This was the most darling gift I’ve ever received on my birthday. Last week I turned twelve. Daddy says I’m the most mature girl he’s ever met, and that’s why I should have something of such significance. He would know; Daddy has been all over the world and knows just about everything of importance.
The Second War is over and evil was soundly defeated. Life for everyone is so much better now, but even so, we must be ever vigilant. I must document everything I see, just as Daddy says I must do my part to preserve history. When my thirteenth birthday arrives, however, I'll be called upon to make a much bigger contribution to Naybor Manor. I'll be a woman of great means and also great responsibility. That's also what Daddy says.
I will include the most colorful descriptions of my charmed country life.
Pookie A. Naybor
"What will his name be this time, Daddy?"
Pookie loved the feeling of the wind gently lifting her long, brown braids as they bumped down the dirt road.
"Let's put the top up now, Pookie. A young lady shouldn't ever look weather beaten."
"Will we leave the top down, or should we put it up, so he doesn’t think we’re being boastful?" she asked, ignoring his order. "Most people don’t have a convertible automobile and we don’t want them to feel bad. Isn’t that right?" She focused her large brown eyes on her father, Welcome, who beamed.
He often told her the story of how he came to be called 'Welcome.' His parents, being kindly and generous to all, decided to give their son a name that would bring a smile to every face he met. They often reminded him of the importance of living up to his moniker, being kind and 'welcome' to others his entire life.
"You’re right, Pookie. We don’t want our new help to feel uncomfortable about his unfortunate circumstances. We’ll put the top up when we get to town. You must also remember that young girls who chatter on and on may also be considered prideful to someone who doesn’t have much to say."
Pookie stared at her sneakers. "Sorry, Daddy. I get so excited when we have new hired hands. They have such interesting stories from their lives on the road!"
She folded her thin tanned arms over each other and sat silently for ten minutes. The rest of the ride into the center of the scenic coastal town of Flanagan, Oregon. When she glimpsed a familiar sight, she forgot her sorrow and began bouncing in her seat. "There it is, Daddy! The movie theatre!"
Welcome laughed. "Pookie, my darling. You are always the brightest sunshine in every day. Any father should be so lucky to have a daughter like you."
He began their usual game. "Which actress is on the marquee today, my girl?"
"Oh, Daddy!" Pookie squealed. "Tulip Sloan! She’s the best actress in all of Hollywood! So beautiful and glamorous!"
"S'that so? Well, don’t keep me wondering, which picture is it?"
"Hasty Engagement. It’s her newest one! Oh, Daddy!"
Welcome laughed a hearty belly laugh, making his short body shake with barely suppressed mirth.
"Don't tease me. You know Mr. Acorn only shows Tulip Sloan movies when he's forced." They pulled up in front of the Flanagan Majestic, Welcome carefully raised the roof on their cherry-apple red Packard Darrin. He pulled five quarters from his pocket and held them in his palm.
"These two are for you." He pointed to the first two silver circles. "These are for Fred. And this one is for your sour candy. But only a few. I don’t want you up all night with a sick stomach."
Pookie reached across the seat and kissed her father’s pale cheek. "Thank you, Daddy. You’re the kindest, most wonderful, most perfect–"
A man wearing a white fedora and brown pants with suspenders, resembling every other man in Flanagan as far as Pookie was concerned, tipped his hat. "Mornin’ Pookie. Looks like you’re off to the picture show. Good to stretch a girl’s imagination before she’s grown and serious about life."
Welcome straightened his jacket. "Nice to see you, Rogers. What’s brought you out on this glorious August day?"
Welcome's friend stepped aside, revealing a thin, blond-haired man with hollow cheeks and a long, pointed nose. His shirt was torn and dirty and he smelled like he’d spent more than one night under the stars bedded down between farm animals.
"Welcome, this here’s Raymond. Found him sleeping in my barn night before last. I can tell he’s a decent sort of fella. Just down on his luck. I know you can always use the help on your farm. Raymond, please meet Welcome Naybor, a man of great in-te-gri-ty."
Raymond's grubby hand flew up to his mouth, concealing a girlish giggle. "Never heard of a man with that sort of name."
