Me and the Tidy Tornado

Chapter 1

Tammy

I should have bought a dog.

I stare at the large, masculine building housing the ATV dealership twenty minutes outside of my hometown of Good Grief, Idaho.

I don’t know what I’m even doing here. I must have lost what little mind I had left after my marriage dissolved.

My ex liked to play mind games, only he never played by the rules.

Are there even rules for mind games?

Regardless, I’m a stickler for rules.

I never color outside the lines.

Except I’m standing in front of Foursquare ATV Sales and Service, and I’m definitely making a big loop outside the lines.

Huge.

Unheard of.

I borrowed my dad’s truck.

He gave me an odd look when I asked if I could.

Of all his four daughters, I’m not exactly the one he’d expect to ask to borrow his truck.

Kori wouldn’t need ask; she has her own.

It wouldn’t be completely unheard of for Claire, and even Leah, who is a girly girl.

Me?

What in the world do I need a truck for?

I’m an English teacher.

My idea of a good time is hanging out at my sister’s house, correcting papers while the hubbub of her and her two children flow around me.

Because my home is too quiet now that my husband left and took my boys with him.

Talk about having your heart broke.

I mentioned I was an English teacher. And yes, I know the grammar is incorrect in that last line.

That’s why I decided to get a dog. Because I stopped caring.

What does it matter if I speak correctly?

It seems to be a stumbling block to people because they see me as straightlaced, serious, a stick-in-the-mud, no fun.

At least, that’s what my ex said.

I straighten my purse over my shoulder, run my hand down my carefully pressed slacks, and wonder if maybe I should have changed out of my two-inch heels before I stopped at the store.

I hadn’t even thought about it.

The wind ruffles my blouse as I hesitate for just a moment before deciding it doesn’t matter what I wear.

People aren’t going to be judging me for my clothes, and even if they do, there’s nothing wrong with my outfit.

I look okay, I think.

But then, I lost twenty pounds after my husband left. I’m straight as a stick.

It wasn’t the diet plan I would have chosen, but I don’t regret the twenty pounds, and I suppose I could say good riddance to my ex too.

I just miss my boys.

My stomach churns.

I don’t know why I’m nervous. It’s not like I’ve never bought anything before.

I’m not going to finance it. I have plenty of money in the bank, and I’m going to write out a check.

There is nothing to be nervous about.

I walk in, and heat blows down as I pass through the doorway. The smell of oil and grease and garage hits me. Unfamiliar but not pleasant, and I wrinkle my nose.

You’d think they’d put some air fresheners or something in here.

I catch a whiff of cigarette smoke as well. I don’t plan on being here long enough to worry about secondhand smoke. But I’ll have to have my clothes dry-cleaned, because I can hardly show up in my English classroom reeking of cigarette smoke and garage smell. I probably ought to plan on sending my purse as well.

Maybe that is part of my problem. Maybe it doesn’t matter what I smell like. Maybe it’s not as bad as I think.

No. I will not listen to that voice. It’s becoming louder in my head, and I absolutely am not interested in doing anything that my ex said I should.

There are what seems like dozens of four-wheelers sitting on the spacious floor. But no people in sight. The place looks deserted. Isn’t there anyone here?

I’m getting ready to take a step toward the ATVs on display when something zips by my feet. I almost fall.

I think at first it is a dog, or maybe the Lord is sending me a sign that I need to turn around and leave the place immediately and go find someone who is selling puppies.

Any kind of puppy.

But my eyes focus, and I realize it’s one of those monster truck toys.

Remote controlled.

Where is the person holding the control? I look around the store. I can see someone in the far corner, through a door—maybe that’s where the garage smell is coming from—working on what looks like a motorcycle.

I don’t know anything about motorcycles, but this one has a low seat and high handlebars, and it sparkles like a Christmas tree, even though there are no lights on it. Whatever it is, it’s fancy and looks expensive.

I don’t want anything fancy, and I’m not buying a motorcycle. I am going to buy an ATV. I’m not sure I am going to drive it.

One step at a time. I take a breath. I can do this.

I step forward, and out of nowhere, the truck comes again, zipping between my legs.

I almost kick it, because I certainly am not expecting it.

I realize it’s been humming around for a while, and I’ve been ignoring it.

I look around again. Whoever is playing with the toy will probably be in big trouble with his boss when I mention it to him.

A kid wearing a T-shirt and dirty jeans comes out from another door at the far wall, wiping his face with his hands before wiping his hands on his jeans. He’s chewing like maybe I interrupted his lunch, even though it’s afternoon.

The humming hasn’t stopped, and he’s not holding a controller, so I assume it’s not him.

I stop again, waiting.

