RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT
© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner
The next morning when Lacey and Troy got to school for the Library Club, they were early enough that only one or two other students were there, and they were busy setting up some materials Miss Parker was going to use that morning. “Oh, I’m glad you two are here early,” she said to them. “Troy, I need you to count the number of take-home packets we have left on that shelf by the window, and Lacey I could use your help in my office, if you’re willing.”
“Sure, Miss Parker, “ she said and followed the librarian into her little office while Troy moved over to the bookshelf by the window to do his part.
“Now, Lacey, I’ve ordered a number of new books for the library, and I’d like for us to be able to use some of them this summer, but I haven’t had time to check to see exactly which ones have come in so far. Would you be willing to go through all the books in these two boxes and put a check mark beside the titles on my list if those books are here?”
“Sure,” she answered taking the list that Miss Parker handed her, along with a pen from the desk and going over to the two boxes sitting on the floor in the corner. As she worked quickly, she didn’t pay any attention to anything else, until she realized she was hearing Mr. Kelso’s voice. At that she glanced behind her briefly and saw that he was standing in the doorway talking quietly to Miss Parker.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t get to you earlier, but I was tied up with some other problems and got here later than usual. I wanted you to know before you start that you won’t be having David Hartford and Trent Matthews in the program anymore. Their mothers withdrew them yesterday.” Miss Parker made some kind of face that he had never seen her make before, and he didn’t know exactly what it meant, but when she answered him, it was in her usual tone of voice.
“Well . . . I’m not really too surprised. They just couldn’t seem to fit into the program at all. They almost seemed afraid to play the mind-expanding games, and I heard both of them say something about the books not being something God wanted them to read.” She shrugged her shoulders. “It’s a shame, but some people just won’t allow themselves to progress in the development of their inner selves.”
“Well, I think there was a problem with one of them having some nightmares too, and some strange events that the two ladies attributed to the material they had been exposed to here. I told them about how much the program has helped some of the other students, and that it is positively received here because of that, but they just didn’t feel comfortable about the boys coming back. I’m sorry, Miss Parker. I know you try very hard.”
“Thank you, Mr. Kelso. I do try very hard, and I’m seeing some fine progress with most of the children, so I’m not going to take this little event as a setback. But thank you for telling me as soon as possible.”
“Oh, and I meant to tell you that Miss Lawrence did ask to speak with you personally yesterday before she saw me, but you were unavailable, of course. So I assured both ladies that I would fill you in thoroughly, and both of them said that if you should have any questions, you should feel free to call them.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary. As a matter of fact, Mr. Kelso . . . well . . . I hope you’ll understand what I mean by this . . .” she paused as if searching for words. “Well, let me just say that sometimes if you have a person who cannot get into the spirit of the project, he can often interfere with the development of the other people who really want to succeed at it. I think perhaps, in the long run, this is for the best.”
“Well, I’m glad you can look at it that way, then. I’ll go now and let you get to your work. I see most of your students are here now. Have a good day.”
“You too,” she said, as he slipped back out into the hallway and she went into the main room to welcome the children.
So, Lacey thought now, the two smart alecks who thought they were too good to read the books the rest of us read aren’t coming back. About that time, Troy walked in and told her Miss Parker was beginning the class. “Hey, Troy did you hear? Those two boys, Trent and David, have quit the Library Club.”
“Well, you know they said all kinds of silly stuff about God not wanting us to read the Sally Stone books, and they wouldn’t play the games with the rest of the kids. Miss Parker said they were scared. And that’s just what they are: scaredy-cats and smart alecks. I’m glad they’re gone.”
“Who told you?”
“I heard Mr. Kelso telling Miss Parker. She thinks it’s better that they’re gone too. We can all get more out of the classes without somebody like them around. One of them is just an old cry-baby anyway. He had some bad dreams, and now his mommy doesn’t want him to come back.” Her nasty, mocking didn’t seem to affect her brother. Troy just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, I guess they’re just too young to appreciate it.”
“But you started reading the Sally Stone books when you were only a year older than them, and you appreciated them, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. I guess you’re right. Anyway, class is started; get out here,” he added, turning back into the main library room, and Lacey followed him, a gleeful look in her eyes. For some reason, she felt that her day had just taken a turn for the better.
