Read The First Law of Love Online
Authors: Abbie Williams
Tags: #Minnesota, #Montana, #reincarnation, #romance, #true love, #family, #women, #Shore Leave
“Yes, dear,” Dad said in a tone clearly meant to be understood as condescending, and I giggled a little.
“All right, I'll do it,” I said. As though I had a choice. “But Ron better make this up to me this fall. I'm just saying.”
Dad laughed then. He said, “I'll tell him you said so.”
Landon, MN - June 2013
“Oh, Clark is so excited to see you next month,” Camille told me. “He just absolutely adores you.”
I was seated at a picnic table with a checkered cloth in my sister's yard, which was a cleared quarter-acre in the woods surrounding their cabin. I had just finished my third beer, as close to content as I ever felt, surrounded by my family, loud and rowdy as always, the kids tearing around. It still stunned me how much everyone had grown while I was away; as though I was vain enough to think that everyone remained in some sort of stasis, simply awaiting my return.
Camille's husband Mathias Carter, my stepdad Blythe, Blythe's grandpa Rich, my Uncle Justin and Justin's dad Dodge were crowded around the propane grill on the deck, laughing about something in the evening light. Mathias held Lorie, his and Camille's youngest, in his arms, while Uncle Justin and Aunt Jilly's youngest, Zoe, clung like a monkey to Uncle Justin's back. Lorie was three, Zoe a year older. Millie Jo and Rae, both nine, were huddled on the far side of the yard, plotting together as only girls that age are able; six-year-old Henry and Brantley, along with Matthew, age eight, and Riley, seven, were in their own huddle near the big girls.
Mom, Aunt Jilly, my younger sister Ruthie, Grandma and Aunt Ellen were also at the table with Camille and me, Clint and his best friend Liam Gallagher stretched in full-length lawn chairs a few yards away, resting up after a day of working with the fire crew. I considered Grace and Ina, giggling at the thought of what my friends would do at the sight of them (though they would have to fight Ruthie for Liam). Despite my offer, neither could find the time to come to Minnesota for a visit, much to Clinty's disappointment. Personally, I wasn't disappointed at all; they would hate Landon after the first few days away from Chicago, and I didn't want to deal with that at all.
“Tish, I was hoping you'd work around here this summer,” Mom said. She was on my left, and I rested my cheek against her shoulder for just a moment, surprising myself almost as much as her; I was not typically given to affectionate gestures. But I missed my mother enormously when away from her. She smelled just the same as always, like peaches, her skin soft against my cheek. Her long, sparkling golden hair, which I'd always wished I'd inherited, brushed my face.
“I know,” I said.
Ruthie, directly across from me, leaned on her forearms and said, “You look like you could use a rest. You work too hard.”
“You always have,” Mom added, getting her arm around me and stroking my hair. I felt like a beloved little girl, and let myself relish this feeling.
“I'm so happy to be here for June, at least,” I said.
Aunt Jilly was studying me, her beautiful, cobalt-blue eyes intent. She was given to precognitive flashes and I wondered if she was seeing something right now. As though reading my mind, Aunt Jilly smiled softly at me and said, “I was just thinking how grown-up you look, honey, so sophisticated. You used to be such a tomboy.”
Everyone laughed at this, including me. I said, “I could still outrun Clint.” I looked over at my tall, strong cousin and amended, “Well, maybe not anymore. But I could win an argument with him now, any day.”
Grandma said, “We're so proud of you, honey. We just miss you around here so much. It's not the same without you and Clinty bickering about something.”
Ruthie giggled; talk about having grown up. My pretty little sister was twenty-two, still dating Clint's best friend Liam. Certainly they would be married by this time next year. Neither she nor Camille had ever been to college and a part of me was jealous, actually jealous, because apparently I hadn't inherited that particular ability to be content; always I was on the lookout for what was over the next horizon, restless. I'd been so restless, for so long now.
I said to Ruthie, “You and Liam are so cute. Who'd have thought, huh?”
She smiled a little, her eyes moving to him. As though he knew she was peeking his way, Liam lifted his sunglasses and gave her a little wave. She blew him a kiss.
“No one special for you these days, love?” Grandma asked me. “I haven't heard about anyone since Randy.”
