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October 10th, 2019 - 09:10 AM
Spring for flirting but fall for the untamed delicious wild thing.
― Elizabeth Cohen, The Hypothetical Girl
The dusty air had died down since last night's rain following a long drought that turned the grasses brown and crunchy. In the wind, October leaves clattered like corn flakes poured from a box into a bowl. Brick Wilson, single father of three, and Annette Wier, single mother of four, stood at the pasture gate under a changeable sky, the sun playing hide and seek with small fluffed clouds. Annette wore a flannel shirt untucked into her jeans, and under that, a scoop-necked red skinny t. Even after giving birth four times, she remained the All-American girl--blonde hair, worn down today with a red ribbon. Just beneath her pretty surface, anyone could see the suffering she carried. She cocked her head as if she were curious about every word that fell from Brick's sensual lips. And the sadness lived deep in her eyes. Bruce was a carbon copy of his dad, about four inches taller than his father.
While Olivia was still up in her room, having been diagnosed with the flu and bronchitis too, the children spent every afternoon at the Wiers. Annette had to be one laid back woman to welcome three extra kids into her home every day. And she was. While losing her husband after he fell from the barn roof and broke his neck had thrown her into a year-long depression two years ago, she had functioned--barely, but she went on with a few months of help from her mother from out of town. What choice did she have? she asked herself.
The Wier and the Wilson kids already liked each other, dating back to their first outing at the anvil shoot with Bruce and Olivia. Annette was dropping them off at Brick's for dinner, and ran into Bruce striding in from the field. Their body posture frequented by laughs from him and giggles from her told Olivia, who was watching, transfixed, through the branches of the old oak tree from her bedroom window, that they were flirting.Annette's hand was on her hip in an open stance, and Bruce leaned on the fence, relaxed and looking good in his own jeans and muddy manly boots.
The kids stay outdoors, tearing around under the trees with two basketballs and a few attempts at bagging the hoop on the garage. Annette's two younger girls, Beth, 6, and Clementine, 4, sat in the grass, intent on a stone and two sticks, batting the stone around on a bare spot on Earth, just as if they were garbage heap kids in the developing world who play with whatever's there. Little ones are bright to pick natural toys that demand their imagination. All their play is work and learning.
Look, Annette was saying to Brick, why don't all of you guys come over for a picnic tomorrow night? We have a picnic table and a big old stone fire pit he built just before he died. What can we bring? asked Brick, with more than a little interest. First, Brick, bring Olivia if she's well enough. If not, we'll send some food home for her. And um, I guess you could bring some potatoes. We'll roast them in the pit. If you think to prick them a couple of times and wrap them in some foil, that'd be perfect. Should it be the heavy duty stuff? Yup, if you have it. Come at 6: I'll have Bruce start the fire early, and we'll try to eat by 7:30. The kids won't mind waiting if they're together. We'll make snickerdoodles, okay?
Yay! Snickerdoodles! cheered nine-year-old Howard from the hoop. Can I bring my basketball? Of course! said Annette. In case they thought no one was listening. In all of the conversations between the children and their parents, and now between Brick and Annette, no one dared utter the name of Arlene Wilson, the mom who wasn't there anymore. Everyone knew without being told that by speaking her name they would unbury a terrible secret.