Back Door to Summer / Part Six
Lexie clearly had no such problems. While she had insisted, as usual, on accompanying
Kearney into the bathroom – to protect her from the demons that apparently dwelt
within its cozy confines – she seem to have decided that her mission could be
accomplished while curled up on the bath mat with her eyes closed.
Wish I could close my eyes, too, thought Kearney.
But I don’t think that’s going to work. Not today.
What had she said to Lexie this morning? Wake up and smell the kitty litter? That
applied to today’s events all too well, unfortunately. There was no getting
around this; the only way out of the shitty way she was feeling was smack dab
through the middle of it. She took a deep breath, then let the floodgates swing
The return visit to Emma’s house hadn’t produced any additional revelations,
thank god, just cinnamon rolls that were still warm to the touch. Things hadn’t
gone to hell in a handbasket until she got to the Jarretts’ house. It hadn’t
happened immediately, of course, but once she’d gotten the snowball rolling
it took off like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon.
If she’d been smart, she would have stopped in at her place first. Taken
some time to clean up a bit, get her emotions under control.
Mrs. R had told her to deliver the rolls before they got cold, however, and, like
the kids in Emma’s fifth grade class had probably done for decades, she’d
just hopped to it. By the time she realized her error, she was at the Jarretts’
back door, the one painted in tones of green that were totally at odds with the
colors of the rest of the house, and Jesse was inviting her inside.
Taking Emma’s offering from her hands, she waved Kearney toward a bench.
“Shed the Sorels.”
The redhead hesitated, wondering which would be the worse offense, tracking up
the floor or ...
“And don’t worry about the fragrance.” She pried up a corner
of the aluminum foil covering the plate and took an appreciative sniff. “Ah.
Mrs. R’s rolls conquer all – including foot odor.” She waggled
a wool-clad foot. “Hang your coat on one of the pegs and follow m...”
She stopped abruptly. “Oh my god! I almost forgot. This is your first time,
“Rest assured, your vision will recover. Eventually.” She laughed
at the look of incomprehension on Kearney’s face. “Come on in. It’s
one of those places you have to see to believe. Like Graceland or Wall Drug.”
Making her way to the door leading from the mudroom to the kitchen, Kearney laid
a hand on a dark green door frame and peered cautiously around the corner. What
she saw snapped her head back, drawing peals of laughter from Jesse and her brother.
“Wow,” she said, stepping forward with an embarrassed grin. “Just,
um, wow ...”
She looked from side to side, trying to take it all in. Or even half of it. They
were everywhere. On the salt and pepper shakers and the napkin holder. On the
flower pots and the canisters. On the hot pads and dish towels, the curtains and
the hooked rug.
“Did I mention that Mom was a bit nuts about...”
Kearney cut Jesse off. “Wait. Let me take a wild guess.” She surveyed
the scene with glee. “Frogs?”
“Welcome to ‘the hoppiest place on earth,’” Frank grinned.
“Hey there, good neighbor!” Kearney took a closer look at his attire
“You got a problem, lady?” he said, placing his hand on his hip and
affecting an air of indignation. The pose made it even easier to see the bib of
the apron he was wearing over his business suit and to read the slogan that had
prompted her laughter.
“She’s just admiring your attire, Bro. You are looking especially
lovely today,” Jesse remarked with a smirk.
“Mom never missed an opportunity for a hug or a kiss,” she explained
to Kearney. “She cooked Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, Dad did Thursday, Friday
and Saturday, Wednesday was pizza or pasta. Last thing she and Dad did before
every meal went on the table was to exact payment from Frank and me for their
services. Same rule applied during high school, when she assigned us a night to
cook as well.”
“Survival Skills 101, she called it,” Frank added with a laugh. “Jesse
got Tuesday and I got Thursday. And only a starving man would have willingly ingested
some of the stuff we concocted. Still, she and Dad never failed to give us a hug
or a kiss no matter what it looked, smelled or tasted like.” His jaw worked
a bit at the memory. He averted his head for a moment, then gave it a shake and
turned back. Kearney watched quietly as the siblings shared a bittersweet smile.
“What a terrific tradition,” she said after a quiet moment. “Sounds
like a lot more fun than singing for your supper.” She studied Frank, looking
for a way to restore his mood to its former lightheartedness. He was looking eminently
huggable, she decided – in a preppy lawyer sort of way.
“I guess it’s time to ante up, huh?” He smiled at her uncertainly.
“You are the chef du jour, aren’t you?” She stepped closer,
grinning evilly, intending only to tease him a bit, to jog him out of his doldrums,
but somewhere along the line her body opted instead for Plan B.
