The fenced in backyard of the church was filled to capacity with the congregation and the members of the Last Riders. Winter carefully balanced the potato salad she had prepared, thankful the buffet table was empty of guests as she slid it among the colorful array of choices.
Glancing around the yard, she saw her friend and secretary drawing flags on children’s faces.
“Hello Emily.” A highlighted strand of hair had fallen across her forehead into her eyes. With her paint stained hand, she was unable to move the irritant. Winter casually brushed it away, receiving a thankful sigh in response.
“Keeping busy?” Winter grinned.
“I could use some help,” Emily admitted.
Winter jumped into the fray, organizing activities for the children in different areas of the yard so that Emily was allowed a breather. She was setting up the horseshoe game when a large cheer from the picnic table area drew her attention.
The Last Riders were gathered around Beth and Razer. It was obvious what the cheers were for as she was holding out her hand to the women in the group to examine the ring on her finger. Winter went back to handing out the horseshoes to little hands anxiously waiting, her face carefully blank. She had been conscious of Viper’s eyes on her, but she ignored him, turning her back so that she could no longer see the group.
Winter hadn’t seen him during the last four months, but the small town rumor mill had been active. She had stayed away from the gossip, but her friends, (self called), had made sure that she was aware of Viper’s actions. No longer hiding his connection to the Last Riders, her friends spitefully let her know each and every time he was seen out in public with one of the women from the club. She eventually quit taking their calls and avoided them in public. She had quickly learned not only to hide her reactions from the viciousness of the gossip, but also to suppress them until she no longer felt much of anything.
The only reason she stayed in Treepoint was because she loved her job and the few true friends she had left. She hoped eventually the gossip would die down, but having grown up in Treepoint, she realistically knew that it would be a long time coming.
Winter was playing freeze tag with the rambunctious preschoolers when Lily joined the group with a grin. She smiled at the beautiful girl as she chased the children around the yard. Lily was one of the few friends she had remaining. Winter had been a student teacher when she had tutored Lily, then eventually taught her in high school for a couple of years before she had been promoted to principal.
When her mother became ill with cancer, both of the sisters had been there for her. Beth had been an excellent caregiver and made it possible to let her pass away at home. Winter didn’t know if she would have been strong enough to do it without their help. Lily had also helped by giving her time to rest; she would stay by her mother’s bed when exhaustion would claim Winter. She felt she owed both women a debt of gratitude.
A touch on her arm had her freezing in place, not far from where one of her female students was standing. Carmen was leaning against a tree with her boyfriend standing next to her and they appeared to be arguing. Winter was about to interrupt them when Carmen caught her eye, shaking her head. A small family arrived, distracting her attention from the arguing couple.
“Hi, Jenny.” Winter greeted the parents of nine-month-old twin boys. Dressed in matching blue jean overalls, they were adorable. Her hands were reaching out for one of them before she had finished her greeting.
“Hello, Winter.” Laughing, Jenny released her child into Winter’s grasp.
Lily was already snagging the other twin from the proud father.
“I remember when everyone was glad to see us, now it’s all about the boys,” Jenny mocked reproachfully to the two baby thieves.
“That’s what happens when you have two adorable babies,” Winter complimented. “Why don’t you let Lily and I watch them while you two go eat?”
“Are you sure, they can be a handful?” Dan replied.
“Don’t question our luck,” Jenny laughed.
“Go ahead,” Lily agreed.
“All right, if you’re sure.” Dan questioned before taking his wife’s hand, leading her towards the buffet table.
Winter and Lily grinned at each other with their prizes in hand. The other children quickly regained their attention, both of them running with a baby balanced on their hip. Their laughter sounded sweetly through the yard, drawing attention to the women.
Lily’s boyfriend approached and Winter watched him hand her a drink. Lily looked at him with a grateful smile. Winter’s heart lurched at the emotion evident in Charles eyes. He had always loved the girl, and everyone in town knew it. Winter had experience being around hormone crazy young adults and knew when the chemistry was there. With them it wasn’t. Something was missing and it was missing on Lily’s part. The passion was plainly visible in Charles’ face and body language; Lily treated him like a friend. They had dated since high school and now that Lily was in college, she didn’t see them together as often. It hurt Winter to see someone make her own mistake of caring for someone who would never return their feelings. She had a feeling Charles would one day learn his own painful lesson.