The Message Chapter 8
Author’s Note: Thank you to all of you who have been taking time to off feedback about the story so far. I have enjoyed meeting you through The Message! This story will eventually contain a “loving” relationship between two women. The characters, town and storyline are all products of my imagination.
By J.A. Breeze
Casey wasn’t surprised when her cell phone rang about thirty minutes after she left Jennifer’s house. She allowed a smile to surface when she saw the display.
“Now, how in the world did you know it was me?”
“Perhaps it had something to do with the words ‘mom calling’ printed on the display of my phone,” Casey laughed.
Brenda Jarnigan couldn’t resist sharing in her daughter’s amusement and released a laugh of her own. “I still tend to forget that cell phones have caller ID. I guess I should be happy that you didn’t just ignore me.”
“Now, Mom! You know I would never ignore a call from you.” No matter how much I’d like to sometimes.
“I know you wouldn’t, sweetheart, but I bet you’d like to sometimes.”
How’s she do that? “Mom, is there something wrong? I already told you I was running later than planned.”
“I know that but I wanted to touch base and find out just how much longer you think you’ll be.”
“Well, let’s see. I’m driving west on I-40 right now. I should be at the 127 Exit in about twenty minutes. I would think that will—
“You mean to tell me you’re driving a car at seventy-five miles-per-hour down the interstate and talking on the phone?”
“Well, Mom I didn’t think you’d want me to ignore your call,” Casey allowed a touch of sarcasm into her voice. She also glanced at the speedometer and noted with a smirk that she was traveling closer to eighty-five. But it would be best to spare her mother that little bit of information.
“Casey Jarnigan, you just watch that smart aleck mouth of yours. I’m still your mother, you know?”
“I’m sorry, Mom. I couldn’t resist. I’ll be home in about forty-five minutes.”
“That will work out perfect. Lunch will just about be ready when you get here.”
“And, just what are we having for lunch?” Casey asked teasing her mother. They both knew exactly what the family would be eating that day. Casey’s favorites.
“That’s a surprise, young lady. You just pay attention to your driving and we’ll see you in a little while.”
“If you’re going to be that way then maybe I should stop off at Gloria’s Diner and get a snack on the way,” Casey taunted her mother.
“I had better not smell grill grease from that woman’s diner on you when you get here and you’re pressing your luck with me!” Her mother and Gloria had been in competition for the best pie in the county for years and the feud was often fodder for teasing in the Jarnigan household.
“I’m just kidding, Mom. I’ll see you soon.”
“I know you were, darling. See you in a while. Watch where you’re going.”
Casey couldn’t help the groan that escaped as she closed her phone ending the call.
“I’m thirty-nine years old and she still treats me like I’m twelve!”
The further Casey got from the city, the more at peace she felt. As she took Highway 127 north she began to feel more and more at home and the tension in her shoulders seemed to just melt away.
By the time she passed through Chamber’s Gap, she was humming along with classic rock on the radio and tapping the steering wheel in time with the music. She couldn’t resist singing along with Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.”
“Hell, yeah! I think she’s sexy and damn right I’d like to let her know!” Casey chanted as Jennifer Gibson’s face played across her mind. Where in the hell did that come from? Now is so not the time for my sex drive to come alive. She may be part of this damned case!
Casey had not been with a woman or even wanted one in a sexual sense in years. In fact she hadn’t come close to being tempted by the women who had sought her attention over the years and there had been quite a few of them. Her response to Jennifer Gibson was surprising and out of character.
Good God I can still smell her hair and feel her in my arms. Where is all that coming from. You just put those thoughts right out of your head. You have a case to concentrate on and that woman has way too many problems!
“Mom, I’m home,” Courtney called as she entered the house.
“Hi, honey. Did you have a good time?” Jennifer questioned as she entered the kitchen from the laundry room.
“Sure. The mall is always fun.”
“Good. I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.”
“Do you think we could talk for a few minutes?”
“Sure, honey. What’s on your mind?” Jennifer asked as she sat down at the kitchen table.
“I wanted to talk to you a little bit about you and Dad and where all this may be heading. If you don’t mind.”
“Courtney, I don’t want you worrying about what’s going to happen between your father and I. We will do everything we can to keep things as normal as possible for you and Brandon.” Jennifer reached out and covered her daughter’s hand as she talked in an attempt to reassure her with the physical contact.
