Sweet Thyme Baby – 45

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

45

(Start at the Beginning of Sweet Thyme Baby)

(Click here to read Section 44 first)

 

Sharon spent the rest of the afternoon at the market. Sam had done his best, with Lovey’s help, to keep the business going, but the premises showed signs of neglect. The storeroom needed sweeping and the deli display had sticky spots on the aluminum hot and cold trays. Sharon culled the fruit, putting aside the less than perfect specimens of grape and cantaloupe and kiwi for a fruit salad. Beginning immediately she would save scraps and throwaways for Dee’s compost. Eventually she and Dee might make enough compost between them to bag and sell. She imagined a kind of pre-Raphaelite label with From the Garden of Delight printed on it. To make sure she wouldn’t forget her idea, she dug around under the counter and found the spiral notebook where she wrote down good ideas. Her last entry had been months ago. For a long time there had been something brewing in her. In Lance too. They had been moving in opposite directions.

 

At home she showered and washed her hair and blew it dry so it scalloped her face. She wore a turquoise and white striped cotton dress she knew Lance liked. Sandals on her feet. A silver bangle bracelet and tiny matching earrings. She looked in the mirror and saw a pretty woman, no longer plain. But she didn’t feel pretty; she felt mean and determined, just as you would expect a woman to feel when she was about to lie to her husband, to trap him in a corner if she could. She was sick to her stomach with nerves when she went downstairs. Hearing the grumble of the rising garage door as she was taking a casserole out of the freezer, her hands shook. Lance was whistling as he came into the kitchen.

 

*

 

He cut the whistle short and made sure he looked appropriately serious. Sharon would be on him like a hornet if he let her see how good he felt now that he was getting on with his life. Sharon laid a place for him at the table and spooned something out of a casserole dish. He ate a few mouthfuls and pushed the plate away. “Promise me this is the last time I ever have to eat spaghetti casserole.”

 

“I thought it was one of your favorites.”

 

“Our spaghetti casserole days are behind us, Sharon. Trust me.”

 

“Why don’t I do some eggs?” She smiled. “I haven’t made you a jelly and cream cheese omelet in a long time.”

 

Candy eggs, Hamish called them.

 

Lance looked at her and she held his gaze, smiling. She was so pretty, so completely feminine and guileless. Janet Wexler had been well turned out at lunch in that red, white and blue outfit; but she was plain as a post compared to Sharon. He remembered the night before, how good it had felt when she submitted to him. His body responded to the memory and he felt himself blushing.

 

“An omlete’d be good.”

 

He watched her beat eggs with a fork.

 

She said, “I’ve been thinking about this house.” She poured the eggs into a hot skillet and tipped the pan so they coated the bottom. “I wish we had a view of something.”

 

This was good. She was looking to the future, as he was. There was plenty of money in their future, and if she wanted to get involved buying a house and decorating it that was fine with him. He did not care much, one way or another. “To me a house is just a place where, when it rains at night, you can sleep without getting wet.”

 

Sharon cut pieces of cream cheese into small squares. “I’ve never heard you say anything like that before.”

 

“People change.” For a second the expression on her face was one he didn’t recognize.

 

“Well, yes,” she said and smiled in the familiar way. “But we’re not talking spaghetti casserole. Are you saying you don’t care about our home anymore?”

 

“Is that what I said?”

 

“It sounded like –.”

 

“Maybe I was clumsy, the way I put it. But you know, Sharon, men and women feel differently about where they live. Women make nests. Men live in them.” He saw her make an effort not to argue. He thought that the night before had been good for her. And for him too. On the way home from the Spinnaker he and Victor drove past a twenty-four hour gym and Lance had promised he would buy himself a membership and get a personal trainer. A little weight training, a compliant wife and maybe a few more new clothes. The old Lance was dropping away like old skin and he felt not only stronger and more confident, but more virile too. Would she go upstairs with him now, if he asked? Was this why Hamish was staying at Lovey’s? So they could be alone in the house? She spooned strawberry jam on the cream cheese, gripped the handle of the pan and folded the omelet with a flip of her wrist. Hamish had asked for candy eggs every chance he got. What a sweet way of saying things the boy had, the way he laid it on thick when he wanted something especially: May I please have candy eggs, thank you very much, beautiful Mommy?”

