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Authors: J. D. Reid

Ashleigh's Dilemma

BOOK: Ashleigh's Dilemma
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Ashleigh’s Dilemma

 

 

 

 

By

J. D. Reid

 

A Novella

 

Copyrigh

2012 by J. D. Reid

All rights reserved.

Please give credit where credit is due.

Version 2.1
.1

 

 

Wolfe Island Press

Wolfe Island, Ontario, Canada

 

ISBN: 978-0-9885421-1-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For

RMV

Chapter I
- The Broken Pine

T
he pine with its dark branches and clutching roots leans and sways with the wind. For over fifty years, it has stood but in this cold night of horizontal rain, its life has come to an end. There is a loud cracking sound and the top half of the tree twists, splits, and then falls into Ashleigh McCrae's yard. There is a flash of blue as the falling limbs cut the power lines and the darkness, and the rain, and the cold night, reenters her world. Ashleigh opens the curtains and presses close to the glass, her hands cupped about her eyes. She immediately sees the problem, steps back and stamps her foot, “Argh!” She shakes her head and again stamps her foot, this time with a sigh of resignation.

There is
a blue light in the room, the light from a computer screen. Her laptop is working on batteries. She'd been working late into the night getting ready for tomorrow's presentation, although, truth be told, she'd been ready hours earlier; she had been going over the slides one more time. There is no purpose to this persistence with her work and she knows, deep down, that it is a merely a diversion, a way to keep the silence at bay. It is either work or watch mindless television, while growing increasingly paranoid as the crime series unfold and young lives lost, women exploited, sexual depredations inflicted on the young. With the power out, she is saved from that at least. The battery will not last long, however. She turns off the computer and stands in the dark absorbing the unusual silence. She shakes off the sense of dread that threatens to creep in and begins a search for, and then finds, the flashlight and the phone number she wants. Ashleigh is always prepared; she has emergency numbers posted everywhere, on her fridge, in her phone, on the garage door just in case she locks herself out. She uses her cell phone, always close at hand, and calls the power company and tells them what has happened. It is an automated line. They will attend to the problem as soon as possible. The expected response time is less than twenty-four hours. She breaks the connection - bed then.

 

Ashleigh McCrae dreams of worlds not yet known. She imagines them both asleep and awake. The worlds she envisions, the worlds she believes in, are just and true; but the world she lives in, along with everyone else, is, according to her, a fragmented and broken version of her own worlds. The real world is a world within which not much is right, or just; but her dreams are right, they represent worlds that should be. She thinks of the world she lives in and protects herself from as a parallel universe, but she smiles when she thinks this way because she knows it's silly. She knows the world is as it is and the worlds within her are only dreams.

The glue that holds Ashleigh's life together is her work. Work is everything to Ashleigh
. Work, hard work, is a noble way to spend a life, she argues - and she realizes, again, that this argument is debated only within. If asked, and some have, she states that she believes in progress, the progression of self and the human race; but alone in her home she understands that the notion of progress is an illusion. She sees the real world as Darwinian - survival of the fittest – and hopes that she's fit enough to make it to the end with her dignity and grace intact, which, according to Ashleigh, would be sufficient enough to qualify her life as having been a good one. She hopes people will say that about her when she's gone - that she led a good and productive life.

 

Two days after the pine fell, Ashleigh McCrae met Patrick Gunn for the first time. She had looked up his phone number the next morning and then called him and he agreed to drop by to size up the situation. There's no way to tell how much the cleanup will cost, he explained, until I take a look. It can be anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand. Big tree was it? She said it was. What kind? She didn't know. Later she would think back and realize that was the first time she had heard his voice and wonder at the unlikely connections that can lead to the completely unexpected - but not then; at the time, she was just been glad to get someone to take a look; there were a lot trees down. She had expected to be somewhere in the middle of a long list that would take days, if not weeks, to get through.

The day she met Patrick Gunn and shook his hand Ashleigh went to work as usual. She didn't expect him until early afternoon and so could spend the morning collating the comments on the presentation she had made a few days earlier. Thinking about that gripped her stomach; she had presented her case and now she had to de
fend it. It was fair, certainly; but she didn't like it even so. She didn't mind being wrong but sometimes people – men, mostly... the old men who sit back gloating in their traditionally ordained supremacy -  picked on what she said
not
because what she said was necessarily
that
wrong, but because they
could
  pick on her. From where she sat, there was no one to stop them from being as small as they were. She often wondered if they expected her to be wrong because of the simple fact she was a woman. The men on the review panel looked harder and were more diligent, and there, inevitably, it would be, something to
nit
about. It took hours to cover them all but she could not leave it undone. She'd have to address each one, one small
nit
at a time.

Ashleigh went home at lunch hour and found Patrick's truck parked in her driveway. This irritated her. He wasn't supposed to show up for another fifteen minutes. S
he parked beside his truck that towered monstrously over her small hybrid. This also irked her – the planet was in danger, didn't he know that? She found him in her back yard. He was carefully balancing along the length of the fallen trunk, weaving through the limbs while holding a broken limb in one hand. Unaware of her presence, he pirouetted as a high-wire juggler might and jumped off, landing lightly. He was smiling at his own ridiculousness and, to add to it, to show at least to himself that he was atypical of what many expected from hired labor, he lifted the broken limb close to his face – she thought he was going to bite it – and smelled it.

