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The Letter- Chapter 14 May 22, 2009

Filed under: NaNoWriMo08,Uncategorized — nikilyn @ 9:42 am
Tags: ,

Chapter 14
Tom

I borrowed in the sheets, warm slippery, and felt her touch. She traced her finger from my ear to my lips and placed a kiss there. She must think I’m still asleep.
“I know you’re almost awake,” she said. “I can feel it.”
I took a deep breath and smelled her; clean, fresh, like she just came from the shower. There was a something in the background, though, like someone else was there.
“You’re not listening. You have to wake up,” she whispered.
What did she mean? I am awake. Wait, what was that? I ignored the sound that tickled my awareness and focused on her smell, her voice. I cracked my eyes open and there she was, enclosed in light. No, not light, a glare. The sun shone in the window behind her and surrounded her face like a halo, making it hard to make out her features.
“Beth…” I said and reached to pull her back to me, to the warm sheets.
“Wake up, Danny. Let go.”
And then she was gone. I felt for her, but the sheets were cold.

“Wake up! Let’s go!” Jack shouted over the fire alarm.
Tom flew out of bed shaking off the remnants of his last dream with difficulty. At first he wasn’t sure where he was, but the moment it came back to him he was running to pole right behind Jack to get their turnout gear. The chief was shouting orders and men were scrambling.
A few minutes later they were on a call to a burning barn outside of town near the interstate, just a few miles from the truck stop. It was an old building, no livestock, no people, no electricity, no gas; just a lot of old straw and wood. By the time they got there the damage was done so they secured the area and put out what was left of the barn.
The day was getting warm and all the snow had melted overnight so the ground was soggy. Their boots left deep impressions in the mud and grass.
“Old barns go up like this and they’re gone in minutes. Like matchsticks,” Jack was saying. As they walked around watching the last of the smoke rise from the rubble. “It doesn’t take much.”
Tom just nodded. He knew too well how old buildings went up in flames and the shadows of last night’s dreams, nightmares rather, kept him from commenting. The chief was talking to the Deputy Smithson and pointing toward the roadway then back to his clipboard, and the deputy was nodding and writing his own report.
“… no accelerants,” they heard him say, “but this fire was started intentionally and the culprit’s tracks lead to the roadway over there.”
Tom and Jack headed in the direction Chief Crider pointed.
“Hey, boys!” the chief yelled, “Don’t contaminate those footprints.”
Jack waved that he heard him and they kept walking.
“Hey, I wanted to get you away from the other guys to ask you something.” Jack said.
“Ask away,” Tom replied.
“Are you… alright?” Jack asked haltingly.
Warily, Tom said, ” What do you mean?” Does crazy show that easily?
Jack leaned closer and said “You talk in your sleep, dude.”
Tom nodded and sighed, “Yeah, I know.” He had been dreaming of Beth and Kat a lot lately, sometimes one, sometimes both. Sometimes he relived the details of Beth’s death. “How much do you hear?”
“Just mumblings, mostly, but sometimes it gets a little… scary. A lot of thrashing. Who is Beth?”
Tom didn’t want to talk about Beth again, explain everything all over again. It was painful enough to dream about it, but forcing himself to relive it while conscious was a dangerous thing. He had to answer the questions so many times after it happened to the police, to the doctors, the shrinks, his parents, her parents. When he started talking about it the guilt showed through. He didn’t want the people in his new life to see that. He decided to keep it simple.
“She was my wife. She died a few years ago.”
Jack chewed on that for a minute before he asked the inevitable question, “How?”
Tom was prepared with simple answers.
“House fire.”
Jack blew out a low whistle.
“It was quick. She broke her neck; didn’t feel anything.”
Not for long anyway. Nobody knows what anyone feels in that split second when the initial snap happens, before oblivion, but she never felt the burns. He didn’t go into the details of the con man that got away; the gas leak, the arguments about inspections, first with her and later with his own father.
They had an old gas stove and when Beth had said she smelled gas he thought it was from the burner she was about to light. He was standing in the open front door, just getting home. The next thing he knew he was on the front walk and his jacket was on fire. It didn’t register, though. All he could see was the house in flames, the open doorway laughing at him, smoke spewing out in mockery.
He heard the sirens down the street. Why weren’t they in there? How long was he out? What was taking so long? He sat up to go in the house himself and was held down by something. It was on fire, too, heavy. The door? Using all his strength he flung it off himself and literally peeled his melting jacket off his skin. The smell made him want to gag, the pain was blinding, but he took three deep breaths to push down the gorge and surged to the house.
“Beth!” he shouted.
The heat coming up from the floor was blistering. He looked toward where the stove used to be, but she wasn’t there, either. The roof was caved in and everything was on fire. He stumbled toward the living room, the opposite direction of where she was. If the blast blew him out the door maybe she was thrown clear, too. The smoke was choking him, his throat dry and scratchy, and he thought back to grade school. Stop, drop, and roll. Crawl below the smoke.
He dropped to his knees, was breath rasping.
“Beth!” he choked.
Feeling with his hands he found something soft and warm and tried to roll it over or lift it, but it wasn’t her. He was losing his vision, his eyes far too dry to tear up, the inferno was hot, taking him. His back, arm and shoulder felt oddly cool where he peeled off his jacket.
He kept creeping along the floor and he finally found her. He could hear shouting outside, far away. He rolled over her body, black with smoke, her eyes were wide open, face charred. His heart broke.
“No, Beth,” he whispered, and felt at her throat for a pulse, listened for a breath, but the roar of the inferno drowned out everything. He wanted to get her out of there, but he was afraid of hurting her, afraid to touch her burns again. He lied down next to her and tried to yell for help but the air just rasped in and out of his throat, unable to make a sound.
“Is anyone here?” the voices said. He turned toward the sound but the fire was blinding.
He tried to answer but just choked. At least choking was a sound, he thought and choked again. He raised his arms tried to get someone’s attention.
“Is anyone in here?” the voice shouted again.
He was choking, rasping, trying to make sounds. He was falling, floating, slowly spinning.
He didn’t know how long he lay there holding her arm. They weren’t going to find them. He thought he should close his eyes and just let sleep take him, but his eyes were already closed.
He thought he felt something squeeze his chest and he groaned.
“I’ve got a live one!”
No, you don’t. We’re dead.
He later woke up in the hospital, a tube down his throat, bandages covering his right arm, shoulder, and part of his neck. His mother was there holding his hand, making soothing sounds and pushing back his hair. It was brief, but he registered that Beth wasn’t there and gladly gave himself over to unconsciousness again, praying for death.
The next time he woke there was no tube, but the bandages were still there, an IV coming out of his left hand dripped clear fluids. The lights were low, and his mother was asleep in the arm chair converted to a bed. He didn’t want to wake her so he just lay there, trying to remember exactly what happened. Was Beth dead? He knew she was or she’d be here with. Unless she was too injured to come, she would be there. He knew she was dead. He will never forget the perpetual look of horror on her face, the eyes permanently open and the skin charred around them, the frozen, unnatural grimace of her lips.
“Hey, man. Where’d you go?”
Tom shook off the memory, “No where.”
“You spaced out there for a second.”
Tom nodded and said, “Yeah, well, it was a few years ago and I got a fresh start and some therapy. I’m fine. I just have dreams sometimes. Not much I can do about that.”
“Is that how you got that scar? The one on your neck?”
“Yeah, my jacket caught on fire and when I went to take it off it had melted to my skin. No other burns though. It was a gas explosion in the kitchen. We had just bought this old house to flip and had it inspected and everything. I was standing in the front doorway with it still open when it happened so I was thrown from the worst of it. Unfortunately, my wife was the one who was lighting the stove.”
“Damn.”
“Yeah. I found out later that the entire house should have never passed inspection. We got conned by a phony inspector, but he was long gone before it happened so nobody ever found him. In fact, we never even found out his real name.” Tom decided not to go into the details that followed. His father blamed him because he hadn’t taken his advice on which inspector to use. Tom went with the cheaper one he heard about from the realtor; a new one in town trying to get more business. He needed a clean slate here, no animosity, no blame.
“Damn,” Jack said again. “So now you’re here playing hero? Is that why you went into the fire business?”
Tom chuckled. “Something like that, yeah. A constructive obsession, I guess.”
“Or unhealthy, depending on which way you look at it. You’re not going to do anything stupid are you?” Jack asked.
He had heard that question before. “No. Like I said, it was a couple of years ago and I got therapy. I’m fine.”
They kept walking toward the area the chief pointed near the road. sure enough there was a set of footprints. They looked like they were made from a men’s set of snow boots. They led to a spot in the gravel at the side of the road and where fresh tire tracks marred the smooth gravel.
“Can I ask you another question?”
“What’s that?”
“Who’s Danny?”

