Better Days

by SW MO Hermit

Copyright© 2011 by SW MO Hermit

Romantic Story: Man's wife is killed in an auto accident. He retires, changes his career then finds a new love.

Caution: This Romantic Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Consensual   Romantic   Heterosexual   .

James Ross was sitting at his desk drinking his first cup of morning coffee. He was staring out his window instead of going through his inbox for the first time like he would normally have done. Normally by this time of morning he would have finished his perusal of the overnight deliveries and made some phone calls to subordinates but his heart just was not in it any longer. He knew he was letting his boss down and he knew he should; he had to get his shit together but he just could not seem to do so. He had already been to three weeks of grief counseling but nothing had improved. He still had trouble sleeping at night and he spent too much time during the work day feeling sorry for himself.

Jim had just sighed and pushed himself away from his desk to make his normal morning trip through the office complex when he heard a gruff voice speak, "As You Were." He quickly straightened to attention and turned to the voice. He made an attempt to smile and said, "Good Morning General."

Major General Stanley Foster smiled and returned the greeting. "Good Morning Sergeant Major." He looked into the eyes of his Division Sergeant Major and continued, "How are you holding up Jim?"

SGM Ross felt his heart lurch and his chest tighten. He took a moment to get himself under control before he replied, "I guess as well as can be expected General. I still miss her so damn much. I" His throat constricted and his eyes watered once more to the point he couldn't speak. He turned from the General so he wouldn't see his eyes and bit his lip. He continued in a broken voice, "Sometimes I don't know how I can make it through the day. I want to tell her something and then I realize I will never be able to do that ever again. Sometimes I'm not sure it's even worth going on."

The General walked up and put his hand on Jim's shoulder and said, "I know how you must hurt Sergeant Major but we all have to go on. You have your children still and you know we all are here for you too if you need help or just need to talk."

The General stood with his friend and remembered years past. Then Sergeant Ross had been one of his squad leaders when he got his first Platoon after being commissioned in the army. Over the intervening years they had been stationed on the same post, many times in the same unit as their careers progressed. Platoon Sergeant Ross had been one of the Platoon Sergeants when he had command of an Infantry Company. A few years later Ross had been a First Sergeant in the Battalion then Lt. Colonel Foster commanded.

As the years progressed their children grew up together and their wives became as near friends as it was possible for an enlisted and officer's wife to become. Neither of the families closely followed the customs of the Army religiously so they had more social interaction than would have normally been common. The men and their wives were kindred spirits and they liked each other's company enough that they ignored the difference in rank as much as possible.

When General Foster was given command of the Division he specially requested Sergeant Major Ross be appointed his Division Command Sergeant Major. By then the children had grown and left home but the men and their wives were happy working and socializing together as much as possible. Of course they followed convention and socialized with their peers more but they still made time for their friends.

The General and his wife were nearly as devastated as were the Ross children and Jim Ross when a drunken soldier ran a stop sign and T-Boned Della Ross's car on post. The autopsy showed she died of a broken neck instantly upon impact. Like happens many times the soldier, the guilty party in this case, was slightly injured and Sergeant Major Ross's wife, the innocent party paid the ultimate price for his stupidity.

Of course the soldier was court-martialed and sentenced to Leavenworth Federal Prison. That did not bring back Della Ross to her loved ones but hopefully the soldier would not kill anyone else. It had not been the soldier's first arrest for alcohol abuse. He had lost stripes for it before and there had been a bar on reenlistment for him because of it. Unfortunately for Della Ross the Army had not managed to get rid of him in time to save her life.

Ever since the accident, now almost three months in the past, SGM Ross had been in a funk. He and his fellow soldiers knew he wasn't performing up to his normal standards. In fact, if the truth was told, he was just managing to marginally perform his duties and he knew he had to do something to get himself together. He felt badly because he was letting his General and his unit down. He just could not seem to get over his loss.

