Too Big Taboo Bundle(2)

By: Veronica Vaughn

“Hi, Bill,” James said to Paw Paw. “How’ve you been? Still fixing up the cabin?”

“Why, I finished up the renovations over two months ago!” Paw Paw said. “It sure is a beauty. And you wouldn’t believe the bargain I got on the lumber, although the plumbing and electric costs were obscene. Oh well. Now that all the work is done I can focus on what retirement is really all about.”

Grandma and I exchanged a glance. “Fishing,” we both said in unison.

James laughed. He and Paw Paw had bonded over long, lazy afternoons casting their fly reels, often waist-deep in cold mountain streams.

“You’ll have to come up one weekend,” Paw Paw said. “The trout will be biting soon. You could probably use a little rest and relaxation anyway after nine months in the desert.”

“That’s the truth,” James said. “I can’t wait to see it. Oh, hi there, Izzie,” he added, noticing my friend, who had been hanging back while the family reunion       took precedence. “Thanks for coming to greet me.”

Izzie was chomping on bubble gum and still trying to keep her curly red hair out of her eyes.

“Sure thing, Mr. Thomas,” she said. “And, um, thank you for your service.”

James winced. He had mixed feelings about that feel-good bromide, thank you for your service. People were always thanking him, and it made him uncomfortable. Even so, he knew Izzie was not one to put much thought into her words.

“You’re very welcome, Izz,” he said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and giving her a lighthearted squeeze. “And thank you, also, for thanking me for services rendered.”

From the look on Izzie’s face it was obvious she was a little confused, but she graciously accepted his thanks anyway.

“What are we all standing around here for?” Paw Paw asked. “Let’s get you home.”

Paw Paw stooped over and tried to lift James’ duffle bag. He grabbed it by the strap and hoisted it about an inch off the ground, then thought better of it and let James carry his own bag. As our little group walked through the airport, James ran his hand through my bangs and over the top of my head, playfully mussing my hair. That’s how he had always teased me when I was younger, because he knew it drove me nuts for a single strand of hair to be out of place.

I could feel James’ eyes on me as we walked to the car.

“Since when did you start wearing such short little dresses?”

“Ever since my stepdad wasn’t around to tell me not to.”

“Well, you look beautiful,” James said. “You look just like …”

His voice drifted off. Lost in thought, James began to massage my shoulders. When we reached the airport exit his hand ran down to the small of my back. Little sparks of electricity sent tingles up and down my spine as he guided me through the door.

I smiled to myself, happy to know my stepdad was finally home.


The drive from the airport was about half an hour. Paw Paw was behind the wheel, and he did most of the talking, filling in James on every excruciating detail about the cabin he had recently finished renovating. It had been a real fixer-upper when he bought it, so run down that I couldn’t believe Paw Paw was seriously going to spend a dime on such a worn-down shack. But he saw its potential, and he had always wanted a place on Whitewater River.

“Paw Paw, you hush up about that cabin and let James talk,” Grandma scolded. “You hadn’t seen him in nine months, and now you won’t let him get a word in.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” James assured her. “To tell you the truth it’s nice to talk about something other than sandstorms and IEDs.”

“What do you know about IEDs?” Izzie asked. “My mom wants me to get one because I can never remember to take my pill. But it seems kind of scary to put a fish hook inside you.”

I elbowed Izzie. “He’s talking about something different,” I whispered from the side of my mouth.

We turned onto our street, with its rows of cute little brick homes shaded by leafy trees. It felt strange to be back in the old neighborhood, approaching the place that was my home up until nine months ago. No one had lived there while James was away, although Grandma did hire a housecleaner to tidy the place a few weeks ago in anticipation of James’ arrival.

“Here we are,” Paw Paw said as he steered onto the driveway. “Home, sweet home. I’d help you with your bags, but it looks like you’ve got it under control.”