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First Free Read

'Seeing Double'

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Epilogue…

 

It's the chance of a lifetime, that's what everyone said. So here I am on a four-lane blacktop to nowhere, hoping for a new start. A glance in my rearview mirror saw a semi going way too fast, barreling down on me. He swerved to the left to pass me and that's when I heard a blast that sounded like a cannon being fired.

"Shit!"

I pulled the car hard to the right, felt the tires crunching the gravel along the side of the road, and saw my world turn upside down. The last thing I remember is the car landing on the driver's side and breathing a sigh of relief. Then everything went black.

 

 

Chapter One

 

"Ma'am? Can you hear me? Ma'am?"

God, I hated being called 'ma'am'. It had happened a lot more since I'd decided to let my hair go naturally gray. Everyone said it was becoming, but it just made me feel old. Old enough to not listen to 'everyone'. I should have known better.

"Yes, young lady. I can hear and see you. Where the he… heck am I?"

"The hospital, Ma'am," she answered. God, she was young.

"You can stop calling me Ma'am. My name is Harker. Lisa Harker." I answered.

"Yes ma'am, I mean Ms. Harker. I'm your night nurse, Susie," she said.

Of course, her name fit the not more than twenty something petite thing standing over me. When did I get to the age where every freaking woman looked like a teenager? I was becoming like the cynical bitches in so many of those danged books I'd written. Oh, don't go there Lisa. Not now.

"Can I get you anything, Ms. Harker? I'm a big fan of yours," she said, then giggled.

For goodness' sake, giggling. I could use a rum and Coke©, but I doubted that was on the hospital menu. I was hungry, though.

"Any chance… Wait a minute, where's Lucky?"

"Who?"

"My laptop!"

The poor thing blanched at my screeching. She probably thought I was out of my head.

"Where are my things?" I asked.

"Oh, I imagine they're holding them at the station." Then she added, "How about a ham sandwich and a soda? Does that sound okay?"

I nodded my head and whispered thank you. She disappeared through a door at the other end of the room. Station? Did she mean the police station? The wreck. My head started throbbing, and memories came flooding back. My car rolled down an embankment. There was a loud noise. Oh, that danged semi had blown out a tire. It was zigzagging all over the road. I swerved to miss it and ended up losing control of my car.

While Nurse Susie was gone, I realized I had an IV line from my right hand up to a stand behind the bed. Something dripped through it. I should ask about that when she returns. My ribs were sore, and my legs hurt when I tried to move them. I had entirely missed that my head had some kind of bandage wrapped around it, too. I must have dozed off for a bit because the sound of the door opening startled me.

Susie came back with the food and something for my headache. She said the doctor had prescribed it for me before he'd left for the day just in case my head was hurting when I woke up. He was sure the bump on my head might cause a headache, but nothing to be worried about, she added.

He was right.

I ate the sandwich, which wasn't exactly deli fresh, then swallowed the pills and pushed the tray away. Sleep came quickly. I'd like to say it was peaceful, but it wasn't.

 

The next morning, not long after they had brought breakfast in, there was a knock at the door.

"Come in."

A tall man with silver in his brown hair and dark blue eyes pushed the door open. He was dressed in a suit, dark gray with a light blue shirt and black tie. Pulling out a wallet, he presented his badge. Officer Lincoln Smith, I read.

"Lincoln Smith. I'm from the Billings police department," he offered his hand.

I didn't take it.

"I can read Officer Smith. What can I do for you?"

He pulled a chair across the room and sat next to the bed. Close enough that I could smell his cologne. Musky, but not woodsy. I liked it. I liked it too much. Get a grip Lisa.

"Can you explain why there was a dead body in the trunk of your car?" he asked. His face was stone cold. He was serious.

"What?"

"When the police and EMT's arrived at the scene of the accident, the trunk was open. There was a body inside," he said as he took a notebook and pen from his jacket pocket. "Care to explain?"

"I have no idea what you are talking about! How did a body get in my car?" I shouted.

His eyebrow arched in an attractive way over his right eye, and he gave me a curious look. He smiled, but I wasn't finding any of this funny.

"You're trying to tell me you have no idea how that body got in your trunk? You didn't put it there," he asked. He looked at his notebook, then added, "The name Michael Langley doesn't mean anything to you?"

I felt the color drain from my face. Choking on air, I grabbed the glass of water on my breakfast tray and gulped it down. My mind was clicking like a computer, going over everything that had happened before I left Cincinnati. The look in Officer Smith's eyes let me know he wasn't going anywhere until he got an answer.

