Friday, December 12, 2014

Chapter LVIII


      “You know, if I was a violent man Dovie Doherty I’d be giving serious consideration to turning you over my knee right about now.”

      “If you were a violent man Jude Killarney I wouldn’t trust you so much or care about your feelings so there.  Now stop being so upset.  I’m not going to let them force you into anything.   And if you aren’t done being weirded out I am.  I need to go check on …”

      I tried to pass by but Jude tickled the back of my knee and I flopped back down on the stairs.  “The kids are fine.  They are polishing off a third bowl of popcorn.  I’ve been listening to them even if you haven’t and since I don’t smell anything burnt the third bowl is because they are hungry and not because they rurnt the second one.  I wanna talk about this a little more.”

      “Jude …”

      “Just … just hear me out.  What if … what if … uh …”  He shook his head.  “Dang.  I don’t even know how to start.”

      “Well … English would be nice.”

      He gave me a glare in the dark.  “Aw right there Granny.”

      I snickered.  “Well you asked.”

      “I didn’t but I’ll let that one go.”  Suddenly he just relaxed.  I can’t explain it any other way.  Then he leaned back and put his elbows on the stairs.  “Would you let me?”

      “Uh … let you what?”

      “Do what Dad keeps hinting around about … pay some attention to you with the end game being … well … the obvious and what we already sorta talked around about.”

      “Oh.”

      “Is that an oh yes, an oh maybe, or an oh hell no?”

      I poked him somewhere in his middle area and said, “I told you to stop cursing over this.  If it has you so upset you gotta curse then …”

      A little more seriously he said, “I was actually trying to make it funny to give you an out in case you were only being nice to me before and trying to … uh … show me some respect and save my pride.”

      “Oh.”

      “Like I said before is that an oh yes, and oh maybe, or …”

      I my shin booted his leg and he knew he’d sufficiently irritated me.  “I already told you I won’t let them turn you into a sacrificial lamb.”

      Slowly as if he was picking his words carefully he asked, “What if I don’t see me as the sacrificial lamb but worry that maybe you might feel like one?”

      I shook my head.  “Why would I feel like a sacrificial lamb?  It’s not like anyone is trying to force me into anything?”

      He scratched his head.  It was now completely dark so I couldn’t see him anymore but I could hear him do it.  I also heard him scratching his beard.  “You’re making this hard,” he told me.

      “I’m not trying to.”

      He sighed.  “I know and that’s what makes it worse.  I’ve gotta just actually say the words rather than assume you know what I mean and that is making me dang uncomfortable.”

      “Then don’t.”

      “But I gotta.”

      “Says who?”

      “Says me.”

      “Then you’re cracked.”

      “Probably … and more than likely to get worse in the not too distant future.”

      He shifted and suddenly he was sitting on the same stair as I was and I felt him put his arm across my shoulders.  I jumped a little and asked him, “What are you doing?”

      “Waiting to see if you are going to crack me for putting my arm right where I put it?”

      “Uh huh.  And is there a purpose for taking your life into your hands like that?”

      I felt him scoot a little closer to me on the stair even though there was barely room to do it.  “Yep.  Trying to show you that the look I had on my face wasn’t from not wanting to but because I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since I figured out what Dad has been hinting around about.”

      I was very tempted to put a sharp elbow into his ribs.  “And do you always do what Uncle Roe tells you to?”

      He snorted.  “If I had do you think I would be in the situation I am of not knowing whether I am coming or going?  You are too easy to want to be with Dovie.  I keep telling myself things.  I keep reminding you what I am …”

      Heading him off I said, “You mean what you used to be.”

      “Nope, what I am.  I am an alcoholic.  I may be recovering but that particular part won’t ever change.”  He sighed and I sensed the mood was breaking.

      “Don’t be a goof,” I told him with a gentle nudge.  “You act like you are the only one on the planet that has done screwy stuff.  What about Clewis?”

      I sensed it was the wrong tact to take when he responded, “And you can’t stand him.”

