© by Betty Harmon
Fiona and Ed made their way through the house toward the spacious kitchen where the tantalizing smell of butter tarts emanated. Fiona freed Tweety from his cage as she passed. He gave her finger a sharp nip for ignoring him so long and then flew to Ed’s shoulder.
Ed just chuckled, patted Tweety on his feathered head, and continued to the kitchen. Once there, he made a beeline for the stove where a rack of cooling butter tarts were sitting.
“There are plates in the cabinet to your left,” Fiona instructed. “Would you like a cup of coffee to go with that? I had just started a pot when your daughter arrived. It should still be good and hot.”
“I’d love a cup,” Ed answered, busy getting a plate and placing two of the largest butter tarts he could find on a plate and carrying them carefully to the kitchen table.
Fiona joined him with two large mugs of steaming coffee. She placed one mug in front of Ed and made sure the sugar bowl was within his reach. She remembered how many spoons of sugar she saw him adding to his coffee when she had spent the night at his and Doris’s home.
The two sipped their coffee and nibbled on tarts without speaking for a few minutes. Finally Fiona said, “I want to thank you and your family again for being such good neighbors and helping me the way you have. I feel like I’ve done nothing but cause you and your family trouble since I moved in here.”
“Nonsense,” Ed replied. “You weren’t the one who caused all the trouble. That would be your damned ex. Besides, I’m just kind of returning the favor. I got to know your dad pretty good when he and your mom would come up here on vacation. They were good people. I hated hearing about the accident they were in. Did they ever find the driver of the car that ran them off the road?”
Fiona’s face paled a little as she recalled the hit and run accident that killed her parents. “I was supposed to be in the car with them,” she almost whispered. “It was right after I’d left Harold. I’d moved in with Mom and Dad. Harold was contesting the divorce and it was getting really ugly. He would watch the house and follow me everywhere I went. I got a restraining order, but that didn’t stop him, just like it didn’t stop him the other day.
My parents and I were supposed to go to a ski lodge a couple of hours north of our house in Charlotte, North Carolina. The day we were supposed to leave, I was feeling bad with a cold and decided at the last minute to stay home. Actually, I was afraid that Harold would follow us up there and used the cold as an excuse to stay behind. Dad was getting tired of his stalking and I was afraid there would be a confrontation between them. Dad didn’t get angry easily, but when he did, well, he could really be hot tempered.”
Ed nodded at that. “Yeah, he was a good man, but I do remember us finding one of them illegal traps on his property. It had caught a fox by one of his front paws. When we found it, the fox had just about chewed his foot off. It was really ugly. We put the poor thing out of his misery and disabled the trap so it couldn’t be used again. I remember thinking I was very glad I’d never made Alex angry. But you go on with your story. I want to know what happened to my old friend. I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while, but I was afraid to bring up more bad memories.”
Fiona smiled sadly. “ There’s not that much more to tell. They started out late in the afternoon since Dad had worked that day. They were going to spend a long weekend at the lodge. They never made it. Dad liked to go on the old winding, two lane roads instead of the interstate. From what the police could piece together at the scene, Dad was rounding a sharp bend in the road near the top of the mountain. There was a sheer drop off into a gorge several hundred feet below beside the road. It looked to the police like Dad was trying to avoid something on his side of the road as he rounded the bend, overcompensated and went over the side.” Fiona stopped to wipe a tear that had trickled down one cheek. “The ski lodge owner called the house when they didn’t show up. He was an old friend of my parents and knew they were coming up. I notified the police. They found the car in the gorge the next morning. Both were dead. They saw tire and shoe tracks where it looked like someone had pulled over to the side of the road right at the accident site and stood right at the edge. No one reported an accident. The police were suspicious, but they couldn’t prove anything so they eventually labeled it an accident and closed the case.”
“You think your ex had something to do with the ‘accident’?” Ed asked quietly.
Fiona looked up and straight into Ed’s eyes. “I believe that Harold murdered both my parents. I can’t prove it, and neither could the police. ”
“You think he was trying to murder you too?”
“Probably. I’m not sure.” Fiona shook her head. “He would have known I was supposed to go with my parents. I changed my mind at the last moment. We were technically still married at that time also. Perhaps he felt if we were all gone, my parents ‘money’ would go to him.”
“He thought my parents were rich. Even after we were married and he became ‘part of the family’ he thought that. I tried to tell him they weren’t. They weren’t hurting for money, but there was a mortgage on both this house and the one in Charlotte as well as some other debts. I sold the house in Charlotte after their deaths and used that plus some stocks and bonds Dad had to settle the debts and pay off this mortgage. After that, there was just enough left to invest and create a small monthly stipend. With that and what I make editing, I can survive.”
