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Valued Social Butterfly

Re: The Inheritance Revisited

Message 81 of 92

Chapter 11 (word prompts: kitchen, overdressed, fan, trash pile, hope chest, repression, filmy, spider, extreme)

Madison took her time before climbing the steps to the front door. She had never before seen this view of the house that now belonged to her. The lights shined brightly through the triple windows that stretched from floor to ceiling in the great room. The children were doing something on the floor and cast shadows in the yard below. She could imagine Craig finishing up dinner in the kitchen.

The whole picture was one of family and brought up those long repressed dreams of a family of her own. Most of the time she was OK with that lack and sometimes was even grateful for the twisted path her life had taken. There were advantages to be able to make decisions without having to worry about their affects on others who were depending on you. At home her life was full with friends and activities, but somehow that seemed extreme as compared to what she saw of life here. Yet there was something about this new-found existence that was appealing to her.

She sat on the step as the feelings suddenly seemed overwhelming. A spider was caught in the light from the window weaving her web between the banister and the shrub beside it. She watched as the creature ignored her completely and she wondered if that tiny thing thought anything past creating the filmy masterpiece. It seemed she was always thinking “what next?” as she was doing right now. It was with that thought that she shook herself out of this meditation and made her way up the stairs.

She noticed that some of the trash pile in the great room had been cleared away, leaving room for Johnny to sit on the floor with his sisters. They appeared to be doing homework as they each had a book and a tablet before them. She was surprised to see they had all changed into their pajamas and their wet hair showed they had already showered. Her contemplation must have taken a lot longer than she thought.

She called “hello” to them before heading toward the kitchen where the aromas of onion, garlic and oregano were making her mouth water. Craig appeared to be surprised as she entered the room. Either he was so intent on his cooking or the sound of the fan above the stove had covered her footsteps. Either way he seemed startled as she commented on his culinary skills.

Madison was actually feeling overdressed in her jeans and sweater as she looked at Craig. It appeared he’d had time for a shower too, judging from his still-damp hair which now seemed both darker and more wavy. He had changed into a some sweat pants and a T-shirt. His feet were bare and he had the look of a child who had been caught doing something naughty.

“I hope you didn’t mind that I took over your kitchen.” Then after a pause, he added, “I guess I’ve taken over your whole house. I promise to find a way to make it up to you.”

Madison didn’t really know what to say. She was just now getting to the point where she recognized that this was her house and it seemed about as natural for Craig to be here as herself. In ways it seemed he had more right to be here since he had confessed to having built it.

“It seems to me just being allowed to eat some of that wonderful sauce will be repayment enough, thank you very much. It really smells wonderful. Is there something I can do to help?”

“Well, I think I have everything under control in here. The problem is that I checked out the dining room table and I don’t know what to do with all the things covering it.”

Madison hated to admit that she hadn’t even taken a look in there. “Let me take a look and see if I can clear off a couple of places.”

It appeared that Robert had been working on a scrap book or something. There were several shoe boxes filled with what appeared to be newspaper clippings along with some file folders. Then she noticed that an old desktop computer was stashed away under the table. She gathered up all the papers into an empty box that she found in the corner and pushed the computer toward the center of the table which left enough room under the table for them to sit.

There was a cabinet against the wall. The first two drawers contained more papers and folders but the third drawer held some table cloths and napkins. She took out a table cloth and spread it on the table. It took her opening two kitchen cabinets before she found some actual plates. She had already found the utensils and with those along with paper towels, she set the table. It was then she realized she had no milk for the children. But as she opened the refrigerator to get the butter she realized Craig had thought of this too, so she filled three glasses. Two other glasses she filled with ice water, as Craig filled five plates with spaghetti and sauce, a small salad was on the side and he asked Madison if she could get the garlic bread from the oven where it was being kept warm. When she reached the table with the bread in a basket she had found, the children were at places around the table.

Craig took the place at one end and Madison sat at the other. She was amazed at how natural the whole thing seemed.

Craig seemed to be trying to coax Johnny, who was sitting to his right, into talking to him. He was asking him about school and his homework. He told him that he was beginning a project that he thought Johnny could help him with. He explained to Madison that Johnny had been helping him with some of his carpentry work.

Ruby and Pearl said they wanted to help too.

Craig looked at the girls to his left. “Do either of you know how to sand?”

Pearl was excited. “I love sand”, she said.

Ruby gave her the look. “He doesn’t mean sand like in the sand box. He’s talking about what Daddy did to the floor in the kitchen before he painted it.” She looked at Craig. “But he wouldn’t let us get near that thing. He said it would hurt us.”

“And he was right”, said Craig. “But this is something different. You do this with a piece of paper that has sand glued on it and you rub it over pieces of wood to make it smooth.”

Johnny was certain girls couldn’t do that, but Ruby said she was certain she could and Pearl insisted she could rub paper on wood too.

Madison just watched the interplay and thought what a natural Craig was with children. She wondered if she could learn.

“What are you working on?”

“Well, it’s a hope chest that one of my friends wants to give her daughter for her 18th birthday.”

The children cleaned off their plates and then were surprised with cups of ice cream before he chased them all upstairs for bed.

Madison went into the kitchen to clean up after telling Craig that she would take over that part of the job since he had done the cooking. She was just loading the last of the dishes into the dishwasher when he returned.

“Is there some coffee? We need to talk.”

(to be continued)

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Re: The Inheritance Revisited

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Chapter 10

The children were quiet on the way home. Madison might have forgotten they were there had it not been for the fact that she could see Johnny sitting tall each time she looked in the rear view mirror. His expression seemed so much older than a child of 8 years old. She thought his problems had begun well before yesterday. She might not know much about his family but she knew it could not have been easy growing up with an alcoholic father. It was good that he was in rehab now, but generally that came only after a long period of hitting bottom. Could this have anything to do with his mother’s disappearance? Somehow, that didn’t seem likely. From what she knew of the way alcoholic families worked, Joanie might do a lot of things in her codependency, but leaving her children was not likely to be one of those.

