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A Sweetwater Canyon Novel – Rachel’s StoryForgiving yourself is the first step, but helping others forgive may be just too hard.Each note Rachel Cullen plays on her violin comes straight from the heart. But life isn’t easy. A Scottish immigrant to America, she embraced the Celtic and Bluegrass communities. Unfortunately, divorce, rape and distrust leave her emotionally crippled. Can Noel Karshaw, an English teacher and poet with a young daughter, be the key to help her reconcile who she is, what she wants, and how to get there?It takes both music and words to make a love song. With Noel by her side, Rachel has a chance to be part of the family she’s always wanted—a chance to make love strong.
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Note to Readers
About the Author
Coming in 2014 from Windtree Press
Copyright © 2012 by Maggie Lynch
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.
818 SW 3rd Avenue #221-2218
Portland, OR 97204-2405
Visit us at http://windtreepress.com
Publisher's Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author's imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Cover Art by Christy Caughie, Gilded Heart Design
Healing Notes / Maggie Jaimeson.
This is for my sisters, Kathy, Susan, Theresa, Denise.
All of us suffer from wounds in our past, some of them inflicted by others
and some of them inflicted by ourselves.
Thanks for always being there no matter what.
You are the best!
This book deals with the difficult subject of rape. If you read the first book in the series, you will remember that Rachel was raped while on tour with the band. Though it is a romance, and I guarantee our heroine will get her happily ever after, I wanted to tell you why I decided to write a book with this topic.
Rape is the fear of almost every woman, both in the U.S. and in other countries around the world. In my own extended family, I have siblings, nieces, and cousins who have been raped—some as young children, others as teenagers or adults. In every case, there has been some emotional damage that lasts a lifetime. It was this knowledge, and my own experience that drove me to deal with a topic that is often not covered in romance.
Though society finds it easy to hug the child or the teenager, or the elderly woman who has been raped. Often they find it more difficult to hug—or even to believe—the prostitute, the young attractive woman who is seen as promiscuous, or the wife of domestic violence. It is our reaction to this that increases the pain and emotional devastation the victim feels.
No matter the circumstances, no matter the woman’s sexual past or her relationship to her attacker, rape is an act of violence and should not be tolerated. As women and men in a compassionate society we should embrace and comfort all those who have suffered from this violence, no matter the circumstances of their past.
I hope that in telling Rachel’s story, you will root for her and for all victims of this heinous act. And if you find it in your heart to volunteer at a domestic violence shelter, to man phones for a rape hotline, or simply to be there for your friend, your mother, your sister, your cousin when the horrific happens you will be rewarded tenfold.
Finally, I have to say that most victims need professional counseling to begin to heal from this tragic event. If you know someone who has been raped—or it is yourself—please encourage them to get counseling. Even if it was many years ago and never told. Even if it was as a child and you are now an adult. Rape impacts us, our self-esteem, and our ability to form deep, loving relationships.
Counseling helps to navigate the void and to find a way to live with what happened and to move on in life. Sometimes one has to return to counseling again and again as new life circumstances present themselves.
Thank you for reading Rachel’s story. I hope deep abiding love finds each of you.
Once again I must thank the Misty River Band. All of the books of the Sweetwater Canyon series reflect my experience with the band’s music and the wonderful week they allowed me to travel with them. These women are amazing musicians, song writers, and simply wonderful people. I hope one day that all my readers have the opportunity to hear them. Please note, however, that no characters in this book or any of the series are at all like any members of the band.
I also have a special thank you to fellow Windtree Press author, Melissa Yuan Innes, also known as Melissa Yi. She has pushed me to finish and get this book published even when I thought I should give up on it because my readership on the first book was not as strong as I would of liked. Thank you, Melissa.
Misty, grey clouds drizzled rain onto the blue-grey stucco of the small clinic and dotted the dirty, pock-marked sidewalk in front of Rachel Cullen’s car. Even the doors on the nine small offices were grey. The lack of color matched her mood—no contrast, no feeling, just grey. It was her last time meeting with Dr. Patterson. She should be happy. She’d been fighting the counseling every step of the way during the last six months. Now she’d be free of these weekly visits.
Rachel was stronger now. She no longer jumped at shadows and her nightmares had stopped—well, maybe not stopped. Lessened. The dreams that used to haunt her every night now only appeared once every three or four weeks.
She took a deep breath and held it while she applied a gloss and rubbed her lips together. She let out her breath. Stuffing the tube back into her purse, she swore at the snap that wouldn’t close. You can do this! You’re not going to let that bastard control your life any longer! The snap finally caught. Now she just needed to get out of the car.
