Harvest of Expectations Ch. 08byAutumnWriter©
Chapter 8 — "...can you picnic?"
Jim was up early the next day. It was six o'clock on that Sunday morning. He was the first in the house to shower and get dressed. His dirty clothes that he brought home were still in the laundry. His mother was planning on doing them later that day. Jim was hoping that his activity would wake the rest of the house.
It wasn't like he bounced out of bed wide awake and full of energy. It hadn't been a good night for sleep. He rattled around in the cupboard looking for the works to the coffee maker. He finally found them and started spooning some grounds into the bowl on the percolator.
"I don't know how you make coffee at your apartment. Your father and I don't like it quite that strong."
It was his mother, dressed in her robe and slippers, and she nudged him out of the way and took over making breakfast.
"Sorry, Ma, I didn't mean to wake you."
His mother shrugged.
"I would have been up in another hour, anyway."
He sat down for a second but then bounced back up. He began pacing around the downstairs.
"How come you're up so early? You look like you've got something on your mind."
"I've got a lot of things on my mind, Ma."
"That was true last night before you went out on your date, but you weren't so fidgety."
Mothers—particularly his mother—why did they always know everything despite all the efforts made to keep them in the dark?
"It's something I've got to work out, Ma," he answered.
"Okay," she said and went about mixing milk and eggs and flour into pancake batter.
He knew when she said 'okay' it really meant 'you're going to tell me sooner or later, anyway, so you may as well tell me now."
"I think she once worked for the KGB."
"Look, Ma, it's nothing serious," he said out loud.
She looked at him and kept on stirring her batter.
"Then why are you so fidgety?"
Jim blew out a breath.
"What's the use? I'm going to tell her sooner or later, anyway, so I might as well tell her now."
"I think I hurt Hildy's feelings last night," he said.
'Oh?' meant 'you haven't explained anything yet, so start talking and don't stop until I tell you to stop'.
"I think she feels left out," he said.
"Left out? What did you say to her," his mother asked.
"It's what I didn't say," Jim explained. "I told her all about my job interview with Douglas Chemical and everything. I told her they're in Michigan with plants all over the world. I told her I was probably going to accept when they make an offer. I told her all my plans except where she fits into them."
His mother had finished mixing the batter. Jim could hear his father shuffling around upstairs. Soon he would be coming down for breakfast. His mother plugged in the electric griddle and stood facing Jim while she waited for the griddle to warm up.
"I think I understand now," she said. "What did Hildy say?"
"She said to do whatever I think is right for me. She told me not to settle for less."
"And she never asked where she fit in—only said to do what was right for you?"
"Yes, Ma," Jim answered.
His mother thought a minute. She took a deep breath.
"Well, Jim, I've never met this girl. From what you tell me I think you should be asking yourself what kind of person she is to have said that."
She paused and Jim was trying to parse the meaning of what his mother was saying.
"And I agree with her," his mother added, "you should find out what is right for you, and then do it. And I agree with you. She has a right to know where she fits in."
Jim's mother agreed to do his laundry that morning so that he could get an early start back to school. At ten o'clock Jim decided to give Hildy a call.
Jim: "Hello, may I speak with Hildy, please?"
Voice:"Hildy's not here. She's out for the day."
Jim recognized the voice. It was Hildy's father. He was almost certain that the old bird was lying to him, but the thought came to him that perhaps what old Herbert said was true and Hildy had gone out for the day so Jim couldn't reach her.
He had to find out. He was thinking of the right words to say, or maybe he would hang up and just drive out to her parents' place and knock on the door.
Hildy:"Father, don't do that! Hello, Jim. I'm here. My father was just up to his old tricks."
Jim heard a click and it was clear that Hildy had picked up the extension. Jim was impressed. The old Hildy would have just allowed her father to bully her.
Hildy:"I didn't expect to hear from you today."
Jim: "I'd like to talk to you for a little while this afternoon before I drive back to school."
Hildy:"I don't know if I..."
Jim: "Just for a little while, Hildy. We'll have lunch at the diner. I'll pick you up. What do you say?"
There was a pause on the line. It was probably only five seconds or so. Jim thought it was more like an hour. He expected her to say 'no'.
