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IT JUST SLIPPED IN.

I dont know how it happened. I cant pinpoint a specific time or place


or incident that started us on this path. Ive never seen him as an object of
desire. If someone had told me I ever would, Id have recoiled in horror.
What I do know was that after a very long and tiring day spent building a back deck, we sat on the couch to relax.
Somehow, we ended up in bed.
It just slipped in.
Twice.

AUGUST 2016
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

1:
BLYTHELY BLUNDERING
BLYTHE

Im going to build a deck.


I make this pronouncement at dinner one night over the noise of four kids,
two parents, and a father-in-law. My parents and kids stop talking. So does my
father-in-law.
My parents begin protesting immediately, as I knew they would.
Blythe, thats too much, even for you.
Oh, please. You cant possibly tackle that project on your own.
Honey, your focus is frugality. A deck is too extravagant for your audience.
My mother and father go on and on about why this is a bad idea.
My father-in-law heaves a longsuffering sigh.
The kids are excited.
Apparently, back deck is some sort of magical gateway to swimming
pool. I might have considered it if I intended to stay in this house, but I dont.
We dont have the room anyway, but our next-door neighbor has a pool. I see
how much of a money-and-time sink it is. The house across the street from us,
which has been up for sale for three years, has a pool. It has bigger problems and
its overpriced, but the pool doesnt help.
Here in the middle of half-gentrified Hyde Park, a pool is not a selling
point.
The kids understand this and have had enough DIY lectures to know what
too much for the neighborhood and overimproved means, and what kind of
neighborhood we live in, right off Armour Boulevard, where there are still
boarded-up apartment buildings, drug dealers, and vandals.
That doesnt keep them from dreaming out loud.

MORIAH JOVAN

It takes a while, but finally the excited chatter, the I wants, the flood of
ideas, and the protestations fade away when I continue to eat myadmittedly
deliciousdinner. Of course its delicious. I made it.
I look down the table at Finn, my father-in-law, where he sits in his usual
spot at the foot of the table. No comment?
Youve almost got this house done, he says, a now-familiar edge to his voice.
Why dont you do your bedroom and finish the speakeasy and call it a day?
I meant about the deck.
Finns jaw grinds, but he answers calmly. Winnie My mother. is
right. Free labor is a massive savings, but that doesnt make it a frugal project, even
if you can get scrap wood. Im not sure how you can sell that expense to your audience. Jerry My dad. is also right. Now my dad preens. Its not often
Finn praises him. You cant do that one alone unless youre willing to rig up more
complex pulley systems and even your audience would balk at that. Thats why
God invented BFFs who have strong husbands and lots of strong friends.
Gwen, my sixteen-year-old, thinks thats hilarious, but she thinks her
grandfather walks on water and would laugh if she thought he meant Would you
bring me a glass of water? as a joke.
Itll double as a carport.
His eyelids shutter.
What. Car to kitchen without getting wet. Thats a pretty good plan, especially for being off the cuff.
Hes glaring at me without glaring at me.
As to labor, I continue, I was planning it as a community project, something different. Like a barn raising.
Finns eyebrow rises.
My mother deflates with relief.
Mm, well, not community, as in we ask the neighbors for help Hyde
Parks big, and half of its filled with childless professional couples who make a
lot of money and fiddle in their yards on Sunday mornings. They dabble in
DIY so they can brag about it at work, but dont have the skills or interest to
delve into it, especially if it takes away from their other hobbies. Besides, theyll
know why Im building a deck and they dont want to be exploited for the sake
of my advertising revenue. I dont blame them for that. I wouldnt do it, either.
Us. Family. Friends. Our community. The ones who get the bigger picture.
Not this community.

LIONS SHARE

Uh says my fourteen-year-old son warily, does this mean we have to


help?
I snort.
My parents snort.
Finn snorts.
The children look scared. Maybe just annoyed.
Who do you have in mind? Finn asks, his tone now just resigned.
Well, your bestie, I say immediately, at which he nods wearily. Finns
bestie is a hobby stonemason who happens to own one of the most prestigious
civil litigation firms in the Midwest. Finn, who has a construction background,
is the owner of the other one.
Finns friend did the major structural masonry around my house himself,
but he taught me how to do the less heavy structural work and the decorative
work, which I did. He also does simple video tutorials for my blog. I wouldnt
volunteer him for my project if I didnt know he enjoys it.
Also, Scott.
Gwens boyfriend. Drumline! she trills. Football!
Ill schedule it so it wont interrupt practice. Ill need you to keep Calvin
out of the way.
Mom, Calvin and Gwen whine at the same time, for different reasons.
They arent often on the same page.
I dont trust you, I tell Calvin matter-of-factly. You say youll stay out of
things, but you never do.
But I will! I promise!
Finn snorts. We do a lot of that around here.
Grampa!
Dont look at me, he says.
I look at Ryan, my fourteen-year-old. Your friends can help. He groans
because his friends can be seduced by the possibility of using power tools. Fat
chance.
Are you going to try to get materials donated? Finn asks.
Im affronted. Of course not.
No, my DIY blog is aimed at young single urban and rural women, who are
usually poor.
I dont make a secret of the fact that my late husband had provided for us
so well I dont have to work another day in my life if Im careful. They also

MORIAH JOVAN

know I moved out of the mcmansion we bought new so long ago because it was
riddled with problems new construction shouldnt have. Therefore, one cant
assume that upscale suburban tract housing is any better than an older house.
They dont seem to mind that I have a good-sized nest egg, as long as they
know all my revenue comes from my own two hands, that I spend the money
my blog makes to fund my projects, that my saw and drill pay my living expenses. Its why we dont have a maid. Its why we live in the house while Im renovating it. Its why we have thrift-store furniture.
My audience doesnt seem to mind my ginormous Dodge Ram. Diesel.
Manual. The biggest non-dually I could buy. They also dont seem to mind my
plethora of power tools. I do far more construction than most of my audience
ever will, but they do need to know I understand what they might have to do to
accomplish the most insignificant things.
Its why I do many things with hand tools, explaining that it will take longer
and more effort to do a task, what the task is and which tools can best accomplish it, however slowly.
Its why sometimes I take the bus to Home Depot, buy the few things I can
carry alone, haul them back to my house, and repeat that until I have everything
I need for a project.
Its why sometimes I do simple things like clean: hot water, Dawn, baking
soda, vinegar, bleach, ammonia, and a scrubby pad can go a long way toward
turning something you thought youd have to fix immediately into something
you can live with until you can get around to it. I talk about how to wash and
dye crappy curtains you thought were a lost cause, heavy duty tub scrubbing,
cheap cleaning chemicals. I sew things by hand and do simple upholstery. I go
to thrift stores and dollar stores, and talk about practical alternate uses for
common things.
Its why I installed a complex pulley system, to demonstrate that simple
machines like pulleys and levers make it possible for one person to do the work
of many people.
It comforts them to know that they arent doing it wrong when it takes a
week to cut a sheet of plywood with a hand saw, that its okay if it takes three
days to get all the materials home from the store by bus, that its okay if they can
only afford vinegar and baking soda and a scrub brush to clean. Its just going to
take a lot longer than they thought it would and it might be physically painful.
Thats okay, too.

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What they dont knowand wontis that my children go to the most expensive private school in town. There are a lot of things Im willing to make my
children suffer through for my personal fulfillment, depending on the definition
of suffer, but being in the Kansas City School District is not one of them.
I do feel bad that few in my audience can do anything to better their lives
significantly, but thats what politics is for. Talking to people, agitating for
change, is free.
This is one reason why my announcement is such a big deal. I never do
these things, things you see on the DIY channels. I salvage good, sturdy things
and rework them so they look brand new and very expensive. I dont do upcycle
chic. If its trash, its trash. Im not going to rework trash and call it chic when
its still trash with a coat of Krylon.
Occasionally I have to kludge, which I dont mind because its what my target audience has to do. So brand new deckseven if they do double as carportsarent in keeping with my mission or the house.
Theres a reason I want a deck, and Im going to get my deck.
A deck with a carport and covering from car to kitchen, I conclude, will
add actual value to the house. The back porch is worse than useless, it pulls value
from the house, and rehabbing it a third time isnt going to make it any better.
Finn capitulates because thats inarguable, and my parents take their cue
from him.
Conversation resumes around me. Finn and my mother chat about what
they always chat about: money and law. My father tries to put in a point or two
here or there, but neither my mother nor father-in-law find them particularly
helpful.
My boys, fourteen-year-old Ryan and nine-year-old Calvin, are squabbling
over whose glass is whose. Kaia, eleven, is once again begging Gwen to let her
move into her bedroom with the argument that I could make their rooms one
(um, no), but what sixteen-year-old wants to share a bedroom with a little sister
if she doesnt have to?
I space out.
Darren and I had spent the ten years of our marriage gradually moving
from a one-bedroom apartment to a starter ranch in a nice neighborhood in
Liberty up to a nearby mcmansion in a newer, standard upscale middle-class
tract development. The mcmansion was beautiful, customized to us. We lived
there for four years before he was T-boned by a drunk driver.

MORIAH JOVAN

Now I live in a wood-and-stone foursquare officially called a Kansas City


Shirtwaist that Ive renovated mostly by myself, much of it with hand tools.
My parents think Im nuts.
My father-in-law loves that Im renovating a house. What he doesnt love is
my insistence on living in it while I do it, which is one reason why hes pissy and
getting pissier. My bedroom, the cellar, and the yard are the last big things I
have to do and he wants us out of here. This isnt a simple flip, but he cant
stand the house. He calls it the DIY Shithole.
That doesnt keep him from family dinner every night.
Hes never taken digs at me for anything I wanted to dountil the last year
or so. I know he keeps most of it to himself and we continue on as we have for
the last six years. He doesnt hound me too much and makes sure the house is
well secured and I can protect myself and the kids. The gun was intimidating,
but I needed one. Fortunately, he insisted before I had to risk asking, which
would have generated a whole lot of questions I wouldnt have wanted to answer.
It has been a long, hard road from mcmansion to moneypit, but my blog is
thriving.
Blythely Blundering.
Thats my blog. I started out not knowing anything, not having to know anything because I lived in new construction. But during that first year of widowhood, late at night when I was missing Darren so badly I ached and I was
jumping at every scratch of a squirrel on a tree outside, Id stay up all night
binge-watching reruns of every DIY and hoarders show I could.
This idea had taken root in an introductory entrepreneur tech class when I
was assigned a paper.
Mike Holmes I am not, but this is my job. What I do. I live in a house Ive
taken from shithole to lovely, about half of it by myself, to empower young single women on a shoestring. I document and post all my failures in detail, my
trial-and-error processes, my mulligans, my workarounds and kludges.
Id picked a house with structural problems for a reason. I didnt do it so
my audience could shore up foundations on their own. Most of them rent, so
its up to their landlords to do that. I did it because the house was dirt cheap
and because I wanted to show them how to spot the problem areas and what
likely needs to be done. Finn writes posts on how to force their landlords to
make the repairspromptly and properlyand how to follow up if they dont
get them done right and how to not get evicted while doing it.

LIONS SHARE

My mom also writes for me, on money matters. Scrooge can teach her
nothing, and she enjoys the massive amounts of approval she gets from struggling families, the victims of the new economy, financial planners, and people
whod have sneered at her before theyd fallen on hard times somewhere in 2008
and had never gained any ground. She was frugal before frugal was cool. Twice.
Hipster Mom.
My dad, a financial planner, writes articles for those who can or want to
save a little bit each paycheck and grow their meager assets into not-quite-someager assets. He doesnt really write them. My mom writes them and lets him
think he does.
I have never known want or poverty. Neither had Darren. But all four of
our parents had started out poor and they remembered. Thats one reason my
father-in-law knows so much about construction. Hed had to do it all himself
once upon a time when he was very youngnot yet graduated from high
schooland had just married the girl hed gotten in trouble.
It was 1978, but they were still saying it that way.
I will never be poor. I have too much and its too well managed. But something about the women who flock to my blog makes me feel like Im just like
them. My therapist says its because I was widowed so young and Ive got few
options for remarriage. Ive only been asked out on a few dates so I havent had
sex with anybody since Darren died. And anyway, I refuse to have sex with
some guy when what I want is a lifetime relationship, and nobody wants a
woman with four kidsand one of them has some weird combination of
ADHD and Aspergers.
No, Im not poor in money, she says, but Im poor in love. Companionship.
Intellectual and sexual fulfillment. And I cant buy or fix it myself. So I moved
into a house that displays my lack. She says its like cutting, to force the pain in
your body to match or overwhelm the pain in your soul.
DIY Shithole was a physical manifestation of my suffering, to forge a bond
with something that wont leave me.
I choose to buy that explanation, but now its a moot point.
This is my career.
And I like it.
The kids clean up after dessertstrawberry shortcake with homemade
pound cake and sweet biscuits, fresh sugared strawberries and whipped
creamand go about the business of preparing for the first day of school.

MORIAH JOVAN

My dad and mom go home. Finn reads Kaia the next section in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series before tucking her in, calmly tells Calvin whatll
happen if either of us gets a phone call from school the next day, gives Ryan a
little pep talk about his crappy summer of football practice, kisses Gwen good
night, gets a second (third?) helping of strawberry shortcake, and settles in at
the dining room table next to me with his laptop open.
God, this is good, Blythe, he mutters around a bite. Thank you. Strawberry juice is trickling down his chin, then hits his snowy white dress shirt. He
knows. He doesnt care.
Finn and I do this every night, working in silence together, me on my blog
or lists or bookkeeping, he on whatever trials hes got going or big deals hes
wheeling. We work hard. His work is brain-intensive. Mine is labor-intensive.
Between us, we can muster up one functioning human by midnight.
Youre mad, I say, feigning disinterest.
Im not mad, he says testily. Im annoyed that youre doing everything
you can to not finish this house. The decks a stalling tactic.
It certainly is.
Tell me youre in love with this house and Ill get off your back.
I cant.
Finn knows this, which is why he said it, but this point is also moot. Hed
be even more pissy if he knew why Im stalling.
This house is my Bestie, but shes not my One True Love.
My One True Love is a few blocks from here, a crumbling Greek revival
masterpiece nobodys taken to completion. Its the worst house in a grand
neighborhood of early twentieth-century mansions, and Im waiting for the current owner to give up on her.
Im so in love with her I ache when I pass her on my morning walk. I talk to
the guy whos working on her, get a good idea of her problems, try to assess his
level of frustration, and never let him know who I am or what I do or what I
want.
Hes put in a new foundation. Thats all. It would be the third new foundation that house has had in twenty years.
It sounds simple enough if you dont think about it too long and he obviously didnt think about it too long. Nobody knows what putting in a new
foundation really means until theyre down in the muck with a house hanging
over their heads supported by crumbling stone and a couple-three steel beams.

LIONS SHARE

I know. Ive done it.


Nobody knows whatll have to be done and how many things could go
wrongand things always go wrong. Not even an engineer can predict whatll
happen.
But after youve spent your entire budget on the first item on your list,
well
I offered to buy it from him once. He said no before I could make an offer.
I offered to buy it from him again. He was going to ask me how much, but
changed his mind and said no.
I offered to buy it from him a third time. He didnt say anything for a long
time. Then he asked me how much. I told him. He looked so insulted I decided
not to ask again.
That was six months ago.
Hes just about to break. His day job gets in the way, his regular life chips
away at his time, his wifes getting impatient with his lack of progress, and I
know he doesnt have any money left: Hes the only one working on it.
If it was ever a labor of love to him, its not anymore.
I could finish my bedroom and the cellar in three months, and the yard in
six, accounting for winter, including writing a couple hundred blog posts, three
dozen tutorials, and many well-edited videos of varying lengths. Finn knows
how I work. If it takes me a year, hes going to be really pissed off.
Hence, the deck.
Blythe
I really dont understand why you care since the minute I finish this house,
Im going to buy DIY Shithole Redux.
His mouth tightens. But you dont have to live in it.
I scowl but turn to my laptop and dismiss him with a handwave. We go on
about our business silently.
At midnight, he shuts down his laptop, buttons up the house for the night,
and lets himself out the front door with a casual Ciao.
Hes still mad.
Now the house is quiet and dark, and my empty bedroom is waiting for
me.
Its been six years since the cops came to my door to tell me my husband,
who had just left work to catch a quick lunch, had been killed. Instantly, they
said. He didnt suffer.

10

MORIAH JOVAN

Nice to know.
Id gone through my five stages of grief in about a year, though somewhere
on the front edge of grief stage four, my father-in-law caught me in the middle
of a This Old House orgy and made me do some of the chores around the
mcmansion that hed been doing. Fixit things. Nail that down. Put up that
store-bought shelf. Repair the toilet paper holder that fell off the wall. No, not
with a screwdriver, with a drill. Not like that, like this. Here, look.
That sort of thing.
Then he told me to go enroll in a couple of college classes. Depressed, I
balked, but Finn can be tyrannical. So I went.
That was the first day of the rest of my life.
I had to take remedial English and math and I didnt even know what remedial meant. A pretty, pampered prom queen whos going to marry the budding software engineer son of the richest guy on the block the minute she
graduates from high school doesnt need to worry about grades. So I didnt.
After carrying a half load of remedial classes my first semester, it slowly
dawned on me in the middle of my second, during English Comp 101, to be
precise, that I was really, really stupid. I told Finn I was struggling, so he had one
of his tech guys set my blog up and show me how to run it, and told me to
write. He misunderstood what I was struggling with and told me it was an easy
way for him to keep track of the repairs that needed done. I was stupid enough
to fall for that. He wanted me to learn how to write and to keep a record of
what Id accomplished in both literacy and construction.
The first year into my associates degree, I completely redecorated the
mcmansion to get rid of those things that continued to cause me grief and
stress, getting into deeper DIY as I went along, and blogging about it.
And there was so much more to accomplish that it shocked even Finn.
Brand new mcmansions have lots of problems under all that seamless drywall and soothing neutral tones and pristine crown moulding. Its shameful, is
what it is. On the second anniversary of Darrens death, I was taking a sledgehammer to an interior wall riddled with molda wall separating two of my
kids bedrooms. I was so angry about the mold, I didnt remember what day it
was, much less grieve.
I informed Finn I was selling the house when I found out the source of the
mold was an insidiously leaky roof and the water had run down into all the
walls.

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11

Finn said, Okay.


But then I would have no place to live and my blog would die. I had finished the last thing I could do on the mcmansion without tearing down every
wall in the house and my blog audience (which was sizeable) started to drift
away. Posts about hiring roofers arent interesting. I went house hunting, but all
the new construction was awful.
Finn, if Im going to have to do all this anyway, I might as well get an old house and
make a business out of it while I finish school.
Okay. You and the kids can move in with me while youre working on it.
I was looking for a house close to the Kansas City campus of the University
of Missouri when I stumbled across this one. But I never had any intention of
moving in with Finn. When I informed him of this, he just rolled his eyes and
said, Fine. Whatever.
My grief now consists of rare moments of melancholy and gratitude for the
years I had with Darren. I dont even think of what-might-have-beens because it
cant be. I have a life. One Id built myself with no help from my parents and a
lot from the man who surely must have grieved for his son while he was taking
care of me.
I dont know how or even if Finn grieved, but hes a stoic. If hed broken
down, it would have been in private.
But occasionally at night, when the kids are asleep and Finn has gone for
the night, the house is dark and quiet, I dread going to bed.
Alone.
Except for B.O.B. Battery-operated boyfriend.
Which, I think for the millionth time as I drift to sleep after a quick, unspectacular orgasm, is only a sleeping pill.