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The Letter- Chapter 13 April 17, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — nikilyn @ 12:17 pm
Tags: ,

Chapter 13
Tom
Tom was uncomfortable. Actually that was an overstatement. Here he was, riding in Kat’s father’s huge truck and heading to her parents’ house.
I must be out of my mind. Why didn’t I ask to be taken to the station?
It was too late for that now, as they were pulling into a gravel driveway that led down a lane the length of two football fields to a huge red house. It was the image of a mid-western fairy tale; the American dream in full glory. He wasn’t sure it existed anymore, but then again, that was one of the reasons he moved here. Whoever built the house some hundred and fifty odd years ago had good taste and he wondered if it had always been in her family.
As they got closer he saw that the driveway wrapped around to the back of the house and gravel thinned out to blacktop toward the barns and silos. They kept going on around and parked in front of the garage. Tom got out and held the door for Kat and closed it behind her. She still looked frazzled, her hair was limp with sweat and cold, and her face was pale except for the red rimmed eyes. He instinctively felt like wrapping his arm around her to protect her, keep her warm, but thought better of when her father came around the back of the truck with the dogs and did it himself. The dogs took off in the direction of the barns off to harass cows or whatever it was that was creating that smell. Tom was pretty sure he had never seen anything so awkward as a one-eyed, three-legged Jack Russell Terrier running around a farm.
The wrap-around porch opened to a wide set of stairs with pots of dirt on either side. Tom imagined they would be filled with some kind of flowers in the summer. Kat and her father were already heading in the back door so Tom took the steps two at a time to catch up. What he wasn’t ready for was the wonderful smell of baking garlic bread, chili and cinnamon. His stomach instantly growled, but he tried to ignored it when a woman in her fifties flung her arms around Kat. She had shoulder-length brown hair and seemed a little shorter than Kat, though she hunched a little. He remembered that he had already met Kat’s aunt and grandfather at the McNicol’s Hardware store and instantly saw the resemblances.
“Oh, honey. Come in and sit down, you look terrible,” Mrs. Foster guided her to a chair at the large wooden table and crouched to her knees the way she would to a child. “What’s been going on? Did they catch the guy?”
“No, they don’t know who it was. Jason said it was probably someone looking for cash since I couldn’t find anything missing,” Kat replied. Tom could see, feel a little tremor run through her and wondered if she would repeat the scene from the vet’s office.
“Well, just to be safe I think you should stay here tonight.” Kat’s mother stood up and kept a hand at Kat’s cheek. “Just to be safe. Or to help your mother sleep.”
Kat nodded. Tom feared she was going to start crying again and started to take a step in her direction-
“You must be Tom. I’m Susan.”
Startled, Tom nodded, smiled and extended his hand, “Yes, nice to meet you.” Why did everyone say that? It should be Hi. It’s very awkward to meet you. Did you know what I planned on doing with your daughter this afternoon?
“Come sit down and have some chili,” she said after shaking his hand, then walked over to the stove. “I hope you like it spicy. That’s all we have here. We just want you to know how grateful we are that you are an EMT. If it had been anyone else at that house when Kat fell off the railing they probably wouldn’t have know what to do.”
Tom sat next to Kat and she gave him a sympathetic look and mouthed sorry. he didn’t have time to respond when Mr. Foster placed a beer in front of him and opened one himself.
“Steve, don’t you think it’s a little early for that? How do you know he wants a beer? Maybe he wants a lemonade,” Kat’s mother started again.
“Look at the boy, Suse. Let him have a beer. He deserves it,” he replied.
Tom had just been about to pick up the can and take a swig but now he was frozen, didn’t know what to do. They were both looking at him waiting to see which way he would go. In that split second he felt like running and screaming for his life.
“Actually, Dad, I’ll have a beer, too,” Kat said glancing in Tom’s direction then back at her father.
Mrs. Foster gave a resolved “humph” and turned back to ladling out chili while Richard returned to the fridge for another beer.
Mrs. Foster was bringing over a tray of steaming bowls when an explosion of noise from the back door made him jump.
A high cheerful voice was behind the racket. It looked as though the kitchen had been invaded by three toe-headed creatures of various sizes.
“Now, boys, you know the rules. You have to eat a whole bowl of chili before you can play outside,” said the woman coming in behind them. She was followed by a tall skinny guy with a Red’s baseball cap with blond curls sticking out underneath. The ‘boys’, as she called them, all gathered at the table and chose seat. All but one, that is.
The shortest blonde boy had glasses and a large front tooth that jutted out beside a small gap where he probably just lost another baby tooth. He stood right beside Tom and stared at him.
“Who are you?” he asked without smiling, but showing off his gap when his top lip curled up.
“I’m Tom,” Tom replied, just as seriously. “Who are you?”
“I’m Jake. I’m seven. How old are you?” Jake had a lisp that was typical of a kid who has a front tooth missing.
“I’m twenty-nine.”
“Are you a fireman?”
He really needed to stop wearing this hat.
“Yep.”
“That’s cool.”
They eyed one another for a minute and everyone around them was silent, watching the confrontation. Then Jake leaned in and whispered, “I always sit by Grandpa.”
Tom glanced to the other side of Kat’s father and saw that seat occupied by another blond boy of about nine. Realization hit him then that this was Kat’s family. He noticed that the woman with the high pitched voice looked a lot like her, but maybe a little shorter and a little more rounded at the hips.
He nodded and said, “I see.”
Kat’s sister moved on Jake then and said, “Honey, why don’t you sit on the other side of Aunt Kat,” and shooed him off to the other side of the table.
Tom immediately felt guilty for putting the little guy out, but he didn’t seem any worse for wear when Kat poked his side and he let out a howl of laughter. Still, Tom got out of his chair and pulled it out from the table giving about a three foot gap. Then he walked behind Jake’s chair, lifted it with him in it, and placed it beside his grandpa, Jake giggled the whole time, relishing in the attention. Tom then put his own chair, bowl, and beer on Kat’s other side.
“What do you say, Jake?” Kat’s sister said.
“Thank you.”
Tom winked and took his first bite of chili. It was spicy. Tom could taste the usual stuff: tomatoes, beef, beans, onions, green peppers, then he bit into one chunk of pepper and the inferno was released. He took another swallow of beer and coughed a little. Kat ducked her head as if to hide a giggle and her sister snickered.
“What do you think?” her mother asked him.
He nodded, eyes watering. Was this some kind of joke? He was a fire fighter and he thought this was hot.
“It’s good,” he rasped.
Kat and her sister both burst out laughing. Kat placed her hand on his arm.
“I’m so sorry, Tom. I should have warned you. My mom’s chili wins the Spiciest Chili Award every year at the fair.”
He nodded again and took another drink.
Mr. Foster slapped his back on his way to get another beer.