Her hands shook as she unlocked the door. She swung her legs from beneath the steering wheel and placed both feet on the ground with a splash, her shoes immediately drenched by the puddle she hadn’t seen. “Cach,” she swore again. It must be a sign—a sign that this session was not going to go well.
Rachel stood tall, pressed down the lock, and slammed the car door shut. She stepped up to the building and followed the short path to suite 109, her shoes squishing with each step. Taking a deep breath she flipped her handbag over her right shoulder to bounce on her hip. She was ready to finally put the past behind her.
As she reached for the handle, the door opened and a little girl rushed out, maybe six or seven years old, with beautiful long blond hair caught up in a blue denim bow. She ran to a light blue sedan next to Rachel’s and giggled as she skipped through puddles circling the car. Rachel couldn’t help but smile at the child’s carefree innocence.
After three circles, the girl stopped at the back end of the car, cocked her head and waved two fingers at her. “Hi.”
“Um, hi.” Rachel raised her hand and waved back. “Did you forget somebody? Your mommy maybe?”
“Claire, I told you to stay close.”
At the sound of the tenor voice beside her, Rachel started. A man three to four inches taller than her had stepped out. In one hand he held several colorful ribbons attached to a bright pink, heart-shaped helium balloon that read Happy Birthday. He looked toward the car where the child was still giggling.
The little girl raced back. Skidding to a stop in front of Rachel, they bumped and Rachel teetered slightly toward the wall.
“Careful there.” A weathered hand reached toward her and wrapped around her elbow. His touch was softer than she expected, but her knees still locked, ready to spring if she needed to move fast. He held her up with one hand. Deep brown eyes, emphasized by his full head of short, wavy blonde hair, looked at her then turned toward the girl.”
“Apologize, Claire. You almost knocked her over.”
“I’m sorry.” A small hand lifted to touch her other arm.
“That’s okay. Really. I should have been paying more attention.” Rachel smiled and pointed to the balloon. “Latha breith.”
“Oh, I…” She had lapsed into Gaelic. Something she hadn’t done in public since Kavan left her almost three years ago. “I said ‘Happy Birthday.’”
The man looked at his daughter and his smile reached his eyes, sending a tingle along Rachel’s spine. What she would give for a man to smile like that when he thought of her.
She bent to the little girl dancing in circles near the door. “How old are you?”
“Six. I get to go to first grade this year.” The little girl looked up as Rachel straightened again. “You’re pretty, like my mommy. But you talk funny.”
Rachel laughed. You could always count on children to be straight.
“Scottish or Irish?” the man asked.
“Scottish. Dunoon. It’s a little town on the Firth of Clyde.” Rachel concentrated on not moving, avoiding the continued squish of her shoes.
“I thought I detected a slight accent, but it’s not a full brogue.”
“I’ve worked hard to lose it. To make myself understood.”
The little girl pulled on her father’s hand. “Can we go now? I’m ready for my cake.” She jumped off the curb, making a big splash and then stood next to the passenger door of the car, her eyes wide. The man laughed and waggled a finger in his daughter’s direction.
“She’s darling.” Rachel said to the back of his head. She didn’t want them to leave. She’d much rather go celebrate a birthday with this happy family than walk into that office one more time.
“Daddy, hurry. I’m starving.” The little girl’s tiny hand rubbed at her stomach dramatically.
With another laugh, the man turned to Rachel. “I can’t keep a starving child waiting now, can I?” He took a step away then turned back. “Dr. Patterson is really good. Don’t be afraid.”
“I, uh…” Rachel flushed that a stranger would know the purpose of her visit. Of course, they must have just left Dr. Patterson’s office. Was it the child or the man who needed help? Or both?
She watched the man all the way to his car. She liked the way he walked, his stride confident, purposeful. He thumbed the lock on a keychain and opened the car door. The little girl jumped into the seat and said something that made him laugh. He pointed inside and the girl immediately grabbed the seat belt to secure it. He turned his head toward Rachel as he closed the passenger door. “Have a nice day.” He threw the words over his shoulder as he rounded the car to the driver’s side, the balloon gaily swaying above his head, adding the only bright spot of color to the grey day.
She watched them drive away until their bright happiness had disappeared from view. Her eyes misted. She angrily rubbed the back of her hand across them. For a moment she’d imagined herself as part of that happy family—a woman out to enjoy a birthday celebration with her daughter and the man who loved her. Evidently, even this happy family had problems.
Resolute, she turned back to the door in front of her and entered. After Kavan had divorced her, she had rid herself of loyalty to any man. Now she needed to rid herself of one last nightmare.
