Larson awoke a bit groggy the next day, but he was determined to get to the bottom of his case. Thanksgiving was just a few days away, and the festival was starting tonight, but he had to get this done to fully enjoy the festivities. He had asked Lexie if she wanted to go with him, but she had opted to spend the day with her grandmother at the cafe/catering shop downtown. Sylvia always had four or five projects going and could use an extra pair of hands. He stood at the kitchen window drinking coffee, and enjoyed the solitude. It did not last long. His younger sister Macy came through the kitchen, carrying one of the twins, sitting him in the toddler chair at the table handing him a teething biscuit she had produced from her pocket. She poured herself of the staple brew and leaned against her big brother. Larson easily slung his arm around her, pulling her close, kissing the top of her head.
“How goes it, Kid?”
“Don’t you just love the quiet time?” Macy quipped, while Ben squealed happily from his seat at the table. Brother and sister turned together and looked at the happy child smearing biscuit across the table in front of him.
“Quiet...absolutely. Don’t yah just love kids,” Larson smiled, draining the last of his coffee and pouring him another from the carafe.
“You miss these days, admit it,” quipped Macy, taking a package of wipes from another pocket, walking over to begin cleaning the face of her baby.
“Oh, sure, drool and spit in every crevice of every surface reachable by five inch arms that stretch to a foot and a half. EVERY day!”
“Pooh,” was Macy’s comeback, but her back straightened slightly when her husband, Alan, entered the room with their other son, DJ.
“Forgot one,” Alan smiled, kissing his wife on the cheek, efficiently putting the boy next to his brother in another seat.
Alan Carter was by far a formidable man. He had courted Macy in an old fashioned way, marrying her just a few years ago, then whisking them off to live in Nashville. Larson knew he was an investment banker of some sort, but other than that, the man was a mystery. His mother had shunned his idea to do a complete background check on him, saying that he was far too suspicious from living in the North for too long. Alan was also an amateur re-enactor, and thus had to bring his family in the week before Thanksgiving, so they could, as a family, take part in the parade.
Lexie breezed in then and stopped to coo over the happy boys, picking up a banana from the bowl of fruit on the lazy Susan always present in the middle of the table. She skipped over to give her father a morning hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“Thought you were going sight-seeing today Dad.” she asked, casually peeling the banana.
He had not wanted to tell Lexie that he was working on their vacation, for fear she would feel guilty that they had made the trip at all. So, the little white lie would have to do. He smiled indulgently at his daughter.
“That I am, and I’m taking this with me.” He indicated the cup of coffee in his hand, and gave her a squeeze. He paused to pat the boys on the head and grabbed a piece of fruit from the bowl. He passed his mother in the hall on his way out the door. “Don’t work her too hard, Mom, she’s gets cranky when she’s tired. I don’t know how long this will take, so I may stay over. Would that be a problem for you?”
“Of course not, we don’t need you around here anyway. Your father wants Lexie to assist him with the costumes for the parade tomorrow. Now that your sister and her family are involved, I think he’s trying to out-do them.” She laughed, her eyes twinkling, “Try to be back for that won’t you? I have a feeling it will be one for the record books!”
“I’ll try, but no promises.” He hugged her close and whispered in her ear. “This case is too important, and I have a feeling there are some answers there in Seneca. I’ll call you later if plans change.”
He hugged Lexie and kissed her on the top of her head. “Be good,” he warned, not expecting anything else.
Sylvia watched her son leave out the door, a bit of a spring in his step.
“He works too hard,” she thought, but glanced around and couldn’t help smiling at the family members filling up her kitchen. Warmed a body well, it did, when family was underfoot.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Doug matched the address on the GPS system of his car with the one emblazoned on the centuries old building in front of him. Yet another client to make his life full and meaningful, he thought, and this one obviously had money.
He was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a quaint suburb of Boston, full of history and old money. The buildings were as old as the town itself, and the streets were lined with lamp-posts and wrought iron fences giving further evidence of the past the town’s history told. Paul Revere himself rode these streets on a horse over two hundred years ago, and the country was born not long after. Doug secured his car and entered the building, ascending the old mahogany staircase slowly, the musty air tickled his nose, the stairs creaking beneath his feet.
The four-story brownstone house had but three tenants. The accounting firm of Baylie and Rich, occupied the bottom floor. Tango Photography had it’s studio and workspace on the second. On the top two floors, Plantation Finance had their offices. Senior officer Robert S Grenaldi’s office suite was on the third floor along with their private accounting staff. On the top floor was his son, Steven, and several junior officers. They were instrumental in most of the financial dealings held in the back bay of Boston, and their brokers made many rich people richer.
Why Steven Grenaldi had asked for Doug was a question that Doug couldn’t begin to answer, and the curiosity was something he could not ignore.
