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Authors: Robert Barclay

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BOOK: The Widow's Walk
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Some ten minutes later, Garrett arrived at his parents' home. This was not the larger house in which he and his sister had grown up. On Garrett's advice his parents had wisely sold that property at the top of the market, then bought a smaller home for cash, pocketing a substantial profit. With the arrival of their twilight years, they were also grateful for the reduced home maintenance. “You don't own a house,” his father, Dale, was fond of saying. “The house owns you.” Given his huge renovation project that lay ahead, Garrett knew that truer words were never spoken.

Garrett guided his Harley onto the driveway, then unpacked the wine and let himself into the house. At once the unmistakable aroma of prime rib teased his nostrils.

“Garrett, that'd better be you!” his mother called out from the kitchen.

Garrett laughed and went to join her. After putting his wine bottles and sunglasses atop one of the counters, he smiled.

“It's me, Mom,” he answered.

Virginia Prescott stopped nurturing a piecrust and crossed the kitchen to embrace her son. Mixing spoon still in hand, she finally released him and stepped back a bit.

“Let me look at you,” she said, in that firm but loving way only a mother can master. She smoothed his windblown hair. “You seem a bit thinner. Starving artist syndrome, no doubt. Well, no worries. You'll certainly get your fill today.” She then looked disappointingly at the wine. “Oh, God,” she said. “Please tell me that you didn't bring those by way of that horrible mechanical beast you ride.”

Before answering, Garrett looked at her lovingly. Thanks to her own cooking she was a little rounder than she had been some twenty years ago. Her stylish, rather wayward gray hair was of medium length. Chocolate brown eyes, a full mouth, and a straight, aristocratic nose completed the picture. Garrett had seen earlier photos of his mother, and in her day she had been a knockout.

After her discharge from the army, Virginia had gone on to complete her Ph.D. in psychology, which had been no small feat while also raising two children. The hundreds of patients she helped over the decades had worshiped her, and many became dismayed when she retired last year.

Garrett took a Coke from the refrigerator and opened it. “Where's Dad?” he asked.

“Country club,” Virginia answered while getting back to her pie. “His monthly poker game, you know.”

Just then Freckles, Dale's black and white spotted English setter came bounding down the hall and skidded recklessly into the kitchen. Whenever she ran she always seemed to have twice as many legs, all of them flailing about madly in her eagerness. Garrett reached down and tousled her ears.

“Hey, girl,” he said. “Are they treating you all right?”

Ever in search of food, Freckles relentlessly snuffled every part of Garrett that she could reach. Finally satisfied that he wasn't hiding a porterhouse steak anywhere on his person, she ambled across the kitchen where she made several quick, manic circles before finally lying down on her dog bed.

“Why does she always do that?” Garrett asked absently.

“The snuffling thing or the little circles thing?” his mother asked.


“Since they have to do with eating and sleeping, she probably learned them from your father,” she answered.

Pausing in her work, Virginia gave Garrett a more serious look.

“So tell me,” she said, “how is everything out at the mausoleum? Have you started renovating the place yet? And by the way, have you had any serious bites on your condo?”

From the moment he had first driven his parents out to view Seaside, Virginia had jokingly referred to it as “the mausoleum.” But he also suspected that of all the people in his family, it was she who best understood his motives.

“Seaside,” Garrett answered.

“What?” Virginia asked.

“Seaside,” Garrett repeated. “I discovered that was the name given to the house by its second owners, and I'm going to keep on calling it that.”

“Okay,” Virginia answered. “So what's going on with Seaside?”

Garrett briefly told her of his meeting with Jay Morgan, and that the restoration was to begin soon. As for his condo, he said that he had heard nothing from his Realtor for several days now, and he made a mental note to give her a call.

“Well,” Virginia said, “if the condo doesn't sell and you need some financial help, please tell us. The last thing this family needs is a house-poor architect.” She laughed compassionately at that last thought. “God,” she added, “now there's an ironic concept.”