Rachel crossed her arms in front of her and looked down. Why was this still so damn hard?
Dr. Patterson waited patiently for an answer.
"I try not to think about it much. I’m tired of this hanging over my head. I’m ready for it to just go away and forget about it."
"Is that why you've seen me every week for six months? Because forgetting is so easy?”
Rachel clenched her teeth and stared, unblinking, at the therapist. "It might have been easy if you hadn’t forced me to talk about it every week, relive every moment, talk about how I felt. I wanted to just forget it and get on with my life, but you made me think about it all the time. I’m glad this is the last session.”
“You’re using anger as a shield.”
Her fist hit the arms of her chair. "Well, it’s a hell of a lot better than crying all the time.”
Dr. Patterson leaned forward. “Every emotion is viable as part of your healing. If you want to be angry on our last day, that’s fine with me.”
Rachel shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Dr. Patterson always saw through her attempts not to deal with her feelings. But she was scared. Really scared.
Not scared to talk about the rape. She’d done that a million times too many already. No. She was scared that this was the last time she could count on her once a week visits. Though she’d fought the revealed intimacies every week, she had also come to rely on them. Sometimes the only thing that got her through a week of walking on eggshells with her friends, or avoiding every man who looked at her, was knowing that Tuesday would come and Dr. Patterson would be there to debrief. Now she was supposed to have the skills to handle it on her own.
Rachel sighed. Fear never got her anywhere. “I’m fine. It’ll be hard, but I’ll be fine. When things get bad, I always have my music.”
"Speaking of your music, it's interesting that you’ve let your relationship with Michele lapse, and have withdrawn from the other two adults in your band. Kat is the only one you’ve let inside your heart.”
Rachel shrugged. "I’m just not comfortable with the looks all the time."
“Yeah, like I have an incurable disease and they have to be careful around me because they might catch it.”
“Do you think being a rape victim is a disease?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know. I just get tired of being the one everyone feels sorry for. It’s like I burst the bubble of a world filled with love, and they still want to hang onto it and I don’t. So…”
“And Kat doesn’t make you feel this way?”
“She’s just a teenager. She truly believes that love will heal everything, and she never looks at me like it won’t happen for me."
“Do you believe it will happen for you?”
Rachel remained silent. Dr. Patterson had maneuvered her back to the painful subject—the one she would probably never resolve. Maybe it was that Kat still believed in true love for everyone that made her hang on. She wasn’t sure, but she didn’t want her last session to dwell on this.
Dr. Patterson continued, "Michele was married at the end of your tour last year, right? Only a couple of months after you were out of the hospital.”
"Don't." Rachel curled her fingers into her palms until her nails bit into the flesh. Even a small physical pain helped keep the tears at bay.
Dr. Patterson’s gaze remained steady and she leaned forward. “Don’t shut down, Rachel. Accepting Michele’s marriage is the only way to re-establish the relationship you want with your friends. You can do this.”
"No. I don’t want to talk about this. I do accept her marriage. I’m happy for her. Really, I am.”
“You accept her marriage in your head, Rachel, but not in your heart. Your heart is still hurting.”
Rachel flinched and backed into her chair as her breathing accelerated. She raised her chin. How dare Dr. Patterson assume she knew what was in her heart. Did she think just because she’d been talking for six months she could presume…
“My heart is just fine. It’s my head that’s screwed up. That’s what you were supposed to fix.” Rachel stood. “And now our time is up and it’s still not fixed. What does that say about your counseling abilities, Dr. Patterson?” Dr. Patterson sat back in her chair and sighed. “Back to anger? Or can you admit to fear?”
Rachel willed her heart to slow as she paced behind her chair. Yes, it was fear. Fear that Kat’s belief was based in the naiveté of youth, fear that she’d never regain her strong friendship with her other bandmates, fear that she would always be jealous of Michele and her happy married life, and fear of not having Dr. Patterson to force her to talk about all this stuff.
In the face of all that fear, anger was her only defense. Maybe that wasn’t so bad. At least she could function. At least she would be able to walk out of here with her head high. She grasped the back of the chair and leaned on it.
“Look, I’m thirty-four, divorced, probably can’t ever have kids. Is it any wonder I don’t believe in true love? So what? Not everyone finds somebody to spend the rest of their life with. I’m okay with it. Really. It’s time to move on.”
Dr. Patterson was noticeably silent. Rachel itched to fill the void.
She gestured with her palms out to the side and facing upward. “Look, I’m fine.” She walked to the front of the chair. “You’ve really helped me. I can see that. I’m good. Really.” She held out her hand to Dr. Patterson, ready to shake and say good bye.
