“Hi,” I said, suddenly shy. Behind her, what could only be Teddy was walking in. Big, like a quarterback, full beard and Jesus hair, wearing boots, jeans, and an Army field jacket with the name Murphy sewn over the pocket. He stopped laughing when he saw Matisse had stopped.
“Stephanie, who’s your friend?” he asked.
“Teddy, this is my friend, Danny. The potter.”
“And a cook,” said Lyssa coming into the room. “He helped make dinner.”
“We thank you for that.” He shouldered the box of groceries and headed into the kitchen. Matisse disappeared with him.” Lyssa looked at me and shrugged.
I walked outside. There was already a chill in the air so I grabbed my jacket out of my pack that was still in the living room. The farmhouse was on a hillside and the tents took up most of the flat areas. After a while, I saw people heading to the house and I figured dinner was ready.
There was a big oval table in the dining room. Matisse was nowhere to be seen, so I grabbed an open seat. Lyssa and some of the girls brought out dinner. When it was all set out, Teddy appeared, Matisse trailing him.
“We give thanks for this food,” said Teddy, kind of insincerely it seemed to me, but I was a little shaky whenever I looked at him. Matisse wouldn’t look at me and then she did. She smiled that wide smile and her eyes sparkled and it seemed like it was going to be alright.
“Danny cooked the eggplant,” said Lyssa. The stacked tomatoes and cheese looked good. People murmured assent. No one seemed to be eating the eggplant and onion, except for Matisse who’d had it before.
“It’s good, Danny,” she said.
Teddy hoisted one of the eggplant and tomato things. “Too yang,” he said. “It’s unbalanced.”
I ate the rest of the meal in silence.
After dinner, I tried to catch Matisse alone, but she was nowhere around. I wandered into the kitchen, watched one of the girls dump the eggplant salad into a bucket with vegetable scraps. No one seemed to want my help so I wandered back outside. I got my pack and took it to one of the flat spots. There were a couple of bushes between me and the house and it felt good to be there. I laid out my tarp and unrolled my sleeping bag over it. I took my pack with me and went back to the house.
People were gathered in the living room. Girls were sewing, guys were reading, one guy played a guitar. No one seemed particularly friendly. I started leafing through the albums. It was a weird mix-Astrid Giamberto, Sketches of Spain, a lot of old jazz. Dylan, Will the Circle be Unbroken, Donovan mixed in. Nothing electric except for one Blues Project album.
“So tell us about yourself, Danny,” said Teddy behind me. I turned. He was still wearing the field jacket. I noticed that some patches were ripped off.
“What do you want to know?”
“What are you looking for?”
“Here? Now?” I’m looking for Matisse, I thought. “I had some time so I thought I’d say hi to Matisse.”
“Stephanie?” He let it hang. I was shaking a little so I said nothing. What do you know about her, anyway? He was big and scary, but I didn’t get a particularly spiritual vibe off of him.
“Yes?” she said coming into the room. “Danny, you want to take a walk?” I was on my feet so fast I had no memory. Teddy stared at me, then at her.
I grabbed my pack and we walked outside. It was still light, but cooler. “Why did you come?”
“You wrote that I’d like it. I missed you.”
“I’m happy here,” she said
“You’re happy with Charlie Manson? Should I be afraid to go to sleep tonight?”
“If Teddy wanted to hurt you, he could hurt you no matter what you were doing. He’s through with that, though. He’s on a spiritual path now.”
She nodded. Her smile was a little tight. I looked at her hands and she was picking the side of her thumb with her fingernail. Are you two fucking? I couldn’t actually ask it.
“Stephanie. I want to be happy, Danny. Really happy. I want something more.” She touched my cheek. “Danny.”
I reached for her, but she turned away, like she was peeling away from an oncoming tackle. “You should go, Danny. Tomorrow.” I watched her walk away. Fuck it, I thought and pulled out one of the joints the kid had given me.
“You can’t smoke dope here,” said Lyssa, holding out her hand. She took the joint from me, took a large hit and sat down beside me.