She was still in deep thought when she reached the driveway. The lights were on in the house and the flood was on beside the garage that she had yet to use. She was surprised to see a second car beside Craig’s truck and realized this was probably why the light was on. She was just helping the children from the back seat when she saw movement in the head lights just before being greeted with paws and puppy kisses, both of which ceased abruptly when they sighted the three little figures in the shadow. But then they were greeted also and Madison was pleased to see the first smiles since she had picked them up at the school.

She was about to show them into the front door when she saw two other figures coming toward her. They were close before the head lights illuminated their faces and she recognized Craig and Jason.

“Hi, guys”, said Craig in his cheeriest voice! “Is everybody hungry for dinner? I made my special spaghetti. Come on, let’s get washed up.”

There wasn’t a resounding cheer of approval from the kids, but they followed Craig up the steps. She thought she heard him tell them that he had a surprise for them inside, which she thought would be the things he said he picked up for them earlier.

Madison was still standing there with Jason watching the four figures disappear into the house.

“Do you have any news?” From the look on Jason’s face, not only was the answer negative but he had gotten about the same amount of rest as Craig.

“No, not a word. I was just telling Craig that I talked to the sheriff again and he has consulted with all the surrounding counties. I went by the house again and collected several photographs to give them in addition to her photo from DMV which they had before. They are still attempting to keep the news away but wondering if that’s a good idea at this point. Perhaps someone knows something. Joyce even mentioned putting it on FaceBook like they do with lost dogs.”

Madison thought he looked as though he was about to fall over and suddenly felt they had known each other a long time. She didn’t know what to say to this man who seemed to be taking the situation very hard. Was it just because this was a small town or was there something more?

She was about to ask when Jason broke the silence. “I wanted to talk to you about the children staying here. Is it OK with you? If it’s not perhaps they could stay with us after the weekend.”

“With you?”

“Oh, Craig didn’t tell you? Joanie is my sister-in-law. She’s Joyce’s younger sister. The children are our nieces and nephew. We didn’t feel it would be good to have them with us at first because of the party this weekend. If we are trying to keep it quiet, cancelling it would not be an option and having three extra children at our house would be known within an hour from their arrival.”

This certainly explained Jason’s involvement, but Madison didn’t know how to answer his question. She tried to explain how little experience she had with children and she’d had very little time with them so far to know how it was working. He seemed to understand and be satisfied to take the subject up later.

“Am I to assume you are not expecting their mother to come walking back in the next few hours?”

“No, I’m trying to keep Joyce encouraged but we are both really worried. It’s not like Joanie to just walk away. I’d better get home.” He tried to give a little chuckle, but it fell flat. “Joyce will be sending the sheriff after me.”

Madison watched his back disappear from the beam of the headlights as he walked back to his car. She couldn’t see his face but wondered if he were crying.

She reached into the car to turn off the headlights and saw the bag from Crystal’s Corner. Somehow it no longer seemed appropriate for anything and she decided to leave it where it was.

(To be continued)

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Chapter 9

Madison had no problem finding the nursery school. Craig’s directions were easy to follow, but she would have found it easily without directions once she found Elm Street. It would have been hard to miss the fence in pastel colors of the rainbow. The neighborhood was still primarily residential and would be considered starter houses. Probably built in the late 40’s or early 50’s, they were small frame houses for the most part. Some of them had been remodeled, adding additional rooms. One appeared to have added a second story. Several had added a garage large enough for one car. The lots were not wide enough for two cars.

The nursery school which, bore the sign “Kozy Korner”, had added what appeared to be a widow’s walk on top and a porch on the side facing Elm Street as well as Oak Street. There was one other car out front and Madison pulled up behind. She stopped for a minute to admire the school. The fence was an ordinary wire about 4 feet in height but woven between the strands were different colored strips, giving privacy to the yard which contained a swing set, a slide and a carousel. But the real masterpiece was the house itself. It was painted a pale blue with white columns supporting the porch. Between each column was a panel with a fairy tale illustrated. From where she was standing she recognized Snow White with the Dwarfs and Cinderella with the Stepsisters. She was about to walk around the house to get a look at the others when the door opened.

A woman with short dark hair in a pony tail came out with a small boy by the hand. She stopped when she saw Madison.

“I don’t know you”, she said, not sounding very friendly.

Before Madison had a chance to reply a voice called from the front door. “It’s OK Marcie. She’s picking up Joanie’s kids”.

“Well where is Joanie?” Marcie sounded like it was a capital offense to have someone else pick up your children for you.

Madison didn’t know how to answer that question. The last thing she wanted to do was to tell any stranger the truth and she especially didn’t want to tell this one. Luckily she was saved by the woman in the doorway.

“Marcie, I don’t think that’s a need-to-know.” She said it with a bit of humor but Madison could see by the look in her eyes that she was discouraging any further conversation on the topic. Instead she turned to Madison who had just reached the short steps up to the porch.

“Come on in, I think the kids are about ready”. As soon as she was inside she closed the door firmly behind them.

Now she had a pleasant smile on the face that showed nice white teeth and a faint trace of pale lipstick. She carried an extra ten pounds or so which actually looked good on her. She wore red leggings and a long shirt that had black and white dogs printed on it. There was no way you could look at this woman without smiling back.

“You are Madison, aren’t you?”

Madison confirmed that was correct.

“That’s good. I don’t like handing out personal information and I like even less to hand out incorrect information. Craig explained the situation this morning when he brought Pearl. I was glad he decided to get some rest. He looked like he had been run over by a truck already. By the way, I’m Maggie, in case you hadn’t guessed that already.”

Madison smiled in return. “It’s nice to meet you, Maggie. And thanks for helping out just then. I really had no idea what to tell that woman. I’m certain Craig explained that they would just as soon this all remain private. How are the children doing?”

“They seem to be doing fine. I’ve tried to give them an extra bit of attention and perhaps they’ve been a bit quieter than usual, but that’s all. Pearl took a nice long nap. Sometimes I have trouble getting her to do that. Ruby has been coloring in her book, but that’s her favorite thing to do. Johnny has been working on his homework, which is what he normally does. It’s hard to believe how much homework they have in the 3rd grade.”

