Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Read Excerpt From Linda Nance's Second Novel -

Journey Home
By Linda Nance


Lara was thinking about the letter she had received from her uncle’s attorney.  Uncle Charley had recently died of a heart attack. The year before his death, Charley suffered the loss of his wife Monty.  Montelia was her name, but everyone, called her Monty.
            Lara’s mother had left when she was only three with another man.  Her father was devastated.  His older brother, Charley, and his wife Monty, had moved them in to live with them  where they stayed there until Lara was in her early teens.  An acquaintance offered her father a chance to be partners in a new business.  It was a good carrier move.
            The business had gone well for her father.  Every holiday and vacation they had gone back to be with their family, Uncle Charley and Aunt Monty. After graduation it looked like nothing could go wrong.  She had planned a career in journalism, but discovered she had a gift in creative writing.  She had completed a novel and just been notified of its sale and was ready to celebrate. 
            She had met her agent Marla Thompson through one of her college professors.  Her father was picking up something special for dinner to celebrate.  He walked into the small local market, as it was being robbed, and was shot twice.  There was no celebration that night.  Lara had only the pain of losing her beloved father. Marla had been a great help during that time, but it was her aunt and uncle that had really rescued her. 
Since they had moved from Arkansas to St. Louis, it had become home.  After she lost her father she had some inheritance, but she wanted to make it on her own as much as she could.  The club where she worked paid well and was a constant stimulus for stories to write.  Stories of love and romance were something she was good at writing, but so far had not been her luck to live.
     A strikingly handsome young man entered the club as she was closing.  He paused for a moment then came directly to the bar.
 “Sorry but we’re closing.” She told him.
            “Great, that will give us some time to talk.”  His voice was deep and pleasant.
 “Maybe sometime if you come in earlier.  We’re closing.” She did not date the customers.
            “If you are Lara, then David Baxter was right.  He said to just look for the gorgeous gal in charge. I’m thinking of a business proposition concerning your father’s shares in the business and was told you are the one to talk to.”  David Baxter had been her father’s partner.
            That was the beginning.  It was a whirlwind courtship and Lara fell completely in love, just like in her novels.  After the “I do’s” were said it was like a nightmare.  It did not take long for the abuse to start and the relationship went from love to hate, to despair and divorce.  By that time she was at a critical point financially and emotionally.  He had squandered almost all of her inheritance.  He had slowly eroded her self-esteem and left in its place depression and a helpless feeling.
Aunt Monty and Uncle Charley came to the rescue.  Marla was in touch by phone because she lived in New York.  She encouraged Lara to accept their invitation to stay with them.  She stayed for several months.  The peace and beauty of the country life renewed her spirit.  The love and warmth showered on her by those two dear people lifted her from her feelings of despair.
            During that time she began the novel that started her real success.  When Marla received the outline and rough draft, she loved it.  She decided to go to Arkansas for a mini vacation.  She only stayed three days but marveled at the warmth and beauty of the place and people. Marla was used to highways and traffic and had never seen so many trees.  The gravel roads were a real shock.  Marla convinced Lara, to relocated and begin a new life in New York.
            Since the divorce, Lara had experienced a few unexplained incidents such as strange phone calls and the feeling of being watched or followed.  She and Marla were both sure that it was her ex-husband, but could not prove it.  He acted as if the divorce was nothing.  He even told people that he would never let her go.  She decided she would go all the way to New York.
That was when her visits to her aunt and uncle became so few.
 She had met Donald Whitmore at a convention and they were soon referred to as the perfect couple.  He always treated Charley and Monty to a night on the town with him and Lara during their visits.  Lara thought this might be the romance of her life as it should have been; until she found out that she was only one of many.  He and Lara remained friends but the romance was over.
            Her thoughts eased from the past to the present as she looked at the letter from the attorney and knew that she needed to call him.  She had been told when she returned for her uncle’s funeral, that the will had some conditions and was to be read three months from that time. 
 The ringing of the phone startled her.  “Tell me you wrote one hundred pages and they’re all great.”  Marla’s cheerful voice made her smile.  “At least tell me you have a good start.”
“I could tell you anything, but that won’t make it true.”  Lara glumly replied.  They had been friends long enough that Marla could read Lara’s moods.
            “Grab your hat girl because I am picking you up and treating you to a time out.  It will do no good to argue because I won’t take no for an answer.  I’ll be there in forty five minutes, give or take a stop light or two.”  Lara had to laugh at Marla and her enthusiasm. 
Lara decided to call the attorney while she waited.  She could then tell Marla what plans she might make with him.
“Gordon Chambers here.  May I help you?” 
            “I received your letter and wanted to co-operate in any way I can.  This is Lara Stanley.”  The conversation was pleasant and they agreed that she would arrive in one week and plan to stay.  Lara explained that she was not sure how she would feel about staying there, but would try her best.
  As she hung up the phone, it rang again.  “Hello…Hello…Who is this?”  There was no answer.  After all she had been through before she moved it was upsetting.  She hung up the phone and realized it was probably kids playing random pranks.  She left the apartment, locking the door on the way out.  She would wait for Marla downstairs.
 Lara took the elevator to the lobby and waited at the double glass doors.  She saw a gleam of red, flash around the corner and squat to a stop in front.  That was Marla. “Jump in.  Hang on!”  They shot into traffic and were on their way.  Marla continued talking as she dodged and darted in traffic at every opening she found.  She stopped talking just as she slid to a stop in a parking spot.
            Coffee was served and Marla explained about the attorney and her uncle’s will.
            “That might be just what the doctor ordered.”  Marla was her agent but a friend.
            “I thought I’d just rent a car here and drive myself.”  Lara had thought it all out.
Lara smiled and explained” Right now I think that’s just what I need.  I want to feel the miles fall away behind me.  I’m finally getting a cell phone, so if I have any problems I can call.”
Marla thought the trip might do her good but voiced her objections about the long drive.  It was a long trip. 

The small town brought back warm and familiar feelings.  She pulled into the gas station she remembered from so long ago as an older man with gray hair came out wiping his hands. “What can I help you with little lady?  You’re pretty far from home.  You lost, or just passing through?”
            She remembered that everyone knew everyone else in small towns.  They were also very curious about outsiders.  “No Sam.  I thought I’d just come back to take care of a few things and stay at the old home place for a spell.”
            He looked closer at her and his smile got bigger as he yelled, “Sam, get out here.  I’d never recognized you gal, all grow’d up like that.  I can still see you in them pigtails you wore.”
            She laughed as he finally paused for breath.  A tall thin man with sandy brown hair came out looking puzzled.  “Could that be little Sam behind that beard?” Lara asked.  She was not the only one who had changed.  She enjoyed the visit with the two men.
            As she headed toward the attorney’s office, she slowed and looked at all that she remembered and the few new things.  She parked out front of Mr. Chamber’s office. When she looked up, there stood Gordon Chambers holding the door open for her.  She must have looked surprised.  Gordon laughed and told her, “Sam called and said he was sure surprised to see you.  Take a seat and we’ll see what we can work out.”  Lara sat down and Gordon got her some coffee.
            He cleared his throat and began.  ”First of all, you know how loved your uncle and aunt were, and are missed by us all.  I want to make this as easy for you as possible.  Your uncle wrote his will in a bit of an unusual fashion.  If you don’t mind I could come out to the house in the morning, say around 10:00 if that would be convenient?”
            “You don’t want to do it here in the office?” she asked.
            He smiled and sipped his coffee before he replied.  “Actually, it’s part of the will that it be read with all those concerned at the old home.”
            Lara was a bit relieved she could postpone what might not be the most pleasant of things for her.  Realizing she would have a reprieve from the legal issues, she thought about going to the old home and she was beginning to feel tired.  She and Gordon conversed for a time, and then she started for the door. The sun was almost blinding as she opened the door.
Gordon cleared his throat and began to speak.  “There will be one other person there tomorrow.  I may have forgot to mention that he’s also in the will.”  This was an unexpected shock.  Gordon continued.  “I don’t know if you ever met him.  His name is Allen Coleman.”
“What does he have to do with my family, and where did he come in the picture?  This is unexpected and, and, well, I’m not sure what to think.”   He had waited until the last minute to tell her so he would not have to explain until he was ready.  That slow country routine can be handy but she was not easily put off or misled. If her uncle put it in his will, there was also nothing she could do about it. 
