A Welcome Death
The day I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder was the day that I died. Strangely, in that death, a new person was born: a new Maddie Malone, one who could take her destiny into her own hands and no longer be prey to extreme emotions. At least, I could learn how to manage them.
“This is not going away, Maddie,” my psychiatrist Dr Ng looked me straight in the eyes. “Bipolar Disorder is not something we can cure. You have it for life.”
I nodded. I liked Dr Ng. She really listened, and she was a straight-shooter. I knew exactly what she meant. The bipolar disorder was a part of me; it was how my brain was wired. I had always seemed to feel things more deeply than other people. Sadness triggered deep pain, joy spawned an expansive and uncontrollable flight into mania.
Thankfully, I had never heard voices, like some others with the disorder. My madness was perhaps more insidious, because at the outset, it didn’t seem like madness at all. It gave me the confidence of a Napoleon, told me I could do anything I wanted, helped me write music and poetry. Then, when it had lured me into its claws, it betrayed me, letting me fall from exquisite heights to hellish depths.
“I see you have been taking anti-anxiety meds. These have probably been making your mania worse. I’m going to give you a new prescription. We’ll try Valproate.” Dr Ng scribbled it down on a pad of paper and handed it to me. “That should help you balance your moods a bit. The rest is up to you. I want you to chart your moods every day. Write down what your triggers are, and try to avoid them. And I’ll give you a requisition for a blood-test, so that we can monitor the blood-levels of the medication.”
I nodded again. “Thank-you, Dr Ng. I don’t know why, but it helps to know what’s wrong.”
She smiled. “That’s right, Maddie. Now you can deal with it. It won’t be easy, but you’ll manage. Read all you can about the disorder. There are support groups online that you might find helpful.”
So, I walked out of the office and into the world a different person. A stronger person. I had always been very goal-driven and now this goal was clear: I was going to learn more about myself, who I really was. What I really wanted. I would learn to control my bipolar mind. Make it work for me, not against.
My mother was in the waiting room, twisting the strap of her purse between her fingers.
“Well? How did it go?” she asked, searching my eyes. Hers were red and puffy.
“It’s what you thought,” I said simply. My mother’s shoulders sagged.
While I felt better after my diagnosis, my mother felt worse. I understood why. My father had had Bipolar Disorder, and she believed the disease had killed him. When I was only ten years old, my father died in a car accident due to his own reckless driving. An English professor, he was working on a new book and became so engrossed in it, so driven, nothing else mattered. A large percentage of people with the diagnosis commit suicide. I wonder how many people with Bipolar Disorder die from supposed “accidents?”
“Did she tell you when you can go back to work?” asked my mother, dabbing her eyes.
I shook my head and took a deep breath. “I’m not going back,” I said. “At least, not yet. Stress is a huge trigger for me.”
My mother nodded, biting her lower lip. I knew she was disappointed. I was, too. I had loved being a Nurse, at least in the beginning. I loved the feeling of helping people, of making a difference in their lives. Then, something happened to me in the midst of my work; life-or-death decisions, handling medications, catheterizations, demands of long hours through the night, and simply the anguished faces of the needy, the hurting, the dying. I wanted to help, and felt powerless to do so.
Then one day, after having dealt with a particularly violent and aggressive patient combined with the constant pressure from management to adhere to a demanding schedule, something inside me snapped. I had my first manic episode.
That day I went home still wound up from work, pacing round and round my living room after three straight days of not sleeping. Anxious thoughts haunted me, tearing at my sanity. I had not completely broken with reality, but I was convinced I was leaving this world. Everything went dark around me and I ran around and around, screaming and screaming, “Help me! Help me! I’m dying!”
I felt Death in the depths of my cramped and bruised soul. Death was coming for me, extending his bony, shaking hand. My whole body was vibrating. A neighbor called 911. The ambulance attendants took my vitals, but everything was normal. Except that it wasn’t. I was unreasonable, irritable and broken.
The doctor in the Emergency department gave me something to help me sleep and sent me home. He thought I was a hypochondriac. My mother suspected something different. After a long, debilitating depression during which I had to take an extended leave off of work, my Mom convinced me to see Dr Ng. It was the best thing she could have done.
“I need this prescription filled, then you can take me home. Please, Mom.” I said wearily.
My mother stood up and put an arm around me. I leaned on her a little. She smelled like lavender. My beautiful mother, always poised, always calm, always self-contained. She was wearing her full-length trench-coat with a silk paisley scarf and gold lapel-pin. Her hair was in blonde curls, not a hair out of place. How did she always manage to look so perfect?
