. “Nut job.”
Fritz and the puppies came crashing through a row of pole beans.
“Do they ever settle down?” I asked.
El leaned into me. We stopped and watched the dogs disappear behind a cluster of maple trees. The sun was nearly down now, and the lightning bugs were starting to flit about in search of…whatever it was lightning bugs did.
I gestured toward a row of sunflowers, where we could see them beginning to light up the night sky.
“What do you suppose they're doing?” I asked El.
“The lightning bugs?”
“They're searching for their mates,” she said.
I gazed at them for a minute, aware that El was watching me. When I met her eyes and bent toward her, she met me halfway.
We were getting pretty good at that maneuver.
After we separated, I took hold of her hand and we walked on, into the soft Hoosier night.
We hope you enjoyed reading this draft version of our novel.
Hoosier Daddy is now available in eBook and print formats from
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Thanks for reading.
Ann McMan and Salem West
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