Psalm 91:4: He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Song of the Meadowlark synopsis:
When trusting others only leads to pain and rejection, and loving ends only in loss, what will it take to restore hope again?
Shunned by the uncovered truth about her missing husband’s secret life, Cora Buchanan sets out on a road trip for home to mend her broken relationship with her parents. When her car breaks down, she’s stranded in a small Georgia town.
While staying at the struggling Southern Hope Ranch, she meets little Susie O’Reilly, who unexpectedly fills a void in Cora’s heart. But Rex, Susie’s rugged cowboy father who lost his wife a year earlier, seems to go out of his way to either confront or avoid Cora. It doesn’t help her comfort level that the news continues to report missing and murdered women in the area. Cora has no idea just how close to home the crimes will hit…or how much the sweet sound of the meadowlark’s song at the ranch will impact her future.
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June — Lake Murray, South Carolina
Cora Buchanan stared out the paned window of her bedroom at Lake Murray through a mist of rain and sighed, her olive green eyes filling with salty tears. This picturesque place had become a prison to her.
Tossing her dark hair over one shoulder, she moved across the room to her bed. Lying on her stomach on her flowery comforter, she remembered how it had all happened. For the first time since then, she scanned the tattered pages of her scrapbook, memories flooding her with weariness. It had been such an innocent time.
On the next page, she saw the pictures from her twenty-first birthday party. Twenty-one had seemed so old and wise at the time, and Panama City, Florida, like the big city. She’d worked awhile in college and considered herself a perceptive woman. But her middle name should have been Naïve, since she didn’t see some people for who they really were.
Cora rolled over onto her back, propping herself up on her pillows. She raised her knees and placed the scrapbook on her legs. Her eyes found the picture of her running in the town relay race with him, and she remembered the pulled calf muscle that still hurt on cold winter days. As she turned the page, she saw her engagement pictures and the newspaper clipping from the wedding announcement. She remembered that day like yesterday, her parents’ disapproval forever seared into her mind.
She closed the scrapbook, and it fell to the floor with a thud, another chapter now over in her life. Three years had passed since Cora’s marriage to him, and she now lived, as a twenty-five-year-old woman, with her in-laws. As she sat up on the edge of her bed, she wondered where to go from here. She couldn’t wait any longer to move on.
Cora left her room and entered the earth-toned den. The Buchanans were watching Wheel of Fortune on the television.
“It’s been a year tonight.” Cora knew she didn’t have to explain what she meant. She plopped on the couch next to Judy. “I think it’s time I finally do something.”
“What do you plan to do?” Judy looked up from the television and patted Cora’s knee.
Cora pushed her hair behind her ears. “A good place to start would be to go home and take time to figure out what to do and how to make amends with Mom and Dad. I want them to forgive me.”
“I hope they’re ready. You could not have predicted the future,” Ben said tenderly.
“I’m tired of this wedge between us. Three years is a long time, but I’ve feared the arguments that will, without a doubt, occur.”
Judy nodded. “That’s the mature thing to do.”
“I hope so, Mom.”
With her mind made up, Cora felt a load lifted off her shoulders, like at the end of a tornado warning. Though she still hoped deep inside things would change before she left for Florida, she doubted they would.
“Cora. I’m glad you called. What’s going on?”
“I’m coming home.” Cora folded her pajamas and stuffed them into her suitcase.
“You are?” The voice of her best friend was incredulous.
“Yep. Clark’s been gone a year, and I can’t wait around here any longer.” She opened another drawer, took out her socks and pantyhose, and stashed them in the side pocket of the suitcase.
“Are you going to file for divorce?”
“No. I don’t want to make such a drastic move. I figure I can come home and try to patch things up with Mom and Dad. If Clark returns, he’ll know where to find me.” Cora went into her bathroom and started packing her skin-care products and extra makeup into her duffle bag.
“I’m so sorry you have to go through all of this. I know it’s driving you crazy with him missing.”
“That’s the hardest part. I don’t know if he’s dead somewhere or living in another country with a new woman.” She examined her reflection in the mirror. Not even the flecks of gold in her eyes could disguise the bags underneath them. I look like a ninety-year-old woman.
