Mark was flat out spent. He had come through a restless night, constantly waking to make sure she was still there, still alive, still breathing. All night her breath was sweet, her face tender in the candle light. But now the candle was out and he was too. Out of answers, out of questions, out of strength, out of places to go.
For that matter where was he? Ahh, Indiana. He had forgotten for a moment everything but the why. That he knew. He doubted he would ever forget why he was where he was right now, physically, mentally and emotionally. He had taken his new life, his new role for granted. He had continued on as usual and nearly lost her. Forever. It was too weighty a thought without enough sleep. He hadn't lost her, that he knew, but he still could if he doesn't get it turned around and figured out. But it is too early, he is too tired. The night is over, he may as well roll out of this makeshift bed, a mattress on the floor in a huge empty room.
The whole house is huge, enormous, empty, nearly forgotten in the wild wooded part of his dad's family farm. As a kid he came up to the woods to hunt but no one really used the big house after World War ll. The place was huge, and probably not energy efficient with all these giant windows but it served Grandfather Samuel and his dream of a sanitarium well. Too late for his first wife, how must Samuel have felt to hold his wife in his arms while she lay dying of tuberculosis? How did it feel to find out you had a gift to heal people after your wife dies?
Shaking off the thought he pushed himself upright, his head pounding, his feet shocked by the rough stone floor. The cold light pouring through the bank of windows seems so harsh. Harsh, not soft, not gentle. This color of light, this predawn cold light, he is very used to moving in, usually already at work by this time, a good time to shoot. The animals are up stirring by now in the cold but soft light. Good light for shooting but not for feeling comfort when you're spent.
He takes in the room. What was this room for? Big and open, with these giant arched windows going all the way around the half moon shaped room. Just a short wide hallway from the largest kitchen he had ever seen. He had been far more interested in the farm and woods than learning about the inside of this enormous funky house. More like his dad in that, outside and not a lot of people. But trying to think about things was hurting his head. He was just glad that they had gotten here in the daylight yesterday to find the lights, bring in the mattress from the back of the moving van. He was pleased right now that he had presence of mind last evening to think about this time, what his head might feel like, what it would need, coffee. Before he locked up the truck he not only got out the mattress and the box of sheets and blankets but also the kitchen box marked M-O-R-N-I-N-G.
Locked up the truck! Ha! That's funny now, looking out the bank of windows on the ground floor from the room where they had slept, down the short outer hallway with the same windows to the kitchen, no signs of life outside these windows, not the life that would care about taking anything from a moving van anyway. He shook his head at his absurdness as he pulled back the packing tape on the top of the box. He never worried about his stuff when he was out in the wilderness shooting but once he gets back to civilization it is always: lock up and alarm up. People paranoia. Even though this was not the wilderness it certainly was not swarming with people.
The coffee press was out on the counter, coffee grounds in it and the tea kettle filled and on the burner. "Come on baby, light." He begged as he struck a match and turned the knob.
"Come on baby what?" a groggy light voice came from the doorway.
Man she is beautiful. Even with those ugly bandages on her small wrists, ugly reminders of his stupidity. "Light," he replied, "I was telling it to light. I need coffee, you?"
"Telling who to light?"
"Oh, I didn't know that helped," she said softly as he lifted her to the counter next to the coffee bag and the press.
He sank his shoulder into her belly tucked his head under her arm at her elbow and wrapped his arms around her backside. Oh, she was soft and warm. And smelled fresh and soapy. How does she do that without a shower after riding in a smelly old moving van for hours.
She was rubbing his shorn hair, her tender fingers played on his neck as her legs slowly wrapped around his waist. He felt her body melting around his chest and head, he was enveloped in her, feeling her amazing sweetness, tenderness; love. How could she love him? He wasn't worth this tenderness, he was self-absorb, arrogant, impatient. He let out a sob.
"Oh please don't," she whispered, "I'm sorry, I won't ever do it again, I don't know what came over me. Maybe I was lonely. But really, I won't do it again I promise. Just please, don't cry. I'm so sorry."
