The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 21

We last left Mike feeling depressed and rejected on the swaying tree top platform after a series of personal interviews with the women from Willow keep. He has almost given up on his quest when Maybelle appears at the top of the stairs.

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Mike wiped the sweat from his palms.  Here she was, that wonderful mind, those enticing hands; standing before him and wanting to get to know more about him.  From their earlier meeting he had not been sure if she had any wish to see him again or not. The uncertainty had kept his stomach in knots ever since.

She crossed the platform and settled into a low chair, exposing a slender ankle. “Will you come join me?”

Mike worked the moisture back into his mouth and placed his chair next to hers. “Beautiful evening, isn’t it?”

Maybelle took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “I haven’t been up here in years, I’d forgotten how nice it is. You should see it in spring when the flowers are in bloom and the breeze is warm and soft.”

“I imagine it’s quite a sight.”

“It is,” she said as she turned to face him. “What’s your home like?”

“Nothing like this, that’s for sure. Right now the fall roses lining the front walk are in bloom. It’s an old house, that’s for sure, sturdy and built with care. I’ve made a cozy place for myself there up in the attic. There’s everything a talented tinker like you could ever want to create any number of wonderful things.  The family that lives there has some of the old blood in it as well, the woman and youngest child can see us and I’ve made friends with her.”

“Just how good of friends do you mean?” Maybelle asked, her tone darkening.

“It’s purely professional, I assure you.  I help her keep the house in working order and she allows me to take things from the pantry as payment. In fact she’s the reason that I decided to find a woman to court.”

“How’s that?”

“It wasn’t until meeting her that I realized just how lonely I was for someone special in my life. I imagine in a place with so many other tinkers around that it’s hard to be lonely.”

She leaned forward and rested her arms on her knees. “It would seem that way, but it’s not true. The curse hurt everyone here more than you could imagine.  Everyone here lost people special to them.  The younger ones lost fathers and brothers. The older of us lost husbands and sons. Ever since then we’ve tried our best to keep moving forward. It hasn’t been easy.”

Mike swallowed down the lump that had formed in his throat. Maybelle had lowered her head. Tears threatened to spill down her face.

“Who did you lose?” he asked, his voice now quiet.

“My husband, Stephen, was one of the first. I watched on as he changed from kind and gentle to a terror.  No one knew what was happening. One night he attacked me, I barely escaped.  I was lucky, there were several who didn’t. They tried confining him in a cell but by then he was more animal than man. He attacked anyone who came close.” She sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with the edge of her sleeve. “I’m sorry, after all these years it’s still upsetting.”

“Don’t apologize, you’ve done nothing wrong. You don’t need to go on if you don’t want to. This must be very hard.” He placed a hand on her knee and she rested hers over it.

“No, I want you to know. In the end they were forced to kill Stephen along with the other men.  It wasn’t long until the younger men and even the boys started showing signs of the curse as well, including my son. He was only seven.” She squeezed his hand and he could feel how it trembled.

“I can’t begin to imagine what that was like. You loved them very much. I’ll understand if you would like me to leave you in peace.”

“No, don’t leave me. As much as I miss them, I miss the feeling of being held by a pair of strong arms more.  I miss having someone to come home to at the end of the day. It’s been so long that I’m afraid I no longer know what it even feels like to be loved.”

Mike brushed a strand of her hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. “I can’t replace them, we both know that. But I can be that pair of strong arms. Would you allow me to hold you?”

Maybelle wiped her eyes and nodded.  “Yes, I would like that very much.”

She entered his embrace, timid at first, but as he wrapped his arms around her she softened, tucking her head into the curve of his neck. The emptiness that had haunted him for the last few years disappeared as he took in the smell of her hair, the feel of her broken life against his chest. Her tears of pain and loneliness soaked into his shirt.

From that moment he yearned to make her whole again and protect her from ever being hurt again.

To be continued…

***

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The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 20

In the last episode, Mike managed to spend a few minutes with Maybelle the head of the engineering department at Willow keep, and was bold enough to tell her how he felt about her.  The meeting ended with Mike hoping for more but unsure about if Maybelle was interested or was only being kind. He is pulled away to have personal visits with the other women he had chosen from the earlier interviews.