“I assume you will explain all of this?”  She frowned as she waited for him to answer.
Gordon smiled and assured her, “Of course, Dear.  We will go through everything and answer all of your questions tomorrow.”

The day was too beautiful to stay irritated for long.  She had been afraid she would find it hard to go back to the old home without those she loved still being there.  She found a certain peace as she headed that way.  The highway wound through the hills.  She turned off onto a smaller paved road they called a highway on the road signs.  It was narrow and filled with patches but it was paved, so it was a highway for that area.  It was springtime with the fruit trees and Dogwood trees all in bloom.  It was so beautiful. She had forgotten what it was like to look out across the hilltops.
The big oak tree still stood by the road where she turned.  Just as she turned into the gravel road, there were blue lights flashing in her mirror.  She had not noticed anyone behind her.  An officer approached her car as she rolled down her window.  He was not friendly at all, as he demanded her license and registration.  She looked up to hand him the documents and saw an even less friendly look. 
He was glaring with an almost predatory demeanor.  “Well, well, now.  Aren’t you mighty fine lookin’?  Don’t think I seen you abouts here before.”
Lara was in no mood for this slow talking country routine and felt repulsed by the looks.  She motioned to the license and registration in her hand and replied, “You asked for these I believe.”
He ignored her and instead leaned down resting his elbows on her windowsill.  “I said, I don’t think I seen you around here before!”  His smile did nothing to put her at ease. 
She ignored his manner and repeated, “Here is the license like you requested.  No we have never met before, so you have not seen me around.”  She curtly replied.
He took her license but still did not look at it.  He was looking at her from head to toe and back up to her bust line as he spoke to her.  His smile faded as his eyes met hers.  He could not miss the contempt she held for him. 
His tone was somewhat threatening as he said, “I’ll ask the questions here and you will answer them.  What are you doing here and where do you think you’re going?”
She gave her uncle’s address, and waited for him to look at her license.  He smirked and said, “So you must be that uppity city niece come back to get all you can.  I heard you was coming.”  He tossed her license into her lap, still not having looked at it, turned and was walking back to his vehicle as he shouted, “Signal when you turn.  We have laws here too, even though we ain’t big city.”  She was in shock as she watched him turn around and head back toward town.
She continued slowly toward her aunt and uncle’s home.  Gradually the upset from meeting the deputy eased.  The smell of the air was like perfume.  There was no air pollution or exhaust fumes.  After the many twists and turns, she finally saw the narrow drive that led to the old home.  It wound through the trees and then opened up to a view of welcome and safety. 

There was a pickup truck out front.  After the meeting with the deputy, she was not sure she wanted to see anyone else.  Just in case she would have trouble, she eased the phone out of her purse, not knowing who she would call.  Just then, the door of the house opened and out stepped the owner of the truck.  Instead of a problem, she was met with a big smile.  It was an older woman that looked familiar.  It was Brenda Turner. She and her husband were the neighbors.
“Welcome home honey.  We’re so glad to see you, and I hope I have everything ready for you.”  Brenda gave Lara a big hug as she climbed out of the car.
Lara was so relieved to see her that she could almost cry.  She had not realized until then, how intimidating the deputy had been to her.  “What do you mean, you have everything ready?”
Brenda laughed and led the way up the steps.  “You remember how it is in the country. Gordon called to let us know you was comin’ and I came to do a little dustin’.  I didn’t know what you might like so I got a little of a lot of things.  All the utilities are on so you should have everything you need.”
            Lara went into the house with Brenda following.  “It sounds like you are expecting me to stay for quite a while.”  
 They stepped into the warm and spacious living room and it still felt like home.  Some places are just a house but this was a home.  Brenda patted her on the back and asked, “Long or not, we’re glad you’re home.  Would you like something to drink after your long trip?”
“Tea sounds great if you have the time to drink a glass with me and visit a bit.”  Laura welcomed the company.  Brenda loved visiting.
            The tea was refreshing.  “Tell me everything.” Brenda asked as she eased back into one of the big comfortable chairs.  She was a large woman in height and size.  She had curly hair she always wore pulled back with a lot more gray than Lara remembered.
            “What do you mean everything?” Lara could not remember the last time they had talked.
            “Oh girl, it’s been so long.  Tell me about your life, and livin’ in the big city, and being a famous writer.  Tell me about everything.”  Brenda was a cheerful person who was never shy to ask if she had a question and curious in a friendly way.  She had known Lara growing up and felt toward her like a long lost family member. 
            “I hardly know where to begin.  It has been so many years that it feels like a lifetime since I was home.”  Lara was looking at the pictures and things she knew and loved sitting on the table beside her as she spoke. 
 “That makes me feel good to hear you say.”  Brenda told her as she got up to get them more tea.  “When you said home…You are home honey, and we’re glad to have you back.  I thought you might bring someone with you.  Are you goin’ to stay in this big old house all by yourself?”
            Lara laughed.  She remembered Brenda well.  “If by someone, do you mean a boyfriend or husband?  There’s no one I’m serious about.  After my big mistake and disaster of a marriage, I want to take my time and be sure.”
            Brenda had to laugh.  “You know me so well girl.  I guess it is rude to ask personal questions, but I feel like you’re one of our own.  We missed you.  Charley and Marty loved you like you was their own, and kept me up to date on how you were.  My big question is, are you happy?”
            Lara thought for a moment before she answered.  “I’m not sure I really know what happy is.    I’m not unhappy.  Right now has been kind of hard, if you want the truth.”
            Brenda’s look was full of sympathy. “ It’s always hard bein’ young, but I guess you had it harder than most, girl. We love you, and if you ever need us we’re here for you.”
Knowing the kindness and sincerity of those words brought tears to Lara’s eyes.  Brenda wrapped her arms around Lara and she felt like a child again.  “There, there honey.  I didn’t mean to upset you.  I just wanted to let you know that we love you and we’re here for you.  Drink some of your tea and we’ll talk about anything you want.”
             Lara asked the question that Mr. Chambers had been reluctant to answer.  “When I was in town today I stopped and talked to Gordon Chambers.  He is coming out tomorrow about Uncle Charley’s will.  Gordon mentioned that there was another person in the will named, Allen Coleman.  He just said, we would go through it all tomorrow and I am curious.” 
That was all Lara had to say and Brenda’s face lit up.  If there was something to be known about anyone near by, Brenda would know as much as could be known.
            Brenda cleared her throat and began.  “Well, well now.  I guess you never got to know Allen. You do remember old Mattie Mc Kelly though, don’t you?
Lara smiled at the memories.  “How could I forget Grannie Mattie?  That’s what we all called her.  Wow, it has been so long and she seemed old then.  She must be close to ninety by now.”
“Eighty seven, to be exact.”  Brenda told her.  “Well Mattie is doin’ good for her age, but she’s getting up there.  She had this nephew named Allen, who come to visit and she was right fond of him.”  She paused taking a sip of her tea before she continued.
“When he found out how hard things was for Mattie he made a big decision. He moved back here and let his son run his business.  You know how people here about don’t really take to outsiders?  Well Allen come here with his city accent and not growing up here and next thing you know he fits right in. He’s good hearted.  Him and your Uncle Charley hit it off right away.   They both like to hunt and fish and old Mattie’s property joins up with your uncle’s on the back forty. 
After your aunt passed, Charley was so lost.  Bless his heart; he never complained but it near broke his heart when he lost her.  One day he come on this man fishin’ in the pond.  Nobody knows what was said, but next thing you know Charley was fishin’ on a regular basis. 
He started to gain some of the weight back he’d lost.  Girl, I tell you…at one point it looked like he’d just starve to death, and go join Monty.  We all tried to get him to eat, and was a bringin’ food and all, but he was a waistin’ away.  Well, him and Allen become real close.”  Brenda stopped talking to drink some of her tea.
Lara thought for a moment before she spoke. “I feel so guilty.   I should have been here for them as they always had been for me.  Now I find out my uncle had to turn to a stranger when things were bad for him.  Every time I talked to him he always sounded so cheerful.”
“It wouldn’t have done no good.  You know as well as I do, your Uncle Charley wouldn’t ever have wanted to worry you a bit.  Both your aunt and uncle were so proud of you they could bust.  It give them so much joy knowin’ and hearin’ `bout how good you done.  They knew how you felt `bout them and you know how much they loved you.  That’s what’s important.”  Brenda was sincere and outspoken enough to say what she thought.
