Author's Official Booksite PINKIE PARANYA

Sample Chapter: Love Letters in the Wind

~ Chapter 1 ~

The strong, cold wind from the Colorado plains blew across Casey Nichols’ face. She drew the thin windbreaker closer to her body, wishing she had brought warmer clothes with her. Her long, curly hair, torn from the ribbon at the nape of her neck, blew around her eyes, mixing with the tears pressing from under her closed eyelids. She brushed them away with anger, wanting to hide them from Jake. She wasn’t weak, damn it, and she wouldn’t cry. This journey had to work out for them.

“Ready to send another message?” Jake asked.

They leaned against the porch railing and she bent forward, brushing a lock of blond hair from his forehead. He looked healthier every day they were here.

“You okay, Son?”

He nodded. His huge blue eyes, surrounded by bruised-looking skin, dominated his pale face. A child of six, he looked much younger, and once more, she vowed to do whatever it took to change his condition from sick to healthy.

Since they arrived in Colorado two weeks ago, this game with messages inserted into the center of a tumbleweed was their playtime — a time when Jake could come outdoors and soak up the bright sun and fresh air.

He motioned toward the towering mountains behind them. “Do you miss our house back there?”

Phoenix was inextricably connected to her past and to Richard. She didn’t want to be anywhere near her ex right now, and she wasn’t about to let Richard’s parents track her down before she was ready to deal with them.

She hedged, not sure of how to answer his question. “Do you miss it? We’re on an adventure now.”

“Aren’t we supposed to work?”

 

Love Letters in the Wind

Casey thought of the ad in the throw away paper that she answered in a rare spontaneous moment.

Groundskeeper wanted for temporary summer work. Live
on remote ranch, bonus at end of job if stay the duration.

Maybe it was a tad irresponsible to use her initials when she answered, but it sounded as if this rancher had a male groundskeeper in mind when he ran the ad. The remote part was what drew her to answer.

“We’ll have to wait and see what Mr. Tyree wants us to do when he comes home. I think he’s probably out there somewhere branding cattle.”

“Wow! Will I get to watch sometime?”

Casey smiled. “Can’t say for sure,” she said, though she doubted it.

She only spoke briefly with Tyree’s mother, who seemed to think her applying for the job was hilarious. Not a good sign. Tyree was reclusive, according to his mother, and not at all sociable. She advised Casey to settle into the cabin and her son would come look her up when he got home. Casey couldn’t help but feel something else bothered the woman about her son, but if so, she didn’t talk about it.

“I’ve never had a ’venture before, have I?” Jake asked, interrupting her thoughts.

“No, not really.” She crumpled the note. “If we fold the paper too neatly, it may fall out,” she explained. “It’s the same idea as putting a message in a bottle and throwing it into the ocean. A long time ago I read in a book about someone throwing notes away in tumbleweeds. When I saw all the tumbleweeds blowing around here, I remembered that and thought it would be a fun idea for us.”

 

Love Letters in the Wind

She knew how to express herself on paper. This game of theirs was an outlet — with no strings attached — and no judgments. With every note she sent on its way, it became easier to open her heart. She felt protected, knowing the weeds would crumble to dust along with her poems.

She and Jake didn’t need anyone else. They had each other.

Holding the prickly tumbleweed between gloved hands, she grinned down at him. “Are we ready?”

He laughed a small sound, but it made her throat tighten so that she had a hard time swallowing, thinking how long it had been since she’d heard him laugh without coughing.

She tossed the round, dry weed into the ever-present wind. It blew away, rolling, flying past the incline in front of the cabin, with a destiny all its own.

“Goodbye brave message,” she shouted. Her words dipped off the ledge and plummeted down the narrow canyon below. Casey straightened her shoulders and tilted her chin. In her thirty-two years, this was the first time she had functioned as the sole caretaker of her own destiny. It felt scary but good. She couldn’t be sure if she was enough for Jake, but she wanted to be both mother and father to him.

“What did you call the bushes?” he asked again.

“Tumbleweeds. Remember, I showed you some in the desert book? We had tons of them around Phoenix. I guess we never went out on the desert to look, did we?” There were many things she had never done with Jake. A lot of things to make up for.

“They start out as green bushes, but they don’t have many roots, and the ones they have don’t go deep. The plants dry, break loose from the soil, and turn into tumbleweeds.”

She needed to be a tumbleweed for a while, with no roots to bog her down. Vegetables have roots, and she was through being a vegetable, accepting and yielding.

Jake smiled up at her. “Putting notes inside them kinda makes ’em tumblewords, doesn’t it?”

