The Gardener(10)
Author:S.A._Bodeen


    I shook my head. “No. I’m not screwing with you.”

    He bit his lip for a second. “You know how seriously I take destiny.”

    Yes, I knew. So I nodded. Furiously. “I’m being serious. Destiny. For sure.”

    “Well.” Jack nodded a little bit, like he was thinking it over. “Okay. We’ll go to the cabin.” He looked at the girl and then at me. “But you still suck.”

    Jack headed south on I-5 toward Portland.

    The girl seemed to be concentrating on holding her head and staving off voices or whatever it was she heard, then she gradually calmed the farther we got from Melby Falls. We connected with 84 East about an hour later, just as my cell phone rang. Mom was frantic, her voice a fast whisper. “Tell me you just left. Tell me you just left and you and Jack are on your way to the cabin. Tell me that.”

    It took me a minute to answer. “We are. We’re on our way to the cabin right now.”

    “Really?”

    “Yes, Mom. We just got on I-84. Why?”

    She sighed. “No reason. Just … I … heard sirens, wanted to make sure you were okay.”

    She was lying; I could tell she was lying. “Something wrong, Mom?”

    “No!” The word came too fast to be true. “No, it’s fine. You and Jack have fun. Stay out of trouble.”

    The connection fizzed. “Mom?” I could hear only every other word. “Lost her!”

    Jack leaned forward. “We’re in the Gorge. Lousy coverage.”

    No point in wasting the battery, so I turned off my phone.

    A few miles farther, Jack pointed at an exit sign with a Chevron symbol. “I need some gas.” As we pulled in, I got out to fill the tank, but Jack motioned for me to stay put.

    “This is Oregon,” he said. “They have attendants for that.”

    So the girl stayed in the truck. Jack went inside and came back out carrying a plastic bag, which he handed to me.

    I climbed back in as Jack started the truck. I was finally starting to relax and I couldn’t do anything but think about the girl. Her smell, the way her leg felt pressed against mine, the sound of her voice. God, I finally find the perfect girl and she’s a nutcase.

    Jack reached over her and started rustling around in the bag.

    “Just drive, I’ll do that.” I was hungry. “Did you get anything good?” I held up a Yoo-hoo. “Chocolate milk?”

    The girl took it from me and cradled the bottle with both hands in her lap. Jack held out his hand and I found another Yoo-hoo for him.

    I pulled out a can of Mountain Dew and opened it with a loud click. “Yes.” The soda was icy. I took a big swig. “Ah. I needed that.”

    Jack tipped back his head and took a gulp of Yoo-hoo. “I haven’t had this since I was a kid.” He looked at her. “What about you?”

    “I’ve never had it.” She glanced down at the Yoo-hoo. “I like the colors.”

    And that was when Jack started whistling the theme from The Twilight Zone.

    The rain came down harder as Jack steered onto the two-lane Bridge of the Gods across the Columbia River, and started up the mountain road toward Glenwood and the cabin. Jack and I chatted for a while, but it seemed we didn’t have much practice acting normal in freakishly bizarre situations. So we pretty much rode in silence for most of the way.

    As we reached Glenwood and drove through the deserted streets, the girl still just held the chocolate milk and stared out the windshield into the night, the steady hum of the wipers the only sound.

    The cabin was down the second right after the Glenwood Bed and Breakfast, and it was just a few minutes before we pulled into the yard of the cabin. Jack said, “Hit the garage opener, will you?”

    I reached up for the shade. “It’s not here.”

    Jack sighed and turned off the engine. We walked up the steps to the deck, where Jack tipped up an antique milk can and retrieved a key from underneath.

    Inside, he flipped on all the lights.

    The girl looked uncertain and I ushered her in. “It’s okay. We’re the only ones here.”

    She kept a tight grasp on her Yoo-hoo as we entered.

    Jack’s grandpa had made the cabin from old-growth timber. We walked into one huge room with a large kitchen, dining table, living room, and floor-to-ceiling fireplace made of Columbia River rocks.

    I set the bag from the gas station on the table and headed over to pour water into the coffeemaker.

    Along with destiny, Jack’s family also believed in having the fire laid out in the fireplace, ready to go, and Jack soon had it roaring. He said, “I’m gonna go put the truck in the garage.”

    The girl stood in front of the fireplace, one hand outstretched toward the burning logs. The other still clutched the Yoo-hoo.

    After a bit, the coffeemaker started to make slurping sounds, and I pulled a cup out of the cupboard, then hunted for some kind of creamer.

    Leaving the fireplace, the girl looked out the front picture window. Clouds started to break up, revealing the moon.

    I felt like I should say something to try to put us both at ease. “There’s a gorgeous view of Mount Adams. Sits right in the meadow.” Yeah. That didn’t work, because she didn’t reply and I felt even more tense.

    The half-and-half in the fridge was spoiled, so I poured it down the drain. I had to settle for powdered cream, which refused to dissolve entirely in my coffee.

    “Looks like she’s tired.” Jack had come back in.

    “Huh?”

    He nodded at the girl.

    She stood by the window, yawning.

    I went over to her. “Do you want to get some sleep?” This seemed a funny thing to ask someone who recently came out of some freaked-up coma.

    But her eyes drooped as she glanced over at Jack. “Here?”

    Jack pointed down the hallway. “My sister’s bedroom is down there.” His older sister, Vanessa, was at Harvard. She wasn’t as nice as Jack, but just as rich. And much better at taking standardized tests.

    The girl nodded and looked at me. “Okay.”

    “I’ll take you.” I motioned to her Yoo-hoo. “Want me to put that in the fridge?”

    She hesitated, then handed it to me, and I set it on the table.

    Jack said, “There are some pajamas that’ll fit you, I think. And the bathroom is across the hall. There’s all kinds of girl stuff in there; help yourself.”

    I led the way and the girl followed.

    In the guest room, I turned on the light and pulled open a few drawers until I found a nightgown. It looked a bit short for her, but she took it anyway. There was a quilt on the end of the bed and several pillows. “You’ll be okay?”

    She sat on the very edge of the bed, barely touching it.

    “Here.” I spread the quilt over the bed, and then folded down the top. I threw all the pillows on the floor except for two, which I fluffed and lay on the head of the bed. “It’s all ready for you to crawl in.”

    She didn’t move.

    “Okay. So just change and you’ll be set.”

    Her eyes remained fixed on the garment in her lap, then they slowly raised to meet mine. “I’m not sure how.”

    The girl could throw me over a wall, but she couldn’t get dressed?

    She stammered a little. “I mean, there are so many things swirling in my head, and it’s like I have to reach up and catch them in order to use them. But the one about getting dressed, it’s just not … letting me grab ahold.”

    “Well, you just take those clothes off and put that on.” I pointed at the nightgown.

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