It is quiet here and the solitude is different from anything I have ever heard. Always before, silence has had qualifications - the hum of traffic, the buzz of electricity, the purr of technology. Not here. Here there is nothing but the sound of the wind, the distant flow of water. It is so quiet here that my breathing seems loud and even on the soft green grass of summer, my footfalls almost echo in the stillness.
The plateau where I am sitting offers a spectacular view of the sound far below, and to sit here and watch the sunset has become a daily ritual of my stay. It has been nearly two weeks since I arrived and I have yet to miss one, though it is quite a hike up the side of the mountain from the tiny chalet I now call home.
I never realized how much real life I was missing because of civilization's interference. My forced solitude has made me understand the difference between my needs and my wants. Sometimes they are the same, and I have found that she is at the core of both my needs and my desires.
It was for her in fact that I disappeared from my world and dropped into what for many would seem like the middle of nowhere. But nowhere was where I needed to be, so here I stay for the duration. It has helped me put my life into perspective.
Why does it take disaster before we accept the responsibility of considering where our actions have brought us? Oh, we weigh options, consider possibilities, even patiently deliberate every decision carefully. But in the end, it requires a catastrophe that blows everything we've ever known and cherished to smithereens before we take the time to realize just was truly is and isn't important.
I'm sorry... I'm not making much sense today, am I? Sometimes the sunset makes me maudlin. Especially on days like today when I feel the solitude as loneliness and I remember that at every single turning point in my life she has played a pivotal role. Don't believe me? Let me tell you my story from the beginning.
When I was four, my pop went to prison. Mama didn't say what he went in for, and by the time I was old enough to understand, I didn't want to know. I knew that it changed everything about the way we lived, and that was enough. We moved from our comfortable middle-class neighborhood home into a tiny two bedroom apartment on the edge of town. Mama had to start working, and I became a latch-key kid.
I was ten when this five-year-old whirlwind blew into my life. By then, I was pretty much a loner. Kids are cruel and I had learned early that the best way to avoid the cruelty was to simply avoid them and be by myself.
That actually worked out well for me because I spent my afternoons in the library reading all kinds of books. Nothing was off-limits for me and by the time I was six, Miss Wiseman actually expected me there by three every afternoon. Miss Wiseman was our town librarian and I liked her. She always helped me with hard words, taking the time to explain the meaning and making sure I understood. And she took time to discuss the books with me... from the Dr. Seuss I was reading in kindergarten to the classics I was reading when I was eight or the sci-fi novels and mysteries that were my favorites at the age of ten.
Everyday we shared milk and cookies before reading. She took that time to ask about my day and look over my schoolwork. Then she would pass over whatever book I was reading and resume her work until closing time. Some days she took me home, and others I walked, and until the day I met the five-year-old whirlwind, Miss Wiseman was the very best friend I had.
Sorry I digressed a little bit there, but I thought it was important for you to know about Miss Wiseman. She is one of the few people in my life that has never judged me for my father's crimes. The Little Whirlwind was another, though as a five year old, she wouldn't have known about them. Or the fact that it was because of her father that my father went to jail.
But I am getting ahead... WAY ahead of my story, because I didn't even know about that last until just recently. It's getting dark and I need to get back to the chalet. Even in summer it gets cool here at night, and I have a fire laid in the fireplace and a cup of hot chocolate waiting to be made.
The chalet is nice... all the comforts of home and a beautiful view to boot. The only thing missing is her, and I don't know how much longer I can stand the solitude.
I lied. I don't have ALL the comforts of home. That is why I am here. I have electricity and running hot water, a state-of-the-art stereo system and a great entertainment center. Tons of DVDs and videos, but no cable, no phone and no internet. No one can find me here, which is what she intended, and so I wait patiently for her to come to me as she promised me she would.
Now where was I? Oh yes, the Little Whirlwind.
It was late fall. I remember it clearly because the long pants and heavy coat made the impact when she took a header into my knees not quite so painful for either of us. Well, that and the fact that is was the next major turning point in my life.
I was in the fifth grade when I was ten, though Miss Wiseman firmly believed I should have been skipped a couple grades. Mama refused, and I agreed with her. It was hard enough being me without putting me into a class with kids two or three years older. Now you have to understand that our town was fairly small considering we were a mill town. All the schools were located in the same block... actually, the three schools together took up a full block on their own. Made transportation easy except on the rare occasion when school activities ran over into a shift change at the mill. But the powers that be were pretty careful not to let that happen very often.