 

Love Letters in the Wind

Casey knelt to hug her son close, leaning her head lightly against his narrow shoulder, inhaling his clean, soapy, little-boy smell before he so typically pulled away. She loved his imagination, his quick understanding, and his enjoyment of words. They were alike in so many ways.

“Aren’t we lucky? We can use the wind to take our tumblewords.”

When Jake grinned, she smiled, feeling suddenly uplifted.

“Where’ll it go? I bet all the way to Denver. Is that far?”

“A bit too far, even for this wind, I’m afraid. There’ll be lots of cows that might read them — and don’t forget the roadrunners, snakes and lizards.”

He giggled, lifting his hand to make their high-five sign. They slapped together, she carefully, he with all his strength. “Hey, you’re getting better at this. You’ll have to go easy on me one day, or you’ll hurt my hand.”

His big blue eyes searched her face for ridicule. Finding none, he hugged her close. “Love you, Mom,” he whispered as if embarrassed to say it out loud.

“Me, too, Son.”

Like the child he was, he lost interest in the moment of affection — that she lived for — and ran to the porch railing. “There’s millions out there, we’ll never run out will we?”

“I doubt it.”

“Think someone like a person — will read the notes?” he persisted.

 

Love Letters in the Wind

Casey looked off toward the hills, certain she did not want anyone to read her poems. Being alone was what she wanted. Wasn’t it?

***

Matthew Tyree bent low over the saddle to reach the bit of dried brush. “Damned tourists, tossing junk all over the place.”

Where the box canyon ended, he figured he would find some strays. Sure enough, as if pretending they didn’t see him ride up on the gelding, the young steers chomped the prairie grass. They didn’t fool him. He saw the whites around their eyeballs telling him they were primed to bolt and run.

He thumbed his Stetson back from his forehead and impatiently crumbled the prickly brush between his gloves, reaching for the wrinkled piece of paper. It would not have meant much if this had been the first time he saw the littering. Down on the mesa, where he’d been camped out for the past month, rounding up strays, he’d found another bit of paper caught in the weeds and had ignored it as trivial.

But enough was enough. If there was a receipt or a name anywhere, he would call or write the creep — tell him off about littering the prairie. The paper was probably 5x7, white, with the top edged in glue as if the writer had torn it from a stationary tablet. He smoothed the paper across his thigh. It contained a poem, written with a pen in small, tight handwriting.

He studied it for a long moment, surprised at seeing a poem when he expected a store receipt or something way more prosaic and then read it out loud.

 

Love Letters in the Wind

Lost — a dream once young and happy
Now embittered — oh so old.
Lost — a heart once warm and tender
Suddenly turned hard and cold.

Gone the memories of laughter,
No more the kisses, gentle sighs.
The curtain bringing down the last act
Brings to tears, once laughing eyes.

Life brings fear and sorrow crushing…
Doubtful are the roads once crossed.
Life goes on — never ceasing…
Life goes on — but love is lost.

Matt sat a long while, barely noticing the gelding’s restive hooves stamping on the hard desert floor. Where had this come from? The meaning was clear, striking a chord deep inside him that he’d believed buried for good.

He hadn’t thought about love in ages, not since Dorothy died. He did not want to now. He was finished with love, had no need for any kind of mushy emotional turmoil at his age. His ranch, his work, was all encompassing, everything he needed. His life satisfied him — damned right it did. He crumpled the note in his fist and almost threw it away, but stopped to smooth it again and stuff it in his shirt pocket. The raw pain in the poem intrigued him. He had always either avoided puzzles or tried to solve them. He had no use for things left dangling and unfinished.

 

Love Letters in the Wind

Was it a child’s school lesson carefully copied out of a poetry book for class? The handwriting said a lot. Although there were places where the writer crossed out words, the writing showed control with a precise, tight script.

No, it wasn’t the work of a child. A dippy teenager with a large case of puppy love, probably. It had to be a female. No man or boy he knew would write sappy stuff like this.

The paper was crisp but not curled tight along the edges as paper got after a while from exposure to the sun and wind. It hadn’t been around long, that was for sure. It wouldn’t hurt to ride to the northern section of the mesa later this week, check out that pile of tumbleweeds where he noticed bits of paper among them. Might give a clue as to who wrote the puzzling bit of poetry. The constant wind blew so hard that whoever put the paper in the tumbleweed could live in the next county.

Matt had no close neighbors. His ranch covered miles, not acres.

He grinned. Maybe he wouldn’t tell off the lovesick teenager even if he caught the litterer. The notes would disintegrate into dust eventually, anyway, with no harm done.

The image of the notes turning to dust made him restless. He might miss something by not reading the next one, as if the ones already gone contained words he needed to know. He would come back tomorrow for the strays. The papers would still be here, Matt thought as he reined his horse toward home.