A Man on an Island Ch. 05byTaLtos6©
*** I'm trying REALLY hard to have the timing of the next chapter up for Christmas. I hope I make it, or not far on either side. When I used to have the time for it, I liked to read over the holidays & if I couldn't get my mitts on anything else, due to lousy forward planning for example, I'd read The Hobbitt and LOTR again. Uh, that was LONG before they were what they've become to people now.
But my faves then were romantic novels set in a rich time in history. This story isn't like that, but it does have its elements and more than one legend. So I have to get busy pounding out the next chapter, and if you choose to read this during a little quiet time over the holidays, then I really hope that you enjoy it. 0_o
The thing about houses such as his was their solidness. The thickness of the beams and the age of the structure gave it such weight. The wood had been selected from what at the time had been first-growth forest cut with no need to think about economy since the land was to be cleared for crops anyway. The proportions of the lumber used to build the place would be looked upon as absurd in light of the methodology in use today. But there were all sorts of advantages to owning a home where the walls were a foot thick.
The floors didn't creak when you walked on them
As Cale let himself in, he heard Sylvia talking to someone quietly, and he gathered that she was at least a little upset from the soft sounds of her sniffles every now and then.
Easing out of his wet boots Cale walked down the hall soundlessly. He took one glance through the doorway and he leaned back slowly, feeling a little ashamed and also wanting to laugh a little.
Sylvia was sitting on the couch, right at the end. It was the only place where she could sit, since Rufus was on the couch as well, stretched out full length with his legs out in space a little over the edge and his great head on her lap. Her fingers were stroking his ears as she spoke to him in a quiet voice.
It was what she wore that caught his eye. Sylvia was wearing a hooded sweatshirt of his that he hadn't seen in over two decades. On her, it was more than a little large and he felt a flood of recollections of the times when she'd worn it long ago most often in this very room, though it now looked nothing like the abandoned farmhouse that it had been then when two young people came here every night to make love over the course of one summer.
"You're an old family legend, Rufus," she said as she looked down with a soft smile that became a smirk to herself in another moment, "We do have a lot of them and I had my doubts until I remembered it and spent a little time alone with you. But I get it now and I see that the Cù Sìth of the Mac Domhnaills of Antrim walks again. My grandmother said that there is always one here and always will be, as long as a Mac Domhnaill holds the land.
I think it must be at least a little true," she smiled at him, "I've lived here my whole life, except when I was away at school or with Paul in the city for the first few years. I've always seen glimpses of the Black Dog now and then, running the woods and the glens that my family never cleared here. Gramma said that it was that way for you and the ones before you, and that the wild parts were never to be cleared.
That's why you're here now, isn't it? You came down from the hills and walked across the stream to live with Cale. You can't remember him, since you're too young, but he was here before just like I was. He was the first man I ever loved, Rufus."
She looked up at the wall across from her, seeing the texture of the rough-hewn timbers there. "He was seventeen and in the militia the first time that I ever saw him. He came to the big house over the hill because he'd gotten separated from his unit during their summer exercises, and he needed to ask if he could use the phone.
I came into the kitchen with some berries for my Gramma and old Amy McDonnell and I nearly dropped the bowl on the floor when I saw him. He looked a little silly standing there all in green and feeling stupid to have gotten lost so easily. While Amy got him pointed toward the phone and he pulled his notebook out of his pocket as he followed her, my Gramma smiled at me and asked me if I liked him in a very soft voice.
I said that I didn't know, since it was hard to tell with his face all smeared up as it was and I'd only gotten one look at him. He was in the hall dialing the phone, so I looked at him for a minute before I looked back at Gramma. She gave me one of her questioning expressions and then I nodded. I was a bit of an ugly duckling then, seventeen myself and built like I was still eleven only taller. I had no hips and absolutely no boobs either, but I already had the Mac Domhnaill face -- so that didn't help."
