John woke to the sound of voices below him. He raised his head off his folded arms and blinked a few times. The sun was high in the sky and filtering through the tree he had perched in, searing a patch of skin on his back through his tee-shirt to the point of discomfort. He shifted slightly, clutching the limb with his hands, and looked down.
He hadn't meant to fall asleep here, but old habits die hard. He'd pulled himself up into this tree just to rest awhile and have a better look at his surroundings, but the sense of peace and security he had always felt while cradled in a high, sturdy tree had immediately affected him and had soon lulled him to sleep.
The afternoon was unseasonably warm and sunny and the breeze had been soft and caressing. The limb he had chosen to recline on swayed and creaked slightly, delicately rattling the leaves surrounding him, blocking out the more caustic noises of the city beyond.
A man, maybe just a few years younger than John, and a pretty young woman apparently had also sought repose in the shelter of this tree. They huddled together against the base of the trunk, holding each other close while talking and laughing.
Curious, John watched them from above. They touched constantly, held hands, and repeatedly pressed small kisses on each other's lips. They stared into each other's eyes as if the world around them simply didn't exist. Anyone watching them could tell they were in love with each other. Even John.
The couple's displays of affection soon began to bother John however, and he quickly decided he didn't want to watch them anymore. It wasn't that he felt embarrassed--any other time, the young lovers' demonstration would have been heartwarming and sweet to witness, but today it filled John with a strange jealousy at the obvious rightness of their relationship, and it made what was wrong with his own relationship glaringly clear.
John descended from his perch slowly and carefully until he reached a point where he could safely jump to the ground; then did so, landing a few feet away from the embracing couple. His unexpected presence clearly startled the two of them at first, but as soon as he started off, they re-focused their attention back on each other, and seemed to forget all about the strange man who'd just dropped into their midst from the sky.
And John was too immersed in his own thoughts now to pay the young couple any more heed. Why wasn't it like that between him and Jane? John puzzled, striding past another line of trees while habitually keeping off the more eroded path leading out of the park.
He considered the times he and Jane were alone together. Once he believed Jane might be falling in love with him, but now he wasn't so sure anymore. Lately, she preferred to keep her distance from him, and on the few occasions he had managed to get close to her, she became upset. More often than not, his efforts to please her only succeeded in angering her. She used to look at him with fascination. Now she looked at him with uncertainty. Despite his lack of experience, John was pretty sure that wasn't the way a woman falling in love should act.
John knew without a doubt he loved Jane. She'd captured his heart that night on the roof, and when he looked into her eyes, she became everything for him and nothing else mattered. He wanted Jane to look at him that way--like the couple beneath the tree had looked at each other. They had been happy in love and had openly expressed it. John wanted to express his love for Jane like that. He wanted to hold Jane and touch her and kiss her. He wished Jane would kiss him too.
His heart prickled with longing at the thought of Jane actually kissing him. How much sweeter a kiss from her would be, he mused--not only because he adored Jane above all things--it would be his very first kiss too. Right now, she didn't want to kiss him, and she had stopped him the times he had tried to kiss her. It was as if she wasn't about to let anything happen between them that could cause her to fall in love with him.
John knew Jane at least cared about him. He could see it in her eyes sometimes, even now, but she wouldn't express it. To express it would be to admit it, and Jane didn't seem ready to admit feeling anything like that for John.
His mood growing darker with each passing minute, John made his way out of the park and into the open streets. He didn't bother trying to conceal himself as he usually did. He was too preoccupied and troubled by more important things now than being spotted by his uncle's men or a passing police unit.
Briefly, John considered going by the police station to see if Jane would come out, but nixed the idea. It was early still. If she was even there, she wouldn't be coming out for hours. Any other time, John would wait to see her and try to talk with her awhile before she left to go home, but he didn't feel like waiting for her today. For all the patience he'd shown in the past, his usual reward was simply a reluctant smile followed by some reprimand and a troubled gaze. He couldn't be close to her anymore without wanting to touch her, and if she pulled away from him now, it would be too unbearable.
Maybe, she doesn't really want to be with me, John suddenly and sadly, concluded. She still misses him--her fiancÚ, Michael. She loved him. Jane treated Michael very different from the way she treated John. She always touched Michael, and let him touch her. John had seen them together on enough occasions to know.
Thoroughly discouraged, John headed back to the mansion where his aunt lived. He liked the garden there and knew it was one of the few quiet places he could go to be alone and think about things without people bothering him. His aunt had ventured up to the garden a few times, but mostly she left him alone if she knew he was there. She seemed content just to know he had found a place in her home he could call his own and returned to it of his own free will. He was grateful for that, especially today.
Scaling the side of the building with relative ease, John pulled himself over the ledge of the greenhouse's large stone balcony. The glass door leading into the garden itself was still open from this morning, as well as the entryway door which allowed him access back into the house.
Unfortunately, there was neither quiet nor solitude waiting for him in the garden this afternoon. As soon as his feet hit the stone landing, he knew he wasn't alone, and the droning roar of a vacuum cleaner coming from the rooms beyond confirmed it. The maid, John concluded with a frustrated growl, and headed towards her with a contemptuous determination.
Mary had her back to John and was busy rolling her machine over a small patch of carpet. She didn't realize he was directly behind her until he shoved her aside, seized hold of the vacuum she'd been using, and threw it against the wall, pulling the plug forcefully from the outlet, and replacing its obnoxious roar with Mary's frightened shrieking. She fled from the rooms in something close to a blind terror, calling frantically for John's aunt.
