Part 3

Copyright 2000 by Elizabeth Delayne

Dinner was difficult. One could say that it was a planned failure, starting with the seating arrangement. Anne's father was placed at the head of the table as always, with her mother on his right and Priscilla on his left. Eric was placed beside Susan and Caleb on the other side of Priscilla's fiancé, William, down at the end of the table. The seat down from Dan Belmont, opposite the head, was reserved for the platters of food.

The message was obvious. Anne's empty seat was beside Eric—and Caleb, even though a guest, was far from welcomed. The desert, chocolate cake on a heavy platter, had made it even more difficult for Anne to claim a seat next to him, if she had of made it down to dinner.

Priscilla frowned over the arrangement, but took the seat her mother directed her to and waited patiently though the prayer, lifting one of her own instead. Hers was a prayer to combat the anger she felt toward her mother, the frustration she didn't completely understand, one begging God to bring the family back together, and a prayer to help the family accept Caleb.

The problem wasn't Caleb, and not completely Eric, but unresolved hurt and anger displaced and never dealt with since Jacob's death.

As soon as the prayer ended, Priscilla started the ball rolling by leaning over to William. "Wouldn't it be easier if I switched places with you?" she asked. "You and dad have some—something to talk about—"

His dark eyes flashed in acknowledgment, "Like baseball scores."

"Yeah and I need to talk to Caleb about . . . Anne. I think it would be easier on everybody."

He smiled the quirky little smile of mischief she loved and reached for her hand to squeeze it. He'd met Caleb before, when he'd gone with Priscilla to see Anne on several occasions, but it didn't seem to be the time to mention it. They shifted places with little fuss, earning an angry scowl from her mother.

"I had hoped Anne would be down for dinner," Susan murmured, cutting delicately into her roast. "At least, be able to eat something tonight. She was sound asleep when I peeked in."

‘The doctor thought, or hoped, that she would sleep through the night."

"She should have stayed in the hospital. At least, overnight," this came from Eric, his eyes holding both relief and guilt.

Priscilla reached across the table and touched his hand gently, loving him for the old family friend that he was, and understanding that he and Anne both still carried strong feelings for each other, though nothing like what she had with William or Anne had with Caleb. Anne and Eric had done so much for each other during high school. She, with her adventurous spirit, was balanced by his own steady one. She liked good, rock and roll with an edge to it, but loved to settle down at the ballet. Eric probably had every country album out of Nashville.

In the end, they weren't compatible. He didn't like the Anne that longed for other things, she didn't want to stay put. All Anne had ever wanted was for someone to understand. With Caleb, she'd not only found understanding, but support and passion. More than a shared faith, she'd found a challenger.

"She's going to be okay," she turned and looked at Caleb, her eyes holding the same promise. "It isn't the first time Anne's fallen from a horse or broken a bone."

She's practically a professional at it, Priscilla thought, recognizing the old quip as one of Jacob's favorites. He'd helped her break her arm the first time, out behind the barn. She frowned and looked down at her plate pulling her hand back across the table. She felt William's hand on hers, warm and strong underneath the table. "In fact, Jacob once said that Anne's love for the emergency room came from the fact that she visited it so much as a child."

"She also worked hard in the doctor's office. Every day after school, on weekends, during college . . . when she was home," Susan added, shifting her gaze to Caleb's, "Do you ride, Mr. Daines?"

The formality irked him, but he ignored it, somewhat suspicious anyway of the sudden hospitality, "No mam, but Anne and I were planning on hiking a few of what she calls horse trails in the mountains."

"Anne knows them better then some—probably most," William jumped in, "competitive she is. And determined to out hike any man."

"All power to her," Priscilla glanced at William with a smile. "She and Jacob used to compete constantly. I'll stick to horses on horse trails."

"Me too," Eric added.

Susan smiled and patted his hand, "Eric's probably the champion rider around here. He could jump any hurdle and never failed to beat Anne when they raced."

"I don't know. Priscilla beat me a couple of times," Eric argued lightly. "All Anne was concerned about was the horse itself."

And Jacob could beat all of us, Priscilla remembered with a frown. The conversation circled around and around, every time she steered it toward Caleb, it steered away from him, toward Anne and toward Eric. She found herself wrapped in a triangle of memories that her mother and Eric drew them back to, of Anne, of herself and of Eric.

