Ambushed

For as long as Jack could remember, he had been fixing things.  He was a carpenter, the sole-proprietor of a small residential remodeling company with several repeat clients who knew the quality of his work and kept him steadily busy.  He was good with his hands and preferred clean carpentry that enabled him to really showcase his artistry in woodworking, but he took any odd job his clients had for him, as long as he felt he could do justice to the task.  He had taken on so much lately he was beginning to drown, but much of it was mindless work that paid the bills and required little of his imagination.  He had completed two jobs in the village, in the time he’d been here at the cabin.  But he was longing for a good creative project that would give his mind as much of a workout as his hands.

Isabel was up at the Lodge packing her things to leave.  When she woke up earlier this afternoon and found him still on the couch, she looked at him quietly and told him it was time for her to head home.  She had paid through the end of the week and said he was welcome to stay if he liked, but he felt like it would be too lonely to stay there without her.  He was surprised at the force of his feeling about this but he held it in check, not wanting her to know it.  He wandered over to the cabin and began packing his own things, already missing her presence.  He could tell she was withdrawing to a place alone and it had nothing to do with the physical world.  He wasn’t sure if it was such a good thing, but it was not his place to decide. 

He thought about the past few weeks and how they had developed a tentative friendship.  He wanted that to continue but they lived very different lives. She traveled a lot while most of his life was lived right here, within a twenty mile radius.  He had roots and she had wings.  He wasn’t sure how to bridge that gap, and it made him sad as he put the last few things into his bag and zipped it up.  She had made an impact on him, and it was bigger than he had admitted to himself.  He was feeling it now though.

Jack walked around the cabin, making sure all the lights were turned off and everything was in its proper place.  He left the keys on the counter like she asked him to and double checked to make sure he had replaced the hook on the wall so it wouldn’t come off again.  He looked around one last time, and then closed the door softly behind him.  

She was waiting at the top of the drive, Maya standing calmly beside her.  He walked slowly, feeling it in his gut as he looked up at her, wanting so much to ask her to stay this time… knowing she could not.  There were tears glistening in her eyes but she turned away quickly to throw her stuff in the back of her SUV.  He tossed his bag in the bed of the truck and waited for her to compose herself, placing the painting she had done for him carefully behindhis seat and covering it with a soft blanket. He flinched when she shut the hatch and they both laughed, nervously.  Maya let out a bark, as if to say, “Come on Jack!  Come with us!”  If she’d made the slightest indication, he would have.  She did not.

“Thank you for everything, Izzy,” he smiled.  The sun was at his back and she squinted at him, wanting to say something, but choosing to stay quiet.  She smiled back and then moved forward to hug him warmly.  Maya squirmed in between them and he bent down to say something in her ear.  She licked his face and he ruffled the fur at her neck before stepping back and putting some distance between them.  Maya moved to his side and sat down.  Isabel looked at him oddly, and then called to the dog, “Come on, Maya, let’s go. It’s time to go home, girl!”  She didn’t budge.  Jack raised an eyebrow in surprise and then pointed to Isabel and said, “Go on Maya.”  She wagged her tail but she stayed put, leaning against Jack’s leg.  

He was at a total loss and so was she.  After a second try, she looked up and said, “She’s never done this. I’m so sorry.”  She took Maya by the collar and she growled low in her throat.  Isabel let go in shock.  “Maya!”  She said sharply.  She wagged her tail.  John put his hand inside her collar and tried pulling her gently but she would not budge.  Isabel looked appalled and said, “I just don’t understand this…it’s not like her at all.”  This went on for several minutes until both threw up their hands in exasperation.  Isabel crossed her arms in frustration, frowning.

“Why don’t I take her home with me and then bring her up to Cape Vincent in a few days,” Jack blurted out quickly.  She paled.  While she was still thinking about how to respond to that, Maya took a flying leap into the bed of his truck and hunched down, looking at them both, only her head showing.  Isabel’s jaw dropped and Jack let out a hearty laugh.  “Well, I guess that settles it, then.”

“I feel like I’ve been ambushed.  Did you two plan this?”  She had no idea how to feel about it.  Maya had never gone willingly with anyone but Alex.  

“It’ll be fine, Izzy.  I could use the company.  Think about it.  You can finish your manuscript and call me as soon as you’re ready.  You’re only a few hours from here, I’ll bring her right up.  It’s really not a problem.  I can do it in a day.”

Maya rested her head on the rim of his truck and looked at them both.  He went over and put his face down next to the dog and they both grinned at her, nodding.  

Isabel shook her head slowly, incredulous.  Moving forward, she laid her head on top of Maya’s with her heart in her throat.  Jack reached out and placed his hand on her back and the three of them stayed that way for a long time.  She rubbed her face back and forth on Maya’s fur and then moved to the rear of her car and opened it, fishing for something.  She came out with her bowl and a giant bag of food.  Pulling her bag off the passenger seat, she took out a scrap of paper and wrote down two phone numbers.  He already had hers.  When he looked down at the paper, there was a name above each number.  Alex… and Titus.  That last one surprised him.  “If there’s an emergency, you can call either of those numbers and they can get to you a lot faster than I will be able to.”

She got in the car and closed the door, rolling the window down.  “Take good care of her, Jack.  You know how much she means to me.”  And then she was gone in a cloud of dust and crunching gravel.

There was a hollow place in him as he watched her go but he took comfort in the fact that he’d see her again shortly when he brought her dog back to her.  He looked at Maya and then moved to open the tailgate so she could jump down and get in the cab.  He sat with his hands on the wheel for a few minutes just staring at her, feeling eerily as though she knew exactly what she was doing somehow, and then he shook his head and muttered to himself, “You’re losing it, Jack.  She’s a dog.” 

Turning the key in the ignition, the truck roared to life.  He rolled his window down and made his way up the narrow winding road.  He took one last look in his rearview mirror and he swore he saw a figure standing next to the grand piano in the window of the turret. He stopped the truck abruptly to turn and look backward through his window, arm dangling down the side.  He got out and stood in the middle of the road, every one of his senses on high alert but all he heard were the wind chimes softly tinkling their song next to the porch swing that was swaying ever so slightly beside the front door. The breeze was moving the boughs of the giant pines and oak trees around the Lodge but all else was still and quiet.  He waited a few more minutes without moving, his eyes fixed on the turret, but whennothing changed, he hopped back in the truck and closed the door with a quiet click.  He kept his eyes on the mirror until he turned around the bend and the Lodge was out of sight, but nothing seemed amiss.

When he was gone, the porch swing stopped, and the breeze stood still.  On the stone wall at the entrance to the front door, a hand reached out and scooped up the handful of nails Jack had left behind after piecing together the frames for Isabel’s last two canvases a few days ago.  Opening the box with the utmost care, he dropped them in, and closed the lid.  They didn’t make a sound. Slowly, he walked up the drive, vanishing around the bend.