tagMatureShut In

Shut In


"No. You guys go ahead. I've got a ton of work to do. Have some fun together. You, know, a little male bonding time," she said with a happy smile.

"You sure?" her husband asked.

"Yes, but hurry home, okay?" she said in that way that told him all he needed to know.

"Do you know how much I love you?" he said to her.

"Yeah. I think I do," she said with that bright, beautiful smile. "About as much as I love you."

"Okay. You got me there," he admitted.

"Dad? Are we going or not?" their 15-year old son asked impatiently.

"Yeah. We're going. Just gimme a minute, okay?"

Their son, Matt, knew why his father needed a minute, and all he could do was shake his head. He had friends whose parents argued and fought all the time. But not his parents. It was always sweetness and kissy-face, and now he was old enough to know what else happened nearly every night in their bedroom even after sixteen years together as man and wife.

"You better get going," she told him.

He sighed and said, "I suppose you're right."

"Have fun. And I'm really glad you're doing this."

"I'd rather stay here and do you," he told her as he grabbed her by the waist an pulled her close.

She nearly yelped, but held it down to a loud laugh.

"Well, if you're not too late...you can do me when you get home," she promised.

"If I'm not too late. Ha! When has that ever slowed you down?" he teased.

"Okay. That point goes to you, Professor," she told him. "Just don't be too too late. Okay?"

"I won't. I promise," he said before he kissed her goodbye.

"Dad? What the hell?" their son finally said.

His parents looked at each other, smiled, and tried not to laugh.

"Hey! Language already!" his father called out, knowing his son was growing up all too fast.

He left the bedroom, handed his son the keys, then said, "Here you go."

"Awesome!" his son, who'd just gotten his learner's permit, replied.

"Be careful!" his mother said to them both.

"Mom, I know how to drive, okay?" her son replied.

"I know. Just drive...carefully, all right?"

She hugged her son then kissed him goodbye, too.

"Bye, Mom! See ya later!"

"Bye, honey! And you, too, other honey!" she called back.

"Love you, sweetie," he told her as her boys headed out.

How could she have known it would be for the last time?

Her thoughts of those final minutes ran through her mind for the thousandth time before she heard a voice calling her back to reality saying, "Yoo-hoo! Anyone home?"

She looked at her computer screen then said, "Sorry, Mom. I was just thinking about Matt and Tim."

"Why don't you come home, honey? I know why you moved to Maine, but why are you staying now? It's been two years since the accident, and I worry about you being out there in the middle of nowhere all by yourself."

"It's not 'nowhere', Mom. I live in a small town, but I really like it here. And besides, you know why."

Her mom sighed then said, "First of all, you live a good five miles out in sticks from that small town, but I won't dwell on that. As far as you staying there goes, yes I do know why. And while I can't blame you for wanting to stay in the house you and Tim built, I just wish you'd move back here to civilization. And...you know, maybe meet someone."

"Mom?" her daughter said with that same edge that always came out when her mother pushed too hard.

"Okay. Fine. Just shoot me for caring," her mom said dramatically, throwing her hands up in the air.

It was both a blessing and a curse to be able to video chat, and these antics of her mother were part of the less pleasant side.

"Oh, so now you're gonna play the martyr again. Gee, you haven't played that card in what? Two whole weeks?" her daughter asked.

"Your father misses you, too," her mother replied, as though her daughter hadn't heard that a hundred times, as well.

"Tell Daddy I love him, and that he's welcome to fly out and see me anytime."

She smiled then said, "You too, Mom."

"No thanks. Once was enough. I'm a city girl and always will be. And Seattle is my home. And it's yours too, you know."

There was no use arguing. Her mother was never going to let go of trying to talk her 43-old daughter into coming home, so she didn't bother trying.

"I'll talk to you soon, okay, Mom?" she said trying to finish the call as quickly as she could without being overly rude.

Before her mom could reply she ended the FaceTime call and closed her laptop and exhaled loudly.

It was amazing, or maybe the better word was depressing, how even a short call with her own other could make her feel so bad. She knew her mom was only trying to look out for her, but after living in Maine for 17 years, this was her home. And yes, leaving the house she and her late husband had built together and where they'd raised their son was too much to even contemplate. At least for the time being anyway.