The tall man in the Red’s hat came over and extended his hand said, “Hi, I’m Richard, Claudia’s husband.”
Kat’s sister said in the same high-pitched voice, “I’m Claudia,” then pointed to the other boys and said, “and this is Alex, 9, and Mikey, 12. And you already met Jake.”
Tom gave a little wave and nod at each person as Mikey said, “It’s Mike, mom, not Mikey.”
She rolled her eyes behind his head and said, “Sorry, I forgot.”
“Mom, I’m hungry,” Jake started and then it was chaos as Claudia, Kat, and their mother bustled around the kitchen to get bowls of chili, bread, and drinks for everyone. It was loud as Kat asked each boy what drink they wanted and they all answered at once, and Richard and Steve started up their own conversation. The noise was incredible, but comfortable, practiced. It was a familiar routine; a mother and two daughters walking around seemingly chaotically, but never bumping into each other. Tom couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the dance.
Suddenly, it was as if Kat could feel him watching and she slanted a glance at him and perhaps swayed her hips a little more. Or perhaps it was his imagination. He reached down to take another swig of beer only to find it empty so he began to focus on his chili instead. The last thing he needed was her father beating him to a pulp for ogling his daughter in his own kitchen.
He choked when a hand slapped his shoulder and another slammed down another bottle of beer.
“Hey, Booker. Enjoying the view?” Jack said.
Tom hadn’t even noticed Jack and Tiffi walk in. He reached around to shake Jack’s hand and choked out, “Hey,” and waved at Tiffi.
She waved back and turned to whisper something in Kat’s ear and rub her back.
Right. They’re all here to comfort Kat because her house was broken into. Well, that’s why he was here, too. Only he didn’t feel like he was doing much comforting. He was the tag-along. The outsider. He didn’t know how to interact with this family that was apparently ruled by women.
He had a family once. He supposed he still did, even if they weren’t here. It wasn’t their fault anyway. They didn’t even know where he lived now as he hadn’t been home in over a year. Actually it was a year ago at Christmas, but he had left because it was too painful. His brother and his wife and their little family. It had all been too much to watch their happiness when his own had been ripped from him. His brother could take over the construction business from their dad; he was better at it anyway, more interested. His only regret was leaving his mother behind. She told him repeatedly that it wasn’t his fault. His father disagreed. If he had done the inspection himself he would have realized the problem right away, but he had hired a professional to get the house approved for purchase. The gas leak had seeped through all the vents, through the whole house…
But now was not the time to remember. He popped the cap off the bottle with a little hiss and drank again.
Jack said, “Hey, you need a ride into town tonight? We gotta start our shift early tomorrow.”
Tom nodded back. He had forgotten. It’s been his regulatory four days off so he starts bright and early for his next twenty-four hour shift. Earlier in the week he didn’t know how to fill his time, but it went faster than he anticipated. Normally, free time was not his friend. It allowed his mind to wonder in the dark shadows of his memories. It was a good thing Jack stopped by; Tom’s motorcycle was not the best on snow drifted roads and he had been unable to ride it recently. One, it was freaking cold outside, and two, it was freaking cold outside. A motorcycle couldn’t haul all the wood and building materials he needed to fix his new house. He would need a truck. The house really needed fixed, too. The owl on the second floor would be the first thing to go, then the floorboards and broken railing. Basically, the whole thing needed gutted out. He started thinking about renting a Dumpster when Jack waved a hand in front of his face, snapping him out of his day dream.
“Earth to Booker. Hey, I was thinking we should probably get to the bunkhouse early tonight. We want to be rested for training tomorrow,” Jack said. The look on his was intense. Tom had a feeling that Jack didn’t want to go to bed early but that it had something to do with Kat’s house getting broken into. Tom had the same thoughts. The police were done with their own investigation, but he had wanted to do his own looking around, make sure the place was safe.
“Yeah. Good idea.,” Tom replied, giving Jack the same look to signify he understood.
Jack leaned forward and whispered, “You know, the women are gonna want to cluck over Kat for the next couple of days so it’s best to do it before she goes home.” He leaned back in his chair and said loudly, “Great chili, Mrs. Foster. I’m gonna have to get the chief to commission you to cook some for the firehouse. ‘Course then we’d be too busy putting out our own fires to be any good for anyone else.”
Everyone chuckled a little and Mrs. Foster blushed and turned to Tom.
“So, what do you think of our little town so far?” she asked, finally sitting down to her own bowl of chili.
“Very nice. Everyone’s been friendly and welcoming. I actually met your sister and father the other day at the hardware store.”
She grimaced before saying, “Daddy wasn’t too harsh on you was he? He can get pretty mean…”
Tom shook his head, smiling and said, “Just a little grunting is all.”
Mr. Foster chuckled and said, “That’s all I could get out of him until about five years ago.”
“Awe,” Claudia started in. “You guys are too hard on grandpa. He’s a big sweetie.”
“Yeah,” Kat piped in. “The reason Grandpa doesn’t do anything but grunt is because he wants to appear tough but can’t really think of anything bad to say.”
Richard and Mr. Foster both cracked up and Jack shouted, “Right!”
Confused, Tom said, “Wait, didn’t you tell me to be careful because he had a sawed off shotgun behind the counter?”
“Oh, that old thing. The store got broken into about fifteen years ago so he thinks he has to protect it now,” Mrs. Foster said. “It wouldn’t have done any good to have it back then either. The break-in happened at night when he wasn’t even there.”
“Yeah,” Mr. Foster started, “but there hasn’t been a break-in since he started keeping it there either. Everyone with in inkling of thought to break in now thinks he’d hunt them down.”
The conversation went on and Tom listened intently, learning about his new home town and the families that lived there. He found out that Kat’s family was the most connected by marriage on her mother’s and father’s sides because the last several generations had had five or more children. Apparently you couldn’t throw a stick without hitting either a McNicol or a Foster family member. It was very surreal for him. He hadn’t had a large family in Akron and he virtually anonymous in Columbus. One more thing to get used to, and he wasn’t finding it all too unpleasant either.
Kat seemed perfectly relaxed beside him. She was laughing with her family, the hysterical little girl from earlier was gone. She was protected by her family here.
That particular thought slammed Tom back to the break-in scene earlier.
The cop had said that nothing was taken, that they were probably just looking for easy cash. What if they didn’t find what they were looking for? What if they were looking for Kat? What if they came back? What did she have that some would want to harm her? Maybe it was some sicko… and maybe he just had a very vivid imagination. What would someone want with this small town woman?
Either way, he planned on talking to Jack about it.

