Note: As promised, here is the second half of our double dose of Orchard House, in celebration of 1000 total likes. Thanks everyone!
Part 16: Tiny Lights & Something More
The ride home was quiet. No yelling out the windows or singing at the top of our lungs. Grace Potter and The Nocturnals played on the southern rock station I managed to pick up on the radio. Summer hummed along with the song, something about tiny lights, and we barely said a word between us. It wasn’t because we were upset or anything. No, I believe we both were unsure on how to behave with one another. In the parking lot of the restaurant, things had gotten close. I didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out her leaning in close and demanding her dance was an invitation to get closer to her, too. Before our interruption, the question in my mind had been, does she want me to kiss her? But on the way home, I felt stupid. Of course she doesn’t, I told myself, driving down the dark road back to Orchard House. Why would she? The girl was fifteen years my junior. What would she want with a guy like me? Plenty of guys her age would love to be by her side. Perhaps she was just lonely and wanted to be reminded there was such a thing as romance. Maybe, as she was on the edge of thirty, she just wanted to know she was still a desirable woman. I looked over at her in the seat next to me. She was letting the night air hit her face as she leaned towards the open window. She was beautiful. The way the light from the moon shone across her face, the way her lips curled up in the corner as she smiled back to the night, the texture of her skin almost glistening in the soft glow of the LED lights from the radio. I realized I had never looked at a woman with such detail since Ashley. Hadn’t even wanted to. I was done with the female of the species when I first came to Orchard House, and now here I was marveling at how amazing this woman I had known for only two days looked. Surprised by this, I turned my attention back to the country road. She must have noticed the movement, because out of the corner of my eye I saw her turn her head to look at me. For a moment, I imagined she was looking at me in the same way I had just looked at her. “So, what you got planned for the rest of the evening?” I heard her ask from beside me.
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll check my cellphone, see if anyone has called while I’ve been away. Other than that, nothing.”
“Yeah, I’ve had my cell phone off, too. No one I want to hear from. I told the boss to shove it, so it’s not like anyone from work is trying to call.”
I laughed. “Told him to shove it, huh?”
“Well, my choice of words were different, but the meanings the same.”
“Why did you quit?”
“I was tired of the unwanted attention. Now, he was a lecherous man.” She shook her head. “A girl likes to be noticed, but she doesn’t want to see boobs and beer reflected in a guy’s eyes.”
I smiled. “I don’t even like beer.”
“Oh, ha-ha, I get it. Trying to make fun of me, are ya?”
She poked me in the side. “If I knew you better, I would pinch your boob and punch you where the beer comes out.”
“Go ahead,” I dared with a laugh.
She reached across the seat and grabbed my nipple through my shirt, giving it a sharp twist. “Ow, hey!” I whined.
She let out a laugh larger than any I had witnessed from her before. It was a joyous sound, full of fun and happiness. I couldn’t help but laugh back at her. She forgot to give me the beer punch and clutched her sides. “Oh, it hurts,” she said. I guess the expression on my face, and how my hand clutched my chest where she pinched me, was priceless to her. “Bet you Ashley never did that,” she said.
“No,” I agreed. “Can’t say she did.” Our laughter subsided, as we turned down the dirt road leading to Orchard House. “You’re a lot of fun, Summer. I give you that.”
She smiled and slid closer to me. She lay her head over on my shoulder again and everything got quiet, except the radio and the sound of cicadas coming through our open windows. “But anyway,I just got tired of the job,” she said, returning us to conversation. “Every morning was the same. Get up, get dressed, fix coffee, go into a job you hate, hang out with friends who wouldn’t understand you if they tried, go out with guys who wouldn’t know romance if it pinched them in the titty. No offense.”
I grinned. “None taken.”
On the radio, Sugarland was now playing an upbeat and cheerful country song about the very things Summer was talking about. “See, that girl knows what she is talking about,” she noted. “There comes a time when you have to ask yourself, is there something more? I mean, there’s got to be, right?”
“I was thinking something like that myself, when I took to the road. I got in the car and just drove, hoping I would find something to give me some peace. I couldn’t concentrate on my work anymore; all my friends had long abandoned me to my misery.” I looked out the window, trying to gather my thoughts, before finding what I wanted to say. “It’s like there’s this big piece of me that’s missing. I used to think it was Ashley, but I’m not so sure. I think it was missing before her; she just made me forget it, that’s all. “
“She’s to you like whiskey is to a drunk,” Summer suggested.
