Moonlight on the Nantahala

Moonlight on the Nantahala

Moonlight on the Nantahala

Moonlight on the Nantahala is set in the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina.  An interesting hint of the supernatural world and domestic partner abuse is intertwined into this fictional family relationship novel.

"An inspirational book about true love, family, friendship and the good that comes from experiencing life as it should be."

Excerpt Moonlight on the Nantahala

First Chapter

In the silence of midnight, memories stirred as leaves on the wind. By the banks of the Nantahala River, an old man stood watching the pale blue light of a full moon caress the gently flowing water. Nineteen ninety-five was another year when he would stand during the full of the moon and be here watching, waiting, not ending his vigil until the wee hours of the morning gave way to false dawn. Edward Caulfield was here to witness the Lady of Nantahala. It was here he would try to discover the true identity of this fine lady who had caused such a stir within those who came to walk by the river. In his heart he knew it was his Celia, it could be no other, and still he had to see her to truly believe.

The shadows of the hills and mountains surrounding him whispered her name gently. He yearned for the sight of her, just a glance to soothe the pain deep within his heart. A beautiful lady dressed for the ball waltzed alone upon these waters, waiting for her love to join her. She never smiled as she twirled and danced lightly through the mist swirling upon the dark waters. Some would say they had seen her eyes. It was true enough there was certain sadness there not to be denied.

Many years ago Celia had vowed to Edward on her deathbed they would be together again, never to part for eternity. He believed her and clung to every word she whispered as she passed from this life.

Edward Caulfield was not a man to believe in just anything! The words that escaped the lips of his beloved wife on the night she left him were forever in his ears. The very sound was the same, neither wavering nor changing for a second. He believed in her and cherished every word she had spoken to him for the few years they had been married. If indeed it was his beloved Celia, why then had she allowed herself to be seen by others and not by the man who still loved her with all of his heart?

The years had taken their toll, and with it came the time when Edward had to make a decision. He knew he was old and needed the things all men do when they can no longer continue for themselves. He made the decision to move from his home and reside in a smaller house. The thought of having another woman in the house he and Celia had made their home was almost blasphemous in his eyes.

Edward moved into a small bungalow closer to town, nearer to the local physician. Dr. Wayne Early had been his friend for many years, and when the time was upon him, Edward took Wayne‘s advice and hired a housekeeper.

The search for just the right person to accompany him in his old age did not take very long. He knew very well whom he would ask to stay with him and promptly made her an offer. With little or no hesitation, Betty Curtis made arrangements to move into his new home that very day. He gave her a generous space of her own and a substantial salary to entice her not to leave him until it was time for him to die. All of this was really not necessary for the number of years they had known each other. She was happy to be there for him, just as he had been there for her and her husband while he was still living.

The house he and Celia had built was two miles from the bungalow he now called home. Each day he would walk the distance back to his old house and sit beneath the cooling shade of the ancient oak trees, listening to the river roll by beyond the slope of the land, recalling every minute he could of his life with Celia.

Cool summer evenings brought back the memories of seeing Celia standing close by her flower garden waiting for him to come home from work. He could almost smell the aroma of fresh-baked bread she had made for his supper. Just a spark of the life he had once had was enough to please him and carry him forward to the next day. Should he close his eyes and concentrate hard enough, he could still bring back the lilt of her voice as she greeted him.

There was a time when he would go beyond the front doors of the two-story house and wander through the rooms, doing everything possible to recall the things that happened in them. He would run his fingers slowly across the stucco walls, barely touching them while listening to old familiar creaks of the floorboards. Now, he was content to just sit and look at the house. The white paint that once covered the exterior was all but gone, and so too the shutters that once kept out the foul winds of winter. It hurt him to see some of the windows had been shattered by children coming here to play. He wasn‘t angry, yet he had overheard children calling his home “the haunted house by the river.” This did disturb him somewhat, for he and Celia had wanted children badly and had hoped they would love the house as much as they did. He wanted everyone to love this house as they had. These words coming from the mouths of youths were heartbreaking to him.

