“When it came to you, my love had no limit. It would have reached the stars.”
Jack climbed into his boat and then turned around, pulling me up. He rolled out a large sleeping bag on the front cushion. He removed his slip-on shoes and climbed in, holding it open, inviting me inside. I quickly climbed in, and nuzzled up against him. It was a double sleeping bag for two people that he already owned. It caused me to question what memories were associated with this simple item.
He kissed me on my forehead, and I took in his woodsy scent that also had a fresh spring smell, possibly from whatever soap he showered with. It was comforting and warm being in there with him. I still couldn’t help feeling a sense of loss, knowing that moments like these come to pass too quickly.
“Jack, I’m enjoying this so much,” I proclaimed.
He pulled me tighter against him.
“Me too. This is nice,” he said, looking at me. “Your company is extra nice. So is your scent. You smell just lovely,” Jack said with a full smile. He lightly kissed me on the lips. We both laid back and looked up at the stars.
The moon was a sliver in the sky, being that it was toward the end of September.
“There was a lot of city where I was, which caused a lot of light pollution. I forgot about the stars. This is beautiful and magnificent. I think we take for granted what is already here for us,” Jack said.
“That is profound, Jack, and I agree. I hold much respect for the things already put in place for us to enjoy. I don’t think there is anything more beautiful that we can appreciate,” I said in agreement, gazing into the sky.
There was a long silence between us as we relished the sound of the waves and the beauty of the stars. “Isn’t it crazy to think how many of them there are?” I asked Jack.
“Yes. It boggles the mind to think about,” he responded.
Jack always appeared to be thinking, no matter what, and it left me curious as to where his thoughts were actually at.
“I read in a magazine that astronomers say new stars are born all the time, and the universe is constantly expanding.” I added, in an attempt to feel him out.
Jack looked at me with a funny smile on his face.
“Maddy, you’re deep. And a big thinker.”
I was trying to draw him out, and I think he realized it. I wanted to see what he believed in. His beliefs would make no difference to me, but I could see that he was someone who had been hurt, and I wanted to know if he held onto any hope. I had no idea how to ask such questions, so I put my hope in deep conversation.
“Jack, when I saw you at the beginning of the week, you appeared to be drained. At first I thought you were grumpy, or something. However, the more I watched you, the more you seemed sad. Did something happen?” I asked.
He didn’t respond but continued to gaze at the stars. I didn’t think he was ignoring me, but maybe he had a hard time talking about it.
“I watched you from inside my house for two days. Whatever is going on, it has in no way affected how beautiful you are to me. However, the disappointment was pouring off you. What does this to a person is what I wonder? I just want you to be okay. Are you okay?” He still said nothing. “Jack, I just need to know what I am competing against.”
He looked at me, with his lips pursed together.
“Maddy, I really do get your curiosity. And you are very caring. You see very well. The past couple of years just haven’t been very kind to me,” Jack replied softly, his voice shaking along with his hands.
This was excruciating for him to talk about, yet I realized I needed answers, even if it was just a little at a time. Holding grief in was never a good thing, so I reasoned that I was helping him by letting him tell me.
“You’re a good man, Jack, but I think you have secrets, and they make you… withdrawn. If all of this is related to grief however, holding that in will in no way help you,” I informed.
“No offense, Maddy, but what would you know about it?” Jack questioned, condescendingly.
His response answered my question. He was grieving about something, or someone. I was not going to take offense because I realized that he indeed was grieving, and this was possibly sadness coming out in the form of anger.
“Don’t do that, Jack. I only want to be helpful, which I’m trying to be. I’m here if you need someone to talk to. That’s really what I’m trying to say. And honestly, I do know about grief. You don’t know me just as much as I don’t know you is what you told me, remember? If you can’t tell this to me, Jack, who can you tell?” I questioned.
“I’m sorry. I’m not upset with you. I am just uncomfortable with talking about this. Talking about it won’t change anything,” he confessed. “When I’m with you, it makes this hell I’ve been living in almost disappear. You are helping me move on. I don’t want you to be just some shoulder to cry on. You already mean something else to me, and I feel like I would be burdening you. And please trust me, it would be a burden,” he told me.