"Yes, I know the name. He's an accountant," I answered. Then added, "My accountant, until my agent fired him several months ago."

Officer Smith's eyes lit up, he mumbled something, then started writing in that danged notebook.

"Ms. Harker, I understand you're a writer. What kind of books do you write?"

He knew darn well what kind of books I write, and I'll be damned if I was going to get into a pissing contest with this man. This incredibly handsome man. 

"If I didn't know better, Officer Smith, I'd say you are goading me. I'm sure you've already looked into me already. You know that when I was writing, I wrote mystery novels. However, I haven't published a book in over a year. The well dried up, and that's the way it goes."

I might have sounded a tad bit cynical as I said those words, but deep down inside, I was miserable. A writer with a block so deep that you can't string an entire sentence together for months is a terrible thing. Everything in your life goes downhill from there. I was fifty-four years old and washed up. At this point, I assumed I'd never publish again, and I was learning to adjust. It wasn't what I wanted, but it was the way it was. Life doesn't always end up the way you want it to.

"When was the last time you saw Michael Langley?"

"I came to Cincinnati to visit family." My mother's sister still lived in a suburb, and I hadn't seen her in a very long time. She reminded me of my mom so much. However, it wasn't the only reason I was there. An attorney had contacted me about a relative of my father's. A great aunt that I hadn't seen since I was a child. She had passed away a few years ago and somehow the man hadn't been able to track me down until now.

My great aunt had left me her property and a great deal of money.

The reason he couldn't find me was simple. I had changed my name legally to my pen name after my second book made the New York Times bestseller list. Lisa Mullins didn't exist after that.

"Ms. Harker?"

"I'm sorry, officer. I was visiting my aunt in Cincinnati when I got a text message from Michael asking if I'd wait for him there. I called and explained that I was driving to Billings, Virginia, to speak with an attorney. I'd give him a call when I returned. That was all," I answered.

"Did he say why he wanted to see you?"

"That part was strange. He said he knew why my last book didn't sell. I suppose, quite frankly, it didn't sell because it was awful," I said.

It was still a mystery. The reviews for the book were as good as any of my other books. At signings, there was always a line of readers waiting for an autograph, and, yet, sales were down. Way down. No one could explain it.

"My agent came to me with some worries that Michael wasn't doing a good job, so she was going to fire him. That was the last I heard of it," I said. "That was before they released the last book."

"Officer Smith, I didn't kill Michael, and I certainly wouldn't have put him in my trunk and brought him to Billings. That just doesn't make any sense."

"True, but there are a lot of places you could hide a body around here."

Staring at him, I realized this man really thought I might be guilty of killing someone.

"Just because I might write mystery novels that sometimes contain murder doesn't mean I'd kill anyone. I don't even own a gun."

Those eyebrows did that pop up thing again, and I knew I'd hit a nerve.

"Was he shot?" I asked.

"I'm not at liberty to say at the moment. The county medical examiner hasn't finished with the examination of the body," he answered. "Fortunately for you, there was no weapon in your car or your things," he smiled.

"You've gone through my things?" This pissed me off, so I added, "If you're planning on arresting me, I think this interview is over. I need to call my attorney."

"I'm not arresting you…yet, but I would like to know what a well-known writer like yourself is doing in Billings. This isn't exactly a high-class place." He chuckled.

"How well I know. I used to spend my summers here, Officer Smith. I changed my name a few years back. My birth name is Lisa Mullins."

"Mullins!" he said.

"Yes, my family lived out on Run Sugar Run. My father had an aunt that owned a large portion of land there and", he interrupted me.

"You're related to Esther, Esther Mullins? Who was your father?"

Surprised at his apparent shock, I answered, "William Mullins. Most people called him Bill."

Officer Smith stood from his chair and paced the floor at the foot of my hospital bed. Finally looking up at me with that same shocked expression, he spoke.

"My mother was a Mullins, Angel Mullins. Bill Mullins sister. We're damned cousins."

The hospital door slammed open, and a doctor walked in. I assumed he was a doctor because of the white coat and stethoscope. He looked pissed off.

"Linc, what the hell are you doing? I specifically told you not to bother Ms. Harker until I had a chance to examine her this morning," he said.

It must have been my lucky day. First Officer Smith, with his dark and brooding good looks, enters my room. Then a tall blond, tan man with dark brown eyes walks through the door. What's a girl to do?

