Fiction

Do You Know . . .

By: Cora Tate

Photo by Bruno Ticianelli on Pexels.com

Jocelyn felt glad to be home, even felt glad to be back at work.  She’d enjoyed her third trip to the United States, enjoyed catching up with old friends and seeing beautiful places she’d known plus several new to her.  Jocelyn always enjoyed Oregon best for both the friends and the sights.  She also enjoyed having a few days with her friend Lynne, whom Jocelyn met on her first trip more than two decades earlier.

            Lynne’s two-day-a-week job allowed her to drive the two of them to the little valley on the East Fork of the Indiana river, where she’d lived when they met twenty-some years ago.  Lynne took her friend across the steel structure known to locals as “the brown bridge” and drove back along the river past her former residence.  Somewhat surprised the cabin still stood, the visitors refrained from disturbing the current tenants and headed back to Lynne’s home in town and a pleasant evening of food, drink, and conversation.

            Back home on the other side of the Pacific, Jocelyn thought of North America from time to time but enjoyed fitting back into her routines and community, enjoyed feeling she had room to breathe in the sparsely settled region where she lived.  Jocelyn liked the little rural town where she settled a quarter of a century earlier but participated little in mainstream activities.  Fortunately, the area contained a large enough population of people preferring an alternative lifestyle to sustain a separate community in which Jocelyn felt more at home.

            She enjoyed her work in the town’s little natural foods co-op and some weeks enjoyed spending an evening or, less often, two enjoying music at a former returned servicemen’s club transformed into the Music Lover’s Club.  Jocelyn preferred to attend on acoustic music nights, because she didn’t like the volume and harshness of electric instruments.  As for percussion, she appreciated the sense of her friend Randy’s riddle:

            What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians?

            A drummer.

Jocelyn’s and Randy’s shared opinions and feelings included much more than their thoughts about electric instruments and percussion, went far beyond the subject of music.  They seemed to think, almost as with one mind, similar thoughts about environmental issues, about their local, state, and federal governments, about social media, about books and authors, about the state of the press, about food and diet, about religion and other superstitions, about relationships and lifestyles, and, as Jocelyn saw the matter, just about everything.

            Pretty much the only sources of friction—well, no, not friction, really, Jocelyn thought, more concern—were Randy’s tendency to swear, when balked by some device or tool that failed to function properly, and his continuing love for his ex-wife.  Jocelyn felt confident she could become comfortable with the former, because Randy always directed his anger at things, not at people.  The latter problem seemed more likely to remain intractable.

            Jocelyn found Randy extremely attractive:  intelligent—he held a degree from the world’s top science university and had seen eighty of his stories published in literary journals in ten countries; talented—he played at least a dozen instruments and spoke at least four languages; charming—Jocelyn had felt a flush of desire from the first moment she met him; kind and thoughtful—she had known him for almost three years, long enough to witness his kind and considerate nature many times; strong and physically fit—several strenuous walks together had confirmed that, and he maintained a beautiful garden and helped out in the community garden as well; good looking—although twenty years older than Jocelyn, Randy had a handsome face and overall appearance; and just plain nice.

            So why do you always say ‘No’ instead of ‘Yes’, Jocelyn asked herself.

            Because he’s in love with someone else.

            You could change that, some part of Jocelyn’s mind told her.

            I don’t think so.  He loves her too much, she thought.

            Get him into bed and see.  You’ll change his mind, and you’ll have fun doing it.

            Severely tempted, Jocelyn thought, I don’t think anyone will ever change his mind about her.  She mistreated him, deserted him, and still he loves her more than life itself.

            If you love him, give it a try.  You’ll see—you can change his mind.

            That brought Jocelyn up short.  Do I love him? she wondered.  In less than a second, she knew the answer to that question.  Struggling to answer the other part of her own mind, she finally thought, Yes, I might change his mind, but I’ll never change his heart.

            That left Jocelyn supine in her queen-size bed feeling physically frustrated and emotionally bereft.  As she drifted into slumber, she seemed to hear a voice saying, It’s your own fault.

