"Forrest, it's Vida. You have to do something about Nola."
"Vida, I don't have to do anything about Nola except send you a check every month. You have full custody, remember. And that custody is backed up by a restraining order for me never to come within 100 feet of either you or her."
"I had the restraining order withdrawn two years ago."
"Nice of you to inform me." My voice dripped with sarcasm.
"Oh come on Forrest. You wouldn't have become part of her life even if you knew you could." I was waiting to see what my ex-wife wanted. It had to be something. She never contacted me unless it was something that was ultimately going to be unpleasant and expensive for yours truly. There was silence and I was going to wait her out.
Small victory. "Forrest, I have to ask a favor of you. In fact it releases you from paying child support."
There was only one way that was going to happen. Vida was going to turn the rearing of my fifteen-year-old daughter over to me. It was too late. Vida had divorced me when Nola was three. She accused me of touching my child inappropriately. The court had agreed with her to the extent that they issued the restraining order. There was no solid proof so I didn't end up on some list as a child molester. Pissed off, I had made some threats against Vida herself, so the order was extended to include her.
That didn't stop her from going to court to up the support payment periodically, though. Vida was a bitch through and through. What I ever saw in her I'll never know, but I was young. Man is a stupid animal sometimes and I was one of the first rank. "I'm listening."
"Nola has been picked up twice at underage drinking parties. This lastest one happened on the last day of school. She needs a father's guidance now that she is a teenager. I think you should step up to the plate and do your duty."
"I know. Some of it is my fault, but I'm a single mom and I've done the best that I could without a man around."
"Bullshit. It is all your fault." This was so typical of Vida. She dumped me and when things didn't work out for her, she made sure I was going to pay double.
There was silence and then some sobbing. "Forrest, I really have lost all control over her. I can't get through to her at all. She does just as she damn pleases. Can't you please help a little? Would you at least talk to her?"
"This is my busy season and I don't have time. I had to borrow for the last two support payments and my note is coming due." This was a lie, but if I gave in too easily, it just would cost me more later down the road.
"We're going to lose her and it will be all your fault. Don't you love your daughter at all? She has a date next Tuesday in front of the family court judge." I did have love for my daughter, but I wasn't going to let Vida know, or how much either.
Yeah, I caught the "we" all right and it pissed me off even more. "Give me three days and I'll get back to you. Don't get your hopes up, either. I'll see if I can find time to talk to her, maybe as soon as the weekend." I hung up. Let the bitch stew for a few days. I thought for a minute and then made a phone call to find out just how deep in doodoo my daughter was. I found out it was nothing too serious yet, but if she continued on the same path, it could be. There would be a penalty for what she had done, but if she cleaned up her act--well that was what was needed.
I sure was going to have a chance to talk to my daughter, because just before nine that night, Vida drove up in front of my house and honked the horn. She was screaming at Nola to get her bags out of the car. This was Vida. I hadn't been this close to her in many years, but she hadn't changed at all. I hesitated before going out to see what she would say. Nothing--no chance! As the girl removed the second suitcase from the trunk of the car and shut the lid, Vida spun the wheels and drove off.
I stepped down off the porch and approached my daughter. I couldn't see her face as it was within minutes of being full dark. I knew she was crying. I reached her and without saying anything, I picked up the suitcases and headed for the house. I looked over my shoulder saying, "Come Nola. It is time we were acquainted."
I suppose this must be traumatic for Nola. I knew she had never lived in a house with a man before, and I knew that she didn't know me at all. I would suspect that I had been painted as the devil by Vida as well. I set the cases in the living room and pointed to the kitchen. I turned the overhead light on as we sat down so my daughter could see me.
"Can you stay up a little while so we can introduce ourselves, or are you too tired?"
"Good. As your mother has told you, I'm your father. My name is Forrest W. Green. I'd like to assure you I'm not the bad person she told you I am. Just touching a little on Vida's and my life together, we didn't get along from day one. Your mother became pregnant before we graduated from high school. That was how you came to be. We married and lived together for three years and divorced when I was twenty-one. It was hell for me and maybe your mother too.
"I can honestly say I have never loved your mother. I did love you as a baby, but you weren't in my care for very long. I have no idea how we will get along now. You are nearly an adult, so I'm going to treat you as one. Please remember that."
"I don't know you. You have never been near me. Why should I listen to you now, just because my mother doesn't want me around anymore?"
"To tell you the truth, I'm not too terribly happy about you being here either. I have paid out considerable money over the last thirteen years to feed, house and clothe you. I will continue, only I will do it without your mother's interference if you will let me. All I'm asking is for you to give me a chance."
"You don't know anything about me."
"Oh, I know more than you think I do. I know you are intelligent. I know you are a superb actress and have often been one of the main characters in your school plays. I also know you are quite athletic and play sports. Basketball and field hockey, specifically."
"How can you know this?"
"Because I have been to many of your school activities and watched you from afar. A little more about me. I am a qualified teacher and if you want to be home-schooled, I can handle it with ease. I haven't taught in the last three years, because I expanded my hobby into a business which pays better than teaching. I do that right here in this little cabin in the woods. You could even help if there is any part of it that interests you. I will not require you to, though."
"If I'm home-schooled, I will miss all of the things going on in town."
"Not necessarily. I would transport you, although you might find it awkward because you would then be an outsider."
"What happens if I won't do what you tell me to do?"
