No More I Lub Y’s
I sent him one of Mom’s cool cards the next day and flowers the day after that. Wrote on the card, “Roses are red, Violets are blue . . . And so am I, Without you . . .” Not terribly original, maybe, but it was the truth!
A couple days passed without my hearing from him. Thomi called and I accepted her invitation to join a barbecue trail ride. It was fun but it would have been more fun if Irvy had been there with me. If Matty had been. Lannette and Dante joined us in the afternoon after her shift had ended.
The all day barbecue took place on the beach of Horseshoe Cove which is where Equestrian Road ended. They didn’t come horseback though. They came in one of the hay wagons with those who hadn’t wanted to ride trails to get to this picnic. Quite a few of Thomi’s relatives made up this group. Stephan also came by wagon. And while she was definitely happy to see him, she didn’t abandon me.
She seemed to know just which people to bring me around to keep my mind occupied. People who wouldn’t make me feel lousier than I already felt about Irvy’s desertion of me. Who would offer those comforting words I needed to hear about that and about losing Matty.
All in all, a nice change from listening to totally opposite opinions from my relatives.
But yet . . . none of it could fill those holes in my heart left by Irvy’s desertion and Matty’s death.
So hard to watch the couples on the beach and around the bonfire cuddling up to one another. Lannette and Dante. Stephan and Thomi. Halleigh and Tyler. Lyndsay with Stephan’s cousin Ryon. Even watching their parents and other older couples made me ache for Irvy’s arms.
And the laughter, the pranks that inevitably got played on people made me miss Matty. Between these two thoughts, I couldn’t help the tears that slipped down.
“Are you all right?”
“No, but I will be . . . someday . . .”
“I hope so! I hate seeing you so sad!” Thomi impulsively hugged me. “You want to escape? We can go back by the trails or just head down the road.”
I shook my head. “No, I don’t want to leave. I love your family and it does help to be out here—not moping in my room . . . or wherever. It’s just . . . I miss them so much!”
“I hear you, Jo. I think I’d find it hard to be around people if-if something happened to one of my relatives . . . except maybe Timothy . . .! And if I lost Stephan . . . well, you know how that would go!”
“Simon Lindell would pick up your pieces!” I teased her, glancing his way.
Simon, her former beau and a fellow actor stood with her Uncle Zalmon, watching one of her aunts play volleyball on the beach. But, from time to time, I noticed him sneaking longing glances at Thomasyna. If she’d just crook a finger, he’d be at her side in a heartbeat—Stephan be damned!
She smiled, some regret shadowed her eyes. I knew that was there only for the callous way she’d left him for Stephan’s cousin some months ago. So she hadn’t known Stephan Deverill anywhere near as long as she’d known Simon—which was probably all of her life. But it didn’t take a genius to know she felt the same about him as I did about Irvyn.
Both Simon and I followed the direction of her gaze. Stephan, flipping burgers on the grill, glanced up, caught her look and smiled at her. No mistaking how deep his love for her ran either! Somebody would have to be more than blind not to see that!
Sure seemed like Irvyn had developed that sort of affliction . . .
Despite my present situation, though, I felt only happiness for them both. Simon seemed not to bear them any ill-will at all, was quite friendly with Stephan in fact. Still, he didn’t trouble to hide his feelings for Thomi either. After watching her for another few seconds, he went off to join the volleyball game on the beach.
Thomi brought her attention back to me then. Squeezing my shoulder, she said, “You know you can escape to Cliff Top anytime! Welcome to mope around all you want to. But—I am going to say you’re going to need to throw a brick at his head! Or a rock!!” She cast a hand toward her brother Geoffrey and his new girl, Storm Van Kirk. “Of course, rocks and bricks come in different species. She’s the one we threw at him!”
I laughed.. I had a thought to asking for an introduction, but I let it go for now. Maybe after I ate I’d have more energy and motivation to socialize some more with others besides Thomi.
Thomi squeezed my arm. “You need to be the brick yourself, I think. Don’t hold back now! Throw yourself at Irvy and knock some sense into him!”
I wished it could be that easy.
Somehow, I just couldn’t rally the nerve to do it. Right then, I don’t know if I could have if someone had cried out, “Chic-ken!”
