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Un Viaggo Da more

(a Journey to love)


                                   Tony Stewart

We are but insignificant little things

Flecks of dust lying on a desert’s floor

A tiny bubble in a layer of foam on the crest of an ocean wave

A mere ninety years we live in a world that has survived for millions without us


Do we not bleed within when we are wounded in love?

Do we not cry when we feel pain in our heart?

Do we not feel hurt?

Do we not suffer heartache and pain when we lose the one that we love?

And joy in our heart when love come knocking

Then maybe we are something special after all

Ts 1996



                                                                           Chapter One


I look lovingly at my beautiful young daughter, Charlene, smiling openly at her constant giggling as the swing momentarily takes her high, high up into the air … before rocketing back in the opposite direction at what, to her, feels like a hundred miles per hour.   She is a child, in the most delightful sense of the word.  At the moment she is in her element; here in the garden, playing, her family by her side.   She asks for nothing more.   And for the moment I can’t help but be drawn into that world. 

    Her long legs stretched fully forward, her head bent backwards almost to breaking point, she again screams excitedly as the adrenalin rushes through her small, beautiful body, completely unaware each piercing output from her lungs installs a new shaft of fear into my heart as her long, dark, hair caresses the soft green grass growing lushly beneath the swing; her feet coming to within a few feet of the brick fence that divides the neighbour's house from ours ... and then she passes back again in the wink of an eye … and I breathe a sigh of relief once again.

   Charlene looks so much like her mother at times it is almost eerie: The same perky nose, the same dark hair, the same elfin look about her… so beautiful, so innocent … so vulnerable.  When I see Charlene like this I cannot help but think of what happened to her mother.  The incident that could so easily have changed our lives forever had it not been for the intervention of God, or whoever, or whatever, it is that protects us; the unseen force that managed, against the odds, to get us back together, and I cannot help but pray that Charlene never has to go through what her mother did.

   A sudden movement at the corner of my eye distracted my attention from Charlene and I turn to find Jessica walking towards us juggling a pitcher of iced cola, plastic tumblers and some cupcakes. 

   “Thought you guys might be a bit thirsty,” She smiled, “and I am fairly certain all that effort you two are putting into doing not very much is giving you a hefty appetite.”

   “Why, thank you very much, Missus Jacobson.   We have been busy.   I believe if I push much harder this young lady is likely take off into outer space.  She could be the first female astronaut to come from this neck of the woods.   So I guess a quiet drink to celebrate the possibility of her fame is quite in order.”

   Accepting a drink I look closely at my wife, the love of my life, and smile.   After all these years I still found myself mesmerized by the radiance of the smile that emits from Jesse's face.  It is so very hard sometimes to understand how it had all threatened to go so horribly wrong for us; how easily we could have been separated forever.  I still felt bitter that so much of our love and life together was lost due to an arrogant, overbearing and totally unpleasant person who had been hell-bent on doing what he wanted to do – regardless of the consequences that befell his intended victims.

   “Are you alright, Johnny?”  Jesse asked, a frown threatening to replace the smile as she spoke, “You aren't delving back into that period of time again are you?”  

   “No.”  I lied, hoping my tongue was expressing my words with a lot more softness than the bitterness my memories were creating in my mind.

   “That is good, my darling.”  Jesse’s face resumed the smile it had been offering and inwardly, silently, I gave a sigh of relief.

    “The past is gone,” Jesse continued, “the future is now … our future …yours, mine and Charlene’s.”

   My drink still in my hand, I placed my free arm around her back, my fingers moving quickly upwards until they reached her neck and I pulled her gently forward until our lips met and for a moment I was completely unaware where I was – until a loud, attention demanding voice brought us back out of our dreamlike world.

   “Daddy - put Mummy back where you found her and push me.  You don’t know where she’s been.”

   Charlene's giggling chide caused us both to break up in laughter.   I released my hold on Jesse and did what I was told.  “This is it, young lady.  I am going to have to push you so hard … you might just end up on the moon.”

   “That's alright, Daddy, I am hungry enough to eat two craters of cheese.  But you can toss me some bread and ham to take with me, if you like.”

   Charlene's sense of humour was so like her mother's it was more like she had been cloned, rather than born.  Actually Charlene is not that much older than Jesse had been when we first met.

   Jesse was three and I was but a few months older when my family had moved to Springtown from interstate and the Jensens became our new next- door neighbours.   From the moment they met, both our parents had taken to each other like wildfire.  After only a few months one would have thought they had known each other all of their life, so I guess that it was pre-ordained that Jesse and I would become close friends, and as the years went on we became closer and closer.

   We played together all day, every day, when we were very young; we attended kindergarten and pre-school together; we played together in the back yard, the front yard and the local park.  We both played in the same junior soccer team, the same t-ball team and later, when we were forced by age to play in single gender teams, we would always be there for every game that the other was involved in.

   When I was about fourteen, around the same time that my voice was breaking, I discovered that I could sing quiet well, and if I could sing it was only natural for Jesse to try and join me.  To our mutual, and our parents, surprise and pleasure, nor only could we both sing, there was a unique blending with our voices and over the next few years we developed a special style with our harmonies that allowed us to win quite a few talent quests; in fact we won so many competitions we decided to go professional once we finished high school, or at least give it a good shot.

   We weren't interested in becoming super-stars; we just wanted to be good enough to earn a decent wage while being engaged in a profession that both appealed to us and one that we could do together.

