CHAPTER FIVE- Heartache Tonight
Tara recalled the night her parents brought Rebecca home from the hospital like it was yesterday. She was the most beautiful baby in the whole world. She had a shock of white hair and bright, smiling eyes. Tara was eight and the proudest big sister ever. She’d wished on stars for Rebecca. It wasn’t long after she came home from the hospital that things went back to normal, and normal wasn’t good. Her dad came home from a poker game drunk and vicious because he’d lost a lot of money. Mother did her best to calm him down but he was loud and mean. Tara tiptoed into Rebecca’s room and carefully lifted her wiggly little body out of the crib. She crept back to her room and set the baby on her bed. She was bundled in a pink blanket and looking up at her sister with innocent eyes. It was February and the house was cold. Her mother had never quite mastered building a strong fire and Tara knew better than to venture downstairs. Tara pulled the covers over them and cuddled into her baby sister’s warm body. She promised to always take care of her no matter what. She sang her lullabies to drown out her fathers booming voice below. As she rocked her back to sleep she whispered that she would always keep her safe. Huddled together in the darkness eight year old Tara had no idea how much that promise would haunt her.
She made her way up the stairs to the spare room where Becca was staying. She knocked timidly on the door and poked her head inside.
Rebecca motioned for her to come inside. Tara sat down on the bed and drew a deep breath. “Becca I know this is all very confusing and overwhelming for you. I just wanted to let you know that I will respect whatever decision you make.”
“Here,” Tara passed her a stack of letters and stood up, “These might help you understand. I never gave up on you Becca.”
Rebecca looked up at her big sister and attempted a smile, “Thanks.”
Tara shook her head and closed the door behind her.
Rebecca read every last one of the letters that Tara had written to her over the years. Some she read more than once. Some she read through tears. Each was neatly dated and captured a period of history. She was saddened when she thought of the life her sister had lived. She spent the last six years working and paying bills when she should have been enjoying her youth. She struggled and she fought for everything she accomplished and instead of being proud of herself she was guilt ridden over a promise she’d made to her fifteen years ago. She thought back on the last six years since Tara left. It was Tara who taught her to stay out of her father’s way and she thought she did a pretty good job. In fact she had so faded into the woodwork that her parents barely knew she existed. Since she was nine years old she had been doing odd jobs to make money to buy clothes and supplies that she needed for school. During the summer months she raked blueberries and kept a paper route, she also did yard work for her elderly neighbors and shoveled snow in the winters. One could only marvel at her resiliency. She took out of life exactly what she put into it and expected no more. The one bright spot in her otherwise dismal world was Natalie. When she was with Natalie she felt free as a bird. They would talk for hours about nothing in particular and laugh as school girls should. Natalie gave her refuge from her bleak existence and loved her like a sister. When she was hurt or scared it was Natalie who would talk away her fears the way her own sister once had. Natalie was so much more than her friend; she was an angel that lifted her up when the weight on her shoulders was too much too bear. She encouraged her to love and let herself be loved. One day when they were ten years old they were at Natalie’s house kicking around the soccer ball with her brother Danny. Her and Natalie collided mid field and fell to the ground in hysterics rubbing their heads. Natalie looked at her and said as serious as can be ‘You shine when you smile Rebecca. You light up the world”
She always wanted to make Natalie happy so from that day on she made a conscience effort to smile in her presence. This turned out to be an easy feat because she always felt so free when they were together. Natalie made her world bearable; she couldn’t imagine her life without her in it. The thought of leaving her brought hot tears to her eyes. She longed to talk with Natalie and ask her what she should do but deep down she knew what she would say. She would tell her to grab a hold of every opportunity that was given to her and get as far away from that little house in Lincoln as possible.
She remembered fondly the day she went to say goodbye to Natalie before she left for her grandparent’s house. Natalie hugged her tight and said, “Goodbye is something you say to someone you are planning on never seeing again. I’ll say see you later my friend.” She knew now exactly what she was going to do and she needed to speak with Natalie.
Chapter Six Light The Fuse
The rain started just as the credits were rolling. Big fat drops of rain accompanied by a horrendous windstorm. It was a blessing that Grams house was close by because even the short drive was a challenge. Nora met them at the door with towels.
“Thank God you’re back. My hair was standing on end. Natalie call your Aunt.”
