May 10, 1861

Laurel Creek

Dear Juliette,

When I awoke this morning, my body was wound tight like the string of a violin that awaits the bow. I wanted to go, yet Laurel Creek babbled softly to the birds singing in the tree outside my window. I could only think of home, spring, and the fields rising to flower. All was still in the house as I dressed. To my surprise, I found the buttons to Grandpa Samuel’s uniform sewn onto my own. The dawn glimmered on them, causing me some difficulty securing my sword.

I walked from my room as quietly as I could, but found greeting me with murmured morning voices my father, my sister, Ann, and her husband, Peter. Their eyes were swimming and I could not long look upon them nor speak—so thick was my throat. I headed for the front door. Before I reached it, Ann stopped me, making small adjustments to the placement of the coat upon my shoulders. Her hands knew this uniform for from them it was made. She kissed my cheek with a God Bless and I thought that to be the end of it, but my father followed me to the creek. He was stumbling over the slippery rocks so much so that I had to help him back to the other side. When I return, the first thing I shall do is build a bridge over that stream—a bridge with a roof. It’ll be the death of him if I do not. His final words to me were that the buttons would bring me home. They had kept his father’s father alive through the last Revolution, so they should bring me safely home through this one. He took me in his arms, after which I, once again, crossed Laurel Creek. I looked back only once to ensure he had stayed on his side of the water. He had done, thus I headed for Jeb and Zachary’s house.

I arrived in time for breakfast. Zachary was waiting at the door and when I walked in his mother shook me out of my coat like dirt off of a rug. Immediately, she tore off my brass buttons, replacing them with several mismatching ones from various coats of the late Reverend. Zachary said he could have shot me a mile off, the buttons shined so. No shiny target would I make, declared his mother. I did try to explain what my father had said, but she felt it superstitious and nonsense.

As Zachary and I ate in silence, his mother secured the orphaned buttons to my coat and I stole peeks through the window as Jeb said good-bye to his promised, Ruth. She wept as he kissed her cheek so softly. I thought of you then.

I have grieved with you, Juliette, in your loss this last year. Charles was a good and honorable man and a true friend. If I had to lose your hand, it would not have been so easily endured had it been to anyone else but him. The four years since I left Lexington have been at once hollow and painful as you did not return with me as my wife. But, also, they have been joyous and without worry for I left you with a better man than myself. Only your happiness has helped settle me in contentment these last years.

Juliette, I have walked letter by letter with you down the widow’s path. I would be nowhere else. My intention has always been to see you happy once more—to have you loved as you deserve to be loved once more. So I have received your last letter with both jubilant elation and unfathomable sadness for in it I find words of love given to me. Oh, Juliette, I have loved and will love none but you. In the joy of receiving such a gift as your love, my heart weighs heavily. Duty calls me, Juliette, and I can only answer. War is come. I am a soldier. My duty takes me from you, and as I leave, I leave you free. I would not suppose to press my love for you until I can, with open heart and clarity of the future, ask for your hand if you would have me.

So, I shall take up the sword, and as I do, I feel your whispered breath upon my ear and your hair brush gently my neck as you rest your head upon my shoulder. So quiet and deep do I feel you, like the waters at the bottom of the river flowing over its bed.

Though I promised with this pen and paper to write home as often as I could, I think I shall write mostly to you. I shall send, also, one of my grandfather’s buttons with each letter—a token of my family’s past to one who, with hope, shall hold my future. Thus, when I return, you shall have and know all of me that you have missed and we can then speak only of you, whom I have missed, filling my mind and heart with you, having emptied both on the road of war. To return from war with a clear conscience is my most longed-for wish.

I must go now. Captain Tiffany calls a muster. Four years has it been since I have strayed from home and upon my return from university at Virginia Military Institute, I swore I should never leave again. But now, I can only say my heart is forever home with you—whether upon Laurel Creek or any other water beyond which I may find thee.

