Faye Lynn Andrews tipped the watering can over her beloved herb pots lining the porch railing. From the corner of her eye, she spotted a rather large eagle passing by. She blinked and looked down to the parking lot from her second story patio. The eagle had been painted on the side of an olive green, cab-over motorhome.
The sliding glass door of her apartment slid open as Jeanie, her best friend, stuck her head out. “Your mom’s calling. She said she hopes you’re cooking extra for dinner because she plans on staying.” Jeanie’s freckled cheeks widened with the smile that caused her blue eyes to sparkle in amusement. She’d piled her long, blond hair on top of her head in a messy bun that looked like a lopsided egg. “Why didn’t you tell me Lively Lilly was paying us a visit?”
Faye set the watering can down on her workbench. “I had no idea. She never—” she snatched the phone and spoke into it. “Momma, why didn’t you warn me you were coming? And you can’t park over there. How many times do I have to remind you that the covered parking is for residents?” She swiped a strand of brown hair off her face in exasperation.
“I know!” Momma drawled in that sing-song tone of hers. “I’m just trying to get turned around.
Normally, these visits were a treat, but Faye appreciated a little warning. Lively Lilly always wanted to be entertained when she came to the ‘big city,’ as she called Dallas.
Faye was scheduled to teach a yoga class in the morning and had a job interview in the afternoon. Not that she was excited about working in a hospital cafeteria, but she needed the money to pay for college. At this rate, she’d be in her mid-thirties before she got the degree in botany she was working toward.
Momma added, “And I am calling you. I’m stopping in for a visit, Sweetpea. There’s something important I need to speak to you about. Jeanie says your cooking chicken for dinner. Sounds delicious. Want me to make up a quick salad to add to your meal? Or how about a potato salad? Or I could make my famous fried pickles. No, you’re avoiding fried foods.”
“I…uh…” Faye stumbled, rubbing her forehead. Momma was hitting her with too many questions. Her surprise visit was knocking her off balance. The whole weekend had been well planned out, now she’d have to rearrange everything. Lord help me. Why hadn’t Momma called before she arrived?
“I can see you from here, Faye Lynn, and you can stop your fretting. I’ll tell you right now whatever you had planned this weekend needs to be canceled. There’s something of grave importance I need you to do. Now do you want that salad or not?”
“Yes. Just a regular salad.” Faye breathed. Great. Goodbye job she really didn’t want but desperately needed.
Jeanie would take over her yoga classes without blinking twice. She was flexible like that. Faye envied her friend’s ability to go with the flow sometimes.
Three other girls shared the four-bedroom condo in the heart of downtown Dallas. Her mother hated the constant noise but did enjoy stopping in for short visits when she wasn’t caravanning with the Rambling Roadrunners club of women RVers. The girls absolutely loved Lively Lilly who always entertained them with her wild tales of the road and eagerness to “paint the town purple!”
“I’ll go put the chicken in the oven,” Faye said with resolve. “We’ll be ready to eat in an hour.”
The Flying Eagle, as Momma called her motorhome, finally found a spot in the center parking section. Below the eagle, she’d added in red scrolling words: I’m flying high above the rest of you turkeys!
“Perfect,” Lilly answered. “Will all the girls be home tonight?”
“All except one. Michelle is photographing a wedding this weekend. You can stay in her room if you want.” Faye found Jeanie in the kitchen already setting the chicken in the oven. Faye held her finger over the speaker. “I’ll need you to take my classes in the morning. That okay?”
“Sure thing. Where are we taking Lively Lil this time? We might try getting tickets for that Keith Urban concert tonight. I have connections, and I know she loves—”
“Tell Jeanie that as much as I love Keithy,” Lilly answered, obviously over-hearing their discussion despite Faye’s attempts to mute it. “I’ll have to pass this time. You and I need to talk. Matter-of-fact, I’ll stay in your room with you tonight.”
Before Faye could protest or ask what this was about, Lilly said she’d get going on the salad and hung up on her. Faye blew out an exasperated breath. “She came to talk and said she needs a favor from me. I can’t even imagine….”
“Humm,” Jeanie’s eyes narrowed. “First a surprise visit. Now brushing off her favorite country music star for a chat with her daughter. Curiouser and curiouser.”
After dinner, Faye’s roommates headed down to the local coffee shop, allowing Faye and her mother to have their “talk.”
