Tom and LeahbyTony155©
"...so, it is with much sadness that I announce my retirement from baseball..."
Those words from the press conference a few days before haunted Tom Murphy as he drove through the southern Michigan countryside. He knew his decision was final, but the reality of it all was beginning to hit him. There would be no spring training, no more traveling, no more camaraderie with his teammates, and no more playing the game he loved as he had done for the past fourteen years.
There would be a lot of things he would miss. He had but a few close friends from his time in baseball and he would keep in touch with them forever. He knew he would drift away from others once he was not in their constant memory and that was okay with him. Ballplayers come and go and you do not think about former teammates much once they are gone for awhile. He would miss the fans and the way they would be behind you 100% when things were going well, but boo you the next instant you did not perform up to expectations. Most of the fans were great, though. In his mind, the thing he would miss the most would be the fresh smell of grass in the stadium right after a rain and the distinct sound of a baseball striking wood. He would miss the sound of cleats crunching in the dirt as you ran or the sweet feel of a ball smacking into your glove after a long run. God, he loved this game!
That October day, he walked away from the only job he had known since college. Although he was not paid like the superstars of the game, he was a good player, but not great, Tom made an awful lot of money over the years and he invested and saved wisely thanks to his agent and other financial advisors. He was not an extravagant person and saw no need to buy a huge house for just himself when a more modest one would do just as well. A few months before when he had decided to retire, he went about buying his childhood home in Hastings, Michigan. The current owners did not want to sell the house and had no intention of moving. When Tom offered them twice the house's value and offered to pay their moving expenses, they jumped at their good fortune. It was probably the silliest thing Tom had done in recent memory, but he did not care. This was home to him and this was where he felt most comfortable.
He had played for Baltimore, Oakland, and San Diego before winding up his career with St. Louis. He had homes at every stop, but never felt comfortable or at peace. San Diego had been the nicest stay for him and he briefly thought of settling there, but he longed for the simple life of small town living and Hastings still offered that.
He had not been in Hastings for almost five years since his father died. His mother had passed while he was still in college. His siblings still lived in the state and took care of the funeral arrangements while Tom flew in from the west coast. It was during this time when Tom began to think about settling in the town. It still had a friendly feel about it even though it had grown quite a bit. During his stay, he visited old friends and their families and felt as if he had not been away at all. He was treated the same as before he became a professional athlete and the notoriety that came with it. For some reason, he did not pursue buying the house and let it fall into strangers hands instead. It was a nice house, having four bedrooms, three baths and a large finished basement, but it was the scenery that Tom always missed. The house sat on five tree-friendly acres and faced Thornapple Lake, a beautiful little lake where Tom went fishing almost every day during summer vacation while growing up.
He came upon route 37 and knew he was close. Familiar houses tickled his memory as he thought about who had once lived in each. Most of the people with whom he grew up still lived in those houses for this was a town where people stayed put. Job-wise, there was not a lot of industry in Hastings, but it was close enough to bigger cities whereby you could commute for better jobs. If you look on a map, you can find Hastings right in the middle of Kalamazoo, Jackson, Lansing, and Grand Rapids, and Battle Creek. It is the county seat of Barry County and has a small police department, courthouse, and a jail.
He turned onto Center Road and began the last short leg of his journey. Tom began to get anxious and excited as more familiar houses came into view; the Tuttles, the Fergusons, and the Van Wert's houses all came and went. Turning again on Cogswell Road, he could barely see the lake down the road and through the trees. He broke into a grin at the end of the road where he turned left and into the driveway of his new home. He hoped to see the moving van there with his belongings, but they were not due until the next day. Still, he could hope for a surprise. Tom got out and inhaled deeply, taking in the strong, refreshing smell of the lake not one hundred yards away. He looked in that direction and smiled. A few boats were floating about hoping to catch a crappie or blue gill that populated the lake. Bass, pike, and Muskie could be found in the right spots, but crappies and blue gills were prevalent.
