Joanie’s phone rang six times before she answered.
“Hello, is that you, Joanie?” The voice on the other end of the receiver asked.
“Yeah,” Joanie replied groggily. It was six o’clock in the morning.
“Sorry to call so early. Hope I didn’t wake you. It’s just I hadn’t heard from you. I was worried.”
Joanie was quiet, trying to get her head around who might be calling her so early, unable to identify the voice on the other end. Then it dawned on her.
“Jake? Jake, is that you?”
“Yeah, it’s me alright. Am I a complete idiot for waking you up like this?”
“Oh, no…no, not at all. It’s…it’s good to hear your voice.”
“Good to hear yours too.” There was a long pause before Jake spoke again.
“You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about you, remembering the first and, as it turns out, the only time we were together, the day I saw you off at the airport.”
“I suppose you mean that kiss.” She blurted unintentionally, as heat rose to her cheeks.
“Well, that and the great afternoon we spent together, before your bad news that is. But it’s true, that kiss has left me wanting more, I can’t deny it.”
Joanie didn’t know what to say. At that time, she had felt the same way. Maybe she still did. But it was confusing for her being back in her hometown, and being around Peter again. Despite his despicable behavior in the hospital waiting room, there were things she felt she needed to know, issues she had to get to the bottom of. Somehow Joanie didn’t think that was what Peter really meant to do, what the real Peter would do. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something wasn’t quite right.
“Joanie, are you still there?” Joanie gathered her thoughts. She liked Jake. Even though they had just met, and she had no personal ties to him, at least not yet, he didn’t deserve to be pulled into her back-story so soon.
“Sorry Jake. Yes, I’m here. I’m just tired that’s all. It’s been a bit rough since I arrived. You know how it is.”
“Of course. I’m sure it’s a lot to take in. I just wanted to hear your voice, that’s all, and to make sure you’re doing okay. Is there anything I can do for you, like give you a year’s extension on the fashion design deadline?”
“Yeah, that would do it, Jake. You’d be my hero then, that’s for sure.”
She laughed. “But seriously, do you really want my work?”
“I wouldn’t have asked you if I didn’t. How was I to know you’d be gorgeous, smart, funny, and single, as well as an ultra talented clothing designer? Actually, I’m hoping you don’t consider yourself single anymore.” Silence hung between them.
“I don’t want to be too forward, but I really like you Joanie. We had a connection, don’t you agree?” Joanie remained speechless. Jake continued, undaunted.
“Look, I understand you have to be in Charleston right now, but I hope we’ll be able to spend a lot of time together, beginning when you return. In the meantime, I hope you don’t mind that I call from time to time.”
Joanie felt another flush, flattered by what Jake said. However, she was confused, even hesitant, and didn’t really know why.
“I like you too, Jake,” Joanie played along. “But I have so much work to do for this Gala when I get home. I’m going to be working twenty-four-seven as soon as the plane lands. I hope you understand.”
“Of course I do, but everybody has to eat and sleep, don’t they? You take care of your designs and I’ll take care of Joanie. And I promise not to interfere. I just want to be with you, to get to know you…and shower you with kisses and some of life’s simple pleasures. Is that so wrong?”
Joanie thought for a moment.
“No, I guess not.”
“Okay then. Let’s leave it at that for now. I’m really glad I got a hold of you, Joanie. I have meetings all day and wouldn’t have been able to call you until later this evening. Listen, go back to sleep now, if you can. I’ll give you a call tomorrow, if that’s okay with you.”
“That’d be great Jake. Thanks for calling.”
Joanie placed the receiver back in the charger and plopped her head back into the soft feather pillow. She sighed. With less than an hour before her alarm was set to go off, Joanie decided to get out of bed, shower and head to the hospital early. Just as she rose, the phone rang again.
“Hey sugar, how you feeling this morning?” It was Peter.
Sugar? What was that about? Just when she was about to give Peter a piece of her mind, he spoke.
