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Submitted by Steven ODell on 8 July 2007 - 11:49pm.

Chapter 6

It was bright and clear as Ron and Denise drove up the mountains into higher terrain. The air was cleaner and the sun seemed to be brighter than she had recalled it being for a long time. The world here seemed quite different from the one they were leaving-fresher, more inviting and friendly. It may have just been her imagination, she knew, but she mentioned it to Ron and he answered that it seemed that way to him, too. “I think it is just that you won’t have to worry for awhile, honey.” She liked the sound of that. No one had called her that in so long. It surprised and delighted her immensely. Her father had called her that and now Ron. He rather reminded her of her father in some ways. She bristled for a moment at the thought that he might just be a father figure to her. And worse, that he might think she saw him that way. No, to her he was far more than that. A friend, a confidant, a lover. She nearly blushed at the thought. Well, soon, maybe. But he was definitely not a substitute father. She had loved her own father deeply and none could ever replace him. It was just that she recognized Ron had a lot of the same qualities and she had been strongly attracted to Ron before she ever thought of any similarities in the two men. Denise was at a loss to explain the attraction between the two of them. She sensed it in him, too. It was a natural and mature rapport both of them intuitively felt, accepted and desired.

Ron was pleased to see that she had begun to cheer up. The fresh air and new scenery would do her good, he knew. “A penny for your thoughts?”

“First, let me see your penny,” she retorted.

He smiled brightly. “Good to see you are getting your sense of humor back.” He quickly pulled the steering wheel and veered to the side of the road, stopping abruptly.

“What’s wrong?” she asked in a concerned voice. She was bracing herself and looking about wildly at all the parts of the vehicle. “Is there something wrong with the car?”

“No, just stopping to see if I have a penny,” he replied as he thrust his hand into his pocket.

She looked incredulous for a moment and then laughed aloud at the insanity of the act. “Oh, Ron…you are so-o-o-o crazy!” She punched his arm in mock disgust, relieving her tension in the process. “You scared me half to death!”

“You inspire me, that’s all,” and he handed her a shiny penny. He had the look of an imp on his face and she could not help but laugh again. He kissed her quickly and then he pulled back onto the road and sped off with a sly grin still clinging to his features.

The two discussed a variety of things on the way—everything from politics to physics. Denise was impressed at the knowledge of this previously quiet man. He opened up like a present on Christmas morning and he virtually beamed in his happiness to be with her. He radiated the joy of a child that has just discovered the playground. She, too, was beginning to feel that joy. She stared in utter amazement at this man that had so completely captured her imagination. He loved her and he could not hide it from her for a second. It was written all over him for the entire world to see and she was overwhelmed for a moment at the depth of feeling that gave to her. She marveled that anyone could care that deeply for her. She marveled and she was grateful.

A few hours had gone by and Ron was now beginning to fidget in his seat. It had been a long trip, but this was not the fidget of a man that just needed to stretch or use the facilities. He kept looking around as if he were disoriented.

“Ron, you’re lost, aren’t you?” It seemed fairly obvious to Denise.

“Uh… no, not lost.”

“No? Then what?” She had the slightest hint of a smile on her face, which she was trying to hide and he knew it. It was the same look that his wife had displayed many times when they traveled by car. He hated that look—and loved it, too. He had a soft spot in his heart that recalled to his mind many things; all triggered by that look that Denise was giving him now.

He pulled over again and dropped his head in mock shame. “I’m not lost. I’m just confused. There’s a difference.” He had a sheepish grin that made her start to giggle and then he loosened up and began to laugh, too. “Okay, get the map out of the glove box for me. And stop laughing at me!” She laughed all the harder as she looked for the map and opened it up. “Okay, where were you supposed to turn off the road?”

Ron explained what he remembered as he looked at the map she held in her lap. “It’s been a very long time since I was up here, though.”

