Hollis pulled on her rain jacket and zipped it up as she looked out the window at the clouds. “I hope it doesn’t rain until I get everybody walked,” she murmured to herself.
“Are you going now?” Ally asked.
“I have to – everyone expects me at a certain time.” Hollis looked at her sister with disdain. Ally was five and always wanted to be wherever Hollis was, or do whatever Hollis was doing. “I have to go now.” Hollis opened the back door and walked toward Mrs. Beatrice Bonebutton’s house.
The Bonebutton house was painted a hideous shade of yellow and had funny little round bushes in the front. Mrs. Bonebutton must have loved her round bushes because she had a whole crew of men that came every week to make sure the bushes were pruned exactly round. Mrs. Bonebutton was an old lady with an old, fluffy dog named Snappy. Hollis thought the dog’s name didn’t fit. Snappy sounded like a dog with some pep and Mrs. Bonebutton’s dog was just like his owner – old and slow. But Snappy was Hollis’ first dog walking job, so she always got to the Bonebutton house first.
“I will be so happy when I make enough to get my phone,” Hollis said. She walked up the steps to the front door and range the doorbell.
Shortly Beatrice Bonebutton answered. “Hello, dear,” she said. Mrs. Bonebutton always had an apron on and Hollis was pretty sure that there were always warm chocolate chip cookies in her kitchen. Snappy stood next to Mrs. Bonebutton as she handed Hollis the blue leash. Snappy didn’t have one of those fancy retractable leashes like most dogs, Snappy’s was red and just a plain leash. Actually, it worked okay because Snappy didn’t really like to take walks, so Hollis just led him around the yard while he sniffed at the bushes and trees and then sat down and waited to go back inside. It was an easy $1.00 that Hollis made each day after school and she was happy about that. Hollis had been walking Snappy for over a month and had made about $30.00. She would need more than that to get a phone.
“Hi Mrs. Bonebutton. Hi Snappy!” Hollis said. She took the leash and clipped it onto Snappy’s collar and then gave it a gentle pull to alert the dog is was time to go. “We’ll be back in a little bit.”
“Thank you dear. It’s really Snappy’s only exercise and he looks forward to it.” Mrs. Bonebutton watched them go down the two front steps and then closed the door.
“Okay, Snappy. Let’s see if we can get around the yard before it rains,” Hollis said.
Snappy cooperated today, perhaps he knew the rain was coming and wanted to get back inside as soon as he could. At any rate, Hollis got Snappy around the small front and back yard and then took Snappy back to the front door. Mrs. Bonebutton opened the door as soon as they approached. She had an envelope in her hand and a small plastic bag with some cookies in it.
“Thank you dear, we’ll see you tomorrow.”
Hollis took the envelope and the cookies. She put the envelope in her jacket pocket and opened the cookie bag and took one out. “Thanks Mrs. Bonebutton!”
She munched on the cookie as she headed to her next dog walking job. Mr. Chester Catchum lived two doors down the road from Mrs. Bonebutton. Hollis figured he was older than Mrs. Bonebutton and the two had lived in their houses for a really long time. Mr. Catchum had been in the hospital for a few weeks and now that he was home, he needed someone to help with his dog, Punch. Punch was a boxer and, unlike Snappy, big and active. When Mr. Catchum had talked with Hollis’ dad about walking Punch, Robert had been concerned that the dog might be too strong for Hollis to control. Punch loved to catch balls and chase squirrels, so Hollis had to hold on tight when she walked him. She usually took a couple of tennis balls with her so if he got away, she could lure him back with a ball. Balls were his favorite and Hollis’ dad had taught her the trick of using the balls to get Punch’s attention when he went with her on the first couple of walks. The balls were the only thing that could keep Punch from chasing squirrels.
Mr. Catchum’s house was blue, but the paint was peeling and the bushes around the front of the house were overgrown and tangled. Hollis had lost one of Punch’s balls in those bushes and couldn’t get through to get it out so, every time Punch came out the front door he would run toward the bushes and whine because he knew the ball was still there. Hollis would then show him another ball and he’d be ready to go for his walk. Mr. Catchum paid Hollis $1.50 to walk Punch since he was bigger and a little harder to control.
Hollis rang Mr. Catchum’s doorbell and could hear Punch barking and Mr. Catchum’s walker thumping across the floor. “Coming,” he called.
As he opened the door, Hollis was ready to catch Punch’s collar because the dog was always ready to run. “I’ve got him,” Hollis said as she took the leash from Mr. Catchum and hooked it to Punch’s collar. “We’ll be back in a little while.”
“Thank you so much Hollis. I don’t know what we’d do if you couldn’t come after school to take Punch for his walk.”
“No problem, Mr. Catchum. Punch and I have a good time.” With that, Hollis felt the jerk of the lease as Punch bolted out the door and over toward the bushes. Hollis pulled the ball out of her jacket pocket. “Don’t worry, I have him under control.”
Punch’s walk went without too many incidences. He saw a couple of squirrels near the end of the sidewalk at a neighbor’s fence, but Hollis was ready with her ball and threw it up in the air and caught the dog’s attention. He turned back to Hollis and she steered him past the squirrel and the fence and they headed toward the school parking lot. Punch loved to run to the end of his lease and then wait for Hollis to catch up and he’d run again. His lease was retractable so he had good length to get a running start. Hollis had to walk really fast to keep up with him and they were both usually winded by the time they got back to Mr. Catchum’s. As long as Hollis could keep Punch from chasing squirrels the walk went well. Hollis did feel she earned her $1.50 and was happy to get Punch home and securely inside.