 

“You’ve always said we’re a team, but lately I’ve begun to wonder if you’ve changed your mind about that.” She spoke softly. “I’ve been thinking… that I’m sorry. For a lot of things.” She chose her words carefully and it pleased him when her voice choked with emotion. “Especially lately, I know I’ve been a disappointment to you.”

 

He laughed gently. Just a few hours ago Joel had been talking about how a man had to have a strong loyal wife to do Christ’s work in the world, and Lance had assured him Sharon would never fail, but he had harbored secret doubts. She could be willful as an adolescent, his wife. And rebellious. But here she was, as sweetly humble as the girl he had loved at Mt. Nebo.

 

She put her hand on his and with the edge of his napkin gently dabbed the corner of his mouth. “So. What are you cooking up, huh?”

 

“Make me a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you.”

 

She busied herself on the other side of the room with her back to him.

 

“You know I had drinks with Victor Detroit over at the Inn the other day and then we had lunch today. Well, turns out he’s got the goods on our Miss Dee. And with what he knows and the money she owes the city and the trouble she’s in with the law—”

 

“What kind of trouble?”

 

“– she won’t be able to turn down my offer.”

 

“What kind of trouble?”

 

“Back a few years ago, she was high on drugs and let her daughter drown.”

 

“She told me. And Sam too.”

 

“Oh, yeah, Sam.” Lance felt almost gleeful. “I wonder how your brother’d feel if he knew Delight is the Delight Larue.”

 

Sharon turned around with the coffee filter in her hand.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“She was a porn star. The biggest. The Marilyn Monroe of dirty movies. She was making more than a million bucks a year when her daughter died at a swimming party. Dee was high on cocaine. If I may quote Victor Detroit and you know I’d never say this otherwise, but he told me Delight Larue was once the premier jack-off queen of the movie business.” Lance didn’t care for coarse language, but sometimes it was useful to make a strong point.

 

“What’s this got to do with the conference center? And Janet Wexler?”

 

“Victor came here to make a deal with Dee. He wanted to buy her movies.” Lance blew on his coffee. “The Lord does indeed work in mysterious and marvelous ways because that woman owns all the master reels and they’re hidden in the house somewhere.”

 

“Hidden from whom? Did Dee tell him they were in the house?”

 

“Okay, we don’t know for sure.” Her questions were making him cross. “But where else would they be?”

 

“If they were mine, I would have buried them at the bottom of the landfill.”

 

“Well, of course you would have. You’re a Christian woman.” He laughed, restored to good humor by her innocence. “Victor isn’t anyone I‘d like you to know but he’s a man with some rights here, and he wants to make a square deal and she says no, won’t even discuss it even though he’s the father of their dead baby, even though they’ve known each other since they were babies themselves and even though she owes thousands of dollars in back taxes.”

 

“How much money did he offer her?”

 

Lance shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. She turned him down.”

 

“How did you get involved?”

 

“Well, while this deal with Victor was going on, I got the idea for the conference center. I went to Dee and I offered to pay her a fair price for the Sea Meadows. She’s got more property than she needs and the meadows are way the hell on the other side of the Cloud Forest.”

 

“But where would you get the money?”

 

“Jesus, Sharon, do you have to keep interrupting me?”

 

“You’re cursing again.”

 

“Well, I’m sorry but are you going to let me tell this my way? The CCC has money. And now that Joel’s on board, Mort is more than eager to untie the purse strings. I didn’t tell you before because I knew that might put you against the whole plan. Am I right?”

 

She sat opposite him, resting her chin in her palm. “”Maybe I’m not always fair where Joel’s concerned.”

