"The Notebook" - with inspiration from the book by the same name.
This is my adaptation of a novel by Nicholas Sparks, "The Notebook." The book information said Mr. Sparks based his novel on the lives of his wife's beloved grandparents.
Well, this is a Jax and Brenda story, but I dedicate this adaptation to the memory of my mother's parents and the love they shared for each other.
The nurse looked up just in time to see the elderly man carefully close the door and ease his way down the hallway - and in the opposite direction of her station, she mused. She wouldn't have noticed him if she had not just looked up. She supposed she should say something to him. She just started her job as a night shift nurse, and she didn't want to receive a reprimand from her supervisor on the first day of her new job.
Her supervisor had pointed out all of the "walkers" to her - those residents who had a tendency to roam the halls during the later hours of the night. The tall, somewhat frail-looking gentleman had been a captain of industry, she remembered the supervisor telling her. She sighed as she decided she had better start things out on the right footing with the residents - she didn't want to be known as a pushover.
"Mr. Jacks!" she attempted to whisper her urgent call, as he was now almost out of ear shot. She saw the broad shoulders stiffen, and sensed he was about to ignore her. Instead, he turned and walked towards her. His hair was gray, and his eyes were a piercing blue… and was that silk pajamas he was wearing?
He carefully set down a spiral notebook on the shelf above her desk and peered at her nametag. "Nancy?" he asked
"Yes," she answered, "I'm the new night shift nurse"
"It's nice to meet you. My friends call me 'Jax,'" he said with a conspiratorial and hopeful look on his face.
"Mr. Jacks, you know the rules regarding night visits. I understand you've been a resident here for several years now," Nancy said.
"Yes, I have," he said, " But her nights are more restful when I'm there".
"Not always," she said. "That's why we have the rules regarding visits. Who was that you were visiting, and what did you lay on my counter?" she asked.
"That is my notebook," he advised, "The person I was visiting is someone very special to me. Are you a new nurse? I don't remember meeting you before…"
Nancy smiled and said, "Yes, I am new. This is my first day on the job. And I'm sorry to be so hard on you, but enforcement of the rules is important for the patients. It provides them with structure to their days."
Jax sighed. She was going to be one of *those* nurses, it seemed - but maybe, with a little bit of work, she could be persuaded to allow him to slip past, as did her predecessor. He smiled and opened his notebook. "Did you ever think about how funny life is, what a crap shoot it is? A person makes a decision one day, and that action can affect another person for the rest of their life"
Nancy grinned and said, "I know - why do you think I am here talking with you? Was there a significant decision someone made that changed your life?"
"Yes," Jax said, "I met someone the summer after my senior year of high school."
Nancy leaned forward, intrigued. She looked up at the man, who seemed to be smiling at something or someone he was remembering fondly.
Jax looked down at his hands, now somewhat misshapen, thanks to arthritis, and remembered the summer he finished remodeling his parents' house. He had worked his way through high school, and had maintained a full course load. Because of that it took him longer than he expected to complete the project. So he decided to celebrate by going to the carnival that was in town for the weekend...
Jax was putting the finishing touches on the porch railings.
"Isn't it a bit late in the day to still be working on that? Aren't you supposed to be heading for town to join your friends at the carnival?" John Jacks asked, as he stepped out onto the porch where his son was busily working. Jax immediately straightened up and stuffed the piece of sandpaper in his pocket.
John looked appraisingly at Jax. His son was tall and most handsome. He had spent this past summer working on the exterior of the house, so his blond hair was bleached almost white, and the manual labor had helped tone his chiseled form to near perfection. As his father, however, John said none of this out loud, as the Jacks men were not accustomed to express this sort of admiration verbally. Instead, he bent down and ran his hands over the railing his son had just finished sanding. "You've done a great job on this house, son. I couldn't have done it without you."
Both men were silent as they remembered the lady of the house. She had been gone for almost five years now, but her presence could still be felt in every room, and especially on the front porch.
"Your mother would have loved the work you've done on this porch," John Jacks said. "Sitting on the steps and watching you play ball with your friends was one of her favorite ways to wind down after a hectic day."
"I miss her, too, Dad. And she was a far better cook than you are!" Jax said, his eyes twinkling mischievously.
John snorted and then asked casually, "Have you decided which college will be honored by your presence?"
"I was thinking of saying yes to the City College," Jax replied, and promptly turned to examine that same porch railing, rather than face the fury he would see in his father's eyes.
"Damn you, son! Doc Johnson gave me a clean bill of health after my last check-up. There is no need for you to stay here in town and hover over me, like some bloody nursemaid!"
"Dad, we can talk about this late. Like you said, I should be leaving to join my friends," Jax answered, all the time wondering just how long he would be able to evade part two of this particular argument with his father.
John Jacks had thrown himself into the day-to-day operations of running a business after the death of Jax's mother, Jane, John's wife and soul mate. The end result of all of this activity was a heart attack and a lecture on stress management from the family doctor.
Jax had been frantic at the thought of losing his remaining parent - so much so, that even with his friends, he was no longer the upbeat, cheerful schoolmate and leader that nearly everyone called friend. He became moody and would lash out at the least provocation. Who knows how long the behavior might have gone on or where it might have led had it not been for an English class assignment.
