Flatlander

by happyhugo

Tags: Ma/Fa, Romantic,

Desc: Romantic Story: Widowed Vermont writer goes out into a snowstorm. Finds victims. Will that act bring him happiness?

Flatlander: Derogatory term for Connecticut or New York City people with pockets full of money who come up to Vermont.


I could hear the vehicle go by the house about eleven p.m. when I was watching the news. It was late and I knew it was going to snow before morning. What in Christ's name were they thinking of? The cabin someone was heading for wasn't insulated or winterized. Dumb-ass flatlander. Well he wouldn't stay long. I never liked the owner anyway--the rich, unsociable bastard with way too much money. Maybe it was some kids that were out four-wheeling, although the vehicle sounded like a small car. Time would tell. I forgot all about what I had heard and crawled into my lonely bed and went to sleep.

Morning found eight inches of heavy wet snow on the ground, and it was still coming down with no sign of stopping. The forecast predicted a major storm of twenty inches before it was to end later tonight. I went to work. This only meant going into my office in the back part of the house. I was a writer and I was beginning to have my efforts pay off. This was going to be my third novel. The first one I wrote was a big success--the second one not so much, just barely adequate. My publisher had come up with a decent advance and some advice when I showed him the plot outline for a new book.

I had been working on this last book under a cloud of sadness and loneliness. He advised me to take a little more time on this manuscript and add more detailed descriptions. If I did this, it would shorten the rework when he saw it for the first read of each segment. He was excited about the plot outline and said the first five chapters he had seen so far were fair, but I could do better.

I looked out at noon as I was waiting for my lunch to heat. Snow was still coming down. I snapped the radio on and the weatherman said this would be clearing out sooner than expected. There would be twenty to thirty mile an hour winds afterwards though, with the temperature dropping to near zero by tomorrow morning. No weather one wanted to be out in, that was for sure.

I finished my lunch and was heading back to my computer when I remembered the vehicle last night. Shit, it was about a mile to the camp, maybe I should go check it out. I sat down to write, but the thought wouldn't leave me. Hell, I needed some air anyway.

I put on my winter parka, strapped on snowshoes and headed up the hill. It was tough going through what I estimated to be fifteen inches of snow. When I reached the top, the wind was picking up already. I looked down into the bowl where the cabin was located, but couldn't see anything. Not surprising the way the snow was coming down and with it blowing so hard. I headed down.

I could see the outline of the building, but not before I was within a hundred yards of it. The car was just a lump of white except for one fender where the wind had blown the snow away. I stepped up on the little deck and peered through the windows. It was dark inside. I could tell that there had been no heat, for the windows weren't frosted and they would have been if there was a fire inside.

I shucked my snowshoes and tried the front door, finding it locked. I pounded on it until it finally was opened. The face of the young person standing there had a look of fright. I knew when she spoke it was a female. She stood there in winter clothes with a blanket wrapped around her.

"Where's your dad?"

"He is not here, I have never been here before so I don't even know where I am. My stepmother is the only one with me and she is terribly sick. We are so cold and there is no heat."

I stepped in and closed the door. I had never been in here before although the cabin had been built seven years earlier. I could see that a person could not survive for any length of time here in the weather we were expecting. There would be no power for the lines to the cabin had been down for a long while.

I walked over to look at the woman on the couch. I will say the girl had done the best she could to keep the person lying there warm. She was buried in blankets. I pushed my hand down through the blankets and felt a feverish face. She was very sick. "Are the keys in the car?"

"Yes."

I took a broom out and swept off the sides of the car. It was a small BMW and looked new. I got inside and started it. The gas gauge read empty, just coming off the peg a little. The engine might have an hour of running time left. I started it and let it run. Going back in I asked, "What is your name?"

"Ginger Hapgood. Camille is on the couch."

"Okay then Ginger. We are going to get the car warm and put Camille in it. When she gets as warm as she can, I'll have figured out how to get you two out of here and back to civilization. I may have to carry her. How big is she?"

