Smoke River Family(6)

By: Lynna Banning

 “Why, yes.” She needed something to do with herself until she could speak with Rosemarie’s father. A book was just the answer.

 “You come see book room,” Sam invited. “Fine books. You come. Bring coffee.”

 Winifred followed him through the wide entry hall and past a set of sliding pocket doors into a large parlor lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Sam swept one arm in an expansive circle. “Here many fine books. You choose.”

 But she had spied the dark cherrywood grand piano in the corner and her breath stopped. Cissy’s piano! She had forgotten how beautiful the instrument was, the wood polished to a gleaming burgundy color, the upholstered bench carved to match the ornate piano legs. It looked untouched, as if Cissy had just finished playing and left the room only a moment before. Her eyes filled with tears.

 “Doctor’s favorite books here, lady’s books there.” Sam pointed to the shelf behind the piano.

 Cissy’s music books. Mostly familiar worn volumes—Brahms. Mozart. Beethoven. The corners of some pages were turned down. The ache in her heart flared into rage. How could she? How had she dared?

 Winifred set the cup and saucer on a side table and began to thumb through the Brahms as Sam glided away. Yes, the waltzes, the intermezzos they both loved, all arranged for four hands.

 Abruptly she slapped the volume shut. Oh, Cissy. Cissy.

 She couldn’t look at the music any longer. Instead she moved to the doctor’s book collection and ran her hand over the leather-bound volumes. She selected a volume of Wordsworth. Next to it, Milton’s Paradise Lost caught her eye. “How prophetic,” she murmured. A stab of bitterness knifed through her.

 We had it all, Cissy, everything we had dreamed of. And you threw it away for this man. Why?

 She fled into the hallway. “Sam?” she called. “I am going out for a walk.”

 She heard no answer, but it didn’t matter. She opened the front door and the heat hit her like a fist. Just as she was about to give up the idea, Sam appeared with a wide-brimmed straw hat in one hand. Cissy’s hat. A wide pink ribbon banded the crown, and her heart caught. Winifred never wore pink. The Chinese man offered it without a word.

 She tied it beneath her chin and stepped out onto the porch, then resolutely marched down the front steps, past the hospital and on down the tree-lined street toward town.

 It wasn’t much of a main street. A single mercantile with bushel baskets of apples and squash out in front; the Smoke River sheriff’s office; a scruffy-looking barber shop; Uncle Charlie’s bakery, with a large, many-paned window through which she glimpsed a glass case of cakes and cookies.

 Next door to the bakery hung a sign with large block letters printed in royal blue: Verena Forester, Dressmaker. A handsome challis morning dress was displayed in the window, and she hesitated. But no. She did not plan to be here long enough to warrant adding to her wardrobe.

 By the time she reached the Smoke River Hotel, she was wilting and dizzy from the heat. A young man with a silver badge on his plaid shirt glanced at her as she passed, then doubled back and fell into step beside her.

 “You all right, ma’am? Look kinda, well, peaked. I thought maybe you’d—”

 “I am quite all right. Just a bit... Is it always this hot here in the summer?”

 “Usually much worse. Oh, ’scuse me, ma’am.” He tipped his hat. “I’m Sandy Boggs, the deputy sheriff. Sheriff’s at the hospital with his wife. Had twins this morning. Kin I escort you some place?”

 She nodded. “A place with cold lemonade, perhaps?”

 “That’d be right here, ma’am. Restaurant’s next to the hotel.” He tipped his hat again and strode off down the street.

 Inside the restaurant Winifred sank down at a table and fanned herself with Cissy’s hat. Without even asking, the waitress brought a large glass of cold water and plunked it at her elbow.

 “Must be from somewheres else, I’d guess,” the plump woman said. “Otherwise you’d be used to it. The heat, I mean.”

 “St. Louis,” Winifred volunteered. “Would you have any lemonade?”

 “Got gallons of it, ma’am. ’Spect we’ll need to make another batch or two before noon. Never been this hot in August.” The woman whipped a pad and pencil from her checked apron pocket. “You want anything else?”

 Oh, yes. She wanted a great deal. “No, thank you. Wait! Where is the cemetery?”

 “The graveyard, ya mean? Top of the hill.” She gestured a thick arm in the opposite direction from the doctor’s house.

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