OF ALL THE WAYS HE LOVES ME
(On a side note, my books will no longer be available through Smashwords. This is in an effort to protect myself from copyright infringement.)
However, the book that has been working in me for a while now is called THE QUARTER. I give you the Prologue today and the first bit of Chapter 1. No release date on this story yet.
“I’ve always loved you, Colton Ryder, but I’m not sure that’s enough. I hate this town. I hate these memories. And just because you kiss me and my mind blanks doesn’t mean I can overcome them, doesn’t mean I can simply pick up my life as it is and return to Richland. All I have here is turmoil, and all I want to do is forget.”Rylie Shepherd’s come home to Richland, a town she never thought to see again. To a flood of bad memories and broken dreams. A family splintered and reassembled by death. To pain and heartache and years of poverty and loss.To Colton Ryder, town war hero, old boyfriend, resurrected man. But in dying, he’s changed. From the inside he says. And this power he’s found is strong enough to heal all that’s between them and recreate the love they had. Love which he never let go. He’s sure of it, he says.Yet maybe it can’t. Maybe his presence will only further the wounds that never healed in the first place, and maybe afterward all she’ll have is a hole in her heart the shape of a baby that died in her arms.
Always the ever-present dust, clouds of it swirling in desiccated air over soil exhausted from effort to produce life. Dust as a layer on each trailer in the park, on the dinged and dented metal, on faded paint and rickety rod iron, on the few withered flowers left to stand sentinel over empty beds and piles of rocks. Dust that whooshed up your nose and flittered into your eyes, sandy and grainy, blinding sight, taking breath.
Dust on the feet of the little girl, age seven, bent over in the lane to pick up the shiny new quarter. A quarter, a whole quarter. She dug her round toes into the sandy lane, leaving curved imprints, and curled the quarter in her fingers tight ‘til it warmed and glued to her skin.
Then tucking it to her chest, she sensed the circle of it through the thin fabric of her dress. Her only dress. Pink flowers faded to gray, the hem unstrung and trailing down her slender calves, a hole in the seam at the waist.
Her daddy could use that quarter. Daddy who worked hard – ten, eleven, sometimes fifteen hours a day, for the boiled cabbage and bacon grease they had for supper. For molded cheese, scraped clean and made fit for eatin’. For chicken, boiled and re-boiled, and if they were lucky, really lucky, maybe a fried egg.
The little girl’s heart pattered hard in her chest, and she turned around, her eyes scanning the emptiness for the tattered singlewide that was theirs and the limp black flag with white letters Daddy refused to ever take down. She paused beneath it and scanned it again.
“Pee, oh, dubya,” she said, proud of herself for knowing her letters. P.O.W. for Daddy’s brother lost in the jungle somewhere on the other side of the earth.
“The bad men got him,” her daddy said. “So we fly the flag and we pray every night.”
“God keep Cleavis,” the little girl said. “And bringed him home safe.”
Homage to the flag done, she dashed up the steps and through the worn door, its metal knob banging hard on the siding.
“Mama. Mama,” she called.
Four faces looked up at her from the narrow living room. Her three siblings, crowded together on the couch and her mama nestled beside them.
“What is it, Rylie?” her mama asked. Strings of blonde, straggly hair, escaped from the bun on her neck, waved greeting around her face.
“I found a quarter, a whole quarter.” Rylie unfolded her palm, her eyes bright. “Think that can buy us an egg?”
Her mama laid a soft palm on her daughter’s smooth cheek, running her thumb down Rylie’s jaw. “That’s wonderful, sweetheart. It might do that; it just might do that.”
And so Rylie released the quarter, watching it fall and land, plop, atop her mama’s extended hand.
A twenty dollar meal and a ride into town, then he left me … standing … standing ….
The strains of the country tune reverberated in Rylie’s brain overtop the gritty grind of her truck’s tires and the spit of gravel pinging the bed, and her frustrations boiled up and over.
“Sh … eesh.” She changed the word midstream. She wouldn’t talk like that, not anymore, and she had to get out of the habit anyway because her mother’d have her eating soap if she heard it. If she was still here.
Her fingers strayed through her long blonde hair, flipping it backwards over her scalp where it sloped again around her face.
Left me … left me … standing. The song continued.
“Depressing,” she grumbled. But fitting for her mood and her task, so she let the song be.
The jar of a pothole sent the truck slamming to the earth and weaving sideways. She gripped the wheel tighter, tapping the brakes, and braced herself for impact with the door. Her elbow clanged the driver’s side window and the word she’d held in fell out.
“Freakin’ country roads. Freakin’ poorly maintained backwoods shed paths,” she said afterward. And whiny bluegrass music. And godforsaken uninhabited miles of nothing.
She thought she’d gotten out of this place, out and away from the poverty that kept you locked in its grip, away from having nothing, not getting anything, and never going anyplace. Away from the memories. The persistent tenacious memories.
