The cold rain told a sad story in a soft voice, and I was listening.
I'm a good listener; always have been. Especially out here in the woods, inside this small cemetery. I sit in the cab of my old truck, listen to the rain tell the story, and wait for Melinda.
In these parts, we never seem to have nice winter weather. It's always cold, cloudy, and raining. All it's good for is hunting, mostly deer. Only I don't hunt-not anymore.
But this became my favorite time of year because of Melinda. I was driving home after wasting most of a Saturday down in the bottoms trying to get that big buck just about everybody, including me, had seen at one time or another.
A car, it was a raggedy-ass old Plymouth Fury, was pulled over on the shoulder of Barnwell road, just past the little cemetery, about in the middle of nowhere. A women was out in the rain trying to change a flat. I stopped to help.
That's when I met Melinda. She was going somewhere to see somebody who was some sort of relative. For the life of me I don't remember where or who. What I do remember is that, even in an old raincoat, Melinda, she said her name was Melinda Carter, was about the prettiest girl I'd ever seen. She had big brown eyes, long wet eyelashes, and a cute, upturned little nose. I noticed it because there was a raindrop right on the tip. And even though her lips were blue from the cold, her smile could start a forest fire.
I suggested she get in my truck while I changed the flat. But Melinda said no, and stayed out in the rain holding an umbrella over me. That's when we got to talking. She lived a couple of hours away and was a senior in college. I told her I'd just graduated and was teaching English at the local high school.
With all the rain and mud, it took awhile to change the tire. That was okay with me. I didn't want her to just drive out of my life. But I'm no ladies man, and couldn't figure out what I should do. After I put everything away and slammed the trunk shut, she insisted I get in the car with her and share some hot coffee she'd brought along.
The rain had stopped by then. She took off her tan raincoat and pitched it into the back seat. Even in a bulky sweater and jeans, you could tell she had the type of slender figure most men like and every woman seems to want. So I said coffee sounded good, tossed my gear into my new truck and crawled into the passenger seat of her old Plymouth.
God, but that was great coffee. Black with a little sugar and still nice and hot. We talked about the weather and then the forest around us. She said, a bit shyly at first, that she loved the woods and felt a sense of reverence when surrounded by a forest of tall trees. They were the world's greatest church, the holiest of sanctuaries.
As she spoke, her eyes seemed to sparkle. Those once blue lips were now an inviting red. It was all I could do to keep my hands to myself. So I told her a bit about myself, how I loved to hunt, had lived around forests all my life, but that maybe I'd taken them for granted, had not understand how, to some folks, they could have an almost sacred appeal. I said that while listening to her, I'd begun seeing them through her eyes, seeing how they were more than just a bunch of trees.
We talked on and on that way until the coffee was gone. By the time she finished putting things away, it was raining again. We stared out at the pelting rain through the car's fogged-up windows, then looked at one another. That's when my brain stopped working and instinct took over. As I reached out for her, she slid over beside me.