A time-travel story and a love story
|I slid open the sliding glass door. Our cat, Molly, shoved her way through my legs, darted out.
"Yours, I take it," Charlie said. "Always I find you with a cat by your side."
I halted. The second of such remarks indicating he'd known me for a long time. How strange.
"What do you mean I've always had a cat. You don't even know me. Why would you say that?"
He inhaled deeply, looked away, then down at his feet. "Sorry. I get carried away sometimes. It's always hardest at the beginning when you don't know . . . "
I figured he meant he got nervous, rattled. I could accept that. I felt the same way. Yet a faint warning crept into my mind, a warning I wished later that I'd listened to . . . although maybe it wouldn't have made any difference. They say Fate can't be changed.
I led Charlie toward the peach tree. Some of the fruit had dropped during the morning, fruit flies had found them, were presently dining on the feast. I'd have to clean up the mess later, compost heap the rotten ones., although the pits didn't do well. The ripe peaches I'd pick, turn into jams and pie -- maybe even a cobbler for later tonight.
Charlie acted like he didn't know what to do. Maybe he waited for permission. I reached up, got a peach, handed it to him, then walked over to the concrete bench, the one with Cupids at the sides.
Charlie bit into his peach. Juice ran down his hand, dripped onto his shirt. I winced, wished I'd thought to offer him a towel. Maybe I should have warned him, but didn't all ripe peaches ooze nectar?
Charlie finished off the peach, licked his fingers, rubbed them on a patch of thick grass, then came and sat beside me.
"Sorry about your shirt," I said.
He laughed. "It washes."
The concrete bench was often icy, rarely warm enough to be comfortable for a long sit, but with Charlie there, I hardly noticed, or maybe it was only because the sun's rays licked my face, reminded me that August was supposed to be hot.
"So you teach school? Second grade, right?" Charlie said, his eyes surveying our comfortable backyard.
I nodded, smiled. "Mom tell you that?"
He didn't answer, his eyes returned to me, then glanced down at a strand of hair that had broken free from its tether.
"Let your hair down, please?"
I unfastened it, let it spread. Instantly I felt unteacher-like, younger than my age. Both Harry and I shared that attribute -- the slightly chubby face, large green eyes, curly red hair, and skin like a baby's. I waited for Charlie to say something, to ask me exactly how old I was, maybe even to express concern about it, but he didn't.
He reached out his hand, touched my hair -- the way someone handles something fragile, something precious.
"It's beautiful. I love red hair, always have."
Compliments made me feel unsettled. I looked down to avoid looking at him.
His fingers lowered, touched my chin, brought it up, so I'd meet his eyes. "Is it too soon to kiss you?"
I shot up off the bench. I'd just met the man, didn't know him at all. What was he thinking? What was I thinking, wanting him to kiss me so bad my hands clenched at the material of my dress.
"Sorry," he said. He stood, held his hands high in the air as if confronted by a policeman with a gun.
How silly of me. He hadn't manhandled me, hadn't done anything to make me flee.
"Please, I would never hurt you. Never." His eyes beseeched. He stood there a moment, giving me a puppy-dog look, then backed away, put his hands underneath his body, sat on them.
"See?" he said, "Can't touch. You're safe."
I laughed, walked back to join him, tugged at his right hand to free it. When he released it, I folded my hand around it. "I'm not afraid of you. It's not that. It's just that sometimes . . . ok, you make me nervous. L:ike when you said that about me always owning a cat or thinking you knew my favorite book. We just met, Charlie. You don't know anything about me . . . And I never kiss men I've just met."
He shifted sideways, plopped his left leg over his right so he could see me better, gazed more forcefully into my eyes. "I bet there's been no one you really wanted to kiss -- not really. Tell me I'm right, Laurie, tell me I've guessed that about you, please?."
Guessed? The alarms inside me lessened. Yet, Charlie flirted at top speed, accelerated beyond anyone I'd ever known. I'd felt that in church, recognized the danger, the danger to my equilibrium. Could I handle such intensity, withstand the force of his wake?
"Laurie, Charles, time for supper."
I stood, relieved I didn't need to answer. Besides, when Mama called that dinner was ready it implied a certain urgency, she couldn't stand for food to get cold. In fact, if Mama had her way, Reverend Seamwell would make cold food one of the seven deadly sins.
Charlie made it through Mama's meatloaf, green beans, corn, and mashed potatoes, the latter all from our backyard garden. He provided suitable answers to Mom's questions, battled Dad's obsession with football vs. soccer without managing to step on toes, steered around politics, religion, and other dangers, cleaned his plate, praised sufficiently, and offered up a steady stream of teeth-flashing smiles. Amazing.
Harry and Joey flashed in as Mama and I were cleaning up. Of course they each agreed to a plateful of food, although I'm sure Joey's mother had already fed them. But the boys had seconds on mashed potatoes, inhaled everything but a few green beans, then readied themselves for slices of blueberry pie with ice cream.
Mama and I drank a cup of coffee while the men folk savored their heap of calories. As I watched my brother demolish and practically lick his plate clean, I wished he and I shared more attributes. However, I figured if I climbed trees, raced across fields, and wrestled for fun, I could probably also eat like a pig.
Besides, I had my own sweetness. Charlie said he'd never eaten such delicious pie. When Dad told him how I baked three or four each week, Charlie's eyes twinkled. "I should have known," he said. "Gorgeous AND gifted."
While I helped clean, Charlie played ball with the boys. I watched through the kitchen window. Boy, could that man throw a ball. Sometimes it went by so fast, it churned air. Other times, he threw it so light and easy, the boys jeered. He worked them, fed their egos, made them laugh. A nice man, a good person.
Not long after that, Charlie came inside to tell us he was heading back to the hotel where he was staying. He thanked us for the pleasant meal and conversation, then asked if he could take me to the movies that evening.
"My folks don't believe in dating on a Sunday," I said.
Charlie glanced at them, then at me, but he didn't argue, just asked what night would be better.
I smiled, liking him all the more for his easy acceptance of such an old-fashioned viewpoint, "Monday?"
Mama straightened up, I could tell she didn't like that day much either. I expected her to sputter about my staying out late on a week night, something like, "But Laurie, you know you have to go to work the next day."
But she didn't say it. I lived at home because my parents had begged me to do so, to help out with Harry, they always claimed. But I insisted that they remember I was an adult with freedom. It worked well most days, except on Sunday when Harry had to attend church, so I had to go, too.
Anyway, Charlie and I set a time for the date, said our goodbyes without in any attempt at a kiss, then waved at each other as he walked down the driveway and back into town.
The dishes clean, the floor swept, time to attack the peaches. While I changed out of my dress, I thought about Monday's date, wondered what I should wear, sorted shoes, worried about whether I should leave my hair down or not.
Molly meowed, springing me free from my self-induced panic. I remembered again about the peaches, the compost, the cobbler I planned to make, one that would be perfect after an evening at the movies.