In fact, just leaving the house at all was becoming very difficult. Nicole Kelly had heard of agoraphobia, but she'd never even dreamed it might one day affect her. But lately, it had become harder and harder to even go outside, and impossible for her to leave the property.

She could still leave the house, but the thought of going into town—such as it was—made her skin crawl. It had been three weeks since the last time she'd gone, and going had caused her to hyperventilate and break out in a sweat in spite of the cool, Fall air.

She was getting very low on nearly everything, but just thinking about getting into her well-worn Land Rover seemed like walking up to the edge of a cliff with a thousand-foot drop off.

As bad as that was becoming, the real demon she battled most was loneliness. She loved the gorgeous home she and her late husband, Tim Kelly, had built together from the ground up, but as much as she loved it, she hated the fact that it was so utterly quiet that she often kept the television and/or the radio on just to hear a human voice—just not a real person. And as lonely as she was during the day, there were nights when the loneliness felt unbearable.

After 'hanging up' with her 69-year old mother Anne Kelly, Nicole went downstairs, and even though it was almost ten o'clock at night, got on her $2,000 Peleton exercise bike, found a live training session on line, and joined in. An hour later she was soaked in sweat and, temporarily at least, felt a whole lot better. She cooled down, took a hot shower then, then read for an hour as the endorphin rush washed over her helping to ease the anxiety and the loneliness.

Nicole had loved working out for as long as she could remember, and that went all the way back to when she was just six years old and ran around a track the first time her father, Nick Kelly, after whom she was more or less named, took her to a playground. He hadn't stopped her, and when she came in after running her first-ever quarter mile, he asked her if she could do that again.

"Of course!" she told him before turning around and running one more.

By the time she was ten, she was winning local 5k races, and in high school, she was the number two cross-country athlete in the state, and good enough in track to earn a scholarship to the University of Washington in her then-hometown of Seattle.

Exercise was still a big part of her life, and why, at 43, she still looked incredible. Her body was hard and fit, and although she almost never wore makeup anymore, her face still looked young and pretty. Even her long, blonde hair looked amazing when she wore it down, but since there was no one to wear it down for, she either wore it in a ponytail or piled up high on her head. The same was true with makeup, and as long as she had no interest in attracting another man, she saw no reason to take the time to 'gussy up'.

She flipped on the television around 1am and found a mindless, romantic movie to watch as she relaxed in the large, king-sized bed where she and her husband had made love so many times over the years.

Near the end of the movie, something reminded her of her husband, and whenever that happened the emptiness she felt gave way to a kind of longing which persisted until she reached for the closest thing to Tim she had available. She used it often to bring herself to the best and only relief she could have while she fantasized about her gorgeous husband making love to her.

At least partially satisfied, somewhere around 5am, Nicole drifted off to sleep, the only respite from the big, lonely house knew she could never leave. Her last thought was how much she hoped that wouldn't become true in the literal sense.

It was nearly noon when she woke up, and that her made her wish she could keep more normal hours like say, going to bed before midnight and getting up by seven or eight. But this had been her 'new normal' since the accident that cold, rainy night when the two people she loved the most had been taken from her in an instant. And since Tim had provided for her quite well, working wasn't a necessity, and this...worked for her...so she stayed up late, slept in, then started her day when most other people's were half over.

Her mom had been right about her living in the sticks. The closet town was five miles away and had a population of just over 400 people. So it was fitting the only real store in town was called The General Store which sold groceries, clothing, hardware and other supplies.

She and Tim had secretly started calling the owner, Hank Edwards, Sam Drucker, because he not only ran the general store, but because he looked quite a bit like the man of the same name on the old sitcom Green Acres. Their secret got out, but to their surprise, Hank told them he'd heard that so many times he'd thought about changing his name. And that had taken all the fun of it, so ever since he'd been just plain old Hank.

The beautiful, rustic home they'd built was a good half mile from the nearest paved road. Since she'd moved there with Tim back in 2001, the summer before the 9-11 attacks, Nicole had seen countless elk, deer, moose, and bears, as well as all kinds of other wildlife in and around their property.