Your devoted,

Samuel E. Annanais

Chapter 1

The Covered Bridge

The afternoon was cold and as the school bus drove away the dark cloud of its exhaust drifted heavily behind Ginger Martin, following her up the lane. The snow on the top of her shoes had gradually changed from loose and powdery as she walked to the bus stop to dense and icy now on the return home. It had started to drizzle. Her feet were heavier, as was her mind, for this was a day unlike any other in the last year.

A long whine brought her attention from her feet to the road ahead, where her youngest, Oliver, was sinking into the ditch on the Creeds’ side of the lane. He had slipped off the asphalt as he ran home and was being pulled from the hip-deep snow by his older brother, Henry. Hip deep to Oliver anyway, for he was the smallest in his kindergarten class. Now he was wet and the whine climbed an octave as he gazed down the road and found his mother’s eyes on him. Quickly Henry silenced him and, with a backward glance at Ginger, dragged Oliver whimpering toward the house.

Usually on her days off she’d drive them to and from school. Now, with finances the way they were, the family had had to choose between spending money on gas driving on these special days or keeping the satellite dish for the television. After very little debate, Ginger’s three children agreed that they would keep the television—not a surprise. So this morning, just as they were now doing this evening, they had walked to the bus stop. Earlier, they had woken up, eaten breakfast, and headed out the door as if it was any other day of the week that she wasn’t there. Like Grandma Osbee, whom they lived with, she could have stayed in the house and watched them make their way down the long road to where the school bus picked them up. But somehow that seemed unfair. It was cold; they were cold as they walked to the bus. In commiseration, she slipped into her husband Jesse’s work coat and her rubber boots and made the trek with them.

At first, there had been a bit of whining in the morning from Oliver because the winter snow was at his knees in places on the road. But no whining had also been part of the agreement. Thus Henry, ten years old and her eldest, picked Oliver up along the way, just as he was doing now on the way home, where the drifts became a little too deep.

The true grace for Oliver this winter had been John Mitchell. The aging farmer came down the road with his tractor every few days, especially after the heaviest snowfall, to clear the asphalt. Ginger was incredibly thankful. Because Mr. Mitchell plowed, she could maneuver her truck down the drive every day without shoveling. Her children could walk to and from the bus without sinking into the fallen snow. There had not been one cold or flu in her house all winter, knock on wood. She shuffled to the right and actually did—she stopped and knocked on the Schaafs’ white wooden fence to her right. Then she returned to the slushy road and continued home, trying to count how many dozens of ginger cookies she, Osbee, and the kids had made for Mr. Mitchell this winter.

He always came when the family was home, and every time she found his tractor slowly making its way up the road she’d turn the TV off and have her two sons comb their hair in the tidy, respectful fashion taught to them by their father. Her daughter, Bea, would, without a word, head upstairs and return with a blue ribbon. She’d hand it to Grandma Osbee, who quickly braided the little girl’s dark brown hair and secured the bottom with the ribbon. Then the entire family would don their coats and meet the old man at the top of their drive with a plate of cookies and a cup of hot coffee.

As always, Mr. Mitchell ate almost every one. The rest he tucked away in his various pockets, remarking how fluffy and chewy they were—just as he liked them to be. Most of the time, he sipped his coffee, pondering why Jesse had pulled up the asphalt on their drive and paved it with gravel. No one really had an answer and the fact that there was likely to be no answer just made the kids fidget. Ginger usually smiled, shrugging away the comment the way she’d shrug off an unwanted arm wrapping around her shoulders in condolence.

After finishing his snack, Mr. Mitchell returned to his tractor and backed down the gravel drive. Only when he reached the asphalt road would Ginger release her children and they’d bolt back inside, strip off their coats, and land in a pile in front of the TV. At that point, right on cue, Oliver would whine that there were no more cookies as John Mitchell had taken every last one. They truly were the old farmer’s favorites. But Oliver didn’t care nor did he realize that his bottom was dry when he boarded the bus because of the grace of Mr. Mitchell. His only concern was the lack of cookies.

