A Different VoiceChapter 2
Bud was upstairs in Becky's room, when I came in, sitting in the rocker with her. I watched them from the doorway. Becky was trying to put her fingers up Bud's nose and he was catching them in his mouth. Growling and pretending to bite. Becky was giggling so hard she could hardly catch her breath.
Completely wrapped up in each other. They probably didn't even know I was there.
I'm glad I could give her to Bud. That's what I did-she came out of my body, but I think she's totally Bud's, heart, mind, and soul.
I imagine sometimes what it will be like once she learns to walk and use the toilet. I have the feeling he won't tell her no very much. She'll run after him everywhere. Mutt and Jeff. No reason for them to be apart. And neither one of them will need me for anything after that.
"I'm going to start supper," I said, and turned to go downstairs.
"Yes," I said and turned back to him.
He nodded. "That's good." And for once when he looked at me, I didn't know what the look on his face meant. Didn't know whether he loved her, hated her, missed her……Nothing I'd seen before.
I waited. Finally he said, "Don't go to a lot of trouble. We can eat leftovers."
"The ham that's in the fridge," I said, "and some potatoes."
He frowned, but not because of the potatoes. I knew he wanted to say something else to me, but I didn't know what it was, and he couldn't get it out.
It was while I was peeling potatoes that it came to me where I'd seen her, why she looked familiar.
Bud went up to bed early, just after Becky. I stayed downstairs for a while, trying to decide what to do. He was still awake when I got in on my side of the bed. I couldn't lay down, I sat and looked at him.
"You keep her picture. In your drawer. I see it every time I put your socks away."
He closed his eyes for a minute, then took a deep breath. "Yeah."
"Were you in love with her?"
He didn't answer right away. He had to think. "She didn't want anything serious. She saw other guys---"
I interrupted him. "I wasn't asking about her. I'm only interested in you."
He closed his eyes again for a minute, and when he opened them again, they were bleak. "It doesn't matter. She was playing me the whole time. Pretending." He took my hand.
"Why did you kill her husband?"
He had to think about that, too. "Did you see the scars on her face?" I nodded. "He cut her up. I think maybe because of me. She said he'd kill her the next time, and I figured she was right."
"So you went after him." He nodded. "I don't understand. You were a cop, right? It was your job to go after guys like that."
He sat up and scooted back against the headboard. "You're not gonna let this go, are you?"
I shook my head.
"It's not a big deal. She…..was scared, and she thought if she could get me to hang around, she'd be safer. So……she pretended to be interested in me." There was that look again that I couldn't interpret. He looked down at our fingers twined together. "And I fell for it."
"Are you still in love with her?"
"Is that what you're worried about?" He pulled me up against his chest and wrapped his arms around me. "Don't worry." He kissed me. "I don't want anybody but you."
"How come you can't just tell me, no, you're not in love with her?"
"OK. No, I'm not in love with her. Can we drop it now?"
"But there's something."
"Jesus, Lynn……it's not that important."
"If it's not important, how come you can't tell me about it?"
He took a big breath and let it out. This one wasn't going to get a quick answer either. I just waited, his hands rubbing my back while he thought.
It surprises me sometimes how much I like laying with my head on his chest. I don't remember ever wanting to do that with anyone else, not even with Benson, in high school. I can hear his heart beating, and when he talks, I can hear the rumble inside while I'm listening to the words; I feel the hair on his chest tickling my cheek, and his arms are snug around me. It's the most comforting feeling I know of, one of the things I couldn't bear to give up---those times when he holds me that way and I can hear his heart, steady and strong.
His voice was low and hesitant when he began talking. "It's just…….I feel……..stupid, I guess. I suppose I mighta been falling for her. See, she fooled me, and I didn't catch it, I took the bait and she just reeled me in. You know?" I heard him swallow, felt it in my bones. "All the stuff we did together, all the things she said…….it was all bullshit." He put a kiss on the top of my head. His arms squeezed me a little tighter. "I liked being with her, but she was just putting up with me to keep me around. When I was making love……" I felt him swallow again before he went on. "……she was pretending. And I bought it. I feel like that makes me as stupid as she said I was."
"She said you were stupid?" I looked at him. I wonder if I looked as outraged as I felt. It was a good thing she wasn't there in the room with us. I could have done more than slap her this time.
