Monday, December 31, 2012
Chapter Thirty Six
Julianna had never been happier. Rick, the love of her life, was retired from his reporting job that kept him away from home several months out of the year. Her daughters were both happily married and keeping her well supplied with grandchildren. Her best friend lived next door to her and she was living in her favorite town, Camden Corners.
Julianna was originally from California, at least she thought she was. Her only memories of childhood were being placed in one foster home after another. She was one of the lucky ones, her families were all kind to her. She had heard horror stories through the years about children who had been abused by families trusted with their care.
At eighteen, Julianna was on her own. She knew she wanted to continue her education and applied for a job as a live-in nanny to the daughter of the popular movie star, Melanie Fairchild. She was pleasantly surprised when she discovered what a kind person Miss Fairchild was. Julianna didn't realize it at the time, but she was one of over fifty people interviewed for the job. Melanie was very particular about the people who watched over her daughter while she was away. Julianna and Melanie became fast friends. Julianna loved two year old Samantha and the little girl loved her too. Melanie, Julianna and Samantha flew to Camden Corners for the grand opening of The Merryweather Resort. Both women found love while in the quaint village. Julianna married journalist Rick Marino who had accepted a job with a large newspaper in Los Angeles. After 20 years and many separations due to his work, Rick retired to write a novel. Because they both loved Camden Corners, they moved across the country to Rick's childhood home.
Julianna, an accomplished photographer, reopened the art gallery originated by Jack Mackenzie in the early 1900s. She invited amateur artists to display their works in her gallery. This particular weekend, The Merryweather was sponsoring an exhibit of local artists. As Julianna directed the movers she had hired to transport the artwork, she walked by the display of photographs of the residents of Camden Corners almost one hundred years ago. She turned to look directly into the faces of Dahlia and Hyacinth Bloom Hightower. Julianna had a sense that they were warning her of impending peril. She brushed off the momentary feeling, but felt an unease the rest of the day.
The following Monday morning, Julianna was chatting on the telephone with her daughter, Lacey McCoy. She was hearing all about the family's trip to the zoo in Greensboro the day before. Sammy, who had won everybody's heart, was delighted to show his brother all the animals. At only four months old, Reilly was showing signs of hero worship for his older brother.
The doorbell rang. “Someone is at the door dear. I will call you later. Give the boys a hug from me.” Julianna opened the door to a woman her age standing there with a smile on her face.
“Julianna! I've finally found you.”
Julianna looked at the woman who was a stranger to her. “Do I know you?” she asked.
“It's Yolanda, your twin sister.”
Julianna looked at the woman again. There was a slight resemblance. This woman had bright red hair that obviously came from a bottle. Their eyes were the same color and the shape of their faces. Julianna had long ago given up hope of finding her birth family. Was it possible this stranger was her sister and a twin sister at that?
“Please, come in,” she said.
Yolanda walked through the front door. Without seeming obvious, she looked around the room. Julianna made out alright in life for a kid with no parents, she thought to herself.
“Yolanda, how do you know we are related? I could never find any information about where I came from or who my folks were. I gave up over thirty years ago.”
“It is a very sad story, Julianna. Our mama was not well after giving birth to us. She tried her best, she worked nights just to put food on the table. Her mother watched over us while Mama was away. You see her beloved husband, and our dear father was killed in a terrible accident when we were only a few months old. Mother did her best to carry on for our sakes, but when our grandmother took sick and died too, it was too much for her. She collapsed on the way home from work one morning. The authorities were called and we were wrenched from our home. We were only two years old. We were separated and both placed in different foster homes. Eventually, Mother regained her strength. She was able to find me, but the trail turned cold when she attempted to locate you. The poor sainted woman has never given up looking for you in all these years.”
Rick walked into the room. He heard the end of Yolanda's story and was skeptical. He introduced himself to the visitor. This woman was nothing like Julianna. He could see the coldness in her eyes. Being a journalist, he was accustomed to asking the difficult questions. He would have to be careful though, he knew Julianna had longed for any information she could find about her family.
Yolanda could see the doubt on Rick's face. I'm going to have to turn on the waterworks, she thought and proceeded to do just that.
“Yolanda, don't cry. We will figure this out. Tell me about our mother.”
Through sobs, Yolanda told of the long suffering woman's illness that forced her to be bedridden. “The doctors have said it is close to her time. She made me promise I would look for you. Her dying wish is that she is reunited with her daughter after all these years.”
“If your mother had attempted to find Julianna and wasn't able too, how were you able to locate her?”
“Rick, may I call you Rick?” she said whimpering. “I know you will think I'm a fool, but you see I was desperate. I'm afraid I sought the services of a psychic. I paid her $1,000, money I didn't have, but it was worth every penny because she led me to my dear sister.”
Rick was ready to show the woman the door, but he could see the look on Julianna's face. She wanted to believe the story even though her instincts told her not to.
“Yolanda, where are my manners? May I get you a cup of coffee or tea?”
“I'm a little parched dear, I wouldn't mind a tiny bit of bourbon if you have it.”
It was only 10:00 in the morning. Rick got up to pour her a light drink even more convinced she was a con artist.
“Where are you staying, Yolanda?” Julianna asked.
“Oh dear, I'm afraid I spent all my money on the bus fare here. I suppose I'll find a bench somewhere.”
Before Julianna could offer her a room in their home, Rick spoke up. “Don't be silly, we have a perfectly fine hotel in Camden Corners. You may stay at The Merryweather, don't worry about the cost, we will take care of your bill for the night.”
Yolanda knew she wasn't putting anything over on Rick. She probably shouldn't have asked for a drink but she needed it to calm her nerves. She would have to work fast on Julianna before her husband convinced her Yolanda was only after her money.
The truth was, Yolanda was indeed related to Julianna. They were cousins. Their fathers were brothers. Yolanda's mother, Gladys, married unsuspecting Harry Colby. Harry was a goodhearted man who fell for a pretty face some fifty years ago. Harry and his brother Henry were twins. Henry protected Harry through his growing up years. The day Gladys came into his life, was the end of the relationship. Gladys made sure Henry was out of his brother's life since she was in a better position to manipulate Harry without him. Henry married Rosemary, the complete opposite of Gladys. The women gave birth to baby girls within months of each other. When Julianna was less than a year old, her parents were killed in an automobile accident leaving her alone in the world except for Harry. Harry wanted to adopt Julianna, but Gladys insisted there was no room in their lives for the child. Gladys pinned the name Julianna Collins, a fictitious name, to the child's blanket and left her on the doorstep of an orphanage. She persuaded Harry to sign papers giving up all claims to the child and the deed to Henry's property. Guilt and despair over his brother's death and the treatment of his niece were too much for Harry's heart. He died just two months later leaving his widow with a child and no life insurance, only the two properties the brothers owned.
Julianna was adopted by a childless couple who discovered just before the adoption became final that they were indeed going to have a child of their own. They returned Julianna to the orphanage saying they were afraid they wouldn't be able to love her the way they would love their own flesh and blood. She was eventually sent to live in a foster home. She had a total of five foster families. Julianna was a delightful child, but none of the families she lived with were in a financial position to adopt her as their own.
Gladys lost track of Julianna after the first few years. She was all but forgotten until the day she picked up a tabloid magazine that was left on the bus. Gladys had always liked Melanie Fairchild movies. She noticed an article telling of Melanie's retirement several years before. The article mentioned and showed a picture of Julianna Collins Marino, a good friend and nanny to Melanie's daughter. Gladys knew right away that Julianna was her husband's niece. She did some investigating and discovered Julianna had married a successful newspaperman and was quite well off financially. The wheels started turning in the old lady's head. Her daughter, Yolanda, was not nearly as pretty as Julianna, but she could pass as her sister. Better yet, her twin sister.