General Foster let his hand slide off the SGM's shoulder and turned to his Aide. He said, "Well, come on into my office Captain and let's get started." The Captain followed, opening his Day planner as he did so. SGM Ross stood a moment longer looking out the window and getting himself under better control then turned to make his interrupted tour through the Division. He made it his practice to stroll throughout most of the division area at least once a day to supervise the senior Sergeants and keep his finger on the pulse of the unit. From time to time he would stop and visit with a young soldier so he could assess morale, training and the needs of his men. This day was no different.

Just before lunch he received a phone call from one of his past commanders, Colonel Paul Fielding, Retired. "SGM, we have been gone and I just heard about Della late last week. Jennifer and I are so sorry for your loss. She was a fine lady." The two friends visited for several minutes longer then as he was ending the call Paul said, "Jim, I've been talking to Stan and he told me you were still having a tough time ... I've talked to Dad and we reserved a cabin for you for the next two weeks. Stan says you need to relax and get your head screwed on better and Jennifer and I want you to come down so we can see you."

SGM Ross began telling Col Fielding he could not go to the Resort. He heard a voice and turned from the window he had been looking out of while he talked. General Foster broke into the conversation and said, "Sergeant Major I have been talking to your counselor and to Paul. We are all in agreement you need to get away and wrap your head around this tragedy. I need you at 100% and right now you aren't there. You WILL take the time off. If there is some reason you feel you can't go to the Fielding Resort that's fine but you WILL take some leave."

SGM Ross said, "Yes Sir." He then watched the General walk back into his office before he resumed his interrupted conversation with Paul Fielding. "OK, Sir. I guess you heard or at least know the General has just ordered me to take the time. I'll be there Saturday morning."

That evening Jim packed enough gear to last the two weeks he expected to be at the Fielding Resort, drank his supper and crashed. At his normal rising time of 0530 the next morning instead of putting on the uniform he had worn for the last 27 years he got into some cut off shorts and an old pullover shirt. His head was throbbing and he grimaced thinking he knew better than to drink like he did when he was in his early twenties. He admitted to himself he had been doing way too much of that since Della died. He filled his thermos with coffee and walked out to his F250 super crew powerstroke. He fired up the powerful engine and when it had settled down into a chuckling idle he drove onto the quiet street on his way to what the Fieldings called their own little slice of paradise in the Ozarks.

Late that evening Jim pulled into Steelville. He stopped at the local café for supper then drove out to the resort. Jim Fielding and his son Paul were waiting on him when he arrived. They introduced him to Paul's sons Jeffrey, now a Major in the USAR and Charlie, also a Major in the USAR. After the introductions they all drove to the cabin assigned to Jim Ross and showed him around. After they got him settled they broke out the favorite drink of all five men—18 year old Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban scotch.

Before the evening was over the entire bottle and most of another was drained. None of the men was completely sober. Jim was assured he would see Jim & Paul's wives the next day at breakfast. Jeff and Charlie's new wives would be there also and he could meet them for the first time.

Once again the next morning Jim woke near his usual time. Once again his mouth felt like a dragon had upchucked in it before it died and rotted. His stomach rolled and his head was throbbing. His mouth was dry and he was thirstier than he had been at the worst of times in Iraq. In short, he had another hellacious hang over.

When Jim arrived at the Lodge he was met by glaring stares from four beautiful and tastefully dressed Officer's Ladies. There were hang dog expressions on the faces of four Officers, also hung over. He smiled to himself thinking they were not only in the dog house for coming home at three in the morning roaring drunk but were suffering a hangover at least as bad as was his.

After introductions were made to Abigail and Amanda Jim got hugs from Ann and Jennifer Fielding. They moved to the outside deck of the resort where coffee was served. After about thirty minutes of coffee on the deck overlooking the river waitresses brought out a huge country breakfast. Everyone visited quietly while they consumed the food. When the plates were cleared the visiting continued for some time.

