IVA FINDER

 

Finder’s way

By: Karen Wittkamm

Copyright 2012

 

Chapter 1

            Iva Finder’s small, white, nineteen twenties clapboard house with its bursts of colorful foliage which surrounded the front, was silent, just as it’s been since the death of her husband Barney.  She filled this Friday as she did so many others, with her friends, having lunch, playing cards and laughing.  But once home, the hours stood still without him.

When night fell and the half hour past eight approached, she prepared for bed.  As the telephone rang, her head turned abruptly, she wondered who would be interrupting her at such a late hour, then paused to see if it would stop, but it didn’t.  Iva lifted her wire rimmed eyeglasses off the bathroom counter, set them over her aged, golden colored eyes and turned on the light switch in the hall, making her way into the darkened living room.  With the dim glow of light behind her, she turned on the lamp that was placed on the same end table, where the ringing machine rested.

The sixty three year old picked up the receiver, “Hello.”

            “Hello mother, it’s me Stan.  I’m sorry to be calling so late but I have to talk to you, it’s urgent and can’t wait.”

            As Iva sat down, her free hand rested on the arm of her green, blue and yellow plaid wing back chair which she’d chosen fifteen years earlier to match the other green and blue décor in the room, “Yes Stanley, what is it?”

            Her son continued cautiously, aware he’d disturbed her routine, “Things haven’t been going well for me and Leslie.”

            She waited for the details, “Oh?”

Stanley chose his words carefully, there could be no over-exaggeration about their situation to his mother, who was always blunt with her children when it came to conversations regarding money, and expected them to do no less.  He leisurely reclined on the pillows of his king size bed, watching his wife take off her four carat diamond ring, assorted gem, platinum and gold jewelry, which he hadn’t considered asking her to sell, in fear of finding out that he’d lavished her with things that she now preferred over him, “The fact is, we’re in financial trouble and are going to lose everything if we don’t get help.”

            Iva’s shoulders slumped from the burdensome information, “Are you?  How much do you owe?”

He sat up, bothered over the news she was about to hear, “Three hundred and fifty thousand.  That’s what we’ll need to get out from under this mess.”

            There was no gasp, no rebuke, she was silent.  Stanley had no alternative but to wait patiently for her response, she being the only one he could think of who would have that sum of money available.  His mother was the owner of the family packaging company, so parting with that amount wouldn’t be a hardship for her, he assumed.

            She anguished over his request, hoping he’d not thought that by calling her before bedtime, she would instantly offer the money to him.  He had to be fully aware of the pride she took in being the clearheaded manager of the wealth she and Barney worked so hard for, even late at night.  Iva’s parent’s taught her to not say yes or no immediately, but rather, to consider decisions of consequence carefully and what their overall impact would be, not only to her, but also for those in her family.

Her reply wasn’t swift, but when it did come, it was non-committal, “That’s a lot of money Stanley.  I will come over in the morning at seven thirty.”

            “Okay, we’ll see you then.  Goodnight mom.”  He said with relief, having completed his task.

            Tears formed in her eyes from the strain of having to discuss the topic with him, as she said goodnight.  Iva put the handset down slowly, conscious of what position he’d be put into if she refused him.  Her walk back to the bathroom was less energetic then before, she finished her nightly rituals and retreated to bed.

            As Stanley hung up, he speculated that since she hadn’t immediately declined him, he could sleep restful, free from the nagging strain his debts had brought on.  He anticipated that it would be too hard for her to not help him, he being the eldest son and having never asked for money in the past, which he would remind her of when she came.  Putting his head on his pillow, he relayed to Leslie what his mother said, before she had the chance to question him about the matter, then drifted into sleep with a grin of certainty on his face.

Iva’s night was not the peaceful rest she was accustomed too, having wrestled with the thought of disappointing her son as much as she knew her final decision would.  She awoke every morning at five thirty, dressed and drank her coffee by ten after six.  It occasionally happened that her morning was disrupted by something unexpected, a flat tire or other type of car trouble, a neighbor who needed something or an unexpected break or spill, which was fine with her.  This problem was unlike the others, it involved debt, which she’d consciously resisted during her life, frugalness being one of the several character imprints left on her by her parents.  Her mind went directly back to thoughts of what the day would bring between them.

Stanley’s alarm went off at six.  His house was as quiet as it had always been at that hour, up until six months ago when his creditor’s decided they wanted their money.  Now it was their continuous badgering at both early and late hours that was causing the fights between his wife and himself.  He looked with admiration at his large master bedroom; the green and gold chaise by the French doors which led out to the balcony, his half wall television and all the other furniture Leslie picked out the previous year, in their complete home remodel.  The pressure returned.  There was nowhere else but his mother, for him to get assistance.

His hand went to the telephone to call the security guard stationed at the entrance of their gated community, “This is Stanley Finder, please let Iva Finder in when she arrives.”

            The man answered dutifully, “Yes Mr. Finder.”

After Stanley hung up, he checked the time.  Aware that his mother was always punctual for her appointments, he figured it was possible to stay in bed for an hour more.  As a young boy he’d not seen his parent’s as snobs about excessive casualness like being late, but as he got into his teens his views changed.  It didn’t suit him to be as regimented as they were, and decided that if he ever had children, he’d not pass it on to them.  With the birth of his two daughters and sons, he kept his pledge.  Their inexhaustible clamor amused him and he consistently encouraged their spontaneity, no matter what the results.

            This morning, rather than doing the newspapers crossword as was her habit, Iva was in her car getting it warmed up for the drive to his house.  She and her husband of forty seven years had worked their entire married life so they could read the newspaper together while having their morning coffee, without having to go into the company.  The planned anticipation of it and then disappointment that her Barney didn’t live long enough to enjoy their dreams come to fruition, was a wound which broke open in her heart every morning as she fulfilled them alone.  Even so, she knew hers was not a story of sorrow, feeling only gratitude for each one of their days together.

            As her blue, four door sedan idled, Iva smiled, remembering how much a man of inevitability, he was.  If he convinced her enough that he was the right one for her, inevitably she would say yes to marrying him and if he worked hard enough at the business they shared with his family on the east coast, inevitably it would be continued on by their children.  He thought that if he were the most influential man in his daughter and son’s lives, then they would be fine when they were older.  The coolant needle in the dial on the dashboard went from cold to warm.  Iva wondered as she pulled out of the drive and began to creep down the street, whether or not, if Barney were still alive, would he see his son’s lack of judgment in the handling of his money as inevitable?  Probably not was her conclusion.

Stanley’s oldest daughter Cassandra was awake but he didn’t know it, their bedroom’s were far enough down the hall from each other that she couldn’t wake him.  Although, the slam of her closet door hadn’t disturbed him, it did startle her younger sister Iva from her sleep.

Iva’s past two years’ experience being in the adjacent room to her sister made her an authority that her room wasn’t the premier spot in the house to have quiet.  Everything Case, as she’d been called from a young age, said and did, could be heard through her walls.  She found it easy to imagine that had she been born first, it would be Case who would be kept up late at night, listening to her on the phone with friends, talking and laughing loudly.  Iva long decided that she would treat her sister as annoyingly, as she did her, if she attempted to ask what Iva and her friends were saying.

            Her golden eyes with their specs of green and violet opened as Case’s footsteps stumbled around, first in and then out of the neighboring bedroom, but she’d not passed Iva’s bedroom door, that she could tell.  She wondered why Case would be up so early, with the time being just after seven.  They’d been kept awake again during the night, by their dad and mom’s monotonous arguing over the bills and money, which made them usually sleep in.

            It was about the six month mark by Iva’s estimate that sleeping in on the weekends for as long as they could became as much a luxury as their designer clothes and accessories were.

Between staying over at their friends houses for hours which they’d had to resort too, along with sleeping in and going to school, the Finder children avoided seeing each other for indefinite periods of time.  It must have been about three or four weeks since the two sisters had last seen each other.  Had it been that long?  Iva junior wondered.  The exact number wasn’t coming to her.

            She threw back her blanket in frustration at Case’s lack of consideration, which extended to not just this morning, but most of them.  Iva sat up, hesitant to get out of bed but she forced herself, more out of curiosity then over any concern for her sister’s well being.  As her hand inched her door open, she could see Case standing in the hall, as if waiting for either she or their younger brother Terry to join her.

            It was difficult for Iva to imagine herself becoming a truly disingenuous person due to another person’s actions, but there she was, now able to turn it on and off at will.  She knew her wrongful intentions would be found out, unless Case decided to be kind to her and Terry before the discovery.  Once again she put up her fictional persona as a shield against her sister’s emotional harm.  Fortunately for Iva, her guard didn’t extend toward her or her brother’s friend’s, she reminded herself, it was only necessary with Case.  Iva asked nicely, which was contrived, “What are you doing up this early?”

            Case began to pace in her denim shorts, leather sandals and t-shirt, “I’m going outside by the pool to think, before they get up and start all over.”

            Iva remained careful, her fingers stayed on the handle, ready to close it if her sister barked out her usual mouthful of profanities, which she and Terry copied, repeating them with an equal amount of frequency.  Any discomfort they’d had about their sour language left them, but was, at least for now, contained to the confines of their house.  She struggled to work up the nerve to talk to her again, saying faintly, “Wait.  I’ll go with you, if you want.”

Case didn’t refuse her suggestion as she pushed her way past Iva and came into her room and then sat on her bed.

            The younger Iva found a pair of shorts and shirt to put on, pulled off her pajamas and began to dress, “Why did they say we’re broke?”

            This was the first use of the word “broke” the two girls ever heard that applied to them.  Distress clouded their thoughts.

Anger and exasperation permeated Case’s answer, “Who knows?  I don’t get what’s going on, either.”

When she finished dressing, she slipped into her sandals, “Case, their fighting all the time, it’s too much.  I hate it.”

            “So do I, let’s go.”  Her sister replied as she anxiously led the way out of the bedroom, then down the stairs toward the backyard, peering over her shoulder at her sister as they descended, “Bruce was right to get out before all of this, but I wouldn’t have picked the Army to go into.  It would have been easier and safer to go to college, get a job and make tons of money so he could leave.  He could be killed and for what, just to get away from their fighting?”

            Iva looked at her, as if her sister had some information she wasn’t aware of, “He does think it’s the right thing to do.  Doesn’t he?”

            “If it were the right thing to do then everyone would have enlisted, don’t be so dumb Iva.”  She argued, but winced as the words came out.

            “I’m not dumb, Case.  Maybe I haven’t read or listened about the war as much as other people, but it’s

not as if you’ve gone out of your way, either.”

            She smirked, having lost the sensitivity to her sister somewhere along her way to adulthood, then restated her comment, “I didn’t mean dumb Iva, young is what I was going to say.”

            The defensive jab Iva gave was meant to bruise and it appeared to have done the intended, which surprised her.  Case hadn’t retracted any negative comment she’d directed at her nor anyone or anything in the past that Iva knew of.  As they reached the kitchen, Iva thought her sister’s assessment of their brother’s reasoning was possibly unfair and inaccurate because he’d never actually said to her why he went.  Iva hoped there was more to his decision than getting out of the house and that maybe he wanted to go, so planes wouldn’t be flown into buildings ever again.  It had been almost five years since the World Trade Center attacks and as far as she knew, it hadn’t happened again.  She chose to not voice her ideas, wanting to avoid being mocked any further about being only fifteen, so early in the morning.

            “Next year I’ll be eighteen and out of school.  I’m leaving that same day.”  Case said adamantly.

            Iva remained silent, having no desire to discourage her sister’s decision, instead she’d happily help her to pack and move.  Her mind wasn’t yet acclimated to the miserable unhappiness they were all enduring, but Iva felt as if her fight against it was waning, there’d been no miraculous event to help so far and there didn’t seem to be one in the near future.  She looked at Case, envying her age, wishing that she were closer to eighteen so she could leave with her parent’s financial help.

            The sun over the easterly mountains had risen and been out just long enough to warm the patio.  Their neighborhood was quiet, the gentle coastal breeze felt good, it was almost ideal, with the exception of the two sisters who didn’t like each other.  As they sat opposite each other at the table, Iva considered that they might have the same idea on their mind; to go to one of their friend’s houses soon, at least, that was her intention. With time passing, the two girls worked to figure out how to stay out of earshot of their parents, fearful that if either of them were to get up and it were still too early to leave, they’d be stuck.

            The unexpected jerking sound of the side gate alarmed them.  They looked in its direction as their brother Terry ran out from the side of the house, which they found peculiar, since he could have come out the back door, as they’d done.

            He whispered, “Case, Iva, come quick, Grandma’s here.  She, dad and mom are arguing about something.”

            His sisters followed him, knowing she never came over so early.  The three crept along the side of the house to the window, where they’d be able to eaves drop on the adults undetected.

They heard their grandma, who was usually soft, refined and inaudible from a distance, now being a loud, direct, authoritative woman they’d never met, “I’ve watched but said nothing as you spent the money your brother paid you, to buy out your interest in the business Stanley, because you didn’t want to go into it with him after your father passed away.  You asked to be bought out and now it’s gone.  Instead of saving it, you’ve acted as if it would never run out and now find yourself without anything to help you through this recession and are asking me for assistance, what is this?”

            Her son and his wife sat silent, anxious to hear her decision on the loan.  They were so far removed from what she was saying because of their own concerns, they couldn’t see the inevitable.  Leslie’s face contorted at the woman who’d welcomed her into their family, becoming more menacing with every word her mother-in-law spoke.

            Iva had to give her answer despite how frightening in appearance Leslie was becoming toward her, “I can’t give you the money you need.  Everything for you and your brother was distributed, according to your father’s will.  However, I hope you will agree that it would be in Case, Iva and Terry’s best interest if they came with me.  Let me be clear though.  If they were any younger, I wouldn’t have the inclination to do even this, I’m simply not of the age to raise others children, but because they’re older and won’t be with me long, it shouldn’t be too difficult.  It’s not possible for me to help you with any more than that.”

            The three teens looked at each other in shock, as their grandmother went silent.

            “Mom if you loan us the money, we will pay you back as soon as possible.”  Her son pleaded, trying to bargain his way out of his troubles

            “Stanley, please think!  You want to borrow money to pay back money that you borrowed.  Can you hear yourself?  This is not a mere three hundred and fifty dollars you’re asking for, which you could possibly pay back.  It’s three hundred fifty thousand, which at this point you can’t pay back, for if you could, then you’d be paying it directly to your creditors.  I’ve
already said what I’m able to do for you and the children.  Make up your mind.”  She remained calm as she finished speaking, even though it was difficult to hide the sorrow and frustration she felt about his irrational decisions.

            He considered for a moment what to say as his foot tapped uncontrollably then answered contritely, hoping this ploy would gain her sympathy, “Thank you mom, we’ll send them with you.  I’m sure Leslie will agree that foreclosure and bankruptcy will be difficult on us.  It will be very hard to let go of everything we have.”

            Iva’s devotion to her son was unwavering, though had never been tested to this degree before.  His inability to see and admit the mistakes he’d made was what she couldn’t abide, “Hard on you Stanley?  It will be hard on you?  That’s what you’re concerned with right now?  What about your children?  You’ve gotten them used to having whatever they want, whenever they want.  What about them?  You and James have been taught how to allocate your money.  It’s none of my business what influences you’ve succumbed too that would make you spend not only what your brother gave you, which was a large amount, but also money that you’ve borrowed for all this extravagance.”

            Stanley looked at his mother, her tone having harshness to it because of his attempt at a pious façade.  He held in the angry thoughts going around in his mind, in case there was another time in the future he’d have to ask her for money.

She stopped, bewildered by why he couldn’t understand what she’d said, then continued slowly, “You’ll have to figure out for yourselves how to deal with all this.  Stanley, this is not the Finder’s way of doing things, you’ll have to get back to it on your own.  I’ll be back to pick up the children’s things this afternoon and ask James if he can help take care of it.  You’ll visit the children often and be welcomed when you do, but I will not hear anything more about this after today.”

            Leslie watched angrily, wondering what the old woman was going to do with all her money.  It was pointless for her to have it, if it wasn’t going to be used to help her children in emergencies like this.

            Still crouched down, the three snoops could only see the top of their grandma’s hair pass across the bottom of the window toward the front door as she finished.  They looked at each other horrified.  As tears welled up in Case’s seventeen year old eyes, she whispered to her brother and sister, “Stay with grandma, I can’t do it.  Sunday dinners for a few hours every weekend is enough, and half the time we’re not even around for those.  Living with her just can’t happen.”

            They watched the top of the door open and close without hearing a goodbye from her.

            Stanley shook his head as he sat down, not knowing what to do.  Leslie’s rage expressed itself to him, instead of to the one it was meant for, the “old woman” as she called her.  She stood in front of him, her breasts directly in his face, “I can’t believe you couldn’t convince her to give us the money.  How much of a child are you?”

            His anxiety boiled over, “Leslie, go sit down.  You’re making things worse.”

There was no arguing over his comment.  Both were increasingly viler to the other with each fight, since their financial ordeal began.  She clinched her teeth, straightened out her blouse and went back to the white leather chair she’d been in.

            Terry, Case and Iva ran through the gate as their grandmother pulled away and into the front door as Stanley called for them to come downstairs.  They made their way to the stairs and touched the banister as if they’d already been on their way.  Silence engulfed the room as the three teens entered, each looking at their parents as if unaware what transpired.

            Leslie pointed toward the white leather sofa, “Sit down.”

            As they reluctantly complied, their father began walking back and forth in front of them, “You’re going to stay with your grandma until mom and I can figure things out.”

            Case was anxious to confront them about their decision and how unfair she found it, “But why?  You can’t do that.  What about my car?  You promised me one.  I’ve already told my friends.  What are they going to think?”

            “There will be no car, Case.  We’ve got bigger problems than that.”  Her mother answered with indifference, unconcerned about her daughter’s heartache.

            Case began to weep, managing to get out, “Why?”

Stanley stopped, frustrated and angered by his mother’s refusal of his request.  He’d never denied his children anything before, because of how it would make him look, but now he had too, and instantly determined that they would have to take this knuckler the same way he was, replying blankly, “We’re out of money for cars, this house, everything.”

            His children stared at him, confused by his lack of apprehension in rejecting Case’s begging, and that it seemed to not be affecting him, or they surmised, there would be some apologetic or sympathetic tone, which there wasn’t.

            She continued in desperation, “We’re out of money!  We can’t be.  I want to stay in my own room.  At grandma’s, Iva and I will have to share a room.  I don’t have any money to live on my own.”

            Stanley became enraged by his daughter’s stubbornness in not cooperating with the plans, “We have no money for you.  You’ll live with her.  She’s only a few miles away, so you’ll stay at the same schools and I don’t want to hear anymore of your demands right now Case.  And, that goes for both of you, too.”

            Case thought she may as well go all out and maintain her arguing since her parent’s decided without her consent that she was to leave her room for something less than what she’s had, “Demanding.  Who taught us to demand what we want?  You did!”

            Her mother became defiant against her, “Cassandra you’re seventeen shut up, you’ve got no say in this.”

            Case got up from the sofa, backing away from it slowly, fully aware that her next statement would send her mother’s mercury through her thermometer, “You shouldn’t be telling me to shut up mom.   It’s you who screams if you have to wait in a line for more than three minutes because your things are more important than everyone else in the worlds, or if you can’t get your hair or nails done beyond perfect, and newsflash mom, you’re dressing like you’re twenty, but you’re not anymore.”

            Iva stared at them, her sister saying everything she wanted to yell out.

Leslie stood, approaching Case as if she were going to attack, “How dare you, there’s something wrong with you for talking to me like that?  You wouldn’t have anything if it weren’t for us.”

            Stanley, Iva and Terry watched with horror, they were both terrifyingly volatile.

            “Sure mom, something’s wrong with me, whatever you say.”  Case replied, standing her ground with confidence, now that she knew the truth about where their money came from.  That it wasn’t earned by their parents, but rather by their grandpa and grandma, and if it weren’t for them, there wouldn’t have been anything.

            Terry and Iva clung to each other on the sofa, fearing the repercussions of their sister’s verbal joust with their parents.

            Leslie continued, antagonistic toward her daughter, “As you’ve said, you don’t have money of your own Case.  Good luck trying to buy anything.  We’ll need your cell phones, they have to be cancelled.”

            It was too much for her daughter, shock prevented Case from going on.  Iva looked at her sister’s frozen face, she would have to help her with the protest, “Our phones, no way, we need them.”

            Stanley leered at her in outrage that she was joining the argument, “Iva, you won’t raise your voice to your mom or me like that.”

            She raised her hands inches off the sofa, making a gesture of genuineness, “But we do need them.”

            “Put them on the table before your grandma comes for you.”  He insisted firmly.

They reached in their pockets, pulled them out and put them down where instructed.

Stanley continued, more incensed, “Now go upstairs and get your things ready, I’ll bring up boxes.”

            The three teenagers looked at their parent’s unsympathetically, having no connection to the plight they were in.  In all their years they never wondered where money came from and couldn’t grasp that their bank was closed.

            As they stood to leave, Leslie reached over to the end table, lifted up slips of paper and handed them to Stanley to distribute, “There’s a list for each of you of the things you’re to leave behind, along with a list for Bruce.  Case, you and Iva are going to have to pack his things.  Now go.”

            Her last sentence stunned them.  Bruce was the one piece to the family that brought them together over the last four years.  Before all the mayhem started, they’d collectively cared about his safety and eventual return home, which unfortunately, wasn’t in the immediate future, or at least not soon enough to help with the aftermath of this financial turbulence.  The three looked at her in tears, having never thought she’d have the audacity to go through their rooms and take inventory of their possessions while they weren’t home.  It was unconscionable and made even worse by her thrusting of Bruce into a situation he had no say in.  Their dad and mom possibly severed their relationship with him, and for what, for money?

            Case and Iva looked at their slips of paper, which listed their jewelry, handbags, shoes, bedding, designer clothes, and all their other things that had a high resale value.  Terry’s list was equally as bad, she’d written his video games, game player and signed baseball.  Each one’s list also included their laptops and music players.  Bruce’s wasn’t any better, having all of his property on it as well.

            The two girls didn’t stop themselves from asking, “How could you go through our things and Bruce’s? He’s not even here.”

            Their mother’s demeanor became bitter and sarcastic, “We’ll need money to get by on, until we can find jobs or something.  Your grandmother will take care of you, you won’t need money.”

            Case’s stance was aggressive as her mother spoke.  Terry and Iva watched as their sister turned to leave the room, talking to herself in a low mumble then laughing, as she wept with disappointment.  The whole incident scared them.  While they watched her, she had the appearance of having a full breakdown.  They’d never seen her confront their parent’s in that the way, it was so far away from the cajoling she usually used on them to have her way.  Iva and Terry slunk past their parent’s behind her, hoping not to be spoken too about what they’d just seen.  Case went to her room, Terry to his and Iva to hers.  The sobbing sounds of the three were heard outside their doors and down the hall as Stanley climbed the stairs.   He was indifferent to them, preoccupied by his own troubles, as he set down two boxes in front of each of their doors then walked away.

            With all they’ve known, gone, the heartsick, distraught threesome, stayed out of sight, only opening their doors when they heard him leave.  The two girls sat in their individual rooms looking at their dressers with all their trinkets of childhood in unorganized disarray, then at their nightstands, drapes, lamps, mirrors, closets, dirty clothes which lay in piles everywhere with their shoes tossed haphazardly amongst them, wishing they’d never been given the things.  That way, giving them up wouldn’t be as painful as it was.  Terry sat on his unmade bed looking at his boxes, holding his baseball, the one cherished item he had, which was impossible for him to part with.

            The girls packed the limited amount they were allowed to bring with them, mourning over past birthday and holiday gifts that were now to be relinquished to their parent’s.

            Life instantly became, abrasive and ruthless, just as they themselves behaved.  No longer were they part of the privileged that looked upon the unfortunates of the recession, either ignoring them or looking at them with curiosity, their circumstance was now enjoined with theirs, impoverished through no fault of their own.  Each wondered where all the wealthy friends their parents had dined, vacationed and had to their house, were?  Had they abandoned them?  Were they not compassionate to their situation?  They couldn’t want them to be poor along with their dad and mom, they were only children.  Where was their help?  Because of their ages, it couldn’t occur to them, that if they didn’t change their thoughts about money, saving and spending soon, their parent’s mistakes could be easily repeated in their future years.

            Their uncle James and two of his friend’s drove up to their house after forty five minutes to collect their stuff.  He knocked on his niece and nephew’s bedroom doors to let them know it was time to go.  The three men loaded boxes on the dolly then headed down the stairs, the tearful teenagers followed them out of the house, stood on the lawn and kept lookout, afraid of seeing anyone they knew and worrying about how they would explain what was happening if they were confronted at school.  As they watched their possessions put into the truck, Case and Iva stood quietly, separate from one another, each considering that being dependent upon their grandmother without a dime to their name was not how they wanted to spend their years.

It was a dumbfounding moment, the unspoken question on their minds became visible as they looked at each other, were they to say goodbye to their parents?  The men went into the house and came back with the last of the three single beds, loading them silently.

            Iva senior sat in her car across the street to avoid further discussion about the money with her son, her car blocked by the open truck doors.  As they swung shut, the teenagers saw her.

She quietly called out to them, “Come here, Case, Iva and Terry, please.”

            They walked toward her, periodically looking behind them, checking if there was any sight of their parent’s saying goodbye.  To their astonishment, they weren’t there.  Young Iva saw on her brother and sister’s faces what she took to be disloyalty, but neither one had a tear.  It made her wonder if her siblings felt the same amount of shame she had, for not being overly saddened that they were leaving.  From the backseat, Terry and Iva watched their large two-story, five bedroom house fade away as their grandma pulled out from the curb, and then lost sight of it as she turned the corner to exit their exclusive haven.  None of them had anything to say during the drive to her house, nothing could ease the tension of what was happening.

            Iva senior drove slowly behind the truck until they approached her house.  She parked in the driveway of her modest single level home.  Case shuddered with the thought of going from her own private room in a spacious house built only eight years earlier, to a cramped little place.

There was nothing she, Iva or Terry could do but wait for their stuff to be unloaded.  Once their Uncle James and his friends finished bringing in the boxes and setting up their beds he passed Case to leave.  Iva watched as he told her that she was going to be fine, which she shrugged off with doubt or indifference, or both.

Iva senior didn’t let the teens think for long, directing them to make their beds and put their biggest things away.  As they did, the two girls worked strategically to establish their own territory without their usual arguing.  While doing her arranging, it was hard for Iva to hold back the desire to ask Case about her outburst at their parent’s.  She wanted to know how it felt to stand up and say what was on her mind, when something was unfair.  If she were a year older, she hoped she would have done the same, not wanting to give up all they’ve had, as much as Case didn’t.

            Even though the dismantling of their lives at home ended, they at least knew what caused it.  But, in spite of it, Iva’s confusion remained.  Had she not just went shopping days before all this with her mom, who’d bought things for herself and the house?  But if they didn’t have money, what was she spending?  She’d seen her mom’s credit cards which were money, weren’t they?  Iva mulled the problems around.  She’d never had any reason to question the actions of the adults she knew before.  Who could she go to for answers, her grandmother?  Would she be receptive to Iva’s need for information?  Their visits with her had always been jovial and there never seemed to be a reason to be included in discussions of any substance in the past.  Iva always assumed it was because of her age, but after this, it seemed to be more because of her lack of interest in anything of importance.

            When she, her sister and brother’s were at home, they listened to the adults around them, who subliminally and on occasion, overtly, had the theme that a good life had to have a lot of money to spend in it. They’d never spoken about the possibility of poverty for them.  All the things that happened during the day passed through Iva’s mind as they sat with their grandma and uncle for dinner.

            “Have you kids got all your things straightened out in your rooms?”  James asked, wanting to help his mother keep a hold on his nieces and nephew.

            Case rolled her eyes at his use of the word “room”, replying bitterly, “Yes.”

            He smiled, seeing that Case would be the obstinate one, but wanted to make it obvious to her that he was right by his mother’s side in all this, “Mother I’ll stay to help you for a while, should something unexpected arise.”

            Iva senior avoided getting emotional, not wanting him to get angry at his brother again, choosing to save it for when she went to bed, “James, I can’t thank you and your friends enough for helping to move them in.”

            “You’re welcome.  Case, you and Iva will please wash the dishes and Terry can dry.”

            Iva junior’s longing to have the rest of their night, fight free, came out, “Yes, we’ll do them for you grandma.”

            “Thank you for that.  I’m not quite myself at this moment.”

            “Let’s go into the living room mom, you need to take some time for yourself.”  James insisted as he rose from his chair.

            She stood with him, “Yes, I do, it has been quite a day.”

            “When you three are done with the dishes, go back into your rooms, please.  Grandma and I will be relaxing and want peace tonight.”  He commanded.

            Case looked at him with a beaten expression, “Yes, Uncle James.”

            He and his mother took their coffee, making themselves comfortable in the plaid chairs then sat quietly, considering all the ramifications of the day, while sipping slowly from their cups.

            The dishes were washed, dried and put away just as the three teens had been told.

            Terry, Iva and Case said goodnight as they passed them, to go down the hall to the bedrooms.

            “Good night.”  They replied.

            The girl’s closet shared the common wall with the living room.  The three teens opened it, hoping they’d be able to hear what was being said, and there at a low level were their voices.

            “It’s been a very difficult day James.  I should have guessed that Stanley would end up this way, with the spending he was doing.”

            “I’m sorry it’s happened.  Fortunately, there is still time to help Case, Iva and Terry.  They’ve been on the same over indulgent road he’s been on, which has been unrealistic.”

            The three sat with dropped jaws, they didn’t think they needed help.

            “You’re right.  It is such a disappointment to know that he’s not done his parental job with them, along with being careless with his finances.  His asking me for money at his age and for no good reason was the hardest.  I couldn’t treat him as a child and look into his finances.  We already raised him and I don’t plan on doing it again.”  She said, shaking her head.

            “You brought us up identically.  It’s not your fault that he went down a different path.”

            “Stanley’s fully aware that if others in our family would have fallen off the path as you call it, our company wouldn’t have been around these past two hundred thirty years.  It would have folded and he’d have inherited nothing at all.”

            “I felt guilty for buying him out at first, but ultimately it was his choice.  It isn’t something I would have done with kids to look after, but now we have the chance to continue the business for many years if we can get those three to understand its importance and security.”

“Let’s hope so, because if not, then we’ll be down to Bruce and your sister’s children.  I’ve always hoped they would all be involved, not just a select few, but if they turn out to be the only reliable ones then that’s how it will be.  Carol’s done well with them so far, Wade and Mindy are younger than Case, Iva and Terry, but let’s see how it goes.”

            James grimaced, “I suppose.”

“It’s already eight thirty and is time for me to get some sleep.”

            “Alright mom, have a good night.”  He said as she walked him to the door.

            She kissed his cheek with appreciation, “I will thank you.  Goodnight James.”

            The talk their elders had was enlightening and infuriating to the Finder children as they closed the closet door.  Terry went to his room, feeling alone, something he’d never experienced before.  Case and Iva got ready for the night quietly and went to their individual beds.

            Fifteen minutes passed before their grandmother knocked to come into their bedroom, “Girls’, it’s getting late.  We’ll talk in the morning.  Sleep well.”

Iva senior walked over to Case’s bed, bent down to kiss her forehead then continued over to Iva’s to do the same.  Both girls mustered a goodnight, watching her as she turned out the lights and closed the door

The younger Iva knew it was right to be mad about what had been done, yet her feelings were conflicting.  Were they to live, removed from any of the world’s troubles?  She wondered whether her sister’s thoughts were as jumbled as her own, but there was no way to detect them, silence was all she was getting from Case, no crying, yelling, nothing.  Perhaps in the morning, when time let the events linger, their anger would reveal itself, surely being an angry teenager was common.  She rolled over and fell asleep.

Case woke up with a lack of enthusiasm.  But when Iva’s eyes opened, she could feel the behemoth weight from the previous day was lost, during the night while asleep.  Why it happened and where it went, she had no idea, nor had she the time to think about it, their uncle ordered them the night before to get up, dressed and go to the kitchen to help make their meals.

            “Good morning girls.  Iva, please set the table dear, and Case, would you hold the bowls for me please?”  Their grandmother asked placidly, not wanting to appear cheerful that they were with her, where they’d be cared for.

            “Good morning, grandma.”  They answered.

            Case walked toward her, took the bowls from the counter and stood at her side.

While Iva put the silverware down, it came to her why she’d awoken in a pleasant mood.  There hadn’t been any loud voices last night and she wasn’t anticipating any today.  Her sister’s expression looked empty.  Iva couldn’t tell, and was no longer interested in, whether she was glad to be there or not, all she knew was that she was.

            Terry rushed in, anxious for food, “Good morning, sorry to be late, I’ll clear the table when we’re done.”

            His grandmother nodded in agreement.

            After the bowls were filled and put on the table, the three children sat themselves.  Their grandma looked from one to the other, she knew she needed to start off slowly when informing them how living with her was going to be and what would be required of them.  She cleared her throat, “This new living arrangement will not be a problem if we are all doing our parts.  My promise to you is that you will be fed and given a roof over your head for as long as you remain in school and are working toward supporting yourselves.  You will find it difficult to explain to your friends why you’re here, but what’s happened isn’t something you chose, and since we love each other…”

            They listened, expecting some dictatorial lecture after what she and their uncle said last night.

Her eyebrows went up, as if she were reminding them that they did love each other, “There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t live here.  Therefore, you will ignore anything said by anyone.  It’s something you’re going to have to learn to do, because no matter what others say, it shouldn’t hinder you in the outcome you decide on for yourselves.”

            Iva senior spoke sympathetically to them, understanding how cruel teenagers could behave, then ate a spoonful of her oatmeal.  Her grandchildren looked at her skeptically, rolling their eyes in doubt.

            “We need our phone’s grandma.  They’ve taken them away.”  Case said tragically, with remnants of refusing to admit her plight still at the forefront, from the previous day.

            The elderly woman put her hand on Case’s arm, “I have a telephone that you may use, except for long distance calls.”

            She didn’t resist trying to manipulate her grandmother, “I meant cell phones grandma.  We need them.  How else will you be able to reach us when we’re out?”

Iva caught on immediately what her granddaughter was trying to pull her into, “Young people didn’t have telephones when your dad and your uncle James were growing up.  They used their parent’s.  People only got one when they could afford it and when I and my brothers and sisters left the house, we told our parents where we were going so they would know how to reach us.”

            Case was unrelenting in defense of her position on the subject, not having gotten the answer she wanted, “But now kids have phones and stuff, grandma.”

            Iva senior gently grit her teeth at how difficult her job was going to be, breaking them of their childlike view of money, “That is true and advancements in technology have always changed.  I can only tell you this.  The one thing that hasn’t changed is that a person has to have money before they can spend it.”

            “Grandma, you don’t understand.  There are kids our ages that already have millions of dollars.  We have nothing but what we’ve brought with us.”  Case said, sniffling.

            She looked at her patiently, “What’s your point, Case?  You’re not in a position to worry about what others have and must focus on your own futures.  As difficult as that’s going to be, you’re going to have to work as hard and long as you possibly can, exhausting all your options and rejecting those that are wrong.  And, even after you’ve worked until you think you’ve done all that you can, there will be no guarantee that you will be financially secure in your lives.”

            Case hadn’t yet understood that her grandmother was not one to be dueled with, replying sarcastically, “Greaaat.  That’s not a hopeful thing to say, grandma.  All we hear is how much money people are making.  It’s everywhere, sports players, actors, the wall-street people and it’s in all the magazines.  You and grandpa have done well with the business, so you don’t know the position were in.”

            “That’s not true, you’re misinformed.  It took us a long time once we moved here from West Virginia and there were times that we almost didn’t make it.  So if you’re ignorant on a subject Case, please don’t discuss it.  It’s fatiguing for the informed to listen too.”

            She stopped eating and stared at her grandmother, prepared to cuss, kick and scream.  Being set right wasn’t agreeing with her.

“Are you having difficulty Case?”  Her grandmother asked, compassionately.

“I want to leave, I’m sick of it and don’t want to listen anymore.  I’ll do better on my own with people who understand what I want.  It’s not a lot to want to be part of life.”

Her grandmother set down her spoon as she finished chewing her oatmeal, “No it’s not.  But, it is hard for me to envy those who believe that too much money or fame is never enough.  It’s such a dark pursuit for my taste and might actually scare or encourage some people into doing foolish things.  There have been plenty of examples of those in the last thirty years, that’s for sure.”

Terry wanted her to explain, “What kind of examples, grandma?”

A grim look swept over her face as she peered into his eyes, “Embezzlement, fraud, addiction, thievery and sometimes crimes too hideous to mention.”

The three teens looked at her, taking in the information, seriously.

As depression settled itself into her mind, Case looked down and then stated the facts as she saw them, “It’s hopeless.  We’ve got no jobs, no money and no way to figure out how to start.”

“I can only recommend that you decide what will make you content and not be envious of those who’ve earned their wealth, then set about making your own good fortune.”  Their grandma answered sternly.

            “How will we get what we want here?  And how will we all fit in this small house?  It’s too crowded already.”  Case asked jumping from subject to subject, as their grandma watched her anxiety play itself out in front of them.

            “You’re not going to get what you want, at least not from me and certainly not until you’ve earned it.  I appreciate your concern as far as this house goes, it is small compared to what you’re used to, but for me it’s where your grandfather and I had a marvelous life and I still intend, hopefully, to have with all of you.”

They stared at her as the remark hit them, they knew she was serious.  Their faces went flush as they absorbed the finality of their previous life and realized that it was now up to them to accept, forget and begin on their own way with no safety harness.

Iva senior stopped, not only for another sip from her cup, but also to change the discussion from what she knew she had to just have with them.  As detestable as it was, she was glad it was out of the way, “That’s enough for now, eat up, we have a lot to do today.  There are two book shelves in the garage that were your father and uncle’s when they were young, which held their school work.  They have my gardening tools on them but if cleaned up they should be usable again.  We must do that before it gets dark.”

            It was a quiet, industrious day for the newly formed family.  While Iva junior set about putting her things where she wanted them in the small amount of space she was given, her thoughts ran to how nothing would be trivial anymore.  If their things broke, were torn or ruined, their grandmother said they wouldn’t be replaced and informed them that they’d have to learn to make things last and take care of all their personal belongings, because there would be no more discarding items which were worn or used for only one year.  By the end of the day, with the notice that she gave them, Case and Iva resumed their disdain for each other.  It didn’t matter to them that they were in someone else’s house; this was one thing they brought with them that no one could take away.

While Iva prepared for bed she thought their grandma’s talk was sincere, but still saw her as out of touch with what teenagers needed.

            Case hadn’t revealed her thoughts on it, until she belted out in the privacy of their room, “Those two are so stupid, I’m not going to take this.”

            Iva was lost by her statement, “Who do you mean, grandma and Uncle James?”

            “No Iva, dad and mom.  They’ve only thought of how they’ll get by, but not about what happens to us. Sure they sent us here but it won’t matter whether we stay or not.”

            “I’m tired and don’t want to talk about it anymore Case.”

            “Fine, you sleep and leave me awake.  I’ll figure out what I’m going to do.”

            “I can’t help it, I’m sleepy.”  She said as Case became a blur through her drowsy eyes, even though uncertain whether her sister would still be living there when she woke up.

Chapter 2

            In the morning Case hadn’t left, but Iva didn’t question things she didn’t really care about, and said nothing on the matter.

Their grandmother’s newspaper came on her doorstep every morning and her custom was to withhold reading the heavier topics until after dinner.  During their first few days with her, the teenagers paid no attention to the headlines because only adults were interested in them, but by the end of the week, with nightly consistency, Iva senior made a point of trying to talk to them about what was written in the articles, as if the information would be pertinent to their lives at some point in time.

            By the time Case, Iva and Terry got into the kitchen for breakfast, their grandma had been up for an hour, doing what she usually did, sitting in the living room engrossed in the crossword puzzle.  It was Friday, a full week passed.  The three children were now accustomed to returning to her house rather than their old one.  On this day she told them that it would be raining before and after school, so there was no chance of them going over to their friend’s houses when they’d finished their homework.  Iva senior preferred they not get sick if it could be avoided, or at the minimum try their best to prevent illness or injury since she didn’t have a signed parental authorization so she could get insurance coverage for them, which meant she’d have to pay cash.

            The past week went slowly.  It was tiresome for the three teens without the electronics they’d become accustomed too.  As their second Friday night was upon them, they preoccupied themselves with as much activity as they could find, but it was futile, boredom filled their rooms.  Unexpectedly they converged in the hall, wanting for an inexplicable reason to join their grandmother in the living room for any conversation she thought of interest.

            “Oh my, look at that, there are more bankruptcies and foreclosures on the horizon.  They say they’ve averted another depression, like that of the nineteen twenties.  This isn’t good news for anyone who’s in debt.  This year doesn’t seem to be ending well.  We should all be hopeful for the next one.”  She said, reading aloud for their benefit.

Her grandchildren knew her thoughts were hard about the whole situation the state and nation was in, and if she and James ran Finder packaging with as much debt, they’d be called crazy and loose the business.

            Iva junior was offended by her warm sympathetic tone, feeling compelled to speak out, “Grandma, how can you feel sorrier for others who are losing their homes then you did for dad and mom last Saturday?”

            “You three heard our conversation, did you?  Well, let me tell you this Iva.  It was not an easy decision for me to say those things, but considering I was privy to their financial situation and have on many occasions heard about their spending habits as well as having seen them first hand, I was in a position to make an assessment about it.  However, as far as other people’s circumstances which are causing them to lose their money and homes, I don’t have the facts and wouldn’t presume to speculate on what’s happened in their lives to bring on such hardship.”

            She bent the newspaper in half, away from her face, as she looked at her granddaughter awaiting her reply, if there was to be one.

            Iva junior considered what her namesake was referring to, “What sort of things can make someone lose their home grandma?”

            “Financial events that can be as varied, as large medical expenses, to loss of employment, theft, excessive spending or gambling.”  The elderly woman answered frankly and hoped she’d not discouraged future conversations with her grandchildren, by speaking to them as adults.

            Case, in an attempt to make an excuse for their eaves dropping was apologetic, “We shouldn’t have been listening in on you, I guess.  But, you’d never come over so early in the morning before, grandma.”

            She scanned their faces in warning of poor etiquette, “I see.  Don’t make a habit of it.  It’s bad behavior and can lead to a great deal of trouble for yourselves or others.”

            Terry perked up with interest over the subject, “Grandma.  Is that what bankruptcy and foreclosure are?  People spent money they didn’t have?”

            The elderly woman thought of their parents need to haphazardly spend their money to keep up with others and knew she’d need to continue with care, “Yes sometimes.  Or, some other unforeseen misfortune has occurred in their lives.  That’s what it is.  It’s a hole your parents find themselves in and how you’ve come to be here.  I can’t make myself clearer when I say that we will have to be a cooperative unit.  If it turns out that we’re not, then alternatives will be thought of, because I no longer have the stamina to do my things and yours.  You will therefore put away grand ideas of things that are not necessary, until you can afford them.”

            Case and Iva looked at her and then each other, understanding and knowing that they had nowhere else to go, “Okay.”

            Terry, Iva and Case saw a sign of unease come across her face, “Don’t believe that you are the only ones who have lost a lot.  Anyone reading the papers or watching the news can tell that this downturn in the economy is going to continue to be a horrible time for not only this country, but around the world.”

            Iva fixated on her grandmother’s fair skin, bright gold eyes, light coral lipstick and neatly brushed silver and brown shoulder length hair which she clipped up on the sides, as she continued her heartfelt discussion with them.  Her tone was soft as it always was as she gazed into each of their bewildered eyes, but within it, there was a compassionate degree of frustration at how they’d been brought up so far.  The younger Iva never thought that she and her siblings spoke ignorantly and of only their needs, but could see the determination on their grandma’s face that they would be educated on the fundamentals of life for as long as they stayed with her, whether they were receptive to it or not.

            Iva senior noticed that the topic had withered their peaceful spirits but was glad they were becoming more informed as time was passing.  She changed the subject to more amusing stories until their bedtime.

After a calmer sleep for them all, the sun broke through the windows, exposing the trees, flowers and puddles in the street, which were glistening from the rain overnight.  Each one dressed and met in the kitchen.

            “After we’ve eaten, we’ll continue setting you up with furniture, so you can have a place to do your homework with maximum space.”  The elder Finder directed.

            They finished, cleaned the kitchen and resumed organizing their rooms.  As the afternoon passed, thoughts began to run through Iva juniors’ mind.  Was Case thinking about running away?  Or, was there something else that might be worse going on in her sister’s head.   It started to weigh on her, not that she had any feelings about whatever Case decided to do, but was simply anxious to know for her grandma’s sake.  She didn’t know that her curiosity over what sort of actions her sister would take was far surpassed by their grandma’s concern, as they watched Case’s sullenness grow.  After a few minutes she stopped wondering, her temples were beginning to ache.

When Saturday evening arrived, which in the past Case wouldn’t have been home for, Iva waited to see if her sister would ask to go out.  Her grandmother, being as quick as they’d learned she was, preempted her request, in case it was there waiting to be asked.  The two girls could hear her call out, not loudly, but just enough to be heard, “Case, would you come here, please?”

            She left Iva in the bedroom, went to the kitchen and leaned herself against the counter, “Yes, Grandma, you wanted me?”

            “Please sit at the table dear, I will be right there once I’ve got all the ingredients for the casserole.”

            She did as asked.  When Iva finished, she sat across from her, “We need to get things sorted out before time slips by and we’ve not understood each other.”

            Her granddaughter looked at her with tedium.

            Iva went on, despite Case’s disinterest, “I need to apologize to you, dear.  You and I have never talked long enough for me to see just how deep your parents spending habits have influenced you over all these years.  Your views are skewed and I will do my best to help you get through this.”

            Case didn’t know what she meant exactly but answered anyway, “Okay.”

            She continued as her granddaughter stared blankly, “You have things to think seriously about.  The first is that you must decide whether you will be comfortable here with me or not.  If you are, then that would be wonderful and I will help you with as much as I can.  However if you won’t be, you will have to choose how you will support yourself, because I won’t have any complaining or arguing in my home.  When your dad and uncle were growing up I had no trouble with them and it’s not something I’m about to allow now.  You will let me know once you’ve decided and we’ll take it from there.”

            Her grandma watched as Case picked at the only bracelets she was permitted to keep, which were plastic, “How long do I have to decide?”

            Iva senior wanted to impart her feelings on the matter, “Whenever, or never, it’s up to you.  If you stay, which I hope you do, then say nothing and just be happy here.  I selfishly don’t want you to wind up on drugs, pregnant at this age, committing crimes to survive or being homeless.  However, if any of those appeal to you, then be aware that they are difficult journeys that must be hard to endure and that I will not condone.  If you do decide to leave just let me know, you won’t be stopped, you’re almost of age.”

            “Hard journeys, like the one Bruce has picked, like getting shot at in Iraq?”  She replied, revealing her hostile assessment of Bruce’s choice.

            The elderly woman tried to retain
her patience, “I will overlook that Case.  He’s not made a poor choice to his way of thinking.  It’s by his choice that he’s there, it’s not for you to judge whether he or anyone else should serve their country.  You know Case, of all my grandchildren, you three talk the most and do the least, with no results to show for either of them.”

            Case jumped with shock, “Grandma!  That’s mean.”

            “Yes it is Case.  It proves a point I want to make to you.  The less you speak, the less likely you are to say something that’s hurtful to someone or misunderstood by the listener.”

            The teenager pursued her argument, “But it’s true.  While he’s gone, men his age are making millions of dollars and he’s not, he’s falling behind.  Why should he waste his time, he could be making a lot of money?  He’s smart and could do it?”

            “You are entitled to your opinion.  However, you must begin to start weighing carefully, whom and why you criticize them.  You don’t know who will be watching your life and how it will play out.  Therefore keep track of your own being and worry less about others.”

            Iva was deeply pained by what she would have to do in the future to get her granddaughter to stop her speculating and judging.  Case began to shed the tears which had been blocked since the prior Saturday morning, when they’d first arrived.

            There was tenderness in Iva’s words as she went to the counter to mix their meal, “I will listen, if you want to tell me about anything, Case.”

            Her face was saturated by her tears as it occurred to her that this was her first adult issue she’d have to deal with, “You don’t know what the last few months have been like, grandma.  The fighting was distracting when it came to doing homework, things stopped being normal, my grades for this last half of the year aren’t what they’re supposed to be.  And then, both, mom and dad began to take prescriptions and alcohol, making them inaccessible.  They would disappear from home for hours and then days at a time, so we had to decide for ourselves what was right to do.”

            Stanley’s mother was outraged by what she was told but kept it to herself, to keep her granddaughter calm.  She wouldn’t ask questions even though she wanted to, in order to strategically point Case into a direction of more tolerance and kindness, “Case, this burden you carry, you can use it as a hindrance to succeed or as an excuse for why you fail.  Perhaps taking this as a chance to evaluate what you want to do and how you want to conduct your life, might be a good idea.  There is a place for you to start, and that is with your sister.  You’ve given her good cause these past two years to be angry at you.  Possibly, you’ve thought I haven’t paid attention to the way you treat her and others.”

            Shocked by the admonishment, Case sat up straight.  Had she really been stupid enough to think that others in the family didn’t care about either of them and would let their sisterly rudeness continue?  She nodded in the affirmative, confusing her grandmother, what she was agreeing to.

            Iva senior, wanting a verbal response, looked questioningly at her, “So you will stay here, even though I can’t be fooled?”

            “Yes grandma, I want to stay here.  The way I’m doing things isn’t working.”

            “That’s good.  I was sickened by the idea of a negative answer.  You have strong legs on you, but where you land in life will be determined in part by your choices and using your brains.  And, I do hope where you you land will be a good place.”

            “Grandma I haven’t been so sure lately, but maybe now, it will be.  Thank you.”  She admitted as she walked up to the counter to hug her.

As Case neared her, her grandmother wiped her tears away with a smile, grateful that their conversation came to a good end, “I have to finish making dinner and you Case, off to your room to help your sister.  There will be no more of this being intimidating to anyone, will there?”

            The seventeen year old looked at her, as her peaceful self forced out the bully in her to flee, “No, there won’t.  I’m sorry that I’ve had a bad temper all this time.”

            Not so long ago, in fact it was merely days, Case knew she would have made fun of someone her age being so polite.

            Her grandma looked at her with satisfaction, “Your apology is accepted, now back to your cleaning.  Before you go, Case.  Please put any pills, you and Iva have taken from your parents, on my bathroom sink.”

            Iva senior smiled to herself as she turned back to the stove, having just intentionally connected with the one grandchild she was most anxious about, but still fearful of how the next two youngster’s would deal with the pressure’s that youth could bring.

            She stopped in dismay.  How could she have ever guessed that she and Iva had taken them?  She took a breath, replying softly, “I will grandma.  I’m sorry you’re disappointed.”

            “I would only be disappointed if you two denied you had them.”

            Case turned, impressed for the first time by an adult, who instantly proved herself to be far smarter than she.  Her contempt for the wisdom of older people was instantly forgotten.

            She knocked on Terry’s door gently, then heard him call out, “Come in.”

            When she entered, her brother was lying on the floor with a cup to his ear.  This was the first time she saw that he was a funny, skinny, curious boy, asking in a sweet unfamiliar voice, “Terry, what are doing?”

            He looked up at her, “My science project is due and I’m trying to find out if voices in one room can travel by vibration through these hardwood floors and be heard in another.”

            Case wanted to smile and laugh but she’d not yet apologized and knew he would take it as an insult toward him, so she asked seriously, “And, what’s the answer?”

            “I have to test a couple different kinds of cups to get a conclusion.”

            “Do you want some help, Terry?”  Case asked as he got up.

            Her brother stood astonished, “No, I can do it.”

Case watched as he sat on his bed, continuing with her mission, “I’ve come to tell you how sorry I am for not being nice to you for so long, and that you weren’t able to keep your baseball.”

Terry looked at his sister as she stood in the doorway.  His answer was appreciative but he remained suspicious of her earnestness, “Thanks, Case.  It still hurts but I have the three of you, I guess.”

            “You do have us and you’ll see how everything will be much better from now on.  It will be equal to the happy feeling you’ve had for your baseball, I promise.”  She said, trying to reassure him as her eyes looked around his sparsely furnished room.

            Terry smiled as she started to close his door, “Alright, Case.  Thank you.”

            It was time for her to see Iva.  She could see that the only thing to save them from the heartache was going to be laughter, which they’d forsaken for material things.

When she came into their room, closed the door behind her and looked around the room which was as lacking in décor as Terry’s was.  She bit her lip, as all the events of the past days hit her.  Her sister’s descending experience was the same as hers and she’d not thought of it until this moment.  They were sharing a horrible experience together, which had never happened before, there was a sudden pang of compassion for the younger sister she had and neglected.  Case was uncertain of what to expect from Iva but was prepared for any verbal assault her sister chose to give, “Iva.  I want to apologize to you for all the times I called you names and was horrible to you over the last few years.”

            Words of doubt rushed into Iva’s brain; really, are you joking? Who are you?  She suppressed them for a more amicable but cautious tone, “Will things be different from now on, Case?”

            “Yes, I promise.  I haven’t said that I love you as my sister in a really long time but I do and I am glad that you are.”

            Iva intentionally confessed her pain, “Thank you, Case.  Honestly, it did hurt to have to retaliate against you just for my protection.”

            Case sat on her bed opposite Iva’s, picked up her nail file and began to gently care for her “cute ten” as she referred to them, “I knew I was hurting you but didn’t care.  Have I been rotten or what?”

            She considered that certain things didn’t change as she watched Case.  Her sister’s nail indulgence was at least something that others wouldn’t see as too terribly vain, “Case, it’s going to be hard to just forget about everything for a while, so if I don’t seem to trust you, I suppose I will in time.”

            “Yes, I understand how much damage I’ve done and I’m sorry.  You know Iva, being nice and cooperative is going to be anticlimactic from now on.”  Case said, smiling at her to reassure her sister of her transformation.

            Iva grabbed her dictionary, looked up anticlimactic then turned to her with a confused look, shocked by Case’s intentions, “So getting people mad or upset was fun for you?”

            Case gave the question a moment’s thought.  It made her embarrassed to have to admit it, “It got me noticed and kept me on everybody’s mind.  Being that unpredictable did have its advantages, maybe not the right ones, but at least they were advantages.”

            “Like what kind of …?”  Iva began to say before she was interrupted.

            She stopped with her nails, looked at her sister then out the window, “Nothing unethical or criminal as grandma says, if that’s what you want to know.  It was stupid stuff that made people feel bad.  Like being mean to you, and other things that after today I won’t remember, unless I see certain people that I need to apologize too.”

            She began filling Iva in on what their grandmother talked about.  It surprised her that someone of her grandma’s age knew and was so open about the troubles that kids could get into, along with the pills.  And, that she gave Case options.

When Case finished her tale, she added with a grin, “I hope she doesn’t lecture us all the time, it will be tiring.”

“It would be very tiring, Case.”  Iva agreed.

They laughed together for the first time in as long as either’s recent memory went back.

Iva senior wrote to Bruce telling him of the arrangements made for her taking them in.  When the letter reached him it didn’t overly surprise him.  He’d figured their parents were in financial trouble when they stopped telling him about the expensive vacations they were planning, over the last few months.  It bothered him that the burden of three teenagers in her house would be a great deal for her, but her letter reassured him that they would be fine.  With him in Iraq, he knew there wasn’t anything he could do anyway.

Sporadic reversions to their previous ways came over the three teens, which their grandmother rapidly quashed, then after it, their lives resumed being relaxed.  The exception was the friends that didn’t call or come around for them any longer, but with her help they learned to appreciate those who stuck with them, especially for their understanding, since they couldn’t afford to do any of the things they used too, which for Terry was having sports and electronics, and the girls, it was shopping.

They had no choice but to began to live as their grandma did, modestly, with lights off unless in use and eating at home rather than going to restaurants every day.  Iva senior taught Case and Iva how to remake their clothes so they’d look as up to date as possible, but Terry kept growing so she bought him new.  The house was filled with the same wood furniture they’d always known, the cherry dining room table and chairs which they ate at, with its matching china cabinet, and in the living room the antique sofa, wing back chairs and small nineteenth century tables.  Her study had its antique desk, chairs and accessories.

The teenagers slowly noticed their future possibilities forming, as they began wanting to listen to her, not complaining and doing everything asked of them, having no desire for her to regret her decision to keep them there, rather than sending them to their mother’s parents who weren’t well off, either.  Even if they wanted to go there, which they didn’t, but if they did, they couldn’t.

Within the weeks and with prompting from her grandmother, Case found herself a part time job after school and before dinnertime at the sandwich shop across from her school.  Being unfamiliar with what to expect when people worked, Iva junior and Terry were surprised by her.  She worked enthusiastically for two weeks straight, her family was astonished that they’d guessed wrong, having thought she’d give up after a day or two.  On her second Friday of work at six o’clock, Case ran in the front door with as much excitement as she would’ve had if she’d been on a full scale shopping spree.  The young woman came in the kitchen smiling, “Grandma, Terry, Iva.  I have my first paycheck.”

They stared at her.  Iva senior extended her arms to hug her, “Congratulations, Case.”

“Grandma, this is for you after I cash it.”  Case insisted as she fell into her arms.

Her grandma shook her head pleased, having gotten the offer she’d hoped her granddaughter would make on her own volition, “Oh no dear, you earned it.  It’s yours.”

“Please take it grandma.  I want to give you the money to help support us.  You said we should learn that living is paying for housing and food, so that’s what I want to do.  I will have to eventually, anyway.”

“Case, I’m very proud of you for your motivation to take responsibility for yourself, sister and brother.  I will take it so you can see what it costs to be without debt to others.  You will also find that you must accept your income bracket and not deviate from it, or you’ll risk to your security and future.  Tomorrow morning we will go to the bank to deposit it.”  Iva senior said, keeping it to herself that she would put the money into a savings account for her granddaughter to use in the future for a car or her education perhaps, if she wanted to pursue that.

Case kissed her cheek, “Alright.  Grandma, I’m proud of you, too.”

She was surprised by her granddaughter’s words, “Me!  Why, thank you very much, Case, I appreciate your praise.”

After a pleasant weekend with friends, on Monday morning, Case sat in her senior economics class realizing as she read the book that she was ahead of the class by what she’d learned at home and had been forced to think about for the last six months.  She was proud to be able to tell her grandmother that she would be graduating with honors due to the hard work she forced her to do.

After dinner, when all their work in the kitchen was done, they went to the living room.

“When did the company start, grandma?”  Terry asked, knowing only the little he’d overheard in the closet months before.

            “The Finder’s started it over two hundred fifty years ago, making crates, burlap bags and barrels, those were the kinds of packaging they used back then for transporting goods.  Don’t think it was easy going for each generation who inherited the business, it wasn’t.  Every time there were new laws or a competitor made an innovation, which by the beginning of the nineteenth century was quite rapid, the family had to follow and with great expense.  But they did it and we’re still here, despite the constantly changing regulations and improvements which can hurt our bottom line.  You can be proud of the good business sense your ancestors had and learn from it.”

Terry smiled after hearing the tale, “I will.”

As the first year passed, the teens gained a new perspective on how to manage their wallets and hard work, leaving discontent behind to the past.  After all the trials the four Finders had in the early days, it was Case, who surprised them with her enthusiastic acceptance of the situation and began to set her sights on becoming a policewoman after finishing High School.  Iva thought about how she would have laughed a year ago at her, she never having mentioned anything about actually doing something for a living, before.  Case always saying that her appearance was her ticket to the riches she assumed she would have.

With their days passing into months and with not having seen the old Case reappear, it became pleasurable for Iva to talk and joke with her, all credit she gladly gave to their grandmother.

Bruce was able to call from Iraq during the day and expressed that he couldn’t get over how impressive it was that Case was turning her fondness of mystery novels and crime shows into a profession for herself.  Iva put a self imposed strain on herself, since her sister’s career announcement, to figure out what she wanted to do or what she was interested in for work, at least for the immediate future.  The most she knew was that she wanted to know what was happening to the economy and why, so if she ever had children, she wouldn’t have to send them away.  But, what kind of job could she get to help her understand it?  She sought out to find an answer to the question but nothing came to her.  Iva put it out of her mind, assuming something would happen to help lead her in the direction she was meant to go.

The more Iva immersed herself in her schoolwork, the more she wanted to understand how business worked and how it influenced their executives into making both good and bad decisions.  Just as Case adjusted her thinking, Iva conceded that she wasn’t destined to have her face splashed all over the world with lots of exposure, money, travel and fashion, either.  It was hurtful for her to have to part with her dreams and the glory of them but as every day passed, they faded.  Her drive to be the center of attention or to go in any direction similar to it, diminished.

As Iva sat in her room doing her homework, Terry came in to join her.  He sat at Case’s desk and began his, when minutes later she came in.

“Hello Case.  How was your day?”  Iva asked politely.

Their grandmother’s good manners were contagious and they began to emulate them.

“Fine, Iva.  Thank you.  What are you two doing?”

Her siblings answered, “Homework.”

Terry stopped what he was working on, “Do you want me to get up, Case?”

She put her books on her bed, “No stay there, I don’t need the desk right now.”

While Case put her things away, she remained bothered by the events of her afternoon, “You wouldn’t believe what a girl at work said to me today.”

Iva stopped her writing, “What?”

“She said that I must be poor because I can’t ever go shopping with her after work and wear the same clothes over and over, never having anything new.”

Her brother made a wholehearted attempt to help her glum mood, “So what?  She can afford to shop and you can’t.  I like what you wear Case.”

Case stood over him, looking at his schoolbook, “Thank you, Terry.”

He continued, knowing that in the past she would curse a girl out for less, “Well, at least someone’s shopping and helping to keep stores open.  What did you say to her?”

She looked at both of them peacefully, to reassure them she hadn’t fallen back into her hostile behavior, “I didn’t say anything because it’s a stupid thing to say to someone.  But you’re right Terry, so long as some can afford to spend then they should.”

“Good for you for not saying anything back.  I’m glad you didn’t.  Besides, without all the heaping helpings of sensitivity we’ve been given over the past year, we would have ended up saying or even worse, believing something like that.”  Iva added, looking at her sister, pleased that things which once would have set her language blazing, she now ignored.

“That’s what I think, too.”  Case said, shrugging as she continued her cleaning, “Coming here must have been the best thing that could have happened.”

Young Iva smiled, “Maybe we are poor, but at least we’re civil, which would have made us gag before.  That girl might think that not having new clothes is the worst thing to happen to you, but there could have been a lot worse.  So what does she know?”

“I don’t like being poor, it stays for a really long time” Terry declared.

Case put her arm around his shoulder and kissed his forehead, “Poverty certainly does, far too long.  It’s not something I thought we’d ever have to fight against.”

Terry knew his sister’s and grandma were constantly worried that he would take a wrong turn and do something that would follow him into adulthood, “I’m going to finish school with good grades and get an interesting job, like engineering, seismology or even the military like Bruce.  That way I’ll never be poor again.”

“That’s good Terry.  Keep out of trouble, make life easy on yourself.”

As their embarrassment over the past events fell away, they brought their friends over as often as they liked with their grandma’s permission.  Their friend’s enjoyed her as much as they did and found her sense of humor quirky.  It only took her grandchildren living with her to appreciate it.  She was particularly funny toward Terry’s friend Josh, because they were always together, since meeting in junior high school.  The two boys constantly pulled pranks on her, and she, seeing their need to be mischievous, would pretend to be an easy mark, but when they thought they’d gotten her, she slyly turned it to her advantage.  Iva junior and Case agreed that it was better for the three of them to stay in her sight, so she knew they weren’t out committing offenses that would ruin her hard work.

Chapter 3

There had been periodic calls from either their dad or mom.  They told them to be good to their grandmother, to help her as much as they could and both made promises of visits that didn’t materialize.  As it was, there’d only been one visit, made in two thousand five, by their dad for a short fifteen minutes after they first moved in.

Initially, Case, Iva and Terry asked questions but the answers they were given depressed them; their parents’ were divorcing, or their dad was moving out of state to Nevada and their mom was in Northern California, the things that traumatized children didn’t want to hear.  Their relationship became obscure as the time ticked away; were they still their children?  Did they care about how they were doing?  Would they ever be together again?  Iva couldn’t muster the strength to ask, fearing that the answers, so she left them alone.

Their grandma reminded them often, “Ignore the inconsistent and help each other through tough circumstances that may arise.  Be steadfast.”  She was not only referring to herself helping them, they found out, but that it applied to all things.  It was hard to do when they looked at the outside world and wanted to cave into its pressures.  But now that they’d already confronted some difficult decisions and expected that more would be coming the older they became, they considered it very practical advice.

On Saturday’s, not unlike this one, their uncle James came to the house to discuss how the economy and family business were going with his mother.  Case, Iva and Terry, if they were home, were interested in listening to them discussing the global economy, interest rates, politics and things they didn’t understand, but once he left, they were free to question her on what it was all about.

James set his coffee cup down, “Mom, I need to ask you something before they come home from their friends.”

“Of course James, what is it?”

“I can’t help but wonder if all this isn’t a bit extreme.  We could give them some money to help them along, couldn’t we?”

“I’m aware that it seems unjustly cruel to have them think they’re destitute but my motivation is not guided by that.  Do you honestly believe that keeping the fundamentals of how money comes and goes is beneficial to them, especially since the countries debt is now a trillion and it’s going to be up to their and future generations to pay it off?”

“No, I know it is, but they’re clothes are starting to look shabby, don’t you think?”

“Yes James, I do.  But I must have them meet some criteria before they find out about the business and what the family has.  The first is that they, not unlike everyone else, need to know that they must work in order to keep a household, and the second is that they need to sufficiently prove to me that they willingly and not by force want to contribute to their savings for the future, rather than squander what is given to them.  Those two things will be necessary to know if they are to survive, if some future financial disaster isn’t avoided.  Shabby clothes or not, they’re going to have to accept what they have until they earn it for themselves.”

“I trust that you know what you’re doing and admit that I’ve seen an unimaginable change in them now that they see what hardship is.  They seem to be catching on and should be able to handle it better in the future, so I’ll stay out of it.”

Iva laughed as he kissed her cheek, “James, you are a wise man.”

The three teenagers came home minutes before he left.  They said their goodbye’s as James grabbed his coat and went out the door.

Case and Iva senior made dinner, Iva and Terry cleaned up and did the dishes once they were done.

The younger Iva began the conversation as she, her brother and sister sat on the sofa, opposite the matriarch of the family, “Grandma.”

She looked up from the paper her son gave her, “Yes, Iva?”

“Why does the economy go up and down?”

The elderly woman looked at them, “There are many factors really.  When people have disposable income the economy goes up but when their debts outweigh their income, they stop spending to pay off what they owe.  Growth and slowing, it happens for reasons that far smarter people than I can explain.”

“What is a deficit?”  Terry asked as soon as she was done.

“It’s a complicated situation.  That’s when someone or some entity has spent more than they take in.” She replied simply and honestly.

Her grandson wondered, “What if a country has a deficit, does it go bankrupt?”

“This topic is very complicated to explain.”  Iva said, looking at her three grandchildren.

Case thought it best to take the lead, “Grandma, please do the best you can.  We can’t afford to make mistakes, now or in the future, we’re starting with nothing and don’t want to end that way.  There may never be a better time in the future.”

Her grandma’s lips puckered.  They could see she was thinking or remembering something, “Hmm, I think we should make some cocoa, get comfortable and have a similar discussion to one that your grandfather had with your dad, aunt and uncle.”

The three Finder children agreed, anxious to get back to the subject.  They helped her in the kitchen then brought their steaming cups into the living room.  Iva senior returned to her chair as they watched her with the throw blanket over their legs.

“What a scene this is.  I wouldn’t have imagined that kids of your age would want to sit with their grandmother, asking her questions and hearing stories on a Saturday night.  It seems so out of alignment and counter reactionary for any youth of today.”  Iva senior said as she languished in the moment, reminiscing about herself and her siblings spending the night with their grandparent’s in West Virginia, talking and listening to them on long winter evenings.

Case was curious, wanting to hear about her grandfather, who’d passed more than eight years before and it was getting harder for her to remember how he was, “When did grandpa talk them, grandma?”

Terry and Iva had vague memories of him and were equally interested.

“They were about your ages, fifteen, sixteen and seventeen.  I remember, because at that time, we moved out here and there wasn’t a lot of money coming in.”

“That’s the old days…”  Terry said.

Case stopped him before he could go on, “Terry, if you’re going to talk…”

Their grandma interrupted the two squabbling young adults, “Terry, please be patient.  Now, I was saying, oh yes, I remember.  After the company was finally settled, your grandpa sat them down and explained how business works, families, societies, those sorts of things.  He figured that way they would have been talked to and hopefully would make smart choices.  It isn’t a shock that your uncle and aunt have stuck with the advice they were told, but it is very much that your dad chose not to, for whatever reason.  That’s what upset me.  I love your dad a great deal and he hasn’t committed any crime, he simply used poor judgment.  I’m truly sorry you’ve been put in this position but it is an opportunity for you to understand what grandpa told them.  Then when you are older, you can choose for yourselves whether to live by them or not and be content with what happens, either way.”

Iva senior stopped to sip from her dainty china cup.  She smiled at the thought of her husband momentarily then continued, “I also remember grandpa telling them to live, knowing that they’d done their very best every day, whether they were rich or poor.  They were to live within their means and to always be dignified, because they would get further faster and live happy lives.  He could be emphatic about his opinions, but I, his family and friends always found him decent in his well intentioned meanings.”

“So dad didn’t live within our means?”  Case asked, questioning her in a resentful way.

“Not your means Case, but within his means, no he didn’t.  I don’t want to rehash what’s happened, but no he didn’t save his money like your grandpa taught him.”  Her grandma replied blankly.

Even though Terry was huddled up next to Case, who wanted him to be more of a listener than a questioner, he wasn’t able to contain himself, “Were we at war back then?”

“There had been a war that we were in that ended in the seventies and we were in a recession around that time too, I can’t remember the exact year but the gas lines were extremely long.”

They watched as she was recalling times that were still near but slowly getting further away.

Without thinking of how to properly phrase a question, Iva junior asked, “Is that what old people are for grandma, to tell the young how to avoid mistakes?”

Terry and Case started laughing at her poorly worded inquiry.  Iva senior hid her amusement at her granddaughter’s blunder but had been given the opportunity to teach Iva about politeness and humor, “Don’t be impertinent, Iva.”

The younger Iva stared at her, having never heard the word, “Wait for me, I’ll be right back”, she insisted as she jumped up and ran to her room, leaving the other three chuckling.

“Don’t you mean, excuse me, I’ll be right back?”  Her grandma said with a smile into the air.

“Yes, sorry.”  The teenager called out down the hall as she looked through her dictionary.  When she found the meaning it pinched her on the nose.  She closed her eyes and quietly said out loud, “Oh, help me.”

As she re-entered the room she looked at her grandmother, “I’m sorry I was rude, grandma.”

“I accept your apology.”  Their grandma answered with a smile.

The young woman tried to begin again, “I just meant…”

Her grandmother sighed as she adjusted herself in her chair, “No, don’t continue.  If you see that people have found humor in what you say then you’ll know that you haven’t offended them.  However if they don’t smile then you’ll get snarls from them, making you feel as if you’ve ruined their lives forever.  Guilt is what will be their punishment upon you, which you’ll have difficulty overcoming unless you genuinely didn’t mean it or were mistaken, and if that’s the case then it will be a useless tool for them.”

Terry prompted her to return to their conversation, “Grandma, I was asking about deficits remember?”

“That’s right, you were.  I’m not certain if a country becomes bankrupt in the way a person or company does, but they do have to restructure their costs in some way.”

His grandma looked at him, uncertain whether what she was about to say was within his age range but would simplify the information where she could.  Her instinct was to mention things one at a time to see where he would stop her for explanation.  She went through banking, taxes, corporate greed, everything she thought he was curious about.

“Girls are you certain that our talks aren’t coming across more in the nature of lectures?”

Iva smiled, “No.  They would be if you forced it on us, but we’re the ones asking.”

Terry interrupted her, “Can you tell me how someone gets into debt, grandma?”

“Let me think for a moment so I can put it into a simplified way.”  She said as she adjusted her glasses contemplatively.

The watched her until she began again.

“Let’s say I have one hundred dollars for the utilities and you know I have it. One day you don’t consider what will happen if you jump off the roof, because you and Josh like to play around, and break your leg.  You don’t consider that you don’t have money to go to the Doctors, but you jump off it anyway.  It occurs to you that I have the one hundred dollars and believe that me being your grandma, I will give it to you for the doctor’s bill, instead of for its purpose, the utilities, so it won’t be a big deal.  So, now your only option is to ask me for the money because it hurts, isn’t it?

He looked at her certain of the answer, “Yes.”

“I can either say no and pay the utility bills, or give it to you for your leg, which would put me in a predicament when the bills are due, right?”

“Yes, I didn’t think about you needing your money for something else.  What would you do, grandma?”  Terry asked, waiting anxiously for her decision.

She hesitated, not wanting to go too in depth on the subject, “Well, if I don’t give it to you, then you will have to get free assistance, which isn’t actually free, because all our neighbors pay taxes and some of those taxes pay for your free assistance.”

Iva senior watched as he puffed out his chest, proud that he understood, giving her his assessment of what she’d said, “So then, I shouldn’t go jumping off the roof or do anything intentionally costing money that I don’t have.  That way you can keep your money and our neighbors can keep theirs.”

His grandmother was confident that as far as she could tell, he could keep up with the adult subjects.  She looked at his blonde locks and hazel eyes, recalling when he was born and what a good baby he was, but he wasn’t a baby anymore and couldn’t be talked to like one, “Well Terry, you or anyone else, are more than welcome to do anything you want as far as I’m concerned, so long as you can pay for it.  Eventually when you become a taxpayer you will learn how taxpayers pay for things and how people who have no interest in what is built with taxes or they’re cost, either destroy or deface them.  Plus there’s the question, who is to repair or replace them?  Those who did it?  That isn’t necessarily the case.  Why, in every country, having confidence in your fellow countrymen and women is essential to having a thriving society, just as we have in this house.  I fear that between the things I’ve mentioned, along with continuous crime that both the wealthy and poor do, something has happened.  There seems to be a lack of confidence in the last two or three generations, which in turn has diminished people’s hopes for what they can expect in the future.  I don’t know why, but I’m not that cynical, at least not yet.  Perhaps it’s because you children have made it very easy for me to take care of you.  My hope is that I’ve been a good head of this house and am teaching you well.”

Case intentionally interrupted her, “You have, grandma.”

“Thank you for that, Case.  So Terry, even wiser than you were with our little leg example, it’s equally wise for all of you to save your hundred dollars for your own broken leg or necessities and then if you have enough extra, you can give to charity and buy other things.  In the meantime, wear what you have and volunteer, neither of which takes money.”

Her grandson wondered for a moment as he sat engrossed in the conversation, then asked, “We had earthquake preparedness last week.  Is that the same?”

“Yes, it is, very much.  Our country has earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, tornados, windstorms, flooding and there are even droughts.  If we didn’t save money then how would we be able to find another place to live or eat without getting money from the government, which it doesn’t have?  That’s why the government needs to save our taxes, as much as we do.  There would be a lot of roads, buildings and other things that needed to be repaired.  If they had to spend it on us if we didn’t save or plan, then they would have to go into debt to fix all those things so you could go to school and people to work.  It’s very important that people have confidence in wise government, family and friends.”  His grandma said matter-of-factly.

Terry was pleased that the questions he asked her, she made understandable, “Thank you, grandma. You’ve explained a lot about how things work well or don’t.”

Case and Iva smiled at her because she didn’t shrug them off as if they didn’t need to know anything.

“The leg example is probably not the way a college professor would describe how interlinked we all

are, but if you get the idea of it, then you’re welcome children.  It’s with cautious optimism when I say that by two thousand ten, things might be better.”  She said, waving at Terry to come over to give her a hug.  The idea that they were in the two thousandth year of the calendar still seemed strange for her to say.

From then on, Friday nights were reserved for talks on various current events, which pleased both Iva senior and her grandchildren.

The year passed quickly.  Case didn’t gripe about having to wear borrowed dresses that her friend’s older sisters weren’t going to wear anymore, for her prom and graduation.  Case was far more proud of her academic achievements than she would have been attending them, draped in a designer gown, not that she wanted to forego them completely, but rather, only until she could afford them herself.  She’d become a person unto herself, not needing the trappings of her wardrobe to define her.

Iva senior gave Case back the money she’d paid her for room and board before she started the Police academy.  With the three thousand, sixty two dollars including interest, she bought herself an inexpensive car, and with what was left over, it helped to pay for any future school expenses or car repairs.

By the time Case entered and then graduated the academy, Iva made it through high school with higher grades than she’d ever had before.  As her senior year began she knew it was time to get a job, along with getting her driver’s license and all the other things that went with growing up, including paying room and board just as her sister had done.

Her employment pursuit led her to the mall down the street from school.  After applying to several stores as a part time cashier, she was hired at the department store in the china and crystal section.  Within a few weeks she found that she understood the customers and why they were looking for high end, quality dishes to give as gifts or for their own personal use.

The year changed from one to another, the family got news from Bruce that he would be home for good in two weeks after his six years in the service, Case graduated the academy, married her boyfriend Andy and they were expecting their first baby.  With the economy floundering there were so few bright moments, that excitement, when it came, was gladly welcomed.

Terry who’d just gotten his driver’s license picked Bruce up from the airport.  Iva, Case, Andy and their grandma put out the welcome home banner they’d made, attending afterwards to the lunch they’d planned all week.  On the ride home, the two brothers were glad to have the private time to swap stories and appreciate each other’s company again.  As Terry drove his grandma’s car into the driveway, Iva senior began to cry at the sight of her oldest grandson.

Bruce called out as he exited the car, “Grandma, where are you?”

She went out the front door sobbing, her arms extended a length they’d never seen before, “Bruce, sweetheart, I’m so happy.”

Her teary eyes smiled as he hugged her around her aged shoulders and gave her a kiss on the cheek, “You’re crying.  You must not want me home yet.”

“Don’t make jokes right now Bruce, you’re finally home.”

“No jokes for now, but later, I can’t guarantee.”  He said, kissing her cheek again.

Iva junior became squished against his chest as Case and their grandma began to hug him repeatedly.  All three women released their hold and led him into the kitchen where he looked at the variety of foods they’d made for him.  They had questions but didn’t want to discuss his time in Iraq, unless he brought it up, which he didn’t.

For the first two weeks Bruce settled in as best he could, sharing the room with Terry, catching up with friends and family, sorting out his boxed up possessions that his parent’s allowed him to keep from the old house.  Though he’d not said anything to anyone, his disgust over their parent’s method was apparent.

After six weeks and on a quiet Saturday evening, Bruce spoke with excitement in his voice, which they’d not heard since he’d gotten back, “Grandma.  I’ll be looking for a place to live in a few days and have decided to take Uncle James up on his offer to come back to work at the company.”

She was saddened by his leaving but pleased by his career choice, “You’ve only been here a few weeks Bruce.  You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”

“Thank you.  But it’s time for you to depend on me for a change.”

“That’s a wonderful sentiment Bruce, thank you.  We have done just fine while you’ve been gone.”

“Grandma, there’s no doubt about that.  Still, it will be easier for me to help you without taking up space.”

“Nonsense, you don’t Bruce.  I do see that at your age you need your privacy for girls and such.”

Bruce went speechless, having obviously forgotten her perceptive nature as he got up and slunk away from embarrassment over her knowing his genuine motive.  Dumbfounded, all he managed out was, “Yes.”

The months passed quickly with him back.  Iva was exhilarated that it was the end of her senior year.  She and her friends had survived having Terry, Josh and their other friends, who were now juniors, playing jokes on them.

Case had baby Janine in September.  Bruce resumed playing golf, which he’d learned while being home on leave from Iraq.  Their grandma continued to be herself, going into work, tending her garden, going with her friends to play cards, swing dancing and their other activities, but age was catching up with her, so they helped her more, even though she insisted she could manage on her own.

The younger Iva arrived at work at three o’clock, right after school.  It wasn’t hard for her to stay awake, since her shift was over at six.  She was cleaning the displays which were part of her duties when without warning, the store manager Mrs. Vine came up to her, “Iva, may I see you in my office?”

She set down the crystal vase she was dusting and walked toward her boss, “Yes, Mrs. Vine.”

Her boss led her in and closed the door, “I’m sorry but we’ll have to let you go, Iva.  You’re not being fired, but laid off, due to our budget.  I’ll be glad to give a good recommendation to any potential employers who call about you.  I’m sorry and do wish you good luck.  Finish up for today then return for your final paycheck next Friday.”

It was clear to Iva that Mrs. Vine was as sorrowful about this as she was.  She knew she wasn’t the only casualty of the downed economy, but unbeknownst to Mrs. Vine this was Iva’s second time down the no income road.  Her lips formed words which were the only ones her brain could think of, “Oh, okay.”  This put her back to being broke she thought to herself as she rose and left the office.

When Iva got home it was quiet, making it easy for her to hurry into her room, close the door and lay on her bed to cry.  She felt ill with the idea of not having a job and was fully aware that if she didn’t have family to rely on then she would be homeless.  Her tears streamed from her with sympathy for those who were in the same situation but didn’t have anyone to depend on.  Iva’s heart overcame her head.  It was bad to want to go to college and be without money, but that it might not even be possible was too much for her, she had no savings. Her outlook became dark as she held onto her pillow for strength.

Iva senior knocked on her door cautiously, “Iva, are you in there?”

She tried to clean her face with her hand, “Yes, I’m here.”

The door opened and her grandmother came in, “Do you want to tell me what’s happened?”

“I was laid off today.”

Iva senior’s anger over how the economy was going flared up.  Not only had most of her friend’s children been disheartened by the events, but now it was intruding into her home.  She closed the door behind her and sat next to her granddaughter on the bed, “Iva, I’m sorry.  That’s terrible.”

Young Iva stayed silent with her head rested on her arm.

The matriarch began stroking her hair to comfort her, “It will be alright my dear.  Today is a bad day but there will be good ones to come.  Belief in that is what will get you through this and all things.”

Iva wiped her eyes, “How do you know that grandma?  What if I don’t get another job that I’m good at, like I was at this one?”

“Because you’re too young, to not be able to forge out your own life.  You’re in school, right?”

“Yes.  But now I can’t pay you my monthly rent and if you decided too then you could throw me out, and I would become homeless and hungry.”

“That is true, Iva.  Perhaps learning this, as devastating as it is, will prevent it from happening to you when you’re older.  Please don’t cry I won’t throw you out.  That is unless you do nothing to regain an income or if you fall into an irreparable despair to this sort of unfortunate news.”

Iva’s disappointment was clear in her next statement, “I may only be able to go to high school but no further.”

“You’ve determined that already have you?”

“There’s not much to hope about.  Even you said that there are a lot of people out of work.  And they all have more experience than I do.”

Her grandmother couldn’t stand how upset her granddaughter sounded, “It’s very difficult not to give up, so you’ll have to do what seems tiring to others.  You will apply and apply, and then apply again for jobs until you get one.  And until that happens, you’ll continue to concentrate on your studies and excel for when you are hired by some very fortunate soul.  If it happens that college isn’t to be in your future that is quite alright you know.  There are a great many successful people who’ve never been.”

She sat up, put her arms around her and rested her head on her grandma’s shoulder, “Thank you grandma.  We’re the fortunate ones, to have you.  Is there anything you don’t know or aren’t right about?”

Her grandmother gave a small laugh, flattered that her granddaughter confused her years of living with all-encompassing knowledge.  The elderly Iva knew she was the furthest from knowing the outcome of the recession, but it did seem better to let her grandchildren believe that, for their sense of security, “No, I don’t think so.”

Iva junior applied herself to finding another job, making it second priority just below school, even though part time positions were scarce around their area.  Thumbing through the want ads in the newspaper became fatiguing.  There were only a few positions available so she could continue onto college and work in the general area of school and her grandmother’s, where they’d agreed she should continue to live for the savings on housing.  She’d been to more job interviews than she wanted to think about.  Either, her schedule didn’t suit them, or they didn’t work out for her.  It didn’t matter though.  She refused to accept that something wouldn’t work out, being as eager as she was to be employed again.  On her way out to another interview, for what she hoped might be the job, the phone rang.

“Hello, the Finder residence.”  Iva answered, as they’d all been instructed by their grandma to do.

“Iva, it’s me, Bruce.  I was talking with a golfing friend of mine, Don Cliff, over the weekend.  He told me that his niece who worked with them has moved to Illinois and that they’d be looking for someone soon to replace her.  I told him about you and said that you might be interested in the job.”

Iva interrupted him, “Don and Gwen Cliff?”

“Yes.  Why?  Do you know them?”

“They’re the parents of Terry’s friend Josh.  I haven’t met them but you know how long Josh has been friends with him.”

“Josh’s last name is Cliff?  Good.  Anyway, he said you should call his wife Gwen to set up an interview.  They need someone hired by the end of the week, and best of all, they could possibly work with your school schedule.  So call her and get the job.”

“I have an interview this morning but yes, I’ll call when I come back and try to get either of them. Thank you, Bruce.”

“I’m glad to help, Iva.  I’ll see you on Saturday.  Let me know how they go, and remember, if neither pans out, then you can work here like Uncle James offered.”

“I’ll remember, but I’ve told him that unless he really needs me, I want to try to make a go of it on my own.  He said he understood and that he didn’t think me ungrateful.  I’ve got to leave now and thank you Bruce, I’ll see you then.  Goodbye.”

“I understand Iva, good luck with both.  Goodbye.”

