• Sheila & Swede

The Hills Have Lies - Ep. 17

The Hills Have Lies © 2018 Lili Grouse

“Welcome home, sweetheart.”

Dad greets me at the airport, taking my bag from me even though his back is looking even more crooked than the last time I saw him. We don’t hug. It’s not really something we do, just a squeeze around the shoulders or a pat on the back. I hadn’t really thought about it much until now.

Cole hugged me goodbye when we parted ways after the trip, as did everyone else – well, Crystal and Sally kept it cool and detached, but still. I’ve grown to really enjoy Cole’s hugs, and not just because it’s him. It’s just nice to feel cared for.

Dad puts my suitcase on the truck bed and heads for the driver’s side of the pickup. The passenger door creaks when I turn the handle and open it. I hoist myself up onto the seat and buckle in. Dad turns the key and the engine rumbles to life, as does the radio. He’s got it set to his favorite radio station – all news, all the time. I realize how little I’ve actually kept up with the news lately – unless you count entertainment news, that is. Which Dad most decidedly doesn’t.

“How’s Mom?” I ask as we roll out of the parking lot. We have almost two hours to fill with conversation unless we let the radio do the talking.

“She’s fine. She said she was baking an apple pie.”

“Oh, that sounds really good,” I say, my mouth watering at the thought of homemade apple pie. Only I shouldn’t be eating stuff like that. “Did she have apples left from last year?” We have a couple of apple trees, but if memory serves, the apples don’t start falling off until August, and it’s only July.

“I think so. She said something about the freezer being too full just last week. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll be having leftovers from Christmas dinner this week.”

“How’s Rocco?” I ask, thinking about the cat we found abandoned as a kitten. He used to sleep under the covers with me.

“Ah, he’s gone, Sweetheart. The fox got him, along with three of our hens.”

“What? Mom never said anything about that.”

“Well, she didn’t want to upset you.” No, because I’d be much less upset to learn about it when I came home, thinking everything was as I last left it. I wonder if I still have a room or if Dad has turned it into a second toolshed.

Dad likes tools. Not power tools or tools for fixing machines and stuff, but old-timey tools, like tools to remove shoes from horses or to repair old grandfather clocks. Many times growing up, I thought my dad resembled Belle’s crazy inventor father, especially on days when his white hair was longer and wilder.

Dad’s hair turned white before I was born, long before his father’s had. I remember asking him about it, and asking Mom when Dad avoided the question, but she just said that sometimes it happens for no particular reason at all. I checked my hair in the mirror for signs of white for months after she told me that. Mom still has her rye blonde hair – or she did the last time I saw her – so I have some hope for keeping my hair color at least until I’m in my 60s.

My parents had me late in life, when Dad was 43 and Mom 38, meaning they’re now both in their 60s. They married many years before I was born, so I’ve often wondered why they didn’t have children sooner. That’s not something you ask, though.

“Any new calves this spring?” I ask, determined to keep the conversation going. I hardly ever speak to Dad on the phone, he worries about radiation – and about the government keeping track of our every movement. Personally, I doubt the government would be all that interested in what we have for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“Five of them,” he says and I can hear the pride in his voice. “Healthy females, all of them.”

“Didn’t Mom say the vet had to come out to help with the delivery?” I vaguely recall a conversation like that taking place.

“Ah, that’s just the way they’re doing things nowadays.”

“I don’t remember seeing Doc McCullough around much when I was still living at home.”

“He retired. A young vet from Minneapolis took over months ago, and he always stops by for a chat once a week.”

“Sounds like he’s not too busy,” I remark, earning a huff from Dad.

“Oh, all those people running from here to there all day, every day, until they run themselves into a brick wall and fall flat on their faces. No, Seth has the right idea. Nothing refills your soul like a good cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie.”

“But, Dad-“

“You’ve been walking around under those bright city lights for too long. It’ll be good for you to get some fresh air and some real food in you for a change. I assume they’re making you live on salad out there.”

“No-one’s making me eat anything. Besides, the cows eat grass, and they’re fine on that.”

“Cows have four stomachs, you’ve only got one. Besides, they eat plenty of feed, too.”

“Okay, okay, bad example,” I backpedal. “But I do eat enough, Dad.”

