(This the first in a series of posts excerpted from draft chapters in the next – as yet unpublished − Ro Delahanty novel, “The Berlin Riddle.”)
“Can I ask you a personal question?” Frank said.
“Of course,” Ro answered without hesitation, although she did wonder where this might be going.
They were naked in the narrow, old-fashioned double bed in the master bedroom of Frank’s ranger cottage, still basking in the afterglow of their lovemaking. In the little over two months they’d been a couple it was the first time Ro had stayed with Frank. Sunday night had become “their night,” and up until now Frank had always stayed at Ro’s apartment.
“What’s this thing with you and trees?” he asked, careful to make the question sound casual.
Ro frowned, not because it was a difficult question, but just because it was not the one she had expected. What she’d been afraid of was a more difficult question like, “How do you feel about kids?”
“That’s your personal question?” Ro said, but with a light tone.
“That’s as personal as it gets,” Frank said, adding, “I’m serious. I know you like to run in my woods.” He meant, of course, the miles of wooded hiking and equestrian trails in “his” state park. “And earlier today… Uh, I guess it was yesterday… You went out of your way to lay your hand on the cottonwood next to my patio; it was almost like you were touching the arm of a dear friend. I got curious.”
Frank had grilled steaks for them on the patio off his kitchen the previous afternoon. On the east side of the ranger’s cottage, it looked out across a grassy meadow. A huge old cottonwood flanked the patio on the north.
“Oh,” Ro said, almost like someone who’d been caught doing something they weren’t supposed to. While she knew exactly what Frank was talking about, it did turn out to be a difficult question only because she had never had to articulate her “thing” for trees out loud to anyone before. While Atti, her best friend, knew about Ro’s thing for trees, Atti had never asked her to explain it, had just accepted it as being part of who her friend was.
“Um,” she said, buying for time because she didn’t know where to start.
Frank swung around in the bed and sat facing her, his arms across raised knees; he waited with a patient expression.
Ro, who had been lying on her back, her head on some pillows, pushed herself into a sitting position.
“I guess I’ve had a ‘thing’ – as you call it – for trees,” she said, “for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid my brother and I and neighbor kids liked to play in the woods behind our house. My dad and I would go for hikes on your trails here in the parks. Now, as you said, they are my favorite place for a run.”
“I like to be in the woods, too, Ro. That’s one reason I became a park ranger; I’d much rather be out here than in an office somewhere. But I have the feeling your thing for trees
is more of a ‘thing’ than just a pleasant hike – or run, in your case – through the woods.”
To be continued…
(C) 2018 Dave Lager