Hi all! I wanted to give you a glimpse at the first chapter of my current WIP. It’s a story of second chances, love lost and found, and dealing with a new chapter in life. The story’s protagonist is Libby Crenshaw — a 50-something widow whose life is empty when the story begins…
Here is a glimpse at Empty Chairs, Empty Promises
I suppose some of my neighbors would call me crazy or at least odd if they watched me standing in subzero temperatures along the Mississippi River. I wasn’t sure how long I had been standing in the snow. I didn’t wear a watch today. Hell, I don’t even remember what day of the week it is. Don’t even ask me the date.
I think I’ve been frozen in this same spot for more than a few minutes. My fingers start to feel numb inside my thick gloves as I stand on the riverbank searching for the small splotches of white among the bare branches along the river. Slapping my hands together does nothing to relieve the effects of the winter temps. My breath surrounds me with crystalline clouds.
For the last twenty years, I’ve watched the bald eagles soaring over the river and roosting in the bare trees. Today they are absent. The other oddity is the frozen river. For the first time, it froze solid without a trace of open water. Would it hold me if I walked out on it? Could I make it across the wide expanse to the other side without falling through the ice and being swept away by the force of the mighty river that flows beneath it?
Something bumps my leg. I look down — for a moment perplexed — at the yellow lab smiling up at me with its tongue hanging out the side of its mouth. Mia. That’s her name. She pulls on her leash encouraging me to move. It wasn’t a bad idea, I guess. We would be much warmer inside.
I pull up the collar of my wool coat and adjust the scarf around my neck. Definitely, time to get away from the river and the cold winds blustering through the valley. I wave at the passing vehicles and stop briefly to exchange a few words of greeting with some of my more adventuresome neighbors who brave the cold as I have to walk the dog or get some exercise.
Mia’s pace increases as we near the large white house I’ve called home for the past 25 years. The house I had shared with my husband, Joshua, for almost as many years. Our children are grown and live far away. They call, but it isn’t the same. I open my back door and stomp my boots to get the snow off. I unhook Mia’s harness hanging it, my coat, and scarf on the hooks next to the door. Toeing off my boots, I kick them into the corner and scurry across the icy cold cement floor in my socks eager for the heated interior of my home.
The warmth of the kitchen is comforting on such a cold morning. The radio is tuned to the morning news and fills the still house with the humming drone of the announcers. I find it soothing. Leaving the radio on during the day is a new habit. The house has been too quiet, too empty. The hypnotic tick, tick, tick of the hall clock just reminds me of time passing me by.
My birthday is just around the corner. I’m going to be fifty years old. I never envisioned my life would take this fateful turn. I pictured vacations to exotic locales with my husband at my side. In my dreams, I watched with pride and pleasure as my husband walked our daughter down the aisle. Our future would involve both of us playing with the grandkids. And on days like today, the two of us sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a hot cup of coffee as we planned our day.
Oh, I’ve heard all of the platitudes. Life isn’t fair. You’re young — you’ll meet someone else. You’re lucky you are financially stable. And my favorite, don’t you think it’s time to get past this and get on with your life. I’m sure most of the advice is well meaning. But I will handle my grief in my own way and in my own time.
I fill Mia’s bowl with kibble adding a tablespoon of coconut oil because I read somewhere it was good for her coat. Grabbing a mug from the dish drainer, I fill it with water and pour it into my coffee machine. The new coffee makers are quick and make a decent cup of coffee, but personally, I really miss the sound and smell of coffee percolating. Inserting a packet into the correct slot, I wait for the machine to produce my hot cup of caffeine. My chilly hands welcome the wonderful warmth radiating from the mug.
The kitchen did have a table and 4 chairs by the bay window overlooking the back yard. After Josh died, I was overwhelmed with the thought of sitting at that table alone with three empty chairs. I replaced it with two chaise lounges with a round table placed between them. The second chaise doesn’t cause any discomfort for me. It provides the promise of one of my children visiting. Nathan is in the Navy stationed in Washington state and Carrie moved to New York City to pursue a banking career. They returned home for the funeral, but their work commitments cut their time at home short. I understood. They are adults with their own lives.
Within the toasty security of my kitchen, I look through the help wanted ads in the local paper. Housekeeper. No thanks. I don’t like cleaning my own house much less anyone else’s. Bartender. Not in my skill set. Milker. I try to picture myself up at 4 am every day hooking suction cups to cow teats. The mental imagery makes me giggle. It could be a backup plan.
The radio news changes to easy listening music. I tune the radio to a station that plays classic rock. It’s the beginning of another long day.
After a morning of repetitive tasks, I’m ready for a break. The sound of the doorbell gives me an excuse to cease and desist from my chores. I wipe my hands off on my jeans and shoot a fast glance in the hall mirror as I pass. I look like crap. At least my hair is combed today.
I open the door and a gust of frosty air intrudes into my home. My body shivers at the sudden decrease in temp. Standing on the stoop is a dark-haired woman who looks to be in her early 20’s. I don’t recognize her and wonder if my mind is failing me again.
“Can I help you with something?” At my query, the young woman squares her shoulders and runs her tongue over her dry lips before answering.
“I am looking for Mr. Joshua Crenshaw.” She gazes past me into the house, her eyes searching.
“He doesn’t live here anymore.” It sounds like a half-truth, but I don’t know this woman and my husband’s death is too personal to share with strangers.
The brunette’s eyes widen. “This is the address I was given. Do you know where he lives now?” she asks. I sense a weariness in her voice as well as her appearance.
“Before I tell you anything else about my husband, could you tell me your name and your business with him?” I have an uneasy feeling. Nausea makes my insides churn as my hands grow clammy.
“My name is Amanda Norton. Joshua Crenshaw is my father.” I gasp. The room spins around me. I detect a distant voice asking if I’m okay. My tongue lies heavy in my mouth. The acrid taste of my coffee coming back up in my throat makes me gag. I lean my forehead against the frigid surface of the front door hoping this is a nightmare and I’m still in my bed.
I croak out the words, “My husband is dead.”