tagNovels and NovellasPathways Ch. 11-12

Pathways Ch. 11-12

bycoaster2©

Chapter 11 A Change of Scenery

By May, I knew that there was going to be no happy ending for the Cummings family. There was no improvement in Ralph's condition and in fact, he seemed to be wasting away before our very eyes. I said nothing to him or to Deb about my observations, but it was impossible to believe they didn't see what I could see. He was very weak after his treatments now, eating nothing at all and sleeping more than waking during the day.

When I brought him into my home in May, he thanked me as he always did and collapsed into the easy chair. He seemed to be trying to summon some strength, but it wasn't there to be found.

"I'm dying, Ian. I don't know how much longer I can stand the chemotherapy. I'm almost at the stage when I should tell them to stop and let the disease take its course. Strangely, I'm not afraid of dying. I thought I would be, but that's not how I feel. It will almost be a gift ... a release for Sharon and Deborah. I've been a burden to them and to you. I'm sorry about that, but I appreciate what everyone has tried to do to help me. I know it's been hard on you all. But I'm losing the willpower to fight any more."

"I don't know what to say," I admitted. "I should tell you to never give up, but I can see the toll the disease is taking on you. Are the doctors giving you any hope?"

"Oh, they have all sorts of schemes to arrest the progress, but in fact, they don't know if they will work either. And worse, the effects on my body are just too much to bear. The look in Sharon's eyes when I get home from these sessions is more than I can take. I usually just go to bed so I don't have to see her sorrow and pain. I think she's in as much agony as I am, Ian. I don't want this to go on much longer and destroy her. She's young. She'll find someone to take my place. She is entitled to her happiness and I don't want to be an obstacle to that."

I had no idea how to respond to his statement. I could see the pain this was causing him. Not just the physical pain, but the emotional pain as well. This was a good man whose time was being cut cruelly short. He deserved better, but there was nothing I could do or say that would make him better. I turned away so he wouldn't see my tears.

It wasn't a big shock when Deb told me that Ralph had cancelled his June treatment. Deb didn't say so, but I knew this was a family decision and they were resigned to losing their husband and father. I felt terrible as well as frustrated. All the science and wonderful drugs that man had invented could not save Ralph Cummings any more than it could save the little children who were afflicted with this horrible disease. I wondered more than once how I would have faced the inevitable if it were me instead of him. I would hope I would be as brave.

Ralph died in his sleep July 2, 2002, the day after Canada Day. He had been reduced to a shadow of his former self. I had prepared for this day and had arranged in advance to take some time off to be with Deb and Sharon. I knew they had many friends in their little town, but I had been part of Ralph's last days and I felt obligated to be there for them.

I was welcomed as part of the family, a role I wasn't quite comfortable with. Sharon made me feel as if I was a son, not a friend of her daughter. Deb made me feel something altogether different. She was very clingy, if that's a word. She was by my side thought the first couple of days prior to the funeral. She held my hand whenever I was nearby and while it wasn't sexual in nature, she took every opportunity to hold me and hug me.

Rick and Gail Cummings arrived from Kamloops the day before me and were there to offer support to his mother and sister. They were not surprised to see me, I discovered. Sharon and Deb had mentioned my help several times to them. I got a big thank you from Rick and a warm hug from Gail.

Sharon was holding up well considering. I suppose it was because Ralph's death was not a surprise. She had time to prepare herself for the inevitable. At the reception after the ceremony and interment, I got some idea of just how many friends the Cummings had made. If they were Sharon's support group, I was confident she would be okay. Deb had friends, but I noticed almost all of them were of her parents' age. I saw few younger people at the reception, and not many appeared to be close to Deb.

I was sleeping in a room at the other end of the house from Sharon Cummings's bedroom. It had served as an office for the business. Deb's room was next to mine, while Rick and Gail had the room next to Sharon. Sometime, in the dark of night, I was awakened as Deb crawled into my bed and reached out for me. I held her as I heard her sobs and felt the dampness of her tears. I was glad she came to me for comfort. She needed me then. I felt good about that. I wondered about her mother, however. There was no one in her bed to comfort her.

The next morning found the five of us sitting at the kitchen table, finishing breakfast.

"What are you planning on today, Deborah?" her mother asked.

