TITLE: The Silver-Haired Woman
By Jenna Dawn
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<i>After a long day at the photo shoot, Nicole returned home exhausted. She drew a hot bath and lit her favorite lavender scented candle. Dropping her clothes to the floor, she tied her hair up and slipped into the warm soothing water. This was her sweet escape from the world. She rested her head against the back of the tub, closed her eyes and let out a sigh.</i>
<i>What was that? Nicole sat up and listened. Was that the same noise she heard the other night?</i>
<i>Blood rushed through her body and her heart started pounding. The sound had came from her living room floorboards downstairs. Someone was definitely in the house. With quivering hands, Nicole grabbed her towel and wrapped it around her body. She stepped out of the bathtub as quietly as possible. Gripped with fear, she knew she had to get to the phone in her bedroom.
Slowly she opened the bathroom door just a few inches and peered out. She could see all the way down the stairs. There was no one in view. Slipping out of the bathroom, she moved quickly toward her bedroom. Barely had she reached the bedroom door when she heard fast-paced footsteps down below. They seemed to head to the back of the house and then outside. The intruder must have heard her and run away.</i>
Haley placed the book in her lap for a moment and looked around. She loved coming to the park and losing herself in suspense thrillers by authors such as Thomas Mercer and Reece Ellington. The ever popular and best-selling author, Reese Ellington, was by far her favorite. Ellington had a way of grabbing Haley with every story, moving her to the edge of her seat in anticipation, and this novel was no different.
Haley set the book down on the bench next to her and breathed in the crisp spring air. The flowers were now in full bloom and the trees lush with green leaves. Children laughed and played on the playground nearby while joggers, dog walkers and mom’s pushing strollers moved along the path. Couples holding hands stopped on the bridge and gazed at the stream trickling into the nearby pond.
It was a very picturesque scene and Haley loved to get away and lose herself here, both to enjoy the beauty of her surroundings and to immerse herself in the thrill of suspense novels. She also had a certain fascination with people watching and often found herself staring at and analyzing total strangers. Her mind would conjure up all sorts of interesting information about people whom she knew nothing about. For instance, the Asian couple with the toddler feeding ducks by the pond; Haley’s mind manifested a dramatic story of danger in which this couple escaped religious persecution in China and found their way to America where they could worship God freely and raise their child as they chose. Haley noted that they smile a lot. They were certainly very happy to be in America.
As her eyes scanned the other side of the park, they came to rest on the old woman sitting on a bench by the largest oak tree in the park. There she was again, with her ever-present chauffeur waiting loyally by the car at the top of the stairs behind her. He never sat inside the car; rather he leaned against it with his hands in his pockets watching her protectively. She came like clockwork every Tuesday and Thursday. Her chauffer would lead her by the hand down the stairs and to her bench. She would eat a sandwich and maybe some fruit. Then she would just sit, often holding her cane in front of her with both hands, staring straight ahead with a pleasant look on her face. Sometimes she would take in a deep breath and exhale slowly, but she never looked around much. There was something a little odd about her, yet at the same time, something lovely and enchanting. Of everyone at the park, this silver-haired woman intrigued Haley the most.
Haley had a beautifully complex fantasy about this elderly woman. Tragically widowed from her rich and powerful husband of fifty years, her life with him filled with travel and adventure, mansions and yachts, parties and galas; there was no end to the things Haley could imagine about the old woman’s affluent life.
Each time Haley saw this woman, she found herself becoming more and more captivated with her. As much as Haley enjoyed her own fabrications, she found herself wanting to know the real story of this lady’s life. One of these days, Haley kept telling herself, she would walk over and introduce herself to the silver-haired woman and try to get to know her.
Today, however, she had to get to work.
<center>* * * *</center>
Haley grabbed the two plates of hamburgers and fries and walked them over to table six.
“Here you go. Can I get you anything else?”
This was not where Haley planned to be at this stage of her life. Clearly gifted for acting and directing, Haley was a theater major halfway through her sophomore year when tragedy struck. Both of her parents were killed in a car accident, leaving her younger brother and sister with no one to raise them. Not willing to let them go into foster care, Haley selflessly put her dreams on hold and took on the role of loving caretaker and provider. Instead of applause and accolades for her moving performances on stage, she found herself in a diner working as many shifts as she could to pay the bills.
Today’s double shift was finally over and after closing up the diner, she said good-bye to her co-workers, put on her sweater and headed home. She hated walking alone this late at night, but at least she didn’t live very far away. Her apartment, though not in the greatest neighborhood, was only five blocks from the diner. Ryan and Alexis were at home and hopefully in bed. She had called them during her break and found they were eating macaroni and cheese and doing their homework. Ryan, age 15, was the protective older brother of 12 year-old Alexis. They were both good kids. Their parents’ death three years prior was tough on all three of the siblings, but they had each other and an unexplainable peace in knowing God was watching over them. Their friends at church were like family to them and helped out as much as possible.
