Authors: Sharlene MacLaren
Tags: #General Fiction
“No, thanks.” Her back to him, she unscrewed the lid and poured, then took a couple of good swallows before slowly swiveling her body to look at him. Her robe had seen better days, but it at least did a decent job of covering those parts he had no business looking at.
“I’m no expert, Rachel, but I know how it feels to lose someone you love. We’re in this boat together, remember?”
She studied the rim of her glass, running her finger along it but saying nothing. Her golden hair, still wet from her shower, hung in a muddled mess around her oval face.
Suddenly, a notion came to him. “I have an idea,” he announced. “Go get dressed.”
“What?” She lowered her glass a fraction and threw him a perturbed glance.
“Just do it, okay?” He stepped forward to take her glass and set it on the counter. Then, he slowly pivoted her so that she faced the door and gave her a little push.
“But, I don’t— It’s late. I need to get to bed, and, besides, my hair is wet.”
“So, what’s the big deal? It’s not like you’ll be seeing anybody tonight, and you don’t have to get up early, do you?”
“Not—exactly, but I just— What if I don’t feel like going anywhere? Jason, what kind of scheme are you cooking up? I’m not much in the mood for doing anything.”
“Don’t be an old poop. This will be good for you, I promise. Now, hurry up before the clock strikes midnight and I turn into a pesky ogre.”
“Pssh. Who said we had to wait till midnight for that?” she muttered as she shuffled toward the stairs. He grinned with satisfaction.
Five minutes later, Rachel was seated comfortably next to Jason in his Jeep. They backed out of her drive and headed west as a calming, gentle breeze blew in through the partially open windows, brushing her cheeks and ruffling her damp locks. The streets were quiet, save for some light traffic and a few folks out walking dogs. With the exception of several well-lit gas stations, every establishment they passed was dark: drugstores, office supply stores, a furniture and mattress store, and several other small businesses.
They rode in silence until they came to the intersection at Lakeshore Drive and U.S. 15, where Jason made a right turn onto Lakeshore. “Are we going to the beach?” Rachel asked.
He smiled, his eyes trained on the road. “You gotta admit, it’s the perfect night for it, and I haven’t been down here in ages.”
They followed the Lake Michigan coastline, which led to the state park. Along the way, they passed restaurants, bars, novelty shops, and ice cream parlors, all hot spots at the peak of tourist season but now much quieter with the passing of Labor Day.
Just past a playground area, Jason found a parking space facing the lake, pulled into it, and cut the engine. The clouds had parted to reveal a starlit night, unusually mild for mid-September. “Come on, let’s walk,” he said, opening his door and getting out before she had a chance to respond.
She didn’t feel like walking, but the very pleasantness of the night pulled at her, so she found herself climbing out of the car.
Side by side, they set off down the paved walkway, neither speaking at first, just taking in the sounds of a few passing cars, a couple of dogs disturbing the peace, a door slamming, a distant foghorn blaring. “Nice, huh?” Jason said after a few minutes.
“It is,” she admitted, folding her arms across her chest.
She felt his eyes fall on her. “You’re not cold, are you?”
“No, it’s—it’s a beautiful night. I’m glad you brought me.”
“I knew it’d be good for you to get out of that house. I have a strong suspicion you don’t get out much, young lady.”
A tiny laugh escaped her lips. “Church and the grocery store. Those are our major destination points.” She laughed again, and Jason’s chuckle blended with hers.
They padded through a mound of sand that had blown onto the sidewalk. The full moon’s reflection glistened on the nearly motionless lake. A late-night jogger approached, nodded, and continued on his way, and Jason brushed against her as he sidestepped to make room on the path.
“How’s your business doing?” she decided to ask, realizing that everything so far had been about her, and that she’d selfishly allowed it instead of inquiring about his life.
For the next several minutes, he talked about his thriving company, his current projects, his hardworking crew, and even his condo, which she’d never seen, since he’d lived elsewhere the last time she and John had driven down for a visit more than two years ago. She asked about the development where he lived, the church he attended, and whether he had a good circle of friends. He filled her in, saying he liked his condo fine, loved his church and pastors, and had made a number of friends but had little time for socializing.
