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TITLE: Faithfulness (Chapter 2)
By Nichole Hall

This section feels doesn't feel very fluid to me. So any suggestions would be great.
Later that day, Mel chatted with her two best friends, Ali and Taylor over a chicken salad sandwich and a pickle. They’d waited for Mel’s part time help to show up and then headed to the local deli.

Mel took a bite of her croissant and said, “Ali, heard from your dad lately?”

“Yeah, just yesterday. He’s fine. Wish I could get him to move to the east coast, but no such luck.”

“Was he thinking about moving?”

“No not really. Just wishful thinking on my part.”

“And what about your mom?”

Ali took a sip of her tea, shrugged and said, “What about her?”

Melanie gave her a condescending look.

“Same ole, same ole.” Ali popped a chip in her mouth, turned to Taylor and said, “What about you? Find any jobs?”

Taylor wiped her mouth, shifted in her seat and said, “Nothing promising. If I don’t find something soon, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t work for Melanie forever.”

Mel placed a hand on Taylor’s and said, “You can work there as long as you need to.”

Taylor gave a pouty frown and said, “Thanks. But I’ve got to be self-sufficient again soon, or I won’t be able to live with myself. Just keep your eyes open and your ears peeled for something in my line of work.”

The girls were polishing off their lunch with a piece of chocolate pie when Mel spotted Than outside. Melanie leaned over to Ali and Taylor and in a less than enthusiastic tone said, “Look who it is.”

Ali turned her head to see who Mel referred to, raised an eyebrow and asked, “Who is he?”

Mel told her about the brief conversation she’d had with him. Ali looked over her shoulder to catch a second glimpse as he came through the door, and said, “He sure is easy on the eyes. Where did you say he’s from?”

“North Carolina.”

Than acknowledged Melanie with a nod, walked up to the counter and ordered his food. He wanted his order to go. As he waited, he thought about taking Tyler’s advice and just asking her when she bought the house that was now a business. But he didn’t like it when people pried into his life, so he’d give her the same respect.

He needed a place to work though and she had plenty of room in her shop. He wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of being in the place that swarmed his mind with memories, but he knew it would give him the space he needed and maybe he could find out more about the transaction while he was there.

There were plenty of hotels in town, but he chose to stay at Pool Manor. It wasn’t the fanciest hotel, or the most updated but he knew the owner and wanted to give her his business. Mrs. Pool was sweet, but old fashioned. She’d upgraded the rooms and atmosphere, but she was not one for technology. She hadn’t taken the necessary precautions to include any wireless capabilities. Mrs. Pool had told him people in town went to Heaven Bound to hook up to “something in Melanie’s shop without any wires”. He supposed he could work at the local library, but it didn’t have the atmosphere that Mel’s shop possessed.

His decision made, he headed toward her direction and his heart began to race. What was he thinking? Wanting to work in a location drenched with memories he’d rather forget? He fidgeted with his sunglasses and forced himself to calm down. Get a grip Murdock. It’s just a building.

When he reached the table where she sat, he glanced at all three women and said, “Excuse me ladies.” Speaking directly to Melanie he asked, “Ms. Ashton, may I have a word with you?”

She gestured toward her friends, “Mr. Murdock, I don’t believe you’ve met Ali Nordstrom and Taylor Donovan.”

He recognized Taylor from the coffee shop. Politeness demanded he shake their hands and then he looked back into Melanie’s eyes. “A word, please?”

She pushed back her chair and followed him away from the table.

“I need to do some research for the satellite office I’m building. Mrs. Pool told me you have wireless capabilities in your shop.” When she nodded in confirmation he continued, “Is it okay with you if I bring my laptop and do some research and send emails whenever I need to?”
Although he wasn’t the type of customer she preferred, she wouldn’t treat him any differently than she did anyone else.

With a confident softness in her voice she said, “I’ve already told you that you are welcome to come by whenever you’d like. I pretty much live there, so stop by anytime.”

“Thanks. I appreciate it.” He became distracted when his order was ready. “Excuse me, I need to get that.” He strode to the counter, picked up his lunch, put his sunglasses on and left the deli.

* * *

Than woke up the next morning anxious to start his research. He needed to find a building site to set his plan in motion. As Murdock Insurance had multiple offices in every state in America; this was second nature for him. He planned to contact the local realtor, but first he wanted to get a feel for the market. He made up his mind to go to the coffee shop, pull out his laptop and see what was out there.

Than told himself he was going to Heaven Bound to take care of business. It was the perfect place, plenty of room, resourceful, and quiet…except for the owner. She liked to talk. He tried not to remember how the layers of her hair framed her smooth face and made the apples of her cheek bones stand out. How her daring blue eyes seemed to stare into his soul. How could she have had such a profound impact on him in such a brief meeting?

She intrigued him. Even though they had not spoken of anything significant he found himself curious. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms and shook his head, hoping to take her from his mind. He got out of bed and tread to the shower to get ready for the day.

