The day dawned foggy and Julia woke up in wonderful spirits. She rolled over to hug Darwin good morning, and he responded by lifting his great head to make sure it was, in fact, Julia and then letting it fall once again onto the mattress with a soft "thump." "I love you too, Big Boy," Julia said and then rolled out of bed cringing slightly at the unseasonable coolness in the room. She pulled on her pants and shoes and was downstairs in time to watch Holmes shake open his paper for the first time this morning.
"Good morning," Holmes said.
"Good morning. I can't believe this fog." Julia sliced some apples and dumped them into the horse bucket normally kept by the door.
"Yeah, it should clear up in a bit." The way Holmes looked out the window Julia knew he was waiting for it to clear up so he could take his run, and if it cleared up sooner rather than later it would make his life that much better.
"I hope it does. See you in a bit." Julia trotted out the door just as Darwin galloped in, hoping for breakfast. "Good morning, beautiful ladies," Julia said to the horses, feeding them each and checking their water. She gave each of them a few sections of apple and scratched their noses and then walked over to the main barn.
Only after checking the water buckets and putting a flake of hay in all the bins did Julia look out into the pasture and notice an almost hidden black smudge down past the first gate. She stepped out onto the grass, deciding if she needed to continue. There was a growing fear in her stomach and she walked forward past the first gate hoping she was wrong.
The llama's eyes were glassy with that distant, empty stare. The black hair was matted from the fog and dew. Her legs were splayed in an awkward position and her mouth was still slightly open. Julia stopped short, not wanting to look any closer. She hoped for a moment that this was all in her head. "Hello?" Her voice came out shaky, watery. "Baby girl?" The llama didn't move. And she looked closer at the long imperfect teeth, a sure sign this was an older llama. Probably one her mother was fond of.
Julia's vision was getting blurry now from the tears in her eyes and she made one last desperate attempt. She clapped her hands together and yelled. Birds in a nearby tree squawked their displeasure and flew off. Julia couldn't bring herself to touch the body. She tried to remember this llama's name – was it Maribel? – tried to find something to connect herself with the animal and then got caught up in looking at how her legs were sprawled out. She must have fallen. Too weak to hold herself up any longer. There was some green vomit in front of the llama's body and Julia swallowed hard, feeling ridiculous.
She walked away, tears now rolling down her cheek. She roughly shoved her arm across her face, trying to make herself stop. When she got back into the barn all the other llamas were still eating, but they could tell something was wrong and moved away from Julia when she got near. Her snotty sobs echoed in the barn and she couldn't will herself to move past the grain box. Instead she slumped against it and hoped she would make it back into the house.
When she regained enough good sense to walk out of the barn she was greeted by a chipper Mr. Carter.
"Well, good morning!" He smiled but then took in Julia's red blotchy tear-stained face, "What's happened?"
"It's…" Julia took in a great shuddering breath, "It's one of the llamas. I just found her in the pasture." She felt like she was going to crumple again, but Mr. Carter scooped her up into a hug.
He smelled like soap and gasoline and Julia let herself sink into his grasp.
"Shhh, it's okay. I know it's rough. Do you think you could show her to me?"
Julia nodded into his chest and then pulled away, wiping her eyes again and turning toward the pasture. They walked in silence down the hill until Julia was staring at the haunting face once again. This time she took in more details. The garishly sunken cheeks and thinning hair. Mr. Carter knelt down and Julia watched the scene get more and more haunting before her eyes.
"Okay, I'm going to call one of the guys from the shelter. Do you know where you want to bury her?"
Julia shook her head. Bury a llama? The discussion of burial hadn't even been on Julia's radar. She would have to call her mother. The thought of her mother's voice right now made the situation that much worse.
"That's okay, we'll ask your Mom. Alright? Let's go up to the house and we'll call your Mom and get you some coffee." Mr. Carter put an arm around Julia's shoulders and led her up to the house.
Darwin greeted them both with excitement and Mr. Carter patted him on the head kindly.
"What a lovely dog. Looks like a mix between Great Dane and… Wolfhound?"
"You're right." Julia said, bending over to kiss Darwin, who was very much alive and well, on the head, "His name is Darwin. I rescued him when I got here."
They made their way into the kitchen where Peter was peeling an apple and Holmes had made his way through half of his newspaper. They were talking in chipper bright tones and turned when Julia and Mr. Carter walked in.