Leaving his suit cases in his car, Tom strode to the door and let himself in. It was an eerie feeling that overcame Tom as he stepped into the living room. It seemed much larger than he remembered, be it the room was devoid of any furniture. It seemed so familiar to him, yet so strange at the same time. The room was painted a different color than when his parents owned it, a pale green instead of the beige to which he had become accustomed. He went from room to room and explored as if seeing his home for the first time. It was his now and he could not wait to enjoy the peace and quiet. A large refrigerator and stove were left behind and he was grateful for that. At least he would be able to get some groceries before he had to find a place to stay for the night. Down in the basement, a newer washer and dryer were in the corner. He checked the water, electricity, and phone and they all appeared to be in working order.
It was only around noon when he went back to his car and began to bring in his suitcases. As he started to unpack, he noticed there were no hangers in any of the closets, so putting away his clothes would have to wait, too. Looking out the livingroom window, the lake caught his eye once more. Smiling to himself, he left the house and walked down to the lake. When he got to the boat dock, he looked around in disapproval. The dock had become old, rickety, and in desperate need of repair. There had once been a small swimming area and sandy beach to the right side of the dock, but they had become overgrown and weeded. Tom shook his head with disdain. That would be first on his priority list when spring came the following year, to get the area looking like it should and once did. Looking back at the house, he was pleased to see that the landscaping and flower gardens had been well kept. Tom sighed deeply. He was home.
A half hour later, he drove to town in search of lunch. It looked a bit different from the last time he was there, but it was a nice sight nonetheless. After picking up a newspaper, he strolled into a small café called "Speed's Coffee Shop". It was fairly crowded, but Tom found a seat at the counter. Within a few minutes, a waitress about his own age appeared before him, a medium built blond with brilliant blue eyes.
"Can I get you started with some coffee, hon?" she asked politely.
"No, iced tea with lemon, please," Tom answered.
"Sure thing," she replied. "Do you need a menu? Our special is meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy."
"The special sounds fine, thank you."
"Great!" She turned and gave the order to the cook. Turning back, she said, "I don't remember seeing you around here. Are you new or just passing through?" She eyed the dark haired, brown eyed stranger with curiosity. He was of average height, but she could see he had a muscular, athletic build.
"Well, I grew up here, but now I'm back to stay. I bought the Jamieson's place."
"Oh, so you're the one. I didn't know they were even thinking about moving, but all of the sudden, they're gone. How did you do it?"
In his best Godfather voice, Tom replied, "I made them an offer they couldn't refuse."
The waitress smiled, but said nothing. She went about filling his drink order. Her name tag said "Leah", short for Cecilia and she was well liked in town. Known for her quick wit and smile, she sang in the church choir and volunteered at the hospital. She had been married once, divorced, and had two children, both girls aged thirteen and eleven. Considered pretty and a fine catch, her friends could not figure out why she chose to remain single when she could basically have her pick of anyone in town. In her mind, the answer was quite simple; she liked being single.
She handed Tom his glass of tea. "Here you go, hon. Your food will be ready shortly. As much as I'd like to chat with you, I have other customers."
Tom smiled and nodded, noticing her eyes once again. He had never seen such stunning eye color before. He had met and dated many women all over the country, but he had never seen eyes like hers. It was almost as if they were enhanced by contacts, but he doubted it. Tom was a good, quick judge of character and he got the distinct impression this person was not vain about her looks. She seemed very down home and friendly in a natural way, not put on or an act. He found himself staring and looked down quickly to his paper.
Five or so minutes went by before Leah appeared with a steaming plate of delicious smelling food. "Here you go, hon," she said, placing the plate in front of him. Tom quickly folded the paper and placed it to the right. "Is there anything else I can get you?" she asked.
"Not a thing," Tom said, looking up at her. "This should be fine for now."
"Okay," Leah replied. "Give me a yell if you need anything."
With that, she hurried off to another customer. The food proved to taste as good as it smelled. Tom forgot what good, simple home cooking tasted like. Being on the road as much as he was during the course of a baseball season, Tom dined in many opulent restaurants, but he found that small diners such as this appealed to him more. In the off season and at home, he cooked for himself and thought he was a decent cook. He had not gotten sick from any of his concoctions, so that was in his favor. Like Leah, he had been married and divorced, but he had no children.