"I'm taking Ian out fishing. The Cohoe are running and I heard a couple of our guests yesterday bragging about some nice big Chinook they landed. It's a beautiful day and I thought we'd run across to Young Point."

I looked up in surprise. I knew nothing about this plan. "Uhhm, I've never been successful at fishing before."

"No problem. I'll teach you," Deb said confidently.

"My daughter is a very accomplished boater and fisherman ... fisherwoman ... whatever," Sharon finished in mock frustration.

"Rick? What do you and Gail plan," Sharon asked.

"We've got a couple of college friends we want to connect with," he said. "They are living in Gibson's Landing, so we'll be there for the day. We'll probably stay for dinner, so don't plan on us being here. We'll be heading back to Kamloops on Saturday."

"What about you, Mrs. Cummings? What will you be doing?" I was worried she'd be on her own and brooding over the loss of her husband.

"I'm playing golf with my girls. It's a beautiful day and there's no place I'd rather be. If you're wondering, Ian, I accepted that I was going to lose Ralph some time ago. I'm not celebrating his passing, but I am going to celebrate the nearly thirty years I had with him. I'm not sitting around this house bemoaning my husband's fate. There was nothing any of us could do that hadn't been tried.

"Make no mistake," she continued, "I'm going to miss him terribly. He was a good man and a wonderful husband and father. I want nothing more for Deborah than to find a man as good as her father. But I'm still reasonably young and I have a life to live. We have arranged to sell the store and with the money that will bring, I can live comfortably for a very long time. I won't be wearing black on the golf course today," she smiled. "If that makes me insensitive, so be it."

I was shaking my head. "I admire your attitude. You're right. You are still young and you still have many years to live. Take advantage of them to live a full life."

I got strong verbal support from Rick and Gloria for that.

"I intend to, Ian," she smiled. "I'm planning on doing the travelling that Ralph and I were never able to do, being tied down to the store. I've got a number of girlfriends who are footloose and fancy-free and we plan to live a little," she grinned.

I was about to ask Deb about her plans when I decided to wait until we were alone. If we were going fishing, there would be plenty of time to find out what her future held.

It was past ten in the morning when Deb backed her father's truck down the launch ramp. I was merely a spectator, but I was watching what she did so that in future I would be able to help. Deb had obviously done this before, and within two minutes the boat was floating and she was tying it up to the dock. Another two minutes had her parking the truck and trailer in the big lot above the ramp, then jogging down the path to the dock and the boat.

There's something to be said about Deb and jogging. It's a sight to behold. It was also very revealing. I was quickly aware that she was not wearing a bra. She was laughing as she walked briskly along the dock.

"What are you gawking at, Mister?" Her grin was quite mischievous.

"Take a guess. You are in good spirits today. I'm glad."

"We did our mourning in the past months, Ian. We did everything we could to make his last days comfortable and peaceful. You contributed to that as well. Dad was very grateful, as were mother and I. Now, here's your licence. Put this floater vest on and we'll get underway," she smiled.

"I'm sure you're wondering about the bra," she said as she started the engine. "It wasn't an attempt to tantalize you, although it seems to have done that," she chuckled, glancing at my crotch. "I don't wear one on the boat because if it got wet for any reason, it would chafe me raw in no time at all. I leave it behind for personal comfort."

I nodded. "That makes sense. Comfort before modesty. I wholeheartedly approve."

"It's going to be warm when we anchor, so the vest will be coming off, and probably the sweatshirt as well. I've stowed the lunch in the fridge below. We have plenty of fuel, so off we go. Can you handle the forward line, please?"

"Sure," I said, knowing what I should do from my experience at the shop's dock. When I made my way to the bow, I could see we were tied off to a dock cleat and I jumped off the boat onto the dock to release the line, but held it until Deb gave me the signal. When she did, I climbed back aboard and pulled the line in quickly before she engaged the transmission. She motored slowly out of the docking area into the open water before bringing the engine revs up and setting the boat on plane.

I'd had some experience with pleasure boats before, but none of this size and none on this part of the coast. The Cummings boat was a 23-foot cabin cruiser of recent vintage with a 200 horsepower outboard. There was also a nine-horse outboard on a separate mount, used for trolling. However, I was told today we would be mooching at anchor. Deb made a beeline for a distant island and a little over a half-hour later, we dropped anchor at the south-eastern tip of the island. We were not alone, but Deb assured me the others were fishing in the wrong spot and we had the advantage.