Edward had made his way to the center of town early one summer evening in 1976 to attend the annual fireworks display. He sat smiling and laughing with his friends as they shared a bottle of the local talent‘s best moonshine. The evening wore on, and after the fireworks were done, the men still sat and talked late into the night. This was the night Edward first heard of the Lady of Nantahala. A stranger in the small group of men told the story of his experience, and seemed not to notice when the men of the town tried to change the subject. Edward knew from the man‘s description of her it could only be Celia. His heart froze in his chest as he listened to the man‘s words. She was nothing more than something to amuse him. The other men whom he had called friends for so many years had seen the same apparition, and yet they never said anything to him. It was more than obvious by the hesitation in their answers to the stranger‘s questions that they were well aware of everything the man had witnessed. They had recognized her and didn‘t want to hurt Edward by talking about what they had seen. It was in their eyes—yes, it was in their eyes!

After the night of the celebration, Edward found it difficult to look into his friends‘ faces when he met them on the street. It was not because they did not tell him of what they had seen, but rather he felt he may say some small something that may give away the secret that he had never been allowed to see the Lady of Nantahala.

In the spring of 1995 Edward began to notice a young woman walking the narrow gravel path by the riverbed. He could glimpse her as she would find a spot closest to the tiny whirlpool beneath a small stand of river bamboo. There she would sit surrounded by the small ferns growing beside the banks, sometimes with what appeared to be a journal of some sort. On other occasions she would just sit and watch the water flowing lazily by with a book open in her lap. He was curious as to why one so young would prefer to be alone in a place of such beauty. It was not for him to question, and he would turn back to his thoughts and daydream of days long past. For three years, each and every summer Edward watched for her, knowing she would come, knowing she would return to watch the waters of the Nantahala. For three years she never failed him.

Edward sat resting in his chair beneath the familiar oaks of his home, smoking his pipe and humming an old tune long forgotten by many. He grinned slyly to himself as he heard the low crunch of gravel beneath someone‘s shoes. She had returned again. Slowly he turned his head to assure himself that it was her and she was alone. All of these years and he still did not know her name. Yet he felt as though he knew her very well. He knew the sound of her steps, the sound of her voice when she hummed bits of melodies to herself. Edward felt a strange comfort when she was near. She never intruded upon him, and always left a lingering scent of herself that was quite pleasing.

Minutes passed and Edward lost sight of her. Had she decided not to stay on a day as beautiful as this? A twinge of disappointment touched him at the thought of this being so. Edward drew in lightly on his pipe, gripping the bowl in his left hand as he turned his head to search for her.

“Good morning!” a cheery voice called to him. “I hope I didn‘t startle you,” the young woman said with a grin.

Edward turned quickly toward the voice almost directly behind him. “Not at all, young lady. I didn‘t see you coming up behind me.” He chuckled.

The young woman smiled slightly. “Yes, you are right. It isn‘t proper to sneak up behind someone and speak. But I couldn‘t knock first.”

Edward laughed heartily. “Ah yes, youth and a sense of humor. What more can someone ask for?”

Her face reddened slightly. “I suppose I really should introduce myself. I have been coming here for a few years now and have just discovered from the grocer today the property belongs to you. That is if you are Mr. Caulfield?”

Edward nodded politely and assured her he indeed was Edward Caulfield.

“I know this is not the right time, but may I have your permission to come and sit by the river?” she asked pensively.

Edward grinned. “You have been coming here for three years during the summer months and sometimes in the fall. Who did you think I was?”

The young woman looked away, not sure how to answer him. “I wasn‘t sure, but still it has taken me this long to find out.”

Edward stood from his chair and leaned heavily on his cane. He turned from her and gazed steadily at the old house before him. Cocking his head slightly to one side, he stared grimly at her. The young woman stepped back slightly, as if she was in fear of a physical reprisal for venturing onto his property. Suddenly Edward broke into a huge grin.

