- F. Lynn Godfriaux
George Digby Lamont blinked, but his vision wouldn’t clear. His chest felt heavy, and butterflies fluttered around his heart.
He glanced over to his wife, Ginnie, who seemed lost in thought as she gazed out the passenger window of their Land Rover.
Should he say anything? Pull over? Find an emergency facility?
He returned his attention to the two-lane highway, tried to focus. Flat, empty, brown Kansas prairie spread under expansive
blue sky. The midday late March sun held no warmth. He felt fine this morning when they started their trip to visit Mattie in
Colorado. And though in his sixties, he’d never had heart-related problems.
He heard Ginne moan and turned his head in time to see her slump into an unnatural position. Her color looked awful.
“Ginnie?” His voice sounded distant. He caught a whiff of the sweet pickles he and his wife had been eating, felt his head
begin to spin, then heard the heavy blast of a truck horn.
Screeching tires, exploding glass, and impacting steel ripped the afternoon air as the oncoming eighteen-wheeler slammed
head-on into the careening Land Rover.
I can’t believe this.
The thought became a boulder that took up all the room in my chest, then rolled slowly, painfully downward into my
stomach. I gazed through the tinted glass of the long, black limousine, wondered how everything outside could be light and
normal, when everything inside me had become dark and strange.
The limousine crawled down Main Street in Shawnee, the small Oklahoma town where my sister Angela and I had spent our
youth, where our parents had raised us with love, gentleness, and joy. It seemed as though every car in town joined the slow
procession to the cemetery. Jeremiah, my husband of almost seven years, slipped an arm around my shoulders, pulling me
close. His warm, solid body enveloped mine, and I leaned into the black leather jacket he wore and wished he could lift the
boulder away from my heart. Angela, motionless within the folds of her knee-length coat, huddled against the opposite
window. Long, thick, chocolate brown hair hid her pale face, but I knew her expression held the same shocked desolation as
My only recollection of our parents’ graveside service was the March wind that lashed through my outer protection and
froze the boulder into a massive chunk of ice. Consoling voices grated like nails on a chalkboard as Jeremiah’s gentle hands
guided Angela and me back to the long, black car. Black, like the void that sucked me into a pit never to let me out again.
Black tires crunched, crawled down thin, black pavement, the end of the awful trip no better than the beginning, as we pulled
up alongside the front staircase of our parents’ estate.
As we drifted to a halt, a man wearing a black wool overcoat appeared from the endless line of parked cars and strode to the
left rear passenger door. He reached for the handle when the limo doors unlocked, opened Angela’s door, and leaned down.
“My poor, dear Angela, come with me.” Avoiding eye contact with both Jeremiah and myself, he helped my sister from the
car. The collar of his heavy coat hid most of the strange man’s face, so I didn’t get a clear look at him, but I felt Jeremiah
tense. The stranger wrapped a protective arm around my sister then slammed the door shut. I watched through the tinted
glass as he steered her away and wondered how he had known which side Angela was on.
“Who was that?” I asked as Jeremiah rose from the car, then steadied me as I stood next to him.
“I think it prudent we find out.” The curtness in his voice startled me. His eyes narrowed on the two figures ascending the
broad steps that led to the front entrance.
My husband, Jeremiah Black Bear Tyler, a full-blood Southern Ute, stood slightly over six feet and had the build of a distance
runner. He rarely answered questions, listened more than he talked. He did not use contractions, a characteristic which made
his personality seem formal.
Jeremiah arm slipped around my shoulders and pulled me close, protecting me from the sharp, vicious, stinging wind as we
climbed the stairs to the house I had called home for most of my twenty-eight years.
William, Mom and Dad’s butler for as long as I could remember, met us just inside the front entrance. The aged, bent little
man hugged me with surprising strength. Flowers and potted plants crowded the large entryway, leaving only a narrow path
along the broad, hardwood floor. Living, moving bodies of friends, colleagues, and strangers crowded the large room to our
left. I didn’t want to talk to any of them, so I stood there and stared at the plants.
William’s pink, shiny bald head nodded towards the sea of colors. “Anna and I will see to these, Miss Mattie. Don’t you
worry.” He ducked his head from my stare, but not before I saw the wetness on his face. He took our coats, and Jeremiah
coaxed me into the throng. Muted sounds of familiar music whisked me away from present torment and life became normal
as I slid into a fog of memories.
My father, George Digby Lamont, born into southern wealth, left Alabama to pursue degrees in piano. He met Mom when he
had attended her doctoral piano recital. Together they had devoted their lives to university and private teaching, local and
regional performing, and raising and loving Angela and me. Music had echoed through this house thoughout my youth, and
every time Jeremiah and I came for a visit after we married and moved to Colorado. It had been wonderful, warm,
welcoming, sharing their love of life with every strain.