"Good morning," Peter said, turning around from the sink with his paring knife and apple, "What's happened?" He immediately put his things down and turned fully to take in the picture.
Holmes looked up and then rushed around the bar, "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. It's fine. This is Mr. Carter." Julia said, trying to ignore the llama for as long as possible.
"Nice to see you again, Mr. Carter," Peter said, wiping his hand on his jeans and then offering it for Mr. Carter to shake.
"Always a pleasure, Peter. Holmes, how are you?"
"Fine," Holmes offered his hand and then wrapped an arm around Julia as Mr. Carter made his way to the phone, "And you?"
"I'm alright. Is your mother's number on the phone?" Mr. Carter picked it up from the stand and walked back over to Julia.
"Yeah," Julia took the phone and found her mother's number and handed it back to Mr. Carter before he could step away.
Peter and Holmes looked at each other, having a silent conversation in which neither could come to a conclusion. Peter smoothed Julia's hair and then worked to calm down Darwin who was pacing frantically around the kitchen.
"Hello? Sylvia? This is Tom. Yes, Tom Carter. Well, Julia's just found a llama in the pasture this morning and I'd like to take care of it as quickly as possible, but I need to know where to take the body to bury it." There was a long pause on the other end of the line.
Julia sank into Holmes's chest, another sob rising in her chest. Peter rubbed Julia's back and Darwin nosed his way into the huddle.
"Okay, thank you so much. I'll see you soon." Mr. Carter hung up the phone and then walked back over to Julia, "Your mother will be up here soon. She said she wanted to identify the llama herself."
Julia let out a harsh laugh, "She would."
"Would you like to go back out or do you want to stay here?" Mr. Carter's voice was so calm and paternal Julia was reminded of her Grandfather, which just made her sadder.
"No, I should go out. I should deal with this like a big girl." Julia realized just how childish she had just sounded, but no one commented on it. Instead Holmes and Peter made a move to follow Julia out to the pasture. She wanted to tell them no, but didn't have the strength to turn them away.
Her mother's car pulled up the driveway. She could see her mother checking her hair in the rear view mirror and wiping something away from her mouth. Was it lipstick? Her mother got out of the car and smiled at the sight of Mr. Carter.
"Tom! How good to see you!" She beamed, "Not under these conditions, of course." She added after a long beat. She kissed him on the cheek and he gave her a quick hug.
"Hello, Sylvia." Mr. Carter did not seem as eager as Julia's mother.
Sylvia turned her attention to her daughter, "What's happened to you?" She gave Julia a cool look.
"I just found a dead llama in the pasture. Maribel." Julia nearly spit, but Holmes held her firmly around the shoulders.
"I'm glad to see you've brought your… friends." Her mother continued.
Julia imagined her mother wearing a cropped coat with boots and carrying a very expensive purse. Large sunglasses perched on her nose and her hair blown out professionally. A Coco Chanel-esque figure instead of the aging farm girl who was really standing in front of her.
Mr. Carter steered Sylvia away from the scene and Julia walked as far as the fence line before letting them continue without her.
"It's going to be alright." Peter said at Julia's side.
"I know. It was just sad… and scary." Julia looked over at Peter who returned her gaze with a subdued smile and a nod.
Julia watched the interaction going on at the lower pasture and felt like she was standing with them. Listening to her mother's screeching banter and Mr. Carter's calm, levelheaded planning. There was something odd in her mother's gestures. As if the llama wasn't even lying there in front of them. As if they were at a social event and had just met. Finally the two turned away from the pasture and walked back to the fence line.
"I'm sorry, but may I use your phone again? I'm going to call Alice and have her help me."
"Of course," Julia said, turning back to the house.
"Really, Julia, how did you not know that we put all the animals in the back corner of the pasture. That's where they've always gone. You should know that."
Julia ignored her mother and made her way into the kitchen, handing Mr. Carter the phone. He excused himself into the dining room and Julia's mother looked like she was seriously considering following him.
"And really, you need to go wash your face. Splash some cold water on it at least. You look awful." Sylvia perched herself onto a bar stool.
Holmes opened his newspaper back up with more force than was necessary and Peter leaned on the sink openly looking at Sylvia with distaste. Julia walked into Peter's chest and Sylvia made a move like she was going to criticize the overly familiar gesture.
"Punched anyone out lately?" Sylvia said coolly.
"Just your future son in law." Peter replied.
