This is another one of those stories that is still ‘cooking’. I’ve started another series, Another Spring, and this is from the second book of that series.
Hope for Rayne
Rayne braced himself against the wind as he raced toward the barn. Storms weren’t uncommon this time of year, but this one had taken on a life of its own—spewing lightning like oaths and occasionally spitting great drops of moisture like a naughty boy razzing his tongue to taunt a foe. A bolt of fire speared the roof of the horse barn and he ducked in spontaneous reflex, then recoiled in horror as flames burst in simultaneous response.
Terror constricted his chest as he willed his legs to run. The crashing of hooves against the sides of the stalls resonated even above the storm. By the time he reached the barn, smoke was pouring from the loft doors. He took a deep suck of air then placed his hand across his mouth and nose while he plunged through the acrid haze.
“Missy! Missy!” He choked as he swallowed heat and vapors from the burning straw. “Where are you? Answer papa. Please.”
He continued to yell as he methodically worked his way from stall to stall to loosen the moorings of the screaming horses. Dodging the pawing hooves he slapped each animal on its rump to hasten its departure from burning barn. “Missy! Where are you? Miss Manning? Are you in here?”
Oh, dear God. Please, please let me find them. I can’t lose my daughter, too.”
“Rayne. Rayne, can you hear me? Missy’s in the house. She’s safe. You need to get out of here, Son.”
Above the roar of the intensifying flames his mother called his name. What was she doing here? Why hadn’t she stayed in the house? Did she say Missy was safe?”
“Mother?” He turned toward her voice, then watched helplessly as a burning timber from the loft floor fell and skidded toward the open door. “Mother. Move!”
She screamed, then reeled backward as the heavy rafter hit her.
Great torrents of rain beat against the house as Doc McIntosh closed the door to Martha Harding’s room and beckoned Rayne to follow him. Rayne shuddered. It was as though the skies were mourning, and his breath caught in a sob. “Will she live?” He could barely speak the words. He’d asked this same question when Doc came from Carolyn’s room one short year ago.
“I want Esther in on this conversation, Rayne. And I’d be mighty obliged if you could manage to find me a cup of hot coffee.” The portly doctor shuffled toward the kitchen.
Esther looked up as they entered. “Fred McIntosh,” she nodded toward the chair at the head of the table, “you set yourself down here and don’t move again ‘til you got something in that round stomach of yours.”
Rayne bit his tongue. Esther couldn’t have known that chair had remained empty since his father’s death. Only family would know that no one except his grandfather and his father had ever occupied that spot. The hand-hewn walnut table had been a wedding gift for Buster Harding and his bride from her parents and carried overland on a wagon pulled by a pair of mules all the way from Pennsylvania.
From that seat at the head of the table John Harding had given orders, but insisted on absolute silence during mealtime. Rayne had never taken the chair of honor. At sixteen he wasn’t ready and later he told himself he’d not yet earned it. Then Carolyn came and he much preferred sitting across from her so he could look at her face and watch her eyes dance as they talked, His mother had even seemed to enjoy it. More often just listening, but on rare occasions would give them a glimpse of herself as he had never known her.
Everything about this kitchen reminded him of his wife—the red checkered curtains she’d made—her white ironstone pitcher that sat in the middle of the long table, now filled with some kind of yellow flowers. He ‘d never learned to identify all the species, something Carolyn chided him about daily. And the rag rug in front of the sink. He always tripped over it, but Carolyn would patiently straighten it again and wink at his muttering.
“Rayne, you sit, too. Lands sake, boy. . .I don’t suppose you’ve eaten a bite since yesterday sometime, have you?” Esther put another cup on the table then turned back to the stove to retrieve the coffee pot—Carolyn’s white granite pot with roses painted on the sides. The silly little vessel was the only thing she’d ever insisted on having.
Roses, my dear husband. See? I can have roses in my kitchen every day.
“Rayne?” Esther took his arm and led him to a chair. How long had he been standing there? “Hope is checking on Missy then she’ll be in.” She patted his shoulder then turned to Fred McIntosh and filled the cup he held toward her. “How’s Martha, Doc?”
Doc took a sip of the hot coffee, then took off his glasses and wiped his eyes. “You know, there are days when I wish I would’ve followed my papa’s advice and become a school master. And this is one of them.” He put his glasses on and leaned back in his chair, his arms folded against his rotund middle. “I wish…oh, how I wish I could tell you she’d be up and around again in no time. But the awful truth is, it’s going to take a bigger miracle than I can work for her to pull through this.”
Rayne stood and slammed his fist against the table. “I’m not going to sit by and watch another woman I love die. I won’t. I can’t.” He turned to Esther. “Why’d you let her come out there? Couldn’t you see the barn was on fire? I told her to stay in the house. Why’d you let her come?”
“It wasn’t a matter of her needing my permission, Rayne.” Esther reached for his hand but he refused to acknowledge it. It was her fault—her and that Manning woman trying to take over and tell him what to do with Missy after the funeral. His mother would still be here in this kitchen if she hadn’t had to come out in such a storm to let him know his daughter was safe.
“It’s my fault, isn’t it?” Hope stepped into the kitchen. “I…I am so…”
“It isn’t your fault, child.” Esther frowned at Rayne. “It isn’t anyone’s fault.”
Rayne shook his head. “You’re wrong, Esther. If you had allowed me to keep my daughter with me, instead of deciding Miss Manning should be in charge, mother would still be with us.”
Doc Mercer stood. “No, Rayne. You’re the one who’s wrong. This unfortunate chain of events today might hurry things up a bit, but your mother has been ill for a long time. You’ve just been too involved in your own grief to see it.”
He slumped into his chair. “How could I miss it? Carolyn’s only been…been gone a few days. Mother seemed strong as ever….busy…kept up with Missy, the house, me…”
Esther sat next to him, and this time he allowed her hand on his arm. “Carolyn’s only been gone a short time, Rayne, but you’ve grieved since the day Missy was born. You just didn’t know what to call it. Martha knew. Your mother knew how you and Carolyn’s hearts ached for that little girl. She knew all too well the pain you would endure when the time came and Carolyn would no longer be here. And she knew how hard it would be for you to go on to raise your sweet little girl alone. But Martha Harding would never burden anyone with her own problems. Not even her own son.”
“You were aware of this?”
“Only because I guessed and confronted her with my suspicions.”
“And mother would never lie.”
Rayne swallowed. “What’s wrong with her, Doc? How much time does she have?”
“I’m not God. I don’t have an answer for that. Her legs are burned. She took a hard bump to the head. And all in all it’s taken a toll on her already weak heart. Before today, I would have said six months…today I’m not sure she has six days—perhaps as little as six hours. Only the Good Lord knows when her time here on this puny earth is done.”
“Can I see her? Will she know I’m there?”
Doc nodded. “Of course you can see her. I’ve given her laudanum, which should help with her pain. Maybe it will help enough for her to talk. Maybe not. But tell her all the things you want her to know now, son. You most likely won’t get another chance.”
Rayne shouldered his way past Hope Manning, She ducked her head as he passed her. Good. He still wasn’t ready to concede that she wasn’t partly to blame for this accident. He hesitated outside the door to his mother’s room. What were all the things he wanted to say?That he loved her? How could he possibly go on? Who was going to tell Missy all the things a girl should know? How could he say goodbye yet one more time?
He just buried his wife this morning. Did anyone remember?