I stayed longer at DreamWynd than I expected to. Did finally have the courage to mingle a while with the others. But I didn’t get to meet Storm. Geoffrey got a cell phone call not long after s’mores were made and they left together. Didn’t look like a pleasure call. Looked pretty serious.
Oh, well . . . Maybe next time.
Maybe Irvy would be with me next time . . .
Late the fourth evening, Irvy called me. He sounded exhausted. I wondered whether it was because of his workload or because he missed Matt or because he still didn’t know what end was up yet with us and wasn’t sleeping nights. Might’ve been a combination of them all. I knew I wasn’t sleeping nights.
I kept the conversation on impersonal things, not wanting to pressure him, but yet, wanting him to tell me he’d been a fool and he’d be right over. He didn’t say anything like it. And I could hear his mother in the background, hinting for him to hang up. He hung up in his own good time and that was the most satisfaction I got from the call.
But . . . at least he’d called. Score a point for me.
Next day I sent him two emails—an avenue open to me that hadn’t been for Mom—and started the whole process over with another of Mom’s cool cards. I couldn’t bring myself to send him the letter I wrote. Wasn’t sure he was ready to be flooded with so many of my innermost feelings. Was afraid it’d do the opposite of what I intended, and I didn’t want to louse up the progress I’d made—slight though it might be.
And let me tell you, I wasn’t used to sitting home alone waiting for the telephone to ring. When it didn’t, I sent him some more flowers, and an email wishing he’d come talk to Jace. Lannette and I didn’t want this anniversary thing to be just our efforts. We expected a Group Effort here!
Well, that got a response. Maybe not like a brick would have, but a response nonetheless.
He called to say he didn’t mind being a part of a Group Effort, but, apparently he felt he couldn’t be comfortable at our place. Nor would we be at his with his mother around, so we ended up at his uncle’s instead.
Dr. and Mrs. Wray welcomed us in. This wasn’t our first visit to their place, so they tended to treat us like their own kids. And, like Irvy, we referred to them as Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Tessa. Aunt Tessa had all sorts of snacks and stuff for us to fill our faces with. Too bad she couldn’t’ve been Irvy’s mother!
Jarrett had begged to come, and I couldn’t tell him no. Since Irvy had gotten Uncle Mitch’s okay to sign the dark green Porsche over to him and me, Jarrett couldn’t stop talking about him. Discovered at this meeting that while I was keeping away from the phone, Jarrett was not.
Thanks to me, the little twerp knew his numbers from 1 to 100. He’d learned Irvy’s phone number and called him from Mom and Dad’s bedroom when he was supposed to be sleeping.
“How often has your mother taken those calls?” Lannette wondered.
Irvy shook his head, smiling down upon Jarrett. “She’s learned to just turn the phone over to me. He won’t stop calling until he gets me. I’ve also warned her not to tattle on him to your parents. If he needs to talk, he needs to talk.”
“But you neber call Joleigh bery much anymore, Irby! She needs t’ talk, too-oo!” Jarrett pointed out with considerable accusation. “Dante calls Lannette, and I call you. But you don’t call Joleigh . . . and she don’t call you ’cause she d’ wanna make you mad. D’ wanna make your mudder mad eider! I know all the buddies numbers, but I d’ wanna call ‘em all. Just you. Not Aunt Willa or Aunt Wanda—”
“Well, that’s a wise decision, buddy! How about some cookies? Aunt Tessa makes some great molasses ones!”
That diverted my little brother’s line of thought—for that moment. Got Irvy out of an embarrassing situation. Obviously, he still didn’t want to discuss it. After he got Jarrett his cookies, he took Jace aside to talk to him privately for a while. Dante, Lannette, and I played a hand of rummy with Uncle Lloyd while we waited. Tossed a few more ideas around for the party.
Wasn’t all party discussions though. Some of the talk was about the guys who’d goaded Matt into playing Chicken, speculating on what would happen to them in the end. Then it shifted, and centered around Dante’s and Lannette’s plans for their future. Uncle Lloyd might be Mrs. Woodworth’s brother but he wasn’t a thing like her for all he liked to talk gruff and all.
