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A Woman and her Van... I mean Man...

Part 3

By Christine ReedPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 7 min read
A Woman and her Van... I mean Man...
Photo by Artem Galychyi on Unsplash

It’s a distinct possibility that I’d completely lost my mind. Juniper’s headlights illuminated the dirt road as it unfurled beneath the back bumper of Landon’s 90’s era Dodge van. A thousand times I wondered if I’d be murdered, if I should just turn around and hightail it out of there, if I’d ever find my way home again.

But then we pulled off the dirt road into a clearing and turned off our engines. I stepped out of the van and looked up to the night sky. Stars twinkled in the gaps between the lodgepole pines; they reassured me that I was safe. The sweet vanilla pine scent filled my nostrils and trees rustled in the breeze.

“Nice, isn’t it?” Landon asked.

I nodded to the trees and the stars and the wind, as my arms wrapped tightly around my waist. His eyes held onto me in the darkness.

“Thank you for showing me,” I whispered.

“Of course.” His voice was warm in the chilly air.

“I think I’m going to turn in.”

“Good night.”

In the van, I made my bed and brushed my teeth. Under the covers, I stared up at the ceiling, my eyes wide open. The silence clogged my ears like wax, keeping my thoughts trapped in my head with no escape.

I had no right to be here with this man. This wasn’t my real life. Just some perverse fantasy. What did I think was going to happen? I couldn’t just start my life over at 39—forget all that came before. If only it were that easy. Twelve years ago, I gave birth to Jade. Nearly four years before that, I met Ben. In the last year, I lost everything I thought I’d ever love. Even if I forgot all that had happened—I wouldn’t be 23 again.

At elevation, the chill of the night found me wrapped in my down comforter. Juniper’s windows were part of her charm, but they were old and provided poor insulation. I’d thought to pack a propane heater, but the danger seemed to outweigh the benefit. Beneath the blankets I shivered, trying to remember the last time I’d slept cold and alone.

Family camping trips had always been a time for Jade, Ben and I to snuggle together in the tent, laughing and telling jokes well past her bedtime. Now, I slept with the stuffed lamb she’d had since birth. It had gone everywhere with Jade, including the extended hospital stays. Its wool was matted and grey from years of being loved. I just couldn’t bear to stuff it in a box in a closet somewhere—so I’d brought it to Frankie’s with me, and now with Juniper.

I peeked out the window at Landon’s van. Light snuck out around the window coverings; he was still awake. I tried not to imagine him in his space. I didn’t even know what the inside of his van looked like. A shifting picture formed in my mind—was the bed a twin or double? Were the walls and ceiling painted or wood-paneled? Had he kicked his clothes and shoes to the floor, or neatly folded them into their homes?

By Caleb White on Unsplash

Birds chirped in the trees and the sun peeked through Juniper’s paisley curtains. It was more peaceful than the campgrounds, I had to admit.

“What have you got going on today?” Landon asked over a steaming mug of tea. His bulk seemed absurd in Juniper’s interior and his masculinity clashed with the décor. I never intended to have a man in this little cocoon of mine. But the two tin mugs of peppermint tea fit right into my van and my heart.

“Nothing really,” I replied, thinking that I would be happy to spend the whole day here in this little patch of forest, beneath the pines.

“I was thinking of going to the lake, do you want to join me?” He asked.

It was like he knew all of my weaknesses.

“That sounds nice,” I said. We both slurped from our mugs as Landon observed my tiny space and I observed his handsome face. Ben had always regarded the world with shrewd assessment, I had become accustomed to his scrutinizing stare. Landon seemed to welcome the world in with wide accepting eyes. His gaze betrayed no judgement, only a desire to understand. At first glance, I might have thought Landon was harsh or rugged, but on closer inspection, he had an unmistakable softness about him.

“I can really feel you in here,” he said. “It’s sweet—the curtains, and the pillows… this rug really ties the room together.”

I hid my blushed cheeks behind another peppermint sip.

“Thank you,” I said.

His eyes landed on the paper-wrapped box that just didn’t seem to have a home in the van. I shuffled it from the counter to the floor to under the table depending on where I was at the moment. But I couldn’t seem to find a permanent spot for it to live. To accommodate both our bodies, I had settled it between the driver and passenger seat.