Myself, I was a wreck. I was emerging from a long depression after my manic episode. My long dark hair needed a good combing and a wash. I had barely had enough energy to get dressed, let alone dress well.
She helped me to the car and I took my new orange pills with a bottle of lemonade we had purchased at the pharmacy. Then I sank back in the passenger’s seat while Mom drove me home.
“You know, honey,” Mom said after we had been on the road a while. “Maybe you should visit your Aunt Cassie out in Kenowa while you figure things out. I’m sure she would be thrilled to have you, and the fresh air might do you a world of good. Maybe I’ll phone her when we get to your place.”
I stared out the car window at the dirty, noisy city streets. It struck me then that Mom was right. My summers spent at Green Briar, the cattle ranch belonging to Aunt Cassie and Uncle John, were some of the happiest times of my life. My mind conjured up familiar images; I could see the endless forests, the rock-cuts along the country roads, the soulful eyes of cattle dotting the fields, the rickety old hayloft, and Alex, the brown-haired, blue-eyed neighbor’s boy who had been my childhood friend. I made up my mind then and there. That was exactly what I needed—a trip into the hills and forests of Kenowa, population: seven hundred.
I drove into John and Cassie’s ranch feeling like a caged bird discovering her freedom. The sun was shining overhead as I rolled down the long driveway flanked by tall elm trees. It was as beautiful as I remembered it from my teenage days. A wooden sign said, “Welcome to Green Briar.” Another sign nailed to a great oak said: “The Jones Family”. Beyond the trees, cattle dotted the vast fields. Rising out of this landscape was an equally impressive stone ranch-house. It was sprawled out all on one level. Beyond that was acres and acres of forest.
When I stepped over the threshold, my Aunt gave me a warm hug. “Maddie!” she said. “Is it you? I hardly recognize this beautiful young lady!”
I laughed. “I’ve grown up. I’m twenty-six now, Aunt Cassie.” I looked at her with affection. “It’s so good to see you, too! Thanks for putting me up here for a while.” I looked at her earnestly. She couldn’t know just how much I appreciated this, or what darkness I had been through. She smiled and gave me an extra squeeze.
“Anytime, Maddie. I want you to feel like this is your home, too. Don’t feel obligated to do anything, just rest and feel better, okay?”
I nodded mutely. I found it hard to talk about my disorder, and how it had affected my life and my work. There was such a stigma attached to it. Many people misunderstood the condition, thinking that to be bipolar meant you were always crazy and couldn’t be trusted. I knew Aunt Cassie wouldn’t see me that way, but I still wasn’t ready to talk about it.
Cassie ushered me into her big farmhouse kitchen with a gleaming oak floor and ceramic tile on the walls. Everything was black and white, with cows in all the decorating. There were cow salt and pepper shakers, pictures of cattle on the walls and even grazing cows on the tea towels! I guessed since Green Briar was a cattle ranch, cows were bound to be the focus of John and Cassie’s home life too.
She sat me down at the kitchen table and served me tea and cream cakes. I wasn’t at all hungry until I smelled the aroma of fresh baking. Then, suddenly I was ravenous, realizing I hadn’t eaten all day. The tea had fresh cream in it, from the Jones’ own dairy cow, and it was heavenly.
“I’m sorry John isn’t here to greet you,” Cassie said, pouring me a second cup of tea. “Alex and Randy Bateman came this morning to help John with the cattle-drive, and they won’t be here for a few hours yet.”
“So, Alex is still working here?” I asked, stirring sugar into my tea. I remembered that as a teenager, Alex had helped John with the chores. It had become his summer job.
Aunt Cassie smiled warmly. “Yes, he is such a good help to John, now that John is getting older. Alex handles all of the tough stuff. I don’t know what John and I would do without him. He practically runs the ranch now. His brother Randy helps out, too. Do you remember Randy?”
I nodded. I knew Alex’s brother, though he didn’t hang out with us much as kids. Randy had autism, and though he was really smart and fun to talk to, he preferred his own company most of the time.
“What is the cattle-drive exactly? Is it like they show in the old cowboy movies?” I helped myself to a blueberry scone. I watched Aunt Cassie whiz around the kitchen, marveling at her slim figure and her boundless energy. She had to be in her late sixties, but apart from her short grey hair, you wouldn’t have guessed her age.
