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At the Corner of Humboldt and Spruce


There was something about the house at the corner of Humboldt and Spruce that gripped the imagination and drew the eye to it. It wasn't just that it was owned by Samuel Clayton III, Esquire, and had been in his family for generations. It wasn't that it sprawled between the two streets, dominating them both. It was that it sat majestically on the hill overlooking the town below, a giant, brooding presence, like a house Poe might describe. The Clayton House, although old, didn't have a fissure running through it or a pool of water beneath it to mirror its image, but it had gathered its own mythology that caused the children of the town to shiver when they passed near it, especially in the dark or on rainy and overcast days. The house wasn't decrepit. There were no broken porch railings, no unhinged creaking gate, no shattered windows or sagging roof line. Nothing to mark it as the next location site for a horror film. There was only the fact that Samuel Clayton III lived there and that was enough to cause even the boldest child not to linger.

Samuel Clayton had been a presence for as long as anyone could remember, a force of nature that would swoop down on the town like a predatory hawk inserting himself into any major decisions concerning Clayton Terrace. Sometimes his voice would thunder and his eyes would flash, unleashing a torrent of rage. Other times, he appeared calm and tranquil, like a soft summer rain on parched gardens, easing a decision forward to everyone's relief. He was still a strikingly handsome man at 80 plus years old. No one was quite sure how far past that milestone decade he actually was, and few bothered to look it up, despite it being simple enough to do. Most people agreed that he had been born just after the 1930s slid into the 1940s, give or take five years. He was the last and only surviving child of Lillian and Samuel Clayton, Jr., his three siblings barely making it out of infancy before their tiny coffins were buried in the final resting place of three previous generations of Claytons, behind the black wrought-iron fencing that protected a quiet family cemetery. His parents were buried there and, one day, he would be as well. He'd picked the spot out himself, he told people. It was under a large weeping willow, "probably the only tears that will be shed," he said ruefully, "and it'll keep me cool in the hot summer months." It was stipulated that when he died, if he had no heirs, the property was to be sold but the buyer had to commit to maintaining the burial grounds.

In an earlier time, everyone had high hopes for Samuel, despite his reputation as a bit of a hell-raiser during his teenage years. He was handsome and he knew it. He was smart and wealthy and a favorite companion of boys and girls alike. He was well-bred, albeit a little spoiled by his parents who managed to be simultaneously strict and indulgent, if such a thing were possible. And he had thrived, never lording it over the other kids but falling in with them so easily that anyone unfamiliar with his social standing would assume he was just another one of the horde of youngsters whose families lived in the houses clustered at the bottom of the hill.

As Samuel grew up, the fabric of society was changing. The world had gone to war and discovered the unspeakable horrors of death camps. The town had sent its precious sons to fight tyranny and welcomed them home as heroes who then settled in and helped the town expand. Radio was slowly replaced by television, and Million Dollar Movie would broadcast King Kong all day long. Omnibus presented cultural programs, a precursor of PBS, and Gillette sponsored the Saturday night fights. But most importantly for Samuel, there was baseball, and baseball was Sam Clayton's passion. Much to the dismay of his parents, Sam was determined to reject the future they envisioned for him and chase the elusive dream of playing professional ball. His parents insisted that he maintain a B+ average in all his classes in order to play on the school team. When, to their surprise, he did, they signed the participation forms. Samuel had been the first in his family not to be sent to boarding school, his parents unwilling to give up any time they had with their son who, soon enough, would be straining to leave and begin his own life. Samuel accepted whatever arrangements allowed him to play baseball. He kept his grades up and lettered in baseball while the local papers reported on his progress, declaring that "Sam Clayton reminds us of the fluid grace of DiMaggio and the skill of Ted Williams." Inevitably, the scouts started to find their way to his high school games, watching and making notes, while his parents were hopeful that his applications to Fordham and Dartmouth would be rewarded with acceptance letters. It was the first step in the process of letting him go.

Of course, along the way to senior year, there had been some harrowing experiences that would have terrified his parents had they known: driving too fast, drinking too much, taking risks and dares when drunk that he would have walked away from if sober. More than a few close calls on the road should have been a wake-up call, but it wasn't until he hit a tree after misjudging a turn that caused him to change. That had been sixty years ago.