    We practiced our music for two or three hours a day, combining our education with our anticipated future; we were learning to play guitar, piano and other instruments and undertaking professional singing lessons while studying the basics of accountancy and other enforced future necessities at school: We were readying ourselves for every eventuality in our preferred musical orientated future and we had already decided on the basics of our repertoire ... music from the fifties and sixties with a splattering of newer material as it arrived on the scene and as time went on we discovered musical comedy and decided it would be a worthy inclusion to our repertoire.  

   We both loved the rhythm, the beat, the romance of the music from that period.  We loved the harmonies of The Bee Gees, The Everley’s and The Hollies, the romance of Dean Martin, the soul of Ray Charles, the humour of Roger Miller and John D Loudermilk, and the rocking sounds of Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Elvis.

    But our musical appreciation was only a small part of our growing up years. We just loved being in each other's company; we traveled to and from school together, to the movies, dancing and skating.  Whenever, wherever we went, it was always together.   Our families even holidayed together ... and such fun times they were. 

   I remember on one occasion our parents booked us in for a week at a dude ranch.  Jesse and I looked forward to the trip for weeks on end.  We got out a pile of western D.V.Ds and books from the library to hone up on western lore and hassled our parents for weeks to buy us clothing that would be appropriate for such an adventure.  We figured by the time we arrived at the ranch we would make the locals think we had been raised in the west and were returning back to our roots.

   We were so keyed up the night before it still amazes our parents to this day how we ever got any sleep, but sleep we did and the next day we were beside ourselves with anticipation as we set off in the hired mini-bus.   Our spirits were high, our faces permanently locked in a grin, our tongues in danger of collapsing from wagging as we talked, giggled and sung …we were ready for fun and games the minute we arrived at the ranch, but we were destined for initial disappointment 

   When we had set off from home the sun had been shining: the sky had been blue: the temperature was rising at the rate the temperature for a perfect day was supposed to rise.  Everything nature was offering us was leading us into the perfect start to an incredibly perfect day.  But as the miles ticked away the sky became darker and darker until five miles from the ranch we hit the rain and it did not ease from that point on; possibly increasing in its intensity, as we ran the gauntlet between the car and the cabin once my completely dripping wet father had sorted things out with reception and obtained the keys to the cabin we were all sharing, though we may as well have walked at a slow pace we got so saturated.   Thank goodness the rooms had fireplaces inside and they were quickly put to good use drying both us and our clothes.   According to the receptionist, it had been raining for the three days prior to our arrival and it wasn’t about to change just for us.   We were forced to remain indoors for the rest of the day, playing some games we found in a cupboard and watching repeats of Gilligan and the Brady Bunch on the Television.   Jesse and I didn’t complain, but we were disappointed and ended up going to bed early that night and dreaming about what might have been.  

    But the next day was much better.  The powers to be that controlled the elements must have realized we had arrived, and had set about putting things right for our visit.   In fact it looked absolutely perfect.  The clouds were all gone, the ground was already starting to dry out and we were going out for our first ride.  Jesse, looking resplendent in her red cowboy hat and silk shirt, white bandana, tight blue jeans and genuine leather riding boots, could have been the epitome of the Hollywood cowgirls of the forties and fifties.  She looked gorgeous.  She could have been the cowgirl model for ‘Jesse’ in ‘Toy Story’.

   The sky was a dark shade of blue and the sun was shining brightly as she cockily strolled into the corral.  I could imagine some old cowboy singer singing “Happy Trails” in the background as she mounted that beautiful golden palomino named Geronimo as easily as if she was Calamity Jane.  

   Sitting tall in the saddle she called out “Yahoo!   I’m the Queen of the west!  Watch out Dodge City.”   Then taking the reins in her hands she jerked the horse’s head back, dug in with her boots and yelled, “Giddy up, Geronimo!”

   Well, the horse either became jealous of her cool outfit, or it resented her cockiness.  In either case Geronimo decided to teach Jesse who was boss.   Instead of responding to her enthusiastic tugging on the reins, Geronimo began walking at the slowest pace possible and continued munching away at tufts of grass that were scattered across the corral, totally ignoring her repeated requests for some action.                              

   “Come on, Geronimo,” she called encouragingly, “we don’t have all day.

   Jesse tried pulling the horse’s head up to stop him from eating, and get him moving, but it was all to no avail.  The horse, being the stronger of the two, simply pulled its head back down and resumed its wandering and grazing.    

   Jesse smiled bravely, but you could see she was getting a little bit upset, but she was also starting to become a little agitated.  Partly because she also was of a stubborn nature, and partly because of all of the giggles she could hear emitting from our little group, who, by now were all outside the enclosure and starting to head up the trail.

   “Shucks, Ma’am,” I called out in my best western voice, “this here’s no time to be horsing around.  We’ve got to start moseying up that there trail before sunset.  There are some pretty wild critters around these here parts just waiting for young stragglers to wander off from the herd.”

   But Jesse was not the least bit amused with me, or Geronimo.   She jerked hard on the reins and gave him the meanest slap on the rump you have ever seen.     

   Well, regardless of its intention, it worked.   Geronimo lifted his front legs off the ground, rolled his eyes and then, with a loud snort, he was off.   In fact the horse took off so fast, and so hard, it momentarily frightened the life out of Jesse who immediately tried to apply the brakes, but Geronimo didn’t want to have a bar of that.   She had indicated she wanted to go fast, and he was now quite willing to oblige.   And go he did … straight towards the gate that had been closed behind us after we had all passed through to prevent any of the unused horses following us out.   A ranch hand had been standing beside the gate, ready to open it once Jesse got her horse moving, but she was no way ready for the speed at which Geronimo charged towards her.

