Something Old, Something New (Chapter Seven, page 1 of 1)

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For the next two days she tried to focus on the wedding plans. He told her to stay away from his house, but he didn’t say anything about hers, so when she needed a picture that was in her house, she decided to make a quick trip over and get it. She knew exactly where it was, so it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
She followed the plan, had the picture in-hand and was locking the door to the house when Brutus wandered up with a bloody muzzle. Her first thought was that he had been fighting with another dog, but further inspection revealed no injuries. He had been eating something. Her second thought was a deer.
Leaving the picture and her purse in the car, she decided to look around and see if there was a carcass. When she spotted something below the tree line, she walked up to investigate.
Brutus followed her to the pile of hide and bones. It looked like a deer. There was no question in her mind that Brutus had been feeding on the carcass, but did he kill it? She glanced around nervously. Maybe the wild dogs were back. She made a circle around the carcass looking for tracks and finally found one. It was big enough to belong to Brutus – maybe too big. At any rate, she found no other tracks. Surely if wild dogs had attacked the deer, they would have left tracks.
She took Brutus back to the house and washed his muzzle off. What would Alex do if he found out Brutus was killing deer? Would he want her to put him down?
She got a large garbage bag out of the house and went back up to the deer carcass. Shoving the remains in the bag, she tied it up and tossed it in the burn barrel. Maybe other critters could get into it, but it was out of Brutus’ reach.
She fed Brutus again and left. Maybe he wasn’t getting enough to eat. Surely Alex was feeding him properly. Then again, as little attention as she paid him, maybe he was going feral. When she came back, she’d keep better tabs on him. Right now she’d better get back to Katie and Bill’s house before Alex came home.
She didn’t intend to say anything to anyone, but Katie was on her like a hen on a June bug the minute she came through the door.
“I know you,” Katie said. “Something happened today that has you worried. What was it?”
“I’m not sure what happened. I’ll figure it out later. Right now I need to stay focused on my wedding.”
Katie rolled her eyes. “You haven’t been focused on you’re wedding yet. Now, what’s going on?”
Carmen sighed. She might as well talk to Katie about it. She was the only one who would probably understand her concern for Brutus.
“I went by the house to pick up a picture and Brutus came to the house with blood on his muzzle. I looked around and found a deer carcass up by the tree line.”
Katie frowned as she considered the information.
“So you think Brutus is killing deer?”
“I don’t know . . . maybe.”
Katie shook her head. “No way.”
“I found a track. It was big enough to be Brutus.”
“So you’ve got a big wild dog. You’d better tell Alex what you found.”
“He’ll think Brutus did it. Besides, I’m not supposed to be out there without him until after the wedding.”
Katie’s eyes got big. “You actually disobeyed him? And you’re not even married yet.”
“I didn’t disobey him. He said not to be at his house.”
Katie’s eyes were twinkling with humor.
“Oh, so you got around it on a technicality.”
“It’s not funny. What if Brutus is killing deer?”
Katie laughed. “He guarded your dairy herd and he’s watching your goats now. Why would he suddenly start killing deer?” She shrugged and sobered. “Anyway, you don’t think he’s killing deer or you’d do something about it yourself. So what did kill the deer? I’m telling you, you’d better talk to Alex.”
Carmen nodded. “I know, but . . . after we get married.”
Katie threw her hands in the air and rolled her eyes. “Fine, but at least tell Bill about it – or let me tell him.”
“What could Bill do?”
“He could look at the track – maybe exonerate Brutus for you.”
Carmen let out a long sigh. “All right. Tell Bill – but tell him not to talk to Alex about it before I get a chance to.”
“Sure,” Katie said.
That was the last of their conversation. If Katie told Bill, he didn’t say anything about it, and if he knew about it, he obviously didn’t say anything to Alex or Alex would have been upset because she went to the house.
