Authors: Jodi Thomas
“You know me pretty wel ,” she said, figuring he knew her better than anyone else alive. “You planning on making it home before spring?”
“Sorry, Rea, I don’t think so, but I’l cal . I promise. No matter where I am, I’l cal . There’s always a rodeo somewhere, and as long as I’ve got the gas and the fee, I’l be riding.”
He was the first real friend she’d ever had. He’d been the first boy to kiss her, her first date, her first heartbreak.
“Take care of yourself, Preacher.”
He laughed without much humor. “No one on the circuit cal s me that anymore.”
They’d cal ed him Preacher because when he rode in high school rodeos, the announcers used to say he got religion when he climbed on a thousand pounds of mean muscle. Now, four years later, Reagan knew he’d lost his religion along with the joy he had for the sport. Now he rode like it was an addiction. Only even when he won, she had a feeling the money never made it to the bank.
“Why don’t you come home, Noah?” she asked, as she did almost every time he cal ed.
“I’l think about it,” he said, but his words didn’t ring true.
“Got to go, it’s my time to drive. I’l talk to you again soon. I promise. Good night, Rea.”
Reagan closed the phone. She hadn’t told him what was happening in Harmony or in her life. She had a feeling he didn’t care. Even if she’d said she needed him right now, he wouldn’t come, and if he promised tonight, he’d only break his word come morning.
They’d been best friends in high school, talked every night on the phone, drove al over the panhandle so he could ride in every rodeo they heard about. Then his father thought he was good enough to turn pro and Noah gave up his plans for col ege. The first year, he barely made enough in prize money to stay on the road. The second year he told her it looked like he might break a hundred thousand, enough to start his herd on his smal ranch. But halfway through, Noah got hurt again. This time when the doctors patched him up, they seemed to have left out his love for the sport.
Noah McAl en was on a merry-go-round, not with painted wooden ponies but with huge angry bul s, and he couldn’t seem to find the way off the ride.
Reagan leaned her head on her arms atop the steering wheel and cried. She feared for Noah that the ride wouldn’t stop until one bul , one night, kil ed him.
NOAH FLIPPED HIS PHONE CLOSED AS HE
WALKED AROUND his pickup, now so dirty he couldn’t even tel what color it was. He slipped into the driver’s seat as his buddy slid across and began building his nest for the night.
“Just head west,” Don grumbled, already sounding half asleep. “We’l be lucky to make it to where we turn south by noon tomorrow. If you get sleepy, wake me.” Noah knew the routine, but he let Don ramble. They both knew they probably wouldn’t be friends if it weren’t for the rodeo. Though they both rode bul s, they did it for different reasons. Noah saw it as a fast way to make money, and he had long ago become addicted to the thril of adrenaline that jolted through his body every time he climbed on. Don, on the other hand, rode for the thril that surrounded the game. The wild unpredictability, the giggles of the girls when bul riders entered a bar, the flash of camera lights when he won. He didn’t care for the sport; he liked the parade.
Noah let Don talk himself to sleep; for once he didn’t real y want to talk about what they’d face tomorrow. He just wanted to drive and think of Reagan. He hadn’t seen her in months, and then their last words had been yel ed at each other. He’d waited two weeks before he cal ed. He’d forgotten what they’d been arguing about and she didn’t mention it.
He drove through the night, trying to remember exactly what she looked like. Her curly red hair that wrapped around his fingers. Her green eyes that could cut through al his bul shit with one look. Her voice had sounded older somehow tonight. Part of him stil saw her as that frightened new kid at a school where everyone else knew one another.
She wasn’t his girlfriend then or now. Maybe she never would be. They’d grown apart, he told himself, like people do. He’d seen best friends in high school go away to different col eges and a year later struggle to keep a conversation going over coffee.
She was just a friend, he reminded himself. Only once in Oklahoma City after the rodeo, the girl he was with said he’d cal ed her Rea when they made love.
Noah shook his head, figuring that could mean one of two things. Either he’d have to try to get along with Reagan and marry her, or he’d have to learn to keep his mouth shut when the lights went out.
SNOW BEGAN TUMBLING DOWN IN HARMONY
BEFORE dawn. Ronel e Logan made it to work, but Marty Winslow received no mail for her to deliver. On Friday the sun came back out, warming away the snow from the walks, but Marty Winslow stil had no mail. She checked his box three times, hoping she’d overlooked something. The new coat had been hanging by the restroom door for two days.
Ronel e Logan felt like an inmate waiting on death row.
Every morning she ate what she feared might be her last meal and waited.
She didn’t know whether to thank him for not tel ing the postmaster that she’d cal ed him a cripple or to worry that he might somehow make her life more miserable than it already was. Both days she ate a candy bar for lunch and worked on her online course instead of going home or over to the diner.
About three, the few special deliveries came in. Ronel e waited in the back, standing so she could see Mr. Donavan through the door as he looked them over.
“Ronel e,” he yel ed. “You’d better get that new coat on.
