About The Author
I'm Liz Flaherty. I live in the cornfields of Indiana with my husband of—gasp—40 years and I write romance. The genre has changed over the years, as I have, and my writing feels more like Women's Fiction to me than straight romance, but the truth is I always have a heroine, a hero, and a happy ending. When I'm not writing, I sew, making quilts for my grandkids, the Magnificent Seven.
Liz is a multi-published author with Harlequin, The Wild
Rose Press and Carina Press.
ROLL BACK THE CLOUDS
Moss didn’t want to wake up yet, but the pervasive sense of lying in a puddle of molasses forced the issue.
And someone was watching him. It felt like when he was on morphine, when there was always someone else in the room. Even when there wasn’t. Angels, Lucy said.
“Lucy?” He forced his eyes open. And remembered. If Lucy was watching him, it was from a cloud.
It wasn’t daylight yet. Not even the grayness of dawn peeked through the blinds that were supposed to be opaque but weren’t. Lucy bought them when he was taking chemo and having trouble sleeping. She hung them herself, standing on a kitchen chair and muttering prayers mixed with some of the words to “It Is Well With My Soul” while she measured, hammered, and drilled. Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord! Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
He’d lain in a half-stupor of medication and grueling nausea and thought he could survive anything as long as he had her.
In the end, the blinds hung a little crooked. Their son Scott offered to straighten them, but Moss told him to leave them alone. He liked them the way they wore.
In the pre-dawn darkness, he closed his eyes again. Remembered.
The voice was small but decisive, and he had no choice but to search for its source even though it meant waking up for real this time, facing another day without Lucy.
“No what?” he asked the solemn-faced child who stood beside the bed. Her eyes were big and brown like her mother’s.
“I’m not Lucy. I’m Carmody Ellen Brown and I’m hungry. I’d like some breakfast.” She seemed to consider what she’d said and added, “Please.”
“Where’s your mother?”
“He went walking. He says sometimes he finds sermons by the side of the road. I don’t know why anyone would leave them there, do you?”
“Why don’t you wake your mother?” And leave me alone.
“That new baby makes her sick. She says I did, too, but I don’t remember that.”
A chuckle, dry and unwilling, rose in his throat. “It was before you were born. Go on out, child, and I’ll get up.”
“He started to swing his pajama-clad legs over the side of the bed, then stopped. “Little girl?” He never called her by name, this stepchild of Scott’s. The name was too pretentious to use.
“Yes, sir.” She had the best manners he’d seen on a seven-year-old in a long time.
“There’s something on my back. Can you see what it is?”
She came back to the bed. “It’s fudge.”
“Fudge?” He closed his eyes one more time, felt the skin on his back twitch against the stickiness.
“Daddy…Scott has hair on his back like you do. One time Mama put sticky stuff on it to make the hair come off and they laughed a lot.” Carmody laid a hand on his knee. “I thought maybe it would make you laugh, too. You never do, you know.”
“No. Sometimes your mouth does, but your cheeks don’t.”
“Oh.” He made a shooing motion. “Go on to the kitchen. I’ll be right along.”
She obeyed, and he got into the shower to wash the gooey fudge off his back. Where had the child found the stuff anyway? There hadn’t been any in the house since Lucy died.
Died. It startled him that he could think the word. He’d grown so accustomed to the euphemisms—passed, left us, went to be with the Lord—that he never actually came out and said the words, dying, died, death.
It wasn’t that he was a non-believer—he wasn’t. It was just that he was mad at God right now. He’d been a little irritated when Scott, the army reserve officer and genius-of-an-engineer in Moss’s firm, came back from a tour in Afghanistan and enrolled in the seminary. Well, more than a little irritated—he’d been downright ticked off, though not at God. At Scott. Didn’t the boy know he could serve the Lord as an engineer as well as he could as a minister?
Moss hadn’t been angry at God when he was sick, either, had in fact prayed for, depended on, and been thankful for the strength to get through the surgery and all the treatment that followed. But when he was better, his hair growing back—including an healthy flock of it on his back, where it had never been before—when he was starting each day with praise in his heart, Lucy didn’t wake up one morning. Her heart, which had never in her life—at least so far as they knew—so much as skipped a beat, simply stopped.
