On the ride to her place, I ask if I’m going the right way. She nods and hums if I’m right. If I’m wrong she corrects my directions in a mopey, borderline monotone voice. I pull into her long, narrow driveway. When I turn into the half-roundabout area near her front porch, I’m a little struck with awe gazing at the three story log cabin house. It’s like a woodsman plantation home… It has that type of magnetism of a southern home but the cryptic exterior look of a mega cabin in the woods.
Opening the passenger door, she asks, “Do you want to come in for a snack? It would just be us, no one else is home.”
I am hungry, but I’m not going to be alone with a girl, in a house with a bunch of empty bedrooms, especially, when that girl is low in spirit and prone to act out of madness. I got enough common sense to turn this one down.
Right as I’m about to say no, she entices me by saying, “The caramel apple bites I made should be ready to eat.”
I have no idea what a caramel apple bite is, but it SOUNDS DELICIOUS! I put the car in park, lock the doors behind me, and I hurry to follow Melody inside.
Once we enter her screen door, and wood door, she says, “Give me your shirt.”
For a second, I’m actually stupid enough to think she meant the white shirt I’m wearing, but she’s talking about the shirt in my backpack, which I brought in with me. Opening up my bag, I try to remember why I brought it in, and then I remember why. I like to do homework while I eat my snack. I keep my brain energized while I work… It’s a win-win for my mind and my body.
The foyer’s the size of my dining room and living room combined. Across from us at the door, is the first flight of stairs leading to the second floor. To the right, seems to be the living room or a family room. I’m guessing family room, because it’s filled with two sofas, a couple of reclining chairs, a coffee table, bookshelves but no television set. A brown, typical piano is tucked back in the corner. To the left, the direction Melody begins walking as she takes my shirt is a confined hallway. She opens sliding, shutter, closet-like doors and reveals a washer and a dryer. Pointing further down the hallway, she tells me to walk straight into the kitchen.
Each step creeks along the plank wooden floor, I’m relieved by the silence when my feet meet tile ground. The tile is bright jade, marble-like flooring. Maybe it is marble tile? I think it’s safe to say the Gartner’s have money. I look out the window above the sink and notice the lake. They have lake front property… Yeah… they’re rich alright…
The kitchen’s like two and half of my family’s kitchen. The cherry wood finish of the cabinets make the floor and the matching countertops make everything pop. There’s a dark, wooden, elegant-looking, four person table by a row of tall windows that showcase a riveting White Mountain landscape. The slate gray clouds make the lanky, thin pine trees below look somber, and the calm lake appear mystical. The view is absolutely, cinematically serene.
I take a seat where I can focus on the view and into the heart of the kitchen. Melody joins me in the kitchen, and sets her things across the table from me. I get out my homework as she prepares our snack. She pulls a metal tray out of the fridge covered with wax paper. The potent aroma of fresh caramel and tart granny smith apples engulf my nose.
“Almond milk, vanilla almond milk, grape juice, or water?” Melody asks, pulling tall, plain glasses out of the cabinet. “Vanilla almond milk tastes really yummy with the caramel apple bites.”
“Okay, I’ll try it.” I say.
She carries both plates on one arm, while carrying an empty glass in each hand as she walks over to the table. With poise and grace, she sets everything in the proper place by the table: A plate and glass before me, and a plate and glass at her setting. She goes back and collects the metal tray, serves us, then she carries it back to the double door, black fridge and she puts the caramel apple bites away in exchange for a glass canter of what I presume to be vanilla almond milk. As she pours my glass to the brim, she mentions, “It’s homemade,” referring to the almond milk.
“Did your mom make it?” I ask.
She chuckles as she pours herself a glass. “My mother has many talents but none in the kitchen. This is my dad’s forté. But no, I made it actually.”
I look at my plate. Golden brown, flakey pie crust square bits encase what I can only guess inside is the taste bud pleasing combo of caramel and granny smith apple. I pick one up to bite into it, when the thought: pray reminds me to be grateful. Dropping my first bite attempt startles Melody.
“Too cold?” she worries as she tosses a bite in her mouth.
“No. I don’t know… it’s fine… We just haven’t prayed.”
I don’t know why I’m praying before a snack. I never do at home. I just eat.
Then the Lord questions the intent of my heart, “Do you trust Me, Asher?”