I had prodded him enough, and he spoke the truth to me about how he felt. His answer, although it was heart breaking and cryptic, also made my heart beat faster. I felt for his grief, however, he had a way of turning his grief into beautiful, honest answers aimed at how he felt about me. I tried my best not to smile when he spoke that way.
I reached up and kissed him on his watery eyes. I felt I needed to reward his honesty with something that would encourage him and maybe push away some of the pain that I had made him remember.
I could feel how heavily his heart was beating under my hand. This gave me satisfaction in knowing that what he spoke about meant something to him, and he had shared that with me.
“Jack,” I whispered, close to his face, our noses touching, “my heart is truly broken for whatever you are going through. I don’t doubt that you are enduring some kind of grief. All I have to do is look at you, and your face says all that your heart is feeling. I want to make it easier for you, so if you need to talk about anything, I’ll listen, and I’ll never judge you.”
Jack pressed his face against mine and tightened his hold on me.
“What I’ve told you is all I can say right now, Maddy. Maybe someday I’ll be able to say more, but until I come to you, wanting to talk, the matter can’t be brought up again. My heart can’t stand it,” he sadly said.
“I promise not bring it up again, unless you ask me to,” I said in oath.
We laid back again, looking up at the night sky. I rested my head on his chest. His breathing was heavy, and I felt his chest falter - he seemed to be holding it all in. I pressed my cheek against his, and pointed up at the brightest star I could see. “Do you see that star there?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“That’s the brightest in the sky. Something that I read once, and that I take comfort in, said that new stars are born when the spark of someone here goes out, and they explode into the night sky. The brilliance up there was once here.”
I dropped my hand and brought it to his, seeing the reflection of the sky in his dark, friendly eyes. “Hope, Jack. Hope is what keeps us all going. If we have none, our lives are lost in our own self-gratification.” I felt that my words were falling on a deaf ear. “I’ll just stop talking.”
“Don’t do that,” he immediately responded. “Your voice is soothing, like your words. What is your hope, Maddy?”
His reply melted my heart.
“I’ll share it with you soon,” I answered.
I already knew that I loved this man. I had loved him for a very long time. I was afraid his heart still belonged to whatever tragedy made him melancholy at times, and he had not yet moved on from whatever appeared to be plaguing his mind. Maybe he needed more time? I wanted him to be ready for me.
“Jack, if you need time to yourself I will understand. I will not get in the way if you need that,” I whispered.
Jack turned toward me, and placed both of my hands in his.
“I don’t want that, nor do I need it. I didn’t know I needed anyone until I met you. Don’t leave, Maddy. You are what I have to look forward to. I have found my hope.”
“Oh…” was all I found to reply with.
His heart reached out to me desperately, and I felt awful for giving him the anxiety that I could possibly be gone from him tomorrow. He trusted me enough to show his vulnerability, and it was somewhat frightening.
After a while of looking at the sky and holding one another in silence, Jack fell to sleep. I was tired as well, but did not want us both to fall asleep. I should have probably headed home an hour earlier, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave just yet. I whispered into Jack’s ear that it was late. He stirred a little bit, and then opened his eyes.
“What time is it?” he asked, looking around.
“I’m not sure, actually,” I replied.
Jack slowly rose out of the sleeping bag and stretched his arms out.
“Okay, let’s get back then. Has your mom called you?”
“I’m not sure, I have no signal out here,” I said.
We got back to his apartment and I checked my phone. I had three missed calls from over an hour ago, so my mom must have fallen asleep. If she had not gone to sleep I would have had more missed calls from her. It was about eleven thirty, and my eyes were feeling heavy.
Jack stood by my car and kissed me goodnight. After having our first good-bye kiss, I got inside my car, and Jack stood back with his hands in his pockets, watching me leave. I turned the key to The Old Lady. Nothing happened.
“This is embarrassing,” I said.
“What? Is your car dead?”
“Yep. She’s old, so perhaps it was her time,” I joked.
“Pop the hood,” he instructed.
He tinkered under the hood a bit, and asked me to turn it over. We still got no response from the ignition.
