Authors: Randy Mixter
Tags: #Mysterious, #Twists, #Everlasting, #Suspenseful, #Cryptic
Beckie gasped and clutched my hand tightly.
"Rebecca Carlyle," I continued. "Please make me the happiest man on this beach, in this state, in this country, in this world, and be my wife."
With my free hand, I removed the ring I had bought from the jewelry store in Port Grace that morning and held it in front of her.
I saw a tear run down her face in the light of the moon. I didn't brush it away. I allowed it to fall.
"Yes," she said softly, but the embrace that followed surprised me and we both tumbled onto the sand.
She kissed me so hard I believe it bruised my lips. Was I complaining? Hell no.
"It's about time you asked, Monroe," she said when she came up for air, and then there was more of the same.
If the elderly woman and her male companion passed us then, we would not have noticed, but I don't think they did. In fact, I doubt they passed by that way again. I didn't dwell on it however, and for the remainder of the night there were no more questions, only answers.
As the summer progressed, Rachel became skilled in the art of fencing and was well on her way of mastering the bow and arrow.
"Well you are certainly a quick learner." Morgan said after a long fencing duel.
"I'm sorry," Rachel said, lowering her sword. "Did I hurt you?"
Morgan brought his hand to his lips and drew some blood from a small cut. "Just a scratch. Still, you are becoming somewhat dangerous with the sword. I much prefer your training on the bow and arrow, where I can stand a good distance behind you."
"I apologize for being a quick study. Now, let's care for your wound. I would hate to add to your scars. Come, Esmeralda." Rachel reached for the cat who had crept closer to her now that the swordplay had ceased.
"Careful you don't wrench your back lifting that beast," Morgan said.
Rachel ignored him. "May I work on your likeness after we eat? The afternoon is so bright and beautiful, I hate to waste it."
Morgan chewed on a piece of dried beef. He hated posing for his portrait and now wished they'd never visited the shop of paintings. The canvasses and the oils and brushes needed to cover them were eating away his once plentiful collection of jewels and trinkets. Rachel had used every bit of her persuasive powers to convince him she might one day be a famous artist if only she had the proper tools of the trade. Her pleas worked all too well.
The shop of paintings quickly became the focal point of every visit to town, and each time more supplies changed hands for trinkets.
"I will need to seek out my gypsy soon should you continue this costly pastime," he said to her after their last visit.
"I seriously doubt that," Rachel said as they walked the well-worn trail. "I've seen your stash. I'm certain it will last us several lifetimes."
"Last me several lifetimes, yes," Morgan answered. "You, on the other hand..."
A playful shove quieted him. "You should know better than to sass a swordsman," she added, and he did remain silent for the remainder of the journey.
Now she reserved the mornings for the blade and the arrow, the afternoons for the oils and canvas, and the nights for the bedroom and the activities within.
Morgan held still through the ordeal. She knew better than to try his patience for extended periods. The painting neared completion, at least his contribution to it. She could fill in the landscape without him.
Their love had grown as the summer aged. They talked frequently of their future together and the adventures they might share. The memory of her past no longer caused her pain. The cuts had become scars, which in turn had faded to thin white lines, barely visible to the eye.
Now she faced the future, so bright and full of promise. Sometimes she would lose herself in those thoughts, smiling all the while.
Rachel had not broached the subject of marriage. It was not her place. She waited for the day when the adventurer felt the need to settle down and raise a family. She knew that day might never come. Morgan craved danger as much, if not more, than love. The time when they would leave the cottage, and the forbidden forest that surrounded it, crept ever closer; they would soon travel to another place, or another land.
Rachel added a touch of color to Morgan's face. He was becoming impatient but she would not hurry. Some things required a steady hand, a sturdy heart, and the patience to tend to both.
"Are you ready to leave?" Morgan lay beside her. A solitary candle flickered, casting a shadowy light about the bedroom. "The cold season will soon be on us. We should go to a southern province where the warmth is year round. I thought the Scarlet River might provide a good starting point."
Rachel moved on her side to face him. "Are the pirates still at war? The Scarlet River runs through the Kingdom Of Gold. Pirates are abundant there, from what I've heard."
"You've been listening to the idle gossip of the townsfolk. The pirates have moved on. They still fight, but the Scarlet River is safe to travel. All the gold and silver, once there, has been plundered."
Rachel's eyes brightened in the candlelight. "In that case, I say we travel. I only ask for the time it will take to complete my painting."
"And that would be?"
"Two days of sun should do it," she said.
"Time enough to stock up on provisions and two horses. You did say you know how to ride?"
Rachel smiled widely. "I'll have you know I put many a young man in his place while racing them on horseback."
"Of that, I've no doubt," Morgan added before they kissed goodnight.
Rachel studied the painting, searching the canvas for imperfections. When she found none she clapped her hands together. "Done," she announced.
"And a masterpiece it is," Morgan said from behind her.
"The oils should be dry by the morning. I'll leave it in the air for a time." Rachel lowered the canvas to the cottage wall.
"I take it this one's traveling with us," Morgan said. When Rachel nodded he continued, "And the other paintings?"
"Just this one. The others were suitable practice."
"You sell yourself short. Your paintings are of the highest caliber, each and every one of them."
"Then you'll carry them on your horse?" She asked him.
Morgan put his hand to his chin. "Maybe I was hasty with my praise. We'll take them as far as the town. I imagine the paint merchant would gladly take them off our hands."
"Yes, I'm certain he'll find them a good home," Rachel agreed.
"And Esmeralda. She might be better off in a town where scraps are plentiful," Morgan added.
"We'll let Esmeralda be the judge of that. If she wishes to stay, so be it. If she wishes to follow, that is fine too."
