“I only awoke to remind myself of what was most important to me. Sleep was where I fell, so I could continue dreaming in the world you existed.”
“The apartment above the bakery on Orange Street,” I repeated.
Watching Jack run to his truck left me feeling empty, though hopeful at the same time. I was empty because the moment had passed too quickly, and I longed for more. I was hopeful for the future and the time we would have together that evening on the beach. The way he held me hadn’t been how I expected it to feel. He felt… sad. It was the same as the night before at the restaurant, like I was holding onto someone who was broken. The way he felt was the way he looked at times. Jack’s reaction to me holding him was of someone who was craving some kind of physical contact or comfort. His beautiful face hid his sorrows well; however the right words, and close proximity, caused how he truly felt to come bleeding out. I looked forward to seeing the reaction from him again, maybe a little less… pained. Waiting the few hours until I could see him again was going to be agonizing.
I decided to clean up the scrap pieces of siding that lay by the saw. I did not throw them away, just in case he needed them. I unplugged the saw and rolled up the extension cord that ran from the house. I took the canvas bag that was on the ground and covered the saw. I picked up his tool belt and was going to lay it by the saw, but instead brought it inside. I walked up to my room and was prepared to take a long shower to ready myself for the evening, also to kill time. Since I looked forward to the night, my mind wasn’t going to let me get anything done that needed to be done around the house. Oh well, I had already cleaned the house twice that week.
I walked into my room and set Jack’s tool belt on the floor by my book-shelf. I threw my boots into the corner and stripped out of my jeans as I walked into my bathroom. I passed by the mirror, catching a glance of myself. I had forgotten that I was still half-unbuttoned. I quickly undid the rest of the buttons of my fitted shirt, throwing it on the floor. I pulled off my skin-colored bikini underwear and bra. My breasts still felt sensitive to the touch. It sent a shudder through-out my body when I held onto them, briefly thinking about the hands that had just been on them, and the lips that had pressed hard between them. I sighed at the memory and reveled in the thought of him bringing his lips to my chest again sometime. I lost track of time as I stood in my bathroom, feeling flustered at these thoughts, these recent memories, these realistic fantasies. My mind drifted from more provocative thoughts to the sweetness in his voice and the kindness held in his eyes. How heartwarming they were to me.
I stepped beneath the warm shower, letting my mind drift back to Jack holding onto my hands and helping me count the measurements. His voice was commanding, yet his tone was kind and soothing. What I knew about him so far showed he was respectful, and had values. He had secrets which kept me guessing and had me intrigued. Whatever secrets he had, pained him, which told me that he needed some kind of change in his life. I could only guess as to what needed changing. He just appeared at times very anxious for no reason at all. Usually when he was unaware that I was watching him.
When I was in his company, however, he seemed patient and kind, his words encouraging me. It was as though he was holding himself together… for me. So when he spoke, or even looked at me, my body, my mind, and my heart responded. His personality felt… fatherly. It comforted my heart, the way he held me while taking the time to teach with patience. I felt so alive just being outside, working alongside him.
What if things with Jack didn’t work out? This terrible thought found it’s way through all the good the serotonin in my brain was producing. I’d dreamed about a relationship like this one for a long time, so the thought created a strong sense of dread. My heart felt more than just lust for him. If he knew what I remembered, what my existence was all about, why I even existed in the first place, his opinion of me would be different. I felt connected to something that gave me a feeling of completeness now that he was here. My photographic memory, which on bad days felt like a curse, never allowed me to forget his face. I didn’t dare bring it up to him that early on in our relationship, or whatever it was. One thing was for sure, just by looking at him I felt… secure. He was a place of refuge that I had been running toward since I was fourteen. Since I had reached the comfort of that place, I was unwilling to leave. Everything else outside of that place looked like a wasteland.
I certainly didn’t want to overwhelm him though, so I would just be with him. Perhaps it would be better for him to fall in love with me, and not a memory. For me, Jack was my life. He always had been.
I finished in the shower and dried off. Walking over to my bed, I sat on the corner in my towel. I looked down at my toes and decided to paint them. The color of choice probably reflected my mood, and thought process. I chose scarlet red. Once I was done with my toes, I painted my fingers the same color. After my nails dried I went through my closet and chose a long white beach dress with spaghetti straps. I wore my light pink swimsuit bottoms in case we decided to get in the water. I used the matching tube top as my bra. I grabbed a beach towel and placed it in my canvas beach bag. The little make-up I applied was a charcoal eye shadow and some clear lip gloss. I pulled my hair up into a messy knot after blow drying it. Simple beach sandals were my footwear of choice because I knew I would not be wearing shoes long once I reached the sand.
After I was satisfied with my appearance, I sat on the bed and wondered what to do next seeing that I had about an hour before I could leave, and not be too early. I grabbed my beach bag and walked downstairs, through the kitchen, and into the garage. I took my surfboard off the top shelf and laid it on the top rack of my car.
