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In the Shadow of My Heart


by




Victoria Pitts-Caine

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.


In the Shadow of My Heart


COPYRIGHT © 2015 by Victoria Pitts-Caine


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.


Contact Information: alvaradogold9@gmail.com


Cover Art: Victoria Pitts-Caine


H & H Publishing


Published in the United States of America



To my father, Travis E. Pitts, who grew up not far from the setting of this story.

In The Shadow of My Heart




As I rocked in the creaking porch swing, I took in the thin, white shard of light as it outlined the crest of the Great Smoky Mountains, just east of the home place.


The gray misted silence was shattered by the mocking call of a jay as he hailed the awakening of nature’s creatures. And as always, I could see the shadow of a man down by the lone pine. He turned, his face distorted, his voice echoing, “Wait for me, Katie.”


And I did. Star-crossed lovers, that’s what we were. The Romeo and Juliet of the Tennessee hills.


When the gathering clouds of war had begun to settle in over the skies of our community, a foreboding smoke hung low and menacing in the valley below. A thick haze from cannons and men and horses choked away our breath - the same as it did to our dreams. The pounding, thunderous battles were so close, rattling not only the china plates in Ma’s highboy, but our very souls. The war had been raging for almost two years and with the battle at Shiloh kindling our hopes, when the militia came, Charlie had stood at church and volunteered. I dared not look into his eyes, hence mine would have overflowed with a multitude of emotions: love, fear, guilt. Charlie wanted to prove himself to my Daddy, a man you could prove nothing to. No one would be good enough - not well enough bred, not enough money. No suitor would be right for his daughter. He found fault in everyone.

While it would have been difficult to find anyone who would have met his approval, Charlie Hamilton, the son of my Daddy’s lifelong enemy was, in his eyes, the worst possible choice.


“I’ll join the ranks,” Charlie said as he looked at me. I knew why he had done it.


The day he left, he approached the cabin to talk to Daddy. Charlie reached to remove his cap and his jaw line tensed.


“Don’t take another step,” Daddy warned and raised a gun against his cheek.


Charlie stopped at the end of the path and called out to me, “Wait for me, Katie.” His voice still echoes in my ears.


***


My eyes drank in the pale blue dawn, the lightness of the mug in my hand let me know it was almost empty. I glanced down at the remaining brown liquid and swirled it in my cup, stray tea leaves settled at the bottom. Ma said her mother could read fortunes in the depths of those vessels. Had she been there that day, I should have let her read mine. Before Daddy ran Charlie off. Before Ma cried and begged me not to leave. Before Cassie was born.


I waited, but Charlie never returned. Daddy grew bitter with every passing day. He would hear none of my story.


“Daddy,” I pleaded. “Charlie and I married the day I turned sixteen.”


“He wasn’t man enough to tell me?” He’d slammed the cabin’s screen door. His boots scattered dirt on the upswept porch, he turned and spat out one last remark, “He left you. What kind of man does that?”


“He left to fight for what he believes, what we all should believe.” My message fell on to the silent, empty portico as my Daddy walked down the path, not turning back. When the actuality of my circumstances began to haunt him and as the beating heart under mine became all too apparent, he sulked and pulled away from me while Ma hung back and cried. Six weeks after Cassie was born, we left. I’d lost my Daddy, and Cassie would never know hers. And keeping my vow, I never set foot on the mountain again until last week when I received word they had both gone on to meet what lie ahead for them on the other side. I hoped it would be peace. None of us had had any for the past sixteen years.


***

I had bundled Cassie in a white, flannel blanket Ma had cut from a small scrap of fabric she’d hid away.


As we stood at the edge of the path, Cassie’s small face, surrounded by the soft folds, appeared angelic and her small mouth rounded into a tiny pink circle. I boarded the wagon of the same circuit preacher who married Charlie and me. The reverend drove some fifty miles to my widowed Aunt Bessie, my mother’s sister. Aunt Bessie had no use for my Daddy and had given us refuge in trade for my companionship.


“Come here, young’un’.” She’d held her arms out to me. It wasn’t as much as I worked for her but with her, as she made me part of her life. I was the child she never had and Cassie became a willing granddaughter, and grew into a beautiful young woman.


Reminding Cassie she had a Daddy who loved her wasn’t hard because I remembered how he loved me. I often relived the walks I took with Charlie on the deep green hillsides of home, and the small creek where we waded in the cold, crystal clear water. Or when he’d chase me down the path under an arch of spreading pine boughs as we raced to the spring, my heart beating so hard I thought it would explode.


He’d catch me and pull me down into the pine needles where he’d wrap me in his arms and whisper our future to a dandelion blossom. He’d hold it to the wind and let it scatter. He would play the fiddle, the way he’d draw the bow across the strings reached into my soul. He could make me laugh, too. Skipping his fingers across the taut strands, he’d wink at me, crinkling up his nose and then blow me a kiss. But the strains of the music faded into my memory and if I’d let myself become melancholy, hope of finding him withered, too.


