With my mouth hanging open, I rotated to check out all the other flowers and bushes in the yard, and there were plenty of them. Many of the Stackhouse women had been ardent gardeners, and they’d planted roses, daisies, hydrangeas, pear trees . . . so many blooming and green things, planted by generations of Stackhouse women. And I’d been doing a poor job of keeping them in good trim.
But . . . what the hell? While I’d been sunk in gloom the past few days, the whole yard had taken steroids. Or maybe the Jolly Green Giant had paid a visit. Everything that was supposed to be blooming was laden with brilliant flowers, and everything that was supposed to bear fruit was heavy with it. Everything else was green and glossy and thick. How had this come about?
I plucked a couple of especially ripe and round tomatoes to take in the house. I could see that a bacon-and-tomato sandwich would be my lunch choice, but before that I had a few things to accomplish.
I found my cell phone and checked my list of contacts. Yes, I had Bernadette Merlotte’s number. Bernadette, called Bernie, was Sam’s shapeshifter mom. Though my own mother had passed when I was seven (so maybe I wasn’t the best judge), Sam seemed to have a good relationship with Bernie. If there ever was a time to call in a mom, this was it.
I won’t say we had a comfortable conversation, and it was shorter than it should have been, but by the time I hung up, Bernie Merlotte was packing a bag to come to Bon Temps. She’d arrive in the late afternoon.
Had I done the right thing? After I’d hashed the issue over with myself, I decided I had, and I further decided I had to have a day off. Maybe more than one. I called Merlotte’s and told Kennedy that I had the flu. She agreed they’d call me in a crisis, but otherwise they’d leave me alone to recover.
"I didn’t think anyone got the flu in July. But Sam called in to say the same thing," Kennedy said with a smile in her voice.
I thought, Dammit.
"Maybe y’all gave it to each other?" she suggested archly.
I didn’t say a word.
"Okay, okay, I’ll only call if the place is on fire," she said. "You have a good time getting over the flu."
I refused to worry about the rumors that would undoubtedly start making the rounds. I slept a lot and wept a lot. I cleaned out all the drawers in my bedroom: night table, dressing table, chest of drawers. I pitched useless things and grouped other items together in a way that seemed sensible. And I waited to hear . . . from anyone.
But the phone didn’t ring. I heard a lot of nothing. I had a lot of nothing, except tomatoes. I had them on sandwiches, and the minute the red ones were gone, the plants were hung with green ones. I fried a few of the green ones, and when the rest were red, I made my own salsa for the first time ever. The flowers bloomed and bloomed and bloomed, until I had a vase full in almost every room in the house. I even walked through the cemetery to leave some on Gran’s grave, and I put a bouquet on Bill’s porch. If I could have eaten them, I’d have had a full plate at every meal.
The red-haired woman came out of the prison door slowly and suspiciously, as if she suspected a practical joke. She blinked in the brilliant sun and began walking toward the road. There was a car parked there, but she didn’t pay it any attention. It never occurred to the red-haired woman that its occupants were waiting for her.
A medium man got out of the front passenger seat. That was how she thought of him: medium. His hair was medium brown, he was medium tall, he was medium built, and he had a medium smile. His teeth, however, were gleaming white and perfect. Dark glasses hid his eyes. "Miss Fowler," he called. "We’ve come to pick you up."
She turned toward him, hesitating. The sun was in her eyes, and she squinted. She’d survived so much – broken marriages, broken relationships, single motherhood, betrayals, a bullet wound. She was not of a mind to be an easy target now.
"Who are you?" she asked, standing her ground, though she knew the sun was mercilessly showing every line in her face and every deficiency in the cheap hair dye she’d applied in the jail bathroom.
"Don’t you recognize me? We met at the hearing." The medium man’s voice was almost gentle. He took off his dark glasses, and a chime of recognition sounded in her brain.
"You’re the lawyer, the one that got me out," she said, smiling. "I don’t know why you did that, but I owe you. I sure didn’t need to be in jail. I want to see my children."
"And you will," he said. "Please, please." He opened the rear door of the car and gestured for her to get in. "I’m sorry. I should have addressed you as Mrs. Fowler."
She was glad to climb inside, grateful to sink back onto the cushioned seat, delighted to revel in the cold air. This was the most physical comfort she’d had in many months. You didn’t appreciate soft seats and courtesy (or good mattresses and thick towels) until you didn’t have them.
"I been Mrs. a few times. And I been Miss, too," she said. "I don’t care what you call me. This is a great car."
"I’m glad you like it," said the driver, a tall man with graying hair clipped very short. He turned to look over the seat at the red-haired woman, and he smiled at her. He took off his own dark glasses.
"Oh my God," she said, in an entirely different tone. "It’s you! Really! In the flesh. I thought you was in jail. But you’re here." She was both awed and confused.
"Yes, Sister," he said. "I understand what a devoted follower you were and how you proved your worth. And now I’ve said thank you by getting you out of jail, where you in no way deserved to be."
She looked away. In her heart, she knew her sins and crimes. But it was balm to her self-regard to hear that such an esteemed man – someone she’d seen on television! – thought she was a good woman. "So that’s why you put up all that money for my bail? That was a hell of a lot of cash, mister. More money than I’d ever earn in my life."
"I want to be as staunch an advocate for you as you were for me," the tall man said smoothly. "Besides, we know you’re not going to run." He smiled at her, and Arlene thought about how fortunate she was. That someone would put up over a hundred thousand dollars for her bail seemed incredible. In fact, suspicious. But, Arlene figured, so far so good.
"We’re taking you home to Bon Temps," said the medium man. "You can see your children, little Lisa and little Coby."
The way he said her kids’ names made her feel uneasy. "They ain’t so little anymore," she said, to drown out that flicker of doubt. "But I sure as he . . . sure want to lay eyes on them. I missed them every day I was inside."