Oh the pain, he couldn't stop, now it came in a flood. His body was racking with the sobs and her soft body was absorbing each of them. It had been waiting for a weeks now. Ever since he heard the news on his satellite phone. It had waited while he got on the plane and came rushing home to her. It had waited in the hospital while he listened to what the doctors said about the depths of the cuts, the nerve damage that would eventually heal with time, waited as the psychiatrist talked of precautions, signs, medicine and therapy. Waited for the arrangements to get the keys to this place and the long drive here. Waited through those first nights away from the hospital and now the first night away from hotels on the road and the smells that weren't theirs, but now he was done in, tired, unsure and sorry. But here she was, apologizing. He couldn't take it, the fragile one, the tender one, was being strong for him, she was holding him up, her and the counter. He was the one who was sorry.
"See, there is the kettle it's whistling," she spoke now in a slightly louder voice. "Fix me coffee. Really I am sorry, I don't mean to be so much trouble. I really promise to not do it again, I'll take the medicine, I'll pay attention to my diet. I'll be okay. I won't need a baby sitter, you can go back to your picture taking, I won't worry about you, I know it was silly to worry about you. Please, the water is ready, we need some coffee."
The tea kettle finally won out. That and the fear in her voice pushed him away from her, fear got them here in the first place but then she had feared because of his sense of invincibility not his weakness. He pulled his tee shirt up over his face and wiped down the unfamiliar slime. He poured the hot water into the press over the grounds and put the plunger on the top of the hot water and coffee slurry.
"Do you want something to eat? Anna has packed some muffins and stuff into this box." He was grateful for his little sister like he had never been before. He thought he was grateful that day he came home from a shoot up in Canada and her little friend, her musician friend, was there at his parent's house. He had heard about her in Anna's e-mails, how she was living at home with her folks and playing music . She was beautiful she moved about the room so gracefully as if the music was playing in her head and she was floating to it. She was young. Impossibly young. So pretty. He had to at least try.
He had listened to Anna's urging for him to date her and finally he got up the nerve to go to Elise's father and ask if it would be alright to take her out. He had no idea why he was being so formal, so old fashioned, he had never done that before. He wasn't quite sure why he thought he needed to go talk to her father before even asking her for a small afternoon date. He just was. And the next thing he knew as he was talking to her father he was blurting out how he was sure that he wanted to marry her but he wanted to talk to him to make sure that it was okay. Where did that come from? Yes, he had wanted to be married, for a long time a very long time. His folks had a good marriage. He knew it was a good thing. He was certainly ready financially, secure in his free lance photography, well sought after. But that had taken time and he was old, this was his baby sister's friend what ten, eleven years between them.
Her father was very understanding. They talked all afternoon, the two men. Her mother had kept the children from interrupting them, she brought lunch on a tray, then a while later, hors d'oeuvres and cocktails while they continued to talk. They talked about how she needed a good man, that she needed someone who was well grounded not only in his work but in his spiritual life also. Mark had assured Scott, her father, that he had a good relationship with God. That when he was in town he attended a good solid church and while he was out on assignment he corresponded with the pastor and some of the men in the church. He understood his role in a marriage as a leader and that it might be hard while on the road but lots of marriages worked even though the husband was away a lot. Military, sales, business. They worked, his photography wasn't really different. Why were they talking about all of this? He had only seen her a few times at his house with his sister. They had hardly spoken themselves. But he had known. He had known from the very first moment he saw her. All the following moments had only served to confirm his feelings. But this, this laying out of their future, this was weird.
Her father explained how even though she was a gifted musician she was not looking for a career. She really just desired to be a wife and mother and if her music fit in then she would pursue it. Mark hadn't been really all that sure of the extent of her music he knew she was already studying at the Jacobs school of music at University of Indiana but was very surprised to hear that she was a gifted composer already at eighteen. How could he expect her to give that all up so soon, before it even started, she was so young. What talent, they would have lots of time before they would need to start a family. He could wait for children but he couldn't wait for her. He kept those thoughts to himself though, he didn't want her or her parents to think that he didn't want children, that wasn't true, she needed time.