“Since you aren’t even getting it to turn over, it could be the battery, or battery related. I’m sorry I don’t know much about cars,” he said.
“Well, I’d ask to stay the night, but I think that would take us somewhere we are trying to not go right now,” I said.
“It’s good you’re honest with yourself. I’ll drive you home,” Jack said.
We pulled up to my house, and Jack walked me to the door. He held onto me for a moment, kissing my mouth and then my cheek. He rubbed his hand up and down my back as he hugged and kissed me goodnight one last time before letting me in the door.
“Maddy, I’ll take care of your car for you before I start work here tomorrow,” he said.
“Jack, you don’t have to do that. I was just going to call someone and have them tow it to a mechanic for repair,” I replied.
“No need. I’ll take care of it,” he insisted.
I smiled at him.
“Okay, Jack. Thank you, I really appreciate it. Just let me know how much it will be to fix.”
“Sure,” he said winking.
I had a feeling he was going to try to take care of all of it. I was not going to let him do that. It was too much to ask.
Before I closed the door, I quietly shouted at Jack. “Hey! Your tool belt is in my car. I brought it to you, and forgot. Can you take my surf-boards inside so no one steals them?”
“As you wish,” he replied.
He waved at me and climbed inside his truck. I closed the door behind me, and walked quietly inside. My mother was sleeping on the couch with a book on her chest. I walked over to her to let her know I was home. I noticed the book across her chest was blue, with frayed edges and scratched-out lettering. She went into my room and got my journal.
That little sneak!
I was frustrated at first, but then realized I had left it out. I had pretty much invited her to read it. Why was she in my bedroom though? I stood over her with my hands on my hips. She would wake up soon, feeling me standing next to her. If not, I was going to put a pillow over her face. I thought about it for a moment and decided the pillow idea would be fun. I ripped the pillow out from under her head and put it over her face. Her arms flailed around for a moment, causing my journal to fall. I picked it up off the floor and then I jumped back, laughing.
“Dammit, Maddy! You scared the shit out of me,” she shouted, looking relieved to see that it was me.
“Good! You should learn to lock the door when you are home alone. And I guess I should learn to lock the door to my room and put my stuff away,” I said, holding up my journal.
My mother slowly stood on her feet, and threw the pillow at me. “Hey! I’m sorry. I brought some laundry into your room and saw it out. It had our carpenter’s name right on the front, what was I supposed to do?”
I threw the pillow back at her, and it hit her in the legs. “You could have waited until I got home and then asked me!” I exclaimed.
She picked the pillow back up, getting ready to throw it back at me.
“Mom, I swear to god, if you throw that pillow back at me I am going to punch you in the face.”
She dropped the pillow and crossed her arms over her chest.
“Maddy, the stuff in that journal is out of this world crazy. I understand they are your own thoughts, but holy mackerel. Is all of that about your father true?” she asked.
It all settled within me, and I suddenly realized the gravity of everything she had read. I sat down on our recliner, and my mother followed me, sitting herself on the couch.
“Yes it is true,” I said.
My mother slapped her hand on her leg, clearly trying not to cry.
“Dammit, Maddy! Why didn’t I know about any of that? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I kept it a secret. Mom, I’m sorry you read that. It was selfish, and I was not thinking about you. I’m so very sorry,” I said as I started to get choked up alongside her.
“Mom, I did not see any other way to end my pain. I missed dad. I felt I had nothing to look forward to,” I added.
“No, I’m sorry that I didn’t see it was that bad. It’s my fault,” she cried.
“Don’t you dare put that on yourself, Mom. I hid it from you on purpose. I could have talked to you about it. So please, accept that. Don’t take that away from me,” I said, raising my voice.
“I will try, Maddy,” she said, wiping her cheeks.
“Thank you,” I replied.
“And what about all the pages about the mystery man? I didn’t get through all of it, but you are certain that was Mr. Ryder?” she asked.
I rolled my eyes at her question because she really didn’t need to ask. It was all written in that journal.
“Yes, Mom. And quit addressing him as Mr. Ryder, it really ages you.”
“Well? What do you know about him?” she asked.
I couldn’t help letting out a sigh just thinking about him. I put my face in my hands, hiding my smile.
