Sally Fordyce left the house as soon as the breakfast dishes were done, walking a little, jogging a little along Highway 9 - a narrow, straight-as-a-string two-lane with a fading white line and an evenly spaced parade of utility poles. This was eastern Washington State, quiet and solitary. Wheat fields, spring green, stretched in every direction over the prairie swells. Straight ahead, the highway dipped and rose gently into the distance until it narrowed to a vanishing point at the far horizon. The sun was warm, the breeze a little biting. It was April.
Sally was nineteen, blonde, slightly overweight, and severely unhappy, mainly because she was no longer married. She had believed everything Joey the trucker told her about love, and how she was that girl silhouetted on the mud flaps. The marriage - if it happened at all - lasted three months. When he found another woman more "intellectually stimulating," Sally was bumped from the truck's sleeper and found herself coming full circle, right back to being Charlie and Meg's daughter living at home again. She had to keep her room clean, help with dinner and the dishes, get home by eleven, and the Methodist church with them every Sunday. Again, her life was not her life.
She had tasted freedom, she thought, but she was turned away. She had no wings to fly and nowhere to fly even if she did. Life wasn't fair. (To hear Charlie tell it, he and Meg must have made up a list of all the dumb mistakes they hoped she would never make and given her a copy. Needless to say, things were tense.)
Even before she tried Joey the trucker, Sally used to find escape out on the wheat prairie in the stillness of the morning. Now she returned, even fled to this place. Out here, she heard no voice but her own thoughts, and her thoughts could say whatever they wanted. She could pray, too, sometimes aloud, knowing no one but God would hear her. "Dear God, please don't leave me stuck here. If you're there, send a miracle. Get me out of this mess."
In all fairness, it was past time for Sally to feel that way. Except for those who had wheat farming in their blood and couldn't wait to climb on a combine, most everyone growing up in Antioch heard a call from elsewhere - anywhere - sooner or later. When they came of age, all the kids who could find a way out left-usually-for good. Sally had come of age, all right but had not found a way out. Charlie and Meg would probably tell you that she was not the kind to look for one, either. She was still waiting for it to come to her.
At the halfway point of her jog was a spreading cottonwood at the top of a shallow rise, the only tree in sight. It was monstrous, and had to have been growing there long before the roads, farms, or settlers came along. Sally double-timed her way up the rise and was breathing hard by the time she reached it. She'd developed a routine: every day she braced herself against the huge trunk and stretched out her leg muscles, then sat and rested for a moment between two prominent roots on the south side. Recently, a short prayer for a miracle had become part of the routine.
The stretches went easily enough. She had cooled down, her breathing had settled, she could feel the flush in her cheeks from the exercise and the cool tree.
She rounded the tree -
And almost jumped out of her skin.
A man was sitting between the two roots, exactly in her spot, his back against the gnarled trunk and his wrists draped lazily over his knees. He had to have been there all during her stretching-out, and she was immediately curious, if not offended, that he had said or done nothing to indicate his presence.
"Oh!" she gasped, then caught her breath. "Hello. I didn't see you there."
He only chuckled and smiled at her with a kindly gaze. He was a remarkably handsome man, with olive skin, deep brown eyes, and tightly curled black hair. He was young, perhaps as young as she was. "Good morning, Sally. Sorry if I startled you." She probed her memory. "Have we met before?"
Copyright Frank Peretti 1999. Published with the permission of the publisher - Word Publishing. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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