Read The Fixer Upper Online

Authors: Judith Arnold

The Fixer Upper (6 page)

“You used to love those regattas,” Libby reminded her. “Everybody lined up along the edge of the pond with their remote controls, steering their boats around the buoys, and people cheering….”

Reva made a retching sound. “No, we don’t want to watch the boats,” she said. “We just want to hang out.”

“I guess it’s all right, if you don’t have too much homework.”

Reva opened her mouth as if to comment on her homework, then changed the subject altogether. “They had tryouts for the fall concert solos today. Ashleigh was really good. She says her voice is flat, but it’s not.”

“Did you try out?”

“Yeah. I sucked.”

“Ask Muriel Froiken if you can try out again.”

“Mom.” She rolled her eyes again. “What, you think she’ll give me a solo because my mom works at the school? Forget that. I’m not going to ask for favors.”

Libby refused to apologize for being on the Hudson staff. “Why don’t you set the table,” she suggested, struggling to filter her annoyance out of her voice.

Looking gravely put-upon, Reva pushed herself to her feet and crossed to the silverware drawer. Libby considered telling her to set the dining-room table, instead. Every now and then they ate dinner at the big table, and they even lit a centerpiece candle sometimes, which made the meal seem terribly grand. Maybe eating in there and not at the cramped table tucked into the corner of the kitchen would cheer them both up.

But the big table might emphasize how alone Libby felt right now. No Harry to bail her out financially. No other adult to vent to, to dump all the tension of her long, wearying day on. No one to assure her that she could afford to splurge on fresh pasta every now and then, that she wouldn’t lose her home, that her daughter would never paint her nails black like Ashleigh Goldstein’s. No one to say to her, “I can’t promise everything’s going to work out, but I can sympathize.”

Her mind filled, involuntarily, with a picture of Ned Donovan. He was probably rattling around his apartment with his son right now, fixing dinner just like Libby. He would have removed his jacket and his thick-soled work boots; he might be wearing form-fitting jeans and a snug T-shirt—and thank you, God, for giving men physiques that looked so good in jeans and T-shirts. His hair would be mussed because, living alone with his son, he had no one to
comb it for. No one to shave off his five o’clock shadow for. Just him and his son and a plate of—why not?—spaghetti and meat sauce.

What was she thinking? A guy like him would undoubtedly have a girlfriend, someone young and attractive and solvent, someone without an obnoxious teenage daughter and a looming housing disaster. His girlfriend would be puttering around the kitchen with him right now, all the while assuring him that his son would get into Hudson or some equally esteemed private school. She would listen as he described his day, his hard work fixing things up. She’d ask him how things went at the Hudson School that morning, and he’d say, “Tell me, honey, what the hell is a loofah?”

Other adults had adults. Libby did, too—although a ridiculous number of them were her ex-husband’s relatives. Vivienne was right; she needed some men in her life to turn to, to sleep with, simply to lean on. If they wanted to help her buy her apartment, that would be fine, too. But right now, just having a man to talk to would be nice.

 

“So, you like those jeans?” Ned asked Eric.

“They’re okay.”

Given what Ned had spent on them, Eric ought to demonstrate a little more enthusiasm. But then, the kid was ten years old, and boys that age would rather die than pretend they cared about clothes.

One thing Ned missed about Vermont was normal prices. In Manhattan, even the discount stores charged obscene amounts for kids’ dungarees, plus a staggering sales tax. And Eric was going to outgrow the jeans Ned had just bought him before he came close to wearing them out.

Still, Manhattan had its compensations, Ned conceded as he and Eric strolled down Broadway. Manhattan had life, sidewalks teeming with people chattering, nudging one an
other, holding hands. Couples. Healthy adult couples whose body language shouted that they had sex on their minds.

Not that Ned had sex on his mind. He was out shopping with his son, for God’s sake. Sex was the furthest thing from his mind.

Yet the young couple with their arms looped around each other’s shoulders and their hips colliding with every step dragged the subject just a little closer to Ned’s mind. The couple disappeared through the door of a seedy-looking bar. They hadn’t looked seedy themselves; maybe the bar was nicer than it appeared from the street.

Now that Ned was living hundreds of miles from Woodstock, Vermont, he might just have the opportunity to usher a woman into a bar. Or out of a bar and somewhere more private, more intimate, somewhere conducive to the sort of activity that should have been the furthest thing from his mind but wasn’t.

