Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2131935-Maggie-McGee-in-progress
by Espero
Rated: 13+ · Novel · Adult · #2131935
A woman tries to rebuild her life but receives a surprise along the way.
Returning Home

Maggie had finished her shift as a 911 dispatcher and was changing into comfortable clothes. She was meeting June, a co-worker at the park for a run. The constant sitting at the job was something she had underestimated so it felt good to get some exercise after a long day.

The phone rang and she ran to get it; hoping that June hadn't changed her mind. Nope, it was Howard Sandler, her father's lawyer, whatever did he want?

"Hello, Howard, this is Maggie."

"Maggie, dear, I need you to take a leave of absence and come back to Dayton. Your parents have had an accident."

"An accident?" she let herself down on the couch. "Was it a plane crash?"

"No, Maggie, an auto accident. I don't know how to tell you this, it was fatal for both of them."

"No, no, no, that's not possible. They have been vacationing in Hawaii. It must have been someone else."

"They had just arrived home and were leaving the airport. It was a rainy night. A semi-truck on the interstate lost control and skidded into them. They never had a chance. They tell me your parents didn't suffer, it was instant. Listen Maggie, as sole survivor, we have a lot to discuss; you are going to need some time to take care of the business, the house, everything. Tell me how I can help you now!"

"I don't know, Howard, this is such a shock. I can't believe this is happening."

"I need you to listen carefully. Your mother's brother James will be here in the morning. I took the liberty of calling him, I thought you should have a family member help you. He was devastated but more than happy to come. I can have him drive to Cincinnati and pick you up?"

"James is coming to Dayton? No, have him stay there. Does he have access to the house?"

"I don't think so, Maggie."

"Can you call Donald at the accounting office and let him know what happened. He has a key to the house and James can stay there. Tell Donald that he will have to take charge of the office; we will see that he gets compensated."

"Yes, I will call him right away and see that James gets the key."

"I will call work and arrange time off and then pack a bag. I should be there later this evening."

"Don't come tonight, there is nothing you can do. Wait until morning. I will see you in my office around 10:30 AM if that works for you."

"Yes, I suppose you are right, I will see you in the morning. Thank you, Howard, I know my father trusted you with all of his affairs and I shall do the same," Maggie choked on the words and tried to hold back her tears.

"That's okay, Maggie, let it all out, you've had a big shock. Maybe call someone to sit with you tonight; you shouldn't be alone. Call me anytime if you need something."

"Okay Howard, I will see you tomorrow. Goodnight."

Maggie called June and told her what happened; then placed a call to her supervisor to arrange time off.

She lay back on the couch, feeling numb and empty. An only child, she didn't have any siblings to run to. She felt so alone. Her thoughts took her back to the day she moved into the apartment. She thought about her father, a tall distinguished looking man, now with a few strands of gray touching his temples.

"Come here, my darling only child, and give your father a hug. I'm going to miss you so much. I wish you would have stayed in Dayton and worked with me in the accounting office. You will inherit it someday, you know. Then again, I understand the desire to forge your own path in life."

Cradled in her father's arms, Maggie replied. "Of course, I'll miss you both, but I have to prove I can make it on my own. I've been working in your office all through high school. I intend to study for my accounting degree next, but I wanted to try something different."

A tear trickled down her cheek. Her mother, beautiful, dignified, loving. Oh, how could she stand never seeing her again.

"Oh my dear," smiled Kate, her mother. She wrapped her hands around her loving daughter's face. You have always been independent and accomplished everything you set your mind to. Now that you've graduated from 911 training, the Cincinnati Police Department will be lucky to have you. I just worry about you alone in this big city."

"I hope you know how much I appreciate both of you helping me find this little studio apartment and moving. Dayton isn't that far away; I'll be home so much you will wish I would stay in Cincinnati. Don't worry, I won't talk to strangers, and I'll keep my doors and windows locked."

"I'm afraid we must leave you and head home. When do you think we'll see you again."

"Soon Dad, soon."

She remembered watching her parents get into their vehicle from her upstairs window. How she loved them both. She wanted for nothing in her childhood, growing up in upper middle-class Dayton. Her father had an accounting firm, and her mother was a party planner and worked from home.

Lost in her daydream she smiled at the conversation; now burned into her memory. Coming to her senses, tears streaming down her face, she slowly made her way to the closet, pulled out a suitcase and started packing for the dreaded trip.

Exhausted, she showered, then lay down on the bed knowing she must get some sleep to endure the next few days. She thought about the last time she had seen her parents. She had finally earned a vacation and headed home for a visit. Coming home always refreshed her; her heart skipped a beat every time she entered the long winding drive lined with stately old trees that followed a sparkling lake on the right side. A large fountain was enclosed by the circular drive. Often ducks could be seen enjoying the water. The large white colonial looked impressive set against lush green grass and an abundance of flowers and bushes that her mother had started. In later years, it had become too much, and they hired a gardener. Generally, they would hear her car approaching and be standing on the porch smiling. She sobbed, knowing this time they would not be there to meet her. How she had enjoyed that last visit listening to her parents' excitement about an upcoming trip they were taking to Hawaii. It made them seem young again. She had been invited to accompany them on the trip but unfortunately, they would be gone two weeks and she couldn't take that much time off work. It made her happy to see the pictures and text messages they sent from the island. How endearing to see they had taken to social media even after all the grumbling about it. Clearly, they were having the time of their lives. No one could have predicted the future.

Putting the Pieces Back Together

The closer Dayton became, the lump in her throat grew. Tears had subsided and a numb feeling invaded her body. Turning into the winding driveway and pulling up in front of the house seemed uncanny. It appeared the same as always, but she knew behind the doors everything had changed. James's rental car sat parked in front. She heaved a sigh of relief that she would not be alone in the large home she had grown up in. Suddenly the door opened, and she was in her uncle's arms; neither emitting a word.

"Thank you for coming," she said.

He reached down and brushed her hair away from her face. "I'm so sorry dear, so sorry. I am here for you, but I feel so inadequate, it's such a blow, isn't it? Nancy couldn't come, she's just had a bout with pneumonia and recovering. Why have we let our families grow so distant?"

"I'm not sure, life happenings, I guess," she responded, shaking in his arms. "Just the fact that you are here with me is reassuring. I know what you mean, there is really nothing to say that can change what happened."

"So true, nothing at all left except memories. Are you hungry, I just made some coffee and toast, would you like something."

"Not hungry, but coffee would be nice."

"Let's go to the kitchen then and catch up, shall we. I do appreciate your invitation to stay here. Donald met me here with the key last night. I know this must be hard for you to come home to."

Maggie looked around the bright shiny kitchen, the center of her past life. A place where so many conversations had taken place over the years. Laughter, sorrow, even anger at times. Now they would remain memories in her mind forever.

They both sat at the table, toying with their cups. She looked at her uncle, a man she had not seen in recent years, he had not changed that much. His auburn hair, matching that of her mother and herself, had not yet turned grey. She remembered him as a kind and gentle man who always seemed in control, even the day her cousin Kathy had disappeared. She remembered how frantically they all seemed at the time. James, however, took control. "Children, stay right here in the lawn, do not go anywhere, we will be back shortly. The adults spread out into the woods near the house, all fearful that Kathy may have gone into the lake. Luckily, she was found in the woods looking up at a tree. She had followed a little grey squirrel. Maggie remembered the smiles on all their faces when they appeared, Kathy riding atop James shoulders.

She looked up from her cup. James, I have to meet Howard at 10:30. I was wondering, well if you don't mind, coming with me?"

James placed his hand over hers. "Of course, I will, anything you need, just ask, that is what I am here for. Your cousins, Cindy and Mark and the children, will come later when arrangements are made. I hope Nancy will be feeling better by then and can come along. Donna, Hank, and the kids are at Disneyland; I don't think they will make it.

"I understand, what great memories that will be for them. There's nothing they can do, hopefully we can get together with them another time, it's been too long. Everyone can stay here; we have plenty of room. Listen to me, I'm talking as if Mom and Dad are here too. Well, maybe they are in spirit. Cindy and I correspond every so often, so I keep up with the news."

"She reports to us every time a letter comes. I'm glad you've kept in touch. All of us are so busy running our lives, this is a hard lesson that we need to slow down and get together more often. I'll let them know you offered to have them stay here. Your father's sister, Susie, won't be able to come. She has Alzheimer's now. So sad."

"Very. Dad visited her when he could. The last time she didn't remember him. It broke his heart."

"Yes, it's an awful disease, isn't it."

Formalities over, they sat in silence once again, neither wanted to broach the subject at hand. "Guess I'll go tidy up before our meeting. Do you have everything you need?"

"Yes, I took the room in back by the sun porch, is that okay."

"Of course, wherever you are most comfortable. I'll be back down shortly." Maggie rose from the table, then leaned down and kissed her uncle on the forehead. "You don't know how much it means to me that you came."

"It's the least I could do, the very least," he said with a catch in his throat. "I'll tidy up the mess I've made in the kitchen. You'll find me outside on the pier when you are ready."

Slowly, Maggie made her way up the curved stairway to her former room purposely avoiding looking into her parents' bedroom across the hall. She sat at the edge of her bed looking around. The room had not changed since last she visited, an homage to her high school years with little momentums of those days everywhere. Her mother had a cleaning lady now, so it wasn't likely that she had spent any recent time in her daughter's room. It was quiet, too quiet to even think. Maybe that was a good thing because she didn't want to think right now. She wanted to pretend that this visit was like every other and her mother would be calling for her any minute now. She grabbed a few clothes, entered the adjoining bathroom and began to get ready for her visit to Howard's office.

Stepping into the hallway again she turned toward the stairs then stopped and glanced across the hall. She stood at the door looking in. Of course, nothing was disturbed, her mother would have seen to it that everything was in place before they left for Hawaii. The doorbell rang, who could that be?

Standing in the doorway was Martha, the cleaning lady, a short, chubby woman with rosy cheeks and greying hair that always seemed to be escaping from her bun. Her rosy cheeks and cheery personality made one love her at first sight. Of course, she wouldn't know. "Martha, something has happened, come with me and I'll explain," said Maggie.

Martha was in tears from the unexpected news. "I just can't believe it, I can't. What can I do to help you, Maggie?"

"Honestly, at this point, I don't know. If you don't mind continuing to come until I figure some things out, that would be great. Do you have a key?"

"Yes, I have one but generally I like to ring the bell just to let them know I am here."

"Of course, I'm afraid you'll have to let yourself in now. My uncle is staying in the sunroom and my cousins and hopefully my aunt will come in a few days. How are you getting paid?"

"Your Father leaves a check for me at the office, I clean the office too."

"That's right, I remember. I've told Donald he is in charge now. I will let him know you will continue to pick up the check until further notice."

"Thank you, Maggie. Did you want me to clean today as usual? I'm so sorry for your loss. I will miss them very much; they are kind people." Gone was the cheeriness she usually evoked, now she looked at Maggie with sad, tear-filled eyes.

"Martha, they thought the world of you too. I assume you also have a key to the office for cleaning?"

"Yes, I do."

"All we can do now Martha, is continue on as usual. I will be here for several weeks trying to figure things out so we will talk more later."

"As you wish, Maggie, as you wish"

Maggie walked to the window and saw her uncle sitting on the bench by the pier, so she made her way down the well-worn path and joined him. it was a warm day, the slight breeze blowing brought waves lapping at the shoreline. Noisy geese along the far bank were squawking and strutting back and forth. Fluffy blue clouds above floated on by as if it were a normal day. But it was far from normal in her world. She linked her arm around James and laid her weary head on his shoulder. "Whatever am I going to do with this place, James? It's too hard to let go and yet it's too much for me."

"I'm not sure I can tell you Maggie. Have you considered that cottage in the woods to the left of the house, right on the lake? I haven't seen it for years, but it used to be a lovely little building, maybe you could remodel it and live there; then sell the big house. It's just a thought."

"It was, wasn't it. My friends from school would come out and we would stay there overnight. After that, I don't think anyone ever used it."

"Oh how time flies, doesn't it. We could check it out later if you want. Then, I'd like to take you out for supper. I know you're not hungry, but you must eat, there are a lot of decisions to be made and you don't want to get sick. On that note, we should probably get going, I'll drive."

Decisions, Decisions

Howard, a distinguished elderly man, escorted them into his office. He gave Maggie a hug, "How are you dealing with everything? I'll try to make this as easy for you as I can. Then again, nothing is easy in a situation like this, is it?"

