Saturday, March 17, 2012

The New Geek Empire: Part Nine

It is amazing what a willing partner can help you accomplish. In two days, with Jax’s help, I cleared off what would have been for me alone about five days’ worth of work. I didn’t just halve the time required to complete the projects, but more. The reason for this is that Jax is taller and able to lift heavier items without having to go get a step stool or some other tool to lift something down or to lever something into place. He could also carry two pails of feed or five-gallon buckets of fruit to my one.

In a voice a little on the other side of exasperated Jax said, “Lydie, just leave it to me instead of following me all over the place. Alright? Have I had any problems getting the work done or do you think you need to watch me all the time?”

Surprised at his tone I snapped back at him, “Well excuse me. I thought we were having fun working together but if you want to be a snot about it.”

I turned to leave but Jax grabbed my elbow real quick and said, “Hey. I’m … uh … sorry. I … you know … thought you didn’t think I could do it right.”

“Did I say that?” I continued snapping. “Have I said anything like that at all in the last two days?”

“No, but …”

I kept growling, “But nothing. You were the one that was all ‘let’s work together’ and stuff. So that’s what I was doing. If you don’t want me around just spit it out already and stop dancing.”

I jerked my elbow away from him and turned to leave again but this time he blocked the path with his whole body. “Lydie, seriously … I’m sorry. OK? I didn’t mean I don’t want to be with you. I just … you know … want to prove that I can help around here.”

Not ready to be mollified I told him, “Are you crazy?! What have you been doing all day if not proving you can do the work? I’m sure as heck not the one that moved two dozen more bales from out in the field so we could build the walls on the composting greenhouse. ( ).”

He shrugged, “I used a tractor, it was no big deal.”

I snorted. “Yeah, and those bales just jumped into and then out of the wagon all by themselves.”

He gave a small grin. “So … you noticed I’m good for something.”

His grin made me grin even though I didn’t want it to. “I suppose. And you aren’t exactly hard on the eyes either.”

That made him really grin like a pure chauvinist. I figure he was due it all things considered. And it was the truth. He most certainly looked good in that sweaty t-shirt … didn’t smell so great, but definitely easy to look at.

Then he got bashful and that made him even cuter if possible. “Thanks. But seriously Lydie, I’ve got this stuff. Kelly is napping in the playpen in the shade so it’s not like I’m having to do it with her on my back. Why don’t you go do something that doesn’t have so much heavy lifting required; something I’d just be slow at.”

Deciding to poke at him a little more I said, “Oh ho, so now it comes out. You just don’t want to pick beans again today.”

He shook his head and grinned. “Yeah, that’s it. It’s the bean thing.”

“Hah! Should have known. Well fine, I’ll go pick beans … but you have to help snap them after dinner if you can stay conscious after working in all of this heat.”

We were both sweating and he wasn’t the only one a little on the odiferous side. “Man, it is hot I’ll give you that. Not much breeze either.”

I looked at the sky. “I guess I really will go get the beans out of the garden and anything else I can pick. This heat is brutal. And …”

“And?” he prompted when I forgot to finish the sentence.

“And … it just feels funky. Could be a storm on the way.” Turning to him I said, “I don’t mean to sound like a nag but can you make double sure that those bales are tied down really well with the rebar? You know how a hot September can turn on us with little notice.”

He blew a breath out through his lips. “Yeah, unfortunately. You think we can still get enough finished so we can hit the mill tomorrow night?”

“I don’t see why not. If you really are willing to get the first phase of the compost greenhouse up and get that hundred feet of hose laid in it I’ll go ahead and get the picking done and start some sun tea as well.”

He nodded and said, “Sounds like a good plan. If Kelly wakes up cranky call and I’ll come get her.”

“Like I can’t handle a cranky little girl?”

He shrugged. “I just don’t want you to feel like I’m here to have someone to take care of my kid for me.”

Archly I asked, “Kinda like I didn’t want you to think I only asked you to come for your muscle?”

