A short sweet home-front romance with literary veins (Nano novel 2009)
Protect The Heart
Entrenched on his father's farm in southern Idaho's Snake River Valley, Abraham Luchner pulls up roots to join the war effort. Joined by his friend Cameron Terry, an impulsive adventure seeker, Abe determines to sever ties at home in order to minimize distractions. His greatest connection with his beloved canyon and farm is in the form of charcoal sketches he works on each night to escape his present conditions, as well as the letters Cameron reads aloud from his beloved.
Maura Laerty has been claimed as Cameron's betrothed in the eyes of the community. Determined not to become a war widow or caregiver of one more soul who needs her ongoing assistance, she refuses his proposal, at least until he returns. Despite her efforts, Maura soon finds herself saddled with responsibilities that tax her resolve and turn the townspeople away. Her greatest ally comes from a twist of fate as winding and unpredictable as the great Snake River itself.
Protect The Heart features poetry by NOVAcatmando
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From Chapter One (an intro to Abraham and Cameron)
Abraham slung his backpack over his shoulders and headed down the dusty road toward town. His father asked to take him. Begged, nearly. But Abe didn’t want his goodbye, which could be his final goodbye, to be at the train depot. He wanted it at home, on their farm, where by all rights he should have been helping with chores. His father would manage without him. He had always managed. Even through the torturous years of watching Abraham’s mother drift away through the mind-dissolving dementia and then finally leave them for good, his father had managed.
Abraham hoped with every part of his soul he would return to the farm, to his father, and be there to help him manage during his aging days. It would be soon. Charles Luchner showed signs of slowing. It hurt Abe to see it. It would hurt him more to have to see his father watch him leave on that train, standing on the platform managing to control his sadness, his fear.
At the edge of his property, he kicked a rock out of his path. The long walk into town would do him good, help him prepare for what was to come. Not that he wasn’t prepared already. Constant farm chores without machinery to make them easier had built his strength and stamina well. Days of rising before the roosters to take care of the crops and the cows, and to move lines in bitter cold air and knee deep snow and in the hottest times of the summer made him sturdy. He didn’t figure war would be much harder, physically. What he wasn’t sure of was how disruptive it would be to his mind. He had no qualm about fighting as needed. He was raised to stand up for himself and those around him and did so without hesitation. And now he was proud to do it for his country. He’d never actually taken a life, though. He knew how to avoid that risk during a fight.
His father told him to be someone else out there, to tell himself he was doing good and that sometimes evil was necessary to prevent worse evil. “Never let it make you feel bad about who you are.” Charles Luchner’s voice echoed in his thoughts. “Remember your heart is in the right place and that’s what matters.” Lives came and went. They always would. The heart is what lasted. Protect the heart, he’d said.
Abraham adjusted his backpack in an imitation of adjusting his thoughts and wondered how soon his father would find the wood carving at the back side of the house. He’d done it in secret as a message for when he wasn’t there. A heart. Enclosed within hands inside an image of the farm, their farm. Abe engraved it in the back of the wooden bench swing he’d made while he kept it hidden in a corner of the barn. His father loved to sit out behind the house on nice days and simply look over their land, land passed through generations of his family, worked by many hands who loved their bit of America, as his father said. Before he left, Abe wanted him to have a more comfortable place to do it; a place that would leave a part of himself behind for his father to keep. He’d moved it out to the yard just as dawn was breaking.
As he walked, he eyed the light echo of misty mountains in the distance. There weren’t many trees in Snake River country, at least not in his part of it, in southern Idaho. What were there were rather sparse, as compared to what he’d seen during his travels back east. His father had sent him to see something of the country after he earned his diploma and before he settled in to learn how to take over the farm. Abraham’s thoughts often returned to the long train trip where he jumped off here and there to explore different territories and different people. As much as he loved the travel, he also loved the return to his mountains. To his farm. One day, it would be his. One day after that, he would share it with a family of his own. Anyway, that was his plan.
If he returned.
