Beneath The Brambles, Chapter 14
The sunlight, shining in behind, silhouetted the tall figure in the doorway and there was no mistaking who it was.
Emily wondered briefly if she had willed the woman into being there, but she was grateful for it, however it happened.
She stood to try to get Harleys attention when they both heard a crash and a scream coming from the kitchen.
Emily started for the room immediately, but even being half a room closer didnt help, as she watched the tall long legged Sheriff fly past her.
By the time, the writer pushed though the swinging double doors to the kitchen, the scream was replaced by a low keening sound. She saw Twyla using the main dishwashers hose attachment to spray cold water on the left arm and torso of the tall young man shed met earlier. Billy, Twyla told her was the prep cook. He was taller than Harley by an inch or two and big boned with a small paunchy tummy. He appeared to be in his early twenties but there was something in his face then and in his eyes now, which made him look like a very small child. His was the voice she heard keening as the spray hit him and Harley held onto his right arm, keeping him in place. She came over to the group, avoiding the path of the water and was about to ask if she could do anything to help, when Harley saw her and asked, "Emily, pick up the phone and dial memory two, thats Hobie. Tell him Ill be over with Billy from the Nest and hes been burned by hot liquid."
The woman moved as fast as she could to the phone on the wall and continued to watch the painful scene while she gave Hobie the news.
"Billy Boy, listen to me." Harley said, but the young man couldnt seem to do anything but keen and rock on his feet and try to keep his head up away from the splashing water.
"Billy!" she spoke louder this time, almost angrily, "Attend." That seemed to get his attention finally as he moved his head to look at her and his eyes opened wider, almost as though he could hear her better if he could see her better.
"Good boy. Now listen to me, okay?" Her voice softened a little as he shook his head and said, "Okay."
"I know it hurts, Billy boy. I know it does, but Im going to take you over to see Doc Hobie and hell make it feel better, okay?"
The young man nodded, bit his lip and nearly whispered, "okay" as Twyla stopped the water and told a waitress to run for a table cloth
Emily hung up the phone and came back to the Sheriffs side as the young waitress handed the large white cloth to Twyla. "Okay, done. Hes expecting you. Is there anything I can do to help?"
Harley was just about to tell her no, that she would take it from here when Twyla stepped in.
"Emily. Why dont you help Harley with Billy here? Since Ive just lost my prep cook, Im gonna have to stay here at least through lunch to help Jessie with the orders. Youd just have to sit and wait for me. At least this way youll have something useful to do." She turned her attention to her daughter, "Is that okay with you honey? I know I didnt ask if you were busy or.."
"No problem, Mom. Thats fine," Harley interrupted. "Id love the company and I could use the help." She turned to the small blonde, "Ill start getting Billy into the car, and you catch up as soon as you can."
The tall brunette started to walk out with the shaken young man as Twyla covered him loosely with the tablecloth. As they went though the doors, she turned to the injured woman. Putting her hands on her shoulders she said, " Im sorry about this Emily. Ill have someone in here to help for dinner, so you be sure to get something to eat with Harley and Cole when you get back to the station, understand?"
The blonde just smiled at the woman and patted her hand where it rested on her shoulder. "Oh, I will, I will, never fear. Ill make sure that they eat too. But, uhm, Twyla" she paused, uncertain how to ask what she wanted to know without giving offense or seeming too nosey. She tried again "Uhm, Billy he, uh, what happened?"
The older woman dropped her hands and sighed. She pointed to a little girl standing in the corner behind the writer. Emily hadnt even noticed her when she came in. She judged her to be about seven or eight and looking at her, she remembered the adage that spoke of guilt being written all over her face was in this instance, just as true as could be.
"Rosey happened." The older woman said. Her voice rose and even though she was talking to the blonde, Emily knew her words were intended for the little girl. "Shes been told over and over not to run into the kitchen because someone could get hurt, and now they have."
The little girl couldnt take any more and burst into tears, slid down the wall and sat on the floor. Just then, the pretty young woman Twyla introduced as Teresa, the hostess, entered the kitchen, followed the cries and came to stand over the child.