Today, Laura Peterson was walking her grandmother's dog past the gloomy house, keeping the curious beagle on a tight leash to prevent him from wandering too far onto the neglected lawn that stretched from the roadway up to the front door. Once stately, the door now looked tired and old, as if it would groan in complaint if opened too forcefully. Stories about the enigmatic owner of the house crafted whispered speculation. For some years, he was no more than an occasional occupant, only returning to bury each of his parents. The house remained vacant until one Friday evening, at dusk, someone noticed a light in one of the second story windows. Samuel Clayton III had returned.

With her eyes on the dog, Oscar, Laura was ignorant of the figure in the window observing her progress along the street. She turned at the corner, waiting as Oscar sniffed out the perfect spot to do his business. Laura had just arrived to spend the summer with her grandmother, Johanna Graham, in the house her mother Lucy had grown up in, sleeping in her mother's childhood bedroom, still cluttered with the keepsakes that reflected the personality of Lucy Patterson when she was Lucy Graham. Johanna had spent all of her life here, but Lucy had been born in a Boston suburb not long after Johanna had gone off to college. Laura suspected that Johanna had wanted to avoid the small-town gossips who, with knowing raised eyebrows, suggested that Lucy Graham's father was not the soldier who lost his life in Vietnam, but some unknown passion Johanna had succumbed to. There were no pictures of Clay Summers, his name wasn't on the birth certificate, and Johanna had resumed her maiden name. She did it, she said, because the marriage had been so brief, barely enough time to conceive Lucy, before Clay shipped out. There were no letters, either, Lucy explained, because Laura’s grandfather had been killed in action almost as soon as his unit arrived, even before Johanna knew she was pregnant. He never knew a part of him was left behind. Or so the story went. People seemed willing to accept it as a factual account of a tragedy that befell the Graham girl, despite the few eye-rollers. Wasn't it a blessing to have Lucy to remind her of her lost love, they decided. God worked in mysterious ways.

Whatever the truth was, Laura was sure her mother didn't know it and she firmly believed her grandmother would take whatever secrets she had to the grave.

A tug on the leash let Laura know that Oscar had finished his business and was ready to continue sniffing his surroundings. Laura held him in check. "Hold it, Oscar, we're not leaving your deposits behind, " she said, using the blue plastic baggy she'd brought for that purpose. As she walked down the sloping street toward her grandmother's house, she realized it was her night to cook and the sky told her she'd stayed on Oscar's walk longer than she had planned. "Come on, Oscar. Let's jog home." Oscar, tail wagging and tongue hanging out, was more than happy to comply.

"Sorry I'm late, Grandma," Laura called out as soon as she got home. "I'll get dinner going in a couple of minutes."

Johanna shook her head. "No. I think I'd prefer to let someone else do the cooking. Go change into something nice while I think about where we should go." Johanna decided on Sweeney's, a family restaurant within walking distance and as distinct a town fixture as the Clayton House, coming into existence at about the same time and passing similarly from generation to generation. A young man close to Laura's age greeted them. "Mrs. Graham! How nice to see you. I'll tell my Mom you're here. She'll want to say hello."

"Thank you, Peter." Gesturing to Laura, she said, "This is my granddaughter, Laura. She's staying with me for the summer. If you don't mind, I'd like you to show her the places where she can meet people her age."

Laura was embarrassed but Peter seemed fine. "Sure," he said turning to look at Laura. "Peter Sweeney, the official unofficial tour guide for all the town's visiting relatives of a certain age." He winked. "I'll show you the very best our town has to offer." He took their drink order, saying "back in a minute." When he returned, his mother with him. She asked after Lucy and how Johanna was, and how long Laura would be staying, nodding in Peter's direction, saying he'd be more than happy to show Laura around town when Peter quipped "Already arranged, Mom."

“I should have known. Enjoy your dinner, ladies,” she said with a smile and then excused herself to return to the kitchen.


***

Peter turned out to be an excellent companion, arriving at the agreed upon time to take Laura on the first of what he called "educational excursions " into the fabric of the town: part history, part practical knowledge, part folklore. At each stop along the way, he would greet people he knew and introduce Laura. At day's end, Laura found that she had plans for the next two weeks.

For their next trip, Peter suggested that they walk the outskirts of the town.

“Can I bring Oscar along? He enjoys long walks.” Oscar wagged his tail excitedly at the mention of his name and the word “walk.” Peter reached down to pet the dog. “Want to come along Oscar?” Laura hoped taking Oscar would slow their pace, allowing her time to breathe in the essence of small-town life.

