Madeleine had not wanted to come back for the summer. She had been planning on seeing the Yucatan with Henry but he had decided that this was going to be the summer that he experimented with his sexuality, so with a damp expression that was meant to be sincere but came over pleading, he had said that he was going alone. So Madeleine had come back to Ogden.
The tragedy had been that she’d not shut herself away and dealt with her heartache by lounging around her parent’s house in sweatpants and eating ice cream until her skin broke out. No, she’d seen too many girl power movies at three in the morning not to engage her critical faculties and decided she’d needed an experience.
June had made a joke about it. Mary Turner’s latest attempt to define herself as an artist, to get Harlan Foster’s notice by being bold. What, June had pointed out, between small bites of english muffin and apple butter, was that Mary Turner was as shallow as a saucer. An avatar of the disturbing trend to see a lack of talent as an inconvenience, circumvented by sheer force of will. Mom had not so much taught english as saw herself as a missionary for it’s use and ability to enervate the dullest spirit. Mary Turner had given her cause to regret that, especially when she took over the Ogden Amateur Player’s schedule and decided to experiment.
Madeleine had decided to audition.
Madeleine found herself mouthing dialogue that looked like it had been fed through a random dialogue generator. The stage directions were convoluted, with digressions and so much direction that it felt like a set of instructions to put together furniture written in a different language then translated into english. Mary had seen her confused expression and thought it was an indication of awe. Madeleine nodded as a small voice told her to drop the script and run when she heard that this was an eighth draft.
An idiot on their own is harmless enough. An idiot with a measure of authority behind them is something else entirely. June, her voice lowering so as not to be heard, had said that if the worst thing Mary Turner did was put on a crime against art disguised as an earnest exploration of theatrical form, then Ogden should rest easy. She had asked Madeleine if she could get some pot so that she could be stoned when she saw it.
So, it was in the sickly glow of post performance celebrity that Madeline saw the man in the Speedway, tying up the two feet tall, tawny furred Malinois outside. He had on a grey t shirt that clung to his thick chest as he took off the faded black cap and patted the back of his neck with a blue bandana. She was deciding between two oversized orange peppers when he came inside. His piercing blue eyes looked familiar to her, but his smile held a curious intimacy to it as he picked up the basket from the stack by the door. There was a slight hitch to his step, but otherwise he had the thickness and heft of someone who worked outside a lot. The paperback that was tucked into his back pocket was a surprise. When he caught her staring, he shook his head.
‘So that’s what objectification feels like. Interesting.’
She grinned as her cheeks turned red. She blindly threw the pepper into the trolley as she stammered for something to stay.
‘What are you reading?’
He retrieved it and she enjoyed how the muscles in his arms moved as he did so. He turned it in his hands, barked out a small laugh and handed it to her. She blushed and handed it back to him.
‘I’m sorry. It looked like it could have been fun.’
He shrugged his shoulders and smiled at her.
‘You were really good. He mentioned that in the review.’
She cocked her head to one side. He put his hand up and shook his head.
‘No, before you ask, I’m his brother. You’re Madeline, right?’
She nodded and when he offered his hand, she took it. She squeezed his fingers, enjoying the rough calluses on his palm and the easy strength of his hands. On the inside of his forearm was a puckered pink scar, about three inches in length that she looked away from sharply.
‘And you are?’
Avery. She went through the dusty vault of her mother’s recollections and oral histories that took up days of Maddy’s time when she came home. Harlan Foster. Famous on the internet, spent his free time among if not alongside the people of Ogden, lived out on a stretch of land just off the highway. Parents dead, cancer. Younger brother, younger brother, did something with dogs. He smiled that she knew his name.
Pleased that she had not blurted out about the leg.
He kept himself to himself, came into town no more than once a week. Would drive Harlan when he found himself too soaked in martinis to drive home. He would often walk the dog, stopped and spoke with everyone but there was something about him that stopped people from taking advantage of that kindness. The kind of man who’d had enough, or at least made peace with not having more than that.
‘Hi Avery. I’ve not read it yet. Normally, your brother’s hilarious, but when it’s about me, I kinda -‘
He gave a sympathetic smile.
‘I got a chapter in the new book he’s written. Can’t say I’m all for it, but he’s my brother so I’ll hope that he’ll be considerate of that.’
He looked around and picked up a head of broccoli, put it carefully into the basket and watched her mouth before he spoke again.
‘He was entirely pleasant about you, as I recall. Said that you were -‘
His eyes went up as he sought to recall the quotation.
‘It’s redeeming feature. I thought so too.’
He walked off and it was no more than a minute later that it came to her that he was intimating that he had been there. Something about that had thrilled her a little and so she searched for him, eager to continue the conversation but he was gone.
Later on, he would seek her out.