Redeeming Their Treasured Love – Ava Winters

Clementine McClean inhaled the scent of the red, woolen scarf wrapped around her throat. It still smells like Grandma, she reflected, tears spilling down her cheeks like rain. December chill drew long grey shadows across the land, their creeping fingers making Clementine shiver in her coat. The wind blew cold and harsh through her bundled layers. Every moment of my life in this town has been agony, Clementine thought as her frozen fingers strangled the hilt of her knife anxiously, her knuckles turning white. Daughter of the legendary poker player, the man with unfathomable power… and in the end, what did it come to? Rage shot through her like lightning. What horseshit! Clementine yanked her knife out of her belt and sent it whizzing through the air at lightning speed. It struck an ancient oak tree, its point sinking into the grizzled bark. “Clementine?” a small voice came from behind. Clementine turned on her heel, her voluminous mahogany hair falling over her shoulders. Brown strands blew before her eyes as she gazed at the man that had called after her. “Wesley,” Clementine said in a voice hoarse from disuse. “You came.” “Of course, I did!” Wesley cried. His blond eyebrows pulled together anxiously, his large brown pupils quivering with worry.

He raced towards her, scrambling down the grassy hilltop with a heavy bag in his arms. Wesley was well built but shockingly clumsy. The vision of his abnormally tall form tripping down a hill was one that had amused Clementine her entire childhood. Not today. “I came as fast as I could,” Wesley said as he neared her, placing her bag on the ground before her. “I tried to get everything you mentioned—Clementine, I’m so sorry about your grandma—” “Thank you, Wesley,” she interrupted. “Did you find the cash my grandmother left for me?” “Yes, here,” Wesley said, yanking a bundle of notes out of his pocket. The notes were tied tightly together with a piece of string. “Clementine, why do you need all this cash? And your clothes?” He took in a shallow, nervous breath. “Don’t say you’re leaving Lockfort?” Clementine looked down at the cash in her hands.

She could imagine the visage of her grandmother, as she lovingly stashed each note into the safe for her darling granddaughter. She was the only parent I ever had. Clementine’s fingers tightened around the money. “I’m leaving, Wesley,” she said, loud and clear. The sound of her voice seemed to silence the meadows around her, as though nature itself wanted to pay heed to this moment. “I’m leaving Lockfort and I’m never coming back.” “Clementine, no!” Wesley gasped, his shoulders shaking slightly. “You can’t leave!” “Why not?” Clementine snapped, her last word tasting like vitriol in her mouth. “What do I have to stay for, Wesley? Huh?” She reached up to clutch her scarf between her trembling fingers. “The only person that ever cared for me is gone and I … I have nothing to stay for.

” “I’m still here.” Wesley’s voice was small. Clementine looked up to see a thin film of moisture on his brown eyes. “Oh, Wesley,” she said kindly, sniffing. “You’ve been my friend for so many years. You’ve been by my side through everything I’ve been through with my father. I can’t describe with words how grateful I am to you. But I need you to understand that it’s … it’s killing me to be here.” Clementine’s voice broke. A mellow wind began to blow through her hair like a comforting whisper.

“Each day since Grandma died, I looked around myself only to find … nothing. No change. The world stayed as it was when she was alive. Everyone went about their business. They shed a few tears at her funeral and moved on. My father ignored me at her funeral as he has ignored me my whole life. No difference.” Clementine looked up at him shakily. “I lost the person I loved most on this earth, but this world moved on immediately. How can that be? How can I burn on the inside while the world outside stays the same as ever? I can’t live with this! I need something to change!” Wesley stared at her in shock.

“We can find a way to work on this! To make this better!” He shrugged helplessly. “I’ll go and talk to your father—” “Do not mention him to me!” Clementine cried, stepping away from Wesley. He raised a palm towards her in concern. “Clementine—” “No, that man has disappointed me every single day for eighteen years!” she shrieked, as hot, fresh tears leaked out of her eyes. “He hates me, Wesley—that’s why he’s avoided me my entire life and that’s why he ignored me when Grandma needed help! If you’d gone to call him for help that day instead of me, he would have come—don’t shake your head, Wes, you know it to be true!” Wesley didn’t reply, biting down on his lip as his tears fell. “She could have been here … right now…” Clementine trailed off as her heart sagged under the overwhelming weight of loss. She breathed heavily, clouds that turned white in the chilly air. “I tried to see my father all week, but after everything that happened, he still couldn’t be bothered to see my face!” Strength returned to Clementine’s limbs as anger coursed through her. “I’m done being the excuse for his mistakes, Wesley! I need to move on from him. I want to move on.

” With that, she retrieved her knife from the oak, and lifted the bag Wesley had packed and brought from her grandmother’s house. She tested its weight before sliding it over her shoulder, tying its hooks across her torso. This bag was another, older gift, sewn for Clementine by her grandmother’s hand. “Did you throw in some apples for Annie?” Clementine asked Wesley as she turned away from him. Behind her stood a tall, pitch-black mare that sniffed the fresh grass with her eager muzzle. The horse’s silken black mane billowed like the wavy grass beneath her hooves. Clementine dug her nose into the warmth of her scarf as she approached the mare. Annie responded to her closeness immediately, turning one brown eye up to gaze at her. “Yes, I brought apples,” Wesley said, shuffling closer to Clementine. “Where are you going to go?” Clementine paused as she reached for the reins.

