The barn thermometer said forty degrees, but there was no wind and Anne felt comfortable. Pine needles and twigs covered the gravel path from the house.
The barn seemed to be intact, thank God. The horses looked fine. “You guys okay? Wish I could have brought you in the house with me, but I don’t think you’d like it.” She stood in front of Shadow’s stall stroking his neck while he nickered and butted her gently with his head.
“How about you Sunny, did that storm scare you?” She glanced around at the small Palomino in the other stall and spotted a small puddle near the rear door. The beam over the door glistened with moisture. “Aha, I see the culprit.” A diesel pick-up truck interrupted her thoughts.
Her neighbor parked just inside the gate, because she was blocked by a good-sized tree limb. “Hey, is this any way to greet a neighbor?” Susan hollered.
Anne hurried out to find her neighbor clambering over the large limb and smiled. The petite, stocky woman pulled herself up and over then landed on her feet. Her short, grey hair stuck out from under a hunters orange knit cap. Susan Godfrey had been a good friend during the painful divorce two years earlier.
“Yeah, I put that there to keep out the riff-raff.”
“Humpf, didn’t work did it?” Susan’s laugh bubbled up from her toes.
They embraced and stood looking around. Anne pulled some twine from her coat pocket. “Let’s start with the sidewalk and driveway, I can call someone to haul the bundles to the transfer station in Tijeras.”
“No need, Jim can take your stuff with our load.” Susan set to work on the driveway bundling sticks as Anne started on the walk.
By noon, an impressive number of neatly tied bundles lined the driveway to the gate. Anne pulled off her gloves and wiped her sleeve across her damp forehead. The jackets had come off after the first hour. “Let’s break for lunch, okay?”
Susan leaned against the corral rail, “Won’t need to ask me twice, I’m thirsty.”
They moved into the garage where they shed boots, and coats and brushed debris off before going into the kitchen. Anne poured them each a large glass of water from a pitcher in the refrigerator. “Ham on rye sound okay?”
“Perfect, mustard no mayo. I’m watching my girlish figure,” said Susan chuckling to herself as she sat at the small kitchen table by the window. “I love the color you chose for the family room, very warm and sexy– are you planning some entertaining?” she said and wiggled her eyebrows.
The sound of the word made Anne cringe, as if it was dirty. “No. I’m just trying to make some changes to erase any bad memories of Andrew.” Anne stopped working on the sandwiches and cocked her head for a new look at the paint job. “I love this house and I want to…soften it up a bit, make it mine.”
“Makes sense. I’m sure there are things you want to forget, but it wasn’t all bad. Was it?”
“I suppose not, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to forgive or forget the betrayal.”
They were both silent for some time before Susan tried a new tack.
“Do you have plans for Wednesday night? We’re having Kurt over for dinner on his way back from Colorado. You remember him from the BBQ last summer, Jim’s friend?”
Anne grimaced. “I’ll have to check, I have to work Thursday.” Lying was hard. She glanced over to see Susan toss her a give-me-a-break look.
“You don’t have to marry the guy. He’s fun and he enjoys your company, he asked if you’d be there.”
“I appreciate it really… I just don’t think I’m ready for the dating thing. He’s really nice…but I’m just not attracted to him.” Unbidden, she had a flash of the woman in the store and the alluring amber-brown eyes and the soft southern drawl. Strange.
Susan watched with a puzzled expression, “You okay?”
“Sorry, yeah just thought of something.” She brought the sandwich plates over to the table with some potato salad and the pitcher of ice water.
“This looks good. Thanks.”
As they ate, Susan reported the neighborhood gossip. “Oh, I almost forgot to tell you my son was thrilled with the gift certificates you gave him for watching your horses. You know how I feel about making the boys earn their way and I appreciate the way you let them help you. They’re both very fond of you and I think it’s nice they’re getting so protective.”
“Thanks, Susan, I really appreciate their help. There are so many things around this house that I just can’t do alone.”
Finally, Susan said, “Anne, are you okay? We don’t see much of you and I worry about you rambling around this big house by yourself.”
Anne reached over and patted her friend’s arm. “I’m okay. Fall is always a little more melancholy for me. You know, approaching holidays and all. I think it was easier when I was angry all the time.”
“You had every reason to be angry, still do. Andrew was a real two timing prick. He better not show his face around my house…there’ll be hell to pay.” Susan’s face reddened. Clearly, she was still angry.
“I appreciate your support.” Anne picked up the plates and walked over to the sink. “I still get his junk mail and every time it feels like pulling off a scab. It will take time, that’s what everyone tells me. He was a lying, cheating bastard and I’m not sure there’s a man alive I could ever trust again.” Her throat squeezed tight and her voice caught as tears formed. “I thought I’d been so careful, waited until I was sure…”
“Oh Honey, I’m so sorry he hurt you.”
Hot, salty tears flowed down her cool cheeks. When would this ache go away?
Susan stood up, walked behind her, and put strong warm hands on Anne’s shoulders, “You’ll be okay, I promise. Now, I’m going to call Jim to bring over his chain saw, okay? That man loves his chainsaw.”
Anne just nodded and patted Susan’s hand.