"Not very big. She is a size five."

"Humm, well that doesn't tell me much. Okay, in about ten minutes I'll carry her out to the car and you get in and get warm too. We have a long way to go, half of it uphill as you know. I may have to carry her if I can't find something to pull her on. I don't think I'll find a sled. A toboggan would be perfect and is what I really need."

I installed the two women in the fast warming vehicle and started to look around. I passed by a kayak before I realized I might be able to use it. I studied it for a few minutes. With some help from Ginger I thought we could get Camille to safety if she wasn't too far gone already. I poked around and found a length of clothesline. Taking a hammer, I busted a hole in the front of the kayak big enough to take the line. I doubled it for strength and dragged the whole thing out to the car.

I knocked on the car window and when Ginger rolled it down I said, "If you are willing to help keep this thing upright and maybe push a little, we can get your mother to where she can be safe."

"She isn't my mother."

This pissed me off. "You know if I hadn't come along, you maybe would die too. Do you want her to die then?"

"No, I guess not. You show me what to do."

There wasn't much room in the kayak, but I wrapped as many blankets as would fit around the patient and made sure she was as nearly upright as possible. I directed Ginger to make sure the little boat didn't tip over. She had a difficult job walking behind, for she sank in even through the snowshoe tracks. She was pushing though, I could tell for when she stopped or fell, I had a tough time tugging on the rope and making forward progress.

God, what a relief when we reached the top of the hill and could start down to my house. It was quicker going downhill. It was late afternoon and was fast coming onto dark. I opened the door and transported Camille into the house which was nice and warm. Ginger was too tired to take off her coat and sat slumped in a recliner. I unwrapped Camille and found the fever had gone up a notch. Calling 911, they said they would be there within a half hour.

"What's going to happen to her?"

"Rescue will take her to the hospital and make her well I hope. You know what you did in helping get her here just might be what is going to save her life."

"Whatever. What about me? Where can I go?"

"You could stay right here."

"I don't know you."

"I don't know you either. That makes us even, doesn't it?" There was no answer from this girl with an attitude.

It was actually two hours before Rescue arrived, for the town had to send in a plow to clear the snow. The squad members determined that Camille had pneumonia. I couldn't tell them much about the lady, just her name. Ginger wasn't very forthcoming except to tell them Camille's name and to say that where I found them was their home address. She would be starting school here after the first of the year and that had been arranged the day she and Camille arrived. Lot of mystery here I thought.

I started to ask, but before I got the question out, Ginger said, "Camille was my father's second wife. My mother is dead and my father is marrying another bimbo, so I'm stuck with this one. Now she has gone and got sick. Where does that leave me?"

"I said you could stay here. Take my offer. You can sort out your personal problems later. You're warm and I'll feed you. Why don't you get out of your wet things? You must be uncomfortable. I'll show you to my daughter's room. There are clothes in the closet that should fit you." I took her upstairs, pointing out a bath down the hall. I opened the bedroom door and let Ginger pass by me.

She looked around and started taking off her sweater. Under this she had on a pair of designer jeans and a nice looking top. I would guess this girl was about fifteen. She had dirty blonde hair cut short. Her complexion was clear and what she was wearing accented her developing figure. I thought she would reach her full height soon or she would be exceptionally tall, for she stood at five-seven now.

Ginger immediately went over to the closet and peeled back the folding doors. She stood staring at the dresses and outfits hanging there. Pulling them off the rod, she held them up to her. Flicking a glance at me she asked, "Won't your daughter mind someone else wearing these?"

"No." I turned and went down the hall and down the stairs. I set about preparing supper. I usually had cold cereal for my evening meal, but I figured the girl upstairs needed more. I put a hamburger on the frying pan, doctoring it just a little to add flavor. I had chips and the remains of an apple pie to share with her for dessert. When I turned to place the food on the table, Ginger stood in the doorway watching me. I went to the refrigerator and poured a glass of milk.

"I don't know your name or what you do."