"Nola, I'm your last resort. You are on the very brink of being placed in a foster home by Social Services. I'll give you a few facts about being under their authority. You would have a twenty-percent chance of being placed in a home where you felt comfortable and happy with a foster Mom and Dad.
"But, and this is a fact, there is a sixty percent chance that you would be unhappy which would cause you to rebel against the foster parents the same as you have done with your mother. You would then be moved into a different home. Many of these homes, the people are just in it for the check that comes from Social Services. You would be moving continually in and out of different families, but never loved in any. The other twenty percent of foster care parents would find you being abused, both physically and mentally. When I say physically, I am saying sexually. I don't want that for you."
"Mother warned me that you might do that to me."
"I'm telling you I won't, even though I'm pretty much at your mercy on that score. All you have to do is say something to a teacher or someone in authority that I was abusing you and I'm toast. You can even tell a neighbor, and I'm done for. Can you understand why I'm reluctant to have you here with me? Especially since your mother had a restraining order against me previously for that same thing."
Nola looked at me. "Mother told me she falsely accused you. Did she say that just so she could drop me here?"
"No, in that respect, she was being honest. What are the difficulties between you and your mother anyway? I said I would treat you as an adult, so please answer me truthfully. We will be living together and as of yet, I don't know anything about how you think. How you act is pretty well documented."
This almost woman critically examined me before answering. "Mom was asked out on a date by someone she really liked. This was a year ago. While she was out, the neighbor boy came over and talked to me. To be honest, I had never been kissed before and he hadn't eithier. We tried it and we both liked it so we necked for awhile. We then watched a movie together on television.
"We were laying on the couch together when she came home. We were cuddled up close and sleeping. Mom went ballistic. She had a fit and started screaming at both of us. Her date saw Mom at her worst and never called her again. Mom blamed me for that. The boy hadn't done more than kiss me and Mom had no right. She never let up. I figured if I was going to have the name, then I was going to play the game."
"Have you done more than kiss now?"
"Yes, a lot more."
"Okay, you don't have to go into details."
"I think you want to know how far I have gone. For your information, I'm still a virgin, but at that last party, I wasn't going to be before the night was over. It got busted up before I had enough to drink to let someone do it." There was a defiant look, but also one with a little bit of shame in it too.
"You don't have a steady boyfriend then?"
"No. How could I with a mother like the one I have?" She paused. Then, "Why aren't you blasting me like Mom has been?"
"Well so far I can't see where there has been any great harm done. Are you on any form of birth control?"
She was not looking at me, but at the floor when she shook her head no.
"Well before you go to another party, I guess we had better make sure you get some. I don't imagine the boy who was going to take your virginity would have been sober enough to use a condom. I'll tell you this, I played Russian roulette with your mother. That is what happened to her and me. I don't know about Vida, but it sure screwed my life up. I wouldn't want that for you.
"Look, we have delved deeper into this than we have had to, right off here tonight. I haven't told you anything about myself and I'm sure you are interested. We'll talk tomorrow. Again, I wasn't expecting you so soon. You will be sleeping in the extra room across from mine. I'll help you make up the bed with clean sheets. If you want to take a shower, the bathroom is the door at the end of the hall. I guess we both have a lot to think about."
We made the bed and I carried her cases in. There was a closet and a bureau for her clothes. Nola was silent while I was in the room. She was getting a bathrobe out and said she would shower. While she was in the shower, I stepped outside and cut a spray of white roses and put them in a vase for her to find on her night stand when she retired.
Later when I came out of the bathroom after my own shower, and before I opened my door, "Forrest, good night." This came through her closed door.
"Good night to you too, Nola."
There was a long time before I got calm enough to sleep. I really hadn't had the chance to see what my daughter looked like. She had on dungarees and either a blouse or a light sweater on under an overblouse. I could tell she was slim and fairly tall. I was sure her brown hair came from my genes. It was heavy and thick with almost red highlights in it.
I went to sleep finally, hoping the morning would bring us to a level where we could continue to communicate. Last night didn't give any indication that she would rebel against me in any way and I was hoping we could continue in a like manner.
Her door was closed when I opened mine. I had slept an hour later than usual. I set about making breakfast. I didn't have anything special, only what I would eat myself. There was no fruit and I wasn't much into cereal. It had to be eggs, bacon, coffee and toast. I placed it on the table and went to wake Nola. The room was unoccupied.
I looked out the front door and couldn't see her. I opened the back door and she was just coming out of my shop. She had her back to me as she closed the door. "Nola." She jumped from being startled. "Nola, breakfast is ready."
"I can smell it and I was coming in. I'm hungry." I was followed in and I indicated where she was to sit. She sat as I poured coffee. I didn't ask if she drank it, but I remembered that Vida was addicted, so I assumed Nola would be too. She was.
She took the first sip and a pleased expression expanded into a smile. "Good morning, Forrest. It is so quiet, except for the birds I heard singing when I woke up. Some different than in town." She concentrated on eating, not saying more until she was wiping up the last traces of her egg with her toast. "That was delicious. I usually have a poptart."
"Do you cook?"
"No. Mama wouldn't let me in her kitchen." She giggled, and then said, "Mama can't cook much either, but she wants her kitchen to look as if she could."
I laughed because I remembered when Vida and I were married, I usually put together the meals. "I guess I'll have to give you a few lessons. Tomorrow morning we will start you out on making breakfast. Did you sleep well last night?"
"I did. I think it was the scent of the roses that must have done it. I got up early to look at the bushes. I can tell you like flowers. You'll have to tell me their names. I went into the little building out back. I see you are a wood carver. Do you carve anything else besides Indians?"
