Where My Heart Belongs

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Paths

:Paths:

The hot spell of the past few days had been replaced by a cool wind that went right through Jeannie as she rode along the river with her old horse Napoleon during the early hours of the Sunday morning. The sun was trying to break through the thick clouds that whirled in angry circles across the sky and encouraged the wind to pick up even further.
Glad that she had brought her jacket Jeannie steered her horse down towards to the meadow and sped up in to a race against the cold. She loved nothing more than the feeling of the wind in her face and the strength of each leap her horse took along the meadow. The heat that came of the Geldings back and the smell of leather sent her right back in to her teenage years. How often she had taken this route was out of comprehension and she did not care. Here she was free.
Just for the fun of it she changed from the lope into a full halt back to a jog and then seamlessly spun around before she made him to lope across to the end of the meadow.
Horse and rider were equally hot after the exercise so Jeannie dismounted and lead him down to the shore line for him to have a good drink of water and to give her tired legs a rest as well. It had been a few good years since she last had been on the saddle which she could feel with every step she took along the rocky shore. Able to trust Napoleon not to shy away she let go of his rains as he stooped across to the water with lowered head. She sat down on a rock nearby and took in the beauty of the familiar grounds of her childhood playground.
For a while she just sat in the sun light that had managed to immerge from above the cloud with her eyes closed she listened to the soothing sound of water that washed ashore. Birds were singing in the near distance when suddenly her attention was drawn to the splashing sound near her. Wondering she looked over her right shoulder when a small dog swam out to the water and fetched a branch that someone must had thrown in to the lake for it. It took her eyes a few moments to adjust to the light when she recognized the little terrier. She had seen it the other day and knew that it was Alexander’s little companion. Not before long Jennie saw him emerge along the path that lead all around the lake to his house. He still hadn’t seen her when she got on her feet to fetch Napoleon’s reins again, for she did not know how he would react to the lively dog that had reached the dry grounds. Excitedly the little fluff ball shook its fur before rushing back to Alexander.
Jeannie observed how he grabbed the branch playfully with both hands and pulled the terrier a bit along the ground before he let go of it. With a powerful pitch whizzed the branch with a hissing sound through the air back in to the water again, the dog charging after it.
Napoleon snorted at the commotion which made Alexander look across to them.
“Good morning” he shouted with a smile upon his face as he approached Jeannie.
“Morning” Jeannie held the reins a little shorter as Alexander’s dog jumped between their legs, but her horse didn’t seem to bother too much about the little fluff ball.
“Zander, sit!” Alexander ordered with immediate results.
“Zander?” Jeannie smirked as she unpacked a towel from her saddle back and rubbed the little ones fur dry, which he seemingly enjoyed.
“I know”, Alex replied “not very imaginative. That one goes down to my sister. She thought it funny when she bought him for my birthday. He’s just so used to it. I tried different names, but he only will ever listens to that.”
Zander still enjoyed Jeannie’s attention and would nudge her with his wet nose occasionally when she dared to show signs of stopping.
“He’s adorable. Aren’t you” Jeannie piped in a childish tone while Alexander’s eyes lay kindly upon her. As soon as he noticed how he got caught up in the moment he quickly shook his head as to clear his mind and tried to start a conversation.
“He can be a pain I can tell you.”
“Oh, we can’t believe that” Jean answered as happy as before while Zander tried to jump up her lap.
“Well, say that again when he brings rodents home. Sometimes I wonder if he knows that he is a dog and not a cat.”
“Fred done that when he was a puppy. He preferably put them in to my sisters’ room- Hilariously funny” Jeannie winked.
With Napoleon on reins they started to walk next to each other down the shoreline while Zander chased ahead.
“I wanted to apologize for yesterday. I shouldn’t have ridiculed you in front of your father.” Alexander said remorsefully.
Jeannie gestured with one hand.
“Don’t worry about it. To be fair I did not leave the steadiest of impressions, did I?” Jeannie smiled.
“I wouldn’t say steady that is for sure.” He had to chuckle when he thought of their first encounters. Their eyes met for a split second, but unlike the times before Jeannie didn’t feel at uneasy any longer. She fairly enjoyed Alexander’s company as he was easy to talk to, something she had really missed. There was no treading on egg shells or fear of misunderstandings in any way, shape or form. Her friends in New York had often mocked her in the beginning when she joined in conversations, she was not 100% familiar with and she soon had learned just to nod her head or smile in a particular admiring way so that Bradley wouldn’t pick up on it later.
“Are you joining the town meeting later?” Jeannie asked to distract herself from thinking too much about the City which she so happily had been able to avoid the whole morning.