John knew Mary was afraid of him, and realized with a tinge of remorse the woman would probably never set foot near him again. He shouldn't have scared her the way he did, but he was too upset right now to really care and taking out his temper on the vacuum helped release some of his frustration.
Not really knowing what else to do, he paced the length of the room, clenching and unclenching his fists at his sides, pausing now and then to kick at a piece of furniture or pound on the already dented paneling.
"John!" Kathleen suddenly shouted, making her nephew stop in his tracks and face her.
"Go away!" John yelled back, and resumed his pacing. He wasn't in the mood to be scolded by her either, even though deep down, he knew he deserved to be.
"John, what's the matter? What happened?" Kathleen asked. "Talk to me, please."
The genuine concern in her expression and the pleading tone of her voice grabbed John's attention again. He stared into her eyes for a few tense moments, then shook his head, throwing himself forcefully against the wall and turning away from her.
"I want to be alone."
Kathleen sighed. "Maybe I can help if you tell me what's wrong," she suggested, quietly. "You can't expect me not to be concerned when you're this upset about something. You need to just calm down and tell me what happened."
The soothing tone of his aunt's voice did help ease some of his tension. Pressing his back into the wall, John peered over at her, and gnawed his lower lip fitfully. He could feel the anger inside him ebb away, but it shifted into an almost aching sadness which felt even worse. His knees buckled under him, and slowly, he sank to the floor, crossing his arms over his legs. He shook his head again and swallowed hard, tearing his gaze from Kathleen's distressed face to the floor in front of his bare feet.
"What's wrong with me?" he whispered, rocking slowly back and forth, still too keyed up to sit still.
Kathleen's jaw fell open in surprise. She took a tentative step forward, licked her lips, and furrowed her brow in confusion.
"Wrong? John, what do you mean?" Kathleen demanded, trying desperately to comprehend her nephew's anxiety.
John fought with the need to confide in her and the desire to be left alone. He wasn't used to having someone to talk to. He still didn't feel comfortable letting someone know what he was thinking and what he was feeling. But he had confided in Kathleen before, and knew when he had, he had felt better about it. Maybe she truly could help him now. Maybe she could explain it all to him so he could understand and feel good again.
He looked up at his aunt once more and forced himself to speak.
"Something is wrong. Why doesn't Jane want the same things I do? This isn't the way it's supposed to be. I know it isn't."
Kathleen nodded. "Oh. I guess I should have known this had something to do with Jane Porter." She paused and took a deep breath. "John, did she tell you this?"
John lowered his gaze again and tightened his grip on his legs. "With her eyes she does. And the way she moves away from me. We're supposed to touch each other...but she doesn't ever want to. She still loves Michael. Her voice still hurts when she talks about him."
Kathleen winced visibly. "John, you have to try to understand, she loved her fiance...and it might take her a long time to be at peace with his loss. She just may not think another relationship is exactly necessary, so soon after....That doesn't mean there is anything 'wrong' with you."
"Then why do I make her cry?"
Crossing her arms over her chest, Kathleen took another step forward. "You...just have to give her some time, John. She cares about you. I know she does."
John scowled up at his aunt. That was the last thing he wanted to hear. "How much time?"
Kathleen shrugged helplessly. "I don't know. You should talk to her about this, not me."
This wasn't helping him, John realized. He wasn't feeling better about any of this, he was feeling worse. He shot to his feet and pushed past his aunt to go back out into the greenhouse.
"John, wait!" Kathleen called and jogged after him into the garden. She looked around, but her nephew had already all but disappeared into thin air. Putting her hands on her hips, Kathleen shook her head and retreated back into the interior of the mansion.
Watching her go from the seclusion of his shadowy perch, John dragged his hands through his long hair a few times and looked around.
He was alone now, but that didn't offer him any comfort either. More than anything he wanted to go find Jane. He wanted to be with her. It was the only thing he knew that would take away his unhappiness. Being close to her always filled him with a sense of belonging, of rightness, and completion. Maybe if he went to her tonight, she would be pleased to see him. If she would only smile at him and take his hand and tell him everything would be all right, he felt he could give her the time she needed to find the sense of peace his aunt had spoken of.
Before he'd actually made up his mind, John was out of the garden and over the balcony ledge.
It was dark now and the light shining from Jane's apartment windows told John she was home and settling down for the night. A faint trace of her scent lingered in the cool night air around her building. Just the familiarity of it was comforting to John and as he started climbing towards her apartment, he knew he had done the right thing by seeking her out.
But once he'd made it to the ledge outside her bedroom, he opened her window, and hesitated. She wasn't in the room and the light was turned off. He had foolishly hoped to find her waiting for him, but quickly realized she never waited to see him. She always seemed to have better things to do. The few times she had actually wanted to see him, she had sought him out and he had readily come to her, anxious to please her and happy just to have her attention, even if it was usually for a short while.
Obviously, she wasn't looking for him tonight. In the mood he was in, that told him she didn't particularly want to see him. What right did he have coming here to be with her when she didn't want to be with him?
Angry at himself now, John drew away from Jane's window and retreated back over the ledge. He continued down to the street, but couldn't bring himself to leave her entirely without at least catching a glimpse of her and reassuring himself that she was safe and sound. He quickly scaled the building across from hers, making sure he stayed hidden in the shadows to avoid detection and crouched down low to wait for her.
She finally appeared an hour or so later, turning on the light switch and flooding the vacant bedroom with artificial brightness. John watched her go right to the open window with a curious expression on her face and look around. To his surprise, she called his name, but it wasn't a summoning. It was only as if she just wanted to make sure he wasn't there.
