The heavens seemed to have opened all gates that Friday morning. People were running for shelter along Main Street which caused Tanner almost to lose his cool as the preparations for tomorrows fair had to be on hold for the time be. He Constantly checked his phone to see if there was any update on the weather and convinced everyone who had turned up in the Town Hall to hang on for another hour as the rain was supposed to pass by then.
Somehow he managed to encourage most of them to set up the tables and check on flower arrangements. Jeannie who was sat on the stage studied a bundle of pages that Tanner had handed her in the morning. It was the list of volunteers that had signed up to assist with the ride outs. Most of the names were unknown to her so she had to ask Tanner for his help, which pleased him greatly.
He had wanted to talk to Jeannie for a while now, not only because of the fair but also because of the dreadful rumour that had reached him about her dad and brother. It wasn’t to satisfy his curiosity but more because he cared. He would have never acknowledged this but Jeannie especially had always been one of his favourites in town. Not only because of her willingness to volunteer in the past, that was a minor aspect. No. Tanner and her mother had been close friends during their younger years and he had never forgotten her kindness and support over the years;
Tanner and Jillian grew up next door to each other in Springwood Falls. Tanner was an only child and enjoyed nothing more than the company of his best friend Jillian and her two older brothers. The hustle and bustle of a big family had been forsaken to him so the outings were his gate to freedom and unsupervised fun.
His mother was notoriously worried for his health and did not warm to the Donaldson children at all. They were up to no good and exposed her little boy to all kinds of dangers including tree climbing and playing in dirty muddy fields, the source of all evil illnesses the Lord could throw at them.
Most of the time Tanner had to stay at least in ear shot, which was not ideal for his mother but over the years she had to give in to Mrs Donaldson’s pleas to allow him to get a bit more self-confident.
His mother near smothered him with her constant bickering and overprotection. Besides the fact that the way to and from school had been meticulously timed, she also made Tanner fill in when he would leave the house, when he would be back and went crazy if he was just a few minutes late.
This was one of the reasons why time keeping and lists had become a huge part of his adult life.
All these interferences in his childhood wouldn’t have been half as bad if it hadn’t been for High School.
Still obeying his mothers’ rules, Tanner had to endure the ridicule and mockery of his fellow pupils. The amount of times he had to fish his trainers out of trees or his school books from puddles was uncountable and if it hadn’t been for Jillian the torture would have been even more severe. She always stood his ground and would not allow this to happen on her watch.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t be there all the time. But her courage and friendship made Tanner stand up for himself in the end. The day of his uprising also was the start of a long lasting friendship.
After yet again another barrage of mockery in the dinner hall Tanner simply walked up to the senior boy and flipped his dinner tray right onto his lap.
The school teams quarterback was so taken aback by Tanners reaction that he clenched his fists and wanted to jump for him but Jillian jumped in between them and turned the tide as she gave him a taste of his own medicine mocking him.
Thomas Leeland was anything than pleased and it took him a few days to recover from the incident.
But like small communities are, they soon got talking and ended up the best of friends.
Tanner knew if it wasn’t for his friends Jillian and Thomas things might not have turned out the way they were.
The community would have been different without them.
Jillian was always involved in town matters and was terribly proud to give something back. No matter how small, even if it was just an ear or a shoulder to cry on for everyone who was in need, Jillian was offering her help.
Now there were these rumours and whispers going along the community which cast a shadow onto her memory.
Tanner noticed so many countless attributes of Jillian in her daughter and he would have liked nothing more than to return one of many favours to her and her family. If he would be able to help, so be it! And he knew so much, Jillian would have been terribly distraught by the way how her son was towards his father.
Waiting for the right moment Tanner listened to Jeannie carefully as she ran through the list over and over again
when Nathan approached them.
Apologetically Nathan addressed Tanner with his hands deeply buried in his pocket.
“Sorry to interrupt you guys, but Tanner, have you heard from Alex this morning at all?” Nathan asked.
Alerted Jeannie lifted her head from the papers and looked up when she heard Alex’s name. Nathan had almost sounded concerned and Jeannie did not like what that stirred in her.
Tanner studiedly shook his head. “No, I haven’t. He told me yesterday that he would be here by about 10.” A quick look on the watch showed both of them that Alex had already been over 50 minutes late, which even to Alex’s standards was unlike him.
Nathan nodded understandingly and turned his attention to Jeannie cautiously after quickly clearing his throat.
“You wouldn’t have heard of him, have you?”
Bewildered why he would have contacted her Jeannie answered.
“No, sorry Nathan. I haven’t spoken to him for a while”. A wave of concern carried her voice.
Nathan thanked them both and left them alone again. Jeannie noticed Nathan was still looking over to her and felt uncomfortable by it.