During his junior year, his English teacher had bemoaned the ability - or the lack of ability - of today's young people to turn a phrase. The teacher advised the best way to prepare for their senior year, then college and the world was to practice writing to oneself. In other words, to keep a journal. Most of the class had scoffed, and several didn't complete the project. However, Jax was surprised at how much he came to enjoy it and to need it. He felt he couldn't express his fears and concerns to his still recovering father, and with his mother dead, there wasn't anyone else who really understood him. He felt, after filling the pages with his rage over how unfair life could be and his uncertainties over who he was and what he wanted to do with his life, that he was able to face the world. And perhaps the world wasn't all that bad.
He had enjoyed his daily writings in his journal so much that he had briefly considered a career in journalism. But his lingering concern over his father's health was one of the reasons that prompted the remodeling project for their house, and in the end, it led to the decision of a career in architecture.
His father sighed, "We'll discuss your choice of colleges later. Just remember that you can go anywhere you want. You don't have to stay in town and hover over me!"
It was such a lovely day that Jax decided to walk to town to the carnival, rather than drive. However, it took him longer and it was late afternoon before he arrived at the carnival midway. There was the usual array of junk food and games of chance and the fun house. He looked around but didn't see any of the group from his school. He decided to relax and wait to see if anyone walked by.
He sauntered over to the grove of trees that was almost on the outskirts of the carnival. He was just about to sit down on a very comfortable branch, when he saw that a beautiful, petite, young woman, who appeared to be about his age, already occupied it. Her shoulder-length, brown hair was fastened back from her face with a barrette. Her fashionably tailored shorts and halter-top were not of the type he had seen the girls from his school wear. He thought the red striped pattern of the halter was flattering to her figure and brought out the red highlights of her hair. She was peering through the overhang of branches at the sky as though it would provide the answers to some deep question. He wondered if she would instead let him help her find the answer to that question. In fact, he wondered if the question she was pondering was how to get out of that tree, but he would gladly offer any assistance she might need in getting down off the branch.
From underneath the shade of the branch she was sitting on, she had immediately noticed the tall blond-haired man walking towards her. She also noticed that he didn't see that she was there until he was getting ready to climb up on the branch. He was tall; she was at his waist level even from her perch on the branch. His hair was bleached blond and his body was lean, muscled, and tanned. She wondered if his physique and tan were due to working out or if he worked outside. While he was the picture of male beauty, there was something sad and aloof in his beautiful eyes. She cut her appraisal abruptly short when she realized he was doing the same thing to her!
She interrupted his thoughts about her situation with her retort, "I climbed up on my own, and I can get down on my own - thank you!"
Jax gulped and felt his face flush. He didn't think he was that obvious in his appraisal.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to come off so much on the offensive, but I get teased about my size all the time. My name is 'Brenda,'" she said.
"I'm sorry I stared at you like that, but you're very beautiful… Oh, ummm…my friends call me 'Jax,'" he replied.
"Apology accepted, Jax. You're not so bad to look at yourself!" she said, and then she proceeded to giggle.
Jax was amazed at the effect that giggle had on him. It caused his heart to turn over and somersault at least five times before he regained control. He noticed when she giggled that her warm brown eyes crinkled up and her entire face lit up in a way that made him ache to kiss her. With that thought he stopped short - kiss her?! He just met her! He realized Brenda must have been saying something to him and not getting a response, as she was calling out to him.
"Jax, are you there? That was the name you said your friends call you, right? How did you get that name anyway?" Brenda asked, all in one amazing breath.
"Sorry, Brenda - yes, Jax is my name… Do you like fun houses?" Jax asked, with a grin on his face that Brenda decided she would love to remove, but she couldn't decide just then the best way to do it.
They never did find his friends. He won stuffed animals for her at the midway games. He laughed when she screamed in the fun house. When they finally decided to end the evening, he offered to walk her home.
"But I drove," she said in surprise. "Didn't you? You said your house was about a mile from town."
"Yes, it is," he said. "But it was such a nice day that I decided to walk to town." He didn't mention that his old jalopy probably would not have started unless he kicked it a few times and threatened it several more. Her car was a shiny new red Porsche.
"It's my graduation present," she said, noticing his appraisal of her car. "Daddy was so pleased that I actually did - graduate, that is!" she laughed.
"Well, since I can't walk you home, and I've already walked you to your car, would you like to go swimming tomorrow?" he asked, a hopeful look in his eyes. "I know the perfect place."
Jax looked back up at Nancy. "We went swimming every day. Her father was in town completing several business deals. He had wanted to spend more time with his only daughter before she left for college. He even had her college picked out. As a matter of fact, he had her entire life all planned out." Jax started to say more, but heard the distinctive sound of crepe soles on a linoleum floor.
"Good evening, Sally," he said to the night shift supervisor. Nancy groaned, and Jax went on, " How are you this evening, or should I say, morning?"
"I'm fine," Sally said. "My shift is now over, and Nancy and I are through for the night."
Nancy looked over at her in surprise. No lecture regarding the errant Mr. Jacks? She hurriedly said her good-byes to Sally and smiled at Jax.
"We'll talk some other time," he said.
"I'll be looking forward to it!" Nancy replied.
Jax lay on his back, staring at the ceiling of his room. After Sally and Nancy left he tried to sleep but couldn't. It looked like it was going to be one of those nights…
He sighed and thought again about Harlan Barrett, Brenda's father. Harlan was very protective of his only daughter, Brenda. Brenda had told him during one of their swims that she had overheard an enlightning conversation between her father and his business partner. He told his partner that Brenda was the best by-product of his disastrous marriage to Veronica and that he wanted to make sure his daughter didn't make the same mistake he did. He wanted his daughter married to a steady, stable man - someone who would be his equal.
