Crossing Fences: Delia’s Journey from Farmyard to Heartstrings

Yaniv - February 23, 2022

Delia was out feeding the chickens and collecting the eggs, like she did every morning, when she looked out to the property line and saw a ghost. “Mercy,” she said to herself. It was her neighbor, Bruce King, back from the Marines. Bruce was shirtless, lifting a fence post and driving it hard into the dusty ground.

Delia had only been fourteen the last time she’d seen Bruce, at the tragic joint funeral held for Bruce’s parents, six years ago. Delia’s father, Harold Mason, had delivered the funeral service for Bruce’s parents – not only because he was the lone pastor in their small farming town, but also because the Masons and the Kings had been neighbors for decades. Pastor Harold, his wife Luann, and daughter Delia lived in a small house on a one-acre plot that abutted the enormous, thousand-acre King ranch.

Delia looked around to see if anyone else had seen Bruce yet. She could see her father in the window, head bent over the desk, writing this Sunday’s sermon. All he would need to do was look up, and he would see Bruce, framed by the light of sunrise. Her mother, she knew, was inside, washing the laundry. The sky above was the weak blue of morning, the sun just starting to warm the air. Along with the aroma of chickens Delia could smell the fresh earth of spring. The birds were chirping in the maple tree.

What do you suppose Bruce King is doing back home? Delia thought. When Bruce’s mother and father passed away in a tragic automobile accident, the town mourned. The entire ranch turned over to Bruce, who – last Delia had heard – wanted nothing to do with ranch life. Bruce had used his ROTC scholarship to fund a college education, to escape their tiny town (thus showing more ambition, in his first eighteen years, than most people in town did all their life). Delia could see that his body had clearly been chiseled by his years of service, after college, as an officer in the Marines. And now, apparently, he was back.

What to do about Bruce King? If he were to notice Delia, doing her chores, it certainly wouldn’t be very neighborly to walk back into the house without saying anything. But why did she so hate the thought of going over to Bruce and striking up a conversation? Delia was suddenly aware that she was wearing her hair up, with only a thin, faded dress on, over it the dirty old apron she put on to do her morning chores.

Thoughts swirled in Delia’s head. Why is this happening today? she wondered. It was just a regular old Saturday. What will father think, if he sees me talking to Bruce? Last time she’d seen him, Delia had been just a shy girl, Bruce just a poor young man who had lost his parents. Will he even remember me? Almost against her will, Delia found herself pulling her hair behind her ears and drifting toward the far side of the chicken coop, where she would be most visible to Bruce. Am I truly about to go over and talk to him?

As Delia stepped into the light, she saw Bruce stop abruptly from tamping down the soil around the fence post. Setting down the heavy digging bar, Bruce gave a wave, leaning his elbow against the post.

Delia felt her heart begin to race. Did I wave back? She couldn’t remember. Is it too late, now, to wave? Should I just go back inside? She held up her hand, and Bruce continued to lean against the post, as if waiting for her. He expects me to come say hello. Blushing a fierce red, Delia stumbled forward, then blushed all the more for having stumbled. The twenty paces to the property line felt like an eternity.

“Delia Mason.” His voice was soft and gentle.

Delia smiled and let out a slight chuckle, not sure how to respond. “Bruce King,” she said.

“Well, now that we’ve gotten reintroduced, how’s about you tell me what’s a pretty little thing like you doing up so early.”

Delia laughed again, and felt her cheeks start burning anew. “Oh, I’m up this early every morning. I guess you could call me a morning person. Or – at least – such is the life of a farmgirl.”

“I see what you mean,” Bruce said. “I guess it’s something I’m still getting used to – farm life.”

The two stared into the dirt for seconds that felt to Delia like hours. They both seemed to be trying to find something to say. Delia had never dreamed of seeing Bruce King again, believing, in the back of her mind, that the giant King ranch would go unfarmed and untended until Bruce got around to selling it. Even more surprising than seeing him, here, on their property line, was seeing how sharp-eyed and handsome he was, wearing worn leather boots and work pants, his flannel shirt draped on a nearby fence post and a cowboy hat on his head. Delia stole a glance at his belt buckle, a large, glinting oval.

They broke the silence together: just as Delia began to ask Bruce how long he had been back on the ranch, Bruce asked if Delia had always been a morning person. They spoke over each other, then smiled.

“You go first,” Bruce said.

“No, you. I insist.”

“Well, I suppose I’ve been back at the ranch for about a month or two now,” Bruce said. “Quite a bit of work needful to get the old place back up and running.”

“So I guess you went and got discharged from the Army, then.”

“The Marines,” Bruce said softly.

Delia looked at Bruce’s face to see whether she had offended him, but with the sun rising on the horizon, she had to hold up a hand to shield her eyes. In her embarrassment, Delia began to trip over her words: “Of course, the Marines. I didn’t mean to say that you…I only meant you being away, and-”

“Delia, honey? Who’s out there with you?” Delia’s mother, who had spoken, stood a few paces from the back door of the house with a basket of laundry on her hip. She, too, shielded her eyes against the light.

“It’s Bruce King, mother!” Delia shouted, then looked back at Bruce with a look of terror, as if his presence back on the ranch were a secret that Delia had just revealed, without his permission.

But Bruce continued to lean against the fence post, a twinkle in his eye. “Don’t you worry yourself,” he said. “The Army wakes you up just as early in the morning as the Marines – and with the same reveille.”

Delia, not knowing what to say, looked back and forth between Bruce and the house. Her mother, after calling out Bruce’s name in wonder, had thrown open the back door and hollered for her father. With the light pouring into her father’s window, Delia could see the reverend stand up quickly from his desk.

