Threads of Grace–chapter 12, continued

Continued:

     Each bone-jarring lurch of the wagon sent pain to parts of SueAnna’s body she didn’t know existed. Trey had tried to talk her out of making this trip, but she’d insisted. Now she was sorry, but they were too far away from the ranch to turn back and still had so many miles to go. The sunshine that had welcomed the morning had long ago disappeared, and they now faced a growing bank of wind-driven roiling dark clouds. 
     “I don’t like the looks of those clouds. That wind is already getting colder and the open prairie is no place to get caught in an early winter storm. I should never have agreed to this.” Trey reined the horses to a stop. “I’d feel better if you’d let me fix you a bed in the back. We’ve got to move faster and you’ll bounce to pieces on this seat.” 
     “I’ll bounce back there, too, won’t I?” She ached even with the thought, but she didn’t want to cause more trouble.
     Trey climbed into the back of the wagon. “I’ll rig a rope down low for you to grab if it gets too rough. At least it might keep you from jostling so much.” He spread blankets for a bed. “Can you climb over? I’ll put more padding over you once we get you situated.”
     She climbed into the back and settled onto the pile of blankets while he piled the extras on top of her, then handed her the rope. 
     “I’m going to let the horses run, and it’s going to be a rough ride. Curl up as tight as you can and grab the rope if you get to bouncing too much. If we’re lucky we’ll make it to Prairie View before the storm hits.”
     Without being able to see, she had no idea how far they’d gone when the first drops of rain pelted her cheeks. She burrowed deeper into the blankets, but with the rain came wind and it whistled around her.
     “Grab the rope, SueAnna,” Trey’s voice carried with the wind. “It’s going to get bad.” 
     The wagon lurched, and she gripped the rope as she was thrown to and fro. The blankets covering her were torn away and cold rain soaked through her clothing. Her hands burned from the friction of the rope but she was too frightened to let go.”
     “Trey? Trey help me. I can’t hold on much longer.”
      “Just a few more miles. Hang on for a few more miles.”

     ###  
     Trey braced his feet against the front of the wagon and pulled until he thought his arms would break. This wasn’t going to work. The wagon was too slow, the storm too fierce. His only hope of getting SueAnna to safety was to unhitch the wagon and go the rest of the way on horseback. Even that wouldn’t be as fast as he liked. The team horses were big and sturdy and good for long hauls, but they weren’t as fast as his big gelding. 
     Her wet clothing clung to her but there was no other choice. He wrapped her as well as he could in the wet blankets that she’d been lying on, and was able to finally get both of them atop the larger of the team horses. He’d let the other one go. Without the cumbersome harness it would be able to fend for itself. For now, he had to get his wife to Nelson’s.
     She slumped against him as they trudged through the strengthening storm. The rain had now become pellets of ice, and it didn’t take long for a thin layer of slush to cover the ground. Even though the layers of blanket around her, he could feel her shiver against him. 
     This was his fault. Had he told her right from the start what he longed to say now, she’d never have left. If only he could have promised her that Claire would never again come between them. Was it too late? When they reached Nelson’s, would she let him hold her as he was holding her now? Would she give him the chance to tell her what was in his heart? What kept him from it now? Why was it so easy to think the words but so difficult to say them? Ben was right—he was a dope.
     SueAnna moaned and he pulled her closer. “We’re almost there.  Can you hear me? We’re almost there.” Dusk wrapped the darkened skies around them before he was able to make out pin-points of light coming from the windows of the mercantile. That was unusual. There’d been no time to let them know they were coming? Were they expecting someone else? 
     “Hello…hello. Can anyone hear me?”
     Before he reached the hitching rail, light from inside spilled onto the porch of the mercantile. “That you, Trey Martin? We thought we heard someone hollering. How did you know—”
     Doc Thayer shoved past Mr. Nelson. “What in the world are you doing out on a night like tonight? Please don’t tell me that’s—”
     “Save your lecture. This wasn’t my idea, but right now we’ve got to get my wife out of this storm.”
     Doc lifted her from Trey’s arms. “Can you stand, little one? Here, boy, you climb off that horse and help me get her inside. James, you holler for Lorna to get a bed ready for this young lady. And we’ll need anything warm she can find. She’s soaked plumb to the skin.”
     Trey slipped his arm around SueAnna’s waist. The quilt had slipped to the ground and he could feel heat of her body even through her wet clothing. She must have terrible fever. She swayed against him and he pulled her closer. 
     “Lorna, you got that bed ready? Get her on in here, Trey.”
     They stepped into the mercantile just as Lorna came from their living quarters. She was followed close behind by a young couple.
### 
     SueAnn had never seen such a beautiful girl. She became acutely aware of how wet and bedraggled she must look. Her knees trembled and the room spun around her. Voices seemed to come from all corners, but she recognized the voice of her brother and held out her arms. She didn’t have the strength to move, but the girl stepped toward her. 
     “You must be SueAnna. Peter has talked of his little sister so much I expected someone much younger.” The girl embraced her then stepped back with a gasp. Her face drained of all color and her hands shook as she clasped them in front of her. 
     Trey’s arm dropped from her waist, and he stepped away as her brother took her hand. 
     “My dear little sister, SueAnna Rose.” Peter brushed his lips against her cheek. “That fine lady who just about squeezed the life out of you is my wife…Claire.”
     The girl breathed Trey’s name, and he moved from SueAnna’s side. 
     “Claire. Is that…is that really you, Claire?” He reached for Peter’s wife, and with a sob she fell into his embrace.
     

