Okay, you voracious readers, as promised, this is the second post of the day. Which is also the second-to-last post of the story. Yes, that’s right, I’ll post the ending tomorrow, on the first day of a new year. Seems fitting.
As FL surmised in the comments, this is indeed the first book in a series. I didn’t set out to write a trilogy, any more than I set out to write a novella instead of a short story. But in the writing of it, it turned out that Mac has two brothers. They just showed up, these McIntyre men. And they seemed like interesting people who might have a story of their own that needed to be told, so . . .
I don’t have titles for the other two books yet, but they’ll be subtitled Spring and Fall. Not sure when, exactly, they’ll be available (other than sometime in 2014), but if anyone is interested in being notified via email when they are, there’s a link on the sidebar to sign up for my newsletter. I’d say I send it out infrequently, but the fact is I’ve never sent it out even once. Just ignore the nonsense I wrote on that link about sending it quarterly (I’ll fix that later), my plan is to limit it to news of book releases — hopefully, the kind of email you’re happy to see arrive.
I honestly don’t think I’ll be posting any more stories of this length here on my blog, as it has proven to be a cumbersome method of delivery. But you never know. Maybe a first chapter. Or two.
And please, if you’re out celebrating tonight, take care. Given a choice, I’d happily lose all my readers due to bad writing rather than lose even one of you to an accident.
Here it is, the tenth installment. I hope you enjoy it.
A Place to Start
A McIntyre Novella
Book One: Winter
by KD James
Jo had barely taken two sips of coffee when her mother called the next morning to check on her. She made reassuring noises and promised to come for dinner once she got back in town and then ended the call in less time than was strictly polite, but she was anxious to see Mac.
She warmed up the truck and retraced the route back down the mountain to Mac’s cabin, almost missing the turnoff. His Jeep wasn’t parked in its usual spot. She decided to go inside and wait for him to get back. She knocked on the door just in case and, when no one responded, hoped it wasn’t locked. On closer inspection, she realized it didn’t even have a lock. She turned the knob and went in.
The cabin was empty. Not only was Mac not there, it looked like he’d never been there. Like she’d never been there. The cabin had been cleaned and straightened, the ashes shoveled out of the fireplace and new kindling laid. The chairs at the table were neatly pushed in and the couch had been moved back into position along the wall. The greenery was gone and the blankets were folded with military precision at the end of the bed. The perishables had been cleared out of the fridge, the dishes washed and put away.
She stood there in the middle of the cabin, feeling bereft. It had been stripped of the simple things that had made it a warm and familiar place and she felt the echoing emptiness as if it were a physical presence. But it paled in comparison to the aching void in her heart.
Mac was gone.
* * *
Jo drove into town, assuming someone there would know where Mac was and when he’d be back. Assuming he was coming back. It hurt too much to bear, the thought that his apology had also been his way of saying goodbye.
She stopped in at the diner, hoping the fondness for gossip would be in full force and she wouldn’t have to reveal her interest in the man to get information. Everyone was just as open and friendly as they’d been the night before, but in a place where everyone seemed to know everyone else’s business and didn’t hesitate to talk about it, not one of them mentioned Mac.
She waited until there was a lull between orders before she broke down and asked Maybelle about him. “You haven’t seen Mac around, have you?”
“Haven’t seen him, love, but there was a sack of groceries at the door this morning when I opened up, with a note saying he hoped I could make use of them. Always been considerate, that one.”
Jo hesitated, trying to be nonchalant. “Did the note say anything else?”
“Sure didn’t. Mac’s not one for being all wordy. But he never leaves until after New Year’s, so I expect he’s around somewhere.”
Fred, the man from the grocery store, spoke up from where he sat a couple stools down, finishing a cup of coffee. “Heard Charlie mention earlier that Mac went up the mountain for a spell. Said he’d be back.”
Maybelle nodded. “Not surprised he’d favor camping over that cabin of his. Most like to be warmer outdoors.”
Jo couldn’t contain her curiosity. “You all know who he– you know he’s an architect, right?”
“Well, sure, hon,” Maybelle said. “Of course we do. But up here he’s just Mac.”
“No pretense in that boy,” Fred agreed. “Solid now as he ever was.”
“But, with all his experience, why is his cabin so . . . primitive?”
“Built it that way on purpose,” Fred said, the admiration evident in his voice. “It’s a smart man who knows what he needs and stops at that.”
“He built that place for warm weather,” Maybelle said. “Two weeks in summer and the occasional weekend in spring and fall. Come winter, he always stayed up with your grandpa.” She frowned and shook her head. “None of us can quite work out why he’d keep you there this time of year.”
Jo felt a sudden inexplicable urge to defend him. “But I’d hurt my foot and couldn’t wear my boots. And there was the snow.”
Fred snorted. “A little snow never stopped a McIntyre.”
“It’s possible he might pop in here,” Maybelle said. “He likes my cooking well enough. You want me to give him a message if I see him?”
“Oh, no, it’s just—” Jo tried to think of a reason why she’d be asking about Mac. Any reason other than the truth, that she cared about him far more than he apparently did about her. She felt miserable enough without adding anyone’s pity to the mix.
She settled for a partial truth. “I stopped at his cabin and he was gone, but the door was open and there didn’t seem to be a way to lock up. There’s the heavy bar on the inside and I just thought, maybe, someone might know how to secure it.”
“Oh, he don’t ever lock it,” Fred said. “Leaves it open and stocked up year round, in case some wet-behind-the-ears tourist gets lost out on the mountain and needs a place.”
Jo wasn’t sure what to say to that. It sounded exactly like something Mac would do. And she’d been that tourist. Nothing more.
“You sure I can’t give him a message, hon?” Maybelle’s look was kind.
“No, there’s nothing, thanks.” Nothing he’d want to hear.
She saw Maybelle and Fred exchange a long look but they didn’t say anything more as she got up and left the diner.
She stood outside and briefly considered going back to Atlanta a week early. Her car had been repaired and returned yesterday, in spite of it being a holiday. So even though she was still driving her grandpa’s truck, getting home wouldn’t be a problem. And she’d learned enough about this place to make a decision. She loved it here and she wasn’t ready to sell. She might never be ready to sell.
She tried to ignore the little voice asking why, if she loved it so much, was she thinking of leaving before she had to. Her grandpa’s place was quiet and peaceful, a sanctuary where she could escape the constant noise and hectic pace of the city and just focus on writing. The people were friendly and welcoming and there was a real sense of community, something she’d never had before and would miss when she left. The place was everything she’d hoped it would be. And more.
But being up here wasn’t the same without Mac.
For someone who had always enjoyed solitude and was content with her own company, the realization was unsettling. As was the realization that she wanted to spend more time with a man who didn’t want to get involved with her. It’s not like he hadn’t warned her. It’s not like she hadn’t agreed to the stipulation. She missed him anyway.
She spent the next few days writing, finishing one story and starting on another, making random notes for a third. She went into town every day for lunch, getting to know her neighbors and feeling more at home. She went to bed early and got up with the first rays of dawn and tried not to think about Mac.
And failed miserably.
She saw evidence of his presence in every room of her grandpa’s cabin. Remembered his touch every night in her bed. She missed his gruff taciturn attitude and his rare devastating smiles. And she was very much afraid that, wherever he’d gone, he’d taken with him what was left of her heart.
* * *