It had been fun to joke around about the endless numbers wild animals that lived all around them, but it stopped being fun the night a very large bull moose cross the newly-blacktopped highway that ran for miles parallel to the 20 acres of land they owned.

The county had finally approved the much-needed resurfacing, and driving on it had gone from a pothole-laden nightmare to a smooth, quiet dream. It had only been finished for a week and still had no centerline painted on it, and the road was dark it seemed to suck up every bit of light from a car's headlights. The state police told her the car Matt was driving had been traveling about 45mph, five under the posted speed limit.

But when thousands of pounds of steel collided with over a half ton of flesh, bone, and horns, something has to give. The animal was cut off at the knees and its torso slid into the front windshield with enough force to allow its weight to completely crush in the front windshield and the two occupants riding up front.

She'd known the town sheriff who'd come to her house that cold, dark night for the entire time they'd lived there, and when he showed up on her porch that late at night, she began trembling even before she opened the door.

He had tears in his eyes when he told her what had happened not three miles from her home. She remembered hearing bits and pieces of what he'd said with words like 'freak accident' standing out, but mercifully, most of it, to include the word 'impaled', was a blur. Even now just thinking about it caused her to shiver or 'willy' as her mother used to say.

Nicole shook off those horrible memories then made herself some coffee before feeding her dog. Zeus was an aging Great Dane Tim had brought home as a puppy eleven years ago. He was having a lot of trouble walking of late, and Nicole knew she was going to have to deal with the inevitable before too long, as Great Danes typically only lived between eight and ten years. The thought of losing the last remaining, living thing that was close to her, and that connected her to her husband and son, was just one more painful reminder of how much she'd lost.

For now, Zeus was still able to get up by himself and make his daily rounds when she took him outside. Once he was full, Nicole did just that to let him take care of business then went out to feed the chickens while he went from place to place, sniffing everything as though it was the first time.

She gathered up a handful of brown eggs then waited until Zeus let her know he was tired of being outside.

"Come on, boy!" she said as she led him back in the house where he lapped up a quart of water before laying down on his favorite rug.

She put the eggs away then did a quick inventory, and realized she was going to have to break down an go into town. Just not today. She rechecked and saw that she had enough to get by for at least one more day if not two, so the anxiety that was building up inside her slowly receded into the background.

Even though she'd just vacuumed the day before, she pulled out the Dyson and fired it up just to give herself something to do. When she finished with the vacuuming, she got out a Swiffer dust mop and went back over the hardwood paying special attention to the areas underneath dressers, chests, and armoires that had recessed areas underneath them. Lastly, she got out a Swiffer duster and dusted every nook and cranny in the house, stopping to polish anything made of wood with some lemon-scented furniture oil.

She putzed around until 3 o'clock then decided to make herself a cup of tea and sit down and watch something on TV. She'd just poured the water into the cup when she heard the unmistakable sound of a car door slamming outside.

The noise startled her, and when she heard it, she ran to the window to see who it was and felt sick to her stomach. It was the sheriff's car, and just seeing it brought back the horror of that night in grim detail.

Even the sound of the doorbell made her jump in spite of knowing it was about to ring. Nicole took a deep breath, tried to collect herself, then opened the door.

She knew the sheriff who'd delivered the bad news was planning to retire soon, but she had no idea whether or not he had, and if so, who'd replaced him.

"Mrs. Kelly?" the man wearing a silver badge asked. "I'm Eric Burns, the new sheriff."

"Yes. Hi. Please come in, Sheriff," she told him as she stepped aside.

He thanked her, removed his hat, and stepped inside then saw Zeus wagging his tail.

"Hi, there!" he said.

"That's Zeus, and he's friendly," Nicole assured him.

The sheriff didn't have to bend down very far to pet him even though he was an even six feet tall.

"Oh, good boy!" he said before asking the huge dog, "Are you the king of the gods, Zeus?"

"Not anymore, I'm afraid," Nicole told him. "He's in pretty rough shape."

"I love Great Danes," he told her as he continued to pet the mini-horse in front of him.

