Tripp is just about to turn away from the window when he notices James Stevenson’s return from the airport. He parks the car in the shade, then gets out.
The window gives him an unhindered view of the back of the large, fenced area. Here he can keep track of the workers’ comings and goings without stepping out or them noticing him.
The enormous maple tree shows the first signs of autumn around the leafy edges. The peak of the Sapphire Mountains Range is visible through the thick leaves. He has been grounded more than once by its presences. He never tires of the view.
Years ago, when he bought the ranch, he tore down the old, depilated buildings and build the new house always with the surroundings in mind. No matter where you stand inside, the breath-taking views are visible all around. Each view differs from the other and on a good day, he can see even further.
“Call when lunch is ready, Maria.” The housekeeper nods and continues with the preparations. Her mind on all the chorus waiting for her.
“Si, senor.” She isn’t one for small talk, but he enjoys the woman’s company. At least she provides a presence in the otherwise empty house. She stayed behind when his wife decided ranch life wasn’t for her. She became Travis’s mother when he needed the presences of a woman the most.
He closes the front door and walks towards his son, bend over the hood of his newest purchase.
“Travis, how does the Chevy look?”
Travis gets up too fast and bumps his head against the lid with a soft explicit and rubs his forehead.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, dad.” He says and pushes himself away from the truck. With an old rag, he wipes at his head. An angry red mark blemishes his skin, but he ignores it.
“The truck needs a few things, but I think I can fix it.” Tripp bends over the engine.
“It looks like it needs a new engine?”
“No, it’s running. But it needs a new radiator. I will phone around.” Tripp glances at his son, then back at the faded red paint and keeps his thoughts to himself. Travis likes the challenge and through the years has fixed a few oldies, then sold it for a profit. A hobby that keeps him busy and away from the bars.
“Alright. James should join the other men. I want the fences complete today.”
“Supper at six. Bring James with you.”
“I will tell him.” Tripp nods, then goes inside the barn to his office.
James has immersed from his shell since Simone had arrived, which was a good thing. He likes the younger man. He proved to be a hard worker that goes beyond what is expected and adjusted well within the ranch.
Immediately, her image comes to mind, and he smiles at the picture of the very feminine woman. She looked like she will break but proved to be more than capable around the place.
At his desk, he opens his diary, finds what he is looking for, and dials the number.
Simone Stevenson wasn’t just a pretty face. But the air of ‘don’t touch’ that surrounded her countered her appearance. Only when she spoke did his thoughts changed. He was enthralled by her accent. The r’s that rolled from her lips sounded unfamiliar but exquisite. Her intelligence simmered through each conversation. Self-assured and bold, her well-manicured hands spoke with every word.
Golden brown eyes had locked with his in comfortable familiarity, as if she had known him for years.
“My son has talked so much about you and this place, that it feels I know you, Mr Calloway.” she introduced herself as she reached for his hand. He watched her with a confused expression as the small hand disappeared into his. The image and voice didn’t match.
But as he got to know her, he recognised the loneliness and the self-protecting shield. But with time, she relaxed, and he enjoyed her company.
Simone became part of life on the ranch and quickly found her place. Her joy was contagious. Everyone was attracted to the South African woman. At least every second Saturday, there was a party at the ranch. He himself cared little for it, but she had brought everyone together and he knew she would be missed in the coming months. A few times she had made traditional South African food, and they enjoyed every morsel given to them.
Everything about her was of an untainted woman, silky soft curves in the right places and incredibly attractive. Her dedication to her husband and her son was noticeable.
There were times, especially after a phone call from her husband, that he was aware of the changes. A bitterness which touched every fibre, and she would draw back into her shell.
“I’m not ready to come back, John.” he heard her one day followed by a long silence before she spoke.
“No. James is staying.” Her voice had a pleading quality that he found troubling and flinched at the pain. Where he stood, he heard the man’s voice as he screamed at her and she fell silent. Her shoulders slumped over from an invisible weight.