He managed to draw her into the conversation, as well, asking her about her church, her family, and some friends from the old gang they used to hang out with. He had the tact not to bring up his brother’s name. Of course, she didn’t hang much with the “old gang,” as he put it. Losing John had put a damper on her former friendships, as many of the married couples usually found it awkward to invite her anywhere. She had several faithful girlfriends, though, who insisted on keeping her as busy as possible, namely Allie Ferguson.
“So, tell me about this woman you’re dating. Candace, is it? Are you in love with her?” She glanced up and saw his Adam’s apple bob like a fisherman’s cork. Okay, so the questions had poured out with little forethought. They’d come to the end of the sidewalk, and now, nothing but beach stretched out before them. Hardly pausing, Rachel stepped out of her sandals, bent to pick them up, and proceeded through the shifting, sugary sand, knocking gently against Jason without meaning to, her damp locks falling around her cheeks. The starry sky reflected off the water as undercurrents swept miniature waves upon the shore. In the distance, a lighthouse flickered signals to incoming barges and small crafts, the pier on which it sat stretching out over the clear horizon like a pointy finger. A low, dull foghorn sent out its booming blast, skittering across the lake and creating ghostly echoes of warning.
Following suit, Jason stepped out of his shoes and edged closer to the water. “Hey, it’s not that bad. Stick your toes in.”
Feeling adventurous, she did so, amazed at how warm the water felt to her toes. “You’re right; it’s nice.”
She glanced across the Big Lake’s wide expanse at the dimly lit horizon. He must have noticed it, for he asked, “Remember how I used to say you could see Wisconsin from here if you looked hard enough?”
So, he planned to evade her question about Candace, did he? “Yeah, and I believed you.” He gave a hearty chuckle that rumbled through the air. Again, their sides bumped lightly. “I must have been in sixth or seventh grade. You and John were always feeding me some line or another, probably laughing behind my back when I swallowed it, too.”
She giggled at the memory, finding the feeling euphoric if not refreshing.
Wading back out of the water, she resumed walking through the dry, shifting sands. He followed, matching her steps. Their hands accidentally touched, so she quickly clasped hers behind her back, her sandals dangling by their straps from her fingers.
“You didn’t answer my earlier question…about Candace. That is her name, isn’t it? Are you guys serious?”
“Yeah, her name’s Candace. Um, I guess we are…serious, that is.”
When he didn’t elaborate, she glanced up at his well-defined profile—straight nose, square jaw, and thick brows and lashes shading his deep brown eyes.
So different from John
, she thought,
and yet still handsome in his own right
. John was classically striking with his neat-as-a-pin appearance, and he possessed a narrower, slightly shorter physique than Jason, with lighter hair and skin tone. Jason, on the other hand, had chocolate-colored hair and a tawny complexion, the result of hours spent in the sun. In addition to his rugged appeal, his distinctive air of self-confidence had set him apart from John, and people had often mistaken the boys for friends rather than brothers.
Rachel tried to lay aside all those observances and concentrate on the present.
“You guess? Why so cagey about the whole thing?”
He turned his gaze on her, but she couldn’t make out his downward expression because of the shadow across his face. “Cagey?”
“You know—guarded, evasive. Haven’t you been seeing her for a couple years? It seems by now you should be talking marriage.”
She stepped in a hole a child had apparently dug while building a sand castle and started to go down, but he caught her with a strong hand, as if he’d been waiting for her to trip. “She’d like to think we are,” he answered without missing a beat, dropping his hand back to his side again.
“So, you’re dragging your feet, then?”
He chuckled and nudged her playfully. “You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?”
For the first time, it occurred to her she’d begun to relax, even enjoy their banter.
“I’m pretty intuitive, but then, most women are.”
“So, what’s the problem?” she prodded. How had she come from not wanting to talk at all to suddenly wanting the full scoop on his relationship with his girlfriend?
He released a light groan. “I just want to be sure God’s the one directing us, that’s all. If He’s not, then I don’t feel comfortable moving forward with marriage—or the relationship, for that matter. When I bring that up to her, though, she about has a coronary and thinks I’m breaking up with her right then.”
