Read Solomon's Oak Online

Authors: Jo-Ann Mapson

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Self-actualization (Psychology), #Literary, #Loss (Psychology), #Psychological

Solomon's Oak (6 page)

Glory ignored that, having seen by now it was just Juniper’s way to complain. “I’d love to hear your thoughts. If I do start having weddings here—”

Juniper let the fork clatter onto her plate. The noise startled Glory, and she sat up straight, the icepack falling from her grip. She reached down to pick it up and her head throbbed. “What’s the matter?”

“Stop making conversation, okay? You don’t care what I think. In twelve hours I’ll be gone and you can do whatever you want with your stupid cakes and the—weddings.”

The pause felt worse than the omitted curse word. “You’ll find clean towels in the bathroom,” Glory said, standing up, suddenly weary of this girl’s hormones or history that made her so prickly. “Will you be all right by yourself for a while? I have to see to the dogs.”

Glory let Dodge and Cadillac out for a quick run around the property and hoped the night air would clear her pounding head. The dogs were trained to relieve themselves in a corner of yard nearest the trash cans, and they headed to that patch of dirt first. Glory gave them a few minutes, then followed with the shovel to clean up. The dogs ran down the driveway, past the empty mailbox and the grazing goats behind the fence. On their return circuit, Dodge leaped for attention and hit Glory in the back of the knees so squarely that she almost fell down. “Off,” she said, wondering if he had the slightest idea what the command meant. When Dodge barked at Nathan and Nanny, who Glory hoped would soon get pregnant, Cadillac went into gear, nipping at Dodge’s heels and herding him away from the fence. Caddy had the poor dog spinning in circles in no time. Since Dan’s death, the border collie seemed to live with one eye open, desperate to keep everything in line. It made Glory tired just to think of it. One day off from their usual schedule—training at three, walk at four, dinner at five—and Dodge was jumping up on humans and barking that horrible, supersonic cattle-dog bark of his that had landed him at the animal shelter in the first place.

Glory caught his collar and gave him a quick, reassuring neck rub before letting him go. “You know,” she told him, “I prefer the comfort of a schedule, too.”

Some of her past rescues had separation anxiety, a difficult behavior to correct. Others, like Dodge, were so desperate for affection they’d dig under fences just to be near you. They destroyed doors and patio furniture. Some took longer to tell you their stories. Cadillac was a mystery sewn inside a silky black-and-white coat that felt wonderful to brush. The collie needed two walks a day. He guarded the horses when they went into the barn looking for dinner. He had his not-so-shining moments, too. He nipped the mailman. When he tried to herd a UPS driver, Glory had to haul him away on leash. On bad days it took an hour of playing Frisbee and the agility-course training obstacles she had set up in the pasture to wear him out. If she shut him in his kennel, he sat on top of his Craftsman-style (Dan did nothing halfway) doghouse, but never actually went inside it.

Cadillac’s favorite activity was moving the goats around. He climbed trees like a cat. All gates had to have top and bottom latches because it never took him longer than a day to figure them out. He loved learning new tricks and remembered a new voice command after only hearing it once. Glory had listened to an animal behaviorist on NPR say that you could buy your border collie a squeaky toy or you could buy him a herd of sheep. When Cadillac got that look in his eye that signaled “I’m bored,” she understood why he’d been left at the shelter. The minute Glory woke up in the morning until the time she went to bed, part of her mind was on keeping Caddy out of trouble. She wished people who fell for the fluffy, ears-down, masked puppies could see him on a bad day. In the six years he’d lived at Solomon’s Oak, Cadillac had chewed the cushions of a secondhand couch in Dan’s workshop, spreading stuffing everywhere, scratched the barn door to bits during a thunderstorm, and “antiqued” a 1920s Sioux Star Pendleton blanket. All that was replaceable, if expensive, but when the dog chewed the horn off Dan’s Fiesta model Bohlin stock saddle, well, Glory had never seen her husband so angry. The vein in his forehead pulsed and she worried he might have a stroke.

Back at the barn, she gave each dog a quick brushing and threw the fluorescent tennis balls for ten minutes. She scrubbed and filled their food bowls. Dodge practiced his sit-stays and did fairly well, considering the wedding drama had worked him up into a jittery mess. When Glory asked Cadillac to heel off leash and walk by the goats, he minded at first, but sneaked in the tracking posture with his back end higher than his front until Glory snapped her fingers and said, “Quit.”

