The Bushwhackers had burned Lawrence twice: before the Civil War, and during. The cabin, a mile from the river and hidden among trees, was overlooked in both raids. It had survived into the late twentieth century unchanged except for the addition of electricity and plumbing and modern windows, though there were still a few of bullseye glass. When Wyatt had had enough of L.A., and settled on Lawrence as the place he'd like to live, the cabin had been listed for months without an offer. Too old and rustic, no one wanted it. The asking price had been reduced twice.
Wyatt had to force himself to bargain the seller down further. He didn't care about a house in the trees being overlooked by marauding militias; what drew him was its solidity. Originally a large one-room cabin, an early owner had built on another room of identical dimensions in the rear. The walls, logs cut and set sideways instead of in parallel, were three feet thick. The floors were pegged. The beams in the ceiling were hand-hewn oak, axe marks still visible more than a century later. The moldings were triple-sized and of pale yellow wood, with grape vines stencilled on them. On the mantel above the fireplace was painted "A world of strife shut out, a world of love shut in", in pale blue, flowery script.
Much of the money from his hit solo album had gone into the house -- too much: he could have retired if he'd spent less. He'd had a foundation dug and poured, and the house moved onto it. That gave him a basement, and assurance there wouldn't be any settling. Next he'd had the roof torn off, the walls reinforced, and two more storeys added above. He'd ended up with a hodgepodge: the first floor still the original logs, now with two upper storeys, which were lap-sided with cedar. He'd built a large balcony on the master bedroom, second floor facing east. Last he'd added porches the width of the first floor, front and back. Whenever new friends saw the house for the first time, they fell silent, unsure how to compliment it. Wyatt would wait them out, amused, knowing that the structure seemed ugly at first: "How interesting!" someone exclaimed. Another one asked, "What is it? A barn that grew up and decided to become a house?" But they had only to go inside, into the enormous kitchen and equally large living room, and upstairs to the bedrooms, to see its utility and comfort.
After the house was finished, he'd built a large garage, with a music studio for a second storey. He liked to say that it was for his garage band. The property might sell for a quarter of what he'd spent, but that didn't matter, because he wasn't going to sell; he planned to die there. The only thing he had ever struggled for was a place to belong. The house was the seed of that, and Ada and the children were its fruition.
He stood on the back porch and looked at the sky in the early light. The clouds ranged from cleanest white to dirt-colored, tumbled together like clothes in a dryer. The sun was still below the trees, the light diffuse. Wyatt had planned to be well along with the heavy work by now. The day was already warm.
Buzz wheezed up the driveway, jogging, but reduced to walking speed. Wyatt watched. Buzz stopped short of the porch and leaned over, hands on knees, gasping.
When Buzz finally got his breath Wyatt said, "The idea is to live longer, not kill yourself."
"Now you tell me." Buzz slapped his belly. "I'm trying to get rid of this, but there's a stitch in my side like Jesus on the cross." He dropped onto the steps. They bounced. "What are you doing?"
"I came out to work, but it smelled like rain and I saw the clouds and started daydreaming."
They watched the sky lighten. A breeze came up.
Wyatt said, "The kids aren't awake yet. Tim's with them."
"I can wait." Buzz gestured toward the gazebo. "What's Maria doing?"
"Reading a letter from Oscar."
"What's the story? Where's he been?"
"Didn't I tell you? He went back to El Salvador."
"Jesus," Buzz said. "Isn't that dangerous? They killed his wife and daughter."
"Yeah, I hope he doesn't have to sneak out again. I don't know if Ada could bully the bureaucrats into letting him come back. They're a lot tighter about that than they used to be."
They watched Maria, her head bowed over the letter.
Buzz said, "Chick's schedule changed. He said he'll play tonight."
"I already called Tony. So, bigger rhythm section. Tony can play the tall drums and other percussion." He stepped down from the porch. "Weather's changing. Clouds are thinning. I have to get this done before it gets too hot." He pointed at an empty rectangle of railroad ties set against the wall of the garage. "See the new garden? Ada wants more flowers." He gestured at his pickup truck. "I've got a bed full of dirt for it."
Wyatt backed the truck to the garden boundary. He reached in the glove compartment and pulled out a cigar and a book of matches and gave them to Buzz. "I got this for you. Guess where it's from." He went around back of the truck and opened the tailgate.
