Authors: Mary Connealy
Buffy had such a decent heart, she couldn’t be truly cruel to anyone. She’d allowed Jeanie back into the family as an aunt. And they were closer now than they’d ever been, real friends. They worshipped together because Jeanie had returned to Cold Creek and started attending here about a year after she’d abandoned Sally.
Buffy had included Jeanie in get-togethers with her friend, Emily Hanson, another woman about their age, and Emily had become an even better friend than Buffy.
But Buffy had no use for Michael. Never had.
When church broke up, Jeanie left her place at the piano, fighting the urge to grab Michael and run.
But why? Let Buffy have at him. Wanting to protect her jerk of a husband was just a leftover reflex from long ago.
Jeanie emerged from church, aware Michael had a firm hold on her arm. Normally she’d have shaken him off. No bat at church, but if she would have had it, she would have whacked him, except she felt sorry for the big goon.
Jeanie saw Buffy waving good-bye to the kids as they drove away with Emily and her husband, Jake. Emily was far along in a pregnancy, but she didn’t hesitate for a second to let the three rambunctious Shaw kids into her car.
Buffy turned to Michael, Audra in her arms. Wyatt relieved her of the baby, as if to get the child to shelter.
Michael headed straight for Buffy. No running and hiding for Michael Davidson, he seemed determined to take his tongue-lashing like a man. Though his steps were firm, his voice was gentle. “Buffy, before we start, I want you to know I’ve become a Christian since I left Jeanie and Sally. I’m back to make things right.” Michael settled himself, his feet slightly spread, as if he expected Buffy to start swinging and he was going to take the whole thing standing.
“I want those papers signed before one more day goes by. You’ve—”
“I’m glad you’re all together.” Bucky Herne approached the group, not aware he’d stepped into a kill zone. He directed his words to Wyatt. “I’ve got to get things squared away about the buffalo for Memorial Day.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed at the mayor. Jeanie could read Buffy’s mind. She took care of the buffalo herd. For that matter, this whole thing was Michael’s idea, and Jeanie volunteered to do almost all the work. And yet the mayor talked to Wyatt. Wyatt’s family had been here five generations. Roots bought respect in South Dakota.
Michael turned to the mayor and cocked his head and focused. How well Jeanie remembered that focus. The man could make you feel like the center of the universe. That’s how he’d made her feel at first. Later she’d been more like a bug under a microscope.
“Bucky, I’ve written up some detailed notes about Memorial Day. The Shaws are willing to bring about twenty head of buffalo to the holding pens near town.”
Jeanie saw Bucky switch his attention from Wyatt, who wasn’t interested at any rate, to Michael. The older man practically preened under Michael’s respectful forcefulness.
“And about rides out there—,” the mayor said.
“At first we planned on having a few Cold Creek residents lend their minivans. But I’ve gotten such a good response from the ads—it included a phone number to book the bus tour in advance—that I rented a bus from Rapid City. It’s comfortable and seats about forty people. This will be at my expense, because I’m the one proposing it, and I don’t want the city to take any financial risks. I’ll make sure any profits go into the city coffers, too. And I’ve already arranged some publicity.
The Rapid City Journal
Hot Springs Star
will run a story, and two of the local television stations have asked for interviews. Area radio stations have …”
Michael just took off talking and left them all in his dust. Jeanie had heard about the rented buses, but TV and the biggest newspaper in the area? She’d never heard a peep. How like Michael to just start handling things.
The mayor looked dazed. Wyatt looked intrigued as he bounced his little girl in his arms. Buffy looked irritated. She hadn’t forgotten those adoption papers. And then the car with her—Jeanie flinched—
three kids came driving back into the church parking lot at top speed.
The three Shaw children jumped out of the car. Jake swung his door open with a wild expression on his face. “Hey, I’m sorry about this, but Emily’s water just broke. We need to get to the hospital. We can’t take the kids after all.”
“That’s fine.” Wyatt waved. “You want us to take Stephie?”
“Nope, she wants to go along. Thanks, though.” He swung the door shut and tore off.
Their little group grew, with the children adding to the chaos.
Two more parishioners and the pastor came up, and the Memorial Day committee began an impromptu meeting.
