The Favor

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Chapter 25

Clinton

Jessica turned from the kitchen counter when she heard the soft whir of wheels. Her mom usually took a lunch break at one o’clock, and it was only twelve forty-five. She had hoped to surprise her. As usual, her mom did the unexpected.

Helen stared at the table. “What’s this? Are we having a party?

“Max sent a text. He wanted to surprise you by coming home for lunch. With you, best laid plans have a way of going awry.”

“There are only two places set.”

“It’s been so hot and humid for the past couple of weeks that I haven’t spent time at Meyer’s Creek. Today, the weather is ideal for a picnic. I’m going to sit on Samuel’s bench, eat my lunch and read Dan Brown’s newly released navel.”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea.” She winked. “Now, I’m going to go back to my office and pretend to be busy.”

Jess gave her mom a hug. “Enjoy your lunch. And . . . your privacy!”

“Believe me, we will.”


Jess had finished her lunch and was on chapter eight when she heard the soft tread of footsteps. She was uneasy until a strikingly beautiful dark-haired woman came into view. She kept her eyes glued to the woman until she stood directly in front of the bench.

The woman’s voice was the same as Kathryn’s, even though her looks were different. “Your mom told me where to find you. I don’t like to impose, but I grabbed the opportunity to talk to you in privacy.”

“Do you come in peace?”

The woman held up her fingers in a peace sign. “Max came to the door. He’s a real charmer.”

“Yes, he is. Mom’s a different person when he’s around.”

“She looks great. Is she healthy?”

“She has a few health issues, but she’s learned to handle them gracefully.”

“I also met Thor. What a sweetheart.”

“You were never much of a dog person.”

“I didn’t like to get my hands dirty either. Now, there’s nothing I enjoy more than potting plants.”

Jess laughed. “Max and Mom are training Thor. Max has a friend who trains service dogs who steps in if they need help. I didn’t have a dog as a child, so having Thor around has been a new experience."

“I would like to hear about everything that is going on in your life, but first I need to clear up twelve years of misunderstandings. I owe you, your mom and Max an apology and a thank you.”

Jess struggled to come up with words that didn't sound judgmental. “Considering what you have been through, an apology isn’t necessary. And I’ve done nothing to deserve thanks.”

“I disagree. You and your family deserve both.”

“You don’t look like Kathryn. How can I be sure Kathryn is behind the mask?”

“What if I tell you that you have a mole on your right shoulder that you’ve always hated.”

Jess grinned. “Okay. Enough said. So which person do you see in your future, Kathryn or Jane?”

“Jane Brownlee bears little resemblance to your star-crossed friend Kathryn Owens.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“Kathryn had a few redeeming qualities, but she needed to grow up.”

Jess stared at the woman in disbelief. “Please don’t tell me that you are going to hide behind that mask you are wearing.”

“That wasn’t my intent until a kind police officer suggested that if Kathryn Owens was no longer around, that she couldn’t be charged with withholding evidence. My cousin Spenser agreed that it would be easier to get a fresh start if I left the past behind.”

Jess said in astonishment, “So did you come to say good-bye?”

“Not if I have any say so in the matter. I can’t undo the past, but I can make wise decisions about my future.

“Let me try to explain. In New York I lived in a house that was built on sand. The sand washed into the sea and so did Springer’s house. Some of the people who lived in his house died, others went missing and a few hapless men and women were left struggling to find a new home. Kathryn Owens went missing. She was one of the lucky ones. She learned valuable lessons from the experience.”

Jess interrupted, “Kathryn, if I had known what was going on in your life, I would have moved heaven and earth to get you out of New York.”

“Sadly, my parents would have too. I was too ashamed and too stubborn to ask for help. I was a naïve and self-important teenager, Jess. I prayed for a do-over. By the grace of God, and the help of my friends, I have been given a second chance.

"I've learned from my mistakes, Jess. I've learned that happiness comes from within, and that there is a positive side to every experience. Jane Brownlee is kinder and more generous than Kathryn ever was.”

“Have you considered how difficult your decision will be for your parents?”

“Of course. For years, Mom and Dad refused to venture out into the world. While they were in Gardner, and later in the safe house, they met people outside their small world. They had a glimpse of the hopes and dreams of the men and women who are on the front lines of law enforcement. They were close to the violence, even though they weren't witnesses. The experience was enough to put the fear of God in them. When you don’t know what is going to happen from one minute to the next, you begin to look at life differently.

“There have been subtle changes in Mom and Dad’s way of thinking. They are content with their businesses but agree that they need time to occasionally recharge. They discovered that traveling has an upside. They are willing to visit me in my new world. If I eventually choose to make another town or city my permanent residence, they will visit me there.

"I have also promised to call or text several times a week. If we run into issues with our plan, we will do what we have to do to preserve our relationship.”