But maybe he had been terribly wrong then. He just didn't know. He felt foolish. Her parents had trusted him, believed in him and had given their precious oldest daughter to him. They still trusted him, even after all this mess. They had been completely okay with him when he told them that he bringing her out to the country to live in his great-grandparent's big house, he wasn't so sure himself but he new, felt it deep inside that this was where she needed to be. But then it was closer to the families than New York where he had thought she would be happy. This place was huge but he had assured her parents and his that they did not have to inhabit the whole house so that she wouldn't be overwhelmed. The job thing that was different though, he had no idea what he was going to do. He knew that he was going to give up what he thought he was going to do all the rest of his life. How often do you find a job that not only pays well but is something you love to do and do well. But he decided moments after he had heard the news that he was done. And he was glad to be done. He certainly loved her more that he loved his work.
"I'm going to go get a few things from the truck," he announced as she sat on an old stool pulling apart a muffin and sipping on her coffee. "You need anything out of there right away?"
"I'm not sure what I need. Nothing right away, I guess. You brought my bag in last night and all my pills and stuff I need now are in there. Did Joseph say if any of the showers work?"
"Yah, he did. He said that he knew for sure that all the ground floor plumbing and electricity worked. But that he couldn't vouch for any of the other floors."
He left the kitchen and came back with her bag. "Here," he said bending down and kissing her upturned wrist as he sat her bag next to her feet. "Do you need a glass of water?"
"Oh, please, thank you."
He reached into the box and grabbed out another coffee cup. Funny how a person never really thinks of glasses as being necessary in the morning, especially if they are coffee drinkers like they all were. He filled it from the sink in the center of the work counter and turned to hand it to her as he stooped to pick her bag back up and hold it open for her so she could retrieve her pills.
"Thanks, but I thought you were heading out to the truck. Are you going to start unloading it? I can help with the small stuff."
"No, go take a shower, if that's what you were wanting to do. I was just going to get out a few things, and leave the big stuff for later."
"I've never moved like this before, I'm not really sure what to do?"
"It's okay, I've never moved this much stuff before either but Anna and John will be here later today. She's capable, at least she has actually moved a household."
"I'm very grateful for Anna." Elise's voice got quiet. Mark guessed that she was remembering that Anna had been the one who found her. Saved her life.
What a bizarre coincidence that was. He still had a hard time wrapping his head around how it all played out. Anna had come to New York to surprise Elise all because John had had some business in Morristown, New Jersey. Since they were driving a truck to pick up equipment she didn't know exactly when she could get to New York and didn't want Elise to wait around. John had promised Anna that either he would run her in or she could rent a car and take herself in. They had both told him that when they got to Morristown there had been a lot to do on the equipment before it was ready, a couple of days worth, so Anna left John to deal with it and took a car in to see her sister, always close as friends but now really her sister.
Anna had a key to the apartment from a previous trip so she just let herself in not expecting to find Elise home during the day. She was moving quickly to the bathroom because with the baby pressing on her bladder and not wanting to stop until she got there, she just needed to get to the toilet. She didn't make it. When she opened the door to the bathroom there was her sweet sister lying in a pile of blood it, was a mess. Mark had never gotten a good description from Anna on what she had found. He figured she didn't want to tell him and he was not sure he wanted to hear it from her. He had read the report at the hospital from the paramedics, poor Anna it sounded horrible. She had acted fast, wrapped Elise's wrists tight in towels, called for help, went in the ambulance with Elise and it wasn't even until she got to the hospital that she had noticed that her own pants were soaked from the surprise and shock. The nurses had given her some scrubs to wear when she sheepishly told them her mishap. They had told him they were amazed at Anna's focus on Elise and her strength. So many people told him so many things it was hard to take it all in.
"I am too." He kissed her forehead and walked toward the door wondering if it was okay to leave her when thoughts of that day were obviously coming up. But he couldn't control when she will think of it, she will certainly have to work through memories and thoughts like this, some on her own.
He turned to her, "Did you wanna take a shower or what? I won't be but a minute," trying to keep his voice nonchalant especially after his bizarre emotional outburst earlier.
"Uh, I'm not sure. Just thought it would be a nice way to wake up, but I'm awake now. I think I'm just going to put my clothes on, save the shower for after we get this dust stirred up and sweat a little." She said working it out, out loud.