   Jesse was uncertain what to do next, after all she was a novice when it came to riding, but she knew enough to try and stay on the horse … falling off would possibly, probably, prove to be far too dangerous to attempt.   She would, most likely, fall under those hooves she could hear pounding like giant elephants on a rampage somewhere below her vibrating body.   And that would not be a good thing to happen.

   Then she saw the closed gate.   The gate was closed.  The horse would have to stop now, she sighed with relief … it had nowhere to go.  Jesse began to relax slightly, closing her eyes and offering a silent prayer of thanks to her unseen guardian at the knowledge of imminent safety.

   But Geronimo had other ideas.   He was not taking Jesse for a light-hearted canter; he was ready to move like the wind.   He would be Pegasus; a horse with wings, as the slap to his rump had indicated she had wanted him to be.   The closed gate would not prove to be a problem, merely a momentarily obstacle.     

   Instead of coming to a halt the horse increased its speed and a millisecond before crashing into the fence, as Jesse opened her mouth to scream, Geronimo stretched his front legs forward and upward - and his rear legs flew in the same motion, only in reverse, as his entire body became airborne.    

   Geronimo flew over the gate, landing with all four feet hitting the ground in perpetual motion, guaranteeing the odd couple could continue their journey of bonding as if nothing had attempted to interrupt it … and Jesse held on for dear life with her arms, her hands, her knees and anything else she could use to force her body and the crazy horse she was riding to become one to stop herself from falling off.

   Geronimo flew up the hill at a rate of knots, going so fast a racehorse would have been proud of his efforts.   Within seconds of jumping the gate, he and Jesse were passing the rest of our small group and disappearing into the dark shadows of the woods ahead leaving nothing bar a gust of wind in their wake. 

   Nobody said a word, we were too dumfounded to speak, but slowly a new realisation was dawning upon us … Jesse didn’t know how to ride a horse, never mind how to stop one … and, we suddenly realised, neither did any of us, really.   Actually, this was the first horse ride any of us had ever taken, and our lack of experience in such matters was quickly coming to the fore.  How we were handling our mounts was still really in the laps of the gods, and we could only hope that they would remain benevolent towards us as we travelled.  But what we could do to help poor Jesse was another matter.

   Now, what nobody in our little group knew, other than the trail rider, was that a landslide, following all the rain the area had received in the previous days, had blocked off the way Jesse was heading - and because the horse would be unable to go any further it would automatically come to a stop without any help from us. 

  But because he had decided in his wisdom not to share that information with us, there we all were, every single one of us, wishing so badly to chase after Jesse as fast as we could in order to save her, but, at the same time, hesitant to do so, lest our charges decided to follow the same pattern of misbehavior and take off without us being in control.  

   In a classic Catch 22 situation, knowing that we had to do something, because he wasn’t, we gave a half-hearted urge to our mounts to move faster, with a lump in the throat - and panic thumping in our hearts in case they did.

   Finally, after a minute or two watching a mixed bunch of city slickers giving extremely light fly swats to their horses rumps, shaking their reins up and down, while whispering half - hearted vocal instructions to their mounts to move faster, our guide must have finally interpreted the reasoning behind our strange behavior and decided to assure us that Geronimo would stop shortly and everything would be alright. 

  However, the trail rider’s belated decision to advise us on the facts, were of little consolation to us.   We were beside ourselves in anticipation of Jesse's impending date with disaster and were becoming more and more agitated at the heart stopping slowness of the progress we were making ... though the fear for our own safety helped make our worry about Jesse just a tad more tolerable.

   But we needn’t have worried.  As soon as we entered the woods we saw Jesse walking towards us – Geronimo grazing in the grass a short distance away. 

   Perhaps staggering may have been a better description of Jesse's movements. Her hands were hanging down, low, swinging from side to side like an orangutan - her legs crossing in front of each other, while her glazed eyes were fixated on the ground, her head too was swinging from side to side, reminding me of our last visit to the zoo. 

   I don’t think that at first Jesse realised that we were there and when, finally, she raised her head up to face us, I don’t think that she really saw us, never mind recognise us.   Somehow I don’t think that she was really in focus; in fact she was so busy seething I am sure that I saw smoke emitting from her ears.

   When Jesse had first looked at us we all froze in horror at the glaring, snarling, snorting creature that confronted us.   Covered in shining, smeared blood and wet grass, this was not the beautiful young princess of the silver screen that had bedazzled us only minutes earlier.  This was more like a swamp creature out on the loose. 

   A sweat had broken over every one of us at the very moment our eyes made contact with hers - everyone but the trail rider, that was, who simply grinned at the sight of Jesse and then turned his full attention to the conversation he was having with whoever was on the other end of his phone, presumably a doctor or the paramedics, we assumed.

   Then, as we all simultaneously dismounted and began our individual attempts to try and console this poor child who was obviously is such disarray as a result of her horrendous trauma after her fall from the horse, the trail rider called out to us … and his words confused us.

   “They’re sending up the truck to pick her up and the doctor will be here shortly to give her a check over, but a good hot bath, an ice pack possibly and certainly a change of clothes should see her right.”   He called out.

   I think, to a man, with the exception of Jesse herself, everybody looked disbelievingly at the trail rider.   How could anybody be so callous, we wondered?    A bath and a change of clothes indeed … look how much blood she’s lost … she’s covered in it.   And she probably has broken bones as well.

   But a growl and a strange, indecipherable mumble from Jesse distracted our attention from the trail rider’s insensitive comments and we returned our attention to Jesse  who seemed to be shaking her head in agreement with the trail rider… and it suddenly hit us ... Jesse was not covered in blood ... she was covered in mud.  The horse had come upon the landslide, summed up the   situation and instantly came to a stop.  Jesse had not been so lucky; failing to have a proper grip and stance on the horse, and certainly not expecting the sudden halt to proceedings, she had lost her seating and flew over the top of Geronimo, her fall softened by a pile of soft, slimy, water oozing mud. 

