She tastes like pears. Nutty. Solid. Just a bit sweet.
Then again, maybe it's just her lip gloss.
When he was seven years old, his father came home from work swinging his leather briefcase and smiling like a fool. Well, that's what his mother had said after his father had spun her around the kitchen and kissed her solidly on the mouth before bounding up the stairs to change out of his suit.
|"Patrick, you're grinning like a fool! What's wrong with you?"|
His mother hadn't minded though. He'd been able to tell because she hadn't yelled at him for getting red crayon all over the refrigerator, and when you're seven, that was a large reprieve indeed.
Later, that night over supper, his father had told them all about the cabin he'd just picked up 'for a song' in the upper wilds of Minnesota. His mother hadn't been so pleased then. She'd been born and raised in Bridgeport, and her idea of wildlife had involved a trip on the el to Lincoln Park Zoo and giving Jack quarters to buy food pellets for the giraffes. So, she'd pursed her lips and glared until Jack had been sent to bed.
Three weeks later, they'd packed their bags and taken the family station wagon on the brand new Eisenhower and headed north. Jack had spent most of the drive, face smashed against the window watching the farms and trees roll by. Rivers and hills blurred in a sea of green, and he was fairly certain his mother had laughed herself sick when he'd fallen asleep and drooled against the glass.
She'd made him clean it off the next day, her eyes dancing evilly. Yeah, he had no idea where his taste in women came from. None at all.
He'd woken with the slowing of the car to the sound of rubber crunching on gravel, and when he'd peered blearily over the back seat and out the front window, there it had been. Four walls, two windows and a door.
|"Patrick! It looks like one of those houses Jack draws in school!"|
He'd fallen instantly in love. The lake next to it had only sweetened the deal, and by the time he'd met James Andersen down the road (who taught him how to skip rocks and catch toads with all his ten-year- old wisdom,) Jack O'Neill's mental image of heaven had significantly shifted.
When he was fifteen years old, his father had bought several tons of lumber, and checked a construction book out of the library. His mother had shaken her head, kissed his father on the nose and made Jack promise to call a contractor if dad broke anything major.
By the time she'd made it up during the dead heat of August, his father's broken arm had healed, and they'd both managed to figure out the basics of deck architecture. Well, his father had. Jack had ended up mostly hauling wood and nailing it together.
He remembers nearly everything about that summer. It had been strange, at the time, when his father had told him they were going to Minnesota for the entire stretch between stints at Ryan Hall. The normal pattern had been a few weeks in July, when business was slow and the mosquitos were enthusiastic. Later, during the doctor visits and the tubes and needles, he'd known why.
It had seemed an amazing stroke of good luck at the beginning of the summer. Three months of freedom had stretched out before him, and despite the tang of freshly cut wood scenting the air - a reminder of Work To Come - those months had represented something he normally didn't have. Time. Time to see if Gina Larson had filled out her sweater (she had) or if good old Jimmy would take him joy riding in the Chevy he'd pieced together over the previous summer (he did.) Time with his father, and time to watch the lake and perfect his casting.
He remembers it all in quiet sepia tones that have nothing to do with real life and everything to do with too many nights passed out on the couch and waking up in the middle of an AMC movie marathon. But it's okay, because despite the unreality, he can remember the tang of salt in his mouth and the vibrations running along his arm with each swing of the hammer. Jack remembers his father's voice, encouraging with just a hint of pain. Jack had marked it down to the broken arm, and not the thing he'd known nothing about.
He lost his virginity on that deck. Sweaty and good and completely foreign, it waved good-bye in the arms of Julia McNamera three weeks before his parents had pulled him down to the dinner table to 'explain things'.
For awhile, that deck represented manhood. A test he'd passed with sweat and blood. It was something he pointed at to say 'I made that. That was me.' Something tangible that he shared with his father.
But everything changes, and a deck became medals close to his heart, and then a child, and then friendships. Seasons shifting behind his eyes. Becoming things he'd never imagined, people he'd never dreamed of.
Just before his twenty-seventh birthday, he brought Sara here for the first time. Drunk on leave, and wine, and her, he'd dragged her kicking and screaming into the shallow waters next to his dock. Squealing like the child she'd just grown beyond, she'd fought him madly, splashing and laughing and so damn free.
Sex and his deck had, apparently, become a theme. He'd loved her deeply with an edge honed by all the dark things and places that he never allowed his mind to touch; not here, not in his small slice of heaven. They skirted on the edges of his brain, retreating from the glowing warmth that was Sara and Jack. Together.
After they'd tired themselves out in the water and in themselves, he'd watched her doze on the smooth wood of his deck. Her limbs long and firm and glittering in the afternoon light. He'd seen his future in her, stretched along this place. So when she'd laughed (and cried) at his tiny diamond and big plans, she'd kissed him long and hard before pulling back and smiling at him.
|"You're a fool, Jack. And I've always been an idiot for foolish men."|
And the next time they'd come, it had been with a three-year-old child who'd tangled himself in fishing line at every chance, and laughed so loud and clear, Jack could have sworn he'd scared the fish all away.
When Jack was thirty-nine years old, he'd walked out onto this deck and cried. Hard tears no one would ever hear. Could never hear. For hours, he'd sat curled against the post staring at nothing and everything, reveling in the quiet that was just him and this place.
His son had died. His wife had left. He'd been to another planet, and lied to the people to whom he'd sworn an oath.
He'd had the lake dragged. Paid his old friend Jimmy to take every last bit of aquatic life out and far away. There'd been nothing then. Just the water and the sun and this place because he needed to honor his son like that.
Charlie had laughed and all of the fish had swum away. That's the way it would always be.
There hadn't been voices that summer. Just his own singing along to Gene Autry and Johnny Cash and Hank Williams and other men who'd done it all and come out the other side. The summer of his thirty-ninth year was much like that of his fifteenth, but in reverse. Hushed whispers and screamed pains were over and lost, left spinning in the past, rather than edging along the horizon.
It was an aftermath of sorts. Most men, when they reached middle age, got a new sports car or a girlfriend. He got a whole new future, unplanned and murky. And the day he drove back to Colorado, the cabin getting smaller and smaller in his rearview, he'd smiled.
His haven had done its job, and the gnawing ache was just that much smaller.
He's fifty-one years old now, and it's August again. His hair matches the faded cedar of his cabin, and he feels every single pain and ache from a life lived hard and well.
His future is uncertain, again, but in a different way.
Samantha Carter is kissing him on his deck at his cabin, their fingers in each other's hair.
"My father and I built this deck." He'd told her under the bright dark sky, breathing deep the smell of green and water and her. It felt right, and good to say. Something of himself that he'd never given anyone else. Not freely.
She'd smiled then. Her eyes bright under stars and the backlighting of the cabin. And just for a minute he heard his father and mother laughing, heard Charlie squealing over his fish, and Sara shriek as he kissed her in the shallows.
When he'd been seven years old, he'd seen this cabin for the first time. Right now, at the age of fifty one, he saw it again. Smiling up at him.
And then he was kissing her, right here on the deck he'd built.
She tastes like pears.