tagRomanceStorms Never Last Ch. 01

Storms Never Last Ch. 01


Author's Note:

This is my seventh semi-annual "invitational." The initial one was based on the Statler Brother's song, "This Bed of Rose's." The most recent invitational included songs written or performed by Willie Nelson. The current effort consists of stories based on song titles that have a weather term in them, such as "Stormy Weather, "Foggy Mountain Top," "Dusty Skies", "Heat Wave", "Summertime Blues," and "Ballad of Thunder Road."

For this story I've chosen, "Storms Never Last." This was written by Jesse Coulter,
and the version I have is by Jessi with her husband, Waylon Jennings.

"Storms never last do they baby?
Bad times all pass with the wind.
Your hand in mine stills the thunder,
And you make the sun want to shine."

Thanks to Raoul Tirant for his editing assistance. Regards, Jake

PART 1—Humpty Dumpty


I didn't mean to surprise her like I did. I was somewhat irritated with Annie, but not really mad. I've always been a very direct person. By that I mean when something bothers me, I don't sit around and stew about it ... I react at once and say what I feel. Sometimes that's good. I have some buddies I talk to, and when a bump in the road comes along, they worry and worry at it—like a dog gnawing at a bone, making themselves upset over something that usually turns out to be trivial.

I like to think of the problems that arise in life and in a marriage as a storm. Forgetting to stop at the store was like a gentle spring rain. Losing a job might be like a summer thunder storm—lots of flash and noise but not an insurmountable problem. A death in the family would be like a tsunami bringing terror and disruption. What works for me in this analogy is it makes it easier to wrap my head around the "storms" that life brings.

A good example of how I am happened a few months ago. I'd noticed that the tires on Annie's Lexus weren't showing very much tread depth. I mentioned it to her, "Honey, the tires on your car are starting to wear. I'll keep my eye on them, but they're good for another six months or so." It wasn't important—she didn't really need to know about it—but I like to keep her informed. It wasn't two weeks later she came home from work with new tires on her car. Now I could have stewed about it and worked up a good mad for her wasting the money for new tires that weren't needed yet. Not me. I went to her and casually mentioned,

"I noticed your car has new tires."

"Oh,Terry. I forgot to tell you. I got a call yesterday from the dealer. They had an emergency recall notice. It was something about the tires overheating at higher speeds on a long trip on a hot day. They said that since it was a safety item they would be replaced by the tire manufacturer at no charge. I dropped the car off on the way to work and picked it up on the way home. Their shuttle bus took me right to the hospital and picked me up after work."

See. No worries. No incipient ulcer. I had a concern. I addressed it ... not a big deal.

Of course it doesn't always work that way. One day, a year or so after we got married, she spent the day at the spa. She got the works: massage, manicure, pedicure, hair fixed up, and whatever other secret things women do at these places that men don't really understand. She walked in the door, pleased with herself—and rightfully so. She had a smile on her face; she looked good and she knew it. I walked around her, doing my own admiring.

"I like, babe! You look great!" I paused; there was one little thing. So in my direct way I added, "With your hair like that it does make your face look kinda round."

Okay, that didn't work. I shoulda thought that one through a little more. Generally, over the years though, I think my being straightforward has saved me a lot of heartburn. Until today, that is.

We have this deal: for birthdays, we have agreed to a limit of a grand for each other's presents. That might sound like a lot, but we are pretty well off. Annie is an ophthalmologist with a specialty in ocular oncology, tumors of the eye and its appendages. I'm a writer, mostly adventure novels. I'm not top tier or anything like that. I do crank out two or three books a year and make enough that we could live quite comfortably, even if Annie didn't work at all. In addition I write articles for several magazines, mostly outdoor oriented, or anything involving wine. The last effort was for a well-known fishing magazine, and was about a fly-in fishing trip I'd taken to northern British Columbia. It had been a great vacation to Muncho Lake where I could fish for any mix of walleye, northern pike, lake trout, arctic grayling, rainbow trout, or Dolly Varden. The article paid quite well for the small amount of time I put into it, but it was more of a labor of love than just for the money.