Madison would have liked to talk to this woman about the artwork on the front porch but thought it better to hold that until another time. She was about to ask about the children when Johnny appeared in the doorway. He was holding Ruby’s hand on one side and Pearl’s on the other.

“Are you Madison?”

“Yes, I’m Madison. We hardly had a chance to meet last night. Perhaps we can become friends tonight if you would like.” Madison was trying to read the expression on his face. It seemed to be a mixture of relief and suspicion. She thought she could understand that.

Ruby and Pearl both seemed to think this was a real treat. “Can we play with your dogs? What are their names?”

“Their names are Tedi and Daisy. Daisy is the collie and I know they would be happy to have someone to play with. Are you ready to go?”

Maggie asked if they had their books and jackets and Johnny answered for them all. Still holding their hands he headed toward the front door.

Once they were safely in the back seat, Johnny pointed out that there was no special seats for Pearl and Ruby. Madison apologized and promised to drive very carefully. Johnny was taking his role of big brother very seriously and Madison felt it was important for her to acknowledge that.

“You know when I was little they didn’t have car seats like they do now and I sat in the front seat beside my mother. Every time we would come to a stop she would hold out her arm to make certain I was safe. Perhaps it would be a good idea if you sat in the middle and did that for your sisters.”

That seemed to satisfy him and he changed places with Ruby. When they were all settled, Madison started the car and headed toward home.

(To be continued)


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Valued Social Butterfly

Re: The Inheritance Revisited

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Chapter 8

Madison left Craig sound asleep on the sofa. She took a shower and washed her hair before going into town. She had not forgotten about the invitation from Jason for Saturday. She was still undecided about going, but this situation with Craig had made her a bit more curious about the other members of the community and the decisions she still had to make. This gathering would certainly help with that.

She thought she remembered seeing an interesting shop on the way to the grocery store and decided that would be her first stop. She always enjoyed those small places run by locals rather than the large department stores. Of course, she had no idea if there was a large department store in the area. That was something she needed to find out.

The sign on the gold canvas awning over the door read “Crystal’s Closet”. There was a small “open” sign on the door and the sound of wind chimes when she opened it. The carpet on the floor was of the same gold hue as the awning and so thick that she was grateful she had worn flat heeled shoes. The entire place read elegant and she felt she should have dressed up more just to come through the door as she prepared herself to add greatly to the balance on her MasterCard.

However, some beautiful things caught her eye immediately and there seemed to be quite a few in the colors she favored. The store was larger than it appeared from outside. It seemed to have been enlarged into the next storefront by tearing out a wall without changing the entrance. There was a preponderance of glass shelving which made it appear larger and more airy too.

“Make yourself at home, Hun. I’ll be there in a jiffy.”

The voice sounded young and musical coming from somewhere in the back. Madison had the image of a young girl, probably just out of high school or maybe working part time while still in school. It was a bit of a shock when a woman in her 40’s emerged from the back but she somehow fit the shop and Madison knew this must be Crystal. She was barely 5’ tall and probably weighed all of 100 pounds. Her blond hair was piled on top of her head in a failed attempt to make her appear taller, as were the 5” heels on her feet. As a result she was almost the same height as Madison’s 5’6”.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Welcome to Crystal’s. I was expecting a friend of mine. Well, let’s face it, most everyone who walks through the door are friends of mine.”

Madison had no doubt that was true. After the greeting she received she had no doubt in a few more minutes she would be included in that group.

“You must be Crystal. I’m Madison Morrison.”

“Oh, of course. I should have guessed. You’re the artist.”

Madison was beginning to understand why Craig wanted the children at her place instead of his in town. “Yes, but how did you hear about me?”

“Well, from Joyce Lumpkin. She told me she had met you and that she had invited you to the Island this weekend. Are you looking for something to wear? She said she hoped you would come.”

Madison wasn’t certain what to say. She had no experience with small town living before. She was accustomed to word being spread quickly through her group of friends but not to perfect strangers. At the same time, there was something sort of flattering about it.

“As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I was looking for and I have no idea what people wear on these occasions. I’m a little shy about meeting a lot of new people.”

Crystal was examining the woman in front of her with the eyes of a total professional and Madison thought she should take seriously any recommendations. She was very surprised when, instead of showing her to a rack she suggested a cup of coffee and showed her to a cluster of upholstered chairs in the back corner of the shop. It was almost hidden from view by a rack of long garments which might have been evening or loungewear. When she was seated, Crystal disappeared behind some curtains and reappeared in just a few minutes with a porcelain pot, two matching mugs and two miniature pots that she assumed contained sugar and cream. All of this was on a brass tray, along with two spoons and a plate of what appeared to be shortbread cookies.

Before long Madison was telling her all about her need to make a decision about selling either her house in the city or the one here. Crystal was nothing if not a good listener and didn’t seem to represent the Chamber of Commerce and tell her all the remarkable things about the town. She just agreed that in making a decision like that a lot of things had to be taken into consideration and that it should not be rushed. There was no doubt in Madison’s mind that this woman knew everything about everybody in town, but, other than her opening statement, didn’t share any of that knowledge.

They had finished two cups of coffee each and all the cookies on the plate when Madison realized it was probably getting later than she had planned. She looked at her watch and saw it was already a few minutes after 5:00 and she hadn’t even looked at anything.

“Going to the Island on Saturday will give you an idea of the friends you can make here and help with your decision,” said Crystal.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to come back later, I have another errand in just a few minutes”, said Madison as she rose from the sofa. “I’ve enjoyed this so much but I’m afraid I’ve talked too much.”

“Well, just let me show you what I suggest you wear on Saturday. I think it’ll be perfect and if you like I can hold it for you. It’s right around here.” She led the way to the other side of the rack that hid the remainder of the shop.

