A passion for the written word brings two like souls together and life comes full circle.
Laughter and the gleeful squeals of children filled the library community center. The spice of apple cider and warm cinnamon donuts mixed with the crisp bite of fall in the air. Tricia McPherson leaned on her gnarled staff, dancing emerald eyes scanning the sea of painted faces and scary masks. Despite enjoying the festivities, her brow knitted in worry under the brim of the floppy witch's hat. It wasn't like Kasey to be late. There had been many a summer morning the precocious nine year old had been waiting on the library steps when she had arrived to open up.
Kasey's absence gnawed at the librarian's gut. The girl's home life was rough. Kasey's mother had deserted her when the child was barely toddling, dumping her off with her sickly grandmother. The old woman struggled to raise her granddaughter while battling her own health issues and depression. A paltry disability check barely kept a roof over their heads. The library was Kasey's refuge. Reading allowed her to escape.
Tricia understood not only the allure of the library, but the loneliness of childhood and had taken to the girl right away. They had become fast friends in the long hours lost among the towering shelves and storied tomes, Kasey often locking the doors with the staff in the evening. She reminded Tricia so much of herself at that same age. Tricia had been lucky to be adopted by the McPhersons, the town's physician and librarian, when she was just six years old. The elderly couple had never been blessed with children of their own and after dozens of foster children, Tricia was the one that stayed for good.
Hearing her name drew Tricia away from childhood memories, and she hurried over to help her harried assistant with the piñata. Palming the top of a little one's head, she laughed and gently extracted the bat from his chubby fingers.
"Hang on there, tough guy, there's no candy in Miss Megan," she chided, winking at the grinning boy.
Dividing the kids into age groups for their whack at donated piñatas and supervising their scramble for treats kept Tricia and Megan busy for the next hour and still no Kasey. Glancing at her watch, Tricia absently plucked a clown's bulbous nose out of the punch bowl.
"Great party, little sister."
Tricia turned to smile at her handsome foster brother; his crisp Deputy's uniform no costume. She couldn't contain a giggle at the smear of chocolate frosting at the corner of his mouth courtesy of the festive cupcake in his hand.
"Thank you," she replied, wiping at the frosting with her thumb.
Shoving the rest of the treat in his mouth, he grabbed a napkin, a light blush coloring his cheeks.
"If this year is anything to go by, this might become a town tradition," he said looking around at the packed room.
"I had phenomenal response from both businesses and individuals. With the number of trick-or-treaters it is much more economical for people to donate a bag or two of candy and shut off their porch lights. A couple different groups helped out with the baked goods and games here. McDonalds donated coupons and treat bags that we have filled for each child when they leave. Dr. Bowen's office donated tooth brushes. I had enough cash donations that each kid will get an age appropriate book and the bags are practically bursting at the seams with candy."
"It is a lot safer for the kids too. The treats can be inspected and less little ghosts and goblins running the streets. "
"Speaking of, I need a favor." Tricia frowned. "Kasey Callen didn't show up. I helped her with her costume this week so I know she was planning on being here. Do you think you could stop by her grandmother's place and check on them?"
"She's the little carrot top book worm, right?" he teased.
"Don't forget we carrot tops come with a fiery temper."
"I haven't forgotten," he chuckled, ducking away from her playful jab. "I'll drop in and check on them for you."
"Thank you, Jeff. Let me get you a bag to take to her," Tricia said, a tinge of relief in her voice.
Pausing at the door, bag in hand, he looked back and waved at the festivities.
"Mom would be really proud."
Kicking at the fall leaves, Tricia stared up at the harvest moon. This was her favorite time of year. She smiled, crossing through the hedge that separated her yard from the library grounds. Her father had groused that their habit of cutting through the back yard instead of taking the sidewalk like civilized people had stunted his hedge. Her mother had never taken his grumbling to heart and in the end he had legitimized their entry point with a decorative archway.
Tricia had inherited the grand colonial after her parent's passing seven years ago and very little had changed. Giving the old tire swing an affectionate push, she couldn't help remembering the hours spent there. She remembered swinging for all she was worth as a little girl, her long legs stretched to the sky, and days of twisting the thick rope as tight as it would go until she let go and spun in crazy circles, her copper hair fanning out around her. She had laughed and cried on this swing. It was like an old friend.