I close my eyes bowing my head. I pop one eye open and notice Melody bowing her head ready for prayer.
“Dear heavenly father, thank you for this time together as friends, and thank you for the snack we’re about to enjoy, bless this food, bless our evening, in Jesus’s name, the name above all names, the king above all kings, thank you again for all that you do, AMEN.”
“Amen.” Melody repeats after me.
Finishing the bite she held in her mouth, she stares at me waiting for me to take a bite. I bite into half of one. Buttery, flakey goodness kicks off the start of my taste bud pleasure followed by a soft, yet crisp tart gush of granny smith apple covered with cold sticky, chewy caramel. Food like this brings nothing but food-tapping good joy to my soul. That’s something I do when I eat food that wows, amazes, and impresses me as I enjoy eating what I taste: I tap my right foot to the natural rhythm of my joyful heart.
“How is it?” Melody asks, nervous to hear the verdict.
“Fantastic,” I say right before I shove a couple into my mouth.
Melody blushes as she tucks her hair behind both ears.
The milk blows my mind. Creamy, sweet, rich, yet not thick like the stuff from the store and it has the perfect amount of vanilla. No after taste either, like most milks…
Raising my glass to Melody, I say, “Epically delicious Mel.”
Happily, she points out, “You called me Mel…”
Gulping a huge swig of milk I shrug my shoulders. I manage to question, “So?” after the milk is officially swallowed.
“I love being called Mel.”
“Well, don’t ever call me Ash, I hate it.”
Nodding shortly and sternly, she says, “Sure Ashhh,” she drags out and then quickly she adds, “Sher!”
We end up eating the entire tray of caramel apple bites as we complete our homework. I look at my phone to check the time and see that it’s nearly six. The hour of dinner approaches and I’m not home. Just as I’m about to call home, a text message from mom comes through.
Are you M.I.A. for dinner tonight too?
I text back:
I’m at a friend’s doing homework. Forgot to tell you… Sorry…
Should I keep a plate warm for you or are you eating there?
“Are you hungry?” Melody asks.
Exaggerating of course, I say, “I’m starving!”
Texting mom, I say:
I’m having dinner here.
Ok, be home by 10 please. It’s a school night.
Wow… I’m allowed to stay out until 10… well 9:30 if I want to make it home by 10…
Thanks mom, love you!
Mom’s texts back:
Love you too! You have your key, right?
I inform her that I do and that I’ll probably be home sooner than curfew. She just texts back a simple:
Melody whips up a couple Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage Links, kettle fries, and sautéed sugar snapped peas. Of course, Melody didn’t let me sit by idly. I scrubbed the potatoes clean, and I chopped the potatoes into uneven strings of fries.
Once we sit down to eat, I’m curious where her family is. I may be crossing boundaries by asking, but I thought Mormons were extremely family-oriented. Wouldn’t they all be home for dinner? Wouldn’t her parents be asking me 20 questions trying to figure out the intentions I have for their daughter?
I try to be as subtle as possible, “Are you usually alone for dinner?”
Holding up a finger, requesting I wait patiently as she finishes chewing her mouthful of food she shakes her head no. She swallows her food and then says, “My mom is with a bunch of other moms from church planning the fall festival dance, which you’re welcome to come to, if you want. And my dad has a critical patient at the clinic. Tenor, well, he probably seized the opportunity to hang out with his buddies.”
“You’re dad’s a doctor?” I’m surprised to learn. I didn’t even know Pinetop had a clinic, I just thought there was the hospital. Wait the hospital’s in Show Low… Maybe Pinetop does have a clinic.
Melody laughs, covering her mouth so she doesn’t expose the mouthful of her food mush. Shaking her head she corrects my misconception, “He’s a pet doctor. You know a vet.”
Wow, I’m an idiot. But it’s not like they have a bunch of pets to give me a hint.
“Aren’t vets normally animal lovers?” I inquire.
“Ah-huh,” she nods, “but get this. My mom’s allergic to cats. My brother’s allergic to dogs. I’m allergic to rodents, and all three of us are allergic to rabbits. And though my dad loves fish, he likes to eat them more than take care of them. Hence, we are a pet-less family.”
Our laughter synchronizes, but falls out of sync when Melody drops her laughter as her hands clutch the ends of the table. She looks nauseated. I hope we’re not eating spoiled food. I would feel sick too then, wouldn’t I?
