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Comfort Side Of Heaven by Vera Quinn (1)

Chapter One

Sage…

It seems like I have been on this bus looking out at the same scenery for a little over four years now. I know it’s not true, but I am so tired of picking my life up and always moving on. I have been on the move since I was sixteen and a few months old and I need a home of my own now. I never thought I would miss the familiarity of the cold mansion I was raised in. That almost makes me laugh. In my own head, I can’t bring myself to call it home. All I have are distant memories, cruel disappointments, and the inability to form any lasting relationships. Well almost, there is Zane. I have had a friendship with him since we were in diapers. He is and will always be my best friend and partner in mischief. Zane’s dad and mine started a band together. One of the hottest bands around the world, TALK Kraze. That makes me smile and my mind strays straight to memories of my dad.

I was always Daddy’s little girl. I lived for my time with him. Travis Dade was an unforgettable man and he owned my young heart. Everyone was drawn to him, he was one of the most charismatic people I have ever met. He had a way of talking to you that made you think you were the most interesting person in the world. He hung on every word. I know, go ahead and say it was because I was his daughter and all little girls think this of their dad but as I got older, I noticed he wasn’t just that way with me but everyone he talked with. I don’t know if when I realized he wasn’t just that way with me, if it broke my heart or made my heart burst with love because my dad could do that for so many people. Everyone loved him, except my mom. My dad was bigger than life and Mom couldn’t stand that she would never be the center of attention when Dad was around. Dad was just a laid-back guy that everyone felt comfortable around. My dad had so much money that he could have lived a pretentious-privileged life—we all could have—but my dad liked the simple things in life. His glitzy lifestyle likely would have smothered him at one time and he could have slipped down that hole and done the binges and overindulgences. Instead he stepped back and simplified our lives at home, at least his and mine. Mom was a different story.

As much as I love my precious memories with my dad, they always bring with them memories of my mom, Katrina Lea Stanley-Dade. My dad called her Kat, but she hated the name. I don’t know if it was because my dad used that name or if she truly disliked it. I think it was a little of both. What my mom didn’t like about our lives or one of many things is she was a groupie of my dad’s when they first met. I heard the stories many times when I was younger, in whispered voices. I wasn’t supposed to be listening to the adults, but you would be surprised at the abundance of information that children hear when they aren’t supposed to be listening. My mom and the rest of the members of TALK Kraze didn’t like each other and Mom detested the other family members of the band that were always hanging around when the band was recording a new album. Dad hated spending time away from being with us, so he had a recording studio built in our home. That way they could record and still have their families close and that meant we had guests for lengthy stays. I loved it, but Mom made the experience difficult. So difficult that Dad started sending Mom on extended vacations, so she wasn’t there during those times. Mom went off to a plush spa somewhere and we got to have time with our extended family. Zane was my best bud and when he was there everything was so much better. I know it sounds like a complicated life, but it wasn’t. It was my life and I loved it. It was perfect until it was time for Mom to come home and Dad’s turn to leave. That’s where the loving family memories leave and screaming, disapproving looks, and my punishments began. This is where I always turn my attentions to something else to try to forget that part of my life and this time is no different. I try to look at the beautiful scenery around me. It’s the middle of spring and the sky is a beautiful blue with dreamy-looking clouds swirling in it and the hills are green with blooming wildflowers—Indian paintbrushes and bluebonnets—sprinkled throughout. I take my phone out and try to capture the magnificence of it in a picture. Another memory to tuck away for when I need a pick-me-up from feeling sorry for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be out on my own and not be kept on lockdown from life, but it does get lonely at times.

My body has had about enough of this bus ride. It has been almost three days of travel, greasy food, and crowded bus stops on this trip from Seattle. I still don’t fly even though I’m over eighteen with the correct identification. I’m always careful so my mom can’t find me until after I turn twenty-one. I know then I will be forced to face her.

