“Are we going to Chachuma Lake today?”
“Yes. There are some great shots there that I must get.”
“What time do you want to go?”
“Well, I was thinking sometime in the evening, so I could get the sunset.”
“That will be nice. Do you want me to bring some food so we can have dinner there?”
“Yeah, let’s make a night out of it. I’d like to take some new pictures of you too.”
“Yes of you. I need some new ones to hang in my office.”
“Why? Is there something wrong with the old ones?”
“Not at all. I just want more because I don’t feel I have enough.”
“That’s a sweet thing to say, Jack.”
I was moving right along in finishing up with the green board underlay. Having already completed the east, west, and front sides of the house, that left only the backside. It was around three in the afternoon when I was close to finishing up the day. The siding would be started the next day.
I had not once seen Madalyn that day, and she was all I could think about. I would even stop working and nonchalantly look through the windows to see if she was in the house. Perhaps she had stayed at a friend’s house, or had a boyfriend.
I sang as I started to pick up all the scrap pieces laying in the backyard. My mother told me I used to do that when I would draw, write, or work on anything. I used to get in trouble in elementary school because I would sing, and not realize it. Sometimes I sang a little louder than I wanted to.
Just as I was almost finished cleaning up, the window I was working under opened. There was a screen in the in the way, so Madalyn didn’t stick her head out to talk to me. I could barely see her because the sun was beaming in my face. I could make out a white shirt though.
“Hey.” I heard from inside.
“Yeah?” I questioned.
“Have you ever worn a tie?” she asked.
That was an unexpected question. I wasn’t sure what I expected anyway, because so far she’d only spoken with her eyes. With her beautiful, however intimidating, gaze. It was almost oppressive to my nerves because I could not read it. What was she thinking? What was I thinking? Her beauty was merciless in the sense that it made me feel very self-conscious.
“Um, yes I have,” I answered.
She shouted at me through the screen. “It wasn’t a clip-on tie was it?”
I stalled for moment. “Uh… no it wasn’t a clip-on.”
I waited a moment for her to comeback with another response, yet there was only silence. I didn’t see her white shirt through the screen anymore. Picking up a few more scraps of green board, I walked to the front of the house and threw them in the dumpster. As I walked back to where the rest of the pieces were, Madalyn came out of the basement door. There was an attractive bounce in her graceful steps as she approached.
She stopped about a foot from my face, in a white dress shirt with a black tie that was in a messed up knot around her neck.
The close proximity allowed me to marvel at her beauty, which was beyond compare. She wasn’t giving me her former stare down, which put me at ease. I traced her face with my eyes, taking notes on every curve, contour, and feature. Her lips were full and beautiful. Her cheeks were soft, yet edgy at the same time. Every part of her face complemented the next. Even the way a few strands of her dark hair fell over her eyes was mesmerizing. If I were going to write about her, a poet would be needed. Her eyes were her most outstanding feature. Even though the corners were sharp, they were still big and beautiful. The blue in her eyes were so blue, they were actually violet. All of her striking features had me feeling self-conscience about how I appeared. I realized I was staring, because I saw her mouth moving, and noticed she was speaking.
“Did I startle you? Hello?” she was asking.
I fumbled over my words. “Y… yes, a little. Sorry. What can I do for you?”
She laughed. What did I do to make her laugh? Or does she do that laugh her mother does before she spoke?
Her eyes were unearthly.
“Well, I am starting a new job tonight as a waitress at Giovanni’s, and was wondering how the HELL to tie this,” she said.
She really widened her eyes when she said Hell.
“Sure, I can help you with that,” I said.
She quickly jumped closer to me and held up her head up, exposing her neck. I had been so captivated by her eyes that I failed to notice her shirt stopped at her bare thigh. When she hopped forward, I noticed what appeared to be black spandex underwear. Or they could have been running shorts. I was unsure.
What was this girl doing?
Either she was completely oblivious with an innocent mind, or she purposely decided to come outside in front of me wearing as little as possible. I quickly looked back to the neck tie, and nervously asked a question. “Do you want me to show you how, or do you just want me to tie it?”
