Authors: Jennifer L. Ray
by Jennifer L. Ray
June 10, 1993
The baseball landed somewhere on the other side of the fence. Ramsey swung around to face the makeshift home plate where Jackson stood. He shrugged his shoulders and dropped the bat.
"Don't be shrugging your shoulders. We gotta get that ball or Talmus is gone be mad," she said.
"Well, come on then girl," Jackson said irritably.
He and Ramsey had been close friends since kindergarten. Their houses were next door to one another and she was the only kid in the cove his age. The situation had remained the same over the years and they had eventually become inseparable.
"Who’s going over? I sure ain't," Ramsey said.
"Yeah, you're going over all right. I'm gone give you a hand up and then when you get the ball just throw it back over. I'll hang over the fence to pull you up." Jackson was used to telling Ramsey what to do. She was a quiet girl with a meek temperament for the most part. Sometimes she'd lose her temper with him, but that was rare. So, as usual, she did exactly what he said.
The problem came when it was time for him to pull her back over the fence. He'd underestimated his height and his strength. First of all, hanging over the fence was no easy feat and reaching her hands was impossible. In the end, after enduring her screams of terror as long as he could, Jackson did what any sixteen-year-old boy would do. He jumped over the eight-foot fence and joined her on the other side.
Jackson hadn't seen Ramsey cry in ages and the sight of her crying now undid the burgeoning manly side of him. He wrapped his arms around her and cooed. "Aww, Ramsey. I wasn't gone leave you over here. I know you scared of these woods. Why you so scared of 'em anyway?"
Ramsey's face rested in the crook of Jackson's neck and she could smell the musty scent that she'd grown used to. It wasn't bad. It wasn't good either, but she liked being in his arms. Her feelings for Jackson were all tangled. He'd gone from being her playmate to something more in the last two years. So, when he pressed his lips awkwardly against hers she didn't resist. When he pulled her shirt up and squeezed her breast painfully, she only whimpered. She looked into his face and he wasn't even looking at her. He was too busy fumbling with her clothes. His intensity was interesting, but worrisome.
Jackson also had stopped thinking of Ramsey as just a playmate. He didn't know when things had changed, but being close to her did things to him. He liked the way she smelled. He was aware whenever they touched like never before. Just now when she had cried and put her wet face and moist lips into his neck, he'd been polarized with lust. He wanted something he didn't know how to get from her. Jackson was so caught up that he didn't see the frown on her face or the nervous tremble of her lips.
"Ramsey, let me see you," he begged huskily. He went to his knees before her and Ramsey could feel his breath against her stomach as he undid her jeans and pulled them down. Everything after that was a blur and a pain; a pain Ramsey never forgot. He disappeared after that and she had not asked about him, but it was the last time she let her guard down with any male person for fear of a repetition of the travesty that occurred June tenth, nineteen ninety-three on the other side of the eight foot fence surrounding Maple Cove.
Ramsey Laughterdale was twenty-nine years old and a self-appointed confirmed spinster. She had no wish at all to marry, ever. As a result, her interests were broad and diverse. She was well traveled and well connected. Having finished her formal education one year before, she bought a small house on the outskirts of her hometown. Southaven, Mississippi was known as a retirement community and this suited Ramsey's needs just fine. She joined a team of doctors who specialized in geriatrics, the care of elderly people, and quickly became one of the "favorites." Her clientele soon became a host of close friends instead of patients. But, watch out now, because her good reputation and popularity was about to cause a bit of trouble in her carefully constructed safe haven. Her life was about to be tilted upon its axis.
Jackson Henry Steele sat across the kitchen table from his elderly grandfather and frowned. At seventy-six, dementia had taken over the once very, very sharp mind of Maximus Steele. He no longer recognized his only grandchild and couldn't dredge up any exciting stories about the old days of working on the railroad. Jackson watched as he struggled with trembling hand to bring the spoon to his mouth. His experience as a physical therapist kept him from intervening and taking over the menial task. He knew it would only add to his grandfather's debilitated state, if he took over even the simple activities that he could still do. So, he watched patiently as Maximus finished feeding himself.
Jackson had been away from Southaven for over ten years. Upon graduation, he had deliberately chosen a college as far away as possible. California was far enough away for him. His parents, Janie and Frank Steele, eventually packed their bags and followed him. He had been ecstatic to have his family live in the same city. Everything had gone well. He'd finished college and began his practice. Janie and Frank had opened a Bed & Breakfast. Life was good, full of momentum, and at its peak for them all and then Maximus had a stroke. Frank took it upon himself to delegate Jackson as the caretaker and sent him back to Southaven, Mississippi to convince Maximus to come to California.
"If you can't talk my stubborn father into coming here, then just stay there and take care of him. You owe him that much. After all, he got you out of that trouble you got into. If he hadn't talked some sense into Pamela, you would most likely be living a totally different life," Frank reminded him.
"Dad, you didn't have to bring that up. I would have gone anyway," Jackson mumbled.
So, he had taken a one-way flight back to Mississippi. He'd found his grandfather living in something very close to a pigsty. It had taken him a week to clean out old food and piles of trash. He'd washed clothes and bed linens. After that he had scrubbed the walls and the floors. Windows had to be pried open and left open for days in order for the foul odor to completely disappear. Then he had to go through piles of mail. He paid bills that had been neglected. Jackson fired the lady who his dad had hired to watch after Maximus. She was an alcoholic and he was sure that the empty beer bottles were hers. Maximus had never drunk alcohol to his recollection.