Within a moment, both mother and father Mason were walking together toward the property line, the basket of laundry deposited next to the clothesline. “I guess they’re coming out,” Delia said pointlessly. The birds in the maple tree continued to chirp as Delia looked down at her shoes, unsure what to do.

“As I live and breathe,” said Delia’s mother, “Bruce King. Welcome home, dear.”

“Can’t say it much feels like home yet, ma’am, but thank you.” Bruce stepped forward and kissed Delia’s mother on the cheek. Then he held out a hand to Delia’s father. “Pastor Mason.”


Delia looked at her shoes. Why did her father seem so cold, to her? Shouldn’t he be happy to see Bruce? Shouldn’t he welcome him? He does hate to be interrupted while he’s writing a sermon, she thought.

“I see you’re out here fixing the fence,” Delia’s father went on in a stern voice. “May I ask why?”

Before Bruce could respond, Delia’s mother interjected. “Oh come now. No need for that kind of talk.”

“Not at all, ma’am,” Bruce said. He looked at the reverend with a sternness of his own. “Just one of the many tasks that are needful to get the ranch back up and running, sir.”

“And this is what you intend to do? ‘Get the ranch back up and running?'”

“Yes, sir.” Bruce’s eyes showed that he would not reveal any more to the reverend than was necessary.

Once again, Delia’s mother broke in before her husband could: “Well that sounds like just a lovely idea, Bruce. I just know your parents would be proud of your decision, may they rest in peace. I wonder-”

“And I wonder,” Delia’s father interjected, “why the first task you select, of the ‘many that are needful,’ should involve you loitering half-naked along my property line, with my daughter nearby.”

“Dad,” Delia said, still looking into the dirt. “I can take care of myself.”

“Delia?” her father said, the sternness in his voice tightening even further. “Look at me, Delia.”

Delia glanced up at Bruce before making eye contact with her father. The rancher continued to lean against the fence post, a smile straining his lips. The taut muscles of his stomach and chest drew Delia’s eyes all the more, now that her father had called attention to them. She looked up warily at her father.

“Go inside,” the reverend said.

“But Dad, I-”


Delia felt the tips of her ears get warm as her anger at her father compressed her field of vision. Delia was twenty years old – a college graduate – and she had spoken to plenty of men in her time. She stepped heavily away from the other three, making an effort to control herself. Over her shoulder she could hear her mother sweetly ignoring her husband’s anger, telling Bruce that she hoped to see him again soon, that if he ever needed anything – a cup of sugar, anything – he shouldn’t hesitate to ask.

Back at the house, her hand on the door handle, Delia looked back one last time to see her parents shuffling away from Bruce, who turned to look back at the fence posts piled on the ground nearby. The anger Delia felt toward her father burned brightly, and she suddenly found herself shouting: “Bruce?”

With sharp looks, her mother and father glanced in her direction, standing about ten paces from Bruce.

“Delia?” her father shouted. “Go in the house, sweetie.”

Delia ran back toward the property line, taking her father’s arm. “I will, father, but first I just wanted to make sure Bruce knows about the fundraiser we’re having at the church.” With an almost imperceptible dip of the cowboy hat, Bruce tilted his head toward Delia in acknowledgement of her invitation.

Delia saw her mother look up at her husband, whose jaw was clenched menacingly. “Delia, I told you to go back inside,” he said.

“Oh but father, I just know how much work you’ve put into the fundraiser – which will be held this Saturday at 2PM on the church lawn, rain or shine – and I just wanted to get the word out, father.”

Delia looked up at her father with a false sweetness as Bruce continued to wear the same half-grin, behind her. The look on the reverend’s face could have split wood.

“Harold, dear,” said Delia’s mother softly, turning her head so Bruce wouldn’t hear. “This boy has just become our neighbor again after years away. The least we can do is show him some Christian charity.”

Harold closed his eyes for a moment, exhaling, then turned around stiffly and took a step toward Bruce. “I would appreciate it if you would no longer ambush my impressionable young daughter at our property line,” he began, “but I’d also much appreciate your presence at the church fundraiser. All those in town who attend our church can attest that I have prayed for your safety every Sunday since your parents’ funeral,” the reverend went on, relaxing, “and I am deeply grateful to Him for bringing you home.”

“Thank you kindly, Pastor Mason,” Bruce said, tilting the cowboy hat deeply forward in a gesture of genuine appreciation, but with his eyes still betraying little of his true intentions. “I hope you know I didn’t mean any harm. As my daddy used to always say: ‘Good fences make good neighbors.'”

Delia didn’t see Bruce again until the fundraiser that Saturday. But every morning, when she went out to feed the chickens, she scanned the horizon eagerly, gazing over the stray fence posts, which were stuck in the earth like jagged teeth. She wondered when Bruce would come back to finish the job. More than wonder, though, as the days went by she had to admit that she wanted him to, and willed his presence.

Delia, her parents, and several helpers from the church community had spent all morning setting up folding tables and metal chairs on the church lawn. The sky was the clear blue of May and the sun was warm, a slight breeze fluttering the thin plastic tablecloths. At her mother’s request, Delia crouched to tape down the corners of the tablecloths, taking care not to let her favorite yellow dress touch the dirt.

As two o’clock approached and more and more families started arriving, Delia found herself scanning the crowd constantly, looking for Bruce. He hadn’t promised to come, and there was really no reason why he should – everyone knew that the Kings had never attended church, back when Bruce’s parents were still alive, and it wasn’t like Bruce had any interest in Delia. In all likelihood, Bruce hadn’t even remembered Delia, and had been just as surprised to see her that morning as she had been to see him.

“Whoever might you be looking for, my dear?” said Delia’s mother, appearing unexpectedly at her side.

