Authors: Colette Cabot
Tags: #Contemporary Romance
That discussion had become sidetracked by the spectacle of her arrival home in Phillip Buggerby's car. Of course her aunt read this simple courtesy the wrong way. He had offered to help her inside with the huge bundles of trash bags filled with clothes, but he understood that Kathy Mae was embarrassed by the condition of her home as well as the woman of which he had learned much about on the drive home.
Kathy Mae had explained her confusion over the information on the deed. Phillip had wanted to help, but beyond the name on the document, there was nothing he could add. One thing he knew for sure. If her father had died, the house actually belonged to her. Since Lolita Graves had re-married, suggesting either divorce or widowhood, there was no other heir directly related to Andrew Graves—of which they knew, anyway.
Her simple curiosity about the property had led to half a dozen more. She needed to search death certificates, divorce records, and even birth records to see if she had any siblings of which she had been unaware. Aunt Anna herself had the answer about where the mortgage payment was being sent. If need be, Kathy Mae was determined to get the truth out of her. She would demand to see the canceled checks, if necessary.
“So, I see you decided to come home tonight,” Aunt Anna said snidely as Kathy Mae rushed past her. “No boyfriend? Or, are you working on a new one by now. You're going to outpace your own mother in no time.”
Kathy Mae ignored the remarks, noticing the pile of dishes in the sink, the spills on the counter top, and the trash piled high. The woman had not lifted a finger for the two days she'd been away at work. She dumped her new wardrobe on the bed and marched out to face Aunt Anna.
“Who owns this house?” she demanded. Her tone took Aunt Anna by surprise.
“I do,” she said, adding, “not that it's any of your business.”
“No, you don't,” said Kathy Mae. “That much I know for sure, as I've seen the deed. It's in my father's name. So, to whom have you been paying the mortgage all these years?”
“Your mother, of course,” said Aunt Anna, confused. She didn't seem to by lying. Her expression was one of shock. “She said when it was paid off, she'd put it in my name.”
“It's not in her name, Aunt Anna,” said Kathy Mae, “It's in the name of Andrew Graves, my father, if I remember correctly. And, the mortgage has been paid off years ago.”
“Why, that evil woman,” she said, starting to cry. “She's been taking my money for years, griping if it was late, and telling me the house was my payment for taking care of you.”
“You might be able to get some of it back,” said Kathy Mae, sympathetically, “I'm not sure. But, I know you could have her convicted of extortion. She's been stealing from you. Could I see one of the canceled checks?”
Aunt Anna walked to the desk drawer faster than Kathy Mae had ever seen her move. She produced a cardboard box full of bank statements with the canceled checks folded inside each month's packet. Kathy Mae looked quickly through the last one, finding a check made out to Lolita Graves for $450. The note line had been filled in with the handwritten word—
. She showed it to Aunt Anna.
“I never wrote that,” she exclaimed. “Oh, my God. It's not the same color ink as the rest of the check, and it's not my handwriting, either.”
“All these years,” asked Kathy Mae, “you never looked at the checks when they came back from the bank with each month's statements?”
“No,” she said, “Why would I?”
“This is a problem, Aunt Anna,” said Kathy Mae. “If it had said the word
or anything like it, you'd have a clear case of fraud. But, she can say you've been paying this money to her all these years for any reason whatsoever, and it's your word against hers.”
Kathy Mae was about to touch her shoulder, pat her hand, or even embrace her with sympathy and understanding, but then Aunt Anna ruined it all with the next words that came out of her mouth.
“So, I raised you for nothin'” she moaned. “I get nothing for all that aggravation.”
“Well, think of it this way, Aunt Anna,” Kathy Mae said snidely, “You don't have to write that check anymore. Look how much extra money you're going to have.”
“That's right,” she said with a little hope in her voice.
“So, do you happen to know anything about what happened to my father?” was the next question.
“Well, he died several years ago,” answered Aunt Anna. “Your mother came and told me about it because she was thrilled she'd be able to marry some new guy.”