“There is something you have to do before you are allowed to come here, now that I am fully aware of your coming and going. I will not tolerate you being here otherwise.”

The young woman stiffened slightly. Her voice held a sharp edge. “And what would that be?”

Edward laughed heartily. “Take it easy, rest yourself, and tell me your name so I do not have to refer to you as ‘young woman.‘”

With a release of her pent-up breath, she smiled. “I‘m sorry. I should have introduced myself long ago.”

Edward eased back into his chair, looking up into her face. “Yes, that would have been the proper thing to do.”

“My name is Leonora. All of my family calls me Lena. But I usually answer to almost anything,” she said.

Edward laid his pipe on the small wooden table by his chair and pulled his hat lower over his eyes. “What name would you like for me to call you?”

Lena opened her mouth slightly as if to speak, and still she found she could not. She had no answer to the question he had put before her. Edward chuckled. “I‘m sorry, but it sounded to me as though you may have a name you prefer other than Lena or Leonora. Am I correct in this assumption?”

Lena blushed. “My dad had a pet name for me that I liked very much, but it wouldn‘t sound the same coming from someone else.”

Edward nodded again and turned away from her, easing into his chair. “Okay, I‘ll call you Lena and we‘ll go from there. You can call me Ed, but only when you are using my name.”

Lena giggled like a small child. It was nice to meet someone with such a whimsical sense of humor.

Edward pointed to the chair next to him and smiled. “You can sit here for a while if you wish. You are welcome here anytime. I will warn you though: sometimes I am not all that social. Sometimes, at my age, I have a tendency to go through quiet spells.”

Lena glanced around her and decided she did not want to sit in the chair next to him. With a flourish, she almost made a ceremony of taking her seat in the grass beneath the shade of the trees. Edward nodded to himself. This was a fine thing. She had a mind of her own; he liked that very much. Something about her made him curious, very curious. Her smile bordered on being forced, and although she was friendly, there was still a little something there that convinced him all was not what it seemed.

“Lena, would you care for something to drink? I understand it is a bit early, but I have never been one to stand on ceremony. I always bring a little something to ease the tensions of the day when I am here,” he said.

She recognized the twinkle in his old eyes immediately. “Are you trying to tell me you tend to imbibe on pleasant days like today?” Edward laughed. “If that‘s the way you want to look at it, then yes, I do. Sometimes I imbibe to the point I have to get a nap before I start for home.” Lena glanced toward the old house and then back to Edward. “I think that would be wonderful! I can‘t remember the last time I sat in such a place and enjoyed a good drink.” Reaching behind him, Edward pulled a bottle of Nantahala‘s finest from a small wicker basket covered with a bright red cloth. “I don‘t have any glasses, so you‘ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. Sorry about that.”

Lena watched intently as he uncorked the bottle. The liquid inside gave the illusion of being more clear than the spring water she had become accustomed to in the years she had been making her treks to these mountains. After her long slim fingers wrapped themselves around the bottle, she then brought it just below her nose to take in the aroma of it. To her surprise there was not the strong alcohol aroma she was expecting. Instead there was the lightest scent of rose petals. “Is that rose petals I smell?”

Edward grinned. “Yes, it is. The man who makes this uses just a little to take the edge off. You‘ll get used to it, and you don‘t taste anything odd when you drink it. It makes it very pleasant, if I do say so myself! I first started getting this from him back around 1940 or so. He is a little younger than I am, so I am not worried about running out of it.”

He watched her as she laughed at his words. She had a pleasant laugh. He hated women who laughed and sounded as though they were horses or some other such nonsense. The slight wrinkle about her eyes gave way to genuine mirth when she laughed. Edward‘s thoughts began to run.

The women he was acquainted with today usually wore jeans and T-shirts when they were out taking their walks. This lady was different. She dressed neatly in a blouse of some sort, which he had no name for, and a long skirt. Her manner of dress reminded him of a Gypsy in so many ways. She was fair-skinned with long, slim arms and delicate hands. She walked with a grace not at all usual for the ladies of today. To Edward, he would be willing to bet her mother had done everything possible to attend to the lessons of bringing up a lady, and nothing less would be acceptable.