"I'll be okay, it's not like I can change what happened. Will I be able to see them, my parents?"

"I'm afraid not, dear, they requested closed caskets in the will and cremation. It's what they both wanted."

Maggie nodded, not trusting herself to speak at the moment. Uncle James grabbed her hand.

"Your father was a forward-thinking person, Maggie, oh yes he was. He had everything pre-arranged, wanting to make it easier for you and your mother should something happen. Of course, he didn't anticipate that both of them would go together, who would have? Anyway, the obituary is here for you to make changes if you wish, and then we will take care of posting it in the local and state newspapers. I've contacted the pastor at the Lutheran church, and he is open for early next week if that works for you and your family. You will have to decide on an agenda after the funeral if you wish to have something for friends.

The investments and bank accounts will automatically roll over to you, all we have to do is get signatures. The assets will be more challenging. You have the house and land as well as the office to deal with. You will be a very wealthy woman, Maggie, very wealthy indeed! I know you would rather have them here, but they made sure you would be taken care of. Let's take all this one step at a time, I know it is overwhelming right now. Down the road, you need to get a will in place.

The day drifted away with papers and signatures, and multiple decisions to make. Oh, she was glad to have James at her side! How patient he was, spending his day with her. Even though most everything was pre-arranged it comforted her to know someone was by her side.

Howard had lunch brought in and they continued until early afternoon. Next stop would be the church where she would meet with the pastor. There was no need to go to the funeral home, everything would be held at the church with a luncheon catered at the home after. The pastor's secretary was kind enough to sit with Maggie and pick out flowers and music for the service.

Maggie felt downtrodden and tired. James suggested they pick up food and take it home to eat, and Maggie thankfully agreed.

It was still hot in the sunroom, so James and Maggie sat at the picnic table down by the lake. Fish jumped, looking for bugs and although it was early, you could hear the croak of frogs once in a while. Playful rabbits chased each other through the grass until they disappeared from sight around the shed. Maggie couldn't help but wonder if somewhere up there her parents were enjoying the sight they had always loved so much. It would be a shame if all the things you loved would disappear when you died.

"I want to go over to the office tomorrow and talk to Donald; then over to the caterer. Do you want to come with me? You don't have to. Mother's party planner was in the den. Tomorrow I'll have to try and call people; they won't know what happened and I want them to have time to find someone else."

"I'll go with you; I would like to thank him for dropping off the key. It was late and we didn't talk much."

"Good, I'd like the company. Listen, it's so nice out, do you want to take a walk over to the cottage. I'm pretty sure the gardener still mows over there so it shouldn't be overgrown."

"I'd love to."

It wasn't a long walk, maybe a quarter mile or so on a gravel road. Flowers were in bloom and they could smell the sweet scent of lilacs as they passed by. There it was, just as they both remembered. A quaint little cottage with a full porch in front surrounded by pine trees. Their steps were muted by the pine needles on the ground as they left the road and stepped onto the flagstone walk.

"Ssshh, James," Maggie whispered. "Look over there!" Barely noticeable, behind the pines and near the edge of the lake stood a mother deer and two fawns."

Neither moved, not wanting to alarm the trio but it wasn't long until the doe raised her head and they leaped into the woods.

"Didn't expect that," smiled James.

"No, I almost missed them way back there," Maggie laughed. She realized it was the first time she had felt any joy in the last few days and it startled her.

They walked onto the little porch, and it was evident that some work needed to be done. The place had been neglected long enough to have run into disrepair. Inside it was simply a small living room, kitchen, bath, and two bedrooms. Not as comfortable as she had remembered from her childhood.

"Needs a lot of work, I'm afraid. I'd really like something a little larger, maybe with a basement and some new windows."

"Yes, I agree. You know Maggie, it's a beautiful setting. You have the money, why not build something new. Make it what you want?"

"Maybe! I never said anything to Mom and Dad, but the dispatch job is not what I expected. Once you punch in, you are stuck with that phone until your break. The job is rewarding often but there are a lot of times I feel sad when I go home. So many people with domestic problems, shootings, and violence. It's downright depressing. Most days the depressing outweighs the good."

"Well, you took the training and gave it your best shot. No one said you had to stay there the rest of your life, did they? Maybe it's time to try something new. Time to come home again."

"Shall we head back? I must say, childhood memories can be disappointing. I envisioned the cottage to be bigger. Then again, you have a good suggestion, why not build something new there. Of course, I'd have to sell the house and what if I didn't care for the new owners?"

"Don't try to figure it all out now. You'll have time enough to think about it."

It had been a long day, and both retired early. Maggie stopped and gave James a big hug. "As hard as all this is, having you here with me has been a bright spot."

"I'm going to call Nancy tonight and let her know about the funeral and see if she is well enough to come with the kids. Are you sure you are up to having that many people stay here?"

"Absolutely, I wouldn't have it any other way."

"Good night then, dear. I'll see you tomorrow."

Maggie managed to get a good night's sleep and woke refreshed ready to take on another day of decisions.

Saying Goodbye

The smell of coffee wafting upstairs brought Maggie into the kitchen where James was already sitting at the table buttering toast.

"How did you sleep, Maggie?"

"Pretty well, and you?"

"I slept good. It's so quiet here that it took me some time to get used to the silence. There's always traffic, day or night, at our home in Indianapolis."

"I had the reverse experience when I moved to Cincinnati, getting used to the sound of traffic."

"Nancy called, they will all be here on Sunday, I'll pick them up at the airport around 11 AM."

"I'm so excited to see them again. Mom and Dad would be smiling down from above, I'm sure of it."

"So, we're going to the office today?"

"Yes, I called Donald last night and he said to meet him around 11:30 at Fleming's Steakhouse and he would treat us to lunch. Generally, they don't open until 12:30 but Dad and Donald are part owners. I guess that means I'm part owner now."

"Maybe I should dress up a little more, sounds fancy."

"It's kind of old fashioned and dark, in my opinion, but the foods good. I don't think we have to get that dressed up James. Listen, I've got time to call the caterer and order everything for Tuesday. The pastor will have someone come by on Monday with tables and chairs. If it's a nice day, we can put them in the yard. If not, we'll scatter them throughout the house. I'll be on the phone for a bit, I want to call my friends from school and let them know what happened."

"Eat something Maggie. I can see why you're such a tiny thing, you never eat much."

"I'll eat a big lunch, Uncle James, promise."

Maggie's first call was to her best friend Janice who still lived in Dayton. She had three kids and a husband she met in college. Of course, Janice was shocked, and promised to come on Tuesday. Listen Maggie, is there anything I can do to help you get ready for Tuesday?"

"Nothing Janice, but I appreciate the offer. My uncle James is here with me, he's been a Godsend."

Heidi also lived in Dayton and was a nurse at the local hospital. She had heard the news and was glad Maggie had called. "We'll come for sure on Tuesday, Maggie. I really don't know what to say; it's so tragic. Heidi reported on the other friends they had hung around with in school. Samuel lives over in Bellbrook. He is married and we get together every couple of months; you will like his wife. I will give him a call, I'm sure he will want to know. Corabeth is still in California; she might not be able to make the trip. No one hears from Danny at all; I'm afraid none of us know where he lives now. The breakup with Jennifer changed him, he took it very hard. Last we knew, he had moved to Colorado."

"It will be great to see you again. I will be in town for a while getting things taken care of. We'll all have to get together."

Maggie wandered upstairs and once again stood at the open door of her parents' bedroom. She lingered there a while and then took a few steps and sat down on the edge of the bed. She picked up a pillow and held it to her chest questioning why these good people had to die so young. This was the only home she had ever known; at least remembered. Could she let it go? Maybe, to the right person.

She peered into the closet. What would she ever do with all of these nice things. She supposed the pastor would know of a place they could be donated along with many of the other items in the home that she would have to let go. She never expected needing to rearrange her life this soon, now picking up the pieces left behind and having the strength to make hard decisions. What about the conversations they would never have? A mother who wouldn't be there to help pick out a wedding dress; a father who wasn't there to walk her down the aisle.

Stop this, she thought. Thinking about what could have been will not do you any good now. What could have been is over. Your future has changed forever so stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Once again, she found James outside near the lake. "I guess we can go anytime if you're ready."

"I am. I was reminiscing about my younger days growing up with your mother. As the older one, sometimes I wished she wouldn't be so much of a pest. As we aged, we became closer. I remember the first time she brought Samuel home, she actually glowed. Mom and Dad immediately took to him; how could you not, he was just an all-around good guy. He certainly made a great life for my sister. Wish I could have seen them just one more time, but I suppose you've had those same thoughts."

"I have and I try to push them away and be strong like Dad always taught me. It's hard, but they gave me a lot of courage to be myself and that's what I have to do now."

"Good girl, they would be proud of you for sure."

Arriving at Flemings they saw Donald waiting at the door. He shook hands with James and enveloped Maggie in his arms. "I'm still in shock, you have no idea how much I miss Samuel already. The employees send their condolences."

"Thanks Donald, I'm glad I can count on you to take over, otherwise I wouldn't know what to do."

"James, so glad to see you again."

"Same here, I didn't properly thank you for dropping off the keys the other night. I so appreciated it."

"It was nothing. I barely remember doing it, I think I was in a state of shock."

"As were we all. I've heard only good things about you from this little lady."

"I do my best. Well, let's go inside shall we?"

They talked little; the sound of silverware clinking and occasional voices from the kitchen filling the room. Each one of them was somewhat lost in thought, stumbling for words to say. Small talk seemed so out of place in times like this.
Maggie looked up and broke the silence, "Donald, I remembered that you always said you wished you had a house on the lake like Mom and Dad's. Would you be interested in buying it? I can't think of anyone I would rather have take over the house. Is there any way you would buy out the business too? I would make the best deal I could for you. I can't manage a big house like that, but I would like to keep about 5 acres on the west side of the lake where the cottage stands. I'll have to get a surveyor to parcel it out, hopefully sometime later next week."

"Oh my, Maggie, I don't know what to say. Of course, I'd have to talk to Evelyn about it, it's a big house to keep up, grounds and all."

"Well, you would be making what Dad did and they hired a gardener and housekeeper for that exact reason. Think about all the money you would save on Condo Fees. You know Martha, father's cleaning lady, don't you?
"Of course, she always brings a smile to our faces."

"I told her things would continue as usual, at least for the next couple of months. She will still pick up her checks at the office if that's okay with you."

"Yes, we will leave everything as is for her. When would you need a decision on the house and business?"

"I'd like to list it before I go back to Cincinnati, but I've got a lot of sorting out to do before that. Most of the furniture will go with the house. I'm going to rent a storage shed and keep some of the things. I didn't expect you to make a decision right now."

"Let me talk to Peter and Lloyd about the office. The house and office would be a lot for me to take on, but if they're willing to partner up on the office, maybe we can work something out. It's a shame you can't keep the house Maggie."

"Maybe if I were married, but just for me, as much as I love it, it's too much! I need to get my CPA degree first and I still have a lease on the apartment in Cincinatti. I'll have to arrange a new appraisal once the surveyor gets his work done."

"You certainly have a lot on your plate right now."

"Well, they say keeping busy is one way to stop depression so maybe it's a good thing."

"If I ever build on those five acres, it would be nice to know you would be my neighbor. Oh, and I'll have the access road changed so it doesn't go through the main property. With that, we'd better get to the grocery store. James family will be here Sunday and we need to pick up a few things. That is if I can get up out of this chair. Flemings still serves some good food, but you really should suggest lightening it up a bit for the younger crowd."

"Come to the board meetings, little lady. I'm with you, it needs a little sprucing up. Don't think it's changed much in all these years.Sometimes we just get used to things the way they are. It takes a new eye to see what needs to be done."

"You know where to find me, I'll be at the house. Bring Evelyn over to check it out. That is, if you're interested in it. If not, come by anyway. Call first, just to make sure I'm not at the store."

"Will do, Maggie. Thank you for everything and I'm sure we will be in touch. Remember, I'm only a phone call away. "James, I will see you again on Tuesday."

In the car Maggie asked, "James, do we really want to go to the store today? I should probably take inventory of the cupboards and see what we really need."

"I agree, you don't want duplicates. If I know Nancy, she will take over the kitchen and tell us what to do."

"That's fine with me, kitchens and I don't see eye to eye. I spent more time with dad fishing than I did with mom cooking. I might regret that some day."

It was drizzling out a little, so they sat in the sunroom half-heartedly watching a movie on TV."

