The Space Between

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Chapter 7

JACK

Thursday Morning

When I pulled in front of Madalyn’s house, I saw her mother, Anne, walking toward her car. I grabbed my tool belt from the back of my truck and snapped it around my waist. I put one saw horse over my shoulder, along with a plank of wood, and grabbed the second in my left hand. I headed toward Anne, and the east side of their house.

“Good morning, Anne,” I said, my voice sounding horse.

“Hi, Mr. Ryder. What happened to your early start?” she teased.

“Well, somehow my alarm clock didn’t go off, or I turned it off in my sleep. Either way, I didn’t sleep well last night and ended up actually falling asleep this morning at about four. So I guess I was tired,” I explained.

She did her normal chuckle. “No harm done, sweetie, I was just giving you a hard time.”

“No problem.” I smiled as I headed past her.

She yelled at me before getting into her car.

“I have chili in the crock pot if you want some. Please help yourself.”

“Seriously, you are being way too generous,” I replied as I stopped and faced her.

“There will be more than enough, please have some,” she pleaded.

“If you insist,” I responded.

“I’ll be at work until four thirty so just let yourself in. I left some bowls and silverware on the counter by the crock pot. Maddy will be here if you need anything.”

Okay she was actually just extremely naive, I decided. She was leaving her young daughter at home while giving a complete stranger permission to go in and out of her house. Or maybe she was just lacking in any kind of male attention, and had become desperate. The fact that her daughter and I had become very well acquainted was beside the point.

I watched as Anne drove away to work, and I set my stuff down. I was torn as to what I should do.

Should I go in and say hello to Madalyn, or just start working, and hope she heard me? I began working. Walking in the house did not seem right, despite getting the go ahead from Anne.

It was going to be a nice day to start siding. My weather app said mid to lower eighties. I pulled back about five boxes of siding as I sang quietly to myself.

I set up my step ladder, and began to measure up the side of the house from the flange to the bottom of the lowest window. I happened to look to my right for a moment as I stretched the tape measure out, and I saw Madalyn hanging out of the window right beside me. Startled, I almost fell off the ladder.

“Jesus. Hi. Sorry, you really scared me. How long have you been there?”

She laughed. “Well, I was going to tell you not to eat my mom’s chili, but I heard you singing, and decided to wait for you to finish.”

I held my hand over my eyes, blocking the sun, and looked up at her a little confused by what she meant. “I wasn’t planning on eating the chili, I guess.”

“No, No. I mean it’s disgusting! Nobody likes her chili. I’m doing you a favor by telling you not to eat it.”

“Oh. Thanks.” I cracked a half smile.

“You’re welcome. Trust me, you’d thank me if you were to just take one bite.” she said.

“I’ll take your word for it, even though your mother seemed pretty adamant about me eating it. Won’t I hurt her feelings?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” she reassured me.

I jumped off my ladder and began to cut open some of the boxes containing the siding. I pulled some out to inspect the color, just to make sure they gave us the right boxes. That was something I should have done on the first day. It all appeared to be correct. I could see Madalyn still looking at me.

“Are you staring at me?” I asked, smiling.

“I’m not staring, I’m waiting.”

“Waiting for me to finish?” I questioned.

“No, waiting for you to start singing again. You have a good voice. I want to take a video of you, and put it on YouTube.”

I laughed and shook my head objecting. “I can tell you I will not be singing from now on.”

She rested her chin on the window ledge, pouting. “Oh fine. I couldn’t help but notice that you are wearing what you wore last night.”

I looked down at my clothes. “Yeah. I was in a hurry this morning. I over slept.”

“You couldn’t sleep because you were up all night thinking about me, weren’t you?” she teased.

I looked over at her, and smiled, though I didn’t say anything.

“You were! Admit it,” she demanded.

I set up my saw horses, and ran a drop cord from the house to my table saw.

“Maybe,” I replied. “You have to be the most forward person I’ve ever met. Or is it daring? I can’t decide.”

