Brod Moretz looked over his Grandmother’s shoulder to the picture she’d pulled up on the computer screen. “Law, Maw Maw, why’d a want me ta see that? Ya tryin’ ta make me suicidal?”
“It’s Daniel Goddard from Young ‘n’ Restless.” She told him.
“I know who it is, Maw Maw, but why’s he is in underwear?”
“I’m tryin’ ta prove sumpin’”. She turned to look at him.
“That I need ta work out more? I know I ain’t got a six pack...yet, but I’m workin’ on it. I’m up ta five an’ a half. I swear!”
“No.” She pointed to the computer screen. “I tol’ ya—tighie whities is sexy and they go with ever thing.”
“What’cha lookin’ at?” Vista Kay chirped as she came in the kitchen surprising them.
The window was quickly closed. “Nothin’” her son smiled nervously.
“Me an’ Brod was just tryin’ to decide what ta git cha fer yer birthday.” Maw Maw made up.
Vista hung her coat on the rack Brod had made for her in shop class. “Well m’birthday’s four months away, but if that’s what yer getting’ me I’m gonna need those four months fer endurance trainin’.” She giggled, reaching over and bringing the window back up.
“Mercy!” Vista whistled. “That’s a man!”
“It’s Daniel Goddard.” Maw Maw told her. “He use ta play Cain on Young ‘n’ Restless.”
“Oh, I know who it is.” Vista stared at the picture and smiled.
“He follows me on Twitter.” Maw Maw was proud. “He tweets from the tub a lot.”
Vista's voice dropped two octaves. “Well…I’m ready fer some sweet dreams.”
The women sniggered as Brod tossed up his hands. “T.M.I.”
“Brod’s right, Mama.” Vista went to the fridge to pour herself some juice. “We needs ta be careful what we pull up on the internet. We keep forgettin’ there’s a six year old in the house now.”
“Aw, they ain’t nothin’ shameful about that picher.”
“A course not, but it might give the poor boy a complex a some kind.” Vista said.
“Hain’t gonna happen.” Maw Maw pooh poohed.
“I’m eighteen an’ it give me a complex.” Brod snorted. “I’ll be in my room…doin’ sit ups…’til I’m forty.”
The two watched Brod tromp down the hall lifting up his shirt and looking at his belly.
Vista turned to her mother and quickly asked. “So how did you make out with Tucker?”
The old woman grinned from ear to ear. “Oh we had us a good time. That’s a wonnerful li’l boy.”
“I just feel sa bad.” Vista sat at the table with her juice. “Him and his Daddy movin’ in and me spendin’ so much time workin’ on this beauty pageant.”
“Honey, don’t fret none. They’s borders not people ya gots ta entertain.”
“But I want ‘em ta feel like family while they’re here.” Vista sighed.
“They’s people we like that pays rent. They's already better'n family.” Maw hit a few keys on the laptop and checked her Twitter. “And Thatch was right there with ya. He’s a workin’ almost as hard on this thing as you are.”
“Oh Mama,” Vista sighed. “The set he’s a buildin’ is gonna be so beautiful! An’ he got ever scrap bein’ used donated. We ain’t spent one dime a that cheapo fifty dollar budget.”
“Don’ act so surprised Vista. They’s lots a people willin’ ta help put, ‘specially people who left the area and wanna find a little way ta give back.” Maw Maw looked at the screen in front of her and then turned to her daughter. “George Guzman says he had a great time and hopes it was helpful.”
“Law Mama, it was perfect, just perfect. You tweet him a big ‘ol thank you an a kiss from me an’ all the girls.” Vista gushed. “An’ make sure he does the same for that sweet Eileen Davidson.”
“Ashley Abbott helped him?” Maw Maw looked up from her Twitter.
“She was his model.” Vista smiled. “And she gave some really great advice. Mercy, she must be one a the most beautiful women on the planet. The girls was so excited.”
“But did they learn anything?”
“Mama, them ducklings turned into swans within the hour. It was just amazin’. Between George & Eileen tonight and that Nadia Bjorlin last night, not only have the girls learned how to make the most a what they have, but they’ve already had the most memorable experience of their life.”
“Ya didn’t have no trouble settin’ up that Skype thingy?” Vista’s mother asked.
“Not at all. Lou Lee Eller slapped it all together in the blink of an eye.” Vista sighed. “Too bad she cain’t do that for her talent.”
“Still not findin’ anything she kin do?”
