Summer on Kendall Farm

By: Shirley Hailstock

CHAPTER ONE

SWEAT TRICKLED DOWN Jason Kendall’s neck. It had been years since he’d fled this same road, the wind behind his Corvette creating a small hurricane as he vowed to never set foot on his family’s property again. Coming back to Windsor Heights, a town forty miles west of Baltimore, wasn’t easy and the closer he got to the farm, the harder it was to hold the memories at bay.

Rain pelted the car windows like large splats of paint falling from the sky. Wiper blades flipped back and forth, clearing the windscreen a second at a time, giving Jace a glimpse of a road that appeared smaller than he remembered. It was a long tree-lined ribbon without lights that led to the house at Kendall Farm. Jace had thought of it as the big house when he lived there. The Kendall, as it was known by the locals, was a world unto itself, but it was a world that was stuck in time. His half brother, Sheldon, made sure of that.

Thinking of Sheldon, Jace almost laughed. Wouldn’t he be surprised to find the family’s black sheep on his doorstep?

Jason Kendall had grown up here. Maybe grown up was too strong a term for what had happened to him. He supposed he could say it was the place that made him into the man he was today. He was proud, resourceful, cynical and steadfast. Although maturity had curbed his urge to throw a punch as a solution to an argument, he was always ready to stand his ground.

The Kendall was what the farm had been called since the end of the Civil War when Jameson Kendall returned from the conflict to find himself the lone survivor of his family, the others having succumbed to disease or died on the battlefield. It took him five years of hard work to bring it back to a profitable enterprise. As it passed from generation to generation, it had been well maintained but virtually unchanged.

Peering through the rain-soaked window, Jace tried to spot the house. He’d last seen the imposing structure five years earlier, vowing with every fiber of his being that he wouldn’t ever return.

But here he was, driving up the narrow road, returning not as the Prodigal son, but still as a son, even if he was illegitimate and merely tolerated. He had a reason for coming back and it outweighed his emotions.

Would the place be the same? Rain obscured his vision, along with the column of trees that lined the driveway. So much had changed in his life in the intervening years. He was more responsible. And he wasn’t as angry, yet no one would call him humble.

He hadn’t let Sheldon know he was coming. Why should he? Jace frowned. The Kendall was as much his as it was his half brother’s, even if their father had referred to Jace in his will as a distant relative. How distant were direct genes? The same blood that flowed through Sheldon’s veins flowed through Jace’s, “tainted” though it might be.

Jace gripped the steering wheel strongly enough to crush the hard plastic. What would Sheldon say when he saw him? Would he throw him off the property now that he was the sole owner? Jace didn’t put it past his brother. The two had never been real brothers, even saying they were friends would be a stretch, but underneath that tough exterior, Jace had the feeling Sheldon wasn’t totally indifferent to him. He was simply his father’s son.

When the jumbo jet had set down at Dulles Airport, it had been daylight outside. But quickly the light had gone, giving way to the dark, rainy sky. Lightning flashed and in that instant, Jace saw the house. Unconsciously his foot eased off the accelerator and the car rolled to a gentle stop. Windshield wipers tossed water back and forth as Jace stared at the white house that shimmered through the raindrops.

The house grew larger as he approached it. The six-thousand-square-foot structure had sat on five hundred acres for over a century. The other five hundred that comprised the original property boundary was sold during the Depression, but the majority was still intact. Jace remembered times when all six bedrooms had been filled with guests, when the ballroom was bright with music and he couldn’t wait to get to the horses in the back stables.

The road ended in a semicircle in front of the house. For a moment Jace only looked at it. Age didn’t show on the old homestead. The pristine white color he remembered was as fresh and new as if the paint job had been completed yesterday. The five-bar fence he’d climb over as a boy was as strong as it had been when he sat atop a horse and raced the wind. The giant lawn, manicured and welcoming even in the darkness, led to the front door.

He let out a relieved breath. Looking over his shoulder, Jace checked on Ari, his four-year-old son sleeping in the backseat. Jace smiled, thinking Ari could sleep through a war. It was because of him that Jace was here. Ari needed a quiet, private place and better medical care than he was getting in South America. So Jace was back on American soil.