   There was no damage to Jesse's body, only to her pride ... and our laughing when we realised she was not hurt, just dirty, didn’t help matters either.  Still, by lunchtime, following a long hot bath and a massage from her mum, she was laughing with us, and later that day, in a new outfit and with a new horse, Jesse hit the trail once again.

    For myself, though, I wasn’t game to say one word in front of my new mount.  I had learnt a new respect for horses after the morning’s outing and I was quite happy to move at a snail's pace if that was what the horse wanted - especially when it was a golden Palomino named Geronimo.


                                                                         Chapter two


Jesse and I had shared many an adventure over the years and somewhere along the way our friendship reached an even higher level and turned to love.       

   As far as I can remember, as far as I understood our relationship, we had never really considered love to be a major ingredient in our life until the year we went snowing with some college friends.   Up until then I knew our friendship was unique, I knew we loved each other, but it was always at the level one had for a close sibling.   The word, love, at least in a romantic way, had never really entered the equation, at least not into my way of thinking.   I don’t think that I ever actually had any thoughts about our relationship except to consider that our worlds would exsist side-by-side forever.   We had never felt the need to reassure each other of our love for each other by words, because it was implied by every single way we behaved towards each other.   But after that trip to the snowfields I know that my feelings for Jesse were never quite the same.   They were different.  They were stronger.  Being with Jesse had never felt as good as it did from that moment on. And that was saying something

   We were both eighteen at the time, in college, and in love with life.   Though when I think about it now, in the glory of hindsight, we were really in love with our lives, the lives we shared on a daily … hourly basis.   We had always been the best of friends; there was never any one else in our thoughts, our hearts or schedules that rated higher than being with each other.   I suppose it was like a really close brother and sister act, only with even stronger bonds.  It had never entered my mind to look for anyone else to be close to … and I sincerely doubt that thought had ever entered Jesse’s mind either, but our feelings for each had seemed so natural, had always been that way, so I never saw the need to question it.   

   Yet we were not in love, at least not an adult love.  We never kissed, though, in retrospect, we did hold hands on occasions, usually when going for long walks, or during emotional scenes in a movie or on a television show we were watching.   And we would often celebrate events such as a high pass mark at school, or feeling confident that we had learnt a new song well enough to give it the justice it deserved the next time we performed it, by hugging.   But intentionally displaying romantic feelings towards each other was something we never felt the need to, and I sometimes wonder if things could have, would have, worked out differently if we hadn't gone on that particular excursion.  But it is a mute question; we did go and our life changed forever.

   We had been invited to go to Mount Reedy Snow Lodge for the holiday weekend with a friend and some other students from the college, and unlike our horse riding experience several years earlier, this was something that we were experienced in, so we jumped at the chance.

   It was Rebecca who had invited us.   Somehow, although Jesse and I were inseparable, we had still managed to make some close friends through school and Rebecca had become Jesse’s closest friend outside of me, of course.   

   Rebecca had accepted our unique relationship from the beginning and had never once questioned it.  She was as happy being in our company as she was being alone with either one of us, and we were just as happy being with her.

   My closest friend, Thomas, was also going.  Thomas wasn’t as close to me as Rebecca was to Jesse, but I enjoyed his company and we had common interests in things which weren’t of much interest to Jesse.   Boy’s things like Star Wars, Doctor Who, analyzing presidents with bad hair cuts and weird thoughts … and so on.   Thomas wasn’t all that keen on snowing, but he was a bit keen on Rebecca and couldn’t say yes fast enough.    

   Others on the invite list included Joe Ross and Kathy Keane, associates of ours from the various courses we were doing at college, along with Mary Cunningham, Rebecca’s cousin from out of town whom we had heard about over the years, but had never actually met, and Ben Helier.   Now Ben Helier was somebody known to everybody on campus because of his athletic prowess.  He had won several trophies in golf and he was our college football captain, but we travelled on a different circuit than he did, and we had never actually met and knew precious little else about him.  The others were a complete mystery, but if they were friends of Rebecca’s then we looked forward to meeting them.

   Unlike our arrival at the dude ranch all those years ago, it was a beautiful, brisk Saturday that greeted us as we drove into the Mount Reedy Lodge car park; the sun was shining high, the sky the most magnificent shade of blue; the snow, so brilliantly white, was fresh and deep: it was a magnificent winter wonderland.   

   As we walked towards the small group that awaited us, I found myself staring in awe of the beauty that surrounded me.   My eyes locked on the tall, dark pines that lined the slopes of the mountain, their dark green leafed branches glistening with the sharp, white and silvery crystallized ruminants of ice from the previous night.   It seemed to me, at that particular moment in time, nature’s beauty was being well and truly represented; a perfect image of the beauty of a white winter shared across the green of the mountain and far into the valley below.

   Yet, ironically, the twisting, semi-clustered, erratic pattern of placement of the trees also seemed to invoke thoughts that they were there to protect the lodge from harm, rather than to enhance the landscape.  In some areas they were butted together, close, clotted patches of darkness where the sun failed to penetrate through the deep green foliage, and the whiteness of the snow was dirtied by the thick black shade that fell across it as a result.  Little did I foresee at the time, the impact that their dark, foreboding shadows would soon have on my own life.    

