Not My Type: Rhiannon Ch. 04byfirstkiss©
It was just a potato field as far as I could tell. The freshly tilled soil beneath our feet was a bright, rusty red that stretched in neatly spaced rows unbroken for a good mile in every direction. Joe stood beside me, his dirty old ball cap on his head and his arms crossed over his broad chest. His face revealed nothing, as usual.
"I-it's very nice?" I ventured after the silence dragged on a little too long for my comfort. "... well, as far as fields go, I mean. Not that I'm an expert."
Joe crouched down and scooped up a handful of dirt. He held it out to me as he stood again and I let him drop the clump of moist soil in my hand. It was cool and heavy.
"Joe?" I prompted when he remained silent. "What is this about?"
He didn't look at me, but turned his eyes again to the soft, undulating field. "We went to high school together, me and Susan." Joe cleared his throat but did not move. I stood frozen, unsure. "And I loved her, a lot. She was going to be my wife and we were going to live here, have a family here. It's what I wanted and I thought it was what she wanted too."
The odd ache in the back of my throat didn't let me speak. I wasn't sure I wanted to hear it, but Joe carried on.
"She was an island girl, you know? This was the life she knew. I thought I was givin' her everything she wanted, and when I proposed she said yes and I was so happy..."
He turned to me then, the hollow sadness in his sapphire eyes made my stomach hurt.
"And then one day she came over and brought me out here and told me that she wasn't going to marry me, couldn't marry me. She didn't want this. It was too much work for her, too much to be tied to, too hard a life. She didn't want to be married to a farmer and she knew I'd never be anything but." Joe paused and pushed the hat back off his forehead. "She said I loved the farm more than I'd ever love her. And then she left. Moved to Vancouver and never came back."
"Oh, Joe," I whispered. "I'm sorry."
He reached over and touched my dirt-filled hand. "This is all I am, Rhiannon. All I'm ever going to be and I don't see any shame in that. I meant what I said when I asked you to marry me. I want to do right by you and our baby but I'll understand if this isn't enough for you, isn't what you want. It's a lot to ask of you."
I was crying again; a constant stream of tears without sound. Between my fingers the damp soil lay heavy and strangely comforting. A seagull wheeled above us, turned, and then with a lonely cry headed again towards the ocean.
I knew what Joe was saying and part of me recognized the sense in it. Despite being friends with Lilly for so long, I really knew very little about life on the farm. What did I know about the intimate details and endless struggle of making a living off the land? And if someone like Susan who'd been born and raised to it didn't want that sort of life, how could I? I could never, would never, belong here. I wasn't a woman born to a life of hard work. I didn't know how to manage a household, a family, and a farm. I could hardly balance my cheque book. I held a clump of soil in one hand, and a Louis Vuitton handbag in the other. The irony was not lost on me.
"Go ahead and say no, Rhi. Just say no one more time so I can give up hopin' that maybe, just maybe you'll say yes."
I should. I knew I should. But I couldn't. I opened my mouth but no words came out. Joe was the only man who'd ever wanted me—really wanted me—or at least made me feel that he wanted more than a night or two in my bed. I'd almost let myself believe that he could love me some day, that we could live the next fifty years together and be happy; or if not happy then at least content.
If I said no I knew he wouldn't ask again. He'd still be a part of my life, I could bet on that much. He'd never walk away and leave his child, but things wouldn't be the same. Our daughter or son would have everything they could ever want, my father's money guaranteed that. I'd bring our child here to the island every year, to idyllic summers with the Tanner family. The sort of summers every kid should have, filled with sunshine and sea air and Grandma's freshly baked cookies. I couldn't have asked for a better future than that for my baby. Only, a small part of me wanted it to be my future too.
"Rhi?" Joe sounded a little scared and I wondered if I looked as dizzy and ill as I felt.
"I-I think I need a little time," I whispered. "I-I can't do this now, here. I can't."
Joe looked stricken. "Please, Rhi. Just tell me what you want."
"I don't know!" I cried. "I don't know what I want!"
"You can't leave it like this," Joe said with an anguished grimace. "This wasn't how this was supposed to go."
I stared a little disbelievingly at him. "Did you bring me out here to scare me away?"
