Coming Down Off My Hillside Ch. 02

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Last time I told you how Carl and Ann met, he saved their house and she got him to come down off the hillside. Life should have been led happily ever after but that is not the way of the world. Had it been that smooth, I would never have come into the picture.

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Carl was just going by the room that Ann’s girls (Linda 13 and Sara 11) were using while their house was being remodeled after the flood that cost so many people in this community their homes. Ann was in town doing something; she had forgotten to take her cell phone but it rang for the first time in the six weeks she had been living with Carl on the hillside. Linda’s bare feet raced to pick up the phone but she did not answer it. The girls were well taught not to curse but this was an exception.

Linda was definitely angry, “Shit, it’s that damn Rick.”

The phone beeped again signaling a text message.

“He’s back in town and wants mom to call him.”

Sara needed no explanation, “What are we going to do. If we tell her she’ll call. I like it here. Rick hated us being around. Should we tell Carl about Rick?”

Carl was curious, took their decision away and pushed the partially open door the rest of the way open. “Tell Carl about what?”

Neither girl wanted to speak; they were caught in between supporting their mother and their new loyalty to Carl.

“I must have caught the end of a secret. That’s ok, secrets are allowed.” He turned to leave, but Linda spoke up.

“Carl, before the flood, maybe six months before, mom was seeing a man named Rick. She really got serious about him but he left. He’s back now and just called mom, asking her to call him.”

“Look you two, I love your mother and both of you. But love is a two way street, it is worthless unless both partners feel the same at the same time. Give your mother the message.”

“Aren’t you going to fight for her?”

“Is he young, tall, handsome, sexy and a little wild?”

“Yes, but….”

“I’m none of those things and your mother is young, pretty, active and sexy. I can love her and be good for her but I cannot compete if she wants those things with someone else. No secrets now, tell your mother we talked.”

That evening, Ann told Carl that a man she used to date had called her.

“You already called him back and agreed to see him, didn’t you?”

“Yes. We were serious for a while and then he left. I feel we have some open issues that I need to talk out with him.”

“When do you meet him?”

“Tomorrow evening for dinner.”

“I’ll keep the girls; you go meet Rick and resolve what you have to.”

She looked strange, not knowing how to read this reaction or how he knew “Rick’s” name. Still she was relieved that she could see Rick without enduring a fit. Linda and Sara were by the kitchen door when their mother turned that way.

“Ann.”

“Yes.”

“I have fallen in love with you, we have shared a bed room for over a month, I know you want to see your former lover; I can understand. Please stay in the guest room, until you and Rick resolve what you feel for each other and you tell me where we stand.”

She started to speak but he was already heading for his office, his hiding place; the place where he could escape into characters, stories and hopefully keep the demons at bay. He worked all night and was gone before the girls left for school but left note about what they wouId have for Friday dinner and suggested they could download a movie. The great empty black hole came back during the night. He could see Linda’s and Sara’s faces at the rim but looked and looked, Ann was not there. Sleep was impossible but the dreams of faces in pain, screams, deafening noise and the smells of war came back. They had left Carl alone for thirty years. He would survive; he always did; whether he wanted to or not.

Carl watched from the cove of bushes when Ann left. She had been to the beauty parlor, had on a new outfit and new shoes. In her excitement, she left without saying “Goodbye” to her daughters. Carl had been infatuated with a woman like that once. He had been blind, stupid and would not listen to friends. It was the woman he married and who cheated on him and deadened his heart for many years. Ann had made him care again. It had been a nice respite. Now he had to find a shell to protect him; he heard his father’s words, “Carl, you need to know your place.”

Linda sat closer and Sara asked a dozen times, if he wanted anything during the movie. When he tucked them in, Linda spoke for both of them, “We did not like Rick and he didn’t like us around. Mom was nuts about him.”

“I’m a big boy, I can take it. You two get some sleep and don’t worry. Everything will work out fine. The fishing lodge is coming along great, you are doing well in school and Rick has come back to your mom.”

Again he did not sleep. He could not write, so he sat. All night he sat. Ann never came home.

