Her visions always came in sketchy shades of gray before crystallizing into colorful bursts, so it was his
ash-colored eyes that appeared first. She saw a camera zoom away from those
eyes, change angles and scan the crowd. Both the young and old waved and cheered;
all fervently wishing to later see themselves on TV. Surely the young woman elsewhere
selecting which clothes to take on a short journey would have chosen differently had she known it would be her image that
would soon appear on their TVs.
Jacy kicked off her new shoes and winced when the toe she stubbed earlier grazed the glossy leather. She tugged on the side pocket of her suitcase and tried to fit the shoes inside. No such luck. The pocket didn’t expand far enough.
“The phone number for the Bed & Breakfast is hanging on the refrigerator if you need to reach me.”
She tossed the new shoes aside and shoved her feet into well-worn loafers. “I
can’t thank you enough for taking care of things while I’m away.”
“You’ve already thanked me a million times,” Tricia said. “It’s really no trouble.”
“The plumber might be stopping by.” She wiggled her toes.
Much better. “I called him last week to fix the drain in the greenhouse and
he said he might be able to squeeze it in Wednesday. If I’m lucky.”
“Honestly, I don’t
know why you keep hiring him. Remember the time you had to wait three weeks before
you could take a proper shower? He’s not the only plumber in Chicago.”
Jacy bent over to pet her Irish Setter stretched out across the bedroom floor. “One more thing. Don’t feed Blaze too many of those dog biscuits Evan brought over.
They’re full of empty calories.”
“Three out of four veterinarians recommend them,” Tricia said, imitating the voice on the television commercial
for the product.
“Not this veterinarian.” Jacy tapped herself lightly on the chest, acutely aware of the weighty feeling
her engagement ring added to her finger.
She poured a generous
dollop of lotion into her palm and briskly rubbed the creamy liquid into her red, chapped hands; a result of the constant
hand washing veterinarian care required. She frowned when she looked at her short,
unpainted nails. The ring with the two carat diamond and ornate gold band really
did deserve a nicer-looking residence.
“Be sure to tell your family I said hello,” Tricia said.
“My mother has invited
you down anytime you want.” Jacy tucked her toothbrush and paste into the
small travel bag.
“Oh, I know. She’s always made me feel welcome.” Tricia
brushed aside the lace-trimmed curtain and looked out the window.
The gentle clink
of Tricia’s gold bracelets tapping each other reminded Jacy of the wistful sound the wind chimes at her mother’s
Bed & Breakfast made. “I wish you could come. Save me from boredom. I like seeing my family, but, uck, Meadow
Springs,” she said with an exaggerated shudder. “Except for lounging
around the lake in nice weather, what’s there to do in that one-cow town?”
be ridiculous.” Tricia laughed. “Meadow Springs has more than one
Jacy grinned. “Gee, thanks for your support.”
“Really, I think
Meadow Springs is charming. It’s quaint. And I’m sure it’s
lovely in the spring.”
Jacy twisted her hair into a braid. “I suppose.”
really worried about is introducing Evan to your family. I can’t believe
he’s just now meeting them.”
Jacy nodded. She’d delayed this meeting too long, having made a silent vow years ago to stop introducing any
man to her family until she was engaged. Her family always thought if she bothered
to drive the five hours from Chicago to Meadow Springs with someone that she was in a serious relationship when most of the
time she wasn’t.
Finally, she wouldn’t disappoint them. Evan had proposed a month ago, and despite his pressure for Jacy to pick
a wedding date, she had not yet done so, focusing instead on arranging this visit to Meadow Springs.
With their hectic schedules, arranging time away had not been easy. It
had taken Jacy weeks to juggle her appointments and find a veterinarian willing to take any emergencies with her patients.
Evan had cleared his calendar as best he could, but a last minute meeting
with a fellow-acquisition manager was arranged and he could now only stay the weekend.
Jacy had decided to stay longer and drive a rental back.
“There’s Evan now.” Tricia gestured out the window a second before Blaze jumped up and ran to greet
him, leaving a tuft of red fur billowing behind.
“Just about ready to go?” Evan asked.