During the meal, the girls went on about how wonderful Lilly looked with her blue-tipped silver hair and matching bright silk oriental jacket and slacks. Momma always did live over the top.
After Daddy had passed away five years ago from injuries sustained in a car wreck, she’d sold their modest house in Grapevine and divided the family heirlooms between Faye and her two siblings, Melanie and Ben. With the money from the estate sale, Lilly funded her camper and vagabond life. Now she drove it everywhere, visiting relatives, her children, and vacationing with other single women, most widowed like herself.
“So, Momma,” Faye draped the damp towel over the cabinet door once they’d finished washing the dishes. “What important matter brought you here unexpectedly?”
Lilly set a pot of coffee to brew. She’d also brought over a pan of lemon tarts for dessert and had put off eating her treat until she could brew some coffee to go with it. “I’ve been down in Sweet Grove for the past month.”
Faye’s heart tripped inside her chest, missing a couple of beats. “I’d think you’d have better places to go than that little hick town.” She didn’t want to think about what, or who, would draw her mother there. If Momma wanted to remain friends with him, that was her business.
Anger seethed at the thought of giving up her weekend plans to listen to Momma talk about him.
“Heath’s dying, Faye.” Lilly’s voice broke as a tear spilled down her lined cheek.
Before Faye could venture to guess what he might be dying from, her mother filled in the details. “It’s cancer, and there’s nothing they can do for him except make him comfortable. The doctors don’t believe he has much time left.”
Instead of cutting two slices of the dessert, Faye only cut one. She’d lost her appetite. “And why do you think I’d care?”
Lilly’s fist banged against the tabletop. “He’s your father, Faye Lynn Andrews.”
Andrews. Not Brown, like her younger brother and sister. No, she’d always been the odd duck with her dark brown hair and eyes, against their golden yellow locks and blue eyes. Lilly never would allow James to adopt her so she’d have his name and truly be part of the Brown family, either.
Faye swallowed down the bitter taste rising in her throat. Breaking off a corner of the dessert, she slipped it into her mouth and winced at the tartness. That didn’t help at all.
“Faye Lynn, I want you to take my RV and head down there tomorrow. It’s only a three-hour trip. You go see your father while you still can.”
“Heath is not my father! James was, and he’s in heaven. Which is not where I expect Heath will end up.”
Lilly was on her feet and inches from Faye’s face in a blink. “I did not raise my daughter to be a junior God. You haven’t bothered to get to know him, and you have no idea what you’re talking about. Which is why you need to go. He needs help getting his affairs in order.”
“Can’t you do that?”
“No!” Lilly placed her hands on Faye’s shoulders and took in a cleansing breath, her eyes closed for a moment. When she opened them, she leveled her blues on Faye and spoke in a calmer tone. “Heath is your biological father. If not for him, I’d not have been blessed with you, my precious girl.” She kissed Faye’s forehead.
Faye wouldn’t be swayed. No matter how much sugar-coating Momma tried to put on this. She hadn’t spoken a word to Heath in over ten years. Not since he brought that… no, she wouldn’t even allow herself to go there. Even Daddy James had been furious and berated Heath for sinking so low.
“Look, Momma. I know you’ve remained his friend all these years. But he’s nothing to me. I’m sorry, I know you’re horrified to hear me say that, but…” But because of Heath, she’d always been the outsider. She’d never fit into her family. Daddy James loved her like he did his own children, but she knew, always knew a wall kept her from truly being one of them. Even after she’d pushed Heath completely out of her life. His shadow hung over her all the same. Momma made sure of that by not cutting her own ties with her old high school chum and temporary sweetheart.
“I regret how I allowed James to turn you against your real father. Faye, you’re going down to see him. I’ll not accept no on this matter. You are his only child, and we both need you to do this.”
“I can’t.” Faye’s voice rose as she stomped her foot on the wood flooring. “I have bills. And rent to pay. And I have a job interview tom—”
“I’ll pay your rent this month if you’ll just give me two weeks. Go to Sweet Grove, help Heath get his affairs in order. Please, Faye. He needs a chance to see you before he…” Her thin brows furrowed, looking like scribbled lines over her pleading gaze. Dampness glistened on her bottom lashes.
Faye knew this meant a lot to her mother.
“But why?” What difference did it make after how she’d treated him? Why would he want anything to do with her? “What affairs does he need help with? Why doesn’t he just leave everything to his—?”