“Are you okay?”
Silently, she nods, but it’s not very convincing. Softly, she says, “I have a… an… intolerance… toward… sugar snap peas… and green beans… I guess I’ve had too much lately… because…” holding her stomach she rises out of her seat, “if you’ll excuse me…” she blurts as she runs out of the kitchen and down the hallway. Why would you eat something your body rejects? Some people I may never understand.
In a wood house, doors opening and closing, and especially footsteps are incredibly audible. Big, heavy footsteps gait toward the kitchen down the hall. That definitely isn’t Melody coming back. I look to the doorway, and a nearly seven foot tall man, with an all-white beard like Santa, but a clean cut head of dark brown, almost black hair looks at me. Wise, wide golden brown eyes gape at me in shock. The man wears a maroon polo shirt tucked into khaki slacks. Stepping into the kitchen toting a brown, leather brief case he says, “Hello, are you a friend of Tenor’s?”
Standing I reach out my hand to greet him properly. He sets his briefcase on the counter nearest to the table as he shakes my hand. I give all the basic info, my full name, and the truth: that I’m a friend of his daughter not of his son. Smiling to be cordial, I can tell he’s trying to not to reveal his ugly face of fury.
“Is my wife home already?” He asks knowing she isn’t.
I rub my hand due to his bone crushing handshake. I know handshakes tell a lot about a man, but I’m still trying to build up the muscle to give a firm handshake. Unfortunately, my handshake says… bony wimp. It’s odd having to look up at someone for once. I’m the tallest member of my family, so I’m always looking down at my parents. I know it’s not just in my head. Mr. Gartner is laying on the intimidation thickly. I admit, “No sir.”
“Please, call me Adam, Asher is it?”
“Yes sir,” clearing my throat I realized I screwed up by calling him by a title instead of his name as he requested. Quickly, I correct my error, “Yes Adam, my name is Asher.”
“That’s some hair you got.” He comments turning to face the stove. He walks over and picks a fry out the stove top kettle. Nibbling on a bite he hums in delight enjoying the potatoey goodness of a homemade fry.
I guess I could cut my hair, but I kind of like the floppy fro I got going on lately. However, by the tone in his voice I know he doesn’t really like it. Thank God I’m not dating his daughter, or else I’d be a thousand times more nervous.
“Do you think two teens of the opposite sex alone in a big empty house is appropriate, Asher?”
I’m not sure of what answer he’s looking for. An actual response or silence, I guess it depends whether or not the question was rhetorical.
“Would your parents find it appropriate?”
Okay, he wants an answer. “Not if we’re not related sir.” I sigh because I did it again. “No Adam.” I add.
Facing me again, Adam says, “You’re welcomed in our home any time, when I’m home or Kyrene is home, okay?”
“Okay,” I nod. “I should probably get going anyhow.”
I began gathering my textbooks and notebooks into my backpack.
“You haven’t finished your food. Please, stay… enjoy. Sit, finish eating.” He says walking over to the fridge. With his head in the freezer, he asks, “Where is Melody?”
Melody returns beating me to a response, “I’m right here daddy.”
Adam drops his quest for food to give Melody a loving embrace. Adam makes a joke about being alone with boys lead to trouble. We all laugh, but it’s safe to say Adam finds it more humorous than Melody and I do.
Adam cooks himself a premade (by him) turkey burger, fresh kettle fries, and sautéed broccoli while Melody and I finish eating. Melody takes my dishes and rinses them in the sink. I offer to help, but she insists I do nothing because I’m a guest.
Melody walks me to the car. She apologizes for creating an awkward moment between me and her father. I just make her promise to avoid all possible future moments like that by not letting us be alone together in that house again. She vows so solemnly to me.
I open the driver door, toss my backpack in the passenger seat, and as I go to get in, Melody surprises me with a smothering hug.
“Thanks for being my friend today. I really needed someone and I’m glad that someone was you. I don’t know what I would have done.” She says with a cry underscoring her tone.
The last thing I want to do is leave her crying. Rubbing her back would be soothing right? As I do that, I find me hunched low resting my head on top of hers, and for the first time between us our hug feels genuine. It doesn’t touch on the type of hug Natasha can give, but this is good. After she thanks me again, I kiss her on the top of her head, which shocks me. Why did I do that? She may get the wrong idea that I want more, and all I’m willing to offer is friendship.
