����������� "Another nightmare?" said a concerned feminine voice from beside her. It was just her sister.
����������� "Yes, I'm sorry I woke you."
����������� "You need to talk about it?"
����������� "No, Belle, I'll be okay. I just had to wake up and see it's not real. Go back to sleep. I'll be fine."
����������� "Okay, but wake me if you need me," Belle patted her arm, rolled over, and within minutes was asleep.
����������� Lorili lay there staring up at the dark ceiling remembering that day, three years ago. She'd been eighteen, so young and na�ve. She had been home alone when the tired, worn out soldier stopped asking for a drink.
����������� "What's your name soldier?" She had asked.
����������� "Gabriel, Gabriel Star, ma'am, just like the angel," giving her a smile as he handed back the cup. "I'm awfully hungry ma'am. Would it be too much trouble to ask for a bite of food?"
����������� "Let me see what I can find. Just sit out here on the porch and I'll be right back." Lorili turned to go in the house. No sooner had she reached the kitchen table when she felt rough hands throwing her down. Shuddering from the memory, Lorili got up and washed her face. At least he was behind bars, not for the crime he committed against her, but prison was prison even if it was only for horse theft. Crawling back in bed Lorili prayed, "Father, give me strength. Help me to forgive and to forget," then silently cried herself to sleep.
����������� The next morning as Lorili entered the kitchen, her father, who had been reading his Bible, looked up. "Another late night?" he asked.
����������� She nodded her head.
����������� Giving her a smile, he nodded back. "Come, sit, eat your breakfast. Your sisters already ate and are outside doing chores."
����������������������� Lorili sat down and served herself some of the fried apples and ham mama had cooked earlier that morning.
����������������������� "Your mother has gone into town to sew with your Grandmother," her father said over his cup of coffee. "I need to prepare a sermon for Sunday, so I'll be in here all day."
����������� Lorili nodded, "I've got some work in my garden that needs to be done. If you need me for anything just call." Rising she gathered the dishes, washed and dried them, kissed her father's forehead, and walked out the door.
����������� �Jacob McClain watched his eldest daughter leave the house and sat there staring out the empty doorway. The blue-green ocean eyes that usually danced with laughter and mischief were now filled with deep and sorrowful concern. It had been three years since that awful day when some evil stranger had come and left huge scars on his family's hearts and lives.� He sat there remembering the day he had rode up from visiting the neighbors to see a young man running across the yard, jumping on one of the family's horses and riding away. Worry quickening his speed, he raced for the house, jumped off the wagon and hurried inside. There lying on the kitchen floor passed out with a knife in her hand lay his daughter. Shaking his head, Jacob brought himself back to the present. Running a hand through thinning auburn- gray hair, Jacob prayed in earnest for his daughter.
����������� As Lorili walked to her garden with a basket over her arm she heard her youngest sister, Hannah, singing to her animals. Hannah was frequently taking in orphaned or abandoned baby animals and nursing them back to health. Right now she was working with a nest of wild baby rabbits whose mother had been killed by one of the neighbor boys not realizing she had kits.
����������� "Good morning Lorili!" sang Hannah.
����������� "Good morning Hannah!" Lorili smiled affectionately. She loved her sisters, Belle with her fire and Hannah with her mischievous but sweet nature. They were all so different and yet the same, like the three musketeers, their dad would say, always there for one another no matter what.
����������� Opening the gate to her garden, Lorili sank to her knees breathing in deeply. She enjoyed this place; so full of peace, serenity, and the flowers she liked so much. Surrounded by the colors and smells, she could forget everything and just be herself. Besides, everyone loved her arrangements and it brought a little extra money for the family, just like Belle's chickens, Hannah's drawings and Mama's sewing. Every one pitched in and made contributions in their own way. It was wonderful to be able to make money doing the things they liked best.
����������� Lorili pulled a knife from its sheath under her skirt. It was the knife Da had given her when she first started arranging flowers. The same knife that cut her beautiful flowers had also cut an evil man. That knife had saved her life, but had been unable to save her body. Her body had healed, but Gabriel Star had scarred her heart and mind forever. She had scarred his face. Every time he looked in the mirror he would remember her because every day she was forced to remember him. Lorili jabbed the knife into the ground. Not today not in her garden, no evil men or thoughts were allowed here. Tying her hair back from her face, she went to work selecting each perfect bloom for her newest creation.
����������� Belle was worried about her sister. The dreams she thought had been getting better had suddenly increased and had been steadily getting worse over the last several weeks. Clucking to the horse, she urged him to pick up the pace. Once she reached town, she headed straight for her aunt's store. Aunt Lucy had a mercantile about half way down the main street that served as general store and post office. She loved to sell her niece's fresh eggs, for she said they were the biggest around. Aunt Lucy was always cheerful. The towns people would say she could suffer the calamities of Job and still find something to smile about and be thankful for, but Aunt Lucy had a gift for great, deep insights. Belle was certain Aunt Lucy could find a way to help Lorili. When Belle entered the mercantile she noticed Aunt Lucy and her long time clerk, Charlie Simms, were busy, so she wandered down an aisle perusing the shelves for anything of interest. Just as she was about to turn the corner and enter the next aisle, she heard a name that made her freeze in her tracks. She stopped to listen, not caring she was eavesdropping.
