Chapter IV (4)
Getting to know someone is like learning to drive a car. Either you get the hang of it straight away or you jerk forward in fits and starts. First the gas pedal; too much gas and you lurch forward. Then you stomp too hard on the brake pedal and are thrown back and forth in the seat. You then stab at the gas pedal and jerk forward once again, all the while desperately trying to keep the car moving in a straight line. Finally, you learn how to apply the right pressure on the pedals and you’re off for a smooth ride until the next new challenge sets you back again.
So it was with Wilbur, Charlie and Lynn getting comfortable with each other. It seemed like a long time ago, to Charlie since he and Wilbur had gone through the same learning process. Now they rode steadily along together in a familial cruise control. Today, Wilbur and Charlie were taking those same learning steps with someone new and although this new person seemed nice enough. Charlie was not an entirely comfortable passenger on this new journey. The same was true for Wilbur; if Charlie was uneasy, Wilbur was too. Throw a pebble into a calm pond and watch the ripples disturb the water.
Something had happened, however, down by the river at Wilbur and Charlie’s special place. A small, unspoken connection had been made and the first fence had been climbed. There was an easing of tensions, muscles were relaxed, Lynn seemed to be walking more loosely. Even Wilbur must have felt it as he walked comfortably between Charlie and this new person.
Charlie told Lynn how Wilbur had got his name.
“After Jake had been killed, it was like there was a hole in our lives. Ellie and I had felt that before when William, our son, had died. That had been more like a crater than just a hole.” Charlie paused for a moment or two and Lynn knew better than to ask another question. Charlie blew out some air and continued. “It just so happened that when Jake died Frank’s bitch Rosie had just had a litter. Talk about timing, eh? Frank, who owns the next farm that butts up to mine, gave us one of the pups. It was just the right medicine for Ellie. She was like a mother hen, just a-cuddling and a-coddling this baby dog. Damn near spoiled him, if you ask me.
“Of an evening, we’d sit on the front porch and Ellie would take that dog in her lap, cuddling it and talking to it in baby talk. It was a bit strange, but I was happy that Ellie was happy. She hadn’t been quite the same since William had gone.” Charlie paused again. He stopped walking as well, turned and looked back at the river for a moment or two.
Lynn felt bad now and said, “You don’t have to if…”
Charlie cut her off. “No, it’s okay. I haven’t told this story in a while; it makes me smile to think of Ellie when Wilbur was a young un. Well, she’d be cuddling the pup, talking to it like a baby and I’ll be damned if the little fella didn’t talk back to her. And he almost sounded human. Ellie said, ‘He’s just like that talking horse.’ ‘What are you talking about woman?’ I asked her. ‘You know that one on TV. The one that says, Wilbur,’ says Ellie. Well, right then, just as Ellie says, ‘Wilbur,’ kind of imitating that talking horse on TV, the little puppy barks and wags his tail. Ellie and I look at each other, we laugh, and we know that we have a name for the dog.”
“Oh,” said Lynn, feeling a little foolish. She’d never heard of a TV show about a talking horse. “Wilbur, was that the name of the TV show?” She asked.
“No, it were Mr. Ed. Before your time, I think,” said Charlie graciously.
Wilbur, tired of reacting every time he heard his name, only to be ignored, had gone off ahead out of earshot.
To Lynn’s surprise, Charlie took up the conversational reins again. “Now, young lady, I ain’t much good with kinfolk; who’s related to who and who’s a cousin and what a niece is. I know what grandparents are, and I can stretch to aunts and uncles but anything past that and I’m lost, especially since I don’t have any brothers or sisters. Earlier, you said you were my Ellie’s niece. Right?”
Lynn was about to reply but Charlie continued.
“I’ve been struggling with it, but a niece is the daughter of a brother or sister, right? I’ve been thinking and I reckon I do know enough to know that you are too young to be my Ellie’s niece. So, who are you?”
“You’re right, Charlie. Can I call you Charlie, or would you prefer Uncle Charlie or just Mister Stone?”
“Okay, Charlie. I’m actually Aunt Elizabeth’s, Ellie’s, grandniece.”
“That would make you whose child, exactly?” Asked Charlie.
“I’m the daughter of Ellie’s sister’s daughter,” explained Lynn.
“Phew, that’s one too many daughters for me to figure out. I’ll have to think about this,” said Charlie, half to himself. They were now back at the house. Charlie looked up at the sun and said, “It’s darn near dinner time. You hungry?” He asked Lynn.
Now Lynn was confused. It was way too early for dinner. Dinner was a night-time meal. Charlie had to explain to her that dinner was around noon and supper was at night.
