Beneath The Brambles, Chapter 29
"Uhm, what excuse me?" Emily was playing for time to answer the question.
"I want to know what your intentions are toward Harley."
Twyla sat very still and made sure to look Emily in the eye. She was determined that the young woman would take her, and the question, seriously.
"I,uh, I dont know what you want me to say. Im not even sure what kind of answer youre looking for. I really like Harley. I thought Id made that clear. Dont you believe me?"
Emily was a little confused by the question but mostly she was still just stalling. She did like Harley. A lot! She felt something for her she hadnt felt for anyone else shed met. Just where it would lead and what her intentions were, well, that was something she hadnt really thought about at all.
"My daughter." Twyla stopped to put her thoughts in order. "Dont ask or expect her to become involved with you casually. Harley doesnt do casual. For better or worse she has her father and I as role models and as much as shed never admit it to anyone, she wants what we have. She isnt looking for a few hot nights in the sheets. She never was. If you arent interested in pursuing this feeling you have for her, with the intention of becoming involved in a permanent relationship, then go no further. My daughter is lonely. Shes been lonely for a long time and my feeling is that shes tired of it. So, if you dont believe these feelings you have for her are more than skin deep, do her the favor of backing off before you hurt her."
With that said, the older woman rose and leaned over to place a soft kiss on the younger womans head and left the room, heading in the direction Josh had gone previously.
Left behind in the parlor was a very confused blonde.
What are my intentions? What are they? What do I want from Harley? Then her inner self smirked as she thought about it. What you always want from a beautiful, desirable, woman. Sex, attention. Gods, theres that instant gratification addict again! "Ah, hell. Just when I think I have one thing about me figured out, something new comes up. What is this town? Some kind of earthbound purgatory where youre forced against your will to peel back the layers of your own psyche? Jesus, I thought I was supposed to be resting."
She stood up and shook her head trying to clear it of all the conflict and confusion. "Well, lets just take a few minutes to figure this thing out then."
She went to the coat closet and, first checking to be sure she had her cigarettes and lighter, put on her leather jacket as well as she could with one hand and then opened the front door.
She found her way to the porch swing and sat down. Lighting a cigarette she waited for her eyes to readjust to the pale light of the porch lamp and just stared off into the darkness of the woods around her.
What do I want? She wanted Harley. Shed answered that question for herself the other day. But just how she wanted her, for how long, she didnt know.
Harley wants what her parents have. A committed relationship. A full time, permanent, partner. Is that what I want? She considered the thought and her first reaction was trepidation. The same person, day in and day out, living in the same place with her? Having to make all her decisions and choices with someone else in mind? Eww. She wasnt sure that appealed to her very much. Is there really any such thing? Is that kind of permanence even feasible? Once again she remembered the love she saw between the couples shed met here and that made her think about her ideal of the perfect coupling her parents. That was when she realized she was looking at this the wrong way. What Harley wanted wasnt the convention of a permanent partner. What she wanted was the love that made it something to strive for. That real, true, honest to goodness, forever after, kind of love she kept seeing between Josh and Twyla and Steph and Savvy. The same kind of happiness she saw on Connie and Tonis faces after a lifetime of living together. She wants that! After a minute, I want that! More importantly, am I even capable of it?
Harley spent the remainder of Saturday evening and night trying to sweat the thought of the small blonde woman out of her head. She put on the CD shed burned for just that purpose and worked out for over two hours. When she finally pulled herself from the last machine she was drenched and wobbly and had to hold onto the wall to make it to the showers.
She pulled a robe around her and wrapped a towel in her hair before she realized shed have to eat something or she might not make it upstairs.
After some canned soup, crackers and a glass of wine she felt sure she could finally sleep without worrying about her love life or lack thereof, and climbed the stairs, all eight-hundred of them, to her room.
For the first time in days she fell asleep as soon as she closed her eyes. As she drifted off, she told herself if that was what it takes to clear her mind, then that was what she would do from now on or at least until the writer went home to Los Angeles.
Valerie was halfway home. In spite of the coolness of the October night, she had her window rolled down and was listening to whatever station came in the clearest at high volume. Normally she wouldnt have been heading back to the beach until tomorrow night at the earliest, but circumstances had changed and she felt the need to be out of Bramble.
It shouldnt have been much of a problem. Shed distracted that scruffy mutt of the old ladies by leaving a nice big pile of hamburger at the end of a trail of smaller pieces about a quarter of a mile beyond the broken fence line. She was told that the old broad had a nap every day from three to five in the afternoon. Okay, shed been a little late. Who knew that newbie at the Village would be so compliant? Just climb to the roof and remove a few roof tiles. Rain was expected for tomorrow night and with a leaking roof and the offer to buy as large as it was, it should just tip the scale and have her signing to sell. Just as shed finished and was climbing off the roof, the old woman came out back yelling for her dog. She hadnt really panicked; shed just reacted. As soon as shed thrown the hammer at the old bats head she jumped down the rest of the way, grabbed the ladder and hammer, shoved them back in the shed, and ran.