Buffy gave Michael a look that would have left a lesser man writhing in pain on the ground. Michael was too busy holding court to notice.
Jeanie went to Buffy’s side. “We’ll get it signed. Michael is determined to fix our marriage, and he has convinced me to at least try. I’ve been—” Jeanie realized Michael was inches away, and the man could multitask like nobody’s business. He’d hear this, plus the children were swarming around everyone.
Jeanie pulled Buffy aside.
“I’ll talk to him. He’s only got about three months left until the deadline, so even if he does nothing, it’ll be over soon.” Tears suddenly cut across Jeanie’s eyes, and she dashed a hand across them quickly, glad she didn’t wear mascara anymore.
Buffy’s hand rested on Jeanie’s arm. “You know this is for the best.”
Jeanie nodded. “It is. Even if Michael and I fix things, she”—Jeanie’s gaze darted toward Sally—“is your daughter. We won’t do anything to harm her.”
Buffy looked skeptical. “Your husband has a knack for twisting the world to suit himself. I won’t rest easy until he’s signed those papers.”
Jeanie had a moment of doubt. Michael hadn’t said loud and clear that Sally’s adoption was all right with him. At first he’d been furious. Then, when he found out Sally was in good hands, he’d accepted it. Or had he? Jeanie hadn’t trusted Michael for a long time.
“We don’t have a motel or any overnight accommodations.” Mayor Herne tugged on his tie to loosen the knot, then pulled it all the way off, wrapped it around his hand, and slipped the tie in his suit coat pocket. The day was warm for early May.
“Nothing for overnight?” Michael rubbed his chin with one thumb. “Memorial Day is a three-day weekend. To really make some money with tourism, we need somewhere for folks to stay.”
“Do you have the papers, Jeanie?” Buffy drew Jeanie back to the most important matter at hand. “I’ve got copies if you need them.”
“Mike has the ones he’s supposed to sign. And I promise I’ll talk to him. This isn’t the time or place.”
“I’m starving, Dad.” Cody or Colt, Jeanie could never tell them apart, tugged on Wyatt’s arm.
“So if we could get a few people to maybe open up their homes, like a bed and breakfast, just for the weekend—”
“Well, I don’t know about that.” The mayor shrugged off his suit coat. “I mean, strangers in your house? Not too many folks will want that.”
“Jeanie and I just bought a house. We’ve moved in, and we’ve only got a few pieces of furniture. But it’s a neat old place. We could furnish a few more bedrooms, even move back to her apartment for the weekend.”
“We’ve got to go, Buff. The kids are starving.” Wyatt came over, Audra in one arm, both twins nagging that they were starving.
Buffy shook her head in defeat. “Okay.” She glared at Michael, who glanced up and caught the look. The mayor was talking to Pastor Bert.
“We’ll talk later, Buffy. I promise.” Michael jerked his head at Sally as if that was what prevented him from saying more.
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. It wasn’t lost on Jeanie, nor Buffy, that Michael could easily promise to sign Buffy’s papers without Sally understanding.
“I promise right back.” Buffy made it a threat as she laid her hand on Sally’s shoulder. “Let’s go, honey. Mommy’s got dinner in the oven, and the boys are starving.”
“I’ve been thinking I might put up some A-frame buildings. Something really simple. A row of ten maybe. I could build them myself. There’s a nice spot along Cold Creek right on the edge of town. I think it’s part of the city’s right-of-way, so the town council would have to approve it or sell it to me or whatever. And we could rent them out. I might be able to get a couple up by Memorial Day.”
Jeanie stood watching Sally be driven away in a cloud of dust.
Watching Michael wheel and deal.
Watching her life slip completely out of her control.
And the worst part of Michael being back was Jeanie didn’t
to be in control. She wanted to take orders and be obedient. It was easy and wrong. God didn’t want her to give the reins of her life over to anyone but Him.
She stared at the group of movers and shakers, the biggest one of all in the very center of the action. Yes, the Peaceful Mountain Church was in the country. Yes, it was a five-mile walk home up and down a mountain pass and along a narrow country highway. Yes, she’d ridden here in Michael’s new pickup. None of that mattered.
