General Fiction posted December 4, 2022

Not yet exceptional. When the exceptional rating is reached this is highlighted
Who knows where the road leads, only time

Highway to Independence

by Brad Bennett


The driver coming fast along the little stretch of country highway to Independence had many things on his mind. He was at a turning point in his life, a complicated turn that had compelled him into a relationship in which a married man with three small children should not be involved. Earlier that evening, he had left a young woman standing at her apartment door in Salem. He caught one last glimpse of her in his mirror as he drove away, then turned his car southward.

As he began his way home, the reality of his other world was creeping back with each passing mile. It was the road he had driven many times, but as passion faded, his infidelity troubled his conscience more and more. He knew this road well. Every twist and turn brought him back to his family there. The familiar line of telephone poles that rose and passed by his windshield had always been comforting guideposts showing his way. But now, they were becoming wagging fingers of shame, pointing at him accusingly—announcing his guilt to all as they fell away into the darkness. He knew he had crossed a line, a boundary that could endanger everything he had carefully worked for, putting his entire family at risk. Still, these moments of doubt arising in him could not erase his overwhelming desire for the young woman who had entered his life. Interspersed with his feelings of the wrong he had caused, her face, voice, and touch would come flooding back, and when they did, all seemed to melt away.

These conflicts kept churning inside him, sending his emotions backward and forward, lifting him, and crashing him down as he weighed one against the other. But as he drew closer to Independence, his wife waiting for him ahead must never learn of these secrets. She must never know of the woman in Salem. As he rolled these events through his mind, he didn’t notice how much the speed had increased. He saw the dip coming, he knew it was there, but he had forgotten its danger. He was going much too fast! The big, heavy car launched in the air, landed hard on its suspension, bounced on its side, and slid down the highway in a heap of screaming metal, coming to rest in a water-filled ditch. Now all was quiet. Cold water came seeping in, surrounding his body as he lay upside down in the darkness. Then, blackness.

Arianna was not interested in a farmer's life. She had watched her mother grow old, broken down, and bitter after her father had died too young. The endless backbreaking chores, the long days of staying on that small Oregon farm, holding on to a fading dream was not where Arianna wanted to go. She would not follow that road.

Finding work in the nearby town of Independence was more than just a job. It was a metaphor for Arianna. It was her first taste of freedom away from the farm, a stepping-stone, a foot in the water to test her skills, and then move on to what paths lie ahead. It was literally her journey into Independence

After her high school graduation in 1980, Arianna obtained a two-year degree from a business school, and then she found work as a cashier at the grocery store in town. She rented a small one-room apartment nearby, and her destiny was on track. But before Arianna ventured out any further, she would form a career first, then bring a man into her life. For attractive, tall twenty-year-old Arianna Fairfield, meeting the boys while out with friends dancing, and that's what they were, "boys," was of no interest to her. She wanted to meet an established, mature man, not just some guy looking to culminate a date in the back seat of a car.

So it was intriguing when she noticed the well-dressed, older man who frequently came by evenings at the market where she had an evening shift. He was thoughtful in his mannerisms and spoke with an interesting and sophisticated accent, definitely not from here in the farm valley. She supposed he was an educated businessman who worked in nearby Salem. He was everything that the stock boy, ogling her posterior whenever she bent over to pick up a box of apples, definitely was not. Whenever this man visited, he greeted people and was engaging, a gentleman. Arianna heard one of the girls mention his name. It was Miles. She hoped Miles would come to this store more often.

Sure enough, one day, he happened to buy some groceries at Arianna's counter and spoke to her, "Hello, Miss," he said. "Are you new here?"

"Oh, no, this is my first time at the cashier's desk. I'm moving up in the world," Arianna joked.

"Well, that's why I haven't seen you. My name's Miles, good luck to you." He glanced at her nametag, "Arianna." Then he tipped his hat to her, smiled, picked up his sack, and left. Arianna watched him walk away. She told herself she would look for a man just like him.

As time passed, whenever Miles came by, they would frequently talk. Arianna started to feel she might have an opportunity to know this man. And then, one day, right out of the blue, Miles asked if she would like to meet him after work for a coffee. She was a bit taken aback, but this was a dream chance, and she agreed.

Later, after her shift was over, Arianna went outside, and there stood Miles with two coffees in his hands. "Thought I would get these first," he said. "Then we can enjoy the park sitting outside."

Arianna was a bit surprised, but it was a nice gesture. They walked into the park and found a bench in a quiet place to sit below the tall shade trees. Arianna's heart was racing now. He was near her, his close presence was both exciting and nerving. As they talked, Arianna could tell he was well educated. He mentioned his occupation as a stockbroker. Arianna hung on his every word, trying not to look too wide-eyed. When he asked about her future, she gathered her thoughts and tried to answer carefully.

