January, 1983. Coeymans, New York
Janice Westfahl saw rather than heard pop, pop, pop, a stitching of pops going off, small puffs of smoke. The rock wall crumpled, then shimmered to the ground. Dust billowed and bellied into the air. A few seconds later she heard thunder that would have frightened her if she’d heard it on a clear summer day because it meant a storm.
Pulverized, Janice thought of pulverized, the meaning of that word played out right before her eyes. A sheer side of a mountain dropped to the ground, blown to smithereens. And we all fall down. Wasn’t that the child’s game? Her classmates’ dresses billowed as they dropped to a crouch. That’s what the mountain looked like—a billow of rock, and piles like children flopped on the ground. The cliff that was left over was the awesome kind, sheer, wiping the air with rock.
She leaned into Caleb, his arm around her, hugging her close. Her body rippled with the joy of being so close to this man who worked the ground. When they’d met she’d fallen in love with his big machines slowly, ever so slowly trundling over The Farm, turning over the dirt, beating the grasses, cutting them. Then she’d fallen for the companionable hours they’d spent riding in his tractors. And now he hauled rock in a quarry.
The whole time he’d been watching her reaction, his pale blue eyes studying her, but she couldn’t meet his eyes. She looked at the blue scar left by the explosion with no pity for the mountain that was being felled to repair the New York State Thruway.
“Up close those pebbles are car sized boulders,” he said.
“I’m glad I saw it,” Janice said. “You’re something to work there.” She’d not meant to fall in love, three years back. But his big machines—his tractor, his combine, the gizmos he used to break the earth—seduced her, though he’d been clear he was not the marrying kind.
“It makes ends meet.”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“Not particularly. They clear the site when they set the charges. The dynamite is worthless without blasting caps.”
“I couldn’t stand the noise.”
“They give us ear protection.”
“The phone is the loudest equipment that I’ll use,” Janice said quietly. In two days she would be leaving for her job at Godspeed Books, a publishing company outside of Chicago. Her job would be to connect the company and its authors with the national and Christian media. She’d have some power bringing national attention to her authors and their books.
“Let’s get married.” Caleb’s voice sounded raspy as wind blowing through dried grass over the top of stale, crusty snow. He tipped her chin up, so she had to meet his eyes. They reminded her of puddles reflecting the sky. He just didn’t let her see into them.
“Sure.” Janice squinted. Her heart was beating fast. The man she’d loved because the light fell on him, because he was beautiful and took her up in his tractor, was actually asking her to marry her. Sure, she’d rather learn how to drive the big machines than wheel and deal outside of Chicago. Sure.
Caleb drew her to him, his lips electric against hers, his beard scratching her. He smelled like baking corn, and she felt surrounded by his passion, her own passion bubbling like a spring.
“Don’t leave,” he whispered, his eyes still shut. Something vulnerable about his face she’d never seen before.
“Aw Caleb,” Janice sighed. “Why now, why when I made a promise to take this job a thousand miles away?”
“My friends told me I was a fool to let you get away.” He wiped her hair off her face, even though her hair was short and didn’t need brushing aside.
“I thought you weren’t the marrying kind. You’ve been clear about that.” He’d stood her up when they’d made a date the first summer. She blamed herself for coming on too strong and promised they could be friends. Just friends had been fine as long as she could ride behind him on the tractor during the summers when she was home. He looked out the window. The dust was settling.
“Caleb I love you. I’ve always loved you.”
“You too,” he said.
“Let’s set a date. Maybe a year from now, so I could get some experience in my job and look for something back here. What about Christmas? Then you won’t have to worry about remembering our anniversary.” Janice tumbled over herself.
“Whatever makes you happy,” Caleb said, a little resigned.
After he shifted into gear and was driving down the highway, he laid her hand on his thigh and rubbed his thumb over the top. Her hand felt so soft between the hardness of his leg and hand. She thought how those legs braced him as he picked up bales of hay, the strings boring into his palms, even through his leather gloves. He’d toss the fifty pound bales to the top of the stack like they were nothing and set them on edge so air could circulate, letting the heat that built up ease out of the green hay.
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow at one. We can go to a motel,” he said just before she got out of the car. He tried to make it sound like the joke it had always been. Janice looked at the red siding on her parents’ house and the white shutters. The Little Barn towered alongside them.
I’d like that.” Janice wasn’t sure she was ready to make love because she believed what the Bible said about waiting until marriage, but it would be nice to be alone with him without either one of their mothers in the next room.
Besides he’d teased her about going to a motel for the last three years. She’d said yes, no, maybe and they’d laughed it off. He’d always said he didn’twant to blow her mind because he knew how innocent she was. But this was different. Caleb held her against him, too strong for her to pull away. He kissed her hard on the lips and released her. She was about to say she loved him again, when he put his finger on her lips, the dirt worked into the lines. “Tomorrow then.” Janice nodded, his finger rubbing across her lips, she was so full of pleasure and dared not say anything. She walked unsteadily to the house. At the door, she waved as he pulled away.
If you’d like to find out what happens next, The River Caught Sunlight ebooks are on sale until the end of November for $1.99 in the Kindle, Nook and ibook editions. It is also available in softcover at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books A Million.