In an hour or so, Shelle seemed to have gotten the hang of riding and James led the way across the beautiful miles he owned.
They sang songs as they rode along, Shelle’s voice laughing cheerfully as she sang and James’s voice, magnificent and melodic, began to find laughter again.
His voice rang clear, full of happiness, peacefulness, mirth and fun. After a little while, James turned around and motioned to Shelle to follow.
They rode back and took care of the horses and then picketed them out to graze. Shelle limped to the front porch on her crutches with James behind her. He opened the door and as he went inside, Shelle asked,
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to fix us something to eat,” he replied, turning to look at her.
“No,” she said. “You sit, I’ll get something.” “But—”
“No buts. You’ve been taking care of me and now it’s my turn to treat you.”
James threw up his hands in resignation. What a kid! he thought. What a kid.
Shelle went inside and started banging pots together as she made things she had learned in her Home Ec class: oriental stir-fry, blueberry muffins, and chocolate chip cookies. She did everything quickly and was pleased that she didn’t have to ask for help.
James, meanwhile, caught a whiff of what was cooking and his stomach churned with hunger. He ignored it and grabbed his acoustic guitar and started to play while he waited. He didn’t dare play it inside, because he knew Shelle would be hurt and uncomfortable because she would think he didn’t trust her cooking and wanted to supervise her, even though she would have welcomed the music. He sang a few songs and heard her voice floating on the air to meet his; sometimes singing harmony, other times just blending.
When she finished, she yelled, “Come and get it! Hot food on the table!”
James rushed in and grabbed a plate and did justice to the spread. He complimented her and joked, “You ought to cook more often.” She smiled and then someone knocked on the door. She hobbled to it and opened it and showed a softly spoken, white-haired man in.
“Please, sir,” she entreated, “won’t you have a bite of lunch?”
“I think I will,” the man responded.
As Shelle busied herself heaping good things upon a plate, the man shifted his attention to James.
“Hello, James,” the man greeted him.
“Hello, Al,” James replied. “It’s been a long time.”
“Yes,” answered the man. “It has.” Shelle set a steaming plate before him and before she could sit down, he looked at her and took in her beauty and smile.
“May I have the pleasure of your acquaintance?” he asked and then took her hand and shook it heartily.
“Yes, you may,” she responded pleasantly. “I’m Shelle Stanley.”
He studied her for a long time before saying, “I’m pleased to meet you. I’m Allen Peters, an old friend of James’s. You may call me Al or Allen, whichever you prefer.”
She nodded and took a seat as the mysterious-looking man produced a sheaf of papers from a briefcase. She propped her chin on her hands and scrutinized Allen Peters. There was something interesting about him, she decided. He had a young face under the masses of white hair and she thought that he would be very nice to describe in her writings.
He laid out the papers and smoothed them and with a slim finger, traced a path in both the Mac tree and the Stanley tree.
“There is a connection in your trees,” Allen said after James and Shelle had practically memorized them. “When Lindy’s—” here he looked sharply at James, who betrayed no emotion—“parents married, her mother was a Stanley. Follow?”
The two nodded, hanging on every word.
“Well, that makes her a part of the whole Stanley tree and Shelle comes into it too. But way, way back, there was a divorce in the Stanley tree and that Stanley married a Mac. That’s the connection. But don’t worry, there wasn’t any inbreeding on your behalf, James, or on your late wife’s. The Stanley-Mac couple had one child. There were some gifts passed down through the years, one of them being sort of a second sight—have I said something wrong?”
Shelle was pale and stood without the aid of the crutches and was wringing her hands.
“Go on,” she cried out. “What does the gift mean?”
“Nothing bad as far as I can see. It was passed down mostly in the women’s branch, though a few men got it. That’s the Stanley side. The Stanley-Mac child had this gift and passed it down on both sides.”
“I’ve got it,” Shelle gasped out, clutching the back of a chair. “So did Lindy and James has it, too. What about your children, James? Did they ever seem…you know…”
“I don’t know,” James answered, eyes shut in an effort to remember. “I think my son might have it, but I’m not sure if my daughters have got it also.”
Allen Peters was watching them and listening.
“Perhaps,” he said gently, softly touching Shelle’s hand, “there are other gifts as well.”
“Sorry, go on,” she apologized.
“As I said, second sight was one of the gifts passed on throughout the trees. Another was a physical sort—eyes. I noticed that your eyes, Shelle, are very like James’s. One would think they would be more Stanley-like—perhaps like your parents’, child.”
“My eyes are sort of like my dad’s,” Shelle acknowledged. “But his eyes are blue—like most of the Stanley side. My mother’s eyes are dark brown—that’s the Eddyson side. The Eddysons’ eyes are all brown. But I somehow have multi-coloured eyes.”
Allen looked at James as if to say, “I’m not talking about eye colour!,” but James silenced him with a sharp, reading glance.
“If you look at my eyes from a distance, they look like they’re brown and someone would think I’ve got Eddyson eyes. But if my eyes were the Stanley blue, everyone would say I’ve got my dad’s. I’ve got the shape of his, but my eyes also curve a little at the side like James’s. His eyes are not just brown—they’ve got green in them, too.”
“And all of this means…?” Allen raised an eyebrow.
“I’m trying to figure out where my eye colour came from and if my eyes are really like my dad’s,” Shelle answered loftily, arms crossed.
“Do you have a picture of your father, child?” Allen Peters asked her. Shelle nodded and grabbed her crutches before she teetered and fell. She went to her room and came back with a wallet-sized colour photograph of a beautiful, young, loving, happy-looking couple.
“My parents,” Shelle said, with simple pride in her voice.
“H’m,” Allen hummed. “Well, you take after your parents in looks and all, but there is a slight resemblance to James in your features.”
“H’m,” hummed James in turn. “Well, as you were saying, other gifts…?”
“Ah, yes,” Allen coughed politely. “I don’t really think the ‘eye thing’ is part of anything and has no relevance whatsoever.”
“Yes it does,” Shelle contradicted under her breath. James put his hand on hers to calm her, but she still went on anyway. “Eyes, to me, make the face. Our eyes are what link me ’n’ James together. But as you were saying, relevance?”
Allen regarded her warily, but went on.
“There are no other gifts I am aware of. I’ll do some more research, if you’d like.”
“Yeah, yeah,” James replied. “Thanks. You’re doin’ a great job. Give us a ring when you’ve got some information.” The mood of the room, first warm and pleasant, to defiance and a tinge of anger, was now a bit stiff.
“I will, sir.” Allen Peters shook James’s hand formally and gathered his papers.
“Oh, c’mon,” Shelle said, her tone cheerful. “Don’t leave here all mad. I cooked a good meal and fed you and you haven’t said a word yet!”
Allen laughed. For all his “doing my job” attitude, he still had a very nice laugh.
“Luv’ly meal, m’dear, jist luv’ly,” he said in a Cockney accent. “I’d better be going. It was very pleasant meeting you, Miss Stanley.” He tapped her shoulder. “I’ll be seein’ you in a week or two, depending on what I can find.”
And with that, Shelle and James bade farewell to Allen Peters as he swept out the door.
“Well, Shelle, what do you think?” James turned to the girl at his side where Lindy always stood, hugging him. Now her golden hair had coalesced into Shelle’s dark brown head and her clear eyes were now Shelle’s luminous mixture.
“He’ll be back. He’ll find something.”