He heard the conversation on his way to the kitchen. The coldness she spoke with or the fact that John screamed so loudly across the phone was shocking. When the call ended, she disappeared. James returned with her later, and she was her old self again. Soon her laughter filled the ranch house, and he relaxed.
The one thing that really touched him deeply was her unwavering faith in the Creator.
On day two, he spotted her on the hill underneath the old oak tree where she sat on the grass, read her Bible, and prayed. An idea slipped in his mind, and he scribbled next to today’s date. As a reminder of his plans.
“Tracy, Tripp here.” He begins when the call is answered.
I want to follow up on the work. Still interested?”
“Yes, definitely Tripp. When do you want me to begin?” Tripp scan the office, the table with piles of folders and medicine and he replies, “Tomorrow too soon?”
“Tomorrow is perfect.”
“You can begin at nine. I know you have chores to do at your dad’s.”
“That will help. Thanks Tripp.”
“See you tomorrow.” Once the call ends, he sits back and caught sight of the mending clothes basket. This basket travelled with her wherever they sat. He trying to read, she mending the cowhands’ clothes. Her voice soothing to his ears and he smile. Remembering their last conversation in the office.
“The accent is unique to the Malmesbury region in the Western Cape.” She explained.
“But James doesn’t sound like that.” He had remarked.
“James grew up in Cape Town with its own uniqueness. The Capetonians are more refined, more English. If you don’t know, then their standoffish attitude can leave you cold.” She explained, trying to mend a shirt that was past its salvage date.
“Tell me about the farm you grew up at.” Curious to learn more about the Stevenson family.
“My father inherited the farm from his father. Today my brother farms on it. I had a wonderful childhood and miss it every day. Living in the city has its advantages, but I miss the peace of the farm life.” The dreamy look misted over, and he steered away from the conversation.
With a last look at the rocking chair and basket, he steps out of the office and finds Travis with the Appaloosa.
“Travis, make sure the barn is tidy. I’m expecting a visitor later today.”
“Yes, dad.” Just then James joined them in the stables, and Tripp takes the saddle nearest to him to place it back on the saddle rack. His mind was still with the brunette.
Even Travis has changed since the South African woman’s visit. A welcome change from the morbid mood that surrounded him, the last couple of years, and he grins.
Going home is never easy. Loneliness is a heartless companion that furnished her heart with ice the closer she came. There’s no room for the love and warmth she has experienced during her visit.
She wanted to stay longer, but John already called twice, demanding her to return.
Simone reached the steps of the Boeing at JFK International Airport, tired. The small hand holding the rail shook lightly. Her tanned face, the result of hours on the Montana Ranch, showed no signs of aging, her skin flawless and soft, even after forty-three summers. Her slender body was a testimony of long hours in the gym and a healthy diet.
Being an accessory to her husband’s business has its advantages.
Faltering at the first step, she prays: Lord, if it’s your will, let me visit again.
Once inside the cool interior of the airplane, the flight attendant takes her ticket.
“Good morning, Mrs Stevenson. You’re at seat E16. Enjoy your flight.”
“Thank you.” She replies and follows the people deeper into the cabin, which is humming with excitement. At her seat, she put her carry on in the overhead compartment, then took a seat.
A man takes the seat next to her. His tall frame was already struggling to get comfortable. Then turns his head slightly. A full beard covered most of his face and touched his burly chest and she shivers slightly. The newest craze never looked clean to her, but the bluest eyes were open and friendly, and he grins.
“Hello, Jan Brink.” The thick Afrikaans accent immediately reminds her of the vast countryside of the Free state, and she smiles.
“Simone Stevenson.” She says and they shake hands.
“Where are you going?” he asks once he is comfortable.
“Cape Town and you?”
“Bloemfontein.” He says the accent tripping on the ‘… tein’ part.
“Are you a farmer?” she asks. The vellies and khaki clothing already giving his occupation away. A clip on his hip is missing a gun. It will return once he is back in his vehicle.
“Indeed, I am. I was here for a farming conference.”
“Did you learn anything?”
