Something Old, Something New (Chapter Five, page 2 of 2)

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On Friday the chicken house was completed. Once they moved the chickens, there would be no reason to walk down to the farm every day. In a way that was a relief, and yet it was a sad thought. It was the only home she had ever known. Leaving it was like leaving Mom and Dad behind. Of course, in a normal relationship, that would eventually happen anyway. Once again it crossed her mind how pleased they would have been with Alex.
That evening after work, Alex examined the chicken house.
“It looks like they did a good job,” he said, shutting the coop door and turning to her. “I’ll bring a couple of cages home from work tomorrow, so we can catch the chickens and bring them all up here at once.”
“I don’t mind walking down and getting the chickens a few at a time,” she said. “I can carry four at a time.”
He glanced down at her, his eyes twinkling with humor. “So that’s how you stay so slim.”
Stepping around her, he stared down at the old farm. “It looks so lonely down there.”
“It is,” she said.
He swung around, his solemn gaze searching her face. “Were you lonely when Katie was there?”
She leaned against the chicken coop and stared down at the house.
“Yes, but what made you think that?” Her attention shifted to his face.
“I don’t know. You just seemed lonely - like something was missing in your life.”
She smiled up at him. “It was, but I found it.”
His smile was slow coming. “I wasn’t talking about me.”
“Then what?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know - maybe a purpose. You seemed lost.”
Actually, she had lost purpose in life then. Everything was a struggle, and life in general wasn’t heading towards her goal. At that point her goal was a family of her own. That goal was no closer now, but every second of her life was enjoyable now. The biggest reason was Alex. Would she slide back into that lost mode? Was Alex so exciting to her because he was something new and different?
She sighed. “I never had torrid thoughts about Josh.”
“What made you decide to marry him?” His intent gaze was fixed on hers.
“I didn’t,” she stated flatly.
“But you two were engaged.”
“No. By the time he asked me to marry him, I already knew I didn’t want to. Everyone simply assumed we were going to be married because we spent so much time together. I guess we did too.” She sighed again. “What a strange relationship.”
“Did you kiss each other?”
She lifted a brow. “Yes. Do you want to know all the details?”
He made a face. “Not really. I just want to understand your relationship.”
“Does it matter?”
He shrugged. “I guess not.”
She stepped forward and put an arm around his waist, gazing up into his face.
“I think you want to know for sure that it’s over between us. I can only tell you this. When you and I kissed that first time, I didn’t know a kiss could be so exciting. I never knew how delightful a dance could be until you waltzed with me in the barn. And I never felt so special in my life as when you took my hand and held it at the old mill.”
She released his waist and stepped in front of him. Taking both his hands in hers, she focused on his intent gaze.
“Alex, I can’t find the words to tell you how much you have enriched my life already. I feel so alive now. I want to be with you always – for the rest of my life.”
A slow smile worked its way up to his eyes. “For someone who can’t find the words to express her feelings, you’re sure doing a good job of it.” He kissed her hands individually. “Let’s go to bed.”
When she stiffened, he grinned. “A Freudian slip, there. What I meant to say was; it’s time to go to bed.”
He took her hand as they walked to the house and she looked up at him.
“Do you have to work tomorrow?”
He squeezed her hand. “Only until noon. I’m going to have the next two weekends off, so I told Dr. Worthington that I’d work tomorrow.”
She gazed up at him with mock surprise. “Wow. Your boss lets you off for weddings and things like that? I heard he was pretty tough to work for.”
He tousled her hair with his other hand. “Yuck it up. He’s getting ready to be your boss.”
She laughed. “I think I know how to handle him, though.”
His laugh was sardonic. “With a ring in my nose and a ball and chain on my ankle, no doubt.”
“Alex!” She slapped him playfully.
Thus their evening began on a pleasant note and ended much the same. Dinner was quiet and uneventful.
The next afternoon, when Alex got off work, they transferred the chickens to the new shed without incident. The chickens liked their new run, which was purposely left full of weeds. There were two runs, so that grass could grow in one while the other was being used. The run was eight feet high and had a top, so they wouldn’t fly out and nothing would get in. A water line had been run to the coop, and included heaters. No doubt Alex still remembered the way she kicked around in the snow for the half tires, stomped them to get the ice out, and then filled them with water carried from the old farm house. He was spoiling her, but he insisted she had it too rough before.
Once the chickens were happy in their pen, she turned to Alex.
“Do you mind if I get a few rabbits?”
He frowned. “Why? Don’t you have enough to do yet?”
“Well, if you don’t want me to, I won’t.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t want you to have them,” he said. “I asked why you wanted them. If you want them, get them.”
She shrugged. “I like fresh rabbit meat every once in a while, and I like taking care of rabbits.”
Shaking his head, he laughed without humor.
“Somehow those two statements don’t seem to go together.”
She kicked his boot playfully. “Says the veterinarian who envisioned steak lines on the buffalo.” She sighed. “My dad always used to say that every animal on the farm should pay its own way.”
Alex grunted. “It’s a good thing he didn’t know you were marrying me, then.”
She winked at him. “You’re one animal he would have been proud to have on the farm.”
For a second he looked confused and then grinned. “He wouldn’t have liked my safari animals,” he clarified.
Carmen broke off a long stem of grass and poked it in her mouth. “Yes he would have. He loved animals, but he spent his entire life scraping to make ends meet. He would have loved you.”
Alex eyed her thoughtfully. “What about Josh?”
She sighed. “Actually, he never liked Josh much. Strange, isn’t it? He thought Josh was a superb farmer.”
“Does Josh like animals?”
“I guess. He takes care of them – like he does his machinery, but he doesn’t love them the way Dad did.”
“And you love animals, Heidi.”
For a moment they looked into each other’s eyes. It went without saying that Alex liked animals. They were connecting the dots now, drawing the boundaries of their relationship. Why hadn’t she ever thought about their mutual love of animals? It had been staring her in the face for months. Maybe she hadn’t thought of it because it seemed inconsequential at the time.
He plucked a long piece of grass and stuck it in his mouth, gazing reflectively at the wild hills.
She grinned up at him. “I’m a bad influence on you.”
His gaze came back to her and he pulled the grass from his mouth, studying it.
“I was just thinking that you’ve had a decidedly positive influence on me. I never would have known how exciting a simple life could be.” His gaze came back to her face. “Especially when the right woman is in it.”
Pretty words again - and yet, considering his history with women, maybe they were more than mere words. Whatever the case, they were either honest or meant to give her joy. Either way, the words were the product of a kind heart.

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