Kismet, Part 8

While I rewrite the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, I’m offering the original stories here in chapter-by-chapter installments.

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 5: December 25, 2006

book cover 1-5 400-640The patter of bare feet on wood floor brought Addison from her slumber. Seconds later, a child’s voice whispered in an ear, “Merry Christmas, Mommy.”

She reached out from the blankets and pulled the girl in bed with her.

“Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday,” she said as she cuddled the child close to her bosom.

“I want to open presents,” the child said.

“Me, too,” a husky voice said.

Daniel rolled over and hugged his wife and daughter. For a moment, Addie saw a whirlwind of light around them. The image faded like gossamer memories slipping away like fog in the lamplight that Daniel brought to the room. She peeked at the clock: 6:03.

“Okay,” she said to him. “You take Sara downstairs and I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.”

Daniel rolled from bed, scooped up their excited three-year-old daughter, and snatched his robe from the closet door.

Book04 640-400The house phone rang next to the bed. She let Daniel answer it downstairs as she rose and stumbled toward the bathroom. In the hall, she bumped against a stand and knocked her blue diary to the floor. A photograph fell from the pages as she picked up the book. The photograph was of Sara at the hospital on the day she was born.

Addison took a pen from the stand and wrote the day’s date on a blank page. Then she wrote, Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday to my baby girl who means the world to her mommy and daddy.

Just then, Sara and Daniel called for her to hurry. She picked up the photo and tucked it away in the back of the book, and then hurried headlong in the rush that was Christmas and birthday presents shared with a loving family.

~ ~ ~

Across town, Catherine Johnson’s latest dream troubled her. She propped herself on elbows and looked around the bedroom that seemed familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The room seemed longer, rectangular, and its four windows seemed wider and spaced further apart — but that could be from the play of dim morning light trying to pass through her curtains. The bedroom suite was still the one she had purchased after Nate’s death seven years ago, and the cream carpet still had the stain where she had spilled some wine one night when she made love to a date that ended up a brief sexual encounter.

She fell dizzily back to her pillows and thought of going back to sleep. She was tired, much more tired than she had ever been before. As she warmed again to the blankets covering her, footsteps outside her door caused her to stir.

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Kismet, Part 7

While I rewrite the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, I’m offering the original stories here in chapter-by-chapter installments.

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 4: April 15, 1988

He was on his back. For a moment, Daniel thought he was floating. Then his head cleared and he saw that he was beneath some pines, on a dry mattress of grass and pine needles, sprawled on his back, his pack pressing uncomfortably against his spine. He rolled over and realizing he was holding his breath, gasped for air until his breathing became normal. A faraway whoosh came from automobile tires passing over blacktop nearby. He brushed himself off and set off looking for Addison.

~ ~ ~

book cover 1-5 400-640The news was fifteen years old but current to the people of this time. Daniel put away the newspaper. When he looked from the rear booth and across the diner, the teenage boy sitting at the counter had to be Tom Matthews. The girl at his side was definitely Addison Johnson, destined to become Addison Matthews, and later, Addison Taylor. She and Tom would graduate high school later this year.

Daniel sipped at his coffee and waved for his check. The bleached-blonde twenty-something cashier-slash-waitress nodded. She spoke to Tom and Addison who were on their way out after finishing a basket of fries and two milkshakes.

He watched Addison leave with Tom and kiss him goodbye on the sidewalk. He observed her cross the street, her red hair blowing in the April wind. When she was out of sight, he took from his jacket pocket a small but fat blue book and began to read.

Book04 640-400Catherine’s Diner was slowly filling with Ridgewood’s elderly shuffling in for supper. A young, red-haired woman came from the kitchen and placed a slice of apple pie on his table.

“I didn’t order this,” he said.

“On the house,” she said. “I’m on my break and noticed you sitting here all alone, looking like you lost your best friend.” She studied him with beautiful green eyes. “Where are you from?” She sipped at the Pepsi she had bought along through a straw. “I’ve never seen you before.”

“I’m from someplace far away.”

“How far?”

“I was born in Minnesota, a long time ago.”

She smiled. “How long ago was that?”

He shrugged. “Enough to make me feel very old.”

“I don’t think you’re old.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Usually to someone your age, I’m considered ancient.”

“I’m different than others my age.”

He agreed. “And how old is someone your age? Twenty one?”

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Kismet, Part 6

While I rewrite the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, I’m offering the original stories here in chapter-by-chapter installments.