“Oh, um…I was looking for dad.” Delia started to blush.

“We both know your father is still inside, meeting with the church elders.”

“Of course. Well, in that case, I was looking for you!” Delia trained a huge, wild smile at her mother.

“I wonder if he’s going to come, too.” Her mother turned and waved at a family that had just arrived.

“Who do you mean, Mom?”

With an incredulous look, her mother strode away to help the family unload the food they had brought.

Is it really that obvious? Delia thought.

Delia glanced at the church window for the fiftieth time to make sure the curls of her hair weren’t going flat in the heat, then went back to making laps through the crowd. Most everyone she saw was known to her – as the pastor’s daughter in a small town, she’d had occasion to meet or speak with basically every person at the fundraiser. Delia smiled at the old ladies, standing in a circle, who ran the book drive every year. She passed a table where the four old men who comprised the town’s barbershop quartet were sitting idly, one of the men smoking a pipe. Young children that Delia had watched over during the church service ran around her legs, playing a game of tag. All of a sudden, a sadness came over Delia.

Delia loved the town, loved the people in it. She felt comfortable and known. She knew that as the pastor’s daughter she was respected, admired. But one could be respected and admired while still being lonely. Just look at her parents. And they, at least, had each other. Her father had the elders of the church he could talk to; her mother, the other ladies of the church choir. Who could Delia talk to?

It seemed to her that everyone she saw in the crowd was either too old or too young – everyone Delia’s age had either moved to the big city where Delia had gone for college, or else couldn’t afford the time to attend church fundraisers because they were too busy getting into trouble. Delia’s throat caught as she realized all at once how much of her hopes she had pinned on Bruce King’s being present here today.

“Excuse me,” said a familiar voice. “You wouldn’t happen to know where I can make my donation?”

Delia turned to look on the face of Bruce King, wearing a simple white collared shirt and blue jeans, a different, darker cowboy hat on his head, and leather boots on his feet that had been shined to a bright polish. Delia was so surprised to see him, she blushed, and didn’t know what to say. “Your…donation?”

“Well, it is a fundraiser, isn’t it? Wouldn’t y’all like to raise some funds?”

“Oh! Of course, yes. I guess I just…you want to give us money?”

“Well, I wasn’t thinking I’d put it quite so bluntly, but-”

“Oh no, I mean – I didn’t mean to…it’s just…I remember father telling me that your parents never used to come to church, back when they were…”

Bruce looked at his boots, which tipped his hat down in front of his face so that for a second, Delia couldn’t see his eyes. Boy, do I put my food in my mouth, Delia thought. First, I talked about his money. Next, I blamed him for not going to church. And then, as if that weren’t enough, I brought up his parents.

Once again, just as they had back at the property line, the two began to speak at the same time, Delia starting to blurt out an apology, while Bruce simply stated, “I’ve been going, these last few Sundays.”

“You have?” Delia almost gasped.

“Yes ma’am.”



“I mean…why haven’t I seen you?”

“I guess you just weren’t expecting me.”

“You sit in the back?”

“I sit where I can see you,” Bruce said, without a trace of hesitation.

Delia stopped, feeling a thrill like a gust of wind crawl up her spine and curl her toes. Before she could respond, she felt a soft hand touch her back and turned to see her mother arrive, looking at Bruce.

“So good of you to come,” Delia’s mother said, with a warm smile Delia knew to be genuine.

“It’s my pleasure, ma’am.” Bruce tipped his hat.

“I hate to interrupt,” Delia’s mother went on, “but we’re just about ready to eat, and we need two more people to serve.”

Delia looked at Bruce, whose eyes were wary. “Of course, mother. If it’s alright with Bruce, that is.”

Bruce looked toward the field behind the church, away from people, and clenched his jaw, then looked back at Delia and gave a reluctant smile. “Alright with me,” he said. The three strode over to the table.

Delia’s mother showed them to their stations. “We’ll get started as soon as the reverend says grace.”

Delia and Bruce stood alone at their table bedecked with containers of coleslaws and cold potato and pasta salads. Two tables on either side of them were likewise covered with food and manned by volunteers, and standing up front at the tables, with the crowd milling about around the tables and chairs in front of them, Delia felt oddly exposed, as if everyone in the town could see her and Bruce together. It was not altogether an unwelcome feeling, and not at all a situation she’d expected to be in.

Bruce broke the silence. “So what are y’all collecting funds for anyway? Don’t you take enough from the collection plates on Sundays?” He was clearly uncomfortable, perhaps at being on such public display.

“Oh, it’s nothing really. My father’s hoping to make some improvements to the church building.”

“Improvements to the church building,” Bruce repeated. Delia glanced at him and saw that his eyes were flicking from person to person in the crowd. Delia went on, talking about the dirty, crumbling siding that needed to be replaced, the dry lawn, but she realized that he was barely listening to her.

“Well well well, aren’t you two certainly getting friendly,” said a voice from behind them. It was Delia’s father, just come out from the side door of the church. Bruce flinched and turned sharply toward him.

“Mom asked us if we could help serve the meal, Daddy,” Delia said, not understanding her father’s tone.

“Oh she did, did she? And I’m sure that’s the only reason Mr. King is here pestering you again.”

“Seems to me you’ve been wanting somebody to bring the King family checkbook over to your church for many years, reverend,” Bruce said softly. His face betrayed none of the emotion held in his voice.

Instead of responding, and before Delia had a chance to protest, her father began speaking to the crowd in the loud, booming voice he made use of for his sermons. The crowd, quickly silencing, turned to look.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the pastor began, “thank you all so much for coming. Before the festivities begin, I’d like to express, on behalf of the church, our sincere gratitude for everyone who’s contributed to this day, whether with their time, their wallets, or their gifts, helping prepare this delicious spread.”

