Colter’s Choice

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Jenna stood at the window, holding back the lace curtain with a delicate hand. She could feel Nadine’s eyes on her, and knew what the woman wanted. “It’s a beautiful day,” Jenna said in her soft, husky voice delightfully touched with a Southern accent, looking out the second floor window. “The flowers are blooming everywhere, pink, and yellow, and red. The magnolia trees are full of blossoms. The sky is gorgeous: blue with just a hint of wispy clouds.”

“And…and Colter?” Nadine wheezed from the bed.

Jenna tilted her head of light brown wavy hair to the sound of the lawnmower. A tall, thin, dark-headed man in khakis and a t-shirt pushed the machine through thick green grass.

“He’s mowing…again,” she said. Colter mowed every four days in the summer, whether the lawn needed it or not. He hated to let it get tall.

“Jen,” Nadine managed.

The intensity in Nadine’s tone turned Jenna around. Concern showing in her almond-shaped blue eyes, she walked in long strides back to the arm chair kept by Nadine’s bed just for her use. She spent many long hours in this room reading to Nadine, and the comfortable chair suited her needs.

Nadine stared at her for a long time before speaking. Her eyes had a shiny gloss to them. She was very pale, and it was impossible to believe she was only thirty-two. The sickness that consumed her body had been with her for thirteen years and was now in its final stages. And yet she lingered, day after day, when she so wished to be done with it.

“Colter…” Nadine said at last.

Jenna sat up. “Yes, Nadine?”

“He tries so hard.”

“I know he does.”

“He’s a good man.”

“Of course he is, Nadine.”

“Does he ever…touch you?”

Jenna gaped at the woman. She could hardly believe Nadine would ask her such a thing. “Of course not, Nadine. Why do you even ask that?”

“Why doesn’t he ever touch you?” the woman wheezed.

Jenna moved uneasily. “Nadine, Colter is a good man. He would never cross that line.”

“He’s a man, Jenna. A man. I worry about him.”

“He’s a minister, Nadine. He’s disciplined.”

“I hate that he’s going without…because of me. I want him to be happy.”

“He is happy, Nadine,” Jenna lied.

“No,” Nadine said quickly. “He’s wasting away, just like me. You think I don’t see it—” a deep, wheezing breath, “—but I do. I see how thin he is. Emaciated. Stooped over like an old man. God, he was so handsome once. So full of life. Look at what—” Her body shook with sobs. “Look at what I’ve done to him!”

Nadine rarely cried. It took too much out of her. But her sadness had been building for a long time. Jenna moved to the bed and put a hand on the woman’s arm. Nadine was too frail to hold.

It took a long time for Nadine to recover. She took Jenna’s hand in her own and held it tight.

“Jenna, I need for you to do something for me. I need…I want…you to let Colter touch you.”

Jenna tried to pull her hand away.

“No,” Nadine said forcefully. “Listen to me. You’re young. Unattached. You aren’t even a Methodist. He knows you. How could he miss how pretty you are? Jenna, all you have to do is give him a little encouragement.”

“I’m not listening to this,” Jenna said firmly, once more trying to pull her hand away from Nadine’s.

But the other woman was determined to be heard. “I’ve thought about this a long time, Jenna. I respect you and I like you. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t ask you. But you’ve been so good to me, always so gentle and sweet. I only wish Colter had someone to care for him the way you care for me.”

“He isn’t sick, Nadine. He’s blessed with health. And Colter is a grown man. He takes care of his own needs. Besides, he doesn’t lack for affection. The ladies in the church are always bringing him food and hugging him. Now,” she continued firmly, “I want you to close your eyes and sleep. You’ve talked way too much and you’re going to be exhausted. I’ll check in on you before the night nurse comes.”

Jenna tucked Nadine in and quietly left the room. Once in the hallway, her composure left her. She slumped against the wall and buried her face in her hands. Oh God, how could Nadine have given her such a request? What could the poor woman have been thinking? Very slowly Jenna stood up straight and walked to the end of the hall where the stairs led down to the first floor. She could hear Colter in the kitchen getting something cold to drink. After her conversation with Nadine she really didn’t want to be around him. But there was no other reason for her to be downstairs, so she stepped into the kitchen, immediately overwhelmed by the strong smell of gasoline and cut grass and male sweat that lingered on his clothes.

He glimpsed rather than looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “Hello,” he said stiffly, and turned back to the sandwich he was assembling. He was usually this way with her, short and distant. She’d let it bother her for the first year of her employment and then decided it wasn’t worth thinking about.

