Authors: Lizzy Charles
Bring the Rain
Copyright © 2015 by Lizzy Charles
Published by Lizzy Charles
Edited by Fiona McLaren
Cover by Berto Designs
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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By Lizzy Charles
Table of Contents
I can’t hold my
breath any longer. Air seeps in through my nose, and the smell is much more manure than crisp grass. How am I here? This summer should be my summer. Sweet sixteen in New York City, not abandoned in the middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma. My Uggs smack the cracked earth on my way out of Dad’s Ford F-150. The cracker-like trace of dust relieves me of the rancid scent for a moment. Small yellow flowers poke their heads out of the long grass, welcoming me back. I’d spent many evenings dancing with those flowers and fireflies under the stars when I was a little girl.
Dad rests his palm on my shoulder and gives it a squeeze. “Ready?”
The cracked ground resembles the new wrinkles around his eyes. “Sure,” I say while stretching out my arm so the dark, gold tips of prairie grass brush against my palm. New York dry seasons get acrid and smoggy, but even after seven years in the city, I remember drought being hell on a cattle ranch.
A light illuminates the porch ahead. The first step still creaks, except now it sags a little. “You still have mom’s welcome sign?” The navy painted board with yellow lettering still hangs from a chain. Dad smiles slightly, pushing the door open for me as we each pull one of my suitcases in.
Suddenly, a black shadow bolts at me.
My knees buckle as a shaggy beast pins me to the front deck, drool dangling from his jowls. “Hey, Tango.” I close my eyes as he licks my cheek. Well, it’s good to know some things haven’t changed.
“Welcome home, Autumn.” Dad whistles quick and high-pitched. Tango pounces away, like a tween at her first concert, leaving a pool of slobber all over my Hollister tank.
“Coming in?” Dad asks. He extends a hand but I push myself up and dust off my jeans before his offer nears me. My mind races as I try to make my rejection seem casual. He seems to forget how I’m used to caring for myself.
Once inside, that old creepy bull skull greets me. Billy Bones. Most people have flowers in their entryway, but Dad’s always insisted on the skull. Mom used to tie an Italian scarf around its neck. But it’s bare now. I slip off my Uggs, placing them in the closet. As I find a hook for my purse, a flash of light pink catches my eye. I reach up to the shelf, brushing my finger against the pliable smooth leather, now covered in dust, of my old cowgirl hat. It’s exactly where I left it.
“You kept this?” I roll my lips in, refusing to let this affect my composure. I’ve practiced for this day too long to let my old hat give me away.
“Of course,” Dad says with too much forced cheer. “Never know when a cowgirl will need her hat.”
I want to tell him that New York City has a way of taking the cowgirl out of a girl. Especially after seven years. But instead I just smile as I close the closet door. There’s a photo on the wall that wasn’t there before, the same one I kept near my bed in New York. Hair flying out of its binder, my nine-year-old self drapes her arms around a standard white quarter horse with a black nose, Howdy. He was my world.
“We can go see him if you want. I’ll drive us down to the barn.”
I blink away the instant sting in my eyes. No, it’s too soon. I’ll only end up a puddle in his stall.
“No thanks. I’ll catch him in the morning. He loves his sleep.” The thought of seeing Howdy with an audience for the first time since the divorce is too much. I need to be alone so I can adequately explain to him why I haven’t been around.
“So...” Dad yawns. “It’s getting late.” Nine familiar chimes call from grandma’s old clock that I bet still sits on the mantle in the living room.
“Dad. It’s only nine o’clock. This is usually when I’m sitting down for dinner.”
“This late?” His eyebrow cocks up.
“That’s what it’s like in New York.”
He scratches his neck. “We’ll get you some food, but here in an Oklahoma summer the rooster calls at four and we’re on the horses by four thirty. Those cattle need to be on the move by five AM if we’re going to beat the heat.”
My body aches remembering Mom waking me every morning to help.
Ranching: a family business
. Thankfully, she ditched that mentality when we moved to the city. Summers were for sleeping. Even on school days, I didn’t roll out of bed until eight thirty, if that.
“We’re branding calves in the morning. Sorting steers in the afternoon.”
I chortle and slap my hand across my mouth. I hate when my pig sound escapes me. But really, he has to be kidding. There’s no way I’m ready to do that.
“No, sorry, Dad. Not me. Not tomorrow.” I use Mom’s business voice that she only executes when someone’s dropped the ball. He lifts an eyebrow. “I will need time to get used to being here again, okay?” I widen my eyes and glance at him expectantly, aiming for a girl going through a hard transition. It’s a crappy route to take, but he has no right to deny me this.
He nods, unable to refuse my eyes that are as blue as his own. “All right, a bit of time, but then you’re helping out as we discussed this spring.”
“Absolutely. Thanks.” I smile lightly, covering my victory.
A bit of time? Good thing I define
as exactly three months and five days. Amazing how this lines up with September’s first class flight to Paris. Three months and I’ll join Mom in the greatest city in the world. She has her new job; I’ll click away at my online school and never endure the stench of cow manure again.
“You mentioned dinner. How about a sandwich?” Dad offers, nodding toward the white swinging door.
“That’d be great.” I push it open and freeze. My jaw hits the floor. That little pink hat may still hang in the closet, but the old, dingy kitchen is gone.
His hand rests on my shoulder. “I did some updating a few years ago.”
The room sprawls before me. The kitchen doubled in size. I can barely peel my eyes off the cherry hardwood floors that have replaced the old linoleum, but the vast windows in an attaching living room draw my eye up. Giant beams run along the ceiling, coming together at a gigantic stone hearth. Two leather couches, a flat screen TV, and some cowhide rugs make it look like it stepped out of Esquire magazine.