By the time Leah returned to check on him,. Tom had just finished his meal.
"I guess you were hungry, weren't you?" she said while taking his plate.
"I had breakfast around six. I've been on the road most of today."
"Can I interest you in dessert? We have all kinds of pie."
"Do you have peach?"
"We sure do, hon. I'll bring you out a big piece."
"Thanks. That sounds great."
She was back a few minutes later with his pie. "Here you go, hon. Enjoy."
"I will. Thanks."
The crowd was starting to thin out by the time Tom finished his dessert. There were only two other people at the counter and only a few tables were occupied. Leah was busy hustling back and forth cleaning the counter and helping the other waitresses with their duties as well.
When she came back to Tom, she placed the bill in front of him. "Take your time. I'll get it whenever you're ready."
"I'm ready now," he replied, thinking of the shopping he had to do. He looked at the bill and smiled. It was only $5.50. He remembered the last meal he had in St. Louis cost him over thirty dollars and was not nearly as good as what he had just consumed. He fished a ten dollar bill from his wallet and handed it to her.
"I'll be back with your change," she said as she turned to leave.
"Keep it," Tom said.
"What?" she asked, turning back his way as if she had not heard correctly.
"Keep the change. It was a great meal."
"Are you sure?"
Tom laughed, "Yes, I'm sure."
"Well, you can come around anytime, you hear." She flashed a genuine smile his way.
"I'll do that," he said as he slid off the stool. He grabbed his paper and turned to leave, but remembered something. Looking over his shoulder, he said, "Can I ask you something?"
"Of course you can."
"Where can I find a bed and breakfast or a boarding room for tonight? My furniture's not going to arrive until tomorrow and I need a place to stay."
Leah thought for a moment. "I really can't think of any in town. There's one in Charlotte that I know about."
"I really don't want to go to Charlotte. How about a Holiday Inn or something like that?"
"There's a Motel 6 and a Best Western on route 43 about ten minutes down the road from State Street. Route 43 is just down the street." She pointed in the general direction for him.
"That sounds great. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it." He turned to leave once again.
"Hey there," she called to him, stopping him in his tracks.
"Yes?" he asked, turning back to her.
"Since you're going to be around for a while, what's your name?"
"Well, Tom Murphy, it was a pleasure to meet you. Come back around when you get hungry."
"You can count on it," he replied, smiling.
The next day was one of the busiest Tom had ever remembered. The moving van arrived promptly at eight o'clock and the unpacking began. His house in Florissant, Missouri was almost the same size, but it did not have as many bedrooms or bathrooms. Tom had a general idea of where he wanted his furniture placed in the living room, dining room, and his bedroom. He had very little recreational furniture besides his television console and computer desk, so diagraming and placing the furniture was fairly easy. He had done this quite a few times before on his own and he was used to it. By mid-afternoon, the last of the boxes was unloaded and the large moving van left. After carefully inspecting his fragile boxes, his wide screen television, and other breakable items, he was satisfied and relieved to find nothing chipped or broken.
Throughout the morning and afternoon, Tom found himself too busy to worry about lunch. Now, his stomach was growling. After fixing himself a couple of chicken salad sandwiches, he grabbed a cold soda from the fridge and sat down at his dining room table to eat. While eating, he surveyed his living room and was generally pleased at how it looked. There were no wall hangings, but it looked pretty much the way he wanted it. He was going to take his time unpacking and getting things in order. His kitchen and bedroom would be the first parts of the house to get organized, then he would worry about everything else. Once he finished his lunch, he set about arranging his bedroom and unpacking his clothes.
It was close to four o'clock when he heard the doorbell ring from the main floor. All of the bedrooms and two of the baths were on the second floor. Puzzled and curious, Tom bounded down the stairs and opened the door. To his surprise, Leah was standing on the porch holding a Styrofoam container.