As he watched his grandfather eat, Jackson knew that this would be his new life for a while. It would finish Maximus off to have to move to California. Jackson loved him too much to ask that of him and he wasn't attached to anyone or anything anyway, so the sacrifice was his to make.
He decided that after the doctor's visit, he would call his dad and let him know he was staying. He was sure his dad wouldn't be surprised. He'd probably known before he sent him how things would turn out. Maximus would never have agreed to leave his little three bedroom house in the woods. He had lived here for fifty years. He'd brought Jackson's grandmother to live here when they were young and they had raised their son Frank and daughter Brooxie right here.
Jackson looked at the scribble on the piece of paper and tried to make out the doctor's name. It looked like he was to see a Dr. R. Dale located at Winsome Room Geriatrics on Goodman Road. The appointment time was clear enough to read; ten o'clock, which meant if he didn't hurry, they would be late.
After bathing Maximus and getting him dressed, Jackson had little time for his own grooming. So, he took a quick shower, brushed his teeth and threw on a pair of blue scrubs and tennis shoes. It was nine-thirty and it would take all of thirty minutes, if not more, to make it to the doctor's office. Mrs. Casey had explained to him nonchalantly that this would be Maximus' first visit with this doctor. The doctor had been referred to her by the emergency room physician as one of the best for elderly patients. After getting as much information and updates as he could from the woman, Jackson had taken great pleasure in firing her and sending her on her way. She hadn't shown the least bit emotion and had gone into the refrigerator and taken out stacks of frozen meat before leaving. Jackson had not said a word, but instead had watched in disbelief as she filled at least two bags with groceries before finally taking her leave. He was more than happy to see her go, even though she had taken virtually every bit of food in the house with her.
It was ten minutes past the hour, when he pulled up to the office building. By the time, he and Maximus made it to the desk; it was twenty minutes past the hour. Maximus' slow, shuffling gait, made walking more a mental chore than a physical one. Jackson had to keep reminding himself to be patient and not to rush his elderly grandfather.
"Who is his doctor," the receptionist asked.
"Dr. R. Dale," Jackson said.
"Oh, you mean Dr. Ramsey Laughterdale," she corrected him.
Jackson stared at her as if she had two heads. Surely, she couldn't mean Ramsey Laughterdale, his ex-childhood friend. He hadn't seen her since he'd taken her virginity. She had accused him of raping her and he had almost been sent to a juvenile hall because of it. If it had not been for his grandfather's intervention, he would have been destroyed. Maximus had talked to Pam, Ramsey's mom, and asked her if she would drop the charges if he removed Jackson from Maple Cove. Pam had agreed and Maximus had finished raising Jackson in the country. He had been sent to another school and had never seen Ramsey again. His parents had been extremely disappointed in him and to this day didn't let him forget how he had raped his childhood friend.
The whole incident had left Jackson angry on the inside and suspicious of so-called nice girls. He'd only had relationships with fast girls who showed what they were and made no pretense of what they wanted from him after that. He had not raped Ramsey. If she said so, she lied. She had been his first too and he had fumbled and made a fool of himself, but he had not raped her. Now he was about to come face-to-face with his lying childhood friend who tried to ruin his life. Jackson had backed down once before, but not this time. He was now a man full grown and he decided suddenly that he wanted revenge.
When Dr. Ramsey Laughterdale pulled the chart out of the rack on door six, she hesitated at the name. It was one she knew well; Jackson Steele's grandfather. She thumbed through the pages of the chart to find that his caretaker was a woman named Mrs. Casey. Relaxing only marginally, she turned the knob and entered the room.
She recognized him the minute she walked in. She had sensed in the hallway that he was there on the other side of the door. He'd grown much taller since the last time she had seen him. He was no fumbling boy anymore. His body had thickened and hardened and so had his personality from the look he was giving her. If not for Maximus Steele, his grandfather, she may not have known who he was. He could have been any man, except he wasn't just any man. He was the one who had taken her virginity 13 years ago and left without even saying goodbye.
"Hello, Mr. Steele. I'm Dr. Laughterdale. So, tell me what's going on with you today," she asked turning her back on the man lounging in her chair.
"He has dementia and any questions you may have for him need to be directed towards me," Jackson said coldly.
There was no avoiding it. She would have to face him. Ramsey took a deep breath and turned away from Mr. Steele to look into Jackson's face. He was in her chair and she knew he'd done so intentionally. He was wearing scrubs and she wondered what that meant. He knew who she was and she couldn't figure out what to say.
"You’re in the doctor's chair," she said.
"Do you make an issue out of it every time someone makes the mistake of sitting here or is it just me," he asked.
She was beautiful and he didn't like it. She was just the right height. The top of her head would reach his chin. She was wearing her hair long and loose about her shoulders. Clothes couldn’t hide the curves that went on and on up and down the length of her body. She wasn't skinny and she wasn't fat. She was built. The mole was still there just to the left underneath her full bottom lip. It was flat and very small, like a pin hole. He still remembered intentionally sliding his tongue over it when he kissed her that one time. For some reason it had fascinated him. He had been so in love with her back then.
"And you are?" she was asking incredibly.
Jackson crossed his arms over his chest and slowly sat up. He narrowed his eyes and let his gaze burn into her. He'd mastered the art of intimidation a long time ago, when he'd run into the occasional bigot while in college. He was a tall, dark, extremely handsome, and extremely intelligent man. He didn't kowtow too easily.