At the word wallets, Delia saw her father place his hand on Bruce’s shoulder. She could feel Bruce tense.

“I’d like to give thanks to God for this food, but I’d also like to give him thanks for safely returning to us Mr. Bruce King, standing here with me. In the story of the prodigal son, when a long-lost boy comes back home, a feast is had, and I hope you’ll all take the time today to welcome young Mr. King to our church.”

Rolling his shoulder back slightly to force the reverend to remove his hand, Delia could feel Bruce bristling, under the service, at the words the pastor said. Why is my father being so unkind? she thought.

“And now,” the reverend went on, “let us all give thanks for this food by praying the way God taught us to pray…” As the congregation recited the Lord’s prayer in unison, with heads bowed and eyes closed, Delia glanced up at Bruce and saw that his head was upright, his eyes wide open, his lips shut tight.

After the prayer, Delia’s father strode to the first table to serve himself, first. Then, as the entire group assembled on the lawn began to stride through the line, many of them giving welcome to Bruce, Delia found herself driven to complete silence, trembling in the fear that she would never see Bruce again.

As soon as everyone had been served, Bruce excused himself with a word and was gone.

Delia spent the next three days worried sick about what had happened with Bruce. At church, the morning after the fundraiser, she had scanned every pew, looking for him, and had even gotten up in the middle of the service to go to the bathroom, to look again, but he was nowhere to be found. As she went about her chores the next few days, she replayed her every interaction with Bruce over and over in her head, kicking herself for being so clumsy with her words. She refused to even speak to her father.

Did he really say he went to church just to look at me? Delia asked herself. Something so forward felt too good to be true. How could Bruce, the sole owner of a thousand-acre ranch, be interested in her?

Delia went about her chores as if in a daze. Her favorite yellow dress, which she had worn to the fundraiser, stayed draped on the back of the chair in her room, so that every time she looked at it, she would be reminded of what had happened that day. She wondered if she would ever wear it again.

On the evening of the second day after the fundraiser, Delia sat down for her first dinner together with her mother and father since her father had been so rude and unkind to Bruce. Her mother had made meatloaf, and her piece sat on her plate, appetizing as a sponge, next to a mound of mashed potatoes and spears of asparagus from the garden. She pushed the food around with her fork and refused to look at her father, who could trip and fall and sink straight to the center of the earth, for all she cared.

“Delia,” her father said, “your mother has prepared a great meal for us. It’s rude of you not to eat it.”

Delia looked deeply into her plate before responding. “I guess I’m just still full from the meal Saturday.”

The reverend dropped his fork with a clatter. “Delia Marie Mason, that boy is at least ten years older than you-”

“You don’t know that!” Delia shouted.

“He was a wild, irresponsible boy-”

“He’s a college graduate and a war hero!”

“And we have no idea what he did, out in the world, without parents, without faith in God, without-”

“You don’t even know him!”

“And neither do you! He could have a whole family out in some godforsaken country – you really think a man lives to be that age without being in the company of women? And I will not have my daughter-”

“You won’t have a daughter for very much longer if you keep being so close-minded and judgmental!” Delia raised her eyebrows quickly, shocked to hear the words that had come out of her own mouth.

The reverend looked at her, the anger on his face slowly melting into hurt, before turning back to his plate. He cut his asparagus with precision and scraped the tines of his fork over his teeth as he placed bites of meatloaf into his mouth. Delia wanted to apologize but knew she was in the right. Her mother had a forlorn look, seeming reluctant to even look at her husband. The meal finished in bitter silence.

Afterward, with the reverend safely installed in his study, a book open on his lap, Delia and her mother stood at the kitchen sink and whispered to each other, one washing the dishes, the other drying them.

“Do you think I should go in and apologize?” Delia asked.

“Well…you know what the Bible says about letting the sun go down on your anger, but I don’t think it would hurt the old man to sit with his feelings for a little while longer.”

“So you’re not angry with me?” Delia’s worry started to slacken.

“Your father is a good man,” Delia’s mother said with a sigh – “the best. But the years have made him rigid, hyper-focused on his church, unwilling to see the changes that are going on in the wider world.”

“What do you think of Bruce, mother?”

“I think…” Delia stopped washing, a plate in one hand, a rag in the other, and turned to look into her mother’s face, anxious to read its every expression. Her mother, placing the dish she was drying into the cupboard, leaned against the countertop and sighed. “I think that he makes you more excited than I’ve seen you in a long, long time.”

Delia started washing again to hide her smile. “He’s clearly very disciplined.”

“He’s handsome.”

“You said it, not me.”

“He’s clearly a man of means.”

“What would you think about him actually getting the ranch back up and running?”

“Seems like a big job,” Delia’s mother sighed again. “He’ll need sons to help him.”

Delia flashed her mother a grin and saw that she, too, was smiling. “I just wish he’d come back and finish that fence.”

“Oh Delia, Delia, Delia.” The dishes done, the two stood, drying their hands on towels.


“You are a brilliant girl, but sometimes you don’t have a lick of sense.”

“What do you mean?”

Why do you think Bruce was repairing that fence?”

“Well…to get the farm up and…”

“Does he have any cattle yet? Anything that needs a fence?”


“So why do you think, of all his thousand acres, he chose our property line as the spot for him to come and take his shirt off, early in the morning at just the time he knows you’ll be out with the chickens.”

Delia again felt a thrill go up her spine, and her toes curl in delight. So it was true, she thought, smiling.

Delia’s mother put her hand on Delia’s shoulder. “I want you to follow your heart, Delia. Lord knows that I should have. But be careful. Your father sees, better than you do, that Bruce King is up to something.”