It was about ten in the morning when Carl saw casino oyna a disheveled Ann showing the lodge to a handsome man a few years younger than her. When in doubt go fishing. He left notes for the girls and went out the back way when Ann and Rick began their trek up the hillside.

Four days later, he caught up with Linda and Sara just as school was letting out.

Linda greeted him, “You don’t look so good.”

“You should see it from inside. What is going on with your mother and Rick?”

“He has talked her into them running the fishing lodge and making a ton of money. She’s nuts, she has barely been home. She says, she and Rick want to talk to you.”

“Let’s go home. I’ll face the music when they are ready.”

A few days later, Ann and the girls moved into the fishing lodge with Rick while work continued. That is when I met Carl and began to work for him. He was way behind in his writing, had tons of stuff to do around the house and did not seem motivated to do anything. I had dropped out of high school and was known as the American Indian boy who always had trouble with teachers and students. Carl was easy to work for, he had a list of things that needed to get done. If something did not get done, it stayed on the list while new things were added. Very occasionally, he said an item had to get done that day. He paid me daily, respected me and was always willing to help. Little by little, I grew to like him and wanted to know more about him. In this phase, he was dark, brooding and had a threatening air about him.

One day, Linda came up the hillside looking for Carl. She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Carl was not around, so we got to talk for a while. When she stood close, I stuttered and could not find the right words. When Carl got back, Linda followed him into his office. He noticed the look on my face. Later he said to me, “Linda is beautiful for a girl of thirteen.” I still could not speak. “Don’t worry Nathan, her mother affects me that way. She lived here for over a month until her old boyfriend came back.”

I was only fifteen at that time. Even when I was supposed to be working, I often looked down the hill, hoping to catch a glimpse of Linda. When Carl would see me, he would always say something like, “Give her time, she will notice you.”

“A breathless Linda flew through the door late one Wednesday afternoon, “Rick, hit mom!”

Carl needed no explanation; he was out the door and down the hillside before I got into the yard with Linda. Carl stopped for an instant to look at Ann. She was standing crying in her back yard. A half drunk Rick strutted out to confront Carl but Carl just motioned for Rick to follow him to the side of the house. Ann could not see but Linda and I were almost down the hill. We were watching but didn’t really see anything either. When he turned and faced Rick, I never saw him move or what he hit Rick with but Rick went down like a rock grasping his neck, trying desperately to breathe through the blood in his mouth and spitting out broken teeth.

“Rick you hurt Ann or the girls again and I’ll push one of your balls up your ass, the other down your throat and feed your dick to the trout. Do you understand?”

Rick tried to acknowledge that he understood.

Then Carl’s voice got very cruel, quiet and in a monotone, he continued, “After that the real pain will begin. I can keep you alive and screaming for me to let you die for a year.”

My eyes were almost as big as Rick’s; his were full of fear, mine surprise. I had never heard a hash word or seen a violent act from Carl. There was no question that he could and would do what he said. Linda was frozen in her tracks, shivering. Carl just turned and walked back up the hillside.

Rick was patched up at the local hospital and dentist’s office. He wore a metal frame on his jaw for a while. He tried to file a complaint with the local sheriff. Word was the sheriff had told him, “That man on the hill is a war hero who has never caused anyone any problems. You on the other hand, have a rap sheet as long as my arm and would steal from your mother. I think you fell down and are just trying to cause trouble to collect insurance. Stay out of my office.”

For the next four months, Ann and Rick had trouble getting work finished on the lodge. Once when they needed Carl to sign a release so a progress payment could be made, they asked that Carl allow them to sign for him in the future. His answer was plain, “No! Rick you are a known swindler and felon. Ann is so taken with you that she would do almost anything for you. My name is on the loan documents and I will sign the releases.”

That simple act started to change everything. Ann heard some things she did not know. Rick did not get control of any money; that make him angry and he drank more. Rick and Ann began arguing a lot and the girls started hanging out up the hillside more. I liked that; Linda and I could spend some time together.