Lara leaned back and thought before she spoke.  “When Gordon first mentioned it, I was resentful.  Part of it was guilt.  If there was someone special in my uncle’s life and I didn’t know about it at all, then I should have kept in closer touch.  I felt like an intruder had walked on my memories.   I should have been here for them both through all these years.   I should be grateful to Mr. Coleman.  It’s just so hard right now.”
“Don’t worry about a thing.  You’re home now and you have a lot of folks that care about you.”  We could talk for hours.  I love a good talk.”  Brenda smiled and Lara knew it was true.
“I have another question.  When I turned on the gravel, I got to meet a sheriff’s deputy I hope to never see again.  What is the story about that jerk?”  Lara was still angry.
Brenda became serious.  “Tell me all about it.  Girl, he is bad news with a capital `B’.  He’s only been around for a short time, but that is too long as far as most folks are concerned.”
Lara told Brenda the whole thing. Brenda cleared her throat as she answered.  “Wonder what he was doin’ out here.  He don’t patrol here unless he gets a call, and none of us would ever call him.  Did he follow you out from town?”
“I don’t really know where he came from.  I went to turn and saw his blue lights in my mirror.  If you want the truth, he was down right creepy.”  Lara frowned as she spoke.
Brenda leaned forward almost like someone about to tell a secret.  “Nobody knows much about him except his uncle, Sheriff Cornwall.  His name is Richard Jones and he was some kind of cop there in Atlanta.  Anybody you talk to either has a bad story to tell about him, or they know of someone that’s had a bad time with the deputy.  They’s even been a bunch of folks come right out and complained to the sheriff about him but it don’t do no good.  Some of us got to wondering if he got his self in some kind of trouble in Atlanta and come here to get away from it.  He’s bad news.”
That was not information that was a comfort to Lara but it did answer who and what the new deputy was.  Brenda stayed for a while longer and happily gossiped about the other neighbors.  “I hate to leave good company but it is about time for me to get home and start some supper.  If you need anything, I wrote our phone number down on the pad of paper by the phone there in the hall.  I wrote your new phone number down there too.  Gordon arranged to have the telephone turned back on for you.  You get something to eat and a good night’s rest now.”

Lara waved as Brenda drove out of sight.  She decided to sit out on the old porch swing. It was quiet and peaceful, and the sun’s rays made long slanting shadows as it does at the end of the day.  There were squirrels playing in the big oak tree in the front yard.  Small birds flitted here and there and she watched in the distance as a hawk glided on the air currents in the distant sky.
From the corner of her eye, Lara spotted movement.  The trees and brush were thick and she peered intently trying to see what it was.  It was not uncommon to see deer and other wildlife walk near the house.  There was another movement.  She caught only a glimpse of what looked like the shape of a person.  She looked closer but could see nothing.  It looked like someone had been standing there watching her from the cover of trees and brush near the driveway.  Even the thought, had ruined the tranquility of the moment.
 It was time to get something to eat.  Lara had skipped lunch and suddenly realized how hungry she was.  Bless Brenda and Gordon for thinking of her and arranging everything.
In the kitchen, she found everything a person might need.  She decided on sandwiches and chips. Sitting in the old kitchen with its big table and cheery atmosphere did bring back memories.  It also brought about a time of quiet contemplation. 
  There were still quite a few hours before bedtime and Lara did not feel like watching television.  She decided to call Marla and let her know she had arrived safely and all was well.  She gave her the home phone number and told her she would keep in touch.
After her meal, she decided to unpack the car.  She had packed a lot because she did not know how long she would be staying.  She had not written anything worth keeping for months, but had all she needed if it worked out.  Whenever she visited she always went to her room on the second floor.  It seemed odd to think that the whole house and everything in it was to be hers. 
She was curious how Allen would be included in the will and to what extent he would inherit from her family.  Why did her Uncle throw him into her life and into the will?  She had many questions but would have to wait to hear the answers. 
All she knew for sure was that her aunt and uncle did love her, and always tried their best to take care of, help, and protect her.  If Allen was in the will, it must have been important to her uncle.  That was enough for her for now.  She gathered up the cases she could carry and headed for her old bedroom on the second floor.  Once she had everything settled, she went back downstairs.
She started to pick up her case with the paper and office materials in it and noticed it gapped open.  She knew she had not brought it in that way.  She had an uneasy feeling.  She began to wish she did have someone else staying with her.  She thought it unrealistic that anyone would sneak in to unzip a case but it was unzipped.  She walked to the front door and looked to where she thought she had earlier seen movement in the thicket.  She looked all around the yard and down the drive as far as she could see.  Everything was quiet and peaceful looking.  Maybe her nerves were worse than she thought.  She went to the back of the house to lock the door, and check the windows.  Several were open to let in fresh air. Lara closed and locked them.   She was alone and isolated, and it did not hurt to be careful.  As she locked the windows, she looked out and noticed that someone had kept up with the yard and tended the flowers.  Nothing had a look of neglect. 
When she was in the back of the house closing the window in the room next to the kitchen, she noticed how cheerful it was. Aunt Monty’s sewing room still had the big roll top desk and two tables in it.  There were shelves in the closet and plenty of storage room.  There was even a phone.  Uncle Charley put in there because Aunt Monty had spent so much time there. 
The houseplants had been well tended.  Lara wondered if Brenda had been keeping up with everything all this time.  The room would make a spacious study.  It had plenty of windows with good light and storage area.  Lara brought in and set up all of her supplies.  She had originally planned to bring only her laptop computer, and then chose to load up all of it.  Now she was glad she did.  It gave her an optimistic feeling to see her things in place. 
She decided to look through the house.  Tomorrow, the attorney would be there.  It might be a good idea to know some of what was in the house and on the property.  The downstairs area of the house had large rooms with lots of windows and sunshine.  Aunt Monty had always loved plants.
Upstairs there were three bedrooms and two baths.  Lara took her time.  She remembered the attic and decided to go up.  It had been a long time since she had been up there.  The roof had a steep pitch making it roomy.  There were two dormer windows on the front, two on the back and a large window in each end.  It was bright with the last rays of the sun.  Dust covered everything unlike the rest of the house. 
 She remembered how as a child she loved the view from up there.  It was like being on top of the world.  She looked out the front and saw something shine through the trees at the curve in the drive.  The trees blocked her view, but from all the years of living there she knew it had to be a vehicle.  She went down expecting Brenda had decided to come back and visit again. 

As she stepped out on the porch, all was quiet.  There was no one in sight.  She was sure she had seen something, but there was no one there.  Maybe someone had pulled in and turned around. The porch wrapped around the house on three sides.  It had plants hanging and on stands.  She gently touched the tiny blue flowers in the pot hanging beside her as she stood by the rail.
A loud crash from around the side of the house startled Lara.  She ran to see what could make such a sound.  She was determined to see something more than shadows.  She did see.  There among the broken pot and leaves of the plant, sat a small dog.  He was a little brown mutt with bright eyes and long floppy ears.  He also had a tail that was wagging at a high rate of speed. 
Lara sat down in the wicker chair and patted her lap.  “Come here boy.  Come on.” 
That was all it took.  The little dog was up in her lap.  He not only had bright eyes, he had a wet tongue and liked to give doggie kisses.
With all the commotion, she had not noticed a man standing at the edge of the porch.  It startled her so badly that she dropped the dog from her lap.  He was striking in his appearance.  She found herself momentarily speechless.  He had blond hair that sparkled like gold in the rays of the setting sun.  His eyes were not just blue, but a bright piercing blue.  His beard was well trimmed.  He was tall, thin, and had a muscular build of someone in good shape.  Fear struck her and she backed for the door.  There was no car or truck to be seen.  She was alone.  Where did he come from?  What was he doing there, and who was he? 
He saw the fear in her eyes and spoke up at once.  “Sorry about the plant.  He is clumsy but means well.  I live nearby.  My name is Allen Coleman, and this is Fred.”  Hearing his name the dog jumped up prancing for attention from the man.
This was the mysterious Allen.  “I didn’t hear your vehicle.  Where did you come from?”  Lara had stopped edging for the door.  His pure blue eyes sparkled as he responded.
