Words forum: Group Story #4: Haley

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Aug 11, 2011 8:49 PM CST
Name: Melissa
Welcome to our first Group Story of 2011!! I am so excited to be doing this again, and really excited with the group of writers we have!!

As always, there will be a comment thread to make comments, keep this thread for the story only. Comment thread is here: http://cubits.org/writing101/thread/view/61881/

Thank you all for agreeing to write, I’m really excited about doing this again. It’s a real stress reliever for me, and I love reading a story as it develops, everyone is so unique, and adds their own spin to things making these stories some of the best reading out there. :)

Writers: If everyone takes 3 days, you’ll be writing about every 2.5 weeks. Hopefully that will work out okay for everyone. Follow the story as it develops, you’ll have ideas based on what the others have done, and you will know when it’s your turn to write. You don’t have to take 3 days, but they are there if you need them. If you need more time, just let us know, if you need to skip your turn, let me know that too as soon as you can… we can just jump to the next person. Let me know, and after you've written your segment, let the person behind you know it's their turn. A C-Mail is probably a good idea too.

Once the story starts to flow, don't feel like you have to follow exactly the person in front of you. You might have read something in a segment three before you that sparked an idea you want to flesh out. Do it!

The only thing I ask is that we keep it clean, kids might be reading... and believable. I think that is the reason we've had such great stories here at Cubits, because they've been believable. So, while it is fiction, make it believable fiction. Aliens abducting the bad guy might sound great in your mind, but please have a normal human abduct them instead. ;)

I’ve chosen Seattle as the city. I’ve never been there, but Google is a wonderful tool! If you want to have her go to a restaurant in Seattle, just google and find one, or just make one up!

Readers: Please comment in the comment thread and cheer us on! We love your words! The only thing I ask is that you not try to direct the story from the comment thread. Let the writers be creative--you may not always like the way the story twists, but the best part about the group writing, is you never know what is going to happen next! Let it flow and enjoy!

Writing Order:
Desert Pirate

*Sharon may join us later in the story if her schedule eases... no promises, but we can keep our fingers crossed. :)
Aug 11, 2011 8:58 PM CST
Name: Melissa
Haley © 2011

Haley sat on the bench looking at the Greyhound station in front of her. She didn’t know what to do. In her purse she had a voucher for a one-way ticket to any destination. Between her legs sat the ragged suitcase that her foster mom had given her, the handle would come loose if Haley pulled too hard on it, but the wheels still worked fine. Beside her on the bench was her school book bag. It contained the hand me down laptop her English teacher, Mrs. Simmons, had given her Junior year when she struggled to keep up with all the writing assignments because she had no computer at her foster home. She was so thankful to still have it, she’d tried to return it to her teacher, but she told her to keep it because she had a new one. She smiled as she remembered how kind Mrs. Simmons had been to her. Along with the laptop the book bag held her favorite books, journals, notebooks and writing utensils and her beloved Kindle which held hundreds of books she’d downloaded free since she won it in the school Christmas raffle. Inside her suitcase was everything else in the world she owned. She ran a hand through her long, dark auburn hair and sighed. Tears pooled in her green eyes and made them brighter as they threatened to spill over her cheeks.

She was only eight-teen years old; she had no idea what she wanted to do with the rest of her life, much less where she wanted to do it at. She had one thousand six hundred and thirty dollars and seventy-six cents in her purse. She knew it wouldn’t last very long, but she was thankful she had that. The five hundred dollars her caseworker had given her would have barely lasted two weeks if she had to rent a motel room, less if she could find an apartment to rent.

Haley had always dreamed of going to college, and had hoped this last foster family would have allowed her to stay with them until she could get a couple of years in at the local community college… but after her birthday dinner last night, Mrs. Sullivan told her she would take her to the bus station today. Oh, and did Haley know where she was going to go in case anyone called looking for her? Mrs. Sullivan had laughed when Haley suggested she might stay, continue working at the bookstore, and pay Mrs. Sullivan a modest amount of rent while she went to the community college this fall. “Heaven’s child, I can get four times what you could pay from taking in a new foster child. Sorry kiddo, but as soon as you’re gone, the county has a new child ready to be placed here.”

Haley had sighed, even though Mrs. Sullivan had been paid by the state for a full month for Haley at the first of the month, she wasn’t even going to let her stay until the end of the month. Haley’s bed was too valuable to her. She should have known. So, here she sat at the Greyhound station less than two weeks after graduating from high school and a day after her eight-teenth birthday with no clue in the world where she was going to go or what she was going to do.

Though she willed it not to, a tear slipped down Haley’s cheek and dropped to the pink blouse she was wearing. She thought back over her life in the past six years. She thought about how differently today would be had it not been for the accident that took her parent’s lives and left her an orphan, a ward of the state. “No!” She said aloud as she wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. She would not allow herself to do this. Wishing and wanting things to be different would do her no good. It was what it was, this was her life, and wishing it were different would not change a thing.

“Think Haley! Think!” She said a little louder than she had planned. She looked up quickly to see if anyone were close enough to hear her. There wasn’t. A few benches down a man sat reading a newspaper. Other people milled around, not paying attention to anything Haley was doing. Across the street was a convenience store, and she remembered that convenience stores sometimes sold travel books and maps. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to find an almanac and try to look at this rationally and make a decision about where she would go.

She pulled a notepad and pencil out of her book bag and turned to a fresh page. On the first line at the top of the page she wrote a number one and sat back. What were the main priorities she needed to have in order to figure out where she wanted to live? She wrote, jobs, housing and colleges on her paper underling each one, then smiled and wrote the word “ocean” at the top of the page. Her best memories of her parents were of times spent at the Ocean. Her mother and father had taken Haley every summer that she could remember, they had so enjoyed just lazing around on the beach, collecting shells and playing in the waves. Haley smiled as the memories embraced her; she leaned forward and pulled the latest Kristin Hannah novel out of her book bag. Hannah’s novels were all set in the Seattle area—Haley thought the Seattle area was fairly temperate, though she knew it rained there a lot. She loved rain though, always had. When she was younger, she would lie in her bed during thunderstorms and listen to the melodic sounds of the rain falling.

She got up, throwing her backpack over her shoulder, making sure her purse was secure, and slowly pulled out the handle on the suitcase. She needed to find a coffee shop or restaurant with free wifi so she could do a little bit of research she decided. Why buy an almanac when she had the internet, and would have internet access on the bus ride to where ever she was going. No, she would save the ten bucks and walk a little bit and find someplace to sit, maybe drink a Coke, and try to get a handle on her future.

Just a block from the bus station she saw a McDonalds and headed toward the bright yellow arches where on the front a bright banner proclaimed, “Free Wifi Inside” once inside, she stepped to the counter and ordered a large Coke from the dollar menu, paid for it, then chose a seat in the corner away from the other patrons.

First she pulled up Google and typed in Seattle, Washington. The first link was to Seattle dot gov, where she learned that Seattle was indeed a mild climate, but they did have snowstorms once in a while. She laughed as she read the writer proclaim, “No tornadoes” that was certainly a benefit, she hated when there were tornado warnings and watches and she had no basement to hide in to be protected.

Further down on the page she read, “Rain jokes aside, Seattle has a milder climate than many other parts of the world, with less extreme variations in temperature, and a higher number of cloudy days with misty and damp weather.” Haley sat back, drizzly damp days sounded perfect to her. Maybe she would become one of those people who didn’t even use an umbrella because they were so used to the rain. She took out her notebook again and wrote “Seattle” beside of ocean at the top of the page.

She went back to Google on her computer and typed in Seattle cost of living, and found it was forty-two percent higher than the rest of the nation. Well, that wasn’t good at all. She didn’t think she wanted to go somewhere where it was even more expensive to live than it was here in Columbus, but she imagined any city was going to be expensive. She pulled up monster dot com, and typed in Seattle, Washington. Page after page of job listings appeared, and she sighed in relief because it didn’t seem she would have a difficult time in finding a job there. Next she pulled up the newspaper, the Seattle Times, and looked at apartments for rent. She almost cried when the least expensive one she saw in the paper was nearly eight hundred dollars a month plus utilities. There was no way. She was about to go back to Google to look for another city when she saw a classified for “room mate wanted” she clicked on it and read, “Furnished bedroom in beautiful house hidden by trees three blocks north of the Gates Foundation with a giant Sequoia in the front yard. We keep the yard wild with tall grass, a hammock, two pear trees, an apple and fig tree as well. But we also have a couple raised beds and vegetables growing. Inside we have a nice living room and family room and kitchen with a lot of south facing light, a dishwasher, dining room and breakfast nook. The room is big, concrete floor, a small closet, nice paint job and shared bathroom.

We are two guys, two girls and two cats who are all pretty easy to get along with ranging from early twenties to early thirties with wide ranging interests. We share food and hang out but have different schedules. We respect each other and are looking for a thoughtful person or couple who will want to engage in the community and is also easy to get along with. If you are uptight this isn't the place for you. Rent is $300 a month, we split internet, cable, water and electric and they run around $75 a person with winter bills being more especially if we keep the heat up.

Would like someone willing to stay for a while or at least straightforward on the length of time they think they will be here.”

Before she realized what she was doing, Haley was clicking the link and emailing the person who had placed the ad. It sounded perfect for her. She’d lived in foster care so many years, living with people would not be different than what she was accustomed to, and here she would have her very own bedroom! It would be perfect; she just hoped someone else had not already snatched it up. She was surprised when her email program dinged saying she had a message. Wow, it was a return message about the apartment.

Nervously she clicked to open the email and read it. “Hi there, thanks for inquiring about the room. It is still available, could you tell us a little about yourself, we want to make sure you are a good fit.”

Haley sighed, what did she want to tell them? Would they think less of her or think she was a bad kid because she had lived in foster care? She shrugged, all her life she always prided herself on her honesty, even with herself. So, she wrote: “Thanks for responding so quickly. My name is Haley, and I’m 18 years old. Yesterday was my birthday, and today my foster mother dropped me off at the Greyhound station and said good luck. Right now I’m sitting in a McDonalds in Columbus, Ohio trying to figure out where I want to start my life. Seattle has always been a place I’ve read about and wanted to visit, and after researching a little decided it would be a good choice, except I really can’t afford to live by myself. I want to work and take classes, so a roommate situation would be ideal for me. I lost my parents when I was almost twelve, they were only children, if there was other family, I didn’t know about them, and my caseworkers didn’t try to find them. I’ve lived in foster care since then. I was a good student, graduating in the top ten percent of my class, I’m neat and tidy, don’t smoke, drink or play loud music. Your place sounded perfect because at least I would not be completely alone. I hope you will be able to overlook my age and consider renting me the room. I would be a long term tenant.” She signed it, and then had a thought, she added, “P.S. I’m a really good cook, and I can pay two months in advance.”

She hit send and sat staring at the screen willing a return email to come back to her. When the program dinged signaling the new email, she exhaled, she hadn’t even realized she had been holding her breath. She clicked open the email, and closed her eyes for a moment praying they said yes.

“Wow, you’ve had some tough breaks kid. I think it’s about time you caught a good break. Everyone here is pretty cool. One of us is still in college, the rest of us are working full time. I’m the only one home at the moment because I work at night, but, you know I don’t think anyone will care, so, come on to Seattle, you’ve got a home waiting. If you let me know your arrival time, I’ll even pick you up at the bus station.”

It was signed, “Your new roomie, Sarah.”

Haley wanted to jump up and scream she knew this was right, or it wouldn’t have come together so perfectly! She silently looked up towards the heavens and thanked her parents; she knew they had to have had a hand in this. Seattle, she was going to live in Seattle! She packed her laptop back into her book bag, slung it over her shoulder and headed back to the bus station. She would spend the entire bus ride looking for jobs and colleges near where she would be living.

When she returned to the station, she found there was a bus departing Columbus at 2:25, less than an hour from now, arriving in Seattle on Wednesday at 5:35 in the afternoon. Perfect. She hadn’t realized it would be a whole two days on the bus, but that was okay with Haley. She would make the most of the time looking for a job and looking at the colleges and junior colleges Seattle had to offer.

She exchanged her voucher for a ticket to Seattle, and sat anxiously waiting to board the bus. After she stowed her suitcase under the bus, she found a window seat and sat, anxiously awaiting the departure. The driver boarded, and keyed a microphone explaining where everything was on the bus, and saying that at some stops, they would have approximately thirty minutes to stretch and grab a bite to eat if they wanted.

“Make yourself comfortable folks, there are not a lot of folks on this leg of the trip, so feel free to stretch out.” With that, the driver took his seat, and they carefully pulled out of the station.

After they merged on to interstate 70 on their way to Chicago, Haley took out her laptop, connected and emailed Sarah to let her know she was on her way, and would be arriving on Wednesday at 5:35 p.m.. Almost immediately Sarah emailed her back, said she had contacted the other roommates, and all had agreed with her decision. They were anxious to meet her, and welcome her to their miss-matched little family.

Family. Haley read the word over and over. She smiled to herself, this was going to be a great adventure.

Aug 13, 2011 9:57 AM CST
Name: Nancy
Buffalo NY
Oh, she was a little nervous about what to expect, but she was excited and happy too. She was feeling like she finally had some control over her own destiny. She didn’t have to answer to the Sullivans anymore. Not that they’d been mean to her, but they did expect rather a lot from her. She had her chores to do everyday, and her studies, and she was expected to make supper too. Come to think of it, that was probably a good thing. She learned how to experiment in the kitchen and found she had a knack for putting certain foods together to create some very tasty meals. It just might have been that little tease at the end of her email that got her the invitation to join the “family” in her new Seattle home. (Well, that plus the two months rent in advance.)

She checked her purse, just to make sure the money was still there. It was. Of course it was. She knew it would be, but somehow she needed to touch it just to be 100% sure. Then her hand found its way to the locket that had been her mother’s. She didn’t know what had happened to all her parents’ possessions when they died. She was never told. But after the accident that took their lives, one very kind soul at the hospital found her mother’s locket in the bloodied sheets, cleaned it up and saved it for her. Inside the locket were two very small photographs. One was of her father, looking very handsome with a glint in his eye, as he seemed to be flirting with the person holding the camera. The other was of her parents, sitting huddled very close to each other, head to head, looking at the infant cradled between them. Haley held the locket for a moment, wishing her parents could be sitting with her on that bus. A wave of melancholy rushed over her. Then she sat up a little straighter, brushed aside her sadness and watched the world go by out the window of the bus.

It wasn’t long before she began to feel hungry. She was wondering why she didn’t buy herself a snack at the bus station to keep in her purse. The sound of her stomach growling was embarrassing! She looked around to see if anyone was looking at her. Fortunately, as the bus driver had said earlier, there weren’t too many people on the bus. The closest person to her was a rather nice looking young man seated across the aisle and one row forward, and he was eating a sandwich! Oh, how Haley wished she could share that sandwich with him! Her stomach seemed to be thinking the same thought because just then, its juices rose up in revolt and it let out a very loud growl. His head turned toward her and he smiled. She felt her cheeks turning red with embarrassment and she quickly looked away. His smile turned to a grin as he reached across the aisle, offering her the other half of his peanut butter sandwich. She sweetly shook her head ‘no.’ What was she doing? She wanted that sandwich! He was still smiling as he once again offered her the sandwich. This time she smiled a grateful smile and nodded.

As she ate, he introduced himself. His name was Joe, he said, and what was her name? Haley wondered if it was such a good idea to talk to this stranger, but Joe had a pleasant, warm smile which made his eyes look like they were smiling too. And after all, he did give up half his lunch for her. She decided to take a chance on his generosity. She told him her name and shook his hand. He offered her a can of Pepsi. This time she knew better than to say no, as that peanut butter sandwich was awfully dry!

And that’s how Haley and Joe began their friendship - on a bus, over a peanut butter sandwich and a can of Pepsi. As they spoke, she was surprised to learn that they had something in common. He too was without family. He was adopted as an infant 22 years ago by a family in Pittsburgh, who loved him and treated him as their own. When he was old enough to understand, they told him of the adoption, and were supportive of his desire to find his natural brother. That’s why he too was headed for Seattle. His search led him to discover that his 24 year old brother was adopted into a family that had since moved there. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do when he got there, or if his brother was still there, but he felt sure he was on the right track.

Haley told him about her situation, and how she too felt that her decision to move to Seattle was the right one. She felt relaxed and comfortable with her new friend Joe at her side. Soon they were laughing and acting as if they had been lifelong friends. Life was good. Haley was happy. She had even forgotten all about her plans to spend the bus ride researching jobs and colleges. There would be time for that when she arrived, she was sure, and she would ask Sarah for help finding something.

As they chatted and watched the fertile landscape change from hills and trees, to flat land and corn fields, to desert and rocks, the time seemed to fly by. She and Joe vowed to remain friends after they arrived in Seattle. The long journey had proved to be a joyful experience for her.

Long before they expected it, the bus was only minutes from its destination. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining (where was the rain?) and the temperature was a comfortable 70 degrees. Perfect.

Fortunately, she had remembered to email Sarah with her expected arrival time. Sarah wrote back that she would be wearing white slacks and a bright pink blouse, and would be holding up a “Welcome to Seattle” sign. Sure enough, there she was. She wasn't kidding about the sign. As soon as Sarah saw Haley, she recognized her from the description she'd been given. And when Haley saw the sign and her face broke out in a big, beautiful smile, Sarah flipped the sign over. On the opposite side was a big yellow 'happy face' and the words, “Hi, Haley!!”

Everyone nearby got caught up in the laughter between them, as the two approached each other and shared an embrace. Sarah was warm and friendly and eagerly asking about Haley's trip. Yet all the while her eyes kept darting to the handsome guy at Haley's side, curiously waiting for an introduction.

Aug 16, 2011 10:10 AM CST
Name: Lee Anne Stark
Ontario, Canada
Perpetually happy!
Haley asked Sarah for her new phone number to give to Joe. She really wanted to keep in touch with him.

After a quick hug and promises from him to call her as soon as he settled somewhere, she and Sarah were off to her new home and family.