The next morning, Delia woke from a night of troubled sleep with her head torn between two conflicting emotions. On the one hand, everything her mother had said made her feel even more confident than before that Bruce was, indeed, interested in her. Her mind leaped ahead, thinking of the children they’d have, born and raised to ranch, within an easy walk of her parents, who would never know hunger, the money more than ample to support them. On the other hand, the scene her father had made at the church fundraiser, Saturday, made her deathly afraid that Bruce would see her as too big a gamble – that he would sell the ranch and go find a wife in the city. Why could possibly make him want to wait around for her, the preacher’s daughter, when he didn’t even go to church? It all seemed impossible.

With her thoughts racing and her heart heavy, Delia put on the thin, faded dress and the dirty apron she wore to do her chores and headed out to the chicken coop. When would she hear from Bruce again?

Delia opened the flap of the coop and reached her hand in to take out the eggs without so much as looking down into the nest of hay. Her eyes were glazed over, her thoughts morose. Even if Bruce wanted to see her, she reasoned, her father would never allow it. Everything was completely hopeless.

But what did she feel in her fingers? Unlike the soft, scratchy hay, and the smooth, cool eggs, this was something hard, and rigid, with sharp edges, something crisp, yet something that gave under her touch.

Looking down sharply, she saw that it was a small square of thick paper, folded in two. Delia shot a look back at the house, then quickly placed the paper into the pocket of her apron. Her father, she could see, was leaning over his desk, as he did every morning, writing this Sunday’s sermon. As casually as possible, Delia walked around to the side of the chicken coop that shielded her from the house. Sinking down to the ground, her knees pressed against her chest, Delia unfolded the paper and read the following words:

Dear Delia,

If you want to talk, meet me here, at this chicken coop, tonight at midnight. I promise to have you back by sunrise – just a couple of things I’d like to show you.

I hope you’ll come. Either way, I’ll be waiting.



Delia read the note at least a dozen times, then turned the paper over and over, as if trying to find any other words that might be written on it. Had she gone in the chicken coop yesterday? Was it possible she had somehow missed their rendezvous? No – surely it was supposed to be tonight, this very night. How on earth could she wait that long? A couple of things I’d like to show you, she thought, her eyes wild with pleasure. Rising quickly to her feet, Delia suddenly felt like running, jumping, crying, laughing…

“Delia?” It was her father’s voice, stern and sorrowful. Delia felt her face drop, fearful of having her secret already discovered. She stuffed the paper back into the pocket of her apron before responding.

“Yes, father?” Delia walked as nonchalantly as possible back around the chicken coop to see her father scanning the property line, his hand held up to shield against the rising sun. He must have thought I’d run away, Delia thought, imagining her father looking up from his desk and seeing her vanished.

“Delia I just want to tell you that I’m sorry,” her father began.

“What for?”

“I just…” Her father paused and put a hand on his hip, as if uncertain how to proceed. “Sometimes I feel like I can talk more easily in front of a whole crowd of people, on Sundays, than I can talk to you, now.”

“Okay…” Delia knew that if she made things difficult on her father, now, pretending still to be angry and upset, she would throw him off the scent of her plans to meet Bruce tonight. She looked at the ground.

“I know it must be difficult for you, the pastor’s daughter, always on display. I never wanted that for you – never wanted you to have to shoulder that burden.”

Delia slowly stepped toward her father, who leaned against the chicken coop, looking back at the house. She put a hand on his shoulder, and he sighed.

“Daddy, you’ve always been a good father to me. I’m grateful to you. But I can’t stay here forever.”

“I know that,” he said. “I learned that lesson went you went away for college. You were only seventeen.”

“And I’m twenty now, Daddy. I’m a woman.”

“I know you are.” Delia was surprised to see tears welling up in her father’s eyes.

“Oh, Daddy, don’t cry.” Delia wrapped her arms around her father. After a moment, they walked inside together. And despite the tender feelings Delia felt opening up for her father in her heart, even that moment, walking together arm in arm, Delia was thinking about how she would sneak out, that night.

Delia squirmed with excitement all day. Hiding the truth of what would happen tonight from her father was easy – their emotional conversation by the chicken coop had given both a reason to avoid each other – but her mother was much more perceptive, and Delia knew it would be much harder to hide from her. She considered telling her mother the truth, thinking that it was entirely possible her mother would actually allow her to go. No, she thought. Not at midnight. Anyhow, she couldn’t take the risk.

To avoid her mother, Delia pretended to have a headache – a terrible headache that made it simply impossible to be up and about. Delia spent the day in her room with the lights off and the shades drawn, her mother worriedly checking in on her every hour or so. Externally, she took care to look tired and ill even when her mother wasn’t watching. But inside, she was aflame with excitement for midnight.

Midnight finally came after what felt like years. Delia had gone over in her head what she should wear a million times, it felt like, finally settling on the same yellow dress she had worn to the fundraiser. She’d had plenty of time throughout the day to plan out when she should start making her way downstairs – not wanting to be late, but not wanting to be early, either – and had even tired herself out so much with thinking that she managed to take a nap, in the afternoon, which she thought would give her energy for the night she had ahead. I’m just as like to be up all night, anyway, out of pure excitement, she thought.

When the moment came, she opened her bedroom door just as slowly as she could, closing it behind her. She heard her father snoring in the bedroom and tiptoed past the door, which was cracked open. Delia knew just where to step to avoid the creaks in the floor.

“Delia?” her mother said. Delia froze. It had been a sleepy voice, her mother simply calling out of a dream. I didn’t make any noise, anyhow, Delia thought. But still, she felt a tug at her heart, which was beating so loudly Delia thought it would wake her father.