As usual James mind was ticking away, "You know what you should do Maggie?"

"What's that?"

"Instead of paying storage fees for the items you want to keep, you should pour a concrete slab down on the 5 acres and put up a large storage shed."

"That's not a bad idea. It would save multiple trips into town with loads of stuff too. I'm definitely going to make calling the surveyor a priority next week. Even if I never decide to move there, I could always sell it. I wonder if surveyors know about road access too?"

"I have no idea, but I'm sure he will know.

Bored with the rainy weather, they played a few games of cribbage over a light supper, then retired for the evening. Maggie turned a movie on TV in her room and fell asleep in the chair, waking to thunder.

Morning sunlight streamed in the window so she dressed and went downstairs.

"Morning James, did you hear the storm last night?"

"Yes, but once the thunder was over, I slept pretty well. I've always liked the soothing sound of rain on the roof."

"Would you like to take another walk down to the 5 acres once the grass dries up. I was thinking about your idea for a storage shed and want to see best place to put it."

Rubbing his hands together, James stood up, "I'm ready and able, let's go."

Birds were chirping; all out pecking for worms after the rain. Squirrels raced from tree to tree like children playing tag. A group of cranes flew overhead looking pre-historic with their long legs trailing behind them.

"Look," Maggie pointed. "I think the cranes are fascinating, but the farmers don't appreciate them in their fields."

They poked around the grounds and found a suitable spot for a shed; but what size? James poked around the cottage and checked out the water, then tested the sewer. Everything worked but for how much longer?

"Do you know how old the septic system is?" Janes asked, his hands on his brow.

"No, maybe even older than the house, I'm not sure though."

"I'd have someone check it out, better to do before you need it, than after."

"Good idea. I must start writing all this stuff down, thank you James."

He put his hands on her shoulders, "As much as I hate the reason I'm here, I've enjoyed spending time with my niece."

"And I too, Uncle James, I too."

They walked out to the access road and then back, trying to determine the best place to put the new road. So many decisions.

Catching his breath from the walk, James said, "Best leave it to the surveyor or the Dept. of Transportation. You know the Government; they will most likely make that decision for you."

"What will I do if they don't let me put a road at all."

"That won't happen. The worst case, and if I were a betting man, I'd say you will have to connect with the main drive from the big house. They might want to lessen the number of people entering the highway."

"Makes sense, I guess we'll have to wait and see."

"Maggie, I think we should take a ride over to Castle Yard Barn Sales. I saw it the other day and they seem to have a nice selection. Once you know the size of the shed, you will know what size concrete you need to pour."

There was a large selection of styes and sizes to choose from and the duo spent the afternoon looking at all of them. Some even had cute little decks, but Maggie decided to get one with a loft above for extra room and wrote the size, model and price down in her notebook. One more thing to check off of her list.

On Sunday, James drove to the airport and picked up his family. Maggie was glad to see them all again and the house blossomed with a loving family once more within its walls. Nancy took over the kitchen as expected, a job Maggie and James were happy to get rid of. Tomorrow they would take inventory of the pantry and would run to the grocery store. Another job James was glad to avoid as well.

Donald called and reported that Peter and he would love to buy the business if the price were right but felt that the house would be too much at his age. Maggie understood but felt sorry that someone unknown might occupy it after all. "It's okay, Donald, I understand but wanted you to be the first one I offered it to. I'm delighted you are interested in buying the business. Oh, and by the way, once I get my baccalaureate degree in accounting, do you think you'd have a place for me. I will probably study for the CPA online after that."

"Of course, I would but there might be an even better opportunity for you. We often get requests from businesses who ask about an online service. We haven't dove into that yet but it might be something for you to think about. I guess it's the up and coming way of things."

"Sounds interesting, I'll talk to my teacher about it. I know Zoom and Teams is used a lot now for all kinds of work at home applications. Listen, I'll let you go Donald. We'll see you on Tuesday then?"

"Yes, we'll be there."

Later that evening James approached Maggie. "Mark and Cindy want to get out of Indianapolis. They both make good money and work from home. Seeing the house again after all these years, they feel like it would be a great place to raise the kids. Would you consider letting them buy the house?"

"I would, that's wonderful, James. To have it remain within the family is a blessing. I would extend the same offer I made Donald, that I would let it go at a reasonable price. Once things settle down here, I can talk to Howard and maybe we can bypass the realtor fees and sell it outright. I don't know how all that works but I'll find out. Of course, we'll have to wait till the 5 acres is parceled out too, that will make a difference in the price. It' so funny that you brought up working at home. I was just talking to Donald, and he told me a lot of businesses are looking for accountants they can work with online. He asked if I would be interested."

"Would you? Be interested, that is?"

"I think so, even another reason to build an extra room for an office if I end up building. Tell Mark and Cindy it's a great big yes from me."

"Perfect, I'll let them know. They will be thrilled."

"As will I. To have them here in Dayton will be wonderful!"

A truck pulled into the drive and Maggie saw that it appeared to be the lawn care company. She went out to meet him and tell him what had happened. A man opened the truck door and walked toward the back to let the mower off of the truck. Maggie came up behind him. "Hi, I'm Maggie, Carolyn and Samuel's daughter."

He turned and she looked into a pair of the bluest eyes she had ever seen. It momentarily took her breath away. He reached out his hand in greeting. "Maggie, I've heard a lot about you from your parents."

"I'm afraid I have some bad news for you. What is your name?"

"John Whitier," he reached out his hand in greeting.

Maggie felt a shock go through her body. Whatever was the matter with her. This man, a man she didn't even know, had ignited something within her. He turned and she could see that he was badly scarred on one side of his face, but his smile was so genuine and beautiful that she had to sustain a gasp.

"Have I done something wrong. If I have, I will fix it."

"Oh no, not that. Your work is impeccable, my parents were very happy with it."

He looked at her questioningly, "Then what is it? The bad news?"

She looked down at the ground, willing her voice to remain calm. "They were killed, my parents were killed in an auto accident."

He bent over and grabbed his knees, then looked up at her. "When? In Hawaii?"

"No, on the way home, after the plane landed. It was a semi-truck as I understand. The funeral is Tuesday."

He touched her arm. "I am truly sorry. I met your father at his office. Then, of course, both of them here. Your father's business does the accounting for my business. He then hired me for the yard."

He seemed so troubled by the news that she, in turn, touched his arm. "Yes, it's very tragic. I am the only child, so I have to stay strong, there is so much to do, I'm overwhelmed by it all. Listen, can you keep coming, at least for the next few months?"

"Of course, do you want me to come by another time? I mean after what's happened."

"No, the funeral is Tuesday, It would be good to have it all mowed. If the weather is nice, we will have tables and chairs outside. You are welcome to come, my parents both thought highly of you. Mom said you had a green thumb," she smiled.

"Oh, yes, of course I'll come. If there is anything I can do to help you, please let me know."

"There is one thing, but it won't be for some time yet. Do you have time to talk now, or would you be able to come by after Tuesday?"

"I have another client today, but I could drop by on Wednesday afternoon around 2 PM if that works for you."

"It does, I will be here for a few more months, getting things in order. Just so you're not wondering, I'm going to sell the big house; it's too much for me. I will then parcel off five acres down where the cottage sits, put in a road, build a shed and home. I will definitely need a landscaper as I have no skills in that department."

"That will be a lovely spot, yes, count me in."

"Thank you, John, we'll talk more on Wednesday, I'm so glad to have met you. Please be assured that father's business will remain as is, his partner Donald will be in charge."

"See you Wednesday, Maggie. Again, I'm so sorry for your loss."

It was so strange, but John was in her thoughts that evening. There was something about him, she couldn't put her finger on it, but it touched her heart. Maybe it was his mannerisms, she didn't know. She had watched him for some time and noticed that he limped badly when he walked. She wondered what might have happened to him. Still, it didn't detract from his overall attractiveness, at least to her.

Little did she know that she was in his thoughts too. He wasn't surprised at her good looks; he had seen her photo on her father's desk. He asked if that was his daughter and Samuel glowed with pride. "Yes, that's my girl. She has worked here in the summer for the last 4 years but now has moved to Cincinnati. She wanted to be a 911 dispatcher. I, of course, wanted her to stay in the business but she's independent and wanted to branch out on her own. I understand, I was the same way. John remembered how his eyes crinkled when speaking about her. What a nice, down to earth family they were. Maggie didn't seem to be aware how lovely she was and nice too!

Tuesday came and went. Everyone had such wonderful things to say about her parents and it seemed as if the entire town turned out. Maggie was concerned that they wouldn't have enough food and drink, but the caterer somehow didn't run out. There were many tears of course but also some laughter at stories that were told. Maggie was glad to see her old friends and they all promised to get together before she left for Cincinnati again. She felt sad at the thought of James and his family leaving and slipped down to the cottage for a break. How would she ever stand it once they left.

Walking back to the house, she saw that guests were starting to leave so she made sure to thank them all for coming. Once everyone had gone, she noticed that John was helping James and Mark collect the tables and chairs and stack them near the drive; she walked over to help.

"Jonn, how nice of you to help, you don't have to do that."

"I wanted to," he smiled. "It's the least I could do."

He was dressed in a nice shirt and pants, his black hair combed but a little wisp escaped onto his forehead. "You look nice," she said.

He laughed, "I don't clean up often, seems I'm always digging in the dirt or having grass thrown in my face."

"I didn't mean you didn't look nice the other day. Well, you know what I meant," she blushed.

"Yes, I know what you meant," he grinned.

"Come sit with us and have a cold drink. We're fortunate that it didn't rain today but it's pretty hot out there now."

"If you're sure," he answered.

"I'm sure, we'd love to have you. That is unless your family is waiting for you at home."

"Nope, it's just me."

"Do you live in Dayton," she asked, then thought, what a stupid question, it shows on his truck sig.{/}.

"All my life. We, my mother and I, live on the other side of town. Well, we don't live in the same house, it's a duplex. I live on one side, and she lives on the other. My father built it, but he passed a few years ago."

"How nice, I bet she likes having you near."

"She's busy with her friends but I get the benefit of her cooking a couple times a week."

"That's something I have to get better at. I'm a terrible cook. I spent more time outside growing up and not enough time in the kitchen with mom, I guess."

"You might be surprised, but I'm a pretty good cook myself," he stated. He noticed the cribbage board sitting on the table. "You play?" he asked.

"Yes, but not until Uncle James got the board out recently. My mom and I played a lot but since I moved, I haven't played at all."

"I play."

"You do? Well let's get it on then. That is, if you don't mind getting beat."

"Set it up, we'll see who wins."

James came by a few times and watched the interaction between the two. Humm, he thought. They seem to have a connection. That's good, maybe a new friend would be just what Maggie needed. He hated to leave her, feeling that once everyone was gone, the grief would set in. He simply couldn't stay any longer.

Mark joined them at the table. "We want to buy the house from Maggie if it works out. I can handle the yard, but we might need a landscaper to keep the bushes and flowers as lovely as they are now Would you be interested? That is, if things work out."

"Yes, I would be interested. Just let me know, I'll give you, my card."

"Great, well, better get packing."

The game continued and the conversation flowed. In the end, John won. "Guess that's what I get for bragging. Guess I'm a little rusty. I'll give you this one but the next one will be mine," she winked at John.

"I'd better leave you to your family. I understand they are leaving tomorrow."

"Yes, I'm going to be lost without them, they have been a great comfort. Let me walk you to your truck."

They walked slowly, side by side. At the truck, John turned toward her, "It's an awful thing to say on a day like this, but I've enjoyed your company," he said.

"Don't apologize John. If my parents would want anything it would be that I don't stop living my life. I know there will be good days and bad days but having friends does help. I'll look forward to seeing you again on Wednesday."

John hopped in the truck, then rolled down the window. "Goodbye Maggie, take care." He gave a sad little smile and then drove off.

She watched the truck until it disappeared down the road. What a nice man, she thought.

In the morning Maggie asked each one of the family to pick something they would like in the house, in remembrance of her parents. "If it's too large to take with you, I will set it aside," she remarked. They were reluctant to do so but she insisted. It was sad to see them go but promises were made to keep in touch more often and she hoped that Mark and Cindy would be able to take possession of the house; it would be wonderful to know they were there.

Early Wednesday morning she masde a mental note of everylthing that needed to be done. It seemed the tasks before her were endless and she felt that she needed to talk to the dispatch supervisor about her absence. "I just don't see how I will be able to come back any time soon, I feel like I need to resign so you can hire a replacement. If it helps, I have to come back to Cincinatti to take care of my apartment, I could work for another two weeks until you find someone."

