Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Chapter LX

      “Am I too late for supper?”  Jude was standing at the screen door like he was trying to decide whether to invite himself in or not.

      I gave a small smile at his question.  “Are you trying to be funny?  ‘Cause you look way too tired to be joking around.  Come inside and wash up, warm up, and sit at the table.  Now that you’re home I can close the door and throw the bolt.  I’ve got navy bean soup and corn dogders dressed up with onions just waiting for you to tell me how much you want.”

      He groaned like he was in pain.  “You ok?” I asked worriedly.

      “Yeah, I’m just glad to be here.”  He came inside and then sat down and started taking his boots off.  “The kids all in bed?”

      I nodded, glad to see he was moving the boots away from the kitchen.  “And I had to bribe them with a special story since you weren’t here to give them one.”

      He was quiet for a moment but then stopped and stared at me hard.  “Uh oh … you didn’t.”

      Giving him a much too innocent look I admitted, “I did.”

      Taking his hat off and hanging it on the pegs by the door for the purpose he grumped, “Dang it Dovie.  Ain’t I ever gonna live that down?”

      Letting him know full well he was getting a little taste of pay back I told him, “Hmmm, seems I’ve been saying the same thing about a certain recent incident that shall remain nameless.  Besides, as I recall you weren’t the only one that went skinny dipping and found those leeches the hard way.  You think Butch and Clewis will be able to live it down either?”

      Jude snickered in spite of himself and said, “Butch is gonna have your head.  You know he hates when that gets brought up.”

      I shrugged letting him know just how much I didn’t care what Butch thought about it.  “It’s his own fault.  He was the oldest of all of you boys and should have known better.  At least Granny Cherry isn’t here to tell it or all of you would be dying of embarrassment.  You know that was one of her favorite tales.”

      He groaned again but it was still half a laugh.  “You sure do like to live dangerously.”

      “How so?”  I asked.

      “C’mere and I’ll show you,” he said as stepped into the pantry.

      Call me Miss Oblivious but I actually thought he was going to show me something.  I walked into the pantry.  “What?”

      Forthwith I found out real fast it wasn’t something he wanted to show me but something he wanted to do.  “I know I smell like I’ve been working all day but I haven’t been able to get this out of my head.”  His breathing was a little on the heavy side.  “My hands are clean and won’t muss your clothes too much.  You gonna let me?”

      “Mmm … if you … if you want to.”

      Well, we finally broke apart when his stomach growled loud enough to wake the dead.  I laughed, I couldn’t help it.  “I take it you’ve worked up an appetite.”

      He cleared his throat and nudged me out of the pantry ahead of him.  “Don’t start talking about appetites.”  I walked back into the kitchen and he followed me so close he walked right passed the table and up to the stove with me.  “Mmmm, that looks good,” he said staring down over my shoulder.  For some strange reason I couldn’t decide if he was talking about the soup or something else.

      He took his bowl from me and carried it to the table while I brought a class of buttermilk and his cornbread … the milk thanks to a swap I made with Mrs. Schnell for some of the chestnuts and some dried herbs.  Jude looked up from his bowl and said, “Sit and talk to me.”

      “About what?”

      “Whatever you been doing today.  Dad said you asked him about the Carlsburgs.  I keep forgetting you know a lot about things around here but not everything.”

      I snorted.  “Well of course I don’t know everything.  I’m human, not divine.”

      “Matter of opinion,” he said and gave me a look that made me blush like I never had before.  I didn’t know where to look but then he said, “Dad also said you and Crystal ain’t getting along again.”

      I shrugged.  “It’s not that we aren’t getting along so much as we aren’t getting along the way she wants us to.”

      He’d gotten used to my way of phrasing things so all he asked was, “How so?”

      “It’s weird.  She acts all Mizz Independence and all that but she don’t want to do be independent alone.  She’s got Clewis; don’t understand why she needs me to follow in her footsteps.”

      Jude shook his head like he didn’t agree with my assessment.  “I think she’s really concerned for you Dovie.  I don’t get the feeling from her that she is the type that just likes to boss for the sake of bossing.”

      I sighed.  “I know and that’s part of why it irritates me like it does.  I’m not partial to meddling do-gooders.  It always winds up being more about them than it is about who they are trying to help.  They wind up getting their feelings hurt when their plans don’t work out.  I know Crystal means well but she needs to understand I am just not interested in the life she thinks I deserve or at least should desire.”

      “She’s got a point you know.  I should likely be shot for …”  He stopped and cleared his throat.  “I shouldn’t be thinking what I’m thinking and wanting what I’m wanting.  You think you’re grown but the truth is I’m almost 22 and you’re barely 17.  I swear it is way too easy to forget you’re still jail bait.  And next time I try and kiss you, kick me or something and put me in my place or this is likely to get out of hand.”

      I couldn’t help it.  I chuckled and nearly laughed and would have if I hadn’t wanted to wake the kids up.  “I am not going to kick you.  If it gets to where I don’t want you to kiss me anymore I’ll let you know, but it will be civilized and mutual.  I stopped worrying that boys would give me cooties when I was Mimi’s age.”