“Well, then,” said Kathy Mae with a satisfaction she couldn't help, “It looks like this house is mine. I'm sure you'll be able to find another place to live. There's some real nice looking Section 8 apartments in town just for senior citizens. I'm sure you'll be very happy there.”
“You're kicking me out?” she exclaimed. “I guess I don't blame you, really.”
“Well, you see, Aunt Anna,” said Kathy Mae slowly and clearly, “I have a full time job now, and I'm going to be taking evening classes in a few weeks. This house is really too big for me to take care of properly with as busy as I'll be.”
“How about I keep it clean for you, then?” asked Aunt Anna. “And I can make sure you've got a meal ready when you come home. I can cook, though it may not be fancy. And, I'll get a TV for my own room. I know that noise is disturbing to you—especially if you're going to have studying to do. You should use the desk in the living room. I'll move my stuff out of there. What d' ya think, Kathy Mae?” she pleaded. “I can make this work, I promise.”
“We'll see,” said Kathy Mae, realizing her power in the situation. “I'll have to think about it.”
She went to her room and began hanging her newly acquired clothes in her closet. From there she could hear pots and pans clanging, water running in the sink, and the silence of the living room TV—something she couldn't ever remember hearing before.
The next morning was Saturday, and Kathy Mae left early in the morning to set up a banking account before they closed. She dressed in casual business attire for the first time in her life, and she liked the image looking back at her. Even Aunt Anna raised from her bent position mopping the floor and smiled at her with admiration.
Kathy Mae dressed in a nice pair of dark jeans and chose a tan blazer to wear with it. She walked to town wearing her sneakers, but they didn't look so shabby once she scrubbed them really good. A new pair was in order, as well as some appropriate for work. As the wind blew fiercely, smacking her face with strands of long, dark hair, she decided that she would get a new haircut while in town also. Her pony tail needed to make way for a new and more professional Kathy Mae—something that bounces with the turn of her head, yet is neat and easy to care for.
Large hailstones began hitting her with still almost a mile to go. She crouched to protect her head, running faster toward town knowing there was no shelter anywhere nearby—except for trees. With the storms that had been threatening for days, it wouldn't be safe to go near a tree. In the middle of it all she saw his white truck approaching fast. Mason was driving in the opposite direction and heading toward her. She didn't know if he'd seen her, as he sped past. She did not look much like herself anymore, and there was no reason that she could imagine for him being on this road. The likely assumption was that he was headed toward her house. She went to the middle of the road and waved, hoping to be visible in his rear view mirror. But, the truck was far away in only seconds.
The hail started falling by the bucket-full, now as big as ping-pong balls and hard as rocks. The wind pushed against her, keeping her from moving forward. Walking became like swimming against the current. Finally, she fell to the ground, a deliberate attempt to shield herself from the deluge of hailstones. Her body hugged the earth as a frightened child snuggling against her mother's breast. Oh, God, she prayed. Help me. Then a tree cracked loudly nearby, and a huge branch fell across her back, knocking the breath out of her and causing her to lose consciousness.
Mason would not have seen her lying there on the ground in dull-colored clothing that blended with the neutral surroundings. It took him a few minutes to help Aunt Anna to the basement, and then he went back toward town as she had told him that was where Kathy Mae had been headed. If not for the tree across the road, Mason probably would not have stopped. This became an obstacle forcing him to pull over and walk toward the tree. He tried to see how bad it was, which way it was laying, and how he might be able to get around it. Then he saw her.
“Kathy Mae!” he yelled through the storm, his voice barely rising above the tumult. She didn't move.
Mason rushed to her side, the wind pushing his body into the tree. Now it seemed his weight was added to the burden on top of her already. Blood oozed down the side of her face. He tried to lift it, a ridiculous attempt. By that time a van pulled up on the other side of the fallen tree. Three men inside rushed to assist, and between the four of them they managed to lift the limb a few inches. It was enough to pull her from under it. She lay unconscious in Mason's arms as he carried her to their van. They all sped away heading toward the hospital nearly twenty miles away in Nevada.