The clouds were getting thicker as Hollis left Mr. Catchum’s house and Hollis worried as she headed in the opposite direction toward her last dog walking job. Mrs. Megan Milner lived on the other side of Hollis’ neighborhood so she had to pass by her own house on the way. As Hollis looked at her house, she saw Ally outside on the porch.
Ally saw Hollis and waved. She came down the porch steps and ran toward her sister. “Are you done with your job now? Can we play?”
Hollis shook her head. “I walked Snappy and Punch, but now I have to go walk Calypso.”
“Can I come, too?” Ally asked hopefully.
Hollis looked at her little sister. Ally had her raincoat and rain boots on and Hollis was sure she had been waiting on the porch for Hollis to walk by ever since she left. Ally was always tagging along when Hollis would let her and sometimes Hollis wished Ally would find something else to do!
“I can help walk Calypso. She’s so cute.” Ally said.
“Does Mommy know you’re out here?” Hollis asked. Sometimes Ally wandered off to the neighbors without telling anyone and Hollis knew that her parents got really upset.
“Yes,” Ally said.
“Okay, you can come, but you have to let me do the walking. It’s my job.” Hollis hoped she said that firmly enough. Hollis had gotten this dog walking job to show her parents that she was responsible enough to get a cell phone of her own. She promised them that they could have the money she got from the dog-walking to help pay for the phone.
“Is Dad home?” Hollis asked Ally.
“No. Mommy says he is still at work.”
Their father had lost his office job a couple of months ago and was now working construction to help pay the bills. He had long hours and often was in a bad mood when he came home. When Hollis had asked her mom about a cell phone, she was told that there wasn’t money for it right now and that Hollis had a habit of losing things and phones were expensive. That’s when Hollis came up with the idea of the dog walking business. She had to prove to her parents that she could help pay for the phone and be responsible. Her mom had been the one who suggested that Hollis go to Mrs. Bonebutton to ask about walking Snappy. It was scary ringing that doorbell and asking, but Mrs. Bonebutton seemed very pleased and eager to have Hollis walk Snappy. It was Mrs. Bonebutton who had told Mr. Catchum about Hollis’ dog-walking skills.
Ally kicked stones on the sidewalk as they walked to Mrs. Megan Milner’s house. Hollis could tell that Ally wasn’t her usual happy self. She thought about asking her what was wrong, but then decided that she didn’t really want to know. Hollis had her own thoughts and problems to deal with without getting involved in Ally’s childish issues. All of her friends had phones and Hollis was the only one who didn’t and she felt left out of stories and jokes. She wanted to be part of the crowd and was determined to show her mom and dad that she was responsible and could keep track of a phone.
They arrived at the Milner house. It was a two-story, white farmhouse. It had black shutters and Hollis thought it was the prettiest house in the neighborhood. It had a big wrap-around porch on it with baby gates at the steps. Hollis had to laugh at that – although Evan and Ethan (the twins) were still little, the gate was actually for the cute French Bulldog, Calypso. Calypso was a puppy and she loved to run – she ran out the door, out of the yard, where ever she could go when she got loose.
Hollis and Ally walked up to the porch and Hollis undid the lock on the baby gate and went to the front door. Ally followed Hollis onto the porch. Megan Milner came to the door with Ethan crying on her hip. Hollis could see Evan behind them sitting on the floor crying. “Sorry Hollis – it’s been wild around here! Apparently, the boys opened the back door and Calypso ran out.”
Hollis stared at Mrs. Milner. “Oh no!”
“Oh no is right! I yelled at the boys and now they’re crying and I’ve been out in the back yard calling for Calypso but she’s gone.”
“Do you want us to go and look for her?” Hollis offered.
“Oh, would you? Calypso loves her walk with you and she might come when you call.” Hollis noted that Megan’s hair was all messed up and there were food stains on her shirt.
“Sure, we’ll go around back and see what we can do. My sister Ally is with me, so between the two of us we can cover more space.”
“I’ve called Mr. Milner, so he should be on his way home to help as well. I’ve left the back door open in case Calypso comes back.”
“We’re on it!” Hollis turned toward Ally and pointed toward the door. “Let’s go out and into the back yard and see if we can find her.”
Ally gave Hollis a thumbs up and they both hurried off the front porch and around the side of the house to the back yard. The Milner’s didn’t have a fenced in back yard, Megan had told Hollis that was the next project on their list. The neighbors directly behind them had a wooden fence that ran the width of the Milner’s back yard so, Hollis figured that Calypso had to go right or left to get out of the yard. The girls hadn’t seen the dog on their way to the Milner’s so Hollis was pretty sure she ran toward the back of the neighborhood.
“Ally, you go that way,” Hollis pointed to the right. “I’ll go the other and call her name.”
“Okay!” Ally started out running and screaming for Calypso.
Hollis did the same. As she got close to the far end of the fence, she noticed a red shape in the grass. She stopped to examine it and found one of Calypso’s squeaky toys. Calypso loved squeaky toys more than anything. There was a hole in the fence next to the toy. “Ally! Come here!”
Ally stopped running and turned toward Hollis. “Did you say something?”
“Yes. Come here and see what I found.” Hollis was holding the red toy in her hand.