After a final opportunity to eliminate, both dogs settled down in their kennels, ignoring the blankets inside their insulated doghouses, preferring to sit on the roofs until morning. Glory looked up at the house, at the lights shining, and would have rather scooped poop for an hour instead of going indoors to the cranky girl.

But she did go inside, and by the time she did, she’d adjusted her attitude the way she had with each of the foster boys. She smiled at Juniper, who sat on the couch, her hands in her lap. An open Diet Cherry Coke sat directly on the oak end table, though a coaster was right next to it, but Glory said nothing. She walked down the hall and let Edsel out of her bedroom. He raced down the hall, did a lap around the kitchen, and barked at Juniper. “Shh,” Glory said, as she fed him the organic diet that helped with his seizures.

Juniper watched silently. “What the heck is that?” she finally asked. “A mutant Chihuahua?”

“He’s an Italian greyhound.”

“He looks like a starving lab rat.”

“I know. But he gets plenty to eat. This is how they’re built. Are you still hungry?”

“I could eat some more of that cake.”

“I noticed you didn’t eat much dinner.”

“So put me on restriction.”

Glory picked up Edsel and held him out for Juniper to pet, but she shied away.

“Get that skanky rat away from me!”

Edsel wagged his tail. Everyone who met Edsel fell in love with the ten-pound comedian who made Glory laugh at least once a day. The girl’s overtired, Glory told herself. She divided the last of the cake into two pieces that each had a scrim of glittery wave frosting. She set the plates down on the coffee table. “Here you go, Juniper.”

The girl picked up a plate and began eating. Glory couldn’t help staring at the metal in her upper lip. It looked like a fishhook, as if she’d been snagged but tossed back.

Juniper licked the frosting off her fork tines like a five-year-old.

Glory fetched her purse and handed the girl two twenty-dollar bills and a ten.

“Whoo-hoo,” Juniper said limply. “I’ll try not to spend it all in one place.”

Glory sighed. “I’m trying to be nice, Juniper. But you make it hard.”

“So? Tomorrow I’ll be handed off to some trailer-trash family who need the money Social Services will pay them. I’ll be eating mac and Velveeta. They’ll be all nice at first. They always are. ‘Help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge. Make yourself a sandwich whenever you feel like it. Take second helpings.’ Then pretty soon they’ll say how I’m wasting food and how the money the county pays them doesn’t cover how much I eat.” She stopped to lick her fork again. “They’ll get mad, and it’ll be like … ” She held up her hand as if warding off a blow.

“Please tell me they don’t hit you.”

Juniper laughed. “People don’t have to hit you to make you hurt.”

Suddenly the cake looked repulsive to Glory. Thanks to her headache, if she put a bite of the sweetness into her mouth, she knew she’d be sick. She handed Juniper the second plate. “Want mine? I’m not hungry.”

Juniper slouched on the couch and took tiny bites, making each one last, scraping the fork tines against the plate to get every bit of frosting. “Ms. Proctor always says my
next
home will be my forever home.”

Forever home
sounded to Glory like the way she talked about her rescue-dog placements. “I’m sorry this is happening to you.”

“Not as sorry as I am.”

Dan would have said, “Sit up straight, Juniper,” or sent her back to the table. But Glory didn’t have the heart to tell her to mind her manners. Since Dan died, Glory ate her meals standing in front of the sink, right out of the pan. Sometimes she stood on the back-porch steps and threw whatever she didn’t feel like finishing to the hens. From the freezer she fetched a pint of vanilla-bean ice cream and handed it to Juniper. “Want to go sit by the fire?”

“I’d rather watch television.”

“Oops. I don’t have a television.”

“Whoa. That is beyond retro.” Juniper spooned in a mouthful of ice cream and Edsel whined for a taste, but she didn’t give it to him.

“Do you have something against dogs?” Glory asked. Juniper took a spoonful of ice cream and Glory heard the telltale click as the spoon met metal—a tongue stud. That was the one piercing she truly couldn’t understand. “Did you get bitten by one?”

“My family had a dog once. For a couple of days.”

“What happened to it? Did it get hit by a car?”

Juniper set the ice cream down and frowned at her. “Please. You know.”

