return – chapter 4

CHAPTER 4

“Dad, please eat something.” She was tired of walking back and forth from their tiny kitchen to the dining room, trying to get her father to eat the meat and potato stew Miss Helen had prepared like a toddler.

It smelled delicious too, seasoned to perfection. Now that she didn’t have to starve herself for Devin anymore, she’d put on a few pounds since being back.

She sighed at the sight of her father, Mr. Apple. He was a shell of the strapping man he used to be. Too thin, and couldn’t speak well enough for her to understand.

Ever since her mother passed away of cancer, he simply stopped living. Thick mustache and big brown eyes, her dad was still young enough to remarry if he could find someone who could look past his medical condition.

“N-n-n-no.” He gave up saying anything more; the words to painful to form with the stroke. He pushed the bowl away. Thunder rumbled outside.

It hurt Joanne seeing her father like this and guilt washed over her. He was only in his early 40s, his once wavy dark hair had thinned out and been replaced by hints of grey.

Anger burned in her father’s eyes on the rare occasion he looked at her. He blamed her for leaving him alone; abandoning him after her mother passed and her older brother passed away in the war.

Joanne had to get away, every moment in the house was a memory she didn’t want to hold onto and she had bigger plans and thought Devin was her ticket out of here. What a mistake.

The storm outside picked up. The wind howled, spiraling under the the door crack through the long halls, sending a draft in the already nippy evening.

If the pounding rain kept up, the roof would leak again. Great, just what she needed; another thing to worry about.

As Joanne washed the dishes, her mind circled back to Steed. She couldn’t get him out of her mind the whole day. It wasn’t just his broad shoulders or the way he looked at her like he wanted to protect her. It wasn’t even how polite and humble he was, a stark contrast to her ex-fiance.

Steed had a way about him, a genuine energy as if he were completely comfortable in his own skin, but was missing something; a mystery, something only she could fulfill. The way he looked walking to his motorcycle, so masculine so … She dropped the glass into the soapy sink of water with a splash.

“Shoot,” she said, lucky it didn’t break. She could have left everything for the maid to do, but Miss Helen was getting up there in age and Joanne didn’t want to leave her with too much.

The older woman came out of nowhere, piling up more dishes for her to wash. “You’re going to cut your hands if you don’t get your mind off him.”

“Off whom?” asked Joanne, lowering her tone and yanking Miss Helen closer to her so her father wouldn’t overhear.

A devilish smile spread across Miss Helen’s face. “Off whom?” She wiggled her head in mockery at the younger woman’s well-educated speech. “He was handsome, wasn’t he?”

Joanne blushed. There was no pulling one over Miss Helen. She knew her too well.  Of course Steed was handsome, probably the best looking man she’d ever seen, but she didn’t like the way he presumed to know her. “I don’t know who you’re referring to.”

“Mmm-hmm. All I’m saying is a girl your age shouldn’t live alone forever,” said Miss Helen, wiping her hands on her apron. Leave it to her to butt her nose into her love life.

It would be nice to be with someone again. Someone who truly listened to her, someone who let her be herself and encouraged her to fulfill her dreams, who didn’t trap her into becoming the woman they said they wanted. Someone who liked her independent spirit and yet held her close when she was vulnerable.

It’s not like she hadn’t fantasized about being with someone one day, but it was too soon. She needed to heal and quite frankly, her ex-fiance had hurt her so bad she didn’t know if she’d ever love again.

Miss Helen had warned Joanne against running away with the man, too. She simply said he didn’t feel right. Now, Joanne wished she’d heeded her warnings.

“Miss Helen, I don’t live alone. I live with my father. And I have a lot to focus on,” she said, though Miss Helen must have seen something in Steed she liked if she pushed this hard.

“A lot to focus on?” She twisted her lips in disapproval. “Like what? “

Racking her mind for excuses, Joanne scrambled to come up with a few that would keep the woman silent. “I don’t know, running this farm, managing this household, my father” Joanne said.

Rolling her neck, Miss Helen said, “You’re rotting away and we need the help.”

Her demanding ways got Joanne’s last nerve. She was tired of people telling her what she should and shouldn’t do with her life. It was her life after all. She nearly dropped all the dishes in the sink in a huff. “I don’t need the help. Not from him and not from

A lightning bolt cracked so loud it made her jump. The lights turned off for a few seconds and her father moaned. He started to get up, but she put her hand on his shoulder to settle him down. “It’s all right, Dad. I’ll check it out.”

“What is that?” asked Joanne, chasing after Miss Helen.  The older woman moved as quickly as her plump body could take her into the family room.

“Good lord,” Miss Helen said, freezing at the sight.

The glow from the fire from the lightning bolt reflected through the curtains and Joanne’s jaw dropped. The barn would be gone in minutes if they didn’t do something soon.

“Call the fire department!” said Joanne. They were about to lose everything.