The last thing she needed just now was another one on one encounter with her partner.
Without a word to anyone, she packed up and left for home. Now, more than halfway there she was trying to pretend she wasnt afraid of what her next meeting with her partner would mean. Being afraid wasnt something she was used to, but neither was dealing with people who were clearly insane. If the chance to get back at Harley and the chance to make a fortune doing it meant shed have to deal with the crazy, she could do it. But for right now, shed do it from a safe distance.
Sunday morning found Harley back at her desk, sipping coffee and reviewing the newest data J.D. found about V. Alaska Enterprises. It wasnt much. For all intents and purposes, there was nothing suspicious about it. It appeared to be just what it was. She couldnt find anything odd about it except that it had nothing whatsoever to do with sporting goods.
What is Valerie doing in the real estate business? Where and how did she manage to find all those sites and more importantly, why?
Valerie, as a resident of Los Angeles always, could become involved in the entertainment industry at some point or another. Why would she bother? Site locations required staff to find them and contacts in the industry to want them. How did this sudden diversifying from the sporting goods company she runs come about? Why did she go to so much trouble to hide that she owned it?
The only obvious connection tied Valerie to Harleys other suspect, Brambles own realtor, Darla Dunhem. How that tied in, or how to make the connection between them, beyond Harleys suspicions, was still the question.
It wasnt until one in the afternoon that a droopy eyed Emily made her way downstairs. Shed sat out on the porch and smoked and thought and worried until well into the morning, before the cold and her own sense of defeat forced her in and up to bed.
She found a note in the kitchen next to a thermal carafe of coffee telling her that Twyla had to run some errands and Josh would be in and out all day and to once again, help herself and if she needed to go anywhere, she could either call the sheriff or Twylas cell.
Since she really didnt want to see anyone just now, she was just as glad she was alone in the house. She grabbed the carafe and a mug in her good hand by their handles and went back upstairs determined to work on her latest book and shelve her more confusing feelings for now.
The surprise Steph had brought her turned out to be the latest state of the art voice recognition software. After it was installed, Emily cleaned up, poured some coffee and lost herself in the world of Lake Priest, Private Investigator.
She threw out the old story shed started and with very little thought, began a new one about her high profile P.I. investigating the disappearance of the CFO of a major company. In this newer incarnation of her story, the CFO was last seen headed to a womans outdoor survival camp.
It was late in the day, when she heard Twyla knock and only then did Emily realize that the sun was setting.
"Hey, you. Time to come down and join the living." Twyla smiled and leaned against the doorframe.
"Im sorry Ive been so unsociable. I just got caught in my new book and didnt realize the time." She saved and closed her laptop. "Anything I can do to help with dinner?" She stood and stretched. "Oh, wait. Im sorry you did warn me about the kitchen being your domain when you cooked. How about if I set the table?"
"Actually, thats being taken care of as we speak, and I never cook on Sundays. That rule has been true for as long as J.D. has been alive." They started to head downstairs as Twyla continued. "Josh decided I cooked enough all week and started a tradition long ago that on Sundays, he and the kids cooked and cleaned up." She smiled. "I like it. It feels like Mothers Day once a week."
They made it to the parlor and then Twyla steered them into a part of the house Emily hadnt seen before.
"As long as its not snowing or raining and its not so cold that his fingers hurt, every Sunday Josh fires up the grill in the back and we have a barbeque. The kids get the kitchen for any side dishes Dad cant grill and I get to sit on the patio or in the dining room being waited on like I really am the belle of the plantation." She smiled her biggest smile. "It works for me."
Emily had to laugh at that. "Ill bet it does. Quite a little racket youve got going here on Sundays." She was just about to ask who all came to dinner, when they entered the elegant dining room and Emily had to stop and stare.
The room was as gracious and elegant as the rest of the house so that didnt surprise her, but the table did. It was gigantic. She hadnt seen one this big since she saw pictures of one of the Queens castles in a book years ago.
She quickly did a count down one side, doubled that and added the two chairs at each end and came up with a table that seated sixty people easily. It was covered in a beautiful pale blue damask cloth, which complemented the fabric on the chair backs and seats beautifully. The whole room was perfect except for one thing. The huge table, covered by the expensive and obviously custom-made tablecloth, was covered again with a giant sheet of clear plastic.
Emily couldnt help the grin she gave into. It reminded her of all those visits she made to her aunts parents house in Anaheim. Every piece of furniture in the living room was slip covered in clear plastic "to keep the wear off the fabric" she was told. She thought it was the tackiest thing shed ever seen, and the most uncomfortable, but this this was just precious.
