“He reached out and lightly touched her hair. There’s no way, he thought. I’m sunk. And my heart hasn’t beat the same since she walked into town.”
“I just wanted to make you happy,” he said. “Are you happy?”
“I’ve been happy a couple of times. What can I do so that you can join me?”
He laced his fingers through hers and holding her hands, stretched her arms up above her head, holding them there. “Baby, you don’t have to do anything but be present.”
“Did we have some understanding? That I was going to follow your nonmedical orders? Because I don't recall that in my personal life, I'm obligated to do everything you tell me."
"Guess you're not obligated to use your brain in your personal life, either."
"I filled your truck up with gas, you old pain in the ass."
"I didn't get caught in that piece of shit foreign job of yours, you obstinate little strumpet."
And she laughed at him so hard, tears came to her eyes and she had to leave, laughing all the way back to her cabin.
-Mel and Doc”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ve never been more sure about anything. I want this. If you can’t stay here, I’ll go anywhere you want to go.”
“But Jack, you love it here!”
“Don’t you realize I love you more? I need you in my life. You and our baby. God, Mel—I don’t care where that happens. As long as it happens.”
“Well, you’re just going to have to take a leap of faith,” he said.
“I think I can do that,” she said. “If you’re there to catch me.”
“I’m here,” he said. “I haven’t let you down yet, have I?”
She put her hand against his face. “No, Jack. You sure haven’t.”
“At some point he realized that he knew how
she felt—once you know how much you love someone, no one else would do.”
“I crashed," she said.
"It was a helluva crash. If you're going to go down, go down big. You should be proud." And then he smiled.
He held her hand as it lay on her lap while she lifted her brandy to her lips with the other hand, trembling a bit. When it was gone, he said, "Come on. I'm putting you to bed."
"What if I cry all night?"
"I'll be right here," he said.”
“It’s up to you.” He reached across the front seat and grabbed her hand. “It’s always up to you.” He drew her hand to his lips and pressed a soft kiss into her palm.”
“I mean, I don’t want to pass judgment—I just wish my husband didn’t shoot deer.”
“Oh, Mel, don’t worry. I’ve been hunting with your husband—the deer are completely safe.”
“I think that might be overly optimistic,” he said. “I do something. I’ll try not to hurt you.”
“Thanks a lot. You could have cut the girl some slack. We haven't had anything pretty to look at around here since Bradley's old golder retriever died died last fall.”
“Honey, I have a feeling he doesn’t think of you as a friend. Have you seen the way he looks at you?”
She glanced at him and as if he could feel her gaze, he turned his eyes on her. Soft and hard all at once. “Yeah,” Mel said. “He promised to stop doing that.”
“Does Playboy still run fiction?”
“I have absolutely no idea, Melinda,” he said, grinning.”
“People belong wherever they feel good. It can be a lot of different places. For a lot of different reasons.”
