Friday, July 25, 2014

Chapter 7-2: Heartlines

                “Hey sweetheart, what are you doing out here,” Ben asked through his open window as he pulled into the driveway.

                “Waiting for you.” She folded the paper she’d been scouring for job listings and set it into the lawn chair as she stood. For the past two months she’d been searching every day for a job but nothing had come up that she was either qualified for or interested in. With rent and the bills, they were getting by, but just barely. If she could find a job, it would help out immensely with the finances. Maybe then they could get a kitchen table and some chairs. Or a dresser so she could finally put away all the clothes that were still living in cardboard boxes in the bedroom.

                Ben scooped her into his arms in a huge kiss. “I got promoted today!” he announced.
                “That’s fantastic news! I thought you didn’t think you’d get promoted this month?”
                “I didn’t. I didn’t think I’d been an E-2 long enough but I guess I was wrong. Let’s go out to celebrate tonight. What would you like to do?”

                They decided on dinner and a movie, the staple of most of their date nights. Instead of the usual diner they usually frequented though, they were ‘upgrading’ to the fancier Italian restaurant.

                “You look beautiful.” Ben came up behind Hanley as she put the finishing touches on her make-up.
                “That’s what you always say.”
                “Because it’s always true.”

                When the movie let out, the two walked over to Antonio’s. Despite that it was a weeknight, they had to wait a few minutes before being seated.
                “Do you know what you want,” Ben asked, as they looked over their menus.
                “Maybe. I’ve narrowed it down to the wood fired lasagna or the eggplant.”
                “I’d go with the lasagna,” Ben suggested.
                “You’re only saying that because you won’t eat eggplant,” she laughed.
                “Well, when I end up with your leftovers, of course I want you to get something I’d like,” he grinned at her. “I think I’m going to get the spaghetti.”
                “Oh, that sounds really good!” In the end, they ended up with two plates of spaghetti with meatballs and a basket of garlic bread.

                Ben’s promotion only came with a small pay increase which did little to alleviate some of the financial stress they were both feeling. Ben knew she was looking and also knew about the college opportunity she had passed up to move to Wickery Glen with him so he tried not to bring up the burden he felt often. She could tell though, in the tense muscles of his shoulders and the way he looked over their cart when they went grocery shopping. She knew she really needed to find a job quickly.

                With this in mind, Hanley decided to head over the library. Maybe an internet search would yield more results than the local paper. Four hours later, she was sitting in the same spot, though she’d run out of job ads and had started looking up cute cat videos when her phone rang.

                “Hal,” she answered, cringing apologetically at the librarian. That woman could really scowl! She made her way downstairs quickly and outside before continuing her end of the conversation.
                “You’re going to be in town this weekend?” A smile spread across Hanley’s face. She hadn’t seen her family since moving to Wickery Glen. “And you have a girlfriend?” Hal had never done any ‘serious’ dating so the fact that he had a steady, exclusive girlfriend was news to her. She must be pretty special. “Sure, I think we can make time for a night out with the two of you. There’s a bar pretty close to the house, if you want to meet at our place and walk over.”

                As she started walking back home, she passed the pet shop. She’d passed it numerous times before, always checking the window for wanted signs but maybe it was time to go in and ask directly.
                It looked as though there was only one person working at the moment. Trying to ignore her urges to play with all the animals, she strode to the counter. “Hi. I was wondering, do you have any open positions?”
                “No, not at the moment. Maybe in a few months try back,” the woman suggested. Having lived in St. Claire for most of her life, Hanley had never realized that finding a job could be so difficult. In St. Claire, restaurants were always in need of more servers, retail always needed more clerks, especially during the holiday seasons, and there were internships at local businesses as well. In Wickery Glen, positions were very limited and it seemed as though once someone found a job, they held onto it for the long haul leaving little for newcomers.

                “Ben, sis, it’s good to see you guys. This is Anja,” Hal introduced the blonde woman with him. Though they were just headed to the bar, she was dressed to the nines; her flawless body displayed in a tight dress that hugged all of her curves, her long legs ending in impossibly tall strappy heels. Beside her, Hanley felt like a bum in cotton and denim.