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 3: April 26, 2003

book cover 1-5 400-640“Ugh. I think I swallowed a spider.”

Daniel pulled a small, brown leaf from his mouth and pushed the hanging branches away from his face. Drops of water sprinkled down on him and he shivered. “Wait up a second, honey. I need to readjust my pack.”

Addison stopped and combed a hand through her short blonde hair. “We’re almost out of the woods,” she said and took out her canteen. “The hill’s summit is another hour. Then we can set up our tent and…” She let her voice fall away while she removed the cap and drank.

“God willing,” Daniel moaned while he adjusted the straps around his shoulders. “I’m getting too old for this.”

“Forty-nine isn’t old,” she said and looked into his blue eyes and winked. “Besides, you shouldn’t have worn so much, especially on a day like today.”

He looked down at the long khaki shirt and pants. “I can’t help it we’re having unseasonable weather today.” He pointed at patches of snow and ice lingering in the valley. “It’ll be cold tonight, though. It’s still April.” He took a mouthful of cool water and swallowed.

“That’s okay,” Addison purred. “I have you to keep me warm.” She turned and pulled at the pant legs of her black spandex shorts that had crept up her thighs. “Besides, this was your idea to paint the landscapes up here. So stop complaining.”

Book04 640-400“Or what?” Daniel studied the tall, trim woman, stared at her youthful-looking face and felt his love for her quicken. She was thirty-three, but looked barely twenty-five. He wiped sweat from his forehead, then handed back the canteen.

“I love you, Addison,” he said. He tried to embrace her, but her pack got in the way. He leaned in and tried to kiss her, but she swatted at a fly buzzing her face. He decided to step back and blow her a kiss instead.

She pretended to catch it and place it against her heart. “I love you, too,” she said, putting away the canteen, and then embracing him and kissing him deeply. Daniel closed his eyes and felt a wave of desire wash over him. She gently pushed away and he let her go.

“Come on,” she said, pointing to the top of the rise. “Our destiny awaits us, master painter.

The loose stone and gravel slowed their climb, making Daniel eager to rest again. He looked forward to reaching the top and setting up their tent.

They lunched at one-thirty next to their packs on the face of the hillside. Looking down at the widespread valleys of Ridgewood, Daniel noted how years of wind, rain and snow had stripped away trees and other large plant life on some areas of the hill, creating patches of bare rock. Ugly to some, but beautiful contrasts of texture and form to the eyes of an artist.

Addison pointed down the slope. “I used to climb those rocks when I was a kid. My dad used to stay fit by climbing the hill.” She took a bite from a stick of celery and Daniel fetched a drawing pad and some pencils from his pack. He quickly sketched the surrounding landscape and Addison. She waited until he finished before she took a digital camera from her pack and went about photographing him and the landscape.

“Hey,” he called out while sketching more rock. “What would you say if I told you I may retire from the college after this year?”

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Kismet, Part 5

While I rewrite the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, I’m offering the original stories here in chapter-by-chapter installments.

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 2: December 25, 2000

Part 2 of 2

book cover 1-5 400-640Addison’s bedroom was now a sewing room with a reading sofa in front of the far window. Daniel helped Addison there and laid her down. Then he unfolded an afghan draped over the back. While he tucked her in, Catherine and Kay entered the room.

“Is she okay?” Catherine asked as she went to Addison. “Aunt Peggy told us she fell ill.”

Daniel stood and straightened his jacket and tie. “A touch of the flu,” is all he said, though he sounded unsure.

“What’s going on?” Catherine stood and confronted him. “There’s an empty wheelchair downstairs where a woman once sat. Where is she? Why is everyone being so mysterious?”

“I don’t know,” Daniel said. He excused himself and hurried downstairs. The wheelchair was gone.

“Sara took it to her car,” Aunt Peggy explained. Then, “Is Addie going to be alright?”

“She didn’t vanish, if that’s what you mean. Other than that, I don’t know.” He ran a hand through his hair. “This is crazy. I just saw a woman disappear before my very eyes.”

Sara came in from outdoors and stomped snow from her boots. She looked troubled as Daniel approached her with a succession of questions and accusations.

Book04 640-400“She isn’t to blame,” Aunt Peggy said.

“Not good enough. I want answers.”

“You read the diary.”

Daniel went to the bar next to the record cabinet. He found some scotch and drank from the bottle. He wiped his chin and said to Sara, “What’s your story? Why are you here?”

“Jane was my mother,” she said. “I recently found that out after some DNA testing.” She examined her hands. “I’m her flesh and blood. That’s the reason I’m here.”