Tires flying up the gravel road from behind broke his thoughts and he moved into the yellowed weeds. They needed rain. But then, they usually needed rain.
The car stopped. “Get in.”
Abe sighed and looked over at Cameron. He wanted the long walk into town to be alone with his thoughts, to be alone in the circle of his mountains.
“Come on. What’re you walking for, anyway? Old man wouldn’t take you in?”
“He tried. Go on. I’ll meet you in town.”
“Have you lost your marbles? Don’t think we’ll get enough walking when we’re shipped out? Get in.” Cameron reached over to open the passenger door.
It would be pointless to argue. His friend was too stubborn. Abe threw his pack in the back seat and lowered into the front.
“So this should be some grand adventure, hey?” Cam threw the car back into gear and skidded the gravel. “A few nights in town and then off on a hero’s journey. Can’t wait to show up at Maura’s in this uniform. Bet she’ll give in to me when she sees it’s going to be real. Don’t you bet?”
“Don’t know, Cam. Haven’t met her but from what you’ve said, I’d have my doubts.”
“Aw, but she’s just scared I won’t come back, you know. And when she sees that could really be, when I show up looking like a real soldier, she’ll wanta make sure we at least have a couple days. Right?”
Abraham didn’t bother to answer. Nothing he said would matter. If Cameron hadn’t taken Maura’s hints by now, more than hints from the way it sounded, he wouldn’t take them from Abe, either. The girl didn’t want a soldier. She wanted someone who would be around. Abe couldn’t blame her.
from Chapter Two (an intro to Maura)
Maura set the warm plate on the table in front of her father and kissed his head. “Your favorite today, Papa. Fried ham and fresh corn. Make sure you eat that banana, too, to counter the salt.”
“The corn isn’t on the cob. I like it on the cob.”
“I know you do, but it hurts your teeth. Remember? This is fresh from the cob. I cut it off. It’s the same corn.”
“It’s not on the cob.”
Maura sighed. “Yes, I know. I’m sorry. But please eat well today. Mrs. Jacobs will be here soon to check on you. I’m off to the home now. I won’t be late.”
“Mrs. Jacobs smells like alcohol. She drinks.” He teased the corn with his fork prongs.
“She doesn’t drink, Papa. She’s a nurse. She uses alcohol to clean the equipment and people’s arms before they get shots. Be nice to her, please. I’ll be back soon.”
“I don’t know why you spend your time at that place. You’ll catch something one of these days and then what’ll I do?”
Maura left him rambling. He would likely go on for the next ten minutes about why she shouldn’t volunteer her time at the women and children’s home. She heard it on a near-daily basis, but it kept her hands and mind occupied. And she loved taking care of the little ones, the infants especially. Someone had to do it. Her father said they got themselves into the mess, they should get themselves out. Maybe it was true. Sometimes. But sometimes it wasn’t their fault. Many were war widows, young war widows left with children. The older women could usually find jobs to pay their own expenses. Those with children weren’t often hired, and if they were, they had nowhere to take the babies while they worked. They did their best. It often wasn’t enough.
Even with those for whom it was out of lack of responsibility, as her father yelled about, it was because they weren’t taught well, so she figured. As she worked with them, Maura tried to help them see how to prevent further hardships for themselves. She wasn’t sure it ever worked.
It got her out of her father’s house, anyway, and gave her a break from the way he consistently asked of Cameron. When he was coming next. When he would propose already as a gentleman should. Maura couldn’t tell him Cameron had proposed. She couldn’t accept. Not now. Not until he came back. She’d seen enough war widows struggle to get by. She had no intention of being one of them. No. She would stay with her father and put up with being his main caregiver for now. And she would do something worthwhile in the meantime, while she waited. Not that she saw the war ending any time soon. but she hoped it did before she’d be considered too much a spinster for anyone to still be interested. Even if she was older than most, she would be unencumbered, with no little ones of her own for a man to have to take care of, as well. She expected that would work in her favor.
