The Contraband Pipeline
I was packing up my personal things here in Greensboro, NC. Three days ago, I signed the papers after selling my business. I thought about doing this last year. It all changed because one month ago I received a tax notice in the mail informing me my assessment on some property up north had increased again.
Last year the assessment on the building lot that I owned in Brattleboro, Vermont was doubled from the previous year, doubling the taxes I had to pay. The latest notice I just received indicated I would be paying taxes on the land and on an unfinished dwelling. This needed tending to, as I knew of no building on the property.
My decision was made and I accepted the standing offer to sell my bookstore. It took a month to finalize. I dealt in used books. Many were ones that the students at the university wanted to sell when they completed a course and which the new students needed when they signed for that particular course. It was brisk at certain times of the year. I also stocked a few rare editions and was connected to other dealers who had a better inventory.
Half my inventory was used paperbacks. Old and used, I charged half of what the book originally cost. The reader could read the book and then return it for one-half the original the cost paid for it. For example, say a book sold for ten dollars. I charged five dollars for it and, if the book came back from the reader, he/she would receive two dollars and fifty cents. My inventory was stable and the reader could read four books for the cost of buying one new one. It worked and I made a good living.
My feelings for New England, and my roots where I grew up, tugged at my heart. My reason for being here in Greensboro was now gone. I came south to work in the bookstore and enjoyed it immensely. I married again and for years I was happy, but that reason was now gone. There was only sadness remaining when an accident took my wife and partner.
This confusion over the taxes on my property solidified my decision to head north. I would miss the books, but it was just a job. Vermont had books too. I chuckled when I thought this.
I headed north one fine May morning. I was driving a two-year-old 2500 Chevy pickup. I traveled right along; cruise control pegged four miles over whatever the speed limit posted. I was two days on the road and they were long days. It was too late for the Brattleboro town offices to be open, so I drove through West Brattleboro and up Route 9, taking the first right after the Mobile Home Park.
It was three miles off Route 9 to land that was owned by my family years ago. The road was steep, the last two miles rising a thousand feet in elevation. I turned left onto Hescock Road when I was almost to the top of the hill just before I reached the Dummerston town line.
At one time my grandparents had owned land both sides of Sunset Lake Road, Hescock Road as well. That was years ago. My father sold off most of it, but my grandfather wanted me to have some land and he had reserved two lots, one of ten acres and one of seven acres and deeded both to me. When my wife and I divorced, she ended up with the seven-acre lot on the right side of the road just across Hescock Road above the home place.
My ten-acre lot was to the left and a half-mile down an old logging road that meandered along beside a small brook. There were ledges and a steep hillside bordering the road on the opposite side. When I came to my lot, the land leveled out and there was at least five acres of flat land. Three acres dropped down to the brook. The other two acres stood on end with a promontory where you could see down the valley. You could see the town of Brattleboro seven miles to the east nestled next to the Connecticut River.
To me this lot had everything. I never planned more for it than having a camp built on the property. It was great deer hunting country and secluded. Partially open, it had enough trees spaced widely to find shade if you moved around and it had one acre open. Trees had never grown on this opening and this was where I had planned to build a camp.
Reaching the entrance, I turned onto what was the logging road. This also was a deeded right of way owned by me. It was more than that now. It had been widened since I was here last. When I came to a section that had been a muddy spot, it was filled with gravel.
A little farther on, there was a narrow section between a ledge outcropping on the right and the brook. Large boulders had been tumbled over the narrow side into the brook for a base and then large crushed stone fill had been built up to the road. This section was fifty feet long, and it had widened the road by five feet. Barely enough to get by the ledge outcropping earlier, you could easily now travel through.
The work must have been completed last year, as it didn't look new and had gone through the winter. Therefore, this was why my assessment had doubled last year. Someone had spent a lot of money to make the road as passable as this. Now with the improvements it made my property more valuable. That didn't bother me, but I was concerned. Who would lay out money when they didn't own the land? What would the dwelling mentioned in my tax assessment be like when I went around the next little corner and into the opening?
I drove onto my lot. I slammed on the brakes, surprised enough to come to a stop. The building was more than a camp. It was a hipped-roof lodge and had to be twenty-four feet across the front. How deep it was, I couldn't tell from this angle. There was a roof over the start of a porch. It came to me then that although this was livable it wasn't finished. For one thing, it had no siding on the plywood-sheathed walls.