Gut-ripping truth forced itself back into my thoughts. Mom and Dad were gone, and it was someone else’s music that filled
the house now, sounding tinny, contrived. It grated on my ears, and I wanted them to stop it and leave. I wanted everyone to
stop whatever they were doing and leave. Mom and Dad, Grandpa George, Uncle Bernard, all of them dead within the last
three years. Too much death, too many loving people taken away from me too soon.
Bodies overflowed every room, engaged in a muted cacophony of conversations and music. Waiters in crimson and cream
maneuvered their way through the crowd, balancing trays of wine and finger foods. Smiling (I hoped politely), I
acknowledged well-wishers and looked around for my sister. We entered the large dining room that adjoined the front room.
Renovated hardwood flooring contrasted warmly with deep green, floor-to-ceiling drapes and tall, old-fashioned windows.
Tall ceilings added grandness, made the room seem spacious despite the crowd. I caught sight of Angela and the stranger
standing against the opposite wall of the entrance. Jeremiah paused, and I stopped and leaned into him, then watched the
stranger lean down and place a kiss on the top of my sister’s long, dark hair. He seemed about my height, which neared five
feet ten inches. He looked stocky, muscular rather than fat, and his thin, dark, crudely cut hair threw his features out of
balance. Thick glasses made his eyes too small for the rest of his clean-shaven, acne-scarred face. I didn’t like the way his
eyes shifted about, ignoring whoever was talking with him. The dark, expensive, three-piece suit he wore appeared custom-
tailored, but for some reason I felt that his attire did not match his personality. Maybe it was the scarring on his face. Once
again I was forming a prejudice based on looks. My photographic nature, seeing everyone through the viewfinder.
His head turned and our eyes met, then he glanced away. I must have squared my shoulders because I felt Jeremiah’s body
stiffen. Together, we wandered over in their direction.
“Jeremiah Tyler.” He sounded unusually curt. His black crew cut accented his strong facial features. His black wool sweater
and wool dress slacks made him seem taller than he was and more than a little intimidating.
Jeremiah extended his right hand and I glanced at him, trying to figure out the reason for his curtness. His expression was
neutral. The man hesitated, then gripped Jeremiah’s outstretched hand. Jeremiah turned to me. “And this is my wife, Mattie,
I smiled and extended my hand, felt the sweat on the man’s palm. His fingers barely touched mine before breaking contact,
and I wondered whether he was nervous. And if so, whether Jeremiah was making him feel that way.
“Gary Tacque.” Gary smiled suddenly and slid an arm around Angela’s shoulders, pulling her close, her black outfit matching
his suit. His small green eyes darted my way, then back to Jeremiah. “Angela’s told me all about you.”
“Your name seems unfamiliar. Are you from this area?” Jeremiah edged between the man and my sister, forcing Gary to
drop his arm. I took Angela’s hand and started to lead her away when vice-like fingers gripped my shoulder.
“Just where…” Gary’s voice raked my already raw nerves. He coughed, then started again. “Stay with us.” His voice
sounded like a demand, his fingers dug into my flesh despite my heavy sweater. I shrugged irritably, and he let go.
“We’ll be back,” I threw over my shoulder.
I led my sister to the music room located across the hall. William had closed the doors to this room, so we were alone when
we entered. I shut the door against the noise and the crowd, relished for a moment the ensuing silence, then turned towards
Angela. Her large, expressive brown eyes looked empty and lost.
“Let’s have it. Who is that guy, and where’d you meet him?” Okay, maybe not the best way to ask about a new boyfriend,
but we had just watched our parents being buried. I wanted her close, not distracted by someone else.
Angela avoided eye contact. “He’s a friend.” She seemed really out of it.
“Come on, Angela, you can come up with more than that.”
Angela stared at me, and I wondered whether she had taken some sort of tranquilizer. Not that I blamed her, but the idea of
her relying so heavily on Gary irked me. Angela was four years my junior, had graduated with a Masters in Sociology, and
was now a social worker at the community hospital in Norman. At twenty-four she was quiet, an excellent listener, and
understood other people’s problems with soothing empathy. But she was naïve to the point of clueless when it came to
reading people. Being a photojournalist and four years older, I had more experience, had been exposed to the baser side of
life. I knew that her blind eye would be worse than usual, and I wanted to protect her.
“Gary Tacque.” She looked at me.
“Well, yeah. He told me that. I want to know who he is.”
She relented. “He’s a representative for a drug company. I can’t remember the name right off.”
“Where’d you meet him?” My voice sounded as curt as Jeremiah’s. I’d better quit sounding so critical. Emotions were
running amok already.
“At the hospital. He’s very nice. He doesn’t have many friends because of the way his face looks.”