                “You have a quaint little apartment here,” Anja said, looking around the neighborhood. “I live over across the river. It’s not much but it’s mine.” Hanley only half listened as Anja launched into the sordid details of her move from Aurora Skies and her tempestuous falling out with her parents.
                “Uh-huh, that’s nice,” Hanley murmured, not quite sure what she was agreeing with.
                “Nice? That my parents were trying to force me into an arranged marriage? Are you even listening to what I’m saying?”
                “I think what Hanley meant was that it’s impressive that you’ve managed to do so well for yourself on your own. Admirable even.”
                “Of course that’s what I meant. Ben just says things so much better than I do, don’t you sweetheart,” she wrapped her arm through his, trying to suppress a grin. “Nice save Eastman,” she whispered.

                Once they arrived at the bar, Hal went to order a round of drinks. The rest of the group headed over to the pool table, grabbing cues while Ben racked the balls.
                “I think I could give you some tips on your form,” Anja slowly looked Ben up and down as he bent to make his move. Hanley cocked her head, trying to decide if her brother’s girlfriend was flirting with her husband.

                “Thanks, I think I’ve got it,” Ben thrust his cue stick forward, connecting with the cue ball with a loud crack, breaking the triangle into every direction and sinking four of the other balls.
                “I guess you do. It looks like maybe you could help me improve my form,” Anja purred at Ben. She sidled up next to him, watching as he calculated his next move.
                “Excuse me,” Ben brushed her out of the way as he took his shot. Neither he nor Hal seemed to be paying any attention to Anja’s tasteless behavior.

                “I’m going to get some food. I don’t really feel like playing,” Hanley made her way over to the bar and ordered another round of drinks and a plate of onion rings. By the time the game was over, Hanley had downed four sorrow annihilators and was feeling a bit dizzy.
                “Despite your prowess, I still won,” Anja taunted Ben as they made their way to where Hanley was sitting. “I think you owe me a drink.” She leaned into him, touching his arm in a way that suggested she’d met him long before tonight.

                “I don’t know who you think you are but, where I come from, it’s incredibly rude to flirt with a married man.”
                “Han, honey, it’s okay.”
                “I’m not interested in all this drama. I’m out of here. Halden, call me if you want to go out again, alone. See ya around Ben,” Anja winked before heading to the door.

                Ben pulled his wife towards the dance floor, ignoring Anja as she stalked from the bar. “Hanley, sweetheart, you know the only woman I’m interested in is you.” She smiled at him, slightly embarrassed of her outburst.
                “I just can’t she would have the audacity to flirt with you, right in front of me and Hal.”
                “She was flirting? I didn’t even notice.” He pulled her in close, his hand resting on her hip as she swayed with him.
                “I don’t know how you couldn’t…”
                “You’re my everything, simple as that. No need to even mention it again.” As he pulled her more closely into him, she was distinctly aware of his hard chest pressed against her. Each slight brush from her cotton shirt as they swayed slowly on the dance floor left Hanley breathless with desire. “Han, are you okay,” Ben pushed her back by her shoulders a bit, concern clouding his eyes.
                “I think we should go home,” she pulled him towards the door.

                No sooner had he unlocked the door than she crushed her mouth to his, desperate to soothe the ache she’d felt on the dance floor. She slid her hands under his shirt, raking her nails against his stomach. She felt Ben tense and then groan against her mouth before he reached to pull her vest down her arms. She wrenched her mouth from his and ripped her blouse over her head.

                The stairs quickly became littered with articles of clothing as the two made their way to the bedroom. Ben pressed her into the door, pulling her lower half against the length of him, his hands tight on her hips. As he trailed wet kisses along her collarbone, Hanley let her head fall back as she was lost in utter ecstasy. With one hand, Ben loosened his grip on Hanley and fumbled behind her, finally getting a grasp on the doorknob and opening the way to the bedroom.

                Hanley stumbled as the door fell open behind her but Ben reached out for her, catching her in his strong arms. She breathed him in; he always smelled of his citrus shampoo with the faint remnants of the oils he used to clean his guns at work. As she wriggled out of her skirt, Ben slid his arm around her, tumbling her back into the bed.
                “I don’t know what’s gotten in to you,” he moaned before he sucked lightly at the sensitive lobe of her ear,” but I think I like it”.

                They awoke the next morning, sticky and tangled around each other. “How do you feel?” He lightly stroked her ribs, a lazy, satisfied smile on his lips.
                She smiled back at him before grimacing and stretching up to cradle her head. “I think I have my first hangover.”
                “C’mon. I’ll take you to get some coffee.”

                “Ben, I don’t know if I can stay in here.” Being in the coffee shop felt like pure torture. The lights felt like spotlights straight through her retinas and the smell of the coffee was almost enough to make her hurl. When the barista fired up the grinder, Hanley felt like someone had taken a buzz saw to her skull.
                “I promise, it’ll be worth it once you actually get the caffeine in your system,” Ben assured her. He quickly ordered two strong black coffees.
                “Coming right up,” the barista chirped happily. Though he may have been charming on any normal day, Hanley could only narrow her eyes and glare at him. He cringed and rushed about his station, hurriedly pouring the cups and pushing them across the counter.

                They took a seat in the corner of the shop, far away from register. “Feel better now?” She nodded slightly as she took her first sip. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you last night before we left for the bar. We got our workup papers yesterday.”
                Hangover forgotten, she winced. “When,” she had to know, even knowing she wouldn’t like his answer.
                “We leave in three months.” The threat of the looming deployment had weighed heavily on her. She had known that deployments would be part of her husband’s job when they got married. Now though, with an actual date in mind, it felt real. I’m going to be alone.
                “You won’t be alone.” She started, wondering if she’d said that out loud. “Todd’s going too and Emme will be right next door.”

                A couple weeks later, Ben came home to find Hanley sitting on the couch still in her pajamas. She didn’t look up as he entered. “Hanley?” She didn’t react and he wondered if she even realized he’d come through the door. “Honey, are you okay?” He reached out, resting his hand on her shoulder.

                Suddenly, she was up and in his arms. He felt her tears, wet against his shirt. “My mom, she died last night.”
                “Oh honey, I’m so sorry.” Though he couldn’t take off of work, especially not with all the preparations they were making before they left, he scheduled a flight home for Hanley straight away.

                After the service, the family followed behind the casket to the gravesite, to say their final words to the deceased and toss the obligatory handful of dirt on the casket. Hanley felt her brother’s hand, heavy on her shoulder. She reached for it, grateful for the comfort.

                Hanley gripped her brother’s hand as they walked through the front door of her childhood home. People milled about everywhere, casseroles lining the counters. Aunt Renata was busy playing hostess. Hanley suspected that her aunt needed something to do with her hands, to keep from breaking down herself. Hal extricated himself from his sister, to greet one of the neighbors who had stopped by to express their condolences. When Mrs. Miller started towards her, Hanley dropped her head and quickly turned away, finding a quiet corner in the room. She didn’t know what to say to these people and couldn’t summon the nerve to engage in small talk.

                She felt someone take a sit beside her and then a hand cover her own. “Your mother loved you, very much,” her father assured her. “She was talking about coming to Wickery Glen, to visit and to make amends. When she got sick, I tried to convince her to call you but she was sure that she had more time. Not even the doctors thought the cancer would progress so rapidly. She wrote you a letter. Let me go get it.” He came back, handing her a sealed envelope, addressed in her mother’s distinct handwriting.

There’s so much I wish I could tell you. So much I should have told you, instead of the angry words we shared the last time I saw you. I regret those words every day. I’ve always wanted what’s best for you and thought that as your mother, I knew what that was. I couldn’t accept that you were a grown woman who could decide on her own. I made a lot of stupid decisions about love when I was your age and I was so afraid that you’d be repeating my mistakes that I tried to keep you on the path I thought you should follow. I wish I had been there for your wedding and I wish I could be there for all the next steps you’ll be taking as a new wife and, someday, a mother yourself. No matter where your choices take you, you always follow your heart and I want you to know I’m proud of you for that. I’ll always be looking down on you, wherever you go.

                Though she would have loved to say that the letter made everything better, Hanley knew that it didn’t. It didn’t erase the fact that her mother had been absent these last few months and that she’d missed her chance to fix things before she’d died.

                “Todd and Emme suggested we should go to the county fair,” Ben suggested. Life had moved on since she had come home from St. Claire. Though the grief was still fresh, Hanley knew she couldn’t dwell on the past. Even without a physical countdown, she could feel the days tick by, leading up to day that Ben would get on that bus and leave her. She wanted to make every minute they had left count. With the weather abnormally hot, the pair dressed coolly and headed for the far side of town.

                “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Hanley grinned like a kid. Even in St. Claire, they’d never had a carnival like this one. Balloons waved in the breeze and the colorful tents beckoned everyone who drove by to come in.

                They wandered around the carnival grounds, trying to decide what to do first. When Ben spotted the photo booth, Hanley made a beeline for it, insisting that they needed more pictures to hang on their walls.

                Afterwards, they made their way to the game tents, challenging each other to skeeball. Three games later, it was obvious that Hanley was better than Ben at the game. Neither was able to earn enough tickets for the giant panda at the prize booth though.

                “Ben, please,” Hanley begged, nudging Ben playfully with a puppy dog pout on her face.
                “Han, we could just buy a goldfish. I’m sure it’d be cheaper.”
                “But that’s not nearly as fun as winning one!”
                “Fine,” he shook his head, trudging towards to the ticket booth to purchase tickets for the goldfish toss.

                After twelve tries, Hanley still hadn’t won a goldfish and finally gave up. “I swear, this thing is rigged!”
                “Of course it’s rigged. It’s a carnival.” She leaned over, punching him in the arm as he laughed at her.

                “You’re going down Eastman,” she said, running over the rock challenge and handing the attendant tickets for a race.
                “Oh, you think so,” he smirked. “You do know I do this for a living, right?”

                When the starting bell rang, Ben launched himself up the wall. Hanley had barely made it off the mat before he was halfway up, racing to the top.
                “Give me a fighting chance,” she shouted up to him, groping for a toehold.
                “Nu-uh. You wanted this challenge, I’m not going to let you win,” he called down to her as he slapped the buzzer with his free hand before dropping gracefully back to the mat. Even though she had already lost, she forced herself to finish the climb and tap the now-silent buzzer before accepting defeat.

                “That’s my girl,” Ben pulled her in for a sweaty kiss when she finally made it back down.

                With less than two months to go now, the pair decided to make Sundays “brunch days”. After reading raving reviews about Belle’s in the paper, it was decided that their first Sunday brunch would be at the famous bakery.
                “These pancakes look delicious,” Ben grabbed for his fork as soon as the waitress set the plate in front of him.

                “You know, I do know how to make pancakes, right?” Hanley had ordered crepes, something she didn’t know how to make at home. Looking down, she crinkled her nose, gagging at the smell. “It smells rancid! Why would they send this out?” She jumped up from the table, bolting for the patio door. 

                When she still hadn’t come back to the table, Ben went inside to look for her. Just then, she emerged from the bathroom.
                “Are you okay?”
                “Yeah, I think so. Those crepes just smelled awful. You couldn’t smell them?”
                “They smelled fine to me. We can get you something else,” he offered as they made their way back out to the porch.
                “It’s okay. I’ll just stick with the coffee.” As she sat back down, she pushed the plate as far across the table as she could until the waitress came back to retrieve it.

                The next day, Hanley walked over to the gas station. Though yesterday had been the first day she’d actually gotten sick from certain smells, she was beginning to suspect that the crepes hadn’t been rancid at all. Especially since Ben had thought they smelled fine. She’d noticed that she had been more tired lately. She’d also felt lightheaded and dizzy. After yesterday, she was beginning to suspect that it was all tied together.

                In fact, she had a pretty good idea just what her symptoms all pointed to.

Chapter 7.1                                                                                                                                                         Chapter 7.3

Friday, July 18, 2014

Chapter 7-1: Goodbye to You

                “How can you be so eager to ruin your life?” Evangeline had barely given Hanley time to change before she launched into a tirade. She had been horrified when Ben proposed and even more so when her daughter accepted.
                “How can you say that? Don’t you want me to be happy?”
                “Of course I want you to be happy. I want what’s best for you. And that’s going to school, like you planned, and becoming a veterinarian, like you planned. Not dropping it all for some boy you barely even know and traveling across the country.”

                “Mom, plans can change and be adjusted.”
                “But they shouldn’t have to!” Miles winced as his wife’s voice reached a frequency he was sure would break the wineglasses. “If he truly loved you, he wouldn’t ask you to throw a scholarship, or your life, away!”

                Hanley took a deep breath, trying to control the rage bubbling inside her. “I’m just going to say this once mom, so listen. I love Ben. He loves me. We are getting married and we are moving to Wickery Glen. I can’t ask you to agree with it. As an adult though, I can ask you to respect my decision.”
                “Absolutely not. I will not respect your ‘decision’,” Evangeline sneered. “It’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made and you’ll regret it when you realize what you’ve wasted.”

                It was at that moment that Ben walked into the kitchen. Over the arguing, they must have missed the knock at the door. “Is everything okay here?”
                Evangeline refused to look her future son-in-law in the face. “If you insist on this Hanley, I can’t physically or legally stop you. Know this though; if you do follow through and marry that boy, you will no longer be my daughter. Don’t come crawling back for help when you find out I’m right.” She turned and stormed from the room before anyone could respond.

                Hanley gulped back tears, trying to keep her fiancĂ© from seeing her cry. Miles stood and pulled his daughter into him. “I’ll see if I can get her to come around, okay? You know how she can be.”

                Preparations for the wedding took over and Hanley left herself little time to worry and cry over her mother’s reaction. She went to the local consignment store to find a dress for the ceremony. It wasn’t a typical wedding dress but it would do. The appointment was made at the court house and the marriage application filed with the clerk. That Friday, the Avendales met up at city hall, to bear witness to the marriage of Ben and Hanley. Though the courts were crowded, the line to be seen by the justice of the peace moved quickly. By the time her family found them in line, it was their turn and they moved into position.

                Fifteen minutes later, they were married and had drifted outside to the gardens to chat and wait for the certificate to be processed and filed. “She really didn’t come then,” Hanley observed, noticing her mother’s absence. Not that was she surprised.
                Her father gave her a sad smile. “I tried. She’s not budging yet. I won’t give up though, I promise.”

                “How about a kiss, for a picture,” Gemma broke the uncomfortable silence. “I’ll email you a copy and it can be the first thing to go up in your new house.”
                “That’s perfect, thank you,” Ben smiled at his new cousin and whirled his wife around, dipping her into a low kiss while Gemma snapped a few pictures.

                Everyone crowded in then to congratulate the newlyweds. Hal hugged his sister tight. “Hopefully I’ll see you in Wickery Glen. The sports program is doing some traveling games so maybe we’ll play near there.”
                “You make sure to take care of my daughter, okay?” Miles may have accepted Hanley’s decision but he still worried for her.
                “Of course, sir. I promise, she’s in good hands.”

                The two climbed into Ben’s pickup and made their way out of St. Claire. As they reached one of the highest points in the city, Hanley twisted around for one final look of the only home she had ever known.

                For the most part, the drive that day was long and boring. There wasn’t much to see on the roadside and the route took a straight shot on the highway. Luckily Ben’s truck had a stereo so the two sang along to the music when they knew the words and made up the lyrics when they didn’t.

                “What do you say, stop now or keep going for a little while,” Ben asked Hanley as they pulled into a town called Twinbrook. The sun was setting, casting a hazy pink glow over the town. Looking out her window as they passed over a bridge she noticed the mass expanse of swamp to the right. It’s probably not nearly as pretty in the daylight.

                “Hanley,” Ben nudged her arm gently.
                “Oh, sorry. Um, it’s been a long day. Would you mind if we just stopped for the night or do you want to keep going?”
                “Stopping is fine.” He pulled into the next motel and went in to check them in while she checked her phone for the hundredth time that day. Still no messages or missed calls from her mother. She’d hoped that the bad reception along the road had interfered but it seemed that Evangeline wasn’t interested in reconciling.

                As they entered their room, Ben gave Hanley a quick kiss and excused himself to the little bathroom. Through the thin walls, he could hear her rummaging around in her knapsack for her pajamas. Though she’d tried to be discreet about it, he’d noticed each time she had pulled out her phone as they drove down the highway. If he hadn’t needed to check in to his unit by Monday morning, he would have turned around and taken Hanley back to St. Claire. He hated causing the rift between his wife and her mother and would have stayed as long as it took for them to mend their relationship, even if it meant subjecting himself to Evangeline’s glares and cold shoulder. Unfortunately, the military dictated his schedule and if he wasn’t in Wickery Glen when he was told to be, he could get thrown in the brig.

                He emerged from the bathroom to find Hanley asleep in one of the dual queen beds. Stripping to his boxers, he crawled in beside her, watching her sleep. Hand resting on her hip, he considered waking her. It was their wedding night after all. After a moment, he leaned down, kissing her cheek and turned to switch the light off. Like this, her face smoothed by the peacefulness of rest, it was easy to pretend the tensions from the past week didn’t exist; that her entire family had welcomed him with open arms. He wasn’t going to disturb the brief respite she got from that tension. His nether regions and their urges could wait.

                The next morning, they were up and on the road again, traveling west away from the rising sun. As mid-morning neared, the skies turned steely grey and then, all at once, opened as rain pelted the truck not unlike buckets of water being thrown from ahead.
                “Hanley, can you take over the navigation?” Ben handed her the map, with their destination clearly circled in the upper left hand corner.
                “There’re no lines.” She stared hard at the paper, trying to figure out where they were and where they were supposed to be going. “You know, there’s this thing called GPS,” she muttered under her breath.
                “Han, reading maps is part of my job. I’ve never felt the need to invest in a GPS system for something I can do myself.” Twinbrook, there it is. So, we must be…here. She pinpointed their location and made note of where they should turn to get on the next road.

                “Are you sure we were supposed to turn on 90? I could have sworn it was 96,” Ben questioned for the third time in the past hour.  
                “Pretty sure.”
                “I don’t remember the route taking us through Appaloosa Plains.” Ben’s uncertainty had morphed to full blown doubt as they passed the city welcome sign.
                “Well stop and check the map yourself then.” Hanley tossed the folded papers back towards him, crossing her arms and flopping back against her seat to stare out of her window.

                Though it was pouring, Ben needed to feel the sting of the rain on his face to cool himself down. It was difficult resisting the urge to snap at her. A breather, even in the rain, was sure to help clear his head.
                “What are you doing,” she criticized as he gathered the map and opened his door. “Ben, seriously, it’s raining out there.” He was clearly ignoring her. Groaning, she opened her door, following him into the storm. Coming around the front of the truck, she reached across him, pointing at the map. “Look, see. That’s where we were. That’s where we’re going. That means we should take this road. I know how to read a map too.”
                One, two, three… “Hanley, please just let me look, okay?”
                “Fine,” she stomped a few feet away, leaning against the truck, her aggravation written all over her. His training had included instruction on interpreting body language but no one would have needed a class to understand what his wife’s body was saying.

                After a few minutes, he gathered the map back together and climbed back into the truck, waiting on Hanley to join him. “So, was I right?”
                “Yes and no. Technically, we can get to Wickery Glen on 90. It goes straight through Lucky Palms which is a huge tourist trap. I was thinking we’d go around it to avoid traffic.”
                “Maybe if you’d had a specific route in mind, you should’ve mentioned that. Or, better yet, marked the map.”
                “It’s fine. We’ve got time to sit in traffic.” She sighed and crossed her arms, turning to watch as the lush green farmland gave way to the rocky red sand.

                As the sun started its nightly descent into the horizon, the pickup rolled into the outskirts of Lucky Palms. As far as they could see, there were no other vehicles on the road other than theirs and one lonely truck ahead, crossing the highway.

                “You were saying,” Hanley couldn’t resist.
                “Huh, that’s strange.” Ben tuned to the local radio station.
                     “Welcome back sports fans. This is Ricky Garroway from WKSNR with live coverage of the Oasis Bowl. The Lucky Palms Sandpipers are struggling to hang on to their early lead. They watched their 10 point lead dwindle to a 7 point lead as their defense failed to keep the Tigers out of the end zone. Though it was an explosive start to the semi-finals, it’s shaping up to be a sloppy game on both ends. If we’ve got any scouts in the audience, and I have it on good authority we do, I doubt they’re impressed with what they’re seeing. Looks like the Sandpipers are calling for a time out. While they do that, let’s give a shout out to the fans!”
                Ben reached over, turning the radio back down to a faint buzz. “I guess that explains it. Everyone must be over at the stadium for the game. Football and gambling is about all this town lives for.”

                “Are you really mad,” Ben glanced over at Hanley a few hours later, still staring out the passenger window. They hadn’t said much to each other since Lucky Palms and Ben wondered if she was still upset about the whole map fiasco.
                “Are you sure? You’ve been pretty quiet this whole drive.”
                “I’m not mad.” Despite her assurances, Ben wasn’t sure if she was being entirely truthful with him. He flipped his blinker on and eased his truck on to the shoulder.

                “Why are we stopping? I thought we still had another hour or two to go?”
                “We do.” After putting the truck in park, he shifted, taking her hand across the seat. “Hanley, please talk to me. Something’s wrong, I can tell that much. I just want you to tell me what I can do to fix it.”

                “It’s not you. Or anything you did.” When she sighed, he heard the small shudder that ran through it, as though she was trying to hold back tears. Quickly, she pulled her hand away, brushing the back of it against her eye before cradling her head in her palm. “I should have tried harder to work things out with my mom before we left. I thought she’d come around. I’m just so angry at her.
                “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.” She turned, looking at him with the slightest of smiles. “Now let’s get back on the road so we can get to our new home.”

                It was almost midnight by the time they pulled past the city limit sign for Wickery Glen so Ben pulled into the nearest motel. They’d get some rest tonight and spend Sunday looking for an apartment and getting settled in before Ben had to report to his command Monday morning.

                “It’s perfect!” Ben wrapped his arms around his wife as he watched her eyes light up looking over the apartment they’d just signed for. It was the first full blown smile he’d seen from her since they’d been married and it was dazzling. Though he didn’t know her –she hadn’t let him get to know her- Ben disliked his mother-in-law. He couldn’t understand why anyone would do anything less than try to make Hanley smile like she was now.

                Before the anger built up in him, he quickly focused on his next ‘project’. “Why don’t we drive around town so we can figure out where things are? We need to get some groceries and a few things for the house anyway.”

                The town itself didn’t seem very big. Hanley loved it. It was charming and the small clusters of buildings with the brightly colored awnings seemed to welcome everyone to stop in. The snowcapped mountains in the background made every direction she turned seem like a living postcard.

                With Ben at work the next morning, Hanley didn’t know what to do with herself. She’d never really been alone before. With a big family, even in the city, someone had always been around. Unable to sit still, Hanley decided to take a walk and attempt to familiarize herself with the town. It was small enough that she should be able to walk anywhere she wanted to go. She figured that was probably a good thing since she hadn’t seen any cabs since they’d arrived.

                “You…you’re Josephine! From The Bachelor!”
                “Do I know you?” The pretty blonde woman seemed slightly taken back.
                “No but I was rooting for you the whole show. I was worried there, at the end a little but I think Jesse made the right choice.” Hanley excitedly looked around. “Is he here with you?”
                “Um,” Josephine stuttered.
                “Oh, I’m so sorry. That was rude. I’m Hanley. My husband and I just moved to town. It felt like I got to know you, watching the show so I was excited to see someone I recognized in town.” She laughed. “That sounds incredibly creepy I realize now.”
                Josephine smiled at her. “No, it’s not creepy. We’ve been living here for a couple of months and I thought everyone in town had gotten used to us by now. It’s nice to meet you Hanley. Would you like to grab a cup of coffee? I can point you in the right direction for fresh produce and good furniture and things like that. If you have the time?”

                After their coffee, Josephine had to head back home and Hanley continued her walk around town. She felt something hit the top of her head and reached up tentatively, hoping that she didn’t have bird droppings in her hair. As she did, she felt a drop of water hit her cheek and then another, and another. Looking up, she realized the sky was growing dark quickly and that the sun shower that had just started would soon be a thunderstorm.

                She took off jogging for home, hoping to make it before the worst of the storm arrived. Seeing movement to her left, she slowed her jog and veered off the sidewalk. A large bird was just sitting in the grass. That’s strange. He should be seeking shelter from the storm, not out here in the open like this.

                Cautiously, she approached him. He hopped at her, cocking his head and watching curiously. Crouching down, she murmured at him in soft, soothing tones. He must have been domesticated because he came right up to her. When she lowered her arm, he hopped up and nipped lightly at her fingers, as if looking for a treat.

                “Who’s a pretty bird,” she cooed at him. The bird nodded his head up and down at her and, when she smiled, whistled at her. “How about we get you out of the rain?”

                When Ben got home, Hanley was fast asleep on the couch. He leaned over, shaking her awake. “Hey, how was your day,” she asked groggily.

                “Not bad for a first day. Mostly admin stuff; checking in here and there and signing out my gear. Lots of driving around from place to place. What’d you do today?” Surveying the room, he noticed books sitting on the floor, moving boxes still unopened, and the dirty breakfast dishes still sitting on the counter.
                “Oh, I have something to show you,” Hanley offered excitedly. Ben went into the kitchen to wash the dishes himself. “Look! I found him out in the rain today. He’s completely friendly. He hopped right up on my arm while I was talking to him.”
                “Han, we don’t even have a kitchen table yet. We don’t really need a bird. If he’s friendly, he probably belongs to someone. You should put up some ‘found’ notices around the neighborhood.”
                “But Ben, they just left him out. In the rain! He could have been hit by a car or struck by lightning. You can’t just expect me to give him back. Ouch!” Ben turned around with one eyebrow raised. While expressing her dismay, Hanley’s voice had raised a little with every other word, until she’d practically been squawking herself. Apparently, the ‘friendly’ bird hadn’t liked the noise and had nipped her.
                “He’s someone’s pet,” Ben repeated. “They probably left the window open by accident or something and he got away.”

                Their doorbell rang and Hanley looked at Ben questioningly. “I invited a coworker and his wife over for dinner. They live just next door. Would you mind putting the bird somewhere where he won’t bother our guests?”

                Though she wished Ben had given her a little advanced warning that they would have company over, she was excited to meet Todd and his wife, Emme.

                Despite having a mother who was a chef, Hanley knew little to nothing about cooking. Between her mom and Aunt Renata, and her dad once he’d moved in, none of the kids had ever had to cook for themselves. She surveyed the back of the box of macaroni and cheese and hoped to the Watcher that she didn’t burn it.

                “Thank you for dinner.”
                “You’re welcome. I hope it wasn’t too bad.”
                Emme laughed. “Not at all! The first time we had people over for dinner, I forgot to turn the sauce down once it was boiling and by the time we went in to eat, it was tomato paste brick. We had butter noodles. We’ll have to have you two over some night soon. Don’t worry though! I’ve gotten much better. And I make sure to always keep enough vegetables on hand for a salad, just in case.”

                “We did pretty good for our first dinner party,” Hanley declared as she and Ben snuggled into bed later that night.

                     Whoot whoo. Who’s a pretty bird. Whoot whoo.
                The two of them looked and each other and burst into laughter. “I’ll look for his family tomorrow.”               

Chapter 6.13                                                                                                                                                      Chapter 7.2

Author's Notes:

* During my prepping stage, I realized that I have now passed the 3 year mark for my legacy. 3 years and I'm still on generation 7. As I mentioned to giga, I'm not sure if knowing that makes me happy that I've stuck with it so long or want to weep at my inability to finish things I start.

* Though it unofficially started with 6-13, Generation 7 is now officially officially started! I know that it's taken 3 long months to get from that point to this one but I spent a lot of time editing the town buildings to suit my play style. Then I had to make all my own families for the town instead of using *shudders* premades. Now I've got everyone moved in, relationships and careers set and have been enjoying playing. It took awhile, but it's been worth it. 

* Moonlight Falls = Wickery Glen. I spent a lot of time editing it and finally decided it would be more prudent to make it a stand alone world than have to keep switching out default replacements. Especially since I wanted to wipe the townies anyway. If I remember, I'll go back and edit that in the previous chapter.

* I cheated a little. I think. Probably. But I made it harder on myself so meh. When I portered everyone in to the town, I did what twallan suggests, about multiple families with clones to keep relationships intact. Because of that (and just in general, they were pretty loaded) the Avendales ended up with a ridiculous amount of money. I family funded all but §20,000 from Ben and Hanley which was enough to "rent" their apartment and buy a bed and few small items of furniture. They're just starting out, she's been disowned, and he's in the military. Not exactly a "rolling in dough" situation.

* I'll be updating the rolls on the sidebar as soon as I post this (if I don't, someone remind me). Secondary Income is obviously military and, perhaps not so obviously, the Primary Income is Animal Wrangler. I mentioned in the RLC thread on MTS that I'm going to be limiting Hanley's collections to common and uncommon animals only on a regular basis. I may allow her to collect one rarer animal a week but that's entirely dependent on what I may want/need to purchase for them and how it makes sense in the story. As I noted above, his job isn't exactly a money maker and the way I'm playing hers right now is that it doesn't really make money at all. 

* In case y'all haven't noticed, both the Downloads page and the Resources/WCIF Gen 7 tab have been updated. Yes, you can download all the Avendale children now. Ben is still not available. Not sure if/when he will be. I may love him more than I love my own heiress. Shh, don't tell.

* I don't typically post links the music/song that inspires the title. Sometimes the lyrics work, sometimes they don't. However, I feel like the song this time is really perfect for how Hanley is feeling about leaving St. Claire and her family, and most importantly, how she left things with her mother.