My name is Ray Riddle and I'm an author. I work in an office here at home."

"Where are your wife and daughter? I peeked in another room and saw women's clothes. It doesn't look as if she is with you."

"They aren't. Both are dead. They died in an accident when I was away a year ago. Does your burger taste okay?"

"Yes, it is delicious. Best I have ever had. Thank you."

I put the dishes in the washer and showed Ginger the controls on the TV. "I'm going to work until about eight-thirty and then I'll call and see how Camille is."

"The hospital won't tell you. They never tell anyone anything."

"We'll see." I worked the two hours and came out of my office. I glanced up the stairs and for a minute I thought the person coming down was my daughter, Mindy. The vision coming down the stairs was wearing a dress that I had picked out for a present last Christmas before I knew that Mindy would never see it. I hesitated until Ginger was down within two steps of the bottom and then I couldn't look anymore. I hurried on past her, afraid I would break up.

I went to the telephone and called the second floor nurses station at the hospital. "Hi Cindy, this is Ray Riddle. Would you tell me the condition of the new patient that arrived there this afternoon? Her name is Camille Hapgood. Her daughter is here with me and she is devastated about how sick her mother is. I know you can't tell me directly, so I'll ask a question and you can say yes or no. Is Camille resting comfortably?--Is she still feverish?--Her condition is very serious?--Critical?--Tomorrow will tell the story?--Can her daughter see her tomorrow? Thanks Cindy, you're a peach. Night."

I turned to Ginger. "Camille is very sick as you know. Her condition is serious, but not critical. I gather that she will survive and we will know how soon she will get well when you see her tomorrow."

"You told the nurse I was devastated. I'm not."

"Maybe not. I would be if I was you. The way I read your situation is this. You are up here in the wilderness because your father doesn't want you with him. He has passed you on to the only person that would look after you. Like her or not, I suspect she feels responsible. Now as far as the present is concerned, whether you realize it or not, saving a person's life carries some responsibilities. You surely helped me save Camille's life. I saved your stepmother's and I honestly feel I saved yours.

"When you see Camille tomorrow, you are going to have to look at her and say to yourself--I helped save her life. Then you will have to decide whether to go on making her life miserable as you have been or change your attitude toward her.

"Me, well I don't know either one of you. She may be the worst stepmother there ever was. I doubt it though or your father wouldn't have put her in charge of you. Personally I think Camille is trapped into a situation where her husband didn't want her anymore and panned you off onto her. Instead of hating what your father has done to you and being mad at him, you are taking it out on her. She has nearly died from trying to give you a home which could have become a deathtrap for both of you. All of this is something to think about."

"I hate you for thinking my Daddy did that to me. He loves me!"

"If I'm wrong, I'm sorry. You know him and I don't. Look we have had a bad day, let's retire for the night. I'll see you in the morning. Goodnight."

I lay awake several hours wondering what I had let myself in for. I had met Hapgood a few times. He came off as an arrogant son-of-a-bitch. If he was so bad then why did I decide to check out his cabin? I suppose I would have saved him if I found him instead of his ex-wife, but I might have hesitated a bit. My thoughts turned to Ginger. God, she would be a sweet person if she would just change her attitude. And what was I going to find when I got to know Camille? Was she the bimbo that Ginger had labeled her? Time would tell. I turned over and slept.

I must have been tired for I slept later than usual for me. It was nearly seven-thirty when I went to shower. While the coffee was perking, I heard Ginger come down the stairs. I was mixing pancakes. I turned. "Good morning Ginger, would you watch the bacon please? There are plates in the cupboard over there. The silverware is in the top drawer. Get yourself a glass and pour yourself some juice. I don't have any fruit. That little brown jug has maple syrup in it. You won't want pancakes too often for they seem to produce zits and you have such a beautiful complexion, it would be a shame to have some eruptions. Did you sleep well?"

"Very well, thank you. What should I call you? Would Ray be okay? Mr. Riddle makes you sound so old."