“No, not exactly,” Cassie grinned. “They used to drive cattle for long, long distances, sometimes thousands of miles, to where the closest railway point was. We have cattle trucks today, so when we do a cattle drive, it’s only when we want to change pastures. These cows are being led just down the street to John’s brother’s barn for the winter.”
I finished my tea and scones and rested my head on my arm. Aunt Cassie looked at me with concern. “Why don’t you go down to the guest cottage now and have a nap, dear? Make sure you come up for dinner around five o’clock, though. I’ve invited a few people over to see you. I thought you might want to meet some of the people in Kenowa, since you’ll be staying a while.”
“That’s thoughtful of you, Aunt Cassie,” I said smiling. Inwardly, though, I groaned. I was bone-weary, and meeting new people seemed like a daunting task. Still, Aunt Cassie’s heart was in the right place. I gave her a grateful hug.
In the thick of the woods, the leaves were crunching
and crackling under my feet. I felt like I was finally able to breathe. This was where I needed to be. I lifted my spirit, giving thanks to the Creator. I was happy to dwell in the moment.
I caught a glimpse of the Jones’ guest cottage through the trees. It was very much how I remembered it: a pretty white building with green shutters. There was something different about it, though. I looked at the green roof more closely as I rounded a corner and the forest cleared.
Suddenly, my heart pounded hard in my chest. There was a foul smell and the cottage was leaking black smoke into the air. The smoke wasn’t coming from the chimney. It was coming from the windows!
I dropped my bags and hurried up to the large front window. I could see there was a small fire started on top of the wood stove, where something now unrecognizable was blazing out of control. The fire had not yet caught the cabin walls but was on its way. Smoke filled the rooms.
Quickly, I flung open the door, springing into action. My medical training helped me to keep my head in times like these. I ran in and grabbed the fire extinguisher on the counter and fought to remove the pin. I aimed the extinguisher directly at the black source of the flames, knowing it wasn’t good enough to simply fan the flames above it. Then I sprayed it carefully back and forth until the fire was completely out.
Only then did I allow myself to breathe. I sunk down on a big brown couch in the main room. I was dizzy from the effort, or the smoke, or both.
What was the cause of the fire? I remembered Aunt Cassie saying she was down earlier in the day to clean up, but that was quite a few hours ago. I took a good look at the charred black thing on top of it. It looked like some plastic, but all melted now. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get it off the burner. I wondered if anyone else used this cottage from time to time, like maybe Randy or Alex. Or even John. Perhaps they came in here to use the bathroom after rounding up firewood for the wood stove. Either way, there had to be a reasonable explanation.
Exhausted from my efforts, I lay down on the couch. I took my cell phone from my pocket and set an alarm to wake me in a couple of hours. Then I yawned and slid down on the soft brown couch and fell into a deep sleep.
A Dinner Party
I woke up before my alarm, feeling a little groggy, but otherwise okay. The sky had darkened, leaving a streak of rose and orange across the sky, kissing the dove grey clouds. It wasn’t yet dark but already I saw a sliver of the moon through the thin hands of the trees. I got up, stretched and grabbed a change of clothes. Might as well look nice for my Kenowa debut, I thought ruefully.
I had a chance to survey the small cottage in more detail. I liked it. The curtains were hand-sewn, probably by Cassie herself. They were a sunny yellow, with tiny purple and white flowers. The couch had decorative cushions made of the same material, as did the tablecloth on the little breakfast table by the front window.
The whole cottage was three rooms. The kitchen, dining area, and living room were all in one big room, then there was a small bathroom with a shower. The last room was a fair-sized bedroom in the back, where I put my suitcases.
I sat on the four-poster double bed piled high with cushions and stared at myself in the armoire mirror. A stranger stared back at me. I had gained a few pounds since I started my medication. I had the height and build to handle it, but I didn’t like it. On top of that, my long dark hair was all over the place and needed a wash. The almond eyes that blinked back at me were red and puffy. Sighing, I pulled a bottle out of my overnight bag and deposited three orange pills into the palm of my hand. I popped them into my mouth and headed into the bathroom for a glass of water and a shower.
When I was showered and dressed, I headed outside to the ranch house. I felt and looked a lot better in my long navy skirt, lacy white V-neck and delicate blue tasseled shawl. My hair had finally decided to behave, and it fell in long loose waves around my shoulders. I was ready to face people again, except for the knot of anxiety sitting at the pit of my stomach.
It was okay, though. I could do this. It wasn’t like giving needles or putting in catheters, for Heaven’s sake! These people wouldn’t have any expectations of me. I could be anyone. I was sure Cassie wouldn’t have told them about my Bipolar, either. She was wonderful that way. She let me be myself, and never pushed or pried.
