Pine Street Episode 154

Two summers before, the back garden at Marilyn’s house had hosted very nearly the same group of friends, for very nearly the same purpose: a wedding to Douglas. 

Louise had asked him, very seriously, just once. “Are you sure this is where you want to hold the ceremony?” 

His response had been to kiss Louise, lovingly, slowly, tenderly. “It just seems right to do it here. I can’t explain it. But if it’s too much for you, or doesn’t feel right -” 

Louise placed a finger on his lips. “We both have pasts. We can’t run from them, or pretend they never happened.  I respect your past, Douglas, and your love for Marilyn. If you would like to marry here, again, in the house she gave you, I would love that. I would love for her spirit to join us in celebrating that life goes on.”

Douglas recalled that moment with Louise, and so many moments with Marilyn, as he buttoned his loose white linen shirt, and brushed an imaginary piece of lint off his grey trousers. A smile played across his lips, even as his heart felt full to the breaking point. 

“All set?” David asked from the doorway to the bedroom. Douglas looked at his son, tall and lanky, handsome in his own way, with that coldness at his core that made his good looks sharp, prickly, instead of inviting. Douglas longed to warm up his son’s heart enough for David to find his own true happiness, instead of continually chasing what he could never possess.

“How do I look?” Douglas asked his grown son, asking David to approve his appearance, and his life choice, he thought. 

“Like a happy old cat about to snag the canary,” David answered, a harsh note in his voice. “Like a lucky old dog about to, you know.” 

“David, don’t be coarse. Be happy for me, son, if you can.” Douglas turned back to the mirror. 

“I’m here, aren’t I? I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t to support you, Dad.” 

Douglas looked at their two faces in the mirror, and wondered if he would ever know how to make this son of his into a truly happy man.

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Pine Street Episode 153

“Do you think it’s kind of fast?” Louise asked, gazing at her reflection in the full-length mirror her sister Penelope had set up in her bedroom. Louise wore her wedding dress, a simple, sleeveless sheath of lavender-colored lace, lined with lime green. She turned, posed, pondered, straightened a seam, lifted a wide shoulder strap, pulled the knee-length skirt down. 

“Sister dearest, you couldn’t look fast if you tried. Did that come from the mother-of-the-bride rack?” Penelope snorted a little laugh at her own joke. Louise let her sister’s dig drift into the warm summer air. She knew Penelope was a bit envious, despite her commitment to a single lifestyle. And, most likely, she’d already had a glass of wine. Or two. 

Louise turned again, keeping her eyes toward the mirror. “Not the dress, silly. The wedding. The marriage. Saying yes to Douglas. Doing all this. We’ve known one another less than a year.” 

“Douglas is as good a man as they come,” Penelope answered. “You’ve got nothing to worry about there. And he’s abso-posi-lutely smitten with you.”

Yes, he is, Louise considered. Smitten. And I with him. How odd, at this stage of life, to wake up the butterflies in one’s heart, to feel them flutter when a man makes his attentions known. 

“I’m glad of it,” Louise said out loud, with a final pat of her dress, smoothing it down over the soft protrusion of her belly. “I suppose, after all, we might as well give it a try. Grab the brass ring as it goes by, never knowing when it might be within reach again.”

Penelope rose from her unsteady perch on the edge of the bed, and came to stand behind Louise so that they could make eye contact in the mirror. Louise noticed for the millionth time that they had the same nose, broad between the eyes, turned up just a bit at the end. Their father’s nose. Even at my age, she thought, after all that’s happened, I wish he was here to see me happy.

“Sister dearest,” Penelope said, placing her hands gently on Louise’s lavender-lace covered shoulders, “you deserve every chance at the brass ring that comes your way. This one especially. Go for it, darling, and don’t look back.”

The two women embraced, their sniffling quickly turning to laughter, and another round of what Louise decided to call “preening” as they tugged and smoothed her lace dress back into place.

Pine Street Episode 152

“Come to the wedding with me. It’ll be fun, and you can meet everyone.”

Sasha read the text from Kassandra. She considered how to reply. On the one hand, it would be an easy introduction to the group. On the other, it would raise several dilemmas. 

Her phone alerted her; part two of Kassandra’s message arrived.

“I’ll help run interference with David, if that would help.”

Oh, K. Sasha smiled. Your kindness is genuine, even if you are a bit out of the loop. As if I wouldn’t want to see David, or as if it would be me who would be uncomfortable. Bless your heart.