As she walked along with her hands in her pockets, she passed the old theater. Oh, the memories she held from that wonderful place. All the rehearsals and performances from the countless plays she had participated in. It was a second home to her and the people there were like family. Her childhood would have been a very different one without this old theater. Now it was closed down and the building was in shambles. There were no plays, no place for kids to hang out, dress up in costumes and bring stories to life. Every time she walked by the old building she had wild fantasies of buying the place, fixing it up and creating the kind of theatrical environment for kids and teens that she grew up with.
A dark figured walked toward her on her left and Haley was jolted back to reality. On alert, she moved further to the right of the sidewalk. She picked up her pace, clutched her purse more tightly and whispered a quick prayer for protection.
<center>* * * *</center>
“Mommy! Look at me!” came the voice of a little girl about to go down the slide. Haley smiled as she strolled by and headed toward her favorite bench. She was thankful that the park was so close to the diner. She certainly didn’t live an easy life, so her regular trips to the park during her lunch break were some of the few sweet moments she could steal away for herself.
She plopped herself down and opened her brown paper sack. PB&J again, some apple slices and the iced tea she brought from the diner. As she ate, she studied the people around her. There was that couple again, having a picnic under the same tree by the pond. She had only seen them one other time and had wondered if it was a first date. If so, it apparently went well, because they were here again, giggling and feeding each other strawberries. Okay, now that’s just sappy. Moving on. Man walking a beagle. Haven’t seen them before, but the woman with the husky comes often.
Haley was about to open up her book and engross herself in the impending suspense of
Reese Ellington when she noticed the old lady coming down the stairs on the arm of her chauffer. As usual, Haley found herself mesmerized by this woman.
The next thing Haley knew, she found herself dropping her brown sack into the trash can and heading over to the woman. She had made up her mind. She was going to talk to the mysterious silver-haired woman right now – today – before another moment passed by.
The woman had just gotten herself settled onto the bench and the chauffeur was half way up the stairs when Haley reached her. She stood in front of her and in her friendliest sounding voice said, “Hi. I’m Haley. I see you here all the time and thought I’d come over and introduce myself.”
The woman seemed to be taken a little off guard. She looked in Haley’s direction, but not into her eyes. “Oh, it’s nice of you to come and say hello. I’m Grace.”
And then it hit Haley. Why hadn’t she realized it before? The woman was blind.
“It’s nice to meet you, Grace. Do you mind if I sit down by you?”
“Oh, not at all, dear. I’d be glad for the company.”
So, Haley sat down and found that this delightful woman, who she now knew to be Grace, was very friendly and easy to talk to. Grace asked Haley a lot of questions and Haley found herself telling her new acquaintance all about her love of theater, her parents’ death, and about Ryan and Alexis. Before she knew it her lunch break was over and she had to head back to the diner.
“I suppose you’ll be here on Thursday?” she asked as she stood from the bench.
Grace looked a little bewildered.
“How did you know?”
Haley was a little embarrassed. “Well, like I said, I see you here all the time.” She paused.
“I’m a bit of a people watcher and have noticed that you come every Tuesday and Thursday.”
“So, you’re a stalker, are you?” Grace grinned. “I’m just teasing you. Yes, I’ll be here Thursday and I’d be delighted to visit with you again.
“Great! I’ll see you Thursday!”
Haley smiled as she walked away. She did it! She finally met the mysterious silver-haired woman. But wait. She spent all that time talking about herself and she still didn’t know anything about Grace except her name! Oh well. She had made the connection and now she looked forward to seeing her again on Thursday.
<center>* * * *</center>
Haley couldn’t wait for the breakfast rush to end, so she could escape from the diner and meet Grace. Finally her lunch break came and she quickly headed for the park. She got there before Grace and waited on the bench.
“Hello, Haley dear.” Haley recognized the sweet elderly voice and looked up to see Grace and her chauffer.
Haley stood and reached out to take Grace’s hand. “Hello, Grace. I’m so glad to see you.”
“Haley, this is Jimmy. He takes me places and does a whole lot of other things for me. I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
Haley and Jimmy greeted each other and then Jimmy went up the stairs to wait at his usual place beside the car.
