Miss Tulsa Pie
Loralee’s phone was ringing on the nightstand. She knocked over an empty glass as she reached for it. Her mascara had congealed, making it nearly impossible to open her eyes all the way. She’d broken one of the cardinal rules of being a beauty queen, former, beauty queen, don’t go to bed wearing eye make-up. Miss Tulsa Pie, 1984, oh, O.K., Oklahomies, if they could see her now.
“What? Beg your pardon, what did you say?” Loralee sat up slowly, reaching for Henry’s cigarettes out of habit, then setting the pack back down. She could hear the water running, Henry was in the shower. She quietly closed the bathroom door so she could hear. “No, Scorey. Calm down. I can’t. No. Do not give anything to Suzanne. My God. No. Do not tell her anything… Yes, send her away if she shows up at the house. Please, yes, lock everything. Thank you, Scorey.”
Her hands were shaking. Her bottom lip trembled. She upended the empty tequila bottle and decided to have that cigarette. It seemed to her that she ought to be on her feet already and getting dressed. She should have been out the door and on her way. Instead, she sat there, listening to the shower. She needed one. She wanted desperately then to be home, to be in her own bathroom, to be having this moment there alone. She never wanted to impose on Henry, and she never seemed much able to help it, needing him and at the same time, not wanting him to know how much. She was overwhelmed, and that was everything that was wrong with leaning on a man, if you got used to it, it could make you weak. She’d have known what to do if she’d gotten that phone call at home. “Home” didn’t feel like home anymore either. Now it was just what they always called it, the house.
“Henry?” Her own voice sounded too loud, everything was too loud, reverberating back to her, as though she were talking from inside a giant, tin can. “Henry, I have go to the house.” She said.
The light shining through the bathroom window framed his muscular body in the doorway. He stood there with a towel wrapped around his waist, glowing golden brown at his edges, a glistening testament to manhood, the cover model for Ranch Hunks magazine, if there was such a thing. Every time she looked at him, all could think was Damn.
“I can feel you objectifying me. You know what that leads to.” He walked over to her at the bed, let his towel drop. She took him into her mouth. After a while he pushed her back on the bed. His alarm started going off and he kept at her as it blared. “Come for me, Loralee.”
She laughed at first. Henry grabbed the back of her neck and she bucked against him until she came and tears were rolling down her face. She began crying uncontrollably.
“Jesus. All right. I know I’m good but, come on.” He tried to tease. He turned off the alarm.
“Malcom has been arrested. Donna is dead. That’s all I know, all that Scorey knew. Hardy Pattershaw called the house, called Scorey. I have to drive in, I have to…” Loralee wasn’t sure what to say.
“I’ll drive you Elle.” He looked at her, watching the catch in her chest as she tried to stop crying, feeling the rise and fall of her breath, realizing that it was syncopated with his own.
“This means scandal, big scandal, Henry. And that’s if they cut him loose. If you go there with me, if I walk in with you, it’s the end of everything.”
“If you walk in there with me, they will think that one of your employees drove you there and that’s all.” He tossed the towel into the bathroom and reached for his jeans.
“No. Not like that, Henry. I couldn’t have you there with me and not be holding your hand.” Loralee looked at the floor. “I don’t think you’re understanding the depth of this Henry, the things they’ll say about us, about me. I have to get out of here and find out what’s going on. Have to go to the house, shower, clean up.”
“That don’t make it sound like they’re all that deep. I know who Malcom is, Loralee, maybe better than you think I do. Maybe this doesn’t surprise me. Give me some credit.” Henry knew better than to tell her that it would be okay.
“I love you, Henry.” Right at that moment, they were the only words she could come up with. She thought she really didn’t care about the rest of it anymore, about what she might be about to go through, about her life falling apart. She didn’t care if he didn’t say it back, it was only that she wanted him to know it.
“You know I love you, Elle.” His name for her, not Lora or Lee, simply, Elle.
Under the sink in his bathroom was her Noxzema and the small bottle of baby oil that she used to take off the mascara. She kept a toothbrush there too and never thought to wonder if his other girlfriend, before he’d run her off, had noticed or questioned the presence of these items. It occurred to Loralee that she felt no sense of urgency about anything. Wasn’t that the way of it? Calm in the storm. That was in her blood, that knowing that comes with experience, with age. No amount of hurry was going to change where Malcom was now, but she felt like she should care about it more than she did. Hardy Pattershaw was, of course, as expected, one of the best attorney’s in the country and would have any legal matters as under control as possible. She would likely have to deal with Suzanne at some point. Loralee hadn’t known that was still going on, that Suzanne was still an issue. Scorey didn’t have details but it hadn’t even entered her head that Malcom might have done it. Loralee was tired, in her bones tired, and feeling every year of her life.
