To Feel, A Modern Tale (05.19.11)

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 <Click here for all of CHAPTER FOUR.>

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

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

CHAPTER SEVEN

“Ma’am, I would never do anything to hurt Chloe,” Ecker looked at Lu with big eyes that seemed to be begging her for attention. “You have to believe me.”

At that moment, Lu turned back to Chloe, “Was he on that original trip with you?” She fidgeted as she spoke, still unsure about what this stranger’s visit would mean for her Chloe.

Chloe was quietly bursting with emotion, secretly excited to hear Ecker speak of her in such a tender way yet still stunned that she and this woman whom she had grown to think of as a mom were having their first ever candid conversation about the truth behind Chloe’s arrival at CarthMoore. “Yes, Mom, he was part of my group’s OTE—” The young woman caught herself. “Our class trip, I mean.” She felt Ecker staring at her as she spoke and kept her eyes firmly planted on the kitchen stove for fear that their eyes would meet and he would sense her feelings.

“Well then, I think it would be rude of us not to sit down with this young man and let him explain what he’s doing here, don’t you think, Chloe?” Lu turned back to the kitchen, opened a cabinet and pulled down a few cups. “Now go and get the tea kettle fired up, Chloe. I’m sure he doesn’t have all day.”

Chloe glanced at the back of her mom who now was poking in the fridge for cream and gathering sugar and spoons, then sneaked a peek at Ecker and she was right – she had felt his smile from clear across the room. He was practically beaming at her now as he took a seat at the table, brushed down his hair so his bangs were no longer flying every which way, and folded his hands in front of him on the table, all without stopping even for a moment from smiling at Chloe.

“Yes, mom, you’re right,” she said quietly to the older woman. She filled up the kettle at the sink and laid it down to rest on the stove gingerly and started the burner. She turned around and joined Ecker at the table, sitting just to his right in her usual seat. She realized that he was sitting in her father’s old seat and motioned to him to move across from her since no one had ever taken the man’s seat at the table since his passing. As he started to get up, Lu spun around. “What are you doing,” she asked him.

Ecker froze in motion. “I was just going to sit over here instead,” he pointed to the other chair. “Nonsense!” the old woman exclaimed and turned back to setting up her tray of baked items and tea goodies. “You should stay where you are. By Chloe.”

Chloe perked her head up at this last comment and looked over at Ecker. Who was this woman, she thought to herself. Why was she being so nice to Ecker all of a sudden and what did it all mean? She wondered how long this discussion would go on and how long her friend could stay. She signaled to him by pointing to his watch and raising her eyebrows. Ecker shook his head as if to tell his friend to rid her mind of all concerns – he wasn’t going anywhere. Chloe put her own folded hands on the table and waited for a loud whistle to fill up the otherwise quiet kitchen.

Ecker spoke to the old woman slowly. “I would imagine you don’t get too many visitors. Does it get kind of lonely up here, ma’am?” He turned his head to Chloe with a shy smile, leading Chloe to look away. She felt a little flushed and sensed her face had turned as red as the tablecloth under their fingers.

“We definitely don’t see too many strangers up here on the hill,” Lu said over her shoulder and finishing assembling the tray of oatmeal-raisin cookies, mini blueberry muffins and powdery lemon puffs. “It’s always nice when we do though. These are my favorites,” she pointed to the white billowy cookies smothered in powdered sugar as she brought them to the table and gently set the tray on the table.

“They look delicious,” Ecker said and quickly scooped up two of everything, piling it on the tiny plate before him. As he finished reaching for his last oatmeal-raisin cookie, the kettle whistled and Chloe quickly stood up to grab it. Lu handed the young man a tea bag and returned to the sink, with Chloe quickly coming up behind her to pour the hot water into Ecker’s cup. She felt him staring at her as she poured. “Say when,” she told him, but he neither said when nor stopped looking at his friend. She pulled herself back as the hot water barely touched the cup’s rim.

Lu returned to the table to join the two. “Well, how is it,” she asked the visitor while snatching up a lemon puff between her thumb and index finger. In an instant, it was gone and only a smidge of powder remained on her fingers and at the corners of her mouth, which she quickly wiped away with a napkin.

“They’re delicious. Thanks,” Ecker said with tiny crumbs toppling out between his tips. He turned his attention away from Chloe and to the feast of sugary goodness before him. It had been so long since he had indulged in home-cooked anything. It was definitely something he had enjoyed about their visit here all of those years ago. For Chloe, it had become a luxury she had come to expect ever since that day she missed his hand and began her stay in CarthMoore with Lu and Hal.

Lu stirred three little cubes of sugar into her cup. “I don’t expect that either one of you will ever tell me exactly where you came from or why but I just need you to know, Chloe, that I don’t know what I would have done here without you here all this time,” she gazed at the girl sternly now. “You mean a great deal to me, and I’m going to miss you.”

Chloe felt tears welling in her eyes now. This woman who never spoke so sweetly to anyone now sat across from her with sadness painted across her face. How could she leave this woman now, Chloe wondered to herself. How could she leave Lu all alone? “You mean a lot to me, too, Lu,” she caught herself using the woman’s name and noticed the old woman wince at this slip. “I’m going to miss you too, Mom.”

Ecker watched the two women from across the table. “Who says we have to go anywhere, Chloe,” he said. And with that the two women turned toward him at the same time. “We just have to figure out what to tell them when they come looking for us,” he added and punctuated his thought with a smile and lowered his head.

“Us?” Chloe wondered what her friend could have meant by his use of the word. “Aren’t you going back there?” She tried to make eye contact with her friend who continued peering toward his nearly empty plate. Finally, he raised his gaze to meet his friend’s. The two said nothing but simply stared at each other. Lu noticed this and continued sipping her tea and nibbling a lemon puff. “I’m not leaving without you,” Ecker said matter-of-factly. “So if you’re not leaving, I guess I’m not either.” And with that, he picked up a third oatmeal-raisin cookie and took a bite, making a large emphatic crunch that seemed to bounce off the tiny kitchen’s walls. Lu let out a faint giggle and Chloe just stared at her friend. Her crazy, thoughtful, wonderful, handsome friend.

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