Rick arranged for Yolanda to stay in a suite in The Merryweather. Julianna was slightly skeptical about the relationship, but she was willing to give the woman the benefit of the doubt. After Rick and Julianna drove Yolanda to the hotel and made sure she was safely in the room, they left with the promise Julianna would visit Yolanda in the morning. Once again, the photo of the Bloom sisters seemed to come alive as Julianna past by, sending a chill down her spine.
Watching from a pickup truck in the parking lot, a man in his early forties waited until the couple was well out of sight. He called the hotel and asked for Yolanda Colby's room. “What room are you in?” he said unpleasantly. Yolanda told him and he ended the call walking directly to her suite.
“Nice,” he said gruffly. “You can't stay here. Call the front desk and tell them you want to move to the cabin by the lake. I don't care what reason you give them, just do it.”
Yolanda knew better than to argue with her brother, Vinny. She had been the target of his wrath once too often. She immediately called the front desk. Much to her relief, the cabin was available. They would be sending someone to move her belongings momentarily.
“That was strange,” said Cindy, the desk clerk.
“What was strange?” replied Tracy Crowley.
“Rick and Julianna Marino checked in and paid for a guest. She just called and asked for a cabin. Most people would much prefer the suites. She is by herself. I know it's none of my business, but I just found it odd.”
Tracy didn't know why, but she sensed danger. She brushed it off as just being tired. I need to get home and relax with Jack, she thought to herself. “I'm leaving for the day Cindy, let's hope Ms. Colby is happy in her new room. Jack is preparing dinner tonight which means it will be a feast. He is a much better cook than I ever was.”
Yolanda settled into her new room. Vinny knocked on the door. “Hurry up, Yolanda, let me in.”
She hurried to the door and opened it. “Hold your horses, Vinny.”
“What happened to our plan? You were suppose to stay with her at her house. How come you let them bring you here? Can't you do anything right?”
“What could I do, Vinny? Her husband butted right in, he wouldn't let her ask me to stay with them. He's suspicious, I can tell you that.”
“I'm gonna stay with you tonight. That bed looks more comfortable than my pickup. I've got it hidden over in the vacant lot next door.”
Yolanda reached for the telephone.
“What are you doing?” Vinny shouted.
“I'm going to call Ma,” she said.
“How stupid can you be? Do you want to get caught? The first thing the cops will do is trace any calls from this phone.”
Yolanda walked into the bedroom and slammed the door. She hated Vinny. He was mean to her and made her feel dumb. She couldn't think straight when he was around. She wasn't stupid, just afraid and that made her do stupid things. She remembered the day Ma brought him home from the hospital. Yolanda thought having a baby to play with would be such fun. She was wrong. Her baby brother screamed all night and most of the day. She remembered the day Vinny's father walked out of the house. He said he couldn't stand the little brat and Ma could give him away like she gave away the other kid for all he cared. That was the first time Yolanda had heard about her cousin. She was afraid to ask Ma about the other kid because Ma would be angry and slap her again. It wasn't until several years later when Ma had too much bourbon and spilled the beans about Julianna. Yolanda dreamed about meeting her cousin one day. She thought they could be friends. Yolanda didn't have any friends of her own. She didn't own any nice clothes like the other girls in school. Not only did she not dress like the other girls, Vinny was such a bully, nobody wanted to be near him or his sister.
Julianna was so beautiful. She had a handsome husband and a nice home. Yolanda saw pictures of her children and grandchildren. Being left at the orphanage doorstep was the best thing that could have happened to her. Yolanda was envious. Vinny promised Julianna wouldn't be hurt, Yolanda hoped he was telling the truth just once in his miserable life.
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Chapter Thirty Five
Good Neighbor Sammy
“Hi mister, Whatcha doin'?”
Ross looked towards the door of the old house he was restoring. There stood the cutest little blond haired boy about five years old.
“Hello, sport, where did you come from?”
“From my house,” he answered. “Do you live here?”
“Not yet, I'm trying to fix it up so I can live here. What's you name young fella?”
“My name is Samuel Joseph Flynn but everybody calls me Sammy. My grandma said not to bother you. Am I bothering you, mister?”
“Not at all, I needed to take a break.”
“It's kinda cold in here. Don't ya think?”
“It's very cold in here, but I had to open the door to let some fresh air in. Can you smell the paint?”
“I sure can. Did you chase the ghosts away from here?”
“Did ghosts live here?”
“My grandma says they didn't. When I was just a little kid I was afraid of this house but now I'm not. It isn't very scary in here.”
Lacey walked in with some sandwiches she made at home for the two of them. She was enjoying helping Ross with the house. Before he changed anything, he asked her opinion. He wanted to make sure she would like living here if she ever accepted his proposal and married him.
“Well, hello young man, I'm Lacey. Are you a contractor?”
“I don't know what that is, I'm Samuel Joseph Flynn. You can call me Sammy.”
“It's very nice to meet you Sammy. How would you like a cookie? I just happen to have some in my bag.”
“I do like cookies.”
“I thought you might,” Lacey said as she pulled a sugar cookie with blue frosting out of her bag.
“I'm sorry folks, Sammy knows better than to barge in on you. I'm Sammy's grandmother, Mamie Flynn. We live next door,” said a kind elderly lady.
“Mrs. Flynn, please come in.” Ross introduced himself and Lacey. “Sammy is just fine. I needed a break and he is a great little guy.”
“We were just about to have a bite to eat, Mrs. Flynn,” said Lacey. “Would you and Sammy like to join us?”
“Oh that's very nice of you. Sammy has already eaten. I won't even try to take that cookie away from him.”
“Please sit for awhile, I have a fresh pot of coffee in the kitchen. If you don't mind drinking from Styrofoam, you are welcome to a cup. I haven't met any of my new neighbors yet. It has been too cold to do any work outside.”
“Please call me Mamie. It's so nice to have young people in the neighborhood. This old house has been sitting vacant for a couple of years now. I'm afraid Mr. Hendricks didn't keep it up as it should have been. He was a nice old gentlemen but he was a bit senile. His parents built this house when he was just a wee babe. He was close to one hundred years old when he died.”
“I can see how much work you have done here. It looks lovely. When do you think the two of you will be moving in?”
Ross smiled, “I wish it was the two of us Mamie, I can't seem to convince Lacey that she can't live without me and she should marry me. As soon as I finish painting, I will officially be your next door neighbor.”
That evening, over dinner, Lacey filled Ross in on the story of Mamie and her grandson. Mamie and her husband, Emmett had been married almost twenty five years. They had given up on having any children years earlier. As much as they both wanted a family, it simply didn't happen. It was a shock to them and everyone in town when Veronica Diane Flynn was born on the same month Mamie turned fifty two years old.
Veronica was a pretty little girl. People who didn't know Mamie and Emmett always commented on their sweet little granddaughter. Veronica knew her family was not like any other in Camden Corners. Mamie and Emmett loved their daughter very much and treated her like a princess. She wasn't allowed to do the simplest things all the other children did, for fear she would be hurt.
Veronica was completely unprepared when at twenty years old, Justin Lake came into her life. It was love at first sight for Veronica. She had never before defied her parents. Justin was a smooth character who swept her off her feet. She fell hard for this man of questionable morals. He introduced her to the game of pool and the taste of hard liquor. After a few months of toying with her affections, he left town on his motorcycle and left a brokenhearted, pregnant Veronica behind.
Veronica cried herself to sleep every night until the day she gave birth to Samuel Joseph Flynn. Being a mother brought out the best in the pampered girl. She doted on her baby boy. When the child was just beginning to walk, the doorbell rang. It was none other than Justin Lake.
“I've missed you princess, come take a ride on my bike with me,” said the smarmy gentleman who glanced at the little blond boy smiling at him from behind his mother.