Natalie dried off and went in the other room to call Blanche.
“How was your movie?” Nora asked.
“I liked it. Cinematography sure has come a long way though.” Johnny exclaimed.
“Sure has.” Nora agreed.
Natalie came back in the kitchen, “Blanche says the roads are terrible and the power is off in Lincoln. Is it OK if we stay here?”
“No,” Norah began, “I insist that you stay here.
Norah scooped up a nightie, slippers and a long robe off the counter and gave them to Natalie, “Get out of those wet clothes before you catch a chill.”
“Thanks,” Natalie gratefully took the clothes to the washroom to change.
“Johnny you guys feel free to make a snack. I got groceries while you were out this afternoon. I made some beds up on the couches in the front room.
“Thanks Mom,” Johnny hugged her.
“Please keep the TV down. Your Gram may be hard of hearing but I’m not.
Natalie came out of the bathroom with her hair pulled back wearing his mothers blue terry robe.
“I’m cooking some mini pizzas but I thought cheese and crackers would tide us over.” Johnny passed her the tray.
“Sounds good,” Natalie answered.
“Go find something good on TV and pick a couch. I’ll be right in.”
Natalie went into the front room and turned on the TV. She flipped and flipped until she finally decided on the game show network. She watched the last fifteen minutes of a family feud rerun and Johnny came in just in time for price is right. He sat on her couch while they shared the last of the cheese and crackers and ate mini pizzas. They made mock bids on everything from jukeboxes to pool tables. Natalie came within a thousand dollars during the showcase showdown and she and Johnny planned what they were going to do with the adventure package; a camper trailer, a pair of sea-doos and a Chevy Avalanche.
Natalie woke late into the evening and found that Johnny was sound asleep curled up to the arm of the couch. Natalie covered him up, turned off the TV and crawled into bed on the other couch. Curled up in the darkness she fought off sleep inhibiting teenage fantasies.
Johnny awoke to the sizzle and smell of bacon frying. His heart leapt when he looked over at Natalie peacefully sleeping. He covered her up and closed the French door that led to the kitchen. Her mother and grandmother were on the veranda surveying the damage from the previous night’s storm.
“Did you sleep well?” his mother asked.
“Yeah, what time is it?” Johnny asked, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
“It’s almost ten,” Gram answered, “I can’t believe I slept through the whole storm.”
“Apparently I slept through the bulk of it too,” Johnny noted, looking around at the tree branches and mangled flowers.
“I hope you worked up an appetite because I’m cooking up a truckstop breakfast.” His mother exclaimed.
Gram spoke with delight, “Your Aunt Patsy thinks that bran is going to save my life. Thank goodness your mother is not such a stickler for rules.”
“Everything is fine in moderation Mom.”
Johnny woke Natalie and the four of them ate a breakfast of bacon, eggs, hashbrowns and toast at the round oak gathering table his grandpa built many years ago. The women cleaned up the dishes while he cleared the yard of branches and flowers damaged by the wind and rain.
Natalie had changed and was ready to go when he came back in the house. They said their goodbyes. Johnny was anxious for the drive home so he could spend some time alone with Natalie. He drove to Meredith where he took the 104 to the 93 highway. It was a scenic drive through the mountains. The sun appeared in the afternoon but a cool breeze was still present.
“Your Gram is sweet Johnny.” Natalie remarked.
“She a fascinating lady. They finally took her license away last year. She’s hard of hearing so she can longer hear people honking at her.” Johnny joked.
Natalie laughed. “Speaking of license; I can’t believe your mother doesn’t have hers.”
“I know,” Johnny answered. “I think it was something she always planned to do but the time got away from her.”
“You should teach her to drive,” Natalie exclaimed.
“Trust me, I’ve offered,” Johnny replied, “she keeps putting me off. How about you? I can teach you to drive.”
“I’ve got lots of time to worry about that but I will keep you in mind.”
Johnny was not one to discourage easily. He exited the highway and turned down a secluded dirt road, pulled over and got out. “It’s all yours. Push over.”
“Oh I can’t,” she argued, “Really I’m too nervous. Her hands shook when she touched the steering wheel.
Johnny got back in the truck and spread his legs wide. He lifted the steering wheel as high as it would go. “Come over here,” he said, taking her hand in his, “I’ll help you until you feel comfortable.