“Heath’s been alone for the past seven years. He has that farm, and it can be sold off after he passes if that’s what you want to do with it.” Lilly placed her hand on Faye’s cheek. “Sweetpea, if for no other reason, then go for yourself. Heath can help you with your college expenses if you’ll only give him a chance. He wants to see you, baby. Don’t deny him his dying wish. I didn’t raise you to be so cold-hearted, now did I?”
Faye shook her head. Matter-of-fact, she’d been raised in a church that preached loving the unlovable. Except…
The door to the kitchen creaked open. “I’m sorry,” Jeanie said, reaching for her wallet that was laying on the counter. “I left this. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I heard the yelling soon as I entered the front door.”
Lilly stepped backward, letting her hand drop to her side. “Don’t worry about it, Sweetie. We were kicking up a bit of a fuss, weren’t we?”
Jeanie didn’t say anything at first as she started to back out of the kitchen, but then her gaze caught Faye’s and she halted. “You said your Dad died in a car accident.”
“Her step-father died, honey,” Lilly answered. “Her biological father is still alive, though I don’t know for how much longer. I suppose you also heard me asking her to go down and see him.”
Jeanie slammed her wallet back on the counter. “Yes, I did. Faye Lynn Andrews, how can you say no? Lilly is even willing to pay your rent if you go.”
“But—” Faye tried to defend herself. Just how long had she been standing out there?
Jeanie held up a hand. Her no-nonsense friend would hear no excuses. “You’re going, Faye Lynn. That’s that. We’ll make adjustments to cover you, that’s what friends are for. So, no more excuses. If Lilly wants to stay here while you go down to see your father, she can have your room and take over your cooking schedule. What’s two weeks, huh?”
Faye’s shoulders slumped. Now that Jeanie had gotten involved, she’d lost this battle. “Fine. I’ll start packing and will head out in the morning. But I’m taking my herbs with me. Last time I left them in your hands,” she pointed at her friend. “They were nearly dead by the time I returned.” She glanced at her mother who held up her hands in defense. “And you’re no better.”
“Won’t get an argument from me, Sweetpea. I’ll help you pack.”
* * * *
Chase Michaels tugged at his wiry beard while waiting for the doctor to finish visiting with Heath. At least he looked better today, even if he grew thinner by the day. Would the cancer eventually reduce him to nothing? Chase wished the hallway noises would quiet for a few moments so he could hear the doc’s report. Heath kept his condition to himself, only sharing on a need to know basis. It frustrated Chase, but Loony Lilly had finally blasted him about his secrecy, saying they couldn’t help him if they didn’t know what they were facing.
“I’m dying,” Heath had said as if he’d reported on the day’s weather conditions. “What more do you need to know, Sweetheart? Only the Lord knows how long I have left. When He’s ready to call me home, I’ll go. Not a minute earlier and not a minute later.”
That was the first time Chase had seen Lilly outright cry. What was worse had been she’d chosen his shoulder to cry on. Chase had feebly tried to comfort her, but he wasn’t good with… people. Especially distraught people.
He was good at mowing lawns and making yards beautiful. He was gifted in knowing which plants would do well in what soil and how to mix colors, so they made an eye-pleasing display.
He was not and never had been good at hugs. Nor comforting distressed women of any kind. And he was even more distressed when his own tears had threatened to join Lilly’s. Heath had been Chase’s guardian angel ever since he was in high school over ten years ago. His mother had too many vices to take proper care of him, and when the state wanted to put him in a foster home, Uncle Joe and Heath volunteered to let him stay with them.
Between the both of them, he’d made it through high school without falling apart. Which was exactly what he’d wanted to do when his mom threw him away because her addictions were more important than taking care of her only child.
Joe and Heath, however, cheered him on with whistles and clanging cowbells when he walked across the stage to get his diploma. Then Uncle Joe insisted that Chase go right to college the following year.
“Busy hands and an engaged mind will not the devil’s playground be,” Uncle Joe often said. Then Joe had left him, too, when his happy heart gave out on him a few years ago.
Blessedly, Heath and Chase had helped each other through the great and terrible loss, as they often referred to Joe’s passing.
The door swooshed open as the doctor breezed out. The short man with dark skin and darker hair stopped next to Chase. “I’m releasing your uncle. The best we can do at this point is to keep him comfortable. I’ll set up hospice care for him when he’s ready. For now, we have him back on track. I’ve lectured him about taking things easy, staying hydrated, and perhaps eating healthier. Of course, we know how he feels about that.”
