“Friends and Lovers”….chapter 20

Jo organized a farewell dinner for Luke. Meg arrived late afternoon, ostensibly to give Jo a hand with preparations, but the truth was, she was desperate to spend as much time with Luke as possible before he left. She needed the peace of knowing they would part on good terms.

The heat of the day had barely lessened, as Meg slipped on a light cheesecloth sundress, plaiting her hair loosely down her back. Although it was too hot to go to too much trouble, some silver beaded sandals and a silver cuff bracelet made her feel a bit more dressed up for the occasion. Jo was in the kitchen adding the finishing decorative touches to Luke’s farewell cake. Meg noticed the tear escape down Jo’s cheek, and wrapped her arms around her friend.

“Oh Jo, it must be so hard for you,” Meg said quietly, never having seen Jo less than happy.

“Don’t take any notice of me!” Jo said, quickly swiping her hand across her cheek. “It’s just that the house will seem so empty without him,” she said, managing a small smile. “It had to happen sooner or later.”

“I’ll just have to come around and annoy you more often,” said Meg teasingly.

Jo turned around quickly and grabbed Meg’s hands. “Oh, you will won’t you? Promise me!” she said, and with that both women burst out laughing.

“Where is Luke anyway?” Meg asked after a while, trying to sound as casual as she could.

“He’s still packing out in the studio,” answered Jo, a tinge of sadness returning to her voice.

“I’ve got a little gift for him,” said Meg. “Do you mind if  I go down and give it to him now?” she asked. “I don’t want to make a fuss later.”

“Of course!” replied Jo. “It’s all organized here. We just need Max to come home and get the BBQ happening,” she said, flitting from the bench to the fridge with great bowls of salad. “He’s late…,” she added distractedly.

Luke was looking through a pile of books on his bed, when Meg knocked lightly on the open door. “Can I come in?” she asked quietly.

Luke looked up, a relieved smile transforming his face. “Oh please do!” he sighed loudly, sitting heavily on the bed. “I’ve got to the point where I can’t make a decision any more,” he said, pushing the pile of books across the bed.

“You’ll be back for visits won’t you?” Meg said, and as she looked into his face, she realized again with a painful jolt, how much she would miss him. “You can take a few things back with you each time,” Meg suggested, forcing a smile. “For now, just take the things you absolutely can’t live without. The rest can wait.”

Luke looked at her with a wry smile, running his hand softly down her cheek. “Then come with me,” he said, his tone not really expecting an answer.

Meg lowered her eyes and took a deep breath. “Don’t do this Luke, I can’t bear it,” she said, quietly pleading with her eyes. “I need us to part as friends…..I need to know you understand.” She heard him sigh resignedly.

“I do Meg,” he said reassuringly. “It was worth a try, right?” he said with gentle humour.

Meg relaxed then too. “I’ve bought you something,” she said, coming to sit next to him on the edge of the bed. “….because you’re starting a life of your own,” she said. “And so you’ll remember me,” she added, giving him her gift, wrapped simply in black tissue paper.

Luke took it carefully from her hand and slowly opened it. Inside a slim carved, wooden box was a silver pen. “I’d like you to write to me,” Meg said softly. “Real letters; something I can keep,” she explained, her voice catching with emotion, the tears threatening behind her eyes.

Luke reached out to barely touch her hair, his distress unsuccessfully hidden in his smile. “No emails then,” he said, turning the pen carefully in his fingers, his eyes never leaving her face.

“I’ve had it engraved,” Meg continued, feeling herself on the verge of falling into his green gaze. She watched his finger run along the writing as he read. (“…that in black ink my love may still shine bright.”) “It’s Shakespeare,” she whispered.

He wrapped his hand tightly around the pen, his eyes saying more than words ever could. He lifted his hand to cradle her cheek in his palm, and Meg closed her eyes, relishing the warmth of his touch. He turned briefly and reached under his pillow. “I didn’t know whether to give you this…if it was the right thing to do,” Luke said , clutching something small in his hand. “But I want you to have it,” he added , opening his curled palm to reveal a small jade crucifix, each tip capped in delicate silver filligree, and threaded on a fine silver chain. “It’s your favorite color,” he said softly, and slipped it gently over her head, the cool jade dangling sweetly between her breasts.

Meg felt a tear hovering on her lashes, but Luke kissed it away with excrutiating softness, then kissed her lips with such tenderness Meg thought her heart would break. She thought she was prepared for this moment, but all her shabbily built walls came tumbling down, baring her soul completely to the chilling certainty of his goodbye.

“I’ll miss you,” she managed to say, before they came together, clinging to eachother, desperately prolonging the moment.

“We better go in,” Luke whispered. Meg nodded, breathing in his scent, before standing abruptly, clumsily smoothing her dress and hair.

“I’ll go first,” she said, walking quickly out into the fading afternoon sunshine, losing herself in the shadow that carpeted the lawn.

Max still hadn’t arrived home, and Jo was getting a little worried, with just an edge of irritation. “Maybe you should start the BBQ darling,” she said to Luke, her eyes belying her growing concern.

“Sure Mum,” Luke agreed, trying to lift his mother’s spirits. “He’s probably got held up at work,” he said. “It is the end of the week….lots of loose ends.” And with that, Jo seemed to relax a bit.

Luke had no sooner left for the kitchen, when Max burst out onto the patio, apologising profusely for his tardiness. He picked Jo up in his arms, kissing her soundly.

“You aren’t mad are you Jo Jo?” he said, with a playful pout. “You won’t be when you see what I”ve brought home,” he added, and with that announcement a man entered hesitantly through the french doors to join them, smiling broadly.

