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By Gail Gaymer Martin
Steeple HillCopyright © 2005 Gail Gaymer Martin
All right reserved.
Andrew Somerville's headlights caught something moving along the shoulder ahead of him, and he leaned forward to make out the silhouette. A driver in distress, he figured as he slowed.
Hypnotized by the swishswish of his windshield wipers, he peered through the early April downpour. A yawn escaped him, and he lifted his hand to cover his mouth, then drew back his shoulders, hoping to relieve the tension he'd felt ever since returning months earlier to Loving. Loving, a town he'd once called home. Despite the town's acceptance, he now felt like an outsider.
A frown tightened his forehead as he rolled past, observing the silhouette of a woman gripping the hand of a small child. Their coats were sodden in the midnight deluge. Without hesitation, he pulled onto the shoulder ahead of them. His curiosity grew as he observed them through the rearview mirror.
After he'd stopped, the woman seemed to hesitate and drew the child to her. She didn't step closer but waited for him to make a move.
Andrew opened his car door and stuck his head into the driving torrent. "Can I help you?"
A clap of thunder covered his voice, and the woman tilted her ear toward him, letting him know she hadn't heard.
He ignored the downpour and stepped onto the shoulder. "Do you need help? Can I give you a lift?" His vision blurred as raindrops streamed past his eyes.
She looked down at the child clinging to her pant leg as if weighing her options. "Do I know you?"
"No. I live in Loving. Andrew Somerville."
She moved closer, her eyes probing his as she tried to place him. "I know your name."
Andrew beckoned her. "Then climb in. I'll give you a ride into town."
She headed for his sedan, looking as weighed down as the soggy clothes she wore.
Drenched now, Andrew slipped back into the driver's seat and leaned over to push open the passenger door. The child began to climb in, his eyes glazed with exhaustion and confusion, but when the woman realized the car had bucket seats, she opened the back door and motioned the child inside, then slid in beside him.
In the dim overhead light, Andrew winced, seeing a nasty bruise marring her cheek and a bloodied cut on her lip. Automobile accident? He felt his scowl deepen as he tried to recall an abandoned car on the road behind him, but he'd seen nothing.
"Thanks," she said, pulling the door closed. "I'm sorry. We're getting your seats wet."
His seats seemed the least of her problems. "Don't worry about it," he said, then listened to the click of the seat belts before he shifted into gear and rolled out onto the highway.
"Where's your car?" he asked, glancing over his shoulder.
She didn't respond.
A silent chill filled the air, and he studied her through the rearview mirror, curious as to what had stopped her from answering. She was an attractive woman despite the bruises and her wet hair plastered against her scalp.
"It's a personal problem," she said, finally, her eyes narrowing when she saw his frown in the mirror.
The comment made him more inquisitive, but he stopped that line of questioning. "Where are you headed?"
"I'm tired, Mom," the boy whimpered.
"Be patient, JJ. We'll be somewhere soon."
In the mirror, Andrew saw the child snuggle closer to her side. The boy looked about school age, maybe younger, and Andrew noticed for the first time that he was dressed in pajamas beneath his jacket. His bewilderment turned to concern, and she still hadn't answered his question.
"Where are you headed?" he asked once more.
"I — I'm not sure." He heard a tremor in her voice, and his mind sailed back to days when he didn't know where he would spend the night, either. "Are you in some kind of trouble?"
She responded with silence, then a lengthy sigh. "It's difficult to talk now."
Through the mirror, he saw her head tilt toward the child. The boy seemed to be nearly asleep, and that comment as well as her bruised face gave him an answer.
"Husband problems. I'm sorry."
She glanced toward JJ. "He's not my husband. He's my ex."
Ex. Divorced. Her comment stopped Andrew cold, and he felt his mouth tighten at her brusque statement.
"I see," he said. "Then how about the shelter?"
"Yes, that will do," she said, her voice heavy with resignation.
"They'll treat you well there. Some of us from the church do volunteer work for them. It's been a wonderful experience for me," Andrew said, shifting the subject to something more positive.
She fell silent for a moment, and when she spoke, her voice seemed to come from miles away. "You don't need to hear my problems."
"We've all had them," he said, assuming she'd heard about his. He gave her another glance in the mirror.
"You're related to Philip Somerville. Everyone's heard of him."
"He's my older brother."
"I'm Hannah Currey."
Andrew realized his name meant nothing to her. Or if it did, her voice hadn't registered it.
She drew the boy closer. "This is my son, JJ." "Hi, JJ," Andrew said, hoping to break through the child's fear. "It's kind of late for a young man to be out in his pajamas. I'm glad I can give you a lift." He tried to make his tone upbeat, but he didn't feel lighthearted. The memories took him back to his troubled years and his fall from grace. Regret shot through him, realizing what pride and arrogance had done to his life.
"I could go to a motel," Hannah said, "but I left without money, and I don't know when I can..." Her voice faded as if she realized she'd said too much. "I'd be happy to give you a loan," he said, surprised as the words left his mouth.
"No. Thanks. I have a job. I can sort things out tomorrow."
Tomorrow. The uplifting Broadway song from the musical Annie raced through his mind as he looked at the storm beating against his windshield. He hoped the sun would come out tomorrow for her, and for himself for that matter. "Where do you work?"
"Loving Hair Salon. I'm a shampooer."
Excerpted from Loving Tenderness by Gail Gaymer Martin Copyright © 2005 by Gail Gaymer Martin. Excerpted by permission.
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