Shane Ledyard’s latest novella Sycamore Whispers is a powerful, coming of age story where faith and nature play their mysterious roles perfectly in a young girl’s struggle to overcome adversity. Here the author shares Chapter 2: Give Me Your Eyes.
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Chase’s pick-up truck pulled into the gravel driveway and stopped abruptly. He leaned over the bench seat of the single cab and opened the passenger door to let his border collie, Duke, run free. The wiry dog scrambled franticly out of the truck and ran straight towards Emma. He wiggled his body wildly; releasing his black, white, and brown hair into the humid, summer air. He peered up adoringly at Emma before running circles around her in the hope that she would play with him. Too intent on her own plans, she bent down and got a kiss from her excited friend, and then quickly focused her attention on her daddy.
Chase shared a broad, white smile that brought a glow to his pale blue eyes. He had dimples that stayed cheerfully in place even when he wasn’t smiling, which left certain proof of his kind, affable way. A man of preparation, his muscular, lean, six foot-two-inch body was always in excellent physical condition. His standard off-duty dress was blue jeans and cowboy boots, topped with a clean, white, V-necked t-shirt. Despite his imposing physical presence, he was very mild-mannered.
“Daddy!” Emma yelped as she ran towards him, leaping trustingly into his arms.
“Emma girl!” Chase replied, opening his arms as she came charging towards him. He grabbed her around the waist with one arm and twirled her around three times, before placing a dizzy, giggling version of his daughter in front of him.
“And what are you doing today, Emma girl?”
“It’s Saturday. Can we please go to Ms. Natalie’s barn today?”
She batted her eyelashes coyly, gaining every last bit of her father’s attention.
“Hmmm. I don’t know,” he replied in a teasing tone.
“Daddy, please!” she stared at him beseechingly; secretly knowing he had every intention of doing what she had hoped.
Chase flashed a smile. “Of course, Emma girl. What else would we do on this beautiful day?”
“Oh yay! Thank you, Daddy!” she screeched as she ran back inside the old house, followed closely by a joy-filled collie.
Julia got to her feet to give her husband a kiss. “Good morning so far?” Julia asked as she pulled softly back from Chase’s embrace.
“Yes, so far so great.”
She looked warmly at him, but sensed apprehension as he looked away.
“What is it?”
“We need to talk later,” Chase replied softly, stealing the perfection of Julia’s morning.
Julia’s heart sank into her stomach. She knew exactly what the talk was going to be about; she just had not expected it to come so soon. He had just returned from a tour a few months prior, and she was hoping he would, at least, be staying the rest of the summer.
Chase took her wrists and gave her his broad smile until she reluctantly looked at him. The tears that had welled up in her eyes waited for her cheeks to get sufficiently red before sliding cautiously down.
“Hey now, everything is going to be all right. This will probably be one of the last times that I need to go away.”
Before she could respond, Emma came back out of the house, with Duke following close behind. “Are you ready, Daddy? Ms. Natalie said we could come whenever we wanted to today. I get to stay after my lesson and help out with the barn chores too!”
“Yes, Emma girl, sure thing,” Chase responded, pulling Julia closer to hide her tears from Emma. “I will be right there, honey.”
“We’ll talk later,” Chase whispered softly to Julia in an encouraging tone, searching her eyes with his. He wanted so badly to reassure her in that moment, but he knew she would need time to process the notion that he would be leaving them again so soon.
Julia nodded quickly and looked away, wiping her tears once more from her face, which was now blotchy and damp. Chase turned to walk to his truck where Emma was already in the passenger side, waiting eagerly for her driver.
“Come on Daddy, it’s getting hot in this old truck!”
