The radio crackled and faded to static. Alexis’ fingers tightened on the steering wheel. It was a good sign, she reminded herself. The lack of radio signal and signs of modern civilization were indicators her grandparents’ farm was nearby. It was just as well - the storm clouds that had choked the sunset were now encroaching on the stars and she detested driving on rain-soaked highways after dark. It was too clichéd.
In the silence, her editor’s words rang in her ears. What’s happened to you lately, Meyer? In case you’ve forgotten, you’re the features reporter - don’t make me put you back on the city council beat. Your last few stories have been nothing but facts and figures and quotes I could have gotten in my sleep. You’ve got to step it up.
The criticism pierced deep. Never mind her grandfather’s recent death. Never mind her mother’s broken foot and cancelled visit they had been planning for months. Never mind her cousin-who-was-like-her-big-brother who had lost his fiancé to another man. Never mind... well, just never mind. She had a job, and an editor who did not accept distractions.
Inspiration is for amateurs.
The oft-repeated office mantra was Alexis’ personal motto. It was that attitude that got her from news clerk to features reporter in only three years. There was a story in everything, and human interest was as plentiful as human beings. It was that simple. This string of dry stories was due to too much overtime and not enough time to follow leads.
The white farmhouse appeared at the top of the hill, the lighted windows a hauntingly familiar beacon. For the first time, Grandpa wouldn’t be coming out to check her car as soon as she parked. Her boss had practically ordered her to take the long weekend to unwind, but from the stoic smile on Grandma’s face as she watched Alexis park, neither of them would be relaxing much this weekend.
“Alex, sweetheart! It’s so good to see you.”
Alexis let herself be wrapped in a firm, farmer’s wife hug, not trusting herself to speak. The silence that used to be filled with Grandpa’s jokes stretched to the point of awkwardness.
Grandma sighed and pulled away. “Well, you must be tired, deary. Just head on to bed, we’ll talk tomorrow.”
She turned toward the house. “I love you, Alexis.”
“Love you, too,” Alexis managed as she grabbed her suitcase.
The thunder rattled the windows, but no raindrops followed. The air was stifling in Alexis’ bedroom. She kicked the quilt off and got out of bed, giving in to the restlessness. She picked up her much-neglected journal, only to toss it aside again, reaching instead for her shoes. She had known before she ever arrived that she would be sneaking out tonight.
Down the hill and through the south wheat field was the old bridge over Marvin Creek. Deserted when the paved road came through, the wooden structure was the perfect place to simply be still. She found her usual spot in the middle of the bridge and sat, feet swinging over the edge.
Jesus, you know I’m trying. It’s just not working so well right now.
“Mind some company?”
It was Scott. She turned to grin up at the silhouette of her cousin, guitar on his back.
“Do I have a choice?”
“Nope,” he said easily, sliding down next to her. He slung his guitar around and played a chord. “Grandma told me you’d be here this weekend.”
She nodded. The wind stirred the trees around them, mingling with the gurgling of the creek. Scott played a few more chords, but didn’t speak. They came here for silence. After several long minutes, Scott stilled his guitar strings.
“First harvest without Grandpa.”
“My editor says I’m losing my touch.”
More silence. Empathy. They were confidantes mainly because they knew when not to fix it. The wind picked up, and an owl nearby gave a sleepy hoot.
“How are you after Lindsay?” Alexis asked, putting a hand on his arm.
“How are your articles?” Scott rejoined, fingers slipping on a dissonant chord.
“I’m sorry,” she said earnestly.
“I’ve been here a lot lately,” Scott patted the slat he was sitting on. “And I figured something out.
“You can’t dictate healing. It has its own timetable.”
She growled. “So, the writer’s block?”
“Will go away eventually. Maybe with some prayer.”
Silence again. Alexis released a gusty, defeated sigh.
“Know what I figured out?
“I’m an amateur.”
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