Forged in Fear: Abit Helps Out
FORGED IN FEAR
I had to work hard at not laughing.
Della’d called to let me know Nigel was in town, but I’d had some woodworking orders to get out first, much as I wanted to see my old friend.
When I finally got down to Coburn’s to say howdy, I walked in and saw Nigel standing near the register with a flock of women surrounding him. His silvery hair still looked dapper (what Della called his Fred Astaire look), though it was thinner on top than the last time I saw him. What really threw me was he was dressed in a baggy flannel shirt, jeans rolled up at the hem, and a striped apron.
I managed to keep a straight face ‘til I saw Della looking at me, her eyebrow raised the way she did. I had to step out of the store to get myself together; I didn’t want to laugh at him, especially to his face. Fortunately, Nigel hadn’t noticed me, what with all the women fluttering round him. When I came back in, I whispered to Della, “What happened to his waistcoat? I’ve never seen him without it.”
“Oh, he wore it, all right. And wore it. And wore it. I finally scrounged up some of Alex’s clothes and forced him to wear them. His suit was starting to smell, in part because he'd been living in it for days, he'd helped me scrape the cheeses, and, as you may recall, the Brits don’t favor deodorant all that much.”
“Well, that just makes him fit in round here,” I added, somewhat unnecessarily.
“When he got a look at himself dressed like that,” she went on, pointing at his scruffy outfit, “he tried to put his suit back on, but I wouldn’t let him. So go easy on him, okay?”
“Not a problem, now that I’m over the shock. I just need to wait for my turn with him.” I nodded my head toward Nigel and some woman making a fuss about the English marmalade Della stocked. “Do they buy anything, or do they just coo over him?”
“Oh, sales are up, which is a good thing, and he does actually help out.”
I knew Della could use an extra hand ever since Mary Lou (Duane Dockery’s ex) and Sheriff Airhorn (Aaron Horne) got hitched. That meant Mary Lou wasn’t working as much at Coburn’s. She and her kids seemed real happy, and Duane had found him someone else to love, so things were good with their whole family, such as it was.
“As you can see, he’s popular with the women,” Della said, blowing her bangs up as she let out a big sigh. You didn’t need to be the smartest person round to sense there was more to the story. I asked. “Oh, it’s just close quarters upstairs,” she said, smiling kinda sad-like. “I love the guy, but with Alex coming down …” She was talkin' about Alex Covington, her ex-husband and now-boyfriend, or whatever the right word was at their age.
“Maybe I can help,” I said, an idea popping into my head.
“Oh, that would be great, Abit!”
I wasn’t sure what she was on about since I hadn’t even told her yet what I had in mind. “You mentioning Alex and all made me remember how he bought me all them new clothes back when I was a kid. I’ll never forget that. It was the start of the new me. And in a way, this is the start of a new Nigel, and I could take him clothes shopping.”
“I do remember that day,” Della said, smiling. “I didn’t even recognize you at first. But this isn’t about the start of a new Nigel—it’s more like a return to the old Nigel. And I doubt he’d go along with buying anything from the local dry goods store. He’s used to custom tailoring.”
“Well, I planned to buy them for him.”
Della got one of her looks. “I’d rather you did something else.”
Just then Nigel called out, “Hello, hello, hello!” Them women had gotten what they wanted (from the looks of things, it wasn’t just food), and Nigel wandered over. I gave him a big bear hug, something that always kinda flustered him. I reckoned in England they hadn’t learned the abiding pleasure of throwing your arms round someone. For me, it was one of the finest things about being alive.
We chatted a while, talking about all the family things: How’s your wife, Fiona? Fine. And your little boy, Conor? A little rascal. And your woodworking? Keeping me and Shiloh busy.
When it was my turn, I asked about his daughter and grandkids. No way was I gonna venture into his business matters. Della had filled me in on what little bit she knew.
When we’d finished our howdy-dos, Nigel asked Della if he could take a break. I looked at my watch, and sure enough, just like at home with Fiona (she’s from Ireland), Nigel needed his teatime. “I’ll just pop up the pears for a Rosie.”
I musta looked lost (I was) ‘cause Della piped up, “He’s going upstairs for a cup of tea.”
“How’d you know that?”
“What else? I wrote a story on Cockney rhyming slang years ago, and it so fascinated me, I’ve never forgotten some of the more colorful words.” Della watched Nigel close the front door after him, and then looked at me kinda funny again.
“What?” I asked.
“I need a favor.”
“I want Nigel to stay in your guestroom.” I musta looked funny right back at her, because she added, “You said anything.”
“Look I love the guy, too, but …” She’d caught me off guard. And I got it when she explained that after a week in that small apartment, she was tired of having a houseguest. Not so much Nigel—anybody. Alex was the only exception, and he was due back in Laurel Falls in a few days oncet he finished some story about President Bush trying to gut Social Security. Della and I had talked some about that, especially ‘cause folks round here had been in a dither. They counted on that check more than others might. Lots of them had worked long hours at the t-shirt factory and had that money taken out of their pockets each week. It seemed mean-spirited to have it taken away twicet.
Anyways, Della was right to ask. We did have space out at our place. I’d built a fine guestroom in part of our chestnut-log barn. Sometimes Fiona and Conor and I went out there just for fun, like we was on vacation. But Shiloh, my woodshop assistant, had been living in there for a few months, and while the extra rent money helped out, we was glad he’d just moved out, or rather moved in with his latest girlfriend.
“I don’t think Nigel’d be any trouble,” she went on. “He’s started to relax, feeling safe in our remote outpost, as he calls it. I hate to mention that he needs to move on, and I keep putting it off. But if you offered for him to stay at your farm, that would feel different. He’d love it. And he’s got plenty of money, so you could charge him rent.”
Just as Nigel came back into the store, I told her I’d check with Fiona and get right back with her.
After supper, when I told her about Nigel, Fiona insisted Nigel stay rent free as long as he liked. She said without him and his story about second chances, we might never’ve gotten back together—which meant we wouldn’t’ve had Conor. She knew that would win me over. Besides, I reckoned she wanted a fellow tea drinker round.
Turns out, she got that and a whole lot more.
Look for Chapter Four in a couple of weeks.