Startled by Fred’s barking Jeannie looked out her bedroom window and saw Joseph driving the trailer down to the fair. She felt tired and was reluctant to join them that day at. Even if it might have seemed selfish she did not feel like company at all.
Still in her night shirt Jeannie sat on the windowsill with her head resting on her crossed arms and looked across the valley. The creek was glistening in the bright sunlight like a jewel as it gently trickled downwards towards the river. The quiet of the morning was occasionally interrupted by Fred who chased after squirrels. Dust clouds were erupting from underneath the porch roof as Lorna was busy brushing the floors which made Jeannie retreat to her room and closed the window. Withdrawn Jeannie shifted her few belongings around on her dresser drawer left deeply in thought. She had two options, giving up and retreating to the City or finding her way back up to her feet. But with this looming feeling of being beat surrounding her thoughts she felt not as confident any longer as just did 24 hours before. Reluctantly she accepted her defeat and stared hard at her reflection in the mirror. It was such ridiculous business, she thought. Being knocked down by her own emotions was not the person she remembered.
Why couldn’t she just concentrate on the pressing matters? Who cared anyway with whom Alex felt it necessary to hang out with after all?
No, she had to change her mode and quickly. She turned on the radio and turned the volume up. As she danced her way to the sound of her favourite country tunes she opened her cupboard and stumbled over an old shoebox that was stuck in a corner. She picked it up and threw it together with a selection of clothes on to her already made bed. Checking each outfit in front of the mirror Jeannie waded through a mountain of clothes before she picked out the dress that she had discarded in the first instance.
The soft cotton fabric was dyed in a pale beige and fancied a tiny rose print. She hadn’t worn this since she attended college and was more than pleased that it still fit just right.
In a high pony tail she affixed her hair and put on matching brown boots she had found in the cupboard before she drew her attention to the shoe box.
She couldn’t remember ever having seen it before and wondered where it came from.
As she opened it she found old stained ribbons that she had won as a child during rodeos and was astounded to see them. The box was a small treasure trove of memorabilia she had no idea existed.
Pictures, tickets from nativity plays, elementary awards for good behaviour. Jeannie welcomed the unexpected travel back in time when she found a note in the very bottom, neatly folded and addressed to her.
It was the tiniest of notes but Jeannie recognised her mothers’ cursive handwriting in an instant.
“I believe in you” was all it said.
Jeannie felt overwhelmed and silly at the same time that a little piece of paper could mean so much and made her cry when realisation hit her like a flash light.
“Damn” Jeannie mumbled as she remembered her father’s outburst over what she thought a silly napkin.
Straightening herself Jeannie wiped the tears from her face and walked downstairs to find her father while she still held on tight to the tiny fragment in her fist.
She was surprised to find him behind his desk as he studied the newspaper.
Bashful Jeannie knocked on the door to make her arrival known and waited for him to invite her in.
His guilt ridden face spoke volumes as he motioned for her to come in.
“You still want to talk to your old man?” he questioned. His voice hummed in the so familiar swing Jeannie adored so greatly.
“I came to apologise dad” Jeannie husked. She walked around the desk while she nestled the note between her fingers.
“I should have asked you before I ran to Alex. This was not right at all. I was just so excited. Got a little too overwhelmed I guess.”
Thomas turned his chair and waved her apology off with a gesture.
“I should apologize too. You only meant good. It is not easy for me to contemplate that my children are all grown up now. I still feel responsible for you all. The past few months were anything but easy.”
“Then let me help,” Jeannie interrupted her father.
“Please, let me give something back. Besides,” Jeannie unfolded the note in front of her father, “mum would have wanted us not to give up so easily”.
Touched by Jeannie’s gesture Thomas nodded his head in agreeance and pulled another chair across.
He pointed at the papers that were spread all over the desk when Jeannie noticed the old napkin amongst them.
Questioning raised she her eyebrow and picked up the papers.
“Where did you get these from?” she wondered as she studied the blueprints.
