APPLES: A Kanuk, Alaska story
by Voni Harris
It was 1:30 in the morning, and Jennie couldn’t sleep, despite the heavy foil that covered the windows to keep out Alaska’s midnight sun. The window covering kept the room dark enough; it was just that she knew the sun was out there, hovering over the horizon, reluctant to set for the day.
She had to be up at five. Just as the sun would be coming up.
She groaned, rolled over and buried her face in her pillow.
Who was she kidding? Even in the Alaskan darkness of last winter, she couldn’t sleep. Hadn’t really been able to for the last year.
Groaning again, she sat up, grabbed her aged granny quilt off the bed and padded, sock-footed, to the comfy burgundy and tan plaid chair in her living room. Last year when she’d brought the chair home, she’d been so very full of herself…25 and in her very first apartment with her very first job, teaching at Kanuk Elementary. And she was in love—though she didn’t recognize the symptoms at the time.
Salmon had teased her mercilessly about the chair, but when she’d seen it on trash day out on the curb by one of the village’s few wealthy seaside homes, she just had to have it for her apartment. Of course, when she randomly drove up with a plaid comfy chair strapped to the roof of her lime green VW bug, she had been asking for the teasing. Had expected it.
Would’ve been disappointed without it.
She dropped into the chair and curled her feet up under herself, snuggling tightly under the quilt. Now that she’d thought of Salmon, she had to have some ginger tea if she was ever going to sleep. It was always ginger tea on the nights she thought of Salmon.
She threw off the quilt and padded into the kitchen to start the tea. The sound of her socks on the hardwood floor made her smile. She’d undergone another round of teasing from Salmon when the package she ordered had arrived containing the neon pink, green, and orange kneesocks emblazoned with the label “softest, warmest socks in the world.” Well, they were soft, they did keep her feet warm, and they matched her flannel “I Heart Penguins” pajamas.
She chose the rainbow mug, filled it with water and put it into the microwave to heat, then padded over to the pantry to find the box of ginger tea bags. Peppermint. Green tea. Lemon Zest. Orange Pekoe.
That’s when Salmon knocked on the front door….
She sidled back behind the entry to the kitchen, hoping he hadn’t seen her through the windows of the front door. She wished she’d bought those curtains to go over them yesterday, even if they were lacy, because she had every intention of refusing to see him the same way he’d refused to finish their last conversation.
She kept quiet.
“Jennie, I know you’re in there!” She remembered the fun and humor in his voice, remembered it down to her toes.
“Jennie, I see the lights on and the granny quilt on the chair. I know you’re up.”
She kept very quiet.
Just then the microwave let out a beep into the night, followed by four more: her tea water. The jig was up.
Jennie chose to take the offensive. “I’m not here!” she called.
Salmon laughed. “Jennie, I’m just here to talk.”
“I don’t care to have my heart broken again, thank you very much!”
His voice got very soft through the door. “I don’t intend to break your heart again, my Jennie.” That remains to be seen, Buster.
He obviously wasn’t going away, so Jennie lifted her chin into the air, walked past the door over to her chair, wrapped up in her granny quilt, then padded back over to the door and opened it for him.
He held out a brand-new box of ginger tea. That was fortuitous, since she was too discombobulated to find hers now. She took it from him, motioned to the couch—the ugly brown one with springs that poked all who dared sit there. A new burgundy overstuffed couch was due from the furniture store tomorrow, but now she was glad they hadn’t been able to deliver today.
Leaving him there to sit on the springs, she went into the kitchen, let one of the teabags seep in the hot water a few minutes, then carried her tea back to her chair.
Warm in her quilt, she sipped her tea, quite content to wait until Salmon began talking. He’d called this meeting, after all.
“I’ve been to talk to your Dad,” he announced after the quiet had filled the room to overflowing.
That’s when ginger tea came spewing from her mouth …
Jennie ran up the stairs to her bedroom, her breath coming quick and sharp.
Salmon had been to talk to her father?
Salmon had been to talk to her father?
