This story is by Jeanne Vaughn and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Paul hadn’t forgotten what today was. Still, he started the day, like every other day, at four in the morning. Quietly, he slipped out of bed and down the stairs, pulled on his overalls that hung by the back door, and stepped outside. Pausing on the stoop, he breathed in the fresh county air. Life is more than good, he mused. With a lively step, he strode to the barn where he fed the chickens, gathered their eggs, and gave fresh hay and water to his cows and goats.
Before going inside to wake Eve, he gathered lavender, mint, rosemary and her favorite pink roses into a bouquet, bounding them with a piece of twine from the hay bales. Inside, he poured the coffee he had just brewed into her dainty china cup, placed it on a silver tray with the bouquet, and a note that read: Happy Anniversary, to my love, my life. Your loving husband, forever and ever after.
In their room, he silently opened the French doors allowing the morning breeze to gently blow across Eve’s sleeping form, placed the tray on the bedside table, and bent to place a soft kiss on her warm cheek. Slipping quietly out, he left her to enjoy the peace and solitude of the early morning while he went about his other chores.
Today, he would tackle the job of cutting down the large oak tree that was leaning over his corn crop. Leaving it to fall on its own could risk a good portion of his crop being damaged. Making the cut at the precise place would cause the tree to fall into the woods instead. Just where to make the cut was more or less a matter of guesswork, but Paul had no worries. It was all part of a day’s work.
In his shed, he oiled his chainsaw, strapped it onto the tractor, hopped on the seat, and drove to back side of the corn field, whistling happily as he jaunted along.
Eve awoke in her usual manner, usual that is, since her marriage to Paul exactly five years ago – his soft lips brushing lightly across her cheek, and the feel of the light breeze as it gently blew back the white lace curtains. She stretched across her bed, peering out onto the front lawn, the morning sun sending its silvery rays through the canopy of leaves and across the dewy grass. She breathed in the aroma of the freshly brewed coffee awaiting her on the bedside table in her favorite china cup and marveled at the simple, but beautiful gifts. “My dear, sweet Paul,” she said aloud, her heart overflowing with love.
Wrapping her robe around her, she reached for the coffee cup and made her way to the balcony, as was her normal routine. Sitting in her white wicker rocker, she sipped the warm black liquid that ushered in alertness with every sip.
Paul had insisted that this time not be rushed, but savored. At first, she resisted. She should be helping with the chores. “Darling, that is just the sweetest thought, but I feel so guilty. I should be by your side, helping you,” she had appealed. But Paul was unbending on the subject. Finally, giving in, she had come to relish this sweet indulgence.
Today was their fifth anniversary. To celebrate, that evening she had planned a delicious menu of Paul’s favorites. Then she would present him with her special gift. It was something he had wanted for some time. She couldn’t wait to see his face.
Paul was a good man who loved the earth. Growing up a city boy he yearned for a different life, a simpler life. What he longed to do was farm. His father, a successful attorney, had hoped his only son would follow in his footsteps, partnering with him in the law firm he had established.
“Dad,” Paul had said, “I’d love nothing more than to work side by side with you, but it’s just not the profession for me. If you know me at all, you know this.”
Of course, his father knew this, he loved his son too much to force him into a life he knew he would hate. Paul was grateful when the talk of the law firm was put to rest, leaving him free to make his own way.
When Paul met Eve, everyone knew she was the one for him, so down to earth, and not at all pretentious like all the other girls he had dated. Eve was a free spirit who had majored in the arts with a minor in horticulture. They were the perfect fit. For a wedding gift, Paul’s parents turned over their deed to the hundred acre farm in Kentucky that had been in the Reynold’s family for over a hundred years. The two were overjoyed.
The pair took to farming life like they were born to it. The family home, that hadn’t been lived in for a number of years, was now theirs. It needed work, but Eve fell in love with it at first sight. They were making their own legacy, doing it their way, with love for each other and the land.
As Eve dressed for the day, an uneasy feeling nagged at her. Shaking it off, she went to the kitchen to begin preparing the dishes she would serve Paul that evening. She wanted everything to be perfect. While he bathed later in the afternoon, she would set the table in elegant fashion, and dress in the gown she had worn on their wedding day. Her heart was pulsing with anticipation.
Paul will be in for lunch soon, thought Eve. Putting aside the evening preparations, she went about making a hearty lunch. Remembering his task with the leaning tree, she knew he would be famished. She made a batch of homemade biscuits, pan fried some sausage links, and scrambled the fresh eggs Paul had brought in. This would sustain him until dinner.
You could set your clock by Paul’s prompt noon arrival for lunch. He was late. Her uneasiness returned. Placing everything in the oven to keep warm, Eve crossed to the back door, and gazed out across the field beyond. She could barely see the tractor at the far end; it was too great a distance for her to make out anything else. Worry prickled at the back of her neck.
Their old pickup sat in front of the barn. Her bare feet streaked over the hard ground toward it. Jumping in, she drove the bumpy road that bordered the field. With the pedal to the floor, and not slowing for potholes, she bounced around in the seat, her grip tight on the steering wheel. Nearing the tractor, she could see the downed tree. It had fallen away from the field as Paul had hoped it would, but where was Paul? Jumping from the truck, she rushed toward the tree, her heart pounding, fear engulfing her.
The broad branches were thick with foliage covering all beneath them. Calling his name, she yanked, pulled and pushed them aside.
“Paul, Paul, can you hear me?” There was no answer.
She was frantic now. “Paul, Darling, if you can hear me, make a noise!” The only sound was the deafening pounding of her heart.
Dread coursed through her body like an electric shock. She should go for help, but she couldn’t leave. Then she saw it, his boot, sticking out from under the largest limb. Scrambling on her hands and knees, she managed to pull aside the smaller branches covering his leg. There was no movement. She worked her way up, uncovering what she could of his concealed torso until at last she could see his face; his handsome face set in a stony gaze.
Her screams were tormented. “Not my precious Paul!” Holding his head in her lap, she sobbed until there was nothing left in her, but great heaving rasps.
Without you, how will I go on? Eve agonized.
Seven months after Paul’s tragic death, his special gift arrived. Now it was just the two of them, Eve and Paul, Jr. Following the advice of Paul’s father, Eve was able to keep the farm by renting the crop ground to a neighboring farmer. The rent money along with the sale of her paintings made it possible for them to live quite comfortably.
To her son, Eve made a vow – he would grow up knowing the kind and loving man his father was; how he loved and cared for the land, and how he cherished the simple life.
As for Eve, as she awakened in the early mornings, she still felt Paul’s soft kiss on her cheek, felt the cool morning breeze brush lightly across her skin, and breathed in the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee that lingered in the air.
Paul had never really left, he was there with them where he would remain, ever after.