            A week later, Randy shopped at the co-op late on a day when Jocelyn was working.  He was about to leave and she and her co-workers about to close the store, when Randy said, “May I take you to dinner?”

            “Sounds nice.  Let’s talk after we get the store all closed up.”

            “You parked out back?”

            “Yeah.”

            “I’ll drive around and meet you.”

            Randy pulled into the parking area behind the co-op and waved to the departing owner of the music store next door, as Jocelyn descended the back stairs to the parking lot, or carpark in the Australian idiom.  The visitor and erstwhile customer climbed out of his car and again greeted Jocelyn, who said, “I can make a healthier dinner than we could buy in this town.  D’you wanta just come over to my place.”

            “Sounds great, if it isn’t too much trouble for you.  Let me help, though.”

            “Nahh, no trouble.  You know how to get there, but follow me, so you can park in the drive behind me.”

            He did both, and he helped make their dinner.  In the course of preparing the dinner, while Randy was cutting up an onion and then grating some cheese, Jocelyn began telling him about some of the walks she had done with her friend Lynne.  Her guest listened attentively, offered brief comments on two of the walks, and then asked, “Did you and your friends ever walk up Mount Elijah?”

            “Where’s that?”

            “Up above the caves.  Or, rather, the caves are in Mount Elijah.”

            “Huh!  I’ll have to make a point of walking up there next time I visit.”

            “Yeah, it’s a nice walk, but the coolest thing is to do it by moonlight on a full moon.”

            “Wow!  I’ve never done any hiking by moonlight.  Sounds neat.”

            “It is.  Y’need to carry flashlights—or torches, as they call ’em here—to keep to the trail, when you’re in the forested part of the walk, but that’s no big deal.  But the neatest thing is that when you get to the top, you get to watch the sun rise over Mount Shasta.”

            “No way!  That’s down in California and way over east of the Sacramento Valley.”

            “Yes, dear, but you’re on top of a pretty tall mountain looking at a very big mountain.  I promise.  I’ve done it two or three times at least.”

            “You have?!”  What were you doing in that area?”

            “I guess we never talked about that.  I lived in the Indiana Valley for a decade.”

            Over dinner, the two talked about that distant valley and a few prominent people they both knew but hadn’t known each other knew.  That conversation continued, while they washed the dishes, pans, and cutlery.  As Randy hung up the dishtowel and they headed to the living room, Jocelyn asked, “Do you know Lynne Parkhurst?”

            “The dental hygienist?”

            “Omigod!  You do know her.”  Randy nodded, as Jocelyn continued, “Do you know her well?”

            “Well, I did, but I haven’t seen her or had any contact with her in more than twenty years.”

            Dreading Randy’s answer, Jocelyn said, “I suppose you were lovers.”

            “We were, but that was a quarter-century ago, and I haven’t seen her since.”

            Jocelyn and Randy sat beside each other on her sofa, not cuddling but as friends who felt comfortable in close proximity.  Again dreading the answer, she asked, “Do you love her?”

            “Hmmm … wow!  That’s a blast from the past.  Yeah, I think it’s accurate to say that I love Lynne.  Yes, I do.”

            Torturing herself without knowing why, she pressed on with, “Do you love her as much as you love your ex-wife?”

            “Oh, goodness no!  That relationship ended a long time ago.  B—”

            “So your love has faded.”

            “No, not at all.  It isn’t like that.  What I’ve found is that in each relationship I’ve been in, I’ve learned more about how to love.  I’ve learned to love more.  I’m confident saying I love Lynne as much now as I did back then, but now I’m capable of loving a great deal more, of experiencing a stronger, more intense love.”

            Jocelyn did not feel comforted.  That must have showed, because her guest said, “Jocelyn dear, I love you much, much more than I ever loved Lynne.  Much more.  Back then, I wasn’t capable of loving anyone as much as I love you.  Now, I am.”

            Fearing the worst, Jocelyn thought of half a dozen other attractive women in the Indiana Valley and asked Randy if he knew them.  Four of them he did, two he didn’t, and Jocelyn felt relieved he had not been physically intimate with any of them.  The two friends, discussing the valley they both knew from the other side of the earth’s biggest ocean, managed to make a comfortable transition to other topics and thus to enjoy one of their usual wide-ranging conversations.  They shared that conversation for two hours, before Randy said he’d better make the long drive home.