He smiled and raised the fishing pole leaning against the porch and pointed to the back of the property.  “I hope you don’t mind.  I’ve been fishing here with Fred.  When he disappeared, I knew where he went.  Fred and I visited here often and he thinks he can still come anytime.  Sorry about the intrusion, and the plant.  I’ll clean it up.  There’s a broom in the little storage area around back.”  Allen Coleman was definitely a surprise.  He came up the steps and quickly had it swept up.
Lara had to smile watching him clean up the broken pot with Fred trying to help him.  “I’m Lara Stanley.  I’m glad to meet you, I think?”
He laughed.  “Fred too?  I was a friend of your uncle’s and live near here.”
Lara began to relax.  He had an easy way about him that she immediately liked.  She had not known what to expect when Gordon had mentioned him.  What she saw in front of her was definitely a pleasant surprise.  She sat back down in the chair and motioned for him to have a seat in the other.  “If you are in no hurry, have a seat.  I was just getting to know old Fred here.”  Hearing his name the dog was right back at her side with his tail wagging.
He smiled and sat down, stretching his legs out in a comfortable easygoing way.  “I try never to be in too much of a hurry.  I had enough of that when I lived in the city, and still do when I have to go back or tend to some business.  I hear you live in the big city of New York.”
She had to smile.  “Yes I do.  Right now, I think I'll stay around here for a little while.  I have fresh tea inside, if you would like a glass?”
“Thanks.  Tea sounds great.  I didn’t realize I was thirsty until I got about half way up the hill out back.” 
 “I’ll get that tea.”  She quickly brought out two large glasses.  She had felt fear and apprehension when she saw a man standing by the porch.  Now she was very glad for the company.
 There was something about him that she found fascinating and chided herself for being foolish. He was like the men she wrote about in her romance novels.  The problem was they were not real and Mr. Allen Coleman was definitely all real, and very much affecting her.  Experience had proven to her that love was just a temporary mental illness you eventually overcame.  You got over it as soon as your heart was stomped, and life in ruins.  She sat down and noticed she was not at all lonely.  She could feel lonely even in a crowd but not now, with him beside her.
He reached in his pocket and withdrew a key ring with quite a few keys on it.  “I needed to stop by anyway and give you these.  The front door has two keys.  The back door is the same way.  This smaller one is for the tool shed.  This is the equipment shed, and this the small shed.  This is the key to the pickup truck and here are the keys to your Aunt’s car.  This is the key to the garage.”  He handed her the key ring. “You’re wondering maybe why I have your uncle’s keys?”
 “Well, I…”She began.
“This has to be confusing for you, and I doubt Gordon explained much.  Your uncle probably told him not to discuss too much before the reading of his will.  Your uncle gave me a duplicate set of keys over a year ago and asked if I would keep them.  I liked your uncle very much and didn’t mind helping him any way I could.  Maybe he felt more secure knowing someone who lived nearby could get in if something happened to him.  I had a few thoughts of my own but don’t really know.  After he passed away, I tried to keep things up around the place.  I believe Gordon has the other set.”  He took a long drink of his tea as he stopped speaking.  He had been thirsty.
Lara had a puzzled look on her face as she stared at the keys in her hand.  “There is a lot I don’t understand.  I really don’t understand this many keys?  Uncle Charley and Aunt Monty never bothered to lock anything before.  When did they put in all these locks?  To tell you the truth, I am also confused that he never mentioned you at all.  I just don’t understand. I thought I knew my uncle.”  There was sadness in her face and voice you could not miss, and he felt sorry for her.
He spoke softly.  “I don’t know all of the answers.  I don’t really know when he put in more locks or why.  He did mention a couple of times, that he thought he was getting senile.  I laughed, and told him he was sharper than most people ever dreamed of being.  He told me that at different times he could swear someone was messing around.  He said it was crazy because who would want to mess around in an out of the way old place like this?  Your uncle was a smart old man and I didn’t doubt him at all.  The extra locks made him feel better.  Maybe he gave me the keys in case he lost them.  I can tell you that it was about six months ago he seemed really concerned with locking things.  He was sure someone was prowling around and going through his things whenever he wasn’t around.  I asked if they ever took anything?”
“Did they ever take anything?” She asked.
He frowned before he answered.  “He never had anything taken.  More than once, I found him upset.  Sometimes very upset.  He’d say things like “Them son of a bitch’s been goin’ through my stuff.  They move things just to let me know they been here.  At first, I thought I was a goin’ crazy.  I mean to find out who and why?  They been doin’ this crap for more than a year now and I’m getting tired of it.  It’s crazy.  I’ll catch them, sure as shit.  I’ll get the truth out of them varmints.”  He took time, and then continued talking.  “That is about as close as I can get to what he told me and how he told me.”
She smiled thinking how well Allen had imitated her uncle and his way of speaking.  Hearing what he said made it sound just like Uncle Charley was there with her.  What he had said made her uneasy wondering what had been going on.
That brought the earlier incidents to mind.  She was sure her case had been zipped but nothing was missing.  It really did look like someone standing watching earlier.  The flash in the curve of the driveway could have been a vehicle.  She didn’t really know this man.  Could it have been him, being nosey?  Could he want to frighten her?  She mentioned the different things and watched him for a reaction.  He had turned up shortly after the strange incidents.
He frowned and shook his head.  “Yep, that’s the sort of things your uncle mentioned.  It could have been a nosey neighbor looking to see if you made it in yet.  In this area everyone knows everyone else’s business.  Your coming back is no secret.  I have met a few people here I thought were a bit strange.  One or two, I down right don’t like.  I wouldn’t worry, though.  It seems to be more like someone being nosey than someone who wants to do you harm or steal.  They never stole or hurt your uncle.  After getting to know him, I know what I think”
She looked him in they eye and asked, “What do you think?”
“Me?  I think you uncle missed your aunt a lot.  He nearly died from missing her.  I think he hurt like most in the world will never know.  I think he and your aunt had a real true love, like they write about.  We talked a lot and I know the place in both their hearts you held.  I’m sure that you love them too.”  The expression on his face showed the emotions he felt with what he was saying.
“You may blow it off and think it’s stupid to say I loved them, but I did.  The visits I had here have given me more than anyone will ever know.  I’ll tell you one thing for sure.  Your uncle was no fool.  Even in his grief he didn’t imagine or hallucinate anything going on.  He knew his land and home enough to know exactly what was normal, or if something was different or had been messed with.  I don’t doubt him one bit on anything.  If he said it, I believe it.”
 He cleared his throat and said, “I’m sorry if I sounded like I was preaching.  It’s just that I liked your uncle very much.  I respected and enjoyed his company.”
She frowned as she asked, “So what do you really think?”
He smiled and slowly continued.  “I understand your protectiveness for your family.   Hell, they’re not my family and I’d fight the world for your uncle.  The little time I knew your aunt, I can honestly say there is no better.  They were both very dear people.  If you would get a pen and paper, I would like to give you the number over at our place.  Even if you don’t ever need us, you might want to get rid of Fred sometime if he gets to be a bother.”
“I’ll be right back and I thank you.”  She was more than happy to have some kind of support or connection.  She was still nervous, and realized she should be suspicious that he arrived so conveniently after the strange happenings.  She would be glad to have the phone number there.  They were after all, close neighbors and she had known Mattie, all her life.  She came out with the pad of paper and her number written down for him and they exchanged numbers.
The sun was setting and the shadows deep.  “Well, I’d better get back while I can still see.  It’ll be dark before you know it.”  As he said those words she hated the thought of being alone.  She could understand why her uncle had taken a liking to him.  She still did not understand why he had never mentioned Allen.  She looked up from her thoughts and saw him standing there watching her.
“When I get home, I planned on going to town and picking up some beer.  I don’t suppose you ever drink?”  He folded the paper and put it in his wallet.
The thought of sitting there all alone in the growing darkness seemed gloomy indeed.  Before she thought about it she said, “I’d love to have a beer, and the company’s been more than welcome.  If you’d like, I could drive us to the store or to your house to pick up your truck.”
He looked at her car and said, “I’ll take you up on that ride to the house, but with the roads the way they are, I think we could take my truck into town.  If you want, we could go to Aunt Mattie’s in your uncle’s truck.  These roads will be hard on a car like that.”
“I’m not used to driving the truck and besides it is not legally licensed or insured to me.  I already had one bad experience with the local law.  My car will be fine just around to Mattie’s house.  She went in and got her purse and keys.  He was standing by the front steps waiting for her with a frown and almost angry look about him.   He looked so different she stopped halfway across the porch and asked what was wrong.