Satisfied, she withdrew back into the room, closed the window and flipped the lock. The lights went out a few moments later, but John could see easily through the ensuing darkness. Jane pulled back the blankets on her bed and slipped beneath them, laying her head on her pillow and settling down to sleep.
He had been right. Jane hadn't wanted him there tonight.
The following morning, John trailed Jane to the police station and around on various errands she ran with her partner, Sam, but he did not approach her and she never once looked for him. She didn't call him to her or even seem to give his absence a passing thought.
By late afternoon, John reluctantly headed back to Kathleen's mansion and his garden at the top. This time, there was no maid cleaning the rooms beyond, and no sign of his aunt either. He was used to being alone, but he didn't necessarily prefer it. Tonight, the stillness around him only made him more lonesome, and this time, he knew even seeing Jane would not console him.
He kept thinking about the couple in the park and their affection for each other. He passed the time imagining he was that young man and Jane was that pretty young woman snuggling happily beneath an old oak tree on a lazy, sunny afternoon. John wondered if it would ever be that way between him and Jane. It was nice to think about, but it was also making him want it that much more.
John did not go to Jane's apartment that night. Instead, he stayed in the greenhouse until he fell asleep in a bed of jonquils and was roused the next morning with the sun's rays warming his face. He washed in the little artificial pond beneath the two young willow trees, changed into some different clothes, and headed out for the day.
He tried not to think of Jane as he made his way into the park, but he couldn't stop thinking about her either. He missed her so much. It was hard to watch her and not approach her, but it was even harder to stay away from her completely, he decided.
After roaming the perimeter of the park a few times, John made up his mind to go to the police station and wait for Jane to come out. He promised he would not go to her. He would only look at her. He didn't like the idea, but knew seeing her was better than nothing.
It was well after dusk when Jane finally came out of the station. John instinctively knew she wasn't heading home when she did. Sam was with her and the looks on their faces told him they were still working. They both got into a car and drove off. John turned away from the police station and headed to Kathleen's.
By the third day, it was getting easy to stay away from Jane, but John couldn't tell if it was making Jane any happier or not. He couldn't tell if letting her have this time to herself was making any difference in the way she felt towards him.
It wasn't until that night at her apartment, that John saw Jane at the window of her bedroom from his rooftop hide-away across the street. She opened it and stared out into the darkness of the night for a long time with a slightly troubled expression. After a few moments, she closed the window, turned the lock and went to bed.
John sighed heavily and made his way back home.
Kathleen came up to the garden the next morning, carrying a tray of sliced fruit, cheeses, and small pieces of various meats.
Having been awake for hours, John saw her, and eased himself down from the small tree he'd been sitting in to go to her. She didn't bring him food very often, and when she did, it usually meant she had something to say to him and used the food to entice him to listen.
John moved slowly so he wouldn't startle her. He didn't want to make her drop the tray. The food smelled too good, and he hadn't felt like eating much lately, but this morning his empty stomach would not be ignored.
Kathleen's eyes fell upon her nephew as he glided through the greenhouse's overgrown fauna towards her, and she smile hesitantly. She held the tray out towards him.
"You haven't been around for awhile, have you?" she began. "Mary told me you haven't touched the trays she's brought up to you. She thought maybe it was because you were mad at her, so I thought I'd bring up this one."
John drew up in front of his aunt and reached for a slice of melon. He popped it into his mouth and grabbed handfuls more.
Kathleen smiled. "Jane called me last night. She asked about you."
John was so stunned, he almost choked on his food. He blinked back at his aunt in surprise, his mouth too full to reply.
Kathleen nodded. "I told her you were fine, because I didn't want her to worry. But I didn't really know if you were fine or not."
John hurriedly chewed so he could talk. "What did she say?"
Regarding her nephew with a discerning eye, Kathleen helped herself to a piece of white cheese and nibbled it delicately. "She said she hadn't seen you around in awhile and wondered if you were all right. I think she still feels responsible for your well-being."
Gesturing at Kathleen, John stepped closer to her. "She wondered about me?"
Kathleen nodded. "I take it you haven't talked to her recently?" she guessed. "You didn't tell her what you told me about the way you were feeling?"
John bowed his head. He stared into the array of food on the tray but it had once more lost its appeal. "No," he grumbled and turned away. "You don't understand." John peered up into her eyes. Maybe she understood some things, but she didn't understand how hard it was for him to see Jane so unhappy and know he was inherently the cause of her misery.
In a fit of frustration, John slammed his hand into the trunk of a nearby ficus tree, sending a deluge of tiny leaves raining down upon his aunt. He turned away from her on his heel and started across the mossy atrium floor.
Kathleen closed her eyes momentarily, then set the tray of food on a flat rock by her feet.
"John, will you just listen for once," she continued softly, lowering her voice in an attempt to calm her nephew down. "I do understand. Don't you think I can see what's going on between you two? I can see what it is doing to you, but in a way, you're doing this to yourself--"
John had already decided he didn't want to hear anymore. He was out of the garden and over the ledge before his aunt had finished speaking. He heard her call his name, but he didn't stop until his feet hit the street. Then he ran.
When John got within sight of the police station, he was surprised to Jane was standing outside, arms folded across her chest to ward off the morning chill. She stood motionless for the longest time, moving only when her fellow officers passed her by or spoke to her. When they had gone, Jane hesitantly looked up, her eyes moving slowly from one rooftop to the next. She was looking for him.
Watching her, John forced himself to stay hidden in the recessed doorway of the little coffee shop down the block. His heart thumped madly in his chest knowing Jane was searching for him. Maybe she just wanted to see for herself that he was all right though. Wasn't that why she had called his aunt last night? Just because she was looking for him now didn't necessarily mean she actually wanted him to come to her, and as if to prove him right, she turned a moment later and stalked into the police station, ready to start her day.