2:
ROBBER-BARON
PARADISE
FINN

A deck.
Im thinking about it while Im driving home. My quiet home. Where kids
arent yelling at each other and calling Mom! every ninety seconds and Grampa! every fifteen minutes. They yell for me, not for Blythes father, who doesnt
seem to notice all the things the kids demand. Nobody ever yells for Pop-pop
because it doesnt occur to them.
My home, where Jerry doesnt feel entitled to pick my brain by virtue of the
fact that hes my in-law and he shows up for dinner every night. My home,
where the foundation and walls are sound, the rooms are impeccably decorated
and cleaned, and almost every square inch is a gentlemans retreat. Where it
never carried the faintest whiffs of drugs, cat pee, sex, bathtub gin, and mold
wafting from the cellar and thrift-store furniture.
I grew up in a house like that.
And by grew up, I mean the only roof I could afford at eighteen with a
pregnant seventeen-year-old girlfriend and a shotgun in my back. One fumbling
in the back seat of a car with a girl to whom I whined, But, baby, I love you!
and Id completely fucked up my life.
Or so I thought.
I turn my vintage Alfa-Romeo Spider into the long driveway of my Ward
Parkway estate, the wrought-iron gates closing behind me. My father-in-law
still hasnt forgiven me for making good. Hed wanted Miriam to languish in
poverty as punishment for being easy. Thats what they called it then.

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13

She wasnt easy. I was a douchebag.


I see my father-in-law regularly. Hes a (very) junior attorney at my law
firm. Mine. The one I built. Hes a senile old bastard, but not senile enough to
forget me and every move I ever made. Not senile enough to forget his anger
with me generally, much less the fact that he had to come beg me for a job when
he was downsized in 2008 and the only job he could get was as a Walmart
greeter.
I wouldnt have hired him at all but my head paralegal begged me to. He
has his uses, the biggest one being that hes got obscure case history packed so
tightly in his mind my staff doesnt have to waste time looking for what I need.
They just ask him.
They call him Google. He hates it, but he answers to it. It makes me
chuckle.
A deck.
I sigh.
Blythes been working up to that for a while. Ive seen her lustful glances at
pressure-treated six-by-sixes and two-by-twelves at Home Depot, her delicate
sighs at the round disposable concrete forms, her longing caresses of wooden
stair stringers.
I also see all the men standing around watching her drool over this stuff like
its an Olympic gymnast or whatever turns her on, wanting her to caress their
wood. I dont know if she notices this, but if she does she probably doesnt care.
Shes pretty, I suppose, because my son would never have married a not-pretty
woman. But what she is is happy. She always has been. I think that might be
part of her attraction, but Im used to her so I only notice this when we go to
the lumberyard and everyone else notices.
The house is structurally sound now. The back yard is big enough to accommodate both her workshed-slash-practice room and the deck-carport. I will
admit, that was a helluva save. She didnt have the carport in mind until I questioned her sanity. The deck alone would be too much for the neighborhood and
she wouldve never gotten a good return on it. But make it a carport and voil
Yeah, its a good idea but I wish shed just get the fucking house done. I
dont like the neighborhood she lives in. I dont like that she lives like a pauper
when she doesnt have to because there is no glory or honor in it; it doesnt make
anybody elses life better to do it. I dont like that I have a mansion that houses
me and my support staff of twelve, but she wont move in with me.

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MORIAH JOVAN

Its been harder and harder to keep my mouth shut as she comes up with
excuse after excuse to delay. I have no idea why she doesnt want to get out of
that house. She likes it because its her work product, but she doesnt seem to be
attached to it, the way people get, the way Im attached to my house and office
downtown.
She has a reason, though. It wouldnt be the first time shes kept her end
game to herself, but I decided long ago to go with it because she makes good
decisions most of the time. I advise her here and there. Even if she doesnt take
my advice, its usually a choice between good and better.
She doesnt need me anymore. She hasnt needed me for anything past the
first two years after Darrens death, when she stopped asking me what she
should do, started telling me what she was going to do, and giving me orders to
that effect.
Finn, get me that builders head on a platter.
Sorry. Somebody else got it first. You might be able to dig a fingernail out of his remains.
Oh, poop.
Hell, I dont need her either, but shes the mother of my sons children. I
vowed I would never treat my grandchildren the way my father-in-law treated
mine. Miriam took the kids to see him a couple times, but he hated them on
sight. They knew it. They wanted nothing to do with him.
My grandchildrenall of them, not just Darrens kidsgive me something.
Darrens kids give me an extra something because the youngest two dont remember their daddy and the oldest two are losing their memories as time goes on. I am
the father figure in their lives because Im widowed and can spend time with them.
Although I have a thriving law practice, my time in the trenches of the hundredhour work week is long past and I have no marriage to make my priority.
Even before Darren died, Blythes parents were indifferent to the kids. They
were cruising around the world, spending the money theyd worked and scrimped
so hard for. I didnt blame them for that at all, but I was pissed when they took off
on another cruise two months after Darren died, then again at Christmas. Your
twenty-eight-year-old daughters husband dies, leaving her alone with four young
children and you sail off to the Caribbean? Who does this?
I expected better from Winnie, but quite frankly, if it doesnt have anything
to do with money, Blythes father is as useless as tits on a boar hog. Sometimes I
cant figure out if hes oblivious or if hes selfish, but he manages to get in the

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15

way quite a bit. I can tell the kids to clean the kitchen and they will, even if they
gripe and drag their feet. Jerry can look at the kitchen and not only not see it
needs to be cleaned, but will use clean dishes to eat more while the kids are
cleaning. Theyve come to me more than once, angry and frustrated because he
wont respect their polite requests to get out and stop making more work for
them. Theyre just kids, right? Theyve gone to their mother, but Jerry doesnt
respect Blythe any more than he respects the kids, so its left to me.
The same way it was left to me to take care of Blythe and the kids after
Darren died. If I didnt do it, who would?
Jerry and Winnie Hemming have been having dinner with us every night for
the last year and he still doesnt know the nightly routine. Or he doesnt care.
I can barely bring myself to be civil, but for Blythes and Winnies sake I do.
I dont take any of my nine grandchildren for granted. When my colleagues bitch and moan about the state of their offspring and their offsprings
offspringdivorces, steps, mistresses, lovers, comings-out, jail, drugs, sex
changes, fraud, theftI quietly preen. Sometimes Im not that quiet about it.
For all my son died at thirty, my family is straight-up. No-nonsense. Dare
I say, perfect. Leave it to Beaver incarnate. Father Knows Best.
Miriam and I did very well. The only thing I do have to bitch and moan
about is Blythes insistence on living in that shithole while shes renovating it.
My colleagues and employees who read her blog (because they like seeing me
up to my eyeballs in drywall dust) think its cute. Stupid, but cute. Grief therapy taken too far.
Which is exactly what it is.
But I was there when Blythe fell apart at the news of Darrens death, so I
humor her. Still. Its a habit.
I was stoic all through the first weeks and months after Darrens death,
taking care of things, propping Blythe up, forcing a beloved, pampered wife
and stay-at-home mom who barely managed to graduate from high school to
make something of herself.
Not because she needed to to survive. Darren was a good man, thoroughly in love with Blythe, and she him. He left her well provided for. So did his
killers insurance company after I got through with them.
But then all the post-death business was finished. Blythe and the kids
were stumbling into their new normal and I tried to settle back into my old
normal.

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MORIAH JOVAN

I walk into my quiet, clean, orange-smelling house with a sigh of relief.


Im still tasting strawberry shortcake and wishing Id had another helping.
God, that woman can cook.
I have a chef, but I stopped having her make freezer meals for me because
Blythes spoiled me. Blythe stocks my freezer for snacks and dinner on the
nights Im preparing for court the next day.
I grab the mail off the front table salver. A formal invitation from Knox
and Justice Hilliard around Christmas for a political fundraiser. I check the
date. The fundraiser is a week before Bryce and Giselle Kenards ten-year renewal of vows.
Mr Phineas W Marston & Guest
I have no & Guest.
Ill go to both, of course, the renewal of vows being the more prestigious
one.
The brides family is collectively known as the Dunhams. Her grandfather was some kind of bigwig in Kansas City during Prohibition, and its
simply easier for everyone to keep track of whos connected to whom by ending any introduction with he/shes a Dunham. Sometimes a Dunham isnt
related by blood at all, but is bound to the family by history and loyalty. That
familys antics are one long soap opera and a third of the countrys moneyed
cant wait for the next episode.
The other invitation is a standard political fundraiser to start filling the
war chest of incumbent Governor Eric Cipriani for his second term in office.
Erics a libertarian masquerading as an independent, but I dont really care
about Ds and Rs, et al until a politician gets in my way or gets others out of
my way. Eric gets others out of my way. He won the governorship on a fluke,
but his staying there wont be a fluke if I have anything to say about it. I want
him in the White House as badly as he wants to be there. Incidentally, both
he and the first lady tumbled into the Dunham family when they were teenagers.
Theres a second fundraising invitation, from the challengers camp. I
laugh. I know Eric Cipriani, I mutter. Eric Cipriani is a friend of mine.
You, sir, are no Eric Cipriani.
I look again. Oh. That invitations for the previous residents of my house.
Mr and Mrs J Fenimore Hilliard
Dunhams.

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Dead ones. Somebody in that camp didnt get the memo those two died
tragically almost eight years ago.
I still get mail for the Hilliards occasionally because I bought this house and
the Alfa for a song from Knox, the wifes son, about a year after they died. Id
coveted both for as long as I could remember and Fen Hilliard wasnt entertaining offers from anyone. At the time, I couldnt have ponied up enough cash to
buy it, anyway.
But by the time Fen was killed and the missus killed herself, Knox and I
had history, and wed made a gentlemans agreement: When he got control of
the estate on his fortieth birthday, hed sell it to me lock, stock, and barrel. Not
only did he sell it to me, he hated the place so much he practically shoved the
keys in my hand for pennies on the dollar.
That was six years ago, and I was persona non grata around town for a
while because I got the jump on everybody who wanted it.
The universe has to have its little in-jokes, I suppose, and this joke still has
legs at cocktail parties: I, Finn Marston, live in Fen Hilliards house. Occasionally, if Im introduced by my nickname, I have to explain: Me, Phineas, alive.
Him, Fenimore, dead. I hate that, but Ill be damned if I go by Phineas.
I toss the invitation for the Hilliards in the trash and head up the stairs.
So there I was five years ago, trying to settle back into normal life after Id
wrapped up all Darrens business, when I ran into a former employee, a rainmaking attorney whod left me high and dry when he bailed on me to start his
own practice.
Id never forgiven him for that. I hadnt known anything about his life until,
a couple of years after hed left me, I saw in the papers his wife and four children
had died in a house fire. He was in a coma with burns and smoke inhalation
that should have killed him, and when, if, he came out of it, he was going to be
charged with arson and five counts of homicide.
As angry as I was, I knew he would never do that. I also knew he had no
one to protect his interests. Yeah, I was pissed off at him and normally Id have
felt a warm trickle of schadenfreude, but not that time. I wasnt going to let him
languish in a hospital bed for God only knew how long while vultures picked
over his assets. He left me in a fix, true, but to be fair, hed made me a lot of
money before he did.
With the appropriate subtle threats dropped in all the right ears to discourage would-be vultures, I started to take care of his life while he was

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comatose. I knew, once he healed, hed take his own revenge, but at that moment in time, he was utterly helpless, at the mercy of fate.
And that was where Knoxa prosecutor up north with a dirty reputationand I collided. I wanted nothing to do with that corrupt bastard, and he
wanted nothing to do with a guy whod fixed fights and rigged bets.
So I was shocked when I found out that Knox and my guy had been best
buds for years. They met as freshmen at UCLA, thrown together by the dorm
lottery, became best pals, and went to law school together. That relationship
disintegrated as bitterly as mine did, but that wasnt relevant. Neither was our
mutual disdain.
We knew this man.
Unbeknownst to me, Knox had been working on taking care of him from
the other end. We met in the middle, pooled our terror-inducing reputations
without tipping our hands, handled the disposition of what remained of his
dead family, and kept our guy out of trouble.
Knox and I bonded that year. Nobody knows were friendsand thats the
way we want to keep it.
Our guy never knew. He still doesnt. Hes completely mystified by whod
kept him solvent, his estate from draining away under his medical care costs. He
doesnt know who put the arson squads feet to the fire so he wouldnt go to
prison for five counts of murder. He also doesnt know Knox and I were the
only visitors he had that year. No family. No friends. Here, a millionaire, with
no one to look after him. He might as well have been a hobo.
For years after that, Id see him at society parties. Ignored him because I
was still angry. He had left me in one huge fucking bind. He ignored me, too,
probably because he knew I was pissed. I was shocked when he got married
again. So was everybody else in town. He was hideous from the fire, and his
scars hadnt improved much by then, but hes rich. I didnt think hed ever find a
woman who wasnt feeling up his back pocket, but he did.
For all that, the day I ran into him at the courthouse, I was too griefstricken and tired to be angry. Hell, I was too grief-stricken and tired to recognize the bastard.
My son was dead.
Nothing else matters when your beloveds die. It all seems so petty.
I said hi without thinking. He was someone I knew, a face I recognized.
Didnt matter who. He stopped cold, grasped my arm and swung me around,

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looked at me as if I were tripping on acid and said, Finn, you all right?
I laughed. It was more of a croak. Ah, just finishing up some business with
my son.
That was a nothing statement. It could mean anything. So something in
the way I said it must have caught his ear. Whats up with your son? he asked
carefully.
I told him as matter-of-factly as I could, and when his expression turned
pained, I finally realized who I was talking to. It had been so many years by that
time and I had my own pain to deal with, Id forgotten about him, much less
that hed lost four children. Horrifically. I started to wonder if my pain would
ever go away.
You got a minute? he asked me.
I shrugged. Nothing going on at my place, no.
He called his wife, told her hed be late getting home, cocked his head toward the elevators, and said, Cmon.
Oh, hell, what else did I have to do?
We ended up at Gates in Midtown, in a private little booth at the back.
When we were settled in with food and drink, he said, Talk.
I still wince when I remember that moment. Someone cared. More than
that, someone who knew.
I broke down. I swear to God I have never sobbed like that in my life, in a
public place yet. Not even over Miriams death. It took me until closing time
and then beyond that. We sat in his truck. I continued pouring it all out. Its a
haze now. I have no idea what I said.
I never had friends past the moment I said I do. Didnt have time for
friends. I had my mother, my seventeen-year-old wife, my newborn son, and a
life to get sorted out because Id be goddamned if I stayed in that shithole and
made my family stay in that shithole because Id coerced a girl into sex. Miriam
deserved better, and I needed to shove her fathers head farther up his asshole
than it already was.
So I sat crying in the car of an attorney Id hired straight out of law school
and trained. One Id trusted, one whod betrayed me by leaving me, one Id carried a grudge against for years for leaving me.
I had no pride. He understood, more than anyone else could, what it was
like to lose a child. For the first time in my adult life, I felt like I had a friend. A
good one. A real one.

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He listened to me all night, then dropped me off at my house at eight


oclock the next morning when Id finally run out of words. I dont know any
woman whod accept My former boss who hates me cried on my shoulder for eighteen
hours as the truth, but his wife did. That night, he repaid every second and every
penny I spent keeping the wolves at bay while he fought for his life in a burn
unit.
That night was five years ago.
Now, I take out my phone and text him.
b wants 2 build deck

Bryce Kenard answers almost immediately.


lol

Yeah. Ha. Ha. Ha.


fuck u

3:
PARIS OF THE PLAINS
BLYTHE

My plan to build a deck doesnt go over well on the blog. The majority of the
comments are along the lines of Why should I care about this? Youre the
one with the money. Do something I can afford to do.
Why should they care about this project?
I sigh. I dont know.
On the other hand, I have blog posts scheduled six months ahead of all the
things they can do, so Im not sure why theyd be upset about an extra post every
week.
Im in the cellar, otherwise known as the speakeasy because that was what it
had been for most of Prohibition. There used to be an enameled cast-iron bathtub over in the corner. If anybody had ever bathed in it before I winched it up to
the third-floor bathroom, Id be shocked.
The hard-packed dirt still smelled like gin when I began pouring the concrete floor. I didnt do it with a truck pumping cement through a pipe in my
coal chute, with me in waders wielding a concrete float. I did it piecemeal whenever I had an extra half hour, by hand, with five-gallon buckets of Quikrete in
sections about the size one sixty-pound bag of cement can cover.
Its the way my audience would have to do it.
Im putting the final coat of Kilz on the exposed stone walls. Its the fourth
coat of the industrial oil-based stuff. It stinks. Oh my God, it stinks. Im about
to die, even with the coal chute and all the cellar doors open and a mask over my
face. I did power-wash the walls after the concrete cured, but there was still a
hundred years worth of tobacco gunk, alcohol, and blood covering them that I
had to scrub by hand.

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For sale: Prohibition-era bullets. Used once.


Id like to use a sandblaster, but I cant do that in here and besides, my audience wouldnt have access to that.
So I Kilz.
The stone foundation is solid. There are now steel beams holding the
house up. The windows, which I restored and weatherproofed, are tight. The
mechanicals are new. Its got new duct work with heat vents and good lighting. I
put in a bona fide laundry room and full-sized bathroom, where Finn keeps
some clothes and showers occasionally. Theres a Futon I havent decided what
to do with yet, so it sits there in case we need an extra bed.
Its quiet except for the squishing of the paint roller. The kids are at school.
I dont play music when I work alone because I want silence. Not silence. My
job isnt silent. I crave being away from my childrens demands and the voices of
others, crave the time I can stay in my head and think. This is one reason I love
my job so much.
But then my email dings and I pull my phone out of its pocket in my cargo
shorts in case its the school.
Hi. Follow youre blog. Male 20. Dropped out of high school.
Reading comments, but dont agree. I come to library to read
youre blog. I watch all your vids. Saving to buy my own tools and
have a chance to earn some money from nieghbor whos planning
a deck next spring. Knew you were doing this and told him I could
help. Plz build deck & post real time. Need this job.

Lurkers. I never know who really benefits from what I do. Men dont
comment on my blog, or if they do, I dont know theyre men.
I forward this to Finn.
construction starts 3 wks
FINN: ur a touch
what are you doing?
FINN: court zzzzz u?

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speakeasy kilz
FINN: bdrm next wk?
ignoring you now

I can hear his sigh all the way from downtown Kansas City to the depths of
the speakeasy in the middle of Hyde Park.
On a Saturday morning in early September, I stand in my back yard with my
father-in-law, my kids, my daughters boyfriend, my sons two friends, Finns
bestie and his kid, my parents, and my film girl Posey.
Poseys filming a truck backing down my driveway with a Dumpster headed for the back corner of my lot. It drops it with a thunk and pulls up and out of
the driveway. Rumbling toward us now is the backhoe thatll demolish the back
porch.
The back porch is a late addition, likely in the 40s and more like a lean-to.
Thats about the time the door in my bedroom wall was put in and the nowrickety, blocked-off staircase clinging to the side of the house was built to accommodate a boarder.
Ive rehabbed the back porch twice now. I still hate it. Its unwieldy, it
doesnt fit the house, and it doesnt even overhang the cellar door so the groceries dont get wet. Ive been dithering about doing it a third time, even though itd
make good blog fodder.
I intended for the deck to be a fill-in project while I wait for my One True
Love, but with the destruction of the back porch I didnt know what to do with
and the carport I didnt know I needed, it became a legitimate, if not necessary,
project.
Not even Finn argues that now.
Its been four years and I still havent decided whether to tear down the side
staircase and wall up the door to my room. With a new staircase and a little
kitchenette where my office is now, it could still be a rental unit.
Will build to suit.
Bryce Kenard, Finns friend, is the stonemason, so hell be the foreman on
the concrete phases of the project. Right now hes talking to the backhoe

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operator and pointing at the marks I made. I would have done the demolition
by myself but Im not going to be able to do some of the concrete demolition
myself, even with a jackhammer, so why not hire a backhoe to do all of it? Its
not like my blog denizens arent already upset with me.
Backhoe cost: 40 grand. Kidding! $400 per day.
Four hundred dollars is some of these peoples grocery budgets for two or
three months.
I catch Gwen ogling Bryce, who is skimpy with the clothes when he works
outside: ratty Levis shorts, socks and steel-toed boots, gloves, and nothing else
except a wide braid tattoo around his massive right biceps. I want to think shes
gaping at the burn and skin graft scars all over his left half, but no amount of
scars in the world could hide that body.
The mans built like a Greek god and looks like he could push a man into
the ground like a thumbtack. Seriously, I dont mind his dress code at all and the
longer I look, the more attractive he gets.
Oh, for fucks sake, Finn mutters, half irritated, half amused. Put your
tongue in your mouth.
I cast him a wicked glance. Yum, I purr.
Finn sighs.
Bryce doesnt notice.
Gwens drooling too and her boyfriend is glaring at her. No, the apple
didnt fall far from that tree. I catch Scotts attention and wink. Then I walk
over to Gwen and whisper, Id tap that.
Mom! she screams, jumping away from me and looking at me in horror.
Oh my God!
I grin.
Youre married! she hisses. What about Daddy?
Im a widow. I didnt die when Daddy did.
What about Grampa? Hes right there!
I dont know what Grampa has to do with who I drool over. Nom nom
nom.
She claps her hands over her ears and squeezes her eyes tight. I dont want
to know this I dont want to know this I dont want to know this Idontwanttoknowthis.
Scott grins and gives me a thumbs up.
If Gwen so much as peeks at Bryce again, all Scott has to do is mention I

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have dibs when the wife dies.