"It's okay, Maggie, he replied. "We have some recruits ready to go live, I think we'll be okay. You've been through a lot, don't stress about the job. When you are ready to come back, give me a call, we'd be happy to have you."

"I appreciate that Tom, I really do. Thank you for understanding. ln any other circumstance I would not do this."

"Take care Maggie, I wish you the best. You've had a blow, take time and do what you need to."

Later that day, the blues finally hit her but she wished herself out of them and was looking forward to John's visit. She took special care with her clothes and hair, then realized what she was doing and questioned the motive. Was she falling for this guy she had only met once? No, impossible, there was no time in her life for a man right now. A good friend would be welcome though.

John drove into the circular driveway right on time. He had worked that morning but went home to shower and put on a clean set of clothes. There she was on the front porch looking forlorn and lonely. She looked up with a big smile on her face and went to meet him.

"John, you're right on time, didn't you work today?"

"Yes, this morning but I'm done for the day. Why do you ask?"

"No reason, you're just all spiffed up."

'Spiffed up," he smiled. "You look lovely too."

"Do you want to walk down to the five acres or drive?"

"Hop in, we'll drive down there. Then if I need to measure anything I have my tools."

They both got out of the truck and leaned against it looking at the cottage and the surrounding land. Maggie pointed out where the shed was going to be and told him the size she had picked out.

"I've always admired this spot, it's lovely. Will you keep the cottage."

"No, it's pretty run down. I'm going to build in the same spot but put a large upper deck facing the lake and maybe a porch on this side."

"What did you have in mind for landscaping?"

"Well, I've been thinking about that, and I'd like to keep it natural. I'm not one for roses and fancy flowers but I do love wildflowers. I don't need fountains, after all the lake is right here.

"Ah, you're going to make it easy on me, but I do agree. It's such a comforting spot now, why disturb what nature provides. Do you want to keep those lilacs over there?"

"Oh yes, I love the smell of them."

"Let me get my paper and pencil to jot down some notes. Of course, it will be easier to picture once the house is built, when do you think that might be?"

"Oh, I'm going to pick it out before I go back to Cincinnati. If you leave me your email and phone number, I can keep you updated. Of course, I would like to have you keep mowing down here. Then there will be the access road and I'm not sure where it will go."

"I can tell you they won't approve going straight out to the highway. You'll most likely have to meet up with the access road to the big house. Then, you won't be building a bridge so I'm guessing you will have to run along the south side of the lake. Don't quote me though, it's only a guess."

"Yeah, my uncle said the same thing."

"Don't be too disappointed, It doesn't have to be a two-lane highway, you can keep it simple and natural without disturbing too much of the woods. We can even get some wildflowers going along the sides. Are you up for a walk along there or do you have other plans?"

"Nope, no plans."

"You'll need a little patience. I'm no speed walker as you've probably noticed. I was in track in High School and pretty good at it."

They walked along the path, neither saying much but enjoying the day.

"Do you mind if I ask what happened?"

"Afghanistan," he replied.

He didn't say anything further until they stopped at a little clearing on the lake where there was a bench. "Have a seat," he said.

The sat in silence, both watching the slight ripples on the lake.

"Soon, the leaves will be turning. I always love the fall but dread the cold of winter," she mused.

"We were on patrol. I had been in the service for a year but on this day, they sent us out. The Humvee was hit, everything went black for me. If it wouldn't have been for my buddy, Jose, I would not be here today. He was injured too but determined to pull me out from under the burning vehicle. Somehow, he got us both to safety and a copter took us to the hospital. My face was badly burned, as you can see. They did many skin grafts; this is the best they could do. My ribs, arm and leg were broken but it was the crushed ankle that makes me limp now. I almost lost the leg, but they saved it. Jose didn't even know if I was alive, but he was determined not to leave me there. I owe him my life; we lost a lot of men that day. Needless to say, that was the end of my military career. I spend 6 months in the hospital." He pursed his lips and looked down at the ground.

She touched his leg and let it rest there. "How awful for you, do you still see him, your friend?"

He patted her hand. "He lives in Texas and is married. I flew there once; it was great to see him but awkward."

"Awkward it what way?"

"I don't know how to explain it. His family was so kind and inviting; yet I felt like a 3rd thumb. I guess that sounds stupid, doesn't it?" He instantly wondered why he would tell her this.

"Not at all, I know exactly what you mean. My friends from school are all married and talk generally is about husband and kids. I feel out of place, it's a world I know nothing about. Of course, it's my choice but yes, I know what you mean. Why aren't you married John? A good-looking guy like you, you have a business and a home; any girl would be lucky to have you."

He stared at her.

"What, did I say something wrong?"

"No, but I'm certainly not good-looking, not any more."

"I think you are."

"I had a girl. In fact, I was engaged."

"What happened?"

"This....what I am now."

"That's hard to believe, I don't see you that way at all. Maybe she wasn't the right one for you after all."

"I give her credit. She stuck by me through all the surgeries; waited until I was back on my feet, then told me she had fallen in love with someone else. We dated in High School. She was from a very wealthy family and tried to get me to go to college. I had no inclination to do that so she went to college, and I went into the service. We wrote to each other, and I saw her when I would come home on leave. I knew her father and mother weren't fond of me. I wasn't good enough for her and all the fancy parties and such were not my cup of tea. Still, we became engaged. The joke of it all was all that college education did her no good. She got married, became pregnant and now has three kids. I don't hold it against her, but it did hurt at the time."

"Well at least you found love, I haven't yet."

"No, why not?"

"I don't know, I dated in High School but never seriously with anyone. After, I had a few dates at college and just didn't click with anyone."

"Sounds like we're two peas in a pod."

"I think so, I have this feeling we're going to be good friends."

"Is this where you come to fish, by this bench?"

"Sometimes, other times we take the boat out or fish from the pier. Do you like fishing?"

"I do, but don't have a boat or anything."

"Tell you what, it's getting late in the year but next summer, I'll have you over and we'll take the boat out and go fishing. This is the bottom part of the lake, but it extends to the northwest along the back of the property."

"I'd like that Maggie, I really would."

"Well, should we finish the walk?"

"Yes and I wanted to ask, that is if you're not busy, can I take you out for supper tonight."

"Are you asking me out John?"

"Yes, I'm asking you out."

"I'd like that. Do I have to dress up?"

"No, it won't be fancy, but I think you'll like it."

They finished their walk and Maggie invited John in for a game of cribbage, but he said he had a couple things to do at home and would return. around 5:30. She showered and changed into a dress and sandals, then once again waited on the porch for John to come. It was nice to have found a friend, yes, she considered him a friend.

Maggie heard the sound of someone coming and was surprised to see that it was John. Not in his usual truck but in a car. She could see that he too had changed clothes. He stepped out of the car to meet her and like a true gentleman, opened the car door. "My such a gentleman you are," she laughed.

"Yes, my mama taught me manners."

"There's a lack of it these days," she replied. "Where are we going?"

"Have you ever been to Coco's Bistro?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Nice, it's fun to go somewhere you've never been."

The food was good and the conversation better. Maggie stared at John with a slight smile on her face.

"Why are you looking at me like that?"


"Thinking about what?"

"lt's so odd, we barely know each other and yet I feel like I've known you my entire life. I don't think I've ever been so comfortable with anyone before."

John threw his head back and laughed. "It's so funny you said that. Before I came, mom popped over with some food. I told her I was taking you out for supper. She asked if you were the girl, I had just met the other day and I told her yes. She was shocked because, well, I'm pretty shy around people I don't know. I told her that it was so easy to talk to you."

Maggie grinned. "Great minds think alike I guess."

The access road became a bigger project than anticipated, she had to connect back to the main property and catch the road there as the highway department did not want so many roads coming out onto the main road. That also changed the parcel of land to seven acres instead of five. Other than that, the surveyor didn't see any problems with the acreage. Once that was done and approved, a new appraisal was in progress for both properties as well as the office. Her head was spinning, trying to keep everything straight."

Concrete was poured for the shed that she had ordered. Once it set for a week the building would be brought over and placed on top. When that was done, she could start bringing down things she had set aside from the main home. She was grateful for the tractor that her father had and decided to keep it for herself. The forklift alone saved a great deal of time in moving things. It then occurred to her that she needed a garage of her own. Many calls were made to James getting his advice on how to proceed. Before she knew it, a month and a half had already passed.

Reacquainted with her friends from school, she made time to have them over or they went out shopping and stopped for lunch. She still grieved but keeping busy gave her less time to feel sorry for herself. Finally, the appraisals came back, and she met with Howard to see what she could offer to Donald and Peter for the office building. He drew up the papers, they accepted the offer. There was no back and forth with other buyers and the deal went through without a hitch. Likewise, Mark and Cindy became new owners of the home she had grown up in. It would be a couple of months before they could take possession, so she still had time to sort things out.

Meeting with a local builder she made the decision to build a home on the seven acres, with a double garage. Even if she didn't live there full time, it would be a haven to come home to. Once more she called James to discuss.

"You know Maggie, everyone wishes they had a least four bedrooms. I know it sounds like a lot but one can be used for an office, another for a guest bedroom, one for you, and then maybe an exercise or sewing room. You'd be surprised how quickly a home can fill up. Are you going to have a sunroom facing the lake?"

"Oh, yes, I have to, it will be a little reminder of the big house."

"That it will, I can't tell you how excited Mark and Cindy are."

"Guess what, the road is in. I hated to go around the south side of the lake but they kept the trees and it's more of a lane than a road, so it doesn't look too invasive."

"Well, what can you do. I understand the danger of too many entries onto a highway."

"For sure, at least it worked out. Did l tell you Donald and Peter bought the office."

"No, that's wonderful. You're getting a lot done, when can you come and visit."

"It will be a while, but I'll keep in touch. I terminated my job at dispatch and I'm going to go back to Cincinnati and get my CPA. I still have to honor the lease on the apartment. I thought maybe Mark and Cindy would watch over the house when I'm gone, I'll leave the key for them. Another thing, the water tested fine and the septic just has some minor work that won't cost a fortune so thank you for pointing that out to me."

"Mark Christmas off on your calendar. We all intend to spend it at Dayton with Mark, Cindy, and the kids. Of course, you're invited too."

"That will be wonderful, I'll mark it down for sure."

"Talk to you later kid, I love you."

"Tell everyone hi and I'll talk to them soon, I love you too Uncle James."

Maggie made a trip back to Cincinnati and signed up for classes. Next session wouldn't start until fall so she hoped things would be completed in Dayton by that time. Having disconnected cable and internet for the time being she was restless and decided to pick up some groceries. It was a lovely evening so she opted to walk, something she had missed lately. When groceries were packed, she thought with alarm that there would be too many to carry. Logic should have told her to leave them in the store and walk home for the car. Stubbornness made her juggle them in her arms and start the walk. Several times along the way she had to stop and re-arrange them in her arms.

"Can I help you? You seem to be having a little trouble."

Embarrassed, she looked up and a blush covered her face. "Yes, I'm not sure what possessed me to buy so much."

He laughed, and the dimples on his cheeks stood out. His blue eyes crinkled in the corner. "Here, let me."

She didn't argue when he took the bag from her arms. "Thank you, but really are you sure?"

"Of course, I want to. I can't have a lovely girl like you dropping things along the way, now can I?"

She chuckled too, "I see your point, you're very kind to help."

"Well then, lead the way fair lady."

"It's not far, just a couple more blocks."

"I live in this neighborhood too, just a few blocks east of here, near the bridge."

Timidly she looked at him, her stomach fluttering at the lock of hair escaping over his brow making him look boyish and innocent. "Have you lived here long?"

"Yes, I grew up here, in this town, but now have an apartment with a couple of fellows."

"I see, I've only been in the city a few years now. I grew up outside of Dayton, Ohio.

"That's a nice area, do you have a large family?"

"No, not at all. I'm an only child. My parents were killed in a car accident some time ago."

"I'm so sorry to hear that, you must be lonely. I'm from a rather large family, 2 brothers and 1 sister. Well, actually I had 3 brothers once. We're not close at all. At least not any more."

She looked at him curiously. "Why not? I would have given anything to have a sibling."

He shrugged his shoulders, declining to answer directly. She felt a deep sadness in him and wanted to touch his arm for comfort but refrained.

"Here we are, I told you my apartment wasn't far."