"I was a girl off the farm," she told him, "but I have higher expectations. My deceased father was a respected, educated man who had married into farming. My mother's family traced their roots all the back to the Oregon Trail. But I wanted to move into the city when I got older. It was more exciting for me. My job here at the market is just a starting place for that."

They talked on, and in these moments, as he spoke, she fell emotionally, infatuated with this man, a feeling she had never experienced before. When they got up to leave, he asked if he could see her again. She agreed.

Arianna's mind raced the rest of the afternoon. She could hardly think about anything but this perfect day. After work, she decided to visit her aunt May, who lived alone at her small house just outside the little town. On the drive, she began noticing things she hadn't perceived for a long time, the sweet, heavy aroma of gardenias lining the roadway, the yellow daffodils glimmering among the green fields of rye. She took in everything that touched her senses. Before, they were just ordinary objects taken for granted, but now all was magic.

When she arrived at May's country cottage, they sat and talked under her garden trellis in the backyard. Arianna couldn't wait to tell May of this new man in her life and get her reaction. But as she related it, she realized how little he had told her about himself. At first, she tried to put it down as the first meeting, jitters, but it soon became apparent she knew very little about Miles besides his looks and past meet-ups. But, needless to say, Aunt May was intrigued.

"Ari, have you told your mother, yet? She's been an invalid now on that old farm, and other than a hired caretaker, all she has left is you."

"No, it's still too soon. I want to get to know this man better before I tell her."

That's a good idea," May, said, "never buy a horse till you look 'em in the mouth." They both laughed.

As Arianna drove back to town, she realized some other things were nagging at her. Why didn't he want to go to the coffee shop? Why so little about himself other than his interest in her? But she wiped these things away. Miles wanted to see her again. That was all that mattered.

As time wore on, and after several meet-ups with Miles, Arianna wanted to learn more about this man, but no one in the store knew him much. He only paid cash, she didn't even know his last name. Arianna wanted to see more of him, not just in the park for casual meet-ups, but maybe on a real date. Yes, he was older and may not want to go to the malt shop, but there was a great dance hall in the town where all the people, young and older loved to go too. On their next meet-up, Arianna would never forget Miles's reaction. When she asked if they could go on a proper date, he just sat there. His normal, calm, smiling demeanor took on a look that worried her.

"I have been doing some hard thinking," Arianna," he said. "What you say now has also troubled me. Please give me a bit of time to decide my thoughts. Can you wait a while longer?"

"Yes, Miles, I can wait, but when we meet again, please give me your final decision. That's all I ask. "A week went by, and Arianna began to feel he might not come by again, that she had scared him off. But finally, he did, he asked her to meet him later at the park, and he would explain everything. A day later, Arianna sat with him on the park bench, and Miles finally stated his position. "I have realized that I am taken with you," he said. "But I had put that feeling away. Now I must be honest with you, Ari." His voice was firm but sincere, "I have fallen in love with you."

Arianna was caught entirely by surprise. Up until now, their meetings had been a casual relationship, but now it was suddenly escalating. He pulled her close and kissed her full on the mouth. Next, he took her hand and said something even more inconceivable. "Will you meet me tomorrow night somewhere private?" he said. "There are so many things I want to tell you, and then, I want to make love to you."

Arianna felt her heart rush to her throat. He had said nothing about his life yet, now he was spilling his feelings out to her, and talking of physical sex! In Arianna's mind, she was still a young girl. After the shock of his last statement sunk in, she tried to form her following words carefully.

"Miles, I also have very strong feelings for you, but I'm scared to death. I don't know how I will go on from here. I've led a very "unphysical' life." She couldn't mouth the word virginal. It sounded so juvenile. "I need to know more about you."

"I understand," he said. "I want to apologize for not telling you my background sooner. I was afraid I would lose you before we even started. So now I will tell you more about myself before we go any further."

"Tell me," Arianna said, her heart racing.

"I am married with three children."

Arianna was gob-smacked. She didn't know what to do, what to say. She sat silent as he went on.

"My wife, Cathleen, and I have a strict Catholic marriage. We have led very formal religious lives based on strong church doctrine. There is no love now in our union. We were very young when we married, I care for my wife, but I do not want her sexually. There is no deep emotion of love between us, only the duty of our children and their raising."