Jenna didn’t say anything in return. She sat down at the bahis firmaları kitchen table and stared at nothing in particular. When he finally joined her at the table with his sandwich, he was bewildered why she was just sitting there. Then he noticed her face.

“Are you upset?” he asked. Of course, he knew she was upset. He was just trying to go about it politely.

“Yes.” She looked down at her hands. “I’m really starting to think that…well, maybe you should get another caregiver.”

He choked on his sandwich. When he finally recovered he was visibly distressed. “Jenna, you can’t be serious. You’ve been with us for two years. The end is almost here. No. I can’t have someone new coming in now.”

Jenna shook her head. Her blue eyes brimmed with tears.

Colter leaned across the table, his own deep hazel eyes intent on her face, and put his hand on her arm. “Jenna, what is it? What happened with Nadine? Did she say something to you?”

“Yes,” she whispered. She had no intension of telling him what it was about. But just letting him know that it was Nadine’s doing made her feel better.

“What did she say?”

“Nothing important,” Jenna said dismissingly. “Just a lot of nonsense.”

“What kind of nonsense?’

“Rambling. She worries about stuff.”

“What stuff?”

Jenna sucked in a long breath and let it out slowly. Why did he have to be so persistent? “About you, mostly.”

“What about me?’

She looked at him and wished he would stop asking questions. “She just worries about…well, you know, are you eating right.” Jenna couldn’t believe she was lying to a minister. “Stuff like that.”

“I see.”

He continued eating his sandwich. Jenna thought he didn’t look convinced, but at least the questions had stopped.

“I need some air,” she said and got up quickly from the table to bolt out the back door. Wearing a summery skirt and top, she walked quickly across the backyard, relieved by the slight breeze that stirred the heavy air. June in central Georgia could be suffocating. The breeze helped, but it was the heavy shade of pines that gave the most relief from the heat. The lawn smelled good having just been cut. She continued leisurely towards the narrow creek that meandered across the back yard. Beyond the creek, the woods stretched on in subtle wilderness. She loved it here. She loved to sit on the stone bench and watch the deer that chanced upon her, how they would look at her with their big brown eyes as though asking why she was trampling on their territory.

Footsteps crushed the soft grass behind her. She felt Colter’s presence more than saw it. He came around the bench and sat down next to her, leaning forward with his elbows on his thighs and his fingers making a little tent. He glanced once at her face and then out into the woods. After a long moment he spoke.

“Jenna, when people have a lot of time on their hands like Nadine does, they get crazy thoughts going around in their heads that to the rest of us just seem…well, crazy. Nadine says things that to her make perfect sense but can be very upsetting for the person on the receiving end. She doesn’t understand that after she’s gone, we have to continue with our lives and the choices we make now. So the best thing to do when she says strange things to you or asks you to do something that makes you uncomfortable is to just pacify her as best you can and go on.”

Jenna nodded. “You’re right,” she said, because she felt agreeing with him was the best thing to do.

Colter sat back on the bench. “So what was it she asked you to do?”

“Colter, I’m just not….” She sighed. “I’m not comfortable talking about it.”

“She didn’t ask you to help her die, did she?”

“No. Oh gosh, no. You know I would tell you right away if she did.”

“As long as we have that clear.”

He stood up abruptly and walked a little ways away from her. “Jenna, it may be awhile before Nadine finally passes on. She’s not going to drop the subject.”

Jenna looked up at him. “What subject?’

Colter put his hands in his pockets. “Don’t you realize she talked to me about it first before she did you?”

“About….?” She couldn’t say it. She needed him to.

He brought one hand out of his pocket to gesture between them. “About…us.”

Us. The word fell on her ears but she could hardly believe he’d said it. She looked away from him, confused, breathless, angry at the hot blush that was streaking up her neck to her face. She wanted to run but knew it would look silly and she would never be able to come back.

“Look,” Colter said in full pastor mode. “There’s nothing to be afraid of or ashamed about here. I have a sick wife who loves me and wants me to be happy. She has a young caregiver who is compassionate and sensitive. In her mind, putting those two things together makes perfect sense. You and I know it would be all wrong and of course, it will never happen. But Nadine is sick, Jenna. She needs your understanding on this. I know you can do it. Please try.”

With that he turned away and strode kaçak iddaa back to the house. Jenna watched him out of her periphery. God, how could he be so strong? Or blind? Was she really able to mask her feelings that well? Could he not see how much she wanted him to do the things Nadine had suggested?