"No, that's it. It takes me longer to get my wood blanks glued together than it does to do the carving. The hardest part is doing the finishing when the carving is completed. These are all commission orders and each one is different. It pays well and I am becoming well known for them. You will have to google Forrest Green/wood carver, on the Internet sometime."
"Where do your orders come from?"
"The orders are coming from all over the world now. I advertise on the Internet. The first few I made, I sold on E-bay. I did that to get an idea of how much to charge for each one. I don't know who carved the first cigar store Indian years ago. They went out of style for awhile and then it started up again. Some company was making them out of plastic, selling them for about a hundred dollars."
"How much do you sell yours for?"
"My base price is about $5,000. That's for a three-quarter size carving. A bigger one is more, and a half-size is even more than that. A smaller one is more because the proportion is difficult to get correct. It takes me about two weeks from the time I start the carving until the final coat of paint is finished. That doesn't count getting the wood ready. I guess I gross about $40,000 more a year than I did teaching. I don't have to put up with the hassles of unruly kids or the administration's dumb-ass rules that they come up with sometimes."
"Like me you mean?"
"I wasn't being specific and you would know more about that than I would."
"I guess it would be me."
"I'm not going to excuse you, but you are old enough to know right from wrong. You are going to have to think things through and anticipate what the final result of your actions could lead to. When were you going to mention that you have to be in family court next week?"
"I haven't mentioned it, because I didn't want you to scream at me like Mom does. I thought maybe I would just skip telling you and not go."
"You might want to rethink that. This is what I meant about being responsible for your actions. Think about the worst thing that could happen and that may well be what you are sentenced to."
"Would you please go to court with me on Tuesday? I could wave good-bye to you as they lead me away."
I peered closely at Nola. I could see a quirky smile forming at the corners of her mouth. I was being played. "You do the dishes and clean up the kitchen. I'll let you know what my decision will be when you finish." I turned and went out to my workshop. I had to get away from this darling of mine before I burst out laughing.
I felt her presence behind me when I was concentrating on fitting two bolts of pine lumber together after I had applied glue. She spoke, "You don't believe they will take me away, do you?"
"Let me ask, isn't it a possibility and shouldn't you have thought of that before you started drinking?"
"I should have. I was getting back at Mom and didn't think. She had grounded me and I snuck out of the house."
"Okay, that was between you and your mother. When she called she told me you had to go to court. I made a call and talked to an attorney to advise me. He is someone I know fairly well. Here is what is going to happen to you. You will be going before a judge who passes judgment on your kind of case. I am asking to be named your legal guardian with full custody. Your mother will have no control over you anymore.
"You will be my sole responsibility. That is not to say you shouldn't apologize to your mother. You should. With all of her screaming and telling you she hates you, she does love you. She must or she wouldn't have sent you to me, the last person on earth she wants anything to do with."
"In court you will not get off with just a reprimand. You will be put into a diversion program. You will be sentenced to at least thirty hours of community service. I don't imagine you will find it very pleasant, but it will keep you from having a record."
"Do you know what I will have to do?"
"I have had a conversation with the court clerk, but the court may not think my suggestion is credible. I would suggest that you bone up on your ability to send and receive Morse code, though, just in case."
"How do you know I can do that?"
I paused before answering. "Nola, I may not have been a visible part of your life that you were aware of. I had to walk away from you when you were three. I made friends with your kindergarten teacher and with at least one of your teachers in every grade you have attended. I did that for a reason."
"What was the reason?"
I didn't want to say it out loud yet. Instead I said, "You figure it out. You're intelligent. Now you be quiet so I can concentrate on getting this piece of wood together and not spoil it. It cost me $200 and it may become something worth $5000."
"What kind of wood is it?"
"It is white pine. If it was mahogany or walnut, it might cost five times as much as pine. The finished product could be ten times as much as what I would pay to carve in the cheaper wood. There are advantages working with the different wood species. Pine is easy to carve, but you can't get the crispness of detail with it that you can get with a harder wood.
"Most of the figures I carve from pine are finished with paint, sometimes in a satin and sometimes in a gloss. The hardwood is usually just varnished, though sometimes the feathers are colored. The varnish I use isn't like they used years ago, but is a polyurethane. I do whatever the customer wants. You'll learn all of these things if you are interested." I looked hopefully at Nola.
"If they don't take me away and put me in jail, I'm sure what you do will interest me. Does Mom know what you do?"
"I have no idea. I don't think a person was ever shut out of another's life like she shut me out of hers. Nola, I tried so hard to make a home for your mother and you. When you were born, it was as if you were her baby and I couldn't have any part of you. I admit I didn't make much money, but I was doing the best that I could at the time. She was on my butt to better myself. The only ones to help us were my parents and she trashed them repeatedly until they wouldn't have anything more to do with her.
"The last year we lived together, we didn't sleep in the same bed and sometimes a whole week would go by before we would have a conversation. I made the comment we never should have married. I often thought she was unbalanced. When she had me served and following that little comment, she put all those things in about me touching you inappropriately. The restraining order followed immediately. This was before I became a teacher or I would have lost my position.
"Now I know it sounds as if I am trashing your mother. I have kept close track of you growing up and I think she did a superb job until you started to rebel against her authority. I'm not saying that you haven't had cause either, because I know how off the wall Vida can be.