After what felt like an eternity, Delia again began to pad softly toward the back door. Opening and closing it quietly, she put on her shoes. She quickly crossed the yard. Am I late? or early, she thought, not knowing how long it had taken her to wait out her mother’s sleep talk.

She realized that there was no moon, meaning that she was in complete darkness as she crossed the yard. Bruce must have done that intentionally, she thought, and felt all the more excited to see him.

Safely behind the chicken coop, Delia sat waiting for what felt like an hour. A thousand thoughts passed through her head – what must she look like, without having looked in a mirror? What could Bruce have to show her? Is it possible he forgot? But Delia did her best to push out all the thoughts, and just wait.

Every sound she heard was sure to be Bruce, coming for her. Every hoot of a faraway owl, every snap of a squirrel scampering through the nearby forest. When she did finally see the faint glow of his white cowboy hat, in the distance, Delia thought it was her brain playing tricks on her, like a mirage.

But the closer he got, walking at a normal pace along the edge of the forest, the more certain Delia became. The frenetic excitement of waiting transformed into a dead panic – what if her parents woke up? What if they were discovered? And if she made it to him, what should she say? But he was here!

Before Bruce had even gotten to the property line, Delia had left the safety of the coop. She headed straight for the edge of the forest where Bruce was, keeping her head low and trying to keep the chicken coop, behind her, between herself and the window of her parents’ bedroom. Bruce, barely visible in the dim light, stopped moving as soon as he saw her start to move. She couldn’t see his face at all.

As she approached the edge of the forest, Delia knew she was safe. She could see the white of Bruce’s smile. She ran faster, the closer she got. Without meaning to, Delia almost leapt into Bruce’s arms, an embrace so spontaneous she didn’t even have a chance to think about it. Bruce’s cowboy hat fell off his head and Delia giggled, then clamped a hand across her mouth and looked back toward the house. The hug ended as quickly as it began. Bruce grabbed her hand, and together they ran along the forest edge.

Before long, running up the hill, Delia and Bruce were winded. But they continued to run, hand in hand, even after Delia’s house began to look small, behind them. One of them laughed – Delia could never remember which of them had laughed first – and soon enough both of them were hooting with joy.

At the top of the hill, Delia saw a horse tied to a length of fence at the edge of the forest.

“Can you ride?” Bruce said softly. It was the first words either of them had spoken so far.

“Not very well,” Delia said in a whisper. There was no one around within earshot, but still – something about the stillness and quiet of the starry night made her feel like she should be quiet. The forest to their left felt warm and still, the fields to their right graced by the sound of wind. Delia steadily worked to catch her breath, Bruce unwrapping the horse’s reins from around the post. An earthy smell from the forest complimented the sound of the cicadas, chirping the night’s rhythm, and Delia felt more alive than she’d ever felt before.

“That’s alright.” With a practiced grace, Bruce swung himself up onto the horse. “I only brought the one horse, anyway.”

Delia felt even more thrilled by his smile than she usually did, knowing that this smile was reserved solely for her. She took the hand he offered and, placing her food in the stirrup, stepped up into his strong arms. “We never had horses, growing up,” she said nervously, but before she truly knew what had happened, she was situated in front of him, toward the front of the large saddle, and could feel the strong bulge of Bruce’s chest pressing softly into her. I could get used to this, she thought to herself.

Then they were off, Bruce starting the horse out slow, and then gradually increasing the speed as he felt Delia’s excitement, gripping his strong legs with both hands. With his arms, Bruce pinched her sides, and Delia felt totally secure. “Is that alright?” Bruce kept saying to her, his breath warm on her ear, and Delia kept nodding her head, wanting to go faster and faster, wanting somehow for the night never to end.

Bruce seemed to be trying to reach the highest point of the property. Delia felt them climbing higher and higher. When finally they reached a clearing where there was no way left to go any higher, Bruce, giving the horse some mysterious symbol that Delia could not divine, slowed them to a stop. Delia didn’t realize until then how hard she was breathing, and Bruce chuckled. “Pretty exhilarating, ain’t it?”

Delia, at a loss for words, could only shake her head. Bruce gently helped her off the horse, then dismounted just as gracefully as he had mounted. Taking an apple from the saddlebag, Bruce fed the horse, whom he called Jasper, and spoke tenderly to her. He led her over to the fence and tied the reins.

Delia was touched by Bruce’s kind and easy way with the large, majestic animal – so different than his awkward and strained manner with the people at the church fundraiser. This, Delia realized, is his element. Maybe one day it could be hers, too…

Atop the hill, Delia could see for miles. She was amazed that, even with no mean, the stars shone brightly enough that she could see her house, the size of a leaf at the bottom of the hill. She could see the road snaking past her house, lost then in the line of trees. The wind moved softly over the fields and Delia felt that she had never been happier. When she finally looked at Bruce, who was holding a blanket he had taken from the saddlebag, she found that he was simply watching her, the half-smile on his lips.

“Welcome to the hilltop,” he said softly.

“It’s so beautiful.”

“I come up here to watch the stars, sometimes, at night, or the clouds, during the day.”

“I could stay up here forever.”

“Well I’m not sure your father would be too happy about that,” Bruce said with a smile, billowing out the blanket and draping its length on the ground, “but I thought we might stay here awhile and talk – with no moon it’s the perfect time to watch the stars.”

“So you did do it on purpose,” Delia said, as if to herself.

“How’s that?”

“Oh – I was thinking earlier, when I was running out of my house, about how there was no moon – how you must have planned that on purpose.” Thinking back to her house made Delia suddenly afraid. Her eyes strayed toward the house, and Bruce followed them there. Delia furrowed her eyebrows.

