Racked with stress, and no sleep Tess gave notice of her job and high-rise apartment in New York City and began her packing. Her parents were from the hills of Tennessee. Born and raised Tess had dreamed of moving up and out one day.
But when things were too much home always drifted back in her mind. Many nights she cuddled up with her fluffy pillow and cried praying for sleep. After a medical check-up and learning her blood pressure was in danger and the script in her hands for relaxers, she knew she wanted to live again.
Her parents were deceased but the shack she had been born in still stood and it was left to her. She hadn’t stepped foot back for over five years. As the taxi sat in the gravel drive way, she hesitated getting out. Had she made a mistake? She could turn around and go straight back to the city. She could take those pills and somehow make it all work. But the noise, the stress, cold-hearted people. No, she turned the door handle and getting out handed the driver a tip as he took her luggage out of the trunk. She would stay.
The driver smiled and tipped his hat and then backed out throwing dirt behind him. Seemed like he was in a big hurry to leave. She stood staring, memories of years gone by rushing back to face her.
As she fumbled trying to find the old house key, the neighbor walked up to her and shook her hand. Tess had hired Ben a few years back to keep the yard mowed. He had made sure the house inside was secure and kept his eyes on the property.
She had written to him weeks ago and let him know she was coming back home. He took her luggage and the two walked up to the door. He took out his key and unlocked it allowing her in first. He couldn’t help get a nose full of some sweet-smelling perfume.
He watched her walk in. He had never met her in person. She looked nothing like her voice sounded. Cute little bottom, small hips. She walked with a strong stride though like she had been used to being a leader.
He sat down her bags and watched as she gazed over the place. Slowly she walked to each piece of furniture and took off the white sheets. She looked in Ben’s direction and said matter of fact,”you have taken good care of the place. I want you to know I appreciate it.”
“No problem Tess. It was my pleasure. I best be going now and leave you some time to adjust to your new or old surroundings.”
“Do you have to go? It is so quiet here. It feels odd and I would appreciate the company.”
Ben had nothing better to do. He was in his mid forties. He was single. He had never found the right woman yet, but he always hoped. His place was just up the hill, a short walk from here.
“Sure, Tess, I will stay as long as you wish.” She shot him a quick look wondering what he meant by that remark. As long as I wished? He better not get any ideas just because I am alone here.
He took her bags to her bedroom then the two went through the kitchen and rewashed the dishes and eating utensils. He scrubbed the floor and she wiped down the table and chairs and washed the windows.
When they were finished she was tired. “Do you want some coffee? I brought some with me and I see an old coffee pot over here. I am not sure how to work the darn thing. It has no electric cord.”
Ben roared with laughter. “That’s called a perk coffee maker. You put the cold water in with the ground beans and sit it under the fire on the stove. Here, you go get the coffee and I will turn the gas on the stove.”
She went to go get the coffee and he lit the burners. The stove ran on a tank of propane. This reminded him that he would have to make sure the chimney was cleaned and free of critters and nests.
While the coffee was brewing they looked out the windows. She had never remembered how beautiful it was here. It was October and all the trees were so colorful. Oranges and reds and bright yellows.
He must have sensed what she was thinking as he replied,”they are beautiful aren’t they.” The two walked from room to room inspecting what needed to be done tomorrow.
“Do you know anything about building fires Tess? I will check out the fireplace tomorrow. I didn’t do it today as nice as it has been.”
“I’m sure I can figure it out. I watched Papa do it for years. It can’t be that hard.”
“Do you know how to use a shotgun?”
She turned and looked into very dark brown eyes and asked,”why would I need to know how to use a shotgun? Is it dangerous back here in these woods?”
Again he laughed. A laugh that was contagious. Her being tired and getting out of the city renewed her in some odd way. She found herself laughing right a long with him.” No, Tess it is as safe as can be, but the animals. There are bears out here and plenty of fox and coyotes. You never know when you may come face to face with one.”
“Well, no, I have never even had a gun in my hands. Papa used to let me touch his gun after he polished it, but nothing more.”
“Well this is something I will do personally, teach you. You can’t be too careful out here in the woods.”
Tess yawned and he noticed the smooth lines of her lips.”Well, I better get going now. Is there anything else I can help you with Tess?”
“No, I think I will be alright for tonight. Thanks Ben for all of your help. Some day soon I will have to have you and your wife over for dinner.”
“I’d like that but it will just have to be me. I have not married yet, but hoping to one day.” She caught his eye and then walked him to the door. Saying goodnite, she locked the door and went to her bedroom and slept the best she had in years.
The next morning came and Ben drove over her car. It was a small car, nothing special, but he had stored it ever since her parents died. It had been their car and it went with the property. He offered to drive her into town to get some groceries, and she agreed.
On the trip she was in awe at the beauty. Why had she ever wanted to leave this place? What kind of crazy thoughts did she used to have?
Ben introduced her to the butcher and the manager of the store. The two walked down aisle after aisle until she thought she had everything she could possibly need. Flour, sugar, butter, eggs and milk. She was glad she was a good cook. She spent enough time in the kitchen with Mama growing up, she had learned to cook and bake very well.
Helping get her groceries in the house and handing her the keys to the car he bid her goodbye and told her if she needed anything to just give him a ring. The rest of the day she spent cleaning the rest of the house. Thank goodness she had gifted her parents an electric washer and dryer one Christmas. She could remember the old wringer washer Mama had and how much work it was to do just one load.
She dusted cobwebs, took the curtains down and washed them. There was a clothes line and she preferred that over the dryer. She always did like the smell of fresh sheets on her bed. Something she never got to do in the city.
She was finishing up and Ben had came over and was worked on the chimney. He carried some wood in and showed her how to make the fire quick. Soon there was a roaring fire. Shadows were casting from the walls giving the newly cleaned living room a whole different look.
It wasn’t cold anymore. It had warmth. She hadn’t even thought of the big city she had left only days before. She was thinking about how this was always home and as she looked over at Ben who was attending to the fire, he turned and their eyes locked.
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