He’d usher the woman into a nicer establishment, of course, and he’d take his time to learn if she was someone he’d really want to share that particular activity with. He wasn’t desperate. He’d gone without for quite a while, and he could go without for a little longer. He could be picky. He could wait for a woman who wasn’t too young or too old, a woman who was smart and involved in an interesting career…a woman with thick brown hair and eyes as big as silver dollars, only dark and luminous.

Someone like Libby Kimmelman, for instance.

Well, no. He didn’t want to waste his time with a snooty prep school admissions director.

Libby Kimmelman hadn’t seemed particularly snooty, though. She’d been remarkably accessible, and she’d had a warm smile, and when she’d said the word
loofah
it had sounded inexplicably erotic. He wondered what it would be like to make
loofah
to a woman like her.

Before he could congratulate himself on his clever pun, Eric said, “You think maybe I could get some new T-shirts, too? Everybody wears them real baggy here.”

T-shirts. His son. Right. “If we can find some that aren’t too expensive, sure,” he said, resolving to put sex and Libby Kimmelman and loofahs where they belonged—in that region a man could convince himself was the furthest thing from his mind even when it was located at the very center of his consciousness.

Six

F
inally. Saturday. This had to have been the longest week in Reva’s life.

Every night after dinner for the past week, her mother had emptied her briefcase onto the dining-room table and read applications, a task that turned her into a total bitch. Reva supposed that having to read hundreds of essays about five-year-olds who could speak three languages and design rocket ships might get old pretty fast, but still.

Adding to her mother’s crabbiness was the whole money thing. She refused to consider getting money from Reva’s father. Not only did she refuse, but she actually got into a worse mood whenever Reva raised the subject.

And last night, when Reva had done her mother the favor of changing the subject, and asked if she could get a second hole pierced in each ear, her mother had gone ballistic. It wasn’t like Reva was asking to get her nipple pierced, or her
belly button, or even an eyebrow. Just an extra hole so she could wear two earrings per ear. Lots of girls had more than one hole. But when her mother got like this, she was so unreasonable.

Aunt Vivienne had stopped by Thursday evening. She’d said she couldn’t stay for supper, but after chugging down the wine Reva’s mother had poured for her, she’d wound up calling her husband and saying she’d be home later, and she’d shared their dinner of broiled swordfish steaks, which had tasted pretty dry and bland to Reva, even though her mother and Aunt Vivienne had insisted they were delicious.

Aunt Vivienne, too, believed Reva’s mother should ask Reva’s father for money. Over dinner she’d remarked that guys were jerks so you might as well get what you could out of them. Reva had considered that an odd thing for a newlywed to say. Aunt Vivienne had gotten married only a year ago, and Reva had to admit that her husband, Leonard, definitely lived on the asshole side of the street, but Aunt Vivienne had married him of her own free will, so how bad could he actually be? Anyway, the bottom line was that Aunt Vivienne agreed with Reva that her mother ought to hit up old Harry for the money she needed. And her mother had said absolutely no way.

Pride could be pretty stupid—to say nothing of costly.

But Reva wasn’t going to think about her mother or her father or the apartment today. The sky was sunny, the air was mild and she had eight dollars and change in her purse—enough to buy a hot pretzel and an ice cream or one of those souvlaki subs they sold from pushcarts around the park. Kim probably had even more money with her. She got ten bucks a week allowance, and her parents bought her most of what she needed. Reva didn’t know how much Ashleigh got, but she probably spent it all on cosmetics—the black hair dye, the nail polish, the pale powder and dark eyeliner
she liked to wear. Makeup cost real money if you bought the quality brands.

Reva met up with Kim and Ashleigh at the park entrance by Strawberry Fields. Kim was dressed like a normal person, in blue jeans and a cotton sweater. Reva was dressed normally, too, in black jeans and long-sleeved T. Ashleigh wore an ankle-length paisley skirt and a black shirt with a studded leather belt cinching her waist, ankle-high black boots with big buckles on them, her ankh and her
chai
on chains around her neck, peacock feathers dangling from her ears and small gold hoops poking through them—she had two holes per ear, and it obviously hadn’t turned her into a monster—and gobs of black liner edging her eyelids.

“So, where’s this fabulous musician?” she asked. Her voice held a challenge, as if she suspected that Reva and Kim had been exaggerating when they’d told her how cool Darryl J was.

Reva caught Kim’s eye. Kim clearly wasn’t thrilled about including Ashleigh on this outing. Maybe Reva had made a mistake by inviting her to join them. But Darryl J needed a bigger audience, and who better than his most loyal, devoted fans—Reva and Kim—to bring that audience to him? Today Ashleigh, next week Monica Ditmer and Katie Staver, and maybe the week after that Reva could entice Katie’s brother Matt and those guys he hung out with, Micah Schlutt and Luke Rodelle. The record companies probably wouldn’t take Darryl J seriously if he didn’t have some guy fans.