Tanner was disappointed that he now had to sort out the missing pair of hands instead of talking to Jeannie and hurried away to make some phone calls.
Jeannie was confused as of how to react and dropped her notes on to the stage. She could see that Nathan had started chatting with some of the other guys. To her dismay were they constantly turning heads in to her direction and she could not understand what Alexanders’ disappearance had in the slightest to do with her. Hastily she jumped off the stage and walked outside. The rain was still heavily bouncing off the ground so she took shelter under the porch roof and dialled Alex’s number. To her surprise did it go straight to answer machine, and hung up. Should she try again? Maybe he was just busy and what would she say then? It was not as if he had any obligations towards her or anyone else. Surly he had a reason why he wasn’t here. And besides, why did she care that much? Didn’t she have enough on her plate? Against her better knowledge she redialled his number. This time it rang once, twice… What would she say if he answered?
Her heart was pounding hard in her chest when the phone rang out. Again crackled the mechanical voice into her ear and she hung up.
Okay, she thought, no harm done. Everything is fine. She drew in a deep breath as she pocketed her cell again and turned back into the Hall.
Her notes had waited for her untouched on the stage. With ease, Jeannie pushed herself with one hand up and sat back into her old position and tried to ignore Nathan as good as she possibly could. He seriously got on her nerves with his constant staring. If he wouldn’t stop soon she would have to say something. Long behold Jeannie’s patients snapped and found herself storming along the room with confident strides ready to challenge them.
“What’s the matter?!” Jennie growled. With her eyes affixed on Nathan and her arms crossed in front of her body she waited for them to speak.
Poor Nathan had no idea why she was so agitated and raised perplexed his hands.
“What are you on about Leeland?”
Jeannie let out a sigh and restrained herself.
“Excuse me? I have eyes. What’s all this mumbling and pointing about. If you have anything to say, say it to my face!” Jeannie demanded fiercely.
“Jesus,” piped Nathan’s younger brother up from behind him.
“What has that to do with you kiddo?”
Wide eyed Jeannie gave her best death stare when Nathan stepped forward and pulled Jeannie aside. He wanted to spare the embarrassing moment when he quietly replied.
“No idea why you are so annoyed with us, but we are only discussing how to sort the stage out. Alex had the plans and with him being missing. You know, there are things to figure out. Are you alright?” Nathan was honest in his concern for Jeannie. He had never seen his friends’ daughter loosing her tamper in front of anyone before.
To say she felt stupid was an understatement. All life seemed drawn from her face and Jeannie wished she had approached them differently or for at least a hole where she could quickly jump in to.
“Well, I better let you get on then.” Jean Whispered.
Swiftly she retreated to the stage to get her stuff.
When she left the hall Nat’s brother voice sniggered well deserved insults in her direction. This was a new low.
Under the porch roof Jeannie halted for a moment and adjusted the collar of her jacket before she ran across to the Diner with the paperwork hidden underneath the jacket.
She couldn’t stay with them in the same room any longer. What a dreadful day this turned out to be!
The Diner was busier than usual. One small table had just been vacated when Jeannie tumbled through the door. Her hair was plastered to her head despite the short distance she had run. Facing the window Jeannie watched the raindrops as they danced on the windowsill. Luckily the papers had avoided further damage and were now lying in front of her on the table.
Her dripping coat was carefully hung above an empty chair next to her before she turned her attention to the list again. As she ordered a soda the chime above the door quietly announced another customer who just like Jeannie looked for shelter on this wet Friday morning. When Jeannie looked passed the waitress she noticed the young woman immediately. It was Samantha who stood a little lost at the entrance, scanning the room for a free table. At first Jeannie tried to avoid eye contact as she really had other things to do but felt for the sorry looking creature standing deserted and wet to the bone in the unfamiliar place. With a wave of her hand, Jeannie tried to get Sam’s attention who careered her way to the corner Jeannie was sitting at.
A shy smile hushed across Samantha’s face when she took the seat opposite her colleague and produced a dry tissue out her purse to carefully dry her face. Cautious not to wipe off her mascara she held a pocket mirror in her hand and made all sorts of silly faces to enable her to see all parts of her face in the little thing.
Just a few weeks ago Jeannie would have acted in the same fashion and found the idea of it strangely absurd.
Content that everything was back in place where it was supposed to be Samantha hid her mirror back in the oversized purse and turned her attention to Jeannie.
“Thank you. I was not prepared for weather like this. I must look awful” Sam giggled in her girlish way. With an acknowledging smile Jeannie nodded and ordered another Soda for her guest.
