tagRomanceYou Can't Get There From Here

You Can't Get There From Here

bydarkoverlord6©

This story is for the April Fools Day contest 2019. Please remember to vote at the end, and thanks for taking the time to read my work.

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Rodney Reese stood at the entrance to his office building juggling the steaming cup of coffee he held in his dominant hand over to the other so he could open the heavy glass door. Once inside, he walked past a small crowd of folks waiting for the elevators to take them to the higher floors. He didn't need to avail himself of the lifts since the real estate office he and his partner had opened was on the first floor.

The gold lettering on the wood door read, "Reese and Parks," in letters big enough to be read from several yards away. The sign brought a smile to Rodney's face, it had been a difficult journey from the days of buying and selling small properties out of his living room to opening this office, and he was understandably proud of what he and Brad had accomplished. The door swung back to reveal an office bustling with activity. Rodney marched down a short hallway passed identical offices nodding at his associates who were busy at their desks. The short walk brought him near the two largest individual offices in the place. One belonged to him, the other to his partner in crime Brad Parks.

Rodney stopped just outside Brad's door noticing that someone was already in the office. He knew it was rude to eavesdrop, but he couldn't help stopping to listen when he realized who was inside.

"I hope everything is going well on the Hampton deal, Brad," said Jennifer Fisk.

Jennifer was a petite brunette, with short, close-cropped hair that framed a pretty face. Her dark blue eyes shined with intelligence and good-humor. She had come to their agency about a year ago after moving to town from back east. Rodney and Brad had hired her on the spot since she had extensive experience in the real estate market, and she had proven to be a valuable asset for them. Rodney had briefly entertained a bit of a crush on Jennifer himself, but it was all too apparent that Brad was the one she was interested in, so he had quietly stepped aside.

The truth was he was not all that altruistic, but given the tragedy that Brad had suffered three years prior, it seemed like a good idea to let Jennifer be the balm that might help heal that wound. Sadly, Brad had so far resisted every effort Jennifer had made to get him to open up.

"It's going fine, a little slow I guess, but we're getting there," came the voice of Brad Parks.

Rodney adjusted his position so that he could observe his partner and longtime friend. He had known Brad since grade school, and their families relationship went farther back than that. Brad hadn't changed much since graduating from college ten years earlier. A tall, strapping fellow with short, well-groomed brown hair that surrounded a face with light green eyes, and evenly proportioned features that included a firm mouth that smiled far less these days then it used too.

"I know you will get this put to bed. You always do," replied Jennifer.

Rodney noted her stance, open, almost supplicating, and he suspected her reason for being in Brad's office was only partly to find out about the situation on the Hampton deal.

"Say, Brad...Um...I have some tickets to that new play at the Kline Theater, the one about Andrew Jackson. Everyone says it's a lot of fun. I was wondering if you might be interested?"

There it was, precisely as Rodney had thought. He watched his partners face with interest to see what would happen next.

Brad looked up from his desk. His face had a far-away look as if he was only partly conscious of what was going on around him. He focused his gaze on Jennifer who stood on the other side of his desk waiting expectantly.

"Oh...Uh...Sorry, Jennifer, I have a lot of work to do this week. I...can't see myself being free. Thanks for inviting me."

Rodney winced at the look of disappointment on Jennifer's face though she recovered quickly stepping away from Brad's desk toward the door.

"That's o.k. maybe some other time."

She turned so abruptly she almost ran right into Rodney who took a quick step back himself to avoid the collision. He wondered if it occurred to her that he might have overheard their exchange, but if such a thought crossed her mind, she hid it well.

"Rodney. How are you this morning?"

"Good, Jennifer," he said trying not to stare to overtly at her rather large breasts that stretched the top of her conservative dress.

She nodded acknowledging his reply but declining to speak further as she moved off down the hall. Rodney watched her go admiring the way her tight rear-end swayed from side to side.

He stepped inside Brad's office shutting the door behind him.

"Jennifer is quite a looker. I wish she showed as much interest in me," said Rodney sipping at his coffee.

