*** For part 2 to make sense, read Stalemate (part 1) first ***
Jake sat there at the edge of the forest, leaning against a tree, looking at Sierra’s house.
The forest, perched atop a long, wide ridge, overlooked a large portion of the settlement below. Most of the residences were in his line of vision; only the medical lab, the Quarantine House and the chapel were on the other side of their community.
The overgrowth on the trail that stretched along the forest’s edge allowed him to remain sheltered from the settlers’ prying eyes. He felt protected, and relatively free up there.
Chewing on a weed, he observed her house. It was situated apart from the other ones, isolated by the stream that divided the village.
Sierra lived there alone, now that some of the occupants departed with their children. The babies needed care they couldn’t provide here, so the families left to go live in a neighbouring community.
He wondered if Sierra would remain alone in the house.
It was quiet, except for the buzzing of the bugs. He closed his eyes for a bit, trying to empty his mind.
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get Sierra’s words out of his head.
“You don’t know anything about me.”
She was wrong, though. He did know her, mostly because he used to be just like her. He told her as much, how he used to be introverted and shy, how she reminded him of himself, but she outright rejected him.
He opened his eyes and glanced down at her house again. Still no movement there. Not at any of the other houses across the stream either.
Seems the whole village was asleep.
He went back to chewing his weed.
Maybe he pushed her too hard when he talked to her in the cafeteria the other day, implying he wanted to have sex with her. She certainly didn’t appreciate that comment.
Would have been better if he had kept his mouth shut. He hoped no one overheard, or worse, went and told Dina, that he practically made a pass at another woman. Dina was already pissed at him, accusing him of neglecting her, and making demands. Last thing he needed was for gossip to start up in the village.
Yesterday’s argument with Sierra in the cafeteria made him reflect on his past. Inevitably, his thoughts turned toward his current relationship as well. He’s never been comfortable around clingy women, which probably explains why he chose to remain unattached all these years. But then, when Dina came along and joined their community, he somehow allowed her to hook him into a relationship he really didn’t want…
He sighed, shook his straggly hair out of his face, and closed his eyes again. Why can’t he just empty his mind?
He tried to relax. Every now and then, he swatted at a bug with his hand.
Dozing was impossible, he realized after a while. The bugs were relentless.
His attention went back to the house at the bottom of the hill.
Squinting as if to gain clearer vision that way, he scanned her windows. Was there movement behind the curtains?
The sound of a twig snapping made him turn his head. He saw the resident matriarch approach him, her long white hair, wild and untamed, framing her face.
She sat down next to him and picked a tall weed from the path to play with.
Jake remained silent and turned his attention back toward Sierra’s house. Absentmindedly he picked a fresh strand of grass and started to chew it.
He knew their privacy was safe here, partially hidden by the overgrowth and foliage on the trail. He remembered wondering, the last time he passed by Sierra’s garden, what secrets the forest entailed. He had hiked up onto the ridge and discovered the very spot he was in now. He liked it up here, and came here often, for solitude. It was the perfect spot for reflection, or to process the turmoil in his head.
But now Josephine was here too. It didn’t bother him particularly; they have known each other for a long time and she respected his ways, his need for solitude. It wouldn’t surprise him if she had discovered this spot on her own, before he did. He gazed at her briefly through half-closed eyes, then went back to dozing.
Josephine sat quietly beside him and looked at the village below.
“She went out on the ATV with Marc,” she suddenly said into the silence.
Jake didn’t respond, kept leaning against the tree with his eyes closed.
“Sierra is with Marc. They went to check out the clearing at the end of the logging road.”
The matriarch glanced at him, waiting for him to react. When Jake refused to say something, she tried again.
“Where’s Dina?” she asked.
He could feel her watching him carefully. He didn’t respond, so she rephrased her question.
“Your girlfriend, where is she now?”
His response came out almost intelligibly, more like a grunt than words.
“She was crying, throwing things around the room earlier,” the matriarch continued, prodding him to elaborate.
But he remained silent.
Suddenly Josephine stood up and re-positioned herself directly in front of him, obscuring his view of the house. She saw him tense, but he didn’t object. At least not verbally. She sat down in front of him, legs scissored, hands folded in her lap.
“Wanna talk about it?”
Asking him was futile. Of all people, she should know this about him, Jake thought.
“Did you have a fight?”
Josephine prodded him further, which seemed a little uncharacteristic for her.
Jake opened his eyes.
He took in a breath, very slightly but enough to indicate he was resigned to her inquisitive presence. He tried to remain stoic and sullen but he knew she’d notice he was agitated.
“She wants to leave,” she continued. “Dina wants to leave the community.”
The matriarch was used to lovers’ quarrels. But most of the time, things were less complicated, involving youths, not adults of advanced years. The youths, they had their drama but mostly, she just let it all play out by itself.
This is different, she reminded herself. Jake’s not a teenager.
Josephine looked at Jake with affection. Her heart went out to him. She understood his turmoil, his pain, god knows she’s been though it enough herself.
This man sitting here in front of her, he wasn’t one who bounced around from girl to girl. He was introverted, and quiet. Which is the main reason she was surprised to find out he was consorting with Dina.
She had some reservations when Dina and her gal pal showed up at the community gate, but decided to interview these two Southern Belles anyway. In the end, she accepted them into the colony and assigned them a list of expectations and chores.
She has not yet decided whether to keep them, or send them to another community, after their trial period comes to an end.
“He’s my boyfriend now,” Dina had told Jospehine weeks after she arrived. It was evident that she succeeded in getting Jake into bed. When she told Josephine, it sounded more like bragging than advertising.
Dina reveled in flaunting her relationship with Jake at every opportunity.
Such an insecure girl, the matriarch had thought at the time.
But she left it alone. Not my business, she told herself at the time.
And yet, here she was, on the ridge with her silent friend, pushing him to talk about a private topic which was none of her business.
She stared at his face, leaning against the tree, willing him to say something.
Finally he opened his eyes and met her look. But almost immediately, his eyes wandered past her to the house at the bottom of the hill.
There was activity in the garden.
Straining, he focused on the back door of the house which opened and slammed shut behind the person who exited the house.
Sierra was back. And she was alone.
Copyright © by Claudette Labriola
This story is an attempt at creative fiction, with primary focus on character development in a romantic setting. You can read more about my intent here.
Feedback is encouraged and welcome.
Stalemate (part 1) – Introduction of main two nameless characters (less than 10 minute read, about 1200 words)