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Authors: Lauren Faulkenberry

Bayou My Love: A Novel

BOOK: Bayou My Love: A Novel
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Bayou My Love

a novel

 

 

Lauren
Faulkenberry

 

 

 

Published
by Velvet Morning Press

 

Copyright
© 2016 by Lauren Faulkenberry

 

All
rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the author, except for the inclusion of brief
quotations in a review.

 

This
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and
incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a
fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual
events is purely coincidental.

 

 

Cover
design by Ellen Meyer and Vicki Lesage

Author
photo by Cathy Faulkenberry

 

 

Chapter
1

I
knew when I strode into my father’s office—before he’d had time to drink his
two cups of coffee—that I was asking for trouble. But I was furious.

He
glared at me, the phone cradled to his ear. His upper lip twitched in the way
that usually sent people running with fear. As I sat down in the chair across
from his desk, I could hear the muffled voice on the other end of the line.
Judging by the way he scribbled on his notepad, nearly piercing the paper, the
conversation wasn’t going well. If I were a more dutiful daughter, and less
hacked off at him, I might have come back later. But he’d been ignoring me all
week. I needed a straight answer about my next job and was tired of waiting.

My
father has a knack for taking roughed-up houses and making them look like they
belong in the glossy pages of architectural magazines. I’d started working for
him when I was in college and discovered I had a knack for it too.

This
fact puts him in a tough spot. On the one hand, he’d like his progeny to take
over his company one day. On the other hand, his progeny is me: a hard-headed
thirty-one-year-old woman whose general presence aggravates his ulcers. I don’t
do things the way he does, and he’s a control freak. This often puts us at an
impasse.

Most
of our jobs work out OK. Because I get bored easily, the short-lived challenge
of a new house-flip appeals to me. My father sleeps a little easier when his
daughter has steady employment and is not too close to his office. He likes to
micromanage me, though, and that’s where things get hairy.

Still
on the phone, he leaned back in his prized Mission-style chair and shook his
hand at me to say
shoo
. I crossed my arms over my chest and raised my
brows. He pointed to the door more emphatically. I propped my feet on his desk.

His
eyes narrowed as they rested on my beat-up cowboy boots. They were my favorite
pair, vintage brown and white with tulip and bluebird inlays. He grimaced
whenever I wore them and called them unprofessional. In the beginning, he’d
expected me to dress more like a real estate agent, in a nice skirt suit with
heels. But skirt suits were completely against my nature. I was a tomboy
through and through, perfectly happy in my jeans and plaid shirts. I usually
took five minutes to pull my hair back in a ponytail and could sometimes be
bothered to put on a little mascara, but that was the extent of my preening. My
curvy figure and wildly curly hair had made for an unkind sprint through
adolescence. My father was of no help in feminine matters, and my mother was
long gone, so I’d fumbled my way through my formative years and came out the
other side with zero appreciation for makeup or fashion. Heels put me just over
six feet tall, and even though I had my mother’s soft face, I intimidated most
men.

It
seemed more beneficial to focus on beautifying houses.

“I’ll
get somebody else over there immediately,” my father said, slamming the phone
down. He turned to me. “Honestly, it just can’t get any crazier around here. I
hope you’re not coming in to tell me you’re quitting too.”

“I’ve
been thinking about Grandma Vergie’s house,” I said.

“Enza,
I don’t have room for that on my plate right now. We’ll get to it in a few
months.”

“I
know you don’t. That’s why I have the perfect solution.”

He
stared at me over his glasses.

“What
if I went down there myself and handled it?”

He
chuckled like I’d told him a joke that wasn’t all that funny.

When
Vergie died a couple of months ago, she’d unexpectedly left her house to me.
Dad suggested flipping it, despite my suggestion to keep it as a rental or a
vacation home. It was on a stream in southeast Louisiana, just a little north
of New Orleans. Bayou Sabine was a beautiful area, but my father scoffed at the
idea of another property to maintain. He wanted to turn it around as fast as
possible. There was no room in his heart for nostalgia.

