Our haunted lives are being blown through by a variety of winds, both literally and figuratively speaking. There are stormy ones that cause havoc, intense agitation, and loss of life. There are storms that whip up our emotions.

The tale of two men and a woman that we are about to enter depicts erratic winds that coincide with the development of the conflict…

I was shocked to see my next-door neighbor lounging like a blond goddess in an outrageously scanty gold bikini because it was a chilly, windy day.

As I stepped outside onto the back porch to remove a load of laundry from an old, well-used washing machine, she sat up and grinned brightly. My heart rate picked up.

“Hi,” she said cheerfully. “I’m Dena, one of them and your neighbor. We haven’t actually met yet.”

She had only recently moved in with her husband and daughter.

“Hi, yourself,” I responded hoarsely. “Welcome to the area; my name is Tom.”

The bikini definitely made Dena’s small, slender frame pop. Yet again, I pondered why she was dressed so scantily on this chilly, windy day with clouds frequently snuffing out the sun. I refrained from sharing the idea, though. I estimated her age by secretly observing her to be in her late thirties.

“How far did you relocate?” I tried to look away from her bikini-clad figure as I asked the neighborly question.

“We-my husband Joe and I and our four-year-old daughter Chelsea-are from Anderson,” she answered. “I got a transfer here as a psychologist with the county-health department,” she explained. “Joe opened a liquor store in a small town about 18 miles away, but he is at home today and is asleep. Being bored and restless, I made the decision to go outside for some fresh air. What do you do?”

“I’m a social worker with the state,” I offered, nervously running my hand through my long, medium-brown hair. People said I looked ten years younger than my early forties, despite the fact that I was.

“Oh, good, we have something in common,” she enthused.

“Yeah, you might see it that way,” There was a moment of silence as I nodded. She looked up at me with a smile and her piercing blue eyes after picking up a pine cone and idly studying it.

A stern, impatient voice exploded in the quietness:

“Dena, enter the house! Now!” it commanded from her back porch.

In shock, I whirled around. Dena just gave me a simple hand wave.

“Just a minute, Joe. This is Tom, one of our neighbors,” she announced.

I smiled and said hello. The tall, well-built man nodded coolly.

“Come in, Dena!” he ordered quietly but firmly. He gave both of us a long look before his mustachioed, dark-haired figure retreated inside.

Dena tossed the pine cone carelessly into the trash, sighed, and then sluggishly stood up and stretched.

“It’s been fun,” she said. “But the boss commands,” she laughed.

She said that before rushing into what I assumed to be the kitchen after climbing the stairs.

It appeared as though a brilliant light had abruptly gone out. With a sigh, I put my dirty laundry in a basket, put it in the backseat of my red Nova, and headed to a nearby laundromat to dry the clothes. Dena and her husband came to mind as I waited for them to dry. She was outside wearing only that gold bikini, and he was undoubtedly upset about this. It seemed like he was the possessive, envious kind. He probably grew bored with her lack of interest in a romantic relationship, and Dena, being the free spirit that she was, decided to play on his jealousy. On the surface, her plan appeared to have worked.

The following days were characterized by persistently gusty winds. I stopped by occasionally when Joe was at home to get to know the family but Dena did not reappear in her bikini. Like her mother, the daughter was a charming youngster.

Then, on a rainy night, I hurried to her back door and knocked because I was restless. When Dena showed up at the screen door wearing white shorts and a simple yellow blouse without sleeves, I had almost forgotten how to be bold.

On the nape of her neck, her hair was bunched up and tied back.

“I wasn’t expecting a visit, so hello, Tom.” She seemed flustered. “Joe is at work; he’s not here.”

I nodded while spluttering nervously.

“He must be employed, I assumed. I thought we could chat and maybe you could give me a private tour of your home because I was feeling a little lost. If it feels awkward, I’ll leave and return at a later time when Joe is at home.”

Dena opened the screen door and I began to slink away.

“You’re welcome to enter, Tom. Chelsea is now in bed, and I was planning to read by the fire and have a snack.”