“You mean nobody knows who he is, which means he may have secrets worth knowing about.” I blurted, then clamped my
lips shut. Sounding accusatory wasn’t going to get me very far.
The questions, however, rattled out by themselves. “So, where’s he from? Does he have any family? How long has he
worked for the drug company?”
Angela’s chin jutted and her mouth tightened into a thin line. “Mattie, knock off the inquisition, okay? He’s a nice man, and
he’s been at my side ever since that awful call from the State Patrol last summer about Uncle Bernard.”
Our Uncle Bernard, Dad’s brother and only sibling, had died in a car crash while driving back to Alabama after spending July
Fourth weekend with us.
I tried to back off. “I want to know how involved you are with him, that’s all. I am your sister, and it’s just the two of us
now.” Mom had been an only child.
Angela glared at me. “You’re acting like you’re the boss now. Since when is my life suddenly your business?”
“Since we buried Mom and Dad,” I bristled. “You’re exceptional at sensing other people’s troubles, but you don’t have a clue
how to recognize when someone’s pulling one over on you.” Damn it. I shouldn’t have said that. I opened my mouth to
“Mind your own business and leave me alone.” Angela’s stony words matched her expression. She spun away and started
towards the door.
“Angela, wait. Please. I’m sorry.”
I reached for her, but she turned with such an angry expression, that I backed away. Her demeanor was so totally unlike her
that I wasn’t sure what to do. I took another step back, felt the bench of the nearest grand piano against the backs of my
knees, and sank down. The one I sat beside had been Dad’s favorite. I remembered the childhood piano lessons I had fought.
Why had I been so insistent about not learning something my father cared so passionately about? Why had I refused to
follow in his footsteps?
Angela paused. Possibly she saw the pain and confusion in my face, because she drifted over to the other piano and sat
down. I watched her arms lift the lid covering the keys. A slow, single melody line drifted from strings hidden under the
massive lid of the nine-foot grand.
“I’m sorry.” I repeated, feeling like I was apologizing to my father as much as I was trying to defuse things with my sister.
“I just want to know who this guy is. It’s … you and me now. I … I guess I got mad because he didn’t bother to introduce
himself at the car.” My gaze dropped to the exquisite Persian rug that carpeted most of the floor. The soft pile had provided
cushioning whenever the two of us slept under the instruments. We had been young, small, innocent.
The wandering melody broke off. “Do you remember how we used to camp out underneath these?” Angela’s voice broke
into my thoughts. “It was so cool, lying under there whenever Dad was practicing. Or when the two of them were in here
working on a program. I wonder how they ever got anything done, the way we giggled and carried on.”
“I wish you had pursued your music.” I looked up at her, wishing with a fresh wave of despair that I hadn’t been so
stubborn about lessons. “I loved listening to you play, too.” She and Dad had worked on two-piano works together during
her years in high school. She had been offered full scholarships by several universities, and partial scholarships from two
“After I saw how much the therapists helped Jeremiah’s brother, I wanted to try to help people instead.”
Jeremiah’s younger brother, David Mud Rain Tyler, had Down’s Syndrome. He only answered to Mud Rain, had recently
turned fourteen. When I first met Jeremiah eight years ago, Mud Rain had been six years old, non-verbal and difficult to
control. Jeremiah had taken him off the Reservation and tried several centers that focused on kids with special needs. It had
been Angela who had made the difference. Mud Rain responded to Angela’s gentle firmness with astounding progress. I
admired her for choosing to work with kids with special needs, but the selfish side of me wished that she had pursued her
“But you’re so good,” I said, trying to bridge the uncharacteristic communication gap that yawned between us. “Can’t you
find time to pick it up again?”
Angela’s mouth turned downward. “Quit trying to make everything my fault. I’m tired of you thinking you’re always right.”
I frowned, realized my expression matched hers, tried to work the corners of my mouth upward, but they quivered instead.
We used to email each other daily. Thinking back on things, I realized our communication had dropped off the last couple of
months. Angela and I used to talk about anything (and I do mean anything).
“Nobody makes a good first impression with you, Mattie. You’re too busy looking at them the way they would look through
a camera lens. In case you forget, I didn’t like Jeremiah when you brought him home the first time.”
Her abrupt change in subject jerked me back to my bluntness about the new man in her life.
She stood and wandered over to where I sat. Leaning her elbows on the closed lid of Dad’s piano, she began tracing
imaginary patterns with a finger on the closed ebony lid.
“I didn’t like him because I knew he was moving and you were going to go with him.”
Yeah, I remembered that conversation. When a job opportunity had opened in Colorado Springs instead of somewhere in
Oklahoma, we had cried together over how Life was ripping our world apart.