When Ally got next to Hollis, she could see the toy. “What is that?”
“It’s Calypso’s squeaky toy. She loves this and since it is next to this hole, I’m thinking she tried to go through the hole with it and had to leave it behind.”
Ally took the toy and looked at the hole. “That’s pretty smart Hollis.”
Hollis smiled at her little sister. “I think we have to follow the fence until it stops and then get on the other side to find Calypso.”
Ally nodded and the two girls walked along the fence until they came to a gate which wasn’t locked. They opened the door and walked through making sure to close it. Then they ran back along the fence until they came to the hole.
“Look around and see if there are any signs of Calypso,” Hollis said.
The girls looked around but it hadn’t rained in several days so there were no tracks or anything else that might lead them to the puppy.
“Look Hollis!” Ally pointed to a driveway with a garage door that was partially open. “Maybe Calypso went in there.”
Hollis was impressed. “Good eyes, Ally.”
Ally smiled at her big sister. “I have good eyes.”
The two girls ran through the yard and up the driveway to the garage door. They got down on their knees to look through the opening and called for Calypso. There was no response.
Hollis felt disappointed. She had hoped they had solved the mystery of where the puppy had gone. When they walked around the garage to the other side of the yard Hollis realized that they were next to Walker Park. Sometimes Hollis and her friend Katie went to this park when Hollis was playing at her house. Katie lived just a couple of houses down this side of the street.
“Come on Ally. My friend Katie lives near here. Maybe she saw Calypso.” Hollis started walking in the direction of Katie’s house.
Ally followed Hollis along and every once in a while. the girls would call Calypso’s name. They arrived at Katie’s house and knocked on the door. Katie answered. “Hi Hollis!”
“Hi Katie. We are looking for a little French Bulldog puppy names Calypso. We think she got through a hole in the fence over there.” Hollis pointed toward a house not far away. “I thought maybe you had seen her.”
Katie shook her head. “I just got home from ballet class, so I haven’t been here.”
Ally stepped forward, “maybe you saw her while you were driving home?”
Hollis smiled a forced smile. “Thanks anyway. See you at school tomorrow.”
“Bye,” said Katie.
The two girls looked at each other. “I don’t know if we can find her or not. I’m afraid she’ll get hurt running across the streets,” Hollis said.
“She could get kidnapped. I watched a show on television where these bad men stole puppies to sell,” Ally said.
“Well, I’m not giving up!” Hollis looked in the direction of the park. “I think if I were a puppy I’d like to run in the park.”
Both girls took off running toward the park. The clouds had continued to get thicker and suddenly rain drops began to fall. The girls put up their rain hoods and kept going. Hollis became worried now that Calypso might get scared out in the rain and would hide where they would never find her.
They entered the park through the large iron gates. The path into the park was edged with lush, thick bushes that had little pink flowers on them. In the rain the flowers were curling up and so the bushes weren’t as pretty as they might have been, but Hollis noticed something blue in the bush ahead of them on the left. She ran over to it and bent down to find a scarf – it was Calypso’s neck scarf.
“Look Ally. This is Calypso’s! She’s been here. We’re on the right path.” Hollis was almost jumping up and down she was so excited.
Ally looked happy too and they began to call Calypso’s name loudly.
Because of the rain, which was now a light drizzle, no one else was in the park. It was getting darker because of the storm clouds and Hollis’ enthusiasm began to wane. “She’s probably afraid of the rain,” Hollis said. She looked at Ally. “We’ll never find her.”
Ally pulled a red object out of her pocket. “I could try this.” She squeezed the red ball and it began to squeak.
Hollis laughed, “you brought Calypso’s toy?”
Ally beamed at her sister and then began squeaking the ball over and over as Hollis called Calypso’s name.
All of a sudden there was a rustling in the bushes next to the girls. A little black face looked out at the two sisters.
“Calypso!” Hollis shouted. “Come on, girl. We’ve got you – we’ll get you home.”
Calypso came out of the bushes wagging her little tail as Hollis picked her up. Ally gave Calypso the squeaky toy which she happily took in her mouth.
The girls walked as quickly as they could back through the park’s main gate, through the yards and around the gate back to the Milner’s yard.
Mr. Milner was in the yard with an umbrella calling Calypso’s name when he spotted the girls and the little black puppy. “Oh! You found her.”
“We followed the clues to the park and she was hiding in the bushes,” Hollis explained.
“I got her to come out of hiding with her squeaky toy,” Ally said proudly.
“You girls are quite the dog whisperers,” Mr. Milner said as he took Calypso from Hollis. “And I need to get our fence built as soon as possible.”
The group walked toward the house and Megan insisted that they come inside and get dried off. “I’ll call your parents so they can come and get you. I don’t want you to have to walk home in the rain.”
The girls enjoyed some cookies and juice while they waited for their parents to arrive. Calypso seemed happy to be home and the twins weren’t crying anymore.
When Hollis and Ally’s parents arrived and heard the story, they were so proud of their two daughters. Mrs. Milner gave Hollis an envelope. “There’s some extra in there for all your good detective work.”
“Thank you,” Hollis felt so proud when she took the envelope.
On the way home the girls told the story again of how they followed the clues and how they found Calypso and what part each played in the adventure.
“You have definitely proved how responsible you are Hollis. Your Dad and I will talk about the cell phone.” Mom said. Hollis smiled with pride. She noticed however that Ally was very quiet.
