Authors: Robert Reeves
The Trees Beyond the Grass
is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical and public figures, are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incident and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Robert Reeves
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by The Spartina Company, Ltd.
Cover photography by Kathleen Gill
Cover design by damanza.com
To family and friends who have always supported me,
especially my mother who instilled in me that there is nothing
you cannot accomplish if you truly try.
– A NOVEL –
By ROBERT REEVES
“Mother was a meth-head and I was currency for her next hit. My father had long disappeared. There were other men, though…lots of them. They would smile at me, petting my hair like they would their daughters I went to school with. Then they would take my hand. Momma’s face would glow. ‘Go on, baby, you be real good and do what he says.’ In the back room of our trailer they would lay me down in my mother’s bed, kissing my neck, running their hands up my shorts. The first few times I screamed, confused as to why it was happening, what I had done wrong? Later, I learned it was the weakness of men for all things red that drives them into dark places. But they were undeserving. I can still hear Momma calling from the other room, ‘Be strong, my sweet flower… my sweet, sweet red flower.’
Poinsett hit the
‘submit’ button. It was important that everyone know… She needed
to know. The final hunt had arrived.
A DEEP GASP
for air could be heard as Cole Mouzon broke the surface between sleep and consciousness. He had been drowning in fear for over a month, taunted by a dream long believed to have been lost somewhere in childhood. Its return had been without warning or reason, hunting him every time he closed his eyes, submerging him in dark places.
His eyes still pinched closed, he shook off the residual fear like a wet dog and then instinctually slid his arm across the bed where only the cool underside of a pillow was found. He exhaled a long breath. Dream or no dream, he dreaded mornings. Not in the ‘it’s time to go to work’ way. No. Waking meant remembering he was alone. The feeling had grown thick and viscous since Atlanta and left him drenched in the tannic feeling of a solitary life.
Slowly, he opened his eyes, still damp from the piercing emotions. It was six-thirty a.m. and the sun was already beaming saffron through the narrow bedroom window when he finally brushed off the remaining hollowness and swept his long legs off the bed. His toes reached the chill of lacquered ponderosa pine floors, wishing to recoil to the warmth of his down duvet.
Get your ass up!
Slowly, he moved until he was completely standing, still rubbing the sting of salty sleep out of his eyes.
Dixie jumped off the high bed with a heavy thud, her thick board of a tail now smacking Cole against his right leg, whipping him forward into another day. “I’m going, you dog. I’m going.” Dixie acknowledged him with a tight wag of her tail before bounding into the hall and beyond with her heavy paws, towards the kitchen and its dog door. Cole shuffled across the floor, half-blind from his missing contacts, into the single household bathroom, which was too small for much more than a shower and wiping down. He flicked on the switch behind the bathroom door and leaned into the ceramic pedestal basin, looking at himself in the mirror.
The face staring back at him had begun to show some wear from his years, with fine lines spreading out like webs from the corners of his eyes and one too many freckles blotting his pale skin. Telling himself he needed a tan, he pulled at the thin skin at the corners of his eyes to smooth it and lift the otherwise dark purple bags. His second spring in Denver had been unusually cold and long, making attempts at color futile.
He had looked worse, he knew that. But in the years since Atlanta, he felt the damage had been done. The scars of his thirty-three years had finally begun to settle in, like fog nestled in a cool mountain valley, and no amount of care could burn it off. The high desert dryness of the Rockies emphasized the creases of too few hours of sleep and the tight eyes of pain.
Running his fingers through his sandy blonde hair, he wondered how he had survived his life so far. He had lost his mother at two and festered privately ever since then. His will to endure seemed to spite his deep longing to fade to black. “Just get over it,” he would tell himself. But he couldn’t move forward. Attempts at therapy had resulted in one revelation: he was stuck. This was a play that he rehearsed every morning, like a Shakespeare tale that never found a commoner crowd to listen to it. He kept it to himself. There was no need to burden his family or friends; they had their own issues. Untold, his grief languished, restlessly knocking at his solid facade in hopes of being heard.
It was in these early morning moments that he was weakest. Slowly, he raised the dense wall that kept it all in, that stored his suffering in some out-of-the-way place in his mind so that he could function. He couldn’t think of a time the wall wasn’t there, at least since losing his mother. But he kept it hidden well. Staring at himself, he could feel the wall’s presence stabilizing his mood, his thoughts, as he moved about the cramped space of the white-tiled bathroom until it was completely raised and all thought of pain, longing, and sadness dissipated into the morning.
POURING YESTERDAY’S COLD,
bitter coffee into a speckled yellow stonecraft mug and then pushing it into the microwave, he hit two minutes. Its fan hummed as he leaned back into the rainforest green marble counter and watched as Dixie first looked up for approval and then approached her now-full morning bowl for breakfast, her bat of a tail wagging with excitement. Transparent images, like slides, flashed before his eyes to reveal his thoughts in vivid color. There were always images. Those this morning were just of things needing to be accomplished during the day. The image of luggage packed. The image of walking out the front door. The image of being in a deposition. They each came one after the other, until he consciously pushed the mental projector off to the side of his mind to focus on Dixie.
