3 The Invitation is Extended
The door swung open behind me and a very dark German shepherd slipped in. She bared her teeth and growled at Elmer viciously. Before he had mumbled his “holy shit” a new voice pieced the air “Loba! Sit.” The dog sat down, not taking her eyes off Elmer. Her owner exuded the same blackness as his dog, wearing a black blazer, dark sunglasses and a black flat cap over his dark hair. Even his stubbles were dark. Funny, Elmer had stubbles too, which added to his raw and uncivilized appearance. The newcomer had a certain air about him, a little bit of arrogance, - just enough for flavor, like a properly spiced meal - and his unshaven condition did not degrade any of it.
I finally managed to tear myself free from Elmer. The new man 'on stage' already stood beside me and helped me get back on my feet. I started to brush off the dust from my clothes, partly to get rid of the Elmer Experience, partly so I didn't have to face the newcomer. He did rescue me, but he also caught me in an awkward situation.
"Loba, it's OK," was the only hand out he gave the giant who obviously had a lot more trouble getting up. "Get up Randy." - Randy?- "Why are you in here anyway ?" He talked to Elmer, or rather Randy, as if reprimanding a child.
"Dropped off the the logs for ye sir, as ya ordered."
"I asked you to bring them Saturday."
"Yeah, so?" Randy defended himself.
Randy's eyes grew large. "Can't be. Yesterday I went to the Observatory, to help set up a camp for an overnight party. Some Indian stuff. These fellows sure know how to make a dull job interesting. Wow."
- The conversation between the two became more and more interesting -
"Randy, you went there two days ago. You must have spent two nights at the Observatory." -I would have run into Randy at the Observatory, if I hadn't missed my bus. His fate was definitely woven into mine.-
"I dunno's I have." Randy scratched his stubbles, looking forlorn. "Anyway, not much of a party going on now. Police broke things up at dawn. Said there had been a terrible row. Dunno. Slept through the whole thing, I guess." He shrugged.
"You'd better leave now," the woodcarver said curtly, "We'll talk about this some other time."
I almost felt sorry for Randy, he slunk out like a beaten dog. I wasn't even sure if I felt relieved at his departure. Now I was in a one on one situation again, no Randy to keep my new host busy.
"I'm going to make fresh coffee. Do you mind sharing a round with me?"
Coffee? Never will I touch that stuff again, I said to myself, while nodding in agreement.
"Then bring your mug here." The Unknown gestured to the workbench. At least these few steps helped me to shake off the nightmarish feeling that still clung to me. As I reached the kitchen counter, my host had already taken off his blazer and cap. I placed the mug on the counter. "Thank you for rescuing me," I managed to utter.
The dark haired man turned away from me, reaching up to a kitchen cabinet for a tin of coffee. He moved with grace and the agility of a cat. There were some gray streaks in his hair, so he was not as young as his physique suggested. Did he wear sunglasses and cap to hide his age? I could not imagine someone living in such an atmosphere - a cabin dedicated to art and creative work, in the middle of a forest, comfort without luxury and such hospitality - to be vain. But I had already proven to be a bad judge of character, today.
"Do you really have such bad instincts?" His back was still turned at me.
"What do you mean?" I said to avoid an answer. Had he been reading my mind?
"Why didn't you leave the moment Randy came in? You disliked him from the start."
How much had he seen? Had he been around all the time? 'Accidentally' popping in at the right moment?
"You are the most unspontaneous person I've ever met. You have a thousand questions, yet you're not saying a thing." He reached for a coffee spoon, out of a jar that was on the kitchen counter. He pulled too impatiently, another spoon came out, fell into the crate next to the counter. It disappeared between the logs Randy had dropped in there. My host bent down quicker then I did and reached for the spoon. As he pulled it up, he held back a swear word with difficulty. He had cut open the side of his hand. A nasty cut, it bled immediately. Loba winced, stood by her boss with a worried look in her soft brown eyes. The dog's pity pushed me over the threshold I often face when someones needs help. "Where do you have band aid or a first aid kit?"