Jim and Ann Fielding were the first to leave, then Jeffery and Abigail. Paul, Jennifer, Charlie and Amanda visited with Jim a short time longer then Charlie offered to show Jim where the best fishing was. Charlie said, "While we're out I'll give you a short tour of the resort and the surrounding countryside."

Charlie was appointed guide allegedly because in his job as a Veterinarian he was more familiar with the roads and countryside. Somehow though Jim got the impression it was a little more. Before they left Amanda gave Charlie a gentle kiss. She stared into his eyes while holding him gently around the waist and said, "Honey I know it still hurts and you need to talk to him but be careful. Call me if you need me. I'm going to worry about you. Be sure to let me know where you end up."

Charlie looked into her eyes and pulled her to him. They exchanged a sizzling kiss this time and Jim thought he saw tears in Charlie's eyes when he stepped back. Charlie looked at her for a moment then he looked at his parents before he said, "We'll just drive around an hour or so then I think we'll go back to his cabin. I have one of the Jon Boats tied up in the Swimming Hole for him to use the next two weeks. I'll be sure he knows how to run it then I think we'll spend the rest of the afternoon visiting unless Jim wants to do something else."

Charlie gave Amanda another loving look then turned to Jim Ross. He said, "Well Sergeant Major shall we hit the road or do you need to do anything beforehand?"

"No Sir. I'm good to go."

Charlie looked at SGM Ross as he leaped up to stand almost at attention. He smiled and said, "Sergeant Major ... Jim, you need to loosen up. I know part of this is my fault. I called you by your rank. I meant it as an expression of respect as I hope you know. We are off duty here and in fact, since I am not on active duty right now I am not a Major per se. I would appreciate it if you would call me by my name. I'm Charlie. I would be grateful if I could call you by your given name also..."

Jim felt slightly uncomfortable. After all, for over 27 years he had called his superiors by their rank and here was an O-4, a Major, wanting him to call him by his first name. He looked at Charlie and smiled. "I'll try sir but I don't know. You know how hard it is for us old soldiers to break that kind of habit!"

Charlie smiled and said, "OK Jim. Come on. Let's get into my truck and I'll show you about anywhere you might need to go or want to go while you're here. They drove several miles that afternoon and Charlie showed Jim the best way to get to either of the larger towns in the area—Steelville and Prineville as well as the way to a much smaller town only about ten miles from the resort by road and about five miles by river. This town was called Wilsons Mill. Charlie explained that at one time there had really been a water powered grist mill located there and ran by a man named Wilson, hence the name given to the settlement that had grown up around it. Wilsons Mill was what would now be called a bedroom community. There were no businesses or jobs in the community and it was slowly withering away as older residents died and the younger ones moved away to find work.

They stopped for a while in the little town of about 350 souls. The old mill building was still there but had been closed for years. The old apparatus was still in the building. Charlie told Jim a couple had began refurbishing the mill about ten years ago but either lost interest or ran out of funds about three years ago. He had heard they had divorced shortly thereafter so that might have even been the reason for halting the refurbishment.

Charlie said, "Before they quit they had managed to get the mill wheels turning again. I have heard some of the metal supports were not sound enough for normal operation but I don't know for sure." The mill and five acres surrounding it was for sale. The mill pond dam was still in place but needed extensive repairs as did the millrace. There were numerous large trees on the property and the mill pond was full of steelhead trout because of the cool spring water that fed the stream there. The state stocked the stream every spring to keep the trout population up.

Jim and Charlie sat on the bank of the millpond and knocked back several beers from a cooler Charlie had brought from his truck. They talked for several minutes about many topics but always came back to the Army. Of course like many soldiers, even part time Citizen Soldiers as Charlie was, they played the "do you know so and so" game and told war stories. Of course you know the difference between a fairy tale and a war story is generally the way the story begins. A fairy tale begins "Once Upon a Time" and a war story begins, "No Shit, This Really Happened!"

