This story springs from the previously posted Nathan and Del stories, and might also be titled Nathan and Del Part Five. Almost Fifteen may be enjoyed without resort to the first four parts of the saga, though reading the previous episode Constance and Joseph will likely enhance your enjoyment of Almost Fifteen.
Delilah was born on October 5, 2010 to the movie star Margot Cunningham. About to turn fifteen, Delilah has lived in the remote California coastal town of Mercy with Nathan, seventy-five, and Nathan’s wife Celia, sixty-nine, for a year and a half.
A musical prodigy and an excellent artist, her favorite medium pen and ink, Delilah is not only madly in love with Nathan and Celia, she loves living in Mercy where she takes Jazz and Afro Cuban dance at the rec center, goes on long walks in the forest and on the beach with Nathan and Celia and their dog Tennyson, practices the piano, composes music, has painting lessons from Joseph Richardson, their neighbor, learns French and Greek Mythology from Constance Richardson, Joseph’s wife, helps Nathan with his occasional pruning jobs, grows vegetables and cooks meals with Celia and Nathan, babysits Carlos, Celia and Nathan’s four-year-old grandson, studies poetry with Nathan, and has two delightful friends about her age, Beverly and Josh.
Margot is forty-six now and has not returned to Mercy since she handed Delilah over to Nathan and Celia, a miraculous happening Margot did not foresee when she and Delilah fled their townhouse in Manhattan to escape the prying eyes of millions and make a life for Delilah in this remote part of the world.
Since Delilah’s infancy, Margot has never lived with her daughter for more than a few weeks at a time, a few times a year, and she has depended entirely on nannies to raise her only child. And though Margot is devoted to Delilah, she prefers to live alone, being entirely consumed by her work and her addiction to sex.
But every year, Margot makes it a priority to be with Delilah in-person for Delilah’s birthday, which is why in the midst of work on a billion-dollar sci-fi epic Margot flies from London to San Francisco, and on October 2, Delilah and Nathan and Celia make the long drive from Mercy to San Francisco to join Margot in her suite at the Fairmont Hotel—a lavish lunch to be the centerpiece of their visit.
Our trio leaves Mercy at six in the morning in Celia’s little blue twenty-two-year-old Toyota station wagon, Celia driving for the first two hours, Nathan taking over when they arrive on the edge of the urban sprawl. Two more hours of navigating heavy traffic in the megalopolis brings them to the Fairmont in the heart of San Francisco where they leave the little car in the care of a valet, and a punctilious hotel manager guides them to Margot’s suite on the twenty-ninth floor.
Margot, stunning in a silky burgundy shirt and black trousers, her dark blonde hair in a ponytail, greets her daughter with a long hug, and surprises herself by bursting into tears when Celia gently embraces her.
“What’s wrong with me?” says Margot, pulling away from Celia. “So emotional today. Sorry. Excuse me while I go wash my face.”
Nathan and Celia and Delilah enter the large sitting room and Delilah plays a desultory run of notes on the Steinway grand Margot had brought in for the occasion.
“To think I lived in this crazy place for ten years,” says Nathan, standing at the big picture window and looking down on the maze of streets and buildings. “Wouldn’t last a week here now.”
“Here we are,” says Margot, rejoining them, her makeup made new. “Quite a view, isn’t it?”
“Breathtaking,” says Celia, finding the city overwhelming.
“I was hoping you’d play something for us, Del,” says Margot, putting her arm around Delilah. “You mentioned in your letter you were writing a nocturne.”
“I finished it,” says Delilah, wondering why she feels so oppressed being here when always before she was so happy reuniting with her mother. “In fact, I’m going to perform it at the opening of Joseph’s show of his new paintings at the Fletcher Gallery in Mercy.”
“Who else has art in the show?” asks Celia, looking at Delilah and arching an eyebrow.
“I do,” says Delilah, sheepishly. “Some drawings and two small paintings.”
“Oh, darling, that’s wonderful,” says Margot, giving Delilah a little squeeze. “Send me pics, okay? I’d love to see your new drawings. Maybe I’ll buy some and give them as Christmas gifts.”
“Okay,” says Delilah, realizing for the first time in her life how deeply sad her mother is. “It’s so good to see you.”
“So good to see you, too,” says Margot, though in truth she hardly recognizes Delilah—the cute girl she knew become a beautiful young woman now.
Following a sumptuous luncheon, Delilah performs her nocturne, a jazzy moody piece influenced by the Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderly records she found in Nathan’s collection and listened to dozens of times.