"Ray is fine. Now while we eat, let's discuss your situation. You can't live in the cabin, we know that. In three weeks you will be starting school. You say you are already signed up. If it doesn't bother you, I'll ask your stepmother to stay here until she is strong enough to find a more suitable place to live. My wife and daughter died shortly after Thanksgiving a year ago. Maybe you can help me get through this Christmas without as much pain as I had last year.

"I have to work this morning before I take you into town. There are books around the house and of course there is the television. Maybe you want to call your father and tell him what has transpired. He may come and get you. That's up to you and him. I suspect he won't want Camille from what you have said. I'll ask her to stay anyway. I'd very much like to have you stay too." A thought erupted out loud. "I miss my daughter so much." I had to turn away, for suddenly there were tears in my eyes.

I went into my office, worked for an hour and came out for a refill of coffee. Ginger had run the dishwasher and had wiped off the counters. She was sitting in the living room. "Do you have a vacuum cleaner? I could do that." I pulled the bag and put in a new one. I watched her use it for a minute. I don't think she had ever used one before, but she was trying. When I returned to my office, the words flowed right from brain through my fingers and onto the screen much better than they had for months.


As we were going into the hospital I said to Ginger, "I hope Camille is awake. I'm curious to find out what her first words were when she woke up. She must have been shocked to find herself in a hospital bed." Ginger didn't comment. "My wife worked as a nurse here, so there are a lot of nurses and doctors that know me."

When we stepped off the elevator I stopped at the nurses station. "Mary, who has charge of Camille Hapgood?"

"Ashley is her nurse and she is a patient of Doctor Burns."

"Good, couldn't be better. How is she?"

"Her fever is down some. She is still very sick. She is worried about her daughter. Is this Ginger?"

"Yes."

"All we could tell her was that she had been brought in by Rescue last night. You go right into room 211. If she is sleeping, it won't be for long as she is uneasy and is very concerned about Ginger."

We had to traverse down the hall. Just before she entered the room, Ginger looked at me. "You knew she was going to ask about me, didn't you?"

"I hoped. She has mothered you for awhile. If she felt anything for you, that would be the normal thing for her to be worried about. You go ahead in and I'll come in shortly."

I didn't hear anything for nearly five minutes and then I heard a feeble, glad cry, "Ginger, you're safe." I waited five more minutes before easing into the room.

Camille lay on the bed with her eyes shut. Ginger sat in a chair that was pulled close and held the stepmother's hand in hers. Anyone could tell this was a very sick woman. Ginger whispered that she was sleeping. Camille slowly opened her eyes and looked at me. "Ginger said you saved my life. Would you look after her until I get better?"

"Of course I will. My name is Ray Riddle." I didn't think she heard me for her eyes closed again.

Ashley came in and gave me a hug. "Good to see you again, Ray. You have been visiting long enough and will have to leave. You can come back tomorrow."

I motioned for Ginger to come with me. "Camille is so sick. She stared right at me for a long time before she recognized me. Then she smiled and said I was safe. Before this I wasn't aware she cared, but I think she does." Going down in the elevator she said, "You got a hug from the nurse. Is she a special friend?"

"Not really. She was my wife's friend more than mine. I guess she kind of feels sorry for me, that's all. Maybe we should go shopping at Walmart. Do you need anything?"

"Yes, some underwear. I'll pay you back when I get some things from the cabin."

"Good. I'm going to buy another pair of snowshoes, so we can get some of Camille's things at the same time. Just what we can easily carry."

"She didn't bring much. She was going to buy new things when we went shopping today. She said she was shedding my father and was leaving most everything behind. She didn't leave the money that was agreed to in the prenup I'll bet."

"That's something I don't need to know about. Where do you stand with your father?"

Ginger was silent until we reached the store. As we were getting out of the car she said, "That is something you don't need to know about either."

I told Ginger to get what she needed and to pick up whatever she thought Camille would need until she was able to shop for herself. I went down to the outdoor sporting section and got the snowshoes that would fit Ginger. When I returned she had a shopping cart piled high with clothes. "Ginger, you will have to put most of those back on the racks. I don't have much money and I know I won't have enough to pay for all of that."