I took off my raincoat and gratefully stepped out of the drizzle. Their kitchen was spotless and organized. The walls and ceiling were painted in bright colors, and it appeared to have the majority of modern conveniences. Dena offered me a drink, some cheese and crackers, and a snack.

“I feel uneasy about Joe driving home in this weather tonight,” With worry in her eyes, Dena commented.

“Yes, the world is a bad place. He’ll be fine though. Don’t worry.”

That brilliant light was suddenly being cast by her once more.

“Come on, I’ll show you around this mansion like a VIP!”

She ushered me into the cozy library, where a number of impressive paintings adorned the wood paneling. Most of them either had a western or fishing theme.

“I take it that Joe’s interests are reflected in these paintings, correct?” I speculated.

“Oh, yes, I’m not the art-collector type,” Dena acknowledged.

She pointed to the two reading chairs with lamps next to them and the bookshelves that spanned one entire wall.

“The majority of these books either discuss psychology or fishing. Who’s reading who, you ask?”

Chuckling, I asked, “Joe fishes, but what kind of fishing?”

“Casting,” she said, “when he has time. He does not have a lot of free time due to his family and business.”

“Yeah, I’ve been there, too,” I laughed.

Dena proudly pointed out a grandfather’s clock from the 1800s in the hallway. It has a dark case and ornate scrollwork. Throughout a glass-covered container, a gold-colored pendulum hypnotically swung back and forth. The dial face’s numbers were written in Roman numerals.

To my questioning look she commented: “It was given to me by a deceased great aunt.”

The resonant chimes of the clock chiming eight o’clock startled me at that precise moment. Above the chimes’ melody, thunder erupted. torrential downpour of rain. Dena then led me into the living room as the wind howled violently against the windows.

The tastefully decorated space featured comfortable furnishings in modern styles and bright, cheerful colors. A shiny hardwood floor was hidden by the earthy-colored carpet. Left of the couches and chairs were three simple yet attractive floor reading lamps.

But it was a crackling blaze in an ornamental fireplace that really caught my eye. A number of porcelain cups and saucers were on display on the scrolled mantelpiece.

“Do you collect these?” I inquired after being struck by the artwork.

“Oh, no, I’m not a collector of anything,” Dena assured me. “My collection of knowledge wouldn’t fill a page. Do you collect things, how about you?”

“Oh, yeah, I’ve collected dog hairs, golf balls, matchbooks, fridge magnets, and other things like that.”

Dena laughed as her eyes widened.

“You’re weird!” she chortled.

We developed an uncomfortable silence between us all of a sudden. Finally Dena commented questioningly,

“Do you share an apartment with your mother?”

“Definitely, ever since my divorce three years ago. It can occasionally feel constricting and awkward.”

Dena nodded while giving me a direct look that made me flinch. I felt like I was undergoing a psychologist’s scrutiny,

“Do you ever consider renting your own home?”

“Yes, I give it some thought, but since my mother’s house is paid for, financially I do better living with her. Only food and utilities are my responsibility. Why do you ask?”

I had a hard time looking her in the eyes.

“Oh, I just had the thought that you two might be happier if you both had your own spaces to relax, move around more freely, and be who you are.”

Dena didn’t just talk to fill awkward pauses; she seemed genuinely concerned.

“Okay, well, you might be right. The hallway’s grandfather clock restarted chiming at that precise moment. It chimed nine times.

“Wow!” I exclaimed. “I’ve been here for more than an hour, but it doesn’t feel like it. I’ll go on my way because I know you have things to do. Gracias por la visita y la conversación.”

Dena smiled. “It was a pleasure. I’m glad you came over,” she said sincerely. As soon as Joe is here, please return. It would be better.”

Yeah-right,” Uncomfortably, I said goodnight after confirming.

“Night, Tom.”

Days passed slowly, and the weekend soon arrived. Cody, my 10-year-old son, was here for one of his regular visits. Cody spent the majority of his waking hours with Bobby, a male friend who lived across the street. On Saturday night, I dropped them off at the skating rink and picked them up two hours later. By the time I went back for them, the wind was blowing at a gale-force. It had been predicted that there would be violent thunderstorms later that night, with the rain stopping by dawn. Sweaters felt cozy because the temperature had dropped sufficiently. I think the erratic weather may have contributed to my feeling of dread as I made my way home. Up until bedtime, the sensation persisted.

