Simone’s interview was short and to the point. The shift manager explained a bit of how things were run and what she would be doing, asked her a few questions then told her she’d call her in the next couple of days to let her know if she had been hired. Simone smiled and got up to leave. She made it all the way to her car before she let the doubt she was feeling show on her face. She was sure there were many, more qualified applicants than she and that one of them was sure to be offered the job. She headed home and watched, while she drove, as the wind blew around small snowflakes, then big fat, wet, heavy ones that made your windshield wipers work extra hard. She drove slow in the snow and finally made it home 45 minutes later. Maxine performed her usual ‘happy dance’ when she came in the door. Simone reached down to pet her. When they were done greeting on another, Simone called Cora to see if the tea room would be open today. Inclement weather usually meant a day off, unfortunately. ‘Hi, Cora it’s Simone. Yes, I’m calling to see if we will be open today…,‘ Simone sighed, she knew what was coming,
It’s snowing pretty hard’, replied Cora, ‘so the tea room will be closed today and tomorrow. You know how much the ladies hate to drive in bad weather. No sense in opening if no one will be there.’
Simone thought, ‘I’ll be there. What am I, chopped liver?’
‘We’ll see how things go for Saturday,’ Cora was still talking, ‘but I doubt it will melt fast enough to make a difference.’
Simone knew what Cora did, snow didn’t last long around here. It usually melted in a day or two but for their clientèle, any wet road was a bad road which meant, no matter how much it melted by tomorrow- Saturday, it wouldn’t melt enough to open. Saturday was their busiest day. To be closed an entire weekend when business had already been so slow had Simone wondering about the future of the tearoom. She was beginning to wonder how far reaching was the long arm of, Amanda Cuttington? Oh, Simone she could not reasonably be blamed for the bad weather, but Simone should have been able to find a new job by now, a job worthy of her skills and knowledge but it seemed as if everyone in this city lived in fear of either Amanda, or Simone’s old boss.
Simone was beginning to think she should have immediately moved to a city far away and maybe fudged a bit on her resume. This whole, broke-and-barely making-it, ‘thing’ was not working for her.
“Well Max, looks like I’ll have a three-day weekend. Too bad I don’t have any extra money to go anywhere or do anything. I guess I’ll just have to stay here and find something to do.” Maxine gave Simone a grumble and a few happy stamps of her feet. She had been cooped up all day and wanted to play. Simone went to the toy box and grabbed Maxine’s hedgehog. It was well loved by Maxine and it showed in the way one ear hung on by a thread and both eyes were missing. A good deal of fur had been chewed off in the past two years but that didn’t matter to Max as she waited impatiently for Simone to play with her.
Simone and Maxine growled at each other and wrestled for a long time before they called it quits for the night. After making dinner for them both, Simone curled up on the small couch and turned on the TV. Maxine soon joined her and they snuggled together under an old afghan. When morning came, they were both still in the same spot. Simone got up to start her day, Maxine scrunched farther down in the afghan. Simone went over and slid the panel out of the doggie door letting Maxine decide when to let herself out. Walking into the kitchen, Simone went to the sink and opened the curtains. She caught her breath in wonder as she looked at a world that was completely different in appearance from what she had seen yesterday. Everything was dressed in white-crystal splendor. All the ugly brown of the dormant plants was gone and forgotten in the beauty of the snow. Simone continued to glance out the window now and then as she puttered around the kitchen. She made a small picnic for she and Maxine. Some fruit (Maxine loved green apples), scones, cheese a few nuts and pieces of 70% cocoa dark chocolate in plastic baggies, a thermos full of Earl Grey tea, Simone’s favorite blue and white mug were all placed in her worn wicker hamper as well as a small china bowl for Maxine’s water. She dressed herself in warm layers and Maxine in a sweater that matched her leash and they headed for the car. The plows had been out all night and she was sure they would be able to make it to the Garden of the gods. Simone had an old digital camera stuffed in her pocket. A leftover from days gone by that survived being pawned or sold. She also took a notepad and pen. These next few days would be a good time for her to make some plans. It would be up to God to see if her dreams would become reality. It would have to be Him because she had nothing else to contribute to make them come true but the willingness to do the work necessary to birth those dreams. Maxine danced excitedly in the passenger seat as she waited for Simone to scrape off all the snow and for the windows to defrost enough so they could see.