Maybe it was the expression in his eyes – a combination of dread and ...
desire? – or maybe her motivation was something less lofty. Whatever the
reason, the hug she’d intended to give him turned into a kiss that was much
more than neighborly. It would have been even more so – if Frank hadn’t
twitched at the last instant, the movement bringing her lips into contact with
the corner of his mouth instead of her intended target. His smooth, freshly shaved
jaw flushed bright red as she drew back slightly.
“Ummm,” she murmured, then leaned in again, causing Frank to pull
away in alarm. She restricted herself to an appreciative sniff this time. “I
love your cologne,” she said. “Woodsy and fresh. Part ... lavender?
Part ... leather. What’s it called?”
“Drakkar Noir,” he said, a little abruptly. “Got it last month
for my birthday. From Jesse.” She really had him flustered, she saw. Hot
and bothered at last! she crowed to herself. Way to get the
train back on the track, Kearney...
“Where are our manners?” Jesse’s voice startled her out of her
ruminations. “You must be exhausted after all that shoveling, Kearney. I
know I am.” She heard the scrape of chair legs on linoleum. “Here,
have a seat and let Frank pour you your reward.”
After Kearney lowered herself into the chair that had been pulled out for her,
Jesse seated herself on the opposite side of the table and started cutting the
cinnamon rolls apart and transferring them to plates.
“This will cure what ails you,” she said, sliding one forward. “Well,
that and some heat. You’re looking a little blue yet. Hurry up with that
cocoa, Frank, before she dies of hypothermia.”
He handed Kearney a mug, then took the chair between them. He was still a little
flushed, noted Kearney. As was his sister, she saw with some surprise. What’s
that about? she wondered. Not sure she wanted to know, she took an injudicious
slurp from the steaming mug in her hand.
“Uff da!” The exclamation jolted them all into laughter. “Oh
my god,” Kearney snorted. “Did I really say that? It’s finally
happened. I’ve been assimilated. I’m starting to speak Minnesotan.”
She dabbed at her lips with her napkin. “And just in time for that event
you invited me to next Saturday, Frank.”
“Throw in a few ‘Ya sure, you betchas’ and ‘Oh for pity’s
sakes,’” chuckled Jesse, “and nobody will know you’re
not a native.” She turned toward her brother. “By the way, Romeo,
I have to compliment you on your technique. Kearney told me you invited her to
the big Republican confab.”
“What’s wrong with his technique?” demanded Kearney, scooting
her chair close to his and laying a proprietary hand on his leg. “I like
it just fine. Along with everything else about him.”
Frank contented himself with quirking a dark eyebrow in his sister’s direction
and waiting for her to drop the other shoe.
“You sure know how to sweep someone off her feet,” Jesse continued,
her teasing gathering momentum. “You’re lucky enough to catch the
eye of the most beautiful woman in town – hell, the most beautiful woman
in the whole damn state – and what do you do? You neglect her for weeks on end,
then you invite her to hang out with a bunch of pompous pachyderms!”
“Hey, careful there,” admonished Kearney. She patted Frank’s
leg. “Some of my best friends are pachyderms – or have latent pachydermish
She turned to Frank. “Still, she does have a point. I’m really looking
forward to next Saturday; I have missed you dreadfully.”
She waited anxiously for his response, trying to convince herself that the roiling
of her stomach was all about the hope that her relationship with Frank would develop
further and had nothing at all to do with the very unsettling fact that his sister,
who might or might not be a lesbian, had been paying attention to what she looked
like. Close attention.
When he answered, Frank addressed his sister, not her.
“So tell me, Granny, how did you used to do it?”
Was there the tiniest bit of an edge to his voice? Kearney thought so for a minute,
but the rest of his comment was light. “You know, in the olden
days? Can you remember back that far?”
“Way back then?” laughed Jesse. “Well, I’m
not sure, but I seem to recall hitching the mastodons up to the buggy and going
out for a nice meal, catching a movie maybe. Better be careful, Bro, or someone’s
gonna steal this treasure right from under your nose. Heck, the line’s probably
halfway ‘round the block by now. Right, Kearney?”
Kearney shook her head. Frank’s leg was beginning to jig nervously under
her hand; she gave it another reassuring pat.
“Jesus, Kearney! Work with me here.” Jesse winked at Kearney, then
turned to her brother. “Tell you what, buddy. It’s a dirty job, but
I’ll do it. I will keep the suitors at bay, will keep Kearney entertained
until you come to your senses or the city zoning questions are settled or (god
forbid) George W. Bush is elected president for real – whichever comes first.”