“I hate to tell you this, ‘Mr. Wrong-way Corrigan’, but you’ve overshot the runway by about an hour. I hope you do better in the woods than you do on the highway.” The barely-controlled smirk was back on her face. She waited smugly for his response and after a slight pause, he surprised her by roaring like a bear and throwing his hands toward her, tickling unmercifully until she begged for him to stop. Had the car door been opened, she would have fallen out on the ground, for she was effectually backed into a corner against it. “Stop! Please, stop!”

He quit tickling and let her catch her breath, when without warning he promptly took it away again with an unexpected and passionate kiss. As he broke away, he said softly, “The tickling was for being so mean to me”. He turned as though to put the car in gear. “And the kiss was because I loved it anyway.” He smiled with his eyes and shot her a quick glance before turning again.

“You just wait to see what I have in store for you, Mister.” It was a threat, to be sure, but he suspected that somehow he would love it.

“I can hardly wait. Oh, and by the way, I am better in the woods than on the road. Besides, it was your fault.” He winked at her and pulled back onto the road, making a tight u-turn, all the while grinning like the cat that ate the canary.

“My fault? Oh, do tell!”

“You distracted me with your smooth ways and your good looks. Otherwise I would have been concentrating on the road.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” she said and grinned back at him. Denise, too, was happier than she could have imagined earlier that day. Perhaps this was a new beginning after all.

Ron’s cousin was not at the cabin when they arrived, but there was a note that read, Ron, Got tired of waiting. Will be back sometime tomorrow. Had to get some supplies and forgot to ask you to bring them. Have the run of the cabin. Should be enough here for breakfast and a lunch. Will return by the time you run out of food. -Hunter

When he read aloud the part about Hunter being tired of waiting, Denise had snickered and Ron feigned that he was about to tickle her again. She screamed and retreated across the room as fast as she could, allowing him to continue reading silently to the end uninterrupted.

When he was finished reading the note, Ron informed Denise, “Well, there are three bedrooms here. You get to choose between those two.” He pointed to two rooms along the same wall. “The other one is Hunter’s.” Both doors were open and she went without hesitation to the one on her right.

“This place is great! It reminds me of some really good times that I had with my parents.” She had made a choice, in what amounted to the blink of an eye, as to which room she preferred and scurried in to claim it. “I love the sunlight in the morning, so I’ll take this one—it’s closest to the east,” she called back over her shoulder.

He was impressed that she had gotten her bearings so quickly. He was relatively sure she was correct about the compass directions and he suspected she might give him a run for his money in the woods, too.

“Fine with me. I tend to be a ‘night owl’ and I hate to wake up too early. Rebelling against all those years in the service, when I had to, I guess.” That wasn’t entirely true, he thought as he recalled the mornings he would still go early to the park. He was more relaxed here in the cabin, though. It had been a good decision for him as well.

“Okay, you can sleep in tomorrow-at least until breakfast. And…hmmmm,” she pursed her lips in thought. “And I may just give you that surprise I promised…in your pancakes or scrambled eggs, maybe. Hope you like pine needles in your food.” She smiled playfully and began to set up things in her room.

She was a real charmer, this one. Ron disappeared into his room also. There were many memories for him here as well. It smelled of the fireplace and recalled to him the marshmallows that he and Hunter had roasted as kids when their fathers would bring them here for the week to hunt and fish. In fact, that was where Hunter had gotten his name-from a father who hoped his son would love to hunt as much as he did. Ron thought to himself that it was fortunate his father had not named him Fisher, considering his own chosen hobby. He sighed good-humoredly and shook his head ever so slightly. He put out all the things that he had packed and returned to the main room to find Denise was starting a fire in the fireplace.

“Where did you learn to do that?” Ron was impressed.