"You mean you are poor?"

"Not poor really, I just don't have many disposable funds at the present except for the necessities. If you have money, I'll bring you here anytime."

"I have never shopped at Walmart, but I saw some interesting items and they are really cheap so I loaded the cart. I probably wouldn't wear half these things anyway." Ginger was nice about my request and complied. When it came to what Camille needed--robe, nightgown and pajamas, she held them up and I made the selections. I rounded out our purchases with a pair of slippers for her stepmom. I was sure she wouldn't need these things before tomorrow so we took everything home with us.

It was kind of nice having someone in the house with me again. My wife and daughter had been killed a year and two weeks ago. I put together a small meal and promised that I would do better after going to the grocery store. "I'm going to be working for awhile. Not too late, for I need to sleep if we are trekking up to the cabin tomorrow morning. I suggest that you do the same."

I could see that Ginger wanted to object, but when she looked at me and saw that I was serious she looked away. Then she started to giggle.

"What's funny?"

"I was just thinking that no one has told me what time to go to bed for more years than I can remember. They wouldn't dare. What is wrong with me? I know you are right and I will follow your suggestion without arguing. Don't you work too late yourself. You are doing something all the time. Writing or taking care of someone. I never knew anyone like you before." Smiling, I said my goodnight.

It was bacon and eggs in the morning. I had a backpack to wear and a cloth satchel to carry for the trip to the cabin. Most of what we would be bringing back would be a few clothes for Camille, necessary personal papers and whatever else we could carry. Ginger said she would be satisfied to wear my daughter's clothes and leave what few of her own for another time. I said that if we had a January thaw we might be able to retrieve Camille's car at that time.

The cabin was a depressing place to view. We could see the snow covered car as we topped the hill. On the way in Ginger noticed that the electric wires were just hanging from the poles. She hurried up beside me. "Did my father know the wires were down?" I debated answering. They had been down for almost two years. "You might as well tell me how long they have been out of service. I can call the company you know."

"I don't know, but the wires went down in a wind storm two years ago come March. Whether he knew or not, I couldn't say."

"His bill would reflect it wouldn't it?"

"Not if he had the service terminated. He may have done that."

"I'm pissed. He told Camille we would be comfortable and the cabin was ready to move into."

"Maybe he expected her to see about service before you moved here. You should give him the benefit of the doubt. What arrangement did she have to live here?"

"He gave her the place in return for taking care of me until I went to college."

"I'm sure he didn't think there was any danger to you." Nothing more was said on the subject, but I could see she was giving the matter a lot of thought. I directed Ginger to pick up the personal effects belonging to Camille and stow them in the back pack. She found a box of account books, check book, and a small box that held jewelry. Both had cell phones and we picked them up. "Why didn't you call someone when you saw there was no heat here?"

"Both are dead. They were useless. What should I pack for clothes?"

"Underwear, I would think. If there is a lounging set or sweatsuit, pack that. I can come back if she needs more right away after she gets home."

"Home?"

"Yes home. My home. You will be there until after Christmas and maybe longer. You might as well consider it your home as well until Camille is much better and can take over from me."

"I'd like that."

I was able to get two hours of writing in before lunch. At one o'clock we went to visit Camille. We were allowed to see her for five minutes. I left Ginger and talked a minute with Ashley out of her hearing. "How is your patient?"

"We don't know yet. The doctor doubled her medications this morning. Could you leave the girl here so if she rouses up she will see her in the room? She mumbles the name Ginger when she gets uneasy. If Ginger is in the room, Camille might fight just a little harder to get well."

"I'm sure she will. I'll talk to her."

Ginger came out at the end of her five minutes. "Your mother is in a real critical stage at the moment. Would you stay here in her room so she can see you if she wakes at all? It might swing the balance of her living or dying."

Tears came to Ginger's eyes. "You mean she might die?"