“Jack renovated the cabin without being asked, while I stayed at Doc’s house,” Mel said. “About the time I was going to make a break for it, he showed it to me. I said I’d give it a few more days. Then my first delivery occurred and I realized I should give the place a chance. There’s something about a successful delivery in a place like Virgin River where there’s no backup, no anesthesia… Just me and Mom… It’s indescribable.” “Then there’s Jack,” Brie said. “Jack,” Mel repeated. “I don’t know when I’ve met a kinder, stronger, more generous man. Your brother is wonderful, Brie. He’s amazing. Everyone in Virgin River loves him.” “My brother is in love with you,” Brie said. Mel shouldn’t have been shocked. Although he hadn’t said the words, she already knew it. Felt it. At first she thought he was just a remarkable lover, but soon she realized that he couldn’t touch her that way without an emotional investment, as well as a physical one. He gave her everything he had—and not just in the bedroom. It was in her mind to tell Brie—I’m a recent widow! I need time to digest this! I don’t feel free yet—free to accept another man’s love! Her cheeks grew warm and she said nothing. “I realize I’m biased, but when a man like Jack loves a woman, it’s a great honor.” “I agree,” Mel said quietly. *”
“Do you know what your husband is doing?” she asked. “Yes,” June said, sounding annoyed. “Not babysitting.” “Are you worried?” “Only that one of them will shoot off a toe. Why? Are you?” “Well… Yes! You should have seen them—in their vests and with those big guns. I mean, big guns!” “Well, there are bear out there, you know. You don’t want a peashooter,” June said. “You don’t have to worry about Jack, honey. I think it’s been established he’s a good shot, if he needs to be.” “What about Jim?” “Jim?” She laughed. “Mel, Jim used to do this for a living. He won’t admit he misses it just a little bit. But I swear I heard him giggle.” All”
“Jack had no idea what she might be thinking, but he thought, Don’t turn and run just because you got kissed. Things could be worse. After”
“Why don’t I give her a bottle while you eat. I brought coffee.” “Really, I didn’t know they made men like you,” she said, letting him follow her into the kitchen. When he put down the plate and thermos, she handed over the baby and tested the bottle. “You seem very comfortable with a newborn. For a man. A man with some nieces in Sacramento.” He just smiled at her. She passed him the bottle and got out two coffee mugs.”
“Did you see a lot of combat?” she asked. “A lot of combat,” he answered, directing the bottle into the baby’s mouth expertly. “Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq. Twice.” “No wonder you just want to fish.” “Twenty years in the marines will make a fisherman out of just about anyone.” “You seem too young to have retired.” “I’m forty. I decided it was time to get out when I got shot in the butt.” “Ouch. Complete recovery?” she asked, then surprised herself by feeling her cheeks grow warm. He lifted a corner of his mouth. “Except for the dimple. Wanna see?” “Thanks,”
“Baby girl, you haven’t done anything wrong. You’ve been through such a lot.” “Well, in my sane state, I know that. Jack knew about my problems, and he just hung in there, just kept loving me and loving me, putting all my needs ahead of his own, promising me I’d be safe with him, that I could trust him. Oh, God,” she said, tears coming in spite of the fact that she was so, so happy. “God, he’s wonderful. Joey,” she said in a near whisper, “he wants the baby as much as I do.” “This”
“What have you got in the truck? What’s that awful smell?” “A bear. Wanna see?” he asked, smiling. “A bear? Why on earth…?” “He was really pissed,” Jack said. “Come and see—he’s huge.” “Who shot him?” she asked. “Who’s taking credit or who actually shot him? Because I think everyone is taking credit.” He slipped an arm around her waist and walked her the rest of the way. She began to pick up the voices. “I swear, I heard Preacher scream,” someone said. “I didn’t scream, jag-off. That was a battle cry.” “Sounded like a little girl.” “More holes in that bear than in my head.” “He didn’t like that repellant so much, did he?” “I never saw one go through that stuff before. They usually just rub their little punkin eyes and run back in the woods.” “I’m telling you, Preacher screamed. Thought he was gonna cry like a baby.” “You wanna eat, jag-off?” There”