The remark caused Cale to remember and smile. Many of the women in her family had those facial features. When they were girls, they looked a little odd and weren't considered pretty. Their noses were a just a tiny bit hooked, and the rest of the face lent itself to only one hairstyle, and that was long. They might keep it trimmed to look neat, but none of them ever really cut their hair very much unless it got to be too much trouble. Even then, they only cut it to where it would almost reach their hips. They looked ungainly when they were very young and that sort of face usually became the classic 'witch's face' when they'd grown to be very old crones, but in between, they all shared a very remarkable and rather haunting, ethereal beauty.
"It took a couple of hours before the big green army truck arrived to come get him," Sylvia smiled, "I kept him topped up with lemonade and we talked a lot. My dad came over from the barn and wanted to know what was going on and, seeing that Cale was dressed as a soldier, Dad wanted to tear a strip off him for the way that the noise of the exercises were upsetting the cows and all of the helicopters flying really low everywhere were causing the chickens to keel over in fright, but Gramma just told him to use his head, saying that it wasn't the young man's fault personally.
Right after that, she started in on him, working the notion in that with old Da in the hospital and Brodie going to be going home to Scotland for a visit the next summer that my Dad had better get started on giving some thought to getting someone to help with the work. Dad looked at Cale and asked him if he'd be interested and Cale said yes it the job started next summer."
She smirked down at Rufus, "Well Cale didn't always look like he is now. Back then he was nice for a girl like me to look at, but he was a little thin himself and Daddy told him so, too. Then he asked if Cale had ever done any sort of farming work and Cale answered, "No sir."
Just as Dad was about to say that he didn't need him, Gramma said that he'd be perfect, since Dad wouldn't have to get any bad habits out of him. He was about to answer when the big truck ground up the hill to collect Cale.
A sergeant or somebody got out and started yelling at Cale for being clueless and getting himself lost -- even though the back of the truck was full of other guys who'd done the same thing, but the man wouldn't stop yelling.
He didn't know it, but Cale already had a friend in Gramma. She came storming out and told him to shut his trap and get back in the truck and be gone, since he was wasting taxpayer money just standing there. He was about to say something, but as he turned, he fell over and looked confused. Gramma said it was what she expected, since he was either a fool or drunk and likely both, and when he tried to walk back to the truck, he tripped and fell against the side of the truck with his face. So he got back in, bloody nose and all and wanted to get the hell out of there. Cale hadn't even gotten into the back of the truck yet.
The sergeant was about to yell again, but he saw Gramma's face, I guess, and he asked nicely.
Gramma nudged me and said to go kiss Cale's cheek quick if I wanted to have him here the next summer, so that's what I did, and he asked me if he could come and see me before the summer and if it would be alright if he called. I said I'd like that, so I wrote our phone number in his little notebook and kissed his cheek again and then he climbed up into the truck and they drove off.
The first chance I got, I went to see Gramma in private, because I didn't know what this was all about. She asked me to make us some tea and she'd tell me all about it.
What she told me was that every girl, when they're growing up and after they're of age needs to know what's what, and that most never get that. They get married right away or they don't have anyone to tell them. She told me that by next summer, I'd need those lessons; the ones where a girl gets to know what men are and what they're not.
I didn't know what the hell she was talking about and I told her that I just liked Cale over the time that we'd talked. I grew up on that farm so I thought I had a pretty good idea about things, but she said no, and that she was going to see to it that her granddaughter got the gift of the one summer that every girl really ought to have in their lives. Mom was about ready to call us to supper, but when she walked in, she was smiling because she already knew.
I didn't know anything about all of that -- I was just hoping that I might get a boyfriend out of it, since nobody that I knew was showing any interest in me at all. But Cale was really good-looking to me and over the months, I got to really hoping for the rest of the year to fly by.
Cale came up from the city a few times to visit and after a while, my Dad got to like him, because he could see that Cale wasn't afraid of work or getting dirty. I didn't care about that, I had my first boyfriend," she grinned down at Rufus.
"Dad would lend us the car and we went to do all of the things that people our age did, and when my friends saw us together, I actually felt like a million bucks -- not in a showing off way; just because I didn't feel so plain and ordinary anymore. Cale was like that for me. When I was with him, I felt beautiful because I could see that I was to him. He was friendly to everybody, but it was pretty obvious that he only had eyes for me, and there is no better feeling to a girl than that.
