Rebuilding Faith Ch. 14bywilderness©
Ripping off the last paycheck, Bill handed it to the painting contractor. "Thanks for the great job, Greg."
"Anytime." Walking away, Greg added, "I'll call you when the salmon are running. We'll wet a line."
"All right, sounds good." Bill wandered around the bunkhouse for one final inspection -- engulfed in a satisfied sadness. The windows were open. A gentle breeze mingled with the eggshell semi-gloss to create a fresh paint and pine scent. The June sun heated the air beyond comfortable. Cicadas buzzed and finches chirped. Leaning against the window frame, staring blankly outside, he wondered, 'now what?'
Faith stood below, surrounded by counselors preparing for the arrival of the campers on Monday. Injuries healed and self-assurance restored, she appeared once again a marvel of efficiency, although the shadows under her eyes indicated fatigue and her smile didn't blossom as often.
In the past three months she'd outgrown him... or had he abandoned her? The familiar pangs of "what if" he'd often felt about women who slipped through his life hurt more than ever before.
That one extraordinary week in March now seemed years ago. The magic that brought them together vanished. Faith drifted away in her summer camp preparations, and Bill dove into his building project.
He'd served his purpose and rebuilt the bunkhouse; now it was time to move on.
Faith's cauldron of emotions proved too much for Bill. 'What an arrogant ass I was, to think I knew what was best for her.'
When intellect failed, his hands got busy -- working. The diversion method of ignoring problems always served him ill in the past and history repeats when you don't learn from it. Seeing her now, beautiful and whole and vibrant and... and... 'I'm still a stupid ass.'
They'd been overwhelmed by the outpouring of kindness from the townsfolk and Faith's New York friends, making it easy for him to slip behind the scenes. Her twins, Amy and Seth, had stayed home for a month after the college semester ended, before moving on to summer internships.
Convinced it was for the best, he put a respectable distance between himself and Faith by renting a room in town.
'I should have married her... No, that wouldn't have been right.' Obviously he wasn't marriage material. Every woman tired of his stoicism. As long as there was work to do he was fine. 'Just don't ask me what I'm feeling.'
The Saturday they'd returned from the Inn, Faith proposed marriage, again. Afraid of public opinion over a hasty wedding, Bill demanded a prenuptial agreement, so people would know he didn't marry her for the land. Before he could explain, Faith became angry, slapped him and locked him out. He left, thinking it best to wait until she'd calmed down and had time to think things through.
'I should have talked to her sooner. But I never had a chance... no, that's just an excuse.' There were chances. They'd discussed all of the building plans and finances. Kept up a working relationship. They'd met almost everyday at the jobsite, as Faith made cursory inspections. He knew she had appointments with a shrink twice a week for a month, but they never spoke of them.
Their relationship morphed from sizzling to civil in only seven days.
'It's better off this way.' His nagging inadequacies were building to discontent, meaning it was time to leave. 'Or, should I say, run away.'
Looking down again, he met Faith's icy stare. Without a sign, she turned and followed after the others. This was becoming increasingly awkward.
"All done up here?"
He jumped at the sound.
"Sorry, Bill. I didn't mean to scare you." Bev, the camp housekeeper, stood smiling with an armload of sheets and blankets. "Can I start making the bunks?"
"Yeah, sure, Bev. Just leave the windows open to air the place out."
"You've performed a miracle, Bill, getting this place finished. The kids are going to have a wonderful time."
"It wasn't a miracle. Just years of experience paying off." On his way downstairs, he added, "But thanks. I'm sure Faith has a great summer planned."
Grabbing the duffle bag from the front seat of his pickup, Bill went back inside and changed into cutoffs and a tee-shirt. Holding the ends of the towel around his neck, he walked down the path to the pond, eager to swim laps and release tension.
The water was still mountaintop cold. Swimming fast, he concentrated on technique to ignore the chill. Reaching the anchored platform in the middle, he pushed off and headed back until his hand touched bottom. Turning once again toward the platform, he counted, "One," blocking out all other thoughts.
When he counted, "Six," a splash beside him broke into his emptied mind. Lifting his head, he spotted Faith knifing through the water beside him. Together they reached the float and together they turned without a word. Bill slowed down to stay together, enjoying the glimpse of her at each breath. On the count of sixteen, Faith climbed up onto the platform while Bill continued until the count of twenty. Lazily he backstroked, staring at the blue sky, gliding to the artificial island.