“I kind of have to. Got myself talked in to helping with erecting the booths. Tanner can be rather persuasive”
“You mean dictating?” Jeannie declared more than she asked. She had known Tanner Mason all her live and for as long she could remember, he had been this old looking, old-fashioned, always hurried of his feet kind of person. He embraced change to an extent, or for as far as he had control over it. An old soul, that exactly knew how to hold the community together, but not without his own strange, dictating way. His nosy, know-it-all nature and a firm grip of Town affairs had left him Mayor for – yes- for how long exactly? Jeannie tried to think but was interrupted by Alexander’s voice.
“That too. Our little Mayor. He is some character. Even if you try to say no you end up doing exactly the opposite. Has he always been like that?”
“You can bet!”
Enjoying each-others company, they did not realize how long they had been out walking before they reached the fork at the bottom of the lake. Jeannie mounted Napoleon again as Alexander stood back a little and watched her every move.
“I’ll see you later then?” Jeannie wanted to know before they parted ways.
“You sure will. Look after yourself” Alexander watched on as Jeannie brought her horse to a jog along the meadow and followed her with his eyes until she had finally disappeared in to the woods.
He felt a little at unease and ruffled through his hair trying to make sense of what was going on with him and looked down at Zander who was waiting for Alex to walk on.
“Who are you staring at?” Alex fooled around and picked up the branch his dog had carried all the way around, and through it ahead. “Let’s go home, Zander”
Alexander followed in slow pursuit with his hands buried deep in his trouser pockets to shield them from the cool wind that had picked up again, secretly longing for more than just a warm drink.
The lake house, an old log cabin, stood shielded between pine and oak trees above the south side of the shore. It was big enough for Alexander’s needs. The living room with the open fire place was neatly filled with old furniture and a big old sofa chair that Alexander had brought along from his grandfather’s house from Montreal when he moved to Springwood Falls short after Jeannie had made her way East. Next to the living room, facing the lake was a smaller room that had been converted in to his home office which lay in stark contrast to the rest of the house with papers and blue prints stuck to the walls and a modern computer with three big flat screens. They filled his huge desk that was propped against the fixed window. Through its clear glass the most stunning views unveiled in front of his eyes. He loved sitting there, witnessing the seasons pass as he took well-earned breaks during the day. Not one day was the same out here, with wild birds resting on the water in the spring and fall, following their call. The scenery across the lake and the quiet out here had taken him by storm. HE knew already each tree, each bush, each gravel that was washed ashore and could not imagine being anywhere else. His little haven, the cabin tucked away at the foot of the woods that sheltered his roof from the heavy snow and in the summer from the terrible heat. What could be better? The vivid colorful blanket of the Indian Summers had grown on his heart especially as it reminded him very much of his childhood, growing up with his grandparent’s after his parents’ divorce. His mother worked hard during that time, trying to make a better living for herself and her three children, Alexander being the oldest. He had another younger brother and sister whom he now saw irregularly. All three of them had been able to study at University, all thanks to his hard-working mother and the love and support of his grandparent’s. After both of them had passed away and his mother remarried, he had no particular reason to stay back in Montreal and took a job with the construction firm that had brought him to Springwood Falls.
His brother, who still stayed in Montreal got married a year before Alexander decided to move to Kentucky. His sister was a stewardess with Canadian Airlines and as far as he knew, engaged to a pilot.
One side of his office wall was entirely dedicated to the postcards she sent him from all her travels. Even if she had only a few hours at an airport she would always manage to find a gift shop and fulfilled her sisterly duty.
Alexander had left the porch door open, that led to the shore, and made himself a hot coffee and drank it outside, leaning against the balustrade and gazed across to the meadow. He knew it was silly to expect seeing her riding across again, but the thought kept him company and he did not care if it was a childish hope or not, as he had no one to answer for.
The day was still in its early hours, just about ten thirty on Sunday. As he was not a regular church goer there was no need to rush out to Town so he decided to grab a book, filled a flask with the rest of the hot brew and sat down in the rocking chair, with his feet propped up against the balustrade. The wind was still fresh but his warm denim jacket was enough to keep him protected from the breeze. He sometimes sat out there even in the rain under the roof and watched the raindrops jump off the lakes surface, as they rippled the water.
Ever since he was able to read, Alexander spent most of his time with his nose in a book. A getaway from the pressure of deadlines nowadays, back then a hideaway from the arguments and fights he had to endure between his parents when he was a boy. He remembered well how one night he was hiding underneath his blanket and read Peter Pan when they erupted into a terrible fight downstairs. The sound of his father’s voice boomed through the air followed by sounds of shattering cups and numb thuds that fueled the pain and anger in Alex’s young heart. He hated his father with every fiber in his body. And what pained him the most was the fact that he was too young, too weak to protect his mother of this monster. All he could do was to hide under his blanket and secretly wished he had the power to instill as much fear and panic in his father as the crocodile did with Hook. For days Alex imagined how the ticking of his wrist watch would drive his father insane with fear and he would run out of their life for good. When the day came that Jean-Pierre Marceau really did not show face after work, and wouldn’t even the following day or the day after, Alexander self-declared his own personal crocodile day.