By late Thursday afternoon, Serenity was a bundle of nerves. She hadn’t been out on a date since she’d gone back to Cincinnati for several days during Easter week. Then she had gone to dinner twice with a man she had dated frequently before moving to the lighthouse. He was a photographer, and they had worked together on several magazine articles and had become good friends. But Serenity didn’t feel anything beyond a strong friendship for him, and she certainly hadn’t had any butterflies or sweaty palms as she prepared for their evenings together.
Tonight would be different. She knew that as surely as she knew her name. She couldn’t have explained it, but she knew that what she felt when she was with Noah was altogether different from anything she had felt with the men she’d dated before. As a result, she was torn between excitement at having the chance to examine those feelings further, and concern that her feelings might be leading her to a place of heartache when Noah left the area.
“Aunt Serie, how come you’re just sitting there staring at your mirror?” David asked from behind her. She hadn’t heard him come into her room, and she couldn’t help chuckling a little now as she turned and looked at him, still in her dressing gown after her shower.
“I’m just thinking, Dave. Did you and Gramps decide what you’re going to do for supper?”
“Yeah, that’s what I came to tell you. We’re going into town to the fish restaurant, and then Gramps said we might even go to the movie. It’s one about a racehorse. Is that all right with you?”
“I think that sounds like fun. I bet you’ll both have a good time.”
“When’s Noah coming to get you?”
Serenity glanced at her watch. “Oh, my goodness! He’ll be here in about thirty minutes!” she said, shocked that she had sat so long thinking. “Come give me a kiss and then you scoot so I can get dressed quickly.”
“Okay,” he said, giggling. “You must think this is a special night if it’s taking you so long to get ready.”
“Well, it is . . . kind of. Noah and I have never gone out to dinner before.”
“Does that mean you like Noah a lot?”
Serenity tried to decide how to answer that question. “I think we all like Noah a lot, don’t we?”
“Yeah. He’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had.”
“I’m glad. Now you tell Gramps that I said for you two to have a great evening.”
“I will,” he said turning and running back to the hall to carry the message to Clint.
Twenty minutes later, Serenity was standing before her mirror in one of her favorite evening dresses. It was black and sleeveless with a squared neckline that showed off her lovely tan to perfection. The dress fell from an empire waistline in soft folds all the way to the middle of her calf, and she had completed the look with high-heeled, sandals with very thin straps. She had pulled her hair up into a cluster of curls on top of her head with a few wisps floating around her face, and her only jewelry was a pair of single pearl earrings and a single pearl on a short, delicate, gold chain around her neck. When she walked out into the living room, Clint was just on the point of coming to tell her he and David were leaving. But he stopped in his tracks and whistled.
“Now that’s what I call classy, Granddaughter. You’re sure going to attract attention tonight!” he said, grinning broadly at her. David ran up to her then, his eyes bright.
“Gosh, Aunt Serie, you never dress up like that here! You look beautiful! Noah will think so too.”
“Thank you, both of you,” Serenity said, blushing a little as they both still stared at her. “Well, you need to get going, don’t you?” she asked.
Clint chuckled and took David by the hand. “We can take a hint,” he said. “Come on, Dave. We’re not needed around here right now. See you when you get home, Honey,” he said to Serie, and whisked his great-grandson out the door.
Serenity sat down and tried to slow the rapid beating of her heart as she waited, but in no time, she heard Noah’s knock on the door. He was a little early, but at least she wouldn’t keep him waiting. So she walked over and opened the door, inviting him in and stepping back into the full light of the room. Noah stood there with his mouth slightly open, his eyes registering blatant approval of how she looked, but it was several seconds before he said anything.
“Serenity . . . you’re absolutely beautiful!” He wanted to say more, but he was having trouble getting his feelings translated into words. He had recognized the natural beauty of the woman before, but he just hadn’t expected the impact that he’d sustained when she’d opened the door tonight. Where she was usually fresh air and sunshine, tonight she was one hundred percent, tantalizing, provocative woman. And to make the package even more irresistible, there was an innocence about her that made it clear she didn’t even realize how alluring she was.