For a while the two women were treading around a conversation, both not particularly confident in what to say. Jean suspected that her and Bradley had gotten even closer but seriously had no intensions to talk about it. This was none of her concern anymore. But then, what else had they to talk about? Even back in New York they had hardly ever interacted in private. Actually, Jeannie did not know anything about her other than the small talk rubbish they had held during coffee breaks in the little office kitchen.
So she was rather glad when Samantha started off the conversation.
“So, this is where you are from? It’s nice.”
“It sure is. Must be a shock to the system for you.” Jeannie fooled and felt sorry that she sounded quite harsh. She could tell by the look on Sam’s face that it must have come out wrong and quickly tried to turn the mode around.
“I mean, it’s not really a busy place. That’s something most have to get used to at first. Gets me each time I’m back home. The silence at night and such.” Jeannie lied, but it must have helped. Sam seemed to relax a bit more as she sipped on her soda.
“Yeah, it’s pretty strange. What’s that?” she pointed with her slim manicured fingers at the sheets of paper on the table which led Jeannie to explain about the plans for the weekend. Interested, Samantha listened and it was honest interest, Jeannie could tell so much.
“I love horses!” A kind of dreamy complexion hushed over her face. “When I was little my parents used to take me to horseback riding lessons. I loved that! But, proper, I mean, not western style, I mean” Sam noticed the looks she had gathered, not only from Jeannie, around and tried to talk herself back into the good books. To her own surprise, Jeannie was not mad at all.
“You are either pretty brave or suicidal to say that Western Style is not proper horseback riding in a room full of farmers, Sam” Jean sniggered and toasted to her bravery.
Jeannie’s comical toast made both of them laugh.
“So, do you always do that?” Sam wanted to know. Happy about her interested, Jeannie explained about the wider picture why she wanted to get the ranch involved. Mindful she listened to every word Jeannie had to say until the end without interrupting her once.
“That is so brave and courageous of you Jeannie. I understand why you have been so pre occupied at the moment now. I am really sorry for your family. That must be quite a blow.”
“Thank you. Sometimes I wonder if there is a way out and if it’s worth going on. But I feel so energized by it. I haven’t had that for such a long time.
I hope this won’t cause to much hustle at the office for Brad but I really have to start making decisions and at this moment in time it could go either way. If you know what I mean.”
Samantha nodded her head understandingly. But Jeannie sensed something within her eyes. Something was odd almost calculative about it. For a fleeting moment Sam imagined the opportunities that Jeannie’s departure would unfold in front of her should Jeannie really decide against New York. Almost instantly she felt guilty for thinking that way but shrugged it off her shoulders with effortless ease. At the end of the day her interest in her own career weight heavier than Jeannie, the harsh it may sounded.
An hour past by and they were still talking to each other. That was one for the books. Jeannie had hardly touched the list and her stomach started now to rumble like
an old hungry bear as well. The smell of hot cherry pie had woken her senses. She actually wanted to cut out on Carrie’s sweets as she already had eaten more of those in the past week than she had done in an entire year! But that smell! Black cherry cinnamon pie with a sugary crust, how could she say no?! It would be an insult. The more she thought about it the more her stomach churned demandingly.
“Mind if I order something to eat?” Jean asked carefully. She did not want to be rude but had no plan to invite Samantha to lunch.
“Sure, go ahead. I’m not eating for another two hours.”
At last! If you can’t count on anything, women like Sam would always stick to her diet. Unlike Jeannie, she hated diets and rather endured hours in the gym than cutting out on her favourite foods.
Jeannie excused herself for a moment and escaped to the counter. She was glad over the little break. Yes, the conversation was not going bad, but somehow did it feel alien to Jeannie. Had she been just like that as well? Concerned about make-up and diets? Surely she could not have been that superficial, could she?
She had to wait for a while for Carrie to pay her attention which left Jeannie to stare at her own reflection on the huge mirrored wall that was behind the bar.
Her hair was still a little wet from the rain but other than that she could not find any similarity to Sam. Not any longer. She couldn’t even remember when she last had affixed her lashes with mascara.
After a short wait she ordered and returned to her seat. She was so looking forward to the pie, and even caught herself, rubbing her hands in anticipation. A day like this formally shouted for pie. There was no doubt.
As the cherry pie finally steamed promising in front of her a rumble loudly gurgled to their ear but this time it was not Jeannie.
With a smile, Jeannie pushed a spare spoon across the table and arranged the plate between the both of them.
“A bite won’t hurt. I’m used to share with you anyway.”
This time, Jeannie did not care about the undertone swinging in her words. She might be cool with it now, but she hoped Sam understood how this was meant.
“Thanks” she hushed quietly from her immaculate lips and picked some of the crust.