“No, don’t think that way. I’m sure he’s fine….but I guess that doesn’t make you feel any better.”
“Not really.” Cora laughed.
“When are you going to be here?”
“I’m leaving in the morning. I should be home sometime tomorrow night.”
“Okay. Call when you get into town. Or from the road if you need someone to chat with while you’re driving.”
“I will.” Cora hung up the phone. She picked up the cardboard box by her bed, added the books off her bookshelf, and the scrapbook from the floor. Then she sat on the bed, looking through her too-often-forgotten Bible, and cried.
“That looks like everything.” Cora shut the trunk of her ’68 candy-apple red Camaro and glimpsed the pain in her in-laws’ eyes. “Don’t look at me that way. I told you I plan to be back soon.”
“We hate to see you go. It worries us that you’re driving by yourself. The big rigs own the road. The highway can be very dangerous, and your car is old.” Judy brushed a hair from Cora’s misty eyes.
“Mom, my car will be fine. I promise to drink plenty of coffee if I get sleepy. I’ll call you when I stop to eat and rest. I plan to drive until Atlanta, just four hours or so. Then to Columbus—five-and-a-half hours—and stay the night.”
“We know you’ll be careful, dear. Here, take this. You may need it.” Ben handed something to Cora.
“Some money,” Judy answered. “It isn’t much, but we hated to send you off without something.”
“You can’t give me money. I’m fine. I have all I need, really. Please, take this back.” Cora tried to return the gift.
“No, you keep it. If you don’t use it on your way to Panama City, you may need it on your way back.” Ben pushed against Cora’s hand.
“Okay, but I hate taking it from you.” Cora’s heart ripped from her chest as she looked at Ben and Judy. “Guess I’d better go. Thanks again for everything you’ve done for me.”
“Don’t you think for a moment we’re upset with you for leaving. You’ve waited long enough. It’s time for you to move on.” Judy’s eyes filled with tears.
“Even if I do decide to stay with my parents, I’ll never stop loving you both. My heart will always be here with you. You’ve been a lifesaver.”
“We wish you well, Cora.” Ben squared his jaw.
Cora hugged both Ben and Judy tightly, then got in to the driver’s side of her car. Careful not to tear the rip in her leather seat any further, she shut the
door, cranked up, and drove away without looking back. She had to do this, though it could very well prove to be the hardest thing she’d ever done. Tears cascaded from her eyes like waterfalls.
Cora drove through town—down Columbia Avenue, glancing at the places she’d become accustomed to as she headed toward I-26 East. Merging onto the highway symbolized the launching of her new life—slow, cautious at first, and then no looking back. Moving away from Lake Murray took more out of her than moving away from her childhood home in Florida had. She pondered Ben and Judy’s faith. They seemed so sure God would work out her life. She wished her faith could be that strong. She still had so many doubts….
An hour and a half later, Cora entered Georgia and smiled at the welcome sign with the giant peach. As she drove through one small town after another, she listened to country music on her radio—not her music of choice, but definitely the most available. The steel guitar and fiddle tugged at her heart as she went over railroad tracks, past historic battlefields and glorious pastureland.
The temperature held at 85 degrees, and Cora enjoyed the sunshine beaming down on her car. She kept the windows rolled down and let the wind blow her cares away. White, fluffy clouds painted pictures across the blue Georgia sky. She hoped the weather would remain clear until she got to Florida. She hated driving in the rain.
Another two hours went by as Cora admired the beauty of the land—pine trees and crape myrtles, black-eyed Susans and old oak trees. She cracked up at the mailboxes along the way—a giant emerald green fish, a miniature mail truck, and a mailbox about the size of a washing machine box. She smiled when an old man in overalls climbed down out of his tractor to retrieve his mail from his cow mailbox. “Aww, he’s so cute.”
Outside of Athens, she took a second look at a teenage boy who rode a motorbike in the pasture of a farm while his pet Yorkie chased him. “I’ve seen it all now. Oh, I can’t wait to tell…no one would believe me.” She laughed.
