The Favor

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Kathryn Olson, a thirty-year-old businesswoman woke one morning, took a quick shower, dressed, packed an overnight suitcase and walked out of her condo. Five days later, a childhood friend named Jessica Newland received a letter with a key in it. The note read: “Jessica, I apologize for imposing on you, but I’m in desperate need of a favor. Would you please hire a moving company to pack my possessions and either haul them to a landfill or to Good Will? I wish I could have given you more notice, but an unexpected opportunity presented itself. The condo needs to be ready for occupancy by the first of next month. I’m headed to who knows where and don’t know when or if I will return. I’m burned out and need a change. I’ve enclosed a key to my condo and a check to cover your expenses. I won’t forget your generosity.”

Mystery / Drama
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

Jessica Newland stopped in her tracks, stared at the familiar handwriting, and then gingerly opened the envelope. She scanned the short message. In disbelief, she reread the note. She was pondering whether the note was Kathryn’s idea of a joke or whether she had gone off the deep end when her thoughts were interrupted by the rumbling of wheels. She looked up to see her mom wheeling into the room.

“I thought I heard you come in, Jessica. I hope that’s the mail. I’m expecting a check.”

Jessica frowned. The agitation in her mom’s voice came through loud and clear. It had been months since Jess had seen that strained look on her mom’s face. “How was your day, Mom?”

Helen opened her mouth to speak, then closed it.

Jessica waited patiently.

“Sorry, I guess my peevishness is showing. I apologize. Today was . . . trying. How was yours?”

“I’m sorry about your day. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Thank you, sweetie, but no. You would think after all this time I would have accepted my limitations, but there continue to be days when the little things pile up and then have a way of erupting into a tsunami.”

“What brought this on?”

“I was watching a tennis match, and before I realized what was happening, tears were streaming down my face. My reaction was idiotic since at my best I was a mediocre tennis player. In my defense, I dearly loved the game. It’s not just tennis I miss, it’s all competitive sports.” She took a deep breath before continuing, “I miss being physically active. My heart refuses to accept that I’ll be in this chair the rest of my life.”

As so many times in the past, Jessica was at a loss for words.

“Thanks for not patting me on the head and telling me how lucky I am to still have my eyesight and my mind. Some days I just need to blow off steam. Believe me, I’m grateful. I thank God every day that I have a job that keeps me busy, but gratitude doesn’t keep me from missing the comradery I shared with the doctors and nurses at the hospital or the friends I competed with on the tennis court.”

Jess’ heart ached for her. “Since you have always enjoyed social interaction, it would be truly remarkable if you didn’t miss the hospital and your active social life. I realize that an able-bodied person’s life is less complicated than yours, but all people have frustrations. I know I do. Sometimes I think piano lessons are a waste of time for half of my students. A few lessons won’t improve their lives in any way.

“Your job, on the other hand, makes a huge difference in the lives of the people you serve. Your advice can change their future. I’m in awe of your patience and compassion. Without those traits, you couldn’t effectively deal with fearful patients and their caregivers. Parents of underage children facing a medical crisis are especially vulnerable, and you are able to offer them comfort.”

Her mom said, “There are times when compassion isn’t enough.”

“But it helps. You of all people understand that doctors are frequently overworked. They don’t always have time to address the fears of a young patient, or to answer all of the parent’s questions. Some patients aren’t familiar with medical terms. They don’t want to sound ignorant, so they remain silent. You tailor your language to the person you are dealing with.

"Then, there is the matter of uncertainty. People in crisis often feel alone. They frequently anticipate the worst outcome. You understand their fears because you have dealt with the highs and the lows that are a part of the healing process. And, Mom, some people have hospital phobias. Those people are more comfortable discussing family issues in a virtual setting.”

“Thanks for the pep talk. I want to believe that I’m making a contribution.”

“You are.”

“Enough about me. Let’s talk about your day.”

“My day was a mixture of highs and lows. The parents of Greta and Bennett, two of my gifted students, continue to discourage their children’s interest in music careers. Today, Greta’s parents agreed to a meeting. I might not be able to change their minds, but at least they have agreed to consider Greta’s options.

"Bennett’s Mom recognizes his talent, but his Dad is a sports enthusiast. He would much prefer Bennett spend his free time on the basketball court, and Bennett wants to please him.”

“It’s difficult for a parent to be objective about a child whose hopes and dreams are diametrically different from their own.”

Jessica nodded. “I am sure it is. Did you ever have doubts about the career I chose?”

“I made a lot of mistakes, Jessica, but interfering with your career choice wasn’t one of them. As a child, I was proud of Mom’s successful career as a pianist. I was mesmerized by the way her fingers floated across the piano keys. I longed for the day when I could take piano lessons. In a matter of weeks, it became clear that I didn’t have the patience to practice. In addition, I didn’t possess Mom’s talent.

“I wanted to please her, but I much preferred physical activity. One day while I was struggling to remember the notes of a piece, she sat down beside me, put her arm around my shoulders and said, ‘Honey, everybody’s dream isn’t the same. If you truly want to play the piano, hang in there. If you don’t, I’m fine with your decision.’