“You said a bad experience with the local law?  Does that mean our notorious deputy asshole?”  He was serious when he said it.
“Why, yes it was.  When I first turned onto the gravel road, he appeared out of nowhere.  He had a really bad attitude, and gave me the creeps.”  As she spoke, she felt the anger and fear of the way he had treated her all over again.
“ I’ll be honest.  I don’t like him and I’m sure he doesn’t like me either.”  With that said he didn’t say any more and headed for the car.  She locked the door and joined him.  Sitting beside him, she felt the attraction she had for him earlier.
When they pulled in at his place, Mattie came out to meet them with a smile. Mattie said how glad she was that they had met and got along.  She told them, “It does my old heart good to see two young folks getting on so, and you all have fun.”
 They visited for an hour then headed back to drop her car off at the house.  It was a pleasant drive to town and back.  Lara caught herself looking for the deputy, but saw no sign of him.  There was only one place that sold beer and they knew Allen by name.  She wondered how often he might come in, and how much he might drink.  At that thought, she promptly told herself it was none of her business.  He bought two bottles of wine and a case of beer.  They headed back, and he took his time.  Halfway back, three deer crossed right in front of the truck.  She could not contain her excitement at the sight.  “You don’t see that in New York City.”
They turned down the narrow drive to the old home and stopped out front.  At first, she did not get out of the truck.  She sat staring at the house.
 “What’s the matter?  You look like you saw a ghost.”  He asked.
As she stepped out of the truck, she spoke.  “I did not leave any lights on.  The light is on in the living room.  I locked the door and did not turn on the light.  I know I didn’t.”
“Maybe you turned it on, or Brenda did when she was here and you didn’t notice it because it was still daylight.  Gordon came out this morning and opened up for her to get things ready for you.”  His voice was reassuring, and what he said was logical.
“Sorry I over reacted, but things have been more hectic than you could imagine.”  She unlocked the door and he headed for the kitchen.  “I guess my nerves are just on edge.  I’ll put this in the fridge.”
He followed her up the steps and into the house.  His voice had such a pleasant comforting sound to it as he spoke.  “I might understand more than you’d ever think.  In fact, you were one of your uncle’s favorite topics.  Don’t take offense.  I think I liked hearing all about you and feel like I know you already.   I think I like you too.  Hell, if Charley and Mattie loved you so much, you can’t be all bad.”  With that said, he had a smile that she could not resist.
She felt such a relief she wanted to cry, and did not even know why.  Setting the things in the refrigerator, she slowly turned.  “I can see why my aunt and uncle liked you.  I think it’s strange I had not heard of you before I arrived, but I feel like I know you too.  I’m glad you were my aunt and uncle’s friend.”
“I’m no one special.  Why don’t you just tell me?”  He had made himself at home and sat down in one of the kitchen chairs.  He had a smile on his face that gave her a feeling she had never known before.  She chided herself again for being foolish.  He was just a friendly neighbor that was a friend of her aunt and uncle.  He had left her in a position where she did not know what to say.  He knew it and enjoyed it immensely.
She laughed and replied,” Maybe you would like one of the beers we drove all the way to town for.”
“That didn’t answer the question.  Why did you say you understood how your kinfolks felt about me?  We just met.”  He got up and went straight to the cabinet with the glasses. He still had that smile. You could tell he had done this before.  He got down two of the familiar blue tinted glasses she had loved as a child.  “Tell me, wine or beer?”
She laughed.  It felt good to laugh. ” I guess because, I know Uncle Charley and Aunt Mattie.  They were good people and knew good people.  They were just plain old country folks, but there is none sharper.  I trust their judgment.  Could you be fishing for compliments?  I’ll take what ever you are having.”
“I think I’ll just drink a little beer, and we could have some music, if you’d like?”  He walked to the portable radio sitting on the counter.  He did not change the station but just turned it on.  The station that played was rock and roll oldies. 
That was a surprise.  Her Uncle and Aunt had always listened to country.  Why was the radio in their kitchen tuned to a rock station? “If you would like something else all you have to do is name it.  If there is a station that plays it, I’ll find it.”  He smiled and handed her a glass of beer.
“If you want the truth, I like rock and roll.  Oldies are my favorites, but I never thought it would be my uncle’s choice.”
“When I first met your uncle there was only country as a music choice.  We compromised.  I learned to like a little country and he learned to like a bit of rock and roll.  We both preferred the oldies.  This station has a bit of all of it.”  With that said, he finished the beer in his glass.
She had sat down at the table across from him and was sipping at her beer.  Her thoughts had consumed her.   She felt so bad for all of the years she had not been there for the two people that had always been there for her.  The tears began to run down her face.  She raised her hand in an automatic way to cover her grief and discomfort.
He got out a couple of beers and as he was behind her, she saw a beer on each side of her.  To her surprise, his arms had slid around her.  His voice was calming and almost hypnotic in her ear.  “Never be ashamed for feeling love and loss of someone special and dear in your life.  I cried many a tear myself for the same people you now cry for.  Never be sorry for times you weren’t here, because to them you were always here with them.  They loved you and were proud of all you did.   You gave them joy.”  He sat in the seat beside her with his arm still around her.
Her emotions were too close to the surface for her to answer.  She liked him, and wanted to make a good impression on him.  The tears she had held back coursed down her face.   She covered her face with her hands and muffled sobs came through.  He was patient and supportive.
She felt arms slip around her and a soft voice in her ear.  “It’s time.  I know from what I was told, how it is with you and them.  Cry all you want.”  She was glad she was not alone.  She was glad he was there and for the way he helped and comforted her.

The night was one to remember.  Never had Lara met anyone who had affected her so profoundly.  The whole time he was there, she felt safe and protected.  She felt an easing of the terrible guilt that had descended and weighed her down.  She thought she would resent this interloper, or stranger that intruded her family.  It was the intruder, who was helping her to understand and feel a part of her own family’s life without the guilt she had so strongly felt.  Many songs, beers, and tears later, Lara could feel that she understood the last years of her own family.  He had a way like no other she had ever met, that helped to heal and sooth her.  Everything about him profoundly affected Lara.  It was almost unreal the way she had reacted and felt about him. 
Her realistic side told her, he had to be too good to be real and she should know better.  That did not stop the way she felt at his word or glance.  She could understand a giddy teenager being swept off her feet or flushed with emotion, but she had been married, divorced and through more than one relationship that should have made her a realist if not a cynic. 
Lara and Allen got closer than either of them would have thought possible.  Allen had to come the next day for the reading of the will.  He had not even been notified he was in the will until just before Lara’s arrival.  It was a shock to him, as well as Lara.  Charley had to be fond of Allen, but altering his will was something that was entirely unexpected.
 She was very tired and had consumed quite a few beers. She did not normally drink.  It was Allen’s suggestion that it was time for him to go.  When he put his arms around her as she cried, she would have normally pulled away and kept her distance.  She had no inclination to pull away and appreciated the comfort of the friendly act.   It was as if he had enchanted her with some kind of spell.  Maybe it was the stress of all she had gone through.  The beer and the fatigue had hit her stronger than she realized.  As she rose to walk him to the door, she swayed slightly. 
A look of concern crossed his face. “Would you like a hand upstairs?”
She giggled, and answered with a smile.  “Is that a proposition?”
He smiled and put an arm around her.  She looked up into those beautiful blue eyes.  The moment seemed to last forever as his lips came closer.  She was shocked and amazed at her own reaction.  A fire and hunger she had never known swept through her.  As she closed her eyes, she felt consumed in the whirlwind of sensation he evoked in her, and melted into his arms.  His lips left hers and began to make a burning trail down her throat.  He gently stepped back from her and looked deeply into her eyes. 
His voice was soft and husky as he spoke.  “I have to go now, or there’s no way I’ll be able to leave tonight.  I don’t want to leave, but I can’t stay.  When I stay, we need to know it’s right.”
  She didn’t want him to leave or stop his kisses.  Her mind may say it made no sense and they should stop, but she was filled with desire.  “What if I don’t want you to leave?  It isn’t like I’m still a kid.”  She gently touched his face.
