Faye Lynn Andrews tipped the watering can over her beloved herb pots lining the porch railing. From the corner of her eye, she spotted a rather large eagle passing by. She blinked and looked down to the parking lot from her second story patio. The eagle had been painted on the side of an olive green, cab-over motorhome.
The sliding glass door of her apartment slid open as Jeanie, her best friend, stuck her head out. “Your mom’s calling. She said she hopes you’re cooking extra for dinner because she plans on staying.” Jeanie’s freckled cheeks widened with the smile that caused her blue eyes to sparkle in amusement. She’d piled her long, blond hair on top of her head in a messy bun that looked like a lopsided egg. “Why didn’t you tell me Lively Lilly was paying us a visit?”
Faye set the watering can down on her workbench. Usually in April, she was traveling the backroads with her Rambling Roadrunner buddies.
“I had no idea. She never—” she snatched the phone and spoke into it. “Momma, why didn’t you warn me you were coming? And you can’t park over there. How many times do I have to remind you that the covered parking is for residents?” She swiped a strand of brown hair off her face in exasperation.
“I know!” Momma drawled in that sing-song tone of hers. “I’m just trying to get turned around.
Normally, these visits were a treat, but Faye appreciated a little warning. Lively Lilly always wanted to be entertained when she came to the ‘big city,’ as she called Dallas.
Faye was scheduled to teach a yoga class in the morning and had a job interview in the afternoon. Not that she was excited about working in a hospital cafeteria, but she needed the money to pay for college. At this rate, she’d be in her mid-thirties before she got the degree in botany she was working toward.
Momma added, “And I am calling you. I’m stopping in for a visit, Sweetpea. There’s something important I need to speak to you about. Jeanie says your cooking chicken for dinner. Sounds delicious. Want me to make up a quick salad to add to your meal? Or how about a potato salad? Or I could make my famous fried pickles. No, you’re avoiding fried foods.”
“I…uh…” Faye stumbled, rubbing her forehead. Momma was hitting her with too many questions. Her surprise visit was knocking her off balance. The whole weekend had been well planned out, now she’d have to rearrange everything. Lord help me. Why hadn’t Momma called before she arrived?
“I can see you from here, Faye Lynn, and you can stop your fretting. I’ll tell you right now whatever you had planned this weekend needs to be canceled. There’s something of grave importance I need you to do. Now do you want that salad or not?”
“Yes. Just a regular salad.” Faye breathed. Great. Goodbye job she really didn’t want but desperately needed.
Jeanie would take over her yoga classes without blinking twice. She was flexible like that. Faye envied her friend’s ability to go with the flow sometimes.
Three other girls shared the four-bedroom condo in the heart of downtown Dallas. Her mother hated the constant noise but did enjoy stopping in for short visits when she wasn’t caravanning with the Rambling Roadrunners club of women RVers.
Her roommates absolutely loved Lively Lilly who always entertained them with her wild tales of the road and eagerness to “paint the town purple!”
“I’ll put the chicken in the oven,” Faye said with resolve. “We’ll be ready to eat in an hour.”
The Flying Eagle, as Momma called her motorhome, finally found a spot in the center parking section. Below the eagle, she’d added in red scrolling words: I’m flying high above the rest of you turkeys!
“Perfect,” Lilly answered. “Will all the girls be home tonight?”
“All except one. Michelle is photographing a wedding this weekend. May starts off her busy months. You can stay in her room if you want.” Faye found Jeanie in the kitchen already setting the chicken in the oven. Faye held her finger over the speaker. “I’ll need you to take my classes in the morning. That okay?”
“Sure thing. Where are we taking Lively Lil this time? We might try getting tickets for the Ridley Brothers concert tonight at Billy Bobs. I have connections, and I know she loves—”
“Tell Jeanie that as much as I love them hunky Ridley Brothers,” Lilly answered, obviously over-hearing their discussion despite Faye’s attempts to mute it. “I’ll have to pass this time. You and I need to talk. Matter-of-fact, I’ll stay in your room with you tonight.”