Eventually the green grasses and golden hay made way for the city. Her stomach growled, and she decided to have lunch before getting into Atlanta. Stopping at Arby’s, she ordered a roast-beef sandwich, fries, and a Coke. The cold drink almost burned the inside of her throat as it slid down. She added a cherry turnover for dessert, deciding to save it for later.
Rubbing her bleary eyes, she jumped back into the car again, stopped for gas and to check her tires, then headed toward I-75 South. She’d really have to pay attention to make sure she didn’t miss I-85 South since there was no actual exit, just a certain lane heading south. It was so long since she’d driven through here.
Cora squinted in the afternoon sun and talked to herself. “Why did I forget my sunglasses?” Cars zipped by like something from a futuristic movie. “Good grief, where are they all in such a hurry to go?”
Once on I-85 and heading in the right direction, Cora battled construction along the highway. The roads were extra narrow with cement blocks along the shoulder to keep cars from veering into the construction zone. “Oh, I hate this!” She gripped the steering wheel until her knuckles whitened. If she could make it through this stretch of road and get to Columbus before having a nervous breakdown, she’d stay the night there and give her body a respite.
Cora passed rolling hills and tall spindly oak trees. Call boxes were every mile or so. Cora checked her cell phone and saw she had a signal but was thankful to know she could walk to a call box if the car broke down and her cell didn’t work. Her mind wandered to the creepy movies she’d seen too many of. White crosses lining the roadway didn’t help her relax, either.
“I didn’t think I-85 was this remote.” Cora dialed Anne and talked to her for a while to stay awake and to drive away her fears of being lost and alone.
It had been awhile since Cora had seen a road sign, a mileage marker, or an exit. By now she should be to Columbus. She started to have that sinking feeling she’d missed an exit and might be heading in the wrong direction. Up ahead she saw a sign and squinted to see what it said. “I-185? How did I get on I-185? What happened to I-85?” She hit the steering wheel with her hand and let out a scream. The late afternoon sun caused a glare on her windshield and she rubbed her tired eyes again, scratchier than sandpaper. “I’m going to have to stop and ask for directions.”
The sign up ahead read Lewistown. “Mmm, I don’t remember seeing that on my map, but it’s worth a shot.” As she pulled off the highway, looking for somewhere to get coffee and use the bathroom, her car started lunging forward and skipping. It was all she could do to keep it on the road. She drove down Main Street hoping for a service station, even though it was now late in the day. She passed a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, a Burger Hut, Mike’s Barber Shop, and there, a block up the road, a service station.
Once at the station, Cora climbed out of her car and peered around, not knowing what type of people she’d encounter here. The red lettering on the white sign at the top of the building announced Millburn Service Station.
Sounds like a family business. Maybe there’s someone nice inside. She walked into the office and found a young gentleman standing behind the counter locking up the cash register and the desk drawer. The smell of gasoline, new tires, and oil filled her nostrils, sending a wave of nausea to her stomach.
“Excuse me, sir.” Cora scratched the back of her neck. “My car just died,
and I hope you can help me.” She fidgeted with her hands.
“Sure I can. Let’s go take a look at it. You must be new in town.” The gas station attendant wiped grease off his hands with a rag covered in oil and gas and pushed open the door, leading the way outside.
“Actually, I’m only passing through. I’m from Lake Murray, South Carolina. I’m headed for Florida.” Cora was relieved at man’s pleasant spirit.
“You got you a long way to travel. We’re glad to have ya here, even if it’s only for a short time and under a bad circumstance. My name’s Bobby Millburn. I own the place.” He regarded the station with a prideful grin.
“How wonderful. Now I know I’m in good hands. I’m Cora.”
Bobby lifted the hood, looked around, and wiggled some wires. He got down on the ground on his back and slid his body up underneath the car. He pushed himself out from underneath and stood, wiping his hands on his rag, then adjusted his cap.
“Do you think you can repair it?”