That's when Patrick Gunn looked up and saw Ashleigh McCrae for the first time. A smile exploded on his face. “I love the smell of broken pine in the morning’!” he called tossing the broken limb aside.

He stepped forward to greet her, taking off a glove, removing his cap. They shook hands and introduced one another. This alone surprised Ashleigh: the ope
nness of the man, his lack of gruffness. She was blushing. She hated it when she blushed. She didn't know why she couldn't control it; she'd had certainly tried hard enough. It was a physical thing and outside her ability to control, she realized and it irritated her to no end.

She did manage to say, “Does it loo
k bad?” He surprised her yet again by not answering her directly. He instead turned back to the fallen tree. “It was a fine old pine,” he said shaking his head suggesting both resignation of sadness; “It must have been here before they built the house.” He glanced back at her. “Your house was built in the eighties, right?” Ashleigh nodded. “That tree would have been at least twenty years old at that point,” he finished and turned to face her directly. “What kind of man – builder - would have taken the trouble to save it?” he asked forcefully;  “No one today – today, no matter how old, no matter how magnificent, that pine would have been cut down and the site leveled – cheaper that way.” He motioned again to the broken pine and then turned back to her, his hands on his hips, shaking his head. “That tree must have been at least fifty years old – older than me.”

“Older than me, too,” Ashleigh blurted out and couldn't believe she had done so
. She could feel the heat rush up into her face; worse, she knew he had noticed.

“Well, I should say so!” he said, smiling, looking at her
closely and liking what he saw.

Ashleigh shrugged and quickly changed the subject. ”Is it going to be as expensive as you said it might?” while still feeling the heat on her face
. There was a trickle of perspiration beginning on her back.

“You were not even born and this tree was already towering over most of the trees that must have surrounded it,” he said.

She immediately thought he was coming on to her. She was used to that and knew how to defend against it. Words were not necessary; she let the expression on her face as well her body language say all that needed to be said. She knew what the expression on her face looked like; she had studied and practiced in the mirror and years ago had perfected it. She had not always been aware that she could shape the expression on her face so that it could almost literally kill. Years ago, she used to wonder why people, men mostly, sometimes shrunk away from her, but then she had come to realize it was not what she was
thinking
, it was what she was
feeling
that drove them back. What she felt must show and show very clearly indeed, she knew. It was yet another thing she could not control. Again, she was very frustrated by it, and often angry with herself for being so transparent.

Transparent or not, she was who she was, and there was nothing she could do about it.
“She's cold... like ice. … A walkin' refrigerator... ” someone had said. She'd heard that and a lot more around corners and in adjacent offices when her colleagues hadn’t realized she was listening. It was not that she was
unfeeling
; it was just that she couldn't help herself from behaving in the way she did. It was, after all, more a matter of principle: why was he coming on to her? He didn't even know her. It was demeaning.

“Doe
s it look bad?” she asked again, confused by what she was feeling, shaking her head.

“No, not a
t all!” he replied, and laughed, “Are we talking about you or the tree?” His laughter quickly dropped off as she scowled. “You look a bit upset,” he quickly added, recovering, his smile returning. “Don’t be - we’ll have this cleaned up in a jiffy.”

The sound of his laughter had been full and warm and his smile echoed the same feeling.
It nonetheless annoyed her. She hadn’t noticed the tone or the warmth in him, at least not consciously even though the red returned to her face and her heart cinched in embarrassment. She shook her head, and exasperated as much with herself as with him, spit out, “Just let me know how much it's going to cost!” and, recovering, knowing how shrewish she had sounded, she added, trying to sound mollifying, “Anything you can do, I'd appreciate it! Just get it...” She waved her hands over it and the whole back yard, “Just get it cleaned up!”

Self-conscious and embarrassed, she stamped off. She began to climb the stairs leading up to the back deck and then realized she couldn't get in that way
and turned abruptly about – there was no way to disable the alarm from the back door. She flew down the stairs two at time and nearly ran to the front of the house to gain access through the garage.

“Now that is an interesting woman!” Patrick
declared to the empty yard as he replaced his cap, lifting the brim up so that it was perched on the back of his head. She was a woman to contend with, he knew; and there was some depth in her as well. He again laughed, more at himself than at her, he knew.

Inside the house, Ashleigh made preparations to return to work. It was settled then. She met him on the driveway as she slipped past him to her car. “Give me the bill when you're done,” she called out as she climbed in not looking up at him. He sat in his truck high above her as she started the car. She glanced in his direction as she backed up and saw that he saluted her with two fingers
to his brow and again smiled. She hated that – it was just so…
male!
She backed out, bounced off the curb, and drove away without looking back, forgetting him already. There was another design review coming up and she had to be prepared.

BOOK: Ashleigh's Dilemma
2.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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