The two men were feeling no pain when they decided they needed to return to the Resort. When they were getting into the truck Jim looked over at Charlie and asked, "Charlie are you sure you can drive this thing? We've both had way more to drink than we should. I wouldn't want us to do anything that would hurt someone else like Della..."

Charlie was sure he was over the legal limit of BAC from all the beer he had consumed but he knew the back roads home and elected to drive anyway. Most of the roads he was going to use were so sparsely travelled you didn't see a vehicle on them. He said, "Jim I'm probably legally drunk but I am also sure I can do this safely. I promise to drive slowly and stay on the dirt roads all the way back to the resort. If I see a car coming I will stop. I don't want an accident any more than you do." They then buckled themselves into the truck and Charlie drove carefully off. As he promised he drove on the smaller dusty dirt roads back to the Resort. He drove slowly and they continued their conversation.

When Charlie and Jim got back to Jim's cabin they walked happily through it and onto the deck overlooking the river. On the way through the house Charlie thoughtfully picked up the bottle of Glenlivet some ice and two glasses he saw sitting on the wet bar.

The two men watched the sun slide down behind the trees to the west of the cabin as they talked and drank their scotch. About 630 p.m. one of the waitresses from the lodge brought some chips and Sub Sandwiches down for their supper. By then Charlie and Jim were to the happy, laughing stage of their drinking. For some reason they thought it was uproariously funny when she threatened to call Amanda and tell her Charlie was drunk as a skunk.

After the waitress left to return to the lodge Jim looked toward Charlie. Charlie was sitting staring across the river. Jim said, "You are very lucky to have Amanda. I can tell from last night and our talk today that you love her very much and she loves you the same. Very few men can find a love as intense and fulfilling as I think you two have." Jim choked and his voice got rough as he continued. "I had a love like I see between you and Amanda but some drunk little punk killed her. Sometimes I want nothing more than to get my hands on that little asshole and make him hurt like he hurt my Della. The little shit was driving a brand new Mustang Shelby when he T-Boned her. They estimated he was doing over sixty in a twenty five zone when he ran a stop sign and hit her little Civic on the driver's door. He pushed her car almost seventy five feet before they came to a stop. I had tried to talk her into driving the F250 that day because she was planning on doing a lot of shopping. If she had she might still be alive."

Charlie looked over at Jim and his voice, too, was rough and breaking. He said, "I know how you are hurting Jim but you have to let it go. It took me months to break out of the funk you're in but you have to let it go and move on with your life. I"

"What the hell are you talking about you asshole? How the hell can YOU know how I feel, how empty I feel and how it hurts every time I think about telling Della something?"

Charlie felt his temper rising then forced himself to relax. He had thought Jim knew about Charlene but maybe he didn't. Charlie began to talk. He said, "I don't know how you personally feel about the soldier that killed your wife but I know all too well about the hole in your heart, in your soul from her loss. My first wife Charlene was an Army Aviator. She was commanding an Aviation Company in Afghanistan when she was shot down supporting an operation against the Taliban. She is buried in the family plot at the cemetery in Steelville. I spent many an evening trying to forget her and looking for my happiness at the bottom of a bottle like you are doing. I used to sit along the river bank with my booze and my sorrow wishing I had the guts to just end it all, to make the hurt go away for good."

"One morning after I had slept in my chair beside the river all night Mother came down to find me. She slapped me and gave me another one of her lectures. That time she said something that hit home. She asked me if I really thought Charlene would want me to sit and crawl into a bottle or die before my time. She asked if I really thought I was honoring her memory by turning into a drunken asshole."

"I didn't quit drinking immediately and it still took me a few weeks to get almost back to the way I was before Charlene died but I clawed my way back. Each day was a little easier but they were all hell on earth. I would catch myself wanting to tell Charlene something and then realize I could never talk to her or touch her or smell her ever again. I cried as I am sure you do and I hurt but I finally moved on."