"No," Joe retorted quickly, looking shamefaced. "It's not like that, it's just that I hate not knowin', being kept waitin'. I don't like uncertainty."
My snort of laughter was derisive.
"Oh, you got yourself involved with the wrong woman Joe, if you don't like uncertainty."
"Yeah, I'm starting to figure that out. You know what? It's fine Rhiannon. I told you I'd live with whatever decision you made. I can't force you one way or the other." Joe shrugged, his biceps flexed and rippled underneath the soft fabric of his t-shirt. "I think there might be a statue of limitations on how many women you can propose to in a lifetime. I think two might be enough for me. I can't keep doing this. Maybe some people are just meant to be alone."
"Bullshit!" I spat out. "You know that's crap. What makes you think there isn't some woman out there meant just for you Joe?"
He just stared at me for a moment and the colour drained from my face. I knew what Joe was going to say before he even said it.
"I think I know which woman is meant for me, only she doesn't seem to be able to make up her mind."
Oh dear Lord. I got dizzy. There was just so much earnestness in Joe's tone of voice for him not to be honest. It wasn't in his nature to be manipulative, to tell a girl exactly what she wanted to hear just to get his way. My hesitation melted away, as if it had never existed at all. This was Joe-fucking-Tanner standing beside me, the embodiment of everything I'd always dismissed, overlooked, belittled.
Joe pulled me into his arms before I had time to baulk. His kiss was different from the ones we'd shared that morning in my bed. This one was gentle, but beneath its sweetness lay a strong persistence that made my heart speed up.
"I can't say 'yes' but I can't say 'no'," I whispered. "What's wrong with me?"
Joe chuckled and smoothed my wind-ruffled hair before kissing the top of my head.
"There's a lot goin' on in your life," he conceded. "I guess if I have to keep waiting for an answer, then I have to keep waiting for an answer."
"Thank you." I smiled up at Joe and he kissed me again. I leaned into him and wound my arms around his neck, suddenly frantic for him not to stop. Joe's answering growl of pleasure deep rumbled against my chest. I had to keep myself from smiling at how much he wanted me. This was a different sort of want than I was accustomed to. Joe's was so sincere, seemingly without any ulterior motive. It was what it was: pure, simple, earthy need. Its straightforwardness was intoxicating.
I kissed him until I couldn't breathe, until we were both gasping for breath and clutching at each other. "We should stop," I laughed. "My place is forty-five minutes from here and we can't exactly have sex in the middle of an open field."
For a second Joe looked as if that was exactly what he wanted to do, but instead he chuckled and took a step back, brushing back my tousled hair with a calloused hand. We just stood there for a moment and smiled at each other, not saying anything.
My mind zoomed a million miles a minute trying to process everything Joe said. I couldn't believe I was standing there, thinking the way I was, contemplating the concept bursting into my brain. Usually conversations like the ones we'd been having all morning sent me running the other direction as quickly as my Jimmy Choo's allowed. Joe stood waiting patiently, as if he knew I had something to say. My hand curled protectively over my nervous, churning stomach.
"I can't believe I'm going to say this," I muttered more to myself than Joe. He'd been so nice to me, nicer than any man ever had been before, and even though I still wanted to smack him most of the time, I truly felt he deserved a chance. I did owe him something for putting him in the position I had, for being as difficult as I was. I had to bend a little.
"Look, Joe... maybe we could have a bit of a trial period thing before we decide on marriage or not... I mean, we hardly know each other and this is a pretty major decision to be making...," I paused, unsure. The expression on Joe's face hadn't changed, it was still patiently expectant. I rushed ahead before I chickened out.
"I know it would be a bit of an inconvenience for you to make the trip out here every day, but maybe you could move in with me for a while? You know, try this out for a bit before the baby comes...?" I trailed off.
Joe's silence made my stomach flip with uncertainty.
He kept quiet for so long, I couldn't stand it and babbled on. "I know it's a commute for you, but I don't think I'd be comfortable living with your parents..." I gestured over my shoulder at the little yellow house on the edge of the bluff. "It would be too weird," I laughed nervously. "Besides I take up too much room and I'm only going to take up more as the time goes by."
Joe chuckled at that. "We don't have to live with my parents. I bought a house."