“Not only did she give gave me permission to follow my own dreams, she lifted the fear that I would be rejected because of my choice.”

“The day I received my nursing degree, Mom couldn’t have been prouder.”

“What about Dad? Would he have approved of my career choice?”

“Absolutely. His parents were livid when he told them he was joining the Air Force. His relationship with them was never the same. When he was killed during a mission, they let bitterness rule their lives. As devastating as his death was for you and me, we didn’t have to deal with a deep sense of guilt the way they did. If you remember, our last week-end with your dad was magical.”

“All of our time with him was magical, but I didn’t mean to dredge up painful memories, Mom.”

“Don’t ever hesitate to talk about your dad. I treasure my memories of him.”

“I remember how handsome he was in uniform. He had a beautiful smile. He would be proud of your courage, Mom. Things have not always gone the way you hoped, but you’ve hung in there.”

“I’ve tried. It broke my heart that you were forced to give up your dream to take care of me.”

“I didn’t give up my dream, Mom. I just postponed it. What I have gained by returning home has been a true gift. When I move out, I’ll be a much stronger woman because I’ve learned the meaning of strength and courage.

“We are both going to start crying unless we talk about something else.

“Why are you in such a hurry to get your check? It’s too late to make a deposit.”

She shrugged. “Probably because it’s my security blanket. Silly I know, but my check reminds me that my services are worthwhile.”

Jessica laughed. “You and your two wheels are more productive that 99% of the people I know. Is there anything else bothering you?”

“Not bothering me, but I would be interested in hearing how you feel about having a dog in the house.”

Surprised. Jessica shrugged. “I have no objection if you want one.”

“About two years ago, Max Albrecht began observing his friend Jason train service dogs. He became interested because one of his patients needed long-term assistance. He hoped that by observing Jason he would be able to assist future patients who could benefit from owning a dog.

"Max told him about my injuries, and Jason suggested that a pet with basic skills would be sufficient for my needs. He has a dog that has most of the traits a service dog needs, but the dog hasn’t bonded with any of Jason’s clients. Bonding is essential if the training is to be successful. Anyway, he suggested that Max and I drive out to his farm to meet Thor.”

“Sounds like a win/win situation to me. Dogs are wonderful companions.”

Her mom looked relieved. “Now that I’ve cried on your shoulder, why don’t we enjoy the rest of the day. I made a fresh pot of coffee. Want to join me?”

Jessica slipped Kathryn’s letter into her purse and followed her mom into the kitchen. The coffee pot and tea fixings were on an accessible cabinet so that her mom could manage to keep her coffee mug filled during her working hours. Cooking was another talent that her mom had given up after the accident. She used the microwave but shied away from using the gas range.

Early into her mom’s recovery, Jessica tackled the subject about how to make her mom’s daily life more convenient. They had two options. Buy a custom designed home or hire a remodeler. Her mom wouldn’t consider selling the Newland homeplace, so Jessica settled for a remodeler who had experience working with homeowners with disabilities. Ramps in the front and back of the house were added, grab holders were installed in the bathrooms, doorways were widened, and the kitchen cabinets were replaced. Even the kitchen table was designed for a wheelchair user.

Adapting to her new lifestyle had been an emotional and physical struggle for her mom, but eventually she learned to manage quite well on her own.

When they were seated, Jessica slipped the note out of her purse. “I received a note from my childhood friend Kathryn Olson today. I don’t know what to make of it. I would like your opinion.

She read, “Jessica, I apologize for imposing on you, but I’m in desperate need of a favor. Would you please hire a moving company to pack my possessions and either haul them to a landfill or to Good Will? I wish I could have given you more notice, but an unexpected opportunity presented itself. The condo needs to be ready for occupancy by the first of next month. I’m headed to who knows where and don’t know when or if I will return. I’m burned out and need a change. I’ve enclosed a key to my condo and a check to cover the expenses. I won’t forget your generosity.”

Her mom’s eyes widened. “Desperate need? Apparently, Kathryn hasn’t changed. As a teenager, she had a tendency to be overly dramatic. On the other hand, she was tenacious. She never walked away from challenging situations.”

“She did if she felt slighted or she was going to be called out for her behavior.”

“I never saw that side of her. Why on earth would she suggest a landfill? People in their right mind don’t throw away valuable possessions. Didn’t you tell me she lives in a luxury condo?

Jessica nodded.

“Mark my words, she’s in trouble. When she stopped communicating with her parents, I sensed that she was up to no good.”

“It’s more likely that she’s in a snit about something that didn’t go her way. If her note is a cry for help, why didn’t she reach out to me when I was in New York two years ago?”

Her mom shook her head. “I can’t answer that.

“I didn’t approve when Ken and Marie allowed Kathryn to live unchaperoned in a place like New York City. It wasn’t my place to give advice, so I bit my tongue and remained silent.

“If you had wanted a modeling career, I would have hired a chaperon or gone with you. As soon as I knew that the contacts you were making were legitimate, and that your living arrangements were adequate, I would have reevaluated the situation.”

“Why didn’t one or both her parents go with her?”

“Money. I did offer a suggestion.”