He was right in his assumption. Her mother had been adamant about the virtues of being a lady at all times. It was Lena who had been adamant about the fact that even a lady should be able to have fun without being a prude. In the end she had won the skirmish with her mother, but at a terrible price. They were never close to each other again, nor did her mother wish to discuss any aspect of her life. These were the minor points Edward gleaned from her life in the following weeks they spent in each other‘s company, and Lena was quick to divert any conversation that would lead to anything concerning her present state of mind.

Edward thought of Celia and wondered if they had been granted the gift of children, would a daughter have been much like Lena? He wanted to believe she would have been. What could have been on this child‘s mind to weigh so heavily? She came to his home to take refuge from life, and he was willing to give her the peace she craved within her, if only for a while.

It was another beautiful afternoon when Edward met Lena once again beneath the shade of the aging oak tree to sit and talk. His thoughts had lingered on the things she had told him during their discussions about life. He had added up everything he knew of her and found there was something amiss. Something did not ring true with her.

Edward reached down and picked up a small twig, twisting it slowly in his large hands. Such a small thing, and still by doing so he could bring his thoughts to bear with a certain clarity. He missed working with his hands. There were many things he longed to do once more, and yet he knew it was not to be. Celia would have understood and helped him through these times of not knowing what to do with himself; she would have understood all too well.

Lena glanced over at him, cocking her head ever so slightly. The sun on her hair reminded Edward of his sister whom he had lost so long ago. Where had time taken him? So many things reminded him of days long past. The memories stood in his shadows only to appear at what he deemed to be the most inappropriate times.

“If my old memory serves me correctly, you have hair the same color as my sister when she was about your age,” he said.

Before she could comment, he turned and stared down the path, seeing everything, seeing nothing but the ghosts of old friends long gone from his life.

Without looking back into her face, he began to speak. “Lena, you come and sit by this river every day. For a few weeks now we have been talking, and yes, we have talked of pleasant things and a few old times here and there. But I want to ask you something, if you don‘t mind?”

She stared down at her feet. She was already uncomfortable with the direction she felt the conversation was headed. Lena looked back up into his eyes, brushing the hair back that had fallen about her face. “Edward, I feel as though you are about to ask me something I may not want to answer right now. Are you?”

Pulling the brim of his hat back down over his eyes, he slid back farther into his chair. “I considered asking you many things over the time you have been coming here, and sometimes I didn‘t really care one way or another. Today I have a lot on my mind. It seems like such a heavy load to bear, and it all concerns you. I have become really attached to your visits. You would be surprised at the amount of time I spend thinking about coming back here and listening to you. Don‘t take it the wrong way with the affection part. You have listened to my ramblings for quite a while now. I want you to know how much I appreciate you and your company.”

Lena leaned back against the trunk of the ancient oak and stared up through the leaves as she spoke gently to him. “I enjoy coming here, and I have enjoyed talking with you, Edward. At least when I am here I have no doubts about what will happen. Sometimes there are small surprises, but they are always pleasant. Case in point: that wonderful ham and cheese you brought. I‘ll pry the secret of where those came from out of you before I have to leave here.”

She laughed easily and pressed the back of her head gently against the tree. Edward stood to his feet. Reaching back behind the chair, he picked up the bottle and turned it to his lips. The liquid went down smoothly, and it was comforting and warmed him to his bones. This comforted him, feeling somewhat easier about what he needed to ask her.

“Lena, I have watched you for a long while, and I know there is something weighing heavily on your mind. I‘m telling you as your friend: if I can help you, please let me know.”

“Edward, I have nothing bothering me that you can help with. Besides, what makes you think I do?”