"So, what do you have to say for yourself Rosalina? Hmmn? Didnt Daddy and Twyla and Mommy all tell you not to run into the kitchen?" Before the little girl could speak, the woman continued. "Didnt we tell you someone would get hurt? Now thats just what happened, isnt it? Because of you, one of your best friends is hurt. How does that make you feel, little one?"
The little girl burst from her place on the floor and threw herself around the womans legs. "Im sorry, Momma. Im really, really sorry. Im sorry, I didnt want Billy to get hurt, Momma and Im so sorry."
Emily couldnt help it. Her heart was just breaking for the little one. Her remorse was so genuine and heartfelt, it was all she could do not to go to her and give her a hug. Gratefully, her mother did just that.
Bending down to pick up the child, she patted her on the back and carried her out telling her over had over, "I know, sweetheart, Momma knows you didnt mean it."
Twyla had been watching the expression of compassion on the blondes face as she watched the child and mother. She was glad her first impression of the woman hadnt been wrong. Seeing the look of sadness on her face as she turned back to the restaurant owner made a smile of approval flare on her own. "Dont worry. Shell be fine, but she did learn a lesson today and I dont expect to see her running into the kitchen anymore. Anyway, thats what happened. Rosey, even though she knows better, came running though the doors just as Billy was moving the soup kettle. She stopped right in front of him and in order to keep from pouring the soup on her, he pulled the kettle back and it splashed all over him."
A quick gasp escaped Emilys lips as she pictured the accident. That made her think of the poor man who must be waiting in the car for her. "Oh, Twyla thats awful. Look, I dont want him to suffer by waiting for me, Ill get out there now and call you later." She said as she quickly made her way out of the kitchen and to the parking lot.
She met the sheriff just as she was coming around to get into the drivers side of the patrol car. "Try to keep talking to him to keep his mind off it" She said quietly as she opened the door. Quickly nodding to her, she hurried to the other side as Harley opened the door for her from the inside.
As they drove away from Hobies the writer said, "I take it that Billy is " she stopped and tried to remember what the latest politically correct buzzword for mentally handicapped was, but Harley saved her from the need.
"Billy is autistic. Are you familiar with autism?"
Emily turned a bit in her seat and paid attention for the explanation as she answered. "Only vaguely. Can you tell me about it and about Billy?"
"Im by no means an expert on it, but as I understand it in Billys case, its mostly a communication problem. Hes twenty but emotionally and mentally hes about eight. There are a great many things he does just like anyone else, but his biggest problem is his inability to understand or verbalize abstract concepts. His speech is very elementary and complicated words are hard for him to understand. Hes always loved to cook and he does a great job at it so when he got old enough, Mom hired him as the prep cook. Ive never met anyone who worked harder or loved his job more. In the four years hes worked for Mom hes never been late or taken a day off." She paused and blew out a breath. "Hes sure not going to like not being able to work for a few days."
As they were speaking Emily assumed that the Sheriff was headed back to the office, but just as she finished, she noticed they were turning off Bender down a side street.
"Where are we headed?"
"I need to stop by Tonis shop and let them know about Billy." She turned into another side street and suddenly Emily realized they were now almost directly behind the Ravens Nest on the next street over. Just then, Harley pulled the car into a small parking lot. A curving sign over the font door written in rainbow colors on a yellow background read, Oz and Ends, Collectibles and Treasures. Harley helped her out of the car and they made their way though the gated fence and up the curving pathway of yellow brick to the front of the large old house.
The bell above the large door tinkled as they stepped inside and Emilys eyes were everywhere at once.
Every table, shelf, and counter was filled to over flowing with things that caught the eye and held it. There were crystals, geodes, brass bells, incense and holders, statues and sculptures everywhere. Candles in all colors and shapes lined one walls shelves and above them on the wall were plaques with bits of poetry or words of wisdom printed on nature-scapes, shiny with decoupage.