Anyway, I was leaving the elementary building and had just hit the sidewalk when I nearly LITERALLY hit the sidewalk... butt first. Only the fact that I had stopped a moment and had my balance kept me from falling down. As it was, my knees were sore for a few days.
When I looked down, tear-filled eyes met my own, and chubby little arms were wrapped around my left leg so tightly I couldn't bend my knee. I wasn't sure what to do, so I took her hands in mine and knelt down to her level.
"Whassa matter, kid?"
For an answer, she pointed over her shoulder towards two boys I recognized as bullies from another fifth grade class. They had never bothered me, but I pretty much avoided everyone who didn't avoid me first.
I kept an eye on them, and looked back at my unexpected young charge. In a low voice, I whispered a couple instructions and she nodded her head vigorously before scampering off towards the library. The two made a move to follow her, but I stepped between them and her as smooth as cream and twice as slick.
"Outta the way, jailbait!"
"Yeah, move it 'less you wanna end up like your daddy."
Now I had learned a long time ago to ignore comments about my pop. And I had taken up martial arts a couple years earlier. Miss Wiseman actually helped me with that as well. Long story, but suffice it to say that I expressed an interest and we found a way to make it happen.
These two gave me my first opportunity to put my training to good use, though it wouldn't be the last.
"Leave her alone! She's just a little kid!"
"Look, jailbait... just stay outta this. She owes us and we intend to collect."
"She's a little kid. What can she owe you?"
They both ignored the question, and made a move to go around me on either side when I surprised them and myself with a split kick. It wasn't smooth or pretty to look at, but it did what I needed it to do. It took their attention off HER and put it on ME. And when they got up, the fight was on.
It didn't last long. The little whirlwind had gone into the library and told Miss Wiseman the whole story. It was a little incoherent, but Miss Wiseman was a smart cookie and she got the essentials pretty darn quick. She made a phone call, then stepped outside to break up the fight.
The two boys looked far worse than I did, and they got probation besides. They never looked in my direction again, that's for sure. I ended up with a really nasty looking black eye and a split lip that made eating anything, even ice cream, an experience to be endured as quickly as possible. And I got a five-year-old whirlwind for my best friend.
I know we raised a lot of eyebrows, but after that day she was at the library every day at three o'clock. I'm not really sure how she managed it, at least I wasn't then, but Miss Wiseman welcomed her into the fold and spent time helping her just as she had me. We did nothing but sit quietly reading, yet that did as much to cement our friendship as anything that followed.
I was invited over to her house, and though Mama was not happy about the invitation, the pleading in those pretty green eyes made her reluctantly agree to allow me permission to go to her home. Soon every Saturday after morning practice found me at her house playing games I had never heard of before.
I should break in right here and comment... her father never knew about me. Not then, anyway. It wasn't something that we hid from him. It was simply that he was never home. Her mother Janet knew of course, and I later figured that she had given in to her pleading to have me over as much from my actions as from her perceived guilt over what her husband had done to my father. She was always very kind to me, and I never gave her a reason to think otherwise of me... until our last meeting. But I'll get to that before this is over.
The fire reminds me of the next turning point in my life which was actually a turning point for her too. She was eleven, and I was sixteen.
I worked after school and an odd Saturday at the library doing what Miss Wiseman had done for me. Only now we had fourteen regular students coming in to read in the afternoons. Miss Wiseman kept an eye on things, but the readers were my responsibility. Sometimes I think got the feeling that my little whirlwind was jealous of the fact that my attention had to be split during what had always been *our* time. Still, she came everyday, and every day she was the last to leave. I was glad for that fact, because even with the difference in our ages, she was still my very best friend.
It was a Saturday in February and it was raining hard. I remember we were sitting in front of the fireplace because we had gotten soaking wet walking back from getting flowers for her Mother for Valentine's Day. I'd tried to explain to her that flowers should have been something her dad did, but she shrugged and insisted on getting them anyway. Not roses, but nosegays, lilies and orchids. An odd assortment, but that's what she wanted, so that's what we got.
Sorry, have to stop again, but I remembered something. She's not an only child. She has two older brothers... twins, actually, who were fifteen when she was born. She was an accident who was doted on by two brothers who were in college by the time she was five and who love and regard her as someone special. Even now they support her actions though it puts them at odds with their father.
We sat in front of the fireplace not doing anything but watching the flames and talking about bits of things. She was not real happy I was going away to college and had been giving me what for in no uncertain terms.
"What am I gonna do without you here?"