"I sold my practice in Seattle and decided to move back here. It was almost a year after Charlene's death before I got all the loose ends tied up in Seattle. On my way home I took my time and played the tourist. I met many wonderful people, many of whom are now very good friends of mine and who stop by here from time to time." Charlie smiled a little and continued, "I met Amanda at the Testicle Festival in Rock Springs Wyoming and we spent several days together there. I travelled with her from there back to her family ranch in western Colorado where I spent several more days getting to know her better. We started our first child while I was there. Of course I didn't know that until after I got my head out of my ass and asked her to marry me several weeks later."

"Jim, trust me. It gets better even if it doesn't look like it will right now. Amanda and I have as much—no, even more love than I ever had with Charlene. It is a different kind of love but she is my life now. Sometimes I am ashamed to admit how much I love and depend on her. She is my life, my lover, my reason for living and I know there is no way I could get by without her. I don't mean to disrespect Charlene in any way. She is my first love and there is still a small place in my heart set aside just for her but Amanda is my life now. Even if you don't find another love as wonderful as I have you will find something in the future to make your life wonderful and worth living again."

Jim looked over at Charlie. He started to speak then his eyes got large and he muttered, "Oh Shit."

Charlie turned toward where Jim was looking and saw Amanda standing there crying. She slowly moved toward Charlie then sat on his lap. She bent and gave him a gentle kiss then hugged him. She looked up at Jim and said, "Jim, he's right you know. I didn't lose my first husband because he died. I divorced him because I caught him cheating on me so I don't know how the two of you felt at the loss you experienced. Charlie IS right about life getting better if you try to live it happily though. I've heard him now twice talking about how much I mean to him when he didn't know I was around and it just makes me love him more. I can't believe how lucky I am to have Charlie and I don't begrudge Charlene that little piece of his heart he holds her memory in. You need to get your shit together as you soldiers say and move on. I never knew Della but I know in my heart that she would want you to be happy again."

Amanda smiled and stood. She held her hand out for Charlie and continued talking. "Now Honey, it's time for you to come home and go to sleep. Sarah called and told me I should come take you home because you were way too drunk to be driving."

Amanda looked over at Jim and said, "We'll see you tomorrow Jim. Why don't you come over to our place for supper?"

Over the two week period Jim did begin to heal. He relaxed and began to make friends with the residents of the Steelville area. He even went on some calls with Charlie and met some of the local farmers too.

Several times he went to fish in the mill pond at Wilsons Mill. He felt more relaxed there than he did at the Resort. Many of the young people of the town swam in the mill pond and he spoke to some of the older townsfolk as well. Jim always had to take his own drinks and meal when he went to Wilsons Mill because there was nowhere in town to purchase those items. He had asked about that on his first visit and was surprised to find out the local convenience store and service station had burned a year before and never been rebuilt. Many of the residents were upset about that but they said the old store owner had decided to retire on the money they got from insurance. They had said they barely made a living from sales and saw that as a good way out.

Before the two week leave was up Jim Ross contacted the real estate agent about the mill. They toured the building and discussed improvements and the price of the property. Jim liked the area and the property. He had friends in the Fieldings and felt like he was making friends in Wilsons Mill and the surrounding area. Jim decided to make an offer on the property contingent on his home outside Ft. Riley selling. The mill owners were asking $149,990 for the mill and surrounding land. Jim offered $125,000 and ended up purchasing the place for $137,000.

When he returned to duty Jim was on the mend but he felt out of place. For some reason he felt uncomfortable now in his office, almost as if he were an outsider now. At the end of his second week he made a decision that would change his life forever. Jim decided that the military part of his life was over. He missed the Wilsons Mill area and the slower more relaxed life he could have there. Jim went to the Personnel Services Office and put in for his retirement effective at the earliest possible time. He was informed it would be at least two months before everything was approved and possibly three.

