Chapter 1 – Casey
“I can’t believe how much stuff you have, Casey. How did you manage to accumulate this much crap while still living at your parents’ house?” Brandy dropped the last cardboard box onto a stack of two more.
“You forget I lived in a ten-thousand-square-foot house. It was easy to collect things.” I scanned the room as I dusted off my hands and plopped down on the floor. I had plenty of furniture, but it was buried at the moment under a mountain of boxes, lamps, and bags of stuff.
Brandy sank down beside me and lay all the way back with a groan. “Yeah, that’s another thing, how are you going to manage going from a sprawling mansion to this little dinky house?”
I smacked her leg. “Hey, it’s not dinky, it’s cozy.”
Brandy snorted, “Cozy like a ten-dollar hotel room.”
“It’s not that bad,” I argued as I critically eyed the dingy yellow wall with a huge water stain down the center of it. “With a little paint and some tender loving care, this place will be great in a few weeks.”
Brandy cackled, “A few weeks!” She laughed so hard she held her stomach. “You’ll be lucky if you get this place in livable shape in a year!” She rolled onto her side and jerked upright, her nose scrunched up. “I just figured out where that odd smell was coming from. You need to either get rid of this carpet or have it cleaned.” She waved a hand in front of her face. “Gross.”
“What?” I leaned down and sniffed the carpet. “Oh, god! That’s horrible! Ew!” I jumped to my feet and wiped at the back of my pants in case fibers of the carpet were stuck to me.
Brandy pulled her ponytail tighter as she stood beside me. “Maybe we should have taken the carpet out before we put all the furniture in here.”
I scrutinized the offending carpet, my hands on my hips as I surveyed the room and tried to figure out what I should do. “I don’t even know where to start.”
“If I were in your shoes, I’d start by putting everything back on the truck and leaving,” Brandy advised with a cocky grin.
“Very funny, Brandy, but I’m not going anywhere. I just bought this place.” It was my first home, and I was so excited to say that I had gotten it on my own.
“Tell me again why you bought this house?”
“Stop it. You know exactly why I bought it. It’s the only thing I could find in my price range.”
Brandy grew quiet, and I peered over and saw the pity in her eyes. I chose to ignore it and instead picked up a box marked “Bedroom”. “Why don’t we distribute these to the rooms where they belong?”
“If that’s what you want.” She picked up a box and walked down the hallway toward a small bedroom I’d decided would be my office. I followed behind her and entered another door just past where she turned off. Just over the threshold, I paused.
The house might be small and might need a little work, okay, a lot of work, but this room; this room made all the hard work to come worth it. In the center of the room, my queen-sized mattress and box spring sat on the floor. I still needed to figure out how to put the frame together, but it wasn’t the bed that held me spellbound; it was the window on the other side of it.
There was a large bay window with a cushion situated beneath it, so you could sit and behold the glorious view. In the far distance was a grove of trees that stood so tall and majestic that you felt sheltered. Over to the right was a small pond, and the back of the house faced east, so the sun would rise and shine on me every morning.
I couldn’t wait to see the first sunrise as I woke up in my new home. All of my life, I had been a morning person, always preferring to get up at the crack of dawn to enjoy the peace and quiet of a brand new day. Sometimes I exercised, other times I would clean, and then there were the times that I sat back with a cup of coffee and relaxed.
I grinned at the window and could already picture waking up to the sunrise. I set the box down in the corner and wondered absently which box held my linens.
“Hey, Brandy, did you see my linens box?” I asked as I walked back to the small living room.
She waved a hand toward the pile in the dining area, “Yeah, someplace over there.”
“Gee, thanks,” I rolled my eyes at her, “that helps a lot.”
For the next hour, we moved boxes to different parts of the house. At least separating them made it look like I didn’t have a million of them to unpack.
“I’m starving. Is there someplace around here we can get food and a cold beer?” Brandy asked as she shoved the last box into a corner of the living room and then rubbed her lower back as she arched to stretch it.
“Yeah, there is a little tavern down the street. We can pop in there. I could use a beer myself.”
“When do you start your new job?” she asked as we locked up the house. “Brr, it’s cold out here.” She pulled her coat more tightly around her body.
“I start on Tuesday,” I replied as I unlocked my BMW, one of the few things that I had been able to retain after the whole family drama. “It is getting chilly, but then again it is November, and we are in the north.”
“Don’t remind me. Are you looking forward to it—your job—not the weather?” Her seatbelt clicked into place.
“I am,” I grinned at her. “I can’t wait. The hospital is really small, but I think it is going to work out perfectly.”