"I suspect she will calm down now and regret the moves she has made to distance herself from you. If we get an opening, she should be willing to have a rational conversation with us. You should do the same on your own. Actually it is more important for you, because I've lived without her for a long time, but I don't want you to go that route. In the meantime, you and I can get to become father and daughter."
"You're awful forgiving. She reacts when something doesn't go her way and starts screaming. She makes all kinds of threats and doesn't always carry through with them. That is why I was so surprised when she dumped me on you. I thought from many things she has said about you in the past, that I was really in deep trouble. You don't seem like that at all."
"I said I would treat you as an adult. I will continue to do so if you act like one. Acting like a spoiled teenager doesn't cut it for me. I'm pleased to say I'm not disappointed in your actions so far, just from the few hours you have been here. I will be giving you some orders you won't like, but if we can discuss them when you disagree, we should be able to settle things without hurting each other too much."
I was working all of this time and had the various pieces of pine clamped just the way they needed to be. "Okay, I'm finished for this morning. Would you like to take a walk? It is good exercise and I'll show you a sight that is something beautiful."
"Whatever you say. Is this one of those orders we can discuss?"
"Not exactly. I'm going, and if you go with me, I think the effort you put into being with me will be your own reward in the end. I'll pack us a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and two bottles of water apiece. You'll be thankful for them."
"Where are we going?"
"Up the mountain behind the cabin. There is a view from the top you'll like." There was a trail of sorts, but it was a difficult climb. It was two hours later when we reached the huge boulder that hung on the side of the promontory. You edged up around it and then could ease out and sit down, dangling your feet over the edge. You could see for more than fifty miles. Here and there were small villages scattered over the landscape.
Directly below was the population center that we were a part of. This stretched out in a ten-mile square. The streets were visible and some of the larger buildings and factories could be identified. On the very edge of our vision and to the right, was the municipal airport. Nola's gaze was riveted as the noon plane landed. It was too far away to identify anyone. They looked like ants through the glass I handed my daughter.
Nola was speechless, except for the exclamation that she uttered as we sat down. "Awesome."
Nola would spend minutes trying to pick out places she knew and then she would put the field glasses down and look again at the whole panorama. "I didn't live that far from you did I? I knew I had a father somewhere, but you must not have been more than five miles away. That's sad."
"Yes it is. When you turned eighteen, you would have known me. I would have approached you to see if you would become part of my life. The date has just been pushed up a couple of years. I'm hoping that is a plus for you as well as for me."
This beautiful jean-clad young lady wearing a flowered, long-sleeved blouse, could have sworn that I was the best thing happening to her. She didn't, just stating, "You told me to be an adult in my thinking. So far, in the less than a day I have known you, I like what I see. You have treated me well, but I don't know you yet and you can't know me either. You may send me to Social Services after you hear how I acted at the party where I was busted."
"Good enough. Don't worry about your court appearance. I'll be there with you. We'll keep you from being incarcerated somehow. Now this old man has to take a nap in the sunshine for a little while." I laid back into a hollow in the rock and closed my eyes.
"How old are you Forrest?"
"Thirty-three, two weeks after you turn sixteen."
"We'll have to plan a party."
Nola's court date was next week on a Tuesday. I was trying to keep her mind off of what was coming as she was very nervous about it. Tonight was Thursday night and I asked what she watched on television. "Survivor. It is a reality show about a bunch of people left on an island or in a jungle somewhere. They are there for forty days, I think. Each contestant has to survive to the end of the show without being voted out by the other members. It's kind of dumb, but the prize is a million dollars. Some of the women are cute and don't wear much. You'd like that."
"What makes you think that?"
"You're a man and you aren't that old."
"Maybe I have a woman."
"There is no evidence that you have. There are absolutely no women's things in this house at all. I looked in your plan and date book and there is nothing in it that says you go anywhere with one. According to your planner, the only friends you go to see are a Rick and Mary Hanson. When you go there Saturday evening, am I going with you?"
"You're pretty nosy."
"Hey, you said yourself, I don't know you. How else am I going to find out about you? Are you taking me with you?"
"I'll think about it." I changed the subject, although I often watched the Survivor show myself. "What time does Survivor come on?" This left Nola looking closely at me. She caught on that I didn't want to answer about Saturday night.
"We are adults here. Isn't that what you have stressed?"
"Nola, you were going to find out about me and the Hansons soon. I don't know if you are ready for me to tell you all of it. There is a lot of sadness you will have to deal with. Some of it may not put me in a very good light. I will tell you I'm planning on you becoming involved with Rick in some capacity. You will see what really terrible things can happen to good people."
"You're scaring me."
"No, don't be scared. When you meet Rick the first time, your first thought will be, 'how awful, ' but that thought will go away and your heart will soon burst with joy that you could have a chance to know him. You talk about brave. He is the bravest man I have ever known and on so many different levels, too."
"You're leaving me hanging here. Just a little more information, please?"
"Okay. I'll tell you one thing he has done for me. In one way, I suppose it involves you some. When your mother made it impossible for me to live with her and put the restraining order on to keep me from seeing you, I was near suicide. Rick and Mary were my friends and they had their own problems. They took time to bring me back to the land of the living. And you were part of that as well. They explained that in fifteen years you would be eighteen and could speak for yourself.
"Comparing my life to theirs, there was no reason to contemplate ending my life any longer. There are a couple of other things that you will find out over time, that I won't go into now."
"Forrest, you have to take me with you. If they saved you so ultimately I would know my father, I have to meet them." My daughter was in for a surprise!