In any case, she wasn’t going to let Ashleigh’s presence or Kim’s scowl ruin the day she’d been waiting for all week long. “This fabulous musician,” she said calmly, “is probably performing near the Band Shell.” She strode past the Imagine mosaic imbedded in the ground—her mother always got teary-eyed when she saw the mosaic, but it didn’t do much for Reva, even though it usually had some candle
or withered flower lying on it in memory of that Beatle who got killed—and on to the road that looped around the lower park. It was closed to automobiles today, but the traffic was still pretty dense. Bikers, skaters, skateboarders and joggers all sped past, moving in the same direction. Jogging was supposed to improve your health, but it seemed to Reva that jogging amid all those bikers and skaters could cost a person his life. Just crossing the roadway, she felt she was risking major bodily harm.

Ashleigh and Kim kept up with her, though, and they made it to the other side of the road without injury. The sky above the Sheep Meadow was filled with kites, and Reva remembered her mother’s corny question about whether Reva wanted to go to the park to see the kites. Flying a kite seemed like about the most boring activity a person could do voluntarily. Sitting through Mr. Calaturo’s European history class was probably a little more boring, but a class was mandatory. People had a choice about flying a kite, and there were dozens of folks at the park today who’d freely chosen to stand on the sprawling expanse of grass, clutching a reel of string and craning their necks to observe their kites. Like this was so exciting, a big colorful thing held up in the sky by a breeze.

“So, when do you think Froiken is going to announce the
Tommy
soloists?” Ashleigh asked as they worked their way along the path that bordered the Sheep Meadow.

“A couple of weeks,” Kim said with a certain authority. Since she would be playing the piano accompaniment, it figured she would have the inside scoop on Ms. Froiken’s schedule.

“The later, the better,” Reva grumbled. “As long as I don’t know who the soloists are, I can pretend I’ve got a chance.”

“I thought you sounded fantastic at your audition,” Ashleigh argued. “You definitely have a chance.”

Reva eyed Kim, who nodded. “You sounded really good,” she confirmed.

Reva trusted Kim’s judgment more than Ashleigh’s, but she wasn’t convinced. “I had a tickle in my throat when I was singing. I kept feeling like I was going to cough or something.”

“You didn’t sound that way,” Kim assured her. “You sounded great.”

“You sounded fantastic,” Ashleigh insisted.

“I don’t have that good a voice,” Reva said, wishing she could believe her friends. They were only trying to make her feel better, and she appreciated their effort. “Now, Darryl J…
that’s
a good voice.”

Ashleigh raised her eyebrows, doing her best to look skeptical. It was hard to look skeptical when you were wearing an ankle-length paisley skirt.

By the time they reached the eastern edge of the Sheep Meadow, music from the performers at the mall was already drifting toward them—too much music and too much crowd noise for Reva to detect Darryl J’s guitar and voice, but she was sure he’d be set up in his usual spot near the Band Shell. It was such a balmy day, and the park was so mobbed with people enjoying the weather he couldn’t afford not to be there. On a day like today, a street musician could probably clean up.

She and Kim accelerated their pace as they neared the mall. Ashleigh managed to keep up, which was good because the walkway was really crowded, and if they lost her they might never find her again, no matter how much she stood out with her pale face and those shit-kicker boots.

“There he is,” Kim said, slipping past Reva and dodging a guy on a unicycle juggling stuffed teddy bears. It was easy for Kim to move through the throng, because she was so tiny. Reva managed to follow in her wake, glancing over
her shoulder every now and then to make sure Ashleigh was still with them. And then she heard one of those broad, rich guitar chords that she associated with Darryl J’s music, and her face broke into a smile, almost literally, as if her skin were cracking open to let her happiness escape.

How could this one musician have such a strong effect on her? She didn’t know and she didn’t care. All that mattered was that she’d survived a long week and now, at last, she would receive her reward: standing in Darryl J’s presence and listening to him sing.

She wove through the crowd surrounding him—a much larger crowd than last week’s, maybe because it was a Saturday, maybe because it was so warm and sunny. He wore a denim shirt, a leather vest and jeans today, and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. No tattoos visible. She sighed in relief.

God, he was so good! His voice was like this spiced cider she’d drunk at Grandma’s house last winter—smooth and tangy, cool on the tongue but warm going down, a warmth she felt moving through her, in her throat, in her chest, in her gut and in her blood, which carried it throughout her body. It made her want to sway.

