Remembering Luke

He had no idea that when he said goodbye to his little brother last summer, that he had seen the last of Luke on the family ranch. The next time he saw him it was in the hospital.

It had been a terrible shock when his brother-in-law, his sister, Charlotte’s Philip had called to break the awful news. Charlotte was too overwrought to speak to anyone. They were at the hospital.

Luke had been crossing an intersection when he was struck down by a SUV which didn’t stop but fled from the scene. The other pedestrian suffered minor injuries but Luke was rushed to the hospital in serious condition. By the time he got there, Luke was dead. When he saw his brother’s lifeless body lying there, he broke down. Luke’s girlfriend, Penny was there with her mother who was consoling her. They stayed for a while and then left. He and Charlotte and Phil remained.

Funeral arrangements were made. It was a huge turn out. Family, friends, school mates, teachers, professors, the staff from the family ranch, Penny and her parents were there. He could barely get through the eulogy. Charlotte said a prayer and Penny recited Luke’s favorite poem, Ambrosia afterthoughts. They laid Luke beside their parents. Afterwards, they went to Charlotte’s home for repast.

He took his horse from the stable and for a ride over the vast land. The sun felt good on his face. He rode to his favorite spot and after dismounting he tethered the horse to a tree and graze while he walked to the pond where he stood, staring at the water. When they were kids, Charlotte and he used to swim there often. It was here where he taught Luke how to swim. A smile tugged at his lips. Luke was an excellent swimmer. He was a fast learner and in no time he was like a fish in the water. Then, he brought his friends to swim in the lake.

It was last year summer when Luke brought Penny to the ranch. His smile faded as his thoughts hauled him back to a past he would rather forget. She was nineteen at the time and Luke was twenty-one. He had just ended a three relationship with Lorna, a business woman he had met at a mutual friend’s party. Luke had been very impressed when he met her. He said she reminded him of Catherine Zeta Jones.

He had come to the ranch to get away from the city and to forget the ugly break up scene with Lorna. After lunch, he decided to go for a walk. It was a beautiful, sunny day. He decided that a swim in the lake would be refreshing. The rest of the family weren’t expected to arrive there until that evening. Apart from the Rosa, the housekeeper and her husband, Manuel, the ranch hand and their daughter, Catalina, he was completely alone.

When he reached the lake, he stripped and ran into the cool water. It felt great on his skin. He wished he could stay there hours but after about an hour or so, he emerged from the water, dripping and feeling rejuvenated. He lay in the grass with his hands behind his head, gazing off at the mountains in the distance. When he retired he was definitely going to sell his condo and move to the ranch and spend the rest of his life, swimming, riding, fishing and periodically enjoying the company of a woman.

It was time to head back to the house. Reluctantly, he scrambled to his feet and got dressed. He was buttoning his shirt when he saw something move at the corner of his eye. Swinging around, he was shocked to see a girl he had never seen before standing behind one of the trees which flanked the lake. She looked mortified.

“Who are you?” he demanded. “And what are you doing here?”

“I’m–I’m sorry,” she stammered. “My name is Penny and-and I’m here because Luke invited me. He has told me so much about the lake that I wanted to come and see it as soon as we got here.”

“I guess you saw more than you bargained for.” He finished buttoning his shirt and tucked it into his jeans. He could see that she was flustered. Seeing a naked man would have that kind of effect on a teenage girl. “I didn’t know that Luke was bringing a friend and I wasn’t expecting him to arrive until this evening.”

“He wanted to come earlier.”

“Why isn’t he with you?”

Before she could answer, Luke showed up. He grinned and they hugged. He turned to Penny who was looking at Everett. “I see you have met my big brother, Everett.”

“Yes,” she said. “I–I can see why you love the ranch so much.”

“If you two will excuse me, I’ll head back to the ranch.” Everett’s eyes shifted from Luke to Penny where they lingered before he strode away.

Later that evening, when they were having dinner, Everett didn’t say much. He was sitting opposite Penny who was sitting between Charlotte and Luke. He tried not to let his eyes wander over to where Penny was and he avoided being alone with her. It still bothered him that she had seen him naked. He slipped away when everyone was in the drawing-room and went for a walk. When he returned, he bade everyone goodnight and went up to his room.

Early the next morning, he went riding. When he returned to the stables, he ran into Luke who asked him if he could teach Penny how to ride a horse. His heart leaped. “Why can’t you teach her?” he asked. “She’s your girlfriend.”