I join Finn again to watch as the backhoe goes to work. What was that
about? he asks.
We put our heads together while I talk, but try not to be too obvious about
it because Gwens sensitive to teasing and we adults try to respect that.
Try.
She makes it too easy sometimes.
Would you? Finn asks with a slight chuckle.
If he werent married and came on to me? Oh, yeah.
He looks at me funny, his smile fading. Really?
I huff. Finn, cripes! Do you want me to pine away for Darren the rest of
my life?
He blinks and looks away, his expression confused.
That hurts a little and my humor fades. Well, do you?
He shakes his head. No, he says absently, as if I should know. It didnt
occur to me. Then he looks at me again and says solemnly, I would never ask
you to do that. Youre too young to be alone.
Surprised by this, I blink and my mouth is open a little. Um okay,
thanks. Nice to know. But I dont have any plans or anything.
We fall silent. Its an awkward silence, a disconcerting one because while
weve had loud arguments that led to angry silences, we havent had an awkward
silence since Darren died.
To my relief, he finally ambles off, yelling at all five boys to help him start
picking up debris where they can.
I watch him as he goes.
That was the most bizarre conversation Finn and I have ever had.
But I shake it off and turn to greet neighbors as they drift into the back
yard to watch my latest project unfold.
My mothers in my kitchen making sandwiches for the crew while the younger kids keep the fresh sweet tea, lemonade, pop, Gatorade, and water flowing.
My dad sits in a lawn chair in the shade to supervise. Hes got his Pepsi
and a good view, so hes happy as a clam. Ive asked him to help Finn direct the
cleanup, but he loses himself talking to this neighbor or that, hollering dumb
old-man jokes every once in a while (Workin hard or hardly workin?! Yuk yuk
yuk!), yelling for my mom to bring him another Pepsi.
Its a really good thing Finns too preoccupied to have heard that. Go get it

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yourself, Dad, I say, trying to keep my voice light. He gives me an unamused


side-eye then yells at Kaia to go get it. Kaias working, Dad, I say, my voice less
light. If he cant contribute to the work, why cant he at least go get his own
damned pop? Youre the only one here whos not.
He glares at me and charges up out his chair in a huff. Or tries. He trips over
a clod of dirt and nearly plants his face in the grass. Hes a lot taller than I am but
hes skinny as a rail for all he eats like a horse. I, however, have been doing heavy
construction for the last few years, so I catch him easily, with an arm across his
chest. He rights himself, jerks out of my grasp, then stalks off with a glare.
My neighbors watch this exchange warily and give me a look of wry commiseration. More neighbors wander down the driveway, beers in hands, and get
a little closer to the machinery than is comfortable.
More than once, Finn has to bellow at them to keep alcohol off the job site.
READ THE GODDAMNED SIGN! he roars so loudly the entire neighborhood can hear. The neighbors with the beer drift away grumbling.
It takes an hour to pull the back porch down without damaging anything,
but theres nothing more any of us can do except wait for the backhoe to do the
heavy cleanup. After that, itll break up the crappy concrete pad thats already
there, clean that up, then dig and grade the space for the new parking pad,
driveway extension, and turnout. It takes a while, which we spend sitting on
blankets and sheets, eating, laughing, and talking.
Bryce and Finn are talking legal shop, catching each other up on whatever
cases theyve got going on. Bryce is a medical malpractice attorney. Finn takes
on big corporations. Sometimes they end up having a defendant in common.
I dont see Finn as an attorney of any type, although Ive been to his office
and watched him in court. Hell bring home champagne to celebrate his wins,
and hell talk about his cases if hes had a particularly good day, but his delivery
is low key. I know hes a bold and ruthless lawyerhe wouldnt have built what
he did if he werentbut thats not who he is.
Finn is, first and foremost, a family man. He needs to have family around
him like he needs air.
When I was almost fifteen, Darrens family moved into my relatively affluent neighborhood, four doors down and across the street from us. Darren
had a job at a little comic book and video game store, and did something with
computers so I hardly ever saw him out of school. Jessica, Darrens sister, was
into soccer, whereas I was into cheer and dance. Ken, his little brother, was

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too young to bother with. Finn was mostly around in the evenings and on
weekends, working in the yard, packing up their SUV for Jessicas games.
Darrens mother would be out tending her roses and Id see Finn bring her
a bottle of water or move her umbrella over her if she strayed out into the sun
because she was prone to burning quickly. She would smile up at him and hed
pet her hair. If she needed a hole dug, hed do it for her.
I remember watching this from my bedroom window and vaguely wishing
my father treated my mother that way, hoping to one day have a husband who
treated me that way.
And then I did, and I didnt take it for granted.
Now Finn lives alone in a grand estate that takes twelve people to keep up,
but he doesnt spend much time there. He comes here straight after work, takes
off his suit jacket and tie as quickly as possible, rolls up his sleeves, and either
works on his laptop or pitches in with the kids or dinner or both. If he doesnt
have a big case going, he comes over on the weekends and helps me with my
bigger projects.
But now, with Finn and Bryce looking like fly-by-night contractors, watching a backhoe tear up concrete, eating ham sandwiches and swilling Gatorade,
theyre throwing around numbers like two billion. Theyre speaking casually of
taking down this person or propping up that person, and how and why. There
are names I recognize from the news, mostly politicians and businessmen, occasionally celebrities, spoken of as if theyre dire enemies or good friends.
Oh, I realize belatedly. They are.
Its surreal.
This man beside me is not the Finn I know. We live in a Midwestern city
where nothing really important happens and is far away from the centers of
power. He comes home almost every night for family dinner and bedtime rituals. He writes posts for my blog. He chats with my mother and when shes feeling insecure about her role on Blundering, reassures her that what she has to say
is valuable. Hes civil to my dad, even though hes never liked him. He doesnt
brag, doesnt consider himself better than we are, doesnt drop these names he
and Bryce are discussing between themselves.
My dad drops names to impress Finn. It doesnt. Now my dads moved into my periphery and I glance over at him. Hes scooting his camp chair closer to
Finn and Bryce to listen. I cant tell what hes thinking by his expression, but I
really dont know him very well.

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Its an odd admission to make. Im thirty-four. He was always around until


I got married, and then the last year or so. How can I not know my dad?
Then Finn asks if Bryces wife is ready to go to work for him. Bryce laughs
and replies thatll never happen.
Ive seen Bryces wife around school, because their kid goes there, too, but
she doesnt do PTA, doesnt hang out with anybody, doesnt talk to anybody.
She doesnt even get out of her car in the pickup lane, and she sits there with her
head down, reading on her tablet. I see the Kenards at the school activities when
their kids participating, but even then shes aloof and Bryce does the schmoozing. Some of my pals know her. They think shes a stone-cold bitch. Every time
the subject comes up, I mention that she lends me her husband for my projects.
There are lots of weird rumors about her, but I dont put much stock in
those, so I know very little about her. One thing I didnt know was that shes a
lawyer. Thats shocking enough, but to find out Finn wants to hire her is, well,
humbling, if not mortifying. Finn only hires lawyers he thinks might be able to
beat him in court and hes especially partial to stone-cold bitches who have or
have the potential to beat him.
I could never do that. Im not smart enough to get through law school. Getting a liberal arts degree with a B average was difficult enough, and I was embarrassed all the way through at what I didnt know. I was thirty years old and
listening to my study groups packed with twenty-year-olds talking gravely about
gerta and proof rock and neetchee and youth in Asia, never knowing
what Asian kids had to do with anything, unable to figure it out from context,
and not daring to ask how to spell those to look them up later. Trying to fake
my way through iambic pentameter was torture.
Finn had to explain so very many things, including Goethe, Prufrock,
Nietzsche, and euthanasia, but he never laughed at me, never once made me
feel stupid while he was doing it. There was nothing about my schooling he
didnt take seriously.
Twenty-year-olds sit and discuss these things as if they know what theyre talking
about. They dont. Its an educational pissing contest based on what their professors told
them, a way to make themselves feel smart and educated and special.
How do you know?
I sat through all that bullshit, too. I was the same age they were, but I was working, I
had a family already, and I had a rock-solid goal that didnt include lofty poetry and social
justice. Take what you need from your classes and study groups and move on. The rest will

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come as your knowledge expands and you start getting curious.


I.T. was my academic refuge because, while it was difficult, it didnt require
me to read things I didnt understand, then try to glean themes and symbols and
metaphors from life experience I didnt have. I was almost giddy when I realized
I had a little knack for computers, because I finally understood what my husband had done to support us all those years. I felt closer to him, closer to his
work, to his thought processes. It was a level of intimacy I could never have with
him unless I went to college.
He wanted me to.
I flat refused.
He believed I was smart enough.
I thought he was just saying that to make me feel better, and told him I
didnt want to hear another word.
I regret that so much now.
But when I finally did get there, I took a lot of math and drafting because it
was relevant to my job. I took some accounting and graphics classes I knew
would come in handy. I also took classes that interested me whether or not they
had anything to do with anything at all. Now I scan the offerings at any number
of colleges around town and continuing education classes and learn more interesting things.
My gorgeously framed diploma hangs in a prominent spot in my living room.
It was hard-won, and one of very few real accomplishments I have to my name.
I have very rarely envied anyone. I wasnt aware enough of my own lack or
others superiority to be envious. My parents had money. I was pretty. I married
an awesome guy. I have good kids. Few of the moms I hang out with have degrees or if they do, they dont use them at all. Because Im self-employed, Im the
master of my own fate. Because Im a widow and not a divorce, Im not accountable to anyone.
I have lived my life being the object of envy.
So listening to Finn extol the intellectual and legal prowess of Bryces wife is
a slap in the face. I havent felt like such a loser since English 101.
I finally got her to think about opening up her bookstore again, Bryce says.
Oh yeah? I thought you werent going to push.
He clucks. When mama aint happy, aint nobody happy. She was coming
home in a bad mood and going to work the same way. Dunc thought hed done
something to make her mad at him, so thats when we had a little come-to-Jesus

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meeting.
She didnt balk?
He pauses. She made a show of protesting, but she didnt waste too much
time turning the reins over to her protge. That said, shell never open up again.
I thought you just said
All I wanted was for her to quit her job because she hated it and would rather work on her journals. The bookstore was bait. Shell dither around, look
for retail space, draw up some plans, but itll never happen. Being married to a
retail store is one thing. Being married to a man and a retail store is an entirely
different thing. But for now shes happy again. Duncs happy. Im happy. So
mission accomplished. I dont know what she was trying to prove to whom, but
the hell of it is, neither does she.
Somebody else seems to have something to prove, Finn says dryly, sliding
a glance at me. I wish I knew what it is.
Stop pushing, I say lightly, wanting only to get away from this conversation and the insecurity hitting me. But why, I wonder, would a lawyer who can
impress Finn want to open a bookstore? What kind of bookstore? I ask.
Romance, Bryce answers without a hint of a sneer.
Oh. Huh. I owe a couple of decent grades to romance novels. I couldnt
have gotten through my history classes without those really old bodice rippers,
showing me where I was on the timeline in my textbooks, giving me points of
reference, bringing to life the dry textbook history. It was another struggling
students suggestion. Everything from inspirational and religious to erotica. She
needs her happy endings and Prince Charmings.
Wait, wut? The woman married to this guya stone-cold bitchneeds
romance novels? Srsly? And hes okay with that? I dont know any woman with
her head in the clouds like that, much less a lawyer. A lawyer Finn wants to hire.
I have to know, so I try to keep the envy and insecurity out of my voice.
Why would she do that if shes good at being a lawyer?
She hates law, Bryce replies with alacrity. It was something to kill time
and make money because she didnt know what else to do and she didnt have a
penny to her name and she didnt want to float around from dead-end job to
dead-end job just to survive. She told herself she liked it and she even believed
that for a while, but it beat her down.
No, Finn corrects, she beat me straight out of law school and the fire in
her belly went out.

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She beat Finn?!


She never had the fire in her belly, Bryce corrects back, and I knew shed
do that. It just so happened that she was pissed at me when she gave her closing.
She gets amazingly eloquent when shes pissed off.
Finn starts. Oh. Huh.
She might have gone another round, but all she really needed was to know
she could do it. Its like everything else shes done since weve been married, stuff
she liked to begin with but started to resent as soon as she succeeded at it.
Nothing shes done has made her happy over the long haul.
Her first bookstore burned down, Finn explains to me. Shes still grieving.
I look at my house again. No, this bold red beauty isnt my One True Love,
but she is my Bestie. I would certainly grieve if she burned down after Ive built
my life with her.
I love what I do, and I cant imagine spending that much time going into an
entire profession I didnt really want in the first place. I fell into my job while I
was going to school to make me semi-functional for the real world and ended up
loving it.
Then again, I dont have to work at all. I have no idea what its like to struggle to survive, much less when a dreams been stolen and there is nothing left to
look forward to. At one time, Bryces wife was the same as the people in my
audience. There are a whole lot of very well-educated dirt-poor people who follow my blog so I wouldnt have envied her education because I would have seen
it as worthless if she couldnt make a living with it.
Now I do envy it because the playing field has been leveled. Im the only
woman in my social circle who works at all, much less has her own business. If I
didnt, Id be expected to be on the society and volunteer and charity fundraising
and alumnus circuits like the rest of them. I can barely manage my PTA duties,
which, I will admit, are quite a lot.
I cant shut up. Shouldnt she be I dont know. In the Junior League or
something?
She built our charity from the ground up, Bryce tells me.
Yes, the Kenard Burn Victim Foundation. My PTA pals dont bother raising funds for that one because they dont like Giselle. They excuse themselves
by saying its already very well funded, which is true. It bothers me they dont
even try to pretend its not about Giselle.
Then she ran it because she thought I wanted her to, but I never said that.

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Too many people needed too much from her and she was completely drained.
Reading and talking about books charges her up, makes her happy, but thats
what book clubs are for.
I sigh. No wonder she doesnt bother with our little PTA. Our rinky-dink
fundraisers cant hope to compete. And shed rather read romance novels anyway.
Yeah, its too late for the bookstore now because she has me and Dunc,
but she has her lifes work staring her in the face. I want her to dig into that because it makes her happy, so I gave her an excuse to quit the job she hated. Shell
be able to spend more time on herself and work the bookstore nostalgia out of
her system at the same time.
You cant go home again, Finn says.
Bryce snorts. Says the guy whos nostalgic for what he never had.
I wince because its true, but Finn just laughs.
Well, what is her lifes work? I ask, totally invested in this train wreck like
a looky-loo.
Giselles several-greats-grandparents, Finn tells me, were pirates.
Make it stop. Please God make it stop.
Her grandmother, Bryce says, was a prolific journalist. Fen Hilliard
spent some time in Holland when he was young, found one of her journals in a
rare book shop, and an obsession was born. He spent his life searching the
world for them all and left them to Giselle in his will. As rare books, theyre
worth millions. As a piece of history, theyre priceless. Giselles transcribing the
ones written in English and coordinating getting the others transcribed. There
are a lot of them. Itll take her the rest of her life to do that and get them preserved. We had a bit of a problem finding someone who could read eighteenthcentury Arabic written in eighteenth-century penmanship.
I can hear the pride in Bryces voice when he talks about her. He wants to
talk about her, show her off, as if getting bored and moving from one major
thing to another is itself something to be proud of. To me, its a waste, being
good at a thing and not doing it. People in my audience would kill to be pretty
good at any one of those things, and to just walk away
I think its Well, my mom would say its shameful.
Thats not the only reason Im miserable. I wish I had an adoring husband
who wanted to brag on me. I did, once upon a time, if Id had anything to brag
about, but breastfeeding and keeping an immaculate house are hardly bragworthy. No amount of approving comments on my blog or YouTube channel

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or Instagram accounts can make up for that.


And now here I am watching my porch get demolished by a Bobcat I
should be operating. Why didnt I do this myself? Bragging rights.
If I had anyone to brag on me.
Im about to cry.
Still dont know if we got em all, Bryce continues absently after a swig of
Gatorade. There are some missing dates.
Hey, Ill look in my attic, Finn says.
My heart immediately begins ramming my ribcage, my intellect or lack
thereof suddenly not my biggest problem. Why would they be there? I ask
lightly.
I find a lot of weird things up in his attic, Finn tells me. He was a prolific
journalist, too.
You read em? Bryce asked.
Finn nods. A peek into a marginally schizophrenic mind. He was a tortured soul, poor bastard. Thing is, half of everybody in town suspected he
wasnt quite right in the head, but he presented as sane. He was a brilliant businessman and manager. He had lots of philanthropic projects. He was just a little off, you know?
He wasnt always like that, Bryce says. He started getting worse toward
the end. Not thinking things through. His chess game went to pot.
Is Knox like that?
Bryce hesitates. Hes had psychotic breaks, yeah. But they were traumainduced. He hasnt had one since Fen shot him and hes not on medication, so
I have no idea what this conversation is about, nor do I care. Now the only thing I care about is that Finn goes up into his attic, apparently quite frequently, and rummages around. My boxes arent marked, but I know exactly
where I put them and what each item is in them. God, I hope he doesnt start
opening my boxes.
Yet theyre safest where they are. Im going to have to think about whether
to roll the dice with Finns explorations or get a storage unit. Hell, I have a storage unit for scrap lumber, so I could
The problem is suddenly asking Finn if I can fetch them. He knows me too
well. Hell know I have an ulterior motive because I dont have anywhere to put
them in my house and I dont care to have my stuff in a place where, if I forget
to pay a bill (God forbid), my most precious material possession would be at

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someone elses mercy.


If he thinks I have an ulterior motive, it wouldnt be above him to open
them to find out whats in them. On the other hand, he might anyway because
he doesnt know theyre mine.
Thankfully, the conversation dwindles to nothing as the backhoe starts
picking up slabs of concrete and dumping them. My Bestie is now bare from the
top of the first floor to the top of the eight-foot stone foundation, from corner
to the center of the house, and with the thrill of seeing her history, thoughts of
my history fade. Theres rotting hundred-year-old wood hiding behind that
back porch addition, which I expected, because thats what the rest of the house
had. Ill re-sheathe, put up the housewrap and flashing before the ledger boards
get attached.
Once the deck floor is laid, Ill put French doors smack in the middle of the
house, then weave in the red fiber cement siding to match the rest of the house.
Finn casts me a glance and I raise my eyebrow at him. He didnt have to be
told what else this deck entails. He knew before I showed him my plans.
He sighs.
The backhoes finished for the moment and the dump truck with the gravel
backs down into my driveway with high-pitched reverse beeps. The younger
males gather around to watch this giant truck dump tons of gravel on my lawn.
Theyre entranced.
That looks like a lot more than you need, Finn says dubiously.
Are you questioning my calculations? I ask archly, turning a scathing
glance on him because Im still feeling insecure and stupid.
He drops his face in his palm and massages his temple. No, he says wearily.
He knows Im angry, but not why. Hell ask me later, and Ill tell him, and
hell say Well, I dont know what hell say.
The backhoe clears the area for the pad and driveway extension-slashturnout, digs trenches in which well pour the footings then back fill, then deposits the gravel. Hes done.
We put in the concrete forms for the footings and start leveling the gravel.
Old heavy metal is pounding and we stop talking while we work to the rhythm
of Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, and Iron Maiden. Im not paying attention to
anything until Finn says,
Knock off. Were done for the day.
Im shocked, but then I look at the sun, then at my helpers.