So he came to stay with us the next summer and by then, I had just the barest bumps on my chest, but Cale loved them and we spent every minute that we could find trading kisses or hugs during the day. I still don't know why his bladder didn't explode for the way that I was always finding ways to get ahead in my chores so I could bring him something to drink as an excuse to be with him for a few minutes." She smirked, "but I really wasn't fooling anybody. Whenever I got back to work, my Mom or Gramma would smile at me every time, and Amy would make a remark about how surprising it was that I kept Cale's thirst top of mind so often.
My father spent every single day trying to work Cale into the ground and if he knew what we did afterward, he never said a word, but I think that he knew.
Every night, we came here and we taught each other. Gramma would ask me what sorts of things that we'd done and then she'd tell me some other things to try. I couldn't believe it. Gramma and Amy and Mom -- they all knew what we were doing. Mom told me it was only natural and to be careful -- and she said that as she handed me a box of condoms!
By the end of the summer, Cale had to buy a lot of new clothes because the ones that he came with just didn't fit him anymore. I still have a couple of his T-shirts that I've saved along with what I'm wearing now. And by then, I could actually say that I had tits and hips. My thought was that they'd just picked then to show up, but Gramma would argue that living like a woman could go a long way toward finishing what nature had started.
So this old place is pretty special to an old farm girl like me. There were a couple of times when I looked up and thought I could see a dark shape out there, and when I asked, Gramma told me about Cù Sìth and that there was always one, and not to ever need to feel afraid of it."
She looked a little sad then, "When the summer ended, I had to go to university and Cale had joined the army and had to report. We spent Labor Day weekend in here and made love as we cried at the same time. We said that we'd try to get together, but life never worked out that way for us. The women of my family all told me of their first lovers and the summers that they loved them, but they said that it was a time that a girl needs to finish growing up, and that those loves almost never are the ones of their lives.
I met other guys and eventually I met Paul. By the time that we were married, Cale was already on his way to a divorce. We only ran into each other in town one day a few years ago when he came up here to live. We're still best friends and I hope that we always will be. I never did find another man like him, though. A part of me is still in love with him after more than a quarter of a century, but that's alright -- or it was, until I found out about Pauls's latest ..."
She bowed her head and began to cry again.
Cale stood in the hallway needing several things then, and the most urgent one was to pretend that he'd heard nothing for the moment. He'd seen Rufus' tail begin to wag, so he knew that the dog was at least aware of his presence. He went back to the door to open and re-close it, calling out, "Sylvia?"
He just had time to wipe his own eyes when Rufus bounded into the hall and Sylvia came after him, looking like an earthbound angel in his old sweatshirt and nothing else.
"What are you doing home?" she asked as she tried to sniffle quietly and wipe her face.
"I'm busy," he smiled, "Busy feeling like an idiot, and looking at you upset like this means that I'll be busy trying to find out what's wrong and needing to make you feel better. I waited too long and Maya has someone now," he shrugged, "but I'm happy for her and I kind of expected that anyway.
Why are you upset? Nobody's been hit by a bus, have they?"
She sighed and shrugged at the same time, looking a little lost and embarrassed to have been found here like this. "Paul's been screwing around again," she said, "this makes three and I told him that he'd only ever get three chances out of me."
She looked up, "I should get dressed and get home. I found out yesterday and I got the proof today and -- I just didn't want to be at home. Everywhere that I look there I'm reminded and so I ... I just came here with Rufie. I was about to go to sleep, but I just kept crying all over again. I didn't think you'd mind it if I spent the night here."
The shocked and concerned look that she saw on his face seemed to complete some loss inside of her and she began to cry all over again. Cale held her the instant after that and he just let her hang on to him as she wept.
"Come on," he said to her softly, "There's just one thing that I need to do before anything else and then I'm all yours. I'll fix us some hot tea and you can let it all out if you need that, but I need for you to listen to me, ok?"