I stood in shocked silence, an event so momentous that Joe laughed harder. "It's not really a house," he explained. "It's a cottage. It's on the edge of the property. Charlene's parents owned it and they were going to just tear it down. I've always liked it, so I bought it cheap.
"Maybe it's not what you're used to," Joe continued. "It does need a little work and maybe a coat of paint. It's fine that you couldn't live at my parents, I wouldn't expect you to, but I don't think I'd last long at your fancy condo in the city. Maybe we'd have a chance somewhere new though..."
I didn't answer as Joe trailed off. It was a concept I hadn't been ready for and it took a minute for my mind to catch up.
"Do you wanna see it first?" Joe asked. He sounded boyishly hesitant and I nodded half to reassure him and half to push myself into action. The shock hadn't worn off, but I needed to do something, say something.
He took my hand and we wandered over the field in the opposite direction from the house, over the gentle upwards slope of the hill, and towards a stand of trees.
"That's the McMillian's farm," Joe nodded towards the field on the other side of the wooded divide. Our feet hit a curving dirt lane and we turned downhill towards the sea.
We walked the land, following its gradual, wooded incline. The Tanner farmhouse bordered on the bluff overlooking the ocean half a kilometer away. Our steps sunk into the sand where the tree-line stopped. The vista opened up into a protected little cove, sheltered by tall bluffs on both sides and less than a mile wide. A little white cottage stood nestled at the edge of the trees where they met the beach. It had a wide porch and faded green shutters over the windows.
"It ain't much," Joe confessed, pushing his hat back off his forehead and grinning sheepishly, "but it's mine."
My jaw dropped.
The wind swept around the small cove in a sweet smelling gust. Overhead, the gulls screamed into the breeze. A constant lap of waves hitting the sand was the only other noise around. The sun shone warmly on the little cottage. It stood so patiently and expectantly, just like its owner. Instantly, I wanted it to be mine. It needed love and I wanted to give it.
"It's perfect Joe!" I breathed out in a whisper when the ability to speak came back to me.
Joe turned to me and looked surprised. "It is?"
I hugged him and the solid comfort of Joe's arms around me made me smile harder. "It's so sweet, like something out of a fairy tale. I love it."
The look of shock on Joe's face couldn't have been any greater if I'd agreed to marry him on the spot. Slowly he pulled a set of keys from his pocket, singled out a heavy, dark one and held it out to me. I wrapped my hand around the key and with a giddy laugh took off across the sand to our house.
Joe threw open the shutters while I fumbled with the key in the lock. The worn boards of the porch squeaked under my feet where a well-travelled path to the front door had chipped away the green paint years ago. The door itself had been painted bright yellow at some point, but had faded to a charming, weather beaten buttery shade.
I grinned as I pushed the door open. There wasn't anything I loved more than making something pretty, and there was so much potential in Joe's cottage I was dizzy with it.
"It's furnished," Joe murmured behind me as I stepped across the threshold, "but if you want new stuff we'll get it."
The sunroom stretched across the entire front of the cottage, and flooded with light now that the shutters were open. It had the musty smell of a house closed up too long, but it was clean, which was more than I expected.
"Charlene's parents used to rent it out to tourists, but it got to be too much work for them," Joe explained. "They didn't want to sell it to some snotty tourist from Toronto, heaven forbid, so they were just going to tear it down. It didn't take much to convince them to sell it to me. After all, I can't live at my parents forever."
Joe blushed and cleared his throat awkwardly. "I think maybe they thought Charlene and I would live here, but I never felt that way about her, never wanted that with her. I was gonna fix it up in my free time. It'd be lonely by myself here though... Is it okay?"
My gaze wandered around the front room. An old fifties era laminate kitchen table and chairs, padded in a shockingly wonderful apple red vinyl occupied half the space. A long, low sideboard with chipped turquoise paint lined the wall. A fat, vintage fridge perfect for a case of beer or two, stood tucked in the corner.
Two mismatched easy chairs in faded floral patterns crowded the other half of the room. The original prints must have been quite garish, but the sun had mellowed the colours to a more pleasing tone. An old steamer trunk stood in lieu of a coffee table. Beneath the rows of windows was a daybed, replete with a luxurious number of throw pillows. The rest of the cottage lay on the other side of a French door, propped open by a monstrous conch shell; it just invited further exploration.