Hildy:"Alright. But don't bother picking me up. I'll meet you there at noon", and hung up.
Jim set the phone down on the receiver. He was glad that he'd called her. He would get to talk to her—explain away his omission of the previous night. She would understand why she shouldn't be upset with him and all would be well again.
They could be just like they were before he'd made his awful blunder. He would fix everything, just like when he would help his fraternity brothers with derivatives and integrals.
There was, however, a single nagging problem remaining. He didn't know what he was going to say.
It was noon and he was almost at the restaurant. He was a bit worried because it seemed that the conversation earlier that morning was on the icy side and that was unlike Hildy.
"Maybe this nice weather will thaw her out."
It was a beautiful day, the first of the spring. The temperature had crested at a shade over seventy and the slightest of breezes just served to bring in more balmy air.
"This is a good sign."
His superstitious thought surprised him, because Jim didn't believe in signs and omens.
"This thing has me tied up in knots."
He was searching for a parking space. On a beautiful Sunday at noon the diner was packed. He spotted Hildy's purple Duster a few rows over. She was inside her car waiting for him. He parked the Rustmobile and then walked over to her car. As he approached she opened the car door and got out.
"Hi," she said as he walked up to her.
"I'm glad you could make it," he said.
He was looking for her smile but couldn't find it. Her smile, so natural and freely given, became all that he wanted at the moment, but he knew he couldn't just ask for it. He had a lot of fixing to do.
"It looks crowded. We might have to wait for a table," he said.
Hildy shrugged and they walked together to the front door of the diner. As they were about to mount the steps Jim stopped.
"Hildy," he said, "we've drunk more coffee in this place during the past few months than Juan Valdez. It's so nice today. Why don't we get something to take out and find a place outdoors to eat lunch?"
Hildy scrunched her nose in that confused look.
"Who is Juan Valdez?" she demanded.
"You know; the guy on the TV commercials who grows coffee in the mountains of Colombia."
Hildy rolled her eyes and began laughing. It was a corny joke, Jim knew, but she was laughing and it wasn't possible to laugh without smiling. Jim surmised that he'd hit the jackpot.
"We'll get this straightened out," he said to himself.
"I know a place we can go," Hildy said. "It's not very far away."
They each ordered cheeseburgers and fries with milkshakes to take with them.
"Follow me in your car," she told him as they left the diner.
Jim got in his car and found her Duster at the exit of the parking lot. She turned left, heading further out to the rural area, in the direction of her parents' house.
"She lives out here. She knows where she's going," Jim thought as he followed her on the State highway.
At the turnoff that Jim had taken many times to pick Hildy up at her parents' house the purple Duster's right directional began blinking.
"She's leading me back to her parents' house!"
Jim wondered what was in store for him at the end of the ride. He recalled her father's attempt to sandbag him earlier that day on the telephone. Ahead of him the Duster kept rolling along.
Just as he was getting ready for something unpleasant at Hildy's parents' house, the Duster's left directional blinked again. Hildy turned into a gravel parking lot and Jim followed. He didn't look around much. He was just relieved that Hildy had turned off.
There were no other cars in the lot. Hildy stopped the car at the far end of the lot and Jim parked his car next to hers. In front of him was the edge of a wooded glade of pine trees. He got out of the car. Hildy was already waiting for him.
"There's a picnic area over there," she said and pointed to a clearing about fifty yards away that Jim had not noticed.
In the distance there were a half dozen wooden picnic tables. None were in use, despite the balmy weather as it was only mid-April. They carried their take-out lunches with them and made their way to the field where the picnic tables seemed to be waiting for them.
"The field is still a little muddy," Hildy said.
She set her food on the picnic table closest to the woods, threaded her long legs over the bench and then sat down. Jim sat down on the bench across from her.
"I'm glad it turned out to be such a nice day. I'm tired of winter."
Hildy didn't answer at first.
"There could still be some storms ahead," she said at last.
Jim took the hint and decided to ease into the subject instead jump right in. He wished he could know what she was thinking.
"Maybe some small talk will draw her out."
He unwrapped his cheeseburger and fries and stuck a straw into the plastic top of his milkshake cup.