"You'll do what you've always done; you'll just be growing up without me here," I said sadly, never expecting the whirlwind to turn against me. But she did, fists flying, and I was only lucky my arms were long enough to hold her off without getting hurt too badly before I could wrap them around her.
"That's not funny!" she said, then crumpled in my arms. Now she had never been overly demonstrative so her actions and the tears that followed took me by surprise.
"Hey, it's okay. I'll only be two towns over at the state college. I'll come home as often as I can. And we can write letters and email and maybe even talk on the phone sometimes. That'll be good, huh?" I was totally at a loss here. She'd never been emotional like this.
Janet came in and found her curled asleep in my arms. She motioned for me to come with her, so I eased up and followed her out of the den and into the kitchen.
"I'm sorry," Janet whispered. "She just started having her first period yesterday and it's thrown everything a little out of balance for her."
I remembered that happening to me and just nodded my head.
"Look, I know you don't leave for months yet, but I wanted to talk to you about something. I'd like to be your patron...." was all she said before I shook my head no. Janet took me by the arms and stopped my speech before I could open my mouth. "Listen to me, please," she said. "Nothing big, nothing major and as much for her as for you. Just a bus pass for weekends, and a very tiny bit of income to make sure you have food if you're here instead of working on the weekends. We can even make it a loan if it would make you feel better about accepting it. Don't answer now; please, just think about it."
I nodded my agreement and turned to go back into the den. Janet's voice stopped me.
"I'm sure you think I spoil her, but her well-being is my priority, and you seem to be at the heart of that. Just... think about it."
I didn't answer, but I didn't need to. Janet knew as well as everyone else did that she was the center of my world as well. It probably wasn't considered healthy for either of us, but it wasn't something I had any control of either. Despite the differences in our ages which were painfully apparent right now, she was still my best friend. And something told me that despite everything, past and future, she always would be.
I sat by the fire and waited for her to wake up. When she did, she looked at me with sad eyes.
"Do you think I am only a child?"
"Huh?" was my brilliant response, my brows furrowed trying to figure out where this was coming from.
"You said I needed to grow up!" The fire in her eyes would have been funny if it hadn't been directed at me at the time.
"No, I said you WOULD grow up while I was gone. You don't wanna be eleven forever, do ya?"
"NO!" with all the dignity an eleven-year-old could muster on the subject.
"So I'll go to college and we'll both keep growing up."
She thought about that and nodded, then frowned. "Ya know, it's just not fair. I'm never gonna catch up!"
"Well it doesn't matter to me now, and one day it won't matter to anyone else either."
She seemed to accept that and with the fickleness of the child she still was but was rapidly growing out of, she turned her attention to more important things like, "Share an ice cream sundae?" She's the only person I know besides myself who enjoys ice cream no matter the season or weather outdoors.
It's late and the quiet and seclusion here is putting me to sleep. I am going to go to bed and hope that the night passes quickly and when I wake up, maybe she will come tomorrow. I'm not sure how much more solitude I can stand.
Morning is different here, at least from what I have been used to all my life. You see, in a mill town, there isn't a lot of wildlife. There can't be... life is always going on. Kind of like it is in the city, but different too. But people are always around, life is always moving, and the birds and animals don't seem to cotton to it much.
Here I am the intruder and the wildlife is simply astounding. On nights when I don't sleep well, of which there have been several, I hear the birds start up nearly an hour before dawn. There's a family of whippoorwill's in the meadow at the back of the chalet, but there are also robins, crows, jays, cardinals, a peacock and a woodpecker who thinks it is his duty to put a hole in the window casing at the back bedroom window. I will say I could have lived happily without that peacock waking me from a sound sleep the other morning. Scared the bejesus outta me. I thought... well, it made for a great adrenaline rush anyway.
There are sheep here, which I discovered actually smell worse than the cows on the other side. There is just something about wet wool.... Anyway, I have also seen ostriches, reindeer, a bear, what I think was an emus and llama. Llamas are very friendly, given the opportunity. I don't need friends that badly.
Even the flora I am surrounded by is breathtaking. It may be because I have finally taken the time to look and smell and enjoy, but the colors are vibrant and the trees simply dwarf everything around them, except the mountains. It is all very humbling and quite conducive to introspection and contemplation.
The sun is just starting to rise over the mountain, and it reminds me of the day my pop came home from prison.
It didn't really affect me directly. I was nineteen when he was released, and on a break from college. She and I were out at the lake fishing when he came home, and Mama was furious I wasn't there to greet him. Surprisingly, Pop was on my side, and he reminded Mama that I was an adult and had the right to make my own decisions.
