Their Winter Solstice

When Shawn Lanagan's long-term relationship ended, he decided to change up his life in other ways too. He was accepted into the Social Work graduate program at Green College and he started looking for a job in Blue County as well as a place to live, eighty miles from his hometown of Quincy Massachusetts.

It was his sister Lisa who reminded Shawn that her former college roommate Lorraine Bowles lived in Hillsboro and perhaps "Lorrie" would be willing to give him a place to stay as a favor, at least until he settled into the area.

Lisa and Shawn took a ride to Hillsboro one weekend to visit with Lorraine and her husband Steve and discuss the possibility of renting a room. Although Lisa and Lorraine were both eight years older than him, Shawn remembered Lorraine from her many visits to Quincy with Lisa during college weekends and breaks. They called themselves 'The Comedy Team of Lisa and Lorrie'.

Shawn attended their graduation ceremony in Greenville and Lorraine came on a Lanagan family vacation that summer but Shawn hadn't seen Lorrie since.

Lorraine and Steve lived in an attractive middle class house in a nice Hillsboro neighborhood and they were happy to accommodate Shawn given they owned a three bedroom ranch with plenty of room. Steve was a consultant for a health care software outfit and he seemed like a nice guy, although he was at least fifteen years older than his wife.

Lorraine was a teacher at Hillsboro High. Of course, the visit was really meant for Lorrie and Lisa to catch up more than it was to make sure Shawn passed the litmus test to become a boarder.

Steve barely said hello before disappearing into his study, leaving Shawn to sit and listen as the two college friends laughed, reminisced, and drank wine.

"I'm really glad you came," Lorraine said once the trio had settled in the living room for conversation, wine and cheese.

"It's been forever since we've seen each other," Lisa lamented.

The living room featured a huge picture window looking out over the front yard and Shawn found himself watching the cars pass by instead of focusing on the gab of his sister and her friend, although he did notice that Lorraine really hadn't changed all that much in appearance since the last time he saw her – maybe ten years ago.

She was wearing a nondescript tee-shirt and tan khaki shorts. Her hair was still shoulder length and brown although it looked like she may have streaked it lightly.

From what Shawn gathered from the conversation he was only half listening to, Lorraine met Steve through a mutual friend and they had been married for about five years. Lorraine was originally from North Adams beyond West County and she was happy to stay in the Greenville area following her graduation from Green College.

"Why did you decide to come this way, Shawn?" Lorraine asked.

"Because he got dumped," Lisa replied for him.

Lorraine looked sympathetic. "Well, I guess that's a good enough reason. You'll like the college and the area," she predicted.

"I did," Lisa agreed.

Shawn forced a smile, wishing the pain from Melanie's breakup would go away. "I hope so," he said.

"Maybe you can put the pieces of your life back together here," Lorraine said. "Going to grad school is a big deal. And once you find a job around here you'll be too busy to think about her."

"She really did a number on him," Lisa sighed.

Lorraine and Lisa drove Shawn around the area to give him an idea of the layout and some of the places he might enjoy – the local restaurants, taverns and bars, Beano Field for amateur league baseball, Donovan's Department Store in Greenville, and the college campus, all the while with them re-living their college glory days with stories and memories.

"It's really a nice place to live," Lorraine said to Shawn when they returned to the house. "I think you'll like it here."

"I could use the change," Shawn replied. "And I appreciate your willingness to let me stay with you guys."

"The extra money won't hurt," Lorraine admitted.

"The rent you quoted is quite reasonable," Shawn noted.

"We're not here to rip you off, Shawn," Lorraine said.

"What's up with Steve?" Shawn asked his sister as they drove home to Quincy after their visit to Hillsboro.

Lisa shrugged. "He's always been kind of detached and reserved," she admitted. "He's a nice guy and everything but it's a strange marriage if you ask me."

Shawn returned to Blue County a week later to interview for an outreach worker position with the Blue County Mental Health Association which he was offered a few days later, accepting the job of course.

A week after that, Shawn was driving from Quincy to Hillsboro to move into Lorraine and Steve's place. It felt kind of pathetic that his entire life fit into the backseat and trunk of his car but it had been Melanie's condo he had been living in for the past three years so he didn't own all that much in the first place.

Shawn settled into the house and he concentrated on his job and his course work. Lorraine and Steve were welcoming and hospitable but Shawn didn't see all that much of Steve who was on the road a majority of the time, flying to meetings, consults, seminars, presentations and conventions.

The general house rules were that Shawn was responsible for cleaning up after himself and doing his own laundry. He was welcomed to use the washer and dryer in the cellar. He was also allowed to keep his own food in the refrigerator but he was rarely home for breakfast or lunch and sometimes Lorraine would invite him to join them (or her if Steve was out of town) for dinner which she had prepared.

Shawn was grateful for an occasional home cooked meal as a nice break from the fast food junk he usually got, although he ate at the campus dining facility when he could.

Shawn made a couple of friends with associates at work and he became familiar with the folks in his graduate program at Green, although many of them had their own lives outside of their studies. It felt weird to be back in the college groove some three years after receiving his Bachelors' degree but better late than never. He was a good student so it wasn't that difficult making the adjustment to the new routine of work, classes, and studying.

Shawn spent plenty of time in the college library since there was no desk in the bedroom he rented at Lorraine's and Steve's and he didn't want to impose too often by commandeering the kitchen or dining room table for his work.

By the time the end of October rolled around in the first year of his graduate studies, Shawn had settled into his routine. He liked the clients he worked with on his job and he could set his own schedule with that, working around his class commitments while leaving plenty of time for studying and project work.

Lorraine made him feel at home with her accommodating attitude and her friendly nature but he could count on both hands the number of times he had seen Steve since moving in.

"Steve sure does travel a lot," Shawn remarked one evening as he sat with Lorraine in the kitchen eating the dinner she had prepared.

"Well, his second home base is in Florida," Lorraine shrugged. "That's where his daughter is."

"His daughter?" Shawn asked with surprise.

"I'm Steve's second wife," Lorraine explained.

"Is his ex in Florida too?" Shawn asked.

"She's remarried," Lorraine said. "But Steve likes to be with his daughter when he can."

"Why don't you guys move down there?" Shawn asked with confusion.

"Because I don't want to live in Florida," Lorraine said with annoyance. "I bought this house before I met Steve. He knew the deal."

"Why'd you marry him?" Shawn wondered.

"I'm beginning to wonder myself," she sighed. "I didn't know he was going to be splitting his time between here and there in between all his work traveling."

"Maybe I shouldn't have moved in," Shawn worried.

Lorraine laughed. "Why not?"

"It just seems strange being here when he's gone so much."

"It's nice to have someone in the house," Lorraine assured him. "We used to have a dog but he got sick and since I was the one taking care of him most of the time I've been in no hurry to get another one."

"So, I'm the dog?" Shawn asked, raising his eyebrows.

"I didn't mean it that way," Lorraine said, embarrassed by her gaff.

Shawn smirked. "It's okay," he said. "I've been a stray since Melanie dumped me anyway."

"You didn't like living with Lisa?" Lorraine asked.

"She has her husband and the two kids," Shawn explained. "I was getting in the way."

"What about your parents?"

"North Carolina?" Shawn asked, rolling his eyes. "That's worse than Florida!"

Lorraine giggled with amusement. "I was surprised your Dad took a new job so late in his career."

"I think it was to begin the transition to eventual retirement," Shawn theorized.

Lorraine nodded with understanding as she began to pick up the dishes from the table when they were done eating. "I just hope I make it to retirement!" She laughed.