Despite of his plans to spend quality time with his daughter that summer, Harlan was in meetings for most of his time, and therefore spent very little of it with his daughter. Harlan's loss was his gain as Jax spent every spare moment he had with Brenda. They spent hours talking about their dreams and plans. They would walk in the park and sit on "their" branch in the big, old tree. He loved her sense of humor and her stubborn independence.
Jax had told Brenda of his plans to go to the City College so he could keep a closer eye on his father. He could see that she was disappointed in his plans. Her father had picked some Ivy League East Coast school for her to attend. Of course, it would be the same school the son of his business partner attended. She had argued with her father long and hard about a choice of college and agreed to his choice only because of the programs it carried. He thought of the closeness he shared with his own father and wondered when Harlan was going to realize what he was throwing away by not making time to share with his daughter.
Jax made arrangements to meet the infamous Harlan the day before Brenda and her father were due to return to their home in Connecticut. He and Brenda planned to have one last swim together. Unfortunately his car picked that day to act up. His father was out visiting his friends, so the family car was not available. Jax managed to make it to Harlan's rented townhouse on time, but he was hot and dusty, and he noticed, too late, that he hadn't quite gotten all of the oil off his hands. By Harlan's abrupt and rather brusque tones, he could tell that Harlan noticed also. He could see that Harlan did not approve of him as a choice of a partner for his daughter.
Their last swim was unforgettable. Their favorite spot was just around a bend in the river, and it was about a mile from his house. Willow trees, with rocks just the right size for sun bathing, surrounded the area. He loved to swim with her, because in spite of their differences in heights, they were fairly evenly matched in the water. Both were strong swimmers and delighted in trying to one-up each other with flips and dives in the secluded area.
His favorite part was when they were through swimming and it was time to dry off. He loved to run his hands over her firm, voluptuous body in an attempt to squeegee off part of the water. She would laugh at his attempts. She was just as wet after his ministrations as before, so she knew exactly what his real purpose was. By the smile that played on her lips, he could tell that she enjoyed the feel of his hands as they slid gently down first her arms, then over her breasts and down her legs.
They exchanged addresses: Jax gave her his home address; and she gave him her home address, as she had yet to choose her off campus housing. He wrote her the day after she left and waited for her reply. He was still waiting several weeks later when his father's heart condition worsened. He wrote her again to let her know of his father's death.
He had decided to postpone college because of his father's condition. Actually, several of his father's friends were impressed with the remodeling he had done on his own home. They requested similar work for their own homes. He ended up hiring a crew and starting his own remodeling company to meet the local demand. Then, it was one of those 'right places at the right time' situations when he bought the lumber, concrete, and plumbing companies to service his remodeling company. Soon his reputation for his remodeling and building skills were known beyond the small New York town in which he lived.
He was soon known as a captain of industry to the people of his town, and he didn't want for female company. However, he always found himself comparing any companion to a petite brunette, with warm brown eyes and an infectious laugh. He wondered why she had never written back…
Brenda sat in her car, staring at the tree with the low branch; it was perfect for meetings. She watched as a pair of lovers stopped under the welcome shade of that old tree. The pair proceeded to jump up on the branch, just as she and Jax used to sit when they would meet in this park. She never forgot the man she met the summer before she was to start college. He had said that he would write to her, and she believed him. That's why she was surprised and disappointed that she never heard from him again. She wondered if it was luck or divine providence that caused her to see that article in her local paper that featured one of his companies. Reading it rekindled old memories she thought she had long ago laid to rest. So she decided, before she agreed to marry the son of her father's business partner, she wanted to know why Jax hadn't written to her.
She hadn't planned on joining her father that long ago summer. Her father had told her of the lovely summer they would have and then proceeded to outline the meetings and conferences he had to attend. She remembered thinking: why even bother to go along with him? The way she met Jax at the carnival was pure chance. Her father had made some vague reference to having lunch with her rather than the other conference attendees and had actually suggested the carnival midway as something different. However, as the half-hour turned to an hour after the time they were to meet, she realized that once again she was on her own. She was brooding about having to spend yet another afternoon on her own when Jax came upon her sitting on the tree branch.
She drove around town, noting the changes - some good, some not so good - since that summer visit. It looked like the fairgrounds were being set up for another carnival. She smiled as she wondered if the fun house would still cause her to scream. She remembered that Jax lived about a mile from town, near the river. She decided to take the chance that he still lived in the same house and turned towards the outskirts of town.
The house looked exactly the same, she thought. In fact it looked better than it had - either that or she was so busy looking at Jax before that she hadn't paid much attention to his house. The grounds were immaculately groomed; trees and shrubbery ringed the porch, so it was cool and shady - and frankly, looked very inviting. She looked around for its owner and wondered if Jax still lived with his father.
As she started up the walk she heard the baying of a dog - a hound, the way it sounded - announcing her arrival. A man came to the door; she couldn't see his features clearly through the screen, but his figure filled the doorway. "Jax?" she asked tentatively.
Jax was sitting at his desk in his father's former bedroom, which was now the office/spare room. He had decided that in spite of the fact that it was a lovely day, he would tackle the mound of paperwork to which his secretary referred as 'almost hopeless.' The barking of his dog interrupted his concentration. He could tell by the excited tone that whoever it was, was a stranger. He got up and walked to the door.