Leaning against the cool bark of the trunk of the tree, he looked down at her. “I may be old, but I am far from stupid. Your face is like a road map to misery. Your smile is full of tears and your walk tells me you dread the thoughts of the future. I‘m not so senile that I imagine things. Fact of the matter is, my doctor says I‘m mentally sharper than most people he knows. He can‘t find his butt with both hands, but he still swears I am not losing my faculties.”

“If you are aware of so many things, why don‘t you tell me what you know?” she asked angrily.

Edward held up his hands in mock defense. “I am saying these things as your friend, someone who wants to help you.”

Lena just sat and stared at him, saying nothing. Edward gave a low whistle in exasperation. “A young woman such as yourself doesn‘t come to a place like this as much as you do without something being amiss. I believe things are not quite what they seem.” Lena jumped to her feet, her tiny fists clenched tightly to her side. “What would you know about me? I go and do as I please, and nobody tells me what to do.”

Edward grimaced. He could see the slight traces of tears running down her cheeks. “I‘m sorry if I brought up a bad subject. I know you are married because you talk in your sleep while napping. There is a problem with your home life, or you would not come here alone year after year. I am not condemning you for anything. I just want to know if I can be of some help to you. I will make a bargain with you. We will exchange the stories of our lives. This way I may be able to help you in some small way. That includes all of the ham and cheese you can ask for.”

Lena sat down heavily. There seemed to be very little leeway around this subject. She knew it would have to come to light sooner than later, yet she wasn‘t prepared to deal with it even now with Edward.

Edward‘s voice was close to a whisper. “It will be all right, Lena. When you are ready, I will be here for you.”

Without another word, Edward gathered his things and headed for the gravel path toward home. Each step took him farther from her, with the knowledge that he may never be able to help relieve the burden she seemed to carry. Sometimes it was better to lay the seed of hope before someone and let them decide if it is the best for them. He prayed she would change her mind and let him try to help her. After today, the chances of never seeing Lena again were entirely possible. There was never any intention of hurting her or making her angry. But he had no doubt in his mind he had spoken too soon and too much for his own good. He slowed his pace as he glanced back over his shoulder to see her still beneath the shade of the oak, her head buried in her hands and crying. Edward felt a chill run through his bones as he noticed the slight shudder of her shoulders as she wept. He never meant to hurt her. He only wanted for her the things he would have done for a daughter of his own.

Days turned to weeks and still Lena had not returned to his old home to visit. Edward shakily made his way down by the banks of the river to see if she had returned for even a moment to sit by the river as she had done before they met. There was never a sign of anyone except the prints of his own shoes in the mud.

Heartbroken with the thought he had driven away his friend by prying into her life, Edward came home early this day. The front door of his bungalow seemed dreary. The place had never taken on a life of its own as it should have. A home should be vibrant and welcoming to everyone, yet this house bored him to tears. Betty, his housekeeper, had asked him several years ago about planting flowers and giving the house some life. Edward had agreed readily enough and the flowers were beautiful, and yet something always felt as though a very special thing was missing. He knew what was missing. Nothing gathered the light of life as his Celia had. She opened the heavens for him with just her smile, a smile he could not live without.

Edward reached and removed his battered hat from his head, and tossed it on the couch just as Betty popped into the hallway. Betty was by no means a small woman. Edward had hired her because she loved to laugh. He needed that in his life, and she obliged with nearly every breath she took. “Mr. Edward, you are home mighty early today. Did your friend not come to visit?”

Edward smiled a faint little smile and sat down in his favorite chair. He preferred to have his chair here regardless of the scolding he always received from Betty concerning napping by the open window. Slowly he raised his hand in defense from the words he knew would be coming from her. “Before you say anything, Betty, I am not moving this chair, and it would be to your benefit if you didn‘t either. As far as my friend is concerned, no, she was not at the house today. I expect she has better things to do than listen to the rambling of an old fart like me. I came home because I am just a little tired today, and thought I might sit and read the paper before midnight for a change. Are you happy now, or should I write all this down for later consumption by you?”