Before Faye could protest or ask what this was about, Lilly said she’d get the salad going and hung up on her. Faye blew out an exasperated breath. “She came to talk and said she needs a favor from me. I can’t even imagine….”
“Humm,” Jeanie’s eyes narrowed. “First a surprise visit. Now brushing off her favorite country music star for a chat with her daughter. Curiouser and curiouser.”
During the meal, the girls went on about how wonderful Lilly looked with her blue-tipped silver hair and matching bright silk oriental jacket and slacks. Momma always did live over the top.
After Daddy had passed away five years ago from injuries sustained in a car wreck, she’d sold their modest house in Grapevine and divided the family heirlooms between Faye and her two younger siblings, Melanie and Ben. With the money from the estate sale, Lilly funded her camper and vagabond life. Now she drove it everywhere, visiting relatives, her children, and vacationing with other single women that called themselves the Rambling Roadrunners, most widowed like herself.
Once the dinner dishes were cleaned and put away, Faye’s roommates headed down to the local coffee shop, allowing Faye and her mother to have their “talk.”
“So, Momma,” Faye draped the damp towel over the cabinet door once they’d finished washing the dishes. “What important matter brought you here unexpectedly?”
Lilly set a pot of coffee to brew. She’d also brought over a pan of lemon tarts for dessert and had put off eating her treat until she could brew some coffee to go with it. “I’ve been down south in Thistle for the past month.”
Faye’s heart tripped inside her chest, missing a couple of beats. “I’d think you’d have better places to go than that little hick town.” She didn’t want to think about what, or who, would draw her mother there. If Momma wanted to remain friends with him, that was her business.
Anger seethed at the thought of giving up her weekend plans to listen to Momma talk about him.
“Heath’s dying, Faye.” Lilly’s voice broke as a tear spilled down her lined cheek.
Before Faye could venture to guess what he might be dying from, her mother filled in the details. “It’s cancer, and there’s nothing they can do for him except make him comfortable. The doctors don’t believe he has much time left.”
Instead of cutting two slices of the dessert, Faye only cut one. She’d lost her appetite. “And why do you think I’d care?”
Lilly’s fist banged against the tabletop. “He’s your father, Faye Lynn Andrews.”
Andrews. Not Brown, like her younger brother and sister. No, she’d always been the odd duck with her dark brown hair and eyes, against their golden yellow locks and blue eyes. Lilly never would allow James to adopt her so she’d have his name and truly be part of the Brown family, either.
Faye swallowed down the bitter taste rising in her throat. Breaking off a corner of the dessert, she slipped it into her mouth and winced at the tartness. That didn’t help at all.
“Faye Lynn, I want you to take my RV and head down there tomorrow. It’s only a four-hour trip. You go see your father while you still can.”
“Heath is not my father! James was, and he’s in heaven. Which is not where I expect Heath will end up.”
Lilly was on her feet and inches from Faye’s face in a blink. “I did not raise my daughter to be a junior God. You haven’t bothered to get to know him, and you have no idea what you’re talking about. Which is why you need to go. He needs help getting his affairs in order.”
“Can’t you do that?”
“No!” Lilly paced her hands on Faye’s shoulders and took in a cleansing breath, her eyes closed for a moment. When she opened them, she leveled her blues on Faye and spoke in a calmer tone. “Heath is your biological father. If not for him, I’d not have been blessed with you, my precious girl.” She kissed Faye’s forehead.
Faye wouldn’t be swayed. No matter how much sugar-coating Momma tried to put on this. She hadn’t spoken a word to Heath in nearly ten years. Not since he brought that… no, she wouldn’t even allow herself to go there. Even Daddy James had been furious and berated Heath for sinking so low.