For the first time in her life, Priscilla felt like she had grown up one of two siblings instead of one of three—Eric excluded. There was never a passion to remember Jacob, never a notion to keep things the same when he died. Instead, it was like the world with Jacob in it was slowly forgotten.

His room had been cleaned out almost immediately for Eric to stay in when he spent the night, which for while, had been often. The workroom he had been building with their father on the side of the barn was falling apart, the space inside unused, unfinished. At one time its design, the size and shape of it, pentagon-like, had been a dream. It had been a time when their father had been following his heart, looking to earn a living making the chairs and tables he crafted with so much artistic detail.

"I wish you could have met Jacob," she said suddenly, turning to Caleb and ignoring the pointed look from her mother. There had been too much silence in the house since Jacob's death. Maybe it was time to speak up. Maybe it was time to yell and scream and be as angry on the outside as you were on the inside. "He and Dad constructed that workroom on the side of the barn. It's in the shape of a wide pentagon. They drew of the plans together."

"Really?" Caleb turned toward Anne's father. Anne had already told him about the unfinished structure, and had hoped that he would help her entice her father back into the old project. "I noticed the construction coming in. I would love to see it."

Dan fumbled, glancing first at his daughter, then toward his wife. If Caleb had noticed the construction, he would have also noticed the age and the poor shape the foundation was in after years of being ignored. It wasn't something he was proud of, but it wasn't something he liked to face, "It's not much. We haven't gotten around to finishing it yet."

"Things changed when Jacob died," Susan stood, swiftly scooping her dinner dishes from the table with practiced movements. "The construction wasn't priority. It wasn't the only thing, or the most drastic. The funeral bills ate into the savings and all of us changed. Anne stopped coming home, talking about coming home. Unlike the rest of us."

"I could give you a hand," Caleb tried again. "Take a look, put myself to use for a few days."

"It might help if you would stay out of family business," Susan challenged.

Caleb nodded and in the quiet studied his plate. There was anger in his jaw line, Priscilla thought, and frustration in his eyes. He wanted to tell them, she knew, open up the secret that Anne was already wearing his ring.

He pushed away from the table, folded his napkin and placed it beside his half finished plate with movements as stiff as Anne's mother's. "Ms. Belmont, you really know how to fix a fine meal. Thank you."

Then he walked out the door, shutting the screen door softly behind him.

* * * * *

Priscilla peeked in her sister's room the next morning and laughed, "Well," she said opening the door further. "Good morning, sleepy head."

Anne turned and smiled from her position at the window seat, but her eyes drifted almost immediately back outside. She sat curled up on the padded seat, highlighted in the soft morning sunlight. The bruise on her cheekbone was dark and ugly, and her eyes were tired and pained, but there was also life in her eyes and a small, happy smile on her lips, ‘What's going on?"

Priscilla leaned against the threshold and crossed her arms. "Caleb's helping dad finish the workroom."

"Finish? It looks more like it's being torn down."

"William thought that they would have to, when we talked last night. It's just been a frame of lumber and nails for five years. No protection, stability or care," Priscilla pushed away from the doorway and pulled a chair over to settle beside Anne. William had taken a better route then she had with her father, bringing the discussion up again between the two of them in the living room while Priscilla helped her mother with the dishes in the kitchen. It hadn't taken long for them head out to the porch to bring Caleb in on the plans.

The three of them had been up past midnight, out routing around like children in the old barn with flashlights, then inside the house in deep discussion. Her father had looked the most alive she'd seen him in years. Not happy, and still not the most talkative, but he'd held onto his ideas and had given into a laugh every once in a while. She'd sat of for almost as long as the men had, watching him out her bedroom window as Anne was now.

Caleb had brought in some paper from his truck and they'd spread the long sheet out on the dining room table between them to make plans. He had some of his own equipment in the back of his truck since he hadn't taken the time to unload it before racing up here to Anne.

Priscilla thought again of the moment Caleb had spotted Anne when they'd brought her home yesterday, how he'd held her, how he'd gently responded to her kiss with absolute love and adoration and need. She glanced out the window and watched as he tossed old lumber in a pile away from the actual site. "That's some hunk you've got there, Ms. Belmont."

