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TITLE: Faithfulness (Chapter 4)
By Nichole Hall

A lot of this is layin' down the backstory and has quite a bit of exposition, so sorry about that. This is kind of lull in the story, but is necessary for plot development. The next couple of chapters will hopefully pick up a bit.

To catch you up: Than has been going to Mel's shop to work. The shop she owns has triggered memories of his past in this town. He's unable to leave town until he has completed his job of building a new satellite office for his family's insurance company. For reasons unknown he has had difficulty acquiring a lot to build his satallite office on. Mel referred him to her best friend Ali, who is a local realtor.
Ali sat at her desk and focused on tying up loose ends before the weekend. She knew she’d show houses this weekend, but unless any contracts needed to be drawn up she preferred not to mess with paperwork on Saturdays. Being a realtor had its perks but paperwork was not one of them.

It was the first week of September and things had slowed down a bit for her. The summer rush had ended and things were back into a normal routine. Summer prompted the house buying season. People relocated and tried to get moved into their new homes before school started. Now that the school year had begun things were steady.

Ali received a call from the front desk that Than Murdock had come to see her. She came to the front to greet him, extended her hand and said, “I’m Ali Nordstrom, nice to meet you again, Mr. Murdock.”

He reciprocated the handshake and said, “Please call me Than.”

“And I prefer Ali.”

She led him back to her office, and graciously listened as he explained his gratitude for the meeting as he had not had an appointment. When she reached her desk she motioned for him to take the chair on the other side and said, “So tell me what you’re looking for Than.”

“Well, I’m actually looking for land.”

“Are you looking at any particular location?”

“Here,” he said as he passed her the paper he’d written the information on from when he did his research at Melanie’s shop. “I found three locations I’d like to look at.”

He had an idea of what he wanted and this impressed Ali. Most people she came across in this business had some idea of what they wanted but then soon realized their budget wouldn’t allow their wants. It was up to her to help them find a compromise between their dreams and reality. Ali looked at the lot numbers he had written down and recognized the places he wanted to see.

“I know these areas. They just came on the market. They’re great lots. What exactly do you want to build?”

He explained his plans for the business and asked Ali when he could take a look at them. Ali pulled up her calendar on her iPhone, looked at her schedule and said, “I’m free after lunch. Can you take time then? How about one?”
“That’ll work.”

He shook her hand in closing and left determined to sign papers by the end of the day.

Ali and Than had been out all afternoon looking at the locations. He’d followed her along the business district in downtown Hawthorne. Remnants of an old building littered the first lot. The previous building had caught fire and the company chose to rebuild in a different location. He took into account the location as well as the price and knew this lot would go fast.

When he’d seen the second location, he compared its list price to the first lot and suspected the second lot’s value couldn’t substantiate the asking price.

The last lot was right outside the city limits, and after realizing how far out it was, Than didn’t think it should be considered. Than’s father, Cooper, had already told him the place needed to be in town, close and convenient for clients.

Than followed Ali back to the real estate office to draw up the contract on the first lot he’d looked at. Than had not told Ali of his earlier complications and hoped things would go along smoothly. Once word got around that he was back in town, he was afraid he’d run into more problems.

As they completed the contract Ali asked, “What lender are you going to use?”

Than handed her his brother’s business card and said, “Here’s my brother’s information. He handles all the funding and monies with the company. Give him a call and he’ll get you what you need to ensure the transaction goes smoothly.”

She took the card from Than and looked at the information.

Justin Tyler Murdock, CEO
#12 Breckonshire Drive
Charlotte, NC. 28208
704-561-2875 / JTM@Murdock.inc

Ali’s mind wondered if Tyler was anything like his brother. She thought Than was nice and very professional in his business dealings, but hoped what she had learned about him from local gossips wasn’t true. At lunch, she had run an errand, went to the store and had come back to the office more informed than when she left. They said he had come back to town after five years. Apparently no one expected him to return. And if what people were saying was true, everything had been his fault. She didn’t know what to do about what she’d overheard. Ali hated gossip. She had never enjoyed being on the receiving end of it, so she made a habit not to spread it. But was it gossip when one told their best friend?