Veronica, again, was hypnotized by Justin Lake. She shouted “I'll be back, Mama.”
Mamie Flynn's heart fell to the floor, she shouted for her daughter to stop. She feared for Veronica's safety. Her intuition proved to be correct. Just outside of town, Justin's motorcycle hit an oil spill, the bike went off the side of the road throwing its passengers onto the pavement, killing them both instantly.
Emmett never recovered from his daughter's death. He died of a fatal stroke just one month later. Mamie was heartsick. She lost her daughter and husband. If it hadn't been for Sammy, she may not have survived herself.
Sammy was so young, he didn't comprehend what had happened to his only family. It took all the strength Mamie had, but she was determined to make the best life possible for her dear grandson.
Mamie had some health problems herself. She knew the chances she would live to see her grandson grow into a man were slim. She dreaded the thought of that happy young boy being a ward of the state. Neither Mamie or Emmett had any living relatives. Every night she prayed for a solution to her problem.
She watched as the vacant house next door began to look like a home again. She could see a tall young man inside almost every night repairing the walls, changing out pipes, restoring the wiring. Almost every evening a pretty young lady joined him and worked right along side him. Mamie didn't mean to be nosy, but she did see them kissing quite often. She had a perfect view from her upstairs window until the day she saw blinds and curtain rods being installed and the windows being covered.
Sammy was fascinated with the activity in the neighbor's house. Mamie told him not to bother the man who was working there but he found his way to the front door while she was busy in the kitchen, washing their supper dishes.
After meeting Ross and Lacey, Mamie was certain her prayers had been answered. She was sorry the couple didn't have any marriage plans, but it didn't discourage her from her own plan. She had known Jack Crowley since he was just a little guy. She walked to his office one afternoon while Sammy was in school.
“Mamie, how nice to see you. You are looking quite well, what brings you to my office today?” said Jack.
“Jackie,” Mamie still called him Jackie even though Jack was old enough to qualify for the senior discount at Denny's. “You and I both know I am on borrowed time. I don't want my little Sammy to be without a loving home to grow up in when I'm gone. My plan is to name a legal guardian for him. I have a little money in the bank and after selling the house, there should be enough to help pay for his college education when the time comes. There is a young fellow who bought the old Hendricks place. He and his young lady friend have done a wonderful job restoring it. In fact, it has never looked better. Getting back to the purpose of my visit, I have done some checking on my own. Seems Ross McCoy, that's his name, has a good job at the hospital. Carl Hanson thinks the world of him. He comes from California and had a rough start in life, but seems to have straightened himself out. He and Lacey Marino are an item, although they have no plans to marry anytime soon. I'm hoping that situation changes. Lacey is the daughter of Rick Marino and we both know what a good family he comes from. Sammy has taken to Ross and Lacey and I think they have a real affection for him too.”
“Mamie, you have given this a lot of thought. I don't know Ross very well, but I do know Tracy thinks highly of him. He has been staying at The Merryweather, you know. Lacey and her sister, Erin are very nice young woman. They don't come any better than Rick and Julianna. What does Ross think of your plan?”
“I haven't spoken to him yet, Jackie. I wanted to get your opinion first. Of course, I would like it better if those two were married, but maybe if they shared custody of Sammy, they would get the idea.”
“I'm not sure you can depend on that. If you are serious, I can draw up the papers. I hope this guardianship isn't needed any time soon. There are many people in town who would like to see you have a long life, Mamie.”
“Oh dear, I have already had a long life. If it weren't for Sammy, I think I would have passed on a few years ago, whatever youthfulness I have, I owe all to him.”
Jack hugged his old friend.
Mamie walked back home. She left a note on Ross' door on the way back asking him and Lacey to stop by her house before he started with his work that evening as she had a matter of importance to discuss with them.
Ross read the note and wondered if Mamie was going to tell him not to encourage Sammy to visit quite so often. Ross loved having the little guy around. He never thought much about having children before Sammy came into his life. He would abide by Mamie's request if that was what she wanted to discuss with them.
Lacey and Ross arrived at Mamie's door. “Hello Mamie, you asked to see us this evening?”
“Please come in, I have asked Mrs. Graves, across the street, to watch over Sammy while we talk,” said Mamie.
“This sounds serious, Mamie,” said Ross. “I hope we haven't done anything to upset you.”
“Upset me?” she replied. “Oh no, you haven't done anything. This is a serious issue though. I don't expect you to give me an answer tonight, but I would hope you would think about it.”
Mamie told them of her wish that Ross and Lacey would become legal guardians of Sammy in the event of her death or incapacitation.
Ross was stunned. “Mamie, I don't need to think about it. Sammy is everything I would want in a child of my own. I am honored you would even consider entrusting his care to me. What do you think, Lacey?”
“I hope it won't be necessary, but yes, I would be delighted to be Sammy's legal guardian. You do realize Ross and I are not married.”
“Yes, I am aware of that and I hope I'm around to celebrate your nuptials one of these fine days. However, if that is not to be, I was hoping you would share in Sammy upbringing. I have spoken to Jackie Crowley and he will get the papers together just as soon as I give him the go ahead. I feel much better knowing Sammy will be taken care of if I can't do it myself.”
The young couple hugged Mamie and walked back to Ross' house.
“Can you believe that, Lacey? I thought she was going to say Sammy couldn't come over anymore. I don't want anything to happen to Mamie, but I do like the thought of that little guy being in our lives.”
“What I can't believe is that she would trust two unmarried, childless people to care for her precious grandson. Ross McCoy, when are you going to make an honest woman of me? It's been at least three weeks since you have asked me to be your wife.”
Ross reached into his pocket. “I was never a boy scout, but I am always prepared.” He got down on one knee and said, “Lacey Marino, for the 25th time, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife.”
“Ross McCoy. I would love to be your wife, I thought you'd never ask,” she laughed.
The blind hadn't been drawn giving Mamie a perfect view of Ross placing the ring on Lacey's finger. She opened her window and shouted “It's about time! Make it a short engagement, you two have dawdled long enough.”
The wedding was held in the chapel near the foot of the mountain. Samuel Joseph Flynn was the ring bearer. The couple moved into their newly renovated house. Even though the work was completed, Sammy visited often.
Two months later, Mamie passed away in her sleep. She died satisfied that Sammy would be loved and cared for. Little Sammy was heartbroken over the loss of his grandmother. He moved into his new home with Ross and Lacey and settled in with his new family. The couple legally adopted him and he, along with the rest of the family welcomed a baby boy into the world several months later.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
Chapter Thirty Four
Taking a Chance
After running out of The Merryweather, Lacey realizes she left her coat inside. She could make it home without the coat, but her car keys were in the pocket.
I have two choices, she thought, stand out here and freeze to death or swallow my pride and walk back in to get my coat. She opted for the embarrassment of facing Ross McCoy again.
She didn't have to walk very far. He was standing at the door with her coat in his hand.
“Looking for this?” he said with a grin.
“Thank you!” Lacey took the coat from him and started back out the door when she heard him say, “You won't get too far without these.”
“Give me my keys, Ross. This isn't funny.”
“I'll give them back if you will have one drink with me. What have you got to lose? An hour of your time, a half hour if you're a drinker.”
“Thirty seconds if I call security.”
“You wouldn't do that to your old friend, would you?”
“I just might. Okay, against my better judgment, I'll have one drink with you.”
They walked back into the bar he put his hand on her elbow, afraid she would run if he didn't. Lacey felt her knees go weak. How can this man do this to me? I should run the other way but I can't.
They talked for a while about the weather, about California and how Lacey missed the ocean but was happy to be living in Camden Corners.
“I'll be living here too, Lacey. I've accepted a job at the hospital.”
Lacey just stared at him. “How did this come about? Of all the places you could have gone, how did you end up in Camden Corners?”
