Strange What Desire Will Make Foolish People Do - Cover

Strange What Desire Will Make Foolish People Do

by coeur_minuit

Copyright© 2024 by coeur_minuit

Romance Story: Turn around, the one who loves you has been waiting for you to notice them. Just know that the one who loves you may also have someone behind them who's been waiting for their turn to be noticed...

Tags: Romance   Tear Jerker  

The sun was the same as it had always been, pulling the last of the day’s radiance from the still-warm summer sky as it slid down heaven’s dome toward the waiting embrace of the Earth. The cicadas were noisy, as ever, their insectoid trilling filling the air as if it were needed, singing their buzzing insistence without any kind of thought as to the gentler atmosphere they were displacing. Earlier, the occasional solitary serenades of meadow birds mixing with the staccato burst of a woodpecker and the careful edging of deer through the lush pastoral setting; but now, nothing save a mindless drone as each insect sought to outdo the others in volume. As it had been the year before. And the year before that. And the year before that. And the year before that. And ... stretching out for untold years before, until all the years melted together and became Time, a smooth blanket that covered and embraced the Earth.

Or so William’s vision made it. A year, a thousand, a million ... all the years, stretching back to a beginning even God had forgotten. It was a blessing, an uneventful, unmeaningful, unhurried blessing, to think that all Man’s hoping and striving and heartaching came, in the end, to the same smooth nothing. At least that way he could forget Julie, at least for the moment; at least until the ever-moving tide of Life pulled him out of the pretense of serenity and forced him back into the hustle and noise and stink and sorrow and unrelenting misery that was his life.

Julie. Why did he have to come back to the vision of her face; her sparkling smile, her gleaming eyes shining with ... with ... with some emotion, some feeling that wasn’t Love and never would be? Or, at least not Love as he was capable of understanding it. She ... she was happy, buoyant with an emotion that he had been shut out of for months now. She had had opportunities to see how much he needed her, how much he needed to hear her say “come sit with me and talk to me and share the quiet moments with me”. The opportunities that had been offered to her on a silver platter, that she had upended without so much as a backward glance. Of course it wasn’t her fault; no blame could be apportioned to her, not even the faintest trace of guilt; she was pure. The fact that she had brushed aside his presence as one would the crumbs of a sandwich was just that: a fact, a happening with no shame attached to it. William examined his distorted reflection in the knife’s blade, looking for any sign of the hopelessness and dead despair that sat as an immobile boulder just behind his eyes. He brought the sharp side to his throat and held it for an unguessable number of minutes before turning the flat edge against the flesh and savoring its cool indifference. An inaudible sigh escaped him as he put the knife down. It was his court of last resort, his plan Z, but it was a reminder of how all his choices had been the wrong ones, doomed to failure because he blindly refused to see the obvious. Looking down, he saw that his hands had come together; the pattern made by the interlocking of his fingers was, for some reason, vaguely pleasing. Separate units that coalesced into a fitting structure, to form a basin; a container for water or sand or something equally useful. Two halves that formed a whole which was well suited to carry something to share; if he wanted to pick up the knife now, he would have to break apart that unity.

A shifting in the grass behind him brought him out of his useless reverie. He was mildly surprised to see Joanne standing behind him, wiping her hands fitfully with a checkered dishtowel. He realized he had heard the hinges of the kitchen cabin screen door announce her imminent arrival some minutes ago, but he had been too absorbed in regret to register the meaning. He wondered idly if she had seen him place the knife against his throat. She climbed over the low wall while slinging the towel over her shoulder, then sat on the wall a foot or two away from William. Her hands came to rest on the shaped stone, supporting and balancing her. The fingers of her left hand were close, almost touching William’s bare thigh, and he could smell her scent in the westering sunlight; a mixture of pancakes and syrup and sweat and ... what was that? Gardenias? Faint, subtle, but definitely there, a floral breath that couldn’t be ignored. She was gazing at the darkening sky with its sprinkling of starlight fading in gradually. William turned his head further, almost against his will, to trace the line of her neck where it disappeared into her t-shirt; a few wisps of her hair had escaped the ponytail and were moving softly back and forth in the breeze, as if they were trying to decide whether to stay or go. An absurd notion, and he cast his eyes downward at the thought. Joanne turned to look at him; her emerald eyes captured the last rays of daylight and infused them with melancholy. She whispered, “Julie?” Of course it was Julie; wasn’t it always? Who else would it be? But before those musings became irritation and peevishness, he shook his head briefly to clear it, settling instead for the almost-but-not-quite-pleasant task of responding in kind. “Yes,” he whispered back, then realizing he hadn’t meant to whisper, said quietly, “Yes.” He hoped that would end the conversation and matched that desire with a turning away, his head hung low. He didn’t see Joanne’s hand reaching for his hair; almost making it, but coming to rest half an inch above his scalp. There it stayed for quite some time, trembling as she struggled with the need to stroke him, to pull his head onto her breast and cradle it, to wrap her arms around him and give him, if not the solace he wanted, then at least the comfort he needed. In the end, the unknowns were just too much for her, and she drew her hand back with an agonizing slowness that spoke of a desire that had been left on its own for too long. She pulled the flask out of the back pocket of her faded denim shorts, the flask that Walter had given her yesterday. It’s shifting weight brought a small anticipatory rush of lassitude; as though its holder, having yielded to the temptation to consume, was already on the mission of promised relaxation before the cap had ever been removed. Joanne lifted it and placed the bottleneck to her nose. She recognized the sting and odor as alcoholic, but her unfamiliarity with spirits in general left her no wiser as to the identity of the libation.