After thirty minutes of questions, Iva’s impression of the interview was that it went well.  Although after she left she hoped that it didn’t seem to the manager that she was a little too anxious or desperate, but knew it was now out of her control.  She called Gwen when she got home.  Gwen told her eleven o’clock on Friday was convenient for her and Iva confirmed that she’d be there.  The end of the week came and Iva hadn’t heard from the previous interview so she dressed in her only suit, a hand me down from her sister, to meet Gwen at their office.  Iva’s hands shook, whether it was because Gwen was Josh’s mom, or because she was hopeful that this position worked out, she couldn’t tell.

It was a twenty minute drive from her home to their office with traffic, which would be perfect for her to get homework done.  When she came to the parking lot entrance to the right, she pulled into it, glad the stress of wanting the job so much which kept creeping into her brain hadn’t caused her to pull a stupid driving stunt in front of the building.  Iva repeated to herself, “You’ve got to do this, you must.”

As she parked in the open spot in front of the glass doors that read, Cliff-Fortt, a lady came out.

The woman didn’t identify herself but spoke to her, “Hello.  Could you park in the one next to this?”

“Yes.”  Iva answered, putting her car in reverse, checking for passing cars and then re-parking where the lady suggested.  Her nervousness escalated as the lady watched.  When she got out, she checked that she had everything, her resume, purse and keys then locked the door.

The woman extended her hand as Iva approached her, “Iva.  I’m Gwen Cliff, it nice to meet you.”

She shook hers back, “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Cliff.”

When Iva followed her into her office, her eyes caught sight of the comfortable chairs, the lone desk and the four large oil paintings, along with the file cabinet.  All of it had the same color scheme as the outer lobby, medium gray with white accents and splashes of color, for a sophisticated feel.

They made themselves comfortable, smiling at the coincidence of her being Terry’s sister and how long she’d known her son then they began discussing the details of the position and whether her schedule would fit in with theirs.  Iva was motionless as she watched Gwen considering it all.

Josh’s mom looked at Iva as she went over what else would be required, “You won’t mind if we use formal names during work would you?  We do like the professionalism of it while were here, but after hours it doesn’t matter.”

            Iva smiled, “Not at all.”

            “You’ve got the job, Ms. Finder.  Be aware that it’s not because you’re a close friend of my son, but it’s because you’re qualified, judging by the work experience you’ve had in the china and crystal department at your last position, along with your good references.”

            “Thank you, Mrs. Cliff.”  Iva said, acknowledging her meaning, there would be no preferential treatment given to her.

            “You’ll work Monday thru Thursday from six am until eleven thirty a.m. during the school year and on Friday’s, we will need you here from eight to four thirty.  You’ll be full time during the summer.  Mr. Cliff will meet you here Monday morning.  Do you have any questions or concerns?”

            Iva blinked her eyes with delight, “No, it’s fine.”

“I will show you around and tell you about the import/export business we do.”  Gwen said leading her out of the office.  They crossed the lobby where she opened the unmarked door and flicked on the lights to expose the warehouse.  Iva was right behind her, elated that she was again employed.  She continued to explain to Iva what they did as she led her into a huge steel box that was specially made for earthquakes to keep their inventory safe, “We find and have manufacturer’s, that’s what we call them, although all the pieces are handmade, one of a kind, and either single, or in sets of silver, crystal or porcelain.  We also buy pieces on the open market that are from other countries which have been brought here throughout the years, to offer to the country from which it was made for their own collections, that’s if they want it.  If not, it goes public.  You’ll not be concerned with that aspect.  At least, not until you’ve become fully knowledgeable with what is currently manufactured and all the other import/exporters around the globe that we deal with.”

            She turned the lights off as Iva passed her out the door.  Gwen led her back to the office, showing her where her desk was, their filing system, accounts and computer programs, adding, “Ms. Finder, here are the catalogs we have.  They’re not bound, we use photograph inserts, since the inventory is constantly revolving.  This enables us to change what’s in them as we purchase and sell.  Her new boss handed her a large beautiful burgundy leather folder with embossed, silver lettering on the front of it, “Cliff-Fortt.”

“Please go through it this weekend.  You’ll be paid for it, so keep a record of your time and look at them during the day when you have any free time, between your regular duties.  We need you ready to assist us as soon as possible.  We’ve been without extra hands for two weeks already, and falling behind is not how we stay in business.”

“Yes Mrs. Cliff, I will.  Thank you.  I’ll be here on Monday.”  Iva said excitedly as they shook hands goodbye.

“Goodbye, Ms. Finder.”

            When she got into her car, her desire was to rest her head in her arms on the steering wheel, relieved that this was the job that would be the answer to all her prayers, but decided against it out of fear of being seen.  Iva marveled as she started the engine that the job paid twice the amount she was getting before at her previous job and would be enough for her to accomplish all that she wanted too if she didn’t spend any of it, other than on school.

            As she arrived home her joy became overwhelming.  Iva ran into the house, letting the screen door slam shut behind her, which was unacceptable to her grandmother, but it didn’t matter to her at that moment, calling out, “Grandma, Terry, I got the job.”

            They heard the screen, along with Iva’s voice and hurried through the house to get to her.  Her grandmother smiled, excited for her, “Congratulations, Iva.  Tomorrow we’ll celebrate.”

            Her brother hugged her, “Good going, Iva.  I was hoping you would.  They’re nice people but don’t forget to call them Mr. and Mrs.  I have to until I turn twenty one, even after all this time of knowing them.”

            “I won’t forget.”

“Josh and I are going to the football game at school and it’ll probably be late, so we’ll see you tomorrow.”

They said goodbye and he turned and left.

As Iva’s weekend started, she had a sense that if this job was to be the one for her better future, she would never forget, though not bitterly, about the past three years and if it wasn’t, she’d have to quickly think about what to do next.  She now understood that there were far more altering things that could happen to her than being penniless, unless she wasn’t able to come back from it, whether physically, spiritually or mentally.

Bruce’s barbeque was the perfect gathering to have on a Saturday.  The concerns of the economy, politics and academics were set aside for hours, leaving the guests refreshed for its duration.  After she, Terry and their grandma got home, Iva studied as much of the catalog as she had time for.  The items far more interesting than she originally imagined they would be, vase’s, statuettes, chandeliers, exquisite patterns on china, porcelain and crystal that she had no idea existed.

Iva was deep in sleep when her alarm rang at five a.m.  She jumped up, anxious for her first day a Cliff-Fortt to begin.  Working or being a college student never occurred to her.  She knew her only option was to take this opportunity she was given and find the ambition to create a life for herself or end up with nothing or no way to pay for herself.  With things going the way they were, people continuing to get laid off and not hired, she was inwardly fearful of it being her again.

            She pulled into the parking lot five minutes early, finding a man of medium height, black and grey hair and solid brown eyes, who she assumed to be Don Cliff, opening the front door.

He grinned as she approached, “Good morning Ms. Finder.  It’s nice to meet you.”

“Good morning Mr. Cliff, nice to meet you.”

“Josh and Mrs. Cliff have told me good things about you.  It’s a pleasure to have you with us.  I’m early this morning to show you how to let yourself in.”  He said pleasantly and then continued, “It will be a busy day, we’ve been backlogged and Mrs. Cliff won’t be in this morning.”

Don walked in the door, going straight toward a box on the wall.  Iva listened intently as he led her in, “Let me show you how this alarm works.  First push this, enter this code and press this button then it’s off.  To set it, push this and enter the code.  That’s it.”

            She’d never done one herself but understood his directions, “Yes Mr. Cliff.”

            He nodded his approval at her, “Good.  Mrs. Cliff said on Friday that she showed you where everything was and told you what you’ll be doing.”

            “Yes sir.”

“Have you any question’s Ms. Finder?”

“No Mr. Cliff, not right now.”          

“Don’t hesitate if you do.  It saves time if you ask and understand correctly the first time.”

            “I will, right away.  Thank you, Mr. Cliff.”

            Iva’s previous boss Mrs. Vine was a thorough but kind, patient lady, so she was curious what having a man for a boss would be like.  Mr. Cliff made her feel welcomed and she hoped that would continue.  The phone rang as they finished talking and were moving toward his office and her desk.  Iva answered it as she’d been instructed, “Good morning, Cliff-Fortt.”

            Don went into his office, closing the door behind him.

            “Hello, this is Ms. Hall with P&M sculpture.  I would like to leave a message for Mr. Cliff.”  The lady on the phone said.

            “Mr. Cliff is in this morning, please hold a moment Ms. Hall.”

She told him who it was and transferred the call, then started checking crates against invoices.

            During the first two months, the work came easily to her as did remembering the manufacturers they did business with, the Thompson’s in Canada, Bryan’s in Ireland, Regen’s in Germany, Fortt’s in London, along with the others the Cliff’s dealt with around the globe.  Iva’s school schedule was working out, her classes varied enough that working four days around them became a necessary routine.  She was tired but couldn’t stop, there were no other plans for her future.

            On her sixth month mark with the company, Iva had a glide to her step as she walked into the kitchen for breakfast where her grandma was.

            “I’m very pleased you enjoy your job, Iva.”

            “I do grandma, it all worked out the way you said it would.”

            “You’d better get going, if you’re not to be late.”

“Yes, thank you grandma.  I’ll do the dinner dishes tonight.”

“Thank you, have a good day.”

“I will.  You have a good one too.”  She said, kissing her grandma on the cheek for the breakfast she’d made and went out the door.

Chapter 4

            In London, twenty year old Oswald Fortt was awoken from his sleep by his ringing phone.   He put the receiver halfway between his face and the pillow, “Hello.”

            “Hello Oswald, are you awake?”  Graham asked.

            “Yes sir, I’m just up.”  Oswald answered, opening his eyes just enough to be telling the truth.  He turned his head to see that it was early in the morning for a phone call, only seven forty eight.

            Graham was direct with his son, “Your grandfather’s housekeeper has just called.  She says he was taken ill a few days ago, with what according to the Doctor who saw him this morning is some sort of bronchial problem.  He needs to be hospitalized, put on a respirator.”

            Oswald sat up in his bed, alarmed by what he was being told, “His condition sounds serious dad.  Should Breck or I go see him?”

            “No, that won’t be necessary.  I will change my plans for California and stay here to keep abreast of his condition.”

            “You’ll not be going then?”

“I won’t.  But your mother and I have decided that you and Breck should go there to meet with Don and the manufacturers in my place, you’ve both been on enough business trips with me to get the job done.  We feel this to be best right now, since after your trip with the Peace Corp. and his military service, your running of the business on a full time basis will prepare you for my eventual retirement.  I will change the airline and hotel reservations today.  It’s best to do it this far in advance, rather than waiting.  I’ve no inclination to deal with cancellations and all that mess on short notice.  You’ll leave in three weeks.  Change any plans you have for that time.”

            “Yes sir.  Tell grandfather we hope he’s well, soon.”  Oswald said, knowing his dad was right.

            Graham sipped his coffee then opened the newspaper he’d put on the table, “I will give him your regards when I get there tomorrow, and call you in the evening.  Please let Breck know.  I’ll call the companies and Don so they expect you.”

            “I’ll tell him father.  Goodbye.”

            “Goodbye, Oswald.”

            The news made Oswald hurry down the hall toward his brothers’ room.  He knocked then cracked the door open, finding a pile of blankets which he knew his brother was in the midst of.

            “Breck, get up.”

            He pulled the blanket and sheet from his face, looking at Oswald half asleep, “Why are you disturbing me so early on a Saturday morning, Oswald?”

            “Dad’s phoned with important news.  Grandfather’s ill and we’re to go to California on business for him.”

            Breck sat up, “Does he know if he’s going to be alright?”

            “Not yet, he’ll call tomorrow night once he’s seen him.”

            Breck nodded his head, acknowledging what his older brother was relaying.

            Oswald’s adrenaline was up; he figured that if he’s not to sleep any longer, then neither would his nineteen year old brother, “We’re not due at football until nine.  What do you say to breakfast before we go?”

            “I’m up, yes, let’s eat.”  He said as he got out of his antique bed, slipped on his trousers and shirt then followed his brother down the stairs to the kitchen.

            “Maybe we’ll find time to hang out with Josh while there.  We can’t work our entire stay.”  Oswald said as they entered their sparse kitchen.

            While Oswald got the toast ready, grabbing the butter and jam for the bread, Breck began the coffee. After filling their cups with the caffeine, Breck opened the newspaper, peering at his brother as he turned to the sports but hid the fact that he’d tried to develop a mental picture of the new woman who worked for the Cliff’s.  He’d fashioned it around what he considered her deep sultry voice after sitting in on a few of the calls his father made on speaker phone to their office.  He didn’t know her name, only envisioning, full lips, slathered with glossy lipstick, which could easily belong to a woman twice his age, but his imagination wouldn’t let him think so.  His mind returned to his brother, “I don’t remember being in California, it’s been about eleven years.  It should be an interesting trip.  How long are we expected to be there for, Oswald?”

            There was a hesitation in his answer, not knowing the exact details of their dad’s, or rather, what was now their trip, as he put the toast on the table, “Dad was scheduled for a week, I believe.”

            Graham checked the time and decided to call the Cliff’s.

            Gwen picked up a dirty dinner plate off the counter to put into the dishwasher, when the phone rang, “Hello.”

“Hello Gwen, Graham here.  Sorry to interrupt your evening.  Is Don in?”

            “Hello Graham, you’re not interrupting.  Don’s out right now and will probably be late.  How are you?”

            “I’m fine dear.  There’s a change in plans for my trip.  My fathers’ been taken ill, therefore I will be sending the boys.”

            “I’m sorry to hear that, I hope it isn’t serious.”

            “As yet, I’ve no details.  Thank you for your concern.  I will have the boys well prepared.  Please relay this to him for me.”

            “Yes, of course I will Graham.  With the boys not having been here since they were children, do you want them to stay with us?  They’re more than welcome too.”  She offered.

            “No thank you, Gwen.  My reservation is near to you, I’ll change it to their names.  Nineteen and twenty are young, but they know everything there is about the business.  Millie and I feel it’s time for them to start handling accounts on their own, which includes staying in hotels.”

            Gwen smiled, “It’s whatever you say Graham.  Please say hello to Millie for me.”

            “Think of it as done.  Tell Don, I will talk to him next week.  Thank you, Gwen.”

            “Yes you’re welcome, Graham.  Goodbye.”

            The middle aged, well dressed man, of thin build and hazel eyes was glad he had friends to help his sons while they were there, “Goodbye, Gwen.”

            Gwen gave the message to Don in the morning, adding, “And before you go Don, please let Iva know that they’ll be arriving.”

He nodded as he kissed her then headed for the front door.

            Don got to work, said hello to Iva and went straight into his office as usual.  After several minutes, he opened his door, “Ms. Finder, would you come in please?”

            She walked toward him, “Yes Sir.”

            “Graham Fortt was to be in town in three weeks but he’s changed his plans and is now sending his

sons, Oswald and Breck.  I will help them when I can and Josh will have time in his school schedule also, if they need it.  But, if they should call and we are not in, please be as helpful as you can to them.”

            “Yes Mr. Cliff.”

            “Good, thank you, Ms. Finder.  I would like to let you know and before Bruce asks, you’re doing a fine job.”

            Iva smiled, more at him letting her brother know, than at the compliment itself, “Thank you, Mr. Cliff.”

            It was awkward in the beginning to be working for Bruce’s friend and Josh’s dad.  Not only was she nervous at the possibility of messing up, but having them know about it added to the pressure.

            The three weeks until the Fortt’s trip passed uneventful.  Don called Iva into his office to remind her of their arrival.  As she closed his door Iva glanced at the messy, in-process stack in her tray.  The straightening of her desk became a priority as it was each time one of the fellow importers came in.  He didn’t mention their itinerary to her, but just as a precaution, should they happen to stop in, then some semblance of order was necessary.  Iva’s cleaning pleased her by the time she was ready to go home, having made sure the cabinets and office were organized as well.

            Iva drove into the Cliff-Fortt parking lot ten minutes early, it was a surprise to see Gwen’s car was already there and she was the first into the office.  Gwen opened her office door after Iva was at her desk for thirty minutes and stood in her doorway, “Good morning, Ms. Finder.  Mr. Cliff won’t be in until later, he’s picking up the Fortt’s from the airport then taking them to get their rental car.”

            “Good morning Mrs. Cliff, did you want his calls or should I take messages for him?”

            “Please take messages.  I have my own to take care of.  Thank you.”  She said as she turned around and closed her door, staying at her desk, except for lunch.

            Don came in after one o’clock without saying a word about getting the Fortt’s.  He, on many occasions, made it clear that he didn’t like the airport.  Iva knew he would be grouchy for a time afterward and it was better to not interrupt him, if possible, so he could get his work done.

            Iva knocked on Gwen’s door at four thirty, when she answered, Iva opened it slightly and poked her head in, “I’m leaving, Mrs. Cliff.”

            “Have a good weekend, Ms. Finder.  Goodnight.”

            “Thank you, Mrs. Cliff.  You have a nice one, also.  Goodbye.”

            When Iva returned home she called Bruce, Case and Terry, they all agreed they’d go to the beach in the morning, meeting up with friends and making a full day of it, swimming, volleyball and ending with a bon fire.  Usually Terry brought Josh and his sister Andrea along, but this time they declined, saying that they were doing things with their guests while they were in town.

            Josh and Andrea picked up the Fortt’s at their hotel to go to the amusement park at eight thirty, having breakfast on their way.  The foursome arrived at ten, walked around the park area first and after their food settled, went on the rides.

            “You’ve come at a nice time of year Breck, it’s not too hot.”  Andrea said, smiling at him.

            He put his arm over her shoulder, “Does California ever have a bad time of year?  It’s a rare occurrence from what dad’s told us.”

“It’s true, not that often.”  She admitted.

“Tell me all you’ve been doing since we last saw you in New York, two years ago.”  He continued, asking with the same curiosity he had for his sister Angela.

“School mostly, nothing exciting ever happens, it’s always the same.”

He smiled at her age and restlessness, “This is exciting, seeing you again and being here.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t mean I wasn’t having a good time with the three of you.”

“Apology accepted Andrea and be glad when things remain the same, I always am.”

She smiled at him appreciatively.

Oswald thought of his girlfriend, “If only Evelyn could be here, it would be perfect.”

            Josh looked at him, “Who is Evelyn?  You’ve never mentioned her before.”

            “She’s been my girl off and on for about four years and is the niece of one of our parent’s neighbor’s.  That’s how we met.  I’ve not mentioned her before, because one of us has always been too busy for the other to be serious.  Over the last few months however, we’ve come to know that we’re happy together.”

            Andrea put her arm in his, “That’s fantastic Oswald, you sound so serious talking about her I don’t recognize you.  You’ll have to bring her someday Oswald.”

            “Ha Ha that’s funny my girl, and yes I do think she would like it here.”

            Andrea excused herself to the bathroom.

            Josh looked at the brothers, “Do you two want to have a little fun while you’re here?”

            They looked at each other considering what their father would do if they were to spoil the trip, Breck answered jokingly for them, “Yes, of course, if it’s legal, we do.  You know our dad Josh.  His head will erupt, if we don’t do well.”

            He grinned at the thought of his favorite target, “It’s nothing like that, just a joke on Iva.”

            They mistakenly perceived an infatuation on his face.  Breck looked at him with curiosity as Josh sat next to him, “Is she your girlfriend?”

            “No, not my girlfriend, she’s my parent’s new employee and the sister of mine and my dad’s friend’s Terry and Bruce.”

            Breck thought about her name “Iva”, it didn’t fit her voice from his recollection of it.

            Oswald was anxious to find out his idea, “What do you have in mind for her?”

            Josh’s face lit up as he recalled the past pranks he’d played on her, “Monday call her and say stuff that doesn’t make sense, it’ll be funny, she gets really nervous when she’s put on the spot.  Terry says she has everything riding on keeping her job and getting through college.  So, unless it’s her free time, she won’t play along with anything that’s funny.  Don’t worry, she won’t get mad.”

            “That sounds harmless enough, we can do it.”  Oswald agreed.

            Breck hesitated, not wanting to leave an unfavorable impression but with a few minutes persuasion they convinced him that it was all friendly.

            “Here comes Andrea.  She’d better not find out, she’ll tell Iva.”  Josh quickly warned, changing the subject.

            The foursome continued their day, staying late into the night, tomorrow was Sunday and they’d be able to sleep in, so they rode the rides until closing.

            Bruce’s phone rang, waking him up.  His arm moved slowly in pain from the sunburn he’d gotten the previous day, he picked up the receiver, “Hello.”

            The woman on the other end answered excitedly, “Hello Bruce.”

            He lifted his head, recognizing the voice on the other end, wondering what could be compelling her to call.  It was with reluctance that he used the term, “Mom.”

            She spoke as if she’d not been out of contact with him for years, “I thought I would come by your grandmother’s today to visit all of you.”

            Bruce’s mind hadn’t woken up enough to take in the proposition.  He thought as quickly as he could to keep his grandma out of whatever her visit would turn into, “It will be better to come over here.”

            “If that’s what you want.  How is twelve thirty?”  His mom asked with what he took to be an impatient tone then she quickly added, “You will have your brother and sister’s there won’t you?”

            He paused, considering what grief she might cause, “I’ll call and ask if they want to be here.  I guess twelve thirty will be okay.”  Then, with more trepidation, Bruce read out his home address, “I live at one thirty seven Marble Lane.”

            “I’ll see you later honey.”           

            His brows narrowed at the endearment, “See you.”

Bruce got up, dressed, made his coffee and got his Sunday newspaper from his front step.  He looked around at his place, it looked clean enough to have them over.

            A sickening feeling came over him as he picked up the phone and dialed his sister’s house, “Hello Case.”

            “Good morning Bruce.”  She answered as she held his niece.

            He’d tried to think of a way of telling her other than being direct but couldn’t come up with anything, “I’ve had a call from mom.”

            There was silence on her end as she put her daughter in her playpen.  Case felt her face get flush, “What did she say?”

            Bruce waited a moment, “Just that she wanted to see us this afternoon.”

            His sister considered with anguish how little her parent deserved to be received, “No.  I don’t want to see her.”

            “I know, neither do I.  But, we don’t know if we’ll ever see her again.”  Bruce added, stating a fact, then gave her time to consider the request.

            A torrent of indifference then anxiety came over her, calmly she asked, “What time Bruce?”

            “I told her twelve thirty.”

            “If I show then I do, if not, then I’m not interested in anything she has to say.”

            He was sympathetic to her feelings, making out that she was sniffling, “That’s fair.  And, if you

choose not to, I will let you know what she says.”

            “Okay.  I love you, Bruce.  I’ll see you later.”

            “I love you, too.  See you later.”

            Bruce hung up and picked up the phone again to make the other necessary call.  The phone rang as Iva and her grandmother started weeding the garden.  They could hear Terry answer.

            He came out the back door, “Iva.”

            Iva senior started to get up, her granddaughter reached out her hand to help her.

Terry laughed, “No grandma, it’s for the other Iva.”

            “Someday we will devise a way to indicate, which one of us people are referring too.”  The senior Iva said, laughing along with him.

            His sister got up, taking off her gloves, “We’ll come up with something, grandma.”

            As she stepped into the door, her brother handed her the phone, “It’s, Bruce.”

            “Good morning Bruce.”  Iva answered, with her happy mood still intact.

            “Hello Iva.  There’s something I have to tell you.  Mom called this morning and wants to see us today at twelve thirty, over here.”

            She frowned, stumped by their mom’s sudden emergence, “Did she say why?”

            “No.  I’ve spoken with Case already and she may or may not come over and of course you and Terry have the same option.”

            There was no way for her to confirm that they would be there until she asked Terry, “We’ll talk about it and may or may not come.”

            “That’s understood.  I love you and will talk to you later, either way.”

            Iva wasn’t certain of when later would be, but assumed it meant he would call if they didn’t show up to tell them what she wanted, “I love you too, Bruce.  Goodbye.”

            She went back out casually to continue helping her grandmother, as if he’d never mentioned their mom. Iva waited until they were done before taking Terry into his room and passing on the information.  He decided he wanted to see her and since he did, she decided it wouldn’t be without her.  They didn’t tell their grandma who they were going to see, only that they were going over to Bruce’s.  The two youngest Finder children drove up to their older brother’s house at twelve fifteen but there was no sign of Case’s car.

            Terry opened the screen door, “Bruce, we’re here.”

            “Help yourselves to the juice in the fridge.”  Bruce replied from his room.

            They got their drinks and sat quietly in the living room, waiting for whoever would show up next.

            “It will be weird if Case isn’t here with us, Iva.”  Her younger brother said, trying to make the uncomfortable silence go away.

            “It will be awkward, won’t it?  We’ve confronted all this together, from the start.”

            Ten minutes passed, when out of the window they saw Case’s car pull up.  She came in, hugged both

of them and got a drink.  Bruce came out of his room as she headed for the sofa to sit next to Terry.  The four sat, having nothing to talk about as they waited.

            They heard a car drive up.  Peering out of the pane of glass in the front window, they saw that it was their mom.  Iva’s childhood devastation resurfaced.  She looked at Case and Terry, their expressions showed their feelings to be identical as hers.  Leslie’s appearance was the same as they remembered, the over colored hair, make-up encrusted face, tighter than normal clothes that revealed all she wanted noticed, but with the added insult that she had the air of someone in denial, that what she did hadn’t affected any of them, only herself.

            The three younger Finder’s sat back down as she knocked.  When Bruce let her in, she reached toward him to give her oldest son a hug.  He let her, but didn’t return the affection.

As she squeezed him, he felt coldness in the embrace from her, “Hello, honey.  You look good.”

            Her son grunted softly, acknowledging the compliment.  She continued, seemingly oblivious to the discomfort they felt, “You all look good.  Look at how much bigger you’ve gotten.  Grandma’s food always was good.”

            It was quickly apparent to Leslie that Case, Iva and Terry weren’t going to stand up to greet her.  She cast aside any attempt at showing them her superficial affection.

            “Have a seat.”  Bruce said as he pointed to his suede, camel colored chair, which his sister’s and brother suddenly noticed was strategically placed in front of the sofa, when it was usually next to it.

            They deferred to their older brother to do all the talking and waited for their mother to state her reason for the visit.

She grinned, “I don’t want to keep you from anything, so I’ll tell you why I’m here.”

            “Please do.”  Bruce said, brutally.

            “Now that you’re older and able to take care of yourselves, I thought it a good time to pay me back for all the things I bought for you, growing up.  I’ve made a small list for each.  Please look at it and see if there’s anything that I’ve made a mistake on and should add.”  Leslie said, handing them each a slip of paper, just as she and their dad had done years before, when they parted.

            Her children were stunned, only stupid people repeat an egregious act.  Bruce reviewed his list, narrowed his brows, his squinted eyes showed his disgust, “You’re asking us to pay you back?”

            Leslie stared at them as if they should immediately agree, “By my calculations of the value of the things, two thousand should cover it.”

            Her oldest son leaned forward with his hand out toward his siblings to look at their lists.  They silently gave them.  Bruce scanned the items, beds, clothes, shoes, on and on they went.

            He looked at her with disdain, “You want two thousand for all these things?”

            She looked away, finding things in Bruce’s house to focus on, “Each.”

            His voice rose with revulsion, “Each.  You’re kidding?”

            She returned her eyes to him, “No, I’m not, that’s about what it amounts to.  According to the news, it will cost parent’s more than two hundred thousand to raise one child.  I’m not asking for anything that’s not due me.”

            Bruce thought back to the women in Iraq and all they had to do without, insisting, “Wait outside for a

minute, please.”

            Their mother huffed, “Fine, Bruce.”

            After she closed the door, Bruce looked at his brother and sisters, “Listen, we have to do something right now.  It would be different if they’d not taken our stuff before and had shown concern for you all this time, but she hasn’t, and we have to face it, we’ll never have that deep kind of relationship with her, so trust me to end this and ensuring that we don’t have anything creeping up behind us in the future.”

            The three were uncertain what to do, nodding at him affirmatively, not wanting to deal with her themselves.

            He opened the front door for her, “Come in.”

            Leslie came in, looking at them individually, unconcerned about the contempt they had for her on their faces, “You agree?  That’s great.”

            He ignored his siblings shock, “Not, exactly.  Each of us will give you a thousand, but with a stipulation.”

            She was curious what it could be, “What?”

            “That you never contact us again, no matter what.”

            Their mom thought about the amount and the demand, “That’s a laugh.  You owe me for all the driving to practices, school events and everything else I did.”

            “That’s what we’ll give you, do you want it or not?”

A look of desperation rose on her face, “Honey, that’s not nearly enough.”  She waited for the offer to improve but it didn’t, “Well, if that’s all you’ll give me.”

He stared unrelenting, “It is.”

            Bruce wrote out an agreement that she and they signed to complete the bargain.  The younger Finder children quietly signed with shaky hands, relying upon their brother that this would work.  He wrote a check, handed it to her and then asked her without hesitation to leave.

His hand took hold of the door knob to close it as she went out, when she suddenly turned, shaking her head, “It certainly is disappointing that this is all you can afford.”

As his siblings gasped, Bruce demanded, “Please leave.”

This was the second time Case, Terry, Iva and their mother parted without any goodbyes.

            After she was gone, Case protested, “This is unbelievable.”

            “I agree, it is, but I know what I’m doing.”  Bruce replied with certainty.

            She was angrier than she’d been in a long time by what just transpired, “What?  Tell me what you’re doing?  Now we owe you.  And why, just to pay her back for things she bought us, which we didn’t make her buy?”

            Their brother stood before them, “Let me tell you what possibly would happen if we didn’t pay her something.”

            “What?”  Iva asked.

            “She might have been back later, much, much, later, around grandma’s age, asking us to take her in.  By asking us for money, she must still be spending whatever she has in her pockets, which for her age can’t be very much.  This is nothing for her to retire on, unless she has some grand scheme to invest or start a business.  Anyway, if she comes back later on to get more, we have a written agreement that we’ve already paid her.  So, if we look at it that way, we’ve gotten off better now than what she might ask for later.  I’ll make you each a copy, and if dad comes around for the same reason, show him that we’ve already settled what we owe.”

            “I can’t believe she would be so heartless.  We have health, auto and home insurance to pay for, along with groceries, utilities and mortgages.  And, don’t start me on gas and auto expenses.” Case said stunned.

            Bruce sat in the chair his mother had occupied, tapping his fist lightly on the arm of it, “I can.  The recession is that bad.  People have resorted to stealing other people’s identities, robbing banks and other kinds of crimes, things that wouldn’t make sense to an ordinary person.  Acts of desperation that … Anyway, I don’t think she would go that far, but we really don’t know.  We should all be able to go about our daily business without fear of any kind.”

            Case smiled at her brother, “Bruce, you must be fatigued from thinking about it all, because that’s unrealistic, there are no crime free places on the planet anymore, but that’s why we love you.  Are you sure you don’t want to consider joining the police department, you have the patience to be a really good one.”

            “Not me.  Not unless I’m absolutely needed.  I’ve shot and been shot at, Iraq was enough.”

            Bruce’s words suspended any thoughts his siblings had about what just happened with their mother, which was his intention, to get her out of their minds, just as she’d been forty minutes earlier.  Their entire focus was on the statement he’d made about his service, something he’d not spoken about until that moment.

            “Of course, you’re right.  I’ll pay you now.”  Case said.

“I can’t pay you now Bruce, all my money goes to school.”  Iva said adamantly, defending herself.

Terry joined in, “I can’t either, mine goes to grandma for rent.”

“Neither of you have too right away, I know you won’t have it until after college.  I made the decision without consulting you.  Case, you don’t need to either if you and Andy don’t have it right now.”

            Case took her checkbook out, wrote him a check, handed it to him, gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

            It occurred to him as his sister backed away, “I should call Grandma Bethany to let her know that her daughter’s looking for money, so she can tell mom’s brother and sister’s.  They’ll probably want to know since they aren’t well off.”

            She took on a brave demeanor, “That’s a good idea.  I’m sorry but it’s time for me to go.  I will see all of you next weekend, right?”

            Iva got up as she and her brothers nodded affirmatively, she hugged her sister, “Yes Case, we’ll be there.”

            Bruce opened the door, stopping his sister, “Case.”

            “Yes, Bruce.”  She sighed.

            “I couldn’t be more proud of you.  You do know it will turn out fine, don’t you?”

            Case smiled at him, “Yes, I know, it has been so far.  Thank you, Bruce.”

            Terry and Iva said goodbye to Bruce as they followed her out to their cars.

            As Iva drove back to their grandmas’, she felt confident that their mom would never again suddenly appear in their lives.

            Their grandma’s car was gone when she and Terry returned home.  Once inside the house, she felt free to let go of the tears she’d been holding in.

            Her brother hugged her, “I know how you feel, Iva.”

            She cried into his shirt, “I know you do Terry but I can’t help wondering how much disappointment we’re expected to take, without being brought to the desire to retaliate against them?”

            Terry, who’d started to tower over his sister in height over the past fall, wanted to comfort her, “As much as it’s going to take, so when we’re older we can be proud that we earned everything we have and are able to understand people whose parents act foolishly, not judging them, just as we don’t want to be.”

            As she got into her room Iva closed the door so her grandmother wouldn’t see her red, puffy eyes. Enough time passed, that when she was called for dinner, the older Iva didn’t suspect anything happened.  Upsetting their grandmother wasn’t something any of them wanted to do.  She’d been blissful for so long, it pleased them to have her that way.

Chapter 5

            After the previous days emotional visit, Iva woke up short of patience.  It seemed to her that as soon as they were free from all their hurdles, another one made its way into their lives, through no fault of their own.  Morning traffic to work was an actual chore.  Once behind her desk her burdened spirit lifted, she picked up messages from the machine and began her day.  The morning was the same as every other Monday, it began busy, but even so, her mom’s appearance had a disquieting effect on her, she had to make an effort to concentrate.  The hours passed away with no word from the Fortt’s, she guessed they were maneuvering through the streets of Los Angeles with no trouble.

            Iva sat for lunch, watching as Don and Gwen pulled out onto the street to go have theirs, when the phone rang.  Normally, she wasn’t to answer it Don said, until her lunch was over, instead letting callers leave messages on the answering machine.  He’d asked, just before he left, if on this occasion with the Fortt’s visit, would she answer it, in case they were in need of help.  She agreed.  Gwen told her their ages and that she and Don didn’t want them to find themselves without anyone to rely on.

            A few calls came in, Iva took messages for Don or Gwen but none were the visitors.

            Iva set down her sandwich and answered the ringing phone in the routine way, “Good afternoon, Cliff- Fortt.”

            “Good afternoon, Ms. Finder.”  Breck and Oswald whispered, into their speaker phone.

            Iva was familiar with the voices of the British manufacturers and Graham Fortt, they called frequently, but it wasn’t any of them, so she thought that it must be the Fortt brothers, “Hello.  May I help you?”

            Breck continued to whisper, “It’s Oswald and Breck.  Are either of the Cliff’s in?”

            “No, they’re at lunch.  Can I have them call you when they return?”

            “Shhh, don’t speak so loudly, you’ll be heard.  No, waiting for them to return will take too long.  We’re in need of assistance, right now.  Perhaps you will be kind enough?”

            “Yes, I’ll try.”  Iva whispered, holding in her laugh because no one was there to listen to her and she didn’t know which one was speaking.

            “We are looking at our map and were wondering why the state of, “are Kansas” is pronounced, “Are-Kan-saw”?”  Oswald asked.

            She almost couldn’t finish chewing the grape she’d put in her mouth, as nervousness came over her, answering in a hushed voice, “I don’t know?  You are a little far east of Los Angeles, you know.”

            Oswald laughed, “We know.”

            Breck continued on with the gag, “If they were going to pronounce it that way, wouldn’t they have spelt it that way?”

            Iva heard them laugh, suspecting this was another of their jokes, and that it could go on for a few minutes, so she continued her lunch without them knowing, “Maybe they were in a hurry?”

            Oswald found it hard to not laugh out loud, “That could be it.  However, I lean more toward them wanting to say, this is “Our Kansas”, since there already was another Kansas, and didn’t have enough room on their piece of paper.”

            She could help but laugh, “Our Kansas.  You think that, really?”

            “Yes, it’s the only answer that is logical.”  Breck said with a grin, waving it at Oswald.

            Iva continued to whisper, “It’s never crossed my mind and probably never will again, so I’ll agree that, that’s what it must be.”

            Breck was amused that she was playing along, “Oh, we are very smart to figure it out Oswald.  Iva, we’ll contact the Governor of the state and have it corrected.”

Their statement was too ridiculous for her not to smile over, “I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear from you, it’s probably something he’s found a mystery for all these years and you’ve solved it.”

Suddenly, a flash of concern came over her when she thought about her employers and whether or not they would approve of her joking with their partner’s sons.

            “We will mention your name to him for half credit when we do.”  Oswald said in a normal tone of voice.

She began to detect a definite set up by Josh.

Iva set down her glass of water, “I appreciate that.”

            “When and if we meet you Ms. Finder, you’ll have to account for your lack of knowledge about the states.”

            Her sense was that she had to speak up, she wasn’t wealthy and therefore was the only one who cared about her keeping her job, “May I say something, please.”

            “Yes, do.”  Both brothers insisted.

            “If Josh has had something to do with this, I’d appreciate you letting me know, because I’m not in the position to falderal around with my job.  I appreciate your humor.  Really I do, but…”  Iva said, misty eyed from the strain.

            Oswald interrupted her, asking his brother, “Falderal.  Who says falderal, Breck?”

            “I’ve no idea Oswald.  Iva, the answer is yes, Josh did ask us to call.  But, we can assure you that he didn’t mean it as harassment, he’s fully aware of all boundaries.

            She was pleased that they knew him as well as her family did, “I know he is and as his friend I’ll remind him, so when he’s older he doesn’t find himself joking with a woman who might get a wrong interpretation.”

“Ms. Finder you must admit, we don’t have the luxury of getting to know you after work because of our distance across the Atlantic, but we will keep it to a minimum.”  He said with sincerity, admiring the diplomatic way she’d chided them.

            “Thank you for that sentiment.  I appreciate your understanding of my position.”

            “We certainly do.” Breck said.

            Iva smiled, “As for Josh, I will have to thank him in a friendly way.”

            “Be sure it’s something he’d be too embarrassed to tell us, Ms. Finder.”  Oswald added, encouraging her.

            “It will be.  If you find yourselves actually lost or in need of help, please call me, I’m here until twelve, Monday thru Thursday and all day Friday, you can reach Mrs. Cliff here also.  Or, simply ask someone, it’s a big city and some of the freeways and streets can be confusing.  The Cliffs’ don’t want to have you wondering around lost.”  She said patiently, wanting to give them the best possible information.

            Breck smiled as he listened to the woman who he thought had such a pleasing disposition, “And what about you Ms. Finder, do you want us to wander around lost in this big city?”

            She chuckled, “Not, at all.”

            Oswald laughed, “You care about us Ms. Finder, how considerate.”

            “Mr. Cliff has asked that I help you any way I can but he didn’t mention anything about riddles.  I’m here to assist you, that is, if you should actually happen to need it.”  Iva replied with the professional tone she’d managed to keep during the conversation.

            Breck was intrigued by her, “Thank you Ms. Finder, and we hope to meet you sometime during our stay.”

            “That would be nice.  But if we don’t, enjoy your visit.  Which one of you have I been speaking with, please?”

            “It’s been both of us.  We must be going and thank you for calling.  Have a nice day Ms. Finder, Goodbye.”  They answered, proud of their prank.

            Iva was appreciative that they called when they did, they’d never know how badly she felt all morning, and that she was in need of something as simple as a nonsensical conversation, “You have a nice day also, Mr. Fortt’s.  Goodbye.”

            Oswald looked at his brother, who seemed interested in the person who’d been on the phone, “Well played on her part Breck, don’t you think?”

            He nodded, “Yes.  Clear and up front, not distracted, very wise of her.”

            With the peculiar call ended, Iva hurried to finish her lunch, which was minutes from being over and returned to her work.

Don was in and out the rest of the week.  She and Gwen were too busy to notice how fast the time was going, it was already Thursday.

Breck and Oswald headed over to the Cliff’s office to say goodbye to Gwen before they were to pick

up Josh from school, so the three friends could have dinner one last time before they left in the morning.

Iva looked down at her calendar “Call Case about Andy’s birthday party on Saturday.”  Having forgotten, she picked up the phone.

            Andy answered, “Hello.”

            “Hello Andy, it’s me.  Is Case there?”

            “Yes, she’s here, just a minute, I’ll get her.”

            “Hello Iva.”

            “Hello Case.  I’m off work in ten minutes.  Did you want me to pick up anything for the party?”

            “Yes, thank you for asking.  Could you go to the golf store and get the putter that I’ve gotten for Andy by five o’clock?  I won’t have time tomorrow.”  Case asked as she hurried around her bedroom, trying to get ready for work.

            Iva could hear the rush her sister was in, so made it short, “I think so, if I hurry and go straight there.  I’ll keep it tonight and come by with it tomorrow.”

            “Good, I’ll call and let them know you’re coming and I’ll call you tomorrow when he’s left for work.  Thank you, Iva.  Goodbye.”

            “You’re welcome, Goodbye.”

            Iva got her purse and keys then knocked on Gwen’s door, “Mrs. Cliff, I’m leaving.”

            Gwen put down the inventory sheet she was reading, “Have a good night, Ms. Finder.  Mr. Cliff will be gone for a few hours tomorrow.  He’s taking them back to the airport and I’ll be in at about ten.  Goodnight.”

            “Alright, see you tomorrow.  Goodnight.”

She left Gwen’s door open.  As Iva pushed open the front door to leave, a car, of who she thought were potential customers, pulled into the parking lot.

            Her curiosity made her peek at them but she couldn’t make out their faces as she got her key into the car door.  Oswald and Breck looked at the young woman customer standing with her head down at her door as Breck parked in the open parking spot.  Breck didn’t think it couldn’t be Iva, the woman’s outline was younger and less imposing than what he’d imagined her to be, but being two cars away, they couldn’t make out her details.

            Iva tossed her purse into the passenger seat and slide in.  They watched as she backed her car up then drove away.

            As they got out, Breck watched the door to see if Iva, the woman he’d been hoping to meet was coming out, but she didn’t appear, he thought she was possibly still inside, “One night here, not having to go to work, would be so beneficial.”

Oswald put his hand on Breck’s shoulder, “We’d better get inside to see Gwen.”  He said it with the emphasis being Gwen.

The two young men went into the office expecting to see Iva behind the lobby desk but there was no one.  They looked around the organized office, conceding that the unknown Iva had skill at keeping things orderly and on time from what they’d experienced and could now see.

Breck regretted not having told her what time they’d be stopping in when they were on the phone, then recalled that it didn’t matter, he was being deployed when he returned home.

Oswald looked at him, wanting to blurt out in an un-interfering way; not now Breck, you’ve got things pressing at home.  Possibly if we had more time here, then definitely you could stay a few more days and try for her, but we’re to leave tomorrow.  He set it aside, leaving his brother alone.

Gwen saw them come in and walked straight from her office to Oswald, giving him a hug then turned to his brother, doing the same, welling up with tears as she kissed his cheek, “Hello you two.  Breck, you must be careful in Afghanistan and the same for you Oswald, wherever the Peace Corp. sends you.”

            They answered, “Hello Gwen.  We will.”

Breck kissed her cheek as Oswald looked on, “Please don’t cry or we will have to call our mother and she will have to come here and console you, then you’ll have to go there and console her.  It will be a bloody tear-fest.”

            “Alright, I’ll stop.  You three have fun tonight and don’t make it too late.  Don will get irritated if you’re late to the airport.”  Gwen said, reminding them as she wiped a tear from her cheek.

Oswald put his arm over her shoulder and kissed her cheek, “We won’t, we promise, our mum, away from mum.”

She waved her right arm in the direction of the door, laughing, “You’d better go now, you rascals.”

They turned and did as ordered.

Oswald observed his brother, “Its rotten luck that Iva wasn’t here.”

Breck quietly grunted, as if it weren’t a consideration any longer.  The car ride was quiet until they got to Josh’s school.

He followed them in his car back to his house, then he got into theirs, “Hey guys, what do you want to eat, steak or Italian?”

Breck and Oswald answered together, both being hungry after their busy day, “Whatever you recommend will be fine.”

They drove to a nearby restaurant and were seated after a short wait.

“So what about Iva’s family, her brothers, you mentioned them earlier.” Oswald asked, instantly surprised that it was he, who was bringing it up.

Josh went through the events surrounding the coincidences leading up to Iva’s employment, “And, my dad is impressed with her already.  Oh, and I almost forgot they have a married sister, Cassandra.”

“It’s fantastic that you all get on so well.”

He nodded at Breck, “We do.”

“Have your parents met theirs?”  Oswald asked, innocently.

Despite being the boyish seventeen year old he was, he weighed how much private information to give out and ascertained that their interest was not for gossip nor jesting but in earnest interest of her, which gave way to his feeling that to tell them would not offend her, something he’d never do, “No they haven’t, it’s something that’s not brought up.  Their parents lost their home and everything else a couple of years ago, when the first of the recession hit.  They’d pretty much given them up, well, they were teenagers, so it wasn’t like giving them up as infants.  But that’s why they’ve stayed with their grandmother.”

Oswald looked at him, “That’s unfortunate.”

Josh immediately worked to make the events clearer to them, “No, not at all.  It worked out from what Terry’s said, and they’ve been able to help her around the house.  He and Iva will live with her until they finish school.  After that he wants to enlist.  Anyway, the parents went their separate ways and haven’t been around as far as I know.  Case and her husband moved near them and Bruce isn’t far either.”

“What a dismal story, Josh.  It does sound as if it’s come out right for them.”  Breck said, looking at him inquisitively.

“You would have to know them, but yes, they’ve adjusted from what Terry says.  As if things hadn’t changed and I’ve known them since before all that and they’ve been fine and really liked being at her house.  She’s says funny stuff like, “If you’re lean on luck and short of blessings isn’t it better to be wiser than others, and when Terry learned to drive she told him not to drive faster than his brain would go.  There’s something about a firefly, but I don’t remember what it is.  She’s got a lot of them, it’s pretty funny stuff.”  Josh answered with confidence.

The three young men laughed.

Oswald looked at him, “She sounds like an amazing woman.”

Josh finished chewing his piece of steak, “She is and has always been really nice to me.”

“That’s a commendable thing for her to do Josh, taking them in like that.”  Breck said, acknowledging the favorable impact she’d had on him.

He thought of her, “Yes it is.  She’s someone that I won’t forget.  We joke with her all of the time and she takes really good.”

Oswald continued the somber discussion, “It’s pretty much the same at home.  Austerity measures have also been put in place by our government, although not nearly as bad as in the rest of the Euro-zone.  We also know people sustaining loses they’d never expected.  We never thought we’d ever see anything like it, when we listened to our grandfather and father talk about past financial crisis and such.”

“Me and Andrea either.  Dad and mom explained it to us and keep us informed.”  Josh agreed.

The three young men talked so long they’d just noticed the time, eight thirty.  They paid the check and headed for home.

Breck shook Josh’s hand as they exited the car, “Goodbye Josh.  Thank you for a great time.”

“You’re welcome.  Good luck to you in the service Breck and you Oswald, in the Peace Corp.  Have a good trip home.”

“Take care, Josh.”  Oswald said as Breck pulled out into the street.

The two young Fortt’s were tired and returned to the hotel with just enough time to pack and get to bed.

Even though the activity of the week caught up to them, they managed to get up early and over to Don’s house.  Several minutes passed before he came out.

When he met them in the driveway, Oswald began loading his bags from their trunk into Don’s, “Thank you for showing us around, while we’ve been here Don.”

“My pleasure men, glad to have you.  Your father will be proud of the job you’ve done for him.”  Don said, patting Oswald’s shoulder.

Breck shook his hand, pleased with the results of their trip, “We appreciate that, Don.”

“We’ll have to stop by the office quickly and then be on our way to return the car.  We can’t be late to the airport the damn traffic you know.”  Don said.

They agreed and drove to the office.

Between the windows blinds, Iva could only see the outlines of the Fortt’s heads in their car when they parked next to Don’s, as he pulled up.

Don looked at Breck in the driver’s seat as he grabbed his briefcase from his back seat, “There’s no need for all of us to go in.  I’ll be right back.”

Iva watched the two heads leaning forward, as they attempted to see through the window.  She tried to find definition to their faces from their silhouette’s and started to smile, recalling how funny their call had been and now how ridiculous it was becoming that they were trying to observe each other.

When Don came in the door, he passed her desk in a hurry, not noticing her head was bobbing back and forth, trying to get a look at his guests, “Good morning, Ms. Finder.”

“Good morning, Mr. Cliff.”

He walked in and then out of his office, “I’ll return in a few hours.  Mrs. Cliff is on her way.”

The phone rang, forcing her to put her inquisitive side to rest, “Yes sir.”  She answered it and assisted the caller but when she looked up, they were gone.

Chapter 5

The tighter the economy was getting, the more the tension increased on all of them to meet their delivery deadlines.  It made the weeks and months go by rapidly.  Before Iva fully realized it, she was through her second year of school and at Cliff-Fortt.

Iva started checking the previous days’ invoices, when the phone rang, “Good morning, Cliff-Fortt.”

“Good morning, Ms. Finder.”  Don said.

“Hello, Mr. Cliff.”

“Mrs. Cliff and I will be flying out on the first flight to London.  I’ll be gone for only a few days but Mrs. Cliff might stay longer, it’s hard to say.  We’ll be at the Fortt’s home.  You have the number if you need us in an emergency.  Otherwise, if you need help during the week, give Josh or Andrea a call, they’ll come in after school.”

“Yes, Mr. Cliff.”  She said, curious why they were going on such short notice.  Something had been unusual with the Fortt’s for the past six months but she didn’t know what.  Graham Fortt stopped calling during the day, speaking with Don at home, who would relay to her what instructions he’d given for shipments to go there and his son’s hadn’t called at all.  She kept out of the Cliff’s personal business unless they said something, which they didn’t.

The days were hectic for her while they were gone.  Josh and Andrea helped her one day when orders built up, but otherwise everything was done on schedule.  Don and Gwen left and then came back together after five days.

Don called to Iva from his office, “Ms. Finder.”

Iva went to his door and looked in, “Yes, Mr. Cliff.”

He smiled at her, “You’ve done an excellent job and are deserving of a raise.  You will see it on your next paycheck.”

She was grateful he’d taken notice, “Thank you, Mr. Cliff.”

In London, more than two years passed since the Fortt brothers were last in their father’s office.  Their mother and uncle helped Graham until their return, which finally came.

Breck unlocked and opened the office front door, walked in, looked around with Oswald right behind, “It’s the same.”

Oswald put his hand on his brother’s shoulder, “Yes.  It’s good to be back.”

Their first day back to work was spent familiarizing themselves with the invoices and shipments their father told them about over the past weekend, they worked diligently until it was time for home.  The brothers continued working uninterrupted all week.  When Friday arrived, they’d caught up enough to relax.

Breck looked at his brother with the same smile Oswald remembered he’d had when he’d first thought of Iva, “I think we should give our Iva a call.  Josh says that she’s been running the place whenever Don and Gwen are gone.”

“Good idea.  Let’s not tell her who we are straight off, see if she remembers us.”  Oswald said, happily encouraging any romantic ideas Breck might have in her direction, now that he was home permanently.

“Yes, I’ll be astounded if she hasn’t thought that I…, we’ve…, forgotten about her.”

Oswald picked up the phone and dialed the Cliff’s number, “How about if we find out?”

As abrupt as their first visit was, the Fortt brother’s return was equally as sudden, “Good morning, Cliff-Fortt.”

The men’s semi-familiar voices were on their speaker phone, “Hello, Ms. Finder.”

“Hello.  May I help you?”  She asked, staring at the painting of a table with assorted china and glass on it, hanging across the room, glad to hear from them.

Both replied, “Possibly.”

She played along, relieved that whatever kept them away was apparently over, “If you give me a hint …”

“You want a hint?  Right!  We are the ones you refused to meet when we visited you more than two years ago.”  Oswald answered.

She mumbled quietly, “I don’t recall refusing to meet you, it just never happened.”

“Refused isn’t the right word.  How about chose not to stay at work to meet, when we went to the office.”

Iva instantly recalled, “Don was with you, I couldn’t just leave my desk.”

“Poor excuse, we were also there the day before.”  Breck grinned.

“I had no idea.”

Oswald couldn’t resist, “Our father sent us all the way to California to meet you and this is what we get.  Really, Breck, she tries to wound our hearts.”

She heard them laughing, “If you would have told me you’d be stopping in, I probably could have stayed.”

Breck was pleased, “You’re not easy to surprise…”

“That’s why it’s taken us this many years to get over it.”  Oswald added.

“I’m sorry, you’ve obviously been suffering.  Which one are you?”  Iva said, trying to get them to identify themselves, when they spoke.

“She doesn’t recognize me Breck!”

He grinned, “It is a pity, but just as well.  I knew she preferred me, she knows my voice.  Isn’t that right? Ms. Finder.”

Iva did know his voice but didn’t let on, she tried to keep from laughing, “Since we’ve never actually met, I …”

Breck turned to Oswald, “Insult after insult Iva throws at us.  How are we expected to ever recover?”

She needed an easy, generic way out to stop their comedy, “Mr. and Mrs. Cliff aren’t in right now. Would you like either of them call you, Mr. Fortt’s?”

“Thank you, Ms. Finder.  That’s most kind of you.  We’ll not mention your disregard for us to them.  We are after all, gentlemen.”  Oswald said.

Her eyes widened by the statement, “Thank you.  There’s no need to guess why Josh mentions you so often, and why you get along with him so well.”

Breck was amused, “Lovely sense of humor he has, doesn’t he Breck?”

“Yes, it’s admirable.”  His older brother agreed, as they began talking to each other as if she weren’t listening.

“I’ll give the Cliff’s your message.  Is there anything else I can do to be of help?”  Iva asked, wanting to be as polite and useful to them as the Cliff’s would expect her to be.

“Yes, there is.  You can expect the shipment of plates Gwen ordered in a few days.”  Breck said.

“I will let her know, she’s been anxious to have them, thank you.  Is there anything else?”

Oswald gave a subtle warning of things to come, “Not for now Ms. Finder, thank you.  We look forward to future calls, like this one.”

Despite their mirth, it pleased her that they were well, “Thank you, I look forward to them.  Have a nice evening Mr.’s Fortt’s, goodbye.”

Both brothers’ replied, “Goodbye, Ms. Finder.”

Their exchange made her nervous as she hung up the phone.  She resolved to not be pulled into their casual demeanor, which wasn’t flirtatious or harassing, but rather interesting, which if used to preoccupy the listener, could be lethal during working hours.  They weren’t the only cordial males who’d called there for business and tried to engage her in talking too much about trivial things while at her job.  Iva knew months before that she’d grown into her position, when she mastered the art of changing topics or ending phone

calls that were going to long.

They continued to call once and sometimes twice a month, over the past year.  Their humor became more creative each time.  She kept her responses to a minimum, even though they assured her it was for fun and that any friend of Josh and Andrea’s, would be treated well by them.  They reaffirmed that they remembered what she’d asked of them and that she wouldn’t be taken advantage of.

In the time she’d been with Cliff-Fortt, they’d only made the one visit to California that she was aware of, but knew that when their family did come to America, it was always to New York.  That was where the Cliff and Fortt families met and where business was conducted.  As months passed, her curiosity about what they looked like faded.  She assumed meeting them was an improbability and kept them as two funny guys who taunted her at every opportunity.

Iva was busy preparing for her college graduation which was one week away.  It was as much a surprise to Iva as it was to her sister, that her grandma saved all her room and board money during high school and gave it back to her before she entered college, which helped with her first year’s tuition.  She was leaving school penniless but not in debt, so the idea of borrowing a formal dress wasn’t as repulsive as it was when they’d had money.  Her friend’s sister had her old graduation dress, a blue and white sleeveless, knee length with a cinched waist.  It fit well enough for pictures and she was glad to have anything that no one had seen her in for the last four years.

Case and their grandmother had a party planned for her, the following day.  It was hard for Iva not to be distracted by the thought of how happy she would be, not having to do so many hours in one day anymore and the beautiful uninterrupted sleep she’d be able to enjoy.  There were quite a few students that she’d met, who were in the same predicament as herself, having to go to both work and school, they stayed together, trying not to bemoan the situation, pulling each other along but some gave up after a semester due to the strain of the ever rising tuition costs.  She’d considered it several times herself, but her sister had to do the same during the police academy and persuaded her that it could be done.  Without her family and the Cliff’s help, it wouldn’t have been possible for Iva to have gotten this part of her life done, and at the party would let them know it.  She had fun at her graduation and was eager to relinquish to the freshmen, the responsibility of having to keep their books open until the late hours of the night.

As she, Terry and their grandma arrived for her celebration, Iva looked at the elegant, simple table settings.  Case had her table, along with three borrowed with six chairs each, which were draped in linen’s she’d sewn herself for multi-use occasions.  She arranged mixed matched dishes that made the setting whimsical.  All of their mutual friends periodically suggested she do parties professionally but she always declined, saying that being a policewoman then ultimately a detective was her desire.

It was seven o’clock when Terry, Iva and their grandma returned home after an exhausting day, they said their goodnight’s and went to their rooms.

In the morning, after Terry left, the two Iva’s were alone.  The elder offered her younger to stay for another year or two, until she could save and afford an apartment of her own, now that all her money didn’t have t o go toward school and lodging.  She not only wanted to, but had to, because unbeknownst to her grandma, she was still in debt to Bruce for the payment to their mom.  Iva junior said yes, insisting on paying rent just as she’d been doing, and that it wasn’t to be returned since her income was stable and there were no more large expenses she could foresee.  Her grandmother admired her independence and agreed.

Saving money was natural for Iva, she’d learned well.  She doubled her efforts to repay Bruce, not buying anything unnecessary and saving the rest.  It took her all of six months to get every financial thing in order, so she could look for a place of her own, then another six months to build her savings more.

The time had come when Iva was well enough prepared, to be on her own.  Leaving her grandma would be hard for both of them, but was made easier with Terry still there to help her for another year, until he finished college.  After looking at several apartments, Iva found a room above a garage which was converted into an apartment, with kitchenette, bathroom and its own separate entrance up the outside stairs.  It was around the corner and down the street from her grandmother.  She put down a deposit then planned for the next four weeks on how her few things would look.

“Grandma, I’m all packed.”  Iva said with tears forming in her eyes as she watched her making dinner.

The elderly woman looked up from her chopping, but didn’t make eye contact, “You haven’t forgotten anything Iva, have you?”

Her granddaughter’s tears began to trickle, “No, other than to let you know how patient you’ve been with me and how much of an understanding of the world I have due to you, which I don’t think I could have gotten anywhere else.  You don’t know how much you mean to me grandma.”

“Oh, my dear, don’t cry.  You get as much credit.  All the words would never have meaning if you’d not been a good listener.”  Her grandma said gently, walking slowly toward her, with her arms stretched out for an embrace.

She hugged her as if she were going far away and wouldn’t be able to come back.  The older Iva kissed her granddaughter’s cheek, “As I told Case when she left, the three of you have been a pleasure for me to have here.  You’ve accomplished a great deal.  I’m very proud of you.”

Iva longed to not let go, “Thank you, grandma.  I will do my best for you.”

“Remember, if there’s anything you need, you just call me.  You are after all, only around the block. You will be expected to have Sunday dinner with me, just like everyone else.”

She was grateful for her grandma’s care, “I know and will remember.”

It was moving day.  Her brother’s, uncle, sister and brother-in-law helped with taking her things.  She was now responsible for herself, even though the couple who owned the place lived down the stairs from her, she still felt on her own.  Within hours, Iva, her grandmother and Case made her place look as chic as they could, with some of the old furniture, which seemed like antiques to them now, that their grandma gave Case when she moved out but no longer needed, since she and Andy bought some of their own.

Iva took full advantage of the weekend, Monday morning it would be back to work.

Don and Gwen came into work at nine every morning, unless they told Iva different.  Now that her hours changed to eight until four thirty, this gave her a full hour to get the previous day’s invoices, notes and messages in order of priority and put neatly on their desks.

The phone rang continuously for Don and Gwen, who’d left to meet with manufacturer’s and said they wouldn’t be back.  Don let her know the previous week that she and Andrea would be going to New York on business with him, now that Andrea’s school was out for summer.  From the time he’d told her, Iva’s expectation that the week would be long was coming true, an ordinary eight hour day felt like it was twelve, she’d not been on a trip since before going to her grandma’s.  Glancing at the clock, it was four twenty five, almost time for her to leave.  Iva put the invoices in her tray in chronological order, to finish in the morning.  She took a quick look around to make certain everything was neatly arranged then set the alarm and locked the front door, leaving for home.

When she walked into her apartment it was five.  She called her sister to remind her of the trip but there was no answer, Case’s voicemail came on, so she left a message, “Hello Case, it’s me Iva.  Please call me when you get this. Goodbye.”

She started sorting her clothes, deciding on what she wanted to take, when her phone rang.  It was a mad dash across the tiny kitchenette to get it.

Iva had her white blouse in her hand when she answered, “Hello.”

“Hello Iva, how’s everything?”  Her sister asked hurriedly.

“Hello Case, everything’s fine.  Do you remember my trip to New York with Don and Andrea?”

“Yes.  Are the elusive Fortt’s going to meet with Don?”

“Usually that’s where they go but Don hasn’t said anything about them being there.”

“That’s too bad.  What days are you going to be gone for?”

Iva went back to her closet and hung up the blouse, “The seventh through the thirteenth.  And, I was wondering if you could get my mail while I’m gone?”

“Sure.  I’ll put it on your table by the sofa.  You’d better pack warm things.  The newspaper says it’s cold and rainy there.”

“I will.  Thank you, Case.  I’ll call you when I get back.”

“Have a good trip and be safe.  I have to get going, Andy will be home any minute and I want to feed Janine dinner, before I go to work.  I love you, goodbye.”

“I love you too, Case.  Goodbye.”  She said as she giddily hung up, happy that in a week she would be on her way.

As the week progressed, she picked out her things to take on the trip, sweater, skirt, suit, pants, her heavy gray woolen coat, walking shoes and high heels.”

Iva thumbed through her desk drawer looking for a note pad to take when she saw the passport Gwen insisted she get, when she’d renewed hers.  She said it would be better to have one ready in case she or Don needed her, Josh or Andrea to go with either of them out of the country in the future.  She looked at it, wondering if it would ever be used, then returned to her original search.     

It was Sunday night, Iva picked up the phone to call to her grandmother.

 “Hello.”  The older Iva answered.

“Hello grandma.  I’m calling before I leave.”

She was firm, “I want you to have a good trip but also a safe one.  Don’t go wandering off from Mr. Cliff.”

“Yes, I will.  And no, I won’t, grandma.”

“Good.  Call me the day after you return.”

“I will, grandma.”

“I love you, Iva.”

“I’ll be safe grandma and I love you, too.”

“Goodnight dear.”

“Goodnight, grandma.”

Iva packed late in the morning, Don and Andrea would be there to pick her up at noon.  It wouldn’t

be dark when they landed and she secretly hoped that he’d booked a window seat, so she could look out when they got there.

She stood outside as they pulled up to the house.

“This should be fun Iva.  We’ve never been on a trip together.”  Andrea said as she got into the car.

Iva smiled at her with the same anticipation, “I’ve been looking forward to it.”

They got to the airport two hours early as required.  She and Andrea kept busy with rounds of cards to pass the time, while Don read his newspaper.  After patiently waiting, it was boarding time.

Don did book a window seat, which they let her sit in.  The flight had been smooth and uneventful as the Captain announced that they would be arriving on time.

Iva’s eyes lit up, she marveled at the skyline not having seen it before, but knew she wasn’t able to compare it to when the towers were there.  The plane set up for its approach to the runway, she thought it an impressive sight.

After disembarking, they started toward the luggage with the crowd of fliers.

“Please stay together you two.”  Don said firmly to the two young women.

His daughter wasn’t paying attention to him, “What if you meet someone, Iva?”

He became impatient with his youngest, “None of that Andrea.  Ms. Finder is here for work, as are you. No one’s going off and finding a boyfriend. “

Andrea gave a sigh as she grabbed Iva by the arm, “I think it would be so romantic daddy for Iva to find love in New York.”

“She’ll be doing no such thing Andrea.  Ms. Finder’s being paid to help, not run off with a stranger.”  Her father repeated, diminishing her hopes for any excitement.

They retrieved their bags and headed for a cab.

“Daddy, if I know you, I’ll have to stay with you and mom, forever.”

Don smiled, amused by his daughter’s imagination, as he held the cab door open for them, “You’re right, you will.  But, at least, you’ll be a beautiful, well educated shut in.”

She pleaded as she jumped into the car, “Iva, help me out.”

“Please keep me out of family disputes Andrea, or at least the ones you’re losing.”  Iva whispered to her with a smile as she turned her head and looked away from his desperate daughter.

They stayed quiet on the way to the hotel.  After arriving Don checked them in then they made their way into the elevator and down the hall to their rooms on the sixth floor.

Don paused for a minute, pondering whether or not to give them the outer room with the view of the city, he and Gwen hadn’t spoiled their children thus far and didn’t want to give his daughter the impression he was starting on a different thinking.  He lowered his head, handing Iva their key cards for the room that would delight them and then pointed at his door, “Okay.  Ms. Finder, you and Andrea are in here.  I’m right across from your room.  We’ll meet here at six thirty for dinner.  And, there will be no going off to explore without me, understood.”

Iva took the key, looked at her watched to see how much time they had to unpack, “Yes, sir.  We’ll

be here, ready to go.”

Andrea and Iva put their clothes away then cleaned up for dinner, while admiring their view of the city as sunset was nearing.  It occurred to Iva that Don treated his daughter as less of an independent woman than she, even though Andrea was already nineteen, which by all appearances, Andrea didn’t mind and in fact seemed to appreciate.

During dinner Iva looked at Andrea, glad she wasn’t off on one of her romantic rambles, so they could eat peacefully.  They took a walk after to see the city lights.  The cold air made it difficult to get very far so they turned back to the hotel to turn in for the night.

Don didn’t want either one to oversleep, “You two need to be dressed by eight for breakfast.  We have a busy day tomorrow.”

“Yes, we’ll be ready, daddy.”  Andrea answered, determined she was going to be invaluable to him on this trip.

“Andrea, remember.  It’s Mr. Cliff during working hours.  Don’t forget.”

“I won’t, daddy.”

He shook his head and went into his room.

The two young women got to bed early, but with the stimulation of youth running through their veins, couldn’t fall asleep.

“I like your ideas of romance Andrea but aren’t you worried that your dad will leave you at home, out of fear that you’ll run off with a guy he doesn’t know?”  Iva asked.

“No, he knows I just dream about who I’m going to marry, he hears me telling my mom all the time.”

Iva smiled thinking about a mom who was patient enough to listen to their child’s dreams, “Okay.”

“You dream about what boy, or man, I mean, that you’re going to marry, don’t you, Iva?”

“I…”  She started to answer, then realized she hadn’t, “Don’t think about it, I’ve been too busy.”

Iva wanted to complete the sentence fully; that she’d been too busy saving herself from poverty, but stopped herself.  Those thoughts were reserved solely for her siblings.  She liked Andrea and was thankful that she would never know that being without money was unbelievably difficult.

“Mine has to be like my dad.”

Iva’s head shifted in her pillow, “It’s good that you know.  I guess if I had to think of what kind of man I’d get along with best, they would probably be like my Uncle James or brothers.  They are fair and considerate with people.  It takes time and a lot of dates to sift through those that have asked me out, I haven’t met one that is like them, yet.”

“I’ve already brought boys home that dad and mom scrutinized inside and out, like one of their pieces, but they saw the flaws, instead of the pattern that I saw, pointing out our differences.”

She liked Andrea’s metaphor, “They’re probably making sure you’re similar in pattern to the person you’re with.  It seems like a caring way of being, for parents.”

“And, what if the planet runs out of guys that don’t have the same pattern as us?  Then what will we do?”

Iva laughed, shocked by her calculation, “That would be horribly unfortunate.”

“Do you think men wonder about who they’ll find as much as we do, Iva?”

“The ones who are interested, they’re looking the same as we are, but I don’t know if their willing to talk about it in the middle of the night with their roommate like we do.”

Andrea yawned, “It would have been nice to have a sister like you, Iva.  You have Case and it’s not that Josh isn’t a good brother, but he just doesn’t understand my things.”

“I am your friend and want what your mom and dad want, which is to see that you’re happy and stay married for a long time, the same as they are.”  Iva said, pleased that Andrea was listening and understood.

“So do I Iva, for you too.”  Andrea answered as she yawned again, half asleep.

Iva felt herself nodding off, relaxation taking her into slumber, “Thank you Andrea.”

When the buzzer on the alarm went off at seven, Iva reached over, turning it off.  She sat with her feet hanging off the bed for a minute and then woke up Andrea.  They dressed and went out the door as Don opened his.

Both young women smiled at him, “Good morning.”

“Good morning Andrea, Ms. Finder.  Let’s go.”  He said, leading them to the elevator.

Andrea looked at him, “Mr. Cliff, I’m Ms. Cliff, remember.”

He laughed, “Yes you are.  Please go to the elevator you two.”

After breakfast they started off to work.  The first manufacturer required taking a cab, as did the second, but from there the third was within walking distance.  Twenty minutes passed when Don realized he’d forgotten an order.  He began writing it on a blank inventory slip, “Ms. Finder, please go back to the last company.  I’ve forgotten a pattern of stemware that Mrs. Cliff wants to sell.”

“Do you want me to meet you back here, Mr. Cliff?”  Iva asked, looking at him inquiringly.

Don handed her the slip of paper, “Yes, it shouldn’t take you long, the place is right down the street. This is the number and quantity.  We’ll be here when you’re done.”

She took off as quickly as she could, hurrying through the crowd of people.  Iva remembered that the company was about six store fronts past the alley.  As she approached it, a disheveled man came out from around its corner.

What the heck?  Her voice shouted inside her head, having been startled by nearly bumping into him.

The man held out his hand, “You got any money?”

“No, sorry I don’t.”  Iva answered, honestly.

“Some loose change?”  He persisted, not letting her be on her way.

Her voice was pleasant, yet firm, as she tried to pass, “No, I don’t.”

She heard Don’s voice shout, “Ms. Finder, please come here.”

As he closed in behind her, she turned her head, noticing that people were staring at the two of them.

The man went back from where he came.

Don looked down at her, “Are you alright Ms. Finder?”

“Yes, he just surprised me.”  Iva said, calmly.

“I gave you the wrong quantity and here you are.”  Don said, panting from his unexpected sprint.

She caught her breath, grateful for his assistance, “Thank you for following me.  This is so…”

Iva wasn’t puzzled by the event, it happened at home from time to time, with more people becoming unemployed and who now needed whatever spare change people could give.

He looked down the alley, making sure the man was gone, “Don’t take it hard, Ms. Finder.  It’s my fault.”

They continued to the manufacturers, placed the order then started back to the company where Don left Andrea.  After returning for her and finishing with their last appointment, they walked down the street to get some lunch.

“Andrea let me tell you what happened.”  Iva whispered, putting her arm into Andrea’s as they walked, with Don behind them.

She recounted what occurred, knowing Andrea’s pension for brave and romantic episodes.

Andrea stopped, turned to face her father, thrilled that her dad wasn’t too old to foil a mischievous guy, “Wow daddy, sorry, Mr. Cliff, how brave of you.”

“I was glad to have been there.”  Don said with a smile, proud that his daughter thought he was the reliable hero she should be hoping to meet.

Business trip or not, Andrea leaned up and kissed his cheek, “I’m going to tell Mrs. Cliff how you came to Iva’s rescue, when we get home.  She’ll be so excited.”

“We’re here.  And, I won’t be sending either of you off on your own again.”  Don said, reflecting on his mistake as he opened the restaurant door.

The three spent the rest of the day walking the streets, looking at the buildings.  He explained how the city at its beginning was made of wood and that with time and because of its proximity as a superior shipping center, it’s remained an active place for commerce.

It was eerily beautiful cold weather, when Don stopped and stared down the street.  He’d shown his children, on their trip three years prior, the site where the Twin Towers once stood, but knew Iva hadn’t ever been to New York.  He decided to choke up the words once again for her, “Ms. Finder, over there is where the Tower’s stood.”

“Oh.”  Was the only sound she could think to utter, it wasn’t an exciting tourist attraction.  Her recollection of the news footage was alarmingly clear, it was the reason her older brother served and why Terry and Don’s son were going to serve at the end of the summer.

He explained that September eleventh was different from Pearl Harbor because there was more than fifteen hundred, armed sleeping soldiers.  But, that in the Towers, it was over three thousand, unarmed, just awakened civilians, starting their day.  He unintentionally sounded disgusted as he talked about the comparison, saying that had there been a draft, it might not be as prolonged as it has and that to this day he couldn’t figure out why war bonds were never issued to pay for the damn thing.  The two young women listened, patiently.  Don abruptly changed the topic to better thoughts.  The young women wanted to see more and hear more, but he said they had to get back to the hotel by six for dinner.

After they finished eating in the hotel restaurant, Don, Andrea and Iva sat at the table with their dessert, checking off the patterns and quantities they’d ordered during the day.

The rest of their trip was fruitful, which allowed time for sightseeing, once their work was done.

Don unlocked his room door as they opened theirs, “Goodnight ladies.  In the morning, meet me downstairs at seven thirty, our plane leaves at eleven.”

Iva confirmed, “We’ll be there, ready to leave, Mr. Cliff.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight daddy.”  Andrea said with a smile as she walked into the room behind Iva when she got the door open.

The two young women awoke by six forty five, dressed and started packing.

Andrea finished putting her things into her suitcase, “I like it here in New York.  There are a lot of nice people.”

“Yes, there are, I like it too.”  Iva agreed as she put her last few things into the case.

Don was at the front desk checking out when they got out of the elevator.

“We hope you’ve enjoyed your stay, Sir.  The bellhop will be right out with your bags.”  The desk clerk said.

He picked up his briefcase, “We did, thank you.  We will wait outside.”

Don led the two young women out the door, within minutes their bags were brought out.  They waited not more than another five before a cab arrived.  The travelers got to the airport where Andrea and Iva resumed playing cards until it was time to leave.

“Thank you for having me come on this trip, Mr. Cliff.”  Iva said as they boarded the plane.

“You’re welcome, Ms. Finder, you’ve been very helpful.  You will have the weekend to recuperate.” Don replied as he pulled up the rear.

Their flight was on time, they were heading home.  After disembarking and collecting their things, along with the drive home, it was two thirty when Don dropped Iva off.

She opened her front door, waving to them as they pulled away then dropped herself on her sofa, picked up the phone, called Case and her grandmother to let them know she was back.

As soon as Andrea walked into their house, she told the story of Iva and the man from the alley to Gwen and Josh, with a far more melodramatic version than Iva gave.

“How wonderful, Don.  Kids, I’m not surprised at all by your dad.  He’s been relied upon a couple of times that I’m aware of and has always come through for others.”  Gwen said with a smiling.

 Josh, just as his sister did, saw a side to him that he wasn’t aware of, “Good job dad.”

“It was good timing to be behind her and now that you know of my heroics, I have to take a much needed nap.  Gwen, will you please wake me for dinner?”  He asked, looking at his children with a well concealed smile, as he got up.

Gwen nodded, “Yes, it will be ready in an hour.”

As they went off in different directions, Josh looked at the clock, figured out the time difference

between California and England and decided that it wasn’t too early to call the Fortt’s.

“Hello.”  The man answered.

“Hello, Oswald, it’s Josh.”

“It’s good to hear from you.  How is everything with you and school?”

“I’m fine and school’s going good.  I’ve got some hard classes but I’ll be done next spring.  After that, I’ll be over to see you before I enlist.”

“We’ll be glad to have you.  So, you’ve told your dad then?”

“Yes, two weeks ago.  He was a little surprised but I had Bruce, Iva’s brother, here at the house for some support.  We talked about it.  I reminded him that I’ve already done what he’s asked of me by going to college and let him know that I didn’t want to start into the business before I’d done something on my own.  He didn’t argue against it.”  Josh answered, confident that he’d made the right decision.

“You’ll do well, I’m sure.  Now what can I do for you?”  Oswald asked, recalling Josh’s mentioning of Bruce.

“Oh no, it’s what I can do for you.  Listen, you’ve said Breck thinks about Iva and wanted to meet her when you were here.  So, play along with me with what I’m about to tell you.”

Oswald sat up with intrigue, “Go on.”

Josh gave him the tale of event’s that Andrea described.

Oswald frowned, repeating loudly what Josh was saying but with twists, for the benefit of his brother,

“Your dad sent Iva out alone in the streets of New York.  She was accosted in an alley by a strange man who came out from the shadows.”

Josh told him she wasn’t out of his dad’s view the whole time and was completely fine, not in any danger, which Oswald didn’t repeat.

Breck stood up from the sofa he was laying on when he overheard the news, “What is he saying Oswald?”

He raising his hand to pause his brother, “Breck, let Josh speak.”

Breck walked back and forth with curiosity, “Unbelievable, what a terrible thing to happen.  Is our Ms. Finder, alright?”

Josh overheard him and knew he’d told the right person, finding the exaggeration the story took to be very funny, “Is, OUR Ms. Finder what Breck calls her?  How can he possibly like someone he hasn’t met?  That’s interesting.”

Oswald made Josh sound hysterically upset, “Yes.  Please Josh, try to control yourself.”

            He covered the phone, turned to Breck to fuel the fire of angst under his brother, “The chap is absolutely beside himself with emotion over the whole thing.  Deeply concerned for Ms. Finder’s safety, he is.”  Then he went back to his practical joke partner, “We owe you a debt of gratitude for the information.  When we have Ms. Finder on the phone, we’ll certainly ask how she is.  And, I can speak for Breck when I say that I’m glad she’s alright.”

            “When I’m there, you can introduce me to some of the girls you know for this Oswald.”

            “Without a doubt, and should any more information pass your way that you see fit to forward it to us, give a ring and there’ll be several awaiting you.”

            “Excellent, that’s exactly what I was hoping for.”

            Oswald played on Breck’s emotional well being, “Absolutely.  I must hang up Josh.  Breck and I are in state, as I’m sure you can imagine.”

            Josh laughed, “Yes, I can.  Talk to you later, Oswald.”

            “Goodbye Josh.”  Oswald said, hanging up the phone with all the vigor a concerned brother and friend has.

            “Breck, it could happen to anyone, the odds are probably very large I’ll admit, but it could happen.  No, I think this happens all the time and it’s merely a coincidence that it happened to her.”  He said, bowing his head to hide his smile, which he’d never do if it were a real tale of bodily harm.

            Breck sat across from him.  Knowing his brother as he did, he looked at him skeptically, “If this is a joke Oswald, it isn’t funny.  We may only know of her, but she’s always been pleasant and we’ve pulled some pretty wild stuff.  She’s never been angry with us or called us out to the Cliff’s, at least that we know of and we would have known by now, if she had.”

            Oswald watched him, but it was getting late, he thought it best to let him in on the details and knew when to stop if things became apparent that Breck was getting too serious, “Alright, this is the way it was.  Josh said it was daylight.  Don was right behind her when it happened and saw everything.  She was never out of his view, he yelled for her so the guy would know she wasn’t alone, the guy left and it was done.”

            They’d never come close to a fist fight, but once when they were young, Oswald saw his brother take on a bigger kid who was picking on a neighbor girl.  He saw him fight with the passion and intensity of a father for his infant.  Oswald had the same sense of paternity and it annoyed him that due to his back injury, he couldn’t act on it, especially if the accosted were weaker than he, unless the threat of loss of life was imminent to the person.

Breck stood, patted his brother on the shoulder as he began to pass him, “That’s better.  It doesn’t sound like Don to send a woman out, if there were a possibility of harm to her.  Thank you for the information Oswald, although it’s not a good prank by your standards.”  

            “No, it’s not, but it’s not all together bad, either.”  He said as he turned his head with a smile when Breck started up the stairs.

            The seven days since their return from New York went by slowly.  Iva periodically daydreamed of going back there for a vacation to see more.

Chapter 6

            Four months passed, Don had been to Canada during that time, which made Iva hope she could vacation there sometime.

            “Good morning, Cliff-Fortt imports.”  Iva answered while putting her purse in her desk drawer.

            “Hello Ms. Finder, Graham Fortt here.”

            “Hello, Mr. Fortt.  How can I help you?”

            “Has Mr. or Mrs. Cliff arrived yet?”

            “No sir.  Not yet.”

            “Please have one of them ring me as soon as they’re in.”

            Iva could hear the urgency in his voice, “Yes, I will sir.”

            “Thank you, Ms. Finder.  Have a good evening, goodbye.”

            “You have a nice one also, Mr. Fortt.  Goodbye.”

She wrote down the message then started on the stack of lists and invoices she’d left on Friday.

            The phone rang again, “Good morning, Cliff-Fortt imports.”

            “Ms. Finder.  It’s Oswald and Breck Fortt.”

            “Hello Mr. Fortt’s.  May I help you?”

“Have Mr. or Mrs. Cliff come in?”  Oswald asked.

Iva didn’t know what to make of the overlap, “No, they haven’t.  Your father’s just called for them.”

            He continued, “Beat us to it, did he?”

Breck entered the conversation, “Ms. Finder, have our last orders been filled?”

            “Yes, they were shipped last Thursday.  If there’s a problem, I can call them at home.”

            She was nonchalant about knowing their voices, they enjoyed thinking they confused her by not identifying themselves so she left them to their fun.

            “Urgent stuff, nothing you should worry about.”  Oswald said.

            “I’ll give them the message to call your father and yourselves when they get here.”

            “Thank you.”  Breck said.

            She wanted to shorten the call, being behind in her work, “You’re welcome.  Is there anything else I can help you with Mr. Fortt’s?”

            “No thank you, Ms. Finder.  Have a good afternoon.”

            “Thank you.  You have one too.  Goodbye.”

            “We didn’t call her out on the New York trip.”  Oswald said with disappointment.

Breck saw the time and prodded his brother to get back to their inventories, “It isn’t important Oswald.”

            Back in California, Don walked in the front door first.

            “Good morning Mr. Cliff.  Mr. Fortt and sons have called for you and Mrs. Cliff.”  Iva informed him as she put down the paper she was working on.

            “Good morning Ms. Finder, thank you.  Hold any calls until I’m done with them.”  Don said as he began to close his office door.

            “Yes sir.”

            Gwen came in next, smiling and greeting Iva as she always did.

            Iva relayed the message again, adding, “Mr. Cliff’s on the phone with them now.”

            “Good.  Oh, by the way Ms. Finder.  Mr. Cliff and I are having lunch today and after Mr. Cliff will be leaving for an unexpected meeting with new clients at Crystal Products, and I have an appointment until four o’clock.”  She said, going toward the door of her office.

            “Yes, Mrs. Cliff.”

Iva was glad Don would be gone.  She had a lot to do as she looked around at the growing stacks, and continued on with her day.

            He opened his door after a half hour, “Mrs. Cliff would you please come in here?”

            “Yes, I’ll be right there.”

            After a few minutes she walked across the lobby, went into his office, closing the door behind her.

            “Gwen, I’ve been on the phone with Graham.  He says the merchants would like their payment by next Tuesday.  The debt crisis in Europe keeps growing and they want cash payments for the foreseeable future.  Since they’re sole Proprietor’s I don’t blame them.  We’ve had to make adjustments like that, ourselves.  I’ll have to wire transfer one hundred thousand dollars by tomorrow in order for the bank there to process it, Graham can take care of it or I’ll do it after I arrive.  Please talk to Gladys at the bank and let her know I’ll be there in the morning.”

            She nodded in agreement over the European situation and how they themselves needed to make adjustments in doing business, “Yes Don.”

            “Thank you Gwen.”  Don said, smiling into her hazel eyes which set his heart ablaze.  He watched his wife with her light red hair and porcelain complexion as she left his office.

            “You’re welcome.”

            Iva looked up at her as she exited, admiring how well they worked together.

            “Ms. Finder.  Please get Mrs. Marshall from the bank on the phone and put it straight through to me.  Also, would you take all other calls?  I’ll return them when I get back, later this afternoon.”

            “Yes, Mrs. Cliff.  They’ll be here on my desk for you.”

            “Thank you.”

            “You’re welcome.”

            Iva didn’t notice the time until the Cliff’s emerged from their offices and started to leave for lunch.

            “If I don’t see you when I get back, please leave any notes along with the phone messages.  Thank you, Ms. Finder.”  Gwen said, walking past her with a smile.

            “Yes, Mrs. Cliff, Mr. Cliff.  Goodbye.”

            “Goodbye.”  They both replied as Don opened the front door for her.

            It was four thirty, Gwen hadn’t returned when it was time for Iva to leave.  She left the notes and messages, grabbed her purse then locked up.

            Gwen came back to the office at four forty five.  She finished returning the calls to clients, while taking care of the paperwork on her desk.  The phone rang.

            “Cliff-Fortt imports.”  She answered.

            The woman on the other end identified herself, “This is Nurse Emily Clark at Mercy Hospital.  Is Mrs. Cliff there?”

            Gwen’s body froze, “Yes, this is she.”

            “We’re expecting Don Cliff here within a few minutes.  He’s been in an accident and is being transported.”

            “Can you tell me what’s happened and if he will be alright?”  Gwen asked as she reached across her desk for a tissue to wipe the tears that had formed in her eyes.

            “He needs surgery, everything will be explained when you get her.”  The nurse said professionally.

            She pulled her purse out of the drawer, “Thank You, Nurse Clark.  I’ll be right there.”