He smiled and spoke in a kind and gentle voice.  “Tell me that tomorrow and you won’t be able to beat me off with a stick.”  He thought of her Aunt and Uncle and the respect he had for them both.  He felt obligated to try to look out for her and never take advantage.
 She automatically agreed to whatever he suggested.  He kissed her gently and said, “Goodnight for now.  You sleep well and if you need anything at all, just call and I’ll be here no matter what time it is.”  She agreed and walked out onto the porch and watched as his taillights faded down the drive.

All of a sudden, she felt very alone and vulnerable.  She had not had any qualms when she left the city about being alone.  Now it felt like a really big empty house.
She went up to her room after being very sure that all doors and windows were locked.  She had not forgotten the feeling of being watched or someone messing around.  She knew what she thought she had seen, and knew for sure that her case was zipped and the lights off.   The night was quiet and she slept soundly for the first time in ages.  She was home.
Morning came with the sun shining brightly in the windows.  She woke up with a blinding headache and felt sick all over.  She could not remember ever feeling that bad.  As she got up, a wave of nausea washed over her.  She sat back on the bed and held her head in her hands.  If this was a hangover, then hangovers were awful.  She quickly showered and dressed.  The shower did seem to help.  A piece of toast was all she could manage for breakfast.  She put on a fresh pot of coffee and sat at the kitchen table to wait.
She did not have long to wait.  She had heard no vehicle but there was a knock at the back door.  She slowly rose to answer it, expecting it would be Allen.  She was a little embarrassed at the way she had responded and acted the night before with him.  She was shocked as she opened the door.  It was a man she did not know.  He had a strange smile and only half his teeth.
“I been a wantin’ to get a look at you.  We all heard you was a comin’ back and I’m your neighbor.”  As he spoke, he reached out for the door she was holding open.  It was as if he planned to pull it right out of her hand and come in. 
She had an instant dislike for him.  She was firm in her grip on the door as well as her tone of voice.  “I’ve never met you.  Who did you say you were?”
He let go of the door as he spoke.  “I said I’m your neighbor.  Paul Winters is my name.  I figured on comin’ in and visitin’ a spell.”  He stepped up on the step closer to the door as if to come in.
Lara held tightly to the door and spoke firmly and loudly to him.  “I’m sure you are being neighborly, but I am not receiving visits today.  I have business to attend to.”  She thought that reply would surely send him back to wherever it was he came from.
He laughed and told her, “There ain’t never no time better than the present.  I’ll just come on in and help you with that there business of yours.”
That did it.  She still had the headache and did not feel overly patient with weird and pushy people.  She pulled the screen door closed and told him emphatically, “No you will not help me with my business, or come in.”
A voice from behind called out.  “Well, well now, what brings you here Paul?  Are you nosey or did you just get lost out hunting?” Allen’s words may not have been too unfriendly but his look was chilling.
Paul answered with extreme irritation in his voice.  “I ain’t huntin’.  You know there ain’t no huntin’ in season.  What I’m doin’ here ain’t none of your business.”
Allen answered as he came toward the door, “It’s my business if you’re in my way.  Move!”
Paul smiled smugly but did move slightly out of the way as Allen approached.  “You just might as well go back where you come from, cause the lady says she’s busy.”
Allen smiled at Lara as he came up the steps.  She opened the door and was doubly glad to see him.  She did not know what this was about between Allen and Paul, but Paul gave her the creeps.  She was sure he did not intend to leave easily.
Allen laughed and said, “Yes Paul, the lady is busy and you need to leave.  I’m invited, and I’m telling you we’re busy.”  With that, he came in and abruptly closed the door behind him.
Lara watched out the window as the man named Paul picked up the gun he had propped beside the house.  He looked toward the house for a moment then walked across the yard and disappeared into the woods.  Lara let out a sigh of relief as he vanished from sight.
Allen was looking at Lara as she turned around.  He reached up, touched her chin, and asked, “Are you alright?   You look a little pale.”
She turned and headed for the kitchen and fresh coffee that was done by now.  She had to laugh as she saw the smile on his face and humor in his eyes.  The same eyes that looked so cold and intimidating a few moments ago when turned on Paul twinkled with his amusement. “I’m fine I guess.  I do have to admit, I’ve felt better before.  Would you like some coffee?  It is fresh.”
He reached for the coffee pot and quietly said, “Here, let me do that for you.  Why don’t you sit down and rest.  You know, we could postpone this until you are feeling better.”
She shook her head.  “No.  I really am all right.  I just have a headache and I’ rather get it done and over with.  More than likely Mr. Chambers is on his way here now.”
“Gordon wouldn’t mind rescheduling.  He’ll probably do a little fishing either way.  The headache will get better, and later you might even feel like you may live.  I know the feeling myself.”  Allen sat back in his chair and sipped the hot black coffee as he finished speaking.
She cleared her throat and glanced to see his expression.  “About last night?  I hope you don’t think badly of me.”  Lara was rarely at a loss for words.
He sat quietly watching her.  This made her even more uncomfortable as he finally spoke.  “If you want the truth, I think you are just as delightful as your aunt and uncle did.  I can honestly say, yesterday did me a lot of good, and I enjoyed the time we spent together.”  A little gleam in his eye and smile made her feel shy but happy.   His next words even made her blush.  “Some of the time I enjoyed so much, I’m sure it must be a sin.  I know what I was thinking is, for sure.”  It had been a long time since he had seen anyone blush.  She may be a big city girl, and famous author, but it gave her a sweet look of innocence he liked.

They heard a vehicle approaching.  She could not think of anything to say anyway.  They both got up and went to the front door in the bright and cheery living room.  Gordon smiling as he came up the porch.  His voice was friendly, and yet professional.  “Good morning to the both of you.  I see you two have met.”
Lara welcomed him in and offered him some coffee.  “I don’t mind if I do.  Where would you like to sit while we talk?  We might as well be comfortable.”  He held up the briefcase.
Lara did not know what to say.  It seemed as if they were expecting her to have the say so on how things would proceed.  Allen began to speak and Lara was grateful.  “If no one minds, I’d be fine in the kitchen and we would have the table if we need it and the coffee pot near by too.”
Gordon laughed and led the way to the kitchen.  “I’m all for that if it suits you two?”  He was watching Lara for some sign of consent.
“That’s fine with me.  You two just lead and I’ll follow.”  With Lara having said that, they entered and got fresh coffee all around. 
Gordon cleared his throat as Lara and Allen both took seats at the big table.  “It is a little difficult to know just where to begin with all of this.”  He opened his briefcase and pulled several thick files from it, placing them on the table in front of him.
“I have a letter to each of you written by Charley.  I can conduct this in either of two ways.  I can be strictly formal and legal, or we just try to get through it.  I have copies of everything for each of you, so you can take as long as you’d like to read it.  Instead of just itemizations that relate to each one of you individually, Charley had it all itemized so that each of you two would know exactly what is involved and the disposition he chooses for each and both of you.  He wanted no misunderstandings or problems.  He states that the letters I shall give to you now are not to be read until a time of your choosing after this meeting is at a close.  I will also be available to help or handle any questions you might have now, or at any later time or date.”  He paused after his offer to help.  He handed each of them a sealed letter.
Lara felt poorly and was nervous.  It was a difficult time for her and it showed on her face. 
 Gordon opened one of the thick files.  “We can begin now.  We have a lot to go over and take care of.”  Gordon cleared his throat and handed each a large legal envelope thick with papers. 
Lara held it in her hands and spoke without looking up, “Mr. Chambers, if you don’t mind?”
He interrupted.  “I would love it if you just call me Gordon.  Could I call you Lara?  I have known you since you were in pigtails?”  He had a sweet and sympathetic smile on his face.
It helped.  She felt greatly more at ease.  “Oh yes.  I would really prefer it.  If we could do it as informally as possible, that would help too.  This is really a lot harder than I expected.”
Gordon leaned forward and patted her hand.  “We want to make this as easy for you as possible.  I said that I would tell you all about Allen today when we met.  I see you two have already met.  Are there any questions you have Lara, about Allen, I might be able to help with?”
Lara laughed and told him, “Fred took care of all that.”
Gordon looked confused with her answer.  “There is no Fred in the will, and I don’t recall a neighbor named Fred?  Is there someone or something involved I should know about?”
It was Allen’s turn to laugh.  He explained all about Fred.

Even leaving a lot of the itemization to be read by them each later, it still took some time. Both Lara and Allen agreed they would do their best, to do anything Charley asked.