To be continued—
     

     
     

Threads of Grace–Chapter 12

Chapter 12


Prairie View, Kansas
Mid-November

     Lorna Nelson ran her feather duster over the top of her husband’s head. “Move that mail sack, James, so I can finish dusting these shelves before Martha Jean Larson comes in.”
     James sneezed. “Martha Jean never has dust? And slow that thing down. You got more dust stirred up than what was there in the first place.” He sneezed again.
     She smacked him on the head with her duster.
     “Quit—now my head will be dirty and what will Martha Jean have to say about that?”
     Lorna laughed. “It was shining in my eyes. I swan, I do believe you used lard again this morning. I bet that fringe around your ears couldn’t move even if a Kansas whirlwind came storming through.”
     “You go ahead and laugh, woman. I know you like my shiny head.” He pinched her cheek. “Here,” he handed her a letter, “see who might be writing a letter to the mercantile.”
     Lorna sat down on a cracker box by the stove. “Wonder why they addressed it to Nelson’s Mercantile? Hmm.” She took the missive from the envelope and leaned against a stack of flour sacks. “Well…my, oh my…well, what do you think about that…who would have thought—”
     “I’ll never understand why you read snippets and make comments aloud before you let me know what it’s saying. Now, does that letter say anything I should be hearing, too?”
     “Why yes, it does. And you’ll never believe…come sit down and listen to this.”
     James wiggled himself into a chair next to her. “Okay, read. I’m listening.”
     “Dear James and Lorna Nelson: You might not remember me, but you helped me and my sisters after our pa died. I know I promised to come back for the girls, but I found a job in Illinois before I made it all the way back to Ohio. I’ve been feeling real bad about not keeping my promise to them and was wondering if it might be okay if me and my wife came for Thanksgiving and Christmas. If we could stay with you, it would be much appreciated. We’d surely like for it to be a surprise and was hoping you might think of a way we could get the Bittman’s to bring the girls to your place. We’ll be glad to pay for anything that is needed if you would be so kind as to make me a ticket. I do thank you and will be there for Thanksgiving unless we hear we aren’t welcome.
Sincerely,
Peter K. Morrow
    James scratched his head. “Well, what do you make of that, Lorna?”
     “What I make of it is we better get busy. Thanksgiving is next week. There’s not time to get a note back even if it weren’t okay. And he doesn’t know the Bittmans have left, or that SueAnn is married and has Lily out on the ranch. Guess more than one person will be surprised, won’t they? But how’re we going to get the girls in here? They won’t just come without a reason, will they?”
     He shrugged. “If we could get a note to Adam, and let him in on this surprise, I reckon he might consider bringing them here for Thanksgiving dinner.”
     “And how are we going to do that. Trey and SueAnna took supplies for the winter with them when they left. I doubt we’ll see anyone from the KIM until spring.”
     James plucked a feather from her duster. “Suppose we could hook a note on one of these and hope the wind would carry it.”
     “Pfft. I think that lard has soaked into your brain. We’d have a whole lot better chance of them getting a message if we was to pray.”

###  
     SueAnna laid her head against the back of the settee and stretched her feet to the warmth of the fireplace. Sage had returned for another church service, but she’d been too weak to attend and he’d not come to the ranch. 
     Trey was attentive and loving, but could she trust him? She was afraid to trust herself. Everyone she’d ever loved, except for Lily, had left her. Ma and Pa couldn’t help it. But Peter. Where was the brother who promised to return? Even now, every time Trey left the ranch her chest tightened and her head hurt until she’d hear him ride in again. Was it love or fear? If only she could talk to another woman. Someone who could tell her what to do, or explain how she felt. She wanted to go back to Nelson’s. She needed Lorna. 
    The tell-tale click of Trey’s boots in the hallway broke her reverie. She sat up and smoothed her skirt.
     “Mind if I come in?” 
      She smiled to herself. He would come in whether she answered or not. 
     He knelt beside her. “Hey, are you okay? Feel like coming down for awhile? I’ll help you?” He rubbed his thumb across her forehead. “Why the frown? Have I done something wrong? Do you hurt? I’ll do anything you ask. Just…just please be happy.”
     “Anything I ask? It’s not that I’m not happy, Trey. But—”
     “But what?”
     “I want to go back to the Nelson’s.” His face fell, and guilt looped around her shoulders. 
     “For good?”
     She shook her head. “No, at least I don’t think so. I…oh, Trey, I’m just so tired and mixed up. I think it would help if I could talk with Lorna. Please understand. I need to talk to Lorna.”
     He got to his feet. “I thought…was I wrong to think we could make this work?”
     She caught his hand. “I’m not saying we can’t. But I don’t think we can while I’m here. I know you want me to trust you…to love you. But I’m so afraid.”
     He plunked to the settee beside her. “Afraid of me? Why? I’d never hurt you.”
     “There are a lot of ways to hurt someone. I’m afraid you’re only feeling sorry for me. You’ve been so kind and loving to me now, but I know how quickly your mood can change. I’m afraid that Claire is still lurking in your heart, and I don’t have the strength to fight her. I can’t live knowing she might show up again, if only in your thoughts.” She pulled her hand from his. “I can’t compete with what I can’t see.”
     “But I’ve told you, over and over again, it’s you I love.”
     “Because I’m here. Don’t you see? You think you love me because I’m here. But what would you do if you saw Claire again? Where would that leave us? Could you make a choice? And would that choice be me? You said you loved her, too, but you never went back for her. Not until we were married did you make any effort to find her, then you blamed me when Mr. Covington wouldn’t allow you to leave. I need to know that I can go to the Nelson’s and you’ll ride across the prairie to come for me because you can’t stand for us to be apart. And you need to know that you would meet me walking toward you because I couldn’t wait for you to get there.”
     “And would you do that, SueAnna? Would you walk to meet me?” He kissed her fingers.
     She shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s what we need to find out. We don’t even know one another. I only know how you like your eggs because you threw them away when I didn’t do it right. I need to know that…that you would be proud to introduce me as your wife and not the housekeeper.”
     “What about Lily?”
     She patted his hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll not leave her for you to watch. I’ve been thinking. I don’t want to leave her, but I can’t have her around while I’m trying to work through all this. I’ve never been away from her since our ma died. She was one-year-old, and I was twelve. I know more about being a mama than I do about being a girl. I was thinking maybe Alice Rawlings would let her come there for awhile.”
    “How long is awhile?”
     “Only until after Christmas. Perhaps you could bring Lily to the Nelson’s for Christmas. That will give me time to think. I want to know what it feels like to get all dressed up and wait for a beau to come calling. Will he think I’m pretty? Will he whisper sweet words to me? Will he tell me he can’t sleep at night because he’s thinking of me?”
     Trey stood with his back against the stone wall surrounding the fireplace. “I haven’t given you any of that, have I? Here we are married, and I never even knew how much you needed to know them things. Are you saying you would go out with just any beau? Do you want to be free to do that?”
     She shook her head. “As long as we are still legally married, I would never consider going out with another man. But what if it’s you who decides you want to be free? What if you decide to go back for Claire and ask for our marriage to be annulled? What if you decide that riding across the prairie to me is too much…that I’m not worth it?”
     Trey turned his head away from her. 
     “You can’t answer that, can you? Don’t you see, Trey…that’s why I have to leave for awhile. You can’t see Claire, but she’s still there. What place will I occupy in your life when I’m no longer visible on a daily basis? This marriage should never have been. I know it, and you know  it. In truth it has never been a marriage at all. I’ll thank you until my dying day that you  helped me keep Lily. But I’ll be sorry ’til my dying day that you had to do it the way you did. It was wrong.” 
     He rubbed his forehead. “When would you go?”
     “As soon as we can make arrangements for Lily. I already have my bags packed. I’ll walk if I have to.”
     He shouldered away from the wall. “I’ll go talk to Alice this afternoon. You know she’ll have questions. What do I tell her?”
    “You’ve never had trouble explaining me before. I’m confident you will be able to come up with something. Maybe you should consider the truth. I don’t know Alice all that well, but I can’t imagine her being a gossip.”
     He dropped to his knees. “I’m afraid to let you go. I’m afraid  you won’t come back.” He squeezed her hands. 
     “I’m not really leaving you. My being here hasn’t meant we’re together. Staying here won’t change anything. We need time apart to know if we can spend the rest of our lives together.”
     His shoulders heaved with a sigh. “Okay, until Christmas.” He kissed her forehead then stood. “But only until Christmas.”
     She leaned back against the settee after he left. Her head hurt and she was so very, very tired.