“That great, huh?”
“I do know a little bit, though it is not enough. He’s very private,” I told her.
“Do you think he’s hiding something, Maddy? Like, do you think he’s married?”
I scoffed at my mother’s nosy assumptions.
“No, he’s not married and he’s not intentionally hiding anything, Mom. He avoids any past-related questions, and the answers that he does give are a little cryptic. I feel sorry for him.”
My mother looked shocked and curious at the same time.
“You feel sorry for him?” she asked, scrunching her nose.
“Yes, very much. He’s sad or depressed about something. At first I thought he was just grumpy, however it’s something else. I think his sadness was about to swallow him up, until I came along,” I said, almost smiling.
“Until you came along?” My mother questioned.
“Yes. He pretty much said, because of me, he has something to look forward to now. He said I was his hope,” I told her.
“Wow. That’s a nice compliment, and a lot of pressure on you,” she said, almost negatively.
“Well, I liked it. It tells me that I mean something to him,” I said.
“Well, did he say anything else about where he comes from?” she pressed.
“No. Like I said, he tries to change the subject at all costs,” I said as I leaned back in the recliner, looking at the ceiling.
“I’ll tell you, Mom, this is something out of a dream. I have thought about this man since I was thirteen, and kept it to myself, and my journal. Whenever I was having a bad day, thinking of him would make things a little better. Then in the beginning of the week, I looked out of the hallway window, and here is this guy, in our driveway. I had to pinch myself.”
My mother leaned back on the couch, appearing to contemplate my words. She let out a sigh that I was familiar with.
“That is so crazy, Maddy. You could try to Google him. You have his name, and he said he was from Iowa.”
“Seriously? You need a hobby. And don’t say cooking is your hobby because you’re terrible at it,” I scolded.
“You know, you could be a little nicer. I was just making a suggestion,” she retorted.
“I think I would rather be a little more respectful, and trust him,” I quickly objected.
“I’m just saying you could always do that if you aren’t getting anywhere with him,” she continued.
“Mom, seriously, shut up. If you knew him, you would not be saying that,” I warned.
Mom threw her hands up in defeat. “Fine, what else do you think you know about him?”
I smiled, thinking about my epic, and eventful, evening. “I think he used to be a photographer because he has some pretty expensive equipment.” I put my hands on my cheeks, feeling myself blushing. My mother could tell that there was something I was not sharing.
“What, Maddy?” she demanded.
“Nothing, he’s an amazing photographer, that’s all. And I haven’t even seen one photo, though my portfolio is coming soon, so standby,” I laughed. I couldn’t help smiling, thinking about my risqué photo shoot.
“I’m not even going to ask for any details because I don’t want to know what that means,” she said, looking at me like she was disappointed. “I swear to god, if I see pictures of you appear on some website… Do I need to have a talk with this guy?” she threatened.
“Seriously, if you even go near him, I will finish what I started with that pillow. And besides, it was all me. He’s very respectful,” I reassured her.
“Well that’s comforting. I will say this, he is absolutely gorgeous,” my mother professed.
“I know,” I swooned.
“He’s got a lot done on the house already too, and it’s the first week,” she said, and I smiled at her.
“Well, today he had help.”
My mother tilted her head down and raised her eyebrows. “You helped him with the house?”
I nodded my head. “Yep. And he taught me how to use a tape measure and properly count. I only made a few mistakes.”
“And you didn’t freak out about numbers?” she asked.
I glanced upward, sort-of avoiding the question. “At first I did, but he was so sincere and patient, it helped me learn. He showed me how to do it, and he let me work at my own pace. I eventually got pretty quick at it. I know how to use a table saw and put up siding. It’s not hard.”
“Well, it sounds like you’ve had a pretty full day,” she said in admiration. “Do you know how old he is, Maddy?”
I responded with no hesitation. “Thirty-one-years young.”
“So if you were thirteen when you had your first encounter, he would have been…” my mother counted on her fingers, “twenty-two. That’s kind of weird, Maddy. Nine years is a big difference between two people.”
“When you think about it like that, yes. However, now I am grown up, and I have these sensational boobs,” I joked, lifting my chest.