As she walked home that evening, her mind was a puddle of morose thoughts. Her grandmother’s white clapboard house sat a ways off the road, with a sweeping driveway and azalea bushes that disguised their genteel poverty. Between her check from the minister and Granny’s Social Security, they just managed to pay the bills and keep up the house. Jenna couldn’t even afford a car, though she was saving her pennies to buy one. She was a bit peeved to see her cousin’s new orange Mustang in the driveway. Felicia always had money to burn. It irked Jenna that her older cousin lived a fabulous lifestyle taking off her clothes for money while Jenna behaved herself and made pittance.

Felicia sprawled in the living room, a hundred and twenty pounds of gold-dripping smuttiness. She rolled her head on the back of the sofa to look at Jenna as she came through the door. “There she be,” she crowed for no one’s benefit. “My little cuz, back from reading psalms to the preacher’s wife.”

“Felicia, do you try to sound like a wigger or does it just come naturally?” Jenna asked derisively.

“Baby girl, you are just too dang full of yourself.”

Jenna didn’t answer. She went in the kitchen to see what Granny was cooking. There was a plate on the counter and a note from Granny saying she had gone to play bunko at a friend’s. Jenna got the plate and went back into the living room to eat.

“Why are you here?” she asked Felicia unceremoniously.

“I have a question for you,” her cousin said. She fished her cell phone out of her purse, then held up the picture screen to Jenna. “Look at that. Tell me what you see.”

Jenna leaned towards the fuzzy picture. In one corner was something that looked like an arm and part of a wall. The other part was a man. His face was barely illuminated but Jenna would have known it anywhere.

“That’s Reverend Woodhouse,” she said, stabbing a carrot and putting it in her mouth.

“That’s what I thought,” Felicia smiled, looking satisfied.

“Why did you take a picture of Colter?” Jenna asked.

“Just to piss you off,” Felicia retorted.

Jenna rolled her eyes. “So you have a picture of the man I work for. So what?”

“Don’t you want to know where I took it?”

“The Piggly Wiggly?” Jenna ventured sarcastically.

“No. I took it at a glory hole.”

Jenna kept chewing. “What’s a glory hole?” she asked naively.

Felicia snorted. “Why don’t you go google it?”

“Just tell me what it is, Felicia.”

The stripper gave her a long you-deserve-this-you-little-stuck-up-bitch look. “A glory hole,” she said slowly, “is a place where a person, usually a man, goes to get his dick sucked.”

Jenna choked on her potato. It took her a long moment to recover. When she did, she threw her fork at her cousin. It barely missed hitting Felicia in the eye.

“You fucking liar!” Jenna screamed. “Get your fucking disgusting ass out of here!”

Felicia faced her, arms akimbo. “Can’t take the truth, can you?” she snapped back. “You think he fucking walks on water, and every other night he’s in there getting anybody who’ll do it to suck him off.”

“He wouldn’t do that!” Jenna yelled, tears brimming her eyes.

“Baby, he’s a man. A man. His wife is fucking dying and he can’t get no pussy without causing a scandal. What else can he do?”

Jenna opened her mouth to say, “He wouldn’t,” one more time, but she couldn’t. She sat down on the edge of the sofa, leaning into her legs with her elbows. The events of the day rewinded in her mind. She could hear Nadine’s labored breath, that incessant wheezing, asking her to give Colter what he needed. God, no wonder. She might be sick, but Nadine still had a wife’s instincts. She knew that something was wrong with Colter. She simply hadn’t grasped what it was.

And Colter. Jenna closed her eyes, trying not to see him in her mind. Trying not to see his handsome face, now grown so thin in the wake of his tragic life. Why had she so easily dismissed his needs? Because it was easier to pretend he didn’t have them? As it was, she was relatively comfortable in his presence, believing him “above” such carnal urgings. She was the one who had felt so ashamed, as night as night she’d laid in bed and imagined him making love to her.

Felicia was staring at her. “Man, you got it bad,” she drawled. “Does he know how you feel?”

“No.”

“Why the hell not? You’re there everyday, including Sundays. He works from his house. My God, I don’t see how the two of you weren’t rolling in the hay a long time ago.”

Jenna shook her head. “Our relationship isn’t like that.”

“Fuck, I ain’t talking about no relationship. I’m talking about sex. That’s what the man wants.”