The yard was graveled in front of the building and it was big enough to park three vehicles. There was no car here now, so whoever lived here must be away or in town. I turned my truck around and parked on the edge of the gravel. It would be dark in a couple of hours. I had better get busy.
I climbed into the back of my truck and pushed a four-person tent out onto the ground. I found a level place between two pine trees fifty yards from the house. I popped my tent up, smoothed the floor. My air mattress needed inflating by electric pump or a person's lungs.
I looked around and saw a line of poles with wires set back from the road that I hadn't noticed as I drove in. Used to be the closest power was at the FM tower for the local radio station that perched on a peak above the logging road. The wires had apparently been extended to here. This was another costly item and it would improve my property even more.
I went over to the house and found an outside electrical plug. In ten minutes, I carried my blown-up mattress back and put it inside the tent. I lugged a small bottle gas-fired grill from the pickup. I brought my cooler to the fire and got a steak out. I had put the meat in a plastic bag with marinade when I purchased the steak. It was a three-pound sirloin, more than I would eat tonight, but it wouldn't waste.
I wrapped two medium-sized potatoes in tin foil and set them on the grill. When I had the steak seared, I turned the heat down and let everything cook. I opened a beer, sat in the canvas chair and waited. In fact, I dozed a bit. I did waken enough once to turn the steak and roll the potatoes over.
I split the steak and put it onto two separate plates. I would eat one piece now and eat one piece tomorrow. Just then I heard a vehicle arriving. It paused when my truck was spotted, then it drove up in front of the building. I turned my back and bent down to get another beer out of the cooler. The car door slammed and then I heard footsteps stalking toward me.
"Who the hell are you? This is private property. Pack up and get the hell out of here."
It was the day's final light. I turned around and faced a woman dressed in camouflage. She had a cap on. I didn't speak until after looking her over. The woman was five-seven, slim, and I couldn't tell her shape. She was standing before me confident and arrogant.
"You are right, this is private property. You might not be aware, but I am the owner. It is you who is trespassing. My grandfather left this land to me and as far as I know, I'm still the owner of record."
"Bullshit. What is your name?"
"My name is Robert Kinsman. Look lady, that is if you are that, my steak is getting cold. There is another piece of steak and a potato. Join me and we'll talk later."
"You are mixed up about everything. You are the one who has made a mistake." For some reason after her saying this, I could see her thinking. It had to be because I had told her my name. She eyed the plate with the meat on it. I had eating utensils wrapped in a towel. I handed her a knife and fork.
"Yes, please." She stood there awkwardly wondering where to sit. I closed the cooler and indicated this was her seat. I got a half smile. She was also awkward at sitting down, sitting sideways to me. We both attacked our meal. She ate as fast as I did, finishing at the same time. I took her plate and scraped the fat she had left into a gallon pail with a cover. I put the plates into a pail with the knives and forks.
"I'll be right back." I grabbed another pail and headed by the house down the bank to the brook. I could just barely see, but I trusted the path was still there. It was. There was a pipe about halfway down coming from a spring. It was still there and I soon filled the pail with water. Returning, I put two inches of water in the pail with the dishes and put it on the camp stove to heat.
I took a kettle and put some water in that as well, placing it on the second burner to heat. It only took a few minutes for the water in the pail to warm enough. I squirted a few drops of liquid soap in the pail and washed the plates, dipping them in the kettle to rinse. I dried the dishes.
"You could have brought them into the house. I would have done them."
"Maybe next time."
"Bobby, I know who you are, but I still can't see where you think this land belongs to you. Come into the house and we will talk. Different subject; I must say I am impressed with your camping skills."
"Thanks. Okay, we can get this settled." I was getting a sense who this woman could be and I was curious about her. I followed into the house. She walked with an unusual gait.
The porch steps were in place with just a three-foot-wide strip of decking to the door. The sides were open; the jousts waiting for their own deck boards. She mounted the steps using the handrail that was installed.
The door wasn't locked, I could understand why when I entered. There was nothing much to steal. There was no furniture. The walls of this first room hadn't been addressed and showed only bare sheetrock. The walls were taped, but that was all. The windows did not have the inside moldings installed. The floor was plywood, no carpet, tile, or wood. It was a large room stretching the width of the building and 12 feet deep. This was definitely a work in progress.
The kitchen was to the right; and I could see through the opening a cook stove, a fridge, sink, cupboards, and a counter with four stools. The floor needed covering with tile or something.
