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Window Over the Sink, Taft Tribune: Sometimes I miss having heroes. All the ones I knew when I was young seem to have developed feet of clay and leapt without conscience from the pedestals I placed them on. But today I lay on an uncomfortable cot and gave blood. I looked around at the people who gave their time freely, at the others who gave their blood just as freely. I saw a minister, a newspaper editor, a registered nurse who was spending her day off inserting slender needles into veins, half the Taft High School baseball team still wearing their practice jerseys. And I realized there are heroes all around us, and they don't need to be on pedestals because they don't have time for that kind of nonsense.
Landy Wisdom didn't look at all the way Micah remembered her from high school. Her hair had been the color of sunlight then, her eyes like the darkest of the lilacs that grew in studied profusion in her grandmother's side yard. Her figure had been lithe and nubile in her designer jeans and silk blouses and cashmere blazers. Her clothes hadn't been bought at JC Penney or Kmart like most everyone else's, but on shopping trips to Cincinnati and Louisville. She'd been, in a town without a social scale, a debutante. Her grandmother had owned the brewery and was one of the few people in town who had servants. Landy's boyfriend had been the high school quarterback, the son of Taft's best-known attorney, who'd gone on to stardom at Notre Dame.
But there had been more to Landy than that. Her best friend had been Jessie Titus, whose grandmother had kept house for old Mrs. Wisdom. Landy had aided with her grandmother's charities, but she'd been hands-on help.She'd washed dishes at dinners, cleaned up after dances and walked every inch of every walkathon ever held in Taft.
Micah remembered talking to her once as she slogged through rain for crippled children. She hadn't had a raincoat because she'd tossed it over the shoulders of the minister's wife, and mud splashed up her legs as she walked.
"Who are you?" he'd demanded. He'd been so angry then, furious at the "haves" in what he was finding to be a "have-not" world. The fact that Landy Wisdom didn't fit into his idea of a "have" made him even angrier. People who had it all didn't share things when that sharing got them wet, cold and muddy.
"I'm just Landy," she'd said quietly, a hurt look in her eyes, "and I'm sorry you don't like me."
Twenty years later, standing in line in his London Fog raincoat and watching Landis Wisdom as she wrote down information for the Red Cross blood bank, Micah felt a niggle of shame because he'd put that look in her eyes. Good writing and solid investments had made him into one of the "haves" he'd so despised, and along with the money had come the realization that there really wasn't that much difference in people.
But he still wondered who she really was, and what had happened to the debutante he remembered. The hair color had deepened to the hue of honey, the eyes to violet. She wore a navy blue sweater with faded jeans and no makeup, no jewelry other than tiny pearls in her ears, not even polish on what appeared to be chewedto-the-quick fingernails. Her figure had thickened a little over the years, but not much. She still looked nice.
But not like a debutante. Not like the richest girl in town. She'd evidently not jumped on the plastic surgery bandwagon, because small lines had carved themselves into the skin at the corners of her eyes, at the outer edges of her mouth, in her forehead between her eyebrows. She looked every minute of her thirty-six years. "Are you a first-time donor?"
He realized with a start that the husky voice he heard was hers and that she was speaking to him.
"First time here," he said, suddenly remembering why he was in the basement of the Taft United Methodist Church. "I just moved here two weeks ago, but I have a Red Cross card somewhere." He rummaged in his wallet, feeling as clumsy and foolish as he had on that walkathon.
"Well, I'll be damned." Another voice, softer and filled with laughter, made him look for its source.
"Look up, Landy, and see who you're waiting on."
"Don't swear in church, Jess. Our grandmothers will come back and haunt us." But Landy looked up, and Micah saw recognition leap into her eyes. They were like pansies, not violets. Dark and mysterious and tragic.
"Micah Walker." She sounded glad to see him, and the welcome in her voice opened up a warm place inside him, a place he wasn't about to look into. "I heard you and your dad moved back. You bought the Tribune?"
He nodded, and Jessie said, "About time someone bought that rag. Maybe you can turn it into a real newspaper."
Her voice made Micah remember she was there, standing beside Landy's chair, and he extended his hand. "Jessie, it's good to see you." Her name tag said "Jessie Brown" and he remembered that she was a widow. "Micah, is that your card?" Landy asked. "I'd love to talk to you, but there's someone waiting."
"Oh, sorry." Micah turned to apologize to the person behind him, recognized his father and grinned instead before returning his attention to Landy. "It's all right, it's just some old coot."
She grinned back at him, the expression having more of an effect on him than Ethan's thump between his shoulder blades. He thought abstractedly that the debutante wasn't entirely gone; Landy's front teeth were beautifully but undeniably capped.
After Jessie had taken a pint of his blood, the volunteers in the church kitchen gave him a ham salad sandwich and a glass of juice. "Wait over there a bit," she'd said, "till you get your legs back."