You’ve got a letter that needs delivering.” She pul ed the blue wool coat on and wished she had armor and a few weapons to stuff beneath its folds. She had a feeling she was going into battle. She looped her father’s old satchel over her head so the leather crossed her chest.
Mr. Donavan handed her three envelopes when she walked to the front. “Might as wel drop these two off at the fire station. It’s not much out of your way.” As she stuffed the mail in the satchel, he added, “That your father’s old bag?”
She nodded and left without a word.
The fire station was half a block farther than Winslow’s place, but she went there first. She told herself she did it just in case he frightened her again and she had to run back to the post office.
No one was at the fire station except Bob McNabb.
She’d seen him around town and knew he was married to Stel a, who worked part time at the funeral home. Everyone in Harmony was interconnected like some kind of giant spiderweb.
Old Bob took the envelopes from her and said thanks without asking any questions, then went back to setting up chairs in one of the bays.
Ronel e walked away, thinking delivering the mail wasn’t as hard as she thought it might be. She was almost to the duplex where Winslow lived when she saw a man sitting on a huge motorcycle out front.
He was big, over six feet, overweight, and covered in black leather. When he glanced in her direction, she saw he wasn’t old, stil in his teens. He looked hard, though. The kind of hard that opened fire in a public building . . . like a post office.
She looked away, focusing on the tattoos on his knuckles. Her mother told her once that men get knuckle tattoos in prison. This guy looked too young to be an ex-con, but he did have tattoos.
While she was trying to figure out if he was casing out the neighborhood to rob or just planning to start a random kil ing spree, he yel ed, “Winslow, you got mail!”
“Thanks, Border, tel her to bring it on in.” The guy raised an eyebrow at her and nodded toward the door.
Ronel e almost ran up the steps and into the house. This Border was more frightening than the man in the wheelchair. A dragon guarding the entrance to an ogre’s cave.
She walked into the room, empty except for the desk and of course the man behind it.
She laid down the mail.
“Thanks,” he said, without looking up.
She nodded and took a step backward.
Now he lifted his head and looked her straight in the eyes. “I’m not going to bite you, you know.” A corner of his mouth lifted. “At least until I know you better.” She backed toward the door without breathing.
Turning, she bolted, far more afraid of the honesty in his eyes than anything her imagination could dream up.
People never saw her, not real y, and they never,
, teased her.
The guy on the motorcycle was gone. Ronel e hurried back to the post office, trying to shake the feeling that Marty Winslow was stil watching her.
When she entered the back of the office, she took off her blue coat and worked an hour before slipping into her old black-gray coat.
Jerry poked his head into the back room where she stood pul ing on her gloves. “Got a few wild plans this weekend, Ronel e. I think there’s a dance over at Buffalo’s tomorrow night . . . live music.” He laughed like he was the only one who caught the joke. “You could pick yourself up a fel ow.”
“Leave her alone,” Mr. Donavan yel ed.
“I’m not doing anything but talking. She hasn’t said ten words to me since she came here.” Jerry acted like he was counting on his fingers. “Let’s see, that comes out to about one word a year.”
“She doesn’t have to talk to you.” Donavan pul ed on his coat. “Besides, it seems to me you talk enough for al of us around the place.”
Jerry shrugged. “Sorry, Ronel e, you do what you want to do.”
She passed him without a word and left. She had to act exactly the same, she decided, or her mother would notice and ask questions. No one could know that Marty Winslow had seen her, real y seen her. Maybe it wouldn’t matter to anyone, not even him, but for her the world had shifted and might never be the same again.
LEARY LAW OFFICE
REAGAN TRUMAN SAT IN ELIZABETH LEARY’S
OFFICE AND fought back tears. For the past three months she’d been living in limbo. Meals, even sleep lost their rhythm as she moved through the days and nights like the sole passenger on a never-ending train ride. Thanksgiving, Christmas, even her twentieth birthday had come and gone with her not real y paying much attention.
The only relative she had, her uncle Jeremiah Truman, had suffered his fourth heart attack in early October. He was leaving her, not al at once, but an inch at a time. A week before his ninetieth birthday he almost left her in the night while she wasn’t watching.
Slowly he’d recovered—maybe, she reasoned, simply because God knew she wasn’t ready to let him go. She had no memory of her parents, no person who’d loved her before him. No one in the world had even loved her until Jeremiah Truman.
This morning, while tears floated in her eyes, he’d told her to go see the lawyer. There were papers to be signed, he’d insisted. Reagan knew the old man was taking care of her even as she tried to help him.
Foster Garrison was looking after him while she was in town. Foster had been a medic in the army twenty years before and recently lost his job at a clinic because of cutbacks. His wife was picking up shifts now and then at the hospital, but they needed the money Reagan paid.
Uncle Jeremiah’s harsh manner seemed to suit Foster fine. He didn’t waste any words babying the old man or bother listening when Jeremiah fired him at least once a week. Foster’s wife, Cindy, had a kind heart and won the old man over with her ginger-apple pancakes.