He felt his heart race, flip over, and do a few thousand other things in the moment that it took his hand to grab the door handle and open the screen. His eyes didn't believe what his heart was already trying to deal with - she was back in town, and she was here, in his front yard. She looked even more beautiful than he remembered. He couldn't tell if she still wore her hair shoulder length as it was pulled back in a ponytail. In fact, with her hair in a pony tail she looked as young as she did on that summer day in the park when they first met. He took a deep breath, opened the door, and walked out onto the porch.
Brenda's smile felt frozen on her face, as the man behind the screen opened the door and came out onto his front porch. Jax was even more handsome than she remembered. He had kept himself in shape, and she was glad that he hadn't decided to throw a shirt on before coming outside. His chest was bare and tanned, just as it was at their first meeting. His slim waist showed he didn't have an ounce of fat, and his threadbare jeans hugged his legs and trim butt to perfection. She wondered what to say and who should speak first? "Jax?" she said again, tentatively.
It was her greeting that opened the floodgate of emotions he thought he had long since buried. Her greeting held all of the hopes, spirit, and vulnerability that caused him to first fall in love with her. He stepped down from the porch and walked towards her. She extended her hand and grabbed his arm to greet him.
"Brenda!" he said, "What brings you back to my town?"
"What - no 'how are you?' or 'what have you been doing with your life?'" she asked. She thought surely he could hear her heart thudding in her chest. She wanted to hold him and to be held in his strong arms. She wondered who would be first to ask about not writing.
Jax looked at her with a face that seemed devoid of emotion. While there was warmth in the voice that greeted her there was little affection in his bearing or in the hand that grasped hers.
Jax thought if he had to ask the question again about why was she in town, he would surely follow it with 'why didn't you ever write?' Therefore, he thought he was hearing things when he heard her say, "There's something I've wondered for a long time: why didn't you ever write me?"
"Me not write you? I did!" he said incredulously. "I wrote you to tell you how much I enjoyed your company and how much I treasured the time we spent together. I wrote you when my father's heart condition worsened, and I needed someone to talk to. And I wrote you to tell you that my father died."
She stood in front of him with tears running down her cheeks, watching him in disbelief. She was certain that he was telling her the truth about writing her. His stance, rigid with his hands clenched into fists, dared her to call him a liar. " I believe you," she said as she sniffed. "You kept your other promises. But I wrote you, too!"
He stared at her, his eyes searching her face to see if she was lying. But if she wasn't, how else do they explain this mess?
The reason came to them at the same time; " Harlan," they said in unison.
"I wrote to you at your home in Connecticut," he said.
"I was there," she said. "I lived at home through college, but I never received any letters from you. I was naïve and trusting enough to believe that Daddy's staff gave me all of my mail and handled the letters and packages I gave them to mail… I'm so sorry… You must have been very disappointed and rejected when you didn't hear from me. I know that's how I felt when I didn't hear from you."
"You felt that way, too?" he asked. He took her hands into his and pulled her towards him. Her shoulders felt warm and velvety soft to his touch. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer to him. He felt her relax against him, and he heard a small sigh of contentment, like that of someone who had come home after finally finishing a long journey. He stood there, stroking her back gently with his hands and kissing her hair. He tried not to think of all of the time they had lost thanks to Harlan, and how much his father would have enjoyed Brenda's company.
"Speaking of Harlan," he said out loud, "what happened that brought you back here today, and into my arms?"
"I happened to read an article in the business section of our paper about your lumber company. Something made me just decide to pack up and come to see it - and you - in person," she said.
"What did your father say about the trip?" he asked.
"I didn't tell him," she said with a mischievous grin on her face. "I didn't say where I was going. I simply told him that with everything going on, I needed some time to myself."
He pulled away from their embrace and looked at her with concern, "Is there anything wrong?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she said, "But…I'm engaged to be married… The ceremony is next month."
"You're getting married! Why? You can't love him!" Jax said, his voice filled with anger and frustration.
Brenda couldn't believe what she just heard. "How would you know how I feel? You haven't seen me in years, and you've never seen me with him!" she said with more conviction than she felt. If the truth were told, her fiancé Mike, the son of her father's business partner, was the husband her father had always envisioned for her, not her dream. Harlan loved to tell her that Mike was everything he could hope for in a son-in-law. But when she was lying in bed after their lovemaking, she wondered why she still felt empty inside. She and Jax had not made love during that special summer, but their embraces alone left her with a feeling of contentment that she had not experienced again - until now, in Jax's arms. Mike was a wonderful man, even if he was her father's choice. But he wasn't Jax.
"I don't need to see you with him," Jax said. "I can tell you still love me from the way you've been holding me. Is that why you came back after all of these years: to see me and then to tell me you're marrying someone else?"
"Jax," she said softly, "I didn't come here to hurt you… I love you."
He smiled. "You know the last time we were together, I wanted to tell you that I loved you, but I didn't quite have the nerve. I thought you would think that I was too forward, since we'd only known each other for a short time."
"Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "I wanted to tell you I loved you, but I was afraid of the same thing - that you would say it was too soon."
"Then what are you going to do?" he asked. "Are you going to marry him? … Or will you marry me?"
Brenda looked up at him in surprise. She was going to ask if he was serious, but she could tell by the earnestness in his eyes that he was. "Jax, I don't know…" she began, "It's all so unexpected. Not only did I just find out that you still care about me, but that you also want to marry me! Can we spend some time together and get reacquainted again before I give you my answer?"
"Okay, he replied, "you have one week." He saw her panicked look and added gently, "Okay - two weeks. But remember: I'm the one who has to wait for the decision."