      Trying to undo my mistake I told him, “I can stand him.  I just want to hit him in the head with a hammer on some days because he never learned from his mistakes like you did and would likely repeat them if he wasn’t afraid of losing Crystal.  What keeps you from going back to the old way?”

      “’Cause I don’t want to,” he said.

      “And there’s the difference between you and Clewis and I know it.  I hung around with all my mother’s lady friends and people like Granny Cherry and lots of her friends.  I listened to them talk about men – theirs and others – all the time.  I learned a few things Jude.  And what I learned helps me tell the difference between you and Clewis as clear as day.”

      He slowly relaxed again and I felt his arm get a little tighter.  He asked, “So if you are so knowledgeable why are you letting me do this?”

      “Because I’m interested in seeing where this goes.”

      A little surprised he asked, “So I’m an experiment to you?”

      “No, you’re Jude … and I wanna see where this is going.”

      Quietly yet with purpose he asked, “And there’s a difference?”

      “Uh huh,” I told him just as quietly.  “I’ve never done any of this.  I’ve never even been interested in it because it seemed like a whole lotta work for not much return.  I thought that guys like my dad and Uncle Roe weren’t available for me, that they weren’t being made anymore.”

      “Your brothers weren’t ok guys?”

      “I guess but they weren’t interested in anything but being in the military.  They never took girls seriously.  You remember how they were.”

      “OK, but … uh … weren’t there guys that … I … I don’t know …”

      “Nope.  I was never interested in making myself interesting to the guys my age.  I figured they could either come to me or not at all and either way it didn’t seem to get my interest up too much.  I was always busy with things that … that made me feel older and just different I guess.  I never could trust any of them.  But this is different.  I trust you.  I know I’m safe with you.  I know that if this eventually comes to nothing that I’ll still be able to trust you and I’ll still be safe because you’ll still be Jude.  Make sense?”

      “Absolutely not … but I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth.  The question we gotta ask ourselves is what is this we’ve got here and what are we gonna do about it?  Is it real or are we doing it just because it seems real?”

      Curiously I asked, “When did you turn philosophical?”

      “Oh, drunks are all sorts of philosophical … we gotta be to justify what we do.”

      “But you aren’t a drunk anymore.”

      I could feel him shrug.  “Nope but I guess I’m stuck being philosophical.  So …”

      “So …”

      He was quiet for a few minutes then asked, “You gonna hit me if I kiss you?”

      “Uh …”

      Quietly and kindly he said, “Too much too soon?”

      “Um … what if … what if … I mean I’ve never.  What if you kiss me and I’m so bad you laugh?”

      I heard the tick in his throat as he swallowed.  “Well, why don’t we give it a try and see?”

      It was different.  His beard was itchy but in short order I was distracted from it.  He showed me how to make it nicer for both of us and after a few minutes he drew back.  We were both silent and I was beginning to think that maybe I had been wrong and this was a major mistake.  Then he said, “Dovie?”

      “Yeah?”

      “I’m not laughing.”

      A little nervously I said, “No, you’re not.”

      “But …”

      “But?”

      He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly through his lips.  “I think we need to get out of this dark basement before I forget that you aren’t nearly as old and worldly as you think you are.”

      “Jude?” I asked as he was helping me to stand up in the dark.

      “Hmm?”

      “Are you just being nice?”

      “Uh uh.  I’m trying to have some sense.  I think I’ve done bit off more than I can chew.”

      “Um … I’m not sure what that means.”

      “It means Dovie that I’ve got more experience than you and that I know where this could lead real fast because you sure didn’t make me want to laugh.  You taste so sweet I just about forgot that the reason you taste so sweet is because you are.  You’re seventeen, never even had a boyfriend, flat out told me you’ve never been kissed.  And it only makes me want more and I don’t have any right to it.  So we are going to go up those stairs and you’re gonna put the kids to bed ‘cause they’ve already had their story.  And I’m gonna go stand out on the porch for a bit.  Then as soon as I’m sure I won’t light Dad’s hellfire and brimstone up for taking advantage of you I’m gonna go talk to him.”

      “Oh Jude, don’t say anything to him … please.”