"Alright then, it's the crack of dawn." Morgan looked to the field by the cottage. Both recently purchased horses fed on the abundant clover. One last night and then a new beginning, he thought. He once believed he was born to wander alone, to never find a home, to never find love. But in this place, in this forest, calm by day and angry by night, he found both.
"Will you miss this place, Morgan? Will you miss the cottage and the tranquil summer days?"
"I might, a little, and you?"
Rachel looked at the cottage. "It was a good home, a good place to start. But there will be other cottages, hopefully a bit more spacious."
"I assure you there will be," Morgan added.
"Then we'll leave it to wanderers, or those who are lost," she said as she took his arm. "Let's walk to our house together, this one last time, shall we?"
A furious storm blew in with the night. The winds howled and lightning arced over the trees. Thunderclaps shook the cottage walls and Rachel huddled against Morgan under the blanket of their bed. She felt Esmeralda at her back, sleeping soundly.
"Please tell me you're not frightened of a storm? We've had them before and they will surely find us after," he said to her above the bedlam.
"Not like this one. What of the horses? Will they be alright?"
"I'm sure of it. They're tied securely to the trees. I expect this to blow over soon."
"Please check for me, from inside the door, You'll be able to see them from there."
"Very well, if you insist." He stood and walked to the bedroom door. A flash of lightning clearly illuminated his nakedness.
"Morgan!" Rachel sat up in the bed. "You should be ashamed of yourself. What if someone should see you?"
"Rest assured, it will be a sight they will never forget," he said as he exited the room.
Rachel smiled and lay back down. Her head returned to the feathered pillow. Esmeralda, who could sleep through anything, stretched out behind her. She wrapped the pillow around her head to muffle the booming of the thunder and closed her eyes, and the cross beneath her neck began to glow with a fierceness that soon brightened the room.
"I feel guilty for not working. Now that my leg is fine, I feel I should be doing something to bring in some money."
"I'm not working either," I said to Beckie from my position at the kitchen stove about to flip the first of two eggs. The strong odor of bacon hung in the air.
"At least you have an excuse, you're writing a book. Which reminds me, when am I ever going to get chance to read this book?"
"It's almost ready. You could be reading it as early as tomorrow."
"About time," Beckie said, just loud enough for me to hear her.
"Flipping the eggs," I announced. Most mornings we had eggs for breakfast, over easy for both of us. The problem was during the egg flip, I invariably broke at least one, sometimes two. Once, about two weeks ago, I broke all four. Anyhow, we had a wager going on the flips. One break, I owed Beckie a quarter, two breaks fifty cents, and so on. If none broke, she owed me one dollar. So far, I owed Beckie eight dollars and fifty cents.
"Three more to go, Monroe. Hey, I might not have to work after all. You can support me by breaking eggs on the frying pan."
After breakfast, we took a drive into Port Grace. It had rained for the past two days, giving me time to write and Beckie time to read. We rarely watched television, preferring table games like Scrabble and Monopoly. I found out rather quickly that Beckie was a sore loser and I suffered the consequences later in the evening at bedtime. My strategy soon developed into letting her win in a not too obvious manner and I reaped the benefits in the bedroom. A win-win for both of us.
"What's the game plan, Monroe?" Beckie asked as we drove into town. "Are we staying or leaving? I need to tell Maggie something."
The time had come to make a decision on that matter. I knew it, and Beckie did too. "I guess we'll stay here," I said. "I don't think I'll be able to find work in Port Grace. I may need to commute."
"You don't know until you try. Start trying. We'll scout the place for possibilities today. Have you decided yet what you want to be when you grow up.?"
I gave her a stare. "Actually, I haven't, but I did submit applications at three local schools in case we stayed."
"Here's an idea," she said. "Get a job in one of the stores in Port Grace temporarily, until either one of the schools call or you become the next Ernest Hemingway. I'm sure there must be some shop owner looking for full-time help."
"First off, I don't want to be flipping burgers at the local eatery" I told her.
"As long as they keep you out of the kitchen during breakfast, you should be fine. Besides, if you think I'm going to work all day while you lounge on the beach, think again."
She was right of course. My dad was still being generous with the cash while both my parents enjoyed their first taste of privacy. I knew I'd made a mistake by telling my father I was engaged and was thinking of staying in this area.
At that moment, he probably realized he didn't need to throw cash my way to keep me from coming home. The days of using him as an ATM were ending.
"Alright, I'll scope out the town while we're here," I said with a heavy sigh.
"Poor baby," Beckie patted my leg. "Be brave. You'll get through this without a scratch."
We started at the south end of the shopping district and worked our way north. We took our time. It was a beautiful morning. The previous day's rains had cleaned the air and cooled things down. A nice breeze blew around us as we held hands and walked the pavement.
As before, the shop owners and managers took their time opening for business. Although my watch read 10:12, most of the shops were just now getting around to opening their doors, some remained locked.
I liked that about Port Grace. The carefree ‘I'll do it when I get around to it’ attitude of the place. Port Grace was a town stuck in time. The hustle and bustle of the twenty-first century had somehow bypassed this place, at least for now.
"So this is where you bought my ring," Beckie said as we came to the jewelry store.
"It sure is."
I need to call my father.
Don't think you can get away with something like that again." Beckie nudged me. "I'm wise to you now, Monroe."
You always were
, I thought to myself.
You just didn't realize it.
Samuel, the proprietor of Paintings and More next door was opening his door as we walked past.
"Hello," Beckie said to him as we passed by.
"Wait," he said. "You're the one who bought the portrait a few days ago. Rebecca, right?"
"That's me," she replied.
"I've found some more works by that artist; quite a few actually. They were hidden in the back room, probably a part of the same estate sale."
"Can I see them?" Beckie asked.
"You certainly may. This way please."