“Thank you, Noah,” she said almost shyly. “I’m ready if you’d like to leave now,” she added on a questioning note, not quite sure how to react to the look in his eyes. She would have described it as hunger if she had allowed herself to be honest, but instead, she tried to move both of them into the ordinary activities of getting away. She just wasn’t ready to deal with the other yet.
So when Noah finally cleared his throat a little and nodded that he was ready, Serie turned out all the lights except one by the sofa and walked through the door as Noah held it open for her and locked it behind them. It was the first time she had ridden in his car, and she enjoyed the fact that the interior smelled just slightly of his cologne. She inhaled the scent deeply, feeling little ripples of pleasure go through her as she did so. Then she let out a long, slow breath. Get hold of yourself, Serenity, she told herself. Don’t let this evening go to you head, for Pete’s sake.
“Comfortable?” Noah asked, looking at her and glancing to make sure her seatbelt was secure.
“Good. I know the Suburban isn’t exactly the ultimate in transportation for a rather formal evening out, but it was my best choice for this trip to the coast, since I was hauling the trailer with Moondancer. Oh . . . by the way . . . I have some news I think you’ll want to hear.”
“I’m a new uncle!” he announced, beaming.
“June had her baby!”
Noah nodded, still grinning. “A little . . . or rather . . . a big baby girl. Keith said she weighed in at nine pounds and twelve ounces.”
“No wonder June didn’t feel like doing much for the
last couple of months,” she answered, laughing. “And they’re both fine?”
“Both perfect,” according to Keith, and he gave me just about every detail he could remember. “I’m going to call and talk to June tomorrow. She was already asleep when he called me, just about an hour after the birth, and I didn’t want him to disturb her.”
“Well, I’d like to send them something. You have their address, I suppose.”
“Sure. I’ll get it to you tomorrow.”
“Oh, you haven’t told me her name.”
“Evangeline Joy Campbell.”
“Wow, that’s a mouthful, but I like it.”
“Me too,” he said, glancing at her and smiling. “As a matter of fact, I’ve noticed that we like a lot of the same things.”
“Well, people who have great taste would naturally like the same things, don’t you think,” she asked, grinning at him.
“Absolutely. And speaking of great taste, I hope you like this restaurant. It’s the newest thing in Barclay . . .The Sandcastle. It’s only been open about three weeks.”
“I read in the paper where they were having their grand opening, but I haven’t been there yet. It sounds like a fairly fancy place. I hope I’m dressed formally enough.”
“You’re dressed perfectly. I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said, smiling at her as he briefly took his eyes from the road to glance over her quickly once more. “Besides, I didn’t have a lot of choice myself. I brought only one suit with me, along with two dress shirts and two ties. I intended to loaf and rest during this period of time, so they’ll have to take me in this suit and tie or do without me altogether,” he said, laughing now.
“Well, considering how you look in that one suit, I don’t think they’re going to turn you away . . . especially if the decision is left up to a woman,” she answered, joining in his bantering mood.
Noah laughed out loud again, as he answered her. “Remind me to take you out to dinner often, Serenity. You’re very good for my ego. Would you like some quiet music?”
“Sure,” she answered, and he reached down and flipped open a small CD case. “Look through these and choose something you like.”
So Serenity chose an instrumental worship CD and put it in, adjusting the volume so that they could still talk when they wanted to. As they listened to the music, they did continue to talk sporadically, mostly about general topics and local happenings, and before they realized how much time had elapsed, they were driving into the restaurant parking lot.
The dinner was everything they could have wanted it to be, and the atmosphere in the restaurant was conducive to quiet conversation, which was what they wanted. Noah asked Serenity about her work and her years living in Cincinnati, but whenever she asked him something about his work, he gave very short answers and steered the conversation back to her as quickly as he could. She did, at least, manage to find out that he had been a police officer for several years in a large city in the Midwest before moving to the Southwest and becoming a deputy sheriff. In response to her persistence, he told her about being elected sheriff, but after that, Noah took the conversation in a totally different direction.
“Why is it you’ve never married, Serenity. You’ve surely had offers.”
