The Warrior Within Cut Scene: Cookout at Libby's father's

     So a cut scene means it isn't all it could be, having missed intensive editing. In the process of cutting 58,000 words from the original manuscript, I not only had to cut this scene, but also characters. In it, Libby goes to her father's house for a cookout. Family friends join them. I loved Vicky, Carl, Sarah and Bobby. As difficult as it was, I had to decide that only Sarah added to the story. Also, I trimmed this cookout down to a phone call. 

     Anyway, I hope you enjoy the original as much as I did writing it.

     I get to Dad’s within an hour thanks to light traffic on the highway and by some miracle hitting the stop lights right. Goddesses must want me to get there quickly, I think and I send up my gratitude for an easy trip. When I went to college, Dad sold the house in town, where I currently live, and moved to a condo just north of Roanoke. It is closer to his job at the main post office, one he has held for nearly 25 years now, and I’ve had to assure him many times that I mean it when I say I am glad he moved.

     With my hands full of potato salad and my purse, I just yell into the open screen, “Yo, Dad, can you get the door? My hands are kinda full.”

     There’s a clanging in the area of the kitchen and soon see him appear through the gloom of the inside. Well, gloomy compared to the brightness of this morning. He is hurrying through the den to the door, all but wringing his hands, “Oh, honey, you should have left that in the car for me to get, it must be heavy.” He pushes open the door and I step back out of the way. Half hanging out of the doorway he reaches for the bowl. “Here let me have that. Now, don’t you look pretty, though that’s nothing new. What a lovely dress.”

     I feel happy as a cat with cream to see him and I gratefully pass him the heavy bowl. I precede him into the house as he turned on the spot and is propping it open for me on the heel of a ratty old pair of running shoes. Dad is famous for these. A long-time avid runner, like I used to be, he goes through them. He spares no expense for a well-built shoe, but as he is thrifty, he doesn’t throw the old ones away until he absolutely has to. Dad chooses instead to designate them for various jobs around the house until they unceremoniously fall apart. This duo, that I’m judging by the splatters are his kitchen pair, are hopefully close to being discarded. He keeps a pair assigned to yard work – inevitably becoming various shades of green, and a pair he wears to the dump each week. Let me just say, yuck. And I believe he saves a pair for doing odd messy jobs, but it’s been awhile since I kept track of his day-to-day, so he may not keep as many around anymore.

     Dad owns a two-level condominium with a full bathroom, the master and smaller 2nd bedroom upstairs. Though I’ve never lived here and live too close to necessitate staying over, he still tells me that 2nd bedroom is mine. The downstairs is divided by a central ½ bath at the base of the open serpentine stairs, a den at the front, and a kitchen and dining area taking up the rear. As an end unit, the backyard offers a little more than the average yards here do, and he takes pride in his simple but well-groomed landscaping inside the standard gray privacy fencing. From the doorway it is a straight shot to the dining room and I hurry there dropping my purse on a padded chair before making the right hand turn to the kitchen. I open the refrigerator and quickly clear a space for the bowl on a shelf, then step out of his way.

     I look around as he sets the bowl inside and note the various preparations already underway. “Wow, you don’t even need me. Look at all this!”

     Pleased, which was my goal, he gathers me into his strong arms and holds me tight. “Oh, please. I haven’t even started. And don’t ever tell me I don’t need my little girl.”

     Now I’m pleased, which was certainly his goal and I hug him back as strongly as I can. “So point me in a direction and tell me what needs to be done.”

     “Ok,” he claps once and points to the counter beside the stove. “As you can see, I have the ingredients out to make the baked bean casserole. I’ve chopped the celery and bell peppers but still need to brown the ground beef and fry up the bacon.” He turns and points to the sink, “We need both packs of bacon because I need some for the broccoli salad and I was in the process of cleaning the broccoli when you came in.”

     “Ok...”

     He turns to me and squints as he thinks, “Other than that, we need to clean lettuce and slice tomatoes for the hamburgers. I made them into patties with some garlic and herbs last night. Bobby and Sarah are bringing chips and drinks, and Vicky and Carl are bringing dessert so we don’t have to worry about those.” He pauses, “Let’s see, what am I forgetting?”

     “What about buns? Condiments?”