John slumped dejectedly against the side of the doorway, Kathleen's words ringing through his head. Maybe he should try to talk to Jane about how he was feeling, but he didn't know what questions he could ask her that hadn't already been answered in the depths of her eyes. He could see the love abiding there, but he knew it wasn't for him. Lately all he ever merited was sadness or sometimes, concern. That was a little better than sadness, but a long way from love.
Reluctantly, John turned and walked away.
He had prowled the streets surrounding the police station for hours before heading for Jane's apartment building and settling himself on the roof to wait for her to return. He slept a little, curled up in a corner beside the exhaust fans. It was shaded, but warm there and when he woke to the sound of a car door slamming, the sun had long since set.
Scurrying to the edge of the roof, John peered down into the brightly lit street below just in time to see Jane jogging up the steps to the front door. She paused at the top and looked behind her as if she could sense someone was near. Then she called his name.
"John?" She quickly scanned the nearby rooftops. "John, are you there?"
He wondered if she was actually searching for him and if he should go to her, but then he wondered if it may be too soon. Maybe she still needed more time. Quickly, John ducked out of sight and huddled behind the short stone ledge. He longed to go to her, but stayed determinedly down so she wouldn't see him.
Jane called his name again before giving up and going inside. John told himself he did the right thing by not showing himself. He convinced himself Jane had only acted out of curiosity and nothing more. She knew someone was watching her and it was only natural for her to think it might be him. Maybe she'd just called to him to reassure herself. She hadn't actually asked to see him. Like before, she had only wanted to know if he was there.
John's exhilaration quickly turned into a black depression. He sat on the roof looking out at the city lights thinking without Jane, his life seemed to have no purpose. He had nothing to do now that he wasn't helping her with her cases or looking out for her along the way.
He had still managed to thwart the odd mugging or assault in the park and back alleyways from time to time, but his heart just wasn't into actively patrolling what he'd come to dub as his 'territory' anymore. He'd always felt it was another way to help Jane and help the people who relied on her protection, but now it seemed as if what he did just didn't matter anymore.
Having made his way back to his garden retreat, John perched on the balcony ledge and continued his night time vigil, thinking of his aunt again and what she had said. He knew she was only concerned for him and felt just as protective of him as Jane seemed to feel. He didn't understand why either one of them felt that way since he'd proven time and time again he could take care of himself, but it made him feel cared for at least, if not exactly loved.
Carefully, John lowered himself from the ledge and continued on through the greenhouse into his father's apartments. He crossed the hallway to the stairs and tracked his aunt down in the library.
She didn't hear him come in and appeared to be too involved in the newspaper she was reading to look up. John didn't want to surprise her so he paused at the door and tapped on it softly with his fingertips.
"Are you busy?" he questioned softly.
Kathleen promptly lowered the paper, her eyes widening at the sight of her nephew. Tentatively, she rose to her feet and crossed the room to stand in front of him.
"Well, aren't you full of surprises," she murmured with a gently encouraging smile. "I don't see you in this part of the house very often. Would you like to come in and sit down? You look like you might have a few things on your mind. We could talk if you'd like."
John nodded hesitantly and swallowed hard. Suddenly he wasn't really sure what to say.
Kathleen peered at him curiously. "John? What is it?" she prompted.
"I don't know how to make things right," he whispered finally and fixed his gaze on the highly polished wood floor.
Kathleen frowned. "I...I'm not sure I understand."
John took a deep, shuddering breath. "Yes you do. I'm not 'necessary' to her."
Kathleen looked back at him somewhat stricken.
"Oh John," she sighed. She raised her arms to draw him nearer, but hesitated, clearly unsure if he would let her offer him the kind of comforting she sought to give him. "When I said that, I didn't mean you personally. It's just that a relationship takes a lot of work and devotion and maybe Jane just isn't up to that for the time being."
"She needs more time?"
Kathleen frowned. "Maybe. But avoiding her altogether is risky too, you just have to play it by ear. I really think what you need to do is talk to her."
John looked into his aunt's eyes searchingly. "I want to talk to her, but I don't think she wants to talk to me."
"It's a tough call," Kathleen agreed. "I wish I could give you something more definitive but your relationship with Jane Porter is so unique, I don't think the there is any definitive solution. Just take it day by day. I know you know how to do that, and it hasn't steered you wrong, has it?"
John leaned against the doorframe and considered this. Taking it day by day was sound advice and made more sense to him than anything else had so far. He nodded and straightened, having made up his mind.
"Thank you," he called back over his shoulder to Kathleen as he trotted back up the hall.
After a few hours of restless sleep, John washed and changed clothes, then left the atrium and headed into the park just before sunrise.
Even at this hour, there were people about. Cars were rolling along the streets, businesses were opening, people were walking every which way on the sidewalks, and lights from windows were beginning to dot the high-rise buildings. It was still quieter than it was mid-afternoon and early evening, but John just wasn't used to this kind of human activity around him at all hours of the day and night.
It occurred to him how even among all these people, he felt as alone as he had during the most bleakest years in the jungle when he was very young and still trying to find his way in his new home. This city was his home now, but he had never really felt a part of it until he had found Jane. Now, he wanted to be a part of it, but without her, it seemed as strange and wild to him as Africa had once. Maybe he wasn't necessary to her, but she was certainly necessary to him.