She sort of frowned, and pursed her lips as she contemplated her answer. Her cute frown created a small dimple on her left cheek bone.
“Well, I just spent the last half hour watching YouTube videos on how to tie a neck tie, and I can’t get it right. It’s too short, too long, or just looks like this mess you see before you. It’s making me frustrated.”
I brought my hands to her neck and unwrapped the knot of black tie.
“Okay, I’ll just tie it for you, but I suggest you keep practicing, so you can eventually get it. I think it does take practice, and I’m probably tying it differently than any of the videos you watched. There are one hundred different ways you can put on a neck tie.”
She sighed in defeat but kept her chin up while I tied.
“Yeah… my search results were endless.”
There was an uncomfortable silence between us, so I decided to ask a question.
“What’s the tie for?” I instantly remembered that she had already told me what it was for.
“Oh wait, you already told me. New job, sorry.”
Why did I feel so nervous around this girl? Maybe it was how direct she seemed toward me. She clearly wasn’t that shy, and had no problem letting me know that she was looking at me… like right then. The previous day, she walked out in plain view after showering, with wet hair, no make-up, cotton shorts, and a tank top, in front of a total stranger.
Maybe she felt she had free reign to do as she pleased in her own home?
She was either extremely comfortable in her own skin, and I could see why, or she was just young, and completely naive to what was going on around her. I felt as though I had missed something. I concentrated on the knot, all the while feeling her almost ogling my face.
I finished the knot, and started to raise it up to the collar, but realized it was too short.
“Damn. Sorry, I’m not used to tying a neck tie for someone else.”
She looked down at it. “It’s okay, you can try again. How many times have you had to tie one of these?”
“I used to wear them all the time,” I replied.
I undid the knot, and began again. This time she kept her chin up as much as she could while looking down at my hands.
“So have you been working on houses very long?” she asked.
“Did you learn interrogation methods from your mother?” I laughed.
Why did I say that? I sounded like a jerk. Say something quick.
“I’m just kidding. That was rude,” I said almost immediately.
“No. It’s okay, I thought it was funny,” she replied, smiling.
“To answer your question, I have worked on houses and done general construction since I was sixteen. I’ve just recently gotten back into it.”
“I can tell,” she replied.
I wasn’t sure what she was implying. I think she was maybe being insulting.
“I mean the way you look, not your work. You’re doing a good job so far.”
“I’m that rough looking, huh?” I teased.
I shaved two days ago and have a five o’clock shadow; that is pretty normal. Does it look that bad?
She made that small frown again before answering.
“No,” she said firmly, then paused. “I mean your tan. Your tan looks like it goes seven layers deep.”
I looked at my arms in observation. “Oh. Well I have a lot Native American in me.”
“Your arms are toned too,” she stated as she brought one finger up and poked my bicep.
She was very direct with voicing her observations. Like a young child, speaking curiously. Or maybe she was as nervous as I was, searching for something to say.
I finished the knot, slid the knot up to the collar, and stood back to check the length.
“Looks good to me,” I pronounced.
“You really are a Jack of all Trades,” she joked, winking her beautiful right eye.
I looked down at the ground, feeling self-conscious. That name I chose really did make me cringe.
She stood there in front of me, smiling. It appeared that she was searching for something else to say, as she lingered.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to put you on the spot,” she said, giggling.
I tried to pretend that she was not having an effect on me. “It’s fine.”
“That’s a fib, because I can see that you are blushing, even though you are a descendant of the red man,” she said.
Her blunt honesty about observations she had made was innocent, and actually made her more attractive, even if it was at my expense.
We both laughed together, flirtatiously.
“You’re a conundrum, Miss,” I told her.
She stopped laughing, and yet held her beautiful smile, looking at me questioningly. “How do you mean?”
“You walk out here with all confidence like you have nothing to lose,” I complimented.
She raised herself onto her tip toes, flaunting her confidence, and held her hands behind her back.
“Confidence just might, or might not be my middle name. And you can call me Maddy.”