            Gwen didn’t falter, thinking immediately to leave messages for Josh and Andrea on their phones, as she checked the time.  By her estimate they would be driving home from school right about now.  The messages she left gave minimal information, only enough so they’d know to meet her at the hospital.

            Her mind darted from one thought to another.  Suddenly, she remembered to call Gladys at the bank again, it was almost five and would be closing.

            “Gladys Marshall, business accounts manager.”

            “Hello Gladys, it’s Gwen Cliff, again.  Don’s been in an accident.  He won’t be in to sign the wire transfer tomorrow.  I’ll come instead.”

            Gladys dreaded the dilemma facing her customer, “Mrs. Cliff, I’m sorry about Mr. Cliff.  There is, however, a problem.  A wire transfer can’t be done without his signature.  I’m sorry but you’re not authorized to do it.”

            She paused, thinking to herself aloud as she wiped away tears, “Oh, no.  Um, let me think, we’ve talked about me being a signer but I’ve procrastinated, knowing Don would always be here.”  An idea came to her, “It’s too late to call the England folks but what if you get a check ready to be hand delivered and I’ll sign it?”

            “Of course, that was for one hundred thousand.”

            “Yes.”

            Gladys wasn’t taken off guard; she’d been doing the large amounts the Cliff’s wired to their partners for ten years.

            “I’ll have it ready for you when you arrive.  The funds however, won’t be available until I receive a call that the bank in England has received it.”

            “That will be fine, Thank you.  I’ll be there at nine o’clock.”  Gwen confirmed and then hung up, grabbed her purse and keys then rushed to the front door, locking it behind her after it swung shut.

            She drove as safely to the hospital as she could.

Gwen approached the admitting desk, “Could you please page Nurse Clark for me?  I’m Gwen Cliff.  My husband’s been brought in and is having surgery.”

            Nurse Clark came within minutes and led her toward a room filled with other people, “Mrs. Cliff, Dr. May is currently in surgery with Mr. Cliff.  I’m sorry but that’s all I can tell you right now.  Please stay in the waiting room, the Police officer is waiting for you and the Doctor will come see you when he’s finished.”

            The policeman explained that he was broadside by a truck and gave his card where she could call to keep on top of the case.  As Gwen tried to sort out her thoughts, a half hour passed and a Doctor came toward her.

            He introduced himself, “Mrs. Cliff, I’m Dr. May.”

            She clasped her handkerchief in her hand, “Hello Doctor, how is he?”

            “We’ve removed some glass and metal shards that were logged in his shoulder.  His left arm is fractured, left leg is broken, his right leg is severely bruised and he has some contusions, but he should be making a full recovery within six or seven weeks, after some physical therapy.”  The surgeon explained, looking into her weepy eyes.  With hesitation he said, “I’m sorry I’ve got to leave.”

            “Thank you Doctor.  It’s a blessing he’ll be alright.”  Gwen said gratefully as she returned to her seat.

“Mom, what’s happened?”  Josh asked his mother as he reached her, concerned and out of breath from running into the hospital, just after the Doctor left.

            She hugged her son, relaying the information she’d gotten from him and the policeman.

            Josh was confused, saying in disbelief, “Dad’s car was hit by a truck?”

            “Yes, it’s horrible.”

            “It’s a blessing it’s not worse, mom.  Andrea’s on her way.”  He said, putting his arm around her shoulder in an attempt to comfort her.

            Gwen reached into her purse for her phone, “That’s right, it could have been.  I’d better call Iva.  She’ll have to go to London for your father.  The Fortt’s are expecting him on Friday and you can’t be sent, you’ve got school.  I pray she’s available.  Josh, please watch for your sister.”

            He began looking in the direction of the emergency room entrance, “Yes, mom.”

            Iva drove up in front of the house, parked and gathered her stuff to go up to her apartment.  She could hear her phone ring as she put her key in the lock.  The door opened with a push, Iva raced to answer it as the door handle bounced off the wall, closing it slightly.

            “Hello.”  Iva said breathless, having caught the last ring before it went to message machine.

            Gwen spoke quickly, “Hello, Ms. Finder.”

            There was an immediately noticeable unfamiliar tremor to Gwen’s voice, something was wrong, “Yes, Hello Mrs. Cliff.”

            As Gwen explained the events, Iva went back and closed her door.

            “I’m sorry Mrs. Cliff, is there anything you need me to do?”

            “That’s why I’m calling.  Mr. Cliff will be recovering for four or more weeks, he won’t be able to go to London on Thursday.  You’re the only one I have to go for him.  That is, if you’re free to go?”  Gwen answered as she kept wiping her nose.

            Iva was shocked but gave no indication of it, wanting Gwen to stay calm, “You want me to go?”

            “Yes.  You’ll do a great job.  This business trip was scheduled two months ago and it’s far too late to cancel.”

            “I will go for you, I know it’s important.”

            Gwen reassured herself and tried to organize her thoughts about the whole situation she now found them in, “Yes, it is.  And now that I can rely on you, Josh, Andrea and I will manage the office until you get back, everything will turn out alright.”

            Iva stayed silent to let her think out loud and awaited her instructions.

            “Let me tell you what needs to be done.  In Mr. Cliff’s office on his desk are the signed invoices and airline ticket, along with his list of appointments and an envelope of expense money already changed to the English Pound.  I’ll call the airline and hotel and have the reservations put in your name.  A car will pick you up at Heathrow, the driver will have a sign with the company name and I will call and give them yours.  You’ll be there for ten days.  I’m also going to call the Fortt’s, letting them know what’s happened and to expect you.  This is short notice so find out the weather and pack as best you can with whatever you have that’s business appropriate.”  Gwen said, speaking so fast that she kept running out of breath.  She continued after some moment’s pause, “Please leave us notes on your desk of any unfinished invoices due.  The children and I will go in on Saturday and get them done.  I’m sorry to ruin any plans you had for the next two weekends but this coming week has to go smoothly, some client’s are anxious for this trip.  We both have full confidence in you, Ms. Finder.  I just can’t up and leave Don right now, the kids have school and the office does have to run until he recovers.  You understand, don’t you?”

            “Yes, Mrs. Cliff.  I’m glad to help in any way I can.”

            “Thank you, Ms. Finder.  I’ll call you at the hotel next Monday morning, around six o’clock London time, to find out how it’s going.  I’m sorry but it’s time that I’ve gotten back to Josh and Andrea.  Goodnight Ms. Finder and thank you again.”

            “You’re welcome, my best to Mr. Cliff.  Goodnight, Mrs. Cliff.”

Iva was in disbelief that she was taking his place as she hung up the phone.  She tried to convince herself that because she’d just been to New York a few months earlier, England shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out.

            After hanging up with her, Gwen called the airline.  The reservationist said something that Gwen’s busy brain didn’t quite catch, so she began, “Hello.  My name is Mrs. Gwen Cliff.”

            “How can I help you this evening, Mrs. Cliff?”  The woman asked.

            “My husband has a ticket for Thursday, April Ninth on flight eleven eighty nine to London.”

            “Let me pull that up, one moment please.”

There was silence, then she was back, “Thank you for waiting, what can I do for you?”

            “My husband’s has been in an accident.  I would like to change his ticket to Ms. Iva Finder, please.”

            “I’m sorry to hear that.  I can take care of it for you.  Give me the information from the flight confirmation and we’ll get it done.”

            Gwen took out her planner and began to read it.

            “Is there anything else I can do for you, Mrs. Cliff?”

            “No thank you, you’ve been very helpful.”  Gwen replied, exhausted and relieved to have one more problem solved.

            “You’re welcome, goodbye.”         

            She wrote herself a reminder to continue in the morning with her calls, to the Fortt’s, the car service for Heathrow, the hotel and manufacturers that Don was scheduled to meet, letting them know that Iva would be there instead.

            Josh, Andrea and Gwen kept each other company at the hospital until Dr. May insisted they go home, informing them that Don wouldn’t be awake for the rest of the night.

            Iva pulled out her suitcase which still had the luggage sticker from New York.  She knew she would need her sister’s help once again while she was gone and picked up the phone, “Hello Case.”

            “Hello Iva.”

            “Gwen’s just called.  Don’s been in an accident and said he’ll be fine but that I’m to go to England for him on business this Thursday.”

            “That’s terrible, Iva.  I’m glad to hear he’ll be fine, I’ll call her tomorrow.”  Case said, relieved by his prognosis.

            “It is.  I can’t believe it.  Anyway, would you or Bruce pick up my mail like last time?”

            “Yes, I’ll leave it on the table.  How long will you be gone for?”

            “Ten days.  Don has appointments with businesses.  Oh, and I’ll have to check on the weather.”  Iva answered, losing her train of thought.

            “You’ll do great, just don’t get lost please.  You’ll have us all worried.”

            “I’ll be careful Case and will talk to you when I get back, I love you.”

            “I love you too, Iva.  Goodbye.”

            “Goodbye.”

            Next she called her grandmother, “Hello grandma.”

            Iva explained what she had to do.

            “It is good to hear that Mr. Cliff will be alright, Iva.  This is your first separation without any of us.  You will stay alert, and make your way around cautiously.”  She directed her authoritatively.

            “Yes, I will, I remember everything you’ve said about hazards for young women.”

            “I know you do Iva, have a very good trip and call me the day after you come home.”

            “I will, I love you grandma.  Goodnight.”

            “I love you too, Iva.  Goodnight.”

Iva’s night sleep was unsettling, the kind she hadn’t had since living with her dad and mom those last few months, just before leaving to her grandma’s, and felt as groggy when she got up for work as she’d used to for school.

            Andrea called down the hall while she was getting dressed for school, “Mom.”

            “Yes.  Dear.”  Gwen answered as she put her jacket on.

            “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay and help with things today?”

            Gwen reassured her that they’d all do what they needed to, “No you go, but thank you.  If anything changes, I promise to call you right away.  Josh and I should get everything done just fine.  You come when you’re out and remember he’ll be alright, so drive safely please.”

            “I will.”  Andrea said, meeting her mother on the landing at the top of the stairs, where they hugged.  She turned and got her books off her bed.

            “Have a good day, Andrea.”

            “You too mom, give daddy a kiss for me, see you later.”

She walked down the stair, turned when she got to the bottom with her hand on the door knob, glancing back at her mother with admiration, who stood at the top, over how she was again managing things then closed the front door behind her.

            Gwen went to the kitchen to make the rest of the calls.  Each was conciliatory and accommodating.  The last to do was the Fortt’s.  She started dialing England to inform Graham of the changes but couldn’t help the time difference, it had to be done.

            It was late evening when the phone rang; Graham reached over his desk to answer it, “Hello.”

            “Hello Graham.  It’s Gwen.”  She said, trying to stay composed.

            He was surprised and concerned to be hearing from her at such an unusual hour, “Hello Gwen.  Is everything alright, my dear?”

            “No, but it will be.  Graham, Don’s had an accident.”

            The tired man was attentive to her, “Go on.  Will he be alright?”

            She gave him the information she had.

            “That’s good news, Gwen.  I’m certain he’ll be up and around before you know it.”

            Gwen could tell she wasn’t making the situation clear to him, or possibly he’d forgotten Don was to be there in a few days, she went on to be explicit, “He won’t be able to travel for a while Graham.  I wondered if sending Ms. Finder in his place, would it be alright with you.  The problem is that the wire transfer can’t be done without Don’s signature and she’s the only one that can be sent with a check, along with meeting the client’s that he was going too on this trip.  Josh still has classes, it would be impossible to send him and she’s already agreed to go.”

            Graham heard how upset with worry she was.  He assured her that to send Iva would be fine with him then added, “Has the girl been abroad before?”

            She thought for a moment, then recalled the conversation they’d had while getting Iva her first passport, “No, she said she’s never been out of the states when I asked her.”

            He smiled at the quickness of his idea, “What I would like you to do is to put the check between the colored carbon copies of the invoice of the current shipment.  Don’t let her know, it will be safer that way.  She’ll not fear toting such a large amount around, since she isn’t familiar with us nor the country.”

            “Yes, an excellent idea.  She’s totally competent and trustworthy, but knowing how much it is, would make me jumpy as well, especially if it were my first time there.”

            “Absolutely, and Gwen, I’m certain Don will be right in no time.  I’ll have Millie ring you tomorrow, that way you two can worry together.”

            “Thank you Graham.  What I would do without you and Millie, I don’t know, and yes, the boys also.” Gwen said as she heard him laugh about her comment.

            “I’ll have the boys call her after her arrival.  And please don’t be concerned, she’ll be in safe hands.”

            “I know she will be in your and Millie’s, but, I’m not so certain about the boys.”

            Graham laughed again, “There you are, dear.  We mustn’t lose our sense of humor.”

            “You’re right.  I’ll call you next week Graham.”  She said, finding it easier to relax.

            The following day, Graham arrived at the office before his sons, by a half hour.  When he heard his sons come in, he stopped reading the invoice in his hand and called out to them, “Oswald, Breck.  Please come here.”

            “Yes sir.”  They answered, walking into the room.

            “Don’s had an accident.  Gwen is sending their assistant, Ms. Finder.  We’ll be accommodating while she’s here, understood.”  He said, looking at both young men with suspicion.

            “Yes sir, there’s no question about it.  We’ve both spoken with her and you’ll have our full cooperation.  Don’s not serious, is he?”  Breck asked, looking at his dad with concern.

            Their father sat back in his chair, leering at them, “He’s had surgery and broken bones.  He’ll be on the mend for some time.  Thank you both for your assurance that she’ll be made welcome.”

            Oswald smiled, “Father, you’re far too cynical.  We would never torment the woman.  What would Don and Gwen think of us?”

            “You’re fully aware of what they think of you two and Josh and how you joke with family and friends.”  Graham answered with a woeful expression on his face.

            “It’s all in good fun.  Ms. Finder hasn’t yelled at us once.”  Breck said, nodding his head up and down, while shrugging his shoulder in his brother’s direction.

            “No I don’t believe she ever has.”

            “Watch you steps’ men.”  Their father repeated, cautioning them one last time.

            They answered with sincerity, “Yes sir.”

            Graham suspected all his sons responsibilities flew out of their memories with the news, “Breck, you do recall that you’ll be in Germany from Wednesday to Friday?”

            The younger Fortt hid his frustration at the previously scheduled meeting, “Yes, of course.  I’ll be ready.”

            “It’s top priority that you get Albert all the information he needs.  We’re all in this downturn together, remember that.”

            “Yes sir.  Oswald and I have been in constant contact with George in Greece, Tom in Ireland, Ramon in Spain and everyone else.  We’re of the same mind and will make it through this, as best as possible, dad.”

            As Graham lowered his head to go back to his reading, he thought it best to mention, “Good men.  I have full confidence in both of you, have no doubt about that.”

            The two young men stood proudly, “We don’t.”

            Oswald closed the door behind them, “This is an opportunity we may never have again, to make

certain that Ms. Finder is entertained while she’s here.  Wouldn’t you agree?”

            “We can do that, but it’s got to be done very carefully.”  His younger brother smiled.

            Gwen and Josh went to the bank, got the cashier’s check and headed for the office.  There was silence while Josh drove his worried mother.  She entered the office hurriedly, gave Iva a hello, but no indication of why she was there and went directly into Don’s office, slipped the check into the invoice and put it into a brown mailing envelope.

            Iva listened intently to her as she was on her way out, “You’ll find all that you’ll need on Mr. Cliff’s desk.  Be sure to give the Fortt’s the brown envelope with the invoice as soon as you meet with them.  I’ll call you next week Ms. Finder.  Have a good trip.”

            Before Iva could say anything, she was gone.

            Things popped in and out of Iva’s head on the way home.  Two days to pack, besides work.  She had to manage, even though time was pressing and not so much in her favor.  Iva wondered what to pack and what the weather was like in April.  She needed to check for daily forecasts, but if she looked confused when she got there, maybe the Fortt’s wouldn’t notice.

            Iva’s night sleep was worse than the one before, making it an extremely hard day at work, alone.

            When she was ready to leave for the day, she got the envelope, picked up and looked at the ticket, which said seven forty five pm, Thursday, April eighth, two thousand ten and the gate number.  She was off and could finish her packing.  Looking around, she made certain everything was in order for Gwen and Josh.  Iva locked up and went home to have dinner.

            After eating, she recalled her passport, hurrying to her desk she picked it up and put it in her purse.  Her heart beat rapidly from the uncertain of what to expect, tomorrow evening she would be on her way.

            Iva didn’t set her alarm, she had an evening flight, so she enjoyed the leisurely pace the morning took.  But by four o’clock she was anxious
again.  She put all her necessities by the front door while she waited for Terry, who’d offered to take her to the airport, as the hands on the clock turned slowly.

            There was the sound of a knock at the door when she was putting on her sweater.  She looked out the window, it was her brother.  He took her bags down as she locked her front door.

            Terry drove in a hurry so he could get back to studying for his finals at school in the morning.

            He began talking about the flight as she sat quietly.  Iva tried to steer him away from the subject, not wanting him to see how nervous she was about never having flown over an ocean alone before.  They’d been over the pacific to Hawaii in the early days with their parent’s as a family, quite a few times but never alone.  She felt sick as she thought about dark, murky water.  It kept running through her head, thirty thousand feet above the un-solid ground couldn’t be as scary as it sounded, no, it was way worse.  She remembered having seen that they had bags for things like that.

            Even though the Cliff’s taught her everything about the import business, the occasion never arose for her to actually deal with the manufacturers’ without their assistance.  She gave herself comforting thoughts and would stick to what she knew, only, then come home.

            The airport was in sight with three hours to wait.

            Terry laughed, “In a hurry to leave us? Iva.”

            “Please don’t be ridiculous, Terry.”  Iva said, amused.

            “Don’t do anything to get into trouble.  They could be still locking people away in dungeons.”  He said, grinning at his attempt to frighten her.

            “That was the old days Terry, you been reading Dickens too much.”

            “Maybe I have but when you’re calling me collect from the debtor’s prison, don’t cry that I didn’t warn you.”

            “Joke with me when I get back, please.  I’ve got to get going and can’t afford to lose my job.”  Iva said, laughing along with him.

            “Alright, well, I’ll be here to pick you up if they let you come back.  And yes, I’ve got your arrival date, time and number.  Have a good trip.  I love you.”  Terry said, preempting his sister’s reminder as he handed her the small carry on case she was taking then giving her a hug.

            “I’ll see you in ten days.  Thank you for the ride, Terry.  I love you, too.”

            They waved to each other as he got back in his dilapidated, reliable truck and drove off.

            The arduousness of airport screening didn’t put a damper on her ability to make the flight on time.  She made herself comfortable and pulled out her book until boarding.  Iva was fully engrossed in it when she heard a voice announce on the intercom, “Now boarding flight eleven eighty nine to London.”

            She grabbed her stuff and got on board.

            The flight attendant was directing everyone, “Just this way to your seat Miss.  Enjoy your flight.”

            “Thank you.”  Iva said to the woman in passing, as she looked for her seat.  She put her carry on in the overhead, again getting comfortable for the take off.

            As the stewardess came down the aisle, Iva couldn’t help but whisper, “Excuse me.  Have you flown over the ocean many times?”

            “Yes, quite a few.  Is it your first time?”  The flight attendant asked, sympathetically.

            Iva nodded, “Alone. Yes.”

            The woman reassured her, “Please relax, it will be fine, you’ll see.  The Captain and crew are excellent.”

            “Thank you.”  Iva said with an embarrassingly audible sigh of relief.

            With such a long flight ahead of her, she returned to her book, slowly drifting off after they were in the air for an hour.  She’d been more tired than she thought from having such a busy week.

            Iva woke up to an attendant asking, “Drinks?”  She looked at her watch, she’d slept two hours.

            “Water, please.  Thank you.”  She answered, her throat feeling dry.

            Hours passed.  Iva stood, walked and maneuvered in her seat to keep from getting sore.

            “Breakfast will be round in about five minutes.  Please adjust upright.”  The flight attendant announced as she passed toward the rear of the plane.

            A different attendant came down the aisle minutes later, giving the passengers their trays.  She was now by Iva, handing her a tray with a muffin, fruit and juice, “There you are.”

            Within thirty minutes, the cart came around again to collect the empties.  She was still tired, or maybe was simply listless, she wasn’t certain as she pushed the button to recline the seat back to gaze at the clouds.

            The flight wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be.  They were just suspended in mid-air by nothing.  Iva considered that it was better not to be dwelt upon, as she continued to look out the window.

            Without warning, Iva’s hands and face began to sweat as her breakfast was coming back up.  There was only enough time for her to grab the bag.  She became frozen with humiliation.  The first flight attendant hurried down the aisle when she heard the commotion made by the passenger next to her.

            As Iva’s head came back up, the woman was next to her, “I will help you to the back.”

            “Thank you.”

            The kind lady began to speak, as Iva’s gargling and cleaning off with a wet towel, were in process.

            “It’s quite alright, you’ve made the bag.”

            Heavens, what could be as embarrassing as this, Iva thought.  She got cleaned up then started back toward her seat, looking apologetically at all the people sitting around her.

            “It’s your first time abroad?”  The man with the British accent across the aisle asked.

            “Yes.  I’m sorry to have ruined your…”  Iva said, stopping mid-sentence, not being ill but feeling her face turn red.

            “There are one or two illnesses, occasionally on a flight.  You’ll be fine on the next go round.”

            “Hopefully, thank you.”

            “It’s so unpleasant and unexpected that your expression makes the time go by.”

            Iva was grateful for his company at such a disconcerting time, “Your idea of fun is unusual.”

            The stranger had a whimsical smile, “It wouldn’t be funny if it were life threatening but it is an ice breaker you must admit.  We’d not be speaking otherwise.”

            “Yes, I can see its merits.”  Iva said, shaking her head at the humor of the moment.

            She stayed stuck in her book for the rest of the flight, trying to avoid eye contact with the man who thought her throwing up was a slap-stick sketch.

Chapter 7

            “Ladies and Gentlemen we will be arriving in thirty minutes.  Please return to your seats and prepare for landing.”  The Captain directed.

            Iva put her head back against the seat.  At last, they’d be on solid ground.  She hoped the man was right, that the return flight would be less eventful.  Her focus became to disembark, collect her luggage and then find the driver, who was somewhere in the crowd waiting to pick her up.

            It was easy following the mass of people who she’d flown with.  There was the luggage carousel.  Her suitcase came down the chute, she grabbed it, had her purse and carry on, now for the car.  As she continued out with the crowd to the waiting area, Iva thought that if she were to stand still, possibly the driver would find her.

            Iva wondered what time is it was, as she looked at her watch, which was wrong.  She scanned the room for a clock.  After looking for a few minutes she caught sight of an electronic sign flashing two fifteen pm and reset her watch.  Her stomach growled, not having anything in it any longer.  Dinner sounded good, she was hopeful that the driver would know of a place to get something, and if not, then maybe the hotel could provide something.  After minutes of looking, she turned around and saw a man with a sign, Cliff-Fortt.

            Iva approached him with a sudden burst of enthusiasm, “Hello.  That’s me.”

            “Right this way please, Miss.”  The driver said, leading her out of the airport.  He opened the car door, taking her suitcase to the trunk.

            Once she sat down, she felt like she’d wilted during the flight, feeling like she had microscopic puke splatter on her clothes, and wished she could eat and bath simultaneously, both being equally urgent. 

            Once they were underway Iva spoke up, “Excuse me.  Do you know of a place where I can get something to eat on the way to the hotel?”

            “I’m sorry but I have orders to take you directly to the hotel.  You might be able to get something there or close by.”

            “Thank you.”

            They pulled up to the hotel, he handed her suitcase to the porter.  Iva began to pull out her wallet to tip him, when the driver said, “Not necessary Miss, it’s been taken care of.”

            “Thank you.”

            “Good afternoon, Miss.  Come this way, please.”  The porter said as he directed her into the hotel.

            She stood in front of the desk manager, “Hello.  I’m Iva Finder with Cliff-Fortt.”

            “Good afternoon, we’ve been expecting you.  We hope Mr. Cliff will be well soon.  He’s stayed with us for years.” The clerk said, handing her the room key.

            “Thank you.  Sir, is there a restaurant or room service that would have dinner at this early hour?”

            “Yes, we have both.  Room service is available, the dinners are listed on the menu and the Restaurant is through those doors, just there.”  He answered as he pointed across the lobby.

            “Thank you.”  Iva replied, when suddenly a rush of fatigue came over her.

            The clerk, a man about thirty with blonde hair and blue eyes, smiled at her, “Enjoy our stay, and if I can be of any service, let me know, my name is Victor Payter.  I’m the hotel manager.”

            “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Payter, thank you again.”

            She quickly turned nearly bumping into a young guy was standing close behind her, “Oh.  Excuse me.”

            He mistook her age for younger than she actually was, “No problem, Iva Finder.  I’m Carter Strong.”

            Iva laughed, “Hi Carter.  Where are you from back home?”

            “How could you tell I’m from America?”  He grinned.

            “Ok, you’re not, sorry.”  She smiled.

            “I’ll tell you if you tell me where you’re from?”

            Iva tried to think if he’d ever heard his accent before, but she couldn’t place it, “Sure, why not.”

            “I’m from Rhode Island, how about you?”

            “California, Carter.  It’s been nice to meet you, have a good time.”  Iva said.

            As she began to walk away he answered, “Hey Iva.  My dad and mom are celebrating their

anniversary.  So, I’m here for a week.  Let’s hang out if there’s time.”

            “Sorry Carter, I’ll be busy all week, but made we’ll catch each other in the restaurant some night.”

            “I’ll keep my eyes open.”

            “So will I Carter.”

            She quickly turned toward Victor, “Is there a place where I can get a tour book, Mr. Payter?”

            “Yes, Miss.  We have a latest edition you may use.  It will be sent up to you with your dinner.  If you would be kind enough to return it before you leave, unless you prefer to purchase one for your own?”

            “I won’t need one after my stay so I will use yours and return it, Thank you sir.  See you around Carter.”

            Both men said bye as she walked away.

            Iva found it hard to stand up, making it with just enough energy to the elevator then her room and looked forward to a hot bath or shower, dinner, brushing her teeth, some television and bed.  She called down to room service.  They took her order as she started to unpack.

            She changed out of her wrinkled, stale clothes, showered, then picked up the remote for the television but couldn’t figure it out, except for the power button.  It wouldn’t cooperate in giving her light faire, so the station remained on news.  It was almost the time for her to turn in any way she supposed, and returned to putting the rest of her things away.

            A knock at the door signaled her food had arrived.  The young man brought the potatoes and roasted chicken she’d ordered, then handed her the tour book.  Dinner was heavier than she was used too, especially before bedtime, which today was at four thirty but this hadn’t been a routine two days.

            Iva got her clothes organized for Monday’s meeting with the Fortt’s and any other business events that came up, then sat on the bed and spent the next hour thumbing through the tour book.  It was difficult to decide what she wanted to do, first.  The Tower of London, any of the various Museums, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and if there were time, go to Bath.  She stopped long enough to prepare for sleep then got into bed and returned to scanning the book.

            As she lay down, Iva stretched the stiffness from the flight out of her limbs as much as she could then drifted into sleep with the book still in her hand.

            Iva awoke at six thirty, she’d had twelve hours sleep and felt in no hurry to get up since it was Saturday.  She debated what to do for the day as she began to lift her stiff, achy body up.  It seemed best to make it something that would be quick and easy to get to.

            The phone rang, startling her.  She wasn’t expecting anyone to call.

            “Hello.”  Iva answered puzzled.

            “Good morning our mystery Ms. Finder, welcome to England.”   The enthusiastic man on the other end said.

            “Thank you.”

            “This is Oswald.”

            Another voice came from nowhere, “And I, Breck, am here as well.”

            “Good morning to you both.”  Iva said, seriousness taking hold of her, out of caution.

            The most she’d found out about them before her trip from Josh was that the Fortt’s have done business with the Cliff’s since about the seventeen eighties.

            “We wanted to make sure you had a pleasant trip and wondered if you were free this afternoon to enjoy a rather wet day with us?  You know, get introductions done before Monday’s business.”  Oswald asked, cheerful enough to make her suspicious, whether they were planning on playing jokes on her for the entire day.

            “I’ve made no plans so far, where and when should we meet?”

            “Ms. Finder will meet us, Breck.”  He said, loudly across the room.

            His brother called back, “Excellent.”

            “Take a cab to the Tower of London and wait at the entrance.  Breck and I will be at our office down the street.  One of us will see you there at one o’clock.  We’ll take you to lunch.”

            Iva was glad to be getting their initial meeting over, “Thank you, Mr. Fortt.  See you then, goodbye.”

            “You’re welcome, Ms. Finder.  Goodbye.”

            As she brushed her teeth and then hair, it occurred to her that Victor might know how long it would take a cab to get to the Tower.  She picked up the phone to call him.

            “Good morning, Victor Payter speaking.”  He answered.

            “Good morning Mr. Payter, this is Iva Finder in room two thirty one.  Do you know how long it would take a cab to get to the Tower of London from here?”

            “I would say between fifteen and twenty minutes, depending on traffic, Miss.”

            “Thank you, Mr. Payter.  Where would I find a telephone book to call one?”

            “Allow me to get it for you Miss.  What time did you want it for?”

            “Twelve forty would be early enough, please.  And, one more question Mr. Payter, if that’s alright.”

            “Please don’t hesitate, Ms. Finder.  How can I help you?”

“If I come down a few minutes early, would you have a minute to explain the money to me?”

            “Yes, come when you’re ready, Miss.”  Victor agreed, politely.

            Iva didn’t have many clothing options with her and settled on being casual but nicely dressed as she looked in the closet.  She peeked out the window to see if there were any women walking down the street, to get a sense of what they were wearing.  A lady came her way.  She noticed her boots, skirt, blouse and medium thick coat, along with her umbrella.

            She blinked her eyes, realizing she’d forgotten her boots and umbrella.  They were still on the floor by her bed at home.  All she had was a skirt, blouse and coat.  She had three out of five and would have to make due, since there was no time to shop this morning.

            Iva hurried.  When it was twelve twenty five she made her way down the stairs, preferring to do them, rather than taking the elevator, for the exercise.

            “I’m here Mr. Payter.  Thank you for calling the cab for me.”  She said, smiling at him as she held out the denominations of money she was to use for taxis, buses and the tube.

            He went through the money and the best way for her to make change then explained that it would be

more efficient to get a week or ten day pass for the transport.

            “You’ve been so much help, Mr. Payter.  Thank you.”

            Victor smiled at her, “You’re welcome Miss.  If you wait in the doorway, the cab will be here shortly for you.”

            “Thank you.”

            “There’s one more thing, Ms. Finder.  Here is our card.  Please keep the hotel phone number with you, should you need anything.  Robert, the night manager or I, will be glad to assist you.  He’s here by five o’clock.”  He said, holding out his hand which had a neatly printed card in it.

            “I’ll keep it in a safe place, thank you.”

            “Have a lovely afternoon Miss, good day to you.”  He added, and with that sentiment he retreated toward the back.

            “You have a nice one too, Mr. Payter.  Goodbye.”  Iva replied as she went in the opposite direction for the door.

            Once outside, it was another five minutes until the cab pulled up.

            As she got in, the driver asked, “Where to Miss?”

            “The Tower of London, please sir.”

            During the drive she saw that the city was a lot to take in.

            “You’re an American.  How is your stay?”

            “I arrived yesterday and haven’t had the chance to see any sights.”

            The drizzle became drops.  Iva looked down at her shoes, which she suspected would be soaked by the end of the day, but she’d rather be embarrassed today than Monday, and getting boots, just in case it continued to rain, was first on her list of things to do.  She wouldn’t be able to get expensive ones and suspected they might not be unfashionable with her suit, but keeping her feet dry to prevent a cold seemed far more important, not wanting to ruin the limited time she had.

            The suspense over how the whole week
would go crept from the rear of her consciousness to the front.

            When the driver told her the fare, she handed him the money slowly, making no mistake.  Iva was early according to her watch, after scribbling down the fare and tip in her little note book, she began looking around at the beefeaters.

One of them was talking with her when she recognized Oswald’s voice, “Ms. Finder?”

            Iva answered as she watched a slim man of medium height and frame, in a suit with vest, sandy brown hair and portrait ready teal eyes, come towards her, “Yes.”

            He stood next to her, “I’m Oswald, come under my umbrella, out of the rain.”

            She felt an explanation necessary as she began to feel soggy, “I’ve forgotten mine at home.  I meant to check if they’re allowed through airport screening but forgot.  It’s such an unexpected trip.”

            “It’s a privilege to share with you.”  He said, smiling at her as he began to lead her across and down the street.

            There was an instant familiarity with him, which put her at ease, “Thank you.”

            They walked down the street.  Oswald was quiet until they arrived, “Just this way to the third door on the left.  Breck’s waiting inside.”

            “Breck, Ms. Finder and I are here.”  He called out into the lobby.

            “Be right out.”  The younger Fortt replied from a different room.

            Iva looked around, there was stuff everywhere, but it wasn’t disorderly.

            Oswald began moving things around, “Excuse the place, we’ve been busy and do try to keep order when possible.”        

            Iva nodded with understanding.  Oswald was more docile and personable than Iva imagined he’d be, considering all the times he joked with her on the phone in the past.  She’d pictured a young guy, around Josh’s age, that still hadn’t outgrown his juvenile tendencies.  He was unexpectedly stately and dignified.

            “Gwen called father on Wednesday and told him about Don.  He’s a good man.  She assured him he’d come out right and to expect you.  Although, with our trip to California, why you never wanted to meet us? I do not know.”  Oswald said, looking searchingly at her.

            “There seemed to be no time, Mr. Fortt.  Have you been back to California, since your last trip?”  She answered nervously.

            “No.  It was unfortunate that we didn’t get to see much that time, it was all work.  California’s an interesting place from the little I’ve seen.”

            She smiled as her eyes caught sight of antiques everywhere, giving a shrug, “I guess so.  It must be much like any other place, work or school, friends and family, keeping busy with daily routine.”

            “Quite.”

            Breck came in.  She’d had no preconceived idea about what they looked like, but his age and face didn’t match.  He was twenty three but that wouldn’t have been her guess, there was an older, rougher look to him, more than Oswald had.  It reminded her of how much older her brother Bruce’s face looked when he returned from Iraq, as if the battles he’d seen changed his features to be more in line with a mature man.  He stood before her in his suit with its vest, much taller and with darker brown wavy hair than Oswald, but they shared the same deep teal eyes.

            As he approached her, he extended his hand, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Ms. Finder.  I’m glad to hear you had a good flight, your first overseas I think Gwen said.”

            “I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Fortt.  Yes, it’s my first, I can’t count Hawaii.  I was with family.”

            “With the exception of our father, mother and clients’ during business hours, we can go by first names.”  Oswald offered.

            Iva was relieved.  With the three Mr. Fortt’s together, it would get confusing as to which one she were referring to, “Thank you Oswald.”

            “It must be time for lunch, soon.  Mum has taken to the notion of preparing some things you might like, if that’s alright? Iva.”  Breck asked, feeling satisfied by the comfortable way they were talking to each other.

            “That’s kind of her, thank you.”  Iva said, not thinking of them with curiosity.

 It was apparent that they weren’t thinking of her that way, either.  The conversation was the same as

if she were at the office back home.

            Oswald walked toward the back door, “Iva the car is in the back, come this way?”

            They drove over fifteen minutes, coming to a row of beautifully kept townhouses.

            Breck opened the door for Iva, directing her toward his brother, “Oswald, take Iva in, please.  I’ll be right back.”

            She followed him through the foyer which was simply decorated, yet refined.  Everything seemed comfortably typical of her grandmother’s home.  Pictures of family, paintings and furniture that was older but still relevant.  Cozy and lived in.

            Iva thought it good she could relax as she walked further into the house and looked around, having a feeling of ease with the surroundings.  A happy, good looking woman came toward her, “Ms. Finder it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

            They shook hands, “Thank you Mrs. Fortt, it’s nice to meet you also.”

            Iva saw that Millie’s sons got their eye color from her.

            Their mother looked from son to son as she asked Iva, “These two haven’t vexed you too much, so far?”

            “No.  Not too much.”  Iva said, watching Mrs. Fortt exam her offspring.

            Millie gently guided her further into the living room, “Come meet Graham.”

            She called out to her husband, “Ms. Finder has arrived Graham.”

            He answered from a room around the corner, “Yes, be right there, Millie.”

            “So happy you’ve made it, my dear.”  Graham said, walking toward them, shaking Iva’s hand.

            “It’s nice to meet you.  Mr. Fortt.”  Iva replied with a smile.

            “We forego formal names after business, I’m Graham and this is Millie.”

            They led Iva into the dining room, where a terrine of soup and a platter of finger sandwiches were laid out in the center of the table, the plates and glasses were of the quality that were sold at Cliff-Fortt, formal.

            Iva watched as her hostess served herself, determined not to take anymore, nor any less, than she did even though her appetite was a mess since the plane ride.

            “Thank you, Mrs. For… Millie.  That was very good.”        

            “You’re welcome, Iva.”

            Millie got up, left the room and came back with an umbrella.

            “Oswald mentioned you haven’t an umbrella for your stay.  Please use this one while you’re here.” She said, putting it on the sideboard for her.

            Iva smiled at her generosity, grateful not to have to spend money on something she had at home, “Thank you, Millie.  I’ll be careful with it and won’t lose it.”

            Graham turned to Iva, “Will you have a chance to see some sights, while you’re here?”

            “I will try to get to as many as possible.”

            “Either of the young men will show you around, I insist.  It is safe to travel but not a good idea for a young person unfamiliar with the city and on her own, should it get dark.”  Graham said, looking at his sons.

            Iva felt herself put in a spot and had misgivings, which she couldn’t admit out loud.  Did she want to spend her entire time listening to those two guy’s immature jokes then thought it would be worth her while to attempt to get out of it, “It might impose on their work week and there could be other things Mrs. Cliff wants me to do during my stay.  She said she would call on Monday morning, around six.  I’ll know much more then.”

            “Well, if you call my sons and one is free, please impose on them.  Otherwise, they’ll be akin to stones.”

            Millie grinned, “I couldn’t agree more.”

            They were funny parents’, which was a pleasant surprise for her, and their father was as tough as her grandma, ouch!

            Breck got out of his chair, “Thank you for lunch mother, but, even we stones know when to depart before we’re kicked down the road.”

            It was hard for Iva to hide her laughter, but she wanted too, as she watched their father doing it.

            “You’re welcome.  Please come for dinner and yard games next Saturday, Iva.  If you’re entertained now, you should see them at home.”  Millie offered with a sense of joy at forewarning her.

            Iva was stumped by the word “Home”, where was she now?  not at their home?,  and hoped they were having too much fun to notice how confusing the invitation was to her, accepting graciously, “I would like to Millie, thank you.”

            She reminded herself, no stupid questions.  All this had to seem ordinary or she would be labeled a novice with new people.

            As Breck, Iva and Oswald prepared to leave, Millie pulled Breck aside.  She looked at her son, “She’s overly conscientious about an old umbrella.  I wouldn’t have her sacked for losing it.”

            Breck smiled, hiding Iva’s secret fear of losing her job because of others frivolity, “She is, isn’t she?  It would peek you if she were to scrub it, wouldn’t it?  Of course it would.  You’d think she was careless of others property.  She has good manners not unlike yours, mother.”

            His mother was pleased by his assessment and compliment of her, he could tell.

            Oswald and Breck returned Iva to her hotel.

            She held her purse as Oswald opened her door, while looking into the car at Breck, “I had a very nice time, thank you.”

            “Thank you putting up with the parents, they enjoyed your company.  One of us could be here to pick you up Monday at eight o’clock, if you don’t mind going to the office together, Iva?”  Breck offered.

            “That would be fine, thank you.”

            “What’s your mobile number?”  Oswald asked, taking out his cell phone to enter it.

            “I don’t have one.  It’s not necessary for only ten days, is it?”  Iva answered.  A fleeting feeling of being self conscience came over her because she wasn’t telling him the real reason why she didn’t have one, not wanting the expense of it.  She dismissed it, not knowing them well enough to discuss personal things.

            He grinned at the information as he went around the car to get back in, “No, it’s not.  Be ready at eight, Iva.  See you then.  Goodbye.”

            Iva waved at them as she headed for the hotel door, “I will. Goodbye.”

            Breck drove slowly away, the two brothers smiling at each other as they went down the street.  He considered her answer, turning to Oswald, “Going about in London without a mobile in case she got lost, it could be foolish.”

            “We could have fun with this little bit of information later.”  Oswald said, slyly.

            “As long as she doesn’t get hurt or lost.”

            “Definitely not, I agree.”

            She walked into the lobby slightly embarrassed about the phone but shrugged it off, her immediate need was boots, her feet having been wet all afternoon.

            Victor watched as she passed the desk, “Hello Miss, having a good time?”

            “Yes, it was interesting and next Saturday should be even more so.”  Iva replied, absentmindedly spitting out her internal thought.

            “Good.”  Victor answered, unaware of what she meant.

            She stopped at the end of the desk, turning to him, “Mr. Payter.  Do you know of a store where I can get a pair of boots?”

            “I will have names of stores sent up to your room sometime this evening.”

            “There’s no hurry, I’ll be in for the rest of the night.  Thank you.”  Iva said, then turned and started for the stairs.

            After closing and locking her door, Iva turned on the wall heater then took her shoes and socks off.  She set her shoes up against it so they would dry out and ran to the bathroom to hang the socks over the shower.  Her feet were so cold she could only hobble on them over to the dresser, where she pulled out a pair of dry socks.  Iva tried wiggling her toes to make them warm in front of the heater but it wasn’t working well.  She ran back to the bathroom to fill the tub with warm water then sat on the tub’s edge with her feet in.  Once the circulation was restored, she put her socks on and got into bed, until the bellboy knocked.  It was four thirty and too early to go to bed again, but too wet to walk around outside, at least, without better footwear.

            Iva was back to the television.  She regretted not having asked the bellboy how to work the remote, the previous night and knew Victor would tell her if she asked, but what would he think?  It’s the twenty first century and she didn’t know how to work a television?  It seemed better to wait for the bellboy’s next visit and get his help.

            Laying herself down, Iva watched the electronic images from the box and began to thumb through the tour book, waiting for time to pass before dinner.  She turned off the television, yawned, got herself comfortable and fell asleep.

            The Fortt brother’s got into their townhouse.

            Breck looked at his brother sternly, “Oswald, we shouldn’t joke on Monday.  We need to work with her here and mustn’t have her making mistakes.  She shouldn’t get sacked because of us.  Agreed?”

            “Alright, there’ll be no mischief.”

            Iva woke up to find it was six thirty.  As she lay in her bed, her hand went directly to the phone, picking up the receiver to order dinner.

            A voice came on the line, “Room service.”

            “Hello.  This is Iva Finder in room two thirty one.  May I have the pot roast, vegetables and potatoes sent up, please?

            “Yes ma’am.  Will there be anything else?”

            “No thank you.”

            “It will be about thirty minutes, ma’am.  Goodbye.”

            “Goodbye.”

            She got up and began to straighten up the room when she saw an outlet on the wall with an unusual shape, next to the bed.  Iva went to the bathroom, finding the same curious design was in there too.  It was obvious her blow dryer wasn’t going to fit into the holes.  She looked at the plug on the complimentary water pot to make tea or coffee and it was the same shape.  This was another thing to ask about when the bellboy came.   Reading her book was the only thing she had to do until he arrived.

            The knock on the door signaled to her stomach that food was on its way.  Iva opened the door, looked at the young man and stepped back, “Hello, please come in.”

            He passed her to deposit the tray onto the small table with chair in the corner of the room.

            “Could you also please give me instructions on the television?”  Iva asked, standing innocently with the remote in her hand, holding it out to him, before he could leave.

            The tall jet black haired bellman took it, “Yes Miss.  Just like this, then push this and you can change to any channel.  And down there, under the small drawer by the bed, is the program guide.”

            Her eyes followed his fingers as he pointed, “Thank you.”

            “I’m to give you this list from Mr. Payter.  He said you were expecting it.”  The young man said without hesitation, handing her the paper.

            “Yes, I was.  Can I ask you about the electric outlet?   It’s not the same as ours at home.”

            “No.   I believe you need an adapter for it.  Unfortunately, we haven’t a spare.”  He said, definitively, as if she’d not been the first to ask.

            Iva held out her hand with money, “I see.  Thank you for your help.  Here is something for you.”

            He smiled, taking it as she opened the door for him, “Thank you, Miss.”

            Iva raced over to her purse, pulled out her note pad which she was keeping track of the non- receipt business expenses in and marked down the tip.

            She thought it probably wise to compare the stores to the street map and get some bearing before heading out in the morning.  Iva was aware that she might get lost and how awkward it would be to have to call mayday on dry land, if she didn’t read up a little bit.

            The variety on the television was much better as she flipped the channels then chose to turn it off, preferring instead to read the tour book, for options of what to see and do.  With her questions answered about the room, she got a good night sleep.

            After slowly getting up, Iva looked out the window and saw that it rained during the night but the sky

cleared to reveal bright sunshine, which made the puddles on the streets sparkle, like inviting little gems or glitter, encouraging people to come out of their dry sanctuaries and take advantage of the respite.

            She got her pen, a piece of paper and began to make a list of what she wanted to see and do by priority. Buckingham Palace first, then Trafalgar Square and possibly find souvenirs, if there was time.  Iva got dressed, not worrying what time she needed to be back, she could go through the city at her leisure.

Chapter 8

            Oswald sat at the table reading the newspaper when he heard his brother come down the stairs.  Breck staggered into the kitchen, looking as he did the first year after his return from Afghanistan, like he’d not slept during the night.

            “Sleep well?”  Oswald asked with concern.

            Breck returned to calm nights of rest, after overcoming the sleeplessness and nightmares brought on by memories of war, but knew his family was still concerned, “Very, how about you?”

            “Perfect.  I thought you’d be going after Iva this morning, Breck.”  Oswald said, looking curiously at him.

            “What?  I can’t appear to show her around without a reason.  She’s not called and asked one of us too.”

            His brother shrugged his shoulders, “Why not, you do want to get to know her while she’s here, don’t you?”

            Breck became defensive, “What makes you think that?”

            “I got the impression that you did.  My mistake if I’m wrong.  However, if you did want to, you’d better hurry it’s already eight, so she might leave soon.”

            He paused, not wanting to appear too eager at the suggestion, “What’s the name of her hotel?”

            “I don’t recall.  You’ve seen where it is, just pop in.  You know, something like, oh, Iva, I just happened to be passing and here you are.”

            “I could see if she would like some company.  It would be the courteous thing to do, considering she’s never been here before.”  The younger Fortt said, volunteering himself, shyly.

            Oswald prodded him to reveal the truth, “Breck, don’t falderal with me.  You want to get to know her, especially since you’ll be gone half the week and really only have a few days to talk to her, so get on with it.”

            “See you later.”  Breck answered, conceding Oswald’s observations.

            “You two kids have a good time, sweetheart.”  His older brother said as seriously as he could.

            Breck leered at him as he left the room to hurry upstairs and change his clothes.

            When Iva got down to the lobby Carter was sitting in one of the chairs.

            “Heading out, Miss?”  Victor asked as Iva reached the front desk.

            “Yes.  It looks drier today than yesterday.  I should find boots without having to call a cab.”

            “The stores are all near.  It’s nine o’clock they should be open.  Enjoy your shopping.”

            “Thank you, Mr. Payter.  Goodbye.”

            “Morning Iva, I’m waiting for my folks to come down for breakfast, then after that I don’t have anything to do today.  Can I come with you?”

            She was less tired and now could see he was only about sixteen and bored being with his parent’s all the time, “You know what Carter, if it’s alright with your parents than it’s alright with me.  I have to go get some boots and then after I’m going to Buckingham Palace if you want to go.  Meet me out front in about a half hour.”

            “Cool.  I’ll hurry.”

            “Ok.”  She said as she turned and walked out the doors.  She hoped that going to Buckingham Palace and taking a walk would stretch her out, her feeling of stiffness was unfamiliar territory, but boots were first.

            Iva could see shoes and boots along the wall of the first store on the list she came to.  She went in, quickly trying some on.  The least expensive ones wouldn’t go with her clothes but they fit well, not that California had much necessity for two pairs of boots but they would have some use sometime, she hoped.  Iva finished and paid, pleased she’d found anything in her price range.

            “Excuse me.  May I put them on in here?  It’s still wet outside.”  Iva asked.

            The woman behind the counter pointed toward the corner by the handbags, “Yes.  There’s a chair over there.”

            When Iva exited the shop she looked up, but didn’t see rain clouds.  In fact, there were no clouds at all to suggest that the sun would be replaced with damp weather, it was shining exquisitely.

            She took the bag with her shoes into the hotel.  Victor said he would keep it for her behind the desk until her return.  Before handing it to him, she knelt down casually, slipping her wallet into the shoebox then handed the bag over to him, along with Millie’s umbrella, which she decided she wouldn’t need.  She thanked him, turned and went outside to wait for Carter.

            After ten minutes Carter came out.  He didn’t look excited to her.

            “Iva, my mom said I can’t go because they don’t know you.”

            Iva was relieved, she didn’t know him and taking him would be a huge responsibility, “No, they don’t. Maybe I’ll meet them sometime this week and then they’ll let you, okay?”

            She started to walk away from him when he shouted, “Okay.”

            Iva began to walk in the direction of the underground for the first time.  Having been on the subways in New York with Don and Andrea, she hoped there wouldn’t be too much difference other than the signs, but, if she had a doubt then she would ask a local.

            Breck turned the corner and saw Iva in the distance talking to a young guy.  He picked up his pace as he saw her go down and across the street.  After a brisk walk he reached the guy, no it was a kid he determined when he reached him and asked, “Where is the lady going, do you know?”

            “You mean Iva.  She’s going to Buckingham Palace.”

            He was glad for the information because he had no chance to catch up to her, saying as he left the boy, “Thank you.”

Iva figured out what she needed to do to get to her destination and before she grasped how quickly getting from one place to another was; her stop appeared.  She got off the train with the other travelers and relaxed as she looked around, walking in the direction, according to the map, of Buckingham Palace.

            She started down the mall toward the Queen’s house.  It was a good walk down the street then across the park but empty for a Sunday morning she thought, then cleared her head and relished the sun and exercise.

            There was no one around, the time being ten o’clock, maybe people slept in from their indulgences of the night before.  She walked a little over five minutes, when a glimpse of someone off to her left was coming upon her, which made her stop, turn and look for any other people she could call out to if needed.

            The stranger smiled, “Good morning.”

            “Good morning, can I help you?”  Iva asked, not that she could, but did anyway, taking away his control of the situation she hoped.

            “I’ve lost my wallet.  Do you have a few Pounds?”

            Iva became wary of him, uncertain what to make of the predicament with no on out there, but her.  She knew she didn’t have her wallet, only her Drivers License for identification, the hotel business card and her transit pass but he didn’t know that.  He didn’t know that it wasn’t at all beneath her to run like hell from him screaming if she had too and wouldn’t be worried in the least about what it looked like.

            “Sorry, all I have is my identification.”  Iva answered.  Panic wasn’t setting in, having just had the similar occurrence months before, but she wasn’t about to tell him about her transit pass, in case the man would want it.

            “You’re not from here.  You must have money with you.”

            She was insulted by the inference, “No.  Actually, I don’t.”

            “Turn out your pockets.”  The stranger demanded, putting his hand forward to pat her coat pocket.

            She jumped back, so unexpected was his attempt to reach for her coat.

            “You there, I need to know what you’re doing with her.”  A man’s voice shouted, coming up from the right side of her.

            Iva stood frozen, unable to turn her head, this was the queen’s front yard, what if it was one of her son’s or grandsons, her mind ran wild.  It wasn’t Carter.  Her head went blank.  The situation was becoming too weird and embarrassing, although she was undecided why she should be embarrassed over events she wasn’t creating.

            The stranger looked over her shoulder, seeming as if he wanted to do something, but he didn’t.

            “She’s talking with me.  Not you.”  He said to the approaching man as if that would force him to leave.

            The oncoming man’s tone became firm, “I know her and she doesn’t know you.  Of that I’m certain.”

            Iva became scared.  There was a guy trying to touch her pocket and another who says he knows her, who isn’t Carter, plus she’s alone.  Her teeth started to grind being suspicious of both men.

            The stranger turned from her, bolting away with huge strides, almost a jog.  Iva began to turn her head slightly, wrenching her neck, when she was suddenly hit by the man behind her.  As her legs gave way she wasn’t able to see who it was that knocked into her, his umbrella flew past her as they fell to the ground and the man’s outer arm landed over her ribs.

            After a few seconds the assailant spoke as he lifted his limb from her, “Oh God.  I’m sorry Iva, I lost my footing.  I should have called your name but didn’t think quickly enough.  Are you alright?”

            He sat up on the grass with his hand on his side.

            Iva turned on her side stunned, seeing that it was Breck.  She shook with relief as she watched the fleeing man then took in a big breath of air, “Oh that was scary.  You were trying to help, weren’t you, Breck?”

            “Yes, it was meant to be helpful but turned out the opposite.  Are you
injured?  He repeated, shaking his head with frustration, while listening to whether she made sounds of pain or not.

            Iva grinned as she envisioned the spectacle that had just taken place, “No, I’ll be fine.  Being hysterical at a terrible time is as useful as a firefly in a darkened warehouse.  Anyway, thanks for being around.  He was becoming creepy.”

            From across the park a group of men and women, about their ages, hurried up to them.  One of them, a tall, sophisticated young woman, shouted at Breck, “What are you doing?”

            A man, equally as tall and dressed well, looked down at her and Breck on the damp ground, then in the direction of the man that fled, “What’s all this about?  Do you need help, Miss?”

            Breck got up, holding out his hand to help her.

Then he immediately tried to explain, “I know this lady.  That other chap was…”

“Sure you do.  You’re just afraid of being caught in the act.”  The tall woman accused with a sneer, as the others in her group looked on.

The man peered at his companion with narrowed brows, then at Iva, “Is that right?”

Breck became insulted by the inference that he was lying, “Wait a minute.”

Iva looked at him to be silent then turned her attention back to the man.  Iva grinned, quickly thinking of an alternate story as a joke, but instantly decided against it, not wanting him to be harmed by the woman who was skeptical of his explanation, “No.  My friend accidently slipped or something and knocked into me, that’s all.”

“If you’re sure you’re alright.  And you sir, please mind your footing.  We can’t have women just lying

about, all over the city.”  The young man said with an air of authority, as he and the group turned, smiling at the humor of it, which Iva joined in.

“Are you alright, Breck?”  Iva asked with concern by whatever the pain was, that made him fall.

“I’m fine Iva.  I wouldn’t be if that lady got her hands on me, thank you.  That could have been a pretty bad outcome.  Anyway, it was merely a cramp from that run.  I’ll walk slowly for a while.”

“Of course, there’s no hurry.”

“Good luck to find you here at the right time.  Thank you for telling them what happened I would’ve hated to have been thrown in prison.”

“You’re welcome Breck.  That guy, he just wanted money, which I don’t carry on me.   And, especially if I’m alone in an unfamiliar place.”

He watched Iva as she swept her clothes to remove the damp grass cuttings off, “Good idea.  One can never tell what might happen.”

“No, I guess not.”

“I went to the hotel to see how you were getting on and saw you leaving on foot.  The boy told me where you were going.  It’s a less creepy feeling, now.”

“I appreciate your timing, although needing help wasn’t my intention, I simply needed to have some exercise.”

“Yes, the flight is long and it’s good to walk after.  Now that we’ve established that I’m not here to tackle you, can I be your guide?”  Breck asked, searching her eyes for approval.

Iva looked around, first up the mall then down, “I wouldn’t mind since you’ve taken time out of your morning to find out how I’m doing.  I didn’t feel too strange out here by myself before, but now, it’s more awkward than anything.  Where is everyone?”

“It’s only the twelfth of April.  In two or three weeks the place will be filled with tourists, after the rains, you know.”  He said, jiggling his closed umbrella in front of him, which he used more for a cane than for shelter.

Iva listened quietly as she looked around at the buildings.

The closer they got to the Palace the more majestic it became.  She couldn’t help but to notice that he was still uncomfortable walking, so she slowed her pace.

Her eyes observed every window and wall’s details, “It’s great.  I’m glad I get to see it.  The design is elegant and eye catching.”

“Yes, it’s very much a part of the landscape.”

“It’s inspiring like the White House and as inspiring as the many people who used their skills to build it.”

Breck’s eyes smiled into hers as he picked a large blade of grass off the shoulder of her coat, “Grand things always are inspiring.”

Iva nodded at him with appreciation.

“I’m sorry for Don’s accident, but I’m pleased you could be here and are enjoying yourself.”  He said, shyly.

“I am.  Gwen will give me an update on him tomorrow.  I’ll let you know how he is.”

“Good, thank you.  Is there more you would like to see?”

Iva’s fully relaxed state began to return to her, “Surprise me.  Your judgment seems to be remarkable.”

“Alright, you can see one of the oldest existing streets left in London.”  Breck suggested, showing the way with a point of his umbrella, down the street.

They walked at a slow pace, talking about trivial subjects, while he showed her things to the left and right of them.  Before Iva knew it, there it was, a street dating back hundreds of years, still intact.

“The lives that passed over those bricks, it’s hard to imagine.  It’s truly amazing.”  Iva said with excitement.

“Yes, they would have millions of stories to tell.”

“It’s nice to think that in two hundred years from now, at this very spot, two people could be marveling at the same thing we are.”

“This sidewalk will then have one more story to tell them.  Won’t it?”  Breck added, standing close to her, enough so, that his arm brushed against hers.

Iva was used to his deep voice, so she didn’t make a sudden move away.  She was humored by him but uncertain what tale he wanted, “Yes.  British man shows up in time to save an American traveler from a stranger, they walk and come to this spot.”

“Not bad.  I like your story but what’s the ending?”

“They become friends.  She goes back to America, where he is welcome anytime.”

“That’s very nice.  We’ll just keep walking to see what the other sidewalks have for us.”

“If you have an alternative Breck, please don’t make it melodramatic or slapstick.  The American traveler has had more than her share.”

He gave a slight bow, “As you say, you’re in charge.”

“Not likely, I’m just visiting.”   Iva said, smiling at him.

“Are you hungry?”

“I am.”      

“Would you like cabbage?”  He asked, dubiously.

“That sound great, my grandma makes it all the time, in different ways.  It’s one of my favorites.”  Iva answered cheerfully, thrilled that she was going to eat as she did at home.

“I must admit it was only a joke, Iva.  But, if you really would like some, I think we would have to look around for a place nearby.”  He said surprised by her answer.

“In that case, we could eat something else Breck.”

“I like cabbage myself but generally not at this time.  Dinner is my preference.”

Her smile revealed her ability to be at ease, “Mine too.  Allow a guest a little fun.”

“You got me.  As an alternative, there’s a place around the corner.  It’s just this way.”

He pointed to the left.  When they came upon the café, they sat by the window, ordered sandwiches and tea.

“Were you born in California, Iva?”

“Yes, just outside of Los Angeles.”

“So you aren’t intimidated by large crowds or unfamiliar people approaching you.”

Iva momentarily thought of her grandmother and siblings, “No, not really.  It’s a big city, as London is, from what I can tell so far.  It’s not annoying or anything, if you know where and when to go to get around.  I’ve been out enough on my own to know that my sister, brothers and I do well in most situations.”

“It sounds like you have a good family.”

“They are.  Yours are very nice.”

“Thank you.”   He said, being cautiously optimistic that she might not think the rest of the family unusually odd, even though they were, when and if she met them, sometime this week.

“Were you born here in England?”  She asked.

“Yes.  Right here in London.  Do you want to see the hospital?”

She started laughing, “If that’s what you’d like to show me, I’ll be glad to see it.”

He looked at her, she had a quiet laugh and glowed when she did it, then answered, “No, I just wanted to see what you would say.”

“Sorry, I wasn’t laughing at you but I’d just never been invited to a hospital before.”

“I’ve never invited anyone to a hospital.  Let me show you that I can do better.”

“Okay.”  Iva said, being glad to end the discussion before it became more personal, such as, about their parents.  She looked around, at nothing in particular.  It was work she was there for, she reminded herself, looking into his peaceful face.  He and Oswald were her employer’s friends’ sons and she wanted to keep it that way.

Breck could sense Iva was done talking about herself; he picked up his sandwich and resumed eating. Her curiosity found it hard not to glance up at him a couple of times, but she stayed quiet.

“Excuse me.  I’ve got to use the loo.”  He said as he stood, then left.

Iva watched out the window as people passed with their bags and others with their children.  A few walking hurriedly to who knew where, she observed that it was very much like home.

When he came back he stood by her side at the table, “Ready to move on?”

“I think I would like to get back early, if you don’t mind.  It’s been quite a morning.”

“Certainly it’s already half past three, you’ve been out for hours.”

The walk back to the underground was quiet, with the exception of intermittent questions about what they liked to do when not working.

“I’ll be gone to Germany on Wednesday until Friday but I expect to be back in the morning.”

Iva considered Breck’s information to be a friendly courtesy.  She looked at him with a smile, having no response to give, only being inwardly glad to know that when he didn’t appear it wasn’t for any serious reason.

They got back to the hotel without finding out more about each other.

He held the door open for her, “Have a good evening Iva.  I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Goodnight.”

“It was a bit drier day for you, Miss?”  Victor said as she returned.

Iva nodded his way, “Yes, very much.  It made the walk really pleasant.  Thank you, Mr. Payter.”

“Good.  Will you be eating in your room this evening Miss or joining us in the restaurant?”

“I will eat in the restaurant.”

“Very good, we have a lovely spot, which you’ll enjoy.”

“Thank you.  I’ll be down in a few hours.”

“You’re welcome.”

Oswald heard the door open and close, “Breck is that you?  Or is it dad?”

“It’s me Oswald.  You won’t believe this.”  His brother said as he sat down in the living room and began telling the tale of what went on in the park.

“Good Lord, not again.  Of all the things to happen, you crashed into her on top of it.  Is she alright? How’s your side?  Oswald asked, looking at him, shaking his head at the seriousness of his injury and the coincidence of it.

“Iva said she’s alright.  My side’s better, but yes, it was bizarre.  She seemed scared about the guy and said she didn’t get hurt.”

“You clearly shouldn’t be running, yet.  But, being approached by the needy is going to happen you know, maybe not to a person twice in a year.  We’ll have to keep an eye on her, or Don and dad will have our heads on a platter.”

“She can’t know or she’ll think we’re babysitting.  Being sheepish doesn’t seem to be her personality.”

“You’re right.  Young, yes.  Stupid definitely not, or Gwen wouldn’t have sent her.”  As Breck remembered the fall they’d taken, he nodded his head, “Right.  We should lock her up in the safe.  It’s the best thing to do until it’s time for her to go home.”

Oswald wasn’t certain which was funnier, the event, or the reaction of his brother, “I couldn’t agree more.  Put her in a safe place until she’s returned.”

“Are you going to call her out on New York, tomorrow?”  Oswald asked with intrigue, his suspicion being that he liked Iva even more than he was aware of, now that he’d spoken with her in person.

Breck got up and headed toward the stairs, “No, there’s no purpose in it.  We shouldn’t put frightening thoughts into her head since she appears to be having fun and wouldn’t be at ease going about on her own.”

“I won’t tell Josh this one.  We can’t have them thinking she’s some sort of mugger magnet.”  Oswald said, watching him for reaction as he got half way up the stairs.

His younger brother shook his head at the description, trying to hide his laughter as he stopped and looked at him, “A mugger magnet.  You’ve lost your mind.”

Iva made her way up the stairs to her room, sore from the fall this morning.  She changed her dirty clothes, picked up the book she was reading then unintentionally fell asleep.  Not having set her alarm, she opened her eyes and saw that it was already four forty.  Iva brought only one good dress, a knee length emerald green silk with small white flowers and half sleeves, given to her for Christmas from her grandmother.  It was perfect for the spring, if it ever stayed dry enough.  She couldn’t wear it during the week because she now had to save until next Saturday’s unexpected dinner with the Fortt’s, so she settled on her blue a-line skirt and violet short sleeved sweater.  She got dressed then went down the stairs to the lobby. 

“Miss, this is Robert Slatten, the evening manager.  Feel free to call on him if you need anything.”  Victor said, introducing the well groomed, older man of about fifty.

“Hello Mr. Slatten.  It’s nice to meet you.”               

“It’s a pleasure, Miss.”  He answered.

She slowly headed into the restaurant.

A young man of about Iva’s age led her to her table, “Good evening Miss.”

Iva followed him.  She was impressed by the street view at night.

The man stood back from her, “I’m Elwin, your waiter.  I’ll be right back to take your order.  Would you care for a drink?”

“Tea is fine, thank you Elwin.”

He returned with the steaming pot and cup then took her order.

“I’ll have the roasted chicken, potatoes and vegetables please.”

“Right away, Miss.”   He said, then turned around and left.

Within minutes he returned with her dinner.  She ate slowly, observing the room.

“That was excellent Elwin.”

“Glad you enjoyed it.”

When Iva finished paying, she went outside for air, walking to the corner then to the other.  She crossed the street, wanting to tire herself out for a good night sleep.  Iva didn’t know what impression she had of anything.  She came to this country not knowing what to think about any of it, other than what she’d read in books and then thought back to how much she enjoyed the day with Breck.  It was more interesting than if she’d discovered things on her own.  When she returned, she read for a while, watched television, cleaned herself up and sunk into a deep sleep.

The phone rang startling Iva awake.  Turning her head toward the glowing clock hands on her travel clock they showed that it was five fifty five am.

“Hello Ms. Finder.”

Iva recognized Gwen’s voice and sat straight up.

“Mrs. Cliff.  Hello.  How is Mr. Cliff?”  She asked, anxiously.

“He’s in pain but here at home recovering.  He wants me to thank you for doing this for us and has given me a list of places and people he would like you to see, over and above his list.”

As Iva grabbed a pen and piece of paper, the phone slipped from her chin.  While her boss kept talking, she stayed quiet and listened, not wanting her employer to think that the trip wasn’t going well or that she was inept at doing her job.  She pulled up the cord as the handset swung around.

“Mrs. Cliff, tell Mr. Cliff, he’s welcome.  I’m ready when you are.”

Iva repeated verbatim what she was saying, “Wednesday, the silversmiths’, Thursday, the glassmakers’, making sure to get invoices for the shipments.  Tuesday and Friday are free days, and keep all receipts for business expenditures.”

She was confident she’d gotten everything Gwen said, “I’ll read it back to you, quickly.”

As Iva read it, Gwen confirmed its accuracy.

“Are you enjoying yourself, Ms. Finder?”

“Yes.  It’s been nice.”

“Was the flight good or have any troubles at the terminal?”

“The flight was fine and I’ve had no trouble.  The ocean was a little intimidating but I got it out of my system.”  Iva said, not letting on to her that she was being literal.

“You’ve spoken with the Fortt’s.  Is today arranged?”

“Yes, I met them Saturday.  Oswald Fortt is picking me up at eight this morning.”

“Don’t let them distract you.  You know how they like to enjoy themselves but be aware that they are absolutely thorough and highly skilled in imports.  Even so, they will want to talk with you.  Tell them I said that you’re there strictly for work.”  Gwen said, shifting Don’s pillows behind his head.

“I’ll tell them Mrs. Cliff.”  Iva said as she and Gwen laughed, having already been exposed to their antics.

After they hung up, it took Iva a few minutes to finish getting washed, dressed and ready for Oswald. When she was done she went to the lobby to wait.

Good morning, Miss.  There is a gentleman here for you.  He’s over there.”  Victor said indicating the lobby chairs.

“Thank you, Mr. Payter.  Have a nice day.”

“You also Miss.”

Oswald began getting up, “Good morning, Iva.”

“Oswald, good morning, I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”

“No apology needed.”

Iva led him toward the door, “Gwen said to tell you that I’m here to work, only! So let’s go.”

“Yes ma’am, after you.  We’re back to formalities, are we?  Well then, to the office.  Breck’s there now.”  He said, putting his hand on the door, holding it open for her.

Oswald smiled as he considered that he dare not insult her by telling her of the invoice.

Iva watched out the car window at the people going to work as they drove.

“Breck, we’ve arrived.”  He called out.

His brother was distracted but answered from the office, “Give me a minute.  Show Iva the packing crates to compare with the invoices.  I’ll be right there.”

She had more time than the past Saturday allowed, to survey their office.  It was filled with an antique desk, chairs, lamps, both oil and electric, candlesticks, shelves with rows of books on them, all of which seemed to date from times long gone.  They were interspersed with modern implements which they’d somehow managed to make appear to belong together.  The old and new objects sat side by side fluidly with interestingly casual contrast.

The younger Fortt looked happy when he entered the room.  It was the same happy she felt seeing him once again.

“Now that we’re together Iva, we do apologize to you for all the phone calls over the years.  We hope you didn’t think it flirtatious or harassing, it wasn’t meant to be.”  He said sincerely.  Oswald stood at his brother’s side, nodding his head with mutual agreement.

 “If you’d not been Josh’s friends I might have thought so, but since you were joking the way he and my brother Terry do, I didn’t take offense.  Besides, we couldn’t have ever thought we’d ever meet.  Yet, here we are.”

“No, we didn’t think we’d meet you or we’d never have made ourselves out to seem like childish fools.”  Oswald said, shyly.

“Call yourself a childish fool, Oswald.”  Breck retorted.

“I speak for both of us.”

“You can’t I’m not a childish fool.”

Iva batted her eyes as she smiled, “I accept your apology, thank you.”

She stuck out the envelope in her hand in Breck’s direction.  He took it, separating the colored carbons.  Iva continued looking around the room with interest.

He held up the anticipated funds to his brother, “Here it is, Oswald.”

“Excellent.  It needs to go in the safe right away.  We’ll get it to the bank after lunch.”  His brother said, as he took the check, heading for the office.

“Shouldn’t we show our carrier pigeon?”  Breck asked, checking for his reaction.

He walked back to him, “You may as well.”

“Iva.  You’ve had a signed cashier’s check on you in the amount of one hundred thousand dollars.”

“That’s a funny but strange thing to joke about.”

“No, here it is.  It would’ve taken too long for a wire transfer in this amount to clear if we’d waited for Don to get out of hospital and we must pay the vendors for him by tomorrow.”  Breck said, holding it up to her.

            “Don checks the shipment and disperses the payments when he’s here.  But this time, it was you and it was agreed that keeping you in the dark was the safest for you.  We can’t have you worrying over it.  The check is replaceable but there is only one of you, right?”  Oswald asked, looking questioningly at her as he started his walk back to the office.

            “Yes.”  She answered.

            She found it fun to watch him and became amused by his expression of cheeriness, over her naiveté about the check.  Iva had the same sense of distant inclusion that she and her sister had with their brothers, knowing only what they needed too, so they wouldn’t become distracted from what they needed to do to succeed.  They put up no argument about it, because they were kept in the loop after the fact unless it was imperative that they knew immediately.

            Iva picked up the invoice, looked at one of the crates to hide her smile, “I’ll begin now that you’ve had your fun for the morning.”

            “You are offended.  We protect you and you’re offended, what a world this has become, brother.”  Breck said with shock.

            Oswald turned, watching his brother move to a different crate, “I told you she would be insulted.  You see, she is.”

            “No, you didn’t.  It was I, who thought it a stupid idea.”

“It doesn’t matter whose idea it was, I’m hurt and will do my work, then head back to the country where I’m valued!”  Iva said tragically, burying her head so they couldn’t see her smile.

“That was pretty good, Breck.  She has a kick to her.”  Oswald whispered toward Breck’s ear.

“We’re sorry, Iva.  Our covert operations won’t happen too often in future.”   Breck said, giving his disingenuous apology as he slowly shook his head with conviction of what he was saying, not wanting to put her off.

            “I accept your almost apology.  Now for work, please.”  She said.

            Glassware, silver, she initialed them on the invoice.  Crate after crate, hour after hour, of those items and the porcelain.  Iva hoped it was time for lunch soon.

            “It’s time to eat.  Shall we go out or stay in?”  Breck asked, looking at them for an answer.

            “Eat in, if it’s alright with both of you?  I would prefer to get this done today.”  Iva replied.

            “That’s a good idea.  I’ll go to the bank and bring back sandwiches.  Then later, we’ll go home for dinner.”  Oswald said as he headed to the office to get the check.

            “Good.”  Breck and Iva said in unison as they continued at an efficient and organized pace.

            “Oswald, may I go with you?”  Iva asked, recalling she’d not changed the rest of her personal money into their currency, and after the purchase of the boots, she had no money for souvenirs, other than what were company funds.

            Oswald didn’t want her to have to leave unless necessary, “I suppose.  Although I think Breck could use your help here.  Is there something you need?”

            “I haven’t had enough time to change anymore of my own money, yet.”

            “Oh, you want to convert, well, I…” Oswald replied, wanting to be helpful to her.

            She looked at him with a vacant stare, exposing her lack of foreign travel, “Why should I do that?  I only wanted to change my money over.  My religion’s fine.”

            Breck and Oswald lowered their heads to hide their laughter.

            “Yes, of course, change your money.  It would be my pleasure to do that for you while I’m at the bank and this time you get a free pass.”  Oswald smiled as he watched her begin to go through her purse for every cent she had.

            She ignored him, not knowing what he was referring too.

            Breck grinned at his brother but gave him a stern warning, “Don’t you dare.  She’s worked hard this morning.  Besides, she doesn’t have to be exceptional at the world, it’s not her job.  And who would want her to be, it’s lovely, uncomplicated.  She need only be expert at imports.”

            They waited patiently for her to finish.  Oswald looked back at his brother, “For anyone else I’d not do something so difficult, she opened such a large door for me to go through.”

            “I think I have it all here.”  Iva said, oblivious that they were laughing.

            She handed over one hundred and thirty two dollars and twenty nine cents, which she’d taken out of her wallet and scooped up from the bottom of her over, stuffed purse.

            Oswald was still amused by her confusion as she handed it to him, “I’m happy to help, Iva.”

            “Thank you.  It was an unusual day Saturday.”

            “It’s entirely my pleasure.  Breck mentioned that your day was quite busy.”  The older Fortt brother said over his brothers’ shoulder.  He turned and went out the door, laughing as he stepped out to the street.

Chapter 9

            Iva and Breck returned to their work.  He admired her sense of simplicity at some things, and the way she shrugged things of insignificance off, and yet, she had intelligence in matters of importance.

            Oswald returned after thirty minutes, setting the sandwiches on the table and giving Iva her money.  They ate as they worked until they were done.

            “Iva.”  Oswald said.

            She looked up from the paper she was reading, “Yes sir.”

            “You will be joining us for the twenty twelve Olympics, won’t you?”  He asked with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes.

            Iva smiled at him, grateful for the invitation, “I’ve only just gotten here and don’t know if I’ll be back. It’s not something I’m planning on.  I mean, it’s unlikely that I’ll be sent back here for Don on business again, too soon.”

            “You must make a holiday of it then.”  Oswald persisted.

            She shrugged her shoulders, staying quiet, knowing she wouldn’t even be there if it weren’t for the accident because she couldn’t afford it.

            Throughout the day she could feel their gaze upon her, which she presumed was to make sure she was doing an accurate job.

            “I am surprised at how adept she is at this, the Cliff’s taught her well.”  Oswald said, turning to Breck as they walked across the office, away from her.

            The younger Fortt looked at Iva over Oswald’s shoulder, “They did.  She’s meticulous and thoroughly knowledgeable about the inventory.”

            He agreed with Breck’s assessment, pleased that he wouldn’t have to spend all night correcting her errors, adding, “We’ll have to call them and let them know she’s done well so far.  Tell me.  What do you see?”

            Breck observed her, “A quick sense of humor and keen mind.”

            Oswald scoffed, “You can’t actually see those.”

            “No you can’t, but I can.”

            Oswald turned his head sideways, back and forth, “She’s not overly done, not short nor tall and attractive, in a nondescript way, like Evelyn, you know.”

            “Oh that.  I see that, too.”  Breck agreed, returning to what he was doing, so Oswald wouldn’t notice him admiring her.

            Iva happily signed off on the last of the lists, “I’ve finished.”

            “So have I.  It’s seven o’clock, shall we eat?”  Oswald asked, anxious to sit with her, wanting to find out more.

            Breck was equally pleased to be done, “Right.”

            “Yes, thank you.”  She answered.

            They went out the back door to the car.  Iva felt comfortable at their townhouse, having just been there.

            The two men made their way around the kitchen, they knew so well.  Oswald handed the plates, napkins and utensils to Iva, to set the table.

            “Iva, Breck tells me you were born in California, and that you have two brothers and a sister.”

            “Yes and yes.”  She answered, not wanting to elaborate, as she set a place for each of them.

            They could see in her avoidance of personal questions that it would be limited information she gave, which confused them.  Was it to keep to herself, or did they genuinely put her off by their past joking?

            Breck and Oswald made a dinner of fish with various vegetables that Iva found impressively tasty.

            Iva cut her food enthusiastically, “Thank you, this is tasty, you’re good cooks.”

            “You’re welcome, Iva.  Now tell us, has Gwen called about how the rest of your week is to go?  The younger Fortt brother asked.

            “Yes Breck, I have to be at… here’s the list.”  Iva said as she reached into her purse, pulling out a slip of paper.

            “Have you a map?”  Oswald asked.

            “Victor at the hotel gave me one.  I think I’ll find everything.”

            “Of course you will.”  Breck grinned.

            Oswald surveyed his plate to hide his smile, “A wager of say a pound on that Breck?”

            “How rude of you Oswald, it’s worth at least two.”

            “I beg your pardon Iva, sorry.  You’re right it’s worth two or even, let’s say three, to see which one of us gets her call first.”

            They didn’t gamble unless it was a sure bet, which they thought this was.

            Iva smiled as she watched them, pointing towards herself, “I am right here and can hear you.”

            “Yes.  Indeed, you are.  It should be three, so we don’t insult you.”  Oswald added, smiling at her as he shook Breck’s hand.

            She found the bet amusing.  Little did they know that she had Victor, Robert and the hotel phone number.

            Breck was unable to contain his laughter as he put his fork down on his plate, looking at her and then at Oswald, “I’m sure you’ll find everything easily, Iva.  Now Oswald, who’s going to fetch her when she call’s? Shall we draw straws?”

            “Let’s say, whoever answers the phone has to drop everything and do it.”

            “Yes, agreed.”  Breck said as they repeated their handshake.

            Iva peered at them seriously, “I’ve always been amazed, having watched my brothers, the things that men find to laugh about.”

            “She’s a woman who understands her brothers and loves them anyway!  It’s miraculous.”  Oswald observed.

             Breck was pleased the way she didn’t take personally their jocular manner, “Yes, it is.  Iva, your brothers will be at ease, knowing you’ve held your own in a foreign country.”

            “I appreciate that.  We’ll just have to see how the rest of my stay goes, before making any premature declarations.”

            Oswald looked at her puzzled.  He wasn’t quite as convinced as his brother was, that she’d adapted to them, “You don’t mind our humor with you, right?”

            “No.  Not, at all.  And if I start to, then I’ll head for home.”

            They took her statement in earnest.  She was joking but wasn’t wholly certain that she wasn’t overstepping her bounds.

            “Now tell us about California.  What do you like to do there?”  Oswald asked with curiosity.

            “It’s probably the same as here.  There’s work or school, playing some sports, friends and family.”

            He raised his eyebrows, inquiringly, “But you have Hollywood.  There must be movie stars everywhere.”

            “Not exactly, I haven’t met one yet.  But then again, I’ve been sort of busy living, as I assume they’ve been.”

            He was trying to find out whether Iva was susceptible to popular culture, which he and Breck weren’t able to keep up with, “Of course, but a person does get impressions.”

            Iva stayed serious, “That’s funny.  I wasn’t certain what to expect when I arrived.  Maybe in the back of my mind I imagined that it would be something like; I’d find the Royal family on Sunday, sunning themselves on blankets on the front lawn of Buckingham Palace.”

            “Good one Iva.  It’s your turn Oswald.”  Breck blurted out with a laugh, while sliding his chair next to hers, as they waited for Oswald’s next move.

            “Your point’s taken.  Oh, the scene of it playing out in my mind is not to be believed.”  Oswald said, taking his head in his hands.

            Iva thought Oswald must have saved all the questions he’d ever had about the state for her, instead of asking Josh, as he continued, “Earthquakes then.  Are they every minute of the day?”

            “If there are, they’re not big enough for anyone to feel.  There have been a couple of really big ones but only one that I can remember.  The others were before my time.  They do put perspective on how vulnerable we are, I mean, we’re all sort of at the earth and natures mercy and it’s a living thing that’s indiscriminate in its time and place for occurrences.”

            “It would be difficult to think of you or the Cliff’s in a big one.”  Oswald said, thoughtfully.

            “That’s very kind of you.  Please don’t dwell on it, I know we don’t.  Preparation is the best thing we can do.  Excuse me.  I need to use the powder room.”  Iva said as she got up then left the table.

            Breck wondered what his brother’s opinion was about her astute answers, “A penny for your thoughts.” 

            “It’s going to cost a lot more than that, with inflation.”

            Iva she sat back down at the table having caught the end of their conversation with interest.

            “We were discussing inflation Iva.  I understand from Josh that you’ve been to university.”  Oswald grinned.

            “Yes.”

            “May I ask our highly schooled friend where the word dollar comes from?  It’s kept me awake on many nights and I can’t figure it out.”  He continued.

            She couldn’t decide whether he was joking or not and wanted to answer him humbly incase he genuinely didn’t know, “It comes from the word thaler.  It originated in Europe and was brought over to America by some of the first settlers.”

            Oswald grinned at her having passed his quick quiz, “I see.  I don’t know why, but I’m glad you know that.  Is there anything your curious about that we might be able to answer, Iva?”

            “I was wondering, now that you ask.  What is a fort night exactly?”

            Breck couldn’t resist, she’d opened herself up to a much used joke of he and Oswald’s, “A fort night is, to be precise, a night with us Fortt’s. “

            Iva looked at him astonished by how weirdly similar to the American boys she knew, they were.  Goofy was the word that came instantly to her, to describe them.

            He continued un-phased by the expression on her face, “In days long ago, the entire population of our country had the last name Fortt, and once word got out that a night with a Fortt brother was indescribable, just as this night is, fort night began being used to measure fourteen night increments.”

            Her disbelief kept her quiet.  It had to be time for her to leave she hoped and wondered whether she should speak up and offer to do the dishes, she looked around but didn’t see a dishwasher, but they began to banter back and forth before her mouth moved.

            Breck looked at his brother comically, changing the subject, “Who’s the first to argue over the dishes?”

            “You go first.”  Oswald said, ready for the volley.

            “No sir, your turn, I insist.”

            “Please, go first.”

            “Try to comport yourself in front of Iva.”

            “No, you try.”

            They sounded so ridiculous it lightened the mood, “Please allow me, in return for such a delicious dinner and pleasant conversation.”

            Iva washed as Oswald dried.  Breck cleaned the table, stove and put the dishes away.  After they finished, the brothers drove her to her hotel.

            “Goodnight.  Thank you for an enjoyable evening, both of you.”  Iva said, before hurrying inside in case they started again.

            She was excited when her alarm went off in the morning.  It was Tuesday, her free day.  She would get to see some of the sights.

            “Breakfast this morning, Miss?”  Victor asked as she passed him.

            “Not this morning, but thank you, Mr. Payter.  I have your map and number and am going to do some sightseeing today.”

            “Very good, enjoy your day.  I’m at your service until five.  Robert will be in after that if you should need assistance.  Do stay alert and aware, one never really knows, does one?”

            “No, not even in America, one never knows.  Have a good day and thank you.”  Iva acknowledged as she left.

            She made her way through the streets better than she thought she would and went back to the Tower to take the tour.  As Iva walked towards it, the imposing stone walls became clearer.  She walked further, her curiosity left her feeling that she was getting lost in the stone wall and vastness of it.  Iva joined the line of tourists.

            The tour began.  Her eyes surveyed the buildings.  She heard only the last of the guide’s description, “…and that’s how the beefeaters started.”

            In the Tower itself, her preoccupation with observing everything took her away from the guide again, all she caught was, “They were murdered and …uncles, chambers.”

            It was all too interesting to fully focus on what was being said.  Before she knew it, the tour was over. As she walked out of the building, a woman’s American voice drew her attention across the courtyard.

            “Honey, come over here quickly.  It’s so exciting.”  She was saying.

            A man went toward the woman

            “Oh sure, that’s pretty good.”  He agreed.

            Iva looked at the map and saw that it must be the part of the Roman wall that they were looking at.  She made her way over to see it.

            With the brochure in her hand, the lady identified her as a tourist, “Hi honey, where you from?”

            “California.”

            “We’re from South Carolina.  I’m Beth.  This is my husband Harold, that’s Sarah and Gary.”

            “I’m Iva.  It’s nice to meet you.”

            Beth leaned over to her, “Why, you don’t look old enough to be traveling by yourself, are you a student?”

            Iva smiled at the woman, “No, not a student, just here on business.  I’m old enough, I promise, Beth.”

            “This trip’s been so interesting.  There are so many old dead Kings and Queens.”  Iva’s acquaintance said, looking excitedly at her.

            “Yes, there are.”  Iva agreed.

            She began to move slowly away from Beth, wanting to move on to her next stop, “You folks have a great time and safe trip home.”

            “You too honey.  And, before you leave, you have to see Westminster Abbey, if you haven’t yet.  Don’t forget, Iva.”  Beth said as she turned to chase her children.

            “I won’t.  Goodbye Beth.”

