Rook Westfall likes working at Sennett Lakes Farm Museum - giving hayrides, milking cows, and mucking stalls - even if it does entail manure. But Dad grumbles that he should get a real job instead of escaping into a 19th Century fantasy, and Mum wants another daughter-in-law to contribute to her collection of grandchildren.
Jiminy! Can't a guy just live?
Rook's tranquil world somersaults, however, when he runs afoul of the Saltkill Gang during a violent storm. Stacy Morgan, a Civil War reenactor, interrupts the gang's attack, when she stumbles onto the museum grounds. After rescuing Rook, she joins the museum's seasonal staff, but her private demons keep Rook at arm's length. A prickly friendship emerges between them as she reveals her tragic secrets, a trust the depths of which Rook can't fathom until she's gone. When Stacy leaves at season's end, neither she nor Rook realizes that she takes with her a gift that will surprise them all.
Set in a remote finger of the Adirondacks, with a winsome six-year-old, a reformed delinquent, and a wild nonagenarian, Bead of Sand is a novel of discovery and fulfillment, in a place where the past too easily overshadows the present.
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Bead of Sand
By Sally M. Chetwynd
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2013 Sally M. Chetwynd
All rights reserved.
Sharp pain lanced his side as he tried to roll over. His own harsh groan brought him to a sketchy but miserable consciousness.
His tongue, a wad of cotton, stuck to the inside of his mouth.
Thirst possessed every fiber. The pudding in his skull, solid and dull, pounded with a throb that had settled in for the long haul. A piercing stitch racked his ribs with every breath he took. Latent muscle spasms waited in his back and legs for the wrong move to trigger them, from lying too long in one position. He just plain hurt all over.
Eyes still closed, he lay still, awareness creeping through him in degrees. The bed was warm and comfortable against the chilly air. The slight itch of the blankets made him realize that he had no tee-shirt on, only briefs and socks. That wasn't right. He thought he always wore at least a tee-shirt to bed. The fog in his brain lifted enough for him to realize that this was not his bed, either. There were no sheets between him and the woolens. He may be an uncivilized bachelor, but he did maintain some standards, and sheets on the bed was one of them.
He moved an arm. It weighed far more than he remembered, his fingers wooden. He had another arm, but it felt even more leaden. Oh, well. He didn't need it right now anyway. He let it lie. The live hand crept sluggishly over his body, and found his torso firmly bound. He could feel bandages around his head. Good thing, he thought stupidly. Need something to keep it from splitting.
An eye slowly cracked open, the other one either swollen or stuck shut. Even as dim as it was, the light that filtered through some plain curtains shot lightning through his one open eye, triggering a whirlpool of nausea. He shut it again, to little avail. He blinked and tried to focus against the dizziness.
This was no hospital, either. He was in a van converted into a primitive camper. Where the hell—?
Something moved on the bed next to him. He was too muzzy to be startled.
A small form, muffled in blankets, sat up, and he looked into two large, dark, sleepy eyes. A heavy mop of straight hair fell forward over them.
It stared at him for a moment, blankly. "David?"
He looked at the individual, his tongue full in his mouth. The spoken name meant nothing to him. But something niggled at the back of his mind. He should know a name, his own name. He knew he had one. His feeble scratching around inside his skull for something familiar unearthed only a couple of images—a black bird and the game of chess.
He loosened his tongue and swallowed, but only an incoherent croak emerged before he tumbled to the strange fact that he didn't know how to speak. He thought he did. He puzzled, numbly trying to remember how to conjure words and sentences.
It blinked at him, uncomprehending. The deep auburn hair was cropped short, the face small and pointed, olive-skinned. He thought of an elf.
Understanding filled the eyes. They welled with tears, staring at him. The raw heartache pooled in those eyes took him aback. He had never before seen such sorrow.
"I'm sorry," the voice small, trembling, "—I thought—for a minute—you were—" It trailed off. The head slowly dropped and rested on upraised knees. The whole, small frame shook. The silence of the weeping gave it an uncanny intensity.
It wasn't an elf; it was a girl. The grief that tore at her gripped his own gut, and he shifted uncomfortably. He didn't know what to do, what he could do. Tentative, he reached to her and patted her foot through the blankets. He found a small satisfaction in finding that this other arm worked, too.
He rested, listening to her. It was brightening outside. He could hear robins chirruping nearby, and the cascading calls of veeries meant that he and this girl were in or near the woods.
He was content to lie there, tired and bruised enough to do nothing, not even think. Ache and weariness bit deeply, and the hammer inside his skull continued, unabated. He drifted away.
Presently, the girl moved, and he roused. She found a handkerchief and blew her nose. She wiped her face, then drew several long, cleansing breaths, gathering herself.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly, and sighed. After another moment, she looked at him.
He saw deep pain still in her eyes, now reddened, but she had control of herself.
"—you—O.K.?" he asked hoarsely after a moment of gathering the wool in his mind. It perplexed him to have to think of each word and shape it before he could utter it.