Natalie sat between Johnny’s legs and placed her hands on the steering wheel. Johnny placed his hands over hers. “Respect is good,” he began, “but fear will not serve you well. I’m going to help you steer, you put your right foot on the right pedal and give this old girl some gas.”
They drove the pickup down the endless dirt rd. Within minutes Natalie’s nervousness disappeared and was replaced by something she couldn’t explain. Her skin felt tingly, her pulse was quick, her heartbeat rapid. She was conscious of his muscular thighs against hers, his hot breath on her neck as he instructed her patiently. Her grip on the wheel lessened as her palms began to sweat.
“I need a break.” She said breathlessly.
Johnny took her hand in his, pulled over and put the truck in park. Awkwardly Natalie tried to disengage herself but fell back into Johnny’s lap. Their eyes met for a moment and though she tried to look away she couldn’t. He touched her arm ever so lightly, without looking away. Even the cool breeze through the open window couldn’t cool her down. Johnny pulled her close and their lips met, softly at first and then more urgent. Her lips were sweet and welcoming. He backed away; he didn’t want to push her but just as quickly she pulled him back to her open mouth. He kissed her with a passion he never felt before. She fell back on the bench seat and pulled her down with him. His lips found hers again and very quickly they were breathless and hot.
He pulled away with great difficulty, “Natalie we better go.”
Their lips met again just briefly. “I know,” she replied.
They sat side by side on the drive home, holding hands, sneaking kisses. The remainder of the trip was silent but charged. Something had definitely changed between them
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CHAPTER THREE –What is and what should never be
The funny thing about memories is that they never really go away. They sit at the back of your subconscious waiting for a trigger, and then they quickly flood back to the forefront of your being. Sometimes it’s a song or a smell that brings it all back. This one hit her quick, like a punch in the gut. She remembered the very blue of the sky on that June day and the way the sun kept hiding behind the fluffy white clouds. They were walking on this very boardwalk when her father scooped her up into the air. She giggled and held on tight as he picked her up and swung her around in the air. She didn’t talk much about them. Maybe people just assumed she’d forgotten. She would never forget. She remembered her mother’s goodnight kiss so feather light, the way she moved when they danced, how green her eyes were when she was happy. She remembered her laughter and the smell of her perfume and the way she crinkled up her nose when she was disgusted. Her memories of her dad brought a smile to her lips; the easy way he carried himself, his humor, his bear hugs and silly voices and the way he never let her mother win an argument. She would never forget how it felt that day. Her dad had been busy with work and they hadn’t seen much of him in weeks. Her mother was beaming. Her eyes lit up when she smiled. It was ‘fun day’ at Weirs Beach and they had a fabulous time. They rode the water slides at Surf Coaster, took a day cruise around Lake Winnipesaukee and ate the best barbecued ribs ever at J.T.’s Roadhouse. She would always treasure that feeling of warmth when her parents tucked her into bed that night. She was a fortunate child who didn’t want for much but it was the simple things she always appreciated the most, like time with her family. Less than six months later they were gone. In an instant they were taken from her and her once safe, happy world was empty and cold.
Thank God for Blanche and Danny and the life they gave her. By all accounts her parents had been very wealthy. Her father at the tender age of thirty was a real estate developer. Mostly corporate real estate, he built office buildings, and high-rise condominiums. Before Natalie started school she traveled quite frequently and was in the company of some of the worlds most astute businessmen.
Life in Lincoln was much simpler. Blanche made sure that she had everything she needed but she also taught her and Danny the value of a dollar. From the time they were young they had chores around the house and they were often asked to help out at the diner. Blanche was a proud woman. She worked hard for everything she had and instilled that same ethic in her children.
He came back just then with their snow-cones catching her misty eyed.
“Is everything okay? He asked, puzzled.
She motioned for him to sit down beside her on the Boardwalk bench, “I was just remembering the last time I was here with my parents.”
His slow smile encouraged her to continue, “Tell me about them Nat.”
For the next little while they sat on the Boardwalk talking about their lives, their hopes, their fears. They talked about her deceased parents, his miserable absentee dad, their plans for the future.
NASCAR mania had begun to descend on the popular beachfront town of Weirs Beach and activity on the boardwalk increased. Travelers from near and far were walking billboards for the sport and their favorite drivers; sporting t-shirts, hats and flags. Natalie and Johnny were drawn in by the excitement both having followed the sport since they were children.