“Can’t you be serious?” she said, laughing.
“I am being serious. Thank you, Mom, for your genetics,” I teased, lifting my breasts with my hands.
“Oh, you’re welcome, though you look more like your father than you do me,” she countered.
“Yeah… Dad was always prettier than you,” I continued.
“Would you stop giving me a hard time, Maddy,” she said, smiling and elevating her voice.
“I love you, Mom.”
“Yeah, yeah. Maddy, I just don’t want to see you get hurt,” she sincerely said.
I nodded my head. “I know. Nor do I want to be hurt, but it’s a risk I have to take. You can’t hide inside your house because something bad might happen - your life would not be a life at all. I’m not a violent person by any means, although I feel that if anyone tries to interfere with me being happy with Jack, I will probably murder them. Present company not excluded,” I warned.
Mom laughed at me. “Understood. I would still like to Google him. And don’t say anything! There could be something very interesting that is good. I’m not looking for dirt on him, Maddy. He could be some humanitarian who saved thousands of children in Africa and China. You never know!”
I rolled my eyes at her. She was such a nosy mother, yet it was sweet that she was interested in my well-being. She was my best friend in life, and I always felt bad that she had been left without a husband, and chose not to remarry, so she could focus on me. I could not deny her the satisfaction of Googling Jack Ryder.
“Fine,” I said. “Have at it. Do you want some coffee or tea, because you are going to be at the computer a while when you find out all of this amazing info on my long lost love.”
“Tea will be fine,” she replied sarcastically.
I brought my mother some green tea with honey and a lemon.
“Googling him only gives me results for some British actor who has the same name,” she said taking a sip of tea.
“Well, when you hit the jackpot let me know. I’m going to write down some stuff,” I said, falling back onto the couch with my journal.
After about twenty minutes of searching, mom got up from the computer and walked to the kitchen table, reaching inside her purse. She walked back to the computer with a credit card.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I can’t find anything! So I’m on ancestry.com looking for his heritage. He said he grew up in Iowa, which is a good place to start.”
“You are seriously going to pay for that website?” I asked.
Even though she was facing away from me I could see her eyes roll. “Well if it was free I wouldn’t pay for it, but it’s not. Besides, it’s not that much.”
I ended up falling asleep on the couch reading a book. Mom must have put a blanket on me in the night. I was woken up by the smell of breakfast. I cleared the fuzz from my eyes, sat up, and leaned over the back of the couch. She was making eggs and pancakes.
“Smells good,” I said.
She didn’t say anything for a moment, as she was scrambling the eggs in the pan.
“Yeah, you’re welcome,” she replied.
She sounded annoyed.
“How did the hunt go last night?” I asked.
She didn’t immediately respond, scraping the eggs onto a big plate. I could tell something was bothering her.
“You know I searched until two thirty in the morning, and I found absolutely nothing. And by the way, your man is here working already, body and all.”
“Body and all?” I asked.
She turned toward me. “It’s already about eighty-five outside, and he’s working with his shirt off.”
“Oh… good,” I laughed. “And you are upset about that?”
“I just don’t understand how I could possibly turn up literally nothing on him. No business info, no former jobs, no property purchases. Those things always leave a trail and it can be found online,” she continued without missing a beat.
I became very annoyed at her causing my response to be unbridled. “This is exactly why I said I did not want you to do this! Now I am going to have this on my mind, and it’s going to give me stupid trust issues. Thank you very much! I’m going to try and pretend I didn’t hear any of this, and you had better not remind me,” I yelled.
“Well, doesn’t that concern you even a little bit, Maddy? You have to wonder if he’s telling you the truth. Like I said last night, I just don’t want to see you get hurt,” she added.
I growled at her response. “No, it doesn’t concern me. He’s Jack Ryder, the man who unintentionally saved your daughter’s life once, and is now remodeling our house!”
I got up and started to run up to my room.
“I’m sorry, Maddy, for acting like your mom,” she shouted at me. “Don’t you want your eggs?”
I turned around and shouted right back.
“I’ll eat after I get ready! I’m going to go help Jack and enjoy looking at his body! Go to work!”