An excerpt from LEAVES:

“Yes, I know I’m late,” Tyler Gold said, not making eye contact with his brother or his sisters as he entered the common room of the inn. “I’m sorry.”


“We’ll get over it,” Corrina said in the sharp tone he’d grown accustomed to hearing from her. It was difficult to know these days if she was angry with him for a specific reason or simply angry with him because he existed.


Deborah called out from the dining room. “Dinner’s getting worse by the minute. Is Tyler here yet?”


He was a little surprised they’d bothered to wait for him and simultaneously wished they hadn’t, though Deborah’s cooking would almost certainly be the most pleasant thing about this evening.


“I’m here.”


He made his way into the dining room with the rest of them, Maxwell clapping him on the shoulder as he passed by. These days Tyler felt more like the baby of the family around these people than he had since before he’d graduated high school. He had no idea why that was, given how world-weary the past year had made him feel otherwise.


Deborah ladled soup from a tureen, something orange and redolent of cinnamon and nutmeg. She topped each bowl with a dab of sour cream and snipped fresh chives over that. Ever the maestro, even in this crowd.


“Deborah, stop waiting on us,” Maria said. “We’re perfectly capable of serving our own soup.”


Deborah simply smiled at her older sister, finishing at last and sitting with the rest of them.


Then the lights went out.


Just like when Dad died, Tyler thought instantly. It had been the night of the funeral. A beautiful but unsatisfying service that followed three days of communal heartache and eulogizing. Mourners came back to the inn with them that day, but at night the family gathered alone for dinner. Mom had been crying for a week, but just before the meal began, she stood at the head of the table, raised her wineglass, and said, “Joseph, what you gave us will be with us forever.” Tyler touched his glass with the others and sipped through his tears. He knew what she’d said was true, but it didn’t help him miss his father any less.


As Mom sat down after that tribute, the room went dark. For a moment, no one said anything. Then Maria started singing, her voice somewhat otherworldly coming out of the black. She sang “Autumn Leaves,” Dad’s favorite song. Tyler joined her, the youngest sibling attempting to lend ragged harmony to the oldest. It was the only jazz standard to which he knew all the words, in fact the only jazz standard on his iPod. Soon, all of them were singing, Mom’s voice, nearly as mellifluous as Maria’s, coming in last and with a purity that refuted her sadness. When the song ended, they sat in silence, Tyler half-expecting Maria to continue with another song, an impromptu concert to mark the occasion.


At last, Maxwell went to the basement, flicked a circuit breaker, and the power came back on. However, the tenor of the day, of that terrible week, had changed. After all the comfort they’d tried to bring each other at the wake and the funeral, it seemed to Tyler that this group song had managed to give them a modicum of peace.


Tyler didn’t know whether anyone else seated at the table tonight flashed back to that previous power failure the way he did. All he knew was that the lights went back on of their own accord a few minutes later.


And this time no one sang.




“I’m just saying that I think we’re getting off to a bad start with the party,” Corrina said, her fork poised outward above her plate. “We have less than a month – a lot less than a month, really – to get everything together.”


And what happens if we don’t get everything together perfectly, Tyler thought. Will a huge hole open up and swallow us, taking all of Oldham with it? The party meant a lot to him, too, especially this year, but Corrina had a way of making it sound like the fate of the free world depended on having just the right balloons.


Maxwell leaned toward Corrina’s still-suspended fork. “I really would dedicate all of my time to it, Cor, but I kinda have this job thing that gets in the way. I mean if it wasn’t for the annoying obligation to feed my family, I’d take care of the entire party myself.”


Corrina scowled. “Yes, I have a job too, Maxwell. Yet I still manage to think about this function a little. It’s called multitasking. Try it sometime.”


“Great salmon,” Maria said to Deborah in a stage whisper.


Deborah rolled her eyes toward Maxwell and Corrina. “Thanks.”


“I can do more,” Tyler said, not really stopping to think. The fact was he could do more. Without Patrice and with business as slow as it was, he had much more free time than he needed or wanted.


Corrina shook her head. “You have enough on your plate.”


“Really, I don’t.”


“It’s fine, Tyler. We’ll get it all done.”


There was no way to win with her right now. If he said he was maxed out, she would have criticized him for that. At least Ryan wasn’t here to sneer at him tonight.


This was the first Wednesday in two months that all of them had gotten together for dinner. It hadn’t been a weekly thing since before Mom got sick. Corrina, for reasons known only to her, wanted this particular one to be a siblings-only event. No spouses or kids. Tyler wondered how Gardner, Annie, and Doug felt about being excluded. Were they offended or relieved? Almost certainly the latter. Maybe they were even laughing together at a nearby restaurant.


“Let’s just go over everyone’s responsibilities again, so we’re clear,” Maria said.


Corrina sighed. “You’re taking care of the entertainment, Maria. And it really is getting tight if you want to book a DJ. Deborah is doing the food, obviously, and we need to finalize the menu soon. Maxwell is in charge of promotion and publicity, and Tyler needs to take care of the decorations.”


“It’s all very doable,” Maxwell said.


“As long as we really want to do it.”


Maxwell narrowed his eyes. “Why wouldn’t we want to do it? We all agreed to throw one more Halloween party.”


Corrina seemed a little flustered by this confrontation. Tyler thought she might even cry. “It just doesn’t feel like we’re giving this our all.”


Tyler stood up. “We’ll get it done. We’ll even get it done well. Maybe not as well as Mom and Dad always did it, but it’ll be good. Listen, I have to run.”


Corrina offered him a confused expression. “You’re leaving already?”


“I know I should have cleared the whole night, but I couldn’t. I need to get some shots cleaned up before tomorrow, and I’m already gonna be at this until just before dawn. Deborah, thanks; dinner was great. I’ll see you all soon.”


No one rose as Tyler left the table, which was just as well. At this point, he felt as though he needed a little distance from all of them. He stepped out of the inn and headed home. Maybe he truly would spend some time touching up some photos on his computer, though it could certainly wait until tomorrow or even next week.


It was an okay option if there was nothing good on TV.