“Do you remember the Claussens? They owned the drugstore near my apartment. They know you.”
“Of course, I remember them. We exchange Christmas cards each year. How do you know them?”
“Mr. Claussen paid me a visit after you showed up at the apartment that night. He wanted me to know what a heel I was for hurting an innocent young girl.”
Lacey shuddered, “You and your friends must have had a good laugh over that one.”
“No, we didn't. In fact, when he came to the door, I was alone. Annabel and Louie were out. The girl you saw me with was Louie's girl. I had to find a way to make you hate me and Annabel and Louie went along with the charade. I wasn't happy about doing that to you but I couldn't let you give up your life with your parents and your sister. You see, I never had a family who cared about me like you did. I had nothing to give you. At that point in my life I had no future.”
“You seem to be doing quite well, I can tell by the look of your suit that it didn't come off the rack at Sears. Did you find yourself a benefactor or should I say a benefactress?”
“Actually, I did. Mr. & Mrs. Claussen to be specific. They provided me with a home and an education. I could never have done it without them. I was determined to be worthy of you. Mr. Claussen is the one who encouraged me to try for the job at Memorial Hospital. I wasn't the most qualified applicant, but I think Mr. Claussen's recommendation was the determining factor.”
“Ross, I don't know what to say.”
“Say you will stay and have dinner with me. I owe you at least one meal after all the cheeseburgers you bought me.”
“I'd forgotten about those greasy things. I hope you have improved your diet since then.”
“Mrs. Claussen made sure of that.”
“They do have very good food here and I'm really hungry. This was the first day back to school after the Christmas break and those kids wore me out.”
It seemed everyone in town knew Lacey. The restaurant wasn't very crowded, mainly because the weather was bad. All of the workers in the restaurant called her by name. She saw a couple of her students and they all spoke to her. Ross had the feeling she was a very popular teacher. A fellow teacher called to her and asked if they were still on for Friday night. “Yes, Hank,” she answered. Ross knew a girl like Lacey wouldn't be sitting home alone at night, but he still felt a pang of jealousy.
During dinner they talked about her teaching career. They both felt the same about math. Lacey loved her teaching job. She wanted to inspire young women to give math a chance. Most of them had been conditioned to think it was a subject for boys only. She loved working with the girls basketball team. They weren't the most talented players in the area, but they did their best. Lacey believed everyone should have a chance and even the girls who were not five feet ten and above were welcomed to join.
“You have always been a caring person, Lacey. I think that's what attracted me to you when we first met.”
“Ross, please don't say any more. Maybe I shouldn't have agreed to have dinner with you. There can never be anything between us. I hope you know that.”
“Lacey, I know I hurt you and I know I will have to prove myself to you, but please don't shut the door on a relationship between us. I have never forgotten you.”
“I'm sorry Ross, I can't do this. Thank you for dinner. Good luck with the job.” She put her coat on and felt for her keys. She was out of the restaurant and to her car before he could see the tears streaming down her cheeks.
Luckily the snow had stopped. She didn't have to stop to clean her car before she drove off. Ross stood in the parking lot wanting to stop her, but he knew he couldn't. He hoped she would come around.
Lacey's answering machine beeped at her as she entered her apartment. Her mother was the first caller. “Call me, whenever you get in. I want to know all about your evening. Isn't the new, cleaned up Ross gorgeous?” Next was from her sister wanting to know what happened tonight. The third was her mother again, she was worried when Lacey wasn't home at 8:30 and wanted her to call.
Lacey didn't want to talk about her evening with Ross but knew her mother would worry if she didn't call her back. She tried to keep it brief.
“We had dinner and talked, Mom. I won't be seeing him again.”
“Lacey, what happened? You sound upset.”
“I never could fool you. He wants to start up again. I just can't do it Mom. I didn't realize how much he hurt me until I saw him again. You know I have never had a serious relationship with a man since Ross. He has ruined my life. That sounds childish, but it's the way I feel.”
“Do you want me to come over there, dear? Sounds like you need a hug.”
“No, Mom, thanks. I'm tired enough to fall asleep, I have a busy day tomorrow and need to get some rest. I'll call you tomorrow.”
Lacey ended the call. She would call her sister in the morning, it was getting late and she didn't want to disturb her in case she was asleep. Thanks to the wine she'd had that evening and the fact that she was physically drained, Lacey was able to fall asleep quickly. She slept fitfully, dreaming of Ross McCoy. Her mother was right. He was gorgeous.
Ross decided it was best that he not try to contact Lacy. He concentrated on his new job at the hospital. He had much to learn and was determined to be the best he could be. He was given more responsibility than he'd had in his previous employment and he was happy to have something to focus on rather than Lacey. He put in longer hours than were required until Carl told him to ease up a bit. He didn't want his newest staff member to burn out before summer. “Take advantage of the fine skiing we have here, or if you prefer, you can borrow my snowmobile. We want you to stay in Camden Corners, Ross.”
The following Saturday, Ross rented a pair of skis and headed to the ski resort. Growing up in New Hampshire, he wasn't a stranger to skiing. He was introduced to snow boarding while living in California, but found he preferred the old fashioned skis. The air was crisp and the sun was shining brightly. Ross felt like a new man. It had been three weeks since he'd been with Lacey. He had tried to give her some space. She had a problem trusting men and he knew he was responsible for that. He had just about decided he was going to pay her a visit that afternoon when a skier whizzed past him. He recognized the hair color immediately. His heart skipped a beat as he realized it was Lacey. She made the mistake of turning to look back at him and ended up hitting a patch of ice and falling ungracefully into a snow pile.
He skied to her, concerned she may have hurt herself and was relieved it was only her pride that suffered.
“Did you follow me?” she said harshly.
“You are the one who came down that hill after I did. It looks, to me, like you are the one doing the following.”
“Ross McCoy. I was not chasing after you. Besides, you obviously don't care to see me since you haven't bothered to call me in three weeks.”
“I didn't think you wanted to see me again. The way you ran out of The Merryweather that night, I didn't feel exactly welcomed back into your life.”
“For someone who turned his life around, pursued an education and became an asset to society, you certainly gave up on us without a second thought.”
“Lacey, has anyone ever told you how exasperating you are? I practically threw myself at you and you ran away.”
“If you really cared, you would have stopped me that night.”
Ross had no more words to say to her. What happened to that docile young girl he had known? As infuriating as the new Lacey was, she was also irresistible. He cupped her face in his hands, tilted her head toward him and kissed her soundly on the lips.
Lacey couldn't move. She had loved this man for seven years and dreamed of this moment. Against her better judgment, she kissed him back. They were suspended in time until they heard some teenagers shouting and laughing as they whistled at the two of them standing in a snow pile with their arms wrapped around each other.
“Maybe we had better get off the mountain,” said Ross not wanting to let Lacey out of his embrace. “Shall we meet at The Merryweather?”
Lacey was about to agree when she remembered he had a room at The Merryweather. She didn't know if she trusted him or herself enough to be that close to his bed.
“How about the Pub on Main? They have the best Irish coffee. I think I could use one right about now.”
They skied together down the mountain. Lacey followed Ross in her car to the pub.
“It's about time,” said Cal, the bartender. “The whole town was wondering when you two would finally get together.”
“Welcome to Small Town, USA. I've heard of places where everyone knows your business, I just didn't believe it until we came to Camden Corners.”
“Good, lets get a booth and make out. We'll really give them something to talk about.”
“As tempting as it sounds, Cal is the father of one of my students and a member of the school board. I'd better be on my best behavior,” Lacey laughed.
Ross squeezed her hand under the table. “I've bought a house,” he said nonchalantly.
“You did? I guess you really are planning to stay.”