 

The letter- Chapter 12 February 16, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — nikilyn @ 4:25 pm
Tags: ,

Chapter 12

I don’t know why I was crying so hard, so hysterically.  Maybe it was the adrenaline, or the relief, or the obvious contrast between Parker and Tom.  I had felt a sudden wave of relief that my little dog was safe, but he was in the arms of the man whose heart I broke.  I felt guilty for bringing the man I now wanted.  Seeing the two in the same room was comical; thin, lanky Parker versus stocky, athletic Tom.  It only added to my hysterics. 

I sat in the waiting room chair of the old vet’s office.  They were the old, brown vinyl-padded chairs with metal legs.  There was one old, wooden bench along the wall where Nomad perched eying me and Dingy with confusion.  Tom was silent and standing near the doorway, tired, hands in his jacket pockets.  He seemed concerned, but didn’t make any move to comfort me.  I was grateful.  I couldn’t control my tears.  I think added comfort would only add fuel to the fire.  Parker had been sitting beside me trying to calm me down, but gave up and walked into the office.   He was on the phone. 

Dingy was his normal happy self.  He hadn’t even realized he was lost.  He just ran our usual route here to see Parker.  That made me feel happy and sad at the same time.  He licked my tears where they dripped to my hand.  I felt silly then.  Why was I crying?  I needed to pull myself together so I could run back to my house.  It then struck me as funny that of all the men in town I had to pick the only two who didn’t have vehicles. 

Parker came out of the office.  “I just got off the phone with your mom.  Your dad’s coming to get you,” he said, stiffly and glanced at Tom.  Tom just eyed Parker blankly.

I sniffed.  “Thanks, Parker.” I was breathing normally now.  Now I just had to wait the excruciating ten minutes it would take for my dad to get here. 

“Can I get you something to drink?” he asked us.

I shook my head and Tom said, “No, thanks,” and sat down on the chair right beside the door and across from me.  I could use a drink, but I wasn’t thinking of anything Parker would have in the little mini-fridge.

Now it was silent.  Parker sat on the desk chair and we all just looked at each other.  It was very awkward.  I looked down at Dingy so I wouldn’t have to watch the awkwardness between the two men.  Poor Tom and poor Parker.  What was wrong with me?  I could tell Parker thought I left him for Tom.  It wasn’t like that, but I couldn’t explain it now.  He would think what he wanted anyway.

It was Parker who broke the silence.

“Did they find out who broke into your house?”

I was grateful for something to talk about that didn’t have anything to do with either of them, and the fact that I didn’t have to think of it myself.

“No, so far they haven’t found any unusual fingerprints, but nothing was taken either.  Whoever broke in just made a mess of the place.”

“Do you know what they were looking for?”

I shook my head. “No idea.  I had just taken a bunch of old papers to the realty office to shred so I don’t think they could have gotten any specific information.  I told Jason and he said he would check the office for me.”

He nodded and said, “It’s weird to think of Jason as the deputy Sherriff.”

“Yeah,” replied.  I was grasping at straws for conversation.  We already talked about this when Jason was first hired.  There was a big front page article in the paper at the time. “Hometown Son to be Deputy Sherriff” was the headline.

Silence ensued for several more minutes.  I jumped up, spilling Dingy to the floor when my dad’s truck roared into the gravel lot outside, the vibration of the diesel engine giving me a feeling of nostalgia.  Nomad and Dingy bounded to the door; they recognized the sound as well.  I followed and said to Parker with my hand on the doorknob, “Thanks for keeping Dingy safe.” I opened the door and the dogs ran to the truck.  I looked at Tom as he followed me out and my dad got out of the truck to look me over.

“Your mother insists that you come home with me.”  He gave me a look that meant he insisted, too, but he would never say it.  I nodded and looked at Tom

“Are you coming?” I asked gesturing to the truck.

“Uh, I should probably just go back to the firehouse…”

“No, no.  It’s clear in the opposite direction.  Come on.  My mom will have a good supper waiting and she’ll want to gush all over you for… well, everything.”

He looked at the capped, dual-wheeled, diesel truck and seemed intimidated.

“I don’t know…”

“Come on.  I’ll never hear the end of it if you don’t come.”

He glanced up the road in the general direction of the firehouse.  Deliberated for a moment then looked resolved.

“Okay.”

I walked to the tailgate of the truck and my dad came around at the same time to let the dogs in.  I picked Dingy up since he couldn’t make the jump.  He could jump nearly six feet in the air to try to intimidate a person, but couldn’t make the four foot jump into the bed of the truck.  My dad, a man of few words, put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a squeeze.  I brought tears to my eyes a little, but I swallowed the lump in my throat and whispered, “I’m okay, daddy.  Thanks for picking us up.” 

He nodded and asked, “Who’s your friend?”

