The metallic ring of the phone jarred Charlie awake from his nap.
“Dammit,” he said as he fumbled with the receiver.
“You’d better watch your language, old man,” said a female voice at the other end.
“Who is this? “Asked Charlie, none too happy to be woken up by a woman telling him off.
“It’s Betty, Betty Anderson the school-teacher,” said the voice that was now laughing in his ear. “I was just checking up on you and your guest.”
Damn busy body, thought Charlie.
“Have you heard the news?” The voice continued.
“What news?” Growled Charlie.
“There was a shooting last night down at the Sunset Inn; two people dead. I hope you got Lynn out of there.”
Well, I’ll be, thought Charlie. To the voice on the phone he said, “No I hadn’t heard and yes she’s here. Staying in the guest room.” Why he added that last bit, he didn’t know.
“As long as she’s safe. I was just checking,” said Betty. “Tell her I called. Bye.” And she hung up.
“Well, whaddaya know,” said Charlie to himself as he swung off the bed. He had that “I told you so” feeling of being proud and justified all at the same time. I’ll not tell Lynn, she’ll think I’m gloating, he thought.
“Wow, don’t you look like the cat that got the cream,” said Lynn as soon as he walked into the room.
“Dammit, thought Charlie, there’s no hiding from these females. Ellie could read his face like a book as well. To Lynn, he said, “Oh, Betty, the school-teacher called and said to say hello.”
“That was nice of her,” said Lynn. “Did she say anything about the shooting at the motel?”
“How in hell’s name, I mean, how on earth did you know?” asked Charlie, feeling like a tire with a screw in it, slowly deflating.
Lynn simply answered by holding up her cell phone.
“She called you too?”
“No, silly. I got the news on the phone. Apparently, it was a big deal; made the national news. I’m glad you got me out of there. I don’t suppose you have Wi-Fi here or the internet?” Lynn was still waving her cell phone in the air.
Charlie was slowly trying to sort out all the different statements he’d just heard. “I don’t have Wi-Fi, but I do know what it is and you supposed wrong ‘cos I do have internet but you’ll have to plug in to get it. You might do better in the office, and I’ll get you the password, if I can find it.”
After supper, and while Lynn took a shower, Charlie took Wilbur for a short walk just to spend some time with the old boy. He felt like he’d been neglecting him. Wilbur was happy to see him, giving Charlie a few choice words in his own doggie language.
“I know, I know,” said Charlie as they walked down the road. “Things have been a little topsy-turvy around here, but they’ll settle down. They always do.” And he kicked at the loose gravel on the road. When they came back, Charlie was ready for his nightly ritual of a cigarette and a shot, but he didn’t know how Lynn would react to that.
“Oh, dammit to hell, it’s my place and I can do what I want,” he told Wilbur, who shook his head in agreement.
By the time Lynn came down he was already in his customary seat on the front porch. He was thinking, Why do women always take so long in the powder room? And why do they still call it the powder room? As far as he knew, women hadn’t worn powder in years. Sounds like something military. Hope she don’t blow us up with all that powder. As he often did, he started chuckling at his own joke. Then he heard Lynn ask, “Is that a cigarette?”
“Mind if I have one too?” Asked Lynn as if she were asking for a glass of water.
“Blow me down with a feather,” said Charlie. “I wasn’t expecting that,” and he handed her the pack. He tried to get up to light it for her, but it was too much of a struggle. Lynn just took the lighter and did it herself then plopped right down next to him on the couch. Charlie felt like he’d been in an old-fashioned pillow fight, so many feathers were blowing around. “Want a shot of bourbon? That’s all I got.” Asked Charlie.
“Ooh, no thanks,” said Lynn shuddering. “I don’t drink.”
Charlie mentally ticked off another layer.
If Wilbur had felt put out by losing his customary seat, he didn’t show it. He seemed quite content to lie between their feet, his head on Charlie’s feet and his rump pushed up against Lynn’s ankles, like a bridge between two islands.
“It’s your turn now,” said Lynn, blowing out the last puff of smoke from the cigarette and leaning back comfortably into the couch.
“What is my turn?” Charlie was puzzled, a state which was rapidly becoming familiar the more he was around this woman.
“Your story,” replied Lynn. “I told you mine.”
“I wouldn’t call yours a story, exactly, it was more like the Reader’s Digest version,” said Charlie hoping for a laugh and a way out. He failed on both counts. Lynn just looked at him waving her arm in a winding motion as if to say, off you go.
Charlie stalled for time. He took his last sip of bourbon, cleared his throat and had no idea where to begin. Suddenly his story-telling prowess had deserted him. The other tire was rapidly deflating.
“My dad, Robert – everyone called him “Bob” – Stone and his wife Pat – my mom – built this house when they bought the farm back in 1932 during the Depression. Pat’s father had died suddenly and left her a lot of money. Land was going cheap, and my dad suggested they buy this land, which they did. Originally, they had over three hundred acres and the two of them built this house and started a successful farming business. Well, they made ends meet. I came along in 1944 and it was expected that I would inherit the farm, which I eventually did because I was an only child.
“I grew up in this house and in these fields and learned to run the farm. Times changed, farming changed, and when I got older. I sold off half the acreage. Now, I don’t farm anymore, I just lease out the pastures and get a cut of the crop. It brings in enough for me to get by on. Lately I’ve been wondering what I’m going to do with it. William, my son, was set to take over the running from me but he got blown up overseas, then Ellie passed on. That just leaves me a Wilbur and we’re both on the downhill stretch.” That was the longest speech Charlie had made in quite a while, so he put his head back and closed his eyes.
“Don’t you have other family you could leave it to?” Asked Lynn.
“Nah, no one close. Just a bunch of greedy, sniveling cousins and nephews and the like. They don’t care about the farm; they just want the money. Useless bunch of…” Charlie cut himself off before a whole slew of bad words came tumbling out. “They used to come out here every so often and look the place over until I told them they weren’t welcome any more. You’d a’ thought I’d started a range war, the way they acted.” Charlie smiled at the memory.
Wilbur was chasing rabbits in his dreams; Lynn was staring off into space and the tree frogs were raising up a storm down by the river. Lynn slowly got up off the couch, gently grabbed Charlie by the hand and pulled him up onto his feet and said, “Goodnight.”
“Dammit, she’s stronger than she looks, Wilbur. Better not mess with her.” He heard Lynn giggle from somewhere inside the house. Charlie, who was no longer used to having someone around for such a lengthy period of time, was worn out so he bid goodnight to Wilbur and headed upstairs for bed.
End of chapter
There are many more chapters to come.
Thank you for all the kind comments. Your encouragement is welcome and appreciated.