Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California
George made two right turns and found Mattie, Jeanne, and Krista waiting for them in front of the Wooden Horse Toy Store, their arms loaded with purchases. “We bought some old favorites and some new board games that you’ll like, Haley,” said Jeanne.
Haley waited for them to put their packages behind the second row of seats before she spoke. “Well, I talked with Eric and I’m feeling really good about it,” said Haley. “The guilt of not calling him right away was killing me.”
“So, was he mad at first, or just happy to hear from you? Did you tell him how much we appreciate him? Com’on, Haley…We want all the details,” said Jeanne from behind George’s seat. “Where did you go to make your phone call?”
George came to Haley’s rescue, “I took her to my friend’s restaurant. It’s called Celeste’s Fine Italian Food. Giuseppe, the owner, and I have known each other for years. You’ll like him, Jeanne. We can go there for dinner tomorrow night,” he added.
Just then, an arm thrust a folded newspaper through the car window and let it land on George’s lap. “Thought you’d like your copy of the evening paper, George.”
“Thanks, Chester. I almost forgot.” George tucked the newspaper into the side slot of his car door. He had a good idea what the front page story would be tonight. With a quick look at Haley, he said, “Let’s go home girls. You’re all exhausted. Did that ice cream make your day any better?”
“Oh, Haley. I have an ice cream sandwich for you in this carton. Here,” said Jeanne and passed a striped pink and brown carton forward.
“Thank you, Jeanne.”
“Better eat it right away,” said Mattie. “It might be melting already.”
“You’re going to love it, Haley,” said Krista. “I’m having the same thing. It’s filled with Mocha Almond Fudge.”
“Who would have thought that after what we’ve gone through that we would be winding down with ice cream tonight?” said Haley. Neither one of her friends said a word. Her humor had fallen flat. She quietly finished the treat they bought her as they approached Pierce Road.
The sounds of leaves and twigs crinkling under their tires danced through the open windows of the van. They signaled to Haley that she was close to home.
Krista broke the silence. “When will you be talking with Eric again, Haley?”
Jeanne interjected, “Did he tell you he was crazy in love with you and couldn’t wait to see you again?”
Turning around in the passenger seat Haley spoke with calmness. “Eric said that he had been crazy with worry about us and that he was so glad to hear we were safe. He wanted to know where we were, but I explained why we had to keep that a secret.”
“That was per my advice,” said George.
Haley continued, not giving anyone a chance to make a big deal about keeping a secret from Eric. “I told him we were all so thankful he was there to help us at the hospital, and that we all realize how much more trouble we could’ve been in if he hadn’t helped us get away from the apartment building.” Haley paused, deciding to leave out the part about three more deaths in their building. “Oh, one more thing, I told him that George plans to drop off his van at his aunt’s house tonight. Otherwise, there are no plans for the next call. I guess it just depends on what we find out in the news reports.”
“I wonder what our friends are going to think when they don’t see us at work,” said Jeanne. “Oh my God, what are they going to think when they come to visit us at the apartment and find it destroyed?” Jeanne said as an afterthought.
“They must already know our apartment’s destroyed,” said Krista. “It’s in the newspaper that our apartment building is otherwise known as The Murder Building.”
“How did you find that out?” asked Haley.
“I read it in the evening paper at the drugstore.”
“How could you keep that news from us,” asked Jeanne.
“I’m tired, Jeanne. And, I’m tired of being scared. I can’t stop thinking about how we found Mrs. Hamlin laying on the floor dead. Can’t you understand?” Krista broke down in tears. Her hands covered her face as she sobbed, “I tried to contain myself so you wouldn’t lose your happy spirit. She loved me, and now I just want to disappear and die.”
Jeanne climbed over Mattie’s legs to squeeze in next to Krista. She held her best friend tight.
Even in the dark, Haley saw tears welling up in Jeanne’s eyes. “I am so sorry I’ve been such a big mouth,” said Jeanne.”
“Jeanne, I think that’s your way of hiding that you’re still scared, too,” said Haley.
“I’ve never seen girls loving each other so much. We’re going to be okay, right, George?”
“Yes. We are all going to be okay, and we’re home now.” The tires crunched on gravel as he pulled up in front of their cabin. “A good night’s rest will strengthen us for tomorrow. Girls, there’s one more thing Mattie and I want to share with you. We’ve arranged for certain friends to provide continued protection while you’re here, so try to put those worries aside and get some sleep.”
“Someone’s watching over us like in the spy movies?” said Jeanne.
Everyone laughed and shook their heads in disbelief of her humor as they got out of the van.
“If there is anything you need, please let me know,” said Mattie.
“Ditto that for me, girls,” said George.
Krista wiped away her remaining tears with the back of her hand. “You both have been the answers to prayers. This beautiful home and your loving ways are more than anyone could have hoped for.”
“Talking about comforts, I can’t wait to crawl in bed,” said Jeanne. “Com’on Krista. It’s so quiet around here, I bet we could hear the ants snoring.”
“Sure, they’re all under your bed, Jeanne,” snapped Krista.
“Sleep as long as you like,” Mattie said. “Breakfast is when you want it. George and I are going to spoil you girls for a while.”
“I can handle some spoiling,” said Jeanne, and she hugged Mattie goodnight. “And George, I’m looking forward to knowing you. Thanks again for the trip into town tonight.” She turned and took the stairs two at a time.
“Ditto that for me, too,” said Krista with a meek smile. “Good night.”
Haley moseyed up the stairs behind them but halfway up she turned and came back down. “Aunt Mattie, George, I’m so glad to be here again. It’s wonderful,” she said and hugged them both. “Thank you.”
“You always have a home here, Haley. We’ll see you in the morning. Get some good sleep tonight,” said her aunt.
Mattie and George settled down on giant floor pillows in front of the fire in the living room. “Doesn’t it feel wonderful to have them here, George? I think it makes this house feel full and even happier,” said Mattie.
“Yep, it’s full of laughter, and a lot of worries. I hope they’ll be able to adjust. They’re used to an 8 to 5 routine, five days a week. Now, they’ll have nothing to do.”
“Oh, it’ll be six weeks before they get bored with this town. Then they will want to drive to Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Carmel. Jeanne will be boy crazy for a while. I think Krista will find something unique to do, but I don’t know about Haley. She loved her job with her boss at DuPont, and now that she has a crush on Eric, who has a good job in San Francisco, anything can happen with her. Oh dear,” she sighed, “at least we’ll have them all together here for about six weeks.” She turned over, nosed her nose to his and hugged him tight. “Me? I’m here to stay with you.”
“Yep. Like Krista said, “Ditto that for me, too.” They chuckled and turned over toward the fire and fell asleep watching the embers fall through the grate.
Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California