Our rods were nine feet long and very limber. I was surprised the reels were single action, something like a fly reel, but heavier. Before we did anything, however, Deb insisted we put sunscreen on and wear a hat. Both of us had sunglasses. Within a few minutes of arriving, I was down to a t-shirt and shorts, while Deb was wearing a polo shirt and shorts. We were in the lee of a light north-westerly breeze and it was very comfortable as we rocked gently at anchor.

Deb had jigged some live herring, dropping them into a tub with sea water to keep them alive. It took no time for her to show me how to bait my hook. I had no sooner dropped my line in the water than I felt a sharp tug and then nothing.

"Reel it in, Ian. I think you've been robbed," she giggled.

Sure enough, the hook was barren and I had lost the herring. In the meantime, Deb had gone to the bow of the boat and, lying on the deck, was peering over the side into a shady area created in the lee of the boat. I wondered what she was looking for, but a minute or so later, she returned to the stern, showing a big smile.

"There are all kinds of needlefish around here. That's a nickname for small herring, happy feed for the Cohoe. This is going to be like shooting fish in a barrel," she grinned.

Sure enough, within a few seconds of casting her line off the stern, I saw her rod bow deeply toward the water. I watched her as she jerked on the rod once, then begin to play the fish.

"Here," she said, passing the rod to me and taking mine in her other hand. "I've set the hook. All you have to do is play him to the boat. These fish aren't that big, Ian. Maybe five or so pounds. But they fight like tigers and you'll see them come out of the water trying to spit the hook."

Deb coached me as I played the fish as gingerly as I could. But after a few minutes, I gained the upper hand and brought the fish to Deb's waiting net. My first salmon, a beautiful iridescent blue and silver colour, was landed. After that, we nearly wore ourselves out with strikes, releasing most of the fish that didn't escape on their own. Deb spent a good deal of her time jigging more herring as it was disappearing as fast as we could drop our lines into the water.

Deb was right. We were in the middle of a run of Cohoe and the strikes were coming left and right. I looked across at the other boats anchored nearby. They were seeing much less action than we were. Unfortunately for them, there was only room for our boat in this location. It wasn't long before I needed to rest my wrist. It was very sore from holding the rod and fighting the fish. We took a lunch break.

We ate our sandwiches and I discovered there was some beer in the fridge. Deb and I had one each as we sat in the stern, enjoying the perfect summer weather. We had earlier removed our sweatshirts and the gentle breeze kept us from getting too hot. A little more sunscreen was applied to our arms, legs, and faces.

"So, what are your plans, Deb?" I asked.

"I'm looking for a job on the lower mainland. My experience here at the store should help me and my education won't hurt. I'm not in a rush, Ian. Mom has made sure I have plenty of money from Dad's insurance and the sale of the business to tide me over. She's going to be able to do anything she wants and go anywhere she wants to go. I'm really happy that she can be free to find a new life for herself."

"Where are you going to live?" I asked.

"I haven't decided. I could call a couple of classmates and see if they can put me up for a few days or weeks."

"Don't," I said. "I have a spare bedroom and you have a car. You can stay at my duplex until you find something better."

"I don't want to impose on you, Ian. You've been so good to us these past months and I don't know how we can repay you for your kindness."

"It's not an imposition, Deb. I have an empty bedroom and a full second bathroom. My housekeeping isn't perfect, but the place isn't in typical bachelor condition like the dorms at college," I grinned. "I really don't enjoy living alone, either."

She sighed. "It would be easier, I suppose. And I know we get along well. Here's what I suggest. I'll try it out for a while and see how it goes. I'll look for a place of my own when I find a job. Thank you, Ian. Once again, you've come to the rescue. You really are special," she smiled. Leaning over, she kissed me. If it weren't for all the nearby neighbours, we might have been a little more daring, but propriety took that option away.

We sat, sipping our beer and enjoying the early afternoon. The scenery was magnificent with Vancouver Island to the west, and the dazzling sun rippling on the waters of Georgia Strait. I was watching Deb and thinking something had changed with her physically, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. She was still displaying her generous breasts and ample backside. Her face was tanned and she looked the picture of health. She still smiled easily, her eyes telling me that the smiles were genuine. Whatever the change was, it was subtle.