“Enjoy it while you can”
A long silence fell over the table while the two women, who couldn’t be more different from each other if they had tried ate cherry pie together.
By mid-day the weather had turned. The clammy air caused everyone to moan. The works for the fair were in full swing, but Alexander still had not shown his face which had made Tanner agitated. He thankfully had been able to get Joseph to help with some bits in the hope that the Canadian would appear at one point.
Jeannie meanwhile had already spoken with the volunteers who all seemed terribly keen. They had arranged for them to meet the next morning on the ranch to get the horses ready so her work was done.
Gladly she handed Tanner her clipboard and said her goodbyes before she drove back home. She wanted to talk with her father about her idea. If only her excitement hadn’t been overshadowed by Alex’s disappearance, then she would have felt more content.
She found her father in the stables as he was brushing Napoleon.
“I could have done that dad” Jeannie said as she entered the box and nestled through her horses’ mane as she stood across from her father.
“I just wanted to take some of the load of your shoulders. You haven’t stopped ever since you arrived and to be fair, I do feel a little guilty about it pumpkin. That is the least I can do for you.”
With a faint smile Jeannie let her father continue and took a seat on the bench across from the box.
Fred was laying stretched out half in half outside in the sun. The moment reminded Jeannie of her teenage years when all she could dream about was to get out and see the world. Now she sat here and watched her father as if time had stood still and couldn’t think what a world it would be without this in her life!
“Dad, what if we could somehow make mums’ guest house a reality? Would you be okay with that?”
Thomas stopped in his tracks and sank his head to his chest with laughter.
“Are you still on about that darling?”
“I am dead serious, dad.” Her sternness took Thomas by surprise. He dropped the brush into a bucket and came out to join her.
As he sat down next to her he gave Jeannie a firm pat on the knee and stayed quiet for a while as his gaze wandered along the hills and fields that peaked through the open gates. In the distance grazed horses and trotted along the fields. The sun finally broke through the clouds and bathed the bluegrass in its distinctive deep shade.
With a deep breath Thomas tried to find the right approach.
“Isn’t our home beautiful? I wanted to be nowhere else on this planet. I have seen it all. The East, the West, but no place is like this. You know, I never told you this, but when you told us you’d be leaving a part of me broke. It hurt to see you leave. But I knew I had to let you go. Make your own experiences. Your own life. Find your own little haven.”
Touched by his words Jeannie wanted to say something but Thomas didn’t let her.
“Did you know that I was the same? When I was 19 I wanted to see the world. Wanted to run away with your mother and give her all she deserved. A house, so much money she would never have to worry for the rest of her life. I wanted to be all that. Successful, dashy, loved, admired. I couldn’t think of anything worse than having to fulfil my duty on the ranch. But you know what your mother said? She told me I was insane! Apparently’ she had all she ever wanted right here with me. This place is riddled with memories we made. Every creek, every corner in the village holds another memory of your mother. Of you all. Maybe that is also why I understand Josh to an extent. And why I had to let you go.
The thought of having to leave this all behind breaks my heart. I cannot change the inevitable though. The only solace I have is that they cannot take my memories. Like this one right here.”
Jeannie had to choke as her father grabbed her hand, still avoiding eye contact with his youngest daughter. Comforting Jeannie’s head rested against his shoulder as she tried to address her last hope.
“Dad, I saw Alex yesterday.”
Intrigued, Thomas listened to what Jeannie had to say but was not prepared for what she actually wanted to say.
“See, I thought he could draft some blue prints from mums sketch.”
Jeannie had no idea what she had hoped how her father would react, but had not been prepared for the bitter look he gave her.
Agitated Thomas got to his feet and walked back to the box, grabbing the cleaning tools fiercely and marched across to the saddle room.
“Dad” Jeannie bagged to be heard out.
“How could you” Tom pressed thorough thin lips. His voice was trembling.
Jeannie was taken aback why he was so upset about her trying to push her mums idea further.
“Don’t you dare but me! How could you not only drag my good friend into your little plan but also, again, rummage through MY desk! Is this how you do things in the City? You come home, have no idea what had been going on and then think you can come up with some neat little plan because your old man cannot face reality any longer?”
“Dad, this is not the case!” Jeannie shouted huskily as she tried to hide her tears.
“Is that so?! So you are here rescuing the ranch with the flick of a wand ’cause the old man hasn’t tried? And should it against all odds work, then what?! Leave again, riding towards the sunset and leave us alone? What a neat little plan. I am NOT your charity case!”
Thomas stormed towards the gate when he turned on his heels. His hand was nervously pointing as he tried to contain himself.
“I want that napkin back. Do I make myself clear?”
Frozen to the ground Jeannie nodded hastily before Thomas stormed down to the house.