As if dwelling on her had conjured Jane up, John suddenly caught a trace of her scent in the breeze along with her usual cosmetic fragrances of green apple shampoo, bergamot soap, and citrus cologne. She was in the park, which seemed unusual for her at this hour of the morning. She was apprehensive about something, and undertaking some form of physical exertion.
Inexplicably pleased by this chance encounter, John tracked Jane to one of the park's many footpaths, and crouched behind a tall, flowering shrub to observe her awhile before approaching her.
She was jogging. That struck John as peculiar. Jane didn't normally come to the park to jog. In fact, he had never seen her out jogging before. But there she was, in a track suit of sorts, a towel around her neck, a sweating plastic bottle of water in her hand, pausing at the side of the path to douse her flushed face.
John debated whether he should reveal himself or not, but being so close to her made the urge to speak to her too overwhelming. As Jane walked towards him, swabbing her forehead with the towel, John stepped forward. Jane looked up, then froze mid-stride when she saw him, stifling a startled gasp.
John smiled at her, but noticed her expression in return was something close to panic. She pawed at her clothing and started talking, but John knew right away she wasn't speaking to him.
"Ah...nothing, I'm fine! I'm just...having some problems with the wire...I think I snagged it on something." With that, she ripped several strands of electrical wire from beneath her sweatshirt and yanked apart the connection. Then she sighed heavily, fixed her eyes on John's and frowned. "You finally decide to show up and it has to be at the worse possible time."
Not understanding her anger, John took another tentative step closer, but Jane immediately held up her hand as if to ward him off.
"John, you've got to get out of here," she mumbled, looking around. "There are police all over the place. I'm working right now. I can't be seen with you here."
Now John frowned. "Working? Let me help you."
Jane sighed again. "No, John. Listen. I'm working undercover. We're trying to catch someone. I need you to go. If I don't reconnect the wire soon, the police are going to come looking for me."
Not really understanding her explanation, John didn't bother commenting on it. "I thought we could talk."
Jane shook her head forcefully. "I can't! Don't you understand? I'm working! You HAVE to go! You could blow this whole operation if you don't. I know you wouldn't mean to, but if the guy we're after sees me talking to you or anyone, he might not come after me and we won't be able to catch him."
John furrowed his brow. He didn't like the sound of that. "The police are using you as bait to trap this man?" Images of the jogger he'd saved from that delinquent gang a few weeks ago immediately surfaced in his mind.
Jane nodded and resorted to pushing John away from her, back behind the flowering bush. "Exactly. That's why I can't talk to you now. Please John. Just go."
"But this will put you in danger," he stated knowingly, looking around. He had absolutely no intentions of going anywhere.
Jane must have recognized the look he was giving her, and decided to try a different approach. She took a deep, steadying breath, and John could tell she was trying to keep her temper in check. When she spoke to him, her voice was very calm and collected.
"I swear to you, I'm not in any danger," she stated, looking him squarely in the eye. "I'm armed and there are other police officers patrolling the park with me. When I reconnect my wire, they'll hear everything I'm saying and I'll be able to hear them too. There's no need for you to worry about me. But if you don't go now, I'll be too distracted worrying about you to do my job, and this person we're after will get away. I have to do this, John. And I have to do this by myself. You can't interfere."
John stared back at Jane in bewilderment. He couldn't believe she wanted him to leave. He was certain Jane knew he could help her, yet she insisted he let her do this herself. She said she wasn't in danger, but John didn't want to take that chance.
As it was, John could hear someone moving just off the trail, even though visually, there seemed to be no one in the near vicinity. The way this person kept starting and stopping was suspicious, and it made John's hackles rise.
Just as he opened his mouth to protest leaving, Jane's eyes suddenly flashed with renewed anger. She planted both her hands on his chest and shoved him back hard.
"Go away!" she hissed between clenched teeth. "Get out of here now!"
John took a step back. Jane was truly mad at him now, which forced John to consider the fact that if he didn't do as she wished, it could be a long time before she forgave him enough to let him close to her again. Tentatively, he retreated.
Jane was already hurrying away from him, down the footpath, trying to discreetly reconnect her wiring. She seemed too upset and preoccupied with the task at hand now to take notice of the shadow of a man coming right at her.
But John noticed him. He stopped and whirled around, all his senses flaring in warning. Jane was well down the path now but not out of John's sight. Every one of his well-honed instincts told him to go after her--that this man was about to attack her, but she had been so adamant about him not interfering, he found his body locked in a sort of suspended animation. He tried to reassure himself that Jane was in no danger, that the other police officers were close, and that she could take care of herself, but watching Jane fuss with the wires she was wearing and not paying any attention to her surroundings stated the contrary. She hadn't been able to reconnect the wires and until she did, he knew she was on her own.
The man was almost upon her. Jane looked up, at first giving him just a passing glance, probably anticipating another jogger, and returned her attention to her tangled wiring. Then her expression changed completely. She did a fast double-take, her eyes growing wide with recognition and fear. It was then the man grabbed her, covering her mouth with his hand and encircling her tiny waist with his arm. He tried dragging Jane off the trail into a more wooded area, but she effectively fought him while struggling to reach the concealed gun behind her back.
In seconds, John couldn't bear any more. He had to do something. He couldn't possibly just stand around and watch Jane being hurt.
Taking a determined step forward, John's bare heel landed on something hard and sharp making it abruptly seized with pain, and momentarily distracting him. He hopped back, glancing down at the object he'd just stepped on.
A rock about the size of his fist lay on the ground in front of him and immediately gave him an idea. He snatched it up and drew it back behind his head, taking careful aim. He did not doubt he could hit the man from this distance. With lethal precision, he'd thrown rocks and knives and spears a lot farther than this before, but he had to do it fast and just hard enough to give Jane the chance to gain the upper hand.