            She thought it a good idea Beth had.  Westminster Abbey, it would be something to do tomorrow, if the chance arose.   A feeling of loneliness came over her.  She quickly put it aside, fearing it would sadden her and spoil the trip.  Iva walked for another hour, looking at buildings and generally observing the goings on.  There was enough time to see other sights but she thought she should get back early, with work to be done tomorrow.

            Her feet ached from walking for so long, as she got into the hotel elevator.  She’d used them enough for the day and didn’t want to attempt the stairs.  Iva had dinner sent up, ate while reading her book and got to sleep at nine.

            At five thirty, her clock buzzed, the sun was rising.  Iva checked her suit that she’d hung by the slightly open window to air out.  It still looked as if it needed pressing.  As she shut the window she felt that the air was colder than the day before, it was spring but reminded her of a fall day back home.

            Iva caught the tube to go to the glass factory first.  Once there, she placed the order for the next shipment of stemware with the most in demand patterns.  Next on her list was the silversmith to place orders and look around their showroom.

            It was already Wednesday.  After work she wanted to get in as many sights as possible.  Don had his schedule of who he would meet, along with invoices already filled out of what and how much he wanted to order.  It made it easy for her to go through it with the manufacturers.  Afterwards, the rest of the day was hers.

            As she left the last of her stops she looked at her watch, one forty.  Iva found a telephone booth to call Victor on her way to the underground.  He told her that from where she was, she would have just enough time to go to Westminster Abbey before dinner.

            The front of the Abbey was more beautiful than she imagined.  Although tired, she smiled as the employees greeted her.  Going in and looking at the tombs and statues was as interesting as Beth said they were.  The architecture kept her too busy to notice the time.  As the other tourists exited, she checked the time.  It was four forty five, time for her to head back.

            After finding the tube and getting on, Iva watched for her stop.  A man wearing glasses and reading a newspaper off and on, stopping to stare at her but said nothing.  His features seemed familiar but she couldn’t remember exactly from where.  Iva tried not to look at him, but the gnawing feeling that she’d seen him before wouldn’t leave.  Her stop came.  As she got out, her curiosity made her take another quick look at him.  She shrugged at her laps of memory, it had been a busy day, she must have imagined it, she thought.

            Iva made her way back to the hotel and her room.  More sleepy than hungry, she cleaned up, set her alarm for the morning at five o’clock, changed and got into bed without eating.

            It was slowly becoming easier for Iva to get up early, she’d become used to having to catch the underground the past mornings to get to the appointments.  This day, it was with one at nine for porcelain dish sets and another at eleven to look at platters, on the list.

            Iva woke up on her own at four forty.   She was saddened as she got up, the days were speeding by and there was still so much to see.  Unable to fall back to sleep for another twenty minutes, Iva cleaned herself up and dressed.  She’d not gotten sick so far having damp hair because of the uselessness of her blow dryer, but her clothes were a whole different problem.  Iva held up her suit, looked at it near the window, thankful that it was her last day to wear it, without being cleaned.

            Her stomach bound up from hunger and she immediately called down for breakfast.  Iva ate, dressed and went down to the lobby.

            Victor was his usual cheerful self, “Good morning Miss.  Have a lovely day.”

            “Thank you Victor.  Have a nice one too.”  Iva said, waving to him as she went out the door.

            The day was peaceful.  She felt comfortable walking around by herself after she left the first store.  If there was time after work, she thought she might make it to the Wax Museum.  Iva kept her focus on what needed to be done before planning anything of leisure.  Her schedule took her to the second manufacturer, where she placed the order that Gwen wanted and then went through their entire inventory to relay to Gwen.  Once finished she started to head back to the underground.

            Iva’s watch showed four twenty five, if she hurried there would be time for the museum.  After making her way through the crowds of people going in every direction, she took the tube to the stop.  When she made it to the doors, it occurred to her that she looked funny running through the streets, but she’d made it nonetheless before the museum closed.

The line crept along slowly.  It made her wonder if she would be let in before they picked the final person to be admitted.  Good fortune was with her and once inside, the tour began.  The lifelike figures captivated her.  She regretted she’d not been to the one in Los Angeles even though it wasn’t far away from her house.

Iva was interested in the Royal family, the actors and world leaders.  While she read the tour brochure, she lagged behind the rest of the group.  Her heart sank at how sad, yet creepy they were, staring at them with fascination.  People from the last group brushed past her as she looked carefully at the figure of the wax lady, stretched out peacefully on a chaise, while her pose seemed tragic.

As she exited the building, the warmth of the day wasn’t lost on her.  She hoped tomorrow, Friday, her other free day would be the same.  It was time for her to head back, this having been another productive but long day.   Iva got to her hotel.

Robert held out a piece of paper for her, “Miss, there’s a telephone message for you.”

She took it, opened it and smiled wide at what was written.

“Is everything well, Miss?”

“I think I was supposed to be a damsel in distress for the last two days but haven’t obliged the callers.”

The Fortt brother’s asked in the message whether she was lost.  The idea was sweet and funny to her.  I they’d really thought she were lost, they wouldn’t have left a note, realizing she wouldn’t get it because she was lost.

“You have a nice evening.”  Robert said as he returned to his work.

“You do the same, Robert.  Thank you.”

Once inside her room, Iva picked up the phone, dialing their number.

“Hello.”

“Hello, Oswald?’  Iva asked, certain it was him, but keeping up her front of being confused by them.

“Yes, Iva.  We haven’t heard from you in days, are you lost?”  He asked.

“No.  I’m back at my room.  Were you expecting something else?”

“Not at all, we’re glad to hear you’ve made your way around the city easily.”

She could faintly hear in the background, Breck saying, “Has she been lost?  Well has she?”  Which came as a shock to her, he was back a day early from his Germany trip.

Oswald whispered away from the phone, trying to be as sly as he could, “No.  She’s back.

Breck laughed, “Can you believe it?  We’ve been had, she’s very clever.”

“Oswald.  Is everything alright?”  Iva asked, trying to get the better of their antics.

He answered as if he weren’t distracted, “Everything’s fine, Iva.”

“I’ve got to tell you that I did get lost once.  But since finding my way was contingent on a wager, I figured I would use my hotel manager’s help to spare either of you from financial hardship.”  She said, carefully.

Laughter was all she could hear after that.

“Listen, Iva.  Our parents just came in and are on the speaker with us.”  Breck said seriously.

She blushed with humiliation, wondering how she could ever get out from under having the Fortts’ believe she was as precocious as their son’s.

Graham was amused by her inventiveness, “Very good, Iva.”

Iva could hear everything, even as their mother began scolding the both of them, “What have you boys been up to?  You’ve been playing at Iva and are making her think I’ve raised wild men.”

“Mother, it’s just a bit of fun that she was in on.  Isn’t that right Iva?  Please, you must help us.”  Breck begged.

“I will this once Breck.  Millie, I was aware of the bet they made.”

“I don’t understand what’s gotten into them Iva.”  Millie said.

“We’ve been making her feel welcome.”  Breck laughed.

“Any more welcome and she’ll avoid all of us.”  His mother continued.

“It’s alright Millie.  I understand how introverts can explode with enthusiasm when someone pays attention to them.”  Iva said, biting her lip to not laugh.

“Ouch.  We’ll have to be on our guard, Breck.  She’s caught up to us.”  Oswald said.

“Yes, her astuteness forces us into a fencing position.”

“You’ll not match anything with her.  You’ve brought this on yourselves.”  Millie said.

Breck became serious again, “Yes, ma’am.  Iva, would you like me or Oswald to show you around tomorrow, if you haven’t made plans?”

“I was going to see some places about nine o’clock.”

“Iva.”  Graham said, getting her attention, “I’ll send one of these two, whichever is left after their mother is done with them, to get you in the morning.  I insist.”

“Thank you, Graham.  I’ll be ready.”

“Goodnight my dear.”  He said as he was leaving the room.

“Goodnight Graham.”  She answered.

Oswald whispered to his brother to remind him, “Not me Breck, it’s Friday, the deposits need to be made.”

“I don’t want to impose.”  Iva said.

“No imposition, I’ll be glad to take you.”

“Thank you Breck.  It will be nice to have your company again.”

“Be there at nine.  Goodbye.”

Millie spoke up, “Have a goodnight dear.”

“Thank you and goodnight Millie, Oswald, Breck.”  Iva answered as she hung up.  She sat on the bed, thrilled by the thought of spending the entire day with an informed tour guide to cut down on needless wandering and wasting of time.

Breck smiled at Oswald, anxious to note her achievement, “Not needing us for two days that’s not bad.”

“Indeed.  She travels safely, I’ll give her that.”  Oswald agreed with a wink at his brother.

It was a warm morning, the sun reflected off everything Iva saw out her window.  There was no need to dress as heavy as she had been.  Not having much of a selection of casual clothes, she slipped into her grey capri’s, light pink short sleeved sweater, with her cream colored long sleeved sweater over it.  She didn’t know where she and Breck were going, but wherever it was; her outfit would have to do.

Her phone rang just as finished brushing her hair, “Hello.”

“Good morning, Ms. Finder.  There’s a gentleman here for you.”  Victor informed her.

“I’ll be right down, Mr. Payter.  Thank you.”

“I will tell the gentleman.”

Breck was reading a magazine as Iva came out of the elevator.  He rose from his seat as she approached, “Good morning Breck.”

“Good morning, Iva.”  He returned, sounding like a punished child when he added, “Don’t be mad about last night on the phone, please.  Our mother was more than enough.”

“I’m not mad at all, the humor is good.”

“Well thank you, then.”

Iva couldn’t help but to smile at their continuously reminding her, that they meant no harm, as if she didn’t know they were only being friendly.  But they seemed to have been put on a small tether, being in the same position that she was.  They were familiar, but yet, not quite.  She hadn’t been insulted by them and wasn’t expecting that they were the sort of men that did that, just to aggrandize their selves.

“You both have so much fun.  I’ll let you know, like your mother does, if it crosses into the rude.  And yes, I did know you were joking, but so was I.  How about having a truce?”  She asked as she held out her hand to shake, which he took.

“Your brothers have taught you well.”

She smiled up at him, “Thank you.  I’ll let them know.”

“The reason you’ve been sent to us Iva, is unfortunate, but I must admit, you’ve made a dreary work week very pleasant.”

“You and Oswald have done the same for me.  The time has sped by.  Thank you, Breck.”  Iva agreed, looking at him through her watery eyes.  For what reason, she didn’t know, not having had any thoughts in any direction other than work and sightseeing.  There was a warm feeling she had for them, as her friends, that’s what she thought it must be.

“We’re off then.  Have a good day, Mr. Payter.”  Breck said.

“You also Sir, Miss.”  Victor answered with a smile, nodding his head at each of them.

Iva smiled back at him, genuinely grateful for his friendship, “Thank you, Mr. Payter.”

“I thought a walk around the Tower Clock first, rather Big Ben, and then along the Thames to start off with, if that interests you, Iva?”  He asked as he held open the hotel door.

            She looked back at him as she got to the sidewalk, “It sounds great.  I’m yours for the day.”

            His smile hid a great deal more than he was letting on, “Good.”

            They took the underground, walking casually the rest of the way to Big Ben.

            As they reached it, Iva became awestruck at what a majestic structure it was.  Its architecture was as interesting as the other buildings in the cities.  Breck watched as Iva examined the brick work.

            “Breck, would you mind if I pick up a few souvenirs for my family, if we come across some shops.  It won’t be an all day event.”  Iva asked, cautiously.

            “Not at all, in fact, there are some shops that are quite good by your hotel.  We’ll go once we’ve finished.” He replied as he looked into her eyes then proceeded unable to help himself, “You have the lightest golden eyes I’ve ever seen.  They have specs of gold, light green and a color I can’t make out.  No wait, it looks like particles of lavender.”

            “I get the color from my grandmother.  Your eyes are the same pretty teal color as your mothers.”  Iva said, turning her head away to look toward the water so he couldn’t see her gazing into them.  She knew there was more to people than just liking their eye color.

            They continued walking along the river.

            “When you were at the Tower, did the crown jewels surprise you, Iva?”

            “Yes.  I’m partial to the scepters, they’re beautiful.  If my grandma would have had some like those, I’m sure she’d have put them to good use.”

            Breck understood her meaning, “The Queen enjoys them I’m sure as much as you do, but probably not as much as your grandmother would.”

            “Are they meant to represent the wooden clubs that were carried by tribal or clan leaders?”  Iva asked.

            He cautiously attempted to be funny, “Possibly.  Maybe that’s why they’re not used anymore.  It would be impossible to get anything done if heads of state had to keep looking for the stick, just to go from here to there all the time.”

            She smiled at the idea of people running around looking for their scepter.

            “These are tough times, Iva.  People can’t do as much as they could before, because of the economy.”

Breck said quietly, wanting to find out whether she was abreast of the current state of things.

            “I know.  California is a tourist destination as much as it is commerce and trade.  I’m not certain when things will turn around.”  Iva replied, looking at him, hoping he wasn’t probing her for an assessment of the world financial situation, her opinion of how to solve it, or speculate on what it might be like over the next year.  She had her ideas of course, but only spoke to people she was familiar with about her own situation.

            She continued after some moments thought, “I know at least amongst my friends and family that we’re determined to make the best of it.  Unfortunately, some are making it better than others.”

            As they continued along the street Breck added, “The recession is palpable in almost every business, along with austerity measures.”

            “Back home it’s the same.  Do you know people, personally, in the countries of the Euro-zone?  Breck.”

            “Yes.  The importers we work with are all hard working people from the twenty seven countries.”

            “Do you think it will turn out good for them?”

            “Yes.  Perhaps not in the immediate future, but ultimately, yes.  We believe in their determination.  All those countries have smart, industrious and genuinely good people there.  They’ll come through these troubles, being the stronger for it, but, it will take time, that’s a certainty.”

            “The customer’s that I’ve spoken with who call the office, though I don’t know them personally, they’ve always been kind and very good at what they do.  I wish the best for them.”

            “I’m sure if they knew that, they would appreciate your cheering for them.”

            “Oh, it’s not just me.  There must be a great many people rooting them on, at least the people I know back home, are.”

            “So are we.  Are you hopeful for the future at twenty two years old?”

            “Probably as much as you are, we’re the same age.”  Iva answered, reluctantly.  The inability to speak freely was coming over her.  Was he nosy or genuinely interested in her reality?  Saying the wrong thing might be repeated to the Cliff’s, which might put her in a position of becoming unemployed.

            He spoke out as if he were reading her thoughts, “Please trust that what we talk about won’t be discussed with anyone, well, perhaps with Oswald, if he asks, but neither of us would put you in a vulnerable position.  We both like you and you’re an excellent representative for the Cliff’s business interests.”

            Iva choked with pride at his compliment, “Thank you Breck.  Things can be precarious at times.  You see, I was unemployed before this and it was incredibly difficult to find another job.  It’s hard to think, that if our population were already at a billion people and this all happened, how catastrophic it would be to find a job, the competition would be insurmountable and people’s stories would be unbearable to hear.”

            “Yes, competition amongst a few is healthy and welcomed, but with the population’s annual increases, it becomes incumbent upon businesses to re-strategize continually.  It’s difficult to consider having children.  One wouldn’t want to have to worry about their offspring’s existence and how horrible it could possibly be.  Especially if simply trying to live sucks the life out of it.”

Iva was stunned by his dismal admission, saying nothing directly about it, but understood his feeling and she, herself, was leaning toward that way of thinking.  After experiencing the horrible events with her parents and considering that even though she was hopeful for her future, it didn’t necessarily extend toward her future generations.  She expressed her situation to him in a cautionary way, “I owe a great deal to the Cliff’s.  They hired me, fully aware of my ambitions and paid me well enough to make them happen, so I could be an asset not only to them, but also to the industry.  I’d only had a job during high school that paid the minimum wage which never would have helped me.”

            “They are good people and are very pleased with your work.”  Breck said.

“I like to think so, but there are times I have to remind myself, that even though the Cliff’s say their business is a family and that I’m part of it, realistically, when Andrea graduates college or if they have to let someone go, it would be me, not she or Josh.  It was because their niece moved to Illinois that I got the job in the first place.  So, I’m enjoying it for as long as it lasts and have no regrets, I’ve learned things about importing, which I could take with me if that happens.”

            He was sympathetic, “That’s understandable and is very wise of you, actually.  You shouldn’t have to resort to desperate acts just to keep yourself.”

            “No.  I would never want to be forced to, that’s for sure.  Please don’t think that I’m ungrateful to them, because I’m not, I’m very fortunate.  The Cliff’s understand what it cost for me to live in real terms.  It relieves a great deal of worry from my mind about how I’m going to afford to live, especially on my own.  I couldn’t have been able to afford this trip myself.  Or at least, it would’ve meant having to give up my savings in order to do it, which I wouldn’t have done, not for the foreseeable future.”

            He smiled in recognition of the circumstances, “I’m pleased to verify for you that Don and Gwen are of the same opinion as my parents, along with the other importers they work with, when it comes to their employees.  This is how our families have stayed in business all these years.  It wouldn’t serve us any purpose to have a millions of dollars for ourselves and not share our good fortune with those who work with, and for us.  Besides, what could be more philanthropic than to treat our employees as well as me, or any of them, would want to be treated.”

            Iva watched him as he spoke, admiring his grasp of longevities, both personally and professionally.

            “You’ve articulated it precisely, Breck.  That’s how the Cliff’s treat me.”

            “But if we are all ruined by insane spending, which is out of our control, then all our thinking will be pointless.”

            “Yes it will.  That will be something to be dealt with when and if it happens, even for the richest person.”   Iva said, tiring of the topic.

            “Who helped you to understand how to survive in tough times?”

            “My Grandmother, she…”  She answered, becoming evasive and embarrassed as she said it, finding him far too easy to talk with.

            He didn’t let on that Josh already disclosed her family situation, when he was in California then considered how inflation was affecting their bottom line at work, “I’m willing to pay my share of the infrastructure, but not for people’s frivolity.  That’s something they have to pay themselves.”

            “Absolutely, you shouldn’t.”  Iva nodded, wanting to admit to him that once long ago, she’d been one of the frivolous.

            She listened to him with more understanding then she had back then, regarding the subject.

            “I have another question for you, Iva.”  He said.

            “Oh, okay, but will you answer the same question when I’m done?”  Iva smiled, wanting to find out as much about him as he was about her.

            “Yes, I will.  Do you feel as if you’ve come to understand the economy, since working with the Cliff’s?”

            “Yes, but not as much as my grandmother.  She pounded into us what she called the Finder’s way of doing things.  What about yourself and working for your father?”  Iva answered, not elaborating.

            He smiled as he pointed down the river, pleased that she was interested, “Yes, I’ve learned a great deal. Now, that’s enough about the world.  This is a day for you to be shown around.”

            They went on to Hampton Court palace, where Iva found the architecture to be as interesting as any that she’d seen the past few days, it having over one thousand rooms.

Her curiosity was heightened by Breck’s silence, which took hold of her as they got on the boat back to town, “You like working with your father and Oswald, don’t you?”

            “There’s nothing else I would rather do, nor, any other people I’d do it with.  How about yourself?  Iva.”

            “I would be happy doing the import business my entire life, if that’s the way it turns out.”

            “You’re very competent at it.”

            “Thank you.  I have to credit my brother for telling me about the job and the Cliff’s for teaching me all that I didn’t know.  I suppose that’s why I’m so sensitive about work and not messing around during it, because I really don’t’ want to lose it.”

            He stopped, seriousness taking hold of him, “We understand and know to tread with caution, you’ve made it clear.  You shouldn’t fear being sacked.  That is, unless something happens to mother’s umbrella under your care.”

            Iva gasped at the warning.

            “You’re funny, you know.  The least of your worries should be that old umbrella.  There’s no danger if it did get lost or ruined.”  He said.

            “I don’t know what else I should be worried about.  The things I have no control over, I haven’t the time to think about.  I’ll act on them if they come up.  But, losing your mom’s property would be really bad.  So, please Breck, continue to make me worried about it.  I’m glad that my hovering just above the pit of madness makes you laugh.”

            “I will.  Is there anything else you would like to do for a living? Iva.”

            “Not that I can think of right now.  But, no one knows how they might have to adjust to things as they change.  Doing a different job or living in a different place.  Anything can happen.”

            “That’s quite true.  And who we adjust with, will make all the difference.”

            “As any of Henry the eighth’s wives would probably attest too.”  She grinned.

            He gave out a laugh, “Undoubtedly.”

            “For me, that’s been the case.  My family, friends and I think the same and ignore being in the world of popularity.  One day you’re on top, the next your at the bottom, then back again.  It all happens.” Iva said, watching to see if this put him off or insulted him, which wasn’t her intention.  It was merely to put it up front that she’d been in that world in her youth and lost.

            “We’re not into popularity either.  We have friends and family that make for pleasant company, that’s enough for us.”  Breck agreed, seeing that Iva wasn’t keen on talking about serious topics any longer, asking, “Would you be interest in our Victoria and Albert Museum, Iva?”

            “Yes I would like to see it, if there’s time.”

            They made their way to the museum.  As they worked their way through the exhibits, he realized he didn’t want his time with her to end, “Would you like to walk on after we’ve finished here?”

            “For a while, it’s a nice day.”

            They headed to the exit.  Going out onto the street, people were passing, talking and laughing.  A couple of young men joked around across the street.  Suddenly, Iva couldn’t help herself, saying “I miss Oswald with us.”

            “He’s grown on you, hasn’t he?”

            “Yes, in the short time I’ve been here, as have you.”  Iva said spontaneously, revealing the thought that popped into her head.

            He was glad she’d exposed her affectionate feeling for him.  All he had to do now was to find out how deep it went.

            “I’ve been here only a week.  This whole trip has been a pleasant surprise.  I expected it to be relatively quiet, just doing my work.”  She said, trying to get out of her premature admission of her feelings for his kindness toward her.

            She continued walking, trying to keep the topic light, not wanting to get pulled into anything which had her inner thoughts attached.

            “I’m glad you haven’t been bored.”  He added, and then suddenly remembered, “Iva.  I’ll pick you up in the morning at nine to go to my parents.”

            Iva smiled, not wanting to leave any impression that she was brushing him off, “Thank you, Breck.  I’ll be ready.”

            He relaxed his demeanor, which she appreciated.

            They took the tube train to the stop for her hotel.  On their return, they walked down the streets, stopping off at stores for the gifts she wanted to take home.  They went through the novelties that were for sale.  Iva picked up decks of cards with the British flag on them for Bruce, Terry, Case and Andy, a cup and saucer set for her grandma, along with a doll for baby Janine.

            Harrod’s department store came into view as they went further down the street.  They went in to browse.

            “You’re not getting anything to take back home for yourself?  Don’t tell me that you have an aversion to material things.”  He asked, pointing to an expensive platinum and diamond bracelet.

            She smiled at the question, which he’d disguised as a casual comment, but wondered if he found talking about money distasteful.  Before she could think clearly she whispered, “No, not at all.  I have an extreme aversion to poverty, though.  I’ve had to buy a pair of boots here, so, I’ve reached my limit.  If I did have more money, I would be able to spend it, but it would probably be in a more conservative way than other women might spend theirs.”

            “I don’t mind confessing to you that I’m also careful with my money, and weigh how I spend it.”

            After forty minutes of shopping and looking at the variety of items in the store, they left, going on slowly until they reached her hotel.

            He held the door open, examining her hair and profile, “Thank you for sharing some of your views with me Iva.  I hope I wasn’t too intrusive?”

            “You’re welcome.  You weren’t, and by the way, thank you for yours.”  Iva said, releasing her anxiety over the things she’d told him.

            “I’ll see you in the morning.”

            She stepped through the door, “I’ll be here.  Breck, thank you for a wonderful tour, goodnight.”

            “You’re welcome.  Have a nice evening Iva.”

            Iva passed Robert, thinking about how tranquil she felt, “What a day.”

            “A good one I hope, Miss?”  He asked.

            “Yes and with beautiful weather, it was great.”

            After dinner, she read the newspaper she’d brought up with her from the lobby, before falling asleep.

Chapter 10

            As Iva woke up she remembered this would be her last day to see the Fortt’s together, so she hurried around getting herself ready.  Her lavender dress would have to do for the party this afternoon, not having asked Millie what would be appropriate to wear, nor knowing what the party would be like.

            Iva went down the stairs to wait for Breck outside the hotel, when he drove up at eight fifty.  They greeted each other, he opened the car door for her and they left.

            She stared at the steering wheel on the right side of the car, which she’d noticed before from the backseat every time someone drove her, but hadn’t examined the whole set up as closely as she was able to this time.

            Iva watched him drive, he was quieter than usual.  To break the silence she began mimicking his hand movements, shifting and steering when he did.  It made him smile, “What are you doing Iva?”

            “Seeing, if driving on the right side of the car, is as easy as the left.”

            “Well, considering you’ve let go of the steering wheel and have looked at me for about a minute and a half, you really shouldn’t attempt it, because now we’re off the road and into the trees.”

            Her face went red, having fallen for it, “Oh, yes, that’s a nice trick.  Distracting me to gage my aptitude, I presume.”

            “You did fine until I spoke to you.”  He smiled, then continued, “Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.”

            Iva’s only option was to turn her head and look out the window, “I put myself into your crosshairs, didn’t I?”

            Breck turned his head toward her, “I’m afraid so.  You are either taking it very well or planning on how you’ll reciprocate the joke.”

            “You’re not watching Breck; we could have careened off the road.”  She said, pointing out his error.

            “Right!”

            “I couldn’t resist.  Iva said, shaking her head back and forth with a smile.

            Romantic rituals weren’t something she was in tune with.  They’d not been on her mind, since her semi-boring quest for financial security had begun, so many years earlier.

            Breck gave out a quiet, audible sigh, relieved that she hadn’t been put off.  Which he didn’t know, he needn’t worry about as far as she was concerned.

            “Can we somehow put this, worrying about offending each other to rest, finally?”  He asked, tired of the relentless caution with which he talked to her.

            “Yes, please.  Both you and Oswald need to relax.  I’m used to ignoring men’s humor.  With my two brothers’, I’m sure I’ve heard enough to distinguish between that and insults, as your mother probably is.  We learned early enough about not treading into sensitive areas and to appreciate each other.  How about you, and Oswald?”

            Breck admired how forthcoming she was, “We did as well.”

            Iva was relieved that they weren’t as different as she’d feared.

            The car ride became one of the quietest, happiest, she’d taken in a long time.

            It was thirty minutes out of London before they pulled up to a lovely, distinguished two story house of stone, simply landscaped.

            He led her in, “I’ll show you where everything is.  My mother will be in the back.”

            She nodded but stayed quiet.

            “Here’s the downstairs loo, sorry, toilet, um, bathroom, or restroom.”  He said shyly, trying quickly to recall what American’s called the toilet, as he pointed toward the door, and then continued with the layout, pointing in different directions the placement of the rooms, “The kitchen, living room and study are through those doors.  Back through the kitchen is the back lawn.”

            She tried to remember where each was.

            “Can I get you a drink or something, Iva?”

            “No thank you Breck.”

            The feeling of only two days left came over her, but there was not time to be down, this was a party.  She was determined to have a nice time.

            Iva made her way to the back, crossing the yard to Millie.

            “She’s so beautiful.”  Breck said out loud when he’d gotten to the kitchen window, watching as she went toward his mother.

            Graham walked past his son from behind him to go out the door, “Yes, she is.”

            Breck stood motionless, unaware his father was there.

            “Iva.  Good morning.  It’s good to see you, how was your day, yesterday?”  Millie asked with interest.

            “It was very enlightening.  It’s one thing to read about things and a whole other to see them.”  She said, cheerfully.

            “I felt the same about New York and Los Angeles my first time.  They are quite the places and unimaginable until you’re standing in the midst of them.”

            “Yes.”

            “Have you been shown where everything is?”  Millie asked.

            “Breck’s shown me.”

            Millie winked at Iva, whispering, “Good.  I gave them a verbal lashing, enough to last at least a month, maybe more.  They may be in their mid twenties but I still rule the home, at least for now.”

            Iva could see she meant it.

            Graham stood next to her, “How’s my wife’s partner this morning?”

            “Very well, Graham.  Thank you.”

            “Oswald, come here please.  Introduce Iva around, would you?”  His mother said as he passed.

            “Yes, mother.”

            “You’re a good sport Iva, thanks.”  Oswald said, whispering near her ear as they walked away.

            Iva was surprised, “You’re welcome, but why thank me?”

            “The folks really would’ve had us, if it were any other visitor, but you.”

            She took his arm as if they were inseparable, “I feel really welcomed here.”

            He began to introduce her to all sorts of friends and family.  There were polite, brief conversations then he moved her on to the next group of people.

            Inexplicably, Iva had an arm over her shoulder.  She and Oswald jerked back.

            Oswald looked at the man sternly, “Allen.  That’s a little to forward for anyone, back off her.”

            “There’s no harm, Oswald.  She and I are old traveling buddies.”  He said amused.

            Iva glanced up at him.

            “Oh wow.  You’re from the plane and the train.  I thought you were familiar the other day.”  Iva said, acknowledging him with a smile.

Allen was more satisfied at the circumstances than she was, “Didn’t think we’d ever see each other again, what a coincidence, isn’t it? Iva.”

            He proceeded to tell Oswald and Breck of their flight, along with her food flight, beaming as he recalled the event.

            “How disgusting Iva.”  Oswald said, looking at her pathetically.

            She cringed at the memory of it, raising her eyebrows, “It was distasteful.”

            He led her to the table across the yard, which had quite a few people huddled around it.

            “Everyone, this is Iva.  I’ll tell you their names after we’ve eaten.”  Oswald said, introducing them rapidly having run out of time, then handed her a plate, “Iva, help yourself.”

            “Thank you, Oswald.”  She said, noticing that she was next to Graham and that he was dumping fruit on her plate.

            He looked at her searchingly, pointing at fruits and foods on the table, “Berries, how about this and some of that?”

            “Yes, thank you Graham.”  Iva answered not wanting to offend him.

            A woman or girl, who was a bit younger than Iva, though she couldn’t really tell, began talking over her shoulder from behind her.

            “Are you enjoying your stay?”

            Iva’s head turned with a smile to her, “Yes.  It’s been a wonderful trip.”

            “My name’s Trudy.  Have Oswald and Breck been showing you about, while you’ve been here?”

            Iva backed a foot away from her, checking whether she was calm or angry.

“They’ve been helpful.”  She answered timidly, not knowing the situation of any of the people.  Iva thought it best to keep restrained, her being the ignorant visitor, in case these were serious relationships.

“Everyone has said how nice you are.”  Trudy said, her manner ceasing to be so abrupt, all the while retaining her position behind Iva as she went through the line with Graham.

Iva’s immediate thought was to not get involved and knew all she had to do was to keep far away from her.  She held her full plate at Trudy, “Excuse me, I need a seat.”

As she left, Iva noticed that no one said anything to the young woman that she could hear, which made her pick up her pace to keep out of her way.  There was a table with only one seat left, Iva spotted it, exhaling under her breath as she sat down, “Oh, brother”.

Oswald came in her direction, “Iva, come see what we have set up.”

She scanned the area, there was no Trudy in sight and thought it safe to go with him.

He began pointing across the yard, “There are horseshoes just there and croquet over that way.”

Trudy watched them, making a start in their direction.

“I’ll be right back, Iva.”  Oswald said, ignorant of Trudy’s pursuit.

“Nice man, isn’t he?”  Trudy asked.

“Yes, he is.  Excuse me Trudy.  I’ve left my lunch on the table.”  Iva answered, bolting as quickly as she could.

Oswald turned to see Iva retreating back to her seat when he reached his brother, catching sight of Trudy.

“Iva’s really avoiding Trudy.”  He said over Breck’s shoulder.

The younger Fortt became alarmed, “Trudy.  You mean in-Trudy.  She’s here?  Are you crazy?  No, she’s crazy and you’re just insane.  This isn’t funny Oswald, not funny at all.”

“I didn’t invite her, thought you did.”

“Of course I didn’t.  The girl or woman, whatever you call a sixteen year old, has intuition or something.”  He said, annoyed.

“No.  She’s just crazy for you, in a girly weird way.”

“It’s time for the folks to move when the neighbor girl can peek through the shrubs and invite herself.”

“She’s harmless, only wanting your love and devotion.”

“Not quite.  It’s you she wants when it’s time for a school dance.”

“That’s not likely, Prince disarming.”

Millie heard them as she passed, creeping up on them, “Boy’s you can be heard.”

Oswald turned his head toward her, then back to the two young women, wanting to watch.

“Mother, really.  Do you see Trudy?  She’s been after Iva and is making an actual pest of herself.  As she has, with every new woman we have come here.”

“It’s a tough time for girls at that age.  So long as she’s not bothering her, I’m sure Iva can handle herself as the others have done.  If there’s no scene, then let her be.  But check with Iva and make certain that Trudy’s not making her uncomfortable.  You go, Oswald.”  His mother insisted, gently poking him in the back.

“Ouch mum. Why me?  It’s Breck that Trudy’s madly in love with.”

“Stop it and go.”  Millie said, stomping away.

Breck pointed at them as he watched the hawk to unsuspecting soul, “Oh it’s too late.  Trudy’s found Iva again.”

“Uh oh, I’d better go.”  Oswald said, pushing past him.

Trudy neared her from behind, “I want to sit with you Iva.”

“Please do.”  Iva said politely, having prepared herself for the inevitable confrontation.  She was obviously going to corner her sometime and it might as well happen now.

“They’re my neighbors.  I’ve known them for a very long time and they’ve always been nice to me.”

Iva relaxed, taking a rough guess at Trudy’s age, “I’m simply a visitor and have only met them.”

“I like them very much and always have.”  The young woman persisted.

She understood a teenage crush, responding accordingly, “Yes, of course you have.”

“How are you two?”  Oswald interrupted.

Iva looked at him, “We’re fine Oswald, how are you?”

“Fine, that’s good, fine.  Well, bye, then.”

He was more of a coward than she was, Iva thought to herself.

Oswald reported their exchange as he reached Breck, “Seems to be nothing, brother.”

His brother glanced at the two young women, “Good.  Now may I have a good time?.”

“If there’s hair pulling and bloodshed, I’ll not be to blame.”  Oswald grinned, patting him on the back.

“Do not under estimate her Oswald.  I think she’s able to handle some trouble diplomatically, better than we think.”

“I can see why you like them Trudy and why they like you.  Do you have other boyfriends?”  Iva asked, in an attempt to distract her.

“Yes.  There’s a boy I go to school with who’s like them.  He’s funny, too.”  Trudy said, sighing with hope in her eyes.

“He sounds like the perfect kind of boy.”

“Yes, he’s not as handsome as they are, but I make him laugh.”

“It sounds like a great match, even in America.”

Trudy searched Iva’s eyes, “Really?”

“Sure.  If he laughs with you, that’s good.  I’m sorry to have to leave you Trudy, but I should join the others.  I’m only here for a few more days.”  Iva said, wanting to exit before the teenager decided to engage her on the other attributes of her two crushes.

As they both stood, Trudy added, “I’m happy I met you, Iva, have a nice stay.  I’ve got to call Bob.”

“It was nice to meet you.”

The teenager began to leave, “Goodbye Iva.”

Within a minute, she was gone through the hedge as quickly as she’d appeared.

Oswald and Breck made their way over to Iva, standing behind her.  She turned around, smiling into their eyes, “Both of you have got a big, small problem.”

Breck looked to the hedge, then at Iva.  Pretending to be worried he asked, “You wouldn’t leave us to her, would you?”

She examined the girls’ path home, “You can’t imagine how fast.  She’s determined that you will be hers.  I should go finish my lunch, good luck.”

“Surely you could put on some leather or something and shoo her away.”  Oswald said, jokingly.

“That’s so . . .” She said, stopping, embarrassed as she felt a lecture coming on.

“It’s so what? Iva.”  Oswald asked, prodding her to finish her sentence.

“Ridiculous.  I’m sorry but it is, ridiculous.  At least the women I know, we’re not out brandishing guns, nor trying to scare the whole population.”  Iva said shyly, before she continued, “If and when I meet her again, the most I can do to help, is to try to persuade her that you’re not right for her.”

Breck smiled with pleasure at her gesture of assistance, as he looked over her shoulder, “Thank you, Iva.  Ah, her she comes.”

Her head wrenched to the side to see, then hung her head in despair, “Oh, you’re not joking.”

“We’ll leave you to it.”  Oswald said as he and Breck hurried across the lawn.

“Iva, I’m back.  Bob wasn’t home.  It’s just as well.  He’s immature in contrast to them.”  Trudy said, joyful of her revelation.

Iva was again stuck in a hole that only she could climb out of, and no matter what it took, she decided she would get to the surface, even without their help.

She hoped to convince the girl that she wasn’t in contention for their affection, “You’re very smart for your age Trudy.  It’s amazing that you would set your sights so low, on men that are clearly many years older than you.  Why in California, anyone over twenty one is nearing their end.  And if they’re not, then they’ve left the hip and cool time of their life.”

“They are sort of old, aren’t they?.”  The young girl pondered.

“Yes compared to the younger men you know.”  Iva replied, exhausted.

“You’re right, Iva.  They might even have grey hair like my daddy’s getting.  I’m going home.  Have a nice stay.”  Trudy agreed as she got up to leave, once again.

“Thank you Trudy, goodbye.”  She smiled, able to imagine how much grey hair Trudy was giving her dad and wondered if she were that giddy as a teen.  Probably, she mused.

Even though the girl said her final goodbye, Iva remained suspicious that this might not be the final time she would be accosted by her.

“Well done, Iva, well done.  Trudy’s been pestering the boys for four years and no one could get through to her.”  Graham said, coming up to the side of her.

“I don’t know if it’s worked for long but I’m happy to help.”

“Her parents’ have a handle on her, fortunately.  But any other young woman, who wasn’t in her right mind, could be in a great deal of trouble with a situation such as that.”

She looked up at him knowing what he meant, “I suppose they could.”

“Quite.”  Graham said as he began to leave, then he disappeared into the guests.

How utterly tiring that was Iva sighed, just as two hands reached down and grabbed hers.  Iva’s head went from side to side.

“Boys, you will be nice or leave her there.”  Millie commanded.

Breck wanted to reassure her that they were merely playing, “She’s safe with us.”

“Iva has fought our battle.  Accomplishing what no others could.”  Oswald said, bowing toward his mother.

“Good, give her the praise she justly deserves.”  Millie said, watching as they lead her inside.

The two young Fortts’ took her into the study, where their friends were already convened.

Breck declared, loud enough for everyone to hear, pressing her hand lightly to his chest. “You’ll not believe it, everyone.  Trudy’s retreated home and all due to our guest, Iva.  It’s safe to go back outside.”

“It’s not been just you, Iva, but every woman they’ve dared to bring home.  Trudy’s been obsessed with them ever since her family moved in next door.”  Their friend Katie said, unaware that Graham had already told her.

The door swung open, a woman of Iva’s age entered, smiling.

“Hello. Evelyn.”  The room filled with people said to greet her.

“Hello, every one.  Sorry to be late.”  Evelyn said back.

Oswald held his arms open to her.  She went directly to him, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

“Iva, this is Evelyn.  We’ll be married the first of June.”  He said, smiling at her and then at his future bride.

Iva was amused by his secret, “It’s nice to meet you, Evelyn.  I had no idea.  Congratulations.”

His fiancée squirmed, “It’s a pleasure Iva, happy to have you here.  Oswald, you’ve not told her

before this?”

He laughed, “No dear.  There was no way to let the woman down easy.  She would’ve been jealous of you and my being taken would have prevented her from having a good time while she’s here.”

Iva kept up with his banter, “You’re right Oswald.”

“You see Evelyn.  I spared her the anguish.”

She sat down on the sofa next to Iva, “You’re horrible.  I shouldn’t marry you, even if it were a choice between you and a gargoyle.”

Their friend Linda returned to the tale being told, before Evelyn’s entrance, “Come tell us, however, did you do it?  We’ve been trying for years.”

Breck filled Evelyn in, “Iva got Trudy to go back home.”

A smile of pleased surprise came upon her face, “You, did?  Do tell us.”

“It came down to having a choice.”  Iva answered, wanting to drop the subject.

Graham peeked in the open door, interrupting in a casual way, “Don’t be modest, my dear.  Oswald, Breck and I were passing and you were splendid with the youngster.”

He came in, recounting the entire conversation to them.  All Iva could make out through the laughter was; senior citizens.

“My apologies Iva for our eaves dropping, unintentional you know.”  He said.

“I know Graham.”  She said as she watched him prepare to leave.

He walked toward the door pretending to be in shame, closing the door as he left the room.

“It was so sincere the way Trudy realized we could be dead in a week or two after Iva emphasized how old we are.”  Breck said, laughing as he joined into Oswald’s rendition of the event.  He tried sitting on the opposite sofa, pushing between Larry and Allen, “Here, let me sit, my bones are deteriorating, how about you, Oswald?”

“I’ll need a chair during the nuptials, Vera.”

Iva found it hard not to laugh, their wit was precise, “It was a simply a matter of pointing out the obvious age difference between them and the other boys she knows.  She was more impressed with the younger version.”

Evelyn encouraged the humor, “You’d better slip in somewhere that they are handsome, Iva, before they charge toward you.”

“Won’t they hold it over me until I leave, if I do that?  You know with things like, you said that we’re handsome, didn’t you Iva?  And, you did call us handsome that night Iva, everyone heard you.”  Iva asked.

“You’re right.  Let them just be old.”

“That was very good, ladies.”  George said.

“Oh, you’ve crushed their egos and now they’ll be unloved forever.”  Larry said, watching the two women.

Evelyn spoke up, trying not to break as smile, “No, that’s not possible, Larry.”

He looked at her questioningly, “Why not?”

“You can’t crush an ego that doesn’t exist.”  She answered with conviction, having been around them the past ten years and they’d not exhibited any sort of those tendencies.

“I like you, Evelyn.  You’re a good woman.”  Larry added.

“Thank you Larry, you’re a good man.”

Iva was grateful they made her feel at home.

“Sorry to have left you and Millie to fend for yourselves with these two.  The hospital’s been in need of extra hands, these past days.  There’s been, quite a few ailing tourists due to the volcano.”  Evelyn said sympathetically as she took Iva’s hand.

Iva didn’t know what she meant by volcano, so she ignored it, “They have been something to keep up with.”

“Yes, I can understand that.  It was the same for me when I met them.  It was worse though when Angela was around.  Actually, it was unbelievable.  She would instigate as much as they did.”

Iva didn’t know who she was referring to and kept quiet, not probing with questions that she didn’t feel were her business to ask.

Evelyn began patting her hand, “Iva you’re invited to the wedding and try hard not to stop it.  Someone’s got to free Millie of one of them.”

Iva’s heart was glad to be thought of in such a friendly way, so immediately.  But, she was certain that she wouldn’t be able to afford coming back again, for possibly years.  It didn’t deter her from answering positively, “Thank you, Evelyn.  That’s kind of you.”

The rest of the evening remained the same, laughing and talking.  Iva was included which surprised her a little.  It was just after seven thirty when they broke up, going back outside to prepare to leave.

“Must you be on your way right now, Iva?  You’ve helped to keep the boys out of my hair.”  Millie said as Iva approached her.

“Yes, I’m sorry.  I’ve got to get my things together.  I leave early Monday morning.”  She said, feeling the earlier pang of sadness coming over her.

Allen came toward them, “No you don’t.”

“What?  What do you mean Allen?”  Millie asked, staring at him.

He came beside them, but remained silent.

Millie probed, wanting the full explanation, “No, she doesn’t what?”

“Leave Monday.”

Those, who were unaware of the events unfolding to the north, looked at him puzzled.

“Come on with it Allen.  What do you mean?”  Millie asked, irritated by his vagueness.

“You’ve not heard.  There’s a volcano erupting in Iceland of all places.  They’ve closed the airspace to all flights over and around the country.  I thought you knew.”

Millie was taken aback, “You’re joking.”

“No.  Not, at all.  It just happened on the fourteenth.  Tuesday I think.  There are no flights for an indefinite period of time.  That’s what they’ve said.  People are stranded all over the place, a rotten thing.”  Allen answered apologetically, then turned and went quietly away.

Evelyn came over, confirming what he’d just told them.

Millie looked at her youngest son, ordering him, “Breck, please get your father.  Have him check.  We’ve much to do if Iva’s to stay.”

He retreated as quickly as he could.

Iva stood quietly, not comprehending what to think.  She was leaving in two days and had to go home. There was laundry she had to do, along with her apartment which by now needed dusting and work to go back to.  This was what she was planning on when she got home.  Iva stood still, not wanting to react, just in case it was a mistake or horrible joke.  She couldn’t think that Allen was that type of man, and hoped he wasn’t.

Breck came walking back with a confused look on his face, he’d never thought they would have more time together, “It’s true, mother.  Dad’s on the phone with Gwen, listening to the news and giving her the details.  He told her that Iva is to bring her things here on Monday.”

“I’m in the awkward position of not being able to debate about anything.  I’m literally stuck.  There is a big difference between not wanting to go home and not being able to go, until who knows when.”  Iva said, her mind going blank with what further to say and do.

“Of course there is.   Oswald and I may be selfish enough to be glad that you’re staying here but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are.  Apologies, Iva.”  Breck said, taking her hand in his.

The group stood silent until Graham came out.

“What a predicament.”  He said, with consternation and disbelief, adding, “Iva, we welcome you to stay here with us for as long as this very strange turn of events passes.  Gwen has a niece in your Illinois, who will be flying out to help her.”

All she could think about was Don being just out of the hospital and how Gwen must be absolutely barraged with too many things happening at once.  This wasn’t good, but not nearly as bad as for the people of Iceland, who were in the path of it.

“I can’t believe it, a volcano.  All those poor people of Iceland and everyone stranded, it’s unbelievable.  Boy’s, please take Iva back now.  She will still have to pack, either way.”  Millie said.  It was obvious to all around her that she was organizing fast.

“Yes, mum.”  Both sons replied, signaling to Iva to follow.

They got their things and went to the car.

Oswald began trying to lighten the mood, “You see Iva.  You’ve angered our Lord by defeating “The Trudy”, and now you must pay.”

She didn’t laugh, her mind was somewhere else.

“Please don’t think about it too much, it can’t go for long, you’ll be home before you know it.”  He added to calm her.

Iva looked at them, “Can you believe this has happened to Iceland after it was virtually bankrupt in two thousand eight?  This must be devastating to their economy.”

“That’s an astute observation, you’ve a good memory.”  Breck said.

“I’ve been told about things like this by my grandmother.”

“You were?”

“Yes.  If we find ourselves in serious situations, which we can’t control, they shouldn’t be made worse by our fellow citizens who loot and commit crimes.”

“That’s quite true.”

“And, Gwen, I am worried about her.  She must have so much to take care of.  It’s a lot for one person. I’m glad her niece will be there.”  Iva said, lowering her head in thought then going on, “I think this is what a big earthquake would be like in California, as it was in Haiti, or at least similar to it.  There would be a lot of unanswerable questions for friends and families, Oswald.”

He was determined to preoccupy her mind, patting her on the shoulder from the back seat as Breck drove, “Sorry, about this.  Listen, Iva.  I think I have something to distract you for a short time while you’re here.  Mrs. Crackenpool, whom you met earlier at the party, she has the most interesting of hobbies.  I want to take you to her, so she can find something to keep you busy in your spare time, now that you’ll be with us for at last a few more days.”

Iva’s head felt heavy, “Sure Oswald, whenever you want.”

“I’ll call you when we have a free day.”  He said, cheerfully.

Breck picked quietly at the steering wheel, not listening to their conversation.  He couldn’t be glad that it happened, but he was.  With only two day to go, he wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye to her.  He couldn’t stand to see her worried, even though she hadn’t shown any interest in him.   However much time he had on his side, he had to try to get her to like him as more than an acquaintance or friend.

He kept trying to make himself hopeful that maybe she would show him some indication of what she felt toward him, other than that of a congenial host.  His thoughts raced through his mind but his face had no expression as they arrived in front of the hotel.

“Good night.  Thank you.”  Iva said as Oswald got into the front seat.

“Iva, are you going to be alright?”  Breck asked.

“I’ll be fine.  It will work out in time, I think.”  She said, then turned and went inside.

Breck drove away.  As he and Oswald got halfway home, he suddenly stopped the car and ran into the grass.

Oswald rolled down his window, “What’s wrong with you?”

The younger Fortt threw up then wiped his mouth with his handkerchief, “I’ve eaten something that didn’t digest.”

“You’re kidding?”   His older brother said, watching his brother bent over.

“No, I’m not.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I’m standing on the side of the road vomiting, that’s how.”

Oswald saw through the rouse, aware of how strongly Breck felt about her, “Hey that’s great, continue on.  I’ll sit here wondering whether it’s actually because you love Iva and don’t want her to leave.”

“You have it all figured out, don’t you Oswald?  He replied as he spit, on his way back to the car.

His brother tried to calm him down, “No, I don’t have it, at all.  If I did, I would ask why you’re making yourself sick over her, when she’s not leaving yet.”

The younger Fortt got back in the car, spat out the window, then released his thoughts, “I don’t know. She’s not a stranger to me after all the times on the phone and now having gotten to know her.  But, I suspect she still sees me as one.”

Oswald began to sing, “My brother loves her.”

“Stop, Oswald.”  Breck demanded, annoyed by his brother’s outburst.

“What’s the problem?”

Breck’s unintentional emotion gripped his throat, “When I was laying there with my side torn off, I was certain that mum was at home cooking for dad, children were being born, people were going about their daily lives and that I would meet the woman I wanted to marry.  I was laying there a bloody mess and knew I wouldn’t be able to find her, that she would somehow have to be brought to me.  I think I’ve figured out that it’s Iva, but it’s difficult to know if she thinks I’m the one for her.”

“Well, you’re not going to figure that out tonight, so get us home.”  Oswald insisted, trying to keep him from worrying, when he could see that she liked Breck but wasn’t certain himself to what degree.

The anguished brother agreed, raising his eyebrows, confident that he could confide anything about his service in Afghanistan to his brother and it would never be spoken of, unless he brought it up, “Right.”

Iva got into bed aware that there wasn’t anything she could do to help herself.  She hadn’t brought enough of her own money to do so.  Gwen would call tomorrow.  They would figure it out together.

She spent the day in her room packing, talking with Gwen and watching the news.  Gwen assured Iva that she would be calling her family, letting them know where she would be and how she was doing.  The consensus being, that this was the strangest thing they’d ever heard of.  It was agreed that it was better that she was stranded there, rather than Don, who, had he’d come and were stuck, there would be no good outcome.  She assured Iva the Fortt’s were friends and she should be comfortable.

After Iva hung up with her, the phone rang, fatigue with all the arrangements and adjustments being made in such a hurry, which weren’t to be forgotten was setting in so she answered quietly, “Hello.”

“How are you today, Iva?  This is Oswald.”

She could tell he was genuinely concerned, “Better today Oswald, thank you.  Speaking with Gwen and a good night sleep has helped.”

“Glad to hear it.  How about the three of us have dinner tonight?”

“I would like that.  Thank you.”

Oswald looked at Breck, whose head was down as he did his work, “We’ll be there at six o’clock, goodbye.”

She appreciated his lack of humor, herself not being in the mood for laughter, “I’ll be here Oswald, goodbye.”

It wasn’t customary to buy anything for hotel staff, but they’d been so helpful, especially Victor, that she settled on using her own money to get them some flowers or something for a few dollars.

Iva found it easy to pass the desk without anyone seeing her as she set out without directions.  A long walk was something she wanted, to think things through.  A florist appeared two blocks down.  She went in.

“Looking for anything in particular? Miss.”  They lady behind the counter asked her.

“I would like to see a small arrangement with an assortment of color, please.”

She led Iva to a cooler, “How about any of these?”

“Those are nice.  How much are they?”  Iva asked as the lady pointed to a bouquet.

“They’re forty five Pounds.”  The lady replied.

Iva carefully computed her money, considered that she needed to save it for any emergency that might arise, so she couldn’t splurge and would have to settle on a nice card.  She thanked the woman and left.  Further down the street was a store with cards and gifts, her quest satisfied her, writing in the floral card, her gratitude for all their assistance during her stay.

After finishing her task, it was six when she got back to the hotel.  There was no one at the desk so she put it on the counter and went to the restaurant.  Oswald and Breck were seated at the table by the window that she’d been at the previous nights.

They stood as she approached the table, Breck was curious, “Did you have a good day, Iva?”

“Yes, I did.  Thank you.”  She answered, not filling them in on the details of her errand.

Dinner was quiet with them, Iva noticed.  They behaved strange for themselves.  Going out for a while helped her get back to her old self and she couldn’t stand it, looking at them suspiciously, asking softly, “Is everything alright?”

“It can’t be better, Iva.”  Oswald answered, grinning, fully prepared to ask another question, “Are you a churchgoer Iva?”

“I try to go every Sunday unless I’m out of town, like now.  How about yourselves?  Do you attend?”  Iva said.

“We’re men who wear cloth, if you’ve not noticed.”  Oswald said, reverting back to his joking self.

“Yes, I did, when we first met.  Why do you ask?”

“Do you think confessing is necessary if SOMEONE has something to relieve themselves of?”

“You can tell me Oswald.  What do you want me to know?  You’d never make a good secret keeper.”

His brother looked at him strangely, “No, he wouldn’t.”

“Breck…”  Oswald began but then paused, contemplating his next sentence.

Iva watched as his brother leered at him.

“He’s come to the conclusion that you might be… the only woman named Iva he’s ever met.  He might have seen some as a point of fact, but never actually met them.”  Oswald said, looking into Breck’s eyes as if his inner most thoughts were out.

            She turned to Breck, highly doubtful of the statement, “Is that so?”

“Well, I…I have seen women who might have been named Iva, but not met them, no.”  Breck stammered, shrugging his shoulders, innocently.

            “My grandmother is named Iva, you’ve not met her.”  Iva said as she paused with a straight face, assessing the moment and savoring their discomfort.

            Oswald laughed, “You’re very mean to us Iva, you know.”

            “If I am, than I’m sorry, I need to treat you two better.  I’ll try just a little bit harder.”

            Breck held his hand to his heart, “Only a little bit.”

            “Sure.  You’ve probably had the upper hand on many women in your day.  So, I won’t put myself in the position to fall for your misadventures.”

            “You’ve found us out.  We’ve been duping women for years.”  Oswald admitted as he laughed and patted Breck’s shoulder.

            She smiled at Oswald, with his unflinching, self-deprecating humor, “I knew it.”

            “We should go before this gets loud, or we’re thrown out.”  Breck said, looking at Oswald, tapping his watch to suggest that the time was late.

            “One of us will pick you in the morning to take you to our mothers at seven Iva.”  Oswald offered.

            “Okay, thank you.”

The two men left laughing.

            A night’s solid sleep made her calmer, she’d been emotionally, not physically tired.  She waited in the lobby where the bellman came with her bags.

Chapter 11

Breck arrived at her hotel on time.  As they started on their way, he was silent, which didn’t really matter to her, she was thinking of other things.

            Millie was at the front door, having heard the car drive up, “Welcome Iva.”

            “Good morning Millie.”  Iva said, happily.

            Her hostess led her upstairs “You needn’t be uncomfortable, make yourself at home.  I will show you the bedroom and the laundry after that.  You must be anxious to have your things cleaned.”

            “Yes very much.”

            Iva looked around at the light flower pattern of the bedspread, pale yellow walls and the girl’s trinkets on the shelves and nightstand in the bedroom she was to stay in with confusion, “The room is very, pretty.”

            “This is our Angela’s room.  It’s kept the same for her and her husband Andre’s visits.  Their children, Lorraine and Arthur sleep in Breck and Oswald’s old rooms.”  She replied as she pointed at the dressers.

            “Breck and Oswald didn’t mention they had a sister.”  Iva said, picking up the photograph of their family off the nightstand.  She was surprised, but then recalled that Evelyn mentioned the name.

            “She’s been married to Andre for five years.  He’s French and also an importer.  They don’t get here as often as they or we would like, but every other month suffices and we go there when possible.  We’ll make a trip of it if this volcano thing continues, if there’s time.”  Millie said with happiness in her eyes, excited by the prospect.

            Iva was shocked when she said it, repeating it for confirmation, “To France you mean?”

            “Of course, it’s not the long a trip as it used to be.”  Millie answered as she signaled at the door in the hall, “The toilet is down the hall to the right.  I’ve left towels on the sink for you.”

            “Thank you Millie for having me here.”

            She smiled at the thought of her friends, “When one goes back as far with people as we do with Don and Gwen, it’s not even a thought.”

            Iva guessed the Cliff’s would do the same for them.

            “With the passage of time you realize that people you care about are far more important than to-does that pop up.”

            Iva nodded, acknowledging how much she loved and valued her family and friends.

            “I’ll leave you to it.  Meet me in the kitchen when you’re done, I’ll show you the laundry.”  Millie said, closing the door behind her.

            Iva put her dirty clothes in the basket that was left for her in the room then took it downstairs.

            The television was on in the living room, the topic of the news report was the volcano’s condition and the cost it was having on the economy.  Iva stopped to listen for a minute then continued on into the kitchen.

            She held out the basket, Millie was preoccupied on the phone and silently pointed toward a door.  Iva looked inside the room and saw the washer and dryer, put the basket down in front of them and returned to Millie.

            “I’ve been speaking with Gwen, Iva.”

            “I wondered whether Gwen’s called my family yet.  My grandma will worry the most.”

            “They are fully informed.  She’s assured them you’re in good hands while you’re here and that you’re not as stranded as they thought.”

            Her appreciation for their help was overwhelming, “Thank you Millie, this is a strange position to be in.”

            “There are people sleeping in the airport for the last two days, it’s horrible.  They have jobs, children and homes to get back too.  Really it’s something so extraordinary.”

            Iva could see she was a compassionate woman.

            “Now, back to what I was saying.  Gwen seems to have a better handle on things at home and work today.  She’s been in touch with your older brother and he’s sending you some spending money via wire transfer.  It should be here today or tomorrow to our bank.  It’s all being taken care of by Gwen, it saves on telephone charges.  Be sure Iva, all will be fine.  Graham will take you to the bank and then to the office with him this week.  I believe Gwen’s given him a list of things you might get done for them while here.”  Millie said, standing proudly for being so informed and helpful to her on the status of all the events, then she directed Iva to the door again, “But now, you have laundry that must get done.  Come, let me show you how the machines work and you can proceed from there.”

            She followed her, “Thank you Millie.”

            Not being familiar with the lifestyle of the Fortt’s, Iva saw that they were as conscientious about making the best use of their time as everyone she knew.

            “It’s already nine thirty.  Let’s eat.”  Millie said as she showed Iva how to do her clothes.

            They returned to the kitchen, Millie began to make eggs, toast and coffee. Iva heard the washer stop after twenty minutes and went to put her things into the dryer.

            “Is there anything I can do, Millie?”  She asked as she returned to the table.

            “No, there’s no mess, it’s you and I, Graham left after his breakfast with things to get done.  Have the boys been helpful to you this past week, Iva?”

            “Yes, they’ve been very nice.”

“I like to hear that.  Both boys, ugh, men, I mean, have done well.”  Millie replied with pride.

“Please let me help you with things, I’m not use to being idle.”

            After Millie set their breakfast on the table, they continued talking while they ate.

            “It will be nice to have another woman in the house, it’s been a while and I do miss my Angela.  The men are good company but they don’t understand everything I’m talking about.”

            Iva nodded, knowing from her and her sister’s experience that there was no truer statement.

            “I worked at the store before the boys came of age.  They’ve since filled my place.  Angela worked there also, before she married and Graham still works, it will be years before he stops.  Oswald and Breck live in the townhouse we were in before.  It was to be sold when we moved here but it’s turned out to be more convenient this way.”

            “You and Graham have a lovely home and your association with the Cliff’s is remarkable.”

            “It is more than can be imagined.  For all the same families in the many countries we’ve had dealings with, now spanning two hundred twenty nine years.  It’s a testament to fair business dealings and forging ourselves ahead through difficult time, although this time it seems more difficult for some reason, things always returned to normal after a year or so.  Tell me Iva, have you been with the Cliff’s for long?”

            “More than four years now.”

            “They speak highly of you.”

            “Thank you.  I think the same of them.”

            “I think you will want to pick up a few things, the small amount of toiletries one is allowed on the planes these days’ is deplorable, you must be running low.”

            “Yes, I am.”

            “Getting out today should be lovely, there’s no chance of rain.”

            They finished eating, the laundry, then dressed and left.

            Their shopping was fruitful.  Iva found all the essentials she could with the money she had left of her own, not having prepared for every eventuality.  But now she was broke for a third time in her life.  She left the company funds which were all accounted for, in her suitcase, where they’d be safe.

            When they returned home, Iva began up the stair to put her things away, “I think I have all I need for a while.”

            “Good.  I will let you know when I need to go again, should there be anything else you’re in need of.” Millie said, going in the direction of the kitchen.
            “I would like to pay you something for my stay here with you, Millie.”  Iva said sincerely, when she came back to the kitchen.

            Millie smiled, pleased by the offer, “Gwen told me you would say that.  It’s a generous thought, my dear, but Gwen and I have an agreement in place for repayment.  In future, since we’ve not been to California as a family for over fifteen years, she will have us to her home for an extended holiday.”

            “How nice of her, I’m sure you’ll have a good time, there’s a great deal to see and you may not recognize it.”

            “Yes, I’m sure things are far different.  When we were there, a great deal of it was farm land, fruit groves and wide open spaces but Graham has said that it is paved over now and as busy as London.”

            “I don’t know what it was like, but from how my grandmother and you describe it, it sounds like you both miss it.”

“I’m sure she misses it far more than I will when I see it, but there is nothing to be done when things change, whether beneficial or not.  Anyway, enough of those kinds of thoughts, we are to enjoy ourselves.  Please help yourself to the television and the books in the study, Iva.”

            “Thank you, I’ve finished my book.”

            While Iva wandered toward the study, she looked with interest at the home she was in.  Everything was displayed simply and arranged strategically in the living room to maximize comfort and sophistication.  She found her way into it, not having paid much attention to it’s decor on the day of the party, but now got a better look.

            There were books, both current and classics, old family photos, which were taken during trips, graduations and the wedding photo of the Fortt’s and their daughter.  Millie’s dress was adorned with pearls around the shoulders and the dress looked elegant, yet the cut was simple.  Graham was handsome in his tuxedo with tails, if that’s what it was called.  She picked up a detective book she’d not read.

            After closing the door she went to the backyard to catch some sun and walk around Millie’s garden, which showed she enjoyed her flowers.

            The phone rang.  Iva looked in its direction as Millie went across the kitchen to answer it.  She came out, informing Iva that Graham was eating with their sons and would be home late.

            Graham, Oswald and Breck left the office, down the street toward their favorite restaurant.   They were seated and ordered.

            “I must tell you what’s happened dad.”  Oswald said, smiling as they were being served dinner, unable to keep the story any longer.

            Graham’s interest was up, “Oh, what was that?”

            Before Breck could protest, Oswald was telling him of their interaction with Iva which preceded the events off the road, “So then father.  He stops the car, runs into the grass and is blowing his bloody guts out.”

            Graham listened to his exhilarated son, “And then?”

            “That’s all.  Don’t discuss it until I get back from the toilet.”  Oswald said as he got up.

            Breck hung his head low, vowing that he would one day extend the same courtesy to Oswald, he’d be sure of it.

            Graham watched his oldest son leave the table, so he could speak with his younger one, “Breck.  It’s

good to be young and in love.  There’s no embarrassment in it.”

            “I’m not embarrassed.”  He insisted.

“Do you recall the story mum told you boys, about me hitting a tree when I realized I loved her?  I laughed it off, but it was true.  There are strange occurrences in love. It must be a family trait.”  His dad said, patting his shoulder with understanding, and then continued, “We were at the park, cycling around.  I looked at your mother, smiling in the sun, watching her hair, the movement of her arms, when out of nowhere, I found myself smashed into a tree.  I didn’t have an automobile back then and it was…well, it could have gone better, I should think.”

He listened intently to his father with sympathy.

            Graham reminisced for a minute, “People everywhere and all that, highly humiliating.  I blamed it on sun stroke, taking her home straight away.  We were married two months later.  I still hit trees when I look at her, metaphorically speaking.”

            Breck nodded, having seen his father looking at her in a loving way, so many times before.

Graham had only general advice for him, “It will work out the way it’s meant to.”

Oswald came back, an inquiring look on his face, “What did you two talk about?”

“We were discussing the merits of hitting trees.”  His brother said with half a smile.

            “A mystery, I love it.  Not wholly impossible to solve, give me clues.”

            “We will, some other time Oswald.”  Graham insisted, giving Breck a wink, to ensure that his secret would be kept.

            Millie and Iva finished dinner, read until eight thirty then went upstairs to their rooms.

            She gave Iva a motherly hug, “Have a good night sleep, Iva.”

            “Thank you Millie, you sleep well, too.”  Iva said, hugging her back, grateful for the bed.

            Iva got up, having tossed and turned all night, despite how tired she was and dressed.  When she came down, Graham was having his breakfast.

            “Thank you my dear.”  He said to Millie with a smile, silently recalling the moment of clarity he had about her being the one for him, which he’d told Breck about the previous night.

            His wife loved that he was so appreciative, even after all their years of marriage, “You’re welcome.”

            “You’re up and dressed Iva.  How was your sleep?”  He asked her as she came into the kitchen.

            Iva pulled out the chair, giving him a smile, “Fine, thank you.”

            “What has Oswald got planned for you today?”  Graham asked.

            Naively she answered, “We’re going to Mrs. Crackenpool’s.”

            Millie was startled, “You’re not!”

            Her husband glowed with pleasure, “Oh, it should be a good time.”

            “All that silliness she’s about, it’s so far past, that it will never be solved.”  Millie said, looking at him.

            He got more excited than Iva had seen him thus far, as he began to explain, “You see Iva.  Every time there’s a newcomer, Mrs. Crackenpool takes out her chest of articles, and she has a great many things on the subject.  Then we all gather and have a mock inquiry to see what the newcomer can make of it.  And of course the past contestants get their say.  It lends itself to some fantastic theories and appeases the amateur sleuths and barristers in all of us.”

            “What exactly is she looking for?”  Iva asked, ignorantly.

            “Not what, but whom; Jack the ripper.”  He replied.

            She was entranced by his enthusiasm over the matter, “Really!  I saw the display of the scene they have set up and wondered who could do such a thing.  But it was so long ago, how could it…I mean, why is she looking for the answer?”

            “She will tell you the tale.  It wouldn’t be right to spoil it for her.  But if you don’t want to participate, please speak up, simply tell her no.  That’s if you’re too frightened by it all.”  Graham said with a slight challenge in his words and pleased to have the honor of informing her of what she would be embarking on.

            “Graham, don’t put it to her in that way.  It’s a horrible business and should remain her choice, whether or not she wants to take part.  I’m sorry Iva; you needn’t bother with it if you don’t want to.  Really, no one here who will insist you do it.”  Millie said, looking first at her husband and then at her with sincerity.

            “Millie.  Have you, Angela and Evelyn done it?”  Iva asked, not wanting to seem too cowardly.

            “Yes, I’m afraid, so.  We’ve all come up with culprits.”

            “I’ll listen to her, but won’t decide, until I know whether I’m comfortable with it or not.”  Iva said.

            “That’s very good.  Don’t jump in, until you know the depth of the water, that’s wise.  I must go now but will see you ladies later this afternoon.”  Graham said, patting her arm as he rose from the table and kissed his wife, going toward the front door.  Oswald opened it as he was leaving.

            “Goodbye dad.  Good morning mum, Iva.  Are you ready?”  Oswald said as his father passed then kissed his mother’s cheek.

            Iva reached for her purse, “Good morning.  I’m ready.”

            “You won’t need that, she’s just next door.  Here, I’ve brought you my laptop so you can type what you need.”  He said, putting it into her hands.

            She was pleased that the woman was so near, sighing with relief that she could run back to their house on her own, if it got too macabre.  Iva went upstairs, put the laptop on the dresser then returned.

            “Oswald, you take care.  Don’t let her get bothered by Mrs. Crackenpool.”  Millie insisted as she cleaned the kitchen table.

            He grinned as he opened the front door for Iva, “Definitely not.  And if she is, I’ll have her right back, I promise.”

            They walked around the front of the house and across the lawn to Mrs. Crackenpool’s front door.  After they rang the bell, it took a few minutes before it slowly opened.

”Hello Oswald, Iva, it’s nice to see you again.  Please come in.”  She said.

Iva immediately remembered her.  She was the well dressed lady with the nicely styled gray hair and light blue eyes, which she’d met at the party.  The elderly lady backed away to let them enter.  They followed her into her very normal house, toward a back sitting room filled with files and small, flowered boxes.

“Please have a seat.  Oswald has told me that you might be interested in my information and perhaps may have insight to solve it.”  Mrs. Crackenpool said, peering seriously through her eyeglasses at Iva.

“He did?  Well, I don’t know how long I’ll be here for, or whether I can be of any help.  I don’t have any sort of training or background in solving anything like this.”  Iva said, giving him a glance.

Mrs. Crackenpool nodded with understanding, “I will tell you about it.  After that, you decide.”

“Yes ma’am.”  She agreed.

“My distant aunt was an acquaintance or friend, of one of the women murdered.  Whether she was a prostitute herself, or not, we’ve never been able to establish, but we do know that she did live on the same street, there is a notation in her own hand, on a page, stating so.  After the murder of her friend, she continued her life, getting married, had three children and made good for herself.  She left scrapes of paper with notes on them, that’s how we know her handwriting, along with old faded newspaper clippings, with the hopes that one day the mystery would be solved.  When she passed, her story and all the things she’d collected, were passed from one family member to another.   Unfortunately, now I’m the last to have it.  There are no more after me, everyone is gone, no children, nieces nor nephews to carry on the search.”  Mrs. Crackenpool explained, sniffling into her handkerchief.

“What a thing to do for so many years.”  Iva said, impressed but confused, not knowing the whole story behind the murders.

The elderly lady leaned forward and with a low and serious voice said, “Yes it is a courageous thing for them to attempt.  So if you have the inclination to look at the information, perhaps finding something which points to anyone in particular, it would be helpful of you.  I would like to hear why and how you came to any conclusions you draw, they might match one of the others who’ve looked at it.”

She appeared to be getting older than she was, as she spoke, as if the quest had taken its toll.  While Iva watched her, she considered everything.  Even with the money that Bruce was sending, she would have to ration, not knowing how long she’d be with the Fortt’s.  And, there might not be enough time to meet people her age to do things with, after work or on the weekends.  It would keep her busy, and she did feel sorry for the woman, even though it sounded grizzly.

Iva came to her decision, “I guess I can take a look if it doesn’t interfere with work and so long as I don’t get a call that the planes are ready to leave.”

Oswald knew how serious Mrs. Crackenpool was about the endeavor, “Good.  Remember Iva, this is about the women who died, not as much about who did it.”

“You’re quite right, Oswald.  It has always been about justice for them.”  The elderly woman said as she adjusted herself in her seat.

Iva could see her need for a possible answer, “I’ll start as soon as we get back to Millie’s.”

“I will go through the labeling system with you to save time on your part.  I’ve categorized all the information that I have regarding it.  For example, the victims, suspects both, old and new and pertinent information from police investigations, etc.”  The woman said, pointing at files with a shaky hand.

They looked at her aunt’s notes for a while; the woman knew everything in them.

Iva couldn’t hold in her curiosity anymore, “Mrs. Crackenpool.  Who do you think did it?”

“In order to avoid swaying you toward any one person, I will tell you after you have come to your own theory.  That is the rule, correct Oswald.”  She said adamantly.

“That’s it.  We tell you ours, after we’ve heard yours.”  He confirmed.

“You can take all this with you next door.  I understand you’ll be there for a few days, Iva.”  Mrs. Crackenpool said.

“Yes, I think so.  I’ll bring it all back as soon as I’m finished.”

She shook Iva’s hand as they stood up, “Good, we will be anxious to hear your opinion.”

“We’ll be off then.”  Oswald said, giving the elderly lady a kiss on the cheek.

He and Iva picked up the boxes and folders.  Oswald led Iva out of the room toward the front door with Mrs. Crackenpool following behind.  They moved to the side, letting her pass, she had to open the door, there arms were full, each held four boxes and three folders, which weighed them down.

Iva stepped out of the doorway behind Oswald, “Nice to have seen you again, Mrs. Crackenpool.  I’ll come over soon.”

“It’s been nice to see you too, Iva.  Goodbye.”  Mrs. Crackenpool said as she closed her front door.

They started walking back next door.

“Oswald, you were wrong, this isn’t an interesting hobby it’s more a grotesque one.”

He laughed, “Would you have considered it if I’d called it that?”

Iva struggled to hold on the load she was carrying, “No, that would have sent me home.  Has Don done this on one of his trips here?”

“He did.  His guess was as unbelievable as anyone else’s.  In fact, he and our mutual friend Albert, a fellow importer from Germany, came up with plausible conclusions.  Their guess was identical and almost perfect with the exception of only one unanswerable question.”  He said as they reached the front door.

“I know.  You won’t tell me what it was.”  She said, joking.

Oswald grinned as he pressed his elbow into the doorbell, “Now you’ve got the idea.”

When Millie opened the door, they made their way up the stairs to Angela’s room.  Oswald headed for the door after he set his stack in the corner by the rocking chair, “I’ll leave you to it, then.  I’ve been through it when I was fifteen, scared the hell out of me back then.  Happy reading!”

“I have homework again.  At least helping Mrs. Crackenpool is a good cause.”

“It is a very good cause.  She’s a nice old girl.”

“Hey Oswald, she does have a happy life, doesn’t she?”  Iva asked, watching him as he started to close the door.

He smiled, seeing Iva’s concern for her, “Yes, very much so and with many friends in it.  She’ll tell you, it’s a very good life outside of this, in fact.”

“I’m happy to hear it.”  She said, waving goodbye as he shut the door.

The files had years, she sorted them, put them in order of date and subject.

Iva took the top file, labeled possible victims and began reading.  They were souls possibly attacked or murdered by the ripper.

Eighteen Eighty Eight

Annie Millwood, date of attack, February twenty fifth.  She was alive but had stab wounds; she was taken to the local infirmary and said she didn’t know the man.

Ada Wilson, date of attack, March twenty eighth.  She was a prostitute and attacked in her home by a man who knocked on her door, he asked her for money then stabbed her in the throat.

Emma Smith, date of attack, April third.  She was a widow with children and turned to prostitution for money.  She claimed she was raped by three or so youths wanting money, which she died from.

Martha Tambram, date of attack, August seventh.  There was no information found in her file other than name and date murdered.

Before Iva began she opened a file on the laptop to make notes in.  As she went along, she intermittently checked on the internet for details on any questions she had.  It surprised her that Mrs. Crackenpool had such a large amount of information on it.

She picked up the file labeled canonical five, opened it, saw they were the same year, then checked the dates and compared them to the previous potential victim’s; four of the five came after so she put them behind the others.

When she finished she began to sift through the papers, then began reading the letters and ancient newspaper clippings of the horrible accounts of each of the canonical five.

First was Mary Ann Nicols, date of murder, August Thirty first.  She was married, had children then separated from her husband, after that she became a prostitute and on a hard rainy night was killed by a slit to her throat with cuts to her abdomen.

The next was Annie Chapman, date of murder, September eighth.  She too was married, had children and was separated from her husband.  She became a prostitute after the death of her husband.  The lady was killed by a slit of the throat, her organs were removed from her abdomen and left outside her body on her shoulder and other organs were taken.  Her body was found and the murder took place outside a backyard.

Then, next was Elizabeth Stride, date of murder, September thirtieth.  Again, she was a married woman, but had no children and was also separated from her husband.  She became a prostitute and her husband died after that.  She was killed by a slit of the throat on a rainy evening.

Number four was Catherine Eddowes, date of murder, September thirtieth, the same night as the previous victim, Elizabeth Stride.  This lady was also married and had children, although she wasn’t separated from her husband.  She prostituted only occasionally when they were out of money.  Her throat was a slit like the others, as was her abdomen; her intestines were taken out and put on her shoulder.  The lady’s right ear-lobe was cut and her face was mutilated, also her eyes were cut.  Then her nose was almost cut off, her lips were cut, she had facial cuts and part of her womb had been removed and taken.

The severity of the murders made Iva stop and pause, compassion for them raced through her head.  She picked up an ancient scrap of paper that was sealed in a plastic sleeve, with tape on it saying, “This was written by my aunt from her aunt”, the contents of the letter read, “My friend Mary Jane Kelly was murdered.  Now I have no one here.  It is time for me to leave this place.  I will see you soon Erma Grey.”

Lastly, there was Mary Jane Kelly, date of murder, November ninth.  She was separated from her boyfriend and had no known children.  She was a prostitute when she was killed by a slit to her throat.  Her skin was removed from her thighs and abdomen, her breasts were removed and her face was totally mutilated.  One of her breasts, her uterus and a kidney were found under her head.  The other beast was found under her right foot, and her liver was between her feet.  Her intestines were to the right of her body and her spleen was to the left.  The ripper removed the skin from her abdomen and thighs and put them on her table, part of her right buttock skin was removed.  Her left calf was cut from just above the ankle up to her knee and her heart was missing.  She was undressed, except for her under clothes.

Iva typed in her notes and any similarities she found then read on, picking up the next file of papers with other names on them.

There was the Whitehall mystery, it happened October second.  A headless, limbless torso was found in what was to become the New Scotland yard.  It was wrapped in a parcel, with the head sawed off.  Arms were were found later in the Thames, possibly hers.  Iva noted that it came before the last of the canonical five, who was Mary Jane Kelly, November ninth.  Was it the ripper, a copycat or coincidence?  No definitive answer.

There were other reports by other women of being attacked, even though they may not have been taken as credible, by the police.

Annie Farmer was attacked, but found alive on November Twentieth, twenty days after Mary Jane Kelly.  She was separated from her husband, had no children but was a prostitute, she accused her attacker of being the ripper, but, police didn’t pursue her claim after the facts.

Then Rose Millet, date of murder, December Twentieth.  She was separated from her husband and may have had one child.  She was strangled possibly but no stab wounds were found.  Uncertain if it’s the ripper.

Eighteen Eighty nine

Elizabeth Jackson, month of murder, June, she was also a prostitute and parts of her body were found in the Thames.

Then Alice Mackenzie, date of murder, July seventeenth.  She had a boyfriend and possibly a child.  Her wounds were a slit throat and superficial cuts from her naval to her pelvis.  She also had a cut from her left breast to her naval.

The Pinchin Street murder, murder date not known, was possibly Lydia Hart, was a torso with its head and legs cut off.  It was found under a railway arch, covered with cloth, its abdomen was mutilated.

Eighteen Ninety One

Francis Cole, date of murder, February thirteenth.  Murdered a year and a half after Alice Mackenzie, but why so long between the last one?  She had a boyfriend but no children but was a prostitute.  Her throat was slit open, but no other wounds were found.  The murderer was possibly spotted by a policeman.

Carrie Brown, date of murder, April Twenty ninth, but in New York.  There’s not much known about her other than she’d been stabbed all over her body.

Iva put away the ladies’ files, pulled out the suspects’ lists and began reading when there was a knock on the door.  She jumped up, papers crinkling beneath her as she got off the bed.  Millie cracked open the door and peaked in, giving Iva a worried look, “Iva you’ve been at it for two hours, can I get you something?”

“I’m sorry Millie.  I’ve not paid attention to the time.”

“No need to apologize, I was just concerned that you might be at it a bit too much.”  Shee said as she held the door open.

“A break would be good right now.  This stuff’s horrific.  Is there something I can help you with to take my mind off it?”

“Yes, we could do some watering outside.  The pots need it and the sun’s still out.”

“I’ll be happy to give you a hand.”  Iva said, following her out and down the stairs.

Millie led the way out the back door, “Oswald should not have put you in the position of reading about those gruesome murders.  Mrs. Crackenpool’s a lovely lady, but this obsession is something I fear does her no good.”

“There’s no harm in looking at it for her, I don’t mind.  She seems very nice and has this deep concern that it be figured out, if possible.  It’s hard to be sure where it will lead for her, there’s no one to prosecute anymore.”

“I think it might be piece of mind for her.  If she thought she had a very good answer then perhaps she would rest it all.”  She said, filling the watering can then giving it to Iva.

Iva began watering the pots filled with flowers which were all in bloom and of various colors, pink, yellow, blue, red and orange, “I hope that it comes sometime for her.  I’ll see what I think, that’s the most I can do.”

“That’s all any one of us has tried to do.”

They finished and went back inside.

“Let’s have a drink, what would you like, Iva?”

“Tea will be fine.”

They sat at the table with their steaming cups, talking about the poor women involved.

“Here’s to spooky stories and solving mysteries.”  Millie said, lifting her cup.

She and Iva talked of happy, trivial things, for quite a while, until Graham came home for dinner.

When he came in, he kissed his wife’s cheek, “Good evening ladies.”

“Hello Graham.”  They said.

“Iva.  Tomorrow I will take you to the bank and after to work with me, none of the ripper nonsense for the day.”

“Yes sir.  I let Mrs. Crackenpool know it can’t interfere with anything else.”

“You’re quite right.”  Graham said.

The two women started to make dinner as Graham watched the news.  They ate then cleaned the kitchen.  Iva said good night leaving them downstairs to watch television, returning to her reading of the suspect’s files. She stopped to get ready for bed then continued until she fell asleep.

Iva awoke startled, afraid she’d overslept, it was seven.  She got up, dressed and went downstairs.  Iva could hear Millie in the kitchen and saw that Graham was already at the table.

“Have breakfast Iva.  There’s no need to hurry, the bank’s not open until nine.  It will be good to have you at the office.”  He said as they ate.

“I’ll be happy to work for the day.  That ripper stuff is really baffling.”

Graham whispered toward her, “I wondered how you were managing with it, have you any solution yet?”

“No sir, I’ve only read the beginning.”  She whispered back.

He nodded in agreement at her then looked at his wife, “Millie, what time would you like us back?  Anything special you have today?”

“The ladies are meeting today.  I will be gone for the afternoon.  Should we meet for dinner here or dine out?”

“We’ll see how the day goes.  I’m not certain what Oswald and Breck have planned for the two of us, we’re at their mercy you know Iva.”  Graham replied.

“That seems to be my plight; mercy here, mercy there, mercy, mercy, everywhere.”   Iva smiled, trying to stay in good humor.

Graham laughed, taking her arm, “Of course you are; you poor orphan.  We must commander a naval ship and get you back home.”

“I think the bank and work first, commandeering later, don’t you?”  Millie said with authority then sighed, “You know Iva, I’m almost certain this is what drove Angela all the way to France.  The frivolity got to be too much for her.  She cracked.”

Iva looked at Millie not knowing whether she was serious or not.

“Now you have the better of me, my dear.  It’s time for us to retreat, Iva.”  He said as he rose, pretending to be hurt.  Iva followed him.  They said their goodbyes and left.

“Millie tells me that you and she will possibly be taking a trip to see our Angela, if there’s time in the schedule.  You will like Andre; he does an excellent job with his business and has a great wit.  There’s no better chap for our little girl.  She has a ruthless wit, just as you and my Millie do.”

Iva listened, becoming embarrassed that maybe she’d overstepped her joking a little too much for a guest.  She didn’t think she was ruthless and thought she responded to questions normally but wasn’t clear on what offended them.

As they parked in front of the bank, Graham put his seat back, pulled out his newspaper and began reading, “I’ll wait here Iva.  Take your time.”

It took her all of fifteen minutes inside the bank.  When she returned, he was still reading.

“That bloody, volcano.  Someone should find a big stopper for it.”  Graham blurted out as she got into the car.

She didn’t take it personally.  It was holding up all sorts of business, not to mention the tourists that had been inconvenienced.

“It’s still spewing ash? Graham.”  Iva asked with exasperation.

“Yes.  It seems it’s an atmospheric condition that possibly stops airplane engines from functioning properly.”  He answered, informing her as he folded up the paper and started the car.  He drove on, to the office.

Graham called out as he opened the front door, “Hello, Oswald, Breck.  We’re here.”

“Back here father, come on back.  Oswald is gone for a few minutes, he’ll be right back.”  The younger Fortt answered from the back room.

He looked at Iva with interest as she and Graham entered the room, greeting her, “Hello dad, Iva.  Are you finding your way about alright at the parent’s house?”

“Yes, fine Breck.  It’s very comfortable.”

“Good.”

“How’s your research going into the ripper?”  He asked amused.

“I’ve covered some, but not all of the material.  I’ll do more on it after work.”  She replied, politely.

He went toward a crate across the room, “Father, over here please.  You need to see this right away.”

“Of course, excuse me Iva.”  He said, and then held up a plate and analyzed it, “That’s perfect.  It’s Mr. Belpin’s order, right?”

“Yes it is.  It’s a fantastic fiftieth wedding anniversary present.  His wife will be delighted.”  He said.

“Well done.  I knew Tom could do it.  He’s a master.”

“And now for you, Miss.  What to have you do first?”  The younger Fortt said, standing next to her.

“Breck, I have a list for Iva to take care of for Gwen, some of which needs to be done by next week or until she leaves, whichever comes first.”  Graham said, pulling out the paper and handing it to him for his review.

“It’s straight forward and doable by then.”  He said after reading it and then turned to her and pursed his lips, “Well, well.  It seems there has been a shift in the wind here.”

“There has?”  Iva asked, thrilled that the volcano’s wind was allowing planes to fly.

“Yes.  You no longer have your Victor to help you maneuver around London.”

Her eyes enlarged with disappointment.  She paused, reset her mind to minutes back, and then proceeded with being a part of their lives again.  Iva’s heart pounded, he was right, her ally was gone.  She was now the captive of a volcano, two lunatic pranksters, and a possible teenage predator that could rear her head at any time and now had no emergency contact, she couldn’t think fast enough to respond, she was blank.