When Mama tried to explain who I was with instead of being home to welcome him, he just shushed her and said there were some things destined in one's fate that you just couldn't fight against. I don't think any of us understood what he meant that day, though I certainly do now. It was probably that statement alone that caused my pop and me to become the friends that we are today.
I know this because after I got home, Pop and I sat down and had a good talk. He explained some things to me, apologized for others. I told him about college and my plans. We talked about everything but her. Had I realized that his statement about Fate was about us and not about him, we might have, but I'll never know for sure.
He is probably the only one not surprised at how things have turned out.
I graduated with a double master's degree at the age of twenty, and was already working on my Doctorate. Not only were my folks at graduation, but so were she, Janet and her two brothers. The brothers' presence surprised me as I really didn't know them. Imagine my further surprise when they offered me a job as school principal. I had no idea at the time that I was the last resort.
I should probably break in here again tell you that her family is the most powerful family in the county. Her father OWNS the mill and her brother's are both active in local politics. One is the mayor and the other is a state representative.
I actually like her brothers. They, like Janet, never judged me for my father's actions, and they have always taken me on my own merit. It is one reason, though not the only one, why they both backed the recommendation that I be offered the principal's job when my predecessor left in disgrace. The fact that I was a summa cum laude graduate with majors in both education and business administration didn't hurt, but I think my being a hometown kid had a lot to do with it as well. The fact that no one else wanted it made the most difference though.
I have to say that I am beginning to believe the position is jinxed. But we'll get to that eventually.
Sixteen is an awkward age for everyone, and she wasn't left out of that. I was principal of the school, which only made it worse, because we were still friends. Taking that job at the age of twenty-one was probably not the smartest thing I have ever done, but it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime at the time.
In fairness, I was principal of the elementary school, so it wasn't like I was immediately involved in her scholastic career, but she was Miss Wiseman's assistant in the library reading program. It had grown significantly since its inception when I was the lone member sixteen years earlier, and now there were a bevy of teenaged volunteers and almost a hundred elementary and middle school students who participated. I was pretty proud of that.
She and I had kept in touch the entire time I was gone and remained best friends despite everything, so it shouldn't have surprised me to find her in my office during her free period. We had a long talk and decided that her hanging out with me at school just wouldn't work for either of us. We both had other friends and my responsibilities particularly made it impossible for her to just hang out. We still had Saturdays to do that.
We did hang out on Saturdays. I know it sounds odd, especially since I was an adult, and society still considered her just a kid. It was something we just fell back into when I returned from college. The fact that I was an adult and she hadn't quite reached that plateau yet never figured into the equation of our friendship.
See, even though I didn't come home from school most of the time I was in college, her friends had assumed that she was busy on Saturdays and had stopped asking her to go and do things with them. I had stayed away hoping she would develop more friends among her peers, but it backfired. She had those friends at school, and for her that was enough. She told me later that even on days when we were not together, she never missed going out with her other friends. She is truly a one-of-a-kind individual.
It was shocking then, to have her come running into my office after school one day. She was crying and threw herself into my arms without thought. I held her until we could talk, and as she spoke, my rage grew. I had to forcibly remind myself that I was no longer the ten year old defending a child from bullies. I was an adult with rules and regulations to follow, even when defending my best friend from would-be assailants.
Now, don't misunderstand, she is well able to take care of herself, and does so quite handily most of the time. As soon as she was old enough to understand what my Saturday mornings were spent doing, she decided she needed to learn. So with great reluctance, Janet allowed her to come to the dojo to train with me. She was good, a dedicated learner and a quick study and she already holds a first degree black belt... something of an achievement in our chosen discipline.
When she came running to me that day, it wasn't because of what they had tried to do to her, but what she had done to them because of it. She fully expected her oft-absent father to visit his wrath upon her because the perpetrators of her violence were now crying foul.
Surprisingly, her father made it clear that she had been justified in her actions and let the school deal with meting out punishment to all the principles involved.
She was thrilled. It meant she wouldn't be sent away to school... something I later learned was always something she feared - worse than my going away to college.
The next three months' Saturdays were spent doing clean-up and yard maintenance in and around the school. That was the punishment the school decided was fair and equitable. Each principal had to give up rotating Saturdays so I was at the school every third Saturday, and by my second rotation, I thought I saw a larger problem brewing. None of the other principals mentioned it, though, so I was hoping it was my imagination. It wasn't, and it brought me to her father's attention for the first time. It wouldn't be the last.