Madison saw a flash of orange that caught her eye and was thrilled when she saw Crystal’s hand head in that direction. When she brought it out she could see it was a pair of wide legged pants that almost looked to be a skirt. They were of a silk-like fabric with a subdued design of a darker color. It was beautiful.

Then Crystal headed to a different rack where she picked up a blouse. It was of a deep maroon color. “I think this would show off your hair very nicely. Do you have any gold sandals?”

Madison thought of her closet back home but just shook her head. Crystal led her to another part of the shop and pointed to a pair of gold sandals with a small kitten heel and very little else. Madison knew they would be perfect. “Size 7”, she said and took out her charge card. “Can I return it if I get it home and it doesn’t fit?”

“Of course you can, but I don’t think you will. Just wear your hair down with a pair of gold earrings and you will be the most beautiful woman there. Just wait until you see yourself. Oh, and the belt on the pants should be worn on top of the blouse.”

Madison followed her up to the front counter where she spotted the perfect pair of earrings too. She was prepared for the huge amount of money she had just spent and was amazed when she saw that the entire purchase had been just under $100. She was all smiles as she made her way to the car and headed toward the nursery school.

(to be continued

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Chapter 7 (Word prompts: asleep, midnight. Utopia, memory, textbooks, crush, pillow, weariness, flat tire.

It was late morning when Madison found her way downstairs. She was beginning to think that her memories of the night before had been only a very realistic dream until she reached the kitchen and found a note propped up against the coffee pot filled with hot brew. She poured a mug before sitting down at the table to read the letter.

Dear Madison,

You were so sound asleep when I got the children ready for school this morning that I didn’t want to awaken you. I thought it would be best if I got the kids back on their usual schedule while I tried to figure out what to do from here. There was no news from Jason overnight and I’ll check with him this morning.

By the way, I used your washing machine and dryer. I hope you don’t mind but the kids needed some clean clothes for school today. You are now out of laundry detergent so I’ll bring some later. You are also out of cookies. They were great.

Thanks for everything,


Tedi and Daisy came back inside from their morning yard check and let her know it was breakfast time. After filling both bowls she popped two slices of toast into the toaster and removed the butter and jam from the refrigerator. She was hoping that a bit of food along with some coffee would take away the weariness that a night’s sleep had not seemed to diminish. Perhaps she had overdone it yesterday going through all of Robert’s past. It turned out to be more emotional that she would have thought, not to mention a midnight adventure with Craig and the unexpected guests.

She had never done well with surprises and was unsure how to handle this one. As it turned out she only had a glimpse at the children but she felt a strange tie with them. Perhaps it was that they reminded her of the puppies that people tossed out on the road. She felt the need to help them in some way. But even Craig didn’t know what to do and he knew the family. Perhaps there would be word that their mother was safe at home and there would be no need to do anything. Madison decided she was due for a day of rest and relaxation.

The sofa was looking inviting. She began to fluff up the pillows that had been crushed by either Craig or her dogs. Then she remembered the box of paperback books and decided that would be a good way to escape for a while. For a moment she changed her mind when she realized the box containing the textbooks and photo albums had to be moved before she would reach the one she wanted, but then it slid rather easily over the carpeting. She made a mental note to ask Craig to move it downstairs for her.

She finally reached the box labeled books and realized these must have belonged to Robert’s mother instead of to him. The first three she picked up had pictures on the front of long-haired women who seemed to be swooning in the arms of a heavily muscled male, both of which wore very little clothing. She was about to give up her quest when she happened to see a dark cover with bright red lettering and the single word “Utopia”. That seemed a bit more promising to her mood.

It seemed she had just opened the book when Tedi and Daisy were announcing an arrival. They were running from the window to the front door and then back again. Madison thought she heard the sound of footsteps in front and headed that way, reaching it the same time as the knock sounded. She recognized Craig’s car right beside her own.

When she opened the door she saw that he was loaded down with bags from the grocery store. She stood to the side as he headed toward the kitchen. He was already placing something in the refrigerator when she followed him.

“I’m hoping to bribe you with food”, he said with a smile. He continued to unload the bags which contained the laundry detergent that he had mentioned in his note, along with some bread, cookies, some hot dogs and buns, some cheese and whatever he had already put in the refrigerator.

“What am I supposed to be bribed to do? It might take more than a few groceries, you know.”

His smile vanished as he poured himself a cup of coffee and sat at the table. “I guess I’m trying to bribe you into having one more day with some house guests.”

Madison poured a cup for herself and drank it as he told her of his morning.

He took Pearl to her nursery school and then Johnny and Ruby to their school, repeating the story to each of their teachers to explain their absences of the day before. Then he drove by where the car had been and saw that it was gone. He was overjoyed thinking that meant that Joanie had returned and he drove by their house which was unchanged from the day before. He called Joanie’s number and it went to voicemail just as it had before.

He told her of his visit to the diner for breakfast where he had called Jason, who joined him there. It seemed Jason had arranged for AAA to pick up the car and take it to the garage to have the flat tire repaired.

Jason had pointed out that there was really no choice but to notify the sheriff that Joanie was missing since it had been over 24 hours and they had made the call together from the diner. A deputy had joined them and made a report. That was when the topic of the children had been mentioned and the deputy had been ready to call social services, but Jason had other ideas. He had called Mark at the rehab center the night before and they had arranged to provide for Craig to have temporary guardianship of the children.

After spending two months there, Mark was due for a weekend furlough to come home. That would be this weekend, just two days away. He had also given permission for Craig to enter the house and get whatever the children needed. The three of them, Jason, the deputy and Craig, all went to the house together. They could tell nothing had been disturbed and it was obvious Joanie had not planned to be gone. There was even a stew still cooking in the slow cooker that had been planned for dinner the night before. It would have been put on before leaving home the day before to be ready after work.

With their help, Craig had gathered up some clothes for the children to wear for the next couple of days along with some of their favorite toys. Those were still in the car.