But that seemed a million years ago and the love his Grandparents had showered them with had made Alexander in to the man he was. When he was old enough it was without question that he changed his last name to his grandparents, he wanted to honor them and wanted to get rid of the last thing that connected him with the beast his father had been. It was solely down to them that he was taught values. It was them who helped him to get rid of the pain and anger and showed Alex that a man does not use his fists to solve a conflict. They had taught him that love was not a destructive, painful force where one controls the other. It was caring for one another, sharing good and bad times and personally for Alex the way his grandfather looked at his wife when they were sitting in front of the fire at night. In these quiet moments, time seemed to have slowed down for a while with all worries cast aside and the future lay light-years away.
Maybe that was why he connected with Tom so well. The first time he had been invited over to the homestead years ago and they sat together he noticed the loving looks and fleeting signs of affection Tom and Jillian exchanged. A simple touch of the hand when Tom would pass his wife at the kitchen counter, or a loving rub on the shoulder. Alexander was devastated when he heard that Jillian got ill and even more so when she passed away. He had been away with work in the North West and had not managed to be there for Jillian’s funeral, to support his friend on the worst day of his life. Alex still regretted this greatly to this day. And still, besides the grieve and emptiness her passing had brought, Tom still had the same look in his eyes when they mentioned his Jilli. The memory of the love they had shared and how they had turned their home into this stronghold reminded Alex very much of his grandparent’s house. Then, moments like this when Alex sat in the shelter of his house and turned pages without any worry, came almost as close.
Zander was sleeping next to Alexander while he got deeply lost in his book. The wind carried the distant chime from church bells across the fields which made him look up and gazed across the field. His home. His life couldn’t be better.

By the time the bells had faded along the meadows Jeannie entered the cool darkness of the church hall. The congregation already joined in to the second hymn as she tried to sneak past judging eyes and sat down next to her father in the front pew. Carefully she took her jacket off as she felt the heat from running most of the way from the ranch. She had completely misjudged the time when she had said goodbye to Alexander and was mortified when she noticed that her father had already left without her. Still a little out of breath she grabbed for the hymn book and allowed herself to observe the visitors. Her brother and his family were seated surprisingly on the other side of the room and she could only imagine how the meeting this morning had unfolded. Jeannie felt so sorry for her father who sat point straight next to her with his eyes fixed on his son-in-law who was ready to start the sermon.
It was such a shame that the argument from the other day had put such a huge drift between the two and was still nowhere near and end. Jeannie knew only too well how stubborn they both were and that it needed more than just sweet-talk to get them talking.
There they were, the Leelands, together yet divided and desperately trying to avoid each other. The tension between them was not only noticed by Jeannie. From behind she heard the mumbling voices saying her father’s name which made Jeannie want to turn around and give them a piece of her mind. Her rational side quickly let this urge die down. After all she was in church. By all means, she had no right to cause more hustle than it was useful.
Alice who sat loyal next to her husband glanced over to Jeannie during the sermon her face mirroring the desperate wish of reconciliation. It was heart breaking to notice such unnecessary grief for something a son should have more understanding for.
Time seemed to pass like honey drooling from a wooden spoon and the longer Jeannie tried to follow Martin’s words the harder it became to concentrate. Neither her father nor she were particularly in the mood for lectures about forgiveness and understanding other’s needs. Each word Martin spoke felt like a pointing finger poking an open wound that tried to widen the gap between already bleeding flesh. A memorandum for their incapability to make it stop hurting. Susan meanwhile sat on the other side of Thomas, nodding her head in agreement with her husband’s words and lifted a hand every now and then to emphasize her understanding, as to show the congregation that SHE had nothing to do with this childish rupture in her family. Jeannie could not help but feel betrayed by her sister which was hard to put in to perspective. She hadn’t been there yesterday. The situation needed more than just a judging hand that decided who was to fault.
Thomas hadn’t moved a muscle ever since Jennie had taken the place next to him. His fists clenched tight on his knee. His knuckles had turned a pale shade of white when he suddenly felt his daughters’ hand on his. Surprised he glimpsed at his daughter as she rested her head against his shoulder and noticed how cold her fingers were as a cold chill shot through his arm as soon as she had touched his hand. As they listened to Martin’s sermon, Jeannie noticed how her father finally relaxed with every breath he drew and hoped that somehow the drift could be turned at least in to a small crack on the surface. It had to. She couldn’t leave them like this – or did she have to at all? Taken aback Jeannie sat up straight as the thought had dared to enter her mind. How could she stay? Her job, her life was in New York. This was clearly a step too far for her liking and quickly tried to eradicate this impulsive thought that had come from nowhere. You buy shoes impulsively but moving back after she had fought so hard to leave in the first instance? No, this was insanity. She could not deny that especially the situation with Bradley wasn’t the best and neither did she enjoy the job she was doing now. But still, she had to keep the focus on reality and that was not to add to her father’s struggles by moving back to a ranch that was a short jump away from bankruptcy. How would that be of any help to her father?
