Nora stood somberly over the open grave that held her husband. She had been standing there for nearly an hour when her father came to her wrapped his arm around her and whispered. “Nora we have to go people will be wondering where you are at.” Nora whipped the tears away turned to John with her eyes burning with grief and spoke softly with shaky voice, “let them wait.” John legally was her father in law but the only parent she had ever really known. John pulled Nora in closer and said. “We will get through this together.” Nora hesitantly left her husband to tend to his mourners. The song November rain was the back drop in her mind as she greeted her guests. The day seemed to stretch out in front of her like a road through Kansas and anyone who has driven through Kansas understands perfectly. Nora entertained herself by getting lost in conversations with people as each one yapped about how they knew her late husband. She wanted to be left alone; being alone was a technique she perfected over years of practice. When Nora found herself alone in the house the quiet seemed so very quiet, she rambled around for a few hours attempting to clear some of the mess. Nora’s depression was knocking at the door, weary from sleep deprivation and heart ache Nora opened the door and entertained her depression then sunk right in.
Once Nora gave in to her depression completely, stopped moving she flopped on the bed she shared with her husband, quickly snatching his pillow and held it close to her face and breathed deeply. She could still smell him, she took comfort in his smell for a few hours until she drifted to sleep where her love penetrated her dreams so real and so strong she didn’t want to ever wake. At least in her dreams Nora was not alone. Soon hours had turned into days. The two people that she could always count on her father in law and publisher came calling. The two had become increasingly worried about Nora’s well-being she wasn’t answering any type of communication and Regina knowing her longest knew her tendencies for depression. This wasn’t the first time Regina had to pull Nora from the despair of depression. John and Regina let themselves into the house; they no more passed through the door when the funk of days old food attacked their senses. They pushed past the moldy food and dirty dishes still lying about then converged upon Nora. The two charged in with the resolve to get Nora back into life. This was John’s first time pulling Nora out of the pit but Regina knew exactly what her part was in this dance, so she took the lead.
“Nora honey you have to out of this bed.” Regina said quietly to the frail looking woman. Nora’s petite frame looked even smaller than usual Regina had never seen her in this bad of condition. Not even when her own mother sewed her for defamation of character due to one of her characters eerie likeness to her. Regina just wanted to take her pain away reach into her heart and make her whole again. As she looked into her dull green eyes Regina leaned her head in touching her fore head with hers.
“I’m so tired, I just . . .” Nora said trailing off and bursting into tears.
Regina whipped her tears and gently spoke. “I know . . . I know . . . . Sshhhh. Look let’s start with a nice long bath.” Regina said, Nora reluctantly complied, went to the bath and watched the water fill the tub. She eased into the warm bath and laid there until the water covered her, then she submerged herself. Nora liked the way the world looked through the water, distorted that’s just how she felt. There was a part of her shocked that her beloved had left her, he promised he would never leave her. The past few days Nora contemplated joining her husband in death, but could not as she knew he would not want that he showed her how to live and love, leaving the world in such a way would only piss him off. Nora managed to pull herself together and went downstairs and there was John and Regina cleaning.
“Well you look much better, how you feeling?” Regina asked with hopeful eyes.
“Ok.” Nora replied, then promptly went to John and gave him a big hug. “How you doing John?” John nodded his head and gave Nora a big hug. “We will get through this. Together” Nora smiled and took comfort in John’s words. “Now look you two lets call a service to clean this place and let’s go do something!” Regina knew the next step was retail therapy and she took this as a good sign.
“I hear Michigan Avenue calling.” Nora said with a forced smile.
Nora’s youth was not filled with love, growing up with a functional alcoholic for a father and pill popping sociopathic mother her husband is the only time she ever felt love the only time she felt safe and what it felt like to be part of a family, well a healthy family. She now had the family she had so craved as a child only to be ripped away, which left her to think at times what was wrong with her. Now with the passing of her husband Nora feared that she would never feel that way again, loved. The fear at times paralyzed her. That’s why Nora loved writing her books everything was as it should be at the end and the world was safe again.
The first year anniversary of her husband’s demise was fast approaching and had been subject to four horrible blind dates by friends and family. To avoid any more soul sucking dates Nora decided to hit the road she made two phone calls; one to her father in law John and publisher Regina. Nora headed south for no apparent reason. Nora stopped in a few towns as she continued her southern journey until one late night she pulled into Monticello Mississippi. The next morning Nora explored the town and for some reason the town felt like home, the people were so friendly or at least to her face. She stayed the first two nights at quaint bed and breakfast and then decided to approach to proprietor for some direction on finding a rental home in the area. Ms. June was a true southern lady and all that implied accent to wardrobe
Nora quietly slid up to the desk where Ms. June spent most of her time with her head in a book. “Ms. June, I was wondering if there were any rental opportunities in this area. I’m looking for a house, something a little more private.” Nora asked trying not to offend Ms. June.
“Well Tammy has a cabin just real close to the river. She may have that cottage on far north end of town open. I expect you should talk to her.”
“Where can I find this Tammy?’ Nora said again interrupting Ms. June’s morning ritual; coffee, cake and book.
“Well pert ner every day you can catch her at the diner, Liz’s. Just go in and tell her Ms. June sent ya. We’ll get ya fixed up.” Ms. June said winking at Nora and then going back to her book, which happened to be one of Nora’s romance novels.
Armed with a lead Nora took out to the streets of Monticello in search for a temporary home. Nora enjoyed walking in this town; it was new place but reminded her of home. Small towns are the same no matter where you’re at on the map. After a short brisk walk Nora found herself at the entrance of the diner which was called Liz’s but no one by that named worked there. She walked through the door setting off the bell above the door. A tall long legged blond stood behind the counter, what Nora didn’t know is she was on the phone with Ms. June and she was getting the low down. Tammy hung up the phone and then directed all her attention on Nora.
