RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT
© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner
Monday afternoon, Serenity met with Jim Kelso, the grade school principal, and he showed her around the school grounds, gave her a copy of the handbook, explaining a few things from it personally, and then let her look through some of the curriculum.
“As you can see, this curriculum hits all the basic elemental subjects very thoroughly, and we have also instituted a new curriculum, which covers more social awareness subjects that students can choose from, even in the lower grades. It will begin this year. And our new librarian, Miss Parker, has worked hard to cultivate the children’s interest in reading and communication of various kinds. In fact, she has developed quite a following.”
“It’s always rewarding when children learn to love reading. I’d like to meet Miss Parker some time.”
“Oh, definitely. As a matter of fact, if you decide to enroll David here, you may want to let him come to the Summer Library Club during the month of July.”
“Yes, Miss Parker volunteers her time three mornings every week during the month of July to offer a program of reading and activities for any interested children. Each child must bring his own snack, and various other materials that coincide with whatever project they’re working on, but she lets the parents know in advance what those materials will be.”
“Does she do all ages at one time?”
“Yes. She starts the younger ones on a project and then moves on to the middle school students. And she often lets some of the middle school children help with the younger ones. It’s worked very well. At least . . . last summer was the first time we tried it, since that was her first year with us . . . but it was wonderfully received by students and parents alike.”
“Well, it sounds interesting, and I’m sure David would like it. Is there any charge at all?”
“No, the town board decided that if Miss Parker were so willing to volunteer her services, the town would take care of any extra expense incurred by the school in connection with that program.”
“That’s very generous. I’ve noticed before when I’ve talked with some of the townspeople that they are really proud of their school,” she said, looking around her as she spoke. “And I’d say they have a right to be.”
“Thank you, Miss Lawrence. Now, before I leave you, did you have any other questions?”
“I don’t think so, thank you, Mr. Kelso. I’ll talk things over with my grandfather, and I’ll probably let you know something by next week.”
“Good,” he said, walking back with her as far as his office door. He turned to walk through it and nodded at her once more. “I’ll look forward to hearing from you then, and I know we’ll look forward to having David if you decide to send him.”
“Thank you again. Bye now,” she answered, moving on to the exit doors.
When she returned home, she filled her grandfather in on what she had learned, and then they sat down with David and talked to him. When he understood that he had a choice of staying here with his great-grandfather and going to school instead of moving away to a larger city as they had talked about before, he made an instant decision. He seemed so eager that Serenity took that as a confirmation from the Lord, and made her own decision as quickly. Her heart wanted to stay here anyway, so why not. After all, Gramps had said that she should try to make a life that was satisfying for herself too, and she had never felt freer or happier than she had felt here this past year.
So the next day, Serenity took David to register for the second grade at Hamsted Elementary School. The secretary helped them fill out the forms. “So David’s last name is Hartford and not Lawrence?” she asked.
“Yes, he’s my nephew, although I’m now his legal guardian.”
“Oh, yes, I see that a couple lines down now,” she said glancing through the rest of the pages. “Well, I think that’s all the information we’ll need for right now, Miss Lawrence. We’ll look forward to having David with us next year.”
Just as they were coming out of the office, they met Miss Parker, on her way to lunch, and received her personal invitation to attend the Summer Library Club each week in July. Miss Parker seemed to Serenity to be a very enthusiastic young woman, about twenty-five or twenty-six years old. She had blond hair that looked quite natural to Serenity, and she wore it in short, loose curls that framed her face in a vibrant halo. She seemed to literally radiate energy, and she smiled constantly.
David liked that, of course, and he committed himself to take part in the very first Library Day, which was a week away. “I’ll be seven before then,” he told Miss Parker. “My birthday is Saturday.”
“Well, may I wish you a very happy birthday, then, David. I hope you get lots of presents and all the cake and ice cream you can eat.”
“Oh, I will. Aunt Sere already bought me a present, and my Gramps said he ordered me something special, and I have a new friend, Noah, and he said he’s getting me something extra-special!”
“Wow. Sounds great to me.”
“And my best friend Trent is coming to have supper with us, and he’ll probably bring me a present too.”
“Well, he may, David,” Serenity answered him, “but even if he doesn’t, you just remember that the best gift he can give you is his friendship.”
“That’s true,” Miss Parker agreed. “And we’ve been reading and discussing some books that teach a lot about good friendships this past year. Maybe you can learn to enjoy them this summer, David.”
“Okay,” he said, nodding his head.
“Well, I think we’re done here, Dave,” his aunt said. She reached out to shake Miss Parker’s hand. “Thank you for all your encouragement for David. We’ll see you next month.”
“Great. I’ll look forward to it.”
With that, Serenity and David left the school and went shopping for a few more clothes and the school materials that were on the list Miss Parker had given them for the first Library Day project.