That was what it was to live in this little hairpin curve of the Shenandoah River. Together, five farm families watched out for each other and the littlest ones were kept oblivious to cold and worry when possible. As Jesse and Ginger Martin’s children were the only kids left on the road—all others having grown and moved away—it was mostly the other farmers who looked out for their brood. Henry, Bea, and Oliver were known in the area as the “Little Smoots,” Henry and Osbee’s great-grandchildren. When the Martin family moved to the Smoots’ farm, every farmer became their other grandfather and their wives other grandmothers. These were Jesse’s children and Jesse had pretty much grown up on his grandparents’ farm himself.

Jesse’s nature was not that of his father’s people, the Martins from Richmond. His blood ran with the Shenandoah and with his mother’s family, the Smoots. His mother and father raised their children in Richmond. During the summer, his brother and sister were sent away from the city to camps. Jesse asked to spend his vacation with his grandparents, and so he did. He farmed and fished, milked cows and planted flower beds. He crossed the river in a boat and climbed the hill beyond into the state park that was his playground. The winding water, which was a bubbling rapid to the south, looped around in a U-bend, becoming a smooth, glassy flow to the north. It was his playmate. It was his friend on lonely days. It was family.

So when Grandpa Henry passed on five years earlier, Jesse had to step in. There was great pressure put upon Grandma Osbee by her daughter, Ester, to sell the Smoots’ forty-two acres of Shenandoah land. Osbee was too old to continue to farm it alone and the best option, according to Ester, was to sell the farm, put the money into a trust, and move Osbee closer to Richmond.

But Osbee didn’t want to sell and leave her land. That would dishonor everyone who had held it since 1799. Though she was lonely and hurting, her weathered root was yet strong, deeply grounded in the land of her family. She knew who would always keep her on the land. She knew who would fight Ester, his own mother, taking his grandmother’s side in all things. Thus the call came to Jesse and he answered it as he answered all calls to duty. Though stationed with the 16th Military Police Brigade in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he sent Ginger and the children to live on the farm, coming home himself between deployments and on all possible leaves. Jesse Day Martin was bound to the farm just like his grandmother. So when it came time to pass on the land, Osbee would bypass her own children, knowing they would sell it, and leave the farm to her grandson Jesse, who would work it.

Ginger pulled Jesse’s work coat tighter around her body, stopping as she reached the end of her drive. The Smoots’ farm began where the road ended, the gravel drive climbing five hundred yards up a gentle-incline hill to a small white farmhouse rebuilt in 1866 after a fire had destroyed the original. To the left and north of the house sat a large, raw, unpainted barn built at the same time. It was home to Half-a-Penny (or just Penny) and Christian, two workhorses Jesse had brought home for his children to ride. Beau, their brown, tattered mutt, lived there also, along with Regard, the gray tabby cat.

Regard didn’t belong to the family. He was a stray that stayed. As Ginger gazed around, she found him crouched on top of one of many fence rails that were strewn on both sides of the drive. It was rough-hewn locust wood and would have been part of the snake-rail fence Jesse had planned on completing last time he was home. His duty, however, had taken him away just as he finished sinking the posts into the soil, so all lay exactly as he had left it a year and, what? Nine months. It was forever since he had been gone.

As she kissed at the cat, Ginger surveyed what winter had brought to the farm. The property was the half-moon end of a loop in the north fork of the Shenandoah River. To Ginger’s north and left was a wide, flat field that rolled down and away from the small rise of the house to a large stand of trees from which the snake-rail fence had been cut. A version of that same fence separated the horses’ corral from the rest of the cropland. Jesse had finished that before he left. Now the field was covered with snow, its furrows hidden beneath the smooth blanket of white and winter wheat, undisturbed all winter by horse or human.