“Yeah, I think you may be right. If so, this has been one hell of a detox.”
“And yet she still isn’t out of your system.”
“No, she’s not. I mean, I don’t want her back. I don’t even want to miss her. It’s just I don’t know what to do with myself anymore. It’s like every plan I ever had for my life has gone straight to hell. Sometimes I wonder if God is up there watching me scramble for a little piece of happiness and laughing at all my efforts. “
“He does seem to laugh sometimes,” she agreed. “ I think it’s because we don’t get out of the way. We try to do things ourselves, like we are in control of everything. “
“Do you believe in God, Summer?”
“Yes, I do. You?”
“Yes, though sometimes I’m unsure. I have doubts if he, or anyone, is out there with me in mind. That’s part of the reason I took to the road. To try and find if there was something, because there has to be more than this…this emptiness.”
“You know what I think, Matthew?”
We weren’t far from Orchard House, but I pulled over to the side of the road anyway. The night was deep black out here. Not a car was in sight, still the only sounds were the cicadas and the radio. Summer turned down the radio, but there wasn’t a thing she could do about the cicadas. She raised her head off my shoulder and sat up in her seat to look at me.
“I think, you should stop making plans.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think you should just live for the moment. Forget what comes next, just live right now.”
I wanted to cry. I could feel the tears welling up in the corner of my eyes. I knew she was right. All my life I had tried so hard just to make things happen that I forgot to enjoy whatever moments had come along. Even now, living on the road, I was trying to make things happen. Trying to use sheer force of will to undo the damage Ashley had done to my soul. Trying to find the answers of why even my parents had been taken from me. I felt a tear trickle down one cheek and I looked at Summer. As I said before, she was absolutely beautiful and I was nothing more than a train wreck.
“Oh Matthew,” she sighed in sympathy. “Come here.”
I nearly collapsed into her embrace. She wrapped her arms around me and I cried into her shoulder. I could feel her hand on the back of my head, patting me softly. Every now and then, I could feel her fingers intertwining into the blonde strands and it comforted me. She lay her cheek against my own, and her skin was soft and warm against my stubble. I caught the scent of lilies and wondered if it was her perfume or the smell of flowers from the field that bordered the road. It seemed every home had lilies in their yard out here in the country. I breathed in, trying to concentrate on the pleasant smell instead of the thoughts that had brought me to tears. Both Ashley and my parents receded to the back of my mind, and I found myself lost in the thought of Summer. Her skin against mine. The feel of her arms cradling me, her breath on my neck. Before I knew what I was doing, I turned my head and softly kissed her cheek. She seemed to clutch me tighter, her fingers winding themselves up in my hair even more. I kissed her cheek again, this time a little closer down her jaw. There wasn’t any music playing now but I could swear my heart was beating in time to its own song, a gentle crescendo that rose and fell with my breath. I could almost feel the pulse in her skin increase. A slow exhale of breath escaped her mouth, as my parted lips grazed her skin on their way towards the front of her face.
“Matthew,” Summer whispered, and I felt her begin to pull away from me. Her hands left my hair and head. Something had happened. Something in my actions, either within my kiss, or because of it, was now making her uncomfortable. “Stop,” she managed to whisper, and I wondered if she meant me or herself. Either way, I did as she asked.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized. I guess I shouldn’t have kissed her, even on the cheek. Maybe the fact we were all alone down this deserted road scared her. Perhaps she had just been trying to be a comfort to me and I had taken it too far. I admitted to myself I had gotten wrapped up in her closeness and the thoughts of her beautiful face pressed to mine. Wouldn’t you know it, the first time in forever I had been close to a woman, and I read her signs all wrong. “I really am sorry. I shouldn’t have…”
She put a finger to my lips. “Hush, it’s okay. You didn’t do anything wrong.” She looked out her window. “I think we should probably go.”
If women are a mystery, I’m no Sherlock Holmes. He would have asked what was wrong. He would have tried to deduce how the evening derailed. The thirst for answers would have led him to use his superior intellect to analyze what had just occurred, and done his best to correct them. I myself wasn’t like that. “Okay,” I said, and drove the car back out onto the road and towards Orchard House.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.