Saturday dawned bright and shiny. That kind of weather was getting to be a habit. The only rain they’d had since the severe storms had been abolished had been two or three late afternoon showers, and they had dissipated before sunset. David was especially glad about the weather today, of course, this being his own special day. “Aunt Sere, are we going to cook outside for supper?” he asked while he ate his breakfast.
“Yes, we’ll have your favorite. Hot dogs,” she said, grinning at him. “And maybe some hamburgers for the rest of us.”
“Noah likes hot dogs too,” David said, enthusiastically shoveling another big bite of pancakes into his mouth. “And Trent loves ‘em, just like me!”
“Well, I’m glad.”
“And he did get me a present too. He told me so last night when I talked to him on the phone.”
“Well, it sounds like you’ll have plenty then. Listen, slow down a little on those pancakes. They won’t run off, and you’re getting your mouth too full to be trying to talk at the same time.”
“Okay, I’ll just eat,” he said, taking another bite that was a little bigger than his mouth, and Serenity gave up. She started putting breakfast things away a little at a time and began to wash the dishes. By the time she had everything done except for David’s dishes, he was finished and ready to hit the beach.
“Remember, don’t go in the water until I tell you it’s been long enough after eating,” she reminded him. She knew that he wasn’t really likely to forget, but ever since he’d been left to her care, she had been just a little more anxious that normal about safeguarding him. Of course, she knew that the Lord was the only One Who could really keep him safe, and she prayed scriptures over him everyday, both in her own personal prayer time, and also when she prayed with him a few minutes right before breakfast.
“Okay, I’m gonna sit on the porch and read my new book until you say I can go in.”
“Good idea. Thank you.”
With that he was out the door, and Serenity finished her work in the kitchen. Her granddad had taken off early to go out in the sail boat with two friends of his, and he wouldn’t be back until late afternoon, so she had time to plan the birthday dinner and maybe even finish that article she had been working on for the Christian Family Magazine. In fact, she was deep into that work a couple of hours later when the phone rang. It was Noah.
“I wanted to know if you had any objections to my giving David and Trent a ride on Moondancer at the party tonight.”
“No, none at all. They’ll love it.”
“Well, I’m not positive how Moondancer will take to Trent alone on his back, but I can let David ride with him, and I can walk along beside them if I think it’s necessary. David’s been riding like he was born in a saddle the last several times he’s gone out. And Moondancer looks forward to having that boy on his back as much as he does having me. In fact,” he said, chuckling, “I’m starting to get a little jealous.”
“Yeah, you can’t fool me, Noah Bennett. I see how that horse is with you. You two have a bond that’s beyond the natural. Nobody could ever disrupt that, and you know it.”
He laughed more now. “Yeah, you’re right. I just sort of fell in love with that stallion the first time I saw him, and I guess it was mutual. It’s nice to know horses live a long time. At least it should be a long and happy relationship.”
“David’s so excited he can’t hold still anticipating tonight. And he keeps talking about your gift as if you’ve told him it’s going to be something really unexpected. Is there anything I should know about this gift?” she asked with teasing laughter in her voice.
“Nope. You just gotta trust me.”
There was that phrase again. The one he’d used when he’d told her to trust him about David’s safety on the horse. And Serenity did trust Noah. More than she ever remembered trusting any man that she hadn’t known well almost all of her life. She still felt a tingle all the way through her when she remembered his threat to return her kiss. But at least, she hadn’t felt self-conscious when she’d seen him the next time. Of course, both of the times they’d been together since then had been times he’d brought Moondancer down for David to ride. The other times, David had gone to Noah’s house and ridden from there. Tonight would be the first time she and Noah would actually spend any extended time together, and then she’d be busy acting as hostess for the birthday party.
“Did I lose you somewhere?” Noah’s words on the other end of the phone cut into her wandering thoughts.
“Oh, no, I’m sorry. I got a little sidetracked with thoughts about the party.”
“Well, I need to let you go so you can get everything ready.”
“Actually, I wasn’t working on the party at all when you called. I was working on an article.”
“Oh, I am sorry then, if I’ve interrupted your creativity.”
Serenity laughed. She’d laughed more since Noah had come than she had at any time since her sister and brother-in-law had died. “Don’t be silly,” she answered him now. “I was just about finished with it, and you haven’t caused me any setback. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll even be able to take it in to the post office before time for the party.”
“I have to go into town anyway in about an hour. Would you like for me to take it in?”
“Well, if you’re sure it won’t be extra trouble for you.”