Rubbing his chin, he looked at his cards over the rim of his glasses. Said to me, “Don’t you let my sister knock you out of this race, Joleigh-Anna. The models she’s dreaming he’ll take an interest in will bore him within a week. She thinks she knows what’s best for him, but ain’t one of ‘em practical! She can turn up some mighty pretty women, but they aren’t what he’s used to or needs! Which sounds like another family on this island! If you ask me, my sister associates too much with the Deverills! Thinks too much of what other people think!” He declared gin on us for the third time, adding irrelevantly, “Not that I have anything against their offspring, mind you—the Deverills!”
I’d had the occasion to meet Stephan’s mother and aunt once at Irvy’s place. They’d come to talk to Mrs. Woodworth about doing some garden show with them. I could tell she’d talked about me to them, and they probably shared her opinion of me. So, I knew a little of what he meant.
“Well, my relatives think that about me! The impractical part, I mean.” I responded. “Well, you know ‘em! Surprised they haven’t blabbed their faces to you! Asked you to talk sense into him!”
“What makes you think they haven’t?” he shot back. “Play again? Or have you had enough of my superior playing power?” He dealt out a new hand without waiting for an answer. “Does anyone actually pay attention to ‘em? I have to admit, I haven’t! Unless it’s their medical history, of course!”
“A few maybe. But not too many outside The Club!”
“Ah, people with brains! Very good! Always refreshing to find those.” At that, Lannette snickered, coughed, and went into a peal of laughter. He eyed her indulgently. “And the ability to laugh after so recent a tragedy is promising. So, really—how are you two doing?”
“We’re doing the best we can. But . . . it’s not the same anymore,” I said frankly, picking up the cards he dealt me and arranging them in my hand. “I wish he’d gotten up out of that coffin and told ‘em all off in good shape!”
Involuntarily I glanced over at the closed door behind which Irvy and Jace were. Would’ve been nice if he’d want to talk to me privately.
“Well, that would’ve been a shocker—and totally Matthew!” Dr. Wray agreed as he plopped the deck in the middle of the table and turned up a card—one I could’ve used. “I can’t blame you for feeling that way.” He gave a sudden chuckle. “Yep, I could picture that scene now! Be worth it to view those faces then! Eclipse every other prank he’d ever pulled! Give a thousand dollars for the look on Willa Stark’s sourpuss! How’d your grandparents ever wind up with such a woman? And her sister! Gotta’ve been the milk man!”
Which statement totally took us off guard and we burst out laughing.
“We don’t lub her, Uncle Lloyd,” stated Jarrett coming in to plunk himself beside him. The little glutton had cookies in both hands and more clamped under each armpit. “Not me or Joleigh or Jace or Lannette or Matty—but Matty died just like Nikki died, and I don’t got any Nikki anymore and I don’t got Matty. But we still got Jaimee! Jaimee didn’t die yet! But Irby don’t come to see Joleigh anymore. Could you tell him to, Uncle Lloyd? Then she won’t cry anymore! And we be all happy again!”
And if we’d’ve been home, I swear I’d’ve slapped duct tape over his little kisser!
* * * * *
Jarrett’s concern over Irvy’s continued absence only got worse. He popped out with it anytime it crossed his mind. Which was far too often and always at the most inappropriate times!
“How come Irby don’t kiss you like he used to, Jo?” Jarrett demanded two evenings later. “He didn’t kiss you once when we was over Uncle Lloyd’s. And he didn’t kiss you goodbye eider! Don’t he lub you any more? Don’t he like us?”
“He likes us, Jar. Don’t worry about it, okay. He still misses Matt.”
“I miss Matty too! But I still kiss you! I still like Irby too! He let me hab Matty’s car! But I still like all the buddies!” A considering pause then, “‘Cept Aunt Willa, and Aunt Wanda, and Aunt Dorene, and Turdy, and Tina, and Uncle—”
I nearly busted a gut right there but I cut in, “Okay, Jar, I get the picture!”
“How come you want them guys at Mom and Dad’s party—”
I clapped a hand over his face. “Shhhhhh! They’re right in the kitchen, Jarrett! It’s a surprise, remember!”
His eyes got big over the top of my hand, and he nodded. Pushing my hand away, he said, “I ain’t stupid, y’ know!”
“All right then, you can come with us to Aunt Lynore’s. We’re picking up Lannette and going for pizza. We’ll plan some more at The Pizza Den. Dante’s gotta help someone’s Boston Terrier deliver her puppies. So he’ll come later and help us too.”