“I did think about leaving, but I do like the job and the people I work with. I saw you walking into Hemingway's one day last week. You were with another guy. I wasn't sure I could stay here and watch you from a distance, but maybe it was better than not seeing you at all. Anyway, this is a fixer upper over on Pine Road. It's a big house and needs a lot of work.”
“I love that house. It's the one with the wrap around porch. The stream goes through the back yard. I can't believe you bought it.”
“Would you like to see it? I closed on it yesterday. Alex Kelly is stopping by this evening. He is going to help me evaluate what needs to be done to get it liveable again. Carl says he's the best contractor around.”
“You are a man of many talents, I didn't realize you were a handyman too.”
“That is one more thing I have to thank Helmut Claussen for. He never called a repairman the whole time he owned the drug store. He fixed everything himself. He let me help him when I was living there and taught me everything he knew. After graduation, I lived in an old apartment house in California. There was always something going wrong. Mrs. Finley was a sweet old lady who had been taken advantage of by many repairmen. She got into the habit of asking me to make some minor repairs and before I knew it, I was spending my weekends as her handyman. I didn't mind. I didn't have much of a social life and I actually enjoyed the work.”
“I can't believe you didn't have a social life. I'm sure you had to beat the women off with a stick.”
“Not quite. I never found anyone who measured up to the one I let get away.”
Lacey looked away. “I don't believe you when you say things like that, Ross. You never acted like you even liked me that much. Thinking back, I was just a pest to you.”
“You forget how I grew up. I was taught at an early age never to show any kind of emotion. You were only eighteen and I was twenty two. Feeling what I felt for you was completely foreign to me. I didn't realize that I was falling in love until you were out of my life. I never stopped thinking of you and you were never a pest. Maybe I shouldn't be honest about the way I feel. Maybe if we took things slowly you would come to trust me.”
“That might be for the best. I have enjoyed being with you today and I would love to see your house.”
“Just one thing,” Ross said cautiously. “That guy I saw you with, is he someone special?”
“Yes, he's someone special to me, but he's more special to his wife. He teaches English at the high school. He gave me a ride to the restaurant because my car was in the shop. We were meeting his wife and about ten other people to celebrate another teacher's birthday. The only men in my life are friends.”
“What about Hank? I heard him ask if you were still on for the Friday night after we had dinner.”
“We were chaperones for a tenth grade dance. That is part of my job.”
“That's good to know.” He took her hand as they walked out of the pub and to the house on Pine Road. The snow was beginning to fall but neither one noticed the cold. As they walked up the steps of the porch, a board gave way causing them both to lose their balance. Ross caught Lacey around the waist and they fell into the snow at the base of the stairs.
“We have to stop meeting like this,” Ross laughed as he took her in his arms once again.
Friday, December 28, 2012
A New Millennium
“Good morning, Holly,” Tracy said poking her head in Holly's office. “You look lost in thought.”
“Good morning, Tracy,” she replied. “I'm feeling a sense of sadness this morning. I guess the excitement of the new millennium has worn off. I saw the crew taking down the Christmas decorations and began to think of all those we have lost in the last couple of years. Aggie's passing has hit everyone hard. She was always so full of life, I guess we thought she would go on forever.”
“I know how you feel. It's been two months and I still look for her when we visit Melanie and Joe. She is with Hap now. Isn't it wonderful they had so many years together after being alone for so long?”
“Same with Lily and Lester Hemingway. Remember when Lester came to town and made himself at home in the old Penderghast house? Everyone thought he was just an eccentric old man. Look at the contribution he made to Camden Corners. Hemingway's is always a busy restaurant and it will keep Lester's memory alive for years to come. Lily was always stronger than anyone ever gave her credit for. I think it was because of her that Lester lived well into his 90s. He seemed to give up after Lily died. Have I succeeded in making you sad too?” laughed Tracy.
“I guess I am a little melancholy now. We do have new lives to celebrate. How is your new grandson? A Christmas baby for Mark and Robin.”
“Andrew Jack Crowley is wonderful. I am always amazed at the size of newborn babies. Grampa Jack can't get enough of him. He just stares at his grandson. He's a good baby so far. I hope Kelli's little guy is doing better. I understand he is suffering with his new teeth coming in.”
“He's better today,” replied Holly. “Can you believe we are talking about our grandchildren? Seems like only yesterday we were suffering through teething problems and diaper rash for our children. Where have the years gone?”
“Good morning, ladies,” came the booming voice of Donna Grant. “I trust you behaved yourselves on New Year's Eve.”
“We did, Donna. How was your New Year's celebration?”
“Mr. Penelope and I had a wonderful time watching the ball drop.”
“That poor cat, you are going to confuse him with that name.”
“He's used to it. When he looked at me with those big sad eyes at the animal shelter, I told him if he came home with me he would be called Penelope. He meowed in agreement. He knew if he wanted to be called Ralph or Butch, he was out of luck.”
Holly and Tracy laughed. As far as either of them knew, Donna had never been on a date with a man. She seemed content to be at home with her cat. Mr. Penelope was the third cat she'd adopted since moving to Camden Corners. Tracy and Holly mourned along with her when she lost each one of her best friends. Donna excelled at her job and was compensated well for her services. They knew she was reaching retirement age, but she assured them she would be there until the day they carted her off the premises.
“A young man checked in last evening. He is having breakfast now. He asked the desk clerk if she knew anyone named Lacey Marino. The girl fibbed, said she didn't know Lacey and gave me the fellow's name in case we want to follow up.”
“Julianna will be by in a little while. She is going to be taking photos to add to our website. I'll check with her to see if she knows the man. School started back today and I'm sure Lacey is teaching.”
Ross McCoy was sitting alone at a table near the window. He hadn't lived in an area with snow for several years and was enjoying watching it pile up on the grounds outside. He had come a long way from that arrogant kid he was at twenty two. He would never forget the day Mr. Helmut Claussen knocked on the door to his apartment.
He recognized the old geezer from the drugstore a few doors away. He started in right away about how Ross had broken a young girl's heart. She was much too young for him and he should never have started up with her in the first place. He tried to explain the kid just hung around him and he couldn't get rid of her. When she showed up at his doorstep with a suitcase in her hand, he knew things had gone too far. He did the only thing he could think of at the time. He made her think he and Anabel were together.
Mr. Claussen seemed to calm down after that. He told him he had done the right thing. He was proud of him for not taking advantage of the girl because she probably would have done anything he asked her to do.
Ross felt comfortable with the old guy. He asked Ross what he did to earn a living. Ross said he was learning to be a mechanic. He never had any formal training but seemed to have a knack for it. He was learning the trade from his boss.
It turned out Mr. Claussen was a teacher in the old country. He came to America for a fresh start and because he didn't speak English at the time, he was not able to continue teaching. He and Berta bought the drugstore with the last of their savings. He never went back to teaching, but he continued his interest in young people and their education.
“I always liked math in high school,” Ross told the old guy when he learned the subject Mr. Claussen taught. “Mr. Willard, my boss at the garage, likes me to check his figures at the end of the month. He talks about putting me in charge of the books one day. I think I'd like that.”
“Young man, why don't you go to school and become an accountant if you think you would like that line of work?”
“I have barely enough money to pay my share of the apartment. I have checked into the cost of college. Even community colleges are too much for my finances.”
“Would you allow me to make some inquiries? I think I may be able to figure a way for you to continue your education.”
Two days later, Mr. Claussen showed up at Ross' door again, this time with a stack of papers. “I have papers here for you to fill out and send to the college. Scholarship applications and grant applications. You do this, and I will advance you the money for the rest of your tuition.”
“Mr. Claussen, I can't let you do that, I am a stranger to you.”
“Nonsense, you are a boy who had some tough breaks. I am a man who owes my new country a debt of gratitude. If I can help a young person to improve himself, I will be a happy man.”