She nodded against him and he said, "That bastard has ploughed the driveway shut again. I've seen what he does to the road signs around here at night when he clips them with the plow blade, so I'm going to get our trucks off the road."
He pulled back and looked at her for a moment, "But I need you to promise me something. While I'm gone doing the fastest job at getting the driveway ploughed out, I want you to get it into your head that you're not going to leave to go back home to cry. You can do that all you want right here, ok?
I already know what Sylvia needs, and that's to be here with her best friend and his dog. Other than your daughter in England, you don't have much of any family now, but you've got me. I'll listen to you and until you tell me that you're ready to, I'll never let you go, not till you're better."
"Ok," he heard her say, "I just want to get my pants back on."
Cale laughed a little, "I can see that, but I was really hoping that you'd let me see you like that for at least a little while. It brings back some of the best memories of my life."
Sylvia nodded, "Me too. That's why I was wearing this, but I can't go out there like this, and I'm not going home. You should grab a shovel and give me the key to your tractor. I've got a lot more experience at it than you."
Cale smiled then, knowing that she was right, and liking the look on her face which told him that she was feeling at least a tiny bit better. "Deal," he said.
As he worked, Cale had to hand it to Sylvia. He'd never aspired to greatness in the operation of a tractor with a front end shovel, but she could work that thing to perfection and it wasn't long before she had the end of the driveway half-clear and he had both trucks idling to warm up for when she was done.
"Follow me back in one of the trucks," she said over the tractor's rumbling, "then give me a ride back and we'll bring them both to the house."
"Hey, are you hungry?"he asked and she nodded, "Kinda. I haven't eaten anything today."
"There's the McD still open all night in town," he said, "Want to go?"
She nodded, "Ok, but Rufus ... "
He laughed then, "I wasn't going to leave him here. He can come."
So they drove off in his old truck, Sylvia sitting next to him and Rufus in the crew cab seat in the back, where he made it abundantly clear that he didn't fit well. He didn't mind though; he was happy to be going somewhere.
"If you think you're ok to talk about it, what's going on with Paul?" Cale asked, "I'm no expert or anything, but I can often spot guys who do that sort of thing, and he doesn't look all that stupid or crazy to me."
"He's done it before, and I guess that he just never believed me. I can feel it when he does that, and then I call the investigator that I've used before. They're not cheap, but they deliver really well and quickly, so that sort of offsets the rate. This is the third time and we're done," she said, "I'll never take him back -- especially this time. I've got the photos I printed from the email at your place. I needed to look at them to get really mad, or I'd just cry myself into a puddle.
I have an appointment tomorrow with a lawyer that Bailey recommended. She's really very good at nailing somebody who needs it. You've met her, it's Penny."
Cale's eyes opened wide and he laughed, "I'm a little glad now that I never got the chance to disappoint her in any way then."
Sylvia looked over, "No, but both of them thought the world of you and wonder what you didn't like. Have they got a chance in a little while -- once you get over ..."
"Maya," Cale smiled, "I dunno, I don't think so. They're both lovely to me," he said, "I just don't think that I'm the kind of man -- "
"Who's smart, not full of himself, sensible," she began to list qualities on her fingertips, "REALLY good-looking, and awesome in bed?"
He almost put a crick in his neck as he snapped his head around, "Huh?"
"What happened to you that I don't know about?" she asked, "Did that skank that you married break something? She couldn't have. You weren't together long enough. The only other possibility would be the photographer that you were seeing. Oh wait!" she smiled, "Maya."
Cale rolled his eyes, "Ok, Maya could have broken something -- like my back or my nose."
"Alright Cale," Sylvia said, "There's nobody in the list who might have changed you in any way, is there? We were together once upon a time, and you were better than good then."
"I'm a lot older now," he said.
Sylvia was petting the cheek of Rufus as he stood with his head leaning past her's on the window side. "Do me a favor, Rufus," she groaned a little as she stretched to hold her head against his, "and bite your boss in the bag when you get the chance, ok? He needs to wake up. I'd do it, but we're not like that. I'm only his friend, but I can see that he needs the adjustment."