"In the window sill, behind my workbench."
I would have opted for the bathroom, but a woodcarver probably prefers to have his first aid kit in closer reach. With less fumbling or dizziness then I expected, I managed to help wash out the wound and press it shut until the bleeding stopped.
"Now I have to thank you," the host said. I waved it away. "My plight was a lot worse than yours."
"So what. I hardly did a thing to help you. I just arrived in time. Loba did the work. And you, you helped me even though you can't stand the sight of blood."
This guy was beginning to get on my nerves. He had said only a few things, asked a few questions, but all his remarks pointed out that he saw right through me. What was he, a psychic? To change the subject I remarked that I'd pour in coffee. “But on one condition. That you take off your glasses.”
I expected a sharp remark, but no. He just placed his glasses on the table and looked straight at me. His eyes were bright blue and so big they seemed on the brink of popping out. I held my breath. "If he says his name is Jack, I'm going to scream," I thought.
"My name is Justus," the woodcarver introduced himself. After I had poured in our coffee he gestured at a chair at the kitchen table. “Please sit down, you are making me nervous. Only very few people make me nervous, but you manage to do so."
That imperfection of him, broke the ice for me. "I will take that as a compliment," I joked.
"Not intended." I froze again. "But let's dig into that. Why is it a compliment for you? "
I gazed into my coffee mug. Someone at my first apprenticeship, taught me to turn a coffee break into a ritual. A sure, fast way to say "stop pulling at me" to others, at least for the duration of the break. A moment to be honest to myself. And now I saw Justus was right. Why did I say that making him nervous was a compliment?
A range of things, stupid things. Mainly my low self esteem. I never expect to get someone's attention by being nice. Being nice meant disappearing into the shadows. Only by being the opposite, could I make myself visible. Negative attention had become a reward. That's what I answered while looking shyly at Justus. Sensing he had already read the answer from my mind. Or at least from my face.
Blood dropped from his wound onto the table. I took one of my always present paper tissues and spontaneously wiped it away. When I looked up, my eyes caught his. This time I could read his mind. "Well done" he thought. "A first step in the right direction." I fought against my tears. If it was well done, why did his respons hurt?
Loba laid her head on my knee. I stroked her. All my life, I could not walk past an animal without patting him. Or her.
Justus reopened the conversation again. "You weren't afraid of my dog, when she came in, growling and showing her teeth."
"She didn't snarl at me. And besides " I looked at the beautiful shepherd, "She reminded me of Hertha, a German shepherd that lived in my neighborhood,when I was about five years old." Justus leaned back, smiling, willing to listen to the story. But didn't he already know what I was going to say?
"Hertha always roamed around free during daytime. There was a story going that she had bitten a child and was dangerous. So the kids in my neighborhood were all afraid of her. But I knew she was a gentle dog. I petted her often and sometimes walked along with her and her owner. And she always came when I called her. From kindergarten, I always walked home alone. I had to cross just one street for it. The other kids often scolded me as I walked out of the school gate. Whenever Hertha was around I called her to me, before walking through the gate. The others were so afraid they'd back off, so I could go home without being bally-ragged." I looked into the dog's eyes again and contemplated my own story. Without knowing it, I had just come up with an example of when being not nice had been rewarded. My bragging of being the only one who was not afraid of 'danger dog', was paying off. Funny.
"Finish your coffee, woman, we've got work to do."
"Your party at the Observatory is over, so you might as well spend the rest of the day here."
A little voice told me that I should return home, to look after my mother. But I wanted to stay. This cabin and its owner were my gift, even though at times I felt cornered here. I wasn't going to let it slip. Not this time. "Alright, I'll stay. But call me Joanne. Justus."
Justus got up and walked to his workbench. Loba followed him. And so did I.