Part of her felt traitorous to Cameron for even thinking about other men, but then, she hadn’t exactly chosen him. He chose her. He’d simply asked her father for permission to come around now and then and had taken to doing so. Maura enjoyed his company. He was nice enough. His humor made her laugh, and laughing these days was a privilege. Her father liked that he had money so she would be taken care of well.
Maura couldn’t imagine herself actually being taken care of. She’d always done well enough with that on her own, on top of taking care of others. Her mother. Maura had taken full care of her until she was gone. Now she had her father. And the orphans and widows, and sometimes a soldier who came back wounded they let stay in a far part of the building away from the widows. Not that they didn’t find ways to mingle.
Maura did not mingle. If they were in the home, they needed help to care for themselves. She was glad to do it at work, but enough was enough. Dealing with her father was enough. She didn’t need another man to support.
That was one reason Cameron appealed to her. Maybe he did have money, but he also worked hard. She’d seen him in shirt-tails coming into town with that friend of his to get farm supplies. She never approached him at those times, but she watched him. He had a nice build, nearly a match of his friend’s. They could almost have been brothers except for what she knew of their personalities. Abraham was awfully quiet. He hardly talked to people. That, and the way the town talked about his wood crafts was all she knew of him. And he also had care of his father on his own. Unlike Maura’s, though, Abraham’s father was still able to work and care for himself.
With another sigh, she grasped her parasol from the rack beside the front door and went out to the front porch. She didn’t want it opened to cover her head. The sun leaked beautiful heat from the sky and she wanted to raise her face and let it sink in. Her father would have a fit. Young women of “a certain class” shouldn’t look like farm hands. Did he think if she did marry Cameron, she wouldn’t ever help him on the farm? She supposed the wealthier farm ladies didn’t, but the thought appealed to her, maybe even more than Cameron did. She had to think caring for crops and animals would be much like working at the home in care of people, but with less heartache. The infants she always fell in love with were adopted out easily if they were open for adoption. The young mothers often settled for whatever man would have them and their children, often older men they didn’t care anything about. It hurt her to see it.
No. Maura wouldn’t be one of them. She would wait. If she didn’t find someone, she would be fine on her own. The house would go to her when her father passed. She could take care of herself as long as she had a roof over her head.
Pausing at the trellis, she fingered a morning glory and dropped the parasol back to allow the dense blue-spotted vine to provide her shade. Its soft silky petal felt much like an infant’s cheek. Delicate and yet hardy. Calming and nurturing even as it needed to be nurtured. Her mother said, when they had last sat on the front porch together, how the morning glories reminded her of Maura. Each year the plant rejuvenated itself, became more hearty, more filled in, with more blooms.
Maybe her mother was right, but she felt more like her beloved columbine with their two layers in two shades, one softly rounded, the other pointed, as if in warning. The yellow stamen shooting so proudly from the center announced their need and longing for pollination. Maura blushed at the thought. She was, after all, old enough. Twenty-three already. Quite old enough.
“Good afternoon, Miss Laerty.”
She jumped at Cameron’s voice, amazed she hadn’t noticed his car pull in front of her house as she stood admiring her flowers. Maura shoved the indecent thoughts out of her mind while she faced him. “Oh, good afternoon, Mr. Terry. You aren’t off already, are you?” She couldn’t help but stare at Cameron in his olive green uniform. It made her heart hurt. She didn’t want him to come back like those men at the other end of the home. With his risk-taking and high spirits, she was awfully afraid he would.
“I have nearly two full days yet. Abe and I are in town to get ready is all. Thought I would start getting used to it.” He stepped out and offered his arm. “I hoped to take you for a walk around town.”
“I’m afraid I have plans.”
“You have plans?” He looked alarmed.
“Yes. I was on my way to the home. They’re expecting me today.”
“Oh.” His face relaxed. “Well, I don’t suppose I could change your mind, seeing as I have only two days left and all?”
“For now. Two days left for now, you mean, Mr. Terry. And I expect you to come home walking, by the way. You do know I expect that.”
He bowed. “I will do my best to accommodate you.”