“Well hello darlin, have a seat anywhere. I will be with ya in a flash.” Tammy said getting Nora a glass of water, then taking the water and a menu to the booth Nora sat.
“No, I’m here . . . well Ms. June sent me, you have rental property I would like to inquire about.” Nora said pushing the menu back at Tammy
“Well I have one place open; it’s a cabin about three miles north of town. If ya want we can go take a look.” Tammy frankly replied.
“Let me take a look at the cabin, I’m writing and while the bed and breakfast is a wonderful place to stay I really need, need . . . . Well privacy. I’m attempting to write the next great love story when romantically I’m living in the Sahara.” Nora muttered, surprised why she was over sharing, Nora never did that. In disbelief she shook her head.
Tammy liked the girl, she talked funny but liked so she began telling her about a cabin in the woods near the river “Let me tell ya girl out there you will get privacy, do all the thinkin ya need . . . Hold tight let me get someone to cover. Mooose!” Tammy shouted that startled Nora, but didn’t seem to faze the other patrons.
Soon a pudgy man came out from the kitchen. He just stood there for a few seconds and when Tammy said nothing he said. “What ya want woman.”
Tammy put her hand on her hips and said with the kind of attitude any strong southern woman would. “Check the attitude, Moose I know where ya live, ya hear! I’ve got to go show the cabin to this lady. I’m gone; see ya when . . . . I do not know. But I’ll be back, ya better get that grill clean!” Tammy then turned to Tammy whispered “He’s a brick shy of a load.” She continued walking to the door. “Well let’s go darlin, let’s get some wind in our hair.”
Not even taking off her apron Tammy took Nora on a drive which would have given any Chicago muscle drivers a run for their money. On the way to the cabin sheer beauty, Nora was truly in awe of the Mississippi landscape and was glad the scenery was so pleasing as she had to focus on something other than Tammy’s driving. Soon they were pulling into a long gravel driveway which led to a small cabin tucked away in the woods, Nora knew she wanted to set her next book here. She didn’t even need to see the inside but Tammy insisted. They entered the cabin and Nora felt like home. One thing she didn’t expect was the built in book cabinet filled with an eclectic array of books
“Well watch ya think?” Tammy said as Nora browsed the book collection.
“Great book collection . . . What do I think? I think Tammy I like this place.” Nora walked eagerly through the cabin. “This place is perfect!” Nora said grinning widely like a fool at Tammy.
“Well let’s get on back to diner and get that paper work done. How long you planning on stayin?”
“I will pay for two weeks to start depends on how work goes.”
“If ya need more time let me know, I do have it rented third week in August. I will give ya a packet of info when we get into town. Welp let’s do this.” Tammy and Nora drove back to Liz’s Diner and completed the necessary paperwork.
“Thanks so much Tammy, I feel like I can breathe here.” Nora couldn’t believe the luck and the way she felt right at home here, something that was missing currently from her life.
Within an hour and half Nora was check out of the bed and breakfast, on her way to her first visit to a Piggly wiggly then homemade dinner, Nora had eaten out for far to long. Even making dinner was an acceptable diversion from her writing, everyone must eat right? She had never avoided writing but she began to look at her laptop as a weight she wasn’t sure she could face that computer screen so any task will do to keep the beast at bay. Nora enjoyed her dinner cleaned the mess and then sat lifeless in front of her laptop. She slowly opened the computer and pulled up her current document. Taking a sip of wine out of the mason jar, which was the only glass wear in the cabinet Nora picked up her cell phone to call John. Nora didn’t want to talk to Regina even though she is a dear friend being her publisher; the corrections would come up during the course of the conversation which is exactly what Nora was trying to avoid.
As Nora filled John in on her southern get away Nora began swilling the cheap wine. The third glass down Nora knew she would get no work done she shut the computer and took the conversation to the swing located on the front porch. The dark was as thick as the humidity. Nora felt safe wrapped in the night hiding from herself as well as the world. The fifth glass of wine Nora ended the conversation and staggered to bed where she slept like she hadn’t in nearly a year. In the morning Nora didn’t feel so tranquil as the cheap left her with less desirable hangover from hell. She immediately brewed some coffee and again found herself swinging on the front porch. That swing was like a drug, ‘when I get home I getting a porch swing’ Nora thought to herself. For fun she pulled out the cabin packet of information and began to read, gently gliding back and forth taking in the Southern air and the quiet that only the country provided. One section looked interesting, fishing; Nora could hear the river calling who was she to deny the river, yet another dodge to work on the book. But first sufficient coffee must be digested along with food.
Nora took the shed keys from inside the cabin and went to see what kind of gear available. There she picked up a fishing pole, tackle box then it dawned on her she would have to go into town for bait. She scanned the shed and in the corner was a small frig, and in the frig . . . . Bait. Nora thought, “how red neck.” Nora held no desire to be locked into a computer screen making changes to an already perfect manuscript. So Nora picked up the gear and walked about half mile to stand on the banks of the river. She baited her hook then cast it in the current caught it. Nora repeated this several times and even moved further down the river but no hits.
