Angie Hunter stared out the tiny window of the Bombardier turboprop, keeping a death grip on the armrests as the plane bounced and dropped in the turbulent air above the still, snowy-white mountain range.
Oh, how she hated flying in a tin can. Give her a first class seat in a jumbo jet any day. Not that she’d had other options when she made her flight reservations. Only regional airlines flew into the airport nearest her destination, and those airlines used small planes like this one.
Maybe she should have driven from California to Idaho. It might have been nice to have her own auto-mobile for the next eight weeks, and the trip could have been made in an easy two days.
“Don’t be silly, dear,” her mother, Francine Hunter, had said when they talked last week. “I have a perfectly good car, and I won’t be driving anywhere for quite some time.”
I must be out of my mind.
In the seventeen years since Angie had left Idaho, she’d returned infrequently and never stayed longer than three nights at a stretch. While earning her degree, she’d taken summer jobs near the university. Part-time employees didn’t get vacations, so the occasional long weekend was all she could manage back then. As an adult, she’d had the demands of her job as a reason to rush back to the city.
“I’ll go stark raving mad before this is over,” she whispered to her faint reflection in the window. “What have I let myself in for?”
The whine of the engines changed as the plane began its approach. Angie felt her stomach tighten.
The flight attendant, a perky twenty-something blonde in maroon Bermuda shorts and a white blouse, began her landing announcements: Fasten seat belts. Make sure seats are in fully upright position. Turn off electronic devices. Stow all luggage. No smoking until in a designated smoking area in the terminal. No mobile phones until cabin door opens. Enjoy your stay. Thanks for flying today.
With the rough air seemingly behind them, Angie loosened her grip on the armrests. The flight attendant made a final pass down the aisle. She smiled at Angie when she reached her row.
Sure, you can smile, Miss Perk. You’ll be flying out again in another hour or so. I’m stuck here for the next two months!
Angie drew in a deep breath and released it slowly. She should be ashamed. After all, her mother needed her. Eight weeks wasn’t going to kill her.
And it’s not like I have a lot to hurry back to.
She winced at the thought.
Ten minutes later the plane touched down, quickly slowed, and taxied toward the terminal. Angie glanced out the window. The terminal was a single-story building; there were no Jetways. The passengers of this plane would descend the narrow steps built into the cabin door, then walk across the tarmac. Thankfully, it wasn’t raining.
As the plane braked to a halt, the clicking of opening seat belts filled the cabin even before the seat belt sign dimmed. Angie reached for her purse and carry-on bag beneath the seat in front of her. When she stood, she cracked her head against the overhead compartment.
Oh, how she hated these small commuter planes.
Oh, how she hated everything about her life at the moment.
Standing between John Gunn on her left and Terri and Lyssa Sampson on her right, Francine Hunter raised up on tiptoes. Her heart raced in anticipation of that first glimpse of her daughter. Francine was almost glad she was scheduled to have knee surgery. Otherwise, who knew when Angie would have found time to return to Hart’s Crossing. Angie’s job at her big city newspaper was important and demanding; she hadn’t taken a vacation in over five years. Or was it more than six? And a serious boyfriend hadn’t been in the picture for . . . Well, too long, as far as Francine was concerned.
“There she is!” Terri—Angie’s friend since kindergarten—exclaimed.
Angie walked toward them, looking like a model in one of those glossy fashion magazines. She wore a sky blue silk blouse tucked into a pair of designer jeans that fit her long, slender legs like a glove. Her thick, dark hair fell loose to her shoulders, where it flipped up on the ends.
“Hi, Mom,” Angie said as soon as she’d cleared the security area.
Francine kissed her daughter’s cheeks, first one side, then the other. “It’s so good to see you, dear. How was your flight?”
“Don’t ask.” Angie turned toward Terri. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Are you kidding?” Terri replied. “I couldn’t miss your homecoming.”
Softly, Angie said, “It’s not a homecoming, Terri. Just a visit. Just until Mom’s back on her feet.”
