Surprise -by Michelle Whitehead

originally published April 9, 2014 on Commuterlit under the name: Michelle Boomer

Abby left the cemetery the same way she arrived. Alone.

She slipped into her 1969 black Mach 1 Mustang and tried to find a comfortable position. She slid on the leather bucket seats, gripped the steering wheel and repositioned herself. The car felt alien. This was the first day it had left the garage since her mother’s death three days prior. She had never ridden in it before. She didn’t even know it had existed until her mother drove it into the garage the day before she died.

It was a nice car. Abby liked the car. Abby stared out at the hood of the car. It was nice and shiny and black.

Abby felt like she was going crazy. The car, the car. She sat in the infamous car, closed her eyes and held her breath. Maybe the car would disappear, taking her with it.

She opened her eyes and stared at the cold, bleak cemetery. Stark grey tombstones, bare trees. It was the perfect picture for a Hallowe’en movie. The way her life had been going, she wouldn’t be the least surprised to see a blonde bimbo run screaming past her.

Her life seemed to be spinning out of control. This too was alien. She was sued to a nice quiet life. Her nice organized apartment. No roommates. No boyfriend. And no friends to walk through her door with a bottle of wine or some other hastily bought gift of hospitality.

Abby slipped out of her high heels, pulled off her stockings and stretched her legs. She looked around the interior of the vehicle and tried to figure out the best way to change from her skirt and blouse and back into her jeans and t-shirt.

She wiggled and squirmed into her pants, legs outstretched hitting the passenger side door. She dug out her plain white t-shirt and pulled it over her head, arms bent at awkward angles.

Ah, comfort.

She reached into the glove box and pulled out the directions to some piece of land she now owned. She didn’t know where it was how to get there. The lawyer was of no help either. He had handed her the bundle of papers and quickly departed before she had a chance to ask any questions. Now it was up to her to find this plot of land. If that’s what it was. She hadn’t bothered to look through each and every paper. She didn’t really care. She just wanted to view the property and then sell it. She wasn’t exactly a country girl and from the look of the directions, that was exactly where her new found inheritance was located.

With her GPS miscalculating, it took roughly two hours to find. Two very frustrating hours of back roads, concession number what-evers, route number who cares and endless dirt how do you drive this, roads. But she finally arrived.

She parked the car in front of a forest of long grass, overgrown bushes, vine laden trees and an endless bounty of flowering shrubs. If the concession number hadn’t been there, she would have drove by the overgrown patch of land.

She grabbed the bundle of papers and climbed out of the car.

Abby stood staring at the structure hidden behind the mass of green. She rustled through the papers, finding a deed to a house. This house.

She sank to the ground. Abby wasn’t used to surprises. Staring up at the old home, realizing it was now hers, was a bit overwhelming. Especially on the very day she buried her mother. She should be used to surprises. After her Father passed one month ago, her Mother became alive again. She was actually warm and loving, to a point. Surprise.

She quickly stuffed the papers back into her baby blue purse. She wondered if this house was her parents or just her Mother’s. She didn’t see her Father’s name on the deed anywhere.

She knew she should be experiencing some kind of emotion. Sadness, grief, despair. She probably should be crying over her Mother’s death -maybe too at the overwhelming amount of information she had just received. But sitting there, amongst the weeds, she felt at peace. Happy, calm, even content. This was the most surprising feeling. She didn’t expect that out here, in the pollen-filled, dirt-covered land. She could actually say that she was eager to look inside the house.

Abby quickly began her march down the overgrown gravel drive. She occasionally glanced over at the house. Why keep this house a secret? She silently asked.

She carefully chose each step. Twice she felt something brush the back of her hair, causing her to jump back and look around. Not sure what she expected to see, she quickened her pace, only to barely miss ending the life of a friendly garter snake.

Okay, relax, she thought. It’s only a snake.

Abby followed a well-worn path through the growth to the back of the home. The yard behind the house was more overgrown than the front. A large willow tree stood in the centre of the overgrowth, branches swaying in the breeze.

A large newly stained deck extended approximately 10 feet from the back door, Abby calculated. clearly, someone has been here recently, she thought.

She reached into her purse and fished around for the key the lawyer had given her. She tripped and fell over a large root jutting from the ground. The contents of her purse fell in the brush.

“Son of a…,” she said. She crawled on her hands and knees, gathering the contents of her purse and stuffing them back inside the leather bag. She couldn’t find the key.

“Are you looking for this?”

Abby jumped off the ground and spun around, coming fact to face with a stranger dangling the shiny key.

“What the hell!” She took a few steps back and held her purse, ready to smack the guy if he came any closer.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.” He reached out his hand, handing her the key.

She quickly grabbed it and remained guarded. “Where the hell did you come from? And what are you doing here? Who are you?” She asked. She was shaking. She reached for her cell phone. “I’m going to call the cops so you just better leave.” She began to punch 911.

“No reception out here, but you can try.”

Abby waited for the call to go through. It didn’t. He was right.

“You better leave, you’re trespassing.” She stood as tall as she could, hoping the intruder would listen.

“I didn’t mean to scare you but I noticed someone here and thought I’d stop by. Name’s Clark. Clark Wess.”

“Well Clark Wess, you didn’t scare me. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m busy.”

“Right, of course, taking care of your Mother’s estate.”

Abby stared at the stranger. Her mouth gaped open.

“Nice to meet you Abby. I’m sorry for your loss. I’ll leave you to your grief.” The stranger waded leisurely through the grass.

