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Authors: Mariah Stewart

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BOOK: Wonderful You
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Taken off-guard by the shift in conversation, Zoey turned the feather slowly between her fingers. “I know what red-tailed hawks look like. I went on a bird watch on Christmas Day with my brother and his
fiancée
in Devlin’s Light down on the Delaware Bay. I saw a redtailed hawk and a”—she sought to recall the name of the rate bird whose sighting had created such a stir that day—“yellow-crowned night heron.”

“Reall
y?” Wally took Zoey’s elbow and guided her almost without think
ing across the lawn. “A yellow-
crowned night heron, you say? Haven’t seen one of them in years. Used to be three, four of them that stopped over at the pond out back”—he raised a thin arm to wave toward the woods—“at the end of the summer. Migrating, I supposed. But no, I can’t say that I’ve seen a yellow-crowned night heron within the past, oh, eight, ten years, at the least. Handsome devils, I recall.”

“Very handsome. Regal.” Zoey nodded knowingly, and the feeling of being home once again swept over her.

Wally stopped and pointed upward toward a hollow in an oak at the end of her driveway and said, “There’s a
family of raccoons that live up there. Three babies they had this year. Bad as can be, those bandits are. Cute as puppies, though, and I’ve spent many an early evening sitting on my porch, watching those rascals learn how to climb down the trunk of the tree.” He stopped at the driveway and pointed toward the rear of the property. “There’s owls in the loft of that old garage, and out back there, at the farthest end of the garden, there’s a family of groundhogs, been here as long as I have.”

“And how long’s that been, Wally?” Zoey asked softly.

“I was bo
rn
in that house.” He nodded to his home. “Great-great grandmother was a McConnell, she and her husband built that house. Lived here a good part of my life

all seventy-two years of it. Parents both died from influenza. I moved back here with the wife after I finished medical school. Mae—that’s the wife—died in seventy-eight.”

“And you’ve lived here alone since then?”

“Yep.” He pointed a crooked finger to the bungalow and added, “Course, Addie Kilmartin was good company over the years.”

“Were you and Addie

um

companions?” Zoey’s eyebrows rose.

“Maybe we were, and maybe we weren’t. I’ve never been one to fuel the gossip mill, missy. And besides, a gentleman never discusses his relationship with a lady.”

“I see.” Zoey grinned. “I take it Addie was a single lady.”

“She was a widow
lady for the last eight years of her li
fe.” A slow smile tipped the corn
ers of his mouth. “And a fine lady she was, too. I’ve missed her these past few months. I know she’d be pleased with you buying her house, though. She’d be real pleased.”

“Why is that?”

“Just suits you, that’s all.” He waved a greeting to a passing car. “And you would have suited Addie. Well, then, missy, looks like the real estate lady there is ready to move on out. You’d better be following along if you’re planning on making your interest in this house known. I
heard that Addie’s granddaughter is leaving
for a year’s
study in Germany in another month or so, so you
’ll want a to get on with it.”

“Good point. I’m on my way.”

“Stop around and let me know how you make out, hear?” Wally patted her on the back before she
took off down the driveway.

“I will!” Zoey practically skipped to her car, hopped in, an
d turned it around in a flash.
“And Wally

” She rolled down the window when she re
ached the end of the driveway.

He lea
ned forward a bit to hear her.

“Thank you. Whether by design or
not, I love the house.”

He saluted her w
ith his right hand and a grin.

Wally watched both cars disappear around the first curve in the two-lane road, but stood there on the lawn until he could no longer hear the engine from Zoey’s peppy little car. He walk
ed toward the bungalow, where
he pushed aside a scattering of leaves on the front steps before seating himself and stretching his legs out straight to catch a bit of sun. Across the road, trees the very color of sunshine spread a canop
y of gold. He inhaled deeply
of the last lingering scents of autumn, grapes and apples, sweet autumn clematis and phlox and Russian sage. Around the mailbox, brassy black-eyed Susans grew alongside the thin, dried arms of Queen Anne’s lace, uninvited, all, but welcome. From a gnarled branch halfway up the oak tree, a squirrel dropped the shell of an acorn he had just opened and devoured. The sights and sounds were all familiar, all beloved. Wally sighed, satisfied with the season and the circumstances.

“Well, then, Addie, I’d say we did all right, wouldn’t you?” He took off his baseball cap and scratched the back of his head. “Yep. I’d say we did just fine.”

 

 

S
ix weeks later, after a quick settlement and nine days spent interviewing contractors, Zoey was pacing the hallway in her apartment, her cell phone jammed between her shoulder and her ear, talking to CeCe, who had become a close friend, and waited for the arrival of her mother.

“Zoey, I just don’t think I really understand this,” CeCe said. “I mean, if I called my mother and told her I had just bought a house, she’d be thrilled. Why do you think your mother will be upset? She didn’t seem like a mean, evil person when
I
met her.”

“She’s not mean, and there’s not an evil fiber in her body. It’s just the opposite. She is too good to us. She wants to do everything for us.”

“You don’t think your mother will be upset that you didn’t let her buy your house for you, do you?” Cece laughed.

“Actually, that’s not as far-fetched as you might think.” Zoey sighed.

“You can’t be serious.”

“You’d have to know my mother to understand.” Zoey frowned, not certain that even she really understood Delia’s need to do so much for her offspring. “Well, we’ll soon find out. She’s just pulling up. I have to go. I’ll see you on Tuesday.” Zoey hung up the phone with Cece’s “Good luck” ringing in her ears.

Zoey grabbed a sweater and stuffed her keys into the pocket of her jeans.

