Author's Note:

I wrote this story using a picture for reference. The picture was for a contest for short stories. I'm not entering the contest because it cost too much, but it was fun writing the story. The picture was great inspiration. Check my author's page for the link to the picture.

I hope you like it.

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Recollections on a Foggy Homestead

As Beth attempted to drive up the long overgrown pathway, her eyes drank in the landscape of her past. The empty landscape. The dull, gray sky. The dirty little house approaching swiftly.

"Mommy. Where are the neighbors? Don't they want to visit you? You've been gone a whole long time," came a small voice from the backseat.

"No baby. There are no neighbors. We lived all by ourselves. Except Ham and Toots and their family. But they left long ago too. Just me, Mamma, Pops, and Gideon." Beth answered more to herself than her young, inquisitive daughter.

"You mean Uncle Gid lived here too? He likes to play with me and tell me stories! How come he never told me about this place?" the little voice questioned.

"Because Katey, we didn't like this place. It was miserable. Our mommy and daddy didn't have anyway to care for us. They worked too hard, but never saved anything. Come on let's get out."

Beth went to the back door of the little car and helped her five-year old daughter out of her car seat. They walked hand-in-hand up the weed-filled, dirt path and came to the door. Beth extracted a rusty, old key and inserted it into the lock. The key turned with a little effort and the door swung open on squeaky hinges. A little piece of Beth's heart subconsciously broke when she realized that nothing was there. No note explaining anything. No closure. She realized why she had come all this way from New Mexico, her new home. She wanted to close this chapter of her life. If she knew what had happened to her parents after she left, she could leave with a lighter, freer heart.

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"Happy Birthday to Bethie and Gideon!" two happy voices sang. Beth grinned happily. She was happy. She was eighteen. She could leave. She and her brother were going to leave and go to college. They had this chance and they were going to take it!

"Oh Beth! I am so excited for you. You're really leaving. Gideon told me your mamma told you about the money that your grandma left you," Tanya shrieked.

"Yes that's all good and well, but she thinks that I'm just going on vacation. I tried to tell her the truth, but she won't listen. She keeps telling me to bring her back a mug!" Beth said exasperatedly.

"Don't worry. She'll get it eventually. Especially when you don't come back," Tanya laughed like the villains would in the books she had read.

'That's just the thing Toots. I don't want to hurt her. She tried her best. Oy! Ham! Don't eat my quarter of the food. I paid good money to buy that food last time we went to Hartnetville! Be right back. I'm just going to get my food back." Beth skipped to other side of the small, dingy room and yanked the plate from out of Ham's hands. As she skipped away, she made a silly face and stuck her tongue out.

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The house had fallen into disrepair. Not that it was much even when it was at its best. The shutters were falling off their hinges. The only furniture in the room was a dusty table and three-legged stool.

"Mommy! Look! I found a dolly!" Katey cried delightedly. She had been searching the room and had come across a small doll underneath the table.

"Oh honey! Don't touch it. That's been there for a very long time and is most likely very dirty. Wait a minute! That's mine. It's Miss Sally!" Beth crossed the room in three strides and picked up the doll, "I wonder why they didn't take it with them when they left. If they left, I suppose…" Beth trailed off, as she became lost in another memory.

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"Mamma! I'm leaving in the morning. Gideon too," Beth yelled from the loft where she and Gideon slept, "Could you please pass up Miss Sally. She's on the table. I just finished washing her. Miss Sally will be my memory of this place."

"Dear, you don't need this ratty old doll, you'll see her when you get home anyway. You're going to the big city. Mustn't embarrass yourself!" Beth's mother called up.

"Mother! Bethie already told you, she's not coming back. Neither am I. We're applying for the university. We're going to get educated. Maybe we'll visit." Gideon, Beth's twin brother had just entered the home. He sat down at the table and reiterated their plan to their mother.

"Well, we'll have to discuss this further with your father. You know, now that you're eighteen, you'll be required to do the work of an adult. You'll soon be going with your father to help harvest and prepare Mr. Waylan's wheat crop for selling. And you, Bethie. You'll be preparing for marriage soon. I was thinking about taking out an ad in the Hartnetville paper. You know, announcing your eligibility."

That was the final straw. Beth couldn't stand it anymore. She was so tired of this tiny little house in the middle of nowhere with her tiny family. There was no flexibility in her life. She didn't want to be put up for sale in Hartnetville newspaper. She wanted to go to college. She wanted to be a teacher so she could help kids like her.

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A loud thump brought Beth back to her present world. She looked up to see her daughter looking at a pile of toppled boxes.

"Oops Mommy. I just wanted to see what was up there," Katey pointed to the loft. The boxes weren't piled very high and apparently Katey had misjudged the height. She wouldn't have been able to see a thing if she had climbed on the boxes.