“Don’t you worry,” Bruce said. “You can trust me.” He seemed to be reading her thoughts. “I’m going to just lay down on this here blanket, and if you feel comfortable enough to join me, you go right ahead.”

Bruce tipped the cowboy hat forward so that it almost covered his eyes, laying down with his hands behind his head, and lay motionless for a moment. Delia slowly made her way onto the blanket. The stars above them were magnificent, the sky the darkest blue and purple Delia had ever seen.

“May I say something, respectfully?” Bruce said after a moment.

“You may,” Delia said.

“I had been hoping you would wear that yellow dress.”

Delia was glad that Bruce wasn’t looking at her, and that even if he had been, he couldn’t have seen her blushing in the dark. “Well thank you kindly.” And they were silent for a while longer.

Delia’s mind raced. What did he want from her? What was she supposed to say? How could she tell him that this was already the best night she’d ever had, and that she could see a thousand more just like it?

“I just want to say-” But just as Delia began, turning toward Bruce in a sudden rush, Bruce, too, had begun to speak, turning toward her in turn. They smiled, this now the third time this had happened.

“You first,” Bruce said.

“No – you.”

“I believe it was you who insisted that I go first, last time, which makes turnaround fair play.”

Delia smiled deeply, warmed to her bones by Bruce’s liveliness. “I just wanted to say,” she began, “that this is the best night I’ve had in as long as I can remember, and I thank you for inviting me out.”

Bruce smiled, visibly relaxing, and rested his chin on his hand. “I was awfully nervous you weren’t going to show up.” The admission seemed to cost him something, as he dipped his face down below his hat.

“Are you kidding?” Delia said. “I was afraid my parents would see, I was afraid you wouldn’t show up…”

The conversation picked up as both Delia and Bruce explained the night they’d had, the preparations they’d taken over the course of the day, the way their excitement had manifested at various points. From there, a million questions arose, each, in its way, as simple and curious as the very first question Bruce had asked Delia back at the property line, about whether she was a morning person. Both, at the same time, realized that there was simply a million things they had to know about the other person.

The two talked for hours, about everything and nothing. The stars completely forgotten, Delia and Bruce stayed laying on the blanket, Jasper laying on the ground nearby, motionless in sleep. It seemed that neither could move, and neither could look away from the other person’s eyes. Bruce told Delia the story of his life, college, the death of his parents, the eight years spent in the Marines. The conversation twisted and wound like a forest path, looping back on itself and ultimately having no real destination.

At a certain point, by imperceptible degrees, the sky started to lighten around them. Delia had been midway through the story of her college career – the books she had read, teachers she’d had, how she ended school, at twenty, having turned down every boy who called on her – when suddenly Bruce’s eyes were drawn away, to the sky, and for the first time Delia lost his attention. “What is it?” she said. “What’s wrong?”

“It will be sunrise soon,” Bruce said, rising quickly from the blanket and tottering around stiffly.

Delia let out an “oh,” realizing all at once that the dream needed to end, and that she would have to come back to reality soon and face her parents. Why did the sun have to rise? Why couldn’t she stay on that magical hilltop with Bruce forever? Now that she finally, finally had someone to talk to, why did she ever have to leave him?

With a speed that slightly alarmed her, Bruce took up the blanket and, starting to fold it, became frustrated and stuffed it into the saddlebag. Unwrapping Jasper’s reins from the fence post, Bruce quickly mounted and reached out his hand to Delia. In the span of an instant, Delia had gone from the safety and security of her all-night conversation with Bruce to a very real fear, for…what, exactly? And every moment, it seemed, the sky was getting lighter and lighter, making them both easier to see.

“What are you waiting for?” Bruce said. “I’ve got one more thing to show you, before I take you home.”

Delia reached up her hand and Bruce all but yanked her onto Jasper. With none of the delicacy of their first right, in the middle of the night (how long ago that ride now felt!), Bruce galloped toward the King family house, a ride that felt oddly long to Delia, and in the opposite direction of her own modest home.

Delia couldn’t remember the last time she’d been in the King house. From far away, it seemed small, but the closer they got, the more gargantuan it seemed. At one point, Delia even gasped. It was a mansion. With the sun rising behind it, the side of the house that Delia could see was shrouded in ominous shadows. The wood was dark, the color of mahogany, and Delia thought of her parents, soon to rise.

Arriving at the house, Bruce put his hands on Delia’s waist to lift her off, but Delia shook her head and slapped at his hands, lightly. “What is it?” he said. “We haven’t got much time.”

“But that’s just it – don’t you see? The sun is already rising – I could see it on the horizon.”

“Oh don’t you worry – the sun always rises first high up on the hill. We’ve got plenty of time before it rises down by you.”

“But you don’t understand – I’m in my yellow dress; if my parents see…”

“Delia? Honey? I don’t mean to be curt with you, but there’s just one last thing I want you to see, and if we’re quick about it, we’ll be sure to get you back home before your parents know a thing.”

With trepidation, not really feeling that she had a choice, Delia allowed Bruce to whisk her off the horse. Getting off himself and tying Jasper off, Bruce opened the door to the house and ushered Delia inside. Delia stood hesitantly for a second, her face fearful, but Bruce’s hurry won her over.

The inside of the house felt like a museum. Large white cloths covered all the furniture, and there was a thick layer of dust on top of that. The ceilings were enormous, and the lack of sound inside made Delia feel like she should be quiet. The room felt dead, and Delia couldn’t help but feel afraid.

“Is this where you’ve been living?” Delia said.

“Oh no, no. I’ve been sleeping out in the barn.”

“Then what is it you wanted to show me?” Delia turned to look at Bruce.