She shrugged. "Guess so—for now." She scrubbed her face with her hands, and ran her fingers through her hair, massaging her scalp.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
"—hurt—" His tongue was thick.
"I can imagine. You're in pretty rough shape." Her voice, rich and low, surprised him, coming from such a tiny thing. "You shouldn't try to move. I think you have a couple of broken ribs, and you don't want to disturb that knife wound—"
"I'm no expert, but that's what it looks like to me."
"Knife," he repeated, addled.
Her eyes narrowed. "Do you remember anything from last night?"
He shook his head, gingerly. Every movement intensified its throbbing.
"I can't tell you much, myself," she said. "I came down this dirt road and saw a bunch of thugs beating you up. It was dark, and raining hard, hard to see. They ran off when they saw my headlights."
She leaned back against the wall of the van, knees drawn up in front of her, still shrouded in blankets. "Now what do I do?" she asked. "The van's dead, I'm in the middle of nowhere, and you need a hospital." She looked at him for a long minute. "What on earth were you doing way out here, anyway?"
The question stumped his foggy brain. "Don't know—where I am."
"Oh," she said. "Well, we haven't gone anywhere since I found you. 'Course, I don't know where I am, either."
He mulled for a moment, disciplining his brain. His own name came to him, having cogitated long enough on the two clues—Rook, yeah, that was it. He knew it was only a nickname, but it would do for now. Myriad small items that had been whirling too fast to pin down started to settle into place, and he began to remember. "Sennett—Lakes—Farm—Museum—" His speech slurred. It hurt to think.
She crawled off the end of the bed and came around to the side doors, lifting a curtain to look out. She could stand almost fully erect under the van ceiling. "I see a barn. That must be where we are." She paused, thinking.
"Then maybe someone will come along soon?" Her voice brightened a little as she sat down on the corner of the bed.
He nodded tiredly. "Stan—Davis—six—thirty—." He didn't question how this knowledge came to him, but accepted that it was right.
His one open eye slipped shut, and as the girl sat quietly, Rook nodded off, recalling just as he drifted away that he needed some water, but he could not form the words before sleep overcame him.
* * *
The girl came to visit Rook in the hospital. She sat on the unoccupied bed in the room, cross-legged, lost in an oversized cable-knit sweater. Outside, the April day was cold and raw.
"I feel stupid," he said, "but I don't know your name." His speech was still thick and slow, as he had to find words one by one and organize them. It didn't help that his head ached almost constantly, making him feel tired all the time and short of sleep. He tried to ignore it.
She stared at him. "Oh! I guess I never told you. With all the questions, I've told everyone else but you." She got up and held out her hand. "Stacy Morgan."
"Pleased to meet you," he replied, shaking it. "Rook Westfall." He gave her a lop-sided grin. "Formalities seem kind of moot now: you stripped my clothes off the first time you saw me."
"I had to. You were soaked to the bone." Her earnest look softened. "Sorry. You were making a joke. I—I haven't had much of a sense of humor lately." She looked down at her hands, and went through absent motions of cleaning a nail.
"I don't care what sort of humor you have. Anybody who saves my hide—well, 'Thank you' ain't near enough."
Still looking down, she shrugged. "I'm glad those hoods didn't wait to see what a big threat I am."
He laughed and hurt himself. His first impression of her was correct. She was a wee bit of a thing, probably lucky to tip the scales at a hundred pounds. He guessed that she might be twenty, though with those big, sad eyes, she could have passed for a ten-year-old orphan. The fluorescent ceiling bulbs brought out red highlights in her hair, a shaggy pageboy cut.
They chatted shyly. He told her about Sennett Lakes Farm Museum where he worked. She said she was from Connecticut. She didn't have any particular ties there now, other than her parents. She'd been in a bad situation, she told him. She ended up quitting her job, just to get away. She figured that some time away might help her to get her head on straight again.
She did not elaborate. Her story seemed plausible enough, but Rook sensed that there was a lot more to it.
Well, it's none of my business, he thought, watching her. She had gone to the window, looking out across the valley while she twirled a carnation from a get-well bouquet.
From the doctors, what he had learned of her heightened his curiosity. She had stitched his wound closed that night. Fortunately, no vital organs had been injured, but the gash had been too big to control with pressure alone. The sewing job was rough, but it had served the purpose.
He still hadn't figured out how she had got him into her van. He outweighed her by nearly twice. No way could she have lifted him deadweight. He tried to get her to talk about it, but she avoided the subject. When he pressed her, she looked at him directly and said, "Look, I've told my story half a dozen times to doctors and police and who knows who. I'm sorry you're the last to know, but it's too distressing to go over it again. I did what had to be done, and I'd as soon shut the book on it." She turned back to the window, flushed, her breathing rapid.
He was taken aback, and lay propped up in the bed, thinking for several minutes.
"I'm sorry," he said finally. "I didn't mean to upset you."
She said nothing for a moment. Then he heard her, in a very small voice, "I'm sorry, too. My mother didn't raise me to be rude."
