Bad Counsel: conclusion (short story)
When the customer has left them alone, she comes up to the booth.
“Buel? Can I move in with you?”
Now Andrée is passing his house, on foot. She finds herself caught at the trailing edge of a revelation. Not a good one. The picture, vivid enough to be seen whole, had come prodding the corner of her eye a couple of days ago, when Sam brought Melody. It was painful to be Buel’s idea of a joke, when she’d been herself…not just serious. Andrée is foundering. Buel is the only friend she really has. She’d thought he might at least like her.
He had, at least, stopped himself. He’d tried backtracking, before she’d turned and walked off the lot.
“No, Andy, I mean…”
She stands on the other side of the highway, and stares at the house. What does he do at night, that he doesn’t even want someone around to talk to? For no reason, the motion sensor ticks his porch light on.
Last September, her mother, dropping beside her on the sofa, had asked, “What would you say if I told you Sam Magruder is your father?”
Andrée remembers the moment as both gross and comical. She doesn’t blame Karen for this—maybe, with such a topic, there is no optimal broaching, no way to keep the brain-smiting imagery at bay.
“God, Mom, who cares?” she’d answered.
Thanksgiving weekend, they’d taken a trip to South Carolina. A condo Leo was selling. He wasn’t along. Three bedrooms and a sleeping porch, Sam and his wife Shelley, Melody and her kids. Karen and Andrée. The weather had been in the 70s. They’d eaten turkey fried on the beach by a friend of Sam and Shelley’s, who’d brought his oil drum and a long electric cord, and who talked through dinner about people the Magruders knew. Melody took her kids places. A water park, a zoo.
Andrée could not have foreseen the misery. It might have been fun. She never gets to go to the beach. The Magruders are okay people. She didn’t catch on why her mother―who had honest-to-goodness attended a seminar during this vacation, leaving Andrée to splash along the strand in bare feet and rolled up pants, alone―had kept making little comments, nudging her into a relationship with Sam…that Shelley, for one, seemed to find impositional. Although she smiled at the new daughter-figure. She was kind.
So I’ve looked at it the wrong way, Andrée tells herself. I wanted to feel sorry for Mom. But Sam never asked her if she would sell him the house. Some ache that seems to emanate from Andrée’s jaw and the back of her neck, produces a searing flush, one she can feel rise in her cheeks. She pictures her mother saying to Sam:
“I need her out of the house.”
Words as blunt as that.
Sam and his wife seem to Andrée too grooved in together. They come to decisions like strollers calling to each other from opposite sides of a wall, joining hands at last when they reach the end. All this dull ordinariness, this enviable life of friends and travels, comfortable profits from “labors of love”—Sam’s words, his idea about the houses he builds…all this makes Andrée doubt very much that Sam can have cheated on Shelley. It would have been Leo. Leo’s divorced; he wouldn’t have a problem. He wouldn’t anyway.
She sees it, though. The phrasing of her mother’s question calculated, not comic. What would you say if…
Leo’s fatherly advice to Andrée would be: “You oughta live while you’re young enough to enjoy it. Don’t worry so much.” He’s told her this already. Sam, doling more conventional wisdom, would do a better job. And since Andrée won’t listen to her, Karen would like her to hear it from a man. From Dad.
She does hear it: “Take whatever work you can get, hon. Find someone to bunk in with. Save your money for a few years. Things’ll get better.”
She knows this; she just isn’t sure she can do it. Losing twice every day, taking crap at some dismal job; crap at home from some online match—“Roommate needed, ASAP.”
She’s been at peace for months and months now, happy at the little house.
Climbing the hill, she passes a garden. This house is painted burgundy; its trim, teal. Its gables are high-pitched, fairy-tale Gothic. At the top of each, a little gingerbread fillip. The house is like a ski chalet in the middle of an organic lawn, a lawn that shimmers with bees. Bees that buzz over swaths of dandelion and clover. And the earth is rich, black loam, new-tilled. They will have planted the lettuces, the radishes, the peas.
For the second time on this trudge home, she stops and stares at someone else’s. The stakes are in. The shoots are emerald green. The mailbox says Miller. By the late summer, the Millers will have a sign out: TAKE WHAT YOU WANT. They love this garden so much, they grow rows and rows of vegetables they can’t use.
Andrée once bought a book at the Miller’s yard sale. For ten cents…a true book, not a novel. A woman lived in a tent, grew vegetables, and bartered to get her old farmhouse fixed. She didn’t have a job. The people she met were nice. They helped. They cared.
You could buy a tent at a yard sale, Andrée thinks. Leo has other properties, besides his rentals he flips. He says: “Land is good. It’s people you don’t want on a piece of property.” If she tells him her plan, he’ll let her. He’ll laugh, and he won’t care if he thinks she’s bidding for charity. He’ll be curious to see how it comes out.
She wonders if Buel has loaded her debit card. She wonders if he can just unload it, when he gets a peeve at her. Mrs. Miller is waving from the window. Andrée waves back. She feels embarrassed again.
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)