Joe and I stepped through into the main part of the cottage, hand-in-hand. A fireplace made of smooth field stones dominated the right half of the room. Slouchy couches clustered around it and I noticed a tiny television of suspiciously antique origins. A bank of windows overlooked the stand of trees blocking the laneway from view to the left of the room. There was another table there, obviously meant for family dinners. I counted eight chairs with a few more lining the wall, almost enough seating for the Tanner brood.
"Master bedroom's through here," Joe prompted, nodding at one of the two doors at the back of the room.
To say that the bedroom was small was an understatement, but the windows opened out to the beautiful line of trees. It wasn't the tiny bedroom which bothered me anyway; it was the miniscule closet.
My mouth opened to say something smart ass about how the two of us would never manage to live together in such a small space and where was Joe going to keep his stuff, but the happy look on Joe's face made me keep my mouth shut.
"Kitchen and bathroom are through the door on the left," Joe explained as he led me again into the main living space. A flight of stairs rose steeply to the upper level. "There's two bedrooms up there, a smaller one at the back and a big long one at the front. Got a great row of windows that look out over the beach. It's real nice."
I squeezed Joe's hand and kept my disparaging comments to myself. The cottage was 'real nice', very sweet actually, but so desperately old fashioned. Despite what I promised and what Joe had envisioned, I had a hard time picturing myself living in it. Still, I couldn't bring myself to disappoint Joe again. Not at the moment. I'd given him too little to be happy about the past few months; I just didn't have the heart to say anything bad.
"Think it needs a coat of paint?" Joe asked me. He flipped on the kitchen lights and ushered me through to the back of the house. I breathed a sigh of relief. At least there were modernish appliances. The stove, fridge, and dishwasher looked as if they might be 20 years old, but at least we wouldn't be cooking in the fireplace.
I took another look around the space, craning my neck to see back into the main room beyond the kitchen. "Actually, I don't," I confessed with a smile. "I think a coat of paint would ruin it. Same with new furniture. It would be a shame to change it. It wouldn't have the same charm." Besides, all the paint in the world couldn't make it bigger.
"'Kay," Joe kissed the top of my head. "We'll just air it out real good and you can move right in."
My stomach did a little flip-flop at the strangeness of it all. Less than a month ago, I'd been my own woman. Now I wasn't myself at all. The strangest thing was I didn't really know how I felt about it. I was a little scared, but was I regretful? I wasn't sure.
I wrapped my arms around Joe's solid chest and snuggled under his chin. His arms came instantly around me and held me close. Neither of us said anything.
I went home that afternoon and packed nothing more than some of my more comfortable clothes and a few pairs of shoes. I even weaned out as much of my make-up and hair products as I could. The bathroom wasn't any bigger than the rest of the house and I didn't need four kinds of hairspray anyway. If I needed anything else it would be waiting at my empty condo for me.
I sat on the edge of my bed for a long time and looked at the small stack of suitcases I was taking with me. Odd how the condo I'd been so proud of buying only a few years back had become nothing more than a closet to me. It lacked character, heart. It was my place, but it had never been my home.
It was so oddly lonely in my apartment, although I'd never felt that way there before, that I gave in to the urge to call Mrs. Nichol to tell her the news. She laughed her wise old laugh and gave me her best wishes.
It was nice to talk to her at length. I felt like I'd been neglecting her since Joe came in to the picture again, but she didn't seem upset by it. If anything I could sense an unspoken smugness in her words. I think she was damn pleased with herself. The old Rhiannon would have been mad and a little resentful at her sweetly self-satisfied tone, but I could always forgive Mrs. N. anything. Besides, there was a little flicker of happiness in my belly which made it easy to laugh along with her.
I promised her I'd swing by the shop at some point soon. Although I never followed a set schedule for work, I missed seeing her, missed the shop. Hell, I even missed the customers. I think I was going a little soft.
Joe came by Sunday morning as promised and helped me load up my car and his truck. There really wasn't much to load and that made me sad. How pathetic that I could fit my entire fucking life into only a few suitcases.
"Hey," Joe said softly as he closed up the tailgate of his truck. "You okay?"
"Yeah," I said, a little shocked that as I said it, I felt like I meant it. "Don't you think it's sad that my whole life fits in the back of your truck?"