We had our legal limit of salmon on the boat and after a brief discussion, we decided to head back to Sechelt. We took our time. It was too nice a day to rush, and I got the scenic tour around Thormanby Island before returning to the dock. Deb had a set of charts for the area and showed me the hundreds of inlets, coves and hideaways along the coast. In most cases, the mountains dropped right into the water. I was reminded once more what an amazing place this was to live.

We talked with Sharon about Deb staying with me, and she was fully in favour of it and thanked me very much for the offer. I had the impression she had no doubts her daughter and I were intimate, if not now, then in the past. She was off to San Diego, California, with her friends in a couple of weeks to sample the golf courses and was happy that Deb wouldn't be on her own, rattling around in their home with nothing to do. Deb would begin packing up what she wanted to have with her when she moved in. For my part, I was delighted that she took me up on my offer. Maybe something would come of it.

Deb arrived on a Saturday two weeks later, having waited until her mother was on her way with her friends. Sharon had signed over the family Taurus station wagon to Deb since she intended to keep her late husband's truck and buy a new car for herself when she returned to Sechelt. The truck was needed to haul the boat, among other things. The Taurus was loaded to the brim with belongings and my first thought was ... where were we going to put all these things in my little duplex?

It turned out not to be a problem. Sharon had gifted us with some small pieces of furniture in the way of tables and lamps, handy as it turned out. My place had been sparsely furnished and the additions were welcomed with my thanks. One of the largest pieces was a dresser and when Deb said it would look best in the main bedroom, I turned to her.

She didn't give me a chance to question her, wrapping her arms around me and kissing me deeply. All questions I might have had about her comment evaporated right then and there. The kiss was my answer. She expected us to share the same bed. I not only didn't argue with her, I was an enthusiastic supporter of her decision.

It was still early afternoon when she arrived and when everything was unloaded from the car, it was nearly time for me to start making supper. I had a small covered concrete pad off the rear entrance that housed my propane barbeque. We were both tired from the move and I decided to cook a couple of steaks, microwave one very large baking potato, and toss a salad. Deb heartily agreed with my plan. I had some wine stashed in the pantry in case of guests and she was fine with my opening a bottle of red. There wasn't enough room, nor was there a table outside on the pad, so we ate at the kitchen table.

"You look tired, Deb. Are you okay?"

"Yes. I think Dad's passing is catching up with me. A delayed reaction, I suppose. I think about him a lot. I wonder what Mom is going to do, being alone in the house for the first time. She just turned forty-nine and she has a long life ahead of her. I want her to find someone to share that with."

"You were very close to both your parents," I said, stating the obvious.

"Yes. I was supposed to be the second of three, but there were complications with my birth and Mom wasn't able to have any more children. So I got twice the love," she smiled. "Not that Rick was ignored, but he was a boy and that made a difference."

"I feel that way about my parents too. I have a brother, and I'm beginning to think I should be paying more attention to him. He's growing up quite differently from me. I'd hate to lose any of them and think that I hadn't stayed close. Kenny will go off on his own someday soon and I hope he has a good life. I hope he's as lucky as I have been with good friends and a good job."

She smiled a tired smile. "I hope so, too, Ian."

We crawled into bed early that Saturday night, tired from moving Deb into the duplex and perhaps the anticipation of our living together. Deb was very tired and I knew now was not the time to initiate any intimacy. It took me a little longer than usual to fall asleep. Deb, however, was out almost as her head hit the pillow. She wore a loose cotton t-shirt and a pair of panties. I resisted fondling her, not wishing to disturb her rest. Time enough for that in future.

Chapter 11A

Debbie:

I knew I could count on Ian to come to the funeral. I was so proud of him and all the support he gave us when Dad was dying. You couldn't ask for a better friend than Ian. I think he was a little surprised that Mom and I had come to terms with Dad's death as quickly as we had. I think he had forgotten that we knew it was coming for some time and it wasn't going to be a surprise. In fact, it was more of a relief. The pain I could see in my mother and father's eyes was more than I could handle some days. His death was a release from that.

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