On Ginger’s right and south was a pond that used to feed the springhouse by way of a stream. In times past, when there was no such thing as a refrigerator, such a springhouse was used to keep food from spoiling. It was a mystery to the Smoots why the pond no longer fed the stream, but it hadn’t since the Civil War. So a small, dry streambed ran down to a copse of ash, hickory, and walnut trees. It was on this side Jesse had planted Ginger’s apple and pear orchard eleven years before when they came to spend their honeymoon on the farm. They hadn’t gone to Hawaii or Tahiti. Military people rarely find true rest anywhere but home, where they rarely are—or so Jesse had explained. The perfect honeymoon, therefore, was to be home together and home was the farm. Grandpa Henry had helped Jesse dig and plant for four days, getting the trees solidly set into the ground to help Ginger and her Northwest sensibilities find a root there, too. Ginger smiled as she watched Jesse in her mind’s eye carry a tin bucket of Macintosh over to her.

“Make me a pie, woman,” she whispered to the barren branches of her winter orchard.

Beyond the orchard and hidden behind the copse of ash, hickory, and walnut, the little streambed ran past the springhouse to the river and there Jesse had taught his children to swim and fish and find the magical, secret world of his own boyhood. He dreamed for nothing greater in life than for Henry, Bea, and Oliver to grow on this land and flow like this river. Though he was a soldier, the tender of his heart beat freely here, in his Shenandoah dream, with Ginger, his children, and his grandmother. He took it with him when he was deployed; he’d lock away his green, gentle heaven, keeping him connected to the subdued beauty and serenity of his valley home when in the omnipresent heat and violence of war’s fury.

Ginger stood, listening to him tell her as much as he rested his head upon her breast the night before he last left. She sighed, her breath as white as the flat white sky above. If there was a sun up there, Ginger didn’t see it nor did she feel its heat. She could go into the house now to be warmed by the cup of coffee she knew Osbee had waiting for her. Instead, she turned toward the pond. Between the orchard and the copse of trees, a covered bridge stood over the streambed. A covered bridge over a dried-up stream in the middle of a forty-two-acre farm in a hairpin turn of the Shenandoah—what use was that? It was the first question Ginger had asked of Jesse when he had brought her to the farm to meet his grandparents. In answer, he’d explained to her that it was there so someone could put a historic marker on Interstate 81 calling attention to it and people would exit, drive five miles of windy roads to the Smoots’ farm, and give the people living there new faces to look at. She had laughed then. Now, eleven years later, the bridge seemed just as strange and out of place as she felt.

Heading in that direction, Ginger felt a longing for her home in Seattle. She wanted her parents and the city. She wanted lots of people and noise and traffic and large bodies of water everywhere. Ginger was born in 1972, the only child of Tim and Monica Barnes. It might have been 1972 for the rest of the planet, but for Tim and Monica it was still the sixties. They raised their daughter in a small flat above their retail store, the Ginger Moon, which they named after their daughter. The shop was a community fixture in the Fremont District. They sold brass Buddhas and silver dancing Shivas; tarot cards, hemp handbags, and cotton tie-dyed dresses were bestsellers. Patchouli was the first scent Ginger remembered smelling, and the sound of the sitar, the first music she heard. Her childhood was free and magical, full of raw milk and tofu and people from everywhere speaking many languages, most of which she did not understand. Yet all of their voices became the rich background music of her life. She wanted to travel one day and submerge herself in the deep water of the world of which Fremont was just a tiny raindrop.

That was what she said she wanted to be when she grew up, a traveler, and always she wanted to be a nurse. But art was everything to her parents. When she began to show an interest in science, her father and mother, in absolute terror, fought back. They sent her to after-school art classes, drama classes, dance classes, and singing classes. Ginger enjoyed it all, but mostly her attention was drawn back to small things—bugs or moss or the soft brown feathers on the top of ferns. She liked microscopes because even tinier things could be seen—like bone tissue or liver cells. To Ginger, histology was art. So, loving their daughter as they did, Tim and Monica relented, falling back into the community of their store and letting Ginger pursue her nursing degree and then sail away from them into the waters of the world.

It was as a traveling nurse in an emergency room at a hospital in Fayetteville, North Carolina. that Ginger had met Jesse. He’d seemed cold that night, coming to collect two soldiers who were in her charge due to a bar brawl in town. Distant and aloof were not words enough to describe being in his icy gray gaze. When she’d enter the room to check on her two patients, the quiet murmurs of Jesse and his men would stop. In silence, she’d check an IV or administer a painkiller without looking at any of them and it wasn’t soon enough for Ginger that the soldiers were released and headed back to Fort Bragg.