Sarah drove a zippy little Mazda, and she drove it well since they were at their destination in no time flat. The ride over was considerably quiet...Haley was nervous all of a sudden and Sarah seemed to sense this and left her to her own thoughts. She needed to come to grips with her new life...it had all happened so quickly.

When they pulled up to the house Haley stared in awe. The place was huge, almost spooky. The grounds were indeed "wild".
"Hidden by trees" was an understatement....when they drove up the long, curving driveway it was like entering a hidden world. You couldn't even tell there was a major city just a few yards away. Haley was thrilled! There were numerous little hidey holes around the yard, perfect places for curling up with a good book, privacy wouldn't be a problem when it was needed.

"It's beautiful" Haley told her new roommate.

The house was a full three stories, two obviously lived in and the third with tiny windows, probably an attic. The two front corners had those rounded attachments, she couldn't for the life of her remember what they were called. She shivered suddenly as a cold chill passed down her spine. She glanced up to the top story....was that someone peering at her through one of the windows? Sarah had said that nobody else was home. She shook off the thoughts and turned to Sarah with a forced smile, and a sense of foreboding...

"Let's go in and get you settled, you'll meet the others tonight" Sarah said, "and you must be tired from that long journey on the bus!".
Aug 21, 2011 10:54 AM CST
Name: Sharon

“Come on, follow me,” said Sarah. “I’ll take you through the main part of the house to your room. You are going to love it, it’s really the nicest of all the bedrooms. Used to be a sun porch overlooking Miss Macey’s flower garden, then she decided it would be a study, but she rarely used it so when she started sharing her house with the rest of us she had it remodeled again and it became another bedroom. It’s the only bedroom on the first floor, the rest of us, well, our rooms are on the second. She sure knows how to decorate! You’ll be the first one to live in the new bedroom, it was only finished last week. Jenn and I talked about moving one of us into it, but we’ve been here awhile and we share that sitting room upstairs and it would just have been a pain for either one of us to move, you know how stuff accumulates. We just decided the new room needed a new tenant. So it's all yours.”

Haley had to bite her tongue to keep from saying “Huh?” She knew her mouth was open. She closed it. Sarah was suddenly talking so fast she couldn’t make sense of anything she said, except for that name. Macey

Finally, standing in the middle of a very wide and beautiful hallway with sunlight gleaming on the wood floor, the feeling of forboding gone, she put her hand on Sarah’s arm.

“Uh Sarah? Who’s Miss Macey?”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you about Miss Macey. Oh wow! She only owns this house and is the greatest author in the world. And she’s only the very sweetest woman you’ll ever meet. And meet her you will, she’s joining us for dinner tonight. She always likes to meet any new tenant and since she’s leaving for New York on Saturday, she wanted to spend time with you before her trip. You’re gonna love Miss Macey.”

“You mentioned Jenn, and the two guys, you live on the second floor, ummmmm where does Miss Macey live?”

“Why she lives on the third floor! I thought I told you. Well, maybe I didn’t. She’s not home that often anyway. Come on, we’ll go through the kitchen to get to your room, but once there, I’ll show you your own outside door. Takes you right out into the flower garden and it is so beautiful this time of year. You’ll have the patio right there, and the whole entire back yard. It looks like a rainforest, smells like one too, all earthy and mossy. But that only happens during the rainy season. Right now it’s beautiful. Of course it's beautiful then too, just rainy. Here’s the kitchen, and the dining room is just through that doorway. We usually eat here at the breakfast nook, but tonight we’ll be in the dining room since Miss Macey is joining us. Plus she insisted on cooking this dinner for you, she doesn’t always do that since we all have different schedules. But tonight we’ll all be here. We’ll take this short hallway now, and here, here’s your bathroom. I told you that you’d share it, but that’s only because it’s the only bathroom downstairs. So we use it when we find ourselves down here, but it’s really all yours. Don’t you love this bright yellow? And the cobalt blue? Miss Macey says it reflects the sky and the yellow flowers that grow in the flower garden. And here, my new friend, is your very own room! Taa daaaaa!”

Haley peeked over Sarah’s shoulder into the most beautiful room she’d ever seen. The sun was setting and the room was bathed in a golden glow. The room seemed to be enormous, as long as the house, and the entire outside wall was nothing but windows. Her breath caught in her throat as her eyes swept over white wicker furniture, a love seat and chair at the far end, both padded in yellow cushions with peach and red roses on the fabric. She turned her head and at the other end was a lovely matching wicker bed, dresser, a small desk, and a nightstand. Haley’s hand covered her mouth when she saw the peach and red roses in the yellow vase.

She hadn’t really noticed the furniture she’d passed as she walked down the hallway from the front door. Sarah was talking so fast and so much, Haley was having trouble looking and listening and trying to keep up with her. She hadn’t paid a lot of attention to the dining room or kitchen. But this room, oh, she felt like she’d been transported into a scene from one of the books she’d read. It was truly the most beautiful room Haley had ever seen. Haley was almost in tears to think she might live in this room!

Finally Sarah was quiet. She watched Haley looking at the room. She saw the light bounce off a tear that made its way down Haley’s cheek. Sarah recognized that look, she’d seen it in her own mirror a time or two; until Miss Macey assured her that she was welcome in this home.

Macey Sorrell was dressing for dinner in her much loved old apartment on the third floor. It was as it had been for nearly 40 years, elegant but comfortable. Oh she’d changed things over the years, made it more livable, adding new technology, adding the library shelves, but it was the privacy and comfort that had always remained the same, no matter the decor. At first, after she bought the house, she used the attic apartment for her writing. It seemed to be the only place in the house that never created distractions. She could pull the curtains, shut out the world, turn her beloved music on low and write her stories. The rest of the house was distracting. She loved antiques and she loved to decorate, but it was her stories, her novels, that had bought the house and it was the writings that paid for her decorating whimsies.

Her first bestseller had been published when she was 28, surprising her, but not surprising those who had encouraged her. She was a writer of historical fiction, the kind that was so accurate it made scholars take notice. She never wrote a novel that she didn’t research for accuracy. It was her whole life, her writing and her research, the traveling. And it had been enough, she thought, reflecting for a minute on her own words. Enough? She was and always had been alone with her writing. Was that enough?

“Well it is what it is,” she mused to herself, turning away from the mirror. “I need to go check on the roast, and I need to get acquainted with our new tenant. It is what it is.”

Macey walked down the back stairway which led to the kitchen. She could smell the roast from the second floor. She didn’t cook very often, but she wanted this meal to be a welcome for the new tenant. She smiled as she remembered Sarah’s enthusiasm. “Haley, what a lovely name,” she thought as she entered the kitchen. She could hear Sarah’s laughter coming from the sunroom. ‘Bedroom’, she corrected herself. “It’s no longer the sunroom.”

She busied herself at the oven.

“Macey Sorrell?” Haley asked in awe. “This house belongs to Macey Sorrell, the author? Are you joking?”

“Why would I be joking,” asked Sarah, ‘she’s only a writer. She travels a lot so we mostly have the house to ourselves, and even when she’s here she’s so busy we never see her. But she’ll be joining us for dinner. She always joins us when a new tenant arrives, or if she just wants to take a break from her work. She’s really good to us, but then we love her, too, and we love the house so much, we take good care of it. That’s why I asked you all those questions when you emailed, we wanted to make sure you were a perfect fit. So, have you read her books or what?”

“I love her books,” said Haley. “She’s one of the best authors ever! Oh boy, I did my senior writing project on Macey Sorrell. I can’t wait to tell Ms. Simmons where I’m living! She will be so amazed! Oh wow!! Macey Sorrell. She was on our required reading list! ”

“Miss Macey is private, Haley. She’s really a very private person. She never has visitors, and we don’t ever ask her anything personal. You shouldn’t either.”

“She shouldn’t what, Sarah? “ asked Macey as she entered the sun splashed room, “What shouldn’t our new friend do? Hello, you must be Haley, welcome to my home. I’m Macey Sorrell.” She reached to shake Haley’s hand.

“Oh. Oh. Ms. Sorrell.” Haley finally shook herself as if out of a dream. Her eyes saw the tiny older woman, the sun casting glints on the touch of gray in her hair, she saw the welcoming smile shining in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Ms. Sorrell, I'm just overwhelmed, it’s so good to meet you. You have a lovely home. Thank you so much for allowing me to, uhhh, have this room. It’s so beautiful.”

“Haley, what’s wrong? Are you OK? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. It’s only Miss Macey, she doesn’t bite, you know,” said Sarah.

“Oh no, I didn’t mean to stare. It’s just that I’ve read all your books, Ms. Sorrell, I’ve read all of them and learned so much from you. I can’t believe I’m meeting you, that’s all. And well, the truth is, Macey was my mom’s name and I haven’t heard it in such a long time. And I’m so glad to meet you.”

“Well, Haley, I’m glad to have you here. Now, why don’t you get settled into your room while Sarah gives me a hand in the kitchen. The rest of the gang will be here soon and you’ll get to meet the whole family. I’ll bet you’re tired from your trip. You have just enough time to rest awhile before dinner. Sarah, would you give me a hand with the salad? Oh and Haley, Sarah mentioned that you wanted to enroll in college classes? I left some pamphlets in your nightstand drawer, you might find information there that will help. I’m a visiting professor at U of W here in Seattle, I teach a writing course during the spring semester. But then Seattle Pacific is a great school too. ”

She started to turn back to the kitchen, then looked once more at Haley.

“I know, too much information all at one time. You have plenty of time to reach a decision and plenty of time to rest right now. The others will be here soon enough and we’ll have dinner at 7:30. Now, Sarah, let’s go check on dinner.”

Haley was tired, but her mind was in a whirl. She took a deep breath, walked toward the sitting area of her room, gazing out the window. “It’s a new chapter,” she thought, “I’m entering a whole new chapter. A whole new world.” She sat on the loveseat, the light from the setting sun sparkling off her auburn hair.

Soon she was joining the others in the dining room, the table was set for 6 and Haley was starving. Sarah’s friend Jenn was as welcoming as Sarah had been, though Haley noticed she was a bit quieter than Sarah. Then she looked up into the dark eyes of Scott as she was introduced to him, and found herself looking at the very kind face of what she thought of as a gentle giant. Scott must be at least close to 7 feet tall. Then she turned as the last of the roommates entered the dining room. Her breath caught in her throat.

“Joe? Joe? What are you doing here?”

“Ummmmm, I’m not Joe, I’m Jason. Who’s Joe?” asked the familiar smiling young man who reached out his hand to welcome Haley.

Haley shook her head, looked up and realized all eyes were on her. “I met Joe on the bus traveling here, you look just like him!”

Aug 22, 2011 11:16 AM CST
Name: Brenda Essig
Rio Dell, CA
Sarah gazed at Jason quizzically and then at Haley. "You know, I did feel that Joe reminded me of someone but I couldn't quite figure out whom." She smiled and added "Jason, he looked enough like you to be your younger brother, *chuckle*, but his hair is lighter and his eyes are blue but have a bit of a lavender tint to them that yours only have when you are excited. If I weren’t already smitten with you…”

Jason grinned. “Oh, please don’t tell me that I have more competition! You have been stringing me along for years now as it is”
Sarah giggled and everyone at the table laughed. Macey was the first to speak as the laughter died down. “Oh Haley, let me try to explain this nonsense to you. Sarah and Jason are, sort of, brother and sister. They were both adopted and grew up together.”

Sarah blushed. “I was seven and Jason was almost 9 when the folks adopted me. Jason was 2 1/2 when they adopted him so he seemed to belong there more than I did at first. He was a sweet kid and accepted me as his kid sister right from the start. I on the other hand, saw him as a cute boy and developed a full scale crush on him that lasted for over a year. By the time we were in high school and I started dating, Jason had become the total “older brother” and tried to tell me who I should or shouldn’t date. He was impossible! None of the boys could measure up to his ideals and he would scare them off. When he chased one of the high school jocks down the street with a baseball bat for kissing me good night, I screamed at him that he was ruining my life because no boy would ever be good enough to measure up to him.”

Jason picked up the story and said, “Well, I knew she meant they could never live up to my standards but I laughed at her and said ‘Oh, I thought you were over your crush on me by now’”
Sarah grinned. “And even now, he gives me a hard time about every man I show an interest in, so I tease him that I am still smitten with him”
Haley laughed. “Oh, I can see this is going to be a very fun’ family’ to be a part of!”

Jenn said in a soft voice “You are going to fit right in here Haley. We were all alone in the world, more or less, until we came here and became a part of Macey’s mismatched family “

Macey added “I don’t think we are mismatched at all. It seems to me that we are so perfectly matched that our “family” is a lot happier and healthier than most. We just don’t happen to share a gene pool. I happen to come from a very large gene pool but this group is my real family and the others out there are really nothing more than strangers”

Scott, the gentle giant, spoke for the first time in his deep, soft, warm baritone, “My old man kicked me out when I was 15 because I refused to play football. He thought that because I was big, I should be a jock and make him proud, win a sports scholarship and go pro. All I wanted to do was study and earn my teaching credentials in general ed and then specialize in the sciences. Thanks to Macey, I am returned to the university and continued my courses toward that goal but ended up in law. That is what made us know you were the right person to join our little family. You were open and honest about who you are and where you wanted to go with your life. As a family, we wanted to share that path with you. You became our ‘youngest sister’ the minute we read your email.”

Haley sat and soaked in his words as a wave of contentment washed over her and a tear slid silently down her cheek. “Thank you all so much. My first day here and you have all made me feel that I have truly come home.”

With that, Sarah and Jenn both spoke at the same time “Then you get to wash the dishes and we will dry and put them away.”

Jason and Scott stood up and began clearing the table, “I believe it is actually our turn for cleanup duty” Scott said and Jason added “You don’t want to make Haley think we guys are slackers now do you?”

“Well then, that is settled. Ladies, why don’t we take advantage of this lovely evening light and give Haley a tour of the grounds?” Miss Macey asked as she arose from the table.

The women all started toward the kitchen and were just stepping out the back door when they were stopped by the sound of the most beautiful door chimes Haley had ever heard.” Is anyone expecting a visitor this evening?” Sarah asked as she looked around at each face. All heads shook no.
“I’ll get the door and meet you out by the old well in a couple minutes Jenn said. It is probably just the newspaper boy back to get his monthly check and it is my turn to pay him.”

Opening the door, Jenn was startled to see that it was not the newspaper boy but a handsome young man that looked very much like Jason in a familial resemblance way. She stared at him wordlessly for a moment as he shifted nervously from one foot to the other.

“Hi, I am Joe. I am sorry to just drop by like this but I was hoping that I could speak to Jason. He doesn’t know me but I hope he will be willing to speak with me and Trudy Gaines at the B and B down the road said this is where he lives? I’m sorry, I am rambling, but it is important to me. Is he home?”

Jenn opened the door wider and waved Joe inside. He stood in the entry when she found her voice. “Please, have a seat there in the parlor. I will let Jason know you are here…I …uh…you…are Joe?”

“Yes, my name is Joe and I just arrived in town today.” He looked at Jenn and was baffled by her reaction. She must be very shy he thought.

Jenn smiled then and rushed toward the kitchen to get Jason as Joe stood nervously just inside the parlor. He looked around the room but was too jittery to sit.
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Aug 26, 2011 2:28 PM CST
Name: Anna Z.
Monroe, WI
Miss Macey, Sarah, and Haley left for the garden as Jenn went to answer the door. When they got ourside, Haley just knew she was priviledged to get a view of what her interpretation of heaven would be. The gardens were gorgeous and exhuded and air of love and meticulous care from every square inch.

Right beside the porch was what Haley knew was called a "Moonlight Garden". Several varieties of pale, pale evening flowers were visible in the light of the ascending full moon. The scent of the white brugmansia was just beginning to waft on the evening air and it was the most wonderful, delightful scent Haley had ever smelled and was nothing she had ever experienced. Large moths were flying amongst the blooms, adding to the intrigue.

As they walked farther into the garden, Haley saw plant specimens she had only seen in books and read about. "Miss Macey must be a fantastic gardener, along with a famous author", thought Haley. Haley had always wanted to learn more about exotic plants and knew that Miss Macey would be a wealth of information.

"Haley, do you know anything about vegetable gardening?", asked Miss Macey. "We try our best here to be self-sufficient as much as we can by growing most of our vegetables. Besides, it helps our health by being out in the fresh air and sunshine. Gardening and growing things is just a balm for the soul. All of us living here have had many difficulties in our lives..........and by growing food for ourself and the others here, it makes for a community of sharing and caring. Way too little of THAT in the world.........caring", said Miss Macey. After being put out of her home the way she had been, Haley had to agree with that whole-heartedly.

The season was early for the garden, and only about half planted. Haley told Sarah and Miss Macey "I would love to learn more about vegetable gardening..........my foster mother couldn't be bothered with a garden. She said only weird people dug in the dirt. She felt the same about flower gardening..........who has time to put seeds in the ground and dig out weeds and water? She felt it was much easier to just buy flowers. That is, whenever SHE thought we should have a bouquet."

"Gosh," said Sarah, "were our foster mothers related? Mine felt the same way about gardening and growing things. She was just interested in the money the state gave her for *caring* for me".

"Girls", said Miss Macey, "I think that were are all going to have a most delightful and interesting time together". Jenn was just joining them and heard Miss Macey's comment and replied, "I don't think *interesting* will begin to describe it............you'll never guess who just came to the door."
Sep 4, 2011 9:00 PM CST
Name: Melissa
Joe thought back to how he found his Jason’s name. His parents had only said he had a brother, they didn’t know his name. He remembered the suitcase, the suitcase that held all of his possessions, and how upset he was the day he ripped the lining when he was fourteen. He remembered looking at the lining and wondering how he could repair it when he saw the edge of white. That scrap of paper with the name, Jason Michael Torres, that had been sewn into the lining of his suitcase, he knew it had been put there by his parents, he just knew it. They knew he would keep the suitcase, just as they knew he would find it when the time was right.

He had searched and searched and finally narrowed ‘his’ Jason Torres down to this Jason whose name had remained Torres though he had been adopted. He just knew this was the right family, he just felt it. Yes, he knew his parents were dead, but Jason wasn’t. He imagined having a real brother, a real family. Joe heard someone enter the room, as he turned and looked to the door, he knew it was Jason without being told the resemblance was undeniable.