I wondered if Jack had a board. I decided to grab my dad’s old board just in case he didn’t have one. Dad wouldn’t miss it anyways. As I set his surf-board on top of mine, I shook my head and closed my eyes, trying to force the memory of my father from my mind. I’d never touched this surf board. Not even when we moved to this house.
“I love you, Maddy. But you can’t come with me. Take my watch and you can count the minutes until I come back.”
I ran back to my bedroom as if running away from the memory. In my bedroom, I grabbed Jack’s tool belt off the floor, pulling out his tape measure. I stretched it out and let it retract. I did this several times and then lay back on my bed with my hands cupped around it. As I concentrated on the simple object that belonged to Jack, and the significance it had with me, I breathed in solace. I hadn’t realized I had been holding my breath. Maybe it had been a bad idea getting my father’s surf-board down. I hadn’t dreaded memories of my father, in fact I thought about him often. Seeing things that belonged to him severely depressed me, however. My mother put away her memories, at my request, so that I didn’t have to suffer bouts of depression.
I still remembered lying on his side of the bed for weeks. I never thought the crying would stop. The hurt most definitely did not stop. I remembered hearing my mother down-stairs talking to someone, saying that she thought about sending me to a mental health clinic because she didn’t know what else to do. That night was when I pulled it together enough to come out of hiding, and put on a face that didn’t show how truly broken I was to have lost my father.
The next day I had my mother take me to the beach. As a thirteen-year-old girl, I reasoned that if that was how I would feel my whole life, I wanted no part of it. I had reached my ultimate low point, and I missed my father dearly.
While my mother lay on the beach with a few other beach-goers, I went out for what would have been my last swim. Under the water, and out of breath, I looked up at the sun shining through the waves, thinking it would have been the last thing I saw. It was peaceful and beautiful. I closed my eyes and sucked in my first salt-water breath. I was thinking so selfishly, not about my mother at all, and that she had just had to deal with losing her husband.
Pondering the mindset I had been in at thirteen made me sick. I remember my subconscious was telling me to swim to the surface for air, but my heart was so heavy it held me to the bottom, overpowering any natural reaction for survival. In that moment of irrationality, someone stepped over me. Their foot hit me across the chest and they reached down, pulling me out of the water. I was most certain that was the beautiful man, whose eyes were so kind. Jack.
I remembered that after he apologized for hitting me with his foot, and asked if I was okay as I choked up salt water, we had a long moment where we held each other’s gaze. He started to ask what I was doing, as he could clearly see I was distressed. I felt in that moment that the random stranger saw me for all of my sorrows. He had not just physically lifted me out of the ocean, his kind eyes seemed to give me hope when I was at my lowest point. I could almost hear what he was saying with his eyes.
I don’t know what you are doing, but everything is going to be alright.
Those were the words I imagined he had spoken through his stare. I would never forget that face. From that day forward, I filled my journals with thoughts of him. To think that I had a name to put to his face now, and he unexpectedly has entered back into my life was more excitement than I could contain. I almost knew with absolute certainty that Jack was my unintentional rescuer from that day, my vigilant Angel. I repeated his name in my head as I sat up and walked over to my wall filled with books. I reached in the cube that had my journals, and grabbed the dark blue one with the frayed corners. I turned to the place I had first started writing about the Mysterious Stranger.
Jack Ryder, I wrote in large cursive across the bottom of the page. I closed the Journal, and scribbled out what was written on the front: The Mysterious Stranger
Jack was still such a mystery to me. His kindly eyes held so many secrets that he was unwilling to share. I felt what I wrote as the new title was fitting.
The Secret Man: Jack Ryder
“Jack,” I softly whispered to myself. In the water, so long ago, everything that involved my anxiety and depression regarding the loss of my father faded, and his stare urged me toward the shore. I felt then, what I was feeling now--security. Everything was going to be alright. After replaying this memory once again in my mind, like I had done every day since it had taken place, I did not doubt that the man who my heart had a longing for now, was the same who unintentionally saved me from my own self-destruction.
I set my journal on the night stand, and picked up the tape measure again, cupping it in my hands. I slowly fell back onto my pillows.
I did not believe in fate by any means, however I could not help to admit the strange coincidence of how we had been reunited. Wondering if Jack had any recollection of the same memory, was torturous. I wanted him to know what I remembered. If he did not discover it himself, I would tell him.
There was another question I had from this memory. Who was the woman I saw him with nine years ago? I ached to know the answers to my questions, though also feared the truth. I would, for now, bury them deep down until the time was right, and enjoy getting to know him.
I had been holding his tape measure against my chest with both hands, and then pressed it to my lips. I longed to thank him personally for saving my life. I placed it back in the pouch of the tool belt, and decided to take it with me. It was time to once more be in the company of my savior.
I sent a text message to my Mother, and left a note on the counter in case she had trouble with her phone again.
Mom, I have a date. Don’t wait up for me. And for the love of god, please get a new chili recipe, or just stop making it. Love you bunches. – Maddy