Then he’d walk me home. Afraid to come too close because of my Daddy, Charlie would stop at the lone pine and we’d say good-bye. In my heart he stood

there, still.


The years continued on as did I. When Aunt Bessie grew older, I took her place managing the household as well as her two-thousand acre farm - which was now mine.


But Charlie lingered in the shadows of my heart and on moonlit nights in the drowsiness of my dreams, I could see him down by the lone pine. I kept his name and wore his ring, but as the years fell distant, I wove him into the folds of my memory.


***

Standing up from the porch swing and shaking off the thoughts of lost years, I gazed at the yellow morning sun, which rose full and glorious over the mountain top. Chattering animals, now about their daily tasks, were quiet and except for an occasional whisper of a bird’s wings, serenity engulfed the cool air. In the last couple of hours since the sun rose, I’d come to peace with Ma and Daddy. They were from another time when softness wasn’t easily dispensed, life was hard and sensitivity stayed cloaked, protected. I breathed in a heavy, cleansing breath and kept my eyes centered on the spot where Charlie had once stood at the end of the path.


Then, for the first time since he’d left, I walked to the pine where he’d carved our names. Each step brought back a memory. And lost in those remembrances, I was unaware of the cooling wind as it brought the morning breeze up from the valley, parting the whispering pines overhead enough for me to see the trunk of the tree.


As I walked closer, the crushing sound of pine needles under my feet broke the silence. Beneath where Charlie had patterned our names, and the date November 4, 1862, the bark had been whittled back to expose rough, white wood. And each and every year, the date aligned below the first entry. Fifteen years of savored days. And none yet for this year. My hand reached into my apron pocket to the knotted string I kept to count the days. It was retied at new moon, on the fifth. Fifteen knots slipped through my fingers, November 20th.


In four days, he’d find me waiting at the lone pine.

***

On the morning of the appointed day, I rose early and fussed over every personal detail. With my long hair braided and twisted into a neat, tight bun, I slipped on my best dress. Did he remember me as I did him, young and full of hope? Had age and war taken away his dreams?


But he had come to the lone pine every year. Had no one told him what had become of his wife and child? Or had my Daddy’s opinion of Charlie and his family caused him not to seek me out. But two things rekindled the fire in my heart: Charlie had come every year to carve a date in the tree, and my Daddy had not stopped him nor removed the evidence.


Not knowing when Charlie would come, I grabbed my shawl at first light and walked down the path. The Tennessee November morning was cold and damp. I waited as the sun broke over the mountains and turned the golden hills into rolling flames of color. I walked around the tree, listening to the leaves crackle underneath my new leather shoes. The morning came and went and the warm afternoon sun kissed my cheeks.


“Wait for me, Katie.” I could hear Charlie’s young voice. “Wait for me.”


I spread my shawl on the ground and sat, leaning against the tree. My eyes grew leaden and closed.


Charlie sat by my side and gently stroked my face. His touch was warm and he murmured softly, his breath whispering against my lips. I awoke with a start, disappointed that I’d only dreamt of his presence.


As the sun began its decline behind the mountain, I stood and dusted off my skirt.


It had been too long. Charlie hadn’t waited for me as I did for him. The urgency of the war had caused him to leave his sixteen- year-old bride behind. I had his daughter and I’d continue to cherish his memory. But yet, he’d returned every year to mark the date.


I circled the tree to look once more at the marks carved there, nothing. He hadn’t come.


Did I have the day wrong? As I started toward the cabin, I heard a rustling in the trees behind me. I turned and time stood still. My breath caught in my throat as Charlie reached out.


“You waited for me, Katie.”


He became a blur as my eyes brimmed over and tears splashed, unattended down my cheeks. Then, he’d moved from the shadow of my heart and into the circle of my arms.

About the Author:


Bio:

Victoria Pitts Caine is a native Californian. Her varied interests include genealogy and exotic gemstone collecting both of which she’s incorporated into her writing. Her novels fall into the Inspirational/Romance/Mystery/Suspense category, but she’s additionally been published in Young Adult Fiction and Women’s Fiction as well as non-fiction.

The author has received recognition from: Enduring Romance Top 10 Picks, William Saroyan Writing Conference, Byline Magazine, Writer’s Journal Magazine, and The Southern California Genealogical Society.

Publications:

Non-Fiction: Holt International Magazine, The Victoria Advocate, Southern California Genealogical Society Magazine, 21 Stories of Generosity, Short Stuff Magazine, For Daddy With Love.

Fiction, Novels: Alvarado Gold, 2007, Cairo, 2013, The Tempering Agent, 2014.

Fiction, Novellas: Like a Lily, 2013, Not Bound by Time, 2015.


Additional Links:


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorVictoriaPittsCaine


Blog: http://victoriapitts-caine.blogspot.com


Website: http://vcaine.homestead.com


Twitter: https://twitter.com/VictoriaPittsC


Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1377310.Victoria_Pitts_Caine




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