“From the looks of things, it’s your transmission. I can repair it, but I ain’t so sure if we can get the parts for ya right away.” Bobby considered her with a slight frown on his grease-smeared face, his plain blue eyes full of regret.
“I was afraid the transmission had gone out. It has been slipping a bit lately. How long?”
“A week, probably. We don’t get many cars like this in here.” He took a long admiring look at the classic automobile.
“Is there anyone else around who could get me out of here by tomorrow?”
“I don’t think so. I’m pert near the only repair place for miles. I’ll tell ya what, though. I’ll try to find someone for ya—maybe someone a town or two away. Do ya know where ya’ll be staying tonight?”
“Not yet. I got off the exit and came straight here.”
“I could check around for ya in the mornin’, and let ya know if anyone has the parts or if the repairs can be done sooner than a week.”
“That would be great. Do you know of an inexpensive place to stay?”
“Shore do. Go up this street and over two blocks. There’s a bed-and-breakfast, Apple Springs Inn, on the corner. Ms. Lottie McCallister runs the place. You can get a wonderful meal and a comfortable room. She won’t charge ya much. Tell her I sent ya.”
“Thanks so much. I really appreciate your kindness.”
“Would ya like me to drive ya up there?” Bobby shut the hood.
“Oh, no, that would be asking too much of you.”
“But you have your luggage with ya. You can’t carry all of it.”
“I guess you’re right. I’m pretty tired. I’ve been driving all day.” Cora
hoped he’d do this favor without expecting payment of some kind. She’d also never gotten into the car with a stranger before, and she hoped she’d be safe.
“Give me a few minutes, and I’ll lock up.”
No more than fifteen minutes passed before Cora stood in front of the Apple Springs Bed-and-Breakfast inn. This historic home had elegant country charm with its porches, ferns, and swings. The oak trees towering above the house had to be more than a hundred years old. At first sight, Cora’s nerves settled, and she relaxed her tense shoulders. Bobby helped her with her bags as they entered the inn. Cora’s nose filled with a mixture of potpourri and lemon polish on antique furniture.
Ms. Lottie, standing only an inch or so taller than five feet and round, with her gray hair gathered into a knot on top of her head, wasn’t a quiet woman. Her voice demanded attention as she led Cora up creaking stairs to her room. “Supper is at six o’clock. I like my guests to be on time.”
“Okay.” Cora closed the door behind her and surveyed the room’s antique furnishings. More lemon and potpourri scent wafted over her. Opening a door, she found an ample closet. The next door was a bathroom. She let out a gasp of excitement. She’d assumed she’d have to share a bath with the other guests. Stashing her bags in one corner of her room, she opened only the suitcase with her traveling clothes and toiletries. After freshening up in the bathroom, she changed into a pair of blue jeans and a cotton button-down blouse.
Cora turned on the television and lay down on the soft antique bed. The room reminded her of her grandmother’s cozy guest room; vermilion walls made it dark in there. She had thirty minutes until dinner. She knew she should go help Ms. Lottie, but her legs felt cramped from riding all day, and her head was pounding. And, after all, she was a guest.
She debated what to say when she phoned Ben and Judy. Should she tell them her car had broken down, or not? She was afraid they’d want to come get her. Swallowing her pride and inhibitions, she picked up the telephone and dialed the operator since her cell phone battery was dead. She called the Buchanans collect, knowing they wouldn’t mind. As she’d suspected, they did want to come get her, but she insisted she’d be fine and that she was enjoying the adventure.
Next Cora called her parents simply to say she’d stopped in Lewistown for the night and would be on her way soon. She knew if she told them about her car breaking down, her father would be on the next plane to get her. She also phoned Anne.
As she left her room for dinner, she wondered how she was going to pay for her car repairs. She had no idea how much it would cost—or how much the expenses of staying at the inn would be. Would she run out of money before she even left Lewistown?
Cora prayed that all would work out and thanked God for a safe place to stay the night.
Copyright © 2012 by Sherri Wilson Johnson. All rights reserved.
Cora drives a 68 Camaro like the one I am standing in front of below. Cora’s is red, my favorite color for the Camaro.
“A place to call home“