When the pain has passed- Chapter 1
I've got a new book in the works! Give me some feedback on the first chapter please! *Here's a picture of what I think Darby will look like.
March 5, 1948
Today is the day I leave him behind. It’s too bad that when I walk away from this house, I can’t leave the memories, too. Maybe someday I’ll treasure them, but not today.
My heart still breaks, and I wonder if the nightmares will ever end.
What I do know...a new life is waiting; one that fills me with fear of failure...and hope. After all that has happened, I feel as though I could face anything and it would never compare. The worst has already happened. As depressing as that sounds, that’s where my hope comes from.
I honestly don’t think I have the strength to make a new life. The four walls of this bedroom offer much more comfort than a new town, new people and a new start. But it’s not like I could stay here anyway. With the rent past due for so many months, it was a blessing just to be here as long as we were.
Self-pity makes me want to sleep the days away, but for the sake of my daughters, I must push myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. After all, with their father no longer part of their lives, my daughters need me now more than ever. I can’t let them lose me, too...
A cold, spring rain fell from the dark, sky in sheets. Clutching her satchel, a slender woman stepped out from the covered porch of the house she had called home for the past twelve years. Instantly her flimsy sweater was soaked and sticking to her arms.
“Could today be any more miserable?” she muttered to herself as she retreated back under the protective covering of the roof. A gust of wind pushed against the wooden swing that hung from the rafters. As the chain creaked with the movement, whispered words of love and stolen kisses danced in her mind. If that porch swing could talk, it would surely make her blush.
Had it really been so long since those precious days of newly wedded bliss? Could have either of them predicted how fleeting their relationship would be?
Pushing aside the instinct to wrap her arms around her body to ward off the coming chill from both the rain and her sadness, she raised a hand to dry her face from the her brief moment in the downpour. Wet tendrils of blonde hair clung to her forehead and neck. Chiding herself for not wearing her tightly-woven straw hat to protect her curls from the rain, she reached down to pick it up from where it sat next to the front door. Carefully settling it into place, she bent down and picked up the matching handbag that completed the outfit. It wasn’t warm enough to be an early spring ensemble by any stretch of the imagination, but in her hurry to pack she’d forgotten to be practical and had only picked out the clothing and accessories she loved best. Long ago, she’d decided to make it a personal rule that if you don’t like your circumstances, you can at least dress yourself up and face it with the confidence of knowing you look like you’re put together.
Fake it until you make it.
However, feeling the lack of warmth the straw hat and filmy sweater lent, she started to second-guess her clothing choice.
“Sir!” she called, trying to catch the truck driver’s attention as he tied the last tarp into place.
The man, dressed in an oiled trench coat, turned toward her. “Are you ready, Mrs. Weather’s?” Looking completely unfazed by the storm, the middle-aged man jumped over a puddle and came to stand in front of her, yet far enough away that he was still exposed to the wet sky. Reaching out a hand, he said, “Can I take your handbag, Mrs Weathers?”
Pain blazed in her heart, followed by anger. “Stop calling me that!”
As soon as the harsh words split the air, the man dipped his head, causing his brimmed hat to slope downward and cover his face. Water poured from the brim of the tweed fedora, hitting the ground and then splattering onto his shoes and the bottom of his trousers. “Sorry ma’am.” The gentle response was filled with confusion.
Watching his reaction, regret replaced her anger. A voice from her childhood echoed in her mother’s voice. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. It was the first Bible verse she had ever committed to memory. Not of her own choice; it was the punishment her mother had used in an effort to curb the sharpness of her tongue. The proverb had settled deep into the recesses of her heart, springing up to reprimand whenever she spoke carelessly.
“No. I’m sorry. I...it’s just. Uh.” Swallowing the lump in her throat, she moved out from the covered porch. She flinched a little as cold drops of water found their way to her skin. Though already soaked to the bone, she was now grateful for the rain because it gave her an excuse for the moisture on her cheeks. Her last name was still Weathers, but she was no longer a wife. It was a truth she could barely comprehend, and the heartache it brought was like a fresh wound that was still profusely bleeding.
Why don’t you stitch up my heart, God?
Daring to look up, his kind eyes met her. “I understand, Mrs-” catching himself, he stopped talking and dipped his head again.
“Call me Darby,” her tone held not even a shred of friendliness; just a matter-of-fact solution to the problem of her name.
Pulling his gaze from the ground and back to her eyes, he smiled with a mixture of compassion and kindness. “Sure thing, Miss Darby.”
She groaned inwardly. Do you have to be nice to me? Be rude, mean, distant; just don’t be nice. I’m barely keeping it together and your kindness makes it hard to not feel anything today!
Extending her arm, she silently asked him to take the light brown satchel. Once free of the burden, Darby grasped her skirt and lifted it a few inches even though the hemline was high enough to avoid the soggy ground. Using her other hand, she shielded held her hat in place in case there was a sudden gust of wind. Carefully choosing her steps to protect her suede heels from the mud, she walked to the passenger side of the fat-fendered truck. Before she could even place a hand on the lever, the man opened the door and touched a guiding hand on her elbow.
