My head lifts off the pillow just long enough to find the snooze button, and then I plop back down, relishing the feel of sleep cloaking me again in its whispery folds.
“Good morning sweetheart…”
I crack one eye open and squint as the light from the hallway shoots straight into my pupil. “Too bright grandma…” I protest.
I hear the clink of what I assume is a cup and saucer as it lands on my bedside table. “Homemade apricot jam and toast is waiting for you in the dining room.”
I groan in defeat, the aroma of fresh coffee already urging my brain to kick the rest of my body into autopilot. I struggle to a sitting position, push the pillows behind my back and rub my eyes. I let my chin drop onto my chest for a moment before gathering the will to lift both the cup and saucer off the breakfast tray. I stare down at the dark, steaming liquid and contemplate. Why am I awake?
Her voice is quiet, but her words have the kick of a tornado siren wailing in the distance. “Jake will be here in two hours to pick you up. He called a bit ago to make sure you hadn’t taken an early flight back to LA.” My grandmother seems amused. “I told him I didn’t blame him for calling to check after the way you treated him last night.”
Irritation is a papercut jabbing the edges of my feelings. How dare Jake assume I was the kind of person to sneak off like a coward in the face of something I didn’t want to do.
My comforter shifts as Therese sits on the edge of the bed, slides her hand down my arm. “Be kind to the man, Livy. You crushed his dreams last night.”
I frown. The idea of cocky Jake Hurst feeling crushed was a bit incredible. “I’m confident he will have no trouble buying another dream.”
My grandmother laughs softly, shakes her head, makes the silver threads shimmer through her hair. “Oh, honey.” She stands, and I see she’s already dressed. Even when her world imploded nearly a year ago, there was not a wrinkle in her blouse or an accessory out of place. After the funeral, she’d continued to rise and be dressed by eight, but she’d never make it past grandfather’s study. She’d sit in her reading chair for hours, open magazine in her lap, staring into space. It wasn’t until she’d begun visiting the diner and meeting with her bridge friends again that I dared go home to LA. It had been a long couple of months.
“When you’re ready, meet me in the study. There are some things I’d like to show you before you go off with Jake.”
I climb out of bed and stretch, my eyes catching the reflection of a younger Olivia as I look about the room. Therese had updated it a year ago while hanging onto remnants of my past fancies. Case in point, my five-foot stuffed giraffe, Hank, who wears a sequined vest tied around his neck like a scarf.
I tie my wavy hair into a ponytail, swipe mascara and eyeliner onto my lashes and lids, and slip into a pair of jeans and snug white tank-top. Rich loved it when I wore my hair in a ponytail. He said it reminded him of the first time he saw me at college, my hair swishing like a horse’s tail, trotting happily to the marketing class where he’d been sure to snag a seat next to mine, borrowing a pen and paper only to return them a second later with his phone number and a smile that made me feel as though he already knew everything about me there was to know.
I bite my bottom lip and dab on some gloss. I take a photo and text it to Rich, who is probably still asleep on the west coast. He’d texted me late last night from the office, pleased with a deal on a big Malibu property he’d listed. “We’ll celebrate when you get back.”
As promised, a slice of toast smothered in jam is waiting on the dining room table.
I pour more coffee and take my breakfast into the study where Therese is sitting behind the desk, sipping tea and flipping pages in a manila folder.
I breathe deeply and let my grandfather’s presence rest on my for a moment. His room still smelled like leather and old books and him. Therese hadn’t moved a thing as far as I could tell. Even the old riding tack that had once belonged to my great-grandfather that she had been insisting for years belonged in the barn out back, rather than in her house, had remained untouched.
I smile at my grandmother who looks displaced in her husband’s deep leather chair. In front of the bruised look that hasn’t left since grandfather did, there is again a bit of the sparkle I’d witnessed last night with Jake. She scoots a piece of paper toward me, and I recognize it as the deed to the land behind the diner. Parcels around it had belonged to a few other folks at one time or another, but my grandfather had absorbed them over the years—mostly as a favor to the owners who had given up their dreams of an enterprise. The very last parcel was the location of Sam’s equine camp. My grandfather had purchased this too, but the exchange had been in name only. Sam still had a stable and cabin there as well as a few horses.
Next to the documents is a photo of Sam, me and my grandfather. The two men stand on either side of me as I sit proudly atop my horse. I look about thirteen there. That was the first summer I’d gone on an overnight trail ride through the bluffs with Sam and about five other kids. Behind us is the log cabin where the kids from out of town would stay for the week. Some kids were there because they loved horses and wanted to learn how to ride, but there was always at least one who was sent as punishment by the well-meaning parents who claimed the next stop was juvie.
“Discipline! Hard work!” the parents insisted. Sam’s mustache would twitch, but he’d nod and collect the checks. “You’re here to learn who you are, not who you are not,” he’d tell the kids once their parents had gone. And the kids never seemed to leave camp without knowing.
I’d seen Sam one summer night at the diner, reading a book on equine therapy. I didn’t know until years later that Sam’s wife had been suffering from major depression at the time and that he’d started the camp as a way to help her cope. I remember her fleeting smiles as she taught me about grooming, but I don’t recall seeing her much in town as a kid. Sam found her in the meadow behind the campgrounds a few years after the camp opened, blood from a self-inflicted gunshot wound dotting the snow like confetti.
“And here is the reason I had you come back here,” my grandmother says, reaching behind her for something on the bookshelf. “He was going to give this to you for Christmas last year, but with everything that happened, I forgot about it and then…”
“It’s okay.” I’m in thrall to the idea of a gift from my grandfather from beyond the grave. If it were a Christmas gift, it wouldn’t be bittersweet, as my letter had been.
The album she hands to me is large but thin. The very first page is blank, with a sticky note stuck to the middle. “Miss Olivia’s Neighborhood of Make Believe,” it says, in my grandfather’s hand. Beneath it he had written, “To remind you that your imagination can make the world a better place.” When I turn the page, my heart pounding, the two images opposite each other make my breath catch.
On the left is a sketch I’d done of Blue Moon Bar if I could make believe it was “Sundance Saloon.” And on the right is a professional 3-D rendering of the same, the image so realistic I have to take a closer look. I quickly flip through the rest of the pages, stopping on the last. It was the drawing I’d been hoping to see. It was the sketch he and I had drawn together of Main Street, adding more and more detail over time. How many summers and Christmas vacations had we poured over it? Too many to count. The last time we’d huddled over it we’d begun adding people. There was the Mayor (who held a striking resemblance to an Oompa Loompa—a fact we highlighted further by drawing him into a pair of striped green pants), Bud Peterson (dozing) at the theater and Marty Macken, hauling a keg of beer into Sundance Saloon. I laugh, the memory of us discussing who to add next catching me by surprise. The characters that lived in this town! God love them.
The rendering on the opposite page didn’t include people, but it brought Main Street to life in such a real way I could almost believe it wasn’t the neighborhood of my imagination.
I tear my eyes away from the beloved drawings and look reproachfully at Therese. "You and your ways, grandmother! But you know this doesn't change my decision."
She laughs, hugging me around the waist. "Just give this boy a chance," she says. "Give Tomahawk Hill a chance."
And with equal parts dread and anticipation, I have a feeling that I might.