He thought that after handing her that ultimatum, she would find a reason to leave; just check out of her hotel and return to her father and husband-to-be. So he was unable to hide his surprise when she suggested they go for a walk along the river! He watched her out of the corner of his eye as they walked close to one another, their shoulders not quite touching. Today had been a warm to begin with, but the heat simmering between them was not atmospheric. He thought of how good it felt when he held her in his arms again; how the years had melted away the moment his hands stroked her hair. Most of all he wondered what he could possibly say or do to make her chose him.
Brenda couldn't believe she had just heard herself suggest a walk along the river! It was bad enough she had agreed to think about his proposal! She was engaged to Mike, and it was Mike that she was to marry. Yet, why did she feel all warm inside when Jax smiled at her suggestion they take the walk? And why did she feel something almost electric jumping between their shoulders as they walked? She looked at him out of the corners of her eyes as they walked.
Each was trying not to let the other see they were evaluating and assessing the changes that time and life in general had made in each of them. Brenda thought he had never looked better; Jax thought she had never looked more beautiful.
He finally broke the silence by asking her how her life had been since that memorable summer - if any of her dreams had become reality?
She looked into his kind eyes, and she remembered how easy it was to get lost looking into their depths. She sighed as she began, "Have any of my dreams become reality?… Well, I'm the perfect daughter, just as my father wished. I'm no longer the rebellious brat I was when you met me… What about you - I knew you had an important future ahead of you - how did you come to be the tycoon you are now?"
Jax was still wondering about her comment about being a brat and almost missed her question about his own life. "Let's not change the subject," he said. The sudden red flush of her cheeks told him he had guessed correctly: her teenage years were not a subject Brenda remembered fondly.
"I was a disappointment to my father," Brenda said softly. "His life - his business - requires that I fulfill certain duties for him to be a continued success."
"But what about your life and your choices?" Jax asked. "Do you remember the walks we used to take and our swims, when we would share our dreams of the future? I was going to be an architect, and I thought eventually you would go into design."
"You did?" she said incredulously. "What made you come to that conclusion?"
"Do you remember that one picnic?" he asked. "You wanted to make it special because it was a few days before you were going to leave. I brought the food, but you arranged the table. You found some flowers and ferns and set candles in pieces of bark. I felt very special and loved looking at the care you used in arranging everything."
"So you thought I would go into design because I can set a nice table?" she asked.
"No, it was more than that," Jax replied. "It was a combination of things… like the way you wore your clothes…the necklace or belt you added that set off an ordinary shirt or dress and made it special…You're special…"
She stared at him, remembering how much she had enjoyed that picnic. She remembered the part she played to make it special for them. She also remembered sharing her dreams with her father, during one of her college breaks, about design. She had been surprised and pleased when Harlan nodded and told her that it would be a useful degree. Then Harlan went on to advise her how useful it would be to him. He told her how good it looked for the family of a businessman, such as himself, to be involved in charities. And since charities are perpetually involved in fund-raisers, her talents would be useful to them, and therefore to him. Brenda remembered how she could almost see the wheels turn in her father's head as he thought how best to use his daughter's abilities. The problem, she decided was that when she was with her father she was never quite sure where Brenda the daughter left off, and where Brenda the surrogate wife began.
Jax noticed the pained expression on Brenda's face and wondered if the events of the day were causing a delayed reaction. Maybe, he thought, she's regretting coming to see me again. He reached out his hand and touched her arm, "Are you okay?" he asked in concern.
She looked down at his hand on her arm; it felt warm and right. She looked up into his eyes and smiled. "I'm fine," she said, and she thought about the decision she had to make.
"Thank you for the information, Harlan," said Mike, as he set the receiver back in its cradle on the phone, staring at it thoughtfully. Harlan had confirmed what Brenda had told him: that she needed some time to herself. She told them both that she wanted to go out of town for a few days to shop for antiques for their new home. He loved her taste and knew she would find exquisite furnishings for their house. So why did he have this nagging feeling that something was up - that everything wasn't as it appeared?
He picked up the phone and dialed the familiar number once again, "Harlan - Mike again. Did Brenda check in yet? Did she tell you what hotel she was staying at? I just had this great idea. I want to surprise her."
"Are you *sure* you're okay?" Jax repeated, his hand still on Brenda's arm; his expression saying: if you want to talk about it, I'm here to listen.
Brenda understood the expression on his face and decided that he was the one person who would stay with her to listen as long as she needed someone to hear her… to be with her… She smiled and reached out and gently stroked his cheek with the tips of her fingers.
He reached behind her and pulled her into his arms, no longer able to refrain from touching her. He placed a kiss on the tip of her nose, her forehead, and finally, looking in her eyes, he placed one on her lips.
Brenda felt as though liquid fire was coursing through her veins as his lips met hers. She moved closer in the embrace so that every part of their bodies that could possibly touch, did. It's impossible to know how long that kiss would have gone if they hadn't heard the crack of thunder and felt the cascade of rain from the summer thunderstorm.
Jax grabbed Brenda's arm, as they sprinted down the path leading back to his home. It was one of those sudden, drenching thunderstorms, and by the time they reached the shelter of the back porch, they were both soaked to the skin. He opened the door and they walked inside, water pooling on the floor wherever they paused in their progress. "I have some dry clothes," he offered. " They'll be too big for you, but at least they're dry."
"That would be wonderful," she smiled.