Friday morning Alex called and said he was picking her up to go out for the evening. He didn’t say where they were going and she didn’t care. She would be with him. She took extra care with her appearance, wearing a blue dress that somehow managed to bring out the violet in her eyes. The neckline plunged far enough to expose the beginning swell of her breasts. She pulled up the bodice as she observed her image in the bathroom mirror. The princess style made her waist look small, and the material fell softly from her hips. The white sandal heels gave the ensemble a dressy look. Satisfied that she would please Alex, she finally walked into the living room.
Katie glanced up and then did a double-take. “Wow!” she said.
Bill turned around and his expression assured her that a man would find it attractive as well.
Tonight she would keep her emotions in check so that Alex wouldn’t get so frustrated.
Within a few minutes, Alex arrived and whisked her off for a few private hours. They took her car this time. Other than the test drive, it was the first time he had driven it. She relaxed in the luxury of leather seat covers and a smooth ride, content simply to watch him drive. He looked elegant in a light gray suit that accentuated his dark tan. He parked the car at the restaurant and turned to her.
“You’ve been quiet tonight.”
“I’m just happy to be with you,” she said.
He smiled. “Only two more nights.” He leaned toward her.
“Mmm, and then we’ll be together always.” She leaned forward and accepted his kiss. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
His idea of an evening out was dinner and a dance. Alex was an excellent dancer – strong, sure and fluid. Somehow she managed to keep up with him. His hand on her back as he guided her was electrifying.
“Where did you learn to dance so well,” he asked.
She grinned up at him. “My dad taught me. He used to dance with me and Mom when we were listening to the radio in the evenings. That was usually during the winter when he wasn’t so busy and had more energy.”
Alex chuckled. “He must have had a lot of energy to keep up with two women.”
Carmen made a face. “I was just a girl then.” She shrugged and sighed. “Josh wouldn’t dance. He said it was silly.”
Alex lifted a brow. “Why would he think that?”
Carmen shrugged again. “Who knows? I’m sorry I brought it up.”
Alex smiled. “I’m not.”
She let the subject drop. Any time Alex didn’t mind when she brought up Josh, it left her a little nervous.
By the time he brought her back to Katie and Bill’s, it was late and the lights in the house were off. He walked around the car and opened the door for her, helping her out. For a moment he simply stood there, looking down at her. Finally he spoke.
“Katie tells me you aren’t showing much interest in the wedding plans.”
Heat rushed up her neck. “I’ve been helping.”
He chuckled. “I don’t doubt that, but that isn’t what I said.”
She shrugged. “I guess I should be ashamed, but I’m more interested in getting married than the wedding.”
“Why should you be ashamed?”
“For one thing, because so many people are working so hard on it.”
He sighed heavily. “I have my work cut out for me, don’t I?”
She gazed up into his face. “Why?”
“You’re so independent. All this would be more fun for you if you were the one doing all the work. Do you really want me to make decisions, or will I be second guessing you all the time?”
She caught her breath. “I do want you to make the final decisions. You’re always so sure of where you are going and how to get there. You’re intelligent and always have the entire picture in perspective. If I ever get in your way, just tell me.”
He pulled her close and kissed her temple.
“You’ve got me up on a pedestal. What happens when I fall?”
She laid her head on his chest. “When either of us falls, the other will pick them up again, and then we’ll go on together. We’re only human, you know.”
His answer was a monotone and a hug.
It was so wonderful simply being held in his arms. Right now there was no excitement – only contentment. Was this what it would be like most of the time? She lifted her head and gazed into his eyes.
“I’m so glad I found you.”
“Right back at you,” he said, stepping back. “I have something for you.” He reached in his pocket and pulled out a small box. “Open it when you get inside.”
As she gripped the small box in her hand, he pulled her into his arms and claimed her lips in a way that was different than he had ever done before. Maybe it was because he was trying to control his emotions, but his kiss was measured. Possibly he was searching for a response. Whatever the case, she pulled away unsatisfied. More than likely, he did too.
“I’d better go,” she said.
“I’ll come get you tomorrow and we’ll go for a ride, alright? I want to check the fence line before I turn the buffalo into the north pasture.”
She nodded. “I’ll be ready.”
