RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT
© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner
Monday had turned out to be just as pretty a day as Sunday had been, and when Monday night had come and gone, again without another storm, the people along the coast breathed a deep sigh of relief. It looked as if that weird weather system had finally dispersed. Nobody in the weather service had been able to explain it even yet, but the citizens of Hamsted and the surrounding beach area didn’t really care, as long as the storms were over.
Tuesday morning, Noah called Serenity and invited her family to a cookout at his cottage, along with the two neighbors who had rented the cottages on either side of him. Everyone accepted immediately, and offered to bring a dish of some kind to add to the menu. So around 5:00 that evening they all gathered at Noah’s part of the beach, one or two bringing along beach umbrellas and several bringing folding lawn chairs and blankets to sit on. Noah had set a picnic table out where all the food could be spread out, and each person helped himself to a plate full and then milled around until he found a seat that suited him.
There were two other children, twins, who had come with their grandparents for a month on the beach. They were ten years old, but since David was fairly mature for his age, they didn’t seem to have any problem joining with him in playing some games and having fun. David asked Noah if he could take the twins to visit Moondancer in his corral, and Noah agreed with the stipulation that they were not to open the gate for any reason, and they all agreed.
Noah had been riding Moondancer along the beach every night since the storms had passed. They usually rode for about three miles along the coast and then back to the cottage. It had been good for both of them, and Noah wasn’t sure which of them looked forward to those moonlight rides the most. He had let David come every day to pet Moondancer and talk to him, but he had kept his word about waiting a whole week before giving David another ride. The week would be up on Friday, and David had reminded Noah of that fact every time he saw him. Noah just hoped that Moondancer was as receptive to the boy’s riding him the second time as he had been at first.
About 8:00 the group built a small bonfire on the beach and began to roast marshmallows. By that time everyone was tired and wanted to just sit and share thoughts and memories. The kids told each other their own stories, in between mouthfuls of their sticky treats, and then the twins’ grandmother moved over to the kids’ group and began telling them one of her favorite stories. The other guests were talking about some memories of previous years when they had all visited the coast, and eventually the talk turned to a history of the lighthouse itself, which suited Clint perfectly.
Noah sat silent, looking out over the ocean, breathing deeply every so often, trying to let the peace soak into him, but having to work a little at keeping nagging thoughts from the past year from forcing themselves into his mind. Serenity was sitting within arm’s reach of him, and she couldn’t help watching him. The firelight flickered over his face, casting shadows in such a way that the tension in his features seemed even more noticeable. She was sure he was troubled about something, and she was trying to decide whether to ask about it or not. Finally, she decided to ask a question and see if he would open up to her.
“You look serious, Noah. There’s something troubling on your mind isn’t there?” she asked in a quiet enough voice that the others engaged in their own conversations couldn’t really catch her words clearly.
Noah turned and looked at her. For the first second, he seemed to have just then realized that she was there, but in the next moment, his eyes began to skim over her face in a look that was almost a caress. Serenity felt warmth suffuse her, but then she told herself that she was letting her imagination run away with her. Why would Noah Bennett look at her in that way? He barely knew her. But it had seemed that his eyes registered pleasure in what he saw. He still hadn’t answered her though, so she tried again.
“Is something bothering you tonight, Noah?”
He dropped his eyes for a moment and then looked back out to the sea. Finally, he spoke in that soothing, baritone voice she had come to appreciate over the past several days. But he too spoke softly, as if he didn’t really want anyone else to hear. “We seem to be on the same wave length all the time, don’t we?”
He hadn’t answered her directly, but Serenity knew what he meant. They had both sensed the same sinister element in the storms they’d had. Then Noah had known exactly what Serenity had needed him to say to David to back her up in her discipline. Now tonight, she had picked up on his troubled spirit, even though he had done nothing all evening to indicate that he had problems on his mind.
“Sometimes it just works that way, I guess,” was all she could think of to say. “Would you like to talk about it?”
He gave a quiet chuckle, but it really had no joy in it. It was more of an indication of some kind of bitter irony in what he was about to say. “No, actually, I don’t want to talk about it, but I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s what I need to do . . . with the right person, that is.”
