CHAPTER Fourteen: DO YOU LOVE ME?

     On Monday, Chuck filled Greg in on his plans for a two-week vacation. “I’m looking at the time period from June 19 to July 4, although probably not gone all that time. Do you think you’d have any trouble running the place then? Of course, you’d have the Johnsons for help.”

   “No, I don’t see any problem with that. I know the paperwork schedule, and you can lay out with me the things you’d like us to get done. Vic told me a little about your plans. You’re going to visit the family in North Dakota?”

   “Yeah, both Alice’s and my folks are still alive, but everybody’s getting old. With the girls getting close to being off on their own, it seemed like maybe this was the best year to have us all together.”

    “Makes sense.”

    They discussed the plans for the week. The vegetation was growing enough now, so all the hemlock should be visible. Greg would go out one day, and complete his search. The Johnsons would follow him out the next day (weather permitting), and spray herbicide on all the areas that Greg had flagged.

   A letter came from Jo. She had received her paycheck. She hadn’t heard anything – good or bad – from the Government or her congressman, but the college placement office had found her a lab assistant job for the summer. She thanked him again for his concern.

 

   Tuesday, Greg made his poison hemlock search. Although there were thunderstorms almost every afternoon, the Johnsons had no trouble finding a calm, dry time on Wednesday to do the spraying. Greg’s waterfowl counts showed plenty of goose broods, but still not a lot of ducklings. Surprising to him were over 1,000 white pelicans scattered among the various ponds. There were no nesting areas close by, but he knew that pelican flocks traveled freely throughout the Intermountain area. He assumed these were from the colonies in California, Oregon, or Nevada. 

   In the woods, the warbler migration appeared to be almost over, but there was a big influx of Western tanagers and lazuli buntings. The tanagers were undoubtedly migrants passing through; he wasn’t sure about the buntings. The other avian change of note was the appearance of large numbers of nighthawks, diving through the skies – particularly late in the day – chasing insects, and filling the evening with their sharp peent calls.

 

    Vic and Greg came to independent conclusions that they were not going to deprive themselves of each other’s company. They sat on Greg’s steps on several evenings, and Vic went on one of the morning bird surveys in the woods. It was nice to be together more often, but they still saved the more important conversations for the weekend.

   On Saturday morning, they were sitting on his front porch steps, their usual spot. Greg was enjoying the fresh air, the smell of his coffee, and the aroma of Vic’s herbal tea, the lemon-ginger. He thought she smelled pretty good, too.

   “I finished reading ‘John McNab.’ I loved it! I’d like to read some more John Buchan, if you have any. And I definitely see why you thought of me when you were reading about Janet, the heroine. Besides fitting the description of ‘jolly’ and ‘remarkably good lookin’, I can see myself charging across the heath, dark hair flying, to single-handedly confront one of the ‘John McNabs’ and thwart his attempt to make off with his prize. But, as I think you pointed out, Janet wouldn’t have been some cute little blue-eyed blonde. She would have had dark, flowing hair. I think if John Buchan was to re-read the book today, he would agree, and change the description.”

   “I’m really glad you liked the book...”

   “Wait, I’m not finished with my review. I think Buchan did get Archie right. I can see Janet – well, me – being paired with a tall, ruggedly handsome type who loves to watch birds – Archie, you may recall, was an unrepentant bird watcher. He’s a pretty competent, clear-headed person most of the time, but when he’s around her – me – he gets all tentative and wishy-washy. He’d love to tell her that he’s fallen deeply in love with her, and longs to take her in his arms and kiss her, but he just can’t seem to get the words out.”

   She stopped, and looked at him, expectantly.

   “Was there a question in there?” he asked.

   “Are you falling in love with me, Greg?”

  He met her gaze. “Wow, you cut right to the chase, don’t you?”

  “With important things, yes. Are you falling in love with me?”

   He felt a little like teasing her, but also felt his answer was pretty important. “Why would I, a college graduate, be falling in love with a high school girl?”

   “Have you not been paying attention? I’m asking if you’re falling in love with a high school graduate, college bound, young woman – who, by the way, is only a couple years younger than you are, college graduate status notwithstanding.”

   He wasn’t ready to give a real answer, yet. “Well, let’s consider. We have known each other for -  what, less than two months – during most of which time you were a high school girl – and most of which time we have sat here on these porch steps..”

   “And walked in the woods.”

   “Granted, walked in the woods…”

   “And had family dinners together.”

   “I’m not sure that counts, but okay…”

   “And don’t forget tractor training!”

   “Definitely not, but even acknowledging tractor training, in our less than two month acquaintance, we have actually been together maybe 24 hours.”

   “What does that have to do with the question?”

