It was the sign that made me stop driving. How could I pass up a place named
Devil’s Palm? I had turned the car off the highway without a second
thought, just this vague notion that I really should see a place with a
name like that. Of course… by that time I’d been driving so
long that most of my thoughts were vague. It had been strange to actually
get out of the car for more than a gas stop, and I remember just standing
next to the driver’s door for a long time, looking around and thinking
that the place really should look more ominous. It was… almost disappointing.
Devil’s Palm… ‘we’re nestled right
in the palm of the Devil’s hand!’… is a town with a population
in the neighborhood of a couple hundred. They don’t even bother to
post it on the edge-of-town sign, like some places do. There’s a little
general store, one tiny restaurant whose menu varies depending on the season,
the day of the week, and some whim of the woman who owns it. There’s
a post office, and while there isn’t a police station, there is a
guy who lives in town that the locals call Sheriff. Never been able to figure
out of he’s supplied by an actual official office, or if he’s
just doing the job for a place to live and meals.
That kind of weird bartering system had taken me a while to
get used to. Life in Devil’s Palm is… different. Very different.
I have no real recollection of making a conscious decision
to stay. I had pulled in that day, gotten out of my car in less than stellar
shape, not even sure how in the hell long I’d been driving, with no
idea how long I’d planned on continuing to drive. There would have
been an ocean at some point, when the roads ran out, and I couldn’t
even have told you if that would have stopped me.
Maybe that’s what made me walk away from the car that
I had gone into the diner and stared at the menu and when
I had been unable to decipher the words, Mrs. Taylor had fed me some sort
of stew with corn bread, and then escorted me down the street to her sister-in-laws
bed and breakfast. There wasn’t any sign for it, but there was indeed
a room with a bed and for fifty dollars, cash up-front please, they let
me sleep there for well over twenty hours.
When I emerged again, it just seemed… I don’t
know… like the place to be. Had to stop sometime, I reasoned, and
where better than the palm of the Devil’s hand?
It didn’t take long to learn from the ever talkative
Mrs. Taylor that there was a piece of property for sale about fifteen minutes
outside town. The deal was made that very day. Old man Fogerty was more
than happy to come down on his price when I offered him ten thousand cash,
if I agreed to throw in my car.
Sunset found me the befuddled owner of a three room shack
on a couple of acres of land, sans the majority of my life savings and my
only means of transportation.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that rather final
moment, standing in the front yard with my meager belongings sitting at
my feet, waving old Fogerty off, as he fish tailed my car up the dirt lane
with a bit too much enthusiasm. I remember hearing his laugh drift back
to me, wild and almost maniacal. And I distinctly remember saying, ‘What
the fuck have I done?’ to nobody in particular. Though the freaking
huge black crow sitting on the barn answered me with a rattling chuckle.
I slept on the couch that first night because it seriously
creeped me out thinking about sleeping on sheets that old Fogerty had been
He’d pretty well left me everything, taking only his
clothes and a few other items. And since I was moving in with just my clothes
and a few other items, I guess it worked out pretty well.
Took me three days to work up the energy to make the hike
into town, but when I did, I discovered that Dutch Evans, the guy who ran
the general store, happened to have a cousin who just happened to be looking
to unload an old pick-up truck. Took three hundred bucks for it and even
let me keep the old blanket that was covering up the rips in the front seat.
I had discovered my only method of cooking lie with an old,
pot-bellied, wood-burning stove, so I also took home a case of canned soup,
since I hadn’t yet mastered the art of cooking over a burning log.
Home. That… had been a tough thought to swallow and
I’ll freely admit that I had a rough time making that adjustment.
I waffled back and forth between days where I worked like a mad man around
the old place from dawn until dusk, and days where I just sat and stared
at the wall and chewed on thoughts that… were not comfortable.
The working was just a way to run from the thoughts, leaving
me so exhausted I could sleep. The thinking was just rubbing salt in the
I suppose, looking back, what I did seems pretty damn extreme.