“What do you say, Kearney? Want to catch a movie after Frank and I get back
from Colorado? Something with conversation in it instead of car chases? Something
set, not in Middle Earth or a galaxy far, far away, but closer to home, a place,
maybe, ‘where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and ...’”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Thanks, Jesse, but no thanks.” Kearney stopped her before she completed
the invitation. “As a result of this course I’m taking – you know,”
she shaped quotation marks with her fingers and her voice took on a slightly derisive
note, “‘The Androgynous Imagination’ – I’ve seen more
movies this semester than I have since high school. I’m about movied out,
to tell you the truth. And nothing personal, I mean, absolutely no offense, but
if I were going to do entertaining things in the dark with someone, trust me,
this Jarrett is the one I’d be doing it with.”
She patted Frank’s leg again, noting absently that it was no longer twitching,
that it was, in fact, almost rigid.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
But she hadn’t. Gotten the tone right, that is. She’d sounded edgy,
even to herself. And a weird, unintended emphasis on the words “doing it”
had made the phrase sound more than faintly obscene, instead of flirtatious.
She hadn’t stopped when she was only slightly behind, either. Of course
“I’d kill for something with a car chase in it, as a matter of fact.
For the past two or three months I’ve seen nothing except
flicks filled with butch babes and gorgeous, but gay guys – all of them beating
their gums about how nobody understands them or they don’t understand themselves
or (c) all of the above.”
Judging from their expressions, the Jarretts weren’t much interested in
what she had to say on this subject, but then again, Lexie wasn’t always
interested in her little lectures either. She forged ahead, accustomed after all
these years to being her own best audience.
“Not that they weren’t a bunch of good and interesting movies that
made a valid point or two. But jeeze! Not as a steady diet.
It would be like eating, I dunno ...” Over the sink, a string of candy-colored
lights reminded her of the holiday to come. “It would be like eating fruitcake
every day!” She stood and walked toward the blinking bulbs, playing with
the words that were lighting up in her head.
“The point is, I haven’t seen a nice, normal movie
in ages. You know: boy meets girl, boy and girl shoot the bad guys and save the
world from ultimate evil, boy kisses girl senseless. I want that. I want mom and
apple pie. I want ... Aha!” She snapped her fingers. “I want good,
old-fashioned meat and potatoes. I’m starving for meat
and potatoes, as a matter of fact – and I’m surrounded by god damned
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
She couldn’t remember exactly how she managed to extricate herself from
the house, except that she’d done it very clumsily. She’d murmured
something about exhaustion. About a project waiting at work. About how moody people
got during the holidays.
She’d meant herself, of course, though it was clear from
the look on Frank’s face that he thought she’d meant them. He had
looked, in fact, as if he’d like to kick her, Frankenleg permitting, into
the next county.
Which was understandable, sort of, but also confusing. There was no way they could
have known about her conversation with Mrs. R – and that hadn’t been
on her mind in any damned case. She had been talking about movies, for god’s
sake! Admittedly, in hindsight, “fruitcake” might not have been the
most sensitive term she could have used in connection with gender bender films,
but there was a perfectly defensible reason to use it the way she had –
from a rhetorical standpoint, at least.
What did he have to complain about anyway? She’d made it pretty clear who
she was interested in, after all. She’d even bleated about how much she’d
missed him. She winced, imagining the dumbass smile that she must have had plastered
on her face when she said it.
So, is simpering some kind of crime? Or wanting to connect with someone?
It’s Christmas, after all, and we’re practically going steady. Kind
of... Well, dating, for sure. Or we were. Until the election, anyway.
“Working on the relationship,” I think that’s what you said?
That’s what you were doing when you kissed him? When you cozied your chair
up next to his in the kitchen and put your hand on his thigh? Why didn’t
you just hump his leg? Might have been more subtle.
The room was silent, save for the sound of labored breathing and the occasional
plink of water dripping from the tap into the tub.
You ever consider ...
Kearney rubbed her forehead, trying to ease the throbbing and confusion there.
“Shut the fuck up!”
Lexie eyed the white-knuckled hands clasping the edges of the old-fashioned tub,
preparing to intervene if Kearney tried to rise before she got her trembling under
control. She thought with frustration about the boom box in the next room and
that gentle song it had played about the hardest lessons being the ones you learn
all alone. Kearney needed to hear it again. It had been a long time coming and
she had a very long way to go, but she was getting ready to
take the first hard steps.
She had to do it on her own, Lexie knew. She also vowed that Kearney would not
be alone on this journey, that she would be there whenever Kearney needed a friend.
Or a prod, push, twitch or trip in the right direction. She lowered her head to
her paws, her watchful eyes never leaving her companion’s pale form, waiting
for the next milestone or crossroads to make its appearance.
Continued in Back Door to Summer, Part Seven
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