She needed to get out of here. He’d come for her before she got home. A new home she’d been moved into with precious little consultation. He’d pick her up whenever he came. It would be all too soon.
She wondered if Pastor Bert would allow her to bring her bat to church.
The Memorial Day celebration got way out of hand for a normal human being.
Jeanie had never accused Michael of being normal.
Shaking her head, she watched her husband plot and plan with the city fathers about making it a real tourist event.
The media was involved.
Cold Creek was buzzing.
Michael was in his element. He bought what looked to everyone else in the world like wasteland along the steep banks of Cold Creek. Michael’s sharp eyes saw a gold mine. He was single-handedly building a motel. A row of simple, rustic A-frames with roofs slanting all the way to the ground. He did the planning, the buying, the bulldozing, the sawing, and the nailing himself.
Except Jeanie knew him too well. He
do it himself. He just
it alone. Before the end of the first day, everyone in town was helping.
Jeanie remembered the story “Stone Soup.” Michael started out with a stone and a dream, and everyone else threw in.
Two retired plumbers offered to help. The proud owner of a bulldozer had been bulldozed into volunteering his time and machine. The women were sewing curtains, the businesses were donating material, and the excitement only grew as Michael announced, one by one, that the little cabins were rented out … before they were built.
“You want me to what?” Jeanie had taken two weeks off from the nursing home and her other part-time jobs to help with the project. Some of the other nurse’s aides put in longer hours to cover for her.
“Open a restaurant. The old gas station would make a great café and gift shop. I bought it this morning for just a few hundred dollars.”
The decrepit stone building so close at hand had been abandoned for years. But as Michael did that magical thing with words and the force of his will, Jeanie completely saw his vision.
“We could clean it out in a few days. We can’t bring it up to specs for a restaurant in time, but we could have food catered in. I’ve already mentioned it to Glynna Harder. You know what a great cook she is. We could offer sandwiches and soup and a few other things. All we need is a clean building and tables. I’ve already asked around town and found a few people who have tables in their garages and basements that they’d like to get rid of. And the used junk store has several they’ll sell us cheap.”
Jeanie went to work and found herself with a lot of help. The women of Cold Creek had been itching to get more involved, and the heavy work of the construction was beyond most of them.
The week ticked away, and Jeanie found herself too busy during the day and too tired at night to spend any time on her marriage or to pin Michael down about Sally’s adoption papers. She didn’t even have the energy to bat him.
They dragged home hours after dark and were up before the sun. Michael had ordered two sets of bedroom furniture and had it delivered. Jeanie slept in one corner of the huge upstairs, and Michael slept three rooms down and across the hall. He hadn’t even tried to weasel his way into Jeanie’s room.
He’d turned one downstairs room into an office with phone lines, a computer, Internet access, and a desk and filing cabinet. Another phone call. The man had no time to browse; he just phoned, ordered top of the line, and had it delivered and installed.
Jeanie still worked at Golden Days Senior Center through the morning, and Pastor Bert came into the center early, as he had that first day, and met with them weekly. A lot of Jeanie’s volunteer work was suspended because so many of the people were working with Michael.
As Memorial Day crept closer, a party atmosphere grew in town until the community of Cold Creek became as close as family.
Michael had set out to build ten cabins, hoping to have three or four done in two weeks. He finished all ten. They were livable, and they’d all been rented. Michael had plans for ten more by the Fourth of July.
The gas station had become Jeanie’s Café and was clean and shining inside. The mismatched tables and chairs were charming. The dinnerware was foraged from several auctions and junk stores in the area, and it lent the place a homey atmosphere. There was a lot more she could do with it, but it was useable for this one weekend.
When they finished for the night on the Thursday before the big weekend, Michael slung his arm around Jeanie, and they walked home, exhausted as usual. When they pushed their way through the sticking door of their new house, Michael smiled at her. “I’ve got all those buildings up, and I haven’t done a thing to make this house more livable. ‘The cobbler’s children have no shoes.’ Isn’t that the saying?”
Jeanie smiled back. “It’s okay. I love the work we’re doing.”
“I’m so proud of all you’ve accomplished with that gas station.” Michael hugged her neck closer as he turned to close the door behind them. He dragged her just a bit, and she giggled and jabbed him in the ribs.