Nearly two weeks later, she was on her way. It had taken her that long to finish all the papers she’d already agreed to proof, pack, clean the house she’d occupied for the last couple years, arrange freight for her furniture, and find a car that got good gas mileage for the trip to Northern California. Her first impulse had been to just fly up, but she changed her mind over the course of those two weeks. She knew she’d need a car but didn’t want or need a large one when it was just her living alone.
When she saw the little xA, she knew that was the car for her. A compact car with four doors and a hatchback, it was neither too big nor too small for her. While she was getting her city affairs in order, she even splurged a little and sent the car to be painted a lovely lavender color with white pinstripes. It fit her to a “T.” After loading the car, she’d left the city for good and arrived at the house later that evening. As she got out of her car, she saw that the few pieces of furniture she’d sent via a freight company had arrived, each in one piece, and they were all waiting for her on the front porch. Lovely. They could have delivered it after she arrived.
Shaking her head, she slipped the key into the lock, turned it with a deep breath then opened the door. There were fresh flowers in vases all around the living room. Brian must have sent an assistant to open the house and set them up. It made her smile to think she had such a wonderful friend. As she explored the house, tears came to her eyes to see all the care he’d put into it in her absence.
More tears came as moments with her parents replayed in her head as she passed certain parts of the house. Breakfasts in the dining nook off the kitchen; movies with popcorn on the sofa; her last birthday celebration, with the beautiful locket she never took off. It was all too much so she headed to the place that had always been her refuge: her bedroom.
She found her room exactly as she had left it. The white furniture stood out in a lovely contrast to the lavender-painted walls. The hardwood floor was covered with her custom rug, white with lavender flowers woven into the pattern. She had explored the entire house, finding everything as it had been left, except the kitchen and the laundry room. As Brian had told her over the phone, the kitchen had been emptied of all food, and the laundry that had been left in the hampers in the bedrooms and bathrooms of the house had been washed, dried and placed on the beds.
Sitting down on her bed, she pulled out her phone and a tissue. After a good cry, she wiped her tears, blew her nose, and called Brian to let him know she arrived in one piece.
“Hemming Law, Margaret speaking, how may I help you today?”
“Hello Margaret, this is Madelyn Randell…” she trailed off as Margaret interrupted her.
“Oh, Maddie! Hi! Did you like the flowers?” Margaret was clearly excited to hear Madelyn’s voice.
“Yes, I did, thank you so much for them, Margaret,” she responded, hoping her voice wasn’t altered from the tears shed. “It’s so very appreciated that you would come all the way up here to do that for me.”
“It was no trouble at all, Maddie!” Margaret responded. “If you go to the kitchen after you’re finished with your after-cry bath, you’ll see I stocked the fridge and cabinets with a few things, too, to tide you over until you can make it to the store.”
“Thank you,” she paused a moment as what Margaret hit her. “After-cry? How do you know me so well, Margaret?” she laughed easily. Margaret had been a bit of a mother hen to her when Brian first brought her to his office, letting Madelyn cry on her shoulder when the grief overwhelmed her and making sure she ate even as it stole her appetite.
“I’m a mother, Madelyn, and can sense these things. You might not be my little girl, but it doesn’t matter. Now, I’ve kept you long enough, I’m sure you’d like to speak with Brian but he’s not in the office at the moment. Would you like to leave a message for him?”
“Yes, please. Please tell him I arrived safely, my furniture arrived before I did and was on the porch, and I appreciate everything he’s done. I hope to see him soon.”
“Alrighty, Maddie, I have that all written down for him. Now, you go get that bath, it’ll do you a world of good, dearie.”
“I will, right after a jog. Thank you for everything, Margaret.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie. Have a great day!”
Madelyn pressed the button to end the call then fetched her suitcase and changed into her jogging clothes. Unpacking could wait. It had been so long since she’d been home and she wasn’t going to wait to go down to the little creek at the edge of her property. It was her favorite place to be.
Two days later, Madelyn stood in line at Henry’s, a mom-n-pop grocery store in the little town not far from where her house was, her cart filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, cereal, a bag of steel cut oats and other miscellaneous items. She was looking over the meat section, amazed at the low prices of her favorite cuts. San Francisco prices were unimaginably high as compared to here and she picked out a few steaks and chops to eat over the next week.
As she reached for a tri-tip roast, her hand bumped into someone else’s and she gasped then turned to stammer out apologies.
“I’m so sorry...” her words cut off as she looked up into the face of the man beside her. Annoyance on his face was plain as day but as their eyes met, his features softened.
“No, please don’t worry about it, miss...?”
“Oh, um, Madelyn,” she blushed as she introduced herself to the handsome man in front of her. “Madelyn Randell.”
“Randell?” he responded. “There used to be a family that lived not far from here with that name.”
“Yes,” Madelyn smiled as she reached down and picked up the roast she’d been reaching for and held it out to him. “That was my parents and I. I just returned from the city a couple days ago.”
“The city, eh?” he said, smiling as the blush on her cheeks deepened slightly. “Why would a young woman like you move from the excitement and glamour of the city to a back country town like this?”
“I...um…” she started, faltering as butterflies fluttered through her stomach. “After my parents died, I went to live in San Francisco until their estate came out of probate. I received news the other day that it had been settled and I could return home.”
She wasn’t certain why she was telling this complete stranger all of this, but it seemed right to her. Their fingers touched as the man grasped the package. He looked at it for a moment then back at her, a soft smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
“You take this one, Miss Randell,” he said gently, releasing it and reaching for another. “There are plenty here and I do believe you’d reached for that one first.” Pausing, he looked back up at her and into her eyes. “I’m glad you’ve come home, Madelyn.”
“Thank you, it’s good to finally be home,” Madelyn said as she placed the roast in her cart, puzzled by his behavior but too polite to question it, and then there was that curious flutter in her belly when he said her name as they parted. He was already walking away as she realized she’d introduced herself to him, but had been too flustered to ask his name. ‘How impolite he must think me!’ she thought to herself as she started after him, only to find he’d disappeared. Shaking her head, she continued her shopping, wondering what other surprises her return home might bring for her.
He watched as she loaded the cargo space of the small car with her groceries. Picking up his cell phone, he searched through the contacts then called one.
“She’s back,” he said excitedly as his call was answered.
“What? Who’s back?” the man responded, clearly confused.
“Oh.” There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment before the other man continued, “Do not approach her, let her be, we’ll have a meeting with everyone and we’ll figure out how to handle the matter, ok?”
“Um, well...” he stumbled over his words as he confessed that he’d already approached her, but quite by accident. He was quite annoyed with himself for not noticing what he’d been feeling as he entered the store. Her scent was everywhere but it went ignored until they bumped into each other. “We were both reaching for the same tri-tip roast. I was rather annoyed when someone else was trying to take the cut of meat I wanted, but when I turned to deal with whoever it was, it turned out to be her.”
“Ok,” the man responded, interrupting him from his reverie. “Just do not approach her again until the Council has a chance to meet and we can decide how to proceed from here.”
The command was met with silence as the first man watched Madelyn climb into her Scion xA and leave the parking lot.
“Connor!” the man said sharply. “Are you listening to me? Leave her alone, don’t do anything, stay away from her completely. There are things you don’t know yet that we’ve learned. The Council will meet and we’ll let you know when you may approach her again, do you understand?”