Twenty-five minutes later, they arrived at the Garden of the Gods park. The snow was deeper on Simone’s side of town than at the park. Even though the roads had been plowed, it had taken much longer than normal to get to the park because of the snow packed and icy conditions. Simone snapped Maxine’s leash to her halter before they stepped out of the car. The snow almost came up to Max’s belly. It was a good thing she had long legs. The two friends enjoyed having the park to themselves and ran around looking for tracks and taking pictures of the beauty surrounding them.
“It seems like God made this just for us, Girl”, Simone said to Maxine watching the cold turn her breath into a frosty cloud. When Maxine didn’t respond, or even move, Simone looked down at her. Maxine was almost completely still except for a slight tremor running through her very alert body. Simone followed her gaze and finally caught sight of what was holding her interest. Bunnies. Two of them were off to the side digging where the snow wasn’t so deep, looking for a few early blades of grass to nibble. Maxine let out a small grumble.
“No,” was Simone’s firm reply.
“Uff,” Maxine shot back a little louder.
“I said, ‘no’ Max, and I mean it!”
Before Simone could get a tighter grip on Max’s leash, her body jerked it out of Simone’s hand as she lunged for the rabbits.
Simone dashed after her but Maxine was the faster of the two of them. All Simone could do was keep her in sight as she tried to keep up with her now very in trouble dog. Simone felt a rush of panic as Maxine disappeared around a red rock formation. Anything could be on the other side. Anything with big teeth and sharp claws that would love to have a pappy snack. Finally making it to the rock formation, Simone rounded the corner at full speed and smacked into something hard and fell flat on her back. Panting and gasping, she lay in the snow trying to catch her breath, all the while worried that Maxine would never be found. When she could open her eyes, she looked up, not at the sky, but at the most beautiful pair of caramel colored eyes she had ever seen. Before Simone could say anything, there was a hot wet tongue licking her all over her face and she saw a blur of fur. She turned her head, the tongue and blur of white and red fur belonged to Maxine.
“Here,” said Caramel Eyes, “let me help you up.”
Simone intended to just let him help her, but it turned into more like him doing all the work while she just leaned on him still trying to remember how to breath. . All she noticed was how good he smelled and how strong he felt under his heavy coat. It was all those muscles that had knocked her down. Not an easy thing to do considering her height. Than again, looking at him, he was no small fry himself. At 6′ 2”-6′ 3” he was a few inches taller than her. He had a nice tan, not too dark, and a smile that seemed brighter than the snow around them. His dark blond hair set off his eyes. Was she imagining things or had they met before? He looked a bit familiar but she just couldn’t place him. She didn’t say anything to him though about looking familiar to her as she didn’t want him to think she was hitting on him.
“Are you alright?” he voice was mellow, almost relaxing, but was there a hint of laughter in it? Was he smiling or grinning? Now she couldn’t tell and her temper flared. Suddenly she felt he was standing too close for comfort. All that manly essence oozing out of him was making her a little too warm. Not that it didn’t feel good, but without anyone else around the big park and so many great places to dump a body… her body should he turn out to be a serial killer; she was beginning to get a bit panicky. Time to go.
“I’m fine! No thanks to you. You should watch where you’re going. You could hurt someone with…” she stopped, tried not to blush but felt her face get warm. ‘With what’, she thought, ‘with those big muscles that had knocked me to the ground and had almost knocked me out?’
“What a way to go.”
“Excuse me? Go where?”
“Huh?” Alarmed at where the conversation might be headed, she feigned ignorance of what she had let slip from her lips and ducked her head so he could not, she hoped, see her face. She tried to change the subject as they walked back to the parking lot. Simone grabbed Maxine and practically threw her in the car. Giving her a ‘look’ and a silent promise of a stern lecture later.
“Wait, before you go, let me give you my card. Please call me if your injuries require medical care.”
‘Was Mr. Caramel Eyes/possible ax murderer serious?’ She thought. ‘Why would he think she would even call him?’
Her eyes followed his gaze. They appeared to be scrutinizing her car… and her figure. Who did he think he was ogling her like that? A blush crept up her neck threatening to inflame her cheeks.
“Thank you very much, but I am quite capable of taking care of myself.”
‘Was that a ‘huff’? Did I just ‘Maxine huff’ at him? I’ve got to get out of here.’ With her mind racing she didn’t notice him tossing his card inside her car as she quickly got in it and locked all the doors. His delicious looking mouth curl slightly when he heard the door locks click. Irritated with herself, him and Maxine, she gunned the engine a bit too much as she was backing out of the parking space causing bits of small of rock and clumps of snow to go flying out from under her tires.
“Maxine-Marmalade-Bradford!” Simone’s anger, more at Mr. Caramel Eyes and her reaction to him than Maxine running away, made her use all three of Max’s names as if she were scolding a naughty child. “We do not go chasing after strangers! We do not go chasing after men in general!”