     “Right! Yes! I want to warm the buns in the oven and we can set the pickles and condiments out at the last minute. Oh, and I picked up a few packs of pre-sliced cheese. I figured that would be easier on us.” He winks at me.

     “Sounds great! So, where do you want me?” I turn and look at what I now see is organized chaos scattered around the kitchen. “Just tell me and I will jump in and get started.”

     “How about you stick with the stove and I will finish up with this broccoli,” he walks over to the sink but turns with a question in his eyes. “I don’t see any braces or canes but I know that doesn’t mean you aren’t hurting. Do you need the stool while you cook or are you up to standing?”

    There is only the simple question in his eyes and voice and I appreciate his solicitousness. I’m feeling pretty good today and I tell him so. “How about I start out standing and if I need the stool, I will tell you.”

He agrees and we get to working. We talk every week so we don’t have a lot to catch up on and enjoy a companionable silence for a few minutes. “So how have the last few days gone? Do anything fun?”

     I tell him about going to the park every morning and walking. I can tell he is really glad to hear it. We used to run together regularly and I know it bothers him that I can’t anymore, almost as much as it weighs on me. I tell him work is fine. I don’t tell him anything about Jo. I’m not sure there is really anything to tell and I don’t want to get his hopes up about me having a romantic relationship. Our small talk goes on as we continue preparations. He tells me hilarious anecdotes from work and I laugh until my stomach hurts. He really knows how to tell a story and his quirky coworkers give him endless fodder.

     I’m laughing like a hyena at Jean, one of his coworker’s antics when there’s a couple of knocks followed by the opening of the door. “Yoo hoo! Hey, y’all! It’s just us. Is that Libby’s laughter I hear?” her voice gets louder the closer she gets and I have already spun away from the stove to greet her.

     “Vicky!” I hurry over to meet the plump woman smiling at me. We are about the same height and as we embrace, she gently rocks me side to side, mindful of not making too big a movement for my spine.

     “Oh, my girl.” This woman is more like a mother to me than my own had ever been and I soak up her unconditional love. “Let me look at you.” She gently disengages and holds me at arms length. Vicky turns up her head to peer through the bottoms of her bifocals. “Well, you just look beautiful! Carl, doesn’t our Libby look wonderful?”

     Carl sets a plastic domed cake carrier on the counter and slips around Vicky. After he bends down for a quick squeeze, he steps back from me. “Yes, Libby looks like a lovely little lady – how’s that alliteration?! Ha! – but then, she always does look nice.”  He turns to Vicky, “Almost as lovely as my bride, that is.”

     I laugh as I take him in. He is at least 6 inches taller than Vicky (and me, for that matter) and I note that his normally lean frame holds a few extra pounds right now. He carries it well. Most men do. We are both avid readers and he always likes to have a language joke ready. It’s fun and I look forward to his good-natured quips. Carl is quite a character.

     Vicky playfully slaps him on the arm. “Oh, Carl, go on with your foolishness.” She manages to sound tough and flattered at the same time. Carl gives her a deliberately goofy grin and turns to greet my father. Carl and Vicky’s love for one another is tangible and I feel a sudden sharp pang of envy. Vicky laughs at him and turns her attention back to me. “Honey, you really look great. That dress is so flattering – and not just the color.” She looks down. “And even your toes match. Now I can’t wait to hear what – or who – made you start dressing like your old self again!” She winks but her eyes are gleaming and I know that while she turns away now to greet Dad, she won’t be letting it go. She’s a bloodhound when she smells news, especially when it comes to me. Vicky knows me so well that she scents even the faintest clue. I’ve been so distracted with Jo I didn’t think to prepare for this and now I am nervous. I turn back to my task finishing cooking the ground beef. Dad sends Carl out through the sliding glass doors to start the grill with a lighter he pulls out of a drawer under the sink. To my left, Vicky appears and in my periphery I note that she is arranging slices from 3 different packets of cheese on a plate while she and Dad catch up a little. I try to listen as she talks about her grandchildren, but my mind is whirling around what I can say about Jo and how to say it.