“Well?” Bruce scuffed his feet, making a darker-colored patch of dustless wood on the floor. “This.”


“This is my home, Delia. This is the house I grew up in.”

Delia looked back around at the enormous room. “It’s so empty.”

“It wouldn’t always be,” Bruce said. “Not if we filled it with children.”

“Children?” Delia heard her voice, it felt like, from somewhere far away, as if she were floating underwater, as if the person of herself were no longer in her body but were somewhere up in the high ceiling of the room, looking down.

A beam of sunlight poked through the far window, making a yellow scar on the dusty floor, and Delia realized afresh that she needed to get home. “I have to go,” she said, and turned toward the door.

“Delia. Delia? Honey? Just wait a minute, will you?”

“Bruce, please just take me home – if my father finds out…”

“But Delia don’t you see? I know we’ve only just reconnected, but who else could I share my ranch with, if not the one woman who happened to grow up just alongside of it?”


“I know it’s sudden, and of course we would take all the due time to woo and court and win over your father and your mother-”


“But couldn’t you see it, Delia? Can’t you say that it’s something you could see?”

The eagerness on his face was something she’d never seen from him before. It was like fear, and Delia herself was starting to breathe heavily, thinking only of the look on her father’s face when he found out.

“Bruce, I can’t say much of anything, right now. This is all terribly sudden. All I know is that I need to go home – now – or my father may just keep us from ever seeing each other again.”

This last statement seemed to galvanize Bruce. In his eyes, which had been large and searching, a look of certainty suddenly appeared. If he was a soldier, he suddenly found his marching orders – get Delia back to her house as quickly as possible. They rode back as quickly as possible, as if their whole future depended on it.

Before Bruce and Delia had even gotten very near to the house – before they had even reached the edge of the forest where they had met and embraced, what felt like a lifetime ago – Delia, riding up front in the saddle, felt her heart sink toward the stirrups as she saw the tiny figure of her father, in the yard, one hand shielding his eyes from the sun. It was all over – they had seen her riding with Bruce.

Bruce said nothing but Delia could feel a shift in his body, behind her, as well as a slowing from the horse. He, too, had seen the reverend, waiting with ill intent at the bottom of the hill. From the doorway, as they rode steadily toward the house, they saw Delia’s mother come out the back door.

Soon enough, they were back at the property line, Bruce pulling up Jasper at the very fencepost where Delia had first spoken to him, what felt like ages ago. He helped Delia off the horse, gently, then dismounted himself and tied off Jasper on the post. The reverend strode forward, his hands on his hips.

“Do you have any idea what you put your mother through, young lady?” Behind the reverend, Delia’s mother stood back about ten paces, with a look on her face that made it plain she had no ability to interfere. “Here you had us believing that you were actually ill, yesterday, only to find you disappeared this morning when we go in to check on you. Have you lost your senses? Or are you lost altogether?”

“Pastor Mason, sir, I can explain…”

“I’ll deal with you later, boy.” The reverend trained a finger at Bruce. Delia hung her head in shame.

For a long moment the silence hung tensely in the air. Something seemed to break in the reverend, looking at the two young people standing so close together. His eyes filled with tears and his voice cracked as he went on: “Don’t you understand that we were worried about you?”

“Oh Daddy,” Delia said, and walked forward to wrap her arms around her father.

When Delia looked back at Bruce, he was scuffing the ground with his boot, looking sheepish. “Reverend?” he said. Delia’s father wiped his eyes and looked over at the young man. “I assure you that my intentions were nothing but pure. Delia can tell you that I treated her with all honor and respect.”

The reverend looked at Delia, who met his gaze calmly and nodded earnestly. When another moment had passed, Delia let go of her father’s hand, walked over to Bruce, and took his.

“I cannot approve of this union,” Delia’s father said, his voice no longer hurt, but only cold.

“Daddy you don’t even know Bruce!”

“All I need to know I learned over three decades, when the boy’s parents never took him to church.”

Bruce gave a snort. “You’re really going to deny your daughter’s happiness just because my parents wouldn’t buy you a new church?”

“You better watch your tone, boy.” The reverend stepped forward menacingly. “To say nothing of my rights as a father to refuse any offer of marriage you might someday make, who in this town do you think could marry you? You ever think of that?”

Bruce let out a chuckle that seemed almost evil, to Delia. “Old man,” he said, “you’ve lost your way. Delia and I could go into town and get married this very day, at any number of different establishments. We could sell this ranch” – Bruce waved his hand at the land behind him – “and live off the proceeds for the rest of our lives.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” said the reverend.

“And why is that?”

“Because you don’t know my daughter at all if you think she would ever do that to her father and mother.”

Both men turned to look at Delia, who had long since let go of Bruce’s hand. The pressure she felt was unbearable. On the one side was her father, a man she had known and loved all her life, but who offered her nothing but limitations and fear. On the other hand was Bruce, someone whose soul she had only just briefly glimpsed, that very night, but who seemed to hold the keys to the only happy future she could see.

Delia took another step back, closer to the chicken coop. How could she ever choose?

She looked at her father, who looked at her with a stern expectation. “Come inside, Delia,” he said. “You come inside now.”

She looked at Bruce, whose face was unreadable. He seemed completely calm, but unless she was mistaken, there was steel in his eyes – a rigid certainty that he could control her.

Delia caught a glimpse of her mother, behind both of the men, whose eyes looked tired, whose face seemed to know the exact choice that Delia was faced with.

“I…” Delia said, backing up still another step, feeling more trapped than she ever had in her life.

“I’m sorry,” she said, and turned, and fled. She ran along the property line, toward the forest, not knowing what would come next, but not needing to.