“The town was originally known as Humboldt Corners, after the first of the wealthy family settlers,” Peter explained as they walked. “After the Civil War, Ethan Clayton bought the house on the hill and renamed the town, not wanting to honor a slave owning family. Ethan was the third great-grandfather of the current owner of the house up on the hill at what's now the corner of Humboldt and Spruce. The house is a remnant of the time when wealthy people provided their families with the privacy that owning land guarantees. It just sits up there, looking down on the rest of the town, a vestige of the landed gentry. There used to be slave quarters when the Humboldt family owned it, but Ethan had them torn down when he took over the property and renamed the pathway as Spruce Street.”

Laura looked at the house, wondering about the family whose sole remaining son was reputed to currently live there. What was he like, she wondered. They continued walking and after an hour, Oscar had had enough and wanted to go home for his nap.


***


Not every day was spent with Peter. He was a productive member of the town, and he had obligations along with his job at his family's restaurant. When Laura was alone, she spent some time pulling photo albums from closets and bookcases, asking her grandmother to identify the faces in the photos and then noting those names on the back. Other days, she would ask her grandmother what it was like to grow up in this small town, knowing everyone. She wanted to know what Johanna remembered of her own parents and grandparents and any family history she might be able to share. Then she asked why, after living near Boston, her grandmother had returned here with Lucy. Johanna supplied a wealth of detail that Laura recorded in her binder. All except for Boston. She said simply, “I didn't have a choice. I had to come home.”

“How did you choose my mother's name,” Laura asked at breakfast one morning. “Lucy isn't a popular name. Was it then?”

Johanna laughed. “No, it wasn't. I chose it for a few reasons. My great-great-grandmother, as I told you, was named Lucille, so there was that. But the real reason was that I named her after a comedienne who had a show I watched all the time. Her name was Lucille Ball and her show was called I LOVE LUCY and she always got mixed up in the craziest situations. She made me laugh and laugh. She seemed to be happy, no matter what the crisis. I wanted to be reminded of that happiness every day, so I gave your mother her name.”

***

Peter arrived early one afternoon as Laura sat at the dining room table, photo albums strewn about her and a legal pad filled with several pages of notes and charts that Laura was trying to harness into some semblance of a family history. She smiled when she saw Peter's surprised look and heard him say, “Holy moley! What's this, a magnum opus?”

“I thought it was the perfect project for me. I want to preserve my family's story while I can still tap into my grandmother's memories. Do you know that it only takes three generations for people and things to fade from memory? If I can get my grandmother to share everything she remembers about not only her life, but her parents and their parents, I can preserve that for my future children. And the pictures! The pictures are priceless.”

Peter picked up one of the black and white formal portraits that littered the table. “Who's this?”

“That's Gram when she was about 15 or 16, probably taken in 1964.”

“She looks like you. I mean you look like her, especially around the eyes. It could easily be mistaken for a picture of you.”

Laura took the picture and gave it a critical appraisal. “You think so?” She scanned the photos on the table until she found one of herself and set the two side by side.

“Here,” Peter said, pointing to the area around the eyes and forehead “is where it is most obvious. And though you can't see it in the pictures, you smile the same way. Full of mischief.”

“What's on the agenda today? Another walking tour?”

“Yes. I thought we'd take a closer look at the Clayton House.”

“Oh, Oscar and I have been by there on our walks. It's an interesting house, architecturally, but it seems to just exude sadness, like it's suffered deep grief in the past and hasn't been able to heal. If I lived there, I'd give it a nice new paint job at the very least and spruce up the landscaping with some fragrant and colorful flowers. Right now, it's just broken.”

Peter shook his head. “Have you ever seen Samuel? He's not the flower planting sort.”

“Who's Samuel?”

“Samuel Clayton III, last remaining member of the Clayton family as well as the current owner and part-time resident of the house, although rarely visible to us lesser mortals.”

“Oh, that's his name. Is he a recluse?”

“Mostly. At least he has been in recent years. The story is that everything changed around the Vietnam War. He went to war one way, and when he came back he was changed. Darker, some people said. Others said hollow.”

***

That evening after dinner, Laura asked Johanna about the Clayton family. “Did you know Samuel Clayton, who owns the house on the hill?”

“Everyone knew Samuel. He was the town's golden boy. Smart, handsome, athletic, full of promise. The brightest star in the night sky before he left for the war.” Her grandmother's voice had softened as she spoke those last words, tinged with sadness.

“What changed him?”

“Lots of things, Laura. Things were really crazy back then in so many ways. But the war, the fighting in those jungles, well, it changed so many young men, not just Samuel, in ways we didn't understand. Now they'd call it PTSD and treat it, but not back then. Men never wanted to talk about their war experiences and who could blame them? I don't want to even imagine the things they might have seen or had to do.”