Jason entered the room and stared at the young man in the living room that looked a lot like he did a few years ago. The resemblance was amazing. Joe, overcome with emotion, went to Jason and grabbed him up in a big bear hug. “I’ve waited so long to find you! My Brother!” He cried.

Jason felt so sorry for him, he hated to tell him what he was about to, but he couldn’t let him keep believing he was his brother when knew it was impossible. Jason took a deep breath, “Joe, I admit, the resemblance is amazing, how old are you?”

Joe swallowed, he knew what was coming, he could see it in Jason’s eyes. “I’m twenty-two.” Jason nodded, and said softly, “I’m twenty-five next week. I’m sorry I can’t help you, I really am, but there is no way we could be related. They died when I was 18 months old. My mom was an only child, and my dad’s only sibling; a brother was killed with my parents. A drunk driver hit them; they were coming home from a night out celebrating my Uncle’s graduation from medical school. Both sets of grandparents were gone before I was born.”

Joe crumpled; he had been so sure this was right. “I don’t understand, we even look alike!” he said though his tears. Jason shrugged, he didn’t know what to say, “They say everyone has a twin out there?”

Jason listened to himself, and even he wasn’t convinced. The resemblance was more than just a chance thing. “Look, leave me your number and your name. I have to admit that we look a little too much alike for it to be a total coincidence. We can get together, say this weekend, and talk, and try to piece together something that will help you find out who your parents are, or at least for sure who they aren’t. I’m sorry I can’t be more help right now. But, I was adopted too, I’ll have to talk to my parents and find out if they have any more information on my natural family that they’ve not shared with me. It’s not likely, but maybe there is some small bit of information that will help.”

Joe held out his hand, “I’d appreciate that. I’m so sorry for barging in like this; I was just so excited to meet you. I just knew you were the right Jason Michael Torres.”

After Joe left, Jason walked back into the room very puzzled. He said aloud to the room, “I’m not Jason Michael, Jason Michael was my uncle…how could he be my uncle’s son, or my uncle and dad's brother? He’s younger than me.”

The rest returned from the garden tour, Jason excused himself, he needed to do some research himself. Macey, too said she had some work to finish and excused herself to her room. As all excused themselves, they hugged Haley and again told her how happy they were to have her there with them. Haley went to her room, and got ready for bed. She was still so excited, she wasn’t sure she was going to be able to sleep. What a day! She climbed in to her new bed in her new home. The bed held her as soft as a mother’s arms. Haley believed it was the most comfortable bed she had ever been in her life. It was firm, yet so soft and plush, and the down comforter was so soft and hugged itself around her. She smiled to herself. This was the first time she went to bed feeling safe and secure since her parents had died. Before she knew it, her alarm was going off, and for the first time in a long time, she didn’t want to get out of bed and get out of the house as quickly as she could.

As she lay there, she mentally ticked off the things she needed to do today; first and foremost, try to find a job. She had a file saved on her computer of some of the listings she’d found before she and Joe spent the rest of the trip talking. She needed to print off some of her resumes to take with her. She counted her money, she was comfortable, she had slipped Macey her rent money last night, two months worth, so she felt good about that, knowing she had time, but she really didn’t want to waste any time in finding a job. A job was her ticket to school, and school was her ticket to a stable life for herself. Reluctantly she climbed out of the beautiful bed, made it, and then dressed. She picked up her computer and went to the kitchen where she found Macey sipping coffee and nibbling on a bagel. “Oh good, you’re up.” She smiled as Haley entered the room.

Haley smiled, “Good morning.”

“Did you sleep well?”

Haley nodded, “Better than I have in a very long time.”

Macey smiled, “Good. What are your plans for the day?” she asked.

Haley smiled and patted her laptop. “First I need to print resumes, and then I want to start looking for a job.”

Macey was impressed. This girl was in a brand new city, brand new home, and instead of exploring or sight seeing, she was going to look for a job. Definitely not typical of most of the 18 year olds she had experience with.

Macey smiled, “Come on, you can use my printer, do you have it on a flash drive, or do you need to bring your computer up?”

Haley’s face reddened. “I don’t have a flash drive.”

Macey patted her arm, “I have several, I’ll give you one. You’ll need it anyway when you start classes.”

Haley smiled as she followed her, “First I need a job, then I’ll worry about classes.”

As they entered Macey’s living quarters, Haley was again stunned by the beauty of the home, “It’s beautiful Macey.” She gushed. Macey smiled, and led Haley to a large room to the right of the entryway. Macey’s heels clicked on the shining wood floor, and then were suddenly silent. As Haley followed her, she knew why; she had just stepped on to the thickest, plushest carpet ever. It felt as soft as a bed under her feet. She could curl up on it and go to sleep! It was a beautiful cream color that made the deep red walls in the room stand out. The wood around the base of the room and framing the windows and door frames gleamed.

Macey talked as she walked, but Haley didn’t really hear her, she was soaking in the beauty of the room. She was surprised when Macey was holding something out to her. “I’m sorry Macey, I didn’t hear you, this room is so beautiful, and I’m dumbfounded I think.”

Macey laughed, “I was saying take this flash drive, and save your resume to it, then I’ll print it for you. I believe I have some good linen stock that would be perfect for a resume.”

Haley took the flash drive, more than a little embarrassed, “Plain paper is fine Macey, please, don’t go to any trouble.”

Macey waved her hands in the air, “No trouble at all, and you want to make a good impression.”

Haley finished saving the resume and handed the flash drive back to Macey. Before she knew it, she was holding a stack of beautifully printed resumes.

Macey took the last one off of the printer, “Do you mind if I read it?” She asked.

Haley shook her head, “Not at all. If you think I should change anything, please tell me.”

Macey studied the resume. “You did sales and book keeping at the bookstore?” She asked.

Haley nodded again. “I was the only employee, she taught me to do everything so she could have more time at home with her husband. He was very sick for a long time. He’s better now, but for a while, they didn’t know if he’d make it, evenings and on weekends, I ran the bookstore alone.”

Macey studied Haley, “That’s impressive for a girl your age, Haley. Let me ask around at the university, there might be something there for you to do.”

Haley smiled, “Thank you so much, anything, I’ll do anything.”

Macey glanced at her resume again, “I’d hate to see you waste your skills, hopefully we can find something that utilizes and builds on them.”

Haley smiled again, “Thank you so much for everything Macey. I better leave you alone and get started. I have a list of places to visit today.” With that, Haley left Macey’s home and returned to her own.

Macey smiled after Haley. Something about that girl reminded her of someone, something, somewhere. Macey shook her head; she didn't have time to worry about such things right now. She did however, place a call to human resources at UW, and let them know she was faxing a resume to them, and she would consider it a personal favor if they could find something that would maximize Haley's potential. The director said he would do his best, but it might take a couple of weeks. Satisfied, Macey returned to her work.

A week later, Haley came home thoroughly depressed. She had handed out over one hundred resumes, and not one call had come in for an interview. She had spent very little of her money, she had bought some groceries for the house, but other than that, she had not spent a penny. She hated being idle though. She kept busy with little things at the house like dusting, cleaning toilets, things that seemed to bother her housemates to do, Haley didn't mind doing at all. As time passed, she got to know her roommates a little more, but realized she had not seen Macey since that morning a week ago.

"Don't worry about Macey." Sarah told her as they prepared a salad for dinner that night. We sometimes don't see her for weeks at a time; it's just the way she is. You get used to it."

"Haley, it's for you." Haley jumped at Scott’s deep voice. She saw he was holding out the cordless phone for her.

Haley took it, and listened, Scott and Sarah stood watching her. Slowly a smile spread across Haley’s face. “Yes, I can do that. Yes, I can be there first thing in the morning.”

The grin grew wider, “No, it’s really no problem at all, I’m sure.”

Haley was now grinning from ear to ear. “I’ll find it. Thank you SO much.”

Haley clicked the phone off, and screamed, “I have a job!”

Scott and Sarah both smiled at her. It was Scott who spoke first, “Where is it?”

Haley was jumping up and down, “That’s the best part, it’s at the University of Washington! In the bookstore! I go for Orientation tomorrow morning, and start Monday!”

Sarah was happy for Haley, “That is great Haley, is it full time or part time?” She asked.

Haley was still jumping and spinning, acting very much her age for the first time since she’d arrived. “It’s full time! Assistant to the Director! Can you believe it? Oh my gosh, I have to thank Miss Macey. Oh, I have to call Mrs. Simmons!”

Scott reached out his arms to hug Haley, “Congratulations Haley! That sounds like it is right up your alley.”

Sarah nodded her agreement, “It sounds absolutely perfect for you.”

Haley shook her head emphatically as she calmed down. “I have to go thank Miss Macey. She took my resume to them, and I’m sure had a lot to do with this.”

Scott smiled, “Sounds like Macey was just giving you a hand up, but you’ll have to wait to thank her, she left this morning for New York. She’ll be gone for a while. She and her editor are hammering out some things on her manuscript.”

Haley’s smile faded just a little bit. Sarah gave her shoulders a squeeze, “She always calls to check on us a couple of times. You’ll have a chance to thank her, don’t worry.”

“Would it be okay if I called Mrs. Simmons?” She asked.

Scott spoke up, “Sure, we’ve got free long distance, call anyone you want.”

Haley smiled, “Thanks guys. I appreciate your support so much.”

Haley relayed all the information to Mrs. Simmons, who was so happy to hear from her. She had been worried about Haley, and what would happen to her after graduation. That had been the reason she had given Haley her home phone number and told her to call if she needed anything. She hadn’t figured Haley would call, so this was both a relief and a pleasant surprise to her.
“I haven’t told you the best part.” Haley smiled into the phone. “But, you have to promise to keep it a secret, you can’t tell anyone, not even Mr. Simmons.”

Mrs. Simmons laughed in to the phone, “I promise Haley, your secret is safe with me.”

Haley took a deep breath, “I didn’t tell you about my last room mate. It’s actually her house, and well, while we live in the same house, she does have a completely separate living quarters from the rest of us. She has like an apartment built in to the house. She’s so nice and kind, and has helped me so much. Promise again, that you won’t tell.”

Mrs. Simmons laughed again, “I promise Haley.”

Haley took a deep breath, “It’s Macey Sorrell.”

Mrs. Simmons inhaled sharply, and in a whisper she asked, “THE Macey Sorrell?”

Haley beamed, “The one and only. Isn’t that just way too cool?”

“Haley, that is beyond way too cool, that is simply amazing! I am so happy for you! It does make sense though, her books are geared toward young adults, so it would be beneficial to her to be around young adults a lot. What a neat way to do it. You certainly are a lucky girl, Haley. How fortunate, and you already had something in common with Ms. Sorrell right off the bat, how nice.”

Haley was confused, “What do I have in common with Macey?” She asked.

“Why Haley.” Mrs. Simmons said in her “teacher voice” and Haley knew she had forgotten something she shouldn’t have. “Don’t you remember, we talked about her extensively during your junior year. Macey Sorrell grew up in Lancaster, Ohio.”

Haley did remember just then. “Oh, Mrs. S, I did forget, and I shouldn’t have. That’s where my mom grew up too.”

Haley could hear Mrs. Simmons smiling in the phone, “I remembered you telling me that, Haley. Ms. Sorrell left Lancaster in 1966, went to the University of Washington, your new employer, and never came back as far as I know. She has never even done a book signing in Central Ohio.”

It was all coming back to her now, she’d have to remember to ask one of her housemates about it, to see if they knew Macey was even from Ohio.

Sarah was in the doorway then, telling Haley dinner was ready.

“I need to go Mrs. S. dinner is ready, and I’m starved. I just wanted to give you my good news, and let you know I’m okay.”

“I am so glad you called Haley. I’d been thinking about you, and worrying about you. If I run in to your foster mother, do you want me to tell her that I’ve heard from you?”

Haley shook her head, though she knew Mrs. Simmons couldn’t see it. “No, if she wants to know how I’m doing, she can ask herself, she has my email address. She hasn’t sent anything at all since I left.”

Mrs. Simmons smiled; Haley could hear it through the phone line. “Haley, I am so proud of you. Take good care of yourself, and please, don’t just call me when you have good news, call me just to chat. I’m a good listener, good news, or just plain ordinary news, okay?”

Haley hung up the phone, feeling so good about the call, and about herself right at the moment. She hadn’t realized how much hearing the words, “I’m proud of you.” Would mean to her.

She joined her housemates for dinner, and the conversation seemed to be centered on Haley and her new job. She found out a lot from her housemates at the table, like that as an employee of the UW, she would be able to take 6 credit hours a semester FREE. That was a word she really liked. She had been so excited; she hadn’t even thought to ask how much the job paid. She assumed minimum wage, and that was fine with her. She would have insurance and part of her tuition would be covered. That in and of itself was major. She silently sent up a prayer of thanks again for her good fortune. She couldn’t wait for Monday to get here!

Sep 9, 2011 8:53 PM CST
Name: Nancy
Buffalo NY
Over the next few days, Haley's excitement seemed to spill over onto the entire household. She wore a perpetual grin on her face and everyone who saw her couldn't help but break into a grin right along with her. She felt as if she were floating around the house, her feet barely touching the ground. The sun seemed to shine brighter than usual, and every flower seemed to bloom just for her. Her heart was bursting with happiness!

Orientation went well. She met the Director of the bookstore, Mrs Crowley, who was more than happy to greet the young lady whom Macey Sorrell had recommended so highly. Mrs Crowley was another one of Macey's faithful fans, and she had great respect for her opinions and judge of character. An endorsement from Macey carried a lot of weight with all the Administration at the University. Mrs Crowley intended to treat Haley with kid gloves, and as someone who might one day become an important member of the University staff.

After giving Haley a personal tour of the Campus, and introducing her to other members of the Administration, Mrs Crowley introduced her to a young woman named Brittany, a University student who volunteered at the bookstore. Brittany was given the responsibility of showing Haley the layout of the store and the system and procedures of its operation. Then she escorted Haley to the Human Resources Department so she could fill out the necessary paperwork and obtain her picture ID. Brittany was a pretty young woman, and smart too. Haley could tell that Brittany knew what she wanted and went after it. She was pleasant to be around. They chatted over lunch in the cafeteria, then Brittany went back to work and Haley headed for home.

Home. She already felt that it was home. Her large, beautifully decorated room in this stately old home with its exquisite gardens and friendly roommates made her feel happier than she had ever felt before. She decided it was time to call Joe and fill him in on all the wonderful events of the last couple of weeks. Suddenly she missed him. As happy as she was, she missed having Joe there to share it with.

They decided to meet at Interlaken Park. Sarah had mentioned that it was a lush, forest like place with gravel paths where she liked to explore nature and meditate, and she had not understated its wealth of greenery. Its heavily wooded hillside in the heart of the city was like stepping into another world. Interlaken Park was a stark contrast to the Capitol District, just a short distance away. The bus driver dropped her off at the main entrance and she found a bench in plain sight where she would wait for Joe.

She saw him get off the next bus and stood to greet him with a hug. Funny how they had known each other less than a month, yet their friendship spanned across the country, and from her old life into her new one. He was like a link to her other self. He was like her boyfriend and her brother and her oldest friend, all rolled into one. She could read his feelings, and right now she sensed his disappointment that Jason was not the long lost brother he so desperately wanted to find. She decided she couldn't force her happiness on him just yet, not when he needed to pour his heart out to her. Poor Joe. She encouraged him to continue his search and not to give up hope. They walked and talked and ate hot dogs they bought from a sidewalk vendor. His ache melted away slowly, until she felt it was time to share her good news with him.

Good old Joe. He was genuinely happy for her. Her contagious enthusiasm began to build once again and her face radiated with excitement and joy. How pretty she looks, Joe thought. Was she that pretty when we first met? Why hadn't I noticed it before? Are those dimples I see when she smiles? Her auburn hair really shows off the green of her eyes.

He slipped his hand over hers as they walked, and it felt natural. He couldn't tell whether this pleasant feeling was romantic, or simply an extension of Haley's happiness, but he knew everything was going to be alright. For both of them.

On Sunday morning, the day before Haley was to begin her job as Assistant to Mrs Crowley, Haley went with Sarah to church. She had much to be thankful for, and although she had not been one to attend church while she lived with the Sullivans, she'd had friends who shared their own faith with her. She knew that everything happened for a reason, and that there was a God who loved her. She felt the need to offer thanks for her new life. She was glad she went. She felt wonderful, and allowed tears of joy to flow freely from her cheeks.

Back home, the phone was ringing as they walked through the door. To her delight, it was Macey calling from New York. “Oh, Macey! I'm so glad you called! The University called me and they offered me a job! Assistant to the Director of the bookstore! Do you know Mrs Crowley? She's so nice! I went to Orientation and filled out the papers and got my ID and met Brittany who taught me what to do. And I start tomorrow! I'm so excited! And Macey, I know I have YOU to thank for this. It was you who told them about me and I owe you so much! Coming to Seattle and meeting you was the best thing that ever happened to me in my whole life! I love you!!”

Abruptly Haley stopped talking and there was a moment of silence. Was it only a moment? Neither one spoke as those last words hung between them....”I love you!” Haley realized at that moment that she had never said that to anyone before. And oddly enough, she really meant it. What she felt for Macey was love.

And Macey felt the awkward urge to say “I love you too,” but she didn't. How strange. She barely knew Haley. She couldn't love her. Could she? There was definitely something special about the girl though. Something special and almost familiar. Should she say it? No, it's too late now. The moment slipped away and Macey merely said, “That's wonderful, Haley. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to help you find the right job. I think you'll do wonderfully in the position. I have known Caroline Crowley for a few years and I think the two of you will work well together.”

Macey said she would be staying another week in New York, but on her return they would talk more about it. She wished Haley well on her first day, then asked to speak to Sarah about sending her some research notes she had forgotten to take with her on the trip.