      “For your information it isn’t cooties that I want to give you.”

      “What is it then?” I asked.  Some of it was just me experimenting to see if Jude was serious or if he was still playing Uncle Roe’s game; some of it was because I really wanted to know.

      He put his spoon down in his soup a little harder than necessary but didn’t make a mess.  “Now just what in the Sam Hill do you expect me to say to that?”

      “I don’t know.  You could start with the truth and work your way out from there.  Am I supposed to guess and then sit around and wonder if I got it wrong?”

      He grumbled under his breath and then around a mouthful of corn dodger and soup.  When he swallowed he pointed his spoon at me and said, “Now see here Dovie, we need some ground rules.  I can’t tell if you know what you’re doing or if you don’t.  But what we definitely don’t need is any kind of teasing.”

      Feeling naughty I told him, “You do it.”

      He nearly strangled on a couple of hot navy beans before telling me in an outraged voice, “I do not.”

      “Oh yes you do.  Last night I had my first kiss and it nearly melted my bones.  Then I get up this morning and you’re already gone but you leave this perfect pine cone that looks like a flower – and I put it in my keepsake box so don’t think you can have it back – and then tonight you kiss me just enough to get interesting and then shove me out the door and now you’ve got the nerve to say we need ground rules.  You’re scrambling my brains Jude and you are doing it on purpose so don’t bother denying it.”

      He opened his mouth to do just that then slowly closed it.  He looked for a moment like it was silently talking to himself and then he told me, “Well, maybe I was … but it wasn’t totally on purpose.  You’re making it too easy for me.”

      “So now it’s my fault?!”

      “Not intentionally, at least I don’t think so, so don’t go proving me wrong.”

      “What’s that supposed to mean?”
      He sighed.  “It means that I’m trying to be a good man Dovie but I ain’t no saint.  You make me want things, things that you and I know we both ain’t ready to go after just yet.  I have a feeling that I’m gonna regret it if I don’t savor you and this before jumping in with both feet.”

      I shook my head.  “You make me sound like … I don’t know … food or something.”

      “Water to a man dying of thirst is more like it Dovie Doherty.”  Now I tell you that made me sit up and take notice.  He continued, “Now you best be glad I’ve had a year of practicing self-denial or I’d be drinking you up right now … and maybe whether you were ready for me to or not.”

      Oh how I wanted to explore these new feelings I’m having but I took one look at his tired and worried face and knew he was serious.  I was beginning to understand how people could get feelings that could get them into trouble a whole lot faster than I had understood before.   I sighed and said, “It’s not fair to make me realize there’s more to life than what I picked for myself and then expect me to just turn it off.  But I’ll do it.  I trust you Jude.”

      He closed his eyes and groaned.  “Will you go easy with that?  That’s a powerful drug to a man that ain’t used to it Dovie.  And all the sweetness behind it just makes it that much harder to do what I’m supposed to.”  He licked his lips and then gave a half grin.  “And maybe we don’t have to turn the engine off completely … just sorta keep it in idle and rev it up a little every now and then.”

      The look on his face was so hopeful that he’d found a compromise that I had to chuckle again.  “Honest to pete Jude, now I know how you had all them girlfriends.”

      He shook his head serious once again.  “That’s all behind me Dovie.  I never understood why I did it – going from one to another, never staying satisfied -  but maybe one of the reasons why I went through girls like I did was because I was looking for something yet had no clue what I was looking for.”

      He looked like he was waiting for me to ask him a question and a big part of me didn’t want to.  I went over to the stove and checked how hot the water was in the galvanized bucket I had set to warm.  “You want me to ask if you know what you are looking for now.  But if I do I’ll never know for sure if you understand that it doesn’t matter to me that you used to have a gazillion girls … so long as right now you don’t.”

      He picked up his dishes and brought them to the waiting wash water.  Then turned to me and said, “All I want is one … a particular one … and I’m hoping that I’m not pushing too hard to try and get her to tell me whether she wants to be that one as badly as I want her to be.”

      I gave a half smile and asked, “Did that make any sense?”

      “About as much as the situation we find ourselves in.”  He put his hand under my chin and gently turned me to look into his face.  “So?  Wanna be the one Dovie?  I won’t force you.  And I’ll wait if you aren’t certain.  But I’d at least like to know that I’m not a complete idiot for feeling the way I do.”

      I took my hand and gently pushed his away so he’d know what I was doing was of my own free will.  I drew his head down and kissed him.  “There.  You’ve given me my first kisses now you’ve got the first kiss I’ve ever given away.  No one else can have it … and I wouldn’t want anyone else to have it.  And there’s other things that no one else has had too that I don’t reckon I want anyone else but you to have.  That answer your question enough?”

      He put his forehead and mine and nearly groaned, “I swear I am going to try to be a good man Dovie … but you may still need to kick me on occasion.  Like right now would be a good time.”

      I snickered. “I don’t want to kick you.  But how about you go take a bath … you kinda smell like Grits.”

      “Grits?  He’ll probably tell you he smells better than I do … and he’d be right.”  He stepped back and sighed.  “I know it’s late but after I get cleaned up I really do want to hear what you did today.”e’H


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