She laughed lightly, but she blushed too. “Well . . . actually . . . I haven’t had any proposals yet.”
Noah’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open just a little. “Good grief, are all the men you’ve known blind or stupid?”
Serenity laughed out loud then. “Well they could all see well enough, but I don’t know for sure about the other.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I think it’s just that none of the relationships ever seemed to click . . . you know . . . that little extra something just wasn’t there. I’ve been great friends with several men in my life, but . . .” She shrugged her shoulders again and then added. “I don’t really have any explanation, I guess . . . and . . . now . . . with David in my life . . . I’m not sure that there are very many men who will want to even try and find out if something special could develop. But I certainly wouldn’t even consider not raising David. I love him as much as if he had been my own.”
“I can tell. And he feels the same way. But it’s a huge responsibility all by yourself. It was a very unselfish thing for you to do, Serenity. I’m sure the Lord is pleased with you. And . . . don’t sell yourself short . . . or most of the men in the world. There are still a few of us out there who appreciate children too.”
“Oh, I know that’s true. And I didn’t’ mean to sound as if I were accusing men of not being interested in children. It’s just that most men want to begin with just a wife for a few years and then have their own children, only when they’re ready.”
Noah shrugged. “It depends on the man. And you, Serenity, are a very special woman. I’m sure any number of men would be glad to share their life with you and help you raise David.” As he spoke he looked deeply into her eyes. They were large, emerald green jewels, and he felt as though he could look into them for hours at a time. Serenity held his gaze, her face solemn for the moment, wondering what Noah’s words just now had really meant. But after several moments, she lowered her own eyes and began to make little folds in her napkin beside her plate. They had finished eating and were having a second cup of coffee, and she knew the evening needed to come to an end soon. For some reason that made her sad, but she had to force those feelings aside.
Noah still hadn’t spoken anything else, and when she glanced back at him, he was still looking right at her, the look in his eyes more like a smoldering fire now. He sat as still as a stone, the only movement the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, and that was rather rapid, Serenity noticed. Of course, she realized that her breathing matched his, and her heartbeat was now double what it had been five minutes ago. She had to do something to break this connection between them because if she didn’t she might drown in those eyes . . . or worse yet . . . she might say something she would regret.
She managed to tear her eyes away from his and look toward the other side of the restaurant. She took a couple of deep, slow breaths and cleared her throat. Then she glanced at her watch. “Well, it’s getting late, I guess. Do you think we should go?”
Noah glanced down at his own watch. “Not so late, really. But if you’re finished, we could leave and go for a drive down to the beach. It’s a beautiful night.”
“Yes, it is. That sounds like a good way to end the evening. The moon should be right over the ocean about now.”
So they left the restaurant and drove down to the beach, glad that there weren’t very many other people there at this time. “Shall we take a walk,” Noah asked her. “Of course, you’d have to take your shoes off. I’m sure those heels won’t make it in this sand.”
“That’s no problem,” she said and slipped off her shoes. He opened her door and took her hand, leading the way almost to the water’s edge. They strolled along, hand in hand, their fingers entwined, not saying much of anything, just feeling the beauty of the night and the warmth of each other’s presence. After several minutes, Noah realized the breeze was getting chilly, so he took off his jacket and placed it around Serenity’s shoulders, leaving his arm draped over it as they continued walking.
Finally, after they’d strolled a considerable way from the half a dozen other beach combers, they came to a small rise in the ground with a large rock formation jutting out of it toward the sea. Noah placed Serenity against it and stood in front of her as a shelter from the breeze, which was a little stronger on this part of the beach. As she leaned against the rock, he leaned toward her, placing his hands on either side of her just above her shoulders. His eyes, as he looked into hers, were burning with that same fire she had seen in the restaurant, only now it wasn’t nearly as controlled. She felt an answering flame leap within her, and she couldn’t take her eyes away from his.
Slowly, Noah moved his right hand from the rock and gently traced the line of her cheek with his index finger. Serenity shivered as his hand came to the front of her face, and he began, even more gently, to trace the line of her lips, now slightly open as she tried to reclaim her breath. Suddenly, Noah removed his hand from her and straightened up, shoving both hands into his pants pockets, his eyes still on fire.