Mr. Claussen had a way of encouraging people to tell him their life story. Ross had been on his own since the day he'd graduated from high school. He came from a cold, indifferent family. His parents were divorced and he was shuttled back and forth between the two homes. He hadn't spoken to either of them since the day he left four years before. Mr. Claussen could see the good in the boy and could tell he was too smart to waste his life playing pool and drinking beer with his friends.
Ross was able to begin classes that same August. By December, Annabel moved into the apartment and was expecting a baby. Ross moved into the spare bedroom in the Claussen's home above the drug store. Ross didn't know how he was ever going to pay the Claussen's back for their generosity. Berta told him to do well in school, stay out of trouble and someday find Lacey Marino. She wouldn't be surprised if Lacey still dreamed of her prince charming in the form of Ross McCoy.
Seven years later, after four years of school and three years working in the accounting department of a hospital, Ross was sitting in the coffee shop of a resort in Camden Corners, watching the snow fall. He had a 10:00 appointment with the financial officer of Shane Howard Memorial Hospital. His friend, Helmut Claussen arranged for an interview at the hospital that just happened to be located in Camden Corners, New York.
His appointment was still an hour away. He had rented a car the night before. He decided, since he wasn't used to driving in snow, he'd better give himself enough time. He could wait at the hospital just as easily as waiting here.
He drove without a problem to the hospital. He was surprised when he saw the facility. It was much larger than he expected a small town hospital to be. He found his way to the executive offices and gave his name to the receptionist. “I'm early, I know,” he said. “I was afraid I might get stuck in the snow and didn't want to take a chance being late.”
“I'll let Mr. Hanson know you are here, Mr. McCoy,” the receptionist said.
Before long, Carl Hanson greeted Ross.
“Hello Ross, Carl Hanson.”
“Mr. Hanson, good to meet you.”
“Call me Carl, I'm glad you were able to make it through the snow, I'm sure you aren't accustomed to snow after living in California. My earlier appointment canceled because of it. Come into my office where we can chat.”
Ross followed Carl into his office and sat across at the small conference table.
“I'm going to be honest with you, you are one of three final candidates for the position. You don't have as much experience as the other two. However, that is not the deciding factor. I have received several letters of recommendation. Is Mr. Helmut Claussen a relative of yours?”
Ross smiled, “Believe me, Mr. Claussen is not like any relative I ever had. He is a kind old gentleman who took me under his wing. If it weren't for him and his wife Berta, I guarantee I would not be sitting in this chair today.”
Ross gave Carl a brief history of his relationship with the Claussens. He detailed his position at the hospital in California. He told Carl he had no qualms about moving east. He grew up in a small town in New Hampshire and actually had missed the change of seasons while living in California.
Carl told Ross a decision would be made by the end of the day and he would be notified. The men parted and Ross walked out to find his rental car covered with fresh snow. He thought the interview went well, but knew his lack of experience was not a plus for him to be selected for the position.
As promised, Julianna stopped by The Merryweather with her photography equipment. She snapped away at every nook and cranny of the lobby. She loved photography and had a small studio in the center of town. She worked by appointment only which left her plenty of time to visit with her daughters, Lacey and Erin and Erin's little girl, Callie. Erin was happily married to Jake Grayson, they were expecting a brother or sister for Callie in just three months.
Julianna was caught up in her work when she heard someone say, “Hello Mrs. Marino.” She turned around and saw a handsome young man standing there. He looked familiar, but she couldn't place him.
“I worked on your car in California several times. It's been a few years, I'm Ross McCoy.”
Julianna took a second glance. Granted it had been a few years, but she couldn't get over the transformation of the bearded arrogant young man who broke her daughter's heart.
“Hello, Ross,” she said rather coolly. “I would never have recognized you. How did you find your way to Camden Corners?”
“I'm here for a job interview. I don't think I will be accepted for the position, but I had to try. I would like very much to see your daughter, unless you have any objections.”
“Ross, Lacey is a grown woman. She is very capable of making her own decisions. I will tell her I ran into you. How long do you expect to stay in town?”
“I'll be here through the weekend. Tell me, is Lacey married or in a relationship?”
“No, there is no one special in her life. She is a math teacher at the high school. She also coaches the girl's basketball team and that keeps her quite busy.” To herself, Julianna thought, 'Of course she doesn't have anyone special in her life. She fell in love with you and you broke her heart in pieces.' Julianna knew Lacey had never quite gotten over her first love.
“Would you give her my card? My cell phone number is on there.”
“I'll give it to her. Ross, I want you to be honest with me. You broke my daughter's heart once and I don't want it to happen again. Are you married?”
“No, I'm not married. You see, Mrs. Marino, I never got over my first love.”
Ross was sitting in front of the television set, the evening news was on, but he wasn't paying any attention to it. He was remembering the sweet face of Lacey Marino. If only the Claussens had come into his life sooner. Maybe he and Lacey would be married by now. He was attracted to her from the first time she looked at him with those love sick eyes. He knew she had a crush on him. He thought of her as a pest and someone to take advantage of. She did buy him a number of cheeseburgers. He was embarrassed thinking back to those days. He'd had a chip on his shoulder and found it difficult to treat anyone with respect. Lacey deserved his respect and he just trampled all over her heart. His cell phone rang bringing him back to reality.
“Ross, Carl Hanson here. I've made my decision about the position you applied for.”
This is it, Ross thought to himself, he's letting me down gently.
“Ross, as I told you, your experience is far less than other applicants we were considering. However, I think you would be a good fit for the hospital. I'm offering you the job at that salary we discussed when you were in my office today.”
“Thank you, Carl, I accept the offer. You can't know how much this offer means to me. I look forward to starting the first of the month.”
Just as Ross ended the conversation, the telephone in his suite rang.
“Mr. McCoy, you have a visitor. Lacey Marino is here to see you.”
His heart skipped a beat. “Please ask her to come up.”
There was a pause on the line and then he heard a vaguely familiar voice.
“Mr. McCoy, this is Ms. Marino. I will not join you in your room. If you are interested in meeting me, I will be in the bar.” He could hear the click of the receiver in his ear.
“Lacey, your hands are shaking, are you alright?” said the desk clerk.
“I'm fine, Ellie, I just never thought I'd hear that voice again, it brought back memories that I'd prefer to forget.”
She walked to the bar and sat down trying to calm herself before greeting the man she never did get out of her system.
“Lacey, you look wonderful,” Ross said as he walked toward her not knowing whether he should give her a hug or a handshake. Seeing the look in her eye, he decided neither would be welcome.
“Ross, I wouldn't have recognized you,” she lied. She would know those eyes anywhere. “You have changed since our last encounter.”
“Yes, I'm wearing a shirt.”
For seven years, Lacey tried to erase the vision of him shirtless with his belt unbuckled. It was a very painful time in her life and yet she couldn't seem to forget that day or the man himself.
“I'd like to explain about the last time we were together.”
“Ross, we were never together. I was a foolish teenager who threw myself at you. I can't even blame you because you never encouraged me. I embarrassed myself enough. I'd rather we didn't talk about it any more. My mother told me you were in town. I thought if I saw you again, I'd be able to face the past without the shame I have felt all these years.”
“Lacey, you have nothing to be ashamed of. I was the one who acted like a jerk. Maybe I didn't encourage you, but I certainly didn't discourage you. There is something you need to know about the last time we saw each other.”
“I know everything I need to know. This was a mistake.” Lacey got up to leave.
Ross caught her arm. “Don't go, please,” he whispered. “I love you.”
Lacey was speechless. She was tempted to slap him, but thought better of it.
“What kind of a fool do you think I am. Get out of my way and go back to California. I never want to see you again.”