Dr. Patterson leaned back in her chair and crossed one leg over the other, relaxed. “We still have ten minutes, Rachel. No need to rush out.”
Undecided, Rachel held her breath. She fiddled with the strap of her purse and glanced toward the closed door. She looked back to Dr. Patterson, still undisturbed in her chair, acting as if it didn’t matter what Rachel chose at this moment. Was it really up to her to end this?
Rachel held out her hand again, “No. I’m good. Thanks for all your help.”
Dr. Patterson smiled and rose. She took her hand and then pulled her in for a hug. “You’ll make it, Rachel. There will be some bad times and some good times, but you’ll make it. You’re strong. Just don’t give up on your dreams.”
Rachel’s eyes misted. That was the problem. She’d already given up.
Dr. Patterson stepped back. "If you find yourself giving up, or something new comes up…like a man in your life…and the fear is overwhelming, you can always come back to see me.”
Rachel snorted, but a soft laugh filled with trust followed. “Yeah, like I’d let you into my sex life too.”
Dr. Patterson smiled. “Yes, your sex life and your love life.”
Rachel frowned. Some people just never believed her. Love was not in the cards for her. She’d accepted it even before the rape. That’s one thing that hadn’t changed.
"Strong women face their fears,” Dr. Patterson said. “They accept the choices they’ve made and use them to gather more strength.”
Rachel flinched. “Well, yeah. I’ll work on that. Thanks.”
She left the office as quickly as possible. It took all her concentration not to run to her car.
Outside, the rain had cleared and it was a gloriously bright and crisp February day. Typical Oregon as spring approached—mostly rain, but then when you least expected it the sun shined clear and bright, bathing the landscape with sparkles of light and shadow. She shielded her eyes as she looked up at the sky and saw a rainbow in the distance. Rachel laughed as she skirted the puddle next to her car and climbed in. So much for believing in the weather signs. It was as if the whole world was trying to change her mind.
Rachel’s bow dragged on the strings of her fiddle, imitating the drone of bagpipes, as she finished the slow Scottish air. The tone reflected her feelings since leaving Dr. Patterson three weeks ago—that combination of heaviness intertwined with hope. It had been a tough three weeks. Every practice session seemed fraught with potential landmines. So far, she’d avoided them by not talking much. She’d decided today she’d try to be her normal herself, whatever that was these days. She’d participate in the discussions, laugh a little with her friends, and just maybe find something nice to say to Michele—though that would be the hardest.
The air in the practice room hung pregnant with the anticipation of the next song. The band remained silent, waiting for her transition. She paused for two counts and then, as she shifted to a jig, pizzed the transition and set her bow to bouncing off the strings in a spicatto, challenging them to keep up with her. The other members of Sweetwater Canyon joined in with guitar, mandolin, bohdran, and bass, moving into the final set of their usual play list.
Rachel practiced her between-song patter, a story about growing up in Dunoon when her father and mother were still together, giving Theresa time to switch from her guitar to the banjo. When the dance music started, all the band members tapped their feet and Rachel’s heart soared. The tunes easily flowed from Scotland to Appalachia as Rachel’s rapid fingers picked up the pace for the next tune, Leather Britches, followed by a medley with a southern bluesy slide. The side of her mouth quirked up at the mix—stiff-lipped Scottish reels and jigs met with a little New Breton attitude. Kat had the bohdran, her Celtic drum, kicking up the percussion to sound like feet tapping the floor and Rachel’s mood shifted away from the darkness.
Playing with the band again felt like coming home after a long drought. During the Christmas holiday break she’d lost her way for awhile, but now it was almost spring and she was back. Yes, her heart needed this.
Her thoughts narrowed to sharp focus, melding with the bohdran’s beat, merging to a steady thrum that set her feet rapping a light percussion as she played. Soon her bow picked up the pace and her fingers skipped across the strings—demanding that the others match her in complexity and speed. The music danced along her skin as the band built to the final crescendo and her feet echoed the racing of her fingers on the strings. Sweat beaded on her brow. She dug deep inside herself to let the notes sing from every pore, lifting her on a cloud of joy all the way to the end.
Exhausted, but with a grin that made her cheeks ache, Rachel flopped into a chair, cradling the fiddle on her lap.
“Whew! That was amazing, Rachel.” Theresa wiped down her strings and set her banjo in its case. She took two steps to open a window and let more air into the room.
The sound of rushing water from the river behind the house washed over Rachel, helping her unwind from the music. The quaint cabin tucked in the foothills of Mt. Hood had been the practice place for Sweetwater Canyon ever since they began playing together four years ago.