Arianna was both excited and shocked at the same time. What to do now? What to say? Does she jump up, curse the man, and leave him on the bench? If her mother were here, she would have kicked him in the crotch. She had to think. Finally, she
found the words to express her genuine emotions

"Miles, I must tell you honestly," her throat was so dry; it was hard to form the meaning. "I appreciate you telling me this before we go too far," I think I'm falling for you also. All I can think about is you. So yes, I will meet you tomorrow at my apartment, if that's suitable. But under one condition, I cannot survive a one-night fling. You must promise me now that we somehow have a future."

Miles grabbed her and held her tight. "Yes, that's what I want too, you will fill my empty life, and I pledge to you now I will never leave you."

Arianna was both excited and scared when she walked back to the store. Events had now set her life on a path she couldn't have imagined. She was involved with a married man, but it was too late now. She could not walk away.

In the following weeks, Arianna soon entered into a passion-driven romance with Miles, but it was a very unusual bond indeed. Nobody, not even Aunt May, her closest confidant, knew she and Miles were even acquainted, much less lovers. Miles stopped coming by the store. Instead, once a week, unseen, late in the evening, Arianna would let a man into her little apartment in town. He would quietly enter and shut the door.

Day's on in Arianna's new life, a letter came to her in the mailbox, and it was a game changer. It was an answer to a job application she had put in for employment at a small accounting firm in Salem. Arianna quickly ripped it open and read the contents. She had been accepted as a beginning office worker at their Salem office. Her two-year course in accounting after high school had finally paid off. Also, Now she could meet Miles in Salem. No more risking their being seen together in the small burg of Independence.

That evening when she met Miles, he was also excited. "I know of some nice furnished apartment rentals in Salem," he said. "Their rent is in your new salary range. So now we can be together more often."

Living in Salem had become the answer to Arianna's fantasies, a world of downtown shopping, and parties with sophisticated, worldly people, but most importantly, a closer life to the man of her dreams. But that part of her life must still remain discreet. She could not even mention his name, and he could not visit her during the day. No one must see them together.

As time passed, it soon became clear to both lovers this could not go on forever, and they discussed it often. Miles assured Arianna he could work out a divorce with his wife, but it would take a long time, maybe years. Moreover, his children were his biggest concern. He must see them through their early school years. So their timorous relationship would have to endure.

Nevertheless, the couple continued their secret life, they saw each other on specified days, and their romance soon became a longtime affair. Arianna's world now had settled into a set routine, a clandestine, risky routine, but there was no other choice for her. She accepted it, and they carried on with their situation.

It was a busy Wednesday morning for Arianna. She was hurrying about, trying to ready herself for the morning drive to her downtown office. She thought of Miles's long kiss goodbye the previous evening, warm and reassuring. Last night was their day set aside for their 'encounter meeting,' and the reason for Miles to stay late in Salem. She put on a coffee. No time for breakfast this late. Then came a plopping sound of the newspaper flung on her porch. The local newspaper boy always delivered it that way. It would hit, and she would open the door to retrieve it.

The wind was cold this morning, with a blustery winter sky. Arianna quickly grabbed the paper, shut the door, and unfolded it. On the front page was a large photo of a smashed car in a ditch! It looked familiar! Fear rose in Arianna's throat, she read the headline...

Local man killed in an auto accident ten miles north of Independence. Miles Harrison, a well-known Salem businessman, collided his car with an oncoming vehicle while traveling homeward. He died at the scene. He leaves behind a wife and three children who reside in the city of Independence.

For some reason, May didn't hear from Arianna for a while. She always called on weekends. Often Arianna would drive out to visit her, excited to talk about her new job and how happy she was living in Salem. But there had been nothing from her for seven days now. She hadn't answered her phone or returned calls. It was unusual but not too worrisome. She figured her niece was very busy adjusting to Salem's new challenges. But after some time with still no word, May decided she would drive to Salem to visit and see what was going on. She found Adrianna's small apartment downtown, parked, and knocked on her door.

May could hear shuffling noises inside the apartment. It was a good two minutes before the door finally opened, a chain lock holding it back. Peeking through the opening appeared Arianna's face. She saw May, opened the door, and let her in.

At once, May saw there was something amiss. Arianna was gaunt and pale looking, her usually tidy apartment now in messy disarray. Arianna tried to be friendly, but it was obviously an effort. Whatever it was, it was clear that she was having great difficulty getting it out. They sat silently for a while. Arianna appeared as if she might cry, but she kept her reserve. Finally, after a period of awkward silence, Arianna looked up, her eyes watering.

"I'm pregnant!" she blurted out. "And the father is unavailable."

May sat in silence, afraid to ask the obvious. Let her get it out, she thought to herself.