   “Let me finish. Considering our slight knowledge of one another – no, don’t stop me! – considering our short knowledge of one another, how could I possibly be falling in love with someone who is beautiful, smart, funny, challenging, caring, only about two years younger than me, and who probably started stealing my heart before she was s high school-graduated, college bound, young woman?”

   Vic sat quietly beside him for what seemed to Greg like two or three minutes. Finally, she spoke, without looking at him. “So, I liked all those pretty words – I hope to hear them again, many times – but was there an answer in there, somewhere?”

   “Yes.”

   “Yes, there was an answer?”

   “Yes, and the answer is that I think I am beyond “falling;” I think I am plumb fallen.”

   She gave a little laugh, and reached his hand. “Good. The feeling is definitely mutual.”

   They sat together in silence for some time.

   “Maybe your dad saw this coming. I don’t know how, but maybe that’s what he was warning me about.”

   Vic let go of his hand, and turned to face him. “What are you talking about? What did my dad say, and when did he say it?”

   Her reaction was so intense that Greg didn’t know whether to tell it straight, or tease her a little. Since she had made up the story about talking to her mother about them, he chose – rightly or wrongly - the tease.

   “It was the first Sunday I was here, even before I officially started work. We went for a drive around the refuge – presumably just to show me the place - but it turned out he had something else in mind. He had seen you playing Florence Nightingale for me the day before, and was a little worried.”

   “Worried about what?”

   “Well, let’s see. He hadn’t got to know me yet, and there was his young daughter ministering to someone who might be a drunk…”

   “I told him you weren’t!”

   “Well, but look at it through his eyes – father eyes. Here was his vulnerable young daughter, not knowledgeable about men, starved for some masculine attention…”

   “Oh, please!”

   “And here comes this mysterious, remarkably handsome stranger – who, by the way, might be a drunk – to potentially sweep her off her feet and steal her childhood from her.”

   “My god! Well, assuming my dad said anything like that – which, by the way, I’m sure he didn’t – how did you respond?”

   “I had to be honest. After all, he was my boss, and we were going to be working closely together. I had to gain his trust. So, I admitted that, from the moment I saw you – not at the dinner, but there on my porch with me suffering a splitting headache and a hangover so bad that I could hardly see anything clearly – I was bewitched by you. I wanted to take you in my arms, smother you with kisses, and maybe leave with you in my car that very instant. Alas, I knew you were a mere high school girl, and I had to control myself then, and I promised I would continue to regard you as off limits. But, having these feelings after having known you for less than an hour under less than romantic circumstances, I admitted to him that – considering how beautiful, smart, funny, challenging, and irresistible you were -  I would have to constantly be on my guard.”

   He stopped, having run out (at least, momentarily) of foolish things to say. She just stared at him, no emotion showing. Then: “Alas? You said alas, I had captured your heart in that single moment?”

   “Well, not in those words, maybe.”

   “Obviously not. So, in your description that time, you forgot ‘caring.’”

   “But I added in ‘irresistible.’”

   “Granted; nice touch. Now, putting all that b.s. aside, what – if anything – was really said?”

   He considered his answer. “Well, it wasn’t really a conversation. It was sort of a speech by your dad – trying to be a dad, without making too much out of what wasn’t really even a  situation. Actually, I was thinking about something else, and don’t really remember the details.”

   “So, I’ll overlook the fact you weren’t thinking about me, and asked how you answered.”

   “I think I said ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’ a couple times.”

   “So, nothing really happened.”

   He thought about that. “No, something happened, all right. What he said was enough to make me a little careful around you and your sister for a while. Of course, with you at school all week, I wasn’t seeing you except on the weekends.”

   A short silence again, while she thought about that. “So, if you weren’t trying to control your feelings for me, what were you thinking about?”

   “The Viet Nam thing. We’d just been talking about the Johnson boys, and their brother being in the service, and my own situation got real to me, again.”

   All she said was, “Yeah.”

   “I do remember one thing about that first morning,” Greg said. “As bad as I felt, I remember thinking that you smelled awfully nice.”

   She laughed. “And then you held my arm.”

   “Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have done that.”

   “Maybe, maybe not.” She wasn’t looking at him. “So, are you going to kiss me, now?”

   He thought about them sitting there in the open, in sight of her parents’ house. Her dad might even be on the porch, drinking his morning coffee. He knew what he wanted to do, but.. “No,” he said.

   She stood up, and started to leave. “You will,” she said. At the foot of the steps, she turned back and looked at him. “Soon,” she said, and walked on toward home. Suddenly, she stopped, and again turned toward him for a moment. “This could have been your ‘once-a-year-day.’” She went on home.


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