Garrett(8)

By: Anne Marie Winston



She was through the living room and halfway up the stairs now and he heard her mutter something beneath her breath, though he couldn't make out the words. Somehow he doubted it was a compliment on his efficiency.

He barely saw her for the rest of the day. He took the canoe out of storage and maneuvered it down to the beach. It was a good thing he was the size he was. Someone as petite and delicate as his new housemate could never have done this alone. He felt rather magnanimous. Even though she hadn't helped him, he wasn't going to begrudge her the use of the small craft.

He caught a glimpse of Ana while he was supervising the deliverymen who were bringing his computer equipment through the main entry into the hall and right around the corner into his office. She was staggering down the hill from her car with two huge suitcases. To his surprise, she didn't come through the open door, but disappeared through the other entry that led directly into the kitchen. He saw her repeating the action and several times, heard her footsteps moving up and down the stairs. Shortly after that, she came out and got into her compact car and chugged off out the lane. To the store, he presumed. After the delivery guys left, he got everything set up the way he liked it, and then sat down to deal with e-mail. His assistant had gotten him set up with the local service provider and so he was able to connect immediately. By then, it was well past lunchtime, so he went downstairs and made himself a couple of sandwiches and some instant lemonade, then carried them back up to his office. The refrigerator was still bare except for the few things he'd bought. He'd have to drive into town later for a full load of groceries. While he ate, he roughed out a tentative schedule for using the kitchen, the laundry and the bathroom. He figured Ana could schedule herself around him, or if she had some real problem with one of the times he'd appropriated, they could discuss it. He was a reasonable guy.

Ana still hadn't come back by the time he left to drive into town. He was only aware of it because she shared his home. Maybe she'd gotten lost. She'd never been up here before. A lot of the little winding roads looked alike. If she'd lost her way or had an accident, he would be the logical one for her to call. Then he remembered the way her lower lip had quivered before she'd bitten fiercely on it in the kitchen earlier. No, she wouldn't call him. Once again the guilt rose and this time he couldn't ignore the little voice that asked: How would Robin feel about the way you've been treating Ana? He raised you to be a gentleman.

All right. He could admit that he'd been a real bastard. He'd try harder to be more tolerant, if not out-right kind, to her. After all, Robin had cared for her. And as he thought of the spring in the old man's step and his good spirits in the last year of his life, had to admit that she'd made Robin happier than he'd been since Garrett's mother had died over two years ago.

Whoever, whatever, she was, Ana must have been good to Robin. He supposed that was something to be grateful for.

Ana was delighted all out of proportion over the simple discovery of an exceptionally well-stocked fabric and craft store in town. She hadn't needed much, but how wonderful to know it was close enough that if she ran out of something, she wouldn't have to drive halfway through New England to find a store that stocked it. And she'd made her first new friends in Maine.

The proprietor of the store was delighted to meet her and quickly introduced himself. Teddy Wilkens was a young man who didn't look much older than she was. When he found out she was going to be living in the area for a while, he quickly pressed a little buzzer that she could hear faintly, echoing in some other part of the two-story shop.

"We live upstairs. We just bought this place at the beginning of the season from a couple who wanted to retire to Florida. It's a thriving business and we're excited about the possibilities," Teddy told her as he carefully wrapped and tied her purchases into a large bundle. "Unfortunately my wife is having a difficult pregnancy and doesn't see many people. She'll love it if you can stay and visit for a few minutes."

"That would be lovely." And she meant it. Just then, a hugely pregnant young woman came into the hop through a door in the back. "Nola, this is Ana Birch, who's living out on Snowflake Lake."

"Pleased to meet you." Nola Wilkens smiled warmly.

"You, also," Ana said, "but please, don't stand on my account." She pointed to a pair of rocking chairs set in a corner of the store. "Why don't we go over there and visit?"

Nola waddled ahead of her and carefully lowered herself into a chair. Ana learned that they were from Virginia originally, and that this was Nola's first child but that they'd just learned she was expecting twins, though they had chosen not to learn the sex of the babies. She was due in the early part of September.

"And that's if I go to term," Nola said. "The doctor thinks I'll probably deliver early. So I could have three weeks of this left, or seven, depending on what happens."