"Follow me." There was a decent-sized room to the left across an aisle from the kitchen. This was apparently meant to be a bedroom with no door yet. "Bedroom," she stated. Another room without a door, "Office or den." There was a small room back across the hall behind the kitchen. "Bathroom." This room had a door.
On the left there were three steps with a landing at the foot going upstairs, and this was open to the side. On the far right, there was a door and she pointed to this, "Cellar door." Turning, she announced, "There are two bedrooms and a bath upstairs." She eased by me headed for the front of the house. Suddenly she stumbled. I put my hand out, but she pushed my hand away. I followed her back to the front room.
She pulled two sawhorses away from the wall. There was a smooth 8 foot 2x10 piece of lumber on the floor. I placed it across the two sawhorses. This was where we would be sitting.
I asked, "Your name?"
"It was Mrs. Cameron Turner and I am divorced. I go by Sheri Turner now"
I smiled now. "I'm guessing your maiden name was Goresuch. Am I correct?"
"Yes it was. We've never met. How did you know?"
"A couple of things. You called me Bobby instead of Robert or Robby. My former wife, whose name was Cassie, always called me Bobby. Your name is Sheri. I remember she had a sister named Sheri. You must have some reason for being here and on this property. That would be the connection."
"You're batting a thousand. I still can't see why you think this is your land. Cassie gave it to me. She gave me explicit directions when she sent me here. She had the building started before I got here and the construction company stayed long enough to make it livable for me. She even has been paying the taxes on it."
"No, that's not true. She hasn't paid the taxes because I have paid them. I have paid about the same on this lot for several years now, and the assessment didn't change that much until last year when it doubled. This year I received the assessment and it stated there was an unfinished building on the property. I only have five more days to get my letter of grievance into the town clerk's office. I dropped everything at home so I could find out what was going on up here in Vermont."
"Cassie said she was paying the taxes. I believe her and I don't believe you."
"It is something we will look into. We'll get it straightened out. The town offices are closed for the weekend. We will go down Monday and I will prove it to you. So tell me, how is Cassie?"
"The same. She is getting married again."
"The last time I talked with her was ten years ago. She was about to be married at that time."
"She did get married then. She also was married again five years ago. This wedding coming up will make four times for her. She told me one time not long ago you were the best husband so far and has never found another one as good as you. Hey, if you hurry up you could be her fourth instead of the guy she is going in front of a judge with. If you wait too long, though, you'll have to wait until you are the fifth. That shouldn't be too long if she follows the same pattern.
"Your humor escapes me. I wish I was not her first. That was a fiasco of the worst kind. Looking back, I was too damned foolish to get married so young. But then I couldn't help myself, especially as hot as she was."
"She is even hotter now. Men think so anyway."
"How about you, you are her sister?"
"You mean am I hot? No, I guess not. Not hot enough to keep my husband, anyway." Sheri said this bravely, but I could tell that being divorced bothered her.
"That's too bad. I married again myself. I am not now."
"She died." I didn't continue as it still hurt to think about. Sheri must have realized this, as she didn't ask any questions. I changed the subject. "So, how come you ended up here? The last time I spoke with Cassie it was over the ownership of the two different lots separate from my father's farm. That was twelve years ago. We argued over it, as we both wanted this one. It belonged to my grandfather originally, and the court finally awarded this one to me for that reason. I should have had the other lot as well, but I didn't have a pot to piss in and the judge said I had to give up something, so it ended up being awarded to her."
"That sounds like Cassie. Get married, take what you can get, divorce your husband, find another man, and do it again. She seems to be on her way to being well off. Bobby, I honestly didn't know this was your land. She told me I could come here, finish the home she started for me and be happy. After all, why wouldn't I believe her, she is my sister? It looks as if she was getting even with me or maybe you for some reason."
"What were you planning by living out here in the woods? Do you intend to be a recluse?"
"Not really, although I don't mind being alone. Cassie has done a lot for me. She paid for the road and putting the power poles in."
"What about the building? You have a long way to go to finish it."
"Cassie put the cellar in and had the building framed. I've planned to finish it myself. I have found it is a lot more difficult than I thought. Especially with my condition."
"And what would your condition be?"
Sheri looked at me. I could see she was debating whether to tell me. "Bobby, the easiest way is to show you. What I have to put up with I could tell you, but you still wouldn't know. I'm going to do this because for some reason I trust you not to take it the wrong way."