Faith dangled her feet in the water until he was close enough to touch. Straightening her leg, she blocked him. "Sorry, you can't come on. I'm Queen of the raft," she declared, stern faced.
Bill smiled, reaching for her foot. Quickly she pulled it back, "Uh-uh, behave or I'll have to banish you," she said.
"How about letting me be King and we can rule together?" Bill offered.
"Hey, you had your chance. I asked you to marry me, remember? Then you ignored me for three months," her volume rising at the end.
The anger surprised him. This wasn't just a simple game. "I didn't ignore you," he declared, treading water five feet from the island Queen. "I was busy. You were busy..."
Rushing the platform, Bill the Invader lifted himself half out before Faith pushed his shoulders away.
Grabbing her wrist, he pulled her, head first, into the water and scrambled up. Now Bill sat dangling his legs, watching Faith tread water. "One point for a takedown and two points for a reversal," he grinned at the frowning woman.
Hoping for a truce and a reopening of negotiations, he held out his hand, and offered, "I think we need to make peace if we're going to be neighbors."
Accepting defeat, Faith gripped his hand. As Bill tugged her up, she pushed on the platform with her free hand and pirouetted into a sitting position beside him, with a squishy plop and a frosty silence.
Faith began to shiver. Sliding closer, Bill tentatively placed his arm around her. When she rested her head on his shoulder, he felt hope for a peaceful coexistence and fostered reconciliation by kissing her dripping hair. The cold, goose pimpled flesh of her arm against his palm brought back a rush of past pleasure. His heart swelled with warmth and he kissed her forehead. No dispute followed his peace offering, so Bill kissed down her cheek and rested his lips briefly on hers before moving away to read her expression.
Faith's eyes were closed and her lips, slightly parted, quivered. Ivory breasts inside the red bikini top heaved with deep breaths and Bill hoped it wasn't all from exertion, that she still found him desirable.
"I miss you," she whispered, guiding his eyes from her chest with a gentle touch on his cheek to witness the unhappiness in her face.
"I'm sorry you think I was ignoring you, Faith. But I couldn't marry you, just knowing you for a week. Especially after... everything." He didn't want to dredge up the violence and the pain all over again. "You needed time to get everything sorted out..."
"I needed you to help me!" Faith snapped. "I haven't been able to sleep in peace since we came home. And you weren't there to hold me when the nightmares came. You don't really love me. You were just took pity on me." Her voice trailed off and her hands covered her face. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be laying a guilt trip on you. If you don't want me, just tell me, so I can get on with my life."
Bill's stomach twisted in shame, remembering Faith's tenderness when frightening dreams shattered his sleep. He'd left her afraid and alone.
The words 'since we came home' reverberated in Bill's mind. Where Faith lived was home. Taking her hand, he asked, "Faith, I'm sorry. I thought time apart was the best thing for us. But I'm an idiot. Will you forgive me?"
The brimming hazel eyes searched his face, filled with conflict and indecision.
"I know I've been colder than a well digger's ass. So, you don't have to answer now. With camp starting Monday, you have a lot on your plate."
Faith wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down, as she lay back on the warm wooden planks. "I have a lot on my plate, but I want you for dessert," she confessed, before forcing his mouth to hers.
Cold skin heated rapidly as their wet bodies pressed together. Holding her head between his palms, Bill's mouth roamed her face and neck while Faith stroked his head and back, encouraging his hunger.
"I've been a lonely muse," she cooed... and then shrieked in terror.
Jerking away while rubbing a buzzing ear, Bill asked, "What's wrong?"
"Something in the water just brushed against my leg!"
Quickly sitting up, they spied Hershey dogpaddling around the raft. The tension broken, they laughed in relief.
By the hand, Bill helped Faith up into a tight embrace. The only evidence of recent injury was a thin red scar on her forehead. How someone so wonderfully assembled, mind and body, could want him was incomprehensible.
Bill sang, "Let us be lovers, we'll marry our fortunes together. I have some real estate here in my bag..." and smiled.
After a brief look of confusion, Faith asked, "Simon and Garfunkel?"
"Yup," continuing with an explanation, he added, "When I was in Rochester, I met with my lawyer and a realtor and told them about a piece of land, owned by a certain Bob Engles, that might be on the market soon. And I gave them authority to place a purchase offer on it." A brief pause for affect, and then, "Guess what?"