“Help you do what?” Mom asked, coming in just then. She looked from me to Jarrett.
“Plan their wedding,” I replied smoothly, ruffling my little brother’s red gold curls.
“I d’ wanna marry Lannette!” Jarrett looked up at me, disgusted. “And Irby d’ wanna marry you eider!” He grabbed my hand then, staring earnestly up into my face. “But I’ll tell him he got to, okay, Jo? ’Cause you like to kiss him and hug him like Lannette hugs Dante!”
“It is odd to not have Irvy living here as much as he used to.” Mom’s arm came around my shoulder. “I miss Valorah’s phone calls requesting me to send him on his way!”
They’d been more like commands actually. One would have thought he was a five-year-old instead of an adult.
I shrugged, wishing Jarrett hadn’t been so blabby. It’s not that I thought it wasn’t any of her business. Was just that I didn’t feel like talking about it.
Her arm tightened. She said softly, “It’ll just need a little more time, Joleigh.”
Suddenly my feelings just overwhelmed me. “Mom, I don’t get it! I thought he already knew what he felt for me. When I told him I loved him—” I broke off, an unwelcome realization whacking me beside the head and I finished in altogether a different tone, “He just smiled and kissed me. I thought it meant that . . . he loved me, too. But—maybe it was just his way of making me happy at the time when . . . he—maybe he didn’t really ever want this in the first place . . .”
“Jo—” Mom broke in. “He has asked you to marry him. You—”
“Mom, did Matt—I mean, did he—”
“No, Joleigh. Don’t even start going there! He may have always hoped you two would stay together, but he never made any sort of demand upon Irvy for it. Warned him what would happen to their friendship, though, if he didn’t take the best care of you while you were a pair!”
“Yeah, well, what else am I supposed to think? Those rumors never have stopped! Matt’s gone, and now Irvy’s not coming around so much; he won’t talk to me about setting another date—” I switched topics mid-sentence. “Date! Ha! I haven’t even been on a date! I’m sending the cards and flowers and doing the waiting. What would you think?”
“Well,” she said frankly, “I’d be praying for a miracle until my brains ached! Which is, pretty much, what I did when it was me! Your father’s sisters were even more spiteful then than they are now if you can imagine it! They told lies pretty similar to the stories they’ve told about you! Only thing was—our parents believed the ones they told about the guys, and your father’s believed those they told about us.
“Just before Lynore’s graduation, they made us quit seeing the guys. Pretty soon it began to get back to us that Willa and Wanda were now filling them with the story that we’d been seeing other guys all along. Told them that we were glad our parents had forbidden us to see them for it saved us from having to break up with them ourselves! Thought it really was over, thanks to them!”
Her mind began taking her back, and I was afraid I’d have to leave before she finished. “So, then you sent cards and flowers?”
“Yes, I did. And so did Lynore. We weren’t allowed to call them nor could we use the phone unsupervised. If they called us, we never knew about it—until much later. We had friends buy the flowers for us when we could pool the money for it. Had ‘em deliver those flowers for us along with our notes and cards. We were desperate to keep in touch so we wouldn’t lose them. To find ways of convincing them none of what they were hearing was true. Tried convincing my parents . . . but . . . they felt they had to keep us safe . . .
“One night we managed to sneak out to meet them. Willa saw us and, of course, ran right home to tell whoever would listen. We knew she’d phone Mom and Dad, so we took the shortest route home. Snuck in the back door, and started doing the dishes as if we’d been there all along. We got away with it but we weren’t sure if we’d had enough time to have convinced the guys we still loved only them.
“A couple days later—was a Friday night, Lynore and I were out on the front porch in the swing, trying to decide what we should do next. Out of the blue, the guys showed up in a classic Thunderbird convertible they’d bought together, and they asked us if we’d like to take a spin. We never even went in to ask permission. Just hopped in. When we finally came back home—we were married. Before we showed up to announce the news to our families, we rented a duplex apartment together so we’d have a place to go afterwards. Figured we’d be thrown out for what we’d done.”
I drew back a little, staring in amazement at her. “Really? That’s how it happened? So, did they?”