I turned toward Tom who was behind me and introduced them.  They shook hands and I realized there was a real resemblance between the two.  Both were quiet and tall, broad shouldered and strong from hard labor, only my father’s was from owning a farm and Tom’s was from construction and fire training.  My dad’s face was lined around the eyes where they crinkled when he smiled.  Everyone said I had my dad’s smile and I always felt sentimental pride when they did.  I loved my dad’s smile.  Tom’s crinkles were between the eyes and forehead, though.  From what?  Worry? Concentration?  Grief?

I walked to the cab and got in, sliding to the middle to make room for Tom.  The vents blasting hot air were a deep contrast from the cold wind.  My legs were beginning to feel stiff but the heat seemed to help.  The men followed.

I had just realized that I cared about why Tom had worry lines.  It was disconcerting that I felt this strongly this early in a relationship.  Was this even a relationship?  Did two business appointments count as dates?  What if during those appointments we didn’t think about business at all?  Does that constitute it as a date? I’ve been away from this way too long…  Parker and I didn’t really date.  We just…. were.  But Tom and I aren’t really dating either.  He didn’t just come on to me all the time, though; he hung out with me and my two best friends when I wasn’t feeling well, and he just ran across half the town to help me find my dogs, and now he’s meeting my parents.

Wait, aren’t there some dating rules that I need to be following?  Like, how many dates before we kiss? Or, when do we sleep together, or when do we meet the parents?  Does meeting the parents automatically mean you are serious?  Does my mother think that?

Oh, no!  My mother is going to be queen of the cuckoo’s nest!

The slamming of the two doors brought me out of my inner panic attack.  I shook it off and tried to act normal.  Tom doesn’t need to think I’m some loon who makes mountains out of mole hills.

But Tom wasn’t looking at me.  He was staring straight out the windshield.  He made no move to relax or look around.  He was sitting really close to the door, making sure not to touch me.  My dad’s truck was big enough to comfortably sit three people in the front seat, but it looked like Tom was making sure we didn’t get too close.  He must be as nervous as I was.  I wondered if he was feeling as awkward as I was about what we were actually going to my house to do earlier.  We hadn’t been going there to get my shoes like we told Jason, at least, not until after…  So we didn’t really lie, we just omitted useless information.

Okay, and now I’m babbling in my thoughts.  Perhaps staring out the window was a good idea.  The back roads to my parents’ place were still pretty snowy.  The wind pushed huge drifts across the narrow roads, and there was so little traffic out here that the county didn’t send out plows for several days.  Eventually, the farmers would just hook a plow blade on their four wheel drives and tractors and do it themselves, my dad included.  I always loved looking at the snow on the small one lane roads before they were plowed.  Growing up it made me feel isolated, cozy, like nothing bad could ever get to us while we were in our large farmhouse and completely cut off from the outside world. 

That gave me a sudden surge of anger.

Someone had been in my house and all it took was a little brute strength and a crowbar.  They had gone through my things, could have lid on the bed, eaten my food, possibly petted my animals.  They say Labradors are great watchdogs, but not great guard dogs.  Nomad could have made half the mess just by wagging his tail and Dingy didn’t know any better.

How dare they?   How dare they?  I have never felt so violated in my life.  I was seething, incensed, livid.  I already felt bad for the next person who wronged me.

Suddenly the heat blasting from the vents felt too hot so I turned it off in a huff.

My dad glanced my way and said, “Everything okay?”

I just nodded.  Although, I had started wondering how to keep people out of my house while I was here.  I felt like I needed to sit on the steps facing the front door with a shotgun, the way women from old western movies wait for their men to come home, but are keeping watch, protecting their homes and children from the marauding natives.  Except I was the native in this case.  It was my house.

The compulsion to tell my dad to go back to my place had almost taken over when he said, “Your mother is worried about you staying in town tonight.  You should probably stay until things blow over.”

“What about my house?  Shouldn’t someone be there to make sure nobody breaks in again?”

“I think that it was just someone looking for some cash and either they found some or they didn’t.  They wouldn’t go to the same place twice and risk getting caught.”

“I guess so,” I sighed.  I also knew that my mom would call me every hour, keeping me and my dad awake all night with her worrying.

That’s when I remembered Tom was coming with us.  I was afraid to mention this because I was afraid my dad would turn around an take him right back into to town.  Although I knew Tom would feel uncomfortable staying at my parents, I couldn’t help but get excited over the idea.  I decided to keep my mouth shut until we pulled into my old driveway.

It was an old two-story farmhouse dating back to the 1860’s with modern renovations.  My parents got tired of repainting the old wood siding every year so when it finally went bad they went vinyl.  It was a dark, red-barn color with a dark driftwood brown for the trim, wrap-around porch, and shutters.  The thing I like most about this place was that it had three fireplaces: one in the living room, one in my parent’s room and one in the dining room.

Our driveway was long enough that we used to use the four-wheeler to haul our trash cans to and from the garage, and my mom was always at the end of the driveway on cold days to pick me and my sister up from the bus.  The barn, silos and garage were behind the house and the woods to the left of it concealed a small natural pond where Claudia and I learned to fish with our dad.  It didn’t matter where I lived, this was always going to be home.

 

The Letter- Chapter 11 January 7, 2009

Filed under: NaNoWriMo08 — nikilyn @ 10:19 pm
Tags: , ,

Chapter 11

“Look, I don’t think anything was taken, just some damage done, so can I go now?”  I pleaded with Deputy Smithson.  He was a young guy for a deputy, at least I thought so.  He had dark brown eyes and hair and looked like he spent too much time in the sun for a cop.  That’s the impression I would have got if hadn’t known him as “Little Jason”, the youngest Smithson with five older sisters.  It was just weird to see him in this authoritative position. “I have to look for my dogs.”

“Just a couple more things.  You said you were on your way here with one Tom Booker, on your way to look at some property…”

“Oh, my gosh! We’ve already been over this-“

“Yes, but why were you stopping by your house?”

He must have noticed my blush the first time I explained it.  I was thinking about the second reason Tom and I had for coming here.  The first being that I needed my snow boots for slogging around Tom’s newly purchased property, the second reason being… well, a good reason for blushing, anyway.

“I was wearing the wrong shoes for showing the outside property in the snow.”  I lifted my foot to show him my backless kitten heels.  He looked down at them with raised eyebrows as if to question their practicality, but then again, he did have five sisters.

“Right,” he said.  “Okay, I think I’m done here.  If you notice anything missing or out of place just give me a call.”

“I will.  Thanks, Jason.”

I noticed Tom standing over by Jack’s truck.  Talking to him through the driver’s window.  I jogged over to him and said, “I going in to grab the leashes and my other shoes.”