Sheri stood and unbuckled the belt to her fatigues. She let then fall. I suppose I was interested in her lace panties as they came into view. Then my eyes traveled down. Her left leg stopped above the knee. There was a complicated prosthetic leg below that. This ended in a boot that matched the one on her right leg.
The light wasn't that good, but I could see her right leg was wrinkled and scarred. Sheri leaned down, pulled her fatigues back up, covering herself. I was in shock. "Fucked up aren't I? Now don't you go blaming anyone. I volunteered for the service and the government has done well making sure I can at least move around. I get a big disability check every month to compensate.
"What hurts and I don't blame her either, Cassie doesn't even want to be in the same room with me because I am so ugly. Therefore, truth be told, I'm here because she pities me. I'm telling you Bobby, don't you dare pity me. I can't stand people who do."
"One question. Why are you sleeping upstairs? Wouldn't it be better if you slept in the room down here? The stairs must be difficult for you to navigate."
"They are, but it is to maintain the strength in my good leg. Use it or lose it."
"If you say so." I was shaking my head. She could feel the pity I felt for her. Not for long though. She slid off our seat and faced me. Then she raised her hand and slapped me hard enough to make tears come to my eyes.
"I told you not to pity me. I mean it."
"Yes, I guess you do. My god woman, you should be in the boxing ring." I was rubbing my face.
We looked at each other and then I smiled. Sheri did too. Soon we were both laughing. "Sheri, I won't pity you, but I can't stop feeling sorry about the situation you are in. Would you tell me how it happened?"
"Sure. It was four years ago. I was almost ready to come home from Iraq. The truck I was driving ran over a mine. There was a medic in the vehicle behind me. He got me out of the wreckage and stopped me from bleeding to death. I spent some months in the hospital. I learned to travel on crutches and when the stump was healed enough I was fitted with this thing. I didn't like it at first and often reverted to my crutches, but I wear it most of the time now.
"To be honest, there were many times when I had the wish that the medic who saved my life wasn't near enough to keep me alive. I don't feel that way now. The first time I came here and saw this property, I wanted to make it into a home for myself. I hope you aren't planning to take it away from me. I still don't know why Cassie led me wrong about who owns it. It seems like a mean thing to do."
"It does seem that way. I do know your sister and she has about as devious a mind as any person I know. She probably has some off the wall agenda. She may have done it just to piss me off. Looking at it another way, she may have figured I would show up here some day and kick you off the land. Are you sure Cassie is your friend as well as your sister?"
"We never traveled in the same circles. We did live in the same town and I very seldom ran into her. That was when I was home from the military before this happened. I suppose she knows I don't think much of her life style either." I could see she wanted to say more. She did. "Bobby, am I still going to be able to stay here?"
"Sheri, we will work something out. Tell me about your husband. You said you have been married."
"I was. He came to Germany to see me when I was first injured. Before he left he asked for a divorce, just saying he didn't want to be married to half a woman. He said the government did this to me and it was up to them to take care of me. I couldn't live with someone like that so I agreed to the divorce. I didn't get much from the settlement and I have used most of it up. It would be all gone by now if Cassie hadn't stepped up and provided some money to help me finish this place.
"It is odd, but I haven't seen her for months. I came here in March and that is the last time I saw her. My mailbox is at the end of Hescock Road on Sunset Lake Road and I sometimes get a note and a check from her, but that is all."
"That is one point in her favor--I think."
"Yes, and I am giving her the benefit of the doubt until I find out otherwise." I was pleased when Sheri said this. It made me think she was a loyal person.
"Sheri, I was on the road early this morning. I think I need to go to bed. We'll talk more tomorrow. Would that be okay?"
"Sure. What are you sleeping on?"
"I have a queen-sized air mattress. I used the outdoor electric plug to blow it up."
"You're fine then. Breakfast at six? Come early and you can shower."
"That would be great. Thank you."
I went to bed still not knowing what my female squatter looked like. She had kept her hat on so I didn't know if her hair was long or short. Her camo clothes were loose, so I didn't know her shape. I really hadn't seen much of her private area, because again her top covered all but the bottom of her panties. It came to me if she wore lace undies when she wasn't expecting company, then she must be very feminine even though she dressed in camo.
I was looking forward to seeing her in the morning in full daylight. Did I dream about her? No, I didn't, I zonked right out. I was up at three and went quite a ways to find a tree to water. The next thing I knew, I could see the sun shining on the wall of the tent. I got up, took my shaving bag with toothbrush, and headed for the house.
