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It wasn’t as dark as it could have been. It wasn’t as cold as it could have been. It was late November and in this part of the country that meant snowfall at anytime.
I pulled my thin wool jacket tighter around me, and continued to walk towards the cabin. I was afraid to go back. I was afraid to leave. The wind had picked up and I felt it blow through my hair, left long and loose, partly because I avoided going to the lone hair stylist in Coric Springs. It shuffled the small scrub trees back and forth and leaves fell to the ground. I stopped and picked one up. It was gold and red with a last bit of green at one edge. The trees were losing leaves and I was fast losing my resolve.
I shivered as I reached the porch steps. I stopped and wondered what I should do. I was getting colder.
“I’m too thin,” I thought. “That’s why I feel the cold and he does not.”
I walked up the steps and opened the slatted wood door. Light flowed out into the dusk. He sat at the wood table, chair pulled up close. He whittled a piece of wood. It would be some sort of bird, I thought. He always made birds.
His head came up as I entered the room. The light from the lamp behind him shone on his long tousled hair. He grinned. His beard, long, matted and shaggy, shook as he laughed.
“Ha! I knew you’d be back quick. Too cold out there this time of night. Only the foxes and the wolves like it. Skunks too I guess.”
He looked down at his hands. He tossed the wood aside and stood up. I was rooted to the spot.
He walked over to me and I could smell the man scent, a mix of sweat, beer and a missed shower or two. He reached out and cupped his hand under my chin, drawing my face close to his as he bent down.
He spoke softly into my ear.
“Ready to go home yet?”
I nodded, and shame welled up into my throat. I had no words.
“Okay, I’ll tell your pop that you just ain’t cut out for backwoods living. Go upstairs and gather your stuff. I’ll drive you home.”
I followed his instructions. I had little to pack. My tattered copy of Moby Dick, a Bible that had been my Mother’s, and a few clothes, jeans and sweaters and tops. I struggled to carry my tote and my backpack. I reached the bottom of the staircase, and he took both away from me and strode to the door. He grabbed his red and black plaid jacket from a hook on the wall. He opened the door and went out. I followed him.
As we got into his beat up old Ford pickup, I wondered what Pop would say. I knew he’d view my leaving here as a fiasco, and just one more reason to dislike me.
His words rang in my ears. “No matter what I do for you, you fail. You’re a loser. I’m ashamed to call you my daughter. What would your mother say? She’d be ashamed of you. You have no future. You’ll be a loser all your life.”
“Not this time,” I thought. “I won’t let him say it.” But how to stop him from the verbal tirade? My shoulders hunched and I pulled my jacket close. It was warm in the truck. Bert had turned on the heat, for which I was grateful. I told him so.
“Well, we can’t have a lady gettin’ cold, can we?” He grinned at me. At least he had no hard feelings about my leaving. He’d hired me to stay with him and do the cooking and the cleaning, milk the cows and gather eggs, and be company for him on long winter nights. I couldn’t stand the isolation. I was a town girl.

***

A twenty minute drive and we pulled up at my house. It was a ramshackle affair, with peeling paint and a porch that needed a nail or two and some new boards for the steps.
I turned to Bert.
“I can carry my stuff,” I said. I reached for the door handle.
“No way. No lady’s doing that on my watch.” Bert pushed open his door and got out. He took my things out of the truck bed and walked with me to the house. He set the bags down, as I knocked on the door. He didn’t ask why I felt the need to knock.
The door opened. My dad stood there, a beer in his right hand and the TV remote in his left. His balding head sprouted a few stubborn grey hairs that indicated he hadn’t seen a barber in a while. I thought the comparison between his hair and mine almost funny. But it wasn’t. Not really. It meant that neither of us were making an effort to maintain ourselves. We both missed Mom in our own ways, I guess.
Pop said, “Well, Bert, you brought ‘er back eh? I figured as much.”
He moved aside and Bert carried my things into the house and set them down.
“I gotta get back,” he said to Pop. He nodded at me and left the house. Pop slammed the door shut almost before I was able to step inside.
“You are a disgrace,” he said. He made his way back to his faded blue recliner and plopped down in it. He set his beer beside him on the end table. He glared at me.
“Well, your room’s still there. Might as well go up. Just leave me alone tonight, eh? I have to decide what I’m gonna do about you.”
I took my backpack and put it over my shoulders, and picked up the bag. I said good night to my Pop before I made my way up the stairs. My old room hadn’t changed.
“Of course it didn’t, you idiot,” I said under my breath. “You were only gone a week.”
I set the things down and threw myself on my bed. I buried my face in my quilt.
I didn’t cry. That’s one thing I am proud about. Instead, I got up and unpacked my books and my clothes. I went to the bathroom and put away my face cleanser and my toothbrush. Pop had his bathroom in the master suite, so this one, opening into the hall was, in essence, mine. He still looked in though, once in a while, to check if the room was clean. He left it to me to look after that and I would be in trouble if there was even a hair in the sink.
I wandered back to my room. It was getting late. Maybe tomorrow would bring something better. I hoped so.