To be continued—
     
     
       
    

     

Threads of Grace–Chapter 11

Chapter 11

     A crash of thunder pulled Trey from a fitful sleep. His arm was numb from holding SueAnna, but he didn’t want to do anything to disturb her. Had she even moved the entire night? Had he? 
     Another crack of thunder rattled the windows and was soon accompanied by the banging of the bedroom door against the wall. 
     “Miss Libby is really, really scared.” Lily pattered across the room in her bare feet and made a leap to get onto the bed. When she couldn’t make it she flung the doll onto Trey’s belly and grabbed his shirt of pull herself up, then hurdled over both of them and sat cross-legged beside SueAnna, Miss Libby clutched tight against her chest. 
     “Lily, be careful.” He wanted to scold but couldn’t keep the smile from his face. It was a very loud crash of thunder.
     “I’s sorry, but I had to run fast. Wait! Oh, oh—
     The near constant flashes of lightning lit the room enough to reveal Lily’s wide eyes.
     “Why are you in bed with us?”
     “I’d like to know the same thing.” 
     It wasn’t much more than a whisper but Trey’s heart thumped against his chest. She was awake. She could talk. But he couldn’t squeak out a sound. 
     “Are we gonna get a baby now?” 
     A knock against the open door broke the awkward silence that followed her question. “Sorry Trey, this isn’t exactly the time you need company, is it?” Ben lifted Lily from the bed. “Come ‘on, punkin’. You can eat breakfast with me. How about that?” He winked at Trey, and closed the door behind them. 
     “You didn’t answer me.” SueAnna tried to wiggle away from him. “Why are you here?”
     “Don’t move, please. You hit your head and it was my fault. I’ll leave if my being here bothers you.” He tried to slide his arm from under her head, but she moaned with the movement. “I’m so sorry. All I’ve done since you’ve been here is cause you pain.”
     “Why does my head hurt?”
     Thunder boomed again and she scowled. “Lily will be scared. I need to get up.”
     “She’s with Ben. He’ll make sure she’s taken care of for the day. But you need to stay right where you are.”
     “It hurts to move. Why am I here? Why are you here?”
     Before he could answer she closed her eyes and appeared to drift off again. While he longed for her to stay awake long enough to ask her forgiveness, he was grateful that he had more time to hold her. Once she remembered all that took place, he’d doubted he’d be welcome to linger. 
     Intermittently, over the next hours, she awakened, asked the same questions then drifted off again. He allowed himself to relax and must have dozed because the next time he opened his eyes, they met hers.
     “Hey.” He touched her face and she didn’t recoil. That was a good sign, wasn’t it? “How long you been awake?”
     “Long enough to know you need a shave.” She smiled
     “Can I move my arm, or at least try?” She nodded, and he gently lifted her head from his shoulder. “Will you be okay for a bit? I’ll let the others know you’re awake. Lily will be glad.” He stood and moved to loosen the kinks.
     “Please don’t leave me. Everyone else has left me and they never come back.”
     He sat on the edge of the bed and leaned to wipe her tears. “I’m not leaving forever, SueAnna. I’ll be back. I promise. I…I just really need to…to go outside for a minute.”
     She turned her head from him. “You won’t come back. Nobody ever comes back. Nobody…” She drifted off again.
     Trey dropped to his knees beside the bed. “Oh Lord, I have to leave but somehow let her know I’m not leaving her. I can’t ever make up for all the pain I’ve cause her, but please, please, Lord…show me how to love her and—”
     “Trey!” Ben hollered. “Hurry, man! Abe Rawlings just rode in hollerin’ fire is headin’ this way. It just missed his place, but it chased him all the way here. We gotta get it stopped before it gets to the buildings.”
     Trey took the steps two at a time and met Ben on the run as they headed for the barn. “What about the girls? Will they be safe here?” They opened stalls as they ran through the barn, allowing the horses to run from danger.
     “Grab the sacks and buckets, anything you can find. Adam already got the shovels and stuff and is headed out with the wagon. Abe’s with him.”
     Trey grabbed Ben’s arm. “Wait, you didn’t answer me—what about the girls? He was torn. They had to get the fire stopped. Prairie fires could sweep across open range faster than a horse could run. It would destroy everything in its path, including people. He’d only experienced it once since coming to the KIM. He never wanted to face anything like it again.
     “If we can get it stopped, they’ll be okay. That’s why we gotta hurry. You better be prayin’.”
     The wind was blowing gale force and the stench of smoked filled the air. The prairie was dry, and it would take a miracle to stop the inferno. He could see the flames licking at the horizon as he ran, and he prayed the men out on line would find safety. Maybe they made it to the river. What was happening? Hadn’t God heard him? Had he been too late to ask for forgiveness—like he was too late to tell SueAnna he loved her?