She typed her answer “Thank you, K. Would love to.”

The response popped up immediately. “Yay!” accompanied by several happy face emoticons.

Sasha sent a smiley face back. Why not? She had nothing to lose by keeping Kassandra on her side. She went to the bathroom of the little house she’d rented for her stay. “House” was generous – it was a converted garden shed, with a tiny bathroom, but it was comfortable and private. On the back of the bathroom door hung a full-length mirror, and Sasha posed in front of it. She imagined herself in a killer little black dress, one that would show off her long legs, and the look on David’s face when he would see her at the wedding.

Should that be his first glimpse? She pondered. So far, she had not succeeded in “running into” David, and maybe that was for the best. If he did not know she was in town, and then she made an entrance at his father’s wedding, she might catch him in a vulnerable state. She knew David well enough to believe he would not be completely happy for his father. There would be some niggling reluctance, some personal agenda, some old hurt sitting in his heart like a shard of ice, ready to chill any temptation to be happy for Douglas. 

Sold on this plan, Sasha grabbed her bag and car keys. No way a town like this one would have the dress she needed, so it was time for a little road trip.

Pine Street Episode 151

As she walked away from Kassandra, Sasha pondered the same question from a different perspective. 

Are we still sisters, even after all these years apart? Or could we be, again?

Sasha felt sure that Kassandra would welcome any overture of renewed friendship with open arms. That’s how she’d been as a teenager, heart on her sleeve, no concern about being hurt or betrayed. Sasha wondered how such a creature could exist in this world. How could any human being not be hardened by life’s disappointments?

And yet, Kassandra still had that open face, that smile, that softness. For a moment, just a moment, Sasha wished to return to that soft core of herself.

She longed to turn back, run to Kassandra’s welcoming hug, and tell her old friend the truth.

Knowing that she’d be accepted anyway, even after telling Kassandra about her inner coldness, her scheming, and her desperately lonely pursuit of the man she convinced herself she loved, seemed worse, in a way, than finally provoking Kassandra into rejection.

Sasha recalled her time with David, when things were good between them. She remembered what it was like to be the focus of his attention, the trigger for his smile, the reason he would leave work on time. She felt the warmth of his hand in the small of her back, the smell of his neck when she put her head on his shoulder in bed. A warm mix, like leather and soap and safety. She pushed away the memories of David’s slow distancing, the evenings he did not call, the long sleepless nights of waiting for him to return.

That slow, torturous departure, the way it didn’t seem to matter that much to him, as if he didn’t need to explain or apologize or even acknowledge their time together, the beauty of it, was over. David had to recognize that. He had to be made to understand, and then, to return.

Kassandra, with her warm open heart, would understand Sasha’s pain, and pity her for it. 

Sasha kept walking into the heat of the evening, eyes forward, and hardened herself just a bit more. 

Pine Street Episode 150

Kassandra’s kind heart leapt at the sound of her old friend’s voice. Despite the way they had parted, despite all the years since, the intervening episodes of life, loss, and growing up, despite Sasha’s involvement in David’s life, Kassandra could be nothing but happy that their reunion had finally come to pass. 

Damp with sweat from working on her mural all day, she stepped down from her old apple ladder and wrapped Sasha in a muscular hug. “Hello, friend,” Kassandra offered quietly. She released Sasha and stepped back, maintaining a gentle hold on her friend’s thin arms. “You are as beautiful as I remember.”

“I don’t think so. But it’s kind of you to say it, anyway.” Sasha loosed an arm from Kassandra’s grip, and pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. Kassandra saw a strain in her friend’s gesture. “How are you, K.?”

 “Great Sasha, just great. I’m so glad you’re here. I want to have a long catch up session, and soon.” Sasha smiled, but looked away, toward the street. “Tonight?” Kassandra continued. “I’ve got to clean up and get to work now, but I get off at seven. Let me make you a late dinner?”

“I don’t know. I just got here – not sure what the plan is for tonight.” Something in Sasha’s tone told Kassandra her friend had a precise plan for that evening. “If I’m free, I’ll meet you at your work at seven, how about?”

“Sure,” Kassandra answered, trying to keep her voice easy. “It’s the coffee shop, just three blocks down that way, on the right. I’ll give you my cell number, so you can text me if you’re running late.” 