“I’m almost finished packing, but I have a few plants I want to give to my mom, and...grrr.” Jacy
groaned as she knocked the cosmetic bag off the dresser and travel-sized toiletries started rolling across the floor.
“Would you slow down?” Evan held his hand up stop-sign fashion. “I
hope you’re going to relax while we’re away. You’re always
so nervous, moving and talking so fast…you remind me of a canary.”
“Nonsense,” Tricia intervened. “Jacy isn’t nervous, she’s energetic. More like a race
dog than a canary. I would think you’d know that by now.”
Evan scowled. “I don’t need you explaining Jacy to me. Thank you.”
“Well, excuse me for being protective,” Tricia countered.
“More like bitter,” Evan said. “Two divorces will do
that I guess.”
Jacy shot Evan a chastising look.
“My history has nothing to do with you,” Tricia said.
“Yeah, right?” Evan said. “Bed ‘em and eat ‘em
for breakfast. That’s your motto about men.”
Jacy said. She could never understand why it was Evan and Tricia led similar
lifestyles, yet didn't click. If anything, Jacy thought she herself would be odd man out. Both of them had
corporate careers that included a suave clientele, necessitating a wardrobe of expensive designer clothes. Jacy’s
clientele slobbered a lot, and most days her wardrobe consisted of a simple skirt and blouse, sensible shoes, and a lab coat
which by day’s end was covered with pet fur.
Jacy snapped her suitcase shut. “I'm ready.”
“Then let’s go before traffic gets heavy.” Evan grabbed the suitcase, and without so much as a nod
in Tricia’s direction, walked out.
Tricia shrugged. “Sorry. I
didn't mean to get him so worked up. I know how important this trip is to you. I should have kept my mouth shut.”
She gave Tricia a quick hug. “Don't worry about it. The drive will calm him down. It’s a perfect day for it.”
Jacy always enjoyed the trip to Meadow Springs as it was necessary to first travel to the southern part of the state
before turning west. It was breathtaking country, with more hills and woodlands than the rest of Illinois.
The western leg of the journey became more rural. Grain and livestock
farms stretched for miles across the rich soiled landscape. Silos, church spires, and an occasional grove of trees were the most conspicuous
The town of Meadow Springs itself was tucked between farms and small villages with a patchwork of antique shops dotting
the landscape. It wasn’t unusual to see a horse and buggy in the small town, and Jacy always had a sense of going back
in time when she visited.
As Evan made the turn onto the narrow winding street that led to the Bed & Breakfast, just a peek of the house
appeared through the pink blossoms of dogwood trees.
“How long ago did you say your mother bought this place?” Evan asked.
“About eight years ago, not long after my father died,” Jacy said.
“She decided she’d had enough of city life. She’s
really enchanted by this town. I think it’s claustrophobic, but my brother
is taken with it too. His wife is a local girl; born and raised here. I don’t think Dawn’s ever been more than fifty miles out of Meadow Springs in any one direction. They really help my mom out.”
Evan let out a whistle as they rounded the final curve and the house was fully visible. “And they do a great
Jacy couldn’t agree more. The sight of the large three-story farm
house never failed to take her breath away. Despite its bulky size, her mother
somehow managed to make the big old house charming. Pine green shutters complemented the white clapboard siding. Flower boxes overflowing with salmon colored tulips and blue
pansies adorned each window. A rose arbor at the left of the property led
to the small carriage house where her mother resided. To the right, a pebbled
trail wound down to meet the soft sand along the lake.
They walked up the
path to the porch and Evan stopped to read the hand-painted sign welcoming guests. Bold
lettering read ‘Flora’s Old-Fashioned Flavor,’ while a smaller print stated the Bed & Breakfast was
Evan lifted his face and sniffed. “The air smells like apples.”
“No, I think
you probably smell my new hand lotion. Its apple scented.”
“Hello, Jacy,” said a woman sweeping the porch. “Your mother’s in the kitchen. She’s
been cooking up a storm all day.”
“Thanks.” Jacy studied the woman. Although the woman seemed
to know her, Jacy didn’t recognize the woman with the short pixie haircut and puffy eyes.
She led Evan
through the vestibule into the large parlor where guests often gathered around the fireplace in cold weather. She paused to admire the antique rocking chair her mother recently added near the hearth.