John kept his eyes fixed on the man's head, waiting for the right moment to throw the stone. The way he and Jane were thrashing about was making it hard to insure any accuracy, so John knew once he was given the opportunity to hit his target, he couldn't hesitate. Luckily, it came a moment later. Jane had managed to turn her assailant so the back of the man's head was now directly in John's line of vision. He pitched the rock at him with an adrenaline-fed speed. It struck the man's head, making him grunt with pain, and drop limply to the ground at Jane's feet.
Jane skirted away from her felled attacker, producing her gun in the blink of an eye, and training it on his now motionless form. She gaped down at him in shock, then looked up and around knowingly.
John was already well on his way out of the park. He did not want to wait around for Jane to confront him about what he had just done. He knew he had scorned her wishes that he not interfere, and he knew whatever reason he deemed valid for doing so, was not going to be sufficient enough to satisfy her.
Seeking solace on the rooftop across from Jane's apartment building, John found a shaded corner and curled up in it to sulk the day away. He was bone tired, but knew he wouldn't be able to sleep. He was hungry and cold and miserable, but couldn't bring himself to remedy any of these maladies either. Instead, he sat thinking a torrent of thoughts. Typically, Jane was at each one's core.
No matter how hard he tried, John couldn't stop thinking about her. Since the night he'd first found her, Jane occupied his mind unceasingly. Normally he relished these thoughts, but today, he was tormented by them. Everything he imagined now turned his hopes and dreams of winning her love into impossibilities. He had to face the facts. Jane was not happy around him. She did not want to love him. Lately, he only frustrated and angered her. What was even worse, he made her sad. For the first time, John considered leaving Jane alone for good. He loved her so much it hurt his heart to think of never seeing her again, but he also knew he could do it because he also loved her enough to let her go.
Time was an irrelevant thing to John. The day's passing was marked only by the descent of the sun and the rising of the moon. Looking up into the night sky now, John could see faint traces of stars too stubbornly bright to be completely subdued by New York's lights. Before he came here, he could look up into the sky and know exactly where he was in the forest by the positions of the stars he stood under. He knew the season and the month and noted each passing year by the rotation of the stars. He couldn't decipher any of these things here yet.
Night had fallen, but John didn't know how late it really was until he heard some muffled noises below him accompanied by Jane's apples and bergamot scent in the air. It didn't take him long to realize she was coming up to the roof. He could hear her footfalls on the metal stairs and soon was able to pick up the sound of her slightly labored breathing.
She was getting closer, but before she appeared, John scrambled to his feet and into one of the darker corners of the roof behind a large housing for one of the ventilation fans.
More than likely, Jane had sought him out tonight to reprimand him and once more tell him to stay away from her. A part of him wanted to flee the roof completely, but another part of him longed to linger and catch a glimpse of her standing so slender and statuesque against the shimmering city skyline, her long hair flaying gently in the breeze, her pale skin softened by the night's shadows. John sighed wistfully in spite of himself and strained to see Jane clearly from his hiding place.
"John?" she called as soon as her booted feet hit the floor of the roof. "John, I know you're up here. Nikki saw you. She told me you've been up here all day." Jane paused and looked around futilely. "John, I really need to talk to you."
Leaning forward a little, John tried to make out Jane's expression in the dark. He could see her well enough, but she kept turning away from him. She clearly didn't know where he was. If he stayed hidden here until she left, he wouldn't have to confront her and he wouldn't have to tell her good-bye.
"John, please?" Jane continued quietly. "I just wanted to explain what happened this morning. I know you think I'm angry at you and I am, to some degree, but it's not because of what you did in the park. John, I worry about you. I can't stop worrying about you and when you don't listen to me, I get frustrated and scared because I don't want anything bad to happen to you. I'm trying to protect you and you aren't making this very easy for me."
"Why do you protect me?" John called out to Jane, rising to his feet. Her words were making him feel even more miserable than he already was. He stepped out from behind the fan housing unit and over to the middle of the roof where Jane stood. "I don't need your protection. I can take care of myself."
Jane peered up at him and put her hands defiantly on her slim hips. "Oh really?"
John glared back at her, standing as close to her as he dared without touching her. He nodded once in response, his jaw working with tension, his throat tightening with anger.
"Well, all right," Jane conceded, looking away momentarily. "Maybe in the wild you could. But things are different here. And no matter how fast or how strong you are, you're no match against technology." She paused and thumped his chest with her finger for emphasis. "Against bullets and bombs, cars and...cages and drugs. All I'm saying is, if you keep pitting yourself against these things, one of these days, you're going to lose everything." Jane looked up at him and frowned. "Look, I care enough about you to not want you to take that risk, is that all right with you?"
John felt his temper wane as he stared into Jane's beautiful eyes. He still didn't understand why she was so angry with him if not for that little incident in the park this morning, but at the moment, it really didn't matter. At least she was here, next to him, looking back at him now as if she simply couldn't pull her gaze away, the warmth of her body radiating from her pearl-like skin, the sweetness of her scent filling him with her presence and vitality.
Before he could stop himself, John stretched out his hand and trailed his fingertips down the length of Jane's arm.
Jane started as if electrified by his touch. She seemed to shrink away from him and lowered her eyes self-consciously, rubbing her sensitized arm with her other hand like she wanted to erase what it was feeling.
Disheartened once more, John took his cue and stepped back. Before Jane even looked up again, he was gone.