"Can I carry them up for you?"

"Oh no, you've helped a great deal already. I can take them the rest of the way. Would you mind holding open the door for me?"

"Not at all, I hope we see each other again."'

She turned, "I would like that. What's your name?"

"David, and yours?"

"Margaret, but everyone calls me Maggie. I'm only here until tomorrow, then I head back to Dayton. I have things to take care of there, then I will return; at least before the semester starts. I'm going to school for my CPA, but it doesn't start until fall.

"Maggie, sweet name. Bye Maggie. I'll come by in the fall, maybe I'll catch you here, unless you want to give me your number?"

"Umm, not sure I can do that David but I'm sure we'll run into each other again, thank you again."

"Okay, I'll cross my fingers." He flashed perfect white teeth at her, then closed the door and walked down the steps.

She watched him out the window and felt a twinge of regret that she hadn't let him carry the groceries up to the apartment. Even after all this time she could still hear the caution of her parents advising her to be wary of strangers.

A New Home

Approaching Dayton once more, Maggie was excited to see how far the house had come along. Suppressing the urge to drive to it right away, she made the turn to the big house to let Mark and Cindy know she was back. Prior to leaving she had hired a landscaper to plant a few things and keep the grass mowed. Mark had graciously offered to do it but she refused telling him he would have his hands full with the new home. She gave him a key to her shed so that he could take the tractor whenever he needed. It was so comforting to have them there; family members to come home to.

The door opened right away as she walked up the steps, "Maggie, you're home," smiled Cindy.

"I am, wanted to let you know in case you saw lights on down there."

"Come in, come in, Mark will want to see you."

"Mark was working but came into the kitchen. "Have you seen it yet?" he asked.

"The house?"


"No, I came here first to let you know I was back. Anything I should know?"

"You'll see when you go down there. I don't want to ruin the surprise."

"Well, now I am curious."

Kathy and Russell came running from the back room. "Aunt Maggie, you're here."

"That I am, come and give me hugs, you two. How do you like your new home?"

"We love it! Dad's going to make us a tree house."

"A tree house, that's special. Are you going to help?"

"Yes, he said we would be his helpers. Guess what?"


"We get to ride the school bus now, It's big!"

Maggie laughed and looked at Cindy. "They seem happy. How do you and Mark like it here?"

"It's like a dream come true. Of course, we miss Mom and Dad; Donna and Hank too. Still, they will all be here for Christmas with us."

"I'm glad, it couldn't have worked out better. If I had to come home and see the house full of people I don't know it would have broken my heart. Who knows your mom and dad may decide to get out of the city too. You could easily parcel off more of the property and sell it to them. This is, of course it you want to live so close."

"Oh, I wouldn't mind at all. Mark and Dad get alng well and Mom isn't one to be in our business."

"Think about it. If you ever decide to do it I'll take care of the re-parcel expenses. It's something mom and dad would have approved."

"You're too generous Maggie. We know you could have gotten a lot more for the house."

"Yes, but I wanted it to stay in the family once Donald decided against it so I am completely satisfied with the outcome. I guess I'll head over to the seven acres. Why don't you all come over tonight; that is if your not busy. I'm sure I could rustle something up for supper and we could start the fire pit and let the kids make s'mores."

"Sounds good, Maggie, I'll bring a dish along to pass. How long will you be here?"

"Probably on and off until fall when the new semester starts."

"Good, then we will see a lot of you I hope."

Maggie drove away and entered the new road to her house. She delighted at the trees lining each side of the road; almost like a canopy but made a mental note to have the landscaper clear away the brush. Making a turn to the driveway she gasped with delight; what a difference. Thel house looked lovely now that all the siding had been finished and the yard had been sodded. New bushes and some smaller trees had been planted. Large widow maker trees had been cut down and wood was stacked in a neat pile at the end of the woods. It was welcoming and lovely. She pushed the garage door opener and drove into a barren garage. She was sure it wouldn't take before it was filled with stuff.

Now she could unpack boxes and get the house looking like a home. Her bedroom had been furnished but nothing else. Maybe with Mark and the forklifts help they could get the living furniture from the shed some time this weekend. First things first, she called the cable company and had the internet and cable turned back on. Next she placed a call to James and Nancy; she was not going to let so much time lapse again between their communication.

"Maggie, good to hear from you. What's up?"

"Nothing really, I'm back in Dayton until the fall semester and just wanted to let you know how nice the house looks. I'll send some pics over for you."

"That would be great, so everything is done? Yes, except for inside. I'm going to see if Mark can help move some furniture this weekend. Sounds like they are enjoying their house too."

"Yes, they love it, I thought they would."

"How is Nancy?"

"She's great, want to talk to her?"

"Of course. Miss you Uncle James."

"Miss you too, we'll see you soon, maybe even before Christmas."

"Bring Donna, Hank, and the kids. I have plenty of room here."

"I'll tell them. Here's Nancy."

Later, Maggie ran to the store to pick up a few things. She didn't have a formal table but maybe they could bring the table and chairs in from the shed. She laughed thinking about how empty the shed would be once everything was put into the house. Then again, things did seem to accumulate. She stopped by the office on her way home to see Donald.

"What a surprise," he said.

"How's everyting going?"

"Good Maggie, good. What about you?"

"I wanted to invite you and Evelyn out for supper some evening, my house is finished and I'd like you to see it."

"That would be wonderful, I'll talk to her and let you know, I have your number."

"Just remember, I'm not a great cook; maybe we can grill out."

"I'm sure it will be fine, it's the company anyway, right?" he laughed.

Next stop was Howard's office. She hoped he would have time to see her; after all, she didn't have an appointment.

"Come into my office, Maggie, nice to see you."eth

"I didn't mean to bother you at work. I just got home again and thought I see if you and Marybeth wanted to come over some evening for dinner to my new house."

"We would love that, I can't wait to see it. How are you doing otherwise?"

"Not bad, it's wonderful to have family in the big house."

"Yes, I'm sure, I'm sure. Listen, as long as you're here I wanted to talk to you about something. You wondered if your share of Flemings made much money and I told you that it's been on the decline, remember."

"Yes I remember."

"There's a new hotel going up in Dayton, right off the interstate, close to the Coliseum. They are looking for investors. Now mind, I'm not suggesting you have to do it but I wonder if you wouldn't fare better than you are with Flemings. I could talk to your financial advisor at Edward Jones and see about selling those shares and possibly investing elsewhere. Other than that, I'm sure you see the reports; your investments are doing well."

"I must admit, Howard, with all that's been going on I haven't paid a lot of attention. I'll have to take the time now before fall session starts again."

"Yes, you need to keep your eye on them and if anything looks amiss, give me or Justine, at Edward Jones a call."

"Thanks, Howard, for taking the time to see me. I'll be waiting for your call about supper."

"Will do, Maggie, will do."

Everyone helped Maggie get her furniture in the living room. They had a lovely BBQ and the kids enjoyed making s'mores on the open fire. Cindy had to stop them after just one. "No more, children, or I will never get you to sleep tonight."

The evening was so nice they sat in lawn chairs watching a flock of geese who had landed on the far shore. A slight breeze rustled the reeds on the shore and a frog was heard now and again.

"Are you ever going to settle down and have a family?" Cindy asked.

"Someday, I hope. I've dated on and off through high school but no one tugged at my heart strings. There was this guy the other day in Cincinnati though."

"Oh, tell me about it," Cindy prodded.

"It wasn't much. I was carrying home an overload of groceries. He came up behind me and offered to help. He was tall and slim, wavy blond hair and a dimple when he smiled. I must admitl my stomach did a little flip flop."

"What happened after that?"

"Nothing, he asked for my number but Mom and Dad's words to be careful popped into my head. I told him no, that I was leaving town for a while but would be back when school started again. After, I was a little disappointed."

"If it's meant to be you'll probably run into him again I suppose," offered Cindy.

"I suppose," Maggie replied.


A disheveled David stepped outside of the Police Station and hailed a cab. He had a screaming headache and his face stung where his girlfriend Sally had scratched him. The argument had started at the bar last night and continued when arriving home. As usual, one thing led to another until Sally called 911. It wasn't the first time they had shoved each other around. He had previously been banned from his parents' home. His family had enough of them when an altercation had broken out at Christmas. It ended in damaged furniture and a call to the police, not to mention frightened children. His parents told him not to return until his drinking had stopped. He never really tried to quit. He didn't know why he liked to drink but early on he had tinkered with drugs and found that he liked drinking better. Drinking brought out a meanness in him that he couldn't control. He knew this, and still declined seeking any help.

Once home, he flopped on the bed and didn't wake until late afternoon. He wandered into the kitchen to make coffee and realized that Sally's car was gone. Thinking she had taken off to the store, he went to the bedroom to see how much money he had left for the week. Shoot, barely enough left after paying the rent which was due next week; maybe he could get her to pay it again, but last time she said he would have to 'man up' and help from now on. The lease was in his name so he couldn't sponge it off if she didn't pay.

At some point he realized that all of her things were gone. There was a sense of relief within him; they had been together two years and still couldn't get along. He was not in love with her nor she with him, it was a relationship built on convenience between two people who had an alcohol problem. He had the instant thought, good riddance., both of them had cheated on each other multiple times. He supposed she ran to someone else, and he didn't care.

He turned the television on but didn't really watch it. He briefly wondered why he didn't have feelings for others. There were only two people he really cared about in his life; one was his mother and the other was Daniel, his brother. Just the thought of his name brought a lump to his throat, even after all these years. He was still angry at him over the loss and unable to deal with it. He loved his dad but Alex was a hard man and they had never been close; or had they? He tried to remember back to his pre-teen days before all the trouble started. No, it was his mother he ran to whenever there was a problem. His Dad was too harsh for his sensitive nature.

He kept a steady job at Ned's Auto Shop even with all the drinking. Ned was his sister Virginia's husband and they got along well. Ned had been Daniel's best friend from early on through high school. David had hung around the auto shop much of his life, so he picked up a lot of skills in auto mechanics. Ned hired him part time and David went to a trade school to learn even more. Thereafter he worked at Ned's full-time, and he was good at what he did. Ned had long ago stopped preaching to him about his drinking as it did no good. He knew David spent most evenings in the bar and was physically abusive in his relationships. He also suspected the reason why, but it would take some serious counseling to heal him.

Daivd looked up to his big brother Daniel and followed him incessantly around. Good natured Daniel took it in stride and spent as much time as he could with his younger brother. When David was a freshman, Daniel came home with a beat-up car that they were going to fix up so that when David got his driver's license, he could drive it. They tinkered endlessly with in in Alex's shed behind the house. This is where David began to hone his skills as an auto mechanic. Daniel joined the service sometime after graduation and David was heartbroken but worked on the car as much as he could so that when Daniel came home on leave, he could show him what he had done. One year later, Daniel did not come home. He had lost his life in service to his country.

David refused to attend the services and one night Alex and Dorothy woke to the loud sound of banging in the shed. When they opened the door they found David with a sledgehammer pounding the car into pieces. "Give it up lad, give it up!" shouted Alex who physically had to pull him away. "That's enough, come into the house now."

David refused to do so and collapsed in a heap on the shed floor. "I hate him, I hate him," he yelled.

"No," Dorothy said going to him. "You don't mean that. We all miss him, but you have to accept it, there is nothing we can do, nothing at all. Life has dealt us a blow, we know that."

"But why Mom, why him?"

"I don't know David; we will never know. This I know, Daniel wanted to serve his country and he died for his country. He would tell you he has no regrets."

No amount of cajoling would get him to come in the house, so they left him there. Dorothy would say later that they lost two sons when Daniel was killed. One in body and the other in mind.

If a person could change overnight, David did so. His schoolwork started to suffer, he hung around with a bad group of boys and experimented with drugs and liquor. No amount of punishment could change him. Dorothy and Alex were at wit's end with what to do. It was a miracle that he graduated and went on to trade school. His only saving grace was that he never seemed to miss work. Alex had no patience for the boy and admonished Dorothy when she babied him each time he got into trouble.

"You're not helping him with all that mollycoddling you are doing. He has to learn to take responsibility for the trouble he gets into."

Neither parent liked any of the girlfriends he brought home, and he had many. David seemed to have a way with women but didn't respect them which was unusual because he adored his mother.

Everything came to a head on that Christmas Eve and Alex had no further dealings with the boy. Dorothy saw him outside of the home when she could. Ned minded his own business; as long as David did his work, he felt it wasn't his place to get in the middle of it. His sister Virginia was too busy with their boys, Peter and Troy to think about it.