“So, are you up? I guess you are or you wouldn’t have answered, right? So, how long will it take you to get ready, because I’m on my way to pick you up.”
“Don’t say another word about it. I’ll be there in fifteen. No rush. I’ll just hang outside. Oh, and I picked up a latte for you. No sugar, just how you like it. See you soon, hon. Bye.”
Joanie was livid, but kind of grateful at the same time. She quickly showered and was ready and waiting outside just as Peter’s black SUV pulled up to the curb.
What’s with the gorgeous thing today? Joanie thought to herself, as she hopped into the passenger seat, avoiding eye contact. Peter gunned it, and they drove off.
“This isn’t the way to the hospital Peter. Where are we going?”
“Detour. I have something I want to show you. Don’t worry. We’ll get you to see Dad in plenty of time.”
“He’s my Dad, Peter, not yours.”
“Can you roll down your window just a notch, Joan? Peter deflected. “I love the fresh morning air out here.”
Joanie just glared at him. However, she had to admit the air was clean and crisp, and the scenery exquisite. Sunrise was Joanie’s favorite time of day. She’d always loved the countryside that surrounded Charleston. As they whizzed past giant oak trees and green maples, she felt comfort in the familiarity the landscape provided. They drove farther and farther from the city, into the wide open fields, then into the treed foothills. Peter took a sharp right onto a dirt road that wound up and around a steep knoll. When they reached the top he stopped and shut the engine off.
“Here we are,” he exclaimed.
“Here we are, where?” She asked, annoyed yet intrigued.
Peter opened the truck door and climbed out. He walked to the edge of a steep ravine that opened up to a breathtaking view of fields and waterways below. Hands on his hips, he took a deep breath. His chest bulged with pride, and a huge grin spread across his face.
By this time, Joanie had climbed down from the passenger seat and had joined him. She looked around. An entire world was laid-out before her, full of patchwork fields, forested hills, and winding rivers; full of life. Suddenly she was transported back to a time that was more important to her than anything she had ever known, a time from childhood when everything was perfect. Back when she felt a sense of security within her family, a sense of belonging to her community, and more than anything, a sense of freedom to be herself. It was a time when she flourished as a young girl, then blossomed into a young woman, and when a spark finally ignited between her and Peter. With remembered smells and sights, so many memories came flooding back.
“So…why are we here, Peter? What is this place and why are you showing it to me?”
“It’s ours – our place.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about this, Joanie. Remember, when we were kids? We used to climb up into these hills and build forts out of branches and boughs and whatever we could find? We spent hours hanging out, making plans for the future, just you and me and Kev. Those were the days, weren’t they?”
Peter moved toward Joanie and put a protective arm around her shoulder, pulling her close. He nuzzled his face into her neck, kissing her tenderly. She shuddered, but didn’t pull away, even though confusion stirred within her. His nuzzling turned more intense, and soon his lips met hers as they locked in an intimate embrace, hands groping, while a vast vista lay before them. Joanie’s head was spinning. She was so turned-on but knew this wasn’t right. Nevertheless, she couldn’t stop herself. Her mouth opened to let Peter’s tongue and lips explore her own. As she became more relaxed, he pulled her shirt up slightly, reaching for her breasts, latching on to her firm nipples and squeezing tight. Their kisses became more passionate. This was what she had always wanted, wasn’t it? For all these years she had wanted Peter, wanted him to want her as much as she wanted him, and now she was finally getting her wish. So, why was she second guessing this? As much as she wanted to fully succumb to Peter’s advances, a small voice in her head was saying no.
His hands felt around her body urgently now, reaching from her round breasts down to her stomach. He grappled with the button of her jeans, trying to undo them, trying to wriggle his hand down the front of them, unable to wait. He tore at her shirt, her waistband, pressing his body heavily into her. As aroused as she was, his increasing aggression frightened her. She pulled away, dizzy with confusion. He backed off, but it wasn’t long before he was trying to kiss her again, searching out her lips, her neck, working his way around her body. The more he kissed, the more frenetic he became. She wanted him, had wanted him for so long, but this didn’t feel right. Still, Peter was unrelenting. He thrust his hand down her pants insistently, reaching for the moistness between her legs. By now, Joanie just felt repulsion. She twisted and squirmed, and finally wrenched herself free from his clutches.