So it was quite a shock when she stepped out of the hospital, dawn just rising, to find Jesse in jeans and a sweater standing next to his truck, asking her out for coffee and maybe breakfast. He was not cold, but warm—not aloof, but more present than anyone she had ever met. He loved her full name, Virginia, for it was his home state, he said, which made them both laugh. They dated for three weeks, after which time Ginger’s contract was up and she sat weeping on a plane back to Seattle. When she arrived, she stepped into the Ginger Moon and fell apart in her parents’ arms, trying to understand the incredible emptiness in her body. Forever, she had been free, light, and airy, with no particular need to go any one direction or to be responsible to anyone but herself. But such freedom seemed now hollow; being without direction seemed suddenly pointless.

Ginger was a contract nurse who took assignments all over the country. Quickly she searched for contracts on the East Coast, but nothing was open in North Carolina. She could have gone to Virginia or Georgia, but what use was that? Her schedule would be erratic, as was always the case for a traveling nurse, and unless she lived closer to Fort Bragg, there was no guarantee she could get enough time off to drive there when Jesse had days free. So instead they talked on the phone. They’d call and talk for hours and as soon as they hung up Ginger returned to empty. It hurt so deeply—all her bone tissue, every liver cell. Being without him disturbed her peace so entirely that, soon, she wouldn’t answer his calls anymore. He was there and she was here and an entire country lay between them.

Notes stacked up on the counter at the Ginger Moon: Jesse called at noon. Call Jesse. Will you PLEASE call Jesse. He’s tying up our line. But Ginger wouldn’t call. She worked. Sixteen-hour days back-to-back in Seattle or in little rural hospitals to the east, blowing around the state of Washington like a tiny seed on the wind that never finds a place to root.

Then, late one night, as she shuffled out of Swedish Hospital absolutely exhausted, she found Jesse standing in his uniform next to her car. She said nothing. She cried and he took her in his arms, grounding her within his heart. They were married by the end of the week and she was on a plane to Fort Bragg, having kissed her mother and father good-bye.

“You will always be our Ginger Moon,” she whispered, repeating her parents’ words, her voice echoing in the hollowness of the covered bridge. As she stepped out, she sank ankle deep into the snow on the other side.

Looking to her right, she saw the springhouse looking lonely and abandoned. When the stream went dry, the springhouse lost its purpose. So it stood, forgetting what it was there for, becoming nothing more than a barrier that blocked the north wind from blowing across the Smoots’ small family cemetery. The short, black iron railing seemed to have sunk deeper in the snow.  Several crosses peeked out, dark and gray against winter’s white mantle. Yet there in the snow, several vases of weathered but colorful flowers dotted the cemetery—Osbee’s dutiful care for her husband and their mutual relatives.

Ginger wanted to go home to her relatives in Seattle, but she could not—for here was Osbee and the farm. The actual farming of the land fell now on the shoulders of John Mitchell, Solomon Schaaf, Todd Whitaker, and James Creed. These four men were working their own fields and farms each day, after which they’d come down the road in shifts instead of spending time with their wives. It was a team effort, keeping the Smoots’ farm a going concern until Jesse returned. He had planted and was shortly thereafter deployed to Iraq. That was a year and nine months ago, in May.

The four farmers harvested that fall and set to planting the following spring, working the crops for Jesse until his expected return home this last June. But summer came and went without him. So they harvested once more and now it was coming on to planting time again. Ginger knew it was because John Mitchell had said so last time he plowed the drive. How could she ask them to plant once more? Especially Solomon Schaaf. He could barely sit his own tractor he was so old. To have them plant again would continue to take them away from their own needs. She had tried to compensate them by paying them from the farm’s proceeds, but they’d have none of it. Each of them knew she needed every cent to pay the taxes and next year’s planting needs. Even when she kept all the earnings, it wasn’t enough.