Simone’s breathing was labored and her head began to ache. She realized she was shaking and pulled over to the side of the road once they were out of sight. She let out a long breath not entirely sure as to why she had reacted so strongly to the stranger in the park. She looked at the view of the park. From where she was parked she could see most of it and a large portion of the foothills and Pike’s Peak gleaming white in the bright sunlight. She thought about the stranger. He was just a man. Two legs, two arms, two eyes… etc. What was the big deal? The big deal was it had been a while since she had been looked at in any way other than ‘The woman Who Brings Us Food’. It was nice. Nice to be ‘seen’. As nice as it was, however, it was unfamiliar to her and that also was upsetting. She looked down at Maxine whose ears were considerably deflated and whose face was scrunched up in dismay. No one disliked being fussed at and Maxine was no exception.
“I’m sorry, girl.”
Simone reached over to pat Maxine who jumped up and began licking Simone’s face to let her know all was well. Simone hugged her best friend and buried her face in Max’s fur. “I’m sorry”, she breathed again. Now Simone was mad at herself for two reasons instead of one; her reaction to the man in the park and her temper flare towards Maxine.
“Let’s go home.”
During the drive home, Simone’s mind ran through her chance encounter with the man at the park. What an odd accent he had. He didn’t look or sound like any man she had seen before in Colorado Springs. He was dressed for the cold weather, but not in the rustic wear she was accustomed to seeing. His ‘look’ was more continental, more sophisticated. He didn’t wear a ball cap which immediately gave away the fact he wasn’t from Colorado where ball caps, sweatshirts, long shorts and sandals were a year round dress code. Simone figured he was the best thing she had seen in a while.
Still determined to make a special day for herself and Maxine, Simone decided to visit her friend Violet form the tea room.
Vi had an open door policy with Simone. She just needed to call first to make sure Vi was home. Simone called her friend when she got home and made arrangements to have afternoon tea with her at 4 p.m. at her house. Hanging up the phone, Simone went around her trailer and prepared for some much needed, self-care. She gave Maxine a raw hide treat that would keep her occupied for a while, drew all the curtains and shades shut, went into the bathroom and began running water for a hot bath. She lit some candles, added some pink salt to the tub and let out an audible sigh as she sunk into the relaxing, hot water.
An hour later, she was done soaking away the morning, had dressed and redone her hair & make-up. Vi always looked great and Simone would never have arrived for tea looking anything less than her best.
“Hey girl,” she said to Maxine, “want to go visit Daphne? Let’s go!”
Maxine bounded to the door and waited impatiently for Simone who took Max’s leash off the hook and put it on her for the short walk to the car. Once settled inside the car, Simone took off for the old north end part of town. Vi’s family had owned a house there for generations. Simone noticed that the sun had come out enough to clear paths in the snow making driving easier and less dangerous. A few minutes later, Simone drove down the driveway that lead to the front of the familiar house made from cut limestone. Maxine, recognizing where they were, made little happy noises as she waited for Simone to let her out of the car. Practically racing each other up the porch stairs, Simone and Maxine landed on the porch a little out of breath and full of excitement. Both Simone and Max enjoyed the company of their older lady friends. Violet reminded Simone of gentler days and gentler ways while dispensing valuable advice, while Maxine and Daphne, Vi’s own black and white papillion, entertained one another with seemingly endless enthusiasm. Maxine had even brought along her favorite squeaky toy to share with Daphne.
Mrs. Myers, Vi’s live-in caregiver and house keeper, was waiting at the door to greet Simone. It had been she who had let Daphne out to greet Maxine.
“Welcome, Simone.” Mrs. Myers greeted her with a warm smile.
“Hello, Mrs. Myers.” Simone greeted her back with warmth and respect.
Simone followed Mrs. Myers down the hall to the sitting room where Vi was waiting for her. Myers announced Simone and Maxine then headed to the kitchen to perform the task of tea making.
“Hello, hello!” chirped Vi. “Welcome, Ladies,” she said referring to both Simone and Maxine. Maxine jumped into Vi’s lap to greet her friend with dog kisses and happy noises. Daphne, still on the floor next to Vi, gave an impatient yip and she and Max were off and running to whatever adventure awaited them. Simone bent over and gave Vi and hug. “Hello to you too, Vi! How have you been? Are you enjoying the snow?”