“Well, I feel like I have to be forward so there are no misinterpretations about my intentions,” she brilliantly stated. “You see I hate games. They are stupid.”

I raised my eyebrows at her impressive and intelligent response.

“And did I mention honest,” I added.

“Well, it’s true,” she said. “I never understood why people play games and act timid. You ever heard of, Ask and you shall receive? Well if you don’t ask, how can you receive?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, a little confused.

“Do you want to get to know me better?” she asked.

How was I supposed to know what I wanted? I hardly knew who I was as a person anymore. The more she continued to talk, the more I understood her. She was extremely innocent, and maybe lacked people skills. It most likely was due to her home schooling. It apparently didn’t give her the proper social skills, so she blurted out whatever was on her mind. This also made sense as to why she couldn’t handle getting scolded by the restaurant owner. Not that she didn’t have reason to be upset. What was I saying? Her social skills were perfect; I was the one who was lacking.

“I’ve never had a woman ask me that before. Did I not make the answer to your question clear last night?” I asked.

“Yes, I think so, but I need more than that. I need your word, I suppose,” she said.

It felt very old-fashioned, but also impressed me. She had values as well as a sharp mind. Maybe being cut off from other people has kept her pure.

I looked straight at her. “You have my word,” I promised.

“And I’ll take your word,” she replied, an infectious smile across her face.

I moved my ladder right under the window and climbed up, so I was within reach of her. I frequently glanced at her, as I measured under her window. She watched me work and stroked her hair, which was hanging over her left shoulder.

“Are you going to stand around and watch me work all day?” I teased.

She cocked her head to the side, continuing to play with the ends of her dark locks. “I thought about it, but I also thought I could help you in some way.”

“You could help me if you are comfortable with a table saw. You could make my cuts while I hang the siding,” I said.

I instantly remembered her problem with numbers. I wondered if she would be able to properly read a tape measure. I decided I would let her try.

“I was getting ready to start siding the back of the house, and then move onto your side, if time allows. You can try to help me if you want to. No pressure, though. I don’t want you to feel like you have to.”

She jumped up from the window, and as she did, I could see that she was wearing cotton shorts, and a tank top. She had such a healthy figure, making it impossible not to stare. I would have described her figure, and whole persona, as exotic. She didn’t look like a girl you would find in the continental United States, rather, like a woman you would randomly run into while on vacation in some foreign land. A woman who had her beauty, in my opinion, probably only came into existence every fifty years. Soft, sun-kissed olive skin. Straight black hair that almost framed her soft face - a face that had a glow around it. And not to mention eyes that stopped me in my tracks. There were so many words I could have used to describe her persona; the two that came foremost in my mind were Angelic and Divine.

I could see her room from the window I was at. She walked into her closet, and closed the door. I rested my head on the outside of the window ledge, watching the door. I imagined for a moment what it would be like to be on the other side of that door… with her.

It was easier to be in a different place when I was around her. She was like medicine being injected. The black curtain in the circular room that was my life felt like it was starting to fall. I only wanted to be happy again, and she was how I would find out if it was possible. My father’s words popped into my head in regards to relationship advice.

“Jack, be yourself but always be respectful. You’ve seen how I treat your Mother. You treat all women like they are someone’s daughter.” This was the advice he gave me on my first and only crush. I remembered it because of how true his words had been. He really never had to say what he said because I had always hated any kind of disrespect. The innocent girl behind the closed door, reminded me of the strict code of conduct I lived by. All of that didn’t change the fact that I was a guy, and her existence was of divine inspiration and angelic beauty.

The closet door slowly opened, and she jumped out revealing the work clothes she had put on. She had jeans on and a dark blue button up shirt with a pocket on the front. Two buttons at the top were left undone, which highlighted the well-endowed assets she had been supplied with. She had her hair pulled up in a knot with a pencil holding it, and what looked like riding boots on. She looked at me, and held her arms out. “I’m all ready for my first day of work,” she joked.

I laughed at her cuteness. It was her innocence that was adorable. She appeared to have no insecurities, which meant she wasn’t vain. Despite being divinely beautiful, she didn’t let it go to her head.