She decided to call it a day (in Nora’s world that is twenty minutes standing in one place) Nora stood up lost her footing, the bank gave and Nora fell into the river down a rather muddy embankment. Catching a root on the way down, Nora grabbed hold and slowly crawled up to the top of the bank. Nora had mud in places she didn’t want to think about once back at the top she turned looked at the river, and was grateful to the river for allowing her to walk away. At first panic set in, Nora thought of the worst, but she saw herself out of this jam and this empowered her. She walked confidently back to the cabin with fishing gear intact her white peasant blouse and skirt now black with Mississippi mud honestly there was not one white spot left on either garments. It was almost as if she was baptized.
Nora put the equipment in the shed then found herself standing in from of an opened door to the cabin; she looked down at her clothes came to the train of thought she didn’t want to clean mud of the floor as well as her. With a stroke of genius she went around the back of the cabin and there it was a garden hose. Nora propped up the hose in the tree turned on the water then just stood there and let the water flow over her. Slowly the mud began to wash away, Nora had never taken a shower outside, she thought why not? She slowly peeled off her mud stained clothes wrung the extra water out then threw them over a low branch.
Nora began to enjoy the outside shower the water was so cold and so invigorating. Just as Nora was absolutely secure she heard a vehicle, soon after a door open and shut. There she stood in the middle of the day buck naked, at first she panicked but then a calm took over as she collected her thoughts Nora quickly shut off the water grabbed her drenched clothes that was now sticking together like Velcro. With the strangers getting closer Nora became frantic as she was unable to untangle the soaked 100% cotton.
The visitor knocked on the door a local by the name Jared ‘J’ Green, you see Jared enjoyed fulfilling every red neck stereo types. When no one answered his knock he looked around and noticed the car in the drive, somewhat concerned he yelled out, “hello.” Jared said loudly and then under his breath, “I don’t remember your name lady.”
Nora replied with a very shallow, “I’m back here but I . . . .” continuing to separate the clothes.
Jared just headed on back and when Nora heard his footsteps getting very close.
“Please stop.” Nora shouted out. Just as the word stop registered with Jared the two were face to face. Or face to chest is more accurate.
Stunned Jared slowly said, “Well that’s something ya don’t see every day.”
Meanwhile Nora desperately tried to cover herself with a cotton see through peasant blouse while the skirt lay on the ground.
After a lingering gaze Jared came to his senses and turned from Nora. “Well how about I give you some privacy . . . ya know better yet I’ll get ya a towel.” Jared said nervously stomping off straight into the cabin’s bathroom, retrieved a towel. He politely held the towel out for Nora with his eyes diverted and she quickly took the towel and wrapped it around her petite frame.
Nora’s reply, “Well now that I am somewhat dressed how can I help you?” And for the first time Nora took a good look at her very bearded long haired visitor, a solid look was out of the question while she stood nude; as she was admiring his frame Nora noticed he wasn’t wearing shoes. Nora paused for a moment and thought to herself, “If I ran into this person on the street I would be clutching my purse, but here I’m standing here nearly naked.” But the integrity he showed in her quandary spoke volumes to Nora allowing her a look at the gentleman.
“Well I let in just over yonder but I’m not the only one. I was just stopping by and lettin ya know that I would be pulling out later this afternoon. Just a courtesy really. Tammy mentioned that there was someone stayin here.” Jared mumbled nervously pushing his warn fishing cap back and forth on his head, trying not to look Nora in the eye. But when he would take a moment to catch her eye he noticed her stunning green eyes.
“Well please consider me informed. And I am so sorry about this you see I went fishing and I fell in and had to crawl up a very muddy embankment. Well even you can figure out the rest. I was told this cabin was isolated.” Nora said as the humiliation truly set in her attempting to rationalize in a towel to the strange man in front of her.
Jared grinned widely at the Yankee and said insulting politely which made Nora feel even worse. “Yes I can figure that one out. As far as the cabin secluded, yes but isolated, no. Now I know you’re new to the parts but we do have showers inside.”
Nora quickly replied, “yes I know I have used it actually it is a wonderful shower.” Jared decided he had spent enough time with the Yankee so he politely tipped back his hat and said. “Fair warnin I’m not the only one in these parts that let in down here. So the showers should probably be an inside activity.” Jared said placing an emphasis on activity with his slow southern drawl. Nora forced a smile at Jared.
Jared went to the river the best place in the whole Earth for him. Peace came to him on the river, well usually but today was a little different he couldn’t take his mind of the Yankee. But as soon as he took in his first fish her, the Yankee fluttered around in the back of his brain while fishing took precedence. And occasionally a smile would run across his face when he thought about the Yankee in that very clingy wet white shirt. Jared knew he had to come through he had bring in the fish for his brother’s first of the year fish fry. Jared took in a good hall that day and was proud to take the catch back to his brother’s wife to prepare for the fish fry. But first a fresh cup of coffee at the diner. Jared bellied up to the counter and without an order Tammy brought him his coffee.
“Well J how was the river today?’’ Tammy asked as she wiped the counter.
“Well it’s been an interesting day, that Yank was outside taking a shower, well let’s just say . . . well I believe that’s enough said.” Jared calmly replied as Tammy hung on every word with pleading eyes.
The thin man sitting next to Jared just smiled and offered the following words, “Yankee’s ya just never know.”
“You know it Rabbit.” Jared replied to the man.
“What was she doing taking a shower outside?” Tammy added getting the conversation on track.
“Best I could tell she went fishin and fell in and got real muddy. I would like to think there is hope for her if she is fishin. You hear what I’m sayin Rabbit?”
Jared added as he slowly sipped on his coffee. And Rabbit responded with a head nod and a grunt.
“Well y’all I’m gone, got to unload some fish and get ready for the fish fry.” Jared said pushing the coffee cup away standing and exiting the diner. And after he left Tammy was on the phone telling her best friend Betty about J’s naked encounter with the Yankee. And it didn’t take long for the word to get around town.