Garrett also laughed and then thanked his mother for her kind offer. He loved being here, and it always felt the same—comfortable, forgiving, and safe. Then his expression darkened a bit.

“So we're alone in the house?” he asked.

With precision accuracy, Virginia centered her crust onto a pie dish and carefully trimmed its edges.

“Just you, me, and Freckles,” she answered. “And I'm pretty sure that we can count on her discretion. Why do you ask?”

“I need to talk to you,” he said.

On sensing Garrett's needful tone, Virginia turned and raised her eyebrows.

“As your mother?” she asked, “or as a shrink?”

“Both, I guess.”

“As a family member, it would usually be unethical for me to formally counsel you,” she said, “but that doesn't matter much, now that I'm retired.”

As Garrett sat down at the kitchen table, his mother poured a cup of coffee and joined him.

“What is it?” she asked.

Virginia had already morphed into psychologist mode, her mood impassive, her mind alert, her facial expression neither condemning nor condoning.

“I had a very strange dream,” Garrett said.

“Tell me about it,” his mother answered.

For the next ten minutes, Garrett described his dream. He stopped short of telling his mother about actually seeing the woman at Seaside, for fear of sounding crazy.

“So you dreamed of a beautiful woman,” Virginia answered. “That in and of itself is not unusual.” She took another sip of coffee, thinking. “The part about her begging you to help her is interesting, though. So too is the way that she was dressed.”

“What do you think it means?” Garrett asked.

“Easy there, cowboy,” Virginia replied. “I haven't heard anywhere near enough yet.”

“I'm not sure I understand,” Garrett said.

Virginia smiled before taking another sip of coffee.

“Now that your purchase of Seaside is said and done, how do you feel about it?”

Garrett scowled and leaned back in his chair.

“Am I supposed to act guilty?”

“I didn't say that,” Virginia countered. “But even if you did feel guilty, you went ahead and bought Seaside anyway. I'm not judging you, son. I'm simply asking.”

Virginia got up from the table and went to warm up her coffee. When she returned, she thought to herself for a few moments before continuing.

“I don't know all that much about dream analysis,” she said. “But what I can tell you with certainty is that every dream you've ever had, or ever will have, will be a product of your own mind. In most cases, dreams are about subconscious problem solving. In addition, we alone are the actors, the producers, the writers, the directors, and so on. Your mind sensed a problem and tried to solve it.”

“What problem?”

“I don't know,” Virginia answered. “I wasn't a part of it.”

“Okay,” Garrett answered. “The woman in my dream was blond, and perhaps the most beautiful I've ever seen. And she was begging me to help her. Help her do what? I wonder. Do you think I'll ever know?”

“Probably not,” Virginia answered. “Nor may you need to.”

“I don't understand.”

“Ah, men,” she answered. “I keep forgetting that you're all from Mars, as they say. Clearly, you're searching for your perfect woman.” Then Virginia smiled again. “You know,” she added, “for a Ph.D., you can be pretty dense sometimes.”

Garrett smiled a little bit. “It's indigenous to the gender,” he answered.

“No argument there,” Virginia replied. “And then there's this business about the way the woman was dressed. What do you suppose that means?”

“I have no idea,” Garrett answered.

“Okay, then,” his mother said. “I'll spell it out for you. You have a great love for antebellum culture—so much so that I have oftentimes thought you would actually be happier living in the past. There's nothing wrong with that, Garrett. Many perfectly normal people feel that way. As I said before, what your subconscious mind has done is to invent your ‘dream woman,' so to speak. Plus the added touch of her being in so much distress and literally begging for your help only made her more attractive to you.”

Garrett's expression sobered again.

“It seems that I have some thinking to do.”

Virginia nodded without smiling.

“And one more thing about love,” she said earnestly. “As you search for it, there's something you really need to watch.”

“What's that?”

“Don't let your heart alone dictate your decisions. That's far too dangerous. Although they are often at cross purposes, until your heart and your mind agree, you're still in search of the right woman.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Garrett said.

She smiled and patted his hand.

