This really was a small town. From what the writer could see of it, you could make your way from one end of it to the other in less than ten minutes. She followed the older model police sedan as it wound it's way down what must have been Main Street, Bramble, until they turned left at that same 'third left past the Burger King' the officer had told her about.
What was that anyway? Survival School? Don't tell me we have some kind of Militia group forming out here. That's just what I need Steph, surrounded by right-wing extremists with loaded guns. Real relaxing! I'm sure the crackle of automatic weapons and the smell of gunpowder wafting through the mountain air will entertain my muse.
The cars followed the winding and increasingly more rural road as it curved and dipped for another mile or so, until they turned left again on a dirt road with a weathered sign saying 'Old Orchard' Less than a quarter mile later the officer pulled over in front of a one-story ranch set back from the road by a large yard, filled with trees and flowers.
Shasta began to pull over too until she saw the number 16 on the mailbox and pulled in to the driveway, stopping in front of the garage.
It was not a large house; a standard ranch type tract home was all. Painted a cream white and trimmed in a blue-gray with a minimal amount of ginger bread on the decorative shutters and looping around the porch, the front steps were brick and led to the brick porch three steps up from the yard.
Must have someone keep an eye on the place for her. The yard is well kept and the lawn trimmed. Nice place. Looks quiet and calm. Gods, I hope I don't go nuts here. I don't think I've done 'calm and quiet' since Great uncle Toby's funeral when I was nine. Well, I don't have much of a choice here. Steph said do it, so...
She didn't realize that deputy was there until she tapped on the driver's side window.
She jumped a little at the sharp sound and decided then and there that
Steph and her sister were right. She was wound way too tight. Being a writer
by nature and habit meant to observe in detail and translate and store
that away for later use. Her focus was legendary and her ability to read
people and notice details others hadn't seen had accounted for her well
written plots and in depth characters, yet here she was fazing in and out
like some drunk.
Being here for a while would be a good thing, she decided.
She hurriedly opened the door and got out.
"Are you sure, this is your friend's house? The person who lives here usually only uses the place for a couple of months each year." The look on the deputy's face was skeptical, possibly accusatory. Without removing her glasses, she gave the impression of an interrogation, rather than a friendly question.
Bristling a little at the officer's attitude, Shasta quickly replied. "I know she's not here. She lent me the use of the place for a while. And her key. " She held up the key in question briefly, turning to the trunk of the car for her luggage.
The officer took one of the heavy bags while Shasta carried a smaller one and her laptop. They walked up to the door and Shasta inserted the key, giving a vague but perceptible little grin at the officer as if to say. "See, it works perfectly because she gave it to me." Grinning back with a small nod of her head, the office apologized and followed her into the room.
Setting the suitcase on the floor of the living room, the officer turned and smiled at the pretty blonde.
"Well, I'll let you get settled then. If you need any help finding your way around, just ask someone. We're a pretty laid back group around here and you won't find many who aren't friendly and helpful. Course that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep the doors and windows locked. Enjoy your stay Ms. Cutter. "
"Thanks, I will."
As she closed the door behind the deputy, it occurred to her that for a writer she did a pretty poor job of making decent, friendly or even informative conversation. She had no idea where anything in town might be and she knew she had to find a grocery store before the end of the day. She should have asked officer ... that's something else she hadn't done. She hadn't asked the officer her name. She knew it hadn't been on a tag on her shirt, because the only things there were insignia, stripes on her arm, and a badge. Shit! She needed to get herself together. Where was that mile-a-minute curiosity she was so famous for? What happened to that woman who could walk into a room for two minutes and recite what was in it and where. Just when I really need that photographic memory it leaves. And why do I need it so badly just now? What is it with this woman that has me so.. unnerved, disconnected, in parts?
She blew out a deep breath and decided to settle herself physically first, before she started working on her mental state.
The room was large and airy with oak hardwood floors and eggshell walls. The entire wall opposite the front doors was a series of French doors leading onto a deck and showing the woods beyond. The back yard was rustic to the point of nearly being primitive. She could see the small stream that meandered at the bottom of the sloping yard and the trees and shrubs that felt as if they'd been there forever. Maybe they had. Maybe she only landscaped the front yard. It was beautiful here, and cool as the shadows of afternoon started to make pictures on the grasses and flowers in the yard. Turning from the windows, she explored the rest of the house.