She grabbed her purse and her scarf. She practically ran to the parking lot not even feeling the cold until she realized she had left her keys in her coat pocket and she left her coat in the bar.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Chapter Thirty Two
The Prize Winners
“Ladies, we just received the strangest request in the mail today,” said Donna, Tracy and Holly's assistant.
“What is it Donna?” Holly asked.
“It's a letter from someone named Robin Stillman. Seems she and her friend Leslie Butler have an aunt and uncle respectively who are, according to their nieces, facing a lonely life without someone special in it. Robin's aunt will be thirty on her next birthday and Leslie's uncle is almost thirty two. They are both college professors, one in Greensboro and the other right here in Camden Corners. The young ladies, who are students at the university here also, have concocted a scheme in which they pretend to enter their relative's name in a drawing for a week at The Merryweather in adjoining suites. They are asking if we are willing to confirm the hoax. There is a sample of the congratulatory letter to be sent to each of the victims.”
“I must say, Donna. We have had many strange requests and this one is right there among them. Let me ask Jack about the legality of sending the letter before we answer the young ladies. I'm not sure I like being a party to such a scheme without meeting the instigators in person. Shall we ask them to pay us a visit?” said Tracy.
“That's a good idea,” said Holly.
“As soon as we get Jack's opinion, would you set a time for the girls to come in?”
Jack looked over the letter and chuckled. “I don't see anything wrong with it. Your letter shouldn't allude to the fact that there was a contest involved. Just a note of congratulations on being a recipient of a week at the resort will be enough. Anything in the name of romance, huh?”
“You know you get a kick out of people finding love at The Merryweather. It happened to us, remember?”
“How could I forget?” Jack pulled her close and kissed her.
“Mr. Crowley, is this the way you treat all your clients?” Tracy said in mock horror.
“Only the beautiful ones who get free legal advice,” he laughed and kissed her again.
Robin answered the phone in the tiny apartment she shared with her friend, Leslie.
“Hello, Ms. Grant, thank you for calling. Leslie and I would be happy to meet with Mrs. Crowley and Mrs. Burke. Would this afternoon be convenient? We were hoping to schedule our relative's stay quickly, they will both be starting the new school year very soon.”
“They will be able to meet with you at 1:30 if that is a good time for the two of you,” replied Donna.
“We will be there. Thank you again, Ms. Grant.”
Promptly at 1:30 that afternoon, Robin and Leslie appeared in the lobby. Tracy stepped out of her office to greet them.
“Good afternoon, I'm Tracy Crowley, won't you come into my office. Mrs. Burke will be along shortly, she is handling a housekeeping problem at the moment.”
“Mrs. Crowley, I'm Robin Stillman and this is my friend Leslie Butler. Mark said you would go along with our plan. He said you were a pushover for romance.”
“You know my son, Mark? He's right, I am a pushover for romance, I just didn't realize he knew that about me.”
“Here is Holly now.” Tracy introduced the girls. “Why don't you tell us about your idea. We don't want to be a party to any kind of practical joke or cruel prank.”
“Oh no, Mrs. Crowley, we wouldn't do a thing like that. My aunt is Bonnie Stillman. Her brother is my father. Bonnie was born after my dad left home. My grandmother died when Bonnie was only ten years old. My dad was going to school in New Jersey. He and my mother had only been married a year at that time. Mom and Dad wanted to have Bonnie come live with them, but Grandfather wouldn't hear of it. The years went by. Grandfather wouldn't let Bonnie have friends over and never let her date a boy. She wasn't allowed to dress like the other girls in school or wear any kind of makeup. She has always worn her hair in a bun at the back of her head. Grandfather passed away last year and Bonnie moved to Camden Corners to begin her tenure with the university. She is twenty nine years old, almost thirty and she looks older than most grandmothers. I have gotten to know her for the first time in my life. She is a very sweet person. She has no idea how to dress or how to make herself attractive. Leslie, tell Mrs. Crowley and Mrs. Burke about your uncle Richard.”
“Our stories are pretty much the same. Richard was born a few years after my father left home. In this case, my grandfather passed away when Richard was just a baby. My grandmother was lost without her husband and coddled Richard through the years. My dad tried to talk to my mother about letting Richard play with other children, but she refused to listen. Because he sat in the house everyday and never played ball or rode a bike with the other kids, he developed a weight problem. That didn't help his self esteem and he was ridiculed throughout school. My grandmother passed on three years ago. Richard finally learned how to ride a bicycle and rides his bike to the university in Greensboro most days. He has slimmed down and is quite nice looking except he has a full beard and shaggy hair. I can't figure out where he gets his clothes but I suspect they are left over from my grandfather. He needs a complete makeover. This is part of our plan.”
Robin spoke up. “Our plan is to tell them both we entered them into a drawing and they won. The first phase is a complete makeover. New hairstyles, makeup for Bonnie and a good grooming for Richard. All new outfits. Our parents are aware of our plan and are willing to foot the bill. Mom says Bonnie has mentioned that she feels very frumpy with all the young girls at school but she won't change a hair on her head. We figured if it came from an outside source they both would be more willing to go along with it. Even if they don't, we expect to pay for the rooms we are renting from you.”
“It sounds like you girls have a solid plan,” said Holly. “I can't help but wonder, if these two people do agree to makeovers, how can you be sure they won't just stay in their rooms for the entire week? Seems they have both lived rather reclusive lives.”
“We did think of that. That is the reason for the adjoining rooms,” said Leslie. “Robin and I plan to visit them while they are here and we will just happen to run into each other. Being best friends, of course we will open doors so that we can chat.”
“Mark knows all this and he has offered to take all of us for rides on his boat.”
“Mark is in on this too?” said Tracy. “I can't believe my son has become a matchmaker. What do you think, Holly, should we go along with the scheme?”
“I don't know, I hate to put a damper on your enthusiasm girls. What if the plan backfires. What if one of them falls for the other and the feeling isn't mutual. You have then succeeded in hurting one of them and embarrassing the other.”
“We have thought of that Mrs. Burke. We think it's worth the risk. They are two very lonely people. If there is a chance they can be happy together, we would like to take that chance,” said Robin.
“Why don't you just introduce them and see what happens?”
“Our mothers have tried that, Mrs. Crowley. They are much too shy to agree to be set up with a date. That is why we concocted this scheme,” said Leslie.
“If Holly agrees, I will go along with the plan. I just hope no one gets hurt.”
“It's alright with me, girls. Start the ball rolling. Let's see what dates we have available. Most families have chosen to rent the cabins instead of the suites during the summer. I think we have the Watson and Bentley suites open. They are adjoining and named after one of the most romantic couples of their time.”
“Thank you so much. Mark said you two are a couple of neat ladies and he was right,” said Robin.
“How well do you know Mark, Robin?” asked Tracy.
“He's in a couple of my summer classes.”
“She's crazy about him, Mrs. Crowley. I think Mark likes her too and that's why he agreed to help us.”
“I hope he does like you, Robin. You seem like a very thoughtful young lady.”
“Thank you Mrs. Crowley,” Robin said beaming. “Mark is going to meet us here. He thought you would say yes and he wants to begin the final plans. He stopped by Mrs. Mackenzie's house to see if she could recommend a hair stylist and makeup artist. I hope he found someone who is willing to keep our secret.”
“Hi, Mom,” Mark said as he poked his head in the door. “Great plan, isn't it? I told Robin I knew you would go along with it.” He turned to Robin and Leslie. “Mrs. Mackenzie gave me the name of a hair stylist. She even called her and we are all set up for this Thursday. Her name is Bridget and she is sworn to secrecy. Mom, do you mind if we use Donna's computer to print up the winning notices?”
“You'd better use mine. I think Donna is using hers.”
“I'm through with my task.” said Donna from the doorway. “I knew you would agree so I went ahead and printed a notice from The Merryweather. It's just like your father suggested, Mark. Maybe you'd better follow the same guidelines for the makeover notice.”
