|Excerpt from A LIGHT IN THE DARK ©
By Fran McNabb
Margaret Daniels stood in ankle deep snow.
Deep in thought, she broke a twig into tiny
pieces, tossed each little segment into a
stream inches from her feet, then watched
them bob in the ripples before disappearing
beneath the clear water.
Nothing disturbed the silence of the surrounding
forest except the rippling water
and an occasional
rustling in the underbrush.
She closed her eyes and inhaled the clear
mountain air. This is exactly
what I need.
Finally, I can think.
For as long as she could remember, she'd
been coming to this park, first
of her parents then with her
with so much happening in the
past few months,
she needed this solitude.
She tossed the last twig into
the water and
headed toward her cabin to once
her Christmas vacation alone
in the Southern
Appalachian Mountain Range of
The familiar quaintness of the
its worn, mismatched furniture,
as much as its huge fireplace
do. Right now only an electric
off its heat from the corner
of the room.
At check-in Joe apologized for
the wood waiting for her, but
her she'd have a blazing fire
in her fireplace
soon. Now too old to haul wood
have someone else deliver it.
Before she had time to open her
the sound of crunching ice on
trail outside signaled the arrival
firewood. She left the suitcase
on the bed
and answered the heavy knock
at the door.
"Mrs. Daniels? I have a
load of wood
Margaret looked beyond the red
to the logs in the truck. "Thank
I was expecting it."
"Yeah, Joe wasn't going
to be satisfied
until I got these logs to you."
Margaret pulled her attention
back to the
man and looked up into a friendly
"That's just like Joe. He
me the whole time I'm up here."
The man glanced at the empty
Margaret. "He said you're
up here alone.
Is that true?"
Margaret hesitated. The man wasn't
a park ranger uniform, but knowing
send someone who couldn't be
nodded. "I come up here
every year about
this time -- sort of a working
He backed up against the railing
out a pack of gum, took one for
then offered her a stick.
"Thank you." How long
had it been
since she'd had a piece of gum?
"I'm Paul Reynor. Don't
you get lonesome
up here? I mean, it's none of
but this isn't the most desirable
spend Christmas. It's perfect
roasting on an open fire, but
carolers are going to have one
heck of a
time finding your cabin."
His eyes, the color of deep milk chocolate,
twinkled as his face relaxed
into a crooked
Margaret smiled at his attempt to humor her.
Probably in his early forties,
he wore the
look of a hard-working family
"You're right," she said deciding
to go along with his mountain
don't get many carolers. I think
missing streetlight that's keeping
He looked out at the snow-covered road, where
a dented red truck sat next to
Towncar. "A streetlight
help. Of course, a street wouldn't
They both chuckled, then stood in the waning
daylight. It felt good to laugh,
it had been a stranger who had
emotion. After hibernating for
the past few
weeks grading stacks of essays,
felt a weight slip away.
Feeling comfortable in the man's presence,
she leaned against the doorjamb
herself by offering a bold invitation.
haven't had time to make anything
way of refreshments, but could
I offer you
a cup of hot chocolate for bringing
up to me?"
He looked at his watch. "That sounds
good, but it's getting late."
Pushing aside a little sting of disappointment,
she smiled. "I understand."
"I appreciate your offer, but I've got
my sister and her family up for the weekend,
and if I'm late, she'll worry. She's never
gotten used to driving in the snow and thinks
no one else should either. I'll haul this
wood in for you, and then get your fire started."
He pushed away from his railing, piled several
logs in his arms, then strode past her. After
taking several loads into the house and stacking
another outside near her steps, he came back
in and knelt by the fireplace. He arranged
a small pile of kindling, then nursed a fire
until it caught.
Satisfied that it would burn, he stood up
and dusted his pants. "Keep close tabs
on that basket of kindling. Don't let yourself
"Thank you. I'll do that." Normally
she wouldn't have asked anything personal
of a stranger, but something about this man
piqued her curiosity. "Do you live around
here? I've been coming up here for years,
but I don't think I remember seeing you before."
"I live south of here, not far, almost
to the Virginia state line. Moved back last
summer." He looked back at the fireplace.
"I think I'll carry in some more logs
"No need--" But he was already
out the door.
Raising an eyebrow, she smiled at his take-charge
attitude. Her Edward had also been a man
in control, but his long, lean lines, suave
dress, and scholarly manner left little else
in common with Paul.
Still, something about Paul touched a chord
deep in the center of her being. Margaret
almost laughed out loud at that thought.
She'd known the man less than five minutes.
How could he strike anything within her?
She opened the door just in time for him
to back through with another armful of wood.
Small chips clung to the sleeve of his jacket.
Without thinking, she reached out to remove
a piece, but pulled her hand back before
she embarrassed herself by touching a complete
stranger. Thankful that he hadn't noticed
her action, she let out a deep breath, then
helped him stack the wood by the hearth.
Margaret knew she was probably in his way,
but she enjoyed watching him toss the wood
without any effort from the pile to the bin.
He was meticulous, filling the bin to the
rim, then picking up the fine chips that
had fallen on the floor.
For the last couple of years since Edward's
death, Margaret had accustomed herself to
doing things alone. Why she would get such
pleasure from watching this man do such a
menial thing puzzled her.
With the woodbin full, Paul stood up and
brushed off his pants legs. "That ought
to hold you."
She placed her hands on her knees to push
herself up, but realized he'd held out his
hand to help. For a moment she looked at
his large hand. Even without touching him,
she could see the calluses and toughened
skin that made his hands so different from
Edward's long, slender fingers.