Simone started the conversation as they waited for the tea and scones. Just as Simone was finishing up telling Vi about her encounter in the park with the handsome stranger, Ms. Myers arrived pushing a squeaking tea cart ladened with all sorts of goodies for them to enjoy. Much more than what Simone had been treated to in the past.
“Goodness, Vi, you’re really pulling out all the stops here today. What’s the special occasion?”
Was Simone imagining things, or did a look of mischief flash across Vi’s face just now?
“Oh, I thought I would have Myers do something a little different and special today for a change. Do I need a special reason to spoil a friend?”
“Of course not, I hope I’m not being rude. I love it, it’s very nice.”
Simone, taking on the role of ‘mother’ (meaning she would pour and serve) reached for the tea pot and poured a cup of tea for each of them. It looked different from last time when they had sipped a basic black tea, stout and without much flair. Simone looked at Vi, her face asking the question.
“Yorkshire Gold,” said Vi.
One of Simone’s favorites. Also before they had enjoyed a simple sampling of scones and fruit. Not so today. Today, the cart nearly groaned under the weight of the variety of delicacies being offered. Smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches with a hint of wasabi, roast beef with French tarragon mustard, chicken salad sandwiches tinted pink, a variety of scones and pastries and fresh fruit served on Vi’s best Wedgwood china. Simone could tell that something was up and that Vi would get to it when she was ready. Before she could open her mouth to ask, Maxine and Daphne burst into the room and came running up to the women sniffing the air expectantly.
Vi laughed, “Look at them! They are making sure that they don’t miss out on anything.”
Simone laughed and nodded in agreement. She took the saucer from underneath her cup and filled it with a little tea for Maxine but set it aside to let it cool a bit first before placing it on the ground. Vi handed Simone her saucer asking her to do the same for Daphne.
“I have a surprise for the ‘girls’,” said Vi with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, “look under that silver lid.” Simone lifted the lid on a small chaffing dish. It was filled with roast beef cooked rare. Simone smiled at Vi’s generosity as Vi rang a small silver bell. The two dogs danced around excitedly as Simone divided the beef equally between two dishes and set them on the floor for the dogs to enjoy.
As the ‘girls’ ate the beef and drank their tea, Mrs. Myers came into the room in response to the bell Vi had rung. In her hands was a small covered silver dish which she set on the table. Vi and Simone continued to visit and laugh. Vi entertained Simone with stories from her youth of suitors who called upon her and her progressive ways of thinking that more often than not got her into trouble with her parents. “Boys just didn’t understand me”, Vi lamented then quickly added, “that’s okay. I got rid of the ones who didn’t know what to do with me and the way I saw the world, and it made room in my life for the man who was to become my husband!”
After hearing about how Vi and Richard, her now deceased husband, had met. Simone told Vi a few stories about the goings on at the restaurant. Vi waited patiently for Simone to finish then reached across the cart to the covered dish Mrs. Myers had brought in and handed it to Simone.
“What’s this?” Simone asked.
“You’ll have to open it to find out.” Said Vi with a smile and a twinkle in her eye.
Simone lifted the lid of the dish, inside was an envelope. She gasped as she looked inside the envelope and took out the check inside. The amount was big, very big. More than Simone had or would have managed to save while working her insurance job. She looked at Vi in confusion.
“When I was a young woman,” Vi began, “I had more money than you could shake a stick at, only we did not talk of such things as it was considered vulgar. Things change, Simone and I want to talk to you about it now.”
Simone had been stunned into silence by the contents of the envelope and thought it best to let her friend continue uninterrupted.
“My father had been one of this city’s founders and he had made quite a lot of money in developing the land around us.”
“Though, as I said, I had money, I had very little freedom. Oh, at first when Richard and I dated and were married he seemed to be interested in and enjoy my unconventional ways. As time went by however, it became more and more evident that what he had really wanted in his heart was a wife that would stay home and raise his heirs. Not someone to help him run the company my father was giving to him. My father was giving the company to my husband, not to me. I made my decision at the time not to say anything and to involve myself in volunteer work like every other rich housewife in town. Everyday, though, when my husband would go to work, my heart would go with him even though it was clear I could not. After a few years of trying, it became clear that we would never have children of our own. My father discouraged us from adopting, it wasn’t as accepted in those days as it is now. Twice now in my life I was not to have the desire of my heart and I had to live with the knowledge that my husband had lied to me to get me to marry him so he could get to my father’s business. Even though he ran it well, I always felt cheated and since divorce was unheard of then I kept my mouth closed and lived life the best that I could but always wanting more. I’ve seen you work hard at the tearoom, Simone, you have the freedom I never did. You have the same drive and desire to make something of yourself but the lack of funding is what is holding you back. I had drive and money, but no freedom. Now, take the money I’ve given you and live your dream. If that means you want to open your own tearoom, you can even do that here in this very house. It’s old and has original Victorian furniture and decorations. You can use it all, every piece of furniture, picture, china, linen, is yours. All I ask is that you allow me to live here until God calls me home. Can you do that? Can you live with an old lady? There’s also a quit claim deed in that envelope giving you this house, now.”
