This is the companion piece for “Freedom”. For those folks who wanted to know more about Beth, here you go.
This is the first time I’ve intentionally written a story where the readers already know the ending, but what the heck, if George Lucas can do it, so can I.
All constructive criticism welcomed and appreciated, as always.
She gazes up at the giant, dripping trees and draws in a deep breath of pure joy and spicy forest scent.
He’s the one who got her here. She’s never hitchhiked before, but a car would have been too easy to trace. She knows people will interfere if they find her. They all want something from you. Except Dave.
She walks slowly through the soggy undergrowth, her feet squishing in the mud. She’s soaked to the skin, and her body quivers uncontrollably. She smiles, accepting the sensation without judging it.
She hasn’t spoken to another person in days, but she can hear the busy traffic on the highway. She carefully dodges a couple of hikers, staying out of sight.
Her mind ticks over the checklist again. She set up the out-of-office notification on the home and work emails before she left. Watered the plants, left a cheque for the cleaning lady, paid all the bills.
She struggles up a rise and stops, her entire being possessed by delight.
A long vista of wind-blown, rain-swept coast. Silver mist hanging in the tops of the trees. The briny ocean smell mingles with the peppery scent of cedar. She breathes open-mouthed, tasting the air, savouring it with all her senses.
She’s probably seen dozens of views like this since she arrived, but each one is a precious gift.
She’s done everything, now. Got the promotions, the respect, the money. Had the loving husband, mourned his early death, got comfortable living on her own again. Did the charity volunteer work, nursed her parents until the last, helped her friends through sick kids and cancer and divorce.
They can always count on Beth. She always gives them what they need, even when it feels like she’s sucked dry. Even when she has nothing left to give.
She’s pushing fifty now, and this is the last thing in the bucket list. She’s not much of a traveller, but she’s always wanted to see the Oregon coast.
When she set out, she hadn’t really believed she’d get here, but she didn’t know Dave then.
She smiles at the memory of his steady eyes and his plain, honest face. He let her ride without questions, never intruded on her privacy. He didn’t expect anything from her, didn’t even ask. Not for her attention, not for the details of her life, certainly not for her body.
She chuckles softly, remembering the stunned “Who, me?” expression on his face when she’d offered.
A curtain of rain sweeps across the view, and she turns to stumble down the slope again. Vividly green ferns drip liquid diamonds. Invisible traffic hisses on the wet highway.
She’s a little shocked that she offered. She’s never been easy. Since her husband died, there was only one guy, one time. She didn’t return his calls afterwards. She doesn’t need any more attachments. They all want something from you.
She’s finished giving.
The wind whistles through the pines and looses a deluge of cold silver. She feels the icy droplets soaking through her long hair, dribbling down her neck. Her body shudders, but she stands smiling, cherishing the sound of the sibilant song.
The trickles on her scalp remind her of Dave’s fingers stroking through her hair.
“Beautiful,” he whispers.
She blinks, and Dave is gone. She returns to the checklist. All the loose ends tied up. No husband, no kids, parents long dead, friends all doing fine. Everyone’s needs fulfilled. She’s finished there.
The university is going to offer her a Senior Fellow position. There’s a sweet, patient man she’s rebuffed repeatedly; a stray cat that’s been hanging around; the next big charity fundraiser. Another whole set of others’ needs, poised to bind her again in the delicate, merciless chains of love and duty.
But this freedom is just for her. Pure selfishness.
A pine cone thumps down beside her, dislodged by the wind. Like Newton’s apple, it brings inspiration. She sits under the tree and pulls out the journal she brought in case this trip delivered some profound insight.
She laughs out loud, her unused voice trembling on the mist. The journal is blank.
She rips out a page and finds her pen.
“Stuff like this doesn’t happen to guys like me.” Dave’s tired eyes, full of wonder.
She kisses him and whispers, “Sometimes it does.” She gives herself gladly, because he doesn’t ask or expect.
He understands the burden of others’ needs. He sends every spare dollar to his estranged college-age kids and his ex-wife, still loves them with fierce, bewildered devotion.
They said he wasn’t there for them. But he’s been there for them all these years, every hour of every long, aching day on the road, every hour of tossing and turning alone at night in cheap hotels.
He was there for Beth, too. Not knowing why this was so important to her, but doing what he could to help her anyway.
Her old will is tucked away at home, leaving everything to the charities she’s supported all her life. Always giving. But the faceless charities seem cold and distant.
Maybe she can give Dave some freedom, too.
She dumps her shampoo bottles out of the plastic bag and carefully folds the handwritten will into it. Slips it inside her shirt, next to her heart.
She looks up at the underside of the fern and studies the slow progress of the water droplet down its stem. When did she lie down?
The raindrops are millions of perfect crystal spheres. Her breath makes a thinning plume of vapour in the air, but the rain on her face feels warm.
Her shivering stills as the slow warmth envelops her body. So this is hypothermia. It’s so comfortable. Comforting. Her thoughts spiral lightly through the misty air.
Thanks, Dave. Blessings.
Now the rain is falling up, not down.