Wiping her tears from her eyes, she again tells me, “You’re a really good friend.” She stands outside her door, until she sees me off down the bumpy, rocky narrow road that leads to the street.
On the drive home, I realize I don’t want to disappoint Melody. I have to find a way to take her to homecoming dance. To be a good friend because that’s what a good friend would do.
When I pull into our parking lot, I see Melody’s and Tenor’s time-share truck backing out of a parking space. The tinted windows prevent me from seeing inside. For all I know Tenor could be making funny faces at me as he drives by. I park next to the minivan and walk inside. The door wasn’t even locked.
Abbey’s disrespectful voice yells from upstairs, “That’s so unfair! I swear you two want me to be unhappy! It’s just a school dance. I don’t see what’s wrong with one dance.” The smack of slamming her door rings through the townhouse.
Dad strongly tells her, “Sweetheart, you know the rules. No dating until your 16, plus, we don’t know Tenor or his family very well. There will be plenty of high school dances in your future.”
Wow, dad is like the parent of Mercy and Grace. He rarely ever yells, even when we act up. He’s never spanked us or threatened too. Yet, the idea of disrespecting him, at least for me, absolutely terrifies me. Dad’s just cool… All kids with loving dads proclaim this but my dad is the best in the world. I’m glad I didn’t get stuck with a dad like Adam… he’s just creepy.
Mom descends down the stairs with Annika on her hip, who’s been crying ever since the door slammed. Babies never like conflict, but the sudden, loud noise would alarm anyone with exceptional hearing. Or is her hearing normal by now? I stopped reading about babies a few months ago.
I was in the bookstore, by the grocery store, reading a parenting book concentrated on the toddler years. Annika was with me because Abbey and mom were getting their mani-pedis a few doors down in the plaza. A woman, with toddlers of her own, mistook Annika for my daughter and she started sharing her parenting secrets with me. I was reading the book because I wanted a heads up on what Annika would start acting like soon, since I was 2 going on 3 when Abbey was born and I don’t remember how she behaved.
Once at the base of the stairs, I make a funny face at Annika. She giggles feebly, but determined to keep crying her faces gets ugly as she begins to wail again. This time I spit a raspberry (stick out my tongue while making a motor sound) as I make another funny face. Annika looks at me uncertain of what to do: laugh, cry, or just stare blankly at her big brother? She chooses the latter. With wiggling fingers, I tickle her tiny pot belly that forces an upside down frown to post on her face. Annika’s current status is: happy, which means her big brother did his job.
“Whose house were you at?” Mom finally gets to the investigation. I’m surprised she didn’t text interrogate me.
“Melody’s house,” I admit. There’s no point in lying to parents. The truth always comes to light eventually.
“Oh,” mom huffs a little staggered by my answer. Trying to make sense of it, she asks, “Did you do homework together?”
“Yeah,” I say passing mom and stepping onto the first step.
“Where are you going?”
“To my room… I want to draw.”
I haven’t felt like drawing in eons… On the drive home, with the cinematic scenery of the open forest, and the wild yellow daisies that line the sides of the road, made me think about Melody at the grocery store last Saturday. She picked a bouquet of white daisies. In the past, I’ve seen her wear a yellow daisy in her hair to school. Clearly, she likes daisies.
Sitting at my desk, facing the large window in my room, that overlooks the wilderness valley of the White Mountain Res, I ready my sketch book and I hold the pencil still in my hand. I try to clarify the imaginary floating through my mind. Finally I see it, Melody hitchhiking her way down the hill, standing in a bushel of wild, yellow daisies with the grassy meadow behind her against a wall of piney forest, topped with a beautiful blue sky accompanied by a few glorious, puffy clouds. There’s a slight breeze that rustles her hair. A few strands swiping across her face making her look like a model from an ad.
I’m still drawing when dad knocks on my door.
“It’s almost 11 buddy, light outs in fifteen okay?” Dad says. That’s his kind, gentle way of telling me to go to bed.
I can get up early and finish it. I think all that’s left are the daisy petals, her hair, her eye color, and the double yellow line of the road. Everything else I’ll just outline in black marker. It will be perfect.