Kathleen was talking to him, but John wasn't really listening. In fact, he purposefully draped his arm across his ear to muffle the sound of her voice, but it didn't help much. He could still hear her. Looking down at her from the scaffolding he had been sleeping on, John watched her pace a tight circle below him in the little clearing by the viney philodendrons in his greenhouse retreat.
She was going on about some childhood friend of hers whom she simply adored, but fought with constantly. John didn't understand why she felt compelled to tell him about this. Maybe she just needed someone to talk to for awhile, John thought and decided to let his aunt ramble on until she felt better. After all, Kathleen had offered to listen to him on more than one occasion.
John rolled over on his side, propping his head up with his arm and drowsily scratched his chest. He felt as if he'd just been awakened after sleeping for days. His body was stiff and his mind was somewhat groggy and he realized he couldn't focus on what Kathleen was saying even if he tried. He spared a glance through the leafy treetops contained within the atrium through the glass ceiling and was nearly blinded by the glare of the sun. It was past morning. It had to be early afternoon.
"...and Jane Porter."
Hearing Jane's name, John immediately perked up. He stared down at Kathleen for a moment, waiting for her to go on. When she didn't, he pushed himself up, and flipped off the scaffolding, landing squarely in front of her in a crouching position. Slowly he straightened to his full height, and trained his gaze on his aunt's pretty face.
"What about Jane?" he prompted.
Kathleen smiled easily. "Well, don't you see the similarities?"
John tilted his head to the side slightly in confusion. Maybe if he had been paying better attention to what Kathleen had been saying earlier, the similarities she spoke of might be obvious.
Kathleen crossed her arms over her chest thoughtfully. "I didn't really have the chance to explain exactly what I meant when I told you to give Jane some time to heal. I'm hoping I can make you better understand that things aren't as hopeless as you seem to believe lately. Have you ever heard the expression, 'absence makes the heart grow fonder'?"
It sounded familiar, but John couldn't be certain. He shook his head just to be on the safe side.
"Well, it means that separation can sometimes have an endearing affect between two people. A healing affect as well. Sometimes when you make a mistake with someone, it helps to let time smooth things over."
"Really?" Kathleen had John's undivided attention now.
"Mmm hmm. When you're kept away from someone you love, by chance or circumstance, their faults become more insignificant, and you have a tendency to focus more on what's good about them."
John considered this. But then, he had left Jane alone and it hadn't changed her focus any.
Skeptically, John raised an eyebrow. "You believe that?"
Kathleen sighed. "To a point, yes."
"But Jane doesn't see anything good about me," John continued woefully. "Even when I stay away."
Shaking her head slowly, Kathleen reached up and pushed a stray lock of hair from John's eyes back behind his ear.
"There's a lot of good in you, John Clayton Jr. and I know Jane sees it. That's why she feels the way she does about you. She doesn't think she should so soon after losing Michael, but she can't deny it because it is right there in front of her face." Kathleen paused, pressing her palm to John's cheek, a look of concern shadowing her eyes. "Don't get discouraged. Just take things slow. After awhile, Jane will accept what she's feeling and come to you more able to express herself. In the meantime, it wouldn't hurt if now and then, you go to her, and remind her of what's waiting for her when she has come to terms with her emotions."
The corners of John's mouth turned up slightly. He covered his aunt's hand with his and lifted it from his face and brushed it with his lips. Then he released her, turned and disappeared into the overgrowth, making his way to the balcony.
Once more, John's head was full of his aunt's lofty advice. Take things slow. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Don't get discouraged. There had to be some grain of truth to her words, John thought. Depriving himself of Jane had made his heart fonder, even if it hadn't exactly worked on her yet. He had also realized how necessary she was to him. His thoughts dwelled consistently on her. Every time he caught a glimpse of her now, he was struck anew by how beautiful he thought she was, and it made him physically ache to be near her.
John found himself reclining on the same limb of the same old oak tree which had drawn the two young lovers to its shady repose just a week or so earlier. He liked this spot himself because not only was it a good vantage point and gave him a bird's eye view of the park, it was the one place he knew no one would find him or even think to look for him. He felt he could let down his guard here--something he could never do in the jungle, and that allowed him the opportunity to submerse himself in his thoughts, and put them into a proper perspective.
He considered his mistakes yesterday morning. He should have stayed hidden and never approached Jane. If he had simply followed her, she wouldn't have had the chance to tell him not to interfere so he actually could have interfered more effectively, and her anger at him for doing so wouldn't have been justified.
Jane had had every right to be angry at him now, John decided. He should have listened to her. Not abiding by her wishes had placed her in more danger even though she had stated last night she was angry at him for placing himself in danger. John didn't understand how he'd done that exactly, but he did know Jane wouldn't have been put in the situation she had, if she'd have kept her wire's connection intact. She wouldn't have been distracted by John's presence, and she would have been more alert and prepared when the man had come at her from off the path.
John sighed and rested his chin on his crossed arms, watching people move about the park now engaged in various recreations. Some people were sitting on benches just looking around. Others were walking dogs, playing with children, or conversing with each other. There was a couple on a picnic blanket sharing a lunch in the clearing. Another couple were strolling languidly down the footpath hand in hand. Two men were sitting around a small table playing chess.
Then John spied a familiar figure moving towards him that made him sit bolt upright and bang his head on the limb above him. It was Jane.
Right away, John's heart was seized by the sight of her, and he had to fight the urge to climb down and go to her. Maybe she was working undercover again. She wouldn't want him around if she was. He had learned that lesson at least. But something told him she was neither working, nor randomly walking around this afternoon. She was looking for him, and judging from the determination in her stride as she drew nearer to his tree, John knew she believed she had found him.
