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The Long Way Home
By Madison Bennett
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Madison Bennett
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was late, and she was tired. Her flight from Denver to Tucson had been delayed by several hours, and as Ellen Curtis sat in the terminal, she found herself mumbling obscenities under her breath for not booking her flight sooner. Why had she waited so long? By now, first class was full, and she knew there wasn't enough alcohol in the world to get her through a coach flight with all these children. They were everywhere, running around squealing like energizer bunnies high on Ritalin. The mother's looked haggard, wrinkled and dazed, all the while pretending not to know their own children. Just where were the fathers Ellen wondered? Hmmm she thought, I bet they are the one's taking up all the seats in first class, able to pre-board. Finally in her seat, she found it impossible to sleep. The noise continued, however, much worse now that it was confined within the walls of a sealed aircraft. This was in addition to the fact that the devil child seated behind her was kicking her seat to the beat of his iPod. Ellen wondered why there wasn't a children's section on airplanes. As she looked out the window, she noticed there was plenty of room on the
She drove from the airport in total silence, glassy eyed and gripping the wheel tightly, as if to hold herself upright. As she drove onto her street, she was immediately aware of the quiet. After pulling into the garage and putting the car in park, she sat there, trying to summon the energy to open the door and get out. While relieved to finally be home, Ellen made a mental note to never get on a plane again if there was anyone at the gate under 4'10. She fumbled in the dark for the right key, thinking that this was not her night. Initially irritated that the service door was locked in the first place, she closed her eyes, and shook her head as a smile crossed her lips. How ironic, she thought, that she had just come from her daughters wedding, and was now unable to get into the house. She remembered how frustrated she used to get when after working all night at the hospital, she would pull into the garage, half asleep, only to jarred awake by the sting of her face hitting the locked service door. Sometimes Ellen wondered if it was intentional, because it was never consistent. Libby was like her older sister Alex in that way, not afraid to be alone at night. However, on occasion, there would be something, either an unknown sound, or some frightening thing she had seen on TV that would force her into lock down mode. So much time had passed since those days Ellen felt older than her 59 years, remembering how physically, and emotionally draining it was raising those girls on her own. She wondered how her own mother was able to manage, while still keeping her sanity. Well, she kept most of it anyway, thanks to a never ending sense of humor.
Once inside, Ellen dropped everything, leaving her suitcase and garment bag in the hallway. Tomorrow, she thought, I've got nothing going on tomorrow.... or the next several tomorrows for that matter. She suddenly felt completely alone for the first time in her life; no more kids coming or going wanting this or that, nor would her crazy mother be knocking on the door as she returned from her morning walk. There would be no one. She shook her head as she ran the water in the tub, adding a touch of bath oil, and lighting some candles. Then heading back from the kitchen, where she grabbed a bottle of wine, and a glass, she turned on the stereo, loading her favorite collection of classical music. Once back in the dimly lit bathroom, she sighed as she shed her clothes, and slipped into the soothing lavender scented water. Taking a sip of wine, she turned off the water. Slowly she leaned back in the oversized tub, resting her head on the bath pillow. Immediately a sense of calm overtook her, and she could almost feel her heart rate slowing. It was amazing Ellen thought how something so simple could make her feel so relaxed. It was in this environment in fact that she contemplated the pros and cons of many of her life changing decisions. She was certain, that if heaven really did exist, she would be met by an angel running a bath just for her, in a room marked, 'No Children Allowed'.
She closed her eyes, and thought back on the events of the last few days. It had been a beautiful wedding, one that would give any fairy tail a run for its money. It was an outdoor ceremony in a small town nestled in the foothills outside of Denver. The wedding success was due largely to the efforts of Libby's older sister Alexandria. A successful Wedding Planner with a thriving business in Northern California, she had recently decided to use her full given name. However, to Ellen she would always be Alex, her beautiful, strong willed little powerhouse. Independent and feisty, with an incredible fashion sense, she had finally transformed Ellen into a "fashion do" stating that it had been her biggest challenge. Though able to laugh about it now, her daughter's methods were, at times, a bit extreme. Ellen remembered years ago, when Alex had made a small bonfire out of her mother's bra's, panties, and nightgowns. Though she was furious at the time, asking her daughter if she had a death wish, Ellen eventually had to laugh, as Alex stood defiantly in front of her saying,
"Mom, if you ever want to have sex again, in this lifetime, we need to go shopping."
