Thank you ever so much.
Edward was cutting the lawn and doing the trimming for Granddaddy until Mom came back in February. She told him they didn't have the money to continue so he dropped back to once every other week, and then for free, but when she took off last month he waited to see if the house would go up for sale. He wasn't sure about the liability if it was with a real estate company and he was taking care of the lawn against the owner's permission. Rosa had set it up before as a favor to Emmett, her husband and his buddy, when he'd moved here last fall but he'd been concerned about starting up again.
"Damn shame I gotta worry bout that kinda stuff but you never know these days." He puts his water down on a little wood slat table next to the swing. He smells like sweat and smoke and maybe a little bit of bacon. It's simultaneously the most disgusting and the most enticing thing ever. He's like every pool boy fantasy come to life, and I am so, just, annoyed with myself for thinking so. His t-shirt says, "My brother went to Harvard…in a jar." There's a picture of a brain underneath it. Yeah, I'm distracted but what he's saying somehow gets through the hormones that hit you when sitting next to pure testosterone after an eight-month dry spell. I nearly drop the Mason jar in my hand.
"Didn't have the money?" This makes no sense. Granddaddy invested well. He was an engineer, and we lived modestly. There's a lot of money, even. I know. It's been a sticking point with Michael, who wants to see the will, who wants to know what I might inherit besides the house before he signs the necessary legal documentation to dissolve our farce of a marriage. What the hell is this, didn't have the money? "What do you mean? Granddaddy wasn't poor. There's enough money. Of course I'll be paying you and the boys for the yard."
"It ain't a big deal. Neighbors help one another, y'know?" His arm around the back of the swing is suddenly too close to me.
"No." I come forward on the swing and Edward's foot goes down hard on the concrete to even out the momentum and keep us from pitching forward. "No. I appreciate what you did, but I will pay the boys and I will pay you the back money you are owed. I don't know what my mother was thinking, but the money is there." I stand but the glass is still in my hand and I don't know what to do with it now. He reaches out for it and as he takes it from me, he touches the bones of my wrist with the pad of his thumb.
"Okay, Bella, okay." He's holding the jar and me gently, and I don't know really which might be more breakable. "Can I call you Bella? Listen, I didn't mean to insult you or whatever. I knowed your granddaddy was good for it. I used to take him to the bank and on all his errands and stuff when Rosa was busy. He told me some about workin' at Kennedy. All's I know is what your momma told me later, though. I didn't mean nothing by it."
He's uneducated, or at the very least he has never cottoned to English class. I want to march across the street and be done with this attempt at normal human civility. I want to sneer the way I know that Michael would, and tell him he has no idea who Granddaddy was, but I cannot. I can't because somewhere inside I am less upset with his familiarity and his diction than with the fact that he was able to do things for Granddaddy that I wish I could have done, that I should have done. Granddaddy, intelligent beyond most measures and decent to his very core, would be disappointed in me today. I came over here to try to make it up to him and already I am ruining it.
I look at the crack in the porch, over by the edge, and how it fans out this way in a couple of snaky lines beneath my flip-flops. "I'm sorry." It's so hot out here and his hand on me is making me overheated in the strangest way, like how you feel sick down in your gut right after you burn your hand on the stove and just before you start cussing because the pain is there. It's a half second away and nothing can stop it coming for you. "I'm sorry, Edward, you've all been great…I just, I –"
He lets go of my wrist. I don't know whether that helps or not.
Rhett has walked the mower back over to their yard and Chance has disappeared while his dad and I were chatting. The more rambunctious boy appears, wiping his throat with a square of blue handkerchief.
"It's lookin' better right, Miss Bella?" He wears his daddy's slow grin like a beacon of hope. It radiates across the street between our two houses, his Spanish-style and Granddaddy's colonial. "We need to do the trim work and keep after all them roses, but it's a start."
"Best leave the weedeatin and whatnots for another day, son." Edward nods toward me and there's a distance between us again that had almost closed when we were swinging. I mess up everything but it's best this way. I'm not staying. There's no need to make any time with this man and these boys. "Miss Bella's probably had enough noise for one day."
The thing about kids this age, it's like they know right off when something's afoot. Rhett nods at his daddy, gives me a big goofy smile, and is gone before I can even open my mouth to thank him. The steps off the porch are crumbling on the right side. This house, it was built even before ours. Irene Denali lived here with her husband, and then alone, for years and years. I don't know how it's come to Edward and his kids. I don't know how a gardener could afford rent around here, and he can't be month to month because short-term rentals aren't even allowed on the cape.
"I'm just going to go." I'm looking mostly at the pretty red vodka begonias that spread in a sea of crimson from beside the porch steps to the sidewalk.
"Ace was a fine man." Edward is rocking back on his boots above me. Just looking up at him like this sort of unnerves me and starts up the need to flee inside me, but I keep glancing at the plantings and trying to ground myself. To withstand this man I may have to reach down into the dirt and grow roots. Otherwise, he may keep right on blowing me away.
"You hear me, lady? You're a fine woman, too. Same cloth. You lose a body you loved, it knocks you down. I know that. But we're here, right? We don't get to join 'em till the big man says, so we got to keep on. Pardon me sayin' so, but you do have a right nice smile, miss."
My head snaps up and that slow smile is there on his face, showing just a hint of teeth on one side. His incisors are a little crooked, too. "When–?"
He throws one shoulder back, toward the porch. "On the swing there. Sure would like to see a real wide one soon. We'll see you around, Miss Bella, yeah?"
I swallow, hard. "Just Bella."
His eyebrows rise into his forehead and the little lines around his eyes pull at his skin. His whole face lights, and and he is happy, this man. I want to run inside and scream into a pillow because my mind goes all the wrong places. What can a happy man do in bed? What might a man unconcerned with outcomes do for a woman who makes him smile? What could Edward, with those arms and legs gleaned from manual labor, do with me?
It's got to be a hundred degrees by now. I can't take it. It's making me crazy. Everybody goes a little crazy in the South in the summer. We all do. The heat fries our brains or something. It cooks our best intentions into puddles of sin.
He clicks his tongue at me, the way I might call a dog in the street. Two clicks and I see the tip of his tongue peeking out. "We're glad you're here, Just Bella."