Read Solomon's Oak Online

Authors: Jo-Ann Mapson

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

Solomon's Oak (9 page)

“For how long?”

“Oh, it shouldn’t take us more than fifteen or twenty minutes if we work hard at it.”

“No, I meant, how long can I stay?”

“Indefinitely, if you’ll agree to follow some ground rules.”

Juniper’s chocolate brown eyes stayed dry. She didn’t allow a sliver of emotion into her voice. But Glory had seen her with Cadillac. She knew a soft heart was behind the sarcasm and deliberate aloofness. “Thank you, Mrs. Solomon.”

“You’re welcome. You should call me Glory.” She got up and turned up the griddle. “One egg or two?”

“Two, please.”

“Fried?”

“Yes, please. I’ll do the dishes every day. You won’t even have to remind me.”

“I’ll take you up on that.” Using the spatula, Glory flipped two eggs and transferred them to Juniper’s plate without breaking the golden yolks.

Juniper took a bite of her bacon-and-biscuit sandwich. “The bacon is really good.”

“It’s maple-cured.” Glory brought over more biscuits, dished herself a plate, and reached for the gravy boat. “Breakfast’s my favorite meal.”

“If you cook like this, how do you manage to stay so skinny?”

Glory laughed. “I’m a far cry from skinny. I only ever cooked like this on Sunday mornings. Pancakes, French toast, blueberry muffins, something special. While I cooked, Dan read the paper. We did the
New York Times
crossword puzzle together.”

Juniper wiped her fingers on her napkin. “You have to be really smart to get all the words.”

“I’ll let you in on a secret. You just have to think like the puzzle maker. Crosswords are all about puns, double meanings, and odd, three-letter words. Pretty much every crossword has Yoko Ono or Mel Ott for an answer. It’s like Scrabble, only harder.”

“Mrs. Solomon? I was wondering something.”

“Wondering what?”

Juniper set down her biscuit, picked up her napkin, and wiped her fingers. “I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but how come you don’t dye your hair?”

“My hair?”

Juniper nodded. “Your face looks like you’re thirty, but your hair is totally screamin’, ‘Bingo grandma.’ ”

Glory reached up to touch the knot she tied it into every day. She hadn’t thought of it in years. “Dan liked it. It started turning gray when I was about your age.”

“That’s weird.”

“Luck of the gene pool. It happened to my sister, too.”

“You miss your husband a lot?”

“Truthfully? I hate that I’m getting used to him being gone.” Like your sister, Casey, she thought. Juniper could give Glory lessons on missing people. “Hey, do you know anything about making Web sites?”

“I could make one if the computer had a decent program.”

“Then I have a paying job for you.” When the phone rang, Glory grabbed it. “Solomon’s Oak Wedding Chapel. Glory speaking.”

“I guess yesterday was a success,” Caroline said.

“Other than a few dozen missing tankards, it was.”

“What did you expect from pirates? Listen, is it okay if I come get Juniper around two this afternoon? If I can find any place open the day after Thanksgiving to give me a haircut—” Caroline’s other line beeped and she swore. “Hold on a sec.”

Glory placed her hand over the receiver. “Caroline. I’ll tell her the second I can get a word in.”

Juniper took a second biscuit and broke it open. “These are good.”

“Thanks. Try the strawberry jam. I made it myself.”

“Seriously?”

“It’s easy. We’ll do a batch together. Cherry, apricot, peach, plum, whatever fruit you like.”

When Caroline came back on the line, she said, “I’d like to travel back in time and strangle Alexander Graham Bell—”

“Change of plans,” Glory said, interrupting. “Juniper and I have decided to give things a go.”

“You what?”

Glory looked at Juniper, hoping for another smile, but she was studying the pink rose design on the plate. Glory used the Franciscan Desert Rose china all the time now, thinking, why not? “You heard me.”

“This is the best news ever. I knew you two were meant for each other. I’ll bring the papers by immediately.”

“I thought you wanted a haircut.”

