(This post was originally published on February 14, 2013, and resulted in me writing and publishing Gone for a Soldier.)
*This is a work of fiction. I don’t really talk to time-traveling characters from my novels. I do like them a lot, though, and am glad they pass under the rainbow from time to time to visit me in my own time and place. To order autographed copies of my novels, Gone for a Soldier, The Man from Shenandoah, Ride to Raton, Trail of Storms, and Spinster’s Folly, visit marshaward.com or westwardbooks.com
I’m outside, slogging through the snow to the garbage can I’ve stashed on the other side of the road for the winter so I don’t have to move it back and forth during periods when the half-dollar size granite rocks are covered ankle-deep with snow. Truth be told, I don’t like to trundle the bin over the granite rocks, either. Good thing the cross-road neighbors don’t visit very often, I think, hauling my plastic bags by their pull ties to the black monstrosity.
“Looks like you could use a hand,” someone behind me says in a deep voice, causing me to nearly jump out of my skin.
I whirl around the best I can with two heavy bags impeding my pirouette. My heart pounds as hard as it did the last time someone told me Sean Connery had fallen to his death from a crag in New Zealand.
A grey-hatted man sits astride a reddish horse that nickers softly, its breath streaming from its nostrils like steam escaping from a broken pipe. I back up as the man swings down from the saddle and drops the reins to ground-tie the animal.
“Who are you?” I ask, my voice quavering ever so slightly. I don’t tote a firearm with me when I take out the garbage. Maybe that should change.
“Mom,” he says, relieving me of first one bag, then the other. “You’ve met me. You should know me by now.”
I’m a bit rattled by his choice of words. My sons call me “Mom” in just that impatient tone of voice, making more than one syllable out of the word.
My mind is jumping from one compartment of my brain to another, rattling the filing cabinet drawers I jerk open as I search for clues to help me remember this man.
“I’m younger,” he says, turning away from me to study the garbage bin.
Cole? Bob? John? Jim? No. He doesn’t resemble the outlaw Younger brothers. My gosh, who is he? I’m beginning to slip into fear.
He sets the bags on the ground and bends his head sideways to examine the lip of the black lid. He raises an arm to test it. Discovering that it moves, he thrusts it upward, and the lid flies back. He chuckles. I’m moving backward, puzzled by his actions. He picks up the bags, chucks them in the bin, closes the lid, and turns to me, dusting his hands together.
“Them parcels have a slippery feel, but the keg is harder. What do you call that material?”
When he raises his hand to tilt back his hat, I finally know him.
“Rulon,” I exhale. Rod Owen’s oldest boy, and he’s much more boyish looking than the man I’d met a couple of years ago. “Plastic. They are both made of plastic, but different types.”
“Humph,” he snorts. “Plastic.”
“You’d best come inside,” I tell him, glancing at the horse, and wondering if it’s better to tie it to the rail of the back-door deck or the ramp’s railing. The back door is locked, but I don’t want the horse destroying my Heat Trak electric mat, so I settle for a third choice, the railing on the covered deck closest to the shed. That will hide the animal sufficiently that someone won’t come along and elect to take a joy-ride.
Rulon ties the horse where I tell him to, then wipes off his boots before entering my living room.
“Sit down and take your ease,” I say, lapsing into a genteel Civil War-era-matron persona. “May I get you a refreshment?” I mentally go over the contents of my refrigerator and cupboards. “I can offer you water, mint tea, pineapple juice….” I stop as his brow contorts in confusion. “Never mind the pineapple juice. How about hot chocolate?” I shiver. “That seems a good choice. I also have a loaf cake.”
Rulon sits, perched uneasily on the edge of my chair. “I believe I’ve tasted that ‘hot chocolate’ somewhere. Don’t it take quite a time to brew it?”
I think of the luxury we have in our time. Instant beverages from a foil package. “No, this is special,” I say. “It won’t take very long. Will you take cake, as well?”
“I reckon,” he says. “Thank you, Mom.”
I leave him alone, knowing he’s not even going to offer to assist me in preparing the repast. That is a woman’s work, and Rulon is decidedly not a woman.
He’s more handsome than I had remembered, full of face and not worn down by privation. He wasn’t cautious in moving his body. “He hasn’t been hit by shrapnel yet,” I whisper, the truth dawning on me. This is the pre-war Rulon.
When I enter the room again, carrying a tray with cups of hot chocolate and plates of cake, I notice he’s fidgeting, flicking one thumbnail with the other and biting his lower lip. I set down the tray and serve him.
He samples the chocolate, but it’s hot and he blows on it.
“Tell me about the family,” I say. I want to know the timeline I’m dealing with.
“Ma and Pa are well. Brother Ben’s got himself a job at the mill.” He grinned. “He’s sparkin’ Ella Ruth Meems (last name changed to “Allen” in the novel). Figures to marry her right soon.” He sips at the beverage.
My heart contracts, squeezing hard. I don’t know Ella Ruth. I imagine I’ll get to know her this year, probably too intimately for comfort.
“And you?” I manage to ask, forcing my lips into a smile. “You’re getting long in the tooth and not wed yet.”
“I am not,” he sputters. “I mean, I aim to marry, just as soon…” His voice fades as his head drops. He tries to mask his chagrin by chugging the chocolate, but it’s still hot, and he sputters anew, then coughs.
I hand him a tissue. He looks at it coldly, then sets his drink down on the table and wipes his mouth. He nibbles at the cake.
“Rulon, are you seeing someone?”
“Yes!” He barks the word. “Yes,” he repeats, and breathes heavily. “I come to ask you to get on with writin’ my tale.”
He’s rushing his words now, spilling them out so fast I feel obliged to stop him, but I can’t, not yet.
“I’m forbidden to wed her until you write out the words and make it real. I can scarcely stand this waiting, waiting, everlasting waiting. She won’t let me–”
“Rulon!” I cut him off. “You can’t do that.”
He’s breathing hard now, nearly gasping with pain. His yearning is almost palpable, his drive to possess filling my room with the musk of desire, and I won’t tolerate the dark aspect of his need.
“Get yourself in hand! Of course she won’t permit you taking liberties. She’s only a bit of a girl, and doesn’t realize how she’s pushing you to your limit.”
“You know that?” he groans and narrows his brows as he gazes at me. “You know her?” He moves one leg awkwardly.
I acknowledge his distress. “I think you’d best stay the night here. I’ll call my neighbor about sheltering your horse.”
He slumps forward, nerveless, and I am glad he has set down the chocolate. “I’m a cur,” he whispers, then groans again.
“No, you’re a young man full of yourself. It will do you good to be removed from Mary for a while.”
He shuts his eyes and compresses his lips, then nods slowly. “I’ll stop here for the night, on one condition.” He looks up at me, his eyes full of challenge. “You have to start writin’ down the words.”
Now it’s my turn to nod. “I’ll begin inside of a month.”
Copyright © 2013 Marsha Ward