Having discarded a dead fern he had just dug up, Drake put the shovel in the tool bin and was in front of his dusty work bench when Jeanette walked in, ducking under a hanging coil of yard hose and stepping around the yard waste bin with the dead plant. She made a sad face as she brushed her hand across a dried and dead fern frond, but smiled back when she saw that he’d noticed her. Knowing ferns were her favorite plant, he regretted leaving it there where she could not have missed it.
Wanting to distract her from the fern he quickly asked, “Are you trying to sneak up on me?”
“Well, it normally works.”
“I see. I also see you even wore your fern brooch. You wore it in show the night we first met. Do you recall, you were. . .”
“. . . on stage, in college drama with your daughter Bethany. I remember it well. When was that, 17, 19 years ago? You were my first catch,” she said with an aren’t-I-cute smile.
“Several of us gals would try to catch the attention of random guys in the audience and make a connection from the stage. I knew I caught you when you looked suddenly so uncomfortable.”
“Ha! I recall it well. During your solo I noticed that same brooch and then you caught my eye. You looked right at me and winked and smiled, lingering just long enough to make me wonder if I knew you. I realized I didn’t when Bethany, introduced us after the show.” Then Drake went on thinking, And if I had not been married and set with my family, I would have fallen for your eyes.
Jeanette leaned back and laughed, “Yea, that was fun and now you know that I always wear a fern frond of some kind. Many of the girls were wearing unicorns or rock stars but I chose ferns to stand out.” She reached up to adjust how it sat pinned above her left breast.
Drake felt anxious as he leaned back against the work bench and picked up a rag to wipe his hands off. “Yep, somehow you hooked yourself into my brain and I wanted to be your friend. I also recall that not long after my accident, you showed up as an intern when I worked for IBM. You visits became one of the happiest parts of my day while I tried to work during my recovery. I was still using and hating that wheel chair. Focusing on work was hard and your visits were wonderfully helpful. And yes, you always wore one of your fern brooches. You often wore a gold colored one when we were at the office.”
She sat down on an ice chest and crossed her legs. “I like to think they quietly make me memorable.”
Drake caught himself thinking, and you still look like that that cute college girl after all these years, That’s what I call memorable.
“And Drake, I was worried about you after the accident. You were so badly hurt so I stopped by whenever I could. You were always nice and friendly. You also know I had some rough times after college and you were always there to help me. When my brother died . . .” She pinched her lips and eyes and turned her chin away from the horrible memory before continuing, “sorry, I know I’ve said this too many times, but you really did keep me focused on just getting through the days until the pain became manageable. I’ll never forget how you cared for me when I had no one else.”
Drake dropped his gaze to the ground. “Yes, me in my wheel chair and you hurting when Rob died; we were quite the therapy group. I was concerned when IBM moved us to Dallas, but you left your job and followed us so we could continue our chats.”
She dropped her gaze too. “Yea. That was weird — I know, but back then you were the only strong and sane person I trusted. I could not bear being two time zones away.”
He looked at her and reluctantly pushed forward. “You recall how I was finally able to dump the wheel chair and, and your friendship helped me do that.”
She looked up at him hopefully and added, “And you helped me past a couple of aborted relationships.” She let the thought hang there between them, sensing something else, something painful was coming.
Drake gathered his strength and struggled to meet her eyes. “Yes, all true, but I need to tell you something I’m not happy about. We’ve been friends for a long time, but I think — I think we need to break it off. I have a family; a wife I love. Bethany is married but Chris is still here and,” he looked away from her, out the window. “Our friendship is just over the edge of appropriate. I need to dial it back somehow, but can’t see us doing that; so maybe a full break is the answer.” He met her sad eyes and continued. “It’s not right for a man to have a secret good friendship with a woman the same age as his daughter.”
At this, her expression began to change. “Is this Clair’s idea?”
He paused to think, Why would she suspect Clara? “No. Clair is barely aware of you. I’m not sure she’s even seen or heard of you since the play where we met.”
“So, where is this coming from? Drake, there’s been nothing inappropriate about our friendship. We’ve never done anything wrong.”
“It’s not anything we’ve done, it’s more of an emotional dependency. I’ve noticed that I talk more freely with you than I do Clair. I’ve also noticed that you talk about other men, you compare with me. This sets both of us up for failure.”
Jeanette, uncrossed her legs, placed her hands on the edges of the cooler and tightened her expression as her anger rose. He knew her well enough to recognize her extreme frustration.
“Drake — this is not fair. “You’ve never said or done anything wrong. Neither have I. I don’t think we’ve ever even touched one another.”
“Correct. We have never touched each other. I’ve been careful about that.”
“Then what put this idea into your head? Have I, been flirtatious or . . . ?” Her eyes were almost aflame, raising the temperature in the shop.
“No, that’s not an issue. It’s more about who we look forward to seeing the most and who we share our hardest truths with. For me, too often, it’s been you. It’s wrong that you know so many things about me that Clair doesn’t know. In a way, those things belong to Clare, not you.”
Jeanette closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to control her reaction, and confront the possibility of losing him. “Whatever! But has something changed, because I don’t think our friendship is any different that it’s been for years. I do trust you more than anyone else. I have noticed that we don’t see each other as often as we used to. Have I bothered you all this time?”
Drake turned away to look out the window again, not wanting to give her a fuller explanation, preferring to cut her off without one. But this would be incompatible with their friendship. They’d never treated each other that way. It would unjustly hurt her; but to tell her more would invite judgement and certainly lead to an argument.
“Don’t you turn away from me Drake. Why are you punishing me — for — for being a friend?”
He sighed for having failed to find a pain-free path for this discussion, so he answered, “It was one of my doctors. You know how I struggled after the accident to literally get back on my feet. Talking to you helped, but my psychiatrist has been helpful also. Her meds were rough at first, but she tweaked them and now things are better.” He paused again, trying and failing to find a softer way to say the final part.
“And . . . what?”
“And, she agrees that you and I have been good for each other but now, you’re hindering rather than helping my improvement. I’m so sorry Jeanette, but she made a good case and I agree with her.
“So, you told your psychiatrist about us; about me?”
He met her gaze and tried again to find the least painful path forward, suspecting it was not going to be pretty. He had seen her temper against others, but never against him.
– – = = ( * ) = = – –
Chris walked into the kitchen and his mom smiled, “There you are. Do you know where your father is? I see he got that dead fern dug up, but lunch is ready.”
He made a face and answered, “Yea. He’s out in the shop, but Mom, you need to call his doctor again. He’s still talking to someone who’s not really there.”