 They were a little surprised at some of the conditions.  One condition of the will in particular Lara had not expected.  She must stay and reside in the house she had known as home in her childhood, for not less than nine months.  The house, property, and contents of both house and property were designated to be her inheritance with the exceptions of certain items described, and twenty acres of property that joins the property of Maggie McKelly were to go to Allen.  There was a list of other items, like certain fishing poles and personal items to be given to Allen. 
There was one other thing that was a bit of a puzzle.  In the bank there was a safety-deposit box that was not to be opened until the conclusion of the nine months in residence was completed.  When the box was opened, all three of them were to be present.  If Lara refused to reside in the house, her share was to be given to Allen if he accepted the residence as home for the same period of nine months.  The contents would be handled as the instructions indicated in the box.
As Gordon finished speaking, they were all quiet.  Long moments passed before anyone spoke.  Allen cleared his throat.  It sounded as if he were choked with emotion as he asked, “Gordon, Do you have any idea why Charley put me in his will?  I really believe Lara should know...”
Gordon interrupted at that point,” Allen, Charley and I talked quite a bit.  I was not only his lawyer, but also lifelong friend.  We grew up together. Charley had good sound reasons for all he did.  He may not have known you all your life Allen, but the time you two shared meant a lot to Charley.  I really believe that he loved you like the son he never had.  Lara has always been a child of his heart and he loved her like his own daughter.  There is no doubt in my mind how Charley and Monty both felt about Lara.  If Charley loved someone dear to him, he always wanted the best for them and would do anything he could to help them.  If Charley can’t be here to do it himself, he has tried to do something he believes will help in the lives of two people he loves.  It is not just what items or property he could leave or give to you, but a way to give his love and in his own way to help in your lives.  I know it’s confusing.  First, the will cannot be read for three months.  Then it cannot be settled for nine months.  Even after the nine months, there are still more things to be seen.  All I can really tell you is that he did it his own way because he loved you both.
Lara felt numb.  Tears had welled up in her eyes but there were no words.  Allen noticed and was concerned.  “Lara, I’m sorry if any of this involving me has upset you.  The last thing I want to do is cause you pain.”
She wiped her eyes and looked up at the two men.  They both looked concerned.  “You haven’t caused me any pain.  In fact, if anything, you’ve helped me more than you realize.   I...”
Allen was kneeling beside her and Gordon standing on the other side patting her shoulder.  Allen spoke first.  “You don’t have to say or explain anything.”
Gordon agreed with all Allen said.  He added, “We are all here for you.  I know it has been a while, but we are the same people you knew all your life.  You have a lot of friends here.  If you have any questions at any time, just let me know.”  Gordon closed the briefcase and turned to Allen.  “We could go down to the fishing hole and let Lara have a little quiet time?”
“It sounds fine to me, Gordon.  Lara would you like either of us to stop by a little later?”  Allen had stood and was putting up the coffee cups.
Lara cleared her throat and spoke to them both.  “If you don’t mind, I wish you would both stop by if you don’t have other plans.  I’d like it very much.  In fact, I hope you could come back fairly soon.  Just give me twenty or thirty minutes to get myself together?”
They both agreed and went out the door.  Gordon had brought an extra fishing pole and together they headed to the back of the property where the lake was.  Lara sat quietly at the table and cried.  She needed to do something to keep busy.  Brenda had tried to get anything she might need or want.  Lara began to look over what all was there.
As she spotted some charcoal and lighter, she had an idea.  Charley had a grill out back and a beautiful table he had made himself with benches and lawn chairs.  None of them had eaten any lunch, and to cook a meal outside would definitely give her something to keep her busy.
In the freezer, she found individually wrapped pork steaks.  She had plenty of spices and even found a bottle of Bar-B-Q sauce.  She would blend some of her favorite spices, a little wine and some other things she found.  She prepared and spiced the meat.  Some baked beans with bacon bits and onions went into the oven.  She began to feel better.
Lara opened the back door to go outside stopping to gaze out across the back yard. The daffodils were beginning to bloom in vibrant yellows.  Tiny flowers of blue and purples contrasted in bright delicate clusters.  The irises were opening in a blazing variety of colors and blooms both large and small.  She remembered as a child, the joy of picking a bouquet to bring to Aunt Mattie.  Lara would always think of her Aunt when she saw flowers.
She carried the charcoal and lighter out to start the fire and let it burn down to just the right coals.  Lara spotted someone standing in the shadows just past the edge of the yard in the trees as she turned to go back into the house.  It was just a glimpse and then whoever it was, slipped back into the obscurity of the shadowy woods beyond.  She could not swear, but felt sure it was Paul.  He was definitely strange.  The good feeling she felt just moments before turned gloomy again.  She was so tired of strange things and strange people. 
Lara began to look and see what else she could use for the meal.  She took out some potatoes and began to simmer them, sliced into butter.  She began to feel better as she sprinkled them with garlic and pepper and add the slivered onions.  Maybe some of her old spunk was returning.  If some local idiot wanted to snoop around and not take the hint to leave, then it was his problem.  She would deal with it as it came. 
Lara had never dreamed she would be required to move into the house and live there.  She had thought about what she would do with the old place.  She had not wanted to let it just sit empty but could not visualize renting it to anyone.  Strangers living in the old home did not seem an option.  Since her Uncle’s death, she had postponed making any definite plans or decisions.
Lara sat down at the large kitchen table leaning back in the old chair.  She felt a warmth and peace settle across her.  Until she could decide what she really wanted to do in her life, the old home radiated comfort and security.  Her writing could be done anywhere if only the words would come.  This was the place where she had written her best work. 
She decided she would do as her uncle wished, and stay at least for the nine months.  She hated to impose on Marla, but knew her friend would take care of things there.  She could sublet the apartment and have her things packed and put in storage.  Anything she needed, she could buy locally.  She would have some of her money transferred to the local bank and set up an account.
As she had been thinking, she realized it was time for the meat to go on the fire.  She gathered up everything she would need and out she went.  She broke off a small branch from the Sassafras tree in the yard to put on the coals for the added spicy, smoke flavor the wood gives off.  Just as she sat back to relax and tend the fire she saw Allen and Gordon walking side by side.  They carried no fish, but were smiling and talking when they spotted her.
Allen was the first to speak.  “I thought I was imagining things when we walked up and I smelled that heavenly smell.  What have you got there?”
Gordon was over at the grill inhaling the aromas.  “I don’t suppose you have extra here for two hungry fishermen?”
She laughed and said, “I have more than enough, but what happened to all the fish?”
Allen told her they had caught a few, but he felt sorry for them and had to set them free.  “We stayed a bit later than we planned, but it looks like we got back at just the right time.  What can we do to help?”
“There’s not much left to do.  You could get me something to drink, or watch the grill and I’ll get us all something.”  She started to get up.
Allen laughed and motioned for her to stay seated.  “It smells too good for us to risk me cooking.  We had some beer and wine left or maybe you still have tea?”
“Tea would be great for me.  I had my share of the beer last night.”
He had to laugh because he knew how bad she had felt.  “How about you Gordon?”  Gordon was looking puzzled.  He knew when he had arrived that the two had already met.  They had explained how they had met because of the little dog, named Fred.  Fred was a long way from drinking beer together.  It was a shock, considering the resentful almost angry look Lara had at his office.  To go from that first reaction, to drinking together in a matter of hours was indeed a surprise.  There must be more to Allen than he knew.  Gordon looked up, “What did you say?”
“I asked what you’d like to drink.  Lara and I are having iced tea.  What can I get for you?”
Gordon smiled.  “Iced tea will be fine for me too.  Thank you Allen.”
The meat was soon done to perfection and Lara was willing to bring everything outside to eat at the table.  When the men realized she not only had prepared the delicious meat dish before them, but also had more in the oven, both agree it would be easier to eat inside.
“ Paul was here earlier.   I saw him while we were fishing. I’d hate to have to send him packing twice in one day.  The second time I might not be as polite as I was this morning.”  Allen announced.
Gordon held the door open as first Lara entered then Allen.  “You didn’t mention he was around here before.  When I think of Lara living here by herself, I don’t like it.  He’s never done anything violent that I know of, but I don’t trust him at all.”  Gordon was very serious.
Lara listened as she got the other two dishes out of the oven.  Allen was setting the table.  Lara looked from one to the other of them as she asked, “Do you think he could be dangerous?”