Back home Hollis went into Ally’s room after dinner and asked. “What’s wrong?”
Ally looked at Hollis with tears in her eyes. “I need to get a job, too. Mommy says there isn’t enough money for me to take ballet classes this year. I wish I was 9 like you so I could find a job.”
Hollis gave her little sister a hug. “We’ll think of something.” She went back into her room and took out the 3 envelopes she had gotten today. Inside the envelope from the Milner’s was a $50 bill! Hollis added that to the rest of her dog walking money she had earned the past month and added up the total. She had almost $200. She sat on the bed and re-counted the money to make sure and then put the money in an envelope and walked downstairs where her mother and dad were sitting on the couch.
“Mom, Dad, can I talk to you?”
“Of course, you can,” they both replied.
Hollis handed her mother the envelope. “This is what I’ve earned from my dog-walking business so far. I’ve decided that I don’t really need a cell phone, but maybe this could help so Ally can take her ballet classes.” Hollis looked at both her parents.
Her mother opened the envelope and looked at the cash and then handed it to Hollis’ father. “Oh honey, this is more than enough for Ally’s classes. But are you sure?”
Hollis smiled, “I’m sure. I don’t really have to have a phone right now. Besides, I’m going to keep dog walking so I’ll have more money soon.”
Hollis hugged her parents and went back up to her room and felt a strange sense of happiness. She wasn’t sure why, but she knew that she had done the right thing.
Hannah sat on the steps of her step-father’s house and wondered what would happen next. She had been away at school, when the call came saying her mother had passed away. No details were given and arrangements for her had been made to come home. The funeral was in a couple of hours and she had cried her last tears.
Hannah thought back to the events that led to this moment in her life. She was the only child of Susan and Tom Hupp. Her father was a machinist and had been killed at work when Hannah was only three. She remembered hearing her mother cry herself to sleep for weeks. Hannah couldn’t remember a time when she couldn’t hear what was going on in her house. She never thought much about her acute hearing until she realized that others didn’t hear all that she could. It didn’t matter that doors were closed or walls were in the way, she could hear people whispering from yards away. At first it had been very distracting, she never had a quiet moment while others were awake, but she learned to filter out the voices and sounds and now she could turn her hearing senses down to low. The memory of her mother crying, however, had never gone away, and now here was Hannah, crying for her mother.
Catherine James came down the steps behind Hannah. “I think we’ll be leaving soon,” she said. Catherine was Hannah’s younger step-sister and quite beautiful. She was wearing a designer black suit and very high heels, the ones with the red soles.
“I’ll be ready,” Hannah replied.
Catherine and her shoes clicked across the vestibule’s marble tile as Hannah watched silently. Hannah’s mother had met Steven James a couple of years after Tom’s death and they had married. Steven was a prominent business man in the area with lots of money and two daughters of his own, Catherine and Deanna. They were twins and the apple of their daddy’s eye. They were both beautiful with long blonde hair and impeccable manners and social graces. Hannah knew she couldn’t compete. The twins were a year younger than she, and even at 16, they were very accomplished. Seems there was nothing they couldn’t do well. Hannah always felt like she didn’t belong in the mansion or the lifestyle her mother married into. She knew that Steven’s first wife had died in a car accident, but no one ever talked about her nor were there any pictures or reminders of Sheila James. Hannah wondered when the James’ would erase Susan from the house as well, and then, of course, she would be the next to disappear. She knew her time in this family was probably near the end.
When Hannah arrived home from boarding school, she had asked Mrs. Burton, the housekeeper and a friend, what had happened to her mother. Mrs. Burton had relayed that Susan had been in a depressed state for quite some time and had been in the habit of taking sleeping pills at night. Apparently, she took too many and when Mr. James went to bed later that evening, he couldn’t wake her and by the time the EMT’s arrived there was nothing they could do. Hannah couldn’t believe that her mother had been so depressed that she resorted to pills. She could recall so many conversations she had had about drugs.
“While you are away, there will be so many temptations. You must be strong and make sure not to get involved with drugs and other things.” Susan had been very stern with her daughter. Hannah had assured her that she wouldn’t go down that path. So now, to hear that her mother had been taking pills, she had a hard time believing that.
Hannah had tried to talk with her step-father last evening when she arrived from the bus station. He had waved her away as he and his lawyer entered his home office. “We’ll talk tomorrow.” That was all he had said. Not even, “I’m so sorry.”
Hannah stood outside the office and listened to the conversation between the two men, but nothing in that conversation gave her any comfort or information about what had been happening here at home. They talked about wills and trusts and the like, so Hannah had gone upstairs to her small corner room and lay on her bed crying. Hannah had cried most of the night and finally fell asleep as first light was beginning to show.
The funeral was a solemn affair with so many of the James’ friends. Hannah had looked around the church and couldn’t find any of her mother’s old friends in attendance. She had been away at school since she turned 12 and sitting in the church with all these strangers, realized that she didn’t know much about her mother’s life since she left for boarding school. Hannah would come home for holidays but most summers she spent at school taking classes and traveling to exotic locations. Hannah had a gift for learning languages and had enjoyed studying in foreign locations. She could speak 5 languages fluently: Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, and, of course, English. Her mother had always joked that Hannah could be a foreign minister or ambassador. Hannah was in the middle of junior year and wondered if she would be allowed to finish her schooling at Heathwell School or if she would be relegated to a public school here in Charlestown. She imagined she would learn all of this when she finally spoke with Steven.