“Oh we must record you,” says Margot, applauding at the end. “You’re incredible, darling. Next time I’m in Malibu, we’ll fly you down and get you into the studio with Larry and Karl and that nine-foot Steinway you love.”
“Actually,” says Delilah, getting up from the piano, “Constance and Joseph have a magnificent piano and we know a recording engineer in Mercy who’s going to set up microphones in their living room and I’ll record bunches of things.”
“A fabulous room of resonant redwood,” says Nathan, nodding to affirm the excellent recording facilities in Mercy.
“Fine,” says Margot, sounding a bit deflated. “But if that doesn’t work out, we’ll get you in with Larry and Karl.”
“Okay Mom,” says Delilah, forcing a smile. “Sounds good.”
Saying their goodbyes in the early afternoon, Margot hands Delilah an envelope and kisses her on the cheek. “Happy birthday, darling. A little fun money for you.”
“Thanks Mom,” says Delilah, hugging Margot and hanging on for a good long time. “I love you.”
“Love you, too,” says Margot, smiling brightly at Nathan and Celia. “So glad to know things are going so well. Speaking of which…” She pulls away from Delilah and hands Nathan an envelope. “A little extra thank you.”
“Not necessary,” says Nathan, uneasy about accepting her gift. “The monthly stipend you provide is more than adequate.”
“Oh take it,” says Margot, offering the envelope to Celia. “It’s not much and I’m so grateful to you.”
Celia takes the envelope and says, “Thank you, Margot. You’re very generous.”
She shrugs. “No one should have as much money as I do.”
On the homeward leg of their journey, our trio stops for supper at the famous Bouffe in Sonoma, their meal gratis because Nathan’s ode to Celia her fingers are geniuses is the frontispiece of the restaurant’s permanent menu.
her fingers are geniuses just look at them go making
guacamole and salsa and refried beans and tomato
rice and juicy chicken enchiladas you can’t tell me
her digits aren’t possessed of formidable brains
and unique personalities as she simultaneously
talks to her daughter and flirts with me saying,
“Put another log on the fire, marido,” just
look at those fingers go with such fearless grace
wielding knives and spoons amidst the blazing
casserole and red hot pans and steaming pots and
I the lucky recipient of their divine ministrations.
“This food,” says Delilah, her gloom abating as they dine center table in the big airy restaurant, “comes close to how we cook at home, whereas lunch at the hotel today was way too creamy and buttery and overcooked, don’t you think?”
“Ultra-rich food for the ultra-rich,” says Nathan, though Bouffe is full of people willing to pay three hundred dollars for supper for two.
“I love this parsley pesto,” says Celia, her eyelids fluttering as she takes a bite of spaghetti doused in the glorious green goo. “Perfect balance of garlic and olive oil and parsley.”
Delilah dips her fork in the pesto on Celia’s plate, tastes, ruminates, and declares, “Might want a tiny bit more lemon juice. But it is excellent.”
They are joined by Michael Devine, the handsome owner/chef of Bouffe, his emergence from the kitchen bringing applause from those who recognize him from his books and his cooking show on YouTube.
“With your permission,” Michael says to Nathan, “I would love to introduce you as the author of your now famous poem. Did you notice we made a poster version? Selling like hotcakes. I’ll have you sign some, if you don’t mind. I’m keeping track of sales, of course, and we’ll send you your share every quarter.”
“Not necessary,” says Nathan, laughing at himself for turning down money for the second time today. “But we’ll take it. And, yes, you may introduce me.”
Michael picks up an empty wine glass, taps the crystal four times with a spoon, and the audience of seventy falls mostly silent.
“Good evening, my friends,” says Michael, his voice pleasantly booming. “It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to the poet Nathan Grayson, author of the poem we are privileged to use as the preface to our menu.”
Loud applause greets Nathan as he stands and bows, his hand seeking Celia’s shoulder lest he fall.
“I haven’t been this tired since I worked for a living,” says Nathan climbing into bed at midnight.
“I looked at the check,” says Celia, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Let me guess,” he says, sighing. “Ten thousand dollars.”
“Fifty thousand,” she says, giving him an anguished look. “It doesn’t feel right.”
“It’s how she expresses love,” he says, closing his eyes. “Snuggle with me.”
“I want to give it away,” she says, turning off the bedside lamp and getting in with him. “She pays us so much to take care of Delilah when we would take care of her for nothing.”
“Yes,” he says drifting to the edge of sleep. “We’ll think of a good way to share it.”
“Calypso and Paul need a new car,” she says, speaking of their daughter and son-in-law, parents of four-year-old Carlos.
“There you go,” he murmurs. “Money gone.”