The only furniture in the living room was a large oversized couch in blue denim and a smaller scarlet love seat in thick red corduroy. A square coffee table stood between the couch and the fireplace on the left wall, and the love seat faced the windows near the front door. The only rug on the floor sat under the table in front of the fireplace, and looked to be more of an Indian blanket rather than a rug. But soft and comfortable. She found a few electrical improvements as she looked around as well. An outlet or two imbedded in the floor here and there with a phone jack and the alarm system mounted on the wall next to the door.
The kitchen was fully stocked with everything but perishables and the appliances looked very new. Everything bright, in white and yellow and cobalt blue with a beautiful skylight over the center island, which was just now casting shadows as the sun began to set.
Walking back through the living room to the hall brought her to the three bedrooms. The first and largest was the master suite with a deck that adjoined the one off the living room. Standard walk-in closet and the same scarlet and denim shades as the living room.
A huge quilt covered the bed in all the same colors and ecru covered cotton lace pillows. A cashmere throw was hung over the back of the huge blue-gray velvet wing back chair, which sat at an angle to the fireplace. A real sheepskin rug covered the floor in front and was partially hidden by the matching ottoman in front of the chair. The bathroom, she decided, had once been the fourth bedroom; it had to have been because it was gigantic. It contained the laundry room area and a folding counter, with drawers at one end. The rest of the room had a double sink and a sit down vanity with a lighted mirror. Opposite that was a Jacuzzi tub with room enough for four. It had a window surrounding the tub that ran up to the ceiling with the same view to the rear as the bedroom and living room. The shower next to it had 6 shower heads and enough room to do her Tai Chi without touching the walls. Yeah, this was going to be a great place to relax.
The first room across the hall was obviously Steph's study. The books lined every shelf on the wall except for the small window seat that looked out on the front yard. The desk was old and costly.
The other room was a well appointed guest room, which shared the second bathroom with the study.
She quickly unpacked in the master suite and ran a quick eye through the kitchen cabinets. Going shopping now was a first priority. The problem was she had no idea where to go. She found the cordless phone on the small table at the side of the couch and dialed Stephanie at work.
"Stephanie Croft here."
"Hi Steph, it's me and I just got to your place. This is really nice, girl. No wonder you kept the secret to yourself. NOW, where can I find a place to buy some food? I had a nice deputy lead me here after giving me a speeding ticket but I have no idea how to get anywhere else."
"AH! Eek. I forgot to warn you about Bender Road, huh?"
"Eyeah. You did. It's a five hundred dollar fine Stephanie!" she paused. "Did you KNOW that Stephanie? Is getting a speeding ticket that's gonna cost me half a grand before I even get to unpack, conducive to stress relief and focusing my muse? Huh? Is it Steph?" Her voice had been becoming louder and more sarcastic as she spoke and by the end of the speech it was grating.
"I am really, really sorry. Tell you what. I'll split the cost with you, K?"
"What do you mean; split the cost? If you had warned me about it I would never have gotten it in the first place." Her voice was indignant and she was hoping that Stephanie would simply acquiesce to her indignity. She was very bright however and she knew her author very well, so it came as no real surprise when she heard her answer to that.
"I'll tell you what. You send me a copy of the ticket and if you can prove to me you that you were going 55 or under when you got nailed, I'll pay for it all."
"Can't do it, can ya? So,m what was it? Seventy?" A pause. "Ninety?" her voice rose with that last word and realizing that she was caught, the writer finally answered.
"Seventy. OK." she sighed. "Ya got me."
"But of course, my little cabbage. With you, life in the fast
lane is more than an attitude, it's a lifestyle. Which brings me to the
reason you're there." Her voice lost the wry humor and the serious
tone she took was a little unexpected. "I know it won't take you long to
start fidgeting and looking for some excitement, but you really need to
put a sock in it, Shas. You're way too scattered right now. I don't think
you really know what you want and I'm fairly certain you have no idea about
what you need. As a result, you've been dissipating your energy on everything
and everybody, looking for sensation. That has to stop and you have to
find that focus again. Walk. Read. Run. Nap. Window shop. Fish. Meditate.