Haley couldn't wait for Macey to come home. She had been experiencing a wide range of emotions lately, all positive, some she had never felt in her entire life. She was sure that her heart would just burst soon! She yearned to feel her mother's presence. She hurried to her room, her beautiful room, and reached into the top drawer of the dresser, way in the back behind her lingerie. There it was. Her mother's locket. Peace fell over her spirit. She didn't need to open it, just hold it. She opened the door to the patio and smelled the sweet garden scents, as she sat on the white wicker settee and tucked her feet up underneath her. She suddenly felt tired, and laying her head on her arm, she drifted off into blissful sleep.

“Haley? Where did you go? Are you outside?” It was Sarah, who had just taken care of the errand that Macey asked her to do. She wanted to tell Haley how thrilled Macey said she was about her job at the University. She walked onto the patio to find Haley with her eyes closed. Sarah noticed the locket, which had fallen out of Haley's hand onto the patio floor. It had popped open, revealing the precious photographs inside. Sarah picked it up and studied the young couple with the baby between them, and she knew instantly that it had to be Haley and her parents. They were a handsome couple, who were obviously very much in love with each other and with the baby they cradled. The mother was a hauntingly beautiful and somewhat intriguing lady. She had a somewhat familiar appearance, and looked so proud of the child that they had created together.

Sarah suddenly felt guilty for intruding on Haley's private moment with her parents, so she gently laid the locket near Haley's hand and tiptoed away. The tender moment she'd witnessed stayed with her for a good while, as did the memory of the lovely woman who was Haley's mom.
Sep 15, 2011 12:12 AM CST
Name: Sharon

Joe West, he liked the name he'd given himself, took it from the westerly direction he'd traveled; he had taken a job at Ruby’s Diner down on First Avenue. It wasn’t the most popular place in town he’d noticed, but when he saw the ad for night manager, he grabbed it. Jobs seemed to be few and far between in Seattle. While the Gaines’ B and B had been reasonable, Joe was fast running out of money. Another plus for the diner was the vacant but partially furnished flat above it. He’d already moved his one duffle bag in.

That had always been Joe’s problem. Money. He never had enough of it. But the three years he’d lived on the street had taught him a thing or two. He never wanted to be homeless again, and certainly not during the frigid winters back east.

He knew he was a hard worker, if he could only find the right job. The diner looked fairly clean, one he could probably bring Haley into someday, if only for a light snack. The bonus of the empty apartment above it seemed like a gift from the gods to Joe.

He’d worked all week. It wasn’t a bad job and he learned pretty quickly from Steve, the owner, who’d stayed late a few nights to help Joe get accustomed to the schedule. His shift was from 4 to 1 a.m. He had two 30 minute breaks during which he’d grabbed something from the grill. Free food and an apartment for a measly hundred fifty a month ought to take Joe a long way out of the poverty he didn’t ever want to face again.

Not a job to brag about, but he didn’t have anybody to brag to anyway. Except Haley.
And what Haley didn’t know wasn’t going to hurt her. He still had those two Ralph Lauren shirts he’d snitched the last time he checked out the shower room at the Y in down town Pittsburgh. He’d save them for times with Haley until he could either afford others or until some fell into his hands. Again. Nothin’ but the best for good ol’ Joe.

He’d made good grades in high school. Tried vocational school for a few months but that didn’t suit him and when his mid term grades indicated there was no hope for him, his adoptive parents told him there was no more money for him either. He needed a job.

He found a few, seemed as if they didn’t last long either, something about his surly attitude, his rowdy friends. He’d decided a search for his brother was the only legitimate thing he could do, and with the $5000 that came to him when he turned 21, from an uncle that he knew nothing of, he made a decision to change his ways.

He had sense enough to know he couldn’t do a thing about changing in Pittsburg. He needed to get out of that crime infested city that his friends so dearly loved. And he needed to get away from those so called friends he hung with. His parents had been right. Celeste was trash. He’d walked away from her with not a word. And Sam. Sam, his best friend from childhood. Sam who’d inject anything he could find in his veins. He’d walked away from Sam, too. Without a word.

Joe was reinventing himself. No more trash. Trouble was, he was down to his last $700 from the inheritance. He never had been able to handle money, but he had needed that big screened TV for his flat. And he’d needed the leather jacket for the rainy weather. And Haley. Girls liked black leather. And he’d needed to buy a computer so he could continue to check on his friends back home. He’d kept his Facebook account, he just wasn’t planning to let them know he was watching. And a cell phone. He touched his shirt pocket to make sure it was there.

With a renewed determination, he thought of Haley. His perfect friend, Haley. Oh boy! Meeting her was a stoke of luck. And just look at her now, a college kid. He had to really work on that relationship. Too bad about Jason. But he’d still look for his brother. At least that was his one claim to legitimacy. But first, he grabbed his yellow shirt that Steve gave him, the one with Ruby’s Diner written across the left pocket in faded red ink, jerked it on and tucked it into his black jeans. Best pair of jeans he ever had. He couldn’t remember where he picked them up.

Didn’t matter now, he was staying clean. For Haley. Yeah. Or any other cool chick who looked his way. He’d buy whatever he needed, he was going to save every cent.

Work went pretty well that night. A few customers that he remembered from the night before; a few that were new to him. Nobody very interesting.

Along about 8 when he took his first break, he’d asked the kitchen manager to fix him a fast BLT, but he got in a conversation with a young man about his age. Turned out the guy was also new to Seattle and he asked Joe if he was hiring.

Joe told him no, but that he’d ask around. It didn’t seem that the young man knew another soul in the diner, so Joe thought he was probably legit. He told the guy to keep in touch as he handed him change for his soup and water. Joe noticed he was counting his pennies.

Joe ate the BLT, gulping it down, sipping a cup of the black signature coffee that Ruby’s was known for. He wondered briefly who Ruby was, where she was, and if maybe she was a figment of Steve’s imagination. He thought he might ask about her sometime.

The movie crowd showed up at 9, just as Joe had been told would happen. It was a rowdy place for awhile, but they left around 11 and for awhile, all was quiet in the diner. A little skinny youngster was bussing tables and Eve, the only server at that hour, was polishing tables with a towel and replacing condiments. Joe was straightening the glasses behind the bar, the bartender was taking his own break. The thought crossed Joe’s mind that it wouldn’t take long before he knew all there was to know about running this place. He decided he’d grab a bowl of that chowder before the last round crowd started coming in. He was even getting the hang of the vernacular. Last Round Crowd. If he ever owned his own place, he might name it that.

The last round crowd was trickling out. The money had been counted, the receipts were in order. It all went into the zippered pouch to take upstairs to the safe located in a hidden closet just off the landing below Joe’s flat. Joe didn’t know the combination, but his instructions were to lock the pouch in the closet, tucking it between the safe and the wall. Steve would take care of it when he opened in the morning. They’d been doing that for years, Steve told him.

Eve was happy with her tips, left on the arm of the husband who came to pick her up; the kitchen was closed down, the bartender walked out with the kitchen manager and locked the back door. The little busboy had left at midnight. Joe was alone in a clean and orderly diner.

He checked the lights, double checked the kitchen and the back door, locked the front door and turned off the empty cash register. The zippered pouch was tucked under his left arm. He closed the door that lead from the diner to the steps up to his flat. There was an outside door there, it led to an alley, and Joe checked to make sure it was locked. He climbed the steps toward the landing.

“Hey, hey Joe!” the muffled voice called through the outside door at the bottom of the stairs. “Hey Joe, it’s me, remember me from dinner tonight. Let me in, bro, let me in.”

Joe recognized the young man who’d paid for his soup with pennies, wondering if he had no place to stay. Well, Joe had that couch upstairs, he guessed he could…

The boy knocked on the door again, and Joe walked down the steps, opened the door, just as the boy and two others behind him pushed their way in.

“Hey,” yelled Joe as he was knocked to the stairs. “Hey, man, what th’ . . . “

“No questions,” the muscled man in back said, “no questions. Just give us that pouch and we’ll disappear. NOW!” he yelled.

Joe rolled to his side; the pouch was beneath him. He grabbed hold of the banister on the old staircase.

The big man in back never hesitated, shot that bullet right into Joe’s left knee, and another struck his leg just above the first one. The pouch was grabbed as soon as Joe jerked from the two bullets, and the three men quickly disappeared into the night.

In agony, stark white freaking agony, Joe screamed.

No one came. The men had shut the door behind them. There was no one to hear. Joe clutched his leg, the blood was gushing, but as he bent over it, his cell phone fell out of his shirt pocket. He managed to push 9 . . . 1 . . .1. And then for Joe, the night was over.

A week passed. Joe had been in and out of consciousness much of that time. He remembered little. The police had questioned him, or tried to, but his doctors advised them to wait. He’d lost too much blood. The surgery had been major, and saving his leg was still an unknown.

It seemed strange to the police that the muggers had let Joe live. Had he been in on their plans? A part of the plot? He was new to the city and there was nothing in his background that they could find that gave them a clue. No one had been to the hospital, no one had inquired about him, except Steve, the owner of Ruby’s Diner. Steve knew nothing except Joe was a new employee who lived in the loft upstairs.

They searched his loft, went through his computer, found his Facebook account, but he had entered nothing there. He'd sent no emails. And he’d received nothing in return. As far as they were concerned, he was alone in the world or he’d completely covered his background.

On Friday, they realized the cell phone had not been inspected. The only number they found in it belonged to Haley. The police called her.

She entered Joe’s hospital room early on Saturday morning, alone, pale and trembling.

“Joe,” she whispered softly, “oh Joe, what happened? Joe, please wake up, tell me what happened?”

A tear started to fall, and slowly Joe raised his hand.

“Haley”? he whispered.

His hand found Haley’s and he weakly pulled her down closer to him.

“Haley, I thought I’d never see y . . .”

The door to his room suddenly opened and a young heavily pregnant blonde woman rushed into the room. Haley jumped back.

"Celeste?" whispered Joe.

“Oh my sweet Joe, what have they done to you, honey?? I’m here now, Sweetheart, I’ll take care of you. Let’s clear this room out and you and me have a little reunion, you’ve been gone so long I thought I’d never find you, but here we are, honey, me and the baby, here we are, come here to take care of you, just like we planned. Look at me, Joe, ain’t I just somethin’. This baby of yours is taking all my energy, thought I’d never make it all the way out here from Pittsburgh, but I did what I figured you’d do. I just followed your ticket trail. And once I got here it was easy enough to find the diner. I just started at First Avenue and kept lookin’. Found Steve at Ruby’s when I stopped for a bite and he told me what happened, but he didn’t tell me you was so hurt. But that don’t matter none, I’m here to take care of you. You can be well by the time the baby comes and then you can take care of me. Don’t that sound good? Now, let’s clear this room, we’ve got some catchin’ up to do. Hey, you, could you ‘scuse us for a while, he won’t be needing no more nursing’ except from me.”

Haley met her eyes for only a moment. Then she turned and walked quickly out of the hospital room.
Sep 17, 2011 12:05 PM CST
Name: Brenda Essig
Rio Dell, CA
Haley walked slowly down the corridor and through the lobby feeling stunned. Her brain was spinning with questions and she felt confused. Celeste? Joe’s baby? Why hadn’t he told her? They had spent hours talking and he had never once mentioned a serious relationship or a baby. Weren’t they close enough friends at this point that he would have confided something this major to her?
The woman hadn’t made sense…she followed him…tracked him down…but said it was “just like we planned” Something was wrong. Her friend was hurt, he could lose his leg and he was in no condition to deal with added stress right now. I don’t know how I can help him but I will do what I can. That is what friends do. He will tell me about Celeste and the baby when he is ready. I will give him some time to get it sorted out today and check in on him again tomorrow.

With that thought, she walked out of the lobby and headed to the corner to wait for the bus. She had a big day ahead of her. First she would check in at the bookshop and make sure the deliveries were inventoried. It was Saturday and she was glad to have a job that let her set her own hours! Then she would go shopping for a new winter coat and some decent gloves.

The Store would be busy Monday morning as the rush began with students eager to get their books for the semester that would start in less than 2 weeks. She would go to the admissions office on her lunch hour. Ms. Macey had called from New York and gotten her an appointment with an admittance counselor who would advise her on which courses she needed to take and which were still open. She hoped that there were still slots available for Literary Fiction I, English Literature and Classic Literature. She knew she would also need some form of math class if she wanted to get a degree. But she didn’t know where to begin or what would be open to her. She needed to fulfill the prerequisite courses first and the counselor would help her understand exactly what she needed.
“Thank you Mrs. Simmons for getting me into those college prep classes!” She whispered as the bus came to a stop in front of the college.

She got off the bus and walked directly toward the campus book store. It was fairly quiet now on the campus, being a Saturday, but there was still enough foot traffic to keep her from noticing the young man who exited the bus behind her and followed her to the door of the store. When she opened the door with her key, he waited silently, and then began to follow her inside.

Haley noticed him then and smiled. “I’m sorry, we are not open today.”

“Oh, I uh, I seen you open the door and thought, uh, maybe I could, uh, you know… Sorry, I’ll come back Monday.” With that he turned and went out the door. Haley locked the door after him and went to work. The young man walked away just far enough from the book store to be out of sight and stared back at the now locked door. When Haley didn’t return after two hours he strolled back to the bus stop and hopped onto the first bus heading back toward the outskirts of town.

Haley went to work humming and thinking. Monday would be her first payday. She had never asked what her pay scale was; it didn’t matter because she loved the job and the campus atmosphere. Even minimum wage would be okay with her low rent and the student aide grant she had been qualified to receive. She was going to be just fine! Thinking of the opportunities open to her made her quiver with excitement.

Joe stared at Celeste but his eyes couldn’t focus on her as his lids drooped shut and the morphine drip took over. He faded into sleep again thinking that she was nothing but a bad dream and when he woke up he would discover that it had just been a nurse who had come in to check on him. His sleep was filled with distorted images of strange men and a gun. He had been shot. Why had they shot him in the leg? He heard a voice saying, “She said to cripple him, but not to kill him.” BANG, “One more to make sure.” BANG “Hey, grab that money pack;” Laughter, the sound of running feet, then blackness enveloped him.

The Doctor entered Joe’s room and saw Celeste standing over him stroking his hair back from his face and humming. “Miss, are you a relative?” She didn’t seem to hear him. “Miss?” She turned toward him, nodded her head, and then walked out of the room, still humming.
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Sep 21, 2011 5:07 PM CST
Name: Anna Z.
Monroe, WI
As Sarah left Haley sleeping on the patio, she bagan to have some intermittent but very puzzling thoughts. "I KNOW I have seen that woman's face somewhere," Sarah mused. Images and events floated just below the area of her subconscious-vague faces come up from the depths and just before she could see them fully, they floated away as if on a mist. All these visions and thoughts were playing and re-playing in her mind. She even thought she could hear a soft voice, but, like the visions, they were about to surface and in the flutter of a heartbeat they were gone.

Sarah couldn't put any of these thoughts out of her mind, but knew she had to go and start her turn at preparing supper, as the rest of the gang would be home soon. Thinking that the soothing, automatic motions of cooking and meal preparation would rest her over-active mind she set out to start the meal.


Everyone was chatting over the meal like old friends are wont to do, when Sarah said "Haley, you were sleeping earlier when I came out to the patio to find you and I noticed the locket you always wear had fallen to the patio and popped open. I couldn't resist looking at the picture inside before putting it back into your hand. Is that a photo of you and your parents?"
"Yes, it is," Haley answered quietly. "That photo was taken a month before the.............." Haley stopped and took a deep breath, "...........before the accident that took their lives. They had dropped me off at daycare on their way to work that awful day. They never came back," she whispered brokenly.
Everyone looked at each other, not knowing what to say to Haley. "How did you manage to be in foster care?" asked Sarah.
"Both of my parents were only children, so there were no aunts, uncles or other relatives. Both sets of my grandparents were dead. The daycare's head lady kept me until a foster home was found. I wish I would have had relatives-my foster mother gave me the essentials-food, shelter, and clothing-but she was quick to tell me on many occasions that she had no love to give me or anyone else. That's a terrible thing for a child to hear," said Haley sadly.
Everyone was quiet until Sarah said "Haley, we are all very sorry for what happened to you, but we want you to know that we are all family here. We all consider this beautiful home OUR home due to the generosity of Miss Macey. It's the new start of a new life for all of us........including you."
Everyone raised their water glasses in a toast saying, "to our new lives, may they be long and prosperous."


The next day Sarah was taking her turn cleaning, all the while thinking of what had been running through her mind the evening before, but still not making any sense of the jumble in her head. As she was vacuuming by Miss Macey's large desk in the "community study", she saw that there was cleaning needed behind the desk. As she pulled out the desk she saw an envelope stuck to the desk backing with a paper sticking out of it. As she pulled it loose to put it back on the desk, a photo fell out. Sarah picked it up to put it back into the envelope (which she had seen was adressed to Miss Macey when she turned it over). As she turned the photo over before sliding it into the envelope her world started spinning at a dizzying pace..................it was the exact photo that Haley had in her locket.
Sep 30, 2011 2:35 PM CST
Name: Melissa
Sarah couldn’t help herself, she looked at the envelope and saw it had been mailed six years ago, and there was a note inside; it read. “I thought you’d like to have this, even though you haven’t been back here for many years, I know you like to keep up on the goings on. This is Alva’s girl, and her husband. They were killed, and left behind a young daughter. It has been a really sad time for the community. I knew you would want to see what she looked like now”.

The letter continued on to more pleasant news, births and weddings that had occurred over the summer. The letter read like this person and Ms. Macey corresponded pretty regularly. Sarah began to breathe a little easier. She dug back in her memory banks, and remembered Ms. Macey mentioning she grew up in Ohio. Obviously she must have been from the same community Haley’s parents were from. She sighed, she obviously had seen the picture before, and that’s why Haley’s locket photo had seemed so familiar.

She would mention it to Macey when she came back, but she wasn’t going to say anything to Haley right now, though she thought Haley would probably like having the larger photo, but that was for Macey to take care of. Sarah smiled to herself, wasn’t it funny how life worked things out sometimes. Ms. Macey might have thrown that letter and photo away years ago if it hadn’t fallen into its hiding spot, and what a small world that Haley ended up here. Sarah quickly finished her cleaning, it was starting to get late, and she needed a shower and change to go into work early tonight to cover for someone on vacation.

