Joshua jolted awake, disoriented. The room was dark, save for moonlight. A narrow shaft bathed a vase of asters so he focused on it, a trick he’d taught himself at the hospital.
The present seeped back. It was Thanksgiving. Katie had left the flowers with Mom while he was down in Head Waters. The portly farmer, afflicted with a bad back, had hired him. Joshua was to start on their fireplace first thing Monday.
His breathing eased as he studied the slender blue petals. They seemed too delicate for late November, even a mild one. But there they were, tattered but blooming. No doubt Katie had been drawn to them for just that reason. She had a big heart for injured souls and lost causes.
He sighed. Surely he fit the first category, if not the latter.
The moonlight shifted, sending a glimmer off the bevel of the mirror. It dappled softly, casting pearls across the wall. He kicked the blanket aside, letting icy air sweep over him. Though sleep was done, he dropped his head back onto the pillow. There was nothing to do except wait for dawn.
He considered the dream briefly before dismissing it. It was typical of ones in the hospital, the images so vivid as to seem real . . . a forest, flashes of gunfire, screams. Though less frequent now, they persisted, stubborn reminders that the will he exerted each day held little sway over the night.
Still, the discipline was necessary. The war was over. Moving on meant leaving it behind.
He was trying. He’d seen Katie most every day, calling on her at home a few times but more often than not meeting in town. They’d sit on the bench outside Buck’s diner, chatting.
They talked of small things. Katie would let him gripe about his leg, or his father, offering encouragement where she could. Some days, sensing his mood, she’d share anecdotes while he sat in silence. She had asked if he was taking on too much too soon. Yet he imagined she was pleased at the prospect of him working, heartened to see him taking steps.
Even Mrs. Dalton had been more agreeable since the first awkward visit. She’d gone as far as to commend his duty the day Preacher Clark asked him to stand while he read the award citation during Sunday service.
All the hoopla had bothered him. The war hardly seemed God’s work. Still, he’d accepted the congregation’s praise. It was bound to get easier. People would forget soon enough, letting him fade into the background. Until then, he had to convince them he was fine.
The bedroom was brighter now. A pair of crows lit on the eave, providing a distraction. He studied them from the bed before moving to the window. They flitted to the woodpile and then on to the frosted trees above. Eventually they darted up the ridge and out of sight.
Soon after, he heard movement in his parents’ room. Their door opened, and Mom’s soft footsteps padded toward the stair. Dad’s coughing erupted before she reached the bottom.
Joshua slipped on pants and a shirt. He massaged his leg, then ran his fingers through his matted hair. He traced the scar, shrugged and went on down.
She was propped against the counter, staring out the window.
She straightened up, still facing away. “You’re up early.”
“I couldn’t sleep. You alright?”
She turned, revealing bloodshot eyes. “Yeah. I, um . . . I’m just not sure where to start.” She gathered herself. “Son, I want a nice Thanksgiving.”
“It will be, Mom. It’ll be fine. Let me help.”
“You’re already a help, more than you know. Heck, you’ve been taking care of things I stopped seein’. I meant to ask Scott to repair the porch months ago. But it slipped my mind. It’s just, well, it just didn’t seem all that important I guess.” She rotated back toward the window.
He felt guilty. All he’d done was adopt old habits. She was in pain, and he hadn’t any idea what to do. He never had.
“There’s got to be something,” he persisted.
She sighed. “Well, everything’s mostly prepped. I’ve planned us a real feast. Scott’s gobbler is in the oven. I finished the stuffing last evening and can snap the beans quick enough. After that I’m baking sweet potato pie like my mother used to make.
“Mostly I just need to wake up and pull it together. Coffee will help with that.” She reached for the percolator. “Looks like you could use a cup too.”
Joshua watched her fill the pot.
“Come to think of it, could you bring in more wood so we won’t have to fetch any later?” She paused, choosing her words. “Your father’s been working hard. He gets chills nowadays. It’d be a load off my mind if he didn’t have to do too much.”
“I’ll get it now.” He retrieved his coat from the entry closet then knelt to lace his boots.
“Son,” she whispered from above, startling him. “There is one thing.”
He rose. “Yes, ma’am?”
“I want today to be special . . . memorable. Try talking with your father. He worried when you were gone, more than he’d ever let on. I know it’s hard for you two, but if you could make an effort.”
Her pleading left him feeling small. He nodded.
She touched his cheek. “Thank you, Son. Having you home, having all of us here together . . . that’s what I’m thankful for, today and everyday.”
“Me too,” he breathed, wanting to feel it. Then he stepped into the raw morning air.