They spent the entire afternoon in Victoria's Secret, two women on a mission. To this day Ellen had yet to regret losing any of the granny undergarments. Alex was stunning, and had the voice of an angel. Whenever she would sing in church, Ellen had to look away, as it always made her cry. Alex used to get the biggest kick out of that, so she would often stare at Ellen as she sang. As a teenager, there were always boyfriends, clothes, dances, and more boyfriends to deal with. Alex had a way of flipping her hair while turning her head that could make any high school boy forget what he was doing. Ellen remembered seeing a boy walked right off the end of the dock and into the lake one summer while watching her daughter do that hair thing. Ellen was truly amazed, not only by her daughter's obvious sex appeal, but even more so that boys could be that stupid. Alex had an incredible attention to detail, and settled for nothing less than perfection. This being the wedding of her baby sister, she was even more meticulous than usual. Ellen often worried about all the stress contained in that tiny little body, but Alex always answered her concerns with the standard reply,
"Not to worry mom."
She also wondered if Alex kept that busy pace as a way of ignoring her own lack of a love life. She was thirty three years old and well on her way to financial security, yet she was all alone. When would she settle down, and find her own prince charming, Ellen wondered? Alex always had a man in her life, but they were never around for very long. It seemed, especially lately, that they became frustrated and got tired of waiting for even a single moment of her time. Ellen was certain however, that when her daughter finally chose to slow down as the result of a man, he would truly be a man worth knowing.
Olivia, better known as Libby, was the middle child. She was sandwiched between two totally different personalities, and developed what Ellen saw as the best of both. Yet somehow, she was able to tweak that blended personality even further, and become very unique. Like her sister, she was beautiful, but in a different manner. While Alex had the classy vogue look about her, Libby was more like the cute little neighbor girl. She was definitely the tomboy type as well as an incredible athlete, yet she always managed to clean up well. She would come home covered in dirt from head to toe after playing ball with the guys on a Saturday afternoon, and yet look adorable as she headed out to the movies later that evening. Ellen often referred to her as The Little Gidget. She had Alex's enthusiasm, and drive, along with her younger brother Ben's love of the outdoors. However, and most importantly, she had a big heart with an incredible sense of compassion and joy. People had always been drawn to her because of this, and at times it was difficult to deal with the constant barrage of friends and phone calls day in and day out. Libby met Brian Taylor the summer between her junior and senior year of High School. He was the quarterback of the football team, and very sweet. Being an overprotective single mom, Ellen wasn't sure she liked the idea of her daughter dating someone who was good with his hands. However, when he sat and listened respectfully to the rules of dating her daughter, Ellen thought he deserved a chance. They dated through their senior year of high school and into their first year of college. Unfortunately, with the stress of college and the distance between them, they found it too difficult to maintain the relationship at that time. He went to the University of Arizona on a football scholarship, while she went to University of Colorado as a pre-med major. They met up again six years later however, during her third year of medical school, while running the Tucson Marathon. They ran into each other at mile marker three, talked the entire race, and by the time they crossed the finish line they were once again the perfect couple. He proposed ten months later, during a U of A football game. Libby, a diehard Wildcats fan saw her image along with the question "Libby, will you marry me?" flashing on the scoreboard in front of thousands of screaming football fans. As tears filled her eyes, he got down on one knee, and produced a beautiful ring. They set a date in June the following year. At the time, Brian was a construction manager working with his father. He soon moved to Denver starting his own company to be near Libby. They spent any free time finalizing wedding plans and building their first home. Ellen was impressed with the amount of thought and preparation he put into their future, and she had no doubts as to their happiness together.
Of her three children, Ben was the quiet one. The one Ellen always worried about. The divorce hit him hard, and his dad remarried soon after. Ben never really learned to accept his new step-mom, or her daughter. At seven, he took his role as Man of the House quite seriously, and was always doting on his mother. It had been almost two years since the divorce when he sat next to her one evening, and said,
"Mom, do you know this is the first time that you made it through the whole day without crying?"
