Cassidy couldn’t stop editing. It was as if her brain had become stuck in correction mode, and she discovered mistakes everywhere. Madness loomed.
She tried to lean back on her brother’s couch, the hard flat one that his wife, Madge, thought was so chic and closed her eyes. She refused to look at the festive wall hanging sporting the words, “Holidaze Fun!” What’s the point of life if everyone is going to just make things up? Despair nearly enveloped her. She slapped her hands over her face.
“Hey, Kiddo, I asked you over for dinner, not to play hide and seek.”
She peered through her fingers and was instantly infuriated by Dillon’s silly smirk. She thought up a quick lie. “I had a tough day, and your sign makes me nauseous.” That wasn’t a lie at all! What’s going on?
Dillion swept his gaze over the blood-red wall as if he’d never noticed it before. His eyes took in the jauntily scrawled words on green fabric. A slow smile crept over his face. “Oh, you know how quirky Madge is. Just silliness. That’s all.”
Cassidy jerked to an upright position, ready to fight. For something. She just wasn’t sure what. “But it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not only spelled wrong; it doesn’t actually mean anything.”
Dillon’s shrug said all he thought on the matter. “I made biscuits for dinner. Just wait till you try them. Light and fluffy. They’re to die for.”
So many absurdities jumped at Cassidy that she might as well have been fending off irate bees in mid-winter. She glanced out the window. Yes, snow still fell in large fat flakes. The weatherman hadn’t said anything about accumulation, but what did he know? Might as well peer into a crystal ball as predict the weather these days.
The distant pitter-pattering of tiny feet grew closer as two robust little humans barreled into the living room. The girl was named Anticipation because her mom could hardly wait until she was born. When Dillon unceremoniously nick-named the infant Anti, Cassidy deep-dived into social work cases involving name abuse.
Though Madge would never listen to reason, Cassidy was pretty sure the thought of a case worker showing up at their door would force her brother to commit to a name change by the time the kid turned two. As luck would have it, by the time she turned one, the child had so identified with her name that she was Anti-Everything. Madge had smirked at her own prescient genius. When Cassidy mentioned her concerns, Dillion only laughed.
Anti, age five and skinny as a rail, and her little brother Reb—aka Rebellion—leaped onto the sofa with expert finesse. Apparently, they knew how to avoid bruising themselves on the unyielding frame.
Anti threw her wiry arms around Cassidy’s neck like a near-drowning victim. “Save me, Cas!”
Reb, a tough tyke with more energy than a rocket ship at liftoff, wrapped his arms around his sister’s middle and proceeded to pull.
Cassidy, well aware that strangulation would be the inevitable outcome, tried to peel her niece’s fingers from her throat. No luck.
Thankfully, Dillion didn’t want to pay for his sister’s funeral and took decisive measures. He tickled his son onto the floor and then proceeded to wrestle the child into hysterical knots. Now more interested in the battle below than using her aunt as a life buoy, Anti took a flying leap off the couch and into the middle of the fray.
Deafening shrieks filled the air.
Cassidy leaned back, rubbed her sore neck, and figured that, though life was rarely logical, she wasn’t quite ready to let it go.
Madge sauntered into the den, a phone plastered to her ear, and waved toward the kitchen.
Dillion and the kids raced from the room.
As she sat at the table, haphazardly arranged with take-out Chinese food containers, a pot of hot cocoa, and a half-finished puzzle, Cassidy sighed. As expected, the dinner would be a travesty of sense and decorum.
The biscuits were good, though.
Bare branches feathered against a gray sky, dried leaves crunched underfoot, and the sharp cold of a winter day did much to ease Cassidy’s troubled spirits. The terror of driving through the heavy snow on that dark evening three weeks ago had left only vestiges of icy fear in its wake. She had been so glad to get back to her snug little home just outside her tiny town, that she swore she’d never go to the city again. If her brother really wanted to see her, he could drag his unruly family down to her rural, saner setting.
Unfair. She knew.
Mom and dad had passed years ago. She wasn’t seeing anyone currently. And considering her last failed relationship, she had no plans for a replacement any time soon. She should accept the invitation to visit Dillon over Christmas, but dread filled her.
The light was fading from the mid-December sky, so she turned her footsteps toward home.
Crunching steps, a sharp bark, and then a mad scramble over dead leaves froze Cassidy in place.
Two hunting hounds broke through the foliage and charged upon her.
Panic filled Cassidy. She lifted her arms and yelled. “Stay dogs!”