Betty curled her lip. “My, aren‘t we just a little snappy today! I was just trying to make conversation and you turn it into a novel. It‘ll never be a bestseller at the rate you are going, that‘s for sure.” Betty fussed with the pillows on the sofa and made her rounds to each and every little porcelain figure in the room as she tried to talk to him. “Sometimes I think you are in love with that little girl. You act like such a schoolboy whenever you have spent the day with her. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a man your age trying to act like you are twenty again.”

Edward sat watching her, his finger lying pressed along the side of his nose, his eyes twinkling with laughter. He dared not laugh out loud for fear he would make her angry. He never wanted to make her angry, but he dearly loved to tease her and watch her go off like a rocket.

“Betty, are you sure you‘re not jealous? I could have sworn I saw a little green flash just then. Maybe me and you can run off to Tennessee and raise fishing worms or something. Then on our afternoons off we can fool around down by the dump.”

“Sometimes I think you just want to try to make me mad, old man. Well, I got news for you: it ain’t going to work. Not now. Not ten years from now, so be satisfied and get on with it. Your supper will be ready about six, so don‘t you get it in your head you‘re going to sleep and let it get cold before you sit down to eat.”

Edward snickered under his breath as she stomped out of the room. It was a game to him to try to stop the way of giggling she had after the end of a sentence. A game he enjoyed immensely. Tonight, it wasn‘t nearly as much fun. He felt genuinely tired. A strange feeling of weakness about his limbs and muscles worried him to no end. Shaking his head to clear his mind, he simply passed it off as the effects of old age.

The evening newspaper lay unopened in his lap. There seemed to be little or no interest today in what he called the Daily Rambler. Local events no longer interested him, and the thought of reading the classified ads drove him from his chair. Edward headed for the kitchen with intentions of getting a large handful of Betty‘s homemade cookies. He didn‘t really care that he was not supposed to eat sweets. Nor did it matter to him that the wrath of Betty would rain down upon his shoulders for eating them. All that concerned him at that moment was the delightful taste of something special for a change.

Betty eyed him closely as he reached into the cookie jar and withdrew a large handful of the molasses cookies she had baked. Edward caught her watching from the corner of his eye and placed half of his hoard of sweet heaven back into the jar. Much like a small child, he went and sat silently at the table, and waited for what Betty was going to say.

“Mr. Edward, you know Dr. Early said you cain‘t have no cookies and such, it‘ll kill you and you know it!”

Edward laughed easily. “Yeah, that‘s what he said, but I don‘t see him here right now, and he‘ll never know ‘less you tell him.” Betty chuckled. “I ought to tell him for sure, but then again I don‘t see how it‘s right for a grown man to be refused something he likes. If I ever get to your age, I reckon they‘ll be tellin‘ me the same thing. Make you a deal, Edward. You put back a few more of those cookies, and I‘ll make you a cake that won‘t hurt you so much. I found a recipe for a fine cake that is just for folks that cain‘t eat much sugar.”

Edward nodded his agreement and placed a few more of the cookies back into the jar, and the rest except for one he slid neatly into his pocket for later.

Betty reached into the cabinet and pulled down the plates for their supper. As she placed his plate gently down on the table in front of him, she grinned broadly. “Before you leave this kitchen, I want you to put those cookies in your pocket back in the jar, or there won‘t be any cake!” Edward heard her laughing as she walked away to get the silverware. He could swear she had eyes in the back of her head and a nose like a bloodhound. Edward stomped out of the kitchen, swearing under his breath. “Seems like I just cannot get past that damn woman no matter how hard I try!” Betty called back over her shoulder. “No, you cain‘t get past me, and don‘t slam that door on your way out!”

Edward slammed the door with all his might, jarring it on its hinges. Betty laughed. “Foolish old man, just like I wouldn‘t know that‘s what he was gonna do anyway.”

During the months of summer and on into the fall of the year, Edward enjoyed his evenings sitting on the front porch and rocking slowly back and forth in the rigid-back cane rocker Betty and his friends had given him for his seventy-fifth birthday. It was here he liked to smoke his pipe and gather his thoughts while gazing deep into the pool of stars above him.