“Well, I don’t know if I’d qualify, but I’d certainly be glad to listen, and I can promise you it won’t go any further.”
He nodded briefly, still not looking at her. “I think I know that. But I’m not sure it’s something you need to be burdened with.”
“I don’t usually take on burdens. I usually pass them on to the Lord in prayer, whether they concern me or someone else that I care about.”
He gave her a sideways look then. “You’re not only beautiful; you’re also very wise,” he said with a grin, watching her just long enough to see her blush. It was visible even in the dim light, and for some reason he seemed to enjoy causing her to blush like a schoolgirl. Then he looked back out to the ocean, silent again.
“Keith mentioned that you’d been through some pretty trying experiences in your work this past year and that you were hoping to get some rest during the two months you were here.”
Noah looked at her again, concern on his face. “I didn’t realize he’d told anyone that.”
“Oh, he didn’t say any more than that,” she hurried to reassure him. “He didn’t indicate any details at all, and I really think I’m the only one he told. I had come down to help him air out the cottage and get it ready for you. June was just too close to her time of delivery for Keith to let her do any of the work, so David and I volunteered our services,” she said grinning.
“That was kind of you. I know they both appreciated it . . . and so do I, by the way. The place was spotless and as fresh as spring when I arrived. Thank you, Serenity.”
“It was no trouble at all, Noah. And truly, your brother-in-law didn’t tell any of your personal business beyond saying it had been a trying year, and he hoped you’d get some much deserved rest. I hope that hasn’t upset you.”
Noah shook his head. “No . . . I’m not upset.” He sighed deeply. “It’s just not the kind of thing that’s easy to talk about. In fact . . . with most people, it would be impossible to talk about.”
“So am I one of those people?”
“No . . . not at all. At least . . . I’m pretty sure you’re not. I’m just not sure I can bring myself to go into all of it now, Serenity. But if I can at a later time . . . I’d be more likely to do so with you than anyone else I can think of right now.”
“Then I won’t push you, but if you do need to talk, Noah . . . or even if you just want to talk . . . I’d be honored to think you could trust me.”
“I’m sure I can . . . and thank you.”
Serenity just nodded and then glanced over to the large blanket where the kids were. David was sprawled out, most likely sound asleep. “Well, it looks as if David has called it a night.”
Noah followed her glance and then he chuckled. “He’s had a full day. I guess the lullaby of the sea was just too much after all that hard playing.”
“I suppose I need to get him home.” She turned to her grandfather. “I think David’s conked out on us, Gramps. Do you think we need to be getting home?”
“Probably a good idea,” he said, and the other adults began to get up from their seats too. “Yeah, we need to go too,” the twins’ grandfather said, and, gradually, they all collected their dishes and lawn chairs and began to make their way toward their own places, as Clint began to put out the fire.
Noah moved to help with that, and then he said, “You two go ahead and collect your dishes, and blankets, and I’ll pick David up and carry him back to the lighthouse.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that, Noah,” Serenity said. “I’m sure I can get him awake enough to get him home.”
“Don’t be silly, Serie,” he answered, calling her by her nickname for the first time. It gave Serenity a warm feeling. Noah continued: “Why should you wake him up, when I can easily carry him down there. It’s not as if I have a whole lot of other pressing things to take care of, you know.” He was grinning at her by the time he’d finished, so she gave in.
“All right, Sheriff Bennett, I yield to your voice of authority,” she said, chuckling. But she wasn’t prepared for the pain she saw flash through his eyes momentarily when she had addressed him that way. There was definitely something troubling this man, and it had to do with his work as a law enforcement officer. She wished she could help him. But for now, she packed up their two covered plastic bowls and stuck them in their picnic basket, along with David’s ball, and his plastic pail and shovel. Clint picked up the two beach blankets they’d brought. When they were ready, Noah lifted David into his arms, and except for a very drowsy move to reach one arm up around Noah’s neck, the child barely indicated he had wakened at all. And he was obviously sound asleep again before they had gone ten feet.