"Sure turned out to be a nice day," he said again.
Hildy didn't say anything, choosing to nibble at a French fry and at last she looked up at him.
"I'll bet you thought I was leading you back to my house," she said.
"No, the thought never crossed..."
He stopped himself in mid-sentence because she gave him the 'I'm not buying it' look. He began again.
"The thought might have occurred to me. Hildy, why do you always know what I'm thinking?"
"I don't always know, Jim, but to be honest this time it was an easy guess. Do you really think that I would do that to you?"
It occurred to him that Hildy really had a way with words. She always managed to ask a simple question that made him feel bad when he most deserved it.
"I suppose not, Hildy, but after the thing with your father on the phone this morning, I had no idea..."
"I guess that's fair enough," she answered. "I owe you that. If you hadn't stood up to him at MacIver's, I would never have been able to stand up to him this morning."
They ate for a while. Jim found it hard to make small talk. He had a lot on his mind and didn't know how to start. Small talk just didn't seem to want to come out.
"You don't recognize this place, do you?" she asked.
"I'm sorry, Hildy. I don't."
"That parking lot we pulled into is the same one I told you to pull into the night you took me to the Shakespeare Room."
"I'm sorry, Hildy, I should have remembered."
It didn't seem like Hildy was listening to him.
"I wonder," she said, "if you had pulled in here that night if we would be sitting here today."
"What would you have done if I had pulled into the lot instead of taking you home?"
"Anything that would have asked me to," she said.
"But I didn't ask anything," he said.
"You asked me to be patient—and I have been," she answered him back. "I've been patient about a lot of things."
Jim felt his hands shaking. They had never done that before. It hadn't even happened during his interview with Mr. Tyler from Douglas Chemical, or when he chose a university to attend or the first time he tried a pole vault at a college-level track meet with a thousand people watching or even when Ashley was unzipping his pants that past September.
"You have been patient, Hildy. That's why I wanted to talk to you before I went back to school today. You see..."
"I hope you realize," she interrupted, "that we're going to get a huge rainstorm in a few minutes."
He thought she was putting him off, not willing to give him a chance to speak his piece. He looked out over her shoulder as she sat on the bench across from him. The sky was a perfect blue. The breeze had come up a bit stronger, but the weather was still faultless.
"Look behind you," she said.
He did turn backward to see what she was talking about. It was coming. The clouds were an angry purple and the wind was picking up. Hildy was already gathering up their half-eaten lunches.
"Let's run for the cars," she shouted as the wind made it difficult to hear.
Jim gathered up the rest of the food and the wrappers. He thought they could make it to the parking lot, but he was wrong.
The rain came all of a sudden and it came hard. It took only a few seconds to drench them. There was nothing to do but keep moving toward the parking lot. Hildy was the first to arrive at her car. She unlocked the door and jumped into the driver' seat. Jim came running up and he saw her reach over to unlock the passenger's door from the inside.
"Wow! That came up fast," Jim said after he'd closed the car door.
The rain came in big drops. It pelted on the roof of the Duster and it almost seemed like a rhythm.
"We'll have to finish our lunch in here, I guess," he said.
Hildy sighed and was looking over her food to see how well it had survived the trek through the rain.
"It seems like we always end up like this," she said, a glum tone in her voice. "We can't even have a picnic in a park. Or..."
"I know, Hildy, but we always make the most of it," Jim said.
"Or meet up at Darlene's apartment," she went on, "or do anything else we want to do."
Hildy's face was wet from the rain, but Jim could tell she was crying.
"Have you got a towel or something to dry your face off, Hildy, because your face is so wet it looks like you're crying. And I don't want you to be crying."
She wiped her face with her hand and turned her head and smiled at him, as well as she could.
"I'm drenched and that's making me cold," she said. "I'm going to start the car so we can turn on the heater."
She turned the ignition and the Duster started up. There was a tape cartridge that she had left in the eight-track player. She must have been listening to it while she was driving. The Fifth Dimension began singing "Stoned Soul Picnic".
"Can you surry, can you picnic?" the words began.
