Bastien allowed himself grudging interest in a movie. "Anything good playing?"
The doorbell rang before we could check.
"Geez, Bas. It's like Grand Central Station whenever I'm here."
"Probably a Jehovah's Witness," he decided, checking out the door invisibly. "Huh. It's Jody. Wonder what she wants."
I supposed Dana visiting would have been more serendipitous, but I found Jody's presence a relief. "Well, let her go. You're supposed to be at work."
He nudged me. "You answer."
"Sure. Make up some reason to be here. She's chummy with Dana. You can do some reconnaissance."
"Oh, for goodness - "
The doorbell rang again, and Bastien looked at me pleadingly. I had a good opinion of Jody, but I didn't like him mixing me up in his affairs. Grumbling, I went to the door. Maybe she was just dropping off more baked goods or something, I thought. Her face burst into a grin upon seeing me.
"I was hoping it was you! I thought I recognized the Passat."
I smiled back at her. "Good memory. Did you need Mitch? He's at work."
"No, not really. I just saw the car and wanted to say hi. Are you hanging out here?"
"Uh, yeah. It's my day off, and I promised him I'd...do some yard work."
Bastien, hovering invisibly nearby, got a kick out of that.
"It's a great day for it," she agreed. I supposed it was, in that crisply sunny sort of way that sometimes shows up in winter. At least we had no rain today. "What were you going to do? It looks like the lawn service took care of most of the leaves."
That it had. I tried to think of something superfluous that suburbanites wouldn't have already underpaid someone else to do. "I was going to plant some flowers."
"Oh!" She clasped her hands together, brown eyes alight. "That's a great idea. Do you want some help?"
Beside me, Bastien nearly had a seizure. He nodded his head vigorously and mouthed the word reconnaissance.
Yard work was the last thing I wanted to do on my day off, but now I'd gone and boxed myself in. "Sure. I don't really know what to do anyway." That had to be the understatement of the year.
"Let me grab my coat, and we'll go to my favorite nursery," she squealed. "This is going to be fun."
She dashed back to her house, and I glared at Bastien. "I hate you."
"Don't I know it." He clapped me on the back. "I'm sure you have a green thumb somewhere, Fleur . If not, you can shape-shift one."
"You owe me. Big time."
Jody drove us to some gardening place that looked like a maze of greenery to me. Actually, greenery wasn't quite the right word. Many of the trees and plants had lost leaves, turning brown and yellow as winter deepened. A maze of vegetation, I guess.
"They're still alive," she told me, assessing plants with an expert eye. "Although, this isn't exactly the best time to do plantings. Still, we should be able to manage something since the ground isn't too hard yet."
I grimaced. "Sounds dirty."
She laughed. "How'd you get slated for this?"
"My brother doesn't...always think things through. And he's pretty persuasive when he wants to be." And annoying. And pushy.
"I can see that. He's pretty cute too. Bet he gets women to do anything he wants."
"You have no idea."
This made her smile again. "Well, hang in there. Once you get started with this kind of stuff, you get into it. And it's not that dirty. You want dirty, I'll tell you about Guatemala someday."
"When were you in Guatemala?" Whoa. Somehow I managed her circle picking places like Malibu and Paris for vacations.
"When I was in the Peace Corps."
"You were in the Peace Corps?"
"Yup. When I was younger."
I stared after her as she continued checking out the selection. Jody had been in the Peace Corps and worked as an art teacher. She was clearly talented creatively. She was smart and had a good personality. How the hell had she gotten mixed up with Dana?
We ended up buying several plants she called Christmas Roses, plus some bulbs she warned might or might not come up in the spring. Once back at Bastien's, we bundled up in coats and gloves and set to digging in his front yard. I saw him peek out the window and wave at me at one point; I stuck my tongue out at him when Jody wasn't looking.
Jody was only too happy to tell me about her past. I'd ask the occasional clarifying question, and she'd then go on for a while more. I listened, commenting occasionally, and - as much as I hated to admit it - found the afternoon passing pleasantly. She had been right: garden work wasn't so bad once you started. Inevitably, her chatter turned to the CPFV, and she both surprised and relieved me by admitting some discontent.
"I mean," she was saying, "I stand by them. Absolutely. It's just sometimes, I wish we were doing things in different ways. "
I looked up, happy to take a break from hacking at the hard ground. "What kinds of things?"
She pursed her cute lips together. "I guess...like...we spend a lot of time telling people what to do and what not to do, you know? Like we're trying to help them lead better lives, and I think that's good. After all, Dana says an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Ugh. Cliché anyone?
"But I also wish we were doing something for those that need help now. Do you know how many families in this area don't have enough to eat? It'd be great if we could work with local food banks to do something about that - especially with the holidays coming up. Or like...we do a lot to help teens make smart choices, but I visited some shelters for girls that are already in trouble. They've run away. They're pregnant. Dana says they're lost causes, but..."
"You don't think so?" I asked gently.
She had stopped digging too and stared absentmindedly at the bulb she held. "I don't think anyone's beyond help. But Dana...I mean, she's so smart. She knows more than me about this stuff. I trust what she says."
"Nothing wrong with questioning."
"Yeah, I suppose. It's just, well, she's been a good friend to me." Her eyes focused on something not here, something far away and long ago. "A couple years ago, Jack and I had some, you know, problems. I mean, it happens right? No relationship's perfect."
"No," I agreed grimly.
"Anyway, she helped me work through that. I feel sort of..."
Jody fumbled. "I-I don't know. I guess so. Sometimes, she's hard to know...like she can surprise you with things you never saw coming. Other times..." She shook her head and gave a nervous laugh. "I don't know what I'm saying. She's wonderful. The most amazing person I've ever met. She does so much good."
She changed the subject abruptly after that, and I let her. We moved on to happier topics, and I found myself laughing along with her and enjoying her company. At one point, I ran into Bastien's kitchen and made us hot chocolate. We drank it outside as we finished the last of our plants, finally sitting back and admiring our handiwork. Despite my initial misgivings, I kind of liked accomplishing something so tangible.
"Look," said Jody. "Dana just came home."
Sure enough, Dana's Explorer pulled in next door, and a moment later, the woman herself strolled over. She graced us with one of those ice-bitch smiles.
"This looks cozy."
Jody's earlier bubbly nature seemed somewhat diminished. "Tabitha needed some gardening help, so I came over."
"Wasn't that nice of you."
Dana gave the other woman a look I couldn't interpret, save that disapproval and possibly anger underscored it. Although I had been arguing to the contrary with Bastien, I got the feeling I might truly have pissed off Dana more than I'd suspected, creating the bad impression he kept accusing me of. It looked like Dana may even have voiced her opinions of me to Jody.
I watched Jody's face pass through a range of emotions. I felt pretty confident there was more iron in there than her surface showed, and for a half a second she looked as though she might lash out in defiance. Then, after a moment's eye contact, she looked away, backing down.
Perhaps I should have simpered just then and tried to weasel into Dana's good graces, but mostly I felt angry at what I perceived as her chastisement. She had no right to do that Jody.
"It was incredibly nice," I said sharply. "Jody's one of those rare, honestly good people in the world. Not just one who pretends to be. But of course you already know that."