His grin was too charming. She had to pull her eyes away. “I do need to go in to the home for a bit, but I suppose I could leave early. Would you like to come for dinner? Father would enjoy the extra company.”
“I would be honored. Please, allow me to drive you and I’ll pick you up after if you’ll give me a time.”
Maura couldn’t refuse. After all, Cameron was leaving. She might as well enjoy the company, also, while she could. “You are welcome to bring your friend along, if you would like. You say he’s in town with you?”
“Abe? Yes, he’s in town. But he has ‘errands’ to take care of, so he says. Trying to make sure everything is set for his father while he’s away, I believe. I told him I’d have my younger brothers stop by now and then to offer help. He seems to appreciate it, but he still worries.”
“His father is in good health, though, I hear.”
“Oh yes. For a man nearly sixty, he is in good health. They are close, however, and Abe worries he will work too hard there alone. Not like you and your father or me and my own, where we put up with each other only as we are related by circumstance. If anything happens to Abe, the old man will be devastated. His world centers on him.”
“Lord willing he won’t be away long, then. Or you.”
Cameron lifted her hand to kiss her fingers.
She blushed. “We’re in public. What will people think?”
“They’ll think you’re inclined to become my wife. As I’m inclined to think you might, also.”
“Please, Maura. Cameron. At least do me the favor of using my first name and allowing me use of yours.”
“I believe you have already taken that liberty.”
He grinned. “And I believe you are starting to bend to my request. But we’ll talk more of it later, after dinner tonight when we take a stroll.”
“Cameron.” His name was hard for Maura to say. It seemed improper. Of course it shouldn’t since they were courting and it wasn’t a secret they were courting. Still…
“Don’t say more.” He pressed a finger against her lips.
Maura cast her eyes along the dark sidewalk. They were beneath a street lamp, too easily seen. She would have to accept him if she allowed such contact. She pulled back. “Please don’t.”
“Maura. I wish for you to be my wife. Not when I return, but now. Before I leave. I want to know you are here waiting for my arms. We can be married tomorrow. And then we will have our wedding night to help…”
“Don’t.” Her voice was a whisper. “I can’t.” She should tell him. She should simply say she was not yet sure he was right for her. It felt too cruel. “Cameron, I simply can’t do it. I can’t become your wife and then wonder if it was only for a night, if you’ll come back or if…”
“Or if I get injured and you no longer want me.” His voice was harsh.
“No. It’s not what I meant.”
She turned away. Maybe she did, in part. Was it cruel? If she’d loved him enough, she wouldn’t think twice on accepting him now, accepting what would come. She didn’t. The thought of a wedding night with Cameron didn’t settle well in her soul. If she wanted him, truly wanted him, she would feel differently.
“Well then.” Cameron stiffened and turned toward her house. “We shall wait. But I will overlook this. And when I return, I will ask again for your hand, whether or not I am quite the same man I am now. Then we shall see if it is not what you meant.”
Something in his tone unsettled her worse than the thought of a wedding night. Maura accepted his arm and walked back down the dark sidewalk, up to her front porch. “Will you come in?”
“I think I won’t, thank you. This shall be my goodbye to you. For now. I do hope it is not long before we meet again.” He kissed her hand. “Be well, Maura. I shall see you in my mind just like this every night before I sleep.”
Her eyes misted. “Be well, Cameron. And do come home safe.”
He gave her a light nod and stepped backward.
She stopped him and wrapped her arms around his waist; her head fell to his shoulder. “I do care for you. Please know that. I am only afraid…”
“I know, my love. I had hoped to make you less afraid. Remember, some of us do return.” He planted a kiss aside her head. “May I write to you?”
“Of course. Please.” She raised her eyes to his. “Yes, do write to me. I will answer.”
“I will look for your letters every day.” He released himself from her arms and gave her a light bow. “Good night, Miss Laerty. Until then.”
Maura watched him stride to his car, open the door, and climb swiftly inside. He gave her a wave as he pulled off. Her heart fell. Was she wrong to turn him away?
No. She was right. She would not end up as those women in the home.