“So far it looks like the only talent she’s got is anything connected with a computer.” Vista took a swig of her juice. “And snortin’ a noodle up one nostril and blowin’ it out the other.”
Maw Maw frowned. “Cassie Shouns did that for talent last year.”
“That’s why we ruled it out. Don’t wanna be accused a copycattin’.”
“Ever body else doin’ fine?”
“Most of ‘em need some work, but we ain’t gonna start a polishin’ all that up till the end a the week. Vonda and I are hopin’ to change a few minds when it comes to talent.”
“Not a lot a good ones?”
“Law Mama, these girls is gonna knock ever ones socks off, but some of the choices just aren’t the best. Like Ginger Snodgrass, she wants to clog and prove that it’s accessible and modern.”
“What’s wrong wi’that?” Maw Maw asked.
“Why nothin’, but somehow cloggin’ to “Born This Way” isn’t gonna do that.” Vista Kay bit her lip. “And I don’t know why but that reminds me I got confirmation of another judge tonight.”
“That’s good wif the two I got fer ya, that should be more’n enough.”
“Who’d you get?” Vista tried to put off the good/bad news for her mother as long as she could.
“Well, if Vonda will let ‘em stay in the cabin that week, I gots us Arianne Zucker and Kyle Lowder from “Days of Our Lives”. She gots a break comin’ up and wants me to teach her how to make m’ apple pies.”
“That’s wonderful, Mama! That’s a former governor, two former Miss JCHS, a Miss Oklahoma and three Daytime TV stars!”
“Three?” Maw Maw was surprised. “Who’s the third?”
“Well…you remember when we saw “Peter Pan” at Theatre Bristol back in the ‘90s?”
“Sure do.” Maw Maw smiled. “That sweet little boy stole the show. I cain’t ‘member his name. Wonder what ever happened ta him…”
“His name is Mark Lawson.” Vista smiled. “He’s all growed up now and a star on daytime TV. I talked to his Mama, Barbara and she says he’d be happy to be a judge for us. Ya know he just got pre-nominated for an Emmy.”
“Really?” Maw Maw got very excited. “What show’s he on?”
Vista braced herself. “One Life to Live.”
A grin stretched tightly across her mother’s face as she slowly and deliberately closed the lid to the laptop. “That is so wunnerful, Vista Kay. This fiftieth pageant is gonna be one hum dinger.”
“I think so.” Vista said skeptically.
“Do you by enny chance have Vida Leigh’s phone number? I needs ta get her to teach me how ta do sumpin.” Ruby Acres calmly asked.
Vista took a sigh of relief. “Sure, Mama. It’s in m’phone book on the desk in the livin’ room.”
“I won’t call her tonight.” Maw Maw pushed herself to her feet. “I’ll try her first thang in the morning.” She kissed her daughter on the forehead. “Turnin’ in, love ya honey.”
“You too, Mama.” Vista watched her mother head out of the kitchen. She sighed again. “Well that was easier than I thought.”
She stood up and rinsed her juice glass and put it in the sink when the thought hit her. She whirled around and yelled. “Mama, you are not gonna get Vida Leigh to perform an exorcism on Mark Lawson!”
Thatcher Tate appeared in the kitchen doorway. “What was that?”
“Nothin’.” Vista smiled. “Thanks for all your help this week.”
“I’m enjoying it. And thank you for letting Tucker and I move in this house. It is so much nicer than a motel room.”
“Mama and I just couldn’t bear the thought of that sweet little boy stuck in the Mountain Empire. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Mountain Empire, but he’s six. He needs space ta run aroun’. Heavens knows a parkin’ lot for a front yard and Pizza Palace for a back yard couldn’t have been much fun for him…or you.” Vista rambled.
“You’re sure we’re not in the way living here?” Thatch put his hands in his pockets.
“Not t’all. It’s a big ol’ house. It’s nice to have a few more people ta fill it up.” Vista smiled. “I just had some juice. Would you like somethin’? I can make some tea er hot milk?”
“Actually I wanted to thank Miss Ruby for spending so much time with Tucker. I kind of feel like I dropped him on your doorstep and disappeared.”
“She loves it. So do the rest of us. We love spending time with him. He’s such a great little boy.”
“Well he loves it here.” Thatcher sat down at the table.
“How ‘bout you?” Vista pulled the chair out opposite him and seated herself.
“Absolutely. You’ve made me feel so at home, I’ll hate to leave.”