He stood looking at her. Her wet dress clung to her body, looking like another layer of skin. It outlined her flat stomach and defined her erect nipples, brought to attention from the cold rain. Her hair was damp and snarled from running back in the rain, and he thought that he had never seen anyone as beautiful as she looked at that moment to him. "Did I tell you how beautiful you still are?" he asked.
She looked at him; his wet clothes clung to him, outlining every perfect part of him. "You don't look half bad yourself," she said, smiling. She walked over to him and reached up and unbuttoned his shirt.
Brenda opened her eyes slowly; she felt the first rays of the morning sun warm her face. She felt… What was she feeling? She felt a so many things right now: warm, safe, alive, sexy, secure - and guilty.
The act of unbuttoning Jax's shirt had led to a night of making love. She savored the memories of his hands caressing her body as their bodies repeatedly joined, as night became the dawn of the new day. But now she was feeling guilty - just three days ago she was with Mike. She had spent a lovely evening with him; however, lovely evenings with Mike were not that frequent. He worked long hours at his job, as did her father. She knew Mike loved her, but she felt second in importance in the contest between her and his work.
She heard the soft whine of the dog, asking to go out, and then the answering slam of the door. Then, as she looked up at the doorway, Jax walked through, carrying a tray laden with coffee, juice, and biscuits.
"Did you sleep well?" he asked, his eyes twinkling mischievously.
She sat up and leaned back on her elbows on the bed. She watched as he walked across the bedroom and carefully set the tray down on the end table next to his bed. His hair remained tousled from her fingers repeatedly rumpling it and what little sleep they did have. He hadn't bothered to put a shirt on, but was just wearing the jeans he had on yesterday.
He looked at her as he set their breakfast tray down next to the bed. She was wearing the shirt he had on yesterday, and had rolled up the sleeves. He watched as she sat up on the bed and crossed her legs, Indian-style. She had removed the band that held back her hair. Though her hair was now dry, it was still tousled from the night's activities.
He grinned as he remembered how surprised he had been when she had walked over to him and proceeded to unbutton his shirt. He remembered how wonderful it had felt as her fingers slid up his chest to the collar of his shirt, and then watched as she eased his shirt from his shoulders and let it drop in a pile on the floor. They had made love in the living room first. He had later carried her in his arms to his bedroom, where they continued their lovemaking almost to dawn. He reached over to the tray, holding their breakfast, and picked up a biscuit. He broke off a piece of it and offered it to her - warm, crumbling, and inviting - in his outstretched fingers.
She smiled and opened her mouth so he could place the offered morsel between her parted lips. She leaned across the bed and grabbed a piece of biscuit and offered it to him has he had to her.
They took turns feeding each other until the breakfast tray was empty. They spent the day alternately making love and catching up on each other's lives. Towards dusk, when they were lying on the couch in his living room - she on top of him, both deliciously tired and happy - they realized their last food was at breakfast.
He offered to catch their dinner and went to get his fishing pole. He was about to grab his pole from its place at the back door, when he heard the simultaneous sound of his dog barking and footsteps on the front porch. As he walked towards the front door, he noticed Brenda was sitting up on the couch. Her hands were clenched into fists and her face held a mixed expression of shock, fear, and fury. He looked closer through the screen and recognized the figure of Harlan Barrett.
"Hello, Harlan," Jax said as he opened the door.
"Jax," Harlan said simply, as he walked past Jax into the living room and stood in front of his daughter. "Well, Brenda…" he said looking down at her expectantly.
"Well, what?!" Brenda asked. "I told you I had a lot on my mind and I needed to get away. And by the way, who gave you the right to play God with my life by hiding and destroying my mail, when I was already an adult, capable of making my own decisions!"
"I didn't destroy it," Harlan said. "Here it is. I only sidetracked it. It was for your own good."
Jax and Brenda looked at the bundle of letters Harlan held in his outstretched hand to Brenda.
"Here," Harlan said, "these are the letters he wrote to you."
Brenda took the bundle silently; her eyes brimming with unshed tears.
She looks humiliated, Jax thought. He turned towards Harlan and voiced the question Brenda wasn't able to ask: "Why did you do it to us?"
"I didn't think you were worthy of her," Harlan said dismissively. "Actually, you surprised me how well you turned out. Sometimes I wonder if I should have just let things take their course naturally…"
Brenda and Jax looked at him, dumbfounded. He was so calm, so unapologetic about so casually deciding the direction of that important point in their lives.
"Mike knows, by the way," Harlan added. "In fact, he may be in town now, trying to find this place… I'm going to leave now. I've done what I needed to do; the rest is up to you," Harlan said abruptly, looking at Brenda as he was talking. After he finished, he merely turned and walked out the door.
Brenda and Jax stood together, watching his retreating form as he walked to his car. His posture military-erect, not betraying any hint of emotion. They looked at each other and without saying a word knew what the other was thinking at that moment: did Harlan really believe he was acting in the best interest of his daughter? Jax didn't believe he had. Jax thought the best man for Brenda was standing next to her right now. He stood there, next to Brenda, with his arm across the back of her shoulders, holding her protectively close to him.
Brenda realized as she stood next to Jax, that she did not have the two weeks Jax gave her. If Mike was here in town, the decision had to be made now. She turned to Jax, and the tears she'd been holding back started to roll down her cheeks. "I have to go now," she said. She bent down and picked up the package of letters that he had written to her; the letters she had never received, much less read. She clutched them to her chest and whispered again brokenly, "I have to leave now Jax. If Mike is here, it's not fair to him not to know."