Friday morning, David was exuberant at the breakfast table. He hurried through his cereal and English muffin, even though his aunt kept admonishing him to slow down. And when he hopped off his chair announcing he was ready to go ride Moondancer, Serenity had to grab his arm and insist that he sit back down until he’d finished his juice. “And then you have to wait twenty minutes for your food to settle before you take off,” she said.
“Oh, Aunt Serie . . . I’ve been waiting a whole week already!”
“Well, then, twenty more minutes won’t make much difference, will it?” she asked with a wide grin.
“But what if Noah forgets and goes someplace before I get down there?”
“You know he won’t, David. And even if he did, you can ride later on this afternoon.”
“Okaaaay,” he said, giving in ungraciously, but he did sit back down and drink his juice.
“Good,” Serenity said. “Now if you want, you can go outside and sit on the porch steps for twenty minutes, and I’ll come and tell you when that’s up. Then you can go for your ride.”
So David slipped out onto the porch and sat down, fidgeting a little every couple of minutes, but he managed to stay seated at least. In about ten minutes, Noah came riding along the beach on Moondancer, and headed straight for the lighthouse. David jumped and yelled for his aunt. “Aunt Serie! Aunt Serie! Noah’s here! And Moondancer!” With that he was off the porch and racing to meet his guests before they had entered the yard.
Serenity came to the door and then stepped out onto the porch about the time Noah was dismounting. She didn’t speak immediately, because David was talking a mile a minute. “I’m sure glad you remembered, Noah. I was coming to your house, but Aunt Serie made me finish my juice first, and then she made me sit on the porch . . . to let my food settle, she said. And then I was coming.”
“Well, I figured you’d be anxious to get in your ride as soon as possible.” He looked up at Serenity then. “Good morning.” He suddenly felt flooded with sunshine as he looked at her standing there in a yellow cotton sundress, with her hair pulled back at the nape of her neck and tied with a yellow ribbon. He didn’t think she had on any makeup, but the woman didn’t need any makeup — she didn’t need anything extra at all to make herself the focus of his attention.
“Good morning, Noah,” she answered, smiling in that way she had that lit up her whole face. Fleetingly, he wondered what it would be like to wake up beside her every morning. Whoa! He shook his head slightly. Where had that thought come from? He’d better watch his step for sure. He needed rest, not an emotional roller-coaster called romance!
“So is it all right if David goes for his ride now?” he finally asked.
“I guess so,” she said, looking just a little unsure. “Are you sure it’s safe, Noah? I mean . . . Moondancer is so big.”
Noah laughed. “You forget, Serie. Your nephew has already been on this horse’s back and enjoyed a ride that, from what I could tell, was a little on the brisk side . . . if not downright wild. I’m sure he can handle something a little tamer. Besides, I’m going to get on and ride with him first, and then walk alongside. Then next time, if everything is still going well, we can let them ride along the beach on his own for a while.”
“Well, if you’re going to do it that way, I guess it’s bound to be all right.”
“I promise, Serenity. I won’t leave him alone with Moondancer unless I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
She nodded. “Okay.”
“Noah, did you say that I can ride Moondancer again? More than today?”
“Yes, assuming you and he get along as well as you did the other night.”
“We will, won’t we boy?” David said, gently caressing the horse’s neck.
“Well, then, let’s get you up here,” Noah said, picking the boy up and lifting him into the saddle. Then he got up behind him. “I know you’re used to riding bareback, but I like the saddle when I ride, and I figured it would help you stay in place better, even if your feet don’t reach the stirrups.
“Okay, Noah,” David answered, grinning and almost bouncing in the saddle.
Noah gave the horse a flick of the reins that was their own signal for him to start off in a slow walk, and gradually, as they covered more of the beach, he let the horse move into a trot, and eventually into an easy run. On their way back toward the lighthouse, Noah had Moondancer walking again, and he began to explain to David more about handling the reins. When they returned to Serenity, sitting on the porch watching them, Noah dismounted and handed the reins to David.
“Now, David, you and Moondancer can go for a walk back toward my cottage, but don’t flick the reign again and try to get him to run yet, do you understand?”
David nodded. “I promise, Noah.”
“Okay, I’ll walk beside you this time, and then maybe next time you can go all by yourself.”