“Would I have asked if I knew?”

Color flooded into Juniper’s cheeks. “What is this? Some cheesy psyops thing, you trying to get me to talk about my sister? Did Ms. Proctor tell you to? Did Dr. Lois?” Juniper dropped the spoon and it clattered on the wood floor. Edsel moved in for the kill and dragged it away.

“Sweetie, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Like hell you don’t.”

Glory got up, walked down the hall to the bedroom, took the spoon from Edsel, and whispered, “Biscuit.” He flew by at Mach 1. Dan had often said that if a foster kid didn’t take to Edsel, the situation was hopeless. Glory opened the cupboard and got a biscuit, then placed it in Juniper’s hand. Juniper threw it across the room, and Edsel, figuring this was a game, went after it.

“That was uncalled for,” Glory said.


So
sorry.”

“No, you’re not. I’m pretty straightforward, Juniper. I didn’t finish college. I don’t know what’s in style or out. I lost my husband and I have to make this business run in order to keep on living here.”

Juniper continued to look Glory straight in the eyes. “Then maybe you should think about keeping me. The county pays you money, you know.”

Glory bit back her words and looked at the clock, dismayed to learn it wasn’t yet midnight. This headache was epic; she would have given her right arm for the missing painkillers. Edsel began hoovering his way across the kitchen in search of crumbs. Striking out, he trotted back to Juniper, placing one paw on her knee. This time, though Glory could tell it was killing her, Juniper didn’t pull away. Edsel lay down next to her, his head on her feet. The fire Glory had started after the guests left was down to embers. Edsel pawed Juniper’s leg and whined. “He’s awfully sweet if you give him a chance.”

“Only morons give second chances.” Juniper got up from the couch and sat down on the hearthrug in front of the fire.

If not Edsel for comfort, what would it take? “So,” Glory said, “tell me about your sister’s dog.”

Juniper gave Glory a searing look. “Did you grow up on another
planet
? Otherwise you’re the only person in Monterey County who hasn’t heard of my sister, Casey McGuire.”

Casey
McGuire
.

Casey, who had disappeared four years ago after taking her new dog for a walk.

The dog, full grown, a new addition to the family, had returned to the home he knew best—Solomon’s Oak.

That dog was Glory’s border collie, Cadillac. He’d shown up near three
A.M.
the night Casey had gone missing, his red leash dragging behind him, scratching at the back door, waking Glory from a deep sleep. She’d put him in his old kennel, angry that the McGuires had allowed him to get loose and angry with herself for misjudging the family even after two home visits. She’d waited until noon the next day to call them. She hadn’t turned on the radio, she had no television to catch the breaking news, and four years earlier the Internet wasn’t so reliable when it came to breaking news.

This was before the Lakeshore neighborhood, made up of old summerhouses and trailers, was razed for development. The McGuires had lived five miles away, across the highway, but even with traffic, Cadillac found his way back to Solomon’s Oak. Despite the Amber Alert, numerous search-and-rescue attempts, posters, hotlines, and television coverage, not a trace of Casey was ever found. Officially, the case remained unsolved.

Glory remembered Casey, and her younger sister their mother called June Bug. She had a round face, dark blond hair, and braces. This Juniper had dyed black hair, a snotty voice, and a tattoo of a bluebird on her neck. “I am so sorry, Juniper. I honestly didn’t know.”

Real tears brimmed at the corners of Juniper’s brown eyes. She looked into the fire and not at Glory, and suddenly Glory was so angry with Caroline for not prepping her that she could have slapped her.

Four years had passed since that afternoon in 1999. Everyone presumed Casey was dead, just another innocent girl in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once a year, on the anniversary of her disappearance, the
Herald
ran an abbreviated story. Eternally fourteen years old, Casey, in a smiling school picture, beamed out from the post office bulletin board in the company of kidnappers and criminals wanted for federal offenses. Whenever Glory went to buy stamps, she saw the poster. Lorna kept a dusty basket of
BRING CASEY HOME
buttons on the counter at the Butterfly Creek General Store. The day after she disappeared, Lorna, Juan, and Dan had ridden horses deep into the wilderness area, searching for her. Helicopters buzzed the area for days. Casey was gone, but here was her fourteen-year-old sister, pierced, angry, and homeless. She had survived the decimation of her family, paying for it with her childhood.

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