“I’m
serious,” I said. “I want to handle this one.”

“Your
first flip should be local.”

“I’ve
been doing this for years. Give me a chance.”

The
phone rang again, and he answered before I could finish. “Hang on a sec,” he
said into the phone. To me he said, “You can take the next one.”

I
was so tired of hearing that line. I’d been patient, doing all the dirty work
he handed me for five years now. House after house, he’d had me doing clean-up
and demo, filling dumpsters with all the garbage left from houses that had been
auctioned. We were based out of Raleigh, a city where a lot of houses went to
auction. Most days, I felt like I needed a haz-mat suit, because people who
left pissed off or in a hurry, well, they weren’t concerned with what they left
behind. Piles of dirty clothes, rotting garbage, refrigerators that had reached
DEFCON 1—nothing surprised me any more. Some days I thought he was making me do
the grunt work just to scare me off. He knew I had a weak stomach for filth.
What he didn’t know was that there was no way I’d give him the satisfaction of
seeing me fail.

My
father delighted in watching failure.

Occasionally
he’d toss me a compliment and say I had a good eye for architecture, or I had
more patience than he did—but he still couldn’t let me loose. Sure, he loved
me, but sometimes it felt like he was trying to make me prove I was in this
business to stay. He considered training me an investment, and his investments
needed to bring returns. Turning my grandmother’s house around would go a long
way toward making him see me as more of a professional and less of a wayward
daughter.

When
I stood, he didn’t shift his gaze to me. I reached over and held my finger down
on the phone, breaking the connection on the line.

“Enza!”
he yelled. “That was a contractor!”

“I
don’t want to wait for the next crummy house in the wrong part of town. This
one’s important.”

“That
sort of sentimentality is going to cost you a fortune,” he said. “And by
extension, cost me a fortune.”

“This
isn’t about sentimentality.”

He
sighed, tapping his pen on the desk. “It’s nothing but a swamp down there,” he
said. “The house won’t be like you remember.” He had a strange look on his
face, one I couldn’t quite decipher. Usually I could read my father well,
because he’s a straightforward guy and doesn’t have time for things like
subtext. This look wasn’t anger or fear, exactly, but he was definitely hiding
something.

I
shook it off, focused on winning him over. “I still want to go,” I said.

It
had been years since I’d been down to that little corner of Louisiana. When I
was a kid, I spent summers with Vergie. But when I was sixteen, shortly after
Mom left (no one ever told me why, and eventually I gave up asking), my father
told me there would be no more summers with Vergie.
She doesn’t want you to
visit any more,
he said flatly. Being a teenager, thinking the world hated
me, I took that to mean Vergie hated me too.

It
never occurred to me until years later that my father might have lied.

Sure,
I could have sought Vergie out. But part of me believed my father and thought
she really didn’t want to see me. After all, she was my mom’s mother. They had
the same blood. Could they not have the same tendency to abandon me for no
reason? I was scared that if I did go to see her, she’d turn me away and
confirm everything my father said.

I
couldn’t take that kind of hurt again.

Years
passed, and I shoved those memories to the back of my brain. I hardly thought
of Vergie.

But
then she died. Alone, for all I knew. And then I hated myself for not visiting
her. Dad wouldn’t even go to the funeral with me. I stood in the back of the
church because I didn’t want everyone talking to me like I knew her so well,
her only grandchild. The little chapel was packed with people—easily a
hundred—all fanning themselves in the heat. The whole time I felt like an
impostor, and I had a headache for days from the tears. I didn’t go to her
house because I knew all those people would be there, swapping stories over
dinner. I couldn’t bear hearing all the things about her I’d missed out on.

We
didn’t find out until weeks later that she’d left the house to me. I thought
the lawyers were mistaken, but it was true. And that made me feel worse than
anything.

