“I’m seventeen. I’m just seventeen,” I mumbled trying to remind myself.
“Huh?” Jude and I practically ran into each other coming around the corner, him from the kitchen me from the stairs.
“Nothing,” I said. “Watcha got?” I asked referring to the mugs he had in his hands.
“Poured us some cider. I thought we could sit and talk a bit. Unless … I mean unless you’d rather be doing something else.”
“Tell me you are just being funny and aren’t serious. If either way, stop teasing. You know I look forward to sitting with you for a while every day. I know we don’t always get time to … oh … or maybe … I mean … if you need to get some rest or something.”
“Now who is teasing?” he said with a small smile as he guided us both over to the sofa.
“I’m not teasing. I guess I just assumed … and I shouldn’t have. Maybe you need some you time and …”
“Hush.” It was cold in the house even with the fireplace. I had put up the heavy drapes and had put draft stoppers at the doors of all the unused rooms but it was still more than cool. The old house definitely needed some insulation. I know that had been on my parents’ list to do before they moved in full time but they had never gotten around to it. Jude and I had gotten into the habit of sitting facing the fireplace in the evenings after the kids went to bed and then pulling a quilt over us for warmth.
We were both sipping the little bit of warmish cider that had remained in the tea kettle – lightly spiced like we both enjoyed it – when Jude said, “What’s with the ‘I’m seventeen’ thing you were mumbling?”
“I don’t know. Just sometimes at the end of the day … I don’t know, I just feel … well certainly not seventeen. It’s just weird I guess. Mostly I don’t care but when I come down stairs and about the only thing I can think about is when I need to go to bed so that I can get up in the morning and start all over again? Just too … look, I can’t explain it.”
“I think I know what you mean. I feel kinda the same way. But it isn’t necessarily bad.”
“I never said it was a bad feeling, just a bit much to handle sometimes.”
We sat almost a full minute and I was finally comfortably warm when he took my mug out of my hand and then pulled me up into his lap startling me. We had rules and one of them was no sitting in his lap as the one time it happened before it led to some things that were too far on the other side of our safety line. I stiffened up, “Jude?”
“I know Dovie. I … I promise not to go so far as last time but I wanna talk and I wanna hold you when I do it.”
I still wasn’t sure about the move so I gave a hesitant, “Ok.”
“Look … do … do you want … more kids?”
Completely caught off guard by the question I asked, “Huh?”
“Talking about Clewis and Crystal has me thinking. We need to … uh … have a plan beforehand. Know what the other wants, expects, or don’t wants … want … heck you know what I mean.”
“I guess,” I told him still unsure what road he was taking. Thinking about it I shook my head then said, “I mean … ok, so I don’t know what you mean.”
He sighed. “I know we’ve both already got a lot on our plates. And I know there are already six kids up there that consider you a type of momma even if they don’t call you that. Even Paulie knows it in his own way even though you are his sister.”
“And I’m just wondering if that means that you don’t want any more.”
“I … well, I haven’t thought about it. I kinda haven’t exactly had time to think about it and I didn’t really expect to meet anyone and I was ok with that. Then there was you and … and I’ve been trying to be careful about where my mind wanders and you know doggone good and well what I mean so don’t make me say it.”
He pulled me a little tighter to him and he said huskily, “Yeah. Yeah I know what you mean. I’ve been trying to do the same thing. But some of this needs to be thought of. I know you’ve said that we haven’t talked much but we’ve talked enough. Are you going to say yes when the time is right Dovie? ‘Cause I know I agreed with you that we got some time before we can get married but I’m getting anxious for a commitment. We can keep it quiet but I want to lock it down between us.”
I thumped his chest lightly. “Well don’t you just have an awful idea of my character if you think I’d just sit in any guy’s lap, especially after last time.”
He refused to play. “I’m serious Dovie. In my mind it has been long enough. Say yes or no already.”
I sighed. “Let me up.”
“I said let me up. I can’t think with you surrounding me like this.”
Disappointed he said, “So you have to think about it?”
“Don’t turn this into a fight.”
“I’m not. You’re the one …”
“ … that is trying to make sure I don’t make a complete and utter donkey’s behind of myself and fail because in case you’ve forgotten this isn’t just about me. Now turn loose. I don’t want this to be just about hanky panky – and don’t you dare laugh at what I just called it - and I don’t want you to get it in your head at some point and wonder if you pressured me one way or the other. You get me all twisted up when you start touching me and stuff. You were in such a good mood and now you turn me on my head by starting something I didn’t expect. You start talking about making babies and then before I can even answer you on that you are saying you want to nail it down right this second. Now you’re angry at me because I’m trying to take this seriously and need a little space to give you my answer only apparently that isn’t good enough either. My head is about to explode.”