Grenaldi was the name of Larson’s missing wife. That he knew, and while her family had been easily traced all over the globe, though primarily Boston, Hyannis, and Savannah, Georgia, Larson’s early on quest of finding her had led Doug nowhere. She was so invisible on paper as well as documents, it was as though Larson had invented her himself.
What he knew about Steven was equally sparse. Most of the headlines were about the senior officer, who had all but retired leaving the reins of the long since established company in the capable hands of his son.
Upon entering the main office building on the top floor, Doug was impressed. Rich dark leather couches lined a brick wall, elegant pictures were centered along a deep blue painted hall way. The circular reception desk was high and marbled topped, a bowl of fruit on one end, a dish of candy on the other. A security guard sat at the edge of the foyer at the top of the stairs, and rose to greet Doug with a dignified air of authority.
Doug produced his wallet, opening it to flash his PI badge as well as his license. The officer nodded and made a notation on his clipboard in front of his perch, which he resumed, not speaking again.
Doug approached the woman behind the high wall of wood and marble.
“I have a two o’clock appointment with Steven Grenaldi,” he informed her, using a smile to gauge her demeanor. She returned the smile stiffly and motioned for him to sit in the waiting area.
“Mr Grenaldi is on a conference call, and apologizes for the wait. I’ll let you know when he is free, would you care for a beverage? Coffee? Cola?”
“A Coke would be great,” Doug murmured, sliding his phone out of his pocket.
The woman cleared her throat and pointed to the sign on the wall behind her. “No Cell Phones”.
‘Figures,’ he took a seat in the waiting area, casually grabbing a magazine from the black onyx table before him.
Ten minutes later, his Coke half finished, the lady with the glasses called out to him.
“Mr Dawson, Mr Grenaldi will see you now.”
A shapely woman in a beige suit, green blouse and impossibly high heels, showing fantastically white teeth, opened the light oak door on the side of the room. She took the glass of soda from his hand and produced a napkin from her pocket, placing it beneath the glass. “Right this way,” she smiled,, holding the door open for him, then following him carrying his drink.
“Thank you,” he said, genuinely, taken in by the posh surroundings.
He entered the wide expansive room behind her, watching her glide to the side table, placing his drink on it before exiting the room quietly through another door to the side of the room. He tentatively approached the desk. The man sitting there was staring out the window, his back toward Doug.
“I appreciate your patience, Mr Dawson. I trust I didn’t keep you long?”
“Not too long, I cleared my afternoon for you anyway.”
The high backed leather chair spun to reveal the formidable face of his newest would-be client. “Please sit, Mr Dawson, I need to speak with you about something very pressing to me.”
Doug sat, taking in the scenes around him. From the richly bound books in the bookshelves, to the framed documents on the walls, to the beautifully framed pictures on the desk and table, everything was clean, well dusted and well placed. Almost too perfect.
Steven Grenaldi opened a drawer in front of him and pulled out a slim folder and slid it toward Doug.
“I want you to find my daughter. She’s been missing from the family for over eight years.”
“Why did you wait so long?” Doug took the folder and opened it, the sparse contents concerned him. He leveled a look at the older man. “This isn’t much to go on.”
“First off, I know why she left us. My father was instrumental in breaking up her marriage. I don’t know the full details, but one thing I do know, is that they are still married. My father wanted to have her marriage annulled, but I have never filed the paperwork. I refused to be party to more of my daughter’s unhappiness. When she left, I did my best to let her go, but now, you see, my mother is sick, and I think it would do her good to have her grand-daughter home again, especially with Christmas just around the corner.”
Doug read over the few pages in the folder, and paused to take out his notepad from his pocket. “I can do a few checks online this afternoon. I don’t think I will have too much trouble. Do you want to handle the contact yourself, or would you rather I do it myself?”
“I doubt she’d take even a phone call from us, better that you do it...but I want to know when you find her Too much time has already passed.”
Doug nodded, putting his notebook back into a pocket inside his jacket. He rose and extended his hand toward the older man, who also stood and returned the handshake.
“Thank you, Mr Dawson. Let me know if you need anything.”
“I’ll be in touch. Now, there’s a matter of my fee?”
“Yes, of course.” Steven Grenaldi opened his side drawer and pulled out a large leather check book, opening it to the appropriate page, reaching for the pen in it’s holder.
“Two thousand to start, is that correct?”
“Yes, I’ll keep track of expenses, and add them to the final bill.”
Steven wrote out the check and handed it to Doug, who took it, folded it in half and put it into his pocket without looking at it.
“Talk to you soon,” Doug assured the man, then turned to leave.
Once in his car Doug retrieved the check to put it into his wallet. It was then that he noticed the amount. The check was written to him for three thousand, the memo simply said, “Thank you.”