A carved heart in the mammoth oak's bark shone in the moonlight. Her fingers traced the simple letters before rising to her lips for a kiss and a prayer sent heaven's way for the brave boy who had died on foreign soil while learning to be a man. The modest twist of black hills gold he had gifted her the day he left still graced her pinky in remembrance of their teenage love.
Unlocking the back door, she let herself in through the dark kitchen. She didn't need lights to make her way through to the den. Her father had used the large room as an office and with its gleaming hardwood, heavy leather furniture, and floor to ceiling book shelves, it was one of Tricia's favorite rooms. Here, perhaps more than anywhere in the house, showed her personal tastes over that of her departed parents.
The weighty curtains were gone, the classic wood blinds tilted open to allow light into the room. The shelves in front of the back windows had been cleared of dusty medical journals and now housed a jungle of lush house plants. The large desk no longer housed an ancient adding machine and cigar ashes, but rather a trim laptop and a crystal bowl of Dove chocolates. A half dozen unread books littered the coffee table, a beaded bookmark identifying her current project. Rich chenille pillows and a couple comfy lap throws added a woman's touch to the leather furniture. The room was her sanctuary.
Curling into the end of the couch, she grabbed a throw and her book. The doorbell startled her. Patting her chest with a rueful grin, she hurried for the front door, turning on lights. A glimpse of a deputy's uniform on the front porch eased the tension and she swung the door open with a welcoming smile. That smile died on her lips. Her brother wasn't alone. Her gaze skittered across the Child Protective Services representative to land on the huddled child behind her. Tricia's heart broke.
The large shamrock emblazoned with "LUCKY" gracing the child's encompassing sweatshirt seemed strangely out of place at the moment. Even in the shadow of the voluminous hood Kasey's freckles stood out starkly on her pale tear stained face. Tricia didn't know what to say. Having stood on these steps on both sides of this moment didn't make it any easier. Locking eyes with the young girl she just opened her arms.
A sob broke from Kasey's throat and she threw herself into her mentor's embrace. Tricia hugged her tight, stroking the back of the girl's head and rocking her gently. Feeling the tremble of cold and exhaustion, Tricia urged the child inside, stumbling in a tangle of arms and legs back to the den. Settling Kasey on the couch, she wrapped a throw around the child, continuing to comfort her best she could.
Tricia only half listened to what the CPS lady had to say. She had been through this before with emergency or short term placements, but at the moment her thoughts were on Kasey. Her grandmother had suffered a fatal stroke and now she was alone in the world. Jeff came in with steaming mugs of hot chocolate from the kitchen. Accepting a mug, Tricia met his eyes, seeing the same pain and recollection there.
Kasey's hands shook so violently, she struggled to sip the warming liquid. Shaking her head, Tricia silently beseeched the case worker.
"It is getting late. Ms. McPherson, you have my number if you need anything. Get some sleep, Kasey, and we will get this all worked out tomorrow."
"Call me if you need me," Jeff said sincerely and showed the woman out leaving Tricia and Kasey alone.
Her eyelids were drooping by the time Kasey finished her hot chocolate. She didn't protest as Tricia eased the cup from her fingers.
"Thanks for letting me stay here," she mumbled uncomfortably.
Tricia's heart bled.
"You are always welcome here, Kasey, for as long as you like."
Hope and fear warred in the child's eyes.
"Come on. I will show you to your room."
Memory pressed in on Tricia as they climbed the stairs. She remembered following "The Library Lady" up the stairs, her battered suitcase in hand. Opening the door she stepped aside to allow Kasey to precede her. Leaning against the door jamb her heart leapt at the familiar room. Kasey trailed her fingers over the spines of the Trixie Belden and Black Stallion series that lined the bookcase. Dropping her duffle bag, she plopped down on the recessed day bed surrounded by windows, staring out into the back yard. Tricia knew she could see the tire swing and the archway to the library from there and hoped that Kasey found the room and view as magical as she had once. Life had come full circle.
~ WC ~ 1709
© Mara Mc Bain 10/2010