This is from my work in progress, Everlasting Echoes, the story of Justin and Beth, being told in response to overwhelming popular request.
The sky overhead was a clear spring blue, though clouds on the horizon hinted at rain. The nip of winter still lingered but the promise of spring held fast. The first calves were already born with many more on the way. Lots of work and long days but the Cross MC was consistently hitting the black for the first time in two decades.
And Justin was late getting to it. He settled his battered Stetson on his head and stepped off the back porch of the main ranch house. As he’d suspected, Ryan was nowhere to be seen, apparently already out making the rounds. The fool boy’d gone and gotten it in his mind that Justin needed to take things easy. Ricky was probably at work. But where the devil were Sandy and the baby?
“Sean and I have things covered outside,” Ryan had said the night before. “We need the books done so we can hit the bank for a loan next week.”
But Justin knew that was an excuse. Sean had the head for accounting and he kept meticulous books, always up to date. No, something else was going on. Still, Justin had never expected his son would sabotage the morning routine. When he’d opened his eyes, he’d discovered his alarm clock had been unplugged and the shades in his bedroom were drawn, so the sun hadn’t awakened him. That had been Ryan’s hand at work. No one else but Sandy saw through his gruffness and she worked in more subtle ways. If the boy was a few years younger, Justin would consider taking a switch to his backside. He chuckled as he crossed behind the house. Right. As if he’d ever been able to carry out such a punishment.
He picked his way across the rough cement slab in front of the old barbecue pit, which they laughingly called “the patio.” Cracks crisscrossed the concrete and the edges had long ago chipped into smoothness, since the patio and barbecue hadn’t been used in years. Sandy kept talking about fixing it up, but it wasn’t a priority since it had nothing to do with the ranch itself. Rounding the corner of the house on the way to the barns, Justin was greeted by a carpet of bright yellow. Hundreds of spring daffodils spread over the ground like liquid gold, their faces turned in his direction as though waiting for him.
Beth had planted a small patch of them soon after she’d come to the ranch. She’d always kept the plants confined to her garden along the side of the house but after her death, Justin hadn’t had the heart to yank the spreading plants as his wife had done, and now they’d taken over the side yard from the house to the old cottonwood with the tree swing.
The spring breeze carried the acrid-sweet scent of daffodils to his nostrils and Beth’s face floated into his memory. Curly blonde hair like summer sunshine, green eyes that held laughter through the worst of times. A gust of wind blew the daffodils nearly sideways, then just as suddenly stopped and the happy faces of the flowers bobbed upright again.
A gust of air tickled at the hairs on his arms. He knew it was just the wind. Beth had been gone for years, her life cut short one branding season by an incident at the river. Of all the places on the ranch, though, he felt her most in the garden she’d loved. And sometimes he talked to her as though she was still kneeling on the ground there chatting to her flowers and tugging weeds.
He smiled as he rubbed at a twinge of soreness in his left shoulder. “Our boy thinks I’m getting old, Dilly. He thinks I need to sleep in these days instead of getting at the day.”
Odd how he wanted to linger here longer than usual. Instead, Justin inhaled the scent of Beth’s garden again and began walking toward the barn.
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