Those most of all.
Yet just like always, the suction that was this place, these fields, these woods, dragged her kicking and screaming all the way back. She couldn’t escape it, couldn’t find peace, not even with thousands of miles between them.
It was a cancer, this town, an affliction placed in her from birth. One cut out again and again but never fully excised. It was depression, melancholy, and despair.
And greater than all of those, it was home.
She pulled the truck up to the trailer pressed tight to the trees and shifted into park. But even with the motor silenced and the keys in her hand, she didn’t alight, instead soaking in the current image with the one formed in her brain, the one of a girl longing, begging, somehow to escape.
The creak of the door and patter of feet brought her awake. She forced a smile to her lips, finding a natural one at the sight of a small blonde head popped up over the window. Two blue eyes shining like the ocean gazed in at her and ten strong fingers gripped the door frame tight.
“Aunt Rylie! Aunt Rylie! You came.”
“I did, butternut,” she said, tousling the head.
“Did you bring me something?” The young girl tilted her head left to reveal a length of unwashed neck.
“Only the bestest present ever.”
The girl’s eyes grew wide, and she twisted herself this way and that, as if the object in question would suddenly appear in her view. “I don’t see nothing.”
“Well, that’s because you don’t know the secret. Now, how ‘bout you give me space to exit, and maybe I’ll think about givin’ it to you.”
The face disappeared, and the truck door yawned, expelling a groan. Rylie reached for her purse. Hooking it over her arm, she stepped out onto the littered soil.
Rylie turned her gaze toward the voice at the door. “Benji. You look fabulous.” Tall and tanned and buff. Florida had done him favors.
“Back at ya,” he said. “Much too pretty for the likes of here.”
A hand tugged at her sleeve, and she looked back downward. “Where is it?” the girl whispered.
Rylie laughed. “You make ‘em impatient, Benj.”
“Don’t I know it. She won’t wait for the end of the prayer at night without fallin’ asleep.”
Stooping over, Rylie hoisted the girl onto her hip and made her way through the tangled maze of detritus. Crab grass, Spanish needles, and all manner of weeds sprouted here and there around the remains of car parts, tired bed frames, shattered concrete, and warped, decaying plastic. Her boot hit a rusted can, sending it sideways six feet.
“We need to clean this up,” she said, more to herself than her brother.
But he replied. “Already in the works. Got a crew coming out Saturday.”
“Good. Any familiar faces?” Her heels scrubbed the sagging steps on her way up the porch. She leaned in for her brother’s kiss, inhaling cologne, aftershave, and liniment.
“One you’ll want to see,” he said.
She straightened and shifted the weight growing heavy on her side.
That name shot sparks along her spine, around her shoulders, and into her limbs. She sucked in her breath.
“Holy cow, ain’t you red?” Benji said.
She tossed her head, wishing for something cool, anything. An iceberg would do.
“Aunt Rylie, you look like a beet.”
Rylie plopped her niece down at Ben’s feet and laid a hand on either side of her face. “I am not red,” she said.
Benji laughed. “Okay, tell yourself that, and tell yourself again when I tell you he asked about you.”
Her fingers shaking, she curled them into fists. “He … he did?”
“Mmmhmm. I believe his words were, ‘How’s Rylie? Is she coming?’”
One. Two. Three. Four. She counted the rise and fall of her own chest. Ridiculous for her to act this way.
“Maybe I should sit,” she said.
Her brother reversed in the doorway, allowing her inside.
The worn furniture stared back at her, each piece in the same place it had always been. The couch straight ahead, faded cushions slightly askew. A square end table with weathered veneer to its left. A blue armchair, foot rest removed.
Her purse slipped from her fingers to the floor, and knees bent, she crumpled. Colton Ryder. Alive and in Richland? Colton Ryder asking for her? Pictures again flashed past, and she closed her eyes, jumping in place at the touch of a small hand.
The room returned, tired and fatigued. Rylie reached for her niece and pulled her into her lap.
“You okay, Sis? I didn’t think …”
Rylie raised her chin and met Benji’s gaze. “I’m fine. I just didn’t expect ... I mean, they said … I thought …”
Benji exhaled. “I know, so did all of us. But he’s not. Mama told you that.”
She nodded, haphazard. Knowing and seeing were two entirely different things. Plus, given the circumstances, how much harder would it be?
“Tell me I’ve got a few days to get used to the idea,” she said. And to decide how to react because fainting at his feet would not be good.
“‘Til Saturday,” Benji said.
Saturday. Two days. Two blasted days. It wasn’t long enough. It wasn’t quick enough. Which was it? Was she happy or upset? Overjoyed or fearful? Maybe all of those.
She stretched her fingers for her purse, snagging the strap and lifting it to her lap. Move on, Rylie Ann. Fall apart later in the privacy of your room, not here with them.
“Now, let’s see,” she said. “Exactly where did I put it?”
Suzanne Williams Photography
Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.