“Okay, come on outside then,” I said.

I climbed off the ladder, and just when I reached the ground I was greeted by Madalyn, who was standing only a foot from me. She had a big infectious smile across her face.

“Thank you for giving me this opportunity, Mr. Ryder,” she said, laughing.

“You are hilarious,” I laughed in return.

And she really was hilarious, even when it wasn’t intentional. It felt good to laugh since I had not felt its healing power in quite some time.

“Just try to have fun, just don’t go too fast, otherwise you’ll end up injuring yourself. Also, your mother won’t be mad that you are out here, if that thought ever crossed your mind. She said if you come out here to pester me, I was supposed to put you to work.”

Her smile stayed the same.

“Oh really? I bet she would be overjoyed that I am not sitting around watching television and sleeping in late,” she said with extreme sarcasm. “Don’t misread what I am saying. That is what she thinks I do all day. But she never mentions how I clean the house constantly, do the laundry, make dinner, and NEVER watch television. I seriously never watch Television. You, Mr. Ryder practically had me at ‘I haven’t even bought a television yet.’ I hate television. I like movies, but hate television. And I read. I read a lot of books.”

“That was a lot of information you just spit out,” I laughed. “So, by what you are telling me, I gather that you hate television,” I teased.

She hit my shoulder and laughed. “Yes, I hate it. It’s all mostly trash. And we don’t have cable anyway. Point being, maybe my mother would notice that I don’t just sit around. So, you letting me help is actually doing me a favor.”

“Okay, well if you get hurt, I’m going to tell her it was because you did exactly the opposite of what I told you,” I said and winked at her.

“Are you kidding? I’m going to tell her you threw something at me, and I’ll be sure to tell her that after I mortally wound myself on this saw.”

I put my face to my palm and laughed. “Seriously though, don’t get hurt. That would be bad.”

“I promise not to cut myself on your saw,” she said while holding her right hand up, like she was taking an oath.

I grabbed the hand that she held up and kissed it. “I accept your oath.”

She dipped her head against her right shoulder, blushing, while holding her arm straight out. She batted her long eyelashes, looking away periodically. I let her arm fall, and her hand slowly slid out from mine.

“Okay, I will call out a measurement, and you will bring a piece of siding here, measure it, make your mark, and cut. Here, let me show you an example,” I instructed.

I walked up to the house with a full sheet of the dark gray siding, and snapped it on to the bottom aluminum flange. I pulled nails out of my pouch and began to nail the siding up every five or six holes. Once the first piece was on, I put on three more full sheets across the bottom before I had to make a cut to fit. Madalyn stood with a deep frown on her face, showing that she was paying close attention.

“Okay, now we are ready for our first measurement,” I said as I pulled my tape measure out of my leather pouch and extended it across the sheet. “Three and three quarters, exactly. And we will measure that from the left edge.”

I tossed her my other tape measure, and she caught it. She put a full piece of vinyl siding on the table saw and hooked her tape measure to the left end. A piece of her hair fell forward as she studied the tape measure. Everything she did was mesmerizing. Just the simple, cute, frown on her face as she concentrated created a pleasant feeling in my heart and a new memory for me to possibly cherish.

Something didn’t seem right though. She pulled the tape measure to the three foot mark, but she was reluctant about making a mark. She hovered her pencil in the general vicinity of the number three on the tape measure. I didn’t realize how bad her problem with numbers was. She looked at me from the corner of her eye. I became a bit concerned as I watched her; her eyes appeared to be welling up. She held her pencil up and began writing into the air, or possibly working out the problem in her head.

“I… I don’t know where to make my mark. I’m sorry,” she said, with a shaky voice.

The look of panic on her face didn’t mix well with her innocence; it was heart breaking to witness. She had the innocent look of a small child who had just been embarrassed. It caught me a little off guard, and I was unsure what to do, so I quickly closed the distance between us and gently grabbed hold of her hand that held the utility pencil.