Theresa and her daughter, Kat, had always provided a place in their home for any member of the band. Twice Rachel had taken them up on their hospitality. Once, when she’d only been with the band for a year and Kavan had left her without support or a place to live. And last fall, when they all returned from tour. Everyone’s finances were low then and it had been mostly Rachel’s fault as they had all pooled their savings and earnings to cover her hospital costs.
She lifted her face and inhaled the smell of the rain-soaked firs wafting in the open window. She would make it up to them. Somehow. She would find a way to repay them all for what they’d lost.
When Rachel’s heartbeat settled into its usual steady rhythm, she turned and walked to her fiddle case in the back of the room on a long table with other instrument cases. She wiped down the strings and placed it carefully in the plush velvet, her fingers trailing along the mellowed spruce wood—the same wood she had seen her father shape and polish when he made the instrument for her two decades ago. She loosened the bow strings and put it in its holder. It had a good sound—the sound only love could imbue in an instrument.
Theresa snapped her banjo case shut beside Rachel. “I haven’t heard you play with that much passion in a long time.” Her voice was soft and invited a confidence.
Rachel smiled. “Yeah… I thought I’d never get that feeling back—where I could let go and the music could overtake me. It feels good to be lost in it again.”
“It’s good to have you back,” Kat added. Her long blonde bob swayed as she turned from closing her accordion case. “Your fingers were smokin’.” She mimed an air fiddle with her left hand. “You’ve really added some hot riffs to your solo piece. Maybe you could show me a few of those moves later.”
“Still keepin’ up with yer fiddle?”
“Yup. But I don’t think I’ll ever catch up with you,” Kat answered. Her stomach growled and her cheeks reddened.
Rachel laughed. “Hungry?”
Kat nodded. “Starving.” Theresa laughed behind her, and Kat turned. “Hey, I’ve gotta eat ya know. That practice drained me.”
Rachel rolled her eyes. “You’ve always gotta eat. I vaguely remember the joy of being sixteen and able to eat constantly without gaining an ounce.”
Kat strolled toward the sliding door between the practice room and the hall to the kitchen. “Anyone want anything before I scarf it all up?”
“I’ll take one of your famous lemonades with raspberries,” Rachel said.
“Me too. Me too,” everyone else chimed in.
Kat stepped through the door. “Back in a few.”
Rachel watched Kat take several long steps toward the kitchen. This was her chance to talk with her friends, to be normal again. She turned to Theresa. “Has Kat grown in the last two months, or is it my imagination?”
“Oh, I think she stopped growing at fourteen,” Theresa said. “But her shape has changed. She seems to have blossomed. Unfortunately. Over the holidays she also suddenly discovered boys in a big way. Her Christmas list was all clothes. I think those pants she’s wearing make her look taller.”
“Yeah, all legs,” Michele said, giggling. “What I wouldn’t give for even half those legs.”
Rachel looked at the bass player and smiled. Michele’s thick, wavy chocolate brown hair reached to her waist, almost obscuring her gymnast figure. “Being short isn’t so bad. You’re only a couple inches shorter than me, and we all know short does not mean doormat for you or me.”
“You’ve got that right.” Michele’s eyes locked with Rachel’s, an eyebrow rose in a silent signal. Rachel looked away. This was so hard. She’d stopped confiding in Michele after her wedding. They’d been close once, but now Rachel felt like a third wheel with Michele and David barely able to keep their hands off each other. That envy was the one last thing she still had to conquer before she could begin to trust again.
Rachel tucked her feet beneath her and scooted closer to Theresa. “So, what’s with Kat and the crop top. Is that driving you crazy too?”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Theresa said. “Exposing her naval just doesn’t seem right at her age. We fought about that all through the first week of classes in March, then I finally gave up.”
“Has she asked for a bellybutton ring yet?” Rachel asked.
Theresa’s face turned ashen. “God no!” Her index finger shook in Rachel’s face. “And don’t you dare suggest it to her.”
Rachel lifted her blouse and pointed to her navel. “See, I don’t have one either. I’m not always a bad influence.”
“At least those can easily be removed.” They all turned toward Sarah as she spoke in a quiet voice from across the room. “Sometimes you just have to choose your battles. I remember my brother wanting an earring and Dad said no. So, he went and got a tattoo instead.”
“Ouch,” Theresa said. “I see your point. I’d rather see a bellybutton stud than a tattoo.” She winced. “Oh, sorry, Rachel. I didn’t mean…”
Rachel laughed as she proudly flexed her bicep with the blue Celtic knot encircling it. “My mother wasn’t too thrilled when I got this either. But it was all for love.”
“You’re kidding,” Sarah said. “You got that for a boy?”
