Anna was in no hurry to leave the peacefulness of South County and head back to the hustle and bustle of her life in New York. She found herself aimlessly driving through the hills of the countryside getting lost on purpose while thinking about her father who in younger days loved to pile her, her sister Millie and the dog into the car and take long Sunday afternoon rides.
"We're giving your mother the afternoon off," he'd explain as he took them on adventurous walks in the woods.
It was dark now as Anna navigated the curvy country road that ran past pastures, old New England stonewalls, and the very woods her father took them on those long ago walks. She never got tired of the landscape of home, especially now with freshly fallen snow settled on the pines and on the ridges of the stone walls and the rafters of the barn roofs. Her father loved winter but the cemetery where he now lay seemed cold and barren to her under a blanket of snow.
It was a long illness and a drawn out death with Anna commuting back and forth from New York City to South County, the Blue County Medical Center, the Greenville Nursing Home, and finally Hospice Home Care when her father finally passed away at home.
Millie had lost patience with the entire drawn out process by then, of course. She would never say what she was thinking but Anna knew that her sister resented having to shoulder most of the responsibility with Anna away so much.
Millie had her husband Timm for her moral and emotional support during the difficult time but Anna faced the impending loss of their beloved father mostly on her own, long since divorced and with no steady relationship presently in her life.
During the last months of her father's life, Anna tried to come to terms with her loss, mostly in the quiet and empty silence of her lonely City apartment while remembering her father's musical voice singing to her in her happy memories of youth. She also loved the way he read her favorite childhood storybooks in his gentle voice.
Later, when it was finally all over, Anna found herself alone in the family's farmhouse that Millie and Timm had refurbished. She had nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nobody to talk to except maybe Timm who was kind, considerate, supportive and understanding.
Millie was dealing with her grief in her own way and some of their sister issues were coming back to haunt them but Timm engaged Anna in long conversations to give her an outlet. Anna liked Timm - all the way back to high school where he was an athlete and Millie was the pretty cheerleader while Anna was held up in the school library studying or down in the auditorium with the high school theater club and it was Millie who stole Timm's heart.
With her grief raw, Timm was gracious in his patience and empathy toward his sister-in-law. He distracted Anna from her sadness by telling stories from the past and Anna liked to remember those care free days before their lives became so complicated and messy.
Anna had known her Dad was dying and she tried to prepare herself for the loss but Millie was much less patient, resentful that her father had taken so long to die. She was also upset with Anna for not being a bigger part of the family by living in New York.
Now, in the aftermath of their father's death, when it had seemed as if the whole world had grinded to a halt, what troubled Anna most was her sister's marriage, not her father's absence. Timm had been wonderful in the final days leading up to the death and in the days in the aftermath, taking charge of the arrangements and running interference with most of the issues that came up, but Anna couldn't help but notice Millie's annoyance and impatience toward her husband.
She would never say what he was thinking but it was clear that Millie resented Timm for some reason, perhaps because he refused to feel sorry for himself while Millie mopped around the house like a kid who didn't get what she wanted for Christmas.
Anna, meanwhile struggled with the idea that this phase of her life was over for good. Now that her father was gone, would there really be any reason to return to South County, especially with Millie so detached from and disinterested in their sibling relationship? Anna hoped their father's death would bring them closer together but Millie was more distant than ever now that the funeral was over.
Thank God for Timm's charm and sense of humor that kept Annie amused and distracted from the loss she was feeling. But Millie's mood remained sour even when Timm brought her flowers and fruit baskets and he went out of his way to try to cheer his wife up. Surely Millie still loved Timm even in her indifference toward him but Anna was feeling like a stranger in her childhood home.
Her parents were gone now and this was Millie and Timm's place. They moved in years earlier and they made it their own with the renovations and changes even with Millie's father still living there.
Anna heard Timm discuss the possibility of selling the house and giving Anna a share of the profits but Millie was adamant that it was their house because of the time, effort, labor and (especially) money they had put into the property over the years.
"Anna was nowhere to be seen through all of this," Millie pouted. "Why should she get any of it now?"
Anna was fine with Millie and Timm keeping the house (or the profits from it) and she knew she should be heading back to the City sooner rather than later but she wanted to stay as long as she could because she knew once she left she wouldn't be coming back very often. She had been living her own life for years and there was nothing for her here even with the echoes of her cherished memories drifting through the shadows, reluctant to give it all up once and for all.
Anna was in the village one afternoon, wandering about as if she was a first time visitor, remembering how she and Millie and their friends rode their bikes here as adolescents for an ice cream or candy bar. There was a storybook feel to the place with the church and the Grange Hall and the large well-kept town common with its elm trees. This was still her home, at least in her heart. Most of the people of her youth were gone now although some of the same families maintained the local businesses.
Anna heard the familiar church bell chime and she smiled at the sound that brought her back to her childhood once again. The bell was automated now but she remembered how Old Mr. Sanderbault used to ring it by hand at nine o'clock in the morning, high noon, and again at five o'clock in the afternoon.
Anna wasn't particularly religious but she always liked the church and the soothing bell. Her parents would take her and Millie to the Christmas and Easter services there and she had often walked among the stones of the ancient church graveyard, making it a point of reading the names on the graves. Now both her parents were in the newer cemetery down the road and she hoped they had done well enough on Earth to merit the promises of Heaven as they had known it. Anna prayed that God and His angels would show them mercy and understanding.
Timm had taken over his father's service station business and used car lot on the far corner of the town's main street and he gave Anna a wave from the open garage bay when he saw her approach.
"Would you like a coke?" He grinned, gesturing to the same ancient coke machine they used to raid as kids.
"Do you ever regret staying?" Anna asked, accepting the coke Timm had retrieved from the machine.
"That's a question your sister asks me practically every day," Timm laughed, escorting Anna to a seat on the bench inside the warm station office. "Do you ever regret leaving?" He asked seriously.
"Sometimes," Anna confessed, taking a seat next to him.
"Well, don't," he advised knowingly. "You left for good reasons and you did something with your life you like," he said. "You shouldn't look back."
"We're orphans now," she sighed.
"That's the circle of life," he shrugged.
"To be honest, I'm not sure if I was ever really happy being away," Anna revealed.
"You're just feeling sad and sentimental and nostalgic because of what happened," Timm theorized. "Believe me, you don't want to be like me and your sister hanging out at Smitty's Pub with the old crowd and working at the IGA. You have a successful career in the city."
"It's starting to get old as I get old," she remarked.
"You're not that old," Timm assured her.
"I'm old enough," she sighed. "My character's daughter just turned twenty," she noted, referring to her soap opera role back in New York.
"Maybe your character had the kid when she was fifteen," Timm grinned.
"We're forty, Timm," Anna noted. "That's old in television actress years."
"What would you do if you came back here?" Timm challenged. "Run the community playhouse?"
"I don't know," Anna admitted with a shrug.
"Your sister is the one who wishes she had left," Timm sighed. "I don't think she's that happy here anymore."
"She got the house," Anna pointed out.
"That's not enough for her," Timm remarked. "She's always looking for more. She's never satisfied. She's never content. And now with your Dad gone, I'm not sure if she has any reason to stay here."
"She has you," Anna said with conviction. "That should be enough."
"Not anymore," Timm said with a sad expression on his face.
"She's just going what I'm going through but in a different way," Anna reasoned, standing. "Thanks for the coke," she smiled.
"Any time," Timm replied warmly.
Anna walked back to her car thinking how lucky Millie was to have Timm as her husband.