"Hey," said Leah, "I thought you might want some supper for tonight. It's some leftovers from lunch and I didn't want it to go to waste."
"Thanks," Tom replied, taking the container from her. "That was really nice of you." He opened the door wide. "Come in for a minute? The place is a mess, but I do have some chairs unpacked."
"Sure," Leah replied. She walked past him and looked around. "This is a really nice house. How did you know about it?"
"I lived here before I went to college." Tom put the container of food in the refrigerator.
"You did?" Then the realization hit her. "You mean you're Jack Murphy's son?"
"Yes, I am," Tom said proudly. "Did you know him?"
"Of course I did. Everyone knew Jack. He was the sweetest man. He used to come into the diner every day for breakfast. He'd have toast and coffee and nothing else. I was so sad when he died. I can't believe you're his son!"
"Well, I'm glad you got to know him."
They moved to the living room.
"Can I offer you a soda or something?" he asked, looking at her. She was still in her uniform while he was wearing a St. Louis Cardinals tee shirt and sweat pants.
"No, I'm fine. I was just on my way home and thought I'd stop by."
"That was very nice of you. I certainly wasn't expecting company today, as you can well see." He ran his hand through his tangled, curly hair and smiled sheepishly.
Leah laughed lightly and looked around again. "I think you've done quite a bit in a short time. It looks like it's taking shape already."
"Would you like to see the rest of the house?" he asked.
Leah checked her watch thinking she needed to get home to her girls. Tom noticed, but said nothing more. "I can't stay too much longer."
"It'll only take a few minutes. I promise."
"Okay," she replied after briefly debating the idea.
True to his word, it was a short tour and in less than ten minutes, he had shown her all the levels and rooms. Leah thought the house to be huge as he showed her room after room, telling her what each room was when he was growing up and what each room would become to him once everything was in place.
As he led her to the door, she remarked, "It's a beautiful house, Tom. I'm sure you'll enjoy it again after all these years."
"I know I will," he replied.
"Well, I better get going. My daughters will wonder what's happened to me."
"Two of them," Leah nodded. "Emma is thirteen and Christine is eleven. Do you have any kids?"
"No," Tom shook is head, thinking back. He and Karen did not have time enough for themselves, let alone children before they divorced.
"Oh," Leah replied, sensing she had touched a bad nerve. She glanced at her watch once more. "I really must be going."
"I'll walk you out," Tom offered.
The cool late afternoon breeze greeted them as they stepped onto the porch. Tom glanced to the lake and wished it to be summer so he could go fishing and swimming. Even though he grew up there, he did not like swimming or fishing in cooler weather. San Diego had been the perfect place for him, but was starting to become crime-ridden near the time he left.
"Enjoy your supper," Leah said as she walked toward her car, an older Chevy.
"I know I will," Tom replied, his mind taken away from the lake. He watched as Leah got into her car. Before she started it, Tom walked to her window, which she rolled down.
"Can I ask you something?" he said.
Leah blinked, then smiled and took her hand away from the ignition. "Sure you can."
"I was just wondering something. Why me?"
"What do you mean? I'm not following..."
"I mean, do you do this for every new person who comes to town? You know, bringing food to me and then coming into my house without any qualms or reservations. I could be a psychopath for all you know."
Leah laughed loudly as if she had heard a great joke. It was a light, pleasant laugh that brightened her face and Tom liked it.
"You are so funny, Tom!" she said between giggles. "No, I don't do this for just anyone. I sense good things about you. Anyone who wants to come back to this town after being away has to have some good in him. Plus, anyone who is Jack Murphy's son is okay in my book. He couldn't have a bad kid. There's no reason in the world for me to think you're a psychopath. You aren't one, are you?"
Tom smiled, amused at her question after what she had just said. "No, I'm not. I guess I've lived in big cities for too long. It's hard to realize there are places where people trust each other, help one another, and can leave their doors unlocked."
"Welcome back to Hastings," she said.
"It's good to be back," he replied. "Well," he said finally, "I've kept you here long enough. Thanks again for the food. It was really thoughtful of you."