Ellen was stunned. What had happened to her she wondered. She had completely lost touch with the woman she once was, gaining over fifty pounds, and becoming more depressed with each passing day. Ellen had lost hope and really did not care whether she lived or died. It took the innocent words of a child to snap her back into reality, and she vowed to him, that from that day on things would be different. Ellen sometimes wondered if that was why he was always so quiet, and methodical, keeping everything inside. He didn't turn out to be the great athlete his father had hoped for. Instead he became a great sportsman, and the fact that he lived in Minnesota, only fueled his passion. She had no doubt that her son could outlast Noah himself in a fishing boat. She believed that was the reason he didn't make the move with her to Arizona. He just couldn't give up the things that made him who he was, and she didn't have the heart to force him. In a way, it was for the best she thought, as she probably would have turned him into a mama's boy. However, leaving him behind with his father was the hardest thing she had ever done. Ellen saw him twice a year and one month over every summer, and was always amazed at the fine young man he was becoming. He had his father's rugged good looks, and confidence, and broke more than his fare share of hearts she was sure. He got a job with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources right out of college. He worked hard, saving every dime and just recently was able to buy some land In Northern Minnesota, where he opened his own hunting/fishing resort. He met his wife Becky two years ago while on a hunting trip with his father in South Dakota. They married six months later, and are expecting their first child in the fall. Ellen smiled as she added more hot water to the tub, thinking how funny it was that the quiet one, the loner, her little man, would be the first to settle down and make her a grandma.
Ellen took another sip of wine, and her mind went back to the wedding. Libby was radiant and very calm which was surprising, because just like her mother, and her grandmother, she was a bit of a twit. As she watched Libby walk down the isle carrying that tattered white Bible, Ellen thought of Annie. Knowing that she would never miss this day, Ellen smiled, acutely aware that her mother was there and no doubt responsible for this beautiful day. Seeing Libby on the arm of her father, Ellen realized that like she, Dan had aged, both mentally and physically. He had his own share of hardships to deal with since the divorce eighteen years ago, finding out the hard way, that life isn't always fair. He more often than not bore the responsibility of caring for his elderly parents. However, as Ellen looked at him walking with his daughter, she still saw her first love. That was something that did not fade with time. More importantly however, she saw the love and pride he had for his daughter through his misty eyes. Who knows why life unfolds as it does Ellen thought. Why did we take our relationship for granted, thinking it would always be there? Why did she close herself off to any type of affection, forcing him to look somewhere else for the love he so desperately wanted from her? Ellen glanced over at Karen, whom Dan had met during their separation, and married, shortly after the divorce. She wondered deep down if Karen were better for Dan than she had been, or could it be that both of them together had robbed him of his zest for life. Ellen raised her eyebrows at the thought but quickly realized it was pointless to worry about that now. The only thing that really mattered was the fact that he had been a good father to his children. Of that fact she had been certain.
It was a small wedding, exactly what Libby had wanted, with only immediate family and friends in attendance. Ellen closed her eyes, and was able to relive the ceremony. She glanced around recognizing only a handful of the guests. How sad, she thought, that our family had become so small, and spread out. Other than her own children, there was only Jen left. Ellen had no idea where her father was, nor did she make any effort to contact him. They had a falling out many years ago, and the last she heard he was living on a sailboat somewhere off the coast of Florida. Her only sibling Jennifer, was remarried and living in Chicago. Ellen smiled when she thought of Jen. Though only one year apart, they were complete opposites. Jen was honest to a fault, and seemed to succeed at whatever she attempted, seldom even breaking a sweat in the process. She was beautiful, intelligent and had the body of an Olympic athlete. She was, in fact nothing less than a walking muscle wrapped in exquisite DNA. Ellen used to joke with her mother about how she was sure that Jen was switched at birth, thinking it was impossible for those types of genes to have been passed on by anyone in their family. However different they may have been Ellen and Jen were always very close. Sadly there was a time however, when Ellen never thought Jen would make it back emotionally, after the death of her first husband Jim. They had met many years ago while working in New York for Morgan Stanley. Ellen remembered when Jen introduced them, how charming and incredibly good looking Jim was. Jen told Ellen later that same day, that if she were ever meant to be married, Jim would be the one. It took six years, but she finally got her wish. Ellen was always envious of the relationship they had. They did everything together, and they made the art of marriage seem effortless.
It was a beautiful fall morning, and Jen, a runner since high school, had decided to take the day off. After all, the New York City Marathon was less than two months away, and she had to take advantage of the great weather. Though Jim never really understood the need to run twenty six miles when there were perfectly good subways available, he loved to watch her run. Front and center at every race, he always marveled at her strength and determination. Watching her, he found it hard to believe that someone so beautiful would want to grow old with him. Finishing up a banana, she kissed him as she headed out the door.
Excerpted from The Long Way Home by Madison Bennett Copyright © 2010 by Madison Bennett. Excerpted by permission.
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