Abby rushed to catch the man. “Wait!” She tripped and fell again on the same root. “Seriously!” Her purse remained closed.

When she looked up, the stranger was gone.

She sat on the ground for several minutes, wondering who the stranger was and how he knew her Mother.

A loud caw of a crow brought her back to the moment. She brushed her hands on her jeans and picked up her purse.

The back door looked brand new. She inserted the key in the lock and pushed open the door. Stepping inside she walked a long dark hall lined with cabinets on the right. A door halfway down the tiled hall revealed a dark and dingy garage. She continued down the hall, reached the end and entered a large kitchen on the left.

An old sink lay in the middle of the room, and boxes labelled utensils, cookware and other kitchen essentials were stacked in a corner.

The walls were stripped of drywall, allowing Abby a clear view from the back of the kitchen to the front of the house. If she guessed correctly, there appeared to be a large front room with a smaller room off to the side. A bathroom lay off the kitchen and a set of stairs led up to the second floor.

Abby trekked through the dust and debris to the stairs.

The stops looked like they had been painted white a long time ago, worn with age and very slippery. She took off her shoes before continuing. She didn’t want to end up sprawled on the bare floor.

Shoes in one hand, purse in the other, Abby climbed the steep steps to the second floor.

A deep blue and brass trunk stood at the top of the stairs. It had been well used, with white smears on the lid and dented corners.

Abby looked around the room. Peeling blue-flowered wallpaper hung on three wall, the fourth was a wall of cabinets.

The pitch of the roof made it difficult to stand erect. She slowly walked to the centre of the room and brushed back a loose strand of hair.

Two doors stood to the right, both were closed. She hoped the room were empty. Then all she would have to do was sell the place, as is.

She opened the door on the left and discovered stacks of cardboard boxes, all labeled clothes. As she lifted the flap of the closest box, she found a brown leather jacket. She pulled it out and held it in front of her. Her Father never wore leather jackets, he was a suit and tie man who wore only dress coats.

Abby draped the jacket on the box and went to inspect the last room of the house.

As she opened the door, a waft of lavender filled her nostrils. She hadn’t smelled lavender since she was a little girl living at home.

The room had dark hardwood floors with soft green walls. A white rocking chair and side table stood near the window. There was a decorative pink floor lamp in the corner behind the chair.

Abby stared around the room. She detected a slight smell of paint. Baseboards, closet doors and the window frame all looked freshly painted.

Abby crossed the soft white area rug and looked out the window onto a grassy field. There standing in the middle of the field was the stranger.

He stood looking at Abby.

She backed away from the window and held her breath. Hopefully he would leave.

She kneeled on the carpet and waited a few minutes before inching to the window.

The stranger was gone.

She would have to come back tomorrow, when there was more daylight, only this time she would bring someone, anyone. If this stranger was going to cause problems, she didn’t want to be alone.

Abby sat back on her heels and breathed a sigh of relief. She pulled herself up on the rocking chair.

A small door, three feet high and just as wide, hid in the corner. She hadn’t noticed it before, it blended in with the walls.

For reasons she couldn’t explain, she felt the need to explore. She set her purse on the chair and crawled to the door.

A small decorative box embossed with daises was the only item in the dark cramped space.

Inside were stacks of letters, neatly tied in red ribbon, a small wedding album and a tiny box, big enough to hold earrings or rings perhaps.

Abby opened the tiny box and found two rings, both silver, a man’s and woman’s. There was no engraved date on the band, no name, nothing to indicate who owned the rings. She set the rings and box on the table.

She opened the photo album. There on the first page was a picture of her Mother in her wedding dress, standing in the living room of her parents home. She continued flipped the pages, wondering what her Father looked like 25 years ago.

The groom was not her Father.

Abby dropped the album.

Her Mother had been previously married.

She didn’t want to read the letters. No doubt they were love letters. It didn’t matter, sell this stupid house and get on with my life, she decided.

Abby stared at the neatly bound stack sitting in the box. The first letter on the pile was addressed to her.

With shaking fingers, she reached for the letter. She stared at the envelope in her hand.

“No, open it at home,” she said. She gathered the contents of the box and shoved them back inside the wooden container. She tucked the letter under her arm, grabbed her purse and picked up the box.

She quickly walked to the staircase and took a deep breath. She knew there was no way she would make it home without seeing what was inside the envelope.

She tucked the wooden box under her free arm and looped her purse over her wrist. She tore open the letter.

Inside were 2 items.

She pulled out the first item and saw a tiny 4X4 picture of a man holding a baby. The back of it read: Me and Abby, her first birthday.

Tears began to swell. She recognized the man from the wedding album.

The second item was an obituary.

She read the name of the deceased and let out a cry. She reached out for the wall and sobbed.

“Are you okay?” The stranger stood at the bottom of the stairs. “I thought you may need a friend.”

Abby choked back her tears. “Daddy?” She slid slowly along the wall, and carefully started down the stairs.

Her foot slipped on the shiny wood.

She fell hard on her left leg, twisted towards the wall, hoping to catch herself before she plunged down the steep staircase.

She lurched forward.

Abby desperately reached out in an attempt to regain her balance.

The contents of her purse clanged and scattered down the gleaming steps. The lid of the box broke. The letters tumbled and the ring box skipped down to the bottom, rings bouncing to the ground. The photo album flapped and banged into Abby as she rolled over and over.

She felt something snap.

Down she tumbled, her body banging from wall to wall. Her arms and legs flailing like a marionette. She landed with a loud thud.

The obituary fluttered to the ground beside the dead girl.

It read: Clark Wess.

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