Arianna remained silent as if looking to find another subject as they sat. May was puzzled. What had happened here? Of course, pregnancy for a single woman at that time had harsh consequences, but Arianna was acting as if in a state of mourning.

May now felt she had to ask. "Can you say anything about the father?"

"I cannot discuss it!" Arianna quickly shot back. "I cannot reveal who he is. All I can say is he cannot be contacted."

May decided she would let it drop. So they sat until at last, Arianna started spilling it all out to her.

"I've not worked for a week!" she cried, raising her voice in a quavering tone. "Now my job is in jeopardy. I'm an adulteress with an illegitimate child. I'll be scorned. People will talk, and what of my mother?" Arianna lowered her voice, tears welling up again in her eyes. "My mother is a woman of old-time values," she went on. "Now that her daughter has shamed her, Mom will never, ever forgive me."

May now felt she should press her as much as possible. "Listen, Ari, the father of your child must take his share of the responsibility," her voice was as sincere as she could make it. "If you can't say who he is, at least confront him privately. Tell him you will keep his name secret, just you and him. But you need his help."

Arianna nodded her head as if in agreement, but there was something she couldn't say, something she was hiding. More silence.

May decided this was all she could do for now. Her niece was in obvious anguish. But she had only one more question. "Your mother," May asked her. "Can I at least tell her?" She searched Arianna for an answer. "Is that okay?"

Arianna looked up. "No! No one else must know about this."

May said no more. She told Arianna, it was best she should go home now. But if Arianna called her, she would be back by her side. She kissed her niece goodbye and left her at the door.

The apartment had now become Arianna's only world and the feelings of horror she had endured when she read that newspaper that awful morning was burned into her brain. Those shocking words were unclear to Arianna's senses, surely they didn't mean her Miles? That couldn't be his smashed car in that grainy picture. Miles was alive and vibrant when he left her that evening. He was waving to her as he left the parking lot. He was okay. The car was okay. No! That could not be him. She wanted to call someone, explain about Miles's death, who? She needed to tell someone why she was crying, who? Not her Mother, not even May. She had decided she must face this tragedy totally, completely alone.

Then came the notice of Miles' funeral, and those awful, dreadful words were repeated: Killed, deceased, words of death. She could not go to the funeral, or see his casket and gravesite. She was a person who must never, ever exist in Miles's world.

And finally, as if God was extra angry with her, several days later, came breast pains and morning nausea. A test showed she was pregnant. It was the final irony. A slap in the face from the joker, had she sinned so severely that God had singled her out as an example? These were the crazy thoughts jumbling through her mind. She desperately needed help, but there was no clear path for her, just more despair.

A few days later, Arianna finally gained enough strength to call May back. The two set up a meeting, and soon, May was back at her side. They began discussing their next plan.

"How can I deal with this pregnancy?" She asked May. "I can't raise a child unaided, there would be no father to support me, and the office would shun me, I will be an adulteress"

"How do you know this Arrianna?"

"There was a girl working at another office, who got pregnant and they fired her. I cannot survive that."

As they talked, May could see Arianna had made her decision. "Okay, honey," she said, "I will help you to make the arrangements."

Beneath the steel bridge in the ship's harbor, near the docks in Portland, sat a gray, bleak concrete building that looked foreboding to Arianna. It certainly didn't have an appearance of a hospital or anything that might resemble a healthy place for patients to inhabit. When she entered the back door and walked down the dimly lit corridor, their footsteps reverberated loudly off the dirty walls, making the scene even more ominous. At the end was a steel door with no name or number.

May checked the address she had written down. "I guess this is it," she said softly to Arianna, she knocked, and the heavy door creaked open. A rather unseemly-looking man peeked out. He opened it, and they went inside. He quickly slammed it shut.

"Did you bring the money?" he asked somewhat abruptly. "It better be cash!"

The man was wearing a gritty, filthy shop apron tied at the back.

"Yes, three hundred dollars," Arianna replied.

"Take off your clothes and lie on that table." He demanded, pointing over to the corner.

Arianna looked over at a steel bench with no mattress, just a filthy sheet over it. Next to it was a porcelain basin containing a large, sharp-looking device that resembled ice tongs.

"Are you a doctor?" Arianna stammered, shaking so much she could hardly speak.

"I'm a registered nurse," he answered, a bit put off. "You want this done or not?"

Arianna hesitated. This did not look good, a chamber of horrors! She stepped back in terror. "I need time to talk to my friend," she replied, looking over to May.

"Make it quick," he snapped back. "You're wasting my time."

