Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Christmas in Luxembourg, Part 17


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It was in the quiet period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve that word leaked out among the business community of Luxembourg that, during a ill-attended meeting of the Green Township trustees on December 24, the BlueStone Development Group had submitted an application to rezone 60 acres of scrub land down by the highway from agricultural to planned commercial development. Along with this application, BlueStone, represented by Vijay Singh, also submitted preliminary plans for an outlet mall to be built on this same parcel. At once speculation began. Bidding wars erupted for plots that had been worthless a week before. Local businesses began to make five-year plans for improvements and renovations based on the proposed crowds of bargain-hungry shoppers soon to descend. A few crochety landowners vowed to fight the rezoning tooth and nail, but most of Luxembourg County was desperate for economic revival. There was little doubt that within 24 months, the BlueStone Outlet would have a triumphant ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Devoted outlet mall shoppers are a breed apart. They shop in multi-day sprees, and at the end of the day, they need somewhere to stay. And there was, at present, one established lodging in small Luxembourg, Ohio: the Luxembourg Inn, proprietor-to-be Jillian O’Leary.

“I feel like I’ve just been pushed out of an airplane, and I’m about to find out if my parachute works,” said Jill to Garrett, Mr. Singh, and Amita, all gathered around a table at the Inn’s restaurant. “I’m miles up and I’m not dead yet, but I’m going to need a landing plan real soon.”

“You won’t have any trouble getting a loan application through now,” Garrett said. “You’re poised to be the prestige option for shoppers and tourists who want somewhere elegant to stay. And you have at least two years to complete your upgrades and be ready. The chain hotels will be starting from the ground up. We’ll need to look at the proposal to see what we’re competing against.”

Mr. Singh held up a hand. “BlueStone’s proposal only covers retail. Hotels will need to be proposed and built separately by independent developers.” He smiled seraphically. “I quite enjoy the Luxembourg Inn, myself.”

“I don’t know how exactly I’m going to balance this,” Jill said. “Hotel proprietor in Ohio, accountant in Los Angeles. Amita, can you believe we’ll be going back to Los Angeles after all this? No more snow, for a start.”

“Not me,” said Amita shyly, exchanging a private glance with Mr. Singh. “Vijay and I are going to his family’s compound in Hyannisport for a few days. I’m going to meet his mother.” 

Once again Jill’s ears started ringing with the twang of a distant sitar. First thing I fix is the sound system in here, she thought as everyone stood up. Amita seized her in a fierce hug and whispered, “Wish me luck! His mother is very old-fashioned.” 

“Every good thing,” Jill wished her, squeezing her tight.

“Maybe we’ll both be quitting soon,” Amita murmured in her ear. Mr. Singh was shaking Garrett’s hand and exchanging business cards. Then he took Jill’s hand and held it briefly to his lips, as he had at the white elephant party.

“Farewell, Miss O’Leary,” he said, as cool and thrilling as ever. “I look forward to a successful future partnership.”

The twanging swelled and then receded as Mr. Singh and Amita walked arm in arm from the restaurant. Garrett rubbed his ear and shook his head as if to clear it.

“How cagey that man is,” he said. “‘A successful future partnership’. Partnership with whom? With you? With the Inn? With Amita? A generic future partnership? He promises everything, unspecifically.”

“With Reagan, maybe,” said Jill. “It’s probably thanks to him that she nabbed Dad’s property by the highway.” 

“She ought to sell now,” said Garrett.”By the time BlueStone is making offers, they’ll be driving hard bargains. Right now people are crazy. They’ll pay anything for that land. Unless she really does want to build her forever home there.”

Jill scoffed absently at the idea of Reagan’s forever home. She had already dismissed Mr. Singh’s parting words, and was meditating on Amita’s. Quit her job? She had never considered running the Inn as a viable option. The financials were a mess. But even if they had been entirely solid, how could anyone have full autonomy while Mother was still near enough to drop in and see if things were being run her way? Now, however, blessed Del was taking Mother on and moving her far across time zones and almost over the continental divide.

Visions of a different future danced in her head, one where Mother was a mentor and guide to her as they worked through the Inn renovations together. One where she could draw on Mother’s intuitive design sense without fear because Mother wouldn’t take the rejection of her ideas personally. One where they had a partnership built on mutual respect and expertise. 

In this fallen world, however, some people were best loved at a distance. For years that distance had been the divide between Los Angeles and Luxembourg. Now there was no barrier to coming back: not Heath Albany’s dog, not Mother’s imperiousness, not even bad career prospects. Definitely not close ties in Los Angeles. Her main friend there was ready to embark on her own adventure.