The older boys were never that close to David. They had left home when he was still young. Alex III was an IT Specialist in Minnesota and Joseph, a ranger in Colorado. He offered to take David out there thinking the wilderness and horses would change him, but David refused to go.

On Monday, David took a bit of ribbing from some of the guys; most unmarried like him.

"I hear Sally got you thrown in jail," Bruce said.

"News sure travels fast, who told you?"

"Anthony, told me that she moved out for good."

"Yup, no skin off my back. We've both had enough of each other."

"For sure dude, you weren't good for each other at all. To tell you the truth, I never liked her. Seriously though, you've got to stop abusing women."

"You're right, I just can't seem to control my temper."

"Better do something about it before you end up in prison for killing someone. It could happen."

"Yeah, right," David replied.

The next few months David went out drinking as usual but never picked up any girls. He put in some extra hours at work and saved money now that he was responsible for all the rent. He thought about the girl Maggie once in a while but figured she was out of his league. Still, when school started again, he would drive by and see if he could catch a glimpse of her. He could still picture her with all those groceries, her beautiful red hair flowing behind her. She certainly was a looker. He wondered what she was studying. Normally he wouldn't have been on Straight Street where her apartment was, but he crashed at a buddy of his after a night out; it was nice out and he decided to walk the distance to his house on Ravine Street.

The phone rang and he saw it was his mother calling. "Hi Mom."

"David, how are you?"

"I'm good. Sally and I broke up."

"Honestly David, I can't say I'm sorry about it."

David laughed, "Me neither mom, me neither."

I wanted to let you know that Joseph and his family are coming home for a visit. We will all have to go out for supper together."

"Without Dad, I suppose? At least if I come."

"I'll talk to him about it. You know he's a stubborn man and you've given him cause to be angry."

"Naw, don't bother Mom, he'll just be mad at you for asking."

"Are you going to stay in the house by Ravine Street?"

"I guess, for now."

"Don't be surprised if I stop by and leave you some home cooked meals once in a while."

"You know I won't turn that down mom."

"Ned tells me you're a good worker David. I know you don't want me to nag but if you could curb the drinking, I think your life would be better."

"I know mom, I'll try, I love you."

"Love you to son, love you too!"

Back to School

b}NOTE: Reviewer you can stop here..................................................................................................................................................................

Fog enveloped the streets, settling on everything it touched. Streetlights glowed with an eerie, diffused light. She welcomed the invisibility of the storm. Streets were virtually abandoned this time of night, everyone going home to rest for the upcoming day; safe in their homes. Or were they?

David wouldn't rise until sometime late morning, sleeping it off, unaware that she had left. If she were lucky, when he woke, he would think she had gone to the store, giving her more time to get farther away. Then again, the car sat at home so that might raise a question in his mind. She had left the car behind, thinking it would give her more anonymity, harder to trace her whereabouts. Such a shame too, she had worked so hard to buy that car. Totally soaked, she questioned whether she should have taken the car to the station. No, that would have given away the fact she had taken a bus somewhere. One of her co-workers had been looking for a car so she signed over the title asking that he not pick it up until the weekend. Her cell phone lay abandoned on the hallway table, just as solitary as she herself felt. She had watched enough crime documentaries to know they could be easily traced. She had no need for one at the present time.

Puddles of water sloshed against her shoes, soaking them and her socks. Her suitcase contained bare necessities. A couple changes of clothes, some makeup and essentials, a few of her pictures (including mom and dad), and favorite pieces of jewelry. A lifetime summed up in one small bag. Independence had finally come. No one existed in her family to run to, no one left who cared. But now, no one could hurt her, not anymore. It was only her heart in pain.

Her job kept her glued to the dispatch station and she hadn't fostered any friendships at work. Those that had begun were quickly extinguished once she had met David. He seemed to discourage any of her outside interests and she had gone along with it, now wondering why she had done so.

She glanced up and saw the faint light of the bus terminal ahead bringing her back to reality once again. She quickened her pace, hoping that there would be a bus leaving soon. The destination didn't matter. She opened the door and her shoes clicked on the hard floor leaving trails of water behind, as she made her way to the ticket booth. The terminal echoed, virtually deserted, only a few people sitting on the benches waiting.

"Good evening young lady. Looks like you've been caught out in the rain," the young ticket attendant smiled at her.

"Yes," she laughed, "It's raining cats and dogs." It crossed her mind how long it had been since she had laughed. It sounded strange to her.

"What can I do to assist you?"

"When is the next bus leaving?"

"To which destination?"

"Any destination, the farther the better."

The young man looked at her with a quizzical expression. Had he noticed her blackening eye? "There's one to San Francisco, with several stops along the way, another to Florida; also with several stops."

"I'll take the one to San Francisco, when does it leave?"

"Should be here in half an hour, if not delayed along the route."

"Perfect," she replied, removing the cash from her purse.

"Enjoy your trip, it will be a long one."

"I don't mind, I'm a good traveler, it will be relaxing. Thank you!" She walked away, then turned once more, "Sir, is there a postal box in the terminal?"

"Yes, right over here at the end of the counter."

She smiled, "That's great, I have a couple of letters to mail. When do they pick it up?"

"Every day, around 4:00 PM."

Taking two letters out of her purse she put them into the postal box. One to the Police Department Dispatch where she worked, apologizing for her sudden disappearance. She briefly explained that her situation at home had been abusive and she needed to get away quickly. She felt sorry for the lack of notice and expressed a wish that when she were settled she may receive a recommendation for her past service.

The other letter was sent to the Local Police Department. In order to avoid a missing person investigation she explained why she had left the city and expressed concern that she did not want her boyfriend, David, tracking her down. She reassured the police that she didn't feel in any danger at the present time, had left of her own volition, and would not be returning to Cincinnati. She explained that she had sold her car to a co-worker in the dispatch center and they would be picking up the car on the weekend. She did not want to file any charges. She only wished to finally end the relationship for good.

She found a bench and settled down for the short wait. Money shouldn't be an issue for quite some time. She had sold her parent's property, invested the assets, and had enough cash on hand and available in the bank should she need it. So often, David had questioned her about the inheritance but she never trusted him enough to divulge the details, giving him vague mumblings that they were not wealthy; just got by on what they had. In reality, she inherited a sizeable amount. The fact that she didn't care to share with him should have given her a warning sign. She wondered what inclination had kept her from doing so. Perhaps the constant curiosity he had about the subject, as if he felt entitled to it. The traits she had come to dislike about him didn't appear until they were well into a relationship.

She jumped, startled, as a voice called out. "Now boarding for San Francisco, the bus has arrived."

Goodness, she thought. I nearly fell asleep sitting here. Quickly she grabbed her things and headed toward the bus. She looked up and noticed the ticket attendant watching her so she gave a little wave and he tilted his head. I'm sure he wonders what I'm doing out here in the middle of the stormy night.

The bus driver took her suitcase away and she had her pick of seats as there were only a few passengers inside. She made her way to the back, not wanting to be next to some chatty person. An overwhelming sadness blanketed her and she held back her tears.

The strain of the evening and sound of the bus rolling along lured her into sleep. She dreamed of her parents and childhood home. In the middle of the night she had to transfer to another bus in Dayton but was able to refresh in the rest room and grab a bottle of water. Apparently she was able to sleep well on a bus; she was shocked when awakening to faint light. The driver announced they would be arriving in Indianapolis soon and there would be a 1/2 hour wait before they resumed traveling. Grateful to stretch her legs, she realized that she was quite hungry. Ordering a breakfast sandwich and cup of coffee she sat down at a table and watched people coming and going. She wondered where they were headed to and whether they were running away like her. Rolling along again, they finally arrived in St. Louis. She recognized the big golden arch and was glad for another exit from the bus if even only briefly.

"Oh My,"she thought. "So much farther to go, am I doing the right thing??

The bus was filling up more at each stop, she hoped she would be able to continue sitting by herself. When Kansas City was announced she was almost glad that there would be an hour wait before resuming the trip. A variety of restaurants greeted her; she was looking forward to a good meal. The time went by quickly and she sighed at the thought of once again boarding the bus. Taking a seat she felt tired and somewhat depressed. Could she possibly miss David? Yes, the Daivd that was charming she was still in love with but not the guy who turned into a monster when he was drinking. Silly her, at first she thought she could change him; then realized it only angered him more. The bus chugged along and her former life became more distant. Thankfully she once again slept through most of Kansas as the flatland seemed to stretch on forever.

Finally, at the call of Denver, she awoke to morning sun streaming through the bus window, hitting her face and waking her up. Suddenly she decided there was no way she could continue on. Denver would be a beautiful place to spend a couple of days and re-assess her situation. She asked for her suitcase, hailed a taxi and inquired where she could obtain a decent, clean hotel. The driver recommended Hampton Inn, Denver West, and she agreed to go there. She gazed out the taxi window as they drove and noticed a Coors brewing facility.

David would enjoy that, she sarcastically thought to herself. Would he ever be completely out of her mind?

Her mood lightened when she checked into the Hampton. The receptionist invited her to enjoy the free breakfast buffet in the morning and said they had limited room service throughout the night. Her stomach rumbled and she asked for a menu. The first thing she did was flop on the bed and it felt heavenly. A well needed shower was next; she couldn't remember going that long without one ever. She would stay here while deciding what her next stop would be. Time was her friend; she had nowhere to be and no one to see.


David tossed and turned several times, blinked, then fell back into a sound sleep. He hadn't come home until the wee hours of the morning. David worked in an auto service center on Ludlington Avenue. His co-workers liked to hang out at the bar after work and he never seemed able to say no. He had developed this lifestyle early on in his life. He knew it had a negative effect on his relationships but he seemed powerless to stop the trend. Maggie had begged him to seek help for his drinking problem but he answered, "Shut up you nagging bitch, no one is going to tell me what to do." At first she had yelled and cursed back at him, threatening to leave, but after he struck her in the face several times she had learned to keep her mouth shut. After the fights he felt bad but nevertheless the pattern continued. When she threatened to leave him he told her that he would hurt her if she ever tried.

Finally around noon, David rolled over and opened his eyes. He glanced around the room and lay there taking in his surroundings. His head pounded. Briefly he reflected on the woman in the bar last night. He remembered leaving with her, what transpired thereafter he couldn't recall. Any regret he may have felt left him quickly. Maggie was an 'ice maiden' when angry at him for drinking and it seemed she was always angry. He stumbled into the bathroom and threw cold water on his face then went into the kitchen. The quiet in the house was unnatural. He peeked out the window and noticed her car in the drive. He didn't like not knowing where she might be. She must be down the basement doing laundry. He went to the stairs and yelled, "Woman, where are you?". He waited but no answer came back. Couldn't she at least have have made a pot of hot coffee. Man, he needed a cup. Puzzled, but lacking energy, he sat in the living room listening for her step. Sometimes she went out for a walk or run. He chuckled to himself, if only she had that much energy in bed.

He loved Maggie, and recognized what a good person she was for him, yet he always let her down. He remembered when they had first met and he had carried her groceries home. As he walked behind her, he couldn't help but admire the beautiful slender girl with the long auburn hair. He smiled at her sweetness and sophistication; not at all like the trashy girls he hung out with. He felt she was also attracted to him but she declined letting him carry the groceries up to her apartment. That day he told her he lived with a couple of guys. Truthfully, he lived with his girlfriend Cindy. Their personalities collided. Both of them drank heavily and at times cheated on each other.

Now irritable, he walked to the door and stepped outside, scanning the street for signs of Maggie. Nothing. He didn't like the unexpected, he wanted to control her every move. Where the hell had she gone? He noticed her cell phone in the hallway and picked it up, briefly looking at her calls and messages. No surprises, they were all from him. He went in the bathroom to brush his teeth and noticed that her toothbrush wasn't there. Strange, he looked in the wastebasket but didn't see it. Humm, she must have gotten a new one. Usually they both got a new one at the same time. He brushed, then flopped back on the bed gazing around the room.

Wonder how much I spent last night, he thought. Reaching down and grabbing his pants from the floor he found his wallet and looked inside. Crap, Maggie will be mad, I only have $50 left for the rest of the week. He frequently spent too much leaving Maggie to pinch pennies for rent and groceries. She had threatened not to do it anymore which left her with a nasty bruise on her arm after he shoved her into a corner of the table. He got up and looked in the dresser for her purse, hoping to cop a few bucks without her knowing about it. Nothing. Not in its usual place. Odd, she always kept it there when home. He supposed that she knew he took money from time to time and had found a new hiding spot.