“Well, you won’t have to worry about anyone finding you. No one would think to come all the way out to the backwoods to search.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked as I turned onto the main road.
“Come on, Casey, you’re a city girl, born and bred on a silver spoon. No one would expect to find you all the way out here in the boonies.” She laughed and I realized she did have a point.
“Well, I’m fine with that. I don’t want anyone to find me. I’ve had enough of that, thank you. I’m ready for some peace and quiet, and to have my own life.” I clicked on my blinker as we approached the entrance to Dabby’s Tavern.
“But did you have to go so far away? You could have found a job closer to home.” I heard the whine in her voice, one that had come and gone since I told her I was moving several states away to upstate Pennsylvania.
“Brandy, I needed a fresh start, and I found this great job. Do you know how hard it is to find a job as a nursing supervisor in an emergency department without climbing a long grueling ladder?”
“If you had stayed where you were, you would have had that supervisor’s job in another year or two.”
“And I would have had to face the press, the police, and everyone else that walked through the ER doors. No, thanks,” I muttered as I pulled into a spot.
“You know all the attention will die down soon, and then you will be stuck up here in no-man’s land,” she replied as she climbed out of my car.
“I’m fine with that. I needed a new start, and I’m going to do it right here.” The door to the tavern burst open, and two men came out, one shoving the other.
“I told you to get off the property, Steve. Now get the hell out of here.” The man talking was burly with a dense beard and a red flannel shirt.
“Come on, I wasn’t doing nothing,” the other man said as he swayed on his unsteady feet.
“Yeah, but another five minutes and I would have had to call the police to come in and drag your ass outta here,” red-flannel guy said and crossed his massive arms. “Now, walk home and get some sleep.”
“You want me to walk home? No way, you give me my keys.” Steve shoved his hand out and his feet followed, causing him to almost lose his balance.
“You are not getting your keys. You live a half mile away, walk home; the fresh air will sober you up.”
Steve said something else under his breath, and Brandy curled her arm around my elbow. “Maybe we should go someplace else,” she urged.
“Go on, get home. You’re in the way of these ladies who would like to enter,” the lumberjack-style man stated, and the drunk turned to eye us.
“Well, hello there, pretty ladies,” he slurred as he tried to step forward. Brandy pulled my arm back, but I was used to dealing with intoxicated people at the hospital.
“I think your friend there is right. I think you need to take a little walk and sober up.”
“But maybe I want to get to know you better,” he countered and burped.
“Gross,” Brandy muttered.
“Sorry, if you want to get to know me, you need to be sober.” I pulled Brandy beside me and stepped around him as the big man held the door.
“Okay, I’ll come back when I’m sober,” he called out from behind me.
“Steve, go home to your wife and leave these ladies alone.”
I smiled at the man as I passed him. “Thank you.”
“No, thank you. I appreciate you not turning and running away after seeing that guy. We don’t see too many new faces around here.” He stuck out his beefy hand, “I’m Dabby, owner of the tavern.”
I returned the handshake, “Nice to meet you, Dabby. I’m Casey and this is my friend, Brandy.”
“Well, I do believe the first round is on me. Come on in. You all want a table or do you want to sit at the bar?”
I turned and scanned the room. Most of the thirty or so tables were full, and almost every eye was turned our way. “Um, how about the bar?” I replied. If we sat there, then I wouldn’t see all the people staring at us.
“Don’t mind them,” he waved a hand out toward the crowd. “You all go about your own business,” he called out, and slowly people began to turn around and go back to their food and drinks.
“Sorry, small-town people see new faces, and everyone wants to find out who you are. Bar it is.” He walked off as Brandy and I followed.
“I think you might need to buy a flannel shirt or two. Seems like the appropriate dress code,” Brandy whispered, and I almost burst out laughing because I had been thinking the same thing.
Dabby put a couple of menus down on the bar as we pulled off our coats and sat down. “You all passing through?”
Brandy answered before I could open my mouth, “I’m just visiting, but Casey just bought a house down the street.”
Dabby eyed me carefully, “You buy the old Hoover place?”
Of course, with the small town and the house so close to his tavern, he would know which one. I beamed, “Yep, just moved in today.”
He shook his head. “I sure hope your husband knows how to fix things.”
“She’s not married,” Brandy blurted, and I glared at her.
“I’m sure I will be fine doing any repairs that are needed myself,” I stated firmly as I stared down at the menu.
“Well, if you need any advice on anything, I can put you in contact with whoever you might need. I know everyone within a thirty-mile radius.”
I grinned at him, “Then I am very glad to know you, Dabby. Now, what’s the best thing on the menu because we’re starved?”