“Good. And are your rooms okay?” Vista was concerned. “I really haven’t had much of a chance to check, been so busy m’self. We tried to fix ‘em up and put ya’ll where you’d have some peace ‘n’ quiet.”
“They’re perfect. Thank you.”
“We picked out Tucker’s room ‘specially. It was m’ brother’s, ‘course all the rooms belonged to a brother or a sister, but that one is special.”
“A favorite sibling?”
Vista smiled. “Now I tried never ta play fav’rites, but I have ta admit me ‘n’ Spook…we always had a special bond.”
“Spook? You had a brother named Spook?”
She laughed. “Well his given name was Elmer John but we always called him Spook cause he was sa quiet ya never knew he was around ‘til he said somethin’. Then it was such a shock ya lost last week’s dinner out both ends.”
Thatcher Tate laughed out loud. “Vista, I love your way with words.”
Vista put her hand to her mouth and giggled. “Sorry, I must sound like an idiot sometimes.”
“You sound perfect.” His smile made Vista blush. “Now how many brothers and sisters did you have?”
“Well, there's sixteen of us altogether, but by the time us little ones come along some a the older ones had already moved off ‘n’ started their own fam’lies.”
“You and Vonda are the babies?”
“Oh, no. We was a surprise but eighteen months later my baby brother came along as one final shock. He’s the youngest.”
“That was Spook?”
Vista smiled with a sad look in her eye. “No. Spook was six years older, got a sister Winnie in between us. For some reason me an’ Spook seemed more like twins than me ‘n’ Vonda.”
“You’re still close?” Thatch asked.
She shook her head. “He died when I was sixteen. Just a silly, silly accident. They kept him alive on machines for twenty four hours. That was the hardest part. He was the first organ donor I ever knew.”
“It’s a good thing.” Thatcher tried to smile.
“But it’s hard. At first I was horrified, but it was somethin’ Spook believed in and we let it be. Now...now I find it comforting knowin’ that my big brother’s eyes are helpin’ someone to see, and his heart…his heart still beats and feels so deep, I just know it.”
Thatcher Tate nodded his head and put his hand on Vista’s. “I understand. My wife, she wanted the same thing.”
Vista pulled herself from the past she was slipping into, smiled and put her other hand on his and squeezed. “I keep forgettin’ other people have breaks in their hearts, too.”
After a moment of understood silence, Thatch cleared his throat and said. “So sixteen of you? I bet this house was never quiet.”
“It rarely is now.” Vista laughed quietly. “Mama and Daddy had a love so great in a hundred years we won’t be a family anymore. We’ll be a race of people. Sixteen kids, 43 grandkids; all ready two great great grandchildren.”
“Miss Ruby is an amazing woman.” Her companion smiled.
“I can’t keep up with ‘em all m’self, but Mama? Mama knows every name, every little smile an’ never misses a birthday.”
“With a family that big every day must be somebody’s birthday.” Thatcher smiled again.
“Just about.” Vista realized they were still holding hands and shyly slipped hers back to her lap. “And you know, Mama is not gonna put up with you callin’ her Miss Ruby much longer.”
Thatcher Tate just blushed and nodded his head. Vista couldn’t help but smile when the man looked up again and caught her eye. “Vista, Tucker and I talked it over and we decided we want to give you something.”
“Aw, that’s sweet Thatch, but I don’t need anything.”
“This is for your fund.” He said reaching in his pocket.
Thatcher slipped a half folded check across the table and under her fingers. “I know lots of money has been coming in, donations of all kinds.”
Vista understood. “We’re putting all the money into a scholarship fund. Don’t say nothin’, the girls won’t know until we announce it the night a the pageant. It ain’t gonna be a lot, but from now on ever year every girl in that pageant’s gonna get just a little money to use for college. You know what little there will be this year is more than most of the girls will ever have to further their education.”
“That’s great, Vista.”
“We’re calling it the Fran Atkinson Scholarships, after the lady who owned and ran WMCT. That's the radio station here in town. She was a firm believer in the betterment a this county and I can’t think of a better way to honor her mem’ry than to give to the betterment of the young women in our school system.”
“Well, me an’ Tucker want to give our little part to do just that. We haven’t been here long, but no matter what a big part of our hearts are always gonna be here.”
“Johnson County is certainly unique. It’ll drive ya crazy, but ya can’t help but fall in love.” She smiled.