Welcome buttoned the jacket on his compact, rotund body. He straightened his round glasses, all indications Pookie learned meant her father was uncomfortable. Despite that fact, he extended a hand toward Raymond’s hand. Just like Raymond was any important person in the town of Flanagan, Oregon. "The last name is Nah BOR. Welcome Nah BOR. Pleased to meet you, Raymond. What did you say your last name was? We can always use the help at our estate."
"Raymond Dockley." He stuck out a hand to shake while keeping a healthy distance. "Don't want to get your fancy suit dirty, sir. Come out here ten years ago from Oklahoma. Worked on the ships for a time, hauling things to Canada." He scratched his dirty head with his free hand. "The pay was good, but my feet need dry land for a while. Now that my belly’s been empty a bit, I need to work."
"Have you done farm labor?"
Pookie opened her door and jumped out beside her father, her eyes almost able to peer over the top of his head. "I’m Pookie Naybor. It’s not my real name, but my Daddy says it’s better than the one my mother gave me. She left me on the doorstep."
"This isn’t an appropriate topic of conversation now, Pookie, dear." Welcome shook his head. "You can conversate with Raymond on our way home. Run along and find your friend now."
Pookie kissed her father on the cheek. "Okay, Daddy. We shall discuss all glorious things on the way home, Raymond and I. Nice to meet you, Raymond!"
"And you too, Miss!" he called after her, as she skipped down the street.
When she reached the ornate, gold swirls that framed the entrance to the Flanagan Majestic, she stared at it's magnificent shape, imagining herself as a famous actress pausing to wave at adoring fans as she walked through the doors to her premier.
"Thought you’d never come." Her dark-haired pal slugged her in the arm, his usual greeting. He squinted, the early afternoon sun bouncing off the deep, red birthmark covering one side of his face.
"What took you so long?" He held his hand out expectantly.
Pookie reached into the pocket of her blue jean overalls and pulled out two shiny quarters. "Another farm hand. Daddy liked him well enough. He’ll be coming home with us today. I think he's rather dreamy. Looks a little like Johnson Hobarth in Wind Over My Shoulder."
"You think every hired hand is dreamy." Freddie's thin body shivered. "Gives me the dern willies."
They settled into their plush, red velvet seats with one box of Tart Chewies and one box of popcorn. "You dumping today?" Pookie asked, offering her box of sour candy to her friend.
"Sure." Freddie took the box from her hand and dumped it into their popcorn, shaking gently to mix their favorite concoction.
"Why do you think your daddy likes those bums? Is it cause he don’t want them to make fun of his name? Cause everybody does, you know."
Pookie turned to face her friend. "Freddie Browler, no one makes fun of my daddy. He’s the most charitable man in the entire county. He gives work to people who need it. He even shares our crops with those who need them. In the trunk, we brought four bushels of vegetables to town today."
"Welcome Naybor chops up his workers when he’s tired of ‘em. That’s what my buddy says and he don’t lie."
Pookie sighed. "Nah BOR. And nobody's ever been chopped up; Don’t be thick. Be quiet now, the movie is about to start and I won’t miss a Tulip Sloan production to listen to your silly babbling."
"Why don’t you go to school with the rest of us? You’re smart enough for a girl."
Pookie sighed loud. The man in the seat beside her tapped them both on the shoulder and put his fingers to his lips.
"I told you. Daddy says I’m much too bright for the local school." Pookie whispered, "He’d miss me terribly if I attended boarding school. It’s better for him to teach me; he and Miss Dandridge. Besides, I’m so far beyond everyone my age, I’d be bored. Now hush."
The newsreel began. Stories of happy living after the war and new industry growing every day played on the screen, but all Pookie could think about was Tulip Sloan. Her silky, blonde hair curving gently around her face and her large, weepy eyes. A velvety voice using words like "daahling" and "duhuty." Just like how she imagined her mother would speak.
At the end of Hasty Engagement, Tulip, the heroine, saved herself from peril as per usual. At the end of each movie, she turned to movie goers and told them to hug and kiss the ones they loved dearly, because the world was not always roses and sunshine.
The lights came up and everyone in the theatre stood and cheered. Pookie looked over at Freddie, who stubbornly sat in his seat. She kicked him, but he shook his head firmly, staying seated.