Anne smiled, but her eyes stayed fastened to Caleb. It was still morning, but the humidity was high and the sun was hot. Both Caleb and her father were without their shirts as they worked to organize the area, pulling rotted boards off and ripping away foliage that had grown up around the building.

"Mom came up a bit ago, but she wouldn't even look outside," Anne said.

"It's a wonder. With all those gorgeous men out there?"

Anne chuckled, "Where's William? He's been itching to get his hand on that building for a solid year."

"He ran into town for supplies," she leaned back in her chair, propping her feet up on the cushioned seat beside Anne's and giggled when Anne tore her eyes away from Caleb to laugh at her. "Well, we might as well get comfortable. It should be the best show in the county before the morning's out. Muscles, testosterone and sweat."

"Should we go get Dad's binoculars?" Anne teased.

Priscilla stood, attempting a serious face even as Anne laughed at her. "Why not?"

* * * * *
Anne finally made her way down stairs when her little side show at the barn ceased as the men came in for lunch. It had been so easy to sit back and watch. She loved each one of them; Caleb for being hers, for his love for her and God, his leadership and integrity. She loved her father, because, like Caleb, he was hers, and she knew that the step he was taking in working on the unfinished building was not an easy one.

And she loved William, for being Priscilla's, for loving Priscilla, for helping her chase after her dreams and for wanting to be part of the Belmont family. Priscilla was constantly moving, constantly coming up with things to do, to see, and things to try, especially within her occupation. Anne knew William supported her, even when he was steering her back on track. He never crushed her and he was willing to do go on the crazy outings, like riding horseback at a gallop in no particular direction—if it meant keeping up with Priscilla.

Even now he stood with Priscilla under the hose, washing off the mud bath she'd helped not only create, but put on.

Anne found Caleb on the porch with his lunch, her sister's laughter surrounding them. He was sitting on the front steps, leaning against the railing. His eyes were focused in deep thought. Yeah, she thought, he was hers and she was so much more in love with him now after watching him spend the morning working with her father in the grueling sun.

"Look who's up," he said when she opened the screen door and slipped out. He stood, brushing off his slacks before reaching out to take her hands in his. "How do you feel?"

Anne smiled weakly, the movement of her lips straining against the bruise on her chin, "Like I fell off a horse and rolled down a rocky slope. What about you?"

"Much better, seeing you up and smiling again," he reached out and gently traced along the healthy skin that ran along the bruise on her cheek. "You want some lunch?"

"In a minute," she held onto his hand when he started to step away. "I just want to sit out here with you for while. If you want some company."

‘I think I could take the company."

Caleb settled on the porch steps and frowned as Anne slowly lowered herself beside him. She simply frowned back, "Don't look at me like I'm going to fall a part. The absence of pain would be the absence of healing."

Maybe, he thought, but it wasn't easy to watch. He decided to change the topic for both their sakes. "Your dad's quite a guy."

"Isn't he?" Anne returned. "I was watching the three of you out the window this morning. It was quite a sight. Bulging muscles and testosterone."

"Don't tell me it was you with the binoculars."

"Well, Priscilla had them most of the time," she scowled at him. "I bet the three of you had a good laugh."

"Why laugh when you have two beautiful women in your fan club?"

"You could have come up and wished me a good morning."

"I might have if I had known you were up. I didn't find out about the binoculars until William caught Priscilla creeping back into your dad's hunting case to put them back a few minutes ago, which started that whole mess you're watching them clean up now. It was hard not to notice when William chased her out of the house and she grabbed the water hose in defense. A simple recipe for mud pie is water fight over dirt turning into mud fight in the mud."

"It's not their first," Anne said dryly. "In fact, it's how she got William to ask her out. They were at a mud volley ball tournament at college, thought they both assert that it was the other one that attacked them."

Caleb chuckled, "I was hoping you'd slept in this morning, princess."

"I think I've slept enough for the next few weeks."

"Maybe enough to catch you up from all the sleep you've lost working at the hospital. Can't I worry about you?" he asked when she frowned at him.