     Bobby and Sarah arrive a few minutes later and the three of us leave our respective tasks to greet them. I’m so glad to see them both. It’s been months and tall, slender Sarah and I enjoy a long embrace before she releases me to the arms of equally tall and slender Bobby. I have always imagined them as a set of taper candles as they stand side by side. I take the 2 bags of chips from Sarah after hugging Bobby and Dad takes one of the 2 liters Bobby is carrying. Sarah and Vicky embrace as I set the chips on the dining room table and go back to check the casserole I’d put in the oven. I figure it needs 20 more minutes and adjust the timer as Bobby goes into the backyard with Dad and the plate of cheese to greet Carl and oversee the cooking burgers.

     Vicky and Sarah put chips into bowls and begin carrying things out to the patio table as they catch up on one another’s family news. I only listen as I gather heavy weight paper plates, napkins, and plastic cutlery and take them out to set our places at the round patio table. I’ve become aware that I’ve been standing for too long. Dad yells for a headcount on cheeseburgers and we all give our preferences. Vicky must see something unguarded on my face (What did I tell ya? She’s a bloodhound.) because she puts her hand on my arm as I am turning to walk back in. I look into her face questioningly. “I can see you hurting, sweetling. Go ahead and sit. You’ve done enough. Let us take care of the rest.”

     “But the casserole—”

     Sarah walks over to me. “The casserole is just fine. Didn’t you set the timer? I’m pretty certain neither of us is too senile yet that we can’t take care of that. Listen to your elders, child. You need to sit. We’ve got this.” We all laugh at her attempt to be stern, including her.

     “Are you trying to be bossy, woman?” Bobby calls and we look at each other and burst into laughter, again.

It feels good to be cared for by these women and my smile is grateful, if not a little sad, as I sink into a chair. The two of them bustle back inside to finish preparations, and probably cluck like mother hens over me outside of my hearing, and I listen in on the men’s grill-centered conversation for a minute. I hear Dad telling them the same story about his coworker that had me in stitches and I laugh to myself in anticipation of the punchline. I haven’t felt this loved and relaxed since...well, I don’t know when. I decide not to investigate that too much.

     I settle more deeply into the chair and let my head rest against the back, basking in the warmth of the sun and my chosen family. As I gaze at a distant blue peak, my thoughts inexorably turn to Jo. I wonder what she is doing on this bright and sunny Saturday, and what kind of relationship she has with Mr. Granger. I wonder where the rest of her family lives and if she is close to any of them. My thoughts are interrupted when everyone seems to converge on the table at once.

     After a few minutes the general consensus is that the burgers are delicious, as are the sides, and we all enjoy talking and laughing as we eat. I tell them a couple of funny stories from the agency and they talk about their jobs. Though I am experiencing anxiety about telling Vicky about Jo, I can’t help the general well-being I feel just being around these wonderful people. There is no backstabbing gossip, no whining or complaining about their lots in life. They don’t spend time taking down anyone, unless it’s to share their own experience that taught them a lesson. Even Dad’s stories about his coworkers are in good fun and I know he wouldn’t say anything he’d be embarrassed for them to hear.

     At a lull in the conversation, I start to gather empty plates and trash and Vicky and Sarah each stand and grab dishes of food to carry in. Carl jumps up to open the door for all of us as we troop in and out laden with dishes. Dad and Bobby help, too and in no time, our teamwork has the food put away and the dishes cleaned. Soon we are all drawn back out to the sun and more laughter with slices of Vicky’s delicately glazed lemon pound cake. An hour or so later Bobby and Sarah start making leaving noises and it occurs to me that I can get away in their wake and avoid talking to Vicky. But, like an expert dancer, she maneuvers me and before I know it, they have gone and she and I are alone at the dining room table. I hear the murmur of voices as Dad and Carl sit on the patio and talk. Man, she is good.

     “So tell me,” she begins. “Is it something or someone that I can thank for bringing you back to yourself?”

I’m leaning against the back of the dining room chair but now I sit forward and fold my arms on the table. I take a deep breath. I know it isn’t worth trying to lie to her. As Vicky says, you can’t bullshit a bullshitter. Okay, here goes. “Someone,” I admit, somewhat reluctantly.

     “Now how did I know that was what you were going to say?” her brown eyes are twinkling. “What’s her name?” Her voice is light with excited anticipation. I came out as a lesbian to Vicky before I came out to Dad because I was more sure of her reaction. Exhibit A.