Chase’s grin wobbled as the burning crept up his throat. Heath wasn’t really his uncle, but at least the hospital talked to him when they thought Chase was family. Stupid, really, since not all families were blood families. Heath had chosen to take Chase in. To him, it meant a hundred times more.
“When can he leave?” Chase managed to say between the flames flickering inside his chest.
Through the window, Chase noticed Heath reaching for his phone. Most likely, Loony Lilly was calling to check on him. For some reason, she suddenly left the other day after staying and disrupting their lives for a whole month. Well, now she was gone. Chase would do everything humanly possible to make sure Heath remained comfortable and well taken care of. He owed him at least that, though he’d never be able to repay all he’d done.
Chase undoubtedly knew that if it weren’t for his uncles, he wouldn’t have lived to see twenty-seven years.
“Let me get his paperwork in order. We’ll start him on a new medicine. It’ll probably knock him out at first, but try to make sure he takes it before the pain gets too bad. Can I count on you to do that?”
Chase nodded. He focused on Heath who gazed out the room’s large window. At least he had a nice view of a wooded lot, even if the trees were bare from their winter slumber. Soon they’d bloom again. Would Heath still be here to enjoy his garden when the daffodils and azaleas returned?
Please, Lord, don’t take him yet. Not yet.
“Good man.” Doc gave him a friendly pat on the arm. “I’ll send the prescription to Berkley’s Pharmacy. Call me if anything changes with him and don’t hesitate to bring him back in if you’re unsure. You did good, young man. Mr. Andrews is lucky to have you around.”
Chase gave another nod and headed into the room. Heath was still on his cell phone, so Chase busied himself with gathering his things into a bag so they’d be ready once he was given the release.
Excitement tinged Heath’s tone. “She is? When?” He sat up in his bed, his tousled dark brown hair falling into his eyes. “Now? But how did you manage—”
The voice on the other end was unmistakably Loony Lilly’s. She sounded excited, too.
“I can’t believe—” Heath ran his fingers through his tangled hair, smoothing it down. “For how long?”
Chase wished he could hear what was being said on the other end. Was Lilly coming back? So soon? The woman was notorious for popping in from time to time, unannounced and out of the blue. Not caring if she disrupted anyone’s routine. Though Heath wasn’t much for routines like Chase was.
Which reminded him… he checked his watch wishing the release papers would hurry up. The sprinklers needed to be turned on before it got too late. Why hadn’t he set up the automatic watering in the garden like he’d done for the house’s flower beds? Too much trouble was one reason. Besides, he’d already done way more to the farmland than he’d first intended when Heath allowed him to store his lawn gear in the old barn. All that wild, fertile land had begged him to do something useful with it. He’d only meant to start a simple garden, so Heath could enjoy fresh vegetables. But the bounty had become so great, he ended up selling his goods at the weekly farmer’s market in town. And after finding out he could earn extra money on his fresh produce, of course he needed to add a bit more.
Even Heath didn’t know the extent of the gardens and greenhouses that Chase had cultivated. The timberline and old barn blocked the view of all he’d done, and Heath was too weak to walk out to where Chase kept his lawn equipment.
Not that Heath would have minded.
Piercing pain stabbed Chase’s heart. What would become of the land once Heath left this world? He closed his eyes and yanked on the strings to close the plastic bag, not wanting to think about that. He needed to keep busy. He’d focus on taking care of Heath to make sure his remaining time was as peaceful as possible.
Finally, Heath ended the call and dropped the phone on the bed beside him. Fluffing his blankets, his smile grew as large at that cartoon cat and as unnerving. “Wonderful news. Faye is on her way and should be here in the next couple of hours.” A nurse entered carrying a tray with a silver lid and glass of tea. “Looks like I’ll have to suffer through this horrid excuse for a lunch, after all.”
She smiled wickedly at him. “Behave Mr. Andrews. Your release papers will come much sooner if you play nice and eat all your lunch. You need to put on some weight. You look like one of those stringy runway models.”
His return grin was just as wicked. “Why thank you, dear. I do try to keep my figure in check.” He winked causing a blush to bloom on the nurse’s face. She waved her hand at him and left shaking her head.
Turning his attention back to Chase, Heath started barking off a list of things that needed to be done while he cut into the meat that looked like the soles of his boots. “We can reheat the soup from last night. So don’t worry about bringing dinner by tonight. She’s coming in Lil’s RV, so there’s no need to get the spare room ready yet. I’m sure that was the only way she agreed to come.” He shook his head, sadness tinting his wide brown eyes. “She’s coming. That’s all that matters. I’ll not fuss.”