“Don’t be so surprised. You men aren’t the only ones that ever went camping, you know. My father used to take me on fishing trips and on hikes in the woods when I was a small girl. In fact, he used to take Barbara along, too. My Mother was always rather weak and in poor health, so she often stayed home when we would go, but she loved to hear of all our adventures when we returned home. I remember her saying to Dad, ‘Now, Theo, don’t you get those girls killed or nothing, do you hear?’ He would always pretend to be upset at her accusations that he might get us hurt and he would usually have an argument with her before we left. I recall asking him why he always did that before we went camping and his answer was that he did it because she expected it and she enjoyed it. I thought he was crazy until I was about fourteen, I guess. That was when I saw it from her side and saw that she really did enjoy it. It was a game between them. Maybe they did it to scare us girls or just to tease one another. I don’t know, but I learned to love it, too. He died when I was seventeen and I never forgot all that he taught me about the woods.” She seemed to drift away for a moment. “I miss him a lot. You would have liked him and I know he would have liked you, too.” There was a distant, but pleasant look about her as she crouched and gazed quietly into the fire, which by now was open proof of the expertise of the builder.

True to his word, Hunter had left enough food for breakfast and lunch, but not enough for dinner and the two decided they would forego one of the meals the next day in favor of having one tonight. It was not particularly impressive. Beans, bacon and canned corn seldom are. “I could certainly go for one of your home-cooked meals right now, honey.”

“Tomorrow will be better, okay?”

They went to eat in front of the fire. Well, at least the company is good, he thought.

They sat on the floor, leaning back against the sofa, talking quietly for some time. Ron told her a bit about himself—how he had been somewhat sickly as a child, but that he had decided to fight it and exercise his way back to health. He had made the germs, or whatever they were, ‘break out in health and die’, as he put it. Denise laughed at his unusual and humorous choice of words quite often and he made sure to choose his words carefully so that she would laugh more often. Her laughter was like music to him.

He told her of the friends he had acquired in the Army and how, because he had been somewhat shy as a child and even into high school, that at first it was a drastic change to be away from home and with complete strangers. There were a few other guys that thought of themselves as different-not weird, not unsociable or social outcasts, but just not into the same kind of things as the others. His friends, Mose, Jonathan and Bill were genuine and honest. They made no pretenses about who they were or where they came from. What you saw was what they really were, for the most part. Ron admired their confidence and integrity. They were fully dependable. When they committed to doing something, they did it, or they would not commit.

He related how the other men were always talking about drinking, cars, sports and women; not necessarily in that order of priority. These subjects were emphasized far more often and more crudely than Ron and his buddies thought was warranted. The women were not always discussed in respectful terms. Seldom, in fact, were they even referred to as equals. It made Ron feel uncomfortable and he soon got a reputation for being the one that would get up and leave when off-color jokes or remarks were made. They began to call him names like ‘preacher’, ‘Rev’ and ‘deacon’. Sometimes it was worse. They would make fun of the fact that he was a virgin and offer to line him up with some woman they met in a bar the night before. One day Ron had had all he could take of this and he returned to the group just long enough to tell them what he thought of them, their upbringing and to bring into question their value in life to themselves or to anyone else. When he had finished and turned to leave, a particularly obnoxious one had grabbed him and yanked him back into the circle and proceeded to thrash him. It was then that the three men he now called his best friends jumped into action, almost as one and took the bully outside, gagged him and tied him to a post, leaving him overnight. They threatened to do the same to anyone that told or untied him, also. By the next morning the man had been counted AWOL, at least until an officer had discovered his whereabouts and released him. He told who had done this to him, of course, but without any other ready witnesses to verify his story there was little that could be done about it. It turned out that the officers who knew this man had little use for him as well and minimum effort was made to investigate further, having chalked it up to peer pressure. The desired result was obtained, however, and he never gave Ron or the others any trouble again. The others also showed more respect when he was around.