“Heavens no! As small as Hamsted is, you can almost travel from one end of town to the other in the time it takes to blink your eyes,” he answered, laughing himself. “But I’m not complaining,” he added. “I like this little place, and the village atmosphere. You can really get to know people. And I’m glad you invited me to Christ Community Church. I might have waited a few weeks before I went looking for a place to worship if you hadn’t really encouraged me to attend right away. I really like Pastor Carlyle. He and I have had lunch together a couple of times, and I have more respect for him every time I’m with him. He’s a true man of God.”
“Yeah, I’ve always liked him very much myself. And his wife, Jennifer, is just as great.”
“She is a sweet lady. They invited me to dinner one night last week, and I was surprised at her sense of humor. It doesn’t show a lot on Sunday morning, but she had me almost in tears from laughter the other night.”
“I’m glad. From what I’ve noticed about you lately, you need to laugh more.”
“Well, I can tell you that I’ve laughed more since coming here and meeting you and your family than I have in a long time.” He spoke the words lightheartedly, but Serenity sensed a serious tone beneath them also.
“I’m glad,” she answered him on a serious note herself. “In fact, I was just thinking the same thing about the time we’ve spent with you.”
“That’s good to know. It’s nice to think I might make someone’s life a little brighter.”
“Well, you can rest assured that there’s someone else whose life is a lot brighter since you came into it, and that’s my nephew. He’s almost a different person.”
“I’m glad. I really like David a lot. I think he reminds me of myself a little, when I was a kid. Although, that thought might not be very encouraging to you, come to think of it.”
“Are you fishing for more compliments, Officer Bennett?”
There was a pause on the other end of the phone. There it was again. That sense of having brought up something hurtful to Noah by addressing him as a law enforcement officer. She wanted to ask about it, but not over the phone.
“Well,” she hurried to change the subject, “I guess I will hang up and go back to my article, since I have my own postal delivery service coming by to pick it up in an hour. Thank you, Noah.”
“Glad to do it. Will an hour give you enough time?”
“I’m sure it will, if I hang up now. See you then.”
“All right. Bye for now.”
One hour later, on the dot, Noah was standing on her back porch knocking on the screen door. “Is it you, Noah?” she called from the bedroom where she was just sealing the large envelope.
“Right the first time,” he replied.
“Come on in and have a seat. I’m finished, and I’ll be right out.”
“Take your time,” he said as he walked into the kitchen and sat at the table.
The next minute, Serenity walked in and laid the envelope on the table in front of Noah. She was wearing light blue shorts and a white V-neck knit shirt with blue flowers embroidered along the neck. She had pulled her hair into a high pony tail, with just the slightest fringe of side-swept bangs and curling tendrils working loose from the sides. Her eyes sparkled, and Noah found himself hoping it was because she was as glad to see him as he was to see her. She looked completely casual and ordinary, yet Noah, once again, felt something stir to life inside of him from just being in her presence. What was it about this woman that captured him this way, he wondered again. In fact, he’d been asking himself that question ever since the night he’d brought David home after the storm.
He looked right into her eyes now, and saw an answering flicker of . . . something stronger than mild friendship . . . but what exactly? He couldn’t quite put a name to it, but it was powerful enough that their eyes held for several moments, neither of them saying anything else during that time. Finally Serenity looked down at the envelope she’d laid in front of him and cleared her throat to speak.
“Thanks again for taking this for me, Noah. That way I can get the cake done earlier.”
He looked down at the envelope too, and finally picked it up, rising from the chair. “No problem.”
“Shall I send the money with you now, or would you rather wait and see how much it is? I do need it to go first class.”
“Just wait. It can’t be too much as light as it is,” he said. “Well,” he added on a sort of sigh. “I’ll be off. I’ll be back over about 5:00 then.”
“Great. We’ll eat about 5:30, and then open presents and play a couple of games that David especially likes.”
“Sounds good,” he said and turned toward the door. He made himself walk out without saying anything else. What he wanted to do was just stay here right now and sit in the kitchen with Serenity while she cooked and prepared things for the party. He shook his head as he let the screen door close behind him. He had to get control of these thoughts and feelings. He was here to rest . . . and maybe think about a new direction for his life. He hadn’t let himself think about that possibility in such concrete terms until this week. But now . . . he was facing the fact that he just might not be able to go back to his position as county sheriff again. . . . Yeah . . . he had to keep his head clear . . . and his heart unattached . . . if he were going to make such a major decision this summer.
At 5:00, Noah came riding Moondancer along the beach to the lighthouse. Trent’s parents were just getting ready to leave after dropping him off, but Serenity encouraged them to stay and meet Noah. He dismounted, and when he did Serenity noticed a large wrapped package that was strapped behind him, and about that time David noticed it too. “Is that my present, Noah?” he said, his eyes getting big and bright as he walked up close to Moondancer to look closer at the package.
“That’s your present, but you can’t have it until your aunt says it’s time to open gifts.”