Yesterday at the breakfast table; Walter had finished cleaning the morning meal’s residue from the cookware, the bowls and griddles he had used to prepare it, and sat down on the wooden bench next to Joanne. One grizzled hand had come up to rest gently, almost delicately, on her shoulder, before tightening into the beginnings of a tentative caress. “William?” he had asked her softly, his Southern drawl unmistakable even in a single word. She had barely glanced at him, but that was all it took to start the tears flowing. Her anger at her sorrowful reaction had taken her by surprise; she hadn’t wanted to show the depth of her feelings to the old man, moreso because she hadn’t realized until that moment that they ran so deep. She had stood suddenly and turned on her heel to leave, when Walter caught her by the wrist and turned her to face him. She’d stared at the strong worn flesh of his fingers gripping her, more in surprise than resentment. From somewhere he had produced the flask and pressed it into her hand. It had taken her a few seconds to recognize it for what it was, and when she did, she gave Walter a questioning look. He had winked at her, a slow and exaggerated motion that was punctuated by a wrinkled smile of such warmth that she almost took his face in her hands and smothered him with kisses of gratitude. Almost. In the end, she’d settled for a smile of genuine affection, a smile that she couldn’t continue because the onrushing river of her tears couldn’t be stopped. Running from the cabin still clutching the flask, she hadn’t heard Walter’s soft but forceful “Damnation” behind her or seen the old man’s eyes mist up as his fists dug into his thighs in frustration.

The lights in front of the bunkhouse suddenly appeared out of the gloom on the far side of the lake, followed a second later by the bug zapper. Joanne uncapped the flask and brought it to her lips; a second’s hesitation, then she tipped it up and poured a healthy swig into her mouth. The liquid had an earthy, smoky, almost peaty flavor, and as soon as she swallowed it, she felt heat blossom on her tongue and in the back of her mouth, working its way down to her belly. An unexpectedly loud inhalation followed, a ragged gasp that grabbed William’s startled attention. Joanne’s world blurred, shifted; for a dizzying few seconds she was seeing double. She set the flask on the wall and rubbed her closed eyes with the heels of her palms; when her hands fell and she looked around, William felt the first stirrings of trepidation at the fire behind them. As she slid down from the wall to land on her knees, a guttural choking and rasping stretched the back of her throat; she grabbed William’s knee in both hands and pulled viciously at it as she sought to steady the world around her. William reached down to put his hands over hers; he tried to frame a question, but she had left him so disoriented that all that came out was, “Whaaat?” Joanne shook her head and reached for the flask but missed by a foot. “W-W-Walter,” she breathed as she tried and failed again to grab the flask. She pulled herself to her feet and stood unsteadily looking at the fresh dusk around her. Again she tried to speak, and again all that came out was “W-W-Walter”. She pitched forward, and before William even had a chance to register what was happening, she vaulted over the stone wall and was stumbling toward the kitchen cabin, a phantom in the grass.