Jax stood looking at her, unable to speak. He was afraid - no, he knew - that if her let her leave now, this time it would be for good. They could never be together like this again. He opened his mouth to tell her not to go, but no words came out.
Brenda turned, and Jax watched as she walked out the door unto the porch, and then out to her car. Like her father, she never looked back.
The tears flowed freely down her cheeks, like the summer cloudburst she and Jax had been caught in yesterday. She didn't think it was possible, but remembering yesterday - the walk, the love they shared - made her cry even harder. She knew she had to leave now, or she never would. She knew that to be fair to Mike, she had to leave to tell him. She had to somehow make it back to her hotel and have the strength to talk to him.
She started her car and aimed it in the direction of the hotel. She prayed for light traffic and was relieved when she finally pulled into the hotel parking lot. The lot was nearly empty of cars, making it easy for her to see Mike's car at the very front spot, right near the entrance to the building.
She decided she couldn't possibly face him just yet, and she looked down at the stack of letters on the passenger seat next to her. She picked them up and studied them. She was amazed and delighted that, although he had never received an answering reply, he still kept writing her all that time. She started to pick up the first letter, intending to read through the stack from the beginning, but then stopped. First of all, she realized she couldn't postpone her talk with Mike indefinitely, and secondly, she was already certain what that first letter would say. They had had such a wonderful time that summer that she knew that his letter would be of remembrances of their summer together and hope of a future together.
Instead she picked up the last letter. She wanted to know what Jax would have said when he decided it was time to say good-bye. She opened it to see his firm, masculine handwriting. "Dear Brenda," it began, "I haven't been able to figure out why you never wrote back to me, or why you decided we didn't have a future together. However, I will never regret meeting you, and holding you in my arms. I will never forget the softness of your skin against my fingertips, and the fragrance of your hair as it filled my senses before we kissed. I will always love you and will always treasure you. I will always treasure the time we spent together that summer. Love, Jax."
Brenda looked up from the letter and saw Mike standing on the landing at the hotel entrance. She had been wondering what she was going to say to him, but looking at him now though her windshield glass, she knew.
Jax closed the notebook and set it down on her end table. She had finished reading the story to her. He looked at her and wondered if she would have any reaction to the story. Some days she did. Some days it made her happy, but other days it made her cry.
Some days she knew where she was and who she was. Some days, when he walked into her room in the morning and sat down to read to her, she would smile at him and wait expectantly for his reading. Other days, when she woke up confused, not knowing where she was, or who she was, and he walked into the room she would cry, and sometimes even start screaming. He would then have to push the call button for the nurse and then leave her to their care.
Those days seemed to come more and more often. Then again, with the passing of summer into fall, he wasn't feeling as strong as he used to either. This lady he visited every day was his wife. They had been married almost 50 years. Unfortunately, the last five had been spent with them sleeping apart. His wife needed almost constant monitoring and to his chagrin, seemed to sleep better, and rest easier when she slept by herself. The doctors couldn't explain why; they told him there was still a lot they needed to learn about her disease.
He knew, however, that he hadn't slept well since they'd begun sleeping apart. That's why, after he was fairly certain she was asleep, he would walk down the hall and sit down on the chair next to her bed and watch her sleep. The nurses discouraged it, because if she happened to wake up, he usually frightened her. Evening and nighttime were her worst time - the time she had the most problem remembering who she was and where she was. Sometimes - and it hadn't happened often - she would wake up during the night and look over at him and know him! She would smile, and it would light up her beautiful face, and she would reach out for his hand. They would remain that way for the rest of the night; her outstretched hand holding his until morning came. But then she would wake up, and she wouldn't know him again.
He came to the care center with his wife when the effects of her illness and his heart condition were more than he could deal with alone. "Her illness," he said out loud with a scoff. He still had problems saying the name of her disease out loud: Alzheimer's, the name of the hideous, emptying disease. He needed help caring for her, and there was no question about his remaining at their home alone. So he boarded up the house, sold the land it sat on, and admitted them both to the care center.
His wife's disease began slowly, insidiously, as many disgusting diseases do. She would forget where she had placed her car keys, or she forgot someone's name or an event. But then, who hadn't? They were busy, active people; living busy, happy, active lives. They wrote the instances off to everyday stresses and worries of living in today's world. One day, however, she received a call from her, while he was at work. He could hardly understand the words and at first didn't recognize whom it was that had called him through the near hysterical crying. "Please help me!" she had sobbed into the cell phone. "I don't know where I am or how to get home." He had found her three blocks from their home.
He took her to a doctor and lived through the day of testing they put her through, which seemed to last an eternity. The day the doctor sat them down in his office and gave them her diagnosis was one of the worst days of his life, second only to the death of one of their five children. The doctor told them that she was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease - to say the name still caused that sinking feeling in his stomach. His wife still looked beautiful. However, her lovely eyes were vacant most of the time and filled with violence at other times.
His wife wasn't they only one struggling with the effects of disease. He sighed as he tried to take a deeper breath than his normal shallow ones. His resulting coughing spell told him that his heart condition was going to be giving him problems today. He never knew as a strong, strapping, young man that he had inherited his father's heart condition. Three operations later, however, he was dealing with a list of dos and don'ts the doctors had left him with, after they advised him they had done their best.
Tomorrow was special though. It was their 50th wedding anniversary. He was going to visit her in the morning, right after she woke up. She was at her best in the morning, which was funny, he thought, smiling wryly; she had always had problems waking up before ten in the morning when their children were small. Their children always knew to tiptoe around Mom until they got off to school.