“Oh, he was no boy,” Rachel’s eyes twinkled with mischief. She felt good. Telling an old story was easy. She could laugh, and shock, and maybe even enjoy herself. “He was definitely all man. I was seventeen. He was twenty-one. He was my first.”
“You mean you had sex when you were only seventeen?” Sarah’s eyes widened.
“Yeah, I was the late bloomer of my crowd.”
Sarah’s face turned a bright red and Rachel laughed. She got a kick out of picking on Sarah. She was sure that even at twenty-nine, Sarah was still a virgin or practically one. She was really sweet, but it was hard to imagine being such a goody-two-shoes for that long.
“Not everyone waits until they’re madly in love, you know. I just waited until I found someone I thought might know what he was doing. And boy, did he know.”
Michele snickered. “By now you shouldn’t be so shocked, Sarah. We all know Rachel’s been around the block plenty of times.”
“And proud of it,” Rachel leaned into the sofa, and with legs crossed she placed her palms on her knees hands up. “Come to me with all your questions about sex and I will give you counsel.”
Everyone laughed and Theresa pushed at Rachel until she fell sideways.
“Just don’t offer any counsel to Kat,” Theresa said. “I want her to wait a little longer. Somewhere around thirty would be nice.”
“Thirty? Ha. Now that’s a mother speaking.” Rachel uncurled from the sofa and stood. “Kat’s a pretty good egg and I don’t think she’d go off half-cocked with a boy, but you don’t want to put your head in the sand either. My mother never talked to me about sex, but I had plenty of opportunities to learn anyway. If you haven’t had that chat about birth control and protection, you’d better get with it.”
“Oh, we’ve had the chat.”
“Gosh,” Michele interjected. “I can’t imagine what it must be like worrying about a daughter that age. I guess I’ll find out soon enough though.”
All eyes went to Michele.
“Oops. I didn’t mean to say anything yet.”
“Ohmigod, you’re pregnant!” Sarah shouted, embracing Michele in a big bear hug.
Rachel blanched. Her mouth dropped open.
Pregnant? Already? They’d only been married a little over two months. No, it wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be. The darkness encroached. Rachel fought it. She didn’t want to say anything mean. She didn’t want to let the jealousy and fear take over. She silently chanted in Gaelic, trying to gain control.
Theresa dabbed tears from her eyes and then hugged Michele. Everyone started babbling at once about babies and congratulations.
“Rachel, isn’t it wonderful?” Sarah said.
“Yeah, it’s great.” Rachel’s voice was flat. As she forced her lips to curve into a smile, she gave Michele a brief one-armed hug and stepped away. “Congratulations.”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly planned to be this soon. But, we weren’t careful a couple of times…and…well, the truth is I couldn’t be happier.”
Rachel counted to herself, aon…dà dhà…trí…hoping the pain in her heart would dissipate. She could handle this. She could. The room went silent.
“Oh, Rachel, I’m sorry,” Michele blurted. “I forgot. I—”
She took a deep breath. “No need to apologize. I’m happy for you. Really I am.”
“But I know how much you wanted—”
Rachel looked around the room at the women who were her best friends, who had stood by her after the rape, who had given all of their savings to pay her hospital bills. She should be happy for Michele, and she was. But she also couldn’t stop that feeling that someone was standing on her chest and she couldn’t get her breath right. She was suffocating.
Struggling to keep her voice even, she said, “You are all my friends, and I love you, but let’s just drop it. Okay?”
No one could understand what it was like to blame yourself for being raped, what it felt like to actually hope you would die, but then be such a coward you had to call for help. No one could ever know what it felt like when the doctor had put so many stitches inside her to stop the bleeding, or had pumped her full of antibiotics to stop the infection that scarred her womb. But she had fought back. She had recovered. Maybe she shouldn’t have called them. Maybe she should have somehow managed on her own. Because, now her friends would never again think of her as Rachel, the fiddler in the band. Or, Rachel, the girl who could get any guy she wanted. Now it would always be Rachel the rape victim who happened to play the fiddle.
Eyes filled with pity stared back at her.
“Stop looking at me like that,” she snapped at them. “Let’s drop it, okay?” She focused on calm. She forced her voice to be softer, happier. “We’re all happy for you. So, when are you due?”
“The end of September,” Michele said, her voice a little too bright.
“Oh, you’ll be big in the hottest part of the year,” Theresa said.
“I know, but it’s okay.”
“I guess that nixes a summer and fall tour then.” Rachel winced at how much disdain she’d let show. “Sorry, I’m just…” she mumbled.
