dontravis.com blog post #544
What is so intriguing about Miss Emmalee’s portrait to our protagonist? There must be something behind it. Can he solve the puzzle of the intriguing painting?
PORTRAIT OF MISS EMMALEE
The next evening, I was deep into the Burke book when I’ll swear, I heard a sigh. My eyes flew to the mantlepiece where the frown on the portrait’s face seemed deeper… although that could merely have been the lighting. Nonetheless, I abandoned the book to contemplate what I knew of the woman’s life. Like everyone else in this town, I’d seen and met her often in my early years, but really, she was simply like the sun, remote but showering light and kindness and good cheer over the townsfolk. I recalled only one exchange with Miss Emmalee of any import.
Just out of high school and still living over my teacher’s garage, I was marking time before reporting to the Army when I joined a baseball game of neighborhood kids at one of the fields at City Park. My sports were basketball and soccer, but I was a fair fielder, so held up my end of the bargain… except in the batting department. I only managed one double out of four turns at the bat.
As I left the field after the game, I passed Miss Emmalee, still seated in the stands—dressed to the nines, as was her hallmark—when her soft, cultured voice halted me mid-step.
“You’re swinging too early, you know that, don’t you?”
“Beg pardon, ma’am?” I asked, uncertain if she was speaking to me.
“You’re too anxious. Let the ball come, and then meet it. There’s a right time to swing, you know.”
“Yes, ma’am, I know.” It seemed somewhat surreal that this prim and proper lady would take the time to talk to me, much less about a sport I doubtless knew more than she did.
She twirled the pink parasol—yes, parasol—she used to keep the sun off her fair skin. “If you know that, why do you anticipate the ball too early?”
I shrugged. “Not my day, I guess.”
“Don’t throw away your days, Richie-O.”
I about jumped out of my skin that she knew my name. Not just my name, but the familiar most of the kids used. Richie, for my first name, Richard, and O for my last name, Orchard. That alone was enough to draw me to her side. “No, ma’am, I’ll try not to do that.”
“Each one is precious, you know.” She gave a tinkle of a laugh. “Of course, you don’t. You’re still young enough to believe you’re immortal.”
I frowned. “Uh-uh, I’m going into the army in ten days, so I know there’ll be some perilous times coming down the pike at me.”
She smiled, revealing tiny lines in what I’d thought was a flawless face. “Perilous times. I like the way you framed that. Why didn’t you say dangerous times like every other boy… young man would say?”
“Dunno. To be honest, I don’t always think like all the other guys.” I gave an insincere laugh. “Got me thrown outta my folks’ house, in fact.”
“So I understand. I admire the fortitude with which you picked up your life and moved on.”
My cheeks burned at the recollection of some of the things I’d done to move on. “Thank you. Sometimes it seemed like there was a guardian angel watching out for me. It was hard, but I did it.”
Her bright blue eyes twinkled. “Wouldn’t it be nice if it were true. All of us would benefit from one, I imagine. But I want you to know, I admire the way you took charge of your life.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” I said touching the bill of my baseball cap in salutation. “Excuse me now, I have to go get cleaned up.”
“Certainly, young man. It was a pleasure speaking to you.”
“For me too, ma’am.”
For some reason that brief interchange had remained in my mind. Miss Emmalee had been somewhere between my mother’s and grandmother’s age at the time. Perhaps I remember it so well because that was the first time she seemed like a real person, not just some local paragon of proper deportment and good works. But remember it, I did.
As work on the Porsche neared completion, I forgot Miss Emmalee and paintings and mysteries. The car looked damned good… better than I expected, actually. I put out the word, and the buyers came flocking. It always amazed me that I could live in this little Oklahoma town, restore cars, and attract car collectors from Oklahoma City and Dallas and Little Rock and Phoenix. Heck, I had one guy in St. Louis who kept in contact. Guess that says something for the quality of my work.
At any rate, once the Porsche was sold, I decided to take some time for myself. There was enough regular work to keep Jorge, my one full-time employee busy. A part time girl did the office work, and the two of them could keep things afloat for a few days. Jorge’s not only the best body man in this part of the state… he also has the best body in this part of the state. Although twenty-five, he looks like a teenager with thick black hair that seemed to absorb the sunlight and cheeks so brown and smooth you wanted to pinch them. He was my pressure valve, as well.
And before everyone starts yelling about the impropriety of a relationship between employee and employer, that relationship started before he was my employee. I met him when I was returning from a nearby town two years ago and saw a young man hitchhiking. I did take him for a teen when I stopped and offered a lift. But the deep voice and his manner of speaking—shy but not reluctant—and his knowledge about mechanics clued me I’d misjudged his age. So I asked him outright.
“Twenty-three,” he answered.
“No way,” I said.
“Prove it,” he said, digging out a worn wallet and showing me his driver’s license. Jorge Vallarte, Dallas address, good-looking photo despite the lousy lighting and the blank stare into the camera.
I quickly tumbled to the fact the guy was broke and heading up to Oklahoma City to try to find a cousin… and hopefully some work. By the time we drove into Sidney, I knew just about all I needed to know. He was broke, hungry, and just this side of desperate. I also knew he’d been in the auto body repair trade for a few years.
As we sat at the table in my house eating some chili I’d heated up, I recalled my own brief time on the street and told him right up front that he was hunky and handsome and pushed all my buttons. But I gave him some options. He could sleep in my house for the night. If he slept in the spare bedroom, I’d feed him breakfast in the morning and send him on his way with twenty bucks in his pocket.
If he opted to sleep in my bedroom, I’d feed him breakfast in the morning and send him off with fifty bucks. He regarded me through large, liquid brown eyes and smiled. “I do good job for you,” he said in his slightly fractured English. Even the frown that followed was sexy as hell. “But there some things Jorge don’t do.”
I laid a hand on his sinewy forearm on the table. “We’ll figure those out as we go,” I said. “Would you like a shower first?”
His smile almost blinded me.
I took my own shower while he had his in the guest bathroom, and we met in the hallway afterward, me in my robe, and Jorge wrapped in a skimpy towel. I about passed out from all the finely defined muscles playing in his broad chest and flat belly. We spent an unforgettable night defining those barriers he wouldn’t break—having to do mostly with his trim behind.
I fed Jorge the next morning and gave him the promised fifty bucks, but he never left. He asked—in his shy way—to see my auto repair shop, and once there, he picked up a wrench and went to work. By the end of the day, he was on my payroll, but in this part of Bible Belt Oklahoma, he couldn’t live with me. He stayed for a delightful week while he looked for accommodations. But there were—and still are—plenty of occasions for him to visit the house.
Well, we learn our hero’s name—Richie, or Richie-O to his familiars. And it seems a very familiar has shown up in his life. Go, Jorge! Will his lover distract him from his quest?