Part 7: Country Girl
I was sitting in the metal porch swing on the back porch when Summer returned. I had seen her several times from my vantage point, walking down the rows of apple trees, but as it got dark I lost sight of her figure and instead focused on the stars lighting the night sky. In the city you see scattered stars here and there, but out here in the country the sky was full of them. It reminded me of a blanket that you could stitch, going from star to star with needle and thread. It was beautiful. Not just the stars and how they lit up everything, but the night itself even looked different. The darkness was a more vibrant shade and I lay my head back, taking in this whole other world spread out across the heavens. I was marveling at this, when I heard the crunch of her feet on the gravel drive. “For a minute there I thought you were sleeping,” she said, sitting down on the porch steps.
“No, just admiring the night.”
“Beautiful isn’t it?”
“Yes it is. In the city, the night sky seems a bit stifling, as if it’s closing in on you. Here it’s wide open, like it just wants to free you.”
“Yes, exactly. I forgot just how liberating the country sky can be.”
“Forgot? I kind of took you for a country girl.”
“Well I was born in Kentucky, lived all over the Carolinas and Virginias, but the past several years I have been in Baltimore, Maryland. Trying to be a fool for the city. But, I think I’m done there.”
“I can understand. I thought I was a city boy, too. Born and bred in the urban squall.”
She smiled. “I knew you were a city boy the moment I saw you.”
She smirked as if I just said the stupidest thing. “Your car out there. It’s a city car. Your haircut. Definitely city.”
I feigned offense. “What’s wrong with my hair?”
“Nothing. It’s just neat, not wind blown. Live in the country long enough and your hair starts to get a certain look. Like you threw your comb out the window or something.”
“And you got city hands, too.”
“yeah. Flip your hands over.” I turned my hands so the palms were up. “Calluses on your hands. They are small, like you have been holding a pencil too long. If you was country, they would be bigger from gripping a shovel or hoe.”
“You’re very observant,” I reasoned.
She grinned. “You have no idea.”
“Okay, so what else is city about me?”
“Your accent of course. No twang to your voice. You say fighting, country says fightin’. You don’t have a country boy build either. Country guys are a little more beefed up and tanned from working outside all the time.”
“You like that, do you?”
She laughed. “Heck no, I’m into nerds. Didn’t you read my shirt?” Reaching in her back pocket, she pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She lit one up and inhaled deeply. “One of my few vices,” she explained, when she saw me looking at her.
“So, this your first time in the country, Matthew?”
“No, my grandparents lived in the country. I used to spend summers there as a child. I just thought I would try and revisit it before getting back to real life.”
“Did your grandparents live around here?” she asked, looking up from her perch on the steps.
“No. I ended up here quite by chance. Just passing through, you could say. On a whim, I rented the place. Looked like the right spot to gather my thoughts and decide what to do.”
“No, that’s been decided I believe.” I looked away from Summer and peered into the heavens again.
“Look, I’m sorry about earlier.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“Asking you about Ashley.”
Looking up at the stars was easier then looking at her. “It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not. I know I can come off a bit nosy sometimes.”
“I don’t think that.”
“Liar. I know I can be in people’s faces a little too much. Just something I’ve learned to live with. Nobody else can, though. I tend to scare people.”
“I’m not scared.”
She smiled. “Sure you are. But, it’s okay. I’ll try not to be so intrusive.”
“Summer, there’s nothing wrong with you.”
She laughed and stubbed out her cigarette on the porch step. “If you say so. Hey, I’m going to get some soda.” She got up and headed for the door. “Want anything?”
“No, that’s okay. I’m going to turn in soon.”
“I kind of figured you would,” she said, and I could hear the air of disappointment in her voice. The screen door closed behind her and I wondered if I would ever be able to say the right thing around this girl.
When I finally came indoors, the first thing I heard was the water running in the bathroom. The door was closed and I figured she was taking her bath. I locked the back door, and went around checking all the others. Old habit from the city. You never leave a door unlocked anywhere for any length of time where I came from. After making sure the house was secure and retired to my room where I shut the door. Kicking off my shoes, I sat down at the writing desk and took out a pen and piece of paper. I wanted to write and tell my brother where I had gone. Eric might not have wanted to know, since the last time we talked it was a very heated discussion, but I was thinking he should know the path I chose if I didn’t return. How do you tell your brother how you’re feeling though if you don’t even know yourself? It wasn’t no secret between us that the passing of our parents hit me hard. That on top of Ashley ditching me at the altar was enough to crush and devastate me. He knew what Ashley meant to me and I suspected he knew where she had taken off to, which led to our last and final argument. It hurts even more when you feel your brother is still talking to your bride to be, and you’re not. I don’t believe he had designs on her or anything, but just knowing they were friends enough to share information on how much Matt hurts, was enough for me to give him a big ‘screw you’ and leave all that drama behind.
I put the pen to paper and began:
I don’t expect you to understand what has happened to me inside. You never really got me when mom and dad were alive, andI feel you still don’t. The fact that you told me you knew how to get in touch with Ashley tends to make me believe you have taken her side in the deterioration of our romance. I wish I had it in me to never speak to you again, but I don’t. I fear I don’t even have it in me to never speak to her, because I know if she was here right now I would want to. I would want to know why she did what she did. And I’m afraid in my weakness I would believe anything she had to say.
I threw the pen across the room. I looked down at what I wrote and shook my head, disgusted at myself. Crumbling up the paper I threw it in the floor. For good measure I got up from my chair and started stomping the offending letter I’d started. A knock came at the bedroom door.
“Are you alright in there?” Summer asked from the other side.
“Yeah, I’m okay.” I reached down and picked up both pen and paper.
There was a hesitation at the door. I imagined her standing on the opposite side wondering what was going on in my bedroom. For a brief moment, I wanted to ask her if she had ever had someone leave her and never tell you why. I almost reached for the handle and opened the door. But then I heard her footsteps going up the stairs.
“Alrighty. Well, I’m going to bed. See you on the morrow.” I heard a door at the top of the stairs open and close.
“Good night,” I whispered to no one. Outside the night was still. None of the noises of the city had followed me out here. Only the shadow of Ashley dared to trail behind me. I got undressed and crawled into bed, pulling the blue roses over top of me. Sleep took a while to come, but when it did, I was thankful it wasn’t filled with dreams of Ashley. Instead, it was nightmares of empty wedding altars and the ring I would never slip on her finger.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.