Arianna pulled May aside, her voice quivering, "I'm scared to death, this isn't good. Let's get out of here," she whispered to her.

May agreed. The whole scenario was right out of a nightmare. She turned and walked over to the man. "Open the goddamn door." May be demanded. "We've changed our minds. Open it now!"

On the freeway back to Salem, Arianna was going through various emotions, crying deeply, in and out of profound distress. Poor May was trying to console her.

"Honey, you need not go this route, please reconsider."

As they drove on, the closer Arianna got to Salem, the more she felt closer to Miles. It was his child also, she told herself. It was a part of Miles he had left her. The more Arianna thought about that, the more it eased her pain. Finally, she turned to May and told her she wanted to go through with the pregnancy. "Yes, I can see that now. How could I destroy this part of me?" she said. "It is the right thing to do."

As they pulled up in front of her apartment, Arianna realized she had resigned herself to the scorn of adultery. She turned to May and said, "I guess I better buy a blouse and sew a big, fat letter "A" on it."

"No," May replied. "Put the name of your child on that sweater, and wear it proudly."

Arianna smiled, leaned over, kissed May on the cheek, and then left the car.

It was another day of sitting at the kitchen table for Arianna, up early with little sleep, nothing now to ponder, no plan forward, no other road to take except the given path. Miles was gone. She was pregnant and in danger of losing her job. Her money was running out, and her medical leave was ending. She must put her life back together, accept all this, and go back to work.

Then came the plop on the porch. It was the morning paper delivery that she had ignored all this time. It was a sound announcing horror, death. She dared not open that door. But now she realized it was also the sound of life. Miles' child was her future. She stood and went to the door. On top of the stack of abandoned papers was the morning news. She grabbed it and quickly went back inside the apartment.

The news held nothing but happenings she cared little to know, political stories, and national events, all meaningless to her. She had too much pain in her mind to care for the outside world's difficulties. She turned the page, at the bottom of the local society section was a notice of Miles's funeral. Arianna froze. It was the last chance to say goodbye to Miles.

The gathering of cars around Salem's Saint Joseph's Catholic Church was large. Arianna proceeded through the crowded parking area. The Fairview family was a well-known name in Salem, and everyone was there. The funeral had been delayed for some time. Miles's family was large and spread all over most of the eastern US, many from the old country in Europe.

She found a spot around the back and parked. It was a safer place away from the others. Her life with Miles must remain unknown. She entered through the tall front entrance and found a seat near the back of the massive open nave. She sat with other lesser-known family and friends to the side. But soon Arianna now felt even more depressed. All these prayers and eulogies were too overwhelming. All she was interested in was Miles. The front was too crowded she decided to come back later, with fewer people around.

Arianna strolled the outer rooms of the massive church. As she walked along the hallway, she noticed a recess with an altar set aside for private prayer. Arianna entered and stood below a large, stained glass window. Brilliant sunlight poured through its intricate colored glass, and streaking rays of color highlighted the marbled floor. She thought of Miles. He must have stopped by here many times and admired this beautiful setting. She stood transfixed by the magical, scene. Then, she noticed a man standing below the tall window, his back to her. The man turned around, the glowing light revealing his face.

She gasped. This man was Miles!

Arianna reeled; she collapsed to her knees, struggling not to fall to the floor. The room was spinning a surreal merry-go-round of twisting colors. She fought for her balance.

 Then, a hand came down from somewhere above and took her arm, holding her steady. "Are you okay, miss?" The man said. "Let me help you stand up."

Arianna took his hand, a real hand, not an illusion! Somehow she struggled back to her feet and stood. "Miles?" she blurted out, her face betraying her confusion.

"Oh god, no!" The man said. "My name is Henry. Miles was my identical twin brother!"

Arianna tried to hide her shock and embarrassment. She struggled to regain some steadiness, shaking her head. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't know Miles had a twin."

"Oh, that's okay," he smiled. "You're just one of the many startled people I've encountered today."

"I'm sorry, I didn't know about you. I wasn't that close to your family."

"No problem. Actually, I'm not, either. I have my own separate life. But how did you know Miles?"

"A, we were just acquaintances, Miles was," Arianna tried to drop any possible comparisons, "a person I knew from work."

"Well, my apologies miss, for scaring you so. Are you leaving the Church now? I assume you stopped at this altar to offer up a prayer."

"Oh, no, I'm not a Catholic. I was attracted to the beauty of the light through the rectory."

"Yes, it is a beautiful church, isn't it? However, I'm the same as you. I'm not a devout follower, either. I'm here only for Miles's funeral."