Joanne’s plunge toward the kitchen cabin had begun to slow, until it came to a stop some fifty feet from the door. What was she doing? She roamed through her mind in a fog ... she had been with William, agonizing over his grief, realizing she could do nothing to relieve it ... she had pulled out Walter’s flask because Walter had given it to her with the expectation that it would ... do what? Relieve her grief over ... over William ... the idea of William was receding in her mind ... Walter had just been trying to help her in her distress ... Walter, who was always quick with a joke or witticism, especially when she felt down and despairing ... Walter, at least 30 years her senior, old enough to be her dad ... a comforting, familiar presence that always put her in mind of denim and leather, of firelight and woodsmoke ... of his rough, careworn hands that were nonetheless gentle and soft those few times she had felt them on her shoulders and back ... She took a step or two backward from the kitchen, realizing that the vague feeling of wanting to seek out comfort was rapidly coalescing into a need to see Walter, to hear his woody laugh and smell the rich mixture of his pipe tobacco as it drew her into his atmosphere. She glanced back at the stone wall where someone was sitting and examining something; William? Yes, of course, she had been sitting with William ... she moved in his direction, but it was with a wan and listless gait that she was unable to sustain for more than a half-dozen steps. Looking back at the kitchen, remembering Walter’s ‘good night’ as he made his way out to the pickup to head over to ... to ... to where? Joanne realized she didn’t even know if he was staying at the camp or going into town or ... she hadn’t even asked, hadn’t been inquisitive enough to even learn where he was staying ... what ... what was wrong with her? Why hadn’t she ... The kitchen cabin’s interior lights abruptly went out, leaving the solitary yellow flickering bulb above the door as the only light in the immediate area. Joanne realized she had been holding her breath only when the screen bumped open and the solitary form of someone that wasn’t Walter stepped out. He looked up, startled to see her standing there; “Oh, hi there,” he began, and as her respiration resumed its normal in-and-out rhythm, “or rather, good night...?” She automatically brought her hand up in acknowledgement; “ ... g’night” she mumbled, and headed off in the direction of the girls’ cabin, her mind momentarily silent and fatigued.

William had pivoted to watch her sudden departure. Bizarre. He absently rubbed his bare knee, to discover that Joan had put a couple of scratches on it. No, that wasn’t her name, was it? Maybe it was Joanna? He was sure he’d heard it used in the last day or two. He picked up the silver flask from the wall, careful not to spill any of its contents. Was this what had made her go so wild? Wiggling the flask a little to gauge how full it was, he brought it to his nose. An aroma of anise greeted him; ouzo or sambuca, most likely. Strong, but enough to provoke the reaction he had seen? He held it thoughtfully for another few seconds. It wasn’t his, and he hadn’t been invited ... but the earth was eventually going to spin down and become a burned-out cinder anyway, and what would it matter then? He brought the flask to his mouth, and after a few more seconds hesitation, and with a world-weary shrug, he took a mouthful and swished it around on his tongue. At first, he was getting no sense of the flavor; even water would have had more body. As he recapped the flask and prepared to spit it out, an invasion hit him without warning; a sharp tang, a spiciness like ... like peppers, like jalapenos without the heat; and without conscious decision, he swallowed it, closing his eyes against the onrush of sensation. Almost instantly his nasal cavity was flooded with a change in temperature, although whether hot or cold he couldn’t have said. He made the mistake of trying to breathe through his mouth, only to have it register the same feeling. Sweat broke out on his temples and forehead; as he opened his eyes and looked up at the night sky, at the dusting of lights that seemed to be just beyond his reach, her name was suddenly there in the front of his mind, almost as if someone had spoken it: Joanne. A torrent of images demanded his attention; Joanne picking apples, Joanne riding a roan horse, Joanne dipping an oar into the lake as she propelled her canoe toward the shore, Joanne with her chin on her knees as she sat gazing into a campfire ... Joanne. A few minutes ago she had been a distraction, a presence to be tolerated ... a few minutes ago; or was that a lifetime that had gone rushing so savagely past? What had she ... where was ... was she Julie’s bunkmate? A fellow counselor? He remembered now that he had seen her during the orientation ... but she had been in a different group than Julie ... at the thought of Julie, he deliberately tried to refocus, to bring Julie’s smile into view ... but it wasn’t Julie’s smile that his mind’s eye came to rest on, it was Joanne’s ... Joanne’s half-smile ... no, not even a half-smile ... it was a wistful gaze as she contemplated the valley, brushing her hair behind her ear ... her delicate ear ... William looked over his shoulder at the kitchen cabin, searching for her; nothing. As he twisted on the wall to face the cabin, a scraping sensation caught at his awareness. He looked down to discover that he still held the flask in his hand. Her flask ... he brought it to his cheek and savored the cool sensation. He had her flask, he should at least return it to her ... wherever she was ... with a paradoxical sense of hope long fled and hope reborn, he got down from the wall and started moving slowly toward the kitchen cabin.

Halfway there, a cluster of campers came traipsing out of one of the forest trails; judging from the direction they were heading, apparently on their way to the lake. The counselor with them was a fresh-faced young woman, smiling and laughing despite the lingering heat of the day just finished. With a sudden jolt that caused him to miss a step and stumble before catching himself, William realized the counselor was Julie. A mingled feeling of hope and despair threatened to overwhelm him at the sight of her face; then it was breaking up and dispersing like clouds on a wind-swept sky, leaving a vague sense of disturbance and a renewed awareness of needing to find Joanne so he could give her ... give her his ... no, wait, he wasn’t going to give her anything of his ... was he?

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