The house was quiet and I went right into the bathroom. I took care of business, wishing I had a can of air fresh. I got into the shower and made it short. Sheri was just coming down the stairs. She was a different woman this morning. Her hair was down to her shoulders. It was a beautiful thick brown. There were freckles across her nose and the upper portion of her face. She wore an army olive drab tee shirt. It was stamped U S Army across her chest. I noted it was a nice chest too and just right for a woman as tall as she was. She was dressed in jeans. Her hips flared out slightly. Overall, she had a beautiful figure. Then I remembered she wasn't all there. I ached for her.
"Bobby, I told not to pity me."
"I know." I paused wanting to make it right and rubbing my face. "Sheri, you may be too sensitive. Let the other person feel for you a little. It doesn't do any harm unless you let it. I'll get used to you and after a bit, you won't see it in my face. I'll also forget about your problem if you will let me."
"Okay, got it."
I let Sheri make breakfast, as the kitchen was small. When she said it was ready, I pulled up a high stool while she poured my coffee. She sat down and we ate. Occasionally our elbows touched. "I have bacon and eggs in the cooler. May I bring them in?"
"Sure. Do you have anything else?"
"A couple of bananas and a loaf of bread. The remains of a lemon pie. I tried eating it while driving, but it didn't work too well." Sheri laughed, picturing this in her mind. The dishes were done when I came back in. "What's on for today?"
"Not much, I have company."
"What would you be doing if you didn't have company?"
"I have enough decking to finish part of the porch from the doorway to one end. I have to wait till next month to buy the remainder."
"Okay, let's do it." I was thinking constantly as we were working. Sheri had trouble if she had to get down on her knees. I took over that part. We were finished before ten o'clock. "Sheri, let me ask you if you would like a partner in completing your home. This would be a strictly business deal."
"I would owe you forever. I don't think so."
"That's true, but I would like to help you. In the meantime you would have a completed home to live in."
"Yes, and when it was done, you could boot me and I wouldn't have anyplace to live. I am now pretty well convinced you do own the lot."
"I could, but I won't."
"You say that now, but it could change."
"I could make it easy for you."
"How? I wouldn't want anything too complicated or give up too much." I knew she didn't want to be committed to trading sexual favors.
"Okay, hear me out. Say I can prove I own the land. Legally anything on the land I also own even though it is an improvement made by someone else. I suppose you could move the building, but I can't see that happening. Too big. I'm being generous here I believe, but we will set a value on the building just as it sits this morning. I agree you own that much of the improvements and if I kick you off I have to pay you that amount. What Cassie put into it is included. That way you can't lose what you have so far.
"I can't see where I would want to do that. If you did want to move away on your own, I still would pay you. Then I am the only person you could sell to if you did. Again, you can't lose. One more stipulation. You have to lease a room for me to live in and I won't transfer the lease to anyone except you. If I want to get out of the lease, then the room returns to you.
"Okay Sheri, that is where we are at this moment. I can go get more decking, buy doors, finish the floors, do the walls, and finish the windows. I will have made those improvements so I own that much of the building. I am assuming that we will both be working on it. I believe working together, we can make a comfortable home without needing a contractor. I have the time and I think enough money to complete the house."
"It sounds good, but I still don't know as I trust you."
"We'll stop in and talk to an attorney Monday and have him write it up. On my side of the equation, I don't know if I want to put money into this without some assurances that I have a place to call home. You think it over and ask questions before you decide. In the meantime, I'm going down and get more deck boards to finish this. Do you need anything downtown?"
"We need a gallon of milk and enough hamburger for a meatloaf. I'll give you the money." I shook my head and waved my hand in the air as I headed for my truck.
On the way to town, I did some praying. I hoped she would go for my proposition. Was it pity? Maybe a little. Oh, hell I might as well admit it. I was falling in love and it was way too soon. If she didn't go for it, I knew I would walk away. Hell, I might even deed the land to her. I could afford to.
I bought the groceries and then stopped at the Leader Home Center. My pickup would transport the deck boards without any problem at all. I was back before noon. The home center had a porch swing so I bought that. I wasn't comfortable sitting on a 2x10 stretched across some sawhorses.
We had the porch deck finished by the time the meatloaf was done at six that evening. After we had eaten, I set about putting the swing together. I didn't make it before dark. Tomorrow would have to do.
"Bobby, wouldn't you like to bring your mattress into the house? I am sorry I don't have another bed, but I haven't got that far. I only have one bed and a bureau in my bedroom."