By Brandable Box on Unsplash

A look of curiosity crept onto his face, but he asked no questions. I didn’t know what I would say if he had. I couldn’t possibly explain the contents of the package, or the reason I kept them so unincorporated in my new home. I barely knew this man—it was none of his business anyway.

***

In the copilot seat of Landon’s van, my stomach clenched at the thought of Juniper alone in the forest all day. I had little in the way of valuables, but it felt so vulnerable to leave my whole life sitting out there.

Landon talked easily about the places in Colorado he’d camped and visited—making a list for me. When we reached Dillon Reservoir, he unfolded an origami kayak. I’d never seen anything like it.

“It only has one seat, but I think we can both fit if you want to try.” I thought I detected the tiniest wiggle of his eyebrow—a playful wink.

I pulled the oar against the weight of our two bodies pressed together in the little boat. The sun sparkled on the water and penetrated my skin. I could hear Landon’s measured breathing over the swishing sounds of the paddle and the laughter of the family in a long canoe who passed by us. He was calm, steady. Like a meditation, I focused on his breath as I paddled. Inhale, stroke, exhale, stroke, inhale, stroke, exhale, stroke.

When I grew tired of paddling, he reached his arms around me and took the oar. In a few long strokes, he brought us to a rocking stillness in the middle of the reservoir. The cloudless blue sky reached right down from the heavens and touched the mountaintops surrounding us. He settled the oar in its cradle and leaned back into the seat.

By Lesly Derksen on Unsplash

I closed my eyes to everyone else on the water and lay back onto his chest. His hands came to rest on my elbows, provoking an eruption of goosebumps over my body.

“Are you cold?” he asked.

I shook my head against his chest, keeping my eyes closed—but I couldn’t keep the mischievous smile from my lips. His hand left my arm and soon his fingertip grazed the bridge of my nose, the dimple on my cheek, the curve of my lips.

***

Back on the shore, we lazed in the sun. Landon read a battered copy of The Road while I stared at a blank page in my journal. Yesterday I wrote I hurt, I hurt, I hurt. Today—I wanted to write I feel, I hope, I love. How could so much change in one day? I had no right to this ease. Between moments of lightness, the grief poured back in. Doubling to make up for lost time.

By Hannah Jacobson on Unsplash

Concentration darkened Landon’s features as he read. I felt his gaze on me as I stared down into my journal, but he never met my eyes when I looked up. I held the pen, suspended above the page—unsure how to proceed. Perhaps he thought I wanted to write about him. I wanted nothing more than to write about him. To do so felt like a betrayal. To this point, my journal had been nothing more than a catalog of pain and despair with Jade’s name written all over it. In the past year, I’d written rarely even of Ben. Our love had melted slowly away like an ice cube in water, its disappearance subtle and painless—inevitable.

“Where are you thinking of going after Colorado?” Landon’s voice broke my thoughts.

“I was thinking of the Grand Canyon,” I said. “Have you ever been?”

“You should, and I have.” A wistful look crossed his face. It made him appear wise beyond his years.

When we rose to leave, I shook out the blanket we’d been laying on and folded it neatly over my arm. We rode in a comfortable silence back to the forest. I thought I saw him sneaking glances at me across the dashboard. The energy between us was inviting, but I guarded myself against it.

That night, we stood again beneath the stars. Again, we said good night. Before I could reach for Juniper’s door and my bed, I was wrapped in Landon’s embrace. His lips found mine in the moonlight, and I breathed his kiss into my being. For one moment I felt no pain, no memory, no regrets, no shame.

But the moment was over as quickly as it had come.

“Good night,” I choked and fumbled for the door. I thrust my body over the threshold and into the safety of Juniper’s interior. Her cheerful paisley and pressed wood cabinetry greeted me as always.

I could see Landon’s shadow through the curtains, he stood in the darkness for a while.

***

This is Part 3 of a 6 part story-- Click to PART 4

RETURN TO PART 2

***

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About the Creator

Christine Reed

Author of the award-winning debut memoir, Alone in Wonderland. Christine writes about outdoor adventure, familial relationships, friendship, grief and trauma. She's passionate about hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, & storytelling.

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