Madelyn walked alone down the quiet San Francisco street after visiting Fenway Market, which was a little grocery store right down the street from her house on 18th St. The light from the streetlamps was dim and a cool breeze played through the trees. It lifted her blonde hair, gently playing with the curls before setting them down, only to pick them up again from time to time.
The moon rose above the tops of the buildings. Slowing, she turned her violet eyes upward to gaze at it with a familiar longing. It was nearly full, yet it wasn’t all that impressive to her that night. The haze of the city sky dulled the beauty she once found in it.
Picking up the pace once more, she noted that she was nearly to her house. As she approached her building, she pulled her keys from her pocket then ascended the steps to her front door with a soft, defeated sigh. Once inside, she closed and locked the door before moving down the hall to the kitchen.
She put her groceries away then headed upstairs, stripping off her clothes as she went, leaving them in a trail on the stairs as she made her way through the house to prepare a hot bath. It was her nightly ritual, one she always looked forward to when she returned home from one of her long walks.
Stepping into the old claw foot tub, she eased into the hot water and felt the tension in her body begin melting away. Turning off the water, she settled back, her golden curls floating in the water around her shoulders and closed her eyes, drifting off to sleep.
“Maddie?” a voice woke her from her nap in the bathtub.
“Yes, Daddy?” she called as she stepped out of the now cool water.
“Everything ok in there?”
“Yeah, just a moment, please,” she responded. She’d fallen asleep in the tub again. It was a usual thing for her. She would climb into a nice hot bath and relax so completely that she’d fall asleep.
She wrapped a plush robe around her dripping body and twisted a towel around her hair, then reached down into the water and released the stopper plugging the drain of the old claw foot tub. Opening the door, she found her father standing there with a half-grin on his face. She smiled up at him and gave him a hug with one arm before pushing past him to scamper off to her room.
“We’ll be leaving soon, darling,” he said as she went into her bedroom.
“Ok, Daddy,” she responded as she started to close the door. “I’ll be down in a couple minutes.”
She dressed in her usual attire: sweat pants, a tank top and a light long-sleeved zip up hoodie. She’d already planned to go for a run in the woods surrounding their home after her parents left for their trip. She walked down the hall and stairs to find both standing at a table with a cake and candles lit. Tears welled in her eyes as she realized they hadn’t forgotten her birthday, which would be two days after they left.
“Surprise!” a voice said from the kitchen. It was Uncle Brian. Laughing, she ran and gave him a warm hug then went and blew out the candles on the cake as everybody sang “Happy Birthday” to her.
“You didn’t think we’d forget, did you?” her father asked, smiling as he passed her a small wrapped package, gently kissing her forehead as she took it from his hands.
“Of course not, Daddy, I just figured you planned to celebrate after you return from your wild goose chase,” she laughed as she tore the paper from the small box. Her father rolled his eyes as they laughed at her teasing tone. She’d always called her parents’ adventures wild goose chases, as they most often came back either empty handed, or nearly so.
Madelyn gasped as she opened the box. Inside was a lovely golden locket set with gems that together formed a sprig of holly. She turned and held her hair up as her mother took the box from her and removed the locket from it before fastening it around Madelyn’s neck.
“We had it specially made, Maddie, dear,” her mother said.
“Oh, thank you, Mother, thank you, Daddy!” Madelyn exclaimed as she hugged them both. “I love it!”
“And we love you, always remember that, my darling,” Marie told her, pulling back to cup Madelyn’s head in her hands. They looked into each other’s eyes, both tearing up a little as they stared at one another. Marie’s green eyes sparkled as she gazed into the violets that were Madelyn’s. “Never forget how much we love you, Maddie.”
“I won’t, Mother, and I love you, too,” she said, moving to hug her mother again.
They were interrupted by the sound of the phone ringing. Daddy went to pick it up and turned to say something to everyone.
Madelyn awoke with a start as the phone rang, tearing her from her dream. Tears began forming in her eyes as she heard the digital voice of her phone’s caller id saying it was the attorney. Perhaps he had news about her parents’ home that had been tied up with legal issues since their death?
Sighing, she climbed out of the tub, not bothering to dry herself off, and made her way to the hall to grab the wireless handset. Pressing the button, she put it to her ear and said, “Hello?”
“Hi, Madelyn, it’s Brian. I have some news for you,” the voice on the other end said.
Brian Hemming was a trustworthy and pleasant - if a tad odd - man Madelyn had known most of her life. She believed he was well over 50 years of age. The 6 foot 7 giant with salt and pepper hair and the most beautiful blue eyes she’d ever seen had been her parents’ attorney since before she could remember.