What do they call breakfast? thought Lynn.
Then Charlie said, “I wasn’t expecting company, but I’ll see what I can rustle up.”
“I have an idea,” said Lynn. “Why don’t I buy you lunch, er dinner, in town? I saw they had a restaurant as I drove through.”
Charlie laughed, “It’s more of a diner really. But lunch would be grand, thank you. Give me half an hour while I shower and put on some clean clothes. Meanwhile, make yourself at home and if you need anything, please help yourself.”
They went inside and Charlie disappeared for a couple of minutes and then returned carrying a big book. “This is Ellie’s old photograph album with pictures of her kinfolk and such. Thought you might like to look through it while I get ready.”
Chapter V (5)
Running from the law
They made quite a handsome pair as they walked into the diner, she with her city clothes and those emerald eyes and he with his still rugged although age-worn face. Charlie didn’t quite know what to do with himself. He hadn’t felt this way in a long, long time. He was both embarrassed and proud, self-conscious yet feeling a bit cocky, to be seen with such a “pretty young lady,” which is how he would later describe her. It was Saturday and the diner was busy, just about every head turned when they walked in. He knew most of the people there. Trixie, behind the counter, gave her usual greeting of a big smile and, “Hi Charlie,” followed this time by a big wink. Charlie felt his neck and his cheeks get hot and he hoped that Lynn didn’t notice the wink. A couple of his friends were at their customary corner table, and they just stared as if someone famous had just walked in. A table full of old women, stopped talking, swiveled their heads like a gaggle of geese, then quickly put their heads together and started whispering loudly.
Charlie darted a quick look at Lynn’s face to see how she was taking it and she was grinning from ear-to-ear. She knew exactly what was happening and was loving every minute of it. Just for the hell of it, she hooked arms with Charlie as they made their way to the only available table which was dead center in the middle of the room. There was a lot of elbow nudging going on all around them. When they were seated Lynn leaned across the table and said, “Looks like you caused quite a stir walking in here.”
“I think it was you who done the stirring,” replied Charlie with a smile. “I’m sorry if they’ve made you feel uncomfortable. We’re just a small town where everybody knows everybody’s business. You’ve probably given them something new to talk about for weeks to come. They should be thanking you.”
“I haven’t had this much fun in a long time,” said Lynn. “Is the food any good in here?”
“Depends on what you call good,” answered Charlie honestly. Although he was enjoying Lynn’s company, he was starting to become aware of the differences between them. Not just their ages but she was a city gal and the gap between their lives seemed to be widening rather than closing. It had started on the drive to town.
Charlie had gotten all spruced up. He’d shaved, put on his best jeans and a clean, checked shirt. When they got outside Lynn said brightly, “I’ll drive.” This made Charlie stop dead in his tracks. To cover up his shock he busied himself with giving Wilbur some fresh water. Then he walked slowly towards the car. There were a few firsts and nevers coming up on the horizon for Charlie, and they wouldn’t be the last.
He had never been driven by a woman before.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in a car. He had always driven a truck.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been a passenger in any vehicle, except perhaps a school bus.
He never wore a seatbelt and was asked to do so as soon as he got in.
Charlie even had difficulty getting into the car, every part of him protested.
When Lynn started driving, she drove way too fast for Charlie’s taste. He kept pumping his right foot on a non-existent brake pedal at every bend in the road. Out of sight, his right hand was gripping the edge of the seat for dear life. When Lynn talked, which she did for most of the ride, she looked directly at him and not the road.
Charlie would have been relieved when they got to the diner, but his relief was overshadowed by his concern about how he was going to get out of this car with the least amount of damage to his pride and his body. And to top it all, the car wasn’t even Lynn’s, she’d rented it for the drive, she’d said. He’d never rented anything before and the sheer extravagance was mind boggling.
Despite all the new experiences being thrown at him like one of those machines that throws baseballs at batters, Charlie was getting to like this young woman. He wanted to close that gap that seemed to be widening between them. Now, waiting for their food to arrive, Charlie thought he’d better find out a bit more about this new person in his life.
“So, why are you here, Lynn?” To an outsider, Charlie could seem to be blunt and tactless. Charlie just liked to get straight to the point, he didn’t like to beat around the bushes.
Once again, Lynn felt that the tables had been turned on her. For an instant, she was taken aback by the frank question, but quickly decided that she appreciated the direct question. It was one of her own interviewing techniques. “I needed to get out of town for a while,” she said.
Charlie leaned forward and spoke softly, “Are you in trouble?”
Lynn chuckled and said, “Oh no. Nothing like that, although you could say I was running from the law.”