"It could happen, but have faith. Everyone here is doing all they can. You being here can only help that much more."

"Yes, of course I'll stay. I'm scared. Nothing like this has ever happened before. My mother took a long time to die, and I was almost glad when she did, for she was in such pain. This is so sudden, I don't think I can face it if she does die."

"We'll just pray she doesn't then."

"Ray, if something happens, will you help me with this? I don't think I can depend on my father."

"Nothing is going to happen. I'll come in this evening for a few minutes. Trust Ashley. A nurse named Cindy will be in for the evening shift. She is my friend too."

"I have to believe you about Camille. When I'm with you, I feel things are going to be fine."

I honestly hoped so. If Camille did die, Ginger would hold it against her father for the rest of her life. I left Ginger sitting in the corner watching her stepmother intently. I stopped at the grocery for some items and tried to work on my manuscript, but couldn't hold my thoughts together long enough to put them on the screen.

I wandered out into the living room. Suddenly one of the cells that was charging buzzed. I answered it. "Hello."

There was silence. Then, "Who is this?"

"Riddle."

"What are you doing with Ginger's phone? Put her on."

"Can't."

"Why not?"

"She's at the hospital."

There was a long pause. "Is she sick? Is she all right? What's the matter with her?"

"Nothing now."

"Well, why the fuck is she there then? Goddamn it, give me some information."

"Who is this?"

"This is her father, Harold Hapgood. Now tell me what's going on."

"Well, Ginger's stepmother brought her to a cabin that had no heat or electricity. The night they got here there was a twenty-inch snowfall. The temperature dropped to near zero. Camille developed pneumonia and was feverish and comatose. Ginger didn't know where she was and was scared and very cold. Neither would have survived another night.

"Luckily I heard their vehicle go by and recalled it the next day. I investigated. With your daughter's help we managed to get Camille to a hospital. Ginger is with her now waiting to see if she lives or dies."

"Jesus Christ man, is it that serious?"

"Definitely. I was speaking to the nurse less than two hours ago and she said it was a toss up. Where are you?"

"Hawaii. I'm getting married next month."

"That's nice. Ginger told me you dumped one bimbo for another. I hope you are enjoying yourself. I will tell Ginger you called. I'll be speaking to her this evening." Harold was still talking when I punched end. The phone immediately buzzed again. I didn't bother answering. Let the bastard stew.

I did have an early supper and headed to the hospital sooner than I had planned. The phone had buzzed several times. Cindy was Camille's nurse on duty when I got there. I not only received a hug, but collected a kiss as well. Ginger had just stepped out of the room and observed this. Cindy and Ginger told me that Camille had opened her eyes once and recognized Ginger. They were much encouraged by this. Cindy had to leave for another patient.

"Ginger, your dad called. I have your phone and he will be calling you in a few minutes. He is not happy with me as I hung up on him and wouldn't answer the phone when he called back. He will be screaming about it."

"Good. I'll scream right back at him. My mother died a little over five years ago. Since then I'm nothing. All he knows is how to write me a check if he thinks I'm unhappy. Where is he anyway?"

"Hawaii. I gather he is on a pre-honeymoon."

"Great. I hope he stays there. You have been more of a father to me in the last two days than he has in the last year."

"He did sound concerned about you." I started to say more when the phone I was holding in my hand buzzed. I handed it over and she went across the aisle to a waiting room to talk to her father. I could see her through the doorway and Ginger and her father were having an animated conversation. When she got loud, she closed the door. I still could see her through the window. Things calmed down and then I could see Ginger nodding her head in agreement. Five minutes later she folded the phone and came out.

"I told you he would write a check. Here is the situation. He will send you fifteen hundred dollars a month if you will let me stay with you for the balance of the school year. He will give you one thousand if you will take care of Camille at the same time." Ginger started to say more, but tears came into her eyes. Finally, "He said he would pray that Camille got better. Sometimes I hate my father and then he says something like that and I just love him to pieces."

