Taller than her brother, with long black hair rippling down her back, her body wrapped in a winter coat, yet still shivering, Jacquelyn meandered close and clasped his frozen hand. “You need to forget it. Let it go.”
His snort, bitter and abrupt, left no doubt about his feelings on that score. “It let me go! It left me without a foundation for my house.”
Jacquelyn hugged his arm. Words were of no use now.
With a sigh, he turned away. “There’s nothing to do but abandon the whole thing. Chalk it up as a learning experience, though I can’t say I learned much. What’s a sinkhole supposed to teach me? That my hopes, like my marriage, can drop into the abyss at a moment’s notice?”
Jacquelyn pulled a thick strand of hair from her face. “You’ll find a better place and another—”
Heat flushed Martin’s face as his heartbeat ricocheted through his tense body. “Good God, if you say I’ll find another wife, I may never speak to you again.”
Tears filled Jacquelyn’s eyes.
With an apologetic shake of his head, Martin grabbed her hand and hurried to his truck. “You shouldn’t be out here. It’s too cold, and you’re just getting over that ridiculous flu.” He opened the passenger door to his Ford truck and helped her climb in. Then he jogged to the driver’s side, slapping his hands to regain feeling in his fingertips. He slid into place, started the car, and backed out of the makeshift driveway.
A few trees still sported burnt orange and yellow leaves. As dark clouds bundled in the west and the wind picked up, only the hardy oaks held fast. The rest would be stripped bare before the week was out. With a sinking feeling, the image of his wife, soon to be ex-wife, describing the house she wanted and all the fun they’d have filling it with adorable children, stabbed his gut.
He turned the truck onto the freeway. “You feeling okay?”
Jacquelyn shrugged. “Dad didn’t know who I was on my last visit. Jay got laid off, so I’m trying to pick up another online teaching job. Amy hates her biology teacher, and me half the time, but she’s getting through. Our family stubborn streak comes in handy.” She flashed a smile, though her face didn’t reflect it.
His eyes on the road, Martin pressed her arm in a gentle squeeze. “Sorry. I’m not the only one going through stuff.” He sighed. “You’re right. I got the land cheap, and I’ll find another place to build. Sandra only married me for my good looks, charm, and oodles of money. Guess it served her right to discover the frog under her prince, eh?”
Jacquelyn peered out the window, her tears gave way. “She doesn’t know you, or she’d never have left.”
“She knew. She just wanted something else. Someone else.”
“She wants to be someone else.” Jacquelyn shrugged. “Easy mistake to make.”
Martin took the right lane and followed it to the exit. He curved with the road, checked the quiet intersection, and pulled onto Main Street. Going a modest 30 mph felt like crawling.
A group outside the Famished Farmers café waved as they passed.
Martin waved back.
Jacquelyn imitated an Egyptian mummy.
With a tilt of his head, Martin frowned. “Wasn’t that blond with the spike heels your friend from—?”
“She made some comments on my peer review…pretty harsh. I’m staying out of her way.”
“Her husband had a crush on me and well…”
Martin winced. God, when did life get so bloody complicated?
As he wound his way through town, Martin picked a safe topic. “Still taking your medicine?”
“Only if I have trouble breathing. Been doing well the last few days.” She glanced aside. “And you? Still taking that anti-depressant?”
Martin wanted to slam his head against the steering wheel as he picked up speed along the country road. “No. I had lots of reasons to be depressed, but it isn’t the end of the world. I just need to figure out how to get undepressed.”
A hound chasing a rabbit dashed out in front of the truck.
Martin swerved, hit the brakes, and skidded to abrupt stop inches from a deep ravine.
As they sat there, stunned, Jacquelyn exhaled a long shuddering breath.
Martin swiveled out of the truck, not even bothering to slam the door shut. He strode around, stared at the tires peeking over the edge of the gorge, and waved at his sister. “Don’t move!”
He sped to the truck, slipped into place, and slowly edged the car backward. Then he started to sob.
Jacquelyn rubbed his back in a large, slow circle. “Catch your breath, Marty.”
Martin rested his head on the steering wheel. “After the accident, I thought I’d be strong. Mom died so quickly. But no matter what I do, Dad’s slipping into senility. Despite the fact that my wife found a guy she likes better, I still planned to build the house, and then the ground sinks from under me, literally. And now, I nearly drive us off a cliff.” Martin lifted his head and stared at his sister. “You think someone got me mixed up with a guy named Job?”
A tired smile ghosted across Jacquelyn’s face. “Life is hellishly hard, but we hang in there anyway.”
Martin’s mind drew a blank. “Why? It’d be so much easier to give up.”
Jacquelyn dug into her purse and pulled out a wallet. She snapped open a small picture album and wiggled out a photo. It was a long-legged, longer-haired Martin, age twelve. She held it up.
Martin leaned forward; his jaw dropped open. “What’re you doing carrying that around? It should be burned! I’m wearing bell-bottoms for Heaven’s sake! It could be used against me in a court of law.”
Jacquelyn snatched it back and pressed it to her chest. “It’s mine. When I have a bad day, I pull it out.”
Martin shook his head, confusion rising like late-summer fog.
“This was the year that guy I loved dumped me for my best friend, I got that awful perm, and I failed algebra. Mom was working evenings, dad started drinking, and I hated everyone.”
“You were fifteen.” He pointed to the picture. “Why are—”
“You took me out for ice cream, and I punched you, splattering chocolate sauce on your good shirt. Made a big stain on the front, you can still see the mark.” She tapped the picture.
A smile spread across his face, reaching his heart. “You were a bully. What’s new?”
“I tried to apologize by ordering you to wear a clean shirt, but you said that you’d know people by what they saw. Either they’d see a stain or they’d see you. Later you gave the shirt to Rosco so he’d sleep in the doghouse without barking all night.”
Martin ran his fingers through his hair. “Color me confused.”
“When I look at the picture, I see the me I want to be. I don’t see a stain. I see possibilities.”
Martin tilted his head, put the car into gear, and pulled onto the road. “You think I could turn a sinkhole into a basement or something?”
Jacquelyn laughed. “Make it a family room, and I’ll help you build it.”
Martin dropped Jacquelyn at home and then headed to the worksite. He was back on solid ground.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 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
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