I picked my way through the forest feeling again that solemn silence wash over me, like a river’s tide. I paused suddenly, listening. Never at any time in the city had I heard such silence. Or if I did, it was not a comfort like this was. I couldn’t explain it to myself, but the Forest had a Presence, and the silence was its voice, calming and comforting. It spoke softly to me through the rustling of its branches, the trembling of its leaves, the cries of its birds.
I wanted to stay in the middle of this forest forever, sitting in the midst of it, joining my heart song to its great orchestral overtures. But I knew though my soul could rest here, my body could not, and before long I was left cold and driven to get moving, to join the warmth of humanity that waited for me up at Green Briar.
Emerging from the forest, I stepped past sumac and oak-leaf hydrangea bushes and almost ran into a man carrying a large black box.
“Oh, sorry!” I said breathlessly, jumping out of the way. “That could have been bad!”
“It’s alright Miss Maddie,” said the man grinning. He was tall and thin and had a distinguished grey beard and moustache. Though I hadn’t seen him in many years, I recognized him at once.
“John!” I cried, hugging his shoulder and nearly toppling the box again.
“How are you? It’s been too long!”
“Don’t I know it, my dear girl. You sure have grown! Have you been having any more of those ice cream floats?” He winked at me, and I laughed. Once, when I was a little girl, John and Cassie came to visit and stayed overnight. I had to sleep on the couch so they could have my room, and it was just such a novelty I couldn’t sleep. As it turned out, Uncle John couldn’t sleep either, and he came downstairs to the kitchen and started fixing us both an ice cream float. I was delighted and promised not to tell Mom. It was our delicious bit of contraband. Then he tucked me in and told me stories of growing up on the Farm until I fell asleep.
“Whenever I have an ice cream float, I have it in honor of you, Uncle John,” I teased.
“Well now, I just might have some root beer and vanilla ice cream in the kitchen right now if you need some.”
“Okay,” I laughed. “I think Aunt Cassie would probably prefer that we have dinner first, though.”
“Well now, I won’t tell if you won’t!”
I laughed again and opened the side door for him. “What’s in the box, anyway?”
“Well, of course, that remains to be seen,” John said, looking smug and mysterious. I smiled knowingly. It was probably a cake from the deep freezer that they kept in the garage.
I shrugged. “Okay, have it your way! I should probably help Aunt Cassie with the dinner preparations. Is she in the kitchen?”
“I think so, Maddie. I’ll put this away then join you for dinner.” John held the box carefully and carried it off to the opposite part of the house. I couldn’t remember what was down in the east wing, but I was pretty sure it was where the bedrooms had to be. I knew that Randy and Alex sometimes stayed here at Green Briar when they were helping out with the cattle drive.
The back door opened to a mud room where I took off my shoes. With a light heart, I headed to the west wing where the Great Room was. The smells of turkey pot pie and freshly baked bread made my mouth water. I bumped into Aunt Cassie on the way to the kitchen. She looked a bit flustered.
“Oh, there you are Maddie!” she said breathlessly. “Go sit down at the table; everyone’s waiting for you and John to get there.”
“Oh, okay,” I said in surprise. “I didn’t realize I was late.” I hurried into the dining area off the kitchen and drew in my breath sharply. The long dinner table was beautifully decorated. Cassie had outdone herself. Candelabras were burning, and antique red and white English china complemented the rich, wine-colored tablecloth. Bottles of Merlot, my favorite red wine, and white sherry were surrounded by beds of real roses, in pink, yellow and red.
I couldn’t believe the lengths that Cassie had gone to for me. I blinked back tears. Cassie was smiling and held out a chair for me to sit at.
“Oh, Cassie, you didn’t have to do this, you know.” I turned around and hugged her. My face crumpled into a mess of tears. I couldn’t help it. They just spilled out. I felt so stupid and embarrassed and tried to hide my face in my hair. Cassie brushed my hair back out of the way, meeting my eyes. Hers were full of kindness.
“I’m happy to do this for you, Maddie. You’re like the daughter we never had. We’re so glad to have you here.” Her voice, like mine, was a little choked up. “Come and sit down now, dear. We have people coming who are anxious to meet you.”
I shook my head, biting my lower lip. I couldn’t understand why. Come and meet the screw-up from the city, I thought nastily. Then I stopped myself. I wasn’t going to slip into negative thinking again. If nothing else, I was a human being like other human beings. That alone deserved respect. I also had people who loved me. That made me worth knowing, I guessed.