I don't know about you, but I'm getting hungry. There is a diner in the small town next to the mom and pop grocery. They serve the best corned beef sandwiches; Mary says it's because she makes her own sauerkraut. I dunno about that, but I do know that I have never found any quite as good. Anyway, I need to go into town for a couple things, so I'm gonna go pick one up for lunch. Maybe she'll be here when I get back.
You wouldn't know from my obvious anxiety that I am a responsible adult human being capable of standing alone on my own two feet, would you? I am, really, and quite independent, except when it comes to her. See by the time she was sixteen, she had already carved a place for herself in my heart, even though I didn't know how large that place was until later. That was truthfully a big surprise for me, something she found humorous and endearing in the extreme. It's also what got us into all this trouble, but once again, I'm jumping ahead of myself.
C'mon... it's a gorgeous day outside, and even without her beside me, I can appreciate the beauty and solitude this place offers. I just can't wait to share it with her.
Now, where was I? Oh, yeah... her father.
The kids who'd tried to take advantage kept harassing her, and one day not long after their Saturday detention had been completed, they crossed a line I found unacceptable. At that moment, I ceased to be a principal and simply became her stalwart defender. She was actually angry with me for that, saying she could have handled it, and she was right. She could have. I merely reacted, and when it was over my job was in jeopardy and I had finally managed to catch her father's notice.
As it happened, since I wasn't the one to start it, it didn't happen on school property or during school hours, and I was physically provoked, my job was safe though my conduct placed me on probation. The worst was facing her when it was over.
"I'm sorry," I said softly. We were sitting by the pool at her folks' house. Janet was fixing lunch and her father was at work again. The day was nice, and we were taking advantage though I wasn't sure how long I was going to be welcome. I could still feel the fury rolling off her in waves, and I knew a good majority of that was directed at me.
"I could have handled it, ya know."
"I know... I just... I couldn't help it."
"Do you know what would have happened to me if you had been fired?"
I have to admit... right then I didn't see how my being fired would have affected her at all. I'm smart, but sometimes my sense just takes a leave of absence. This was one of those times. Before she could answer though, her father came through the French doors leading to the pool as though he expected to find me there.
His brows rose at the obvious casualness I was wearing in his home, but he extended his hand in greeting.
"Thank you for coming. I wasn't sure you could make it as my daughter told me you tended to be busy with school and such even on the weekends. That dedication probably helped save your job, though I'll admit to being pleased by your actions on her behalf. Those kids have given her problems more than once."
I looked at her, the information chasing round in my head giving me as many questions as they did answers. She kept her head down and I wondered what else I was missing.
We shared a nice lunch, though it was more than a little awkward with her father there. I found myself reluctant to talk since I wasn't sure what the rules were for conversation with him. Obviously he didn't know that we were friends and that I had been a visitor in his home many times over the years. After lunch, he returned back to the mill, assuring me I would have a place in his management team if I ever found the education field to be too trying. Then he thanked me again for my actions and was gone.
She looked at me then, finally.
"He asked you to invite me over." It was a statement, not a question, and she nodded her agreement. "You didn't ask me to come because of him."
"No," said lowly. She knew what my next question was and she answered it without my having to ask. "I knew you would be here, and I.... I didn't want you to come for him. I wanted you to come for me."
Have I mentioned how thick I can be? God, if I had ANY sense at all I would have caught the clue by four that came hurling in my direction right then. As it was, the train left the station without me. Damnation, but I can be so clueless!
It's getting cool out and I smell rain on the wind. You hear that rumble? We may end up missing the sunset tonight. Maybe I'll light a fire instead. She loves a good fire when it's cool.
The breeze is picking up. It's gonna be a big storm. Reminds me of what happened when it was time for her to go off to college.
"He can't make me do this! I am eighteen years old, dammit!" She had stormed into my house early that Saturday morning, fussing and fuming and cursing the world in general and her father in particular.
"You're making it sound like college is a bad thing."
She flopped on my bed, reminding me of the many rainy Saturdays we'd spent growing up laying side by side on her bed reading or doing homework. Now she glared at me.
"That is not what I mean and you know it."
I sat down beside her and ran my fingers through her hair. She leaned into my touch and I smiled. She'd always liked that, and I'd discovered long ago it was the easiest way to calm her down.
"He just wants what is best for you."
She pulled away and glared at me again. "No he doesn't. He wants what HE thinks is best for me. He's never once asked me what I wanted."
I sat quietly, knowing it for the truth. Finally I asked, "So what are you gonna do?"
She smiled wickedly at me. "I've already done. I'm registered at the state college where you went. I can still come home on weekends."
"And when he finds out?"
