Turning off the TV, I sit there for a moment, basking in my friend’s glory. Audrey Cho could captivate an audience with a cheese slicing demonstration but give her information about an interesting topic or person, and you’d forget what you were doing right before you saw her.
Amazing, as usual. I type into my phone. I set it down, knowing she’s still on set, getting unhooked from mics and IFBs, not able to check messages until she’s back in her dressing room.
I open my laptop, a sense of accomplishment rising as I scroll through the last chapter I’d written. I smile to myself, remembering the encouragements Jake had given me earlier this week when he’d called. He’d made the mistake of starting the conversation with, “what are you up to?” which at the time had been staring for ten minutes at a page of my manuscript which said: Chapter 15 and then several lines down, “I don’t know what I’m going to write next. What should I write next? This blank page is very blank. I’m a blank.”
So naturally, I’d blurted, “what if I can’t finish this? What if no one ever reads it? What would have been the point of this whole exercise?”
I don’t know what I had expected him to say. “You’ll figure it out,” or maybe a comforting, “you did it for you, Olivia. You deserved the chance to try.”
Instead, with a smirk in his voice, Jake had said, “I guess if you don’t finish it, you’ll find out.”
I was startled by how quickly his flippant comment had lifted the dismay right off my chest. “Oh, I’ll finish it,” I’d said, as though I was responding to a challenge.
“That’s my girl,” he’d laughed. And even though I’d known he was just joking, his words had warmed me, the allusion of me being his anything making me blush.
“I’ve only got a minute, unfortunately,” he’d said then, and I wondered what Jake did when he wasn’t working. “I wanted to see if your grandmother is really alright. I know Sam, and the rest is taking care of her but if there’s anything else she needs, would you let me know?”
“Maybe go up there to see her,” I’d suggested, remembering the way she lit up around Jake. “She sounded listless when I called her this morning, and she likes you. I think you’d cheer her up.”
“I’ll check on her tomorrow, first thing.” And I’d felt the warmth of his reassurance somewhere in a place that was true.
The abrupt change in ambient sound made me think he was standing outside of wherever he’d promised to be. There was the unmistakable rumble of Johnny Cash’s voice, the thump of hollow floorboards under boots. Glasses, clinking. I could practically smell the decades of stale cigarette smoke and Marty’s famous fried pork cutlets the size of a man’s open hand. “It sounds like you’re at Marty’s,” I’d said.
“How did you...?”
“Let me talk to her,” I heard in the background. And then it was Dana’s voice drifting into my ear. “Hey, girl! Brought Jake down here to meet a few people our age. He’s starting to resemble Marty and Sam, he’s been spending so much time with them.”
I’d laughed readily, “If he starts growing a fluffy mustache you’ll know he’s in real trouble.” But I’d felt a tinge of... what? Irritation that she’d taken the phone from Jake? Nostalgia? Maybe. Because the sounds of the bar, Dana’s voice; it all brought back those holidays between college semesters in vivid detail. “Is Frank there?”
“Yeah. Got Don here too, you remember Bud Pederson’s son? He was living in Little Rock.”
A vague memory of blond hair and a sharp chin, a moody demeanor. “He moved back to take care of Bud since his mom passed, right?”
“Yeah. Wish you were here, so I wasn't so outnumbered,” Dana had said, laughing.
“You know you prefer it this way,” I’d teased. Jake, Frank, Don? Dana was holding court.
Jake must have motioned to her because she was suddenly saying goodbye.
“Your friend has no regard for other people’s property,” he’d said, loud enough for Dana to hear. “But I’ll forgive her since she asked me to join. I haven’t gone out at all since I moved here.”
I’d wanted to say, “well, of course, you haven’t gone anywhere. Where would you go? Drinking in your own home is better than being stuffed into an old shed with a bunch of middle-aged people sucking down cheap beers.”
But then I’d heard it all in my head, and realized I sounded bitter and condescending.
We’d said goodbye then: me, feeling a mixture of things I didn’t want to unpack, Jake promising to message me after he’d gone to see Therese.
I walk to my kitchen to start the kettle and then wander into my bedroom, slipping out of my black jeans and an off the shoulder top I knew Rich liked. He had called before Audrey’s show started, cancelling our plans for the night. He’d wrapped his work in time to keep our date, but a client he wanted to sign had called, wanting to go for drinks at The Edison. “He’s flying back to New York tomorrow Livy. I need to do this tonight. I’ll give the Melrose Rooftop Theater tickets to someone here at the office, and we can try again next weekend.”