“No, surprisingly. They were angry at the lot of us for running off without telling anyone anything and disappointed in us for getting married on the spur of the moment but they didn’t disown us. Of course, the biggest fuss was about me, because I hadn’t finished school yet. When I could get a word in, I promised I’d graduate, and when I did the following year, they finally shut up about it . . . . After a while . . . more or less.” She smiled. “You know, I can’t remember that your father actually said the words, “I love you” either. Was more like—”
“Hey, baby!” Dad sneaked up behind her and draping his arms down before her, drew her back against him. Snuggled his cheek next to hers. “We’re great together! Who gives a cow’s flop for what they think? Let’s get married!”
And then, making her face him, he kissed her. Long and sweet . . . his callused work-worn fingers deep in her long, thick, red hair.
Some kids hate it when their parents do things like that. Can’t figure out why. If mine didn’t, I’d be worried about them! This was how I wanted it to be for Irvy and me. Free and easy. No constraints.
When they parted, Dad, unabashed, glanced over at me. “It’s a bit of a different story with you two though. Let him have some space, Joleigh-Anna. Irvy’ll work it out, and he’ll do the right thing in the end!” He ruffled my hair playfully. “Don’t stop sending him flowers, though! He doesn’t need too much space!” He pulled my ear. “Gotta admit that I’m really impressed by your determination not to call his house every five minutes!”
I shrugged, said with a slight smile, “Well, I wouldn’t be giving him that space if I did, Dad!”
“Plus she doesn’t want to listen to Valorah gloat!” surmised my mother correctly. “If she sticks with the plan, it’ll be she who gloats in the end! Worked for me and Lynore!” She kissed Dad and grinned saucily up at him.
“So true!” He kissed her back. “Carry on, Joleigh. You’ll have him back before you can miss him—more than you already do, that is!”
“Go get your pizza,” Mom told me, “and don’t be too late. Jarrett shouldn’t stay up late every night!”
Jarrett, who’d watched all this with wide eyed wonder, slipped his hand into mine, declaring, “Boy, Dad’s a good kisser, huh, Jo? Like Irby usta be. When I grow up, I wanna be a good kisser too! But—” and he aimed a chubby little finger up at me, uttering conspiratorially, “I’m always gonna say I lub y’to my girlfriend! And we’re gonna go dancin’ and play video games and have pizza too!”
“All right, Jarrett!” I approved in amusement and slapped a high five with him. Or at least as high as he could reach. “You’re gonna be The Man! Come on, let’s go tell Jace to hurry it up! I can smell pizza already!”
As we started walking out of the dining room into the hallway, Jarrett shared a secret with me. “Know why I’m gonna say I lub y’ to girls? Cause I don’t want ‘em to cry like you cry, Joleigh! I always wake up when you cry, Joleigh, and I get sad too. So that’s why I’m gonna say, I lub y’ to girls!”
“Well,” I said, between embarrassment and amusement, “you don’t have to say it to every girl! Just one special one!”
“Oh!” He digested that. “Does Jace have a ‘pecial girl?”
“I don’t know. Go ask him!”
Jace wasn’t thrilled with me for sending him on that mission! Guess I should have just told Jarrett no on that one and saved Jace the humiliation of having to admit he hadn’t yet found a girl special enough to say I lub y’ to.
All the way to Lannette’s house and then all the way to The Pizza Den, and all through the meal, our four-year-old Don Juan obsessed over the issue of saying I lub y’ to girls. Especially girl friends, but also including, moms, sisters, cousins, grammas, and aunts . . .
“But not Aunt Willa, and Aunt Wanda, and Aunt Dorene, and Tina and maybe not Aunt Nedra eider!”
So, we really didn’t get much planning done. We’d no sooner get into some deep discussion about what sort of cake we wanted, whether we ought to get two, and what decorations were best, and he’d have to stick his two cents into the bargain.
“We’re doin’ this cause we lub ‘em, huh, Jo? We lub all the buddies, huh! ‘Cept—”
“Right, Jarrett! You got it! Have another piece of pizza, buddy!” I shoved it over at him. “Look, we need to do this, Jar. We can talk about that stuff after, okay?”
“So, what should we do about gifts?” Lannette wondered. “Should we get individual things or pool our resources to get one thing for each?”
“Could do both.” Jace reached for another slice of The Works. He seemed to be in a much better mood than the last couple of times we’d tried to do this. “No reason why not!”