“Hi!” She waved from the front steps, then turned to lock the front door behind her, taking a deep breath and admonishing herself for being so silly. Of course, Delia will be thrilled for her.

“Mom, I want to take a ride,” Zoey hopped into the sedan and stretched across the seat to give her mother a kiss on the cheek.

“Fine, sweetie.” Delia leaned back into the tan leather and smiled.

“I’ll give you directions and you can drive.” Zoey grinned with a playfulness she did not feel. “And while we’re driving you can tell me what it feels like to have your picture on the cover of
People
magazine.”

Delia laughed and rolled down the window, letting in
the crisp late autumn air while she turned the sedan around and followed her daughter’s instructions.

“Zoey, have you spoken with your brother this week?” Delia asked, taking the indicated turn to the left.

“No, I haven’t heard from him in over a week.”

Delia raised an eyebrow. “Who is hiding out from whom?”

“I’ve been working odd hours, Mom. Sometimes I’m on the air at two o’clock in the morning, you know. I’ve left messages on his answering machine, and he’s left a few on mine.” Zoey put her passenger side window down and peered out, as if trying to check her bearings. “Take a right at the stop sign, please. And Georgia’s been out on the West Coast with her dance group, so I haven’t spoken with her either.”

Delia made the right turn from one two-lane road onto another, wondering absently where they were going. Fields spread out on either side of the car, flocks of crows, large as hens, pecking along the tired rows of crops long harvested.

“It bothers me that the three of you would let so long a time pass without checking on one another,” Delia said tersely, and Zoey turned to stare at her.

“Mom, it’s only been a week and a half,” she said softly.

“What if Nicky needed you? What if Georgia did? What if you needed one of them?”

“We would manage to get in touch if it was important. And Nick has India, and Georgia has the entire Harbor Troupe to look after her. Mom, what’s the

?”

“Staying in touch is important, Zoey. Staying in one another’s lives is important. What if something happened to one of you?”

“Mom, settle down. Nothing’s happened,” Zoey said softly, watching her mother’s face. It told her nothing. “Mom, what happened on that last tour that upset you so much?”

“Whatever are you talking about?” Delia attempted to dismiss her daughter with the wave of a hand.

“You’re acting

odd.”

“Odd?” Delia frowned. “How ‘odd’?”

“I can’t put my finger on it, but
distracted
might do.
Intense
would work equally well.”

“Don’t be silly. It was a long tour. I loved it, but I was tired, I admit, when I came back. Now I’m all rested up. And don’t try to change the subject, Zoey. You know how I feel about you children keeping close.”

“We are close.” Zoey leaned over and patted her mother’s shoulder. “We always have been. Always will be.”

“Good. Family is important, Zoey. Everything else comes after. Don’t ever forget it.” Delia stopped at the stop sign and turned to her daughter. “Promise me.”

“Of course I promise you.”

“Fine. Which way?” Delia pointed to the intersection.

“Take a left, then slow down when you come into the town.” The tension abated, Zoey leaned back and asked, “Got any chocolate?”

“Look in the glove box.” Delia peered over the steering wheel as if looking for the telltale signs of civilization. “Town? There’s a town out here? In the midst of all these fields?”

“Brady’s Mill.” Zoey nodded as she opened the glove box and peeked in. Seeing the gold foil box, she laughed out loud. “Mom, you are the only person I know who travels with a two-pound box of Godivas.”

“Isn’t that what that little compartment in the dash is for?” Delia gri
nned. “Fish one out for me…
no, not that one, I want the one that looks like a shield with the tennis rackets on it. Yes, that one.”

Zoey handed the piece of chocolate to her mother, selected a walnut of dark chocolate for herself. “Go slow past the lake,” she said as she nibbled on the walnut.

“How picturesque,” Delia noted, pointing to the lake.

“It is,” Zoey agreed. “Now, take a right at the road up there, yes, right here.”

Delia glanced up at the street sign on the corner.
“Skeeters Pond Road?

she asked, her eyebrows raised.

“There’s actually a place in this world called
Skeeters Pond?

“Yes, and we’re almost there, Mom. Slow around the curve, it comes up on you quickly. Okay, now slow down just a little more

see the mailbox that says ‘Kilmartin’ on it? Pull in the driveway and stop the car.”

Delia did as she was told, mystified though she was.

“Zoey, who are the Kilmartins?”

“They are the people who used to own this house,” Zoey told her.

“And who owns it now?” Delia asked slowly.

“I do, Mom.”

Silence.

“You bought a house?” Delia’s eyebrows rose less than Zoey had anticipated. Not necessarily a good sign. It meant she was forcing control. And that was not a good thing.

“Yes, Mom. I did.”

“Zoey, why?” Delia frowned. “I mean, you mentioned wanting to buy a little house,
but

why didn’t you tell me? Sweetheart, I could have helped you.”

“I really wanted to do it on my own, Mom. I really had to do this for myself.”

“But sweetheart…

“Mom, I love you. I adore you, for that matter. I appreciate everything you have done for me. But I needed to do this for myself. I wanted to pick my own house, and pick all my
furniture, hire the workmen…
make my own choices.”

“And are you saying that I would have tried to pick your house, pick your furniture, make your choices, for you?”

They sat in a silence as awkward as the truth.

“Oh, of course I would have.” Delia raised her eyes to heaven with a wry smile. “Why waste both our time by trying to deny it? Of course I would have taken over everything. I would have tried to talk you into a bigger house. If you had chosen green walls, I would have tried to talk you into blue. Of course I would have


“Mom, it isn’t that I don’t value your opinion
…”

BOOK: Wonderful You
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