(Note: Presenting the second half of our double dose for Saturday. Hope you enjoy!)
Part 18: Peach Ice Cream & Television
It was two hours, and one aborted phone call later, before I heard her steps on the staircase again. I came out of my room to meet her at the foot of the stairs. She had changed clothes. Now she was dressed down in paisley sweat pants and a retro t-shirt that advertised Double Cola, a soft drink that had probably went off the market before she was born. She had pinned her hair back in a high pony tail and had rinsed off the little makeup she had worn out on our date. I think maybe this was an attempt to make herself unappealing as possible. To show off the real her without any pretensions. It made me aware that her dressing up this evening for our date had been entirely for my benefit. I opened my mouth to apologize for earlier, but she approached the subject quicker than I could. “You called me Ashley,” she said. The tone of her voice wasn’t angry or upset, it was just a statement of fact. Her face was unreadable about how it made her feel. I imagine she wasn’t about to show me either. No more the excitable Summer. She was gone, replaced by the neutral Summer.
“I’m sorry. I know it seems I keep saying that to you, but I truly am sorry I called you that. You’re nothing like her and you don’t deserve the comparison. I was just lost in thought about what she did to me, and getting more upset by the second. I didn’t realize what I called you until you were up the stairs.”
“You could have come up and apologized.”
“I didn’t feel it was right to intrude. That’s your room.”
“It would have made me feel better if you’d come up anyway.”
“Yeah I guess it would have. I’m not very bright when it comes to girls and hurt feelings.”
“No, you’re not,” she agreed. “I want some peach ice cream. You want any?”
I didn’t want to tell her I didn’t like peach flavor, so I just nodded as she stepped around me to go to the kitchen. I stood there a few minutes wondering if I’d been forgiven, or just simply accepted. When I came into the kitchen, she had two bowls of ice cream sitting on the island. She saw me come around the corner and picked up one of them. She walked past me and into the living room area. I didn’t get the feeling she wanted to eat in the same room with me, so I sat at the island with my ice cream. From where I sat, I couldn’t see her. She had set her desert on an end table at the couch and went to turn on the TV. I heard the click of the old television. “You want to watch some TV?” she called out.
“Yeah sure,“ I replied and joined her in the living room. I sat down on the couch on the opposite end. “What we watching?”
“They got some old stuff in here to watch,” she said, perusing through the shelf of DVD’s in the small entertainment center. “You should know them all.” She turned to me and gave me a look to let me know she was teasing.
“I deserve that,” I replied.
“Yes you do, but you have to let a girl be upset for a while.”
“Okay. Fair enough.” I took a bite of ice cream and made a face.
“Cold?” she asked.
I didn’t want to tell her it tasted awful, so I just nodded yes.
“Oh look, here’s one even I remember. This is awesome!” She had obviously found a DVD she liked. I didn’t see what it was as she put it in. I think she positioned her body just so I wouldn’t see. Then she got up with remote in hand and sat down on the couch next to her ice cream. There was room for three more people between us.
“Oh no,” I suddenly exclaimed, as the titles for the DVD came on. It was a children’s TV show, ‘Hey Vern, It’s Ernest’ or something like that. “Ernest P. Worrell.”
She clapped her hands, obviously delighted with the program. “I love it,” she exclaimed with such exuberance it was almost scary.
“Now that’s what I call nerd love.”
She grinned broadly. “I used to watch this all the time as a kid. He was my first love, you know.”
“Um no, I didn’t know that.”
“Who was your first crush?”
I snorted. “I’d rather not say.”
“Oh come on, I told you mine. And embarrassed myself in the process.”
“Well come on Summer, you crushed on Ernest, for god’s sake.”
She grinned and raised her eyebrows in a gesture that could only mean, yeah ain’t he hot. And here I was thinking she had been kidding when she said she liked nerds.
“I crushed on Judy Garland in The Wizard Of Oz,” I blurted.
“Now you’re showing your age,” she giggled.
“As a kid I used to pretend I was the scarecrow and we were in love.”