“Here’s another thing—I can’t get any cell phone reception here. I should let my family know I’m here safely. More or less.” “The pines are too tall, the mountains too steep. Use the land line—and don’t worry about the long distance cost. You have to be in touch with your family. Who is your family?” “Just an older married sister in Colorado Springs. She and her husband put up a collective and huge fuss about this—as if I was going into the Peace Corps or something. I should’ve listened.” “There will be a lot of people around here glad you didn’t,” he said. “I’m stubborn that way.” He smiled appreciatively. It made her instantly think, Don’t get any ideas, buster. I’m married to someone. Just because he isn’t here, doesn’t mean it’s over. However, there was something about a guy—at least six foot two and two hundred pounds of rock-hard muscle—holding a newborn with gentle deftness and skill. Then she saw him lower his lips to the baby’s head and inhale her scent, and some of the ice around Mel’s broken heart started to melt. “I’m going into Eureka today for supplies,” he said. “Need anything?” “Disposable diapers. Newborn. And since you know everyone, could you ask around if anyone can help out with the baby? Either full-time, part-time, whatever. It would be better for her to be in a family home than here at Doc’s with me.” “Besides,” he said, “you want to get out of here.” “I’ll help out with the baby for a couple of days, but I don’t want to stretch it out. I can’t stay here, Jack.” “I’ll ask around,” he said. And decided he might just forget to do that. Because, yes, she could. *”
“What have you got in the truck? What’s that awful smell?” “A bear. Wanna see?” he asked, smiling. “A bear? Why on earth…?” “He was really pissed,” Jack said. “Come and see—he’s huge.” “Who shot him?” she asked. “Who’s taking credit or who actually shot him? Because I think everyone is taking credit.” He slipped an arm around her waist and walked her the rest of the way. She began to pick up the voices. “I swear, I heard Preacher scream,” someone said. “I didn’t scream, jag-off. That was a battle cry.” “Sounded like a little girl.” “More holes in that bear than in my head.” “He didn’t like that repellant so much, did he?” “I never saw one go through that stuff before. They usually just rub their little punkin eyes and run back in the woods.” “I’m telling you, Preacher screamed. Thought he was gonna cry like a baby.” “You wanna eat, jag-off?” There was laughter all around. A carnival-like atmosphere ensued. The serious group that had left town in the morning had come back like soldiers from war, elated, victorious. Except this war turned out to be with a bear. Mel glanced in the back of the truck and jumped back. The bear not only filled the bed, he hung out the end. The claws on his paws were terrifying. He was tied in, tied down, even though he was dead. His eyes were open but sightless and his tongue hung out of his mouth. And he stunk to high heaven. “Who’s calling Fish and Game?” “Aw, do we have to call them? You know they’re gonna take the frickin’ bear. That’s my bear!” “It ain’t your bear, jag-off. I shot the bear,” Preacher insisted loudly. “You screamed like a girl and the rest of us shot the bear.” “Who really shot the bear?” Mel asked Jack. “I think Preacher shot the bear when he came at him. Then so did everybody else. And yeah, I think he screamed. I would have. That bear got so damn close.” But as he said this, he grinned like a boy who had just made a touchdown. Preacher stomped over to Jack and Mel. He bent down and whispered to Mel, “I did not scream.” He turned and stomped off. “Honey,”
“So. That’s all you got? A wrecked SUV and a bear? Must be a little anticlimactic for you,” she said. “You calling that bear anticlimactic? Baby, that is a huge frickin’ bear!” There must have been about twenty-five men, they all smelled bad, and they were filing into the bar. Mel sniffed Jack’s shirt. “Whew,” she said. “You smell almost as bad as the bear.” “It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he said. “Now we’ll have beer, food and cigars. I have to get in there and start serving beer while Preacher and Ricky fire up the barbecue pit.” “I’ll help,” she said, taking his hand. “It was a waste of time, wasn’t it?” “Not in my mind. Our forest is nice and tidy, we’re turning a trailer full of plants over to the sheriff and we got a mean old bear.” “You had fun,” she accused. “Not on purpose,” he said. But his smile was very large. “Is”