I finally managed to get untangled and because he was still looking angry I turned and walked to the second floor and then to the door and stairs that took me to the attic. Nearly broke my neck going up the last flight of stairs on the riser that was a little different from all the others but I finally stood there in the dark. It was cold as all get out but that only helped to clear my head.
And I was doing fine until Jude stumbled in, tripping over the same riser I had, and said, “What in the Sam Hill do you think you’re doing? It’s fr-freezing up here.”
“You see this Jude? You see this mess? I’m trying to deal with the mess, trying to get it organized and put things to good use. Yet every time I turn around there is something pulling me away from the task. I’ve only got so long to get this done … absolutely must get this done before spring comes and planting starts … because if I don’t get it done by then maybe it will never get done because there will be too many other things that have to take priority. I’ll be just like Mom … and everyone that came before her … just shoving stuff up here to get it out of the way rather than deal with it. Nothing but mess on top of mess. And the attic is running out of space for mess Jude. Mom’s mess might be organized but it is still part of the mess.”
I turned to look out the attic window. The moonlight that came through barely lit anything because of the gray clouds that had hung around all day. Jude said, “You aren’t talking about the attic are you.”
“No!” I told him irritated out of all proportion. “I am saying this is what the inside of my head looks like. Geez, could we just keep it to one major topic of discussion at a time? Or do we need to absolutely talk about everything in one grand slam? You pull me on your lap so that is sex. Check. Then you go from sex to babies. Check. Then you tell me that basically you are going to have an answer or else. Check. Dovie losing her mind? Check.”
He sighed. “I didn’t say ‘or else’ and I didn’t mean for you to take it that way. I’m … I’m just frustrated Dovie. I know what we’re missing. You don’t.”
“You mean you’ve slept with leventy dozen girls … news flash Jude¸ not making me feel better or less strung out.”
“Dang, you’re touchy tonight.”
“Dang, yes I am. And I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to ruin the moment or whatever you call it.”
“C’mon down stairs, it’s freezing up here.” So I followed him downstairs and back to the living room feeling totally out of it.
“You don’t have to Jude. I already told you I know I ruined everything.”
He snorted. “You didn’t ruin anything much less everything. I just wish you would have been a little more … look, hit me in the head next time you need to talk … you’re better at hiding stuff than I ever was. I didn’t realize that you were getting the sweats again.”
“God that sounds so … ick. Ladies glow, we don’t sweat. At the most we perspire.”
“Sweetheart you’re doing it again. Don’t joke around it, just talk to me.”
“The answer is yes.”
“You wanted an answer, that is my answer.”
“I didn’t want an answer under these circumstances. Now I’ll feel like I pushed you into it.”
I sighed, exasperated. “I was trying to stand apart from the rest of the chaos and tell you yes so that you would know you weren’t pressuring me. I swear I cannot win for losing.” Suddenly I was angry. Angry, tired, frustrated but mostly I’ll admit that I was scared … and angry. I was supposed to have all the answers, all the patience, all the understanding, all the time … and dang it I just didn’t. I’d already been feeling challenged and it was like Jude hadn’t heard a word I had said. At that moment I wondered if I would ever be enough of anything for anyone.
“Relax. I liked it when you did it to me the other night when I was bent out of shape, wondering if there would be enough money to pay off the taxes. Give me a chance to see if you like it.”
I wasn’t in the mood to “like it” – or anything for that matter – but against my best intentions him rubbing my back, neck, and shoulders actually relaxed me. When he ventured into space that was forbidden territory I tensed right back up. “Jude …”
“Ok, ok … that was … well …” He sighed. “Can’t fault a guy for trying.”
“Oh yes I can. And just because I said yes doesn’t mean that yes means right now.”
I turned around ready for a fight but he was grinning like an idiot. “That’s my Dove, just as sweet and gentle as her namesake.” He laughed at my expression and pulled me to him in a hug. “Got something for you.”
“Oh no, I’m not falling for that either. I might not have any experience but I’m not completely stupid.”
That made him laugh despite my blush. “I don’t mean that so get your mind out of the gutter.”
I wanted to thump him and would have but he grabbed my fist and kissed it and then took something out of his pocket. “I know it isn’t much. It isn’t even store bought. Likely it will turn your finger green if you try and wear it so keep it on this string and wear it around your neck. But I made it and I mean what it is supposed to mean Dovie. And thanks for saying yes.”