Madelyn and Brian had an interesting relationship, and he’d always treated her as if she were a granddaughter, or a niece. On Christmas and birthdays, he never failed to bring her a present. When he’d visit her parents for business, or even for a social visit, she’d always run to give him hugs and kisses on his cheek. As a small child, she called him ‘Uncle Brian’ and would sit upon his knee while he told her stories. When she got older, his presence in her life hadn’t faded much, though after her parents’ deaths, he became a father figure to her.
“Yes?” she replied as she returned to the warmth of the bath water, taking care not to let the phone get wet.
“It’s concerning your parents’ home,” he said, pausing a moment. Hearing the rustle of papers in the background, she was certain a decision had been made regarding her parents’ estate, which had been tied up in probate since their death.
The money she’d used to purchase this house had come out of her trust fund, which had been a couple million dollars to begin with, and over the years before their death it had doubled because the type of trust they’d set up for her was an interest-earning one. That combined with the investments that had been made over the years had put Madelyn in a very good position, financially.
‘Oh please!’ she thought. ‘Maybe I can now go home, finally.’
She held her breath and bit her bottom lip as she awaited his next words.
“It’s all settled. The court has released your parents’ estate. You may return home just as soon as you’re able to pack and sell your house in the city!” his excited voice told her. She knew he was just as excited for all of this to finally be over as she was.
She sat there, tears welling up in her eyes.
“I can go home?” she said hesitantly. “I can go home!” she exclaimed, without giving him time to say anything.
“Oh, Brian, thank you! Thank you so much for all you’ve done to help me!”
“You’re welcome Maddie,” he said, calling her by her parents’ and his pet name. “Would you like me to arrange for your city house to be put on the market?”
“Yes, please.” She replied. “I’d like to get rid of this place as soon as I’m able, and go home.”
“Leave that to me,” Brian told her. “You concentrate on getting your personal belongings packed up, and just go home. Everything is as it was when you left. Well...everything but the kitchen.”
She stopped, wondering what could have happened to the kitchen in her absence...
“What happened?” she asked, concerned.
“Oh, nothing a trip to the grocery store won’t fix,” he said jokingly as she audibly released the breath she’d held. “It has been 3 years, you know, Maddie, A week after you left, I had to empty the fridge and cupboards, to keep the food there from spoiling.” He laughed, and she laughed with him.
“Ok. I’ll get everything packed and ready to go.” She stopped and thought about what she had in this little house in the city that she really wanted to take with her. “You know, all I really need is my clothes, pictures, and books... I could care less about most of the furniture here, Brian. Please list the house as being fully furnished. I’ll take the 2 or 3 pieces I really want, and the rest can go with the house.”
“Ok, Maddie. I’ll make the necessary arrangements,” he told her, “and don’t worry about your house in the city, sweetie. I’ll be sure you get top dollar for it.”
“Brian,” she said reprovingly. “I know you will always see to my best interests. You’ve never cheated my family nor me. I trust you to make the right decision for my house. In fact, I don’t really care what I get from it. I have enough to live out the rest of my life, between my trust fund and my parents’ estate.”
“I know, Maddie,” he replied. “But I wouldn’t ever let anybody take advantage of you. I love you as if you were my own...well, my own granddaughter.”
“I know you do, Brian. And I love you very much, too. You’ve always been so good to me and I appreciate everything you do.” She paused a moment before continuing, “And, Brian...When the house sells, I want you to take 25% of the selling price for yourself.”
“Maddie, do you know what you’re saying?” he said, not believing what he’d just heard. It was unheard of for a broker to earn anywhere close to that from the sale of real estate. Her house was easily worth a few million dollars.
“Yes, Brian, I know what my house is worth.” A smile crossed her face as she spoke to the dear man. “You’ve never wanted to take anything from me in compensation since my parents died, Brian. I’ve always insisted you at least compensate yourself for fees, materials, and at least take a little for your time, but you’ve never taken more than what your cost is. Believe me, I’ve checked.”
“But, Madelyn....” He tried to object but she stopped him.
“No, Brian. Not this time. This time, you take 25% of whatever my house sells for. No arguments, do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand,” he conceded. “I’ll be sure it is in the paperwork.”
“Thank you, Brian...now, I need to get off here and make arrangements to move back home. I’m so tired of San Francisco and the smells and noises and not being able to touch nature that I want to get the hell out of here just as soon as I can!”
“Alright, my dear,” He told her softly. “Have a good night and a safe trip home.”
“I will.” She paused a moment before quickly adding, “And, Brian? Thank you. Thank you so very much.”
With that, she hung up, put the phone on the counter, and settled back into the water again. She rested there barely a minute before she burst into tears. A combination of relief, anguish, joy, and uncertainty washed over her all at the same time. Would she be able to do it? Could she really return to the home she’d shared with them all her life until they died?
She didn’t know. What she did know is that she didn’t like the city and had to get away from here, right away.
When she was finished bathing, she climbed into bed and drifted off into a deep sleep, dreaming of waking up to the sounds and smells of home.