Laura didn't have to imagine, having viewed a number of Hollywood's depictions of the war: We Were Soldiers, Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, to name a few. Each of them graphically conveyed the horror of war and the toll it took on the men who fought in it. It was a war never declared, a war that had divided the nation, spawning protests that boiled over in a fatal confrontation at Kent State that questioned what patriotic behavior was. Laura knew her grandmother had never seen those films, choosing not to revisit the brutality that had altered so many lives like Samuel Clayton's. And then she thought about her grandfather, a disembodied presence she tried to give form to, trying to imagine his smile and personality. He was the phantom presence, the man who had never known he'd left a continuation of himself behind, who never knew he was a father, killed, perhaps mercifully, before witnessing the horrors that still haunted those who returned.

“Men came back broken, if they came back at all,” Johanna said.

“Forgive me, Gram. I wasn't thinking. It must have been so hard for you,” Laura said, angry at herself for being so insensitive, caught up in the mystery of Samuel Clayton.

“Like so many women, I learned to cope. And there was your mother,” Johanna said, “the living proof of our love. And she was my world.”

“And because of her, I exist,” Laura said smiling before circling back to the mystery of Samuel Clayton. “But, Samuel, he didn't marry or get to have children? Peter said he's the last of the Clayton line.”

Johanna smiled. “The old Samuel would laugh and say he had no offspring he was aware of, but no, he never married, as far as I know.

“Did he leave a score of broken hearts by choosing to remain single?” Laura asked in an attempt to lighten the mood and leave the thoughts of war and death behind.

“Hearts break all the time, Laura, so perhaps he did.” Her grandmother picked up the book she was reading and opened it, signaling to Laura that the conversation was at an end.


***


As the summer days progressed, Johanna and Laura decided it was the perfect opportunity to go through the house and evaluate all the things Johanna had accumulated over the years. They would label items as keep, donate, or trash, following the practices of a television show Johanna had watched. Going through both the attic and Johanna's closet brought the two women to stomach-holding laughter at the outfits that had been favored by a younger incarnation of Johanna Graham. Laura suggested donating some of them to the theater group in the neighboring town and Johanna agreed. While on her second trip to the attic, Laura came across some yearbooks and a pink leather jewelry box. She set them down on the dining room table and was about to dive into the yearbooks when she saw Johanna pull the jewelry box closer to her. She let her fingers glide across the surface before resting lightly on either side of it. Then, she clicked the clasp and slowly raised the lid to reveal long forgotten accessories of youth. Some were gifts from friends, some from her parents and grandparents, each piece bringing with it a story or a memory as she touched it, and held it up, showing it to Laura. The first pair of gold earrings she bought when she got her ears pierced, when her friend Ginny had numbed her ears with ice before sticking a needle into each lobe. Then, there was the nameplate necklace in gold filigree. “We all had to have one but they were so expensive. All of us would chip in to make it the perfect Sweet Sixteen gift.”

“What's this one?” Laura asked as she lifted a brilliant art deco white gold diamond and sapphire pendant. “It's so beautiful. Who gave you this? Was it my grandfather?”

Johanna gently lifted it and was briefly lost in whatever memories it evoked for her. “It was. I haven't held this in a very long time. I remember the day he gave it to me. So long ago. It was meant as his promise to me and to the life we hoped for. So long ago,” she said again.

“Why don't you wear it? It's so beautiful! If it were mine, I'd wear it every day.”

“Would you? Come here, then. Turn around and lift up your hair.” Johanna fastened the clasp and the pendant settled against Laura's chest. She hugged her grandmother.

“Thank you. I'll treasure it always.”


***


True to her word, Laura wore the pendant every day, only taking it off to clean it. As the summer drew to a close, Laura gathered up her family research notes, promising to send the results to her grandmother once she had turned her scribbling into prose. She also promised to return for a visit when the college had its first break. She wanted to continue her research into the town's history, a project that might evolve into the thesis she would have to write her senior year. And there was Peter. She had slowly come to consider him an essential part of life and she knew she would miss his easy smile and warmth when she returned to what he called her “other life.” They agreed to call, email, and text. He promised to regale her with tales of Samuel Clayton's excursions into town: whose feathers he had ruffled, whose nose was out of joint, and who had vowed to dynamite that house on the hill with Samuel in it. Laura boasted that she was going to walk up to the front door of Samuel Clayton's house and knock on the door so she could meet the man. “I'll tell him it's for my research project. Will he talk to me?”