“I met Alex down at the bar last night. He had been looking for me and handed them over to me. The poor guy was shaking when he approached me and apologized God knows how many times. You both really believe that this might work?”
Shy of an answer, Jean waited for the words to find her. She hadn’t got a fleeting idea of what Alex actually thought of it. But whatever he must had told her dad seemed to have worked.
Still, it would have been nice of him to consult her as well instead of handing the blue prints to her father directly. Maybe that was his way of letting her to know to keep her distance.
“We have to give it our best shot. Let’s show them what Leelands are made of!” proclaimed Jeannie with fighting spirit and believed her own eagerness almost herself.
Jeannie was glad that she had been able to set things right with her father and had almost forgotten about the Barn Party that night when he came to meet her outside.
Jeannie was sitting on the front porch in the sun reading a book in the swing chair when Thomas uncharacteristically asked for her opinion in his choice of clothing.
He proudly presented himself in a new pair of trousers, neatly shaven, with his white hat drawn slightly in his face.
“Will that do?” baffled Jeannie looked at her father.
“Where are you going?” just as she had asked it came over her that she had totally forgotten about the dance which would close the festivities of the weekend.
“Yeah, looking dashy dad!” Jeannie quickly added when Lorna came out to join them. She was dressed with her traditional hair beads that Lorna fashioned on special occasions.
“You haven’t forgotten about tonight have you!” Tom exclaimed shocked. With his hands on his hips he gave Jeannie a hard stare.
“Oh you haven’t!” Lorna interrupted aghast. “I have put so much damn effort in to this evening you will get ready and join us!”
Jeannie felt bad but was reluctant to join them. She might have been in better mode since she and her father had made up but the thought of seeing Alex with Yvi dancing and having fun made her stomach churn in agony.
“Na, I’m fine. I wanted to wait for Joe and help him sorting out the horses.”
Thomas walked back into the house to grab the car keys as he shouted back to her through the hall.
“Applesauce! You are getting ready. Why do you think do we have the hired hands? They have to pay off at one point!” Thomas protested sternly as he appeared in the door again holding his keys.
“Nah, I need to have a shower, find something to wear.”
Loran gave her a hard stare.
“What is wrong with the dress you are wearing? You can’t just stay behind! Suzy and the kids are waiting as well!”
Lorna tried her hardest to convince her god-daughter whose face had turned stone cold.
“Look I have already made plans and…” her pathetic excuse was not accepted by Lorna and her father who was tipping the cover of her book over to identify the title.
“Well, I am pretty sure that Winston will end up in room 101 again. Grab your stuff and swing your backside in the car!” Tom demanded. With huge strides descended Tom the front porch but Jeannie wouldn’t twitch a muscle.
“You go ahead Tom, I’ll catch a ride with Joe when he’s back” Lorna reassured him. She waited for Thomas to drive down the track before she turned her attention back to Jeannie.
“Okay, I have no clue what has gotten in to you or why you are so reluctant to get down town but snap out of it. Why would you withdraw from a chance to have a couple of hours of fun with people that like you? Suzy will be there, Alice slipped a hint that she’d be joining us as well. Have a little dance, a drink” Lorna started to sway rhythmically in front of Jeannie who was still trying to avoid the conversation by pretending to read.
“Come one Jeannie, let your hair down! Life’s too short to be miserable all the time. I’m pretty sure that Alex will be there as well.”
The sheer mentioning of his name made a fuse in Jeannie to snap and she prominently rose from her seat.
“I said no!” Jeannie pressed and marched through to the kitchen. She desperately needed a drink!
“Ah-Ha,” Lorna examined quite rightful and followed Jeannie.
“What you mean aha?”
“No darling Ah-Ha! There is a difference. You don’t have to tell me anything, you know that but whatever has happened shying away from it definitely is not solving any problems. I thought you have learned so much by now! So, drop that glass and get ready we are going to the dance!”
Jeannie did not want to be angry but felt terribly cross with Lorna. How dared she telling her what to do?
“And I am not. I am staying right here. End of it!”
With a pouty lip Lorna rebuked her reaction.