"Then maybe you should ask her if she wants some company to the play," replied Brad in a lifeless voice.

"I don't think it's me she's interested in, Brad."

Brad sighed looking back down at his desk. He hadn't always been like this; at one time Brad had been the life of the party. The guy that everybody wanted to be around. In college, he had drawn girls like ants at a picnic. Rodney had done well just picking up the leavings in Brad's wake. Things had changed when he met Annie.

It had been shortly after graduation when he and Rodney had been out pounding the pavement looking for their first big break. Annie Cartwright had been a waitress at the local pub where they sometimes went to drown their sorrows after another failed job interview. Annie herself had been waiting tables to pay her way through school. She and Brad had hit it off instantly. They started dating a few weeks later and became inseparable. Their getting married seemed a foregone conclusion before the third date, and it had surprised no one when Brad proposed.

The thought of Brad and Annie's wedding brought Rodney's attention around to the bookshelf in the corner where a picture frame still rested containing a photo of Brad and Annie on that very day. Annie's bright red hair caught the setting sun perfectly making it look like her head was surrounded in a wreath of sunshine. Brad's grin was almost as bright showing off his delight in marrying what he felt was the perfect girl.

The perfect marriage hadn't lasted as long as either of them had imagined it would, and certainly, not for the duration their vows had called for that day. Annie had gotten sick five years after she and Brad had cut the wedding cake. She had battled like a trooper, but in the end, succumb to the cancer that ate away at her from the inside out. The funeral had been three years ago.

"Brad, I know things have been hard for you since...Well, since Annie past on, but it's been three years."

"I know exactly how long it's been, Rodney."

Rodney grimaced at his sharp tone but pressed on.

"I realize how much you loved her, Brad, but she wouldn't have wanted to see you like this still grieving after all this time. Annie would have wanted you to move on."

"Do you commune with the dead when you're not selling real estate, Rodney? How do you know what Annie would have wanted for me?"

"I knew her well enough to know it wouldn't be to wallow in grief and suffer for this long."

Brad's eyes rose from his desk again flashing with anger, and a sadness so profound it made Rodney uncomfortable in the extreme. He tried to head off the argument he could see coming from a mile away.

"I'm just trying to help, Brad. Jennifer is a nice girl, and she likes you. What's the harm in spending time with her?"

"I'm...I'm just not ready yet. Besides, there is so much work to do around here."

"When was the last time you took a vacation from all this, Brad? I think you have been strapped to that desk since the funeral."

"I love my work," shot back Brad.

"I love my work to, but it's not all there is to life."

The tension in the room was almost palatable, and Rodney tried to diffuse it.

"Listen, if you don't want to go out with Jennifer, or take a vacation at least get out of the office for a while."

"How do you see me doing that?"

"I'm glad you asked my friend. I've been working on a small deal up in Essex County north of here. There is a group of investors looking to build a resort up in the woods in that area, and they need land. I just fell into a property that belonged to a couple named McKenna. Sadly, the poor old folks passed away recently, and since they had no living relatives, their property came up for sale. I snatched it up and planned to resell it, and the large plot of land it's sitting on to those very same investors. It should turn a nice profit for us."

"What does this have to do with me?"

"The house is full of their stuff. I went up there and started to catalog it a few weeks back, but there is still a lot to go over. The county says we can auction it all off and I figure we can make a bit of change on that deal as well. I was going to send one of the associates up there to finish, but I think it would be better if you went."

"Me?"

"Sure, it's out in the country in the middle of nowhere. The nearest neighbors are several miles away. It would give you some peace to clear your head, and you would still be getting work done at the same time."

"I don't know...Rodney."

"Come on, Brad. You grew up in the country. This would be a good trip for you. I bet you come back feeling a lot better about things."

"You're not going to let go of this are you?"

"Nope, sorry!" said Rodney with a grin.

"Fine...I guess it wouldn't hurt."

"That's the spirit, Brad. A little time in the clean air will work wonders on that attitude."

"Yeah, Right..." said Brad doubtfully.