Being reassured by the tone of her voice he continued to head out the back door. "Suit yourself, we have a life time." He quipped. Ooh, was that a weird thing to say now? That was a stupid phrase he always used, especially when those around him seemed to be indecisive. Oh well, it was out now.
Out at the truck, he put his mind in organization mode and tried to not let his thoughts drift back to all that had happened. He unlocked the back doors and swung them wide open, the three of them, he, Anna and her husband John had talked about strategically packing for when they got to their destination. That is why the essentials; bedding, and morning stuff was pack in last, so he could get it out by himself and make Elise as comfortable as possible until John and Anna could get out here. He could have just relied on Joseph, the fellow that rented the farmhouse and ran Dad's horse project, but he hated to impose at a busy time like fall. He wasn't sure if it was all that helpful, him standing here surveying the contents and figuring out what could go in now and what he shouldn't bother with until help arrived in the shape of Giant John. Maybe he should just go do something...
"Hey, Mark," a gravelly voice behind him spoke.
Mark turned to see Joseph standing at the foot of the ramp.
"Hey, how's it going. Glad to see you. Thanks for opening the house and checking on the water and electricity for us." Mark said as he stepped out of the truck and took Joseph's hand to shake.
"Not a problem. I came up to see if there was anything I could do for you?"
"When did you drive in?" Mark asked seeing the old farm truck sitting there. "I didn't hear the truck."
"Well then, you're loosing it boy, cuz I saw you unbuckle the back doors as I was coming down the driveway." Joseph replied in a jesting manner.
"Oh," Mark couldn't imagine being so preoccupied as to not hear and see things in his surroundings, that was his job, to always be aware of potentialities. "John's going to be here later to help me unload, but if you could loan us some time it sure would help it go faster and smoother. I know Elise can't really do much lifting and Anna probably shouldn't. She is nearly as big as a house, have you seen her lately?" He began to laugh at the recent shape his little sister had taken, round wouldn't really describe it.
Joseph joined in the laughter, "Holy cow, she is huge! I was over at the Big Farm day before yesterday when they had just gotten back. She was getting out of… guffaw," He was having a hard time talking for all the laughing, "...she could hardly get out of Giant John's damn truck. Then she's standing there in front of me and I couldn't say anything. All I could see was this huge gut, who knew a girl could get so big!"
The men were uncontrollably laughing, interjecting words like, "enormous."
"...beached whale. " Joseph waddled around with his hands on his overly arched back.
"Can't touch her toes…" Mark got out, not quite bending over in imitation.
"Thar she blows! "
They were in tears guffawing so loudly it took twice for Elise to shout over their hilarity and be heard.
"I can't believe you two are laughing at her." she tried to sound indignant for her best friend and sister, but there was a slight smile at the corner of her mouth.
"What, oh, yah" they both sputtered, trying to regain composure. "Sorry, we uh got carried away, uh sorry…"
It didn't work. All three began to laugh and cry and howl together till their sides ached and tears were streaming down leathery old skin and creamy white skin alike. Slowly they ran out of strength and comparisons and the laughter petered out to just small bursts of half laughs. Their sides hurt but Mark was glad for the release, laughing was good medicine. It didn't wipe away all that he had been through, and all the tough road of healing ahead. He was sure one laughing session hadn't cured Elise, but her face was bright like he remembered it used to be. He felt better than he had in weeks, maybe even longer.
"Wadda you up to this morning little lady?" Joseph asked when he could finally speak. Joseph was a nice older man, strong, kind and interested in everything, but mostly everyone. He was the most personable animal guy, farmer, outdoors person that Elise had ever met. She had always hoped that her husband, Mark, would turn into just such an old man. They had similar builds and similar mannerisms so it really wasn't that far off a thought, she would be happy indeed if her husband turned out to be such a cute little old man.
"Oh I just came out to see what all the ruckus was about. I didn't expect to find you two to taking advantage of a helpless woman."
"Don't go getting all high and mighty missy," Joseph sternly spoke as he wiped a remaining tear streak from her face, "Think you were laughing a bit too at her expense!"
"Oh, you won' t tell on me will you?" Thinking that the last thing she would want was for her dear Anna to feel badly treated.