“Are you sure they won’t just come back?” Jack asked. “I mean, you walk them the same route everyday, right?”

“Well, that’s what I’m going to try first, but Dingy always wants to run away.  Thanks for coming by, Jack.  Really everything’s ok.  It’s probably someone just looking for cash or something.  Don’t worry.”

I turned and ran back to the house.  I made note that Ernesto and Sylvie were still in there and I sat down to change into my boots.  While I was tying the laces Sylvie rubbed up against my back and made a little sound between a purr and a meow.  She was such a social little being.  She probably did the same thing to the person who broke in.  Traitor.  I felt that little sting of panic in my chest that I had been holding back for the last couple of hours.  I pushed it back down.  I had to keep it together long enough to find my dogs, then I could curl up in a ball and cry it out.

I wondered what they were looking for.  My desk had been ransacked and the wastebasket beneath had been dumped and little ripped papers and notes were everywhere.  My computer was still in place along with all it’s equipment.  The dresser and nightstand in my bedroom had been rummaged through, also.  But no prints had been left behind.  The only evidence at all was the mess and the shredded door jam.  I don’t keep anything in my trash that has any kind of personal information that someone could use for identity theft.  I shred everything at the office.

The office!

“Wait!” I shouted out the front door hoping to catch Jason before he left.

Now he was standing by Tom talking to Jack through the truck window.  He turned at the yell and started walking up to me.  I met him in the street halfway.

“Did you notice something else?” he asked.

“No, but I had a bunch of personal information and bank records that I took to work today to shred, but I left them in my desk.  Do you think someone is trying to steel my identity?  Can you check out the realty office?”

“Are you sure you locked it up?”

I nodded and said, “Positive.”

“I’ll check it out, but my bet is that it’s fine.  We would have had a call already, being that’s it’s right in the center of town.”

“Ok, thanks a lot.  Well, I’m off to find my dogs,” and started jogging to the park.  I pulled out my cell phone to call Parker at the same time.  I used to run to the vets office to visit Parker on occasion.  There was no answer.  I will just have to run there after the park.  That would be a total of four miles.  I could do it, but I am going to be sore.  I got a little ways down the road when I heard Jack’s truck pull up beside me.

“You wanna ride?” Jack asked through the passenger window.

“Can’t,” I replied, losing my breath.  I’ve never been good at running and talking at the same time.  “If I… don’t follow… the same path… then I… might… miss ’em,”  I panted.

“Honey, you’re gonna kill yourself.  They’re just dogs.”

I stopped in my tracks to look at him wordlessly.  Tom sat in the passenger seat, silent.  At least he knew when to keep his mouth shut about my dogs.  And I’ve only known him for a few days.

He continued, “Well, what I mean is that they’ll come back right?  And if they don’t, well, everybody in town has seen you with them.  If someone finds them they’ll bring them to you.  Don’t ya think?  It’s pretty cold out for running…”

“Shut up, Jack,” I said and started running again.  My anger was feeding me raw energy now.  Jack was right about one thing.  It was pretty cold out.  Nomad is getting pretty old and Dingy has only three legs and one eye for goodness sake.  How would they fair over night with only each other for warmth instead of my soft warm bed.  They would think I abandoned them.  What if Dingy completely loses his way and runs clear back to New Orleans?  We’ve all seen the movie ,”Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey” right?  Nomad is totally Shadow, that old Golden Retriever, and Dingy could so have the voice of Michael J. Fox.  If only they had Ernesto or Sylvie with them…

Jack pulled ahead of me and stopped.  Tom got out and closed the door, Jack pulled away.  Tom waited for me to catch up with him.  I didn’t stop.  If I stopped again there would be no way for me to get my momentum back up.  To my surprise Tom easily fell into step beside me. 

“What are… you doin’?” I asked.

“I thought you could use another set of eyes,” he said easily. 

Show off, I thought.  But he was being really sweet so I said, “Thanks.”

When we got to the park we ran along the usual path, the twists and turns following the small creek that cut through town.  It was blacktopped so the city would plow it with a riding mower when the rest of the town was already dug out.  We were silent except for our breathing; mine was a little faster than his.  Then again, I probably ran about a half mile more than he did.  Not one to be out done by anyone, I probably ran a little faster than usual.  I was really going to be sore tomorrow.  He had a long stride and seemed to move like fluid, his muscular arms pumping easily with his stride.  I felt awkward and lanky next to him.  I was so engrossed by his physique that I almost missed the turn to get to our little tree.

“Here,” I said, and pointed to our left.  Along the split a little ways I saw Nomad sitting in his usual spot by our old tree.  He got up and loped over to us with his big dumb lab face and tongue rolled out to the side as if to say, It’s about time you got here!

I couldn’t help but mother him all over.  “Hi, baby! Oh, my goodness, what a good boy!  Look at you, my big man!” I grabbed his ears and big head and rubbed him down making sure he wasn’t hurt by whoever broke in to my house.  Knowing Nomad, he probably didn’t give a damn so the robber let him go.

I looked around waiting to see if Dingy was around, but there was no barking or little toenails clicking on the pavement from his insistent hopping.  He would have come running if he had been in the vicinity of the sound of my voice.  I sat down as I snapped the leash to Nomad’s collar.  I was hot and sweaty and needed to catch my breath.  Nomad sat next to me, laying his head on my feet.

I looked up at Tom; he wasn’t out of breath at all, just looking at the old tree, all cool and calm, probably wondering why anyone would pour cement over the roots.

“You know, you didn’t have to come,” I started, “but thanks anyway.” A lump started to form in my throat.  I wondered if my chin was quivering; I could never feel it, but people always told me it did.  He must have noticed the change in my voice because he turned around and looked at me.

He gave me a worried look, but he said, “I just wanted to be sure you found your dogs.” 

“Thanks,” I croaked out.  Nomad started licking my hand as if to say, Come on, let’s find Dingy.  I was starting to get cold and achy now that the sweat had left my clothes a little wet around the neck.  This still was not the time to cry so I swallowed the lump and said, “Well, I was going to run to the vets office if I didn’t find them here.  It’s about a mile from here.  Are you up for it?”

He didn’t even hesitate.  “Of course,” he said and reached down to help me up.

We started back to the main path and turned left toward the vets office.  We had to run at a more steady pace now that Nomad was with us.  It was a little easier to talk now that we weren’t pushing so hard.  I asked him about running and he said he had to learn when he was training to become a fireman.  He tried to run in at least two charity runs in Columbus every year.  I told him I sort of did the same, only I just run in the Race for the Cure in Columbus.  In our town a lot of people run in the fundraiser for the cross country team every Fall and the Fourth of July Race the Lutheran church sponsors.  I told him I used to run in high school, but now I just do it to burn energy and stay healthy.  He talked about playing football in high school and the going to college to study construction management and then work for his father.  He got most of the way through his degree when he decided he didn’t want to do that any more.