"No, I'm good, but I would like to shower tonight. We have worked hard today."
"Yes, but look what we have accomplished. That would have taken me a whole week. That is after I could afford the boards. I have decided we will see an attorney sometime on Monday. We can have an attorney examine the situation and suggest a solution. We can go ahead then and have papers drawn and both sign them."
"Sheri, you think my idea has merit then?"
"I'm willing to explore it. I have another question. What about the improved road and the power line? Cassie paid for those, and I was not involved."
"I don't see where they enter into our agreement at all. The road is a deeded right of way and the power company must have an easement. Cassie is out on the money for building the road as far as I can see. But then, you say she can afford the cost?"
"She bragged she could."
"Okay, she is screwed then." A flush rose in Sheri's cheeks. "Okay, poor choice of words. My point being, she put the road and power in of her own free will. I still think she has to have an ulterior motive."
"It does seem odd the way she has handled everything. She is my sister though, and I'll believe the best of her until I find out differently."
"I commend you for feeling that way and I hope you are correct."
I slept very well, but couldn't get back to sleep after watering the same tree as I did the night before. Sheri intruded on my mind. I knew I was going to stay around for a while. I wanted this woman in my life. I wanted to make her happy. I didn't know but what she wasn't, but I would not have been if the things that had happened to her happened to me.
Also her husband had left her, when she needed him the most. Sheri had lost one of her extremities. That limited the things she could do during the remainder of her life. She didn't appear down about it. I considered her one brave person. I didn't think her financial situation was that great either. I had not told her but little about my life, and especially not what my finances were. Time enough for that when we knew each other better.
Sheri was adamant about not wanting pity, but there was no law that said I couldn't help her. Besides, legally, I held the upper hand because she had started working on the house on my land. We would see an attorney tomorrow and eliminate most of my so-called legal position. There was nothing she could do about the moral aspect because I would retain that. Ten minutes later I heard Sheri shout that she was putting the coffee on.
Sheri was humming a song when I stepped into the house, looking across to watch her working in the kitchen. She was stirring something and her buns were shaking back and forth. She was wearing a dress that fit her rather loosely over her slacks. I made myself known, "Morning Mrs. Turner. What are you mixing?"
"I am scrambling eggs for an onion and cheese omelet. I like them and although they take a little more time, it is always worth it. Coffee is almost brewed. Would you pour me a cup, please?"
I filled two mugs and sat one on the counter near where she was cooking. I sat on a stool where I could turn and watch her. Occasionally she would flash me a smile, but concentrated on getting the omelet just right. "Bobby, tell me about your wife, unless it hurts too much?"
"No I don't mind. Cassie remarried ten years ago. That was in the paper and dad wrote me about it. Shelly and I were married about the same time. My wife was three years older than I was. She treated me like a king, but then she was a joy to me and I treated her like the queen as she deserved. Shelly was one of the women whose beauty was all on the inside and not considered fair by anyone.
"And yet you loved her?"
"Tell me how you met her?"
"Maybe first I should tell you what happened to me as soon as I was divorced by Cassie. I was twenty-one, just about broke with no prospects, and not really trained for anything. I did know computers though. I was online and saw an advertisement looking for someone with computer skills. The ad was posted by a bookstore located in Greensboro, North Carolina. I was told to come in for an interview.
"I hitch-hiked down south and I did get the job. It was a couple in their early fifties who owned the store. They mentioned that they had a daughter who worked in a library. I did not meet her for a couple of months and I wondered why. I concluded after awhile there was something wrong with her. Curious, I went searching. When I reached the place where she worked, the librarian directed me down into the bowels of the library.
"I opened the door and walked in. Did I ever get cussed out as she was reaching for a shawl to cover her head?"
"What was wrong with her?"
"I'm getting to that. Her name was Shelly. Shelly was born with a huge birthmark on the top of her head. She was operated on to have it removed when young. The operation was successful to a point. The dark skin was removed, but hair would not grow on that part of her scalp. She tried a hairpiece, but that made her look weirder than ever. She never went anywhere without a shawl, and always hesitated going out in public, afraid her affliction would be seen.
"Could I have told you what her face looked like? Hardly, as your eyes traveled to her affliction. Even when covered with a shawl, you were bound to be distracted away from her facial features.