Buzz sat on the top railroad tie and smoked. "This is good," he said. "Dominican?"
"Cuban. Don't tell on me." The shovel grated when he pushed it under the dirt. He lifted and heaved the load to the ground.
"You're the hardest-working man I know," Buzz said.
"Is that why you hang around? Hoping it'll rub off?"
"No. I feel good watching you bust your ass while I take it easy."
Wyatt threw his shirt on the grass. He slid the shovel, lifted, turned, and tossed the dirt. "Which guitar are you playing tonight?" he asked.
"The Telecaster. I haven't had it out in a while."
"Good. I like that sound, it's so thick. I'm thinking we need a horn. 'Heartbreak Hotel' doesn't work without a sax. And I'd like to add 'Peg'."
"That needs more than one horn."
"We can get by with one. But it has to be a sax."
"That changes everything, unless he sits out a lot of songs. We need a rhythm guitarist more than we need a horn."
"Maybe we can find someone who does both."
"Have you ever known anyone in this town who plays rhythm guitar and sax?" Buzz asked.
"Yes, but he moved to Austin."
"So much for that." Buzz took a puff on the cigar. "It's too soon to start adding new songs, anyway. We need to get tighter on what we're doing."
"You're right," Wyatt said. "We need to practice more."
"You're always gone, man."
"Yeah. We're leaving for Monteverde next week. You going to be around?"
"Sure. I'll keep an eye on the place."
"What about the tour?"
"I'll have to come back before Ada and the kids. I wish I hadn't taken the job. The kids have so much fun running around the forest and riding horses I hate to miss any of it."
"So why the tour?"
"They tripled my fee. Two bands, and they both wanted me. Couldn't turn the money down. Things will be better this winter. I don't have anything planned after October. No backpacking in the Sierras, though. I'm through with that late-season shit, after that whiteout, and almost freezing to death."
"But you do the Sierras every year."
"Not any more. Not this year."
Round the corner of the house Gabriel came into view, behind him a skinny, nondescript brown dog bouncing as it trotted. The dog's tongue hung sideways out of his mouth, and he seemed to grin, as if to say, "Look at this boy I found. Maybe he'll give me food." A humorous dog. He could have been half coyote, by coloring and springiness and alertness.
"You're up early," Wyatt said. "I didn't hear you leave."
"I went to the forest."
"Who's that?" Wyatt asked. "You borrow someone's friend?"
"He followed me. Honest."
"I bet you didn't try very hard to get rid of him."
"Can I keep him? He's a great dog."
Wyatt jumped down and looked under the dog's tail. "Male," he said. "Your mother may not like this." He inspected the dog. "Looks healthy." It grinned up at him, and wagged its tail, once each way. "No tags. We'll have to put up posters. He may belong to someone." The dog wandered over to the truck and raised his head and sniffed the air. "He's probably thirsty. Get a bowl and give him some water."
"You'll end up feeding it yourself," Buzz said, when Gabriel had gone in the house.
The dog sat on the porch and watched the door where his boy had disappeared.
"No. Gabe's good about his chores. I'll get him trained." Wyatt moved back onto the truck bed. "This is too much like work. Why won't it rain?"
"Do it some other time."
"And drive around with a truckful of dirt?" Wyatt resumed shovelling. "There's always work. I never seem to get caught up. I don't mind the work. I only mind not getting caught up."
Buzz went to the garage and returned with another shovel.
Gabriel set a bowl of water on the porch and the dog stuck its nose in for a moment, then lapped.
Melody burst from the house, the dog dodging the flying screen door. Tim followed in her wake. "Uncle Buzz!" she yelled. "Do you want to see my new trick?"
"Another one? Sure."
She bounced on the grass, flinging her arms toward her father. "Help me, daddy."
Wyatt held her so she could lean backwards until she supported herself on the palms of her hands. Arched over, belly up, she began to walk, alternating hands and feet. "Look!" she shouted. "I'm a caterpillar!"
The dog licked her face and Melody collapsed. "Stop!" She seized the dog around its middle and pulled it onto her.
"That mutt's skinny enough to be an Indian dog," Buzz remarked.
"What are you going to call it?" Wyatt asked.
