Annie & Jack After Forty

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Chapter 12

Jack

Why the hell didn’t Annie show up on Friday or Saturday to work at the house? I’m in a pissed off mood this morning, I’m stressed, and I’m looking forward to talking to Annie again. Sharing my secrets about my house has suddenly become the sharing of my soul with a woman who has put some type of spell over me. Probably some weird southern bullshit thing.

Ben went to The Stardust over the weekend, and he didn’t see her working there either. The asshole laughed when I asked him about her. I need to get a grip on reality. Yes, we’ve flirted. Yes, I feel a connection, a strong urge to rip her clothes off her body. But there is also some sort of weird energy pulsing in me. It’s telling me to protect, take care of her because she’s different, special. She’s certainly not like anyone I’ve been attracted to in the past, far from it. The woman I’ve dated and have had relationships with were career-oriented, man-eaters. I like hard and rough, not sweet and gentle.

I walk inside my house and straight up the stairs. I see her working in Sophie’s bathroom. I yell, “Annie, have coffee with me in the kitchen, please.” I sound too abrupt, hell, I probably should have asked her to have coffee with me, but at least I did say please.

I turn to walk down the stairs. She walks over to the railing and smiles to me, “Hi you. How are you? Am I in trouble?” she teases me.

I stop on the stairs. Her smile is beautiful, but she looks pale and tired. “Are you sick, were you sick this weekend?” She tucks her hair behind her ears and plays with the bottom of it, twirling. She has worn it down today. She usually has it up on top of her head in some sort of knot. “No, I was out of town this weekend.”

“Ah, okay, will you have coffee with me? I’d like to check-in, I have a busy week coming up.” Her eyes widen. Fuck, it came out curt, more serious than I intended.

“Oh, okay. I’ll be right down.”


Annie

I sit down at the kitchen table. Jack’s mood seems different today, or maybe it’s just me. He sits across from me, stirs his coffee, and only stares at me. He looks so handsome this morning; he has his reading glasses on the top of his head. His hair is winging out and curling over his ears. I have no idea what the heck we’ve done wrong, but I get the sense he’s upset and unhappy about something.

“Where did you go over the weekend?” His tone is deep and short.

“I went to visit my daughter’s, my Mom’s, and my ex-mother in-law’s gravesites.” I have to fight to keep my hands by my side. I want to touch my hair, my living, physical remembrance of Jenny.

His expression softens, and I watch the pity make its presence known on his face. “I’m sorry for your loss, Anne. How old was your daughter when she passed? How long ago did you lose her?” He studies me carefully.

My hand flies to my hair and I start twirling the ends. “I lost my daughter, Jenny, when she was eighteen to Congenital Muscular Dystrophy. It was the first anniversary of her passing, Saturday.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. Christ, that sounds lame, not enough. I can’t even pretend to imagine how hard, Christ, I’m truly sorry, Annie.” He’s watching me twirl and play with my hair. I flush and quickly remove my hand.

“Does that have anything to do with your recent haircut?” he asks. He’s intelligent and observant. I hope one day to be able to talk about Jenny without trying to feel her hand in my hair one more time.

“It does. Jenny was severely handicapped. Fukuyama Congenital MD caused her muscles to shrink, so to move, to stretch, it caused her a lot of pain and discomfort. She was also born with mental retardation. My baby was always in pain and couldn’t communicate verbally or physically. Jenny was obsessed with girls with long pretty hair. She wanted it so badly, but she couldn’t stand to have her hair brushed. It caused her neck to move; it hurt her, so she always wore a short pixie haircut. When she turned six, she started throwing tantrums every time I got my hair cut. She wanted me to grow it and keep it long. Laura, my ex-mother in law, cancer came back, and we couldn’t afford haircuts or any luxuries, so I went for over two years and didn’t cut it at all. She was nine when we could afford it again, and I had it cut from my mid-back to my just below my shoulders. It hurt her feelings and upset her something fierce.”

I smile, thinking about Jenny’s temper. “She got so upset with me. She cried and threw a fit like we’ve never seen before and threw a fit until I told her I wouldn’t cut it again. I originally planned to go and get it trimmed every other month so it wouldn’t be noticeable to her. I don’t know, pretend my hair wasn’t growing out fast this time. But I didn’t have time to think about hair for long because we all lived in hospitals for the next few years. We dealt with infections, breathing, feeding problems for Jenny and chemo, radiation, and infections for Laura. Those were tough years for the three of us. Jenny started growing tall like her Daddy. She was all long, lean limbs, and her growing bones hurt her, they fought against her. Her fingers started to remain balled up; she couldn’t take the pain of straightening them. She started sleeping in a medical bed right beside my twin mattress. She was ten when she started rubbing and playing with my hair at night between the backs of her hands. She would try to stroke, feel it any way she could. She wanted it by her face, in her face, to touch it and inhale it.”

I giggle. “The crazy nut would forget to close her eyes sometimes and poke herself in the eyeball with my hair. Then she laughs at herself because she realized she forgets to close them. I, of course, teased her. So, anyway, I stopped cutting my hair, it, my hair, became our thing. It was like her security blanket, I guess. I know it sounds odd, I suppose it is, but it’s my odd, and I wouldn’t change it, any of it.”

I have a long week of both jobs ahead of me. I need to lighten up the day and remove the look of pity from Jack’s face. I sit up straight and proud. “I don’t need my hair to remember my daughter. It was the right time to cut it, so it fits into the life I make now. Speaking of my life now, three weeks down, how do you think it’s looking without all of your mom’s wallpaper?” I wave my hand around the grand space of the great room.

He’s quiet, staring at my hair so I keep talking. “Three weeks down, only eleven weeks to go until it’s finished, and your house can be your own again.” I meant for that to sound teasing, but it came out sounding tired. I yawn, I stand up and bend down to touch my toes, then raise my arms up and stretch. Jack’s still silent. I just spilled my guts and laid out a lot of heavy on him for a Monday morning. He feels awkward and at a loss for words. I didn’t mean to make him feel that way; I’m weird and emotional today. I need to get moving, get busy with work, and out of my thoughts.

“I need to get moving, Jack. Will I see you later?”

He stands; I can tell he’s back to business. I’m stupid for sharing my story, and I don’t want his pity or this weirdness. He didn’t need to know all that; he’s not a friend even though I keep thinking of him as one in my mind. I’ll probably only see him on occasion at The Stardust after we are done with his house. Damn, he didn’t need to hear all that. It wasn’t like we were sharing deeply personal stuff like I just laid on him. No, we were sharing funny little tidbits about the house and silly little things. I need to learn not to overshare my story with everyone. But I feel comfortable around him despite the overwhelming vibes he gives off to leave him alone. I like him.

“Annie, I have a busy week; you have my card. You can use it for anything you need; you have all of my contact information. I’ll let you get back to work.”

I smile, feeling like an idiot. “Okay, thanks. Have a nice week, Jack.”

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