As the family left the church a young man came up to Hannah. He looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place him.
“Hannah. I’m so sorry about your mother.” Andy said.
Hannah looked at the young man and smiled. “Thank you.”
“You don’t remember me, do you?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, I’ve been away for so long.”
“Andy Metcalf. We were in school together.” He lowered his head knowing she didn’t recognize him.
“Ah!” Hannah laughed. “I remember you now. Certainly, we’ve both grown up a good bit.”
“Yes, but you look just the same.” Andy felt himself blushing. He had had a crush on Hannah since the second grade, but she didn’t seem to remember that. They had been in classes together all through elementary school.
“Well, thanks for that. I have to say, though, you’ve changed quite a bit. I remember you wearing glasses and being rather small.”
“Contacts and weight-lifting.” Andy smiled that she did seem to remember him. He was the scrawny boy with glasses that everyone made fun of until middle school, when he had suddenly grown 6 inches and began weight training to play football.
Hannah smiled and walked on as she realized that the family was getting into the limos that would take them to the cemetery. “Perhaps we can talk later?” She turned to look back at him and he smiled and waved.
She heard him say, “I’d love that,” and she smiled. Maybe if she had to stay home to finish school, she would know at least one person.
After the grave-side service the family returned to the mansion along with 200 or so other guests. Food was laid out in the dining room and there were loud and happy voices everywhere in the house. Hannah found the noise unsettling and went up to her room instead. That, of course, only dulled the noise for she could still hear everyone’s voices. “Lovely service…Did you see what the girls were wearing?… It’s too bad about Hannah…Did you hear about Mrs. Bolton and her pool boy…” On and on it went. Hannah opened her windows and hoped the cool air and the sounds from outside would help to drown out most of the noise.
As darkness approached there was a knock on Hannah’s door. She had fallen asleep on top of the bed and the sound startled her. “Hannah, dear.” It was Mrs. Burton’s voice.
Hannah got up and tried to straighten her clothes and went to the door. Mrs. Burton was standing there holding a tray with a sandwich and some hot tea. “I thought you might like something to eat, you didn’t stay at the reception.”
Hannah took the tray and smiled at the kind old woman. Mrs. Burton had always been a good friend to Hannah and her mother. Mrs. Burton had been in the James’ employment when Hannah arrived at the mansion. “Thank you, Mrs. Burton. You didn’t have to do this; I could have come downstairs.”
“Nonsense child. I don’t know what will happen in this house now, but you are still a child and someone has to look after you.” Mrs. Burton smiled and walked down the hall.
Hannah put the tray on her bedside table and picked up the sandwich. She took a bite realizing that she was hungry. She wasn’t sure when she had eaten last and the sandwich was just perfect. She sat on the edge of the bed and picked up the tea cup.
“We need to have a talk with Hannah.” She heard this statement loud and clear and realized it was her step-father talking somewhere downstairs. She felt her back stiffen and set the cup down. She wasn’t sure if she should go down or wait for a summons.
“Dad, what are you going to do with Hannah?” This was Catherine’s voice. “Are you going to send her back to school? Is she still going to live with us?”
Hannah wasn’t sure what the answers would be, but she decided she couldn’t wait to find out and so she went down stairs to confront her step-father.
Hannah found Steven and Catherine in his study. Steven was sitting behind the desk and Catherine was in a leather chair in front of the desk. They hadn’t heard Hannah come in and were started when they realized that she was standing there. “I think I would like to know what the plans for me are, too,” Hannah said quietly. She did know that if she pushed too hard, she might find herself in foster care or even worse.
“Hannah. Have a seat dear, we should talk about the future.” Steven motioned to the chair on the other side of the desk – opposite from Catherine. “Catherine, perhaps we should have our discussion later. I need to talk with Hannah privately.”
Catherine glared at Hannah as she got up. “Fine.” And she walked out of the study and closed the door.
Hannah wondered if Catherine might stand outside the door to hear their conversation, but realized it didn’t really matter as she would find out what was decided soon enough.
Hannah looked at Steven James. He was a handsome man who was graying at the temples. He was tanned and fit, the result of his daily exercise and tennis she was sure. He had built quite an empire in Charlestown and his rich lifestyle suited him. Hannah knew she would never fit in; she just didn’t have the acumen to get along with all the phony people that ran in these social circles.
“Hannah, before your mother died, we set up a trust for you.”
Hannah’s eyes widened with surprise.
“I gather your mother didn’t mention it to you?” Now Steven’s eyes looked surprised.
“No, she didn’t,” Hannah said. She looked down into her lap and felt a tear roll down her cheek. She had told herself there would be no more tears.
“Well, the trust is set up to begin when you turn 18 – which, of course – is a year away. Until then you’ll stay here, but I’m afraid I will need for you to withdraw from Heathwell and finish your high school years here in Charlestown. I think you’ll find that school is pretty much the same anywhere you go and I think it best that you be here where I can supervise. When you turn 18, the trust will pay you a monthly stipend and you can decide whether you wish to stay here and pay me rent or find a place of your own.” Steven didn’t seem to have any remorse in making his step-daughter pay rent to live in a house that had been her home since she was six.