They drove to the house in silence, Henry behind the wheel of her black Suburban, the fingers of his right hand laced together with hers, resting on the console between them. The sight of her own house made her more tired of it all. It seemed the house of a stranger. How long had it been since she had looked at it and seen it? The sprawling ranch, the wide wrap around porch, pale yellow house with white trim, painted every other year so that it stayed looking clean. She had thought it looked like a happy birthday cake, with all the gingerbread trim on it, and that to paint it any color other than that pale yellow would have seemed garish. The wicker furniture she’d chosen so carefully, the rocking chairs, the American Flag so staunchly up the pole in the front yard, Malcom had insisted on that. The years the kids had run other flags up the pole pretending to be pirates, or the British one summer because they’d found a Union Jack at a record store. One year they made their own flag and she’d stored it away in a trunk to keep for her grandchildren. Sometimes Loralee had run around hollering with them. They were grown up now, including her. The years when Malcom hadn’t been home, when he’d been consumed and exhausted by work, her loneliness had been excruciating. Christmas lights draped from the eves twinkled in her memory, holiday dinners, her daughter’s wedding reception. How long had it been since she’d really seen that house? It was gone, the gravel under the wheels crunching too loudly, too familiar, it told her that it was gone, it just hadn’t disappeared yet.
In the privacy of her own bathroom, she vomited. After a shower she donned black slacks, a tan sweater, and then said to hell with it and put on jeans because her boots didn’t look right with the slacks and she needed to have her boots on. Sitting at her make-up mirror, her hands still shaking, the best cosmetics money could buy still settled into the wrinkles under her eyes. They said that women her age weren’t supposed to wear powder anymore. She wondered if it really was making the wrinkles look worse. All was done methodically, slowly, trying to steady her hands.
On the way to Houston, she spoke with Hardy Pattershaw. Malcom had found Donna on the bathroom floor, her head split open on one side. It looked like she had fallen, hit her head on the way down. But there were bruises on her arms, and a sizeable mark on her cheek. They suspected toxicology reports would show that she’d been drugged, something about the condition of the bruising, the way the blood had pooled below the surface of the skin. They were questioning Malcom’s sometime business partner and longtime rival, James Nevelle. Several people had seen Donna talking to James the night before. Pattershaw warned Loralee to dig her heels in and brace herself, that it was bad and likely to get worse. Malcom had continued his affair with Suzanne who was living in a house that he owned. Pattershaw hadn’t been able to get Suzanne to leave the police station. Suzanne was calling Loralee’s house constantly, harassing Scorey.
“Hardy, I won’t be showing up there alone. Henry is with me, and that’s how it’s going to stay. When you book my room at the hotel, book it accordingly.”
“Loralee, that isn’t a good idea.” Hardy tried to temper the tone of his warning but he knew he was wasting his time. He could tell by the edge in her voice that she was going to do exactly what she wanted to do.
“I don’t give a shit.” Loralee hung up on him. “He was keeping Suzanne in a house. A goddamn house!” Loralee said to Henry, then she laughed. “He was keeping her in a house! He’s just hiding bodies everywhere!” She laughed.
“I gathered that.” Henry didn’t laugh.
Loralee had turned herself sideways in the seat, one knee cocked up, her arms wrapped around her leg, shoes off. He kept one hand on her, touching her, wanting to hold her, wanting to make it all go away for her. “The press should be gone by the time we get there.” He said.
“Unless Suzanne has been keeping them entertained. Henry,” she paused. She was studying his face, looking at the little scar, the same one she studied when they were in bed. “Henry, would you think less of me if I said that I don’t think I care much about him at all anymore? That I’ve realized it’s just been for the kids? That it’s habit, after all these years?”
“No. You feel how you feel. And how I feel about you has nothing to do with him. Maybe you don’t understand that. You don’t see me running away, do you? When are you going to quit this? When are you going to believe it?”
“None of it is mine, Henry. I’ll walk away with not much of anything at all. None of the property is in my name, per prenuptial agreement. Malcom had already established himself. I was ‘Miss Tulsa Pie.’ He put some thing’s in Billy’s name, secured things for the kids. I’ve had a household allowance and charge over those accounts, but no real access to anything, no control over any of the money. Did you know that in her day, Suzanne was first-runner-up at Miss Alabama? All I know how to do, all I’ve ever done, is run the ranch.” Loralee looked down the road, her eyes tracking the edge of the Earth, trying to think what it would be like to not be with Malcom anymore. The hotel room she was headed to with Henry was as far forward as she could get her mind right then. She was thinking about the giant bathtub that she knew would be there and sliding into that warm water and then into bed with Henry.
“I don’t care about any of that shit. You’re a lot tougher than you give yourself credit for, spiders in the rose bushes notwithstanding.” He smiled then, just so, a different look in his eye, a confidence. Henry knew who he was, he knew what he wanted. “You’re strong.”
“Yes. But I don’t want to have to be so strong anymore, not like this. Henry, I’m tired.”
“We’ll get this wrapped up and get you to the hotel and into bed.”
“Not that kind of tired, Henry. The last few years of this, Malcom, the affairs, all the lying, all the bullshit, being with you is the only thing that’s made me feel much of any good at all. Am I supposed to feel bad about that too? About you? Well, I don’t.” Stray tears of quiet exhaustion rolled down to her chin, betraying her calm.
Henry lifted her hand to his lips, kissing each of her fingers. His expression turned serious. He scanned the parking lot of the police station as it crawled and buzzed and blurred with people, lights spinning, a fire truck and ambulance, the echo of shots fired piercing the air.
“Get down Loralee, get down! What the fuck?” Henry hunkered down behind the wheel and followed the motioning of an officer directing traffic.
Loralee, Chapter Four, Miss Tulsa Pie, was originally written and published on January 27, 2012. Stay tuned for updates, on the availability, and history, of this novella, soon, very soon.