“Don’t be too impetuous, my boy.  Your mother might take her to France and they may not return if you don’t stay in line, just as Angela hasn’t.”

“Is that so?  Those waters will be traversed when, and if, they rise.”

“I will do fine Breck.  Why, a week here is like a week back home.”  Iva said confidently, not wanting to be seen as an amateur.

He smiled, “You are self assured, aren’t you?”

“Getting far won’t be a problem, I’m surrounded by ocean.”

“That is true.  She has a point.”  Graham interjected with laughter.

Oswald entered with the customer who’d commissioned the platter.

“Hello everyone, this is Mr. Belpin.”  He said from behind the portly, well dressed man, his eyes searching Breck’s as he made the introductions, “Mr. Belpin.  My father Graham Fortt and you know Breck. This is our American guest Iva.  Staying with us until the volcano ceases.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Graham, Iva.”  Mr. Belpin said, shaking their hands.

“And you, Mr. Belpin.”  They reciprocated.

“Oswald, you will show the platter to me now, please.”  The gentleman said, hurriedly.

“It’s over here, sir.”  He said, leading him around the corner to the other room.

A few minutes passed before they came back to where Graham, Breck and Iva were.

“Yes.  That is of exceptional quality.  I appreciate your recommending him; it’s superb, a wonderful example of the workmanship they do in Ireland and worth the price.  I’ll have my son pick it up this afternoon for wrapping.”  Mr. Belpin said, shaking Oswald’s hand.  He turned around to leave, “Good afternoon to you all.”

“Good afternoon, Mr. Belpin.”  They replied.

He quickly glanced back at them as he opened the door and stepped out.

“Oswald, we have an unusual turn of events.”  Breck said with a grin.

“What, more?  They’ve been coming continuously for the last week.  What has Iva been up to now?  He asked with interest.

“Our Miss has to do errands again for Gwen.”

“You mean the wager is back on?”

“Yes.  And, she’s without her knight in shining hotel armor.”

“I couldn’t have guessed the fortuitousness of it.”

“You two will have to try to find some sense of professionalism within you souls, or, we’ll lose Iva and your mother to the French.  Oh, what will we do?”  Graham asked, putting his head down moaning, as he turned around and headed toward the office.

Oswald watched his father with confusion then looked at his brother, “What was that about?  He’s truly theatrical.”

His brother smiled, “I’ll explain later.”

Breck handed her the list.  She looked at him slyly, knowing Oswald and he would have a great deal of fun with her disadvantage.  It seemed okay in some way to think they were happy and laughing, it would bother her if they weren’t.  They’d been like old friends, but yet, they weren’t.

The day passed quickly, they stayed busy, checking and filling crates, preparing them for shipment.

Graham stuck his head out of the office, “I’ll check with your mother see how she’s managing.”

He disappeared back into the room.

“I could eat now.”  Oswald said.

Breck and Iva nodded in agreement.

“Your mother is busy with the ladies tonight.  They have a charity event.”  Their father said, coming back out.

They stopped what they were doing to listen to him.

“I will be going home to check on how the teams are doing in the latest matches.  Iva and I can eat there.”  He continued, suggesting to her that it was time to go.

“That won’t be necessary dad.  We can feed her and bring her back.”  Oswald offered.

Breck agreed, “Yes, we’ll do that.”

“Very well, Iva you needn’t go with me if you’d rather not.  You two, don’t keep her out late.  She’ll need all her strength to keep her wits about her, around you.”

“She’ll be home by nine, promise.”  Breck added.

“Be safe my dear.  There are scoundrel’s everywhere these days.”  Graham said, leering at his sons as he left.

“He’s exaggerating.  We’re harmless.”  Oswald said, smiling at her as they put away their work and gathered their things.

She looked at them skeptically, “That’s reassuring.”

Chapter 12

“The Cliff’s would want you to have a good time while you’re here, Iva.  Who knows when that volcano will stop?  Let’s spend as much time together as we can.  What do you say?”  Breck said, looking at her for understanding.

“I suppose you’re right.”  Iva conceded.

They reached the restaurant by six.  Iva thought it seemed to be in her best interest to keep quiet during dinner, so not to give them ammunition, deciding to be as simple in her answers as she could.

“Do you have a pet?”  Oswald asked.

“No, I don’t.”  She answered, keeping her straight face.

Breck took his turn, “Do you have your own place?”

“Yes.    A small apartment or flat as it’s called here, over a main house.”

They began to figure her out.

Breck was cautious with his statement, “You’re not playing this evening Iva.  And, don’t seem to be happy here with us.”

Iva started laughing, “That’s a strange thing to say.  Don got hurt.  You can’t think I should be excited that he’s injured so I could be here, that’s nonsensical.  It’s not as if I were on vacation, or holiday, rather.”

“No, absolutely not, we simply want you to enjoy yourself.”  He insisted.

“Thank you for your concern.  I am having a very good time, probably more than I’m expressing.  But, I don’t see the need to overly do it, for the obvious reasons.”

“Well, we won’t tell the Cliff’s you’ve smiled on your trip.”

Iva looked at them, as their genuine friendship came through.

The two men looked at each other, having succeeded in unburdening Iva of her guilt, since their secret plan to take her to Bath was on the weekend.  They wanted to see how she was without the worries about work, her boss, the volcano and her finances, which were never far from her thoughts.  They’d talked about the circumstances and knew that, would they have been stuck in California during their trip, Breck would have been in serious trouble with the military for not showing up and would have been seen as not reporting for duty.  The same was true for Oswald.  He had his obligations and their entire financial situation would have been a fiasco,

so they fully understood her difficulties.

“Now back to getting her to talk Oswald, we must break her.”  Breck said.

He analyzed her, “Yes.  But, how shall we do it?”

The younger Fortt stared at her, “I know.  Iva, when you fly back to America, will you be ill again?”

She went back to her evasiveness to lighten the mood, “I don’t think so.”

“Good try Breck, but not quite.  Here, let me try.  Iva, do you think you’ll be the one to crack the ripper case?”  He asked, waiting eagerly for a reply.

Her smile widened, “I have no idea.”

It was Breck’s chance to quiz her, “And, why would you not know that, dear?”

“Probably because I’m not nearly close to one hundred years old, nor am I a detective.”

“Those are poor excuses for failure.”  Oswald said, pleased by her answer.

“Please, get me back to the hotel now.  You’ve tired me out, and besides, I have to finish reading the ripper stuff.”  Iva said as dramatically as she could, finding them highly amusing, while in reality she was tired.

They got her home by nine.

“Good evening Iva.”  Graham said from behind the slightly opened study door, when he heard her come in and starting up the stairs.

“Good evening Graham.”

“Sleep well.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Graham went to bed wanting to know more about his possible potential daughter-in-law.  He couldn’t deny his veteran son important things, especially a chance for love.

His hand went to the light on the nightstand, turning it on, “Millie, are you awake?”

“Yes dear.”

“Find out from Gwen a little about Iva.”

“Why?”  She asked as her eyes opened.

He knew she wasn’t aware of how Breck felt about her, “It makes it more comfortable knowing something about the person who’s staying in your home, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose, I could.”

“We aren’t certain how long she’ll be with us.  She may end up staying longer than Angela.”

“True.  I’ve not thought about it really.  She’s pleasant to have around.”

“Yes, but a little information can’t hurt.”  Her husband said as he climbed into bed.

Millie yawned, “I’ll see what Gwen has to say about her, when the time and subject arise.”

He leaned over, kissing his wife’s cheek, “Good night Millie.”

“Good night Graham.”

Iva started reading where she’d left off the night before, getting through quite a bit more by eleven, when she decided to quit so not to over sleep in the morning.

It was cool but not cold, in Angela’s room when she woke up.  She lay in bed looking around at her things.  There were books neatly lined up on another shelf along with some photo albums, a few dolls and a rocking chair in the corner.  Iva crept across the room, peeked out the door and down the hall to see if Graham was anywhere in sight.  She was comfortable with the Fortt’s, but not enough to be seen in her pajamas, not having brought her robe to save on space in her suitcase, so she made a quick dash to the bathroom.

He heard her footsteps across the floorboards above, “Good morning Iva.”

“Good morning.”  Iva answered halfway to the bathroom.  Her body froze as she looked around for him. Then she darted to her destination and started to close the door, figuring he was probably at the bottom of the stairs because she couldn’t see him.

“Take your time.  Millie’s just up, herself.”  He continued.

“Yes, sir, thank you.”  She replied as she shut the door quickly, realizing how much of an endeavor it was to be a house guest.

It was Wednesday.  A supposed ten day business trip had now become a foreboding stay with unknown results.  Iva got dressed and made her way down.

“Seat yourself Iva and eat.”  Millie commanded, motherly.

Iva thought it best to ask if she was needed, wanting to be as useful as possible, “Can I help you with anything Millie?”

She smiled at Iva as she laid her plate in front of her, “Yes there is.  We’ll be doing the flowerbeds this morning.  Four hands are better than two when it comes to weeds.”

“Helping in the garden sounds relaxing.”  Iva said as they waited for Millie to join them.

“Iva.  You can catch the train nearby to do your errands for Gwen this week.  And I will be available, if you need a ride from time to time, ring me when you do.  I’ll be with the boys at the office this week.”  Graham offered, before he sipped his coffee.

“I’m sure Iva appreciates the warning, dear.”  Millie joked.

Graham looked across the table at her with a smile.

Millie sensed a secret in her husband’s voice, “You have a manner of guilt about you Graham.”

“Me.  Do I look like a man with any information in his head?  I ask you, Iva.”  He said, seriously.

Iva held her joking answer in her head and blushed profusely, wanting to reply “not one bit.”

His wife put her plate down to join them, “Yes, you do.  You’re incorrigible when it comes to them, really.”

Iva smiled but stayed quiet, listening, as her hosts spoke about general familial topics for the rest of their breakfast.

Graham took his tie tales off his left shoulder, straightening them, “Your cooking was exceptional as usual, my dear.  Thank you.”

“And now you should leave us to get busy out back.  Mr. Conspirator.”

“Goodbye Iva.  Have fun rolling in the dirt with Millie.”  Her husband said, rising from his chair.  He kissed Millie on the cheek, took his suit coat from the coat stand near the front door and headed out for the day.

The image Iva formed of them was sweet, happy and complete.

Millie smiled in his direction, picked up her and Graham’s plates and went toward the sink, “Let’s get to the dishes, Iva.”

“I’ll rinse them.”  She answered, getting up with her plate, following her.

They loaded the dishwasher then went up to change into work clothes and hurried back down when done.

“I’ll show you the gardening shed, Iva.”  Millie said, leading her out the back door, as she explained what needed to be done, “We’ll be doing these pots, and that bed of roses, there.”

The two women went to the side of the house where the tool shed was.  Millie pulled out the wheel barrel filled with tools, soil and fertilizer.

“Let me take that for you.”  Iva insisted, taking a hold of the handles and following her.

She couldn’t help notice on the day of the party how pretty the yard was, but hadn’t the chance to compliment her, “Your flowers are beautiful, Millie.”

“Thank you.  It took quite some time for the whole yard to come back.”
            “Did you have a bad season?”

“Yes, it was bad.”  Millie answered poignantly, with a distant look in her eyes.

Iva could see there was more to it than pesky aphides and wondered whether she wanted to talk about it. She couldn’t tell.

“Has Gwen ever mentioned that Breck was in the military?”

“No.  They don’t discuss many personal matters at the office.  I don’t like to intrude and she doesn’t ask me many personal questions, either.”

They started pulling the weeds around the bushes.

“Breck was injured in Afghanistan over a year and a half ago.  The whole of his side, under his arm and down to the waist is a scar.”  Millie said as she stopped and stared at the soil.  Her heart ached, thinking of it as she began with the rest of the events, “After six months in military hospital he was sent back here to hospital for the rest of his physical and emotional recover.”

Iva sat silently, having had no idea, but it did explain the gap in time between his and Oswald’s visit, and their next phone call.  Perhaps that was why Don and Gwen flew there and back that time, their duration of days gone seemed awfully short for a vacation to a foreign country.

Iva was touched that he’d not mentioned it, “I’m very sorry, Millie.”

She sighed at the remembrance of it, “Thank you.  As hard as that was, I was grateful just to have him.”

“Yes, I’m sure.”  Iva said, picking at the weeds.

“Oswald at that time was in the Peace Corp. and wanted to enlist, but wasn’t accepted, he’s had a back injury since childhood, so it wasn’t unexpected.  He fell from a tree flat on his back onto an exposed root.  That was something.  It took a year for him to fully walk again.”  She said as the painful memories flooded back into her mind.

Iva began to see that behind the quiet, harmonious life she saw, there had been periods of tragedy and grief, as she listened patiently.

“When Oswald heard of Breck’s injury he came straight home.  They’ve been inseparable since.”  Millie added, beaming with joy that they were together again, while smelling the roses as they went along.  She regained herself then continued, “They were real jokers as children and picked up right where they’d left off when Breck got out of hospital.  I was glad of the normalcy returning.  What used to unnerve me is now inconsequential.  So, I put up with all the foolery.  It’s better to have it, than not.”

“The way they joke, is brotherly.  I know, having two of them.”  Iva agreed.

“I can attest that two boys are quite a lot for a woman to handle.”  Millie replied, as she started to laugh recalling something about that time, “I’m sorry Iva.  What I tell you next was so unexpected, but as it turned out, was the best thing to happen to Breck.  It snapped him back to what was familiar.”

Iva was engrossed, only picking one weed every few minutes.

“Our Angela’s children, Lorraine, who was four and Arthur being three at the time of Breck’s injury, did something so extraordinary.  They, in their little minds, decided to make him feel better in hospital, so they came one morning with us on a visit.  Lorraine was carrying her play case, which we thought was filled with crayons or trinkets but they had put Angela’s make up in it, along with one of their father’s ties.  Breck was sedated when we arrived and while Angela and I were speaking with the Doctor in the corridor, they put lipstick on him, curling clips in his hair, and rouge on his cheeks and a touch of eye shadow on his lids, as well as their father’s tie, which they wrapped around his head like a turban.  When we returned, he looked a sight.  Angela and I laughed so much, we woke him.  Angela gave him her mirror, he laughed from deep within his soul.  So much so, that we feared he’d do injury to his side, all stitched up as it was.  Tears streamed down his face, not with pain but with such affection for his little niece and nephew.  He clasped them to his chest, kissing their foreheads, with no regard for his wounds.  They giggled with delight that they’d made him feel better and said they wanted him to look his best while there.  Honestly, I haven’t seen him as happy since, with the exception of your arrival.  You humor him, just as they do.”  She finished, touching Iva’s gloved hand with gratitude.

“It’s funny that I do that, I didn’t know.  He and Oswald have been wonderful friends to have here.”

“And how about your brother’s, do you get on with them?”  Millie asked, not wanting to monopolize the conversation.

“Yes.  I have wonderful memories of them growing up, along with my sister, Cassandra.”  Iva answered honestly, picking only those memories, starting from the time of arriving at their grandma’s.  Although she recalled that they did have fun with their parent’s when they were very, very young, despite what they became after they had the money.

“You love them, I can tell, just as Angela loves her brothers.  Breck’s injury was very hard for her.  She and I tried to get out here to tend the garden, those six months, but we were at hospital all the time, that’s how it became so awful.  But who cared.  I’ve been catching up here and there, ever since.”

Iva acknowledged her priorities, “Of course.”

Millie smiled at her, holding a red rose bud to her nose, “Now it is back to being beautiful and the

fragrance is always welcomed.”

“It is.”  Iva agreed, taking in a big whiff of those around her.

It showed in Millie’s teal eyes that she felt comfortable confiding in Iva.  And now, Iva knew more of her host family and why Oswald and Breck truly enjoyed a good laugh, frequently.

“Millie—–, Millie—–.”  A lady called from the side gate.

“Back here Lane.”  Millie answered back, informing Iva as they got up, “That’s my sister.”

“I’ve had the good fortune to eaves drop on Trevor, as he was telling Graham, that your house guest is to be…” Lane said, stopping midsentence as she saw them brushing the dirt off their clothes.

“Hello there.  You must be Iva.”  Lane said, walking rapidly toward them.

Iva took off her gloves, “Yes.  Hello.”

“Millie.  This darling girl is to go with those two rogues of yours, Trevor and their other friends to Bath on Saturday.  They’re keeping it secret from her.”  Lane continued as she gave her sister a hug.

“It appears she knows now.  Don’t you dear?”  Lane said, smiling at Iva, semi-pleased to have ruined the surprise, which she herself, found to be annoying occurrences.

Millie watched as her sister embraced Iva, “That’s what secret Graham was hiding, though not well.  No, he’ll have to do better, next time.”

Lane let go of her house guest, “You don’t know a thing, but be prepared Iva.”

Oh, how stupid of me.  Iva this is Lane.  Lane this is Iva.”  Millie said.

Iva backed away a bit, “It’s nice to meet you, Lane.”

“Happy you’re here, dear.  The volcano ash is still going, you know.  It’s a dreadful thing.”  Lane said, shaking her head.

“Yes, we’ve been keeping abreast of the thing.  We should have drinks.”  Millie suggested, leading them into the kitchen.

“I’m having a small get together on Sunday next and you will come.”  Lane insisted, looking at them.

“Yes.  We’ll be there, Lane.  Oh, I almost forgot.  Iva is trying her hand at the Crackenpool case.  Shall we do it then?”  Millie asked.

Lane drank her tea quickly, “Yes, absolutely, excellent fun.  I must be off, there’s lot’s to be done for the party.  Trevor’s first gathering since being home for his visit.  See you then.  Goodbye.”  Lane said as she kissed her sister’s cheek then waved as she went out the back door.

“Goodbye Lane.”  Millie and Iva answered.

“Trevor, her son, is in the military.  He’s doing well and is no longer in the fighting.”

Iva stayed silent on the subject of military service, having had one brother in it, and now another recently deployed.

“Lane was my rock during Oswald and then Breck’s injuries.  She’s as tough as leather and is more than just my sister, she’s part of me.”

“I can tell.  Has Lane also seen Mrs. Crackenpool’s stuff?”  Iva asked.  She was glad that Millie had the same relationship with Lane that she now had with Case.

“Yes, she and I tried years ago, after Graham and I first moved here.  We didn’t do so well, but hopefully you’ll have better luck.”  Millie said.

 The two women began weeding again until they finished, cleaning up the tools, returning them to the shed.

They finished dinner then played cards the rest of the evening with Graham.  Iva found that they were very relaxed for parents and easy to laugh with.  She told them she had things to do tomorrow, excused herself, and went up to bed.  It was still early enough, so she picked up the laptop and began entering the victims and the thirty one or so suspects.  When Iva noticed it was ten, she went to bed.

She got up at seven, helped Millie in the kitchen and left by nine.  There were a few more inventory items Gwen wanted her to look at, as a next possible order.  Iva made her way to the manufacturers and left by eleven o’clock.  On her way back, she picked up some English candies for Gwen.  By noon, she returned to their home.  Millie asked her to one of her ladies meetings, which Iva thought would be interesting to attend. Afterwards, the ladies played cards for the rest of the afternoon, which she excused Iva from, giving her Angela’s old house key, so she could get in.  Iva got back to the Fortt’s house alone, went upstairs and took the laptop and her note pad outside to finish her reading, so she could write her theory.

When Iva walked out the back door, the phone began ringing.  She ran inside to answer it, “Hello, the Fortt, residence.”

“Hello, Iva?”  The woman asked.

“Yes.”

“This is Evelyn.  Is Millie there?”

“No she’s not, Evelyn.  She’ll be home later.”

“I’ve got to stop by around four o’clock before my shift, to drop off the food for Lane’s party and the one for tomorrow night that I’m to bring.”

Iva was confused what she was referring to about the dish and ignored it, not feeling comfortable enough to ask, “I’ll be here, come on over.   And, if you would have a minute to help me with something for this ripper thing, I would like your insight since you’re a nurse.  You might be able to illuminate some things that I’m wondering about.”

“Yes, I’ll be there a little early.  I can’t wait, I’ve been wondering how your coming on with it.”  Evelyn answered, not pressing her on what it was in her mind.

“Thank you, Evelyn.  See you then.”

“You’re welcome, see you later, Iva.  Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”  Iva said, jumping up with excitement that she was coming over then sprinted upstairs, got her heels and coat, then went back down putting them on the bottom of the stairs and returned to the yard.

It was three when Breck came unexpectedly out of the back door, “Is anyone at home?”

She was happy to see him but exhausted and relieved to be done, “I’m the only one, your mother’s with her club and I don’t know where your dad is.  I’m just finishing with the jack the ripper stuff.”

He tried to make a sinister face, which looked more like indigestion, “Well, coincidently, I’ve been

elected to be your culprit.”

“Really, what do you do?”  Iva asked, putting down her note pad after transferring what she’d put in the laptop onto it.

“You write down who I am.  I sit by you, saying maybe and other things to help with your hypothesis.  Don’t worry, I’m sworn to secrecy.  One recommendation I can give you is to give it a bit of theatrical flair of suspense, and be as dramatic as you like.  Mrs. Crackenpool prefers that it be done like a real inquiry.  It was helpful to do it in question form when I did it.  Rather than the full on assault as the others have done.”  He offered, wanting to be as constructive to her as he could.

He sat in the chair next to her.

“Your family and friend’s execution of this keeps getting more interesting.  I have to say though, that I do hate to say someone did it, when maybe they didn’t.”

“I appreciate that you’re taking this as seriously as you are, but it’s only your opinion and no more than that.  It’s not understood as factually correct, since no one’s alive who was there.”  He replied, watching her with interest.

“That’s good.  This is much more than I could have guessed would have happened when I left California.  Case will be so envious.”  Iva said sitting back, looking at him, interested in what she herself, just said.  Envious.

“You’re sister’s a police officer, isn’t she?”

“Yes, she is.  Case is her nickname for Cassandra.  Her being a policewoman was as much a surprise as this jack stuff is.”

A cold chill came over her, thinking about what she’d realized she’d missed about the case.  She went silent.

“Why will your sister be envious, Iva?  And, what’s the surprise in her becoming a police officer?  Many women do that, now.”

She laughed slightly, “Envious, because she loves mystery books and things that keep her mind turning.  And she becoming a police officer, well, that was the last thing, she or any of us, would have thought she’d be doing when she grew up.”

Suddenly she wanted him to leave so she could go on the internet and pursue what her mind was coming up with for her report, if that’s what it was to be called.

“Why’s that?”  He persisted, wanting to know more about Iva and those in her life.

“We probably would have been getting into all sorts of trouble by now if it were not for our grandmother.”  Iva said, hesitantly.  He’d caught her at a vulnerable time.  Her mind was with the murders, so she was absentmindedly revealing things that she ordinarily wouldn’t except to those close to her.

“That’s quite a statement” Breck said, surprised by her admission.

She’d put herself out in the open to him and couldn’t turn back now that he was asking, to avoid further questions would indicate something of shame to be hidden, “I suppose it is.  The truth is that we may have been wilder than those on the internet.  You know taking bad photos and giving out far too much information about ourselves.”

He looked searchingly for more explanation, “Oh, but you’ve not done that, right?”

She looked down as the debate raged in her, he wanted her to elaborate which persuaded her to go on, “My siblings and I didn’t have any kind of internal control, didn’t understand the word no, and thought that anything we did was alright.  We confused being ignored by our parent’s with being spoiled.   Looking back, we were quite destructive to ourselves because we weren’t told any differently and were just on the cusp of becoming really awful people, both abrasive and confrontational.”

She watched him as he stared at her, shocked by her candor.

He respected the strength she had to be so honest, “That’s hard to see in you.”

“Now, maybe so, but back then we thought our parents would always give us money, until the time we married, then we’d be able to get money that way or would inherit it, eventually.  We were impulsive by the time we went to live with my grandma and if we couldn’t get money from someone, I’m sure we would have run up credit cards by now, which we couldn’t pay off or maybe even something worse.  Her intervention was our live saving.”  Iva said, realizing how boring she sounded, “I’m sorry for droning on with this Breck.”

“Don’t think anything of it, Iva.  I’m interested.  It’s a whole different take on what’s happened to people our age.  You’ve lived it.”  He said politely, attempting to comfort her, affirming that she had nothing to be ashamed of, adding, “I’m glad your grandmother changed that.”

“We’re glad more than anyone else could be and thank God for her every day, because she explained things simply to us, especially to my brother Terry.”

Breck could see the difficulty she was having speaking about such personal things, not because they hurt, that wasn’t her demeanor, it was more because she’d gotten so far past them, that to recall them was becoming a chore, adding, “What type of things?”

“Well things, for instance; if we showed signs of not being able to understand how to be good to people, then those actions would turn and we’d wind up with the alternatives.  And, since we were without money and would have to work to feed ourselves, why should we expect people to want to employ or be around us.  If we had a job helping the public, why would tourists want to come and visit if there were teenagers out of control all over the place?  We really only hurt ourselves, they would just go where there was little, to no crime.  All our self worth was wrapped up in the amount of money or things that we had, instead of how useful as people we we’re.  It’s hard to think how abhorrently reckless we were with people and our actions, but she quickly corrected that, making us not unnecessarily cautious but sensible about things.”  Iva said.

He listened, admiring her for speak so frankly from her very informed place, then nodded, relating to having strict parents, “Ah yes, she’s an unmovable disciplinarian with a lot of common sense.”

“I feel bad now.  It was a humbling experience.”

There was a vibrant glint, for her honesty, in his eyes, as Iva picked up her note pad and looked at it, instead of him, “That was one thing that surprised me most about the ladies.  They all had some family or friend that might have helped them, instead of being so naively vulnerable.  Maybe there had been some kind of addiction or mental illness, driving them.”

“Shocking isn’t it.  It was perilous and unfortunate that their job was to be on the streets after dark.”  He said with compassion.

“That’s true there was no electricity only gas lamps, no cars only police on foot or by coach, no phones to call for help.  I was so surprised to find out how much stuff Mrs. Crackenpool and her past relatives have accumulated on the subject.”

“It’s been a subject for a great many people over the years.”

“I do appreciate all their hard work but this will be my only step into this area, I’m not cut out for investigating.  That’s Case’s job.  She laughed.

“You’ll have to let her know how you did after Sunday.  You will be glad to go home I’m sure and your family must be anxious to have you back?”  He continued, watching her for reaction.

His assumption was accurate, they did want her home.  She held out her note pad for him to take, her mind flashing to falling in love with him, dismissing it as being tired.

Breck was concerned by how flushed she looked, asking carefully, “Are you well, Iva?”

She threw out her thought as quickly as she had it, “I’m fine Breck.  Here are my notes on who I think did it, so be prepared to take the heat at your Aunt Lane’s party, when you’re revealed.”

He shook his body as if in fear, “Be kind to me, I frighten easily.”

“I will and hope you won’t be disappointed, it’s the answer I’ve come up with.”

“I’m sure you’ve done your best, considering the limitations of not having access to any of the evidence and going strictly by hearsay and old paper, as did the rest of us.  I have to be on my way but I’ll see you soon, goodbye Iva.”  He said, putting his hand on her arm, leaving as quickly as he came.

“You’ve been a treasure, for listening to me go on about my youth, Breck, thank you.  Goodbye.”

After a few minutes she heard the door bell and knew it must be Evelyn.  As Iva opened the door, Evelyn nearly fell over under the weight of the big box she was carrying, setting it on the bottom step of the stairs, “Hello Iva, do help me with the casserole dishes in the car then we can start.”

“Hello Evelyn.  We’ve got to hurry, I’m not certain when Millie will be home.”

The two women brought in the dishes, Evelyn’s excitement to be filled in on her findings was visible, “I saw Breck’s car and waited until he left.  Let’s put these casseroles into the kitchen, they need to stay refrigerated.”  She said as they took them there and then returned to the foyer.

Iva moved the heavy box to the living room floor then sat on the stairs, slipping into her heels, “I was wondering how tall you are Evelyn?”

“I’m five foot eight.  No, no, I know what you’re thinking and we can’t.”

Iva shuddered, “I’m willing too, if you are?”

“Alright, but we’ll have to hurry.”

“Here, put on my coat.  We both know that the person’s height, along with their clothing, both might be important factors.”

Evelyn slipped it on, “Their clothes too?”

Iva looked at her, the sleeves were a bit short but for the experiment it would do, “Since the women were between say five feet and five-five, then would a short person be able to do this?  Having to be on their tip toes, or, say a tall person who had to slouch over?”

“That’s what I was leaning toward and agree so far.”

She and Evelyn faced the downstairs bathroom mirror, “With four inch heels, I’m five-four.”

“I know.  I’m to get behind you.”   Evelyn said as she began to walk toward the kitchen.

Iva saw her and shrieked, “You’re not going for a knife are you?  For god’s sake you’re a nurse!”

“I know, but if we do this, we should include all the elements, shouldn’t we?”  She grinned.

“You’ll have to pretend to be the victim’s and I’ll be the ripper because I’m not going to have someone walk in and find us doing this.”

“Okay, I’ll stop joking.  Although, Graham wouldn’t mind in the name of discovery, you know him, but Millie would, so we’d better forget it and do it this way.”  Evelyn said standing behind Iva with only inches between them then took her right hand and put it on Iva’s forehead, “So, if the scenario is, that the person takes the victim’s chin or forehead in their right or left hand and lifts up, turning it in this direction?”

“Go ahead, take your finger and run it across my neck and see if you’re able to do it, without hitting where a coat sleeve might be, to interfere with it, without enjoying yourself, please, Evelyn.”

She did it, “Well if the person’s in a coat with loose sleeves, as was the fashion at that time for overcoats, then it would definitely hit, I would think.”

“Good.  Now that’s at your height of five-eight.  So, bend your knees about two inches and then check.”

Evelyn did it again, “It’s the same.”

They repeated the move about two inches lower.

“We are of the same thinking, aren’t we Iva?”

“That someone would have to be very skilled with a knife so not to lose control of it, yes we are.  If it did hit their sleeve and had slashed their hand or fingers, there might have been a trail with drops of their blood, which in all that’s written, neither of us found any information on.  Evelyn, do you think the person, without training in cutting, would possibly nick or severely cut them self?”

“It’s quite possible, especially if they were cutting in a hurry and if the victim’s body was still convulsing, or if they died instantly then with the weight of the body.”

“This is a speculative question I know, but do you think in Victorian England, that a man of say, forty-eight would be able to do this, if they were active and in good health?”

“I looked at those possibilities too.  There are variables to the question which I found to be frustrating, uncertain whether or not I should eliminate particular people from the pool.  For instance, a person of that age who drank that evening, and it’s known that some of the suspects did frequent the public houses in the area, they may not have had the stamina, or the dexterity to do it, depending upon how much they had, to make in some instances, such a quick getaway.  You see ale was so different back then, it may have been far more potent than now.  But yes, if they were in good health and sober, then I can’t think why not.”

“I see what you mean.   Evelyn, when you had a hold of me, if you’d have been one of the women what would you have done?  I mean, instantly.  Like, stood there and easily capitulated as a Lady of means might do, or fight, like a woman who’d been used to being on the street fighting with men, would do?”  Iva asked, hoping for a similar answer to what she might do.

“As rough as those times were and aggressive as the males they knew probably behaved, I would either, swing my arms, possibly struggling with fear or try to grab their arm at least, and possibly try to kick them on the shin or in the foot, that is, if there is a split second to do so because it couldn’t have been that easy to cut a throat considering the high collars that even they wore, that being the style of the dresses.”

“Those are the things I would try to do, too.  But what if the mutilated faces were a result of that, because they did try to fight back?  What if they struggled so much that the perpetrator cut their faces trying to hold them still, this makes the ripper angrier, so he or she continues cutting, just out of anger at the women’s audacity to fight back.”

“I thought the same thing.”  Evelyn admitted.

“Thank you Evelyn, you’ve been a great help.”

“You’re not going to tell me who you suspect, yet.  Are you?”

Iva helped Evelyn off with her coat, “Not yet.  You’ll find out on Sunday.”

“Good, I love suspense but did have to ask.”  Evelyn replied with a big smile, grabbing her keys and heading for the front door, adding, “My shift is that day but I’ll stay until you’re done.  See you at Lane’s, Iva. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye Evelyn and thank you again.”

They waved at each other as she went down the walk.

Iva grabbed a piece of paper on her way back outside, she wanted to enjoy all the sun that was left.  After adjusting herself comfortably in the chair at the patio table, she began to write down what she’d gleaned about her suspect from her chat with Breck and Evelyn.  After she finished she took the laptop back up to the room and waited for her hosts to arrive.

Chapter 13

Millie returned first, Graham came in shortly after.  They had dinner.  Iva called it an early night, being tired from having stayed up late the previous night considering all the circumstances of the murders.

As Iva washed and dressed it occurred to her that it was already Friday, April twenty forth and took a minute to mark the day in her small purse calendar.

Graham rose earlier than his wife by a half hour.  He could hear her call to him from upstairs.

“I’m down here, Millie.”  Graham answered from the bottom of the stairs.

“We’ll be right down.”  She continued with her head out their bedroom door.

As she and Iva went down, he stood at the bottom in the foyer in a cheerful mood, looking up at them, “Such a beautiful sight to enjoy before a long day.”

“Thank you, Graham.”  His wife said, smiling back.

“And what will you two be doing today?”

“We have errands most of the day, dear, how about yourself?”

“I’m taking the car to the garage then other things for the office this afternoon.  Would you like to play some cards after dinner, ladies?”  He asked as he approached her and kissed her cheek.

Millie winked at Iva, knowing she’d be gone to Bath tomorrow, for the entire day. ”Yes, we should stay in tonight.”

“I’ll play, Graham.”  Iva said, smiling at him.

She was into her third week but still felt out of place and couldn’t get herself to be fully comfortable. The feelings of being drained and ungrateful were a constant, because she did want to go back to her family and friends.  It would have been easier if they’d turned out to be people she couldn’t get along with but they weren’t, they were the opposite.  In fact, since she’d been there, everyone had been warm and generous to her, which made it impossible for her to dislike where she was.  Iva slept but the uncertainty of when she’d be leaving was taking its toll on her.

Iva left at ten thirty to go look at plates that Gwen wanted her to see.  After having had a successful day of making bus and tube transfers on time, Iva headed back to their house.  It was four thirty when she walked up the drive, looking through her purse she remembered she’d given Angela’s house key back to Millie.  Iva rang the bell at the door instead of going around the back, not wanting to take advantage of their hospitality.

Millie opened it, “Hello Iva.  Did you have a good day?”

She turned from the door with Iva following, closing it behind her.

“I’ve finished with the things from Mrs. Crackenpool, Millie.  I’ll return them to her if you don’t need me right now.”  Iva said as she put her hand on the banister.

“Let me help you, she’s been out of sight lately.  I do like to keep a check of how she’s doing.  She’s getting frail these days.”  Millie insisted.

They got the boxes and folders from the bedroom then stumbled their way over to her house.  Millie rang Mrs. Crackenpool’s bell with her elbow then they waited patiently for her to answer.

“Hello Millie, Iva.”  The elderly woman said as she backed up to let them in, seeing their heavy load.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Crackenpool.  How are you today?”  Millie asked, genuinely interested.

“I’m fine today.  Yesterday was a bit difficult because of the arthritis, but it only flares for a few hours and then with attention it subsides.”

“Good, I’m pleased to hear it.  Iva’s finished.  We’re returning your things.”  Millie said as the woman looked at her and then turned her attention to Iva.

The elderly woman pointed, “Please, put the boxes on the floor in the sitting room.”

They did as they were told as Mrs. Crackenpool followed behind, “Please won’t you stay for some tea and a chat.”

“We’d be glad to.”  Millie agreed.

“Iva, do you have your decision?”  She asked as she started the kettle, peering at her through her glasses.

“I’ve come up with the best answer that I could piece together.”  Iva answered.

“I will be happy to hear it at Lane’s party.  Please tell me what it is like for pensioners in your country.”

Iva stayed silent, finding it difficult to say that some were at the brink of despair.  Was she to say the absolute truth or merely make it a casual conversation?  She decided on keeping far from the criticism of those in government making unfair laws and reckless decisions and those who’d not worked their whole lives or planned in advance of their retirement, of which she would be counted, if her grandmother hadn’t altered it, “Some folks are having a very difficult time and some aren’t.”

“Yes, as is here.  When I was young, we believed costs were a set thing but I’ve lived long enough to see that they’re not, so it must be for your pensioners.”

“The ones that I know are aware of it and have regrets over how things are financially dealt with.  I’m sure in thirty or forty years that I’ll have the same regrets, unfortunately.”

“I’m afraid your generation will.”  Mrs. Crackenpool answered, sorrowfully.

Millie spoke up, wanting to get her dear friend off the loathsome topic, “It is time for us to get back.  I will come in a week and we shall take a trip to the park, alright Mrs. Crackenpool.”

“If you must go now, and it will be good to walk for a while, Millie.  I will see both of you at Lane’s party first.”

“We’ll be there.”  Millie replied as she and Iva rose and followed the elderly woman to the door.

“Is there anything you need before we leave?”  Millie asked her as she slowly opened the door.

“No thank you, goodbye.”  She answered.

“You’re welcome, goodbye.”  Millie replied as they embraced.

“Goodbye, Mrs. Crackenpool.  I’ll see you on Sunday.”  Iva added.

The woman nodded as she closed the door.

They massaged their arms as they walked down and around toward Millie’s front yard.

Graham came in an hour later, “Iva. The lads would like you to ring them, right away.”

“Well, I don’t know.”

He looked at her baffled, “You don’t know?”

“No.  I’ve no strength today.  Their joking wears me out.  You understand what I mean Millie, don’t you?”  Iva asked.

“Yes, I do.  Graham sometimes we would like to be at peace, enjoying only your company.”  Millie agreed, seriously.

Iva thought it good of Millie to continue her prank.

“Yes.  I must admit being calmer than both of them.  Still, they would like the girl to call.”  He said flattered, but looked to Millie for help, trying to stress the urgency.

“Can I have some time to think about it?”  Iva asked, looking at him stupidly.

He became convinced he was going to hear it from his sons if she didn’t, but couldn’t find the words to persuade her, “Yes, of course.  You can’t be forced to call them.”

His wife stayed in the joke, trying not to laugh, “Can I get you anything, dear?”

“Yes.  Most probably I’ll be in need of a gurney.”  Graham replied with a worried look upon his face.  This was not the plan, he worried that she was not within the plan.  Panic was setting in.

“A gurney, don’t be silly dear.  What, could you need that for?”

“Nothing, it’s nothing at all.”  He began to mumble under his breath as he walked away, “I must think. What a problem this is.  There must be a solution.”  Finally they heard him blurt out, “I’ll be right in to play cards.”  Then there was silence.

“How long do you think we can keep this up, Millie?”  Iva asked as she looked at her, trying to control her laughter.

She grinned, “Only a bit longer, they’re too clever.  They’ll quickly realize that something is wrong and then we’ll be done.”

The two women heard the phone ring.

“Iva.”  Graham called out.

“Yes sir.”

“The telephone is for you.”

Millie laughed, “You see Iva.”

“I’m coming Graham.”  She said, keeping a straight face as she saw him holding out the phone.

“You two have had a good joke on me.”  Graham said, handing her the receiver then bowing in recognition of being trumped.

“Hello.”

“What have you been doing to daddy?”  Oswald asked with a juvenile air.

“I’ve done nothing.”  Iva replied coyly.

Breck got in the badgering, “Rubbish, if you’ve hurt our daddy, you, you, visitor?  We’ll just have to do something.”

“What will you do?”

Oswald jumped in, “We’ll have you sent back if you’ve hurt our daddy.”

“I’m so easily discarded.  Graham here’s the telephone for you.”  Iva said, holding it toward him.

“Don’t include me in this young lady.”

Graham and Millie were talking and laughing about the situation.

“I like it right here.”  He added as he kissed Millie’s cheek.

Iva laughed, “There is something endearing about two full grown men who call their father, daddy.”

They laughed, Breck took his opportunity, “Do you think it might even be considered attractive, Iva?”

“That’s horribly disturbing.”  She replied in disbelief as she heard them laughing then she straightened herself up, becoming serious, “I’ll give in, how can I help you, gentlemen?”

“We wanted to enjoy your company tomorrow but now we’re afraid to.”  Oswald said, doing his best to sound worried.

“Well in that case, I’m very sorry.  It will not happen again, too soon.”

“Oh, she uses our words against us.”  Breck joked.

“You, mother and Evelyn make a vicious team.”  His brother added.

She could feel herself beginning to think in their terms, “When we are together, we’ll plot against the both of you.”

“We’ve created a monster, Oswald.”  The younger Fortt said.

“You did.  I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did.”

Iva interrupted to stop them, “What time tomorrow?”

“Seven o’clock if you please.”  Oswald said wholly satisfied by the two women’s joke.

“I’ll be ready.  Goodnight.”  She said, hanging up the phone with a sense of accomplishment.

Millie and Iva left to shop for their necessities, returning home once they’d gotten all they needed.  After dinner the Fortt parents and Iva played cards, which lasted for a little over an hour, calling it an early night.

Millie began to close her bedroom door, “Have a lovely day tomorrow, Iva.”

“You have a nice one too, Millie.”  Iva replied as she closed hers.

She sat up thinking of all that Millie had told her about her family.  What she thought earlier wasn’t the case at all.  They’d had tough times but got through it, with that in her mind she fell asleep.

Iva overslept by fifteen minutes, it was already six o’clock.  Being familiar with the layout of the upstairs rooms, it was easier for her to make it to the bathroom and back, quietly.  She dressed, double checked that she had Angela’s house key, which she’d gotten the night before from Millie and put her wallet in her pocket, with ten minutes to spare.

Breck turned his head toward his future sister-in-law, “Evelyn, please remember to find out if Iva has a boyfriend, but try not to be obvious about it or you won’t be allowed to marry Oswald.”

“That’s a consideration.”  She answered with a smile, now knowing for certain that Breck had grown to like Iva as more than a friend.

“Please, just find out and let me know, discreetly.”

“Yes Breck.  I love espionage.”

When Iva heard the car pull up the drive she crept down the stairs and out the house, so her hosts wouldn’t be woken up.

Breck watched as she was locking the front door, “Here she comes.”

He held the car door open, pleased that she was an early riser like himself, “Good morning Iva.”

“Good morning.”  Iva said enthusiastically, glad that she had a little more understanding from Millie of him and Oswald’s perpetual cheerfulness.

They drove away with an awkward silence from both brothers.  She and Evelyn talked in the back seat quietly, so they wouldn’t miss anything said by either of them.

“I, we, want to apologize for keeping you in suspense about today.”  Oswald said.

“I accept your apology and am sorry for taking the bait.”  Iva said.  Her smile hiding the secret, that she’d been warned in advance.

He laughed, “You’re forgiven.”

“Don’t start Oswald,” Breck whispered, reminding him of some agreement they had for the day.

His brother lowered his head, “Sorry.”

“We have a surprise for you, Iva.”  Breck said excitedly, and then without restraint let it out, “We and some of our friends are taking you to Bath today.”

“I knew that.  That’s why I didn’t call you back right away last night.”  Iva replied, turning her head away, looking out the window to keep her smile out of view.

Evelyn laughed, taking her hand.

Oswald was in shock, “What?  Have you been playing at our father and us?  Was that, what that was all about?”

“Yes.  Your aunt Lane came over, telling me and your mother about your secret.”

“How dare she?  Have all the women in our family turned against us?”  He asked bewildered.

Evelyn was pleased to have an equally sharp witted cohort on her side, “Possibly.”

Oswald pretended offense by it, “But why?  What wrong have we done, warranting such horrible actions against my brother and me?”

“Your aunt was right to tell them.  It would have been horrible for Iva to not know.   She may have dressed in something that would have been absolutely uncomfortable.  How much fun would that have been for her?  Pulling, or itching all afternoon unable to change.”  Evelyn said, keeping up her defense of Iva.

Iva wanted to seem bitter and scorned, “You’ve tricked and played pranks on the women that know you that I’ve met so far.”

Breck joined in his brother’s act of being wounded, “But we’re not to blame.  It’s our father’s doing.”

“Oswald…”  Iva said and then paused, slowly leaning her head forward toward the front passenger seat to look at him.  He turned his head back to hear her, she continued once she was close enough to his ear, “You are absolutely… right.  It is your father’s fault.  I can see that, now.”

They drove to a café, meeting up with their friends.  The group had a riotous time, briefly recounting the stories of her visit.  After Evelyn and Iva returned to the back seat, their trip was under way.

Iva reached into her pocket, she pulled money out of her wallet then put her arm between the front seats, “Breck, Oswald, I would like to contribute to the trip somehow.  Please don’t be offended that I insist you take this.”

The two men grumbled, “No it’s not necessary, Iva.”

“Please.  I don’t know if anyone of us should not face facts in times like this, that even though someone’s a guest, that doesn’t mean they can’t help to pay for the entertainment, if only to make them feel less burdensome.”

“You’re not burdensome.  Our parent’s say you’re not, that you’re as tidy as either of them and quieter than they’re used to when their own children are there.  Come to think of it, you are burdensome.  Soon we’ll be expected to climb to your height of politeness, if we’re not careful.”  Oswald said infuriated.

“I’m sorry to make difficulties for you, Oswald.  I’ll put my feet on the furniture, raid the cupboards in the middle of the night and sing as loud as I can all the time while at their house, is that better?”

“No.  They’ll know Oswald’s tainted you, so we’ll take your money and leave you the way you are. Thank you Iva, the sentiment is appreciated.”

“You’re so welcome, both of you.”

As Iva sat back, Evelyn patted her hand, for her understanding of sharing expenses to lighten the load off any one individual.  The two women talked and pointed at things during the drive.

After having driven an hour, Evelyn considered the best way to ask Iva Breck’s question.  She thought to whisper would be the most appropriate but considered that if he wanted to be treated just like her brother Nicholas, then she should ask as if he were Nicholas, concluding that it would be loudly, “Do you wish your boyfriend were here with you, Iva?”

Iva could see Breck’s head lower, shaking back and forth with horror and Oswald’s head lean back with a huge smile in their direction, trying to hear the answer.

“I don’t have one.  But, if I did, then yes, I would wish that he were.”  She answered just as loud, guessing that Evelyn might have been put up to it.

Breck looked at Evelyn in the rearview mirror with a scowl, glad they would be arriving in fifteen minutes.  He considered her officially his sister now.

Driving into Bath, Iva watched out the windows, fascinated by the countryside, all the homes and buildings.  Breck suggested as they parked the car in the middle of the town, “Let’s walk around with the tour group.”

After they finished, the group walked toward the Theatre.

“You will be particularly interested in the gray Lady who haunts this building, Iva.  It’s said she could have been one of the performers and was possibly done in by a scorned lover.”  Oswald said with a smile as they entered.

“Oswald, your preoccupation with the dead is starting to make me feel creepy.”

“It’s not a preoccupation, merely a question of wanting to see things resolved.”

“Would it be more advantageous for you to be in a paying profession in this field?”  Iva asked.

“Yes it would.  I’ve considered doing just that, as a side job of course.”

She continued, “You mean a private investigator?”

“Wouldn’t it be great Iva?  You and me, hot on the trail of elusive criminals, always right behind them, finding justice for the victims.”

“How did..?  No, never mind.  I’m just going to sit by and watch as you plan out my interests.”

“You’re not enthusiastic about what I’ve said?  What could be better than being here with us and looking into horrible events?”

Iva smiled, “Nothing.  I’m sure.”

“That’s enough Oswald.”  Evelyn demanded.

“Yes dear.”  He smiled.

The sun was straight overhead when they exited the building.  They split into two groups of four and the conversations amongst them were varied.  Everyone went in the direction of the fashion museum, which was their next scheduled stop. As they walked, a woman’s voice could be heard from their left side.

“Hello there, Iva.  It’s me Beth.”  She said, calling in her direction.

“Hello Beth, how are you?”  Iva asked with surprise.  She’d been curious how she, her husband and two children were making out.

Beth gave her half a smile.  Her frustration could be heard by everyone around as she answered irritated, “We’re trying to make do.  The kids are ready to go home but the damn volcano won’t stop.”

“I know, it’s difficult to plan on anything.”  Iva agreed.

The American from North Carolina struggled to not start crying again, “We’re booked for Wednesday but haven’t heard a thing.  We check the airline all the time but there’s no news yet.”

“I do too.”  Iva said, acknowledging sympathetically, her eyes going from her husband to children, she felt compelled to add, “I hope that you and the kids get home soon.”

Beth hugged her, “Thank you, Iva.”

“You take care of yourselves, Beth.  I’ve got to go.  Goodbye.”  Iva said, hesitating to leave her fellow countrywoman and connection to the states.

“You do the same honey.  Goodbye.”  She said as they parted.

They waved at each other then Iva turned back to everyone waiting for her, who’d been watching patiently.  She rejoined her group.

“You’ve made friends from home.  It is unfortunate how they’ve been so inconvenienced, Iva.”  Evelyn said, somberly.

She looked back at Beth, feeling sorry for them, “Yes.  I met them on my trip to the Tower.  My situation is far better than most, I think.”

Evelyn nodded, putting her arm around Iva’s shoulder compassionately, pondering the situation, “I don’t know what I would do if I were in America and couldn’t get back here.  It would be terribly.”

“I’m sure there are travelers all over, trying to get everywhere and can’t.  We’ll all have to wait it out.”  Iva said, smiling at her.

Oswald took Evelyn by the hand, “My darling.  I would row across the Atlantic to get you back to me.”

She kissed his cheek, “Thank you Oswald.  That’s sweet, though not realistic, but sweet just the same.”

Iva was anxious to see the clothing as they entered the museum.  She and the other women were surprised by the hand work of the ornaments made from human hair, the hand sewn dresses and other clothes and gowns worn so many years before that were still intact.  There was consensus amongst the ladies that having a wide variety of clothes to choose from was preferable.

Breck leaned over, whispering in Iva’s ear, “There’s something I want to show you before we leave, Iva.”

“Okay.”

“Everyone, let’s take Iva over to Shakespeare’s house.”  He suggested as he started down the street toward their cars.

A quick drive got them to Stratford-upon-Avon.

They walked down the road to get to Shakespeare and Ann Hathaway’s house, when Breck leaned in

toward Iva, “You’ll like this.”

“I’ve liked all of it.”  Iva said.

On one side of the road were homes and the other was a large field with men playing rugby.  They stopped to watch for a minute.  One player fell, hitting the ground with his eyes meeting Iva’s.  She smiled, giving him only a little wave, not knowing if he was hurt.  He smiled back, returned the wave then got up and started playing again.

“I think he likes you Iva.  Hey, what’s your number?”  Linda said, pulling Iva’s arm.

“If he does, it’s got to be a concussion causing it.”  Iva laughed.

He couldn’t hear her, motioning to his ear.  Further down the lane, Allen pointed out a meadow.  The horses were beautiful, their coats and mane’s looked like velvet and silk.

“Do you ride? Iva.”  Breck asked.

“I’ve learned, my older brother learned from our grandpa and then he taught us before he went into…”  Iva answered then became evasive about her brother’s enlistment.  She continued, modifying her sentence, “It’s pleasurable once in a while but we don’t own any.  Do you and Oswald?”

“The same, our parents taught us.  It’s something I enjoy a great deal but can only do occasionally, we don’t own either.” He replied, not indicating that he hadn’t been on a horse since before his injury.

Without thinking his hand gently brushed against hers then he suddenly retracted it, putting it in his pocket.  She thought nothing of it, considering it a bump of their hands and nothing more.

Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway’s home was small, with narrow stairs and low ceilings.  It was hard for a full grown man to maneuver through.  As they looked through the house, the women had fun, seeing the furniture and accessories, which was preserved and displayed as they would have been, so long ago.

Evelyn, Iva and Linda played around, pretending they were wearing corsets and not able to bend over.

Iva wanted to look at historical things all day, but it everyone was moving on, out of the house.

Linda stopped Breck and Iva from talking for pictures, assuring Iva she’d send her copies.

“Thank you, Breck, Oswald and all of you, I’ve had a great time.  I’ll always remember this.”

“You’re welcome.”  The group replied.

Having been gone for hours, they headed back to the car.  Everyone parted, saying their goodbyes before they got into their cars.

Oswald and Evelyn sat in the back seat, Breck and Iva in the front.  They dropped Evelyn off first then started for the Fortt’s.  There was silence on the way there.  Oswald fell asleep within minutes of leaving his fianee at home, leaving Breck and Iva alone.

“You’ll be at my parent’s soon, Iva.”

“I’m so glad all of you took me there, Breck.”

“You’re welcome.  Iva, would you like to come to the office on Monday?  We could use your help.”  He asked, shyly.

“Of course, just call me and let me know what time.”

They pulled into the driveway, it was already nine thirty.  Breck stopped the car, got out and walked her to the front door.  He looked at her as she put the key in the lock, she smiled as it turned, looking up at him once the door opened, he leaned his head slightly.  Iva stood still, wondering if this was the leaning of a kiss or was he going to say something.

“Iva.”

“Yes Breck.”

He picked up her hand and kissed it.  She was taken aback that his peck on the hand was deeply affectionate, not seeming outdated in the least and was as sincere as if he were someone who’d known her for many years.

“Good night, Iva.  I’ll see you tomorrow at eight for Aunt Lane’s party.”

“Good night.”

She walked in the house watching as he got back into the car, uncertain if that was a kiss on the hand of friendship or something more.  Was it possible that with her going home sometime soon, that he didn’t want to start anything that would hurt either of them, just as she didn’t?

Iva groaned out loud to herself as she locked the front door, too tired to think about it.  The lights in the house were off, she assumed Graham and Millie were either out or went to bed.  She got upstairs, prepared herself for bed and fell fast asleep.

In the morning an unwelcomed knock at her door and woke her up from a deep sleep.  Iva answered thinking it was Millie, “Come in.”

It opened slowly, a mere two inches.  Oswald’s left eye looked at her, “Up yet?  Come on Iva, rouse yourself.  We’re here.”

“Yes, you are Oswald.”  Iva said with surprise.

“You’re not well?  It serves you right for your cavorting until all hours.  Perhaps I should use frolicking, maybe that will make more sense to your weary brain?”  Oswald scoffed.

“What a nightmare I’m having.  I hear Oswald’s voice talking to his self.”  Iva replied out loud, rubbing her eyes to get them in focus.

“Is that so?  Don’t worry about my peeking in, you’re like a sister too me.”  He said, snickering sinisterly.

“Oswald, it’s only seven thirty in the morning.”

“No.  It’s not.”

“No?  What time?”  Iva asked, twisting in the blanket with surprise, sitting up, holding the sheet to her chin.

“Ugh, it’s nine thirty.”

“I fell back to sleep.  I’m so sorry.”

“You best get up.  Mum’s sent me for you.”

“I’ll be down in just a minute.”

“Come on then.  Get speed into it.”  He said as he began to close the door.

“I’m up Oswald.”  She answered, yawning to him, but he’d shut it.  Iva got ready for the day as quickly as she could then met Breck on the stairs as she came down.

“Oswald says you’ve been at him already.”  He said, amused at her embarrassment for needing extra sleep.

“I haven’t yet this morning.”  She replied as she went toward the kitchen.

Millie, Graham and Oswald stared at her.

“Good morning.”  The Fortt parents’ said.

“I’m sorry to be late, good morning.”  Iva said, sitting next to Graham.

“Iva, have you forgotten that today is Lane’s party?”  Millie asked as Iva started eating.

“Millie, I did.  I’m very sorry.”  She admitted after she’d chewed and swallowed her food, wanting to laugh at the crazy, familiar, scolded feeling of being at her grandmother’s house.

“When you’re done, grab your coat Iva.  It could get late and it’s been cool in the evenings.  We can’t have you become ill while you’re here.”  Millie said with a smile, as she thought about how she used to have to reprimand her Angela in the mornings.

“Yes, ma’am, I will.”

Each took a dish of food from the kitchen to take to the party as they prepared to leave, with Breck carrying the heavy box Evelyn brought two days prior.  They informed Iva as they left the house that Lane didn’t live far, so they’d go by foot.  It was a walk of a few minutes down and around some streets to her house.

“Hello everyone, welcome, come right in and go through to the yard.”  Lane said standing at the door.

There was a young man about Oswald and Breck’s age with her.  Iva’s eyes flickered, she thought him handsome in his uniform.

“Iva, this is Trevor.”  Lane said as Iva approached them, behind the others.

“It’s nice to meet you, Trevor.”  Iva said, extending her hand.

“Hello Iva.  You’ve been the topic of many a discussion in the family.”  He answered with a humorous tone, taking her hand and then the dish from her.

She nodded as she looked at Oswald and Breck.

“We couldn’t keep you a secret.  It wouldn’t be fair.”  Breck said.

“We’re harmless, we are.”  Trevor assured her, continuing to hold her hand.

“Three of you and only me, that hardly has the sound of being fair.  All I can hope is that Evelyn shows up soon.”  Iva said, anxiously looking around for her.

“From what I hear, you’ve managed quite well thus far.”  Trevor said, raising his eyebrows at her.

“Thank you for the confidence, I think.”  Iva said, embarrassed that he was aware of her and she wasn’t of him.

“It seems we’ve tired you out, Iva.”  Oswald added with a laugh.

“I give up.  I won’t be able to keep up with three of you.”  Iva conceded with a sigh, which was unintentionally audible.

“Not to worry Iva.  You’ll be victorious in the end.”  Trevor said, patting her shoulder.

“I’m glad you’re certain of it.”  Iva said confused, not knowing what he specifically meant, except that it must be about the ripper case.

“You will.”

Chapter 14

As they began through the house, Evelyn arrived.   After she put her things in the coat closet, they went on to the backyard where there was a large gathering of people.  Iva couldn’t keep all of the names straight but everyone’s faces she’d seen before, they were friendly, saying hello to her, so she must have met them prior to this.  Lane called them all to lunch.  Trevor, Oswald and Breck were huddled together like ball players, ready to start a game.  Millie and Iva headed for the table that they wanted to sit at, which had a breadbasket, along with bowls of fruit.

“Lane you have a gorgeous yard.”  Iva said as her eyes caught glimpses of the lovingly tended hedges and lawn.

“Thank you, dear.”  Lane said as she stood next to Millie.

Graham, Breck, Oswald and Trevor sat down next to them.

Trevor grinned at her, “I hear you had a close call in the park one morning Iva, and was rescued just in time.”

Millie, Graham and Lane looked at him with bewilderment.

“It wasn’t very unusual, although, there’s nothing like having your heart beating through your skin, because of a stranger.”  Iva admitted, unconsciously tapping her hand to her heart.

Breck watched Iva’s chest heaving back and forth, he turned to Trevor, whispering to him, “What could I possibly do, to repay that volcano for erupting at just the right time?”

His cousin smiled, “Oswald as a human sacrifice might appease the ash God.”

“That won’t work.  It would find a way to regurgitate him up.”

Iva’s eyes set on Breck’s face and how handsome she found him as the two men laughed.  It was the attraction of time spent with him, getting to know his qualities and feelings that gave him the distinguished lines on his brow and around the sides of his eyes.  She examined his profile and admired his optimistic outlook, which drew her to him, even though it was to be a passing friendship and nothing else.

Millie put her arm around Iva, even though confused by the park inference, whispering to her, “Remember, it’s better for me to have this, than not.”

She smiled in agreement, “Yes.”

The Crackenpool’s arrived shortly after Iva and the Fortt’s.  Lane seated the frail couple at the table nearest to them.

“Iva, would you please come with me?”  Lane asked.

“Yes ma’am.”  Iva replied.

She led her to the part of the yard that had a table set up with pads of paper which had the names of the victims, suspects, letters and other pertinent information to the case, each propped up by something, one was on an easel, another propped up by a stack of books and the others had a variety of things to hold them straight up.

“Iva, write down any information you want on the second pages with the topics you want to cover.  For example, under suspects, whatever information you’ve found out on your own.  Then, let me know when you’ve finished.”  Lane said as she handed her a pen and walked away.

Breck came over, giving Iva back her notepad.  He quietly began helping her write down her findings. Fifteen minutes passed before they were done.

“We’re finished.”  Iva said in Lane’s direction.

“Everyone is here, so whenever you’re ready, please begin.”  Lane called out loudly as she walked back to her table.

The guests grabbed their chairs, making a semi-circle around Iva and the set-up, talking the entire time. Iva watched nervously, knowing that they would be focused momentarily, on what she had to say.

“We will need quiet until Iva’s finished with her opening declaration, please.  Questions may be asked as she puts forth her facts and ideas.  Iva, when you’re ready, dear.”  Lane said as she took her chair next to Trevor, sitting close to him, waiting and watching.

Iva leaned over to Breck as he sat in the chair, placed on the left side of the table, “This is as stressful as taking a college admittance exam.”

“No, please relax, you won’t be judged in any way.  I’ve read your findings, you’ll do fine and besides, this isn’t an actual inquiry, so there’s no right or wrong.”  He said, comforting her.

She turned to all the spectators, “I gather that everyone knows the details already.”

They nodded and said “Yes.”

“Having read everything Mrs. Crackenpool gave me and looking on the internet, which had quite a bit of information and considering everything, my guess is one that was made by a guy who implicated his great uncle, Dr. John Williams.”

Looking around, there was no reaction to what she was saying.  It threw off her confidence but she was determined to do her best, in spite of it.

“The police suspected that it might be a medical person or possibly a butcher and were looking in that direction from what I could determine.  As all of you know, the injuries were severe and complicated in measure.  If some of them were compared to a stab wound a lay person might make, the lay person wouldn’t have had the technical knowledge to know how to cause them.  Therefore, it seemed likely to me that it was both, a medical and farm person.  I set out to look for someone that would have experience in both areas.”  Iva said as she turned the first pad’s pages over.

She continued explaining, “Dr. Williams was born in Eighteen forty.  His parents lived on a farm and his father died when he was young.  His mother kept living on the farm with her son after his death.  In that time period, she would have had to of been a strong, independent woman to continue running it.”

“Iva, what reason could he possibly have for doing it?”  Mr. Crackenpool asked.

Mrs. Crackenpool turned to him, “Bartholomew, let her go on, don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“During this period of his youth, having been exposed to farm animals, he might have been taught

how to kill the livestock to help his mother, giving him knowledge of the tools used and the ability to develop speed in killing them with little blood loss.  John Williams didn’t leave the farm until Eighteen Fifty Seven at the age of seventeen, when he attended the University of Glasgow in Scotland, which implies that he was bright and ambitious, possibly he was prompted by his mother’s influence or he simply didn’t want to be a farmer, either way, he had the brains for learning.”

The group mumbled amongst themselves, stopping her, but she couldn’t make out what anyone was saying, so she continued, “Two years later, in Eighteen Fifty Nine, he apprenticed with Surgeons and Apothecaries, giving him skill in operations and the drugs used during them.”

“But Iva, that doesn’t explain why he did it.”  Graham said, smiling.

“Dear, please.  Let Iva get through this without too much interruption.”  Millie said, gently nudging her husband’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry my dear, please continue.”  Graham said to Iva, with his mischievous grin.

“Dr. Williams must have been adept at surgery, because in Eighteen Sixty One he went on to attend University College Hospital London to study medicine, where he received three degrees in medicine and a gold medal for pathology.  By then he was twenty one and was advancing in his profession.  For a time he and another Doctor formed a partnership, establishing a general practice in Swansea.  I don’t know where it’s located so that may not be relevant.” She explained as she looked at her gracious hosts, trying to be as convincing as she could.

“That’s appalling to think, such an honorable man would do such a thing.”  Mrs. Crackenpool said.

“Yes, it is Mrs. Crackenpool.  I will lay it out for you after I’ve finished describing his life experiences and why I think he may have done it.”  Iva said, looking at her with sadness over the whole affair.

The elderly woman smiled, “I’m sorry to have stopped you, Iva.  Please go on.”

“Anytime Mrs. Crackenpool, this is your pursuit.”  She replied, then began again, “In Eighteen Seventy Two at age thirty two he married Mary Elizabeth Ann Hughes and in that same year, he was appointed as an assistant obstetric physician at University College Hospital, making him uniquely qualified in women’s organs and an interest in child birth.  His professional career continued on the move.  It appears that he didn’t want to have a medical practice for the public for the rest of his life, but rather, that his ambition was to ultimately be the Queen’s physician or surgeon, and if that’s the case, it will explain a possible motive he may have had.”  Iva continued as she became comfortable with the rhythm of the exercise they’d established.

“Oh, I see.  He believes himself a superior Doctor and it’s beneath him to deal with regular people like us.”  Oswald said.

“For now it’s something like that, but I think there’s more to it, than even that.  I’ll tie it all together for you Oswald, at the end.”  Iva replied, smiling at his observation.

“Dr. William’s slugs along with his mundane practice and patients for fourteen years, until the year Eighteen Eighty Six.  He finally became a court physician, but not, a chief surgeon, so he still had to deal with the public for the duration.  Was being an underling to the chief surgeon for the Royal family and his social standing around London going too slowly?  Pursuing this line was the way I decided to go.  I looked for things that were going on in London at that time and saw that it was during that same year that a young thirty six year old, Scottish Lawyer named Robert Lewis Stevenson got Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde published.  Of course you know it; the story of a Doctor experimenting with drugs to alter his personality.”

            Iva wanted to please Mrs. Crackenpool’s desire for authenticity, so she began the interrogation proceedings.

“Is it possible that you, Dr. Williams became irate at Mr. Stevenson’s celebrity, since he wasn’t a medical man or apothecary and wouldn’t know about drugs reactions?  Not to mention, that he became wealthy from it?”  Iva asked Breck.

“I may have.”  He answered, shrugging his shoulders.

“People at the time were speculating that the book was a factor in the murders.”  Lane said, nodding her head in approval.

“There is also the fact that the next year in Eighteen Eighty Six, another young Scotsman, twenty eight year old Arthur Conan Doyle, got his first Sherlock Holmes story published.   It’s a story where the murderer is far cleverer than the police ever could be, and is in fact contemptuous of them, until a superior detective finally catches him.  Was Mr. Doyle’s notoriety and money more than you could understand, Dr. Williams?  This guy was a Doctor just as you are, but what could he possibly know about murder and the cunning it would take to get away with such horrendous crimes, without actually having committed one.  Did you take this as a challenge?”  Iva asked, turning her gaze upon the suspect.

“I possibly did.”  Breck said, raising his eyebrows at her.

“How can it be concluded that he ever read those books?”  Trevor asked with a grin, watching to see what answer Iva would come up with.

“Dr. Williams was an avid book collector during the course of his life.  And after his death, he’d donated his collection of over twenty five thousand books to the National Library Wales, which if one thinks about it, had to take a lot of money for the time, with purchasing them and then the storage of them.  With so many, it occurred to me that perhaps he secretly longed to be an author himself.”  Iva answered with a smile at him, feeling she’d given a solid reason.

“I see.  Well, that’s an explanation.  Please continue.”  He smiled.

“It’s during these two years that the canonical murders happened.  My biggest question was?   Was it too far a stretch to think that for a man who’d worked to bring his professional medical plans to fruition, would he become annoyed enough by the instant wealth and accolades these two men attained in such a short period of time, whilst even though a court physician, he wasn’t making as much money as them.  Two years had passed and these two men who also went to University in Scotland were now successful authors and Dr. Williams still had to deal with the public and only partially with the Royal family.”

Iva stopped to take a calming breath, hoping she was making sense then proceeded with her theory, “By Eighteen Eighty Eight, had you Dr. Williams stewed on the facts and decided that you could come up with more sinister crimes than either of their imaginations could come up with and could you be far smarter than a Sherlock Holmes or any living detectives in the London police department.  If that was your thinking, then in Eighteen Eighty Eight, that is when the first of the murders occurs.  Was it that your desire for the fame, wealth and social standing that Doyle and Stevenson had, driving you to do it?”

“It may have been.”  Breck answered, looking around at their audience.

“Iva, could you refresh our memories?  It’s been a time since we last heard about the unfortunate women.”  Allen asked, glancing around at the others.

“Yes, if you like.”  Iva said, having secretly decided that she didn’t really want to describe their injuries unless someone brought it up, but know someone had, and she would comply with the request.

“Thank you.”  Allen grinned, seeing her discomfort.

Iva suspected that he’d put the other women who’d done this research in the same position, not

maliciously, merely to make it as complete as possible.

She went through the victims and their injuries rapidly, not giving anyone a chance to interrupt so she could end that portion.  As Iva finished, she was getting dehydrated.

“Oh, my dear, would you like some water after all that?”  Lane asked, seeing her face turn pale.

“Yes, thank you Lane.”  Iva replied as she began to fan herself after the long descriptions.

Lane returned with the filled glass, handed it to her and returned to her seat.

Iva took a drink and looked around for an indication of how she was doing, but the group had no facial expressions for her to assess.

“Are you in need of a break, Iva?”  Millie asked with a concerned look.

“I’m fine, but if you need one.”  Iva answered, wanting to get the whole thing over.

“Is anyone in need of a break?”  Millie called out, looking around at all the heads nodding, no.  She smiled, “Apparently no one does, Iva.”

“Where was…oh, yes.  Thank you, Breck.”  Iva mumbled as he showed her where she’d left off.

“It’s my pleasure.  Go on when you’re ready, Iva.”  He said, smiling at his inquisitor.

“There are also the ripper letters.  Did you want me to go through them as well for you Allen?”  Iva asked, cautiously.

“Yes, if you wouldn’t mind, Iva?”

“I don’t.”  She answered prepared, having already anticipating his answer.

Iva tore the pages out of her notepad where she’d written the letters, not having had time to copy them onto the pads.  She taped the pages to the blank pad paper with the tape Lane put on the table in case it was, needed.

“No one could determine if only the three letters were real or whether the others that followed were, also.”  Iva said pausing, looking around, pointing at the taped up letters.

The Dear Boss letter, dated September Twenty Seventh, Eighteen Eighty Eight, was sent to the police.

I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet.  I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track.  That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits.  I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled.  Grand work the last job was.  I gave the lady no time to squeal.  How can they catch me now.  I love my work and want to start again.  You will soon hear of me with my funny little games.  I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it.  Red ink is fit enough.  I hope ha ha.  The next job I do I shall clip the lady’s ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you.  Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work then give it out straight.  My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance.  Good luck, Yours truly Jack the ripper.  Don’t mind me giving the trade name.  P.S.  wasn’t good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it.  No luck yet.  They say I’m a doctor now haha

            Iva stopped after the first one, “Please note, as I’m sure you already have, that there are no spelling errors in this letter only that the grammar is poor.”  The she continued, describing from her notes that a misspelled word was found on a wall in between letters.

            On September Thirtieth, a message written in chalk, with one of the words misspelled, was found on a wall near the crime scene between the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes.  I didn’t find the message to be as relevant, as the chalk used to write it.

            The Saucy Jack letter, received on October First, Eighteen Eighty Eight, the handwriting was similar to the Dear Boss letter and refers to it, along with the murders of the previous night.

            I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip.  You’ll hear about Saucy Jacky’s work tomorrow double event this time.  Number one squealed a bit.  Couldn’t finish straight off.  Ha not the time to get ears for police.  thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again.  Jack the ripper

            Again Iva stopped reading and interjected, “This letter has only one incorrectly spelt word, Ha and the next letter has three; though, dident, it’s.  And both have poor grammar.”

            Then came a letter sent to a local newspaper, October Sixth, Eighteen Eighty Eight

            You though your-self very clever I reckon when you informed the police.  But you made a mistake if you though I dident see you.  Now I known you know me and I see your little games and I mean to finish you and send your ears to your wife if you show this to the police or help them if you do I will finish you.  It no use your trying to get out of my way.  Because I have you when you don’t expect it and I keep my word as you soon see and rip you up.  Yours truly Jack the ripper  P.S. You see I know your address

            The From Hell letter was sent October Sixteenth, Eighteen Eighty Eight, to George Lusk, President of Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, in a box three inches square, by mail.  Inside was a half a human kidney, preserved in wine along with the letter.

From Hell

Mr Lusk

Sor

            “This next letter has eight misspelled words and poor grammar.  There is a gradual increase with each letter which seemed peculiar to me, so I kept it as having some sort of meaning.”  Iva added.

            I send you half the kidne I took from one woman and prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise.  I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer Signed Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk

            “I noted fourteen spelling mistakes on this next letter and of course poor grammar.”

            The next letter was sent to Dr. Thomas Oppenshaw October Twenty Ninth, Eighteen Eighty Eight.  He examined the part of kidney sent to George Lusk.

            Old boss you was rite it was the left kidney I was goin to hoperate agin close to you ospitle just as I was going to dror me nife along of er bloomin throte them cusses of copers spoilt the game but I guess I will be on the job soon and will send you another bit of innerds  Jack the ripper  o have you seen the delve with his mikerscope and scalapul a-lookin at a kidney with a slide cocked up

            There was no date on the next letter to the police.

            Beware I shall be at work on the first and second inst.  In the Minories at twelve midnight and I give the authorities a good chance but there is never a policeman near when I am at work.  Yours Jack the Ripper

            “Clearly something changed with this and the next letters, there were no spelling mistakes and the grammar is far better on both.”

            Another undated letter to the police

            What fools the police are.  I even give them the name of the street where I am living.  Prince William Street.

Iva finished reading the letters, the best she could, considering the misspellings.

            “Are there things that stand out to you, Iva?”  Mrs. Crackenpool asked.

            “Yes there are.  I can elaborate on them if you like, Mrs. Crackenpool.”  Iva smiled.

            “Would you be kind enough to give us your thoughts?”  She answered, encouragingly.

            “One of the things that stood out for me the most in the first letter was that the word “trade” is mentioned, possibly to point the police toward a tradesman rather than a professional man.  Also on that letter, I wondered what tradesman would close with, “Yours truly”, it’s so formal and would be something a professional person, like a doctor would write to another, instead of just, Jack or Bye.”

            “I don’t know, fish mongers of that era might sign that way.”  Breck said, shrugged his shoulders at the idea.

“The appearance of misspelling shows first on the wall after the first letter and then only one word in the second letter is misspelled.  Perhaps once the ripper wrote on the wall he or she toyed with the idea of making grammatical errors in the next letters to throw a twist in the mystery.  The third letter has a few mistakes.  In the fourth letter, the “From hell letter” the word preserve is misspelled.  It seemed to me, that a tradesman might not know or use the word preserve, over a word like keep.  And even if they did, how would they know to preserve the ear in wine to slow the disintegration process?  I considered the misspelling of the words in the letters, carefully.  It raised the question, that if someone was illiterate, which might have been the case with a tradesman, then how would they know that the letter “I” would come before “E” in the word piece, instead of spelling it “Peace” or misspelled as it sounds “Pees”.  Or the word, “know”, that was used, how would they be aware that there’s a silent “K” before, and a silent “W” after the word?  Would the difficulty level be fairly high for an illiterate to figure out, in comparison to a professional?  The point being that the ripper may have liked having better red herrings than Doyle or Stevenson.”

“Maybe.”  He said once again.

            “I asked myself; why would you write any letters at all?  You have the control to stay silent and continue anonymously, if you want too.  One reason might be to compete with the two authors discussed?  If the letters are from you, then you have authored at least something that people would remember you for.  Having control is what it came down too.  Possibly the same sort of control someone would need to go from a farm, to a university, to working for the Royal family.”  Iva asked as she picked up her water to take a drink, while looking at Breck for an answer.

            He puckered his lips, giving out an hmmm, answering, “It’s possible.”

            “Then Dr. Openshaw received a letter which was misspelled.  But why send him only one?  Perhaps, the ripper realizes after sending it, that the Doctor could possibly figure out who the ripper is by the handwriting or contents of the letter, if he really thinks about it.  With that thought, what if the ripper goes back to addressing the letters to others.  But, also in Dr. Openshaw’s letter, there is the reference to a microscope and slide.  I wondered how many laymen outside of medical field in Eighteen Eighty Eight, would know that the slide is put into the microscope.  And, even if they did, then how could they know what it is used for, or that a scalpel might be used to push tissue around?  Wouldn’t that be in the technical aspect of knowledge?  Wouldn’t it be like me knowing the name of an instrument for surveying a volcano, which, even if I did know the name of the instrument, that doesn’t mean I would know how to use it?  And it begs the question, for what reason, other than work, would I have, to need to know how it worked?”

            She looked at Breck but nothing came from him, so she continued, “Does the ripper see Dr. Openshaw as the “Dr. Watson” character from the Doyle story?  And the London police detectives represent, “Sherlock Holmes”?  This idea perhaps solidifies his notion of keeping with the story lines, “crimes are games” and “the mad Doctor experiments with drugs, then murders.”  Iva said, knowing her outlines crescendo was nearing.

            “That’s interesting.”  He replied.

            “It was said by a witness that a man holding a parcel was standing with one of the victims prior to her death.  If that did in fact happen then is it possible that the parcel contained a Doctors medical kit, which would include a scalpel and possibly a small saw, some drugs to subdue the victims, along with a bag to keep the removed organs in?  Then when he was done with the murder, it seemed reasonable that he could leave the scene with his medical bag and its contents and no one would suspect him, even if he was bloody.  Because Dr. Williams was known to have a clinic in the area and was known or had been seen in the area, and could if confronted, just say that he was attending a patient in the middle of the night, which may not have been uncommon for him to do.”

            “Will you be giving us the whole scenario now, Iva?”  Graham asked, enthusiastically.

            “Yes sir.  Would you prefer that I stop for a few minutes?”  She asked.

            “No, not unless…”  The stately man said as he looked around at the interested faces, “No, I don’t believe we need a rest.  Please continue.”

            Iva looked at everyone staring at her.  There was no indication what they were thinking about her interpretation of the information, or how she’d compiled it.  If she was completely off course, she at least wanted to finish with a really good ending, so she went on, “Dr. John Williams may have done it, because he was raised on a farm and might have learned about killing animals and gained the skills and knowledge of the tools to do it capably, effortlessly, and knowledgeably with speed.  He may have done it because he loved books and was envious of the two novelists that were far more famous than he would become, and writing the jack letters would at least ensure that he was published and would be remembered, even though it was anonymously.  So, financial and professional envy might have been the motive.  The Doctor was trained in the use of drugs and could have incapacitated the women as a precursor to the attack, rendering them helpless to scream or fight.  The injuries were technical, both in anatomy and skill of cutting, which he had.  He was known in the area, caring for the women, giving them abortions and medical care, he may have become unsympathetic to their plight, since some of them had abandoned their children and his mother hadn’t given him up during a hard time.”

            Iva was secretly trying to hurry so they could get back to relaxing at the party, which was for Trevor. She began again, “The appointment as court physician was a boost up but wasn’t quite where he wanted to be, he wasn’t the top guy.  It did allow him to give up most of his private practice and even though he would be on call for the Royal family, they may not have all been sick at the same time, so his working times were varied, just as the times of the murders were.  There was a message in chalk left on a wall near two of the murders.  Who would have the money for chalk?  A tradesman, possibly, but Dr. Williams was teaching at the hospital along with his other duties, so chalk might have been readily available.  The letters were unique, because of the way the first ones were spelt correctly, then the next misspelled and then they return to being spelled correctly again.  Why would that happen?  It’s possible that by attempting to be illiterate, he may have felt he was overdoing it a bit and eased up when it became a possible problem.”  Iva said.  Her throat was parched, she stopped for a drink, looking over the rim of the glass at Mrs. Crackenpool, but again there was no sense of her thoughts.

She felt no reaction was better than a negative one, so she continued, “There was a letter and a microscope slide found amongst Dr. Williams’ things after he passed away.  The letter suggested that he would be in Whitechapel, two days before the murder of Annie Chapman.  And the slide was said to contain animal matter, but I couldn’t find out whether or not DNA had been tested from it.  The murders stopped a year before Dr. Williams became a Baronet, which might have been the reason he stopped, now that he was getting the notoriety he felt he deserved.  It would have been too risky to continue, fearing being caught and losing the appointment.”

Iva stopped and took a breath.  She looked around at their faces staring blankly at her.  It was time to wrap it up, “It occurred to me that some of the murders were done during the week.  Would a tradesman give up drinking or going to work the next day to kill women during the middle of the night?  Possibly, but since they may have been living hand to mouth it seemed sort of an odd thing, unless they had a very good reason like robbery, which I ruled out because the women basically had nothing of value.  Was it jealousy?  Even if it were toward one of them, why kill the others?  I couldn’t find anything to indicate why they were marked.  Envy or an invented rivalry was the motive I settled on.  Then my last task was the name used, Jack.  The proper name for Jack is John.  How, do I know this?  Because, I remembered that several famous people have used the nickname.  I checked on the internet to make sure, and there it was.  It has been that nickname for John, in England for many hundreds of years, actually.  Perhaps Dr. John Williams was known as Jack by his mother, his wife, college friends or colleagues.”

Iva mentioned that she and Evelyn conducted a test at the Fortt’s, without going into detail, and that they concluded that it was possible that the women may have been drugged and if not, they may have had a small chance to fight back.  And, that the Doctor, who was forty eight at the time of the murders, must have been in excellent health for that era, considering he lived into his eighties, far longer than the median age of being in the late fifties, early sixties, so he may have been physically fit enough to do it.

“Perhaps.”  Breck answered.

“Dr. Williams, I think you may have done the murders, but please forgive me if I’m wrong about it all,

I do apologize.  If there is any DNA that’s survived, that was left on some of their belongings or if you’d left something of theirs in one of the places where you lived, then it might be possible for one of today’s detectives to include or exclude, whether or not you’re the one.”  Iva said with a huge smile to indicate she was finished.

She quickly moved to lighten the atmosphere, patting Breck on the shoulder, as if he really were the Doctor and then glanced around with everyone watching silently.

Breck stood, taking her hand, “You’ve convinced me.  I may have done it.  And, by a show of hands, who agrees that it might have happened that way?”

He and Iva watched as the audience raised their hands.

 Mrs. Crackenpool exclaimed, “That was a very good job, Iva.”

Breck hugged Iva tightly, keeping his arms around her for what seemed like five minutes.

She looked up at him with an overwhelming feeling of loss for the victims, “Thanks, but I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Lane rose and took her by the hand to Mrs. Crackenpool.

“Excellent my dear, thank you.  We’ll never really know, but you’ve come up with as good an explanation as anyone.”  She said, shaking Iva’s hand with appreciation.

“I’m happy you’re pleased.”  Iva replied, being glad that they could now enjoy the rest of the day.

She walked off with Millie and sat where Breck, Oswald, Evelyn and Trevor were, to claim their seats.

“Iva that is who I suspected may have done it.  I had a different motive though.  Yours is quite good.”  Evelyn said as she then began telling her how she came to her conclusion.

“Thank you Evelyn.  This will be a highlight to tell my family when I get back home.”  Iva said.

Everyone told her their suspect and theory, she sat engrossed by the variety of answers there were.

“Don and Albert had the same conclusion, except for the nickname part, that was what they were missing.”  Oswald said.

Chapter 15

Evelyn left shortly after.  Iva was sorry to see her go.

The atmosphere went back to fun relaxed socializing with lunch resuming and a few yard games.  After a couple of hours it was four o’clock.

“Iva.  Why are you done being a snoop?  You’re convincing.”  Oswald asked with curiosity.

“It was way too creepy and pure speculation.  The professionals who have access to the accurate information are best left to things like this.”  She answered, not being happy to think about it anymore.  She turned to speak to Millie and Lane.

Trevor whispered into Breck’s ear as he put his hand upon his shoulder, “You hugged her so tight I thought she was being absorbed into your skin.”

“It was that obvious?”  He asked, shyly.

His cousin laughed, nodding that it had been.

Oswald joined in their moment of amusement.  They were loud enough to gain everyone’s attention.

“I’m glad this day’s event is staying here and is solely for Mrs. Crackenpool’s benefit.  Oswald, please don’t volunteer me for anything again.”  Iva said, smiling at them.

They found her retreating to safety, equally as amusing.

“You’ve done very well for never having known the story.  We can do more once you’ve gotten over this.”  Oswald said, having forgotten where she lived.

“No thank you.  I have my life at home, which doesn’t include anything like this as a past time, plus I’ve been gone way longer than I thought I would be.”  Iva said, making a statement of fact.

“But you can’t leave after that.”  Oswald pleaded, adamantly.

“Yes I can and have too.  There’s my family, friends and apartment, along with all my stuff.”  She said, defending her position fervently.

“But, you’re happy here?”  He said, continuing the argument.

She could see herself struggling for an answer, though trying not to let it show on her face.

“This battle can’t be fought for you, Breck.  If you love her, you must tell her right now.”  Trevor whispered.

“I know, it’s gone too far.  Iva, would you come with me, please?”  Breck asked calmly, as he stood up.

“Sure.”  She said, following him into the house and toward a door off the living room.

“What’s this about?”  Millie asked with puzzlement.

“Give them a minute dear, you’ll see.”  Graham answered, putting his arm around his unsuspecting wife.

“All of you have secrets from me, don’t you?”  She asked, looking at the men with suspicion in her eyes.

Her oldest son laughed, pecking her on the cheek, “Keep things from you, mother?  That’s unthinkable.  It couldn’t happen, you’re far too intuitive.”

“Yes, you do.”  Millie declared.

Breck and Iva entered Lane’s study; he closed the door behind her.

“Iva.  Due to time constraints I have to say that I’m in love with you.”  Breck declared urgently, taking her hands in his.

Her eyes began to tear up from his admission.

“I’ve upset you.  Let me preface that I’m not prone to spontaneous decisions.  I had a desire to meet you ever since our phone calls and had a fondness for talking with you, always looking forward to the next time we had to call the Cliff’s.  I, just as you, presumed that we’d never meet and discarded any ideas of you.  Now however, since we’ve been together in person, it has, for me, become far more than that.  I not only enjoy talking with you and hearing your thoughts, but, when you’re not near me, I anxiously await the next time I’ll see you.”  He said as he kept his hold of her shaking hands.