I see the welcome sign to the town of Comfort out the bus window. I smile as I feel the bus slowing down. The small building we pull in front of looks no bigger than a work shed. When the bus comes to a stop I stand and pull my backpack up on my shoulder. I pack light, so I only have a backpack and a small duffel bag that is stored under the bus. I know when I arrive in a new place I will be walking everywhere until I decide if I need a vehicle. I have a system when I arrive at all the unfamiliar places I go; find a motel to check in to that is safe, find food that is more than fast food, and then check out my surroundings. It is repetitious, but I have learned from my mistakes. This time is a little different. I always have a list to start with because I do my research on all my new destinations. Comfort, Texas is relatively safe. Their crime rate is one of the lowest in the state but then again, they have less than one thousand population. Small-town living is what I need after Seattle. I like city living for a short stay but love being able to walk outside at two in the morning and not be worried about who I may run into on the sidewalks. I make my way to the front of the bus. When I step out into the sunlight, I feel warmth heat my body. I take a deep breath and walk over to get my bag from the bus driver. He smiles when he hands it to me and I nod and give him a small smile.

“Thank you,” I tell him softly.

“Yes, ma’am,” the driver says as he turns to get the next person’s ticket. I step away from the bus and take in the quaint town. The bus stop is close to the bed-and-breakfast that I thought would be a lovely place to stay until I can find a more permanent place. I look around and I see the sign in the front yard of a beautiful older home. I start walking in that direction and I see no one out and about. I guess this is small-town living on an early Sunday afternoon. The closer I walk to Carpenter’s Rest Spot I hear people talking, sitting on the front porch of the quaint bed-and-breakfast. I am walking by small shops, unlike the big stores of most cities and they look closed. I make it to the gate in front of the historic looking house. This place is beautiful. On closer inspection, it’s not a front porch but I big wrap-around porch. There are wooden rockers placed sporadically around it and I see two different porch swings. The people scattered around the front of the porch stop talking and look at me. It looks like they are drinking either sweet tea or lemonade out of tall ice-filled glasses. The people are looking at me and I am trying to avoid looking at anyone specific while trying to look at the magnificent green lawn and soak in the peace of the setting here. I open the gate and walk in. The sound of a screen door shutting brings my attention to an older lady standing out on the porch with a plate of cookies that are making my stomach grumble to life. They smell mouth-watering. I can’t read this woman’s expression like I do most peoples, but I think I am acceptable when her face breaks out in a welcoming smile.

“You must be Sage Collins,” the woman says while she walks to a small table and puts the cookies down. “Mr. Styles, would you help the lady with her bags?”

“Yes, I’m Sage and thank you but I can manage my bags.” I don’t want to be a bother and the man doesn’t look very happy with having to leave the cookies that she had set on the table beside him. The older man grabs a cookie off the plate and takes a bite and groans his enjoyment of the snack. He takes two more cookies and a napkin off the table and puts the one he has taken a bite from and the other two and sets them on the table. He turns away from the table and walks towards me.

“I’m Mrs. Carpenter, but please call me Haddie, and welcome to Comfort. What brings you to our small town?” The woman doesn’t seem like she is trying to get in my business, it seems more like friendly conversation, so I give her more than the answer I usually give.

“I want to find a small town to make my home.” That makes the woman smile bigger and her eyes soften. The man makes it to me and he ignores the words I said about not needing help. I don’t want to be rude, so I hand him my duffel, but keep my backpack.

“Be careful what you ask for girlie. The grass always looks greener on the other side but the first time one of the old church biddies gets up in your business you’ll be running back to the big city. Those women live for any kind of gossip they can dig up and if you decide to wear white after Labor Day and before Memorial Day you will be the talk of the town until old man Jameson’s pigs get out again.” He turns and walks back towards the door with me on his heels. He’s grumbling about something under his breath, but I can’t hear what it is. I shake my head and smile. I can tell the man is a hard worker from the overalls he is wearing and the wrinkles around his eyes tell me he has spent many a day working in the sun.

“You’ll have to ignore Mr. Styles; he’s been having a difficult day for the last forty years.” Everyone on the porch laughs but I hear Mr. Styles grumble as we step up the stairs of the porch.