"What was your name again?" Sylvia tilted her head up a little and squinted her eyes as though she was reading very small print.
"Peter." Julia spat. "His name is Peter McGrath and he is, despite your lack of enthusiasm, living here with me."
"Oh, my amount of enthusiasm has no effect on your actions. Obviously." Sylvia's voice had become deathly quiet.
"With all due respect, Mrs. Folese," Holmes said, with as much charm as he could muster, "Your daughter has had a bit of a rough morning. She has just had to deal with her first dead animal."
"Holmes?" Sylvia said, as though the information was tucked deeply into the darkest recesses of her mind. Holmes nodded, "My daughter is going to have to learn to deal with these things sooner or later. She's still a poor little city girl."
Holmes opened his mouth but then caught a glimpse of Julia shaking her head 'no' and decided to give it up. He looked at Peter instead and they both made a silent agreement to keep quiet for the rest of this encounter.
"Alice will be here in just a little while. She's going to have to get the shelter covered for the morning, but that shouldn't be too hard." Mr. Carter said, unaware of the tension he had just walked into.
Darwin trotted at Mr. Carter's heels, happily.
"I think he likes you," Julia said. "But he likes almost everyone. No offense."
"None taken. I like him very much, myself." Mr. Carter knelt down to scratch Darwin's ears. Darwin repaid him with a sloppy kiss.
"Julia, you shouldn't let your dog do that." Sylvia said, looking at Darwin with distain now.
"Sylvia, it's fine. He's a dog." Mr. Carter said, but stood so Darwin would be out of the spotlight.
There was silent tension for a few moments. Peter and Holmes exchanged silent glances, not knowing how to get themselves out of this situation. Sylvia was looking expectantly at Mr. Carter; Mr. Carter was looking anywhere but at Sylvia and Julia was suddenly very tired and sick of dealing with it all. Darwin sat in between everyone else and wondered why in the world he hadn't gotten his morning walk yet. This silence stretched on until Julia realized she hadn't fed the goats that morning and excused herself out to the barn.
"Hi guys. Sorry I didn't feed you earlier." She scooped grain into the heavy black plastic buckets and watched them all fight over who got to be in the bucket first. After most of the grain was distributed, Julia sat on an old tree stump with a handful of grain and let one of the goats – maybe Lydia – eat from her hand. After the grain was gone, Julia just sat and stared into space. She felt drained from the morning and couldn't bear to walk back into that perfectly silent house.
"Julia?" Alice's familiar voice cut through Julia's thoughts.
"Hey," Julia said, standing up and walking over to the fence. "You been inside yet?"
"No, I just saw you sitting here." Alice waited for Julia to let herself out of the goats' pasture. "So, you haven't had a good morning, huh?"
"Yeah, not the best. It started out pretty good though." Julia forced herself to smile and hoped that would be enough for the conversation to be over.
"Well, we're going to take care of it and then you can go back to your life. Good thing Dad really came to do the fences today."
"Is that why he's here?" That question hadn't even passed through Julia's mind, she had just been grateful someone had been there. "He's really good at this stuff. Especially since he doesn't know me."
"He does know you, he met you last night, remember?" Alice swung an arm over Julia's shoulder and they walked inside.
Just before they walked in the door, Julia removed Alice's arm, "Mom's in there. I don't want to deal with more of her pestering." Julia opened the door and stuck her head in, "Mr. Carter? Alice is here." Julia waited to hear footsteps and then stepped back outside fully.
"Thanks, Al, for coming." Mr. Carter kissed the top of Alice's head and they all made their way back out to the barn.
Burying Maribel was a silent affair. Julia wasn't sure what to do with herself because Alice and Mr. Carter insisted on doing everything. She didn't want to watch, but also couldn't tear her eyes away from Maribel's face.
"Thank you both so much," Julia said when they were back up at the barn.
"Don't thank us yet, we didn't put in one fence this morning. Possibly the worst fencers you've ever had on your property," Mr. Carter said.
When they got up to the hay barn Julia could see her mother's car was gone.
"Do you need anything from me?" Julia asked, "I know a dog who has a walk that's completely overdue."
"We're fine. A few more of my guys will be down in a bit and we should have most of your fence line done by this afternoon."
Alice watched Julia walk away and then turned to her father, "So, how was seeing Sylvia?"
"I don't want to talk about it. Help me get the rest of the posts back onto the truck."