For A Visit Chapter Six
From her post in the kitchen, Annie listened to Noah tell J.R. stories from their childhood. She sipped her cup of coffee while leaning against the kitchen island. A lot of the stories she hadn’t known about because they came from a time when it was just Jesse and Noah. While she was off doing the things young teenage girls do, Noah and Jesse tested their wits against life.
“One time your dad and I got this crazy idea that we could move faster than alkali absorbed.” He chuckled and added, “Which, now that I think about it, made little sense. On more than one occasion our fathers’ tractors got stuck when the soil didn’t match their expectations. If something with a wide surface area couldn’t make it, it would have been easier for something with a tire this thick to sink.”
J.R.’s chuckle at Noah’s insight sent rays of warmth through Annie. She leaned against the counter with her cup of coffee in her hand. The further Noah got into the story, Annie remembered how the story ended. Right after the two friends recovered their vehicles from the muck, a cleaned up Jesse stopped by her house to ask her to a barn dance. Noah got grounded. Jesse, in need of another companion, invited Annie instead. That began the story of Jesse and Annie.
She joined the two in the living room. J.R. sat on the couch with his leg perched on a stack of pillows. They reset the bones in his leg and had him in a red cast that went to the bottom of his knee. Noah sat in the recliner he moved to position himself across from J.R.’s head. The pain medication they gave J.R. in the hospital had taken effect, and he blinked to fight off to sleep.
Noah spoke to Annie, “It looks like I’m losing him.”
“He does it to me all the time,” she joked. Glad that her son was at home and comfortable, Annie brushed a piece of J.R’s hair away from his eyebrows. Sure, she loved her mother and sister, but maternal love drove her to keep moving when she thought the world ended. She didn’t know what she would do if anything happened to J.R.
“What time is it, anyway?” Noah asked.
They both glanced at the clock she made. Framed pictures of J.R. at different stages of his life made up the different times.
“It is four in the morning,” she exclaimed while looking down at the empty cup of coffee in her hands. “Maybe I shouldn’t have drunk this.”
“I’m glad you did.” The corners of Noah’s mouth curved to form a mischievous grin. “That means we have the time to make breakfast together.”
Annie did a quick mental inventory of the items in the pantry. She didn’t feel comfortable offering her staples of oatmeal, Honey Nut Cheerios, and breakfast cookies. Then it came to her. She had biscuit mix. And in the basement, her box freezer full of venison supplied the protein for a quick meal. They had made some into sausage. “If it isn’t too small town for you, I could make us some sausage biscuits and gravy?”
Noah groaned his delight. “Sausage biscuits and gravy. That’s what I love about coming home. Eating the food that I grew up with.” He wriggled his fingers. “I make a mean biscuit.”
Annie pulled out the biscuit mix and gravy mix and handed them to Noah to place on the counter. He followed her to the basement. Annie found the package of sausage and handed it to Noah. “Jesse’s dad gives us half of his deer every season.” He called her at the hospital and said he’d be by the house in the afternoon to check on his grandson. He’d have more food and stories to share to console J.R.
From out of nowhere Noah said, “You’re doing all right, Annie.”
While she appreciated his assessment, Annie wrinkled her brow in confusion. She didn’t know where it came from, or why he shared his opinion with her.
Noah explained, “I don’t know what I expected.” He shrugged. “A more fragile version of the person I remembered from when we were growing up?” He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze, “Instead, you seem stronger.”
“I have my days,” Annie admitted. “I wasn’t feeling strong when I was stuck in the snow the other day. Thank you for helping us.”
“To be honest, I’m glad you were stuck.” Noah played with a strand of hair that rested on Annie’s shoulder. “It brought us back together.”
“I’ve been here the whole time,” Annie answered.
“That’s not what I mean,” Noah’s voice softened.
Annie’s heart fluttered at the change in his tone. The voice in her head reminded her that Noah was there for J.R. Before she made a fool of herself, Annie held up the package of sausage, said, “We should get this in the pot. It’ll take a while to cook,” and headed for the kitchen.
Noah talked while she browned the sausage. “When I was in Jinotepe the women brought me fresh tortillas for breakfast every day.”
“Was there a special tortilla baker in your life?” Annie pried for more information about his life outside of Ashbrook.
He fiddled with the utensil drawer. She saw a slight blush in his cheeks. “One or two.”
She had to give Noah credit. He had the decency to blush. She smiled at the change from the Noah she remembered. When they were in high school, he’d tell Jesse and Annie every detail of his dates. There were still a couple of women she couldn’t look in the face because of some things Noah shared.
“What about you? Have you dated since Jesse?” He paused as though he was searching for the correct word, then said, “Left?”
Three years had passed since Jesse died. He died doing what he loved, riding the quad. So while she was sad for herself, she always thought if it was his time to go, that was the best way for it to happen. “No, I didn’t have it in me to see anyone else.” She admitted. “And, J.R. keeps me busy.”
“Jesse said that would happen.” A wrinkle formed in the middle of Noah’s brow.
“What?” Annie had no idea Jesse and Noah talked about her. Although it made sense. He survived cancer in his twenties. After facing death, he approached life differently. Sometimes when they laid in bed, he’d ask her what she’d do without him. Annie always replied that she didn’t want to think about life without him. Now she was living it. If he were to come back and ask how she was doing, Annie would have said that she was right. Life without him was too hard.
“You’re too young to stop living.” Just as Noah said it, the timer signaling that the biscuits were finished baking went off.
The sound startled Annie into moving. She pulled the oven mitts out of the drawer and opened the door. After the initial wave of heat passed, Annie inhaled the aroma of warm biscuits and her mouth watered. As she set them on the counter, she said, “I need to get your biscuit recipe.”
“Some things are best kept secret,” Noah’s eyes sparkled. “Besides, if I don’t tell, you’ll invite me back.”
Annie wished it were true. That he’d stick around to make biscuits whenever she had a taste for them. But she said nothing because it would be too harsh to remind Noah that he was only in town for a visit and then he’d be off living his life of adventure.
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