Haley smiled as she finished inventory of the new books that had arrived. She was surprised at how much stock they had in the store right now; Summer Semester must really be popular to have so many copies of the texts available. She had not yet made it over to the admissions office, and had pretty much decided she wasn’t going to, she was enjoying her job, but she still had so much to learn and she was afraid if she started classes now it might interfere with her learning her job as well as she wanted to. She smiled to herself, no one said she had to start classes a month after she had graduated from high school, no, fall would be fine, then she would probably continue classes through next summer, but saving up the extra money would be helpful too. Haley got a big break on tuition, but she assumed she would still have to buy her textbooks, and from the prices in the store, the books were going to be very expensive.

Her thoughts were interrupted by one of her co-workers, telling her she had a phone call. Haley couldn’t imagine who it was, so she hurried to the phone. She hoped there wasn’t a problem at home.

“Hello?” Haley said timidly in to the phone.

“Haley! How are you love? It’s Macey, I just wanted to call and check in with you.” Macey’s smile radiated through the phone, and Haley couldn’t help but smile back.

“Miss Macey! How nice to hear from you! Thank you for calling, yes, everything here is going great, I really like the job a lot, even though it is a bit more complicated than the bookstore back home.”

Macey laughed, “Well remember dear, the campus bookstore serves a student body of over forty thousand people, it’s definitely not a small operation.”

Haley nodded into the phone, “Yes Ma'am, I realize that. Sometimes I forget how big it is, everyone has been so nice to me, it doesn’t seem like a giant operation, even though I know it is.”

“I’ve spoken with Caroline Crowley, several times, she has been extremely pleased with how quickly you are learning new things.”

Haley beamed, “Yes, she’s told me she was very happy with how quickly I’ve caught on, but I just feel like I’ve barely made a dent in everything I need to know, especially before the rush for fall semester starts.”

Macey smiled, “I have faith in you, and no doubt you will be fine.”

“Thank you Macey, um, but, well, I would like some advice, if you don’t mind?” Haley asked.

“Of course my dear, ask away, if I can help, I will, if I can’t, I’ll find someone who can.”

Haley sighed, “It’s about classes actually. Everyone at home assumed I’d be signing up for summer semester, and, well, if I had gotten a well, I don’t know how to say it without sounding…” she trailed off.

Macey laughed, “For heaven’s sake, Haley, I’m not going to judge you, just say it so we can get on to a solution.”

Haley took a deep breath, “Well, my job is kind of complicated, not difficult, but there are a lot of little things I need to know second nature, and I’m afraid if I take classes this semester, I’ll focus on my classes, and won’t learn my job as well as I should.”

Macey laughed, “My goodness child, I certainly didn’t expect you to jump in to summer semester. I don’t think any first time freshman should. The summer semester is a much shorter semester than the regular fall and Spring Semesters, but the workload is the same. Summer Semesters across the country are the same. They were designed for working adults who needed to take classes, but couldn’t go the traditional route.”

Macey continued, “You’ll notice when you start looking through the catalogue, that there are classes that meet at night, but only one night a week for three hours instead of five days a week for an hour. Often times freshmen, especially, are tempted to take those classes, my advice has always been, do not! For someone fresh out of high school it can be a disaster. Those classes have the same requirements, but cram five days worth of class into one night, again, focused on a working adult who is only taking one or two classes at a time.”

Haley gasped, “Oh, I didn’t realize any of that.”

Haley could feel the warmth in Macey’s voice, “Of course you didn’t, you’ve never been to college my dear. Please, I’ve advised hundreds, if not thousands of students through the years. Do your Freshman year in the traditional way, then next summer, if there is a class you’d like to pick up, by all means, do so, but don’t jump right in now. You just got here Haley, take some time to learn your job, and the city. Seattle is a wonderful place to live. You have a home, you’re going to be fine, give yourself some breathing room. When I got you in to the admissions counselor, I meant for you to talk about your fall classes, not this semester.”

Haley sighed, she felt like a huge burden had just been lifted from her shoulders. “Thank you Macey. I’m so glad you called.”

Macey smiled at her end of the line, she was glad she’d called too. “Haley, don’t mention it, I’m glad I could help. Now, the reason I called is I wanted to make sure everything was going well at home. I know it can be an adjustment learning to live with new people, and I wanted to make sure that you are okay. That’s why I called you here instead of home.”

“Everything is great, everyone is being nice to me, I think a little too nice, I don’t think they’re giving me a fair share of the household chores.”

Macey laughed, “Don’t complain, and enjoy it! The newness will wear off soon enough, and you might think they have given you too many of the household chores!”

Haley laughed, and the rest of the conversation consisted of a few things Macey asked Haley to see to at the house, as well as Haley telling her about the people she had met in the bookstore and some of the meals they’d shared at the house. After Haley hung up, she felt calm, centered, and again, thanked her lucky stars for her good fortune.

“Hey Haley?”

Haley turned to see Brittany, the nice girl who had been helping with her training at the bookstore.

“Hi Brittany, I’m sorry about the personal call.”

Brittany smiled and waved her hand, “Don’t worry about it, no one cares as long as it’s not an every day thing. It’s really not a big deal. Hey, I was wondering if you’d like to go with me after work to CLUE, and then over to Pagliacci Pizza? CLUE is a great place to meet folks, especially now, between sessions when everyone is not stressed over classes, and Pagliacci Pizza is just yummy.”

Haley was surprised and pleased Brittany was inviting her, “Sure, I’d love to. I’ve been hearing a lot about both, so it would be great to have someone show me around.”

Brittany laughed, “Well, I’m a junior, so I definitely know my way around. CLUE is what we call it; it stands for Center for Learning and Undergraduate Enrichment. It’s without a doubt where you want to study, and surprisingly, studying is fun there because there are so many people doing the same thing you are. I’ve found over the last couple of years, that in some cases, nearly my all my classmates are there, so it’s nice to have almost everyone in the class studying together. It’s over in Mary Gates Hall, so it’s convenient right in the center of campus. It was the best advice I got when I started here.”

Haley smiled, “I’m looking forward to it, thanks Brittany.”

Brittany beamed back at Haley, “Hey, no problem, after we close, we’ll just walk over together.”

Jenn entered the hospital quietly. She was nervous, she didn’t want anyone to see her here, not yet, she shouldn’t even chance being here, but she was afraid for her brother. When she’d called last night, the doctor said the infection was a rare strain, and Joe was not responding to the antibiotics they were giving him very well. That news had worried Jenn, and she wanted to see for herself that he was all right. She hoped this infection wouldn’t make him lose his leg.

She approached the nurse’s station cautiously; the nurse seated at the station was typing something on her computer. Jenn waited for what seemed like an eternity before the nurse turned to her with a sunny smile and asked, “May I help you.”

Jenn fidgeted, “Um, I’m here to see my brother.”

“What’s his name?” The nurse asked as she swiveled in her chair ready to type in his name.

“Joe, Joe Michael, err, I mean, Joe Johnson.” Jenn said nervously.

The nurse looked down her nose at Jenn, “Well, which is it honey?”

Jenn smiled nervously at the nurse, “Johnson, I’m sorry, I thought you meant his whole name.”

The nurse turned and typed a few letters into her keyboard, “Oh, well, um— you said you’re his sister?” The nurse asked.

Jenn nodded, “Yes, I just got into town.” She lied. “I spoke with Doctor Hall on the phone just yesterday evening, he said Joe wasn’t doing so well he has some kind of infection. I got here as quick as I could.”

The nurse typed a few more keystrokes into her computer, and turned back to Jenn. “Dr. Hall would like to speak with you, if you’ll just step over here to the left…” she said as she pointed, “There’s a private waiting area, he’ll be here in just a few minutes. Could I get you a soda or a coffee while you wait?”

Jenn shook her head, “No thank you. Couldn’t I just go see my brother?”

It was the nurses turn to shake her head as she stood and came around the oval nurses station to the side Jenn was standing on, “It would be better if you talked with Dr. Hall first.” She took Jenn’s arm gently and led her to the private waiting area. Jenn sat, and waited, what seemed like an eternity, when finally an older white haired gentleman entered the room.

He held out his hand, “Miss Johnson?” He asked. Jenn nodded and stood, taking the doctor’s hand. “I’m Doctor Hall, I’ve been treating your brother. Please, let’s sit down.”

Jenn wasn’t sure whether she liked this man or not. He continued after they sat facing each other. “Miss Johnson, as I told you on the phone last night, your brother contracted a very unusual strain of bacteria or infection in his body. A very rare strain that does not respond to antibiotics very well.”

Jenn nodded, “Yes, you told me that last night, that’s why I’m here now.”
Dr. Hall nodded, “Well, when you are fighting off a bacterial infection, your immune system can become very overwhelmed, and in rare situations if it can not be controlled with antibiotics, it can start shutting down your organs.”

Jenn sat very still and nodded as the doctor continued. “Miss Johnson, I’m very sorry, but that is exactly what happened in your brother’s situation. He was already weakened by the stress of the gunshot wound, and then this bacteria on top of that stress… his body just wasn’t strong enough to fight it off.”

Jenn stood, “What are you saying Doctor?”

Dr. Hall stood as well. “Miss Johnson, I’m very sorry, but your brother passed away this morning.”

Jenn collapsed into the doctor’s arms. He comforted her for a moment, and then said, “Unfortunately, I did not have a phone number for you. The only number I had was for I believe his friend, Celeste?”

Jenn nodded, “Celeste said there was no other family and said she had no money for a funeral, she said she only had enough money to get back east, and as far as I know, she left the hospital this morning and went straight to the bus station. I’ve made arrangements for the city to provide his burial. Now that you’re here…”

Jenn interrupted him, “No, she’s right, there is no money for a funeral. I’m his only relative, and I’ve never even met his friend, Celeste.”

Dr. Hall nodded, “Well then, I’ll give you a number you can call, and you can see him if you wish. There’s no hurry, stay here as long as you need to. I’ll leave the information at the nurse’s station; you can stop by there when you’re ready to leave. Uh, I hate to bring this up, but, the girlfriend, Celeste? She was pregnant.”

Jenn nodded, “Yes, I know she was, but, Joe told me Celeste had admitted to him it wasn’t his child, but my brother was a good guy Doctor. He was going to try to help her if he could.” I’m sorry, I think I’m in shock.”

Dr. Hall nodded, “I’ll leave you in peace, if you need anything, just ask the nurses.”

Jenn thanked him as she sat back down in the chair. How had this happened? Was this some kind of sick karma as payback for what she and Joe had planned on doing? Oh! If she had known it would turn out like this, she would have never suggested Joe come here. Oh! If she could only go back and change things!

It had all started after Jenn had moved into the house. She had immediately noticed the resemblance Jason had to her brother Joe. She liked Jason, she really did. He had been nice to her, as everyone in the house had been. After she had lived there several months, she began to realize how much Jason had compared to the rest of them. As she dug a little further, and snooped in Jason’s room a bit, she found that his family had been extremely wealthy. When his grandparents had died, they had left everything to their two sons, and when the two sons, Jason’s father and uncle had been killed; everything had then went to Jason. All that money had been kept in a trust for Jason until he turned 25, which he had done the previous summer.

Jenn had learned there was a trustee, who still oversaw the trust, and that trustee sent Jason enough money every month to pay his bills and still have plenty left over without even working. Jason worked though, and he didn’t even need to. Jenn remembered the trustee had even come to the house to visit Jason. She had been able to conveniently eavesdrop on most of the conversation, and she learned that the trustee, a lawyer, had grown up with Jason’s dad and his uncle. He knew it was Jason’s father’s wish that he take over his business dealings, but since Jason was so little when he died, the Trustee, named Phillip, had taken it upon himself to do what he would have wanted done for his children if the situation had been reversed. As a result, Phillip had sold the businesses, and had invested the money in the trust wisely making Jason rich, very rich.

Phillip had shown Jason all the legal papers to assure Jason he had indeed acted in Jason’s best interest, and Jenn had seen it as the opportunity of a lifetime.

She knew her brother Joe had so wanted to find their natural parents, and Jason and Joe looked so much like each other, even though Jenn knew, from her snooping, and her eavesdropping that there was no way they were related, she saw it as a chance to make sure she and Joe could be taken care of financially. She admitted to herself that she had not been totally honest with Joe when she’d told him about Jason. She admitted to herself also, that she had led Joe to believe that Jason really could be their sibling, and just as she had hoped, Joe had taken the bait, and he saw it as an opportunity with two possible good things coming out of it. He’d find his brother, and in finding his brother he would also come into a financial windfall. He could make Jason split his inheritance with him, and Jenn would benefit all around.

She and Joe had decided early in the planning stages that they would not reveal that they were siblings. When Joe came to Seattle, they would act like total strangers, never admitting to anyone their true relationship. After Jason gave Joe the money, Joe would split it with her, and Joe would go back to Pittsburgh, after Joe was gone, Jenn would be left to “console” Jason. It was her ultimate plan to become involved with Jason, and possibly get him to propose to her. After they were married, she’d be entitled to half of everything Jason had. That had been the original plan, now; she wasn’t sure what she was going to do.

She couldn’t let anyone at the house know that Joe was her brother, so she would grieve privately. She would pick herself up, just as she had always done, and move on. Concentrate on flirting a little more with Jason, no one had ever been able to resist her flirtations. If that didn’t work, she would concentrate more on Macey. The old broad had no family that Jenn knew of, and she was getting up there in age. Why, who would Macey leave all of her money to when she was gone? Jenn would just make herself more and more valuable to Macey and continue flirting with Joe, if everything worked out, she could get Macey’s money, and Joe’s and never have to work another day in her life. It sounded like a plan to her. The problem was this new girl, Haley. She’d seen how Jason looked at her; it wasn’t just friendly looks either. She could tell that Jason was attracted to Haley, and Macey! Macey acted like she was a little puppy that had shown up on the doorstep, and Jenn knew it had to be an act, a gimmick. Haley probably knew exactly who Macey was when she’d answered the ad. Well, Jenn wasn’t going to let Haley get in the way of her plans, she owed that much to Joe’s memory.

“Dammit Joe!” She screamed as she broke down in sobs. “Why did you have to go and die on me?” Jenn shook with her grief, she didn’t even know where the nurses came from, but she had one on each side of her, gently petting her hair and rubbing her back, cooing to her, and telling her it was going to be okay. Jenn hoped that it would be.

Haley was really enjoying herself at the pizzeria. Brittany was great company, and there were so many students on campus this summer, it surprised her. Brittany explained that many of them were like Haley, and had lived back east, come to the UW for school and either liked it so much they took summer jobs and stayed year round, or couldn’t afford to go back home, so they took summer jobs and stayed all year. Haley laughed, that wasn’t exactly Haley’s situation, this was her home now as she explained to Brittany.

“Why did you pick here?” Brittany asked, genuinely interested.

“Google.” Haley replied simply.

“Google?” Brittany was confused.

Haley briefly explained about her parents, her foster home, and finding herself with no home the day after she turned 18. “So, I googled, and Seattle came up. I knew I wanted to live where the winters weren’t bad like Ohio, and the summers weren’t as hot and humid as Ohio. Seattle came up, and then I got to thinking about one of my favorite Authors, Kristen Hannah. Her novels are all set in the Seattle area, so I felt in a way like I already knew the area a little bit.”

Brittany lit up, “Hey, you know Kristen Hannah went to the Udub. She was a lawyer before she started writing.”

Haley shook her head, “No, I didn’t know that.”

Brittany nodded, “Yeah, she worked at my father’s firm. He didn’t know her very well, they were like acquaintances, but yeah, she probably sat right here many, many times.”

Haley smiled, “That is cool. I’m sure she’s as cool as Macey is.”

Brittany laughed, “I’ve taken a couple of Macey Sorrell’s classes, she’s tough, but, yes, you’re right, she’s pretty cool too.” Brittany took a big bite of pizza and continued. “Okay, so go on, you decided on Seattle because of Kristen Hannah, how did you actually get the nerve to do it?”

Haley shrugged, “I didn’t have much choice. I had a voucher for a one-way bus ticket to anywhere I wanted to go. The only people I know are in Columbus, and I knew I didn’t want to stay there. I got online, and happened upon the room mate wanted ad in the online paper, I answered it, they answered me back, and here I am.”

Just then, the young man who had tried to get into the bookstore on Saturday appeared in the doorway of the pizzeria, looking around like he was looking for someone. Haley put her head down, but she knew he had seen her. Brittany noticed, and turned to look at who or what Haley had seen to make her put her head down so quickly. She immediately started laughing.

Haley glanced up, “What is so funny?” She asked.

Brittany laughed and to Haley’s horror, stood up and waved the man to come to their table. “Please don’t do that Brittany!” Haley said under her breath.

“That’s why I’m laughing, I’m guessing Booger scared you, and that’s why you’re acting like you are right now. Best to meet your fears head on Haley!” Brittany’s eyes shined with mischief.

“Brittany, please!” But by the time Haley could finish, the man was standing at their table.

Brittany smiled, “Have a seat Booger, meet Haley.”

The man sat, “We’ve met.”

Haley looked up at him, “Yeah, hi.”

Brittany playfully slapped his shoulder, “Booger, did you scare Haley?” She asked. “Did you make her think you were stalking her?”

He didn’t return the smile, “Maybe.”

“Oh my gosh Booger, why do you do that? Haley, this is Booger, also known as Jeffrey, head of campus security.”

Haley visibly sighed in relief, which made Brittany laugh even harder.

“Booger! Look what you’ve done to this poor girl! You should be ashamed. Haley, Booger is harmless. He doesn’t wear a uniform because he thinks he blends in better that way.” Haley noticed that Brittany had made air quotes when she said “Blends In” Brittany continued, “He and my brother grew up together, and ever since I’ve known him, he’s gotten a kick out of hiding behind corners and jumping out and scaring people, namely, ME. When we were kids, he said he was the Boogie man, so I started calling him Booger.”