“So”, said Craig, “I guess I’m asking if you can share your bed and the sofa with us all tonight. It’s possible Mark can come pick them up tomorrow night but it might be Saturday morning before he can get here. They can stay at my house if need be, but I know how gossip gets going around this town and I live in one of those neighborhoods where everyone knows about everyone else. We are hoping to keep it as quiet as possible until we have more news. The last thing we need is a bunch of reporters and such upsetting the children more than they already are. Already I don’t know how to answer their questions.”

“What time do you pick them up at school?”

“It’s arranged for them to go from school to the nursery school until 6:00 which is when Joanie comes for them after work. I’ll pick them up from there.”

Madison thought he seemed more tired than she felt herself and then realized he had probably gotten very little, if any sleep the night before.

“I have an idea”, she said. “Why don’t you call the nursery school and tell them that I will be the one to pick them up. I need to go into town anyway. That way you can stay here and get a bit of sleep. You look like you are about to fall over in that cup.”

She was surprised that he didn’t argue, but just picked up his cell and put through the call.

(To be continued)

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Chapter 6 (Word prompts: asleep, midnight, Utopia, memory, textbooks, crush, pillow, weariness, flat tire)

Madison decided to spend the rest of the day going through some of the boxes that were crowding the great room. Many of the boxes contained items that predated her relationship with Robert. They had probably been packed up by his parents and never unpacked after he cleaned out their house. There was a box with textbooks with the GA Tech covers still intact. In the same box were year books from both high school and college. She spent a bit too much time going through those. Even though they attended different schools and he was a few years before her, they brought back a lot of memories.

She found a box containing a lot of photos and old albums. She opened a few of them and saw baby pictures which she assumed was Robert. He had been an only child and if his parents were like her own there would have been a lot of those. She didn’t bother to go through the albums but found some loose pictures of a chubby little boy, very unlike the Robert she had known. She remembered that his mother had once mentioned that he had grown 6” during his freshman year of high school. She realized it was sad that she had no idea what to do with all these old photos. It seemed wrong to just throw them away.

There were several boxes of paperbacks that Madison would go through later. If she remembered correctly a fondness for mystery stories was something that she and Robert shared.

After a couple of hours, Tedi and Daisy were asking for her attention and she needed to take a break anyway. She ventured out to the back yard and watched the dogs sniff around the barn until they were convinced there were no aliens hiding there. It seemed a good time to have some lunch.

By this time almost three hours had passed since Craig had vanished. She had no idea when she might hear from him again but hoped it would be soon. She hated to admit how excited she was by the prospect of sharing a work space with this handsome, broad-shouldered man, and the idea that he was mentoring some children just made him seem even more attractive. There had been a large part of her that regretted not having a family of her own and she had thought about filling the void in that way herself. While she was not yet ready to call this prospect Utopia, she had to admit she was developing quite a crush, not only on him, but for the situation itself.

After a quick sandwich she returned to her project. The box of photos and were transferred to the basement. The boxes of books were very heavy and she thought perhaps Craig could contribute a strong back when he returned. She managed to drag them toward the door so she could see what was underneath.

There were several boxes that made no sense unless they could be recycled. She needed to ask Craig about that. One was filled with empty bottles, another with what appeared to be junk mail. There was one that was filled with empty cigarette packages and she wondered if he had known someone saving those for some reason, but decided this was something for the trash.

She had become so involved with her project that she totally lost track of time and it was almost midnight when her phone rang.

She recognized Craig’s voice, even though it sounded very stressed. “I’m so sorry to call you this late, but I need some help and I didn’t know who else to call. I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“No, I’m awake. What’s going on? What do you need?” Madison was puzzled as to why he would be calling her when she knew he knew everyone in town.

“Well, it’s a long story and I don’t have all the details myself right now, but long story short, I currently have three young children here with me. I don’t know where their parents are and I don’t feel right about taking them to my house. You know, single man and all. I’m afraid it wouldn’t look right. I was thinking that a female chaperone would help the situation. Could I please bring them over until I can figure out what to do.”

Madison felt unable to say “no” even though she didn’t feel entirely comfortable with “yes” but since she had no other suggestions, she told him to bring them along. As soon as she hung up the phone she happened to wonder if there was a need to feed them. She had no answer for that but she knew a cup of coffee was needed for herself and she had worked through the dinner hour. She was about to head to the kitchen when Tedi and Daisy alerted her to a disturbance.

She opened the front door and was met with a man she hardly recognized. The weariness in Craig’s eyes was obvious and he held one small child in his arms, already asleep. There was a boy and a girl, one on either side of him who looked as though they had just been awaken. The child he was holding was no more than 3. The young girl on his right was about 5 and the young boy was around 8 but appeared younger at the moment with his sleepy eyes.

“I think a bed is the thing that is called for now”, said Madison. “Take them to the bedroom upstairs on the right. It’s a king sized bed so all of them can sleep there. I’ll see if I can find some pillows.”

“Don’t bother. I know where the linen closet is and I’ll get some. Do you have some coffee?”

I was just making some. Have you had dinner?”

“No, but I’m not really hungry, although I could use some more of those cookies if you have some.”

Madison headed toward the kitchen and Craig turned toward the stairs. He was about half way up when Madison heard some crying and thought it was coming from the child in his arms. He whispered something and the crying ceased as quickly as it had begun. She was just pouring two mugs of coffee when he appeared in the doorway and then almost collapsed into the chair.

“I’m so sorry about this. I talked to Jason and we couldn’t think of anything else to do. He was really the one who suggested you. I think you’ve made quite an impression on him.”

“Well, thank you, I guess. Although I don’t know if this is a good thing or not. Would you please tell me what’s going on?”

“I’ll tell you what I know.” He took some coffee and a bite of cookie. Madison knew he was trying to collect his thoughts.

“That call I got was from Johnny. By the way, the children who are now upstairs in your bed are Johnny and his sisters Ruby and Pearl. Johnny is one of the little boys I was talking about mentoring, although it’s more of a big brother type thing. It’s not organized around here, just something some of the people are trying to get started.

“Johnny was upset because his mother was taking him and Ruby to school when she had a flat tire. He said she had gone for help but not come back. He saw that she had left her cell phone on the front seat and he called me.”