Next to her, Kim stood transfixed. Behind her, Ashleigh whispered, “Ooh, he’s cute.”

Cute
didn’t begin to describe him. He was beyond awesome. He was magical. He was going to wait for Reva to get a few years older, and then he was going to fall madly in love with her.

He started singing a slower song, in a minor key. “‘I close my eyes because it’s all been such a loss, and the cost, baby, the cost is the price of my soul,’” he crooned. Reva wasn’t sure what he meant by “the price of my soul,” but it was such a sad lyric, and the chords were so melancholy, the riffs so bluesy, she wanted to break free of the crowd and
give him a hug. She wondered who had broken his heart so badly—surely he couldn’t have made up this song out of thin air. It had to have been wrung from some mournful experience he’d suffered.

She would never break his heart. Never.

The song ended and he smiled. As the crowd burst into applause, Reva forced herself to acknowledge that maybe he
had
just made the song up. Maybe he’d been sitting around, writing a bunch of happy songs, and he suddenly said, “Man, I ought to write something sad, just to show how wide my range is,” and he’d knocked off this song about the price of his soul.

People broke free of the crowd and stepped forward to drop money into his open guitar case. Reva thought about the eight dollars she had in her purse and the pain Darryl J had revealed in his song. He deserved to be paid for his music. If he didn’t make enough money he might just quit the whole music thing and get a job in a bank or at McDonald’s. She couldn’t bear that happening.

Gathering her courage, she pushed forward, unzipped her purse and pulled out a dollar. Dropping it into his guitar case brought her closer to him than she’d ever been before. He was even handsomer up close—no acne scars flawed his tawny skin and his teeth were a brilliant white. “Hey,” he said as she straightened.

She glanced around to see who he was talking to, then realized he was smiling right at her. At
her.

“Hey,” she managed to croak out. If she thought she’d sounded bad at the
Tommy
audition, she sounded about a thousand times worse now, like an asthmatic frog.

“I’ve seen you before,” he said.

Omigod. He’d
seen
her. He’d
noticed
her.

She was glad she’d already dropped the dollar bill into his guitar case. Her hands were suddenly so slick with perspiration the money might have disintegrated in her palm.

She had to say something. He was still smiling at her. “I love listening to you,” she said, hoping she wasn’t blushing or oozing sweat in her armpits. She didn’t have any zits, did she? Was her hair sleek and shiny? Did she look fat to him? She really wasn’t fat, regardless of what Bony said, but next to Kim she resembled a porker.

Fortunately, she wasn’t next to Kim. Kim was standing with Ashleigh in the crowd, watching her.

“Well, thank you,” he said.

So polite! No tattoos and polite—but African-American and cornrowed and earning money by playing music in the park, so it wasn’t as if he was exactly safe. Plus his being years and years older than her, of course.

But his smile seemed safe, almost. Safe and sexy both. She felt more of that cider warmth slide down from her face into her chest and through her whole body.

She had to say something. She couldn’t waste this moment. It might be the only time she ever talked to him. “I should thank you,” she said, sounding much calmer than she felt. “Because your music is really cool. I think you should be making records. You’re that good. My name is Reva.” Shit! She’d been doing so well, and suddenly she was blurting out
My name is Reva,
as if she were brain damaged or something.

“Well, hey, Reva,” he said affably. “I’m gonna play another song now.” In other words, bug off.

He was too polite to say
Bug off,
of course. He had to be polite because she’d stuck a dollar bill in his guitar case. But now he knew her name. And maybe he wasn’t just being polite. Maybe he was actually pleased to have met her. Maybe, just maybe, he’d go home tonight, to wherever his home was—she wanted to imagine him in some tiny, artsy flat on the Lower East Side or an interesting old brownstone in Harlem—and fall asleep remembering the
girl who thought he should be making records, who had that much faith in him.

She smiled, hoping her expression didn’t seem forced, and strolled back to where her friends were standing. “Omigod!” Kim squealed softly.

“He’s really cute,” Ashleigh declared once again.

“Do you think he likes you?” Kim asked.

“Shh.” Reva clung desperately to her poise. She didn’t want them to know how rattled she was, how wet her hands were, how fluttery her heart felt, beating like a ticking time bomb in her throat. “He’s playing a song.”

Darryl J swept the crowd with his gaze and then zeroed in on her. “This one’s for my new friend, Reva,” he said, then let loose with a rowdy flurry of guitar chords.

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