For the first time, the man smiled, “Unfortunately, it stuck.” He stuck out his hand to Haley. “I’m Jeffrey Collins, chief of security, and Udub law student, nice to meet you.”

Haley timidly took his hand, “Haley.” She said quietly.

Booger smiled, “Hey, sorry if I scared you the other day, but I had never seen you before, and I thought you might be breaking in to the bookstore. When I saw you had a key, I figured you must work there, but I’ve never seen anyone come in on a Saturday before, so I stuck around to see what you were up to. Sorry if I frightened you.”

Haley shrugged, “No problem.”

Brittany was appalled, “Booger! You could have at least told her who you were! No wonder she was scared, she hasn’t been in Seattle very long! She probably did think you were a stalker.”

Booger was sufficiently scolded, “Sorry, really I am, I was just trying to do my job. Didn’t mean to scare you or anything.”

Haley just nodded. Booger swiveled in his seat to face Brittany. “So, Brit, what are you doing Friday night? Want to grab a burger and see a movie with me?” He asked.

Brittany frowned, “Why would I want to go to a movie with you?” She asked.

“Because I asked you to?” He answered.

Brittany’s smile returned, “You’ve been asking me for three years now, every week like clockwork.”

He laughed, “One of these days you’re bound to say yes.”

Now it was Brittany’s turn to laugh, “You know, Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

Booger laughed, “It’s a good thing I’m no Einstein then. Besides, you already know I’m insane about you.”

Brittany flipped her hand towards him, “Regardless, the answer is the same. See you Booger.”

Booger stood, “I’ll ask again next week.”

Brittany laughed, “I know.”

“Alrighty then... Haley, nice to meet you.”

After Booger left, Haley turned to Brittany, “He’s actually pretty cute, and it’s obvious he’s crazy about you.”

Brittany smiled, a smile that could have lit up the room. “Yeah, he’s crazy alright.”

Haley was hit with the realization, “You like him too, don’t you?”

Brittany nodded, “Of course I do! Actually, I plan on marrying him one day, but right now, his plate is full. He’s worked his way up to head of his department, and he’s trying to get through law school. He’s from a single parent family, and there was no money to help him with school. He worked his way through undergrad in the security office, and now, he’s working his way through law school. He doesn’t need to lose focus. I’m afraid if we started dating now, he’d lose focus.”

Haley smiled at her friend, “You’re amazing.”

Brittany laughed, “I know. But, hey, I think you’re pretty amazing too, so we make a good pair!”

Back at home, Scott came in to the house to find it empty, “Sarah” he called out. No answer.
“Haley” he called, surely Haley would be here. It was after nine, and Haley was always here the kid hadn’t even gone sightseeing since she’d been here. He walked back to her room, to find it empty.

He walked into the kitchen and looked at the big whiteboard that hung there to see if anyone had left him a message. There weren’t any, so he checked the messages on the phone. There was one from Haley saying she was going to hang out with a friend from the bookstore, one from Jason saying he was watching a game at a buddy’s house, nothing from Sarah or Jenn, but that wasn’t unusual. The last message, which was actually the first message of the day, had come in that morning from the hospital letting Haley know that Mr. Johnson had passed away that morning.

That last message surprised Scott. He knew that the Joe kid had been shot, but he thought it was a leg wound, nothing life threatening. He wasn’t sure what he would tell Haley. She was pretty upset the night she came home after finding Joe with his girlfriend; make that his very pregnant girlfriend in the hospital. But, she did need to know, he didn’t think she would take it too bad, just judging from what he knew already about her. She seemed like a tough kid.

Scott had also checked her out at work, and her story checked out, she was indeed an orphan from Columbus Ohio. She had indeed been in foster care, and had turned 18 when she said she had. Scott didn’t like to use work for personal research, but sometimes it was necessary. Of course his roommates still believed he was an up and coming young attorney with big Seattle firm, and actually, right now, he was. He was currently investigating a corporate fraud case; the partners had contacted the FBI and asked for help with an investigation. He had been placed there, so it had worked out easily when he told them he was an attorney fresh out of law school. It hadn't been a total fabrication, he did have a law degree, thought it wasn’t quite as fresh as he had led them to believe, and he was technically working at the firm. It was more a couple of omissions than out and out lies, albeit fairly big omissions.

Scott actually hoped once this case was finished, he would be placed on a similar case, he liked living here a lot. No one had ever questioned that he was who he said he was, and they accepted him. It was nice, almost like being part of a family, even if sometimes he was a little suspicious of the members. He didn’t think any of them were bad people, and he had checked all of them out just as a precaution, he didn’t want to jeopardize his career because one of his housemates happened to be a felon. They had not been, and Scott had enjoyed the months he had lived in this beautiful old house.

Haley came in just then, carrying a pizza box. “Hey kiddo, did you have a good time with your friend?” He asked.

Haley smiled, “Yes, I did, a very good time. I brought home a ton of leftovers, want some?” She asked.

“Are you kidding? I’m starving! I just got home myself. Jason is watching a game with some buddies which means he won’t be home tonight, but I don’t know where Sarah or Jenn are.”

Haley smiled as she opened the pizza box on the counter of the island, “Sarah had to go in early to cover someone on vacation. I haven’t talked to Jenn.”

Scott nodded as he chewed. “This is great, has to be Pagliacci’s.”

“How did you know?” Haley asked.

“I went to Udub, I lived on Pagliacci Pizza!”

Haley sat while Scott finished his pizza, not ready to go to bed yet, and just enjoying the company. Scott took his plate to the dishwasher, and wiped his mouth with his napkin. “Thank you so much Haley, that really hit the spot. I was ready to start digging for a Lean Cuisine or five.”

“Glad I had leftovers.” Haley laughed, “I wouldn’t want you to starve.”

Scott shook his head, “Na, I wouldn’t starve, but that was a lot better than frozen. Actually, I’m glad there isn’t anyone home, I needed to talk to you about something.”

Haley smiled, “Sure, what’s up?”

Scott decided it was just best to come out with it, if she reacted badly, he’d offer his shoulder, all night if he needed, to help Haley through this.

“Well, Haley, I don’t know an easy way to say this, but, the hospital called this morning, and your friend, Joe, he died.”

Haley sat down on the barstool that stood at the kitchen island. “Wow, I didn’t know his wound was that bad. Wow.”

Scott put his hand on her back, “I’m sorry to just blurt it out like that Haley.”

Haley turned and smiled at him, “It’s okay, I don’t think there is a good way to say something like that.”

“Are you okay?” Scott asked, genuinely concerned.

Haley nodded, “Yes, I’m fine Scott. I liked Joe, but I also felt like he wasn’t being completely honest with me about something. Then, when I went to the hospital and found him with the pregnant girlfriend, well, I felt like he was a player, and I didn’t want anything to do with him. But, I didn’t want anything bad to happen to him either. I feel bad that he died, but, I didn’t know him long enough to really be upset about it, you know?”

Scott nodded, “I know exactly, it’s like when you see on the news that someone has died, you feel bad, but you don’t want to go jump off of a bridge.”

Haley smiled up at him, “Exactly. I don’t know if the hospital would know how to get in contact with his family, though I assume his girlfriend is still here. Thinking about it, I couldn’t help them anyway, I don’t know how to contact his family. I'm not really sure why they contacted me.”

Scott smiled, “They probably had your name and number from when he first got shot and they called. Hey, I will make a couple of calls in the morning and make sure someone was notified. Okay?”

“That would be great Scott, thank you.” Haley smiled.

“No problem. If you’re sure you’re okay, I need to get a shower and get to bed. If you call my office in the morning say 9:30, I’ll let you know what I find out.”

Haley was so thankful again for this family she had found herself in. She hugged Scott. “Thank you Scott, you have all been so good to me, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”

Scott, surprised by the hug, smiled down at Haley. “No problem kiddo. I’m glad to help any way that I can.”

The following morning, Scott did exactly as he said he would do. He called the hospital and found out that Mr. Johnson’s sister could not afford to bury him, and he would be buried by the city. Scott thanked the clerk and hung up. He thought it was odd that Joe had come to Seattle looking for Jason, but yet, had a sister in Seattle too? Something didn’t sound right, and it might bear some looking into, but now, he had his hands full. Haley called promptly at 9:30 and seemed relieved that Joe’s family had been notified, and all was taken care of. Scott didn’t think it was necessary for Haley to know he would be in a city grave. Haley couldn’t do anything about it, and as she had said, he was really just an acquaintance to her.

That evening at dinner, all were home, and as they ate and discussed their day, Scott thought he should mention that Joe had passed away. They all seemed surprised, but Jenn seemed to react a bit oddly Scott thought. First, when he mentioned Joe’s name, she dropped her fork, which Scott didn’t find weird until Jenn suddenly started acting like she was uncomfortable with the conversation. Eventually the conversation had drifted on, but Scott had kept his eye on Jenn, and something just wasn’t right with her.

He thought about it later that night, and told himself he was over reacting because of work— he was becoming suspicious of everyone. He dismissed it, but in the back of his mind, he knew, he was going to watch Jenn just a little bit closer… for a while.

Oct 4, 2011 9:43 PM CST
Name: Sharon

Macey was home.
She’d been away most of the summer, tying up pieces of unfinished business, signing contracts, leaving her latest book in the hands of her publisher. It had been a busy time.

The half moon was hanging low in the evening sky. She could see its glow through the window of her third floor apartment. She had come in late, quietly, so as to not disturb the others who lived in her house. Only Haley and Sarah had been told when she’d return, and they’d also been told to not wait up for her.

She needed this quiet time to unwind, to get her thoughts in order, to make a plan.

She knew exactly who Haley was. What she had been trying to find out was whether or not Haley knew. She didn’t think so. What had happened to bring them together could be called karma, divine intervention, predestination. There were many words for it, none of them sat well in Macey’s mind.

She’d spent her entire adult life running from the horror of the life she’d left behind. A life that had been filled with alcohol and filth, government checks, poverty, ignorance and incest; she hadn’t belonged. She made her way from Ohio as far northwest as she could go without falling into the Pacific, she’d been fortunate to grab a scholarship, grab a job with the newspaper, grab a real life. She hadn’t looked back.

People made choices, and she chose to take what intelligence she’d been given and move on. She’d tried to help her sisters early on, tried to get Alva to come stay with her. She’d offered to pay her way. Alva was the youngest, and Macey had hoped she could make the choice to leave the squalor behind. But Alva was too caught up in that life, became pregnant as a teen, and couldn’t find her way out.

And now, here was Alva’s granddaughter living right in her home. Haley had somehow gotten away from the mess, maybe her mother had as well, just as Macey had done all those years ago. Her great-niece. Her own flesh and blood. Her sister’s granddaughter. Life was amazing. It was as if Haley had followed the same road, taken the same journey that Macey had taken long ago.

Macey could find no fault with that. She sighed as she looked at the moon. She needed to wait awhile to see just what Haley was made of. She needed to know that Haley was the strong young woman that she seemed on the surface to be. Macey could make no mistakes now, she was getting no younger and decisions needed to be made about her own estate. Solid decisions, decisions that no one could tamper with after she was gone. Her books brought in good money, so did her investments. And the income would likely go on even after Macey was no longer. She should talk with her attorneys. Soon. Very soon. But first, she needed to know for sure what Haley was made of.

“Tomorrow. I’ll figure it all out tomorrow.”

She settled in for what she hoped would be a much needed restful night.

It was still dark when she heard the scream. It came from below.

Macey jumped out of bed.

Sarah heard it, too, and in her room on the second floor, she flipped on her light. The scream sounded again, so loud it seemed to be in the same room with her.

“Jenn,” she thought. “That’s Jenn screaming.”

She threw the covers from her, and without thought ran to Jenn’s room. Jason was already there, raising his hand to knock on the door. Macey was coming from the stairs at the other end of the hall and Scott wasn’t far behind. Sarah ran to the door and turned the knob.

Jenn screamed again, and in the moonlight they could see that she was obviously alone in the room.

Sarah raced to the bed.

“Jenn, wake up, Jenn, you’re having a bad dream. Hey, it’s OK, it’s just a dream. Wake up now, you’re fine. See, we’re all right here. You’re just having a dream.”

Jenn shook herself, sobbed loudly, opened her eyes to see Jason’s face in front of her.

“Joe, oh Joe, I had the worst dream! I thought they told me you were d-d-d….”

“Whoa, Jenn, wake up!! You’re still dreaming. Hey, take a look, it’s me, Jason. We’re all right here. You scared us, we thought somebody was hurting you. Must have been a real nightmare, can we get you something? Hot tea, hot chocolate? A burger? Whattya need, kid? We’re all right here.”

Jenn’s eyes widened. She realized what she’d done. Her hands flew to cover her face.

“Cry! Cry!!” she thought to herself. “You’ve got to cry, cover up whatever you said, sob, sniff, make yourself sick. Anything. Cover it up, cover it up, cover it up…”

“Ahhhhhhh, Jenn, here, tissues. It’s OK to have bad dreams. Let’s get these big lugs outta here. They don’t know a thing about bad dreams. Here, blow. There now, it’s going to be OK.” Sarah took over, handed the tissues to Jenn, and threw a look at Scott and Jason that told them to leave the premises.

Scott caught Macey’s eye as he passed her in the doorway. They didn’t need to say a word, their glance told them both what the other was thinking. Something weird was going on with Jenn.

They returned to their rooms, leaving Sarah to comfort Jenn. Haley had slept through the whole thing. The screams had not made their way to Haley’s part of the house.

The next morning, the young people all hurriedly dressed, got ready for work and school, grabbing a bagel, a donut, cups of coffee, with not much conversation. Jenn was a little pale and Sarah asked if she was ok.

“Fine, I’m fine,” snapped Jenn, then realizing it wasn’t the right tone, she said, “Oh Sarah, I’m really fine. Thanks for coming in last night. It was just a crazy nightmare. I must have had a bad taco. I’m sorry to have disturbed you, and thank the others for me, OK? I swear it won’t happen again!” She rushed for the door and left Sarah standing in the hall.

Sarah was the last to leave and as she was opening the door, she saw Macey coming down the stairs. She walked back to give her a hug.

“I’m so glad to see you, Macey, welcome home! I didn’t get to say that when we heard that scream last night.”

“That was a surprise in the night, wasn’t it? Did Jenn mention any problem, anything wrong? Oh and thanks, it’s good to be home.” Macey returned he hug.

“She didn’t say anything, just that it was a nightmare. Now I hate to rush, but I need to get going. You have the house to yourself today, Macey, I’ll catch you up when I get home this evening, but everything’s fine as far as I know. See ya!”

“See you, Sarah, enjoy your day!” Macey turned toward the kitchen.

She fixed her coffee and wandered out to the garden. It was a lovely day and she breathed in the scent of the roses that continued to bloom. Her thoughts were still on Jennifer, still on the statement she’d heard Jenn utter: “Joe, I thought they told me you were d-d-d…..”

Macey couldn’t figure it out. She didn’t know Joe. She needed to cast this concern aside and wait till Sarah brought her up to date. She trusted Sarah, depended on her, she was mature and very dependable. Sarah would tell her what she needed to know.

She wandered among her flowers, then idly walked back inside enjoying the quiet of her house.

The quiet was interrupted mid-morning by the house phone. Macey was still in the kitchen, preparing one of her popular roasts for the oven. It would be a night when all of her youngsters would be at home. She enjoyed preparing her own homecoming dinner. She was so lost in thought, the phone startled her.

“Hello,” she answered in her low quiet voice.

“Hello, M’am? My name is Steve Varney. I own Ruby’s Diner down here on First Avenue. I’m trying to locate Jennifer, umm-m-m Jennifer West, yes, that’s it. Jennifer West. Does she live at this residence, m’am?”

“No, Mr. Varney. I’m afraid I can’t help you. I don’t know Jennifer West. I’m sorry.”

“Wait, M’am? Please, just a minute. Do you know someone named Haley? You see, I had a young man working here a week or so ago, just hired him, he was from out of town. He’d moved into the apartment over my diner, but he was killed in some kinda freakish accident recently and I wanted his belongings to go to the rightful owner. His being from out of town has created a problem. I don’t know what to do with his things. Then the police called and they had the clothes he was wearing along with his phone, but the only number that they had was the same number for two different people. They gave that number to me and when I dialed it I got you. They said the Jennifer name was folded in his wallet and behind his license, but the Haley name was listed in his phone contacts. Same number, but two different names. See, that’s what’s confusing me. I just don’t know what to do with his clothes and the computer, the TV. I’m an honest man, M’am, and I’m sorry to lose this man. He was a hard worker, called himself Joe West. Yours is the only number I have to work with. Can you help me at all?”

Macey could hardly think. She asked Mr. Varney a few questions, asked him to give her a number where he could be reached, and without divulging anything, she told him she’d get back with him as soon as possible if she could find any answers to his question.

She sat at the table and made notes, remembering the conversation with Mr. Varney almost verbatim. She read what she’d written. She thought long and hard. Nothing made any sense. Joe West. Joe. Remembering, ‘Joe, they told me you were d-d-d….’

She’d promised Scott that she’d keep his true identity from the others, she’d appreciated and respected the secrecy his work involved. But she needed his help on this one, particularly if it involved Haley. This must be handled very carefully. She was glad she had the house to herself.

She needed to get dressed for the day, she needed to look for Scott’s cell number on her computer and she needed to get her mind organized. Then she would call him.

“Careful,” she told herself. “I need to be very careful.”

She went to the file where she kept copies of signed contracts; contracts with her publisher, contracts with those young people who rented rooms from her. Her shaking fingers came to the one Jennifer signed. She looked at the signature: Jennifer Johnson. Not Jennifer West. No initial, no middle name, simply Jennifer Johnson. No references, but then she’d never really asked for references. No next of kin. Those were things Macey hadn’t thought of since she valued her own intuition.

She shook her head, clearing her thoughts. She really needed to talk with Scott.

Scott was able to get away from the office early that afternoon, and after Macey’s call, he went straight home and quickly upstairs to her apartment. She showed him the notes she’d taken of the Varney call, she shared with him what she knew about her possible connection to Haley. She trusted Scott as the son she’d never had, and she felt the worry ease a little when she shared everything with him. He was a kind young man, and he listened intently to all that Macey had to say.