He was going to take the notebook and go to visit her. He was going to read it to her and maybe, just maybe, it would be one of the special days… Maybe she would remember... The thought made him smile.
The drumming of the rain on the windowsill of his room awakened him that next morning. Well, there goes our walk through the park at the care center, he thought as he tried not to be disappointed. I guess we can go to the sunroom; she likes the roses there.
He walked down the hall to her room, slower than usual. The dampness of the weather had made his arthritis cause his joints to throb painfully. He reached out to turn the handle to the door of her room. He didn't realize that he had been holding his breath until he looked across the room at her and saw her smile at him. This was going to be a good day! He walked across the room to the side of her bed. "Hello," he said, "may I sit down in the chair next to your bed?" He knew by experience, what questions to ask and what type of greetings to say to her: ones that didn't try to force her too early to try to remember who she was, where she was, or what day or month it was. She just got frustrated, hurt and angry. He sat down next to her and smiled and waited for her to speak.
"How are you? " she asked.
"I'm feeling rather stiff this morning," he said.
She looked at him intently, and then said rather sheepishly, "I'm sorry. You look familiar to me, and I think I should know you, but I can't quite think of your name."
"That's okay," he said, trying not to let the hurt he felt show on his face or in his voice. This was not the first time it had happened, but it didn't make it hurt any less. "My name is William," he said, thinking of the Shakespeare sonnets he used to read to her at night.
"William, what a kind name," she said. Then she frowned and asked, "What is my name?"
"Your name is Mary," he said. He didn't want to deceive her by not giving her her real name, or his for that matter, but he had found, from experience that it was better she didn't have to be reminded again and again of her real name and his.
She smiled and repeated to herself, "William and Mary…Am I married?" she asked. She looked at her empty hands and decided, "I must not be, as I am not wearing a ring."
He swallowed and counted to ten to give himself the strength to answer her. "No, you're not married," he said. He reminded himself, she wouldn't remember this conversation tomorrow or even later today.
She looked at his hand and said, "You're not wearing a ring either, so you're not married?"
"No, I am not, " he replied. He didn't know how much longer he could endure this conversation in spite of what he kept reminding himself, so he picked up the notebook. "Shall I read to you?" he asked.
"Oh, yes," she said, happily clapping her hands, "you tell the loveliest stories." She sat enthralled, as he read her the notebook from the beginning. Then it happened - the miracle he had been hoping for today. She looked at him when he closed the notebook and said, "I love to listen to you read, Jax. You have such a lovely voice."
He looked at her and smiled and said, "Thank you, Brenda."
They spent the day reminiscing about their full lives, their children, and their marriage. It was a lovely day, and he feared it would be over as it was sundown. Sundown was the hardest part of her day, the time when she felt the full effects of her disease. He braced himself and prepared for the disease to grip its tentacles around her brain again. Then the second miracle happened. Sundown came and went, and she was still the woman he fell in love with that summer - full of fiery determination and spirit. She wasn't the fearful, spiteful woman the disease had turned her into.
She fell asleep, lying in her bed with him at her side, holding her hand. He knew he had to leave before she woke in the morning. He couldn't expect the miracles to continue. He carefully removed his hand from Brenda's and closed the door to her room. Come morning she won't remember what happened today, he reminded himself. But it doesn't matter; today - our anniversary - she remembered who she was and who I was, and she remembered she chose me, he smiled.
As he walked down the corridor of the care center, he saw that the nursing staff change had occurred and the night shift nurses were on duty. He smiled when he saw Nancy sitting at her desk.
Nancy shook her head in mock disapproval at him, "If you are in this hallway, then you were visiting, and you know the rules about evening visits." She smiled as she went on to add, "Happy Anniversary, Mr. Jacks. I heard from the day nurses that you had a good visit today."
"Yes, we did," Jax said, beaming from ear to ear. "We talked about our lives, and our children. It was lovely day." Suddenly the effort and energy he put out through the day seemed to have their effects on him.
"Mr. Jacks, are you okay?" Nancy asked with concern.
"I'm fine, Nancy," Jax replied with more strength than he felt. "I'm just suddenly very tired. I think it was the excitement of the day. I'm going to my room and to bed."
"That's a good idea," she said. She got up from her desk and walked around it in an attempt to assist him to his room.
"I'm fine," he repeated and walked down the corridor to his room. He lay down on his bed, fully dressed. He didn't have the strength to change clothes into the blue silk pajamas that were his favorites. They were the last birthday gift Brenda had given him before her illness.
He smiled as he thought of Brenda, his wife and the only woman he had ever loved…
Before Nancy went off duty for the night, she decided to check in on her two favorite patients. Jax and Brenda are amazing, she thought. After everything they had been through, you could still tell how much they loved each other. In spite of Brenda's disease, Jax still visited her every day.
Nancy opened the door to Brenda's room and then quickly dialed the phone for the on-call doctor. Later, as she walked down the hallway to Jax's room, she was trying to decide when to tell him. She knew he was a night owl, and she didn't want another nurse to be the one to give him the news.
She turned the handle to the door to his room and wasn't surprised by what she found. He looked as if he was merely sleeping, but she knew otherwise. Jax had told her once that there was never anyone else in his life, but Brenda. He said he had never doubted what Brenda's choice would be, but if he had been wrong, he could never picture his life complete with anyone else…
She picked up his notebook and opened it to the first page…