Hildy buried her face in her hands and then peaked out at Jim. She began to laugh. Jim could see the humor in the irony and began to laugh, too.
"Hildy, what do you think is the probability..."
"I don't know," she said as she shook her head and laughed some more.
"Hildy," Jim started to ask, "what would have been the odds that you and I would have a...would have been ..."
"A couple?" she asked.
"Yes, a couple," he answered. "After all these months and times we've been together I should be able to talk to you about something important, don't you think?"
"I suppose so," she answered in a weak voice.
He took a deep breath, one final chance to screw up his courage.
"Please, just hear me out," he said. "I've got a lot on my mind."
"I'm listening," she said in a voice that weaker still.
It was like the time he dove off the high platform board at the pool back at school. It was a long, deep plunge. He knew that he wanted to do it. A voice in his head pleaded with him to hold back and be safe. He forced himself to make the jump, just the same, and then he was glad that he ignored the voice.
"Hildy, I know I hurt you yesterday," he began. "Sometimes I have to make a big mistake before I realize that what I've done. I'm sorry that I hurt you—and don't say I didn't because I know that I did."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Are you going to make me say the whole thing?"
She nodded her head 'yes' and Jim reminded himself that he never thought that it was going to be easy.
"I was so excited to tell you all about my job prospect," he explained, "I forgot about you. I just blurted everything out and never thought about you. I'm sorry Hildy."
"It's okay," she replied.
"You just told me to 'do what was right for me—never asked where you fit in. You had a right to ask that. You should have asked."
"It was your turn to be happy. I didn't want to spoil it."
"I should have known you would do that," he said. "You cared more about me than for yourself. I realized that after I dropped you off. You deserved better."
Hildy was sobbing and she wouldn't look at Jim. He thought that he was fixing everything up, but he had just hurt her more. It was beyond his understanding. He stopped for a minute watching her sobbing with her face buried in her hands.
"I'm going to finish this no matter what."
"It's just that it's all happening so fast. I realized what I'd done while I was driving home last night, but it was too late to turn around and explain it to you. That's why I called you this morning."
"Just to tell me that you're sorry?" she asked, still hiding her face.
"Now for the hard part," he said to himself.
"No, he said, "I have more to say to you."
He knew that he sounded stern, and he hadn't meant to, but it was okay because she looked at him.
"Now is the time," he thought.
"I don't know how to say it any other way, Hildy," he began. "I can't think of you as just a date anymore. I have feelings for you. I need to know something from you."
"What?" she asked and her voice was urgent.
"Like I said, I've come to care very much for you. I'd like to know if...if we gave it some time, if there would be any way that you could...you know..."
"What?" she demanded again.
"If you could possibly, someday have some of those same feelings for me."
She gasped, staring at him wide-eyed.
"I thought you were going to break up with me," she said in a whisper.
"No, Hildy, I never thought about doing anything like that."
"Do you mean it?" she demanded in a clear, strong voice.
"Yes, Hildy, I would never fool around about anything like this."
She reached over and grabbed his shirt collar with both hands.
"You've got to swear to me that you really mean it."
"I do Hildy, I swear. I just need to know..."
She collapsed against him and buried her face in his shoulder. She was panting, groping for breath. He put his arms around her, wet clothes and all. He decided to let her settle down. After a few minutes she began speaking.
"There were a lot of times after you took me home from one of our dates when I would let myself dream about it," she said. "But I didn't want to let myself believe it. I knew that someday it would all go bad and when that happened it would be even worse. But my dreams wouldn't stop, so I braced myself and knew that someday it would all come to an end and it was really going to hurt bad. But I kept hoping just the same."
"Hildy, you shouldn't have to live like that. It must have caused you a lot of suffering and I was the reason. I'm so sorry."
She relaxed some more and was breathing easier.
"Yes, I was hurt," she said, "but I'm not hurt now."
She shifted a bit and put her hands around the back of his head. She kissed him, tender at first and then again, but hungrier. She did it again and again as though she was claiming him. He thought he would kiss her back, but he couldn't bear to halt what she had begun.
It was as though her insides had been in shackles all the months he had known her and she had freed herself, or maybe it was he who had freed her. For that question he knew there was no answer.