"Okay, that's settled. Do you have a really nice dress? Something elegant?"
"No, I don't have anything like that. I do have a pretty top and slacks, though."
"Not good enough. We'll take time to go shopping in the morning for a dress. I guess Saturday you should get your hair done. You have beautiful hair, it just needs styling."
Nola was silent for a minute before saying, "You know, you worry me. About the first conversation we had, you want me to go on birth control. A day later you want me to get dressed up and meet some people that you say I'm going to be involved with, the man especially. You aren't planning on getting me into something immoral are you? I mean, I know I haven't been the best person and made some bad choices, but it was some I made on my own. You're my father, and you are supposed to keep me from trouble, not force me into something bad."
"Nola, I don't blame you for wondering about me. Put the way you just said, it does sound as if I'm pushing you in the wrong direction. You'll have to trust me a little when I say I'm not. Rick and Mary are almost my only friends and I want them to be as impressed with you as I am. If you don't want to wear a dress and have your hair done, that's okay. I was thinking of myself, I guess."
"Forrest, just tell me. Will this Rick that I'm going to meet--will he look on me as a sex object and will he be safe for me to be alone with?"
"Yes, you will be safe. He has a medical condition that prevents him from anything physical. Even if he didn't have this condition, I would trust him with you."
"Okay then, dress me up and take me out." I received a bright smile. "I guess I'm going to have to learn to trust you and not second guess you."
"I intend that you come to trust me. I've watched you from the sidelines for years and I have felt I know you. It is just hard to comprehend that you don't know me at all. That is where the uncertainty comes from. We will get on the same wavelength after we are more familiar with each other, I promise. Now go turn on Survivor and we will see what Jeff has for challenges for his castaways tonight."
"You watch it too, don't you? Boy, it's a good thing you don't know what I'm thinking you are."
"Watch it kid, I'm your father, remember?" I made a bowl of popcorn and we sat together discussing the show as it unfolded. Nola had her favorite players and I had mine. Hers won the challenge and the one I wanted voted off, won the immunity idol. Damn! It was a comfortable evening for both of us.
I led Nola through the mysteries of breakfast making. "Oh, there is a dishwasher behind that little door beside the sink. I forgot to tell you that yesterday." She threw the extra slice of toast at me.
After the kitchen was cleaned, I told her to come watch me rough out one of the wooden blanks I had glued together several days ago. I used an angle cutter with a type of chain saw teeth on it. It would quickly chew the blank into the rough shape of the Indian that would be the final product.
The blank was mounted between a head and tailstock about waist high. I could turn this by hand as I worked around it. Later for carving the detail, I had it upright sitting on a turnstile. I could sit down on a chair that I could raise or lower as I progressed. This made it much less tiring as I carved the wood. As I worked, I explained why I was so particular of the wood I used. It had to be fine and very straight grained, so as I hammered the chisel, it wouldn't skew and go where I didn't want it to. Today I only did the roughing out as we had a date in town to buy a dress.
When Nola came out as we were ready to leave, she had chosen a pair of short shorts and a tight white tee. I looked at her and I got one back that had defiance written all over her face.
"One, we are going into town on a sensible shopping trip that calls for something nice. The salesclerk will be bringing you dresses for your inspection. She won't think you serious about purchasing something elegant the way you are dressed like now. Two, I was going to buy you shoes, and I'm not going to have you sitting while a man is kneeling and trying shoes on you where he can look up and see between your legs."
She stamped her feet and sputtered. "You, you, you're so, so, you're so--" She was searching for a word. "You're so adult!" I just stood there until in her mind she put herself in a salesclerk's place. Her face flamed and she went back into her room and came out ten minutes later in slacks and a blouse, walking by me with her head turned away out to the Subaru we were going to town in.
"Damn it, are you always so right?"
"No, I'm not. But I have learned a few things over the years. One is that when you have true beauty, you don't have to flaunt it."
It was just before we got into heavy traffic when Nola looked across at me. "You paid me a compliment. Did you mean it?"
"Yes." I smiled to myself when I saw my daughter sit up a little straighter and fold her hands demurely in her lap.
We shopped the boutiques on Main Street. This was serious business for Nola. Especially when the saleslady made the comment that so many young ladies entered saying they were looking for something, and were dressed to kill time and not really buying. My earlier point emphasized.
The dress was purchased and then I sent her into another shop to purchase some things to go under it. My credit card went with her. When we reached the shoe store, there was a pimply faced young man who fitted the shoes on her. When he went out back to get a half-size smaller in one style, Nola burst out with, "If he doesn't stop staring at my crotch, I'm going to slap him--and I have on slacks too." I grinned and then she giggled.
It was lunch time when we finished shopping and we went into a quiet restaurant named Otter's for a sandwich. Coming out Nola commented that we could have got a better tasting hamburger at McDonalds and it would have been three dollars cheaper.
"I know, but here you have to pay for the atmosphere. It is quiet and you can speak in a normal tone of voice. Business can be conducted or love words can be exchanged."
"Have you done that in this place?"
"Love words or business?"
"Both. Nola, I hate to break this shopping up, but I should start carving the detail on that Indian that I roughed out this morning. Is there anything you want to do here in town? See your mother or hang out with a friend?"
"No, I'll go home with you. Forrest, I don't have you figured out at all. I get dumped on you and you have spent a lot of money on me. I haven't even known you for two whole days yet. I feel as if I know more about life too. It's odd. When you say no, I'm beginning to realize you aren't saying it just because you can, but that there is a reason for it. I like that. Why didn't Mom ever treat me that way?"
