To Feel, A Modern Tale (08.23.11)

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 <Click here for all of CHAPTER SEVEN.>

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

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

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

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Chloe sat upon the rocks, staring at the sunlight seeping between the branches of the trees enveloping the sky above her. She wondered just what her friend would be doing right now. Surely, Ecker would be feeling awful about what happened. For weeks, she had stayed with this nice couple who had opened the doors of their home and their lives to her yet she still felt all alone and out of place.

“Chloe!” Lu cried out. “It’s time for breakfast!” The woman popped her head outside of the front door and scanned the front yard, but the young girl was nowhere to be found. “Hal? You, too,” she trailed off, tucked her head back inside, and shut the door swiftly.

From the corner of Chloe’s gaze, the young girl could sense someone watching her. It was Hal. The chubby little man approached her slowly. “What are you doing up there?”

Chloe quickly stepped down off the rock. “Just thinking about my friends. Back home,” she said meekly and gathered up the belongings she had begun to accumulate over the many weeks while staying with them, items she now watched over faithfully and brought out to the rocks with her. She prepared herself to re-enter the home but not before Hal stopped her and reached out gingerly to touch her arm.

“Chloe, you’ll see them someday. I’m sure of it,” he said softly. “I see you bring out your things here every day as you sit on this rock, and I just wonder why that is. Have you heard from your friends? Are they coming back for you?” Hal pulled back his arms and placed his hands on his hips now as he leaned against the rocks, awaiting her reply.

“No, Hal. I haven’t heard back from anyone. How would I do that anyway? They don’t even know where I am,” she said with a nervous laugh, yet she continued to feel his gaze on her as she looked away and down at her belongings at her feet.

“Okay,” Hal said and shot her his big toothy smile. “Just checking,” and with that, he turned around and marched back to the house for their Sunday morning meal. The family would soon be getting ready to go to church down in the village, and he didn’t want to make them late.

Chloe grabbed her satchel of things and trudged after him into the house, looking up into the sky again off and on along the way. She didn’t want to miss any chance that her friend or another person from school might be coming back to CarthMoore to rescue her. As she stepped inside, Lu snapped at her quickly. “It’s about time! Get in here, young lady, and help me cut the fruit for the table.”

Chloe set down her satchel of personal items and obliged, grabbing the knife and cutting up the cantaloupe into smaller wedges, laying them carefully on a white china platter that Lu had chosen. She loved the smell of the juicy melon and its rich texture and sneaked in a few bites of one smaller wedge as she prepared the platter. She didn’t think Lu had noticed. Lu never liked it when Hal or Chloe would do that.

“Come on, ladies, let’s sit down quickly or we’ll be late for church this morning,” Hal said and motioned to both women to join him at the table as he began reaching for the bowl of scrambled eggs and dish of sausage links to fill up the plate before him. Chloe headed to her seat at the right of him and set the fruit platter on the table before sitting down. Lu followed soon after with a tea kettle and potholder, and laid both down on the table before taking her own place directly across from Chloe and to her husband’s left.

“Hal, will you please say grace for us?” Lu picked up her linen napkin and lay it gently in her lap then reached out both her hands for her family’s at the table. The three linked fingers, and Hal cleared his throat and closed his eyes.

“Oh, Lord, we thank you for the food we have here in our home and for looking over all of us, especially dear Chloe whom we care for deeply,” he sneaked a peek at Chloe who was staring down at her plate and then shut her eyes quickly when her eyes met Hal’s. “Lord, we hope you will continue to bless this family, our home, our friends and the lives of all of the people of CarthMoore. We honor you, oh Lord, amen.”

“Amen,” Lu and Chloe quietly agreed as the three separated their hands from one another, and the two then proceeded to pile the breakfast feast before them onto their own plates. Hal leaned toward Chloe and touched her left hand. “You know, we really do care about you and want you to find your family and friends again, but we hope you can at least feel at home here until you do.”

And with that gentle touch, both with the brush of his hand and those soft-spoken words, Chloe realized that she could not have been any luckier to meet up with Hal and Lu that morning, already so long ago. This was home. For now. And for however long she was going to be living life in CarthMoore.