Dad
was probably right to want to sell it—when would I ever be down there? The
truth was, I didn’t care about flipping it to turn a profit. I felt like I owed
her: Repairing her house would be a kind of homage. The potential profit was
just a way to get my father on board and let me use his resources.

Besides,
it would do me good to get out of town for a while and go back to a place that
had good memories tied to it.

My
father’s eyes narrowed. “You aren’t going to go down there and get all attached
are you? We don’t have time for nostalgia.”

“I
want to turn this house around just as fast as you do.”

“Then
you won’t have a hard time parting with it,” he said, pushing his glasses up on
his nose. With his gelled hair and oxford shirt, he looked like he belonged
more on a used car lot than in a remodeling business. “I know you like to hang
onto things that need fixing,” he said, his eyebrow arched.

True,
I took in strays. I dated men who were broken, hoping to mend their fatal
flaws. Everyone has one, of course, but while my father chose to write people
off because of their flaws, I urged my partners to overcome them. I took a lot
of risks and failed more than I succeeded (with men, not renovations), but
there’s a science there, right? A law of averages. You fail enough, you succeed
in the long run. Dad liked to hold this habit over my head. He wanted me to settle
down with a reliable guy who could balance his checkbook and pay a mortgage on
time. But every time I sought out reliable, it backfired. My last boyfriend had
been a banker, but then he quit to be a writer. I’d let him stay with me,
rent-free, while he tried to build up a freelance business, burning through his
savings. I thought I was being supportive, but my father called him a moocher.
When we finally broke up, my father said,
See what a waste of time and money
that was?

My
father thought my propensity to fix people was a weakness. But he thought my
inclination to fix houses was lucrative.

Houses
were easy because you figure out what’s broken, add the cost of materials plus
the cost of labor, then factor in a little patience over time. Unlike men, renovations
were something I could calculate.

“You
said yourself you’ve got too much going on up here,” I said. “Besides, we’ll
have squatters if we wait too long.”

He
stared for a long moment, then leaned back in his chair. Those were the magic
words. My father despised freeloaders. “Fine. I’ll give you six weeks. That
should be plenty of time for that house.”

“Six
weeks,” I said, wondering if he would actually trust me to finish on my own. A
perfectionist to the core, he loved to show up halfway through a project and
take over completely, arguing that his way was more cost-effective, more
efficient. I hated that about him. Sometimes it was easier on everybody if he
just came into the project in the beginning. It would save me a car load of
aspirin and whiskey. But I was hoping this time he would leave me alone.

“This
will give you the chance to see if you love this job as much as you think you
do,” he said, chewing on the tip of his pen.

I
wanted it to spill blue ink down his lip.

“And
this way you get to be the boss.” He winked, then circled a day on his
calendar. “Now, let’s get your flight booked.”

“Fair
enough,” I agreed. “But no planes—I’ll drive.”

He
frowned and gave me a look of zero faith. “Right out the gate, wasting time.”

“Saving
money,” I said. “No rental car.”

“Try
to stay focused down there, will you? Don’t get distracted by anything else
that needs fixing.”

“Will
do.”

He
reached for the phone and said, “Would you excuse me so I can get back to work
here?” He was already dialing before I got to the door.

I
stopped. “Why do you think she left the house to me?”

He
sighed and laid his glasses on the desk. “Who could ever explain Vergie? She
was nutty as a fruitcake.” There was that unreadable look again. What was he
hiding?

“I’ll
call when I get there, Dad.”

“Bonne
chance,” he said, arching that eyebrow again. “You’re gonna need all the luck
you can get.”

The
door slammed behind me. I didn’t need luck, and I was going to prove it.

 

~~~~

 

Cranking
the radio up was the perfect antidote for a conversation with my father. I
couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I figured that’s why they made car
radios—so people like me can blow off steam while driving through four states
that look exactly alike and try to forget our fathers’ lack of faith in us.

BOOK: Bayou My Love: A Novel
12.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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