From behind the same muffled voices creped in to Jeannie’s ear again. She did not want to hear what they had to say but the mention of her mother’s name shot through her like an ice-cold blade.
“Jillian would have never let it gotten so far, that is for sure” mumbled the older of the two who sat right behind Jeannie.
“So true my dear. She would be so ashamed. What a terrible, terrible thing” replied the slightly overweight lady who was seated behind Thomas who must have heard them. Almost instantly he let go of Jeannie’s hand and stiffened up in to his old position. Only this time grief embedded his face.
A warm ray of sunlight beamed through the church window and guided Jeannie’s attention to the outside. In the far distance she could see trees gently swaying in the breeze which playfully danced around the branches and the rolling hills that grew in to no-man’s land. How she wished to be out on her horse again riding along the lake. Alexander’s unexpected company had been a welcome change which she just realized. It felt so uplifting to talk to someone who had no objections the way she spoke or expectations of her company. Just someone who was honestly interest and listened.
Clouds raced along the sky and swallowed the sun. The sudden change from the comforting warmth made Jeannie to turn back to the sermon which was about to come thankfully to an end.
As soon as the last notes had been sung Joshua and his family got up and made their way rather hurriedly towards the car park and left no time for Jeannie to even contemplate to say hello to her niece and nephew. Stranded on the isle Jeannie turned around to her sister who was in deep conversation with those women who had just been gossiping about her family. She could not bear the thought of talking nicely to them so she took the opportunity and walked outside in to the fresh air. The wind was still cool but the fresh scent of spring lay heavy on its wings. For a moment it seemed as if her heavy heart had been lifted up and taken to another dimension as Jeannie stood on the sidewalk with her face against the sun while she waited for her father. He was still talking to some of his friends. This was more enjoyable than the gossip within church and she fully embraced this moment of calm when all of a sudden, a familiar voice piped up behind her.
“Jeannie Leeland! What a pleasure to see you here!” a crooked voice shouted towards her and soon was followed by the man himself, Tanner Mason. The Mayor of Springwood Falls was rather enthusiastically welcoming Jeannie back home as he grabbed her hand firmly and shook it with excited force.
“Well, how wonderful to see you back home Jeannie. I heard you arrived a few days ago? How are you dear?” Tanner barley reached up to Jeannie’s nose.
“Fine, thank you Tanner. It is nice to be home for a while” Jeannie stammered while she tried to free her hand from Tanners grip. He hadn’t changed a bit. From the clothes on his body, the shoes on his feet to the haircut he hid most under his ancient black hat.
“For a while? I hope you still be around for next week’s Spring Fair? There is a town meeting tonight in the Hall.”
Jeannie Quickly waved a hand with her most endearing smile as she reassured Tanner that she most definitely would not miss it for the world.
“I will be at the meeting tonight as well. I heard you are still in need of some helping hands.”
With a booming laugh Tanner clapped Jeannie acknowledging against her shoulder.
“That is the spirit my dear. I wish all inhabitants would follow your example. Well, I better rush I have to see Carrie before she runs away to the Diner again. Cheerio Jeannie”
With wobbling feet Tanner staggered across the grass his elbows raised to steady his jog. Carrie drew out a deep sigh as she saw the Mayor approaching. Jeannie had to smirk at the sight as Tanners huge belly made his arms and legs look disproportionally small.
As he climbed up the grass, he greeted Thomas in passing who made his way finally down to Jean. His whole posture had changed since he had spoken to Carrie and his old friend Nathan, who owned the local sawmill. He smiled as he and Jeannie walked over to the truck.
“Someone is in a much better mood” Jeannie threw in, and tried not to sound too curious after all.
“A nice chat between friends is all” Thomas answered back who could not stop smiling as he studied Jeannie to the T.
A little at uneasy, she shrugged her shoulders as she returned the stare.
“What?!” Jeannie asked confused.
“I hear you were out by the lake this morning?”
“How do you know?” Jeannie uttered confused.
“Nathan saw you this morning walking along the shore when he was out with his dogs.”
Jeannie shook her head in disbelief.
“Nothing in this town stays unnoticed. Just like the olden days” Jeannie mocked as she climbed in to the truck.