Meanwhile Nora attempting to put the humiliating day behind her dressed and went into town, but had no idea that would be worse idea that showing outside. Nora found herself at the Piggly Wiggly roaming up and down the aisles, when suddenly a familiar voice. “Mrs. Reynolds . . . YooHOOOO. Nora.”
Nora didn’t want to turn and face the long legged blonde but half the store heard her and her hand was forced so she turned to face Tammy. When Tammy spoke it was like her words were dripping honey from her lips.
“Well hello, how are you?” Nora politely asked along with forced smile.
“Real good, real good. You aint been to town since you rented that cabin. We were wonderin how you were doin out there.” Tammy said brushing her long blonde hair up behind her left ear. Suddenly Nora realized how tall Tammy was in the store under the harsh lights Tammy seemed to tower over her.
“Well I’m doing fine just came into town for supplies today.” Nora said trying to hedge away from Tammy but Tammy wasn’t having it she just moved with her with one wheel of her cart stuck in one position.
“Well I heard you met J?” Tammy added.
Unsure what to say Nora just answered sharply, “Yes I got a quick lesson in the difference between isolated and secluded.”
“Well we’re havin a fish fry tonight at my house you are more than welcome to stop by.” Tammy said sincerely as she noticed Jared really seemed taken with her. “And you know J got some real beauties out there today gonna be good time. Well we live at the end of Maple Street on the North end of town; just look fur the place with the most trucks in the driveway. Well I best get my shoppin done lots to do you stop by ya hear.” Tammy quickly went and she left Nora standing stunned that the whole town probably knew how she and ‘J’ met. Nora quickly and quietly finished her shopping stood patiently at the check-out. Finally Nora was the next in line. She slowly watched the cashier ring up each of her items, not by a scanner but on a circa 1970 register. And it suddenly struck Nora that in the South everything is done at a slower pace, well accept for the gossip.
Jared found himself in his cramped apartment just over the diner he owned. He often wondered what he would do without Tammy after Liz’s death she was a God send, she stepped in and ran the diner and kept Jared from going off the reservation. Jared roamed around the apartment and found himself in the spare bedroom that held his dead wife’s belongings, carefully tucked away and available to him anytime he wanted to hold her things. Jared couldn’t bring himself to take the final step disposing of them. But something was different today the thought of the naked northern crept into his mind even though he tried desperately to push it out and as the idea broke through a smile always accompanied something his face was not used to . . . smiling.
Nora sat outside of Tammy’s house and as she looked around the packed driveway lot that she noticed her’s was the only car in the driveway. As she sat deep in thought trying to come to a conclusion as to what she was doing here, a knock at her window. It was Jared, Nora slowly rolled down the window, “well how are you? I bet your wondering what I’m doing just sitting here.” Nora asked with a smile.
“I would expect you’re contemplatin runnin.” Jared said returning her smile with a wide grin and as he did the corner of his eyes winkled very slightly.
Nora shook her head rolled the window up and opened the door and handed Jared the pie she had made.
“This looks homemade?” Jared blurted out without really thinking.
“Yes, you sound surprised, you know us Yankee’s know how to cook as well. Actually this is my grandmother’s recipe.” Nora said completely taken back she was flirting with Jared she nervously headed to the front door.
“Well I must admit I am surprised.” Jared said falling into step with Nora.
Nora quickly made her way to the front door then politely knocked. “Not here darling, they out back and will not hear ya, just open her on up and go in.”
Nora just looked at Jared and watched in disbelief as he just opened the door and walked right in. She hesitantly followed him. The party outside was getting louder and louder to Nora, suddenly she grabs his arm, Jared turned he saw the look of horror on her face.
“I’ve been here long enough to know that virtually every breathing person outside that class door has the knowledge you have seen me naked and I am some kind of crazy Northerner.” Nora said hanging her head slightly
“Look, we are simple people, I’m a simple man. There is no hidden agenda here just people looking to have some F-U-N, so relax, eat some good food, maybe some conversation and most important have some fun.” Jared said patting her hand.
Nora took a deep breath and jumped right down the rabbit hole. Once out on the back porch Tammy immediately noticed the two came in the door together. Tammy had waited patiently for all her guests to show but she was really looking forward to seeing Nora she felt the same broken soul in her that she did her brother in law. After all Tammy had made it very known that Lora would be attending and everyone there was waiting to see the Northerner. Tammy went right up to Nora and Jared and welcomed her guest.
“Well darlin you made it. I am so glad, and you have a pie. You can take that on over to desert table.” Tammy said at the speed of light so fast indeed Nora couldn’t make out a single word partially from the accent but mostly from the sheer speed.
Jared leaned into Nora and spoke softly with a slow southern tone, “You can put you pie over yonder.”
“Yonder.” Nora thought to herself. Seeing the lost look on her face Jared pointed to the table. Nora placed her pie on the table and turned, Jared was talking to a portly man who was also standing next to the tub of ice filled with beer. Nora went to the drink table and quickly got a wine cooler since her only choices where various soda’s, beer or wine coolers. Nora quickly walked away and found a corner to sit, but that didn’t last long as Tammy literally rang the dinner bell. Unfortunate that the corner she chose to sit was in close proximity to the dinner table suddenly the people and children sprawled over the rather large patio and pool area converged on the area Nora was sitting, a redneck title wave. Surrounded by people one trying to talk louder than the person standing next to them, Nora had to take immediate action and worked her way from the crowd. Nora barely squeezed her way through two rather large women, but Jared once again was there helping her out of an awkward moment. And for the first time she noticed his piercing brown eyes. Such a deep brown that they almost look like two pieces of coal.