The following morning, a Sunday, my mother, 72, who is disabled but mobile, and I ate oatmeal with our coffee and talked with a dozing Cody while my son played sleepily with his breakfast of cereal and toast. Bobby, Cody’s friend, arrived around nine o’clock to convince my son to go outside and play. The night storm had passed, but the wind’s ferocity was still swaying the trees, and there was a morning chill. In between rushing clouds, a hazy sun appeared. I could hear the kids laughing hysterically as my mother and I finished our leisurely breakfast and discussed the day’s news.

We were then startled by a sudden knock on the back door.

“Who could that possibly be this early?” I muttered as I stood up from the table and walked over to the door. I was perplexed to see an awkwardly waiting grim-faced, stocky Indian male at the screen door. A garage apartment on Joe and Dena’s property was home to the Indian, his wife, and their two middle-school daughters.

My previous feeling of dread returned as I took in his solemn expression, making me feel just as frightened as the brisk winds that cruelly blew through the open door the previous evening.

Shifting his weight from one foot to another, the Indian, Hari, said in a low, solemn voice, “Your son’s friend had to be asked to play more quietly someplace other than the landlord’s home. The noise they were making didn’t seem appropriate given that your next-door neighbor was killed in a car accident early this morning.”

My previously troubled, perplexed expression changed to one of shock. I was temporarily rendered speechless. Finally I managed to choke out,

“Joe was fatally injured in an accident!?”

“Yes,” Hari said grimly. “He had just closed his liquor store for the rest of the weekend and was making his way home. It was a one-car collision. He must have slipped during the storm. According to the police, he allegedly ran off the road at a high rate of speed and collided with a concrete abutment.”

“Oh my God, it’s so unbelievable!” As I spoke, I was still reeling from my shock. “How does his wife Dena feel about it?”

“She received a sedative from the doctor. My wife has joined her at this time.” Hari sadly shook his drab head.

“What’s wrong?” asked my mother, having risen from the table and haltingly made her way to the door with the aid of her walker.

I explained.

“Oh, that poor girl!” my mother wailed. “I’ll visit and see if there is anything I can do to assist.”

After shaking her head at the tragedy, she went to the bathroom to get ready for the visit.

I turned around and the Indian said he had to go.

“My wife may need me for an errand,” he needlessly explained. He made a hasty exit while hunching his shoulders.

I tried to make sense of the terrible circumstance while still being numb from the news of Joe’s passing and closed the back door against the uncaring wind. Dena being suddenly left a widow with a 4-year-old child was a terrible fact that I was still having a hard time accepting. What a senseless loss the ruthless winds had brought upon them.

Though I was tempted to go over and comfort Dena, I refrained because I thought it would be inappropriate and awkward for Dena. My mom offered to take on that responsibility, and I was grateful for that.

By evening, the wind speed had decreased to under five miles per hour. Only a few clouds floated lazily across the skies. Then April arrived, bringing with it more flowers, more greenery, and unavoidably more rain.

After Joe’s remains were interred, life returned to its usual quiet pace, and eventually I ran into Dena once more. I strolled past Dena’s house on my way to the nearby public library on a day when the forecast called for light rain and breezes.

“Her upbeat voice called, “Hello, Tom.” Dena waved to me as I spun around, holding Chelsea in her lap while standing on her front porch. Before them was an open book, probably a children’s book.

Dena’s blonde hair was free-hanging, but her outfit was more formal than it had been on the afternoon of the bikini-it. She changed into a royal blue sleeveless blouse and a pair of snug-fitting designer jeans.

“Hi, Dena,” I answered hesitantly.

“Have you got a moment?” she asked.

“Sure, I was only going to the library to browse,” I answered and as I walked up to the porch, my heart skipped a beat.