“Haddie, if the girl is going to stay then she needs to be aware of how this town works. We need some young blood here and we would have more of it if the old biddies of this town weren’t always in everyone else’s business. It’s better if the girl knows from the beginning so if she can’t handle them then she can get right back on that bus and keep looking.” Watching the back and forth between these two you would think they disliked each other, but I get the feeling that is far from the truth. The man turns to look at me. “I’m not trying to run you off girlie but us oldsters get attached to people and it’s hard when they leave us. People arriving here have a habit of leaving because they can’t take the gossip mill around here. A lot of people in Comfort have been here for generations and they are accustomed to how things work but I am here to tell you, it’s not always a terrible thing that everyone knows your business. We are a close-knit community and if one of us needs help, everyone shows up to help. If you can handle all that, then this may be the place for you.” Mr. Styles stops talking and looks at Haddie and nods his head as if the subject is closed. I’m a little taken aback because I’m not even checked in to my room yet. “I’m taking my cookies to go.” He goes to the table and picks up his cookies and walks away leaving my duffel beside the front door. The porch has gone quiet. I don’t know what to say to all of this. Haddie must see I am perplexed about the situation.

“Don’t worry your pretty little head dear. That has nothing to do with you and everything to do with an old man that grew attached to a young fellow—who reminded him of his son—that was only passing through.” Haddie is shaking her head. “Now let’s get you inside and in the room that you reserved.”

“Thank you, that would be nice.” I walk to the front screen door and pick my bag up.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a cookie or two? They’re snickerdoodles and pecan swirls.” I don’t want to be rude, but a shower sounds much better. I guess the look on my face shows my resolve of just wanting to get in my room. “It’s alright dear, I’ll put you one of each up from the ones I have still in the kitchen.” I feel bad now.

“I’m sorry, but after three days on a bus my only thoughts are on a hot shower and a soft bed then after a little rest some hot food.” I feel comfortable with this lady. It doesn’t happen very often. I have been on guard against letting people get close for too long. If I want this place to be my home, the first step is making friends, so I need to let my guard down just a little.

“That is completely understandable. You must have traveled a far piece and all alone. Heaven forbid what could have happened to you traveling that distance by yourself. Listen to me go on like an old mother hen.” Haddie walks over to the screen door and opens it for us. I walk in behind her. When I step inside, it’s like walking into a time gone past as far as my eyes can see. The floors are hardwood that shine from being waxed to a smooth luster. The drapes are the heavy long tapestry ones that they used to have in the old movies. There is a fireplace in the front room that I can see from the entrance. It’s not the new kind with an insert. I can almost feel the history in this place. It’s too beautiful for a bed-and-breakfast; it looks more like pictures from historical journals of the old plantations or manors. I see Haddie has stopped in front of a door off to the side. I am in awe and I have only seen what has been in my path. I think I could spend a few days taking in the antiques and listening to the stories that go with each one. History of any kind has fascinated me from when I was very young. My dad used to say that I was an old soul stuck in a young body wanting to soak up all the stories of times gone by. I guess he may have been right. “Come along dear, I need to get back to the kitchen to get dinner prepared for us tonight. You have plenty of time to familiarize yourself with my little place after you’re all checked in.” That snaps me out of my gawking and brings me back to the task at hand. “Do you have your credit card and identification card ready?” I almost feel comfortable enough to tell Haddie the truth, but the only thing I know is that I have a good feeling around her. I don’t know anything about Haddie and I don’t know if she would run straight to the media to sell a quick story. I’m close enough to twenty-one now that it couldn’t make a difference, but I know my mom, or her boyfriend, would show up and try and pressure me. I don’t need that right now. I have been running from my mom for four years and if I can help it, she will not see me again until the day I need to show up to sign the papers to get what is rightfully mine. That is the reason I want to have my roots planted in a place I can call home before that day. I have a plan and I hope I can make it work in the next six months or at least see that it’s feasible. I reach into the front of my backpack and take out the fake identification card I bought after I left Dallas with the help of my attorney, along with my prepaid credit card that I have for just these occurrences. No one deals in cash these days. “How long will you be staying? I know you reserved a room for a week, but do you think that you will be staying longer? I only ask because the room you’re staying in is one of two rooms that we have that has a half bath in it. All our other guests have three communal bathrooms. The two rooms that are updated are the ones most requested and I try to give those to either people with families or ones that are staying here more than one night.” I think for a second and then give an answer I hope will bring me a little information from an insider of the town. I want to ask questions to get some leads on a place to buy but I don’t want very many questions asked about my background.