Blinking to rid herself of the visual comparison,
she placed her hand in Paul's. "Thank
you. I guess the knees aren't what they used
He helped her up, then stepped back. "I
know what you mean. Mine are reminding me
all too often about those times I hit the
ground on the football field. Thought it
was cool back then. Now I wish I'd been a
little more careful."
"I imagine football can be pretty rough.
I don't have that excuse, but my tennis game
is starting to feel the results of old body
He laughed out loud. "I don't think
either of us fit into the old category. Well-used
parts maybe, but that just means we didn't
let life pass us by."
She smiled. "I'll have to tell myself
that when I'm rubbing analgesics after my
"I haven't played tennis since. . ."
he thought a minute, "decades, I guess.
That's a physical sport. I'm impressed."
"Well, don't be. I play in the women's
doubles. None of us are very physical or
very good, I might add. We just like to get
out on the court and have fun."
"Don't cut yourself short. Any sport
is good for the body and the soul. If it's
something you really enjoy doing, well, that's
even better. Life's too short not to do what
we enjoy, isn't it?"
That's exactly what she'd been telling herself
lately. She nodded. "I do enjoy being
on the court with the ladies. It's a nice
outlet for us."
He turned to go.
"I really do appreciate
your doing all
this." And brightening my
for these few minutes. She looked
the fire, not to have to look
into his eyes.
"I love to have a fire blazing.
I miss that most in my apartment
He hesitated at the door. "You live
on a college campus? Not the one in Bluefield,
"Yes, as a matter if fact, it is."
"Nice campus. I know it well. I'm living
on the outskirts of town right now."
"When you said you lived near the state
line, I wondered if that's where you meant.
I'm surprised I haven't seen you around town."
Even as she said the words, she knew that
their worlds would probably never cross paths.
Rarely did she leave campus except to visit
colleagues, buy a few necessities, and to
spend time in Boston with a few of her parents'
friends. No, their paths would rarely have
occasion to cross.
"I spend a lot of my time here at the
park and at another lot I own."
"It's a nice town. I've been part of
that campus for almost eleven years. I love
it, and since it's not far from here, I can
visit whenever I want. With no snow on the
roads today, I made it up to the park in
about thirty minutes."
"So you come up here a lot?"
"Not as much as I'd like, but I do get
here during the holidays. It was a tradition
my husband and I had."
"Yes, it was, but we usually came up
the week after Christmas."
"You and your husband lived on campus?"
"No, I moved to campus. . ." She
didn't want to talk about Edward. Not today.
"I moved there at the beginning of this
semester. It's much more convenient than
driving from out of town."
He stood quietly, and for a moment, Margaret
thought maybe he wouldn't continue the conversation.
Why should he? He had better things to do
than to talk with a woman in a cabin. But
then he surprised her.
"I guess it would be more convenient
living next to your work, especially with
the snows we've been having in the last few
years. Probably a smart move on your part."
Smart move? That's what she'd thought when
she sold the spacious two-story that she
and Edward had been so proud of. Her campus
apartment was convenient, efficient, and,
if she were honest with herself, absolutely
Paul stood with one dark eyebrow raised waiting
for her answer.
She pulled herself back to the present. "Yes,
I guess it was a smart move. It does keep
me in touch with campus life, but I do miss
our, uh, my house. I lived in the house for
almost three years alone. I'm not sure what
possessed me to sell last summer. Maybe it
was the prospect of driving in all that snow
again. When a realtor friend of mine suggested
I sell, I stuck the For Sale sign up and
within a month was moved into my apartment.
It all happened so fast, I didn't have time
to change my mind."
"I'm sure apartments are fine for some
people, but I tried it once and hated it.
Got to have my space. I'm renting right now,
but I have a big yard that backs up to the
woods and my other lot is about a mile from
the nearest neighbor." His face broke
out in a broad smile. "I've got the
best of both worlds."
She didn't think hauling wood for park guests
was part of an ideal world, but what did
He reached for the door handle.
"You sure I can't fix you that cup of
This time he looked as though he was considering
the offer, but instead shook his head. "It's
tempting, but my sister'll have supper waiting,
and I don't want to miss a home cooked meal."
"I understand. It's not often I get
a home cooked meal either. It's easier to
hit the campus deli."
This time he stepped outside the cabin but
turned back to her. "Let Joe know if
you need anything. I'll be back up here on
Pulling her jacket tight, she stood outside
the door as he cranked his truck, waved,
then disappeared around the curve. She stood
on the stoop listening as the low roar of
his truck grew fainter.
It was quiet. Too quiet. She looked up at
the tree limbs hung heavy with snow then
down at the tracks of Paul's truck that cut
another new trail along the road away from
her cabin. A horrible loneliness enveloped
her. She stood in the fading light and stared
at the tracks. Where was the peace that this
place normally brought her? This secluded
cabin had always cheered her, but as she
looked out over the road once again, jabs
of long hidden desires stung her.
© Fran McNabb 2006
Look for A LIGHT IN THE DARK at your local
library. Avalon Books, an imprint of the
Thomas Bouregy & Co., Inc., is a family-oriented
print publisher of hardcover books that has
served libraries since the 1950's. If your
library doesn't have the book, ask the librarian
to order A LIGHT IN THE DARK by Fran McNabb,
Thomas Bouregy & Co., Inc., ISBN # 0803498020.
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