Allen smiled at her reassuringly.  “Not dangerous, just weird and a pain in the back side.  If you’re worried about personal protection you do have a gun in the bedroom downstairs.  Your uncle and I went hunting sometimes.  I can teach you to use.”
Lara frowned.  “A gun?”   She had been afraid of guns.  “I’ve never owned a gun.  I guess living out here is very different from the city.  Since the misfortune of meeting the deputy and neighbor Paul...well, I think I’ll take you up on teaching me to shoot.”
Gordon spoke before Allen could answer, “What is it about the misfortune of the deputy?  You didn’t mention that at all.”
Lara explained about the incident with the deputy after leaving Gordon’s office.  They went on to enjoy a delicious meal together and talked of many things.  They even told Gordon about most of the night before.  He did not miss some of the looks that passed between the two.  Conversation went from one thing to another.  Their discussion eventually came back to Lara. 
 Gordon and Allen were truly interested in and about her life, and books.  After the meal, they all pitched in and it was cleared up in no time.
Lara went to the coffee pot and began to make a fresh pot.  “I don’t know about you two, but I am stuffed.  I’d love to sit out on the front porch and have a fresh cup of coffee.”
Gordon and Allen agreed.  Gordon began to pull papers out of the briefcase again, and set them on the table.  “If you don’t mind, I do need both of your signatures on these papers, before I forget. Take your time and read through them.”
Lara and Allen both sat down and began to read as the coffee brewed.  Just as the coffee finished and Gordon had made him self a fresh cup, they signed and stacked the papers.  Gordon gave them each copies of what they had signed.
They each got their coffee and headed for the porch.  It was very pleasant sitting out there together.  The houseplants made a homey feel and the view was beautiful.  Just as Lara felt relaxed she was startled.  A furry bundle bounded up the steps with his tail wagging and pranced by Lara begging to be picked up.  Lara had made a new friend.
Gordon laughed after he recovered from the start it gave him.  “This must be Fred.”  When Fred heard his name, Gordon was the next to receive his attention and affections.
They finished their coffee and had a pleasant enough visit.  Lara had to admit to herself that the day had gone better than she had expected.  It had certainly gone better than when she first woke up with the terrible headache.  Both men told Lara how much they had enjoyed the meal and the company.  They also both promised to visit again soon.  It was time to go their separate ways.  

She had dreaded going through the will and the emotions she feared it would provoke.  She initially felt trapped and coerced by the mandate that she move into and stay at the house for such a long period.  The trapped feeling had receded to a feeling of contentment being among friends in a place she had always felt safe and protected.
Gordon rose to leave as Allen stood and stretched.  “I don’t see your truck.  Did you walk?” 
Gordon was being polite as he offered Allen a ride home.  Allen accepted. He suddenly felt tired as he picked up Fred.  Lara waved as the truck eased down the driveway and disappeared.
As Gordon drove around to Mattie’s house, they rode in silence.  Allen thought about Lara. She was intelligent and capable, with an air of self-sufficiency about her.  She had not asked him to intrude in her life, but he could not mistake the warm reactions and responses he received from her.  He was not sure what he thought or felt.  He was shocked at how strongly he reacted to her.  The sight of her smile made him happy.  The interest she showed as they talked and the company he felt with her made him feel things he had not felt since he was much younger.  He smiled thinking it was crazy to feel like a kid again with a crush on the girl next door.  Actually, Lara was the girl out back.  He knew he wanted to see her again and he felt protective of her.

Lara sat on the porch thinking about the events of the day.  The porch seemed a little less peaceful when she was alone.  The last thing she needed was another visit with neighbor Paul where she could not close the door between them.  She went inside and locked both doors.  It was a beautiful day, but after all the things Allen told her about what her uncle had said, locking the doors seemed right.  She could remember as a child, people out in the country never locked their doors.  Times change and even in the country precautions were a good idea.
She got another cup of coffee and walked into the old sewing room she had set up as her study.  It did feel like home to her.  As she sipped her coffee and sat down to do some thinking, she had a sudden urge.  With all the time in the world, maybe the words would come back to her and the ideas for her best, yet to be novel.  She began to feel optimistic.
It was 4:30 in the afternoon.  Lara called and brought Marla up to date on most of the things concerning the will.  Lara asked for the help she would need from her an apologized for the inconvenience it would cause.  There was a pause of total silence after she finished speaking.
When Marla did speak, she said what she thought.  “You’re joking right?  You’re not serious about living in that big old house, all alone out in the middle of nowhere?  Did you say for at least nine months?  Right here with all these people around, someone broke into my office last night.  I’ve been worried to death about you and now you say this is what you want to do?  Have you thought this through?  If it’s because it’s in the will, we can get an attorney.”
Lara was shocked to know Marla’s office had been broken into.  She had heard all of the other things Marla had said, but could not understand why anyone would break into an office. “Was any thing stolen?  Do they know who did it?”
Marla laughed and said, “What would they steal from my office.  Most of what I have are files, contracts, and such.  They have no idea who it was.  They trashed the place royally.  Files were gone through and thrown everywhere.  The file with all my phone numbers was totaled.  We are still working on that.  They pulled all the cards out and threw them.  My computer had been turned on but why they never took it is a mystery.  The police said it looked like vandalism.  It makes you wonder.  Did you listen to anything else I said?  Are you really saying you are going to live there alone in that big house, way out there, for nine months?”
Lara was concerned for her friend.  “If I was there I’d help, you know I would.”
“Don’t worry about that.  We’ll get it all cleaned up.  Tell me about this crazy plan for nine months alone out there.  Visiting or living with your family is one thing, but all alone?  What, will you do?  You’ll go crazy.  I’d be bored out of my skull.”  Marla was a city girl to the core.
“That’s exactly what I said.  It is not only a term of the will, but it was my uncle’s wish.  I’d feel like I was betraying him if I fought his last wishes with an attorney.  This is what I think I want to do.  Besides that, living way out here in the country with nothing to do may be good.  I may get so bored that all I do is write.   Will you help me?”  Lara was feeling tired as she spoke.
Marla’s cheerful voice said things Lara liked hearing.  “Are you crazy or what?  You know I’d help you anyway I can.  In fact, I’ll get right on it before I leave the office.  I really like the part where all you may have to do is write.  That is about all I like about it though.  I’m here for you anytime.   I have a date tonight.  Lara, you haven’t met him yet, but he is a doll.”
Lara laughed and thought to herself of Allen.  Aloud, she told Marla, “I want to take one day at a time.  You don’t know how much I appreciate you, and all you do for me.  I have all I need if an idea should hit to do my writing right here.  The phone in the house is on and I’ll get Internet for the computer.  I can send you an E-mail when I get it done.”
Marla was sympathetic for Lara.  “Anything I can do, I will.”  They talked a little longer and Lara gave Marla the house phone number.  Marla urged Lara to be cautious.  It may be the country, but alone is alone.  
            Lara had not told Marla about the deputy or her neighbor named Paul.  She saw no need to worry her friend more than she was.  She knew if she confided any of those things to Marla, Marla would throw a fit for her to come right back to New York.
After the phone call to Marla ended, she set up her computer.  She decided she might just be able to start writing.  She called the phone company and made the arrangements she needed with them for a separate line for the computer in her office.  She contacted her bank to arrange to have a substantial amount sent to an account she would set up in town.  She called the bank to be sure they would still be open if she drove into town.  They explained they would be closed by then.  She agreed to come in the next day but decided not to just sit home.  She was not ready to read the letter.  She wanted to wait until she could handle the emotions the letter might stir in her. 
She decided to go do some shopping.  She had not brought nearly enough cloths or personal items.  She made very sure the doors and windows were locked, and all of the lights turned off.  This time she knew how she left the house.  She felt like she was taking a step forward and taking control of her life as she got into her car.
The drive was pleasant and her spirits began to lift.  She did catch herself watching for the deputy but he was not in sight.  She didn’t notice exactly what time she left the house, but it was 5:25 when she pulled into the store’s parking lot.  She spent an hour and a half shopping, including the things to wire her new telephone line.  She had enjoyed it, but suddenly realized how hungry she was.  She spotted a nice place to stop and have a meal, and then decided it was time to head for home.  It had not seemed that far when she left, but suddenly felt like a long drive home. 

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