“You can stop grinning old man and get us home before we get a row from Lorna for being late for lunch.”
Thomas started the engine and switched on the radio as they drove back to the ranch under Jeannie’s protest when her father started to sing along to Johnny Cash who was blasting out the speakers.

The afternoon lingered quietly within the walls of the house and felt dominated by the unspoken separation Joshua had created earlier that morning. Only the monotone ticking of the kitchen clock embedded the frozen atmosphere with life like a warning voice not to break the silence.
Jeannie stood in between the doors to the living room and sipped on her cup while she watched her father as he quietly observed a magazine in his chair. She wanted to speak with him, but found it difficult given the situation. There was no need to even mention her brother as this would have only caused more upset. All other approaches after lunch had already failed greatly. No matter how she had tried, he blocked every ambitious trial with grunts and muffling sounds that shot down any kind of conversation.
All had started so hopeful on their way back when Thomas was so cheerful singing along to the radio. But as soon as they had finished their lunch his mood descended rapidly, as if he had been feeding the anger and disappointment all over again.
Lorna and Joseph were out for a walk so she was left all on her own and exposed to the unwelcoming tension that rose with every stewing thought her father allowed to bread in his mind.
She wanted to avoid a further hour of silence and decided to walk across to Town. She knew even if she walked slowly, she had still enough time to pop in to the diner for a drink, which was the perfect disguise for her need of company.
While she put on her jacket, Jeannie walked in to the living room.
“I’m going down Town. The meeting is soon” Jeannie said in a hushed voice and waited for her father’s reply.
“’okay” Thomas buzzed without even looking up from his magazine.
Defeated Jeannie hunched out the front door and took on the wood path which was leading her straight to the back of her old elementary school.
The trees shielded perfectly from the cool wind that hadn’t died down the whole day and had brought more grey clouds along the horizon. It was hard to imagine that just the day before they had all been moaning about the unnatural heat. At least did the long walk allow her to clear her mind a little and reminded her why she had taken the long journey home in the first place.
Back in New York, Central Park had been the closest escape to nature for her. On many occasions she had strolled along the maze of busy walkways whilst she had to look out for runners, skaters and all sorts of outdoor activists. It was never calm and rewarding like this history lane she took at the moment. A path she had taken uncountable times to get to school and had never appreciated it as she should have. When she first visited Central Park, she was in awe by the beautiful arranged piece of green in the middle of this buzzing city that never seemed to slow down. Overwhelmed as she was by all the new influences, she thought that the park was the most perfect display of tranquility and protest against the hurrying people who seemed to reproduce themselves, patrolling the streets like soldiers against timewasters like her.
How wrong she had been! Nothing could ever beat these woods. No one passed her as she made her way towards the town. Birds were singing hidden within the close net of branches that spread for miles in all directions high above Jeannie’s head; a protective shield; a pathway back to a time where no clocks, no deadlines, no clicking heals interrupted her from breathing – from being.

Before she knew it the trees parted ways and the backyard of her elementary school came closer. Nothing had changed. The swing was still in the same rusty pink in the middle of the playground and the building itself hadn’t changed at all. Well, except for a new coating of paint that was. Only a few more turns and Jeannie headed towards the diner. The street lights were already flickering as the sun slowly set behind the horizon. She loved walking through her home town at this time of day as most shops were wrapped in the comfort of warm lights.
The diner was rather busy when Jeannie entered. To her surprise Lorna waved her across to the bar, who was chatting to Carrie. She as well hadn’t been in the mood to go back to the atmosphere and had asked her husband to talk to Thomas on his own. After all, she had to be at the town meeting and a catch up and cherry pie was a much nicer way to start the evening than having to deal with a moody old cowboy.
Jennie was glad over the unexpected company and joined them as they were waiting for time to pass.

The cold draft within the Hall had forced Tanner to bring out the electric heaters, which he meticulously tried to avoid as he hated to spend money unnecessarily. But the stern looks he had received from his wife especially told him that there was no way out of it.
Jeannie was rather surprised how many people were attending, and even more so that she hardly recognized any of them. Springwood Falls had grown over the past few years and had become rather popular with young families, something Tanner was pretty proud of, as it also meant more volunteers for the festivals. Young parents were always so keen on being involved especially when one of their offspring would be able to take part in the festivities and parades, never mind if the children actually shared their parent’s enthusiasm!
Jeannie scanned the audience and hoped to see Alexander, as he had promised her to be around as well but turned her attention rather disappointed to Tanner who was already welcoming everyone to the final meeting. The first ten minutes went by very slowly with the usual formalities like thanking the treasurer for all the hard work when suddenly someone tipped Jeannie on the shoulder. Startled Jeannie turned around and was happily surprised to see Alice’s booming smile. Quietly she swapped seats to be with her sister-in-law and welcomed her with a long embrace.