      “You … you don’t … want …”

      “Just let it be between us until we get things figured out and see what we want.  We know what he wants … or what he thinks he wants.  Let’s figure out … our side of things first.”

      “I don’t want to sneak around about this Dovie.  That ain’t right.”

      “Who’s saying sneak around?  We’ve behaved right this whole time when even Aunt Frankie made it nasty in the beginning when neither one of us had thoughts that direction.  Right now it feels too big to share.  I gotta think how to explain things to the kids … or even if we need to explain things.  Maybe you’ll change your mind after you’ve had some air hit your head and you cool off.  Granny Cherry used to talk about men getting overheated and not thinking straight all the time.”

      “Uh … don’t think I wanna hear what my grandmother had to say about overheated men.  That’s a nightmare inducing thought right there.  But if you’re sure that you’d rather … look, I just don’t want it to be because you’re ashamed.”

      “Huh?!  No … no it isn’t that at all.  I just … it’s too big and new … and … and …” I stepped close on the riser and whisper, “And a little scary Jude.  I don’t want to make a mistake.  I can’t afford to.  You’re … you’re like the best friend I’ve ever had on top of everything else you are and I don’t want to lose that.  And there’s the kids I’ve got to think about.  And just … just everything.  I … I …”

      “Whoa there.  Easy.  You really are shook up.  I can feel the goosebumps on your arms.  This was too much too soon wasn’t it?”

      “Maybe.  I don’t know.”  I let him rub my arms and it felt nice.  “I’m not ashamed of the kissing Jude.  But the feelings are so big … so … so something.  I’ve never felt anything like it.  And there is so much else going on.  And …”

      “Yeah.  Yeah there is.  So what I’ll do is go up and talk to Dad about camouflaging what we have in case Carlsburg is as bad as I’m worried he might be.  You’ll stay here.  Then you’ll go to bed.  You lock the door, I’ve got my key.  And when we get up in the morning we’ll go on … maybe not as if nothing has happened but a little less risky.  Sound OK to you?”

      “It’s about the only plan I can think of right now.  My brains are scrambled.”

      Then his voice changed a little and he asked, “Good scrambled?”

      “If I answer that I think we might wind back up at square one.”

      He cleared his throat and then right as he was going to say something the door opened at the top of the stairs and we were both blinded by a flashlight. 

      “Honest to Pete Paulie, point that thing some place besides our eyes!” I yelped.

      “Well, what are you doing down here in the dark?”

      “We were getting work done.  Did you all clean up your popcorn mess?”

      “Tiff is washing the bowl.  Corey and Mimi are asleep.”

      I rolled my eyes.  “Did they go to the bathroom first?”

      I heard Tiff call from the kitchen as Jude and I climbed the rest of the stairs.  “Yes they did.  Dovie, the water is ready to be thrown out.”

      That pretty much put the kibosh on any further discussion of other things.  The kids went to bed and Jude went off to speak to Uncle Roe.  I locked up and then went to bed but couldn’t sleep.  My head was full of things that had never been there before.  Then I heard the door open quietly and then the bolt being thrown and the bar put on the door.  I heard footsteps – his footsteps – cross the floor. I heard them stop at the foot of the stairs and then heard him put his boots on the little bench where everyone else’s boots sat.  His steps were quieter but I still could follow him.  When he stopped outside my door I lay as still as I could be.  The door knob turned and I sensed rather than saw the door open.  I don’t know exactly how long he stood there but it was a while, then he closed the door and I heard him go to his room.

      I had started a fire in there so that he wouldn’t have to but it must have gone low because I heard him move the grill and put a chunk of wood on it.  A few minutes later I heard him climb in his bed.  I don’t know how long it took for him to go to sleep but I was still some time before I could close my eyes and they would stay closed.

      By the time I got up this morning he was already gone to start his work week.  I wondered what it meant.  But each time I went to go do the morning chores that I liked to do before I wake the kids I found they had already been done.  The wood boxes in both the living room and the kitchen were full and there by the pitcher of fresh – not stale – water was a fully opened cedar cone and it looked just like a flower. 

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