Writing in Public, Story 6, Scene 10
Randy waited on the sidewalk outside the Chandler house for Nikki. Two yards over, one of the neighbors steered a noisy riding mower over the lawn, perfuming the air with summer grass. Wouldn’t be more than a month before the cold would set in, and Randy would lose all the delicious summer scents. Fall had its own flavors, but he didn’t like them as much.
Puff ball tail quivering, Molly snuffled around in the grass. Randy had tied off the leash on the mail box post. Molly was working her way into wrapping the entire leash around the pole.
A car pulled up at the curb and Nikki got out. She slammed the door a little harder than necessary. She smiled and her wave was friendly, but her mouth was tight with tension.
Molly scampered over, recognizing a friend, tail wagging. She barked twice.
“She’s barking because you’re wearing a cat shirt,” Randy said.
Nikki looked down at the shirt. The cat’s eyes were that clear, bright blue of summer. “I like both cats and dogs.”
“She just said, ‘no accounting for taste,'” Randy said.
Nikki laughed, which lightened her face. She knelt, giving Molly a vigorous rub.
“Is everything all right?” Randy asked. He wasn’t sure how much to ask, since everyone else seemed to want to meddle and he just wanted to be a friend.
She sighed and he thought she might have told him then and there, but she changed her mind. “I’m fine. Have you been inside?”
Randy had to think about that. He’d been all around it while it was being built, but the rift with the Chandlers happened soon after the completion of the house.
“No. Your aunts never invited me in,” he said.
Though they had liked Molly, they’d never let Randy go past the edge of the grass. He wished he knew what had come between the Chandlers and the Southworths. His generation had speculated that it was over something silly, and there were all kinds of stories, some quite fanciful…a Chandler woman had an affair with a Southworth woman…ownership rights over a pillowcase…how a Southworth played a piano…the cost of a horse.
He mentally shook his head. The problem with the family being so long-lived that time changed the memories, but could leave the anger intact.
Nikki gave him another smile, this time losing the tension. “Then I’ll invite you in. Will Molly be okay out here? Someone won’t steal her, will they?”
Randy snorted. “We barely have a crime rate. Mostly drunk and stupid…sometimes both.”
He let her go into the house first. Though he wouldn’t say it aloud, he was afraid. Would the house let him in? There’d been stories about that, too, and he wasn’t sure if it was a product of the feud or fact.
He stopped in the doorway, waiting for his eyes adjust to the dimness inside. The stone walls woke to his presence, tentative, curious. Underneath the dust and the mildew, he caught another smell—old cooking oil. It awoke a memory of him when he was a boy, standing next to the wood-burning stove while his mother cooked a winter stew, warmth wrapping around him.
Randy stepped inside the entrance way. The warmth became a buzz of energy. Coming from upstairs. From the portal room.
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