“I am so glad to see you here” Jeannie whispered so she wouldn’t draw in Lorna’s attention who still hadn’t noticed that Jeannie had changed seats.
“I am so sorry for Joshua’s behavior Jeannie. It felt so awkward” Alice sighed. “We should meet tomorrow morning when the kids are in school, we can talk better than”, suggested she further when she startled at Tanners gaze. But as it turned out it wasn’t meant for them.
“Ah, Mr. Gauthier, as I can see have, we managed to almost be on time today?”
All heads were turning towards Alexander who had tried to sneak in the room. Unshaken he took the seat next to Jeannie as he replied, “My apologies Tanner, please continue.”
As Tanner continued, an unknown tension grabbed hold of Jeannie as she felt Alexander’s closeness. His broad shoulders were almost touching hers and the warmth of his body crept up on her as she tried to concentrate to follow the meeting which became harder by the minute. Should she have said hello when he sat down next to her? It was already a bit too late for such formalities and she felt above all childish that she allowed him to have such an impact on her. Nestling with her fingers that were resting on her lap she dared a sporadic glimpse at him only to find Alexander smiling back at her with this sheepish smile which only made her tense. With a brief smile she turned her head again and cursed herself for being so irrational about it all. Her heart was pounding and she didn’t want to feel this way. But the hard she tried it remained in vain and she not only struggled to fight off the unease of the moment. Nervously, Alexander brushed his hand over his right thigh when he accidentally caught Jeannie’s hand that was still resting on her lap. A sudden lightning strike hit his chest and made him startle. This was getting ridiculous to the extreme, he thought. A man of his age should not be acting like a teenager. She was not just a stranger, she was his friends’ daughter who, as he was aware, had ties to someone in New York and he was not the type of guy who would push himself in to a relationship. Even it meant to ignore this strange affection that started to grow each time they were crossing ways.
He needed some sort of distraction to ease the situation and was rather thankful when Tanner asked if he had been able to have a look at the plans for the stalls Alex was supposed help building.
“Oh yes,” boomed out of his mouth far too loudly before he continued in a more calmed voice “George and Hamish have already talked with me about it and we are planning to start on Wednesday.”
Pleased, Tanner accepted this information with a nod
“Well, I will leave this in your capable hands Alexander.” With the clipboard at the ready, Tanner licked the tip of a pencil and scribbled excitedly on the paper.
“Next up I would like to discuss the missing entertainment for the visitors. We might have the maze, the puppeteer and the band but we should think of something else. Any suggestions? Anyone?” A sudden silence gripped the hall as questioning faces stared at Tanner in the hope that he might as well have any ideas of his own. Disappointed Tanner looked at his friends and neighbors in the hope that at least one of them would come forward as his face lit up with glee unexpectedly.
Out of all it was Jeannie who hesitantly lifted up her hand.
“Jeannie Leeland, how lovely. Yes, please speak”, Tanner giggled.
“Well,” she started, a little uncomfortable when everyone turned around to see her.
“I thought that we maybe could organize short ride outs across Lovers Lane. That is only a short walk and could be assisted as well for those who are not capable of riding on their own. We have enough horses, but I would need some volunteers to help guiding them.”
“Isn’t that a wonderful idea!” Tanner piped, accompanied by the bystanders.
“Fantastic, I will put out a list on the back before we leave so everyone interested can put their names down. Thank you, Jeannie; I knew I could count on you my dear!”
Pleased with herself Jeannie took her seat again when Alex spoke to her for the first time since he had arrived.
“Nice idea. Do you think your father is happy with that idea though?” Jeannie just shrugged it off.
“Don’t know. I actually do not see why he should. I just tell him tomorrow. There couldn’t be better publicity for the ranch anyway!” Alexander nodded his head understandingly with a smile.
“Fancy to help out?” Jeannie asked after some hesitation. She did not want him to feel as if he had to.
“I’m really sorry, I would, but I have a visitor coming. Would be a little awkward if I’d disappear.”
“It’s fine” Jeannie replied and tried not to show her disappointment and put on her well-practiced smile. “I fully understand.”
“But,” Alexander replied quickly, “that doesn’t mean that I am occupied the whole weekend by the way. I mean, you are going to the party on Sunday night, aren’t you?”
Sunday, Jeannie thought. She sooner or later would have to consider about going back to New York. Actually, she had planned to go back a week on Monday which seemed kind of surreal at the moment. Maybe a day or too longer wouldn’t harm. The drive was long and she needed to be well rested.
“Yes,” Jeannie said softly, “I should be there.”

The meeting ended sooner than expected. Thankful Jeannie noticed how many volunteers had come forward to help out with the ride outs and was pleased that she could give something back to her hometown, even if it was just the little gesture of spending time during the Fair.