Hannah knew that this was the best offer she would get, so she smiled as sweetly as she could. “Thank you. I know my mother would be pleased at the offer.” Hannah knew very well that her mother would have been horrified at this offer, but it was just a year, so she would make the best of it. “Will I go back to Heathwell to finish the semester and pack up or…”
“I will send someone to gather your belongings and you will begin at Charlestown High School on Monday. That should give you enough time to pull yourself together.” With that, Steven stood, signaling to Hannah that their conversation was over.
Today was Friday, so she would begin public high school in two days. Hannah wasn’t sure what she should do in the meantime, but she walked into the kitchen and found Mrs. Burton sitting at the old kitchen table with a cup of tea. Hannah sat down across from her and told her what she had learned.
Mrs. Burton took a tissue out of her apron pocket and wiped her eyes. “I’m not surprised. You haven’t been here much lately Hannah. Your mother and Mr. James have been fighting something awful lately and during some of those arguments things were said.”
“What kind of things?”
“Things about you and what would happen to you if they were to divorce.” Mrs. Burton blew her nose and put the tissue away.
“Divorce?” Hannah was shocked. She and her mother talked every week, but she had never mentioned fights or divorce. “Mom never said a word to me.”
Mrs. Burton smiled and patted Hannah’s hand. “I’m not surprised. She walked around here after those fights as if nothing were wrong. The whole staff heard the arguments, but your Mom just kept her chin up around us. But she got quieter and more withdrawn over the past couple of months. I think the fighting was getting to her. And Mr. James, well, he spent more and more time at the office. Wasn’t a fun place to work I can tell you.”
Hannah couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Burton. It must have been hard.” Hannah got up and went back to her room. She found herself shaking her head in disbelief and found sleeping difficult again that night.
Saturday morning Hannah awoke to sound of girls’ voices. She recognized the twins, Catherine and Deanna, talking quietly in Catherine’s room. Deanna’s room was next to Hannah’s and so she figured that the twins had gone into Catherine’s room to keep Hannah from hearing. As if that was possible! Hannah lay in her bed and listened intently.
“I think Dad’s taking her out of Heathwell,” Catherine said.
‘Well, at least we don’t have to pretend we like her anymore. That will be good,” Deanna said.
“I heard something about a trust,” Catherine said.
Hannah smiled at that revelation, so she had been right – Catherine had stood outside the door listening.
“I think she has to move out when she turns 18,” Catherine continued.
“Well, that’s only a year and then we’ll have the place to ourselves. Do you think she’ll get Susan’s jewelry?” Deanna said.
Hannah sat up at that. She hadn’t thought about her mother’s things. She would have to ask Steven if she could look through and keep what she wanted of her mother’s. She got dressed quickly and went downstairs hoping to catch Steven in his study before he left for the gym. She knocked softly on the door but no one answered. She slowly inched the door open and discovered the office empty. Hannah wasn’t sure why, but she walked in and closed the door behind her so no one would know she was in there. She walked to the desk and sat down in Steven’s chair. She had never dared to sit on this side of the study before. When she first moved into the mansion her mother had strongly cautioned her to stay out of Steven’s domain and she had never disobeyed her. But today, she felt different, like she had permission to do whatever she wanted – after all, she was going to be kicked out of the family soon enough, so why not see what she could find out about Steven James.
The desk was not a very neatly organized surface. There were file folders and papers strewn all over the top. Hannah was careful to not disturb the chaotic order she found as she looked through the papers. She came across a folder with her mother’s name on it and carefully slid it from its place beneath several other folders putting a pen where she removed the folder. She opened the folder and found ledger sheets, handwritten notes and what appeared to be a preliminary divorce settlement. The ledger and notes didn’t make much sense to Hannah, but the divorce settlement indicated that there had been infidelity in the marriage. Hannah couldn’t imagine that her mother had been unfaithful, but she could see Steven having an affair. He was a handsome man with lots of money and prestige, perfect temptation for a woman. There were no names in the document, so Hannah couldn’t be sure about the details. She did hear a car door shut in the front driveway and quickly closed the file folder and put it back in place. She then slipped quietly out of the room and headed back upstairs to her room.
She could hear Steven and Mrs. Burton in the front hallway talking about dinner plans, seemed there would be company for dinner tonight. Hannah decided that she would eat in her room again tonight – she wasn’t sure she could face Steven after what she had learned. She heard the door to Steven’s study shut and decided to hurry downstairs and then out for the day.
The Mansion was an old historic home on the edge of town and within a short walk to the downtown shops and restaurants. Hannah decided to take advantage of the early Spring weather and walk to town. The sun was shining and the air very crisp, although you could smell and feel spring was well on its way. Hannah enjoyed her walk and her freedom. Outside, the noises of birds and the river were soothing to her ears. She had been hearing too many voices the past couple of days and they weren’t comforting at all. Hannah received an allowance while away at school and she really didn’t like to spend money frivolously, so she had a nice nest egg in her checking account. She decided to stop at the ATM and withdraw some money. She wasn’t sure if Steven James had the power to take her account away and she decided that she would keep cash on her at all times, just in case it was necessary. Hannah smiled; she had watched her share of television crime shows.
Joe’s Café wasn’t new to town and Hannah remembered having lunch there before with her mother, so she decided to stop in and see about getting something to eat. She left the mansion before she could get breakfast and the walk had reminded her how hungry she was. She walked in and found a seat at a booth in the front window. She liked the idea of watching people.
“Hi! Good to see you again.”
Hannah looked toward the voice to see Andy standing next to her booth with a menu in his hand. “Oh hi! Do you work here?”