“I was hoping to get granite countertops and cabinets to match the hardwood. I’ll tackle that project in a few years.” He rests against the stone. “It took me a full year to build this hearth. I found all the rock on the ranch.”
I sit down on a stool at the island. “That’s a long time.” I try to sound like I care. I do. But being back here is too weird.
Dad finally removes his cowboy hat, his hair even more peppery than last fall. He places it on the hook under the mantle. “It was a good distraction. It can get lonely out here sometimes.”
Lonely? I struggle to swallow the lump in my throat. He has no idea what loneliness is.
His eyes flicker toward me like he expects me to acknowledge his implication of me not having lived here since I was eight. But I don’t think he ever missed me enough to be lonely. He may have emailed occasionally after the first few years, but it’s not like we talked about anything other than grades. Sometimes I’d toss him a bone with info about a school dance that I didn’t actually attend. I struggle to laugh it off. “Well, we’ve got to find you a woman then. Help you fall in love.” There. That’s an absurd fix that will easily sway the conversation away from the one thing I don’t want to talk about. Us.
Dad waggles his eyebrows in the dorky way only a dad can do as he crosses into the kitchen. “Oh, believe me. I’ve already fallen in love.”
My heart splats on the cherry wood floor. “What?” A woman lives here? Spiders crawl up my spine. I shift on the stool. Did he get married without telling me? The back of my throat closes. I swallow the lump again while Dad’s head is still buried in the fridge.
“What’s her name?”
He ducks his head out, sandwich ingredients following. “Huh?”
“My step-mother. What’s her name?”
The mayo drops and shatters on the tiled floor. Sticky white goop splatters on the cuff of my Lucky jeans. I stare at it too long, trying to make it mean something more than it actually does. It’s just mayo. It’s not like it represents my summer stuck with Dad.
Dad breaks my stare when he hands me a towel. “This will help.”
I take it with a forced smile. “No big deal.” I say as I delicately wipe away the goo, praying it doesn’t leak inside the stitching. I hate washing this pair of jeans, it always alters their fit. “So... her name?”
He stifles a laugh. “I wasn’t talking about a woman.” He meticulously picks up the shards of glass from the floor. I slide off the stool to help but he holds up his hands to stop me. “You’ll get cut without shoes. I’ve got it.”
“No step mother? No girlfriend?” I hop back on the stool.
“But you said you already fell in love?” None of this makes sense. He stares back at me, his eyes glossy like he’s not there. I take a deep breath as I search for registration. This isn’t good. Either we are so removed from one another that we can’t keep a linear conversation going or he is suffering from early dementia.
Or… he could be talking about how he once was in love with Mom. I slide off the stool again, prepared to make a quick exit if the conversation turns that way. That topic is too deep and too soon for us to tackle. In fact, that’s one conversation I never plan on having with him.
He eventually blinks, covering his eyes as his chest heaves with laughter. He slaps his knee like only a cowboy would. He wipes tears from his eyes. “Naw, darlin’. I meant I’m in love with food.” He pats his non-existent belly. He’s too active on the ranch to gain a pound. Mom still calls the ranch the best gym she’s ever had. “The kitchen, it’s my man-cave. I love to cook.” Grabbing the remote off some neatly mounted holder on the wall, he flips the TV on to ESPN. “I have the crew over for games.”
My eyebrow rises. “So, you’re like a chef now?”
“A man’s got to eat.” With the mayo destroyed, he grabs a stick of butter off the counter and adds it to the layers of avocado and turkey on grainy soft bread. He squishes the sandwich before handing it to me. My stomach rejoices as I take the first bite, the bread melting in my mouth with hints of honey.
“This is amazing.”
“I made the bread.” His chest puffs.
I nearly choke. “You bake too?”
“Bake, barbecue, marinate, broil, roast. You name it, I can baste it.”
Oh man. Dad’s jokes are still as lame as ever.
He points to a framed certificate on the wall. “Check it out.”
I squint at the home-printed certificate. Layla’s Culinary School, Oklahoma City. I knew it! There’s totally a woman behind this. “Who’s Layla?”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I…” Wow. “Did she mean a lot to you?” I wish he would have told me if his girlfriend had died. “Sorry, I didn’t mean…” I sigh, getting nowhere fast.
“No. This New York City chef, originally from Oklahoma, moved back home after his mother, Layla, passed away. He started a school. Nothing official, just fun.” He hands me a glass of milk. “You may’ve heard of him. He started Mazillos in Midtown ”
“Midtown Mazillos?” Drool pools in my mouth. “Their enchiladas are to die for.”
“Yup that’s it.” He grabs a fork and plunges back into the fridge. A soft gooey bite perches on the tip when he returns. “Here, try this. It’s cold but you’ll get the idea.”
I hesitate, but he looks too eager to refuse. I taste it and I’m transported to Midtown. The sweet corn, salt, savory chicken, and crazy perfect green chili sauce tingles my throat. It tastes like home.
“Yeah. Really good. Did he make this?”
“Nope,” he points back to the certificate. “All me.”
“Well, in that case, I’ll take a few more bites.” I pull open the fridge. The shelves are a menagerie of color with the veggies, milk, cheese, fruit, and meat. There’s so much to choose from. The only thing we kept in our fridge in New York was milk and nail polish. I never starved because we didn’t need food when we lived above New York City’s premier French restaurant, La Belle Vie. Mom and I have our table near the front window that was fantastic for watching people go down or rise up from the subway.
A stifled yawn slips from behind me. Man, he really is exhausted.
“Dad, you can go to bed. I’m getting together with Gina tonight anyways.”