“Serenity, you know that I want to kiss you.” His voice was low, the timbre of it vibrating over her, touching every nerve. “. . . And I think you know how much I want to kiss you.” She didn’t say a word, but her eyes burned into his, and he knew that he was right. “But I’m not going to kiss you . . . because . . . because . . .” He saw her swallow hard and knew she was fighting the same battle that he was. He tried to pick up the train of thought and finish his explanation. “I’m not going to start something that I don’t know if I can finish . . . even though . . .” His voice had become husky. It was hard to get his breath. He tried to drag in a deep breath to continue, but everything else that he was feeling was consuming him.
Suddenly, he grasped Serenity’s shoulders, and with a groan, he pulled her to him and captured her lips. His reason told him that he was making a mistake, but everything else in him was singing with joy at the experience of connecting so completely with this woman. And Serenity’s response thrilled him even more . . . so much so that he deepened the kiss and wrapped his arms tightly around her as she wrapped her own around him with equal fervor.
Several long moments later, Serenity finally made a slight motion to pull away, and Noah begrudgingly released her lips, but not his embrace. Immediately, his mouth traced a line of kisses along her cheek, nestling momentarily at her ear, and then moving just below to the tender spot on her neck. Serenity had felt searing heat engulf her the moment Noah’s lips had touched hers, and even now, she felt the same trail of heat as he moved his mouth gently against her skin. She rested her head against his shoulder, and as he placed one hand against the back of her head, he whispered in her ear. “So much for my good intentions.”
At that, Serenity gave the tiniest giggle, and although she tried to smother it, she failed. But that response managed to defuse some the energy of the moment, and as she pulled back, Noah was able to slacken his hold and finally release her, except to place his hands gently on her shoulders. He looked into her eyes. “I’ve come to care very deeply for you, Serenity. But I don’t know for sure what that can mean for us. I’d like to think you feel the same, but I’m not going to ask you to confess that, because I have no choice but to continue doing some very serious soul searching right now. And . . . that being the case . . . I can’t afford to let myself focus on anything else or anyone else too deeply.”
“Well, I’m not sure what my future as an instantaneous mother holds either, Noah, so I’m not ready to make any declarations either.” His eyes searched hers, and there was an undeniable longing in them, but Serenity could tell that he had gotten control of himself again, and he would force himself not to give in to satisfying that longing until he was satisfied about everything else in his life. She smiled at him now. “I think we probably should start for home, though, don’t you?”
Noah nodded, letting out a deep sigh, and turned back toward the way they had come, taking her hand in his again. They made the drive back in silence for the most part, but it was a peaceful, pleasant silence. Each of them needed to sort through their thoughts and feelings, and neither wanted to risk hurting the other. They listened to the worship CD again, and somewhere along the middle of the program, Serenity fell asleep. When they arrived at the lighthouse, Noah patted her shoulder gently. “Serie,” he whispered, but had to do so three times before she woke. As she came awake, before she opened her eyes, she felt his warm, breath on her face, and inhaled the sweet scent of him, remembering the kiss for another moment. She smiled then and finally opened her eyes, looking right into his.
“Sorry, Noah. I guess I was pretty boring company on the trip home.”
“No need to apologize. You’re very beautiful when you’re asleep, and you didn’t even snore,” he said, grinning, as she sat up straighter and unfastened her seatbelt. Noah got out and came around to open her door. He took her hand and held it all the way to her own front door. Then he took her key and unlocked the door, holding it open for her to enter. Just as she stepped into the doorway of the silent house, she turned back to smile at him and thank him for dinner.
“It was my pleasure . . . and . . .” He paused and barely touched his index finger to her lips. “Thank you for sharing that beautiful kiss with me, Serie.”
Her throat felt clogged suddenly — with what emotion she wasn’t sure — but she couldn’t get any words out. Finally, she just smiled once more and whispered, “Goodnight, Noah,” and turned to step the rest of the way into the living room.
“Night, Serie . . . sweet dreams,” he whispered and turned toward his car.
Look for Chapter Ten here tomorrow.