"Vida didn't treat you that way because it could be the way she was treated by her parents. I don't know. I have my way with how I think you should be treated and she has hers. That isn't to say she doesn't love you either. Remember I have had years to think how I would act if I ever had the chance to advise you. I have the chance now. I'm sure you and I will disagree on some things in the future. Expect it, and you will have to accept it. I could be wrong in that too. We will see."
When Nola came to breakfast Saturday morning, I asked if she slept well. "No I didn't. I was thinking about this evening. You still haven't told me what is going to happen."
"Okay, you know I have an appointment for your hair to be styled this afternoon. Directly after that, I'll be bringing you home and ask you to lie down for a couple of hours, because it will be a late night for you. When you get dressed we will go and pick up Mrs. Hanson and we will go out to dinner. That will be at seven. Dinner will take upward of two hours. Your dress is beautiful and you will be nearly as elegant as Mary. I will be so proud to escort you both into the dining room to be seated.
"After dinner, we will return to the Hanson residence to meet Mr. Hanson. I will explain about Rick in a minute. What I'm going to ask of you is that you stay and keep Rick company while I take Mary out dancing. We will return by midnight and you and I will come home."
"You are going to leave me alone with a strange man that I don't know? How can you expect me to agree to that?"
"No you won't be alone. There will be a nurse in attendance in the room with both of you at all times. Rick has to have one around the clock, just to keep him alive. You will be just a little diversion for him in his very tiny world. You see Rick is a quadriplegic. Actually he is worse than that. The only action he can perform is to blink his eyelids. He can't talk or move any part of his body except his eyes.
"What am I supposed to do? Stare at him?"
"You can talk to him, read to him, watch television. He can hear what you say very well. Just keep him company and be a little window to the outside world that he can't ever enjoy. Tell him about your life, hopes, dreams, whatever. Remember I was thrilled you knew Morse code. If you want to expend the effort and read his blinking eyes, you can even converse with him. He is still one of the most intelligent men I have ever known."
"Oh God, this is creepy."
"Maybe, but I don't think you will find it so. Would you at least consent to meet him? Mary has little time away from him, by her own choice, I should add. I provide that once a week. I try not to disappoint. They still have the deepest love for each other of anyone I know in this world."
"You say the nurse will be in the room with us?"
"Yes, he or she, I don't know which it will be tonight, sits at a machine that monitors his vitals almost constantly. They won't interfere and after a bit you won't realize anyone else is there but you and Rick. I told you that bad things happen to good people, and this is one of those times. Fortunately he still wants to live, incapacitated as he is. And wonder of wonders, Mary wants him to live."
"How long has he been like this?"
"Seven years. He was in a horrible car accident. The person that hit him was super rich and had a good insurance policy. He can live another ten years on what Mary won in the lawsuit which was well over $100,000,000. The cost of his nurses and care runs in the neighborhood of two million a year. He jokes that when the money runs out, he will die and Mary can find a man with a body, and not love a costly brain housed in a hollow bone."
"How did you come to know him?"
"Know them. He was a professor at the college where I went to get my degree to teach. I lived in their house while I was there. I'll tell you more about me and Mary some other time. They both had a hand in resurrecting me when your mother and I divorced. After the accident, I was so pleased to find that I could help them both a little when tragedy struck Rick down."
"I can do no less than to meet him then, can I?"
"You be careful, young lady. Your father may get to be awful proud of you."
Nola was beautiful when she came from the hair stylist, even in cream colored slacks and plain blouse. When we arrived back at my little home, she asked why she had to take a nap like a kid. "I want you to be at your best tonight. We are dining at an exclusive club. We might even see some movie celebrities who are in town. I understand that the city is trying to get a film set here."
"You can't know that."
"Start reading newspapers, Nola. All kinds of information show up in the publications. Oh, I don't mean you have to. I was just passing on where I mined that tidbit of information from. I just thought this might be exciting for you. Anyway this will all be new. There will be six people at our table. There are usually only five. All are aware that I had sired a daughter. I want these friends of mine to know you. There will be one other man besides myself.
"After the dinner, we will return with Mary to her house and you will meet Rick as I have said. This will be for me the crux of the evening. I would very much like it if you two became friends. I'll know soon after you two meet. Just keep focused on his eyes. That is where his soul is centered. People say there is no expression in just the eyes, but I find that not to be the case. So, if you would lie down for a rest. You don't have to sleep, just relax."
"Forrest, would you zip me up please? I entered Nola's bedroom where I had left a young girl of fifteen to meet a woman of twenty or twenty-one. "Oh, I don't even know myself looking like this. I feel so grown up. I wish Mom could see me."
"We have time if you would like to stop for a minute on the way."
Nola turned and faced me. "You wouldn't mind?"
"Not at all. We'll have to leave now, though."
"Good. I'm so nervous I need to be moving." I held the passenger door as Nola backed into the seat and swung her legs in. Sitting very straight, she said. "I can't describe how I'm feeling. Forrest, you are so handsome and you have made me so pretty, I just don't know what to say."
"Nola, we are the same people as when we are dressed in everyday clothes. You are like a night closing flower. Wearing beautiful clothes, you open your pretty petals in the sunshine and close them when the sun goes down. You still are the same flower. If you can remember that, you won't get a swelled head when someone tells you how beautiful you are this evening."
