To Each His Own (Short Story)

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I missed my deadline yesterday, but I have a good excuse. I was painting all day.  I’m painting a house I’m moving out of in a couple of months.  We just bought a new home in Sapulpa and it is gorgeous.  Out in the country with a cellar on the back porch.  Anyway, I thought I would post a short story today that’s not really that short.  I hope you like it.  Enjoy the read and let me know what you think.

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She walked to the edge of a small lake. She didn’t notice the color of the water, or that it didn’t reflect the blue sky above her. Her mind focused on how she and Bill spoke to each other the last time she saw him. She didn’t feel upset, or unhappy, just very content. I should talk to him and let him know why I left. His life wasn’t for me.

Bill was so handsome. He stood six-foot tall in his stocking feet, almost platinum hair with striking blue eyes.  Her inner core melted every time he gave her one of his sultry looks. His eyebrows were soft brown with long brown eyelashes. Between his eyebrows, platinum hair and his Jesus eyes, she knew he was always going to have girls chasing after him, and she would have to deal with it.

He’d been born and raised on a farm about five miles outside of Harvestonville, Nebraska and Joanie was a city girl from Chicago. She met him in Chicago fresh off the farm. He was attending the Cattlemen’s National Convention as a delegate from Nebraska. Joanie worked as a cleaning maid in the hotel where he stayed. A smile touched her lips for a second, as she remembered their first meeting.

“Excuse me sir, I didn’t know you had returned. I’ll be out of here in just a minute. I’m almost done.”

“You don’t have to hurry on my account. What ‘s your name?”

“My name is Joan, but my friends call me Joanie.”

“All right, Joanie, you can count me as one of your friends. Would you like to get a cup of coffee or a drink when you get off work?”

“You want me to have coffee, with you?”

“Yep, I sure do. Will you join me? What time do you get off?”

“I get off at 3:00 PM, but I’m afraid I’ll have to pass on the invitation. My mom is picking me up today, so I can’t stay late. How about a rain check?”

“I’m leaving day after tomorrow”, Bill said. “Let’s plan on having coffee tomorrow.”

Joanie thought for a minute about how nice it would be to have coffee with such a handsome man. “Okay, I’ll meet you in the coffee shop on 5th floor at 3:15.” She gathered up her cleaning supplies and headed out the door.

“Good-by Joanie, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Bill yelled as she shut the door behind her.

That was the beginning. One cup of coffee and Joanie’s world was never the same again.

***

Bill left Joanie, the day after their coffee date, which went on for fourteen hours. He had to catch his flight to return home. Joan didn’t think she would ever see him again. As soon as Bill’s plane landed, he called to tell Joanie how much their coffee date meant to him.

“I miss you, and I’ll find a way for us to be together. That is, if that is what you want to Joanie. I felt as if I had met the person holding my heart.”

“Bill, I’m in Chicago and you live in Nebraska. A relationship won’t work long distance, and you know that as well as I do. We talked about it and we both agreed it wouldn’t work.”

“I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to find a way to make it work, Joanie. Give me a few days and I’ll come up with a plan.”

Joanie went through her days as usual, but Bill was always on her mind. She’d wonder what he was doing or what kind of a plan he’d come up with. She’d already made up her mind she would do whatever he planned. What kind of life do I have? I’m thirty-four years old, living with my mother, with no bright prospects for my future. 

Thirty days passed without a word from Bill. Joanie thought he’d changed his mind. I knew it was too good to be true. I’m never going to leave this hotel and mama. I thought the Lord had finally sent something good into my life.

After enough time passed, she kept Bill out of her thinking most of the time. The hardest part was at night after she went to bed. Her mind was full of questions and she couldn’t shut it down. She’d finally reach for her Bible and start reading. Once she started reading it was as if God reached into her mind and calmed it, letting her sleep.

The following Saturday morning, Joanie was doing the dishes. Looking out the kitchen window, she watched the cardinals, and bright yellow finches at the bird feeders. It gave her peace to watch the bright colors flit around and hear them sing their songs as they wait for space at the feed ports.

The doorbell rang a couple of times. I wonder who that is, she thought. Her mom had gone to see her Aunt Jerry so she knew she’d have to get the door. She dried her hands on the dish towel and went to the door. When she opened the door, she couldn’t move or speak for a few seconds.

“Bill, what are you doing here?”

“I told you the last time we talked I’d figure out a way for us to be together.”

Yes you did, but I haven’t heard a word from you since that conversation. I’d given up on you ever contacting me, much less showing up at my door”.

