Ethan rolled over and forced his eyes to acknowledge the warm sunlight filtering through the thick, lace curtains. He wasn’t disoriented enough to forget where he was and who he was with, although the previous day felt somewhat like a dream. He sat up and looked around.
An open door that he thought was a closet turned out to be an attached bathroom and he made a beeline for the facilities, chastising himself for falling asleep after drinking two glasses of soda along with the pizza and salad. Another thoughtful item in the guest bathroom was a little basket with pocket sized toiletries including brand new toothbrushes, still in their packaging. Grateful to his thoughtful hosts, he opened one and brushed the morning breath away before wandering out to see if he was alone in this grand house where he felt more at home than in his own palace.
He heard a soft radio somewhere back near the kitchen where Bonnie hummed along to country music station. Ethan didn’t want to intrude but the door to a sunroom was open and Bonnie had an easel set up with oil paints and a landscape taking shape on a large canvas. He knocked on the wooden frame and cleared his throat. “Knock, knock, mind if I interrupt your work?”
“Oh, good morning, Ethan.” Bonnie turned and smiled, then set down her paint brush and reached for the dial on the radio. “Did you sleep well?”
“Thank you, yes. Sorry if I overstayed my welcome. I don’t know what came over me.” He chuckled and thrust his hands in his pockets, sensing she didn’t believe his lie any more than he did. He was dying of cancer. Fatigue was to be expected.
“Nonsense, all you did was fall asleep instead of getting into your car and driving home. Either way you were gone for the night.”
“True. Hadn’t thought of it that way.” He hitched his thumb behind him. “I’m gonna take off and head back to Omaha first thing this morning. It is still morning, right?” He looked out the wall of windows that made up the whole back end of the room, gaging the angle of the sun.
“Barely, but yes.” She chuckled. “Let me grab you a water bottle and protein bar for the road. We had breakfast hours ago and it’s not quite time for lunch.”
“That would be great, thanks.” He followed Bonnie to the kitchen, and she reached into the refrigerator as he pawed through a little basket of snack bars on the island. He chose a granola bar with chunks of dried fruit and a label that promised to curb his hunger until lunchtime. Just what he needed. “Are Miles and Natalie next door? I’ll poke my head in and make sure there’s nothing else they need from me before I head out.”
“Yes, they should be in their office.” Bonnie handed Ethan a cold water bottle and he strode down the hallway to the front room.
Pushing open the screen door he glanced toward the porch swing that had been his demise the previous evening and chuckled. “Thank you again for your hospitality. I’m sure I’ll see you in a few days.”
“Anytime. Drive safely.”
Ethan bounded down the porch stairs with a spring in his step and realized his illness was easy to forget when in such a peaceful environment. He glanced up at the tunnel of trees over the sidewalk between the Dolan’s home and the little house next door that had been converted to the Law Offices of Dolan & Dolan. He pushed open the door and the hanging bell chimed.
“Hello, sleepyhead.” Natalie’s face lit up when she saw him, and Miles removed his reading glasses and stood from his desk.
“How are you feeling this morning, Ethan?” Miles truly sounded concerned.
“Actually, I feel really good. I think I must have needed a good night’s sleep.” Ethan shuffled his foot, poking his toe into a swirl on the pattern of the industrial carpet that covered the floor. “Plus, I think the work you’re doing for me has taken a load off my shoulders, if you know what I mean.”
“Planning for your future naturally brings a feeling of security,” Miles said. Ethan wondered how many times in his life Miles had said those exact words to his clients. He was honored to be one of them.
“Is there anything else you need from me before I take off?” Ethan asked, laying his hand on the stack of paperwork he’d left on the corner of Natalie’s desk. “I can come back in a couple of days and bring you whatever else you need.”
“I need you to come back and take me to New York City,” Natalie said, a gleam in her eye. She held up her fingers to make air quotes. “This ‘work’ vacation is going to be the highlight of my adult life.”
Ethan chuckled, suspecting this trip would be the highlight of his adult life as well, what little he had left. “You’re the one I dumped my mess on. You tell me when you’re ready to leave and I’ll be ready to go. I’ll pack this afternoon.”
“Lucky for Natalie, her father is an attorney,” Miles said with a teasing tone. “I’m going to make this case my priority while you two head out in the great unknown and we’ll converse using modern technology as you travel.”
“You’re sure you don’t mind us using your motorhome?”
“I’ve already called my mother and told her to clean that baby up and stock the fridge and fill the gas tank.” Miles stuck his chest out with pride. “They’re too old to be taking cross country trips anyway. In a way, it’s good to get that monstrosity out of the pole barn and drive it a couple times a year.”
“Please let them know I’ll reimburse them for the cost of gas and everything,” Ethan said, then pulled out his wallet. “On second thought, here, just give them a couple hundred dollars now. I’ll bring more cash to cover the rest. I know those things cost a fortune to fill with gasoline.” He handed Miles his last hundred plus two fifties, leaving himself with only a few twenties after handing over four hundred the day before. He was heading home. There was no reason to need cash between here and Omaha.
“Thank you, I’m sure they’ll appreciate that.” Miles nodded, taking his money.
“Okay, then, I’m going home to get ready for our adventure.”
“I’ll start packing tonight,” Natalie said.
“Shall we maybe plan on leaving the day after tomorrow?” Ethan raised his eyebrows, glancing nervously between Miles and Natalie, still incredulous that Miles was resigned to watch his daughter drive away with a strange man for an indefinite amount of time. “That will give me all day tomorrow to get some last-minute errands run and wrap up a few things.”
“Sounds good to me.” Natalie had a full out grin on her face and was almost bouncing on her toes. Ethan decided he’d better leave before he did something stupid like take her in his arms and swing her around in a circle with excitement.
Before he left, Ethan turned back and grinned. “Hey, Miles… would you mind watching over my Lincoln for me while we’re gone? You know, take her out for a spin every couple of days, keep her gassed up and happy?”
“I might be able to fit that into my schedule.” Miles’ grin was almost as wide as Natalie’s and Ethan clicked his key fob as he strode over to his car. It really was a pretty car.
Ethan climbed in and purred the engine to life, pulling away from the Dolan’s home with a smile on his face.
A stand alone novella in the All's Fair in Love and Sports Series by Julie L. Spencer.