“Regret it if you must. But I think you are wrong.” Motherly Lorna swallowed her pride. She more felt like telling this stubborn girl to get a grip but decided a different approach. Gently she patted Jeannie’s shoulders and straightened the top of her dress.
“Jeannie, don’t seclude yourself. You are your own worst enemy if you act like this every time something unpleasant happens. Stand up for yourself, chin up…”
“Nose down, I remember”, Jeannie recited her mother’s advice that she so well remembered.
Just at that moment Joseph stumbled through the door. As he passed running up the stairs he greeted them both and made excuses for being so late.
“Think about it Jeannie. I hope you’ll change your mind”
Lorna left Jeannie alone in the kitchen. She said what had to be said.
The dimmed lights in the hall were the perfect backdrop to an even more beautiful sunset. The dance floor was buzzing with people and everywhere Jeannie tread were groups of people chatting and having a good old time.
It hadn’t taken too long until Jeannie had regretted her stubbornness and had made her own way down. As she stood in the doorway she could see Joshua and his wife who chatted with Martin in a far corner when suddenly a cold hand touched her arm.
Startled Jeannie turned to see Tanner standing excited next to her.
“Another year, another success, don’t you agree my dear?” Tanner was cheery and danced across as he checked upon the volunteers at the buffet when the shatter of broken glass startled him. Stressed he ran across to the volunteers and started a long lecture about health and safety. He did not mean to be nasty, this was just his nature. Jeannie chuckled and had to profess that she was glad to be there. Slowly she made her way across to the bar as she observed the crowed. Lorna and her dad were swaying along the dance floor with exuberant joy. The much she loved to see her dad having fun, nothing in the world could ever prepare a child for the awkward moment seeing their parent letting their hair down.
For a while she stood taking in the moment and was in no rush to join them when Tanner appeared next to her again and collapsed into the chair. His exhausted red face was hastily dried with a handkerchief and with a big sigh he took the opportunity to speak to Jeannie.
“Aren’t you glad you came at the right time? Imagine you’d have missed this?” Jeannie inclined her head and had to agree with Tanner.
“Wouldn’t it be nice” Tanner continued, “if you could stay? You are really missed in town. It’s not only your father who would be sad seeing you leave again” Tanners heartfelt statement left Jeannie bashful. She scanned the room to avoid a reply when she suddenly noticed Alexander. Heavily engaged he talked and laughed with Nathan and Yvi. It was undeniably hard to witness how easily it was for Yvi to engage with Alex. How carefree they shared their laughter. Jeannie suddenly felt light headed and wanted to escape. She placed her cup on an empty table and was ready to head for the door when Alex waved over to her and started to clear his way across the room. To her regret followed Yvi him closely. Deep breath, she thought as he reached her. In silent prayer she bagged that she wouldn’t make a fool out of herself and swore she would be strong and would not desert the party whatever would happen.
Uncommonly merry Alexander leaned in to engulf Jeannie in an embrace that lasted longer than it was casually acceptable.
Jeannie was convinced that he must have had quite a few drinks already and brushed his unusual behaviour aside.
“Where have you been? I thought you’d run away” Alex quipped. He tried his hardest to speak clearly. It was strange and bemusing at the same time for her to see him so merry but couldn’t lose the feeling that it was more than just the drink that had made him so at ease.
“Oh let go of her, Lex” Yvi piped up from behind his shoulders. “You almost pushed her over!”
Yvi was right, Jeannie had to fight to keep her balance and was somewhat glad when Alex finally let go of her. Just as she was about to say something he continued gushing out words.
“Have I introduced you to each other yet?” Alex looked testing to Yvi who tried to answer but Alex was again quick to interrupted.
“Jeannie, that’s Yvette. My talented little sister I told you about”
The room around her turned dark and voices seemed to fade in the distance. Did she just hear Alexander say that Yvette was his sister?! She needed to sit down. Get a drink. Or some fresh air at least. But before she could even decide to faint or to be swallowed by the hole she felt underneath her feet, Alexander took her already by the hand and lead her to the dance floor. His favourite song was blasting out the sound system and he had promised himself not to lose any more time.