Feeling hungry and still no Maggie in sight, he found his truck keys and headed down to the fast-food restaurant. As he drove, his mind spun wondering where she might be. She never got called to work on weekends, even if she had, the car would be gone. Feeling concerned that something might have happened on a walk, he turned the truck around and drove slowly along the route she usually took but he noticed nothing unusual. "Damnation." he shouted. There were no friends of hers to call, he had made sure she didn't have any. He assumed she had no close relationship with co-workers, she never talked about any of them. At first she had suggested going out with some of them, but he always declined, and she stopped asking. Picking up food and coffee, he headed back home with the expectation that she would be there. When he arrived, the house was still empty. He left the food in the kitchen, went out and peeked into the car to see if any clues existed. The spotless car looked as it usually did. He saw a neighbor outside and walked over to ask if he had seen her.

"Nope, can't say that I have, and I've been out front all morning trying to fix my mower. I'm Jerry by the way, don't believe that we've met before."

David reached out his hand, "David," he replied, "Thanks, I've got food cooling in the kitchen, catch you later." He wanted to avoid some noisy neighbor always on his doorstep, so he cut the conversation off. By God she'd pay for making him worry like this. All he could do now was wait it out. He brought his food into the living room and flicked on the television. Still sleepy from the prior evening, he dozed off in the chair not waking until later in the afternoon.

He awoke with a start, shook his head and glanced at his watch. Geez, he'd slept the afternoon away. Maggie must surely be home by now. Gathering his senses together, he stood up, shook himself off and headed to the kitchen. Moving from room to room, he couldn't find her anywhere. Well that's it then, she's gone and it's my fault. He sat at the table with his head in his hands. He didn't question why she left, only that she had the guts to do it after he had threatened her. Why would she leave her car? Did someone pick her up? But who? It must be someone from work. He would drive over there and find out right now. Yes, that's what he'd do. He grabbed a beer out of the fridge, took a couple of swigs and headed to the bedroom where he combed his hair and put on a fresh set of clothes. He grabbed his keys and went out the back door.

"Hey neighbor, have you found your girlfriend yet?"

Damn noisy neighbor, he thought. "Not yet," he yelled, then hurried to the truck and got in. He noticed the neighbor standing there watching him as he drove away. He suppressed the urge to squeal his tires.

At the dispatch station he explained that his girlfriend had been missing all day and he wondered if she could be working or if anyone had seen her.

"Margaret McGee, you say. Oh yes, here she is. She doesn't work weekends, Sir. You might catch her here during the week."

Out of patience, he replied. "We live together, I know she doesn't usually work weekends, but I thought maybe you had a shortage and she got called in."

"No, she's not on the schedule until Monday morning. Sorry I couldn't be of more help sir."

He nodded and turned to leave, then pivoted and asked, "Do you know her, my girlfriend Maggie?"

She smiled. "I've seen her, but no, I haven't gotten to know her yet. I hope you find her, she's probably out shopping and lost track of the time."

"Yeah, thanks, I'm sure you're right." Stressed, he considered stopping at the bar on the way home but kept on driving, scanning the street along the way. At home he made a sandwich and sat at the table drumming his fingers. The phone! Maybe she went back to her home town and one of her high school friends would know. He knew she didn't contact them often but thought she might still have them in her phone. He found the phone and looked at the contacts. He found what he assumed might be her friends and called the first two but received no answer. On the third try someone answered.

"Hello, this is Kathy."

"Kathy, you don't know me. This is Maggie McGee's boyfriend, David. Maggie has been missing all day and I wondered if she had contacted any of her friends back home."

"Oh, Maggie McGee? No, I haven't talked to her since her parents died. I'm sorry. If you give me your number I'll call you if I happen to hear from her. Did you say she was missing? For how long?"

"Just today, but it's not like her to not leave a note. I'm sure it's nothing.Thanks Kathy, I'd appreciate a call if you do hear from her."

He hung up the phone and sat there, his mind spinning. How foolish to think that anyone back in Dayton would have heard from her. After all, she hadn't been gone that long. He felt panicked and couldn't think straight. He didn't want to lose her. Oh God, he had pushed her too far and he felt sorry. He thought about it but could think of nothing else to do now. He turned the television on, primarily for the noise, unaware of the picture. His life seemed to be a series of reckless acts and regrets.

For the first time, he took a close look at his life and what he had done with it. His relationship with Maggie had been great initially but then old habits had returned. He smiled, thinking back to their first date. He made it a point to walk past her apartment every day hoping to spot her again. Then, finally, it happened. As he approached the steps he saw her coming out the door. "Hi Maggie, remember me."

Her smile could have lit up the town. "Yes, of course, David isn't it? What are you doing here?"

"Actually, hoping to see you."

"Well here I am."

"I wonder, I mean, I thought maybe you'd go out with me some time. I can't stop thinking about you."

She sat down on the step and he sat next to her. She looked at him and her emerald green eyes made him weak. "What are you doing right now?" He smiled a crooked smile and she blushed.

"Nothing, nothing at all."

"Most early evenings I take a walk through the park for exercise and to relax my mind. Would you like to go with me?"

"Of course, I would like nothing better."

She rose from the steps laughing. "Are you sure you can keep up with me."

"You're on girl, let's go."

They walked at a brisk pace in silence for a while. He had an overwhelming desire to grab her hand but didn't want to push his luck. Instead he said, "This is nice, I forgot how beautiful and quiet it is in the park."

"Yes, when I moved here it felt like an extra bonus.I couldn't believe it would be so easy to find a place to walk. By the way, I'd love to go to a movie with you some time."

"Really? That's great. How would this coming Friday night be? We could catch something to eat first if you like."

"That works for me. I get home around 4:15 but I need a little time to get ready."

"I'll pick you up around 5:00 if that's OK. Make it casual, no need to get dressed up."

They had reached the covered bridge and hung over the railing watching the ducks swim down below in the rapidly moving water; laughing as they dove down with only their little tails sticking up. She touched his arm. "That would be perfect David, to tell you the truth, casual is more my style. I'm so glad you came over. Truthfully, I thought about you too."

The phone rang and startled David from his recollection. He rushed to answer, thinking it might be Maggie. Instead, one of his buddies wanted to know if he could meet him at the bar later.

"Naw, not tonight Dude."

"What's the matter, girlfriend got you tied down now?"

"She's missing Dan, I haven't seen her all day."

"Finally had enough of you, huh?"

"Guess so. Listen, I gotta go."

"Sure you're OK? You sound a little off."

"Just tired, that's all. Not in the mood to go out."

"No problem, I'll catch up with you another time. Bye"

"See ya."

He dropped the phone in his lap and sat staring into space. Now that evening had fallen and dark descended, he no longer believed that she would walk through the door.


After a good night's sleep and another great breakfast, Maggie went to the hotel shop to look for a swimming suit. She had neglected to pack one in her hurry to leave. I might as well take advantage of the pool while I'm here, she thought. There was a limited supply to pick from but she found a suitable one and rushed back to the room to put it on.

"You're an early swimmer too."

Maggie looked up from the water to see a rather handsome gentleman standing at the side of the pool above her. She wiped drops of water from her face. "I always seem to get up early, never been able to sleep in the morning. Seems there's too many things I want to do."

"Me too, early riser, early to bed."

Maggie laughed, "Nothing wrong with that." She flipped on her back and made her way to deeper water. After swimming several laps she watched the gentleman dive in and expertly swim back and forth. It felt good to be swimming, she had always loved the water but David was jealous every time she put on a bathing suit so she had stopped.

"How about a race?" The man called.

"You're on," Maggie shouted. "Give me a second to catch my breath."

They raced the length of the pool several times when she called out, "I've had enough. You're a good swimmer, you beat me every time."

"I swim every day, and you?"

"It's been a while," she said sadly. "I think I'll have to change that. Lately I've gotten my exercise from a little jog in the park."

"The outdoors is always soothing for the mind. Are you traveling far?"

"Yes, I'm relocating, not sure where right now, and you?"

"Traveling salesman for an electronic firm."

"I enjoyed the company but I've got to get back to my paperwork. It was nice meeting you."

"Likewise. I don't know what your plans are for dinner but I'd really like it if you would join me. I get so tired of eating alone. Don't take it the wrong way, I'm not hitting on you or anything. I'm a married man and have to warn you that I'd bore you to death with stories about my kids."

What could it hurt, she thought. "I'll take you up on that. I also hate to eat by myself. Will 6:30 work for you, we could meet in the dining room."

"Yes, that's perfect, you've made my day. I'll see you then."

She gave a little wave and left the pool area. She wanted to use the hotel's computer and figure out what her next route would be.

The man watched her walk away and thought how lovely she was but she had an aura of sadness about her. He wondered what her story was.

Dressed again and back in the lobby, Maggie sat at the hotel computer looking at bus routes. She decided to book a route from Denver to Charleston, South Carolina. It would be a long trip but she found riding the bus comforting and that's what she needed right now. She could get the tickets tomorrow morning after enjoying one last swim and breakfast. Her little stay here had been delightful and she was actually looking forward to having dinner with her new found swimming friend.

With time on her hands she decided to take a taxi to the nearby mall and look for a cell phone. There was no one to call right now but she would need to be reached when applying for a job. Stepping out into the fresh mountain air, she gave a gasp of delight at the sight of mountains towering above the hotel. They were tall and majestic, looming like giants guarding a castle. She entertained the idea of spending a few more days here in order to take advantage of the walking trails she had seen posted in the lobby. Better keep going, she thought, I need to make my trail harder to follow. She heaved a little sigh and sat on the bench waiting for the taxi.

At the store she picked out a smart phone, made sure that the reception would work in South Carolina and registered it as anonymous. She felt pleased with the purchase and somehow re-connected to the world. At the drug store she bought pens, pencils and notebook. An Apple store across the street caught her eye and she decided to stop in and see about getting a tablet which would come in handy for researching an apartment and the job market. She glanced at the time, not wanting to miss her dinner date and offend the gentleman. She chuckled because she didn't even know what his name was.

The clerk helped her pick out a tablet and took the time to show her how to run it and connect to WiFi wherever she might be. He asked for her email address. She didn't want to use her former address so he set her up with a new one. Suddenly she realized that a tote of some kind was needed, she wanted to carry her tablet on the bus. "Not to worry," said the salesman, "we have several choices over here." She picked out a larger one that would hold her paper and pencils. "Thank you for being so helpful. I've found that everyone here in Denver is so kind."

"You're welcome. I know you'll love the tablet, it's one of our best. Good luck to you."

As she left the store, the clerk thought how sweet and pretty she was. He couldn't help but notice the dark circle around her eye that she had tried to cover with makeup. He hoped she wasn't being abused.

Maggie made one more stop at a dress shop where she picked out a couple of dresses and a skirt with jacket and blouse. She didn't have anything suitable for dining this evening and would need something when she applied for a job.

On the ride back to the hotel Maggie told the driver that she would be leaving Denver tomorrow morning and asked if he could pick her up around 11:00. She wanted a ride to the bus terminal.

"Absolutely, I'll be here at 11:00. Hope you enjoyed your stay."

"It was wonderful, I might return some day and explore the area."

She laid all her purchases out on the bed and felt a sense of independence. It had been a long time since she had the freedom to shop and buy what she wanted. She wondered how that had happened. Slowly, David had taken away her self-esteem to the point that no decision was made without his approval. "Oh David," she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. She still had feelings for the man she had first met, so loving, kind and gentle. What had caused the change, she didn't know but suspected that somehow it was her fault. At least she had prolonged his repeated requests to get married which would have greatly complicated her situation at the moment. He always said he wanted children. She wanted them too but wasn't ready yet and continued to take the pill until she had lost them a month ago and hadn't gotten a refill. Now, it didn't matter.

She took her new tablet to the table and turned it on hoping to research Charleston, her potential new home. Thinking about David had distracted her. She wondered what he was doing now, he must realize that she wasn't coming back. How extensively would he search for her. She didn't know. He had never introduced her to his family. When she asked him about it, he became agitated. She thought it strange but didn't pursue the matter further. It seemed he had a lot of secrets. She felt a pain in her stomach knowing that she'd never see his face again. Maybe she should have tried to help him but she was too afraid to try.