She now regretted not noticing her dad’s five missed calls until she plugged her cell phone into the charger at 11:00, too late to call her early-rising father.
Her head spun with memories of the last time she’d seen Salmon.
They had been out enjoying the midnight sun beside the lake at the park, when Salmon suddenly turned in front of her and went down on one knee.
“Jennie, these last two years have been a dream,” he said. “You’re teaching now. I’m going for my MBA in the fall. Our relationship couldn’t be stronger. You know my heart is yours, and that’s why…will you marry me?”
Her breath caught in her throat. She hadn’t foreseen this, but she should have. Daddy had warned her Salmon was getting too serious, but she’d waved off his concerns.
“Oh, Salmon! I, I can’t…” she managed to say
“We’ll work out the logistics with my MBA and your teaching. I know how important your students are to you, which makes them important to me. Maybe I’ll take the MBA classes online. I don’t know. Those are just details. The reality is, I don’t want to go into my future without you.”
“I can’t…” she whispered.
He stayed on his knee in some sort of shock or disbelief. Jennie couldn’t read his face.
Salmon stood, angry. “It’s your whole courtship thing, right? I went along with you on that, right? We’ve spent a lot of time together with your family, a long time getting to know each other. Your dad and I have a good relationship.”
“Daddy thinks you’re great, but…"
“You’re hiding behind your father. You want to say no, but you’re too cowardly.”
“It’s true, Jennie. You won’t make a decision on your own!”
“Oh yes, I will!” she spat, finally finding her voice. “I made the decision…on my own…long ago to trust my father to guide me in my relationships. It’s obviously too easy to get emotional in these things…”
“…is that what you think we have? A thing?” he snapped.
“Salmon, please listen,” she begged, sending off a quick, silent prayer for him to understand. She forced the heat out of her voice. “That’s not what I meant. Can’t you see that it’s too easy to get caught up in the emotion of a relationship and not see the forest for the trees? Daddy knows me better than anyone else, and he loves me. I trust him. That’s not cowardly, it’s a decision I made long before I met you. I’m not going to marry you or anyone else without his blessing.”
He shrugged. “Okay. I don’t mind talking to your father. We get along. If that’s what I have to do, then I’ll do it.”
That would be a train wreck. “Don’t, Salmon.”
“He’ll say no.” Train wreck, indeed.
Salmon’s face turned red. “Again with hiding behind your father.”
She shoved his shoulders, pushing him back a step. “Don’t you dare say that again, Salmon. You’re not a Christian; I am. You know that’s ultimately what this is about. It’s not about my father at all.”
“All right. Let’s go there. I’ve told you before, Jennie. I don’t care if you’re a Christian. Go to church. Whatever. I’ll go with you. If that’s what I have to do, I’ll do it.”
“And what kind of marriage would that be?”
“We’ll make it work. People of different faiths get married all the time. We love each other.” He paused. “Or are you just too afraid to say that you don’t love me?”
Daddy hadn’t warned her that her own heart was getting so serious, but there it was. “I do love you, Salmon. I’m so sorry this hurts so much. I just didn’t realize we’d gotten this serious.”
“You love me?”
“Absolutely.” She reached out to squeeze his hand.
“Then I’m going to your Dad.”
“I thought you said your dad thinks I’m great.” His voice had an edge of challenge to it.
“I thought you said you trust him.” More challenge.
“Then I’m going.”
He turned on his heels, got in his old Jeep and drove off toward her father’s house. She had no choice but to follow him in her Bug, tears making her driving difficult.
She flung herself out of the car when they got to the house. “Salmon, we’re not done talking yet!” she cried over and over, sprinting after him, trying to physically stop him from reaching the porch.
He rang the doorbell anyway, demanding—demanding—to talk to her father.
Daddy took calm authority over the situation, sending her to her childhood room where she could only watch the train wreck from the window, a train wreck from which Salmon walked away and never came back.
NEXT TUESDAY: Why did Salmon walk out on Jennie? (Part 2 is here)