Nancy woke with the realization that she should have started her New Year’s resolution last night. The year was new, but the headache – not so much. It was one thing to make the resolution to stop drinking, but quite another to have the resolve to implement it.
It had been a year ago today. She told herself that she had grieved long enough. That was what she was doing – grieving. No one had died; not literally, anyway. Her trust had died, and a part of her with it. Everyone kept telling her she was better off without him. A man who would cheat on her didn’t deserve her, they said. Find someone else, they said. Some even told her to move from this God-forsaken farm in the middle of nowhere. She had sold all the animals.
She was in a circular path of destruction. The more she drank, the worse she felt about herself, so she drank some more. Amy was the only person who refused to give up on her. She had brought by a bottle of her favorite liquor. Amy said whatever she did with it, she would enjoy it, but the idea was to have an unopened bottle of temptation to strengthen her resolve. Last night she drank the cheap stuff. This morning she eyed the good stuff and licked her lips.
She wasn’t an alcoholic. She drank with a purpose – only when she was alone. She didn’t sneak around to drink and she didn’t get mean when people suggested she had had enough. She simply told them to mind their own business; she was in her own home. She didn’t invite them to leave. They left of their own accord – and usually didn’t come back to lecture her again. She didn’t drive when she drank – where would she go?
A timid knock on the front door interrupted her thoughts. Who would think to interrupt her this early in the morning? She groaned as she slid out of the chair. Again the visitor knocked on the door – harder, but still not loud. For that much she was thankful.
“I’m coming,” She grumbled in a loud voice, and winced at the sound.
She opened the door with one hand on her aching head. A blast of icy wind slapped her in the face and the glare of sunlight on snow blinded her to the point that she didn’t see anyone at first. She started to shut the door, but noticed the body at the foot of her steps. The white coat was covered with so much snow that the person was almost invisible.
She called to the person, but they didn’t answer so she carefully made her way down the icy steps in her house slippers and long nightgown. Her feet slipped out from under her and she hung from the icy handrail. She finally found her footing and stood. Surprisingly, her head didn’t hurt as bad now.
She reached the person and gripped the shoulder to shake it. The muscular shoulder identified the person as a man. She gently shook it.
He slowly lifted his head and looked at her with a confused expression. His lips were blue.
“Let’s get you into the house and I’ll call an ambulance.”
He sat up slowly and looked up the stairs, as if she was asking him to do an impossible feat. Considering her trip down, maybe it was.
She was starting to shiver in the cold and the door was open. “Come on, let me help you up the steps.”
He laboriously made his way to his feet and grabbed the handrail. “I can’t feel my feet.” He began pulling himself up the stairs. He moved slowly, one step at a time.
She walked behind him – as if she could stop him if he fell. They managed to reach the door and she helped him inside. She shut the door and brushed snow from his coat. It looked like a woman’s coat. His sneakers were soaking wet and had holes in them. His jeans were in fashionable shreds. She had never seen a homeless person, but she was sure she was looking at one now. How did he get way out here in the country?
She left him by the stove to thaw while she called for help. She picked up the phone and started to dial, but there was no sound. She checked to make sure it was plugged in. Great, the lines were down again. When she downsized her life to single size, she had decided she didn’t need a cellular phone. A land line was cheaper. She didn’t have internet service for her computer anymore. She didn’t need social networking now. The only thing she had to help the man with was a closet full of her ex-husband’s clothes. She had stuck them in the empty bedroom with the intent of taking them to a second hand store. At least she could provide him with a warm bath and some clean dry clothes.
She went back into the living room and found him hunched over the stove, shivering. “The telephone lines are down. I’ll have to drive you to the hospital.”
He looked at her. “No. I can’t go there. They’d throw me out or put me in jail.”
A cold feeling went through her. “Are you wanted by the law?”
His smile was sweet. “No, nothing like that. I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s just that I owe them so much money since my wife died…” He closed his eyes. “I don’t have a home now. I’m a vagrant.”
“Oh.” She felt relieved. “What happened to your wife…if you don’t mind my asking.”
He opened his eyes. “Cancer…after months of chemotherapy that only made her feel worse.” He slowly shook his head. “I lost my job because I missed so much work to be with her. With no income, I got behind on the rent…. It just kept getting worse. Then, after she died, I didn’t care anymore.” His eyes implored her. “I let my life fall apart and it’s hard to get back from there. I thought, maybe if I had a different environment….”