����������� "I heard he was let out a week ago and came straight here to our town," one voice said.
����������� "I heard he holds a vendetta against the oldest McClain girl for the scar on his face. You know it was that gash she gave him that led to his capture," said another voice.
����������� Belle could stand no more she raced out the door running head long into the sheriff's office. She was about to go into a breathless, questioning tirade when she screeched to a dead halt. Sitting behind the desk where the sheriff should have been was a tall, sandy haired young man, smiling at her. Belle, already flustered and angry, seeing this just became more so. Eyes flashing, fists clenched, she practically shouted with the intensity of her feelings, "Where's the sheriff?"
����������� "I'm the sheriff," the young man stated calmly.
����������� "No your not!" Belle, still shouting was now shaking.
����������� "If you're referring to Sheriff Aaron Sparks, he is at home. He has taken sick and I have been elected in his place. My name is Jase Sparks. I'm his son."
����������� Shocked and still angered, Belle practically spat at him. "Well it's a fine job your doing sheriff. A woman comes running into your office, obviously in distress and all you can do is sit there and grin like an idiot!"
����������� Jase, not affected in the slightest, tipped his hat back, "Well, I figured if it was that important you wouldn't have stopped to yell at me for not being my father. But since you bring it up, why are you here in my office so distressed as you say?"
����������� It was all Belle could do not to hit him. "Why is Gabriel Star out of prison and why have you not arrested him?"
����������� "Star's sentence was up so they released him as is usually done when a person has served their time. I can not arrest him unless he breaks the law," Jase explained slowly as if to a child. He had no idea who this young woman was or why she would be so out of shape over a horse thief. He had been gone a long time, but he couldn't imagine forgetting a girl like this if they hadever met. Surely she was new to the area. Putting his thoughts into words he inquired, "What is your interest in Gabriel Star?"
����������� "My name is Belle McClain and if you don't know from that than it is none of your business!" and so saying she marched out of the office. Upon reaching the street, she burst into tears and ran to her aunt Lucy's.
����������� "It's not fair, it's just not fair!" Belle sobbed as Aunt Lucy caressed the head on her lap. "Have we not suffered enough? Must he return to taunt us? Oh Lorili! Poor, Lorili!" Sobs racking her body, words would no longer come.
����������� Lucille Harper Wright continued to stroke her niece's hair. "If life was fair, sweet, Christ would not have had to die. Go to him child. Pray to him. If anybody understands the hard knocks and woes of life, it is Jesus."
����������� Lifting a tear streaked face Belle looked at her aunt, "Pray with me?"
����������� And as the two prayed Belle wondered, "How will I ever tell Lorili?"
����������� Lorili hearing her sister return from town rose to greet her, but seeing the look on her face, she rushed to her concerned, "What is it Belle? What has happened?"
����������� "He's been released," said Belle in an anguished quiet voice.
����������� Lorili suddenly paled. All feeling left her body and she staggered backwards. "No!" she whispered.
����������� "Oh, Lorili!" Reaching out her hand Belle tried to be of comfort, but Lorili took off running for the only place, besides her garden, she found peace. She raced for the creek.
����������� "I thought I might find you here." Lorili lifted her head to see her father lower himself to the ground beside her. "Belle told me."
����������� "I'm scared Da. Why is he back? Why can't he just leave us alone?"
����������� "I don't know sweetheart. As your father, I'd just as soon shoot him and have him out of our lives forever, but I know that's not what the Lord would have me to do." Brushing the hair back from her face he met her eyes. "However, I do know that if we are faithful and beseech our Lord in prayer he will get us through this, Daughter. He promised."
����������� "I know Da. I know. It's just hard."
����������� "Yes it is. But we can do all things..."
����������� "...through Christ who strengthens us," Lorili finished for him.
����������� Hugging her close Jacob McClain prayed in earnest for the kind of strength only God can give. "Help us God. Please help us."
����������� On the other side of town, Aaron Sparks was having an interesting conversation with his youngest son Jase.
����������� "Pa, who is Belle McClain and why is she interested in a horse thief like Gabriel Star?"
����������� Aaron readily answered. "The McClain family owns a small farm on the east side of town. They settled here about the same time you left to enlist. Jake McClain's family owns a plantation in South Carolina. When South Carolina left the Union, the McClain's left South Carolina. He didn't want his daughters to be caught up in the war he knew was coming so he moved here. His wife is Ame Harper."
����������� "Elder Harper's daughter?" interrupted Jase
����������� "One and the same, Jake and Ame moved here to be with her parents and Jake has taken over Elder Harper's position at the church."
����������� "So what would a preacher's daughter want with Gabriel Star?" Jase asked puzzled
The older Sparks looked at his son, "Gabriel Star hurt her sister."