The leaves crunched under the tires as they grazed the curb outside the coffee shop. He climbed out of his car and strode toward the door. With every step he took, his stomach lurched. He didn’t know if he’d ever get used to being back. As he reached for the handle, he did what he always did and buried his feelings so all appeared normal.

It was 9:00am and Mel had been at the shop for about an hour when he pulled up outside. Behind the counter she poured a cup of coffee and heard the door chime. She had had the chime installed during the remodel so she’d always know when someone entered or left the shop.
She pictured him more of a night owl rather than a morning person, but he was a business man and most business men she knew, took care of business first thing. She put on a smile, handed him the coffee she’d just poured and said, “Coffee, Than?”

He shoved his hand in his hair smoothing it from the effects of the wind and reached for the mug.

“Black, right?” Mel confirmed.

“Good memory.” He said, and then took a sip.

“I make an effort to remember the little things.”

With skepticism in his voice he said, “Why bother?”

“Sometimes the little things are what are worth remembering.”

“You think I’m worthy of remembering, Ms. Ashton?” He asked with a questioning look on his face. How could anyone think he was worthy of remembering? She barely knew him and he felt she knew him little enough to know if he was worthy of anything.

“Everybody matters. And it’s Mel.”

“If you knew me better you might think otherwise.” He retorted.

“We’ll see.”

He had a feeling she would call it like she saw it and he didn’t want her in his personal business. Not if he could help it. He decided to change the subject before conversation turned down a path he’d rather not travel. “Where’s this research area of yours I’m hearing so much about?”

Melanie begrudgingly took his cue to end the conversation and stepped out from behind the counter. She straightened some books on the bookshelf as she passed by and started up the stairs. “Come on up and I’ll show you around.”
She led him up the stairs and continued, “When I bought this place I did some remodeling to make it more conducive to a coffee shop and bookstore.”

Once they reached the top of the stairs Than looked around at the second floor amazed at the changes she had made. She’d put in another fireplace and the original wide wood trim framing the doorway had been updated with a fresh coat of dark stain. The hardwood floors had been sanded and stained as well. On the right hand side of the room stood sturdy tables made of oak. Thick plush leather chairs sat around the room much like downstairs. Tall bookshelves lined the back wall. He didn’t count but he guessed there were close to 25 bookshelves, not including the ones tucked into cubbies next to the oversized chairs. Her research area took up the entire second floor. He knew a couple of walls had been knocked out and remembered a corridor, which no longer existed.

Mel showed him how the books were organized first by topic and then alphabetically by author. She had everything from Agriculture to Political Science. She even had a section set up for Biblical References. She had Commentaries, books on the Greek and Hebrew languages, Concordances, Maps and Timelines. What was with all the Bible stuff? Although, she didn’t have an over abundance on each subject, she still had a wide range of topics and this impressed him greatly.

After he looked around and had absorbed everything he finally said, “You’ve really done a lot with this place.” His tone gave her no reason to question him.

“I like it and it suits its purpose.”

He sat his stuff down at one of the tables, flipped open his laptop and got to work.
As Mel turned to leave she said, “I’ll be downstairs. Let me know if you need anything.”

Unable to focus on his work he stood up, grabbed his mug and walked around the second floor. It was weird to be back. Five years had been a long time and he couldn’t have imagined how overwhelming it would have been to be here. As he turned to head back toward the table a darker strip of floor caught his eye.

This is where it had happened.

He sucked in a breath and braced himself on a table when he saw the pool of blood on the floor and the bloody towels and blankets. Tears stung his eyes and his heart ached at the memory. His chest heaved irregularly as he was unable to catch his breath. It had all happened so fast. One minute everything was fine and in the blink of an eye his entire life had changed forever. If only he’d done something differently maybe things would have turned out better.

He wondered how he was supposed to move on when his father saw to it he would be here for at least four months. If he hadn’t been able to forget the past in five years, what good did his father think four months would do?

His phone rang and brought him back to reality. His heart beat ninety miles a minute and he took slow breaths to regulate his breathing. He took a sip of his coffee and brushed his arm across his forehead. Get yourself together Murdock. He glanced down at the caller ID and saw Ryan’s name. Than had been waiting for this call and was eager to talk to his older brother. He didn’t want Ryan to know what he’d just experienced, so he forced himself to gather his courage, putting on a facade.

He answered his phone, “What did you find out?”

“Hello to you too.”

“Sorry.” Than said. “I’ve been a bit on edge.”

“It’s okay, even understandable given the circumstances.” Ryan flipped through his notes and let out a sigh. “There isn’t a lot of information, but what I found out I think you’ll find interesting.”

“Hold on a second,” Than walked to the entrance
of the stairwell. He went halfway down the stairs and spotted Melanie. He took no chances that she might be able to hear him. When he saw her waiting on customers, he went back to the table, sat down and said, “Okay, go ahead.”
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