            The two close friends shared a hug before Randy opened the door and a chaste kiss after he stepped over the threshold and turned back to say a final farewell.  With her inner voice almost cursing her, saying, You fool!  Don’t let him leave, Jocelyn said, “I love you, too, you know,” as Randy descended her two front steps.

            He turned at the bottom and said, “Oh, Jocelyn!  You never told me that.  Wow!  That’s wonderful.  Thank you for telling me.  I hope that love will grow, like mine does, so we can become even closer.”

            Battered by her inner urges both physical and verbal, Jocelyn felt nevertheless she had exhausted all the daring she possessed.  She smiled and nodded in response to what he’d said and blew him a kiss before he turned and walked to his car, then stood in the doorway and waved as he backed out of her drive.  After her usual dental hygiene, she lay on her bed and endured a torrent of, not abuse but criticism from herself.

            Why didn’t you hold onto him?  He could be lying here beside you right now.

            Why did you let him go?  All you had to do was take him by the hand and lead him into your bedroom.

            With many variations and no adequate responses, Jocelyn lay awake for almost an hour before that disappointed part of herself allowed her to sleep.

            Another week went by, and Jocelyn and Randy climbed two hills, called Mount Aunt and Mount Uncle, rising out of the plains to the north beyond Mount Emerald.  The two close friends then visited the boutique distillery near the foot of Mount Uncle.  Jocelyn, who rarely imbibed anything stronger than beer, sampled one shot of the distillery’s product and pronounced it excellent; Randy, who didn’t consume spirits in general and didn’t like the taste of even the best whiskeys—or whiskys, and he understood the difference—chose not to indulge.  Sitting in Randy’s Japanese compact in the shade of a tree on the edge of the distillery’s parking lot, the two shared their latest and so far bravest of many discussions of their relationship.

            “You said you love me more than you love Lynne.  Do you love me as much as you love your ex-wife?”

            Randy paused and looked into Jocelyn’s eyes with a sad but affectionate gaze.  At length he said, “Jocelyn dear, I don’t even know.  Or maybe I do.  The thing is, though, that my love for Ivana is like a stone—a very big stone, a boulder perhaps, but still a stone.  My love for you is like a mighty tree, a healthy, vigorous tree, growing bigger every day.  The stone will not grow, cannot grow.  The tree will grow and grow and will become bigger and stronger than the stone.”

            Jocelyn pondered her friend’s remarks and sought a wise or at least cogent reply.  Before she found that reply, Randy resumed his thought.  “In a relationship, I have found—for me at least, feelings grow.  Mine do, always have.  I guess it’s sort of connected to what I was saying about learning to love more in each successive relationship.  Not the same, but somehow kind of related.  Those feelings last, they don’t fade away.  Once the intimate sharing no longer occurs, though, the feelings cease growing—they become static.”  He paused a short moment and continued, “Given time, a new relationship will always overcome the memory of an old one no longer active.  The feelings in a living relationship have always—at least in my experience—grown to eclipse the feelings about someone in an old relationship no longer alive, as it were.”

            Before Jocelyn could speak or think of what she wanted to say, Randy continued his line of thought.  “It’s as if a relationship is a living thing.  Everything about it grows.  A relationship that is no more just sits there, like a rock, as I said, and doesn’t—can’t—grow.”

            Impressed, as always, with her dear friend’s thought processes, Jocelyn smiled a wan smile and nodded.  Her smile, at least, was not forced or artificial.  What Randy said made sense and offered hope.  She thought of saying that, but he spoke again.  “So, back to your question—I may love you more than Ivana right now, I’m not sure.  But if I don’t, I will in a month or in a year.  My love for you keeps growing and growing.  I tell you that with no doubt at all, I—”

            “But I thought you doubted everything.  You’re never certain about anything.”

            “Except my own feelings,” Randy said, as he drove back to Jocelyn’s dwelling.  “Them I experience directly and so can be sure of them.  I thought I’d told you about that before.”

            “You did, but I never really understood it until now.”