“I know it can be . . . well a bit over whelmin.” Jared said quietly again in a low assuring voice.
“Yes, I have been to huge conventions that are . . . well let’s say a lower decimal.” Nora said without thinking and the words had no more passed her lips and the gravity of her words set in. It must have been evident on Nora’s face.
Jared quickly replied, “why do you think I spend my time on the water. It’s quiet.” Nora smiled widely at Jared then shyly looked away. Nora couldn’t believe but the scruffy looking man was appealing to her. Again Nora found herself flirting with this man, then the guilt would set in.
“We should get in line because one of the rules; every man, woman and child for themselves. See that older man thick glasses and very skinny that Uncle Joe ya know I believe he is checking out your pie, well this is his second time in line.” The two laughed out loud and Jared really caught Nora’s eye and he began to notice warmth in her beautiful green eyes. The two locked in a intense gaze then broke it nervously taking their place in line.
Tammy watched Jared take to Nora in relief, for she had not seen him smile in such a way in a long time. Ronnie Jared’s stocky brother sat next to his wife and they began to fill each other in on their day. And it did not take long for him to bring up Nora and Jared’s first meeting.
“So I hears ole J got a good look at the Northerner?” Ronnie said desperately trying to contain his giggle.
Tammy only reply a toothy grin one that Ronnie had seen many times before but ignored it and kept on talking.
“Must have been one hell of a meetin, they together fo dinner and all. I bet she bought that pie.” Ronnie said taking a long sip of his beer when he glanced up he caught Tammy’s gaze and the look on her face was her grin from hell, the grin that says you are SOL, you see with Tammy the level in which she clinched her teeth said it all the tighter the more pissed she was. Ronnie diverted the conversation to the fresh fish and how good it was. Tammy politely nodded her head in agreement and slowly softened her smile.
As the dinner rolled on Ronnie could take it no longer and addressed the Northerner with the question that everyone wanted to ask but would not. With a little liquid courage Ronnie cleared his throat and the words just came right on out.
“So Nora, what is it you do for a living?” Ronnie asked as he smiled widely at the woman, while being kicked under the table by Tammy. Pay back for the clinched grin, this was their dance a dance they perfected over 12 years of marriage.
“I am a writer.” Nora replied then promptly taking a drink of iced wine cooler creating a barrio between her and the burly man at the other end of the table. At this point Nora did not know they were brothers.
“Well what u write darlin?” A older woman spoke up and also is Ronnie and Jared’s mother, as she pushed her salt and pepper hair behind her ears, as if to hear every word.
Nora took a moment to organize her thoughts and spoke slowly. “I’ve published a collection of short stories right after college. I’ve also written several articles for the Tribune, Chicago Tribune. But recently novels and my most recent is ‘Ghost Writer’. I am in negotiating the movie rights currently.” With those words the loud table suddenly went quiet leaving her to wonder if she had said something wrong.
Jared a man of few words said slowly, “You mean to tell me you wrote ‘Ghost Writer’?”
Still unsure what she had said firmly replied, “Why yes, yes I did. You sound surprised.”
Jared sat up in his chair took a sip of beer and asked, “Why that means you wrote ‘Groomin the Dead’?”
Nora was intrigued that was a little known short story she had wrote in high school and was later published in one of her collections and was one of her favorites. Nora smiled at the bearded man and quietly said. “Yes that would be correct.” Suddenly the simple man didn’t seem so simple; there was some intelligence behind the bearded man, it made her want to strip away the beard to get a real look at the man.
Jared sat back in the chair and caressed his beard and suddenly Nora looked differently to him as well. Jared said something next that even surprised him and brought the second hush at the dinner table that night. “If you would like to go fishing and actually catch somethin let me know and I’ll take you out. . . . fishin of course.” Nora smiled at Jared and blushed a bit and then Jared leaned across the table and whispered, “Clothing is optional.”
The blush turned into a full blown red face and wide smile as Nora didn’t know what else to do. Then suddenly an inner calm came over Nora, what people were thinking didn’t really matter. She nodded and boldly said, “That would be very nice.”
The rest of the evening was spent sneaking peaks at each other at every opportunity or exchange jabs that only the other would get a reference to a book. Tammy noticed something absent from Jared his usual scow or distant look, he was focused and engaged, she would be damned he was happy. Jared was her brother by marriage and by friendship so she would keep her eye on the Yankee. Nora and Tammy would get along fine as long as she didn’t do harm to her dear friend. Nora finished desert and went to Tammy to thank her for a lovely evening.
“Tammy thanks so much for the invite, it was a very nice.” Nora said softly extending her hand.
“Well darlin hand shakes won’t due down here.” Tammy said getting up from her chair standing over Nora, arms folding over and bringing her in a deep hug. “Now ya be careful goin home. Com on in to town sometime, I’ll show ya round. . . J . . . J . . .(she yelled at Jared) why don’t ya walk Nora to her car.” Tammy shouted across the patio interrupting deep conversation between Jared and Ronnie.
Jared happily followed Tammy’s orders walked Nora to her car. “Well when are we going fishing? Nora asked coyly.
“Well is tamarrow work for ya?” Jared replied with a smile.
Just at Nora’s car door she turned, “No, tomorrow is not to soon. What time, tomorrow?”
“In the afternune good for ya?” Jared said as the gravity of the flirting and the first date potential filled his head. Suddenly he wanted to crawl under a rock.
Nora waited anxiously for Jared’s arrival. Nora nearly wore a place in the wood floor pacing back and forth from the window and front door. “Afternoon, why did I accept that, afternoon could be any time between noon and six.” Nora shouted outloud. She ranted her husband loved to watch her rant.