And maybe if it had just been Quatre and his damn accusations, I might have
stayed and defended my dubious ‘honor’. But there had been this
moment, standing in the middle of that chaos where I realized everybody
in the room believed what Quatre was saying. Every one of those men who
were supposed to be my family, thought that I was capable of betraying my
own like that. I had seen it on Wufei’s face when he’d been
convinced… the shock and the condemnation. Had seen the utter hurt
and betrayal in Quatre’s face. And Heero… whose opinion mattered
to me a bit more than I suppose it should… his face had been completely
blank. But… there had been no defense. He’d never spoken up,
never tried to be his usual voice of reason. Wasn’t that answer enough?
He’d believed it too. Thought that I could do such a thing. All those
twisted things that Quatre had been shouting at me… not once did anybody
say, ‘Duo wouldn’t do that’.
And Trowa… I do love Trowa. I love him like my brother.
How could I just stand there and watch while his relationship with Quatre
went up in smoke? If there was anybody in the room that day who understood
how much Trowa loved Quatre… it was me. The guy who had been there,
urging and comforting and reassuring while he’d worked up the nerve
to go for what he’d wanted more than anything in the world.
I’d been thrilled when they’d finally gotten together,
had mocked Trowa’s goofy grin, had teased him about every little reported
advance in the relationship. Hell, I’d known the night they slept
together for the first time before Trowa had known. I knew the guy so damn
well, that I’d just felt the difference in his mind-set and knew it
was about to happen. Not that I ever told him that. Some things really should
be between just two people.
So how the hell was I supposed to stand there and watch that
fall apart, knowing it was me causing the rift? Quatre was the most important
thing in the world to Trowa, and I’d realized, listening to them that
night, that no matter what happened… one way or the other, things
were never going to be the same.
Even if Trowa had been able to convince Quatre that what he
had seen had been innocent, the doubt had been planted. I had already lost
my best friend… there was no way I would ever be able to make things
the same between Trowa and me again; I’d forever be afraid of what
things looked like. I’d be forever watching my words… my gestures…
And besides that… what about Heero and Wufei? I couldn’t
stand the idea that they thought so little of me. They were two people I
respected a great deal; it was damn painful to realize they had no respect
for me. I had stood there that night and understood that these men that
I loved… that I would have given my life for… would have done
anything for, just for the asking… not a one of them thought I had
an ounce of honor or integrity in me.
I’d walked out when the pizza came and hadn’t
looked back. Removing myself from the equation seemed the only solution.
It had been a simple thing to empty my bank account, e-mail
my resignation to my boss, pack up the bit of my life that mattered, and
leave. Rather depressingly simple, actually.
And that was how I’d ended up in Devil’s Palm.
How I became the local psycho, hermit, animal freak happened
about as effortlessly.
The Palm, as they like to call it, is kind of… rural,
in case you didn’t get that. Lot of ranches, and naturally…
a lot of animals. So there’s this vet who has an office that she occupies
a couple of times a week. I think she and some partners have three of the
places, spread across two or three counties, and she rotates. For major
things, you have to make the drive up into ‘The City’ to the
main office, but for small things like shots and check-ups, Miss Deirdre
was in our neck of the woods every Tuesday and Thursday without fail.
I suppose I’d been living in the old Masterson place
for a month before I actually met her. I’d had about enough of soup
that week, and had come in to town to eat at Mrs. Taylor’s. Probably
had something to do with forcing myself to interact with other human beings
before I just completely vegged away to nothing. Not that I’d have
probably been able to admit that even to myself at that stage of the game,
but I can see the truth in it, looking back.
I’d been sitting there trying to decide if okra was
something I was going to be able to develop a taste for or not, when Miss
Deirdre had come in for lunch.
With a… well, I hadn’t been sure at first…
with a ball of white fluff in tow. It had turned out to be a puppy. A big
damn puppy. A big damn furball of a puppy.
I remember first being surprised that Mrs. Taylor wasn’t
throwing a fit that somebody had brought a dog into her diner. And second
I remember… feeling something for the first time in a while.