Things changed after that. The three men who had come to his rescue became his fast friends. Ron worked hard, learning all he could about the martial arts and soon becoming an instructor himself in record time. He also decided then and there that he had to get over his debilitating shyness with women so that no one would ever victimize him again in that manner. As a result of his inexperience he had made some very bad decisions, falling into the same trap as many of those he had despised. He had thought that a drink would loosen him up, remove his inhibitions. It did—and so he thought that he needed to drink to be liked. It was not long before he was just a common drunk and was more miserable than ever. Even the three who had cared most about him had begun to dislike him. The truth was that he did not like himself much at that time, either, for he had become what he hated most in the other men. Worst of all, he didn’t even know who he was anymore. One night a woman approached him and said that she had been watching him for some time. She told him how sweet and cute she thought he used to be and told him also, in no uncertain terms, how much of a jerk he had become. She voiced the opinion that just maybe he could find that really nice guy he used to be and invite him to come out again. That was the moment of decision for Ronald Jameson. He gave up the bottle then and there and never took another drink. That woman was Lenore and he dated her and married her soon after. They had many happy years together before she died. He owed a lot to her for making him a better man than he was before he met her.

Denise was touched by his willingness to be so open and vulnerable. “Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me that. It’s probably still a tender subject.”

“Not too bad, really. I’ve dealt with most of that long ago. I’ve never told anyone until now, though. It was rather a private issue.”

“It means a lot to have friends who will tell you the truth in spite of the hurt it may cause you, just because it is the truth and is what you need to hear. People like that are few and far between. Everyone else just tries to be pleasant and not make waves, but they never influence or change lives. Sounds like your men friends…and Lenore…were like that, too. Did you stay close to them after you retired?”

He smiled suddenly. “Yeah, that’s the best part. We all became like brothers, we were so close. It was like the musketeers—all for one and one for all. If someone wanted to mess with one of us, they had to mess with all of us and they knew it, so they left us alone. In a strange sort of way, I think that they even envied us. They had a lot of people they could associate with each day, but when the crunch came, they didn’t have any real friends to turn to. We did-and we never doubted it for a minute. But enough about me…what about you and your escapades?”

“Ah, yes. My escapades, as you so kindly put it. I was an angel, of course.” He didn’t look as if he was buying it for even a second, but Denise recited to him more details about her college days—how Barb had always been there for her and she for Barb. They were virtually inseparable. They had even vowed that after marriage they would be there for one another, no matter the distance that came between them. It was just numbers, miles. Friends lasted forever and were more important than numbers or miles.

“What if your respective husbands objected to your continued and obsessive friendship?”

She knew he was not serious, but she answered truthfully, in an introspective way, not flippant at all. “Our husbands would understand, because we would never marry any man that could not. After what I’ve been through with Ted, I could never let that happen. Look at Paul. He knows how important it is to us. He has never stood in our way in the past. In fact, he encourages Barb to get out and see me more often. He knows that friends are worth far more than acquaintances, because they are more rare. He’s a really good man. I’m proud to call him my friend.”

Ron had just seen a side of her that was splendid beyond comparison. She had the type of personal character that made some people truly great—that made them stand out from the rest of dull humanity. There was far more to this woman than met the eye. “I admire that kind of attitude.”

“Some folks wouldn’t. A lot of them fail to see the difference and just sail through life never caring to know anyone of value.”

“Well, most folks are not as high caliber as they would like to have you believe,” he stated matter-of-factly.

She smiled softly and nodded. “I find that a lot of them don’t even interest me. Present company excluded, of course.” She reached out and took his hand and squeezed it tenderly in her own.

“Of course! Never doubted it for a moment.” She smiled again and he turned back to the fire. “Too bad we don’t have any marshmallows.”

“Oh, yeah! That would be so fun. I love to toast them-I always did it as a kid, whenever I had the chance. My technique was perfect—always golden brown. I liked it so much that I even got in trouble for doing it over my mother’s stove as often as I could.”

“Seems you got into a lot of trouble, young lady.”

She twisted her face and forced an uncomfortable, even painful look, nodding her head in such a manner that he understood she would rather not admit how much trouble, but since she was cornered she had to. “It was the combination of me and Barb, really. Alone, either of us was fine, but put the two of us together and ‘look out!’ We attracted trouble like a magnet. My Dad was cool about it, though. He used to lecture me in front of Mom and then wink and shoo me out the door when her back was turned. I loved him for it.”

“He sounds great.”

“Yeah, he was. I miss him a lot. You remind me of him in a lot of ways.”