She took a moment to digest that revelation. “You sure have changed, Jason Evans. There was a time when God didn’t play a very big part in your life. In fact, you used to poke fun at John’s faith.”
He kicked up some sand, making it fly several feet. “I regret that now something terrible.”
She smiled in spite of the memory. “I’m sure he forgives you.”
“I apologized for my stupidity one time when we were out on the slopes—not that last time, but….” The sentence hung suspended between them. “John and I always got along great. Well, most of the time. We had our spats, like most brothers do.”
“He thought the world of you.”
“The feeling was mutual.”
They came to a fence that marked the end of the public park and decided to turn around. The moonlight shimmered even more brightly on the lake as they made their way back in the direction of Jason’s Jeep, letting the silence swallow up their thoughts again for at least the next three or four minutes as they plodded along.
On the sidewalk again, they slipped back into their footwear. “So, does Candace share your newfound faith?” Rachel asked, unwilling to drop the subject.
“Uh, yeah. She’s just not as committed, I guess you’d say.”
“You don’t have to be at the same level spiritually. I always felt like John lived on a different plane from me, so mature and levelheaded, not to mention knowledgeable about Scripture. Everybody grows at an individual pace, you know. You should be patient with her, wait for her to catch up.”
She felt his eyes fall on her. “You think?”
She smiled. “Sure. And you should put a ring on her finger soon. Otherwise, she might disappear, and then you’ll be left with regrets.”
They continued along, his feet kicking up more mounds of sand. “Can’t have regrets,” he mumbled through an obvious grin.
As they drove, Rachel leaned back in her seat and relaxed, allowing the Jeep’s engine to rock her into a sort of dreamlike state. “That was nice, Jason. Thanks for the walk. And the talk,” she added. “You were right; I needed it.”
He glanced at her, but she kept her eyes trained on the winding road that led to her house. “You’re welcome. Promise me something, will you?”
“Maybe. What did you have in mind?”
“Don’t give up. The journey is hard, scary, and painful, but with God’s help, you can do it. I hate to think about you quitting on me.”
She closed her eyes and let the words hang there for a while. “I’ll see what I can do,” she quipped.
Moments later, Jason pulled into her driveway, shoved the gearshift into park, and cut the engine.
“Thanks again, Jason. I can see myself in.”
“I’m sure you can, but stay put,” he instructed her, stuffing his keys into his pocket and jumping out. She watched him run around to her side and open the door. When he reached out a hand, she hesitated, then took it, finding it warm but as coarse as sandpaper. John’s had never felt like that, even though he’d built fences, planted gardens, and laid decorative brick at their house. His was a desk job, with weekends as his only times for household chores and yard work. For no particular reason, a shiver raced up her spine. As soon as she jumped to the ground, she started up the sidewalk ahead of Jason, somewhat flummoxed when he didn’t just get back in his Jeep and drive away.
“This place is a mess, isn’t it?” she muttered, groping for something to say as soon as they stepped inside her cool, quiet house. What had happened to that relaxed frame of mind she’d talked herself into on their drive back? Goodness, the Jeep’s drone had nearly put her to sleep, and now, here she was, as jittery as a caged cat. She stepped over a stuffed toy, thinking she ought to pick it up, but why bother at this hour?
Jason came up behind her, rattling her nerves even more.
“There’s plenty of time for catching up on your cleaning tomorrow. I’ve kept you up too late, so head for bed, kiddo.”
Kiddo? Who was she, his little charge? She scratched her head and stared at him. Despite her annoyance, she couldn’t hold back her wide-mouthed yawn.
Warm hands at her shoulders pivoted her body, pointing her in the direction of the stairs. “Go on, now. I’ll see to things down here.”
“What?” She gave her head a fast shake. “I—I should see if there’re any phone messages. I left my cell upstairs, and Mom might have called. The kids could have—”
“I’ll check. Answering machine’s in the kitchen, right?”
“Yeah. Um….” He left her standing there and disappeared around the corner. She felt her forehead pull into a frown, her body tense. She wasn’t quite sure what to think of this presumptive and solicitous attitude he’d adopted.