She shrugged. "What's he gonna do? I'm going on a full scholarship. If he pulls my allowance I'll get a part-time job though I don't think Mama would let him." She smiled wickedly. "There's something to be said for being the baby with two doting brothers."
I need to explain something right here. By that point, I had been in my job as principal for two years, and it had long before been brought to my attention exactly WHY I, green and raw as I had been, was in that position when there were so many more qualified candidates for it. Ya see, no one wanted it, literally because of her father.
I didn't know when I accepted it, but soon after our first meeting in his home, her brothers visited me. They didn't tell me then that she had asked them to ask me. They did say they knew that I was young enough and hungry enough that I would just do a great job despite him. I didn't understand it right at that moment because her father had done nothing to show he was at all interested in me or the job I was doing as principal. Funny thing is they were right. He never had an issue with me until two weeks ago, but even that had nothing to do with the way I had done my job.
However, once I was brought to his attention, I knew he was keeping an eye on me. Not that it changed the way I did things or how I behaved... I just became more aware. Maybe if I'd paid more attention, this whole situation could have been avoided. Still, despite everything, I was good at what I did and even the older teachers appreciated the time and effort I put into my job. I know because they told me in an unusual show of solidarity just before everything came to a head, but my goodness wasn't THAT a long row to hoe. I can't tell you how gratifying it was to hear that, especially since many of the teachers had been MY teachers at one time, but every single one of them made sure I knew how proud they were of me and the job I'd done.
It's almost funny... my becoming principal united the teachers like nothing else could have. First they stood together to see how I did; then they stood behind me while my life fell down around my ears. But for all that... it was worth it. It was nice to finally see them stand together for themselves, even in the guise of doing it for me.
Oh hell and damnation! That was rain, wasn't it? I'm gonna be soaked before I get back to the chalet. I almost hope she's not there just yet. Otherwise I'm gonna be in big trouble, and I don't want that on our first night together here. On the plus side, that fireplace is real handy for promoting warm and dry. Besides, it was worth it... the sunset was spectacular, especially with that rainbow thing going... WOW!
She went to college, of course. And she somehow made her father think that her attending the local state college was all his idea.
Ya know, come to think of it, he must have been as blind as I was. Or maybe it was just so foreign a concept he couldn't fathom the thought. I think he'd have put a stop to things right then if he'd had any idea what was coming. Of course, if *I* had known what was coming, we'd have done a lot of things differently. But I am digressing again.
Graduation came and went and she spent the summer in Europe. I was working on some continuing education courses, hoping to be able to establish a home business when I got them finished. She was more then a little upset about that, by the way. She'd wanted me to go with her, and in all truth I wanted to, but I knew her father was still watching me. So I went ahead with my plans and she flew off to participate in an archeological dig in Greece.
A month before classes resumed in the fall, I flew over for a two week vacation. Oh that was awesome. We went all over and saw things I'd only dreamed of seeing. I was glad I'd saved a nice little nest egg for this. It was fun to do without worrying about the money.
We flew home together, and she went right to packing up what she was taking to school with her. Not that there was much for her to take. Her father had rented her an apartment and furnished it; all she had to pack up was her clothing and the few personal items she wanted with her.
She was leaving on a Sunday, and the Saturday before her folks held a big bash. I was invited, and I did go for a while, but I was uncomfortable, and I left after wishing her well. She looked at me funny, but she let me leave without question. I wasn't surprised by the knock that came to my door later that evening.
"Why'd you leave?" she asked without preamble when I opened the door to her. She walked in and flopped down on the couch, ignoring the fact that I'd been sitting there reading when she arrived. I simply shook my head at her and sat on the loveseat. "I wanted to introduce you to everyone."
"Everyone there pretty much knows who I am. Besides, I was hoping you'd stop by so I could give you this."
I handed her a wrapped box, thin and heavy. She looked at me then opened the box, gasping in surprised pleasure when she removed the heavy brass frame. It was a picture we'd had taken together in Greece with the Acropolis behind us, arms wound around one another companionably. I'd debated long and hard on what to give her, and this was the best I could do. There was another picture - one I don't remember being taken actually... but I wanted to study it for a while. There was something about it that made my fingers tingle, but I was missing something and wanted a chance to figure it out first.
She looked at it, then looked and me and flung herself into my arms. "It's perfect! Thank you," she whispered fiercely.
I kissed the top of her head. "I couldn't let you go off and forget about me now, could I?"
"No chance of that," she said softly. Then she pulled back from me just enough to brush her lips against mine and she was gone.