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Yeah, theyre done and, I realize, so am I.


Were eating the pizza I ordered when Ryans friends parents, worried
when they didnt come home (and angry because not one of them answered
their phones or texts), trickle down into the back yard. Theyre clearly shocked
that their kids are exactly where they said theyd be. They look at their sons in
amazement when Finn and I tell them what theyve done today. Quickly.
Without complaint.
I can empathize.
Tragically, Bryces wife also shows up. I really dont need to have her in my
space.
Ive never seen her this close up. I know shes quite a bit older than I am, but
she doesnt look it. Shes pretty, with pale blonde hair streaked an impossible auburn that falls smoothly to the middle of her back. Shes in great shape, somehow
making a simple white tank, olive cargos, and white Birks look haute couture.
Maybe Im projecting.
Duncan sees her and runs to her with a squealed, Mommy! She grins,
cries, Theres my baby! and swings him up in her arms. Bryce approaches her
and bends to kiss her. Lewdly.
I dont need to see that.
Hey, Finn! she calls with a smile and a wave.
Hey back. When are you going to come work for me?
Hes still on that?
Never! I like kicking your ass too much to work for you.
He laughs. I let you win.
Whatever helps you sleep at night.
I was trying to forget that, and I turn away, my eyes stinging, only to find
Finn watching me speculatively. There are a lot of things I dont need right now,
and that look is one of them.
Its nine by the time everyone leaves. Gwens boyfriend drags himself off
with an incoherent grunt. My parents drive away with a jaunty wave. Gwen,
Ryan, and Kaia go take showers and drop into bed. Only Calvin is still awake
but hes dragging too.
Im hot, sticky, tired, and sore, but its the good kind. The kind where you
arent so bad off you cant take a hot shower before you fall into bed.
Finn and I sit on my couch after weve showered. Were yawning, our feet
are up on the coffee table, and each of us has a beer.

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Talk to me, Finn says gruffly.


I pour it out. Why not? There are very few things this man doesnt know
about me and those are all connected to what he doesnt know about Darren
(and never will). Then Im done and by the time Im done, my voice has risen
and I I dont recognize myself.
He sits quietly throughout, listening to me as hes always done. In the silence, I blurt out a few more things, things Ive already said but am compelled to
say a different way.
Finally, in one of my longer silences between outbursts, he takes a breath
and says, Blythe, there are a lot of things I respect about Giselle Kenard, but
the collection of letters behind her name is definitely not one of them.
What collection? J and D?
And PhD.
My nose starts to sting and I look away to cry.
Eighteenth-centchry Brtsh litrachah, he says in a lofty faux British accent.
But I hear something in his voice, something subtle, something he occasionally directs at my children. I turn my head back to listen but I keep my eyes
on the floor. Its not dark enough to hide my tears.
Do you remember, he muses, when you were taking all those unrelated
classes just because they intrigued you? I told you not to become a perpetual
student.
Yes, I say low.
I have no use for that. Yes, shes brilliant. Yes, she beat me in court once.
But you heard that conversation. Shes spent most of the last fifteen years floating around in an existential haze.
He really doesnt respect that. She had a bookstore.
Fifteen years ago, he says dryly. Now, there was a period of about five
years or so her family needed her to pull them through a crisis, which she
couldnt have done if shed still had her bookstore. So I cant really hold that one
against her. But instead of accepting that that phase of her life is over, instead of
grieving and moving on, she does stuff to keep herself from having her memories tainted. Shes protecting something that doesnt need to be protected if
shed just move on. Why? Because shes afraid.
You, on the other hand, he goes on, oblivious to the fact that my spirits
lightening up a little. I think Ive identified his tone. Are fearless. You have clarity, goals, purpose, and happiness. You have the fire in your belly, and there is

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nothing that can put it out. You would never walk away from Blundering if this
house burnt down. Yes, I hate that you live in your job site, but living in it is an
act of courage.
I wouldnt go that far, but he is speaking from experience. He was nineteen
when hed begun rehabbing the house hed taken from his father, all the while
living in it with his eighteen-year-old wife, his newborn son, and his mother.
Hed done it alone, and it took him seven years. His goal was to have it done by
the time he graduated from law school.
Finn has never missed a goal or deadline.
You got through school in a reasonable amount of time. Hed kept talking
while I was spacing out. And you had a good time doing it. Everything youve
done, everything youve achieved since Darren died, youve found joy in. You
grieve. You move on. You dont even have to look for happiness. It finds you,
and you make everyone around you happy. That is a rare quality, and I respect
you for it. There is nothing about you I dont respect.
God, Im going to cry again.
Finn isnt demonstrative nor does he express his feelings much. He chugs
along, mostly relaxed and amused, occasionally frustrated or discouraged, rarely
angry, often charged up with excitement at a challenge or a win. He can express
these things easily when necessary; it just doesnt occur to him to do so.
I dont know what to say to all these things he tells me about me, matter-offactly, as if he doesnt intend to flatter me or express approval. It just is.
Youre disappointed in her? I ask carefully because I need confirmation of
what Im hearing in his voice.
He looks down and fiddles with the label of his beer. No, he says. My
stomach sinks. Im fucking pissed as hell at her.
My mouth drops open.
Wasting her talent as a litigator on romance novels, he sneers, and fairy tales.
Oh. But if thats her joy
He waves a hand and sits up a little. I know, I know. I just contradicted
myself. Shes had a hard life and she deserves to be happy, the same way you
do. But you cant make a living reading novels and you cant chain yourself to a
retail business if the only thing you want to do is read all day. Shell resent it
and then her memories will crash and burn. She has two competing goals and
shes afraid of both.
Id respect her more if she just said, Fuck it, Im going to read all day, but I

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know her and shed start resenting that, too. She has one passion, but she feels
guilty about it because she sees it as an indulgence. But so what if it is? People
get paid a lot of money to do what shes doing with those journals, and just because shes not getting paid doesnt make it less valuable. But getting paid for it
would take the magic away.
Suddenly, I feel like I have something in common with her. My house is
my job and Im fortunate to be able to make a living wage with a job I love.
But I wouldnt want to be paid for my calligraphy; its a tiny indulgence I treat
myself with.
I totally get that. Im even empathetic. If I put all her other things in that
context, I can mostly understand it.
Trust me, you have nothing to be envious of. You arent in any way inferior
to her. So stop it.
I know thats his final word on the subject, but I dont have any more words
either, and he clicks on the TV and scrolls through until he gets to a commercial I think is funny. He pauses so I can watch it, but when its over and he starts
flipping channels again, I say, Wait. Go back.
It takes me a minute. Oh, Dracula.
Which one?
Francis Ford Coppola. Have you seen it?
Naw, he grunts. He sits back and turns the side table light off.
Its starting at the part where Keanu Reeves is riding in the black coach
thats heading around the cliffs toward Draculas castle, and somehow we get
caught up in it.
Were silent, not touching, beers forgotten as we watch. Id seen this movie
but its now over twenty years old and I dont remember anything about it except Gary Oldmans Romanian accent and gray silk top hat.
I certainly dont remember it being so erotic.
If Id been alone, Id have enjoyed it, enjoyed being aroused, because I am,
almost unbearably.
But now, sitting beside my father-in-law, Ive gone from being embarrassed
at my relative lack of education to embarrassed about being aroused My father-in-law! Good Lord. I fake a yawn and mutter, Hate to kick you out, but I
cant keep my eyes open anymore.
Yeah, he says, standing, pointing the remote and clicking it off. Im
bored. See you tomorrow.

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Thanks for the pep talk.


Anytime.
He locks up the house and lets himself out.
When Im sure hes gone, I pick up the movie where the hot stuff starts
happening. I moan when Mina does, almost come when she does, and generally
make an ass of myselfand Im the only witness to it.
Sunday morning I wake up on the couch with my hand between my legs.
This is my life. Getting off to twenty-five-year-old soft-core porn masquerading as cinema art.
I sigh and slap my hand over my face in resigned mortification, embarrassed
for myself enough to cluck in disdain. If I had pearls on, Id clutch them.
I sure as hell hope Finn didnt suspect I was hot and bothered, especially after Id admitted I wouldnt kick his bestie out of bed and Im envious of the wife.
But if Finn did notice or suspect, I hope hes too much of a gentleman to say
anything.
God, I hope Finn didnt notice.

4:
BRIDES OF DRACULA
FINN

Francis Ford Coppola needs to die.


I havent had sex in two years. That was during my last attempt at a relationship, before I found out Angie didnt live in St. Louis, wasnt relocating to
Kansas City, and was married. She let that last one slip while I was mid-thrust. I
dumped her ass out of bed. Literally. Then she told me her husband was the
managing partner of a firm that represents a company I sue on a regular basis.
Like that would make it okay!
I was so pissed off I stalked across my bedroom, grabbed my money clip,
and stuffed a couple hundred bucks in her hand. She threw it back in my face,
then slapped me. I slapped her back and made her call her own cab while I
stood over her.
Look, I never make a mistake twice, and the fact that Miriam always resented me for taking her innocence, her youth, her life, is always with me. I deserved it.
So I dont fuck around with married women. Angie knew that, but she lied
to me because she was going to get what she wanted. I tell every woman Im
interested in right up front that I dont do married women and Im not coy
about it. I can deal with most of the baggage a woman brings to the table because Ive got enough of my own.
But there are some things I refuse to put up with. Lying, cheating. Addiction. Idiocy. I can pick out the last two fairly quickly, but sometimes Im not as
discerning as I should be with the first two.
Honestly, I stop trying to discern anything about the time Im so horny Id
bang a hole in a tree just to get some relief.

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Miriam and I may not have had the happy-happy-joy-joy marriage our kids
do, and our sex life was dutiful. Sparse. Relatively speaking. But we were
content even under the shadow of our history and later in our marriage, when
the kids were older and off doing their thing, we did manage to have spectacular
sex a couple of times. It shocked us both.
She stuck with me in spite of what Id done. She made a home for me. She
was kind to my mother. She gave me three awesome kids and instilled in them
good values. She warmly welcomed our children-in-law into our family and
made their landings as smooth as possible. No, we werent in love. We did grow
to love each other, but that was a gift of time. It was a quiet love and we were
content with each other. It was more than I deserved.
I truly grieved when she died and I missed her. I missed her quiet presence
in the house, filling it with warmth and light and cozy little touches.
I never cheated on her. I was tempted. Boy, was I tempted. But I never so
much as let on to anyone that I was thinking about it.
Thats not how its done in my social circles.
But Miriam taught our kids to be straight arrows and she put the fear of
God into our sons if they ever took advantage of a girl, pressed one into sex, did
anything to a girl that was anything shy of perfect respect, even if the girl didnt
deserve it. She taught my daughter to distrust every word out of a teenage
males mouth. Adult males, too.
I didnt mind the jab, if it was one, but I was never sure. I taught my daughter everything I knew about what a man would say to get in her pants and how
to kill that conversation. I knew a lot about that. I also taught her how to kill a
few other things if he didnt back off, and held up my dad as a prime example of
what not to get involved with. As for my sons, I was a little uncomfortable (okay,
a lot) with Miriam demanding they be as virtuous as any Catholic schoolgirl, but
who was I to argue?
Keeping your zipper closed and your dick under control is one of those little life lessons many men never learn.
People thought we were religious, but we werent. Never had a church, never felt the need for one. I like to think I matured into a fairly moral man without
having the fear of eternal damnation beaten into me, but my old man beat into
me what I didnt want to be.
So Darren married Blythe the second she turned eighteen. I pitied him for
his sexual ignorance, hers too, but to my mind, it was better than being eighteen

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with a pregnant girlfriend and no life skills. I also objected to his choice of wife,
but there was no way in hell I was going to say a word about it. Whatever I
thought of Blythe back then, Darren must have seen something in her nobody
else did and produced four great kids with her, certainly more than I expected
she or the kids would be.
Jessica was equally wise in her choice of husband and now they have two little ones. Although Seth, an artist, hasnt been able to get any traction in the fine
art circle, he makes quite a bit of money as a freelance graphic designer while
doing everything a stay-at-home parent does. Thats not good enough for him.
He wants to be in a high-end gallery. A name. I want that for him, too, but not
because hes my daughters husband. Hes that good and I respect his ambition.
Ive bought a few pieces from him and put them in my office building, but I
cant be his only fine-art client because at some point, gallery owners will dismiss him as my dilettante son-in-law and nothing I say about the quality of his
work will be considered valid.
Jessies not cut out for staying at home with the kids, doing housework,
having some part-time gig, or all three. She got a masters degree in a field she
loves and shes the main breadwinner for the family, which includes their health
insurance. Miriam would have been horrified at their role reversal, but I cant
find fault with an efficient and effective division of labor. The problem is that
she and Seth collectively make so much money, their tax bite is crippling. Their
ramshackle house is paid for so they cant claim the deduction, but its such a
moneypit they cant afford to fix it properly or sell it and buy something better.
Jessica has declined Blythes offers to repair and update it and I have no idea
why, because Blythe will turn it into a blog project and make money on it. Shes
not offering out of the kindness of her art. To her, it would be a fair trade, but
to Jessica its charity. Between Jessica and Seths piece-of-shit house, their collective student loans, and their car payments, theyre living paycheck to paycheck
like the rest of the country.
Ive also offered to help her out, and though she declines (because shes always
had to prove something to me), I insist on paying her kids tuition and expenses to
go to the same school my other grandkids attend because I refuse to let them be in
the Kansas City School District. Jessica protests occasionally to assuage her pride,
but I pretend to be an autocrat and she pretends to be forced into it.
Then theres my youngest, Ken. I chuckle. Good guy. Three children there.
Kens an accountant. Quiet. Unassuming. Funny as hell to those who can catch

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his dry humor and obscure references. Goes to work, does his thing, does it well
and honestly, and comes home. He didnt take his gifts nearly as far as Darren
did, but thats not his personality and I dont hold that against him or compare
the two. His wifes a harried CEO of a small startup here on the silicon prairie
spawned by Google Fiber. Her firm is digging itself out of the red at lightning
speed, but Kens job provides the familys health insurance and pays the bills. Yes,
Christies brilliant but shes a complete airhead. Trying to have a conversation
with her about something shes not interested in is like trying to nail Jell-O to a
tree, especially when shes busy ogling Ken. Kens adept at nailing Jell-O to a tree.
Thats my boy.
But when Christies interested in something, when shes onshes on. Shes
so on, I made her the executor of my estate. Thats how much faith I have in her
devotion to my son and her ability to bully lawyers into doing what she wants
them to do. My colleagues think Im nuts, putting my daughter-in-law in charge
of my estate, but Im not a complete idiot. Christie may be in charge of my estate, but Bryce is in charge of Christie.
Yes, Miriam and I did well. Very well. Especially considering how we started out.
Soon after Miriam died, it occurred to me I was free. Free to find a woman
I could fall in love with, and whom I could fuck until my dick broke. Sex, good
sex, lots of it. Yes, I did want to fall in love, something I didnt have with Miriam, but at that moment, I just craved a womans touch, her naked body next to
mine, her hands in my hair and her nails in my back.
So I practically overdosed on beautiful young soulless law school grads
bursting with rapacious greed. I was finally sated enough to think about what I
really wanted for the long haul, which didnt include the women Id been fucking.
I didnt go out and randomly pick up women at cocktail parties. I set my
boundaries, recited them to myself a few times until they were set in stone, and
then picked up women my own age at cocktail parties with laser precision.
Ive been widowed eight years. I got burned a couple of times, thinking I
was in love, but she wasnt in love with me. So was I really in love or was I in
love with love? I dont know. I decided that since my goal was marriage, I needed to hold off on the sex until Id spent a little time with any given woman. By
the time we did have sex, we were both on DEFCON 5 and exploded.
I had three relationships that could have been permanent had I been willing
to abandon Blythe and the kids. Or at least, not spend as much time with them.

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There is no way in hell Ill abandon my sons wife and children for a woman
whod demand something like that, no matter how good the conversation and
sex are. And they did demand it.
Bye bye, Eva, Jeanne, and Nora.
Angie was budding relationship number four.
I stopped trying after that.
Now here I am in my quiet house, alone, lying in bed watching Dracula,
starting from where Blythe and I left off. Im fifty-six years old and Im jacking
off to Coppolas mess of a film. I had to get away from Blythe because I was
embarrassed as hell, having a hard-on at bad soft porn right next to my daughter-in-law. Shed think I was a pervy old man and never let me near the kids
again.
Which also means I wouldnt be eating dinner there every night anymore.
I come all over my hand. How does a guy come all over his hand without
noticing hes about to? Im halfway through a shit movie, not quite at the part
where Gary Oldman gets Winona Ryder off, and I come without noticing.
Im thinking about Blythe, for Gods sake.

5:
COOKIE PRESS
BLYTHE

FINN: ur getting hammered


Hello Captain Obvious
FINN: lol

I finally get around to reading the comments on my first deck blog post and
purse my lips. I read more. Sigh. Srsly, these people are vicious.
Whats wrong? Finn asks absently where he sits next to me at the dining
room table typing steadily on his laptop. My parents have gone home and the
kids are in bed.
Entitled brats, I mutter, unhappy. I get one email from a guy who begs
me to do the deck because he needs me to, but out of almost five hundred
comments, a good half of them are busting my chops for posting a project they
dont need and couldnt afford even if they did.
Mmm hmm.
Thats the only sympathy Im going to get out of him. He never said I dont
think thats a good idea but he never does. He objects to my priorities and where
they overlap his, which is to get us out of this house. But he went along with it
anyway. He goes along with whatever I want to do with little commentary, but
sometimes I wish hed break out the magic words.
Say it, I growl.
Told you so, he says vaguely and continues to type.
I accelerated the project in spite of my agenda and its timeline because I felt

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sorry for someone. Its the same reason Finn makes the children do the dishes: I
cant be trusted not to fall for the Im tireds and I have to go to the bathrooms and I plucked my eyebrows and I hurt too muchs.
Gwen tried that one once.
Finn roared with laughter and, in tears because he couldnt stop laughing,
made her do the kitchen by herself.
I push the laptop away and drop my head on my arms. Im about to cry and
its been a while since I did that.
Itll blow over, he grunts. Kilz and concrete cover a myriad of sins, even a
tiny career miscalculation.
I want to laugh. Its funny. But Im so discouraged.
Then I gasp and sit up.
The sound of the cogs starting to turn, he intones.
Yes!
Does this mean I can sleep in Saturday?
Nope. The deck goes on.
I open up Photoshop and start working on my graphic. Then I make another subdirectory in my domain and install WordPress. The rest of the
worktransferring the deck project to a side blogwill have to wait until my
admin days when I edit photos, queue more blog posts, schedule giveaways, and
catch up on paperwork, receipts, bills, and invoices.
I think, I murmur absently, Im going to train Posey to do some of my
other blog stuff.
Good idea. Sharp kid.
Uh huh. Halloweens coming up. You need cookies?
Please, he breathes as if I had just saved his life. A couple of platters?
No problem.
Thank you, Blythe. I appreciate it.
What a couple of platters means is enough cookies to feed a skyscraper
full of people. I love baking cookies and mine are the best in town. Its a fair
trade. You build a deck for me, I bake cookies for you.
Thats not really why I offer.
Its because hes so sincerely grateful. Its amazing what people will do if you
let them know how much you appreciate them and their efforts.
Yes, hes the owner of the firm, the head dog, the only big name on the
door: Marston PC, with a bunch of little names underneath his. You can barely