Madison was surprised that he knew Craig’s number and he would call him instead of his father.

“There’s no mystery there. His dad is in rehab right now. He’s really trying to get his alcoholism under control. He’s been there for about two months. It was ordered by the court. Well, actually Jason arranged it after he was arrested for a Drunk and Disorderly. Their mother has been trying to keep it all together until he gets home. She had my name and number on her phone since we’ve had to get together to make arrangements for me to pick up Johnny. They’re good people but have been having a hard time for the past year or so.”

“You mean she never came back?”

“That’s how it appears”, said Craig. “I left a note on the car and I took the kids to get something to eat. I left my cell number on the note since now we have her phone. After lunch we drove back by and the note was still on the windshield. I went by their house and it was all locked up. The kids didn’t have a key and I didn’t want to break in. We went to the park and stayed until it started to get dark and then drove back to the car which was undisturbed. I took them back to the diner and I called Jason to ask for some advice.”

“So Jason said why don’t you take them to Madison?” Somehow that didn’t seem right.

“Well, not exactly. We went through several possibilities, including calling the police or taking them to my house. The thing is, we both have a very bad feeling about what might have happened to Joanie. It’s not like her just to walk away from her three children like this. The police won’t take a missing person’s report until at least 24 hours. Jason checked with hospitals, etc. to see if there had been any reports or anything and found nothing. If I reported that three children had been abandoned, there would be social service and all that kind of stuff that would just upset the kids more and it’s possible Joanie will show up in the morning with some logical explanation. If she doesn’t I’ll have to come up with some sort of plan.”

Madison could certainly understand the dilemma and knew there would be no answers coming on this night. She was suddenly exhausted and she knew Craig was past tired.

“I think there’s a third bedroom upstairs, although I haven’t done anything in there except to open the door and see that there’s a bed. You’re free to use it if you want.”

“Thanks, anyway”, said Craig, “but if you don’t mind I’ll just take the sofa. I want to be handy in case the kids wake up during the night and Jason will call me if he hears anything. I hope I don’t have to disturb the children tonight. I have a feeling they are going to need their rest.”

“I’ll get you a blanket,” said Madison.

“Never mind, I’ll help myself if I need it.”

“How do you know were everything is around here. You seem very familiar with the house,” commented Madison as she made her way toward the stairs.

“I am,” he said. “I built it.”

(to be continued)

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Chapter 5 (Word Prompts: Message, children, anger, solitary, spittle, fragments, questions, excitement, India, midnight)

He followed her into the kitchen. If he had any questions about the piles of boxes in the great room he kept them to himself. After she poured the remainder of the leftover coffee into a mug she refilled the coffeepot to make some fresh.

“Do you need cream or sugar?”

“No, it’s fine just the way it is.”

As she took the chair on the other side of the table she noticed he was studying her sketch, still lying there.

“That was just a quick sketch I did last night when I was trying to remember a dream.”

“It’s very interesting. It rather reminds me of some washes I did using India ink a few years ago.”

“That’s right. I’d forgotten that you’re an artist too.”

She thought she noticed a bit more color to his face. “It’s an old interest that I’m hoping revive in the near future. Everyone keeps telling me it would be good therapy, and I’m beginning to think they’re right.”

The fresh coffee was ready and she returned to the table with the entire pot along with the plate of cookies.

"Perhaps I should apologize. I seem to keep barging in without an invitation. It’s just that I found a message from Jason after midnight when it was too late to call. He said he had talked to you and I thought I would take a chance. I guess I’m a bit impatient."

There was something very appealing about his confession and Madison felt a rising excitement as she prepared herself to hear his ideas at last.

“Perhaps you need to tell me what you had in mind”, said Madison with what she hoped was an encouraging tone. She had sensed a shyness from this solitary figure sitting across the table from her which made her impatient herself. She couldn’t help but hope that his plan was a good one.

He took another cookie from the plate and Madison could tell it was an excuse for a delay rather than the desire for another cookie. She took another herself.

“I don’t exactly know what Jason told you, but basically I thought I might use a part of your barn for a studio, perhaps the back half inside the doors. That would make it easy for me to move in supplies and also be out of your way for however you were planning on using it. Did you have plans?”

Madison took another bite of her own cookie. She was about ready to tell him of her possible plan for an animal rescue when his cell phone rang. He seemed ready to turn it off but then saw the name of the caller.

“Sorry, I think I’d better get this,” and without waiting for an approval he put the phone to his ear while walking toward the back door for a bit of privacy.

Something in his stance got Madison’s attention. His spine straightened and it appeared the backs of his ears reddened. This was the way her father had looked when he was attempting to control his anger. She thought he didn’t realize how loudly he was speaking so she was able to catch fragments of the conversation. She could almost feel the spittle coming from his lips as he spoke into the phone.

In just a few minutes he was back. “I’m so sorry, but I need to cut this short.”

He was visibly shaken and Madison was concerned and confused. “I didn’t intend to eaves drop but I couldn’t help but hear that you mentioned children. Is there something wrong?”

“I hope not”, he said. Some of the kids that I’ve been sort of mentoring seem to have had an accident and I need to check it out. Could we talk about this later this afternoon?”

“Of course”, said Madison, but he was already heading out the door.

(To be continued)


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Chapter 4 (May Word Prompts: message, children, anger, solitary, spittle, fragment, questions, excitement, India, midnight)


It was well after midnight when Madison awoke and it was evident from spot of spittle on the cushion under her head that her nap had been more than a few minutes. Tedi had found a spot in the corner of the sofa at her feet while Daisy was snoring on the floor below. Madison felt stiff and sore from the awkward position she had been sleeping.

Oddly enough she felt wide awake and knew there was little hope of falling back asleep for the next few hours and considered how to spend the time. It was certainly not the time to call and leave a message for Craig Barton, even though that was the top of her list of things on her mind. Then she remembered about the cookies. That was one nice thing about living alone, there was nobody to tell you that 3:00 in the morning was not an appropriate time to bake.