She was going to ask about it when the purpose for it became obvious. From the other door came a veritable parade of children ranging in age from pre-school to about mid-teens, all of who were carrying bowls and platters or pitchers or plates.
The number of times something spilled or sloshed onto the table proved the good of the tarp covering it in just the first two minutes. The noise as the kids talked to each other wasnt quite as loud as she remembered from her college cafeteria, but it ran a close second. She figured she could ask Twyla about the kids if she only raised her voice a bit but just as she began to do it, two of the mid size kids began to circle the table. One laid a plate at each chair and the next set down the silver wrapped in napkins. The repetitive pounding of clatter, thump, clang as first the heavy plates were laid down, followed by the flatware brought the noise level up just enough that shouting became necessary.
Shouting over the din, Emily said, "I take it that these are your grandchildren?"
"They sure are. Arent they beautiful?"
Emily had another new experience. She watched and listened as Twyla answered her and realized that she hadnt raised her voice, but Emily was able to hear her just fine, while the writer had had to shout. It seemed that Twyla just modulated the pitch of her voice and never had to increase the volume. She must have looked like she was questioning how she did it, because Twyla just patted her arm and said. "Its a Mom thing."
Just then the doors opened again and a new parade came though, this one containing all the Ravensdown children and apparent spouses, each one carrying a platter of meat, fish or chicken that they set on the table dead center in a row. Finally, Josh entered and the parade ended. As everyone began to sit, he carried an enormous silver platter to the buffet. On it were numerous bottles of wine, many chilling in a very large ice bucket. He picked up a single pink rose and a small bell and turned, handing them to Twyla and giving her a small kiss and a large smile.
Twyla gifted him with her own kiss and smile and then turned to the writer.
"Emily, youre the guest here, come sit by me."
She led her to the first seat to the left of the head of the table. Josh held her chair as she sat while J.D. held his mothers. As Josh took his seat to the right of Twyla, Emily noticed that the table had been set toward her end. Many seats were empty but it still looked like a formal party more than a family dinner. She had just taken notice of the fabulous smells of the food and was looking at the assortment of side dishes when Twyla rang the small silver bell shed been given.
The sudden stillness was so profound it made her try to slow her breathing in order to avoid breaking it. After just a few seconds, Twyla spoke.
"Ladies and gentleman, for those of you who havent had the pleasure yet, let me introduce our guest and friend, Ms. Emily Cutter." Twyla smiled at her and at once everyone at the table, including the little ones said, "How do you do, Ms. Cutter?"
Again, Emily found herself flummoxed. Her first thought was that their reaction reminded Emily a little bit of the Stepford Wives, but as she looked at them one on one, she realized they were sincere. It was the tiny blonde girl sitting next to the pretty blonde woman that did it. She had her head bent to the side and her chin down like she was embarrassed but her eyes couldnt look away from the guest. Emily made sure to look just at her as she too, smiled.
"Its so nice to meet all of you, and please just call me Emily."
"Now, youll all have a chance to speak to her after diner so please, no yelling across the table." Josh said with a smile of his own for Emily.
Twyla rang the tiny bell again and closed her eyes. "Lets take a silent moment to give thanks for our multitude of blessings."
Once again the silence was like a living thing as Emily watched every adult and child still and close their eyes. It was only for a few seconds but she felt the peace of it like nothing shed known before.
"Now, lets eat!" Twyla said, opening her eyes and the noise was back with a vengeance. "Emily what will you have?" She asked.
The writers eyes finally had a few free moments to look at the plethora of food on the table. Spare ribs, short ribs, T-bone steak, chicken, salmon, swordfish, and every side dish ever created to go with a barbeque. And it all looked and smelled wonderful. While she sat there salivating unable to make a decision, Twyla spoke up.
"Why dont we let you have something a little easier to eat with one hand in a cast? Do you like salmon? Swordfish?"
"Both! Theyre my favorite fish."
"Well, then by all means you should have your favorites. Everyone else at this table does," Josh said as he took her plate and sent it down the table to be filed by the diners opposite the fish platter.
In seconds it was returned with a beautiful grilled filet of both salmon and swordfish and Twyla was taking the plate out of his hand and heaping small portions of at eight different sides on to it.
"You just take a taste of these and tell us what you like most and what you like least and well know for next time, okay?"
Emily could do nothing but smile at the forceful but caring woman as she put her fork to her meal and began to eat. The first melting bite of the swordfish, flavored with hickory wood smoke had her moaning. It took her almost twenty minutes to return her attention to her hosts and family.
It was then she realized that Harley was the only member of the family not at the table. Suddenly the wonderful food lost some of its appeal and her stomach felt heavy. She laid down her fork and concentrated on the wine in her glass, trying to make pleasant conversation while, all the time, wondering if the sheriffs absence was her fault.
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