She told herself she would only be looking out for Melanie’s well being. She had seen the way Melanie looked at Than that day at the deli. And although, Melanie tried to hide it, Ali knew her friend well enough to know that when Mel became flustered and frustrated over a man, it meant she liked him.
Ali doubted she could forgive him if he hurt her best friend.

She heard Than clear his throat and she organized her thoughts and said, “No problem. I’ll give him a call. He and I will take care of funding so you can focus on construction.”
Than nodded and said, “Thanks, I appreciate that.”

With the paperwork in order, he held out his hand toward Ali and she shook it closing the deal.

Ali decided it was in Mel’s best interest to know what she had found out, so she picked up the phone and dialed the number to Heaven Bound.
When Mel answered the phone, Ali explained the conversation to Melanie as she had heard it. Ali told Melanie it was obvious to her Than used to live in this town. Strangers didn’t just know things like this about people they weren’t close to, or even friends with. Why had he come back? He had said it was work. But was it really? Maybe he had come back because of what had happened in his past? Whatever it was, Mel was certain this is why his heart was hard.
While listening to Ali’s words, Mel wondered if he’d been truthful about anything. She had gotten to know him better this last week and hoped it hadn’t been for nothing. Ali told her to be careful and keep herself guarded. One could only get hurt by wearing their feelings on their sleeve.

But Melanie wore her feelings open and honestly and knew that Ali did not. So she figured she’d give Than the benefit of the doubt. Besides, she tried to base her opinions about people on her own experiences with them and not what other people told her about them; even if they were her best friends.

In the few short weeks Mel had spent with Than in the coffee shop, she had been able to make more of a connection with him. The information she had learned from Ali only confirmed her earlier suspicions. She knew their paths had crossed for a reason and now she hoped she’d have the courage of her convictions to help this man in anyway God saw fit. She prayed for him whenever he crossed her mind and hoped that God had been with him in his struggles.

With each trip to Heaven Bound Than became less apprehensive. His heart rate still jumped and his stomach still tied up in knots but he no longer broke out in a sweat at the thought of going inside. Of course he’d spent so much time there in the past, how could being in that place not take his mind back to five years ago?
He didn’t want to relive the events of his past, so he thought again of just working at the Library. But when he thought about a new place surprisingly he felt disappointment rise at the prospect of no longer seeing Melanie. From what little time they’d spent together he knew her to be kind, smart, and genuine, and he was attracted to her.

Aside from all of that, he just felt peace when he was around her. Peace was an emotion he hadn’t felt in a long time. He was drawn to her. He didn’t want to be, but God help him he was. Now if he could only know if he liked her for who she was and not where she worked.
He’d have to figure this out and soon. Every time he was with her he became more enamored with her. Even if the coffee shop drew out the memories he’d worked so hard to burry, if he wasn’t careful he’d find himself in the same situation he had been in five years ago. And that’s not somewhere he was willing to go.
He opened the door and saw Melanie switching some books out of her display.

“Hi Than.”

“Hi Melanie. Can I go on up?”

“Sure, do you want some coffee before you go up?”

“No, I don’t plan on staying long. Just need to send a few emails.”

“Let me know if you change your mind.”

Than went upstairs and sat at the table he always used. He began to type up an email to Tyler documenting the events that had transpired between himself and Ali. Than wanted to inform Tyler that Ali would be contacting him. He didn’t want Tyler blind sighted by someone he had never worked with. He gave Tyler all of the information he found on Ali’s business card and asked him to work directly with her to get all the funding taken care of.

He then shot a second email to his father relaying the information on the lot he had chosen. His father wanted things done right the first time, so it was important to Than that he keep his father in the loop. He sent a third email to Cameron to inform him that within a week or so he’d have the land acquired and as long as he could get his building permits in order, construction could begin.