“Look, Momma. I know you’ve remained his friend all these years. But he’s nothing to me. I’m sorry, I know you’re horrified to hear me say that, but…” But because of Heath, she’d always been the outsider. She’d never fit into her family. Daddy James loved her like he did his own children, but she knew, always knew, a wall kept her from truly being one of them. Even after she’d pushed Heath completely out of her life. His shadow hung over her all the same. Momma made sure of that by not cutting her own ties with her old high school chum and temporary sweetheart.
“I regret how I allowed James to turn you against your real father. Faye, you’re going down to see him. I’ll not accept no on this matter. You are his only child, and we both need you to do this.”
“I can’t.” Faye’s voice rose as she stomped her foot on the wood flooring. “I have bills. And rent to pay. And I have a job interview tom—”
“I’ll pay your rent this month if you’ll just give me two weeks. Go to Thistle, help Heath get his affairs in order. Please, Faye. He needs a chance to see you before he…” Her thin brows furrowed, looking like scribbled lines over her pleading gaze. Dampness glistened on her bottom lashes.
Faye knew this meant a lot to her mother.
“But why?” What difference would it make after the way she’d treated him? Why would he want anything to do with her? “What affairs does he need help with? Why doesn’t he just leave everything to his—?”
“Heath’s been alone for the past six years. He has that farm, and it can be sold off after he passes if that’s what you want to do with it.” Lilly placed her hand on Faye’s cheek. “Sweetpea, if for no other reason, then go for yourself. Heath could help you with your college expenses if you’ll only give him a chance. He wants to see you, baby. Don’t deny him his dying wish. I didn’t raise you to be so cold-hearted, now did I?”
Faye shook her head. Matter-of-fact, she’d been raised in a church that preached loving the unlovable. Except…
The door to the kitchen creaked open. “I’m sorry,” Jeanie said, reaching for her wallet that was laying on the counter. “I left this. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I heard the yelling soon as I entered the front door.”
Lilly stepped backward, letting her hand drop to her side. “Don’t worry about it, Sweetie. We were kicking up a bit of a fuss, weren’t we?”
Jeanie didn’t say anything at first as she started to back out of the kitchen, but then her gaze caught Faye’s and she halted. “You said your Dad died in a car accident.”
“Her step-father died, honey,” Lilly answered. “Her biological father is still alive, though I don’t know for how much longer. I suppose you also heard me asking her to go down and see him.”
Jeanie slammed her wallet back on the counter. “Yes, I did. Faye Lynn Andrews, how can you say no? Lilly is even willing to pay your rent if you go.”
“But—” Faye tried to defend herself. Just how long had she been standing out there?
Jeanie held up a hand. Her no-nonsense friend would hear no excuses. “You’re going, Faye Lynn. That’s that. We’ll make adjustments to cover you, that’s what friends are for. So, no more excuses. If Lilly wants to stay here while you go down to see your father, she can have your room and take over your cooking schedule. What’s two weeks, huh?”
Faye’s shoulders slumped. Now that Jeanie had gotten involved, she’d lost this battle. “Fine. I’ll start packing and will head out in the morning. But I’m taking my herbs with me. Last time I left them in your hands,” she pointed at her friend. “They were nearly dead by the time I returned.” She glanced at her mother who held up her hands in defense. “And you’re no better.”
“Won’t get an argument from me, Sweetpea. I’ll help you pack.”
* * * *
Chase Michaels tugged at his wiry beard while waiting for the doctor to finish visiting with Heath. At least he looked better today, even if he grew thinner by the day. Would the cancer eventually reduce him to nothing? Chase wished the hallway noises would quiet for a few moments so he could hear the doc’s report. Heath kept his condition to himself, only sharing on a need to know basis. It frustrated Chase, but Loony Lilly had finally blasted him about his secrecy, saying they couldn’t help him if they didn’t know what they were facing.
“I’m dying,” Heath had said as if he’d reported on the day’s weather conditions. “What more do you need to know, Sweetheart? Only the Lord knows how long I have left. When He’s ready to call me home, I’ll go. Not a minute earlier and not a minute later.”