Simone’s head was spinning.
“But with the house and all the ‘trimmings’ included, there wouldn’t be much to buy.” Said Simone. “Some paint here and there and some minor repairs, I would need to commercialize the kitchen to bring it up to the heath department’s codes but certainly nothing costly enough that would use up all this money.”
“Oh no, the money is for you whether you open a tea room or not. I have more than enough and I’m not getting any younger so I may as well give some to those I love and enjoy watching them spend it. You’re my friend Simone, and I love you and I’ve enjoyed our visits so very much. It’s very lonely here. Not much ever happens. It’s just me, Daphne, and Mrs. Myers, oh and my great-nephew who’s visiting for a little while, but soon he’ll be gone and it’ll just be me and Daphne. Oh won’t you say, ‘yes’, Simone?”
Simone thought about what Vi said as her eyes looked around the room. Seeing the time on the clock on the mantle, she stood up as she said, “Vi, I’m sorry, I did not realize how late it is. I need to leave before the roads freeze up.”
“Oh dear, Simone I hope I didn’t say something to upset you!” Genuine concern washed across Vi’s face at the prospect of having offended her young friend.
“No, no, Vi! Of course not! It’s nothing like that. I had planned to leave before the roads froze up. You know how the shady parts of the road get glossed over with ice after the melting snow has left behind all that water.”
Simone called for Maxine. Maxine came running into the room excited to see her leash in Simone’s hand. However, once it was on her and she realized they were going home and not for a walk, Maxine’s ears drooped in disappointment.
Simone looked down at her, “I feel the same way, Girl.”
“So stay,” Vi said.
“Yes, the roads are getting bad and you can see the part of the house you’d be living in if you decided to take me up on my offer. Sort of a trial run.”
“I don’t know,” Simone hedged.
Simone looked down at Max. She was panting and wagging her body. She had obviously enjoyed her day with Daphne and Simone was dreading the drive home. She could hear the clock on the mantle ticking, waiting, as was Vi. Though her mind was spinning, Simone heard herself saying, “Okay, I’ll stay.”
Vi clapped her hands in excitement and rang the silver bell for Mrs. Myers.
“Mrs. Myers! Show Miss. Bradford to her room so she can freshen up and have a tour before dinner.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Follow me please, Ma’am.” Mrs. Myers turned to leave the room. With sweaty palms, Simone bent down to hug Vi, then followed Mrs. Myers out of the room and up the stairs to her wing of the house. Her wing of the house?! It was all so unreal. Simone griped the banister as she ascended the stairs. Max tried a couple of times to rush past her but Simone held her back. Once she had been shown to her room and left alone, Simone fell back onto what might be her new bed. She looked around the room without really seeing it, then reached into the envelope, pulled out and read the letter and deed that were inside and looked again at the check amount. It was the biggest check she had ever seen. She could take it and pay off every debt she had and still have enough to live comfortably for the rest of her life without even having to think about working. Simone exhaled slowly then took a deep breath and read the deed. It was straight-forward and gave her complete ownership of the house and land on which it sat and every single item within the house. Everything. Simone’s breath caught in her throat. No one in her whole life had been so generous to her. She had had to work, and work hard for everything she had in the world which as of this morning wasn’t very much. Try as she might, she couldn’t think of what she could have done to impress Vi so much to give her the money and house nor what she might have done to earn such a gift. Isn’t that how things worked? Didn’t you have to work hard and hope you didn’t die before your dreams came true? Who handed someone something so large without them having first done something to prove they were worthy? It reminded her of the salvation God offered to everyone who answered His knock on the door of their life. Not one could do anything to earn it, it was freely given. Simone laid her head down on the bed with her arm across her face and felt hot breath in her ear but not soon enough to avoid the tongue that always followed. Smiling she looked over at Max who stood beside her head, slowly wagging her tail. Max had wanted to make sure Simone was okay and this was her way of ‘asking’.
“Well, Girl, should we do it? Should we pull up stake and move in here lock stock and barrel?”
Maxine cocked her head to one side and wiggled closer. Simone gathered her friend into her arms and prayed.