He grinned and said, “Touché … I reckon that’s what I’m supposed to say anyway. Seriously though, some of the other girls I tried to go out with after I brought Kelly home thought that’s what I was after. It’s … uh … even more important for me that you in particular don’t think that.”

He had that uncertain puppy dog face on and it finally sunk in Mr. Cool got kicked around enough that he’d lost a lot of his self-confidence. I decided those other girls had a couple of bolts and screws loose. “After I’ve seen what a good daddy you are? Forget it Jax. The last thing I would ever think is that you’re trying to dump your kid on someone else. Besides …” I made a quick decision and looked at him from beneath my eye lashes. “Besides, I know the two of you are a package deal.” I stepped forward and stood on my toes and gave him a quick kiss on his salty, sweaty cheek and then just about ran over to the play pen check on Kelly real quick before I grabbed a bucket and then hustled over to the rows of beans.

I got to the end of the first row before looking back. Jax was still looking at me and when he saw I was looking at him grinned real big, touched his cheek and then the pocket on his chest over his heart before turning and going back towards where we had both been working just a few minutes before.

Part of me felt like we were moving awful fast but at least a small part of me wanted to hurry up and go faster so I could find out if the story was good or not. I decided that it wasn’t necessarily my call to make the next move and after that I was pretty involved in finding all the beans that were ready for harvest. I had gotten two rows picked over when I heard, “Widdie!!! Need to go pottttyyyyyyy!”

She was dancing pretty good so I dropped the bucket and ran and got her to the bathroom in the barn just in time. The poor little thing actually sighed with relief. “Sorry Bumble Bee, I didn’t know you were awake. You’re such a good girl. Bet your daddy is going to be proud that you didn’t have an accident.”

“I’s a big girl now!” she said and proved it by pulling her clothes back together without my help. She looked like she was wrestling a bear for a second but she got everything pulled up and straight.

“Want some drink?”

“Yes, uh huh, pease,” she said in a rush.

Kelly didn’t want to especially go back into the play pen after her drink but she went after I coaxed her a bit and soon she was babbling at me every time I came back with more beans to dump into the bushel baskets in the shade. Each type of bean had a different basket and soon enough I was hot and dripping sweat all over again.

From my vantage in the garden I saw Jax come back and then get under the tree with Kelly so I didn’t have to watch so much and could move faster. I was kicking it with the beans and didn’t look up until a shadow fell across me. “Here. Drink something. You’re white around the mouth. Where’s your hat?”

I turned to look up at Jax from where I was squatted down and wound up on my butt in the dirt instead. “On second thought,” he said. “Come get in the shade. I’ll carry the bucket.”

He helped me up, handed me the plastic glass of water and then took the five gallon bucket I had been using and guided me to sit down near the playpen. I hadn’t noticed how shaky I was getting. After a few sips of water I told him, “Man, it has to be in the 90s”

“It is; ninety-two according to the thermometer on the barn. Why don’t you take a break?”

“I can’t,” I told him. “I’ve got to get the garden picked over. This heat is just too much and if it keeps up things are going to start to shrivel. Even with the solar drip irrigation system going this heat is too much this time of year. ( ) As it is I’m probably going to have to water two or three times a day. Geez this is crazy. Thank goodness we have all the rainwater storage to be able to keep up. ( ) ( )”

He told me in concern, “You’re gonna have heat stroke if you keep this up.”

I meant to shake my head but was too wiped out. “No. I’ll just have to do the picking early and late in the day instead of in the middle like I’m doing now. You’d think I’d know better than to try this when it is so hot but now that I’ve started I can’t stop. And I’ve got to get these beans some place cool or they are going to sour and mold.”

“I’ll carry them down to the cool cellar in the basement. You really need to just sit down for a little bit Lydie.”

His tone of voice had me cracking my eyes open and looking up at him. “Look that bad huh?”

“You look … yeah … you look bad. At least stick you head under a spigot to cool off for a little more.”

I rolled over and got on all fours and then forced myself up. “I’ll do better than that … but no peeking. I’m gonna step into the shower.” ( )

He grinned and it was tinged with relief that I hadn’t fought him over the issue. “I’ll climb in with Kelly when you’re finished if there’s enough water.”