While Moss was still reeling from the loss of his wife of thirty-some years, Scott brought home a bride. A waitress and single mom whose child slept while her mother worked, Naomi read aloud for Scott when she wasn’t busy and his eyes hurt from too much studying.
“She has a good reading voice,” Scott explained to his father, “and she laughs at my jokes. Carmody just added incentive to the equation. What else could I do but marry them?”
Moss had no one left. Oh, his son was a good one, a devoted one, but his first loyalty now lay with his new family, not his widowed father. Which was as it should be, but it left Moss lonely. And angry.
Six months after his marriage, Scott was hired as the associate pastor of the church where he’d grown up, and he and his family were staying with Moss until their new house was finished. Naomi cooked for all of them, cleaned the house—though not like Lucy had—and did laundry. She was sick until noon every day, and sometimes had to run to the bathroom in the middle of preparing breakfast. The child with the ostentatious name stayed out of the way, for the most part. She left the room when Moss came into it and never said anything to him unless he spoke to her first.
Until this morning, when she’d said No.
With the last of the fudge rinsed down the drain, Moss dressed and went into the kitchen. Carmody sat at the table, her nose buried in Lucy’s dog-eared copy of Understood Betsy. The sun, big and red, was making its appearance over the wheat field east of the house, and Moses stopped to watch its ascent. No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life, Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
“Come here,” he said to Carmody. “Look”
He lifted her so she could see through the big window over the sink. “Isn’t that a pretty way to start the day?”
“Yes.” She seemed rapt by the changing painting in the eastern sky, so he held her there for a little while. Hard to beat the combined comfort of sunrise and a nice little girl. The anger was leaving him, though he wasn’t at all sure he was ready for it to go.
“Where did you get the fudge?” he asked, when the panorama subsided and he lifted her down.
“Da…Scott says his mother’s fudge was the best ever and you loved it, so Mama tried to make it for you only it got all gooey. Did it pull the hair out of your back?”
He felt the chuckle rise up again, and was powerless to stop it. “No, but it sure tried. Do you want bacon and eggs?”
“Can you make the eggs runny in the middle?”
“I’d like two, please.”
He’d just filled their plates when Scott came in the back door. Delight crossed Carmody’s face when she looked up. “Hi, Daddy.”
“Morning, Roscoe.” Scott bent to give her a smacking kiss on her cheek, then straightened. “Hi, Pop. She hasn’t been any trouble, has she? Naomi worries. She wants to be family, but she’s not pushy.”
Roscoe. Moss had called Scott that for so long he’d wanted to write his name that way when he went to school.
“No trouble. You hungry?”
“I’ll fix it.” Scott went to the stove, stopping on the way to get the eggs and bacon out of the refrigerator.
“Did you find a sermon by the road?” asked Carmody.
Scott smiled at her, the expression tender. “A piece of one. We’ll talk to your mom. Maybe she’ll find the rest.”
Naomi slept for another hour. She looked pale when she came into the kitchen, but rested, too. She hugged Carmody, kissed the top of Scott’s head where he sat at the table with his laptop, and smiled uncertainly at Moss. “I’m sorry I overslept,” she said. “Did you have to cook breakfast?”
“I had good help.” He gestured to the small girl sitting on a tall stool beside him. “There’s oatmeal on the back burner for you. It will sit better on your stomach than the fried food we had, even if it doesn’t taste as good.” He met the young woman’s eyes. “Lucy and I always wanted a daughter, though we felt blessed just by having Scott. A sticky sensation this morning made me think you were the other child we were meant to have. Will that be all right with you?”
“Oh, yes.” Her eyes teared right up, reminding him of Lucy—she’d cried at every whipstitch the entire time she was pregnant.
“But I do need to know why you gave this delicate little girl a name like Carmody.”
Naomi didn’t hesitate. “So she’d always have something pretty that no one could take away from her.”
He was a little nonplused by the answer, but nodded in recognition of a love he could well understand. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way…okay, Lucy, I get it. He cleared his throat. “Well then, Carmody Roscoe, pay attention.” He tapped the end of her nose and grinned at her, feeling his cheeks move. “I’m about to show you and your mama how to make fudge just the way your grandma did. That way, you’ll be able to make it for your dad and granddad every time you visit.”
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
First published in The Wordsmith Journal, 2012