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, you know.  Things change.  People change.  I didn’t want to be put into something just because someone wanted me to.”  I could tell he was hiding something, and I knew what that something was. 

We were on the sidewalk along the narrow street that led to the vets office just on the edge of town.

“Is that why you moved away, too?”

“Part of it.  I just needed to get away from…. things.”

“Oh,” I said.  I guess he wasn’t ready to tell me.  Well, I would just wait for him to open up.  That’s when I saw footprints in the snow beside the sidewalk.  They hadto be Dingy’s! “Look!”

I stopped and pointed at the prints.  Nomad sniffed and got an excited wag to his tail.  “It has to be Dingy.  We’re almost there. It’s that white building on the right.”

We picked up our speed, almost a sprint now.  By the time we got to the front door I heard Dingy’s frantic barks.  I burst in and saw Parker holding a very wiggly, very ugly, Jack Russell terrier.  It was Dingy.  I burst into tears.

 

I’m working on it… December 28, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — nikilyn @ 9:13 pm

Just letting you know that I’m working on my next chapter… finally. I didn’t make the NaNoWriMo, but we had some extenuating circumstances these last 2 months, so now, hopefully I will be back on track. I will post a chapter again soon. I promise.

 

Read my lips! No new chapters! November 17, 2008

Filed under: NaNoWriMo08 — nikilyn @ 8:55 pm
Tags:

For those of you checking to see if I’ve posted any more chapters, I’m so sorry to disappoint.  My husband had afall at work last week and broke his ankle in several places and has been off work.  I have been driving to so many appointments for tests, and I had to learn to give him shots of blood thinners, plus I still drive my kids to school and back everyday/half days.  (And who can concentrate when we are only three days from the premier of “Twilight”?!)  Unfortunately, that means I haven’t written a single sentence more than what you see here.  Free moments are hard to come by at this house, and when they do the hubby is on the computer emailing his assistant making sure his projects aren’t screwed up.  I haven’t given up my goal of a fifty-thousand-word novel by November 30th.  Keep checking back; maybe I’ll post next week…  Until then, check out the artwork the kids and I have bestowed upon his cast:

... Like the Ducks Unlimited symbol?

... Like the Ducks Unlimited symbol?

 

The Letter- Chapter 10 November 11, 2008

Filed under: NaNoWriMo08 — nikilyn @ 1:05 pm
Tags: , ,

Author’s Note:  Well, I’ve finally caught up with myself.  The posts will probably be fewer and farther between as it usually takes two days to write a whole one.  I won’t be posting partial chapters.  I hope everyone is enjoying it so far.

Chapter 10

Kat

I’m going into the office today.  I have a little headache and bad case of cabin fever.  I’m so sick of winter that one day in my house has driven me to craziness.  I’ve already shoveled my walk.  The snow began to drift again last night so there were icy streaks of snow rippled across everyone’s walks again.  The day was already warmer than it was two days ago.  Maybe Spring will finally come. 

I also managed to walk the dogs, do the dishes, sweep my living room, and gather up my papers that needed shredded and the mail.  I didn’t need to be in the office until two so I was making the most of my day.  I was happy and excited.  I was selling a house today.  Tiffi had called early and told me that Tom had made an appointment with Mr. Strogal this morning to buy the Logan House outright.  Mr. Strogal had suggested that I come to the meeting.  It wasn’t necessary for me to be there since the place was technically owned by Mr. Strogal’s business and he would be the one negotiating.  This was probably the real reason for my excitement.  I was going to see Tom for the third day in a row.

While I was cleaning out some things of Parker’s to take over there I thought about my look.  I bought in to so many things Parker stood for, including my hair, so I called the salon and made an appointment with Jenna.  That’s where I was heading now.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted done, but I wanted something to symbolize my change, my growth, my new found independence.  I parallel parked right in front of the salon and strode in, determined to say goodbye to my long hair… or something.

“Hey, Kat, I’ll be with you in a second,” Jenna called from sweeping under her chair.  Jenna was scary-skinny girl who was twenty-two years old, but looked much younger.  Her mother didn’t work and he little brother was in high school.  Jenna worked two jobs to support her family, and sometimes took the odd cleaning job.  Her mother has had bipolar manic depression since Jenna’s father left about ten years ago.  Jenna practically raised herself and is now raising her brother.  Her mother stays home and watches TV.

There weren’t any other customers in there so I picked up a hair style magazine and looked through the pictures.  There were so many cuts it was mind-boggling.  I liked to be able to pull it back when I jog, but I guess if I didn’t have enough to pull back I wouldn’t need to.  I flipped to the color section and saw girls with all sorts of chunky sections of bright colors spiking out at odd angles.  One actually looked like she patterned it off of a skunk.

I began to have second thoughts when Jenna was ready.  I sat down in the mechanical chair and she started putting the cape around my body.

“So, what do you want done?”

“I’m not sure,” I bit my lip.  “Just something different.”

“Well, on the phone you mentioned cut and color, do you have any ideas?”

“Um, well, definitely some highlights, but nothing too bright, you know?  I’m not sure what to do about a cut.  I want it cut, though.”

“Hmm,” she started and then walked over to the counter.  She came back with a color swatch book.  “Here’s some colors I think would look great on you.”  She pointed to a light brown and a medium auburn.  “We could alternate small strands in with your natural color then if you don’t want it keep re-doing it, it will blend pretty well when your hair grows out.  and as for the cut, if you don’t mind going kinda short you could donate to Locks of Love.  You only need ten inches of unbleached hair and I could cut off at least fifteen and still have plenty to work with.”

I closed my eyes, debating.  My hair could always grow back if I didn’t like it short and Jenna has never given anyone a bad cut that I’ve heard of.  The colors?  Am I the same prude that went all natural for so long? I didn’t want to be her.  I wasn’t her.  The thought of giving my hair away to charity was a plus side.  At least if I didn’t like the cut I could say I did my good dead for the year, or however it took to grow it back out again.

“Okay, Jenna.” I nodded.

“Okay?”  She wasn’t sure what I meant because my eyes were closed tight and I’m sure that wasn’t a good sign to her.

I took a deep breath.  “Yes.  Locks of Love.  Highlights.  Just do it.  I want something new and cool and I don’t want to watch.”

She laughed quietly and said, “Okay.  If you’re sure?”

I nodded again.  She pumped up the chair and I felt her gather my hair into a ponytail at the nape of my neck and I heard something that started the tears rolling.  I thought there would be a quick snip and it would be gone, but it wasn’t; it took several rough, hard cuts to get through the thick bunch of hair.  Then it was gone.  I opened my eyes and it looked… okay, I guess.  Then she turned the chair around from the mirror.