   Rebecca’s melodious tone interrupted my thoughts, bringing me back to the present.  Jesse and I had been the last to arrive in the lodge car park where we had arranged to meet, pulling in just behind Rebecca, and the others had been there long enough to introduce themselves and engage in small talk, but Rebecca was the one in charge and she got everybody moving the moment we walked over to the group saying we could go through the formalities of introduction after we had settled in and unpacked.  

    With Rebecca leading the way we passed through a small gate at the far end of the car park and followed a narrow, tree lined path for about two hundred yards and when we emerged into the open we encountered a series of small log huts looking so old they could have housed the early pioneers … and judging by the room us boys were about to occupy some of the cabins may very well still been housing them.   They were even more rustic on the inside than they were on the outside … and I don’t mean that in a cutesy way.   This was the Clampett’s hillbilly home before they moved to Hollywood, I am sure of it.

   “First two are ours,” Rebecca had directed, “boys in number one and girls in number two.  Why don’t we get settled in then we will have some hot coffee and make our plans for the weekend.”

   Not having much choice on the matter we entered the cabin expecting all forms of animals to come screaming out.   Perhaps even a bat or two.  If a snake had have come out I was all for sleeping in the car, but nothing but a small lizard moved, scurrying up the wall and quickly disappearing into the minutest of gaps where the ceiling and walls met.   Inside, there were three miniscule bedrooms, each with two bunks and a small clothes cupboard; the main room, which was also the entrance, served as a combined lounge and dining room.  An old couch, a few wooden chairs and a table comprised the furnishings.  In the corner a glowing open fireplace was cheerfully burning away and a small stove stood at the other end of the room.  The kitchen area had only the barest of basics: cold and not-too-hot running water, a small sink, a heating appliance, presumably for making coffee, and a small shelf on the wall housing some well used mugs, a couple of tarnished spoons and a jar of instant coffee with an unreadable expiry date.  No sugar… no milk … no fridge ... and no Television!    

   All that was missing was a photo of Jed, Jethro, Granny and Elly May on the wall.   Not exactly the Hollywood Hilton, but it was only for the weekend and we were hopefully going to be skiing for most of the time that we were going to be there, so I figured that I would be able to hack the lack of mod cons for a couple of days … or at least that is what I hoped.

   There was no sign of a bathroom in the cabin either, so I guessed that we had to go somewhere else for toiletries and I began praying in earnest that it wouldn’t get too cold if I had to go for a visit in the middle of the night. And looking at the rusting stove, I wasn’t too sure how we were going to be eating too well at this stage either.   I had assumed Rebecca had organized things so we could save a dollar or two by cooking out own meals.   I also presumed that she had made certain that there was a fridge in her cabin, so perhaps her stove was in better condition than ours.

   Two of the guys, strikingly similar in appearance, introduced themselves as Jerry and Jonathan, twins as it turned out and it seems that they too, like Mary Cunningham, were related to Rebecca.  Second cousins this time and I began to wonder just how big Rebecca's family was.  Finally, I got to meet the famous Ben Helier.  At six feet five and all muscles and handsome smile, it was easy to see how easily he would impress the sporting fraternity, and the girls who adored the jocks, but our meeting only lasted for a few seconds as he seemed to have no interest in small talk, or perhaps he just didn't want to talk to me.  Whatever his reason, it didn't worry me.  My initial impression of Ben was he was someone I wasn't interested in getting to know better.  To me his aura projected trouble and that was something that I could easily do without.

   The rest of us introduced ourselves all round before splitting up into pairs with Jerry and Jonathan taking the far room, Joe Ross and Ben Helier in the middle room and Thomas and I in the one closest to the kitchen. 

   We had just finished unpacking when there was a knock on the door.  It was Rebecca and the girls bringing with them several flasks of hot fresh coffee, freshly baked pancakes with all the trimmings in tow, along with cupcakes and other delicious delights, and enough mugs for all of us.  I was immediately impressed by the array of food that was magically appearing on the small table, but equally confused as to how they had performed this miracle.

  “How did you manage to make all this with that antiquated equipment?” I asked, my hand floating in the direction of the singular heating element that was our kitchen, “surely you couldn’t bake cupcakes in that fossil burning relic?”

   Rebecca had begun to nod her head in agreement with my suggestion, but failed to keep up the pretence and a roll of laughter accompanied her reply, “Nah, bought them on the way when we stopped for gas.”

   “Thought as much.”  I remarked rather too smugly.

   “But we did make the pancakes.”   Rebecca retorted with a soft voice, the smile never leaving her face, “and the coffee.”

   “No way … How?”  I asked in amazement, “That stove needs two sticks to be rubbed together just to get a light, never mind any heat.”

   “Why do you think we took the second cabin?”  Rebecca replied with a laugh, “It’s all full of mod cons like cable, air con, heating, a microwave and a brand new electric oven. All of the cabins have been going through updating and this is the last one to be done.  The owners weren’t going to rent it out this season because it hadn't been done, but seeing as how all of the other cabins were already rented when we were booking in and there were so many of us they said we could have it at no cost.  I knew you boys were tough and could hack it.”