One day, Carl caught slot oyna Linda and me making out in his special clump of bushes behind the house. He took me aside, I expected the worst. “I know you like Linda. Don’t betray the trust she has in you. Love her, kiss her, touch her, if she wants you to, but remember she is only thirteen. Be only her special friend, respect her and protect her until she gets old enough to give her knowing consent.”

That was the first time an adult had treated me as an equal, voicing his concern and just spelling out the situation. It was non-threatening but clearly told me that I was about to turn sixteen and she was very much a minor. He turned and walked over to Linda, hugged her and brought her back to me and put her hand in mine. There was no implied consent; just acknowledgment of the situation and stated responsibility.

It was on a beautiful early afternoon during school spring break that I barely heard a scream. I’m an Indian and supposed to know about the ways of sound, smells and nature. Carl flew across the yard and down the hillside. I tried to follow but his feet did not touch the ground and the trees either moved out of his way or he flowed through them. Rick ran from a clump of trees off to the right. Carl headed for those threes. Rick got to his truck; retrieved his pistol and fired several rounds but Carl did not pay attention or waver from where he was going. Rick’s truck roared away just when Carl came from the trees carrying Linda. Her shirt was ripped away, her jeans were open and she was almost in shock from fright. I finally caught up to him and he told me, “Get Ann and Sara. All of you come up to my house now. Do not delay for any reason. I’m counting on you Nathan.”

Ann had been hit in the face again and Sara was hiding in her closet when I found her.

“Nathan the work day is over. Please call the sheriff and tell him what you saw. Then you go on home.”

“I want to stay and help you.”

“I appreciate that and I knew you would want to help. I will explain in the future. Now, you do what I told you. You go home. You can call Linda on her cell phone and get updates, but do not come back up here unless I know about it and approve it first. Do you understand? Do your promise?”

“I understand and I promise.”

Carl got Ann and the girls bedded down in the master bedroom together that night. Linda told me that he opened a hidden foot locker full of firearms, taking only a 40 caliber pistol and an AK47. She told me how he sat all night, unblinking and unmoving in the dark. Several times she or Ann looked out to check on him. Each time the quiet movement of the door in the dark prompted him to say, “Get some rest there is work to do tomorrow.”

About five a.m., I called and Carl said I could come over. Just as I came through the door the landline phone rang. Carl revealed nothing, “Thank you for telling me. I will make sure everyone else knows.”

Strangely, he locked away the firearms and made us some coffee. “Nathan, we have to help Ann and the girls finish their lodge. I’ll put her in touch with a good financial consultant to help her decide what she wants to do with it. All the stuff we have to do around this house can wait. I’ll get a delay from my publisher on when my final drafts are due.”

About seven, everyone was gathered around the kitchen table. The only thing different was a box of Kleenex.

“Ann, I have some horrible news for you and the girls. Rick kept drinking while he drove and drove. About two hundred miles from here, just outside Fresno, he hit an overpass support doing about ninety. He was killed instantly. The sheriff said no one in his family is interested in arranging services. Would you like for me to take care of things and arrange for you and the girls to attend his funeral?”

I had heard more emotion in a weather report. Carl had total control of himself but he was more robot than human. He was helping the best way he knew how but his heart was being ripped apart again. He took care of everything and caught Linda and me in the kitchen. “Nathan, please take care of them. I’ll be in the little cove behind the house. Don’t disturb me.”

He seldom drank but he took enough hard liquor to get ten people stoned. That night the temperature dropped and I crept out to take him a coat. He was sitting in his short shirt sleeves, totally still, looking into the campfire and holding an almost finished bottle of bourbon. An empty one sat at his feet. I left the coat and began to walk away.

“Nathan, come sit with me for a while.” His speech was thick but his eyes were clear. I stoked his fire. It was almost out. I had on a coat and still shivered. He was very still. As if he knew my questions, he began:

“In ’68, I should have died, everyone else I knew did. A hundred times, I have tried to get drunk and forget and not feel; it has never worked.”

Was I supposed to respond? This was way beyond my sixteen years.

“Nathan, loving is the canlı casino siteleri easy part. Having someone love you just as much has been impossible for me. Linda likes you but you are going to have to make something out of yourself or she will never respect you enough to truly love you.”