’Classy guy,” thought Doug, as he started his car to go back to his office.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Margo opened the shop early Thursday morning. She had tea brewed, pastry set out, a table of discount items set up in the middle of the store, and another with recent Best Seller novels near the front. Richard Andrews was coming in again. His signing had been a big day for her the previous month, and she wanted to rely on more people coming to town just to meet the man. She had run ads in both the local paper as well as splashed it on her Facebook® store site.
Richard was a nice fellow, friendly and pleasant to look at, if one cared to look. He always took a few minutes to chat with her when he came to town. This was his fourth signing in a year. She was beginning to think that Darcy was right, that he did have a sort of crush on the bookstore owner.
The strings of an instrumental CD wafted through the shop, mingling with the aroma of the tea she had just finished brewing. She poured a cup and stirred absently, looking out the front window as the small town slowly came to life. Cars started pulling into the spaces around the square. A man walking a dog strolled leisurely by, pausing to peer into the unlit store across the street.
It had been a week since her run in with Gail and she could not believe that her friend had just simply vanished. There was more to the upset that Gail had shown that last day, she just felt it. There was no way that Gail would freak that much over paperwork. There had to be more to it.
The door jingled when Darcy came breezing through rattling about her latest unsuccessful date.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The directions that spoken mechanically through the GPS system had Larson taking the country road turns like a seasoned Southerner. He saw that Seneca was beautiful upon arrival. Small houses and old buildings lined the streets leading to the small square, in the center of town. After spending so much time in the big bustling city of Boston, he appreciated the small town life like his own hometown. Here, in Seneca, there were many shops on the square, from a small cafe, an antique store, even a shoe repair place on a corner in amongst several government buildings. The little GPS device gave the final destination signal and Larson pulled into a spot in front of the little store, “A Time Forgotten”. The sun was shining in his eyes when he pulled his frame from the car. ‘Here’ goes nothing,′ he murmured, walking toward the door. Larson pulled on the handle but was surprised to find it locked. Locked. He looked toward the sign in the window that said it was supposed to be open, along with one that advertised a sale starting that day. He stood in front of the quiet little shop and ran his fingers through his hair, a habit since he was in high school when he was frustrated. Here he was, ready to ask some questions, and there was nobody here to ask. ‘Well, maybe some of the owner’s neighbors would know something’, he thought and started walking toward the cafe.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Darcy was attending to the book signing. Margo took the opportunity to meet and greet the fans that had driven in to meet Richard Andrews. She was standing at the front display window, putting a stack of his latest novel, “Forbidden Sun”, on the table when she saw the black Escalade parked in front of Gail’s shop. She noticed it because an SUV looked particularly out of place in the small town. Also because it was in front of her missing friend’s shop. Tourists were in town, not only because of “Black Friday”, but also because of her author, so she scanned the street looking for the owner, part of her knowing that they could be attending the little reading group in the back. Richard was still reading an excerpt, the women held in rapt attention. She shook her head and turned to leave the window when she saw him. He was standing outside the cafe, talking to Katie, who was pointing in the direction of her shop. The sandy hair fell in curls short on his head, looking slightly older but still the same simple smile. Her stomach flipped nervously and she all but lost her breath. Standing not ten feet away was her husband. Larson. Moreover, he was heading toward her shop.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Lexie took the boys, DJ and Bennie, outside to play in the front yard. She set the tiny toddlers into the sand box, and climbed in with them, enjoying the feel of the sand between her toes. She looked around the front yard with love and affection, reveling in the warm sun shining on a day in November.
Playing with the boys took her back to her own childhood, and the live in nanny that had taken care of her until she was in the second grade.
Mrs Bailey was an older woman, a retired teacher. She had spent her days in the Evans home taking care of the household duties, as well as keeping careful eyes on the young Lexie. She was the one who read to her at night when her father had been involved in a particularly tough case. She had carried her to her ballet class, tennis lessons, and piano lessons, all of which Lexie excelled. Her fondest memories of those days were the evenings she and Mrs Bailey would spend watching old movies in the older woman’s room. She would pile up next to the grandmotherly woman on her bed, fresh from her evening bath, and they would watch the classics that Mrs Bailey collected. “Casablanca”, “An Affair to Remember,” “The Philadelphia Story”, “Somewhere in Time,” “Out of Africa,” and her favorite, “The Way We Were”. Those old movies were her education in love and tradition. Mrs Bailey would softly whisper that a love so true would sustain itself against all odds no matter what. It was just the thing a young girl needed to hear.
She missed the older woman, sometimes wondering what had ever happened to her.
Nikki walked outside and stood on the front porch, a steaming cup of coffee in her hand. Her sister Adriana had gone into town to help her parents at the catering shop, and Macy and Alan had taken a ride over to Greenwood to take in lunch and an afternoon movie. In the house were just Nikki, Lexie and the twins. It presented a perfect time to talk.
“Lexie, they’re fine in there for a bit, come up and visit with me.”