Thatcher looked in Vista’s eyes. “I think it’s just inevitable.”
There was a moment of shared, pleasant silence before Thatcher Tate nodded his head and smiled again. “Well, I need to go tuck m’little Tucker in and listen to his prayers.”
“Give him a big kiss goodnight for me.” Vista looked up at him as he stood.
“More than happy to.” He turned to leave the kitchen as Vista remembered the check, opened it and looked.
“Holy crap, Thatcher Tate!” Her shocked voice made him stop and turn to look at her. “That’s some crush you’ve got on this county.”
“Who said it was on the county?” He winked at her.
“Thatcher Tate, are you flirtin’ with me?” Vista couldn’t believe she blurted out.
“I been tryin’ for a couple of months now, but I must not be very good at it.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and turned to leave the room. “You never seem to notice.”
Vista Kay sighed and leaned back in the kitchen chair. “I noticed, I just didn’t think I was hearing right.”
Thatch stopped at the door frame but didn’t turn back around so she couldn’t see the schoolboy grin on his face. “Your hearing’s just fine Vista Kay.”
He walked through the house and up the old staircase to the bedroom at the end of the hallway on the third floor. His son’s bedroom door was open.
“You ready to say your prayers?” Thatch asked his son.
“Sure, Daddy.” Tucker smiled up at him as he closed the book he was reading. His father joined him on the big old bed.
“What’cha readin’?” He asked as the boy put the hardcover on the nightstand.
“An old book I found on the shelves over there.” He pointed to the bookcase packed full of books. “It’s called ‘The Red Pony’. Brod and I have been takin’ turns reading a chapter every night. Tomorrows my turn to read, so I wanted to make sure I had all the words good ‘n’ right. Some of ‘em is purdy hard.”
“John Steinbeck, my favorite.” Thatcher Tate slipped his arm around his son and kissed him on the top of the head. “Did you have a good time tonight?”
“Oh yes, Daddy.” Tucker smiled brightly. “Maw Maw and I had so much fun. We watched ‘Minute to Win It’ an’ then we competed with each other to see who could do the stunts the bestest.”
“Well, Maw Maw can blow the cards off the deck better’n me, but I tear up shakin’ the balls outta the Kleenex box tied to m’butt.” Tucker grinned as he asked his father. “Did you have fun tonight?”
“Sure I did.”
“Miss Vista said if you said it was okay, I can go help back stage. That would be fun. Can I, huh, can I?”
“We'll see. Right now I think it’s time to say your prayers and get some sleep. Tomorrow’s a school day.”
The father smiled as the son crawled out of the bed covers and got on his knees by the bed, folding his hands and gently starting off with “Now I lay me down to sleep…”
When Tucker thanked the Lord for everything and everyone and said ‘Amen’ he gave his father a powerful hug and a kiss and crawled back under the quilts that would keep his love warm through out the night.
Thatcher Tate always had to fight the tears of happiness and pride when he listened to his little boy recite the prayer his father had taught him when he was a child. He took one last look at the lad. The boy’s eyes closed tightly as he flipped off the light and shut the bedroom door.
Tucker waited patiently, listening for his father’s footsteps back up the hall to his own room. As soon as he was sure he heard the door shut, he slipped out of the bed and went back to his knees on the floor. Head bowed and hands folded he spoke quietly but firmly, “Dear Lord, it’s me again. Tucker Ray Tate.
First of all, forgive me for the baby prayer I said before. My Daddy still thinks I’m little so that was just for him. I know you understand. Adults get so funny about their little boys a growin’ up. So until I thinks he can handle it, you’ll still be hearin’ now I lay me down to sleep from me for a while. But that’s just between us. Okay?
I just had ta thank you for my new home. It’s so wonderful. Them apartment’s we was livin’ in was nice, but as Maw Maw said I needed a place to be young an’ wild. This house is just perfect, everything I ever dreamed of. Your just sa good at answerin’ prayers, but I reckon that’s why your God and I’m just Tucker.
Now I know this is just a temp’rary place ta live, but if’n ya wanna make it forever you’d get no big fuss from me. An’ I think m’Daddy likes it here, too. He’s got this big ol’ smile on his face all the time now, ‘spcially when Miss Vista’s around with a big ol’ grin on her face, too.
I think they like each other, an’ you know God, that’s fine by me. Wouldn’t it be just perfec’ if Miss Vista became my new Mommy, real like? My Daddy’d be so happy and I need a Mommy so bad. So if it’s okay by you, I’ll just pretend it’s so for a while.