He assured her that Haley was on the up and up, he’d done a background search and Haley was just who she said she was. He smiled when Macey revealed the relationship, he’d found himself more than once thinking what a great young woman she was going to be and now knowing Macey’s obvious concern and fondness for Haley, Scott knew he’d been right about her.

He chose his words carefully.

“Macey, remember we told you about Joe, the young man Haley met on the bus coming from Ohio. He came here that evening asking for Jason, thought he was a long lost brother or something. Remember that?”

“I remember, but I never saw him. I think Jason explained to him that he didn’t have a brother, couldn’t have had a brother. Is that Joe West? Was that Haley’s friend who died? How sad, but what’s that got to do with Jennifer? Scott, what’s going on here?”

They both heard the sound at the same time. Macey’s door was open, and sound traveled upward just like heat. Someone had just entered the house very quietly. Only those who were used to the sounds would have known the front door closed. They became very quiet, waiting for one of the housemates to say something. When one of them came home, it had become a habit for them to say to nobody in particular, “Honey, I’m home.”

Not a sound. But then a creak on the step. And another.
Scott started for the door, motioning to Macey to stay where she was. But Macey was standing, staring at her open door.

There was no other sound, Scott mouthed: ‘Stay here,’ and very slowly removed his shoes and started down the steps toward the second floor. He could see no one, so it had to be someone going to either his room, Jason’s room, or Sarah’s or Jenn’s. He crept to the landing, walked toward their common sitting room. His door was locked, so, he thought, were the others, but he could see Jason’s door was slightly ajar. He walked closer, making not a sound. He suddenly realized Macey was right behind him. He put his hand up warning her to stop just as Jason’s door opened and Jenn rushed out.

Scott caught her, hands on her shoulders. “Stop Jenn, stop right there. What are you doing in Jason’s room? We have an agreement, we don’t go into each other’s rooms, so what are you doing in Jason’s?”

Jenn shook herself, trying to get away from Scott’s hands.

“I lost my earring, I was just looking for my earring, let go, Scott, you’re hurting me. I just lost my earring!!”

“In Jason’s room??” said Macey, startled. "What on earth would your earring be doing in Jason's room?"
Oct 11, 2011 9:39 AM CST
Name: Nancy
Buffalo NY
"I...I...uh, I came up here last night to ask Jason if I could borrow a book I saw him reading the other day. That's all. And now I can't find my pearl earring. Why?? What's wrong? I just wanted to borrow a book."

"What book, Jenn? What's the name of it? Where is that book, huh, Jenn?" Scott doubted her story and was beginning to get angry with her. He'd always known Jenn to be an even-tempered, soft-spoken young woman who kept a low profile. Jenn was the shy one who never talked about herself, the one he was the least concerned about. Now Scott wondered if he had missed something when he did a background check on her and the others when he first moved into Macey's home. This Jenn was a total opposite of the person she had appeared to be. It made him nervous, and it made him annoyed that he might have been hasty in forming his opinion of her.

Once again, Jenn resorted to tears in order to buy time to think. She forced out a few tears, then a couple of sobs, before deciding her next plan of action should be to fall weakly into Scott's arms and ask for a glass of water and an aspirin for her splitting headache.

Macey obliged her, and went downstairs to the kitchen. Now, alone with Scott, Jenn feigned regret over entering Jason's room to search for the elusive earring when he wasn't home. She told Scott she should have known better than to break a house rule for a silly old earring. She added how sorry she was that she didn't wait until this evening, and she begged Scott not to tell Jason. She said she wouldn't want him to know that she entered his room when he wasn't there. She promised never to do such a thing again, and to ask Jason if he found her earring...later...in private.

Scott thought it best to let this pass without any further commotion, but of course he would continue his investigation into Miss Jennifer Johnson/West and get to the bottom of her charade. It would be a top priority.

Macey too knew that things were not as they seemed with Jenn's explanation. How could life at the house have so suddenly been turned around, upside down and inside out? The arrival of her great niece Haley seemed to spark an avalanche of doubt and mystery in her peaceful home. She and Scott would have to put their heads together and sort through it all.

Walking back up the stairs to where Jenn was still weakly whimpering in Scott's arms, Macey couldn't help but think that this real life drama would make an excellent plot for a novel. Perhaps she should put aside writing historical fiction briefly, and turn to suspenseful mystery. She'd have to think about that... She might even ask Haley to collaborate with her. That might be a solution to the question of how to tell Haley of their relationship. She could write a plot around it and lead Haley to discover the connection between them by reading “between the lines.”

"Here you are, Jenn. I brought you an aspirin and a glass of water, as you wanted. Are you going to be alright?"

"Oh, Macey, thank you so much. I think so. And please forgive me for acting so foolishly. Please don't tell the others. I'd be so embarrassed if they found out I'd broken a house rule. Please?? I will never do that again." Smugly convinced that she had gotten herself out of trouble, Jenn swallowed the aspirin, took a big deep breath and stood up straight. Wiping a tear from her cheek, and running her fingers through her hair, she tried to look as if she had regained her composure. Then, with a demure smile, she sweetly bid them farewell and started down the hall to her room. "Maybe I'll just go lie down for awhile and give my headache a chance to go away."

Scott and Macey just looked at each other. When Jenn's door closed, Macey whispered, "Scott, what just happened here?"

"I don't rightly know, but I intend to find out."

Unaware of the events of the night before, Haley rushed off to the University, a cup of coffee-to-go in one hand and a piece of buttered toast in the other. She thought it odd that everyone was a little off schedule this morning, but had too much on her mind to be concerned. Her heart was troubled about Joe. What a tragic way to die. And what secrets had he kept from her? He had seemed like someone she could trust, but it was all a lie. Was there anyone in this world she could believe in? Was there anybody who she could love, and feel safe with? No. She would just have to resign herself to the fact that she could depend on no one but herself. As long as she keeps her guard up and doesn't let anyone get too close, she'll be alright. She won't trust anyone but herself.

That evening, when Haley walked through the door to the house, the aroma of Macey's dinner cooking in the oven was like Heaven to her senses. Macey knows how to use her spices, just like I do, Haley thought. She detected a hint of anise blended in with the combination of beef and vegetables. Haley was pleased, and surprised. She thought she was the only person who added such a unique spice to her pot roast. Suddenly Haley was starving!

“Hmmmm! That smells divine, Macey! Anise, isn't it?”

Macey was surprised as well, at Haley's being able to recognize her secret recipe. “That's right, Haley. How did you know that? Did your mother teach you to cook?”

“Not exactly. My mother died when I was only eleven.”

Of course, Macey was aware of that already, but her heart broke just a little to hear Haley say it out loud.

“She didn't exactly teach me, but I used to like to write stories at the kitchen table while she cooked dinner, and I watched what she was doing. She hummed while she cooked. I watched her look through the spice rack and paid attention to what was making all those luscious smells.”

“Well then, Haley, one of these days you'll have to treat us to some of your own special recipes. Maybe this weekend. Would you like to cook dinner on Sunday?”

“Oh yes, I would like that!” Haley felt herself bonding with Macey. The two of them shared a love for writing, and for creative recipes. Who knows what else they might have in common? There is definitely something special about this woman, Haley thought. Better be careful, though. Wouldn't want this vulnerable heart of mine to get broken again.

Sarah stopped at Renee's Bakery on her way home and looked over the selection of pies. She just had a craving for deep dish apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. She was excited inside, like a feeling of anticipation, without knowing what to expect. She always felt hungry when that happened. And usually it was for dessert!

After dinner, Sarah suggested to Macey that they have their pie outside, in the garden. She wanted to speak with Macey alone. There was so much intrigue happening, it seemed. Haley's locket, Macey's letter, Joe's death, Jenn's nightmare....Sarah was determined to find out what Macey knew about it all, and to fill in some missing pieces for her. She felt like she and Macey had a secret from the others. Now, if only Sarah could just figure out what that secret is!

Macey, on the other hand, wanted to spend some time with Haley. She wanted to know if she remembers her Grandmother Alva, and if Haley is aware of any other family members. She wanted to ask Haley about her writing, about her foster parents, and how on earth she happened to land in Seattle – and right in Macey's lap.

“Haley, join Sarah and me for dessert in the garden, won't you? It's such a pleasant evening. Let's talk.”

The three of them made themselves comfortable in the overstuffed garden furniture. The sun was receding and the sky was pink with the promise of another beautiful day ahead. Soon the air would turn cooler and they would have to go back inside. The nights turned cold quickly in Seattle, this time of year. Macey took control of the conversation right away.

“Haley, I so appreciated hearing about how you used to watch your mother cook when you were young. Does it bother you to talk about her?”

“Oh no, not at all. I love talking about my real parents. It helps me to keep my memories fresh. She used to read all my stories to my father when I went to bed. She was proud of me. She used to tell me I would be a writer one day. I would lie there until I heard them start talking, then quietly creep over to the bedroom door and listen as she read to him.” Haley's expression became dreamy, and she closed her eyes. “I can still see my Mom and Dad laughing and hugging each other. They were so in love. I always wanted my life to be like that when I grew up.”

“And it will be like that one day, Haley. I have a feeling it will.” Then Macey asked her an important question.

Oct 12, 2011 6:22 PM CST
Name: Brenda Essig
Rio Dell, CA
Macey gazed at Haley and then at Sarah, then let her eyes drift off to the roses climbing gaily over a trellis as she searched her mind for the right words to encourage Haley to speak more about her memories.

She wanted to know what had become of Alva, that she had managed to have a good life, had escaped the hellish existence that had been their childhood…that she had found a way out and a better life.

“You said were 11 when you lost your parents so you no doubt have many happy memories of them. What about your grandparents? Were they a part of your early life too? “Macey asked softly.

Sarah felt the suspense in the air and knew that Macey was searching for answers to her own past and that, though she didn’t know it, Haley was the one person who could give her the answers. She also realized that, for whatever reason, Macey was not going to tell Haley of their relationship just yet and that she had invited her to join them to let her know not to say anything about the picture. She trusted Macey to handle the situation and ease the truth to her new room mate gently.

Haley was thoughtful and quiet for a few moments and began speaking softly. “My dad’s folks passed away before I was born so I never knew them. Dad said they were good, honest and hard working people who scratched out a living, farming leased land. They encouraged him to make a better life for himself so he joined the Army and let them train him as a diesel mechanic. He met my mother right after he was discharged. He was looking for a cheap garage space to lease where he could set up his own repair shop and my mother was doing clerical work at the local real estate office. Anyway, all I know about them is that they died in a tornado somewhere in Ohio just before dad got out of the Army.”

Haley paused, “I don’t want to bore you with my story. I’d much rather hear about you.”

Sarah spoke quickly, “You are not boring us! Please, tell us about your maternal grandparents”

Grinning now, Haley continued. “If you are sure… to be honest, it feels great to be able to talk about them. In foster care we were discouraged from talking about our past. Grammy Alva was my best friend and confidante. She and Grandpa babysat me while my parents worked. Grandpa died when I was five and Grammy moved in with us then. She told me wonderful stories that she made up just for me and spent hours sewing dresses for me. When I started school it was Grammy Alva that walked with me to the school yard gate and greeted me there when school let out, with her apron on and smelling of cookies fresh from the oven. I devoured her cookies as soon as we got home. Momma cooked our dinner every night but it was Grammy who did the baking.” Haley seemed to be caught up in her memories and all three women looked toward the kitchen and said “Cookies!” in unison.

It was starting to get chilly outside as they walked indoors and began to set out the ingredients. “What will it be? Chocolate chip, peanut butter, or …? Macey inquired.

Haley paused. “Do we have any apple sauce and oatmeal? I have a recipe for spiced apple/oatmeal cookies that is almost like the ones I remember Grammy making.”

“Spiced delights it is then, replied Macey” as she retrieved a jar of apple sauce and a box of Quaker oats from the pantry. “Sarah, would you get us the cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cayenne pepper please”?

Haley stopped, frozen in place, staring at Macey as if she was seeing a ghost.

“Haley? Honey, are you okay? Haley?” Macey reached out a hand and touched Haley’s shoulder. “Haley? What’s wrong?”

Haley jerked, dropping the spatula she was holding with a clank as it hit the floor and Macey led her to the table and sat her gently into the nearest chair. Haley sat and gazed deep into Macey’s eyes searching them as she struggled to regain her composure and her voice.

Sarah turned and watched the scene unfold. She didn’t make a sound. This moment was theirs and she was just an observer.

Macey sat beside Haley and took her hand in her own. She too was silent. She didn’t know what had happened, what had caused this strange reaction, but she knew without a doubt that Haley had just recognized her somehow. Somehow, Haley now knew who she was.

The color slowly returned to Haley’s cheeks as her breathing returned to normal. For a moment she had been afraid she would faint but gradually she regained control and prayed that Macey would not deny her, that she would acknowledge her relationship and that she truly had stumbled upon that most longed for but ever elusive thing. FAMILY!

Macy spoke gently, “Haley, Sarah said you have a locket with a picture of your parents. Would you mind showing it to me?”

Wordlessly, Haley’s hand went to the chain at her throat and drew up the locket. With trembling fingers she managed to release the clasp and handed it to Macey, her eyes never moving from Macey’s face.

Macey opened the locket and stared at the image inside as a tear rolled down her cheek. She reached into her pocket and removed a picture and handed it to Haley who looked at it with eyes that were filled with awe. It was a full size version of her locket picture.

After a few moments Haley spoke. “It was the cayenne pepper. That was Grammy’s secret and I never could get the amount quite right. She said a pinch of cayenne is what adds the special bite to the cookies. That is when I realized that you are the sister Grammy spoke of and that my mother was named after. She said you had ‘gone to a better place’ and I thought she meant that you had died.”

Sarah cleared her throat.” mmm, I think the cookies can wait. You two need time to talk and while I am happy for both of you, I think I should get out of here and let you have some privacy.”

Both women nodded silently. Then Macey stood up and hugged Sarah. “Thank you for understanding”

As Sarah left, Macey invited Haley to join her in her apartment where they could talk in comfort. They went upstairs and talked through the night. As the sun rose the two parted and went to their beds feeling exhausted from the roller coaster of emotions they had experienced as they relived their memories, sharing for the first time their joys and their heart breaks.

Jenn had returned to her room after dinner and sat in the dark watching the three women outside. She was angry at having been excluded from this group, jealousy eating at her, gnawing at her fragile ego. “Haley, Haley, Haley, BAH! That little nobody is ruining everything. Why is Macey so enamored with the little twit? She never showed that kind of interest in any of the rest of us. She didn’t involve herself in getting me a job or helping me go back to school. Even Joe was wrapped around her grasping little fingers and both Jason and Scott are acting like she is some precious little darling sister that deserves to be treated like a princess version of the prodigal son. I hate her.”

When Sarah entered their shared room she flicked on the light and was shocked to see Jenn sitting at the window in the dark.

“Jenn, what’s going on? Why are you sitting in the dark?”

Jenn said “Why not? I seem to live in the dark and you three are all cozy, talking together as if I don’t exist. Macey made it clear that she did not want my company tonight. Maybe you would like to enlighten me as to what is going on?”

Sarah was stunned at the venomous tone in Jenn’s voice. “Jenn, I’m sorry you felt left out, but I really can’t discuss it with you. Ms. Macey and Haley will have to decide when and if they want to explain anything. Now if you will excuse me, I am going to bed.”

Scott had spent much of the night thinking about Jenn, how strangely she was acting and kicking himself for not having done a more thorough background check on her when she arrived. Finally drifting into sleep in the wee hours and waking to the sound of the doorbell ringing insistently. He was about to drift back into sleep when he glanced at his alarm clock in the night stand. It was almost 8:00 a.m. and he was due at work at 9:30. “Might as well get up and hit the shower” he grumbled just as the doorbell began ringing again. He drew his robe over his pajamas and walked sourly down the steps to the foyer, opening the door without bothering to see who it was first.

Two men in poorly fitted suits and clumsily knotted ties stood there and stared at him. Taking in his size and disheveled appearance they held out their badges and the older man said “We are detectives with Seattle Homicide. I am detective Gallegos and this is detective Burk. What is your name sir?”

“Scott, Scott Mills. How may I help you officers?”

“We are looking for three women, Jennifer West, Haley, last name unknown, and Celeste, also no last name known. We were informed that at least two of these persons are in residence here.” Again it was the older officer that spoke while the younger scratched notes onto his pad.

“I wondered when you fellows would show up.” Scott, stepped out onto the wide porch and motioned to the four chairs at the far end. “Please, have a seat officers. I need to speak with you before I awaken Jenn and Haley. There is no Celeste at this address”

Curiosity, shown clearly on the younger officer as the three men took seats.

Scott began, “Let me begin by introducing myself properly. My name is Agent Scott Mills with the FBI. I reside here as one of 5 boarders. Ms. Macey Sorrel, who owns the property, lives in her apartment on the top floor. No one here, other than Ms Sorrel, is aware of my employment with the F.B.I. and I need you to keep that information strictly off the record.”

The younger detective, Burke, showed surprise clearly on his face. The older detective, Gallegos, showed no reaction. “What puts an undercover FBI agent in the middle of our homicide investigation?”

Scott nodded, “That is a fair question. I came here to live as part of my cover for a sting investigation. That investigation is on going. I cannot divulge the details but can assure you that it does not, in any way, involve any of the parties residing here and should in no way hamper or infringe upon your investigation into the death of Joe West.”

Standing, Scott continued. “Now, if you will excuse me, I will see if either of the ladies is home and get myself ready for work.”

Leaving the detectives seated on the porch he strode into the foyer and pressed the intercom button to Jenn and Sarah’s room. After 5 buzzes a sleepy voice answered. “What is it?” It was Sarah.

“Sorry to wake you Sarah, but there are some gentlemen here to speak to Jenn.”

Sarah groaned “Uh, Scott, she isn’t here and her bed doesn’t look like it was slept in last night. She must have gone out after I went to sleep. Jenn has been acting all weirded out lately and was in a snitty mood last night. Tell them to come back later. I’m going back to bed. I have the late shift tonight and I need my beauty sleep.”

