This story will never get finished if I don’t add a day now and then.
Threads of Grace
Doc slapped his forehead. “You told him? You told that boy you might be the Pa he was looking for? Why? Why would you tell him before you were certain? Can’t stand to be miserable alone, can you?”
Adam propped himself on his elbows. “I had no intention of saying anything, Fred. Not a word. But the boy came in without knocking. Said he’d thought it over and even if it cost him his job he was going to go look for this Claire-girl. I couldn’t just let him leave. Not with him being—”
“Married? And yes, I know. Sometimes I think the only smart one on this ranch is Lily. She might as well have set off a keg of dynamite with her announcement. I left a bunch of shamed-face cowboys pushing away from the table before they got their fill of breakfast.”
“Lily told?” He shook his head. “Lots of truth in that old adage, isn’t there?”
“What old adage would that be?”
“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
Doc nodded. “What baffles me the most is why there was deception in the first place. I’ll admit the boy plunged into something he wasn’t at all ready for, but you’ll have to take part of the blame for that. Don’t need to tell you what a mess it is now.”
“And I don’t know how to clean it up. I thought by telling Trey the truth it would help.”
Doc stood and fluffed the pillow behind Adam’s head. “You were wrong. In the first place, you don’t know if it is the truth. Now this young man has a whole pile of muck on his shoulders just because you wanted your own barn cleaned.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Doc pointed his finger at him. “You’ve been fretting about the way you two look alike for a long time, haven’t you? And now, because one little girl happened to mention it, you jumped way ahead and decided it was time to come clean. I may be a doctor, but I’ve had my share of muck throwing in my day. Cleaned many a barn before I decided I’d rather heal people than fling flop.”
Adam closed his eyes. He had no idea where this was going, but for sure the man wouldn’t shut up until he let him have his say. But he didn’t want to hear it.
“One thing I learned early. You clean out stalls every day and nothing can pile up. Spread it around and it can even help things grow. You wait and unload it all at once it begins to heat up, then it smokes, and first thing you know it’s killed everything underneath it. I don’t know what all you told that young man, but I’ve an idea it went on pretty hot. You’ll be lucky if the kid doesn’t run. You shattered all sorts of dreams all with one loaded tongue.”
“Was he at breakfast?”
“Until Lily made her little proclamation. He left in a hurry once those men got to asking questions and giving him thunder.”
“Where is he now?”
Doc shrugged. “Have no idea.”
Adam wiped his hand across his eyes. He hadn’t meant to hurt the boy. Just the opposite, in fact. Why had he thought Trey might even be glad to know he could be his pa? Isn’t what what he wanted? Hadn’t a quirk of fate brought him to the KIM?
“And SueAnna? Did she leave, too?”
“SueAnna left the room, not the ranch. Where would you expect her to go, Adam?” He turned at the door. “I think you’d better have some time alone to think this through. I’ll be downstairs. Ring the bell by the bed if you need anything.”
How long had it been since he allowed tears? Images of Kathleen, her black hair shining in the sun like a raven’s wing, her arms stretching toward him as her wagon careened away. “I’ll find you, I promise. I won’t ever stop looking. Be Strong. I’m coming.”
All the promises he’d made. All the promises broken. One letter. He’d allowed one piece of communication from the man who hated him stop his pursuit for his one true love. He’d never sought love again. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t.
But what about Trey? He’d given those young ranch hands an assignment. Stupid assignment, it was. And now, because Trey followed through, he was kept from ever knowing if his girl was still waiting. Trey said his mother never stopped expecting him to come for her. Was Claire waiting for his son?
His leg throbbed, and he welcomed the pain. He needed to hurt. He’d lost his lover. Possibly lost the son he’d hoped he’d found. He might as well lose his leg, too.
Trey dropped the horse’s reins and stumbled to the stand of red cedars on the bluff above the main house. He wound his way among the trees until he came to a small clearing then sat down with his back against an old stump. He’d found this place one afternoon when he was looking for stray cows. It was hot, and the trees gave the only shade for miles around. He visited it often since then. The ground stayed damp beneath the trees and when his boots crushed the dead-fall branches and needles the smell of fresh cedar filled his nostrils.
He crossed his legs at the ankles and stared at the picture in the gold locket clutched in his hand. His hands shook as he pried the picture from the clamps holding it in place, then threw the locket as far as he could. So, Adam Covington thought he might be his pa? Oh, Ma. I’m so glad you aren’t alive. He hated him, and it would break her heart to see him so angry, but he didn’t want anything that reminded him of the man who’d deserted her, and left him fatherless in the doing. How could a man just stop looking? So he had a letter saying they were dead. Wouldn’t he want to know for himself?
All these years of watching his ma patch everything she wore because there wasn’t enough money to buy fabric to make new. She even cut down some of her old dresses to make his shirts, and the boys at school laughed at him until he got big enough to fight.
Not one penny had ever been sent from this so-called grandfather. Covington was probably lying about that, too. His ma never once mentioned her pa. Only his. And how he would be so proud when he found them.
Every morning since he could remember he was up early to help Mr. Hudson with the chores. Even though he was the preacher, Hudson had a small farm of his own and was willing to help him and Ma with theirs. When he came home from school in the evenings, Mr. Hudson would be waiting for him with more chores. Only the occasional outings with Claire and the Hudson family broke the monotony of hot, sticky summer days of labor.
He ran down the lane in a thunderstorm once, no shoes or jacket to protect him against the pelting rain, because Ma was sure she’d seen his pa waving for her. Only when he got to the end, it was just an old limb that had split partway off a bush and was wagging in the wind.