“Not much that I haven’t known already, but enjoyable.” He chuckles, then clears his throat. Simone smile, then leans back into her seat as they lift into the bright clear blue sky. Soon they are over the ocean, separating her from James before they disappeared into the clouds.
One tear trickle down a structured cheek, and she wipes it away then closes her eyes.
“Why were you in the US?” he asks after the plane levelled out. Simone opens her eyes, then looks at the man. Not in the mood for a conversation. Her mind and emotions to raw.
“I visited my son in Montana.” She answers, then turns back to look at the menu. Hoping that will stop the flow, but there’s no such luck.
“What’s he doing there?” he asks and pulls down the small tray, then put his cell phone and wallet on it.
“Working as a cowhand on a ranch.” With a shock expression, his gaze met hers and she smile.
“Does he enjoy it?”
“Very much.” She replies, then settles deeper into the seat. The twelve-hour flight drudging before her in slow time. She glances to her fellow traveller and sees that he, too, has made himself comfortable and closes her eyes.
Immediately she is taken back to Calloway’s Ranch and the people she has met.
The valley where the ranch is located is settled between mountains framing the ranch with breath-taking views. Venturing into the valley, taking long walks, and riding with the horses were some activities she will surely miss. Tinker was a beautiful mustang with a temperament of a docile kitten. Because of this she enjoyed their early morning walks. The freedom to explore the vast landscape did more wonders to her than anything else. She could always find peace in nature’s folds no matter where she is.
The stay at the ranch was pleasant. Though difficult to leave, Simone accepted James’s choice and made peace with it.
The differences in him were remarkable from the beginning. At twenty, he wasn’t a boy anymore and had grown into a handsome young man. Abounding with peace, she longed for. His self-assurance showed in his strength, a quality of character only possible with a sense of belonging.
“I love it here, mom.” He spoke during one conversation.
“Are you planning to come back, ever?” The first-time she asked, hope tinged her voice. But after a pause, he had looked at her with all the wisdom of the world embedded in the depths.
“No mom. This is where I belong.” It stopped any argument she might have had and watched him the entire three months with a proud curiosity that mesmerised her. Teary-eyed, she understood he was where he should be.
She envied James for the peace that he has found. James is clear-headed and in control of his own life. In that regard, he is so much his father’s son. Although James or John will not agree.
His glowing enthusiasm was addictive as he spoke about his life from the moment she got in the truck at the airport. The two years apart made no difference in their relationship, and they continued to talk with great ease. The rich timber of his voice and his jovial tone were another indulgent she enjoyed.
“Life is easier here, mom. Everything makes sense. I never felt that way at home.” He explained.
She must have dozed off when she woke the cart stop next to them, and Jan stirred in his seat.
“Do you want something, sir?” the male attendant asks. “Coke,” he orders and opens his wallet.
“Do you want something?” he asks Simone.
“Coffee please.” He orders, and while she waits, he continues with the conversation.
“Why a cowhand? Couldn’t he find work in South Africa?”
“Cowboys had fascinated James ever since he had seen a Christian cowboy movie at a very young age. He couldn’t stop talking about it.”
“Here you go.” And Jan hands her the cup. She nods in gratitude, then leans back to take the first sip of the aromatic coffee.
“But he could have remained at home?”
“He could, but he said it wasn’t the same. The lifestyle appealed to him. He had read every book he could find in the library about the subject. Through a subscription in a Christian magazine, he met Travis Calloway. The friendship developed over three years through the regular exchange of mails and the social platform. Travis invited him to visit once Matric was completed, and James left without hesitation. That was two years ago.” Simone takes another sip of the warm brew.
“Will he ever return?”
“James assured me he has no intention of returning.”
“And your husband, John?” he asks with no hesitation.
“John was never happy about the decision. Not one of them will compromise.”
“Sorry if my question brings up pain. My wife always says I ask too much.” Jan says and softens his voice to a whisper. Simone shakes her head and takes another sip.
If only he can see James on the ranch, then he will know that their son is happy.
Another tear materialised and fell to her hand as her husband’s harsh words penetrated her thoughts. Words she had heard often enough in the two years.