     “I can’t leave them, Ben. SueAnna is too weak to get away by her self. And Lily…” He couldn’t finish. The thought of them being caught in the fire tore at his heart. “I gotta go back.”
     “You can’t. Use your head. If we don’t get this thing stopped they’ll die for sure. At least now we might be able to give them a chance.”
    They were now so close to the fire, the roar of the wind and the crackled of the dry grass as it succumbed to the flames made it impossible to hear. They ran to the wagon and dipped their sacks into the barrel of water then beat at the forward line of fire. Four men against the devastating forced of nature. What could they possibly accomplish. Is this what Hell is like? Oh God, we need a miracle. Please send rain or a change of wind. Don’t let the girls die in this. Don’t let any of us die, Lord.
     Time and time again he returned to the barrel to wet his sack. His didn’t think he could swing his arms one more time, or make his leg run for water again, when five of the KIM riders topped the ridge and galloped toward them. God had just doubled their strength, and with a vengeance the men continued to fight the demon that insisted on gnawing it’s ugly red head toward them. Adam had to keep moving the wagon to stay out of range of the fire. He covered the horses’ faces with sacks so they couldn’t see the flames, but the smoke swirled around them and they fought to run.
     Trey was exhausted. They would beat it down then the wind would send embers in a sweep around them and it wold start all over again. He straightened to wipe the soot from his face and as he swept his sleeve across his eyes, he witnessed his boss fall to his knees. 
    “Covington’s down. He needs help.” Trey raced to his side and fell to his knees beside him. “What can I do, sir? Let’s get you out of this smoke.” The man’s face was blackened from the soot. Two white lines down his face revealed a trail of tears and he was sobbing. 
    “Do? What can you do for me? You can forgive me, Trey. Forgive me for giving up on your ma. Forgive me for not addressing my suspicions sooner.” He swung his arm in an arc. “This is all my fault. God is punishing me. Can’t you see? This is my reaping. He’s going to take it all.”
     Trey put his arm around the big man and yelled into his ear. “No! No! That’s not how God works. Lightning started this fire, but we can’t stay here on our knees. We have to stop it before it gets to the buildings. Lily and SueAnna are alone in the house and SueAnna is too weak to help either one of them escape. Please, sir. We have to keep fighting.”
     “I can’t go on. The only strength I have left is to stay on my knees and cry out for mercy. Forgive me, Trey. Forgive me.” He covered his face with his hands.
     Trey grabbed his arms and pulled him to his feet. “Look at me, sir. Look at me.” He pounded on his chest. “Don’t you dare give up. Pa—please don’t give up. We need you. The girls need you. I…I need you. I need you as my pa, not just my boss. You pray. You keep on praying. But don’t you give up. You hear me, Pa? I need you.” His voice was  hoarse from yelling and from the smoke.
    He put his arms around Adam and rocked him as a father would rock a small child. Back and forth he swayed. “God forgave me, Pa. He forgave me yesterday for the way I’ve treated you and SueAnna. You’re my Pa, and I need your forgiveness. But even if you can’t forgive me, I’m not going to let you give up. We might burn standing here, but we’ll burn together. Do you hear me? I need you, Pa. I want to learn how to love and you’re the only one I know who can teach me.”
    A stillness surrounded them. Was this peace?  No roar of flames. Only his pa’s sobbing—then a whoop and holler from the men on the fire line. 
     Rain! Cold, wet torrents of rain fell driven by a changing wind mingled with their tears and they stood and held one another even though they were soaked. 
     Ben had to persuade them to get into the wagon for the ride home. 
     Home. No longer was he going back to the KIM. 
     Today he was keeping a promise to return.
     Today  he would return home…to his wife.

     
   
   
     

Mundane Matters


We have a routine. 

I think it must come with age.

Hubby makes his own breakfast. (Don’t do the bad-wife thing on me. He makes his own because he doesn’t like to talk in the morning so would rather be left alone.)

Now, though he makes his own—there’s a routine even to that endeavor. 

Oatmeal.

With brown sugar (he keeps his very own supply in his office) which he measures out then tap, tap. taps the side of the measuring cup to distribute it evenly over the top of said oatmeal.

The up-side to this?

He does his own dishes, and the popcorn bowl from the night before. Yeah—he’s a keeper.

I join him—each in our own matching rocker in front of our lake-facing windows—for coffee. 

He checks his phone for weather.

I check my phone for messages.

I ask him what the weather is going to do.

He asks me if I’ve gotten anything important. 

Before going out to check whatever it is he checks outside, he stands and looks out the windows.

His brow furrows. His lips move.

“What?” I ask.

He laughs. He knows he’s been talking to himself.

“It’s a secret. I wasn’t talking to you.” He replies.

We laugh.

He goes out.

I finish my coffee, pour a second cup and ponder our conversation. 