And all this time, Covington was rich. He had land, cattle and the finest house you could want. He paid men to work for him, while he and Ma didn’t have money enough for groceries most of the time.
If only he hadn’t tried to find him. And now, just because his name was Martin, and someone thought they looked alike, Covington’s conscience got the best of him. He’d taken love away from Ma, and now he took it away from him and Claire, too. And to top it all off—the men knew about him and SueAnna.
He clenched his jaw. SueAnna. It was all because of her he could never call Claire his wife. He would never know how it felt to kiss her lips or hold her close to him again. All this time they’d waited to be married—now it would never happen and it was Adam Covington and SueAnna’s doing.
What was done was done, he supposed. If he tried to back out now he wouldn’t be any better than Covington—and he hated his boss. So he might be married. Okay, so he was for sure married. But nobody could ever make him love her—nobody.
He rose to his feet and shook his fist toward heaven, then screamed until he had no voice left. Exhausted, he slid to the ground and sat with his knees drawn up against him. His head hurt and his chest was so tight he couldn’t take a deep breath. This isn’t how he thought it would be if he ever found his pa. He flopped to his stomach, buried his head in his arms and wept great gulping sobs.
“Are you hiding, Mr. Martin?”
Trey lifted his head and stared into two blue eyes as big as saucers.
“When I hide my face I pretend no one can see me. Is that what you’re doing?” Lily was on her knees beside him.
“No, that isn’t what I’m doing. What are you doing here, anyway? Did you follow me?” He sat up and brushed at his face. If there were tears remaining she would most likely blab about it the next time everyone was at the table.
“I’m helping Ben deliver supplies.”
“If you’re helping him, what are you doing here? Anyone else come along with you?”
“When we was riding by the trees I saw something shiny and Ben said I could see what it was.” She patted the pocket of her apron. “I got it in here, but I’m not going to show you because you’re cranky.”
“I don’t even want to see it, so there.” Well, Trey. That sounded grown-up. He stood and dusted the cedar needles from his pants.
“Where’s Ben, anyway? He should know better than to let you wander around here by yourself. What if a bear comes along and eats you?”
“A bear wouldn’t eat me. There’s no bears here. Is there?” She sidled closer to him.
“No, there ain’t bears here, Lily. Mr. Martin is just tryin’ to scare you.”
Trey jumped at Ben’s voice.
“And lookee there. Did you see him jump? He done scared himself.” Ben laughed and grasped Lily’s hand. “Come on, Little Miss, we better be heading back. Be lunch time soon and we don’t want SueAnna to worry where you are.”
“You can tell Miss Morrow I won’t be eating lunch…or supper.”
Ben shook his head. “No, Trey. If you want her to know somethin’, then you talk to her. Ain’t anyone around here what’s goin’ to be a party to you actin’ like she’s the hired girl. Not since they know the truth.”
“There isn’t one of them that knows the truth. I was forced into this, but I don’t have to like it…or her.”
“The truth is, Trey…nobody forced you into this and you know it. I shoulda listened to Lily, here, and married her myself. At least I’d treat her right.”
Trey sneered. “Be my guest, Mister.”
Ben widened his stance. “You don’t mean that the way it sounds, do you? Somebody needs to take a whip to your backside. I don’t know what took place between you and Mr. Covington, but whatever it was ain’t SueAnna’s fault. You always got to be the biggest, don’t you? Only you ain’t bigger than Covington so you’ll take it out on your wife.” He walked away, pulling Lily with him.
“What did she tell you, anyway?” Trey screamed after them. “That I’m an ogre? You heard Lily this morning. My dear little wife says I cant sleep with her until we get babies. Now that was news for the fellas, wasn’t it? I imagine they got a real kick out of that one. Well, you tell them this—I have no intention of sleeping with her, now or ever.”
Ben dropped Lily’s hand and took two long strides toward Trey. “Don’t flatter yourself, pal. You ain’t the one them boys is thinking about. Not one of them understands why you’d want to keep our marriage to someone as sweet as SueAnna a secret. You’re a dope, Trey Martin. You don’t deserve her.” He turned on his heel and walked away.
Trey followed and grabbed Ben’s shoulders to turn him face to face. “I don’t deserve her? I suppose you do. What I don’t deserve is spending the rest of my life being hooked up with somebody I don’t even like while my true love, my only love, is waiting for me to come for her. You think you’re big enough to call me a dope? You might be taller, but you ain’t bigger.”
Ben shrugged Trey’s hand away. “Big isn’t what’s on the outside, Trey. I could be seven feet tall, weigh three hundred pounds and pound you to a pulp with one hand but that wouldn’t make be big. Big is what you are on the inside. Big is who you are when nobody else is lookin’. Big is taking responsibility for your own actions and not blamin’ everyone else when you act like a…like a first class dope. And you can spell that in capital letters if you know how.
Trey jumped in front of Ben before he could walk off again. He clenched his fists. “You don’t know what it’s like—”
Ben’s fist connected with Trey’s jaw. “I’ve heard it once, and I ain’t listenin’ again. Now you put this in your stupid head to think about. SueAnna and Lily are orphans. Just like me. Their Ma and Pa ain’t never comin’ back and they don’t know where their brother might be. You stay out here and feel sorry for yourself, but it don’t hold no water with me. I’d hit you again but it ain’t worth the skinned knuckles.”
Trey blinked as the two walked away. The tall redheaded cowboy stooped to the hold the little girl’s hand while she skipped along beside him.
And when they got to the edge of the clearing, Lily turned around and stuck her tongue out at him.