Sasha shook her head, and smiled again. The gesture reminded Kassandra of how they’d looked like sisters, back in the day. “No worries, K. If I’m not there at seven, just assume something else came up. I’ll find you again before I leave town, I’m sure.” She offered another brief hug, and headed off down the sidewalk.

Kassandra watched Sasha walk away, hair swinging in the afternoon sunshine. Only then did it occur to her to wonder why her encounter with Sasha had taken place at Marilyn’s old house – Douglas’s place. 

David. Sasha had been looking for David.

In a glimmer of heat rising from the sidewalk, Kassandra glimpsed that carefree teenager she’d loved and lost. She wondered if anyone would mistake them for sisters now.

Pine Street Episode 149

Everyone on Pine Street was pleased for Douglas, as they learned of his impending marriage to Louise. For all of them, Marilyn’s memory lived on, in vivid color: a bright magenta pulsing her spirit’s approval that Douglas should find new happiness.

They agreed Louise was lovely. They considered her part of the Pine Street family. They appreciated the light she brought for Douglas, who had been through so much.

Kassandra, whose artistic expression had been fostered by Marilyn’s encouragement, cleared the exterior wall of her studio at Marilyn’s old house. Douglas’s house now, and he’d been the one to tell Kassandra of Marilyn’s wish to have her use the garage as a studio. To welcome this new phase of Douglas’s life, Kassandra decided to paint a mural. 

A sculptor at heart, Kassandra risked stretching her skills as a painter. She knew her colors well enough, she thought, and would create something vivid, letting colors do the work, so she would not have to venture into figurative painting.

She started with that magenta, the color that captured Marilyn’s devotion to the blood and joy of life itself. Kassandra sprayed an eight by twelve section of wall, not bothering to smooth out any of the spray patterns left by the nozzle. If a bit of the wall’s faded green paint peeked through, that was all right with her. Love, and life, always show a few cracks, after all. 

She did not plan to imitate Marilyn’s mural motif, the giant squid. But Kassandra loved the idea of curves and swirls, tentacle-like, covering the wall. She layered curls of turquoise blue on the magenta base, and touched them with highlights of sunshine yellow. Shadows of charcoal gray added depth to the swirls, and grounded the exuberance of colors. 

In the center of the wall, at a point halfway between the Douglas’s eye level and Louise’s, Kassandra hung a sculpture she’d made of welded steel: a life-like heart encircled with clasped hands. On the back, where no one would see it once placed on the wall, Kassandra etched:

May your love be a 

Circle without end.

As she perched on an old wooden apple picking ladder leaned against the garage wall, installing the heart, a voice startled her.

“Hey there.”

Kassandra did not need to turn to know who it was. Sasha, her old friend from teenage summers at the lake, had come to Pine Street.

Pine Street Episode 148

Through the spring, Douglas and Louise, Penelope’s sister, spent more and more time together. When the first real heat wave of summer struck, Louise took off for a week somewhere cooler. “I’ve got moss between my toes,” Louise joked. “It dries out fast in this summer heat. I just need a week or so on the damp side of the mountains and I’ll be rejuvenated.”

Douglas found himself missing her in a way he hadn’t felt since Marilyn. He tried to call her only once a day, so he wouldn’t frighten her, or himself.

It didn’t work.

A hard, small knot of fear lived in his stomach for the hours between phone conversations. He couldn’t untie it, no matter how hard he tried, except by hearing Louise’s voice.

Douglas stretched his lanky frame on his bed, window open, trying to grab a few hours of sleep after this very hot day, waiting for the air outside to sigh itself into the coolness that followed sundown by an hour or two. He’d talked to Louise at dinner time, so he faced another eighteen hours before he would allow himself to call her again. 

The sky glowed a deep blue on the western horizon. Nearly ten o’clock at night, and still that lingering bit of reflected light: the joy of living in the northern hemisphere in midsummer. 

A mosquito buzzed somewhere in the room. It’s the females that bite, and the males that buzz, Douglas mused. Or is it the other way around? Or is the whole thing an old wives tale? His brain was too muddled by hot, sticky, sleeplessness to recall, and his body was too heavy to move toward his computer to Google it. 

Is life just a series of hot nights, filled with buzzing mosquitoes and loneliness, an endurance test, offering brief cool breezes to keep us from giving up?

Or is life truly itself in the cool moments of comfort and companionship, with a few mosquito bites just to remind us to be grateful for its loveliness?

Pondering this philosophical dilemma, Douglas fell into a fitful sleep. When he awoke, he called Louise and asked her to marry him.