The place smelled divine. Better than any of the shops in L.A. that tried to take your money for new age, occult paraphernalia. Those stores had always left her feeling somehow left out. On the fringes, like she wasnt sharing the secret somehow and they always smelled of incense that tried to be a knock off of Obsession or Opium perfumes. This place smelled clean and calm. She moved her eyes again and saw, for the first time, the woman sitting behind a counter near the back. She had a small pair of needle nose pliers and was stringing some tiny crystals onto a silver chain underneath a magnifying light in front of her.
The very small woman had luminous white hair pulled back from her face and braided down her back. Her skin was pale and only a touch of color came from her cheeks and lips. The lashes that shadowed her eyes were dark, half closed over pure gray irises. Although the hands that held the tool and chain were aged, they were rock steady as she deftly threaded the tiny crystal onto the filament and twisted it closed. She brought her head up when she finished and smiled winningly at the Sheriff. "Harley child. Its good to see you. What can I do for you?" She placed the items she was holding onto the counter top and pulled the heavy pale blue and yellow plaid throw resting on her shoulders a bit closer for warmth.
"Hi Toni" she returned the smile and gestured for Emily to proceed her to the counter. "Antoinette Devery, this is Emily Cutter. Emily, this is Antoinette, the co-owner of this place that has you so fascinated." The smile slid into a grin as she noticed the mild blush on her friends face.
The writer moved in front of the seated woman and said, "Shes right, this place is wonderful. Its a pleasure to meet you Ms. Devery," extending her had to the older woman.
"Now, just call me Toni, Ms. Cutter, everyone does."
"Everyone but me."
The voice belonged to another elderly woman who entered though a side door from the yard. She removed leather work gloves and tossed them on a small table as she walked to them. She looked much taller than her companion and though, older, she was more robust. Her hair was short and a salt and pepper gray. She wore silver wire glasses, a small brimmed cloth hat and denim overalls over a muted-green, long sleeved collarless shirt. Her smile got even bigger when she saw Harley.
"Hey there, stranger. What brings you out our way today and whos your friend?"
As she was talking, she made her way behind the smaller woman and absent-mindedly pulled the throw up around her shoulders a touch more. Then she rested both hands on her shoulders and gave a small squeeze.
"This is Emily Cutter. She s staying at Stephanies for a few days. Emily, this is Constance Abbott, the other owner of Oz." Without even realizing she was doing it, she moved a half step closer to the small blonde and their sides touched from the length of their arms to their hips. She noted that Emily leaned into her at the same time.
Both women were reacting to it and so caught up in the feeling that neither noticed the brief glance the older women gave each other as they watched them.
The seated woman, wishing to save them an embarrassing moment gave a significant look to her standing friend. "Its a pleasure to meet you Ms. Cutter. Please call me Connie." She extended her hand and it broke the reactive spell she was feeling to Harleys unexpected touch. She began to reply and then had to clear her throat to do it.
"Hi, Connie. I was telling your partner here how wonderful this place is. Where do you find all these things?"
As the older woman was about to reply, Emily suddenly realized the reason why they were here and stopped. "Im sorry. Uhm, Harley brought us here for a reason and here I go chatting away." She looked up at the Sheriff next to her with apology in her eyes and saw that she was not bothered by her lapse.
"Actually, shes right. We came here to tell you that there was an accident at the Nest and Billy was hurt." She saw the instant anxiety come over their faces and hurried to reassure them. "Hes going to be just fine. Hes at Hobies now and hes being fixed up. Some hot soup he was carrying burned him. Mom got him under cold water right away and Im sure that hell be fine in a few days. It splashed onto his chest and stomach and his left arm, but Id guess the area is no worse than sore and red. No permanent damage, just good and painful." She watched as both of the older women took in a relieved breath.