“Hey, hey it’s okay. You don’t have to get upset. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. You can just ask for help, Maddy, I will never get mad at you, okay?” I quickly said.

She let out a nervous laugh, she was fighting tears. “Okay. Thank you. Sorry I almost had a meltdown. I wish numbers didn’t scare me. They really do give me anxiety, I don’t know why.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I’m weird… man,” she said with a nervous smile on her face.

“Hey, I said it’s okay, let me help you. I promise to be patient with you. And you’re not weird -maybe no one has really taken the time to help you out,” I said.

She shrugged her shoulders again. She moved her shoulders a lot when she was nervous. “Maybe not, but I’ve also thrown myself into situations like right now, and last night at work, thinking I could handle it, only to fail. I guess I take it hard.”

“Well, that is very brave of you to do that despite your…” I paused to choose the right words “…numeric anxiety. Listen, don’t worry about it, and just relax. Here…,” I said as I took the tape measure and stood behind her.

I wrapped my hand around the back of her left hand, and we held the end of the tape measure together. She, in turn, took the tape measure while I held onto the back of her right hand. I looked over her left shoulder and locked the tape in place so that it wouldn’t retract. Taking the thumb of her right hand, I counted three on the tape measure. She nodded her head with every number we counted, until we got to three feet.

“Okay, so three-fourths, count with me,” I said as I moved her thumb to one of the bigger lines that represented a quarter.

“Okay, the bigger lines that stand out represent a quarter. So three-fourths is three-quarters. So after we move to three feet we are going to count three-quarters after that three feet. We’ll know that if we get to four feet we’ve gone too far,” I continued instructing as she nodded her head.

My cheek and mouth were close to her left ear, and neck. She smelled fantastic, like oranges with a touch of citrus lime. I silently counted with her. We moved our thumb across the tape measure, stopping at each thick line close to three feet.

“One, two, three,” we said together. She took her left hand away from mine and held her thumb at the three and three-quarter mark. Then she grabbed the pencil and made her line.

“Got it,” she shouted in accomplishment. It was strange to think how intimidated she was by numbers. I would have never known she had such a strange issue because of how intelligently she could carry on a conversation.

“Okay, let me try another one. Tell me a random measurement and I’ll try to get it,” she challenged.

“Okay. How about two and a half feet. Or you could say two and two-quarters,” I said.

I backed away from her as she counted two feet, squinted her eyes, and then frowned as she counted between that.

“One-quarter, two…,” she paused and looked up. “Two-quarters is fifty, which is half… Two and a half! I think I got this, Jack,” she said, excited. “Thanks for helping me. Okay, how do I use this saw?”

Her excitement followed by ambition for the next step in her job was very amusing. I stepped over to her, and grabbed the top handle. “Alright, you want to line your mark up with the blade. So you can pull this down, just don’t press the button yet, so you can line it up. Once it is lined up, then pull the lever here, press down, and push back. It will cut straight through, so make sure your fingers are far enough away from the blade, for the love of god. You have beautiful hands, and that would be a tragedy. Now, give it a try,” I said as I stepped aside.

She started to use the saw. I stopped her. “Hold on. Take my safety glasses,” I said, pulling them out of my tool belt. “It would be tragic should anything happen to those perfect blue spheres in your head,” I added.

Madalyn was too focused to acknowledge my compliment as she took a step forward, holding the vinyl siding with her left hand. She lined up her mark with the blade and pulled the lever down as she pushed back. Without even pausing, she took her cut off the saw and handed it to me. I smiled at her with approval. “Well done, young Jedi. You’re a natural, I just might hire you,” I said.

“The force is strong in my family,” she laughed. “If you hire me, my salary will have to be good compliments, such as the one you said about hands… and blue spheres. Although, too much construction and my hands may not look so nice,” she teased.

She did hear me after all. I winked at her. “Deal. I’ll just have to get you some gloves then,” I said as I walked toward the house with a full sheet of vinyl. “Okay, I’m going to put this piece on and start laying out some siding. When I call out a measurement, make a cut, and bring me your cut piece.”

