Tess had her mother’s hazel eyes, sharp nose, and chin. But she was tall, like her father. Until things turned out as they had, Angie considered it the only good thing the sixteen-year-old had inherited from his side. .
Tess had been back for eight months. Angie left little gifts on her bed and bought her favorite ice cream even when it wasn’t on sale. And she tried to be home more, turning down extra shifts at the restaurant and cutting short evenings with Dan. She shrugged when he complained: “Shouldn’t The Princess be the one with a 10 p.m. curfew?”
Angie knew she’d have to tell Tess soon. They’ll get used to each other, she told herself.
The girl was up early on this Saturday and had even said good morning as Angie headed out on errands. And it had been a good morning. The debit card went through at the grocery store—no awkwardness at the checkout deciding whether to leave the eggs or the coffee—and the Pontiac got there and back without making that scary choking sound. And she had found a yard sale on Furnace Street before everything was picked over.
Don’t break, don’t break, Angie thought. The plastic bags in her hands stretching ever thinner, Angie bumped the apartment door open with her elbow.
“Tess, couldn’t you hear your old mother dragging all this up the stairs?”
“No, didn’t.” Tess texted on the couch. “And don’t be dramatic. You’re not that old, Angie.”
Lippy. So much for her good mood. Angie dug into a bag, pulled out a battered paperback, and tossed it. This should help. “I stopped at a sale and found you a history book. You like history.”
Tess picked the book up—My Pioneer Life by Flora York—and opened the faded cover. Yellow pages fell out.
“Can’t believe a teenager is interested in such boring stuff.”
“I already have this book.” Tess looked up. “Grandpa gave it to me.”
The girl went to her bedroom and returned with a copy bound in leather with gold lettering. She handed it to her mother.
Angie flipped through, slapping the pages back. She saw a watercolour of a cabin with a swayback roof, another of blue wildflowers and inside the back cover Al’s obituary and photographs of the lanky, scowling farmer himself. Angie stopped at one. A curling picture of him with a spaniel. Al had shot that dog when it got old and sick, just as he had shot himself six months ago.
“When did he give you this?” she said pushing the book away.
“While I was at the farm, for Christmas the year he got sick.”
The farm. Old Al’s two hundred acres north of town. It was finally sold and even though it was the end of more than a century in the family, Angie was glad.
All of that with the lawyer and the real estate people had been hard on her, dragging her back where she didn’t want to go. To a summer years ago and to a swing in an oak tree where she straddled Al’s son Phil and they kissed. To the gap-toothed barn, the field with the wild orange lilies, and everywhere else they had humped. Back to the big blue kitchen where she and Phil had told Al about the baby, where he said they couldn’t possibly raise a kid, and to give it up. And to the front porch; the last place she had seen Phil. Standing with a knee cocked and his hands in his pockets, he had watched her go south back to town one night. Then he drove north.
“Flora York, the woman who wrote this, was amazing,” Tess said, “She was a teenager when she got married and had a baby. Then her husband died. She married his brother because there wasn’t anyone else to help her. But he owed money, so they had to leave England. They built a cabin and cleared land just west of here.”
“Maybe there’ll be a movie someday.” Hell, there should be a movie about my life, Angie thought. .
“Grandpa said I was a pioneer like she was. She started over and made a new life. So could I.”
“And you’ll have that new life. Eventually.” Angie told her daughter. “But for now, you have this life and your ice cream is melting in the bag. You’ve made me forget what else I got.”
She pulled out a cookbook. Easy Family Dinners had greasy fingerprints and red stains on the cover. “I found this at the yard sale too. It’s for Dan so he can keep us well fed.”
Now’s as good a time as any. “It’ll be nice to have a man around again, to take care of us. Dan says he’ll help with the rent and find me a new car.”
Tess looked away.
Keep going. “Dan cares about you.”
“Like the last guy did? He’s why I went to Grandpa’s.”
One afternoon two years ago, Old Al had called Angie and told her not to worry. Tess was at the farm. Had just shown up. Angie couldn’t remember what she said to Al after that, only what he did.
“For God’s sake, are you still picking the wrong men?”
“Tess says the creep you’ve got now—Matt something—steals from you and knocks you around. You bad off to put up with it? Get rid of him!”
“I’ll help you. You can come here.”
“Those are excuses, woman.”
“Wrong, it is my business. My granddaughter is my business. I’ve been helping since she was born. You cash my cheque every month.”
“It’s not safe there. She wants to move here and she can. For as long as she needs, and ‘til you come to your senses.”
“She says she’s not happy. Afraid of that guy of yours.”
“You sure? Sure he hasn’t scared her? Has he touched her? Has he? I’ll kill him.”
“So it’s his word over your kid’s?”
“You’ve made your choice. Live with it. Tess will stay here.”
Angie had thrown the phone across the kitchen and screamed; she recalled that much. Al had her kid. Taken her because he had paid for her and he wanted her, needed her now that he was old and alone. Tess didn’t cook or clean or drive if that’s what he was expecting. And she’d hate living out there. She’d be back and everything would work out. Matt would stop.
“Dan’s not like that. All that won’t happen again.” She has to believe me.
Tess pulled the book in her arms closer. “Why does he have to move in? Just date him.”
“I need his help. There’s not much left after rent, the bills, food, and keeping the wreck on the road.”
“You sound desperate.”
How dare you! “What about the pioneer woman in that book of yours? She married her brother-in-law and did what she had to do to survive. So she’s ‘amazing’ and me—your own mother—I’m ‘desperate?”
“You don’t need a man like she did a hundred years ago.”
“Enough, Tess. I love Dan. It’s Dan now.”
“Don’t let him move in.”
What a selfish kid. “Do you want me to have no one, nothing? Your father took off and, let’s be straight, you’ve already left me. You only came back when the old man got cancer.”
“Shut up! Grandpa made me leave. He was so sick he didn’t know what he was doing. If I had stayed, he wouldn’t have killed himself.”
“What about everything I’ve done for you? I started over for you. But it’s nothing compared to what he’s given you, is it? Just like that crap paperback.”
“I’ve got nowhere to go now!”
Poor you. “All you gotta do is scrape by with me for a little longer. Just two more years. Then, when you turn eighteen, it’ll all be yours. Your grandfather left you everything. A million and a half bucks from the sale of the damn farm.”
By Karen Walker
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