   I appreciated the thought regarding our manliness, even though I was wishing that she wasn’t laughing so much when she said it… but the food more than made up for her tactlessness, so I said nothing and moved towards the array on offer.  Mentally, I tossed up between the pancakes, cream and strawberries or a  couple of the mouthwatering cupcakes, and the pancakes won for the moment because I was fairly certain there would still be some left when I returned to the table.  As I headed towards the creamy delights I noticed Ben Helier heading towards Jesse who was busy pouring out coffees, but at the time I was more interested in drowning the pancakes in maple syrup before smothering them with strawberries and cream.  Once I had covered the plate to the point of it being almost a potential safety hazard to anyone who got in the way when I tried to move, I slowly, awkwardly, made my way towards Thomas who was sipping from a mug of hot coffee while trying unsuccessfully to nibble away at his pancakes directly from the plate he was holding with his other hand without dribbling the maple syrup all over his clothes.  The look of amusement on Rebecca’s face as she watched the two of us attempting the impossible was priceless.   Finally she rolled her eyes in humorous disbelief and headed off to get her own snacks muttering something about it must be a guy thing.  Well, perhaps it was, but the pancakes were delicious and for the moment I didn’t have a care in the world … until Thomas started off on a tangent, that was.

    Thomas is a nice guy, most of the time, and I hadn't wanted to talk to him about anything in particular, just wanted to sit in his company so I could totally enjoy my pancakes without feeling conspicuous about the copious helping of goodies that lay on my plate , but the moment I approached him, I immediately regretted my decision.  Thomas has one annoying habit, or at least a habit that I found to be annoying at times and that was the way he would tend to not only over-talk somebody else's opinion at times, but sometimes talk like the other person was not even welcome to contribute to the conversation.   This was usually on a subject that the other party was probably not really interested in, but never-the-less Thomas was adamant that the other party to the one way conversation would hear his personal view on the matter at hand.   He tended to be like that mainly when the conversation centered on his two favourite subjects: computers and politics, two things that I am not particularly interested in at the best of time and today it became totally boring.   Why Thomas wanted to talk about a new program he had come across while we were on a ski trip, I had no idea, but I guess that was Thomas.   After a mind numbing five minutes I decided that it was enough of Mac versus Microsoft for me and time for some coffee.  I headed over to Jesse and was a bit surprised to find Ben was still with her.  

   I had found Ben Helier to be a bit bigger than I had expected.  He was six foot five and built like the proverbial Sherman tank.  I was just over six foot, but compared to Ben, I was built more like a pretzel - and he positively dwarfed Jesse, at only five foot eight and slim.  

   As I approached them I got the impression that Ben was trying to make time with Jesse, which gave me a bit of a chuckle.   Jealousy over Jesse was something that I had never experienced … never expected to experience: Jesse and I didn't own each other, but I knew it just wouldn't seem natural for either one of us to get close to somebody else.   In retrospect, though, my thoughts were probably a bit naïve.  We had never discussed the possibility of an outside influence in our lives, and I guess it was wrong of me to assume I knew Jesse’s position in such a matter, but Jesse and I were so close, even though I had not thought of Jesse romantically, I still felt we would be together forever.    

   Retrospective thinking is a great thing for the human morale … to bring a wry smile to your face, I guess.   But it also has the annoying habit of making you face your inadequacies in thinking things out - when it’s miles too late. 

   In reality, at any time in our young lives, either one of us could have had somebody special walk into our heart, but I guess that I was just young and innocent … and naïve.   And the thought of an interruption to the flow of life was just not something that I had ever considered.   It was, would only be, Jesse and me.   Not something to think about … so I hadn’t.

   However, in retrospect, naivety is probably the reason for the twists and turns we were about to undertake in our lives.   Perhaps, if our feelings for each other had been addressed when we were younger, then perhaps what happened next would never have been taken as far as it was.   But, of course, we had not been aware of the depth of our feelings for each other before that moment.   I guess our fate was, had always been, planned for us, and things were always meant to be as they are now … still, it was not a path we would have chosen to take had we been given a choice on how to reach the future events of our lives.

   As she looked up and saw me, Jesse broke into a smile which was nothing less than normal behaviour for her, but it was the unnatural syrupy sweetness and enthusiasm that she displayed that surprised me, and obviously caught Ben off-guard judging by his reaction.   

   “Hello, Darling, wherever have you been hiding?”  She exclaimed loudly as she moved towards me, “I have missed you, sweetie pooh.”  Jesse pulled me close and began to kiss me all over the face, ignoring the way my face was beginning to flush.   Eventually she did stop and gave me a quick wink which I failed to understand, “Oh, Ben, have you met my boyfriend, Johnny Wonny, my little bunny wabbit ... isn't he just the sweetest thing?”

   Ben hesitated for a second or two, clearly shocked by this twist of events, but quickly recovered his composure.

  “No, I haven’t… pleased to meet you, Johnny Wonny.”   Ben’s statement was a lie of course as we had introduced ourselves earlier in the cabin, but I was too intrigued by Jesse’s actions and choice of words to say anything.

   Ben extended his hand and I took it without thinking.  Actually I extended a hand to shake - Ben opened a vice and proceeded to close it shut on my hand; Ben's intentions of reducing my hand to pulp was something only he and I really understood, despite the fact my face was locked in a grimace and turning purple as he pressed harder and harder.   I tried my best not to show that I was hurting, but, believe me, I was in agony.   I think I was precariously close to the point of passing out from holding my breath in an attempt to stop from screaming when he finally decided to put me out of my misery.

   “I’m sorry,” Ben said as he abruptly let go of my lifeless hand,”   I didn’t realise you two were an item.  I thought you were just friends.”

   “Oh, no.” exclaimed Jesse who was obviously oblivious to my suffering and potential humiliation, “we have been going steady for all of our lives.  Why, we are the perfect couple.  We’ve been in love since we were children and we’ll be married so young that our children will think we are siblings, not parents.  Isn’t that so, darling?”  Jesse turned and looked me straight in the face; her puppy dog eyes invisibly daring me to contradict one little word.  I had no idea what she was up to, but I figured I had best play along with her.