“Peter,” she gasped. “Peter, what are you doing? What’s the matter with you?”
He stood there, breathless, patient, hoping she would relax and come around again. When he realized she meant what she said, he composed himself, as best he could.
“Listen Joanie, I bought this place for us. Get it? You and me, we are meant to be together. All those years growing up, being ‘pals’, but knowing deep down there was more, much more. You know as well as I do. It’s just taken me this long to figure it out, but I did. So, last week I bought this place for us, to settle down here, in our hometown, together.”
Joanie stood silent, in disbelief. Peter moved toward to her again, coaxing her closer, drawing her in to him from behind, so she could face the spectacular view before them. She remained motionless, until Peter tightened his grip. Then she struggled to free herself, but he was too powerful for her. He forced himself up against her again, squeezing her, pulling her into him. Then he swung her around to face him with a power that startled her. His wet mouth came down on hers but she turned away. Instead, he found her neck and burrowed his head into it, then moved down toward her breasts. She fought to release herself from his grasp but she couldn’t. He was forcing her down to the ground. Her knees began to buckle under his weight. Her mind swam with confusion and fury. Finally, she screamed. It echoed down to the valley below, a cry louder than she thought she was capable of. It seemed to frighten Peter enough that he let go of her, as if he suddenly awoke from some crazy dream. He stood back, looking stunned and slightly ashamed. Joanie made a dash for the truck, but when she got there the door was locked. She ran around to the passenger side, but it was locked too. Through the Jeep window she could see Peter dangling the keys in front of his face, tauntingly. Joanie stood frozen, in place and in time. Her mind raced, as she tried in vain to think of an escape route.
“Hey,” Peter finally yelled to her. “It’s alright. I’m sorry, okay?” Slowly, he moved toward the Jeep. Joanie backed-up.
“C’mon Joan, I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. I got carried away, that’s all. I’ll get you back to town, and to the hospital to see your Dad. I promise.”
She heard the click-click of the doors unlocking. Skeptical, but knowing it was her only way out of there, Joanie moved toward the vehicle and hopped into the passenger seat, sitting as close to the door as possible, her hand on the chrome door handle. Peter climbed into the driver’s seat, started the ignition, and skidded out of the gravel road, heading toward the main road. They remained quiet most of the drive back to town. Inside, Joanie was fuming with rage. How she wanted to talk to him, and tell him how she felt, that she was frightened, and so horribly disappointed, but she couldn’t find the right words. Peter was either too embarrassed to or too proud to say anything, Joanie couldn’t decide which. As they neared the city, and the hospital, she couldn’t restrain herself any longer.
“Peter, what’s happened to you? You are not the Peter I know and love, or shall I say loved.” She paused, noticing her hands and shoulders were trembling.
“I’m so angry right now, so hurt. How could you do this to me, to us? I should report you to the police, you know. I’m not kidding.”
Wind whipped in through Peter’s open window, flattening his brown curls against his left cheekbone. It felt colder now. Joanie wished he would close his window, but she let it be. Outside her own window, weeping willows and small oak trees grew lush and green along the roadway, while pink and white oleander bloomed on the median. The landscape, Joanie noticed, had changed from the wild, untamed foliage of the countryside, to the well manicured gardens and roadways of the city. Her heart was left back on the windswept knoll, a place she had loved since childhood, broken into a million pieces. Finally Peter spoke.
“I want you, Joanie. I’ve always wanted you. Don’t you see? We were meant to be together, since childhood. We knew it then, and we know it now. You know I’m right. Joanie, I can’t live without you, and I won’t stop until I have you.”
...Stay tuned...Chapter 8 will be posted next Tuesday, May 10th