I’d begun to say that I’d just go without him and see if one of my friends was free, but he’d been in a rush and talking a mile a minute, which is what Rich did when he knew he needed to call me rather than text, but he didn’t really have the time or the patience for a discussion.
“There’s a great new bakery in the valley I’ve wanted to take you. Evidently has great peach scones. Those wives from that reality show you obsess over, go there. We’ll catch a movie after. What do you think?”
“Rich, you know I have Saturday brunch with the girls,” I’d said, slightly annoyed.
“Oh, yeah... sorry. You’ve been doing that forever. I think I’m just sleep deprived. How about Sunday then? I’ll make reservations for bottomless mimosas and brunch at that place you like in Brentwood.”
I’d hung up feeling as though I’d been taken for a ride. “I love you. Miss you,” he’d texted right after.
I turn the TV back on and scroll through my movie options, sipping my hot tea. I hear the garage door open, and Ted’s car shut down. It’s past eight, which typically means he’s driven straight home from work. I walk to my intercom and buzz him. “Ted... movie night? Bangkok West for curry? Aaand I have a couple of pints from Coolhaus in the freezer?”
“I’ll order the curry,” he says. “The usual?”
My phone rings and I expect Audrey, but it’s my grandmother.
The soft sounds of her muffled crying assail my ears and pulse like pressed bruises into my heart. “Grandma... are you okay? What’s wrong? Did you fall again? Are you...?”
“No, no, I’m physically okay. I can’t sleep, Livy. I can’t...seem to stop crying… and thinking. I feel... old and frail, and alone. If your grandfather were here, we’d be laughing about me needing to sit on a floating toilet seat everywhere I go. We’d be...” more quiet sobs that make me yearn to be there, hugging her, rubbing her back to soothe the heartache. “We’d be watching movies, and he’d be picking up food from the diner because you know he couldn’t even make toast without burning it and...” she hiccups, which genuinely makes me worried. She sounded too much like she had after she’d stopped being numb, after she’d allowed herself to accept grandfather’s absence as permanent.
I search for the right things to say. “Dad will be there tomorrow night grandma. He’s going to watch movies with you. Maybe he could take you and your floaty toilet seat out for a drive...” I stop. Why was I saying these things? My father would likely spend the entire weekend correcting student papers and editing lecture notes while she watched movies, and no one but grandfather could get away with teasing her about having her butt permanently attached to an inflatable toilet seat.
Well, no one but me.
The words fly out before I fully realize what I’m saying, but I think I’d already seen myself in Tomahawk Hill, taking care of her, from the moment I’d heard her crying. “I’m coming to stay with you until you’re back on your feet.”
A sniff, a hope. “But that’ll be six more weeks possibly and...”
I smile, relief at arriving at such a simple solution almost astounding. “I’d be coming to see you for Thanksgiving and Christmas anyway,” I say, proud of myself for thinking of this. “Thanksgiving is just a couple of weeks away. I’m writing a novel set in a place like Tomahawk Hill; a love story that is in essence about you and grandfather. I’ll keep you company and take you on drives and watch old movies with you. We’ll eat waaay too much popcorn and chocolate chip cookies and light up the fireplace. You can finally teach me how to make a Thanksgiving turkey. Yup. It’s been decided! I’m coming to stay with you, Therese.”
By this time, my grandmother is laughing; the sound girlish and bursting with relief. “Oh, Livy angel I would tell you that it’s out of the question because you’re engaged and your fiancée will not love the idea at all, and I know you are so busy with your projects but... I believe I’m going to have to be a little selfish and say... yes. Yes, please come.”
The bright picture of the rescue I’d painted dulls a little at the thought of what Rich will say, but then I remember our one-sided conversation earlier in the night and think he might be relieved to have no distractions until the holidays. We’d already planned to fly into Tomahawk Hill together for Christmas week, but he’d been on the fence about Thanksgiving, worried a contract might implode while he was away.
“I think he’ll be okay, grandma. Work has been keeping him pretty busy. I’ll talk to him, but think you can live without me until Monday?”
“I’ll get my cleaning girl up here to help me prepare your room,” she says, and I can hear her already making plans in her head. No doubt something will have been replaced or “improved” in my bedroom by the time I arrived.
“Get some sleep grandma. Make your to-do lists,” I say.
I can hear the smile in her voice when she responds. “Look at you, throwing my wisdom back at me. Making lists works, doesn’t it?”
“Always has,” I say. “See you soon, grandma. Love you.”