Jared too was feeling some pressure as he drove to the cabin. Jared stopped his truck nearly a mile from the cabin. It had been so long since he had entertained a lady. The last woman that was in his boat was his dear wife. Jared began to lose himself in thought when a good friend pulled up alongside.
“Hey all right in there?” The rather grungy man asked middle aged but still a country boy. You know the type who perpetually has dirty finger nails flannel shirts in the winter full sleeves in the summer no sleeves.
“Yeah, just think I left some gear at the apartment; well I guess we can make do without it. What you up to today Gil?” Jared replied barely able to contain his apprehension.
“Well on my way into town ya should have come giggin with us last night. Me and the Griffith brothers are fryin em up this evenin. U welcome to stop on by.” The man spoke ever so slowly.
“Tammy would have killed me; ya know how she feels about the first fish fry.”
Jared replied as he rolled his eyes.
“Hear that, Tammy in a mood with ya aint a good thing, well I’m gone if yur ok.”
Jared nodded to his lifelong friend as if to say ok while trying to keep his breakfast down. Jared shook his head then with no more thought he dropped the truck into drive and headed to the cabin.
Jared found himself in another holding pattern outside the cabin, this time he had an audience of one gazing at him through the window. Throwing caution to the wind Jared exited the truck and walked slowly to the cabin door. The two looked like awkward teens on their first date. The chemistry from the fish fry may have just been a mirage, Nora thought to herself as they both fumbled at conversation.
Jared wasted no time and got the two on the river, one place Jared always felt at home. Once out on the river the two began to relax with polite exchanges peppered throughout the day. The chemistry they felt that got them together on the river slowly came back and with each minute the nerves seemed to fade away for both of them. But all too soon, like all good things, this too had to end eventually. Jared and Nora loaded the boat once back in the truck the awkward feeling crept over them both.
Jared was in his element on the river and the entire day was filled with fishing, believe it or not it’s work but to Jared it was FUN good first date actually busy work and beautiful surroundings. “So how you like it here?” Jared asked attempting to break the ice once again. On the river he could show off and start conversations with his vast knowledge of the water and its surrounding. But the let out and ride back to the cabin was a little quiet.
“It is beginning to grow on me. I do have one question.” Nora replied with a flirty smile one she hadn’t shown in quite some time, so long in fact she wondered if she was doing it right.
By now the two had made it back to the cabin and Jared began cleaning the catch. Nora didn’t like the cleaning of the fish but did enjoy the man’s company
“Go . . . I am an open book. I will say ya got me interested, you must have been thinkin on this for while.” Jared replied trying to flirt back which was well hidden by his beard but Nora could see it in his eyes.
“Well I have noticed everyone here has a nick name . . . J. What is mine? I know yank or some form of the work Yankee or northerner, but I was wondering what my real nick name is.”
Jared looked away from Nora for just a moment then gave her a long stare and asked, “Are you sure you want to know.” He finally asked relieving a fish of its head.
“Well now! YES!” Nora quickly replied but deep down she felt unsure if she really wanted to know but she knew she could not back down now. She tempted the subject, she would appear cowardly if she backed of now.
“Well, you were right yank is one but select few call you the streak.” Jared said with a wide smile which even his thick beard could not hide.
Nora giggled and replied, “Well I wish I could say I was surprised but I am not.”
Jared replied quickly, “Are you sayin to me and my kin are predictable?” And from nowhere he winked at Nora.
“No not at all, but I would like to thank you for taking me out today. I had a lot of fun.” Nora said sincerely.
“I do love introducin people to the ways of my country. This time you didn’t even get muddy, pitty really. Well I should get.” Jared said nervously as all the fish were cleaned and he couldn’t comfortably find an excuse to stay. He wondered to himself why he kept bringin up her nudity, but who is kidding who he knew exactly why he kept bringin it up.
Nora spoke up quickly and couldn’t believe the words she was speaking were coming out of her mouth but they were. “You could come back for dinner, I have all this fish, you caught them . . . I can cook. Really I can cook.”
Jared didn’t even think like Nora his lips were moving way faster than his brain, “I can be back around six. And I can help you out.”
“Then it’s a date . . . well dinner date, you know what I mean.” Nora said twisting the necklace gently back and forth as if to slow her verbal speed. At times when Nora was really exited she would speak fast and at times incomprehensible almost as if her brain was moving at the speed of light while her mouth was still inventing the wheel.
Nora’s head was spinning what in the hell was she thinking getting involved with this bearded redneck, if she suddenly went missing she put the serial killer thoughts to the side for a moment but they lingered. At least on the river Nora got a good history lesson what would they talk about now, the décor of the cabin. Nora quickly put herself to the task of preparing for dinner. Nora realized her thoughts were focused so intently on her dinner guest sadness had lifted and it showed on her face as she added light touch up of her makeup. Nora’s heart felt so light as she moved around the galley kitchen preparing the fish they had caught.
Jared wasn’t sure what he had gotten himself into but he was committed. He went back to his apartment that looked like a hoarders delight. Boxes unpacked, dishes in the sink but Jared hated that apartment. And was in a way pleasantly surprised he found a way out this evening that didn’t involve his brother or sister in law.
Soon Nora’s dinner date had arrived and Jared found himself sitting anxiously in his truck outside Nora’s cabin once again in the same day. Meanwhile Nora nervously fussed with plate placement and last minute pick-up, then adding the final touch candles. Then the knock at the door that would start the evening, Nora stood at the door for several seconds then said under her breath so Jared wouldn’t hear, “Here we go!” Then through caution to the wind, swung the wooden door wide open.