"I usually let you because worry's fine, especially since you don't bully me into anything because, well I like to think you trust my judgement," she shifted restlessly. "I had so many more plans for this weekend then this."

"We could still make something of it. Maybe after dinner you and I could go for a drive. You could show me the town, take me to your grandparent's old house, hit at least a few of the things we had planned to do."

Anne smiled and reached for his had, "Let's go before dinner then. I know a great place to eat."

* * * * *

After spending the afternoon with Anne's father, Caleb showered and dressed in a comfortable pair of slacks and button down shirt before helping Anne into his truck that evening. She was wearing a simple, but colorful summer dress that she admitted was Priscilla's when he complimented her on it.

"She has a better eye for clothes than I do. Always has," Anne admitted ruefully. Caleb stood between her and the open passenger door.

"You should go shopping with her."

"I might . . . Caleb," she stopped him when he started to close the door, "I have simple and proper tastes and I fumble a bit with the extravagant."

"You're beautiful, smart, with a big heart. I think you balance yourself out nicely."

She negotiated the way as he drove down Main Street, through town, past Dr. Jaynson's office. Then she took him down the newly paved road to the old high school that was now a middle school, and down the long dirt road that led to her grandparent's old lake house.

Her "great place to eat" turned out to be a bucket of take out chicken and side items shared between the two of them on her grand parent's old porch. They watched the sun die a slow, vibrant death over the lake and later as the moon sparkled. She told him about coming there when her grandparents were alive, when it had been her and Priscilla and Jacob.

"You mother said something interesting last night," Caleb ventured in the midst of the memories. "And I thought maybe it would be a good idea to talk about it, lay it out between us, see how it felt. She said that you stopped coming home when Jacob died."

Anne frowned, "When Jacob died, I was moving into my third year of college. You start to break ties. She never has understood that. Eric and I had broken up that Christmas and I was taking summer classes, interning and working in the wings of a real hospital. The process had already started."

"But if you hadn't of met me. Would it be different? I mean, nothing would be tying you to the city."

"No," she turned to face him. "I would still be me, Caleb. This rural doctor stuff was all that I knew when I was a teenager, working at home. So, it was all I talked about. I liked working with people, but . . . I guess what I didn't like was that everyone knows everyone and you walk out the door of your office and run into patients instead of people. Dr. Jaynson doesn't feel that way, but he understands that I do and he's already found his replacement who's working with him now. It's not for me."

"Maybe not now, but later, if you feel trapped . . . I could sell out to Andrew."

"And do what?"

He shrugged, "Buy a farm somewhere up here and raise chickens? We'd be pretty well off even if neither of us worked with the money I would get."

"You wouldn't be happy."

"Maybe not raising chickens. But I could take on a couple of classes at the high school or an Ag college, or pick up some projects here and there, work with your dad. Stuff like that."

She eyed him sadly, "It scares me that you've thought it out this much," she said absently. "Caleb, this whole thing with my mother has nothing to do with what I want or need, don't let her concern fool you," she clasped his hands in hers. "Since Jacob died, she's comforted herself with this dream she has for me. She wants me to marry Eric so he'll be part of the family, for real. She wants me home, giving her grandchildren, bringing over pot luck dinners on Sunday afternoons. It's not healthy for her to grieve by creating her own world. She needs to let it go."

"But," she said, noticing the struggle in his eyes, "if the time comes up, we'll talk about it, I promise. Right now I know that I'm right where I want to be, where I need to be and I know that you are where you're supposed to be. You're a creative person, smart, inventive and vision oriented. I know that you would do well with whatever you decided to do, but people need you where you're at. Your employees come to work every day trusting you to provide them a job and paycheck. You do things, make things happen. Don't short change the talents that God has given your, or the entire scope of responsibility that is yours."

"Anne," he murmured, releasing her hands to reach up and frame her face. He'd watched the passion light her eyes, and he smiled now. Had anyone ever understood him better, or supported him with as much vengeance? "I thank God for the gift that he gave me that is all you and so perfect for me," he murmured, then leaned forward to drop a gentle kiss on her lips.

"Oh Caleb," she whispered when he leaned back, "what are we going to do about my mother?"

"We're going to pray. Right now."

HEY! and don't forget to e-mail me if you have a comment!

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