He smiled for a second. "As dumb as I look. And when I saw her today……that's how I felt. You know? Like a moron who falls in---who……Ah, shit."
I lay my head back down and thought about that for a few minutes before I said, "You were so quiet. I was afraid you were still in love with her."
"Still in love with somebody who thinks I'm dumb as a box a' rocks? Are you kidding?"
I giggled. He smiled again, but it faded right away. "I didn't wanna tell you because……you don't think I'm stupid. At least that's what you say……."
"I say that because it's true. You're not."
"I guess I just didn't want you to know…….."
If I'd wanted to hurt him right then, it would have been easy. He would have let me. He doesn't protect himself. Not from me anyway. Not from anyone that he cares about, and I'm not sure if he doesn't know how, or if he chooses not to. He leaves himself open to all kinds of pain. It's scary.
He probably didn't protect himself from that bitch when he knew her, either. That's why she hurt him so bad; was still hurting him. I hated her.
I could deal with her. I could keep her away from Bud. I could find out what she wanted. She didn't need to have the chance to hurt him again. I'd decide what to do about Charles later.
"You still have her picture."
"Yeah. I guess I do. We can get rid of it, if you want to. I don't need it."
I shook my head. "I think you should keep it until you don't want it anymore. And there's nothing stupid about loving somebody," I said, and kissed the hollow at the bottom of his breastbone. "She's the stupid one, for letting you go. Now, me-" I rose up and bit at his bottom lip (he likes that). "---I'm smart. I'm never letting you get away." I bit his ear (he likes that, too).
One thing I like about men is, it's pretty easy to tell whether you have their attention. Whether they're interested. You don't have to guess. You always know if you're having any success.
It's usually pretty easy to get Bud's attention. And he's not hard to please; he likes just about everything. But that night I worked a little harder to make sure he didn't think I was pretending.
I wasn't really in the mood for sex. I was worried. I was going around in circles in my mind trying to decide how I was going to make that woman go away and leave us alone, trying to decide what Charles would mean to us. But Bud was tired, he was upset……and I knew nothing I could say would help him as much as a good fuck. He'd feel better afterwards, he always does. I think it makes him feel loved. And he'd be able to sleep.
And I was right. He dropped off almost right away.
The reason I couldn't sleep might have been because I faked mine so he could go ahead…….and I know I could have taken care of it after he went to sleep, but I didn't want to work that hard.
But I think mostly it was fear.
Bud seemed like he felt OK the next day at breakfast. He kissed Becky and said good-bye (actually he said Bye-bye), and Becky grinned her little toothless grin at him until she realized he was leaving. He kissed me and headed toward the door……then stopped with his hand on the doorknob. He turned around and came back, pulled me up out of my chair and kissed me like he hasn't kissed me during the daytime since Becky was born. I dropped the spoon I had in my hand, and put my arms around his neck. Good thing I hadn't put any lipstick on yet, 'cause it would have been all over our faces by the time he was done.
He does like to kiss. Before I met Bud, kissing was in the same category as sex for me---not something you really do for fun---but Bud enjoys it so much, I can't help enjoying it, too. And I know when he kisses me it means something. Well, sometimes it means he's horny, but it means something more than that, too.
If not for Becky, Bud probably would have been late for work. She began with whimpering, then when we didn't stop, she sobbed. She was screaming before we were done. That's why I don't get kissed as much during the day as I did before. Becky doesn't like it.
She cried for a while after Bud left. Before you decide I'm a bad mother, let me say that it doesn't do any good to pick her up before she's decided Bud's not coming back. I've discovered that takes a couple minutes.
I stood at the door and watched him walk out to the old green pickup he bought a few months ago. The sheriff in Arrowhead never found his car, and he said this would be better for work anyway. I think one of the things he liked about it was the clutch was worn, and he could slip it into gear without having to push too hard on the clutch pedal with his left leg.
He still limped a little, more when it rained or he'd been on his feet for a long time, but nothing like when he first came home. Doctor Graham rebroke his leg, and pinned it the way it should be, and it ought to have been healed, but Bud said it still felt weak. He favored it; it didn't get much exercise, and it didn't get stronger like it should have.