“Gram, I've been in law school,” I reminded, not even having to sigh, my tone was so desolate. Randy had been the last of my longer-term boyfriends. Yes, I'd slept with men since him, but I tended not to get too attached. I was in favor of the weekend hook-up, between rounds of studying, and petition preparation. On that front, I was not proud of myself.
“You look as though a little hot sex might do you some good,” Aunt Jilly observed, totally straight-faced, the only one of us who could get away with that sort of statement. Ruthie choked on her beer, giggling, and Mom shot Aunt Jilly a dirty look, while everyone else laughed heartily.
“Laugh it up,” I said, taking their ribbing at my expense. Directing my words at Aunt Jilly and Camille, I added, “I'm not the one attempting to double the population of Landon.”
Aunt Jilly laughed even more, saying, “Not since Zoe. I told J if he wanted to keep having sex so often, he better get himself in for a vasectomy.”
Camille's cheeks flushed and I turned to her, on my right, to press my palms upon her warm pregnant belly, round and firm beneath the soft cotton of her t-shirt. In some ways it seemed like just yesterday that I'd been cupping her stomach when she was pregnant with my oldest niece, Millie Jo. At my words, Camille's eyes had flickered inadvertently to Mathias, and I looked over my shoulder to see the grin he sent my sister's way; the color in her cheeks deepened even more and she smiled radiantly back at him. As was my old habit, I rolled my eyes, though I was immeasurably glad to see my sister so happy.
Henry hit me!” Millie Jo yelped loudly, from across the yard. I was a little ashamed to admit that I could not keep the twins straight; they so exactly resembled each other with their dark curly hair, tanned skin and dark blue eyes. They were each a mini-Mathias.
“Henry, apologize to your sister,” Camille ordered calmly.
“All right, Mama,” one of the boys, presumably Henry, said obediently, before snatching something out of his sister's hand and darting away, giggling, the soles of his bare feet flashing.
“God, it's like we have Huckleberry Finn times a hundred,” I observed. Millie Jo yelped and raced after her brother, Rae, Riley, Brantley and Matthew all on her heels. I expected to hear a brawl of epic proportion in the near future, though Camille remained unconcerned.
“Do you need me to whip them?” Mathias called over.
“No, but come give me a kiss,” Camille said.
“Oh God,” I muttered, taking a long pull from my beer. “You two still make me sick.”
Camille giggled as her husband came immediately to her and wrapped his free arm around her, drawing her close to his side and bending to softly kiss her mouth. My brother-in-law was gorgeous, inside and out, and I loved him most because he was so obviously in love with my sister, and made her so happy. Happiness practically beamed from her, like sunshine. Clearly that's what allowed her to be content with never having been to college, bearing child after child here in Landon.
“You should have seen your sister this week,” he told me, still snuggling Camille to his side, their youngest daughter (at least until October, anyway), perched on his other arm. He added, “She's been so excited for you to get here.”
To my surprise, Lorie held out her arms to me and with pleasure I took her into my own, cuddling her soft little chubby body against mine. She smelled sweet, like Kool-Aid, evidence of this beverage ringing her little mouth with purple stickiness. Her dark hair was tucked into two pigtails that stuck out from behind her ears. She regarded me with serious eyes, just the same golden-green as Camille's.
“I've been excited to get home too,” I said, shifting so that Lorie fit on my lap. “I miss it here so much.”
“Are you ladies ready for us to serve you?” Uncle Justin asked, joining us as well, his dark eyes going right to Aunt Jilly; even I could see the love that passed between the two of them, the way their eyes held and spoke in ways that only they understood. Zoe had squirreled down from his back to chase after the bigger kids.
“I've got steaks, brats, burgers, the whole works,” Mom's husband Blythe said, balancing two platters. Mom moved to help him, smiling softly at him and catching him for a quick kiss. Blythe loved my mother so much, and had always been kind and patient with Ruthie and me; we had lived in their house all through high school. He was also an incredibly good-looking man, but I didn't notice that about him anymore; I just saw my stepdad. As Ruthie headed directly for Liam's lawn chair, probably to make out with him, I muttered, “I just need a drink,” and handed Lorie off to Camille to go in search of the beer cooler.
We ate outside as the sun sank and painted the clearing with soft golden light. The kids elbowed and horsed around with each other at the designated kids' table until Dodge threatened to drag the entire thing, them included, to the lake.
“See how you like eating when you're in the water!” he told them, though he was such a big teddy bear that no one believed him anyway.