I'd been rummaging around in Annie's desk looking for an extra key for the lock on the gate on the side of the house—somehow I'd lost the one I kept in my glove box of my truck. I noticed a manila envelope with the logo and address info for Travis Marine, a local high-volume boat and trailer dealer. Curious, I opened the flap and pulled out a birthday card and a yellow, folded up form. It was a copy of an invoice for a new boat, a fifteen foot 2008 Boston Whaler Montauk.

Damn, that was my dream boat. I'd drooled over it at the boat show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco the previous January. Annie almost had to drag me away from it. This was a hard one. We did have a deal about limits for birthday presents but, damn! This was something I'd been lusting after for years. But the price! With the new trailer that was on the order form it was as much as the new Ford 250 with all the bells and whistles I'd splurged on a few months ago when I got a particularly nice royalty check. (The nice thing about writing was that I didn't get money just for my latest book, but royalty payments for all the ones I'd written over the years.)

So, in my direct way, I walked into the kitchen where Annie was making a Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert. She'd just put the eggs on the counter when I walked in. She turned her head and smiled at me, surprised to see me in the kitchen. I announced, with no inflection— it wasn't a big deal—I just wanted to discuss it.

"I know what you did."

She froze ... a look of horror on her face. She put her hands on her face and in lifting her hands her finger gently nudged one of the eggs. It started rolling, slowly, toward the edge. It was like watching a traffic accident; time seemed to freeze; a movie played a frame at a time. The egg was six inches from the edge of the counter. I had a feeling of impending disaster. Five inches. In one of those strange associations the brain makes, the story of Humpty Dumpty came to mind:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king's horses,

And all the king's men,

Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Four inches. It was clear there was no stopping the egg; disaster was imminent. Three inches. That was a strange reaction from Annie. I mean, it's not like I'd make her return the boat. It was merely something we should talk about; make sure we were on the same page. Two inches. The egg was gathering steam. One inch. The brain in its miraculous way makes lightening fast connections. Would the egg stop on the barely noticeable lip on the edge of the tile, or did it have enough momentum to get past that barrier? I'd recently watched the movie, "Match Point," again. The opening scene is the playing for the key point in a tennis match. The ball hits the net and drops, barely over ... or not, and decides a championship on a turn of the ball. The egg would roll over and crash like Humpty Dumpty ... or not, on a turn of the egg.

Of course, the egg had a full head of steam by now, and almost jumped over the edge (passing thought, did good old Humpty commit suicide? Inquiring minds want to know), and, almost ponderously, rotated ass over teakettle. One oval end wobbled over the other, slowly, inevitably down to the hard tile floor.

Normal speed. Impressions: pieces of egg shell scattered hither and yon, egg white splashed on the counter base, bright yellow yolk on the toe of Annie's blue sneakers. Colorful, really; a new fashion statement? A sob from Annie. Her face was as white as the remnants of the egg shell scattered like confetti over the rust colored Italian terra cotta tile; nice contrast.

Conclusion: Something is seriously wrong.

Chapter One

I am somewhat unusual in that not only am I a native Californian, but I was actually born in San Francisco. The name on the birth certificate is Terry Fisher, the same name as my dad and grandfather used. When I was twelve my dad told the Bank of California exactly where they could put their Senior VP position (hint; the sun don't shine there!), whereupon he purchased a couple hundred acres of Zinfandel grape vines in Dry Creek Valley, in Sonoma County. The owner was an old time Italian grower and after he died of something related to old age, his equally ancient widow was willing to deal fast and cheap. The vineyard was close below the dam under construction that would hold back the future Lake Sonoma, and was spread on both sides of Dry Creek. The valley was almost the exact size of Manhattan Island, but as bucolic as New York was citified.