“I know that Mom. But will we be moving or staying here? Everything just seems so uncertain all of the sudden.”
“Honey, I don’t think we’ll be living here much longer. I’d like somewhere smaller and perhaps not actually inside the city.”
“I’ve only got one year of high school left and—“
“Is that what’s bothering you? That you may have to change schools your senior year?”
“Well … yes that’s part of it.”
“Even if we move, we’ll work it out for you to finish high school where you are. Honey, that won’t be an issue. I promise.”
“Thanks Mom. That’s good to know. I’m sorry if it seems like I’m just thinking about me.”
“Courtney, I never thought that. And it’s okay. I want you to bring your questions to me and you can encourage Brandon to do the same.”
Jennifer looked at her daughter and she could tell that there were possibly other questions on her mind. But she knew that for the time being she had offered the reassurance Courtney needed and had left the door open for future discussions.
“I think I’ll go on upstairs and hang out in my room for awhile,” Courtney said just as the doorbell rang. “Would you like for me to get that on my way?”
“Sure, I’d appreciate it.”
Courtney left the room and Jennifer turned to the task of trying to decide what she should prepare for dinner that evening. Both Courtney and Brandon would be home and she wasn’t in the mood to go out. While she was checking out the contents of the freezer, Courtney returned with a large manila envelope.
“Mom, a delivery guy just dropped this off for you,” Courtney said as she started to hand over the envelope.
“Thanks, Court. Put it on the table for me. Would you?”
Jennifer took a package of steaks from the freezer and placed them on the counter to thaw while she prepared a marinade.
The envelope was soon forgotten as she continued to prepare the meal.
Casey pulled into the driveway of a rambling two-story farmhouse and let herself in. Her parents had lived in the same house for all of their forty-nine-year marriage. It was difficult to believe they were in their seventies. They certainly didn’t look it nor did they act like it.
“Mom, I’m here,” she called.
“I’m in the family room. Come on back.”
Casey found her mother sitting in her favorite chair, feet propped on the ottoman, looking at a magazine. But the moment she entered the room, her mother was on her feet and stepping forward for a warm hug of welcome.
“I’ve missed you so much. You have no idea how good it is to see you.”
“Now, Mom. You’re acting like I haven’t been home in years instead of weeks.”
“That’s right it’s been weeks since I saw my only daughter. Let me get a look at you.”
“Now, Mom. You know I haven’t changed since I was home last.”
Brenda Jarnigan moved a hand to caress her daughter’s cheek, rubbing a thumb gently back and forth. “You know, honey, I think you’re looking better, not as tired. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen that sparkle in your eyes.”
“I know I haven’t exactly been the life of the party the last while, but I’m getting better, Mom. It’s getting easier.”
At her daughter’s words, tears filled the older woman’s eyes and she couldn’t resist pulling Casey tightly into her arms. “I know it’s been very difficult for you. And I think you know that I miss her, too. But it’s felt like I lost two daughters instead of one and you have no idea how good it is to know I’m beginning to get my Casey … my baby girl back.”
Now, Casey was the one fighting tears as she returned her mother’s warm embrace. “We need to stop all this mushy stuff. If Dad walks in and catches us, we’ll never live it down,” she said with an attempt at humor.
“You mean you’ll never live it down, don’t you dear. Your father already knows that I enjoy the mushy stuff, especially when it comes to my children and grandchildren.”
“Speaking of Dad, where is he?”
“You know him. He’s always piddling with something around here. He still doesn’t believe this farm can run without him.”
“So I’m betting that means he’s out in the tool shed working on one of his projects.”
“Isn’t he always?”
“Mom, he is doing okay, isn’t he? I know it hasn’t been easy for Dad to let up around here and allow others to carry more of the responsibility.”
“Your father is doing just fine. But then he still does much more than he probably should. You want to keep me company in the kitchen while I finish things up or do you want to go find your father?”
“I should’ve known better than to ask that. You’ve always been worse than your brothers when it comes to messing in that old tool shed with your father.”
“Just because I’d rather play with tools and get dirty over playing with pots and pans in the kitchen, doesn’t mean I love you less. You know that right?”
“Of course I know that, you silly girl. I am after all your mother. Now go find your father. He’s missed you, too!”