“God, Felicia, does everything have to be kaçak bahis sex with you?” Jenna cried, putting her hands to her temples and pressing to relieve the migraine that was building in her head.

Felicia said nothing. She shook her head at her younger cousin. Poor, poor Jenna. Being the good little girl for Granny. Not being a whoring slut like the rest of the women in the family. And while Felicia had sometimes envied Jenna’s clear conscience, she had to wonder if it was worth it. What a burden to bear, in love with a man she would never have. It was the kind of thing that could ruin a girl for life.

“You need to confront him,” Felicia said.

Jenna stared at her in disbelief. “Confront him?” she repeated. “You mean, tell him I know about it? Are you crazy? I wouldn’t insult him that way.”

“My God, girl. Are you telling me you’d rather he go around doing what he’s doing than getting some real loving?”

“It’s not my place,” Jenna snapped.

“It is your place,” Felicia argued. “If you really care about him, it is your place. How much longer do you think he can keep this a secret? I’ve already seen him in there a couple of times now. Someone else is going to recognize him and then his career will be over. You need to tell him.”

Jenna put up her hands. “No. No. You need to stop. Please. Just go away. Seriously. Go away, Felicia. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Felicia hesitated, then let out a long, resigned sigh. She picked up her purse and headed out the door.

“Just one thing,” she said as she stood on the threshold. “This place he goes to. It’s down towards Monroe, about a mile north of the highway. It’s called Bubbles. I guess you could say it’s a full-service strip joint, if you know what I mean. You go in the back like you’re going to the toilets, but instead you go through an Employees Only door and down the stairs. There’s a basement. Guys have to pay to get in but girls are free. You’ll see these little booths with chairs facing a window. There’s a live show going on a good part of the time. You’ll understand the rest of it when you see it.”

With that Felicia turned away, closing the door behind her. Jenna sank to the sofa and hugged her legs. She heard the roar of the Mustang’s engine and tires squealing as Felicia pulled away. For a long while Jenna simply sat that way, her thoughts taking a haphazard course. She told herself that she didn’t care that much about Colter; that if indeed he were doing those things, he wasn’t the man she thought him to be. She reasoned that if he was paying to get sex, then he deserved being found out. But she went to bed at nine, feeling sick to her stomach and depressed. When she woke up the next morning, her head was splitting.

“Granny, can you drive me to the Woodhouse’s?” she asked her grandmother, who read the morning paper on the front porch.

“Why, don’t you feel well? Take my car if you want, sweetie. I’m not going anywhere today. I drank a bunch of that boxed wine at the bunko party last night and I am sick as a dog.”

Jenna smiled, thinking her grandmother looked the picture of health, and dropped her a kiss. “Thanks, Granny. I’ll be home around seven as usual.”

“Take your time,” Granny replied. “The Braves are playing tonight so I’ll be glued to the television. You know how I am about my baseball.”

Jenna did know. Her grandmother was a rabid Braves fan.

The rest of the day passed in its usual tempo, with Jenna reading long stretches of a historical novel to Nadine, in between light physical therapy, bathing, eating, and massage. Jenna had long since gotten accustomed to seeing Nadine’s naked body. Except for her bright eyes and some grayish brown curls on her head, there was very little of the old Nadine left in that shrunken shell. She was unusually weak today, and Jenna was sure it had been yesterday’s emotional outburst that led to today’s exhaustion.

Colter was gone the whole day, coming home around two to get notes from his office before leaving again. Jenna did some light housekeeping while Nadine napped. In addition to the night nurse, Colter also employed a weekly housekeeper, but for the most part he cleaned up after himself. He slept in an adjoining bedroom and made his bed regularly. As Jenna peered into his room, she felt a sudden and unexpected urge to rifle through his things. She held herself in her arms to resist trampling on his privacy. What else was Colter hiding from her? she had to wonder. Did he have porn? Did he look at dirty stuff on the internet? The urge was overwhelming and she wheeled around to go downstairs. The same desire overtook her as she glanced about his office. She hated what she was feeling right now. She hated the jealousy that welled up within her. He paid someone to do what she would have gladly done for free. How dare he? How dare he?

She was never so glad as when the night nurse arrived to relieve her. It was Wednesday night and Colter was at church. Jenna checked in on Nadine one last time before walking outside to Granny’s car. It was a lovely summer night and Jenna didn’t much feel like going home to listen to the game that Granny would have on, turned up full blast. She decided to go to the mall and walk around, knowing Granny would call her if she got worried.

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