A chuckle followed in quick succession. “Well, darling, what do you think they’re going to do—turn into ballerinas or something?”
Ready to smack the intruder with a stinging retort, she narrowed her eyes and appraised him head to toe. He was good-looking, and that closed her mouth, though she hated herself for it. A short black beard, brown eyes, a strong jaw, a heavy jacket over work pants, and solid boots. He wasn’t lean, rather he stood there like a lumberjack searching for a mighty oak to fell.
The dogs sat on their haunches, their eyes alert, their bodies tense with anticipation, apparently appraising her—friend…foe…or food?
“These’re your dogs, I take it.”
The man nodded. “Yes, mam. They won’t eat you if that’s what you’re worried about. They stick to smaller prey—squirrel, rabbit, and the like.”
“Good to know.” Cassidy tried to smile and felt it twist into a guilty grimace. “I’m probably on your property, aren’t I?”
‘Yes, mam, you are. But I’m not actually hunting, just taking the dogs out for a run. So, no harm done.”
Fresh irritation sizzled through Cassidy. “I don’t ramble in the woods during hunting season. I may’ve done a lot of dumb things in life, but that’s not one of them.”
The man didn’t say anything. He just waited. As did the dogs.
Cassidy got the point. “Well, sorry about the intrusion. I was just looking for a moment’s peace. These woods…” Embarrassment flushed her cheeks. “I’ll be going now.”
In the strangest turn of events, the man sighed and signaled to the dogs.
Like actors going off stage, the two hunters relaxed and stretched out on the dry leaves. They dropped their heads on their paws, a matched set looking almost cute.
“If it weren’t for these woods, I’d probably be dead or in prison.”
A huge old tree had fallen long ago and now, moss-covered, lay to their right, a soft green bench in a bare, wintery thicket.
The man stepped over and dropped down on one end. “You’re that literary gal they talk about at the café, aren’t you?”
Suddenly very hot, Cassidy took off her gloves and stuffed them into her pockets. “Well, I write for a textbook company and do some editing on the side. Not much literary freedom to speak of.” She appraised him more carefully. “You belong to the Loomis clan, hereabouts. Oldman Harleston’s son?”
He nodded through a smile. “Grandson, Andy. Pa took over, and I’m keeping up the old homestead on the back lot, right east of here.”
Cassidy envisioned the charming ramshackle old farmhouse. “I love that place. Two stories with big oaks lining the front walk. Glad you got it. I was afraid it’d go to ruin after—”
A flashed memory shut Cassidy’s mouth quickly. There had been a terrible scandal: a wife cheating on her husband, then a murder-suicide. A drunken rampage ended when the old man died of a heart attack soon after. Three members of one family dead in the space of a week. A pang of deep grief welled inside. “Sorry. I didn’t think. Just news to me…grievous but distant news.”
He nodded. “You see why I like the woods. Peaceful here.” He patted the fallen trunk. Life in the wild can be cruel, but it makes some sense. You follow nature’s rules, or you pay the consequences pretty quick. Nothing wasted. Nothing to hate.”
Sidestepping the sleeping dogs, Cassidy made her way to the mossy trunk and sat on the far end. “No cancer here. Cold and wolves, true. But this wouldn’t be a terrible place to live…or die. Not like a hospital room. It’s not trying to fight everything you believe in. Not muddling up your brain and squeezing your soul.”
Andy smiled. “You put that well for someone without literary freedom.”
Cassidy looked over at the man she didn’t know but felt like she understood. “Do we live in a crazy world of our own making?”
Sucking in a deep breath, Andy rose to his feet.
The dogs followed his example.
“Yeah. I suspect so. But we don’t make everything. So, God willing, we might just survive.”
Cassidy shoved off the log and faced north.
Andy chirruped to the dogs, and they shot forward, ready for the next adventure. He looked around and waved as if offering the entire wooded world. “Come as often as you like. Just not in hunting season. Even this sanctuary has its limits.”
With a quick thank you, Cassidy nodded and headed home. Perhaps mistakes were everywhere. But so was beauty and perfection. Sometimes, she just had to stop editing.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
“As usual, Ann Frailey doesn’t disappoint. Her heartfelt, down-to-earth stories are filled with real-life experiences and emotions that you can almost feel like you are experiencing them as well as you read.
She’s one of the best authors I’ve ever read.” ~Ron
“The collection creates an evocative set of life scenarios that explore good intentions, real-world situations, and acts of quiet love, desperation, and redemption.” ~Diane Donovan, California Bookwatch