I tried to smile. “Okay, maybe I’m jumping to conclusions. But honestly, he acted sort of rude when he met you at the car.”
Her damp chocolate brown eyes focused on her moving finger. “You’re not interested in getting to know him.”
I leaned on the closed lid of the keyboard and pressed the palms of my hands against my eyes. “C’mon, Angela.
That’s ridiculous. Jeremiah and I walked over to meet the two of you, didn’t we?”
“You’re just reacting to what you see. Just because he doesn’t have a GQ face doesn’t mean he’s not a nice guy.”
I raised my head and stared at her. “Is that what you really think?”
“You’re not trying to get to know him at all.”
I felt like two separate conversations were going on. “Angela, you can’t seriously be thinking that.”
Her finger stopped and she straightened. “You’re just jealous because I’ve finally found someone besides you to be close to.
That’s why you don’t like Gary.”
I stood, my legs knocking against the heavy bench. “Hey, I just want to know more about him. Excuse me for being
interested,” I retorted.
“He’s good company. We get along. Like Mom and Dad do … did.” Angela released a long, ragged sigh.
“Angela, you’re not even listening to me!” I threw up my hands, sat back down, and glared out the window at the thrashing
branches that should have had spring buds but didn’t because of the current cold snap.
Tears stung my eyes, trickled down my cheeks. Maybe my reaction had to do with the fact that the man had been seeing my
sister for a while, and this was the first I had heard about it.
“So why haven’t you called or emailed me about him?” I didn’t turn around, didn’t want Angela to see how upset I was.
When she answered her voice sounded shaky. “You’re always busy, and Gary is always around when I think about calling,
and we get distracted doing something else. I’m away from my computer most of the day now. It would help if we could
text.” She stopped. I knew what she was going to say next.
“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m not buying another expensive phone to lose or get dropped in a puddle. I’m behind the wheel most
of the day anyway.”
“I was going to have you meet him over Christmas, but you didn’t make it down.”
Guilt poked me in the chest. She didn’t have to bring that up. I rubbed my face with my hands, stared out the window again.
Strong winds bent bare tree limbs almost ninety degrees. Low clouds, looking like Marley’s ghosts, raced across the late
“Did you get the job?” Angela asked from behind me.
“No. Jason got it.” Not only had I not come down to see family for Christmas, but the job opening I had been hoping to get
with the photo shoot had not gone my way. Feeling stubborn, I turned around. “You could’ve emailed me about him. My
computer is always with me.”
Angela didn’t offer any comment.
“What …” I trailed off, balking at having to use past tense. “What … did … Mom and Dad think of Gary?”
A long silence followed before Angela replied. “He … hadn’t actually met Mom or Dad yet.”
Alarm bells began ringing in my head, and too late I realized that I was scowling. Angela glared back. “What? He’s always
busy, and I moved to an apartment in Norman so I could be closer to the hospital. Sometimes I don’t get off work until late.
I haven’t been living in the house since last summer. Whenever I drive up to Shawnee to say hi, I always ask him to come
along. He’s tried to come up sometimes after his appointments, but they run too late.”
“You didn’t tell me you had moved. Neither did Mom and Dad.” I realized belatedly that I had been short on the phone with
my parents since Christmas. I hadn’t wanted to hear their ready acceptance and support of my failure to get the position.
Angela’s expression bordered on hostile. “My computer crashed after I got into the apartment. I haven’t gotten it fixed yet.
Gary said I must’ve downloaded a virus from the Internet when I was setting it up.”
“You could’ve called me, damn it.” I ignored inner warnings and let emotions take control. “Or did he keep you too busy to
do that, either?”
“You know what? You’re being really bitchy about all of this. I’ve been busy. Gary’s been busy. Don’t get on my case for
not calling you when you’re the one who couldn’t spare enough time to come home for Christmas.”
The music room door swung open and Gary’s head popped around the edge. I opened my mouth to tell him to butt out,
stalled when I tried to think of a different way of putting it, and lost the opportunity altogether.
“Angela, there you are, sweet pea. I’ve been worried about you.” He stepped into the room. An inexplicable sense of
protectiveness washed over me, and I rose to stand beside my sister.
“What could you possibly be worried about? She’s here with me, in our house.” My voice echoed around the acoustically
live room, sharp, uninviting.
“A lot has happened since you last saw your sister. I’ve been with her. I know how all of this is affecting her.” He sounded
so patronizing that I wondered how on earth my sister could possibly be attracted to the man.
Angela walked over to stand beside him. Her action seemed like a choice of sides. Disconcerting, to say the least.
“Nice talking with you.” The tone of her voice said otherwise. I stared in numbed silence as she and Gary disappeared
around the door. The polished cherry wood barrier swung shut with a disturbingly metaphorical click.