“Jacy!” Her mother came from the kitchen. “You look
wonderful.” She wiped her hands on a blue ruffled apron and grasped Jacy
in a hug. “But you’re getting way too thin. Some of my home-made waffles dripping with warm maple syrup will take care of that.”
“All those calories will go straight to my rear,” Jacy said.
Her mother flipped her hand in dismissal. “So what if you’re a little fleshy in the hip area, the rest
of you is rail thin.”
“Hmph…fleshy is putting it mildly.” Jacy gave her mom
a final squeeze and released herself to introduce Evan.
Evan extended his hand. “Pleased to finally meet you, Mrs. Parker.”
“You call me Flora,” she said and pulled Evan into her embrace. “You two go ahead upstairs and get
settled. How does a glass of sun-brewed iced tea with fresh mint sound? It’s warm enough that we can sit out on the porch and get acquainted.”
“Mom, who was that woman sweeping the porch?”
“That’s Hannah. Hannah Dollin.
She’s been helping out around here. No one in town knows where she’s
from, and if you ask her how she came to Meadow Springs, she says she travels to where she’s needed. Funny thing was she showed up the same day Dawn twisted her ankle and was out of commission for a week,
and I did need someone here to help out. I guess you could say she’s a gypsy of sorts and...” Flora lowered her
voice into a hushed whisper. “She’s got the gift. She’s psychic.”
“Oh, Mom, you’re not still into that psychic mumbo jumbo, are you?” Jacy rolled her eyes. “It’s all a bunch of bunk.”
Flora said as Jacy and Evan started up the stairs. “And why do you always
insist on lugging your suitcase up the steps when I had a perfectly good elevator installed?”
“Habit.” Jacy said and was half way up the steps when she
turned back to her mother. “Where are Rob and Dawn?”
“They took Georgette to the zoo. I’m not sure what time they’ll
Jacy grinned. “Why don’t you just ask Hannah?”
“Still got that smart mouth on you, I see,” Flora scolded with a smile. “I should have washed your
mouth out with soap when you were a kid.”
Jacy led Evan down the hall into the one room with an open door.
She was pleased her mother had reserved her favorite of the guestrooms. It was a large sunny room with a view
of the lake.
“This is nice.”
Evan looked around. “Where’s the phone?”
“You could have
mentioned that before we left. I need to check in with the office.”
“Now?” Jacy unpacked. “But we just got here.”
Evan grinned. “Your point?”
Jacy sighed. “You can use the
“Ok. Will you be much longer?”
“No. I’ll be down in a minute.” Jacy loosened her braid and was pleased it added a soft cascade of waves to her otherwise straight, light
brown hair. Likely, her sister-in-law would be pleased too. Before Dawn married Rob she was a beautician and now fashioned
herself an expert makeover artist. Dawn was the epitome of a small-town girl,
and thought anyone unmarried by the age of twenty-five was an old spinster and that Jacy, at thirty- two, was almost doomed.
Dawn would always start the conversation nice enough. “Your eyes are your best feature. Such a unique light
color green...so pretty. Your complexion is good, but maybe some blonde highlights
would brighten up your face.”
Jacy thought being told her face
was dull was a bit of an ego cruncher, but she found Dawn’s attempts at making her over humorous and would let her continue.
“Your nose is small, but a little wide at the bottom. You should put a little darker makeup in that area to contour it.”
Dawn didn’t mean any harm and had her best intentions at heart. Jacy
wondered if now that she was engaged if Dawn would stop trying to make her over. She
laughed aloud when she realized she hoped otherwise. She slathered on more hand
cream and raced down the steps.
She joined Evan and her mother on the porch and slipped herself beside Evan on the porch swing.
“Evan was just telling me his great-grandfather was an Illinois senator, and his uncle is running for state senate,”
“Yes,” Jacy said. “We spend a lot of time at his fundraising
“Any interest in running for office yourself some day?” Flora asked.
“I haven’t ruled it out,” Evan said, flashing a smile.