As the conversation unfolded, Haley tried to learn more about Grace. Apparently, Grace was a widow, so Haley had been right about that. Grace’s face glowed as she talked about her Johnny. He was a pilot who fought in World War II and then flew commercially for thirty plus years. A pilot? This is quite different than Haley’s grand fantasies of wealth, mansions and the good life. Yet, there had to be more to Grace’s story, based on the fancy car the chauffeur drove her in and the high-end clothes and jewelry she wore. This was a woman of means. However, Grace wasn’t offering an explanation for any of that and Haley didn’t want to pry. Perhaps she was simply born into wealth.
Grace shared a story of her Johnny’s heroics in World War II, which reminded Haley of a book she had once read, set during the war. “It was a great story. I bet you would love it,” she told Grace.
“Oh, I probably would. How I miss reading”, said Grace with a look of longing in her eyes. “I love books and used to read all the time before I lost my sight. Tales of adventure, intrigue and suspense!”
“Do you know Braille?”
“Oh, I’m too old to bother learning Braille, dear. I listen to books on CD sometimes, though.”
“I love to read, too”, said Haley. “In fact, I usually read when I come to the park. I have a
Reese Ellington book with me. I’ll read it to you, if you’d like.”
Grace smiled. “I would like that. Which one is it?”
<i>“When Danger Creeps In.”</i>
“I’m familiar with that one. Why don’t you read from wherever you left off.”
“Okay. I’m actually close to the end.”
Haley found her spot and began reading.
<i>Nicole was sound asleep when she heard the glass shatter below her. She sat straight up in bed, her heart pounding. He was back! The police didn’t believe her and now he was back!
She fumbled for the phone on her nightstand and dialed 9-1-1.
“Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency?”
“There’s an intruder in my house!” Nicole whispered as loudly as she dared. “Someone has been stalking me.”
Creak, creak, creak.
“He’s coming up the stairs!”
Nicole dropped to the floor and hid beside her bed. The phone tumbled to the floor as she reached for the gun in her nightstand. David had taught her how to shoot at a target, but could she really shoot a person if she had to? Her hands shook violently.
“Ma’am? Ma’am, are you there?” the voice from the phone continued.
Nicky couldn’t control her rapid breathing. She held the gun in both hands aimed it toward the door. Fear tore through every part of her being. Her whole body trembled.
She could hear him getting closer.
The knob turned on the door.
Slowly the door opened.
There he was standing in her doorway! Could he see her?
The dark figure moved toward the bed. She could see him more clearly now in the moonlight. It was the guy in the park that day, the man with the knife. This was real. He was really standing in her bedroom!
It didn’t seem like he knew where she was.
He took another step closer and the light of the moon glistened off his knife.
And then he saw her. His eyes met her eyes and he lunged toward her.</i>
BANG! BANG! BANG!
<i>The man fell to the floor.
Nicole dropped the gun. Still shaking, she picked up the phone and, stammering, said, “I … I’ve just k-killed the intruder.”</i>
<center>* * * *</center>
Over the next few months, Haley and Grace enjoyed many Tuesdays and Thursdays together in the park. Often Haley would read to Grace, which Grace very much enjoyed. Slowly, Haley learned more about Grace, but there was still a bit of mystery, which Grace seemed to enjoy keeping to herself. She always asked how Ryan and Alexis were doing and was very interested in hearing about Haley’s childhood theater stories.
One Tuesday in the fall, Haley arrived at their park bench anxious to invite Grace to the birthday party Ryan and Alexis were throwing for her at church.
“Haley?” came the deep voice of a man.
Haley looked up and saw Grace’s chauffer, Jimmy, standing there. She stood and looked around, but Grace was not there.
“I’m sorry to tell you this,” Jimmy hesitated. “Grace passed away in her sleep Sunday night.”
Haley was stunned. Tears filled her eyes and she covered her mouth in shock.
“You made the last few months of her life very special. She loved you more than you know.” He let his words sink in a moment before continuing. “She left this for you.” Jimmy handed Haley an envelope and, with tears in his own eyes, he walked away.
Bewildered, Haley sat on the bench. She pulled a letter out of the envelope and read.
<i>My dear Haley,
I have so enjoyed our beautiful times together. You have come to feel like the daughter Johnny and I never had. I have a lot of dreams for you, my dear, Haley; dreams for you to finish college, dreams for you, Ryan and Alexis to have a home where you are safe, and dreams for you to buy that old theater and turn it back into the magical place it once was. I know these are dreams you thought would never be possible, but I want you to embrace them all. Just as God has blessed me beyond what I could have ever imagined, He now wants to bless you. I am leaving a large portion of my estate to you, which will be more than enough to make your dreams a reality.
All my love,
Grace, also known by the pen name, Reese Ellington.<i>
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