© Teresa Tysinger. Originally published November 2019.
Nothing reminded Reese Chandler of her childhood more than the smell of badly burnt toast in the morning. She pulled the covers up to her chin as slivers of early light pierced through the blinds and into her sleepy eyes. Her father never did master breakfast after her mother died when she was seven. Maybe that was why now, coming up on a year after his accident, it was impossible to replace her finicky toaster.
A deafening crash from the kitchen stole Reese from under the warm covers, bare feet instinctively darting into her wool slippers nearby. Even in a frustrated rush, she knew better than to waste good body heat on the wood floors of the 100-year old cabin.
“What’s all the racket about?” Reese paused on the last step of the stairs that led from the upstairs loft into the small first-floor kitchen. A pile of broken egg shells littered the counter. Stacks of sticky bowls teetered in the sink. Was that a plate from the McKenzie order Reese pulled from the kiln last night holding a stack of blackened bread? “Harlow!”
A chaotic mess of bright orange hair danced from behind the opposite side of the butcher block island in the middle of the sunlit room. “Oh, good, you’re up!” A smiling, freckled face popped up like one of those rodents in a carnival game. Harlow, Reese’s best friend turned roommate, waved a baking sheet like a found treasure. “I’m making you a hearty breakfast before your big day. Just needed a pan for the bacon. Ethel always said bacon was better done in the oven.”
Reese’s shoulders relaxed as she tied the belt on her robe. “Your grandmother did make the best bacon.” Being startled out of bed wasn’t the most ideal way to start what could be one of the most important days of her life, but Reese knew Harlow meant well. And, God knows she needed a friend today. “Just promise me you’ll clean up this hot mess before you leave.”
“I always do—,” Harlow sang the last word, waving her delicate hands in the air as if she was an animated princess summoning woodland creatures to come do her chores. She was such a free spirit, so very different from Reese. Maybe their opposite personalities are what drew them together back at Blue Ridge University years ago. Reese grounded Harlow, who, in turn, reminded Reese to sometimes fly a little.
Reese poured a mug of coffee and wandered into the cozy front room. Harlow might not be great at keeping organized—or quiet—while cooking, but she sure could build a good fire. As was her daily ritual, she continued onto the covered porch, closed her eyes, and inhaled a deep breath of North Carolina mountain air. This mid-November morning in Laurel Cove was seasonably crisp, the air fresh and invigorating in Reese’s lungs. Only a few golden and amber leaves clung to the trees and looked as though one strong gust would carry them off.
Winter, and her first Christmas without her father, was just around the corner. And yet, here in this beautiful place they both loved so dearly, it felt as though he was standing right beside her. She closed her eyes and welcomed another full breath. He’d reach over, pat her hand, and whisper in his raspy voice, “Ain’t no one better suited to be you today, pumpkin.”
She could almost hear it.
Crunching gravel pulled her back to the present. She walked to the end of the long porch and caught a glimpse of a shiny red pickup truck slowly rolling down the long drive.
“What in the Sam Hill does he want?”
The last thing Reese needed today, of all days, was another encounter with Hunter Paine.
Our Mountain is a serial story published monthly for subscribers of The Little Blue Cottage. The author, Teresa Tysinger, retains all creative rights to this story. No part of this story may be copied, reproduced, or otherwise used without expressed written consent by the author. The author may be contacted here.