"Can I get you anything? A cup of tea maybe?" Nicole asked knowing she had plenty of teabags.

"I don't mean to intrude. I just wanted to stop by and introduce myself. I've been on the job two whole days, and Hank—he said to tell you 'Sam' said hello, by the way—told me you lived out here, so...here I am."

Nicole laughed for the first time in days or maybe weeks.

"Oh, my. Yes, Sam Drucker," she said still smiling. "Are you sure you wouldn't like some tea?"

"Well, if I'm not interrupting then, yes. That'd be very nice," he told her.


"Yes, please."

Nicole hoped there was enough left in the bowl for his, but she was sure there wouldn't be anything left for hers which was unpleasant but not unbearable.

Perhaps it was having just laughed, but Nicole suddenly felt a lot better, and that's when she realized the new sheriff was a very attractive man. He was far too young to be someone she'd ever be interested in—even when she one day got interested again—but he was every bit as attractive as her late husband at that age, and possibly even more so.

"I don't remember ever meeting you in town," Nicole said as she poured some hot water over another teabag.

The sheriff laughed then said, "I'm a city boy who recently moved here, ma'am. Born and raised in Portland."

"So what brings you all the way out here, Sheriff?"

"Please call me Eric, okay?" he said with a smile that caused her to stare briefly.

"Oh, all right," she said pleasantly as she turned away.

"I went to the University of Maine in Orono then went in the Marine Corps and spent five years on active duty. When I got out, I went to the police academy and spent a couple of years in Portland on the force before interviewing for the sheriff's position."

"Oh, okay. First, let me thank you for your service. I've been told they've always talked about making yours an elected position, but Sheriff Talbot had been here since forever, and...anyway, I guess it's just easier to hire someone."

"However it works, I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve. As much as I enjoyed the city growing up, I find myself relishing the peace and quiet of the country the older I get."

Nicole smiled but didn't laugh as she brought his tea.

"Well, you are getting up there in years, sher...Eric," she teased.

"You laugh, but I'm turning..."

He looked around as though someone might hear before whispering, "Thirty. Yeah. That's right. Thirty."

"Oh, no! No the Big Three-Oh! Say it isn't so! You really are old, aren't you?" Nicole replied as seriously as she could.

Eric laughed politely, thanked her for the tea, then said, "Not everyone looks as good at 29 as you, Mrs. Kelly."

His blatant exaggeration made Nicole laugh.

"Oh, my goodness! You're not only a handsome young man, you're funny!" she said, not sure why she said anything about his looks.

"I'm just well preserved," Eric told her very seriously.

"Um...that's my line," Nicole informed him after chuckling politely. "Only I'm not so sure about the 'well' part of being well-preserved in my case."

"Trust me, you're a very attractive woman, Mrs. Kelly," he assured her without being flirty.

Before she could even thank him, Eric said, "While I did stop by to introduce myself, I have to be honest and let you know Hank said he's concerned about you."

"Oh, well, um... No. I'm...I'm fine," Nicole said trying to sound convincing.

"He said you haven't been into town in quite a while, and he asked me if I'd come check on you while I'm out getting to know folks. I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all. Please tell him I'm fine, and that I'll be in soon."

The way she looked down when she spoke made Eric wonder if things really were all that well.

"Okay, if you're sure," he told her.

When she didn't look back up, Eric set his cup down and asked, "Is there something...anything...I could help with?"

"It's...it's a little embarrassing," Nicole finally said even as she wondered why she'd said it. It may have been nothing more than having another human being to talk to, and that he wasn't hard to look at didn't hurt.

"I'm a pretty decent listener," he replied.

She finally looked at him then said, "It's...I...leaving isn't easy for me."

"The house?" he asked without judgment.

"No. I can leave the house. I...I just can't, or maybe...don't want to...get in the car and go anywhere. I'm sure it's just a passing thing."

Eric knew about the accident, and his first thought was perhaps there was something about having to drive down the only road into town; the road on which her husband and son had been killed while also driving on it.

"How can I help?" he asked.

"Oh, no. I'm fine. I'll be fine," she insisted. "In fact, I'll be going into town tomorrow, so really, I'm fine."

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