Crackling hickory smoke mingled with hot cast iron in the little country kitchen. When the water boiled, Paula would start the day’s first batch of peach tea.
If it came to that.
Things had been bad enough the night before that Paula slept in the loft and left Doc Simmons to tend to Robert. She wasn’t at all sure her husband would ever again sip her special concoction.
Heavy footsteps shuffled from the bedroom, and Paula put on her best worried face. She turned from the hearth … the ladle tumbled from her stiff fingers and clanged on the hard floor.
“Robert!” she exclaimed. Her husband’s pale face glistened with sweat in the flickering firelight.
“Surprised to see me?” he grunted.
“This is the last thing I expected.” Paula softened her horrified gape and tried to look joyful. “I mean, I didn’t think you’d recover so quickly … you were so sick last night!”
Robert walked past her and slid open the drawer of the pot-belly cabinet. Several shriveled peach seeds rattled along the curved bottom. A couple more lay crushed on the ash top.
“You’re just about out of your secret ingredient,” Robert said. “You won’t be needing it anymore, though. It’s done now.”
Paula’s face flushed. She stuttered for an explanation, but footsteps behind her cut her short.
“It’s done now.” It was Simmons.
Paula turned toward the bedroom, and the doctor’s sad eyes glistened in the low light. “He’s gone, Paula.”
“But … ” She snapped her gaze back to the cabinet. The drawer stood open, but the peach seeds were gone.
So was Robert.
“Say, I know this is bad timing,” Simmons said, “but do you think I could get another cup of that peach tea? Robert shared his with me last night, and it really grabs you!”