Familiar Face

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Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Anna was up at the crack of dawn Monday morning. After grabbing a cup of coffee, and a thick slice of her Mom’s homemade bread, she headed out to the stables. Simon was already feeding the horses.

“What are you doing up at this ungodly hour, missy?”

“Between church and visiting with Hallie yesterday, I didn’t get down to the barn. Since I woke up bright and early this morning, I thought I might as well give you a hand. I haven’t mucked out a stall lately, but I think I can handle the job.”

“You sure you remember how?”

“Sure do. Simon. I miss hanging out in the stables. Hallie and I were reminiscing about the good ole times yesterday. It was in these stables that she decided she wanted to be a veterinarian.”

Simon leaned on the rake. “That she did. I don’t know what Hallie’s Aunt Winifred would have done if your dad hadn’t agreed to let Hallie hang out at the stables after school. Winnie was determined that she was going to save enough money to send Hallie through vet school, but she had to work two jobs to do it. As you know, Hallie’s my God-daughter. I was elected to take care of her after school. Mr. Theo was crazy about her, so he had no problem with her hanging out with me. His only restriction was; she couldn’t go in the house.

“To my surprised, your mama put a stop to that restriction right quick. She rolled her eyes and said, 'Hallie can come into the house anytime the mood strikes her. My heavens man, the child needs a snack after a long day at school. If the mood strikes you, you can come with her and get yourself a cup of coffee or a tall glass of ice-tea.' Bertie’s been feeding both of us ever since. Your mama's a good woman, Callie."

“You'll get no argument from me. Remember the day our family came to check out Dad’s inheritance?

“Like it was yesterday. Didn’t know what to expect.”

“Mom and Dad were still uncertain about whether to keep the farm or sell it. I liked the thought of living on a farm, but I wasn’t all that happy about leaving my friends in Columbus. When I saw Hallie sitting on the fence watching you work with Morning Star in the paddock, all of my reservations disappeared. I couldn’t have found a better friend than Hallie.

“I had only seen horse pictures, so I was a little hesitant about being around a living breathing one. They looked enormous to me. She took me into the stables and introduced me to all of the horses. I still remember their names. Coble, High Step, Buttercup, Maisey, Thunder and Thor."

“Buttercup's living. All the rest have passed on. Morning Star was a winner; won more blue ribbons than any other horse we’ve stabled here at the farm. Ms. Masterson, her owner, was a real lady. Appreciated everything we did for her or Morning Star. Thunder and Thor belonged to your uncle, but the others were just stabled here.

“There was a time when we stabled twelve horses. Things changed after your great uncle became ill. Theo was sick for about a year before he passed away. He wasn’t sure that your dad would want the farm, so he had me start advising the owners that they needed to find another home for their horses. We lost five. Bout broke my heart. We got some of them back after your family moved here, but some we didn’t.”

“What about now? Is the stable full?”

“For now. Not sure what’s going to happen if your mom and dad go through with their plans to lease the farm.”

“How do you feel about the changes, Simon?”

“Sad, but it’s time for me to cut back. My arthritis is giving me fits, and my legs are giving out on me. If I can keep working for another year, I won’t mind hanging it up. As far as the project is concerned, it’s ambitious. Exciting, too. If they can pull it off, more power to them. Will you be upset if your folks lease the farm?”

“No, but I can’t get on-board with their plans until I know more. I’m looking forward to hearing what the other people involved have to say.

“If I’m going to get any work done, I better go say hello to the horses. I want to make sure they remember me, before I invade their space.”

“Don’t you worry about that. It’s been a while, but horses have good memories.”

Later that evening, Anna checked her email for the first time since arriving at the farm. She wasn’t surprised to learn that Marian had stopped by the Foundation’s office to check the mail and her phone messages, but she was surprised to learn that the Cantrell’s had donated two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to the Foundation. For Marian's sake, Anna was thrilled, but she was determined to find a way to avoid working with Philip Cantrell. She knew that her issues with Cantrell were irrational, and yet she shuddered at the thought of even seeing him again. She couldn't put her finger on why she had such an aversion to the man, but she did. Was she going to turn into a neurotic woman who was afraid of her shadow? That thought brought tears to her eyes.

Because of the fresh air and exercise, she was asleep almost as soon as her head touched the pillow. To her dismay, she woke up at three the following morning. The dream of the blood-spattered room never failed to terrify. Why? Why? Why? What had she done to bring back the nightmares? She didn’t go back to sleep until five am.

When she dragged to the breakfast table, her mom noticed the dark circles under her eyes. “Didn’t you sleep well, honey? After all of your activity yesterday, I was hoping that you’d sleep until ten.”

“I’ve been on edge, Mom. I don’t know whether my imagination is running wild, or whether someone is stalking me. She recounted the incidents at Millie’s.”

“It’s not like you to be concerned about unsolicited stares. Should I be concerned?”

“I’ve worked with hundreds of donors, and hosted dozens of events, and I’ve never felt the kind of vibes that I experienced at Millie’s. Those incidents were just the beginning. The day Natalia had surgery, I worked with one of Marian's prospective clients. The wife was lovely, but her husband made me uncomfortable. When I entered the room, he was engaging. He asked about your wildflower painting. I gave him your web address, so you might hear from him. If you do, please be cautious. He has money and an excellent reputation, but I don’t trust him.”

“What did he do to make you uncomfortable?”

“His demeanor changed while I was making the presentation, I felt as though I was being studied under a microscope. It was a creepy feeling that is not easily explained. As I said, one or all of these incidents could be nothing, but they spooked me. Imagination or not, the recurring dreams that I had as a child have come back.”

Her mom grimaced and pulled Anna into a tight hug. “Oh, no. I’m so sorry, Anna. What can I do to help?”

Anna held on for a few seconds before breaking away from her mom's hug. “Thanks, Mom. I needed that. I’m going to drive over to Asheville to talk to Dr. Drummond on Wednesday. Before I go, I’d like to review the police report and the other documents in my file. I know that you and Dad would prefer that I let the past go, and I’ve honestly tried to banish it.”

“You don’t think that these unrelated incidents have anything to do with your abandonment, do you?”

“Probably not, but Dr. Drummond always believed that a traumatic incident during my early childhood was the root cause of the recurring nightmares. What if I witnessed a crime? Is that why I dream about blood? Isn’t it possible that the person who committed the crime wants to eliminate me?”

“Honey, you were four-years-old. No sane person would consider you a threat after all these years.”

“That’s the one thing that’s kept me sane. What about my biological parents? Is it possible they are still looking for me?”

“Yes, of course that’s possible. I would still be searching for you if you had been my biological daughter. If reading the file will make you feel better, then, that’s what you should do." Her voice sounded strained when she added, "Anna, we’ve never tried to hide the truth from you. When you asked questions, we answered as honestly as we could. Your dad and I never learned the truth about your abandonment or the years preceding your abandonment. The police in Ohio closed the case when Carolyn Williams died.”

“That much I remember. But, I still want to see the file.”

The file is in a safe at your dad’s office. Don’t the two of you have a lunch date?”

“We do.”

“I’ll let him know that you want to see the file.”

“Thanks. Mom.”

“Please keep your dad and me informed, Anna. When you are unhappy, we are unhappy.”

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