After 56 years, we don’t need words. 

It’s as routine as the sunrise. 

Mundane, you might say.

Not at all. 

Believe me—

It matters!






And Then There Are Days…….

Grandma’s Awful, Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day
(actually, the week hasn’t gone so well, either.)

I finally made a long-overdue appointment (for Tuesday morning) to have a lesion on my arm removed. It was growing…fast…and while I was pretty sure what it was, it had become bothersome enough to be…well…bothersome.

We still doctor 1.5 hours away. I know, I know—you’re wondering why we don’t go local.  Change is hard. We are old. There, you have it.

Tuesday morning—hubby left before I did, to drive 3 hours in the opposite direction to watch granddaughter #2 play volleyball, so would be gone until late night. That’s fine. Son #2 lives six miles this side of where we doctor. Although he was on duty at the fire department, I was going to spend the afternoon and evening with DIL, granddaughter #2, and grandsons #1 and #2.  What fun!!

I get in car to leave…and battery is dead. It wouldn’t even crank. Really, really dead. Guess who forgot to turn the key to ‘off’ when she checked the mileage a day after returning home from a conference?  

Rescheduled appointment for Thursday morning, 10:15. Called DIL and sulked. Hubby didn’t get home until after 11:00

Thursday morning, 8:00 and all is well. Tried to get hubs to go with me, but he assured me the battery was charged and I’d have no trouble. It was foggy when I left, but I had no trouble. Car purred like a kitten all the way.

Arrived early, got in early, had three lesions removed, and was back in the car ready to head home by shortly after 10:30. UNTIL I turned the key and…nothing. 

At this point, my brain decides to join the battery. Son #2 is off duty today, but has gone with wife and granddaughter #3 for a college visit.  I text him anyway–with the whole story!  Misery loves company. 

I call hubby, and he reminds me we have AAA. However, he will start my direction and I should let him know if AAA can get there sooner than he is able to make the journey.

Now—I text, I tweet, I send emojis and emoticons. I check my emails, face book, and instagram.  I can do a lot of things with that little hand-held device—but do you think I can call AAA?  It’s all automated. Oh, the lady is nice enough, but by the time I listen to the instructions, find the keyboard, and punch in  numbers all I hear is “I’m, sorry—I didn’t get that. Would you please re-enter your 16 digit identification number again” I tried, lady, really I did.

At 12:10, son #2 calls me. He’d just checked his phone—college visit—but they were eating lunch. He knew someone he could call to come give me a jump start. Where was Dad? I checked with Dad. He was two miles away. Might as well let him come to the rescue. 

My dear husband is SO very patient. Of course, I wanted to remind him that had he come along with me…but I didn’t. And when it was all said and done, I was rather pleased that I’d refrained.

He hooked up the charger…and it still wouldn’t start.  He stepped back…he always steps back and looks at a problem. It’s a part of him. You can almost see the wheels turning and most generally he finds a solution.

This time was no exception. There wasn’t a frown, or even a hint of annoyance either on his demeanor nor in his voice when he asked me to ‘turn off your lights and see if that helps.’.

Did I mention it had been foggy when I left home? 

He even bought me lunch and said I didn’t need to worry about supper. 

However, I’ll not be surprised if he takes my keys.