Rae said, “Grandpa, you wouldn't do that!”
Riley said, “Grandpa, Rae's calling you a liar!”
“You tell him, son,” Uncle Justin teased.
Aunt Jilly muttered, “Oh for the love.”
It was loud and rambunctious at the adults' table too, and so Clint had to lean across so I could hear him, “Tisha, so no chance your friends are making it up here?”
I rolled my eyes again and said, “No, they can't take the time, not even to meet Mr. July.” Clint flushed beneath his tan, laughing at this. I continued picking on him, asking, “Aren't there plenty of girls around here? What about Claire or Erica?”
“Tish, seriously, they're both married now,” Clint said.
“Even Claire?” I was surprised; Claire Henry had always had eyes for Clint.
“Yeah, but she wasn't the one for me,” he said.
“Trust me, Grace isn't either,” I said. “She may be my friend, but she's a materialistic bitch. You'd hate her.”
Clint rolled his own eyes, blue as Aunt Jilly's, and mine. Aunt Jilly used to joke that the stork had brought me to Mom by mistake. He said, “Yeah, I probably need a girl who likes to fish, at the very least.”
Camille commandeered my attention, saying, “The Rawleys are all set to show you around Jalesville the minute you get there. Oh, you'll love it, Tisha. It's beautiful. The mountains, I'm telling you. The air smells amazing.”
“You sound like a travelogue,” I teased her.
“Thias and I are hoping to go and visit next summer again,” she said, using Mathias's nickname. “Where are you staying out there?”
“Dad said that Ron, you know, who I'm hoping to work for, is going to provide me with a fully-furnished apartment. I'm actually kind-of excited about that.” I had never lived in my own space, without so much as a roommate or a pet. I said, “And Uncle Justin fixed up that old Honda of Aunt Jilly's for me to drive out there, so I have a way to get around.”
“You'll be busy,” Camille allowed, as I'd given her the short and sweet version of what was happening in Jalesville. “But be sure to get out to The Spoke to hear the guys play. It's so worth it. Clark will show you around, and so will the boys.”
“They're hardly boys anymore,” I reminded her. “And besides, I can find my way around just fine. It's no bigger than Landon, right?”
Camille studied me for a long moment and I wondered what she was thinking; she appeared so serious. Then she smiled, leaning to kiss my forehead. She said affectionately, “Same old Tish.”
In my old bed that
night, the one in Mom and Blythe's house that was nestled in the woods near Shore Leave, I lay restless, hearing the muted murmur of Ruthie on the phone in her own room, Matthew snoring from his; it was almost like being back in high school, though I shuddered a little at the thought. Not that high school had been so terrible. It was just so far removed from the person I had become; recalling my old, unsophisticated self just made me squirmy with discomfort.
re a college graduate now. You have a future at Turnbull and Hinckley. Ron won
t refuse you anything after this. Just get through the summer and you
re golden. What
s one summer? Besides, it
s probably beautiful out there. You
ve never been farther west than Minnesota, after all. It will be a good experience.
I rolled to the far side, my eyes tracking to the window, open just a few inches to the sounds of night. I imagined sneaking out and into the woods; I had exactly three cigarettes stashed in my purse, if Aunt Jilly hadn't “borrowed” them, and at that thought I smiled a little. At first I seriously considered sneaking away to have a smoke, but then I reminded myself I was an adult. If I wanted to have a cig, I could just go sit on the porch. I remembered bitching at Mom for smoking when I'd been a teenager.
My, how things change
, I thought, with only a touch of irony.
You should get some sleep. When will you have a chance to sleep anytime soon?
But restlessness wrapped around my mind the way a damp sheet would my body. I had been trying to avoid the thought that kept surfacing for attention, the one that had been uncomfortably in the background of my brain since I'd learned I would be spending the summer in Jalesville, Montana. And it was here, in the dark of my old room, that at last I gave in and let myself remember.
I hadn't given that afternoon more than a passing thought in years, but right now it was effectively destroying all chances at sleep. Sighing, I sat up and tugged on my jeans, shrugged into a hoodie sweatshirt. Outside the air was humid, the sky was overcast, blotting out all trace of moon and stars, any appreciable illumination. The flame of my lighter nearly blinded my eyes, remaining impressed in red-yellow on the back of my eyelids as I blinked, and then inhaled deeply.