“What?” said Charlie, getting both concerned and confused again because Lynn was all smiles and joking and the law was after her.
“Oh, no, no, no,” said Lynn quickly, realizing that she was scaring Charlie a little. “I was just joking. I’m not a fugitive or anything. I’m an attorney. We just won a big case, and I needed a break. I wanted to get out of Dodge for a while. See, that’s why I said I was running from the law.”
“Oh,” said Charlie with a wry smile. She’d got him with one of his own tricks, a joke, and he’d missed it. He’d forgotten the steps you had to take when getting to know someone for the first time. To him, it was like learning to dance and he was a lousy dancer. Part of him was excited and another part was impatient, wanting to cut the BS and get straight to the point. “Okay, but why here? Didn’t you know Ellie was no longer with us and I’m not really related to you, at least not by blood?”
“That story is a bit longer,” she said and was saved from going any further when their food arrived. Charlie had ordered a chicken-fried steak and she, to be safe, had ordered a salad. They couldn’t mess that up too badly, she had thought. She was wrong. There wasn’t much chance of conversation while they were eating. Charlie was totally absorbed in eating his food. He didn’t gobble his food down and he wasn’t sloppy, he just gave all his attention to the art of eating, if there were such a discipline. Lynn had the feeling that he was probably like that with everything he did. The self-helpers would say he was “at one with the universe” and they would pay good money to learn how to do that. Charlie did it naturally and Lynn envied him that.
Over coffee, Charlie was amazed to learn that Lynn had been driving around for 3 days, alone. He didn’t think that was safe for a woman on her own.
“Oh, I stayed in big name, chain hotels, I was fine,” she stated matter-of-factly. Charlie didn’t know what one of those was and he didn’t ask.
“I’m booked in at the Sunset Inn here in town,” she added.
“What?” Charlie sputtered with a mouthful of coffee. “The Sunset Inn? That ain’t safe. You cain’t stay there.”
“I already did, last night,” said Lynn a bit defiantly.
“That’s not the place for someone like you,” stated Charlie as he called for the check. “It should be called the ‘Midnight Inn’ not the ‘Sunset Inn’, ‘cos that’s when they do most of their business, especially of a Saturday night. We’ll swing by there and pick up your things, if they are still there, and you can stay at the farm.”
Lynn was now bristling. She didn’t like being told what to do, especially by a man and especially one she didn’t know very well. “Now wait a minute. You can’t tell me what to do and what if I don’t want to stay at your place? How do I know I’ll be safe at your place? Last night the room was clean, a bit old, but not trashy. The place was a bit noisy, but it’s just an old-fashioned motel in an old-fashioned town. I’ll be alright, thank you very much.” And she slammed her credit card down when the waitress brought the check.
By now the whole diner was listening to their conversation. Charlie had never been so embarrassed, and Lynn couldn’t give a damn. Charlie leaned forward and lowered his voice. It seemed as if the whole place leaned in towards them to hear better. “We may be simple, old-fashioned people but those people there at the motel are simply bad people from the city. There’s drugs, prostitutes and god knows what else goes on down there. This ain’t no time to pull a Benjamin on me.”
The crowd around them was all nodding their heads along with Charlie’s words.
Lynn slashed her signature across the credit card receipt, got up and stomped off to the bathroom. Out of the corner of his eye, Charlie saw Miss Anderson, the schoolteacher, get up and follow Lynn into the ladies’ room. He’d never had an argument with a woman in public before. He didn’t know what to do with himself. He had half a mind to go and wait outside but thought better of it, so he just sat there feeling like a prize idiot with the whole diner looking at him.
“Dammit,” he said quietly to himself. “Serves me right. Pride comes before a fall.”
Eventually, Lynn and Miss Anderson – everyone in town called her, “Miss” and not the modern “Ms.” – came out of the bathroom together. To Charlie they looked like old school friends as they exchanged a few words before Lynn paused at the table, smiled and they both walked out of the diner. The door had hardly closed when the whole place erupted in noise as everybody started speaking at once. Dammit. This kind of gossip would last the town a whole year, thought Charlie.
Not a word was spoken as they got into the car and Lynn drove straight to the Sunset Inn. She stopped by her room and very quickly was loading her bags into the car. Then they stopped by the office. Even from outside, Charlie could hear their raised voices. Lynn came out with a triumphant look on her face, and she drove them back to the farm, by way of the grocery store.
Thank you for reading my story. If you like it, please recommend it to a friend.
Several people have asked me why I only post one chapter at a time. My reply is that I like the old-fashioned format of installments which, it strikes me, is very much akin to a modern day TV series. Just think, one day soon you’ll be able to binge read the whole story.
Until next week.