I don’t recognize this kid, but that’s not too surprising.

My hometown of Good Grief, Idaho, doesn’t have an ATV shop, so I’ve driven halfway to Ravens Point, which is forty minutes away.

I don’t do much business in Ravens Point, and I don’t know anyone there.

My mouth is open, but I haven’t said anything, when the truck that’s been driving around bounces into my toe.

The words I had intended aren’t what comes out.

“Take me to your supervisor,” I say, my tone frosty. This is the part of me that I don’t like. I don’t mean to be frosty. I don’t mean to be cold, and I definitely don’t mean to be a straightlaced, serious witch.

Guess you know who said that.

Yeah.

But it’s my default mode. My protection mode. I don’t smile or show happiness easily. I can’t let loose. I can’t goof off.

I used to be able to. My ex is wrong about that. But after he left, I knew he was right—I have a tendency to be too serious. I have a tendency to not let go, and maybe it’s my teacher instincts, where I am constantly correcting children all day, telling them to behave, to pay attention, to not goof off, but I know that I have these tendencies.

I think it comes with being the oldest.

Regardless, it got worse after he left.

By design. I figure if he was going to leave me because I was too serious and straightlaced, then I want to make sure that if anyone else is ever interested in me, they understand what my personality is.

That, and cold and frosty aren’t my emotions. It is me hiding my emotions.

I do that now because it’s dangerous to allow people to see what I really feel. That’s where the hurt happens.

I lift my chin as the boy stares at me with his mouth open. Apparently, not too many people walk in here and ask to see the supervisor.

I know I didn’t stutter, so I wait for him to get with the program.

“Uh… I guess. You from the government?”

It’s my turn to stare. What in the world would make him think that?

I don’t worry the question too long in my brain. Sometimes, people just don’t make sense. Especially teenage boys. This is one of those times.

“No. I need to speak with him. Immediately.” He is going to get a piece of my mind over slacking employees who play with toys and run them into customers.

But I don’t need to explain all of that to this kid. He just works here.

“Oh, okay. He’s up there.”

He points to the far wall, only up.

I turn, looking. I hadn’t even noticed there is an overhang and what I assume are one-sided glass windows overlooking the store.

The kind of windows where he can see us but we can’t see him.

I look both ways and don’t see steps.

“How do I get there?”

The kid points over toward the door I’d noticed earlier through which I’d seen the man working on the motorcycle. The stairs run the far side of that door, tucked against the wall.

“Thank you,” I say, and I pause, waiting for him to supply his name.

He doesn’t.

He just says, “You’re welcome.” And he walks off.

I try to impart manners into the children I teach every day.

I teach English, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t teach manners along with it. Just common courtesy.

I tried to instill them in my boys, too.

That was one thing their father was very good at. Being courteous. Except when he was insulting me.

The kid scratches behind his ear as he walks away.

The truck that had stopped against my toe backs up and does circles around me.

I’m annoyed. Seriously. Someone needs to stop this.

And then I think, why don’t I laugh about it?

What’s it hurting?

True, it isn’t hurting anything.

But it is disrespectful and demeaning. I won’t put up with it.

And now, instead of buying an ATV, I march angrily across the floor, not even looking at the four-wheelers that are sitting there as I pass them, eager to tell on someone and get them in trouble.

No wonder my husband didn’t like me.

I don’t even like myself at this moment.

Still, this is such egregiously unacceptable behavior I have to report it.

Although, if those are really single-sided windows, he might already be able to see.

A thought strikes me that is so compelling I almost stop.

Maybe he has seen it. Maybe he’s okay with it.

I don’t stop. It couldn’t possibly be true.

I adjust my purse strap again, put my hand on the railing, and climb the metal stairs, my high heels clicking on the steps and reverberating throughout the store. This is just a simple warehouse building with a concrete floor and a ceiling showing exposed metal beams and ductwork. Nothing fancy. Of course, it’s an ATV outlet, so it doesn’t need to be.

It just needs to appeal to…men.

Maybe the truck appeals to men too.

My ex is a marketing exec in a big firm, but this whole thing would appeal to him for sure. The smell of the garage, the plainclothes building, even the remote-control truck.

There’s no sign or anything on the door when I get to the top of the stairs, and I don’t know whether I should knock or just walk in.

I decide to be bold.

That’s the opposite of my usual decision.

I open the door and walk into a large open room—open from one end of the building to the other.

Right in the middle of the room, halfway down, there’s a desk.

There’s no one behind the desk. But there is a man sitting in an office chair, his feet propped up somehow on the window, facing me, and smirking.

Somehow, it doesn’t surprise me to see that he is holding a remote control.