Officer Smith stood and pushed the chair back to the other side of the room. He took his time. It was clear he knew exactly what he was doing.

"She's fine, Nate. If she had been out of it, I would have waited until later," Lincoln Smith offered.

"Get out! I'll let you know when you can speak with her again," Dr. Nate said. "And close the door as you leave."

Officer Smith nodded in my direction and did as the doctor asked. When the door closed, Dr. Nate turned to face me. I could see his badge as he came closer to the bed. Nathan August, MD. I liked Dr. Nate better. Shut up Lisa.

"You probably don't remember me. I'm Dr. August. I was here when they brought you in yesterday," he said.

"You're right I don't. But it's nice to meet you," I answered.

"You have quite a large bump on the back of your head. Along with several large bruises on your ribs and legs," he said as he looked into my eyes. "Any blurry vision or dizziness?"

"No dizziness or blurry vision, though this headache is a bear. My ribs are sore and moving my legs hurts, too."

"I'm afraid as we get older, trauma like you've had; is rough on a body. Even one as in a good shape and as healthy as yours, Ms. Harker."

His smile was warm and genuine. I liked him. I didn't like the 'as we get older' reference, though.

"How long do I have to stay here?" I asked.

"We should probably keep you another night," he answered. Seeing my frown, he added, "It's just to be sure no other problems arise."

Too young. The man couldn't be more than forty-five. Too young for me. Though that smile made the butterflies in my stomach take notice.

"How about I check the rest of your vitals?"

Like the good little girl, I should be, I lay there while he looked me over. Touching my face. Lifting my head to feel the bump on the back of it. Pulling the covers back to look at the bruises on my legs. And lastly, pressing on my ribs. Oh, he did all the other stuff too, like a good doctor does. Being the bad little girl I am, my breathing spiked, and my face flushed. Stop it, Lisa.

"Your blood pressure is a little elevated. How about you lie here and relax? Maybe take a nap. I'll make sure Officer Smith doesn't make a reappearance today," he assured me.

"I'll do that," I answered. Knowing exactly what I was going to dream about.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

The soreness was much better the next day, but I didn't think I could take another day of hospital food. When Dr. Nate, I mean Dr. August, came in to let me know he was going to release me, I was beyond ecstatic.

"Is there anyone who can help you after we release you?"

"I've contacted my auto insurance already. Since my car was totaled, they are sending a rental for me to use. I suppose I'll need to see Officer Smith about getting my belongings back and he may have more questions for me. I can't believe he really thinks I killed Michael," I said.

"Actually, he sent someone over with your luggage this morning. You'll be able to get dressed in just a little bit," he frowned. "And unfortunately, he's coming by to pick you up and take you to the station. I sent the report into his office late yesterday after I examined Mr. Langley."

"You're the county coroner, too?"

"Well, when you've got two kids in college, you make money wherever you can," he joked.

He wasn't wearing a wedding ring, so maybe he was divorced. But two in college at the same time, I can't even think of how much that might cost.

A knock on the door interrupted any more conversation. My day nurse, Marilyn, came in with my paperwork and my suitcase. Dr. August let her do her job and backed toward the door.

"Thank you," I said.

"It was a pleasure meeting you, Ms. Harker. I'm sure Officer Smith is wrong, and things will work out for you," he answered.

He couldn't or didn't have time to tell me what he found during his examination of Michael. I understand that would have been crossing lines, especially as Officer Smith would see it. Facing that man again was not going to be a picnic, even if we were cousins. And that was something I doubted very highly.

"Can you manage on your own?" Marilyn asked.

"Yes, thank you."

"I'll be back with the wheelchair in a moment."

It felt amazing to get out of that hospital gown and into my own things. Especially my underwear. It's funny how those gowns make you feel naked even though they cover up most of you. I was dressed when Marilyn came back. I noticed my laptop was not with the things the police had brought over. Officer Smith was going to get an earful about that.

He was standing beside a black sedan of some sort. Typical television mode of transportation for a cop. Marilyn stopped the wheelchair at the end of the sidewalk, and he opened the door to let me in the passenger side. I guess I wasn't being arrested right at the moment.

"Do you mind coming down to the station?" he asked.

"Do I really have a choice?"

He smiled. It was a sexy twist of his lips that made his eyes sparkle. Oh, this man could be trouble.

The only question he asked while we were driving away from the hospital was how I was feeling. To which I replied in all honesty, fine.

"The only thing I need is a really good cup of coffee," I said.