The door of Brad's office opened as Rodney stepped into the hallway throwing one last look over his shoulder, "Don't forget to take your fishing rod. There is a creek that runs right by the house just full of fish."

Brad watched his friend walk away and shook his head.

Maybe Rodney was right a trip out of the office wouldn't be the worse thing in the world right now, would it?

INTO THE WOODS -

Annie would have hated it.

This was the thought that banged around inside Brad Park's head as he sped down the two-lane blacktop road in front of him. Trees of all description obscured the view on either side growing so thick it appeared that nothing could pass between the tightly spaced trunks. Annie had been a city girl born and raised in the shadows of tall buildings. She had always been nervous and uncertain the few times Brad had brought her to visit his relatives out in the sticks. He, on the other hand, had been raised in the pine forests that grew so prevalent in areas like Essex County. In many ways, he was more comfortable here than in his house back in the city.

A loan hawk soared by overhead, and Brad glanced up admiring the bright plumage of its underbelly catching the sun. His cellphone buzzed on the seat next to him, and he picked it up on the second ring.

"I've only been gone for a few hours. Miss me already?"

"Very funny, Brad," came Rodney's voice.

The connection was weak as Brad moved further away from the closest cell towers in the area, and Rodney's voice went in and out.

"Say that again! I missed what you said!" shouted Brad into the phone.

"I said that I forgot to mention that the McKenna's were painters. I put aside their art in a couple of crates. One of the neighbors was interested in buying it off us. I think her name was Marian, Mary or Maryland, something like that..."

"Your organizational skills never cease to amaze me, Rodney."

"Yeah...Well, I do what I can. Anyway...she was going to drop by sometime this week to look over the paintings so watch out for her."

"I'll do that, thanks. How are things at the office?"

Brad waited for a reply, but when Rodney didn't answer after a moment, he looked at his phone and realized the call had dropped. No bars were showing on the screen.

"No service. I guess I am well and truly in the country now," thought Brad setting the useless phone aside.

The road continued before him, and he scanned the side of it for the turnoff to the McKenna place. He almost missed it as the dirt road rose up fast, and there was no sign to mark their driveway. The rustic path was partly overgrown showing that very few people had passed this way recently, and his car bounced roughly over the uneven ground. The road twisted back among the trees and over a low rise where he caught his first sight of the McKenna's old house.

Almost immediately he was transported back to his youth. The house was a two-story, white, with green trim set on an area of open grass and surrounded by trees on three sides. The wide front porch wrapped almost three-quarters of the way around it with benches and a pair of rocking chairs providing a nice place to take a comfortable seat on a quiet night. It looked so much like the house he had grown up in that he felt a wave of nostalgia break over him.

"I'll be damned..." he whispered.

The driveway ended in front of a separate garage, and Brad stopped just short of the rolled down aluminum door. The minute he exited the car the odor of fresh flowers assaulted his nose, and his ears caught the distant babbling of the creek Rodney had mentioned. He strolled toward the front door looking all around and drinking in the silence that only country folk genuinely understand and appreciate. There were no honking horns, and noisy crowds here just the chirping of crickets and the occasional call of a wild bird.

Brad's long strides carried him up the front steps where he stopped to work the key in the lock. The interior smelled a bit musty and had not seen anyone in residence in some time. The furnishings in the downstairs were covered with white drop cloths, and there were boxes and crates everywhere some already sealed with inventory lists affixed to the outsides. He moved through the living room into the kitchen halting just inside the doorway.

The walls and cabinets were a uniform white contrasting brightly with the well worn yellow Formica countertops. Brad could almost smell the odor of home-made apple pie baking in the oven and briefly pictured his mom in her apron puttering around the kitchen cooking up all manner of wonderful tasting treats. He ran a hand across one counter feeling the coolness of it on his palm. A back door led outside to a vast lawn that was somewhat overgrown and stretched to the tree line almost a hundred yards distant. To the left, he could see a large propane tank behind the garage that he figured supplied the house with heat and gas for the appliances. A quick check confirmed that the tank was still half full, so that would be one less thing to worry about while he was staying up here.