“Penny isn’t my girlfriend. And you’re the better rider. Besides, I promised Manuel that I would help him with the ditches and pipes and moving the cattle. Please, big Bro. Do this as a huge favor for me?”

“All right. I’ll do it.”

“Thanks, Bro. I owe you big time.”

Everett took Penny riding the following day. He chose Daisy, a reliable and good-natured horse perfectly suited to Penny’s size and ability. He took her on a peaceful trail ride through the ranch’s acres of natural forest land. They went riding everyday. They covered various terrains–woods, streams, fields and hills and he watched Penny’s face light up with excitement when she saw deer, hawks, beaver and various birds. Everett had to admit that he enjoyed her company. As they rode, they talked and sometimes, they would stop somewhere for a while and sit under a tree or by the stream and talk.

She told him about Jenny, a woman who used to live next door to her family. She and her sister nicknamed her Jiggly Jenny because she wore low cut blouses and her chest jiggled whenever she moved. Then, one day, they found Jenny dead in her home. It was a Fentanyl overdose. Penny said that she and her sister cried when they heard the news and that they deeply regretted the nick name they had given Jenny. Every year on the anniversary of her death, they would visit her grave and put flowers on it.

“I wish she were still alive so that we could tell her that we are sorry.”

“I’m sure if she were still alive she would let bygones be bygones.”

“When Charlotte and I were kids, we once had a teacher whom we nicknamed Spotty Spinach because she had a very spotty face and like spinach although we didn’t particularly like her but she was good for us.”

They talked for a while longer and then, he rose to his feet. It was time to head back. “Couldn’t we stay a little longer?” she asked, leaning back on her elbows as she looked up at him.

He glanced down at her and when he saw the way she was looking at him, his heart began to race. “Penny, I think we should leave now.”

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She reached up and tugged at his hand. “Come on, Everett, let’s stay for a little while longer.”

Everett sat back down, his legs stretched out in front of him. She was still holding his hand. It felt so soft and small in his. He glanced at her. She was looking at him. He suddenly seemed to have trouble breathing normally. His heart was beating like crazy. When he saw her eyes drop to his mouth as if she wanted him to kiss her, he lost his head. Muttering under his breath, he pushed her down and their eyes met and locked before she reached up and put her arms around his neck. Then, they were kissing wildly.

They ended up making love right there in the field by the stream. The sun was starting to set as they made their way back to the ranch. After they took the horses to the stables, they each went up to their room. They didn’t see each other until it was dinner time. As they sat across from each other, they exchanged furtive glances. That night he couldn’t sleep. All he could think about was her and how much he was looking forward to going riding with her the next day.

They rode to the field where they made love and they spent the afternoon there. It became their favorite spot. Some times, they swam in the stream and then made love afterwards. No one suspected anything, least of all Luke. However, things changed when one afternoon, Everett was looking through his window and he saw Luke and Penny. They were facing each other and Luke was holding her hands. He said something to her and she squealed in delight and hugged him. Everett turned away, his face pale and drawn.

Minutes later, there was a knock on his door and then Luke walked in before he had a chance to say anything. He looked like he was going to burst with excitement and joy. “Everett, I asked her to marry me and she said yes. Can you believe it? I was so nervous because I wasn’t sure if she was in love with me but she is and she said yes.”

Everett sank down on the bed. He dragged his fingers through his hair as he tried to digest the news of Luke’s engagement to Penny. Pain and jealousy gripped him. “You told me that she wasn’t your girlfriend,” he muttered tightly. “And now, you’re telling me that the two of you are in love and you’ve asked her to marry you.”

Luke stared at him. “Penny?”

“Yes, Penny.”

“But–“

Everett got up abruptly. “Tell Penny that I won’t be able to take her riding this afternoon.

“Why not?”

“Something has come up. I need to go back to London.”

“All right, I’ll tell her but–“

“Thank you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to pack.”

“All right, Everett. Penny will be very disappointed. She likes going for those rides. She looks forward to them.”

Everett didn’t answer and then, Luke left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. Everett sank down on the bed and buried his face in his hands. What an utter fool he had been. He had fallen in love with Penny and had foolishly believed that she had fallen for him too but all along it was Luke whom she loved. Yet, how could she be in love with Luke and be his lover? What kind of a girl was she? Filled with rage, he sprang up from the bed and began packing his things.