What in the world was Heath going on about? Chase moved to his side, holding the bag of laundry to his chest. “Who’s Faye? Wait, isn’t she Lilly’s daughter?” Was she as crazy as her mother? “Why in the world would she come? I didn’t think any of that part of the family would have anything to do with you?”
Heath waved his fork as he chewed, cringing at the taste. “Oh, James’ kids were nice enough to us. James didn’t care for me at all, but—” He gave a shrug, then set down his utensils. “I suppose it’s time to tell you the whole truth. Faye isn’t James’ child. She’s… well?” He paused a moment, then blurted, “She’s my daughter.”
Chase blinked. His mouth opened, but for a moment, he wondered if someone had knocked him in the back of his head. Surely he’d misheard? “Wait…. You’re joking, right?”
Heath shook his head, his gaze leveling on him. Chase knew that look all too well. He was as serious as a heart attack. “But…. How in the world did you, of all people, end up with a daughter?”
“Oh, that’s the golden question, isn’t it? Well, it’s a long story. One I’ll have to tell you some other time. Right now, I need you to go home and take care of those few things I asked of you. I’d ask you to stay, but I have a feeling she’ll be like a cat in a room of rocking chairs. I’d rather meet with her privately when she arrives.”
Chase took a step backward. Was it true? Heath Andrews had a daughter? He’d seen Faye and Lilly’s other children a couple of times from afar. But he’d never met any of them face-to-face.
Well, seemed that was about to change. So much for trying to keep things peaceful for Heath. Not when a tornado was heading right for them.
Heath didn’t look as if he was death’s door.
When Faye finally located his room, she cautiously entered still gripping the empty large Cappuccino cup. She’d not slept well last night and had been functioning strictly on caffeine since she left her Dallas apartment.
When she forced her feet to take her all the way inside his room, Heath sat up in bed fully dressed and watching Family Feud. His brown eyes narrowed before his mouth turned up on one side. “I know you.”
Faye held back the urge to roll her eyes. “Mom said you were, um… well, she said you wanted to see me.”
“Yes, I need a ride home.” He threw back the covers and hung his long legs over the edge of the bed. She’d never seen him in jeans before. Country life must have relaxed his fashion standards some. “Will you get my shoes? They’re over in the corner by my cane. I’ll need that, too, even if they’ll insist on rolling me out of here like some kind of invalid.”
Had she been played? It wasn’t like Momma to pull such a prank, nor was she a liar. Maybe it was Heath who was pulling the joke, faking his imminent demise to get sympathy? Get her attention? “But… I thought, I mean, Momma said—”
“Oh, you expected me to be on my last breath?” He pushed off the bed but gripped the railing as if he needed it to keep his balance. “I am dying. But not today.” He hit the nurses’ button on the remote. When a woman’s voice came over the speaker, Heath said, “My ride is here. I’ll need my entourage to escort me out to the chariot if you please.”
How could he be so apathetic about this? Faye sank into the leather chair, wondering what she’d allowed herself to get into.
Amusement tinged the speaker’s voice. “Sure thing, your highness. I’ll be right there.”
“Chop, chop,” he retorted. “Dancing with the Stars double elimination is on tonight. I don’t want to miss it.”
Laughter came from the other side before they clicked off the speaker.
“Really?” Faye asked. He hadn’t changed one bit. No filter. Said whatever popped into his mind. “They’re releasing you?”
“Yes. They’ve done all they can for now. My shoes and cane, if you please?” He gestured toward a pair of black leather oxfords and a matching black cane with a silver embossed handle.
Momma had said his sickness was terminal. He didn’t look like someone on death’s door, even if he was thin and pale. She retrieved his things and held them out at arm’s length.
“My but you’re even more beautiful than your mother was at your age, dear Faye Lynn.”
She chose not to respond. He was always full of compliments and witty remarks. She’d not be sucked in. Momma sent her to help him take care of his affairs, and that’s what she planned to do. Sooner they got his estate settled, the sooner she could return to her life, such as it was.
By the time he had his shoes on and cane in hand, the nurses entered with his wheelchair and discharge papers. “Your new prescription has been called in. I’m sure Chase will stop in to pick them up for you.”
Chase? Who was that? Faye didn’t have the guts to ask.