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read them theyre so tiny. But hes also a decent boss, particularly for a law firm.
He does random nice things for his employees and surprising them with my
cookies is one of them.
Nothing he does for me is random, from the moment hed taken over the
business of burying my husband.
Dozens of faceless, nameless people swam by me at Darrens visitation, saying things Id never remember in sad tones, not knowing Id never remember
them. My mother buzzed around my bedroom telling me what to do, what to
wear because I couldnt stop staring at the wall. Food piled up on the kitchen
counters, so she told my father to direct traffic in and out of my house. Solicitous men in black suits asked me questions I couldnt answer.
Finn took care of them for me while my mother herded and comforted the
children after she dressed me. Grief wasnt my only problem and it wasnt
strong enough to crowd out the stress and fear Darren and I had been living
with for four years.
But people have lives and they drift away after the initial mourning is over.
Even my parents did, to go back to their lives of cruising and going down to the
Lake of the Ozarks a few times a summer.
Finn never left me. When nothing strange happened to me or my kids, my
fear gradually went away.
So baking a couple-three hundred dozen cookies for three or four office
parties a year is the least I can do.
Your mom and dad gonna be here for Christmas?
I think theyre going down to Branson.
Of course they are, Finn mutters. Im shutting my office down the last
two weeks of the year.
Everybody? With pay?
Yep.
Aw, thats sweet.
So why dont you and the kids come over when schools out and stay?
Im torn. Id love two weeks at Finns house. Its almost like a vacation. On
the other hand, I put a lot of effort into decorating for Christmas and to spend
Christmas somewhere else seems anticlimactic.
I dunno. We have our traditions. New jammies and Christmas movies on
Christmas Eve. Why dont you come over here and then we can go to your
house for Christmas dinner? I mean, I know the Futon sucks, but

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There is no way in hell Im going to spend Christmas Eve and morning


here. Especially if I have to sleep on that fucking Futon. Blythe
I groan. Finn, dont start. There is nothing wrong with this house except
for my bedroom, which nobody sees.
He ignores me, dropping his hands on the table and looking at me with
those intense blue eyes that had me completely cowed until Darren died, after
which I was too numb to notice and had more important things to fear than my
scary father-in-law. Move in with me.
I open my mouth but he raises his voice to talk right over me, as he does.
Since Im not allowing any of this shit furniture in my house, your audience would never know youre not living here while youre working on it. Its a
fucking pigsty and I dont know how you can stand to live this way.
Im furious for, oh, so many reasons and the adrenalin surges. First, its not
a pigsty, fucking or otherwise, I say low in my throat. But its nice to know
what you really think about my work.
Arrrghh! His frustrations been bubbling up faster and more often lately,
but so has mine and I hurt deep in my chest. Thats not what I meant!
And Im not going to lie to my audience, I continue to growl. Thank you
for the offer. Again. And thank you for tolerating my eccentricity
Blythe!
but if I want to live somewhere else, Ill buy my own house and maybe Ill
send you a change of address card. And you can take Christmas and shove it up
your butt. I clap my laptop shut and storm across the living room, then storm
up two flights of stairs and into my bedroom. I slam the door a little harder
than I meant to, but this is the last straw.
All the blog comments and then Finn jumping down my throat over the
same thing, just from a different end. I lean back against my door and look up at
the ceiling. I start to cry and then I bend over to tuck my face in my hands.
I dont expect the soft tap on my door. I didnt hear the stairs creak.
Blythe.
I dont answer. But since my butts against the door, it doesnt budge.
Im sorry.
If you dont like it here, dont come over, I snarl, expecting some quip
about only coming by for the food.
I come over because I love you.
My heart stops. Then restarts immediately. God, how stupid can I be, think-

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ing he meant Of course he loves me. Im his sons wife. His grandchildren
are here and he adores them. Were family. If he didnt love us, he wouldnt have
stuck with me all these years.
Its just The last time a man said that to me was the day Darren walked
out the door to go to work and never came home again.
He sighs and then I hear the squeaky stair treads. Id fix all those squeaks
and creaks, but I like knowing which child is where.
After a while I hear the click of locks, the front door opening and closing,
the click of that lock, and the roar of his expensive engine.
FINN: hows ur day?
Im cleaning my fucking pigsty.
FINN: I apologized. What do you want?

No one notices the tension at dinner the next night. Gwens texting. Ryans
reading some jocks biography. Calvins twirling something in the air and
watching it as if mesmerized, humming something about raining tacos. Kaias
telling my mom all about her day. My dads chowing down as usual and trying
to get Finns attention, but Finns spaced out and toying with his food. Im toying with the idea of telling him to take his cookies and shove em up there with
Christmas, and maybe adding his deck-building skills for good measure.
I dont dare bring up the fact that Im getting hate email over the deck. Im
trying to do something good here and make a living at the same time. Why cant
they just go with the flow? Or stop reading? Not only that, but todays post had
been on how to deal with stubborn under-sink cabinet stains. It involved peeland-stick vinyl tile. Cheap, easy, good-looking. I made a groaner of a joke about
prostitutes, which now has my defenders from the deck project berating me for
making an off-color joke on a family blog.
My admin days tomorrow, though, and I am going to get the deck project
broken off onto its own blog before I go to bed tomorrow night.
Finns mad at me for not accepting his apology and he will be for a few days,
but Im really mad. My house was a pigsty. It had to be. That was the entire point.
Its not now, except for my bedroom and the yard, and I resent him for continuing to see this house the way it looked when we first moved in.

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Finn and I argue occasionally. Once or twice this past year the arguments
have been so bad we didnt speak to each other for a few days. Not in person,
anyway. Texting is habit.
pick ryan up from school plz
FINN: fine

Even when the only thing we have to say is busy or whatever or fine.
FINN: going home after work
whatevs

There are never apologies. He thinks hes right. I think Im right. Neither
one of us is budging. There is only truce and after a few days of being mad at
each other, the anger fades away.
Except he apologized last night. And again in text. In normal English,
not text shorthand. Why?
I come over because I love you.
Well, I love him, too, but our arguments are getting more frequent. Theyre
always about the same things. I dont know whats happening because weve
never been this contentious. God help me if I let it slip why Im delaying getting
the house done. Hell go ballistic when I tell him my next project involves a
crumbling mansion whose owner is suffocating under its weight but wont cut
his losses.
I talked to the poor guy yesterday. Hes trying to rebuild the chimney by
himself and he doesnt have a clue.
Youll have to come up with more than that. I spent a quarter of that on the foundation alone.
And thats one thing I wanted to know.
Okay, well, if you change your mind, let me know.
I could have sworn he was about to give me a higher number to start the
negotiations, but he didnt.
He will eventually.
Blythe.

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I look up at Finn. He looks tired. His face is slightly tanned, a bit craggy.
His eyes are still as intensely blue. His hair is blonddyed, but his original color. Its for court because Id told him he was definitely no silver fox. If I noticed
and hated it enough to say something, juries definitely wouldnt like it. His jury
consultant confirmed it. So he keeps his hair dyed and nobody really knows or
cares how old he is because he looks timeless.
But right now, when he looks at me that way, his mouth turned down, his
eyes tired, he looks every year of his fifty-six. Im sorry, he mouths.
I sigh, roll my eyes, nod slightly, and look down at my plate. This is where
the truce starts.
He offers.
I accept.
Until the next blowup.

6:
POP OF COLOR
FINN
BLYTHE: be late getting home from school
kk

Im not sure why Blythe and I have been at each others throats so much lately, but I dont like it. Theres something just the slightest bit wrong, but I cant
put my finger on it.
I let myself into DIY Shithole after work the next evening and Im still
thinking about how badly I blundered two nights before. Its quiet. Blythe has
gone to pick up the kids, but shell be a while because she likes to chat with the
other moms in her neverending quest to find a BFF.
She really craves some female companionship, a confidante, and playmate
to give back to her what she gives her school chums. Shell never get one out of
her milieu, though. They take whatever shes willing to give without a thought
that she needs something in return. Those women dont commune, even with
women they call BFFs.
I have Bryce. She has no one and she never has, not even when she was in
high school.
Sometimes we get what we want but not what we need.
I hang my suit jacket up in the hall closet and stow my laptop bag there
with it, yank my tie off, roll up my sleeves. Its what I always do when I walk in
the door.
its nice to know what you really think about my work
Whats to think about? Shes a professional. It damn well better be good

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work.
I turn around to walk through the living room to the dining room and stop
cold. I dont remember it like this, which, I must concede, is precisely her point.
The perfectly smooth walls are a rich, dark purple about seven-eighths the
way up the ten-foot walls until the light maple stained moulding interrupts.
Above the moulding its white, and the smooth white ceiling is dotted with perfectly positioned can lights. Theres an abstract modernist chandelier in the
middle of the ceiling, the dangly bits of which are made of mother of pearl. The
moulding is all gleaming light maple, as is the floor, accented by a solid red rug.
The mantel, too, is maple and above it hangs a reproduction Picasso on a
stretched canvas that hides the flat screen TV. The drapes are a deep red with
thin white linen underneath.
The sofa facing the fireplace and flanking chairs are midcentury modern in
patchwork purple and red microfiber. The coffee table is Danish modern. The
walls are tastefully littered with family snapshots and childrens art framed in
white. Her college diploma, elaborately matted and framed, hangs in a spot she
can see from her place at the head of the dining room table.
This scheme continues into the dining room, separated by one-foot-deep
quarter-wall curio cabinets capped with maple. The walls in the dining room
are red, the drapes purple. The table is also Danish modern. The buffet snuggled perfectly into the rectangular bay window is light maple, custom made.
Red and purple.
On the wall behind her chair hangs a gigantic piece of art: a poem, four
stanzas long, done in exquisite gold calligraphy and elaborate red-and-purple
metallic illumination on white parchment shot with gold. The poem is matted
in white and framed in an elegant gold moulding. When she hung it, I said
something about it costing a bundle, to which she haughtily replied that shed
done it herself, with a frame shed thrifted and rehabbed.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple


With a red hat which doesnt go, and doesnt suit me.
Red and purple.
She fell in love with that poem the first time she read it, a rogue hack poem
her then-professor used as an example of what not to do. I thought she meant
she did the mats and frame herself, but no. Shed taken calligraphy classes for

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the express purpose of creating this art.


I was passingly impressed then.
Now I look at it, see it, think about all those moments Ive seen her doodling letters, just individual letters, not even wondering why she does that. I sit
here almost every night and look at her calligraphy but I never see it.
I look to my right and remember how she and I took all this down to studs,
the lathe and plaster walls gone, the floor painstakingly stripped of vinyl tile and
linoleum and sanded of years of paint and wax and shellac, the ceiling taken
down.
She and I pulled the moulding off. She and I put the wiring and ductwork
in. She and I put up the sheetrock. She and I sanded the floors. She and I repaired and weatherproofed the windows. She stripped and stained the moulding, milled the new moulding to match, patched and stained and sealed the
floors, re-tiled the hearth, built a mantel and surround, and tuckpointed the
chimney.
And then she hung her art on her craftsmanship.
Its gorgeous. All of it.
I sniff.
Lime.
When did this happen?
I walk down the maple-floored entry hall, on a purple runner, past the
stairs, into the kitchen on a floor tiled in black-and-white hex.
The countertops are glossy black polished concrete, which she and I built
from scratch. The thrifted cabinets I helped her install after shed refinished
them are white with black hardware. The appliances are stainless and the
farmers sink is white enamel, under an unadorned diamond-mullioned window.
The soffits and ceiling are red. There are the same can lights in the ceiling as
there are everywhere else, but over the narrow island there are three big space-age
pendant lights, white, with graduated concentric circle shades. I think she called
it a Saturn lamp. She searched high and low for those and found some on Etsy,
in bad condition. Now theyre not. The door that used to go to the back porch is
boarded up because Calvin wouldnt hesitate to open it and jump.
The kitchen is spotless but for a huge ugly red-orange Crockpot on the
counter with delicious smells coming out of it.
God, that woman can cook.
I turn slowly, taking all this in, and walk back into the hallway, then up the

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maple stairs to the first landing, where theres another diamond-mullioned


window over a picturesque reading nook. Up the next half flight to the second
floor where the kids live there are four smallish bedrooms and a bathroom.
Kaias room is immaculate, from crown moulding to baseboards. The other
three rooms are a mess, but not because Blythe hasnt made them beautiful.
This house was built in 1905, and the closet space was almost nonexistent. She
built closets a professional organizer would envy. She built Murphy beds that,
when put away, turn into long desks. She thrifted and refinished every other
piece of furniture the kids have. She sewed the drapes for their rooms and declared it the most difficult project in the whole place.
She restored the cast iron radiators, but theyre only for decoration because
previous owners had rendered them inoperable when they put in central heat
and air. Blythe railed about that for a couple of months when she was told it
didnt matter how much money she could spend, they would never become operable. The bathroom is as modern as her kitchen, except for the speakeasy gin
tub, which she re-enameled then retrofitted to be used as a shower.
I continue up to the third floor. Half of its done: the common space over
Gwens bedroom is Blythes office, which has a balcony overlooking the back
yard. The long desks consist of salvaged doors on file cabinets with beveledglass tops. Lazy chic, she calls it. There are large rolls of plans scattered here
and there, and papers are stacked everywhere. Its not a wreck, but its a controlled mess.
Shes dithering on building a kitchenette here to make this a rental unit. Its
right over the kitchen sink, which is right over the laundry room. Itd be easy
enough to run the plumbing up here. Id shut my yap about her bedroom for a
while if she did that, because that would make this house an investment if she
rents it out, or would halve again its sale price.
Her bathroom is identical to the one below, but it has two doors: one from
the hall and one that connects to her room through a closet.
Thats where things get rough.
The closet is dark, with one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. The carpet
is dog-shit brownor would be if it werent so threadbare the horsehair padding didnt show through. I go into her bedroom proper and see what this
house looked like when she started. Crumbling plaster exposing the lathe. Old
faded and friable wallpaper on the plaster thats still attached to the lathe. The
door to an outside landing and staircase, just next to the chimney, is boarded

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over. Theres a bay window overlooking the street, and her double bed is off in
the darkest corner in the room. Its neatly made, but the bedspread is worn dingy white chenille and there are bits of plaster from the ceiling on it. I look up.
Its worse than the walls and there are two bare bulbs hanging from it. She has a
shit dresser and a chair that needs to be junked.
I sigh and head downstairs. Its too damned depressing, her room. Shes
done with the speakeasy and Calvins taken over the space for his toys and projects, which she encouraged. She spent more time on her laundry room than
shes spent on her bedroom. She argued that she spends more time in the laundry room than in her bedroom, which is probably true.
I go back to the living room, sit in one of the chairs and look around me,
taking in details, remembering. She rehabbed every piece in the house. Everythings from the thrift store, but you wouldnt know it because her goal was to
make it look as if shed bought it new from a high-end store. She was given the
red and purple fabric for the couch because it was in bits and pieces. She sewed
them all together until they were in huge sheets and then used them to reupholster the sofa, chairs, and ottoman. The Danish modern coffee tables and end
tables are made from scrap wood she scavenged from around town and planed
into curves by hand. So are the dining room table and sideboard.
fucking pigsty
I am thoroughly ashamed of myself.
I come here almost every night. I eat here and work here. I read interesting
books to Kaia and tuck her in bed. I play catch in the back yard with Ryan and
Minecraft with Calvin. I help Gwen with her homework. I write posts for the
blog. Ive been doing this for four years.
I helped Blythe do some of this work. I was her forklift and extra pair of
hands.
How can I not remember? How have I not noticed, not seen?
I know exactly what shes done and how she did it, but I never paid attention to the final result not because shes a pro, I realize, but because I resent this
house so much.
Why?
I dont know.
I get up, go outside, and walk around. The large covered front porch
stonework is solid and clean with a fresh coat of whitewash. The concrete floor
is painted decoratively to mimic a rug. The ceiling is white beadboard with a

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ceiling fan and a porch swing hanging from it. Three sides of the first floor, the
foundation, and the chimney are done in stone, as Shirtwaists usually are, but
all the stone on this one is whitewashed. The bright red siding above the first
floor is fresh and the white trim is gleaming. The black-shingled roof is new.
Blythe did all that by herself. Yes, I helped when she asked, but she didnt
ask much.
The only thing thats amiss is the rickety staircase that goes to the third
floor. Its blocked off. If she decides to make the third floor a rental shell have to
rehab it. Otherwise, I want her to get rid of it and wall in the door to her bedroom. But thats part of the bedroom project and she seems not to care if it ever
gets done.
I dont care what she says or how clean it is, her bedroom is a fucking pigsty.
I amble on down to the driveway to the mess of a back yard. The bottom
right corner of the house where the back porch was attached is now bare and
almost black from mold and wood rot, so I hadnt noticed how much bigger
and lighter the house looks without it. She wanted a red house, which isnt a
good way to make a house visually bigger. But without the lean-to, its bigger
than it looked when it was a beige that looked filthy even after a thorough
cleaning.
The deck is going to be huge. I imagine it and am impressed with how
much more space it will add, especially when she installs the lateral cable railing
and paints it white, installs the French door, and patches the siding. Itll be an
outdoor living room.
Huh. I imagine some more and realize she was right all along. Something had
to be done with the back porch other than rehabbing it a third time, so why not
build a huge deck that doubles as a carport? Why not make it a grand outdoor
living space?
No wonder shes gettingand stayingmad at me. I give her shit about
the house as if it all looks like her bedroom. I give her shit about the deck she
really did need to replace a back porch that leached value from the house. I give
her shit about moving out of a house she almost single-handedly resurrected. I
give her shit because Ive wanted her and the kids to move in with me since she
sold the mcmansion and she refuses to.
I hear her diesel engine coming around the corner. I get out of the way so
she can pull into the driveway.
Grampa! the kids shout as they all tumble out of the truck as if they didnt

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see me last night, and the night before last, and the night before that. Kaia
throws herself at me. Gwen practically does. Ryan punches my arm as he goes
by and Calvins decided hes a puppy, running and yipping and barking.
Yo, Cal! I call. Go take your medicine.
He chirps, Im a potato! and dutifully darts into the house.
Thats his latest, she says with a smile as she slides out of the truck. Shes
dressed as she usually is, more or less. What are you doing out here?
Thinking youre right about the deck, I say easily.
She looks surprised. Then happy. Whys that?
I shrug. Back porch was a piece of shit.
Her nose wrinkles when her smile widens.
I smile back. Im not proud. When Im wrong, I say so.
I know. She turns to grab her toolbag out of the bed. Had to go help one
of the moms, she explains when I raise my eyebrow in question.
She does that a lot, fixes stuff for the moms in the pickup lane at school,
which is one of the things getting in the way of Blythe acquiring a BFF. Im not
sure why they need her to do it, though, because anybody who can afford to
send their kids to that school can afford a contractor. So I ask.
They dont have to wait, she answers simply and lets me take her tools.
Tighten a bolt or put a washer in a faucet. Stuff like that. And they trust me to
do it right the first time. We walk into the house and again I smell lime underneath that delicious dinner. Nothing remains of the smells that assaulted me
four years ago, the ones Ive been carrying around in my nose all this time.
Okay, guys! she yells as she starts up the staircase. Get on with dinner!
The kids set the table while I grab the sourdough and start slicing it, whip
up a salad, and parcel out beer, pop, and milk.
Hey, hey! Jerry booms from the entry hall. Whats for dinner?
Hes supposed to knock. Blythes told him several times hes not permitted
to just walk in the house. I may have a key and access to the security system and
practically live here myself, but its not my house, either, so I dont say anything.
Hey, Pop-pop, somebody says absently. Hi, Nana.
Hello! Winnie calls.
Hey there, Finn, Jerry says as he strolls down the hall toward the kitchen.
Whatcha doin in here, cooking? Thats Blythes job.
I have lots of things to say to that, none of them nice. I settle for Hard to
screw up a salad, and get the butter out of the refrigerator.

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Lord, Finn, the next thing you know, shell have you washing her panties.
I ignore that because the only other appropriate response is a right hook.
Dad, Blythe says from the stairwell, this is a two-butt kitchen. Go sit
down at the table.
I glance at Jerry to see how he takes Blythes order. Not well. If Blythe notices it when she breezes into the kitchen, she gives no indication of it.
I give him the side-eye and he collects himself. Dont have to tell me twice!
he says, faking jocularity.
I say nothing as I toss the bread into a basket, but Blythe sidles up to me.
Did he ring the doorbell or knock? she asks low.
No.
She sighs and begins dishing up whatevers in the Crock-pot, yelling for
Ryan to come get it and put it on the table, and says nothing more about it.
The evening goes as it usually does. Jerry and Winnie leave right after dinner, the kids do dishes, then settle in at the dining room table to do their
homework while Blythe and I work right along with them, and then its bedtime. Blythe and I work for a few more hours. I leave around midnight, set the
alarm, lock the door, and head out to my quiet, perfect house.

