When Bert picked me up at the house – for I never, ever thought of it as “home”, he chatted with my Dad for a while until I was ready to go. Bert had a way about him, which made me calm. With Dad, I was always on edge, and never sure if I was doing or saying the right thing. Bert, though, seemed to accept me for who I was and he never, ever belittled me when he came to see my Dad.
Now, as he gathered my bags and led me to his old truck, he said, “The house is warm and welcoming for you Lainie, even though it’s modest and homemade.”
He grinned then, and I smiled back.
I hadn’t had much reason to smile these last few months. Dad was hard to get along with, between his drinking and then his impatience with me. I probably deserved it though. I know that when he told me Mom had spoiled me, he was right.
I entered the rustic cabin and looked around. The walls were boards and there was a wood stove in the corner. An area with a wood counter, some rough wood cupboards and a hand pump marked out the kitchen. There was an old cook stove front and center.
When Bert showed me the bedroom that was to be mine, he let me walk in first. The room was small and contained a single bed with a plaid coverlet and a window that looked out on the forest behind the cabin.
“I’ll leave you to put away your things. Then come out and we’ll have coffee. You do drink coffee?”
I nodded. Bert left the room and I unpacked my things. I set my Moby Dick book on the nightstand, which was an old wood crate upended.
I put on my pink sweater and walked out into the main part of the cabin. Bert had coffee ready as he’d promised. I sat down at the small table and Bert joined me. He buttered a scone and I did the same.
“These are good,” I said as I munched.
“Thanks. Scones are one of the few things I do well. I hope your cooking is better than mine,” he said.
I nodded. I took a sip of coffee and said, “Mom taught me how to cook before she got sick. I was glad when that happened that I could take care of her.”
“Your dad’s lucky to have a daughter like you.”
Tears flooded my eyes, unannounced. The issues between me and my dad ran deep like a riverbed.
“I’m sorry about your Mom, Lainie.”
“Thanks, Bert. It’s been over a month, and I still feel lost sometimes.”
“Give it more time. It’s hard to lose someone you care for.” Bert sat back and looked at me.
“I lost my parents in a car accident years ago. Maybe you know the story?”
I shook my head. I’d heard rumors that Bert’s dad deliberately drove his car head on into a semi out on Route 1 but that was all it was – a rumor.
Bert said, “My dad and mom fought a lot when I was a kid. I got used to it, although I never liked it. When they went out that night – going to the bar for drinks – I was left home alone. It was okay with me. Heck, I was fifteen. All grown up, in my way of thinking. Chief Atkins knocked on the door about three hours later. Told me they’d died in an accident.” Bert hesitated, and then he went on.
“Turns out Dad and Mom got to the bar, had a few drinks and then started arguing. The bouncer threw them out. Chief Atkins told me that Dad was driving, and he lost control of the car on that twisty stretch of road just north of town, and went over the center line. Ended up in the direct path of a semi truck.”
“I’m sorry, Bert. It must have been hard.”
“Oh, I had my aunt and uncle from Culvert City out to tend to me, for a couple of weeks. They wanted me to go and live with them, since I was a minor, but I refused. Got emancipated in court and then later I moved out here. I’ve been here ever since.”
“I heard you quit school.”
“Yeah, I never did good anyway in school. I got a job at the mill for a few years, and used my paychecks to build my cabin. I like the peace and quiet.”
I looked at Bert.
“Then why hire me to housekeep?”
“Well, I need someone to keep things up and for a bit of company. Besides, I think you need to be away from your Dad for a while. Just to give him some space.”
I felt my face flush. Did Bert know how bad my relationship with Dad really was?
“I guess I’d better go and feed the cows. You make yourself at home here, now.”
Bert took his jacket from beside the door, and left the cabin.
I looked around and wondered if I would learn to feel at home here. At least I was away from Dad. But it was so quiet! I was used to town with the busy streets and noise. I wasn’t sure that I’d fit in here. What else was there for me to do, though? Jobs were scarce. I walked into my room and sat down in the old rocking chair beside the bed. I picked up my Moby Dick book and started to read. There would be time to think later. For now, I wanted to lose myself in story.
I am rather liking Bert. And Martin. I wonder about Lainie, though. Her character seems to me, to be rather slow to develop. Maybe that is a good thing….