When Than finished he shut down his computer and packed up his stuff. He looked up and noticed that a candle flickered in a corner close by and it took his memory back to a time when he sat in this very room.

A chaise lounge sat nearby with an end table at its side holding a lamp. She lay on the lounge and her blond straight hair was held with a pencil. Fallen pieces grazed the side of her face as she leaned down to read her magazine. A candle had been lit and sat next to the lamp.
She had loved candles and lit them for any reason and for no reason at all. Candles had always brought a smile to her face and that’s the face he saw now; smiling and laughing as she lay absorbed in her magazine. He noticed she wore her reading glasses when she glanced in his direction. She smiled at him. His heart squeezed and ached at the memory.

Would he ever find that kind of love again? He had loved her with his entire being and couldn’t understand why she had been taken from him.

He paused when another memory leapt into his mind. This time he saw a rocking chair that sat in the corner of the room. The blond woman rocked with her feet propped up on the ottoman. She sang and gently rubbed her rounded abdomen. She looked so content; so happy. He looked past her and saw a crib and an armoire on the other side of the room. When had everything gone wrong? He knew when, but the real question was why. Why, when he had been at the brink of happiness had everything been taken away?

His insides started to boil. His hands and forehead broke out in a sweat as he paced back and forth. How could God have allowed this to happen? If He was so powerful He should have saved her. Yes. God was definitely to blame as well as himself. Things could be different if he would have been more insistent. But now things would never be the same.

His anger got the best of him and in one fluid motion he shoved his belongings off the table. Defeated, he sat in his chair and held back the wave of emotion that encompassed his body. When the moment passed he snuffed out the memory and pushed it down deep. Maybe if he acted like it had never happened the memories would fade.

It was late in the afternoon and he hadn’t eaten lunch yet. He’d been so busy getting things accomplished for work and then with the memories, he’d forgotten to eat. He thought if he ate maybe it would help him get a better handle on his emotions. He let out a long deep breath, bent down to pick up the mess he’d made and then headed downstairs.

The memory tried to resurface and he extinguished it instantly. He didn’t want to give Melanie a reason to suspect he had any connection with the place, so he decided to make
a quick exit.

When he reached the bottom of the stairs she asked, “Finished already?”

“Yep.” He made a b-line for the door.

Melanie sensed something was wrong and said, “Than? You okay?”

He stopped. He didn’t want to get into any of this with her but as he’d made a connection when they’d discussed his family’s business he didn’t feel he could leave with out responding.
He turned and said, “Yeah, just going out to get a bite to eat.”

“It’s four thirty!”

“I know I’m having a really late lunch.”

“Where are you going?”

Why couldn’t he just get out the door? Was it really too much to ask? He took a calming breath, tried to be polite and said, “Nowhere in particular.”

“Laine’s is good. Have you been there since you’ve been in town?”

He just wanted to be alone. But he made the mistake of looking into her eyes and he felt that sense of peace she always seemed to exude. He felt his anger and fear start to melt. He liked her, but with all that had happened in his past and whatever he was feeling now, he just wasn’t sure how to handle everything. How could he take a step in this direction with everything he’d thought about lately? It was all so overwhelming.

He long ago had decided to forget all that had happened and put this town and his past behind him. How could he move on with all that was stirring in his soul? He wasn’t looking for someone new, but he was kidding himself to think he didn’t feel something for Melanie.
He made the decision to move forward in an effort to forget his past.
He hesitated for a moment feeling a bit guilty and said, “No, I’ve never been there. Do you want go with?”

“Oh, I can’t. I’ve got to close shop tonight. Taylor and I take turns.”

Relief flooded him and he let out his breath, nodded, turned and grasped the handle on the door.
He stopped when she asked, “How about another time?”

A sense of worry and hope shot up within him and grasped his heart. “Sure. Think about where you want to eat and let me know.” He walked over to the counter, wrote his cell phone number down on a napkin and gave it to her. “Call me when you’ve made a decision.” He moved to the door and let out a huge sigh of relief when he marched across the threshold, finally out of the coffee shop.
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