By: Cora Brent

“Hold on, Saffron,” I called. “It’s going to be okay. Let me get my keys and I’ll drive you to the ER.”

I dashed into my room and grabbed my purse. When I returned, Saffron’s brawny protector had turned around.

He stared at me at me. Then he smiled.

I dropped my purse and blinked. Then I blinked again and rubbed my eyes furiously.

When I looked again he hadn’t disappeared, which was odd, because it wasn’t even slightly possible for him to be there in the first place.

But that smile…

I’d known it so well once, that flawless design of full lips and perfect teeth that still had the power to do strange things to me.

“Damn,” I whispered.

“Hello to you too, Cess,” he said in that deep, sexy voice that had used to get me worked up within two syllables. “It’s been a hell of a long time.”

I just gawked at him. Dimly I wondered whether all ex-husbands always made such stupid cliché comments when they decided to crawl out of the woodwork and land in Arizona.

There was no way to know. After all, I only had one ex-husband and this was the first time he’d materialized in seven years.

A hell of a long time.

So inadequate and so true.

It had been a very long time since the two of us were close enough to look each other in the eye.

“Branson Hickey,” I said weakly, allowing the nearest wall to give me a little support as I leaned against it. The act of speaking his name had sapped a little too much of my strength away. “Yes, it’s been a long time.”



I met Branson Hickey the first week of kindergarten.

It was the only clear memory I have from that year, except for an enduring terror of the school bus steps. During recess I had just taken a daring leap off one of the playground swings and managed to face plant into the wood chips. Branson volunteered to walk me to the nurse’s office so someone could deal with my bleeding knees.

During the walk down the seemingly endless main corridor of the Hickeyville Elementary School he held my hand and looked me over with approval.

“That was cool,” he said. “You jumped crazy far. What’s your name?”

“Cecily,” I muttered, feeling bashful. I didn’t have any friends who were boys.

He nodded. “That’s nice. I’m Branson. Branson Hickey. My mom and dad always call me Bran. Everyone calls me Bran.”

I stopped walking. “Your last name is like the name of our town.”

Bran shrugged. “Yeah, Hickeyville is named after my great great grandpa or something.”

I was fascinated. “Wow. It’s kind of like you’re famous.”

Bran thought that was funny. He laughed and laughed. That was the first time I ever really noticed the sound of someone’s laughter and it made me feel warm inside.

Bran suddenly reached into his pocket. “Here,” he said and pressed something hard into my palm. “You can have this.”

I stared at the object. “It’s a rock.”

“It’s called flint,” he said confidently. “My brother found it when we were camping last year.”

I felt funny about accepting something from this boy, even if it was just a lumpy gray rock. I tried to give it back. “Don’t you want to keep it?”

“Nah, I’ve got more. It’ll hurt when the nurse puts that stuff on your knee to make it stop bleeding. You can squeeze the rock and it’ll make you feel better.”

I smiled. I knew I was blushing. “Thank you.”

Bran took my hand again and walked me the rest of the way. He held open the door to the nurse’s office. I did what he said and squeezed the rock while the nurse cleaned my scraped knees. He was right. It did make me feel better.

Twenty years later I held the door of the Emergency Room open so Bran could carry an injured girl through it. The ride over here had been short and noisy with Saffron carrying on the backseat and me shouting words of encouragement back to her. Bran was the only one who remained silent, staring straight ahead in the passenger seat of my wheezing old car. The fact that he’d resurfaced so suddenly a thousand miles away from the last place I’d seen him was not something I could make sense of.

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