"I do think he loves you. About the money. You know I planned on you staying and not having to pay anything?"

"I suspected that, but Dad offered so take it. Camille will say the same. He has plenty. I'm going back to Camille's room. I don't think you can come in, even if all the nurses love you." A little smile appeared as she turned away. I went home and back to my manuscript. The words were flowing again.

Ten-thirty my phone rang. "Ray, Camille is going to live. Her fever broke. I'm going to speak to her one more time and then I'd like to come home."


A call to the hospital in the morning found Camille awake and on the road to recovery. I stopped in a card shop and bought a little snow globe with an elf displayed for Ginger to give to her. We went in to visit at eleven. Tears came to Camille's eyes when she saw Ginger and looked so pleased with the present. Ginger introduced me, saying I was their savior.

"I would have had a really tough time if Ginger hadn't pitched in and held you upright for the mile it took to get you home where we could call Rescue. Otherwise you would have been head down in the snow. After a bit I ceased to worry about you and could concentrate on getting on as fast as I could. She also pushed from behind and made my job less difficult."

I took a piece of paper out of my pocket. "This explains how we got you to safety."

Found you in a cabin so dark and cold-- Snow coming down, wind blowing too-- Why you were there I was never told-- No toboggan or sled so kayak would do-- Ginger, Camille, ladies young and old-- Riddle skied to come and rescue you

How Ginger laughed and then went about explaining fully. I couldn't tell much about the person lying weakly in bed--just that she had a cute, smiling face. "Ginger wants to stay with you for awhile. I'll be back late this afternoon. She will explain what has happened since you went by my place the night of the snow storm. Bye, now."

I heard Ginger explaining as I left that I was writing a book and worked at it all the time. I laughed to myself, for with what was going on I had only been able to devote half my usual time to it.

When I returned, I was asked next time I came to bring copies of the two books I had written. Two days later I was informed that Camille could come home next week the day before Christmas. Ginger was spending all of her time in the hospital and had made friends of all the nurses.

Camille had progressed to the point where she addressed me as Ray. "Ray, what has happened to Ginger? I so despaired of ever having her treat me other than a wicked stepmother. I blame Harold for a lot of it, but the girl had an attitude from the first time I was introduced to her."

I smiled. "I told her that she helped save you and she could either treat you nice or wish she hadn't bothered. She has decided to be nice. She really is a sweet person." A memory of my daughter flashed through my mind and Camille read it in my face.

"Ginger told me you lost your daughter and wife. My heart goes out to you."

"Thank you. You know you and Ginger are going to be with me this Christmas. Three weeks ago I was dreading it so. Oh I'm not missing my family any less, it is just that my house is a home again. Ginger has made it such and I'm sure it will get better with you in it."

"You are about the sweetest person I have ever known. I'm looking forward to living with you. Ginger was saying yesterday that this is the first time since her mother died she didn't feel alone. She then came and kissed me. I couldn't help it, I cried because it made me so happy."

Camille Hapgood--five-foot-two and beautiful. The first time I saw her dressed in something other than a robe and sweats was when she slowly made her way into my home. She and Ashley became friends during her hospital stay. Ashley was the one who brought her home. When I walked Ashley to her car as she was leaving she whispered, "You could do worse, Ray. No I will rephrase that, you could do no better." I just smiled.

Ginger had become quite the homemaker. The attitude she had come here with ten days ago had disappeared. Now she treated her stepmother with respect, something that always had been lacking. On Christmas eve we sat companionably before the fireplace that I had opened up for the occasion. Ginger made popcorn and we had cider. We listened to carols on the radio. Camille, still an invalid, dozed off and slowly leaned against me. I put my arm around her for support and dozed some myself. When we roused up, the fire was almost out and it was Christmas day.

It was natural that when Camille opened her eyes, I leaned to her and kissed her softly on the lips. It was returned with a little smile and then she drew away from me. It was a moment shared.