Jim left that office feeling better than he had in months. When he returned to his office he walked straight to the General's office and knocked on his door. When the General looked up he asked, "General do you have a moment please Sir?"

General frowned slightly and motioned his Sergeant Major into his office. After the formalities, he asked SGM Ross to have a seat. Jim leaned back in his chair and licked his lips. He said, "General I want to thank you again for making me take that leave. It was what I needed and Major Fielding, hell, all the Fieldings were what I needed to get my head screwed on straight. I think it really helped to talk to Major Fielding about how he felt when his wife was shot down."

Jim looked up and saw the question in the General's eyes. He knew the General was busy and could tell he wanted him to get on with his business. He took a deep breath and said, "General I'm sorry for taking up your time but I wanted to tell you sir that I have realized the last two weeks since I returned from that leave that I don't belong here any longer. I think this phase of my life is over sir and I applied for my retirement this morning."

The General's face showed his surprise. He leaned back in his chair and stared at his Sergeant Major in shock. Finally he said, "Jim are you sure that is the best thing for you? I don't know what I would do, what the Division would do without you. Hell, the Army has been your life now for what, 26 years?"

"No Sir. I've been in almost 27 years but I think it's time to move on. I found a nice little town near Steelville that I like and I like the people there. I was able to begin to forget the pain there and here everything I see and do reminds me of Della. I see a young soldier and I remember that little asshole that killed her. I am still having trouble dealing with my feelings and I am not as productive as I was, as I need to be. You and the Division deserve, you need, more than I have to give now. Sir, it's time to go. I'm sure of that."

"Well I have to admit I'm very surprised and somewhat disappointed but I understand. We all have to face the fact that sometime in our career it is, or it will be time to hang it up. I'll miss you but I'll do my best to help you move on with your life."

"Thank you General."

The next two and a half months went by. Some days, some weeks, went slowly; some flew by depending on Jim's emotional health, his anticipation of his retirement and, of course, upon his workload. He was impressed with his replacement and knew he had made the right decision. His replacement was as efficient as Jim had ever been and seemed to be very knowledgeable.

Finally the day of his retirement came. Jim's two children and their families were in a place of honor on the reviewing stand with him. After the speeches were made and the troops marched past Jim closed the door on that part of his life. His house had sold several weeks before his retirement. Jim had made arrangements to close on his new property the Monday after his retirement. In a way Jim was sorry to leave the Army but for the most part he was now eagerly awaiting his new life. He had been back to Wilsons Mill a couple of times and had plans for reworking the old mill. He was going to turn one end of the building into living quarters for himself and had decided he wanted to make the mill fully operational once more too.

Jim spent the rest of Thursday July 3 and the holiday weekend with his family near Ft. Riley, Ks, his last duty post. Early on the first Sunday after his retirement Jim and his children had breakfast together then they all departed promising to get together once again soon. His children returned to their homes and jobs and Jim drove to his new home and the old mill at Wilsons Mill MO. He still missed his Della deeply but he was looking forward to his new life also. Something about his new town resonated deeply within him.

Jim pulled into the mill parking lot late that evening and camped under the trees near the millpond. The next morning Jim was sitting in a lawn chair enjoying the coffee he had made on his camp stove. He had rose at his normal time and was watching as the sun began peeking through the trees to the east of his property. He was watching the world come alive and enjoying both the morning and his coffee when his solitude was rudely interrupted by two cars speeding into the dusty gravel parking lot. They slid to a stop nearby and four large teen age boys tumbled from them. They grabbed fishing equipment and headed for the pond.

Two of the boys detoured from the most direct route and walked arrogantly up to Jim. The larger of the two sneered at Jim and said, "Hey old man. This is private property. You need to get your ass back into that truck and get out of here. Jim felt his temper surge. He clamped down on his immediate angry response and carefully sat his coffee cup down.