He only grumbles in response. Dad has always been able to eat anything and still he stays slender. Sure, he does a lot of manual labor on the farm, but it’s also good genes at work.

Too bad none of those got handed down to me.

“You haven’t been staying out too late, have you? I heard on the news that it’s not safe to be out and about in California. Even the air can kill you.”

“I’m fine, Dad. I’m always safe.”

“Hm. I don’t suppose you have someone looking after you out there?”

Is this Dad’s way of asking if I’m seeing anyone? If so, I doubt he’d be pleased to hear about my quasi-relationship with Cole.

“I look after myself just fine, Dad. Don’t worry about me.”

“Your mom always worries. It’s in her nature, I suppose.”

“I talk to Mom almost every day. She’s got nothing to worry about.”

Dad has no further comment, and after a few miles of silence, he cranks up the volume on the radio to listen to the hourly national news broadcast. I’m pretty sure they’re the exact same news as when we first got in the car.

“You’re so skinny!” This is the second thing Mom says after I enter the kitchen with Dad. “Are you feeling all right? You must be starving. Didn’t they feed you on that trip you went on?”

“I caught a cold on the island, so I didn’t have much of an appetite,” I explain.

“Oh, honey, I worry about you. We all know how those horrible magazines pick apart young girls. You haven’t contracted an eating disorder, have you?” She frowns.

“I don’t think you can ‘contract’ that, actually, but no, I’m just trying to watch my weight.”

“Oh, Clementine is doing one of those programs now,” she says, referring to her book club leader and closest neighbor – living only a mile away on a neighboring farm. “Can you believe she asked me how many points were in my Bundt cake? Points?” Mom scoffs. “I only use real ingredients.”

“Have you got that pie ready?” Dad asks, sniffing the air.

“Dinner first,” Mom says sternly. “And I told Seth to come over for coffee later, we’ll save the pie for when he gets here.”

“Seth?” I frown. If I’m not mistaken, this is the new vet.

“Selma, the girl just got home, did you have to invite people over today?” Dad sighs.

“It’s not like she wasn’t going to meet him sooner or later,” Mom clucks. “Besides, maybe you two will find some common ground. Seth doesn’t go out much, I doubt he’s been to any of the popular places you used to go to with your friends.”

Uh-oh, I smell a set-up. And from the look on Dad’s face, he’s smelling it, too. It’s a stinker.

“You mean the library? If you recall, I spent most nights at home.”

“Oh, but you’ve been making up for lost time, haven’t you? Traveling, going out dancing in clubs…”

“Really, Mom, I’m not-“

“I saw the papers, you know,” she cuts me off, looking a bit put out. “Doreen had one of those glossy gossip magazines at the salon, and I was waiting for my coffee when she looked over my shoulder and pointed you out to me. ‘Isn’t that your daughter?’ she asked me, and I had to sit there and pretend like I knew all about it just so I wouldn’t look like a bad mother.”

“What pictures, Mom?” I frown. Surely the club photo wouldn’t have made it into a magazine? We’re not that famous.

“You were cozying up to some boy at a party. They didn’t name you, the story was about the couple behind you, with a big red circle around them. They were kissing in the middle of the party, thinking they wouldn’t be spotted. Why people can’t keep their dirty laundry in the hamper is beyond me.”

I bite my lip. Crystal and Cole at the mid-season finale party. Yep, definitely a good idea to keep Cole out of any conversation I have with my parents.

“That was just about promoting the show, Mom. We’re friends, nothing more.”

“Well, good. I still say-“

My phone buzzes and draws my attention away from my mother’s thoughts on PDA and over to the blinking screen. New text message – from Cole. I can’t hold back a smile and I pull up the text while nodding at whatever it is my mother is saying.

Hey, did u get to ur parents ok? ur not online

I quickly type back a reply. I’m here, no wifi. Call u later?

“What’s for dinner?” Dad asks, pulling out a chair at the kitchen table and I can only assume he’s noticed that I’ve checked out of the conversation with Mom.

“I have a tater tot hotdish baking in the oven. It was one of your favorites as a child, Hannah.”