“There’ll be enough water. I only plan on rinsing off real quick and then getting re-dressed. If I get too comfortable it is going to be hard to get back in the garden and do what I gotta do.”

By the end of the day I felt slammed. Luckily Jax didn’t mind simple beans and rice for dinner; I wasn’t even up for making biscuits or cornbread to go with it. The heat had wiped Kelly out and she only played a little before saying, “Blankey wants to go to bed.”

Uh huh, Kelly was the one that wanted to go to bed but didn’t want to admit it; but that’s kids for you apparently. Jax didn’t look like it hurt his feelings any at all. After cleaning the kitchen I still felt sticky and grimy and decided to take another quick shower. It was completely dark out and I hoped the worst of the bugs were done for the evening. I was so tired that even though I grabbed a fresh towel, I forgot to take clean clothes with me outside to the shower. After I had finished and dried off I debated on risking a run to the house when I realized I had goofed, but the blood-sucking skeeters decided it for me.

Wrapped only in a towel I ran for the porch and then skidded to a stop when the door opened in front of me. I stood there like a deer in the headlights and Jax just stood there with his mouth hanging open. I shook my wet head and then pushed him out of the way and fled up the stairs telling him over my shoulder to shut the door before all the bugs get in.

I was debating on whether to come out of my room … ever … when there was a soft knock on the door. “Lydie?”

I sighed and then warned him, “Don’t make fun Jax. I know I should have grabbed some clothes, I just forgot.”

“I … uh … wasn’t going to make fun. I was … uh … just … just checking to see if you were OK.”

“I’m fine,” I told him. With a bit of an attitude I asked, “You swear you aren’t going to twit me over this?”

I heard him chuckle quietly and then he said, “Promise.”

I stuck my very red face out of the door and he backed up, then I let the rest of me – the fully clothed rest of me – step out. Pretending that he hadn’t just seen me in nothing but a towel he asked, “Kelly is asleep. Are we going to do the beans?”

Pretending that I didn’t know he was still thinking about seeing me in nothing but a towel I told him, “I’m going to. You can do whatever you want.”


I sighed in resignation and said, “Sorry.”

With a grin he said, “I’m not.”

I growled in irritation, stuck my nose in the air and went downstairs with his masculine chuckle following me. He finally caught up with me down in the basement but instead of helping he took the basket out of my hands. “Lydie, let’s talk first.”

Still feeling awkward I moved away and said, “About what?”

“About … us.”

Well that caused a shiver right there. “Us?” I said, squeaking more than I had meant to.

“Yeah. Us. I know I promised not to push but can you at least give me a hint whether I’ve got any hope here?”

Irritated I snapped, “If there was any more hope I’d be a mental basket case.”

He looked confused for a moment then asked, “Is that good or bad?”

I crossed my arms defensively and muttered, “It means that … that I want to throw good sense to the wind and play house with you for real. The only thing keeping me from being completely stupid is the fact that I’ve never done this before so it is taking me twice as long to figure how what I’m supposed to do next.”

He thought that through then grinned. “Oh … so it’s a good thing.”

Getting really freaked out I said, “For you maybe … but I’m not easy. I’m not!”

“Whoa … hey …,” he said when he saw I was getting so upset. “I know that.”

“Do you? Because I’m starting to wonder if I know it. This is turning out just too simple … like some stupid, bodice-ripper story like the lunchroom ladies used to like to read.” Cynically I mimicked dramatically, “His sun bleached hair blew in the breeze. His muscular body was topped by a chiseled face and his chocolate brown eyes took her breath away. Her bosom heaved with anticipation as he …”

I didn’t get to finish because Jax busted out laughing. “Honestly Lydie, you’re too much. The lunchroom ladies never read anything like that.”

Indignantly I said, “They most certainly did. I used to hear them talking about the latest romance scenes when they delivered the snacks for the day care center. Can you imagine them women talking about heaving bosoms and … and other stuff? I swear I almost died every time they offered to lend me one of their books to quote ‘get spicey with it’ end quote.”