“Yep! Weekends and summers for the past year.” Andy smiled. “What are you doing here?”
“I needed some air and decided to walk to town. I remembered coming here with my mother, so thought I’d get something to eat.” Hannah took the menu and decided she was glad to see Andy. “What do you recommend?”
“The burger is the best in town.”
“Then that’s what I’ll have. Thanks.”
Andy walked away and Hannah watched. Maybe it was a sign that she had run into him today. At any rate, she was glad to see him.
After her meal Hannah thought about asking Andy when he might get off work. It would be good to talk to him about her re-entry into Charlestown and the high school. When he brought the bill, Hannah looked up at him. “What time is your shift over?”
Andy laughed. “I get done at 2:30 today. Why?”
“Just thought maybe we could talk. Seems my life is going to change. I’m leaving boarding school and starting at Charlestown High on Monday. Thought maybe I could ask you some questions.”
“Sure, I can meet you out front at 2:30 if that’s okay.” Andy took her money.
“Perfect. I’ll see you then.” Hannah got up and left feeling excited. She was concerned about starting a new school, but having Andy as a friend might ease some of the tension. Hannah had never been any good at making friends and she was still a bit surprised that she had been so bold as to ask to meet him.
At 2:30 Hannah stood outside the Café waiting for Andy. He came through the door with a light denim jacket and baseball cap. “You like the Steelers?”
Andy looked up in the direction of his hat. “Sure, they are one of a number of teams I like.”
The two walked down the sidewalk toward the central park area. Hannah wasn’t sure how to start the conversation and Andy seemed content to wait until she figured that out. “So, my step-dad has told me that I have to leave Heathwell and start Charlestown High on Monday. I’m not sure what to expect so I thought maybe you could help me figure that out.”
“That’s tough. Strange too, I mean it’s not like he doesn’t have the money to keep sending you to that fancy boarding school.” Andy was straightforward and Hannah appreciated that characteristic.
“Yeah, it’s tough. But I don’t think he ever really liked me that much and now that my mom is gone, I guess I’m lucky that he wants to keep me around.” Hannah looked down at the sidewalk and shoved her hands in her jacket. She hoped she didn’t sound too pitiful.
The two found a park bench and sat down. The afternoon went pleasantly enough as they talked about life and school and what Hannah might expect as she jumped into public high school. Hannah had to admit that she felt better about Monday than she had before their talk.
“I don’t guess you have a schedule yet?” Andy asked.
“I didn’t even ask that question. Maybe I have to go to the office first thing and get one.”
“Well, maybe we’ll have a class together,” Andy said shyly.
Hannah thought she sensed a little hope in his statement. She hoped they might have a class together as well. She didn’t remember him well from grade school, but she enjoyed talking with him and felt very at ease. That didn’t happen with everyone, so she hoped this friendship could continue.
When Hannah got back to the Mansion Steven was in his study. Hearing the front door close he called, “Hannah?”
Hannah went to the study door and looked at Steven. “I’m here.”
“Come in and close the door.” Steven sat back in his chair and tented his fingers. It was obvious to Hannah that he had something difficult to say.
Hannah closed the door and walked toward the desk.
“There are going to be some guests here for dinner. I’m not sure you will be comfortable with them here, so I am going to suggest that you have dinner in your room tonight.”
Hannah felt a sigh of relief escape her lips. Her shoulders relaxed as she smiled at Steven. “Oh, that’s no problem. I’ll go to the kitchen and get something and head upstairs now. You won’t even know that I am here.”
Steven leaned forward and began looking at papers on the desk. “Thank you.”
Hannah hurried out of the study and went directly to the kitchen. The cook and Mrs. Burton were busy with preparations. “Sorry to bother you,” Hannah said. “I am to have dinner in my room and thought I’d just make a sandwich and take it up with me.”
Mrs. Burton shook her head. “You’ll do no such thing. When we get dinner fixed, I’ll make you a plate and bring it up. You need your nourishment.”
Hannah smiled at the dear old woman. “Thank you so much, Mrs. Burton.” With that, Hannah left the kitchen and ran up the steps to her room.
There were a lot of voices that drifted into Hannah’s hearing and she did her best to tune them out. There was one voice in particular, however, that caught Hannah’s attention. It was a female voice that kept talking to Steven and they way she said his name Hannah could tell there was something intimate in their relationship. Maybe this was the woman he was having the affair with – the affair that caused her mother’s death. Hannah thought maybe she should try to sneak a peek at this woman, although she knew she would recognize her voice anytime she heard it, so Hannah stayed in her room.
Sunday was a quiet day except for the ruckus of the twins packing up to go back to Heathwell. Hannah said good-bye to them, although it was obvious, they were delighted to leave her behind. Later in the day a car arrived in the driveway and when it was unloaded, Hannah recognized her belongings. It certainly didn’t take Steven long to erase her from Heartwell – probably he would erase her mother and then her as quickly from the Mansion.
Around 8pm Sunday evening, Hannah heard Steven tell Mrs. Burton that he was going out and would be back late, to go ahead and lock up the house when she went to bed. After the front door closed and she heard the lock click, Hannah thought about what she had heard Deanna say about her mother’s jewelry. Hannah crept quietly down the hallway and stood in front of the master bedroom. She turned the door knob and silently went into the room. She shut the door before turning the lights on so no one would notice she had entered.