Trying to contemplate what was happening Jeannie found herself in the middle of the dance floor when the song finished and the music changed.
The slow rhythm that engulfed them encouraged Alex to take a chance and pulled her in a little. The tension between them rose with every beating of their racing hearts and an unknown longing for this moment to last clashed over Jeannie. She felt his cheek resting against hers as his warm breath stroked across her neck.
They both danced for a while with their eyes closed, Jean’s face nestled against his shoulder, and inhaled each-others’ presence.
She could feel his wandering hand following the line of her spine as he pulled her even closer and gently brushed a streak of her hair out of her face and traced her jawline with his fingertips. There was no one else in the room for them and for a fleeting moment they both knew what they wanted. No doubts, no regrets. Everything seemed to be perfectly aligned for them as Alex leaned in.
Without any warning signs the music stopped abruptly and the spot lights were clumsily pointed across the dancing crowed towards the stage.
Caught in the act Alex and Jennie jumped a few inches apart. The sobering lights and sudden silence had given them both a rush that clashed painfully over them and they found themselves standing bashful next to each other.
Tanner couldn’t have chosen a worse moment to address the community. Angry faced Alex joined in to the applause that was echoing through the hall when Tanner started his speech. He hoped that Jeannie wouldn’t regret his clumsy effort and couldn’t bear to look at her just yet. Instead he shuffled a little closer to her and waited for a reaction, a sign. To his relieve, Jeannie remained unmoved and saw from the corner of his eye that she was still smiling.
To everyone’s delight, Tanner kept his speech short in thanking everyone who had helped out during the weekend.
As abruptly as the music had stopped tortured a sudden high pitched feedback the audience before the music kicked in again. The magic of the moment had left the both of them and insecure Jeannie treaded on the spot until Alex took the initiative and lead the way across to the bar. They needed a drink.
Alex could feel the soft touch of her hand that was clasping his and instinctively glanced over his shoulder. Content he lifted their hands to gently kiss the back of hers. The soft touch of his lips surprised Jeannie and a deep warmth spread through her body as they walked hand in hand through the crowd.
While Alex waited for their drinks Thomas shuffled with Lorna and Suzy in tow over to them and gone was yet another chance to be alone.
Jeannie had to laugh at the irony of the moment. It was almost as if she was trapped in a Shakespeare play that she could not escape. But there was no reason for this step back to dampen their mode. Everything could have been so perfect. For the first time in a long while it felt as if Jeannie could at long last breath again. Her father was goofing around with Joseph, reminiscing about old times and made fun of each other while Lorna occasionally tried to lecture them. Jeannie was glad that Yvi had come to join them and could finally see her for the person she was. Her kind openhearted way made it easy to engage with her and Jeannie understood why Alex was so fond of his younger sister. She felt dumb for being so jealous before because when she looked at them now as they stood next to each other a blind person would have been able to tell that they were brother and sister. Their gestures, the way they spoke even some facial expression were so similar. She truly felt ashamed and was glad that Yvi had no idea what she had wrongfully thought of her before.
A month ago she had given up hope to ever be happy again. Her life had been filled with illusions and betrayal which had threatened to slowly destroy her. But within a fraction of time Alex had managed to fill her heart with this unknown longing, with hope and warmth. Even though neither of them had said the obvious yet she strongly believed that he felt the same about her and that was enough.
Just as they were all engaged in a cheerful conversation someone barged against Alexander’s back and mad him stumble forward into Thomas. Both managed to steady each other quickly and avoided a fall. When Alex turned around he looked right into Joshua’s eyes and noticed straight away how drunk he was. For some reason Josh had it out for Alex and swaggered closer while Alex tried to calm him in his pursued. As words did not work, Alex pressed one hand against Josh’s chest and with the other clutched his arm and forced him backwards against the bar counter.
“Steady man! And take a seat. Miranda, grab him some coffee will you?” Alexander ordered across the counter. The woman quickly rushed to do as she had been asked when Joshua shot up from the bar stool and got right into Alexander’s face.
