Chapter 1 Eli
A cold rain drizzled out of the January night sky, illuminated by the streetlights of a quiet country neighborhood. The sprinkling rain made strange halos around the streetlights. The Moonlight cruised silently along. There was no radio playing. Eli was tired. It was late, almost midnight. Everything was eerily silent as she cruised past her neighbors’ homes. She was almost home. The drive had been too long, but worse she had been lost in thought for most of it, reliving the past.
Eli missed her farm. Well, it was not really a farm, more of a suburban homestead, only an acre with a creek out back. She was still teaching high-school social studies full time, but in the summer, Eli was an avid gardener. The chickens got fed every day and laid the eggs. The small orchard gave a variety of fruits, nuts, and berries. She spent very little at the grocery store on produce. She was an urban homesteader, sort of.
The kids were both at university now. Her son was working on his Master’s. Her daughter was in the last year of her Bachelor’s. She had made this trip alone, leaving on Thursday evening after school. The substitute handled her classes on Friday while she finished the drive to El Paso and made her title loan company appointment that afternoon.
The tiger inside just wanted to get down from the truck and stretch.
But the trip she was coming home from was not the kind of travel that she had always dreamed of. Eli had gone back to El Paso to sell her house there. It would not bring much cash, but it would help her tie up the loose ends of her previous life. Maybe, she could finally move on. She could put the past firmly behind her.
She was forty-eight. It was time to live by her own rules. The time for answering to someone else was over. She had raised her children, and she had her life back. Things were finally good. It had been emotionally hard to move forward alone after Javier had decided to move back to El Paso, but she was happier; freedom was wonderful.
Eli had known it was likely to happen, but that did not mean it had not hurt when she saw him with another woman in the house that they had raised their children. Maybe she had secretly hoped he would stay when she moved to Tyler, that she would be able to win the competition for his affection.
But if she was honest with herself, she was never the jealous type. She was extremely territorial and had a possessive streak a mile wide; but Eli knew who she was, and what she wanted. A man who could not make her his one and only, was certainly not it. Competing with another woman for a man’s affection was pointless. If a man really wanted a woman, she would receive all of his attention. He would not have time for anyone else. The consolation was that Javier did not love the other woman either. She was just a distraction for him.
Her ex had never acknowledged it. But she knew. The kids knew. His family had even known. Javier and Eli had two children together, but the last seven years of their relationship had been sex and business.
Eli took her pleasure from him and used him to help the kids. Eli had stayed so her children could finish high school. There would never be a step-father. She had never brought another man into her children’s home. She had made a promise, and she had kept it. It was a point of pride for her.
She had bought the house in Tyler at the end of her son’s junior year in high school. When her daughter had graduated from high school, she had resigned her teaching position and withdrew some of her retirement money. She moved to Tyler and applied for a teaching position there.
Eli had been teaching in Tyler for almost two years. God had blessed her, and she was teaching World History to sophomores, working in a career she was passionate about, and living in a veritable paradise of forest, farmland, lakes, and streams.
She should not have passed by her old home while she was in El Paso, but it was a long trip. And after she had signed all the papers selling the house, she had little to do but go back to the hotel which held no appeal to her.
Eli had toyed with the idea of meeting up with some old friends, but her mood was black. She felt as if she would not be good company. El Paso had brought out the cynic in her, hardcore. So, she had taken one last look at the past instead.
Eli had gone for late dinner alone avoiding the empty hotel. She had driven by her house one last time, pausing for a while as she said her silent goodbyes. Then she had turned left two blocks up and driven by her old home. The one that should have been hers forever.
It was late, going on ten o’clock, when she stopped on the street across from the chain link gate. She hated how he had painted the outside. Eli had liked the dark gray trim she had chosen all those years ago. The new red just did nothing for the brick.
She sighed and started the Moonlight after a few minutes, but as she took a long look for the last time, they came out. He was laughing at something the woman had said. The sound cut off as Eli rolled the window up and drove off down the street. Eli had known Javier would not be alone, but she could have done without that mental picture.
She drove back to the hotel, checked in, and tried to get a good night’s sleep. A person could always hope. Eli met an old friend for brunch the next morning after checking out of the hotel. They chatted for a bit, and Eli thanked them for keeping an eye on the house. After about a half hour of catching up, Eli was making her apologies to her friend about needing to hit the road. Eli was soon leaving El Paso and her old life behind.
It was done. She had sold her house and left the pieces of her heart that had once belonged to Javier in the street in front of her old home. Eli bought a Mountain Dew, filled up the gas tank on the Moonlight, and rolled out of town headed east on I-10. She was rolling out of El Paso for the last time around eleven in the morning.
She was finally free.
Her son and daughter would talk crap about how she should have rested longer before starting the drive back, but Eli just felt better leaving the desert and all the painful memories behind. Javier had truly been the best man she had ever met, but their differences had come between them.
Whatever they might have had once, it was long since gone now. No crying over spilled milk. She had no tears left; clean it up and move on.
Eli had been Tyler bound for the last twelve hours. Desert had given way to grassland sometime after she rolled past Odessa on I-20. Eli had kept on I-20 till the piney woods outside of Dallas. She was bound for home and a new life.
Eli loved the Moonlight and thanked God for giving the truck to her. It was just as comfortable to sleep in as it was to drive. It was paid off and still drove like a dream. The cream colored 2008 Ford F-150 was the Lariat edition. Heated leather seats and a moonroof, the 5.4 liter v8 engine had less than 180,000 miles.
She guided the Moonlight into her driveway, slowly rolling to a stop in front of the house as the gravel crunched under the truck’s weight. She would get the oil changed soon. She had made it home, finally.
The house was dark, silent. There was no one home but her. Eli breathed in the damp, country, winter air as she got down from the truck. She stretched and yawned for several long minutes, hit the lock button out of habit, and shut the driver’s side door. She prowled up to the house as she pulled her wrap tighter against the cold January drizzle. She noted everything was as she had left it. She would get the luggage down tomorrow.
She stopped on the porch taking in the peace and serenity that she had always loved. She could smell smoke in the air from a neighbor’s chimney. Eli smiled to herself as she put the key into the lock and pushed open the heavy wooden front door into the foyer. She slipped off her shoes and left her wrap on the hall tree as she closed and locked the front door behind her. She breathed deep again. She was home.
Eli headed down the hall to her room, enjoying the cool tile floors through her socks. She did not turn on any lights. She lit the fireplace in the bedroom, added a log and closed the fire screen. She padded barefoot into the adjoining bathroom turning on the water to fill the tub. A nice soak sounded good. She lit the candles and added the bubbles to the jetted tub. She stripped off her clothes and left them on the rug. Then she stepped into the tub and sank down into the bubbles, sighing as the stress and tension from the drive began to fade away.
Eli stared out the window to the forest behind her house. The leaves were gone on the deciduous trees but the pines were still silhouetted nicely in the dark. Her property backed up to a green belt that was not going to be developed. Tomorrow she would go for a long run. It had been too long.
It was half past one on Sunday morning when she released the cooling water, stepped out of the tub, and began to towel off. A good night’s sleep was in order. No classes on Monday for Martin Luther King Day meant that Eli could sleep in and enjoy a bit of a break. She opened the chest drawers near the bed, pulled out an old faded cotton nightgown, pulled it on over her head, and was asleep before her head hit the pillow.