‘You look plum tuckered out,’ Mrs. Taylor had
declared and plopped a cup of coffee down on the counter unasked.
‘Been a long week,’ the woman had said, leaving
the puppy to snuffle around the room, and sipped at her coffee with a satisfied
sigh. ‘Hits the spot Eva… how about some of your delicious apple
pie to go with it?’
Mrs. Taylor scoffed, though she looked pleased. ‘Young
woman like yourself needs more than pie for lunch! Let me get you a nice
bowl of chili…’
They chattered at each other, but I sort of stopped paying
attention because the puppy had made the circuit of the room and had gotten
to my feet. I must have walked through something really interesting, because
it was quite fascinated with my boots. Something in my chest felt funny
and when it started to move on, I panicked, and before I had a chance to
think that it might not be the best thing to do without asking permission…
I offered it a bite of my meatloaf. The little guy, I decided… I don’t
know why, blinked up at me like he was surprised to find a person attached
to those boots, and happily ate my offering and almost my finger too.
‘…looking for a home for him,’ I suddenly
heard, and when I looked up to find the vet and Mrs. Taylor both grinning
at me widely, I had the strangest feeling I’d been set up. ‘The
owner brought him in to be put down because he isn’t ‘up to
specs’,’ she was telling Mrs. Taylor disdainfully. ‘But
I figure if he’s fixed, he can’t spread the precious blood-line
around anyway. So what’s the harm?’
‘He’s a show dog then?’ Mrs. Taylor asked
speculatively, and I could believe it… cute was invented to describe
that furry face and those expressive eyes. ‘You know,’ she continued,
using that sly little tone that she got when she was about to put a good
bargain together, ‘Duo here just moved into the old Masterson place
and has all kinds of room.’
‘He’d need it,’ I thought I heard Miss Deirdre
mutter, but she just went on to inform me that she’d throw in free
vet visits for the first six months if I’d be willing to take him
off her hands.
It was more of a sure thing than when Mrs. Taylor had connected
me with her brother’s best buddy who needed to off-load some shingles,
and wanted somebody to help him move furniture in exchange. The woman knows
So I left the diner that day with a house-mate and a list
of things to pick up from the general store.
And though I was kind of peeved later that she hadn’t
bothered to tell me what a Pyrenees was… I doubt knowing that the
dog would eventually grow up to out weigh me… probably wouldn’t
I let the little furball sleep in the bed with me that night
and the next morning woke up to him licking my face and whining for breakfast.
It was the first time in ages that I bothered to roll out of bed before
mid-morning and I promptly named him Reason.
After that, it somehow became common knowledge that the ‘young
man who moved in out on Three Trees Road’ was a soft touch. When old
lady McNeil’s beagle broke its leg and taking care of it was more
than she could handle, Mrs. Taylor and Miss Deirdre naturally thought of
me. I wasn’t really working after all, doing the odd bit of construction
or mechanics or farm grunt work when I needed a few bucks, so I was free.
I helped her out with the dog until the cast came off, and in return, she
cooked me dinner and let me bring my laundry in to her place instead of
hauling it over to Twin Forks to the Laundromat. After that, was a dog that
somebody had dumped out up on the highway; skinny as a rail and not much
to look at, I’d nursed the thing back to health and the Evans kids
had ended up talking their dad into taking it. Then was the litter of kittens
whose mother had gotten killed on the road. Then a piglet that had been
After six months, I’d heard that people were starting
to refer to my place as ‘Maxwell’s Zoo’, which is totally
unheard of; places have names that stick for generations. To my knowledge
nobody living even knew who ‘Masterson’ was when referencing
‘The old Masterson place’.
It’s probably sad that it was giving me something to
do. Giving me something that made me feel half-way useful. I’ll always
wonder if Mrs. Taylor had understood how much I’d needed that. Will
always wonder if it was entirely an accident that I’d met Miss Deirdre
and my Reason that day.
Go to Chapter Four:
back to chapter Two
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