Into You (Part 11)
I'm in the midst of spraying down the hand-sized leaves of the Jack Frosts, when I hear Gerald call my name. I give it a few seconds, and a second hailing from him before I release the trigger of the spray nozzle and turn toward him. He's leaning on the top of the fence again, actually over it, one knee bent, and swaying slightly as he's hunched there.
'Hey, Lynne,' he says, and waves by way of his nose, flicking it upward, rather than waving in greeting. No matter. I see he's eager to talk. I take my time setting the hose nozzle on the ground, bending instead of squatting to do so. When I turn to face him, he's no longer slouching over the fence. He's standing at attention, in more ways than one.
'Good morning, Gerald. Nice day,' I tell him, and sweep my hand up to the sky, 'especially since all the things that happened yesterday.'
'Yeah, I'm still kinda freaked out by that.' He bounces his palms against the top of the fence. 'I didn't sleep well last night. Had some crazy dreams.'
'You, too?' I take several steps closer to him, staying in the slanted shade of the weeping willow. I stretch, to show off my figure, and I see him blink in surprise. 'I went overboard cleaning my bathroom last night… scrubbed everything a half-dozen times… so I conked out hard.' I glance at his waist. 'It was only as I was waking up that the dreams got weird. Probably what woke me.'
'Yeah… Yeah, very likely…' He trails off and is staring.
'Have you heard anything from Arlo?' His gaze comes back up to meet my eyes, and I notice he has to refocus to answer.
'Yeah, no… Haven't heard a word from him. Then again, it's still early, and it sounded like he might go back to the lab to oversee at least the start of the decon.' He reaches into his pants pocket and brings out his cell phone. 'I could…' He wears an expectant expression, as if waiting for my buy-in, as he mock dials.
'Sure. Go ahead. I'd like to know how he's doing, and what's happening.'
Gerald taps out the phone number for real this time, then brings it up to the ready position beside his face. He breaks eye contact and furrows his brow, looks down at the ground, then up at the sky and heaves a sigh. He glances back at me and shrugs, pointing to his cell phone with his free hand.
He begins, 'I don't think I'm gonna get thr—' With a thumbs-up, he picks up a conversation. 'Hey, Arlo? Yeah, it's me, Gerald. How are you, man?' He nods and listens for a few seconds, holding up one finger to stave off my questions. 'Yeah, yeah. Okay. Did you… I mean, are you alright?' A short pause. 'No, no, I was just— We were just concerned about you.' He swirls his hand in a circle to include me. 'You're sure? Yeah. Are you gonna— Oh. Okay. Well, gimme a call when you get done there. Yeah. Talk to you soon…' He pulls the phone down, taps to hang up, and pockets it.
I take enough steps to come out from under the shade of the willow tree, and the warm sunshine rubs my back. Gerald leans forward over the fence and gets comfortable on the prop of his elbows. It's only a few more paces and I'm standing opposite him. He seems to be appreciating the way the sunlight is making the colors of my blouse and my shorts look vibrant. I note that he's still wearing the clothes he had on yesterday.
'Gerald?' I tilt my head left, then right. 'Did you sleep in your clothes?'
He looks down at the ground, nods, and kicks the chain-link. 'Yeah. Yeah, I did. Sort of…' His gaze is half-hearted, from under his brow. 'I told you I didn't sleep much. I thought about… I thought about calling you to talk… but it was so late… early morning hours…'
I put my hand on his forearm and he looks up.
'Maybe you should have, instead of second-guessing yourself.' He smiles, because I haven't taken my hand off his arm. 'Then again,' I shrug, 'Maybe I wouldn't have heard it ring, because I was so out of it.' I smile and chuckle; he joins in. 'The thing is… You'd never know until you try.' I draw my hand away, trailing my fingertips until the last.
'Yeah. Yeah. Next time I will. I'll call… to see if you're… Yeah.' He stands erect and looks into my eyes, and I see a twinkle of an idea. 'How about this? Let me just ask you right now… How about dinner this evening? I could grill out… and if you bring a dessert… well, I've got the rest of everything. How does that sound?' His posture is tense, expectant, and I notice he's got his hands clasped and is wringing them.
'That sounds wonderful, Gerald. What were you thinking of grilling?' This is turning into Table Tennis; what's gonna be on the table, determined by repeated volleys of questions and answers.
'I like steak.' He squints at me. 'You're not a vegetable-arian, are you?'
I giggle and tell him, 'No. Steak is good. Just don't expect me to wolf down a quarter side of beef. I'll have a small portion, okay? What else were you thinking?'
He strokes his chin and cheek with his left hand and waves a finger at me. 'I'll bet some baked potatoes and some whole ears of corn in the husk would suit. You down for that?'
'Oh, yes!' I close one eye, and I know it bunches up my cheek on that side, but it helps me brainstorm. 'How about I bring over a good red wine… say a Merlot… and a European-style fruit tart? Think that'll round out the meal?'
'What are you puttin' on it?' he asks.
'Typically, small slices of fruit, with glaze over the top. Interested?'
His eyes come up from wherever their point of focus was and he meets my gaze. 'Yes. I'm definitely interested.' He squints again, and asks, 'What time? Are you comfortable with six as a come-over time, and we'll be eating by seven, at the latest?' I see him holding his last breath.
'Sure. That'll work. Six this evening, I'll be at your front door. It's a date then.' I wink, and he chuckles. 'I'm going to get the tart ready… after I finish this last little bit of yard work. See you soon…' I turn to pick up the thread of my project, but not before I see him pump his right arm as if he'd scored a touchdown. I smile all the way over to the Jack Frosts.