There were times when his thoughts returned to the days of his youth, remembering with great clarity the feelings that came upon him as he lay back beneath this same southern sky and held his beloved wife close to his side. Edward chuckled beneath his breath. So many years have passed, and still it seems like just hours ago.

Hearing the groan of the rusted hinges of the screen door behind him, Edward turned to see Betty coming out of the door. He watched her as she moved slowly by him and sat herself down on the porch swing, her feet dangling with the tips of her toes barely reaching the pine boarding that covered the porch floor. He had to admit that it was nice to have someone to talk to at times. Still, there were many nights not a single word passed between them.

Betty cleared her throat loudly. Edward cringed, wishing she would just come out with what she had to say instead of making that God-awful noise before she spoke her mind. “Mr. Edward, I do wish you would let me know where you are during the day just in case something should happen to you.”

Edward laughed. “You worry too much. Besides, you generally know where I am at any time of the day. Sometimes a man needs to have some time for himself, unless you don‘t approve of it,” he said with a devilish grin.

Betty‘s face flushed a crimson red. “You know what I am talking about, you old coot! Last Tuesday, you were up the street to see your lawyer friend and you fell down comin‘ out of his office. Just suppose you would have hurt yourself and nobody was there to see. You could lie there and die and nobody know it.”

“There was nothing to it, Betty. I slipped and went down on one knee, not even so much as a scratch. I‘m careful enough for both of us.”

Betty looked off toward the church, admiring the way the brightly painted steeple stood against the night sky. For her, it was a beacon for all to see the house of God. “Mr. Edward, I generally do all your errands for you. Was there something you needed to do so bad that you couldn‘t even let me know where you were going to be?”

Edward pulled his pipe from the corner of his mouth and leaned heavily on the arm of the chair, looking deep into her eyes and ignoring her last comment. “Betty, how long have we known each other?”

She laughed heartily. “I first met you in the spring of ‘51. You were the boss down at the sawmill. That was the same day my husband lost his leg, if I recall. You were mighty good to both of us, and I appreciate it.”

Edward still looked steadily into her eyes. “I did go see my lawyer. Betty, when you moved in here, I promised you I would see to it that you never lacked for anything as long as you stayed here. You have been faithful with your end of the bargain, and I appreciate it very much. You‘re a good friend and companion.”

Betty interjected, “What are you trying to say? Are you gonna let me go after all this time?”

Edward laughed. “No, you don‘t have to worry about anything like that. But I will tell you what I was doing at the lawyer‘s office. I will be eighty-six years old this Friday, and I know I am not a young man any longer. I have started preparing a little better for when my time comes to leave God‘s green earth. I know you have a daughter in Atlanta and a son in Texas. Over the years I have found out they are not as dependable as I would like for them to be when it comes down to your welfare. That‘s why I went to the lawyer‘s office. When I‘m gone, this house will belong to you free and clear for as long as you want it or as long as you live. Either way, it will be yours. The only thing you will have to do is keep up the taxes on it.”

Betty sat straight up, almost in shock. “Mr. Edward, I can‘t accept this house from you. My daughter will take me in, I‘m sure.”

Edward‘s voice came through the night air calm and clear. “You won‘t have to second-guess whether she will or won‘t, and you can have the privacy you need. You don‘t have a choice in the matter. The title to the house has already been placed in your name, and you will have to sign it after I am dead.”

The silence that followed was unsettling to the both of them. Betty gathered herself and went back into the house. Edward could swear he saw tears in her eyes as she passed him by. In his mind she deserved it. She had worked hard all her life and had little or nothing to show for it. He knew he had no family to speak of to leave his worldly possessions to, and the few he did have deserved nothing of the fruits he had harvested for his labors. Celia would have approved. He well knew she would have been happy about his decision. Smiling to himself, he stood from his chair and nodded at the stars above him. Good night, Celia. Tomorrow is another day, and I must get up early. Never forget how much I love you.


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