Cassie sat me down in the middle of the table. So, I would have people to talk to, she explained. “The guests should be arriving any minute now. Why don’t I pour you a glass of wine while you’re waiting?” I nodded and wiped my face with a napkin.
“Aunt Cassie, did you use the wood-stove at all when you were down at the cottage?”
She frowned. “No, why?”
“No reason. I just wondered, that’s all. It smells nice in there, like a wood-fire.” I felt bad for my little white lie, but I didn’t want to worry her.
While I sat there waiting, sipping my wine and listening to a composition by Philip Glass playing softly in the background, I began to relax. I knew this piece well. It was called “Duet,” and it was from the soundtrack for the movie “Stoker.” I loved its haunting feel and dynamics which took the listener on a full ride of the imagination. The upward journey was beautiful, imaginative, spellbinding—until the ride got out of control and emotions started spiraling faster and faster up and then down, down, down. I let out a long breath. Yes, the music of Philip Glass and I had a lot in common.
A Strange Assembly
I noticed a vague stinging sensation on my left wrist and realized that I had burned myself on the cottage stove. I wondered again who had started the fire. I resolved to ask John about it later on. I would also ask about getting a key for the cottage door. It would make me feel a little better if I could lock it up when I left.
As I sipped my wine and contemplated the table setting, my thoughts were interrupted by laughter in the hallway. Soon a dazzling presence lit up the room, an entourage led by Aunt Cassie. The laughter came from a petite girl with a side ponytail wearing a long shirt covered in Native art. The girl had a small space between her two front teeth and her eyes scrunched up into slits as she laughed.
The girl with the ponytail was followed by a giant of a man in a plaid flannel shirt, with long black hair. A pair of twinkling black eyes, dome-shaped, peered at me but the rest of his face was solemn, almost surly. Close at his side was a man who looked like he was in his mid-thirties. He dressed very smartly in a white shirt and black tie. He would look too formal except that the shirt was unbuttoned at the top in a slapdash fashion and his hair, though nicely cut, was unkempt as though he had ridden in on a breeze. He had a very relaxed manner about him, and I found myself feeling envious and curious at the same time.
“Maddie, this is Alvira Minton,” said my mother introducing the pony-tail girl. “She works at the bake shop in town.”
“Hi,” I said, nodding and smiling. Alvira surprised me by grabbing my hand and giving it an enthusiastic shake.
“Glad to meet you!” she said brightly. “Cassie talks about you often. She says you are something of a scientist. I like botany, myself. And microbiology. I’m working at the cafe to pay for my studies.”
“Are you studying biology?”
“Sure am,” she gave a flip of her ponytail. “I’m in the fourth year.”
“That’s great! What will you do after you graduate?”
“Lab work. I can’t imagine anything more exciting, can you? The world is full of microscopic life, crawling all over everything. Even a sample of pure water isn’t pure at all, is it?” She said enthusiastically.
“You can sit here, Alvira,” said Aunt Cassie firmly, interrupting. She pulled out a chair at the end of the table, away from me. I breathed a sigh of relief. I didn’t think I was up to a discussion about germs and microorganisms right now.
“I will put you here, George,” Cassie pointed to the big man in flannel to a spot across the table from me. I peered at George shyly.
“Maddie, this is George Riddleman. He owns the Buck and Bullet in town.”
“Hi, how are you?” I said pasting a smile on my face. Hunting was not my favorite topic. I tended to be on the side of Bambi, rather than the hunters.
George nodded at me solemnly and sat down. His eyes flickered a little, and he twisted his handkerchief in his hands.
“Pleased to meet you, Miss. If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know, eh?” I noticed with amusement that he was talking to the floor.
“Thank you, Mr. Riddleman. I will. I’m afraid I don’t know much about hunting and fishing, but maybe you can enlighten me sometime.”
“Sure, I can. Just look me up anytime, Miss. I’ll be at the Buck and Bullet. It’s on Main Street. Can’t miss it.”
I nodded, not sure of what else to say. I glanced around, startled to see that the well-dressed man had already seated himself beside me.
“Clayton Manning,” he said with a smile, extending his hand.
I took it, feeling a firm, decisive grip. My eyes met intelligent, probing eyes of the deepest blue. I caught my breath.
“I’m Maddie,” I said stupidly.
Clayton smiled. “Pleased to meet you, Maddie. I’m the new doctor here in Grey Ridge County.”