Lexie pulled herself to a standing position and stepped out of the sand box. The boys looked up at the movement, and then turned back to filling and dumping the cups that surrounded them. Happy babies.
Lexie climbed up two steps and turned sideways, sinking onto the concrete step and looked up at her aunt. “Girl talk?”
“Catching up anyway,” Nikki smiled, sitting down on the first step slightly above her niece.
“Birthday was good?”
“Amazing,” Lexie said, the light dancing in her eyes. “Dad took me on a carriage ride through the Public Gardens; we had dinner in a fancy restaurant with some of Dad’s colleagues. His boss gave me a tennis bracelet. I think there were real diamonds in it! It blew me away. Oh- and I got the mystery gift on my birthday this time. It was incredible.”
“What did you get this year?”
“I’ll show you later, it’s in my room. It’s a music box. A carousel that plays ’Always on My Mind‘. It’s so small, you just wouldn’t believe the details.”
Lexie paused and looked out toward the boys but Nikki knew it was not babysitting on her mind. The change in the features on her face was unmistakable. Doubt and just a hint of sadness encompassed her delicate profile.
“You think it’s her, don’t you?”
Nikki swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded.
Lexie smiled. “I know it is, Aunt Nikki, I just know it is. In my heart, every time I look at those things, I just know my mom is out there somewhere just thinking about me. About us. It makes it, I don’t know, easier I guess. Easier to do everything. I want her to be proud of me. But more than anything, I want her to come home. I’m so tired of seeing Daddy sad.”
“What does Larson have to do with it?”
“You know, it’s funny. Many kids at school have only one parent, through divorce mostly, but a couple of girls lost their dads in the Army. I have my dad, and every year I get something from my mom. They weren’t divorced, she just left.” She paused, stood up and went to take a twig away from her little cousin. She continued speaking when she sat back down on the steps. “She felt like she had to leave, Daddy told me. Now, I am sixteen and I want my Mom. I want her and Daddy to be together, so both of them can be happy. I will be going away to school in a year. What is Daddy going to do then? He can’t work all the time. He needs to get on with his life.”
“What makes you think he hasn’t?”
Lexie splayed her fingers apart, and started counting, holding each one individually.
“He doesn’t date. He has no real friends except for work people. The only time he ever smiles is when we are together. He puts all his emphasis on his job and me. That is it. Most of all, he thinks I don’t know, but he has pictures. He looks at pictures of her all the time. He misses her, wants her to be there. With him. With us.”
“After all this time, would it be a good thing if she came back?”
Nikki was on a fishing expedition. She wanted the proof. A truth that would set both her brother and his wife free. She waited, already knowing what her maturing and sophisticated niece was going to say.
“Aunt Nikki, it’s what I’ve wished for, every year, since I started getting those mysterious presents. There is no amount of time that can go by that would erase the fact that my mom left so that Dad and I could have the life we have. That was the most unselfish gift anyone could ever give, and I am thankful every day for it. Now I want to meet her, thank her, and tell her the most important thing.”
“What’s that Sweetie?” Nikki whispered, the heartfelt emotions making it difficult for her to speak.
“That I have always loved her.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Larson followed the directions from the cafe worker, and walked purposefully across the street to the little bookstore. He saw a sign out front that advertised a book signing. Richard Andrews? Lexie loved his books. She had one with her on the plane coming down. A signed copy would be a great Christmas gift he thought, hoping he was not too late.
He stepped into the shop, the bell above his head jingled as he closed the door behind him. He looked around the room, searching for the owner. He would ask his question, hope for the best and then buy a few books for the rest of his stay. He caught a movement out of the corner of his eye, and saw. The owner was a ghost.
She smiled, her hands trembling as she stepped toward him, cautiously. “Hello Larson.” She swallowed nervously. “Guess you found me.”
He couldn’t think., and he didn’t care. A lifetime of dreaming and wishing on stars stood just a few feet away and he had no recourse but to act as his heart dictated. He quickly closed the space between them and pulled her into his arms. He breathed a sigh of relief, and held her. He was home.
Margo had wondered what would happen if they ever saw each other. She figured he would be mad, refuse to speak to her, maybe even throw things, but this; this welcoming embrace was something she barely dared to dream.
He pulled back a little and searched her face, a glint of wonder in his eyes. “You’re real? It’s really you?”
Margo smiled, “Oh Larson, I’ve missed you so much. I wanted to talk to you so many times, but I was so afraid.”
“Of what, my Darling?” he rubbed his thumbs along her jaw line, just staring into her eyes.
“I was so sure you hated me.” Margo said simply.
“No,” he whispered softly, shaking his head, “I could never hate you. I love you.”
With that, he drew her face closer, and bent his head to capture her lips with his. With that simple touch of lips, the sixteen years that had separated them were gone, granting the dreams they never dared to speak aloud. They were together again.