Okay all this flirting is great, Jack. How old is this woman? She did not deserve the title of girl.
“Well, Maddy Confidence, do you go by anything else?” I asked.
“Yes,” she answered, “although you will need to take that pencil in your tool belt and write it down. Madalyn Céleste Amore.”
“Madalyn Céleste Amore,” I repeated. “That is a beautiful name. It flows off the tongue nicely.” I removed my utility pencil from my tool pouch and pretended to write it on my hand.
She closed her eyes and nodded in thanks at my compliment. “So, Jack Ryder, what is your second name?”
I cleared my throat. “Um… actually, I don’t have one. Jack Ryder. Simple.”
She perked up as if she had something interesting to tell me.
“Well, ryder means knight. Are you a knight?”
“I’m not a knight. And it’s impressive that you know that. I’m more Native American than anything. Although, I have some Greek in me too.”
She scoffed at my boring reply.
“How can you say that? I’ll have to come up with a second name for you. Native Americans were knights without armor. I think they were the bravest of knights,” she said, raising her eyebrows toward me again.
“Running around mostly naked, and painted, with no fear of the whites,” she laughed.
I laughed with her, though mine was a nervous laugh.
We both looked at each other, realizing neither one of us were saying anything else.
“Sorry, my mind just pictured you in a loin cloth and moccasins,” she said, placing her palm to her face.
The innocent way that she spoke her mind was hilarious. It could be that she lacked social skills, and pulled it off by owning it, by not caring what anyone’s judgments of her were. I admired that.
There was a short silence after we were done laughing that I was not comfortable with.
“I should probably get back to it,” I remarked.
“Okay, yeah. Good thing you’re not getting paid by the hour, you slacker,” she laughed.
I laughed at her teasing. “Oh, hey you distracted me.”
“I know, Jack Ryder. I was just kidding,” she said, folding her arms behind her back, and arching up on her tip toes.
When she used my name, I felt butterflies. I knew she caught my eyes roving over her form when she raised her stance. Every move she made, even the simplest step, was graceful and fluid. Her legs were long and beautiful. My father used to ask me, when I spoke about a woman’s looks, “Did her legs go all the way to the top?”
Yes they do.
Her divinely placed features created a flutter within me just by looking at her.
“Well I better go finish getting ready. I have to leave in about twenty-five minutes,” she stated.
I began to finish picking up the green board scraps, and she started to disappear into her house the same way she came out.
“Okay. Good luck tonight at your new job.”
I felt compelled to take one last look at her. As she was opening the basement door, to head back into the house, she stopped, looking back at me. She held my gaze for a brief moment, and didn’t look away. She had that puzzled look on her face, however. I thought she was going to say something, but she didn’t. She held my gaze as she opened the door and slowly closed it behind her.
What happened? Was she trying to tell me something?
I had been out of the game for quite a while, and was unaware of what the signs and body language meant. I had not been paying attention for a long duration now.
She was on my mind as I finished cleaning up. It seemed to put my usual melancholy in some other place.
I was about to take off my tool belt when Anne walked out from the basement.
“Hey! Look at this! Good job,” she announced as she clapped her hands. “I’m getting excited.”
“Yep,” I remarked. “It’s coming along. Tomorrow I’ll start laying on the siding back here.”
“You work fast,” she complimented.
“Well, thank you,” I replied.
“Do you mind if I start early again?” I asked.
She waved her hands at me in approval.
“Oh, start as early as you’d like, Mr. Ryder.”
“Okay, thank you. I just don’t want to wake anybody up again,” I said.
“You didn’t wake me up, I was already awake when you started today,” she quickly said.
“Oh, I didn’t mean anything toward you. I think I woke your daughter up yesterday,” I said in reply.
She rolled her eyes and did her usual laugh.
“Oh, Maddy? She needs to wake up. She’s twenty-two-years-old, and is just now starting her first job. So make sure if you are on her side of the house that you be extra noisy.”
Okay so she’s in her early twenties. Good to know, Jack. That’s almost a decade younger.
I laughed in reply.