“Do I need to repeat what Dr. Marcus told you? Don’t overexert yourself. Stop eating the greasy fast food. Drink more water. Take your medications. All of them.”
He cringed but made no response.
Faye would make sure he avoided that nasty fast food. Eating nutritional meals, organic vegetables and farm fresh meats was her mantra. She taught yoga to help people deal with their stress. She sold essentials oils to help people feel better. And she was even able to teach the occasional nutrition class to help people eat better. Maybe her two weeks here would help improve Heath enough that he’d not need to worry so much about his estate. Yet.
Except Momma said his cancer was terminal, Faye reminded herself again. Looking at him, it was hard to tell he was so sick. Not with the way his eyes sparkled at the nurses he jibed with. However, watching him carefully move to the waiting wheelchair stirred a bit of sadness and remorse in her spirit. He really was dying. His trembling arms and pallid coloring told her there was no joke about that, no matter what kind of bravado he tried to put on.
As they wheeled him out, she followed behind the nurses, empty cup still in hand. Heath bantered and teased the staff as he passed by. “Next time I visit,” he said with a chuckle, “I’m bringing my own groceries.”
A young man in scrubs gave Heath a high five. “As much as I enjoyed you, I’m hoping to not see you again for a long while. Do take care of yourself, Mr. Andrews.”
Heath gave his hand a squeeze before they pushed him along.
Once they finally had him loaded into the RV’s passenger seat, Heath sat back with an exhausted sigh and closed his eyes.
Faye’s mind began churning over possible ways she might be able to help. Maybe he’d allow her to take over the cooking. What kind of kitchen did he have? For that matter, she didn’t even know what kind of home he lived in. The last time she’d visited him before she’d cut him out of her life, he lived in a really nice two-story condo in Austin.
He’d been an art collector for a couple of upscale galleries, dealing in expensive paintings and sculptures, some that had adorned his home. The last time she’d seen him, his dark brown hair was a little long and vibrant along with his clothes. Today he was dressed more casually in a silvery blue button-down shirt and jeans. Gray now wove through his thinning hair, and he desperately needed a shave. How long had he been in the hospital? Faye hadn’t even asked.
Heath gave her directions, taking her through the middle of Sweet Grove. He rolled down his window and waved at a couple of people they passed on the streets. One man sweeping the sidewalk outside a cafe called Mabel’s on Maple diner stopped his task and waved. He shouted out, “The eagle soars again.”
“Good afternoon, Jeffrey, my friend.” Heath motioned for her to pull over. “It soars indeed and is taking me back home.”
Jeffrey set his broom beside the door and sauntered over, wiping his hands on a towel tucked into his belt. “Good to hear, good to hear.” He extended his hand, and they shook. “Hope they got whatever was troubling you worked out. We sure have been praying for you.”
“Appreciate that. I’m doing as well as can be expected.”
The man’s dark face peered into the passenger window. “Well, that’s not our Lovely Lilly, though she resembles her, doesn’t she?”
Heath grinned at her. Faye’s breath caught, would he introduce her as his daughter? Brag around town that his prodigal off-spring had come to visit? Did they know about him? The last thing she wanted was to have to defend herself again. But she wasn’t in school…. No, she needed to get a grip and stop worrying. Who cared what these people thought anyway? Wasn’t like she’d stay here.
He must have noticed the conflicting emotions on her face. Momma always did say she was an open book and easy to read. “This is Faye, Lilly’s oldest daughter. She’s come to help me out for a while.”
Jeffrey rested his elbows on the window frame. “Well, isn’t that kind of her? God’ll bless you for your generosity, Miss Faye. Pleasure to meet you. We adore Lovely Lilly in this town, and I’m sure you’ll find the same welcome.”
Faye muttered a thank you. She didn’t plan to be here long. A week, two tops.
“Good to see you, Jeffrey. I’d like to say I’ll stop in later, but the doctors really came down on me about my diet. Looks like it’s time to do some actual shopping. Maybe.”
He shook a finger at Heath. “You do what those docs tell you. And take care of yourself, Heath. You’re in my prayers.”
They shook hands again as Heath thanked him. “Tell your beautiful wife that I send my greetings. See you around.” With a bob of his head, Heath said to Faye, “Follow this road all the way outside of town until it dead ends. Then take a right.”
Soon they were in open country, the scent of freshly turned earth and cow pastures drifted in through the open windows. After passing a couple of ranches, they came to a bridge that went over a narrow stream.