She stared wide-eyed.
"I'm your new neighbor, Faith."
With an excited "There goes the neighborhood!" she jumped and wrapped her legs around his waist, knocking them both into the water.
Surfacing, Faith recited, "Love thy neighbor -- Saint Matthew 22: thirty-something" and hugged him in a deep wet kiss.
Struggling to shore, nearly convinced Faith tried to drown them both, Bill reached the towel and began to dry her upturned beaming face. Touching her was something he wanted to do everyday, from now on, if she'd let him.
"I have Engles house key in my truck." Wiping her arm, he added, "I'm moving in tonight."
Stealing the towel, she hastily patted Bill, saying, "C'mon, let's go right now," then squeaked, "This is so cool." Throwing the towel at his head, she ran down the path barefoot, and yelled, "Last one to the truck owns swamp land."
After watching her disappear, Bill sat on a log, dried off, donned his tee-shirt and sneakers, picked up Faith's shirt and sandals and trotted down the trail. Hershey sped by, playing along.
Around the first bend sat Faith on a stump, with crossed legs, fingers locked together on a knee, and one dirty foot bouncing up and down with pent up energy. The odd thought, 'Her toenails need another paint job,' sprang to mind.
With a half-grin, Faith commented, "We need to work on your impulsiveness, Holder. Hmm, impulsive Holder, now there's an oxymoron if ever I heard one."
Handing her the sandals, he answered, "I'm the tortoise and you're the hare in this relationship, Babe," and trotted away.
"Hey, wait up! Timeout!" she yelled from last place.
Bill leaned against his truck, with Faith's shirt draped over his arm. Watching her stroll through the trees in her red bikini top, white skin and soaked blue shorts, filled him with a strange mixture of erotic and patriotic ideas. An all-American woman, who inspired a part of his body to stand and salute, while his mind raced with lewd words to sing to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. But he thought better of it, considering other people might be within earshot.
He simply handed her the shirt, saying, "You'd better wear this if you want my eyes on the road."
"Decisions, decisions," she grinned, before slipping it on and climbing in.
Bill backed away from the bunkhouse. Faith slid across the seat, close.
"Let's go out the back way, Sweetie," she purred in his ear.
The view from the rutted farm road was now green and lush with summer growth, the change of scenery remarkable since March. The reservoir sparkled through fluttering green maple and silver poplar leaves.
"Bill, the bunkhouse is fantastic," Faith said, rubbing his knee. "I owe you so much. I can never repay you for all your hard work. We're going to help about 150 kids this summer thanks to you."
"It was a labor of love," he answered, putting an arm around her. "And now that I've spent all my money on this property I'll have to live on love."
Reaching the main road, Faith said, "Turn right." After a short pause, she squeezed his leg. "You just might find enough love around here to sustain you for quite a while," sliding her hand up his thigh as proof.
"Am I glad to hear that. I'm a starving man with a big appetite."
"Oh my! How big?" Feigning shock, Faith rubbed his groin appraisingly, before pointing. "Turn here."
The driveway was long, and twisted through a stand of pines, hiding the house from the road. The old homestead sat in a small clearing. The porch light was on and several windows were broken.
"It looks like some kids have already been taking target practice." Glancing at Faith, he asked, "Does it bother you to be here?"
After a short pause, she answered, "No. This house used to belong to Carol Hogan's family, my best friend in high school. I spent a lot of time here as a kid. So, when I see this place I think of her." As they slowed to a stop, she said, "I'll show you around."
The lawn was overgrown. Other than fading paint and a few broken windows, the structure looked in good repair. Unlocking the front door, Bill stood aside. "After you, Ms. Guide."
Peeking over the threshold, acting tentative, Faith asked, "Who moved all of Engles stuff?"
Bill followed her through the door. "The realtor told me his brother came up from Philadelphia. And whatever is left we can keep or throw out."
"We?" Faith asked, spinning to place her palms on his chest as he bumped into her.
"Sorry, I shouldn't be so presumptuous." Entwining his fingers in the small of her back, Bill pulled her tight and kissed her, the buss growing from sweet to passionate.
Sliding her palms up to cradle his cheeks, Faith broke away to ask, "Would you still want a prenup?" then recaptured his mouth, slipping him tongue.