I thought Bud was looking for another job, although he hadn't said so. He still worked with Richard, but I knew there'd been words between the two of them. One day a couple of weeks before he came home with a split lip. He wouldn't tell me what the problem was. When I asked him, he muttered, "Fuckin' Richard," and that's all he'd say. Nancy and I stopped talking about the time Bud came home from the mountains, when she decided I was seeing her husband behind her back. So I couldn't ask her.
I finished feeding Becky her breakfast after she calmed down. She and I got along OK when Bud wasn't around.
She had to go with me to visit Roxanne, or Rhonda, or whoever she was. I took a blank check with me just in case money's what she wanted. I had a feeling it wasn't going to be that easy, though.
The West Wind Lodge was a little run-down. At that time of day, the overnight lodgers had gone, so it looked almost deserted. The woman's car was parked in front of number fourteen. I parked next to it.
Charles was inside the car, playing with the steering wheel. I waved at him as I walked up to the door. He watched me knock and wait. Nobody answered my knock.
The boy climbed out the window and up on top of the car. "You just have to wait," he said.
"Mama's busy. You have to wait until she's done."
I walked over and looked up at him. He started jumping on the roof of the car.
"What's she doing?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. But whenever Uncle Ray comes, I have to go out doors and wait. Mama's busy."
"You're a good boy to stay close by."
"I get in trouble if Mama comes out and I'm gone."
I walked back up to the door and pounded on it. When she didn't answer, I pounded again. Again.
The door flew open. "What the hell's going on?" She had a robe pulled around her.
"You asked me to come by and see you," I said. "I'm here. And how much does Charles have to stay outside while you take care of business? What kind of a life is that for a little boy?"
A man walked up behind Roxanne. An ugly man with greasy hair and crooked teeth, but big shoulders and strong arms. He was naked, I suppose he thought that would shock me. "Whatchou want?" he growled. "We're busy."
"Yes, I can see that." I looked right at it, and then up in his face. His eyes narrowed, but he stepped back and reached for a towel.
There was a noise from behind them. A clunk, then the sound of water running from the bathroom………There was a third person in the room.
I didn't want to know about it. "I'll be back after supper. If you want to talk to me, don't be busy. I'm taking Charles with me for the day."
I think if she hadn't had that guy (or guys) there with her, she might have given me a hard time, but she gritted her teeth and didn't say a word.
I don't know for sure she was working, but let me tell you, if she was doing that scummy bastard for free, she was a fool. 'Course, she let Bud go, didn't she? So she might not be Einstein.
"Charles, ask your mother if you can go with me for the day. We'll go have some ice cream."
He looked at his mother; she nodded her head once. He grinned and jumped down on the hood, and then on the ground. I looked at the dents, and said, "Promise me you won't jump on my car, OK?"
He hopped in the front seat, careful to keep his feet away from the baby's basket on the floor. He sat cross-legged while we drove to the Dairy Dreme, content and unworried even though I was the next thing to a complete stranger. It was almost spooky sitting next to him in the car. His hair wasn't cut the same as Bud's, and wasn't the same color, and that made a difference; so maybe if you weren't looking for it, you wouldn't see the resemblance. Now that I'd seen it, I couldn't help but notice every time I looked at him how like Bud he was.
His ice cream disappeared before I was half done. Becky got fussy, so I held her in my lap, put some ice cream on my finger, and gave her a taste. Charles laughed at the expression on her face.
"Doesn't she like ice cream?" he asked.
"She didn't expect it to be cold. Babies usually only eat warm stuff."
He laughed again when she opened her mouth and waited for more. "She's funny looking." He stood up and jumped into the back seat. "Are you sure she's a girl?"
"Yes, she's a girl."
"How do you know? Her hair's pretty short."
I had to think for a minute. "The doctor said she's a girl. Her hair'll grow."
"Maybe the doctor's wrong. I think she's a boy."
"No, her name is Becky. She's got to be a girl." I thought we'd better change subjects. "Would you like to go to my house?" I asked.
"You got anything to play with?"
"We might be able to find something." And we went.
I gave him a tack hammer and some little nails and scrap pieces of wood from Bud's pile, and he hammered a good part of the afternoon, and played with Becky the rest of the time. She was a little wide-eyed and solemn at first but pretty soon she was batting her hands at him and bouncing in her seat. I think they both had fun.
Becky was napping and I was reading to Charles when Bud got home. He was early. He slammed the door, and said, "That's the last time I'm putting up with that. Richard can go fuck himself."
"Bud," I said, "We have company."
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