Maple Leaf Souls

by Nickolas Urpí

This is part three. Read the suite from the beginning.

When the Whiskey is Finished

He would do it as soon as the whiskey was finished, he thought to himself. Each swig further fueled his angry; he could feel it. He was boiling.

Jake Barnes was sitting in his truck, his body still warm in his winter overcoat. He was parked in the middle of his, his, maple syrup farm. The rows of maple trees extended on forever, with the leaves covering a spacious amount of ground like a carpet of orange, some crystal snow having dropped here and there between the leaves.

It was his farm. He had bought it. He had bought it from right under Brett’s nose. Brett was a terrible businessman and an even worse syrup maker. Jake had understood the business from day one, and if Brett wasn’t Geoffry’s son, the old man would have left it to Jake. He knew it. He worked longer hours and, better yet, had ideas. Understood the business. Brett inherited, however, on nothing but blood.

A maple leaf fell onto the hood of his car.

Jake was patient, though, and worked and saved and sweat, waiting until Brett couldn’t handle the pressure of business and his own ineptitude, and then bought it from him in a deal with Janice Diehl’s backing. And even after Brett was nothing, Ashley still stayed with him.

That made him sick.

“You don’t have to be with him anymore, Ash,” Jake said to her as Brett stormed off into town, leaving behind a legacy that was once his. “Come be with me.”

“What are you talking about? Are you crazy?” Ashley screamed back at him. “I love him, Jake. He’s my husband.”

“I love you more than he does or can. He doesn’t care about you; he’s never cared about anything. The farm is mine now, I know how much you’ve loved it. You always have. It was just a high school crush, it meant something then, but this means more now,” he said pointing to himself.

She shook her head in disgust and followed Brett into town.

“Ashley!” he screamed after her.

He waited for her. He waited every day, while working and slaving and building the business into a profit-making machine. His was the best maple syrup in Vermont and almost sold half of his makings to restaurants, he was in such demand. They were fine dining restaurants too, the kind that might one day boast a Michelin star.

But Ashley still did not come. He hadn’t pleaded with her since. She needed to be reminded perhaps, that there was no shame in choosing him over Brett, in making the right choice.

Another leaf fell.

He saw his opportunity one day as she was exiting of the grocery store, her cart filled with discount items.

“Ash, it’s me,” Jake said.

Despite having imagined a thousand times in his head what he’d say given the opportunity, his tongue stuck to his cheeks. She made him feel like a child, warm and sweet, and utterly ridiculous.

She said nothing but tried to walk around him.

“Ash, please,” he said grabbing her arm. It was then that the button on her overcoat popped and he saw a distinctive shape, he had not thought he’d see one her. He released her in shock, as though she was diseased. “You’re pregnant?”

“Yes, why shouldn’t I be? Everyone knows.”

“With his?”

Ashley turned red, miraculously damming up her fury.

“Yes! His! Brett’s! I love him! Leave me alone, Jake. I don’t need or want any more of your bullshit. Quit acting like an asshole all the time. I don’t love you.”

“But he’s nothing. No job, no ambition. You’re working now and pregnant? I can offer you everything. I truly love you. I’m not using you.”

“I love him, not you. Leave me alone,” she said, before storming off into the parking lot.

Another leaf fell.

For the next few months, Jake did nothing but recede into his past and analyze every action he did or did not take, especially around Ashley.

Why it was that Ashley could not accept his love but would accept Brett’s? In every measurable aspect of success, he surpassed Brett. Brett’s extroversion had won the hearts of teacher and student alike in high school, but that had changed with his successive failures. He was depressed and never left his couch.

Jake had sacrificed everything to make sure the farm that Ash had always professed wanting to spend her life living on and raising her children on, thrived. He was a success, a exemplary human being.

Another leaf fell.

He sat there in his car, the news that she had given birth to twins and was happy as a lark burning him inside and out. Brett was there in the delivery room, holding her hand, the only time he had ever been of use to her.

He wanted to talk to someone, someone like Geoffry, who knew things. He couldn’t talk to Ernest or William, they were old and wise but worked for him. He hadn’t a soul in the world to confide in and had been on his own since he was sixteen. So he festered.

He would put a stop to it. That’s what he would do.

He had to. That was what he was going to do as soon as the whiskey was finished. He would fight Brett and win Ashley back. That’s what she wanted. As soon as the whiskey was finished, he would do it. He imagined it, the moment when she threw aside her life with Brett and join him, with her children, embracing a better life that he had prepared for them.

Another leaf fell.

His whole car was covered in maple leaves and he could no longer see through the windshield. The whiskey was finished but he did not move. He was thankful that no one could see him crying alone with an empty jar of spirits in his hand.

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