It was a gloomy day in the small town of Franklin, Virginia. The sun tried to pierce through the grey rainclouds that loomed over the land, but to no avail. The impending weather transformed the town from bustling with life to somber like a graveyard. The people of Piedmont closed their curtains and remained in their homes to avoid the storm.
Except for one.
Forrest Bondurant sat on the porch of his restaurant, sipping a cup of coffee. He overlooked the road, keeping his eyes open for patrons. But it seemed that no one would be stopping for gas that day. Nevertheless, he stayed put in his rocker, and smelt the fresh air.
Running a successful moonshine business during the prohibition era was tough work for Forrest and his brothers, Howard and Jack. Engineering and delivering their product while evading the police and rivals was a feat in and of itself, so granted, they deserved their days off. But after the ban ended in 1933, their lives became much more laidback, and their business thrived like never before.
Minutes later, the storm clouds got darker and the rain began to fall. Forrest finished his coffee at just the right time, but remained seated for a little while longer. The sound and smell of rain hitting the earth calmed him in ways that other remedies did not. No amount of chamomile tea could relax his jittery nerves during such harsh times. But besides the soft pitter patter of rain droplets hitting the soft dirt, there was only one other way to get Forrest to unwind.
Steph Bondurant was quite a lively woman. She and Forrest met three years before when she had just moved into town. Love at first sight seemed outlandish in Forrest’s opinion, but when he set his sight on her, he couldn’t deny the warmth that spread through his heart. His first encounter with her was bumpy at first, but after a few more greetings and happier conversation topics, they were enamoured with each other.
Forrest popped the question, they tied the knot, and settled down in Franklin. Jack got married to his sweetheart Bertha, and Howard to a Martinsville woman. They all moved away, but they kept in constant contact with each other, of course. Forrest couldn’t have imagined a better life.
Just as he stood up to go back inside, Steph stepped out onto the porch, wearing Forrest’s favourite spring dress. He smiled at her appearance, then held her hand.
“Weather’s gettin’ bad,” he said. “Let’s go inside, darlin’.”
“In a minute,” she told him, patting his arm.
Forrest nodded and let her step down and out into the rain. He noticed her lack of smile and that her shoulders were slumped. He surmised that the weather was bringing her down, but he felt that it was not the whole story. She proudly stood in the gravel and spread her arms and let the rain drown her sorrows. Forrest let her be and scurried back inside the restaurant to prepare warm towels for her for when she returned.
But she remained outside for thirty minutes.
By that time, Steph was thoroughly soaked and was at risk of catching a nasty cold. Forrest worriedly stood at the screen door as he watched his wife willfully drench herself in the relentless storm. He pursed his lips and finally opened the door to call out to her.
“Steph! Let’s go, darlin’. Come back inside before you catch a fever.”
She did not listen. The rain was falling too hard and the wind was too strong. Her bare feet collected mud and stones as she walked around the gas pumps carelessly. Forrest called out to her again, but she did not heed his word. Irked at his wife’s inability to follow his advice, Forrest went out into the rain to bring her back inside. He grabbed her arms and began gently pulling her along to the front door. She did not resist.
Once she was on the porch Forrest took of his hat and placed it on her head instead.
“Whatcha doin’, Steph?” he asked her. “Going’ for a swim?”
His attempt at light humour didn’t raise her spirits. Her eyes were cast downwards and she sported a sad frown. Forrest sighed. He had recognized when she was having off days; days when she wanted to be alone and not speak to anyone. But he was always there to help her through it.
Silently, Forrest squeezed out the water from Steph’s hair and rubbed her shoulders as he brought her inside the restaurant. He wrapped two towels around her and helped clean her feet off before bringing her over to the fireplace.
“You warm up here while I run you a bath, okay?”
He didn’t receive a response. He went straight to the bathroom and got the hot water going, peeking every minute or so at his wife to make sure she was all right. Once the tub was full with water and bubbles, he returned to his wife’s side and brought her in. He rid her body of the wet clothes that clung to her skin and slapped them on the vanity. He took his hat back as well, placing it on the bathroom rug. Then he rolled up his sleeves, grabbed the bath brush, and began washing Steph.
In moods like the one Steph was in at that moment, Forrest knew she didn’t like to talk. So, he filled in the silence with his own thoughts, little jokes, and loving spouse talk. He dumped water over her long, thick hair and mussed it up a bit for his amusement. He washed it along with the rest of her then hung up her clothes by the fire to dry. He prepared fresh, dry clothes for her in their bedroom and brought out more towels. He glanced into the bathroom and went back inside when he saw Steph had had enough.
“Come on, darlin’. I got some warm clothes for ya.”
Once more, he wrapped a towel around her body and plopped one on her head. Her downtrodden expression pained his heart, so he gingerly placed a kiss on her forehead. He drained the tub and ushered her along into their bedroom. He quickly grabbed his hat before helping her get dressed and squeezing out the water from her hair. Her skin was warmer, and she looked a lot better cozied up in her nightgown and his cardigan.
Smiling softly, Forrest shook the towel over Steph’s head to dry her hair as much as possible. He used it to cup her cheeks and have her look at him. A hint of a smile was on her lips, but it was not quite there. Instead of trying to coax her into telling him what was bothering her, Forrest simply did all he could to make her comfortable and help her relax.
He set his hat down on the mattress before turning Steph around to braid her hair. He knew that one of the secrets to her curls was an overnight braid. He also knew that she loved it when he did it himself instead of her. He made sure to keep it tight, then loosened it after it was completed so it wouldn’t irritate her hairline. After it was finished, he picked her up and gave her another forehead kiss before laying her gently on the bed. He pulled the covers back and slid in beside her, embracing her in his arms.
Once she was nestled warmly against his chest, Forrest sprung on her his loving speech that he prepared in his head.
“I love you, Steph, you know that, right?” he began, stroking her back. “I know some of these days have been hard for you, and I apologize for that. But you can come to me when your mind is scrambled, right? If you want to talk, or not talk at all. Anything you need, you just come to me and I’ll give it to you, all right? Doesn’t matter how small or insignificant it may be. I’m here for ya, darlin’. I ain’t goin’ anywhere.”
He hugged her tighter and gave her all the forehead and cheek kisses she could ask for. In the past Forrest had helped Steph through her depressive episodes where she did not want to interact with the world, including Forrest at times. He knew when to let her have her space, and when to smother her with all the love he could offer. The latter was quite an effective method to raise her spirits.
“You’re my best darlin’ in the world,” he continued in that sweet accent. “I wanna help make it better when you’re hurtin’, right? Now, I don’t always know what’s bringing ya down, baby. So ya gotta tell me. Otherwise I’ll be standin’ there with my slacks around my ankles like a fool.” He chuckled in an attempt to see her smile.
“There’s my beautiful darlin’,” he beamed. He set his chin on top of her head and sighed, stroking his hands up and down her back. “Maybe after a quick nap you’ll feel better, okay? Just wait and see. Then you can tell me what’s botherin’ ya. Hey.”
He tilted her chin up with his finger to give her a proper kiss, like the gentleman he was.
“I love ya, darlin’,” he whispered. He then shifted around some more before closing his eyes. “Sweet dreams.”