I’ve tried to be happy. I try so very hard. Yet the frigid granite beneath my fingertips is a blazing desert compared to the barren iceberg of my womb. What woman could be happy with a monolith of ice blocking her very female essence?
This kitchen is perfectly planned. If Martha Stewart visited, she’d be envious of my exquisite arrangement of pears and apricots, dusted with the slightest coating of glaze and balanced artfully in Mother’s old bowl. She’d gasp at the coordination of stripe to check, plaid to French country print, that draws the eye around the room. Her Tod-slippered feet can sweep across my stone floor and arrive unspecked at their destination.
And, if the Great Martha were to stop there, I would measure up. My life would hold a semblance of value, of worthiness.
Most stop there.
I don’t mean that irreverently. How can I be irreverent? I’m the grateful adoptee of an upright preacher man and his loving wife. I’m the epitome of grateful recipient. All of Stars Hill would tell you that.
They don’t look past my kitchen.
But I don’t have much time to stand here, staring at a House Beautiful workspace. Scott will be home in two hours. And duck l’orange is not an easy dish for even one so seasoned as I.
Is it odd that I love French food yet Chinese blood runs through my veins? Hmm. Perhaps if I’d been raised on the soil my mother trod, I would know more of the cuisine of the Asian world. I might even be privy to which province most suits me.
I should visit China.
Did I just think that?
I can’t visit China. Daddy, that blessed preacher man, would be hurt if I went in search of a mother who was never Momma. Of a woman who took one look at me, then left me bawling on a doorstep in the dead of night.
Then again, Daddy has Zelda these days.
Now, Zelda, there’s a woman who follows every fancy. What a strange little bird she is. Those fiery red spikes in her hair make me think of either a surprised woodpecker or the recipient of an errant lightning bolt. When she smiles, her whole face turns upward. I hear we have that in common. I wish I could remember seeing a smile on my face. But when I’m alone, with a mirror reflecting the mystery of me, it isn’t a smile that comes to bear. Besides, what kind of lady wears spurs on her cowboy boots? Honestly, spurs! Why, one of these days she will rip a gash in Daddy’s ankle while they’re do-si-doing and twirling around the Heartland dance floor.
I assume that’s what happens inside that wretched place. How Kendra and Tandy spend Friday nights there is beyond me. To each her own, I suppose. Though my own will never involve cowboy boots and a twanging fiddle.
Do fiddles twang?
Maybe I meant guitar.
No matter. I have a duck to prepare.
* * *
“Did you see her?” Kendra tripped over the uneven sidewalk and grabbed Tandy’s arm. Cold gusts of wind beat at them, bringing snatches of icy rain below the sidewalk’s covering.
“Hey, watch it, sister!”
“Sorry.” She kept walking, shooting a murderous look back at the beguiling concrete. “We need to bring up sidewalk maintenance at the next town meeting.”
Tandy patted the coffee-colored hand still crooked in her elbow. “Now, Kendra, don’t be getting all drastic on me. Can you imagine what poor Tanner would do if we dared question the maintenance of our fair Stars Hill?”
“Huh.” Kendra huffed and let go of Tandy to stuff her hands in her pockets. “Probably remind us of all he’s done to keep this town in antique replica street lights and ten o’clock curfews.”
“At least the curfews are gone.”
They pulled their hoods up and stepped down from the sidewalk to cross College Street.
“I wonder how many times Daddy would have had to bail us out if they had that curfew when we were in high school?”
Tandy tucked a curl behind her ear and took long strides toward Clay’s Diner. “I seem to recall a certain sister needing bailed out anyway.”
“There was no bail involved. Just a minor misunderstanding.”
“That the whole town talked about for months.” Tandy grinned and pulled open the door of the diner. Heated air billowed out a welcome. “After you, Con Woman.”
“Yeah, keep it up, sis. I can always bring up improper car racing at the next town meeting.” Kendra sailed through the entry, ignoring Tandy’s, “You wouldn’t!” and hung her dripping coat on one of the hooks by the door.
Tandy sloughed off her own navy pea coat and stamped her yellow rain boots. “Would you?”
Kendra spun on a heel and walked off toward “their” booth in the back corner. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“There’s my darling wife!” Clay Kelner came around the counter toward them.
Kendra rolled her eyes and snatched up a menu. “Oh, spare me. Shouldn’t the newlywed bliss have worn off by now?”
“What are you upset about?” Clay allowed a quick glance for his sister-in-law, then bent and dropped a peck on Tandy’s upturned lips. “Are you and Darin fighting?”
“Yes.” Tandy leveled a gaze at her sister. “Because Kendra is too busy spying on Joy to pay attention to her man and get their wedding planned.”
“Joy? The perfect one? Mrs. Plan-Everything-to-Death?” Clay’s eyebrows rose. “Why are you spying on Joy?”
“Because something’s wrong and I’m the only one in this family paying attention, that’s why.” Kendra slapped the menu on the table top. “And wedding plans are coming along fine, thank you very much.”
“Sure you’re not being your dramatic self?” Clay fast-stepped back before Kendra could swat him. “Lovable dramatic self, I meant!”
“Ha ha. Very funny.” Kendra pointed the menu at Clay, then Tandy. “You laugh now, but something’s up and we need to find out what before it gets so bad we can’t fix it.”
1“Well, can we at least get some food first?” Tandy snatched the menu and put it back in its holder. “I can’t think on an empty stomach.”
Both girls nodded and Clay turned back toward the kitchen.
When he’d gone, Kendra studied her sister. “Tandy, I know you think I’m nuts. But did you not see her at Darnell’s? I mean, she stood over that display of oranges for at least a full minute, just staring into space!”
“Yeah, I saw her, Ken.” Tandy sighed. “But you know Joy. She’s not going to appreciate us marching up into her house and demanding to know what’s wrong.”
“She wouldn’t care if Meg did it.” Kendra sniffed.
“Yes, she would. And she’s closer to Meg because this is exactly the kind of thing Meg wouldn’t do.”
Kendra huffed and turned away. Rain sluiced down the windows, making the streetlights outside sparkle. Inside, every table was filled with Stars Hill townfolk happily spooning up chili and vegetable soup. If we don’t figure this out soon, they will. And then Joy will be the talk of the town2. She pulled out her cell phone and punched buttons.
“Who are you calling?”
“Meg.” Her faux ruby ring glinted in the light when she held up a finger to stop Tandy’s objection. “Hey, Meg, it’s Kendra. Tandy and I are at the diner and wondered if you could drop by. Call me as soon as you get this.” She snapped the phone closed and dropped it back in her giant suede bag, now splashed with raindrops.
“And what will that accomplish?”
“We’re going to have Meg talk to Joy about this.”
“Since when can we get Meg to do anything? Did you discover some magic wand I don’t know about?”
Kendra pushed her mahogany-colored spirals back into the burgundy headwrap from which they’d escaped. “She’s been wanting me to paint a mural on Hannah’s wall for a month. I think she’ll do just about anything to get it done.”
Tandy leaned back in the seat and whistled low. “Remind me never to underestimate you, sister.”
Kendra stopped fixing her hair and leveled a stare at Tandy. “You better believe it.”