By the time they left the hall the wind had finally calmed down, but had left an ice-sharp edge in the air which made Jeannie shiver as soon as they stepped outside. The sky was crisp clear and presented itself once more in all its endless beauty. Lorna was still chatting away with Carrie while Jeannie stood quietly in the middle of the road with her hands buried deep in her jacket pockets and watched the stars.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” Alex asked who joined her with little apprehension.
“It sure is. I had completely forgotten what the sky can look like at night.”
“I know what you mean”, Alexander declared “I lived in New York only for a few months but first realized what I was actually missing once I came here. Nights like these are just something else”
Astounded Jeannie turned around to Alex who still gazed up in to the night.
“You lived in New York?”
“Why so surprised?” he asked as he turned around to her.
Stumbling over her own words she replied,
“I-I don’t know. You just, don’t seem to be the city person.”
“Am I not? Hm, interesting, Miss New York”.
Alexander was not rather keen on taking this conversation any further, for his memories of his time in New York were anything than happy ones. Before Jeannie was able to ask any questions, he pointed down the road.
“Mind if I walk along with you both for a while?”
“No not at all”, Jeannie replied who had been joined by Lorna.
Lorna did most of the talking while the three of them walked side by side down the spare-lit street. She was very excitedly talking about the coming weekend and thanked Jeannie for suggesting the ride out.
“I just hope” Lorna threw in “that your father is in a better mood when you tell him.”
With a wondering expression Alexander turned to Lorna as they continued the walk home.
“What is wrong with him?” he wanted to know.
“Joshua was rather unreasonable today in church. Cast himself away from everyone. They haven’t spoken since he left the other day.”
“I see,” Alexander acknowledged, who knew about the trouble Thomas had with his only son. The night he had joined them for dinner, the three men had been discussing the trouble Joshua’s visit had caused. Thomas did not go in to too much detail as the situation was troublesome enough. Alex’s nature did not allow any further questioning. But he heard what was meant to be for his ears. This did not mean that he did not care. The friendship Tom and Alex had developed over the years was deep and he would have loved to get a better understanding about their fight, but he felt that it wasn’t his place to question Tom.
For a while the trio walked on in silence with a thoughtful Alexander amidst them. No matter how hard he tried he failed to understand Joshua. He would have given anything to have a father like Thomas! A devoted father, who loved nothing more than his family and who would sacrifice his own life to keep them safe and well. This hardworking man deserved better than that. The past year had been so hard on him and yet his only son seemed more interested in his own success than in his father’s wellbeing. The thought alone made Alexander so frustrated that he wanted to march back to have a word with Joshua, but knew that this was only feeding the fire once more. Besides, the two were out of sorts with each other and he did not know why Josh disliked him that much. Maybe it was the fact that Alexander got on with Tom so well, but that was just second guessing here.
Not before long the turn to the lake emerged from the darkness and it was time to part ways. Alex nodded at Lorna after making sure that they were alright to walk the rest of the way on their own. Then he turned to Jeannie. The bright moon light enabled Jeannie to see his face as he slowly curled his lips into a smile.
His dark voice vibrated through her and made her shiver impromptu as he spoke
“Be safe. I’ll come tomorrow to see your dad, maybe there is something I can do.” Jeannie was overjoyed that Alex considered to help, she completely forgot her reservations and enclosed him tightly in her arms. Perplexed he stood on the spot and was considering how to react to the sudden display of her affection before he returned the hug.
“Thank you, Alex. You are such a great friend”, Jeannie said humbled as she let go of the embrace.
“No need to. I am glad if I can help!” he replied briefly.
Lorna had watched them from a distance and smirked at Jeannie as she walked up to her. Alexander waited until Jeannie and Lorna were out of sight before he produced a torch out of his jacket pocket and walked home.
Jeannie’s hug had filled him with lasting warmth that saw him through the cold night and made his steps childishly light all the way home.
Jeannie protectively crossed her arms in front of her body as to hold on to Alexanders’ presence that she still could feel as they walked along the dirt track up to the ranch. She hadn’t felt like this for years and drifted off in her thoughts.
Suddenly there it was again! Bradley. How could she seriously feel so good around Alexander if Bradley was still there? Sadness and guilt crushed her heart as they were closing in to the ranch. Lorna noticed the sudden change in her mode instantly. Her exuberant smile was gone and had turned into this serious frown and left her wondering what went through her god-daughters head. Lorna gently hooked in with Jeannie’s arm as they continued to mount the steep hill to the main house.
“A wonderful night isn’t it”, Lorna started. She hoped for any kind of response but Jeannie kept silent until they had reached the front porch. Joseph and her father were sitting outside as usual when they welcomed them back. Still wrapped up in her own thoughts Jeannie rushed upstairs without saying a word. She did not feel like company any longer and needed to be alone.