“You said you didn’t want to watch, so don’t watch,” she teased.  “You can trust me.  Would I still be working here if I didn’t do a good job?”

“I guess not.  Okay, Jenna, I trust you.”

“Good,” and she began mixing the color.

 

*          *          *

 

Hours later, Jenna turned my chair to face the mirror.

I gasped, as cheesy as it sounds.  I had gone from a girl with long, plain Jane, brown hair to a stylish chic.  My hair was still dark brown, but it had subtle strands of light brown and auburn mixed in.  I turned my head from side to side and Jenna fetched a hand held mirror to show me the back.  It was cut in a bob starting at my chin and angling back to my neck where she had put a small amount of gel to spike it out.   She had puffed it up a little on the crown of my head and parted it on the side and angled my bangs.  She cut it knowing my hair was straight as a pin and I needed it to be easy to manage.

“And you can still pull up the sides if you need to for running and stuff,” she said.  I didn’t know what to say.  “Don’t cry, please don’t cry.”

“No, it’s great,” I said, and I wasn’t lying.  I really liked it.  “Thank you so much, Jenna!  I really needed this.  I love it.”

“Oh, good.  I always get nervous when someone cuts all their hair off.”

I looked at my watch and it was later than I thought.  The meeting with Mr. Strogal and Tom was in a few minutes.

I paid and gave Jenna a huge tip, Lord knows she needs it, and walked out to my car.  The wind wasn’t blowing today and the sun was already melting the snow.  I decided to walk to the realty office.  It was across the street and over a block in the opposite direction of where my car was heading, so I just grabbed the papers off the seat that needed shredded in the office. 

When I got there Tiffi had left a note saying she was off showing houses and Mr. Strogal’s office door was open.  Tom was already inside filling out papers.  He must have gotten there early, so I stuffed my papers in a desk drawer and went in.

 The reactions I got were not what I was expecting.  I’m not used to people staring.  “Hi,” I said and sat in the only chair available, next to Tom.  He didn’t take his eyes off me the whole time and I could see a flash of heat in his eyes. 

Mr. Strogal grunted and cleared his throat, and Tom looked back at his contract.  “Let’s catch you up, Katrina.  We’ve already agreed on the price and signed an agreement. You’ll get your usual commission.  Since he has offered to pay in cash and I have verified the finds are there, all there is to do is make an appointment at the attorney’s for the closing.

“Oh, great,” I turned to Tom and said, “Have you looked at the whole property?”

“Not in person…”

“You can take him out to do that in a bit.  I’m going to take off for the day,” Mr. Strogal said and got up to put his coat on.  “I’ve signed everything I’ve need to sign, you can do the rest, Katrina.  Feeling better I hope?” He seemed to notice my hair for the first time and frowned a little.

“Yes, much better. And yes I’ll be able to show him around today.” I turned to Tom, “Is that okay with you?”

“Sounds great.”

Mr. Strogal shook Tom’s hand and left leaving me to look over the forms already piled up.  I usually skim over the personal information because I usually know something about the people already.  I didn’t know hardly anything about Tom so I took my time. I didn’t get far when I froze.  I stopped reading at the second line where it said ‘marital status’.  He had checked the box marked ‘Widowed’.

I felt an overwhelming sadness for him.  I didn’t know what to say.  I pretended to read further but nothing was sinking in.  I had perceived him as single, as someone who put on the farce of a rebel but was actually quiet and shy; the old expression ‘still waters run deep’.  They were deeper than I thought.  Is he still grieving?  How long ago did this happen? What had happened? Was it something like a disease, or a car accident?  Was she hurt by someone?  I remembered the burn scars on his ear and neck and wondered if she had been in a fire.  How horrible.

I started to feel the sting of tears in my eyes and got angry with myself for overreacting.  I got up and got a tissue from the corner of the room.  I kept myself turned away and dabbed my eyes before the tears spilled over and left streaks through my makeup.  I made a show of blowing my nose so as not to reveal the real reason I needed a tissue.

His sudden voice startled me, “You got a haircut.”

I whirled around and planted a smile on my face. “Yeah. I needed something different.”  I went back to my chair and quickly picked up the forms and turned the page.

“It looks nice.”

I couldn’t look at him again so I kept skimming the information on the forms.  I just said, “Thanks.”

Everything on the forms seemed to be in order, including the explanation of the life insurance policy he had on his wife, so I signed the witness lines and got up.  He followed me to the front room where I filed the papers in a folder.  I decided not to bring it up his marital status and open old wounds.  Besides, it must have been a while ago if he was looking at me like that.  And he kissed me.  And we’re going back to the scene of that kiss today.  Actually I was supposed to show him the property; he’s already seen the house.  That’s when I realized I was wearing the wrong shoes.

“Oh, dang!  I just remembered I left my snow boots at my house.  Do you mind if we…” I had turned around to tell him and he was right there, our faces inches from each other.  I swallowed and tried to finish what I was saying.  “… stop… by my… house…and…”

And he kissed me.  I leaned back on the desk as he leaned toward me, his hands on my wrists.  He slowly ran his hands up my arms to my shoulders and wrapped them around me.  Mine had a mind of their own as they under his arms and pulled him tighter against me.  There was an urgency in his kiss that left me breathless.  He ran one hand into my hair on the back of my neck, a feeling I wasn’t used to and I shivered.  His other went around my waist.  He started to kiss down my neck to my collar bone and then reached down and to lift me onto the desk.  He settled in between my legs and I felt one of his hands begin to go inside my shirt.  Unfortunately, reality sunk in.

“Wait,” I said, breathless.  “We can’t do this here.  It’s a storefront.”

His hands stilled and he whispered, “Your house?”

I nodded and we parted.  I rushed around to shut everything off and close the office.  We went outside and I locked up.  We walked briskly across the street and down a ways to my car.  He didn’t’ hold my hand.  I wanted him to but he seemed to know that we couldn’t do that without causing a whole lot of gossip.

He was very still in the passenger seat in the few minutes it took to get to my house, but he wouldn’t stop looking at me.  I pulled up in front of my house and got out  with my keys ready.  I looked around to see if anyone was around (I really hate the gossip in this town).  I didn’t see anyone, but something wasn’t right.  Tom was right behind me and grabbed my hand and stopped me.  I wouldn’t need my keys.  My front door was already wide open and Ernesto was sitting on the first step.  Had I left in such a hurry that I didn’t shut it all the way?  I started to rush for the door and call for the dogs, but Tom pulled me back.

“What are you doing?  I have to see if my dogs are still here.”

“Look.” He pointed to the door jam and I saw the frame looked like it had been chewed.  Someone had broken into my house.