Thus Ginger stayed for Osbee’s sake, continuing to work as a traveling nurse, picking up shifts throughout the valley and West Virginia from the nurse registry. When she wasn’t working, she was bartering her skills to pay the deep debt she owed these farmers. With great care and sensitivity, she performed the service she was educated to do. Someone would twist their ankle, sure it was broken, or have a strange pain in their neck, convinced it was a heart attack, or catch a bad cold, positive they had the bird flu. Ginger was there to feel the ankle, never broken; review the neck pain, from being on the phone too long with a shoulder scrunched up to the ear; or prescribe cough medicine and a week in bed for a bad cold. Not only did Ginger save them the cost of going to the doctor, which all of them could little afford, but she also was the local medical practitioner whose advice was free to be ignored, which it usually was. Still the phone would be on the ear just as it always had been and a farmer couldn’t stay in bed a week. Death would have to be knocking on the door for that to happen.

And Ginger would never allow that—death to knock on the door—ever, and this day could be like so many others lived these last eleven years. Jesse was simply gone on another deployment like the others before, leaving Ginger and his children on the Smoots’ land, holding on to Grandma Osbee, clinging to his dream. It could have been and was until last March, one year ago to the day, when a car pulled up the gravel drive and parked next to the unfinished fence. Two uniformed men came slowly up the steps, their eyes sorrowful but steady. Had Grandma Osbee not held her hand that day, Ginger would have burst into ash and blown away. But Osbee was there then and Ginger was here now and so today could have been like so many others these eleven years—but it wasn’t.

She stepped from the little wood of ash, hickory, and walnut and came to a tottering stop. No one, not Ginger, not her kids, not even Osbee had ventured beyond the copse of trees in the last year, for this was Jesse’s spot, given him as a boy by his grandfather as his own private place. This was where the empty stream met the mighty river and a giant ash tree lent its trunk as a shoulder to lean upon for support. It was from here, near the ash on the river, where Jesse would float across in a little boat to the other side. Here is where he’d come to be quiet and hear the world and think and dream. Surely, if he was still around, here is where he’d be.

But he wasn’t and she fell helpless to her knees. She wept quietly, disturbing neither the squirrels who busied themselves around her seeking nuts they’d buried last fall, nor the crows sleeping in the branches above her head. The river murmured as it flowed slowly by the snowy bank. The world was cold and quiet and pale as Ginger’s grief fell heavily on the frozen ground.

She waited—waited for him, for anything. Just one more passing word, a touch of his hand on her hair, soft breath on her neck. Anything. Anything. A wind blew. It was a strange breeze—warm and moist, flowing down the winter water as if spring was just coming around the bend. Ginger felt it touch her cheek and ear and she closed her eyes, imagining Jesse sitting next to her near the river just as he used to do. The breeze turned cold again.

“Stay,” she whispered.

“Good afternoon.”

Ginger spun her head to the left and found a man standing on a fallen pine tree that spanned the river. Quickly she stood, wiping her cheeks. Jesse’s ash tree had split and splintered across the small pebbly streambed. A massive pine tree had uprooted on the other side of the river and its top was just long enough to reach the ash, the two fallen trees forming a bridge over the river. Snow flittered around her like so many silent white flower petals and Ginger stared, dazed by the violet light of winter’s coming eve and the darkness of the uprooted base of Jesse’s tree.

“Afternoon,” the man repeated as he stood perfectly still with his cap held in his hands. He was gaunt, about the age of thirty, with light brown tousled hair and a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee, and wearing a butternut-colored military uniform. She had seen uniforms like his before since reenactments of Civil War battles were year-round affairs in the Shenandoah. But this man’s was dusty, the insignia worn, and it fit him loosely. Surely it was not his uniform; Ginger thought it must be borrowed.

“G-good afternoon,” she replied hoarsely.

“A cold afternoon,” he added.

“It is cold. You lose your regiment?” She tried to smile. Her cheeks stung with tears.

