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Coming Home

Prologue
Logan Creek, Missouri – June 21, 1991
            Ducking behind a bale of hay, sixteen-year-old Paul Morgan peered around it. Looking for the other boys, he caught sight of his younger brother running past Leslie on his way to search the barn. Jared was the current finder. Seeing no one else, Paul ducked behind the bale again.
            Princess Leslie and her wildflower picking, Paul mused, his lips curving into a smile. The vision of Leslie’s slender frame graced with gentle curves lingered in his mind. For a long moment, he sat with his back against the hay bale, his heart pounding. Trying to shake it off, he got back on his knees and peered around the hay bale again. No one else in sight, he studied Leslie King as she continued her wildflower picking. Her bouquet consisted of purple coneflowers, daisies, black-eyed Susans, and Missouri primroses. As her long, slender hand reached for another daisy, he watched, mesmerized, and smiled at the recollection of his mother’s favorite “Little Paul” story.
~ ~ ~
            Paul first saw Leslie when he was only two years old. Awe poured over him and he said, “Momma! Is da baby a pwincess?”
            “No, Paul.” She chuckled and smiled at Leslie’s mother. “She sure is beautiful, though, isn’t she?”
            “She is bootiful! A bootiful pwincess baby!” He reached out and touched baby Leslie’s tiny hand. 
            His mother spoke in a gentle voice. “Her name is Leslie, sweet boy. Can you say Leslie?”
            “Pwincess Yesyie!” Leslie cooed at him and wrapped her tiny hand around Paul’s chubby fingers. “Wook, Momma! She yikes me! Pwincess Yesyie yikes me!” He bent his head and placed a reverent, though sloppy, kiss on Leslie’s cheek. Enthralled with this beautiful baby girl, he smiled from ear to ear.
~ ~ ~
            The vision of kissing Leslie’s cheek now flitted through Paul’s mind. His breath caught. Turning back away, he collapsed against the bale, allowing the prickly hay to bring him back to reality. He enhaled, forcing himself to breath normal. The sky was clear and blue. The sun shone bright, allowing its warmth to penetrate through the cool, gentle breeze. Paul took no notice at the moment. Instead, everywhere he looked, the vision of fourteen-year-old Leslie King picking wildflowers filled his mind. Princess Leslie.
            Shaking the vision loose, he realized he would be found soon if he didn’t get to his hiding place near the creek. He crept to the other edge of the hay bale, preparing to break into a sprint. A scream pierced the air and he froze. Leslie! He spun around in time to see Jared running wildly across the field and yelling. “Yellow jackets! Yellow jackets! Run, everybody! Run!”
            Paul glanced at Leslie who stood, rooted to the ground, her bouquet scattering in the wind as yellow jackets swarmed around her. She swatted in wild desperation as they left angry welts on her exposed flesh. 
            Paul’s pulse pounded in his ears, distorting all sound around him. He ran to her, glancing over his shoulder to calculate their distance to the creek. Every second counted. They were definitely closer to the creek than they were to the house. His feet felt like lead as seconds slipped away like minutes. Everything moved in slow motion. Finally reaching her, he scooped her up and ran for the creek. Leslie’s screams ceased as she gasped for breath. Fear sliced through him. He tightened his hold on her and ran harder. They were almost there. Save her! Please, God! Save he!
            Entering the copse of trees that lined the creek, he lowered Leslie to the bank with all the gentleness he could muster. She clawed the ground as if it were a lifeline. Paul reached for the ever present EpiPen that hung around her neck and, tamping down the rising panic, he prayed and injected it into her tender flesh. Leslie’s parents made sure long ago that everyone she knew was trained in how to use it.
            Waiting for the medicine to take effect, her took out his pocket knife and began flicking out the stingers one by one with the back of the blade. Thankful for all the Boy Scout training, he prayed while he worked. After what seemed like an eternity, her breathing grew less labored. Little by little, her lips began to lose their blueness, the wild look of terror receded from her eyes, and a look of serious concentration settled over her face. Even near death, she was the most beautiful girl he knew.
            Remembering a trick he had learned in physical education, he took gentle hold of her wrists and laid her arms above her head to help open her diaphragm and make it easier to breath. With a look of gratitude, she smiled before closing her eyes. She flinched as he scraped out the last stinger he could find and a muffled groan of pain escaped her lips. He went to work, rubbing mud on each sting. It cooled the stings and drew out the poison, or so his grandmother had told him once. An old wives tale, he didn’t know if it actually worked, but he would try anything in an attempt to ease her pain.
            After applying the mud, he stood and looked her over to make sure he hadn’t missed any stings. Though red and swollen splotches covered her, he was satisfied that she was going to be okay. Her breathing was deep and steady, though still wheezy. 
            The trauma of the moment hit him and he sank to the ground, his head bowed and a prayer of thanksgiving on his lips. A sudden need to cry hit him, but he tamped it down. He still had to get her back to her parents. Jared should have reached the house by now to tell her them about the yellow jackets. “Help me, Lord.” He opened his eyes and studied her for a moment. Without thinking, he leaned over her, his lips grazing her cheek in a tender, reverent kiss. Princess Leslie... 
            Her eyes fluttered open and he sat up. Her lips tipped in a timid smile. Had he said that out loud? 
“Thank you.” Her mouth formed the words, though no sound came out. 
He nodded and looked away. “Let’s get you back.” He couldn’t remember the last time he had actually called her “Princess.” Still too weak to walk, he scooped her up and started back toward the house – taking the long way around. They had both had enough yellow jackets for one day.
            Halfway there, he stepped out from the copse of trees that lined the bank and saw their families entering the field from the road. With long, quick strides, Leslie’s father traipsed ahead of the rest. Paul looked at her and searched her face. “You okay?”
She nodded and something he couldn’t define flickered in her eyes. His heart skipped a beat. Tenderness rolled through him in warm waves, spreading until a tender smile reached his lips. He pulled his gaze from hers to watch his step. She seemed to nestle closer and protectiveness surged through him. He gathered her closer to him and held her a little tighter. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought he was walking on clouds.
            It only lasted for a moment, however. The franticness on everyone’s faces as they approached sent Paul’s adrenaline pumping again. His pounding pulse distorted all sound around him and slow motion returned. Before he had time to adjust, Leslie’s father reached out and snatched her from his arms. In a matter of moments, Leslie was next to her mother in the back seat of their car. 
            The car pulled away. Leslie turned and looked at Paul. Their eyes locked as they raised a hand in goodbye. The only words that passed between them were the words spoken with their eyes. Then, she was gone.

~ Linnette R. Mullin, Author

"To You, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if You be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to You for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary." Psalm 28:1-2, ESV

"We love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19, ESV) "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her..." (Ephesians 5:25, ESV)

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