Dad sold our quasi-mansion in Pacific Heights for enough moola to buy the vineyard. This was before property in Napa and Sonoma counties suitable for vineyards went through the roof. We moved, and found the vineyards and outbuildings were in great shape but the house was marginal. It was a rambling ranch house with rooms added over the years since the original three room house had been built around nineteen hundred. Dad did a lot of the work but farmed out the new electrical and plumbing systems, a new roof, and new kitchen cabinets and appliances. That still left a huge amount of work that we didn't finish until I was fifteen. Yeah, we. I helped, and learned a ton of skills that were to prove useful for the rest of my life.

Everyone kept telling him that he could make a lot more money if he started making his own wine, but he didn't want the hassle. His favorite time was winter when there wasn't much to do. I'd come home on the school bus from Healdsburg of an afternoon, and he would be sitting on the front porch fidgeting with one of his ever present briar pipes and gazing over the vineyards at peace with life and with himself. He neither needed nor wanted the added complexity (and inherent laws!) of owning a commercial winery.

Not that he couldn't, or wouldn't make wine. Tucked in a corner of the property, cut off by a small rise, were two acres of Zin vines planted somewhere around the early 1890s and just under an acre of Alicante Bouschet, much younger at forty years of age. In an ancient redwood vat in the barn he would make wine of various mixes of the two grapes depending on the relative productivity of the two fields, or our regular tasting of different blends ... which I participated in from the beginning. He and I would sit in the barn doing blind samplings of the various mixes. We would argue back and forth about the relative merits of each glass.

The wine was a bit different each year. The original settlers of Dry Creek Valley were mostly Italian immigrants... with a healthy influx of French predating the Italians by a few years. In Italy at that time it was common that famers would all make their own wine. When they got to Sonoma County they did the same as in the old country: they would pick whatever grapes they and/or their neighbors had on hand. A typical wine of that early period might contain a mix such as some combination of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet and Carignane. The end product was hearty red wines that the farmers either consumed themselves, gave to family, friends or neighbors, or bartered for other needed items—such as barrels.

The tasting of the aging wines was something formal: it might take us a couple of hours and the reloading of Dad's pipe several times before he—seriously considering my input—would decide. Some days we never reached a conclusion and had to try again the next day. I don't remember that we ever spit, but I clearly recall that I enjoyed the wine and became very close to my father. We would drink some of the bottled wine, give it to family or friends, or drive around to different wineries and trade for some of their wines. He particularly liked the wineries up in the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, where I picked up a lifetime love of late harvest dessert wines, especially Gewürztraminer and Riesling.

I got started on fishing—and the associated boating—through Annie, Annie Fielding. She was one grade behind me in school, and we caught the bus at the same stop. It was about four blocks for her and twice that for me. I had to go by her place before and after school and stopped by often on the way home to eat a slab of pie, help her with homework, or ride one of their horses with her. Neither of us had siblings, so we gravitated to being best friends. She was mature for her age, and I was just as immature for mine, so it worked out.

Her folks had about forty acres of orchard, mostly prunes and peaches, with enough apple trees to provide an inexhaustible supply of fruit for pies. I was amazed at the number of different ways Annie's mom could make apple pie. The plan when they bought the property was to work out a deal with a winery for them to plant and maintain vineyards, so all her dad would have to do is fish and collect an annual check depending on market price of grapes and the yield for that year. Debra, Annie's mom, had an annuity from her grandfather that didn't make them rich, but did allow them to live in the country, and keep him with a good fishing boat and trailer. It took a few years to make the vineyard thing happen, and for a local winery to rip out the orchard (except for the several apple trees in back of their house).

Annie loved to go with her dad, Allen, out on some lake—mostly Lake Sonoma (after it was completed) up behind Warm Springs Dam—and spend several hours dawdling more than anything. Truth be told, she was a better fisherman (fishergirl?) than her dad. He mostly liked to float around in the boat, smoking on some God-awful smelling cigar (that he wasn't allowed by the little woman to smoke anywhere near the house), and sip some of my dad's wine, or maybe polish off a couple of cans of beer. I was invited to fish with them about the fourth or fifth time I was at their house, the first time I'd been over for dinner.