“There ya go, Miss Darby,” he said as he helped her get seated. He deposited the satchel on her lap and cautioned her to tuck her skirt away from the door jam before he slammed the door shut.
In a matter of seconds, the driver’s side door swung open and the man hefted himself in, closed the door, then unceremoniously jammed the gear shift into drive. An enthusiastic stomp on the pedal jolted them out of the circular driveway and onto the road. Soon, the modest suburban house was just a small dot in the rearview mirror.
A long silence stretched on as Darby focused her attention on the sound of rainwater interacting with the tires and road.
“Don’t be worrying none about your stuff, Miss Darby. I tarped everything real good and what’s not in the back of this here truck is in the back of another truck that’s even more dry than this one.”
A smile tipped the corners of her mouth. The man probably assumed it was a smile of relief, but she was merely amused that people thought she cared about her furniture and household items. The only reason she had actually packed their things was because the new house was completely empty and her daughters were still attached to the belongings. If there were money in the bank she would have happily walked away from it all and purchased what they needed for the new home.
Glancing down at the creamy polka dots on the faded navy blue fabric of her long-time favorite dress, she acknowledged that new items wouldn’t be in her possession anytime soon. But with the war just recently over, nearly everyone was making due and working hard to make ends meet.
“I wasn’t concerned,” Darby announced.
The man’s eyebrows raised and his forehead crinkled. Obviously her response had taken him off guard. He didn’t say anything for awhile, but eventually he cleared his throat and tried to strike up a conversation again.
“My name’s Mack, by the way.”
A pang of guilt caused her to flinch. She hadn’t even bothered to know the man’s name. Where were her manners?
“Nice to meet you, Mack,” she said in a quick, automatic reply. Another pang of guilt. She didn’t actually mean it. In all honesty, she couldn’t care less what his name was.
“I noticed you had some kid stuff in the back of the truck. How many kids ya got? Boys or girls?”
Darby sighed. She didn’t have energy for superficial chit chat. “Two girls. Twins.”
“Wonderful! How old?”
“You’re obviously travelin’ alone, are they with their father?”
Tears instantly filled her eyes. She swallowed hard and batted her lashes, but it was no use. She raised her shaking hand and dried the tears as soon as they fell.
Mack cleared his throat. “I’m sorry. People tell me all the time that I’m too nosey.”
Darby shook her head, “No, it’s ok.” Again, she didn’t mean it. She was simply saying what was polite and expected. What she really wanted to say- no, shout- was that she was sick and tired of people wanting to know the details of her life. All the leading questions, the trying to gather information; it was exhausting.
“They are with some friends from school. I haven’t gotten them transferred to the new school yet.”
Her daughters had begged her to finish out the school year with the friends and teachers they knew and loved; but Darby wasn’t sure they knew exactly what they were asking. During such an upheaval, wouldn’t it be better for them to stay together and gain support from each other? Or maybe she was wrong, maybe the time apart would allow them all to process on their own level.
Mack had a single word reply. “Oh.”
Grasping her satchel, she flipped the latch and dug around inside until she found a tube of lipstick. Pulling off the cover, she twisted the base to raise the bright red paste. Leaning down and a little to her right, she caught her reflection in the side mirror of the truck. With much slower actions than necessary, she freshened her smile. Then, she made sure every trace of her tears were gone by powdering under her eyes, her cheeks and the tip of her nose.
No more tears if I’m going to look my best today. From now on Darby Weathers is strong, confident, and in control.
About an hour into the drive, the rain stopped and bright sunshine began to peak through the clouds. It wasn’t long until there was no trace of a storm, only blue skies.
As Mack drove them closer to the ranch, Darby’s stomach began to churn. All she knew about Winding Rivers Ranch was that she was the new proud owner; and the failing business represented her life’s savings. Now that she was a single mother, it was also her only source of income. Fresh anger surged through her mind. What could Brennan have possibly been thinking when he put her in such a situation? Even though he’d insisted it had nothing to do with her, Darby had to push hard against the desire to claim he’d done it out of spite. He knew she preferred the city to country life. He knew that given the choice, she would have chosen the sweet little bungalow house in Mercer over an old, drafty ranch outside Brentwood any day.
Looking down at the long, graceful fingers lying tensely in her lap, she had a fleeting thought that she should have tried harder to gain a paid position at an orchestra, or teaching private lessons. But with all the gossip and scandal, her desire to stay in town had waned at a rapid rate. Until now.
Suddenly feeling panicked, Darby’s body went rigid as she turned to search Mack’s face. “Did you get my cello?”
“That giant fiddle looking thing?”
Her shoulders relaxed. Of course he’d gotten it, the house was empty when they’d left. “Yes.”