Meg watched intrigued, as Jo threw herself at him, screaming with surprised excitement. He picked her up, laughing loudly, and spun her around three times before gently returning her to the ground.

“Jonah Sorensen!” she cried. “I can’t believe it!”

Max was laughing with obvious delight. “He just turned up at work,” Max said. “Nearly fell off the scaffolding!”

Luke was shaking Jonah’s hand, the two men clapping eachother exuberantly on the back.

“When did you get back home?” Jo asked, the smile never leaving her face.

“Last night, pretty late,” Jonah explained, suddenly noticing Meg standing off to the side, totally amused and perplexed. “Oh, I’m sorry, we’re being rude,” Jonah said with a more carefully polite smile.

“No, I’m being rude,” Jo cried. “I’m sorry….Meg Nash, this is Jonah Sorensen, a good friend, who has been on the other side of the world for way too long!” she said gleefully, standing on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek.

“Hi Meg,” he said, in a deep but gentle voice, and shook her hand.

Meg was primarily impressed by how big Jonah was. He was as tall as Max, but much more broad shouldered and muscular, and he was as fair as Max was dark, white-blond curling hair brushing below his collar, and sky blue eyes that sparkled with warmth and humor. As his lips brushed her cheek, Meg caught the fresh scent of cologne. He wore long khaki shorts and a loose white collarless shirt, the sleeves casually rolled up to his elbows. The sun bleached hair of his forearms contrasted with the deep gold of his skin, and he had the obvious strength of a man used to working with his hands. The men eventually gathered around the BBQ enjoying a drink and endless exuberant conversation. Jo and Meg watched them in amusement from their seat as they sipped some chilled punch.

“Aren’t we the lucky ones?” said Jo with a mischievious smile. “Look at those three gorgeous men!” she cooed.

Meg laughed at her cheeky friend, but she had to admit to herself she had been finding it hard not to stare. “So how do you know Jonah?” Meg asked with a genuine curiosity. “He definitely is a mountain of a man,” she added, giving Jo a sidelong glance.

“Oh, I know,” said Jo with playful wontonness. “He’s frighteningly sexy isn’t he?”

Meg stifled her laughter as best she could. “I was trying not to notice,” she answered, and they both laughed out loud, Meg feeling the inevitable color rise in her cheeks. They quickly retreated inside to gather the plates and the food. “But you didn’t tell me how you know him?” Meg prompted.

“Sorry,” said Jo. “I got distracted,” she said, a giggle threatening to turn into another gale of laughter. “Max took him on as a mature age apprentice, about ten years ago, when Jonah was twenty-eight. He’s a very talented wood worker,” said Jo, pouring them both a fresh drink. “He made our big dining table, and coffee table.”

Meg remembered how she had admired them the first night she had come to Jo’s place.

“His wife Trish died two years ago….cancer,” said Jo, a curtain of sadness passing across her eyes. “Jonah was devastated, and we couldn’t seem to help him,” she said quietly. “He needed his family. He’s been with his parents in London for the past eighteen months,” she concluded, a smile returning to her face. “And it’s just so good to see him!”

Meg was glad Jonah was there too. It made her forget about Luke’s impending departure, as he led them in endless interesting stories of his time in London. Only when Jo brought out the cake did an air of sobriety descend on the room. They raised their glasses in a toast.

“Here’s to my beautiful boy,” said Jo, tears finally filling her eyes. “You know we will all miss you terribly, but we are so proud of you….,” she said, her voice faltering over the words. Max came and took his wife gently in his arms.

“It’s not that far away JoJo,” he said encouragingly, while she buried her face in his chest. Luke came and took his mother in a lingering hug, stroking her hair as he held her.

Jonah caught Meg’s eye, and with a smile and a shrug he beckoned to her to follow him outside. “I think we should give them a minute,” he said, and they took a seat at the edge of the patio. “Nothing compares to a mother’s love,” he said, looking to Meg for confirmation, an unidentifiable sadness passing quickly across his face.

“No, there isn’t. But I think Jo and Luke have an extra special bond,” she said, and saw Jonah nodding in agreement.

“That’s true,” he said thoughtfully. “But then we are talking about three very special people in there,” he said with obvious affection. Meg smiled, feeling unusually relaxed in the company of someone she had only just met. But Jonah had that air of absolute sincerity and humility that only comes from experiencing great pain or loss. Meg sensed a strange affinity with this imposing, gentle man. She smiled with recollection.

“Jo definitely saved my life….my sanity anyway,” she said. “Max and Luke were an added bonus,” she said, recognising the mirrored sentiment in Jonah’s eyes. “I love them dearly,” she concluded, feeling not at all self-conscious at her honesty.

“Then that’s the first very important thing we have in common,” replied Jonah, and held her gaze, an unspoken bond forged between them. “I reckon we can go in now,” he said at last, with a warm smile.

But the evening had to come to an end, and Meg finally had one last moment alone with Luke. They stood in the driveway, the outdoor light pooling in a soft yellow at their feet.

“I’ll see you soon,” Luke said quietly, his voice lost in a sudden hopelessness. Meg ran her hand slowly down his arm, feeling the tension in every muscle. He stroked her hand with a gentle urgency.

“Let’s not do this Luke,” she implored. “I have to go,” she said, turning away from him in anguish. Luke grabbed her hand and dragged her out past the reach of the porch light, taking her in a fierce embrace. Meg clung to him, their bodies, their mouths, meeting in a devouring madness, a savagery that had to preserve their passion for a lifetime.

“I….I…,” he started to speak, but Meg put her hand gently to his lips.

“Don’t,” she whispered. “It’s ok.” She tore herself from his arms, walking, then half running from him towards the street, the tears blinding her. As she drove away, she glimpsed him still standing there, haloed in the porch light.

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