He left without saying goodbye to Charlotte and Phil. He was stowing his bag in the trunk of his car when Penny approached him. “Luke told me that you’re leaving,” she said.

He glared at her. “Yes. And you thought you’d come and see me off. Well, you don’t have to.”

She stared at him, befuddled. “What’s the matter, Everett?”

“What could be the matter? I just found out that the girl I’ve been sleeping with is going to marry my brother.”

What?

“Luke told me the good news. Congratulations. I hope you two will be very happy. Goodbye.”

“But–“

He opened the car door and slammed it after him. He gunned the engine and sped off, leaving her standing there. The next time he saw her was at the hospital. He barely acknowledged her.

And now here, he was at their favorite spot. He closed his eyes in despair. In spite of everything, he still loved her.

“Everett?” The familiar voice startled him and he swung around. Penny stood there, watching him. A few feet behind her, Daisy was grazing. His heart began to pound heavily and his hands balled into tight fists at his sides as she drew closer to him.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, his expression tense.

“Charlotte invited me. She thought that I would like to celebrate Luke’s twenty-second birthday on the ranch he loved so much and with his family.”

“I wish she had told me and then, I wouldn’t have come.”

She swallowed hard. “You wouldn’t have come if you knew I was going to be here?”

“Yes.”

“Do you hate me that much?”

“Hate you?” He dragged his fingers through his hair in frustration. “Hate you? I wish I did.”

She looked hurt. “But why do you wish you hated me?” she asked in a trembling voice.

“You hurt me, Penny.”

“I don’t understand. How did I hurt you?”

“You hurt me when you told Luke that you were in love with him and when you accepted his proposal.”

What?” she gaped at him. “But, that’s not true. I’m not in love with Luke and he didn’t ask me to marry him.”

“I saw the two of you outside my bedroom window that afternoon when I left. You were holding hands, he said something to you, you squealed and then you hugged him. Minutes after that, he came to my room and told me that he had proposed and you accepted.”

“He couldn’t have told you that it was me.”

“Then, if it wasn’t you, who was it?”

“Catalina.”

“Manuel’s daughter?”

“Yes. I went to see her before coming out here. She’s in a really bad state. Her parents are thinking of sending her away–to stay with another relative for a while.”

“I had no idea that Luke was in love with Catalina.”

“He’s been in love with her since high-school. He didn’t tell anyone because he wasn’t sure how you and the rest of the family would feel about it. Manuel was afraid that he and his wife would lose their jobs so that’s why they kept it hushed.”

“Well, he did say that you weren’t his girlfriend but–“

“That’s because I’m not. Do you think if I were, he would have had you teach me how to ride? Do you think he would have let us spend so much time alone together? He was hanging out with Manuel because of Catalina.”

“So, it was Catalina he was talking about when he came to my room that afternoon. I just assumed that it was you because I had seen you with him just minutes before.”

“Is that why you decided to leave?”

“Yes. I couldn’t bear to stay, believing that you were in love with him and were going to marry him.”

“Oh, Everett,” she cried. “Luke knew about us. He knew that I was in love with you. That’s another reason why he threw us together.”

Everett stared at her, his expression darkening. “You’re in love with me?”

Yes. That afternoon when you saw us together he was telling me about Catalina and I was thrilled for him, that’s why I squealed. I loved Luke–like a brother and I wanted him to be as happy as I was.”

Everett reached out and pulled her against him. “I’m sorry for the way I treated you,” he said, his eyes filled with regret. “I was hurt, angry and jealous.”

She put her arms around his waist. “Let bygones be bygones. Let’s not waste any more time on regrets and misunderstandings. We’re together now. Let’s just focus on that. Luke would have wanted that.”

“Yes, he would have.”

“I’ll always have a special place in my heart for him and I will always be grateful to him for bringing me here to the ranch. It’s where I met and fell madly in love with his big brother.”

He smiled. “I’ll always be grateful to him too for bringing you into my life.”

“I love you, Everett.”

“And I love you, Penny.” He lowered his head and kissed her.

Posted for June 2020 Writing Prompts – #30 – The last of Luke; #29 – Ambrosia afterthoughts; #21 – Jiggly Jenny and #22 – Spotty spinach

Sources: VCU Health; UPMC; Mayo Clinic; How Stuff Works; Claireville Ranch; Merriam Webster;

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