7:
SINGLE WHITE FEMALE
BLYTHE

Everyone from last Saturday shows up this Saturday. Ryans friends and Scott
are seduced by the money and, I suspect, hours of being treated like men instead of silly little boys or randy teenagers.
Bryces wife and son show up with him. Duncan wants to watch the concrete get poured and Bryce wants him there, but he doesnt want him to get in
the way, so Giselle decided to accommodate both of them. I greet her with a
smile and a warm but totally fake Nice to meet you finally! because regardless
what Finn says, Im still intimidated by any woman who beat him in court.
She returns the greeting quietly and with a reserved smile. Shes keeping
her distance from me, although not Finn. Shes even more reserved with everyone else, and I watch for a few minutes.
Then I get it. Ive seen that smile before, heard that tone, read that body
language. From Kaia. Meeting new people. If shes meeting someone new who
has a shared passion or if she has something to say, shes as outgoing and chatty
as I am. If she doesnt, she keeps her mouth shut, not smiling, just wanting people she doesnt know out of her space. Giselles not a stone-cold bitch. Shes shy,
and the only person here she can talk and laugh and joke with is Finn because
she already knows him.
Ive watched and felt Kaias discomfort, and I can see and feel Giselles now,
too, because its practically flooding me. No, I have no reason to be envious. I
cant imagine not being able to talk to people, so much as to say hi, without a
reason to do so. Now I wonder if Kaia will grow up being seen as a stone-cold
bitch, an outcast and the subject of vicious gossip. Maybe Im not as nice as I
thought, because I listen to the gossip and do nothing about it.

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My parents are there, mom to feed and water us, and dad to guzzle Pepsi
and hang with the neighbors. He declines Gwens invitation to go to Finns
house with her, Calvin, and Kaia for the day to keep Calvin out of the way. I
watch her expression go from a tidge hurt to irritated before she turns away.
Gwen, why isnt Pop-pop coming? Calvin asks.
Does it matter? she snaps and storms up the driveway. Kaia turns, but not
before I see a sly smile on her face.
Finn and I exchange unamused glances.
Posey sets up her cameras while Finn, Bryce, and I recheck the footing
holes, plumb and level, adjust the concrete forms, and readjust. The real work
begins the minute we all start dragging the rebar from the pile by the fence and
laying it on the gravel, and we have a lot of gravel to cover. Bryce allows Duncan
to help, tells us how to lay it, and shows us how to tie it. Finn and I, Ryan, his
two friends, Scott, and Bryce teaching Duncan, finish just in time for the concrete truck to show up and back down the driveway. Bryce calls the shots for
the whole pour, starting with the deck footings, in which we set the bolts.
The day passes in a blur of gravel and cement, floats and trowels and
brooms, levels and strings, with the neighborhood, Giselle and Duncan, and my
dad looking on. My dad offers suggestion after suggestion that we ignore until
he throws a fit, at which point, Bryce turns, leans on his floats handle, looks at
my dad, and says calmly, One more word, and I will bury you in this slab.
My dad fluffs up like a banty rooster. The neighbors move away a little as if
Bryce is about to squash him like a bug. Finn and I exchange another look, but
this time we have to look away from each other or else well burst out laughing.
My dad marches up the other side of the house, yells for my mom, and leaves.
Finally, finally, were finished. We clean up. All six males sprawl out over
the lawn underneath a sprinkler. Duncans standing behind Giselle, draped over
her shoulders to watch, but his eyelids keep drifting closed. Poseys gone home.
I text Ryans friends parents to tell them theyve got very worn-out sons who
need to be wheeled into the shower on a dolly. I then flop on the ground by
Finn. Gwen calls out from the top of the driveway, and Finn yells at her not to
let Calvin near the wet concrete.
She yells at Scott about some party theyve both been invited to.
He pretends not to hear.
The nice thing, I decide, about recruiting Gwens boyfriend to helptall,
strapping quarterback that he isis that since high school football games are

62

MORIAH JOVAN

on Fridays, hes too tired to do anything afterward. And if hes over here helping
on Saturdays because he wants the money, hes too tired to take Gwen out to
their school friends parties.
She yells louder and he gathers up the strength to yell back, Im going home!
This, of course, makes Gwen mad. She screeches at him, herds her siblings
into the house, and proceeds to let out an ear-piercing scream. Because its cool
enough to have the windows open, we can hear her every footstep, her door
slam, and another scream.
Gawd, he mutters.
Im looking up at the darkening sky, then look at Finn, whos looking at me.
Ten, we say in unison.
Scott starts. Wut?
Finn says, She wont be back out until ten oclock tomorrow morning. You
can tell how long shes going to sulk by the volume.
Bryce laughs, groans, and with Giselles help, gets slowly to his feet. So does
Scott. Ryans friends parents show up and exclaim over the progress weve
made. Finn and I get up, shake everybodys hands, say thank you, and call See
you next week? as the fathers have to practically drag their ragged sons to the
street. The Kenards and Scott plod off toward their cars, leaving me and Finn
alone in the back yard.
Finn isnt physically demonstrative. But sometimes, after an argument or
after having family drama or both in this case, hell put his arm around me, pull
me close, and press my head to his shoulder.
He does that now, standing with me in my back yard, looking at the concrete. Its beautiful. By comparison, the driveway looks like crap. Im going to
have to do it, too. I study the house from primitive stone foundation, up two
floors to the third-floor widows walk set into the gabled roof. Finn hates this
house, this house that was once a wreck but isnt anymore.
I sigh heavily, relaxing into his body, wrapping my arm around his waist.
Hes solid. Warm. My best friend. We fight, yes, but I cant imagine my life
without him.
I had a vision for this house, Finn, I say quietly.
I know, he says, his baritone vibrating in his chest, against my shoulder. I
trust your vision. You know that.
No, you dont. If you did, you wouldnt act like she looks the same as she
did four years ago. Im not fishing for compliments. Im not asking you to spend

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fifteen hundred words publicly praising my skill and taste. Im asking you to look
at her and see what Ive done instead of trying to get from the front door to the
dining room as fast as possible so you dont have to be tainted by the sight of my
thrift-store furniture. The least you could do is stop calling her Shithole.
He sighs. Im sorry, he says low. I youve done a good job.
Dont patronize me.
He doesnt say anything for a couple of moments, but his arm tightens
around me and he kisses the top of my head. Plan to have Christmas over at
my house. All of us. Jess and Ken and theirs, too. You and the kids come over
their last day of school and Ill let you go the day before they have to go back to
school.
I laugh wearily. You make it sound like youre going to take us hostage, not
throw us in the pool and shower presents on us.
Maybe you need to be taken hostage.
I pull away from him, confused. What?
He shrugs. You need to start dating. Find somebody.
No, I dont, I say, still bewildered.
He slides me a glance. So you were joking about getting it on with Bryce? I
think not. Many a true word is spoken in jest.
I snort. Ill tell you the same thing I told Gwen. Im not blind. Just because
I look and wonder doesnt mean Ill touch, much less buy.
Hrmph. Blythe, really. I told you I didnt expect you to stay single and Ive
been thinking about it all week. Maybe its time.
I sigh. It wont be time until Im willing to put up with the hassle of dating.
Its not that Im out of practice. Its that Ive never done any. I sat with Darren at
lunch his first day in my school to help him fit in, and three years later we were
married. Furthermore, no man in his right mind wants to get into a long-term
relationship with a woman whos got four kids.
He opens his mouth to say something. Closes it. Opens it again. I cant argue that, he mutters.
There is a guy, though, I admit reluctantly, in the pickup lane at school.
Winter Ticass dad. Dustin. Id go out with him if he asked.
Finn tenses a little. Oh. Why dont you ask him out?
Ive thought about it, but I just cant do it. Im not that brave. Not
brave enough to approach somebody who doesnt know I exist. Have you been
thinking about finding someone?

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He sighs. I tried, he mutters, and my heart trips up a little. Nothing ever


worked out.
I say nothing for a few seconds, trying to digest that, Finn dating, having a
relationship with a woman, how much Ill miss him when he moves on.
He will eventually and I need to prepare myself. Its not natural, a man his
age with his vitality, staying single as if hes still mourning his wife. Some womanll come along whos just perfect for him, theyll fall in love, and Finn will leave
because there wont be any room in his new life for me.
Us, I mean. The kids and me.
I dont feel so good and I close my eyes. Finn.
Huh?
Were pathetic, arent we?
Yup.

Thx for the post. I know ppl are hating on you bad, but Im gratful.
I showed the vid to the guy. He didnt know you could rent Bobcats and stuff. He thought we were going to have to jack it by
hand. Anyway thx Ill be the only one following the deck blog, but
maybe ppl will get off youre back now its not on the main page.

No, the regulars are not getting off my back and lurkers are coming out of
lurkdom to bitch, but the deck blogs numbers are astronomically high for an
unwanted brand new blog with three posts. The landing page rates are unexpectedly high and on average, people who stay on the blog stay as long as it
takes a normal person to read one post and watch one video. I take a screenshot and email it to Finn and my mom with a razzberry emoji.
Neither of them responds.
At dinner when I poke my mom, she very pointedly ignores me.
I look at Finn expectantly. He rolls his eyes. I told you you were right, he
drawls with wry amusement. Would you like me to kiss your feet too?
I grin because now I have been thoroughly vindicated.
Right? my dad asks Finn, shocked. About what?
Finn slides him a glance. The deck. It increases the resale value of the
house.

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It wont make its cost back! he argues.


Take it up with Blythe, Finn says smoothly, gesturing toward me. Im
sure shes already had an appraiser out and figured her profit margin to the
nearest dime.
Hrmph, my dad says, but doesnt ask me anything.
How was your day? I ask Finn sweetly, my mood lightening even more.
Good, he says with a firm nod. He starts to talk and the table quiets. Finn
with work stories is always interesting, even to the kids. Id taken them to see
their grandfather in the courtroom and to his office building to show them that
when he said he was working and wouldnt be around for a while, he really meant
it.
I scowl in thought. Or did he? If hed been dating, not all of those nights he
left his chair empty he wouldve been spent working.
Meh. I dont blame him.
But why would he lie to me about it? Its not as if he was cheating on me or
anything. You cant cheat on your daughter-in-law just because you spend almost every non-working hour with her.
Hey, Blythe, Ive got a date tonight. Cover for me with the kids?
Oh, awesome. Whats she like?
Shes a lawyer
That went without saying.
Brilliant. Gorgeous. Well-travelled.

How was your date?


Incredible. I took her here and there and we did this and that and we talked about
Nietszche and Goethe and Prufrock and euthanasia.
Oh yeah?
Best sex Ive ever had.
TMI.
My chest hurts because I could never talk about those things with anyone.
So besides having four kids, stretch marks, a miter saw and a vast collection of
sports bras, Im not the least bit interesting and I still dont understand whats
special about Prufrock.
My mom asks a few questions and hes happy to answer them, to laugh and
joke around with her. Hes always been happy to talk to my mom; they were
pals the first time they met.

66

MORIAH JOVAN

My gregarious mother, being a kind busybody and natural problem-solver,


had rolled out the welcome wagon as soon as the Marstons moving trucks
rolled away.
Shed known by their furniture and Miriams clothes that this neighborhood was a huge step up for them from their previous circumstances, and that
the wife would be lost, intimidated, and frightened. She would have no idea
what would be expected of her as the wife of a successful attorney or as the
mother of children who would be going to an affluent school or as an addition
to the neighborhood clique.
My mom knew this because shed already been through it.
During their first shopping trip, Miriam refused to buy anything for herself
because theyd been poor so long. She was unable to conceive of the kind of
money Finn was making by that time, and she was horrified by the pricesand
it was a consignment store! It took a little bit of work on my moms part, but
she finally managed to dress Miriam appropriately.
My mom had eased Miriams way from where she started: middle-class
teenage girl who got herself in trouble, to a shanty in Harlem married to a boy
she barely knew while being pregnant with his child and trying to live with his
mother, to a small ranch house in a still-questionable part of town and another
child, to an upscale tract subdivision with closely-set three-thousand-squarefoot mcmansions where every driveway had a boat or an RV and every other
back yard had a swimming pool.
The Marstons had all three.
Finn would have moved up to a bona fide estate after a few years, but Miriam put her foot down. She was in that neighborhood to stay.
So now Finn and my mom are reminiscing a little bit and laughing.
My dad, whos still mad about Finn letting Bryce talk to him that way, and
pouting because Finn generally pays more attention to my mother than to him,
listens as Finns work story gathers steam.
told him he better never talk to my paralegal like that ever again.
Then whatd he do? Ryan asks.
Finn shrugs. Forgot. Did it again.
Whatd you do then, Grampa? Calvin asks.
Fired him.
Gwen gasps. Right then?
Yep.

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She doesnt know what to do, what to think. She thinks Finn hung the
moon and the stars, but her teenage sense of justice is outraged.
Finn doesnt challenge her. He simply asks, Whats on your mind, Gwen?
I I dont think that was fair, she mutters hesitantly, as if Finn will disapprove and send her into a crashing depression.
Why not? His tones gentle. It gets that way when hes teaching and this is
a teaching moment.
Hes new. New people make mistakes.
He was told his mistake. He did it again.
Yeah, but
But what?
You yell at us all the time for making the same mistakes over and over
again.
He chuckles, but then sobers a little. Gwen, your father taught me something a long time ago that I have practiced ever since and it has never failed me.
I blink and sit up a little straighter. So do the kids. They want to hear stories about their dad. I want to know what Darren could have possibly taught
Finn.
When your dad, he begins with the tone of a natural storyteller, was a
teenager, he worked at a used-games store. Dungeons and Dragons. Video
game cartridges and consoles. Stuff like that. My kids have no reference for any
of it. Comic books. Sci-fi and fantasy and adventure novels.
And in the back, behind a discreet curtain that matched the wall color, was
the adult fantasy section. I snort. Finn shoots a grin at me.
Anyway, he continues, he managed the place in the evenings and on
weekends.
Which was why we didnt date much. We were attached at the lips at
school until I was a sophomore when he graduated and went to college. He
planned big birthday parties for me, sent me flowers for no reason, and occasionally popped into school to bring me lunch. He escorted me to both my
proms and both homecomings and slept with me almost every night from
the moment I turned sixteen.
Then we got married.
He had an employee who was awful. Wouldnt straighten the books or
vacuum the carpet. Wouldnt stop harassing customers who bought things he
didnt like.

68

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I bite my lip to keep from laughing.


But he should have been fired, Gwen declares.
Finn nods with alacrity. Oh yes. I wouldve. I advised your dad to do that,
too. He wouldnt. He said, I dont think thats the right thing to do, Dad. I
said, What do you think the right thing to do is? He said, I dont know yet,
but Ill figure it out.
Im really interested now. Ive never heard this story.
Did he? my dad asks, surprising me. Figure it out, I mean?
Finn glances at him. Eventually. He was pulling his hair out by the time he
did, though. By that time, the only reason he didnt fire him was because the guy
would work graveyards and he was dependable.
My mom and dad both say, Ah.
Finn has to take a side trip to explain to the kids why a dependable graveyard employee can get away with so much. But one day, he overheard the guy
on the phone. He was upset. Almost crying, I guess. Darren was curious and
asked him what was up. I dont remember what he told your dad. The important
part was that your dad figured out he had some problems and one of them was
that he just wasnt very likable. Nobody liked him, including your dad.
Well, if he acts like a jerk, Gwen huffs.
Maybe he just didnt know how to act in public and needed someone to
teach him. He slides a glance at Calvin. Gwen and Ryan nod in comprehension. He wasnt very attractive. Looked and dressed weird, but not on purpose
to make a statement. He didnt bathe or wash his hair. It was like he didnt
know better. He looked unlikable. He stunk. Your dad decided to be nice to him
no matter what. He had to look for the good things about him, then it wasnt as
hard to treat him well and teach him how to act in the world.
He told him to bathe every day and wash his hair. He took him shopping
for a uniform. Finn makes air quotes. Took him for a haircut. Treated him
with a little bit of kindness and thought. Came to his defense when customers
complained about him. Let him know he had his back and what do you know,
he turned into a good employee. So, Gwen, when I tell a brand new lawyer to
stop being an ass to my paralegals, I expect him to do that.
Then why dont you be nice to him?
Three reasons: First, by the time he gets to me, he should be well socialized enough not to give me shit. Hes not some socially awkward graveyard clerk
with B.O. Second, he should know not to piss off his support staff because they

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can make or break you. Third, I value my support staff more than I value an
arrogant kid straight out of law school who should know better. I was letting
my support staff know I have their backs.
She still doesnt get it.
Lets try it this way, Finn says, looking at Gwen. If your mom started
dating
My eyes bug out and I gasp. So does everyone else.
Finn holds his hand up but doesnt take his attention from Gwen. No,
hear me out. Say your mom brings a guy home and hes really nice. Awesome.
Treats her well and gives her roses and takes her nice places. He makes her
happy. Furthermore, he treats you guys like youre the most important people
in the world. Youd be okay with that, right?
No, she wouldnt, but Gwen cant really say that and Finn goes on without
requiring her to answer.
But then what if he shows up one day and your moms not home and he
starts being a jerk to you? And you tell your mom, and she believes you, so she
tells him to stop being a jerk to you. He apologizes and things go on for a while
and hes nice to you, even in private. But then he gets comfortable again and
He does it again, Calvin says, now angry at this imaginary boyfriend I
dont have.
If she kept going out with him, then youd feel like you werent important
to her, right?
Finns done with the object lesson. Gwen says nothing, but her eyes are glittering with tears and her mouth is trembling. She looks away and swipes at her
cheek. Finn reaches out and takes her chin gently in his palm. Gwen, Im not
trying to embarrass you. My point is that there are times you nurture someone
and times you cut em loose. Your dad taught me to think about when to do
what. I dont always get it right, but when I dont know what I should do, I ask
myself, What would Darren do?
Grampa! Calvin pipes up. What are you going to do to that jerk whos
dating Mama?
Finn flashes me a smirk and I grind my teeth.
Im not dating anyone, Cal.
He ignores me. Can you fire him from being Mamas boyfriend?
Finns grin gets wider and hes looking at me, the crows feet and lines
around his mouth carving into his skin. I glare at him.

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MORIAH JOVAN

I guess that would depend on how happy he makes her, he drawls smugly.
Im dying. Not from the conversation, per se, but it churns up things within
me: nauseating dread at going out, meeting men, dating; exhaustion from even
the thought of having to integrate someone into the household; cringing mortification at having sex with someone I dont know, even if he is imaginary.
Considering Id just been bitching to myself about my lack of appeal, my
nausea at the thought of a real relationship shocks me.
Hrmph. The payoff isnt big enough for the hassle, I grumble.
Mom, comes another voice. Ryan, whos easygoing and usually game for
anything. I look at him and hes returning that look intently, unamused, looking
so much like me its unnerving. I dont want a new dad, he says slowly and
with precision, issuing a warning, if not a threat.
The adults sober.
Youre not going to get one, I say matter-of-factly. I have no interest in
getting married again.
All four children deflate with relief. My mom is chuckling at their cute territorialism. Finns watching me intently, his smile gone, as if to ask me if I really
mean that.
Finn, my dad says, sitting back and crossing his arms over his chest, disturbing this communication between me and my father-in-law. I knew youd
raised a good pack of kids and you know I thought the world of Darren, but Im
really impressed youd admit your son taught you something.
Finn shrugs. Im not proud, he says simply. Ill take truth wherever I get
it, and in this case, I was interested in how hed handle it. I watched, thinking
hed come to me and say You were right, Dad. Instead he came to me and said,
I figured it out. I was really proud of him, proud he could teach me something
so profound when he was so young.
I look away while my dad carries on about Finns fortitude in admitting it,
and the children beg Finn for more daddy stories. Tears sting my eyes, but I
dont know why. This is a melancholy moment, not a grief one, and yet I grieve.
Why? Because Id never heard this story before? Because its moments like these
I miss having a man who loves me and wants me?
When I turn back to my family, Finns looking at me again, his expression
now asking me why Im upset. He knows me too well not to know what Im
feeling.
I shrug helplessly.