“Anytime, kiddo,” she answered.

Just then they heard a door open and close.

“Hello the house!” Garrett's father called out.

“We're in the kitchen,” Virginia shouted back.

Garrett looked at his mother.

“You'll keep this just between us?” he asked quietly.

Virginia nodded.

“You bet,” she answered.

When Dale Richmond entered the kitchen, Freckles bounded up from her languid repose and hurried over to eagerly snuffle every reachable inch of him. After again finding nothing edible, she glumly returned to her bed and expertly performed several more circles before settling down. As if on cue, Garrett and Virginia looked at each other and laughed.

“What's so funny?” Dale asked.

“Nothing, Dad,” Garrett answered. “How was your poker game?”

Dale smiled and dropped a wad of bills atop the kitchen table.

“Made two hundred bucks,” he said proudly. “Your old man's still got the mojo.”

Quick as a wink, Virginia scooped up the money and shoved it into an apron pocket.

“What the hell?” Dale asked. “I was going to use that to buy a new driver.”

Virginia shook her head. “It's going into the fund for the new downstairs vanity,” she said. “You know—the one you're always carping about because its top is chipped and the doors are hanging askew?”

Garrett looked at his mother and raised his eyebrows. “
” he said. “Wow.”

Virginia smiled and pointed toward herself. “
P . . . h . . . D,”
she answered. “You should know.”

Dale sighed. “OK, Ginnie,” he said. Then he looked back at Garrett. “Remember, son,” he said. “You don't own a house—”

The house owns you!”
Garrett and Virginia chimed in, laughingly.

“God,” Dale said. “I've just been mocked by a pair of brainiacs with advanced degrees. You know the types—they can easily tell me how many miles it is to the moon, but can't fold a road map. How humiliating . . .”

Virginia turned toward Garrett and rolled her eyes. “ ‘Brainiacs,' he calls us,” she said. “And to think that I gave him the skinniest years of my life.”

Dale laughed broadly. His laugh was always the same: a strong, knowing, and uncompromising explosion of happiness that exactly mirrored his nature, and was best suited to the company of other stalwart men.

Garrett looked lovingly at his Dad. Like Virginia, Dale was in his early sixties. He was deeply tanned from his time on the golf course, and he carried a gradually expanding midsection for which he bore no shame. Although short and squat, he was powerfully built. He was balding, but instead of vainly plastering some hair over the top of his head he bore his baldness courageously, like some hard-won badge of honor. Like Garrett's, his crystal blue eyes were mesmerizing.

Dale had been a highly respected thoracic surgeon, whose only real fault as a father was that he always worked too much. When his own father had died unexpectedly from a massive heart attack it had been a great blow to Dale, causing him to seriously examine his life. So he decided to stop and smell the roses for good, he retired early, and he and Virginia sold their big house and bought the current smaller one.

“I see you rode your motorcycle,” he said to Garrett.

“Yep,” Garrett answered. “I would have brought the Jeep, but I know how much the two of you like seeing me on the bike.”

“Very funny,” Dale said. He opened the refrigerator and produced a bottle of Heineken. “Want one?” he asked.

Garrett shook his head. “Never when I'm riding,” he answered.

Dale opened the beer and sat at the table. After taking an appreciative gulp, he asked, “So how's Trent these days? Is he still chasing girls, twenty-four/seven?”

Garrett nodded. “And how,” he said. “In fact, he just—”

Virginia quickly raised a hand. “Too much information,” she said.

Dale winked at Garrett. “Not for me,” he replied.

“Instead of living vicariously through Trent's escapades, why don't you make yourself useful?” she asked. “Come and take the roast out of the oven for me. It's done and it needs to rest.”

Dale looked at Garrett. “Later . . .” he whispered.

As Dale opened the oven door, the wonderful aroma that Garrett had encountered on first entering the house overcame him anew. Just as Dale placed the roasting pan on the counter, Christine's two daughters came bursting in, squealing with delight.

BOOK: The Widow's Walk
10.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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