"Back to when we first met. Shelly ordered me out and threatened to call security to have me removed. I talked over her, telling who I was and that I worked for her parents. I said I was invited to dinner with them on Sunday. I told her I had asked her parents if their daughter was going to be present. They told me no, you were never there when they entertained.
"This calmed her down somewhat and it gave me a chance to speak rationally with her. Sheri, would you like me to relate how I came to eventually marry the woman I loved?"
"Bobby, tell me. I am interested. Lord knows I know all about afflictions and the damage they can cause to your ego."
"Okay, I will tell you as if you were present as we spoke together."
"Shelly Franklin, listen to me for a moment. Your father and mother love you very much. I can hear it in their voices when they mention you. When I asked them if you would be at dinner Sunday, they said no. I could hear in their voices that they would like you to be there so we could meet. That is why I have come to invite you personally. It would make them feel so good. I take it you hide yourself away down here in the bottom of the library and do not go out.
"I'm not very old and have just gone through a divorce. I'm from up north and the transition to the south has been rough on me. I need a friend. You know someone to talk to and explain about the different cultures we grew up in."
Shelly said, "I can tell you a lot about growing up. You saw what I look like. Do you think I had a happy childhood? My parents had to have me tutored because the kids were so cruel. I wish every day I had never been born."
"I can understand you feeling like that. Other people have worse afflictions than you do. You at least can hide it if you want to."
"That is okay for you to say, but you just don't know, do you? What if I lose my shawl?"
"Shelly, no I don't know, but I would like you to tell me. If we could meet, then you could tell me all about it."
"That isn't going to happen. Look, I have work to do. Would you please leave? I don't want you hanging around and waylay me after I finish work either."
"Okay, I will leave and I promise I won't waylay you. I wish you would reconsider about Sunday. It would make your parents so pleased. They have been terribly good to me and I want to see them happy."
"I turned and left. I went directly back to the bookstore. I knew that a Muslim woman was coming in to look at the new stock arriving today. I was familiar enough to approach her to talk. Aalia did come in.
"Aalia, would you please do a favor for me? You may choose any book from the new stock if you will. If it is a children's book, you may choose two."
I gave her some directions where to find Shelly. I knew this might blow up in my face, but I thought it worth the effort. I didn't go into any details about Shelly's affliction, just saying she needed a head covering. I also suggested that to keep from standing out, she might like to dress the same way as Muslim women did. It is not unusual to see these women on the street. They would be on their way to school or to work.
I did not see Aalia again that week. She did not come back to choose a book. I had promised Shelly that I would not contact her. I felt I must have made her an enemy not a friend. I felt bad about it. Apparently Mr. and Mrs. Franklin didn't know what I had done, for they treated me the same as always.
This changed a day later. Mrs. Franklin came up to me and told me her daughter had called and would be dining with us on Sunday.
She cautioned me, "Now Robert, I must caution you that Shelly has an ego problem because of how she looks. Please don't make too much of it. I am surprised she called and said she would come. Please be circumspect as I don't want to make her uncomfortable."
"I'll do my best."
"I know you will. All of our customers are so happy to have you wait on them. You treat them the same as you would treat a friend."
Sunday at dinner Shelly came in full Muslim attire. I was introduced to her. She had a small smile on her face as the introduction was made. Later she had a moment alone with me.
"Mr. Kinsman, would you believe I have a new friend? Her name is Aalia. She appeared in my office the afternoon of the same day you were there. She had some clothes in a bag with her. Later after I left work, we went shopping. Would you have any idea how this came to be?"
"I might just a little. I have been worried since the day I spoke with you. I haven't seen Aalia and there was no word about you until your mother informed me yesterday I was to meet you."
"You didn't hear from either of us because I felt manipulated by you. Now though, I think we can go on and become friends. You did say you needed one the day we met."
I returned to the present and Sheri after relating my meeting the woman who was to become my wife. Sheri spoke. "So Bobby, you met Shelly and lived happily ever after."
"I intended to, but she was killed in an accident, or I would be with her now. To finish up about Shelly. We dated for several months. I never saw her with her head uncovered again in all of that time except when we were alone. We did fall in love, helped along by her parents. Shelly eventually left the library and went to work in the store, making it a family operation with me included.
"Occasionally when we were out together, derogatory remarks were made, but it was mostly because I was with a Muslim woman, not because of her looks. She thought this so funny and we had many a laugh over it. We were happy, had our own home, went everywhere, and enjoyed our life together. My in-laws soon made me a full partner in the store. We looked to the future and a full life together.
