Bad Counsel (conclusion)
She drives the Ford with her feet off the pedals, letting it roll by itself inch by inch, backing it around the tight corner, edging past the purple Audi. She’s being laughed at. The two men point and backhand each other in the gut. But this is as safe as she feels, driving someone else’s car, work at which she remains inexperienced.
When the customer has left them alone, Andrée comes up to the booth.
“Buel? Can I move in with you?”
Now she 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 see whole, had come prodding the corner of her eye a couple of days ago, when Sam brought Melody.
It hurts to be Buel’s idea of a joke, when she had been herself…
Not just serious. Andrée is foundering. Buel is the only friend she really has. She had thought he might at least like her.
He had, at least, stopped himself. Tried backtracking, before she turned and walked off the lot.
“No, Andy, look. It’s complicated…”
She stands on the other side of the highway, and stares at his 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 had dropped beside her on the sofa. “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?”
Thanksgiving weekend, they took 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…Pip and Squeak, according to Uncle Sam. Karen and Andrée. The weather was in the 70s. They ate turkey fried on the beach by a friend of Sam and Shelley’s, who brought his oil drum fryer and a long electric cord, and 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 the strand in bare feet and rolled up pants, alone―kept making little comments, nudging her into a relationship with Sam…that Shelley, for one, seemed to find an imposition. Although she smiled at the new daughter-figure. She was kind.
So I’ve looked at it the wrong way, Andrée tells herself. I was feeling sorry for Mom. But maybe Sam never asked her if she would sell to him. 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 when they meet. 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 that Sam can have cheated on Shelley. It had to be 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 wisdom conventional, 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 in the little house.
Climbing the hill, she passes a garden. This house is painted burgundy, trim teal. Its gables are fairy-tale Gothic. It’s like a ski chalet in the middle of an organic lawn, a lawn that shimmers with bees. Buzzing waves 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 remembers a book she bought at the Miller’s yard sale. A woman lived in a tent, grew vegetables, 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. It’s what he says: “Land is good. People you don’t want on a piece of property.”
If she tells Leo her plan, he’ll let her, she thinks. Andrée being Andrée…crack this line of his and laugh, and he won’t care if 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. Mrs. Miller is waving from the window.
Andrée waves back. She feels embarrassed again.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)