"Get up!" she hissed. "People will think you don’t understand theatre."
"Well, maybe I don’t much. How is it Miss Sloan is always outsmarting the men? Everybody knows a woman ain’t near as smart as a man. At least once the man should get the better of her."
Pookie sighed and yanked on his arm, hard. "You’re backwards, Freddie. In just about every way. Girls can do anything boys can do. Let’s get outta here before we get in trouble."
Reluctantly, he stood and followed her out of the theater. "Your daddy give you enough for a Grommy’s Grape Soda today? I’m parched."
Pookie, while staring at Freddie's untamed cowlick, bumped squarely into a man dressed too formal for a Saturday afternoon at the picture show. When she looked up at his face, she noticed he had a large scar over one eye. "Sorry, Mister. I wasn't paying attention." She tried to move around him, but he anticipated her move, blocking any escape.
"You Welcome's girl?" he growled more than asked.
Pookie nodded, too afraid to speak. She glanced helplessly at his large body. There was no way for her to get away, at least not as the polite young lady she was raised to be. Pookie nodded toward Freddie, who took that as a sign to run instead of coming to her aid.
"Are you looking for work, Mister?" She gulped, mustering all of the Tulip Sloan heroism she could. "My Daddy can give you a job. He's always hiring the less–"
The man grasped hold of her arm. "Your life is in danger, little miss. Best to keep your eyes open and know when to run."
Luckily, Pookie's arms were pliable enough to wriggle free from his grip. She rushed halfway down the block before her curiosity got the better of her. Glancing back, Pookie was relieved to find the stranger wasn't following her.
Instead, he stood, planted in place, his wide-brimmed hat tipped back exposing his scar. His gaze never wavered. Was he sad? Or was that anger? He was well dressed, like Daddy. He held no resemblance to the men they'd hired to work the farm–no hollow eyes or clenched mouth.
Something compelled her to wave at him. Maybe he was just a lonely man who needed a friend. "I'll be fine, Mister!" she called.
He raised his hand slowly to the brim of his hat, tipping it toward her before disappearing behind the theatre.
"Piper’s on the phone. She’s wondering if you’re coming in today?"
My handsome boyfriend, Cosmo Hill is sprawled across our new Fancypants Foam Mattress wearing a lumberjack shirt and boxers. It's a sight that would have made me weak in the knees last year. Unfortunately, those boxers look strikingly similar to the pair he wore yesterday, and I know the shirt hasn’t seen the washing machine since last month. He rolls over onto his stomach and stares out my bedroom window.
"Maybe. It’s been a few days."
"Six. If I was counting, which I’m not." I push his feet to the side and sit down beside him, touching his muscular back lightly. "I’ll tell her you’re coming in today. After a good shower and a change of clothes."
"I can hear you, Lanie!" a disembodied voice calls from the receiver. I put the phone to my ear and roll my eyes. "I’m sorry. He’s coming in today. He’ll help you with the lunch menu and–"
"You know I'm here to help, not to run the place by myself. I don't mind baking and serving customers, but it is called Cosmic Cakes and Antiquary for a reason."
Piper Moonlight, Cosmo’s chief baker, current manager, and one of my favorite twenty-somethings in the world, has stepped in to ﬁll a rather large void. Ever since Cosmo's sister, Cedar, left for her new job as marketing coordinator at Sleepy Sounds corporate headquarters in San Diego, Cosmo hasn't been himself. Though he’s a rugged, self-made businessman who survived twenty years in prison—and before that, life in a cult—losing his sister's constant companionship has brought him to his knees. Were it not for Piper showing up and running things daily, his business would have closed months ago.
"We'll be there by ten. I promise this will happen today." I put the phone down and stare at my ﬁancé; the muscular, icy blue-eyed, silver-haired hunk of my dreams. I expected him to struggle when the other half of his soul moved on, but it's dragged on for so many months I'm doubting he'll ever pull himself out of the doldrums.
"I'll pick out some clothes while you shower. I've got to check on the progress of the hotel, so I can drop you oﬀ."
His body wiggles, just slightly.
"I'll call November if I need to. You know how strong she is. She'll heave you over her shoulder and throw you in the back seat. That's not an experience you want to enjoy twice."