And some people were better loved up close, in person.

***

At 9:00 on the morning of New Year’s Eve, Garrett was on the porch once more, knocking on Mother’s door. Jill answered, wrapped in scarf and puffy coat.

“Well, I’m here,” he said, wiping the mud from his feet. “And dicey enough it was to get here, what with the melting snow and now these trucks in your driveway. What did you want to show me?”

Jill held out her hand. “Will you take a walk with me?”

They strolled down the driveway, through the gates, and along the sidewalk to where the silver maple leaned. A truck was braced by the trunk, and a man in a cherry picker wielded a chainsaw branch by branch. The crews at the bottom grabbed the wood and loaded it up to be fed into the chipper.

“You’re getting rid of the silver maple,” Garrett stated, not needing to phrase it as a question since the answer was before his eyes.

“I have no desire to maintain a monument to your past mistakes,” Jill said. “It’s time to plant something new and straight.”

They watched, fingers living and entwined, as limb after limb fell from the great bare trunk. When all that was left was a column of tree twenty feet high, the man in the cherry picker gave a shout. He reached out and grasped the raccoon’s hole and easily rocked the entire tree back and forth.

“Hollow!” he yelled. “All the way down.”

As slices of the trunk tumbled down, the rotten core crumbled away. Garrett walked over and kicked a thin ring of wood, five feet in diameter. 

“All this time I thought I’d ruined this tree,” he said. “Me, with my own stupid choices and addiction, I destroyed it single-handedly, and every time someone looked at it they could say, ‘Garrett French did that. It’s all Garrett’s fault.’ Sometimes I thought I didn’t die when I hit the tree only because God wanted me alive as an object lesson. This is what you should not do. And all the time, this is what was at the center of all my guilt and self-loathing. Nothing at all.”

He turned back to Jill and took her hand again. “When I hit the tree, the hollow trunk must have absorbed the blow and cushioned most of the shock. I didn’t destroy the silver maple. It saved my life.”

“I’m glad,” she said, working her cold fingers back between his. “To be honest, I’d rather have you than the tree.”

They walked in silence back to the house. As the front door shut out the whine of the chipper digesting branches, Jill looked up. The ball of mistletoe dangled in the center of the hall, suspended only by a fine clear thread that glinted in the chill morning light.

“Piss off,” she told it.

“What do you have against the mistletoe?” Garrett asked, close and confident by her side. “I like it, myself.”

“It mocks me,” she snapped, angry at his new-found closure. “It seems so inviting, but it’s still Mother’s mistletoe, in Mother’s hallway, in Mother’s house. I just can’t let that go. I don’t even know what’s wrong with me. Maybe I haven’t grown up past being a rebellious teenager. I’m so edgy, knocking over her tree and about to make out in her hall.” She yanked her hand from his with the ruthlessness of one ripping out tender young roots. “It’s not fair to you. Let’s go somewhere else.”

“Like my house?” Garrett asked.

“Sure,” said Jill, shrugging in sullen despair.

“Fine.” He unwound her scarf and unzipped her coat. “Regina accepted my offer this morning.” The warmth of his mouth set the life racing back through her numb forehead and nose and lips. “Ergo, you’re in my house now.”

After a delicious, frantic moment that melted any snow left on the two of them, Jill pulled back and gasped, “I hope you lowballed her.”

“Not at all,” Garrett answered between slower kisses. “I figured… I was doing my part… to set her up… far away from here.”  

“Well, you’re a fast mover,” Jill murmured. “If I’m going to move from Los Angeles, now I’m going to have to find a place to live.”

“Here, I hope, eventually.”

This time Jill did disentangle herself. “Are you… proposing to me?”

Garrett didn’t let her go. “Not just yet. We barely know each other. And it seems like we both have a lot of healing to do before we’re able to make any vows. But I’m going to keep the mistletoe up until the day I carry you over the threshold.”

“And I’ll keep it up every day after that,” Jill promised, relaxing into the glorious, unbelievable reality of right now, in snowy, forested, small-town Luxembourg, Ohio, where the population is, as of this current moment, 12,001. 

The End

3 comments:

Mary said...

Excellent!

Antoinette Brenion said...

Bravo.

Joseph Moore said...

Excellent story. Although no planets blew up - a genre thing? I'm on unfamiliar turf here...

Had me all 'how did King Lear go again?' I think I reread it maybe a decade ago or so? Mind's not what it once was.

Seriously, you spun out the characters very well. I particularly like how both definite and indefinite Jill is, so that she's a real person but not so definite the reader can't project himself into her role. That's a bit of a trick.

Thanks.