“So, what happens when you visit Laurinburg?”

“My parent’s friends rarely mention me because of my estrangement with my parents. When I visit Laurinburg, I will be introduced as Spenser’s friend Jane. It’s a lie I will have to live with. If their friends make derogatory remarks about me, so be it. I deserve them.”

“I haven't walked in your shoes, so it would be wrong of me to judge you.”

“You've led a selfless life. I am going to confide something that only Spenser and a lawyer in New York know. It’s important that you know how much I trust you.”

“I’ve always kept your secrets.”

“My friend Duffy left his sizable estate to me. I was one unhappy camper when I heard. I’ve learned that I am better suited to a simple lifestyle. Duffy’s lawyer suggested that I could anonymously donate to people or organizations of my choice. Spenser thinks that a foundation is the answer. I haven’t had time to look into setting up one, but I will.

“There is another thing the lawyer pointed out. The will states that Duffy’s estate goes to Kathryn Owens. There are people out there who run scams on people who have inherited estates. If Kathryn remains missing, Jane Brownlee can avoid at least a few of the scammers.

“And third, but not least, if there are friends of Springer’s who hold Kathryn Owens responsible for his death, Jane will be safe. She should be able to move freely without looking over her shoulder.”

“I don’t know what to say. I certainly don’t envy the position you’re in. It’s a lot of responsibility. Don't you think you should tell your parents?”

“No. Wealth changes relationships. My parents are important to me. I did them a disservice once upon a time, I won’t do it again. They are happy with their lifestyle. If they need anything or even want anything, I will see that they get it. Otherwise, I will let them live the life they have chosen.”

“Maybe that’s wise.”

“There will be times when I need someone with a level head to advise me. Spenser will always have a say, but he’s a male. I need a female’s viewpoint.”

Jess’ eyes widened. “Are you asking me?”

“I am. I can’t do this by myself.”

“I’m starting a new job in a month. I don’t know how much time I will have.”

“Duffy’s will won’t be probated for at least six months. And just so you know, I’m not going to start handing out money indiscriminately. Maybe one or two donations a year.”

“Hm-m. I’ll have free time during the summer.”

“We can make it work, Jess, if you are willing.”

“Why me?”

“Despite what my actions implied, I always considered you my best friend. I couldn’t tell you what was going on in my life, but when I finally saved enough money to escape, I wanted someone to know that I was alive.

“Springer was out of the country, so I assumed that the furniture in the condo could be moved out without an issue. It would have gone smoothly if he had not returned to New York early. I regretted my decision to ask you for a favor when I heard about your confrontation with him. You managed the way you always do. I’ve always trusted you to be the cool one, Jess.”

“I’m not worthy of your kind words. I wanted to personally strangle you when I read your note. Later, when I calmed down, I realized that there was an unwritten message that I wasn't getting. Even so, I was furious with you again when Mom, Max and I confronted Springer. We agreed that the evil look in his eyes chilled us to the bone. Looking back, the incident helped me to understand why it was so difficult for you to escape.”

“You are the most worthy person I know, Jess. You’ve led an exemplary life. I haven’t. That is one of the reasons I need you.”

“Speaking of the furniture, what are you going to do with the furniture from the condo?

Jane, aka Kathryn, took a slip of paper out of her pocket and handed it to Jess. “Spenser found a buyer for it. You can contact her at that number.”

“What do you mean I can contact her?”

“I don’t ever want to see that furniture again, Jess. You have more than earned whatever price you can get.”

Jess shook her head no. “Give it to your parents.”

“They don’t need or want it. Buy furniture for your new digs, then invite me to Clinton to see it.”

“Would you actually come?”

“I will have to come if we are going to be partners. I promise you this; if you say yes, I will never be out of touch. You will be welcome wherever I live, and I will share information about my life, good and bad.”

“I’d like that, though I must admit, you will need to be patient with me if I have to call you Jane.

"Have you told Simon about your decision to remain Jane?”

“No.”

“He doesn’t know about your inheritance?”

“No.”

“I thought maybe the sparks would fly while you were working with him.”

“Simon was a rock, but he remembers an attraction that never existed. He was like every teenage boy who wanted to be seen with the hottest girl in his class. The real chemistry was always between you and Simon. That’s why you were always warning me to treat him right.”

“Simon and I are friends. Always were.”

“Uh huh. Is that why neither one of you has ever found that special someone? I’ll say this once, and then I will keep my thoughts to myself. You might want to rethink your last two statements.”

Jess waved away her remark. “My rental in Clinton fell through because the tenants decided not to move. I have to go to Clinton to look for another apartment. Any chance you are free to go?”

“Give me a day and time, and I’ll make it work. We still have a lot to talk about.”


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