He chuckled before he said, "That stuff at the hospital can't be called coffee."

"You can say that again."

We'd driven about fifteen minutes when he made a left-hand turn into the parking lot of a diner. It looked like it was centuries old. I glanced a quick look in his direction. He said one word, and I was in.

"Coffee."

 

He was right. That was the best danged cup of coffee I'd had in days, weeks, ages.

They even had the sugar substitute I liked.

I groaned at the aroma before I took my first sip. Hot enough to warm you inside out, but not too hot.

He was laughing when I came back from my coffee induced dream.

"You really do like your coffee," he said.

"I can't deny it. A writer has to have caffeine and coffee does it for me."

"I'll be right back," he said.

He left me sitting at the table and went out to his car. He opened the trunk, then slammed it shut. I could see my laptop in his hand as he was walking across the parking lot. He handed it to me before he sat down.

"Lucky!" I gasped. "Are you okay, baby?"

I opened the laptop and watched the main screen appear. It didn't look worse for wear and my usual sign in popped up asking for my password.

"Our tech guys got past the password, so you might want to change it. But everything was encrypted, so we couldn't open any of the files. Want to tell me what is so important that it has to be encrypted?"

"My stories," I answered.

"What?"

"My stories. After you have a best seller, everyone wants to steal your next idea. I learned quickly to keep everything covered up so no one could get to my WIP's."

"WIP's?"

"Works in progress. Get with the lingo if you're going to interrogate me, Officer Smith," I said, laughing.

"Call me Lincoln."

"Does this mean you don't think I killed Michael?" I asked.

"Less just say you're still a person of interest," Lincoln answered.

 

As we pulled into the station, I recognized a bright red Mazda sitting in the parking lot. She was the last person on the planet I needed to see right now. Roxie True could be hell in high heels and most people found her obnoxious. She was wearing her trademark black business suit with a hot pink blouse unbuttoned enough to show off her minimal cleavage. And she was my agent.

"My God, Lisa!" she screeched as she exited her car. "Are you all right? I have been worried out of my mind," she said as she wrapped her arms around me.

If I didn't know her, I might suspect that she really cared about what had happened to me. But… I did know her, and I didn't respond to the hug. She was a money-hungry tyrant who only looked out for herself in the cutthroat world of publication. Whoever had the next best-seller was her most important client and the rest of us were put on hold at any time. So, you may ask, why was she still my agent? I honestly don't have an answer for that.

"I'm fine," I said as I disengaged myself from her grasp.

"How did you know where I was?"

It suddenly dawned on me that we hadn't spoken in over a month. Not since she had called badgering me about whether I was writing again or not. How did she even know where I was?

"How did you know where to find me?"

She tried to look sheepish, but it wasn't working.

"I had a call from Michael last week and he said he was meeting you in Billings," she said.

That was a lie, and I knew it. But I let her carry on.

At that, Lincoln spoke up. "When did you last speak with Mr. Langley?"

"Who the hell are you?" she huffed.

"This is Officer Mullins. He's investigating Michael's death," I said.

She had the good grace to blanch at my words, even looking shocked.

"Dead? Michael's dead?"

"Why don't we take this into the station," Lincoln said, taking my elbow. He pointed the way inside.

It didn't miss my attention that Roxie looked surprised at his actions.

Inside the station, Lincoln directed us to his office and asked me to have a seat. He turned to Roxie and told her to follow him. She was not expecting that, and I couldn't help enjoying the look of surprise. A few moments later, Lincoln returned.

"I'm going to keep her in the examination room for a bit. I have a few questions for her. You are free to go. The blue Malibu in the parking lot is the one your insurance sent for you. Here are the keys," he said, reaching into his pocket.

He handed me a card with the keys.

"This is how you can reach me. My private number is on the back. Esther's old place hadn’t been lived in for a long time. There are a couple of nice hotels close to the highway. Once you get settled, let me know where you're staying." He took my hand and squeezed it.

"One more thing," he said as he let my hand go. "Michael Langley was strangled. I'm working with a detective from Cincinnati on that end. Whoever put him in your trunk had access and knew you were leaving town. Please call me if anything out of the ordinary happens."

 

I did a quick browse on my phone, and I discovered a lovely bed-and-breakfast on the outskirts of Billings. The room was large, with a sitting area in one corner and even a desk. More importantly, there was Wi-Fi. I was checked in and settled within an hour. The Coopers, Ned, and Peggy were wonderful hosts. They made me feel at home right away. Kicking off my shoes, I stretched out on the bed and closed my eyes. The bed felt like a cloud compared to that hospital gurney I'd been sleeping on the last two nights. I was out in no time.