“Are you going to ask me inside?”

“I’m sorry, please come in.” She opened the door wide enough for him to come in. He bent down and kissed her on the cheek as he stepped by her.

“Come into the living room and have a seat. Would you like something to drink?”

“Do you have any coffee made?”

“No, but it won’t take me a minute to get you a cup. We’ve got one of those Krups coffee makers that does one cup at a time.”

Joanie went to the kitchen and made his coffee. She put it on a tray and carried it back into the room. “Here’s your coffee, Bill, just the way you like it, with cream and sugar.”

A smile spread across Joanie’s face as she thought about how they had the love of coffee in common.

“Remember I told you I had my own cattle ranch in the country.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“I want you to come back to Nebraska with me and share my home with me.”

“Bill, are you asking me to marry you?”

“Yah, I guess I am. We’ll get you back there and settled, and then we’ll talk about a wedding. What do you think?”

“I think you’ve made me the happiest woman in Chicago. The only down side is telling my mother. Maybe we could tell her together this evening.”

“I think you should tell her yourself tonight, without having someone she doesn’t know around. I have me a room at a hotel not too far from here to stay. Can we leave tomorrow?”

“You want me to leave tomorrow. What about my job?”
“Honey, don’t worry about your job. You’re not going to be needing the job. You won’t ever need a job again. Just call someone and tell them you won’t be back.”

“All right Bill, I’ll leave with you tomorrow. I’m so excited to see my new home, and for us to start our life together.”

Joanie and Bill sat and talked about an hour making their plans. Bill got up and said he needed to go to the hotel so he could check in. They would be leaving about six in the morning, so Joanie had a lot to do before then. They walked to the door hand in hand, and Bill bent down and softly kissed Joanie’s lips. She thought she would explode with happiness, but she kept everything in check. Bill left and she headed for the attic to get her trunk and a couple of suitcases.

She was so busy packing her belongings she didn’t hear Mom come through the front door. Her mother stood at her bedroom door watching her pack her things in the trunk.

“What are you doing, Joanie?”

“Oh Mom, I didn’t hear you come in.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m packing my things.”

“I can see that, but why?”

“I’m going to Nebraska with Bill in the morning. He came back for me Mama and I’m going. This is a chance for me to make a wonderful life for him and me.”

“Don’t do this, Joanie. You haven’t known this man long enough to know what kind of a man he is.”

Her mom began to cry. Joanie went to her, put her arms around her, and kissed her cheek. “Please don’t worry mom, I’m going to be fine. Bill and I have talked for many hours and we both want the same things out of life. He’s a Christian and he told me he’d be right beside me in church every Sunday. He’s a decent man mama. I feel so lucky to have finally found someone to love, and who loves me back. I just know God sent him to me.

“Please, honey, I’m begging you not to leave with this man.”

“Mama, I’m going and that’s final. Please don’t make this harder on both of us than it has to be. You know I love you and nothing will ever change that.”

“Don’t you think it’s funny he hasn’t made an attempt to meet your mother or other family members?”

“He’s just shy mama, but you will get to meet him in the morning before we leave. I know you’re going to like him.”

Joanie’s mother opened her mouth to say something, but turned around and left the bedroom. Her heart was heavy with sadness, but she was angry with Joanie for being so naive. She went into the kitchen to fix herself a cup of coffee. Her agitation kept her walking the kitchen in circles. She felt like a wild animal pacing around a cage. I have to think of something to stop her from leaving with that man. I know something isn’t right, but what can I do.

Joanie’s mother’s bedroom door closed with a bang. Joanie thought, I know she’s upset with me, but at least she has gone to bed. Maybe in the morning she’ll feel better about me leaving with Bill. I think a mother should be happy her daughter has found happiness. Joanie kept herself busy for another hour getting her things together. She placed everything in the dining room for easy access to the front door. She didn’t want anything to delay the departure in the morning.

Walking back to her room, Joanie thought she would look in at her mother. Usually her snoring was shaking the rafters of the house, but she didn’t hear a sound. She opened her mother’s door a crack where she could see her mother’s form turned on her side away from the door. I hope she rests well. Maybe I can get her to come to Nebraska after we get settled. That way she won’t be alone for very long. Joanie pulled the door closed and walked back to her room and climbed in bed.

She had a tough time going to sleep because she was excited about the morning. She was ready to get on with her new life. When her eyes finally closed, she slept soundly and peaceful. The night went by very fast. It seems as if she just closed her eyes and the alarm was sounding. She jumped from her bed and hurriedly took a shower and got dressed.