Threads of Grace–Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten

     Doc Thayer kneaded his lower back with his fists as he straightened from SueAnna’s bedside. “I don’t know what it is about this place, but seems like there’s one emergency after another out here. Adam, I could sure use a cup of coffee—very strong and black. Ben woke me from a good night’s rest and wouldn’t give me time for a wake-up cup.”
     Trey was still on his knees beside SueAnna where he’d been since bringing her in and laying her on the bed. “Is she going to live,  Doc?”
     “That depends, Trey.” Doc removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “She took a mighty hard blow to the head when she fell. But she’s young and healthy. That’s in her favor. The rest is up to SueAnna and the Lord. I can’t make any promises. She’d rest a whole lot better if you’d get her into her night clothes, that’s for sure.”
     “I…I can’t do that, sir.”
     “What do you mean you can’t do it? You never help her undress before?”
     “No, sir. We…we never—”
     Fred Thayer looked at Adam, then back at Trey. “Are you telling me, son, that after all this time you haven’t claimed her for your wife? Get out of here, then. I don’t suppose she’d take lightly to waking up and finding out you were the one that put her in her nightgown.”
     Trey blushed.
     “Good! I’m glad you turned red. At least you got sense enough to feel stupid about it. Now get, I’ll open the door when you can come back in. I don’t reckon you can even tell me where I might find the clothes she needs?”
     “No, but I can ask Lily.” Trey moved to the door.
     ‘Yeah, well you do that, then hoof it back up here and tell me. In the meantime, I’d appreciate that cup of coffee.”
    When he left, Fred faced Adam. “What’s wrong with that boy?”
     “I’m afraid he takes after me. From what little he told me, he tried to talk with her about a fresh start. She knows about Claire, and he couldn’t promise not to think about her. Guess she was running back to the house and stumbled on the step.”
     Doc slumped into the nearest chair. “This is a hard thing to say, Adam, and maybe a harder thing to hear…but the reaping definitely comes in a different season, doesn’t it?”
     Adam sat on the settee beside his friend. “Truth is often hard to hear, Fred. Thanks for being faithful enough to spout it right out. Does the reaping ever stop?”
    “Not for me to say, my friend. Guess it depends on how much you sowed in the first place. And how long you keep on sowing.”
     Trey was back with the coffee. “Lily won’t tell me where SueAnna keeps her gowns—says she’s mad at me—but Miss Libby told me to look in the top drawer.”
     Was this young man for real? “For the love of…I can’t believe we’re taking orders from a rag doll. Get on out of here, and I’ll find stuff I need myself.”
     Trey didn’t move.
     “Get, I said.” Doc gave him a shove toward the door. “I’ll come down and talk with you when I get this little lady comfortable.” He shut the door behind them and shuffled to the tall chest. 
     Later he sat with the two men around the kitchen table. Ben had sensed the seriousness of Doc’s findings, and offered to take Lily with him for a ride. Adam poured fresh coffee into Fred’s cup, then filled his own and Trey’s.
     “How bad is she hurt?” Trey’s voice shook. “Why won’t she wake up? I sat with her the whole time Ben was riding to fetch you, and she never moved. Shouldn’t she be waking up? It’s been all night.”
     Fred ran his fingers around the edge of the gold-rimmed cup. How he hated conversations such as this. No answers to give, nothing on which to pin hope. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any way of looking inside a body. From what I can tell from the outside, it was just a bump on the head. That shouldn’t be causing her to stay asleep so long. The swelling has already started to go down, and there is very little bruising.” He spooned sugar into his coffee.
     “What are you saying? What’s wrong with her then?” Trey peered at him through bloodshot eyes.
      “What goes on in a person’s head is a question that may never be answered. And I can almost assure you that when what goes on in a woman’s head will never be answered. I’ve only seen a couple of cases that even remotely come close to this—one lived, and the other didn’t.”
     Adam pounded the table. “Would you please stop chasing the monkey around this table, Fred, and spit it out?”
     “Okay, you want my opinion? I think the head injury has nothing to do with why she’s still not awake. I don’t think the bump on her head is the problem at all. I think it’s her heart.” 
     “You mean her hear stopped?” Trey shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
     “No, not stopped. But I do think the poor girl’s heart is nearly broke in two. Have any of you hard-headed men around here ever stopped to think what this little gal has been through? I think she just doesn’t care anymore if she lives or dies.”
     “But—”
      He raised his hand to stop Adam from speaking. “I’ve got the floor, if you don’t mind. Now, you don’t have to believe me, and only time will tell, but if she wakes up somebody around here better be ready to give this lady the love and attention she needs—or make sure she gets somewhere where she will get it. I hear tell the new preacher knows her from childhood. Maybe he’s the one who can help.”
     Trey slammed his hand against the wall. “She don’t need the preacher’s help. She’s my wife,” he shouted.
     “And she knows how you feel, does she?” He stood and faced Trey. “You’ve told her over and over again, right? And she’s been able to count on your attention every minute, is that correct? Tell me, Trey. Just what do you know about this girl? When’s her birthday? What’s her biggest fear? Does she have a dream?”
     Trey leaned toward him. “I don’t know anything about her…but I will. By the time she wakes up I will know how many hairs are on her head. And by all that’s holy, Fred Thayer, I will know the answer to any question you could ever think up before she gets out of that bed and walks again.” He spun around the strode to the door.
     “And just where do you think you’re going, young man?” Fred yelled.
     “I’m going to my wife, Doctor. Does that meet with your approval?”
     “Only if you can promise her, if and when she wakes up, that  you are through letting this Claire gal interfere with that thing you call a brain. If  you can’t do that, then you stay away from her. You hear me?”
     “Loud and clear. Now may I be excused.” 
      Doc didn’t have a chance to answer. He shook his finger at Adam. “That boy better be telling the truth or there will be thunder to pay, and I’ll make sure he pays it, Adam. So far I’ve been able to fix what body parts you two have managed to booger up, and I can’t fix a broken heart.”
     He took one last swig of his coffee. “I’ll be back in a couple of days. Lydia Jensen is about due to have her sixth baby and though she probably doesn’t need my help, Hank does. Never saw a body so useless when it comes to have a wife in labor as that man. Seems to make them just fine, but can’t get them here without passing out. Any big change in SueAnna, you send Ben running to fetch me.”