“Why, yes, I did.” His accent was very Virginian. Not from Richmond. Not from the coast. Ginger was very good at placing Virginia accents because Jesse had a talent for mimicking them. This man’s accent, though, was not one she had heard Jesse do. A tear escaped, rolling hot down her face.

“Why are you crying?” the man asked, gently.

Ginger looked away from him, shaking her head.

“It’s personal,” she replied, wiping the tear as she slid her gaze across the river, searching for more roaming Civil War soldiers in the woods. The man chuckled. Ginger flicked her eyes back to him, unclear why what she had said was at all funny.

“I apologize, but I have never cried a tear nor heard of one shed that was not personal,” he said with a little smile. She cocked her head and smiled a little in return. His eyes were the color of his hair and soft and he stood so still, as if he yet waited for her to answer.

“My husband died,” she whispered.

“I am sorry. Was it sudden?”

Ginger took in a deep breath and looked up at the soft purple-white sky above her, trying not to feel her hurt. It didn’t work.

“He was a soldier, like you,” she said, smiling back at him through her unwanted tears. “He died serving his country.”

“It is an honorable death, then.”

Ginger nodded quickly, pulling the sleeve of Jesse’s coat to her mouth. Sometimes she could just catch his scent within the flannel lining.

“He’s in a better place,” the man continued.

Ginger’s throat tightened.

“You know? I don’t believe that,” Ginger whispered. “A better place for him would be here. Planting his fields and mending fences and picking apples for pie and teaching the kids to ride horses and caring for his grandmother, who cared for him. What better place? Where is this better place? I sure don’t see it!” Ginger froze; her voice had grown angry and her words tore the still air like the cawing crows that now lifted into the air from the branches above.

“I’m sorry,” she said, shaking her head and covering her mouth. “I’m so sorry.”

“It is all right,” he replied, quietly, almost formally.

“Sorry,” she whispered.

“It’s personal,” he said with a small smile.

Ginger nodded, wiping her face with Jesse’s sleeve again.

“I should go. Um . . . you wanna come in? Osbee’s probably made coffee by now and I can take you back to your regiment. I’m so sorry.”

“We have already had forgiveness here. No need to apologize further. Who is Osbee?”

“Oh, uh, Grandma.”

He nodded. “And you? What is your name?”

“Virginia.”

The man smiled with a chuckle.

Ginger shrugged. “I know. It’s your state,” she said.

“No. It is my country,” the man corrected.

“Oh, right,” Ginger replied. “Fighting for Old Dominion.” She knew those who had fought in the Civil War thought of Virginia as a country, a separate republic. So Jesse had said.

“Virginia what?” he asked.

Ginger’s heart lifted a bit from her grief. This was her favorite question when asked by someone from the state.

“Virginia what?” the man pressed as he watched her face lighten.

“Virginia Moon.” She grinned as a smile grew brighter on his face as well.

“Virginia Moon. I love your name!”

“Most people around here do,” she replied, her head heavy again with cold and tears. “Where’s your regiment? I’ll take you back.”

“No need. They are a ways away and I have to take care of a couple of things on that side of the river.” He pointed to the woods of the state park. “But I thank you.”

He turned and headed back across the river.

“Careful. There’s snow on the tree,” she said, imagining that, if he fell in, it would be a visit to the emergency room for sure. That was one place she did not wish to go today.

“I have waited a long time to cross this river. No slippery path shall take me down,” he replied with his back toward her. “You go and be warm.” The man stopped and turned back to face her. “And, Virginia Moon?”

“Yes?”

“A man is not dead if his dream yet lives. If his love lives.”

Ginger gazed into his soft brown eyes, so far away. She swallowed hard.

“Think on that.”

She nodded, watching him turn and cross back to the other side of the river. He jumped off the fallen pine and climbed up toward the wall of trees.

“Hey!” she yelled. “What’s your name?”

“Samuel,” he whispered. “Samuel Ezra Annanais.”

Then he climbed through the trees and disappeared into the brush.

 

copyright Nicole R. Dickson 2012 All Rights Reserved