Casey pulled her mother into her arms for one more hug before leaving the house. Her mother’s head fit just under her chin and she couldn’t resist taunting the smaller woman. “Dad’s right. For a little thing you sure are special.” Knowing her mother’s response in advance, Casey held back her laughter. But the expected response didn’t come. Instead her mother tightened her hold around Casey’s waist and simply held on. A few minutes passed before her mother released her. When she pulled back Casey saw the tears glistening in her mother’s clear blue eyes.
“Hey, now. What’s this all about?”
“I’m sorry. I’m just having one of those moments.”
“Are you sure? It seems like more than that to me.”
“It’s just … well … it’s just … do you have any idea how long it’s been since you teased me?”
“Mom, I tease you all the time.”
“There’s a difference. It’s been like you were simply going through the motions before. The words were there but your feelings—your emotions—were somewhere else. But just now, it felt the way it used to.”
“I was right the first time. You sure are special for a little thing,” Casey said as she tweaked her mother’s nose, turned and left the house.
Her mother’s laughter followed her as she went out the door. Following a well-worn path, Casey passed the barn before she reached her dad’s tool shed. Of course it really wasn’t just a tool shed. It was big enough to hold a large piece of farm equipment, several pieces in fact. A mechanical genius her father had always preferred to do his own work, saying it relaxed him to work with his hands.
She found him bending over an antique Ford tractor, a greasy rag and a wrench in his hand.
“What cha doing, Dad?” she asked as she sneaked up behind him
“Hey, there Casey girl. It’s good to see you. Did you just get here?” He asked as he straightened to his full height.
“Yeah. Just a few minutes ago,” she replied as she stretched to give her father a kiss on the cheek. All three of the Jarnigan offspring had gotten their height from their father and at six-one Casey was the smallest of the three. She had also inherited his dark hair and eyes. But now that he was seventy-two, Emerson Jarnigan had as much salt as pepper showing around his usual Farmer’s Co-op cap.
“So what are you doing wasting your time on this old piece of junk?” Casey hid a smile as she waited for his response.
“This is no piece of junk. It’s a classic and as soon as I get her running smoothly I’m gonna spruce her up a bit and take her to the tractor show next spring.”
“At least you have a few months to get the work done. You’re gonna need it.”
“Why don’t you close that smart mouth of yours and take a seat on that old stool you used to like so much and I’ll show you what this old man can do with a piece of junk.” His eyes, identical to his daughter’s, bore a lively twinkle as he waited for her response.
“I have a better idea. Why don’t I grab a pair of coveralls and give you a hand? Of course we don’t have much time. Mom is expecting us for lunch soon!”
“I was hoping you’d offer. But I thought maybe you wouldn’t want to get your hands dirty now that you’re a big shot in Wilmington and wear those pretty suits of yours all the time. Kind of figured you had forgotten what a wrench was for.”
“Forgotten, my ass. I could rebuild this old tractor in my sleep and you know it.”
“Now, now watch that mouth of yours. You know how your mother gets when you start talking like one of the boys. It just isn’t right for a lady to talk that way.”
“And, just who was it who taught me to talk that way, do you suppose?”
“Don’t be pointing your finger at me. I still tell your mother it’s a shame what kids pick up at school.”
“I just bet you do. You old fake.”
Father and daughter worked side-by-side falling easily into their old routine. Casey breathed in the familiar smells and listened to the clinking sounds of the tools in her father’s hands. Working along side the man she idolized soothed away even more of the discontent that had filled her life for so long. This feels wonderful, like home, she thought as she released a heartfelt sigh.
“What’s the sigh for, Casey girl? You okay?”
“Yeah, Dad. I think I am for the first time in a long time.”
“Good. That’s good. And Casey?”
“You know that Kristin would be glad that you’re finding your way.”
“I know. It’s just been so hard without her.”
“I imagine it has, but it’s been difficult for us, especially your mother, to stand by helpless to do anything to ease your pain, your heartache.”
“I’m sorry I caused you guys so much worry. I didn’t realize I had changed so much.”
“I’m not criticizing you. I always knew you’d find your way back to us. You just needed time. Time to come to terms with losing her.”
“Thanks Dad. I love you, you know? How in the world did I get so lucky as to have you and Mom as parents?”