There were volumes of meaning behind those simple words that Francine wasn’t meant to hear but did.
O God, she prayed, help us find a way back to one another. Help Angie find her way to you. Make these weeks she’s here with me be a new beginning for us.
Terri glanced at the child beside her. “Angie, you remember Lyssa.”
“You’re kidding!” Angie’s eyes widened in surprise, and she shook her head. “This can’t be your daughter. She wasn’t this tall the last time I saw her.”
“Kids grow a lot in four years, Ang. Lyssa was five last time you breezed through town. Now she’s nine.” Terri softened her not-so-subtle rebuke by adding, “We miss you when we don’t see you. E-mails and phone calls just aren’t enough.”
Francine decided now would be a good time to interrupt. “Angie, you haven’t met our church’s new pastor, John Gunn. Pastor, this is my daughter, Angie.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Angie. Your mother has told me a lot about you.”
“All good, I hope.” Angie smiled politely as she shook the pastor’s proffered hand. “It’s nice to meet you, too.”
“I offered to drive your mother down here in my SUV,” John said. “She wasn’t sure how much luggage you’d have and was afraid it wouldn’t fit into her trunk.”
“I didn’t bring a lot.”
Francine touched her daughter’s forearm. “Well, let’s go get what you did bring, shall we?” She didn’t want to say so, but she needed to get off her leg. Her bad knee was throbbing something fierce.
“Ang,” Terri said, “why don’t you and Pastor John get your luggage while Lyssa and I take your mom to the car.”
“Sure. That’s fine with me.”
John handed the keys to his vehicle to Terri before walking with Angie toward the baggage claim area.
“You hold on to me, Mrs. Hunter.” Terri tucked Francine’s hand into the crook of her arm. “We’ll get you to the car and off that leg.”
“Thank you, dear. I didn’t want to make a fuss and spoil Angie’s arrival, but I am hurting a bit.” Gratefully, she leaned into Terri and allowed herself to be helped outside.
Their destination was about an hour’s drive from the airport, but the time passed quickly, aided by Terri’s efforts to catch Angie up on all the latest news of the folks of Hart’s Crossing. As owner-operator of Terri’s Tangles Beauty Salon, she was in a good position to know, perhaps even better than Bill Palmer, the editor of the local weekly newspaper, the Mountain View Press.
Headed toward the rugged mountain range to the north, they drove through farmland that had been reclaimed from the high desert country of southern Idaho. An abundance of horses and cows grazed in pastures turned emerald green by irrigation. Tall poplars shaded old farmhouses and barns that had been bleached over the years by the relentless summer sun.
At last, John Gunn slowed his Ford Expedition as the two-lane highway topped a rise, then spilled into Hart’s Crossing’s Main Street. Of course, the heart of downtown was all of three blocks long. Blink and you’d miss it.
Several people sat on benches outside the Over the Rainbow Diner, licking ice cream cones and enjoying the mild spring evening. Two women pushing strollers gazed through the window of Yvonne’s Gifts and Boutique. The Apollo Movie Theater’s marquee flickered and sputtered, as if it couldn’t decide whether to stay on or off; Angie noticed the film they would show this Friday and Saturday was at least a decade old.
A typical Monday evening in Hart’s Crossing . . . where there was nothing much to do.
“It looks the same as ever,” she said softly.
John Gunn chuckled. “You’d be surprised. I think you’ll find lots of changes, thanks to our mayor and the city council.”
His comment irritated Angie. She was the one who’d grown up in this town, not him. She certainly knew better than he did if things were different or the same. Glancing at the driver, she said, “Well, you’re new. I know that much.”
If he thought her rude, he didn’t let on. “Indeed. Relatively so, anyway.”
Rather than say something she would regret later, Angie looked out the passenger window again, staring through the glass as they followed the familiar route from the center of town to her mother’s home.
Eight weeks. I can survive anything for eight weeks.