* * *
After a few days in the hospital, Rook was well enough to go home, but not well enough to stay home alone. This presented a dilemma. It would be a week before he would be able to do things for himself, and because of the concussion, two weeks before he'd be allowed to drive. With the ribs mending, it would be longer than that before he could return to work. He considered several friends who might help out, but his cabin was small and did not lend itself well to anything more than overnight company. An extended stay was not workable.
Even if he had a friend come to stay, the friend would be at his job all day, which would defeat the purpose. If he went to stay at someone's home, he'd be in the same boat. He didn't know anyone who didn't work outside of the home. Besides that, he didn't want to live anywhere else for the next couple of weeks.
He was thinking aloud about this while Stacy was visiting one day. She spoke up after listening for several minutes.
"Why don't I just do it?" she asked. "I sleep in the van anyway, that's perfectly comfortable, and I don't have anything else I've got to do."
Rook stared at her. "You'd—you'd do that?" he stammered. "You don't even know me."
"If you're not comfortable with it, that's O.K.," she said. "Sometimes I get impetuous and say what comes to mind."
"I don't know. You've just floored me, to be honest. I wasn't telling you about it to get you to volunteer."
"Not much in it for you, playing nursemaid in my wreck of a bachelor pad. It's not like you owe me anything. Quite the contrary."
"It's only for a couple of weeks, and I ought to be doing something productive. Driving around the countryside for months on end with only the radio for company has its limits. I'm not cut out to be a truck-driver, that's for sure." She pulled an apple out of her pocket and began to polish it vigorously against her sweater. "It's no skin off my teeth either way. Just a thought," she said. "Want some apple?"
He considered her offer for some time, and it made sense, although he felt peculiar about it. The arrangement worked out well, however, which surprised Rook, considering what a prickly soul Stacy was.
He spent a lot of time sleeping at first. Even upon waking, he felt deprived. He had never before realized how much a concussion scrambles the brain inside the skull; at least his was. It took a long time for it to settle back into place. Long after the bruises had faded and the goose eggs had shrunk away, he kept discovering remote gaps in his mind that had to be reconnected with deliberation. It was awfully meticulous work for things that had always come without thinking. The constant headache aggravated him, too, but its intensity faded with each passing day.
Stacy spent some time getting things picked up ("You'll never find anything again," she said), but most of her days were spent reading, walking in the woods around his place, or engaging in conversation with him. She cooked simple, wholesome meals that reminded him of his grandmother's cooking. His mother had never been interested in food, cooking only well enough to make it edible and reasonably palatable, but it was nothing to get excited over. And by the time his sister Rita had discovered the kitchen as a creative outlet, Rook was out on his own.
Stacy seemed comfortable after a couple of days, and soon knew his kitchen better than he did. She threw out the archaic jars of herbs and spices and bought fresh ones. He rarely used them anyway. "I can see why not," she remarked, claiming that they were stale and pointing to their colorlessness as evidence. She made a potato salad and put things in it that he never would have thought of, like cinnamon and tarragon. He had seen tarragon growing in the Farm's herb gardens, but had no clue to its use or value. The new flavors surprised and pleased him.
They sat down to Mexican food one night, which she made when he told her that he enjoyed it. He liked the spiciness of the peppers and salsa. From the way she talked, she evidently liked it HOT.
He looked at her as she sat down to the table across from him.
"So, how hot is this?" he asked.
Her smile was demure, if anything, but he caught the devil in her eye.
All this time, he had seen her as plain, almost mousy, but this split-second flash transformed her. The quiet reserve, governed by an underlying sadness, was no more than a shell, hiding a brilliance. As roguish as her look was, for that instant, it lent her a deep beauty he never would have guessed she held. It was attractive, and he wished she'd let herself open up.
That may come yet, he thought. He shoveled a yellowy-green salsa she had made onto a burrito. A faint pungence pricked his nostrils. He turned to his dinner, eyeing her suspiciously. "I think I'm in trouble," he muttered as he cut into the burrito.
In a moment, his mouth blazed like the hinges of Hades. Ears melting, eyes bleeding, sweat trickled in little streams down his temples. He wheezed, wordless. His only salvation was fruit, some canned pineapple that Stacy had placed with the meal.
"What have you done to me?" he gasped, blind with tears that rolled down his flaming cheeks.
"You said you like hot Mexican food," she said, with an air of innocence. "This is hot."
He wiped his face and eyes. "I said hot, not volcanic."
She smiled and calmly ate a corn chip smothered in the igneous salsa. He watched in amazement as she savored it like ice cream. The stuff was downright incendiary. Its benevolent color had lulled him, but he wouldn't let that fool him again.
"What did you put in that, anyway?"
"I don't know what it's called, but it's a pepper thicker and shorter than a jalapeno, the color of a wax bean."
"You got a license to cook with it?" Rook asked, stanching the steady flow from his nose and eyes with another paper towel.
She smiled and removed his plate.
"Here," she said, "why don't you start fresh?" She placed a clean dish in front of him.
Excerpted from Bead of Sand by Sally M. Chetwynd. Copyright © 2013 Sally M. Chetwynd. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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