Part 12: All Summer
I think what surprised me the most about our aborted walk in the orchard was the temporary deterioration of the mask Summer wore. Up until that point, her face was a happy one. Yeah, the night before I had hurt her feelings, but in every other moment she had been smiling like a happy go lucky girl in love with life. Now, all of a sudden, I was seeing another side. She had let down her guard and I’d caught a glimpse of the hurt and scared little girl hiding inside the upbeat woman. I didn’t quite know what to do from this point forward. After all, maybe that happy exterior wasn’t real at all. Maybe it was there so that people would like her. Perhaps the real Summer was not summery at all. Was this the point she always reached before the men in her life abandoned her? Was this first crack in her wonderful exterior the thing that sent people running, as she claimed? I walked back to orchard house, glancing behind me every now and then to see if I could spy her out there in the fields. There was a new picture of Summer in my head. But if it chased others away from her, it had the opposite effect on me. It made me feel a little bit closer, because I felt she shared a similar pain as mine. Kindred spirits is what they called people like us, but was our hurt so great we would never be able to fully connect or let the pain go? I didn’t have the answers, but I was surprised by the fact that my problem with Ashley was receding to the back of my mind, and Summer’s dilemma with her estranged father was edging its way to the front. Is this the way we get past our own troubles and worries, by helping someone else with theirs?
I didn’t know what to do but return to the house and wait. Hopefully, Summer would find her way back home, too. Strange to call such a place home, but as long as she was there it was feeling as such. I sat down on the back porch and began my wait. It was kind of strange, but on our first night I had found myself sitting here waiting for her to return from the orchard after I had upset her on our Wal-Mart trip. Now here it was our second night, and I was waiting on her in the same fashion. It made me think of that Brad Paisley song, ‘Waiting on a woman.’ Was there no end to my music geekdom? Even in serious reflective moments songs popped into my head.
Something else popped into my head as well. I had been without purpose for so long. Forever wrapped up in my own heartbreak I had cut myself off from others. When I felt like I was no good for Ashley, I felt like I was no good to everyone else, too. But now, here was Summer, and it was obvious she needed someone to help her learn to carry on without her mother and resolve the issues with her estranged father. But what could I do? Maybe I could go with her to help her find her dad. Or would it be better to just let her do this on her own and wait for her in the event she needed me when it was all over? As much as I wanted to help, there was this part of me that said let it be. Let her do what she needed to do alone. I think there are some things you have to go through alone, and perhaps this was one of them. But on the other hand, I felt with her change of mood in the orchard she was tired of being alone. She needed someone to be there.
While pondering all this, she returned. The sun hadn’t quite gone down, but it was close to sinking behind the blue tinged mountains. I was sitting on the metal porch swing, my feet quietly rocking it on its rails. She came up the steps and around to the porch where I sat. She settled down beside me. For a moment she didn’t say anything, and neither did I. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, gauging when would be the best time to say anything. The sinking sun played its light across her freckled face and her eyes took on a copper glow. Staring at her when she wasn’t looking was easy. She was very pleasant to look at, but once she turned her head in my direction I averted my gaze like a shy schoolboy caught looking at the prettiest girl in class. She sighed and I imagine we both stared off into the coming sunset. Finally she spoke.
“I’m sorry. I don’t want to treat you so mean.”
“You don’t treat me mean,” I answered, daring to glance her way.
She looked in my direction and tried to smile. “Really Matthew, I don’t mean to treat you badly. It’s just that you are the first guy…man…that I have felt comfortable around in a long time. It’s funny, really. I don’t know you that much. I’ve known you for two days and already I feel we have been friends for years.”
I smiled. “I feel connected, too.”
“Yes exactly, that’s what it feels like. Like there is something special. You don’t quite know what it is, but it feels nice.”
“Yes it does.”
“But it scares me, too.”
I grinned. “Terrifying.”
“You are still so very nervous around me,” she suggested.
I hung my head, kind of embarrassed. “Yes, I guess I am.”
She nodded, and then went silent. I could see she was turning something over in that pretty head of hers. “Maybe we just need to start over, so we can be nervous together,” she finally said.
“Maybe so,” I agreed, though to be honest, I wasn’t sure what she was getting at.
She turned a little in her seat so she was facing me. “Matthew, would you like to go grab a bite to eat with me?”
I wasn’t sure what to say. On one hand it seemed like she was asking me out, and on the other hand…well it seemed like she was asking me out, too. “You mean like a date?” I asked.
“Well, yeah, if you want to call it that. Does that make you uncomfortable?”
“N-no,” I answered.
She laughed. “Well then, that’s what first dates are all about. Chasing the butterflies from your stomach and getting to know each other. So, you game?”
“Yes I am,” I replied, but there must have been a touch of worry in my voice, because she gave me this look.
“Stop thinking about Ashley. I’m not going to leave you waiting for me to show. In fact, we’re driving together and I know just the place. I spotted it on my way today. You like Italian?”
“Yes I do. My favorite.”
“Good, come on let’s get changed and go.”
“Changed?” I asked.
“Yeah. You don’t think I’m going dressed like this. I need to be back in my jeans and t-shirt. I can only take dressing like a lady in small doses.”
I laughed. “I think you look fine.”
Smiling, she winked at me and stood up. “There ya go. You’re starting to loosen up and relax, I like that. But really, I don’t want to overdress, I’ll be back.”
I stood up to follow her. “Okay. Maybe I won’t overdress either. Taking my car or yours?”
“We took mine to Wal-Mart. Let’s go in yours this time. I’ll show you how to get there.”
“Only if we get to sing out the windows again.”
“Deal,” she said, and we both went into Orchard House, she to change and I to wait.
The wait was longer than I thought. How long does it take for a woman to put on jeans and a t-shirt? I thought about that Brad paisley song again and realized I didn’t mind waiting on a woman either. However, the longer I waited, the more I realized that now was my opportunity to impress her. I went to my bedroom and dug through my clothes until I found something nicer to wear. I chose a pair of black khakis and a matching button up shirt. As an added touch I picked out some silver cuff links. I changed into dress shoes and was debating whether to add a tie to my new ensemble when I heard her on the stairs. I didn’t want to keep her waiting, so I rushed out the room into the hallway just as she reached the bottom of the stairs.
I stopped in my tracks. Now I knew what had been taking her so long. She was wearing a black dress, the hem coming down to just below her knees, and slit a little bit up the side, affording me a nice look at her legs. A plunging neckline revealed the swell of her breasts without showing off too much. This was not a trashy dress, but one that was all classy lady. I looked down. On her feet, she wore black high heels, but I could tell from the way she stood that she wasn’t used to them.
“I thought you said you didn’t want to overdress,” I said.
“I changed my mind,” she replied. “I’m glad I did. That look on your face is priceless.”
I looked away from her. “Sorry. I was expecting jeans and t-shirt. You surprised me.”
“I can go and change, if you like.”
“Absolutely not. Now we match.”
It was her turn to look me up and down, and she took it at her own leisure. “I like. You look good in black.”
I blushed a little. “So do you.”
Her smile lit up her whole face. I noticed she had put on a little eye shadow, and the violet shade brought out her dark eyes and the shape of her face more. She was one of those women who didn’t need makeup, but for tonight, if it made her feel more beautiful, then I was all for it.
She held out her arm. “So, let’s go paint the town black.”
I took her arm, linking it in mine, and we marched together down the hall, and around to the kitchen as if we were waltzing down the aisle. And even with that thought in mind, never once did I think of Ashley. She was worlds away, and tonight was all Summer.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.