“At the end of the diary, she claimed that she was Addie,” Daniel said. “How is that possible?”

“I don’t know. But that makes you my father.” Sara sounded small and frightened. “Now I know where I get my blonde hair.”

“How am I supposed to believe something so crazy?” Daniel said to Aunt Peggy, who stood silently watching from the center of the room.

“I know how hard it is to believe in something so incredible,” Aunt Peggy said. “But Jane’s blood matched Addie’s. Even her fingerprints were Addie’s.”

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Kismet, Part 4

While I rewrite the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, I’m offering the original stories here in chapter-by-chapter installments.

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 2: December 25, 2000

Part 1 of 2

book cover 1-5 400-640Addison stood at the far end of her mother’s Victorian-styled dining room and rubbed her eyes. They watered from the ever-present scent of potpourri. She glanced around at the blushing wall coverings with floral borders, and the three cabinets of Waterford crystal, china and porcelain along the long wall. Elegantly framed photographs of her police officer father adorned the walls, put there after he died last year.

She smiled at the only family portrait while she stepped closer to see a young and proud Nathan and Catherine Johnson surrounded by three adolescent daughters.

“Your mother was twelve when that picture was taken,” she said to the ten-year-old boy who had walked in and now stood next to her.

“How old were you, Aunt Addie?” he asked. He pulled at the stiff collar of his white dress shirt and stared up at the picture.

“I was seven, Alan,” she said while staring at the photograph and becoming lost in another time. “Aunt Valerie was your age. Hard to believe how fast the years have gone by.”

Just then, her nephew Jeffrey rushed past in a fury and shouted, “Aunt Peggy’s here.”

Alan ran to the front door while Addison held up a glass of cranberry juice in her right hand and whispered, “Merry Christmas, Daddy.”

She went to the window and saw Daniel’s black Grand Cherokee pull into the snowplowed driveway. Behind him, a white Cadillac entered the drive and parked.

Book04 640-400“Who’s that in the Caddy?” her sister Kay asked from the front room.

Their mother stepped from the kitchen. “Get away from the window — both of you. Your aunt is bringing some guests.”

Addison remembered the diary. She had not read it.

Kay whistled at her mother when she entered the dining room. Then, “Holy cow, you’re decked out more than usual for Christmas. These guests must be VIPs.”

Addison looked at their changed mother dressed in teal velvet with opulent white lace. Pearls hung from her ears and around her neck. A delicate glow surrounded her. She was a woman unknown to them, out of the pages of a French fashion magazine.

“Never you mind,” Catherine Johnson said, “and hurry setting the table.”

“Was it a gift from Valerie?” Kay asked. “It looks good on you, Mom … promoting the bon chic, bon genre.”

Catherine ignored her daughter’s remark and clapped her hands. “Come on you two and help me get the table set. We need ten settings of the good china.”

“Ten?” Addison looked out the window. She saw Daniel’s blonde head on the other side of the Cadillac, at the back, helping someone to a wheelchair. “How many are coming?”

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Kismet, Part 3

While I rewrite the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, I’m offering the original stories here in chapter-by-chapter installments.

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 1: December 24, 2000

Part 2 of 2

book cover 1-5 400-640“I think you should do it,” Daniel said when he climbed in bed and sat next to her.

“But I’m a director of nursing, not a bookstore owner. Besides, her store makes very little money.”

“We don’t need it — I make enough for both of us.” He pulled the blankets to his naked chest. “Besides, the direction the hospital is going, it’ll be a Band-Aid station in a few years and you’ll be out of a job.”

Addison slapped the bed. “The hospital’s future isn’t as grim as people make out.”

Daniel put an arm around her. “It’s in a perpetual recession. You’ve been laying off nurses since the day we met. It’s only a matter of time before your hours get cut as well.”

“Things are going to get better.”

Daniel shook his head. “When’s the last time you got a raise?”

“We have a salary cap right now.”

“Exactly.”

Book04 640-400Addison frowned, then felt his body heat and cuddled close. He rubbed her neck, kissed her shoulder that had the dime-size freckle she disliked, all the while releasing the tension in her shoulders and back. She said, “I worked at Aunt Peggy’s store while going to college, pretending I owned the place on days she left me alone. In some of my notebooks, I drew sketches of turning the upstairs apartment into a tea and coffee room and a place for shoppers to sit and read.”

“Sounds to me like kismet — something that was meant to be.”