     “Her name is Jo. Granger?” It has suddenly occurred to me that Granger may be her last name because she is related to Mr. Granger. But as she told me she is his distant cousin, I could be way off. I admit, “I’m actually not sure what her last name is.”

     “Ok, first names are important so that’s a start. So, how did you meet? How long have you been going out? What does she do?”

     I answer her questions in order, “Um, we met at a gay nightclub. A week ago, Friday, in fact. And, she apparently owns blood banks or something.”

     “Wow, okay, that sounds pretty impressive and...interesting. And you say you met at a nightclub? How did that happen?” she inquires. I rue the blush that creeps into my cheeks as I remember just how we met. “Oh, really?” she observes as if I said something. “Now I am really excited to hear.”

     I hesitate. “There isn’t much to tell,” I concede, finally. “And before you ask, I wasn’t drinking and neither was she for that matter. What happened is, I went out with a few of my coworkers. I was walking back from the bathroom and someone ran into me and I almost fell and she caught me. Then she took care of me until I was better. And then she had her driver take me home, all the way from Roanoke, because I was so tired. That was it, I didn’t see her again, until, well, I’ve started walking in the park near my house each morning and we sort of ran into each other there a couple of times. She has been in a bit of a hurry,” not a lie – such a hurry I can’t even see her move, “and we haven’t really had time to talk, yet. I’ve only seen her three times, actually. Although, she did send me a rose.” I smile at the sheer pleasure of being able to say that.

     I gather my thoughts and Vicky waits me out patiently. “You know, Emma has been working on me for a long time, and this woman, Jo, well, she really looked at me, she looked past the knee brace and the cane. And past the baggy clothes. And it seems as though she likes me anyway. So, when Emma and I had coffee this week, she didn’t have to push hard to convince me to let her take me shopping. I was finally ready. And while Jo certainly helped, this,” I lift my arm, turn my palm in and sweep from my head down, “isn’t actually about her. It’s been days now with no word and I may never see Jo again.” I try not to grimace at the idea. “I did this for me.” I meet her eyes, “I’m done hiding.”

     “Oh, honey. I’m so, so, so glad to hear that,” and the relief on her face is unmistakable. Then the gleam returns to her eyes. She leans forward and says conspiratorially, “So tell me, this Jo – who isn’t the reason but perhaps the catalyst for my answered prayer – what does she look like?”

     I have no trouble answering as I have not been able to expunge her image from my mind’s eye, “She is tall, as tall as Sarah and Bobby, and muscular like she works out a lot, but not too much. I mean, she is strong enough to lift me which is a big turn – um – plus. And she has this thick, wavy black hair and the most incredible green eyes…”

     I don’t realize I have trailed off until she says, “Hello? Earth to drooler, come in drooler.” She laughs at her own joke. “I must say, I really hope you see each other again. And again, and again, because my dear, you have it bad.” I must have looked bleak because she looks sympathetic when she says, “There’s nothing wrong with that, you know. Not one thing. Just make sure she is worth mooning over.” She sits up straight and straightens her blouse saying, “unlike that gym-rat twit Julie? Julia?”

     “Julie,” I supply with a grin.

     “Julie – humph, between you and me that girl needs a 12-step for exercise. And don’t even get me started on the other unworthy biddies you dated before her.” She laughs at herself again and reaches out to me across the table. I grasp her soft, plump hand and she adds, “My prayer for you, dear one, is that your eyes are open when find her, whoever she may be. For I know she is out there, just waiting for you to come into her life. And who knows? Maybe, you already have.” She smiles gently and releases my hand as the men come back in.

     Back home a short while later, I change out of my dress and hang it carefully. I pull on some light and comfy capri sweats and an old, age-softened T-shirt. I decide I want iced tea and start making it. As the water comes to a boil I think about what Vicky said, about my special someone being out there, waiting for me to come into her life. I take the pot off of the heat and sink teabags into it, thinking about Jo, wondering if she could possibly be the one. Oh, please. I’ll probably never see her again. Sick of my own thinking, I pour tea over a glass of ice and carry it to the living room. I settle comfortably into the cushions of my couch and pick up my e-reader to escape into someone else’s problems.