Jacy studied Evan and imagined her mother’s first impression of him was similar to her own when she had met him. He was a distinguished looking man. The
sunlight on the porch made his blonde hair look even lighter than usual, and reminded Jacy of the time she offended him when
she bluntly accused him of coloring it. While his smallish brown eyes were deep
set, they were complemented by the golden hue of his skin, a contrast to her pale tone.
“Are you an animal lover?” Flora asked him. “That was probably a silly question. To be with Jacy
you’d have to be.”
Jacy smiled. “That’s how we met. Evan rushed his dog into the office.”
“Oh, you did
tell me that,” Flora said. “He swallowed a woman’s knee-high,
Evan squeezed Jacy’s hand. “And after Jacy operated and saved Gus’s
life, I knew she was the one.”
Flora smiled. “Sweet
“Would have been
sweeter if Jacy had accepted my first dinner invitation,” Evan said.
Jacy laughed. She'd only refused because she figured if
he had women’s hosiery at his place, he was involved. But when Evan
explained he used the nylons to stake tomato plants, she was intrigued as the greenhouse she had built behind her two-bedroom
stone house was her one luxury to herself.
It was only later
that Evan admitted he detested gardening. Said he couldn’t stand the smell
of dirt. It was his gardener who used the nylons for staking the tomato plants. Evan was a cooking enthusiast and thought home-grown vegetables and herbs enhanced
his recipes. Of course, by the time Jacy discovered this, she was already charmed
and flattered by his focused pursuit of her. That he misrepresented himself as
a gardener hardly seemed a concern.
“Here come Rob and Dawn now,” Jacy said.
“Georgette, don’t run so fast!” Flora shouted from the
porch. “You’ll fall.”
“Aunt Jacy!” Georgette
threw herself at Jacy and the swing squeaked in protest at the added momentum.
“Look at you!”
Jacy snuggled her close. “You’ve grown so much.”
“Of course I’ve grown. I turned seven. Look, I’m wearing
the shorts you sent me for my birthday. We went to the zoo today. My favorite was the elephants.” Georgette used her
little arms to imitate the trunk of an elephant before turning to Evan. “Are you Aunt Jacy’s boyfriend?”
As Georgette turned her interest to Evan, Jacy took the opportunity to greet Rob and Dawn.
“Hey Freckles,” Rob said, referencing the name he used to
tease Jacy with because of the freckling across her nose.
Jacy crinkled her nose. “Not anymore, Robo. I grew out of them,
Rob playfully poked her arm and pointed to the small mass of freckles on her shoulder.
“What about those?”
“Golly, Jacy, don’t just stand there,” Dawn said, her blonde curls bobbing around her face. “Show me that engagement ring.”
Jacy held out her hand.
“Oh, it’s beautiful! The band is so fancy.” Dawn clasped
Jacy’s hand and frowned. “But we really need to do something about those dried-up hands of yours.”
Jacy laughed and hugged Dawn. “It’s good to see you.”
Dawn smiled. “We’re going to have so much fun while you’re here!”
Jacy laughed harder. A lot of words could be used to describe Meadow Springs,
but “fun” wasn’t one of them.
Seth’s head was buried in his book so he was startled when Tom slammed on the brakes. He braced himself against the dash, looked up and laughed when he saw the reason for the sudden stop. “Is
that a goat?”
“Yes.” Tom hit the horn and shouted out the window. “Out
of the way Billy!”
“And he’s off,” Seth said.
“Damnit.” Tom turned and looked in the back of the van before hitting the gas again. “I hope the television camera didn’t get jolted. The
station tends to frown on breaking their expensive equipment.”
“Yeah, but they’d still tell me I should have just run over the goat.”
Seth tossed the book on the dash and studied the landscape. His research
showed a few Amish farms remained in the area and sheep meandered in the farmland to his right. On the left, faded crocus and the brilliant buds of tulips nodded gently on the banks of a pond. The pear-shaped pond reminded him of the one he and his brothers used to fish on in the spring and
then play hockey on in winter.
“I grew up in a place like this. Along with my four brothers, my
parents, and a slew of aunts, uncles and cousins, I think we made up half the town’s population. So, I’m enjoying
these small towns. Brings up memories.” He paused to admire a farm house
they past. “Good memories. Of
course, if you tell Caitlyn I said I’m enjoying this, I’ll deny it.”
