An excerpt from chapter 13 of Waiting For Spring
“Yeah. That Kineo painting.”
I shrugged. “There’s not really much to tell. It’s a painting of a mountain and a lake.”
“Bullshit. There’s more to it than just that.” He propped himself up a little higher on his elbow and, for the first time since I’d known him, struggled to find words to express himself. “There’s something about it, Tess, and I don’t know what it is. I never saw a place that looked like that before. It’s almost like the mountain is…like it’s weeping. It’s like a heartbreak or something. I don’t even know how you do that with just a brush and some paint. Were you sad, or depressed or whatever, when you did it?”
“No. I wasn’t.”
I’d painted it during my first summer with Jason. Summer of Love. We’d gone to Moosehead Lake for a daytrip and had a great time. Mount Kineo was supposed to be the highlight of the day because neither of us had ever seen it. It was a beautiful, oddly shaped mountain. Narrow at the bottom, cresting high above the lake, then ending suddenly flat on one side, in high, flinty cliffs. At first glance, from a distance, it had reminded me of the whale from Pinocchio, and we had laughed about that.
“I wasn’t depressed. But when I was up there I heard this story…a legend about a–” I pulled the sheet up and started playing with it, making little accordion folds. “It sounds stupid now, but it was about an Indian princess. Her husband went out on a hunting trip and he never came back. She waited and waited, for a long time, but…nothing. No word from him, not anything from him. He was just…gone. She was so…heartbroken that she jumped off the cliff and into the water, and killed herself. It was…it…I don’t know. I guess it sort of stuck with me.”
It had done more than that. The woman who had told us the story–she was a waitress in a restaurant a few towns over from where the mountain stood–had done so very matter of factly. It was obvious she’d told it a thousand times, and it didn’t really mean anything to her other than as a minor point of interest for tourists. But it had scared the hell out of me, so badly that I couldn’t eat my lunch.
Are you feeling alright, Tess?
Yeah, Jase. Just a little carsick. I’ll be fine.
It was after sunset when we drove past the mountain again on our way home. It looked different somehow. Lonely. Forbidding. Rising out of the water like a haunted headstone.
We got home late, exhausted from the day and the drive, but I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake for hours watching his peaceful, sleeping face. I couldn’t stop thinking about the poor woman–who had probably never really existed–waiting for her husband to return. Sick with worry. Going over every horrifying possibility of what might have happened to him. Had he been killed in the forest by an animal? Come across a member of an enemy tribe or stumbled upon a white settlement? Maybe his canoe had capsized and he had drowned in the lake
Or maybe he had just run off. Got bored or restless. Or fell out of love. And just…left her.
I shot out of bed, shaking so badly that my teeth actually chattered, pulled out my easel and poured everything out onto a fresh canvas. Dark, frantic, heavy lines. Foggy. Black and grey and dark, dark blue. But I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t depressed when I painted that picture. I was scared out of my fucking mind. Scared of losing that feeling I had only just discovered, for the first time in my life, of being in love and having someone love me back. Safe and completely, truly happy. Most of all I was scared because I could imagine, for a brief, fatigue induced moment, why that Indian princess had climbed to the top of the steep, woody mountain. Looked over the edge. And jumped. Landing hard on the water.
Brian touched my cheek and I jumped, startled back to reality.
“All that stuff you’re feeling right now? You got that all on the canvas, Tess.” He ran his finger gently underneath both my eyes. I hadn’t realized I was crying. “But I’m gonna make sure you never feel like that again.”
I nodded, blinked back a few more tears, then gave him my best smile. It didn’t fool him but he didn’t say anything.
“It’s pretty late you know,” I said. “And you need to get up early in the morning.”
“Nice try. Even I don’t work on Sunday.” He brushed my cheek gently with his lips. Then he whispered softly in my ear, “I love you. You know that, don’t you?”
Just like that. Even though I’d already known it. So I said it back. “Yes I know. I love you, too.”
He fell asleep with his arm wrapped tight around me. He was so close that I could actually feel his breath, warm on my shoulder, his heart beating against my back. It was telling me that everything was okay again, that I was safe and loved. But I stayed awake all night anyway, shivering. Because I’d felt that way before. And I knew. Even if Brian didn’t.
Flying. Falling. Landing hard.