The phone ringing woke me, and it pissed me off. Whoever it was calling was going to get an ear full.

"Hello." I fumed.

"Ms. Harker?" a male voice asked.

"Yes. Who is this?"

A moment of hesitation was followed by the words, "I clearly interrupted you. My apologies. This is Walter Shupe. I contacted you about Esther Mullins."

It was the lawyer. We'd never actually spoken. Most of our interaction had been by physical mail and email. He had a nice voice, and I had been very rude.

"I'm the one who should apologize. I was napping, and the phone ringing startled me. I'm sorry. What can I do for you, Mr. Shupe?" That name rang a bell somewhere in the back of my brain. Interesting.

"I wondered how you were doing and when you might like to take a look at your property. We also have to finish setting up the transfer of funds as well," he said, all business.

"I am just settling into Cooper's B&B, so would it be possible to set something up for tomorrow?" I asked.

"Yes, that would be fine. My office is only about a mile from there. How about I pick you up around ten in the morning?" he asked.

"That will be fine. I look forward to meeting you in person," I said.

"Wonderful, see you tomorrow." He hung up.

Shupe, I know that name means something, but what? Noticing the time, I realized I'd missed lunch. A shower and a change of clothes would go a long way to making me feel better. Then I could go in search of one of the restaurants Peggy had mentioned.

The Lazy Days Restaurant was like something out of a 1950's television show. Mismatched tables and chairs with bright linen table clothes lined the walls and center of the main room. There were also side rooms with nooks for one or two couples. Something sweet and romantic filled the air with enough music to set a mood but not overpower the situation. Flowers on the tables with a lit candle just made the place one I knew I'd be returning to often.

Peggy was right about the menu, and I indulged in the pot roast special for the evening. The host set me at a table on the right side of the room, facing the door. It was perfect. I took out my notebook, the one I always carried with me, and started to jot down some ideas. The wine list wasn't huge, but I found several I thought would do just fine. The waitress brought a glass of my choice and a water glass. I was busy writing when a heard someone cough. Looking up, Nathan August was smiling down at me.

"Good evening," he said. "I can see you're busy, but I just wanted to say hi before I join Linc for dinner. No issues or headaches?" He pointed across the room to where Lincoln Mullins sat. He waved at me and smiled.

"I had no idea this would be such a popular place," I said.

"We usually meet here on Tuesdays for the special. Two old bachelors who don't enjoy cooking know where all the best places to eat are." He smiled, and his face lit up.

"I'll have to remember to ask you both for suggestions," I answered.

"Any time," he said.

The waitress walked up with my dinner, and Nat excused himself. Returning to his table across the room, he shook Lincoln's hand before he sat down. The two seemed to be good friends, and they were both eyeing her from across the room.

Lisa could feel her pulse racing and the flush that crept up her face. Thankfully, the waitress blocked her view for a moment, and she could concentrate on the delicious meal that had been placed in front of her.

The problem with good food is that you want to stuff all of it in your mouth and savor every bite. But when two gorgeous men are sitting across the room from you stealing glances at you every few seconds, it's hard to put that fork in your mouth. Finally giving up, I asked the waitress for a box, and I packed up half of my meal. I'd eat when I got back to the B&B. When I asked for the bill, Cory, the waitress, smiled and said the bill was taken care of. Lisa looked across the room at Lincoln and Nathan, knowing she was in for trouble with those two. She smiled and waved as she got up to go.

Back at the inn, she pulled out Lucky and booted up. For the first time in a long time, she felt like putting words down. Maybe it was the new atmosphere or the flirtations of two very attractive men, but whatever it was, she wanted to write.

Lisa reflected on her summers staying at Esther's place and all the people she had met. There were many young people from the area that worked in the tobacco fields during the summer. One in particular caused her to pause and the air to rush out of her lungs. Jimmy Shupe!

Jimmy Shupe had been the very first real love of her life. That first summer they met, she had just turned fifteen. And he, Jimmy, was a worldly eighteen-year-old. Every girl in a twenty-mile radius wanted to be his girl, including Lisa. It wasn't until the following summer that he noticed her. After that, they were inseparable. She got the nickname "Jimmy's girl," which meant no other boy would come near her.

