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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/2131935
by Espero
Rated: 13+ · Novel · Adult · #2131935
A woman tries to rebuild her life but receives a surprise along the way.
CHAPTER ONE

Rain pelted down upon her in never ending streams of water, even so she walked on, suitcase in one hand, umbrella in the other. She couldn't let her chance to escape be thwarted by a mere thunderstorm.

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. 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 any more. It was only her heart in pain.

As she walked on, her mind reflected back to the last time she had seen her parents. A police dispatcher for several years, she had finally earned a vacation. Coming home again refreshed her. Listening to her parents excitement about an upcoming trip they were taking to Hawaii 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. On their return home they were back ended by a semi truck at a stop light and killed. The funeral blurred in her mind. A heartbreaking month ensued as she struggled to put the broken pieces back together while holding down a job. The department couldn't have been nicer, letting her take off as much time as she needed to settle all of the affairs left behind. How isolated she felt. Her high school friends had lives of their own, she seldom saw or talked to them on her brief visits home. Now, there existed no reason to go back home. 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. The other 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 included a title to her car signed over to David, along with the registration papers showing her address. She stated that David could take possession of the car and any other items she had left behind. 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.

Thinking back to the first encounter she had with him, she knew the love bug had bitten. She had gone to the grocery store on foot to pick up a few things. She could have taken the car but the weather remained clear and a nice evening for walking so she did just that. 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. Even now, after everything, she had to smile thinking about it, and him. Her mind took her back to happier days.

"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, 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.

"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."

"Maggie, sweet name. Bye Maggie." 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.

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. At various times throughout the evening the screech of brakes and the driver calling out destinations of Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, awoke her briefly but she quickly dozed back off to sleep. The bus chugged along and her former life became more distant. Several times along the way she exited at a rest stop to stretch her legs and get something to drink or snack on.

Finally, at the call of Denver, she awoke to morning sun streaming through the bus window, hitting her face and waking her up. Time to get up and change routes, she said to herself. She planned to make her journey as complex as possible so as not to leave an easy trail to follow. She asked for her suitcase, hailed a taxi and inquired where she could obtain a decent, clean hotel. He 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 and her stomach rumbled from the smell. First she would stop in her room and refresh herself. She would stay here while deciding what her next stop would be. It would feel so good to take a warm shower and have a soft bed to sleep in

CHAPTER TWO


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. 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 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 noticed her struggling with her load. He hurried ahead to ask if he could help and smiled at her sweetness and sophistication. Not at all like the trashy girls he hung out with. He felt the attraction she saw in 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. 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.

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 any more 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 it's 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 site, 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. 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.

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.

CHAPTER THREE


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 and handle customer relations with the residents. 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. She wondered what her parents would have thought. Of course 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.

CHAPTER FOUR


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.

"Hello."

"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 heard a vehicle in the drive and went to the door but it wasn't his mother. Two Officers were getting out of a car. What the heck are they doing here? Oh no, please tell me something hasn't happened to Maggie.

He opened the door before they knocked. "Are you David Linz?"

"Yes, what happened? Is Maggie OK?"

"May we come in? We have some questions for you Mr. Linz?"

"Yes, yes, come in. What's this all about?"

"We were hoping you could tell us. We received a letter from Maggie McGee. She enclosed a title, signed over to you, for her car. The Officer slammed it down on the kitchen table. She stated that anything left behind is yours to do with as you will. She doesn't want you to contact her again but she didn't file any charges. What did you do to frighten this poor girl, Mr. LInz?"

Slowly David slid down into a chair and put his head in his hands. "It's true, it's all true. I have a problem and need to do something about it. I loved Maggie but abused her both physically and verbally. I can't explain why, I don't know myself."

"This isn't the first time, Mr. Linz. You've got a bit of a record for fighting with prior women and at the bar."

"Yes," he nodded.

"Keep your nose clean. We don't want to see your name come up again. Stay away from Maggie McGee or we will issue a restraining order."

"I will, I don't even know where she went."

"Enjoy your car," the Officer sneered. "I have no respect for a man who abuses a woman." They left abruptly.

I deserved it. David couldn't explain how low he felt hearing what he had done come from someone else's lips.

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.

CHAPTER FIVE


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.

David had always gotten along well with Nancy's husband Ned and 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 more about auto mechanics. He spent his evenings in bars and developed a drinking habit. Sara, his first girlfriend, was long gone and Dorothy was inwardly happy about it.















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