Monthly Archives: February 2019

An interview with Jeff and Val

Vegan_no-knead_whole_wheat_bread_loaf,_sliced,_September_2010

Veganbaking.net [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s early evening, just long enough after supper to be a decent time to visit. When I pull into the parking area behind Jeff and Val’s house, they come out to greet me. After the introductions Val says, “Let’s talk in the kitchen. I have tomatoes drying in one oven and bread baking in the other, and they’ll both be done soon.”

I follow them into the house and am greeted by the aroma of baking bread. “Aaaahhh. There is no better smell.”

Val grins. “Right? With two teenage boys to feed, I bake bread nearly every day. When they’re off to college, I’ll have to cut back. I’m not looking forward to that day.”

“I’m sure. Where are the boys?”

Jeff says, “In their rooms doing homework. Supposedly.”

“Do you check up on them? Make sure they’re not texting their pals?”

“I’ll usually stick my head in once during the evening. They don’t goof off much, though. Colin’s in AP classes and Gabe’s in the International Baccalaureate program. They both realize the consequences if they don’t do well.”

“Gabe’s in IB? I’m surprised.”

Val says, “Getting admitted to the program you want at a UC school is so competitive now. Gabe’s set on UC-Davis and doesn’t want to take chances. It was totally his choice. We were a tad surprised too.”

Jeff adds, “But that’s Gabe. A tad surprising.”

I say, “It must be a rare quiet moment for you two.”

Val nods. “We have them more often now that the boys are older. But it’s not something we can count on daily. What can I get you to drink?”

I settle on a glass of wine. “How are the horses?”

Jeff says, “They’re great. We’re just starting to train them to pull.”

“You’re really going to plow with them?”

Val says, “That’s the plan. Not that we have much plowing compared to a big farm, but we prefer not to use gasoline unless we have to. And the horses repay us in lovely manure.”

The oven timer dings; the tomatoes are done drying. Val jumps to her feet and removes them to a cooling rack. I say, “The chores are never done, are they?”

“No.” Her smile is wry. “That’s the main problem with this lifestyle…we can’t really travel. We can get away for a while if a couple of my brothers come, but then they’re leaving my parents and other brothers in a pinch.”

“Your family’s farm is doing well?”

She crosses her fingers. “Yes, thank the gods.”

Jeff says, “It’s a tenuous existence.”

“I’m sure. And a ton of hard work.”

Val says, seemingly out of nowhere, “I hope Pete knows what he’s getting into.”

Oh. Do you think he doesn’t?”

“Not entirely. He has this elaborate plan which will be awesome, if it works.”

“Is that a big if?

“He’s not as worried about water as he should be. That corner of New Mexico is so dry.”

Jeff says wryly, “It’s not called the Chihuahuan Desert for nothin’.”

“You must have water issues here, too.”

“Yes, but it rains more here.” Val smiles. “It’s been a good year for rain so far.”

“Glad to hear it! Total change of subject. Do you enjoy being a Brodie?”

They both laugh. Val says, “That’s an off the wall question! But yes! I couldn’t have designed a better life for myself. It’s just far enough away from my own family that I don’t get sucked into my sisters-in-law’s dramas, and I’m surrounded by Brodie boys. And I love ‘em all! What more could I ask for?”

Jeff is grinning widely. I say, “You’ve hit it off with Kristen.”

Both Jeff and Val hoot with laughter. Val says, “Oh, God, yes. Isn’t she amazing? She’s perfect for Kevin, perfect for all of us. And so unlike the rest of her family!”

Jeff says, “Kristen is Val’s favorite sister-in-law.”

Val adds, “Yes, she is. Don’t tell anyone.”

“Ha! I won’t.”

The other oven timer sounds; Val scrambles to her feet again. “Time to take the bread out. Then I’m going to put the critters to bed. Give you and Jeff a chance to talk.”

“Are you sure? Isn’t critter care a two-person job?”

“Nah.” She removes the bread into a towel-lined basket. “When I come back, the bread will be cooled enough to eat. You all don’t cut it until then.”

I say, “Yes, ma’am.”

She laughs and scoots out the back door.