Chase climbed in with Emma and gave her another smile as they pulled out of the driveway past Duke, who had already found his place for the day on the cool, moist soil underneath the porch. They drove through the countryside to the barn, Emma with her hand out the window, shifting it side to side and fighting against the strong, pure breeze that pushed past the truck. Her brown hair blew wildly in the wind, sometimes covering her face altogether. She would push her hair back in a vain effort to get it out of her eyes. It didn’t bother Emma, though. She never thought once to complain of anything. To her naïve mind, every little girl got to drive to the barn with their daddy, the windows down and making a mess of their hair. A certain sweetness from Emma’s essence poured itself from the truck and into the green fields that they drove past. It was impossible to tell if the leaves on the wise, deep-rooted trees on the side of the road were blowing from the breeze, or if they were clapping for the chance to catch sight of the young girl who was so full of life and virtue.
The mood shifted as they neared the driveway of the barn. Emma was so excited, thinking about riding her pony, that she didn’t notice the tension steadily building in her father. He knew he had to tell her that he was going away again, and it was even more difficult for him to tell Emma than her mother. She never cried or made him feel guilty when he gave her news of this sort; but guilt consumed him nevertheless. He was concerned that somehow, one day, he may responsible for her losing her wonderful spirit. This notion plagued his conscience. He valued Emma’s innocence more than anything in the world.
Turning into the long driveway at Hound Hollow Farm, stones kicked up violently against the underside of the truck, startling Emma. She pulled her hand back inside the cab and rested it on her lap. The noise of the small rocks pelting the undercarriage of the truck continued until Chase brought it to a stop about halfway up the driveway. He strategically placed them by a hedgerow so they could benefit from the shade that the trees provided. He put the truck in park, took off his seatbelt, and turned with a thoughtful look towards Emma.
“Emma girl, there is something I need to tell you.”
Emma still looked as though she was somewhere deep in her own world, so Chase used a phrase that he used since she was a toddler to get her attention.
“Emma girl, give me your eyes.” Emma turned toward her father and focused on him. The humidity seeped into the truck despite the shade of the trees, and Emma finally started to sense her dad’s forlorn mood.
“What is it, Daddy?” she asked, trying to hold onto the blissful state that filled her just moments before.
“Honey, Daddy is going to be going away for a while; the army needs me again.”
He braced for her response.
“Can I come with you?” she replied playfully, cocking her head to the side with her hands on her cheeks.
“No, sweetie,” Chase felt his mouth slip into a smile at her antics, but quickly forced it down to return to the seriousness of the matter. Their eyes both shifted outside as they noticed several turkey vultures circling over the field next to them.
“A deer must have gotten hit by a car,” Chase whispered in a sad voice, just before giving Emma a tap on the leg to get her attention back.
“Emma, this time I may be gone for quite a while. But I promise I will get back just as soon as I am able.”
“When are you leaving, Daddy?”
This time, her tone was more suited to the topic of conversation.
“Next month, honey. Next month,” Chase answered flatly, forgetting to lift his voice to a reassuring tone.
Emma looked away, towards the barn, and nodded her head briskly. “Okay, Daddy. It’s getting hot sitting here. Can we go down to the barn?”
“Yeah, sure.” Chase replied. “Everything is going to be all right, Emma girl.”
“I know Daddy, just like Momma always says, it is all going to work out. And one day you will come home and never have to leave us again.”
“That’s right, Emma girl. That’s right.”
Chase looked away from her and put his truck in drive. The turkey vultures had landed, seven in total, jockeying for position around the young deer that lay motionless in the field. One of the vultures glanced up from his meal as the truck started back down the driveway. It stared directly at Chase as he drove by, giving him an uneasy feeling. He wondered why such a thing would have bothered him at all, but the image of the bird staring at him while standing over the lifeless fawn lingered in his mind….
Sycamore Whispers is available on Amazon.com. A portion of all paperback sales in the month of February will go to the Equestrian Aid Foundation, an organization that supports horse people that have suffered catastrophic injuries or life-threatening illnesses.
About the Author
Shane Ledyard is a USEF ‘r’ judge, a USHJA Certified Trainer and the author of two young adult fiction titles, Sycamore Whispers and Horse Gone Silent. His uplifting stories transcends generations, aiming to leave the reader with a sense of inspiration and courage. Learn more at horsegonesilent.com and sycamorewhispers.com.