“I don’t need no coffee”, Josh uttered. To emphasise his next words, or to provoke a reaction, Josh punched with his hands as hard as he could against his opponents’ chest
“YOU. DON’T. TELL. ME. ANYTHING. GAUTHIER.”
Thomas and Joe tried to step in but Alex shook already his head.
“Josh, come on. Calm yourself. You had enough for tonight”
Alex said calmly.
He took a few steps back as to make Josh understand that he was not up for a fight. But that only fuelled Josh’s rage even more. The commotion at the bar had aroused the interest of an audience they clearly didn’t need when Josh started again.
Joshua had talked himself in some kind of frenzy and snapped back at Alex when Thomas had enough. He grabbed his son firmly by the arm and wanted to lead him outside.
“Back off old man!” Josh shouted spiteful but wouldn’t stop there
“Am I being mean to your favourite superboy?” Alice was terrible distraught and found it hard to contain herself. Jeannie and Yvi comforted her while she was bagging her husband to stop but her plead was in vain.
The situation was spiralling out of control when Joshua tried to jump on to Alex. With a leap to the site, Alex managed to dodge out of the way and what happened next left the bystanders gasp for breath.
Josh stumbled forwards and could just about stop himself from falling. As he turned he tried to lash out again but Alexander’s reaction was faster. With one quick action Alex grabbed for his arm, twisted it behind his back and pushed him out the door.
Even with a sober mind, Joshua would not have stood a chance against Alexander. He was not only much taller but also strong like a bear from years of playing hockey. Josh could count himself lucky that Alex was not the kind of person to get involved in a fight, despite his abilities. Jeannie and her family rushed after them. Alex was already pushing Josh along the car park while he still shouted insults at him.
“Let go of me you coward! I’ll show you what I can do!” Josh tried hard to control his voice but the alcohol in his body had more power over him and numbed his tongue.
“Let go! Where are you taking me” Josh cried hysterically. Alex just kept pushing him along the road.
“Home” Alex’s voice was deep “You need to sleep that off. And if I were you I would be ashamed to ever look my wife in to the eye, idiot” Alex had lowered his voice even further. What he had to say was only meant for Joshua. The walk across to the house was a short one. Only Alice and Jeannie had followed them. Thomas was too angry with his son and only wanted to get home.
First when they had climbed the steps to the front door Alex was prepared to let go of his arm. Before Josh was able to swing around Alice took a hold of him, her face was covered in black mascara marks from crying. The disappointment and disgrace he had caused her tonight had hurt her so deeply that she couldn’t stand to be on her own with him the night. Jeannie didn’t have to wait for her sister-in-law’s plead as it was clear that she needed her around. With a firm gesture, Joshua was ordered to sleep the night in the shelter as Alice was not prepared to allow him to share their bed.
“Are you kidding me?!” Josh tried to protest but Alex was quick to step between them again and escorted him downstairs, a darkening look engrained on both men’s faces. It took not long before Alex appeared from the shelter again and waited in the hallway, ready to leave. Jeannie had just come off the phone as she had checked on her dad. He was still outraged and fully understood that Jean would be spending the night there. Exhausted she stepped towards Alex who was lost for words and concern shone bright in his eyes.
“You’ll sure be okay?” he needed to know. It felt wrong to leave them.
“We’ll be fine,” Jeannie said reassuringly “How about you?”
Jeannie stepped closer and stretched out her hand when Alex pulled her unexpectedly in for a tight embrace. They stood like this for a long while in silence as they felt each other’s warm breath on their skin. If only they could have been somewhere else. Before Alex let go of her he gently kissed her neck, fighting the urge to kiss her. He did not want them to remember their first kiss surrounded by these circumstances.
“I’ll see you tomorrow”, Alex promised and said goodnight.
Trying to understand the past half hour Jeannie went through to the kitchen and made tea for her and Alice who had just gotten out the shower. Together they huddled up on the sofa and soon drifted off in to a deep sleep. There was nothing left to say or to explain.