“I certainly hope this project remains a secret, before long everyone in town will know what's going on,” said Holly.
“We don't have to worry, Mrs. Burke, Bonnie and Richard are oblivious to their surroundings. They won't know what hit them until they are bitten by the love bug,” said Leslie. “The hard part will be convincing them to accept their prizes.”
Robin walked up the stairs to her aunt's third floor apartment. Aunt Bonnie must have chosen the only gloomy building in all of Camden Corners. Such dark hallways. I thought they'd torn this place down years ago, she said to herself. She knocked on the door. “Aunt Bonnie, it's Robin.”
“Hello, Robin. It is very nice to see you. You said you have something exciting. You aren't getting married are you, I know you have had many beaus but I didn't think there was anyone special.”
“No, Aunt Bonnie, this isn't about me, it's about you. I entered a contest a few weeks ago and I won first prize. It is a complete makeover including a new wardrobe and a week's stay at The Merryweather Resort.”
“Oh, how nice for you. I don't think you need a makeover. You are pretty enough just as you are.”
“Thank you Aunt Bonnie. I hope you won't turn me down. You have always been so good to me, I'll never forget the excitement of opening the mail on my birthday and finding a crisp bill inside the card you sent. I think it's my turn to treat you and I'd like you to use the prize. Wouldn't you like to have a makeover and some new clothes before you start another school year. Plus a week at the fanciest resort this side of Buffalo. Please say yes.”
“Oh my sweet child. I couldn't accept your generous offer.”
“Why not, Aunt Bonnie? Please let me give you something from my heart as you have always given from yours. You wouldn't want to hurt my feelings now, would you?”
“Your grandfather would never approve of such a frivolous thing.”
“Maybe Grandfather wouldn't approve, but I think Grandmother would.”
“Do you think she would? I barely remember her. I do remember she had beautiful long hair. She would let me brush it for her.”
“Yes, I have seen pictures. She always wore it down or on top of her head with curls around her face. You look like her Aunt Bonnie. She was very pretty and so are you.”
“I'm going to do it! Will you come with me for the makeover? Oh dear, I'm so excited. I feel like Eliza Doolittle.”
“I'll pick you up at 11:30 on Thursday. We will go shopping after and have lunch at The Merryweather, you can check in anytime after 2:00. Oh Aunt Bonnie, I can hardly wait.”
Bonnie couldn't stop smiling for the rest of the day.
“That was easier than I thought. Mom was right, Bonnie has been anxious to change her look, she just needed to hear that one of her parents would approve. Mark, I never knew my grandfather very well but I think he must have been a real jerk.”
“It's too bad Bonnie's father and Richard's mother didn't get together. They sound like they would have made a great pair,” said Mark. He thought of his own grandparents. He would have to remember to tell them how glad he was to have them in his life.
“Leslie has gone with Eric to Greensboro. She is afraid her uncle will turn her down flat.”
Leslie knocked on the door to the house her father grew up in. She suspected nothing had been remodeled in it since the day her grandparents moved in.
“Leslie, how nice to see you. Is that your young man in the car? Why don't you have him come in.”
“Maybe in a little while Uncle Richard. I want to talk to you about something.”
She told him the story of the contest and explained how she would like him to take advantage of it. She thought a complete makeover would be good for him and he worked too hard during the year. He really did need a vacation before school started again.
“Leslie, what a sweet girl to want to give me your prize. I just might take you up on it. I have been thinking of shaving this beard off. It really is too warm in the summer. I notice my lip perspires when I have ridden my bicycle for any length of time. Would you believe I have never had a vacation. I have heard about The Merryweather. If you are sure you won't use the prize, I will gladly take it off your hands.” He gave his niece a bear hug. “Now, where and when do I get my makeover?”
“You have an appointment at 1:30. We will go shopping for a new wardrobe at around 11:30. Eric has offered to come with us. He has excellent taste in clothing. I'll ask him to come in so you two can meet.”
Two days later, Bonnie was sitting in the hair stylist chair watching as the hair that reached her waist was being trimmed, shaped, highlighted and blown dry. The makeup artist came in and showed her how to apply makeup. The transformation was remarkable. Bonnie looked ten years younger and felt pretty for the first time in her life. From there Robin took her to the nicest boutique in town. As previously arranged, Melanie met them there. She had a knack for picking out just the right outfit for any occasion and any woman.
“Bonnie, you have a lovely figure, I think you should show it off. That tiny waistline will be the envy of your female students. Your other attributes will be appreciated by the males in your class.”
Bonnie blushed when she tried on a form fitting dress, but had to admit, she looked like the photos in the magazines her father never let her buy.
She was loaded down with packages when she crossed paths with Professor Richard Butler. He had just walked out of the salon and was looking at his reflection in the window. He couldn't believe how different he looked. He had grown the beard years ago to help cover the fullness of his face. He didn't need to cover any part of himself up anymore. He had to admit, he looked pretty darn good.
Robin escorted Bonnie to the Watson Suite. Bonnie was amazed at the beauty of the place. “I could get used to living in a place like this.” She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She hardly recognized the woman staring back except for the gray dress she was wearing. She reached for the first bag and pulled out a short sundress in pastel yellow. “I think I'll wear this tonight. Robin, do you think I dare go downstairs to the cocktail lounge. I may have a glass of sherry to celebrate my new look.”
“You will look lovely, Bonnie. Let me find the lemon colored shoes we bought to go with the dress while you change. Instead of sherry, why not try a glass of wine. I think you will enjoy that more.”
“Aren't you too young to drink alcoholic?”
“A couple of years but Dad lets me have a little wine once in awhile at home.”
Bonnie walked out of the bedroom. Robin had to blink back the tears.
“Bonnie you look wonderful.”
“I do, don't I?” she said innocently. “I feel wonderful and it's all thanks to you.”
At the same time, Richard was dressing in his new slacks, shirt and sport coat. He had to admit, he looked much better than he looked just this morning. He walked out of the bedroom. Leslie and Eric were waiting for him.
“Uncle Richard, you look gorgeous,” Leslie said
“Nobody would ever guess you are over thirty, sir,” said Eric.
“Thank you, I think, Eric. Leslie dear, are we meeting the young lady in the bar?”
“What young lady?”
“The young lady you got me all gussied up for. You don't think I bought that story of you winning a makeover, do you? Nobody your age enters a contest where the top prize is a makeover.”
“And we thought we were being so clever. It's almost time to meet them. Shall we adjourn to the bar. Wish we could toast your new look that will have to wait a couple of years. By then you and Bonnie will be celebrating your second anniversary.”
Richard heard the door open next door. He stopped and stared at the young woman who was walking into the hallway. She turned around and saw him looking at her.
“Hello,” she said in a whisper.
“Good evening,” he replied.
“Robin, are you going to introduce me to my date?”
“Aunt Bonnie, how did you know?”
“Your mother has been trying to get me to come out of my shell for years. You are your mother's daughter. I just wondered how far you would take your little scheme.”
“Your niece?” asked Richard.
“Yes, and this must be your niece,” replied Bonnie.
“Nice girls, aren't they? How do you do, I'm Richard Butler.”
“It's very nice to meet you, Richard. My name is Bonnie Stillman.”
Richard took her arm. “May I buy you a drink? I believe the bartender is waiting for us.”
“I would like that very much.”
They were married three weeks later. They spent their honeymoon at The Merryweather in only one suite and it wasn't adjoining any other room.
Richard never grew another beard and Bonnie never bought another gray dress. Richard sold the big house in Greensboro and transferred to the university in Camden Corners. The couple bought a new house built just east of the Rossi Vineyards. There were big windows in every room with plenty of sunlight shining in and plenty of bedrooms for the five children who came along in quick succession.