The house was on the grid for electricity, and the bill had been paid through the end of the month, so the lights in the master bedroom came on with a flick of his wrist. The old four-poster bed looked plenty comfortable, and he lay his suitcase on it to unpack later. The walls of the bedroom had been stripped of any adornments as had the rest of the house, so there was no photographic evidence of the couple that had once lived there. Brad knew from talking to Rodney that they had been in the house all their lives and passed away within months of each other the previous year. He had heard stories of long-married spouses were one lost the will to live after the other had died. He wondered if he would have quickly followed Annie into the afterlife if they had been married as long as the McKenna's and strongly suspected it to be true.

He stepped into the bathroom checking the taps to see if the water was still flowing cleanly. The old home had its own well with an electric pump bringing water into the house. The valves ran clear, and the water tasted faintly earthy on his tongue again bringing back memories of his childhood.

Brad went upstairs and checked the various rooms finding some had already been packed away. The only room still in need of going over appeared to be the couple's studio though only a single blank canvas was still in evidence the rest of their art placed in a pair of crates in the middle of the floor. He closed the door deciding to deal with all the assorted art supplies later, and instead returned to the living room where he found Rodney's blank inventory sheets, and label maker. He set to work cataloging what looked to be the owner's study. A series of long, high bookshelves were covered in volumes on a wide variety of subjects, not just art. He began to separate them into piles according to what looked like it might have value, and what would more likely just be worth donating to a library. It was slow work, and before he knew it, the sun had dipped toward the horizon. His stomach growled reminding him that dinner time was fast approaching.

The refrigerator still worked but was empty. Rodney had pointed out that the nearest town was Clifton about fifteen miles up the road, so Brad headed out to find something to eat, and to pick up supplies for his stay.

The town of Clifton was like every one-horse burg Brad had ever driven through in his youth. A single road bisected the main business distinct with storefronts on either side. He parked in front of a colorful diner with the name "Jerry's Place" proudly displayed in red letters on the front. It was still a little early, and only two other couples were in attendance sitting at tables enjoying their meal. Brad sat down at a long counter pulling himself onto a stool.

"What can I get for ya?" said an affable-looking older gentleman.

"Are you Jerry?" asked Brad.

"I sure am, and this is my place. Jerry Ortmeyer at your service!"

Jerry was on the short side of the ledger, maybe five-foot-five-inches tall with a balding head and gapped teeth showing like rows in a picket fence when he smiled. He held out his hand that was leathery and calloused from years of slinging hash and meeting the demands of his customers.

"It's nice to meet you, Jerry. I'm Brad Parks. What do you recommend for a hungry traveler at the end of a long day?"

"Why I would go with the beef stew if I were you, Brad. Best tasting stew in all of Essex County if I do say so myself...and I do."

Brad laughed and nodded adding a request for a soda to go along with it.

Jerry returned in short order with a steaming bowl that swam in a savory smelling broth and was filled to the brim with all manner of meat and veggies. Brad tore into the dish not realizing how hungry he was until the first bite touched his lips.

"Wow! Jerry, you did not oversell this stew it's delicious!"

"My mom's recipe. God rest her soul..."

"I'm sorry. She passed on?"

"Oh Hell No! Just wishful thinking...The most cantankerous woman you will ever meet! But she sure can cook."

Shaking his head, Brad returned to his bowl while Jerry leaned on the other side of the counter.

"So, you just passing through, Brad? If you don't mind me asking?"

Brad knew that townsfolk were always curious about strangers and he took no offense.

"Not at all. I'm just staying here for a short while out at the McKenna's house if you knew them. My real estate agency purchased the property, and I'm here to pack up the old house."

"The McKenna's? Yeah, I met them a few times. Strange old birds kind of kept to themselves. They would venture into town every now and again for groceries, and they stopped in to eat on occasion. They weren't very chatty."

"I see. I'm going to need some groceries myself to stock up the fridge while I'm here. Where would I find a store?"

"Sam's Grocery at the end of the street is the only one in town. He should be able to fix you up right and proper. Say...You wouldn't know anything about a resort being built on the property out there would you?"

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