He exchanged pleasantries with the volunteers, recognizing Mrs. Burnside, his high school geometry teacher, among them. Another donor passed behind him and sat at the end of the table, muttering thanks to Mrs. Burnside when she brought him his sandwich and drink.
Micah continued talking to the woman on his right, whose name was Jenny and who owned the café downtown, appropriately named Down at Jenny's. But he felt the hair on the back of his neck standing on end and knew he was being stared at. He looked toward Landy's table, but she was busy. In profile, her face looked pale, and he saw that the hands that shuffled the papers on the table were shaking. Frowning, he looked toward the end of the table.
Lucas Trent hadn't changed much in twenty years. He was bigger, his florid complexion redder, but he was still handsome, wearing the patina of the city as surely as he did his expensive suit. Micah wondered, not for the first time, what had kept Trent in Taft when he obviously held the two-stoplight town in the lowest kind of contempt.
The attorney used to stand at the fence at football games. "Come on, you dumb farm boys," he'd shout. "Protect your quarterback." The quarterback, of course, being Blake Trent, Landy's boyfriend and Lucas's son.
"Mr. Trent." Micah nodded a polite greeting.
"Walker." Trent returned the nod. "Heard you were back in town. Do you plan on staying long?"
"Yes, sir. I've bought the Taft Tribune."
"Made a success of yourself, have you." It wasn't a question, and Trent's expression was cold and dark.
"Next thing we know, you'll buy a house on River Walk and start socializing with my erstwhile daughter-in-law."
"Erstwhile?" That wasn't a word used much in places like Taft. Most people would have said exdaughter-in-law or son's former wife.
The simplicity of speech had been only one of the things about Taft he'd been happy to leave. He'd found the town stifling as a teenager and had been happy to shake its river valley dust from his feet when he went away to college. Graduation had landed him a job in Lexington, Kentucky, and he'd loved it there.
"You mean you haven't caught up with the gossip yet?" Trent's face was drawn and angry, the kind of anger that comes with suffering. "No hint of scandal has passed under your journalistic nose?"
Micah shifted impatiently in his chair, wondering what was taking his father so long. "I try not to deal in scandal unless it involves hard news."
"Oh, it was hard all night." The attorney shuddered, and pain crossed his face. "Blake's dead," Trent said,
"and Landis is the reason why."
Landy helped put the church basement in order, trying not to watch the tableau across the room. Even so, she saw Micah's face harden and knew Lucas had told him.
Micah would believe whatever Lucas said. He'd never liked her anyway, would be eager to accept that she was not only a poor little rich girl but a murderer as well.
"Landy." Mrs. Burnside's voice reached her. "Would you help me in here, dear?"
"In here" was the kitchen. She'd have to walk past the table where Micah sat with his father and Lucas Trent and feel their baleful gazes burning holes into the back of her sweater. She wondered why it was the unhappy things, like painful memories and people thinking badly of you and the need for donated blood, that seemed to be unending. Happy spaces in time were always fleeting.
"Don't slump." Jessie's voice came softly. She stood beside Landy, pulling on her coat. "Stand tall and smile like there's nothing that could ever reach you. Don't make me whack your spine to straighten you up the way Grandma used to."
Landy stretched up tall just the way Evelyn Titus had taught her. "See you later, Jess. Kiss the kids for me." She drew her mouth into a smile and moved across the room, going to the sink to dry the pitchers used for juice.
"Good turnout today," said Mrs. Burnside.
Landy nodded, trying to think of something to say.
"So, how do you like being retired, Mrs. Burnside?"
"You can call me Nancy, dear. We're not in geometry class anymore. Retirement's all right. I miss the kids, especially those few every year who soaked up information like a sponge." She tilted her head and lowered her voice. "Like that Walker boy. He wasn't gifted, or even extraordinarily intelligent, but he loved learning as much as anyone I ever taught. He had a bad reputation, but he was a pleasure to have in class."
"Was he?" Micah had been in Blake's class, two years ahead of Landy. He'd seemed taciturn and always angry. Blake hadn't liked him, so she'd avoided him. Even then, it was better not to cross Blake.
Lucas brought his glass and plate to where they stood. "Better be careful, Nancy," he warned, "who you let in here. There's no telling what's in their blood."
"Go back to your office, Lucas." Her voice was frosty. "We don't have time for this."
Landy looked past her former father-in-law at where Micah still sat at the table. He was watching, his gray eyes expressionless. He spoke to his father in a low murmur, but his gaze never left the scene at the sink. "Landy." Micah's voice was still quiet, but it carried easily to where she stood. "Jenny said you were a Realtor. Could you show me some houses? The bed and breakfast is comfortable, but I need something permanent."
Landy almost grinned. She was, indeed, a licensed Realtor, but her sole contribution to the field was answering the phones at Davis Realty when the receptionist didn't show up for work.
"Of course," she said, and some devil made her add,
"Any particular area?"
He got to his feet, reaching for his coat. "Yeah, I was thinking about something on the River Walk."