Dampness from the bikini top soaked through his tee-shirt. Two cool breasts pressed against him. Raising his lips to caress her forehead, Bill declared, "Yes, I still want a prenup. But the new contract will say that whenever we discuss anything important, or have an argument, we'll have to be naked and stand this close together," he answered, letting his palms drop to the moist shorts. His fingers fondled her bottom.
"Let's continue with the tour, shall we," said Faith, pushing him away, but teasing with a coy grin and eyes that begged for further persuasion.
The first floor was devoid of furniture. Hardwood floors, scuffed by decades of traffic, echoed their footsteps.
As they climbed the squeaky treads to the second floor, Bill said, "I was thinking about asking Tom if the fire department would want to burn this place down for practice. And then I could build something new. What do you think?"
Turning around on the landing to look down at him, Faith asked, "Are you trying to get even with Engles? A fry for a fry?"
Shrugging, he answered, "Yeah, a little." The biblical reference made him smile, 'God, I've missed her.'
"Well, it's your house and you can do whatever you want with it," said Faith, walking along the second floor hallway. Before entering a back bedroom, she added, "but I love this old place."
Following her in, Bill watched as she stood staring out into the backyard. The thickly wooded mountain rose steeply out of sight only fifty yards away. Wrapping his arms around her, he rested his chin on her shoulder and looked out.
"This was Carol's room." Stroking his sweaty forearm, Faith pressed her damp cheek against his. "On hot summer nights we'd climb out the window and sit on the porch roof, talking for hours and gazing at the stars." After a pause, she wistfully continued, "Carol dreamed of moving away and I... I dreamed of growing old on Talon Mountain."
The air was stale inside the hot room. Unlocking the window sash, Faith pulled it open, letting in a refreshing breeze. Leaning down, she propped herself up on the sill and poked her head outside to take a deep breath. "Mmmm, the forest smells so good."
She'd let her hair grow and it lay fanned out across her shoulders. The swim top's red straps showed through the white cotton shirt. The way her back arched and hips lifted, stretched the damp shorts tight against her bottom. Her weight shifted from one leg to the other, flexing each round cheek and muscular hamstring in turn. The sexy vision stirred wanton thoughts. He resisted rubbing his palms slowly over her round derrière, and sliding his hands up along her sides and underneath her shirt.
Bill said, "If you marry me, we'd have almost 1,000 acres to grow old on together."
He resisted gripping her waist, holding her still and, pressing his hips forward, judging the height to be near perfect for rear entry.
Faith seemed to be oblivious. "Are you trying to bribe me into marriage, Holder? If you are, it won't work."
Bill's hands resisted slipping up her back, pushing the shirt, and unfastened the red elastic support. Then gliding to the under side to fondle the freely swaying breasts, while his penis hardened against her bottom.
"Material possessions are only a small part of a happy marriage, Holder. The person you share them with, how well you relate to each other, and how well you meet each other's needs, is the most important ingredient. Because when all is said and done and the years have stripped away the mystery of knowing one another, there still has to be a spark, an attraction to keep love alive."
"I totally agree," said Bill, resisting the urge to bend and kiss her spine, work loose the button and unzip the fly of her shorts, "You can't be happily married unless there is something unique and intrinsically satisfying about your mate," envisioning her shorts piled around her ankles and his cheek resting on the cool flesh of her exposed buttocks. He would kiss them; drag his fingers down across her ticklish stomach.
Acting unaffected, Faith continued, "Carol and I used to sit out there and talk about the kind of men we'd want for husbands."
Picturing one hand tweaking a swaying nipple, while the other found it's pleasure teasing her clitoris, Bill commented, "I don't think I want to hear about the kind of man you're after -- unless it's me," craving to pull her ass tight to his groin to feel his erection.
Abruptly, Faith stood, slammed down the window and faced Bill. Pointedly, she looked at his shorts. The convex crotch made his arousal obvious to the most unobservant. She smiled. "A man that gets a hard-on just looking at me, but still has the self-control to carry on a conversation... I find very attractive." Pulling out the waistband, Faith reached in and arranged his penis comfortably against his abdomen, saying, "Now that's a man I can count on in a crisis. That's a man I want by my side... always."
Bill pulled her close. "And a woman that I find stimulating, mentally as well as physically, is someone I want by my side... always."