“I’m gonna buy my girlfriend lots of presents!” announced Jarrett, his face full of pizza sauce. “And gib ‘em to her, and kiss her, and say I lub y’.” And he scrambled up in his seat in order to reach me and demonstrate it.
I am not fond of pizza sauce kisses. But I am fond of my little brother, so I grabbed him and kissed him back until he giggled and squirmed for me to let him go. Then I wiped my face clean.
“Not going to get much accomplished tonight!” Lannette mused, watching Jarrett with a tolerant smile. “You’re a squirt, you know it!”
He turned to her, his eyes narrowing impishly, and he pointed a sauce stained finger at her. “I can kiss youu-ouu too, y’ know!”
She laughed, leaning away from him. “How about if you stay overnight with me sometime?”
He considered it. “Matty’s not there anymore, huh?”
“You lonely, Lannette?”
“Me too. I miss Matty. And Jace misses Matty, huh, Jace? He was our bestest buddy. Irby usta be our buddy too, but he don’t like us no more. He don’t play with me eider. But he let me have Matty’s car. But he d’ wanna marry J—”
“Jarrett. Have some more pizza!”
“Not full enough!”
He propped his hands on his hips, glared at me mock fiercely. “You just want me to shut up!”
“You got that right!”
“But why? I just on’y saying—”
“We know what you’re just only saying, Jarrett,” Jace told him. “So shut up about it now! You’re making Joleigh sad. And you’re making me realize all over again, this party business isn’t the same without Matt!”
“Oh.” He looked at me and then swiped another slice of pizza. “I eat some more!”
Lannette ruffled his red-gold curls. “You’re too cute, you know it?”
“Yep. That’s why girls are gonna lub me!”
“The child has a swelled head already!” she marveled.
“Yeah, stop adding to it! Look, why don’t we find out what they’d like to get and take it from there? Mom keeps a wish book I can check out,” I said. “She keeps stuff in there about everyone. Us, them, your parents; even The Club’s wants are listed!”
“Really? Cool!” said Lannette impressed. “That’ll help keep things secret!”
“Sure,” said Jace skeptically. “If she can get into it without anyone finding out!”
“I’ll get into it!” I replied. “Don’t you worry about that!”
“That drawer squeaks, Joleigh-Anna! She always knows when someone’s sneaking around!”
“An’ know what else? Momma keeps her lub letters there! I saw ‘em—all tied up in a b’ue bow!”
Jace gave him a level stare. “Yeah? And you read ‘em, did you?”
Jarrett nodded vigorously. “They all say, ‘You’re cute and I lub y’! Jorden.’ That’s Dad, huh?”
Three pairs of eyes stared at the kid. One pair—mine—more in amusement than astonishment.
“He can’t read? Can he? I mean, I know he knows his numbers and letters, but—” Lannette gazed at my little brother not quite ready to accept his apparent accomplishment.
“That’s not the same thing! You’ve been working with him, haven’t you, Joleigh?”
“And this is a bad thing?”
Still unwilling to believe he could read something as grownup as a love letter—Dr. Seuss, maybe, but not love letters, Lannette asked him, “How do you know what they said?”
He shrugged. “Mom got mad acause I took the ribbon off and I was lookin’ at ‘em. And I wasn’t doin’ nothin’ bad to ‘em. I was just lookin’!”
“You read them to Mom?”
“Uh-huh! She said I don’t gotta read ’em to all the buddies. She said they was secret!” lowering his voice appropriately and laying a finger to his lips. “Shhh! I can tell you! But we can’t tell nobody else. Not Aunt Willa, or Aunt Wanda, or Aunt Dorene . . .”
Jace sat back, stunned. “He can read! Joleigh, you’re going to be sorry for this!”
That was for sure. Right then, as a matter of fact. “Hey!” I exploded, suddenly recalling I’d found my journal on the floor beside my bed not so long ago, “You been reading my diary, you little snotling! Told you to read your own books!”
He looked innocently up at me, pizza sauce and all. “You think Irby’s cute and you lub him too! And you wish his mudder wasn’t such a horrible, mizzable—what, Jo? You didn’t write nothin’ else! Was you gonna write somethin’ badder?”
Oh, fabulous! The kid had an incredibly vivid memory besides! Great! Nothing would be sacred anymore!
Get the rest of the story HERE!