“You have shears, don’t you? You can trim my split ends and I will give you a twenty-five-cent tip.
Hasta luego
, my friend.”

Glory hung up, sat down at the table, and her knees quaked. She’d said so out loud so that meant Juniper was staying. Edsel leaped into her lap and sniffed the tabletop. His peculiar habit of licking at the air when appetizing people food was nearby apparently altered his status from lab rat to adorable puppy dog, though Juniper’s laugh sounded rusty.

“He reminds me of the baby velociraptors in
Jurassic Park
,” Juniper said.

Glory laughed. “This afternoon we can drive to Target to get you some new clothes. Get you ready for school on Monday.”

That stopped the laughter. “You should probably know I don’t do so hot at school. They say I’m difficult.”

Glory thought about the shrill tone Halle’s voice took on when she was fed up with her. “Me, too, Juniper. We can be difficult together.”

Caroline sat in the kitchen chair they’d hauled outdoors. Glory stood behind her. Both were drinking coffee and watching Juniper feed treats to the formerly scary horses that were now her best buds. “Is there such a thing as a carrot overdose?” Caroline asked.

“I’ll cut her off in a minute,” Glory said. She combed through Caroline’s bottle-blond strands that were brittle from too much coloring. Underneath the brassy blond, her hair was turning platinum white. “Ever thought about letting your natural color take over?”

“Never. It’s an ageist workforce out there, Glory. We overfifties have to work hard to fly under the radar. You watch closely as this decade goes by. All us baby boomers will get the shaft, first in the job market, then in Social Security. Soon the world as we know it will be run by twentysomethings and we’ll all end up working retail until we drop dead.”

“Sounds unpleasant.”

“And Medicare? Don’t even get me started. I have three friends whose doctors dropped them the minute they turned sixty-two.
Dropped
them.” Caroline sipped her coffee. “That should be a misdemeanor, at least.”

“I agree. Listen, Caroline. You’re always in a hurry, and I understand that, but yesterday you had time to tell me about Juniper being Casey McGuire’s sister. You know how responsible I feel about the dog. Why did you just leave her with me that way? It could have turned out disastrous.”

Caroline pointed to the corral. “Look at that horse. He’s totally pushing the other one out of the way. What a carrot hog.”

“Don’t change the subject while I have scissors in my hand. I know we’re not as close as you and Dan were, but we’re friends. Friends tell each other the truth.”

Caroline picked at her cuticles. After she’d quit smoking, she’d started in on her nail beds, and it hurt Glory to look at them. “You want some sensible explanation from me and I don’t have one. There was time. I just didn’t want to go into it while you were so busy with the wedding and all.”

“Why does that sound like absolute horse pucky?”

Caroline turned her head and sighed. “Because it is. Please don’t hate me. I’ve been keeping a secret from you.”

“Why would you do that?”

“I promised Dan. You’re making it impossible for me to keep my word.”

Glory’s skin flushed hot, then went chilly. She felt dizzy at the sound of Dan’s name. “What could you possibly not tell me?”

“The last time I saw him, he made me promise to find the perfect foster kid for you. Someone special to keep you occupied, to make you join the world again.”

Glory looked at the scissors in her hand. Even in the sunlight the metal felt cold and heavy. Caroline had come to the hospital a handful of times, odd hours, spelling Glory while she went to the cafeteria or took a catnap. “No way. Dan barely made sense there at the end.”

The fine lines above Caroline’s upper lip had turned to full-fledged wrinkles where her lipstick bled. “Way. I’ve never directly lied to you, Glory. It’s a sin of omission, I confess. But the last time I saw Dan he made me promise. Every day I rack my brain in this job. A surplus of kids, never enough homes. It gets disheartening to say the least. Until last week I thought I’d made a promise I couldn’t keep. Then Juniper came along. Yes, I remembered how you blamed yourself about the dog. I thought it was the perfect opportunity for you to—”

“Make up for letting precious time go by instead of calling the police?”