“Your mother and I have always felt like we were the lucky ones.”
“I’m sure you did, especially when we were racing the tractor
through the cow pasture scaring the stock. And I bet you felt extremely lucky
when we stole cigarettes and decided to learn to smoke in the hay barn!”
“Now that one took a good twenty years off my life when I saw the smoke a boiling out of the barn. But mostly I was thankful you and your brothers were okay!”
“I know that, Dad. One thing we’ve never doubted is that you and Mom love us! You think we should head back to the house before we both get into trouble for holding up lunch?”
Her father released a chuckle as he began to unzip his coveralls. “Most people would think your mother was outnumbered with all us big people, but anyone who really knows her has little doubt who runs the show around here. When that woman says move, I do it.”
Casey knew her father was mostly kidding. Her parents had a wonderful marriage, loving and caring. They had worked together through the years to raise their family and run the farm, not to mention her mother’s job as an elementary school teacher. They never had many luxuries but they certainly had a lot of what really mattered—love.
As she walked shoulder to shoulder with her father back to the house she wondered why in the world she stayed away so long. She could use more of what she was feeling.
As anticipated, Casey’s mother had prepared her favorite meal complete with chicken and dumplings followed by peach cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream. The meal had been filled with family news and catching up. Once they had eaten Casey helped her mother clear the table and wash the dishes.
“Mom, that was delicious but if I ate like that everyday, I’d be as big as this house. In fact, I should probably go walk some of it off.”
“It was good to see you enjoying the meal but you’re still too thin. It wouldn’t hurt you to gain a few pounds.”
“That’s my mother, always trying to feed me and fatten me up.”
“That’s not it and you know it. I just worry about you eating right.”
“Mom, I learned to cook from the best. I don’t go hungry I promise and I don’t eat out all that often.”
“Good. Now go for your walk. I know you don’t like being cooped up in the house when you can be outside.”
Casey took her favorite path when she left the house. She let herself through a gate just beyond the barn and headed across the open field for a trail that would lead into the woods. When she was a child, Casey spent many hours trailing her grandfather on his hunting trips. She was a teenager before she learned that she chattered so much that there was no way he was actually hunting. But he enjoyed her company so much he kept up the pretence until she started to outgrow their jaunts.
During that time spent with her grandfather, Casey learned to appreciate the outdoors and all nature had to offer. He taught her to identify the different trees—white pine, yellow pine, oak, poplar—and he taught her what it meant to slow down and listen to the sounds of the forest. She’d never forget when he introduced her to the sound of the whip-poor-will. He pointed out its repeating call to her until it became the first birdcall she could identify on her own and mimic.
When Casey reached her favorite spot on the family’s land, she took a seat on a large outcropping of rocks that overlooked a stream flowing from the mountains, cold and pure. She had contemplated many of life’s choices from her perch above the stream. Regardless of what troubled her it seemed that the answer always became clearer looking out over the water. On this particular day her heart was heavy and yet hopeful—heavy that it was time to say goodbye and hopeful that for the first time in more than three years she wanted to enjoy life.
“Do you remember the first time I brought you here?” Casey began to talk aloud. “We had just finished at MTSU and I was heading to Memphis. I didn’t want to go without you but didn’t know how to ask you to go with me. I brought you here away from everyone so I could find a way to tell you how much I loved you. How I didn’t want to live my life without you. I was so scared—so unsure. And then I discovered you felt the same way. You made me the happiest woman in the world. I wouldn’t trade the years we had together for anything in the world. And I’ll go to my grave believing you were taken from me way too soon. You know I’ll always love you. You’ll always be in my heart. And I know you’re here encouraging me to go on and to build a life without you. I’ve felt you all around me the last few days and honey, I’m going to try. I promise you that I am.”
Casey had stretched out with her back flat on the rock, just as she had done hundreds of times through the years. But saying goodbye to Kristin was almost more than her heart could stand and yet she knew it had to be done if she was going to find the strength to move forward and live life instead of merely existing. She allowed the tears to flow and the sobs to shake her body as she let out all of the emotion that had held her captive for three long years. Eventually the sobs subsided and became hiccups. She pulled herself together as a gentle breeze blew across her face helping to dry her tears.
“I love you Kristen.”
“I love you more,” seemed to echo back to her from the stream far below.
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