“This is the beginning of my land. It used to be a farm, but now it’s mainly gone wild. If you follow the gravel drive, it’ll take you right up to where Lilly usually parks the Eagle.”
“Does she come often?”
He shrugged. “I used to see her face maybe once a year. Lately, she’s dropped in more. I know she’s concerned, but there’s nothing to be done about it. As they say, it is what it is.”
She wasn’t sure who they were.
Soon, a two-story limestone house with a metal roof came into view. What really astounded her was the vibrant garden that surrounded the wide front porch. There was even a hammock hanging from two tall oaks, still bare of leaves. In the summer, they’d provide a nice shady spot to relax.
“My dear, if you leave your chin hanging open like that, you’re likely to have a fly buzz inside your mouth.”
She snapped her lips closed. “It’s pretty. I love that garden. That’s the only downfall to living in the city is that my garden is constrained to what pots fit on our balcony.”
“My oasis.” Heath smiled. “Lilly told me you had a green thumb. I can’t wait for you to meet my Chase. He’s a master gardener and has created this masterpiece for me during his time here.”
There was that name again. His Chase? Dare she ask? Was it any of her business?
“Pull around the back, Love. There’s a special spot where we can hook you up to the electricity and water.”
Hook up? Momma hadn’t how the house on wheels worked… “Uh, I’ve never… I’m not sure I know how—”
Heath gave a wave of dismissal. “Don’t worry about it, Sweetheart. Chase usually takes care of that for Lil. I’m sure he’ll be around eventually. You have a generator you can use for tonight if necessary.”
She wasn’t even sure if she knew how to do that. Ugh, what had she been thinking to take this rolling monster?
Heath needed her support getting to the house. The backyard was as beautiful as the front with a bubbling stream that dumped into a nice sized pond filled with colorful fish. There were a couple of wrought iron tables placed near those clay fireplaces she usually saw in front of grocery stores for sale.
When they reached the porch, she caught the aromatic pine-scent of rosemary. Her healer’s mind recalled that the plant might possibly help Heath, but she’d need to check his medications first. Glancing at the flowerbed beside the porch while he worked at unlocking the door, she spotted just sprouting mint, basil, oregano… oh, bliss! Did they use these herbs in cooking? It didn’t sound as if Heath did much food preparation. Most likely he wasn’t strong enough.
Whoever this Chase was, he probably wasn’t a cook either, though he truly was a master gardener. Well, she could meet him, at least. Maybe even talk him out of a few herbs that she could add to her collection.
Once Heath had the back door open, Faye entered and found that he hadn’t lost his artistic decorating style. His furniture was simple but popped with earthy plum purples and forest greens. Art hung from the plastered walls, and small statuettes adorned the dark oak tables.
A sheen of sweat covered Heath neck as he made his way to the closest chair and fell into it. “I used to run five miles a day, and now I can barely make five steps without feeling out of breath.”
The front door opened. Faye had all her attention on Heath, worried over his exhaustion, but not sure what to do. Or what he’d allow her to do. “Can I get you a glass of water?”
Clunking bootsteps echoed across the wooden floor. The living room flowed into the kitchen and dining area. She appreciated the open space.
Inside the dining area, all the furniture was wrought iron and dark, rustic wood. She loved it! Plants adorned nearly every corner and sunny shelf.
“I’ll get him some water,” said an imposing man that towered over her by nearly a foot. His beard brushed the collar of his flannel shirt but wasn’t messy as some tended to be. He’d tied his hair back at the nape of his neck, but one long strand, sun-lightened to a golden brown, hung in his face.
Was that Chase? But he was… or had to be… near her own age.
“Thank you, my dear boy,” Heath said. “And would you mind putting that pot of stew on the stove to warm?”
With a nod, the man started to turn when Heath added, “Wait. I’d like you to meet Faye. When you have a moment, would you mind hooking up the camper for her? She’s a greenhorn, I’m afraid and isn’t sure how things work yet.” The man gave another nod though he wouldn’t look directly at her.
“Faye,” Heath went on. “This is Chase Michaels.”
Unsure what to do, she nodded in response. But he didn’t seem to notice from his quick retreat to the kitchen. She was almost sure he’d glared at her for no good reason.
“I’ll get some water for you,” She told Heath. Setting her purse down on the edge of the couch, she removed her sweater then followed the noise of banging cabinet doors. “I can do this if you’d rather visit with Heath.”
