Heart of Clay

By: Shanna Hatfield

To my husband -

You are an amazing person and I’m grateful

every day for the blessing of loving you.

My life with you is better than anything I could have dreamed.

Thank you for slowing my run down to a walk,

for supporting my endeavors, believing in me,

and loving me unconditionally.

Chapter One

Callan Matthews struggled to fall asleep, tormented by the sounds her husband made as he obliterated the peaceful quiet of the night with his nocturnal serenade.

Somewhere between a snore and a whistle, she wondered if he intentionally made such an annoying racket. If so, he had perfected it to an art.

Even though he created the horrendous noise, she had no idea how he could sleep through it. A childhood accident left Clay with a severely impaired ability to breathe through his nose and absolutely no sense of smell, but right now, she didn't care.

She turned to look at him, releasing a long sigh. A tiny sliver of moonbeam snuck through the parted drapes to caress the hollow of his cheek, giving Callan the ability to see that Clay looked peaceful.

How could he do that? How dare he do that? How could he turn off all the turmoil of daily life and sleep peacefully?

Rising on one elbow, she debated if it would be better to put a pillow over his face and end her suffering, or put it over her own and end the suffering of them both. Incapable of committing murder or suicide, she instead punched the pillow, rolled over, and tried to block out the noise. To relax. To give in to the fatigue that had plagued her for months.

After a few more minutes of restless turning, Callan quietly rose from the bed, pulled on her chenille robe, and wandered through the darkened house to stand at the kitchen window. She moved aside the ruffled chintz curtain and stared out at the backyard. Moonlight washed the snow-patched lawn in shades of silver and gray.

She hated winter, hated the cold, hated the weeks of dark gloom that filled her days and pervaded her very being. Ironically, it seemed fitting that the bleakness of the winter nearly matched the bleakness of her spirit.

Briskly rubbing her hands on her arms, trying to ward off the chill, she let her thoughts tumble.

What am I doing here? In this house, in this life, in this marriage?

What was in that heart of Clay’s? She used to know like she knew what was in her own, but not anymore. Not since he’d gone from being everything she’d ever dreamed of to a stranger she barely recognized and all too often didn't even like.

She couldn’t believe they’d just celebrated their anniversary. At least, she supposed it could be considered a celebration if take-and-bake pizza and noncommittal conversations about work counted.

How had the two of them taken thirteen years of marriage and made such a mess of it? It hadn’t happened overnight, that much was certain.

Callan thought back to the first time she saw Clay during the summer she graduated from college. After returning home to Tenacity from Oregon State University with a degree in marketing and no immediate career prospects, she took a part-time job working at the local newspaper. With an abundance of free time on her hands, her aunt Julie recruited her to help with the sorority club’s booth at the county fair, selling ice cream cones and sundaes.

She looked up from dipping what seemed like the millionth vanilla cone that first day of the fair and into a pair of the warmest blue eyes she'd ever seen.

Clay was masculine and rugged, standing well over six feet. The tips of sandy curls peeked out from the brim of his cowboy hat while his blue-striped western shirt accentuated the breadth of his shoulders.

Her undoing, however, came when he smiled, flashing not only white teeth, but dimples that should have been positively illegal to brandish without advance warning.

Frantically gathering her wits, Callan asked, a bit breathlessly, if she could get him something. He ordered a plain vanilla cone, gave her exact change, thanked her and left. Fascinated and speechless, she watched him walk away, entranced by the way he filled out his jeans. She wished she at least knew his name.

He came back three more times to order ice cream and showed up again the next day, looking just as unbelievably handsome as she remembered.

"You must really like ice cream." Callan handed him another vanilla cone. "Since you've been my best customer, I should at least introduce myself. My name is Callan." She gave him what she hoped was an engaging smile.