Emily watched their reactions too and noticed how the older woman instantly brought her hands down to her friends arms and began to rub them soothingly up and down in an attempt to calm her. It was a movement both tender and unconscious, and for the first time in years, it reminded her of her parents. They shared a love like that. Every moment they were together you could see how they cared for each other. Always having each other on their minds and reacting to each other on a level so deep that comfort or communication was instinctive. She suddenly missed them all over again. Wow. It has been a long time since I thought of them. Im sorry mom and dad. I know I havent thought of you as much as I should have, it just always hurts so much. I know you know that, too. Although this time is different. Watching them reminds me so much of you and though I still miss you as much as ever, they make me feel a little better. Its like finally seeing that that kind of love didnt leave the world when you did.
She realized that her musings caused her to miss some of the conversation and just hoped that no one had noticed, as she brought her attention back to it.
Someone had noticed though. The small woman sitting behind the counter was watching her. Once Harley assured them that their Billy was alright, she let her partner get the particulars about the accident and concentrated her attention on the pretty young woman who seemed a little lost in her own thoughts. She watched the play of emotions wash over that lovely face and saw the flash of deep pain and remorse in her green eyes, and then she saw them lighten as a wistful kind of peace settled over her.
" a real hero. If he hadnt reacted as quickly as he did, little Rosey Ruiz would be at Hobies now. You can be very proud of him," Harley finished.
"Always have been. Hes a good boy," Connie said as she unconsciously rubbed small circles on the back of her sitting friend.
Emily watched that, while Toni watched the unconscious body language of the two women in front of her. The attraction to each other was obvious to anyone who had eyes, but she knew that kind of thing was always easier to see if you werent one of the participants. She was trying to find a way to have a few words with Harley when the Sheriff inadvertently gave Toni her wish.
"Yesterday, Emily you asked if we have a florist in town. Well, Connie here fills that need for us. Shes got the best flowers in the country outside that door and if you ask nicely, Im sure shed let you have a tour." The brunette smiled down at the younger woman and once again, shifted to rub her hip against her just a bit.
Emily caught herself just before she gasped at the touch and found a way to make her mouth work. Tearing her eyes away from the blue ones above her, she forced out, "I would love that, if thats okay with you, Connie."
"Sure. It would be my pleasure." She gave a quick squeeze to her sitting partners upper arms and then gestured to the smaller woman to follow her out to the garden. Harley was about to follow them when Toni stopped her.
"Harley, could you help me here for a minute?"
"Annie? What do you need ?" Her partner stopped and began to retrace her steps as the seated woman interrupted her.
"Nothing that Harley cant take of Abby, now you just take Ms. Cutter to see your garden and Ill be fine." She waved her hand at the two of them and indicated they should go on out the back door.
Emily noted the small frown and furrowing over the brow of the older woman beside her as she let out a breath and continued. She was not happy to have been dismissed, but she did it anyway. The writer couldnt help but smile a bit at the look of frustration the older woman couldnt seem to hide.
The door closed behind them as Emily asked, "Is something wrong, Connie?"
The older woman looked to her and then looked out at the garden as they walked. "Nothing, really. I just worry about her. Shes so darned independent and shes no spring chicken ya know. I just wish " She faded out at the end and then started with more vigor.
"Well, let me show you what we came out here for. My pride and joy."
"What can I do for you, Toni?" The sheriff walked to the seated woman behind the counter.
"Its just this throw again. Its caught in my wheels and I cant get it loose." She gathered up the bulk of the soft chenille throw into her lap showing Harley where it had wrapped around the wheel of her chair.
It took Harley only a moment to untangle it and the older woman pushed the wheels forward and around the counter until she was headed into the back of the house. "Thanks, Harley, I knew youd take of it. Now come with me and Ill put some tea on."
The younger woman followed the wheelchair through the swinging door that led into the living space of the home. She filled the kettle for her friend and helped her to arrange cups and utensils on a tray.
"So, tell me about Ms. Cutter. Shes the poor thing who was hurt at the Nest the other night, isnt she?"
"Yeah, she is. Shes staying at Stephanies for a while and just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. We got the guy and hes in jail awaiting justice for this and a couple more successful attacks between here and New Mexico."
"Thats good!" The older womans voice was stern and harsh. Given what shes been through, Harley couldnt blame her.
"Now," She continued, her tone a bit lighter, "tell me about Ms. Cutter." She cocked her head and just looked at the Sheriff.