Just calm down a little, and then see where you're going. Cause girl, just
between you and me, where you've been lately is ugly. "
She wanted to object. She wanted to deny it. She wanted to tell her that it wasn't as bad as all that, but she just couldn't find a plausible argument to back up her statement, so she let it go.
"OK. I'll try. Anyway, I've got to get going and get some food in here. So how do I do that?"
She took down the directions to the nearest market. Get that. A market,
not even a grocery store. Someplace called Bender's Food Emporium. If she
had to put up with a month of MJB or Yuban because this little place didn't
carry her Starbucks, she'd head home tomorrow. Let's not even talk about
Ben and Jerry's!
Stephanie had also given her directions to the three 'eating establishments' in town that you couldn't drive through.
By the time she pulled on her leather jacket and figured out the alarm and lights for the place, night had truly fallen.
She found the "emporium" and blithely did her shopping. Happily surprised that they not only had Starbucks and Ben and Jerry's, but Evian, imported Brie, out of season fresh fruits and veggies, and a nice selection of vintage wines in cases that left the temperature perfect, as well. By the time she finished however, it was late and she was too tired to put them away and then cook something in an unfamiliar kitchen. She mused on that for minute. It wasn't yet 9:30 and she was tired. Back in L.A., she would just be starting her evening about now. Putting it down to the whole 'mountain air' thing, she checked out.
Girding her loins for the disappointment she was sure it was going to be, she pulled her Jag into the parking lot of The Raven's Nest.
According to Steph this was the prime local eatery.
Well, we'll see about that.
The parking lot was filled with a little of everything from a couple of big rigs in the back on the dirt flat behind the pavement, to several large motorcycles and everything in between. She found a spot in the nearly full lot near the back and made her way to the door.
As she was walking across the parking lot, she saw a door open in the back of the building as two customers left and started for their car.
Veering away from the street side of the restaurant she entered by the back door and found herself in the bar. The sound of Linda Ronstadt singing "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" made her fear for a moment that she entered a cowboy bar. She wouldn't want to do that. They didn't like her kind in those. She found that out the hard way the night she was arrested.
After a minute more to let her eyes adjust to the dimness of the room, she made her way to the bar and waited for the bartender to notice her. It was just a trifle damaging to her ego that he made no sign of knowing her celebrity. She was used to the hosts and bartenders at all of the trendiest clubs calling her by name and making way for her or having a seat reserved.
"Ah well, humility is supposed to be good for the soul."
She'd had no idea she actually said the words out loud and was a little surprised to find a meaty hand covering hers where it rested on the bar.
"Ah Honey, you got nothing to humble about. I always say, if you've got it, flaunt it. And you've got it baby." The voice was slightly slurred and a bit hoarse. It belonged to a very large, very drunk, very rotund man in his late forties and it was getting closer to her ear all the time.
Ducking and spinning she neatly evaded the arm that tried to go around
her waist and mumbling about how her table was ready now, she deftly moved
toward the door she hoped would take her into the dining room.
"Ah, lucked out with one." She mumbled as she saw the man looking for her in the other direction.
She approached the cashier and asked if she could have a table. She was told it would be a couple of minutes and was asked to have a seat. She sat down in what passed for the waiting area and, grabbing a menu started to look it over.
Minutes later she was seated, a waitress was taking her order and serving her a cup of coffee that smelled like Juan Valdez made it himself.
The coffee, and the meal, for that matter, surprised her. Having decided to try the trout, she resigned herself to tolerate it and found it was just about the best she'd ever eaten. The cream of asparagus soup was divine. The baby carrots, excellent and the blackberry pie was heaven. She paid the check and left a larger than usual tip for the fine service the waitress gave and headed back through the bar toward the door to the parking lot.
She took a deep breath of the clean mountain air and noticed the scent of the nearby trees. It felt good. She was well fed (always a good thing in her book) and the cool air and the quiet of the small town night were calming. She smiled to herself and lit a cigarette as she started walking to her car.
She'd completely forgotten the amorous drunk until she was halfway across
the silent parking lot.
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