Earlier, when Mack had reassured her that the weather wouldn’t pose any threat to her belongings, she would have sworn she didn’t care about any of it. But the panic she had felt just now told her otherwise. She did care about one thing, and as long as she had breath in her lungs she would do whatever it took to make sure she would never have to part with the cello her father had given to her on her eighteenth birthday. Not only was playing the beautifully crafted instrument a way to express herself she couldn’t otherwise, the gift was a turning point in their relationship. After years of pushing for her to become a nurse, he had finally seen that music was her real passion. She had cried that day when he arrived late to her birthday party and walked through the door with the cello. Awkwardly cradled in his arms, the golden-stained wooden instrument had a bright blue ribbon tied to the curled headstock.
The gift represented the beginning of a new chapter in her life. One where she had her parent’s blessing to walk away from nursing school and to pursue her music instead.
Her time spent in nursing school had left its mark, however; in the form of greater compassion for those with physical ailments and in the form of a dashing young doctor. Just months after leaving nursing, Brennan declared her absence at school had caused him to see that he loved her. One look into his handsome face and earnest eyes, and a budding relationship bloomed. With a marriage proposal and plans to be a wife her dreams of a music career were disrupted. At the time, she hadn’t minded putting her dreams aside for his; life as a housewife and mother had been fulfilling at the beginning but as the years unfolded, something shifted inside Brennan. And then came the war. In many ways, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The devastation of political conflict had ravaged the landscape of countries with bombs, violence and blood; but back in the States, the war had ravaged her already strained marriage.
“There it is.” Mack’s announcement cut through her daydream.
First she turned to look at him, then after realizing he wanted her to see something to her right, she turned to look out the passenger window of the truck.
With a gasp, she took in her surroundings. As Mack turned off the main road onto the long, bumpy driveway, Darby wondered how long it would take for the large spread of fields and buildings to feel like home. They moved slowly on the gravel road with a stripe of green grass growing in the middle where tires never touched. On either side, they were surrounded by fields that were dotted with hundreds of sheep.
Rolling down his window, Mack smiled. The sound of bleating filled the cab of the truck.
“Sounds like heaven if you ask me!” He chuckled.
Wrinkling her nose, Darby shot back, “Sure doesn’t smell like it.”
Mack tipped his head back in roaring laughter. “You better get used to it, the smell will only get stronger as we get closer to the barn!”
When the driveway took a sharp bend, the faded red barn was no longer blocking her view of the house. At the sight, Darby was left uncertain of how she felt. It definitely wasn't like her home in Mercer. While that house had been a single story bungalow, this new house was two story and the only word Darby could think of to describe it was victorian.
As far as farmhouses go, Darby figured this one fit the bill pretty good. White, chipping paint. Grass-green shutters around each window. A wrap-around porch with two rocking chairs and fat, round pillars on each corner for support.
Pulling up to the front of the house, Mack stopped the truck and killed the engine. Darby opened the door with a trembling hand and stepped out. Surprised by the squishy feel of the ground, she looked down to see she had just stepped in a pile of sheep droppings. A shudder of disgust shook her shoulders. Weren’t those animals fenced and kept away from the house?
“Poop!” she exclaimed without thinking.
“What’s that Miss Darby?” Mack asked as he rounded the front of the truck.
“I believe the lady said ‘poop,’” a new voice said in amusement.
Feeling mortified that she’d let such an unladylike word be expressed verbally rather than just echoed in her thoughts, Darby’s head swung to see who was willing to embarrass her before even being introduced.
Dark, intelligent eyes met hers. Reflected in them was a challenge. With flushed cheeks, she schooled her face and flashed her own challenging look at the audacious man.
“You must be the new owner,” he walked toward her with a chicken tucked under one arm. “I’m the former owner.” The emphasis he placed on the word “former” spoke volumes about his feelings.
Taking a moment to study the man before her, she noticed the five o’clock shadow that indicated a dark beard. To match the stubble, his eyebrows were dark as well. If he removed the beat-up straw hat, Darby was certain she would see black hair. High cheekbones and tanned skin gave the slightest hint that he might have Native American somewhere in his family tree.
The stern expression on his face stirred insecurity inside her.
He hasn’t even met me and he already doesn’t like me.
“You’re right, I’m Darby Weathers, the new owner. And you are the man who is going to help me run this place?”
“Name’s River and I’m the foreman of this ranch.”
He sure is smug for a man named River. What kind of name is that?
Remembering she was standing in sheep droppings, she stepped to the side and tried to scrape off the offensive muck covering her shoes. Feeling the sting of River’s cold welcome, Darby wished she could wipe her shoes on his pant leg.
Just as she was envisioning her spiteful action, the chicken in River’s arms squawked. “Settle down there Pecky, I’m not letting you go until I get your wings clipped, you trouble maker.” He re-positioned the bird just as it left a wet, white stain down the side of his pants.
Even though he clearly saw what the bird had done, River had no reaction. Darby was filled with horror as she realized that he was ok with such unsanitary conditions. She also realized that wiping her shoe on him wouldn’t make a point.
“If you’re staying here, you better find some more suitable clothes,” a smile accompanied the comment. An arrogant smile.
“If? Are you hoping I won’t?”
A cheeky grin split his face. “A man can hope…”