“That’s what Aunt Peggy called it, like I was chosen at birth by the retail gods to own her store.”

“You know, I could sell my artwork there. I think the locals would like not having to drive to the New Cambridge gallery to buy my prints.”

She pondered Daniel’s words, but still felt frightened. “I don’t know. The place needs a lot of work.”

Daniel shrugged. “We can use money from my savings.”

“Tom would never have allowed me—”

Daniel placed a finger against her lips. “I’m not Tom Matthews. What’s in the past is over and done with, never to be again. It’s just you and me and the future.”

Addison nodded; she still looked worried. “It’s the dead of winter and the wiring needs updated and the lights replaced, not to mention the walls need repainted and the floors carpeted. And those old curtains—”

Daniel chuckled. “Not so fast. It’ll get done in due time.”

Addison sighed. “But the hospital needs me. My nurses need me. This is flu season.” She ran her hands over his naked back and down his hips. She stopped. “I’ll break her heart if I say no.”

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Kismet, Part 2

While I rewrite the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, I’m offering the original stories here in chapter-by-chapter installments.

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 1: December 24, 2000

Part 1 of 2

book cover 1-5 400-640Addison Taylor played again the message her husband had left on their answering machine. He would not be home until after midnight. Although the college at nearby New Cambridge was on Christmas hiatus between semesters, he had a lot of student artwork to grade before he could begin his vacation.

“No rest for the weary,” he had said when Addison called his campus office.

She heard exhaustion in Daniel’s voice, recognized the tired strain that comes from trying to meet deadlines.

“Make sure you eat,” she said. “I worry about you.”

“I will.”

“You better. I know how you get when you’re busy.” She listened to him shuffling through papers on his desk. She sighed. She knew she was keeping him from his work, but she had to force herself to say goodbye. She tossed her cell phone on her computer desk next to the wall mirror, glanced up at her freckled face, and then combed her fingers through her hair kept short and blonde with scissors and Clairol in the upstairs bathroom.

Who has time for styling salons? Certainly not me. Not now.

Book04 640-400She fixed her pink sweater and white turtleneck collar, and then looked at her dispirited green eyes behind her glasses. Exhaustion hung from her lower lids, drooping down her cheeks and across the corners of her mouth.

The recent divorce from Tom Matthews had been long and bitter, and had kept her from the summer activities she normally did to relax and stay fit. Her exercise now was the steady battle with snow outdoors, last minute Christmas shopping, and the grind of trying to maintain a properly staffed nursing unit at the hospital. Even today, her CEO had sent another memo to cut more nurses’ hours. She leaned her head against her wood bookcase and experienced for the first time age creeping up at her within the stress and exhaustion she felt.

The telephone brought her out of her reverie. It was Aunt Peggy calling, wanting her to come by the bookstore and pick up a Christmas gift. By her watch, it was almost eight-thirty and Addison did not want to dress and go out into the cold night.

“I thought we were going to exchange gifts tomorrow on Christmas Day,” she said, hoping her aunt would change her mind.

“We are, dear,” the old woman said. “It’s just that … I don’t want to ruin the surprise. I’ll be at the store until eight. I could use some help closing.”

Addison shook her head. “If you wanted help at the store, why didn’t you say so?”

“I just did. See you in a few.”

Addison bundled up in her black fur parka and drove her snow-covered silver Volvo toward Ridgewood’s downtown district. With a population of almost eight thousand, downtown was small with two banks, a post office, a few diners and bars, and Peggy’s Good Used Books sandwiched between a hardware store and a pizzeria. The rest of the town’s merchants did business either along the south highway toward Alice Lake, or along the north highway and New Cambridge. Even she favored the stores at North Ridgewood Plaza.

She parked in front of her aunt’s bookstore and apartment, and delicately walked over ice and snow that slowed her progress. Still, light from stores and street lamps reflected like diamonds on every bit of freshly fallen snow and made it a pretty sight.

Inside her aunt’s old building, a tiny bell above the door announced her entrance. Warm and cozy, the place smelled of lilacs and aging paper.

She called out and announced her arrival while she hung her coat on the tree next to the door. A distant voice responded from the back, so Addison made her way through a tunnel of shelves and entered a room full of unwanted books and magazines the town unloaded in the rear of the store at night. Plastic bags, cardboard boxes, paper sacks and volumes of text littered the room’s tables, benches and floor. A fluorescent light flickered and buzzed from the drop ceiling installed twenty years ago. Brown stains on the ceiling tile marked places where rain and snow had seeped inside.

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