“Oh, I’m a …”
“… Nurse,” he finished, looking at me brightly. “Cassie told me. We’re looking for a Nurse Practitioner at the clinic. If you are interested in staying.”
“Oh. Thank-you, but no. At least, I don’t think so.” This was getting strange. I didn’t want to bring up the whole Bipolar issue and I wasn’t ready for nursing again. Not now, and I thought, maybe never. But what could I say that wouldn’t sound stupid or evasive? And how could I think straight with those bright blue eyes probing me?
I took a great gulp of wine and stared at the table, the silence growing larger like a great gaping maw of some monster ready to swallow me whole.
Luckily, Cassie came into the dining room at that moment, bringing a tray of roast chicken. John was close behind her bringing a tray of mashed potatoes and gravy and assorted steaming hot vegetables.
“Alex and Randy are just washing up, but we’ll get started,” said Cassie setting down the tray as we all made grateful noises. “We have a few more guests coming, but they can’t make it for dinner. They’ll join us for drinks afterward.”
“This looks wonderful, Cassie, thank you!” said Clayton smiling and starting to dish up. We all echoed our thanks. Clayton took up the chicken and offered me first choice.
“Thank you,” I said shyly. I wondered if Cassie had told everyone to be so nice to me. I chased this thought away, however. It was just more of my negative thinking. I took another sip of the merlot, hoping it would help me relax.
Alex and Randy joined us half-way through the dinner. Randy wore a hoodie and kept his head covered and his eyes down. Alex sat beside his brother. It was the first time I had seen Alex as an adult, and I studied him with interest. He was tall and well-built, with dark blue eyes half-covered by a shock of brown hair. He was a handsome young man now —and little more than a stranger— but I could still catch a glimpse of the boy I once knew in his dancing blue eyes.
I got my chance to say hi to Alex after dinner, when we all convened in the Great Room for drinks and dessert.
“Do you remember me, Alex?” I said, peering at him shyly through the rim of my wine glass.
“Of course, I do, Maddie,” he said smiling. “You’ve grown up a lot since I last saw you.” Alex’s gaze flickered over me, and I dropped my eyes, twisting the stem of my wine glass around my fingertips.
“You have, too,” I said shyly. “It’s been a long time since we played king-of-the-hayloft out in the barn.”
“Too long,” said Alex, smiling. “We had some fun times together back then.”
I nodded. “Aunt Cassie says John really appreciates your help with the Ranch.”
“Oh, I enjoy it. John’s like the father I never had. I don’t know if I ever told you, but my old man was a deadbeat who left Randy and I when we were little. John stepped in and looked out for us both. I owe him everything.” Alex looked over at John with affection.
“So, what do you do these days besides mucking about in the barn?” I teased.
“Well, I am taking a Master’s in geology. I’m writing my thesis when I’m not nursing sick heifers or cleaning out the stalls. It’s been pretty tough to focus lately, though. There have been a lot of sick cows this summer.”
“Oh, how come?”
Alex shrugged his shoulders. “The vet says it’s probably a virus, but if it is, it’s a pretty aggressive one.”
I stretched across the table to help myself a slice of lemon cake and Alex caught my arm.
“What happened here?” he asked, frowning. I looked at the flaming red blister on my arm.
“Oh, I meant to ask you or John about that,” I told him about the fire in the cottage and how I had just managed to put it out in time.
“Do you or Randy use the cottage at all? Could you have left the stove on? I’m not trying to blame you; It’s just that it’s a bit of a mystery. I’d feel better knowing.”
Alex shook his head, looking concerned.
“Randy and I never use the cottage any more. We stay here at the ranch house when we need to. Otherwise, we go to town and stay with our mother. I’m sure you remember my Mom. She owns the Kenowa Bed and Breakfast now. That’s her over there with the red scarf.” I looked around the room and saw a large olive-skinned woman with frizzy hair dressed in a yellow satin blouse and skirt; a red scarf draped around her neck. She was busy talking to Aunt Cassie.
“Well, I wish I knew how it happened. It’s a little unnerving,” I said, sipping my wine thoughtfully.
I had lost my inhibitions at this time, and I was starting to feel gregarious and expansive. The candlelight seemed magical, and everything it touched took on a surreal glow that was mesmerizing. I caught Alex looking at me and I smiled. He smiled back.
I looked around the room feeling a new affection for everyone and everything in it. I was blissfully unaware of the evil that lurked in one battered heart, and the darkness that would finally ooze out and manifest itself in murder.