“Argh! I’m not sure I wanted to hear that. I had sorta hoped to be more than that to you.”

“No, no…that’s not what I meant. I just mean that you have many of the same qualities and mannerisms…eeeeww, it’s not getting any better, is it?” She gave him a pathetic look that begged forgiveness, but really did not expect it.

“Not really, no. I still feel like a fossil after that comment.” He smiled, nonetheless.

“Well, if you intend to milk this for all the sympathy you can get and are not going to forgive my faux pax, then come here and let me make it up to you in another way, you ‘old fossil’.” She had a look that no man could resist—playful, sexy, intent and determined, all at the same time. He didn’t move, just watching her in rapt fascination, so she rose from the floor to her hands and knees and moved toward him.

“Oh, you’re going to play hard to get, are you? Okay, I can take it—I’m tougher than that.” She snuggled up next to him and curled her arms around the front and back of him, her head against his shoulder. Her fragrance filled his nostrils with the sweet bouquet of her perfume and shampoo. He sat stunned at how beautiful she was in the subdued flickering of the firelight. The place, the time and the company were all perfect. It was the epitome of the perfect romantic moment and he marveled that it could be him that was so blessed to be experiencing it. The wonder of it all was almost overwhelming and he felt tears begin to well in his eyes. He pulled her tight against him and held on quietly for several seconds without moving a muscle.

She looked up and saw the tear in his eye, reading his expression. “Are you alright, Ron?”

“Yeah…yeah, I’m fine.” He said nothing for a moment and then, when he saw the look of concern she still had, he replied, “It’s just that I may be the most lucky man in the whole world, that’s all. I can’t help but be moved by that, can I?”

Denise, too, was suddenly moved. That was perhaps the most romantic thing she had ever heard--and it had been said to her. Her eyes, too, began to tear up and she grabbed his face with both hands and kissed him so intensely that he thought one or both of them would be bruised when it was over. He didn’t care, for a kiss like this was a singular experience and he was soon lost in the moment and swept away. The passion in this one surpassed even that of their first kiss, a thing that he never thought possible. She fairly devoured him with the hunger of her kiss and he returned it with the same intensity. Their hearts raced and their breathing was over the top. Ron was nearly trembling with his desire for her. There was nothing in the entire world he wanted more than to carry her off into the bedroom. Still, he sat paralyzed with the emotional whirlwind that raced about inside him.

Denise loved this man so much more than she had ever suspected and the moment was so perfect, she decided then and there that she would give herself totally to Ron. She wrested herself free of him and stood, taking his hands and pulling him to his feet, also. As he stood, she pulled him toward the bedroom, walking backward and leading him gently there. Her eyes never left his. Ron followed her more from instinct than from forethought, when suddenly he understood what she was doing. “No, Denise, no.” He stopped in his tracks, shaking his head with sudden resolve. He couldn’t believe it himself, but he was turning down what so many men only dreamed of—a woman who fully offered herself to him, no strings attached. He had barely met her. Did he feel guilty? Was he just feeling as if he was cheating on his late wife? None of these concerns were it, he knew. It was more important than that. Her expression reflected true confusion and hurt as she searched his eyes for the meaning of this rejection.

“I’m sorry, Denise, but this is not the right time and place for this.”

She was again beginning to tear up, now in hurt, and she shook her head in disbelief. “But…why?” The pain was evident in her quiet whimper.

“You are the most beautiful woman I have ever known, Denise-bar none. As much as I love and desire you—and believe me, I want to make love to you far more than you can ever imagine, but I also may want to marry you someday and I never, ever want you to have regrets about how we started our relationship. And I don’t want to take unfair advantage when you might later decide you were just on the rebound, okay?”

She cried in gasping breaths and clung to him so tightly that he felt each tremor of her body in his own as she sobbed. “ I… I’m sorry. I’m so…sorry.” All was forgiven. All was suddenly understood. And strangely, though disappointed, all seemed more perfect than she could ever have imagined it would be.

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