I say to Jeff, “Do you usually help?”

“Sure. But since you’re here…” He shrugs. “It’s not a huge job. Goats, chickens, and horses.”

The back door opens again and Val sticks her head in. “Someone wants to say hello.”

An oversized yellow Lab bounds into the room and skids to a halt beside me. I turn to him and ruffle his ears. “Ralphie!”

He wiggles all over in joy. Jeff says, “You had a Ralphie, I understand.”

“I did. Just like this guy.” I accept a few chin licks. “I miss him.”

“How old was he?”

“Sixteen.”

“Wow! He had a great life, then.”

“Up until his last few months, yes.”

“That’s one reason I’m glad to be doing less small animal work now. Imagine having someone crying in your office every day.”

I shake my head. “I thought about being a vet when I was a kid. I don’t think I could do it. Speaking of your practice, how are you doing now, four years post inheritance?”

He smiles. “Fine, now, but it took a couple of years for me to completely deal with the emotion of it. But it’s allowed Val and I to do what we want, it’s allowing the boys to go wherever they want to school and get started in life without debt… It’s all good.”

“The large animal practice is working out?”

“Oh yes. There are so few of us large animal specialists. I’m busier than I thought I’d be. All over San Diego County, and out into Riverside and Imperial too.”

“You’re putting in a lot of miles.”

He shrugs. “Yeah. But I have a route. I start early, drop the boys at school, then head out. Sometimes, barring emergencies, I’m back in time to pick them up from school.”

“They’re not getting their own cars?”

He’s emphatic. “No. They don’t need them.”

“Good for you. Your dad is a great backup, I guess.”

“Oh my God. We couldn’t do this without him. He’s handled the boys for us so often through the years.”

“You must be happy that they’re his only grandkids.”

That surprises him. “You know, I never thought about it, but yeah. It’s worked out for us. I owe him so much…”

“You’ll have a chance to repay him. To take care of him, eventually.”

“Yes. We’ve already discussed it, at least in general terms. He wants to stay in his house as long as he can, naturally, and when he can’t then we’ll bring him over here.”

“I’m sure he’d prefer that to a facility.”

“Yeah. Grampa likes his ALF but Dad… not so much, I think.”

“What do you think of Claudia?”

He smiles. “So far, so terrific. She’s laid back, happy in her own house, doesn’t make any demands. She was an only child and she says she needs her space.”

“It sounds perfect.”

“Yes. Dad never had his own space until Jamie left for college. He’s enjoying it, too.”

“How’s your relationship with Kevin these days?”

Another smile. “Better. Kev is calmer now… no, that’s not the right word. He was at loose ends after his divorce from Jennifer, even when he was dating Abby. Now he’s settled and it suits him. All three of us like to be settled.”

“What about Jamie moving off to New Mexico?”

He wrinkles his nose. “When he first mentioned it, I thought the idea was nuts. I’d understand Tucson; Pete has far more family there. But moving to Alamogordo, just for Steve? I dunno…”

“Have you seen their house?”

“Oh, yes. It’s fantastic. It has Jamie written all over it.”

“How so?”

He gestures in the direction of his dad’s house. “You’ve seen how cramped we were, growing up. None of us ever had any space or privacy. Jamie’s given himself plenty of space in the new house. I just wish he’d built it here.”

“Did you suggest that?”

He snorts. “Nah. I’m sure you’ve noticed, you can’t suggest much to Jamie.”

“Ha! Indeed. How are you and Pete?”

“Fine. I don’t see him as much as I used to. Seems like we’re always missing each other.”

“My readers say that I – meaning Jamie – need to be nicer to Pete.”

He frowns. “That’s a weird thing to say.”

“Why?”

“Pete’s the author of his own problems, it seems to me. Just my opinion, but he shouldn’t have left Santa Monica College. Working from home doesn’t suit his personality. He’s in his own head too much.”

“In retrospect, you’re probably right. It was the thing to do at the time, though.”

“I guess so. You know, I met Pete before Jamie did.”

That surprises me, but I suppose it shouldn’t. “Because he was Kevin’s partner?”