Hopefully there wouldn’t be any little surprise piles of fur and bones. Maybe Katie was right. Maybe it was wild dogs again. She should tell him. On the other hand, maybe Bill had already said something to him. Maybe that was why he wanted to check the fence line.
He pulled her close again and this time his kiss was passionate. Releasing her, he turned and walked away.
As she watched him climb into his truck, she decided that she could tell him in the morning. Again she watched his truck fade away into the darkness. One day and one night – then they would be together forever. She unlocked the door and walked into the house. In her room, she flipped on the light and looked at the box. It looked like a ring box, but they had already purchased the rings.
Inside the box was a note with only three words.
“Your something new.”
The box contained a pair of earrings - delicate filigree in white gold with sparkling diamonds. She gasped. He was spending way too much on her. First the wedding ring set, then the car, and now these earrings. The earrings would go well with her white lace and satin wedding dress – and her wedding ring, of course. She gazed down at the solitary diamond on her engagement ring. It wasn’t a large one, but it sparkled brilliantly. The wedding ring was white gold filigree with tiny diamonds. As usual, Alex went for quality, not show . . . and sentiment. The wedding set contained only Arkansas diamonds. He said they were for his Arkansas gem. Pretty talk. Mom always said to be careful of a man who was full of pretty words – but then, she probably never met a man like Alex.
The earrings were beautiful, though diamonds weren’t her number one choice of gems. There was no mirror in the bedroom, so she put the earrings back in the box. Day after tomorrow was her wedding day. There had been a time when she thought this day might never come. She lay back on the bed, imagining the wedding as she had done so often before. Only this time her focus spread out to other things; the arbor of forget-me-nots where they would exchange vows, the cake with its three tiers of cascading flowers. It was strange how something like those diamond earrings could stir her interest in the wedding, but it did. Did Alex know it would? Did Katie tell him?
She sighed and stood, removing her clothes and donning a night gown. Tomorrow she needed to get up early and dress. Alex liked to ride in the morning, so he would probably be over early.
The next morning, Carmen was up with the sun. Showering and dressing in jeans and a waist length blouse, she was in the Kitchen by the time Katie got up. Katie walked into the kitchen with her hair uncombed and her eyes looking puffy.
“I thought I heard someone in here. Do you realize it’s only 6:00 am?”
Carmen nodded. “I know. Alex is coming over to pick me up so we can ride this morning. He’ll probably be pretty early.”
Katie shook her head and rolled her eyes. “I doubt if he is as excited about it as you are. Honestly, Carmen. I’ve never seen you like this. Is he the only thing you think about? Most women would be in a dither trying to get everything just right for their wedding. All you can think of is riding on a horse with Alex.”
“Well,” Carmen said, ducking her head. “He’ll be on Ed and I’ll be on Princess. Do you need me for anything?”
“No.” Katie sat down at the table. “Everything is ready for tomorrow. Are you?”
Carmen laughed. “I’ve been more than ready for the last two weeks.”
“You’re not nervous?”
“About the wedding? What’s to be nervous about?”
“Everyone is nervous about their wedding, Carmen. Even men faint at them.”
Carmen stared at her. “I guess I never thought about it. We’re just going to exchange vows. It’s not like we will be reciting anything. Mr. Reynolds will walk me up the isle and give me to Alex. What’s so difficult about that?”
Katie rolled her eyes. “Oh boy.” She poured a cup of coffee from the coffee maker on the counter and sat down at the table.
“Did you tell him about the dogs?”
Carmen shook her head. “Not yet. If we see anything today, I’ll tell him about it. Did you tell Bill?”
Katie sipped her coffee. “Yes.” She made a face. “He told me to mind my own business.”
Carmen smiled. “There you go.”
Through the living room window Carmen saw a white truck slow down to pull in the drive.
“Here’s Alex. I’ll see you later.” Grabbing her purse, she ran out the door.
Alex was starting to open his door when she came out. He shut it and reached over, opening the passenger door for her. As she climbed in, he grinned.