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High up in the willow tree the she tinkers had built a sturdy platform amid the swaying branches.  From that height Mike could see clear across the park and in the distance make out the top edge of the crabapple tree. He shifted his chair closer to the center of the platform, the thought of being that high again made him feel decidedly ill.  He hadn’t quite recovered from his experience with Ben the crazy blue jay.  The current she tinker, Melissa, leaned against the rail that circled the platform.  Her earthy brown hair twisted in the breeze behind her and the subdued green dress hugged her legs.

He had chosen her because she hadn’t tried to impress him with her looks, or wow him with her skills.  She had simply come to the meeting and seemed more interested in learning about him beyond the trivial questions that the other she tinkers had asked.  Now, alone, that shyness that he imagined before had disappeared.

In the beginning of their meeting she had sat close to him.  Her sea blue eyes twinkled with curiosity as they spoke.  She had drifted further and further away as the meeting continued.

“You mean to say there aren’t any other tinkers where you live?  Don’t you get bored?” She traced a finger along the top of the rail and watched the swaying leaves.

Mike couldn’t blame her for losing interest. His own thoughts kept returning to Maybelle and what he would need to do to capture her interest. He wanted to impress her, wanted to make himself worthy of her attentions.

Melissa turned back to face him when he didn’t answer her question right away. He shifted in the chair and tugged at the cuff of his shirt sleeve. “It’s never boring, there are always plenty of things to do in that old house. There’s a terrific garden that could use the care of a she tinker.” He tugged at the other cuff. “I didn’t leave because I was bored, I left because I wanted to find someone to share my life with.”

“I don’t think you realize how much you are asking. Here at the keep I have friends that I can talk to.  I have a job that I like doing.  I’m fed, protected, and cared for.  I don’t know if I’m ready to leave all that and go out into the world alone.”

Mike couldn’t help but wonder if Maybelle would feel the same.  It was true that he couldn’t offer her what she had here at the keep, but he could offer her the one thing that she didn’t have, love and a family.

He stood and reached a hand toward Melissa. “You’re right, I can’t offer you those things, and they are important to you.” He took her hand and held it between his. “I think we both know that you’d be happier if you stayed here.  Thank you for your time.”

Melissa smiled and Mike tried not to read too much into the relief that he saw in her face. He couldn’t help but wonder if there were other things about him that turned her away as well.  He could feed, care, and protect her at the yellow house, and she would have plenty of work to keep her busy.  He couldn’t change the way he looked or how he spoke.

The meetings continued for several more hours and after each one Mike found himself growing more and more depressed.  He couldn’t find that connection he sought with any of the women.  Most were young and too naïve to understand what he was asking of them. They would eagerly agree with everything he said with wide eyes and simpering smiles. It would be wrong to choose any of them unless he knew with certainty that they had thought through what leaving the keep meant.

As he waited for yet another woman to climb the stairs he admired the handiwork of the woven willow railing.  Larger boughs intertwined with smaller switches giving it the look of an elaborate wicker basket. It made him think of Maybelle once again and her exquisite hands, her delicate features.  He imagined her finding happiness within the walls of the yellow house and bringing her beauty and talent to his life.  For a moment a burst of joy filled him, like sun through clouds.

That joy fled at the sound of footsteps.  He dreaded spending another moment with yet another woman.  They would find something wrong with him or he them and he couldn’t take one more rejection.  He was about to tell them that he had had enough for one day when Maybelle appeared at the top of the stairs.

He stood and straightened his shirt again. The sight of her twisted his tongue into a knot. “I thought you were busy,” he stammered.

“I needed a break.” She crossed the platform and rested her arms on the railing. “Have you found true love yet?”

“Hardly. These women are all lovely and talented, but they all lack one thing.” He joined her at the railing, even though the height made his heart leap into his throat. “None of them are you.”

She studied her hands. “You realize I know nothing about you, nor you I.”

“Perhaps it’s time to remedy that.”

“Perhaps…”

***

To be continued…

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