“What happened?” Tom wanted to know. His eyes lit up and he felt ready to tackle anyone who dared to upset his girl. Lorna could only shake her head.
“I have no clue, Tom” she replied sorrowful. When she gazed up to the first floor, she saw the light turning on in Jeannie’s room. If only she would allow herself to open up, Lorna pondered before she proceeded in to the house.

It was almost midnight. Restlessly Jeannie got up and searched through the closet for her cell phone. Minutes past, while she stood in front of her bed fighting with herself. She held the device in both her hands before she decided to switch it back on. As the first messages came through, she quickly turned the volume down as she feared to draw in unwanted attention. Most of them were from Bradley again. It made her so uncomfortable in her skin when she saw his name on the display and wanted to throw the stupid phone in to a corner of her room but decided against it. Instead she swiped over the touchscreen and pressed redial. Prepared to hang up as she expected the voice box to kick in any moment his crooked voice sounded exhausted through the headset. He was panting but not from being woken up. Jeannie knew that kind of gasp too well.
“Jeanie? What are you calling for at this time of night?”
A little taken aback Jeannie failed to find a plausible answer when she suddenly heard a different voice piping up in the background. It sounded strangely familiar but she could not put her finger on it.
“Who is that?” Jeannie asked habitual. She actually did not want to hear the answer. This wasn’t the first time she had called him at night with strangers hiding their dirty secrets in silence.
“Oh, this is just the TV” Jeannie knew that he was lying through his bleached white teeth but somewhat couldn’t care.
“Have you received the messages? We need you back in the office. Our client is desperate to go ahead with the project. When are you coming?”
Not one question if she was alright, how she was. No word of concern. They hadn’t talked for days and all Bradley was able to come up with was work. Why did she even bother trying to fix things if he was so unwilling and obviously unfaithful towards her?
“I will return soon. A week or so. Give or take.”
“Jeannie,” Bradley almost screamed “that is not even funny. We need you back in N.Y.! What can be so important to keep us all hanging like this?!”
“Alright then, I’ll see what I can do” Jeannie hushed in to the microphone.
His disinterest almost sickened Jeannie.
“I have to go Brad. Have a good night.”
She didn’t give him the time to reply and ended the call. Yes, in a way he was right that she needed to fulfill her part of the contract as well. But this could wait another few days, surely!
Without further ado Jeannie turned the cell off again and squeezed it back between the clothes in her closet.
There was no chance that she continued wasting her time to fix something that had been long gone past repair. As much as it hurt, Bradley could not be part of her world any longer if she truly wanted to be happy again. She only needed to find the courage to tell him. Not over the phone, she needed to do this once she was back in New York.
And still, the voice in the background did not let go of her. Jeannie was certain she’d heard it before. It was too familiar. As she tucked herself under the covers her mind finally decided to give it a rest and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
Meanwhile Alexander tried to find some sleep of his own. For hours he had turned restlessly from one side to the other and tried to understand what had happened earlier. Jeannie’s embrace still felt so real and a part of him wished for her to hold him again. Every time he closed his eyes, he could only see her face which kept him awake. His rational side told him over and over again that he should stop getting his hopes up high as there was still the other guy Lorna had mentioned weeks before he had even met her and never wasted another thought about it. It was wrong and against all he believed in. Yet, he was helplessly drawn to her. A sheer impossibility for him not to think of the way her voice sounded when she laughed, or the way her hair waved in the wind and framed her face like that morning when they were walking along the lake.
She was so different to all the other women he had met before.
Yet he knew his thoughts to be absurd. A man of nearly 40 should be way past this silly teenage confusion and make believes.
He last experienced this kind of insecurity and cluelessness back in High School. Numbed to the core and excited- something he did not really want to go through as an adult, that was for sure.
Back then it was born out of the unknown territory girls hid away from the hormonal boys that tried to conquer every willing victim. Crazy kids, finding their way in this game.
But Jeannie had managed to wake something in him within a few days, he did not know even existed. She had totally messed him up and it made him nearly go crazy. He needed a cure for this before it was too late.
He turned around again and switched his bed side light on. Slowly he sat up and tried to read but his racing thoughts only returned to her. Annoyed he chucked the book on the side table which slid on along the wood and ended on the floor with a loud thud.
He was not a cheat! He wasn’t the kind of man to lure someone else’s woman into his arms! The much he longed for it. No! As things stood at present he would never experience how it felt to hold Jeannie again. At least not in the way he needed it. But there was still a fraction of hope glowing in him. All he was left to do was sit back and watch how things developed.
Even if that would mean to see her leaving, soon. He had to accept either way and maybe it would be for the better.
Now he needed to sleep.

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