“You haven’t upset me.  If I’d met you back home and you lived there, it wouldn’t even cross my mind, I wouldn’t hesitate.  But we live so far apart that I haven’t considered anything about you and me because I’m here to do my job.  I do love you too, Breck.”

He looked deep into her eyes, “What’s your hesitation then?”

“I’m just not certain whether the love is because I’m here and don’t want to leave all of you, or, because I really know you and believe in my heart that you’re the one for me.”  Iva said as she began to feel strained.

“It’s amazing that you’ve given it as much thought as I have.”

“It’s shocking.  I’m shocked.  This whole thing has been a lot to think about.”  She agreed, trying to stay calm.

“A good shocking, I hope.”  Breck asked, leaning over slightly toward her.

“I don’t know.”  Iva answered, looking at him through watery eyes.

“Don’t know.  Why?”  He asked.

“Three weeks ago I was myself, not confused about any man.  Now, all I am is confused, about what to do about almost everything.

“You’re not happy.  What is wrong?”  Breck asked, looking seriously at her.

Iva tried to stay composed, “Oh, I’m happy, that’s not it.  You have all made certain that I’ve had a great time, but I am homesick.  It’s very hard to just say, well fine, now I live in Europe and this is what I do, when I don’t actually do anything here.  I’m just here going along, perpetually visiting.”

“You’re here with us.”  He replied, reassuring her, completely understanding her distress but never-the-less hated it.

“I go to the beach back home with my friends and family and if they can’t go, then I go by myself, because that’s the beach I know and feel happy at, even alone.  You don’t know what I mean.”  Iva said, then

immediately stopped from embarrassment, after hearing how accusatory she sounded.

“I know exactly what you mean.  Being in a foreign place, far from home and having to adjust.”  He insisted, wanting to prepare her for what he was about to tell her about his injury.

Iva remembered that he did know and understand.  He’d been in Afghanistan without his family and friends or stuff, not knowing if or when he’d be home.  She felt worse, like an immature fool for making such a statement and guessed that at that moment it was going to go from lighthearted admissions of love, to intense reality.

 “You don’t know me Breck.  I have a seam.”  She said, hoping to defuse the whole thing, and to avoid being as upset as she knew she would be when he showed her his scar.

“What?  What kind of seam?”  Breck asked, puzzled.

“Look.”  Iva said, pulling the left side of her dress up two inches, exposing her outer left thigh with a sniffle, “See.  You don’t know me.  This thing goes all the way up my thigh.”

“Wow.  What is it?”  He asked, examining it closely.

“My friend Hanna and I were eight.  We were playing and had our new leather shoes on and got old jars from the garage to catch bugs, she dropped a couple of them as she went down the driveway.  I started to run toward the house to get something to clean the mess before we got into trouble.   Just as I passed her, I slipped on my side into the broken glass.  One of the bottoms didn’t break and went straight into my thigh, getting lodged deeper as I continued to slide.  So I have this seven inch scar.”  She said, unable to look at him.

“Look at that.  I can’t believe it.”  Breck said mesmerized by it.

“I was eight, only a girl, and didn’t know not to run in new leather soled shoes.”

  He smiled, sympathetic to her pain, “Sorry.  It must have hurt.”

“What?  You don’t think it’s sickening?”  She asked with surprise.

“No, nor do you, do you?”

“It doesn’t stop me from wearing a bathing suit.”

“I thought not.  Be assured, I would love you if it were anywhere on you.”

Tears started to trickle down her face, seeing by his expression that he was serious.

“It’s my turn to spill my guts, metaphorically that is.”  Breck said, standing up and adding, “Iva, I was in Afghanistan.”

She looked at him with a blank expression, not knowing whether his mother having told her was alright with him.

He watched her solemnly with faith in his eyes, “I have to show you something, Iva.”

“What?”  Iva asked, bracing herself to see the injury Millie had described.

He unbuttoned his vest rapidly, explaining, “You’ve probably wondered why I, my family and friends wear suits with vests all the time.”

She stayed quiet, letting him do and say what he needed to, while he began to undo his tie and shirt, “It’s because of this.  The vest keeps me from bending it too often.”

“I like the suit and vest, it’s …debonair.”

“Really, you think so?”

Iva didn’t answer him language momentarily escaped her, there was his side, from armpit to waist, just as his mother said, a scared, concaved, mangled and purplish fleshy mess.

Her heart felt heavy, she’d never been exposed to an injury so severe, the composed herself, “Breck, I’m sorry.”

“It hurt to run that day in the park.  That’s why I knocked unintentionally into you.”  He said, looking intensely into her eyes.

She’d temporarily forgotten all about that day.

“I’m sorry you’ve been hurt.  All of you in the military have sacrificed a great deal to make it possible for all of us to live and fly safely.  I wouldn’t have been comfortable on a plane unless I knew I would get here.” She said, acknowledging his service with gratitude, while trying to hold in the rest of her tears until she was alone.

Breck’s eyes were grateful as he said, “It would be unimaginable if you weren’t here.”

“It would have been one of the saddest events of my life, not to have met you, Oswald, your parents’ and all the other characters you’ve assembled.  I think that’s one of the bravest injuries I’ve ever seen.”  Iva said, being as still as she could.

“I knew from the first that I felt loyalty toward you and you’ve not let me down.”  He said, taking her around the waist and kissing her cheek.

“I didn’t want to feel that way.  I’ve been fighting it, Breck.”

He squeezed her tighter.  She knew she wasn’t ever going to regret putting her trust in him.

Her head leaned to the side as she sighed, his powerful grip keeping her to his chest as he whispered, “I want to add to your life Iva, in the best possible ways.”

As he released his arms slowly, she went with her first impulse, which was to smile lovingly and put her hands on his forearms.  It was reasonable to think that he would never leave his family and friends’, those who’d given him care and comfort during the worst time of his young life.

They stood silent and still, not close, just patiently.  Iva kept her hands on his forearms unaware whether or not his injury was too sensitive to touch.

“May I have time to think things over?  I’m not really spontaneous, just regular.”  Iva asked, kissing his cheek in return.

“I’m glad to hear that you are.”

“Ugh, that’s not called for.”

“No, it’s not, sorry.  I’ll get back to it, Iva.  I find you to be extraordinary.”  Breck said, smiling at her.

“We could start with competing compliments but people are waiting outside, we have to be serious.  This is very serious.”  She insisted.

He grinned, “Like darling you’ve changed my world, serious?”

“Yes, that serious.  We should go outside.  They’ll wonder what we’re doing.”  She said letting go of his arms.

Breck went back to their original discussion, “There’s no hurry, Iva.”

“I’m going Breck.  Are you coming?”  Iva asked as thoughts crossed her mind.  Was he thinking that she could live with his parent’s forever or for them to live together?  He’d not asked her to marry him.  She wondered where these admissions of love would lead them.  If, anywhere?

“Think things over.  If you’re miserable then I’ll be miserable and what a mess we would have gotten ourselves into.”  He said, watching her go to the door.

“I’m glad you agree Breck.”  Iva said with frustration.

He looked at his watch, “It’s already five o’clock.  You’re right, we must go or we’ll be late.”

Iva didn’t know what he meant by late so ignored it and opened the door.  They walked back outside separated by a foot’s distance, where everyone’s eyes turned to them.

“Everything’s fine.  Iva had to call me out on some things.”  Breck said, looking around at everyone.

“Sometimes that’s all it takes.”  Iva said as she smiled.

They went straight to Graham and Millie who were watching them as though they expected some announcement.

“We’d better leave soon, so we can get dressed.”  Lane insisted as everyone hurried to straighten up the backyard and clean the tables.

Iva looked around at all the busy people, going to and from the kitchen.  Before she knew it the yard was spotless.  She was curious where they were going, she’d not been told to bring a change of clothes.

Millie took her arm, “Come along Iva, you’ll enjoy the evening.”

“Doing what, Millie?”

“The boys or Evelyn haven’t told you?  Oh heavens, what trouble they’re becoming.  Come along, you’ll see soon enough.”  She smiled, turning her head toward her eldest son, “Please get Evelyn’s box, Oswald.  It’s for Iva.”

“Right.”  He said.

The group from the yard descended on the parked cars.  Iva, Breck and Oswald went with Allen.  Millie and Graham went with Lane and Trevor.  Everyone else shared rides to minimize driving expense.

Breck leaned toward Iva’s ear, “You’ve probably wondered what everyone around here does on the weekends for entertainment, Iva.  We’re about to show you.”

“I’m anxious to see unless it’s grave digging of course.”

“We will never understand your fascination with dead people Iva, it’s really strange.”  He grinned.

It was ten minutes, when the huge house came into her view down the long hedge lined drive.  She’d wanted to take a tour of one of the old Estates but hadn’t remembered mentioning it to any of the Fortt’s.  It was such a nice surprise, it made her want to do something very special for all their thoughtfulness.  The cars stopped in a line in front of the house.  Iva looked up at it, amazed that people used to live in such opulence. Breck took the casserole and Oswald grabbed the box from the trunk.

“Come on Iva, this way.  We’ve got to change.”  Millie said, waving at her from near the front door.

She walked between Oswald and Breck as everyone entered the house.  The foyer was a large marble columned room with an eight foot tapestry of a great battle on the left side of the room and an equally large gilded mirror on the right.  Urns with plants stood in each corner of the main doors in the center and there were doors on the left and right side of the room.  The carpeted staircase was just to the left and right of the center doors.  Iva’s eyes darted around the room, stunned by the grandeur of it all.

“Lady Overston, this is our American guest, Ms. Iva Finder.  My mother mentioned her to you.”  Oswald said.

“Good evening Ms. Finder.”

“Good evening Lady Overston.”  Iva replied, uncertain whether to curtsy or not, but saw no other women do it before her, so she shook her extended hand and left it at that.

“Oswald you may take that up to your mother, she will help Iva.”  Lady Overston directed.

“Yes ma’am.”  Oswald said, winking at Iva to following him.

“Breck, you know where to take the dish.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Oswald knocked on the first door on the left at the top of the stairs.

Lane poked her head out, “Bring in the box please Oswald.  Iva come on you’ve got to hurry, we’ll probably have slight adjustments to make.”

Iva did as she was told, entering the room and seeing at least twenty women whipping around the room with gowns in their hands.  It looked like the backstage of a theatre and the players were preparing to go on.

Oswald put down the box on a settee and retreated back out the door.

Millie and Lane opened the box.  In it was a gown of royal blue velvet, with a blue silk panel on the front covered in embroidered leaves of silver, up and down it.

“Wow, that’s beautiful.”  Iva proclaimed, loud enough for all the women to hear.

“It is one of Evelyn’s favorites.  You don’t mind a borrowed dress, do you dear?”

“No not at all Millie.”  Iva said with a smile because little did her hostess know that she’d been wearing borrowed dresses for the last eight years.

“We’ll have to pin up the sleeves a bit I think, but Evelyn thought it should fit just right in length, since it’s short on her.”  Millie continued.

“I don’t have any shoes to match it.”

“Don’t think anything about it Iva.  Everyone wears on their feet whatever their most comfortable in.  No one expects anything other than a gown, anyway.  Let’s hurry.”  Lane insisted.

Iva laughed, “Thank goodness I didn’t wear boots.”

“I think that is good, they might be awkward.  We can’t have you falling.”  Millie said with a smile.

They took Iva into one of the small adjoining rooms, putting her into the gown.  There was a prom feeling to the whole event, so Iva didn’t wonder aloud what was going on.  After she was done dressing she went out, so Millie and Lane could change.  Iva sat on the settee watching the other ladies in front of the mirrors doing their hair and putting on jewelry.  Lane came out dressed in a gown suited to a middle aged woman, not too high or low in the neck, then took Iva by the hand and grabbed her purse.  They situated themselves between two women, one named Harriet, the other Clara.  There was no verbal chaos, only please and thank you, which surprised Iva; clearly all the women had done this many times before.

Lane had Iva’s hair up in a pile before she knew it, then she went to the box and pulled out the jewelry Evelyn picked to match the dress.  As Lane put the finishing touch on Iva, a necklace of Rudy’s and silver, she kissed her cheek and told her how wonderful she looked.  Millie was across the room at another mirror, talking with some of the other women as they did up each other’s dresses.  The room began to empty out as the first women who’d finished left.  Iva watched in suspense.  We’re they all part of a big production and she was being included?  How fun, she thought.  It was six thirty, Millie and Lane led her out the door and toward the stairs.

They began to descend as Lord and Lady Overston, Graham, Trevor, Breck and Oswald stood at the bottom looking up, waiting for them.  Iva smiled as she caught sight of the host and hostess who were regaled in their finery, just as the guests were.  The four men wore tuxedos, probably not new, but still, they looked crisp and clean.  At the bottom she was introduced to Lord Overston and the group lead her through the center doors into a large ballroom, where a quartet was playing and people were already dancing the waltz or something, Iva couldn’t be sure, she wasn’t familiar with dances from era’s gone by.  Along the side of one wall were chairs, and the other had a buffet table with plenty for all.

            “It looks extravagant but it’s actually quite cost effective if compared to an evening out in London at night spots and restaurants.”  Lady Overston said quietly to Iva.

            “That’s surprising and impressive.  You mean everyone brings something here, just as we do when there’s a gathering back home?”  Iva asked politely.

            “Yes.  Come with me Iva, I will give you a brief tour.  No need for any of you to come with us.  We’ll be back shortly.”

            The two women went out the doors and through the door to the left.  It was a large sitting room with several chairs and two large sofas in light gold damask with deeper colored gold brocade around the seams.  A carved wooden card table sat in the corner with four leather chairs.

            “It used to be that the people from the town would come twice a year and have a picnic on the grounds. But as times changed and progressed, it seemed that there were fewer reasons and people to invite over for evenings of dancing enjoyment.  This is how it came to be that the towns people who were known to the family were invited in twice a month, dressed in their best to keep up the pleasure of simply being entertained.  Not worrying about work or chores, politics or any other things that bog us all down these days.”  She said, taking Iva out of the room and into the door on the right of the center doors.

            That room was equally as large as the sitting room.  It was a library.  Rows of books filled the room on the shelves of the inset bookcases and the desk sat prominently against the opposite wall of the doors, out far enough for a perfect view of the front lawn and the drive.  The chairs were made of wonderful care worn dark brown leather and wood.

            “We have tours throughout the week.  Millie said you haven’t taken one, so this is all new to you.”

            “I’m glad you have tours Ma’am.  It would be such a waste not to share the beauty of these rooms with others.”

            “It was difficult for Lord Overston’s parents to do it at first, fearing theft and such, but it has worked out well and yes it has been a pleasure to watch people enjoy the beauty of it as much as we do.”

            They exited the room and went up the stairs.

            “I can imagine.”  Iva said.

            “Come this way and see the other bedrooms, quickly.”  She said, leading Iva past the room she’d already been in.

            There was another room down the hall where other women had changed and two for the men to do the same.

            “How many people usually attend?”  Iva asked, having only seen a blur of people downstairs.

            “Usually one hundred fifty, but then there’s about two hundred if it’s a young children’s eve for those seven and under, which includes the Saturday’s before Christmas and Easter.”

            “Those over seven are allowed to come on the two Saturday’s?”

            “Yes.  By that age they’ve gotten past the not wanting to dance with girl’s stage and have a mind whether or not they want to participate.  If they don’t, then it’s not necessary.  I can’t remember any boys or girls that didn’t want to though.”

            “This is generous of you Ma’am.”

            “It’s generous of them as well.  There have been no incidents with rude or destructive behavior in all this time, which we appreciate.  We’d hate to have to stop the nights because of one person and I think they know we would have to stop.  They wouldn’t want to ruin their own good fun, as it were.”

            “You’re right.  That is generous of them to think of each other’s happiness.”  Iva agreed.

            The last of the rooms was as neatly furnished as the rest, containing elaborate beds with large comforters on them, exquisite drapes and furniture at least three hundred years old or more.  Each decorated in simple, yet refined taste.  They went down to the ballroom.  It was just as when they’d left, people dancing, eating and having a glorious time.

            “Iva.  Do you want to have a go at it?”  Trevor asked.

            “I’ve never attempted anything like these, but if you’re willing to show me how, then I’ll give it a try.”

            “Gladly, follow me, my pupil.”

He danced slowly, leading her in directions she’d not expected.  She’d just figured out what he was doing with his feet when the song ended.  His hand reached down to her and he took her from the middle of the room, mouthing to Breck, “Next.”

            He made his way to them, “It would be my pleasure, if you would take a turn with me Iva.”

            “Yes, I would.”

            “Iva it’s been a pleasure and we’ll dance again, later.”  Trevor said, excusing himself.

            “Thank you Trevor.  I look forward to it.”  She said, taking Breck’s arm as he led her away.

            The music started but Iva’s feet didn’t.  She and Breck paused then tried again.  He went slower so she could keep up with him, as everyone else dancing flew past them.

            “I will press you against me, that way you’ll feel which way I’m going.”  He said quietly to her.

            “If it’s necessary, then go ahead.”  She replied jokingly.

            “This didn’t come as easily to me as a boy as it did to Oswald.  He took too it right off.”

            Iva giggled quietly, “It’s good that you didn’t give up or we’d be kicked out of here.  I’m not doing very good.”

            “It doesn’t matter.  If we did, we could go see a movie.”

            “Breck, I’d have been awfully lonely if I hadn’t known anyone here.”

            It pleased him that she appreciated their efforts to welcome her, “Now it’s time for you to concentrate on the steps, so be quiet or we’ll collide with everyone and end up on the floor.”

            Iva did concentrate as they began to twirl a little faster, then a little more, until they caught up with the pace of the room.  The music ended, to Iva’s disappointment.  She and Breck went toward the buffet table for drinks, there was no alcohol served, which was not important to her and didn’t appear to be to Breck either.  As they walked through the groups of people along the wall, the center doors came into view.

            “I would like some fresh air if you don’t mind, Breck.”  Iva said as she made her way towards them.

            He looked at her, realizing that between this and the ripper case, what a long day it had actually been for her, “Would you like me to go with you Iva, or do you need some time to yourself?”

            “Would you please come with me?  I’ve only just met the Overston’s and wouldn’t want them to get the impression that I’m wandering around on my own.  A quiet walk around is all I need.”

            They left the room into the foyer, where people were already assembled; they were doing the same, getting space between themselves and the people dancing and eating.

Breck took Iva’s hand, “We’ll go out to the back garden.  There will be people there but they’ll be coming and going, not standing in one spot.”

Back into the ballroom they went, to the other end of the room which was made entirely of windows, or so Iva thought, until they exited a door in the corner which wasn’t visible until you were in front of it.

“Here you are, a cloudless, quiet, starlit night for you.”  He said calmly.

“I’m standing here in a velvet evening gown, made up for a fantastic evening of dinner and dancing, and all the others who are waiting for the volcano to stop are managing, who knows how?  I just don’t understand it.”  Iva said with disbelief.

He took her around the waist, “I don’t know if they’d be thinking as hard on it as you are, relax and enjoy.”

Iva blushed, she wanted to go to a topic that would take her mind off him and stepped back, “Tell me if I have the premise of this evening right, Breck.”

Breck saw a painting by one of the masters before him, she with her swept up hair, soft face, clear eyes and sweet smile, all set against the backdrop of the lush trees, hedges and illuminated by the moon, he’d felt drawn to her but it became indescribable, “Go ahead.”

“All of you gather together to keep the feeling of community and keep goodwill between the neighbors.”

“Not exactly, but that is an effect of it.  This is merely our way of entertaining ourselves, you know, people who enjoy dancing to classical music is no different than those in night clubs who like to dance to hip hop or rock, which, would we have liked to dance to those, we would have invited you there.”

“The difference being, that all ages like the music, can dance to it and are included.”

“True.  Classical music is a particular preference, as is heavy metal and reggae, but I’m not certain

how many of the senior citizens can dance to it for long periods.”

“Yes, that’s exactly my meaning.  My grandmother swing dances, like the fox trot and stuff, at the senior center which we take her too and there are of course men there, but nothing like this.  Here you have generations of the same family together, dressing in period clothing and who are sharing the same way of life.”

            “I’d not thought about it that way but yes, I guess we are.  It’s beneficial as exercise also, because my side prohibits me from any type of rapid, repeated or strenuous bending.”

            “I’m sorry if I’m coming across in the wrong way.  You’re right it is an excellent source of slow, continuous exercise as opposed to constant pounding on the bones.  I hope you don’t think I don’t like it or appreciate this.”

            “No.  I don’t feel as though I have to defend why we enjoy this to anyone.”

            “Good, I’m glad.  Are there other places in Europe where people congregate together like this, I mean other than concerts where they sit and listen, or rock concerts, which I’ve been to, which are a free for all.”

            “Yes.  They are private like this.  We don’t think of it in a historical context, it’s more about what we’ve already talked about, mutual interest in the type of music and dance.”

            “I think it’s an incredibly wonderful thing and find it to be extremely impressive that every person shares in the burden of putting it together twice a month.  Right now it doesn’t feel like the twenty first century.”

            “It’s not supposed too, it’s a way for us to escape electronics, demanding jobs and noise, at least for a few hours.  In two weeks, if you’re still with us and I hope that you are, then you’ll come again if you like.”

            “Thank you.  I’ve tried each day not to think about the next, so not to get my hopes up either way.”

            “Am I interrupting, Breck?”  Lord Overston asked.

            “No sir, we’ve been getting the night air.”

            “Ms. Finder, are you amused by our folly?”

            Iva smiled at him, charmed by the phrase, “I’ve been having a wonderful time sir.”

            “That’s good.  Now Miss, I believe it is my dance with you, if you’re not too terribly tired?  ” He said, standing next to her.

            “No, I’m not tired Sir.”  She answered, taking his held out arm.

            As they walked away, Breck could hear him saying, “I’ve been told you did your Crackenpool attempt today and had a very good conclusion.  Lane’s been inside retelling the afternoon to all inside.  I was partial to the Prince being the culprit myself, if for nothing else than the intrigue behind it.”

            It came as a shock to her that a man of his age could whisk her around the dance floor the way that he did.  He must have been dancing off and on for the last three hours and seemed as fresh as if it were his first time.  When they finished, he returned her to Breck, Millie, Graham and Lane.

Oswald, Allen and Trevor joined them.

            “Iva, it’s my turn to dance with you.  Will you give it another go?”  Oswald asked.

            “It will be my pleasure to be Evelyn’s stand in for dancing.”  She replied, playfully.

            He was swift on his feet, exceptional at the staying to the melody and clearly enjoyed it.  Iva kept up with the unfamiliar footwork the best she could.

            “Oswald, thank you for teaching me how to waltz.  I’ll go home and teach my brothers.  They’re as enthusiastic about dancing as you are.”

            “You’re welcome.  I’ll have you doing the polka mazurka before you know it.  The thing about teaching a man to dance is not that they don’t want to do it, but rather that we just have a hard time with the criticism that ensues.  But once we’ve passed it, if we’ve passed it, then the road is not bumpy in the least.”

            “That’s good to know.”

            “Any time, just ask if you need more worldly wisdom.”

            “I’ll be sure to come straight to you and no one else, if I do.”

            The night went on.  The women were beautiful and the men genuinely liked looking handsome.  It didn’t matter what any of them did for a living, it wasn’t discussed.  The conversations Iva had with people were not boastful or comparative, they were kept to general topics of favorite music, books they’d recently read, plays or movies seen, those sorts of things.  She’d not heard one sour discussion all evening.

            It was ten thirty and time for everyone to leave Iva determined, as people went up the stairs and came back down in their regular clothes.  The events of the afternoon came back to her as she stood next to Breck.  She loved him, he loved her, but there was nothing else said.

            “Iva, come along, it’s our turn upstairs.  We must hurry and do our share of the clean up.”  Millie insisted.

            She did as told, following Millie up to the room, changing, packing the dress and jewelry away then went down for Oswald to go back up and get it.  Millie came down with him.  Iva helped fold up the chairs and took the candles from the candlesticks, then  waited for Breck and Graham who were helping put away the tables, then went to get Evelyn’s and Millie’s dishes.  Lane and Trevor joined her and Millie, carrying their dishes.  Iva swayed a little from exhaustion, not only physical but emotional.  Her head swam from having over thought about to many things.

            “Are you alright Iva?”  Millie asked concerned.

“Sorry Millie, I’m fine.  It will be good to go to bed soon.”  Iva said, nodding her head, not wanting to lead them on by mentioning the talk she and Breck had earlier.  She knew she had to tell them later that she needed time away from the whole situation.

Trevor drove his mom’s car with Graham and Millie, while Allen drove Breck, Oswald and Iva back to the Fortt’s house.

Everyone was too tired to speak so goodnights were said and the night was over.

Chapter 16

It was nine when she got up.  She’d finished the book from their study so she went down to find another.  After picking one out she sat in the living room, praying that somehow she would be removed from their home for a few days to give her a chance to consider where she was with Breck.  She remained calm, but wanted to be free from a prolonged conversation about anything having to do with what transpired between she and Breck, and any influence from them or anyone else.  Iva felt trapped not having enough money with her to get a hotel room.

“Is anything wrong, Iva?”  Millie asked with Graham behind her as they passed her, going toward

the kitchen.

“No, nothing’s wrong.  There are just things I need to take care of.”

“Certainly my dear that is understandable.”  Graham said.

 During breakfast the phone rang.

“Hello, Evelyn.”  Graham answered.

“Yes, I will tell Iva.  You have a good day, dear.  Goodbye.”  He said as he hung up.

“Iva, you’ve had an invitation from Evelyn to stay with her for a few days.”

“Oh.  That’s very nice of her.  I would like too, if it’s alright with you?”  She said, somberly.

“That’s a good idea.  You young girls can get to know each other better.”  Millie said.

“I’ll help you with your things tomorrow and get you over to her place.”  Graham offered.

Iva smiled, “Thank you, Graham.”

“Call when you’re ready to be picked up, if Evelyn can’t bring you.”  Millie said but she was saddened by whatever events she suspected were going on, that she wasn’t privy too.

Iva went upstairs, packed a few things then met Graham downstairs.  Millie hugged her at the door as she and Graham were leaving.

“Thank you, Millie.  I’ll see you in a few days.”  Iva said, hugging her back.

Graham was quiet as he drove.  He was uncertain how she felt about Breck and wasn’t able to find the right words to bring up the subject, but Iva could tell on his face that one or more questions were there, wanting to be answered.

“Here you are.  Call me anytime if you’re in need.”  He said, getting out, taking her one small bag out of the trunk, handing it to her then lifting the dress box as they both went to the door

“I will, thank you, Graham.”

“You’ll have a good time with Evelyn, she’s very special.”  Graham said, setting down the box.

He got back into the car as they waved to each other and drove off.

Evelyn was at her apartment window when Iva rang the bell.

She answered the door, “Hello Iva.  Come in.”

“Hello Evelyn.  Thank you for having me.”

Evelyn picked up the dress box and led her into the bedroom where Iva put down her bag.

“Make yourself to home.  There’s a drawer for you and some closet space.  Meet me in the living room when you’re done and we’ll talk.”  Evelyn said as she left the room.

Iva put her things away and went to where she was waiting for her.

“I guessed that you might need a break from the Fortt’s from what Oswald has told me.  It’s unfortunate but I have work tomorrow early and don’t know what you have planned, so you’ll be on your own I’m afraid.” Evelyn said, cheerfully.

“I did need a break for a few days, just to clear my head.  He told you how Breck and I feel about each other?”  Iva asked, cautiously.

“Yes but don’t be mad at him and I’m not going to pry into your affairs.  But I can say that Breck is, as Oswald is, a wonderful man.”

“I agree.  They’ve been very kind to me while I’ve been here.  It would be easier if he was impossible to be around, but he’s not.”

“Good, you’re thinking about what you want to do, I think that’s all they want to know, that you’re considering him.  We’ll stop talking about it, now what did you think of last night’s surprise?”

“The dress and jewelry are beautiful and everyone was there simply to enjoy themselves through the music, dance and sharing of food and in a non-competitive atmosphere.  I didn’t expect to be around people, where what they wore or had, didn’t matter.”

“It was that way for me the first time I went with Oswald.  I’d thought cotillions were long since dead but there it was.  Lady Overston does such a great job of keeping it light and moving.  I don’t think it’s common for so many others to do, but they are unconventional and are careful about anyone who would be there to cause trouble.”

“We don’t have Royalty in America, so this was my first meeting with anyone that has one part of them self in the past and the other in the present.  It was an interesting contrast.”

“It is, isn’t it?  It’s all I have between work and Oswald.  I made the blue dress and other’s before I became a nurse and I loved it, but now there’s no time.  Life is turning out pretty shitty from what I thought it would be when I chose being a nurse for a career.”

“What’s it like?”  Iva asked patiently.

“Before I started, I liked people, but now I’ve come to see that I’m not a nurse, not really.  It was the technical side that interested me.  There are some days I want to shove the pill dispensers at them and tell them to administer themselves, or say here’s your problem, cure yourself, which for a nurse is a very, very, bad way to feel.”

 As Iva listened she couldn’t help but think that she’d always thought nurses as selfless, superior beings, something she hadn’t quite achieved yet but instantly saw that maybe they weren’t so different as other people.  She grinned in a friendly way at her, “I think so.  Can I diagnose you with burnout meltdown without you getting mad?”

“Don’t worry Iva, you’re not the first, my best friends said that before, many times.  The worst is that I don’t think Oswald’s funny anymore, which he is, he’s very funny.  It’s me, I’m the problem, and I don’t see much to laugh about anymore.  So, because I’m always miserable with worrying about making a mistake and getting sacked or not having one day when I can say I had a fantastic day at work to anyone, I feel as if my own self is gone, that I’ve given it all to the people who are sick or injured.

Iva looked at her sympathetically.

“Thanks for listening.  Before I forget, if you have things you need to do, here is a key you can use.”

“Don’t thank me Evelyn, I’m happy to listen whenever you need me too.  And thank you for the key, my boss does have things she wants me to get done over the next few days.”

“I was pretty certain before and now I am absolutely that I’m taking up Graham’s offer to come into the family business.  Do you like what you do, Iva?”

“Considering the way you feel as a nurse that might be a really good idea, I think, you could be scary.”  Iva laughed, as Evelyn did too, then she went on, “I do like our work.”

“I wasn’t going to answer him until after our wedding, but clearly joining them is what I need.”

“I’m sure you’ll be a great asset to them or Graham wouldn’t have asked you.”

“That’s what I thought.  It will be nice to work with Oswald.  As it is right now, we hardly have the chance to see each other.  The good thing is that I will always be a nurse, so if I needed to, when I’m old, gray blind and deaf, I can go back to it.”

Iva couldn’t stop laughing, Penny was a bubbly person when out of her pain, “I understand but hopefully for the country, it won’t come to that.”

Evelyn’s spirit seemed released from her torment by her decision, “Come on.  Let me show you what we have planned for the wedding.  I do hope you can make it, but realistically I know how expensive it is.  I can’t afford to go to America on holiday and don’t expect that you’ll be able to return soon.  So I hope I didn’t make you feel guilty the other day, by inviting you in public.”

“You didn’t.  It was good to know that you felt that way, you’ve been very gracious.  But you’re right I wouldn’t be able to spend the money.  Thanks for understanding.”

“I have four brothers and my father drives a lorry, my mum is a secretary for a computer businessman. So, I haven’t grown up with wealth.”

The honesty with which she spoke made Iva feel a friendship she’d been missing these past weeks, which she found reassuring, the more she found out about her.

“Then Evelyn, you won’t mind me giving you some money for staying here and groceries.  Will you?”

The young woman smiled, “No I won’t mind, even though it’s not necessary, but I don’t want to debate with my new friend.”

Iva looked around at the apartment she was in.  The surroundings were similar to hers, which brought a sudden peace to her heart.  It wasn’t her home but she could think out loud and take her mind off some the worries she had.  She knew calling her sister was a priority and considered that Case was never going to believe all that she had to tell her.  It would be costly, but nonetheless, it would be worth it.

“Evelyn, is there a telephone I would be able to use to call my sister?”

“Yes, I have one.  You may use it.”

“Excuse me a minute.”  Iva said, hurrying into the bedroom, getting her wallet and pulling out the money she wanted to give Evelyn, along with telephone money.

“Here Evelyn, please take this.  I don’t know what the phone charges will be but there should be enough for that and the other things.”

“Thank you Iva.”

“I have to thank you for inviting me over.  I will call my sister in the morning, if that’s okay.”

“Yes.  I’ll be gone early and you’ll have the place to yourself.”

Evelyn told her all about the wedding until she went to bed at seven thirty, to get up for work at four thirty in the morning.  Iva read the book loaned to her by the Fortt’s until she was ready to turn in for the night.  She made herself comfortable on the sofa and fell asleep.

“Evelyn, can I ask you something without you thinking I’m insulting Breck?”

She stopped and looked at her house guest, taking a seat next to her, “Go ahead, I won’t think that.”

“Is he the way he is just with me because I’m a visitor and we care about each other, or is he this way all the time with everyone?”

“He is all the time with everyone.  I don’t know how Millie did it, but they’re two great guys and no I’m not just saying it, it’s true.  Neither of them harp’s on shit that doesn’t matter or try to repair what they can’t, like Brecks injury for instance.”

“Thank you, knowing more about him obviously helps.  I’d hate to find out later that I fell for a guy who’s going to dwell on every little thing.”

“No, don’t worry about that.  You are taking all of this better than I thought anyone in your position might.  I’ve heard of rapid romance but not seen it played out before.  I’ve become far too practical to believe in such things turning out well and now can tell that you are also.”

            “Unfortunately that’s true.”

            “Survival depends upon it.”

            “That’s true too, Evelyn.”

There was a slight clatter as Evelyn got ready for work, but nothing that disturbed Iva completely out of her sleep.  It was seven when she awoke.  Her arrangement of the kitchen drawers was close to her own and she found the utensils and plates easily, making tea and toast with an egg for herself, cleaned the kitchen then dressed for the day.

At half past nine someone knocked on the door.  Iva looked out the window, there was a nicely dressed woman, waiting patiently.

She went to the door, “Hello.”

“Hello Iva?”

“Yes.”  Iva said, curious who the woman was.

“Good morning Iva.  I’m Angela, Graham and Millie’s daughter.”

Iva suddenly recognized her from the pictures in their study, “It’s nice to meet you, please come in.”

“Sorry to interrupt your morning.  Is Evelyn here?”

“No, she’s gone to work.  You’re not interrupting at all.  I had no idea you were here.”

“It’s unexpected I know.  Mum said she was bringing you to France but I told her that I had to come for a fitting for Oswald and Evelyn’s wedding in two months time.  I’m a bridesmaid.  After she told me you were here, I figured my schedule and told her I would be stopping in to see you early enough, before you went out for the day.  Has she not called you?”  Angela said, smiling at her as she took a seat in the living room in the chair, opposite the sofa.

“No, but that’s okay.  I’m glad you decided too.”  Iva said, sitting opposite her.

“My brothers have been at you, I hear.”

“They are quite a pair.”

“Yes, I love them.  It’s fortunate for all that they are finally outgrowing their rambunctiousness.”

Iva raised her eye brows pleased by the news and wondered, “Your children aren’t with you?”

“No, not this time, they are with Andre’s sister at home while I’m gone.  They’re still in school.”  She said, and then continued, “I would have liked to have been here during your stay.  I hear you’ve had quite the adventure.”

“It has been.  I couldn’t have dreamed of nicer people to be housed with, during this whole thing.”

“Yes, they are and they’re quite taken with you as well.”

Iva looked at her with an ease she’d not expected, “Thank you Angela.  They took me too the dance last night.  Do you and Andre go?”

“Yes.  We have the same event back home, although the estate we go to is different in that it has a working farm down the road from it.  From the house it can’t be seen but it is a nice walk during warm evenings.  The owners were once descendents of Royalty but during the revolution, it was confiscated then they purchased it back a few years after that as private citizens, so they didn’t lose it.  There are equally as many people there, as there are at the ball you went to, that are interested in dancing cotillions.”

            “Is there a place where you buy the dresses Angela?”

            “No, we all choose to make our own.  There are some better at it than others, but we pitch in to help if someone has difficulty, which is rare.  Some of the men are tailors, so the men either buy used off the rack or have them made inexpensively.  They aren’t as uncommon as you might think.  I’m dressed in today’s fashions but we do like the long dresses and frills.  So going out in them is usually a spectacle but I’ve yet to be stopped and questioned why I choose to wear the dresses.”

            “That’s remarkable.  I’m past being timid about what I wear but I can’t see myself walking around California in a gown as a standard every day dress.”

            “I like to dress according to my tastes and don’t follow trends so much.  It seems stifling for the individual woman to listen to any designer who would imply to her that she is to dislike a type of style from any period, if that is how she feels like dressing.  Especially if it’s from someone who doesn’t choose to wear it or isn’t comfortable in it.  Besides, haven’t we all got more important financial things to think about rather than what someone thinks we would look good in?”

            “I agree with you and I’d probably not make a profitable designer for thinking so, back home.”

“That is a good reason for you to take things into consideration.  Now to the reason for my visit, other than to meet you that is.  I must tell you that Breck called me and said he was in love with you and you with him.”  Angela said bluntly.

It was good that she was right to the point.  Iva wasn’t a fan of trying to figure out what people were attempting to get at, “Yes, it’s something I didn’t expect out of my trip.”

“I didn’t come this morning to be the inquisitor but to let you know that under the circumstances, he has assured me, after I made several points in your favor, that he will understand whatever you decide, whether  you stay or return home.”  Angela said, reaching over and taking her by the hand.

“Knowing that, takes a lot of the concern I have, away.”

“Good.  It’s hard enough to love, let alone a person from another country.  I know this as fact.”

Angela’s confiding in her didn’t seem awkward.  She was in Iva’s place, sort of and expressed it,

“Andre and I met during a school study program in France.  It was very difficult.  We both had to finish school and I recall the angst I had, about where we would live, about children, my family and friends.  All those things weighed heavily on me for a long time.  But in the end, after discussing my concerns with him, it became clear that we belonged together and couldn’t be apart.  I’ve had no regrets about any of it.”

“Thank you for sharing that with me, Angela.  I’ve been missing my sister these last few days, so your visit is extremely valuable to me.”

“Naturally you miss her, just as I miss mum and being with her every day.  America is further away than France, which is also a consideration.  It’s not as if you can be home simply like that.”  She said, snapping her fingers in the air.

“No, that’s where it all falls to pieces.”

“I suppose we could pay America to take Oswald and Breck, but I think they would want too much.”  She laughed.

Iva laughed with her, “I don’t know what it would take.”

A genuinely glad feeling came over Iva.  Angela was as kind as she’d hoped she would be.

“You have everyone’s best wishes here, whatever you decide.  Please know that.”  Angela said as she started to get up, preparing to leave.

“Thank you for coming, Angela.”  Iva said as she felt compelled to take Angela’s hands in hers, for comforting her.

“You’re welcome Iva.”

“It’s time for me to get back.  The seamstress needs for me to try my dress on, once more.”  Angela said, sighing with exasperation.

As they walked to the door, Angela stopped, handing her a piece of paper, “Here’s my number, please call me if you feel desperately torn.”

Iva took it as she opened the door for her, “Thank you, I will.”

“Breck’s a good man and a good brother.”

“Angela.  I would never want to hurt his feelings.”

“That’s good, and it’s very wise of you to take your time.  Have a nice afternoon, Iva.  Goodbye.”  She said as she turned and began to walk down the steps.

“Goodbye, Angela.”  Iva said as she closed the door.

Angela said nothing to suggest that Breck had marriage on his mind or anything else.  The surprises hadn’t stopped since she’d started working with the Cliff’s.  Her life had begun and she’d been too busy to spend the time to take careful notice.

Iva remembered that it was yesterday back home.  She had to think about what time it would be there.  By her calculations she figured it would be about afternoon and that Case should be home with kids, hopefully.  She dialed, waiting patiently for an answer.

“Hello.”  Case said.

“Hello Case, it’s me.”

“Iva.  Hello.  How are you?  What’s going on?  Where are you?  Who’s with you?  When are you coming home?”  Case spat out without taking a breath.

“Case, I have a lot to tell you and only a little time.  You’re not going to believe all of it.  First, the volcano erupts.”

“I know that.”

“And, I’m with a family named Fortt.”

“Keep going.  Please, get to what I don’t know.”

“There’s Breck and Oswald Fortt, who I spoke with on the phone occasionally over the years at work but just about business.”

“Okay.”  Case replied, eager for her to get to the rest.

“They’ve been showing me around.  You know we’d go here, there, eat, laugh and talk, the usual stuff that you do when you’re with acquaintances or visiting people.”

“And, what else is there?”  Case continued, fishing for anything good.

“Well, Breck who’s the younger brother kisses my hand one night.  And then, we were at their aunt’s house, he tells me he loves me and I tell him that I feel the same way.”

“Don’t stop, Iva.”  Her sister said, urging her on.

“I don’t know if it’s just because I’m here and he knows that I’ll be going back, so we might as well have fun while I’m here, or if he loves me even if I go back home?”  Iva said, her uncertainty became undeniable as she went on, “I’m not sure of what to do either, it’s an odd situation.  My hopes aren’t up, so, if it’s not going to be me and him together, then I’ll have to be fine, you know.  If only the volcano would stop, then I could see what happens.”

The pressure burdening Iva started to lift, as she told her sister.

“I know what you mean.  So, what are you going to do?”  Case asked, seriously concerned by the conversation.

“Whatever you tell me to do.”  Iva laughed, hopeful for any help but not expecting much with this obscure dilemma.

“Oh, no, I’m all the way over here and don’t even know him.  This adult problem is one you’ll have to manage.  Both of you have to find out, what each other is thinking.”

Iva waited but that was the only advice her sister offered, repeating his words, “He’s said that he loves me, but not more than that.”

“Yes, well.  Somebody had better say something, or, the volcano will stop and it’ll be time for you to come home.  Then you’ll be the two tragic figures of our age, that kind of thing.”  Case replied, becoming sullen by the lack of information.

“I have to come home anyway, no matter what happens.”  Iva added, relieved to say her thoughts out loud then adding, “To take care of all my stuff and I’m still employed, so far as I know.”

“You are.  Gwen’s been calling Bruce and keeping him updated, except for this.”  Case said, reassuring her.

 “She doesn’t know.  I haven’t talked to her about it.  There’s so much to remember, stupid me Case, I almost forgot.  Can you have Bruce pay my rent and utilities by the first, if I’m not back in time?”

“Sure.  Does he know where to find your bills?”

“Yes he knows.  He’s the cosigner on my account, in case I can’t do it.”

“I’ll bet that’s one pre-plan you two never thought you’d be using.  I’ll tell him.”

“No, I’d never have thought it.  I miss being home with all of you, Case.”

“We miss you too, Iva.  Grandma, will be glad you called.  I’ll fill her in on how you’re doing, but not about this.  You need to be the one to talk to her.  Anyway, you should have a good time while you’re there.  Who knows when you’ll go back there?”  Case said as her heart felt at ease, hearing her sister’s voice.

“You see, that’s exactly my predicament.”

“Go have fun and call me collect in a week, if they still won’t let you fly.”

“I will.  I love you, Case.”

“We love you too, Iva.  Behave yourself and I’ll talk to you soon.  Goodbye.”

“Okay.  Goodbye Case.”

Talking to Case gave Iva the warm familial feeling she’d been missing for weeks.

Case hung up with an uneasy feeling by what Iva told her, and was determined to rally someone that would get the information she wanted.  She picked up the phone.

“Hello, Bruce Finder here.”  He answered, sifting through the papers on his desk.

“Hello Bruce it’s me Case.  I have to talk to you about Iva.”

“What’s happening now with our stranded youngster?”  Bruce said, stopping what he was doing.

“Oh stop.  She’s twenty two, not a baby.  Anyway, I just got off the phone with her and she’s fallen in love with one of the sons of the people she’s staying with.”

Bruce could hear her concern, “That’s nice.”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?”

“What do you mean?  Do about it?”

“We don’t know these people, except that they are the Cliff’s friends.  It’s so sudden.  She’s too far away to make any big decisions and…”

“Hold it, Case.  First off, you just said Iva’s not a child, which she’s not.  Secondly, why should we decide who she chooses to be in love with?  And lastly, I’ve talked to Gwen about the family and she’s assured me that they are the best people she could be with.”  He interrupted, becoming authoritative with her.

“How can you be so aloof about this?  She’s our sister, who’s stuck in another country and confused, she told me that herself.  That she is confused about the situation with this man.”  Case implored, restraining herself from becoming irrational.

“I’m not going over to England to confront this guy, that’s ludicrous.”  He declared, emphatically.

She persisted, “I’m not asking you to do that, but you could call him and get a sense of his feelings for her, for grandma’s sake.”

Bruce sat back looking out the window, she’d pulled out the big gun but perhaps was right, “You’ve got a point.  We wouldn’t want them to think Iva’s family has no interest in what happens to her.”

“You see.  And we would all feel better.”  Case said with a sigh, relieved that he finally understood what she was getting at.

“I’ll call either today or tomorrow depending on the time difference.  I’ll ask Gwen and get his number.” Bruce said as he returned to the document he’d been reading when she called.

“Thank you.  I love you, and you’ll call me after you’ve talked with him?”  She asked, coyly.

“Yes Case, I will, I promise.”  Bruce laughed.

“Good, thank you Bruce.  Talk to you later.”  His sister said as she started to hang up the phone.

“You’re welcome Case.  Goodbye.”

Bruce finished his work, checked the time then picked up the phone.

“Hello.”  Gwen answered.

“Hello, Gwen.  It’s Bruce Finder.  How’s Don doing?”  He asked, shyly, not having spoken to her since the previous week to check how he was.

“He’s slowly getting back to his old self.  Do you want to talk to him?”

Bruce could tell by her voice that she was far more cheerful than his last call.

“Well actually, I was calling you for a favor.  Would you be kind enough to give me the Fortt’s phone number?  I want to talk to Iva.  I miss her, you know.”  He said, avoiding the other reason for wanting it.

“Yes, of course.  I’ll give you their son’s, Breck and Oswald’s number.  They see her a lot.”  She said, opening her address book.  She gave him the information, reminding him of the time difference.

“Thank you Gwen.  Is everything manageable at the office?”  He asked, genuinely concerned, which he’d expressed numerous times and that she insisted she greatly appreciated, since the accident.

“I will be glad when it all gets back to normal.”  Gwen admitted.

“Yes, we all will.  If you need anything, please give me a call.  Thank you and give my best to Don and the kids.  Tell him I’ll call in a few days.  Goodbye Gwen.”

“Thank you for everything Bruce and I’ll tell them, goodbye.”

Case waited patiently for a call from Bruce, but it didn’t come for the rest of the day.

The phone in the office rang as Breck came through the door.

“Cliff-Fortt imports.”  He answered.

“This is Bruce Finder, Iva’s brother.  Are you the one interested in my sister?”  He asked, pretending to be angry as soon as he heard someone answer, having already been told by Gwen that the family was one of their best friend’s and the men were terrific, so he planned his prank.

“Pardon!”  Breck replied, shocked.

“Yeah, I hear one of you two likes my sister.”  Bruce continued, hardly able to control himself.

“I, I…”

“You said that brother.  I let my sister go to England, and what happens, one of you guys try to steal her away from her loving family.”  Bruce yelled, accusatory.

Breck stammered again, “I, I…”

“You, You, so, it is you.  Well, tell me what all this is about.”  Bruce said, unrelenting.

“I am the one who loves your sister.  It never occurred to me that she wasn’t allowed to be…  It’s just not done anymore.”  Breck said, becoming confused with what he meant and wanted to convey to her brother.

“What’s not done?  Asking a woman’s family, what their opinion is.  I don’t give a damn what other people do with their sisters.”  Bruce added, firm on the point.

Breck was baffled by the turn this was taking, but ready to defend he and Iva being together, “I’m sure you don’t.  I mean people fall in love all the time and it’s alright.”

“Is that so?  You’d better have a chair because Iva’s family loves her and wants the best for her.  She doesn’t need permission necessarily but we do want to know who’s interested in her.”  He said, taking a brotherly stance.

“You’re right.  It never occurred to me to call you and let you know that my feelings have grown to be more than friends.  Sorry.”

Bruce started laughing, “Your apology’s accepted.  You’ve taken this pretty good.  I imagine I wouldn’t have been as clear headed as you’ve been.”

“Damn, you’ve got me.  This is one of the best calls I’ve ever had.”  He said with a laugh as he walked around the room in relief, that he wasn’t a marked man.

“Our sister Case put me up to this.  She insisted that I call and drag your feelings for our sister out of you.”  He continued, laughing.

“Well done.  It’s very good.  Iva warned me that you were very capable but I didn’t realize to what degree.  You’ve proved her right.”  Breck said, stopping in the middle of the room with admiration.

“Tell me, how serious are you about my sister?”  Bruce asked as he stopped laughing and started reading the messages on his desk.

“Very serious, she’s a lovely woman.”

“I’ve been told by Gwen about your family and she has good things to say about all of you.  She told me, you served in the military.”  He said, seriously.

“I’m glad she thinks so, and yes, I’ve been in Afghanistan.”  Breck answered hesitantly, not knowing Bruce’s position on the war.

“I was in Iraq.  It sounds like you’ve had enough time to be on your own and get back to living.  I’ve got a word of advice for you, though.”  Bruce said, pausing, reflecting on Breck’s demeanor.

“What’s that?”  He asked with relief in his voice that he was talking to a fellow soldier.

“Don’t trivialize your service with her.  She’s already had exposure to us in the service and she’ll see right through you.”  Bruce continued, sympathetically.

“I won’t.  I’ve worked getting back to right and will remember what you’ve said.  If I may, I would like to ask your permission to ask Iva to marry me.”

“Let me think.  After ONLY three weeks, have you gone on the bottle?”  Bruce said, sitting back, letting out a bellow of air.

“I can assure you I will treat her very well and if there is ever a time she wants to return home, she need only go.”  Breck said, shaking his head in astonishment that it had come like this, yet pleased that he had to plead his case.

Bruce took all things he knew about Breck and what the man was saying into consideration, making a careful determination that she would do well with him, “I could keep you hanging for a while to amuse myself, but I think you and Iva humor each other, so you’ll have years of laughter to look forward too.”

“You should be proud of her Bruce.  She’s kept up with me and Oswald with the work, our jokes and has been a welcomed visitor for my parents.”  He admitted.

“I am.  She’s a terrific sister and now after having this conversation, I’m certain that you will be very good to her, OR…”  Bruce said with a laugh, leaving his thought open.

“Yes I will, with or without any, OR…”  Breck said, reassuring him.

“Glad to hear it.  Now I’ll see if I can persuade Case that you’re alright.  Fear her more than me, Breck.”

Breck laughed, “I think I do already, she’s armed, isn’t she.”

“Yes she is but only as a police officer to catch criminals and as a hunter to catch weasels.”

“Neither of which I am.”

“Well, if Iva says yes, then I’ll talk to you later.  And, if she says no, then you take care of yourself.”  Bruce said, not knowing the answer.

“Thank you Bruce for calling, it’s been interesting.  Goodbye.”

“It’s been my pleasure, more than you know, Breck.  Goodbye.”

As Breck hung up, he wiped his sweaty hands on his pants and considered how it was possible that someone of Bruce’s age was familiar with who David Niven was.”

Getting out today to walk around was what Iva knew she needed, now that it was the start of week four.  She put her things away, got dressed, picked up the tour book and looked through it, putting slips of paper between the pages of interest to her.  Iva decided on Hampstead Heath for exercise and space to clear her head.  She wrote a note for Evelyn and left, to catch the train.  On her map, she could see that Hampstead Heath wasn’t far off as she passed one stop after another.  Once there Iva started her walk and considered that she’d fallen in love with a man who loves his family and loves her but lives impossibly far from her home.  How was this possibly going to turn out, she couldn’t even guess?  It was simply something she couldn’t control on her own.

The sun was shining on her, with all kinds of people passing that she couldn’t point out again if she were to ever see them again.  The whole day she had to herself with nowhere to be and at no specific time.  Iva walked quickly to work up an appetite.

She spotted a passing jogger.  Quickening her pace to keep up, she called to him, “Excuse me sir is there a place to eat nearby?”

His music player earphones were in, preventing him from hearing her.  She went into a full run, touching his shoulder as she reached him.

“What the hell? … Are you not thinking?” The man gasped, annoyed by the intrusion, stopping to look at what or who it was.  He took a deep breath, first staring at her angrily then calming himself, seeing that she wasn’t half bad looking.

Iva apologized then repeated her question cautiously, disinterested in him because of his exhibition of temper.

“Just there, Miss.”  The man answered, pointing toward the road.

“Thank you, sir.  Goodbye.”  She said as she left the park toward the street he directed her to as quickly as she could, so they wouldn’t feel the need to speak to each other any further.

The man walked forward, watching her behind him then regained his speed and was gone.

Iva saw the sign, taking a seat outside, once there.  The waitress came over to her after taking a man’s order.  She handed Iva a menu.  Iva reviewed it quickly, seeing immediately what she wanted.

“Do you need time?”  The young woman asked.

“No, I’m ready.  I’ll have a muffin, some fruit and tea, please.”  Iva answered.

The waitress went away.

“Good afternoon.”  The woman who was sitting at the adjacent table with her two children said to her as she watched her sit down.

“Hello.”  She replied, smiling back.

“I couldn’t help but over hear.  You’re from America, aren’t you?”

“Yes.  California.”

“I’m Nora and these are my children, George and Libby.”

Iva smiled at them, “Hello there.  I’m Iva.  It’s nice to meet you.”

“Won’t you join us?”

“Thank you Nora, I’d like too.”  Iva answered as she got up, moving her chair to their table.

The waitress brought her lunch, setting it down, “Will this be on the same receipt?”

“No, they’ll be separate.”  Iva said.

“Yes, separate.”  Nora agreed.

“Has your visit been prolonged because of the volcano, Iva?”

“Yes.  I should have been home three weeks ago.”

“You’re the third person so far we’ve come across that’s stuck here because of it.”

“I’ve not been here alone, so it’s not been as disconcerting as it may have been for the others.”

“Mummy, I can understand what she’s saying, do I speak America?”  Libby asked, softly.

The two women looked at her, smiling at her simplicity.

“You’re perfect at it Libby.”  Her mother smiled, stroking her hair.

“You’re children are adorable, Nora.”

“Thank you.”

“If I could ask you privately Iva, is rearing one’s children as costly as it is here?”

Iva leaned over toward her, “Secretly, between us, yes.  I had no clue before this visit that we all worry about the exact same things.  But now, I know better.”

“Do we?  I’ve not been abroad before.”

“I’m not at all worldly or well traveled but confidentially Nora, I think we’ve all got it either really good or borderline bad, to extremely bad.”

“It all depends on which side of the vault we’re on, I guess Iva.”

“I think you’re right.  But who’s to say, that one day we may not have to have the concerns of feeding our families, keeping a home and stability.”

“That can’t come soon enough for me, Iva.”

“For me either.”

The two women talked more about current events, the upcoming Olympics being there in two years, jobs, education, etc., as they and the children ate.  As they finished, Iva noticed the time.  She waved to the waitress, who took her money then returned with the change.

“I wish I knew how much longer I would be here, so I could see you again, but I can’t give out my friends phone number.”  Iva said disappointed.

“Take mine.  If it takes two weeks or more then give us a ring, we’ll meet you back here and if not then enjoy the rest of your stay and thank you for chatting with us, Iva.”  Nora said, writing down her number, handing it to her.

“Nora, thank you for having me sit with you, and I will call if it takes longer, I promise.  Thank you for your company today, especially you two, George and Libby.  Have a nice evening.”  Iva replied, folding up the paper, putting it in her pocket.

“You have a nice one too, Iva.”  She said.

Chapter 17

Iva left, walking back the way she remembered she’d come from, then found the train and headed back to Evelyn’s.  Her body was tired when she got back.  She stretched out on the sofa and fell asleep unaware of the time.  It was eight o’clock when she woke up and Evelyn was a sleep in her room since two.  It was too late to have a full dinner, she found crackers and some cheese, making herself enough to not be starving in the morning then went back to sleep.

Millie looked at the clock, it was ten o’clock.

“Graham, I’m going to call Gwen and ask about Iva.”

“Millie, before you call, I should let you know that our son Breck is in love with her.”  He said, looking straight into her eyes, as he walked into the bedroom from the bathroom.

She gave him a glance of reproach for having kept the secret from her for so long, “That’s why you wanted to know about her.  I wondered what all the murmurs have been about.”

“Yes.  But he hasn’t asked me to find out about her, I was simply curious.  So not to have words come out, which would make her feel more awkward than she obviously, already does.”

“Yes dear.  I see the point.  Let me ring Gwen and see what she has to say.”  Millie said, picking up the phone, dialing the number.

“Hello.”  Gwen answered.

“Hello Gwen, it’s me, Millie.”

“Oh good, I was wondering how Iva’s been doing.”  Gwen said as she put things on her desk, away.

“She’s just fine.  They’ve been working hard and is with Evelyn, Oswald’s fiancee for three days.  I’ll tell her you’ve asked about her.”  Millie said, assessing that this might be a good time to ask a few questions about her and her family.

“Yes, do that.”

“I was hoping to impose on you for a little information about Iva.  It seems almost insulting for some reason to put her on her guard.”  Millie continued, innocently.

“Sure, let’s see, what can I tell you?”  Gwen said, thinking out loud.  It seemed reasonable for her friend to find out about who her house guest was.

She told Millie what Josh had told her about their early years, including their parent’s, then picked up her description of what she knew.

“Iva keeps a regular routine as far as I can tell.  She goes with friends or family on weekends.  The customers find her competent for twenty two and she’s on time for work every day, and takes the work seriously.  Her outlook is optimistic, even when being put to the test, just like with this unexpected trip.  She’s been a good example for the kids and we love to have her over when she’s free.  That’s pretty much what I can tell you, Millie.”  Gwen finished, waiting to see if there were more questions.

“Yes, she isn’t sheepish about situations she finds herself in.  It’s unfortunate about her upbringing but seems to be doing well in spite of the setbacks.  I’m glad to hear such good things about her, I’d hoped as much.” Millie said.

Her smile was detected by Gwen across the phone line, “Are you trying to hide something, Millie?”

“It’s nothing, really.  We wondered about her because Breck has gone and fallen in love with the girl.  I can see why, you should see them together.  They took at each other straight off, it was obvious, but I had no idea it would lead to love.  I’m sure her being here longer because of the volcano has helped.”

Gwen laughed with delight, “Millie that’s great news, it sounds like a wonderful match and if you keep her longer, we’ll fire her.”

“No you wouldn’t dear, because any excuse to come here, is good enough for you, especially if it’s a wedding.”  Millie declared adamantly, controlling her laughter.

“That’s true, Millie.  We’ll talk later.  Love to you and the family.  Goodbye.”

Millie sighed, satisfied with her trusted friend’s assessment of her sons love interest, “And, my love to your family Gwen.”

Graham came in behind her, “So, what has Gwen to say of our little charge?”

“There really isn’t anything unusual dear.  Gwen has gotten to know her grandmother and sister while

Iva’s been employed with them.  She likes them very much, as well as her brothers and has said that she’s a highly regarded girl.  That’s Gwen’s opinion.”  Millie said with a smile, for keeping Iva’s privacy intact.

“I knew it.”  Graham replied, please with the outcome of his snooping.

Gwen sat back with warmth and happiness for the young woman whom she’d come to rely upon, not only for her hard work but also her determination.  Suddenly she remembered that she’d forgotten to ask if Iva felt the same way about him, or if he’d proposed, she thought herself careless but knew she’d find out soon enough.  Gwen felt exhilaration for them both, the same she’d felt when she met Don.  Whom she could hear calling to her, once out of her fog.  She decided it was best to keep this information from him for a while, knowing him well enough to know that he’d say something similar to, we can’t lose employees to foreign friends.  It’s not good for business.  He being the sentimental man she knew him to be, he would mask his joy with unromantic joking, she mused.

Iva woke up at five a.m. with Evelyn.  There was only one appointment on her list for Gwen, to another china manufacturer set for this afternoon, so she’d have time to see other sights.  While they had breakfast together, Evelyn told her she had the late morning shift.  Each took turns getting dressed, Evelyn in her scrubs and Iva in her suit.  While Iva referred to the tour book, Evelyn left for the day.  Stonehenge sounded interesting but was too far.

Evelyn’s phone rang.

“Hello.”  Iva said hurriedly because it was getting late.

“Hello Iva.  It’s Millie.”

“Hello Millie.”  She said, happy to hear her voice after only two days gone from them.

“Tomorrow we’ve been invited to Lane’s house for lunch, if you and Evelyn are free?”

“Yes, I am and will be happy to go with you, Millie.  Thank you.  I’ll ask Evelyn when she gets home.”

“I’ll send Graham round at twelve thirty then, goodbye.”

“Yes Millie, I’ll be ready. Goodbye.”  Iva said, anxious to get back to the tour book.

It was Tuesday.  She tried to think of what to do after the china shop?   After considering for a moment, Iva figured it was a good idea to take the day as it came and keep the book with her, to see what place she’d have time for then grabbed her wallet so she wouldn’t be late.

She got to the china manufacturers just in time.  There wasn’t anything there which Gwen had specifically described to order, so she left.  It was only quarter past three.  As she walked, Iva looked at the streets, wondering whether she could be happy there.  Forty five minutes passed when she became hungry, walking further, she spotting a pub across the street then made a dash for it and went in.  Some of the men looked up from the bar as she opened the door.  Her eyes took a minute to adjust to the dim light on the inside, once they did, she saw an empty stool at the end of the bar, as un-conspicuously as she could she made her way toward it and sat herself down.

The bartender came toward her, “What can I get for you, Miss?”

Iva looked behind him to see the height of the glasses, “If those are pints, then I’ll take only a half of it, with the lightest beer you have and the special of the day.  Please.”  Iva said, not wanting to insult him because she didn’t drink, other than at a wedding or other very special occasion.

“Yes ma’am.  It’ll be just a bit for the stew and bread.”  He said, winking at her in approval.

“Thank you.”

He leaned on the bar, “I’m Eric.  Are you from America?”

She smiled, assuming her accent wasn’t foreign to him, “Hello Eric. Yes I am.”

He passed the half pint glass to her, “Here for long?”

“Possibly, the volcano’s preventing my leaving.”  Iva answered as she took a drink, watching as he resumed cleaning glasses and walking backward toward the counter behind him.

“A bothersome thing, isn’t it?”  He said, continuing to wash and wipe out the dirty glasses.

“It was at first, but now…”  She said, stopping herself as she considered where her head and heart were.

He stopped his task, “But, now you’re not sure?”

“Now, I’m glad that I’ve had this extra time to see more and meet people.”  Iva said, giving him a smile.

“Oh, well then, I’m glad too.”

A lady came out of a door behind the bar.  She laid Iva’s order in front of her.

“Is there anything else, Miss?”  The middle aged woman asked.

“No thank you.  It looks and smells very good.”

The woman nodded in agreement then exited back through the door.

“Let me know if there’s anything else I can get you.”  Eric said, raising his head toward her as he went to some men at the end of the bar.

As she ate the stew it felt late in the day, she checked her watch it was four forty five.  Iva knew to start back to Evelyn’s before dark or she would easily get lost finding her way.

“Eric, thank you.  It’s been a pleasure to meet you.”  She said, smiling at him as she handed him the money, got up and headed for the door.

“You’re welcome, do come back sometime.”  He said with a wave as Iva went out.

She found the tube and got back to Evelyn’s as she was eating her dinner.

“Hello Evelyn.”  Iva said as she walking through the door at half past five.

“Did you enjoy your day, Iva?”  Evelyn asked with interest.

“Yes, I did, very much.”

“Breck’s in the living room, he’s been waiting for you.”  Evelyn whispered, pointing to the room.

“I wasn’t expecting him.”  She said quietly, turning and heading to see him.

He stood up, “Hello, Iva.”

“Hello.  What a surprise to see you Breck.”

Evelyn wanted to give them privacy, coming in the room and declaring, “I’ve got to get ready.  Oswald’s picking me up in the half hour.”

“Evelyn, Millie called today and we’re invited…”

“I know I already talked to her.  Go on with what you’re doing.”  Evelyn said interrupting her with a wink.

Breck looked at Iva, “I was nearby and came round to ask how you were doing?”

“I’m fine.  I’ve kept busy with work.”  She said.

“We’ve been also.  Are you finding your way around from here?”  He asked hesitantly, wanting to add more but unable to find the proper phrasing.

“Yes, so far.  Is anything wrong, Breck?”

“No, things couldn’t be better, Iva.  Well, I should be getting back.  I believe you and Evelyn will be at aunt Lane’s for lunch tomorrow.  Have a good time with them.  Goodbye.”  He said, patting her shoulder and heading out the door.

“Thank you, I’m sure we will.  Goodbye.  Breck.”  Iva said, watching as he got in his car and drove off.  She went to the sofa and laid on it.  If it were she and she were stuck in a country and met a man, what would she do?  Iva questioned herself, think?  She shut her eyes to relax.  First, she would plan on going back home either way.  Second, she wouldn’t jump to conclusions that the man has any long term plans with her.  Then, she would?  What would she want to happen?  Did she want to be with him?  Does she want to marry someone back home and live near her family and friends?  Or, there seemed to be no, or.  Iva ran out of options to think of.  The cowardly way out was always good, she figured.  She would go to bed early and see what tomorrow brought, rather than worry about unknowns.

Iva and Evelyn slept in, then got dressed and waited outside her flat for Graham to pick them up.

He arrived and got out to open the doors for them, “Good afternoon, Evelyn, Iva.”

The two women answered, “Hello Graham.”

When they got to Lane’s, Millie, Trevor, Oswald and Breck were there.  They greeted each other and sat down for lunch.

Breck and Iva looked at each other from across the table, the entire day.  She felt there was some explanation owed him, but didn’t know what it could be, since they’d not discussed anything of importance since their talk in study, so she didn’t give one.

After a few hours of conversation and cards, Graham took the two young women back to Evelyn’s.

“Graham, if it’s alright with you, I would like to return to your home.  I’ve finished my errands and Evelyn can have her sofa back.”  Iva said, looking at him as he opened her car door.

“The wife’s been missing you, it will be a pleasure.  I’ll be here at ten o’clock tomorrow morning for you.”  He said.

“Thank you, I miss her too.”  Iva admitted.

The two young women went inside Evelyn’s, made some tea and got comfortable for the night.

“Do you want to see the other gowns I made and wear, Iva?”

“I’d like too.  That blue one is not only beautiful but it’s comfortable.  It was fun to wear.  You’re very talented.”

“You’ll like the rest then, they’re just as comfortable.”

They took their cups into the bedroom, where Evelyn opened her wardrobe filled with large boxes and began taking them out.

Iva lifted the tops of them, “Evelyn.  You made all these?  The yellow, burgundy, green and the rest are incredible.  No wonder you miss making them.”

“Yes.  It’s not as difficult as it looks.  The necklace and earrings you wore were costume of course, but some of the women were wearing actual jewels.  It’s something that’s not spoken about though, making it comfortable for everyone to feel included, in spite of their financial circumstances.”

“I noticed that.  There were no whispered comments or weird stares, which shocked me, actually.”

“That happens but not there.”

“To have a place that you know you’ll be going to every other Saturday night and are certain you’ll have a good time is unique.”

            “I was impressed by that too.  There have been a few over the years who’ve tried to bring in drugs or alcohol, but they were found out and subsequently uninvited by Lord Overston.  The Overston’s keep a tight hold of the event and it’s now become clear that their children, who are in the twenties, have embraced it and are following suit.”

            “It’s exclusive?”

            “No, not exclusive but for the obvious reasons, you saw all their valuables in the house, well, they’ve had to be cautious with who they invite.  So it’s private, but not exclusive, there are no fees to attend.  It’s their attempt to keep their surrounding community who are interested in classical music, engaged with each other.”

            “Their attempt seems worthwhile.  Everyone knew each other and got along very well.”

            “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself and insisted they take you, so you’d know what Breck does every other Saturday night.  I hope that you’ll be here long enough to attend another that I can be at.”

            “That would be fun.  Oswald told me, you two met through his parent’s and your uncle and Aunt.”

            “Yes.  They’ve always went to the dances, so on my first visit alone to their house to stay the night with them and my cousins, they took me along.  I was eight, he nine.  He’d already been going a year and was already experienced in the refinements of dancing and etiquette.  It was awful for me at first, not knowing how to waltz but over the next year I caught on.  We’ve known each other ever since but didn’t start to consider each other seriously until a few years ago, finding out after having dated other people that we have much in common and can’t turn our backs to it.”

            “You’re both very lucky and blessed to have found that out.”

            The women talked and laughed the rest of the night until it was one o’clock, going to bed out of exhaustion.  Iva fell asleep, happily knowing she would be back at the Fortt’s in the morning.

It was Thursday almost the end of week four, and the volcano ash was still blowing according to the news.  Iva watched the television with anxiety after Evelyn left for work then put her things together and waited for Graham.

He drove up cheerful, “Hello, Iva.”

“Good morning Graham.”  Iva answered, locking Evelyn’s front door, picking up her bag and meeting him at his car.

“We’ve no plans today other than playing cards with Lane and Trevor.  They’re already with Millie.  Do you have work for Gwen today?” He said, smiling at her as he closed her door.

“Not today, I got it done yesterday.”

When they arrived, Iva put her things in Angela’s room then went downstairs.  She ate lunch, keeping to herself, as everyone talked to each other all at once.

“That was good Millie, thank you.”  She said, rinsing off the plate and putting it in the dishwasher.

“You’re welcome.”  Millie answered, resuming her chat with the Lane.

“Cards, shall we play the usual?”  Graham asked, wringing his hands ready to go as he led them onto the patio where it was set up for play.

“Good idea.”  Lane answered, sitting across from him.

“Be prepared all, I intend on winning today.”  He said as he dealt the cards for them.

They began teaching Iva a card game she didn’t know.  As they went along they explained, this card here and that one there.  She laughed watching them debate over the rules, each insisting that they were right.

“Excellent game played, Iva.”  Trevor said, leaning toward her.

They found themselves alone after the parents went to the kitchen.

“You’ve captured my cousin’s heart, I hear.”  He said, surveying her face for signs of excitement.

She nodded, almost admitting he’d done the same to her heart.

“Can’t tell you what comes next, don’t know?  I’m merely the inquisitor and you the inquisitee.”  Trevor offered.

“Nor do I Trevor.  Wait, inquisitee is that right?”   Iva asked as she began to laugh.

“You question my grammar?  I have a uniform.”  Trevor replied, stiffening up and throwing back his shoulders.

She mimicked his stiffness, “What has a uniform got to do with grammar?”

“It has absolutely nothing to do with it, thought I’d throw it in there.  It’s been a pleasure to meet you Iva, no matter what happens.”  He said, pleased with himself as he got up.

“You also Trevor, thank you.”  Iva said, standing with him.

He went toward his mother, they said goodbye and left.

Millie, Graham and Iva sat in the living room watching the news.

A half hour passed when the front door opened, Breck and Oswald came in.

“We’re home from a hard day at the office.”  Oswald said, kissing his mother on the cheek.

Millie smiled, “Came for dinner, have you?”

“Best food in the whole of the country, even with the poison in it.”  Breck said, then turning to Iva, “Hello there.  How’ve they been treating you, Iva?”

She bowed her head to him, “They’ve been terrific company, Mr. Fortt.  Thank you.”

“I’ve lost first name basis.  Oh, I’m sent back to the start.”  He said, grabbing Oswald’s arm.

His brother grinned, “What have you done to her?  Whatever it is, I’m on her side.  She scares me.”

“You’re undeserving of Evelyn, Oswald.  She’s far too superior.”  Breck answered, patting his brother’s back.

Oswald smiled at her, “Huh, for now she’s a nurse, so she’ll fix me.”

Breck sat next to Iva on the sofa, “What do we hear of the volcano?”

“It seems to be clearing.  Another day or two and flights will resume.  There are a lot of people they must re-book, but they’re working on some sort of organization of the thing.”  Millie answered, looking at him blankly.

“You’ll be back home soon, Iva.”  Breck said, looking at her profile.

“I know I can’t believe it.”

“You’ll be glad to get back to your life?”  He continued.

“Yes, there are people and things waiting for me.  I can’t wait to tell them about all the fun I’ve had with all of you.”  She answered, trying to convince herself that leaving was the best thing for her and not a big deal.

Breck went on, “Of course, there are.  But if I may make this observation, which unfortunately is in the absence of your family and friends.”

“What would that be?”  She asked, facing him, her fingers picking nervously at her Capri’s.

“I’m pressed for time and cannot wait for an opportune time for us to be alone.  In front of my family, I put it to you, that you do not want to leave without knowing my intentions toward you and that you love me as much as I love you.”  Breck said, taking Iva’s hand.

She was stunned.  All she could see were the looks on his family’s faces staring at her equally shocked, with the exception of Oswald.

He got down on one knee, “With the consent of your elder brother Bruce.”

Iva looked at him baffled, when had he spoken to Bruce?

He held open a ring box, “Would you do me the honor of marrying me, Iva?”

Iva sat still, tears starting to roll down her face.

Graham stood up, secretly pleased by his sons choice, “What is this Breck, you can’t do that?”

“I can’t do what?”  His son asked, still on his knee, looking at his dad as if he’d become crazed.

“I was going to offer Iva a position at the office to keep her here.”

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t know.  How about this?  I marry the woman and you employ her and then we’ve both gained.”  Breck offered, pleased with his compromise.

Oswald began to laugh at the negotiation, because she hadn’t said anything yet.  Millie got up from her chair, sitting where Breck had just been next to Iva.

“Breck, this is wonderful.  Iva dear, are you alright?”  Millie asked, taking her other hand.

Iva’s mind wandered.  She would be alright, once she gave her answer, or maybe she didn’t have to.  They seemed to be celebrating right before her.  Iva was merely an observer standing at the precipice of decision, in danger of not being around her family or of losing the love from a very good man.  Millie began caressing her hand.

“There are things that I need to take care of at home.”  Iva said, looking at Breck for understanding as he continued to hold her other hand.

“Excuse me.”  Iva said as she began to stand up and they releasing their grip on her.

She went around the coffee table, turned and looked at them soberly, “My grandma told me not to be impetuous with decisions, so I have to seriously consider everything.”

“Of course my dear, please take your time.”  Graham replied, reassuringly.

Oswald turned to his mother, “What an answer.  Evelyn said yes straight off.  Leave it to me.  I can persuade her.”  Oswald whispered to his mother then turned to her, “Iva you must, so you can help me with other mysteries.”

She smiled, finding him not only cute, but more importantly charming and considerate, “Oswald, you’re so?”

            “I’m being perfectly serious.”  He insisted.

Iva blinked her eyes, trying not to become involved in a debate, “Naturally she said yes right away, you’ve known her for years.  Breck and I have just met, sort of.”

“That’s absolutely immaterial.  You fit in with us as well as she and Andre do.”  Oswald said with a smile, trying to help his brother’s cause.

“Thank you.  You’ve made me to feel that I do and am grateful to all of you for all you’ve done while I’ve been here, taking me in and everything.”  Iva said, searching their eyes individually, so they would know she meant it.

“I know there’s trepidation on your part Iva.  Perhaps there is something I can do to convince you that I genuinely feel we should be together.”  Breck said, standing in front of her looking down into her eyes.

“It’s not a question of whether we should be together, of course we should, but rather; am I truly ready to settle here?  I mean, there are things in my own country that I still want to do.  Actually, the list is long.” Iva said, feeling stupid as she finished saying it.

“I couldn’t have guessed it was that difficult for you.”  Oswald said, without thinking.

Iva was still teary eyed, “I’m not trying to make it that way.  America simply happens to be a huge place and to see everything there is.  I always figured I would see it on my vacations.”

“Your grandmother is a wise woman, she would be very proud of you for taking all things into account.  I’m certain Breck loves you and that he can understand that.”  Millie said, peering at him questioningly.

“Yes, I do.  Iva, you’re a wonderful woman, that’s why I’ve asked you.”  He said, searching his unexpected agreeable response in the air.

“It is absolutely understandable Iva.  You should consider something as serious as marriage before going head first into it.  I would have the same misgivings if I had to choose.  Angela had a few worries, but because France is easy to get to from here, it was somewhat easier for her.   You are right however, you will be far from home and none of us can say which way the economy will turn next year, two thousand eleven could end up being worse, so we can’t presume to say you’ll go home as often as you like.”  Millie said, walking toward her, extending her arms out to hug her.

“Thank you Millie.  You’re understanding of the complexities, is really reassuring to me.”  She said, coming out of Millie’s embrace.

The men paused, awaiting an answer.

 I’ve decided.”  Iva said, turning to Breck.

“You’re a wonderful man, Breck.  Yes, I will marry you.”  She answered with certainty, smiling as he put his hand in hers.  He slipped a diamond ring on her finger, the size, cut and color he noticed, didn’t matter to her.

“Might I suggest that we be engaged for a year?  That way you can go exploring your country before we get married?”  He suggested in his best southern drawl.

“What a good try.  That was different.”  Iva said.

Graham and Millie laughed, pleased with the outcome.

“How about we marry next September?  I feel like I owe Don and Gwen at least that much time.  I’ll be able to help them train someone new for my job.”

“Next September sounds fine.”   Breck answered.

“That’s a wonderful idea.  It will give Iva plenty of time to decide on any arrangements she will want. We will be pleased wherever you decide dear, whether here or in California, either place is fine with us.”   Millie said un-intrusively.

“Thank you Millie.”  Iva said, feeling the sudden elation that comes with being rid of thoughts that weigh one down.

Her future in-laws to be surrounded them with congratulations.

“We couldn’t be more, happy Iva.  Welcome to the family.”  Millie said.

“Glad to have you as a sister, Iva.”  Oswald added.

She looked around at them, “Thank you, all of you.”

“I’ll take you to Heathrow tomorrow.  We’ll see what can be done about getting you on the next available flight.”  Breck said, putting his arm around her shoulder.

Iva smiled, “The sooner I leave, the sooner the year will pass.”

Breck took her outside to walk him to his car.  As they stood in the darkness, Breck took hold of her waist, pulling her firmly to him, “I know you have to go home and that we’ll be apart for quite a while but that won’t change anything.  Nothing will change anything.”

“No it won’t, even with all the upheaval in the world.”  Iva said with confidence in her voice.

“If it crashes around us and we have to go back to horse and buggy or bareback, or things stall even worse than that, we face it as a family and no less.”

“We will, sign me up but bareback on a horse, only if it goes really slow.”

Oswald came out the front door, “See you tomorrow then, good night.”

Iva went to the front door as he and Breck got in the car.  She and Millie watched from the doorstep as they drove away.

“I really am fond of Oswald, Millie.”  She said.

“He’s one of those endearing people, isn’t he?”  Millie said, smiling at the thought of him.

“He is.”  Iva agreed.

She said goodnight to Graham and Millie and went up to bed, thrilled by the proposal.  Her mind raced as she lay in bed, falling sleep, far too exhausted to consider it anymore.

As the sun rose, so did Iva.  After dressing and cleaning Angela’s room she went down to return the book she’d borrowed to the study then to wait for Breck.  Iva paced, checking her watch every few minutes in front of the house.  He said he’d be to pick her up at nine thirty but it was nine forty five.  She glanced up just as he turned the corner.

“Sorry to be late, traffic is not moving this morning.”  Breck said, opening her door for her then pulling out onto the street toward the highway.

“Thank you for taking off work Breck.  I’m sorry to put you out; I could have taken the underground or bus.”

“Don’t think of it.  Oswald’s got a handle on it for a while.  It shouldn’t be all day.  I’ll stay late if it’s necessary.”  He said as he reached over, taking her hand.

They drove down the highway to Heathrow.  Seeing it in the distance, traffic became congested the nearer they got.

“All the people who’ve been trapped these four weeks have descended on the airport with the same idea as us.”  Iva said, observing out the window.

Breck put his hand back on the wheel, “Not to worry, you’ll be on a flight.”

“Thank you Breck.”  She said, grateful for his consideration.

Iva was silent as she watched the red tail lights which had no movement.  After forty minutes and managing a parking spot, they walked into the airport terminal to a swarm of people that looked like they were at the last of their patience.  There was understandable confusion, arguing, children crying, teenagers who looked as if they hadn’t slept in days.  It was unbelievable.  Iva felt sorry for every one of them and considered her fortunate circumstance of having been cared for and with people to rely upon during her stay.  They got into line to wait, as everyone else had too.

“It’s eleven thirty already, with very little progress.  We could leave if you’re not up to it, but I’m prepared to stay in line until you have a confirmed flight out.”  Breck asked, putting his arm around her waist.

“We’ll stay.  Why leave now and lose our place when it could be just as bad for days.”

As the wait became longer and never-ending, Iva kept trying to wake herself up.

“When I get back here, there is something other than you that I’m excited about.”  Iva said, looking up at him, trying to pass the time.

He searched her face curiously, “What is that?”

“I’d like to learn to drive, on the right side of the car.  It fascinates me.”  She said, smiling and raising her eyebrows.

“You want to do that?”

“No, it’s not that I want to have a car here, I like the underground, the train and buses.  But since I drive at home, it shouldn’t be that much different and would be useful in case for some reason, you or someone else that I’m with can’t drive.”

“What else have you done?”  Breck asked, looking at her with interest.

“You should have found that out before asking to marry me, you could regret it.”  Iva replied, amused.

“I won’t ever regret it.  Well, what is there?”  He repeated.  Taking her hands and holding them up to his chest, wondering whether she’d done something illegal or questionable.

“Let’s see.  After my brother got out of the service, he took me to the shooting range to teach me to shoot a gun.  Case already knew how because of her job.  And, we’ve been taught darts, sailing and things like that, you know, being outdoors.”  Iva answered, holding up her fingers as she went through them.

“I’m glad you enjoy them.”  He said, stepping back and examining her silhouette.

“We do.  And having him teach us those things, especially the free ones, has had its advantages.”  Iva said, backing up and flexing a muscle, adding, “If you need help sometime simply call, Mr. Fortt.”

He could see she was being serious, poking her biceps little mound, “If an opportunity arises, I will.”

“I’ll keep you to that, but hopefully it won’t ever be needed, I can do without crazy events.”

“No melodrama for us, remember.”  Breck grinned, reminding her.

Iva was sure he’d seen enough excitement and sorrow in service to last all his life, “No, none for us.  We’ll be the content old Fortt’s, living to be one hundred.”

His expression showed he was agreeable with the scenario, “That an excellent idea to me.  And let it be known that I value women who’ve got determination and perseverance on their side, to compensate for physical strength.  Such as my mother and sister, who have shown both when it was necessary.”

She adjusted her stance, moving away from him, “Do you?  I like that about you Breck.”

After all the serious discussions they’d had on critical topics, she found they’d stated their positions well and were compatible.  She stretched her arms as far down her side as they would go, while shifting from leg to leg.  Iva realized she’d said yes to him because there was no having to work at their love for each other, it was mutual and even.

“You need to sit down.  It’s already one o’clock.”  He insisted, seeing that standing in one spot for so long was getting to her.

Iva was determined to deal with it, “No it’s alright I’ll be fine.  Besides, look at them.  I haven’t endured one iota of what all these folks have.  I can’t complain at all.”

Breck stood at her side, “That’s the right way to see it, Iva.”

At two fifteen, they were one behind the front of the line.

“We’re next.”  He declared with a relieved look on his face.

Iva stood silent, she would be leaving soon to go back home.  Once at the desk she handed her return ticket to the agent.

“We’ll have you on the flight leaving tomorrow afternoon at three thirty.  We’re sorry for any inconvenience you’ve experienced.”  The reservationist said, stoically.

“Your country has been a pleasure.”  Iva offered, surprising the fatigued woman.

She looked relieved that Iva wasn’t yelling at her, “Thank you.”

They left the airport with little to say to each other.  During the ride home they remained quiet.

Millie heard the front door open, then close, “Breck, Iva, is that you?”

“Yes, mum.”  He called out.

They walked into the kitchen where she’d been baking.  She was standing in front of her work, critiquing it, with a look of satisfaction, “I’ve made Iva a going away cake and have just finished.”

“Thank you Millie, how nice of you.”  Iva said, admiring her ability.

“Mother, Iva leaves at three thirty tomorrow.”  Breck said sorrowfully.

She tried to cheer him, “Well it won’t be long before your back here and together, again.”

“That’s true.  The year will pass by quickly with us having so much to do.”  Iva agreed as she took his hand.

He laughed, trying to compose himself, “You’re leaving me here with Oswald.  He’ll be married, and I expect that he’ll be absolutely unbearable.”

“You’re a poor thing.  Do you want to stow away on the plane?”  Iva offered.

He took his mother in his arms, swinging her around then pecking her cheek when he stopped, “I would, but mother and father can’t be left alone here with him either.  We three could stow away with you, I suppose.”

“Both of you are being ridiculous.  Now go, dinner will be ready shortly when your father’s home.”  Millie commanded.

They went to the living room, turned on the television to the news, which now had reporters showing the devastation in Iceland and were interviewing some of the people who’d been affected.  Their stories so contrasted Breck and Iva’s, over the past four weeks.

“You see, Iva.  Those folks will be alright and it does matter whom you’re with when difficulties arise.”  He said, stroking her hand.

“Breck, you’re far more authentic than I thought you’d be over the phone, when you first began to call work, years ago.  I didn’t think that you were childish but there were time when…”  Iva said with doubt, smiling as she recalled their conversations.