"That's what the ladder is for silly. Here I'll go up there with you. I haven't been up there for ages." As she helped Katey up the ladder very slowly, she glanced around the small living area. The stove was still there, with a thick layer of dust cloaking it. Underneath the loft, she spotted a moth-eaten sofa that she hadn't noticed during her cursory glance around the room. How many times had she been put on that sofa during punishments? She remembered countless times when she was placed on that sofa to 'think about what she had done.' The sofa was lumpy from its many years of use and the once moderately lovely floral print was faded. She could see the spot where in a fit of anger, she had thrown a bottle of cola. The stain had never come out. Beth's memory of that awful day had never faded either.

"Your mother told me you and Gideon were going on a vacation. This is the first I've heard of college. I don't approve. You're needed here. Gideon! Mr. Waylan's crop is large this season, which means more work for us. We might not have to search for other jobs. This will be a prosperous year for us. Perhaps we can pay off my debt to the bank. And Beth! Your mother needs you. Her health is not as good as it once was. If she grows ill, your help will be needed in running this house," Beth's father gave her a long, hard look telling her that she would not be given permission to leave.

Beth looked at her mother for support, but found her mother to be hiding behind her meek character while stirring the stew for dinner. Beth looked at her brother. Gideon's jaw was jutting out in a way that showed he was not happy. He had a glint in his eye and his mouth was twitching as he fought to keep words from spilling from his mouth. The tension was so thick, you could cut it with a knife, so Beth did the only thing she could think of. She'd regret it later, but what the heck!

"No!" Beth yelled as she threw a glass bottle of cola. The bottle didn't make the satisfying crash she had hoped for. It landed on the sofa and the cola gushed out of it. It fizzed all over the sofa as some trickled down the side and pooled on the floor. Her mother gasped and Gideon was startled from his silent brooding. This time they couldn't tell her to sit on the sofa and think because the sofa was the victim of the attack. She had an urge to smile smugly, but kept it inside in order to not upset her family further. Oh no. Now tears were pooling in her eyes and she ran from the house letting the door slam behind her. Her dreams! Her lovely dreams! Shattered! With one bottle of cola, she had ruined everything.

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Katey wandered around the small loft touching the walls and beams with fascination. Now she was perched on a low ceiling beam, with her eyes screwed up trying to read an inscription on the wall next to her.

"Whoever wrote this was not a very good writer. I can't even read it!"

"Pumpkin, you can't read yet! And it's old anyways. Even if you could read, that carving is almost twenty-two years old. Its been mostly worn away. Your uncle Gideon and I carved it one day during the winter. I remember, we were really cold and had been up here in the loft the entire day wrapped in blankets. We were bored and decided to carve our names on the wall to remember that day. We wanted to live here forever. We were young and happy. Toots and Ham had just moved in and we were already best friends. We didn't know how miserable we'd be later." Beth looked at her daughter and made a funny face, trying to lighten the scene, at least for herself.

"Well Mommy, why'd you like living here? It's kind of messy and ugly. I like our house much better. You don't even have a pretty garden to play in. I have pretty flowers in it and a playhouse. Daddy and Uncle Gideon promised to build me a tree house too, when I turn seven! How come Daddy didn't come with us?"

"Oh baby. I just had to do this alone with you. You are my life. You make this situation more bearable for me. You're my support. You'll hold me if I cry, right?" Beth quipped, attempting to lighten the mood once again. "We'll see Daddy when we get home. He's waiting for us." Beth looked out the window at the bleak landscape and sighed.

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"Bethie. Answer me, please. It's Toots. I want to talk to you. Gid told me what happened. It will be okay. We'll work it out. If all else fails, I'll help you run away. I know how important this is to you. Come on, we'll go to our place and talk," Silence answered Toots pleas. Beth wasn't ready to make her presence known. "Fine. I'll be there waiting for you. Come when you're ready. But don't take a million years. My dazzling beauty will fade by then!" Toots repeated a long-standing inside joke.

Ten minutes later, Beth entered the small wheat-storage shed that Toots had nicknamed 'their place.' She spotted Toots waiting on a box in the corner with a dog-eared second-hand copy of Romeo and Juliet. She loved that book to pieces and often quoted it to Beth.

"Tanya Jones, help me get out of here. Gideon and I are set on escaping from here. I don't care if I break my mother's heart. I forgot that when she didn't help me when Pops told us we couldn't leave. She just continued hiding behind her patience and docility. You know we could have had a better life. If my father hadn't invested in that fake stock scam, we would have been ordinary, middle-class folks. He should have listened to the townspeople's advice. They warned him it was a scam! He doesn't listen to anyone. He's still repaying the debt from seventeen years ago! I need to leave. I need to be someone. I want to save children from my terrible childhood," Beth sobbed hysterically, "I don't wan to be stuck here in this godforsaken nowhere forever. You can come too. If you help me out, I'll take you anywhere!"

"I've always wanted to visit Paris," Toots joked.