   “Of course you are, my sweet little peach,”   I cooed straight back at her and proceeded to gently stroke her nose with my finger, quickly regretting using any part of my damaged, possibly broken, hand whatsoever, but somehow finding the strength to hide my pain, “anything my little snookums says … is always correct.”

   Whether our little game was too much for his stomach, or he genuinely felt embarrassed,  I wasn’t sure, but he excused himself and went off, supposedly in search of something to eat.

   I was about to ask Jesse what was going on when Rebecca called out, suggesting that we went for a ski as soon as everybody had had enough coffee and cake .   She also explained the arrangements for the main meals.  We were going to eat in the main lodge which was situated about two hundred yards down a small trail that ran down between the trees in front of the cabin six up from ours.   The showers the men were to use were located in a building situated behind our cabin so we had to make sure we got back from our skiing before it got too dark and cold.  The girls, of course, had their own shower inside their cabin.  We would all meet at the lodge around six.

   Shortly thereafter the girls left to get ready for skiing, but not before Jesse had very quickly confided to me that she did not entirely trust Ben Helier.  He had tried to come on a bit stronger than I had thought.  He had actually suggested that he and Jesse might get together after dinner.   When Jesse had tried to politely say no he had become more aggressive, insisting it would be an experience that they both would enjoy.  I had just arrived at this stage and Jesse had seized the opportunity to push me in between them.

   This was a new experience for both of us and I guess it wouldn't be the only time somebody who didn't know us very well would see Jesse as a prize trophy to try to win.  She was, after all, a very attractive girl ... for an elf.

   I always saw Jesse as an elfin like creature.  A long dark bob of brown hair wrapped tight around the base of a pure white neck, large dark brown eyes twinkling beneath long, sensuous eye lashes, gave her a the face of an angel that hinted of the opposite, yet constantly displayed an unbridled innocence.  Jesse always reminded me of Audrey Hepburn in her earlier movies my parents were forever playing at home.

   Yet that day, as we stood there, outside the cabin, under the clear blue winter sky, the bright sun shining down on us, I am uncertain exactly what it was that had suddenly flitted through my mind, but for a moment I looked at Jesse and my thoughts unexpectedly became confused, uncertain what it was I was experiencing.  I could feel my heart beating just a tad faster than normal, unexpected sweat formed on my forehead, and a strange, wonderful feeling washed over me as I looked, looked probably for the first time in my life, at Jesse.   And as I did so, I realised Jesse really was a beautiful looking young woman that would attract men like bees to the honey.   And then, just as unexpectedly, the taste of her kisses came back to me.  Those wonderful, sweet tasting lips had touched mine for the first time, even if only momentarily, and suddenly, in a delayed reaction, I found myself enjoying them.   I found myself instantly regretting my inability to have responded immediately to them when the opportunity had presented itself.  But admittedly, at the time, I had been too overcome with surprise and confusion about Jesse's actions, and the reasons behind them, to react ... now, as this strange feeling began settling over me, I was becoming extremely confused about my own feelings and I still didn't know how to react.

   It came as a great relief when Jesse grabbed me by the hand and got me moving into the cabin to get changed into my ski outfit.  In the state my brain was becoming I could easily have remained that way for hours and I knew the skiing was probably going to be the very thing I needed to clear my head.  My very confused, unsettled, pounding head.   ‘After all’, I thought to myself, “We are friends, not boyfriend and girlfriend.   Friends – no, not just friends, best friends.   Best friends forever.


                                                                    Chapter three



The years have been as kind to me as they have been hard, yet I doubt that any other day in my life, other than one, was as perplexing as that dark, but wonderful winter’s day.

   The skiing started off pretty naturally.   Rebecca had set us up in groups with her and Joe Ross setting off first, followed by Kathy and Mary, then the twins, Ben Helier was next then finally Jesse and I.  Ben had insisted that he went alone as he wanted to practice his race technique and this would be a perfect chance to see if he could catch up and pass those in front.  He had a reputation for being a bit of a lair so there was no argument from anybody.  Jesse and I wondered why he didn’t want to go after us as well, but for myself I was just glad that he wasn’t trying anything else on Jesse.

   The Lodge was situated about two thirds of the way up the mountain with three sets of chair lifts running up and down the mountain, but all starting and terminating at the lodge.

   There were three different trails to take.  Two of them began nearer the top of the mountain, the other from the Lodge.  We decided to take the shortest because there appeared to be no other skiers on it and it would give us time to come back and do it again at least one more time before the sun began disappearing behind Mount Robinson; with a little bit of luck we might even manage two more trips. 

   Mount Robinson was the middle of the three mountain ski fields, lovingly referred to as the three white sisters. Even though it was situated a little over ten miles away by road, it still managed to cut a fair amount of light off our mountain in the later part of the afternoon at this time of the year, so even allowing for the use of the chair lift to bring us back up, a total of three trips down would be the absolute best we could expect to get at this time of the day.

   Our chosen trail, the one they called, 'the Snake's tail', initially began its three and a half mile trip gently weaving its way through the thinly spaced trees that grew in front of our cabins for about two hundred yards … then it was straight downhill for half a mile before it took a dramatic turn as it weaved its way through trees again and finally a franticly fast downhill finish.  It all sounded reasonably easy as the booklet explained it, but what wasn’t mentioned in the trail book was the fact this time the second set of trees were much thicker and closer to the track, and the trail through them was a series of tight u-turns, sometimes in semi-darkness.  This was the testing part of the trail, the reason for its name, and as we were to find out later, the most dangerous of any of the trails that existed on the slopes of the Three Sisters.

