Jared Quinby eyed the tall stalks of weed grass by the patio and raised the weed whacker. He moved it over the top of the weeds and grunted with satisfaction as the weeds shrunk by half. Two more inexpert passes and the weeds were cropped close to the ground. He idled the machine and turned around to see what else needed his attention. The weed whacker vibrated, sputtered in his hands, and died. He set it on the patio and checked the fuel level. Almost bone-dry. He’d have to make another batch of the gas-oil mixture to finish.
He closed his eyes. Just one more task he couldn’t complete. His left leg throbbed from the grueling workout he’d given it this morning. He shouldn’t have tried to do all of the weed whacking in one fell swoop, but he was tired of pandering to his physical frailties. He wanted to be whole again, to not feel pain each time he walked more than fifty feet at one time.
Jared opened his eyes and pulled off his ear mufflers and facemask. He dropped them on a wrought iron table on the patio. He tugged off his gloves and untied the bandana to wipe the grime off his face. He longed for a cool drink, but the thermos with iced tea sat in the truck a good 100 yards away. His leg wouldn’t support him that far, at least not right away.
He turned to look for a chair to sit in when his leg muscles tightened. He clutched his leg as pain shot up his thigh like a car accelerating in a drag race. Another spasm sent him tumbling to the ground. He rolled onto his back, his hands wrapped around the throbbing mass of muscle and ligaments that were locked in battle under his skin. He closed his eyes, willing the torment to end and massaging the bunched muscles with his hands.
As the pain started to fade, he sensed he wasn’t alone anymore and opened his eyes. A woman kneeled over him. His heart thudded as he realized he was face-to-face with Mary Divers. He bit his tongue to avoid saying her name, because that would ruin everything. He and Will Fulton had determined that the best approach would be for Mary to think Jared’s reappearance in her life was a coincidence. He realized he had been staring as her eyes widened under his scrutiny. His eyes followed her hand as she reached up to tuck a strand of dark hair behind her ear.
“Are you okay?”
Jared sighed. His leg still ached but with less intensity. “I will be. My leg gives me trouble sometimes.”
The woman stared at him with an intensity that made Jared squirm. “Jared be nimble, Jared be quick.”
Jared held his smile at the familiar childhood greeting. He endeavored to look confused and focused instead on her remarkable violet-tinged eyes. As a child, her deep blue eyes often morphed to purple when she was nervous or upset
She cocked her head. “Jared jump over the candlestick.”
He closed his eyes, memories like dandelion seeds drifting through his thoughts. Snatches of long-ago conversations filtered into his mind. A slip of a girl, nursery rhymes tripping off her tongue at odd intervals, spun around in the tall grass by the creek. Her pigtails flew in the air as she rhymed while jumping rope, the slap-slap of the rope providing a counter-rhythm to the verses.
His lips automatically said, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?”
Mary smiled. “Jared Quinby, as I live and breathe. I knew it had to be you.” Her hand reached toward his forehead before dropping back to her side. “No one else has hair that white-blond and a half-moon scar on his forehead in that particular spot.”
Jared reached up and rubbed the scar. Mary had given him that scar. “I can’t believe it’s really you.”
She held out her hand. “Let me help you up.”
He took her hand and struggled to a sitting position.
“What are you doing here, whacking my weeds?”
“Do you live here?”
Their words tumbled over each other and he gestured with his hand. “Please, you first.”
She tucked her legs underneath her body and shifted positions. “This is so unexpected. I thought I would never see you again. It’s been too long.”
“Almost thirty years.”
“Thirty years,” she echoed, her eyes taking on a sad hue.
Jared heard the unspoken hurt behind those words. The eyes and hair color remained the same, but he wondered if the carefree girl he had known three decades ago still existed. He blew out a breath. They could walk down memory lane another time when his leg wasn’t throbbing. “Pastor Smith said a church member needed help with yard work and some home repairs in exchange for housing. I’m handy with a hammer and rake, and needed a place to stay for a while. Seemed like a good solution.”
Understanding dawned in her eyes. “You go to Culpepper Community, too? I haven’t seen you there.”
“I actually haven’t attended any services. I just moved into the area and my previous minister knew Pastor Smith from seminary.”
Mary nodded. “Pastor Smith said something about sending someone, but I didn’t know he’d found anyone so soon.”
Jared grimaced as another spasm shot through his leg. “I’m sorry to cut our reunion short, but would you mind bringing me some water? I need to take something for the pain.”
She quickly scrambled to her feet. “Sure, be right back.”
He watched her walk away. If he had been a praying man, now would be an excellent time to ask God for the strength to stick to his mission and not get distracted by a pair of violet eyes.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.