As if to confirm his assumptions, Jane looked up as she came beneath the oak's sprawling limbs and circled the trunk while calling his name.
John descended quickly, thrilled by the fact she had sought him out and wanted to see him. He dropped to the ground just behind her, making her have to whirl around to face him.
"John," she said and smiled. She took a deep breath and looked him slowly up and down.
"How did you find me?" John asked her, his eyes locked on hers.
Jane's smile widened. "I hunted for you."
Jane paused and licked her lips somewhat apprehensively. "Well, actually, I just utilized some good old-fashioned detective work. You hadn't shown up at my place, so I went to your aunt's house. She told me you had left there late this morning. Being as it's Sunday, I didn't think you'd go to the police station and considering the amiable weather we've been having lately, I took a guess you might be drawn to the park. When I got here, the most logical place to look for you was in a tree and considering this is the tallest tree, I figured you'd more than likely be up in it." She paused momentarily and gestured at him. "I was right."
John fought a smile. It wasn't exactly the way he hunted, but he was still impressed. He took a step closer to her.
"Why are you here?"
Jane's expression sobered somewhat and she looked down briefly. "You haven't been to see me much lately. I know we need to talk, but the opportunities just haven't been ripe the last two times we've connected. As it was, I came to talk to you last night but you didn't give me the chance to and I wasn't able to thank you."
"Thank me?" John was puzzled, but intrigued by the prospect as well.
Jane nodded and looked deeply into John's eyes. "You knew I was in trouble when that mugger attacked me and you helped me, even though I told you not to. I'm grateful for the fact that you went against my wishes. I know you try very hard to please me and want to help me out, and when you risked my anger by interfering yesterday, that told me you put my best interest above everything else. One of these days, it is going to occur to me you always do, but for now, it still tends to take me by surprise."
John's heart began thudding heavily in his chest. He moved even closer to Jane, but made no move to touch her. Maybe there was something to what his aunt had said about being absent after all. This was the second time Jane had purposefully come to find him. Apparently she had sought him out today because he had left her last night. It seemed like when he drew away from her, she tended to come closer to him.
He wanted her closer now, so John edged around behind Jane, and walked slowly away. Jane turned on her heel, looking startled by his retreat, and skipped readily after him.
"Wait! Don't go! I thought we could talk," she hurriedly explained.
John stopped walking and faced her. He wondered if Jane had purposefully quoted him just now to get his attention.
Jane rolled her eyes in feigned frustration. "Is that all I'm going to get from you today? One worded questions for answers?" John didn't reply to her this time, so she continued. "I thought you said you wanted to talk to me. Yesterday was just a case of bad timing. I couldn't talk to you then, but I can talk to you now."
John turned away from her again and headed towards a cluster of ash trees. He grasped one of the small trunks and swung himself lazily around it, coming face to face with Jane as she followed him. She stopped short and seemed to catch her breath at his new and close proximity to her. Her soft brown eyes roved John's face and she appeared as if she had forgotten what she had wanted to say.
As if entranced, her hand rose to touch his hair, but John practically flinched away from it. He knew if he let Jane touch him, he wouldn't be able to keep from touching her back, and if he made an advance, it might drive her away from him again.
Seemingly startled by John's abrupt reaction, Jane blinked several times, and took a tiny step back.
"John, are you mad at me?"
Releasing the trunk of the tree, John moved to stand in front of Jane, clenching his fists at his sides. He shook his head slowly and furrowed his brow.
"Why would you think that?" he asked her quietly, fighting the urge he had to take her in his arms to reassure her.
Jane shrugged, but looked a little dejected. "It just seems like you keep trying to get away from me." She lowered her eyes, her face further contorting with confusion. "You won't let me touch you. You won't talk to me."
John thought about that. He understood why she might think he was angry at her. These were the same reasons he believed she was always angry with him.
"It doesn't mean I'm mad," he tried to explain to her. "Are you mad when you pull away from me?"
Jane's eyes shot up to his in realization. Her mouth fell open in surprise and a shadow of sadness marred her pretty face.
"No, John. God, I'm so sorry you thought that. It doesn't mean I'm angry with you." She paused and appeared as though she was trying to organize her thoughts. "I'm basically just trying to buy myself some time. Things have been happening a little too fast for me lately, and I haven't been ready to accept a lot of it as real yet. When you came into my life, you hit me like a freight train. I'm still overwhelmed by the fierceness of my feelings for you. I want you to know, I've never felt this way about any man before, John and frankly, it scares me. I just need a little time to make sense of things and get my life back into some semblance of order."
John nodded in understanding. "We can take it day by day," he offered. "I want to help you."
Jane cracked a smile which made John's heart miss a beat.
"I know you do," she replied. "But this is something I just have to work through myself. But just like yesterday morning, if you see me lose my grip on the situation, feel free to intervene. Show up from time to time just to remind me what really matters."
"Like what's 'good'?" John guessed, his eyes lighting with newfound hope.
Jane nodded. Once more she reached up to touch his face. This time John let her. She smiled, genuinely pleased and ran her fingers caressingly over his brow and through his hair.
"Yeah," she breathed. "What's good."
John closed his eyes and leaned into her palm, turning his head slightly to press his lips against her sweet-smelling skin. This time, Jane did not pull away from him either. In fact, she leaned into him, folding her arms between her body and his chest and pressed her face against the side of his neck. John wrapped his arms around her, holding her close and placed his chin against her hair.
"This is good," he murmured, feeling happier in that moment than he had all week long.
"This is good," Jane contentedly agreed.