“Yeah. When the boys were little, I’d take them to LA about once a month, to give Val a break, and to hike with Kev and Jennifer. Pete was usually there.”

“Sure. How was he, then?”

“He was solid until he started graduate school. Then… He was in transition from the police force. It’s similar to now, when he’s in transition from full-time work to something else. He was solid when he was at SMC. Now he’s…tenuous. Shakier.”

“You’re pretty observant.”

Another shrug, with a smile. “When you don’t talk a lot, you notice stuff.”

“Ha! True.”

“Don’t get me wrong. Pete has been great for Jamie. Jamie was a mess there for a while, between Ethan and Pete. Now he’s back to himself.”

“So the Jamie we see now is the authentic version?”

“Yes. He’s got his confidence back. And that’s thanks to Pete, who’s provided Jamie the stability he didn’t have before. But there’s another thing. Jamie was a project for Pete in a way. Now that project is successfully completed, and Pete’s put himself out of another job.”

“So he’s out of two jobs.”

“Right.”

“I should have been talking to you about this from the start!”

He laughs. “I assume you have something planned.”

“Yes. Books 18 through 21 are an arc of sorts and Pete will be his authentic self by the end.”

“And that’s it, huh?”

“That’s it for now. The Jamie Brodie Mysteries ‘canon’ will be complete. But the readers haven’t seen the last of Jamie and Pete. I have to keep reassuring them of that…”

“You should give Kevin his own book.”

“Oh, yes, that’s already in the works. He may get more than one. Do you want a book?”

He splutters. “No, thank you! Val would love it, though.”

The woman herself enters just as Jeff speaks. “I’d love what?”

“Having your own mystery book.”

“Hm.” Val sits beside Jeff and props her chin on her fist. “Intriguing. You should have a book, too.”

I say, “I offered. He turned it down.”

Jeff shakes his head firmly. “Remember how upset we both were during the Gavin Barkley mess? And we were only peripherally involved in that. You really want to go through that again?”

Val acquiesces. “Ah. Maybe not.”

I ask Val, “Who would you like to see have their own book?”

Her answer is prompt. “Kevin.”

“He’s getting one. Who else?”

She and Jeff exchange an amused look. Jeff says, “You know who’d make an awesome amateur sleuth? My cousin Carly.”

I laugh. “I agree, we need to see more of Carly. I might have an idea there…”

Jeff grins. “Carly’s a hoot. I wish we’d grown up closer to her.”

Val refills my wine. I say, “Tell me about the day you two met.”

They both chuckle. Val says, “First day of freshman biology.”

Jeff says, “We didn’t exactly meet that day.”

“True. But I noticed you that day.”

I ask, “When did you start talking?”

Jeff says, “Our first exam was scheduled for about two weeks into the term. I was in the library studying.”

Val continues. “I walked in and spotted him at a table by himself. I plopped down and said, ‘Hey, you’re in my biology class. Want to study together?’”

Jeff grins. “As I remember, it took me a minute to form a complete sentence.”

Val says, “I thought I’d scared you. You just kind of nodded.”

“You had scared me. Kind of.”

I laugh. “It must not have taken long for you to figure it out. Val, I know you came home with Jeff for Thanksgiving.”

“I did. We rode down here with one of Jeff’s high school friends, crowded into the back seat of a Suzuki Samurai.”

“Oh, God…”

Val grimaces. “Tell me about it. But once we got to Dave’s, it was great. I felt welcomed immediately by everyone.”

I ask Jeff, “When did you meet Val’s family?”

“I met her parents at the start of the spring semester, when they brought her back to Palo Alto. We talked about animals.”

Val grins. “Get both Jeff and my dad talking about animals, and there’s not stopping them.”

I laugh with them. “You know, it’s getting late. Is there anything you two want to ask me?”

They exchange another look. Val says, “Why did you want to talk to us? It’s not like your readers see a lot of us.”

“Actually, a reader asked for this interview.”

That throws them both. Jeff says, “Seriously?

“Yup.”

Val says, “Huh. Well. Okay, then.” She jumps to her feet. “How about a slice of warm bread?”

“Oh, yes, pleeeaase…”

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