She loved the tablet! Cruising through job openings near Charleston, she noticed one at a Myrtle Beach Resort. It's not Charleston, but it really doesn't matter. They were looking for someone to manage the rentals. Although the pay wasn't great, it came with a condo at a reduced rent of only $200 per month and use of the swimming pools, golf course and tennis courts. Excited, she called immediately but had to leave a message. Her purchases today were already paying off. Knowing there would be references needed, she called the Police Dispatch Unit in Cincinnati and asked for the HR Department. She apologized profusely for her sudden departure and wondered if they would still be able to provide a good reference for her. She cautioned that it was of the utmost importance that her whereabouts not be disclosed to anyone who might inquire.

"Maggie, it's so good to hear from you. I'm glad that you are OK. You are, aren't you? We've discussed your situation within the department and all staff have been advised not to divulge any details about you outside of this office. Although we were impacted by your sudden disappearance, we are making it work and understand the reason you left. You were a devoted and dependable worker and any reference we provide will reflect as such. We are thankful that you made the decision to leave your situation before it was too late. Don't worry, Maggie. we only want the best for you."

Joan in HR hung up the phone and sighed heavily to herself. It wasn't spoken of often, but there had been many private discussions at the center regarding Maggie. It was evident from her constant scraps and bruises that she was dealing with an explosive relationship. Many saw her turn from a happy outward person to a sad and withdrawn one.

"Thank you, I'm OK. I really miss everyone there. Please tell them thank you and I'm sorry I left everyone in a bind. I didn't know what else to do." With a lump in her throat, Maggie once again wiped a few teardrops from her eyes. Another burden had been lifted from her mind. She knew it would have been hard to get a job without a reference. There were still good people in the world. Of course everyone in the dispatch center was well aware of the danger; after all, they took distress calls daily. She wondered what her parents would have thought. She knew they would have been distressed and insisted she return home to Dayton. She missed them more today than she ever had.

It was time to get ready for dinner. She looked forward to spending time with someone if only for a couple of hours. Admiring the new dress in the mirror she felt like today, her time had been well spent. Entering the dining room, she saw him already seated at a table. He noticed her and with a smile beckoned her over.

"You look nice," he said.

"Thank you, I did a little shopping today. The mall down the road had some fabulous stores."

"Yes, I've been there before, they have a little bit of everything don't they? I'm a bit of an expert regarding the malls around the country. They help me spend some of my lonely time along the road. It's always exciting for the family when I arrive home because they know my suitcase will be filled with little treats for everyone."

"It was funny, I was getting ready to come down for dinner and I don't even know your name."

"I guess it's time for formal introductions then. I'm Paul Abrams. He stretched out his hand.

"Maggie McGee."

"Maggie, I like that name. It sounds Irish or Scottish to me. Is your given name Margaret?"

"Yes, but no one calls me that. I do have the Scottish genes as you can tell by my red hair. My grandpa came from Scotland when he was a young man." She laughed, "I never saw him in a kilt though."

"So, tell me about yourself Maggie. Where are you from?"

"I grew up in Dayton, Ohio but most recently lived and worked in Cincinnati."

"What kind of work did you do?"

"A police dispatcher. I liked the department a lot but the work kept me tied to my desk which didn't give me much exercise throughout the day. You said you were a salesman, don't you ever get tired of life on the road."

"I most certainly do. In fact, I'm going to have to get out of my comfort zone and find a local job. We have three children, Debbie and I. Seven year old Annie, 5 year old Andrew and 3 year old Samuel. It's not fair that my wife has to deal with them all by herself. I need to be home to help."

They ordered food and the conversation was light throughout the meal. "Any dessert for you?" Paul asked.

"Oh no, I couldn't, but thank you for asking."

"I don't drink alcohol but if you want we could sit out on the deck for a while, it's a spectacular view."

"Yes, that would be lovely. I don't drink either but I'm up for a soda or juice."

Maggie took a deep breath. The air felt crisp enough to be refreshing but warm enough to be comfortable. The scent of pine tickled their senses. Acres of trees stretched as far as the eye could see until they reached the base of the mountains. It was picture perfect.

"Not to pry, but I'm guessing you've had a rough time of it lately," Paul said.

Surprised, Maggie briefly glanced at him, then looked down. "A bit of a stumble, I wasn't aware it showed."

"I'm sorry, maybe I should have let it lie. Your eye, I couldn't help but think you might have been in a bad relationship."

"You could say that. I loved him very much but he was impossible to live with, impossible to please."

"Have you been able to talk to your parents or family about it?"

"I'm an only child, my parents were killed in an auto accident."

"What a shame."

"I'm a survivor, I have this feeling things will start to improve."

"I believe you're right. You can do anything as long as you make up your mind and stick to a plan."

"Where is your home base?"

Chester, Vermont. I think you would love it there. It's a quaint little town that Debbie and I discovered on vacation. We stayed at a bed and breakfast there. We were so taken with the town that we returned, found an old country home and bought it. It's perfect for the children, not so perfect for the job market. Chester has several nearby ski areas, antique shops and art galleries. I'll give you my email address. Debbie and I would love to have you visit sometime, we have plenty of room and I know both of you would get along famously."

"That's very kind of you. Chester sounds wonderful, I've never been to Vermont." Maggie didn't embellish where she was going, complete trust would be an issue for quite some time. She felt that Paul was sincere but she wasn't sure she could read people very well. After all, she thought David was a much different person than he turned out to be in the end. She took the email address from Paul. "I'm afraid we will have to say our goodbyes soon, I have a busy day tomorrow. Meeting you has been a highlight of my stay here. You never know, if things work out I might visit you in Vermont some day."

"Will you swim in the morning, we could meet there one more time."

"I hope to take a quick swim in the morning before breakfast. If you're up early, maybe I'll see you there. Thanks for everything Paul." She held out her hand in a greeting and he took it between his own.

"You take care young lady. I'll be thinking about you."

Next morning Maggie took a very early swim and enjoyed her last breakfast at the hotel. She didn't see Paul again. Standing at the tall glass windows she savored the view one last time. Her stay couldn't have been nicer nor could the scenery have been better. All packed and ready to go, she seated herself in the cab at precisely 11:00. Her next leg of the journey had begun.


David wandered aimlessly from one room to another. He hadn't left the house since his return from the dispatch office. He felt shattered. His time with Maggie played over and over in his head and the picture was not pretty. His intelligence couldn't deny the fact that he had been a jealous brute to her. He had turned a witty, carefree girl into a cowering, quiet little mouse. For that alone, he should be locked up. Why had he done it? People gravitated toward Maggie, she had that way about her. He didn't have any self confidence in himself and it came across to others. She always received the attention and his jealousy took over.

His prior experience with women had been different. They were just as self-destructive as he was. This put them on a level playing field. He didn't care much what they did and the feeling was mutual. This always led to arguments that turned into hitting and shoving. He had a big problem and it was time to do something about it. But how?

He sat in the chair flipping his phone from one hand to the other. At times, he picked it up, looked at it, ready to dial a number. He couldn't do it. He wanted to, oh God, how he wanted to. A tear slid down his cheek and his throat constricted. Help me, he thought, please, someone help me.

David had called in sick to work the last couple of days. He couldn't. No, he didn't want to leave the house. He didn't want to do anything but sit in this chair. Even beer couldn't entice him in this state. He had no craving for it now. He wanted Maggie, oh what had he done? She wouldn't return, he was sure of that.

He dialed the phone and waited for an answer.


"Mom." He choked up.

"David, is that you? What's wrong dear?"

"Oh Mom. I"m in trouble." he sobbed.

"In trouble? Whatever are you talking about? What trouble?"

"It's me, Mom. I know you and Dad have had it with me. I need help but I don't know what to do. I just don't know."

"Listen David, shall I come over so we can talk?"

"Would you, I know it's asking a lot, but I need you Mom. I really do. I'm sorry for everything, really sorry."

"I'll be over in half an hour. You're still in the little house on Berkley?"

"Yes, I didn't know you knew where I lived."

"I'm your mom, David. I keep tabs on you, even if you don't know it."

"Thank you, I'll be here."

He dropped the phone and cried like a baby. She didn't turn him away. His Mom, he needed her like he hadn't since he was a little boy. He felt like a child right now.

Nancy, David's mother, walked into her living room where Ron, her husband was seated. "Ron, I'm going over to David's. Something is wrong and he needs to talk to me."

"You're not going to be able to fix his problems. He needs professional help. We've been through this before. I don't want to see you get hurt again."

"This is different, Ron. He's crying out for help. I'm his Mother and I'm going over there.."

"Yes, dear. If you need me, I'm a phone call away."

Finally composing himself, David sat at the kitchen table waiting. He looked around the spotless kitchen. Maggie had kept it that way, everything tidy and in its place.

He remembered the first time he had lost it with Maggie.

"Let's go to the beach, David, it's such a nice day out. We can pack a picnic lunch."

"OK," he agreed. He wasn't a great swimmer but he didn't want to disappoint her.

She came down the steps with a loose t-shirt and shorts over her swim suit. They grabbed the lunch they had made together and headed to the beach.

Once there, he humored her by spending time in the water together but he soon grew tired of it and stated he was going to sit on the grass. "Already?" she cried. "I'm going to swim a bit if it's OK with you."

"Sure, good ahead," he said. Watching her swim back and forth like a fish he soon felt neglected and angry. When she emerged from the water he could feel the rage rising in him at the sight of her in her two piece bathing suit. In his mind, dozens of guys were watching her.

Grabbing a towel she said, "Are you ready to eat?"

"I'm not hungry," he snarled.

"Oh, OK, we can eat later. I'm not that hungry either right now. Want to go for a walk?"

"No I don't, I want to go home."

"Home? Already?"

"Yes, home already, lets go." He snapped up the picnic basket and blankets and sauntered off leaving her to follow behind.

In the car she asked, "What's wrong? Are you angry about something?"

He didn't respond. When home, he slammed the car door and went inside.

Maggie, unsure what was going on, hauled everything from the car into the house by herself. "Guess I'll take a shower," she called to David who was seated in the living room. David didn't respond.

When she emerged from the shower, he was seated on the bed, her swim suit in his hand.

Fear filled her stomach at the look on his face. "What's wrong with you anyway?"

"Me, what's wrong with me?" he yelled. "I'm not the one strutting all over the beach in this!" He held the swim suit up in his hand.

"I wasn't strutting, I was in the water most of the time."

He jumped from the bed and grabbed her chin in his hand, pushing her up against the bedroom wall. "I'm not having my girlfriend wearing something like this in front of everyone. DO YOU UNDERSTAND!"

"Yes, yes, whatever David. Geez."

Things were strained several weeks thereafter. In time, things returned to normal and Maggie pushed the incident to the back of her mind.


Dorothy hung up the phone. Her brow furrowed and she left the house in an agitated state. "That son of mine, how I love him, but what has he gone and done now?"

Driving expertly through the traffic, her mind replayed scenes of the past. Dorothy and Alex had three sons and one daughter. Martin, the oldest and his wife Rachel, owned a hardware store in the city. Nancy, always kindhearted, was a nurse at Mercy Health West Hospital. Her husband Ned owned an auto body shop. Donald, the youngest, worked part time in a restaurant as a line cook while going to University of Cincinnati College of Law. He had hopes of becoming a lawyer some day but it was a long climb to get there. Then there was David, her middle son. The first thought she had of him was trouble and yet he could tear at her heart strings like no other. Growing up, he was the sweetest of all her children but also the most sensitive. A harsh word from her would bring tears welling up in his eyes and he would be quiet for days thereafter. She would usually be presented with a bouquet of flowers picked from outside or a picture that he colored as a peace
offering. Her comment would be, "Thank you David, but you don't have to bring me presents, I still love you."

Alex and David had a more volatile relationship. When Alex would reprimand David, her son would slam out of the house or in his room and not be seen for hours. It had always been a subject of contention between the two of them. She, trying to explain that David needed to be handled with kid gloves and him insisting that their son needed to "man up" and not be so sensitive.

David just skimmed by in school, his main occupation being basketball which he excelled at. Dorothy and Alex attending all of his games and tried to encourage him as a scholarship was looming in the future. Then, he met up with a girl and starting hanging around with her friends who were into drinking and drugs. He was so infatuated with this girl and her friends that he came home late at night, clearly high or drunk. He no longer showed up for practice and ended up getting kicked off the team. He brought his girlfriend Sara over to the house a few times but she was clearly bored and unfriendly. Dorothy didn't say much to David about her but Alex and Martin did which only resulted in more arguments. David barely managed to graduate, but graduate he did.

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