“Anything you want, handsome,” she said, winking back at me.

. /

The rest of the morning was spent siding the back of the house. She did pretty well, only making three mistakes. Sure, it could have been faster, but I wasn’t complaining. At times I had a cut piece before finishing with the one I had. I even gave her multiple measurements at times. She did well, and I liked being in her company. We took a short break, and she went in and got us some iced tea and a lemon. She set up some bowls and spoons in the sink and dumped the crock-pot full of chili in the long grass, close to the dock. She looked at me and winked as I watched her do it. She told me that she wouldn’t put it past her mother to invite me to dinner at their house some night. She said I should accept the invitation, but check with her first to make sure that her mother wasn’t the one doing the cooking.

It was about two o’clock, and we hadn’t really taken a break for lunch yet. We had gotten most of the back side done when we decided to stop and take a break, laying in the yard. The temperature wasn’t bad. Lower eighties. I took my tool belt off and sat down. It felt good to bend my knees, so I sat Indian style. Madalyn laid her head down on my folded legs and reached up, wanting me to hold her hands. I leaned forward and grabbed her soft hands. “Do you want to walk on the beach with me tonight?” she asked.

“Yes, that sounds nice actually. I was just going to ask what you were doing this evening,” I replied.

“Good, it’s a date then,” she said, staring up at the sky. I could tell she was thinking about something by the way she squinted her eyes. She then asked me a question that was a little past related. I wasn’t sure where she was going with it. “So… Jack,” she approached hesitantly, “how many times had you come to visit here before you moved?”

“Um… twice actually. Why do you ask?”

“Just curious,” she answered as she yawned and closed her eyes. “So what made you want to make the move to Beaufort?”

“Well, like I mentioned last night, I needed to start over,” I replied. “I needed a change.”

“Oh. What did you need a change from? Your answers are a little cryptic,” she said.

I could not bring up anything from the past because it would only lead to more questions, questions that I simply could not answer. I thought for a moment, gathering what to say in the best possible way so that I would not leave her feeling rejected.

“Well, I am really enjoying spending today with you. Meeting you has been the best part of moving here. I’ve only really known you the length of a day, and I cannot wait to walk on the beach with you tonight. However, I can’t talk about that stuff right now,” I replied as I grabbed her face and looked at her upside down. “I want to tell you all there is to tell, if you can please understand, and take my meaning, it is just far too much to tell all at once, and my heart can’t stand it.”

Madalyn sat up and turned to look at me. Her face showed concern, but also curiosity. “Is your life a sad story?” she questioned innocently.

I really had no idea how to answer her. Looking back at her in disbelief that she was still pressing the question. Her stare was overpowering mine, and I had to look away. She could see right through me with her piercing gaze. It was making me feel a little embarrassed that I could not answer her questions.

Apparently sensing my distress, Madalyn immediately climbed onto my lap, straddling me. She placed my face in her hands. “I’m sorry,” she said almost frantically. “I won’t ask. You can tell me in your own time. Forget I brought anything up.”

Thinking about telling her the truth even someday felt impossible. As long as I had these secrets, they would always come back to haunt me.

She brushed my cheek bones with her thumbs and kissed my nose. Her simple kiss set off an electric current throughout my entire body. I was at eye level with her chest, and her scent was numbing my wits, and drowning my willpower. She held me against her body and put her mouth to the top of my head as she whispered, “I told you that you have extremely kind eyes. Although at other times, I’ve noticed that they are old eyes, eyes that I think have seen things that can’t be unseen. I’m sorry if what I asked you brought that out. I know it did because I saw it written all over your face. It made me feel awful, and I almost couldn’t look at you.”

Her embrace was warm, and hearing her voice with my ear against her chest made a soft vibration. I took in every word she said. With every inhale, her scent occupied my senses, starting a fire in my chest, but calming my mind. I had only just met her, and already I felt where this was about to go was possibly dangerous. She put my head in both of her hands and locked her astonishing violet eyes with mine.