It was while she was accumulating the ingredients for the cookies that she remembered that solitary figure on the deck of a sail boat. She knew it was only a fragment of her dream but it was such an unusual image that was in her mind. It was as though it was drawn with India ink, stark black on snow white paper. Only the drawing was the white part. She recognized the medium as scratchboard, although it was something she had never used. It made her wonder if she could regain more of the dream if she tried to recreate the image, but the cookies were to come first.

Madison sat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, a plate of warm cookies and her sketch pad. It was 5:00 and she wondered if she should try to get some more sleep or just give it up for the day. She knew the decision would have to be made now because she always found it difficult to fall asleep if it was light outside. Naps had always been difficult, ever since she was a child.

The clock beside the bed said 9:15 when she again opened her eyes. The strange night had left her feeling in a lazy mood and she thought there was no rush to begin her day. She filled the bath tub up and poured in a liberal supply of bubbling granules. It always made her think of satin sheets as she lowered her body into the hot, bubbly liquid. She felt her body relax and the stiffness still remaining from the sleep on the sofa faded with the caress of the warmth.

It was a new person who emerged from the tub and the remarkable healing powers of a bubble bath. Instead of the sweat pants and shirt which had been her uniform in recent weeks, she found a pair of leggings and a tunic length sweater. It wouldn’t be classified as sexy but was certainly a bit more of a feminine costume. She realized she would have to make a shopping trip if she was going to attend a party on Saturday. She wasn’t certain of the appropriate attire, but one thing was certain, it wasn’t sweat pants.

Daisy and Tedi had not joined her upstairs and she found them in the same position as she had left them. They awakened quickly as she passed through on her way to the kitchen. She knew what they wanted but she made it clear that a trip outside was to be made first. They gave her their disappointed look as they made their way through the doggy door but they sensed she was serious.

Knowing they would be back quickly, Madison poured some kibble in each bowl and poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot made earlier. She had forgotten to turn it off and was grateful for the mistake. She had almost finished the coffee along with a cookie when she realized she was still alone in the kitchen. She wondered what was keeping them from their breakfast, but that question was answered with a knock on the front door. With a flash of anger and resentment at being interrupted in her morning ritual she went to the door. She was totally amazed to see the figure standing there with Tedi on one side and Daisy on the other.

The irritation turned to excitement as she opened the door.

Madison tried to sound more casual than she felt. “Well, I see you brought my children back to me. Would you like to come in?”

His face was even better in the light than it appeared in the shadow of the barn. He still had the broad shoulders and the wavy black hair, but now she could see the dark brown eyes framed with eyelashes that should be illegal on a man. There were dimples in his cheeks, deeper on one side than the other, when he smiled, which was what he was doing now.

“I guess I should have called first, but I didn’t have your number. I talked to Jason and he said the two of you had talked. I guess I’m a bit impatient.”

It seemed there was more that he wanted to say, but it appeared he was out of words for the moment. “No problem,” said Madison as she held the door open. “I was planning on calling you later today anyway. If you don’t mind left over coffee come on into the kitchen with me and we can talk in there.”


(To be continued)

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Chapter 3

The sun was lowering when she awakened. It took her a moment to realize where she was but then remembered she had tried out the rocking chair. A squirrel was watching her from the branch of the oak and she wondered if the same squirrel had watched Robert in this chair. Did she think this strange woman was an intruder? Had Robert noticed her? What kind of stories did she know?

It was so pleasant with her musings that she resisted leaving. Finally, without taking the time to go back inside for her list, she almost ran toward the car. At home the stores stayed open 24 hours a day but she had no idea what time they closed here in the boonies, as she thought of this place. The sun was setting as she pulled into the parking lot and it was with a lot of relief that she noticed the place seemed almost as lively as back home. She was just about to cross to the store when she heard her name called. She immediately thought of Craig and wished she had taken the time to put on a bit of makeup and wondered if her hair looked too wild after her nap.

It was with both relief and disappointment when she recognized her attorney waving to her from three cars away. It was inevitable that they would meet at the front door of the store as they seemed to heading in the same direction.

“I’m so glad to run into you”, he said with that smile so prevalent with candidates at election time and Madison wondered if she had missed something. “I was just telling Joyce here what a surprise it was when I learned you were here in town.” He motioned to the pleasant looking woman at his side.

“Hi,” she said with a smile equal to her partner. “I’m Joyce Lumpkin and I must admit that I have been more than a little curious to know about our new neighbor. I was planning on having a little meet-up when you were next in town. How long do you think you will be here?”

They had just reached the store entrance and Madison was feeling more than a little uncomfortable. The woman next to her was a bit younger looking than her husband. She had the kind of peaches and cream complexion that seemed to have never seen the sun, which was a bit surprising for this country environment. She was dressed in slacks and a blouse, but both had probably been purchased at Neiman’s in Atlanta, along with matching ballerina slippers on her feet.

Madison realized here she was losing some of the anonymity that she had at home. Whereas she occasionally ran into someone she knew while shopping, more often than not everyone she saw was a stranger. She wasn’t careful about being “presentable” before running to the store for a loaf of bread. Here this would not be true. There were only two people she had met in the entire town and here was one of them during her first trip to the store.

“My plans are a bit up in the air at the moment.”

“Do you think you might be here through the weekend? I could arrange something for Saturday afternoon. It would be something casual, just a little cook-out in the back yard if the weather’s nice.”

Her husband was beaming with that expression that said he thought his wife had just scored him a vote. Madison felt a bit cornered, and at the same time she knew that a part of the decision she needed to make was dependent upon the people who might become her friends. She had the tendency to isolate, which was easy for an artist/writer to do.

“I think I’ll probably be here through Saturday,” she answered.

“Well, that’s wonderful! Shall we just say 3:00 on the island?”

“The island?”

“Well, that’s what we call it. It’s actually more of a peninsula but there’s a little stream that runs across it so we call it an island. It’s there on the lake. Anybody can point you in the direction,” said, casually waving her hand as though it was obvious and of no consequence.