“You’re up bright and early. Did you eat breakfast?”
She shook her head. “I don’t usually eat breakfast.”
He eyed her sharply. “Get used to it. Where do you want to go?”
He didn’t have to be so curt about it. She met his stern gaze. “I’m really not hungry yet.” When he continued to wait for an answer, she sighed. “Alex, whether or not I eat breakfast isn’t a decision for you. It’s my freedom of choice.”
His attention drifted away briefly in thought. Finally he looked back at her and shrugged.
“I suppose so.”
He was probably wondering where to draw the line. There wasn’t going to be a line. He would simply have to learn by trial and error. As he said, it was going to be a tough job for him.
She sighed. “I’m sorry, Alex. I know it’s not easy for you, but there’s bound to be a learning curve. Neither of us has ever done this before.”
His gaze wandered over her face and then his brows lifted. “That’s true.”
As he backed the truck out of the drive, a thought occurred to her.
“Have you had anything to eat?”
He nodded. His attention on the road.
“I guess it would have been nice if I had asked that before I jumped all over you.”
He glanced at her and grinned. “If that’s what you call jumping all over me, we’re going to get along fine.”
She laughed. “You might as well accept the fact that I’m a whole lot easier to lead than I am to push.”
He kept his eyes on the road, his expression unreadable.
“Thanks for the tip.”
He was silent all the way to the house, and when he came around to her side and opened the door, she allowed him to extract her with his hands on her waist. When her feet touched the ground, she gazed up at him.
“Are you angry with me?”
He shoved the door shut. “No.”
“I hurt your feelings,” she stated flatly.
His gaze fell on her face. “No.”
Her fingers crept up his chest, fearful they would be shoved away before they reached his neck. But he simply stood quietly watching her. When her arms surrounded his neck, he pulled her close and kissed her softly on the mouth. She returned his kiss and then pulled away, gazing up into his face again.
“Are you sorry you said you wanted to make the decisions?”
She backed away from him, holding his gaze. “Then what?”
“Oh, for . . .” she turned and headed for the barn.
“I just wonder what I got myself into,” he said softly behind her.
She swung around. “Alex, if you don’t want to make the decisions, then don’t. I’m not marrying you because I need someone to wipe my nose.”
He eyed her warily. “Then why are you marrying me? You could have had everything you wanted – a house, a family . . .”
“I have a family,” she said, interrupting him. “I have you.”
“Will that be enough?” His gaze wandered over her face - casting around for clues, no doubt.
“If I didn’t think it would be enough, I wouldn’t have become engaged to you.”
“You were engaged to Josh.” His gaze became accusing.
She stomped her foot. “I was NOT engaged to Josh!”
His expression drifted slowly from accusing to amused. A wry smile worked at his lips. “So you said before, but he thought you were.”
“He didn’t ask.”
She turned around and started marching toward the barn. Actually, Josh did ask her, but she had never answered.
Alex followed her with brisk steps. She walked Princess out of her stall and over to the saddle. Alex did the same with Ed and they saddled the horses in silence. Finally they walked the saddled and bridled horses out of the barn, and mounted them.
Alex turned to her, his eyes reflecting humor, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
“Are you angry with me?”
“A little miffed,” she admitted, “but it’s awfully hard to stay upset with you.”
He held the reins in one hand and his rifle in the other. Pointing it down, he shoved it into the boot. “Good,” he said with a grin. Straightening in the saddle, he winked. “I’d sure hate to spend the rest of the day with you mad at me.”
She leaned toward him and wrinkled her nose.
“Well, that’s one way to stave off passion.”
He laughed. “Anger is a passion, Carmen.”
He leaned down and opened the gate. When they were both out of the corral, he shut it again.
“Let’s go,” he said and urged Ed into a lope.
They raced the horses past the pond and up the hill, slowing when they came to the rocky area. There Alex took the lead as they rode into rough country, his shoulders swaying with the movement of the horse. He was an excellent horseman, and rode as if he were part of the horse. Was it something that came natural to him, or did he have a lot of experience riding?