###

     Trey knelt by SueAnna’s bed and took her hand in his. He’d never seen a girl in bed before—other than his ma, when she was dying. This was his wife, but he’d never really taken a good long look at her. Her hair was spread out on the pillow and framed her face. The bump on her forehead was still there, but smaller than her remembered when he carried her in. Her eyes were closed, but the dark circles under them seemed stark against her colorless face. The long sleeves of a pale pink nightgown covered her arms. Her hands lay open, palms up, revealing calluses. The gown tied with a satin ribbon high on her neck. How could Doc manage such a tiny bow with his fat fingers.
     Her breathing was slow and unlabored, and from time to time a small scowl flitted between her eyes. Was she having a bad dream? Was she thinking of him? Did she hurt somewhere?
     He traced her forehead with his forefinger, in an attempt to smooth away the frown. She moaned and turned her head ever so slightly, but her eyes remained closed. He squeezed her hand, but there is no response.
     “Son?” Adam tiptoed to the bed. “You better eat something. It won’t do her any good if she wakes up and you’re puny from not eating. Has she even opened her eyes?” He put his hand on Trey’s shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze.
     “No, sir. She doesn’t even move except she frowns now and then. You think she might be hurting and can’t tell us?” He smoothed her brow again.
     “I suppose it’s like Fred said—there’s no way to know what goest on inside a person. Waiting is might hard,  isn’t it?”
    “I”ll wait. I just wish I knew if she was gonna wake up and be okay again. I’m not hungry. Guess I’d rather stay right here.”
     “I’ll have Ben bring you something anyway, at least a slice of bread and some coffee. You can eat that while you sit here.” He gave Trey’s shoulder another squeeze, then left.
     It didn’t take long for Ben to return. He carried a tray with the bread and coffee, and had Miss Libby tucked under one arm. “We came to visit.” He had a silly whole-face grin.
     “Didn’t interrupt your playtime, did I?” Trey smiled at his good friend. “Thanks, anyway. The coffee will be good.”
    Ben sat the tray on the table by the settee, then squatted down beside Trey. “Lily is out in the hall. She didn’t want to come in until Miss Libby talked to you first. “He handed the doll to Trey.
     Trey took the doll, then whispered to Ben. “What am I supposed to say? This is nuts. I haven’t got time for this. SueAnna is hurt bad. This isn’t a game.” He pushed the rag doll toward Ben. “You take her.”
     Ben shook his head. “Look, it ain’t gonna hurt you one little bit to make that little girl out there happy. She’s scared to death. Think about it Trey—SueAnna is the only Ma she knows. Just go along with it. I do it all the time and it ain’t so bad.” He poked him in the side with his elbow. “I won’t tell the boys in the bunkhouse if that’s what you’re afraid of.”
     “Well, could you at least leave? I don’t want to sit here and talk to a rag doll with you right beside me. Doesn’t seem normal at all.” Trey took the doll and held her on the edge of the bed. 
     “Can Lily come in? She’s afraid of you.” Ben was no longer smiling. “She just a little girl, Trey. Try to understand for once.”
      “Afraid of me? I’ve never hurt her.” Trey’s insides churned. Why couldn’t they all just leave him alone—him and SueAnna?
     “There’s more than one way to hurt someone, my friend. Words can cut real deep, you know. You’ve never been anything but cranky with her. Cranky stings.”
     Trey’s shoulders drooped. “Send her in Ben, and if it will make you feel any better you can stay, too.”
     Trey was still holding Miss Libby on the edge of the bed when Lily came in. She had one finger over her lips, a sign for Trey to be quiet, then plunked herself down in front of him, crossed her legs and straightened her skirts around her.
     “Annie says a lady does’t show her limbs to people.” She hunched her shoulders and look at him out of the corner of her eyes. “I’m not a tree but I still got limbs. That’s funny isn’t it?” She picked at her skirt. “Have you talked with  Miss Libby, yet?”
     Trey turned to see if Ben was still in the room. He was—leaning against the wall with his long legs crossed at the ankles.
     “Well, I was hoping you could tell me what to say, Lily. I’ve never talked with a doll before.” He stifled a groan. If Ben ever let this out he’d beat the redhead to a pulp.
     “She’s not a doll, Mr. Martin. She’s my very best friend. Friends always talk, but if you’re just an old doll you don’t talk. Why don’t  you like her?” Lily sat with her small her hands in her lap. She didn’t look at the bed where SueAnna still lay sleeping.
     “Oh, I like her. I’m just sad that your sister is hurt. Sometimes us men don’t know how to act when we’re sad, so it makes us sound cranky.”
     Lily scrambled to her knees and put her arms around Trey’s neck. “I’m sorry I stuck my tongue out at you, and I’m sorry I wouldn’t tell you where to find Annie’s clothes, and I’m sorry I told Ben I didn’t like you, and I’m sorry you’re sad.”
     She squeezed his neck so hard he could hardly breathe, but he wasn’t going to let her know. Those little arms around his neck felt better than anything he’d experienced in a long time. He patted her back and hugged her close to him. Her shoulders shook, and his neck was wet from her tears. 
     “Is it my fault Annie don’t wake up?” She squeaked. “I told God I was sorry, but she still don’t wake up. I don’t want her to go away to a new home in heaven.” Lily squeezed even harder and Trey thought his heart would break. 
     “Oh, Lily—you’re not the reason she doesn’t wake up. She fell down and hurt her head. And she fell because—”
     Ben cleared his throat. Trey had forgotten he was even in the room, but was relieved that he interrupted the conversation. How could he make a little girl understand what happened, when he couldn’t make sense of it all himself.
     “I like you now, Trey Martin. But Miss Libby still wants you to talk with her.” She unwound her arms, smiled, kissed him on the cheek and climbed all the way into his heart. 
     “I like you too, LilyAnna rose Morrow. Now, do you suppose Miss Libby and I could talk in private?”
    Lily retrieved her doll from the bed and held it to her ear. From time to time she would nod her head. Surely the two weren’t actually conversing? 
     The little girl sighed. “I’m sorry, but Miss Libby has changed her mind. She says she will talk with you later, but right now she thinks you need to talk with Jesus because she doesn’t think you ever ‘vited him in like I told you and that makes her sad and she don’t like to cry in front of men so we will leave now so you talk to Him.” She pushed herself up, bottom first, then straightened her skirts and tucked Miss Libby under one arm. 
     “You can take me downstairs now, Ben, and we shall have tea. Miss Libby says you have work to do so we’ll have tea by ourselves.”
     Ben left holding Lily’s hand and looking like the cat that just licked cream off the saucer of milk.
     It was dusk before Trey stood and lit the lamp on the table by the settee. His legs were stiff and he needed the necessary but didn’t want to be gone if SueAnna awakened. He stooped and kissed her closed yes. Her hair smelled like roses and tears came to his eyes. 
     Oh, God. Don’t let her die. She doesn’t know I love her. I didn’t even know it ’til…
     He squeezed his eyes shut, but it didn’t help. Claire’s face was there again. She was swinging and her long black hair was flowing behind her. She was smiling and calling out to him as he rode away —”you come back to me, Trey Martin…”
     Was he going crazy? Perspiration dripped from his chin, and he was ice cold. He felt like puking, and his head hurt. He couldn’t go on like this. Was love supposed to be so hard? Or was it love? How could he know. 
     What I think you need is to love Jesus. Lily’s admonition haunted him. could God help him sort this out? Could God show him how to love? He can come live in our heart, but you have to ‘vite him in.
     He laid his head on the bed beside SueAnna’s hand. “God, I don’t know how to do this and I don’t know why you would even want me to try. I’ve done so many wrong things and treated people so bad. But Lily says if I invite you in, you can live in my heart. I don’t know what that means. But I’ve messed things up real good, and now this girl might want to live because of me. I’m so mixed up I don’t even know what love is. I want to love SueAnna, but Claire keeps coming back. How do I tell Claire to stay away? And how do I let SueAnna know I love her? She doesn’t have any reason to believe me, and she’s not awake for me to show her. But God, could you teach me how? And could you teach me how to love my pa? I got real bad feeling about Mr. Covington, and I know it’s wrong. it would make Ma real said if she knew how I felt and how I’ve acted. Could you come live in my heart, like Lily says. Can you forgive me for all the bad things I’ve done. And could you let me know if you hear me?”
     He stayed on his knees for a long time, and when he finally got to his feet it was like a warm breeze caressed his soul. 
    He kicked off his boots and blew out the lamp. Then he climbed into the bed beside SueAnna, fully clothed. 
     He gathered her in his arms, buried his face in her hair, and told her over and over how much he loved her. 
     And he knew God had heard. 
     