“I remember.” I paste a smile on my face. I appreciate the effort, but there’s a reason why I was on the heavy side growing up, and comfort food played a large part in it all. “Can I help?”

“No, no, just take a seat and I’ll put the tray on the table.”

“I could make the salad,” I offer.

“Salad? Honey, you really have changed,” Mom clicks her tongue and shakes her head in blatant disapproval. I sigh quietly and pull out the chair I’ve always sat on. It wobbles a little under my weight and I curse all the times I rocked on it despite being told to sit properly.

I excuse myself after dinner to go unpack, but as soon as I close the door behind me to my old room, I call Cole on my cell phone. It rings several times before he picks up, and I worry I’ve interrupted something.

“Hey, you,” he answers and I can hear the smile in his voice, which relaxes me a little.

Maybe whatever I drew him away from wasn’t too important. “How are your parents?”

“Pretty much the same. I’m getting some grief over not eating enough.” I wedge the cell phone between my shoulder and ear as I open my suitcase on the floor.

“Sounds like they care about you a lot.”

“Yeah. They do,” I sigh. “But it’s a little frustrating at times. The industry is telling me to lose weight, and my parents are pushing me to gain it. But enough about me, how was your day?”

“Well, it’s still going,” he chuckles and I look up at the Minnie Mouse clock on the wall, set to Minnesota time. It’s close to seven, meaning it’s just before five in California.

“Oh, right. I hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”

“Nah, we were wrapping up for the day anyway.”

“Was the shoot today?” I try to remember if he told me when he was doing the photo shoot with Crystal, Lauren and Tom, but I don’t think so.

“No, that’s next week. I’m just with my agent today, looking over a couple of scripts.”

“Oh, wow. For a movie?”

“Yeah. Or, well, several. I don’t think any of them will work out with our schedule, though.”

“When are you going to shoot your scenes for Sun Sets and Rises?”

“I start tomorrow, and then I’ll be on set on and off for a couple of weeks, probably up until we start back up in August. What about you? What have you got planned?”

“Well, I guess I’ll help out with the farm. And Mom is trying to get me to spend time with the new vet,” I add. If I do end up playing tour guide, it’s only fair that Cole knows about it. Full disclosure and all that.

“The vet?” he sounds slightly perturbed, which, if I’m perfectly honest, brings a smile to my lips. “And am I to assume this is a male individual?”

“You would assume correctly,” I say, smiling as I hang up one of my dresses in the closet. “I have a nagging suspicion Mom is playing matchmaker.”

“And what was your response to this?”


“Did you tell her about us?”

“What exactly would I tell her?” I frown, despite the fact that my heart is tingling from hearing him say ‘us’. “That we might be spending time together when no-one is around? Besides, she saw the picture of you kissing Crystal in a magazine, so she might have my head examined it I tell her you really want to be kissing me.”

“Even if that’s the truth?”

“Even so.”

“Hm. I guess I’ll have to make the trip out there someday soon so she can see for herself.”

My heart does a trampoline jump and a flip at the thought of Cole coming all the way here just to spend time with me. I try to picture him here; walking along the pasture fence, feeding the newborn calves with a bottle, refilling the hay for the cows. It’s mind-boggling. Not so much because I don’t think he’d make an effort to fit in, but because it’s a mash-up of two distinctly different worlds.

I hear Mom calling my name and sigh. “I’m being summoned. I should probably let you go.”

“Okay. I might be a little hard to get a hold of for the next couple of weeks, but text me and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.”

“Hope you have a good time on set. Should I wish for you to break a leg or is that just for the theater?”

“I expect I’m supposed to have broken more than a leg after that fall,” he chuckles. “But thanks.”

“Hannah?” I hear Mom outside my door seconds before she knocks and opens the door.

“Oh, you’re on the phone. Seth is here, we’re sitting down to coffee now.”

“I’ll be right down,” I say, holding the phone against my chest.

“All right. Don’t be long,” she says and leaves, albeit reluctantly.

“Sorry, I’ve got to go,” I say to Cole once Mom’s gone. “We’ve got company.”

“Don’t go falling for the veterinarian, now. We need you back here for season two.”

“I’ll try to keep myself upright,” I joke and hang up. I’m still smiling as I make my way downstairs.

To be continued...


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