Hard, cold, brutal words. They struck right through my worries, concerns, sex drive and ego.

“Have you read any of my mysteries?” He knew that I had not. I had never read a book all the way through.

“In them, I can feel and love and be loved. Outside the pages, I only find hurt. I know that, yet, I keep caring. Is Linda, alright? Did the women’s services people come out? Had she been raped?”

“She is fine, Carl. You got there before anything happened.”

His head nodded once.

“I hid scared to death in a culvert once. There was a young Vietnamese girl already in it. Her chest wound was sucking air. She spoke no English and I was no good in hers. I just held her and she held me until she died. I knew how to hate until then. I never discovered if she was friend or foe. I wish I knew how to hate now. I was happier believing I was right and had all the answers.”

In another hour, he had not said another word or moved a muscle. I draped his jacket around him and returned to the cabin. I had changed. I was a dozen years older.

Night and day, he worked to have the fishing lodge completed. It was decorated in Indian motif and had lots of fishing things too. The day it was complete, he took his prized stuffed rainbow from over his mantle and hung it over the fireplace in the lodge’s main room. Then he took Ann and the girls to the front door of the lodge, handed Ann the key and a folder of papers and walked back up the hillside.

They needed help. I wanted to be near Linda. Carl just smiled and said, “You two come visit me once in a while and not just to go make out in the bushes.”

The lodge was an instant success. Two of the best fly fishermen in the world wrote it up in its first month and from then on there was never a vacant room even with the rules of fishing with barbless hooks and only catch and release. A wonderfully trained chef showed up one day and that boosted business beyond fishing season and being close to the ski resorts did not hurt. I discovered Carl had sent the chef, but I did not tell Ann.

Ann came to me one day. She looked old and sad. Now I was seventeen and could run the lodge, except the accounting. She relied on me; trusted me with her daughter and today, forgot how old I was and asked my advice.

“Nathan, I want to see Carl again. How should I tell him that? How should I go to him? Do you think he will turn his back on me? Would it be alright to send Sara up the hillside with a note?”

The words that came from my mouth sounded strange. They did not seem like mine. There were no smart ass answers, no “why ask me, I’m only a kid?”

“Ann, he would like to see you more than anything, but I don’t know if you can get him to drop his defenses to let his love out again. You really screwed him over.”

“I know. He has every right to turn his back on me.”

“You know him. He would never do that. Every time you or the girls needed him, he was here. As a woman you know him and what he likes. You know how to show him that you want to be his now. You read some of his stories. You know what to do to soften his heart, if it can be done again. All I know is that you are the only woman he has loved in the last thirty years. I watched him struggle to survive through your rejection. There were days that I thought he would “go postal;” instead he fed the squirrels and stayed up all night looking into the fire.”

“I should not go to him and bring up all the hurt again.”

“Sounds like you don’t have the guts to go to him and risk his rejection. Sounds like you don’t have the guts to do what only you know to do to soften his heart again.”

For a week and then two, I watched Ann struggle with what she would do. One late June evening she bathed in just water, wrapped herself in a robe, slipped on some shoes and walked up the hillside toward the column of smoke that signaled that Carl was in his clump of bushes.

He was sitting on a log, poking the fire with a stick in the twilight when Ann pushed between two bushes. He was surprised but just looked at her and did not stand.

“Carl, I am sorry for what I did. I was wrong and I know now that I love you. Is there any hope that you can forgive me and we can start over again?”

He still did not move or offer any hint of an answer.

“Hurt me, beat me with that stick, have a fling so my heart aches, like I made yours ache. Tell me what I can do to show you what I am saying is the truth.”

As he watched, she stepped out of her shoes and let the robe drop from her shoulders. She stood in the cool air, totally nude, humbling herself in front of him, begging for him to care, admitting her guilt, baring all her defenses, searching for a glimmer of caring that still might be alive in him.

Still his eyes showed no surprise, no life, no forgiveness.

She tried to break the tension, “I told you I would show you mine in these bushes.”

Still he sat unblinking.

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