As she watched his back, it occurred to her that he definitely was not slight of build – maybe a little thin. His shoulders and hips formed a triangle that rippled with movement. What did his bare back look like? Warmth flooded up her neck. Now she was beginning to think about those things during waking hours. Well, tomorrow she could look to her hearts’ content and it wouldn’t be indecent. In the mean time, she’d best keep her mind and eyes on something else.
Twisting in the saddle, she soaked in the scene behind them. The big oak tree leaned over the pond with outstretched arms, as if ready to capture a catfish. The old house sat quiet, the roof above her bedroom covered with a blue tarp. They were supposed to come out and fix that next week. The Sycamore tree that had fallen on it had been removed by Josh, Bill, Alex and Mr. Reynolds using a chain saw and good old-fashioned elbow grease. The wood was split and stacked beside the house, waiting for winter. Beyond the pond was a vivid green line of brush and trees, bordering the creek. The log house was further on, and up a steep incline – a sentinel overlooking the valley. The barn was just far enough from the house, and positioned so that the odors – if there were any – would not reach the house. Even the chicken coop was visible at this elevation. The buffalo stood at the fence, watching them – probably wondering why they couldn’t go along. The sun had baked the sage grass a tawny color in the fields. It was a peaceful scene made so much more beautiful by the addition of strategically placed outbuildings.
Princess stopped and Carmen turned around. Alex had stopped, and was taking in the scene as well. His gaze swept the country and came to rest on her. He smiled.
“We have a beautiful place, sweetheart.”
“Is it prettier than Texas?”
He looked thoughtful a moment and then shrugged. “I couldn’t say. It’s like comparing a horse to a gazelle. I guess it depends on what you want to do with it.”
“Is this the horse or the gazelle?”
He winked. “The horse.”
She put a thumb up. “Yes!”
He laughed and turned straight in the saddle. “I know you made the fence tall enough that a goat couldn’t jump it, but I see some places where we need to reinforce it.” He pointed across the valley. “I wonder if it would be wise to put a fence across down there. We could bring the goats down there. I think the longhorn would be safe enough up here.”
Carmen perked up. “Longhorn?”
“Yes, I have a contact in Texas. I might get a Longhorn cow in a month or so. Do you mind?”
“No.” It certainly didn’t bother Alex to use her property before they were married. Maybe that was why he was so gung-ho for her to share his things. A dark thought invaded her mind. Was he marrying her farm? Of course not. If he wanted more land, he could afford to buy it . . . couldn’t he? How much money did he have? Maybe he was broke after the clinic and the house he built. For all she knew, he could be in debt up to his eyeballs. Why would a good looking wealthy man want to marry an Arkansas hick – and move here? None of it made sense.
“I don’t remember this trail,” he said indicating a rocky trail that led straight up the mountain.
“We haven’t been there before,” she said. “It’s pretty rough.”
This would be a good time to take him to the special place she had constructed, and she so wanted to visit it. Fortunately there had been no sign of slain deer or wild dogs. Maybe it was an isolated incident. Maybe the deer had died of natural causes.
He turned around and looked back at her, the explorer expression intensifying the darkness of his eyes.
“Do you mind?”
She shook her head. “No. Do you think it will be alright for Princess to carry me and her foal up that hill?”
He grinned and held a hand out.
“Ride with me if you’re afraid.”
She straightened. “I’m not afraid – except for Princess.”
“She’ll be alright,” he said. “She’s probably carrying fleas that weigh more than you do.”
Princess followed Ed up the steep trail with an eager stride that kept Carmen clinging to the saddle horn. Alex kept looking back; apparently to make sure she didn’t fall off. The trail wound around pine trees and over rock outcroppings. It was mostly used by deer, but she had been up it a number of times with her father. She and Josh had discovered a different route. It was shorter but rough and steep.
As they came out on the top of the mountain, a vista of hills and valleys lay before them as far as the eye could see. Green trees in every shade clumped together like heads of overripe broccoli. Fields of corn and soybean lay in the valleys like patchwork quilts.