“Well, I’m glad you’re perky, Dixie Carter Mouzon. Daddy is draggin’ this morning, between your ruckus in the middle of the night and that damn dream. Why do you always have to bark at the wind? You know it’s just that. Daddy needed his sleep for his flight later, while you, lucky dog, get to chill with your boyfriend Luke-e-Luke up in the mountains for the next week.” Dixie looked up from her half-empty bowl with sparkling eyes as if to say,
yep, I know
, before turning back to finish. Cole shook his head at her pleasure and then turned to pull the stale coffee out of the microwave using an oven mitt, the mug now way too hot to the touch for bare hands. While blowing on its top in a weak attempt to cool it off, his mind drifted back to his night.
The nightmare had come back. It had been almost twenty years since he’d last had it, but now its return gripped him in the darkness of his sleep, pulling him into the trees and palmettos of his childhood. The same sequence, the same images.
Whatever the reason, it couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time. Work had consumed him for the past few months, and the lack of sleep only compounded his already drained energy. He brushed off his thoughts, refocusing on Dixie who had stepped back from her bowl to sniff out random pieces of dry dog food that had escaped her mouth.
“Okay, missy. You finish up and let yourself out while Daddy gets dressed. Aunt Maggie should be here by lunch to pick you up, and you better have not made a mess of the place, you hear me woman?” Morning conversations between the two were the reality of a single man living alone in a small Craftsman-style bungalow with no one else to cater to in the early hours of the day. But for Cole there was the larger reality that Dixie had offered some relief from the hollow created back in Atlanta.
Dixie looked up again as Cole walked out of the kitchen in his white V-neck t-shirt and grey pinstriped slacks towards the bedroom. Maggie was a friend, not an aunt, but Cole loved her like a second sister and so had bestowed the honor of aunt-hood upon her when he’d adopted Dixie a year earlier. Little did she know that the honor came with puppy-sitting responsibilities.
A MIST OF
PERSPIRATION coated Cole’s forehead as he walked out of the bathroom to finish packing for Charleston. It was May and a mild heat wave had descended on Denver; yet the city’s high altitude meant double-digit cool-offs at night, making open windows a very cheap and effective alternative to running up the power bill with the A/C. This unfortunately invited trouble. Cherry Creek was an affluent neighborhood, and summer was the season for bored teens to raid homes in hopes of scoring while their owners were away for the season. Cole could count three homes just on his block that lay empty while their inhabitants enjoyed the Caymans, Brazil, or some other exotic place. The idea of leaving his home empty for a week unnerved him, but if anyone wanted to steal something they were just as likely to do it while he was at work as when he was out of town. Dixie’s nighttime barking had added to that concern.
What if someone was outside?
Cole ignored the concern, zipped up his overstuffed blue carry-on bag and worked to gather Dixie’s overnight bag of food and a pink pig dog toy long-emptied of stuffing. Maggie would swing by around lunch and collect the bag and Dixie while he was away.
Ten minutes later, he said good-bye to Dixie and loaded his tattered carry-on and a large pale blue canvas beach bag into the trunk of his silver Audi A4. Slowly he crept into the morning traffic towards the Denver Tech area of town, an alcove of medium-height towers that hosted insurance companies and corporate headquarters away from the tourists and tight corridors that choked the pedestrian-friendly concrete of downtown Denver. A winner-takes-all deposition needed to be taken before he could board his two-thirty flight to Charleston.
The seated form of courtroom interrogation was being hosted at the plaintiff’s attorney’s office, which adjoined a Chipotle in a small, aged strip mall. Home turf was always desired. Too many times lawyers and doctors cut off the heat or air in the often-tight room in an effort to unnerve and hasten the unpleasantness of being cross-examined, analyzed, and their credibility being called into question, even if rightfully so. No one desired to be called, and often shown to be, a liar to their face—such realities were best left to the silence of dark places.
It was in dark places that lawyers lingered. As civil defense counsel with Johnson, Roberts & Steele, it was Cole’s job to discover not only the truth to a plaintiff’s claims, but to analyze his or her ability to credibly and convincingly convey that truth. Where they were able to tell a compelling, true story, the case settled at a reasonable value. But if the plaintiff lied, or was ineffective at telling the truth, the case was subject to being attacked by paper hyenas, picking off the weak from the strong. The reality was no less true on the plaintiff’s side, thereby creating a balanced system of hunters and supporting a justice system based more on skilled advocacy than the seeking of truth.
Pulling up to the old shingle-sided building in the mall and putting the car into park, Cole looked into the rear-view mirror and stared into his own green eyes. The mental wall that held back his turbulent pain was still firmly in place as he prepared himself to enter the hunter’s den.