She needed some coffee. She knew her mother would want to see her off so she went to her mother’s door and knocked. She listened and didn’t hear a response, so she knocked louder. She finally opened the door and looked in. Her mother was still on her right side, facing away from the door. Joanie walked over and touched her mother’s shoulder, or what she thought was her shoulder. What is going on? Where are you mom? The bed was empty except for some rolled pillows to make it look as if someone was asleep in the bed.

***

Joanie’s mother, Irene, decided she would handle this situation. She fixed her bed so it looked as if she was there sound asleep. She exited her room through the double doors to the deck in her back yard. It’s a good thing Joanie told me he was staying close by because there is only one hotel that is close. I’m going to have a talk with that fellow.

Irene walked to the hotel, a couple of blocks from her house. She walked with determination in each step and thought about what she was going to say. She’d brought her checkbook, just in case money was needed.

“Can I help you?” The desk clerk asked.

“Yes, sir, you certainly can. I need the room number of a Mr. Bill Douglas.”

“I’m sorry; we are not allowed to give out room numbers without permission from the guest. I can call his room and see if he would like to see you.”

“Ok, go ahead and give him a call. Just tell him Joanie’s mother is here to see him.”

The desk clerk called Bill’s number. Bill picked up the phone on the first ring. “Hello” who did you say was here? Sure, let her come up. Thanks.”

“Ma’am, he’s in room 702. The elevator is to your left and behind the screen wall.”

“Thank you.” Irene turned and made her way to the elevator, while she continued bolstering her courage with each step she took. Arriving at Bill’s room, she found him standing in the door waiting on her arrival.

“So you’re Joanie’s mother.”

“Yes, I’m Irene Jackson. Can we talk for a few minutes?”

“Sure, come on in and take a seat in that desk chair. I’m going to lie back on the bed and take it easy while were having our little talk. You start since you made the trip here to see me.”

“Fair enough. First off, Joanie doesn’t know I’m here. I needed to talk to you and I don’t want Joanie involved.”

“Excuse me, but I think she’s already involved. We are supposed to leave here in a few hours headed back to Nebraska.”

“That’s why I’m here. I don’t want Joanie going with you. She belongs here in Chicago with her family. She has never been out of this city and to take off to live in another state, on a ranch, in the middle of nowhere won’t make her happy.”

“What makes you think you know what will make Joanie happy?”

“Look, I’m her mother and I know her better than any other human on this earth, especially you. You’ve only spent a few hours with her. I’ve been with her, her entire life. What will it take for you to leave her in the morning and not come by my house?”

“Are you trying to bribe me lady?” Bill laughed while looking straight into Irene’s eyes. There’s something about his eyes that bothered her. She couldn’t stand to look him straight in the eye. How much are you willing to give me to leave your daughter alone.”

“I’ll give you everything I’ve got in the bank. Will you leave her alone for $100,000.00? Irene took her checkbook out and wrote the check for entire amount. She got up and walked towards the bed.”

“Wait a minute; I never said I wanted your money. I want Joanie to go with me tomorrow. I have big plans for her and me.”

“I’m going to do everything I can to stop you from leaving with my daughter. So don’t be surprised if you are detained a bit.”

“You can’t stop me.”

“Just watch me. I’ll have you so tangled up with the police, I guarantee you will be held in jail for a while. I have friends and I can pull in a few favors.” Irene looked at Bill’s face and saw a menacing smile on his lips. She had a chill run up her spine.

“You’ll have to excuse me a couple of minutes. I have to pause for the cause.” Bill got off the bed and walked into the bathroom. Irene sat with her back to the bathroom door, looking out the big picture window at the bright lights of Chicago. She heard Bill come out of the bathroom. The next thing she knew there was a small rope around her neck cutting off her air. Her last thought was of her love for her daughter.

At 6 AM, standing by the front door, waiting on Bill to arrive. Joanie kept wondering why her mother left during the night. She rationalized she left because she didn’t want to say goodbye to me. That note I left for her might help ease her pain a little. I’ll be sure and call just as soon as I get to the ranch.

Bill pulled up and Joanie threw the door open and ran out to meet Bill on the front walk. “I’m so glad to see you here. I have my things ready, but there is one small thing.”

“What’s that”, Bill asked

“My mom left last night and hasn’t returned home. I wanted to say goodbye to her.”

“Honey, she probably left because she couldn’t stand the thought of saying goodbye. I wouldn’t worry about her. I’m sure she is in a cozy spot, dealing with your leaving, the best way she can. Let’s get your stuff loaded and get on the road.”