Cicadas sang in the trees near them, and a mockingbird mimicked its feathered friends. A Red Tailed Hawk soared overhead, banking off to the left and then right, searching for a rabbit or squirrel bold enough to show itself. A soft breeze lifted the perspiration from their hair and replaced it with the scent of honeysuckle.
Alex turned to Carmen, his expression pure surprise.
“I didn’t know this was here,” he said softly.
Carmen nodded. “It’s beautiful in the spring and summer – even in the fall, but during winter it’s gray and cold.” She took in the summer scenery and sighed deeply. “Mom wondered why Dad was so determined to stay here, but I knew why.”
“Didn’t he ever bring her up here?”
She shook her head. “She was afraid of the wild country.”
His gaze swept the scene again and then he shook his head.
“How sad.”
Turning his head, he gazed down at the house below. “I didn’t realize this hill was so high.” His gaze came back to Carmen. “Next week we’ll have to come up here again.”
It was dangerous country. A body could be lost up here for years. Why hadn’t that occurred to her before? She nodded at the rifle.
“Do you always carry a gun when you’re riding?
He glanced down at the gun and then back to her. “I do when I’m riding in this kind of country. You never know when you might suddenly meet a bear or . . . something.”
“I suppose it comes in handy for all kinds of surprises.”
It was ridiculous to be suspicious of him. Only yesterday she had felt safer when he was around. Why hadn’t she questioned all these things before now? There wasn’t time to investigate him before the wedding – not that she would have the slightest idea how to do that anyway. And she had made it so much simpler by telling everyone that she wanted him to make all the decisions. What was she thinking?
“We’d better get back,” he said, turning Ed toward the trail again.
She started out ahead of him. Maybe it was best to wait for a while after they were married to show him the place. They would have to walk along the ridge for a while to get there. If he thought this scene was beautiful, he’d be astounded at her place on the mountain. As far as she knew, only she, Josh and Dad had been there.
Riding back down the trail was even more frightening than coming up. Princess was eager to get back to some oats, so she walked faster than Carmen thought was safe. Carmen sawed on the reins, trying to slow her down.
“Let her go,” Alex said behind her. “She’s sure footed and she knows the trail now.”
“She’s only been up it once,” Carmen said.
“That’s enough for a horse.”
Surprisingly, Princess actually maneuvered the trail with more ease when she had no resistance from Carmen. Why did Alex always have to be right?
Back at the barn, they unsaddled and rubbed the horses down. After making sure they had grain and water, they headed for the house to eat lunch. He could probably hear her stomach growling.
“I can hardly wait for a couple weeks of good meals,” he said as they sat down to sandwiches.
Only a couple of weeks? She continued wolfing down her sandwich without comment.
After a few more minutes of eating in silence, he put his sandwich down and turned his attention to her.
“Did I say something to offend you?”
She shook her head and swallowed a bite.
He watched her for a few more minutes.
“Would you rather go somewhere else on our honeymoon – Bahamas, Jamaica?”
She wrinkled her nose. “Too much.”
“Too much money or too much change of pace?”
Actually, being there sounded good enough. It was the getting there that didn’t sound appealing. The idea of flying was terrifying – and a boat trip surrounded by water for days wasn’t very appealing either.
He cleared his throat. “How about something a little closer – say, Galveston?”
She shook her head. “I’d like to see it, but right now I’d rather be here.”
He picked up his sandwich. “I feel like a cheapskate.”
She caught her breath. “But I don’t want to go anywhere. What could be better than this?”
He eyed her skeptically. “You need to get out more.”
Getting out at all would be more. Still, there was no place she specifically wanted to see. Why spend the money when there was so much they wanted and needed to do right here? Still. . .
“If there is someplace you want to go, I’ll go with you.” She said. “I don’t object to going some place. I’d just rather be here.”
“No, I’ve traveled enough for a lifetime. If you want to be here, then we’ll spend our honeymoon here.” He took a bite out of his sandwich in such a way as to imply the subject was closed.