“Come up and have a seat,” she offered, gesturing toward a folding canvas chair with aluminum arm rests.

My heart skipped another beat as I continued to climb the stairs. I collapsed into the chair next to her, grinning at Chelsea as she giggled and squirmed.

“Did your mother read you a good story today, Chelsea?” I asked.

Chelsea stuck her thumb in her mouth and hunched over to hug her mother. She was given a frown by Dena, who then firmly but gently pulled her thumb out.

“No thumb sucking, Sweetie,” she admonished the four-year-old, “We have already discussed that.”

Chelsea sagged glumly to the ground.

“What’s new?” I questioned, turning away from Dena to look at the young child with a smile.

“I just wanted to let you know we’ll be moving soon,” she announced, trying to make contact with my eyes. She exuded an understandable aura of melancholy and nostalgia.

Along with the unwelcome news, the escalating winds, and a steady downpour of rain, my own mood descended into a pit of depression. She wouldn’t want to continue living in the large two-story house now that Joe was gone, so I suppose I should have anticipated that. Too many memories were tedious.

I turned to face her at last. She was keeping a close eye on me.

“Are you relocating across town?” I questioned, hoping that she was.

However, Dena shook her head.

“No, a better position in Raleigh has been offered to me. In addition to this location, this house, and the town, there are far too many reminders of Joe’s existence.”

After that, there was a tense silence. I resisted the urge to embrace Dena during the interlude despite having a strong urge to do so.

Instead, I said apologetically, “Hope you can forgive me, Dena, for not showing up for the funeral or for Joe’s accident. I-“

Dena abruptly ended my sentence by lightly touching my hand.

“I am aware of this, and I do comprehend. People tend to assume the worst, don’t they?”

“Yeah, they do-unfortunately,” I spoke in a reflective tone in my reply. I laid my other hand on hers and savored its warmth and softness. We looked intently into each other’s eyes.

She finally made a noise to break the hush.

“Before Chelsea and I move, I’d like to cook a peaceful dinner for us. I hope you’ll accept.”

We settled on the following Saturday as the date for the event.

The day of our dinner date was sunny but chilly and windy, with a steady northeasterly breeze that made it feel 10 degrees cooler outside than the actual temperature of 60 degrees. My feelings vacillated between happiness and melancholy. Although I dreaded the idea of her leaving at the start of the week, I eagerly anticipated our evening together.

I showed up at her house precisely at seven o’clock, wearing a navy blue polo shirt and freshly pressed khakis, and smelling of English Leather cologne. Dena had free-flowing hair, a floral shift that reached to her ankles, and just the right amount of makeup to draw attention to her attractive, natural features.

She gave me a warm kiss on the cheek as she welcomed me and led me into the dining room, setting Chelsea in her high chair at a table that was decorated with an aqua tablecloth, two lit candles in crystal holders, and shiny dinnerware.

“”Hi, Tom,” chirped With her tiny fork and spoon, Chelsea was tapping the table gleefully.

“Hi yourself, Cutie!” I beamed back. “You are a princess; you don’t just look like one!” I amended genuinely.

The little boy’s fair features were framed by a wide grin.

Dena gave me a bottle of red wine and a corkscrew while grinning gratefully.

“Please, sir, will you do the honors,” she said. “Merlot, Cabernet, and Sauvignon are combined in this unique way. I hope you approve.”

Noticing the brand, I responded enthusiastically, “One of the best is this. You have great taste!”

She fed Chelsea and sent her to bed with a big kiss while I preoccupied myself with the uncorking. The ‘little princess” stopped to hug Tom on her way out.

Dena and I raised a toast to one another, clinked our glasses, and savored the medium-bodied wine after she had left the room.

“This is superb!” I extolled the vintage.

“Glad you like it,” she said, pleased, staring dreamily at me.

It was a very intimate, romantic setting with just the candles flickering light, the warm taste of wine, and the two of us seated across from each other.

My glass of wine was raised. “Dena, I hope you’re happy. I just wish you could find it here,” I opined.