“Jared.” She muttered taken back by Jared’s appearance, he stood before her in a button down dress shirt and khaki pants, the dress pants for rednecks. Finally she stood aside and welcomed Jared into the cabin.
“Yeah I have been told I clean up nice.” He said with a smile. Nora smiled widely and gently closed the door. “Well somethin sure smells good.” Jared said quickly.
“Well I can tell you the fish is very fresh.” Nora replied giving a tiny giggle.
“Would you like something to drink?” She added.
“Sure . . . what you got?”
“I have beer, wine, soda, juice and I made tea, sweet tea.” Nora replied.
Needing to unwind and with little thought Jared replied, “Beer, please.” Jared was impressed by the activity in the kitchen; fish frying, new potato’s boiling and a salad ready to go, but the thought must have been transparent.
Nora retrieved the beer and poured herself a substantial glass of wine. The two stood in the kitchen watching the dinner cook and plying themselves with alcohol. Nora stole glances here and there, there was something about Jared. Nora felt so free with him.
“Yes I can cook, you don’t have to look so surprised.” Nora said with a grin as she turned the fish in the frying pan.
“You know something?” Jared said going to the frig for his second beer. “Do ya mind?”
“No help yourself.” Nora said throwing in ears of sweet corn in boiling water then took the sugar dispenser cupped her hand and poured a small pile then tossed it in the boiling water.
“Well. . .” Jared started slowly twisting the cap off the bottle of beer. “I had you pegged all wrong. And for that I am sorry. You may be the second coolest woman I have ever known.”
Nora smiled, “well I had some thoughts of you too, which I am sorry for too. When you called me out on that short story, you know there are only maybe a thousand people that read that story.”
“I liked the family traditions being passed along. I was shocked to find out you were the author. Considering your current genre.” Jared said with a smile as his eyes sparkled with delight.
“You know I grew up in rural Illinois, I wasn’t always a city girl, I will admit that I did flee to the city as soon as I turned 18. Not because I didn’t like the setting just the people. Let’s just say if I was to have a family like yours I may have never ventured away. I would be writing about the river and such.” Nora said checking the pots on the stove. “But my husband’s family stands as my own family. They are truly wonderful people. I have been blessed just knowing them let alone call them family.”
“At times my family drives me crazy, but they love me. I don’t know what I would have done without them when Liz passed. Especially Tammy, she was Liz’s best friend ya know. Sometimes the memories flood in and are painful but other times happy.”
“I think that’s why I came here, an escape. I looked around the home I shared with my husband and like you said memories.”
A silence fell and the two set the table and began to eat. Nora cleared her throat and spoke softly. “Well I must say this is the best fish I have ever tasted.”
“The secret a great cook, and catchin it yourself. When you catch, kill your own food you are connected to the circle of life. I think people are out of touch with our place in the food chain.” Jared said leaning back in his chair and stepping up on his soap box.
“Our place?” Nora asked, taking the dishes to the kitchen.
“Yes we are on top on the food chain, when you buy meat from the store you have no idea what’s been done to that animal.” Jared replied stroking his ample beard, then standing and joining Nora in the cleanup.
“I’ve never thought about it like that, do you buy any meat from a grocery store?” Nora asked completely intrigued by this concept.
“NO, don’t trust it.” Jared said quickly taking a long drink of beer then grabbing a dish towel and drying the freshly washed dishes.
The two suddenly realized that it was after ten and Jared spoke up quickly. “Well
I had better get goin people will be talkin.”
Nora shook her head and asked jokingly, “who will know what time you left?”
Jared smiled widely and replied through a giggle, “It has been a long time since you lived in a small town. Believe me this swarey here this evenin will be talked about.” Jared headed to the door then turned to face Nora. “Could I give ya a call and maybe do something soon?”
Nora smiled and replied coyly, “yes, I would like that. Very much.”
Jared nodded in compliance and said, “I’ll give ya a call.”
Now the pressure was on Nora, the next encounter will be of her doing. There was one thing she never gave up was horses. But she knew no one with a stable. The only people she knew in town she could count on one hand. That meant Tammy, oh how she hated the prospect of seeking her advice but that fact the whole town would know, but then it didn’t matter who you tell in a matter of days and in some cases hours the town would know. After careful thought Nora knew she had to make her way to the diner and talk to Tammy, and so she did. As Nora drove to town she ran the conversation she would have with Tammy over and over in her head as to not divulge to much information. Nora confidently walked through the diner door setting of the bell she began to find comforting.
“Well darlin how are ya?” Tammy shouted upon Nora’s entry.
Nora smiled widely and quietly replied. “Well some breakfast and some information. Please”
“Well come on in, I be with ya in a shake.” Tammy said simultaneously taking a man’s order at the counter.
Nora took a place at the counter, grabbed a menu not sure why there are only five items for breakfast and lunch. Today she decided to splurge and get a donut. She remembered suddenly her first visit to the diner and the look on Tammy’s fine face when she asked for a bagel and light cream cheese and her reply, with that fine southern accent Tammy told her only stuff on the menu honey.
Tammy made it to Nora. “What can I get ya?”
“I would like a heated donut and coffee.” Nora pauses for a moment and added. “Is there a place where I can ride, a horse stable?”
“My my my we are corrupting ya. Well Ms. Meg has a stable she would probably let you take a ride.” Tammy said pouring Nora’s coffee.
“Well I was looking to take someone.” Nora added with her eyes intent on supervising the stirring of her coffee.
“Jared?” Tammy said with a smile.
“Yes. . . wait how did you know?” Nora said looking up from her coffee.