They could travel some other time when their lives were more settled. Right now there were so many things to do.
They finished lunch and then he took her to Katie and Bill’s house. Before they got out of the truck, he turned to her.
“Are you sure nothing is wrong? You’re so quiet today.”
“I’m fine. I just have a lot on my mind.”
He watched her for a moment. “Do you want to share it?”
“Not really. It’s just silly stuff that would be embarrassing to reveal.”
Not only embarrassing, but hurtful. He had given her no reason to feel this way.
“Is it about sex?” His gaze was intent on her.
Warmth ran up her neck like a thermometer on a hot day.
“Josh? Second thoughts?”
“I really don’t want to talk about it.”
“Josh,” he stated, still watching her intently.
“No!” Her fingers found the door latch. “Let’s go in.”
Katie kept watching her until Alex left. Unable to contain her curiosity any longer, she pounced on Carmen before she could get out of the kitchen.
“Did you two have a fight?”
“Well, something is wrong,” Katie said. “You didn’t even kiss him goodbye.”
Carmen hesitated – and then unloaded.
“Do you know he already has all kinds of plans for my property?”
Katie shrugged. “So? After you’re married, it will belong to both of you.”
“How do I know he isn’t marrying me for my property? I mean, what else do I have to offer? He could get any woman he wants. Why me? If he really has lots of money, like everyone says, why did he move up here? For all I know he has a dozen wives.”
Katie stared at her. “Hello? I’m his sister. He does have lots of money – and no wife. I can’t believe you’re questioning his interest in you. You’re beautiful, for starters. You want him to make decisions, and he loves being in control. Need I say more? Where is all this doubt coming from?”
She stopped suddenly, her expression osculating from concerned to humor and then back again.
“The wedding is tomorrow and you’re getting cold feet.”
“I am not,” Carmen said, turning to leave the kitchen.
Katie’s laugh followed her. “You are too. You left this morning sure of what you wanted and what you were going to do. Now you come back, hours before your wedding, unsure of everything. You’re having second thoughts.”
Carmen walked away from her words and went to her makeshift bedroom. Her house was unlivable, her clothes scattered in three homes, and tomorrow she was going to give up her name as well. What did she have left? Nothing. She sat down on the cot and buried her face in her hands. Sobs welled up in her throat, forcing streams of tears from her eyes.
A knock at the door reminded her she wasn’t alone.
“Carmen, are you alright? I didn’t mean to laugh at you. If you need someone to talk to . . .”
“I’m alright,” Carmen managed to croak in a voice that didn’t sound like her own. It must have convinced Katie, though, because she went away.
For a long time she sat on the cot crying silently. Maybe she was being silly, but if that was so, why did it hurt so much? Surely second thoughts didn’t come abruptly in the middle of a peaceful ride, or tie a persons’ insides in knots.
Vaguely she was aware of a vehicle door shutting outside and the front door opening, but it wasn’t a conscious thought until Katie and Alex were walking down the hall.
“I’m just going to talk to her, Katie.” Alex said.
“Just make sure you don’t order her around or belittle her,” Katie ordered.
Someone knocked on the door.
“Carmen,” came a deep voice that could be none other than Alex.
She wiped her face with the bottom of her shirt. Her eyes must be swollen and red. How could she let him see her like this?
The door opened a little and Katie reprimanded Alex.
“You can’t just walk in. She needs privacy . . . especially now.”
“Katie . . .” Alex’s voice began forceful and then lost purpose - as if he thought it wiser not to say what was on his mind. “Go do something in the kitchen,” he concluded gently.
He opened the door wider and when he saw Carmen sitting on the bed fully dressed, he entered the room and shut the door.
“Why are you crying, Carmen?”
“You know.” Katie must have told him.
“No, I don’t know. If I knew, I wouldn’t be asking you.”
“It’s silly.”
He sat down on the cot beside her and put an arm around her shoulders.
“If it was silly, it wouldn’t make you so unhappy.”
His warm hand caressed her back.
