Uncle Timothy visited Norman and Stephanie. Matthew was glad to be a part of the conversation because it allowed him to take his mind off of Kathy. Something was happening and he did not know what but he figured that, whatever it was, he had been partly responsible.

Timothy said, “Norman, I remember when we were kids and mom told us about redwoods and how they were California’s national tree. We used to go to the park and try counting as many redwoods as possible. I think you even took pictures of some of them.”

Norman said, “That’s right. I also liked looking out for fennel. It seemed very decorative, somehow. I wanted to draw a picture of fennel so I could put it on my bedroom wall but I couldn’t quite master drawing.”

“I know. Instead, dad gave you a harmonica and you learned to play scales. I sat in with you on pieces and we went up and down, going through the notes.”

Matthew asked, “Did you record any of your music back then?”

Ronald answered, “Oh, no. This was before the age of portable recorders like what’s available now. There were recording devices but they were crude. I’m surprised you asked me. I don’t remember you being interested in my past before. That’s nice.”

Matthew shrugged. “It’s helping me calm down.”

Timothy laughed. “If hearing stories of our youth will help you calm down, I have a lot of stories that will work like sedatives.”

Stephanie said, “I also have memories of my girlhood. Are you interested in them?”

Matthew smiled. “Surely.”

The phone rang. Norman answered. “Hello? Oh, hi. Okay. That sounds manageable. Oh. Well, I’ll tell him. Okay, bye.” He hung up.

Stephanie asked, “Who was that?”

“It was our neighbor, Kathy Baker. She said Greg had a lot of books that he wanted to donate to the public library and he needed an expert opinion about what he should keep and what he should give away. But Kathy said Greg really needed Matthew to be the guy with the expert opinion.”

Matthew was nervous. “How did she get our number?”

Ronald shrugged. “I gave our number to Greg. He said he’d like me to be a designated driver if his ride to a party didn’t show up or was too drunk to drive.”

Matthew shrugged. “He can find someone else.”

Ronald replied, “You’re complex. You know that? First, you’re suddenly eager to help people and now you’re ambivalent again. What’s going on? Would you like to see a psychologist?”

Matthew said, “Absolutely not. I’ll see what books Greg has.”

Ronald winked. “That’s the spirit.”

Matthew walked to Kathy’s house. He was more nervous of psychologists than what might happen when he talked with Greg. Did Tom clue him in on the handshake? Matthew would find out soon enough.

When he rang the bell, Kathy opened the door and walked out on the porch. She immediately held out her hand and said, “Hello, Matthew.”

He stood there. “Where’s Greg?”

“Greg isn’t here. That was an excuse. I needed to see you.”

He was nervous. “Why is that?”

“You know why…”

Her hand was still extended.

“I think we should stop this.”

“I’m not going to stop. I like you, Matthew, and I want to shake your hand.” She was wearing another tucked in shirt and belted jeans. She looked good. For a moment, he forgot his nervousness.

He said, “Okay.” He gave her his hand.

Her grip was very tight. She said, “Let’s go in.” She pulled him in her house. “This time, I don’t want you to let go.”

He could not think of anything to say.

Suddenly, Greg entered the house. He said, “I got off early today because I made the boss a lot of money with the new client. I’m getting paid, though.”

She nodded. “That’s good news.”

Greg turned straight faced. “I see you have a lover.”

Matthew said, “Not at all.”

Kathy said, “You don’t owe him an explanation.”

Greg frowned. “I don’t want to hurt this guy.”

Matthew said, “I don’t want that, either. I’ll leave. Nothing has happened.”

Greg nodded. “Okay. I believe you. No one in his right mind would deny being Kathy’s lover unless he was telling the truth.”

Matthew tried pulling his hand lose. “Damn it. I’m trying to let go and she won’t let me!”

Kathy stood there, still gripping Matthew’s hand. Finally, Greg asked, “What are you doing, Kathy?”

She would not answer.

Greg took their joined hands and pulled. He was able to separate them but it was difficult. He said, “You’re crazy, Kathy.”

She shrugged.

Matthew said, “Goodbye.” He ran towards home. He was hoping to catch the rest of his parents’ and his uncle’s conversation.


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