A different environment. Wasn’t that what everyone had been telling her to do? Leave everything behind and start a new life. When they moved to the farm, she had embraced it for Darrel’s sake – at first. After he got all the animals, he lost interest and she found hers. She was so busy enjoying it that she hadn’t noticed he wasn’t. That was why he left – and why she decided to get rid of the animals. Amy said she was punishing herself. Maybe she had been.
“Well, Mister….What is your name?”
“Randall. Montgomery Randall. People just call me Monty.”
She pointed at the spare bedroom. “I don’t have a bed in there, but I’ll get you some blankets. You’ll find clean clothes in the closet. I don’t know if they are the right size, but most of them are stretchy material. They are warm and dry, which is something you are not. I have a pantry full of canned goods and a freezer full of meat. I have wood for the heat stove and propane for the cook stove. You are welcome to stay here as long as you behave yourself.”
It was a lot to absorb and he appeared to be having trouble understanding her intent. To be honest, she wasn’t certain she understood that part. She was offering to share her home and food with a total stranger. The strangest part to her was that it felt like the right thing to do. She wasn’t a lonely person. She liked the solitude of the farm. Maybe it was the same compassion she felt for a stray cat or the runt in a litter. He wasn’t an animal though – hopefully.
Rusty brown eyes studied her face. “Why would you do that?”
“Not because I’m desperate – you can get that thought out of your head. Maybe for the same reason I’d take care of a stray cat that wandered up in a snowstorm.”
He nodded. “Okay. I guess I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” He looked startled. “I’m not calling you a horse.”
She grinned. “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I just called you a stray cat.”
Humor invaded his eyes, but only touched the corners of his mouth. “Well, as a stray cat, I accept.” He hesitated. “I could use a bath.”
She nodded toward the main bathroom. “A bath or a shower, your choice.” She looked at his scrubby beard. “If you want to shave, I have an old straight razor that belonged to my grandfather.”
He glanced at the bathroom door. “I would appreciate that.” He took a step toward the spare room. “Are you sure? I’m not going to drag up old bones, am I?”
She shook her head. “I’m not a widow. I’m a divorcee. He’s been gone a year now – and don’t let that give you any ideas.”
He looked at her. “My wife has only been gone a few months.”
Warmth shot up her neck and exploded all over her face. She looked down. “I’m sorry. That was thoughtless of me.”
“It’s okay. I understand. You don’t know me at all. I wouldn’t call a woman who so generously shares her home with a stranger thoughtless.” He headed for the room and she called after him.
“Take your time. I’ll fix something to eat.”
She glanced down at her nightgown and her face flamed anew. She was dressed indecently and must look a sight. She hadn’t even combed her hair. The poor guy probably wanted to laugh at her concerns about propriety. Granted, he had caught her unprepared in her own home, but she wasn’t exactly irresistible at her best.
She hurried to her room and dressed. She combed her hair and hastily wound the copper curls into a bun at the nape of her neck. With that done, she went to the kitchen to fix a nutritious breakfast. When she spotted the whiskey bottle on the table, she grabbed it and put it in the cabinet. Hid it – for the first time.
When Monty hesitantly walked into the kitchen, she already had the table set. She nodded to a chair. “Have a seat. I was just getting ready to serve it.”
He sat in the chair she indicated. “It smells delicious. I haven’t had anything to eat in…”
She placed the platter of bacon and eggs on the table and looked at him. He was a nice looking man under all that beard. He still needed a haircut though. “Since when? She prompted.
He looked flustered. “I’m not sure.”
“Well, eat all you want. There’s plenty more where that came from.”
She pulled a pan of biscuits from the oven and set it on a trivet on the table. She poured them each a cup of coffee and sat down at the table across from him.
He bowed his head for a moment. When he lifted it, he looked hungrily at the eggs. He probably wouldn’t eat anything until she ate first. She lifted the plate and slid an egg and a slice of bacon into her plate before passing it to him. He immediately filled his plate. She took a biscuit and passed those to him, and then the butter. She wasn’t that hungry, but if it made him feel more comfortable, she’d eat. It suddenly occurred to her that she no longer had a headache.