Jim stood and faced the two boys. He carefully looked them up and down then used the voice that had sent many young soldiers quaking when he felt the need to correct their behavior in his prior life. Jim said, "Son I know this is private property and I don't appreciate either your attitude or your arrogant demands that I leave. I was going to allow you and your friends to fish this morning but now I think you all just need to leave before things happen that would be painful for everyone concerned."

"Old Man you got this all wrong. This is our private fishing hole and we don't allow anyone else to use it. If you don't want to get hurt you better get your ass gone right now." The tall boy set his fishing gear down and moved toward Jim as he said that.

Jim set his feet and said, "I'm telling you for the last time son. You need to get off my land right now. I bought this property and I don't need young hot headed boys around causing trouble. Now git!"

The other two boys had come up from the pond when they saw their friends and Jim arguing. They were moving to surround him when yet another vehicle pulled into the parking lot. A young law enforcement officer got out of the unmarked car and moved up to the tense group. He looked at Jim surrounded by the four boys and asked, "Ok Pete. What's going on here this morning?"

"This asshole has been camping here at our fishing hole and we told him he needed to leave because it was private property. We were just making sure he moved on Sam."

The patrolman looked over at Jim then back to Pete before he said, "Pete I wasn't aware you had purchased the old mill. What gives you the right to ask this gentleman to move on?"

"Hell Sam. You know Pa's been hired to take care of the place. I was just roustin him out so's he didn't break nothing or steal it. This's been our spot ever since that rich bitch and her husband left and asked Pa to take care of it for them. He don't belong here and if you're set on bothering someone ya need to take after him. He's tha one that don't belong here."

The Patrolman turned to Jim and asked for some ID. Jim reached into his pocket and handed him his retired Military ID Card. After he looked it over it was handed back to Jim and the Patrolman said, "OK Sergeant Major. Pete is correct even though I am pretty sure he wasn't the most polite individual while imparting his information. This IS private property and no camping is allowed." He turned to Pete and continued, "Pete I think you and your friends need to leave also. I'll handle this from here."

With black looks and subdued mutterings the four boys angrily returned to their vehicles and left in another cloud of dust. Sam turned back to Jim and began talking once more. He said, "I'm sorry for having to run you off but the owners don't allow anyone to camp or use this area. They even told me they don't want Pete and his friends here except to help Pete's father keep the place up. I can see you aren't damaging anything but the place is posted against trespassing and I will have to ask you to leave." He smiled and continued, "I have to go make my rounds now though so I don't suppose I would notice if you just happened to finish your coffee and maybe breakfast before you packed back up and left."

Jim smiled at Sam and said, "Well, Sam. I appreciate that but I don't think I'll be leaving." Before he could continue he saw the dark look come over Sam's face and held up his hand. He rapidly continued talking, "I'm sorry Sam. I didn't mean it like that. I should have told you first that I just bought the old mill and I'm going to be living here now. I will sign the final papers later today. I just retired from the Army and am moving back here to find some peace and quiet. I was visiting with the Fieldings this spring and they showed me this place and it felt so much like home I decided to move back here and make it my home."

Sam relaxed and a big grin split his face. He said, "Oh, good. I'm sorry I took you wrong but ... well, you know how it is I'm sure. You may have some trouble with Pete and his crew though. They try to run roughshod over folks hereabouts. He was quarterback of the football team and thinks he's the best thing to hit this town in forever. One of these days he's going to get into some real trouble if something doesn't happen. Well, anyway, I have to get on with my rounds. Congratulations on your new home and I guess I'll be seeing ya around now."

"Sure Sam. Hell, drop by for some coffee anytime if ya want."

After the paperwork on the property was completed Jim unloaded his truck into the old mill. Over the next few days he cleaned out the debris in and around the mill and made a list of material he would need to begin the refurbishing. Before he started working on the structure he wanted to know if it was sound and what he needed to do to reinforce it if it was not. Jim was lucky in several ways. There was no county or village zoning so he didn't need permits to remodel. He also made use of contacts he made in the service and called in some favors to get a couple of friends who were engineers to come inspect the building. They wrote up their impression informally and he was relieved. The building was structurally sound and mostly needed cosmetic repairs. Of course since it had been a mill for its entire life it needed major renovation before Jim could live within.