“Okay,” he said and urged the horse into a gentle walk.
Serenity laid her hand gently on Noah’s arm, and he felt the heat of that touch travel to his chest as he turned to look at her.
“Are you sure, Noah . . . about letting him sit up there by himself? You said Moondancer usually didn’t want anyone else riding him.”
“Serenity, very few people are truly natural-born horsemen, but your nephew is one of those rare people. And Moondancer knows it. He’s taken to David as if he’d belonged to him all his life. I don’t understand it, but I know it’s a fact.” He reached up and nudged her under the chin very lightly. “Trust me. He’ll be fine,” he said and started to turn away to catch up with David, who was several feet along the beach by now.
“Noah,” Serenity said, and he turned to look at her again. As he did so, she came closer and reached up and kissed him on the cheek, very briefly. Heat engulfed him so that he barely caught her words. “You’re very sweet to take this much time with him. I haven’t seen him this excited about anything in a long time. Thank you so much.”
He smiled slightly and nodded, turning to go again. But he had taken only a couple of steps before he turned around again, his caramel-colored eyes piercing her dark green ones. “If I don’t catch up with David right now, I’m going to find myself returning that kiss. . . . And it won’t be on your cheek.”
Even though she blushed to the roots of her hair, Noah managed to tear his eyes away from hers and take off jogging down the beach toward the horse and rider. Serenity felt hot and cold all at the same time, and as her knees began to feel just a little unsteady, she turned to sit back down on the porch.
What on earth was wrong with her that just the thought of kissing Noah Bennett had her shivering like a teenager? She’d certainly been kissed a number of times before. But she had to admit that none of those kisses had brought on a reaction like this — and so far he’d done nothing but threaten to kiss her. She wrapped her arms around herself as she sat there lost in thought. At least she guessed that it would be considered a threat. Actually, she hoped that it was more of a . . . promise.
Clint came out on the porch then, his second cup of coffee in his hands. “We just got a call from the secretary at the elementary school, Serie. She said she needed to change your appointment with Mr. Kelso to Monday afternoon instead of Monday morning. I knew you all were getting David started on his ride, so I didn’t call you in. I just told her I thought that would be fine, but if not, I’d have you call her back before noon.”
“That’s no problem. Monday afternoon’s just as good. I just need to get a better idea of the school and how it’s run . . . and exactly what they teach . . . so that we can decide for sure what to do for the next school year.”
“Well, you know, of course, that I’d love to have both of you stay here, but if you feel that it isn’t what’s best for David . . . or for you . . . then you’ll have my blessing on whatever you decide,” he said, putting an arm around her shoulders.
“I know, Gramps. And I’ve been thinking that maybe staying here a few more years just might really be what David needs most. He seems to be getting his joy and lust for life back, and he loves it here so much.”
“But there’s something else to consider, Serenity, and I think you keep forgetting that.”
She looked up at him, concern in her eyes. “What, Gramps?”
“You’re forgetting yourself, Child. You can’t start making every decision you make just for David’s benefit.” She opened her mouth to interrupt, but he put up his hand in a restraining motion. “No, hear me out, Serie. You are only thirty-two years old, you’re beautiful, inside and out, and you’re a talented writer. You deserve a full, satisfying life for yourself . . . including a good man to love you and share that life with you. And in the long run, you will serve David’s interests best if you do what’s truly best for you personally. Because then you’ll be a more fulfilled, more satisfied person, and therefore better able to help him be the same.” He looked at her sternly for a moment. “Do you understand me?”
Serenity nodded, tears brimming in her eyes, and then she reached out to hug her grandfather. “I understand, Gramps. And thank you.”
He just nodded his head and then drained the last of his coffee. “Now,” he said, rising, “I need to go up and clean the lenses.”
Serenity got up too. “And I need to clean off the breakfast table,” she said, going in ahead of her granddad. “I forgot to ask Noah how long he and David would be gone, but as long as he’s keeping an eye on him, I guess I won’t worry about it.”
“That’a girl,” he said. “I’ll be up top if you need me,” he added, and started up the spiral stairs.
Look for Chapter Five here tomorrow.