Dammit all to hell. She should have been a detective and not a crafter. Shes been able to see inside me since I was a kid. I wish Id thought about this before I brought Emily here with me.
She knew it was probably useless, but she tried to play dumb anyway, hoping to stall for time. Hoping before she had to answer the questions she knew were coming, that Connie and Emily would get back here and save her from spilling her guts. Even my Mom cant get things out of me the way Toni can.
"Well, shes a writer for Plume. Shes had several of her books on the best sellers list. You might have heard of her since youre so fond of mysteries. She writes under the name of Shasta Cutter." She hoped she could steer her into a discussion of Emily in safer waters, but she wasnt hopeful it would work.
"Oh, my yes." Toni smiled and glided her chair around the end of the counter and into the living room. She pushed forward until she was in front of a wide bookshelf and pulled several books out, laying them on her lap.
"I thought she looked familiar." She said as she returned to the kitchen. "My, her picture sure doesnt do her justice, does it?" She handed the book on top to the sheriff and turned to grab the kettle just as it began to whistle.
Harley just looked at the black and white photo on the book jacket and realized it most certainly didnt do the young author justice. "No, it sure doesnt. " She didnt realize how closely she was being observed as she continued to speak. "She shouldnt have pictures taken without color. You cant see how clear and smooth her skin is or tell the peach tone of her cheeks and her lips. You cant even see her eyes are green, or notice that thin line of warm brown just around her pupils." Harley suddenly regained herself and saw the small grin on the older womans face. Quite without her permission, she felt a huge blush overtake her neck and cheeks and felt like a kid again.
Laughing just a little at herself, she shook her head. Toni always knew. It was like she had X-ray vision, the way she could just look at her and tell what was gong on inside her. Like she had no skin! "Okay, Ive always wanted to know. Is this some kind of magic? Are you really a witch like we all thought when we were kids, or what? Out with it now, woman! What is it about you that always makes me feel like Im covered with Saran Wrap, huh?"
Toni had the good grace to blush a bit herself. "I dont know, dear. People just have a hard time tying to lie to me, I guess. Abby says its because I was born under a good sign." She took a deep breath and said, "Whatever it is, Im glad for it, cause it kept mischievous kids like you from getting away with things, and it helps me to understand my friends and neighbors a bit more. Now. Stop stalling and tell me about Ms. Cutter and you know what I mean by that, so no more beating around the bush!"
Harleys shoulders slumped and she hung her head a bit and finally gave in.
"This is just marvelous!" The author was turning around in circles in the middle of the small spot left un-planted in the palatial garden. Her grin was broad and her eyes were sparkling. "Its like a fairy land. I have never seen a garden more beautiful." The place was a riot of color. Blooming plants were everywhere. Bushes simply dripped with blossoms that nearly touched the smaller plants with different blooms below them and nearly reached to the flowering trees above them. Some of these she had only ever seen in books. The aroma in the air was alive and the foliage ran from pale gold and white, through every shade of green to deep russet.
"You are truly gifted, Connie. Ive never seen nature so beautifully manipulated before. Its like Wonderland!" Emily couldnt stop herself from bending down to inhale the fragrance from another shade of lilac than the other three shed already sniffed.
The older woman just rocked on her heels and nodded her head. "It takes a lot of work, but I really love it. You came at the right time. In another month or so many of these will be gone for the year and Ill be planting for the winter. Maybe you could stick around a few months and see the bulbs come up. Now thats really something to see. Its Annies favorite time of the year and she just cant wait for the narcissus and jonquils to bloom. " Her eyes took on a kind of dreamy glow as she thought about the look on her partners face every year when the blooms opened.
You didnt need to be an over observant writer to notice the look and understand its meaning as the older woman spoke. She smiled herself for them, and the obvious love they shared. She thought of her parents again and felt that same warm feeling shed felt in the store. Thats the way love should look. You should wear it on your face like that, so that everyone around you can see it, and share it with you.