Monty didn’t eat like a starving cat. He held himself back, chewing his food thoroughly and swallowing before the next bite. He didn’t stuff himself either. That was probably a good thing, after going so long without food. He finally wiped his mouth and slid his chair back, his shy gaze finding hers.
“You are a very good cook. Thank you for sharing your food with me.”
“You’re welcome,” She said – and he was. It felt good to help someone else. She had devoted the last year to nursing her pride. There were many people in need, but they had to come to her door before she noticed.
He stood and picked up his plate. When he carried it to the sink, she interrupted him. “I’ll get that. Just sit it in the sink.”
He glanced back at her. “I don’t want to intrude, but since you cooked the meal and shared it with me, it seems the least I could do is wash the dishes.”
She started to refuse, but he probably wanted to feel like he was contributing something. She nodded. “Okay, if you want to, but it isn’t necessary.”
He gave her a small smile. “I think it is.”
It struck her that he had kind eyes. They were pretty eyes, with long dark lashes. She sipped her coffee. “What was your occupation before…”
He turned and walked over to the table, removing her plate and tableware. “I worked at a veterinary clinic while I was going to night school. I worked as a handyman at the apartment to help pay the rent. Stephanie worked in an office. We were saving to buy some land.” He shrugged. “We had a decent savings account. We thought we had planned well. Then she started having stomach pains. At first we thought she might be pregnant, and we weren’t ready for that yet.” He took her plate to the sink. “We had no idea how much better that would have been.”
“I’m sorry.” That was all she could think of to say.
“The insurance we had only paid for part of the cost of the treatments. I quit school to take care of her and I took off work so much that I lost my job. We had to let our cars go back. The next thing we knew, we had nothing left and were in debt. The landlord didn’t have any choice. It was either kick us out or go into the red. We stayed with one of her friends for a while, but after she died, I couldn’t stay there. Living on the street wasn’t so bad in the summer.” He stopped talking a minute. “I’m sorry. This is no way for me to start the new year, much less ruin yours.”
She looked at his back as he ran water in the sink. What had made her think she was having a difficult time? She had created most of her own pain by refusing to let go of the past. It was a new year and she had so much to live for.
He turned and looked at her. “Here I am, dumping my baggage on you. I haven’t even asked about you.”
She smiled at him. “Thank you for the baggage. I have been moping around here for a year, thinking I had nothing to live for since my husband left. I have so much to be thankful for.”
“I didn’t mean to make your troubles sound small.”
“Oh, but they are small. They only seemed like they were getting larger because I was sinking so low. I’m glad you came to my door. Your story was exactly what I needed to hear.”
He thought about it for a moment. “Perhaps I was doing the same thing. I have the rest of my life. Stephanie wouldn’t want me to grieve this way.”
She finished her coffee and took the cup to the sink. As she put up the leftover food, she thought about her future instead of what she had lost. She had loved the farm – gardening and taking care of the animals. It was the constant maintenance without assistance that had made her decide to get rid of them. She could do those things – in fact, she could probably work from home and make enough money to hire someone to help on occasion.
She turned and looked at Monty. “I don’t want to push you into anything, but…I could use some help around here – if you are so inclined.”
He rinsed a dish and put it in the dish rack. “I’d be glad to help in any way I can.”
“If you know anything about mechanics, I have a car in the barn. Darrel was going to fix it. I don’t know what was wrong with it, but you could have it for the fixing.”
He turned and looked at her, his hands still in the water. “I’m not a mechanic, but I’ve worked on cars. I’d be glad to work around here for it.”
She shrugged. “It’s just in the way. I don’t need it. I’ve got a good car. In four more months, I’ll be planting a garden. I thought about getting a milk cow.”
He gazed out the window over the sink. “Only four more months. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Thinking in terms of rejuvenation. Spring is coming – it might seem like a long way off, but with every day, we are getting closer. The snow will melt and the weather will warm. We can’t give up because it seems so bleak and cold today.”
He was right. She didn’t need the whiskey. It only numbed her to the point that she didn’t see the truth. She began to feel excited about working the farm again. She had a good education, a farm with no mortgage and her health. How fortunate she was, and she didn’t even see it until Monty came along. Darrel had been a crutch. What she needed was the courage to stand up and face the future. Today was the first day of a new year. She was going to use it wisely.