“I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “What are you going to do?” She tilted her head to gaze up at the rolling Texas skies. They were grey with approaching rain. She could feel the scent of it in the chilly air. “I don’t know,” she said once more. “Then why leave?” Wesley demanded, flinging his arms out. “Why go away from everyone you know? Whatever you want to do will be easier to do if you’re here—” “Because I don’t want to be here,” Clementine said simply. “What I want is to not be here.” “We could get married,” Wesley said with sudden sharpness. What? Married? Clementine turned to face him slowly, taking in a deep breath.

“Think about it! “Wesley continued, twiddling his thumbs anxiously. “We’ve been friends all our lives, Clementine! We have something between us! Don’t you think? If we married, I’d take proper care of you—like you deserve! I would never let your father hurt you! We could live far from the town, so you’d never have to meet him, heck, we could move—” “Wes, you love Lockfort,” Clementine said in a quiet voice. “But I also love you,” Wesley said, his shaggy blond hair falling over his eyes. Clementine lingered for a moment, but she was not thinking of her childhood with Wesley. It was as memories of her grandmother that filled her mind: the warmth of her kitchen, freshly baked cookies served with bedtime stories, so many cherished hugs that she’d never experience again. “I’m sorry, Wes,” she said through gritted teeth, bracing herself within her coat. “I can’t be the person you and my father wished I could. I wish I wanted to stay, but I don’t.” “Then what do you want?” Wesley asked. His question was simple.

Pointed. What am I leaving for? Far in the distance, the lamps of Lockfort glowered, signaling the approaching evening. In the opposite direction, green hills stretched endlessly, leading to unknown, unfamiliar lands. Roads untrodden. “I want to be free,” Clementine answered, her eyes scanning the alluring horizon. “I want to do what my mother always wanted to do before she died, Wes. I want to be out in the world and have my adventures. I want to be free.” Wesley tightened his lips disapprovingly. “That’s hogwash, Clementine.

You’re free here too!” “No, I’m not.” Clementine’s response was final and true. Wesley hung his head heavily, his blond hair falling forward to shield the resignation in his eyes. Clementine placed her palms on his shoulders, looking up at his pale face. “I hope you’ll forgive me,” Clementine said softly, shielding her words from the howling wind. Wesley turned away from her, letting her palms fall down. Clementine stared at his back, at his sudden, anguished gesture. If she hadn’t just been through the most painful week of her entire life, she might have broken down at a moment like this. Now, however, she felt almost numb as she stared at Wesley’s defensive hunch. I hope he’ll understand someday, Clementine thought.

I stayed in Lockfort as long as I could. Now, it’s time for me to go. She turned to place one foot in a stirrup and mount Annie. The mare whinnied lightly in response. “Will I ever hear from you again?” Wesley asked without turning back. “I’ll write to you whenever I can,” Clementine said, wishing that he would meet her eyes. He remained with his back to her, his head tilting just slightly in her direction. “You will?” he asked doubtfully. “Yes,” Clementine said, shifting side-to-side as Annie stamped her hooves. “I’m moving away, not dying, Wes.

” “Right,” Wesley said, looking up at her with one brown eye. It was still wet with moisture. “I better go before the storm comes,” Clementine said, laying one rein against Annie’s neck. “It seems to be chasing right after me.” “Be careful, Clementine,” Wesley said in a low voice. Clementine flinched as she felt the hurt in his voice. She bit down on her tongue. “You too, Wes,” she replied, veering Annie to the left. The rolling hills of Texas lay before her with the reddening sun cradled between their grassy slopes. The skies would become dark soon.

“What do I tell your father?” Wesley asked with an edge to his voice. “He’s not going to care where I am,” Clementine replied as she moved away from him. “But if he does ask,” Wesley insisted, without turning back, “what do I say?” “Nothing. He no longer needs to know what I’m doing. I’m done with him.” With her heels gently nudging Annie’s flanks, Clementine rode the mare up the crest of the hill. From there they would eventually find the roads that led away from Lockfort, towards the greater Texas region that lay beyond. Roads that Clementine had never walked before. I should be afraid, Clementine realized as she gazed at the bewilderingly beautiful horizon. I should be frightened of leaving all this behind.

From now on everything I do, I do alone. Then … why am I not terrified? Clementine inhaled the cool evening air and the scent of her grandmother’s scarf captured her attention once more. Every lesson she was taught and each morsel of love she received from her grandmother flooded back to her, strengthening her inner resolve. Clementine’s fingers tightened around her scarf as she pulled it close to her face. I can do this. Her grandmother’s kind, aged face flashed behind her closed lids. You taught me how, Grandma. I will take your lessons and I will be free. With a final nudge to Annie, Clementine took off into the reddening evening, her coat billowing behind her. The thick, red scarf shielded her face from the cold wind of the approaching storms.

Balancing easily on Annie, Clementine steadily trotted away from Lockfort’s twinkling lights without a backward glance.

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