Ashley heard birds chirping outside and the sun shone in the bedroom window. She could tell it was going to be a beautiful day, even if it was already hot and muggy.
She rolled over and found herself alone in Paul’s bed again. She felt rested but didn’t know at what point Paul had gotten off the floor or Sarah had rolled her out of her arms.
From the sun’s angle Ashley could tell it was mid-morning. She’d never slept in this long and could feel the stiffness in her body. The buzz of chainsaws in the distance meant others were already working. It would be easy to pretend to be one of the women for the day and play with the kids or work in the kitchen, but it wasn’t really her style.
Ashley told herself she didn’t want to be a farmer, yet she was always one of the first to do the work of a farmer. She would rather be in the barn cleaning stalls than in the kitchen chopping vegetables.
That’s where she wanted to be right now, but let herself lie there for a few more minutes. She couldn’t believe how good Paul’s bed smelled. Her head was on his pillow and she pressed her face into it, closing her eyes and allowing herself to visualize what it would feel like to have him next to her every night.
Her heart warred between Paul and Caleb, but in that moment all she could think of was Paul. He was everywhere. His sheets and blankets and pillow were wrapped all around her and it was almost as if she were in his arms. She wanted to be in his arms. She knew the only way she was going to be in his arms was to get up and go out to face the day.
But first breakfast. She had barely eaten the day before and had gone to bed without dinner. The lingering smell of fried bacon beckoned her from the sheets and lured her down the stairs. She was surprised that the smell hadn’t woken her hours ago. Usually that was enough to drag her from her bed on even the darkest mornings of the winter. She chalked it up to the closed bedroom door and how good Paul’s bed smelled, but it was probably more that she had slept so soundly.
There was no one in the kitchen, but she felt comfortable enough in the Davis’ home to wander around until she found leftover pancakes and bacon and eggs. When Paul’s mom walked in from outside Ashley was still sitting at the table.
Sue came over and put an arm around Ashley’s shoulder. This was a lady who had morphed in her mind from the woman next door into a mother-in-law. Ashley wasn’t sure if Sue ever would officially be her mother-in-law, but she loved Paul and it radiated throughout the rest of the family. Whatever happened, Sue was much more than just a neighbor.
Sue leaned down and kissed the top of her head, then Ashley laughed when Sue asked if she wanted a shower.
“Do I smell that bad?” Ashley asked.
“Well, I’ve made everyone take a shower this morning,” Sue explained. “I just knew that all the guys would be heading right back out to work, and since it was such a long day yesterday I figured you could all use a freshen-up.”
Freshen-up? Ashley chuckled. Sue sounded so old-fashioned when she said things like that.
“I should probably go home and get some clothes,” Ashley said, then hesitated. “Is my house still standing?”
“Yeah, your mom and Sarah went over there a little while ago to assess the damage while we have daylight. I don’t know how long it’s going to be before you have power, but you’re welcome to stay here as long as needed.”
“We should probably change the sheets in Paul’s room. I slept in my clothes and I imagine they’re filthy.” She looked down at her hands resting in her lap and mumbled. “Although I don’t want to wash them because then they won’t smell like him anymore.”
Sue came over and sat down at the table. “I could force Paul to go up and take a nap this afternoon if you’d like.” She spoke in a way that told Ashley she completely understood.
Ashley looked up at her sheepishly, knowing she’d been caught. “I’m in love with your son,” she said softly, stating the obvious.
“I know,” Sue responded, reaching across the table to take hold of Ashley’s hand. “These decisions must be really hard on you right now.”
“Yeah,” Ashley whispered, looking back down at her lap.
“And you’re in love with Caleb too. Aren’t you?” It wasn’t an accusation as much as an acknowledgement.
“Yeah.” She looked back up at this wonderful woman who knew her almost as well as her own mom did. “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to be sorry, Ash. You’re so young. It’s not time yet.”
“I know,” she whispered. “I keep telling myself that. But… it’s more than that. I keep trying to figure it out, but the more I get to know both of them, the more I love them. Does that sound really bad?”
“Not at all,” she reassured her. “I don’t know this Caleb very well, but he sounds like a wonderful man. A little old for you, maybe. But that may be just my own prejudice toward who I hope you choose in the end.”
“So—” Ashley hesitated. “You’d welcome me as a daughter-in-law if it came down to that?”
“I already think of you that way,” Sue whispered. “I see the love Paul feels for you. It’s written all over his face. And I know you guys smooch in the barn every chance you get.”
Ashley giggled. “Is it that obvious?”
“Ashley—” Sue leaned forward to look into her eyes. “I love you, too. And that’s why, more than anything, I just want you to be happy.”
“Thanks Mrs. Davis. I love you, too.” They leaned forward to give each other a hug. Sue wrinkled her nose a little as she pulled away.
“Now, go get yourself a shower. Before my son runs screaming in the other direction because you smell like sweat and horses.” They both laughed lightly and got up from the table.