His mill did need modern wiring and heating but that was a given. They did point out where the structural supports for the mill wheel and grinding wheels needed repair but that, too, was minor. Jim also opted to build on a three car garage at one end of the structure. One of the bays he would make into a small workshop, another would be used for his small lawn tractor.

Jim decided his first jobs would be to replace all the windows and doors then get his new living quarters built. The mill had been a large one with a large open area for storing and selling grain, feed and meal. At one time it had been a feed mill as well as a grist mill so had quite a lot of room to convert. As much as he hated the thought of getting the interior wet Jim decided to power wash the dust out of the area he was converting to living quarters. Since it was summer he thought it would dry fine by the time new windows were installed and the interior partitions were up.

Jim decided to make a large living area downstairs to include a master suite and large kitchen dining area. There would be a small office and larger living room also. Upstairs he would eventually make another two bedrooms, small sitting area and bath for when his children visited. In the area over the milling area he would build storage and still leave a small warehouse area for unground grain. Downstairs in front of the grinding wheel area there was approximately 30X60 feet of office space and display area where inventory had been displayed in the past.

Jim was surprisingly happy as he began his work. Jim decided to continue his exercise regimen from the Army albeit at a less intense rate. He would run at least three times a week and did some other exercises on other days. After his exercise he would sit and have his coffee each morning alongside the mill pond. He would have a light breakfast then work until he got hungry, eat, rest a while and work more during the afternoon. Many afternoons he would cook and eat beside the mill pond. The previous owners had installed a covered patio or picnic area there with a gas grill. He liked to sit there and relax as he watched the sun set behind the trees to the west.

From time to time Sam would drop by for coffee in the morning or just to visit during the day or evening. As time progressed some of the townsfolk would also drop by to see what Jim was doing. He was impressed with how friendly everyone was. He knew some of these small towns were sort of clickish but this one didn't seem to be so bad. Of course people became even friendlier when they began to notice that some of the Fieldings and Stevens would drop by to visit Jim from time to time.

Jim did the interior conversion right. He had solid oak paneling on the walls, triple pane windows installed, granite counter tops and stainless appliances. The carpets were thick and well padded and there was a floating pergo floor installed in the kitchen, ceramic tile in the large bathroom. In short, his living quarters were quite luxurious. He had finished the downstairs living area by the end of September and had begun working on the mill works and milling area.

From time to time some of the younger and not so young local residents would come to see if they could fish in the mill pond. Well, that wasn't quite correct either. Jim owned up to the water line and they would ask if they could park on and fish from his property. He also had easements and permissions from the Corps of Engineers to maintain and control the mill dam and water flume for his waterwheel. He could not stop people from using boats or wading in the water.

After he had been in town a couple of weeks Jim had met enough people he was beginning to be well known. While he was running around town they would wave and speak. When he was in the Army he ran 4 to 6 miles a day three to five days a week as well as did calisthenics. Jim decided he would continue running but shorter distances. He thought he would purchase some weight machines to put in the mill after he finished the renovations but for now he would just run and do his exercises.

Jim continued to have trouble with Pete and his friends and they exchanged words more than once. One afternoon Jim saw Pete and his friends roughing up a young boy while a younger girl watched crying. She saw him standing by the mill and ran to him. She cried, "Please help! Pete's going to hurt Calvin. We didn't do anything to them and they're going to hit him."

Jim had already decided to stop things before she came up. He was starting for the boys when he saw Pete's friends hold the boys' arms and Pete began to hit him in the stomach and face. Jim told the girl to go into his house and call Sam then he ran for the three older boys and Calvin.

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