Michele touched Rachel’s arm, but she jerked away. She didn’t want anyone to touch her right now. She might fall apart and that wouldn’t help anything.
“I’m sorry, Rachel. I know the timing isn’t great but David says, with our CD selling so well, we can do a lot of gigs in the northwest in March and April, and then hit the Midwest for May and June.”
“Last year we did a four month tour beyond the northwest, and now we’re cutting it to only two?” Rachel knew she should be happy for her friend, but she hurt too much. Right now anger was the best way to keep her pain at bay.
“That’s true,” Michele said, her voice soft, entreating peace. “But last summer our biggest audiences were in Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee. If we concentrate on a lot of gigs during those two months it may be the same result in total sales as our four months were before covering smaller venues. Then, when I’m in the last trimester and too big to be comfortable in the humidity, we can return to the Pacific Northwest and be in the studio. We could concentrate on cutting a second CD this fall. David said we made more money on our first CD than on all of our tour last year.”
“I just don’t think it’s enough. I want to be happy for you, Michele, but all I have is my career. I don’t have a rich husband to take care of me. You don’t have to work, but I do.”
“We all want to work,” Michele said, her voice a whisper.
Rachel paced. “We can’t afford time off now. We’re just building our fan base.”
Michele’s hands fluttered in the air. “David said we drew over three thousand new fans in Branson, if we—”
“Siota! Branson! Are you kidding? What did you think? You could force me to go back there?”
“Rachel, calm down. No one’s forcing you to do anything,” Theresa stepped toward her, her hand reaching for Rachel’s arm.
Rachel backed away, her hands up, warning. She was shaking, barely holding on to control. She’d tried to be good. She’d tried to be nice. It was too early. Too much. A baby. Branson. No! No!
The silence roared in her ears. Unable to hold on, she ran from the room, tears streaming down her face. She locked herself in the bathroom. Her pulse raced. Her stomach heaved. She bent over the toilet and vomited. Memories flooded back: the tour, meeting the handsome cowboy in Branson, going to his room, only to find that he had someone else there. Drake. The man who took her soul to hell. She retched again.
“Rachel, please let me in. Let me talk to you.” Michele was at the door.
“Fàg. Go away.” She hugged the toilet bowl, swallowing the bile rising again in her throat.
“Rachel, I’m so sorry. I was just going on about my plans. I wasn’t thinking. I— ”
She heard feet padding away from the door and took a deep breath. Her stomach was finally empty. She stood on shaky legs, put down the toilet lid and sat, hugging her arms to her stomach as she rocked. This must be one of those bad times Dr. Patterson warned her about. She would get through this. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Slowly.
She should be thankful for Michele and her husband, David. Michele’s husband was their business manager. His publishing and distribution contacts—his financial guarantee—had helped them cut and sell 10,000 copies of their first CD last fall. For the first time in three years of playing music, the band was on decent financial footing—enough to make up for the disaster she’d caused in Branson. Michele deserved to be happy.
“Rache?” Kat said, tapping on the door. “Are you all right? You’ve been in there a long time.”
Rachel reached over and flushed the toilet. “I’m fine. I’ll be out in a minute.” She ran water in the sink and splashed her face liberally. She cupped her hand and drank, washing away the awful taste in her mouth. She didn’t want Kat to worry. Kat was like a little sister to her—someone she wanted to protect from the evils of the world. She took another gulp of water and dried her hands.
Rachel opened the door and managed a tight smile.
“Did you have a fight with someone?” Kat’s eyes were wide, her cheeks rosy with anticipation. “Nobody’s talking. I know when everyone’s trying to make sure I don’t know anything that means something bad happened. Geesh, I go to get something to eat and all hell breaks loose. Who did you fight with, Rache?”
“No fights, honey.” She wrapped an arm around Kat’s shoulder. “I was just a little overwhelmed by Michele’s good news.”
“You mean the baby thing?” Kat captured Rachel’s eyes. Then she hugged her tight. “I understand. Really I do.”
Rachel swallowed hard and hugged her back.
“I was there, too. I saw.”
“I know.” Rachel bit her lip. She wished Kat hadn’t seen her naked and broken, knowing what had happened. A young teen shouldn’t have to understand such depravity.
“But it’s going to be okay. You’ll see.” Kat squeezed her again and then released her. “I have your lemonade ready. It will perk up your sourness.”
“So, ye think I need to be more sour?” She poked Kat in the arm, getting a laugh out of her. She exaggerated her brogue. “Sure, an ye didn’ put an extra dose to pay me back for the comments about that cute laddie you were datin’. What was his name? Dillon?”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. Maybe I better take yours back to the kitchen.” Kat turned as if to leave.