“How did our esteemed producer talk you into this anyway? You usually
do hard-hitting stuff,” Tom said.
“Joanne Green was scheduled, but is having difficulty with her pregnancy; something Caitlyn has tried to weave
into the show to increase ratings.” Seth shook his head in disgust.
“Anything for the ratings.”
“Caitlyn said if I took this on she’d let me investigate a couple tips I got on some real stories. Plus this gets me out of the studio and away from her
“Caitlyn’s tough on everybody, but the wrath she sends your way comes from you dating and dumping her niece.”
Tom smirked. “What were you thinking?”
“Which? Dating her or dumping her?”
Tom laughed. “Both.”
“Better you than me.” Tom shook his head. “But I sure understand why you’d want
to spend less time in the studio. I don’t mind the road too much as long
as I get to fly back home a couple times a week to see the wife and kids. But
I should still warn you by July I’ll be a bear.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, you’re the best cameraman at the station, and I’m glad you’re
on this assignment with me. Even if you are a slob.” Seth gestured to the
empty Styrofoam coffee cups and magazines littering the van.
“I must be good if I can make your ugly mug look presentable on camera,” Tom joked.
“I’ll have you know I have brooding good looks,” Seth said with false bravado. “That’s what Caitlyn told me when she hired me. Says
it’s a quote unquote marketable look.”
Seth always thought it odd that Caitlyn used the word ‘brooding’ to describe him because ever since Seth
was a boy his mother told him he brooded too much. As for his looks being marketable,
Seth couldn’t care less. He was just pleased the slight graying in his
dark hair and the maturing around his eyes had finally ridded him of the “cute” label he was marked with in his
“The ratings have gone up since you joined the show,” Tom said.
“I was told I’d be doing investigative reporting when I signed on, but Caitlyn’s leaning toward sensational,
tacky stories a lot lately.”
“Of course, the rating’s sky rocketed after January’s Chicago Front and Center hit the newsstands,”
Tom said. “Seth Cottington, Most Eligible Bachelor in Illinois.”
Seth moaned. “Shut up.”
He’d been embarrassed when the sleazy tabloid named him that; hated the times when he became the news, rather
than the one delivering the news. Of course, Caitlyn never missed an opportunity
for free publicity and hyped Seth’s “Most Eligible Bachelor” label to the max.
Seth hadn’t been in broadcasting long and, in fact, it was considered quite a coup for him to land the job on
WCIL’s Chicago Voice after making the switch from newspaper reporting to broadcasting.
He’d negotiated a three-year contract and a paycheck nearly triple what the newspaper paid him. His continual arguments with Caitlyn about the show’s content nagged at him though. The only advantage Seth had was both he and Caitlyn knew Seth was the reason Chicago Voice’s
ratings were so high. Of course, that didn’t totally stop Caitlyn from
digging her nails into him now and again.
Seth ran his tongue along his front teeth. Last week she’d told
him to have his front tooth capped to repair its small chip. He flatly
refused. Already for the show, he had shaved the goatee and mustache he sported
during his newspaper years. The chipped tooth was a result of one too many
hockey sticks slammed in his mouth, and he wore it with pride knowing how much his athletic scholarship helped his parents
send five boys to college.
Seth picked up his book.
“Still reading that stupid book about dames in Gettysburg?” Tom asked.
Seth flipped the book over to the cover. “It’s “Women
of the Civil War.”
“You can learn a lot about studying the past. History repeats itself,”
Seth defended. “The book’s good stuff.”
Tom took one hand off the steering wheel and grabbed a magazine from the floor.
He shook it open to reveal the buxom-blonde centerfold and shoved the magazine in Seth’s face. “Miss April. That’s good stuff.”
Seth chuckled. “Does your wife know you’re looking at that good
“Yeah, but Kelly knows I belong to her,” Tom said.
“Yep, she’s stuck with me.”
“There’s our exit.” Seth pointed to the road sign.
“Meadow Springs, Illinois.” Tom shook his head. “Population 3,010.”
Seth laughed. “Time to wake up yet another sleepy town.”