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The conversation rolls on around me. One would think wed all eventually
run out of things to talk about, but it doesnt seem like it. Words pour out, all
worn, arranged differently from day to day, usually saying the same things. Occasionally, like tonights story, theres something brand new. Maybe we talk so
much to discover those new things.
I knew everything there was to know about Darren Marston.
Half an hour ago.
Darren used to tell me about his dad, how awesome he was, but I didnt see
it. Mr. Marston intimidated me, but then, when I was seventeen, intimidation
turned into terror.
We were at a football game. I was cheering. Jessica Marston was with her
friends somewhere in the stands. Ken Marston was a second-string wide receiver. Darren was at work. My mom and dad, and Mr. and Mrs. Marston were in
the bleachers behind the cheer squad.
Just before halftime, we cheerleaders heard a scuffle behind us and turned
to see Mr. Marston dragging the school bullys father down the bleachers. Once
the man was on the ground, Mr. Marston punched him a couple of times in the
face and ribs, then left him lying on the ground, unconscious, to return to the
bleachers and sit quietly beside Mrs. Marston, rub her back, and pull her close.
She was crying, and turned into him for comfort. Mr. Marston dug for a
handkerchief and wiped away her tears while an ambulance came to take the
bully away.
It took me a good two years into my marriage not to cringe away from Finn
because of that incident, though Miriam put herself between us to ease my
fright and his impatience. It was difficult for me to imagine him any other way,
but he raised Darren, who was practically a saint and worshipped the ground
Finn walked on. Jessica and Ken were feisty, funny, got good grades, didnt
screw around, and did their own things regardless what anyone else at school
was doing.
I understood, somehow, that people like Darren and Jessica and Ken didnt
happen in a vacuum. But I could never shake the look of snarling animal rage on
Mr. Marstons face when he put a man in the hospital in front of hundreds of
witnesses with no consequences.
Then Darren died and when I came out of my fog, I didnt fear Mr. Marston anymore.
No, I burst out, stilling everyone. I dont believe that.

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Finn looks at me, even more confused now. Dont believe what?
I dont believe he taught you that. You taught him. Darren treated his employee the way you treated Darren. The way you treat Jessica and Ken. And all
their friends. I gesture around the table. The way you treat all of us.
Finn blinks and looks down vaguely, as if thinking about that.
Well, thats what I was saying! my dad protests. In a roundabout way, I
guess.
You do everything roundabout, Pop-pop, Calvin says matter-of-factly,
which makes everyone laugh except Finn.
And me.
Im still watching him. He raises his head finally and looks at me. For a long
time. I look back.
Finally, he mouths, Thank you, though his lips barely move.
I smile at him, notice for only about the thousandth time how ruggedly
handsome he is and wonder how long itll be before he falls in love with someone and leaves me.

8:
THE REVEAL
FINN

I dont know why, but that conversation has me rattled. It was my fault,
bringing an imaginary boyfriend into it, which just devolved from there. Why
isnt she dating? She should be dating. That asshole she wants to ask her out
should get off his duff She should work up a little courage to ask him out
Yeah, I know shes lonely for a female friend, but it never occurred to me
until I saw her watching my best friend like she was ready to get laid right
then that she might be lonely.
Im in the shower.
I stop scrubbing my hair.
I can still see that gleam in her eye, the lusty little glances she tossed at him.
I scrub harder.
She doesnt act lonely.
Shes happy most of the time unless her blog comments go south as they
did with the deck, or she offers her expertise to Missouri Bridge to Shelter, a
housing charity, and gets yet another rejection.
Dear Mrs. Marston, Thank you for your interest. Were fully staffed and serviced at
this time, but if you would like to sponsor
Translation: Youre a rich dilettante stay-at-home mom with a mommy blog and a
savior complex to kill time because youre not qualified to do anything but wipe runny noses
and change diapers. You dont impress us. Send cash.
Oh, I could grease those wheels a bit. Easily. I know everybody on every
board of every charity in Missouri and Kansas. But she would hate me for it and
I wont go behind her back.
I respect her too much to do that, even if Im tempted.

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MORIAH JOVAN

She moved into DIY Shitholeshit, Bestieto be authentic, she says. Or


as authentic as she can manage. If one day she got a call asking her for help or
responding to one of her offers, shed be over the moon. If she then found out
shed gotten it because Id dropped a few words in the right ears
Shed never speak to me again.
It would be a betrayal of everything shes accomplished since Darren died.
On the other hand, there is one nonprofit in town that desperately needs
her helpand shell never find out about that if I can help it.
Its an illegal under-the-table inner city racket one of Giselles cousins runs.
Very few people know about it, people who will fund it in cash, in person, without acknowledging the charity, reporting it, or writing off the cash. The Dunham family does. I know there are a couple of movers and shakers elsewhere in
the country who do, but theyre bound to the Dunhams by history, loyalty, and
friendship. Just like I am.
The charity doesnt even have a name and you have to know where to go to
find a giant tatted-and-pierced ginger because nobodys going to tell you where
Felix LaMontagne is.
Hes been looking for someone to help transform shipping containers into
fully-equipped tiny houses for the homeless. Blythe would love doing that, but
shed blog it in an effort to be helpful and raise awareness, which would land
him in federal prison for tax evasion.
Again.
Years ago, he came home from some third-world backwater preaching for his
church and promptly set up shop as a Mormon St. Francis of Assisi over on Independence Avenue. His philosophical and ideological choice not to set up as a
503(c), keep books, or file tax returns was deliberate. He knew what could happen.
It did.
And, par for his familys course, they hailed him as a political prisoner and
feted the bastard for his civil disobedience. Only the Dunhams would consider a
stint in federal prison for tax evasion a worthwhile achievement. They were only
marginally less approving of Wesley Snipes, and that was only because hes not
a Dunham.
According to Bryce, the church refused to excommunicate LaMontagne
despite numerous calls to do so, but it also refuses to acknowledge his existence.
Thats no big deal. All the churches he works with over there do, to stay out of
the IRSs way.

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Im not sure if Blythes insistence on being authentic is cute or just eyerolling. She doesnt know authentic and it would kill her spirit if she saw it up
close and personal. Felix demands his sponsors deliver in person so they can see
it, see what hes trying to do. He recruits people who can teach and mentor folks
who have potential, but need training and encouragement. Its the days Im
down on Independence Avenue to drop a wad in Felixs safe I feel like my
childhood and adolescence was damn near like Beaver Cleavers.
I wish Blythe would stop trying to be authentic.
Yeah, I gave her a hammer and a drill and showed her how to use them because I was fucking sick and tired of having to make penny-ante repairs around
her shit-construction mcmansion. I didnt expect shed take to it the way she did.
I made her take remedial English and math at the junior college because I
was fucking sick and tired of reading her nonsensical notes and watching her
tryand failto read a tape measure and add fractions. Nowwell, hell. She
uses AutoCAD like a pro and can figure angles in her head faster than most
people can multiply by two. I didnt expect shed take to college, either.
Those were the only two things I did for her, and I did them so I wouldnt
knock her head off for being so fucking stupid. Yes, I taught her how to build,
but only because she asked me to show her some more things. Then more. I
didnt think about it much and I didnt take her seriously until I heard I want to
build my own house. By myself. That was when I realized that if she kept going the
way she was, she might be able to.
The resther bachelors degree, her precise math, her technical writing
skills, her business managementshe did all that herself.
Now I know shell build her own house.
Yet
no man in his right mind wants to get into a long-term relationship with a woman
whos got four kids.
Shes right. Furthermore, even if she didnt have children, I dont know
many men whod find what Blythe does to be admirable. Impressive, yes. Admirable, no. Thats what contractors are for, especially when one has the kind of
money she does. No matter how good she gets, shes always going to be seen as
an eccentric dilettante to people who send her invitations to society parties in
spite of the fact that she never goes because she doesnt have an & Guest.
Blythes eccentric, no doubt about that. But shes no dilettante. Shes far
better at construction than I, her teacher. Shes better than my contractor box-

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ing coach, who taught me. Shes better than any contractor I have ever been
forced to hire because she wont fix my shit.
Geez, Finn, like you dont know how to shove a light switch in a wall.
I dont mind helping her with her house. I still have a thing for power tools.
But there is no way Im ever again going work on a house I actually live in
or plan to live in. And building one from the ground up? Ill be fucking goddamned to hell if I ever do that.
Blythe Hemming Marston, that silly, stupid girl my son married, turned
herself into a craftsman, draftsman, interior designer, and professional contractor when I wasnt paying attention. I wasnt lying three weeks ago when I
told her there was nothing about her I didnt respect, but I thought she knew
that. Two weeks ago, I stood there looking at the work shes done, seeing it,
and it began to dawn on me that what shes done is beyond amazing and
shes
She is fucking spectacular.
She gets shit from her blog followers; she gets shit from the charities; she
gets shit from her mom and dad; she gets shit from the kids because theyre jealous of their friends houses; and she gets shit from me because she wont move
in with me.
No wonder she decided to go forward with the deck because one random
guy reached out to her with faith and gratitude. No wonder she takes time to fix
her PTA pals houses. No wonder she got insecure the first time she tripped
over a woman I admire.
Blythe is running on her own faith in herself and her vision with no one
supporting her emotionally.
Not even me.
fucking pigsty
God, Im an asshole.
So I cant think of anyone Id be comfortable setting her up with because
what guy is going to want to date a stay-at-home mom with four kids (one of
whom has a basket of tics and looks at the world in bewildering but interesting
ways) and a pet Sawzall, no matter how pretty she is?
I stop scrubbing again and try to remember what Blythe looks like, the way
a man notices a woman instead of a father-in-law looking at his daughter-in-law,
whom hes been looking at for twenty years and still cant place in his mind. It
takes me a while.

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About five-seven, in good shape for a mom of four and looking too young
to have a sixteen-year-old. She has pale skin, curly dark hair past her shoulders
that she wears in a bouncy ponytail most of the time, and happy brown eyes.
Thats it. Thats all I got. Id probably notice more if I saw her in anything other
than boyfriend shorts or cargos, tee shirts, and steel-toed boots.
Come to think of it, I dont think Ive seen her dressed up since Darren
died. The kids have school programs and I go to every one of them, but Ive
never noticed how she dresses for those things. Does she even own a dress? Or
do I just not remember?
Thats entirely possible.
She accused me of not seeing what shes done to her house because I wont
look at it. Shes right. Was right. I looked. I couldnt help it; it smacked me in
the face. I was so stunned, it was all I could do to praise her the little bit I did.
She thought I was patronizing her. I didnt bother to correct her. Ive done it
before.
I sigh.
Honestly, Im torn about her dating.
She does so well on her own. She has vision, purpose, and absolute clarity
as to her goals. Shit, when she was seventeen, she didnt know how to spell the
word goal. She had to get married just so she wouldnt starve to death.
Now shes thirty-four and doesnt need a man and certainly not the way she
needed one when she was eighteen. A man would get in her way, slow her
down. She doesnt need anybody.
Not even me.
God, thats depressing.
She wasnt joking about being willing to tap that, when she was eyestripping Bryce, and the wistful tone of her voice when she told me about
Dustin Ticas let me know she wants something. But I also didnt miss how
green around the gills she went when I made it a little more real than a vague
hope. I havent seen that terrified look on her face since I marched her into the
community college enrollment office.
I shouldnt have said that, especially not in public, putting her on the spot
like that.
The payoff isnt big enough for the hassle.
Frightened or not, her observations valid. I cant disagree, and I dont have
four kids living at home who have to approve, one of whom has now officially

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put his foot down and told her flat out hes going to make life hell for any man
who trespasses his mom.
I cant say I blame him.
She brings a guy home and then suddenly Im persona non grata. No woman in her right mind would choose her dead husbands father over a relationship
with someone wholl love her and take care of her the way I take care of her.
And ways I dont.
Yeah, Im the kids grandfather, but I dont treat them the same way I treat
my other five. Blythes kids have grown up with me being around all the time,
and theyre not going to like having me slotted back to true grandfather status,
taking them on outings a few times a year and seeing them on holidays.
Id also have to host this jackass at my table on Thanksgiving, and I cant
imagine having him sitting there being all snuggly with her.
I snarl at the faucet. Thats disgusting and I dont want to see it.
I sigh and turn off the shower.
Even if I could think of somebody Id be okay setting her up with, I
wouldnt. If she doesnt want to find a man, who am I to try to force one on her?
And I sure as hell am not playing matchmaker for a guy who cant see the
awesome woman right in front of him every afternoon.

9:
TUMBLR
BLYTHE

Finn! I holler down at him to get his attention. He looks up where Im


perched high on a ladder threading a rope through a pulley Ive permanently
attached to the house. I can set the deck posts myself with my system. It just
takes three times as long.
I toss him the end of a rope. He dutifully catches it, starts lashing the first
post, and that starts our workday. I wait. Watch. He and Bryce discuss the best
way to tie it. Theyre finally done, and Finn looks up at me.
Okay.
I grab the rope with a gloved hand and step off the ladder, pulling the post
up as I drop.
Im no Cirque du Soleil performer, but I feel like it when Im playing on my
pulleys. I have lots of practice at this, but one thing I cant do is make my counterbalance go higher if Im not as heavy or if its at a bad angle.
Its at a bad angle.
Ryan and Scott have to come pull on the rope while Bryce and Finn maneuver it in position over the anchors and drive in the temporary nails so I can
come down. We repeat this process with the next one, and a third.
Putting up the posts is the easy part. Getting it all plumb, square, and level
is the hard partespecially when on this mornings walk, after my little chat
with the owner of my house, the one he hasnt sold me yet, I decided I want a
pergola.
Finn glared at me for that.
Wisteria, Finn! I cried. Wisteria!
Oh, for fuck sake, he muttered and turned away with a sigh.

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I really do want the deck. I also want wisteria. And Im used to getting what
I want. Finns still pissy because its not consistent with my mission statement of
authenticity, yet I wont move into his house and treat Bestie here as a job site.
But the deck blogs getting lots of traffic and were filming everything now.
My video kid quit her job to do this, even though I told her it would be a
temporary gig.
It wont be. She and I both know that, because I need help with other
things, social media being at the top of the list. Id like to move her into doing
the books, but thatll take quite a bit of training.
But Im also a little distracted today. The more I look at Bryce, the more I
realize how much I miss the warmth of a strong male body next to mine, having
one between my legs. I dont want Bryce. He only caught my eye because hes a
symbol of the need Ive been ignoring for the last year or so.
Oh, I know I long for sex with a man. Its that I want a man I know well
and love, and I dont have one of those.
Having a no-strings-attached affair has occurred to me before, but I get
that sick feeling of dread in the pit of my belly again. How am I supposed to
find a husband if the thought of a one-night stand makes me ill?
And even if I went looking, whod have me?
I talk to the single mothers at my kids school. We talk while we wait for
dismissal or the end of extracurricular activities or after-school events over cookies and coffee. We talk when I go fix something for them. We talk at PTA
meetings and fundraisers.
There are two kinds of single men they bitch about.
The totally uninterested. Theyre all into porn now. Its easy, quick, and cheap.
No work involved. No girl cooties, no kids, no responsibilities. If you didnt know better,
youd think they were completely asexual. Porn isnt difficult. Theyre disconnected from
real life and they dont see real women as sexual objects because were not perfect. You
think you dont want to be objectified until you find out youre competing with digital
blowup dolls. Theyre not even interested in booty calls.
The pickup artists. They only objectify you. They give you the privilege of going out
with them, theyll take you out to dinner, wine you and dine you, then expect you to put out
immediately because they found your looks to be worthy of them and they spent money on
you. Be careful if you dont go along with the program because theyre the types to assault
you if you turn them down while youre picking out produce in the middle of Wednesday.
Theyll say you were asking for it because your lipstick was too red. If they find you good

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enough to marry, theyll want their suppers on the table when they get home from work. I
could find better if I went to a BDSM club looking for a dom.
I didnt really understand that last part and I didnt want to look stupid, so
I didnt ask. Google let me know I dont want a dom.
Then they bitch about their ex-husbands. My husband left me. I dont know
which he wanted more: getting out of the responsibility or having sex with his assistant,
whos fifteen years younger than me and doesnt have stretch marks. Hes trying to recapture
his youth. Yeah, I was a bitch, but he was a bastard. I was willing to go to counseling, to
work through things. He wasnt. And now hes cheating on the woman he left me for because
shes starting to make demands about permanence, and Im at the doctor for an STD.
She told me that a few months back. I still grimace at the STD part.
Dustins an ex-husband, but I dont know the ex-wife so I dont know the story
there. What if hes just as bad?
Two days ago, while my pals and I were standing there in the pickup lane
at school waiting for our kids to pour out of the doors, they turned on me:
Blythe, youre lucky youre a widow.
I recoiled, horrified.
Your husband died. To hear you tell it, he was a saint. Yeah. Youre lucky and I
dont even care how bad it sounds to say you lucked out while he was alive and you lucked
out when he died. He didnt choose to leave you.
Theyre really angry.
And because theyre so angry, Im not sure how much to believe.
Then again, school and Home Depot are pretty much the extent of my social circle. Not that it has to be, but society has its share of douchebags, too.
If the pretty and outgoing women in my circle are that frustrated, that angry, if theyre having that much trouble finding decent guys, who am I to think
Im going to find anybody especially when I dont go out? Heck, I pick the kids
up in my giant pickup in my work clothes.
Ive talked to the single dads there in the pickup lane. They complain about
their ex-wives and the women who dont like nice guys because they all want
bad boys. Women, so Im told, fall for those pickup artists every time.
Its all a big mess and it overwhelms me. Merely listening to this twists my
mind and heart into knots. I cant imagine enduring it. But my sympathy for the
single dads started vanishing when I noticed how they treat me when we talk.
Theyre careful to stand away from me. If they look at me, they dont look
in my eyes. They dont look at my boobs, either, because Im wearing a tight

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sports bra. They look at my clothes, my truck, whatever I have in the bed of my
truck, and they do it with a slight curl of the lip.
None of them would be caught dead driving what I drive, shopping where I
shop, working with their hands, doing what I do. Its not that they cant. Its
because its beneath them. And because Ive got money and Im a woman, its
downright shameful.
Im slumming in my boyfriend jeans or cargo pants and work boots, my
hair lousy with sawdust, my tee shirts or tanks soaked with sweat and stained
with paint, drywall mud, and sometimes blood. The fact that I get invited to
parties none of them do because I am above them socially is salt in the wound.
Geez, Blythe, what are you trying to prove, anyway?
I was the prettiest girl in high school. I know because I was voted that. I
was homecoming queen and prom queen. Two years in a row. Its not my vanity
speaking; its what others valued about me. Im still hot. When I make an effort.
I make an effort for school events, concerts, recitals, and ball games.
Now thats what Im talking about, Blythe. You clean up nice. Very, very nice.
And then the guy sees me the following Monday afternoon and hes reminded Im slumming because I just dont feel a need to make an effort to pick
up my kids at school. Getting those responses is a test.
There is not one single dad at my kids school whos going to look at me
with anything but slight disgust, even though they know what I look like
cleaned up, even though they know Im far from destitute, even though they
know Im in social circles they want to be in.
I have sympathy for the moms. Maybe they were bitches. Maybe they did
drive their husbands to cheat or whatever. There are three sides to every story,
but its irrelevant to me. They accept me. They admire me, even. They know
what Im doing even if they dont understand why I would want to. Their envy
is the envy of exasperation, frustration, and vague aspiration because not only
am I a widow, Im self-sufficient. I dont have to depend on anybody to do anything for me.
But the dads When they dont even want to touch a pretty, educated,
well-off widow because shes doing a blue-collar job in spite of the fact she can
bump them up the career ladder and social scale, they dont deserve any sympathy. Every time they start in on why women dont like nice guys, that feminists
ruined everything, I say, Maybe their idea of nice and yours arent the same.
Theyd be mad if they got it. They dont.