“You know a hand full of people in town and you did have a dinner date with one last night. Welcome to small town USA.” Tammy said with a giggle. “Let me give her a call.” Tammy continued. She turned to the phone next to the service window and worked her magic as only Tammy could do.
Nora returned a knowing smile, and began to sip her coffee. Soon Tammy was off the phone with Nora’s breakfast in hand.
“Welp this is the Scooby, Ms. Meg said she could hook ya up with two good horses but she wants to meet with you first. You see Ms. Meg is very particular who gets on her horses. I’ve seen her turn down 500.00 dollars once to a city slicker for a day’s ride cause she didn’t like the man. She the only horse owner in the area that will even consider letting strangers mount their horses. Before yur done with breakfast I’ll have directions. OK?” Tammy turned picked up the coffee pot behind her and began to make her refill rounds. There were two reasons Tammy sent her to Ms. Meg one she is the only horse owner who will accommodate strangers but she has been known to have intuitions regarding people. And Tammy wanted to know what Ms. Meg thought of Nora. Her feelings for Nora could be misguided by her wanting happiness for Jared.
Suddenly Nora didn’t know if she wanted to ride any more. But the call had gone out and Nora knew if she backed out now Ms. Meg would never agree to see her again. Yet again Tammy sent Nora to the woods, a map with no street signs but landmarks such as turn left at the house with red roof. But Nora did find the place as she drove up the private driveway that was littered with pro-gun banners and private property. On top of a great hill stood a modest house and fabulous red barn and arena, Nora started toward the front door of the house. Then suddenly a soft toned voice yelled.
“Darlin I’m back here, no one ever goes to the front door.” A woman in her fifties stepping hard toward Nora shouted. The tiny woman cleared the space between them quickly and finished with firm extended hand. “You must be Nora.” Ms. Meg looked Nora up and down then looked her straight in the eyes covered with sunglasses.
Nora took Ms. Meg’s hand and shook it firmly and nodded. Ms. Meg quickly put hands on hips looked Nora straight on and asked, “so what can I do ya for?” Taking of her warn riding hat revealing her long grey hair in a bun.
“Well I have,” Nora paused. “I have a well. . .” Nora at this point began to mumble. You see Nora was a writer not a speaker. She fumbled at times with people she knew for years.
Ms. Meg spoke up, “I think the word yur lookin for is date.”
Nora blushed and replied, “Well yes, I assume you know Jared but I would like to take a ride while I’m here. I haven’t ridden much since my husband passed; I’ve visited my horse but very few rides.” Nora wasn’t sure why she told her all that but the words just seems to just come out, as if Ms. Meg was a trusted old friend.
“I see, well lets head into the stables. You can meet my horses.” Ms. Meg said as she stomped toward the barn. “Com on gal, pick em up and put em down.” She added turning back to Nora, giving up a smile, after she turned her head away from Nora of course. Ms. Meg loved embellishing stereo types of the Southern horse woman.
Nora walked from horse to horse and they were all well cared for but the last horse had something special. Nora reached in for touch and the horse obliged. Ms. Meg couldn’t believe her eyes that horse was called lightning meanest horse she had. Still young and undisplined. “That one isn’t broke yet. Can’ let you ride that one.” Ms. Meg said quickly. “But I would get my hand away she has been known to bite.”
Nora was lost in her eyes she continued to pet the beautiful, sleek, quarter horse ignoring Ms. Meg’s advice. “You seem so peaceful, are you sure I can’t give it a try?” Nora asked Ms. Meg with wide eye.
“Maybe in the coral but not out in the open, then we’ll see. This horse may seem gentle get her out of her stall and she has a mind of her own.”
“Can I lead her out?” Nora asked never taking her eyes off the horse.
Ms. Meg took a pause, then handed Nora a lead rope. Nora placed the rope on her and opened her stall. “Well Lightning my name is Nora.” Nora said leading lightning to the open arena. Nora missed her horse back home she forgot how horses can sense so much. As Nora got to know the horse Ms. Meg began to see that the two understood each other. Ms. Meg slowly handed Nora a blanket then a saddle and demonstrated she indeed knew horses. Nora mounted Lightning, the horse was anxious for a few seconds, then complete calm. Ms. Meg road up beside her and said lets go for a ride. The two women took a short ride through some trails. During the course of the ride Nora proved herself to Ms. Meg and she agreed to let her take a couple of horses out with Jared. Honestly Ms. Meg couldn’t believe that lighning would let anyone ride her.
“you know I was afraid you were all talk, a few years ago I had some people from New Orleans swared up and down they knew what they were doin with a horse but reality zero experience. Ya know lightning don’t take to people well most people. She tolerates me cause I feed her and take her out once in a while. But you she liked I could tell.” Ms. Meg said as she and Nora where taking care of the horses.
“She looked as hurt as I feel.” Nora couldn’t believe she just said that out loud. The more she thought the more upset she felt and tears began to form.
“ya know most people don’t get riding is spiritual, horses are the most sensitive animals maybe besides dogs.” She walked up behind Nora and whispered in her ear. “Just let it all out honey, looks like you been hangin on to it far too long. I’ll leave ya be come on in the house when you finish.” Ms. Meg left stabled her horse and went to the house. Nora cried as she brushed down lightning and as she did a weight began to lift Lightning turned to her and looked at Nora. Then suddenly Nora was done crying and hugged Lightning. “Thank you.” She said to the horse. Lightning threw her head in acknowledgement. Nora went to the back door of the house and from inside Ms. Meg invited her in.
“Tea?” Ms. Meg asked.
“Yes that would be fantastic.”