“I think you'll be lucky to escape without a blast of buckshot to your hind quarters. Samuel Clayton values his privacy and doesn't look kindly on anyone who attempts to invade it. He'd consider you a trespasser and fair game.”

“Maybe. But I think I'll risk it. I really want to meet him.”

Laura was planning her return trip when the phone call came from her mother. “There's been an accident,” Lucy said. “Mom's been rushed to the hospital with serious injuries and they told me to get there as soon as I can.”

“I'm coming. Give me the name of the hospital.”

Laura tried to keep her emotions under control as she drove, repeating “Please don't die” over and over in her head, sure that if she kept sending this incantation to her grandmother, Johanna would hear it and hold on. As she raced to the reception desk, she saw Samuel Clayton in a heated conversation with a grim-faced man in a white coat. His presence was insignificant as she made her way to her grandmother's room. Lucy was already there, looking stricken. She hugged Laura and said, “It's not good. She has been in and out of consciousness and doesn't seem to be aware of what happened.”

They both turned when the doctor entered the room, introducing himself and saying that the next twenty-four hours would be crucial to Johanna's survival. Did she have a living will or a health care proxy? Then he added, “You might want to make final arrangements.”

Later that evening, there was a knock on the door just as Lucy and Laura were getting ready to return to the hospital. They opened the door to find a man in a three-piece suit who introduced himself as an attorney whose client wished to remain anonymous but wanted to pay for all of Johanna's uncovered hospital expenses and, should it come to pass, all costs related to her funeral and burial. “I know this is a difficult time for you, so here's my card. Call me when you can.”

Laura looked at her mother. “We need to locate Grandma's insurance papers. You go ahead. I might know where to look.”

Lucy nodded. “Don't be too long. If you can't find them easily, we can always look later.”

By the time Laura had found what she needed, Johanna had taken a turn for the worse. Her latest test scores for cognitive activity were lower than the doctor had hoped. Lucy had been told the time was coming for the family to make the decision no family ever wants to make. They sat on either side of her, each holding her hand, Lucy talking softly. “It's okay to let go, Mom. We're here. We love you. If it's your time to go, we'll understand.”

Laura felt the slightest pressure on her hand, saw Johanna's eyelids flutter, and heard the clamoring of the monitors all at once. The room filled with bodies executing the protocols they were trained for, extricating Laura and Lucy from their bedside posts and leading them from the room. They fell into one another's arms when they heard the words “time of death.”

The following day, they were faced with the mind-numbing decisions that were part of every death. The trip to the funeral home, choosing a casket as if it were no more important than picking out a new automobile. Each one had a name. “This model,” intoned the funeral director “is very popular among families of modest means,” before showing them the more expensive model, while assuring them that whichever they chose would be part of “one of the packages we provide.” Said packages consisted of memorial cards, viewing hours, a service at the chapel, an obituary for the newspaper and a variety of add-ons. Next were the trips to the florist, Johanna's church, and Sweeney's to arrange a reception for after the funeral. Neither Lucy nor Laura had expected to lose Johanna so quickly, so neither had packed clothing appropriate for a funeral. Or, maybe they subconsciously felt to do so was to invite disaster. Whatever the reason, they had to shop before the wake.


***


When she and Lucy collected the morning paper and sat at the table in the breakfast nook, they each had a list of things to do. The obituary they had composed was boarded in black and the sight of it made Lucy catch her breath. “She's really gone, isn't she?” Laura took the paper from her mother hands. “Yes, Mom. We'll get through this.” Then she read the words she and her mother had written. They made a conscious decision to omit mention of Lucy's father, not finding his name on Lucy's birth certificate and agreeing that he was better left in the past. The calling hours would begin at 4 pm and there was too much still to do to allow them to succumb to grief.

The wake was held at the Essex Funeral Home, an event as much to allow the townspeople to socialize as it was for them to pay their respects to one of their older, well-liked residents. The room was crowded with people and the murmur of conversations filled the room, some recalling Johanna, others with bits and pieces of news people wanted to share. As viewing hours were nearing an end, the room grew silent, as if someone had pressed the mute button on an enormous wide screen television. All eyes turned to the figure in the doorway. His once blonde hair was a steely gray, but his penetrating blue eyes were still arresting, though unmistakably sad. He spoke to no one, acknowledged no one, and strode to Johanna's casket. He leaned over her and whispered a few words before leaving a white rose near her hands. He lingered only a moment more before turning and leaving without a word. Once he was gone, the room erupted in speculation. Who was Johanna to Samuel Clayton that he would come to her calling hours, knowing tongues would wag, and leave a rose?