"So, Harley said you needed some flowers?" Connie asked gently. Shed been watching the look on the young womans face and didnt want to jar her or embarrass her.
"Oh, yes, I did, but I cant take these. Theyre your garden. I just wanted to find a florist so I could send some flowers to Twyla. Shes been taking care of me since the uhm since I broke my wrist and, uhm I just wanted to get her something to say thank you, but "
"Thats easy, Twyla has been a customer of mine forever. I know just what she likes." She walked over to a group of baskets hanging from the garden wall and took down one. She looked around for minute and then stopped. "I left my gloves inside. Ill just get them and be right back." She was on her way before Emily could think of a polite way to stop her.
Mighty spry old girl, that one. I hope Im in as good a shape when Im her age. She looked around at the garden again and thought about all the work it must require. Things were pruned and tied up and back to perfection. There wasnt a weed to be seen.
"Here we are now," Connie said as she returned to her side. "Twyla loves the ones with fragrance, so well just give her some of the last of the roses and a few sprigs of "
"Wait!" The blonde said, trying to interpose herself between the older woman and the last of the lovely pink roses on the bush. "I cant take these from you. You obviously work so hard here; I know it takes a lot to do this. God knows, I cant keep a fichus alive, but theyre yours and Tonis and I can find something else to give to "
The woman just shook her head and smiled a little sadly. "Honey, you just listen a minute. I do this for just this reason." She stopped and took the younger woman by the hand and led her to a wrought iron bench a few steps away. "You sit down and Ill tell you a little story." Taking a seat next to the younger woman she looked out on her garden and began,
"Many years ago when Annie and I "
"Annie?" Emily interrupted.
She smiled a little shyly at that. "Thats my name for Toni. Everyone else calls her Toni but I call her Annie and she calls me Abby. You see when Annie and I met and fell in love with each other it was the 1950s. Not a very enlightened age." She huffed out a little breath and went on. "Some very bad things had happened to her just before we met and she was very sad. Then, like the miracle it always is, we found we were in love with each other. Abby was very young and still under her familys control, but we knew we couldnt live with out each other so, we took off. We ended up here after a few months and tried to find a way to make a living. The old man who owned this land needed help with his yard and well, Abby couldnt work just then so I had to make enough to keep us on. We tried to keep our relationship hidden because we couldnt afford to leave for a while and felt if the neighbors knew about us, theyd make our lives miserable. Since it was very hard to do that we found a way to call each other all the endearing things we couldnt say in public. Antoinette became Toni to everyone but me. To me she was my Annie. She knew when I said it I was really saying, Sweetheart or Darling or Beloved. We made sure that no one else called us by anything else but Toni and Connie, but when she called me Abby, I knew she was telling me she loved me and when I called her Annie, she knew I was doing the same. Even now, when the town knows about us and pretty much accepts us as we are, that hasnt changed." She smiled a bit at the memory of it and went on.
"Anyway, when Annie and I bought this land and built this house we wanted to give something back to the place that had sheltered us and kept us from the world out there that wouldnt accept how we felt for each other. Annie had always been good with her hands and started making, finding and selling her crystals and geodes and such and I started to build this garden. I planned it out for the four seasons we have up here and used it provide the flowers and fresh herbs for the town. Even though we have no sign on the door, this is where Bramble comes for their flowers. Im proud that they do. Besides, I couldnt in good conscience keep this kind of bounty just for me and mine. Nature provides it and I just nurture it, but its meant to be shared and enjoyed and give pleasure. If it just stays on the bush or in the ground it eventually dies and no one has the good of it, see?" She turned to the young woman and patted her hand. "Its for that very reason I do work this hard, and its because people like you appreciate what I help to be, that I get so much joy in doing it." She stood up slowly and continued, "Now, as I said, Twyla just loves fragrance. Lets go get her some beauties, shall we?"
Emily was very moved. The people here just never ceased to amaze her. The generosity of spirit and the kindness was a thing very new to her and she just couldnt seem to stop being surprised by it. She could only nod her head and follow Connie to the rose bush, where the woman began to clip the long stemmed, fat pink blooms.
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