            “But now you do?”

            “I think so.”

            “Hmmm … Doesn’t matter.  I know almost nothing for sure, as you’ve said, but I know my own feelings, so I know my love for you keeps growing and growing.  I feel it—directly, immediately—every day.  My love for Ivana is a stone; it just sits there.  My love for you grows every time I share a conversation with you, walk with you, every time I see your smile, hear your voice, squeeze your hand, share a hug, even read your thoughts in an email.”

            Jocelyn felt a tide of happiness flowing through her.  She still didn’t like that Randy loved Ivana, but she no longer felt threatened by that love.  His loving and proximate friend now disliked that he loved his ex-wife, because Jocelyn saw Randy’s love for Ivana hurting the man she cared so much about, not because of possible competition.  Jocelyn’s dear friend walked her to her door, where she hugged him and they parted with their newly-usual chaste kiss.  Lying in her bed later, Jocelyn seemed to hear that voice from another part of herself saying, And once you’re lying together with him inside you, his love for you will grow even faster—and you’ll feel good.  She mounted no argument and soon fell asleep feeling hopeful.

            Three days later, as they had arranged, Jocelyn and Randy walked to Carrington Falls together.  On the walk back to his Hyundai, they held hands the whole way, a new step in their relationship.  Back in the car, he commented on that development and told Jocelyn how good it made him feel.

            “Is that because you think I’m closer to going to bed with you?”

            “No, although—as I’ve said before—I think that’s a great idea; it’s because it shows that you—or, heck, maybe both of us—are allowing us to be closer.”

            “Physically?”
            “Well, yeah, I suppose, but I was thinking closer emotionally.”

            Jocelyn recognized the accuracy of her beloved friend’s analysis and said, “Yes, that is nice.”

            A week later, in a nice break in the weather after three days of rain had put all the local falls in spate, the two friends shared a similar walk to Hall’s Falls.  On their return walk, they again held hands the entire way.  When the two walkers arrived at Randy’s little Getz, he unlocked the car.  As he held the passenger door for Jocelyn, he invited her to return with him to his home and stay for the next several days.

            “Sleeping with you, you mean?”

            “That would be entirely up to you,” Randy said.  “I have another bed in another room—hell, I even have a separate guest cottage, if you would feel more comfortable there.  Yes, of course, I’d like to have you beside me—I’ve told you that before—but there’s no pressure or obligation.  It’s really up to you.  I just want to enjoy your company as much as I can.”

            Jocelyn did not even argue with herself.  She knew what she wanted, knew that she wanted to lie next to Randy at least as much as he wanted her.  She told her companion they needed to stop by her house to pick up a couple changes of clothes, so he drove to Jocelyn’s place and she packed enough clothes for a week.

            Once at Randy’s place, Jocelyn wondered why she had never visited him before then.  They walked a little to let her see some of the property then prepared an early dinner together—Randy insisted he would prepare dinner, but Jocelyn didn’t let him, joining him in the process while sharing one of their wonderful all-encompassing conversations.  Jocelyn thought she might spend the first night in the guest cottage, despite the voice in her head that said, Don’t be ridiculous.  Why deprive both of you of the pleasure you can have together.

            Randy again said, “Whatever is most comfortable for you.  I’ve wanted you beside me for a year or more, but I want you to be completely comfortable with whatever we do.”  He showed her the guest cottage, with its comfortable-looking queen bed and also showed her the king-single in the guest room in his house.

            Jocelyn knew she didn’t want to sleep in either of those excellent and comfortable beds.  I would rather lie next to Randy on a pile of rocks, she thought.  She didn’t express that exact thought out loud but said, “Do you think there’s room for me in your bed?”

            Randy, being the dear, considerate man he was and is, replied, “Yes, of course there is, and that’s just what I want most—but only if you are completely comfortable with expanding our relationship that way.”  Before Jocelyn could say anything, he added, “I don’t want you ever to regret anything we’ve done.”

            Jocelyn closed her eyes and leaned her head on Randy’s chest.  “Randy, dear,” she said, “I don’t think I could ever regret sharing anything with you.”

Categories: Fiction

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