I don’t know why you took my Mommy from us, but I understand that sometimes you gotta do things that makes you cry, too. I miss her every day, but I know she’s up there in Heaven with you. So I can live with that, since I has to.
Oh, and for Maw Maw, just in case Miss Alice Horton ain’t up there with you all, could you send my Mommy to check on Maw Maw’s husband from time to time? He’s up there, too and Maw Maw’s so worried he’s a wearin’ socks that don’t match. My Mommy was real good at stuff like that.
An’ before I forgets, thank you so much for Brod and Maw Maw. I must have been extry good lately a cause they’s both the really good prizes in the bottom of the box a the Cracker Jacks of my life. I always wanted a big brother an’ you give me Brod right outta the blue, even if it’s just for a little while.
We play ball and video games. Sometimes we just horse around and act silly until one time Miss Vista had to tell us to calm down. Course I don’t think she’s really mad but we was awful loud and she did have a cake in the oven. Thank you for makin’ that cake turn out sa good. You know God, if’n ya made brussel sprouts taste more like chocolate cake we kids would eat a whole lot more of ‘em. I'm just sayin’.
Where was I? Oh yeah, thank you so much for Maw Maw. I love her. Please let her stay with us forever. I don’t know how old she is, but she keeps tellin’ me she gots zits on her bee-hind older’n me, so she must be way up there.
Tonight she let me help make dinner. We had roadkill soufflé. Actually it was just chicken casserole with broccoli but we had so much fun a pretendin’ to chop up critters like possum and wood varmint and drop ‘em in the dish. We watched TV while we ate, but don’t tell Daddy or Miss Vista. They don’t like the TV on at dinnertime.
Say God, did you know there’s a big ol’ barn for me to play in here? What am I a sayin’? A course you did. It’s soooo big! They don’t have cows or pigs or chickens no more but they still gots that big ol’ barn. By the way don’t say nothin’ about there bein’ no chickens to Maw Maw. It tends to rile her up so.
Anyway, Brod took me up to the tippy top hayloft and showed me a place where he carved his initials when he was my age. He says I can carve mine there to. Maybe someday I will, but only when I know that I’m gonna live here forever but that’s up to you.
Just one more thing Lord an’ I’ll let you get to bed. You must be tired a listen to ever one moan and complain all day long. It’d wear me out. I wouldn’t have your job for the world.
Anyway, please be with all them ugly girls in that beauty pageant Miss Vista and Miss Vonda are workin’ so hard on. Now you and me knows that them girls ain’t ugly…well, most of ‘em anyway. I think theys all beautiful, ‘specially Modene. I'm gonna marry her when I grow up, but that’s not m’point. Them girl’s in that pageant? Could ya prove to ever one of ‘em just how beautiful they are? That way they can all win.
And Lord, if me and Daddy has to leave this place, can we stay until Mark Hapka’s last show on “Days of Our Lives”? Maw Maw loves him so much. She’s puttin’ up a good face an’ all; Twitter’n him and such. But that day’s gonna be hard on her, so I really needs ta be here.
I’m savin’ up my allowance to buy some extry Kleenex for when it comes. She just about died when Bo and Hope kissed today. I’m not sure whether ta thank you for that, or ask for a little warnin’ next time. It was a rough one, an’ she was happy ‘bout it. Don’t know whether any of us will make it out alive the day Nathan Horton leaves her story.
Kissin’ is kinda gross Lord. I’m not sure it was your best idea, but I reckon we all gots ta live with it. When Modene and I gets married we ain’t gonna kiss. We’re just gonna eat popcorn and play video games an’ live happily ever after.
Well, I’m sure there’s a whole lot more we could talk about, but tomorrows a school day an’ I’m a little worn out. You must be, too. You musta been tired the day you made school. It ain’t one a your better creations neither. Oh well, Maw Maw an’ Daddy says you do every thing for a reason an I can live with that.
So, good night God. I love you so much. Thank you for this new place and these wonderful people you just dropped into my life an’ it wasn’t even m’birthday. Thanks a bunch.”
Tucker started to open his eyes and crawl back into bed when he thought of something else. “And God, when I grow up would you please make me look like Daniel Goddard when I’m in my underwear?”
He smiled and said, “Amen.” before crawling back up into the deep bed and under the warm covers, drifting quickly off into the happy dreams every six year old boy should have.