“Have you ever been to a live race,” Johnny inquired.
“Just some pro-stock and local short track races when I was a kid. My Dad’s company used to sponsor a short circuit racer so we traveled to different tracks when I was small but never a NASCAR event.” She replied.
“Me either,” Johnny continued. “My Mom is not much of a fan. I’m sure we’ll both get to go someday.
The breeze dissipated in the late afternoon and the carefree teens spent the latter part of the afternoon beating the sweltering heat riding the slides at Surf coaster. They squealed like children playing water tag and Johnny won a blow up lounger in the slider racing challenge. They wrapped up their water park adventure on the lazy river. It was near closing time and Johnny looked at her deviously.
“We could hide in the bathrooms and get ‘accidentally’ locked in here for the night.”
“That would be so much fun,” Natalie exclaimed excitably, “You’ll think I’m a huge moron but I always wanted to get locked in the Trafalgar theater and watch all the classic movies”
“You like old flicks?” Johnny asked.
“I love them. Something about being transported back in time. My mom was a huge movie buff so I grew up watching all the classics,’ she said wistfully.
“I’ll be honest,” Johnny began, “I’ve never really seen any of the classics but Wuthering Heights is paying at the drive-in here tonight if you’re interested?”
“Are you kidding? I read the book in school this year and I saw the movie with my mom when I was little. It’s such a classic love story. Are you sure you want to go?” Natalie asked.
“Love story huh?”
Natalie laughed, “Change your mind?”
“Absolutely not! I’m seventeen, it’s about time I broadened my horizons.
They agreed to go get dinner and call Blanche to see if it was alright if they were home late.
CHAPTER FOUR- More then a feeling
Gram Millers house was a quaint Victorian style cottage a short walk from the beach. It was her childhood home and although her family would prefer that she move to a seniors complex she was adamant that as long as she was living she would take care of herself. She had raised her family here with a man she loved. There had been some lean years and she had gone without many luxuries to keep her home. Sadly she realized that she was getting to a point in her life where she knew that taking care of herself was getting increasingly difficult but she wasn’t yet willing to give in.
The Miller women were sitting on the veranda sipping iced tea when Natalie
and Johnny returned.
“You kids look like you had fun,’ Gram Miller exclaimed.
“We went to surf coaster. It was a blast!” Johnny replied enthusiastically, leaning down to kiss his grandmother.
Johnny’s mom poured them iced tea and motioned for them to sit down.
Nora Miller felt much older than her thirty three years. Married at seventeen and divorced before her twentieth birthday she missed out on those carefree teenage years her son was now enjoying. Though she envied him that she certainly wanted him to experience all that life had to offer. Even though she had given up a lot of herself over the years she lived for and through her son. She remembered in those early days when John walked out on her, her son was her saving grace. She woke up to see his smile each day; she would kiss his forehead when she tucked him in at night and hope that his dreams were pleasant. His blue eyes were always so full of wonder and surprise. He was curious of the world around him and that had continued to serve him well throughout the years. Johnny was always anxious to try new things and see new places. Nora remembered fondly the scout trip he took to Washington when he was eleven years old. He was the only boy in his chapter to raise the thousand dollars need to take the trip and he did so of his own ingenuity. The framed picture sat prominently on a table in her living room. It showed her young son in his redskins ball cap standing proudly outside the gates of the White House. She looked at him now at seventeen. He was tall and handsome with a smile that could melt ice. She felt a sudden tug at her heart when she thought of his father at that age. His smile was the first thing that attracted her to him. He was always so happy in those days. ‘Probably drunk!’ she thought, thinking back. She had long ago given up the notion that he and Johnny would form a relationship. Johnny had little interest and her ex no longer had the inclination to get out of his own way. For almost fourteen years she had been mom and dad. She made dinner, she tossed the football around the yard, and she went to the ball games. Now her own mother was getting older and she faced the reality that quite soon she would be caring for her mother and son full-time. Her mother had always been her support system and she owed her as much but secretly Nora dreamed of a life of her own. Essentially she was a young woman and she dreamed of the kind of freedom and romance till now she’d only read about or saw on TV. She had never been outside of the New England states and she had never even gotten her driver’s license. She had become quite dependent on Johnny since he had gotten his but she knew it wouldn’t be long before he got busy again with school, sports and his own life. She made a decision right then and there to invest a little more time in herself.