"Maybe, unless you do me a favor, " darling old Joseph replied with a twinkle in his eye.
"Please, tell me what I can do to seal your secrecy."
"How 'bout you come back down to the farm with me, I could use an extra hand with one of the colts this morning. I'll have you back in time to boss everyone around."
She whipped her face around to her husband, "you wouldn't mind would you? I'm not of much use and I'm not sure what we can get done before John gets here anyway, would you come with us too, please?"
"That'd be great, I wasn't really doing anything that was worth it here anyway. Let me just call Anna and have her call us when they are on there way."
Elise bounced into the center of the truck's cab. There was something incredibly comforting and restoring about being in an old truck. She loved coming to the farm when she and Anna became good friends in Jr. High and big old farm trucks were a vital part of those memories. The smell of diesel rubbed into the old cracked leather, the sound of certain gears grinding no matter who was driving, the hard metal dash boards. This one has an ancient cigarette snuffer that was a Smokey the Bear bust. Smokey's hat, slightly cut off was where the cigarette was meant to be stubbed out, and then what? It still rode in a prominent position on the dash thanks to the magnet, even though it was never used.
The truck rounded the corner and Elise smiled deep inside at the sight of the Spotted Drafts in the main field. Her nostrils hungered for the smell of them.
They spent the morning with Joseph, working on the team and handling the new colt. Elise loved to see the big spotted drafts all hitched up and prancing down the aisle ways. Joseph and some of his helpers were getting them ready for the big show in Goshen the end of next week so the wagon team was being well groomed but the pullers got minimal fru-fru. They looked nice but spit and polish wasn't factored in the pulling contest scores, as long as they were clean and tidy. I would be wonderful being here and being able to come down to the horse barns and the work out yards and spend some time getting to know and understand all that goes into raising great farm stock. James, Mark's dad, raised and trained them down here on his family's old farm but he actually used teams up at the truck farm where he and Trudy lived. It was facinating to watch them actually work the ground in all the different aspects of the truck farm. It sure made a difference these days with everyone wanting to go organic and have their food produce old traditional ways.
Alice, Joseph's wife, came out with lunch right at the same time that Mark's phone rang and Anna said that they would be there in a half hour. Everyone took the time to enjoy Alice's lunch and laugh a little more, mostly at Anna. She seemed to always be every body's favorite. She was small but she could powerhouse through the hay field at haying time with the best of them. It just seemed funny to see her pregnant still slim everywhere but her stomach, which as everyone who was honest would say that it was gigantic. But then what did everyone expect, she is married to Giant John.
But it was time to go back up to the big house and meet those two and get started figuring out what to put where and what rooms they were going to live in. The truck ride back seemed less bumpy and much quicker. But why was there a professional moving van parked next to theirs? Elise could hardly wait till Joseph pulled up and shut the truck off.
"What's this all about?" Mark asked as he stepped out and grabbed John's hand. Elise flew feet first across the seat and landed on the running board when she heard John tell him that Scott had sent it with them.
"Dad?" she asked, "What did he need to send over here?"
"Why don't you come and see, the movers need to unload and get the truck back to Bloomington."
Anna was standing at the back door grinning from ear to ear. "I think your going to like it, I hope your not upset that it is here before you're really ready with a room for it."
"What are you…" Elise stopped talking when the doors were opened and she could see her piano inside. Her beautiful piano, how she longed to touch the keys. No other piano felt like this one and now she has it all to herself again. She had been so sad to find out that it really wouldn't work at their New York apartment, getting it upstairs alone would have cost a fortune, and none of them were particularly rich. So when they moved there she had to make do with a small practice piano in their apartment and the piano at the studio. But nothing compared to working things out on her good friend.
"Are you going to stand there staring at it or let us move it," An impatient mover barked.
Elise was glad to let the men take over and tell the movers what to do and where to put it. She over heard Mark say that it would probably be best in the big room on the other side of the kitchen. The room they had stayed in last night. That would be perfect, the sun was so beautiful in there this morning but the room was deep enough that the piano cold be out of constant direct sun.
Elise left the men and the movers to there work and grabbed Anna's arm, "Tell me what you know of this place. I feel good about being here."