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If one single dad in the pickup lane talked to me as more than a sounding
board, smiled genuinely, didnt look at me in disgust, and asked me out, Id go.
Hed already know I have four kids and an air compressor, so I would have to
assume he might want a relationship. It wouldnt even have to be Winters dad.
None of them sees me any more than Finn does.
Furthermore, I cant think of one guy at Home Depotand I know them
all by sight and name (and department) (and work schedule)whod ask me
out, either. I might go just to have a good time out with somebody who wont
look at me like Im a freak.
God, Blythe, do you have to be so fucking obvious?
I turn to see Finn almost on top of me with a sledgehammer braced against
his neck, his gloved hand around its handle. Hes not amused now. In fact, hes
downright pissed off.
I scowl. What do you care who I look at and how? Its not like you havent
had your share of women since Miriam died. Dont look at me like that. Do you
expect me to believe youve been celibate for the last eight years? Do you expect
me to believe you were working all those nights you missed dinner? Which you
didnt even have to lie to me about.
Now hes really pissed.
Let me tell you something. I then proceed to dump on him all these
things I hear my kids friends parents say about the opposite sex and their exhusbands. I proceed to enlighten him about the way the single dads look at me
and what they say to me.
Hes listening, a stony expression on his face. I cant tell what hes thinking
and it makes me mad. I can always tell what hes thinking because he lets me.
So screw you. You go banging the pretty young things who
I dont do pretty young things, he grits.
I dont care who you do! I hiss, even though I suddenly realize Im madder
about his working than I thought. But dont jump down my throat for taking in
the scenery. I have a right to my life.
Hes married, he snarls back.
Hes a grown man. He can mind his own business. I dont know what bee
got in your bonnet, because three weeks ago you said you wouldnt stand in my
way. Last week youre practically pushing me out the door to go man hunting.
This week youre on me because Im doing what any healthy woman with eyeballs in her head would do because the mans built like a Greek god. His jaw

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grinds. Do you think Im cheating on Darren, just like the kids would think?
Just for looking? Im not interested. Im looking and being depressed about my
chances and thinking how nice it would be to love a man again, to sleep with
him, to
I stop and look up and away because Im going to cry and Im not going to
tell my father-in-law I need to get laid in the worst way, that Im growing to
hate B.O.B. with a passion. The Dracula Incident showed me that clearly. I feel
the moisture on my cheek and wipe it away with the back of my suede work
glove.
At this point, I grind out, Sweeney Todd is a romance, two men fighting
over a woman, singing about how pretty they are. Id end up in a pie, yeah, but
at least Id get eaten!
I blush furiously. That didnt sound bad in my head.
Blythe.
I ignore him. I stand there with my back to all the people whore working,
talking, laughing. Hopefully the Black Sabbath is covering our heated argument.
What if I did bring someone home? I ask. Are you going to leave me?
Are you going to chase him out? Are you going to stoke the kids jealousy, subtly sic them on him? Youre good at that. Are you going to find ways to keep me
from having Did you mean what you said about not standing in my way or
were you trying to get out of an awkward conversation? But it doesnt matter,
does it?
Do you really think Id do that? he asks, quiet, tense. Drive off a boyfriend? Keep you from being happy?
Well, I didnt until right this very minute. Hes still without expression. I
wish I could be satisfied with porn, I mutter, my chest so tight I almost cant
breathe. You can get real live women. I take a step back and sweep my hand
up and down, head to toe and back. Youre handsome Look at you, James
Bond! wealthy, intelligent, and you dont mind getting dirty. But I I gulp.
I dont know what I could get even if I did meet someone whos not having an
affair with his right hand or his assistant or his wife or his vanity or his money
or his sense of entitlement and self-importance. I have four kids and a profession that disgusts or intimidates men and my father-in-law is my BFF. Im such
a catch.
Do you want me gone? he asks tightly.

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No! I screech, then lower my voice again. Im about to tear my hair out. I
want you to get off my back for drooling all over your hot bestie. It is none of your
business!
With a glare, he steps around me and stalks off.
Im so angry I cant see through my tears, and I need alone time.
So I go the other way, up the driveway, ignoring the rickety staircase to my
third-floor bedroom and head out for a walk around the block. I dont care that
Im leaving my help to fend for themselves instead of working right alongside
them. I dont care that Im leaving it to Finn because I dont want to look at him.
Another argument.
Thats threefour?in two weeks.
Its a record, even for us.
But this is a brand new issue, and Im angry that he can do what he wants
because he has opportunities I dont. And Im angry and jealous that he takes
those opportunities because I dont have any to take.

10:
GROUND FAULT
CIRCUIT INTERRUPTER
FINN

What the fuck is wrong with me?


I knew my reaction was over the top even before I opened my mouth. So
what if shes drooling all over my hot bestie?
The minute I saw her staring at Bryce with that look on her face, my gut
pretzeled. I dont know why.
Built like a Greek god? Dafuq?
Shes gone.
Went to take a walk around the block. Or something. Maybe she went to
her room, that shitty bedroom she hasnt so much as touched in the four years
shes been here. Everything else is getting close to done, almost time for her to
find DIY Shithole 2, but instead of rehabbing her room, she builds a fucking
deck. With a pergola.
She wont leave DIY Shitfuck me, Bestie. She wont rehab her room. She
wont try to find somebody, but the bit about how the single dads treat her
when they deign to talk to her shocks and distresses me. Her boyfriend shorts,
work boots, and gloves are her uniform, her identity. Shes proud of them, what
they represent, what she built herself.
Why wouldnt a man be attracted to her?
I know for a fact two nice guys at Home Depot want to ask her out, but
theyre Well, okay, yeah. They are intimidated by her. They read her blog,
know what she does. When I go alone, they ask me how shes doing, what
shes doing next, and when shes going to be by again. And shes completely

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oblivious, waltzing in and out dressed like a beloved rag doll. A very happy
one.
Shes not happy right now.
Shes restless.
I want to fix that for her, but I cant and now that shes dropped these
bombs on me When did men start preferring porn over a real-live woman?
More to the point, why?
Who are these pickup artists and how fucked-up and insecure does a man
have to be to try out that bullshit?
I head over to Bryce and relay this. He doesnt look surprised. Porns a
problem, he says low. Gaming, too. Giselles single friends are just as upset.
I look at him skeptically. Giselle talks to people?
Internet. He shrugs. Porns easy. Cheap. The men dont have any interest in real women. Too many flaws. Their faces, bodies. Husbands fall into it,
too. Wife just had a kid, shes tired, hed be an ass for asking, he gets online to
get off, and after a while, having sex becomes a chore. With gaming, they just
want to stay in their vicarious adventures. Not only dont they want real women, they dont want real adventure, either. The way I see it, a large number of
men, especially the young ones, have opted out of the evolutionary cycle.
Im utterly and completely shocked. Trophies for everybody? I ask,
stunned. Everybodys a winner, nobodys a loser? No drive to compete, to win?
Is that it?
Couple of things. Rejections not the only thing they risk now. Arrests for
harassment. Lawsuits. Rape, because nobodynot even the girlsknows what
that really is anymore, legally speaking. The slightest thing a woman they dont
know can accuse them of. Its a valid fear. So the guys opt out because they see
the field as white but they cant harvest. Honestly, Im not sure which one is the
chicken and which ones the egg. But think about it, Finn. Were older. We
didnt grow up in a climate where every woman could potentially get you arrested and slapped onto the sex offender registry. We also didnt grow up being able
to sit on our asses and play video games all day. We had to work, had to play
sports, go camping, fix stuff. Church. Scouts. And in my case, piano lessons.
Im still so stunned I can barely form a sentence. I cant imagine that. I
dont have one male colleague who wont go after somebody he wants.
We get off on the process. The hunt. Now, we work our asses off to go into
court with a case that might bomb and we lose millions, and sometimes we

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spend years on one case. Were on the hunt for the payoff, and when we win, its
incredible. That rush, the high.
Or lose.
Catharsis, because at least its over. Then we go hunting again. Think
about getting the high of winning every single day, all day, in front of a computer monitor instead of once a year or five or ten. Not even the billion-dollar suits
can top that. So, yeah, dating and sex is life-ruining hostile out there, Im not
going to sugar-coat it, but these little shits wont even go to the trouble to jump
out of a plane or rappel a skyscraper to get their testosterone on.
Fuck me. Were doing it wrong.
He barks a laugh. I chased Giselle for a year and a half before we got together, and I was pissed the whole time. But I look back and realize I was getting off on the chase itself. I woke up jacking off to her. I thought about her all
day. I went to bed jacking off to her. And the payoff was I cant describe it.
And then real life set in and, yeah, I love her and the sex is always going to be
good and I have nothing to complain about because this is what I want with
her, but the hunts over. Theres no more falling in love going on, no more mystery, and thats where the high is. These guys dont want the chase to get the
sex, much less the reality of having a relationship. On the other hand, I dont
want to put up with the drama, either.
I think about that for a moment. Ive never really been in love. I started off
with the relationship straight out of the gate. I thought I was in love a couple of
times after Miriam died, but my heart didnt break when whoever I was seeing
walked away. And I never did do drama. Had enough of that with my old man.
I dont get it.
The difference between being with a woman you arent in love with and
falling in love with a woman you want to be with is like bleach and baklava.
Damn. Now Im feeling deprived. Well, what about the pickup artists?
Different kind of lazy. The hunt is there, but its a quick one. I was hunting a wolf who let me catch her when she felt like it. These guys go for a rabbit
in a snare. No relationship, or if one does develop, shes little more than a maid
you can fuck. And somehow this makes you an alpha, however they define that.
Giselle found one of those pickup artist sites by accident. She was horrified.
Pull up your skirt and bend over. Now get in the kitchen and make me a sammich.
I snarl.

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And then there are the ones who think theyre entitled to any pussy that
catches their fancy. Theyre animals. If Giselle ever got her hands on those guys
Ah, yes. I wouldnt even want to be on the wrong side of Giselle because
her justice comes with cold steel and hot lead, and she never misses.
That said, Im not sure how much of that is internet posturing and fantasy.
Giselles not squeamish
Thats an understatement.
but that turned her stomach. She was upset for days. She had to trawl
radical feminist sites to wash off the filth.
I raise an eyebrow.
Bryce nods sagely.
I see Gwen out of the corner of my eye, peeking around the corner of the
house. I raise my eyebrow at her. She flushes and ducks back out of sight. I turn
back to Bryce. Go get some goddamned clothes on. Half naked in front of my
granddaughter. Really? You think thats okay?
He slides me an irritated glance, but jogs off toward the street.
The posts are set and bolted. Its time to put up the ledger boards. Blythe
still isnt back, and its not like her to abandon a job in the middle.
We have enough people to put up the skeleton. We have enough daylight
to put up joist hangers and possibly all the joists. We snap the chalk lines. We
drill, screw, ratchet, hammer.
At Winnies direction, Gwen comes down the drive and around the corner
of the house pulling a rolling cooler behind her. Then Calvin, Kaia, and Duncan
follow with more. Everybodys provided for: water, lemonade, sweet tea, Gatorade, and Shasta.
Jerrys car rolls down into the drive next and he emerges with enough Gates
barbecue to feed all of Hyde Park.
Knock off, Winnie calls out the back window.
Were only too glad to do so. Its noon. Were hungry, hot, tired. Theres
shade, food, and drinks. I instruct one of the kids to set up the sprinkler over in
the corner of the back yard.
Blythe is nowhere to be seen. Shes been gone for hours.
Wheres Mom? Calvin asks.
Went for a walk, I say casually as I wipe my arm across my forehead. Ill
go get her. Shes probably hungry.
I have no idea where she might have gone. I just start walking. It takes me

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MORIAH JOVAN

about a half an hour to find her in Kemper Place, an old, posh, semi-gated
neighborhood of about a dozen mansions, the whole of which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Shes sitting on top of a stone wall across from an acre lot on which is a
ramshackle Greek revival mansion about half the size of mine thats been under
renovation for the last twenty years but never changes. It needs to be razed, but
nobodys ever wanted to because of the neighborhoods historic status. The
house itself has a plaque. Theres one man dragging a tarp full of bricks from a
pickup truck around to the crumbling chimney opposite the driveway. No one
else is around. He looks tired. Hopeless.
The wall Blythe is sitting on is low, with flat stones standing on end, perpendicular to the flat top, spaced about eighteen inches apart. Shes sitting there between two of them, her feet dangling, watching the solo construction worker. Not
the way she was watching Bryce, but absently, as if shes interested in his progress.
She looks as weary and alone as he does.
I sigh and sit down beside her.
We dont speak.
Until I cant stand the silence anymore. Im sorry, I say low. Im not trying to act like your dad or something.
Youre not acting like a dad, she returns immediately, also low, her voice
crackling with anger. Youre acting like a jealous lover.
Blythe I stop. Jealous lover? Is she serious?
What? she asks sharply when I dont continue with the thought, whatever
it was because I dont remember Im so shocked. Blythe what? Blythe blundered?
Now Im annoyed. No, and dont use that shit on me. It doesnt work. So
she gives me the silent treatment. Are you hungry? Thirsty?
She growls, but in capitulation. She has to be ravenous.
Your mom made sweet tea and scratch lemonade. Your dad got Gates.
Lots of it. I was shocked hed shell out for that much food.
Youre slipping, she mumbles. He asked me if I wanted him to go get it. I
said yes, then he waited for me to go get my credit card. He couldnt even be
bothered to front it or even go get my damned purse.
I roll my eyes. Of course. Yes, Im slipping. I was more concerned about
Blythe than thinking about the fact that Jerry wouldnt shell out for anything
for anyone else, including dinner.

LIONS SHARE

91

He takes advantage of you.


You want to kick him out too?
I dont want to kick anybody out! I almost roar. And I told you to cut
that out.
Or what? she snaps.
I have no or what. She gives as good as she gets and I like that about her, but
she hears things that I didnt mean and dont feel. If, I concede to myself reluctantly, I knew what I meant and felt. Which Im turned upside down right
now.
Jealous lover. So dad and potential boyfriends are off the table as topics of
conversation.
If youre gonna make it about you, they are.
I grind my teeth. Its not about me.
Finn
I hold up a finger. Shut it. I said I was sorry. You started out at breakfast
looking for a fight. I gave you one. Youre welcome.
She looks away. Im sorry. I didnt get much sleep last night, she admits
reluctantly.
Neither did I.
She doesnt move, so I dont. Whats happening to us, Finn? she asks
weakly, as if lost. Im building a deck toum, because I want to. Youre losing
your cool with my dad. You and I are arguing more and more
I know what she means. Somethings come between us and I dont like it. It
cant be DIY ShiBESTIE!suddenly tying my knickers in a knot. Shes lived
there four years and its almost done. Its not even the deck that, I will admit, is
going to be a thing of beauty, especially once the pergolas blooming with purple
wisteria up against the red siding.
I close my eyes. I get it now. Red and purple.
The tension between us is getting thicker and I dont know when or why it
started.
But she is right about one thing. I open my eyes. Your dads pissing me off
because hes trying to edge me out.
To my surprise, she doesnt immediately protest. To my shock, she says, I
know. I dont know what to do about it.
I shrug. He is your dad.
A dad I dont know very well.

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MORIAH JOVAN

That surprises me a little. What do you mean, you dont know him?
She shrugs. He never really made an impression on me in any way. I mean,
I did what he told me to. Theres nothing to know.
Ah, I see. She was a cipher for so long it surprised both of us when she finally popped up with a brain and a personality to go with it.
He sat in your chair Thursday night and I made him move. He was pissed
all through dinner.
I had witnessed that, but said nothing, encouraged shes not blind to it and
shes not going to ignore the issue. The tension between those two was as thick
last night as the growing tension between her and me. I suspect that was why
she didnt sleep well. Its not the first time hes tried to take my place at the foot
of the table, but hes frightened of me because he thinks he knows what Im capable of. All it takes to move him out of my chair is a side-eye.
Someday hes not going to move and then hell regret it.
He doesnt know half what Im capable of.
Its just she says, hurt in her voice. I dont know how to keep hold of
my mom if I shake my dad, even a little bit. I dont want to get rid of him. I just
want some distance. The closer he gets, the more time he spends with us, me,
the more he takes. He takes and takes and takes whatever he can
You let him, I point out.
No, I dont let him! she barks. Theyre little things. He takes them before
I notice. My time. My dignity. My airspace. My food. My money. I wanted to
feed everybody today, so I let him go get it because thats his only real contribution to this project. But hell eat more than anyone else. Its the extra I resent,
you know?
I do know, but one thing catches my attention. What about your dignity?
Shes looking down, looking around, finding a few weeds to pull and mangle. Little things, she says again, muttering. Im not even sure if I can explain
it. Tone of voice maybe. Hes doing it to the kids, too, if they catch his attention
enough. He doesnt say the s-word or the d-word, but its sort of, I dont know,
in his voice. Its really slight. You have to be paying attention, though, and
sometimes I think Im imagining it. I dont know if the kids notice and I havent
asked because I dont want to point it out if they havent.
My jaw grinds.
The s-word. The d-word.
Stupid.

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93

Dumb.
Any variation, including tone of voice, sarcasm directed at any individual
and most of all oneself I dont allow it. Not from Blythe, not from the kids.
There are few things that will make my blood pressure rise faster than
hearing my loved ones being belittled and especially belittling themselves.
Ive kept his mouth under control for the last few months, ever since Jerry
and Winnie began showing up for dinner every night. Before that, they werent
around much. Too busy cruising, and they cruise so he can eat as much as he
wants and Winnie can travel the world without having to take care of his appetite. It was Winnie the Skinflints idea after a cost-benefit analysis. I thought it
was a brilliant plan, but they havent done much of that since she started gaining
traction as a frugality maven.
Do you want me to have a go at him?
No, she says wearily. I need to do whatever myself, she says wearily. But my mom
Jerry and Winnie are attached at the hip. I like Winnie. I always have. Shes
smart and resourceful, and she knows how to carry a conversation. I have other
reasons to be very grateful to her. Jerrys always annoyed me, but now that all
this has been spoken, its going to be harder for me to be civil. I must, though,
for Winnies sake.
And thats where we leave it. Blythe loves her mother dearly and needs her.
I owe Blythes mother a debt of gratitude.
Jerry is the thorn to Winnies rose.
I gesture across the street. Whats with the haunted house?
She chucks her chin at the would-be mason. Spent all his money on infrastructure. Foundations sound and square now but he cant afford to do the rest
and his wifes on his case to get it done because she has delusions of grandeur.
He works on it around his day job.
Whats he do?
She puffs a sad laugh. Hes an actuary.
God, what irony. Hes not going to be able to do that chimney himself.
I know that. So does he.
You talk to him a lot?
Yup. This is on my morning walking route. On weekdays, hes here until
nine, rain or shine. She pauses. Hes about to give up, but if he does, hes looking at a divorce and bankruptcy. Thats the only reason hes still trying.

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MORIAH JOVAN

Hes told you this or youre extrapolating?


Extrapolating. I give him three more months.
I look at the house again. She has a soft spot for crumbling things. Houses.
People. I cant tell by looking at it that its sound, but Ill take her word for it.
Does he know what you do? You havent offered to help him, have you?
No and no.
That surprises me and I look at her. Why not? That house is your wet
dream.
She looks away.
I wouldve razed it, I grumble.
I know, she whispers.
Fuck. That sounds like an indictment.
I slide off the wall and wait for a few seconds until she does too. We walk
back to Bestie together in silence. Her heads bowed. Shes dragging her feet. I
dont know whether shes more upset with me or her dad. I ask.
Im just upset. I dont know why. Things are I dont know. Changing.
Somehow. I feel it but I cant I dont know how to deal with it. Maybe if I
knew what it was, I could, but I dont even know that much.
Me neither, I say wearily because I feel it too. Me neither.

to be continued
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