Leslie drops the skillet when she sees Tara treading up the road through her kitchen window. They have not seen each other since the wedding three years before, when Tara confused love with obligation and tied herself to a man she grew up with and dated all through high school. It was expected on both sides, though Tara’s family felt more strongly about it, more obliged. Spence really hadn’t been with anyone else either. It just seemed a match too logical and meant-to-be to question. Leslie wasn’t thinking about any of that, though, as she watched Tara round the corner and park, eager to hold her, feel her warmth once again.
“It’s about time!” Leslie yells at the car, not waiting for Tara to exit. They exchange excited grins and hug the long embrace of two hearts separated far too long.
“I brought you something,” Tara announces. She reaches inside the car, and there on the back seat, curled in a tight little ball lay a tiny pup, chestnut brown with gold tinges at the face and ears. “My dog Junie’s pup,” Tara whispers, so as not to startle it. “The only one I’m able to part with so far—and only for you.”
Leslie gently scoops her up like a proud new parent. She’s had only the company of itinerant cats since she moved here, and she’d never seriously considered living with a dog.
“She has no name,” Tara says. “You get to decide that. I told my vet to just write down “Leslie” in her file. She’s been vaccinated, though, and she’s healthy, too – just a little scared right now, venturing so far from what she knows.”
The two exchange another round of hugs and endearing smiles and leave the bags in the car for later. Tara is anxious to see Leslie’s new place, hear about her life. So much can change in three years with the perpetual motions of the universe, but nothing substantive in lives so fully rooted in devotion.
“Spence is fine—I knew you were about to ask.” Tara slips out of her over-shirt as Leslie escorts her proudly from room to room like a museum docent, pointing out things she has acquired and displayed, and for what purpose. It is a small house, but Tara finds it immediately comfortable and inviting. The room Leslie has set aside for Tara was pulled together from memory: yellow curtains and duvet, a green runner rug beside the bed—tiny details that only a kindred heart can intuit.
“Coffee? Let’s brew a big pot,” Leslie says, as they arrive back at the kitchen. Tara returns to the car for her bags while Leslie starts the coffee and makes a cozy pallet in a laundry basket for “Summer”—that’s what she will call her new companion. A wonderful name, she thinks to herself, the sound of perpetual happiness.
At some point, life breaks down into routine and the mundane—or so Tara soon discloses in their conversation. Spence is a good man, easily humored and satisfied with what he’s been dealt. There’s been no pressure for a son or lovely daughter to compete with relatives or friends, Tara affirms. He is exactly as he’d always been, and for this, she is grateful. Living together, she confesses, has really added only one facet to the lives they had led apart—cohabitation.
“Spence is a manager now,” she continues, staring off into nothingness. “They kicked him upstairs after he settled a major labor dispute at the insurance company.”
“That boy is a natural-born referee if there ever was one,” Leslie smiles. She too has known Spence her whole life. He is her brother Tim’s best friend, and spent a lot of time at her house growing up. “Is he happy with it? His new job?” she inquires cautiously. “Of course, you might never know for sure with Spence; he never complains. Unless he’s changed.”
“He’s satisfied. Good money, but more hours. He wants to buy a camp on Lake St. John, someplace to spend our week-ends and vacations. Of course Tim would be there too. He’s a lot like Spence, you know. I never noticed it till Tim married Shayla and the four of us spend so much time together. He wears the same aftershave, same kind of shirts and jeans, watches the same TV shows every night of the week.” Tara pauses again, staring out the window. “Perfectly content with friendship.”
Leslie listens more intently now, something quiet stirring deep within her. Tara retrieves the puppy from its pallet and holds her forth like a chalice. “Summer, huh? I like that. She shall be called Summer all her days—full of life and passion and tender little secrets others can only guess at.” Her smile broadens. “That’s what summer’s all about.” She places the pup upon her lap, exhaling a long slow sigh. “Listen to me go on like a drunken poet. Let’s hear about you. What it’s really like, a life of your own making?”
Leslie shifts in her chair with an odd discomfort. “Fine!” she blurts. “Things are good. I’m teaching for tips every day—and the brats haven’t poisoned or maimed me yet.”
Tara returns Summer to her basket, and Leslie suggests they relocate to the living room sofa. Still uneasy, Leslie finds herself searching for words, something pleasing and light. “I coach the debate team at school this year,” she says at length. “We’re coming to New Orleans in October to compete—Lincoln High. Can you believe it?”
Tara tosses her fiery mane, smiling, and asks about the kind of things kids debate these days. “Politics? Religion? Sex?”
They have a round earnest laugh, recalling the tame topics of their day, which helps to put Leslie more at ease. She still cannot reconcile the disquiet, the arousal she felt when Tara spoke of Spence and Tim earlier. Something rather cryptic—in her tone.
Then suddenly, and in words shrill as a winter bell, Tara announces: “Spence and I are separating.” One minute, laughter, the next, numbness. “I’m so sorry, Les,” Tara quickly adds. “I didn’t mean to upset things. I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.”
The announcement resonates. Leslie has no poised and polished reaction for such news, no stock response. It feels as if some childhood truth has just been negated—along the lines of Santa Claus or leprechauns—revealed to be nothing more than a fanciful tale.
“Are you sure about this?” Leslie asks, utterly unsure of anything herself at the moment.
Tears swell and hold, then slowly trail down Tara’s handsome face until they quietly dissipate. “That’s it,” Tara whispers. “I have no tears left. They’re all used up.” Uncertain, she reaches for Leslie’s hand and finds instead the warm accepting arms of one whose heart is constant. Leslie pulls her close, gently tracing the graceful curves of her slender back, the sleek lines of an accomplished swimmer had she been inclined.
“Do you remember the summer we spent on my uncle’s farm?” Tara whispers at length, settling her head upon Leslie’s lap. “We rode those horses through the fields and woods, wild as the wind that spurred us.” Leslie listens quietly, smiling. “’The Thunderbirds’, we called ourselves, ‘Sisters of the Sun’. Do you remember, Les? And we made our solemn pact with one another.”
Memories rush forth now, too many and too strong for Leslie to ignore. “Yes. You were Goddess Tara, Keeper of the Seasons, and I was Goddess Leslie, Savior of Lost Hearts.
“Pretty sophisticated stuff for eleven-year-olds, don’t you think?” Tara responds, wistfully.
Leslie’s eyes pan the room, eventually lighting upon the painting that hangs over her mantel, upon the haunting smiles on the women’s faces in the picture. She stares transfixed, as if she’s finally unveiled their secret meaning. “We made other promises, too,” she says at length. “And of course, our secrets.”
Tara stretches her comely body the length of the sofa, nuzzling the tufted pillow she has placed in Leslie’s lap. “Oh, to live that time again. Would you wish it, too, Les?”
Leslie strokes her auburn tresses in gentle even rhythms. She is far too lost in reminiscence to respond immediately, and when she finally does, it comes more as revelation than memory. How could she not see at eleven years of age what is so clear to her now? She has studied this face, these eyes, heard this voice nearly her entire life. She knows Tara’s ways, her thoughts, her feelings. But now, as if from some hermetic vein, an ancient urge awakens. She remembers that summer, and all the other summers of their lives, and it is suddenly, strangely not enough.
The air swells and undulates in waves warm as the coming solstice. Few words need now be spoken—hearts, eyes, touch convey it. And here they remain through the haunting night, entwined in tender knowing.
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Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice
Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice