"I really like the color," I told Uncle Jimmy. I stood back to get the full effect of the sage green wall with the oak wainscoting. "I finished the window valances this morning and I am going to do the pillows tomorrow."
"Rob decided the bookcase needed a little work. It's been sitting in the shop for Lord knows how long. I gave up hope of ever selling it - and now I'm glad we didn't. I have to put another coat of polyurethane on it when I get home this afternoon and hopefully I'll be able to bring it over in the morning. Thought I'd get the painting done in the meantime."
My phone was ringing from somewhere over on the desk. I hurried to catch it before the call went to voice mail. "Hey, Jeff."
"What size shoe do you wear?"
"Eight. Why?" I couldn't imagine my fashion-challenged husband shopping for shoes. For me or anyone else.
"Eight," he repeated. "What size shirt?"
"What kind of shirt?" I asked. "A t-shirt? A sweater? A blouse?"
"You know, a top," Jeff replied, sounding exasperated. I heard a muffled voice in the background. "Never mind, I can figure that out. Gotta go. Don't forget date night. Love you."
Well, that was strange, I thought. Jeff does not shop for anything but groceries and home improvement materials. Like most men, clothing is a binary concept for him: clothed or naked, on or off. I was sure I'd find out what this morning's unusual conversation was all about later.
"Push that ladder over here, would you?" asked Uncle Jimmy, moving his supplies to the other side of the room. "And we might ought to open that window. It'll help the walls dry a little faster."
"What do you know about Pop's lady friend, Mrs. West?" I asked. Jeff's father had made himself scarce for the past two days; I was hoping he wasn't sick of the kids already.
There was a long pause. "Nothing really." Uncle Jimmy rolled more paint onto the paint roller and turned back to the wall. "I don't think she lives in Piney Point. If Mrs. West exists at all, she either keeps to herself or she's really new in town."
"Maybe he knows her from Mobile," I said. "He had been living down there for a while before he agreed to come and stay up here with us. Jeff said his dad had probably been back in Mobile longer than any place he's lived in quite a while."
"Jack never could seem to stay in any one place for very long. When we were in high school, he couldn't wait to get out of Piney Point and see the world. Just when it looked like he might stick around after all, well, a girl broke his heart and he took off. Didn't see him again until he brought Jeff back home to live with his grandmother. How old were you two - eleven? And Jack didn't stay around long then."
"I remember. It didn't seem like Jeff missed him very much. And it was a long time before he'd even talk about his mother." The memory of my husband, a lost little boy at eleven, tugged at my heart. "I think he liked his grandmother well enough, but he always seemed to spend more time at our house or yours."
Uncle Jimmy laughed. "Yes, he did. Especially your house." He wiped a paint drip off the woodwork. "When he was about twelve, he asked me if I thought you'd marry him when you all grew up."
"I think he asked me not long after that." I smiled at the memory - and probably blushed a little.
"What'd you tell him?"
"I said sure, but we'd have to wait. At least until I was finished with college."
"Well, sugar, that was one patient boy. As far as he was concerned, you were the one. He never once looked at another girl. Even when you went and made him jealous with that Reed boy." Jimmy gave the wall a once-over looking for spots he'd missed.
"Jealous? I never did any such thing and if he was jealous, it sure wasn't anything I did on purpose," I said. "Reed was my lab partner. We were just working on chemistry projects. Jeff knew that."
"I know, but that doesn't mean he wasn't jealous. You have to remember, honey, you and Jeff spent practically every waking minute together from the time you were little kids. Just thinking about you spending a couple hours with another boy, especially the country club, college boy type - well, that really got to him."
"He never said anything," I said, sitting down in Jeff's new chair, my feet barely touching the floor.
Uncle Jimmy dabbed at a spot on the wall. "Jeff doesn't talk about things that really bother him. You know that."
"I like to think he's gotten a little better about that over the years, but I may be wrong."
"Sugar, don't you worry about Jeff. He's one happy man. I couldn't be prouder of him if he were my own son. I will have to admit that seeing Jack again over the past couple of weeks has made me want to shake the old fool and remind him how well his boy turned out in spite of having such a poor excuse for a father," Jimmy said, and shook the paintbrush for emphasis.
"Oh, he knows, Uncle Jimmy. He does love Jeff, I think, in his own way. Some people just aren't cut out to be fathers, the same way some people aren't really meant to be mothers."
"You're too forgiving, darlin' - you always were." He poured more paint into the paint tray.
"No - I'm a realist. A barking dog will always be just a barking dog," I set the chair spinning. "I stopped expecting people to change a long time ago."
"Think your sisters will ever come around?" Uncle Jimmy asked. "Cooler heads might prevail now that your mama is no longer part of the equation."
I laughed just as the phone rang. Saved by the bell, I thought. "Hello?"