Gabriel thought. "Apache."
Melody let go of the dog and it sat next to her.
"Good name." Buzz flicked cigar ash on the dog. "I dub thee Apache." He took another puff. "It's official."
The dog licked at the ashes and sneezed.
Gabriel scratched the dog's head. The dog licked the boy's hand.
Ada stood in the back door and looked at Maria in the gazebo. Wyatt watched his wife. Buzz watched Tim. Tim watched Melody. Melody watched the dog. The dog lost interest in Gabriel's hand and lay on his side in the grass. No one spoke. Buzz took a long pull on the cigar and threw the stub in the half-filled bed of the new garden. Ada looked at her husband, and tipped her head in the direction of Maria. Wyatt shrugged in response and climbed back onto the bed of the truck, where he resumed shovelling, Buzz working alongside. The children ran off in the direction Gabriel had come from, the dog following.
"You've got a good thing here," Buzz said. "Every time I see your family, I miss Ginger." Ginger had died when Tim was three.
"Any time you get lonesome, come by. You're always welcome, even if I'm not here. So's Tim. Ada will feed you."
"Tim's sure gotten tight with Melody."
"Yeah," Wyatt said, "but sometimes I worry she'll set him a bad example." She was seven, with the energy of her age, but with flashes of worldliness. "Seven going on twenty-seven."
The truck bed was finally empty. "Damn," Buzz said. "I'm glad that's done. One more shovel-load and my back was set to go out." He went for a broom and swept the truck bed clean.
Ada had been watching from the kitchen. She opened a window and called out, "Lemonade."
Wyatt straightened, a hand on the small of his back, thinking to break the clods later. He jammed his shovel upright in the new garden.
Clover was seated at the kitchen table, working chess problems from a book.
"I taught her to play a couple of weeks ago," Wyatt said. "She checked out six books from the library. Now she beats me, every time."
Buzz sat across from Clover and helped her set up the board.
"You take white," she said. "I like black."
Buzz pushed a pawn; in moments they were well into a Sicilian Defense. Clover moved quickly enough that it was obvious she'd memorized the opening. In the middle game she hammered away at him. Her positional play wasn't as strong as her combinations; she could calculate far ahead. She weakened Buzz by forcing small losses on him: doubled pawns, isolated pawns, bottled-up rooks and bishops, unequal trades. When he saw the mate in three moves, he looked at her. She grinned, and he tipped his king.
"An eleven-year-old should show some respect for her elders," he said. "You'll let me win the next one, right?"
She looked at her mother, then her father, as if to ask whether he was joking, and what she should say.
"Like wrestling a python," Wyatt said. "She keeps taking in slack. You see it coming, but she's got you and there's no room to breathe."
Clover's cheeks were pink. She set up the pieces.
"Wyatt?" she asked.
Wyatt took a pawn of each color, hid them in his fists behind his back, and held them out to Clover. She picked the right hand. The pawn was white.
She shrugged, turned the board in a half-circle, and pushed her queen pawn two spaces. Thirty moves later she said, "Checkmate."
"Get the clock," Buzz said. "You get ten minutes. I get twenty."
The game was a draw through repetition. Ada watched the last few moves.
"Do you want to play, mother?" Clover asked.
"I don't know how."
They decided they would play her simultaneously, on separate boards, using the egg timer for a second clock.
Ada started a jigsaw puzzle. She was never able to interest her husband and children in helping her, though she loved working jigsaw puzzles cooperatively. She always had to settle for working them by herself in the presence of company instead.
After playing chess for an hour, Buzz sighed and stood. "Gotta go," he said. "I've had all the humiliation I can take for one day." He leaned over and shook Clover by the shoulder. "You're amazing. You're going to be 12 next week, right?"
"Would you like a chess set of your own?"
"Yes. Staunton pieces."
"You got it."
Wyatt accompanied him into the yard and looked at the sky again. The clouds had thinned to shreds, strips and patches of a tired blue beyond. Buzz called Tim, and they walked off. Wyatt watched his friend until he disappeared around the corner of the hedge. Buzz was the brother he should have had, instead of the one he'd been given. No matter. Buzz was his brother now.
He heard Melody squealing in the front yard. Probably she'd turned on the sprinkler again and was running through it. She was making a mud hole of the front yard. Wyatt made a mental note to hide the hose for a week.