Just then the now familiar sound of Ed’s truck was heard in the driveway. Freckles gave one “woof” of a bark, cocked his head as though wondering how Ed could be outside and inside too, and was quiet.
“That’ll be my favorite daughter now,” Ed said as he got up and carried his plate and cup to the sink. I better be heading home now or Doris will be sending out scouting parties.” He grinned hoping to ease the tension he could see in Fiona’s stance and face. “I do want to hear more about this later if you don’t mind going over bad memories, but you have a new roommate to get settled so I’ll wait until another day. Here, take this danged bird before he decides to pierce my ear for me.”
Fiona laughed and put her hand out to transfer Tweety from Ed’s shoulder to her own. Tweety nibbled at her hair for a moment and then flew to the mantle above the fireplace in the great room.
As Fiona and Ed reached the front door, they heard Meghan’s knock. Fiona opened the door and grinned at Meghan. “Hi. Welcome home.”
Later that night Fiona lay cocooned in the covers on her bed and stared out the window, watching wisps of clouds briefly cover the starlight in the dark sky. Freckles lay curled up on the quilt at her feet. He loved to sleep up against her feet or legs. Now he was stretched out over her feet with one front paw curled around his face. His feet twitched every once in a while as though he was chasing something, a rabbit maybe.
Her life had changed so much in the past couple of years. Never mind the years, the changes in the past few days had been wild. Just lying here thinking about them was enough to make her head spin. She could hear her new housemate moving around in the room below. From the sound, Fiona figured she was getting ready for bed too.
Fiona wondered if she would like having someone else in the house. On one hand, she felt much safer with another person around, especially after the occurrences of the past week or so. However, Fiona had worked hard and endured much to gain her freedom from her past life. She liked being alone. She liked not having to answer to anyone but herself. She liked knowing she could get up in the middle of the night, turn on the stereo and go to work on her computer without bothering anyone. Fiona had come to enjoy living alone and answering only to herself. She had never been allowed to live that way before. She had gone from her parents’ home to college dormitory life to marriage.
The thought of her married life made Fiona shudder. The thought that her ex was close by, even though he was currently in jail made her want to hide. She had tried so hard to remove herself from that life. It had cost Fiona her friends, her home, and most of all, her parents, her family. She was all alone in the world now. She had to rely on herself, for there was no one else around to lean on.
Fiona guessed that was why Doris and Ed Kral’s interest and help felt so good. And now she had their daughter for a roommate. At least for the moment she was no longer completely alone in the world. And having a martial arts expert staying here gave Fiona a sense of safety that she hadn’t felt in quite a while…not for several years at least. Snuggling more under the covers, Fiona sighed and closed her eyes. One nagging thought bothered her. Would the Krals continue to be her friends if they knew? Would her new roommate below want to stay if she knew? Sighing deeply once more, Fiona let sleep claim all conscious thoughts.
In the first floor bedroom Meghan groaned slightly as she climbed into the queen sized bed and pulled the covers over her. She ran her fingers over the handmade quilt. It was similar to one her mother had. She knew that this house had been built and furnished by Fiona’s parents several years ago. Meghan wondered if both quilts had come from the same place.
Meghan looked around the room in appreciation. She liked this room. The rough wooden walls and country décor actually made her feel like she was home. Funny, she had been having that feeling almost from the moment she had stepped through the door of the log house. Actually, if she was truly honest, she’d had that feeling since she met Fiona. As she settled herself under the covers she made a mental note to thank her superintendent for deciding to do major renovations on her apartment now. Meghan ginned to herself and acknowledged that she needed to thank her dad as well.
Damn! She must be getting old! She had taught only one class today, but her muscles felt as though she had run a marathon. Those preteens sure had a lot of energy but teaching them was also a lot of fun and worth every ache she had. Meghan still preferred teaching martial arts to sitting behind a desk in a classroom like her mother and brother. That would drive her insane!
Meghan reached over and turned the bedside lamp off plunging the room into darkness. She had opened the curtains before she went to bed, and now she looked out at the dark night. A few insects had abandoned their winter homes, and now she could hear one lone cricket chirping for a mate outside her window. Off in the distance she thought she heard the hoot of an owl in the woods or perhaps even in her father’s barn across the pasture. Sound carried for long distances at night around here. Meghan’s senses allowed her to perceive her surroundings even through the dark night. Her training had taught her to use her senses wisely, to let them work to keep her safe. She had a feeling that this knowledge might come in handy in the very near future.
Turning onto her side, Meghan snuggled under the covers and let sleep wash over her senses. Her last conscious thought was of green eyes and a shy smile surrounded by wavy shoulder length blonde hair. ‘Yup,’ she thought to herself as she drifted off. ‘Dad chose well this time.’