   Ignorant of the possible dangers that lay ahead, it was great to be on the snow again; it had been over a year since our last outing; the snow was hard, the air was fresh; invigorating; intoxicating, it was wonderful.  I felt exuberated.   The adrenaline was rushing through my veins as we began our run.  The previous two weeks of cramming for the exams we had sat for on Friday were now a million miles away.  Man ... this was heaven! 

   We screamed down the trail, in and out of the shadows cast by the giant firs, barely noticing how dark the area below them became at times.   Our glasses deflected the brightness of the sun that filtered through the high branches and the glare of the light that reflected off the snow, the banks became almost invisible, anything could have been in there ...hiding ... watching ... waiting.

   But we never saw the dark area, never considered the danger … we were having too good a time.  I don’t think I had had such fun for ages, too tied up in our music, studying and the end of term exams and this was an excellent way of regaining my priorities.  On and on we flew, laughing loudly, breathing in the moment, taking life as it was meant to be taken.  God! This was great!

   Suddenly we emerged from the spasmodic shadows of the trees and into the combined brilliance of the white snow, the clear blue sky and the unhindered brightness of the sun.  Even with the benefit of snow glasses, I was momentarily blinded by the glare.  But my vision recovered quickly and I momentarily turned my eyes back to where our journey had begun.  In the distance, behind the plateau that we had started from, I could see the peak of the mountain, it's white, snow capped point stark against the deep blue of the sky; the sun causing sparkling ripples to cascade as its rays bounced on the ice particles.  It was absolutely beautiful.  As I turned my head back in the direction I was travelling, I thought I caught a glimpse of another skier behind us, about halfway between the starting point and us.  'Oh, well,’   I thought inwardly, 'it’s not like we were promised this place to ourselves’ though that would have been nice. 

   The Snake's Tail lived up to its name with a dozen or more narrow, sharp bending u-turns, running parallel with each other about thirty yards apart, only each new stretch was much lower than the previous one and the top of the banks were littered with fallen trees and exposed rocks.   For safety reasons I dropped my speed back a bit to allow Jesse to progress with comparative safety.

  At the speed we were traveling, the narrowness of the track, together with the jagged rocks and fallen trees that were constantly exposed at the sides of the tracks, created a pretty nasty picture in my mind as I imagined the damage a collision could cause.  Caution became paramount in my thoughts as we flew through this leg.

   As we reached the last bend I found myself shoulder high with the snow bank on our right; there was not a great room for error and I must admit I felt a tad nervous. 

   I was about fifty yards behind Jesse at the time, my eyes constantly changing direction to ensure I didn't make a mistake at this speed, when I swore I saw something move in the corner of my eye.

   Suddenly something clipped me on the shoulder and spun me around so fast I almost collapsed purely from the turmoil that my mind was in, as I tried desperately to orientate myself despite the indescribable sharp pain that was streaking through my shoulder. 

   I finally stopped spinning, but my predicament was merely taking a new detour to danger; my skis, now uncontrollably skidding precariously along the top of the downhill bank, threatened to topple over the edge with every second that passed; my heart was pounding; my breathing was fast, as I visualized the impact on my body should I crash into the rocks and fallen trees that lay exposed in the icy snow below at the speed I was traveling. My face would be mash, my bones would be pulp … the snow would be red with my blood.  But before that thought had a chance to become a reality the front of one of my skis collided with an outstretched limb from a fallen tree. 

   The ski jammed itself under the tree and snapped in half and I went flying through the air, first landing on the bulk of the fallen tree, then thrown back on to the snow before I began rolling and bouncing along the trail, miraculously avoiding going over the edge and coming to a stop before too much damage was done, however my head still managed to make the gentlest of contact with a large boulder that protruded into the trail, not enough to do permanent damage, but enough to make me feel dizzy and disoriented.

   I lay there, unable to speak, barely able to breathe; the pain from my shoulder and my head so excruciating I was on the verge of passing out.  I don’t think that at that stage I even the felt the damage done to my leg.

   “My God, Johnny, you might have been killed.”  Jesse’s voice filtered in and out of the fog that was surrounding my eyes.  I tried hard to focus on what she was saying, but it was to no avail, the words were too hard to understand.  I tried to tell Jesse I couldn't understand what she was saying, but that turned out to be a waste of time because I couldn't get my tongue to work … though I doubt Jesse would have heard me - she was more interested in trying to make me comfortable and make contact with the ski lodge while loudly abusing some unknown assailant than to worry about my incomprehensible gibberish.

   I guess that I was saved a lot of grief and pain by the fact the Lodge had made everybody carry a two-way communicator in case of problems.   Jesse rang in advising the operator about my condition and Rebecca rang in almost the same moment when she decided we were taking too long to complete the run.  Between their two calls it didn’t take too long for the lodge staff to work out approximately where we were.  They soon had a ski mobile, complete with stretcher attached, on its way. 

   A short trip later we arrived at the infirmary which was situated a little distance from the lodge and they had a doctor on his way. 

   An hour later the prognosis was a broken leg, the shoulder had some chipping in the bones and the laceration to my skull was not as bad as it looked.   I’d live, but no more skiing this weekend.  The doctor suggested that I stay in the infirmary for the night and the way I was feeling it seemed an excellent suggestion.

   Jesse stayed by my side the entire time, despite my suggestion she should go with the others.  “No”, she stated firmly, “I will join the others later, but I am not leaving your side until I am sure you are asleep.”   

   And true to her word, Jesse's beautiful face was the last thing I saw before the needle took its full effect and my mind drifted off into a welcome soft, quiet, dark vortex where it would lay in limbo for hours to come.

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