“I see him enough.” Chase’s voice was gruff, and he never once bothered to look her way. “Soon as I set the pot on, I’ll hook up the camper. And turn on the heater. It’ll be chilly tonight.”
“Thank you.” She searched the cabinets for a glass, but Chase was already filling one with ice and water from the fridge. “Heath said you’re the one behind that magnificent garden?”
He nodded again.
“It’s beautiful I can’t wait until morning when I can have a better look around. I’ve always wished to have a place where I could grow a real garden. I have some herbs. In pots.” Why was she rambling? Did Mr. Michaels not know how to hold a normal conversation, or was he just trying to snub her?
Despite his coldness, Faye was captivated by the strong contours of his hawk-like face. His skin was tanned, despite it being the end of winter. Of course, if he was a gardener and worked doing lawn care, he must spend most of his days outside. His work must have also developed the strong muscles running down his shoulders and arms that pulled taught the blue flannel shirt he wore. Who was this man?
He took the glass to Heath, then returned to stir the stew. “Is lavender one of your herbs?”
“I wish. Lavender is hard to grow, so I finally gave up. Why do you ask?”
He pulled two bowls down from the cupboard, then held up an extra, silently asking if she wanted a bowl, too. At her nod, he set it with the others. “You smell like it.”
“Like lavender?” She sniffed at her shirt. “Oh, that’s my essential oils. I use it when I want to keep my nerves in check. You know, not get stressed. It helps to relax—”
“It’s not so hard to grow if you know what you’re doing.” He ladled the stew into the bowls. The room filled with the hearty smell of beef broth and vegetables. But when he set the bowl in front of her, the only vegetables she could make out was onion and potatoes. Humm, this reminded her of the stew Momma always made.
Looked like they’d definitely need some help in the cooking department. Despite her reservations about coming, she did want to feel useful. Who knew, maybe there was a reason for her being here. A reason all those job interviews were nothing but dead ends. Maybe.
Chase went to take Heath his bowl, but stopped on the threshold of the living room, his large shoulders sagging. “He’s fallen asleep. Poor guy.” With a shake of his head, he poured the stew back into the pot.
Faye tried once again to engage him in conversation. She wanted to find out who he was and what he was doing here with Heath. He didn’t seem like the type of friend Heath kept around, but then, she’d not seen her bio-dad in so long…. “Should I try to get him into bed?”
“He’s a big boy.” Chase took his bowl and headed for the back door. “When he wakes up, he’ll go on to bed. He takes a lot of cat naps.” With that, he headed out into the night.
“Just like that?” Faye looked around and found a side room office that faced where she’d parked the camper. Peering out the French doors, she watched Chase’s shadowy figure as he attached a hose to the backside of the camper. Did he live here with Heath? A battered white truck was parked in the drive near the front of the house. He didn’t seem to want her company. Chase Michaels definitely wasn’t the chatty type, either.
She returned to the living room, wondering if she should wake Heath and make him eat. The doctors wanted him fattened up. The stew was bland and devoid of much in the way of nutrients, but it was better than nothing. When she found her way back to the main room, his chair was vacant. A dim light came from a room near the back of the hallway. He must be going to bed. Without supper.
The clock read nearly nine o’clock. It was getting late. After washing out her bowl and checking to see what supplies Heath had, she determined her first task would be to make a trip to the grocery store in the morning. There were farms and ranches around here. Hopefully, she could get some fresh, grass-fed beef and free-range chickens.
Putting the cooled stew pot back into the empty fridge, Faye headed out to the camper. To her surprise, the awing was rolled out. Camp chairs had been placed around Momma’s small folding table where a lighted lantern sat on top. It was homey and welcoming, reminding her of when they’d went camping when they were all younger. Before Daddy died and her younger siblings, Melanie and Ben, moved on with their own lives.
“Just because we’re roughing it,” Lilly would say, “doesn’t mean we need to rough it.”
Chase had even strung up some jalapeno pepper lights around the sitting area and laid out the woven reed mat. For a moment, she missed her mother and siblings who hardly ever had time to call or visit anymore.
Tomorrow, she’d also find out who this Chase Michaels was and what he was doing here. He’d been so quiet and aloof inside. Was this how he treated everyone he didn’t really like?
Jackie Castle is an author, artist and dreamer. She lives in Texas with her husband, two grown children and her dog, Banjo. She looks for the extraordinary in the ordinary in everything she experiences.