"Come, I'll show you where you are sleeping. My wife and I used this room for years, but I'm sleeping in the room down the hall. Ginger sleeps in the room next to you and there is a bathroom across from both." I left her at the bedroom door.

This wasn't going to be the best Christmas I had ever had, but it was certainly better than the last lonely one. I had breakfast ready to serve when Ginger and Camille came down. Both were in their robes. Ginger had asked for pancakes and sausage. I contented myself with just toast and coffee. Camille said that was all that she wanted, but when I placed the pancakes on the table she decided for them.

Dinner we had ordered from the diner had to be picked up by eleven o'clock. I had planned dinner for one p.m. Christmas was a cold and blustery day much like the one that I had gone after Ginger and Camille. Camille opened the outside door and peered out. "What possessed you to go out on a day such as this to come looking for us?"

"I have no idea. I'm glad I did. Neither one of you would be here if I hadn't." Ginger went with me to the diner to help pick up and manage the prepared meal. Camille had set the table by the time we returned. "Eggnog before or after dinner?"

"After, I think. It has to be straight eggnog for me because I'm still on medication. Ginger might have a little something in hers this one time." The dinner was better than I had anticipated. Not home cooked, but the chef had done a very credible job--and there weren't that many dishes to do afterward.

Again I built a fire in the fireplace. Camille and I settled into the same positions as we had last night on the couch. Ginger was tending the fire and was snuggled down in front of it, lying on some cushions covered by a blanket. There was a puff of smoke that came out into the room from the fireplace. "Someone has come in. That only happens when the front door opens," I whispered to Camille. "Don't move, it is most likely a neighbor and they will find us."

I looked toward the door. A man stood there taking off his outer coat. "Cozy. Hello Ginger, Camille. You must be Riddle." There was disapproval in his voice.

"Right. You must be Harold Hapgood." Sitting close as I was to Camille, I felt her tense up and then pull away putting space between us.

Ginger didn't get up, just rolled over and looked up at her father. "Hi, Dad. I didn't expect to see you this winter. Is your latest bimbo with you?" Hapgood stood looking at his daughter. I could tell he was very hurt. It came to me that he really did love his daughter but didn't know how to approach her.

Before he could answer I walked across to where he was standing with my hand out. He automatically stuck his out and we shook. "Cold out there isn't it? Come stand by the fire. Would you like a drink? There is enough eggnog for one more glass. Ginger and I are having a little brandy in ours. Camille has passed on that for she is still on medication."

"Ginger is not old enough for liquor."

"I know, but it is Christmas. Ginger, would you fix your father's drink like you fixed mine?"

"Sure Ray, I guess I can. Mother, do you need anything?" Ginger flushed as she spoke to Camille.

As far as I knew, Ginger had never referred to Camille as mother. Ginger's attitude was back and totally directed at her father. I followed her out into the kitchen. I stood beside her as with shaking hand she poured the eggnog. "Ginger, how do you feel about what you have said to your father since he arrived?"

"But Camille, and maybe me, almost died. He should pay."

"But you didn't die. I think he is here to say he is sorry. Sometimes people make mistakes and don't know it. He wouldn't have intentionally wanted anything to happen to either of you. I had words with him the first time we talked. It doesn't matter to me, but he is your father and he loves you. I can see it in his face. Also remember what day it is."

"How do I fix this? I always say mean things and then I don't know what to say to make it right."

"Take the glass in, set it on the coffee table and just walk up to him and ask for a hug and say you missed him. You have, haven't you?" Ginger nodded. When we went back in, Harold and Camille were holding hands and she was accepting his apology.

Son-of-a-bitch, she stilled loved him. It was plain to me. I studied him. He had affection for her as well. Sadness washed over me. There goes my ready-made family to replace the one I lost a year ago. Harold got his hug and a kiss on the cheek. Ginger sat on the couch close to Camille with my new guest facing them while they told him more about the ordeal they had gone through. I was the outsider in my own home. I walked unnoticed through the room and into my office. No words put up on the screen today, just a few tears dripping down my face.

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Ma/Fa / Romantic /