That was the first time Chase had seen Lilly outright cry. What was worse had been she’d chosen his shoulder to cry on. Chase had feebly tried to comfort her, but he wasn’t good with… people. Especially distraught people.
He was good at mowing lawns and making yards beautiful. He was gifted in knowing which plants would do well in what soil and how to mix colors, so they made an eye-pleasing display.
He was not and never had been good at hugs. Nor comforting distressed women of any kind. And he was even more distressed when his own tears had threatened to join Lilly’s. Heath had been Chase’s guardian angel ever since he was in high school over ten years ago. His mother had too many vices to take proper care of him, and when the state wanted to put him in a foster home, Uncle Joe and Heath volunteered to let him stay with them.
Between the both of them, he’d made it through high school without falling apart. Which was exactly what he’d wanted to do when his mom threw him away because her addictions were more important than taking care of her only child.
Joe and Heath, however, cheered him on with whistles and clanging cowbells when he walked across the stage to get his diploma. Then Uncle Joe insisted that Chase go right to college the following year.
“Busy hands and an engaged mind will not the devil’s playground be,” Uncle Joe often said. Then Joe had left him, too, when his happy heart gave out on him a few years ago.
Blessedly, Heath and Chase had helped each other through the great and terrible loss, as they often referred to Joe’s passing.
The door swooshed open as the doctor breezed out. The short man with dark skin and darker hair stopped next to Chase. “I’m releasing your uncle. The best we can do at this point is to keep him comfortable. I’ll set up hospice care for him when he’s ready. For now, we have him back on track. I’ve lectured him about taking things easy, staying hydrated, and perhaps eating healthier. Of course, we know how he feels about that.”
Chase’s grin wobbled as the burning crept up his throat. Heath wasn’t really his uncle, but at least the hospital talked to him when they thought Chase was family. Stupid, really, since not all families were blood families. Heath had chosen to take Chase in. To him, it meant a hundred times more.
“When can he leave?” Chase managed to say between the flames flickering inside his chest.
Through the window, Chase noticed Heath reaching for his phone. Most likely, Loony Lilly was calling to check on him. For some reason, she suddenly left the other day after staying and disrupting their lives for a whole month. Well, now she was gone. Chase would do everything humanly possible to make sure Heath remained comfortable and well taken care of. He owed him at least that, though he’d never be able to repay all he’d done.
Chase undoubtedly knew that if it weren’t for his uncles, he wouldn’t have lived to see twenty-seven years.
“Let me get his paperwork in order. We’ll start him on a new medicine. It’ll probably knock him out at first but try to make sure he takes it before the pain gets too bad. Can I count on you to do that?”
Chase nodded. He focused on Heath who gazed out the room’s large window. At least he had a nice view of a wooded lot, even if the trees were bare from their winter slumber. Soon they’d bloom again. Would Heath still be here to enjoy his garden when the daffodils and azaleas returned?
Please, Lord, don’t take him yet. Not yet.
“Good man.” Doc gave him a friendly pat on the arm. “I’ll send the prescription to Bentley’s Pharmacy. Call me if anything changes with him and don’t hesitate to bring him back in if you’re unsure. You did good, young man. Mr. Andrews is lucky to have you around.”
Chase gave another nod and headed into the room. Heath was still on his cell phone, so Chase busied himself with gathering his things into a bag so they’d be ready once he was given the release.
Excitement tinged Heath’s tone. “She is? When?” He sat up in his bed, his tousled dark brown hair falling into his eyes. “Now? But how did you manage—”
The voice on the other end was unmistakably Loony Lilly’s. She sounded excited, too.
“I can’t believe—” Heath ran his fingers through his tangled hair, smoothing it down. “For how long?”
Chase wished he could hear what was being said on the other end. Was Lilly coming back? So soon? The woman was notorious for popping in from time to time, unannounced and out of the blue. Not caring if she disrupted anyone’s routine. Though Heath wasn’t much for routines like Chase was.