“Penny for your thoughts Ms. Miller.” Natalie interrupted her thoughts
“For Goodness sake Natalie, please call me Nora.”
“OK Nora,” she replied, “I caught you lost in thought.
“It must be the heat dear. Speaking of, it’s to hot to turn the oven on so we’re going to have sandwiches and strawberry shortcake.”
“Sounds good to me,” Johnny rubbed his belly in mock starvation.
“I’ll help you Nora,” Natalie stood.
“I’ll entertain Gram,” Johnny stated.
“I’m sure you will. Nora winked at him.
The ladies made ham and cheese and cucumber sandwiches and an incredible dessert of strawberry shortcake on homemade biscuits. Nora joined Natalie and Johnny after dinner as they tossed the football around the front lawn. Johnny was a precision thrower and caught the ball with ease. Nora allowed Johnny to play junior football and he excelled at the sport. Nora was amazed at his speed and agility and encouraged his love of the game at every opportunity. She had never been fascinated with sports growing up but for Johnny’s sake she decided to take up an interest so that they were able to converse about it and therefore she was able to stay involved in his life. Football was his passion but he also participated in soccer and rugby and was a die hard NASCAR fan.
It wasn’t long before the heat put a damper on their football toss.
Nora took Johnny aside, “Honey I’m going to say here with Mom for a couple of days so you and Natalie can drive home when you like.
“Is Gram OK?” Johnny asked.
“She’s fine, I think,” Nora began, “I’m just a bit concerned about her mobility and her forgetfulness.
“Natalie and I aren’t going home until later anyway; we’re going to the drive in.”
“What are you seeing?” Nora asked.
“Yeah seriously. Natalie’s a huge classic movie buff.”
“Well you’re quite a gentleman,” Nora beamed, “I hope you enjoy it. It’s one of the most beautiful love stories of all time.
“Ah Mom, I didn’t know you were such a romantic,” Johnny teased.
“I used to be.” She answered wistfully.
Johnny hugged her then. A little tighter than usual she thought.
“Wait, wait,” she yelled after them as they got in the truck, “does Blanche know you are going to be late?’
“She does.” Natalie replied
“Hey Mom, why don’t you settle Gram in and come with us.”
“Thank you but no,” Nora replied, “Didn’t I raise a good boy Natalie?’
“You sure did Ms.; sorry, Nora.” Natalie answered awkwardly.
“Mom I’m not just being polite. We’d be happy to have you.”
“Go on you two. I’ve got things to do. Besides Johnny, one pretty girl should be enough for you.’ At that Nora turned and walked up the flower lined path to the house.
Dusk came early and the air cooled as quickly as the darkness fell.
“Mom was right you know,” Johnny remarked casually.
“Right about what?” Natalie asked.
“That you’re pretty,” Johnny said, avoiding eye contact.
“Well thanks,” Natalie replied sneaking a sideways glance at him. When she noticed the blush on his cheeks hers immediately flared bright red.
Thank goodness for the distraction of the movie. It was the original movie, a masterful adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights which brilliantly told the tale of the tortured love affair of Heathcliff and Cathy. It was a powerful tale speaking of the depths of passion and what hatred and revenge can do to a soul. Under a moonlit sky the two friends sat together closely and quietly as the tale of the unrequited love of Cathy and Heathcliff unfolded. She recalled a childhood memory of being curled up on the sofa with her mother and the beautiful Catherine was telling Ellen that she and Heathcliff had become so much a part of one another that it was hard to tell where one person ended and the other began. She had always tried to be the right kind of girl, who married well and resisted passion, but by nature she was wildly passionate and uninhibited, like Heathcliff. On the big screen looming lifelike out of the darkness Cathy spoke from her heart “He’s more myself then I am. Whatever our souls are made of his and mine are the same. Linton’s is as different as frost from fire. My one thought in living is Heathcliff. Ellen I am Heathcliff.” Natalie’s eyes filled with tears, maybe at the memory of her mother, maybe because Heathcliff left before hearing Cathy’s admission of love or maybe at the thought that you could love another person so deeply that you felt they were a part of you.
To be continued
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