 

Why couldn’t she just come right out and say she misjudged Joel? Equivocating, that’s what she was doing. Beating around the bush when she should have been completely supportive.

 

“And Janet? How is she involved?”

 

“She wants to develop the cliffs where the graveyard is. If we play our cards right, you might get your new house with a view.”

 

“I see.”

 

“Her brother-in-law’s a contractor down in the South Bay.”

 

Sharon began loading the dishwasher.

 

“But the conference center comes first. That’s God’s work.” He wished he’d asked for a larger omelet. He couldn’t remember when he’d ever been so hungry.

 

“Was the conference center Joel’s idea?”

 

“Hell, no, Sharon, give me a little credit here. This is my baby all the way.”

 

Lance remembered how blue he had felt that Sunday afternoon. “You suggested that I go for a walk, remember?” He had heard of visitors in the garden becoming disoriented and sometimes thinking they were somewhere else. Lance remembered having a bad headache and this accounted for his confusion. “I got out of the Cloud Forest and lay down in the sun and had this dream, this wonderful dream where I saw the conference center just the way it’s going to be. It was like God spoke to me that day. Sent me a vision.”

 

“Then I guess you should be glad I went to work that Sabbath.”

 

He did not like it when she twisted his words. Even teasing.

 

“There’s something else I bet you don’t know. Back when her daughter drowned, Dee was sent to prison.” He paused to let this sink in. “That’s what happens when a mother neglects her child and the child dies.” Sharon had let Hamish wander in the garden. Lance saw in her expression that she knew what he was thinking.

 

“But I like Dee.”

 

“She’s worse than your mother. If the money was right, she’d sell herself to her own grandfather.”

 

She stood up, sat down and then stood up again. “I’ve got a headache, Lance.”

 

He followed her up the stairs.

 

“She served almost four years with time off for good behavior. And then she made a mistake. She ran out on her parole. Dee maybe won’t deal for money, but Vic says she’ll never risk her freedom. He’s sure of it.”

 

“Dee came to the garden to be healed. Let it happen. Don’t ruin it for her. God doesn’t want that.”

 

“Don’t tell me what God wants.”

 

“You’re the expert? You’ve got the inside track?” Her lip curled disdainfully. “When did you get so mean, Lance?”

 

He felt as if someone were randomly pressing pushpins into the back of his skull. The pain was sharp and dull at the same time.

 

“I’m not going to let you ruin her life.”

 

“Shut up,” he said, grabbing her arm. He knew he pressed too hard, that he was hurting her, but there was a limit to what a man could care about. All their life he’d been the kind, the gentle husband, the too-good-to-be-true husband, just like he’d been kindly Pastor Lance, who never had a bad word for anyone. Joel was right, way back in seminary when he said if Lance wanted to make a difference in the world, he had to get tough. Well, at first he couldn’t do that, and then he’d got the idea for the conference center and now every day it was getting easier to stand up and take charge, to push people aside when he had to and demand the respect he deserved. The center was the key to everything, and he would not let Sharon keep him from his destiny.

 

Lance shoved Hamish’s door open and pushed Sharon in ahead of him. They stood in the middle of the carpet, facing off, awash in the mauve summer twilight that filtered into the room through the branches of the old oak. He blocked her way out.

 

“What about Hamish, Sharon? Think about what happened to him. What could have happened. You’re no better than Dee, just luckier.”

 

He wanted to wound her, not superficially but through the skin and bone right to her heart. A lethal strike that would never heal because if she were maimed she would be compliant.

 

She put her palms flat against his chest and shoved. He staggered back, grabbed for her and threw her to the floor. Resting on her elbows, she lay staring up at him. The fading light cast pale purple shadows accentuating the upward tilt of her cheekbones and the long lines of her throat. She was beautiful and it was this that made her so dangerous. She would make him weak unless he taught her a lesson. He whirled away and left the room. He slammed the door and locked it.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

 

Click here to read Part 46 of Sweet Thyme Baby

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