“That’s because I hadn’t expected to ever meet you.  Josh said you liked humor and we obliged.  But, after having talked to you, well, it was merely a matter of charming you, and at least, getting myself into your thoughts.  I had planned on going back to California for father as soon as possible after I returned from service, so we could meet.  But Don’s accident preempted my plan.”  He admitted.

“There are only a few things that I’ve worked as hard at, as keeping you out of my thoughts.  It was difficult.”  She grinned.

“When time would pass and I couldn’t call the office, I imagined we’d never get be in this place.  You’d meet someone and so would I and that would be the end of it.  My desires made me apprehensive at first.  For an unknown reason, I felt you, though you were someone I hadn’t met, I’d never felt that for a woman before.  And the only way to correct it was to meet you in person.”  He said kissing her forehead as they sat together on the sofa.

Chapter 18

Graham got home by six thirty.  They were prepared to eat, when Oswald came quickly through the front door.  He sat for dinner with them.

Breck picked at his potatoes, “Father, can you spare me tomorrow?  I’d like to get Iva to the airport.”

“Yes of course, take her.  Oswald and I will manage until your return.”

“I wouldn’t mind taking a cab Graham, if it’s inconvenient.”  Iva said, feeling they’d done too much already.

“That’s not necessary Iva.  Thank you for your offer.”  He answered.

The evening was small talk, as it became nine o’clock, Breck and Oswald left.  Millie, Graham and Iva went to their respective rooms.

Iva had hardly a minutes sleep all night and got up looking like it.  Exhaustion was setting in on her and it was only eight in the morning.  She did her packing automatically then cleaned the house, lunched and talked with Millie, until Breck arrived at one thirty.

“Iva, you take care and please call or write often.”  Millie said, kissing her cheek.

Iva kissed her back, “I will Millie, thank you again for your hospitality.”

“You’re welcome, my dear.”

“I’ll see you later, mum.”  Breck said, kissing her cheek, grabbing Iva’s bags and leading her to the car.

As he put her bags in the trunk, she turned and looked at their house, one last time.

He put his arm over her shoulder, “Are you going to be alright, Iva?”

“Yes, I will be.”  Iva said to remain positive.

“I’ll call as often as I can.”  Breck assured her.

Iva sat in the car when he opened her door, “If it’s not possible I understand.”

“No, it may not be possible but don’t think I won’t want too.”  He said, winking at her as he closed her car door.

“I know.”  She sighed with regret.

While they drove back to the airport, they silently studied each other’s face, to keep with them for the next year.

“I would have liked to have gone to France, I hadn’t been.  Your mother seemed far more excited about the idea than I did, so I knew she’d enjoy herself as well.  You did send your sister to Evelyn’s apartment that day Breck, didn’t you?”  Iva said breaking the silence.

“It cost me her fare over.  It was done only to protect my interests, not to spoil your fun.”  He answered defensively.

“I’m glad you did.  It would have been strange to meet her on our wedding day.”

Breck stared into her eyes after he parked the car.

“Breck, you won’t take it personally if I say that I’m glad to be going home.  Will you?”

“Not at all, it’s your home until you move here.”  He said, as he became angry at the possibility of any villain, reckless person or drunk driver taking her from him.  Breck took her firmly by the arm as she stepped away from him and pulled her to him, saying in a serious, almost angry tone, “I love you Iva.  Goodbye for now.”

“Please Breck, don’t look like that.  You have to have faith that the flight will go well.”

He stood with anxiety running through him, “I’ll have faith in your returning.  This is not the end of you and I, it’s going to take eighty years for me to get to know all about you.”

Iva got choked up, “I’d better be going, I love you Breck.  Goodbye for now.”  Her arms went over his shoulders, she kissed his cheek and turned around.  He was changing her mind.

She’d forgotten as the years passed how difficult it was to hide heartbreak as she went through the terminal and down to the gate.  After the required wait, the flight took off on time.  She wasn’t sick during the trip, there were only tears.  Hours passed but she landed from where she began four weeks prior.  It was strange feeling, as though a lifetime breezed by since she’d been in California as she walked out of the airport with her bags to where Terry was waiting, as if he’d never left.

He hugged her, “We’ve missed you”

“Terry it’s so good to see you, I’ve missed you too.”  Iva said embracing him then putting her bags behind the seat.

“You’re here just in time to come to my graduation, Iva.”  Terry said cheerfully.

“Tell me all about your and Josh’s plans, Terry.”

He regaled her with all his last four weeks of school until they got off the freeway exit to her apartment. Iva looked down her street as they turned the corner, sighing peacefully as she saw it.  Terry helped her with her bags up to her front door.

Iva hugged him again, “Thank you Terry.  I’ll see you next weekend at Case’s, right?”

“Yes.  I can’t wait to hear all about it.  I’ll see you then, goodbye.”  Terry said, releasing his hold of her.

“See you then, goodbye.”

She got in her apartment, dropped her bags and fell asleep for an hour.  The phone rang, waking her up.

“Hello Iva, it’s me, Case.  The guys are her too, are you back?”

“Yes, I’m home.”  Iva said with a laugh.

Case turned from the phone and then was back, “Bruce says, don’t forget to call Gwen.”

“I won’t forget.  It was just a long trip.”

“Call me in a few days.”

“I will Case.”  Iva agreed as she rolled over, hanging up the phone.  Her sister’s words swam through her head, not letting her fall back to sleep.  She picked up the phone.

“Hello.”  Gwen answered.

“Hello, Mrs. Cliff.  I got back an hour ago.”  Iva said, sounding as tired as she was.

“Thank you for going, Ms. Finder.  We’ve received compliments from everyone over there about you and the fine job that you did.”

“Thank you Mrs. Cliff.  I was happy to help.  How is Mr. Cliff?”

“He’s fine and has been back to work a few days already.  It’s good to have things back to some degree of normalcy.”  Gwen said, gratefully.

“I’ll see you on Monday, Mrs. Cliff.”

“Yes, see you then, and get plenty of sleep.”

“I will.  Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Ms. Finder.”

Iva slept all night on the sofa, woke up and unpacked, did her laundry, returned her phone messages and looked through her mail then spent the rest of the weekend in bed.

Her alarm rang at five forty five.  Monday, ugh, Iva groaned, remembering she was in her own bed.  It took her extra time to get ready, but with effort she was ready to leave.  Her car was sitting for so long she wondered whether it would start.  Iva turned the key and after letting it run until the coolant needle went past cold, she was headed to work.

Iva put her purse in her desk and began to go through the papers left in the tray.

Don came in first, “Welcome back Ms. Finder.”

The honest expression of gratitude he had on his face was all the thanks she needed, “You’re welcome Mr. Cliff.  I’m very glad to see that you’re better.”

“No one more glad than me, it’s a true pain to be out of commission.”  The grinning man replied as he headed into his office.

Gwen came in a few minutes later, thrilled to see her, “Hello Ms. Finder, welcome home!”

“Hello Mrs. Cliff, it’s good to be back.”

It was the truth, even though she had developed two totally different lives, both which made her happy.

Gwen went into her office, closing the door behind her.  Forty minutes later Gwen stuck her head out of her door, “Ms. Finder, would you come in for a minute?”

She went in, closing the door then sat opposite her employer.

Gwen grinned, “Mrs. Fortt called me and gave me your good news.  Congratulations to you and Breck.  We couldn’t be happier for you both, although Mr. Cliff doesn’t know that he’s happy for you, yet.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Cliff.  It’s a weird thing, it just happened.”  Iva said watching her, as she could feel herself beaming.

“I know.  That was the way it happened for me and Mr. Cliff.  Happy unexpected surprises are necessary in life.”  Gwen said, disappearing into her mind for a moment, with the remembrance of their first meeting.  She then leaned forward, “We’ll keep this to ourselves for now.  You will be letting me know about arrangements as they come along, right?”

“I won’t say anything about it.  And we’ve already decided on next September, but nothing else.  Mrs. Cliff, if you wouldn’t have sent me there, this may not have ever happened.  I’m sorry I’ve put you in this strange position you and Mr. Cliff have given me this great opportunity.”

“Not at all, Ms. Finder, don’t think of it.  Women should marry who they love, when they meet them, and certainly not on anyone else’s schedule.  Gwen said with a laugh as she sat back in her chair.

“Thank you Mrs. Cliff, for understanding.”  Iva said, happy that Gwen wasn’t upset that she’d be eventually leaving.

“And, we have the added pleasure of continuing to work together, though in a different capacity.”  Gwen smiled.

“That’s very nice of you.”  Iva said, pleased that she was thinking of her this way.  She got up to return to her work, opening the door, then turned back to look at her, “Thank you for everything, Mrs. Cliff.”

She smiled, misty eyed, signaling for Iva to go.

Iva went back to what she was doing.  The week ended up being too busy for her to think of her fiancé.

As she opened her front door, the phone began to ring.

“Iva, hi, you promised to call me this week.  Where have you been?”  Case asked with curiosity.

“I’m sorry Case, I lost track of the time.”

“You will be coming over tomorrow and filling us in on what’s going on, won’t you?  Say about twelve o’clock.”  Case asked.

“Yes, I’ll be there, there’s a lot to tell you and I brought everyone souvenirs.”

It was Friday and she was looking forward to having two days off.

“See you then Iva, goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Case.”

Iva looked at her engagement ring, as much homesick for England now, as she was for California when she was over there.  She felt torn, but now at least, she had the option of coming and going.  Her plan for the evening was to read her book and fall asleep, which she did.  She’d have to call her friends in the morning.

It was seven, the sun shone through her window, waking up.  Her body was still tired but she made her calls anyway, letting her friends know about the trip and Breck.  Afterwards, she dressed and prepared to go, putting the souvenirs into a bag to be at Case’s house on time then left.

“Hello, I’m here.”  Iva said, going around the back gate, when no one answered the door bell.

Andy called out to her, “Come on back.”

She looked around the yard for Case.

“Hello, Iva.  I heard you had quite a trip.”  He said with a laugh.

Iva blushed, “Hello Andy, yes it was.”

Case came out of the house with a tray of sandwiches, putting them down as she observed Iva’s ring.

“Iva, thank God you’re back, we’ve missed you.”  Her sister said as she held out her arms to Iva, but Andy intervened, “Please, Andy, save your clowning for later.”

He released her, smiling as Iva stepped forward to her.

“It’s good to be back home Case.”  Iva said, putting her arms around her and squeezing.

Their grandmother, Bruce and Terry arrived shortly after.  When they finished greeting each other, Iva distributed their souvenirs.

“Now tell us all about it, don’t forget one thing.”  Case insisted, settling back into her chair as she began to eat.

Iva started off with showing them her ring, telling them that she and Breck were engaged then began from when she’d left.

They had the periodic, “Wow” and “You’re kidding.”  Her grandmother gave a shrug of disapproval at the Jack the ripper story.  Iva told them every detail, about the walk around Big Ben, the relatives, Lane and Trevor, Trudy, their friends and the other people she’d met, then about the dance.

“Who does that happen too?”  Case asked with delight.

“Really, I know.  It felt like I was living in a dreamed up life.”  Iva said, laughing at the sound of it.

“That’s exactly what you girls like.”  Bruce said, smiling.

Her sister put her hands on her hips, “Alright Iva, that’s over the edge romantic, I can’t stand it.”

“Case, I would think the same if I’d been hearing it, but it wasn’t put on that way at all.  It’s just something they like to do for fun, like bowling or the way grandma dances at the senior center.  I’d never thought about us joining her there, but now it wouldn’t be something I’d hate.”

“You ladies will have us dancing in tuxedos soon, which we’ll do if you make us but now we’re going to get out of here to let you hash out the details.”  Andy said as he bent over the side of his chair toward Case, puckering his lips, then began kissing his left arm.

They laughed at his foolishness, Terry and Bruce joined him, kissing into the air.

“I was mentally drained most nights when I went to bed and then would wake up knowing I couldn’t predict much of anything that was going to happen that day, with the exception of work.”

“I think that’s what happens when something is meant to be.”  Case said with contentment, since she had the same reaction when she met Andy.

As the men got up and took all their plates, Andy proclaimed, “I think we’ll go to Bruce’s, so you two can figure out when to break this poor unsuspecting man of his singlehood.”

Terry agreed.  They hugged the women then departed.

“Are you certain you’re not feeling rushed into this decision, Iva?”  Iva senior asked, cautiously.

“I don’t grandma, not at all, I promise.  We can wait a couple years if you want.”

“No, that’s not necessary, I’m confident in what I’ve been told by Gwen and Bruce about him.  I was just making sure that you are.”

“I am grandma.  I love you for caring about me and how I’ll be.”

“I do.  Now have you two set a date yet?”  Iva senior continued, sitting riveted to her chair.

“We have grandma.  Next September.”

“Good.  That gives you plenty of time to get organized, and when the time comes we’ll get busy.  Where do you want it, here or there?”  Case asked, excited by the prospect of her sister’s wedding.

“I don’t know yet.  I’ll talk to Breck about it after his brother’s wedding at the end of this month.”

She played with her niece for another half hour and then said goodbye to her sister and grandmother.

The next week started.  Iva was equally as busy as the last, having gotten her routine back and wasn’t feeling as swept away as she had been.

The month passed, the Fortt’s hadn’t called, but since they were getting ready for Oswald’s wedding and she was catching up with family and friends, Iva didn’t give it a thought.

It was the day before the wedding.  It didn’t seem a good idea to call any of the Fortt’s; they would all be too busy to talk.  Iva’s thoughts were with them all day, until she fell asleep.

Her phone rang at two fifty five in the morning.  When she picked it up, there was only the sound of people’s voices, like a bar.

“Hello.”  Iva answered, rubbing her tired eyes, in case it was a crank or wrong number.

There was no one there that she could hear clearly.  She sat up because they didn’t hang up when suddenly she heard Breck, “Iva, wake up my darling.”

It startled her because he was the best man.

“Get up Iva.  Evelyn and Oswald are getting married in minutes.  You’re going to be right here with us.” He said.

“Thank you, Breck!”  Iva said, falling silent, leaving him to talk.

“Dads going to hold the phone, our mum’s crying already, alright?”

She could hear him hand the phone over to Graham.

“Iva.  Won’t talk to you and probably hang right up when it’s over, alright, dear?”  He said, hurriedly.

“Yes Graham.”  Iva said, unable to get any other words out.

The music began playing, she could overhear Millie saying, isn’t she beautiful.  It was an extraordinary thing for them to do and so touching.  Iva began to cry.  It was about a twenty five minute call when Evelyn took the phone, “Iva.  It’s me Evelyn, and me Oswald, we wish you were here.”  They were laughing and then were gone.  The phone was hung up.  Iva couldn’t contain herself, missing them terribly.  Her crying was worse than if she’d been there.

At the end of June, Gwen got a package from Millie with some of Oswald and Evelyn’s wedding pictures, which included a few for Iva.  She put them in her car for the next time she saw her grandma, Bruce, Terry and Case, to show them.  Iva felt bad for Gwen, because of all that had happened with Don and her being gone so long, they’d decided not to go the wedding, but she showed no disappointment to anyone, if she had any.

The week passed as slowly as the rest.  Iva was trying to be as patient as she could, waiting for her life with Breck to start.

Iva opened Don’s door, “Is there anything else before I leave, Mr. Cliff?”

“Has Mrs. Cliff left?”  He asked, still looking at the paper in his hand.

“Yes, about fifteen minutes ago.  She said something about picking something up for Andrea.”

“That’s fine.  You have a good weekend, Iva.”

He began picking up other papers on his desk.

“Thank you sir, you have a nice one too, Mr. Cliff.”  Iva said, leaving his door open and going for the night.

Once Iva got home she picked up her mail.  There was a shocking surprise, a letter from Breck came.  He would think her crazy, that she’d never had a letter from anyone other than Bruce, when he was overseas.  She got in her door, closed it with her foot, put down her purse, sat on the sofa and began to open it, relishing how considerate he was.

My dear Iva

I’ve had only rare occasions to write letters and those have been to my family.  I am pleased to have you to write too.  Your presence is missed by everyone here and I imagine your smile in my mind.  Oswald and I have been writing to Josh, he’s doing well.  Please let me know how your brother is, you are naturally concerned, it is difficult, as I’ve found out, when loved ones are worried, your family is in my thoughts.  I look forward to meeting him.  I will write again soon.  Think of me until we are together again.  I am eternally yours.

Again, there were similarities to their lives.  She’d not written to anyone outside her family either.  Iva looked in her desk drawers to see if she had any stationary that she may have forgotten about, but she didn’t see any, his letter deserved an immediate reply.  She grabbed her purse to go in search of some.  At the store she found the paper she wanted; a simple, cream colored, heavy bond with envelopes.

Her heart beat hard on the way home, anxious to respond to his letter of love.  They’d come together in a most unromantic way, hadn’t even kissed and were separated by thousands of miles, and yet, there remained a bond, such as they had for their own families.  She settled into her desk chair and began to write.

Dear Breck,

I will keep your letters with me every day, until I’m with you.  Thank you for thinking of Terry, he is anxious to meet you also.  Give my best wishes to your family.  I think of you, look at your picture constantly and keep you in my thoughts always.

I’m forever yours, Iva

She put the letter in her purse to mail during her lunch.  It was hard for her to sleep, being in such a hurry to post it.

As it turned out, when she got to the counter at the post office to mail it, she found that it would be cheaper over the next year to mail letters than to make overseas phone calls.  Iva was glad this was the best way to stay in touch.  It was refreshing to her to hear his voice through his writing, making her feel more connected in a tangible way and it give her a warmth, to know that he was taking the time out of his day to think about her, with something she could keep on her.

When Iva came back from lunch, she could see Don and Gwen talking by her desk.

“Hello Ms. Finder.  I told Mr. Cliff last night about your and Breck’s good news.”  Gwen said, smiling at her, while patting Don on the arm.

“Mr. Cliff.  I don’t know what to say.”  Iva said, looking at him stone faced, not certain what his reaction was.

“Ms. Finder, I’m very pleased.  He’s a good man.  You will be moving there and leaving us to fend for ourselves, I suppose.”  He said with a smile.

“Probably, and I’m sorry to put you in a predicament.”

“No, don’t be.  We do have a year to find another and get them trained in your duties, don’t think anything about it, people get married.  You’ve been a terrific employee.”  Don said, shaking Iva’s hand.

Iva could hear Gwen’s influence in his words, making it easier to believe that he was genuinely happy that he would have to find her replacement, “Thank you both.”

“We do appreciate that you’ve not let all this interfere with work, that’s very dedicated of you.”  Don said, walking into his office.

“You’re welcome Mr. Cliff and it won’t, even until the day I leave.”  Iva said, reassuring him.

“Thank you.”  He said, closing his door.

“You see, Ms. Finder.  I knew if there was time between, when you came back and the time I told him, his reaction would be much better.”  Gwen said, putting her arm around Iva’s shoulder.

“Thank you Mrs. Cliff.”  Iva said with disbelief of her good fortune in the employers she wound up with.

“You’re very welcome.  Well, let’s finish for the day so we don’t change his mood.”  Gwen said as she went into her office.

They worked together until four thirty.  Iva said good night as they continued working until five o’clock, their usual closing time.

It was already the end of September.  The time went by on some days and dragged on others.

The phone rang just as Iva was about to leave work for the weekend.

“Iva.  Come over after work please.”  Bruce said.

“Is everything alright Bruce?”  She asked with surprise, since he rarely called her at work.

“Everything’s fine.  Just stop in, on your way home, would you?”  Her older brother insisted.

“Okay.  I’m leaving now.  I’ll see you about five.”

“I’ll see you then Iva.  Goodbye.”

When she got to his house, his front door was open, so she pulled open the screen door, “Bruce, I’m here.”

He called out to her from the backyard, “I’m back here, Iva.”

Her curiosity was up.

“Sit down, please.”

Iva did what he asked as she watched him cleaning his golf clubs.

He liked the Fortt’s as much as Andy’s family, after having had multiple conversations with them over the past few months.  They had the same metronome pace that their grandma Iva instilled in them, which was neither fast nor slow, or, the chaotic rush of going way up, only to fall back down even more rapidly, that their parent’s had exposed them to.

“I understand that you and Breck have seriously set a date and place.”

“Yes, September third, here.”

“I want to let you know that, just as for Case and Andy, you are to send me the bills for the wedding as a wedding present.”

She was stunned.  Her eyes welled up with tears, “Bruce, I don’t know what to say.”

“It’s not a girl’s fault if their parent’s don’t have the means to give them a wedding, but I can and want too.”  He said with a smile.

“I don’t want you to have to use your money, you should save it.”

“Don’t worry about me.  But the exceptions I have are; that you buy your own dress, because I know nothing about those things and wouldn’t even try, and don’t over spend, only get the necessities.”

“No, I won’t Bruce, thank you.  I love you very much, even if you don’t do this.”  Iva said, getting up and putting her arms around his neck.

“I know that’s why I’m doing it, and I’m glad I have the ability to.”  Bruce added, as he patted her arm, “Go home now, I’ve got things to do.”

He led her to the front door.

Iva didn’t want to embarrass him more than he already was, “You’re a wonderful brother Bruce, really.”

 “Go now, I’ll see you later.”  Bruce answered, turning his head so she wouldn’t see him tearing up.

She went home astonished by her brother’s gift and wanted to somehow ensure his happiness but knew it was in his hands and that of the almighty.  He’d been generous throughout the years, but this was more than a brother should take on, she thought.  Iva went to bed less concerned about the expense of the wedding and slept peacefully.

The sun went up through the trees, giving off a twinkling effect on her window, when she got up.  She’d promised to go to the park with her niece in the afternoon and began to get her errands done early, so she wouldn’t be late.

Iva picked up her purse to leave when her phone rang.

“Hello.”

“Good morning Iva.  It’s Oswald, here.  How are you?”  He said, whispering.

“Hello Oswald, I’m fine and yourself?”

“Just great, I’ve got news for you.  Are you sitting?”  Oswald continued, hardly audible.

She sat at her table, surprised that it was he that was calling, “Yes, Oswald.  Is anything wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong.  I’ve been trying to find other mysteries for us to solve when you come back.”

He said, trying not to laugh.

She didn’t think that could be the real reason for the call but went along with it declaring, “Oswald, this isn’t something I want to pursue, and thought that I said that I didn’t want to do it again?”

“Only on occasion Iva, we won’t make a habit of it and besides…”  Her future brother in law pled then he paused.

“What is it?”  Iva asked.

“I’ve been caught trying to finagle you.  He’s made me swear to not make you feel as if you’re obliged to join me in the quest.  Help me.  He looms over me like mum, herself!”  Oswald shrieked.

She let out a big bellow of air, shaking her head amused, “Oswald.”

“No Iva.  It’s me, Breck.  Oswald’s unable to talk to you any longer.  He’s going to be persuaded to leave you out of his fancy for the macabre, once we’re off the phone.  Unless, you want to participate, that is?”

“His interest in solving things is entertaining and an interesting way for someone to spend their spare time.  But, it’s not for me.”  Iva said emphatically.

“It definitely is and it’s good to hear that you’re not a willing contributor.”

She could hear Oswald laughing in the background saying, “No, no, get off, I was only asking.”

“That’s no excuse.  I’ll think of something that puts Evelyn in a position she’ll not be able to back out and take her time away from you.”  He replied, earnestly.

“No, you can’t, she’ll perform grotesque medical experiments on me.  Alright, I won’t bring up dead people again.”

“Now back to you, Iva.  All is well, I hope?”  He asked as he got off Oswald to talk to her.

“Everything’s fine here.  I miss being with all of you, sometimes even Oswald.”

“I asked him to ring you, wanting to find out the exact date in September that you want me to show up for our wedding?  The folks are looking forward to it.  We won’t be able to bring Oswald unfortunately, if he continues to be a pest.”

“September third, if that’s a good time for you?”  Iva asked, not knowing what work or family obligations they had.

He thumbed through the office calendar, “I can’t think of anywhere I would rather be, Iva.  We’ve been busy and will be for the next few months.  If you don’t hear from me, consider me on my way.  We’ll schedule our New York and West Virginia trip for August twenty second and we’ll be there by the twenty fifth.  That will give us over a week of holiday before the wedding.  Until then, rest assured, you’re the only woman who would have me after meeting Oswald.”

“That’s something I hadn’t thought of.  I need a minute to think about it.”

“If you rethink your answer, I’ll pack him off to somewhere far, with only porridge for food.”

“You’re making it more enticing, can I have a minute to consider that, too?”

“I miss you and can’t wait to see you.”  He said, quietly.

Iva got excited, “It’s the same for me.  I’ll start making wedding plans.”

She stopped herself, hesitant to continue, unaware of what type of weddings his parent’s were used to seeing, whether they were grandiose, extravagant affairs or simple, intimate ones.

“Whatever you need, just call.  If it’s possible, you’ll have it.  Please set up a budget and email it to me.  And do let me know whether or not to bring my swim pants for the ceremony, if we’re to be wed on the beach.”

She heard the smile in his voice, “That sounds fun but it’s not something I would want, Breck.  Thank you for your support, though.  I don’t want to disappoint your parent’s because it will be very simple.”

“I hope you’ve been with them enough to know that they won’t be disappointed in anything you put together.”

“You’re right, they’re kind.  Oh, there’s a surprise I have to share with you.”  Iva said as she worked up the nerve to hint at the size of the guest list they could expect.

“What is it, Iva?”

“Bruce has offered to pay for the wedding as a present.  That’s why I don’t want it to be too elaborate.”

“That’s generous of him.  I’ll thank him when I get there, and for our friends who can’t make it,  there will be a gathering here, after our honeymoon.”  Breck said.

“What a wonderful idea.  I don’t want to but I’ve got to hang up now, Breck.”

His throat closed, he couldn’t say goodbye yet.

“Breck, I love you and think of you all the time, goodbye.”  She said softly, her heart filling with sadness.

“Goodnight is what I’ll say, Iva.”  Breck said, impassioned as he put down the phone.

Weeks passed and then months.  Iva, her friends and family did all their planned sightseeing across America.  They did inexpensive hops, using their vacation days to go to Florida, Montana, Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities.  They shared memories to take and keep with them for their time apart.  She sent the Fortt’s pictures of them at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, the wilderness of Montana, the beaches they went to in Florida and the city lights of Chicago.

“Iva, may I see you, please?”  Gwen asked when she opened her office door.

She got up and went toward her, “Yes, Gwen.”

“Please have a seat and tell me, have you decided on a place and time?”  She asked with interest.

“Yes.  It will be here September third.  Breck mentioned that they will be making a business trip on the east coast, before getting here.”

“Good, that will work out well.  I’ll make arrangements for their arrival and get the details from Graham.”  Gwen said.

“Thank you Gwen”

It was the end of April.  While the days passed, Iva kept her mind focused on her work, only becoming distracted with the wedding preparations when around her family and friends.  It was over a year since Terry and Josh were deployed to Afghanistan, everyone hoped that they’d be able to make it home, but Terry said that neither of them could or would give any guarantee.  Iva did her best to keep cheerful when speaking to him, especially when it came to the wedding plans, hiding her disappointment about him possibly not being there and assuring him that there would be enough photographs and video to make them feel like they had been.

The month of May came in gently with cool weather but the last Friday of the month crept up too fast for Iva, Terry and Josh would be graduating college and enlisting by the end of June.  Every thought of it brought tears to her, her sister, grandma’s and Gwen’s eyes.

Chapter 19

Iva walked in the door of her apartment, setting her things down, when the phone rang.

She answered even though she was tired from the long day at work, “Hello.”

“Hello, Iva.  It’s Evelyn.”

“Evelyn, what a surprise, I haven’t spoken to you for such a long time.  Even though it’s been a year, I want to thank you for calling me during the wedding.   It sounded like you had a wonderful day.”

“You’re welcome.  We did have fun.  I can’t get anything out of Breck, so you must tell me whether you’ve decided when and where to have the wedding?”  Evelyn asked with suspense.

“Yes, it will be here in California on September third.”  Iva said laughing, suspecting what her reaction would be.

“Oswald, we’re going to California in September.  I can’t believe it, my first time.”   She said with delight in her voice.

Iva could hear Oswald saying in the background, “I knew that Evelyn.  Actually, it will still be August when we get to America.”

“You didn’t tell me.  How could you keep it from me?  I won’t pay any attention to you while we’re there.”

He shrugged, “Because of this reaction, that’s why.”

“I can’t wait to see you and show you around.”  Iva replied, trying to get a word in, through Evelyn’s laughter.

She returned her thoughts back to the phone call, “Yes, I can’t wait, Iva.  I’m happy for the both of you. We’ll have a fantastic time.”

“Thank you Evelyn and we’ll have a great time.”  Iva said, pleased to have been one to inform her of the plans.

“I can’t wait.  I’ve got to run, but we’ll talk another day, Iva.  I love you, goodbye.”  Evelyn said, still distracted by Oswald.

“I love you too, goodbye, Evelyn.”  Iva said to what she thought was a dead phone.

As she hung up, another call came in, “Hello.”

“Hello Iva.  Do you have a list of everything you need to have booked and ordered?  If not, then make one.  It’s June already and has to be done by the middle of this month, along with the invitations sent out.  Get a guest list from Breck as soon as you can.”  Case said, hurriedly, not stopping for breath.

Now that she knew Bruce paid for Case’s wedding, Iva felt fine about telling her sister she was getting the same gift, “Okay, but I want to keep it to a minimum, because Bruce said he’ll be paying for it.”

“Of course we will.  We can’t bring him to poverty.”

“I’ll start looking around and let you know what I find.  Would you be my matron of honor, Case?”  Iva asked.

“I’d love too.”

“There’ll be no bride’s maids though.  It will be easier if it’s just me and you.  I don’t want anyone who couldn’t make it to feel bad.”

“Iva, it’s going to be whatever you say.  We can go over the colors you decide on, later this week.   I’ll talk to you in a couple of days, goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Case.”

Iva was relieved as she hung up, glad to have the cost conversation taken care of, with everyone who needed to know.  No big extravagance, it wasn’t the time for one plus she’d changed her perception over the years, that complicated, expensive ordeals just because of their cost, didn’t necessarily make them better.

It was Saturday.  Iva knew she’d better call Millie before the overseas rates changed.

“Hello Millie, this is Iva.”

“Iva dear, hello, how are you?  And how are the plans coming?”   Millie asked with interest.

“The arrangements are going fine.  How are you and Graham?”  She replied, equally as interested.

“We’re getting very excited to be with all of you in California.  It’s getting hard to keep it off my mind, so I can concentrate on things that I need to do.”

“Yes.  So am I.”

“Millie would you be kind enough to make a guest list with Breck and have him email it to me as soon as possible?  The invitations are done and ready to be mailed.”

“Yes, it will be done tomorrow.  He’ll send it to you, immediately.  Is there anything else I can do to help you, Iva?”

Her anxiety heightened over the topic that had to be brought up, “There is something I did want to talk to you about.”

“Anything, dear, what is it?”  Millie asked, anxious to assist.

“It’s about my parents.  I wanted to let you know that they won’t be attending.  There will be only my uncle James, siblings, grandmother and any other relatives that can make it.  I’d rather not go into detail over the phone, but on some sunny afternoon while we dig in your garden, I’ll bring it up.  It’s nothing of a problem but just better this way.”  Iva said, trying to stay composed.

Millie knew Iva wasn’t aware that she’d been told of the situation by Gwen, “Iva.  We love you and whatever you’re comfortable with, we will be as well.   And, you can talk to me whenever you want.”

She sighed, appreciative of her future mother in laws consideration over her vagueness, “Thank you Millie.”

“You’re welcome.  If we don’t get a chance to talk before the end of July, I will see you in September.”

“Yes, I’ll see you then, Millie.  Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”

Iva got the email from Breck.  There were fifteen people who were able to attend.  She gave it to Gwen, who insisted on helping with the logistics of the visitors.  Gwen called the hotel not far from them and booked rooms for everyone, Breck, Oswald, Evelyn and their friends, but not for those who were staying with her and Don; Graham, Millie, Lane, Angela, Andre and their children.   After they’d discussed the details, Iva went back to work.

It was the end of June.  She’d ordered the cake, Case helped with the invitations, the reception hall was reserved, the church and minister and the flowers were done.  All of it kept the women’s minds off their younger brother and friend’s leaving for Afghanistan and the anguish they felt for their safety.

Early on in February, she and Breck did the required formalities and logistics needed to marrying someone and living in another country, each from their own end.  The week they arrived would be enough time to get the marriage license.  June was hectic, picking out her grandma and Case’s dresses and then for any fittings that were needed.

Iva looked at herself with her white dress on, “It’s starting to get closer Case.  I don’t feel scared or nervous.  It feels right.”

“That’s good Iva you shouldn’t have misgivings at this point.”  Case said seriously.

Iva got home happy to see her apartment.  She would miss it and the many good memories surfaced as she surveyed her furniture.  She had a great deal to do still but needed a good night sleep, she got comfortable on her bed and drifted off.

Between the preparations, work and everyday errands, the month of July sped by.

“It’s a week until the trip, Graham.  Do we have everything?”  Millie asked, darting about the room.

“Yes my dear, you’ve checked with me for the last three days.  We have everything.”  Graham answered, as she ran past him, going from room to room.  His chair was the only safe place he’d had the entire week.  If she thought he’d get in her way, she’d have lost her mind, he thought to himself.

Evelyn insisted Oswald call his brother about his readiness, “Hello, Breck.”

“Yes, Oswald.  What does Evelyn want you to talk to me about?”  He asked, putting the last of his things in his suitcase.

He smiled, watching as his bride tried to pack their lives into a small case, “My lovely wife wants to know if there’s anything you need before we head off to the airport?”

“No, I’ve got everything.  Just, don’t forget me before you leave.”

“Oh, let me write that down.”  Oswald said, comically.  His words made Evelyn stop to look at him as he added, “I won’t forget.  See you later.”

He thought it funny that she looked at him concerned.

“Well, what does he need?”

Oswald got up, put his arms around her and whispered in her ear, “His request is, for us not to forget him here.”

“Both of you really need to be somewhere that has bars and guards to watch over you.”

“We can’t, our daddy needs us.”  Oswald said, looking at her, pleased that she would have to find another way to punish him.

Their departure time came.  Graham called into the house as he stood at the door, “The plane will leave without us Breck if you’re not out soon.”

He got his bags, meeting Graham and Millie at the bottom of the stairs.

“Are you ready son?”  His father asked.

“I believe so.”  He answered as he patted his pockets.

Graham locked the front door.  They picked up Oswald and Evelyn then the five of them drove to Lane’s house to get her.

She got in their car with the excitement of a young woman, stating for what was an innumerable time to Millie, “This is thrilling.  We’ll all be in New York tomorrow and California in the week.”

“Yes Lane, we will.”  Her sister answered patiently.

“They’d better have alcohol on the plane.  I’ve never been over the Atlantic and won’t do it sober.”  Lane said.

“Dear it’s really nothing to worry about.”  Millie said, taking a hold of her hand.

Oswald and Breck grinned at each other.  Evelyn winced with what they were up to and ignored what was said, when Breck whispered to him, “When an opportunity arises such as this has, one is obligated to take it.”

“I’m with you as long as it’s nothing that will get us thrown off the plane.  Evelyn would dissect me.” Oswald insisted.

“Try not to worry so much, I’m the groom, I have to get there.”

They arrived at Heathrow two hours early.

“Aunt Lane, there’s a pub where you might be able to find a drink.”  Breck suggested, whispering in her ear, so his mother couldn’t hear.

Lane looked at him, pleased that her nephew’s had sympathy for her, “That’s good Breck.  We’ll go.”

“Millie.  We’ve so much time to wait.  I thought I might take the boys for a walk, so they’d burn off some of their energy.”

“We’ll be right over here when you get back.”  Millie said, pointing to the seats with all their carry-on bags.

“We won’t be long, dear.  Evelyn, are you coming with us?”  Lane asked.

There was no way she wanted to be thrust into what was going to happen, “No thank you, Aunt Lane.  I’ll stay right here with Millie.”

Lane looked back as she began to walk briskly, leading her nephews away from their parents.  Graham looked up from his reading and smiled, knowing instinctively what the boys had in mind.

Once there, Oswald casually put his arm over her shoulder, “Auntie Lane.  Have a seat, won’t you?  What would you like?”

“Nothing to strong, I have to keep my mind clear and want to stay awake for the flight.”

“Something mild, of course, I’ll be right back.”  He agreed, then left the table and headed toward the bar.

“I’ll have a gin and tonic for the lady.  It’s her first time overseas.  No, you’d better make it a double.”

The bartender grinned, knowing what was to become of her, “Yes sir.”

Oswald returned, putting the glass in front of her, “Here you are, Aunt Lane.”

She picked it up, drinking a quarter of it in one gulp.  Her face became flush with color as she set the glass down, “Warms the spirit, doesn’t it?”

Breck pushed it toward her, “Drink up Aunt Lane, you’ll be relaxed the entire trip.”

“Holiday’s should be that way, shouldn’t they?”  His Aunt said cheerfully, picking up the glass and taking another big swig.

Just before she emptied her glass she wondered, “Are you boys having any?  I know you don’t partake, but it would steady your nerves.”

“No, not us, we want you to have the good time.”  Breck said, watching her intently and marveling at the speed with which she drank.

“That is so very sweet of you, Oswald.”  Lane said, talking to Breck.

He hid his laughter, “Thank you, Aunt Lane.”

“You know.”  She said to Oswald, grabbing a hold of his shirt sleeve, “Your parents worry far too much about people when they’re with you.  Both of you are the sweetest, most darling boys.”

The two men couldn’t stop themselves from laughing, quietly.

“Glad you think so, Aunt Lane.”  Oswald replied as he tried to release her hold.  Her pulling his shirt down was choking him.

Breck, with his side hurting from laughing at the sight of Oswald’s red neck, thought it time to get her back, to wait with the others, “Aunt Lane, drink up.  I think I hear mother calling.”

“Oh, we mustn’t be late.”  Lane declared, taking the last bit in her glass and then making a heroic attempt at getting up, but swaying into her chair instead.

            He looked behind her back at Oswald, “How much trouble do you think we’re really in?”

“Enough, I’m sure, to have to swim back home.”  Oswald replied, laughing quietly as they led her back.

“Lane, are you alright?”  Millie asked as she and Evelyn stood and tried to help keep her steady.  She looked at Oswald and Breck, mouthing something they couldn’t understand, but knew it was probably a motherly threat.

“Come with me, Lane.  We’re boarding.”  Graham said to his wife’s older sister as he winked at his sons.  He put his arm around his very drunk sister in law, leading her onto the plane.

“When we get home you two…”  Millie said, stopping them as she considered how to finish.  And then, continued with a slight smile, “I’ll bake something special for you, for having put her out for most of the trip.”

They looked surprised at her and then each other.

Breck was relieved, glad not to be doomed before his wedding night, “Our pleasure mother, anytime.”

“I didn’t guess she’d be such a sport about it” Oswald said, whispering to his brother with a shrug.

The plane lifted off.  Lane, for all but the take off, was passed out and only woke up mid flight, but they managed to contain her for the duration.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re approaching New York, please prepare for landing.”  The voice on the intercom said.

“When we arrived, we’ll go to the hotel first then have a walk after to clear your aunt’s head.  Remember not to unpack; we’ll be leaving first thing in the morning for West Virginia.”  Graham said to his family.

Breck smiled at his aunt, “It is great news that Trevor will be able to join us in California, Aunt Lane.”

“Yes, it wasn’t terribly difficult to arrange, he said.  He’d postponed his leave for last year and now with his leave this year, he’ll join us on Thursday and wait at the terminal until we arrive.”

“What time do we leave West Virginia on Thursday and arrive in California, dad?”  Oswald asked.

“At nine a.m., landing at six a.m. California time.  Don and Gwen have arranged for transportation to be there, before the traffic begins.”  Graham answered, pleased how the trip was going off without complications.

“Excellent.  This should go over smoother than Iva’s trip was.  There are no volcano’s in America, I believe.”  Oswald said.

“No, there’s not.  Wait, I correct myself.  There is one in the state of Washington, Mt. St. Helens, which did erupt in the nineteen eighties I believe, but that’s not in our flight path.”  Graham replied.

“That’s a blessing.  It’s imperative Breck make his wedding.”  Millie said.

Breck laughed, “It is indeed.  Iva and I would be upset with the Volcano’s on the planet.”

“Yes, I guess you two would be, too.”  Millie agreed.

“What do you mean mum?   Too!  Are you anxious to get rid of me?”  He asked.

“That’s not what I said!  It’s simply that your father and I have things we’d like to do.  Not that you’ve been holding us back, but…”  Millie stated as a matter of fact.

Oswald was surprised by their secrets, “Mother, you’ve lost your love for us?”

“We’ll drop the subject.  Let’s enjoy our time together in the West Virginia and California.”  She said, avoiding further release of any of her and Graham’s future plans.

Graham disregarded their conversation and remained on volcano’s adding, “Yes, I believe it was the eighties.  You know I’ve often wondered if after an event like the eruption of Krakatoa or St. Helens with or an earthquake for the matter, whether the earth moves slightly off its axis.  And if it does, then what does it do to the weather?”

“Graham, it’s wonderful the way you consider so many things, but right now is not an opportune time, don’t you think?”  Millie said, patting his hand.

“Perhaps not, but it does…, never mind.  I shall investigate when we return home.”

“Do that dear and we will all be interested in what you find out.”

After landing and going to the hotel, they had just enough time to get in their walk before retiring for

the night.

The following morning, the six travelers got their car rental, heading south in the direction of Charlottesville.  They arrived Monday afternoon, checked into their hotel, Graham called the manufacturer he was to meet with the next day then immediately went to dinner, to call it an early night, jet lag showing on their faces.

Evelyn, Oswald and Breck rose early as usual, got dressed for the day, meeting Graham, Millie and Lane for breakfast before the men set out to go to their scheduled appointments.

Graham and his sons were gone three hours when he called the hotel at noon, not having made luncheon plans with his wife, but she didn’t answer.  He assumed they were out or in Lane’s room, so he didn’t try again, knowing the women would manage to find something in the area to eat or have room service.

“Dad, it’s been two hours since you tried mum, its one forty five, should you give her a call and let her know we’ll be there in an hour?”  Oswald asked.

“Good idea, they might wonder how we’ve done?”

“Ray, may I use your telephone, once more?”  He asked his business associate.

“Yes, help yourself, Graham.”  The elderly man replied with a smile.

As Graham picked up the handset there was a jolt from beneath his feet.  The building began to shake and the sound of rumbling, glass and ceramics breaking, filled the room.

Oswald grabbed his father’s arm as Breck grabbed Ray’s, yelling to Ray’s employees, “Come, get down under those wood tables, it’s an earthquake.”

“I’ve got him.”  Breck said as he also signaled to the employees to find cover without hesitation and then took the elderly man under his arm, holding him steady as they made their way behind Oswald and Graham toward the support beams of the narrow hallway.  The two young men braced themselves against the older men and the hall beams as the building shook violently.  Ray’s inventory flew off the shelves.  They rode out the earth’s violent vibrations in utter surprise.

“I can’t recall the last earthquake we’ve had.”  Ray insisted, in dismay.

The Fortt’s looked at him with reassurance that they knew it wasn’t his fault but another kind of fault.

“Are you alright Ray?  Is anyone injured?”  Graham asked with concern for the older man’s and his hiding employees, health.

The group of four employees said no in unison, as they stood up.

“I’m fine Graham.  I should ask you the same.  Are any of you hurt?”  The man replied, equally concerned as his eyes examined his visitors, then his store with china, crystal and pottery strewn across the floor in large and small pieces.

“We’re fine, but we should see if anyone in the area might need assistance?  Graham offered.

“Yes, there might be folks in trouble.”  Ray agreed.

Breck turned to his brother, “Oswald, try to call mum, Lane and Evelyn.  See how they are.”

Oswald’s cell phone service was overloaded with calls and got no answer.  He tried the landline telephone for a dial tone, but there wasn’t one.  He became deeply worried about how the three women he cherished were fairing.

“Dad, give me a minute, please?”  Oswald whispered, going behind his shoulder.

Graham helped Breck get their friend, their comrade, for now that’s how they thought of him after going through this together, out the front door with his employees to the street.

“Yes, Oswald.”  Graham said as Breck listened.

“My cell phone’s not putting calls through yet and the telephone’s out of service.  There’s no way to know how mum, Lane and Evelyn have done.”  Oswald said carefully, not wanting to panic him.

“That’s to be expected.  Breck, you take the car and make your way back to the hotel, stay there until you find them.”  Their dad directed.

“Right sir, I’ll get them and bring them here.”  He replied.

“Take Oswald with you, you may need help.  We’ll manage.”  Ray insisted, pointing at his reliable employees that they would be alright.

The two young men ran to the car, while the other’s walked the area.

The drive to the hotel was excruciating for them, they were quiet, not wanting to distract each other’s thoughts.  Their minds raced with questions about the condition of their mother, aunt and Evelyn.  Breck pulled into the parking rapidly.  The car hardly stopped when they jumped out and ran into the lobby.

Oswald spotted the shaking woman behind the desk, “Are you alright?”

“Yes sir, are you?”  The twenty-something year old woman replied.

“We’re fine.  Have you seen the three women we’ve been with?”  Breck asked the distressed desk clerk, who was crying.

“No sir, I haven’t.”

“I’ll stay with her, in case there’s another.”  Breck said to his brother, seeing how distressed she was.

“I won’t be long.”

Oswald took the stairs, rather than the elevator, suspicious of possibly being trapped in it and anxious to get to their floor.  He made it to the third floor then down the hall toward his parent and aunt’s rooms.  His fist hit Lane’s door as he called to them, and then to his, but there was no answer.  Then he reached across the corridor and banged on his mother’s.  He hoped for an answer, “Mum, are you in there?”

The door swung open, exposing the scared women.

“Thank God, you’re alright.”  Millie said, taking him in her arms.

“We’re fine, how are you three?”  Oswald asked, hugging her back to steady her nerves.

Lane embraced him when Millie let go, “There are things thrown about, but otherwise, we’re alright.”

“We’re to go back to dad and Ray, so get your things straight away, before there’s another,”  He commanded.

The ladies grabbed their coats and purses, following him down the hall to the stairwell.  The desk clerk waited for the manager, hoping he was on his way to dismissed her for the day, so she could go home and check on her family.

Breck greeted them but made no small talk, now wasn’t the time, turning to the young woman, “You

take care of yourself, Miss.  Go under the counter if there’s another, to avoid flying objects.”

She looked at him gratefully, “I will sir, thank you.”

“Good.  We’ll be back and if you see a policeman, try to flag them down so they know you’re here.”  Breck said, smiling at her for comfort.

They made their way back to where they’d left their father.

Ray thanked his employees for their assistance and told them to go check on their own families, who would be worried about them.  His sons, wife and grandsons arrived to help clean up as much as they could.  The Fortt’s stayed to help.  Ray and his wife Emily insisted they eat dinner at their home, feeling terrible that, what was to be a cordial business deal, ended with a less than peaceful farewell.

Iva heard about the earthquake on the news when she got home.  She picked up the phone, needing to hear the comforting voice of her grandma.

The news reports were going over the information they had so far, when Iva senior’s telephone rang. She reached over, picking it up slowly, “Hello.”

“Hello grandma.  Have you heard anything yet, from great aunt Marleen or anyone else?  I think Case or I should come over and keep you company.”  Iva asked with the same concern she had for the Fortt’s.

“No, it’s alright now, Iva.  Marleen called right after you did.  They’re all fine.  Some damage was done, but not as much as in other areas.  How are your young man and his family?”  The elderly woman asked with anxiety.

“I don’t know anything yet but I’m glad that the family’s alright.  I’ll call Gwen and see if she’s heard from them.”  Iva said.

“Yes dear and send them my best wishes when you hear from them.”  Iva senior said.

“I will, thank you grandma.  I’ll call back soon, Goodbye.”

“Yes, please do. Goodbye.”

Iva dialed the Cliff’s house.

Her boss answered, fatigued by having a long day at work, “Hello.”

“Hello Gwen, it’s me, Iva.”

“Hello Iva.  I know what you’re going to ask, and yes, I’ve heard about the earthquake and I’ve had a call from the Fortt’s.  They are all fine.”  She said, joyously.

“Thank goodness.  I couldn’t believe it when I heard.”

“It’s unbelievable that’s for sure.  It must have scared everyone on the east coast out of their wits.  People worry about us here, but I guess anything can happen at any time and definitely anywhere.”

“Is everything on schedule still or will they be held up in West Virginia?”  Iva asked with trepidation over the answer, fearing postponing the wedding or even worse, cancelling it.

“I’ve checked with the airlines and flights won’t be cancelled when they leave in a few days, as far as they know as of today, so don’t you worry about it unless that changes.”  Gwen said, reassuring her.

“Thank you Gwen, I won’t.  And also, did you need my car to pick anyone up at the airport.”

“It’s all been figured out.  Let’s see. Don has Graham, Millie, Lane, Trevor and Larry in their car.  Bruce has Breck, Oswald, Evelyn, Linda and Allen in his car.   I have Christopher, Andre, Angela and their children with me.  I’ll let you know if there’s anything you can help with.”  Gwen said reading down her list.

“Thank you Gwen.”  Iva said, gratefully.

As the sun went up on Wednesday, Breck looked out his room window.  There was no indication of what to expect for this day, possibly another aftershock, they’d had them throughout the day and night.  The manufacturers they were to meet, called Graham after some time of not having phone service, telling him they would have to postpone, due to inventory damage.  Their only recourse was to stay in the hotel.  They had the day free but couldn’t think of anything to do other than cards, not knowing what the earth would do.

“It’s one thing to hear about an earthquake, but to feel one is indescribable.  Even though this wasn’t on the scale of Haiti or Japan, it was awakening.”  Oswald said, turning to Breck as they sat in the lobby, the others having gone up to their rooms after they finished dinner.

“The mind wanders when it comes to what is possible from the earth.  I admit I’ve lived on the edge, not fearing what’s happening at home, or how much they actually worried about how safe I was, but, I have more understanding for them now.  I mean, I’ve not worried about the folks before.  But today, all I could think of was that they needed my help and could possibly be injured.”  Breck added.

“No, I hadn’t thought about it myself, until today.”  Oswald agreed as they prepared to go up to their rooms.

“We’ll get better insight into what it’s like living in an earthquake area when we get to the Cliff’s, I’m sure.”  His brother said.

The two brothers got in the elevator then said goodnight as they parted into their separate rooms.

It came as a surprise to the Fortt’s that their flight was leaving as scheduled.  They woke up early, headed for the airport with enthusiasm.  Graham felt arranging an early departure would ensure they would have enough rest by Friday.

When they arrived at the airport in California, they relaxed.  They were met by Trevor, Angela, Andre and the children, along with their invited guests, creating a large gathering outside the terminal.

Don’s familiar car pulled up to the curb, behind him was Bruce and Gwen in theirs.  The luggage and its owners were put in their assigned car.

Bruce asked Breck to sit up front with him.  He drove with Gwen behind him to the hotel where they were staying.

            Don signaled to his wife and Bruce that he was departing with his passengers.

After having driven from the airport, the hotel came into view, Gwen and Bruce drove up, deposited Breck, Oswald, Evelyn and their guests then left once the group had their bags checked in.  In making the plans, the visitors agreed it would be best to have a quiet evening in their rooms, since Gwen had arranged for all of them to be in her backyard, the following day, Friday, for the entire afternoon to visit and become acquainted.

            Iva, having had the prior day alone to get things done, even though she’d not heard anything Breck, stayed calm for the Fortt’s arrival.  She’d prayed that night for no earthquake’s during their stay.

            The next morning, she got up and wanted to check in with her employer.

            “Good morning, Gwen.”  Iva said, cautiously, noting how early it was, but unable to contain herself.

            Good morning Iva.  They’ve all made it here fine and you’ll be here at noon, right?”  Gwen asked.

            “That’s good, yes I’ll be there.”  Iva replied.

            “We’ll see you then.  Please don’t worry, everything will be fine.”  Gwen said, recalling the anxiousness she had, days before her wedding.

            Iva got teary eyed as she thought of her boss being as helpful to her, as her mother should have been, “I’ll try not to.  Thank you Gwen for all your understanding and help.”

“You’re very welcome.”

            Oswald, Evelyn, Breck and their friends met in the hotel lobby for breakfast by seven.

            “It’s fantastic weather for September.  Aye, Oswald.”  His brother said as he led the way out to the parking lot, after they ate.  Bruce and Andy were waiting to give them a ride over to Don and Gwen’s.

            “The uninterrupted sleep wasn’t bad either.”  Oswald answered, turning away from him to get into Andy’s car.

            Excitement reverberated through Iva as she ran around her bedroom getting dressed.  All her belongings were gone, to either Case, her friends, ready for shipping or sold, since she wouldn’t be able to take everything with her.  She had to be out on the thirty first, but was able to pay for a week and a half because the lady, who owned the house below, liked her.  Her bed, clock, luggage and some loose clothes were left.  Iva put on her skirt, her blouse and shoes then grabbed her purse and keys and went down the stairs.  Iva wanted to stop by to see her friends Rick and Lisa before going to Gwen and Don’s.  She raced to get over there.  When she arrived, she knocked.

            Lisa opened the door, “Hey Iva, are you getting excited yet?”

            “Yes, the closer it gets.”  Iva said, smiling at her then continued, “Where’s Rick?”

            “He’s in the living room.”  She said, smiling back at her childhood friend.

            Iva went through to find him.

            “Rick, have you got everything ready?”  Iva asked as she ran in, finding him sprawled out on the sofa.

            “It’s all set.”  He answered as he stood up, kissing her on the cheek.

            “You should have been better to me in High School Rick.”  Iva said with a laugh, as she backed away, tapping his arm.

            “You shouldn’t have let me take him away from you, Iva.  He’s been terrific ever since.”  Lisa said, joining them in the room, putting her arms around him.

            “I was great to you, Iva.  We weren’t right for each other.  And you got a great deal that year Lisa, she would’ve ruined me.”  Rick said with a smile, hugging her and kissed her cheek.

            “I would have, Rick, along with all your virtues.”  Iva said.

            “We’ll see you tomorrow, if you show, that is.  You just might change your mind and need to have me back.”  He added.

            “Everyone’s making it hard for me to leave.  And I love you both, you know.  See you next Saturday.” She said as she gave him a hug then turned away as Lisa walked with her out of the house.

            “Call me if you and Case need anything.”  Lisa insisted, hugging her.

            “We will Lisa, thank you.”  Iva said, returning the affection.

            “Get out of here now, go see your fiancé.”  Lisa said as she started waving her hand to shoo Iva away.

            “I’ll see you later.”  She said with a smile.

            Iva got back into her car wiping away tears as she closed the door.

            When she got to Gwen and Don’s, she didn’t see any cars she recognized.  She rang the doorbell.

            She heard Gwen’s voice come from the backyard, “Back here, Iva.”

            She went through the wooden gate, looking around the yard.  No one was there except Gwen.

            “Where is everybody?”  Iva asked, looking around baffled.

            “They’ve all said they have things to do.”  Gwen answered as she put a tissue against her cheek and blew her nose.

            “There’s no way that Case, Bruce or my grandma, couldn’t make it.”  Iva said, alarmed.

            “Look how much trouble I’ve went too.”  Her boss said, her hair covering her face as she began crying.

            “Oh, I’m sorry for both of us.”  Iva said as she sat next to her, herself on the brink of tears.

            They were there for a few minutes when suddenly everyone started to spill out from behind the side of the house.

            “We’ve got you.”  The group called out with exaltation.

            “You did, you really, really, did.”  She agreed, conceding defeat then embracing each one of them.

            The afternoon was warm, like a typical California September.

            Seated on one table were, Evelyn, Christopher, Linda, Angela, Andre, Case and Iva.  Then, at another were, Don, Gwen, Graham, Millie, her grandma, Uncle James, Bruce and Lane.  The other table had, Andrea, Breck, Andy, Oswald, Larry and Allen.

            Within half an hour, people were moving about the different tables, exchanging seats dependent upon the discussion.

            Oswald and Breck recounted all the things they’d done while Iva was with them.  Andrea and Iva sat huddled together listening.

            “You said you’re men of the cloth?”  Bruce repeated, laughing loudly.

            “How could you boys?”  Millie asked, with embarrassment.

            “You see, her reaction’s disproportionate to the joke.  No mum, we said we are men who wear cloth.”  Oswald said with a laugh, beaming with delight toward his mother.

            Allen sat next to her, putting his hand on hers, “It’s alright Millie.  You should get rid of those two and have me for your beloved son.”

            “Perhaps you’re right.  You’ll be far more sympathetic to me then those two.”  She said, smiling at him for his concern.

            “Well not much, but there is at least only one of me.”  He said, watching Breck and Oswald, who were hiding their faces.

Andrea squealed with each tale, turning to Iva, putting her hand into hers, whispering into her ear, “I knew something like this would happen to you Iva.  I thought it would be here or in New York or something, but at least it happened.”

            “I’m happy for you and Iva Marie, Breck.”  Iva’s uncle James said.

He was proud of both his nieces, having watched how they’d grown into strong, independent young women, ever since the day he helped move them to his mothers’ house, so many years before.  Breck joined James and Bruce at their table.

            Breck smiled, not having known that Iva’s middle name was Marie.

            “Thank you, sir.  It’s good to meet her family.”  Breck said, meeting the second in command of it.

“Tell me Bruce, where is your brother, I’ve not meet him?”  Graham asked innocently, looking across at him.  Everyone stopped their conversations.

            “He’s serving in Afghanistan, right now.”  Bruce answered.

            “You didn’t mention it, Iva.”  Graham said, looking at her queerly before she could open her mouth.

            Oswald and Breck looked between their father and Iva.  She’d not mentioned it to them either.

            “She and Case don’t like to talk about it.”  Bruce interrupted, patting Graham’s shoulder, smiling at them.

            “That’s understandable, young ladies.  Apologies for calling you out in such a manner, it’s quite a difficult thing.”  Her future father in law said, looking sympathetically at both of them.

            “I’m sorry Graham.  I meant to tell all of you and should have.  There just wasn’t a time that I felt like…”  Iva said as she stopped, not knowing how else to explain that she was extremely proud of him.  Yet, she didn’t want them to fear for her constantly while she was with them, ever since she found out what happened to Breck.

            “Nonsense, you were quite right.”  He nodded to her in recognition of the sensitivity of the matter.

            “I have offered Iva a job with us, Bruce.”  Graham said, lounging back in his chair, changing the subject, proud of his soon to be daughter in law.

            “I’ve accepted it.”  Iva said, holding Gwen’s hand.

            Graham looked at Bruce, “She’ll do just fine.”

            “I’m sure she will.”  Her brother added, looking at him in affirmation.

            Josh and Oswald sat at the table, recalling the strange situations she’d found herself in during her trips to New York and London.

            Bruce looked at her sternly when the stories about the men in the park and the alley came up.

            “They only wanted money.”  Iva said, finding herself reassuring him.

            “No more business trips on your own.”  Don said as he patted Bruce on the shoulder.

            “I wasn’t there alone, either time, technically.”  Iva said, pleading for her traveling life.

            “She’s got you there, Bruce.”  Oswald said, with a devious smile on his face.

            Bruce sat comfortably in his chair, smiling at the clowning.  Knowing, she’d been winning her case.

            “It was quite the experience to go through the earthquake on Tuesday.”  Breck said, sitting beside him.

            “But not nearly as bad as the others around the world recently.  It does have the same effect on the sense of security.”  Bruce said.

            “The earth shaking in that way was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever experienced.”  Lane added.

            “Yes, wasn’t it?”  Millie agreed.

            “Indeed.  California is susceptible to them, I believe.”  Graham said to the group.

            “It is.  We’ve not had the large one they expect, but one day it will come.”  Don said, affirmatively.

            “What will you do?  Where will you go?”  Evelyn asked with interest.

            “We’re as prepared as we can be.  It would be hard to say whether staying or leaving would be the best. That’s something that can only be determined if and when it happens.”  Bruce said.

            “We’ll keep you in our thoughts, with or without any earthquake.”  Millie said with a smile.

            “Thank you for that Millie.”  Gwen said, taking her hand.

            Graham sat considering it and how it would affect the globes axis but didn’t bring it up, with his wife in view.

            “Iva’s told me all about the party where she had to guess who she thought Jack the ripper was, Breck.  I think you might try your hand at Lizzy Borden, if you like mysteries.”  Bruce said, grinning at Oswald.

            “Who is that?”  He asked, looking back at him with interest.

            “Case, how does the rhyme go?”  Bruce called out to her.

            “Which one do you mean, Bruce?”  His sister replied.

            “You know.  The one the children of that time created about Lizzy Borden.”

She tried to recite the poem from memory, “Lizzy Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks, when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty one.”

            “She was this girl who supposedly killed her parents with an axe around eighteen ninety two I think, they had a trial but she was acquitted.  She lived until the nineteen twenties.”  Bruce said, looking at him.

            “It sounds grizzly.  I’m not quite as done as Iva is, with solving mysteries.  Apparently she has more important things to think about.  But I’ll return sometime to pursue it.”  Oswald said as he headed over to Bruce.

            “I’m glad to hear it.”  Bruce said.

            “That’s a horrible topic, Bruce.”  Millie said, scolding him, appalled.

            “It is, Millie, I’m sorry.  We’ll stop talking about it.”  He said.

Chapter 20

            Graham remained interested in the state of California, “I watched the news last night.  There is a deficit

here.  How bad is it?”

            “Even the California brown bears are going into people’s yards to panhandle.”  Bruce said in jest

            The group laughed.

            “Seriously though, it is harrowing to watch as people lose their livelihoods.  Where it all ends is anyone’s guess.  We could talk about the people in positions of decision but…”  He said, stopping himself to end the heavy subject on such a special day.  He continued, wanting to give some forewarning to his future brother in law, “I’d better tell you that my brother and I taught her and Case to shoot, camp, ride horses, play cards and darts.  They are capable and very skilled opponents in all of them, along with our jokes.”

            “That’s good information Bruce.  It will be useful if we all must live off the land again.”  Oswald said, shaking Bruce’s as he got up, heading toward Evelyn.

            Bruck looked at Breck to find out if his parent’s had them treat their sister as an equal, for a rapid change back to their previous topic, “What about Angela, has she participated in your activities?”

            “I believe we have.  She’s had the benefit of our knowledge and she is as adept at them as we are.”  He answered pleased to have been questioned and recalled how he and Oswald questioned Andre about his attitude toward his sister and her capabilities, whether he found them admirable or not.  Andre came over, taking a seat with the two men.

            “In a sane and just world, women and children wouldn’t need to know how to do such things.”  Graham said towards Don’s ear as he leaned over to him.

            “Yes.  One in which they didn’t have to defend themselves, when alone.”  Don added in agreement.

            “Don you promised, none of that during their visit.”  Gwen said, leering at him.

            “You did also, Graham.”  Millie joined in.

            “Excuse me my dear, you’re right, this is a time with no concerns.”  Graham said with a smile, to make peace with his horrified wife.

            “I’m sorry Gwen, we won’t discuss anything again.”  Don agreed.

            Breck turned to speak to Bruce, wanting to break the mood that suddenly turned gray.

            “You would have greatly enjoyed the hard time Andre gave to his poor little sister’s fiancé.  The showmanship was superb.”  He said, patting Andre on the shoulder.

            “Do tell Breck.  That is, if it’s alright with you, Andre?”  Bruce asked, looking at him.

            “Yes, az you please Breeck.”  Andre said, grinning at his victory over his sister’s love.

            Bruce started laughing that Andre’s pronunciation of Breck came out Brick.

            “We went to France to meet our new in law, and as the day progressed, Andre decided it was time for the brotherly talk.”  Breck said, becoming amused at the memory of it.

            “There was his sister and her Robert, the unsuspecting victim.”

            Everyone started to laugh as they watched him become angry.

            Andre interrupted, “Victeem, bah, not zee victeem.  When I azk what zee wurk he doez, the boy produced a tambourine.  Yez a tambourine.  My eyes they cannot zee, I am zo angree.   Then the boy, he beatz the tambourine.  He beetz it not to play zee peeze to zee simfonee, no, he beetz it, like eef eet deed zee crime.  I zink, zee tambourine iz zee victeem.”

            Don could hardly speak because Andre was becoming hard to understand the madder he got, but managed to get out, “What do you mean the tambourine?”

            “No, no.   It iz not a play zing for heem, no, zis zing iz hiz life, hee tellz mee.  Hee sayz it iz hiz life! what du I du?  Can hee alzo zing, danze or play anuzer instreement, perhapz zee xylophone or zee accordeeon, No!  He doez zee tambourine and zat iz all hee doez.”

            His accent got thicker, making them laugh even harder.

            “I will not stand for zis.  You wood not, no!”  Andre shouted, waving his hands at Don.

            “No, I wouldn’t.”  Don replied trying to control himself.

“Zen he tells mee, Messieur.  Wee love eech ozer.  I weel take zee care of heer.”

“I go zee crazee eend take zee tambourine frum heem.  I zay to heem, how weel you take zee care of hur, you weel ztand on zee ztreet eend beet zis?”  Then he started tapping his ears with his fingers, continuing, “I can not hear, my eerz will not lizeen to zis.  I zay to heem, you muzt find zee work wheech likz you, becauze zee tambourine eet doez not like you.”

They couldn’t believe his outrage.

Oswald picked up in his best French accent, where Breck left off, “Andre’s response was stellar and just when we thought he’d concluded with the poor boy, he stands and says, “My zister iz evereezing to mee eend eef you eeveer dare to make heer unhappee, zee price you pay weel be far too large for you, my freend.”

            He continued as he recollected the scene, “Andre, you were magnificent.”

            Grandma Iva sat listening, pleased by what she was hearing, knowing that her granddaughter wouldn’t be alone in a foreign country.

            “I would do anyzing for my zizter.”  Andre stated emphatically.

            Breck grabbed Oswald’s arm with laughter, then continued the story, “The poor chap was so frightened and I believe there may have been tears as he held his breath.  Andre’s sister ran into the house crying with their mother right behind her.  We were glad it wasn’t directed at either of us.”

            “We were stunned by the turn of events.  Wondering whether this little twenty year old girl was going to end up a spinster with her brother running off every man she met?”  Graham said, laughing.

            Bruce knew he couldn’t have ever been that hard on Breck, but he didn’t play the tambourine.

            “It waz more zan I wanteed, but I cood do nuzing elze wheen hee tellz mee, zat eez zee work hee doez.”  Andre said, recalling the event.

            “How did it end?”  Bruce asked, engrossed in the story.

            “Andre, you made them wait another six months, isn’t that right?”  Oswald said, confirming what he’d heard from his sister.

            “Ugh, Oui.  I deed.  I zay to my zizter zat a man who weel overreactz to zuch quezchuning iz not readee for zee emotion of zee mar-ri-aage.”  Andre said, looking at his love, Angela.

            “Good call, Andre.”  Allen said, his head bent over his chair listening to every word.

“Your mother was hysterical herself, Andre.  She ran back and forth from your sister to us, as if she herself were the wounded party.”  Oswald said.

            “Zat waz zee zurprize to mee.  But, een zee end, eet waz a wize zing to happeen.”  Andre replied, putting his hand on Bruce’s shoulder.

            “It sounds like it, Andre.  And, your sister, has she forgiven you?”  Bruce asked, appreciating all the brothers in the yard.

            “Oui.  You zee, she haz zee zame regaard for mee az I for heer, een wiz time, zhe zaw I waz doing my dutee.”  Andre said, poignantly.

            “Very universal it appears.”  Don said, looking at all the other men.

            “Quite.”   Graham added.

            “We have such lovely men.”  Case said with a sigh as she gave Andy a hug, knowing he was as interested in his sister’s happiness as the rest.

            “It’s good to hear that you have Iva’s interests looked after, Bruce.  Just as Oswald and I have for Angela’s and clearly Andre has for his sister’s.”  Breck added, giving him a pat on the shoulder.

            Bruce sat satisfied, nodding at him in recognition that he was well understood.

            “Bruce, Case, will you please do Milt and Larry for everyone, Please?”  Iva pled thinking of it for its entertainment value which was needed to get into a lighter mood.

            Case looked at her severely, “I don’t know it well enough.”

            “Please Bruce you do it.  Case please.  It makes grandma, and me, laugh so much.”  She continued.

            They looked at each other, “For you, this once.”

            Brother and sister pulled their chairs away from the others, arranged them behind one of the tables and faced the spectators.

            “When I enlisted, grandma made me promise that the guys I was with and I would decompress on our leave and down time, so, this is something my friends and I came up with when we had leave during the last Olympics.  It’s a play by play of some swimming events during the American Revolution.”  Bruce grinned.

            Case began, “Good morning, native Indian peoples, villagers and town’s folk.  Welcome to the first games since the founding of this country.  Take it away Bruce.

            “Gee, thanks Case.  This wilderness venue the organizers have chosen was controversial at first, but since there’s nowhere else they’ve decided it’s a go.”

            “It was.  And you know, the officials are taking a head count of all the spectators.  It’s taking a while because this crowd is massive, there’s got to be at least two hundred people.  That’s my guess, what’s your thought Bruce?”

“I have to agree with you, and they didn’t expect this many.  The turnout is phenomenal.  It must be time to start the games because they’re setting that Olympic pine tree on fire, which is expected to blaze the entire duration of the games.  Exciting isn’t it Case.”

“Look at it go.  It seems to ignite a certain fire all around it.  What a sight, it has to make you proud.”

“Let’s go down to the water Case.  Now, first off, we have some tough competitors in the fifteen

hundred mile non-stop swim, down the mighty Mississippi.  The French are here, the British of course, a few Germans and a couple of touring Russians, along with the hometown favorite to win and original eco-friendly people, the native Indians.  Next, coming out are the villagers entrants, Milt and Larry.”

            “Bruce I don’t know how close it’s going to be…?  Wait, what?  I don’t believe it.  The British have brought their tea bags on deck with them.  That could cause some drag.”

            “I think so Case.  And behind them the French, oh look, they’re admiring the Indians headdresses.  No, that’s not what they’re doing.  They’ve started redesigning them, that’s an excellent example of gamesmanship, but you have to wonder if they’re going to weight down those young warrior’s once they hit the water, Case.”

            “Bruce, they would’ve to have been cleared with officials.  There is so much sportsmanship everywhere. Look at the German’s loaning their beer steins to the British for their tea.”

            “Yep, it’s good to see Case.  I’ve got to mention that the Indians offered free scalp hair cuts to each of their fellow competitors.  That’s what you call a great bunch of guys.  Case, have you taken a peek at what Milt and Larry are swimming in?  It’s beaver skin, which definitely says, here I am!  But one has to wonder if they would chaff once they get wet.  Rabbit may have been better, you know; softer, smoooooother.”

            “It’s tough to call.  Now, the Russians are coming out and they’ve decided to go bare bottomed, which is a good look but the further down the river they get, the more they might reconsider once they’ve encountered the snapping turtles.  Time will tell that’s for sure.”

            “It should be an excellent race and take only a week or two.  Some of the swimmers seem strong though, so we’ll have to wait to find out the results once they hit the Gulf of Mexico.”

            “Let’s go over to men’s synchronized swimming now that the fifteen hundred mile’s underway, shall we Bruce?”

            “Gosh Case, that’s a good idea!  These teams have to match each and every movement while in the water.  So, let’s begin.  Right now we have the German’s getting into the water and they seem very in tune with each other.  The routine they have, to pick each other up then throw each other down in the water is effective, but one concussion will put them out of the competition.”

            “You’re right, it’s risky.  They’re doing great, the technique looks difficult, what do you say, Bruce?”

            “Wow, did you see that.  That one threw the other far, he’s flailing his arms gracefully and he’s…Uh oh, there’s something in the water where he’s about to land.  It’s a tree trunk.  That might be painful, we’ll have to see what it’s going to cost as far as points when he hits it.  Maybe the throwing technique is not serving them as well as they’d hoped.  Case, listen to the crowd, he’s been impaled by the log.  Folks, there is blood everywhere, he may be hurt, we’ll have to find out later, because now, we’re seeing the British going in, as the German’s are come out.  It is very interesting that the Brit’s have decided to keep their uniforms on and I just don’t know how well that will play, as they go underwater and attempt to do their routine.  The lack of movement from the wet cloth could cost them points, Case.”

            “Possibly, but there they go.  They’ve gone under and …….Bruce do you see anything, have they sunk?”

            “They may have.  Taking off their swords might have helped them but you know, you live you learn.”

            “Absolutely, Bruce, and next up are the Russian’s.  They’re going in the water, they’re in, hold it, the official has called a penalty.  The two are getting out of the water and the little one is trying to push the big one out of frustration.  I don’t believe it the official called the big one for farting in the water. ”

            “Well, that’s an instant three point deduction.  That’s going to give the native Indians an opportunity to score a point.  Can you believe it?  The little Russian’s still trying to push the big one.  Being bare bottom certainly couldn’t deflect it, and you have to wonder how noticeable it would have been if they’d worn pants. It’s just another one of the perils of being an athlete.  Moving on, we’ve got the Indians in the water now.”

            “This has all been so unpredictable, let’s see how they do Bruce.”

            “Case, I can say that I thought their headdresses were going to be a problem for them, but bringing their tomahawks into the pool seems like they will be more of a hindrance.  How they’re going to swim and hold them, I just don’t know.  Oh, folks, this synchronized swimming has had a lot of drama so far.  Here they go Case.”

            “There has been Bruce.  They’ve begun to swim but the way their swinging their tomahawks, their getting awfully close to each other.  Oh, no, what’s happened?  It can’t be, but it is, yes, one has clubbed the other with it.  He’s out cold.  Wait, I don’t believe it, the other guy is dragging the unconscious one around the pool to make it seem as if he’s still swimming.  The official’s are calling him out of the water but he’s still pulling the unconscious one. The conscious guy is arguing with the judges because he’s being disqualified for assisting a fellow swimmer while competing.  It’s not working the judges aren’t changing their minds.  This is wild.  The native Indian’s are out.”

            “This couldn’t have been scripted Case.  The French are starting their turn.  We anxiously wait, as they remove their powdered wigs and finish kissing the hands of the women in the crowd.  Now they’ve entered the water a little cautiously but we’re witnessing a milestone, this is the first time for the move they say they’ve perfected.  Here they go.  They’ve gone under and now as they come up for air, they’ve begun giving each other a slap across the face.  It’s an amazing sight everyone.  Watching them is… let’s look at this closer, they’ve replaced the slap and are actually started punching each other, which could hurt their chances.”

            “Bruce, it’s, oh, oh, I was going to say a perfect routine, except they’ve punched each other out.  They’re both floating around, there is absolutely no movement.  That has to be a penalty.  I can’t see how it wouldn’t be.  Yes, here come the officials scooping them out of the water.  There are buckets of blood coming from their noses.  We have to wait for officials to decide, and here they come, the French have been disqualified for non-movement in a swimming event.

“Well I think that’s it…, oops my mistake…, here come Milt and Larry.  They’re the only ones, besides the Russian’s, who could get any points out of all the teams.  Let’s hold our breath and see what they have planned.  Case stop holding your breath, I didn’t mean it.”

            “Bruce, I just can’t believe they’ve detoured out of the fifteen hundred mile just to do this before they continue on with that.”

            “It’s unreal I know.  Here they go.  Milt has stuck his left foot in and pulled it out again…”

            “Stop your donkey a minute Bruce, take a look at Larry.  He’s been called for a penalty while Milt was testing the water.  Just a minute, what is Larry doing?  It seems as if there’s something wrong, he’s begun to itch his rear.  Let’s give him some time.  He might only have some debris back there.  Oh, not that, no!  An official is signaling.  Larry has been called for butt crack picking.  Milt is crying, as well he should.”

            Bruce took his head in his hands, “How could this happen?  That’s an eight tenths penalty, but they’ve still got the rest of their routine.  If they can complete it without any further incidents, then they could pick up second place.”

            “It’s good to mention that the girls have never been called for that particular penalty.  Now back to Milt and Larry.  They’re swimming around and here it comes, the water pony, which is new to their routine.  As I understand it, one gets on the others back and rides him around in circles.  This is a surprise Bruce, I’d have thought it would be the other way around but, no, it’s Milt who’s getting on Larry’s back.  Milt must weigh at least two hundred twenty pounds and Larry a scant ninety eight, we’ll have to see how well they do.”

            “Case, that’s daring, beautiful, but daring.  I don’t understand it, now that Milt’s on Larry’s back, Larry’s gone under.  If that happened during training, their coach must not have been paying attention.   Wow, look, Larry’s disappeared and we only see Milt still holding Larry’s hair.  It’s been a good five minutes since we’ve last seen Larry and Milt knows that drowning his partner is an instant disqualification.  The officials are approaching the water.  This is going to be expected, the officials have called it.  They haven’t seen Larry for ten minutes so they’re disqualified.  The crowd is going wild, as Milt swims out of the water still on Larry’s back.  Larry looks a little lifeless but since they have to get back to the fifteen hundred mile, they’d better think of something quick to revive him.”

            “What a stunning upset Bruce.”

“I know, because the synchronized swimming goes to the Russian’s with seven tenths of a point and folks they weren’t even suppose to be here for the Revolution, they’re just tourists!”

            “This is what makes the games so exciting and memorable Bruce.  No one knows what’s going to happen.  Hey, Bruce, before we sign off for this, the first Olympics during the American Revolution, do you know, for our listeners, if the British have surfaced yet?”

            “No, I don’t believe they have, but the spectators are paying a huge honor and tribute to them, their dumping their tea bags into the water.”

            “How fitting and with that we say farewell.”

            Everyone in the yard applauded, they’d laughed the entire time.  Bruce and Case took a bow and resumed talking with everyone.

            “Iva, that was funny.  What’s Bruce’s situation, he’s cute?”  Linda asked, whispering as low as she could into her ear.

            “I knew you might like to see that he’s not serious all the time.  He has his funny side and he’s a great brother.”  Iva replied.

            She laughed, “No, is he seeing anyone?”

            “I don’t think so, he hasn’t said anything.”

            “Tell me what you do know.”

            “He served in Iraq, came home, and then started working at the family packaging company and…  I guess that’s all I know, I promise.”  She answered, being as informative as she could be.  Iva looked over at him.  He was listening to people talking but his eyes were fastened on Linda.

            “Tomorrow’s suppose to be warm.  We’ll be going to the beach, talk with him then.  Maybe you’ll like each other.”  Iva suggested.

            Linda turned her head, smiling at him, “I definitely will.”

            “This is getting to be a costly venture, all this, meeting people in faraway places.”  Iva said with a smile.

            “Our countries should be trading partners in all things.”  Linda said with a laugh, emphasizing the word, all.

            “I believe love is in the backyard today.”  Breck said, whispering into Iva’s ear as he signaled her to look the way of Andrea’s table.

            She and Christopher were engrossed in conversation.

            “Gwen, what have you done?  Constructed Noah’s ark back here?”  Don asked, looking over at his daughter, having overheard Breck.

            “It must be the sun, dear.  Young people like to be together in the sun.”  Gwen said, putting her hand on his, trying to calm his consternation.

            “Not my young people.”  He said, returning to his conversation with Graham.

            “Grandma, will you join us at the beach?”  Breck asked, picking up her hand as he sat next to her.

            “No.  Too, much sun will ruin me for the wedding.  You will come see me when you get back.”  She insisted.

            “We will, of course.”  Breck said, leaning over and kissing her cheek.

            Iva looked around at all the different conversations that were going on all at once and felt grateful that they were enjoying themselves.

            “After you’ve come back from your honeymoon Iva, mother will bring you to visit me and Andre.” Angela said, smiling at the thought of them staying with her.

            “That sounds like so much fun, Iva.”  Case said as she jumped, excited for her.

            “The economy is a consideration, but you are welcome to visit anytime as well, Case.”  Angela said, holding out a piece of paper with her phone number on it to her.

            “Thank you, Angela.  Andy and I will try to make plans to do that, depending on how things go, in a few years.  Please, if you ever come here again, please call and visit, not only Gwen but us, too.”  Case said, taking the slip of paper and giving her, their number.

            “We will be pleasured to have you.”  Andre said in agreement of the invitation.

            Iva’s heart sank at the idea that the recession might get worse and there could be no money to see family far away.  What if something was to happen and she couldn’t get back?  She had money in her savings but not to live and travel.  She shook slightly, trying to get the thoughts out of her mind.

            “Will you work this week, Iva?”  Angela asked, seeing Iva’s need to be distracted.

            “No.  Don and Gwen have been kind enough to give me the week off, to show all of you around.  So, whoever is available to join us, is more than welcome to.”  Iva said, looking around the yard at everyone.

            The day came to a close.  Everyone said their goodbyes and Breck walked Iva to her car.

            “Are you having a good time, Breck?”  Iva asked as she opened her door

            “Yes.  Your family is very welcoming.  Bruce insisted that I go without a shirt tomorrow, after I told him of my scar.”  Breck said.

            “Just as yours was to me, I hope.  They were looking forward to getting to know you and you’ve taken all the silliness well.”

            He looked at her seriously, “Bruce insisted that I go without a shirt tomorrow after I told him of my scar.”

            “You don’t need to if you’re not comfortable.”

            Breck started laughing as he tried to do a California accent, “No, it will be fine.  He told me if

someone’s says, “Hey dude, what happened to you?”  I’m to say it’s a, “most heinous grunion attack.”  Iva, be good enough to tell me what a grunion is.”

            She blushed at her brother’s quick thinking, “It is a little fish, about two inches long.  They come on shore during a full moon and people catch them, their harmless.”

He laughed harder, “If you were afraid your family would scare me off, there was never a chance of that. In the worst of situations we’ll all get together and have a traveling vaudeville show for money.”

Iva shook her head at the idea, smiling at him, “It is time for me to go.”

            “I will see you tomorrow.”  He said as he turned, giving her a wave as he walked away into the house.

            “I’ll be here, goodnight Breck.”  Iva said as she started her car.

            She got home, walked in, got ready for bed, straightened out her clothes then fell asleep.

            It was eight thirty, Sunday, Iva said to herself as she raised her head, and then hurried through her bedroom getting ready to leave.  She got to Don and Gwen’s an hour later.  Case and Andy were the only ones who’d not arrived.  The large group waited in the front yard for them, when minutes later they came around the corner and pulled in front of the house.

            “We’re sorry to be late.”  Andy said out his window.

            Graham watched with understanding as Janine wiggled in her car seat, “No need too, we’ve been parent’s ourselves.”

            They got into the various cars.  Breck was riding with Iva, so they could be alone.

            “It would be funny if Oswald got to see at least one aimlessly wandering movie star while he’s here, maybe we should plan on going to Hollywood.”  Iva said, amused by the thought.

            “He would be unbearable to live with, for Evelyn, if he did.”

            “Probably so, but talk to them about it and if they want to, then we’ll go.”  Iva said.

            “I’ll ask.”  Breck answered, pleased that his fiancée was trying hard to please his wayward brother.

            Graham looked at Don as they passed house after house of “For Sale” signs, “Don, this is very much a problem, all these vacancies.”

            Gwen and Millie listened quietly, there hadn’t been any other topic of conversation for the last four or five years and there didn’t appear to be any change for the foreseeable future.

            “It is and it’s hard to say when it will end.  We’ll talk later tonight about it, I think we’re to have a relaxing day today and not discuss anything.”

            “No, of course not, Don.”

            The day at the beach was more than Iva was hoping it would be as she watched everyone joke around and run into the ocean laughing at how warm it was.  Even Millie had her shoes off, joining in the fun.  Angela, Case, Evelyn and Iva walked along the water.  Bruce and Linda were behind them.  The group of women slowed down to eave’s drop on them once they realized they fell behind, but to no avail.

            “It would be quite the thing, if Bruce and Linda fall in love.  I knew her long before Oswald and Breck met her, she’s a good person and deserves someone like him.”  Angela said, pleased at the thought of the union.

            “It would be funny.”  Case said with a smile at the idea of it.

            “I think it’s so romantic.  A woman comes to a foreign country and finds love with an almost total stranger.”  Evelyn said, putting her arm around her.

            “That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  I must have read it somewhere.”  Case said, laughing.

            “Of course, you did.  It’s your sister’s epic novel, called?”  Evelyn said, not finishing her sentence.

            “Called, what?”  Angela asked, inquisitively.

            “Ridiculous things people talk about.”  Iva said as she pulled Case’s arm and led her into the waves that were breaking onto the shore.

            The visiting women laughed as they watched the sister’s playing, just as they had as small children, before the bad years, as they were referred to now.  Iva pushed out the fact that it was all coming to an end, the weekends with her brothers, sister, friends, the kids and Andy, doing stuff like this and savored that all her loved ones were there on the beach.

            “There couldn’t be a volcanic eruption right now, could there?”  Bruce asked, taking Linda’s hand.

            “No such luck, Bruce.”  She said, her eyes searching deeply into his.

            “We’ll have to figure something out, I think.”  Bruce said with a grin, trying to make her feel secure that he liked her enough to want her to stay.

            The foursome of women turned around.  Bruce and Linda were in the surf talking, paying no attention to the waves that were hitting them.

            Evelyn put her arm around Angela’s shoulder.

            “It’s sweet, isn’t it?”  Angela said loud enough to interrupt them.

            The ladies turned, walking toward them without a word.

            “I know the title for Linda’s epic novel.”  Evelyn said, keeping her volume up enough to be heard.

            “What?”  Case asked as she held her finger to her chin.

            Angela laughed, “Taming of the dude”

            They continued to act like teenager girls, giggling over the scene, as they followed them.  Bruce turned and starting to run right at them.

            The women screamed and dispersed.

            “Who’s making fun of Linda?”  He shouted, in a full sprint after them as they scattered up and down the beach.