Caroline reached up and squeezed Glory’s arm. “I wish you’d stop beating yourself up over that. As we say in the biz, your past doesn’t have to become your future. I find circumstances where kids have the best opportunity to thrive. Look at her. Tell me I made a mistake and I’ll take her away.”

Glory watched Juniper climb up the arena fence, leap off the highest rung, and run to the tire swing. Her hair was the color of a crow’s wing, flashing in the sunlight. Immediately the horses trotted to the other side of the corral in hopes more carrots would appear.

“That right there is a ten-year-old kid who turned forty overnight. Her heart is in smithereens. Her world is ugly. Do we just give up on her? Let her go astray because there’s too much wrong to cope with? I knew you’d say no outright if I told you who she was. And then you know what we’d have?”

“What?”

“Two
separate
unhappy people giving up instead of a pair of unhappy people working together toward whatever kind of life there is after so much sorrow. This is the gospel according to Caroline. Amen.”

Gospel, Glory thought. A story of good tidings, sometimes true, sometimes metaphoric. It was the perfect word for what Caroline did. She gave up her weekends, her social life, and even salon haircuts to help kids find a home.

Glory slipped the shears into her jacket pocket furious that Dan had used any of his last words on someone else. That he felt he had to arrange life for her after him, that somehow he thought she would fall apart if left to her own devices, made her livid. Smithereens were her way of life, too. “Caroline, I know your job involves client confidentiality, but you should have told me who Juniper was. Last night when I figured things out, I was pretty mad at you. And now? You and Dan talking like that about me? I’m even angrier.”

Caroline ran her fingers through her newly cut hair. It looked 100 percent better neck-length versus straggling unevenly over her shoulders. “You have every right to be, Glory. I behaved like a coward. I hope someday you’ll forgive me.” She started to stand up, but Glory pushed her back down.

“I will if you tell me everything. What else did Dan say?”

“Are you sure you want to hear this?”

“Do you really think I could answer no to that question and go on being your friend?”

“Wow, you are mad. Okay, he said he was afraid to die.”

“That can’t be true. He was so peaceful at the end. He told me he was looking forward to seeing his brother again, his dad, all his childhood horses. He believed in heaven.”

Caroline smiled gently. “He wasn’t scared because of what might or might not come next for him, he was scared to leave you.”

“Why?”

“Are you serious? You guys were joined at the hip. He was worried you wouldn’t have a reason to get up in the morning. That maybe you’d stop living your life. Suicide. He used that word.”

They had been joined at the hip, then so roughly wrenched apart it felt like being severed with a machete. Of course Glory wanted to stop living. She wanted to go with Dan. During her first week at Target, she stood at the register plotting ways to join him. She could adopt her animals out; let someone else do the rescuing for a change. Who cared if she sold the ranch? Dan’s mom was in assisted living, provided for; Glory could walk into the Pacific Ocean like that writer Virginia Woolf. Or she could move closer to Halle, get a little apartment, take computer classes, and remodel her personality to fit in with the world she’d lived apart from for twenty years. Find an office job. She could go to Halle’s parties and be that quirky single woman who made a great listener or could talk about alfalfa crops while everyone else was discussing the political situation in Korea, or haute couture. Start over or stop? She couldn’t make up her mind. Her mother had enough Social Security to cover her modest lifestyle. Halle had Bart and bucks out the kazoo. All Lorna had to do was throw a rock and she’d hit a relative. Caroline had her foster kids. Other than providing directions to the white oak, how would Glory be missed? “I’m not sure I can do this,” she said.

“What? Take care of Juniper? No one’s ever sure of situations like this. You take things one hour at a time. But think of what you’re offering this kid. Yesterday she was circling the drain. Today? Rope swings. Carrots. Life on the cutest darn ranch in Monterey County. Call me anytime you need help. I promise I’ll come running.”

“You’re always running off to some kid who needs you. How do you help everybody?”

Other books

The Avalon Chanter by Lillian Stewart Carl
The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn
Such is love by Burchell, Mary
Too Big To Miss by Jaffarian, Sue Ann
Burn Into Me by Leeson, Jillian
Dark Frost by Jennifer Estep