“I can hear all the Oz purists hissing at you now.”
I laughed. “Yeah I’m sure they would. But just think of all the other girls who crushed on Ernest. Oh wait, you are the only one.”
She punched me in the arm. “Go ahead, laugh it up.” She turned back to the TV, where Ernest was engaged in conversation with what appeared to be a bunny made of dust who was sneezing all over the place. She laughed. “Dust bunny, get it?”
I could only laugh along. Her mirth was infectious. She had that way about her. When she smiled or laughed, you just had to follow her lead. So we sat there eating peach ice cream and watching her childhood hero on the television. After a while she finished her desert and tucked her legs underneath her on the couch. The first episode of Ernest ended and another began. I couldn’t eat anymore ice cream and so I set my bowl on the end table beside me just as she turned to me with a concerned look on her face.
“It hurt my feelings you were so lost in thoughts of her that you forgot about me,” she said. “We spent a lovely time together I thought. And I guess to know she was still on your mind after being out with me really hurt.”
I hung my head, embarrassed and regretful. “Summer, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t even want to think of her tonight. But my brother left me a voicemail and it was more about her than me.”
She shifted in her seat. “Does he like her?”
“No, he’s just afraid I might break. He thinks I’m fragile.”
I wouldn’t look at her. Instead I stared ahead of me at a spot on the wall wishing I was somewhere on the other side and running away into the safety of the orchard. “Sometimes,” I quietly replied.
“Yeah, me too,” she replied. I found this hard to believe. How could this beautiful woman so full of life be close to breaking? She could have her pick of guys. If she walked into a room full of dudes, they would be falling over themselves like that fellow in ‘Some like it hot’ falls all over Marilyn Monroe.
“He had to leave me a message to apologize for having talked to her without telling me.”
“He shouldn’t have hid it from you.”
“Yeah. But that’s not what bothers me the most.”
She raised an eyebrow and waited for me to continue.
“What gets me is that he has taken her side, trying to get me to..I don’t know..understand her side and disregard mine.”
She shook her head. “Some brother.”
“Yeah. He makes this big deal of caring about me, but then in the next breath, he makes me feel as if I’m the one who wronged someone. It’s like he wants me to forgive her and give her another chance or something.”
She leaned forward so she could look into my face, making sure to look in my eyes to drive her point. “What do you want to do?”
“I want to be left alone.”
She stirred uncomfortably on the couch. “Oh.”
“Not you. I just want them both to go ahead and live their lives the way they want and leave mine be.”
“Then tell them that.”
I hung my head. “I don’t think I’m that brave.”
“Matthew, it’s not about bravery. It’s about determination. Determination to seek your own happiness. To leave all that heartache behind and move forward.”
“It still takes guts.”
“Yes it does. But if you really want freedom from all that, then you just have to go for it. Throw all your caution to the wind and step out on a cloud.”
I looked at her and weakly smiled. “You’re amazing.”
“Why you say that?”
“I call you by another girl’s name and you are still there for me, understanding and sympathetic, aware of my faults and trying to get me to do what’s best for me. Why is that?”
She looked me in the face as if she didn’t want me to misunderstand her reply. “Because I like you and want you to be happy. Just once, I would like to see some real happiness in your eyes. Every now and then, I think I might catch a little glimpse of it, but it’s far from complete.”
“I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever be completely happy. I’m not sure anyone can be. “
“I know what you mean. But you have to hope.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, still uncertain..
“Otherwise, what else is there?”
“I don’t want there to be nothing, and I know neither do you.”
She was right. It was that lack of hope, that fear there was nothing else for me that had set me on the road and brought me here to this little farmhouse out in the country. Perhaps I was meant to be here now, sitting on this couch and discussing hope and what comes next with a girl I was just getting to know. A girl I knew I wanted to know more. And yet she and I were nearly out of time. I remembered what the store clerk Helen had told me. Summer had only paid for three nights. Tomorrow night would be her last evening at Orchard House.
Part 19: What About Dad?
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson