To Feel, A Modern Tale (03.14.11)

Readers, let’s return to Chloe as we peek in on her first encounter with Lu and Hal…the conclusion of Chapter Four.

CHAPTER ONE <Click here for all of CHAPTER ONE.>

CHAPTER TWO <Click here for all of CHAPTER TWO.>

CHAPTER THREE <Click here for all of CHAPTER THREE.>

CHAPTER FOUR

She sat there for what seemed like an eternity. I know he’ll come back, Chloe thought to herself. She stared at the dusty ground as she slouched and fidgeted while sitting on the rock wondering why her friend had not shown up again. The two were supposed to leave just as the sun was coming up but he had gotten too far ahead. He always ran faster than her. When he reached out his hand, she tried to grip it, but it was too late. He had jumped and was gone. And she was still there. Left behind.

She looked around at the little village below and the house just up the steep path. Wondering who lived there, she imagined a little old grandmother who baked and knitted and greeted little children with the most delicious homemade treats at Halloween. Or maybe it was a mean, evil witch of a woman who took nice little children and stuffed them in the oven like the old fairy tale she had always heard. She noticed someone heading her way from the house, and it appeared to be neither a sweet granny nor a dangerous witch but rather a slightly plump older man with wispy graying hair, a big large sack over his shoulder and a smile on his face, though she thought she saw a slight wince each time he hoisted the bag into a more comfortable position on his back. He waved with his other hand and started to pass by, but slowed down and turned back to address the girl.

“Did you need something, hon? You shouldn’t be out here alone this morning. Sometimes the wolves come out and we wouldn’t want to hear any Little Red Riding Hood tales of wolves gobbling you up,” he said with a chuckle. “Shouldn’t you be off to school or something?”

Chloe smiled at the fairy tale reference given her earlier Grimm thoughts. “No, I’m fine, sir. My friend’s just a little late, and I know he’ll come back to get me,” she said. “I’m not from around here.” That’s an understatement, she thought to herself.

The chubby, cheery-eyed man looked happy to stop for a moment to rest but soon picked up the bag he’d laid on the ground and hoisted it up again over his shoulder. “Well, if you need anything, you just let us know, okay? I don’t feel right leaving such a young girl all by herself out here. What are you, eight or nine? Well, my name’s Hal and that’s my wife Lu up there, if you need us for anything at all,” he said and began to walk away. He stopped again and turned to Chloe. “If you do stop by, sometimes my wife can be a little,” he paused as he searched for the right word. “She’s just not always up for new company, but if you need her, you can count on her. She’s golden. What did you say your name was again?”

“I don’t think I did,” Chloe was slow to reply. She didn’t want to supply too much information. After all, she wasn’t even supposed to be there and should be gone in minutes. “But it’s Chloe.” It was so nice to talk to somebody, she thought. After sitting out there on the rock for nearly four hours, she found herself getting a little lonely. But she knew that Ecker would be coming back soon for her. He just had to come back, she thought.

“Nice to meet you, Chloe,” the man said with a smile pasted on his full lips that rested under that big rosy nose of his. Chloe found him a sight both funny to look at and endearing at the same time, and watched this man called Hal hoist the bag on his back one final time as he turned away and headed down the hill into the village. She wondered what he did for a living and why he would live so far away if his work required him to travel into town every day. And she wondered why the friendly little man hesitated when he talked about his wife. Was she a witch of a woman, Chloe wondered. Like the ones she had always read about? She had no intention of finding out anytime soon either. She looked across the trees and wondered just how long Ecker would take to come back to get her.

Suddenly, she heard a shriek from the little man’s house. “Hal! Did you leave already? You forgot to take the blanket I made for Mrs. Evans! You know she’s not feeling well…” the scratchy, deep-throated voice trailed off as a tall, stocky woman rushed down to the rocky area where Chloe was perched waiting for her friend. The woman turned to this young girl who seemingly appeared out of nowhere.

“WHO are you?” she asked with a tone that the young girl found made her tremble if only a little bit.

“I’m Chloe,” she stammered. “Hal told me I should come see you if I needed anything. You’re Lu, right?”

The woman looked up and down at the young girl, as if she’d stolen clothing off the drying line outside her door. “How do you know Hal?” she continued to interrogate this young stranger.

Chloe found herself trembling more noticeably and tried quickly to cover it up by kicking up the dirt in front of her as she fidgeted. “Oh, I don’t know Hal. But when he walked by just a little bit ago, he told me that if I needed anything at all while I waited here for my friend that I could count on you to help.” And with that the hard woman softened a little as it registered that her husband had complimented her to a total stranger.

“Well then,” the woman now changed her hard scowl to a slightly crooked smile and Chloe thought she saw her face had reddened a smidge. “That’s Hal for you, always looking out for other people, even people he doesn’t know. Do you want to come back to our house for some cocoa while you wait for your friend?”

At the invitation and sudden change in demeanor, Chloe quickly perked up. “Yes, yes, I would like that very much.” And with that, she grabbed her only possession with her at the time, a small pouch-like bag lying beside her feet on the ground. It had already gotten dusty and looked like everything else in this part of the village, snowy-white and cloudy. She thought to herself, I can keep an ear out for any sudden noises down the hill and surely Ecker will be able to sense where I am.

The two began climbing up the hill to Hal and Lu’s house, Chloe following closely behind this mysterious older woman who volleyed quickly between a scowl and a smile from one conversation to the next. Why was she so unhappy, Chloe wondered. And how did this nice old man keep his cheery disposition? They truly seemed like opposites to each other. As Lu and Chloe reached the walkway to the little house, Chloe noticed the garden had the most beautiful pink roses all stretching up high to the sky as if to reach the windowsill of the house. The front porch was immaculate, as if no one had ever set foot on the stone floor before. She followed Lu inside and was surprised to see all of the colorful energy and sparkle from outdoors had been shut out from inside the house. The walls were bare and the floors, windows and furniture covered with muted tones – what furniture that there was. The rooms were fairly empty with only the bare essentials put in place clearly for purpose only. How can a place so beautiful outside be so empty inside, Chloe thought.

Lu went straight to the stove and poured from a saucepan the most gloriously chocolaty stream Chloe had ever seen into two tall brown coffee mugs. “Here you are,” she handed one to the young girl and pulled back a chair from the large wooden table. Sitting down, she gently pushed a bowl of marshmallows toward the young girl and cupped her own mug protectively. “So who are you waiting for, Chloe, and where do you come from?”

Those are the questions of the day, aren’t they, Chloe mused to herself. “I’m from out of town,” she said succinctly. “My friend Ecker is supposed to come by to pick me up and take me home.” Lu stared at her squinting a little, as if she were digesting what she’d just heard and evaluating whether or not she believed it. “I missed the bus this morning when everybody else in my group left,” Chloe added. There, that will help a little, she thought.

“Seems like an awfully early time for a bus tour to leave,” Lu noted. “And why on Earth would anybody come here anyway? We’re just a little place. No one cares about us here in CarthMoore.” If she only knew what lay here in this unassuming village, Chloe thought. She’d know exactly why we came. “We live in the city, so we wanted to see what a town was like back in the old days,” Chloe said with a big smile opening up on her face. “Like in the old Westerns.”

Lu laughed and set her mug down as she stopped sipping. “That’s funny. We’re nothing like the old days. We just look like an old Western town and I suppose because we make a lot of our own things and barter with each other, it seems a bit old-fashioned. But it works and we all get along,” Lu said. “I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live in a big city again.” Chloe was stunned. “Again?” Chloe asked. “You lived in a big city before? I just guessed you grew up here and lived her all of your life.”

“Oh no, I lived a very different life many, many years ago. When Hal and I first met up and worked very different jobs, for large corporations. We wanted to have a big family and live out in the country, so we did,” Lu said pulling up her chin in what seemed to Chloe like a moment of optimism and hope. “We moved out here to change our lives, and it really did. But I guess we just weren’t meant to have a family.” She looked down again at the table and picked up her cup to take a long sip, that look of hope and optimism, now completely washed away from her face.

Chloe stared at the woman blankly. “Really? I would never have guessed you lived in the city,” she paused. “And you don’t have any children?” She sensed that the topic was a sensitive subject for the woman and treaded lightly.

“No, we were never blessed. Even though,” Lu looked up and started to laugh out loud though Chloe could see small tears fighting their way out of the crevices of her eyes. “Hal always tells this story about how years ago, a fortune teller at the local carnival told him that he would meet the love of his life on a subway and that a child would come in time in the most unexpected of places. He was convinced after we met each other one morning on our way into work on a subway car that a son or daughter really was in our future. But now look at us. We’re so much older. Clearly, it wasn’t in the stars.”

Chloe chuckled to herself at such clichés – if only the woman knew, she thought. She reached forward to pat the Lu’s arm as a soothing gesture, “I’m sure you would have been a terrific mother.”

Lu pulled her arm away as she cradled her mug in the palm of her hand and pulled it close to her chest. “I had a son,” she said. And with that, Chloe could see that the woman was now weeping quietly. Chloe pulled back in her chair. “Oh my, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know,” she stared down at her nearly empty mug. She had apparently been drinking faster than she knew, something she attributed to her nerves. “When? Where is your son?”

“He died…on his birthday,” she sputtered. “We barely even had time to know him. Hal said that the doctor told him I would have died had we not given birth then but sometimes I wish I could have given Hal the child he always wanted even if it meant he would raise him alone.” And with that she swept up both of the mugs and returned to the stove, her back to Chloe as she concealed the tears flowing more heavily now. “Do you want more to drink?”

Chloe pushed back her chair and began to stretch at the table. The conversation had taken a turn and one that made her both sad and a little uncomfortable. She was eager to see if Ecker had arrived yet.“I probably should get back out there, in case my friend comes,” she said. “Thank you so much for your hospitality and the cocoa. It was delicious.” She slowly turned and headed for the door.

Lu came up behind her and put her arm on the girl’s shoulder. “When your friend shows up, bring her by for a little lunch,” she said.

“Oh, it’s he. Ecker’s a boy,” Chloe said and returned to opening the door.

“Oh really?” Lu looked at the girl now with what appeared to be a little shock and disapproval. “Does your mother know that you’re spending so much time with a boy at your age?”

Chloe laughed. “Oh, no, he’s my best friend. Like a brother to me. We’re practically related. His parents and my parents grew up together as kids and now we’re friends, too. I’ll try to bring him by when he gets here then. Thanks again,” she said.

And with that Chloe returned to the rocks. There was no sign that it had been visited recently. Usually she could sense whenEcker was around but she still felt all alone there, sitting high atop the hill overlooking the village, so quaint while she visited and now so frightening and foreign.

She sat there for hours upon hours until the little man returned and told her to join him and his wife for dinner that evening. And as darkness grew and enveloped the city completely, she was invited to spend the night in the couple’s guest bedroom.

Where is my friend, Chloe thought to herself as she lay still in the hard bed with quilt over quilt stretched across her. She wept quietly in this strange bed in this strange house in this strange place so far from home. She was thankful for the kind people who had opened their door to her, but she couldn’t help wonder if she would ever see Ecker or her real home again.

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