He broke the clods in the new garden, brought bags of sand and manure from the garage and mixed them in, levelled it all, and finally moved the truck to the driveway and restored the shovel to its place. He jammed the sand and manure bags into a garbage can. Everything tidy. On his way back into the house, he held the door for Maria.
"Call the children, please," she said. "I have something to say."
Melody's clothes had gotten wet, and she'd taken them off and run around naked, as she did every time she had an excuse, and many times she didn't. Wyatt thought her nakedness cute, but he was trying to break her of the habit, because it disturbed Ada. Since the girl was wet, they wrapped her in towels. She climbed onto Maria's lap, facing out, and reached over her head, behind herself, for Maria's face, and Maria leaned down and kissed the top of the girl's head. Melody turned sideways and rested her cheek against Maria's bosom and embraced her.
"The children are big," Maria said. Except when speaking directly to Wyatt, she had given up English. When she was present, Spanish was the family language, leaving Wyatt, and especially Clover, at a disadvantage. "I think they're very good children." She held Melody more closely.
"I love you, Grandmother," Melody said.
"I love you, too, sweet girl." She kissed the top of Melody's head again. "But you're getting big. You don't need me any more." She brushed a lock of hair over Melody's ear. "This is very hard to say. Don't be upset. Oscar has asked me to marry him, and I will say yes. He has left El Salvador again."
"Is he going to live with us, too?" Melody asked.
"No. Soon I will be going away. We will live in Monteverde."
She said, "We want to live with people like ourselves. People who speak Spanish and cook our kind of food and think the way we do. I want to hear Mass in Spanish. I want to live where I was born. This place seems strange. I'll never get used to it."
"No, please," Melody said. "I love you."
"Yes," Gabriel said. "You're our grandmother."
Tears rolled down Maria's cheeks. "Yes. You are my family. But when you get married, you start another family. My heart is in two pieces." She sniffed.
Melody wiped the tears from Maria's cheeks. "Don't cry," she said. "Please don't be sad."
"Oh." Maria embraced her. "My sweet child. How I will miss you. I lost my Jorge, then I lost my Thomas, and now I'm losing you. How I will miss your love."
"Don't cry. Please. Did I hurt your feelings?"
"No. Sometimes life makes hard choices."
"Where will you live?" Ada asked.
"In my little house. Near the school."
"Henry's house," Ada said. "You can have Henry's house. He gave it to me when he took father's. Now I'm giving it to you."
"But where will you stay in the summer?"
"With Henry. In the old house. Father's house."
"Will you stay with me, sometimes?" Maria asked Melody.
"Yes. Can Gabriel stay, too?"
"Yes. Of course."
Clover left the room. Ada looked at Wyatt. He followed Clover up the stairs. The door to her room was open.
He sat in the armchair. "Feeling left out?"
She riffled the pages of her chess book.
"They know you won't be there," he said. "It's nothing personal. They wouldn't hurt your feelings." He waited. "We can ask Owen again. Maybe this year he'll let you come with us."
She continued to riffle the pages.
"Come for summer. You can see what it's like. Where you lived when you were little. Ride horses with your brother and sister. Maybe you can spend part of the school year in New York with your dad. Switch it around, do it the other way -- summer with us, winter with him. Would you like that?"
"I don't know."
"I'll ask him. You don't have to make up your mind yet." He waited for her to speak. "Clover?"
"You're part of this family. Your mother loves you as much as the others. I love you as much as the others. I've tried to adopt you, but Owen won't let me. Your brother and sister love you."
"Melody says I have chicken fingers." She held up her hands, with the thin, double-jointed digits. "She does the chicken dance."
"That's just teasing. I'll tell her to stop. She loves you."
"No she doesn't. They never include me."
"Maybe you should -- "
"I want to be by myself."
"Don't -- "
"I want to be by myself. Please."
He put the palm of his hand on her book, stopping her from riffling the pages. "As long as you do this, you'll feel alone -- "
"This is what I'm talking about. We can't -- "
"Please!" she shouted. "Please!"
At the door he said, "We'll be in the kitchen. I hope you'll join us. It would mean a lot to Maria."
She looked down at her book, pretending to read.