***

Morning came, and I woke to sunshine streaming through my window. I loved the east facing room. I had a shower and dressed in a pair of leggings and a denim tunic top. I went downstairs to the kitchen. Pop sat at the table, drinking coffee from his double sized mug. Mom bought it for him for Christmas, a year or so before she got sick.
I said, “Morning, Pop,” as I poured some cold breakfast cereal into a bowl. I grabbed a spoon and the milk and sat down across from him, waiting for him to say something.
When he finally spoke, it was to say, “Morning. Any plans for today?”
I nodded. “Yes. I’m going downtown to apply for a job at the hardware store.”
“What makes you think they’re hiring?”
“Bert told me on the way into town last night that he saw a sign in their window.”
“Fine. You need a job. Help pay for things around here.” Pop took a long drink from his cup. He stood up.
“I’m headin’ down to Mayer’s for coffee with the guys.” He left the room, my voice trailing after him, as I said, “Okay, Pop. See you later.”
I heard the front door slam. I felt my muscles relax. I hadn’t realized how tensed up I was until that happened. If only I could have been content staying at Bert’s. But that was not a job for someone young like me. No, I could do better.
At least Pop hadn’t called me out for failing yet again. I knew it would come though. If not today, then tonight or tomorrow. There was no telling with Pop when the bad mood would hit.
The sun had disappeared behind a cloud, by the time I headed out for the hardware store. It was a nice walk despite the threat of rain. I loved the smell of the leaves as they fell from the trees, and the crunch of dry leaves under my feet as I walked. Old Mr. Allport was raking when I passed his house, and he waved a hand at me.
I waved back, just like I used to do, when I was going to school. Some things didn’t change. I smiled to myself.

***
At the hardware store, I stepped inside and found Mrs. Jensen at the back of the shop. She was attempting to explain the differences between fishing lines to a couple of younger guys, both of whom sported caps with “John Deere” on them, and hiking boots.
I listened for a minute and then I took over, unasked.
“What types of fish are you planning to catch?”
One of the guys said, “Wall eye mostly.”
“Then here’s the lines you need. Anything else would be too weak.”
The men thanked me and follwed Mrs. Jensen to the front till. I waited until they had left, and then I approached her.
“Thank you for your help, Lainie. I couldn’t seem to get it through those boys’ heads what they needed. Guess they thought I was some dumb old woman.”
“Glad to help. Say, I noticed that you’re hiring. Would I be able to apply?”
Mrs. Jensen looked me over. I was suddenly self-conscious.
“Look, Lainie. I’ll be honest with you. Turning up here to apply for a job dressed like that,” and she pointed at my leggings and then my hair, “won’t cut it. Now, if you were to dress in a nice pair of denims and a nice blouse and braid your hair, or even have it trimmed, I’d consider your application. I don’t mean to be harsh with you. I know it’s been hard since your mom passed, but really, Lainie, you need to grow up.”
Tears welled in my eyes.
Mrs. Jensen came close and patted my shoulder.
“I want you to come back and apply, okay?”
I nodded and stumbled out of the shop. I hurried down the street and nearly bumped into someone as I blinked away the tears.
“Hey, watch it!”
I looked back to see Kate standing on the sidewalk. She rubbed her shoulder.
I took a few step towards her and she said, “Well, how’s it going Lainie?”
I sighed. “Okay I guess. I need a job though. How are you doing?”
“I just got promoted at Mayer’s. Now I’m in charge of the afternoon shift.”
“Well, good for you, Kate.”
“I gotta run. I’m shopping for my mom before work.”
Kate turned and continued down the street. I watched her for a minute, and wondered why a promotion at Mayer’s didn’t excite me very much. I thought I was a proud and picky person to not share in Kate’s excitement. Now had she been promoted to manager, I supposed I should be impressed. But shift manager?
I got home in time to watch General Hospital. I wanted to see what happened with Tracy and her scheme. Pop arrived just as the show ended.
He came into the house and threw his hat and jacket in the direction of the hooks by the door. He flopped down in his chair and looked over at me.
“Get a job yet?”
I shook my head.
“Not yet. But I have a lead.”
“She has a lead. Wonder of wonders. So have you started dinner? And bring me a beer while you’re at it.”
“I will, right away.” I got up from the sofa and went into the kitchen. Good thing mom had taught me how to cook, because Pop had no idea.
I set about making dinner after I took Pop a beer.
Then the phone rang and I forgot all about cooking.

***

This is Chapter 1 of a story. I plan to add Chapters as I go along. Let’s see where the story takes us, shall we?

***

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