She sighed. “You go where you have to go,” she said in a melancholy voice. A slight pause followed, and then she said earnestly, “You know, you could come along. Your mom would be okay, and you would be much happier,”

“Thanks, doc,” I laughed nervously.

“Oh, I guess I am sounding a little clinical,” she apologized. Dena got up from the table. “I’ll get our dinner ready right away.”

We moved to her living room after we had finished our Caesar salads, plates of homemade spaghetti topped with tangy meat sauce, and crisp, buttered French bread. In order to combat the damp chill of the evening, a lusty fire blazed once more in the fireplace.

Dena hugged her knees while settling down on the carpet next to the fireplace instead of stepping over to the sofa. Her head was turned in the direction of the cheery flame.

I fought back the urge to grab her in my arms out of concern that she might turn me down when I suddenly felt a strong urge to do so. But I sat down next to her and admired the wonderful perfume she had chosen. She turned her head toward me after a brief pause, gazing into my eyes with an inviting gaze.

Finally I mumbled, “Dena, I want to kiss you so bad.” My face was now quite close to hers.

She didn’t veer off. “Why don’t you then?” she prompted me softly.

And I did, first speculatively and then more slowly.

In the evening, we stretched out next to the cosy fire. She placed her head on my chest.

“Stay here, Dena, stay with me,” I pleaded. “You’re not required to move.”

She caressed my face.

“I have to restart, and I can’t do it here. I can’t, Tom.”

I encircled her firmly in my arms.

“I know, I know,” I whispered.

It was hard for me to fall asleep that night with the wind slapping the window panes. My thoughts were constantly on Dena’s picture, the fact that she would be leaving the following week, and my conflicting emotions regarding everything as I tossed and turned in bed. Both she and I wanted the other other. The winds of decision blew relentlessly within me, asking, “What should I do?” My mother, who was disabled, appeared to be holding me back. But Dena had repeatedly stated that if we separated, both my mother and I would be happier. I had also just recently gone through a difficult divorce. Is getting involved in another marriage something I really wanted to do? Of course, Dena had avoided discussing getting married.

I was certain Dena loved me, and she had made it abundantly clear that she did, too. But were her feelings for me still too entwined with her relationship with Joe?

On the other hand, perhaps Dena had entered my life at this time to assist me in making the decision. The change didn’t have to be with her, but who or what else might it be with if not her?

The day of the move arrived far too quickly, but Dena and the movers were fortunate that the weather was pleasant and clear. On gentle breezes, the scent of spring blooms spread. Dena had thanked me but said everything had been taken care of when I offered to assist her with her packing and organization.

So I sat back and grimaced as I observed three muscular men loading furniture and boxed goods into a large van on this particular day. I had been given Dena’s new address. She reiterated that her life and home were available to me.

The last item was finally stored inside the van. The cab was entered by the three men. A short while later, the car slowly backed out of the yard. Dena had piled some personal belongings and electronic gear into her late-model station wagon. She was standing by the car with Chelsea, getting ready to leave my life.

She carefully lowered Chelsea into her car seat and buckled her in while a sad smile danced around her lips. The child was giddy with anticipation over the trip, in contrast to Dena and my sobriety.

“Bye, bye, Tom,” she cooed. “I love you!”

“Bye, yourself, princess,” Leaning in to give her a warm hug, I said shakily. She giggled.

I then turned to Dena with a solemn expression. We both remained standing there, hesitant to wave goodbye. She spoke first.

“Let’s just say, ‘Hasta la vista,'” she suggested quietly. “Adios sounds too definitive.”

I coughed. “Yeah, it does,” he said sadly.

I gave her a bear hug and gave her a long, passionate kiss.

“That’s right, let’s just say “Hasta la vista.” Who knows, perhaps it will happen sooner.” Her release was difficult.

Dena fixed her intense gaze on my eyes. There was hope and inspiration there.

“I’ll count on that,” she whispered, placing her hand gently on my cheek.

She took a deep breath before getting into the station wagon, buckled up, and backing out of the driveway with tears glistening in her eyes. I watched as the station wagon turned at an intersection and vanished, strong emotional winds torturously tearing through me.

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