“Okay, well I’ll be sure to tell her it was your idea when she gives me a scolding. Besides, she seemed kind of excited to start her new job, so maybe she’s turning over a new leaf.”
Anne squinted one eye at me questioningly. “Excuse me?”
Why did I just say that?
“She asked for help to put on a neck tie for her new job. So she came out here, and I tied it for her. I felt bad because she said she had fumbled with it for half an hour,” I said, hoping to climb out of the hole I had dug.
Anne cocked her head back and folded her arms across her chest.
Oh no, that is a scrutinizing posture.
She squinted her eyes.
“Interesting. She used to help her father tie his ties for work all the time. It was sort of a game they would play. She learned how to tie his neck ties.”
I tried with everything I had not to smile, because now I totally saw her daughter’s intentions. I couldn’t help but crack a smile as I responded.
“Oh, I see. Well, I don’t really know what to say,” I replied, placing my eyes at the ground, feeling embarrassed.
“Mr. Ryder, you don’t have to say anything. She can be such a little sneak,” Anne quickly remarked.
Her reply annoyed me some because I didn’t know how she meant it. Sometimes a parent’s love for their children can be less loving, and more overbearing. I wasn’t pretending to understand their relationship; I guess I just thought Madalyn appeared sweet, and I was completely flattered by this new little tidbit of information. And in no way did I see her as a sneak. The way Anne implied it made her sound dishonest.
“Well don’t hold it against her, I don’t. She was nice company to have. Maddy has a great sense of humor.”
You are so stupid, Jack, you are setting yourself up. Don’t in any way compliment her daughter. You just showed your cards. Wow, you are inexperienced. That dumb comment left you completely open to whatever her mother feels necessary to say next.
What she replied with surprised me.
“If she bothers you let me know, or better yet, if she comes out here you should put her to work. I’ll say something to her,” she said.
I took off my tool belt. “Oh no need, really. And I just might have to put her to work. I’m going to be here for a month, give or take. Maybe she could help get it done faster,” I laughed.
“Okay, fine,” she said.
“She was very nice, and was out here maybe five minutes. So really, it was no problem,” I said.
There was a short silence between us, and I put my tool belt over my shoulder.
“Well, I’ll try to be here between six-thirty and seven tomorrow morning.”
“That sounds good,” she said. “I’m making a lunch tomorrow. I’m not sure what though. No matter what, you can have some. So don’t bring a lunch.”
“Oh, Anne, you don’t have to do that,” I objected.
She put her hands on her hips and tilted her head sideways. My mother used to do that. It must have been a maternal instinct to all things moms objected to.
“Mr. Ryder,” she said, closing her eyes. “Yes, I do. As long as you are here doing work at my house, I can feed you. If you say no I will burst into tears.”
“Fair enough. And please, call me, Jack,” I replied in defeat. “I wouldn’t want to make you cry or anything.”
She clapped her hands and then marched toward the house. “I’m going to go find something to make. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yep, see you tomorrow,” I said under my breath. Shortly after that I headed toward the front of the house. When I reached my truck I threw my tool belt in the back and started to get in the driver’s seat when I noticed a paper on my windshield. I picked the folded piece of paper out from underneath my wiper blade.
The note read,
Hey, Jack, sorry I know this is weird because you don’t know me. But I was just wanting to tell you that if you didn’t have any dinner plans, you should come to Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant. I would really like it if you came. I’ll hopefully not be fired, or quit by the time you come eat. :P
Seeing the note from her put to rest all of my guessing, that is, if there had been any more questioning her intentions after I found out the truth about the neck tie situation.
She liked me. This could be bad. This could be really bad. I’m thirty-one, and she’s twenty-two. No, no, no.
Although, I was hungry, and Italian food sounded good. What else did I have to do except go home and make a pizza in the oven? I could do that, but I was tired of doing the same damn thing every night for the past year. I was tired of the hurt, the anger, and I was really tired of being alone with my own thoughts. They wouldn’t allow me to sleep most of the time. And if I did get to sleep, my nightmares would wake me up. I jumped into my truck and started the engine.
“Screw it. Italian it is.”