The water is very soothing. The depth of color, the low roar, the movement of the waves themselves provide a comfort so primal, I can feel its peace stealing into the crevices of my soul. The whales and dolphins are out today and their antics lighten my spirit. I hadn't realized how lonely and depressed I was becoming without her here, especially not knowing how soon she will arrive. I know patience is a virtue, but that knowing isn't giving me any. At least I'm in a place where there is beauty and solitude I can appreciate.
It smells so good here. The rain last night washed everything clean and the scent of balsam, pine and cedar perfumes the air with a freshness that can't be found in civilization. It makes me wish I could stay here forever.
You would think I would have caught a clue during the five years she was at school, though she was back and forth most weekends. I did go get my head examined recently, just to be sure there was something between my ears beside hot air. Looking back, I can't believe how stupid I was... how totally na´ve. I suppose my excuse is I never really expected that between us. I certainly wasn't looking for anything like that to happen. Of course, nothing did happen except an acknowledgement of what was already there.
When she came home to stay, I finally noticed how much she had changed. She was no longer the little whirlwind I remembered for one thing, but more than that, she was subdued around me. There was a wall between us, and I didn't know what had put it there. Still Saturdays were ours once again, and we spent them much like we had all our growing up years. Early mornings were spent at the dojo practicing forms and techniques. After that, we did all sorts of things to fill our days - horseback riding, hiking, shopping, the zoo and amusement parks - anything to spend time together.
I was so happy during this time and the clue that had been buzzing round my head for years finally smacked me squarely between the eyes. Not that I wanted it to... I really wasn't sure what to do with the information once I had it. Now don't get me wrong. You can't get to be my age without knowing a few things, but I think it's pretty obvious that for all my intelligence I was relationship clueless. I'm not a prude by any means, and I know myself really well; I've just never let others know me like that. I could never find anyone I was comfortable enough to be that close to... except her, that is. And up until that moment, I had never entertained that possibility.
It was my pop that brought me to my senses, so to speak, and gave me the encouragement I needed to take the first and final step.
Pop had come over that evening after work. Mama had passed on not long after I'd come back here to be the elementary school principal. Pop said she was just worn out; the doctor didn't disagree. So Pop made it a point to stop by my place a couple times a week just to chat and touch base with me. I think he was lonely. It did give us a chance to get to know one another, and I found out that I genuinely liked him. That's saying a lot considering how much I hated him and what he had done to me as a kid. Of course, that was when I found out what REALLY happened. That made a huge difference in my thinking.
Anyway, we were sitting on my small front porch watching the fireflies come out as the sun set behind the house. I've always had a thing for fireflies; I remember many an evening spent chasing them, just to see if I could discover how they did that. Mama said God made them that way to spread their joy in life. Sounds corny now, but it sure did make me happy to share their joy then. It still does.
I gave pop a glass of iced tea and sat on the swing, gently pushing the floor with my toe to move the swing. Pop sat in a rocker and for a while we simply sat absorbing the silence. Finally he looked at me and spoke, rather calmly, I thought, considering how he rocked my world with his words.
"So, when you gonna marry that girl?"
I'll admit to being completely broadsided. I had only just recently come to terms with the fact that I had fallen in love with my best friend, and now my pop was talking about it like it was common knowledge. I felt like Wile E. Coyote, genius, watching the train hurtling in my direction. I felt my jaw drop and my eyeballs pop out of my head. It was only the grace of God that kept them from rolling on the floor.
"Excuse me?" It was all my mind could come up with. I was pretty certain I had misunderstood.
Pop looked me dead in the eye and spoke very slowly as though I was a small child again. "When. Are. You. Gonna. Marry. That. Girl?"
I blinked. It was all I could manage. I was the convict's kid. It didn't matter that he wasn't entirely guilty or the only one involved in the scandal... he was the one who went to jail for it. It didn't matter that I had a doctorate and enough other diplomas and certifications to paper a wall. It didn't even matter that the home business I had started when she left for college was now successful enough in its own right to provide me with a comfortable income. All I could see at the moment was the stigma that had followed me for years. Pop put a halt to that in a hurry.
"Don't be laying your hesitation at my door. You and her've been friends for years and no one commented on it."
"It's not the same thing, Pop!"
"Isn't it? You think anyone in this town that's seen ya'll together don't know how you feel about each other?" He jumped up from his chair and went indoors before I could respond, then the porch light flipped on and he slammed the door as he came back out and thrust something in my face. It was that picture.