When we first moved up there, Allen would mostly go to Lake Mendocino, sometimes Lake Pillsbury and rarely Lake Berryessa. Twice our combined families went all the way up to Lake Shasta, which was huge. We would rent a houseboat there, towing Allen's boat behind so we could go off and fish when the mood struck us. Warm Springs Dam was under construction when we moved from San Francisco in nineteen eighty. Five years later it was finished and started filling up with water. It took a while for Lake Sonoma to fill and the water to clear, but it became the place to go, and as it turned out, after that we almost never went anyplace else. The fishing turned out to be great; mostly trout, bass, catfish and sunfish. There were two main arms of the reservoir opening up behind the dam; one about four miles long and one about nine miles, so there was a lot of room to find a quiet spot.

Up to the time I was fifteen, the "best pals" relationship held solid. We were close friends based on proximity, common interests, and the relative isolation of our houses. Then, after school on an overcast day in December, everything changed forever between us. It had been raining intermittently all day and, just as the bus pulled away after letting us off, it started pouring. I grabbed Annie's hand as we dashed for a large oak tree about fifty yards away. By the time we got there, we were both soaked. Annie was wearing an open sweater with a skirt and a white blouse. Her blouse was transparent from the soaking we got, and her bra was some thin lacy material that certainly wasn't opaque.

When we got under the tree, we turned to each other, laughing as we were wont to do all the time. I stared at her chest and felt almost dizzy with shock. I'm sure I realized at some level that Annie had breasts, but I had never really thought about it. I mean, she was Annie, that's all. She was my fishing buddy, my playmate, and my study partner ... all of those. But the thing was, she never had tits! Well, she did of course, but now, for the first time, I could actually see them. They were about the size of a small tangerine (and sometime later I found out they were just as sweet), and they seemed, to my not exactly discerning eye, to be mostly nipples. I swear I was having hot flashes.

She saw me staring and looked down to see what was absorbing all my attention. She looked up with a confused look on her face. She started, "Terry, what ..." and I panicked. I threw my arms around her, pulling her close. I pressed my mouth on hers with it open as I'd heard guys at school talking about. I hadn't been paying that much attention at the time, but they called it French kissing and it was supposed to make the girls hot. At the time I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded good. She stood there for a minute while I slobbered all over her face. I was big on enthusiasm and lousy on skill.

She suddenly tore away from me and ran in the still heavy rain to her house. I stood there; flummoxed as only a teenager can be, frozen between a fully expected, and just, retribution from her father and a strange excitement coming from a feeling that life would never be the same again in some mysterious, exciting way. I made my way home, slowly, knowing my life wouldn't be over until after I got home. There was safety in meandering around the rows of dormant grape vines. Finally, I got home, half frozen, having ensured I would have a nasty cold that would keep me home from school for three days. That night, in my feverish state, I imagined phones ringing, doorbells dinging, heated arguments with Old Testament fury. I wasn't sure if it would be Annie's father or mine; I was afraid of one of them coming in and yanking me out of bed, and ... I couldn't imagine past that point.

Finally, I was back at the bus stop on a cold, crisp, sunny morning, as beautiful as anywhere on earth could be. Annie wasn't there, but just as the bus driver started to close the door she came running up. When she saw me, she blushed furiously, and walked past, pretending not to see me. I was crushed. In all my worrying, I hadn't really thought about what Annie was feeling. Nothing I had done had changed the closeness I felt for her. Added to our existing relationship was, for me at least, a new sense of excitement, of undiscovered (was I really thinking at the time, uncovered?) things waiting to happen.

I, probably somewhat naively, assumed she would be feeling the same way. When she walked down the aisle of the bus, pretending not to see me, I was humiliated. She always sat by me. In the three years that we had been riding the bus to school, there wasn't a single time we hadn't sat together. Teens being what they are, there was an immediate twittering floating around the bus like confetti. All the girls in the rows ahead of me were turned around, staring at me with unabashed curiosity. I started to turn, to see how Annie was taking things.

I didn't know my feelings then, but some years later I heard a song by George Jones that pretty well covered my confused feelings on that momentous day:

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