"Please let me know when they arrive," Ana told her. "If I'm still here, I'll bring you some meals in exchange for a chance to cuddle a baby."

Nola laughed. "I have a feeling we'll be so glad for an extra pair of hands that we'll want to feed you."

The young woman was cheerful but obviously tired and uncomfortable. As she took her leave, Ana decided she wouldn't wait for the babies to arrive. She'd take Teddy and Nola a meal the next time she came into town.

The cottage was dark and Garrett's truck was gone when she pulled to a halt at the top of the hillside above the cottage. Good. She already was sick to death of his hostility. Before she'd come into the kitchen earlier, she'd been so stupidly optimistic that they could live together amicably for the next four weeks. He'd wasted no time in bursting that little fantasy bubble. She'd bet he didn't even know the word amicable existed. Fuming, as angry as she'd been when she left, she slammed canned goods down on the counter as she unloaded grocery bags. Then she saw the schedule he'd left on the kitchen table. It was a neat grid of the days of the week with each hour in a separate space. He'd written in the times he wanted the kitchen and bathroom. Across the bottom was a note in a strong, masculine hand: If any of these are a problem, we'll negotiate.

Negotiate? Negotiate, her fanny. He wanted war, he'd get war. She hunted a pencil out of a drawer and began to scribble on the schedule, muttering to herself.

She was a reasonable person. Generally kind, inoffensive, thoughtful. Teddy and Nola Wilkens certainly hadn't found anything objectionable about her. But Garrett had gone out of his way to be as hateful as anything she could have imagined. Why? Why was he so sure she'd been Robin's lover? That made her madder than anything. It was insulting to her, but even worse, it was insulting to Robin. Garrett had known the man for years; how could he imagine Robin would engage in an affair with a woman decades younger than himself, much less include her in his will?

She finished bringing in her groceries and put everything away in her designated spaces. Just like a parking lot at an office. Park here, stay out of that space. Yes, she surely was going to make the man sorry he'd started this, she thought as she went to her room for the recipe box she'd brought. Crab dip would be the first salvo. Tomorrow, she'd make that fabulous chicken-broccoli casserole that filled an entire house with aroma. She could make an extra one for Teddy and Nola. It was a good thing she'd gotten that big package of chicken on sale. And she'd make pies with the Michigan cherries she'd found at that produce stand. Ha! Take that.

She really, really hoped that Garrett's cooking skills were limited to grilling and fixing things out of a box.

Then the guilt struck and her angry thoughts drained away. She was mourning Robin. How must Garrett feel? He'd lived with him, had loved him since he was a young teenager. He was grieving, too, and it wasn't unbelievable to think that his boorish behavior was born of his grief. Everyone dealt with losing a loved one differently. Garrett had been the one to find him, the one to deal with all the funeral arrangements, the one left holding all the responsibilities. He'd moved through denial, the stage she figured she still was clinging to, and perhaps now he was angry.

And who better to take it out on than her? She might not like the conclusion he'd jumped to about her character, but she could forgive it. And she would. Tomorrow she would tell him that she was Robin's daughter and set this whole mess straight.

Feeling a lot better, she went back out to her car and brought in the things she'd bought from Teddy. She took them upstairs and into the room that had been Robin's den, where she'd stored her other supplies earlier in the day. It was an ideal workspace, with enormous windows on three sides to offer plenty of light as well as to give adequate ventilation when she was working with toxic-smelling substances like glue. In addition, there was an extraordinarily good overhead lighting system. She knew Robin hadn't had an artistic bone in his body or she'd have thought this space was designed to be a craft or hobby room of some kind.

The room contained a large television, a top-notch stereo and a few pieces of comfortable furniture, but there also was a lot of unused open space. At the far end, beneath the wide window, a large table stood— perfect for her to cut fabric and lay out design ideas. And there was room enough beside it for the sewing machine in its portable cabinet that she'd brought along. A sizable wet bar was built into a countertop beneath which there was a plethora of cabinets that stretched across the whole wall beneath the window. It was perfect for her supplies and for cleaning up.And an oversize closet with lowered doors along one wall was completely empty.

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