"I had five very wonderful years with her. That ended five years ago. Shelly and her parents were going to a conference on book selling one day in February. It was over on the coast. A freezing fog bank suddenly rolled in and there was a massive twenty-seven-car pile up. The Franklins and Shelly were wiped out instantly. I have been slowly winding up my affairs with the intention of coming back to Vermont next year. This property tax situation here just brought me home sooner."
"Yes, and when you get here you find someone has destroyed your dream of having a little cabin in the woods."
"That's about right. Whether good or bad, I can't tell yet."
Sheri wanted to know more about my life with Shelly. "You didn't have children. Why not?"
"Shelly was afraid that any children we might have would be marked the same as she was. We reached the point of exploring adoption. We both enjoyed being around children, so it could have happened. I have had five years alone now. Memories of Shelly are always with me, but that is all they are, just memories and they have to be enough. We did have a good life together. The only regret is that her life was cut off so soon.
"I am thirty-four and just looking forward to see what the future will bring me. I was thinking a lot last night. Some about you. When I am ready to move on, I will see if there is some way you can end up with the title to this place. I think you need it more than I do. In the meantime, I will keep busy. I have never helped build a house before and I want to see if I can do it."
"Bobby, I do think I will like having you here. We worked well together yesterday and it appears as if this is the only way I'm going to get this place finished. I know you think I am taking advantage of you, but I don't know what else to do. I started dreaming about a home two years ago when my sister offered it to me. I just have to continue on this path and see how it plays out."
"Okay. I do understand the position you are in. Tomorrow when we talk to an attorney, I'll try and relieve the uncertainties about your future here."
"Thank you, I appreciate that. I suppose I could offer myself to you to pay for this, but I wouldn't be worth that much." I could see that Sheri did not want to do this.
"No, I don't think that will work. I would feel guilty about accepting your favors. What you are worth is an unknown. But then, you might be worth more than you think."
"Bobby, I would feel guilty as well. Why would you want to be in bed with me as I am only a half woman? That is all I have to offer. I guess we will have to blame Cassie for both our situations. Too bad you come out on the dirty end of a short stick."
"I guess. Enough of this, let's go somewhere this morning. We don't have any more material to work on the house with today. We will go for a ride and then have dinner somewhere. We'll come back and I'll finish the swing. We can sit on the porch and swing back and forth and let the world go by."
"Okay. Do you trust me to drive? If you do we can take my car instead of your truck."
"Sure. I'll point the way. When we get out to the end of our road, stop and I'll show you where Cassie's lot is located. I know she owns that. I suspect at some point she will be visiting. We can ask about why she put you on my land. Maybe you should call her. I'm hoping you will get to talk to her before she knows I am here. You might find out more that way." Sheri did not say anything. I still thought she might not believe me.
The lot I was talking about had been open pasture ten years ago. Now it was brush covered in places. I asked Sheri if she wanted to walk up to the farthest boundary line. She said sure. I picked what I thought was the easiest route. It was somewhat difficult and I ended up holding her hand to steady her before we reached the point I had headed for.
Neither of us made note of the fact that she was having a problem walking. Sheri really was adept at navigating, but it wasn't the same as having two of your own limbs. I pointed out the property boundaries from the top so Sheri knew what the lot was like.
We continued into Brattleboro and I suggested we travel north on I 91. We went into Bellows Falls and across the bridge to North Walpole, NH. Aumand's furniture store was still there, although it was in a newer building than I remembered. We went in and I looked around. I ended up purchasing a king-sized bed for the room opposite the kitchen. It would be delivered on Wednesday.
I announced I would buy bedding in town, but Sheri said she had a spare set so if I didn't want to buy now, I would not have to. "Don't you want a bureau or a stand or something?"
"No, I'll just throw together some shelves out of odds and ends of lumber. If I decide to stay permanently, I will have my furniture moved up here from storage in Greensboro. I have some things that will fit right in. Actually, everything I own is in storage. I have been renting a motel room and living out of that. I sold my house a year ago."
"Why did you sell?"
"Too many memories. It made me depressed to go home to an empty house. That was the time I began settling all of my affairs and planned on coming north next year."
"Yes Bobby, and I screwed it all up for you, didn't I?"
"Not complaining yet because I won't have to live in a tent this summer. I have a room with amenities. Where do you want to eat lunch?"
"Anywhere. I don't know the area."
"I'll find a place for lunch and we'll eat dinner in Brattleboro before going home."