As each item was plucked off the table and devoured, the three sat quietly, only the sounds of their chewing and low grunts of morsel satisfaction would creep into the silent room. The silence was broken with a loud rapping on the front door. Each of them stopped chewing and looked at the other beside them. Hal scooted his chair noisily along the wood floor and set down his napkin on the chair. He headed for the front door. Lu set her napkin on the table and gazed over at Chloe who continued to chew though more slowly.

“Who’s there,” Hal spoke through the door and awaited an introduction as he peered through the front window for a peek only to find a patrol car sitting there .

“Hal, it’s Officer Beck. I have someone with me who wants to ask you a few questions.” And with that, Hal opened the door quickly.

“Good morning, Tom, uh, Officer Beck,” Hal quickly corrected himself. “What can I do for you?” He scanned the man standing next to his good friend, a tall thin bespectacled man he had never seen before. Hal smiled his usual toothy grin. “And who are you?” he addressed the stranger.

Officer Beck jumped in. “Hal, this is Joseph Britton. He has some questions about the young girl staying with you and Lu. Mr. Britton, why don’t you tell him what you told me?”

The bespectacled stranger who had been staring directly at Hal the whole time began to speak, and Hal noticed he had an accent that he could not identify. “We have reason to believe that your visitor is one of our students, Chloe Bignon. She was recently visiting on a class trip and did not get back to the,” Joseph paused and looked down at the ground in front of him before continuing. “Did not get back to the bus in time.” He looked over to the officer as if awaiting their next steps.

Hal found the stranger curious, and there was something he didn’t like about him, but he could not put his finger on it. Whatever it was, he just knew that he didn’t trust him. “Oh, Lu and I are really enjoying our visit with Chloe, but our Chloe wasn’t here on a trip. She’s visiting from my brother back home. Her name is Chloe Powers. She’s my niece.’

“I didn’t know that, Hal,” Officer Beck stepped back away from the door. “This gentleman here came to me and mentioned the name Chloe and I just assumed that it was the same person. Two Chloes in one town at the same time? What are the chances of that,” he looked at his friend inquisitively but ushered the stranger away from Hal’s house. “Sir, we’ll file a missing person report back at the station. Sorry to trouble you, Hal.”

The officer and the stranger walked back to the patrol car, and Hal strained to hear what they were saying to each other as they got into the car. He thought he heard the strange man ask if could still meet Chloe and talk to her, a request that Officer Beck seemed to either hear or ignore as he started up the car and backed out of the gravel driveway.

Hal closed the door and paused behind it. What would Chloe think about what he just did? She always talked about wanting to see her friends back home yet there was something about that man who came to his door that he did not believe, did not trust. He hoped that Chloe would forgive him if she ever learned of his visit someday but he truly felt he was protecting this young woman that he and his wife had come to like and even care about.

As he watched the patrol car pull away through the trees and down the hill, he turned and began walking back to the kitchen, passing the bare walls of the hallway. When he and Lu visited their friends’ homes, the walls were covered with family portraits and memories of trips and holidays spent with their kids. Where were their memories, Hal wondered. Why were their walls still so barren?

“Who was that at our door,” Lu asked her husband absentmindedly as she refilled everybody’s cups. “Did you tell them to leave us alone this beautiful Sunday morning?”

“It was just Tom, and I did,” he said and smiled at her. Hal liked when Lu spoke so positively. It wasn’t her usual demeanor, but ever since Chloe had arrived, he had discovered such fleeting moments of joy and happiness creep into his normally sullen wife’s disposition and for that he was thankful. He looked over at Chloe who prepared her tea and then stopped and looked over at the old man when she realized he was staring at her. Hal smiled, and she smiled back.

“Who wants seconds,” Lu was back at the stove with a spatula brimming over with crispy bacon slices. She looked back over at her should at the table seeking any takers of her gloriously glistening bounty.

Chloe jumped up from the table and was soon immediately at Lu’s side with her plate. Hal chuckled as he continued eating the eggs on his plate which had gotten cold, and the funny thing was he didn’t even care.

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