Preppy: The Life & Death of Samuel Clearwater, Part Two

Page 5


Ray cocked her head to the side. "Yeah, like the one and only," she said, covering her suspicious reaction with another smile.
“Well nice to meet you, Nicole Grace,” Brandon cooed in his best baby voice. He shook the baby’s hand with his thumb.
“I’m so sorry. I should have introduced the two of you,” I apologized. “I’ve just got a lot on my mind right now, and it seems that my manners didn’t make the list.”
“No worries,” Ray said taking a stroll about the room, checking out the bare walls and low-hanging wood beams that ran across the ceiling. “I saw the for sale sign in the car. Is this your place? You’re selling it?”
I nodded. “It used to be my grandmothers,” I rocked back on my heels with my hands in my back pockets, happy to be back in the house, even if it was just for a short while.
“It’s beautiful,” Ray said, admiring the view of the backyard through the filthy kitchen window. Even though the place was in shambles, I believed her compliment was genuine, because she was looking around like she could see the house for the place it could be again, and not the place it was. “I’ll keep my ears open, and if I hear about anyone who's looking to buy, I’ll send them your way,” she offered.
“Well then I’ll give you the grand tour, so you know what you’ll be sending them too,” I said, leading the way down the hall. Ray followed close behind. “Although I will warn you. The house isn’t super big, so it’s going to be a very short tour.” Ray laughed, and so did the baby.
“I’ll go get the rest of the stuff out of the car,” Brandon said, heading out the front door.
“My grandfather built this house," I said. "It’s three bedrooms and two bathrooms although I know it doesn't look it from the outside." I opened the first hallway door. “This used to be my room.” Ray peeked her head inside, and I shut the door again. There would be plenty of time for me to sit and stare at the strawberry wallpaper and faded yellow curtains and I didn’t want to break out in tears in front of my guest.
“You used to live here, too?” Ray asked.
“Only during the summers when I was a kid. This visit is the first time I’ve been here in years though.” I showed her the bathroom in the hallway and Mirna’s old room before opening the door at the end of the hall. The mechanics of the former grow house might have been long gone, but the signs that it was once there were all around. The hooks in the ceiling. The nails in the walls where the pipes were connected.
“So that’s how you know, Preppy,” Ray lamented, taking a look around the room.
“Yeah, sort of,” I admitted.
“When you came to the house, you really didn’t know Preppy was alive, did you?” Ray asked.
“It was the shock of a lifetime,” I admitted. “I still can’t believe it.” I closed the door and led us back out to the kitchen. I touched my hand to my throat, feeling the swollen markings left by Preppy's hands.
I opened the sliding glass door to the backyard. Between the boards of the faded wooden deck, weeds grew from underneath, creating huge gaps between the panels. The lawn where Mirna taught me to meditate was grown over, having merged with the field behind it at some point. A train whistled in the distance.
“Well,” Ray said, mulling over my answer. She set the baby in front of her on the counter and smiled down at the adorable chubby-cheeked infant. "That was one hell of a tour."
I looked down at the baby who had stuck one of Ray’s fingers in her mouth and was gnawing away on it with her gums. “May I?” I asked hesitatingly, holding out my arms.
“Oh, of course,” Ray said, picking Nicole Grace off the counter and setting her in my arms. My chest constricted, and I felt as if I couldn’t breathe. She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
“You must just stare at her all day long, right?” I asked as I cradled the little girl in my arms.
“Yes, her daddy too. We’re tired, but it’s totally worth it” Ray said. "They all are." She pushed back a tiny lock of baby-soft hair from Nicole's little head. “Do have any?”
I shook my head. “No. I learned a while back that I can’t have kids.”
“I’m sorry,” Ray offered. She must have sensed that I didn’t want to talk about it anymore because she quickly changed the subject.
“I’ve got a few errands to run now," Ray said. "But how about we get together later on this afternoon after I pick the kids up from school and drop them off with King? We can have ourselves some girl talk. I only have Thia, Bear's old lady and she's pregnant. I can't tell you how tired I am of talking about diaper genies and boppy pillows."
“That sounds great,” I said.
“You need any help with all this?” Ray asked, looking around the house to the peeling wallpaper and cracked drywall. “King and Bear are about as handy, and they come, and Bear has an arsenal of guys that would be willing to help for as little as a few beers.”
I reluctantly handed Ray back her baby and walked them out the open front door. Ray carefully navigated her way down the rickety front steps. I glanced over at my helper who was still struggling to get the FOR SALE sign out of the hatchback of the rental car. “You know, Ray. I might just take you up on that,” I said with a smile that she returned.
“Good, cause that boy over there is cute and all, but he looks like the type that wouldn’t know a hammer if it fell from a shelf and smacked him on top of the head.”
“Unfortunately, that’s very true,” Brandon huffed, after finally freeing the sign. The collar and armpits of his dress shirt were saturated with dark circles of perspiration.
“Oh, shit, I almost forgot the main reason I stopped over. I swear these little ones give me the biggest case of mom-brain sometimes,” Ray said, speed walking over to the old Ford truck parked on the edge of the lawn. She reached in through the open window of the passenger seat and returned with a folded piece of paper. “I was thinking about what Preppy said earlier? The thing about you being his wife?”
“It was just something he said in confusion,” I repeated the same reasoning I’d given her that morning.
“No, I don’t think that’s it,” Ray argued, unfolding the page and handing it to me. It was a photocopy of the marriage certificate I’d made for Preppy. I shook my head. “No, you don’t understand. This paper is just something I made up. It’s a fake. All the signatures. The witnesses. All forged,” I explained, pulling the paper down from my face to find Ray staring back at me like she was not convinced. “It was something Preppy needed when he was trying to get custody of King's daughter; it’s not even real. There was no wedding. No minister. No nothing. It’s...not real,” I repeated the same words in an effort to get my point across.