While we were in Greece, we found a temple thought to belong to the goddess Aphrodite. An old Greek woman was walking down the narrow dirt road as we stepped from the ruins and offered to take our picture together. I handed her my camera and she snapped off one unexpectedly, then she took one of the two of us facing the camera. It was the unexpected shot I'd had framed. It showed the two of us looking at one another with an expression that left no doubt but that we were two people deeply in love. So what was holding me back?
Tears welled in my eyes, and Pop took the picture away from me awkwardly. He'd never been fond of tears.
"It's hard to take that first step," he said quietly, "and there's always the chance you'll be turned down regardless of the feelings there. But you'll never get the chance to really live if you don't take a chance that could kill ya. Question is... do you really wanna live?"
He didn't say anything else; just set the picture up on the small table where I could see it looking back at me and went back in the house, turning off the light and leaving me alone in the darkness. I couldn't really *see* it in the dark, but I didn't need to. I knew what it was and what it said without words.
I didn't hear him leave, and I don't know how long I sat there in the dark before the flash of headlights across the front of the house and the slam of a car door brought me out of my reverie.
She walked slowly up the porch steps and stopped to stand in front of me. She picked up the photograph and smiled as though finally assured that I did indeed understand the secret truth between us.
"Do you know how long I have waited?" she whispered.
I didn't answer. There was no need. I reached out with both hands to stroke her face and she leaned into my touch. I let my fingers trace her eyebrows, her cheekbones, her lips, then move down the contour of her neck. When my hands converged at her collarbone, she took them in her own and pulled me from the swing. Without a word, she led me inside and shut the door, locking it firmly behind us.
What happened between us that night was hesitant and a little awkward and completely wonderful. It's too personal to put down into words; it is something that will always be a part of us, but suffice it to say that I was very glad I decided to take the chance to really live.
All that still doesn't explain why I am up here alone, does it? I could say it was for the solitude, and I wouldn't be lying. But that isn't the whole truth. I could say it's because of her father, but that's not the whole truth either. Mostly I'm here because she asked to have the chance to handle things alone. That hurt... a lot. But still I wait here for her.
It was early summer when we first made love together, and it was July fourth weekend when it all fell apart. Simply put, her father found out about us, and he came at me with both guns blazing determined to rip us apart. It's beginning to seem like he succeeded... two weeks that feel like forever.
My entire life went to hell, and yet I wait for her hoping that she will be here soon. When did I lose myself and allowed her to just step in and take over? And how long will I wait before I give up and go home to pick up the pieces of my life that are left?
I'm going to pack a picnic and hike up to the plateau. I need the solitude of the mountain at sunset.
Her father will make sure I'll never work in public education again, at least not anywhere near home. His arms are long and far reaching, and he will do his damnedest to smear my name and make me unemployable by any standards.
My only crime? Loving his daughter. But he will expose that every mistake I've made during my tenure and twist it to make me look like a monster. The worst part is I left without fighting... without standing up for myself. All because she asked me to let her handle it.
The solitude is killing me.
The moon is full tonight and the path it is leaving on the water beckons me to follow its mysteries. It's been high in the sky for awhile now and I'm still sitting on the plateau. It's a little cool, but I can't face another minute alone in the chalet. It has slowly become my prison. Here, I can sit and at least pretend that everything I valued isn't gone.
I must have fallen asleep because I was suddenly sitting upright breathing rapidly. I sit still and hold my breath to listen hoping to hear what woke me up.
I don't find anything out of the ordinary, but I decide it is time to go in, so I gather up my picnic remains and make my way carefully down the mountain. It wouldn't do to hurt myself alone up here.
When I reach the cabin, I notice... something different. I consciously slow my steps, becoming stealthy to avoid detection. It doesn't work and she sees me before I do her. With a glad little cry she flies off the porch and into my arms.
"It's all taken care off, baby. He's not gonna do anything."
"But...?" Now I am bewildered.
"That is what took so long. I wanted him to understand I was an adult capable of making decisions and taking care of myself and my responsibilities, namely you. And I wanted to make sure he wouldn't do anything to you or to us. His only condition is that you court me as a proper suitor... stop hiding in the shadows is how he put it."
"How did you...?"
Soft fingertips cover my lips and I kiss them in reflex. She can't control the shiver that skitters down her backbone or the flaring of her nostrils at the caress.
"Later," she says in a bare whisper against my lips, then all I know is her touch and taste and fragrance.
I know I will get the full story later. And maybe I will share some of my fears and insecurities as well as some of the natural beauty and peace this wonderland has to offer. But for now, for tonight, we will enjoy our solitude together.