Angela caught sight of him closing in on her.

            “I’ve got you Angela.”  Bruce said, laughing as he caught her gently by the arm, picked her up and started toward the water.

            “No.  No.”  She cried, hanging tightly to his neck.

            “Look Andre.  Your wife’s being taken away.”  Andy said with a laugh, pointing at the sight of his wife, wiggling and calling for help.

            “She has provoked Bruce, he must defend his Amor.  It is sacred” Andre said

            Bruce put her down at the water’s edge.

            “The joke is on you, sister in law.”  Bruce said, smiling.

            As they made it back to everyone, Evelyn fell down in the sand, taking all of the other women with her.  She couldn’t believe it was happening again, man meets woman, only on a different continent.

            “What could possibly be that funny, ladies?”  Allen asked, amused at the sight of them all sandy.

            “Spring must not be far off.”  Angela answered, looking at Bruce and then at Linda, who was trying to hide her smile.

            “Yes it is.  It’s the fall.”  Allen said with ignorance.

            “We should get back.  It’s getting colder.”  Graham said, looking up at the sky as they left.

            The four young quietly huddled together as they made their way to the cars, to go home.

            “Ladies, you’ll be the first to know if Linda and I become anything more than friends over the next week.”  Bruce whispered into their circle.  He learned from Iva’s experience that he might have to make a decision, far faster than he was accustomed too.

            “Allen’s girlfriend is jealous of her, so you’d better have her for yours, to save her from further antagonism.”  Evelyn said with a smile.

            “I’d better then.  She can’t be blamed for her wit and beauty.”  Bruce said, seriously.

            “How romantic you are, Bruce.”  Evelyn said.

            “It’s easy when it’s meant.”  He replied, confidentially to her before he walked away.

            The Cliff’s and Fortt’s went back to the Cliff’s home, other than Breck, Oswald and Evelyn; they were having dinner with Iva.

            James took Case, Andy and Angela and Andre’s kid’s home, so they could stay the night with Janine. Oswald, Evelyn and Breck’s friends went off to discover the city, having dinner out, except Linda who was invited to dinner by Bruce.

            During dinner, Iva and soon to be, other family, were trying to have polite, quiet conversation, but it wasn’t going well.  They were too boisterous.  Once they finished and went outside, Iva reminded Breck that they’d promised her grandma to stop by in the afternoon the next day.

            Iva picked him up to go over the wedding plans at Case’s house, with the exception of the cake, which was her secret.  Then they went to her grandma’s.  As they pulled up in front of her house, she looked at her watch and noticed the time, “It’s three thirty.  We’d better hurry.”

She jumped out of the car.  Breck did the same, but didn’t understand the urgency, it was still early.

“Grandma, we’re here.”  Iva said as loud as she could, knocking on the door and putting the key into its lock.

“Come in.”  She called out.

Iva sat in the chair next to her while Breck took a seat on the sofa.

“How was the water, Breck?”  His future grandma asked.

“It was warm and exhilarating, Grandmother.”  He answered with a smile.

“Iva.  In the curio over there, would you get the silver box in the drawer?”  Her grandma asked, pointing to the middle drawer.

“Okay, grandma.”  Iva said as she went over to the curio and got the box.  She sat back down, handing it to her.

“Your grandfather gave me this.  It was his mother’s, we have pictures of her wearing it.”  The elderly woman explained, noting its significance.

She held out her hand then opened the box.

“It’s incredible grandma.  I’ve seen you wear this before.”  Iva said as she held the box, opened it and recognized the big multi-stoned and diamond necklace then handed it back to her.

“Before Case was married, I gave her the emerald and diamond necklace from his mother that I had.”

“I remember that one, too.  It’s beautiful.”  Iva said, smiling at her grandma’s calm face as it reminisced.

Her namesake held it out again, for her to take, “I would like for you to have this one.”

“Grandma, thank you.”

“Something old, something new, I believe the saying goes.”  Her grandma said as she put it into her hand.

“This is so nice of you, grandma.”

“I’ve worn it many times, and now my dear, please enjoy it as much as I have, as did your great- grandmother and those before her.  You needn’t wear it on your wedding day, I think it’s a bit too colorful but I leave it up to you.”  Iva senior said as she became teary eyed.

“I will enjoy it grandma, I promise.”

“Wear it often, it pleases the heart.”

“Yes, as often as I can.”  Iva said, smiling as she got up, hugging her grandmother.

“I don’t have anything for you, Breck, but I would like to speak to you privately for a few minutes.”  His new grandma said, looking at him with a smile.

“Yes, of course.”  He said dutifully.

“Come out to the back with me.”  The elderly woman commanded.

            Iva smiled at Breck, “Good luck.”

            “I don’t need it.  She won’t dissuade me from marrying you.”  He answered, as Iva senior led him out the back door, he closed it behind them.

“My granddaughter loves you, and from the look on your face, you love her as much, even though she has very little in the way of money.”  Her grandma said.

“I do, Ma’am.”  He replied whole heartedly, not embarrassed by her outspokenness.

“Please.  It’s grandmother or grandma.”

“Yes, grandmother, I do.”

“I will take this time to speak to you as I did to Andy before he and Case wed.”

He smiled at her acceptance of him into her family, “Please do.”

“In earlier times it may not have been as important for family to find out who’s marrying who.  But these days, people may not be as forthcoming with their financial situation or personal history as they should be.  I want you to know that I listened carefully on Saturday to your father, mother, Aunt and brother.  It pleased me that their views regarding the topic of money are similar to ours.  There is something I wanted to inform you of, which is to be privileged from Terry and Iva for the immediate future.” She said.

“Naturally, grandma, it won’t be repeated.”  He said, seeing the seriousness of what she was about to say.

“Good.  One thing you may not know is that Iva, her brother Terry and sister were malleable when they came to live with me with respect to money.  They were influenced by what they saw, as opposed to what they needed to have and do, which has changed through their hard work.”

“Iva did mention it, she praises your influence.”

“That is far too generous of her.  I did only my grandmotherly responsibility, no more than that.  I’d hoped she would tell you about her childhood, it’s better to get things out in the open before one is married.  What I want to inform of, is that, Iva, her brother’s and sister will have an equal share, along with their cousins, in the family packaging company.   I have no desire for them to be told until they each turn twenty three.  That is the age when I told Bruce and Case.”  Iva senior stated emphatically, as she wandered around the grass, looking at her flowers near the patio.

Breck stood quietly, curious about what he was about to hear and interested in the tone and quality of the elderly woman’s voice, and her self-imposed pronunciation of each word.  He was certain that was why there was no slang coming out of her grandchildren’s mouths.

“The Finder family has been in business for over two hundred years and our company here is the second plant, the original is in West Virginia and run by my husband’s brother.”

His surprise showed on his face, “Iva’s never mentioned your company’s been around that long.  Did she tell you ours has been in operation for almost the same amount of time?”

“She didn’t, but Bruce has.  You must, therefore, be fully aware of what it’s taken previous generations to survive.    We Finder’s, just as your family, have been the recipient’s of not only their but also our, hard work and saving.

Breck acknowledged her point, “We do know that’s the case.”

“Good.”

He stared at her, wondering whether his Iva’s strength was equal to this woman who he found fascinating and courageous.

“Therefore, Iva may have to return from time to time to manage her portion of it.  I know her, and am confident that she understands all that is involved with the company and its prosperity, along with the employees, and that thankfully she will not change from who she has become.  I understand from Bruce that your family is as fastidious as ours has been, about how money is handled.”  Iva senior said, searching his eyes for affirmation of the statement.

“Yes ma’am.  Our family doesn’t risk security over the prospect of immediate return.”  Breck agreed,

disinterested by the information but remained interested in the woman’s way of speaking.

“I’m happy to hear it.  We value our employees as I’m sure you do yours.  Therefore, we must be generous with our employees, not merely a select few, but all of them.  Life has always been hard for newly married young people, so don’t think you’ll be the exception.”  She said, taking in a large waft of air through her nose to smell the last of the fragrance from the garden, before it died off by the end of the month.

“I understand completely, grandmother.  Please, have no concerns about how our differences and finances will be handled between us.  We’ve already discussed them and have put forth our ways of managing them, which we mutual agree upon.  And be confident, that I’ll not be the one to ever mention this to Iva or Terry.” Breck said.

“Thank you Breck.  We must get inside.  Iva will wonder what we’re talking about, as would I, because we have no secrets.”

“It has been my pleasure to meet you grandmother, you remind me of my own.”  Breck said with a smile.

“Why is there always this impression that grandmothers’ around the world are different?  I’ll never understand it, along with a great many other things.”  Iva senior replied as he opened the door for her.

“I’ve no idea.”  He said, understanding her sorrowful, kind heart as he held the back door open for her as they reentered the house.

“Iva.  You and Breck should go and let me get back to my crossword.”  Their grandma said, motioning with her hand for them to leave.

She kissed her grandmother’s cheek, “Thank you grandma, we’ll see you Saturday.  I love you.”

“I love you, too, grandma.  See you Saturday.”  Breck said as he took fiancées’ hand.

“And, I love you, both.  I’ll be there to make sure neither of you muff up the ceremony.”  She said with a grin as she looked at them.

“We’re counting on you.”  Breck said as he leaned over to kiss her cheek when she opened the door.

“Goodbye, grandma.”  Iva said as she looked back at her standing in the doorway then waved once they got half way down the walk.

“Goodbye children.”

“She’s a cute old girl and reminds me of my grandmothers.  They were both bold and the embodiment of hope.”  He said, smiling at the thought of them.

“Yes, it’s nice to think that grandma’s are.  We all love her very much.”  Iva Marie agreed.

She drove Breck to his hotel after dinner.

“Would you like to come up for a while, Iva?  It’s only half past six.”  He asked shyly as he got out of the car.

“I’m sorry, Breck, I’ve got to get home right away.  I have to be at Case’s tomorrow morning to label the things by Friday that I want sent to your house so she can mail it.  That way it will arrive by the time we’re back from our honeymoon.”  Iva said with a smile, trying to divert his thoughts of premature intimacy to a more sobering topic.  They’d connected without it so far, which surprised her.

“I understand.  And it is “Our home.”  I’ll call you in the morning, then.”  He said without

disappointment.

“Okay Breck.  Good night.”  Iva agreed, waving at him as she pulled away.

When he called her in the morning, he’d already discussed what he, Oswald and their friends would like to do.  They agreed that going to Hollywood and the observatory would be interesting.  Oswald had use of Josh’s car, if he needed it, since Josh was gone, in the Air Force.  Iva invited her brother, Case and Andy, but they were too busy to join them and the Fortt’s and Cliff’s had work.

She met the group at the hotel at seven thirty.  They insisted on giving her gas money, which she took graciously in gratitude.

On their way, they hit traffic on the freeway, which is the norm for a Tuesday morning, though they’d not minded as much as they would have, if they’d not been talking the entire time.

They got to the west side of Los Angeles, walked around Rodeo Drive for an hour, looking in the shop windows.

“Is there skiing here in California, Iva?”  Oswald asked, pointing at the mountains in the distance.

“Yes.  It’s good in stormy weather.  Hadn’t Josh told you that it’s possible to go from the beach to the desert and the mountains all in one day?”  Iva asked him.

“No he didn’t, that’s interesting!”  Oswald continued, peeking into the windows.

“Are you having a good time?”  Iva asked him as they walked through a store.

“Yes, I am.”  He answered, pleased to be seeing Los Angeles with a guide, instead of having to do it while working.

“I’m sorry the movie stars aren’t out to meet you Oswald, but it’s a week day and they’re probably all busy.”  She said to him sympathetically.

“I was joking with you Iva.  We’ve our own business to take care of, which is more than enough for me.”

“That’s good to hear.”  She said, smiling at the truthfulness of his statement.

The Cliff house was alive with activity.  Andrea was off to school.  Gwen, Millie and Lane were busy making breakfast for all of them.  Andre and Angela were dressing their children, to take them to the park.  Don and Graham finished their reading of the morning newspaper then ate their breakfast, watching the bustle in the kitchen swirling around.

“We should get to the office Graham.”  Don said as he pulled back his chair from the table.

“Breakfast was excellent ladies, thank you.”  Graham said as he got up.

“Thank you dear.  I’ll call you later and let you know what time we’ll be home for dinner.”  Don said, walking toward Gwen, kissing her cheek then heading for the front door.

“Have a lovely day, both of you.”  Graham said as he kissed his wife, Lane and Gwen’s cheeks.

“Thank you.”  The three women said.

“I’ll show you the innovations we’ve told you about over the last couple of years, Graham.”  Don said to his longtime partner, as they got in the car.

“I’ve been anxious to see them.”  Graham admitted.

They pulled up to the office.

“I have this set up to be as readily accessible for shipments as possible.”  Don said, proudly.

He led Graham down the steps of the warehouse, and then opened the locked steel door, exposing the boxes upon boxes of crystal and porcelain, lined up in rows.

“This safe as I call it, is fire proof, waterproof, damage proof, and on rollers below ground approximately four feet, in case there’s an earthquake.  It won’t go anywhere, therefore, no one will get hurt and none of the inventory will be damaged, which is helpful since most of them are one of a kind.  I could only wish that Ray would have had something similar, but who could ever have imagined that they would have an earthquake in West Virginia.”  Don said as he continued walking into the large, room sized, steel box.

“It’s remarkable that it will keep everything as it is.”  Graham said, fascinated by the room.

“Yes.  And as it rolls, all of these individual boxes are separated by foam spacers to keep them from knocking into each other.”  Don explained, pointing as he went along.

“And if someone is caught inside?”  Graham questioned.

“There are air holes on the sides, which allow ample circulation and there is an alarm pulley here, to alert anyone outside that someone is trapped.”  Don added.

“It’s very elaborate and impressive.  I can’t wait to tell the boys what you’ve done.  It’s fire, and waterproof as well, what an achievement.”  Graham replied, patting Don on the back with recognition.

“I’m glad you like it, and am pleased too, that our prosthetic business is going very well.  We’re not as up to speed as you are, but we’re getting many out to the amputees that so desperately need them.”  Don said, shaking Graham’s hand.

“Excellent.”  Graham said, proud of the decision they’d made years before to help the disabled.

“Do you have Iva help with that aspect of the business?”  Graham inquired.

“No, Gwen and I felt it might be too emotional a subject for her, considering how much we depend on her expertise, so we hired someone else to help with it.  You know, with Bruce having served, and consequently her other brother, Terry and our Josh, being in the Air Force now and deployed in Afghanistan along with the possibility of injury being high as it is.”  Don said glad of his decision.

“Yes, very good, she already has a job.  I’m certain she could handle the circumstances, but it seems unnecessary to distract her by the purpose of the products.  It would be unkind to have her dwell on what might happen to those she cares about.”  Graham agreed.

“It would.”  Don said, closing the steel door and turned the tumbler.

“Let’s go in the office and discuss what other ways we can be of use and how we’ll have to adjust to the economy here and in the UK, Canada, Russia, Spain, Ireland and the rest.”  Don said as he walked over to his office door.

“Yes, we must plan for eventualities and turns in demand.  I’ve spoken with all of them, along with Greece, Italy, Germany, everyone.  There is a general feeling that, even though we aren’t conglomerations, we small businesses must be ever more diligent about our dealings, in order to survive what is happening.  We have to also set estimated amounts for the upcoming fiscal year.”  Graham agreed, stepping through the office doorway then taking a seat.

Don closed and locked the front door and then his office door, prepared for a very long day.

Oswald drove as Evelyn talked with Linda, Christopher and Allen who were sitting in the back, while he followed Iva’s car.  He pointed things out to them every time he saw something of interest, since they’d never been to California.  They turned their heads, looking out the windows on the way home.  As they idled on the freeway, he kept making them laugh, “What a mess” and “have we moved, yet?”

After sitting in traffic, it took until seven thirty to get home.  After having been on the brakes almost the entire way home, Iva could finally see their off ramp.

“We’ve made it.”  Iva declared with exhaustion and relief.

“That was an extraordinary long.”  Breck noted, shaking his head.

She didn’t want to dissuade them but felt it important they understood what to expect, “It may not be much better tomorrow.  Are you sure you want to do this again?”

“It’s not every day we’re here.  We may as well make the best of it, if you’re up to it, Iva.”  He said as he stretched his arms and yawned.

“I’m ready, so long as none of your friends are disenchanted by the idea of it.”  Iva said with a smile.

“We’ve talked about it and I think I can say on their behalf that they would like to see as much as time allows while we’re here.  You remember that feeling, Iva?”  Her fiancé said, referring to her trip.

“I do.  Having too many things and not enough time to do or see them is frustrating.”  Iva admitted.

“Breck, we’re done for today, onward tomorrow.”  Iva added as she drove up in front of their hotel, with Oswald right behind them to let his passengers out.

Breck exited the car and went to her side.

“Thank you Iva, it was interesting.  Go and get some sleep, now.”  He said with concern, seeing how tired she looked after the ten hours they’d spent touring the city.

“You couldn’t have lost us in that traffic if you’d wanted to, Iva.”  Oswald said as he got out of Josh’s car with Evelyn and the others.

The group made their plans.  They would go back to look at the stars names in the cement.

“See you tomorrow to do it all over again.”  She grinned.

“We’ll be ready.”  He said.

“Good night Breck, I’ll be here at seven thirty.”

“Good night Iva, drive safely.”

“I will.”

She got back in her car and pulled away, it didn’t occur to her that she’d forgotten, due to fatigue, that she didn’t stop long enough to hug Breck.

It was eight o’clock when she got home.  The day was long and would be tomorrow, so she showered then went to bed.

When her eyes opened, she could see it was six thirty in the morning.  She rapidly dressed and got to the hotel by seven fifteen.  They left as soon as she arrived.  Iva thought a ride to the beach then the desert and ending in the mountains would be fun for them, so Oswald followed her to the beach they’d been at, where they had breakfast and set off for Palm Springs.

“Evelyn, I wouldn’t trade you for any movie star.  I like us being unanimous.”  Oswald said as he put his arm over her shoulder, once they were out of the car in the downtown of the desert town.

“Thank you Oswald, that’s funny.  You do mean anonymous.  Well, the same here.”  Evelyn said, kissing his cheek.

After they’d walked for an hour, Iva looked at her watch.  It was going on eleven thirty.

Everyone got into the cars and headed for Big Bear.  After a two hour drive, they arrived, ready for an hour long walk around the woods, before sitting for the ride home.

“I’ve got a lot to do tomorrow.  You wouldn’t mind if we start back home, would you?”  She asked, looking around at them.

“Of course not, Iva, we’ll go back and you ring me if there’s anything I can help with?”  Evelyn nodded with understanding.

“Thank you, everyone, and Evelyn I’ll let you know, thank you.”

They got home by five forty five.

“Iva, I’ll call you in the morning, in case there is anything I can do for you.”  Breck said, smiling at her.

“Case and I have a lot to do, so calling in the morning will probably be difficult.”  Iva said, smiling, but with a slight yawn.

“Good night Iva.”  He said as everyone else chimed in.

“Good night.”  Iva said as she slowly pulled away from the curb.

She made it home, checked her messages, went through her mail, showered and went to bed.  It occurred to her that she had only one more day in her apartment as she closed her eyes.

Iva awoke with a jump as her mind flashed that the final check for the wedding was this morning.  She glanced at the clock, eight thirty nine.  Her sister would be there any minute, so she ran to the front door and unlocked it.  She looked out the window when there was a knock on her door.

“Come on in Case, I’ll be right out.”  She called out, racing around while zipping up her skirt.

“We have a lot of calls to make to verify everything.”  Case reminded her.

“Okay, here I am.”  She said as she ran out of the bathroom.

“You start with the florist, the caterers and the reception hall.  I’ll take care of the church, the Minister and Rick.  He and Jacob are still taking turns being DJ, right?”  Case asked, handing Iva the list with the phone numbers.

“Yes.  They’re doing it for free and that’s as cheap as it gets.”  Iva said, pleased that she’d come far under budget than even she, thought she would.

“Free is fine if it turns out alright, but you know them better than I do.”  Case said, laughing, unsure of her sister’s choice.

They began calling their respective parties.

“Very good, thank you.”  Iva said to the caterers when they confirmed the arrangements were done.

“Thank you and tell Pastor Aaron we’ll see him Saturday.”  Case said.

They went back and forth with their calls.

“Stop for a minute, Iva!”  Case shouted.

“What?”  Iva said scared.

“The dresses, you have yours, I have mine, but what about grandma, does she have hers?”  She asked, in panic.

“Yes, it’s in her closet.”

“We’re doing fine then.  And the tuxedo for Bruce is all taken care of; I confirmed it with him this morning.”  Case stated as she thought out loud.

“Great.”  She said, appreciative of her sister’s help.

“I called and checked with Millie and Breck, Oswald and Graham have theirs.  You’ve only two more days before the wedding and that means that it’s time to relax, Iva.”  Case continued, in her official, organized tone.

“I will, Case.”

They finished.  Case began to get her things as Iva opened the front door for her.

The relatives and friends that couldn’t attend the wedding sent gifts to them, in care of Case’s house. She suggested to Iva that everyone be invited over to her house on Friday for a brunch, so she and Breck could un-wrap them in front of the guests who could be there.  Iva agreed.

“I completely forgot, Case.  Don and Gwen were wondering if you would be interested in working for them once I’m gone, now that you’ve decided not to be with the Police department anymore.”  Iva said, relieved to have remembered.

“I’ll think it over tonight and call her tomorrow, it might work out.”

“Thank you for all your help, Case.  I love you.”  Iva said, giving her a hug and kiss on the cheek.

“You’re welcome, Iva.  I love you, too.”  Her sister answered, doing the same back.

The thought of staying at Case’s house the night before the wedding reassured Iva.

“I will expect you at ten o’clock Friday morning.  If you’re not on time, I’ll call you.  Goodbye.”  Case added, pinching her chin with a sisterly warning.

“I’ll be there, goodbye.”  Iva said with a smile, closing the door behind her sister.

She went to her barren closet, took out her wedding dress, looked at it then held it in front of her for one last look.

“Hello.”  Gwen said, answering the phone, as she let go of the vacuum, then handing Millie the dust rag from the living room table.  With so many people in her house, they stayed on top of the cleaning as best they could, all week.

            Case and Andy had a serious discussion about the Cliff’s offer; she would let them know in the morning what was decided.

“Good morning, Gwen.  It’s Case.”

“Good morning, Case.  Did Iva happen to mention that we will have an opening at work and were wondering whether you would be interested before we advertise?”  She asked.

“Yes, she did.  I’ve thought about it and I would like to work with you.  I will bring you my resume after the wedding and thank you for asking me.”  Case said.

“Good.  We do want this to be appropriate, but if you’re as capable as Iva and you like the work then we’ll be lucky to have you.”  Gwen said.

“We can both give it a try, hopefully it works out, but, if it doesn’t, then that’s fine too.  I’ll see you in a little while, Gwen.”

“Either way it goes, we’ll remain friends.  Is there anything else you need me to bring, other than the potato salad, Case?”  Gwen asked.

“No thank you Gwen.  Andy and I have things under some control, but if I think of anything I’ll call you.”  She said with a laugh.

“I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have little ones under foot.  Don’t you worry either, if things aren’t quite the way you plan.  No one will know the difference.”  Gwen said, laughing with her friend.

“I hit that point years ago.”  Case admitted.

The two women shared the mutually understood joke.

Chapter 21

Her violet dress hung on the bedroom door.  She’d unpacked it from the last of her clothes to be taken to Case’s for shipping.  Iva dressed for the last time in her bedroom before heading over to her sister’s.  Her telephone was to be disconnected in the morning, so she made one of her last calls on it.

“Hello.”  Allen said, holding his towel with one hand and the phone in the other.

“Hello, Allen.  Is Breck there?”  Iva asked, knowing he was the one sharing the room with him.

“You don’t call for me Iva, even though I met you first.  I was the one on the plane when you arrived on your trip, you know.”

“You’re right, that’s why we should be closer.  So, what should we talk about?”

“I want to discuss Evelyn’s insanely, obsessive passion for me.  It’s a real problem.”  He said, seriously.

“Considering Oswald is much larger than you, I would think so.”  She agreed, playing into his joke.

“We’ll have to devise a plan to persuade her that she’s best off with him.”

“You think of something and while you’re doing that, could you get Breck for me, please?”  Iva asked with a smile.

“You’re a good girl, I’ll get him.”  Allen said with amusement then called out to her betrothed.

“Good morning Iva.  Has Allen been conning you into helping him with his delusions of Evelyn?”  Breck asked, having had enough of the joke.

“He was, but that’s fine, he’s funny.”  Iva replied then asked, “Were you up late with the Cliff’s and your parents?”

“Yes.  Dad and Don were discussing business with me, Oswald, Andy and Andre.  Getting our opinion on the next year and how we think it might go.”

“Do you need more time to rest?”

“No.  I’ve been looking forward to meeting your friends.  You’ve been good enough to put up with mine.”  He said with a laugh.

“They’ll be happy to meet you.”  Iva said.

“Iva.  I’m going to ride with Oswald and the others to your sisters.  What time did you want us there?”  He asked.

“Case said nine thirty, so all of you can visit with each other before the rest arrive.”

“We’ll be there.  See you then.  Goodbye.”  He agreed.

“Goodbye, Breck.”

As she hung up the phone to get ready, Iva looked out the window.  It was a beautifully warm day for September, sweater weather, it would be perfect.  Iva removed her phone, packed it in the box, finished dressing, packing her toiletries and grabbed her box, locking the front door for the last time.  She went down to say goodbye to the homeowners and informed them that Bruce and their Uncle James would be by to pick up her bed, which she’d given to Case, for Janine.  Iva got in her car and looked at her street one last time.  During the drive, Iva was excited, yet wistful, remembering all that happened in the course of her twenty three years, getting her to this point in life.

Iva pulled into Case’s driveway at five after nine, took out her box, rang the door bell and went inside when Andy opened the door.

“Are you ready for the big day tomorrow, Iva?”  He asked.

“Yes.  I should be.  This is the last of my things to be shipped.  My suitcase is still in the back of my car. I’ll get it later.”  Iva said.

“Let me take that.  I’ll put it with the rest of your things.  Case is getting dressed.  She’ll be out in a minute.”  Andy said, taking it from her.

“Thank you Andy, for all you’ve done.”  Iva said, gratefully.

“You’re welcome, you’re my family.  Anytime you need help, just call me.”  He said, realizing he would miss his sister in law.

“The same here just call me.”  Iva replied, sincerely.

Iva’s sister came out of her bedroom, carrying Janine.  She handed her to Iva.

“When will everyone else be here, Case?”  Iva asked.

“At eleven o’clock.  We’d better finish setting up, before they arrive.”

Janine began squirming in Iva’s arms, so she put her in her playpen, while they worked.

“Case, how are you accommodating everyone for seats?”  Iva asked, looking around at her kitchen table.

“In the invitation, I wrote BYOB, bring your own blanket.  A picnic in the grass was the only thing I could think of.”  Case said with a smile.

“It’s perfect.  Is there anything you want me to help with?”  Iva asked.

“No thank you.  Andy and I made small sandwiches last night and everyone else is bringing something.

All we need to do is put out the plates and utensils.”

The two women counted plates, knives and forks and set them on the table.  There was a knock at the door.

“Hello.”  Andy said as he shook Breck, his brother and friends hands as they passed him, into the house.

Case, Iva and Andy led them to the living room.

“Iva tells me, you’re both Police officers.”  Oswald said.

“Yes, for over six years, although now, Case, has given her notice that she’s leaving.  She’ll be out in two weeks.”  Andy answered, holding her hand.

Iva looked at Oswald, forgetting that she’d not told them.

“It is better that Janine has both her parent’s, out of such a dangerous professions.”  Case said.

“That’s understandable.”  Trevor said, smiling.

“A week ago, Bruce asked if I would be interested in working at the packaging company.  I decided to take him up on his offer and gave my notice, there’s more money to be made.”  Andy added.

“That’s good for you, Andy.”  Iva said with a smile, having worried since Janine’s birth about what might happen if they got seriously injured or worse.

“We’re not necessarily happy about it, but, we’ve had to consider all the areas of our future; retirement, safety and stress.  It came down to being peaceful when we got home and enjoying our days together, instead of what we’ve had, which was not conducive to how happy we are.”  Case said.

“We understand.”  Christopher said then added, “I’ve never personally understood how people who save lives and property, whether it is police or firefighters, can be paid so much less than people who don’t.  It’s logical that no one would want to be in those jobs.”

“It’s not something that’s thought about until one finds out the amount of money people are making and that their paying less tax than yourself, along with how hard it is to raise a family on a police officer or firefighter’s salary.  It’s a squeezing of the middle class, really.”  Andy said.

“Theoretically then, there could be no police or firemen for that very realistic reason.  For you, to have to pay more taxes than those you help, is ridiculous.”  Linda said with a laugh.

“It is.  And, unfortunately, there seems to be no end to it.”  Case said.

Linda and Breck gazed around the room.  The familiar scene of people chatting would be identical to back home.  They’d be talking about the same type of things, not bemoaning the facts, but merely discussing them.

At eleven o’clock, there was a knock at the door.  Case excused herself to answer it.  Their Uncle James, Bruce and grandma had arrived.  As she started to close the door, two cars drove up to the curb.  She waved to Don, Gwen, Andrea, the Fortt’s, Lane, Angela, Andre and their children, to come in.  Iva’s friends walked up the driveway at the same time, having parked further down the street.  The entire group met at the front door.  Iva signaled for Breck and her new friends in the living room to join her, to greet everyone as they came in the front door, rather than sorting through introductions after everyone scattered.

Iva introduced Pam, Hanna, Rick and Lisa, along with their children Bryan and Joy, and Julie’s son Thomas whom they were watching until she arrived from work, then Valerie and Jacob with their children, Bradley, Mike and Tammy.  Iva couldn’t invite her college friends today or to the wedding, because of the amount of people she explained to them, so they had a going away party two weeks before.

Case led everyone as they carried the food they’d brought and headed for the kitchen where the women began to congregate and Andy directed everyone else to go into the living room or outside.  Millie and Lane made a cucumber salad, Gwen brought potato salad.  The food kept mounting on the counters and table.  No one was expected to host a large gathering totally at their own expense, at least not in their circle, which Millie and Lane were used too.

Iva looked for Bruce, to hand him her key so he and their uncle could get her bed before the party began.  She found him and then returned to the mayhem.  As she joined her friends they were reminiscing and speaking of the future.  The two men left for their errand, returning her key to the owners of the house, returning shortly after and putting the bed in the spare room then joined the crowd outside on the blankets.  Their uncle James sat with grandma and Bruce went straight to Linda.

“Excuse me.  I’d better see if Case needs me.”  Iva said, looking at everyone sitting in her vicinity.

“Shall I go with you, Iva?”  Evelyn asked.

“That’s a good idea, she may need extra help.”

The two women walked into the doorway of the kitchen.

“Do you need anything, Case?”  Iva asked as her sister raced around the kitchen with a dish in each hand.

“Thank you but the kitchen’s full right now.”  Case whispered in Iva and Evelyn’s direction as she passed them.

“Case dear, is there going to be enough?”  Millie asked as Lane put the food across the table in a line, so people wouldn’t have to reach across it.

Iva and Evelyn backed away slowly from Iva’s flustered sister as they listened to her answer Millie and watched the chaos, “Let’s see.  Here are the sandwiches.  We’ve got enough potato salad, fruit, vegetables and dip and the drinks are outside in the cooler.”

Case looked at her sister as the two women were turning to go to the backyard, “Iva, would you please check that there is enough ice in the chest on the patio, when you go out there?”

“Yes, right away.”  Iva answered as she entered the living room.

Her uncle James called her as she came out the back door.

“I’ll be right back.”  Iva said, smiling at him.

Iva crept cautiously to the kitchen, peeking in until she spotted her sister, “There’s enough ice, Case.”

“Thank you.”  Case replied with a laugh, suspecting the scene Iva was watching was ridiculous.

“How is it in there?”  James asked her when she returned.

“Busy.”  Iva said, giving him a warning.

“I was afraid of that.  We could be out here all day.  Graham almost accidently got stabbed by Gwen.  He foolishly went in for coffee.”  Her uncle continued, laughing as he patted Graham on the back.

“Yes.  Large gatherings always remind me of a military campaign.  However, it’s a lot less organized.” Graham answered, laughing at his narrow escape.

“I’ve only been the invitee, not the inviter.”  Trevor said, smiling at the tale of him being treated so roughly by the wild cooking brigade.

“You can’t cook?”  Andre asked with shock.

He smiled at him, “I can Andre, but I leave chaos like that alone.”

Iva joined Breck as they made their way around to grandma and uncle, who along with Gwen, Don, Lane, Graham and Millie had a seat at the patio table.

“Grandma, how are you.”  Iva asked.

“I’m pleased that we will all be together today and tomorrow.  Don’t worry about me, you have fun.  I’ll be listening as you know, enjoying myself in my own way.”  Iva senior said with a smile as she took Iva’s hand.

“If there’s anything you need grandma, you’ll call me.”  Breck said as she bent down, kissing her cheek.

“Thank you dear, I will.”  She said, reassuring him of her affection for him.

They went back to their assigned blanket, sitting down, listening to the conversations in progress.

Breck took Iva’s hand, “I’m glad you’re having this time with your family and friends.”

“So am I.  I’ve known my friends since childhood, they’re great.”  Iva said, trying not to think about her impending departure.

“Did anyone tell you that Rick and Iva were a couple Breck?”  Jacob asked, turning to him.

“Yes, Bruce did.”

Rick laughed, “She wanted to do her school work in our spare time, rather than hang out with me, so I told her what’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine, which made her wisely dump me, right after that.”

Breck looked at him sharply, “That’s crazy.”

“Isn’t it?  I was mad, because I’d tried to pressure her into being a serious couple, when I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  She was smart enough to see it and didn’t capitulate to me.”

“I’m glad it’s worked out as it has.”  He replied, politely.

Julie smiled, “My heart went out to them when it happened, but we were all young.  So, as we got older and he grew into the man he is now, he and I ended up being more compatible than the two of them.”

“I like the way it worked out, don’t you Rick?”  Iva asked enthusiastically.

“Absolutely, we would have been miserable together.”

“Laughter sounds like a good penance to me.”  Breck said, looking around the blankets at all of them.

“Why do you want to take Iva from us, Breck?  You mean man.”  Pam asked, looking seriously at him.

“She has a quality I admire.”  He answered, equally as serious.

“What is that?”  Hannah asked, continuing the joke.

“She’s able to handle my brother as well as his wife does.”  He said, shrugging.

“Iva you’ve said Oswald was a nice guy but you’d not said he favors jokes.”  Jacob said, laughing.

“He would make me laugh at work so much, that’s the reason I went.”  Iva replied, innocently.

“You went under false pretenses.  Not to work with me?”  Breck said, joining their fun.

“Yes, but then you snuck into my heart, so my mission changed.  I can rejoice in my success.”  Iva said, laughing with him by her side.

“Please, could I get some help for a minute in here?”  Lane called out, urgently.

“I’m coming.”  Don said as he jumped out of his chair.

Breck was looked around the yard, “The children are playing.”

“Come and say hello to them, but be warned, they’re like adhesive, once they like you, they stick.”  Iva said, smiling at her friends.

As they got up, Don came back and sat in his chair, “Case is changing.  She and all the other ladies will be right out.”

Iva and Breck crossed the yard to the kids and they came running when they saw them.

“Hiva, do you want to play with us?”  All the children said, panting.

“Not right now, but later I will.”  Iva said, picking up Joy, with Janine right behind her.

Breck knelt down to talk to them, as he laughed about how they pronounced her name.

“Do you like Hiva?”  Thomas asked innocently, looking into the man’s smiling face.

“Yes, I do.  Is that alright with you?”

“Yah but momma says you’re taking her faw away.  Are you gonna bwing her back?”  The little boy continued, searchingly his eyes for an adequate answer.

Breck could see he had a fondness for her, “Yes, she will be far away, but I promise to bring her back sometime, how’s that?”

“Okay.”  Thomas agreed.

“Go and play before we eat.”  Iva said, shooing them away.

Iva watched Breck with surprise, that he didn’t mind the precocious bunch.  They went to take their seats amongst the others, who were laughing about the things they used to add to Iva’s name in high school.

Oswald was laughing, “Breck, listen to the sentences they made from Iva’s name.”

He looked at his brother, impatiently, wanting her not to be offended.

“Iva heard it for years from them, it’s alright.  But only from them.”  Iva said, grateful for his compassion.

Rick started laughing, “We would say Iva ham sandwich or Iva peach.”

“Rick do you remember this one?”  Jacob said as he stood up.

“Let’s do it.”  He said standing next to him.

The two men started hopping in place, “Iva got a rash in my pants.”

She couldn’t help but laugh, just as she’d done back then.

Hanna wanted to stop what she considered to be the stupidity in them.  Her heart was aching.  She’d just lost her longtime job and changed the subject, “Iva said that your family is partners with Iva’s boss.”

“Yes, for many years now.”  He answered, politely.

“Where will you be living?”  Pam asked.

“Near, my family’s store, in London.  If any of you are able to visit Iva, you’re more than welcome to stay with us.”  Breck said, not giving away details of his planned surprise.

“Thank you but I probably won’t.”  Hanna said gratefully, as everyone’s heads bowed in agreement.

“Please cheer up everyone.”  Iva said, smiling at them.

“Yes, please.”  Lisa said, sitting down on her blanket, seeing their sour faces, “Or you’ll end up in the garage.”

“Yes dear.”  Rick said, smiling at her from his comfortable spot.

Iva wanted to know what was wrong with Hanna.  Her expression was morose since she’d arrived, “Hanna, I want to show you something.”

The two women went into the house and into Janine’s room.  Iva closed the door, “I’m sad about leaving too Hanna but you’ll visit and I’ll be back.”

“Iva lost my job!”  She exclaimed as tears went down her face.

Iva started crying too, “Oh no, I’m sorry Hanna.”

Hanna wiped her face with her hand, “So am I.  It looks like I’ll have to give up my apartment and move back in with my parent’s.”

Iva took her friends dry hand, “You were there for me when I lost my job and I’ll be here for you now.”

“No you won’t, you’ll be across the Atlantic.”  She replied with frustration, then immediately composed herself, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I’m just sick of hearing and worrying about money.”

“So am I Hanna.  Just don’t give up, something will come along.”

“It’s always happened this way for all of us, hasn’t it?”

Iva was curious what she was referring to, “What?”

“Some are doing great while the others are falling.  We’ve never all gone up or come down at the same time.”

“No we haven’t.  I don’t know how to help, other than to tell you it will get better.  Experiences, as bad as some have been, have at least taught me that.”

“I’ve had my plans set for so long, that having this happen is devastatingly disappointing.”  Hanna confessed.

Iva got a stiff neck from the stress of wanting to stay with her friend and having guests outside that she needed to get back too, “We’ve been in it for the long haul, always and this is no different, whether or not I’m

leaving.”

Hanna grinned, “We’ll go back outside.  This isn’t going to help anything.  Rick, Bruce and Jacob cheer me up, so I’ll let them.”

“Good.  They’ve always been reliable.  Listen, after we eat and when you get each one alone, I want you to tell them.  Maybe one of them will be able to help, as you have done the same for us.  Plus, we want you to have our support, so you can enjoy yourself at the wedding tomorrow.”

“This is your party, I can’t tell them now.  I knew I shouldn’t have told you.”

“That’s not true, you should have and I’m glad you did.  Now let’s get out there.”  Iva laughed as she wiped her tears from her chin.

The young women returned to their places on their blankets.

Breck saw Iva had been crying, “Is there a problem?”

“No, we’re old friends and this is what we do.”  Iva said with a smile.

Hanna smiled widely, shrugging, “It’s what we do.”

Trevor, who was sitting next to her and had been enjoying her fragrance, blue eyes and dark black hair, picked up her hand, kissed it and looked into her eyes, “I believe you do, Hanna.”

She, Pam, Lisa and Iva blushed at his kindness.

Everyone listening gave their apologies and assured her they’d do what they could to help her find another job right away.  Rick explained to Breck and his friends that they used the school of fish method of survival, where varieties of fish, seals and dolphins swim together to find food, rather than the shark approach which is to be solitary hunters.

“Is this how the economy is, in the UK, Breck?”  Jacob asked, interested in his perspective.

Trevor got up, taking Hanna by the hand, wanting to talk to her, but not about that topic.  Everyone watched silently as he led her into the house.

“It’s about as it is here.  With unemployment creeping up and financial debacles everywhere, it’s very bad stuff.”  Breck answered, nodding in his direction.

“Jacob’s an accountant.”  Pam said.

“What do you make of the economy, Jacob?”  He asked with interest.

“It’s hard to say.  Between unemployment rising, the markets being volatile and housing not stabilizing, I’m not quite sure, what twenty eleven holds.  We’ll have to ride this thing out, as painful as it is and deal with having tight purses, and the like.  By the way, I’ve finished Iva’s taxes.  They had to be done before she could move to another country and she’s alright.  I believe you work with your father and brother, Breck.”  Jacob said, unable to answer the question fully, knowing how many variables there were.

“Yes.  We’ve held our own thus far with the two employee’s father’s had with him for twenty five years.”  He said.

“That’s good to hear.  Businesses are just trying to survive right now and who knows how long it will take to recover.” Rick said, then continued to elaborate, “I’d gotten out of the service and immediately started a printing business.  I landed big accounts just prior to the down turn a few years back but I haven’t hired anyone new in three years.”

Jacob agreed with the sentiment around the yard, “I’ve stayed in business because my customers are repeat clients, for the most part.  It’s been difficult having people come in, financially devastated.”

“It’s a good thing that Iva’s fully trained at imports.  It would be a hard time for her to pick up a skill like that, right now.”  Breck said, smiling at her from across their blanket.

She nodded, appreciative of the way things worked out.

“My dad has offered her a job with us.”  He added.

“I’ll do my best.”  Iva said, looking at him.

He grinned, “He’s seen you work, so don’t fear, unless of course you joke too much with me and Oswald, keeping us from our work.”

“Me?”  She said, looking skeptically at him.

“You’re right I think we get sacked first.”  He said, amused at the thought.

“I don’t know whether or not to feel bad for young people these days.  They don’t have it as bad as their grandparent’s and great-grandparent’s by any means, and it has shown that they’re willing to stick together when times, which they consider to be hard, occur.”  Millie said, leaning toward Iva senior.

She admired Millie’s diplomatic way of assessing their children’s attitude, putting in her thoughts, “It hasn’t done them any harm from what I can tell.  If they weren’t resourceful before, they are now.”

Graham listened to the two women, agreeing with Iva, “Indeed.  Its’ been beneficial in a harsh way.  It’s not as if they’re tilling the soil for food, bare handed, or going without shoes on their feet.  They don’t know really know what poverty is.  When the men next to you are in the same position and there’s no help get out of it.”

            The elders went back to watching and listening to the young twenty year olds on their blankets.

“Don and my dad told me, Breck and Bruce that her trip to the UK was the last business trip for any of us for a while.  So we can’t make you a promise that she’ll be back to see you too soon because of all the uncertainties.”  Oswald said as he looked around the yard at all their stone faces.

Breck looked surprised at his brother; he wasn’t going to mention it, not wanting to put a damper on the day.

“I, we, fully understand Oswald and don’t you worry, we know she’ll be just fine with you.”  Pam said, holding Rick’s hand.

“Thank you.  I wouldn’t want you to think I would keep her from coming back here.”  Breck said, relieved that they felt that way.

“We wouldn’t think it, now that we’ve met you.”  Jacob said as his perfectly structured face grinned.

“I feel welcomed here.  Thank you.”  Her fiancé said, pleased that her friends were a mirror image in personality of his, making him relax and be himself.

“One day, all of this will pass and money won’t be the paramount topic.  It’s become monotonous.”  Pam added.

“You’re right Pam, it is.  When the economy has rebound, allow me to presume that we will all be glad to not have it as a consideration nor conversation.”  Breck said with a smile of compassion.

“That’s enough of dreary topics for the rest of day.”  Uncle James said to them, from across the yard.

 “You’re right James.  It’s too nice out here to think about anything else.”  Evelyn said, looking up at the cloudless sky.

“It is, isn’t it?”  Pam said, smiling.

Evelyn turned to Oswald and Trevor, “I’ve never been one on the outside, before.”

The group looked at her, considerate of her social discomfort.

“Please don’t think of yourself as that, Evelyn.  Your welcome back here anytime, and can stay with any one of us.  Some of us don’t have much, but we will share with you, gladly.”  Lisa said, sincerely.

“That’s very kind of you, Lisa.  I’m sorry you heard me.”  Evelyn said as her face went red.

“Don’t be.  We would hate it, wouldn’t we Pam?”  Lisa replied, nudging her to affirm her statement.

“We would, it’s true.”  Pam said.

“Thank you.”  Evelyn said, feeling in one moment, more comfortable than she had the minute before.

“Julie will be here at one o’clock.  I forgot to tell you, Julie called and will be here at one o’clock.”  Rick said to Lisa with embarrassment.

“Okay.  Thomas has been behaving, so it’s fine.”  She said, smiling as she watched him play.

“I should have mentioned that Todd, her husband enlisted in the Air Force last year and has been gone ever since.”  Iva said to Breck, knowing he might wonder where Julie’s husband was, when she arrived.

“I’m glad you told me.”  He said.

“You see, not to spill our business all over, but seeing how you are marrying Iva, I guess we can fill you in.”  Christopher said.

“Todd was in construction until the housing started to fall apart.  They damn near lost everything.  I put them on a financial plan and luckily they’ve had plenty of reserve, but, Todd had to do something to bring in money and the service was it.  We’d all been in right after High School, but Todd was supporting Julie who’d been injured in a car accident, she was hit by a drunk driver and couldn’t walk for quite some time.”  Jacob said, looking at Breck.

Breck nodded in acknowledgement of the difficult situation she was in, “I see.  A few of my friend’s have unfortunately found themselves in much the same situation, so tell Julie that she needn’t be embarrassed over her circumstances.  I completely understand as I think we all do. That, it really could be any one of us.”

“She’s got great family to rely upon.”  Pam said, holding Jacob’s hand.

“And she has valuable friends, obviously.”  Oswald said, smiling at her.

“Of which you are now counted.”  Rick said as she smiled at him, Evelyn and the rest of Breck’s clan.

“We’ll all go in for lunch, now that the children are eating.”  Case called out, signaling to everyone to go into the kitchen.

Iva stayed behind with Breck on the blanket, watching as everyone went in.

“It’s your parent’s you’re thinking of, isn’t it, Iva?”  He asked, quietly.

“Yes.”  She answered, tears forming in her eyes.

Breck picked up her hand, kissing it, “I won’t let you down, no matter what, Iva.”

“Thank you Breck.  I won’t let you down, either.”

They rose to go in, he hugged her tightly, not wanting to let her go but knew he needed too.

Walking hand in hand, they went into the house and got in line.  The group came out one by one, getting comfortable in their spots and ate.  When people finished, they got up to put their dishes in the kitchen.  Breck and Rick found themselves alone.

“Breck, if I may ask, what drew you to Iva?”  He asked, already knowing the answer, having been Iva’s one and only boyfriend.

“It was about five years ago when I first called the Cliff’s office and first spoke to her.  There was something, even over the phone that interested me.”  He explained.

“Yes, I know.  She had that from the time I met her, which was before her parent’s left.  She will be herself, you know.”  Rick replied, seriously.

“She will indeed.  It wouldn’t be right somehow to stifle her.”  He agreed.

“No, it wouldn’t.  I’d never even kissed her, just so you know.  There never seemed to be an opportunity.”  Rick included.

“Nor have I, and for the same reason.”  He said with a smile.

“Oh, I can’t imagine what she’ll unleash on you.”  Rick said, blankly.

He smiled as his imagination sparked.

The group returned to their places, spending the rest of the afternoon laughing, the women cried, Iva was at peace, remembering every moment of it.

Iva and Breck opened the wedding gifts, thanking everyone for their kindness.  The simplest of gifts was greatly appreciated, knowing some of the guest’s financial situation.

As the sun set into the Pacific Ocean, the guest’s began leaving.  Breck and Iva thanked each one, assuring them that, if they didn’t get a chance to speak to each one during the wedding, it wasn’t meant as a slight.  They were reassured it was understandable.

“We’ve got to go.”  Evelyn said as she got to the door, Oswald followed her.

They hugged at the door and reassured each other they’d see each other at the church.

“I like your friends and family, they have love and loyalty for you.”  Breck said, holding Iva’s hand as they walked to the car.

“Just as your friends and family have for you.”  Iva said, smiling at him as she thought how truly fortunate they were.

She pulled up in front of Don and Gwen’s.  They hugged good night.

“I will see you tomorrow, Iva.”  He said.

“I will be there.”  Iva said.

She went inside and lay on the sofa, feeling exhausted from the emotion of it all, again.

“Iva.  We’ve got a lot to do today.  Let’s go, the salon is waiting for us.”  Case said, before she could get completely comfortable.

“I’m ready.”  Iva said, going back out the door to her car.

They had their nails and toes done then left there and picked up the makeup they were going to wear.  It was already six thirty.  They got back in her car, getting home by two o’clock, so they could rest up for tomorrow.

Case’s friend Abby came over at six thirty a.m. to start on their hair.  Iva knew she wanted her hair up, but natural looking, nothing that didn’t seem like her.  She showed Abby her dress and she agreed that a slight wave in her hair would work best and it would only take thirty minutes to do.  Case wanted hers up as well, so it would be about forty five minutes and done in such a way, that it would be best for her face and dress.  Abby left and they had the rest of the night together.

“Andy.  Here are my keys and title to the car.  I talked to Julie and she finally agreed to take it, since I don’t want to sell it, but would rather give it to her, in case she has trouble with hers.”  Iva said, handing them to him.

“I won’t forget.  I’ll see her right after you leave.”  Andy said, smiling.

They sat quiet watching the nine o’clock news, and then went to bed.

“Good night.”  Case and Andy said, smiling at her as they closed their door.

“Good night and thank you.”  Iva said.  As she got into bed she looked out at the stars, watching them as she drifted off to sleep.

Abby knocked at the door on time.

“Let’s start girls.”  She said wide awake.

“Do Case first, Abby.  I’ll watch.”  Iva said, still waking up.  She finished Case by seven a.m.

“It’s your turn Iva.”  Abby called to her.

“Be right there.”  Iva said as she was finishing her tea with Andy in the kitchen.  She put on her dress.

Case and Iva waited in the living room for Bruce to come for them.  Andy sat with Janine, to follow them.

“We’ll be right in front of you, Iva, and be inside when you walk in.”  Andy said calmly, knowing what surprise Case had for her.

“Okay.”  Iva said, sitting on the sofa with Case.

As Bruce and Iva arrived to go into the church to go get ready, they saw two men with their backs to them.

“It’s Terry and Josh.”  Bruce shouted loudly.

Iva began crying, forgetting about everything, including her makeup.

“Hello Iva.  You look incredible and I’m glad I could make it.”  Terry said, coming over and hugging her, pecking her cheek.

“Yeah, we wouldn’t have missed it for the world, unless the Army made us.”  Josh said, jokingly.

“We put in for our leave as soon as Case told us and here we are.”  Terry continued with his arm over Josh and Bruce’s shoulders.

She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.  Their presence went whirling through her head.  She didn’t say a word to them, just hugged them and kissed their cheeks.

“It’s time to go in, Iva.”  Bruce said, undoing her grip from their arms.

“Not now, it’s Terry and Josh.”  Iva said as kept petting their arms.

“Let’s go.”  He said taking her hand and leading her into the back of the church.

After fifteen minutes of her and Case primping, Bruce knocked on the changing room door.

“Ready, whenever you are, Iva.”  Bruce said, trying not to look in.

Iva took Bruce’s arm and they turned to face the isle.  She could see faces, but they became a blur, seeing Breck, Oswald and Case at the end, she knew to aim their way.  The organ started and off they went.  As they got to the steps of the Alter, Bruce kissed her cheek and took his seat.  Iva looked at Case, absolutely surprised by her little secret.

“Good morning.  Welcome to the marriage of Breck and Iva.”  Pastor Aaron said, looking at them one at a time.

Case was holding out her hand for Iva’s bouquet.  Iva turned to her to give her the flowers, talking through her teeth in a whisper, “How could you not tell me Terry and Josh, were going to be here?”

“Iva, remember where you are.  Stay focused.”  Case said, smiling and stepping back.  She turned to see Graham leering at her.  She was now muffing it up.  Everyone else was looking her way as well.

“Is everything alright, Iva?”  The pastor asked, politely.

“Yes, it’s fine.  I’m ready.”  Iva said, smiling at him and then at Breck.  She recalled saying, I do, at some point, but was glad to be done with it so she could get back to Case.  Breck kissed her with the passionate kiss he’d been longing to give her.

“I now present, Mr. and Mrs. Breck Fortt.”  Pastor Aaron announced.

They got out of the Church, quickly.  She went into the car and when she saw Case, gave her the, just you wait, look, that Case, herself, had used over the years, when one had the better hand over the other.

“What was all that about, Iva?”  Iva’s new husband asked as he got into the car.

“My brother Terry and Josh are her from Afghanistan.”  Iva said, wiping away her tears.

“You’re kidding.  Case did that.”  He asked ecstatically.

“Yes.  And, to surprise me today, she did it.”  Iva said, happily.

“It should be an excellent reception.  I’m glad they could make it.”  Breck said, relieved to be meeting her younger brother.

“So am I, it’s fantastic.”  Iva agreed, laying her head on his shoulder.

Chapter 22

When they pulled up to the reception hall, she thought about the surprise she and Rick had for Breck.

“Iva, everyone’s inside now.”  Terry said as he opened the car door.  She hugged him.  They stood for a minute waiting.  She called Jacob and told him of her plan the night before.

“Thank you Jacob.  You’re one of the best friends, I’ve got.”  Iva said, pulling his sleeve and signaling to him that Rick was there.  Then Iva let go of him.

“Thanks, I think.”  Jacob answered, laughing and stalling for time.  Breck was looking around as Iva watched him.

“Who is that?’  Breck asked as he stopped and pulled her back.

“Oh, it looks like a mugger to me, how about you, Terry?”  Iva said, seriously.

“That’s what he appears to be.”  Jacob said, not wanting to laugh.

“You are kidding.  I hope.”  Breck said to Iva, looking through watery eyes.

Iva tried to gently pull him forward.

Rick started to walk toward them in sloppy clothes and with a stagger, holding his hand out to Breck, “Hey have you got any money?”

“I’m sorry.  You’re not invited, you mugger.”  Iva said without cracking a smile at her longtime friend.

“Look, lady.  He’s a tourist and he must have money.”  Rick said as he looked into Breck’s smiling face.

“I can’t give you money, but I’ll give you a hand shake for one of the best practical jokes, that I’ve had played on me, in a long time.”  Breck said, reaching into his pocket.

“How about the lady, it was her idea?”  Rick asked, patting Breck on the back.

“Yes, of course.  How stupid of me.  One for her, for a joke well played.”  He said, still laughing, adding, “So that’s what it’s like to get mugged.”

“I liked it.”  Iva said, smiling in recognition.

“You’re right.  He only wanted money.”  Breck said, taking her around the waist.

Rick took off to change his clothes quickly, Bruce entered the reception hall first, as Breck and Iva followed him.

Jacob announced them as they entered, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m pleased to present Mr. and Mrs. Breck Fortt.”

Iva could see all of her friends and family even though her eyes, even though they felt like they were small from the smile she had on her face.  They made their way to their table, sitting with Case to her left and Oswald to Breck’s right.

“We will have a little break before dinner is served.”  Jacob said.

The wedding cake table was set up near them.  Iva watched as the bakers brought in the cake, Breck watched with intrigue.

“What is that?”  He asked as they lifted it out of the box, adjusting it on the table.

Everyone’s eyes went directly to the cake as they began to laugh.

Iva smiled, “It’s a mini volcano.”

“You’re kidding.”  He said, laughing.

“No.  It’s neat, isn’t it?”  She said innocently, pleased with her choice and hoping that her idea of a memorable wedding would be well received.

Oswald and Bruce went over to investigate it.  Breck immediately got up and stood next to them.

“That’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.”  Oswald said, laughing as the three approached it closer, puzzled.

Bruce inspected it closely, “My God, is that all frosting?”

“Iva says it’s a volcano.”  Her new husband said.

“But why choose a volcano, Iva?”  Bruce asked as all three looked her way as others were joining them to see it.

She shrugged, “In homage to the mountain that brought us together.”

Breck looked her into her eyes puzzled, “An homage to the Iceland volcano you mean?”

“Sure.  Even though it was absolutely horrible for many people, I’m probably one of the few, outside the scientific community, that’s actually glad to it.  If it wouldn’t have blown at that precise time, I would have come right back here.”  Iva said, convincingly.

“I was doing alright, sweeping you off your feet, wasn’t I?”  Breck asked, smiling at her.

“You did fine.  But after only ten days I wouldn’t have said, yes.”

“I see, then I owe everything about today to God and ash, well, we’d best get back to the guests.  We’ll discuss your little tribute later.”  Breck said, laughing with Bruce and Oswald.  They joined other friends and laughed with delight.

Case took a hold of her hand as she sat back down, “Iva.  You’re baker did that?”

“She sure did, and a good job too, I think.  That’s why it wasn’t set up until now, or you would have talked me out of it.”  Iva said, smiling at her slightly angered face.

She felt proud of her little volcano.  It was too bad they couldn’t figure out how to make it spew raspberry filling she thought, as she envisioned streams of raspberries all over the white frosting.

“You bet I would have, just look at it, it’s hideous.”  Case said with a huff.

It was something like a dream to see Breck’s family and friends along with hers, together.  Iva felt content.

“Where are you taking Iva for a honeymoon?”  Oswald whispered to Breck.

“Where else, would I take her?  Where you took Evelyn, where our father took mother and their grandfather took his wife, and so on.”  He answered, sitting back in anticipation.

Oswald patted his younger brother on the shoulder, “Of course, I’m just checking.”

“You know, it’s two thousand and ten.  I’m not much for tradition, but I have to tell you, this is one I’m glad the men in this family have kept.”

“I agree so much.”

After dinner they looked around and as the Jacob and Rick alternated disc jockeying, Rick announced, “Now for the bride and groom’s first dance, please welcome Mr. and Mrs. Breck Fortt.”

They got to the middle of the floor; Breck bent his head and kissed his new bride.  Both of them smiled at each other, “finally.”

“You’ve planned a wonderful wedding Iva.  I’m glad I could make it all this way.”  He said as he pressed her against him as he began to lead her around the dance floor.

“Thank you and please enjoy yourself while you’re here in America.”  Iva said, quietly laughing.

“I intend to madam hostess.”  He said as he bent his head, kissing her passionately.

She was surprised and grateful that he was such a good dancer, she hadn’t even know whether he could or not, it’s a true enjoyment in her life and that it’s one of his also pleased her.  The dance floor was filled with everyone having a good time.

Breck looked at her, “Would you like to sit down now, Iva?”

“Yes.  We’ve danced four songs already.”  Iva said as they headed to the table and took their seats.  She looked at the table with her friends, laughing and happy for her, as they gazed her way.

I’m leaving them for good and will miss them so much, Iva thought to herself, getting a little melancholy.

“Is everything alright, Iva?”  Case asked, interrupting her train of thought.

Iva reached over, taking her hand, “Yes, I’m just happy that everybody’s made it.”

“It will be strange to have you so far away, but you’ll be fine and so will we.  It will all be okay.”  Case said, holding her hand and reassuring her as only she could.

Breck put his arm around her as she watched all the guests, “I have a gift for you, Iva.”

“Here?”

“Yes, here.  Hold out your hand.”  He said in her ear, pleased with his secret.  She put her hand out.  He dropped a key into it.

Iva searched his face, “What’s this for?”

“You now live three doors down from Oswald and Evelyn.”  He said, kissing her cheek with pleasure.

“Breck thank you.”  She said, standing up, calling to her sister-in-law, “Evelyn, Evelyn.  I’m your neighbor.”

“What?  You’re joking Iva.”  Evelyn said, standing up and bolting right at them.

Iva dangled the key in the air as Case was laughing at the two of them, “No, I’m not, look.”

“Breck, that’s so sweet of you.”  Evelyn said, leaning over the table and hugging him.

“We couldn’t have you two apart and it was half Oswald’s idea.  Go thank him too, sister-in-law.”  He said, trying to release from her grip.

“Oswald, you and your surprises, never fail.”  Evelyn said, hugging him, as she retreated to her chair.

She returned to their table, “I have something for you too, Breck.”

He put his hands on his cheeks, exaggeratedly, laughing, “What.  Here?  I can’t imagine what it might be?”

“Hey Rick, Hanna, would you be kind enough to get it?”  Iva asked, laughing as she gestured to them from across the room.

“Sure.”  Hanna said as she and Rick went behind the cake table.  They walked to them with the brown wrapped gift and laid it in front of Breck.  He looked at it suspiciously.

“Open it Breck, it’s for you.”  Iva said, anxiously.

“I’m afraid too, after the cake.  Bruce could you come see if it bites.”

“I can’t help you with this one brother.”  Bruce replied, laughing

Breck stood up, lifting it up because it was quite large.  He took the wrapper off and looked at Iva lovingly, “I can’t believe it.”

Bruce and the others at his table asked, “What is it?”

He turned his gift around explaining, “A painting of the two of us in Bath when we were there.  I love it, Iva.  Thank you.”

“Who did it?”  He asked, impressed.

Iva smiled at her childhood friend who stood before them,, “Hanna.”

“Hanna, this is perfect.  You’ve captured…Hanna, do you paint exactly what you see and not edit the picture you’re looking at, as you go along.”

“That’s the only way I can do it.  I have to leave everything in.  Why?”  She asked as her eyes blinked rapidly.

“No, it’s perfect.  But, you see this horse, the nearest one, off to the left behind my shoulder?”

“Yes, why, it looks like the back of a horse to me?”

“It does, the realism is superb.  I’ve never seen anyone who painted a horse taking a sh–, going to the bathroom.”  Breck said seriously, having to save his laughter for later in the bathroom.

“I did?  Wow, it thought that was part of his tale.  I’ve never seen a live horse before.”

Iva couldn’t stop herself she smiled as tears flowed, but did not laugh out loud.

“Hanna, let me give you a kiss, I love it, and you, for painting it.  It’s one of most cherished possessions.”

“Thanks Bruce.  I’m going to go sit.  Come on Rick.”

Rick nodded his head in appreciation of Breck’s control, not having laughed at her.  Breck smiled and nodded back.

As Breck put down the painting, gently against the wall behind his chair, he choked at the memory of their day, then pulled Iva up gently from her seat, kissing her then said, “I’ve got to find a guy for her, she’s a keeper.”

“She is.  I’ll tell you the story, in let’s say fifty years, of how Linda’s pictures that day, became this, and how Hannah got it done.  It is yours so you get to pick the frame you’d like for it when we get home.  I love my gift Breck.”  Iva said, kissing him back.

“Mine is more than I can say, Iva, I love it and you.”

Iva savored the reception and all its moments were special.  She looked around as everyone kissed goodbye and started to leave.

“Terry, Josh, thank you for being here, it’s meant so much to me.   It wouldn’t have been the same without you.”  Iva said, crying.

“Case and many others got us here on time, that’s what’s important.”  Terry said, bending down and kissing her cheek.

“I wish I could stay here and visit with you.”  Iva said, sorrowfully.

“No, you go and have a great time on your honeymoon.  We’ll be in touch as soon as you’re back and then be over there to visit before you know it.  I promise.  Until then every time you think of us, think of Milt and Larry at the Olympics instead and know that Terry and I will be playing it out and laughing with the other guys too.”  Josh said as he bent down and kissed her cheek as well.

“I will.  I love you both and please stay safe.”  Iva said as she turned half way around and waved at them and then made her way back to Breck.

They looked at her, “Have fun and please don’t get mugged.”

“I feel so happy to see them.”  Iva said, still crying as Breck held open the car door for her.

“I know.”

“Now, Mrs. Fortt, where are you off too?”  Breck said as he got in the car, raised her chin and changed the subject.

She looked at him baffled, “I can’t even guess.”

“We have a plane to catch.”  He said, smiling.

“Then we do.”  Iva agreed, but to what, she didn’t know.

When they got to the airport it was already ten p.m.  Breck took her bag and led her through the terminal.

“I should change out of my dress, Breck.  They may not let me through the screener.”  Iva said as people looked at her.

“That’s not necessary, you sit down here and I’ll get in line to check our baggage.”  He said.  She ignored all the stares, after a while.

“We have our bags checked and now we go to the gate.”  Breck said, helping her with her dress, as they made their way to gate.

“They won’t let me through screening without a pat down, which is out of the question, so we’d better be prepared for me to have to strip down in a separate room.”

“Do you want to change then, if it will be a problem?”

“We’ll try going through first and see what happens.”

Iva wasn’t surprised that she was asked to be subjected to a thorough search, but to get it over with she complied, rather than make more of it than was necessary, she knew her dress wasn’t the usual airplane attire.

He was concerned when he saw Iva coming back from being inspected, “It should be about forty-five minutes, Iva.  Do you want anything, Iva?”

“I’d better not.  The bathroom is out of the question.”  Iva said with a laugh because his plan had not included that possibility.

Breck was bewildered with what to do, “I’m sorry Iva.  I didn’t realize how
difficult those things are to negotiate in.”

“I’ll manage.  It’s only once in my life that I’ll have to worry about it.”  Iva said, smiling reassuringly at him that she would be happy with whatever he had in store for her.  He eased himself next to her and they waited.

“We are now boarding, flight twelve eighteen, to London.”  The voice on the intercom called out.

Breck grabbed their carry-on bags excitedly, “That’s us.”

“Really, we’re going to your home?”

“Yes.  We’re going to our home.”

“Good.  I can’t wait to see the rest of the country.”  Iva said, excitedly.

“Sightseeing wasn’t quite what I had planned.”  Breck said, wiggling his eyebrows in his best romantic manner.

“It can wait.  There are probably a lot of castles and things that are really interesting.”  Iva said, with her best naïve move.

“Please get on the plane Iva, before I…”  He said, then paused not wanting to be turned into the desperate newlywed that he was, he’d waited two years, another couple hours wouldn’t hurt, he hoped.

“Yes, Mr. Fortt, I’ll be glad too.”

They were in and out of sleep, on each other’s shoulders, most of the way.

“Thirty minutes to landing Ladies and Gentlemen, please prepare for landing.”  The Captain announced.

Breck was exhausted as they could see the airport.  They buckled their seatbelts and landed on time, “We’re here.”

People stared more at them as they got off the plane than they did when they got on.

“You would think people have never seen two people running away to get married, before.”  Breck said, loud enough to draw people’s attention even more.  Iva kept looking forward, ignoring him.

Breck called a cab and got them to the townhouse, where he and Oswald’s car was waiting, for them to leave.

He put their bags in the car, “I’ve one quick call first.”

“Anthony.  It’s Breck here.  Thanks for having the car ready, I’ll call you when we’re back.”

Breck turned off his phone, putting it in his pocket, opened Iva’s door for her, then went around the other side and got in, driving the car down the interstate, in the direction of the country.

“Only a little bit longer, Iva.”

“It is complete darkness out there, are we close to it yet?”  Iva asked, looking out the window to see nothing but the silhouettes of hills and trees against the moonlit sky.   She’d lost most of the feeling in her legs from not having stood up for so long.

“We’re here.  It’s just around this corner.”  He said, picking up her hand, kissing it.

Iva squinted but couldn’t make out the small building he was referring too, which stood alone in the distance.

Breck pulled the car up onto a dirt road, “Here we are.”

Iva was confused at where they were, “We are?”

“Let’s get out, you’ll see.”  He continued, excitedly, coming around to Iva’s side, helping her and her dress out.

“My grandfather lives just over the hill, about a half mile away.”  Breck said as he converted meters into miles and looked at her for reaction.

Iva stood silently, waiting for the rest.

“This little house had been in the family since seventeen eighty-five.  Every male in our family has brought their bride here for their wedding night, since then.”

Iva was impressed, “Wow.”

“I think you might be the only bride who has lived so far away.  But, I got you here, nonetheless.”  Breck added, beaming at his success.

“It’s a wonderful place.”  She said sincerely and genuinely glad to be standing up, looking around but could see nothing in the darkness.

“Let me put the bags inside, and I’ll be back for you in a minute.”  He said, picking up the bags and running to the door.

She could see he was flinging them inside when he turned and started back for her.

“You’re not going to heave me inside like that, are you?”  Iva asked, motioning her arms up and down.

He smiled, “NO.  I will set you down, upright, Iva.”

“Thank you, that’s most kind of you.”  Iva said as he picked her and the dress up.

Iva could feel his muscles bulging as he carried her and the heavy weight of the dress, up the step.

“It’s old.”  Iva said, mesmerized by the house.

“Yes.  My grandfather takes care of it as often as he can.  And, he has other men in town do it, when he can’t.”  He said as he closed the door with his foot behind them then walked around the room.

“It’s one room.”  Iva said, stating the obvious.

Breck was pleased that she didn’t seem offended that it wasn’t an expensive hotel suite, “Yes.  It

was great as children to play in.”

Iva began to touch the small table with the little kerosene lamp on it, then, investigating the fireplace and looking out the front window, “I can see why.”

He said, pointing in its direction, “Here’s the bed.”

“That is the most beautiful bed I’ve ever seen.”  Iva said, the details on it becoming clearer as she approached it.

“It has been here since the house was built.  Oswald and I came up here and replaced the mattress and bed stuff before he and Evelyn got here but the bed itself is that old.”  He said proudly.

Breck looked at her, trying to figure out her thoughts, were they possibly of disappointment at not having a nice place to spend their honeymoon.

“I can’t get over it.”  She said, touching the wood and feeling the bedspread, “I love it here, thank you Breck.”

“Good, we’ll be here a week.”  He said, smiling at his beautiful wife, with her long brownish blonde hair, golden eyes and wide smile.

She turned to him, catching the greenish-blue in his eyes, as she looked around the room, “Where is the bathroom, Breck?”

“Outside, there’s an out building.”  Her husband replied hesitantly, because of the lack of hygienic facilities to offer her.

“That’s fine, I have ancestors too, and they obviously survived.”  Iva said, accepting the fact that she was to do without certain things.

“Here Iva, catch this toilet paper.”  He said as she held open her hands.

Her hands went out, catching the roll in the air, before it hit the floor, “You’ve got a modern amenity, how nice.”

“Of course, it is.  We’re not Neanderthals.”

“Thank goodness for that.”

Breck looked as tired as Iva felt.  It had been quite a past two days for both of them.

After ten hours of sleep, Iva saw the sun come up.  But, then shut her eyes closed again, hoping it would go away.

There’s no electricity.  So, we’ve got no clock, television or telephone.  Nothing needing power, the only amenities are the fireplace, a kerosene lamp and a sink with a pump for water.  Iva thought to herself as she lay in the bed, remembering where she was.

He opened the door and brought in a basket, “Wake up, Iva.” 

“What’s in the basket, Breck?”  She asked, staring at it in his hands.

“My grandfather has a lady who cleans and cooks for him.  She will be making food for us while we’re here.”  He said as he started picking through it.

“Will I meet your grandfather?”

“Yes, later this afternoon.  His name is Gordon.  Now we’ll eat, and then take a bath.”  He said, putting fruit and cakes on a plate for her.

“A bath, but where’s the tub?”

Breck swallowed the bite of scrambled egg he’d taken, “It’s on the side of the house.  We have to bring it in and fill it then take it back out when we’re done.” 

“That’s how we take a bath?”  Iva said, fearful.

“Yes.  The town is a mile away and there are no hotels to shower at, because there are no sights to come here for.”  He said as he continued to eat.

She formed a dismal picture of the scene in her mind.

“It will be fun, you’ll see.”  Breck said, grinning, wiping his mouth and looking at her with a smile.

Iva sat in the chair at the table, opposite him, and ate.  They went around the back of the house, picking up the moderately heavy tub.

Iva got dressed in the robe she’d packed.

“We will alternate with the boiling water in the kettle and then add a bucket of water; this ensures a good warm bath.”  Breck explained, excited at her first real bath in two days.

Iva shook her head with disbelief, “Naturally.  You know, this is an example of why women want to have money of their own.  I can trade down from a car to a horse or a large house to a small one, but this is… I wouldn’t give up my indoor plumbing.

He opened the door to retrieve the bucket, “Iva.  You go first, but make it fast or it’ll be cold and we’ll have to start all over again.”

“I have no plans to be any longer than necessary, I promise.”  She said, assuring him as she set out her shampoo and conditioner.

He began to pump water into the kettle, “Come on Iva.”

The hook for the metal stand in the fireplace was close enough in reach, so she put the full kettle on it as Breck pumped water into the bucket.

“Iva, what is that?”  Breck asked, suspecting the answer.

She crept away from her suitcase, “My shampoo and conditioner.”

“I’m sorry Iva.  Those are bad for the tub.  You can do your hair in the sink.  I’ll help you.”  He said as he finished pumping water into the kettle, again.

Iva pointed at the tub, looking at him and the pleasure he was taking from all of it, “This is as green as I’m ever going to get for you, sir.”

They continued with the heating of the kettle and filling of the bucket and kettle until the tub was three quarters full.

“Jump in, Iva, you’ll be…”  He said and then suddenly she couldn’t hear him anymore, as she went under the water.

Once in, it wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be.  She couldn’t look at him, embarrassed that

she’d been cowardly then began to wash, while he got her a towel.

“What’s wrong?”  Breck asked, looking at her expression, then around at the floor to see if there was something that scared her.

Iva had a sudden chill, making her have to go to the bathroom, “I have to get out.”

“Alright, come here.  You see, it’s not so bad, you did have soap.”  Breck said, handing her the towel.

He stopped and held her around the waist.

“Your old dead ancestors thought of everything, didn’t they?”  Iva asked.

He laughed, “Yes.  I come from a long line of clever old men, including my grandfather and uncle who’ve invented things.”

“That any of the previous brides haven’t warned the next unsuspecting women, about your little secret, is the greatest secret of all.”

“Nor will you tell anyone.”

Breck took his bath, then they washed their hair, it was the coldest her head had ever been.  Once completely dry, they cleaned and returned the tub to its place.

Iva mulled over what to wear, finally settling on what she wanted to be seen in by his grandfather for the first time, “I’m going to wear my wedding dress.  It should get some use before it’s boxed up.”

“That’s a great idea.  You’ll look fantastic in it, just as you did days ago.”

The sun was straight up when they started their walk to go meet his grandfather and housekeeper.

“I really don’t mind wearing long gowns, they’re just as warm as pants, but they must be cumbersome for cleaning the house.”

Breck didn’t hesitate, “It’s unfortunate you can’t wear pants because of your scar, but I do like you in a dress.  You have beautiful legs.”

When they reached the large stone house Breck knocked hard on the door.

“Breck, Iva, come in, I’ve been expecting you.”  His grandfather said, through the window.

Once they were in, Breck introduced the lady at the kitchen door, “Joan, this is Iva.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Iva, welcome.”  Joan replied.

“It’s nice to meet you, too Joan.  And, thank you for the food and clean laundry and sheets.”  Iva said with a smile at her, as Joan wiped her hands on her apron.

“You’re welcome.  My goodness don’t you look beautiful, congratulations to you, both.”  Joan said, retreating back to her work.

“Thank you Joan.”  They answered as they walked into the living room where Gordon returned too.

“Grandfather, this is Iva.”  Breck said, getting behind her.

His expression looked like he was pleased, but he said nothing.

“Are you feeling well, grandfather?”  He asked, cautiously.

“Yes.  The bronchitis has not returned for a few years now.  Thank you for asking my boy, why?”

“I’m glad, sir.”  Breck replied.

“Come here please, Iva.”  The elderly man said with squinted eyes.

She went to him slowly, afraid of what his stare meant.  Maybe the dress wasn’t a good idea.

“What do you have to say Iva, about all this?”  His grandfather asked as he began to sit with his stare straight at her.

Iva looked into his searching eyes, “I know enough to stay still and be quiet.”

“That’s very wise of you.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“You will please sit by me, and I will tell you our story.”  He said, pointing at the nearby chair.

She sat dutifully, not wanting to fuss with him.

“That house you’re in was built in seventeen eighty-five, by our people who worked this land.”  His grandfather said, pointing out the window toward the one room cottage then he continued, “For one hundred years the import/export business was built up with the meat and grain raised here.  That is, until this house was built in eighteen eighty nine, and they switched to china and glassware.”

He then put his hand to his temple, trying to make sure he had dates and houses correct and in order as he continued, “In nineteen twenty four, the townhouse the boys have been living in was purchased to be closer to business with the invention of the automobile.  That little house you’re in, I let it out for honeymooners in town and family.  Our life is here and it runs very deep.  But, under no circumstances will any of us leave.”

His grandfather was matter of fact, looking right at her.

Iva listened to him, certain that he was trying to make a point.

Joan came in with tea and cookies for them then retreated.

“Breck, Iva looks to be sturdy enough for at least a half dozen.”

“We’ve not made plans regarding that, Grandfather.”  Breck said, slightly irritated by his grandfather’s non-stop insistence on having many great-grandchildren.

Gordon saw the unhappiness in Breck’s face and shrugged his shoulders to say he was only speaking his mind.

Iva thought he was referring to the cookies, saying happily, “I wouldn’t have six, that’s too many, sir. One or two is more than plenty, but thank you anyway.”

Gordon became put off, gesturing to her, “Go ahead and help yourself to some biscuits Iva.”

She slunk in fear, unable to eat one.  He wasn’t talking about cookies, panic set in.  What did he mean?

“Do you wish to take Breck to America to live?”  He asked bluntly.

“No.”  Iva said.

“Be certain young lady.  Can you be happy and make your life here?”  He asked.

She thought back to having already been through months of heartbreaking questioning in her own mind, “Yes.”

“Then you will come over here and give your grandfather a kiss on the cheek.”  He insisted, dryly.

“Yes sir.”  Iva said, recalling her grandmother.

He looked approvingly at Breck, “You look very nice in your gown.”

“She does, doesn’t she Grandfather.  Now, are you quite done interrogating Iva?”  Breck asked, smiling at her and her nervousness.

Suddenly she figured out what he meant by a half dozen and nearly let out a shriek of horror.

His grandfather smiled, “Indeed.  Iva, you’ll be back in the spring around April, I should think.  The flowers are lovely then.”

“Yes sir.”  Iva said, obediently.

Another hour of leisurely conversation made her lose track of the time.  It was already getting dark.

“We must be going, grandfather.  We’ll stop in again, and then just before we leave.”  Breck said, shaking his grandfather’s hand.

“Both of you have done well.  You will convince her Breck, she has a good frame.”  Their grandfather said, leading them to the door.

Breck lowered his head with embarrassment, at why they had to have a grandfather who assessed a women’s birthing ability, as they followed him, “Thank you, grandfather, thank you Joan.”

The two men shook hands as they came out, he closed the door, pleased that they’d come.

The sun hit them as they opened the front door and walked down the path.

They walked faster in the darkness as the sun passed the horizon, making themselves warm once inside the house.

“That was tough and he’s adamant about what he wants for his grandchildren.  I’m glad he likes me enough, not to throw me out.”  Iva said as they walked down his path and to the road.

“I think I’ve got a grandmother for him.”  Breck said, amused at the thought of her, with his grandfather.

“Does his house have electricity, Breck?”  Iva asked, looking up at him as she remembered not seeing any switches or outlets.

He squeezed her hand, gently, “No, he insists he doesn’t need it.  He lived in the townhouse when he worked at the store, but gave it up when he retired.”

“Do you want to race back, Breck?”  Iva asked, deeply touched by the elderly man’s joy.

“No, Iva.  I prefer to use my energies for something far better.”  He said, grinning.

Iva knew his innuendo and made a look of naïveté, for the fun of it, “Good, I’m famished too.”

 “Our grandparent’s wouldn’t make it a week, between her game shows and his lack of power.  How does Joan cook?”  Iva asked, laughing as they held each other’s hand and walked to the top of the hill that overlooked the little house.

“She cooks at her own home and brings it to him every day and when she can’t, another lady in the village does it, for pay of course.”  He said.

“I like him.  Take him as he is or don’t take him at all, he’s not complicated.”  Iva said, feeling as if she’d gotten his approval, especially since he had his roughness about him.

Breck lifted her hand and kissed it as they came down the hill out of sight of their grandfather’s house, “Exactly.”

Suddenly he ran down the road from her without explanation.

They spent the rest of the day reading and laughing at all the stories they’d accumulated over the past months.  She rested against his chest as they looked at the stars.  She thought it was an amazing place to be.

There was a full basket of food and tea left twice a day.  When it was empty in the morning, he returned it to Joan in the afternoon to fill for dinner.

When their honeymoon was over and they began to pack up their things, Breck looked at her, “I have every reason to want to keep you here Iva.  There’s no noise or traffic out there and it has many acres where we can walk and plan life.”

“Sadly it is time for us to get back, Breck.  There’s a lot that we still have to sort out.”  Iva said out loud, as she packed her things and swept her wedding dress across the bed to admire one last time.

“I’m sorry it has to end.”  He said, coming up beside her.

She turned to face him, putting her arms around his neck, “It’s not ending.  We’re just going somewhere else.”

Breck smiled at her, “I like the way you think, Iva.”

“And, I like the way you…”  Iva said, leaving it blank for his imagination.

“Stop it, we have to leave.”  He pleaded, emphasizing “have to” and then kissing her.

She wiggled her eyebrows, “Hug me is what I was going to say.”

“Uh-huh.”  He grinned.

They put their bags outside.  After he locked the door and they walked to the car, he stopped and turned, looking back at the house, smiling at his ancestors, “As nice as it is here, I must admit I too prefer conveniences, like electricity.”

“Breck it’s odd the way things have worked out.  Not being too philosophical or anything, but I couldn’t have imagined that when my grandmother said that we’re the recipients of whatever the earth or the other’s before us do or have done, whether good or bad, that she was so right.”  Iva said, getting his attention.

“I saw her perceptiveness straight off.  She cuts out the crap that others leave in and says it the way it actually is.  Josh once told me that she’s one in a million and he was spot on.”  He said lovingly.

Iva was pleased that they’d developed a deep regard for each other, in such a brief time, “She is special. I’m glad you see it.”

“You’ve been as much a surprise, as the power and fury of the Icelandic volcano O&#*@ has been.”  Breck said, waving his arms.

He opened the car door for her adding, “Or, whatever it’s called.”

“It has about eighteen consonants and a vowel or two, doesn’t it?”  Iva said, laughing at his volcano gesture.

“More or less, I’m not quite sure.  We’ll look when we get home.”

They began the two hour drive back to London.  Iva looked out the window, reflecting on all that had happened the past months and that this was now her home.

“We’ve only one stop before we get there, Iva.”  He said as she sat silently, examining the farms and countryside.

“Okay.”  She said, sitting comfortably in her seat.

As they got into the city, she momentarily wondered where they were going but didn’t ask him, her interest focused more on the buildings and passing cars that were on the wrong side of the road, which was now the right side.  She thought with excitement about learning to drive all over again in an entirely different way.

They turned past a street with Buckingham Palace in the distance.  Breck parked, “Iva, come with me please.”

“We’re never going home, are we?  We’ll become gypsies, traveling from spot to spot around England and end up in the little house with no electricity.”  Iva said tragically, holding her hand to her forehead as he held her door open.

“Very dramatic Mrs. Fortt, but please, come this way.”  He insisted as he pointed down a street as she got out.

It seemed familiar to her but wasn’t certain why, “I’m right with you.”

He took her hand as they walked through the streets, “No one knows what two thousand ten will bring, another volcano, earthquakes, tornados or world financial collapse but what I do know is who I want to be married too.”

“Since we’re being unwarrantedly optimistic, I’d rather be here with you, too.”  She said, smiling at him.

“There are some things I’d better get done since I’m staying.  The first; it might be a good idea to make peace with Trudy by taking her to a few of the Olympic events next year.  She is a cutie for a sixteen year old and if I don’t, I hate to think how she’ll resent me for messing up her romantic plans for you.  Secondly, I’d better start thinking about a great-grandchild for him or he might send me packing.  And then the last is; if Oswald is determined to have me as his tag along, sister-in-law, detective, I’d better get an outfit to wear.  Because only he knows what we’ll end up digging around in.”  She said with a grin.

Breck held her tight and laughed, “True.”

 Iva looked down the street they were on, realizing she’d been there before.

“You do remember it Iva, don’t you?”

As they turned down another street, she exclaimed when it came into view, “Yes.  It’s the old preserved street.”

He wanted to remind her of their first walk together, “You told me over a year ago, your version of the ending of the story for the two visitors, Iva”

She played coy, “How did it go?”

“It ends with her going back home and they are lifelong friends, if I recall correctly.”

Iva squeezed his hand gently, “Yes, I liked thinking that we would walk away from each other that way.”

He stood behind her, putting his arms around her waist, leaning toward her ear, “You asked me back then what my ending to their story would be.  I had my hopes but didn’t dare think about it, but if it would please you, I’ll tell it to you now.”

“Please, share it with me.”  Iva asked, whispering to him.

“It goes like this.  The man works as hard as a bloody ox to make the woman notice and fall in love with him, until he finally succeeds.  She doesn’t go home because she loves him far too much to leave and they do, in fact, end up living happily in a little house with no electricity.  One caveat to this is; she returns to her grandmother’s house when her brother in the military is due to return home for good.” He said, grinning.

Iva stood silent, smiling at the thought of Terry, their brief story, and about the women over the many hundreds of years who’d walked the street, not knowing where their or their family’s futures would lead, just as she couldn’t predict it.