Ross loaded his own suitcases into the Rover Wednesday afternoon. Ruth
followed him outside. Jack would drive him back to Kampala, Ruth again
relegated to staying with Artemis.
“It was wonderful to see you.” She felt genuinely sorry that he was leaving.
Ross closed the vehicle’s back door and turned to regard her soberly. “Come
go home with me.”
She shook her head. “I’m committed here until the end of next month. If
Artemis gets into school at Ula, I may come home then. But I expect I’ll
sign on for another ninety days, if the wire service will have me. We don’t
get a lot of feedback here. We seldom see a newspaper of any kind. Your
talking about reading my stuff in the Bridger News was encouraging. I wasn’t
even sure they could use the stories I sent. It appears so.”
Ross shuffled his feet. “And they are good reading.”
“Thanks. Anyway, I’ll be home eventually. Meanwhile, you know what it’s like
here. Write to me. Tell me what’s going on, especially if and when you see
She couldn’t read the look on his face. She heard Jack coming from the
clinic and started to turn when Ross spoke again. “Kiss me good-bye?”
“Sure.” She stepped forward, expecting a tender brush on the cheek. Instead,
Ross collected her tightly. He pressed his mouth roughly against hers and
tried to pry her lips apart. Startled, she pushed against his shoulders,
separating herself from him.
He whispered, “I want you, Ruth. I want you to be my wife, sharing my bed,
my life, everything.”
She took a deep breath and wheezed. “Thank you. That’s a beautiful
compliment. It means a lot to me.”
“Honey, you used to enjoy playing golf, doing things with people you know
and love, people who know and love you. You were happy in Bridger. You could
be happy there again. Do you remember at all how nice life is in Oklahoma?”
“I’ll do anything it takes to make you happy. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, Ross, I’m sure you would. Life in Bridger is wonderful. It would be
wonderful with you. And, yes, I remember every detail. I think about home
often.” She paused. “But here I serve a purpose. I contribute. If nothing
else, I’m important to one little boy.”
She retreated as he attempted to embrace her again. She heard Jack snort as
he walked to the other side and climbed into the vehicle.
Stepping back, she blew Ross a kiss. “We’ll talk about us when I get home.”
He smiled, recovering. “You’d better hope I don’t get an offer I can’t
refuse before then.”
She laughed lightly. “If you get one that good, take it.”
“And break your heart? I don’t think so.”
They both laughed as Jack started the engine. Ruth was acutely aware of
Jack’s presence during her conversation with Ross and also aware that he
neither looked at nor spoke to her before he turned the Rover down the
rutted road toward Kampala.
* * *
It was nearly dark and Ruth had just finished showering when Jack returned.
She noticed the Rover when she came up the path in her nightshirt, carrying
her towel and soap dish. She found him sitting in the front room of the
clinic, slouched in a straight-back chair, his legs splayed in front of him,
his hands, fingers interlaced, over his belt buckle. The only light was that
from the lantern on a small table beside him. He glowered up at her.
She smiled. “I’m glad you’re back.” He grunted a wordless response. “Did you
have any problems?”
“Are you tired?”
“I saw you kiss Belton.”
“Actually, you saw him kiss me.”
“You seemed willing.”
“I thought...” She stopped and her smile faded. “What business is that of
“I want you to kiss me.”
“Jack, this is not a competition.”
“I’m the one who takes care of you. I’m the one you should kiss, the one you
“No.” She spat the word angrily. “I am a faithful wife.”
“Faithful to a dead man?” Jack suddenly stood and took a step to loom over
her. She tried to go around him to the hallway leading to the infirmary, but
he caught her arm.
“I only want you to kiss me.” He said the words quietly, guiltily.
Clutching the soap dish and towel in front of her, she clamped her teeth and
thrust her face toward his defiantly.
Without releasing her arm, he placed his free hand on her neck and slowly
brushed his thumb over her lips. She saw pain and sadness mix as he scanned
Her defiance ebbed.
His thumb traced her lips, down her chin to her throat. Gently he tilted her
face. He touched his warm, full lips to hers, the soft kiss she had expected
Jack raised his mouth to look at her face. She struggled to maintain what
she hoped looked like indifference. Slowly he lowered his mouth again. His
lips parted slightly but the kiss was again tentative, experimental. As he
held her mouth with his, he released her arm and moved his hand to her back,
then pressed, bringing their bodies closer.
Warmth and pleasure mingled as Ruth relaxed into the kiss, turning her head
until the side of her face was against his shoulder. She luxuriated in his
arms, breathing in the aroma of him, a scent no longer associated only with
a memory. She wanted to linger, to stay cocooned in his embrace. His arms
Slowly, deliberately he kissed her face again and again until his lips were
at her ear. “Let’s go to my room.”
She shook her head almost imperceptively and pushed herself away. “I can’t.
Maybe someday, but not yet. I’m still half of a couple. Mickey’s heart still
beats with mine.
“His doesn’t, Ruth,” Jack said gently. “His doesn’t beat anymore at all.
That’s my heart you feel.”
“I’m all that’s left of him, Jack.”
“No. You gave him children to carry his baton into the next laps of the
race. Mine is the life solely dependent on you.”
“I never thought of you as poetic.” She gave him a puzzled smile.
“And I’ve never felt like a romantic before.” He regarded her oddly. “I’ve
never experienced this...this tenderness, this passion. I’ve waited a
lifetime for you to come, to set me free from my reserve, my inhibitions.
With you I am whole, laughing and jealous and complete for the first time.”
His biceps flexed under her hands, his lower body taut against hers and she
struggled not to give in. She needed to get away from him, to escape this
haven of his making.
She didn’t speak immediately, trying to get her breath, to get her emotions
in check, before she muttered, “I’m glad you’ve got your own room back.”
She stepped around him and shuffled all the way to her bed to cower next to
Artemis in the infirmary.
She didn’t sleep. She said her prayers; prayed for a long while, thanking
God for Mickey, the life they had had together, their children, their
successes; for sustaining them in their disappointments--the deaths of her
parents and of his dad, crises they had endured together, always gleaning
strength from one another. She tried very hard not to think of Jack.
Intellectually Ruth knew Mickey had not left her willingly yet, as she
struggled for control in the dark, she felt utterly abandoned.