“Drop it, it is not open for discussion.” A daily mantra. Nothing was ever open for discussion.
“But John.” She had tried several times, but he remained resolute.
“No buts Simone. I have nothing to say to that boy,” he said as he dismissed her.
Frustrated, she shifted into the chair and stars out of the small window. Clouds filled most of the windowpane so that she cannot see any water. With a sigh, she closes her eyes. The thought of home she isn’t looking forward too.
Jan too became quiet, shifts a few times before he fell into a deep sleep, and snore right away.
Simone shifts, stretches her legs then reaches for the magazine she has bring with her.
“Do you want anything to drink, ma’am?” startled she met the gaze of the same flight attendant that welcomed her when she boarded the plane.
She was still young, with a caring and loving face. She is tiny, almost fairy-like, with outstanding features and trusting blue eyes, her honey blond hair in a chignon. Her uniform is neatly pressed.
“Water will be fine.” And she hands her a bottle.
“If you need anything, ma’am, just ask. My name is Mindy.”
“Thanks Mindy, I will.” Simone replies as she opens the bottle, pouring some water into the glass provided.
Although tired, her mind was too busy reliving the past three months, and the picture of a tall, dark blond man came to mind. His prominent features filled with kindness and understanding. Then pushes the image to the far corners of her mind.
I want to please You, my life pure before You. I honour my husband and our marriage. It is sacred to you. Thank you for keeping my heart fixed on You.
Celeste Volbrecht ran up the stone stairs of the court building in her high heels without breaking a sweat. The Cape Town sun brimming down on her already tanned shoulders. But it doesn’t bother her. Each step is a step closer to a new life.
Her dark blond curls waving gently in the sea breeze. Her face glowing. Her smile bright. Each step is unwavering, her mood light as she soars to her future.
Her eyes glimmering, virescent on her goal.
On the top stairs of the court is the man she fell madly in love with, John Stevenson. Her future husband. The hunk that stepped into her life a day ago and promised her everything she had dreamed about. He is the fulfilment of that dream. The centre of her being. The meaning of her life. No matter what, she will stick by him.
“There you are.” John says as she enters his waiting arms and tucks her firmly under his arms. Craning her neck, she throws her arms around his neck and kisses him. Her heart in every movement and he returns it with the same passion.
“Yes. Here I am. Ready if you are.” Her eyes revealing her devotion to him.
“I have never been this sure of anything in my life.” His dark eyes devouring her. His hands trailing her curves till it lands on her behind and squeezes it. She steps closer to him as his hard on presses into her stomach. She wants him as much as he wants her.
“Let’s get this over with. I want you.” He breathes and Celeste presses her lips hard against his.
“I need you.” She says, and he grins, and, with a final searing lip lock, they disappear into the building. The tall columns of limestone standing sentinel at the front door; their only witnesses.
The historic building a landmark in the Western Cape part of their plans. Their actions set in stone. All that can split them apart was death but not one of them thinks of such sombre things. Not with a lifetime winking at them.
Walking through the archway felt unbelievable.
After last night, all walls crumbled down between them. They spoke about their life in vivid detail. Once he opened his heart, she knew she loved him unconditionally. In return, she gave him herself.
“Are you sure about this?” he asks once they stop before the offices. His eyes imploring her to stay by his side.
“Yes. We will work it out. I love you, John Stevenson. No matter what.” He squeezes her hand, then opens the door. At the desk, he announces their names to the court clerk.
“Mr Stevenson, Mr Richardson wants to see you first, before you continue. He is in that office.” The bald man points to the ajar glass door.
“Wait here.” He implores, his voice unsteady. His normal stoic posture slumping forward. Glancing at Celeste, he smiles wanly, then closes his eyes for a fraction of a second.
Celeste squeezes his hands this time. Her heart embedded in her throat. Her virescent eyes misting over.
“Do you have second thoughts?” dark brown eyes turn to her, and he touches a cheek, then kisses her tenderly.
“No.” he whispers.
“Are you sure?” she asks.