“Okay, thanks Sarah.” Scott said as he turned to find the detectives standing inside the door listening. “Well, you heard the lady. I’ll have to go knock on Haley’s door. The intercom is not hooked up to that area. Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable in the parlor to your right.”

Haley had been asleep only 2 hours and stumbled twice getting into her robe and to the door of her room. “Scott? What’s wrong?” She yawned and pushed her wild auburn hair away from her tired and puffy face.

“Sorry kid, there are two homicide detectives in the parlor that want to speak to you about Joe’s death.”

Haley suddenly felt fear wash over her. “Homicide? I thought Joe died from an infection.”

Scott gave her a gentle smile. “He did, but it was caused by gunshot wounds sustained during the course of a felony robbery. That makes it homicide. Splash some water on your face and pull on some jeans. They are in the front parlor waiting for you.”
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Oct 24, 2011 3:28 PM CST
Name: Anna Z.
Monroe, WI
Haley went slowly down the stairs, not knowing what to expect since she knew virtually nothing about the circumstances of Joe's death. As she made her way to talk to the officers, all she could think of was "Joe is dead. I don't know where he was from; I know nothing about his family, or if he even had a family..." By the time she had reached the front parlor her head was swimming with all the unanswered questions floating in her tired brain.

"Good morning, officers." Haley greeted them.

"Good morning, Miss." The older officer said to her.

"How can I be of assistance to you? Really, I'm afraid i can't be of much help. Scott said you were here to ask me some questions about Joe. I only just met him on the bus when I came out here." said Haley.

The older man said, "I am Officer Gallegos and this is my partner Officer Burke. Now, we just would like to know if you can remember anything of your conversations with Joe on the way here that you could tell us. Don't be afraid to mention even the smallest detail that you might think would have no interest to us. Sometimes it's these things that make or break a case".

Haley was trying to think back... it seemed so long ago. "Well, he did offer to share his sandwich with me as I had no food. I thought that to be a very kind gesture. Certainly not something you would expect of a person involved with a robbery. He talked to me during the trip out here. You have to understand that things were very overwhelming for me at that time. I had just graduated from high school, my foster mother had put me out, and I had no idea of where I was going to go. You'll have to excuse me if my attention to detail is a bit...well, disorganized".

"We understand, Haley," said Officer Gallegos. "Here is my card. If you remember anything... anything at all... please, don't hesitate to call me, day or night."

Both officers left quietly. Haley sat on the chair for quite some time, losing herself in the thinking and muddled thoughts. She was so pre-occupied she didn't hear Miss Macey come into the room.

"Haley, what is it, dear? What has happened? You look positively rattled", Miss Macey said.

"Oh, Macey, I don't know what I can tell those officers... I don't remember anything of interest during the conversations Joe and I had on the bus out here. The more I try to think, the more confused I get."

Miss Macey stood up and offered Haley her hand. "Come, dear, I know just the thing to settle your nerves and perhaps calm you down so you can think...we never made those Spiced Delights cookies. I think some fresh cookies and a cup of nice, hot tea would be just the thing.

Haley got up and put her hand in Macey's as they went through the parlor to the kitchen.


Sarah fell asleep amost as soon as her head hit the pillow. When her breathing became steady, Jenn looked over at her to make sure, then picked up her jacket and purse and tip-toed out of the room, silently closing the door behind her. She crept quietly down the stairs, avoiding the second from the bottom step that sometimes creaked. She slipped out the door and started walking quickly down the sidewalk.

After walking several blocks, she came to a deserted part of town and an old, decrepit building front. She walked up to the door and said in a low voice "I'm here...I know I am late but my roommate took forever to get to sleep. What do you want with me?"
[Last edited Oct 24, 2011 10:29 AM CST]
Quote | Post #780042 (17)
Nov 6, 2011 4:33 PM CST
Name: Sharon

One huge muscled arm reached out the darkened doorway and jerked Jenn inside. Her free hand grabbed the doorframe, her feet fighting for traction and her mouth opening wide to scream.

“H E Y . . . “ A hand reached from behind and covered her mouth, her nose, her eyes and she couldn’t see or speak or breathe. Jenn panicked, flailed, letting go of the doorway to scratch the hand that covered her face. Suddenly she was inside, the door was slammed shut behind her and the grip on her arm was gone. She grabbed the arm that came from behind, trying to pull it from her face.

“Just shut up now, tell me you can keep quiet and Big Jon here will let you breathe again. Can you shut up?” The low raspy voice that came from in front of her, so close she could feel his spit on her forehead, was as frightening as the hand that covered her face, but Jenn managed to shake her head up and down.

The hand was removed from her face, but it held firmly to her arm. Jenn gasped for breath, she could feel her heart pounding in her head.

“Wha a a . . .?” she gasped, coughing. “Wha a a..” She couldn’t stop the coughs that tore through her body. Breathe, she needed to breathe! The man called Big Jon grabbed her by both arms and started shaking her, hard shakes, making her head sling back and forth.

She was flung down to the floor, landing hard on bare wood and against a foul smelling piece of upholstered furniture. There was a minute of silence and slowly Jenn raised her pounding head and opened her dizzy eyes.

The room was dim, light coming from a candle in the far corner. She could barely see someone sitting at the table, the candlelight falling on long blonde hair. The woman was smoking and smoke filled the room. Jenn stifled a cough, bracing herself, waiting for whatever came next.

Nothing happened. The woman kept on smoking. The men were somewhere in the shadows. Jenn felt like a cornered rat. Suddenly she stiffened her body, anger more than courage making her open her mouth to scream.

She saw the flash of metal before she realized Big Jon had a knife. He was pointing it at her.

“Told you to keep quiet, Jennifer,” said the smaller one she knew as Slim. “It’s our turn to ask the questions, now. Let’s start with how much you’ve told those roommates of yours. Huh?? What did you say, Jennifer? We got cops crawling around every corner, so what did you tell them? Or was it the docs you talked to? Huh? The docs? Start talking, Jennifer. NOW!”

Jennifer gasped for breath again. “I’ve said nothing to nobody! I was waiting for you. Where’s my share of what you got that night? I’m supposed to get a third, so where’s my share?”

She hoped she sounded brave; these guys wouldn’t hurt her. They’d been in scams together before and everybody came out ahead. What was the problem with them?

She tried again, hoping bravery showed through.

“Jon, I did my part. I told you where he worked. I told you what time they closed. I told you the layout of that diner. Now where’s my share?”

“Yeah, you told us all that, missy, but you didn’t tell us that the take would be only $300. Where’s the rest of it? Did Joe hide it? Did he hide it where you could find it? You told us they take in well over $3000 a night, so where’s the rest of it? Seems to me you owe us. So hand it over, girl.”

“I never got any money, Jon! I didn’t even get to see Joe. And why did you kill him anyway, you were only supposed to hurt him so I could take his place in the restaurant. I’m the one who has the experience, I’m the one who can manage that place. I would have been the one to handle the money then! We had a plan and you killed him. I don’t have that money. Look at your blonde over there, she went to see Joe, maybe she got the money.”

Celeste jumped from the chair so quickly she turned it over. Its crash echoed in the nearly empty room. Her hand slapped Jenn’s face faster than Jenn ever dreamed anyone could move.

“Back off, Celeste, back off. She’ll do what we say. Just back off so I can tell her where she stands.”

Slim turned to Jenn again, Celeste seething, but backing away, nostrils flaring as she inhaled the cigarette.

“It’s like this, see. We can lay low, but them cops is on every corner askin’ questions. You got 24 hours. You get us the money in 24 hours and we’ll be gone. We’re watching you, Jenn. You make one wrong move and we’ll see. You got one day, and if you don’t have the money by then, we’ll start with them roommates of yours. What’s her name, Sarah? Yeah, we’ll start with her and the cops will be looking at you. We’ll set it up, Jenn. We’ve done it before, we can do it again. We’ll be watching you. You’ve got one day, then your roomie Sarah will accidentally fall down those steps one morning when you are the only one in the house with her. And then we might just go upstairs to the apartment and see what the old lady has stashed up there. Easy enough to do. You following me, Jennifer? You know what I’m sayin’? The old lady might just be next, you hear me? And it will have your name written all over it.”

Jennifer heard. She worked with them before. She knew. They had ways of planting evidence. They had ways of making the police see whatever they wanted them to see. They’d done it before. She knew.

“We’re watchin’ you, Jenn. We’re watchin’ every move you make. You don’t come to us this time tomorrow night, we’ll come to you. You owe us. We been together a long time and we ain’t got time for no weak links. You told us $3000 and that’s what you’re goin’ to get us. It’s up to you, Jenn. It’s all up to you.”

Big Jon jerked her up by her arm and pushed her out the door, slamming it behind her.

“Ya think she’ll come back with the money, Slim?”

“I hope she don’t,” seethed Celeste. “I’m here now, you don’t need that little twit, Slim. Even if she does come up with the money, let me get rid of her. Yeah, I can get rid of her. We don’t need her.”

“Shut that mouth of yours, Celeste. I’m tired of your mouth. Now keep it shut. I need time to think!” And Slim pushed her away.

Jennifer picked herself up, moved away from the building walking as quickly as she could. Her thoughts were jumping from one corner of her mind to another.

She walked with her head down, her eyes darting from side to side. She knew they meant business. She’d worked scams with them for a long time, but this was the first time anyone had been killed in a hit. Others had died, but not directly from a hit. This was the first time they’d ever threatened her. And she hadn’t meant for Joe to be hurt, maybe a little bullet wound, but not killed. Slim was changing, getting braver, taking risks, and she knew he’d stop at nothing if she didn’t get that money.

Jennifer was tired. She’d been living on the edge for a long time. She had thought she could come straight, thought she might make a decent life for herself by living with the group at Macey’s. But it was too easy to fall back in with Slim. Too easy to live that kind of life. Too easy to have pulled Joe into it with her. It might have worked if Joe had not taken most of that money out of the bag from the restaurant.

That must have been what happened. Joe must have taken the money out and hid it someplace. But where would he have hidden it? She needed to get into his apartment. She wondered if it was still empty.

It was dark, she was in a dark part of town. She started walking a little faster, heart pounding in her head. Her thoughts so loud in her mind she tightened her lips to make sure she didn’t scream them out loud. She had to find that money. Money. Any money. She had to get some money.

“Twenty four hours. I’ve got twenty four hours. I’ve got to find that diner, got to get upstairs . . . Macey . . . Macey might have cash. Macey’s home. Where’s her money? Does she have a safe? The diner’s closed by now . . . Money. Scott . . . Maybe Scott could help. No! Wait, Jason has all that money available. Jason! I’ll tell Jason that I need . . . medical help. I’ll tell Jason. He has money. I’ll tell Jason. Jason. Jason. Jason will help me.“

With Jason’s name held firmly in her mind, whispered, a litany, Jason . . . Jason . . . Jason . . . Jennifer kept walking in the dark of the deserted street.

She didn't hear the sound of soft footsteps behind her.
Nov 13, 2011 3:27 PM CST
Name: Melissa
As Jenn neared the house, she got braver and decided to turn and see who had been following her for at least the past few blocks, maybe longer. She took a deep breath and looked back to see two men walking toward her. As they got closer, she realized that one of the men was Scott. Jenn was surpised and very relieved, "Scott, what are you doing out here?" She asked. Scott looked grim, "Just out looking for the truth, just the truth Melanie."

Jenn looked shocked, "I don't know what you're talking about Scott, who is Melanie and what truth are you looking for?"

The man with Scott stepped forward, "Cut the crap, we know who you are, we know what you did, and we're here to make sure you pay for your crimes."

Jenn looked alarmed, "Scott, is this some kind of a sick joke? I can't believe you'd do something like this. Well, I'm not going to stand here and be the butt of your sick games, I'm going home."

Suddenly a black car raced up and pulled to a stop beside of them. "I don't think you're going anywhere." Scott said dryly as he stepped up to handcuff Jenn. "Melanie Smithson, you're under arrest for the murder of Joe Johnson, aka, Joe West."

"What are you talking about Scott? You're crazy, you're a lawyer, you can't arrest me because my own brother died in the hospital."

Scott flipped out his badge, "Federal Agent, Melanie, and I can arrest you for the murder of someone who thought he was your brother, but you and I know differently don't we?"

Jenn/Melanie continued to feign surprise, "I really don't know what you're talking about Scott, and I didn't kill him, but I can tell you who did."

Scott looked at his partner who said, "We can sort this out downtown, let's go."

Once back at FBI headquarters, it didn't take long for Scott to get to the bottom of the story, and wire Jenn in order to get the confessions they needed to put the whole group behind bars.

Jenn/Melanie had met Joe in Pennsylvania some time ago, the exact amount of time wasn't really clear. Somehow, she was able to convince Joe that they were brother and sister. Scott assumed that Joe had been so desperate to find his family that he really didn't check out Jenn/Melanie's story too well, or he wouldn't have allowed her to dupe him like she had.

Jenn was actually Melanie Smithson who had several warrants out for her arrest back east. When she met Joe, she assumed the identity of his long lost sister, Jennifer. When the authorities were closing in on her, she told Joe to stay there while she moved west. She told him she had a lead on the missing rest of the family, and that her friend Celeste would take care of him, but in reality she simply wanted to get away from the authorities. When she happened upon the room mate wanted advertisement in the newspaper, it had been easy for her to become Jennifer with a clean background.

Jenn could have probably continued her charade, but she got greedy, when she realized how much money Jason had, she schemed the best way for her to get her hands on it. When that didn't seem to be working, she brought in Joe. When that didn't work, she told her shady friends about Joe's job at the diner, and they planned their hold up on him. Celeste in the mean time, was feeling left out, and had headed west herself. When Celeste realized she was going to get no where with Joe, and Joe wasn't going to come in to a large sum of money, she suffocated him in the hospital to keep the authorities from finding her connection with the gentlemen who shot Joe. He had contracted an infection, but Celeste made sure that he would never have the chance to recover.

Macey sat shocked as Scott finished telling her what had transpired in the last few hours. He said because Jenn had agreed to be wired and extract the confessions from the others involved, her sentence would be lighter, but she was still facing a lengthy jail sentence. Macey was thankful to Scott for protecting her, but she was also starting to re-think allowing complete strangers to move into her house. She had Haley to think about now, and she certainly didn't want anything to happen to any of the other borders she currently had.

"Scott, could you do something for me please?" Macey asked.

Scott nodded, "Of course, Macey, anything."

Macey nodded, "Let's keep this to ourselves right now, until I figure out how I want to proceed. I'm a little concerned now that I haven't been the best at vetting out who was going to be staying in my home, and I'm thinking I may need to reconsider opening it up as I have been."

Scott had been expecting this, and he was glad in a way that Macey might not be renting out rooms any longer, he had grown very fond of Macey and didn't want anything to happen to her or anyone else in the house.

"If it makes you feel any better, I have run extensive checks on everyone here. Everyone else in the house is who they say they are."

Macey looked surprised, Scott held up his hands, "I needed to Macey, I had to be sure that Jenn didn't have anyone working inside the house with her."

Macey shook her head in understanding, "I didn't even consider that." She said.

Scott was relieved she didn't seem to be mad at him, "Unfortunately, my job makes me suspicious of everyone, I just had to be sure that we were all safe."

Summer quickly turned to fall, which turned to winter, then spring and with the passing of time, the hurt and chaos Jenn and her friends had caused eventually faded, and the mismatched family Macey had created moved on with their lives.

Sarah was inspired by Haley, and had joined her at the University of Washington in the Spring semester. With a lot of help from Macey, she was able to use most of the credits she had accumulated in the past years when she had been a sporadic student to be able to enroll in the education program for Kindergarten through third grade as a second semester sophomore. She completely and thoroughly enjoyed the program, and in the observations she had done thus far, she was going to love being a teacher.

Sarah and Jason had grown much closer through the entire ordeal, and Jason was very supportive of her decision to return to school. Sarah didn't know it yet, but Jason was planning on proposing to Sarah on her graduation day. Until then, they would be just fine living right where they were.

Scott was granted his wish, and because of his work on Jenn's case, he was now permanently based in the Seattle office. He loved his life at Macey's house, not just because it was a beautiful house and an easy place to live, over the last year, he realized that he had fallen in love with Haley, and she with him. Though there was an eight year age gap between the two, they really never noticed it. Macey had been extremely pleased when she'd found out. She couldn't have picked a better partner for Haley if she had picked herself.

Haley was happier than she had ever been in her life. She had just completed her Freshman year of college, and because she had not followed the advice everyone had given her to take it easy, she had completed enough credits to be classified as a Junior along with Sarah. Though their majors were very different, Haley had decided on Library Science as her major, they still managed to see each other on campus occasionally as well as evenings at home when neither of them had a class.

Haley was still friends with Brittany, and though Brittany was still basically ignoring "Booger" she had relented a few times and went out with him for a meal and a movie. As Brittany explained to Haley, she needed to keep his interest in her piqued. Brittany was amazed at Haley's ability to work full time, and to carry more than a full time class load. Though Haley had had many nights with only a few hours sleep, she felt good about what she had been able to accomplish in the time she had been in Seattle.

Macey was also happier than she had ever been. Because of Haley, she had gotten in contact with her remaining sister back in Ohio, and she was planning a visit back to Ohio during the summer, the first time since she had left. Haley of course was going with her, and was excited about the family she never knew she had.

Macey had also taken care of Haley in the future as well. She knew she wasn't getting any younger, and she didn't want Haley to ever encounter any type of financial hardship. Since she had no children of her own, Macey had left everything to Haley--she knew Haley would be a good steward of everything Macey loved in her life, and she wanted to make sure that Haley's future children were provided for as well. Haley, in the short time Macey had known her, had become the daughter she never even knew she had so desperately wanted.

Macey realized now, that opening her home to young people for so many years had satisfied the "mothering" instinct she had inside of her. Now, since she had Haley, and the others, she didn't have that need to bring new people in to her home. Her home and her life is perfect, just the way it is.

***The End***

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