Jax cracked up again. When he settled down he said, “Not that I don’t want to see your heaving bosom but …” At my alarmed look he stepped over, still smiling but more gently and said, “I’ve already made an ass out of myself once … I will not make that mistake again.” He took my hand and then threaded our fingers together. “Come on and just sit down and talk with me for a second.”

Cautiously I let him lead me to the old sofa that was in the finished part of the basement and we sat; me on the end and him close enough that my bosom really did start to heave. “Lydie, listen. I think I’ve got it figured out. You’re a good girl … completely different from Darlene. Even if I might have wondered at one point because of how long you and Matt went out I’m not wondering any more. And because of that I’m going to be careful. If … when … it happens between us I’m going to make sure and take care of things … make sure it happens the right way. That’s … uh … one of the reasons I sort of suggested that we hold off on deciding whether to bring anyone else on board. I just wanted my chance with you … to show you that it can be good with me, that I won’t let you down like Matt did or go running off after another girl just for a taste of something different.”

With his last sentence doing the exact opposite of calming me down I told him, “Geez Jax … that’s … that’s crude.”

“Yeah, well guys can be pretty crude sometimes. I just want you to know that you can feel safe with me, that I won’t let you down.”

Feeling like it was now or never I asked him a little desperately, “For how long?”

He sat back and gave me a serious look; not like he was weighing my pros and cons but more like he was weighing his own words before he said them. “I’m not in highschool Lydia and haven’t been for a while. I worked in a man’s world and have a man’s responsibilities. I’ve got Kelly to think about. I don’t want to get her all mixed up. And I’m not looking for a do-over of what I had with Darlene. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t bad for what it was and she and I even parted friends of a sort, but I’ve outgrown that part of my life and I don’t want to repeat it. Do … do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

I thought about it but admitted, “Not really.”

He looked briefly uncomfortable before he explained, “I’m … I’m not looking for a friend with benefits or bed buddy or something … temporary. I want something I can … something I can lock down. With someone that I can trust will do right by Kelly for her own sake, not just as a favor to me.”

I must have looked like a blasted owl. My eyes felt as big as saucers and all I could do was blink.

Jax tried to wait me out but finally he asked, “What about you? Have you … uh … thought about it at all?”

Finally I drew in a breath to try and steady myself and said, “I’ve sorta been afraid to. Was afraid I wouldn’t like the answer I’d get.”

Hesitantly he asked, “Did you? Like the answer I mean.”

I couldn’t look at him, couldn’t even find my voice. All I could do was nod.

Then his husky voice was in my ear asking, “Can we seal it with a …kiss?”

For the next few minutes we were otherwise engaged but we practically jumped apart when there was a huge boom. We ran upstairs and I was almost to the kitchen door to throw it opened when he hauled me backwards. “Look first,” he muttered in my ear right before he pushed me behind him. About that time there was another huge boom and we could see the sky light up.

Off and on for the rest of that night we would be awakened by the lightning laced storm that danced all around us but never seemed to hit us directly. The next morning we were both bleary eyed as we picked up the stuff that had blown over or around. We were each carrying a bushel basket of fruit that the wind had knocked off the trees when I said, “Jax, I want to go check on the Houchins family.”

He gave me a considering look. “After they turned you away?”

I shrugged, “What if they did? Doesn’t mean I have to act like they did. Besides, as far as I know they are the closest people. I’d rather know than just guess how they’re doing after that storm. Don’t want them walking up the drive and catching us off guard do we?”

He continued to consider my words like they were worth listening to and then nodded his head. “It’ll also give us a chance to see how the road faired. Like you said, no surprises. As tired as we are I’m almost thinking that maybe we should put the run off one more day.”

I shook my head, “Not unless we learn something that we don’t like. You already said it may take two nights to do what we want since you don’t know how much work it is going to take to get the little tanker up and running.”

We came to an agreement and since the garden was really too wet to work in we got out the bikes, put together a couple of packs so that we’d be prepared for most eventualities and then struck out to see what we could see.

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