Hannah stood in this familiar room. The four poster, king-sized bed was still covered in the gold brocade coverlet. Hannah had loved the fringe that ran along the edges of the cover and the pillows. There were matching end tables and she could see that they had been wiped clean and the picture of Hannah that always sat on her mother’s side was gone. Hannah felt her eyes begin to tear up. She wondered where that picture had gone. There were two brocade chairs by the large window where Hannah would sit with her mother to talk about life and read stories. She knew that there would never be stories with her mother again. The large wooden dresser sat on the wall opposite the bed and Hannah went over and began to open drawers. She knew which drawers had been her mother’s and thought she might find something to hold and keep. But when she opened the drawers, they were empty. All of her mother’s things were gone!
Hannah ran to the closet. She could remember sitting in the closet while her mother chose dresses and shoes – such beautiful things to wear. As Hannah opened the closet door she gasped – her mother’s things were gone from here as well. Hannah couldn’t believe that Steve had taken all Susan’s things away before Hannah even got home. Didn’t he think she might want something of her mother’s? Hannah sat down on the closet floor and began to cry again.
She didn’t know how long she sat there crying when she heard footsteps on the stairs. She rubbed her eyes with her sleeves and jumped up. She worried that if Steven caught her in here, he might be mad and then she didn’t know what he’d do. As she slowly opened the bedroom door, she saw Mrs. Burton coming toward her. Hannah signed in relief and looked at Mrs. Burton.
“Come here dear.” Mrs. Burton held out her arms and Hannah ran into them, still sobbing.
“It’s all gone! How could he have gotten rid of everything?” Hannah looked at Mrs. Burton.
“Come with me.” Mrs. Burton put her arm around the girl and led her down the hall toward a guest room at the other end. She opened the door and motioned Hannah to go inside.
Hannah looked around the pale green room. The bed was unmade and there was Hannah’s picture on the nightstand next to the bed. There were wadded up tissues and a half empty glass of water on the other nightstand. “What is this?”
“This is your mother’s room. Well, it was her room for last couple of weeks. It’s where Mr. James found her.” Mrs. Burton seemed very quiet as she said the words.
Hannah walked over to the bed and stood staring down at it. This is where her mother last breathed. “Why was she in here?”
“Oh honey. I told you that your mom and Mr. James were having terrible fights. One day your mother moved her things out of the master bedroom and moved in here. I knew things were really bad then.” Mrs. Burton shook her head. “I don’t think your mother told anyone else.”
Hannah looked in the dresser and found her mother’s things and then went to the closet and it was full as well. “Do you think I can take something of hers?”
“Of course, you can honey. You look through and take whatever you want. Your mother would have wanted you to have everything.” Mrs. Butler looked at her and nodded. Then she left the room and Hannah stood there in disbelief.
How could this have happened and why didn’t she say anything to Hannah? Hannah thought about her ability to hear things and realized that hearing things didn’t always tell the story. Her mother and step-father were getting a divorce and she didn’t want Hannah to know anything. But why?
Hannah sat down on the edge of the bed and opened the nightstand drawer. There was a small, brown leather book inside. Hannah had never seen her mother use a journal, but she lifted it carefully out of the drawer and ran her hand reverently over the cover. Perhaps there was something in here that would give Hannah the answers she needed. She clutched the journal to her chest and picked up the framed picture of herself and walked back down the hall to her room. She didn’t have the strength to go through anything else tonight. Tomorrow she had to begin a new chapter of her life without her mother. The tears began to fall and Hannah just gave way to them. She needed to cry and hope that tomorrow would bring answers.
She threw herself on her bed and hugged the journal and picture to her chest while she sobbed. She finally felt the tears had dried up and sat up and placed the framed picture on her nightstand. She looked at the smiling, carefree girl in the picture and wondered if she would ever experience her again. She opened her nightstand drawer and began to place the journal inside when she noticed a corner of an envelope sticking out of the journal. She opened the journal to the envelope and took it out. The envelope was addressed to Hannah.
Hannah slowly opened the envelope and pulled out a long sheet of paper. She recognized her mother’s handwriting immediately and gasped.
If you are reading this then I am gone. I am so sorry. Steven and I have been in such a bad place for so long that I just didn’t know what else to do. I met a man a year ago that I thought was my soul mate and we had an affair. Turns out he wasn’t a good person and I ended our relationship, but he didn’t want it to end and began to blackmail me. Of course, I had to tell Steven. It broke his heart and he will never forgive me for my betrayal. I made Steven promise me that he would set up a trust for you to be taken care no matter what happened with us, but then I overheard him talking to our attorney about breaking the trust after we were divorced. I couldn’t let him do that to you – this is all my fault. So, I came up with a plan to make sure the divorce never happens so you will have your trust and a good life. I want only the best for you my darling. Forgive me for making such a mess of our lives. I love you forever. Mom
Hannah re-read the letter a dozen time before refolding it and putting it back in the envelope. She realized that the plan her mother had come up with was to end her life so that the divorce papers wouldn’t be filed. Hannah couldn’t be sure that Steven couldn’t reverse the trust, but perhaps that was true. Here Hannah was sure that Steven was the one who betrayed her mother and now it seems, that it was her mother that broke their trust. Hannah put the envelope back inside the journal and closed the drawer. She wasn’t sure what she should do with the knowledge she had, but tomorrow would have to take care of itself. She had a new school to adjust to and hopefully new friends to make.
Hannah got under the covers and closed her eyes.
To be continued….