All of those summers came rushing back. Little details, like the shed behind the tobacco barn where Jimmy kissed her for the first time. And the way he'd steal kisses whenever the rest of their friends weren't looking. Then there was the first time he'd touched her breast, rubbing its nipple between two of his fingers. That feeling buzzed through her again as she recalled it.

Was Walter Shupe some relation to Jimmy? Was he still in the area? He probably was married with kids and grandkids at this point. Her fingers tapped quickly across the keyboard, hurrying to put every detail she could remember on the page in front of her. When she finally came up for air, it was well after midnight, and she had been writing for four hours. More importantly, she had the idea for a new story, and it was going to be a whopper.

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Breakfast with the Cooper’s next morning was wonderful. The coffee was delicious, and though I don’t normally indulge in biscuits and sausage gravy, I couldn’t resist. The biscuits were perfectly golden on the outside and flaky on the inside. The gravy was home made and didn’t have too much pepper in it. Just the way she liked it.

Walter Shupe’s blue late model sedan pulled up in front of the B&B just as Lisa was coming out the front door. She couldn’t be sure it was Jimmy until he walked up to her.

“Ms. Harker?” he asked.

His eyes. Yes, she remembered those eyes. They weren’t exactly gray or green but a combination with a touch of yellow around the iris’s. The wrinkles around his eyes and mouth showed he was a young man, but they didn’t take away from his rugged good looks. Hair that had turned gray with silver streaks was becoming. He wore it long around his ears and neck. The same as when he was young.

He stopped as she stepped onto the sidewalk.

“Lisa? Lisa Mullins? Is it you?”

“Jimmy Shupe, I wondered if it was you,” she was stunned as seeing him. “The name Walter had me confused.”

“Walter James Shupe is my legal name. But who wants to be called Walter when you’re eighteen? It sounded like my grandfather’s name,” he chuckled. “I can’t believe it’s you.”

He opened the passenger side door for her to get in. Then walked to the other side of the car and slid into the driver’s seat. He started the car and turned the radio off. An oldie station was playing eighties music. She glanced at his profile thinking he was still a ruggedly handsome man. Looking down at his hands on the wheel, she noticed he was wearing a wedding band on the ring finger of his left hand.

“I understand you’re a famous author now,” he said.

“I don’t know about famous, but I love writing,” Lisa answered. “I got started late in life compared to a lot of authors. The first book made a splash and things sort of snowballed from there. It’s been a wild ride for the last five years.”

“It’s great you found something you love to do. What about marriage, children. Things before the famous author or now,” he asked.

“I’m divorced. It wasn’t a good marriage for a long time. I have an amazing relationship with my son, Ben. He teaches at an elementary school in Dayton, Ohio. I’m very proud of him.”

“Just the one child?” he asked.

“No. I have a daughter, Arabella. When Donald and I divorced, she was only fourteen and very attached to her father. I agreed to let her go live with him. Unfortunately, he spent more time chasing younger women and not enough time being a father. Arabella is spoiled and doesn’t bother to check in with me,” she answered.

Why am I telling him all this? She wondered. I haven’t seen this man in over forty years. He doesn’t want to know all this.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to spill my guts like that.”

“Hey, no problem. It’s hard to break a life story down into a few sentences. I should know,” Jimmy said.

“Here we go,” he said. He made a left turn onto the road that I had traveled so many times in my youth. Run Sugar Run Road was where she had spent summers working on Aunt Esther’s farm. She rented the land out to local tobacco farmers, one of which was Jimmy’s father.

The two-lane road was edged on both sides with overgrown trees and bushes. Every few hundred yards a driveway would turn off to the right or left to property owned by other families. Esther’s place was at the end of the road.

Jimmy explained as they pulled in the grassy driveway leading up to the house. “It’s in pretty bad shape, the house I mean. The land is still being used by some local farmers, so there is income from that. I suppose you could always demolish the original house and rebuild if you want. There’s also the possibility of breaking the land up and selling it that way.”

It didn’t escape Lisa that he had completely changed the subject after she spilled her life story. Maybe he wasn’t the sharing type, these days.

“The money that she left to you is roughly five million dollars. It’s plenty enough to refurbish the house if you thought about staying,” he added.

“Are you thinking about staying in Billings?”

That was a loaded question if she’d ever heard one. Was she? Her lease would be up on the apartment in New York at the end of the summer. Ben had said she could come stay with him in Dayton, but she didn't want to cramp his single life.

“I don’t know,” she answered truthfully. “I can write anywhere, and I have no desire to return to New York.”

Look for the entire story to be published in 2024

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