"Ha ha. Not that far! I'll take you to California though. We'll visit San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge," Beth already felt a little better. Toot's clam demeanor settled Beth considerably. They spent the rest of the evening discussing how to sneak away. They decided that they would have to wait until the next visit to Hartnetville, then Gideon and Beth would buy train tickets and leave. They'd have to dress in layers since they couldn't bring a suitcase. It would be too suspicious. Toots would have to stay and cover for them, but Beth would send her some money later.

"So it's settled. We're going to leave!" Beth said resolutely.

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"Come on Katie. Let's go outside. I want to go look for something. We're going to find my old playhouse. Well, kind of," Beth told an excited Katey. They walked outside and Beth walked in the direction of Toots' special place. She walked for a long time – longer than she remembered. Eventually, they came to a ramshackle little shed. The door had fallen off and was lying near by. The little corrugated tin roof was rusting and was partially coming off of the wooden walls. Beth went in and walked around, examining the remains of a once full wheat shed. She came to an old storage bin that was bolted to the wall in the far right corner. It was covered in spider webs, but underneath it was where Toots used to hide a little metal box called her 'secret box.' They used to leave secret messages in it if they couldn't meet face-to-face. How could she have forgotten that? Maybe Toots left her a message, or maybe kept her papers in it. Perhaps it would help her solve her mystery. She reached under and felt around until her hand brushed something cold and smooth. It was the box!

It felt rather empty, but she would try. Whether there was something for her, she couldn't guess. She hoped there was.

"Baby. Let's go back to the car so we can open this special box. Come on. It's dirty in here," Beth said as she left the shed, her daughter following patiently.

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Finally! The day of their visit to Hartnetville! Toots, Gideon, Ham, and Beth had met numerous times to discuss their plan further. Ham decided to help them, but decided to stay since his father was more prosperous than Beth and Gideon's father and was leaving him considerable size farm and some savings. But Toots was all for leaving just as she was in the beginning.

"Gideon! Bethie! If you want to come, get in the truck. I'm leaving. I promised Mr. Rollinger that I would be there at noon to talk business with him," Beth's father yelled.

"Coming Pops! Oh, please don't leave without me. I've been saving pennies and I have enough money to buy some new clothes. And I must pick up two things for Toots. Gideon and I both have some errands to run, so we'll be off for a while, all right?" Beth questioned. She was following her plan perfectly.

"Yes, yes. Be back by three so we can get on home. I'll be at the drugstore if you need me."

Beth stood on the train platform. They had the two tickets. They wouldn't be missed until three. This was the perfect opportunity. Beth had her bankbook and her account number so she could get to her grandmother's money. She and Gideon were at the train station. Their train left in fifteen minutes and they would be on it. They were free.

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Beth sat in the car with the box on her lap. She put her fingertips on the edges and gently lifted the lid. The first thing that greeted her eyes was her name printed in shaky letters that looked vaguely like Toots' writing.

Dear Bethie,

We're leaving. In case you don't read this for a long time, it's two months after you left and now we're leaving too. We're moving. I suppose that's good, but our father won't tell us where. I guess he wants it to be a super big surprise. I think it's good, because he looks excited. Ham and I think that you two running away made our parents' final decision. They decided there was nothing her for us anymore. I'm sorry that I won't get to go to California with you. I really am. I hope that by the time you read this you will have achieved everything you wanted. I hope you're a teacher helping little children. You are a truly good person.

I think your parents finally realized that too. They realized that their family was gone and that they should have been more supportive. A week after you left, they closed up the house and moved to Hartnetville. Your mother said she was tired of the country, but secretly I think it was because she thought, if you ever came back, you would go to Hartnetville first, so she would find you easier. I don't know what happened after that, so I hope you find them well, if you ever want to find them. Wish me luck. I'm going to try and write my own great American masterpiece.

Love your best friend,

Toots Jones

In the bottom of the box, Beth found a bag. Inside the bag, she found a beautiful little ring that she recognized as the only piece of jewelry Toots had owned. She slipped it onto her index finger. It fit perfectly. This was as much closure as she would find here. She had always wondered why Toots had never responded to the letter and the money Beth had sent to the Jones' P.O. box. She hoped with all her heart, that Tanya Jones, her one true friend had found her happy ending that she so often read about in books. As for her parents, she would try Hartnetville.

There they were. The two of them. Both dead. They died within a month of each other. They lived to a good old age. She hoped they died happy. She realized now that she shouldn't have left like she did. It probably ruined her parents' lives forever. They were just trying to protect her. That's all. Beth walked out of the city hall holding Katey's tiny hand.

"Come on Katey. Let's go home. Daddy's waiting for us. We'll go home and start planning your tree house. We'll make it beautiful. Maybe you'll even invite your favorite mother up one day for a tea party. After all, I think I've done a pretty darn good job."