“Sometimes though, it’s harder…” She stopped and swallowed as she was looking down at me. She made me look up at her, placing her thumbs just under my eyes. I felt her breathing grow heavy and her pulse quicken. She drew her face closer to mine, and her eyes fixated on my lips. I knew that look she had, it was a look full of longing. She continued, “Harder to hold your feelings in than it is to let go of them… or release them.”

I instantly lost control, as she was so close to my face I could feel her breath as she spoke. I grabbed her face and pulled her lips to mine as she finished her sentence. I moved onto my knees, and moved my hands away from the back of her head, lifting her by the back of her thighs.

It had been such a long time, I reasoned.

She jumped as I lifted her, wrapping her long legs around my waist. She squeezed with her inner thighs so tightly it took my breath away. I fell onto my back on the lawn. She had taken her lips off mine as I moved my hands from behind her and around to her stomach. She grabbed hold of my hands and pressed them firmly against her chest. Her bra had no padding, and she moaned. She quickly pressed my face to her chest. I only needed to undo one button on her shirt, and it opened enough for me to press my lips between her well-developed breasts. She whimpered softly, breathing deep as she held onto the back of my head. I realized how far it was going, and it scared me. I stopped what I was doing, and it was almost as if she had the exact same thought, because she jumped off me.

“I’m sorry. I mean I’m not sorry you’re incredible, but this is too fast,” I said as I picked myself up off the ground. She placed one of her hands across her forehead, and the other across her half naked-chest, breathing heavily. I could see through her skin colored bra, and she caught my eyes roving over her body as I spoke to her in heavy breaths. She naturally pulled her shirt closed, but she didn’t button it.

“I agree, completely,” she replied, trying to catch her breath. She slid her hand from her chest and held it just below her belt, apparently trying to regain control of all the physical desires that just came bursting out.

“You know, we actually got a lot done today, and are ahead of schedule. I think I want to get a nap in before we go to the beach tonight. Do you want to meet me at my apartment? It’s above the bakery on Orange Street. How does meeting me at five o’clock sound?”

“Yeah, that sounds good. I’m familiar with it,” she replied.

I walked fast to the front of the house, leaving my tool belt and all of my tools laying in the yard. I knew if I stayed any longer we would end up going further. I wanted to so badly. It had been a long time since anything had happened in that department. I jumped in my truck and started the engine. Madalyn had followed me around from the back of the house and stood about ten feet away, with her arms wrapped around herself.

“Are you okay, Jack?” she asked as she approached my driver’s side door.

“Yes, yes. I’m fine. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to run off. That was rude.”

“Did I do something?”

“No, it’s not you… I mean… yes it is you, but it’s not a bad thing,” I said, and then cut myself off.

I stopped for a moment to gather my thoughts, and Madalyn leaned into my window a little.

“Madalyn, I really like you,” I started, almost losing my train of thought when I noticed her shirt was still open.

She had taken the hint when I glanced down at her opened shirt, and she slowly held it shut.

“I’m sorry, I think I understand,” she stated, with a cute smile across her face.

“Yes, thank you. You are extremely beautiful in every way, and I am a guy… and like I said, I really like you. I don’t want to do anything that would be disrespectful to you… I don’t want to mess anything up.”

Madalyn leaned into my window, still holding her shirt, and kissed me on the cheek.

“I’ll see you above the Bakery, on Orange Street,” she said, stepping away from my truck.

She waved at me with her free hand as I pulled away.

My eyes were crossing as I drove home due to the lack of sleep. I walked up the stairs to my apartment and saw I had a wooden crate sitting in front of my door. It was sent to me from home, against my wishes. I picked up the heavy wooden crate and took it down to the shed behind the bakery. I didn’t open it, I only set it inside and closed the padlock.

I stripped out of my work clothes as I walked to my bedroom, collapsing on my bed. My last thought was of Madalyn, and how she had a gift for pulling me out of the dark corners of my own heart. I hadn’t had a proper night’s sleep in over a week, and it all came crashing down on me. I tucked my hands up by my face and drifted off easily, her scent still lingering on my skin.

#

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