Which reminded him… he checked his watch wishing the release papers would hurry up. The sprinklers needed to be turned on before it got too late. Why hadn’t he set up the automatic watering in the garden like he’d done for the house’s flower beds? Too much trouble was one reason. Besides, he’d already done way more to the farmland than he’d first intended when Heath allowed him to store his lawn gear in the old barn. All that wild, fertile land had begged him to do something useful with it. He’d only meant to start a simple garden, so Heath could enjoy fresh vegetables. But the bounty had become so great, he ended up selling his goods at the weekly farmer’s market in town. And after finding out he could earn extra money on his fresh produce, of course, he needed to add a bit more.
Even Heath didn’t know the extent of the gardens and greenhouses that Chase had cultivated. The magnolia trees and old barn blocked the view of all he’d done, and Heath was too weak to walk out to where Chase kept his lawn equipment.
Not that Heath would have minded.
Piercing pain stabbed Chase’s heart. What would become of the land once Heath left this world? He closed his eyes and yanked on the strings to close the plastic bag, not wanting to think about that. He needed to keep busy. He’d focus on taking care of Heath to make sure his remaining time was as peaceful as possible.
Finally, Heath ended the call and dropped the phone on the bed beside him. Fluffing his blankets, his smile grew as large at that cartoon cat and as unnerving. “Wonderful news. Faye is on her way and should be here in the next couple of hours.” A nurse entered carrying a tray with a silver lid and a glass of tea. “Looks like I’ll have to suffer through this horrid excuse for a lunch, after all.”
She smiled wickedly at him. “Behave Mr. Andrews. Your release papers will come much sooner if you play nice and eat all your lunch. You need to put on some weight. You look like one of those stringy runway models.”
His return grin was just as wicked. “Why thank you, dear. I do try to keep my figure in check.” He winked causing a blush to bloom on the nurse’s face. She waved her hand at him and left shaking her head.
Turning his attention back to Chase, Heath started barking off a list of things that needed to be done while he cut into the meat that looked like the soles of his boots. “We can reheat the soup from last night. So don’t worry about bringing dinner by tonight. She’s coming in Lil’s RV, so there’s no need to get the spare room ready yet. I’m sure that was the only way she agreed to come.” He shook his head, sadness tinting his wide brown eyes. “She’s coming. That’s all that matters. I’ll not fuss.”
What in the world was Heath going on about? Chase moved to his side, holding the bag of laundry to his chest. “Who’s Faye? Wait, isn’t she Lilly’s daughter?” Was she as crazy as her mother? “Why in the world would she come? I didn’t think any of that part of the family would have anything to do with you?”
Heath waved his fork as he chewed, cringing at the taste. “Oh, James’ kids were nice enough to us. James didn’t care for me at all, but—” He gave a shrug, then set down his utensils. “I suppose it’s time to tell you the whole truth. Faye isn’t James’ child. She’s… well?” He paused a moment, then blurted, “She’s my daughter.”
Chase blinked. His mouth opened, but for a moment, he wondered if someone had knocked him in the back of his head. Surely he’d misheard? “Wait…. You’re joking, right?”
Heath shook his head, his gaze leveling on him. Chase knew that look all too well. He was as serious as a heart attack. “But…. How in the world did you, of all people, end up with a daughter?”
“Oh, that’s the golden question, isn’t it? Well, it’s a long story. One I’ll have to tell you some other time. Right now, I need you to go home and take care of those few things I asked of you. I’d ask you to stay, but I have a feeling she’ll be like a cat in a room of rocking chairs. I’d rather meet with her privately when she arrives.”
Chase took a step backward. Was it true? Heath Andrews had a daughter? He’d seen Faye and Lilly’s other children a couple of times from afar. But he’d never met any of them face-to-face.
Well, seemed that was about to change. So much for trying to keep things peaceful for Heath. Not when a tornado was heading right for them.
Jackie Castle is an author, artist and dreamer. She lives in Texas with her husband, two grown children and her dog, Banjo. She looks for the extraordinary in the ordinary in everything she experiences.