"Can't I get a swelled head just for tonight? Maybe not with the ones we are going to dinner with, but when we stop at Mom's."
"Okay, but remember she loves you. It was you that caused her to give up on you--partly anyway."
We drove up in front of Vida's small house. Her car was in the driveway. I parked on the street. Getting out, I went around and opened Nola's door. When I turned around after shutting it, Nola was halfway up the walk. Vida had come to the screen door and was watching her daughter come toward her.
"Mom, I am going out to dinner tonight. I didn't take any lipstick with me when I left. May I use your pale pink to gloss my lips just a little? We were going by and it will save stopping and buying some."
"Oh Baby, of course you can. You've had your hair done. What a beautiful dress you have on. Did Forrest buy it for you?"
"Yes, just to go out to dinner in. After that, I'm going to sit with a very sick gentleman for the evening while Forrest conducts some business. We don't have much time."
"Go in and get what you need. I'll say hi to your father."
Vida came down the walk to me where I was standing waiting for Nola to return. "Hello Vida. You are looking well." I was as civil as I could be.
"I'm okay, I guess. Forrest, how are you dealing with Nola?"
"We are doing fine. Her court date is Tuesday and she is worried about that some."
"She should be. Whatever possessed her to begin going bad is beyond me. I'm glad you are taking over to straighten her out. I do miss her, though. What is going to happen to her before the judge?"
"I think she will be put into a diversion program. If she behaves for a year, she will not have a record."
"Good luck with that."
"Vida, I would like to get together with you and discuss Nola's future. Would you be willing?"
"Call me." Nola was coming out of the house and she stopped and they hugged. I saw Vida whisper something and Nola nod her head. Nola came to the car with a happy smile on her face.
When we resumed, my daughter leaned over and said, "Mom thinks you are so handsome. She thinks I am pretty too. I'm glad we stopped. Tonight I'm ready for anything."
Mary was waiting and stepped down from the porch when she saw me come around the circular drive. Nola said hello and got into the rear seat so that Mary could sit in front with me. "Right on time Forrest. Nola you do credit to your father. We'll get acquainted before we sit down to eat."
I sat across from Mary and Nola. I might as well say it. I loved both my friend's wife and my daughter. Having Nola living with me was a major complication that I was having to deal with. Tonight was fine. Nola would be interested in meeting Rick while I was away in a hotel with Mary. Before you think what a horrible person I am, I have to declare that I would be making love to Mary with Rick's full knowledge. In fact this was his idea from the beginning.
It was my idea to teach Rick, myself, and Mary the Morse code so we could converse. It was a year after his accident, and in that routine which kept him alive, he blinked out his thoughts to his wife about me. That same day he did the same with me. We discussed it with Mary and me standing together before him. Both Mary and I objected and wouldn't discuss it. I stayed away three days, and figured he would decide to drop the request. He hadn't.
The first two years we joined together it was so hot, exciting, and we couldn't seem to get enough of each other. I mean it had to be illicit and although not technically cheating because it was at his urging, it seemed as if it was. Later as the ardor cooled and we could discuss this rationally, we realized he was doing this for Mary, so she could have a semi-normal life while caring for him. Not once did we ever show any fondness or intimacies while we were in the room with him. He didn't need that.
Tonight, seated at our table was another couple, friends of Mary and Rick. They both were professors at the university. The odd woman was a professor as well. She was there for proprieties sake, for it wouldn't do for me to escort Mary to dinner alone. If Nola hadn't been dumped on me in the middle of the week, she could have provided that service. Nola would have been unaware. This woman wasn't, as she was a very close friend of Mary's and they shared more than recipes.
Nola was quizzed about how she came to be with me. "I have always lived with my mother. I thought it time I got to know my father. Mom and I had a little argument, which I haven't apologized for yet. For the time being, it is best for all of us that I stay with my Dad."
A feeling of love washed over me when I was referred to as her Dad. The conversation soon moved on to other topics. Nola visibly relaxed. Her glance passed over me and I could see that quirky little smile that she used to show she was pulling my leg, knowing how calling me Dad affected me.
It was a relaxed dinner and Nola made not one faux pas all evening. As we rose together, I was complimented on what a beautiful mature lady I had for a daughter. I laughed as Nola slid into the rear seat. "Okay, you can let your head swell tonight. Tomorrow, I had better see it the same size as it was this morning."
I parked the car at the front entrance, as I would soon be driving Mary to the hotel. Mary led us into the room that was Rick's world. His prison as well, if you wanted to look at it like that. Nola came in fearfully behind us. "Hi Rick, I have brought my daughter, Nola, to keep you company for a few hours. First I should ask you if it is still your wish that I take Mary out to the dance for her weekly fling?"
We all stared at Rick's eyelids. "Y-e-s c-e-r-t-a-i n-l-y. stop. H-e-l-l-o N-o-l-a. stop." Nola walked around the contraption that held Rick. It was a bed and he lay slightly inclined so he could see those speaking to him. There was a large television set off-center at his feet, and there was a computer monitor suspended to the right of this, where he received messages and information.
These were for when there was someone there to do the physical surfing for him on both the TV and the computer. There was also a tall stand that held a metronome. Rick claimed that if he couldn't shut his brain down enough to relax, the cadence from this helped. The device was electric and there was a pinpoint of blue light behind it to tell when it was on. I had never known it to be shut off as long as Rick had it.