     
     


Threads of Grace

Chapter Nine
continued

     Trey waited until SueAnna was settled, her skirts spread around her and her back against the fork of the tree. He sat opposite of her, drawing his knees to his chest. Just enough moonlight filtered through the canopy to see her face. She didn’t look anything like Claire—but why was he constantly comparing?
     Her gaze met his. “You’re thinking about Claire, aren’t you? Is that why you want to talk…to tell me you’re leaving to find her?” She lowered her eyes and picked at her skirt.
    “Covington won’t let me go until after Thanksgiving.”
     “But you want to, don’t you?”
     He leaned closer and took her hands in his. “Look, I…I don’t really know what I want. That’s why we need to talk. I know I’ve been a real no-good kind of guy, and I couldn’t blame you if…if you went away like Sage Bowen suggested.”
    She lifted her head and her eyes glistened with unshed tears. “We’re married, Trey, and I’ll honor those vows, but you have to decide whether you want to continue this charade or go after the woman you really love. I don’t want you to spend the rest of your life resenting me. Neither do I want to be constantly compared to someone I’ve never met. I can’t compete with a ghost.”
     “Do you love Sage Bowen?” He dropped her hands.
     “Love him? Is that why we’re having this conversation, Trey? Maybe we need to leave Sage and Claire out of this and try to figure out why, after four months, you suddenly decide we need to talk.”
     He folded his arms across his bent knees and rest his forehead on them. Why, indeed? If only he’d not reacted like a jealous husband when the truth was he’d never cared to acknowledge her as his wife. He took a deep breath and faced her again. “I don’t know what I’m feeling. I thought I loved Claire, but when I saw you leave tonight and go out in the dark with Sage, I…I wanted to hit him and then I wanted to scream at you and remind you we were married.” He swiped his hand across his mouth. “Sorry. I know we were gonna leave them out of this.”
     “Why didn’t you?”
     “Why didn’t I what? Leave them out of this like you suggested?”
     “No. Why didn’t you scream and remind me of our vows?”  
     He shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve been asking myself that same thing.”
     She smiled. “You remind me of Lily. She absolutely hates turnips, but if she ever saw little Abigail Rawlings eat them, and Ben was anywhere near, she would eat them if it made her sick.”
     “I don’t hate you, SueAnna.”
     “No. But you’ve told me you’ll never love me. It feels a whole lot the same.”
     “But that’s what I’m trying to say.” He moved to his knees. “I don’t know why seeing you with the preacher made me so jealous. I never felt that way before with Claire.”
     “You didn’t have to, Trey. You and Claire grew up together, just like me and Sage. You felt safe. You knew she would always be there, and I suppose that’s how I feel with Sage. Maybe that’s love. I don’t know.”
     “You don’t love me, do you.” He got to his feet but forgot to duck and a branch slapped him across his face. He crouched to his knees again.
     “Why does it matter” Why is it that you care about my loving you when you’ve admitted being in love with someone else?”
     “I don’t know why it matters—but it does. It matters a whole lot.”
     SueAnna pushed herself to her feet and crossed her arms. “I’ll be forever grateful for what you did so I could keep Lily. But I don’t want to be blamed for every past hurt you’ve suffered, or for every disappointment that may come into your life because of it.” She moved away. “It’s late. I’m cold and I need to check on Lily.”
    Trey grabbed her arms and pulled her back to him. “Ben is taking care of Lily.” He shrugged out of his jacked and put it around her shoulders. “Now, no more arguments. We aren’t finished.”
    Even in the shadows, he saw her brow furrow. 
     “Finished? Did we ever really start?” She backed against the tree and slid to the ground. He lowered himself next to her and took her hands again.
     “I want to start—I really do. But I never courted a woman before. Claire was always just…there. I don’t how to begin. I asked Ben, and he just knocked me down and compared me to an old ugly, dumb dog he once knew.”
     SueAnna giggled. But it wasn’t a silly girl kind of twitter, and it sent shivers down his spine.
     “I’ve never been courted, either. But I do recall you knocked me off my feet once.”
     He chuckled. “So now what? Could we try?”
     She gripped his hands and leaned closer. “What about Claire? What if, for some reason, you would see her again.” What then? What would happen to us? Maybe you should go looking for her first before we decide.” She pulled away and got to her feet. “Look at me, Trey. Can you honestly tell me she isn’t here in this hideaway with us right now?”
     Could he? He didn’t know. How could he answer her? For longer than he could determine, her eyes locked with his—until he could no longer stand to see the questions they held. He looked away, and with that choice she fled from him.
     Though the needle-covered floor of the grove cushioned her footsteps, it was as though his heart hammered in rhythm…and it hurt. “SueAnna, wait! Please!” He had to make her understand.

###   

     She kept running, though her eyes were clouded with tears and it was too dark to see the path. Sticker laden branches tore at her arms. She could hear him calling for her, but her heart wouldn’t let her stop. So close. They were so close to starting a life together. But then the awful truth. He couldn’t give up Claire.
     She had to get into the house before he caught up with her. She didn’t want him to know she was crying. Never again did she want him to see her tears. She would take Lily and go back to Nelson’s, then have the marriage annulled. If only she could talk to Sage before he left.
     Her breath came in gasps, but she made it. The lamp hanging on the porch wall illuminated the steps. Just a little more and she would be in the house.
   She lunged, and her foot caught on the bottom step. Her arms flailed as she tried to regain her balance. Then there was searing hot pain.