“You were right, you know—coming here was completely crazy. It was irrational. To think I’d choose to go to a town where there’s no mall, much less a day spa, and one restaurant that doesn’t have a menu? Please. No medical technology, ambulance service or local police—how is it I thought that would be easier, less stressful? I almost slid off the mountain on my way into town!” “Ah… Mel…” “We don’t even have cable, no cell phone signal most of the time. And there’s not a single person here who can admire my Cole Haan boots which, by the way, are starting to look like crap from traipsing around forests and farms. Did you know that any critical illness or injury has to be airlifted out of here? A person would be crazy to find this relaxing. Renewing.” She laughed. “The state I was in, when I was leaving L.A., I thought I absolutely had to escape all the challenges. It never occurred to me that challenge would be good for me. A completely new challenge.” “Mel…” “When I told Jack I was pregnant, after promising him I had the birth control taken care of, he should have said, ‘I’m outta here, babe.’ But you know what he said? He said, ‘I have to have you and the baby in my life, and if you can’t stay here, I’ll go anywhere.’” She sniffed a little and a tear rolled down her cheek. “When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is check to see if there are deer in the yard. Then I wonder what Preacher’s in the mood to fix for dinner. Jack’s usually already gone back to town—he likes splitting logs in the early morning—half the town wakes up to the sound of his ax striking wood. I see him five or ten times through the day and he always looks at me like we’ve been apart for a year. If I have a patient in labor, he stays up all night, just in case I need something. And when there are no patients at night, when he holds me before I fall asleep, bad TV reception is the last thing on my mind. “Am I staying here? I came here because I believed I’d lost everything that mattered, and ended up finding everything I’ve ever wanted in the world. Yeah, Joey. I’m staying. Jack’s here. Besides, I belong here now. I belong to them. They belong to me.” *”
“That woman is my woman, Jack said [...]”
“You okay, baby sis?” Joey asked. “I’m okay. I lost it last night.” She turned her head and looked up at her older sister. “Why didn’t I see that coming? You did.” “The anniversary of deaths has a reputation,” she said. “Even if you don’t remember the exact date—it’ll sneak up on you and knock the wind out of you.” “It sure did,” she said, laying her head back down on Joey’s shoulder. “I knew what day it was. I just didn’t expect such a dramatic event.” Joey stroked Mel’s hair. “You weren’t alone, at least.” “You just wouldn’t have believed it, even if you’d seen it. I was completely out of control, standing in the rain, screaming. I screamed for a long time. He just held me and let me. He kept telling me to let it out. Then he took care of me like you would a stroke victim. Undressed me, got me into dry clothes, gave me a brandy and put me to bed.” “I think Jack must be a very good man…” “Then”
“Think she’ll stay on awhile?” Preacher quietly asked Jack. Jack was frowning. “I think what she does to a pair of jeans ought to be against the law.” He looked at Preacher. “You okay here? I’m thinking of having a beer in Clear River.” It was code. There was a woman in Clear River. “I’m okay here,” Preacher said. *”
“Maybe in time Mel would join in, share her secrets. For now, though, she just wanted to hear theirs.”
“In these centuries when God,...was forging a Christian church so that it might fulfill the longing of a hungry world, He was at the same time perfecting His first religion, Judaism, so that it might stand as the permanent norm against which to judge all others. Whenever, in the future some new religion strayed too far from the basic precepts of Judaism, God could be assured that it was in error; so in the Galilee, His ancient cauldron of faith, he spent as much time upon the old Jews as He did upon the new Christians.”
“He’d never seen such a look on any human face: such a wilderness of innocent malice. A”
“Yes, alone we are, deeply alone, and always, in store for us, a layer of loneliness even deeper. There is nothing we can do to dispose of that. No, loneliness shouldn’t surprise us, as astonishing to experience as it may be. You can try yourself inside out, but all you are then is inside out and lonely instead of inside in and lonely. My stupid, stupid Merry dear, stupider even that your stupid father, not even blowing up buildings helps. It’s lonely if there are buildings and it’s lonely if there are buildings and it’s lonely if there are no buildings. There is no protest to be lodged against loneliness⎯not all the bombing campaigns in history have made a dent in it. The most lethal of manmade explosives can’t touch it. Stand in awe not of Communism, my idiot child, but of ordinary, everyday loneliness.”
Great. She shook her head. Not only am I having conversations with myself, but now I'm refusing to talk to me. This has got to be the first sign of madness.”
“shot at. All I did at Wotje was lose control”
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