Zara leaned against the side of her house, watching the fiery sunset. Though the view was stunning, her mind drifted to Alexander. For eighteen years, they had been inseparable. They never spent more than a couple of hours away from each other.
“He’s gone. Just like that.”
Though her mind understood that he left, it was difficult for her heart to comprehend. All parents had to deal with their children leaving home at some point, but the circumstances under which he left added salt to her already painful wounds. From the first moment she laid eyes on him as a newborn, he was like a soothing balm to her shredded spirit. His departure was like a deep stab to her heart; her soul was stripped of its protective layer, leaving it bare and raw all over again.
Barely hungry enough for her evening meal, she took a bite into a fig sitting on the table. The house was big and empty without him. It seemed like it doubled in size. At this time of night, he would normally be carving something in the attic while she worked on something in the kitchen. As agonizing as it was to lose him, she smiled through the tears at the memory of all their good moments together. While the blood of his father flowed through his veins, he knew right from wrong, because she was the one who raised him.
“I know my boy is going to find his place in the world,” she said hopefully, drying her eyes with her sleeve.
She fell asleep on her cushion still holding the fig. Not bothering to wash up the next morning, she set out to release the sheep and goats from their pen before the men arrived. It had been ages since she’d been the first one up at the farm. She needed to spend some time away from the house and go walking. Goliath greeted her with an excited bark, wagging his tail as she fed him breakfast.
“I’m going to need your help more than ever now,” she said sadly. “Thank goodness you’re still here.”
Sensing her sadness, the sheepdog licked her hand with a whimper. She patted his head then greeted the other two shepherds as they walked over to start their shift for the day. Each one took a section of animals to take care of, leaving Zara with two dozen sheep to lead. Throughout the day, she kept catching herself looking over to see where Alexander was only to remember that he wasn’t there. It was going to take time getting used to his absence. She always imagined his departure to be bittersweet with a lot of hugs and tears once he found himself a kind girl to settle down with.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” she sobbed.
Crying made her feel weak, but she couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down her face. She sunk to her knees, giving herself a moment to fully embrace her grief. One of the lambs trotted up to her, nuzzling her. She wrapped her arms around the gentle animal’s soft body.
“You’re a sweet soul,” she said softly.
Casting a glance out at the horizon, she saw a wall of grey clouds headed in their direction.
“We need to take the animals home!” she called. “There’s a storm coming.”
The men complied, guiding the flocks back up the rise after her. The air was already thick with moisture before they reached the farm. Though it was a nuisance, the dry lands needed rain. After the sheep were secure and the two shepherds went home for the day, Zara watched the storm from her front door. There was a dark beauty in the grey skies and in the rain as it poured down, soaking the parched soil. A bolt of lightning in the distance zigzagged from sky to land. Gooseflesh covered her skin; she rubbed her arms, gazing out at the storm in awe. When the thunder died down and the downpour softened to a light rain, she ran outside. The cool raindrops drenched her clothes and hair, seeping through to her skin. She sprinted to the top of the hill and spun around like a child dancing in the rain. Feeling dizzy, she lost her balance and fell clumsily onto the wet grass. It was oddly soothing to sit there. It made her briefly forget about the grief that made her insides ache. Taking a deep breath of the damp, cooling air, she stood and walked back down the hill.
Through the mists, a male form appeared.
“Alexander?” she called.
The moment after she uttered her son’s name, she realized that it wasn’t him at all. It was Luke and he was walking over to her with his mule in tow.
“What are you doing here?” she called.
“It’s a downpour. I wanted to make sure you were alright,” he said calmly as he neared her.
“You came all this way to make sure I didn’t melt away in the rain?” she asked, unsure if she should be annoyed or flattered.
He blinked as rain poured from his dark hair into his eyes then down his handsome face.
“Floods are common. I wanted to check in on you even before it rained if I’m honest. I’m sorry how I left you the other day.”
“You didn’t have much of a choice.”
Her heart lurched at the memory of an angry Alexander driving him away. There was a reason behind his odd behaviour with Luke – a very dark one she didn’t want to think about. A breeze washed over them and they both shivered.
“We better get inside before we catch our deaths,” she said quickly. “I’ll warm some milk for you over the stove. Come with me.”
The rain intensified as they jogged toward her house. The storm wasn’t over yet. Zara wrung out her hair beneath the overlap of the roof as Luke secured his mule in the stable. She held the door open as he rushed inside then went to get blankets.
“I’ll help you start a fire,” he called.
“Thank you. These will help us dry off,” she said, handing him a blanket. “Now it’s time for our warm drinks. I think we ought to have a couple of figs as well.”
He sat quietly as she prepared the milk over the stove. When it was ready to be served, she set the two steaming cups on a tray, carrying it over Luke. His dark eyes studied her as he sipped the drink.
“Thank you for your kindness, Zara. Where is Alexander?”
His eyes widened. “Why did he leave?”
“It’s complicated. I don’t know if I will ever see him again.”
“It’s not uncommon for boys his age to leave home. I’m sure he’ll be back after seeing something of the world.”
The world. It was so vast, and he was so young. There were many places yet to be discovered and experienced. Zara looked out the window at the grey skies. How far had he gone? Was he safe and warm? She hoped he wasn’t walking outside in the rain.
“I knew he was going to leave me one day, but I didn’t expect it to be so sudden and on such bad terms.”
“I’m sure you two had some words before he left.”
“It must be hard. Raising a child only for him to disappear without a trace.”
She swallowed hard. “Well, now I have a kind visitor in my home. I can focus on him for the time being.”
He grinned. “I like that idea.”
They sipped on their comforting beverages as the fire crackled close by. Zara sighed, settling into the cozy setting.
“You’ve made this into a fine home,” he said.
“Thank you. I usually find it comfortable, but it’s felt oversized and empty since my son left.”
“I’m leaving soon to go work in Jerusalem. I was able to land a contract there.”
“It pays better and what can I say? The world rewards those who are ambitious then it leaves the rest behind.”
“When will you go?” she asked, wondering why everyone in her life always had to leave so soon.
“I’ll be here for another week,” he said, looking at her intently.
So, this was it. She had made a new friend only to lose him, too.
“I can’t blame you,” she said, averting her gaze. “You want to build on your profession. I’m sure the big city will give you many opportunities.”
“I’m just doing it for the money,” he said with a shrug. “I like this area, but it doesn’t pay very well. Money isn’t something you seem to worry too much about, is it?”
“I’m a simple country girl. The life I’m living now was my dream as a child, save the heart breaks along the way.”
“Life can be hard sometimes,” he said softly, leaning closer to her. “But that’s what makes the happy moments so memorable.”
Before she could blink, he brought his lips to hers. As he wrapped his arm around her, she melted into him, kissing him back.
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