“Yes. I will be right back.” She nods and takes a seat. He enters the office and closes the door and she relaxes. Crossing her legs to still the throb.
She still cannot understand how she got this lucky. A girl from Simons Town is marrying a lawyer. The daughter of a second lieutenant in the navy, yet he loves her. The moment he admitted his love to her, she was hooked. She will never let him go.
It felt right despite everything being wrong. Her mind telling her to walk away. But how can she do that? The separation will break her. Isn’t a half-truth better than a full truth?
Just yesterday, she bumped into the dark-haired man at the mall. Not knowing him at all.
He browsed the magazine rack, and she was in a desperate need for an ice cream. After a long day in the hospital, she was ready for a refreshment.
They got to talk and never stopped till this morning. The freedom to express herself came naturally. Not one moment did she stop to think it through. And he worshiped her body with his lips. Every curve, plain and valley, was a new place of seductive pleasure. He opened her like a tin and she spilled herself over him in abundance. Her joy complete.
And here they are. In court ready to say: I do.
“John, I don’t know about this.” Roy says as he places the documentation before him. His hand trembling slightly.
“It will work out.” John answers and reads the one page quickly. No matter what law he has to break, he won’t let go of Celeste. He loves so much that it hurts. Nothing or no one will dictate to him how to live his life.
“We can both be disbarred once word gets out.” Roy whispers and dabs at the sweat running from his forehead.
“Then we better hope it doesn’t.” John glares at him. He despises him and will never admit that he knows him but it helps to have something against him and place a thick envelope on the table. Roy looks at it, then at the door, then picks it up.
“We are square?” John nods and without checking it, he slips the envelope in the inside pocket of his jacket. John grins, takes the ballpoint pen, and signs the paperwork.
Once the marriage is concluded, he takes Celeste Stevenson into his arms and kisses her like a hungry man. Her body pressing deeper into him with the same urgency he feels. Already he is ready to take her right there, but it won’t be wise.
He steps back and takes her hand. “I have something that I want to show you.” He says and leads her out of the building to the top of the stairs where they stop. Keerom street is in a spell of chaos.
“What’s going on?” Celeste asks a security guard. A police car blocks the traffic right in front of the building. The officer is redirecting the traffic, another man cordons the other end of Keerom street. On the opposite side of the sidewalk in Leeuwen street, paramedics are working with someone. One shakes his head and removes his gloves.
The security guard walks closer and points to the car that stands a few cars down the street. The bonnet bend as water pours from the radiator. Steam covering the scene in heat.
“That guy came from nowhere and hit Mr Richardson. The paramedics are with him.”
“How do you know it is Mr Richardson?” John asks. Scanning the area.
“We talked a bit before he left. I watched him cross the street to his parked car when the car hit him. He flew over the hood, then landed on the road. Another car went over him. It happened so quickly that I still struggle to understand.”
“Wait here. I will be right back.” He urges her, then ran down the steps and run to the scene.
“Sir, stop. You can’t go there.” A policeman calls.
“He is my friend. Is he alive? Please, can someone tell me?” He begs the closest paramedic. He is already busy to add everything back into his bag.
“I am afraid he passed away, sir.” He replies and continues.
“No.” John shouts. Heartbreak in every tone then pushes forward. “Please, let me see him.”
The paramedic nods and escorts him to the ambulance. The others step aside and John bows over the body of his friend. To the crowd, it looks like he is mourning his friend.
For a few seconds, he stares at Roy, the once youthful face now bloody and unrecognisable. What’s left of his face left him cold. The rest of him lays limp and cold inside the bag. Careful not to disturb anything, he opens Roy’s jacket and lifts the envelope out. Then slips it in his. His smile triumphant and whispers, “Now I’m sure no one will ever find out.”
He steps back and without another glans walks back to the woman for who he will do anything to keep her in his life.
At the opposite corner of the street a man breaks away from the crowd, their gazes lock briefly. Not one man acknowledges the other. But the message the look conveys is simple.
John ran up the stairs, and the other man disappears.
A policeman shouts into the crowd: “Where is the driver of that car?” but no one responds.