“It was a white rose, not a red one,” someone said.

“White, red, does it make a difference?” her neighbor asked.

“Roses have meaning,” Peter's mother added. “I just can't remember what white stands for.”

“Well, I'll be damned,” was all Peter could say.

The following morning, Lucy and Laura arrived at the office of the attorney whose client had offered to pay Johanna's expenses. Despite their initial hesitancy, they realized they would need substantial help to settle the uncovered bills. The receptionist led them to the conference room, expressed her condolences, and opened the door, announcing them to her boss. Laura saw Samuel Clayton seated at the far end of the conference table. He rose immediately and walked over to them as his attorney made introductions.

“My condolences and my apologies for not speaking with you last night. I didn't know what to say and I was…overwhelmed...by seeing her. I am very sorry for your loss. Please allow me to help you in any way I can.”

Lucy nodded and took her seat, indicating that Laura should do the same. Samuel took the seat next to his attorney as Laura chose a seat nearer Samuel. She spoke as she lowered herself into her chair.

“You're Mr. Clayton and you own the house on the hill. Grandma knew you from school.”

He nodded. “And you're the young woman who walks her dog by the house, sometimes alone and sometimes with Angela's boy, Peter. I've thought about coming outside when I see you, but most people view my presence as a blight on society and if I had come outside and frightened you, I would no longer have had the pleasure of watching you and your dog.” He suddenly looked embarrassed. “That came out wrong. It isn't as creepy as it sounds.” He shook his head, smiling slightly. “You remind me of Johanna. You have a sunshine around you that is so pleasant, even on a cloudy day.”

“Do I?” Laura asked, fingertips touching her grandmother's pendant. “Thank you for thinking so.”

His eyes lighted on the pendant and spoke softly. “She still had it? I never thought I'd see that pendant again. I thought she must have given it away years ago.”

All conversation had ceased as the attorney and Lucy turned their attention to Samuel.

“You recognize it?” Laura looked at Samuel intently.

“Oh, yes. She wore it often. It was the last gift I ever gave her before I left for Vietnam.”

You gave it to her?” Laura's head was spinning.

He nodded. “She and I had been quietly seeing one another and the pendant was like a promise between us before I went overseas. A promise for when I returned. But while I was there, without so much as a goodbye, she married someone else. Your grandfather. It was a real blow to me and when she came back home with your mother, and I was discharged, I never spoke to her again. I couldn't forgive her for abandoning me and I was bitter. The war had changed me. I was no longer the man she knew. From time to time, I’d wonder how our lives might have been different if I had been less rigid, been able to forgive her. The ‘if only’ is forever unknowable, isn’t it? Now, all I can do is offer my resources. I want her to be at peace and for you and your mother to be free of any financial burden, because of what she once meant to me.”

Laura was about to speak when the attorney slid some documents over to Samuel for his signature. He signed each one and returned them to his attorney and then stood. Lucy stood when Samuel did, thanking him, unaware that she was shaking hands with her father. Samuel Clayton, not the phantom figure Johanna had created, was her flesh and blood. She heard her mother tell him what a kind and generous man he was. Laura would keep Johanna's secret a while longer, she thought, but when she took Samuel Clayton's hand, she knew she would tell him who she was.

“I'm coming back in a few weeks to clean out the house. I'm bringing Oscar home with me now, but he's coming back, too. If you see us walking outside your house, promise me you'll come out to say hello. I would really like to know you better,” she said looking deeply into his eyes, trying to reach the depth of his being. “Please say yes.”

Samuel Clayton took her hand in both of his and smiled. “It would be my pleasure.”



Kathleen Chamberlin is a retired educator living in Albany, New York. She began writing creatively during the quarantine period of Covid-19. Her writing has appeared in Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Open Door Magazine, The World of Myth, The Manifest-Station, The Wise Owl, Writing in a Woman's Voice, Sad Girls Club, The Green Shoe Sanctuary, 100Subtexts, The Pine Cone Review, Hudson Valley Writers Guild, and in the anthologies The Book of Black, Breath of Love, Snowdrifts, Effluressence, Revenge, and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Attitude of Gratitude. In addition to writing, she enjoys gardening, genealogy, and grandchildren.


Photo credit: Krin Van Tatenhove via Midjourney AI

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