“Now talk to me Carmen. Have you changed your mind? Do you want more time to think about it?”
“I’m alright,” she insisted, but her voice broke.
“No, you’re not alright, sweetheart.” He paused. “Katie says you’re questioning my intentions toward you and your property. Why didn’t you talk to me about it? If you don’t want me to use it, just say so. I never meant to intrude. Maybe I took too much for granted.”
“No you didn’t. I wanted you to use it. I wanted us to be one. I just can’t . . .”
“Can’t what? Is it that I can’t give you children? Is that what’s bothering you?” His voice was even, as if he were having trouble staying in control of his emotions.
“No. I told you. It’s silly. I’m ashamed to say.”
He lifted her chin and looked into her eyes. “Do I look like I’m laughing? Now tell me. What’s so silly?”
She tried to turn her face, but he held her lower jaw in a firm grip. Tears rolled down her face.
“I’m scared,” she finally confessed. “I don’t have a home anymore and tomorrow I won’t even have my name.” To her horror, she started a fresh bout of crying.
He released her jaw and took her into his arms. “That’s not silly, sweetheart. I wish I had known you were feeling that way. My comments about your land were insensitive.”
He held her close for a while, caressing her hair and back . . . crooning to her as if she were a child. “It’s alright sweetheart. Go ahead and cry.”
When the tears finally dried, she pushed away from him. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I should have seen this coming. You’ve been struggling for so long to take care of yourself. What you need is someone to help you, not tell you what to do. Then I came along and started running your life - and tomorrow I erase your identity. As if that weren’t enough, I’m ready to take your innocence as well. I’m not surprised you’re crying.”
Well, when he put it that way . . . It did sound a bit overwhelming. In fact, she hadn’t thought of the last part. Maybe that was it. Maybe it was cold feet, as Katie had said. Certainly she hadn’t thought about all this before. She lifted her shirt and wiped her face again.
Alex looked away and she jerked it down. What was she thinking of? Not about exposing herself, that’s for sure.
“I’ll be alright now,” she said.
“Are you sure?”
She nodded.
“Do you want me to take you out to get something to eat?”
She shook her head. “I’m not hungry. I’m just tired.”
“Lie down,” he said as he stood up.
She stretched out on the cot, lying on her stomach. He squatted beside the cot, continuing to rub her back. His hand was so warm and the caress was so gentle that her eyes gradually closed. She was so tired.
Later in the night she woke and dressed in her nightgown. Was Alex in the other room? She started to go check and then decided to see if his truck was outside. It wasn’t. She crawled back into bed, but was too hungry to sleep. Maybe a glass of milk would help.
She was sitting at the table drinking a glass of milk when Katie walked in.
“Oh. I’m glad you’re putting something in your stomach. Are you feeling better?”
Carmen nodded.
“I never knew he could be that way,” Katie said.
“What way?”
“So gentle and understanding. Who would have guessed? Certainly not me.”
Carmen smiled. “He was sweet, wasn’t he? He really is a gentle and loving person.” She sighed. “I don’t know what made me lose it like that. I didn’t even know I was having all those feelings. Well, I guess I did, but I didn’t realize I was suppressing strong feelings about it.”
“So, are you going to keep your name?”
“No. It isn’t the name, it’s the loss of identity. I’ll just have to work on my new identity. It isn’t as if the old one was so great.”
“Everyone likes you, Carmen.” Katie’s eyes were large.
“Well, I guess they’ll still like me – or not. It doesn’t matter.”
“Did you tell him about the deer yet?”
“No. We went riding today and didn’t see any sign of wild dogs. I think the deer just died and animals were eating on it.”
“Including Brutus?”
Carmen shrugged. “Maybe he was just investigating.”
Katie nodded. “Maybe . . . but I still think you should tell Alex.”
Carmen finished off the rest of her milk and stood. “There, that feels better. I’m going back to bed. Tomorrow . . .” she glanced at her watch and amended, “today is my wedding day and I don’t want bags under my eyes from lack of sleep.”

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