On a balmy Friday evening in late April, Rozene Gentry Carson stood at her bedroom window facing the Sweetriver Mountain Range, a view that had greeted her every evening for over fifty years. Tonight, the setting sun cast a glow of peachy-golden rays through the limbs of freshly budded hardwood trees, and highlighted the new green growth on the evergreens.
The Sweetwater River, dividing her property fifty yards away, reflected the glorious colors from the sunset as it rolled by, calmer now that winter had bid Sweetland its welcome farewell. Rozene’s purposeful glance at the small stone cairn along the river’s edge shot her heart with the familiar pain of loss. The cairn marked the spot where, thirty-three years ago, her three-year-old son toppled into the river and was swept away by the rushing, frigid waters from the mountains’ snow runoff. Rozene waited for the expected tears, but none came. Time had dulled the pain, but the sorrow of her loss would never go away.
“How’s my lovely Cherokee bride?” Rozene’s husband came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.
“Hi, Mike.” She closed her eyes with a smile and leaned back into his embrace. “Just thinking about Robbie,” she said. “That pile of stones on the river bank used to be a place I avoided at all costs. I even refused to look at it. I resented Ross when he did that. I didn’t want any reminders of my loss. Today, after all the years of bitterness, I find it oddly comforting. It connects me to that precious little boy, and the man who fathered him.”
Mike’s arms tightened around her. “I’m glad, Rozie. It sounds like you might be moving toward that closure everyone talks about.”
“Not quite, Mike, but I’m getting close. There’s one more thing I need to do before I find complete peace.”
“And what’s that?”
“Visit Robbie out at Rosebriar Cemetery. I haven’t been back there since the day we buried him. It’s time, and I’d like you and the girls to go with me.”
Rozene hesitated, her heart pounding. Was she really ready for this? She’d felt certain about it a moment ago. Yes, it was long past time to do this. Time to forgive herself, and Ross. Time to visit the little boy who never had a chance to grow up. Like the little stone cairn beside the river, she’d avoided confronting the past and the guilt she’d carried for too many years.
But Mike’s quizzical frown, while not exactly accusing, made her realize she had some explaining to do.
“You might as well go ahead and ask that question I see on your face. You want to know how I avoided seeing Robbie’s grave when I buried Ross. Am I right?”
He nodded with a gentle smile. “It had occurred to me, yes.”
“I was a coward, Mike, afraid to face my own guilt in Robbie’s death. At Ross’ graveside, while Pastor Paul officiated, I kept my gaze averted, denying myself even one look at the grave next to Ross. After so many years of refusing to visit the cemetery, I felt unworthy to acknowledge it then, and that only piled more guilt on my shoulders. Does that make sense?”
“Tomorrow,” she said with a firm nod of her head, looking straight into Mike’s eyes. “Right after breakfast, before the girls head off into their weekend activities.”
“Good.” Mike cupped her face with his hands and kissed her. “I’m so proud of you, Rozie, and I love you with all my heart.”
She smiled, returning his kiss, and then twisted around to face the window again. “You now, I stood right here one year ago, alone, looking out over the yard and the river, viewing this same scene, with nothing left to look forward to after Ross died, except running the restaurant.”
She turned into his arms again and curled her arms around his neck. “And then I met you, and a precious, angry Cherokee teenager. The first time I saw her, my hardened heart crumbled on the spot
“It’s almost impossible to believe how much my life has changed since that day. I feel like pinching myself to make sure it hasn’t all been a sweet dream.”
Mike’s gentle laughter delighted her. “I know the feeling, honey. It’s been a magical year, especially these last four months. At least for me. I gained a wife and adopted four teen-age daughters all within the span of twenty minutes.”
“Magical. That’s a good word, Mike. It has been that, and more. Everything changed for me that day Misty Keys walked into the restaurant, then ran away from me like a frightened rabbit.”