He got out of the car. Instead of climbing the front stairs, he stood looking at the house, oblivious of the water drenching him. He could smell freshly cut grass with the faint hint of horseflesh over the rain. He hadn’t ridden in years, but he remembered sitting in the saddle and racing across the grounds with Sheldon shouting at him to slow down. Not that his half brother was concerned about him. He didn’t want the horse to suffer a fall.

A smile came easily to Jace. Yet he never thought he’d miss the Kendall. But he had. It wasn’t his brother or father that he missed, but the grooms, the horses, the races and the few people he’d become friends with in town. He missed riding, challenging the wind as he edged the horses faster and faster. He missed jumping fences and even the splash of dirty water and flying debris that hit him in the face. He missed the silent rush of exhilaration for that tiny space of time when both he and his steed were airborne. Knowing there would be a reprimand at the end of the ride didn’t stop Jace.

Rain smacked his head and shoulders, soaking through his clothes, breaking the memory that held him in place. Quickly, he moved around the car and lifted the still-sleeping Ari onto his shoulder. Taking the wide steps up to the porch, he carried the boy and stopped in front of the century-old door. Jace reached into his pocket and pulled out a key ring he hadn’t done more than glance at in ages. He pushed a gold-colored key into the lock. It resisted his effort to turn.

Shifting Ari, Jace tried again, and again the key would not line up with the inside tumblers and release the lock. “Well, it’s been five years,” he said aloud. He supposed Sheldon had changed the locks in that time. Stepping back, he rang the doorbell. Inside he heard the soft sound of it chiming. Behind him thunder and lightning cut the sky in quick succession.

Peering through the side windows, he noted that other things had changed, too. The runner that led from the door through to the kitchen at the back was gone. A new floor of polished oak gleamed in the semidarkness.

Jace waited several seconds before ringing the bell again. Ari weighed about forty pounds, but he was getting heavy. It was well after midnight and maybe Sheldon and Laura were asleep. If his brother was following their father’s method of housekeeping, any help they had would have left hours ago.

Suddenly, a light went on inside the foyer. Jace squinted as the one above his head illuminated at virtually the same moment. Ari squirmed, turning his face toward Jace’s neck. Resettling himself, he was asleep without even opening his eyes.

“May I help you?” a voice said through the heavy door.

“You could open the door.” Jace peered through the beveled glass trying to see whether it was Laura or someone else.

“Who are you?” she asked. “And what do you want?”

“I’m Jason Kendall and I live here.”

There was a long pause before Jace heard the door locks clicking and finally the oval-glass door was pulled open. The light from both the porch and the foyer fell on the woman standing before him. Jace gasped.

“Laura,” he whispered, taking a step backward. He thought he was prepared to see her again, but he wasn’t.

“I’m not Laura.”

Jace stared at her face. He frowned. She wasn’t Laura. He blinked several times. This woman only looked slightly like her. Her hair was red with unkempt tendrils that had come loose from the braid that disappeared down her back. Laura, on the other hand, never had a lock of hair out of place.

The young woman appeared weary and tired, wearing exercise pants and a sweatshirt that came to her knees. “I’m Kelly Ashton. You’d better come out of the rain.”

Stepping inside the door was like going back in time. Even though much of what he saw was different, the faint aroma of furniture polish triggered memories he thought were long dead.

Jace brushed passed her and walked several feet into the foyer. The only sounds he heard were his own footsteps as he crossed the floor. The place could have been empty. “Who are you?” he asked as he went into the living room and laid Ari on the sofa. He stood up, taking in the decor of the room. It was completely changed. Laura had probably redecorated. Jace could smell the remnants of a fire that was smoldering in the grate. Even though it was May, the nights in Maryland at this elevation could be nippy. Pulling an afghan that was lying on the back of the sofa over the boy, he turned to examine the woman standing in the doorway.

“Well?” he asked.

“Well what? I told you my name is Kelly Ashton and I live here now.”

“You what? Where is Sheldon? Has Laura divorced him? Taken him for all she could get?” Jace could hear the cynicism in his voice. Try as he might, he couldn’t remove it when it came to the topic of Laura.

Also By Shirley Hailstock

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