There was a large object that covered his chest which was the apparatus that did the breathing for him. It compressed and expanded his chest, just as if he was breathing on his own. Rick had been deemed a very handsome man at one time and still retained much of those remarkable looks in his face. His hair was dark and slightly unruly. You expected him to smile at any moment, but of course he couldn't. He was shaved and his color was healthy, although pale, because he never saw sunshine.
I watched Nola, knowing she was becoming interested in Rick and his disability. She was slow at reading the code as Rick blinked out his message. She would get better at it, the more she was with him. "M-a-r-y k-i-s-s m-e, t-h-e-n g-o. stop. D-o-e-s N-o-l-a s-t-a-y? stop."
Nola spoke for herself. "Yes I'll stay and keep you company. Forrest, go and you too, Mrs. Hanson."
"What happened to Dad? You referred to me that way at dinner."
"We'll discuss it when we get home tonight. Maybe you would like me to call you Pop or even Daddy. I am your little girl, you know."
"Okay, okay, call me Forrest."
I looked first at Mary and then at Rick. He blinked, "S-m-i-l-i-n-g. stop." which made us all laugh. Just before Mary and I left, we introduced Nola to Trudy who was the nurse on duty until one in the morning. Nola then went back to Rick.
"I'm going to tell you all about my life up until now. I'll even tell you why my mother doesn't want me living with her anymore. Go you guys. Dance up a storm. Maybe someday I can go dancing too."
For some reason Mary and I did not feel right about being intimate tonight. I told her all about my week and Nola arriving so unexpectedly. I ran on about how I gloried in having Nola living with me. I did ask Mary one favor. Would she call the attorney who was bringing Nola's charges before the judge? If Nola was sentenced to serve community service, could she suggest that she come to her home and keep Rick occupied the numbers of hours she was sentenced to?"
"I do know the prosecutor and of course I will. Forrest, are you going to tell Nola about you and me?"
"Not for awhile, but I don't know how long I can keep it from her. She is one smart young woman. Ideally the knowledge should come from Rick. That would be better for you as his wife. As far as I am concerned, I think I have enough rapport with my daughter already, so she won't think too harshly of me."
"Forrest, if Rick and I had children, I would want a child just like Nola. You would have thought she was twenty-one tonight. She certainly held her own in both conversation and deportment. What are your plans for her?"
"I haven't had time to think about any yet. I'm hoping I can get her interested in doing some of the painting on my statues. If she would just do the feathers, I could double my production."
"Someday Forrest, when Rick passes on, I would love to come and help you. Damn the convention that prevents me from being with you. Rick understands, but society would more than frown on me, if I even came to your cabin."
"Maybe with Nola living with me, you can come and at least see where I live and work. She could be our chaperone. In the meantime I have to get her record cleared up. Somehow I think I'm going to be extraordinarily proud of my daughter before very long."
It was decided we would forgo our pleasure and return to see how Nola and Rick were getting along. We needn't have worried. When we arrived, we discovered Nola standing beside Rick's bed. She had one finger pressed lightly at the corner of one of Rick's eyes. His eyes were closed, but you could tell they were fluttering.
With her other hand she had a pencil poised over a pad of paper. Nola announced why she was doing this. "I had to get Trudy to put eyedrops in Rick's eyes because they were dry. I can decipher what Rick is saying quicker by feeling with my finger than I can by looking at him. This way his eyeballs don't dry out. He has talked continually since you left. You haven't been gone long enough to do much dancing. Mary, were you afraid I would steal your man from you?" Laughter peeled from Nola's lips.
"Oop's, Rick is saying 'grin, grin' to my humor. Wait, he is saying something to you Dad."
Eyes open now, "F-o-r-r-e-s-t, y-o-u b-r-o-u-g-h-t m-e a t-r-e-a-s-u-r-e. T-h-a-n-k y-o-u. stop."
"Treasure or bad girl, I don't know which yet. She certainly has given me much to think about. You must be tired if Nola has kept you talking all night. We'll go along so you can rest."
"B-r-i-n-g l-o-v-e-l-y N-o-l-a b-a-c-k s-o-o-n. stop. S-o-r-r-y y-o-u p-a-s-s-e-d u-p y-o-u-r d-a-n-c-e. stop."
"Yes, but we wondered how Nola would get on with you. Maybe you would suggest Mary go dancing next week. I always wait on your suggestion."
"T-h-a-n-k y-o-u f-o-r k-e-e-p-i-n-g y-o-u-r w-o-r-d. stop."
"I always will. Good night Rick. You too Mary. Be sure you make the phone call. I would appreciate it so much." Mary didn't need to let us out as I was totally familiar with the house.
When we slid into the car Nola said, "I had the best time tonight. May I come back again? Oh, and do you always ask his permission to take Mary dancing? She could just go with you and he couldn't do anything about it."
"That's true. It was his suggestion the first time for me to take Mary, but she is his wife. As such, he is the person who should have the say in who she goes out with for any activity where he can't be present. And yes, you may visit him and Mary anytime. Just remember if you promise to see him and can't, make sure you call his nurse or Mary and let him know. He would be concerned if you didn't arrive. It is amazing what he does as a person in his condition, but he is still horribly limited. Myself, I would just roll over and die."
"I feel the same way, Dad."
"Nola, twice you have called me Dad to my face. Is this something you feel you have to do, or am I really becoming that in your heart?"
"In my heart, Dad." I glanced over and we were just passing under a street light. I saw a tear glinting as it rolled down her cheek. There might have been one seen on mine if she had looked.