“It's too far,” argued Mason, “and it's in the direction of the storm.”
The sirens roared, indicating they should take shelter. It was a tornado. The blackness of the sky convinced them they were in the middle of it already.
“Head toward town,” Mason said frantically. “It's only two miles. We need to find a good solid building with a basement or we're all goners.”
Within only a few minutes they reached the library where Kathy Mae had worked until only a few days ago. The first man at the heavy metal double doors opened it, and the wind immediately swept it from his hands and off the hinges. Both the doors flew through the air, upward and outward. They rushed inside, Mason carrying the girl he loved, the girl who he had driven miles to apologize to and profess his promise of love forever.
“Down here,” called a voice across the room, peeking from behind the basement stair doorway. They ran for it, one of the men grabbing Kathy Mae's hips to help ease Mason's load.
She moaned in agony as they bounced down the stairs. It was a welcome sound, proving she was alive, although in pain from injuries which had not yet been assessed.
“What happened to her?” asked a woman who came to their side. “I'm a nurse. Lay her down on the table.”
“I found her pinned under a fallen tree,” said Mason. “I don't know how badly she was hit.”
The woman felt for broken bones, and when she touched the ribs, Kathy Mae groaned.
“Her ribs are broken,” said the woman. “I can't tell if they've punctured anything inside. She has a head injury, too. All we can do is keep her still until this passes over. She'll need to get to an emergency room as soon as possible.”
Kathy Mae's eyes opened slightly. She saw the tall cases of books towering along the wall by her head. It was the library, she realized. Momentarily she thought she still worked there, and that nothing in the past few days had happened. No job at the real estate office, no Mason Wheelwright, no deed bearing her father's name. As she tried to figure out why everything hurt so much, she heard his voice.
“Kathy Mae,” Mason whispered into her ear. “I'm here with you. Don't worry, we'll get you to the hospital as soon as we can. I love you, Kathy Mae.”
She couldn't believe this. It was a dream, she told herself, but the intense pain contradicted the assumptions her brain offered to make sense of it all. Drifting from consciousness again, she felt a kiss upon her cheek. She smelled blood, and then she knew that it wasn't a dream—some kind of nightmare taking place during a nap break at the library, naps she never took.
The lights went out overhead, then in a few seconds, the emergency light came on near the stairway. It was dimmer, but much better than shear darkness. Above their heads, loud crashes sounded as they realized row after row of bookcases had fallen. Vibrations were felt as objects upstairs were thrown into the walls. The tinkling sound of breaking glass penetrated the ceiling above their heads. Then it all stopped. Suddenly there was stillness. Only the distant hum of the siren could be heard. Then it, too, stopped, and there was silence.
“I think you shouldn't move her,” suggested the helpful nurse. “See if you can get through to 9-1-1 and have them send an ambulance.”
“They are going to be really busy,” he thought aloud, “it might take a long time to get around to us. I think we could get there faster ourselves.”
“That might be true,” she said calmly, “but with ribs, you just never know. What if moving her punctures a vital organ. Her lung could collapse. It is a major artery, she could die in minutes. Her color looks good, she's breathing without too much difficulty. If it were my decision, I'd keep her as comfortable as possible and wait.”
The three men who had helped him with the tree stood there looking at him, ready to move depending on his answer. Then a voice called from the door upstairs.
“Everybody all right down here?” called an officer skipping quickly down the stairs. When he saw the woman on the table, he raised his phone to his mouth calling for a stretcher.
“You have an ambulance right outside?” asked Mason. Before he could get his answer he heard the fumbling of men shoving their way through debris with equipment.
“The fire department is right outside securing the utilities,” said the officer. “They will be busy all day rushing people to the hospital. Are you going with her or following behind?”
“My truck is stranded behind a fallen tree several miles back. I'll ride along with her,” he said, sprinting up the stairs as they strapped Kathy Mae to the gurney. She awoke slightly, murmuring his name, and when there was no answer, she again believed it was all a bad dream and slipped back into her fog.