Rachel snaked an arm around Kat’s shoulder and towed her back. “No ye don’t. I need that sourness to hold up my reputation.”
“Well…being as Dillon’s a has-been already, it’s your lucky day. Turns out you were right about him.”
Rachel let go and stepped back, looking into Kat’s eyes. “Sorry about that, kiddo.”
“No need to be sorry about a rat. Besides,” Kat added, rolling her eyes, “Mom’s always saying there are plenty of fish in the sea.”
“But who wants to kiss a fish,” they said in unison and laughed.
Kat’s youthful optimism had Rachel’s lips quirking into a small smile. She turned and held Kat’s face in her hands. She looked directly into her eyes. “Have I told you lately what an amazing, bright young woman you are?”
“Only about a thousand times.”
“Well, here’s a thousand and one.” She kissed Kat’s forehead, then patted her on the back. “We better hurry before everyone drinks all that lemonade.”
“Shall we sneak up on them and see if they’re talking about us?” Kat’s conspiratorial whisper made Rachel laugh.
“Oh, they’ll be talking about me all right. I just ran from the room like a drama queen and retched in the toilet stinking up the bathroom.”
“Good to know you haven’t lost your reputation for giving us good stories to tell.” Kat winked at her.
“Is that all I’m good for? A good story?”
“Yup. I’m going to sell it to the tabloids when you become rich and famous and you’re touted as the next Natalie McMaster.”
Rachel threw back her head and laughed. “You do that, kiddo. Someone’s got to make money off my life—‘cause it sure as hell isn’t going to be me.”
“Daddy! Daddy, look!” Claire pulled at Noel Kershaw’s leg and pointed her mustard-stained hand toward the stage at the front of the Lion’s Club multi-purpose room.
Welches was always the first town in Oregon to hold a spring festival, even though most of Mt. Hood was still covered in snow.
He looked in the direction his daughter indicated. An acoustic band played a rendition of Home Grown Tomatoes while a small crowd stood nearby singing along. Outside the windows, stately fir trees dotted the landscape, swaying in the breeze as if inviting people outside to brave the cool temperatures and visit the tables filled with the first spring blooms.
“Let’s go see, Daddy. Please.”
He bent toward her with a napkin and cleaned the excess mustard from her fingers. “All right, but let me carry your lunch for you, okay?”
Claire nodded, handed over her half-eaten hot dog, and ran toward the semi-circle of chairs fronting the stage. Noel did his best to keep up with her, narrowly avoiding a spill as he dodged two other children running at full speed toward the food line in the hall behind him. When he had safely traversed the large room, he found Claire sitting in the front row, her lunch forgotten. She beamed up at the band on stage and clapped in time to the music.
He sat next to her and balanced the paper plate and milk carton on his lap. They had been at the Snow Crocus Festival since ten that morning and he was happy to be sitting instead of wandering the displays in the adjoining room trying to keep up with an inquisitive six year old.
“Look, a violin just like I want.” Claire pointed to the left side of the stage.
He glanced up to the black platform set about four feet off the ground. He followed Claire’s finger point to the woman step dancing while fiddling a reel. The first thing he noticed was her silky blonde hair and blinked. That was the woman he’d seen at the clinic. He’d dreamed about that hair and the confusion she’d shown when they met. She certainly didn’t look lost now.
Layered loose curls framed her oval face, the soft feathered edges accentuating her large almond-shaped eyes. She looked full of energy, as if she could play for several more hours. She finished the reel with a confident last stroke of the bow and her smile beamed brightly to the audience.
“Thank you,” the banjo player, a woman of about fifty, said to the audience. “It’s so nice to be back here in Welches again enjoying the first crocus blooms with you. Did you see all the colors in the display rooms? Purples, yellows and whites already out the first week of March! And how about the weather outside? I could almost believe spring is around the corner with that sunshine. Even if it’s only fifty-five degrees.”
The growing crowd of spectators clapped in appreciation.
The woman with the banjo bore a strong resemblance to the young woman playing the accordion on the far left. They even had similar hairstyles. Both were blondes, though it appeared the older woman’s hair was frosted. Mother and daughter he guessed. The banjo player switched to a nylon-string guitar as she continued her patter.
A younger woman, at center stage, put down her large guitar and picked up a recorder. Her thick, straight chestnut hair fell forward around the recorder. She was definitely attractive, and tall. She reminded him of Shania Twain. But none of the band members was as striking as the fiddler.
The woman with the recorder stepped to the mike. “Our next song should warm the cockles of any gardener’s heart and keep you tapping your toes as well. It’s a round called Rites of Spring.”
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