David motioned for Trent to come closer. “Look, Trent; look how big it is!”
Trent came close to Moondancer, looking mostly at the large white horse. He wasn’t exactly afraid, but he wasn’t used to horses either, and he just wasn’t quite sure how to take this one. Noah stepped up to him then. “Trent, let me introduce you to Moondancer,” he said, beginning to rub the horse’s neck soothingly. “He’s become one of David’s good friends the last few weeks.”
“I know,” Trent said, seeming to relax more as he stood close to Noah. “He told me all about how he met him. He said you let him ride everyday almost.”
“That’s right. And I’ll tell you what. If you want to, I think we could let you ride with David after supper. Do you think you’d like to?”
Trent looked up at the horse, and tentatively put out a hand to pat his neck. Moondancer looked toward the boy and made the soft blowing noise he always made when he was relaxed and in a good mood. Trent seemed to like that. Finally, he answered Noah. “Yeah, I think I’d like to ride . . . but only with David,” he added seriously.
“You got it, Partner,” Noah said, and looked toward David, who was still walking around eyeing the gift, trying to figure out what it was. “How does that sound to you, David?”
“Sounds fine,” he answered Noah and then looked at Trent. “You’ll love it, Trent. Remember how much fun I told you it is? Just wait until you try it.”
Noah spent a couple of minutes talking to Trent’s parents to make sure it was all right with them if he gave Trent a ride, and when they had assured him they were in favor of it, they returned to their car and started for home.
Serenity was getting the charcoal into the grill by then, and Noah insisted that he light the fire and do the grilling. So she acquiesced, turning her attention to carrying out the colorful table cloth and paper plates and arranging them on the picnic table. David and Trent decided they wanted to swim before they ate, so they both took off for the water.
David knew exactly how far it was safe for him to go in the surf, and he never disobeyed that restriction. Serenity was grateful for that, and for the fact that, surprisingly, for an only child, David was really a very obedient child over all. He had a period once in a while when he pushed a little hard to get to go somewhere or buy something, or stay up an extra hour to watch something on television, but Serenity had never seen any rebellion or even any pouting in him. Perhaps that fact was partly due to the terribly tragedy of losing his parents as such a young age. She often thought that enduring that loss had made David feel more appreciative of the family members he had left, and he wanted to please them.
Both boys had worked up quite an appetite by the time the food was ready, so after several hot dogs and plates full of chips, they both managed to put away two pieces of cake, with ice cream. When everyone was finished eating, Serenity rose and said, “Well, I guess it’s gift time.”
“Yeah!” David said, jumping up and clapping his hands.
“I’ll go get them,” Serenity said as she rose from the table. While she carried those gifts out, Noah went to get his off Moondancer, who had been tied to the old fence just behind the lighthouse. He told David to open all the other gifts first, which he did very quickly, enjoying each one of them. He got two new books, a CD of children’s worship songs, a new video Bible game, and a gift certificate to the local pizza restaurant for four pizza dinners. Then it was time for Noah’s gift.
He lugged it over and placed it on the bench of the picnic table in front of David, who didn’t waste any time ripping off the paper. “Wow! A saddle! A real saddle! Look, Aunt Sere, a real saddle!”
Serenity walked over closer to see the gift, her own mouth open a little in surprise. “Noah, that’s . . . well . . . I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t say anything. David says, ‘thank you,’ and then he enjoys his gift,” he answered grinning at her. Then he turned back to David. “It’s a special-made saddle, just for someone your size, Dave. That way you can get your feet into the stirrups and ride the way you’re supposed to. It’s really safer that way, and since you’re getting good enough to ride alone a lot of times, I wanted you to have this.”
“Oh, thank you, Noah!” the boy said, flinging himself at Noah to give him a tight hug. “It’s . . . it’s . . . it’s stupendous!” he said, using the newest word he’d learned a couple of weeks ago.
“Well, shall we put it on and let you try it out?”
“Yes!” shouted David. “And then will Trent be able to ride with me too?’
“Oh, yeah. After you ride, we’ll put Trent up there in your new saddle, and we’ll let you get on behind him, since you’re the experienced rider.”
“Okay,” David said. “Come on, Trent,” he added, as he followed Noah to Moondancer. When Noah had changed saddles, the riding began, and didn’t come to an end until about an hour later. By that time, the boys had decided that instead of the games they had planned to play, they wanted to go inside and play the new video game, so Serenity, Clint and Noah sat out on the beach and talked.
Serenity tried twice to ask a question about Noah’s work as a sheriff, but he just refused to be drawn into that subject. He kept turning the conversation to something else, and finally, Serenity gave up, allowing the evening to come to an end without finding out any more about what was really troubling Noah Bennett about the past year of his life.
Look for Chapter Six here tomorrow.