Just then someone else called from across the store and Mr. Lumpkin said he would have his secretary call with directions as he hurried away. His wife seemed undecided if she should stay with Madison or follow her husband.

“I guess I’d better get these few things and head back to the house. This is the first time I’ve left the dogs there alone and I’m a bit worried that they are all right.” Without waiting for a response, Madison grabbed a cart and made her way down the first aisle she saw.

Trying to remember the list she had made earlier and thinking that there would be at least four more days if she were to stay through Saturday, she got bread, some ground beef, pork chops, salad makings and remembered that she had planned to make the cookies which sent her down the baking aisle for flour, sugar and baking powder, then to the dairy aisle for eggs, milk and butter. The cereal aisle held the oatmeal and then she thought some raisin bran would be good too which reminded her of the raisins for the cookies. By the time she made it back to the frozen food counter for a couple of TV dinners and some ice cream, the cart was filled and she hoped she hadn’t forgotten anything important. Somehow she thought of the little green lizard she had noticed earlier as she darted from one area to another in the unfamiliar store, all the time glancing around to avoid any more encounters.

As soon as she walked back into the house with her bags of groceries she was suddenly exhausted. Daisy and Tedi almost knocked her over with their greetings. Somehow she found the energy to put the groceries away and pop one of the TV dinners into the microwave before falling asleep in front of the television set. It was breezy as she stood on the deck of a sail boat and felt the salt air assault her senses. She suddenly realized she was alone on the deck watching a group of strangers waving at her from the shore. They were waving to her but she was unable to tell if it as “hello” or “goodbye” and she realized that it was up to her to decide.


(To be continued)

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Chapter 2 (April word prompts: rocking chair, oak, wild, island, cross, asleep, lizard, breezy, awakening)


Madison stared at the phone. The temptation was strong to pick it up again and to dial the number listed on the card lying next to it. It seemed a pleasant idea to have another cup of coffee with those broad shoulders and wavy dark hair sitting across the table. Instead, she took the scratch pad lying on the table and began to make a list of things to be picked up at the store, deciding to add the makings for some of her famous oatmeal-raisin-spice cookies that went well with coffee.

The proposal, as described by the attorney, had sounded interesting. At the same time, Madison had no idea of what the property looked like outside of the house and the little bit of the barn she had noticed earlier. At the time her attention had definitely been focused elsewhere. She needed to formulate an idea of how she wanted to use it before obligating it‘s usage to someone else, no matter how exciting it might seem. There was still that idea of the animal rescue roaming around in her head. Could both of these occupy the same space or would she have to choose?

Picking up a flashlight she had spotted beside the door, she headed back out to the barn to have a better look. It seemed a bit more breezy as she stepped outside and she remembered her old jacket that she carried in the car and decided it might be a good idea to get it before proceeding.

After re-locking the car door she noticed a small garden on the other side of the house that had been barely noticeable before. It was now a wild tangle of twisted vines and broken stalks, but the supports that had held tomato plants were still in place. As she looked more closely she could see small holders at intervals that must have once marked rows of plants. The remnants of seed packages still clung to several: cucumbers, radish, squash.

Strange, Madison had never pictured Robert as being the gardening type and yet it awakened a memory. She could almost see the time when they were first dating and she introduced him to her parents. Her father had not been close to her ex, feeling they had nothing in common, but Robert was an engineer and he and her father had found something to talk about immediately. She remembered the two of them heading out the back door and watching them cross to her father’s shop and his garden behind it. A tear formed in her eye as she realized they were all gone now and she suddenly felt very lonely.

Still feeling this wave of nostalgia, she wandered around to the back of the house and an entire new world opened up to her. The flat land in the front of the house and in the direction of the barn was totally different from what lay behind. On the other side of the garden was a grove of trees, mainly hardwood and currently leafless. There was a leaf covered drop off of at least 50 feet ending with a bubbling branch. Thinking it must have been untouched for years, she spotted a path near the other end of the house that actually met at the steps from the sun deck. She must have a look from out there. The view must be magnificent.

She yearned to go back to the house for her sketch book. Beside the brook was a huge oak with twisted roots reaching the edge of the water and a small green lizard was sunning himself, probably asleep, on a high point. She was relieved that neither of the dogs noticed this small piece of wild life as they seemed to have discovered something else in a tree and were attempting, without success, to climb it. She just stood there and tried to place in her memory the picture of that little green form. It helped to know the tree would be there for a very long time and she could at least get a photograph.

She forced herself to leave her newly discovered island of peace, knowing she would return to it many times. After calling the dogs and awaiting for their reluctant abandonment of whatever had found refuge in the tree, they followed her to the barn. None of them had much of an inspection earlier and Tedi and Daisy found plenty to sniff as they made their rounds both inside and outside of the building.

To her surprise it was very well lit when she discovered the switch beside the door. Bright fluorescents lined the center isle. There were a total of eight stalls, some of which still held a few bales of hay but that was the only evidence of any occupation, except for the garden tools she had seen earlier beside the entrance. She wondered if Robert had used this area at all and wondered why some of the debris from inside had not been brought out here for storage instead of piling it up in the house. Even as these thoughts came to her, she knew there was no way she would ever have an answer to this or any of the other questions regarding her ex.

She thought she had explored enough for now. She still had a trip to the store and a phone call to make. But first there was one more thing she wanted to do. Walking out onto the deck she had an entirely different view of the woods behind the house. She couldn’t see the interesting roots or the garden, but she could see a nest that she knew without looking was holding baby squirrels, It would be completely hidden once the leaves appeared on the trees. She wondered what other animals were hidden in the undergrowth that would emerge at night. A camera should be kept handy for all occasions.

Then she turned around and spotted a rocking chair. A small table holding an ash tray sat beside it. She could almost see Robert sitting there, having a drink and smoking a cigarette while watching the wind blow through the trees. She sat there for a minute before reminding herself she still had a trip to the store and a phone call to make. It wasn’t until much later that Madison realized this was the moment when she had made an important decision and her life was about to change.

(To be continued)

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