“Not all of it,” she says, remembering how Margot burst into tears when she held her. “We’ll give the rest to friends.”
The next day, a Friday, Delilah and Nathan walk with Tennyson on leash to Mercy Savings, the one and only bank in town, and while Nathan deposits the check for fifty thousand dollars into his and Celia’s account, Delilah waits for Lisa, her favorite teller, to be free.
Lisa, a young Latina who makes fifteen dollars an hour and is pregnant with her second child, her husband Ricardo a dishwasher at the Mercy Hotel, facilitates Delilah’s deposit of ten thousand dollars without batting an eye, and when Delilah reminds Lisa of the opening of her show with Joseph at the Fletcher Gallery, Lisa says, “We wouldn’t miss it for anything. Ricardo says they’re bringing in a piano for you to play.”
“Yes the dear Richardsons are loaning me their magnificent Steinway for the opening,” says Delilah, excitedly. “I’m going to play my new nocturne and maybe a scherzo that might turn into a sonata some day.”
“I’ll tell Ricardo,” says Lisa, her eyes wide with excitement. “He can’t wait to hear you.”
“He likes piano music?” asks Delilah, delighted to know Lisa and her husband will be coming.
“Ricardo plays piano,” says Lisa, smiling as she thinks of her husband. “Been playing since he was six. He writes the most beautiful songs. Of course I’m prejudiced, but… someday he’s gonna make a record.”
“I’d love to hear him,” says Delilah, earnestly. “We’ll arrange something, okay?”
“Okay,” says Lisa, nodding. “You call me.”
“Oh. And this is for you,” says Delilah, handing Lisa an envelope decorated with Delilah’s swift rendering of a fanciful flower in a vase. “A gift from Nate and Celia and me because we adore you.”
“Oh gosh,” says Lisa, opening the envelope and startling at the check for a thousand dollars. “Wait. Are you sure this is right?” She lowers her voice to a whisper. “A thousand dollars?”
Delilah nods happily. “See you Saturday night.”
From the bank, Nathan and Delilah traverse the town to the Fletcher Gallery, three large rooms full of natural light arriving through skylights and several big south-facing windows. William Fletcher, a fastidious framer of art and a lighting savant, just yesterday handed the works from the previous show back to the disappointed artists who sold but one painting each, and those to their mothers.
As they enter the largest room of Mercy’s preeminent gallery, Delilah and Nathan find William, an agile fellow in his seventies, on a twelve-foot ladder in the process of lighting Joseph’s five large oil paintings and Delilah’s two smaller paintings and fourteen pen and ink drawings. He is assisted by Guillermo Torres, an unabashedly effeminate young man with curly black hair and a pencil-thin mustache who wears colorful scarves and is forever talking about his revolutionary ideas for staging Broadway musicals.
Guillermo greets Delilah and Nathan with an effusion of hugs and says to Delilah, “We’ve already sold one of your drawings, sweetie. To me! I had to have the one of that gorgeous man in line at the bakery. For three hundred dollars I couldn’t afford not to buy it.”
“Greetings,” says William from on high where he is directing three mellow spotlights at Joseph’s spectacular painting of the mouth of the Mercy River as seen from the headlands—the dark blue river transecting a vast grayish white beach to meet the incoming waves, the cerulean sky filled with thunderheads. “You’ve actually already sold two, Delilah. The missus insisted we get the one of Tennyson touching noses with that enormous husky.”
At which moment, the very British Constance and Joseph Richardson arrive with their two gorgeous Siberian Huskies, Io and Odysseus, and Tennyson enacts the just-described drawing with each of the much larger dogs.
Both Joseph and Constance are wearing puffy blue parkas, though the day is warm—Joseph tall and thick-chested with longish black hair going gray, Constance short and plump, a wearer of old-fashioned dresses, her shoulder-length auburn hair kept natural-seeming by her clever hairdresser.
“We’ve come in advance of the piano,” says Constance, excitedly. “They’ll be here any minute, those heroic lifters.” Now she kisses Delilah hello. “Where shall we put it, dearie?”
“I’m thinking by the windows,” says William, pointing to the south. “Leave more room for people. We’re expecting half the town.”
“Oh I love what you’re doing with the lights,” says Joseph, standing before his Mouth of the Mercy. “Love this. You must come fix the lights in my studio, William. I need this.”
“Happy to,” says William, descending the ladder. “I see the piano has arrived.”
“Oh my God,” gasps Delilah, as two strong men roll the legless body of the shiny black grand into the gallery on a large cushioned dolly, a third man following with the three mighty legs. “This is really happening.”