“Ok, I know you’re right, but it’s just hard-driving off without seeing her. I’ll be fine and I’ll call her as soon as we get to the farm.”

Bill was quiet during the trip back to Nebraska. Joanie would try to engage him in conversation but he would just smile and not say anything.  “Bill, why won’t you talk to me? Tell me about the ranch?”

“I don’t talk much and as far as the ranch goes, you’ll see it when we get there.”

Joanie gave Bill a long look, but he didn’t react to her stare. She finally gave up, and laid her head back on the seat to take a nap.

 ***

“Wake up, Joan, we’re here. You had a long nap. Take a look at your new home.”

Joan woke easily but remained groggy. “I didn’t think we were that close when I went to sleep.” Joan looked around for her new house. “Where’s the house?”

“You see that mound over there next to the big oak tree.”

“Yes, I see it.”

“That’s our house. It’s a dug out. We won’t have to stay in it but a couple of years. By then I should have us a house built.”

“Bill, you didn’t tell me I would be living in a hole in the ground.”

“I told you from the very beginning when we talked, I was a naturalist. We’ll grow what we are going to eat and live like my ancestors did when they first came here from Germany.”

“I don’t know that I can do this.”

“Sure, you can. I’ll teach you how to be a real pioneering woman. There is a community of us here.  Down the road about three miles is the store and gas station. We’re in the process of building the combination school/church house now. On Sundays, we go to a different place each week for services. This next Sunday you can meet all the neighbors. I didn’t tell any of them about you, so you will be a big surprise.”

Joanie got out of the truck and walked to her new home. What have I gotten myself into? He didn’t tell me anything about all this. I guess I made an assumption I shouldn’t have.” The land was beautiful, with big pecan trees all around. There was a barn built about a city block away. The water well was in front of the dugout. There was a large area, off to the right, where the ground was broken up. It was away from the trees, and was partially fenced.

Bill hurried past Joanie and opened the wood slat door that let the light into the dugout. Joanie couldn’t believe her eyes. There were five stone steps leading down to a plank floor. There was a small wood stove sitting in the middle of the room with a stove-pipe running from the stove through the roof. As far as furnishing went, there was a full size bed and one chair and no table. There were stacked plastic crates containing a few dishes, Bill’s clothes and supplies.

“Welcome to your new home, Joanie. Isn’t this great. It won’t take you long to love it as much as I do.”

“Where is the nearest large town?”

“Well, let me think. Norfolk is about fifty miles north of us. I guess it is the biggest.”

“Is there a hotel there?”

“Sure, why?”

“I can’t live like this. I’m not like you. Please take me to the hotel and I’ll go back home.”

“You said you loved me and wanted to be with me. Where we live shouldn’t matter.”

“It does matter, Bill. I haven’t been out of Chicago and this is 1992, not 1842. This isn’t the life I want. This is my fault not yours. I made some assumptions about our life together, and I shouldn’t have. Please forgive me, and take me to Norfolk.”

“I’m not taking you anywhere. You’re staying here with me.” Bill glaringly looked at Joanie and set the suitcases out-of-the-way. “Are you coming inside with me?”

“No, I’m not. Please take me to Norfolk, or I’ll walk.”

“You don’t even know where you are, how can you walk?”

“I’ll put two feet on that dirt road and take off.”

“You are going to leave me before you spend one night here.”

“Yes, I am. As I said before, I can’t live this kind of life. You may like it but I don’t.”

Bill walked around behind Joanie; she didn’t turn to see what he was doing. He put a small rope around her throat and started cutting off her air. “No one will miss you Joan. I told you no one here knew you were coming, and your mother will be waiting on you when you get to where you’re going.”

***

Joanie heard footsteps behind her. She turned knowing it wouldn’t be Bill, but she wasn’t afraid. A man in a long robe and sandals, with a pleasant smile on his face and the clearest blue eyes, stood before her. “Are you ready to go?”

“Where am I going?”

“You’re going to see your mama, and the rest of your family. There will be many there to greet you upon your arrival. You do remember what happened don’t you.”

“Yes, I remember but it doesn’t matter now. I feel too good for anything to matter.”

“You made some poor choices in your life on earth, but you lived a good life loving our Father and trusting him. Now you are going to live with him, as he promised you.”

“What about Bill?”

“Bill will answer to our Father in his own time. I’m surprised he even crossed your mind. Take hold of my hand. Your new home waits.

5 responses »

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