“What was your suggestion?”

“Agree to let her go if she would go to college for a couple of years.”

“Her parents never could say no to her, Mom.”

Her mom looked puzzled. “The note comes as a complete surprise to me because I wasn’t aware that the two of you still communicated.”

“Our communication has been sporadic.”

“How long has it been since you talked to her?”

“Six months. She was on my mind last week, so I called. I left a message, but she didn’t return my call.”

Her mom mused, “I remember the day her drama coach took her to New York to audition for a part in an off-Broadway play. She came back home bubbling with excitement. For weeks, her parents were beaming with pride. They talked endlessly about her star quality. They were sure it was only a matter of time before her name was going to be as well-known as Katy Perry or Anne Hathaway.”

“Acting is a tough business, but at least she found work. She regularly appeared in commercials and she did some modeling on the side. The last time we discussed her job, she was mentoring models. Obviously, whatever her job is, she’s been successful. She would not be living in an upscale condo if she was still struggling financially.”

“How upscale?”

“After my visit to New York, I was curious about her neighborhood. I looked up the property value of her condo. I was shocked to learn that the median rent price in Carrol Gardens is $16,800 per month and the median home price is two and a half million. In my book that’s way upscale!”

Helen gasped, “I was aware the cost of living was high, but I didn’t dream it was that high. What’s her neighborhood like?”

“Not what I expected. Corral Gardens in a family neighborhood. The historic brownstones are gorgeous. There are several parks, and the shops are quaint family-owned businesses. The community seems more like a small town than a big city neighborhood.”

“I wouldn’t want to live anywhere in New York City. The crime rate is too high?”

“Corral Gardens’ crime rate is much lower than some of the other New York City neighborhoods.”

“Before she stopped writing to her mom, she said that she worked all the time; didn’t have a social life.”

“We haven’t talked about her social life in years. I wouldn’t know about her condo if I hadn’t called her when I was in New York. It was good to see her again, but we no longer have mutual friends are similar interests. Our conversation kept returning to our childhood.”

“It’s sad to see good friends drift apart. You were almost like sisters when you were growing up.” She shrugged. “Even so, I wonder why she turned to you instead of reaching out to someone in her current circle of friends. That would have been the prudent thing to do.”

Jessica shrugged. “Friends are another topic we didn’t discuss.

“If we were still best buddies, I would be more inclined to act without asking questions. Frankly, I’m leery about stripping a condo that I’ve seen once for a woman who’s barely given me the time of day in twelve years.

“If she left town without informing the condo manager, how do I explain being in her condo? What if the police show up and charge me with breaking and entering?”

“Maybe her note was a way to get you to check out her condo. If she’s in trouble, maybe there is evidence in her condo.

“Speculating isn’t going to solve the issue. Why don’t you try her number again?”

Jessica took out her phone and punched in Kathryn’s number. After listening to a recording, she said, “Well, so much for that. Her phone has been disconnected.”

Her mom shook her head in disbelief. “This is bizarre.”

“Tell me about it. If her furniture is sold, dumped or donated what happens six months from now when she realizes she made a mistake? I would be a fool to take on that kind of responsibility without having a verbal agreement.”

“Do you suppose she let Ken and Marie know she was leaving New York?”

“I doubt it, Mom. That’s the reason I don’t call them tonight. She hasn’t spoken to her parents in years. When I was in New York, I asked Katharine about the estrangement. She wouldn’t discuss her parents or any of her other friends. Despite the estrangement, it doesn’t seem fair to keep her parents in the dark.”

“What if she needs help. Would you consider getting involved?”

Jessica considered her mom’s question. “I would probably make a trip to New York.” She paused before continuing, “But I would still be concerned about walking into her condor alone.”

“Would having a police officer with you make a difference?”

“Yes, it would, but I don’t know a police officer.”

“But you do know someone who was a police officer for five years.”




“His granddad was a police officer; his dad is a police officer and so are his two brothers. Max was groomed to work in law enforcement. He realized after two years with the Laurinburg Police Department that he was in the wrong field. He hung in because he didn’t want to make another mistake. Fate stepped in, He was shot in shoulder when he and his partner checked out a domestic violence call. He ended up in physical therapy. By the time he could use his arm and shoulder again, he was convinced that he had found his calling.”

Jess grinned. “Now that I think about it, he does look like a tough guy.”

Her mom grinned. “Max looks and sometimes acts like a pit bull, but he is as gentle as a lamb.”

“Will he be stopping by tonight?”

“He has a therapy session with a twelve-year-old boy at six, but he plans to stop by after the session.”

“What happened to the boy?”

“The patient was in a skiing accident. One of the teen's issues is depression. Because of the depression, he hasn’t been willing to push through the pain it takes to see positive results.”

“Max is infinitely patient. He’ll have a break-through with the patient.”

“I keep telling him that.”

“Do you think he will agree to driving into the city with me?”

“He follows cases his buddies are investigating. They call him a law enforcement backseat driver.”

“Is there some reason he has never mentioned his time as a police officer to me?”

“Not just you, sweetie. He rarely talks about those five years. There’s nothing pretty about violence and death.”

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