Arianna had to keep from staring. It was as if Miles had risen from the dead and was now standing before her, talking to her!

"My name is Arianna." She told him. "My friends call me Ari. It was very nice to meet you, Henry. Sorry for my silly reaction, but I probably should get back home." Arianna hated the little lie, but she felt it best she leave.

"It's been a pleasure to meet you too, Ari," he said, "but wait, I was going to leave myself." He turned to the chair near the table and retrieved what looked to be two handheld walking canes. "Just give me a second."

Arianna was surprised. It appeared Henry had a disability. "Do you need some help, Henry?"

"Nah, I'm pretty efficient with these things," he said with a wry smile. "I contracted type 2 diabetes some years ago, so putting weight on my legs is painful, these walking sticks help a bit."

Arianna now felt a feeling of attentiveness toward the man. "Okay, let's get out of here," she said smiling.

When the two reached their cars in the parking lot, Arianna offered to hold Henry's walkers, so he could bring out his keys to open his car door. When he turned to retrieve the canes he paused. "Ari," he asked, "would you care to stop for a coffee somewhere? I don't have a lot of connections here. It would be nice to have someone to talk to."

A hundred reasons told Arianna to say no! But she fought back those thoughts. "Why yes, Henry, I would love to. I know a little place not far. You can follow me there."

Henry took the two canes, his face brightening. He smiled, "perfect," he said, "I'll follow you."

As Arianna watched his car pull up behind her in the mirror, her sudden meeting agreement sank home. It was as if a mysterious force had risen and rushed through her body, quieting her anguish. She felt a reprieve from her overwhelming sorrow since Miles's death. She felt her heart rise. For the first time, her despair for Miles had eased. Had she abandoned Miles for the first man to come along? No. She almost said it out loud. Henry is Miles's twin brother. He would approve of their meeting. He would grant her this little respite.

When they reached the coffee shop, the two new acquaintances found a table in a private corner area near a window.

"Thank you so much for meeting me here, Ari," Henry said, "I'm afraid I have little knowledge of this town. I've lived in New England most of my life. How about you? You live here in Salem?"

"Oh yes, I moved here from a small town, not far, and found work in an accounting firm with help from," she hesitated, "a close friend."

"How interesting," Henry replied, "Miles started in accounting also. But for me, I went self-employed. I'm a freelance writer, and as far as math goes, I couldn't even balance my checkbook."

Arianna sensed she was talking to Miles. His voice, his mannerisms, and his visual presence, this was Miles sitting across from her! It was hard to keep from saying something personal to him that was meant for her ex-lover. She focused her mind and got back to the moment. "That's interesting," she added. "I always assumed Identical twins would have identical traits?"

"No, if fact, other than looks, Miles and I were different in many ways. Miles had an analytical mind, great for math, but he couldn't fathom anything I did. So we were similar but not the same." He laughed at his last statement.

"Henry, when I was in the Nave area for the casket viewing, all your family was there, but you were downstairs. Were you called away on something?"

Henry tried to frame his answer carefully. "No, I'm afraid I've had a falling out with my family. After our father died, my mother wanted me to work in his retail business, but neither my brother nor I was interested. We had our reasons. My mother's strict religious beliefs dominated our lives. I was an agnostic, and there was many an argument over that. Also, she would not approve of any marriage unless it were in the confines of the Church, I couldn't go that route, but Miles did, albeit reluctantly. As for me, I went my own way, and as a result, I was ostracized from the family will."

"What of your disability? Surely she helped you in caring for that?"

"Oh yes, she provided care for my condition, and I was grateful, but she still kept me outside of family doings. So today is the first time we've all been together for years."

Arianna noticed he had no wedding ring, "Did you come here alone?"

"Yes, there's nobody else in my life. I've never married. It just wasn't in the cards."

Arianna knew she shouldn't pry, but she had to ask. "Why, what happened?"

Henry put his hand to his forehead, reflected a bit, and then brought his hand down, just like Miles used to do, Arianna thought.

"I don't know." He said. "This disease certainly didn't help. I'm not the life of the party like Miles, I've had a few relationships, but somehow, they never materialized. I never met the right person or wasn't right for them." The one thing I miss, though, is having children. Miles had three wonderful kids. I would have given anything to have just one of them."

This was a heartbreaking statement for Arianna. She felt uneasy. Here she was sitting with Miles's fourth child in her womb. "Had you and Miles kept in touch?"

"Oh, very little. He had his life; I had mine, meager as it is."

"How do you think his family will get through this loss?"

"Oh, he was loved by his children and talked about them often, but I think he spent too much time at his job. He and Cathleen were busy in their careers, she was always involved in her parish, and Miles was a bit of a workaholic. How about you?" Henry was now asking her the big question. "How did you know, Miles?"

"I knew him from a few years back. Before I moved to Salem, he used to drop by the grocery where I worked. We were casual friends. So when I heard about his accident, I decided to drop by today's service.

"I'm so glad you did, Ari, I don't know anybody here, and it's nice to have someone to talk with. But enough about me, tell me about your life?"

"Um, a close friend helped me find work at a Salem accounting firm about a year ago. I'm originally from a small town about 35 miles south of here. My mother is a widow and looks after the small farm she inherited from her family. Dad was an engineer, and after they married, he took on the farm but kept his contract work. But then, sadly, he died of an accident soon after I was born, so I never knew him." Arianna had to think how close this was to her own life now. "Mother found herself running it all by herself."

"It's clear you are a person who has a clear direction in your life. You mentioned a close friend helped you find work here. Are you involved with someone? I hope I'm not being too intrusive."

Arianna hesitated a bit. "A, no, not at all. I had a strong relationship with someone, but now that's gone, I am starting a new life."

"Oh, I'm so sorry. Please forgive my asking."

"No offense."

As they talked, Arianna noticed the coffee shop was filling up, and the waitress was giving them the, you finished yet look. "How about we go for a bit of a walk? 
It's a great day out ...a perfect time to stroll the historic old town Salem. Probably like your place in New England."

As the two people set off down the street, Henry agreed it was very similar to Salem Massachusetts. "Yes, Ari, what a beautiful city this is. So quaint and unique, I noticed as we drove here, this whole city seems to be preserved as if we were back in time."

"That's a good description, Henry. Yes, that is what the city planners set out to do. You mentioned you are a journalist writer, what does that entail?"

"Well, mostly for newspapers, magazines needing local human interest stories, that sort of thing."

"Sounds interesting. You must get to visit a lot of places for stories?"

"When I first started, Ari, yes, but now I'm working more in my apartment. Everything's going in the computer direction now."

A walkway appeared ahead, leading through the trees to a bright red, historic flour mill. The water cascading over the huge turning mill blades is so peaceful and mesmerizing," Arianna said. "This old mill is my favorite place to come for lunch sometimes."

"You work near here?"

"Well, it's a bit of a walk, but it's a good way to get some exercise."

They neared the railing overlooking the brook flowing down and away from the mill. The big turning paddle wheel creaked and groaned as the water pushed it along.

"Thank you so much for bringing me here, Ari. This is lovely."

"Yes, this place is a lifesaver sometimes for me."

"Ari, you mentioned you had a difficult relationship, you're a young woman, what are your thoughts for your future now? I hope you don't mind my asking?"

"Henry, I..." Arianna struggled a bit to frame her answer, she liked this man, but she had much to hide from him. "I was in a very private affair with a man near your age, but some things happened that I cannot talk about, but I am working on getting past it now."

"Please tell me to shut up if I go too far, Aria, but I like you, and I want to get to know you better."

"That's a fair question, Henry. I would like to know you more too. I just need some time."

"Of course, I understand that," Suddenly, Henry's wristwatch started buzzing. "Uh oh, I'll need to get back, they're shooting the family pix soon. Mother doesn't want me in it, but she has no choice." He smiled. "It's her fault, she had the twins."

"That'll be her keepsake, Henry. Maybe she will look at that and soften her views?"

"What a good thought, Ari. I'll remember that."

"Are you going back east soon?"

"Yes, there will be a few more family functions, but I'm not close to any of these people other than Miles. That's why it's been so good to meet you."

"It's been very nice to meet you also, Henry."

Henry's face brightened, and he smiled. He dug into his coat pocket as the couple reached their cars in the parking lot. He handed her his personal card after jotting a number on it.

"I'm free all day tomorrow," he said. "Then I have to fly back Monday, and I don't know when I can return, so there is something I want to tell you." Arianna sensed a meaning in Henry's voice that was truly honest.

  "Arianna, I've been with you for only a short time now, yet I can't get you out of my mind. I knew the second I saw you, I wanted to know you more. I've had no one else in my life for years, but now I have this strong liking for you. I hope you are not offended by my forwardness, but I had to tell you my thoughts before I left for New England. Will you meet with me tomorrow and have dinner? Talk about some future we could have. I know this is abrupt, but I wanted to give you time to think about it. You can reach me at this number."

Adrianna hesitated, then took his card. "I, a...will use this time to consider it, Henry."

"Thank you, Ari. You can call me anytime before I leave Monday, but not to worry, if you don't, I will understand."

 Arianna's emotions were on a whirling carnival ride on her drive home. Just this morning, she was in mourning for Miles's death. Now, she was suddenly involved with another man, and Miles wasn't even in the ground yet. What had just happened? Had she somehow replaced her love for Miles with a substitute, a replica, a lookalike doppelganger? Arianna steered her car to the roadside, braked to a stop, and turned the motor off.

She sat in silence, running this incredible happening through her troubled brain. Henry's presence was real, she told herself. He had been sitting before her, talking to her, and she felt comfortable with him. Yes, she still mourned for Miles, and somehow, Henry helped strengthen that memory. But why was she now not mourning Miles's loss? Her thoughts were jumbled. Should she call Henry, or stay with Miles's memory and go on from there?

Arianna sat for several minutes more, running this decision over and over in her mind. Then, yes! she told herself, she wanted to see Henry again, she was drawn to him. Of course, his exact vision of Miles was part of it, but she would have liked this man even if she had never known Miles. Arianna started the car, pulled back into the parkway, and drove home.

It was Saturday morning, "Arianna's bedside alarm went on. But she was at the kitchen table when it sounded. She ran into her bedroom, turned it off, and then went back to the table, staring at the door.

Now her mind was filled with Miles again. But Miles would not be here tonight or ever again! Arianna sat there trying to fathom that. She would never hold him again, never kiss him goodbye. But that vision of Miles driving away, would not leave her. What if she had run out to Miles's car that morning, and delayed him? Changed his leaving time, so his departure would prevent him from crashing into that other car! No, she thought, there is no solitude in fantasies. It happened.

A plopping sound came from outside; it was the morning paper. Arianna's heart sank. She had ignored the newspapers piling up on her porch because they brought back that horrid morning when she saw that photo! This apartment had been her life with Miles, she had never known any other man but him. No one else should belong here. Who was this Henry? He is but a distraction. He won't replace Miles, nobody can!

She held up Henry's card in her hand. If she called him now, they could meet, order dinner. They could talk about future meetings, Maybe he could come back, and see her again?

Arianna shook her mind clear. No! That was bringing an outsider here, a man she did not even know until today! How could she replace Miles with a lookalike? She must not allow this stranger into her and Miles's special place.

Arianna picked up Henry's card, went to the sink, opened the counter door, tore Henry's card into pieces, and threw it in the trash.

Now, she set about cleaning her apartment. She would rebuild her life with Miles's memory intact.

Arianna's phone rang around noon. The apartment was almost clean now; she set down her mop and answered the phone. It was May.

"How are you doing? Arianna," May said. "I've been worried sick about you, has this person responsible for your problem shown up yet?"

"No, May, I know he won't. But it's not important now anyway. I've excepted him being gone." Arianna wondered if her statement was true.

"Well, then there's a government agency that can help you out with financial support. So you can apply for that also."

"May, thank you for your help. I'll take a look at that."

"Please do, Honey. How are you doing now? I've been worried sick about you. I'm the only one who knows your predicament, and if you should need any help, please call me, I love you, you, know that. Remember this. What's done is done. You have a beautiful life ahead of you now with your new child. Enjoy that life, Arianna. It's yours. But also make room in your life for another partner if that should arise. Your child will need that."

"I will, May, and I love you too."

After Arianna put her phone down, she thought of May's words. Then she burst into tears. May was the only person in the world now who knew her pain. And even she didn't know the whole story.

It was a good hour of sitting at that table before Arianna told herself to get back to work. One thing left to do was clean up her front porch. There were over two weeks of newspapers piled on it. Arianna unfolded a cardboard box, opened the front door, and started throwing the papers into it. She noticed one was today's paper, an outside page fell out, and there on the front appeared the Harrison family obituary photo Henry had left her to pose for.

Standing to the side of the group, looking alone, and abandoned, was Henry with his canes. Arianna grabbed the page and held it to her heart.

Now she sped to the kitchen, opened the door under the sink, and rummaged through the trash container. Unfortunately, the pieces of Henry's card were difficult to retrieve. The tearing of the paper had obliterated some of the numbers. She pieced them together as best she could and wrote the numbers down. But one of the numbers was barely readable.

Arianna picked up her phone and tapped out the numbers anyway, guessing at the sequence. She was never religious, but now she prayed, "Please, God, be the right numbers." The ringing sound began, she waited a man's voice answered...

"Hello, this is Henry."

She looked upward, lips mouthing... 'thank you.'  "Henry, it's Arianna. Yes! I will meet you for dinner tonight."


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