“I know I will be staying a week but maybe longer as I am looking for a place to buy. I was thinking an old farm or just a farmhouse with a rustic look and feel. Something I can buy and renovate.” Haddie looks at me as if she is trying to size me up.

“I didn’t get the feeling that you were a farm girl. Don’t take that as an insult because it wasn’t meant as one, but farm living is a lot of work. Have you ever lived on a farm before?” I see I may have a problem convincing these people I am serious. Haddie is running my credit card as we are talking. She’s already copied my identification card.

“I’m not insulted, and I can understand your disbelief. I have never worked on a farm for a lengthy period, but I want to learn, and I thought maybe with a little neighborly help I could manage it.” Who am I kidding? I would need a lot of help, but I am willing to put in the work. I want a home that supports itself but is homey when I come home at night. I know it would take a few years to get it where I want it. Haddie looks like she is thinking about what I’ve told her. “I know most of the farms and ranches here have been handed down through generations but there are a few that have been listed with a local real estate company.”

“You are correct about that somewhat. The sellers here are picky about who they sell to because they have known their neighbors for years and they won’t sell to people they think will not fit into the community. They will be selective. My advice to you would be to talk to someone that dislikes their neighbors.” Haddie hands back my cards and then moves her head to the side like a thought has come to her. “Your best bet would to be to talk to Mr. Styles. He moved to town a few years back when his farm got too much for him to handle by himself. He keeps it mowed around the house, but the place needs a lot of work. It may be too big a job for you by yourself. It’s twenty acres where he grew produce plus the house, but he has thirty more acres he cuts hay from that joins the land at the back. I don’t know what you have in mind to do with a farm like that, but you would need to look at it first and I can guarantee you he doesn’t have it listed with that real estate office. They want twenty percent to sell someone’s property. That is highway robbery for doing nothing but showing the place.” Haddie looks skeptical but I understand that.

“Where does Mr. Styles live now if he isn’t living in his home, you said in town, right?” I ask the first question that pops in my head

“He lives in his son’s house here in town. Marcus was killed in an accident out in the hayfield with a baler. It was just awful. Marcus was only twenty-five years old and Mr. Styles just lost his will to want to be on that farm. He couldn’t handle it anymore by himself. That man has lost too much in his life and it has left him a bitter man.” I am caught up in the story and I realize how easy it is to get sucked into this small-town lifestyle. I already know more about Mr. Styles life than I have anyone’s in the last four years and I want to know more.

“I’m sorry he lost his son. Maybe it would be too painful for him to discuss the farm,” I tell Haddie.

“No. I think it’s what he needs. He needs to let go of all the bad memories, so he can hold on to the good ones. People our age need those good memories. He lost his two sons, a daughter, and his wife in that house and it’s time for him to let it go so it doesn’t drag him down. Yes, he needs to let go.” Haddie says it like the subject is closed. “I’ll set you up a talk with him in a couple of days when you’ve had time to rest and settle in. I don’t mean to intrude into your business, but it will be better if I talk to him first. He won’t be as hostile.”

“Haddie, he’s not really that grumpy especially since I know how much he has lost. He’s just trying to deal with his own pain every day while still being able to function. Sometimes when you lose someone it will cut a person all the way to their soul and nothing is ever the same again. Where you see a sunny beautiful day, they will only see the light as something that makes their eyes hurt. It’s like you can’t breathe without everything in you hurting and you just want it to stop, the hurt and the day.” I know I’ve said too much. I hate making myself looking so vulnerable in front of people, but it just slipped out. I know the rawness that Mr. Styles must feel every time he sees his farmhouse without his family there.

“I understand Sage and maybe someday you will know me well enough to share your pain. I am here and will listen anytime you’re ready. I also will keep my trap shut about your business. That’s a promise and I never break my promises. Now I need to show you upstairs or we are never going to eat tonight.” She smiles at me and I give her a small smile in return. I know Haddie and I are going to be good friends. I let my guard down around her which I need to watch just a little while longer.

“Thank you for everything, Haddie. I think I am really going to like it here.” Haddie walks around her desk and she stops in front of me and she pulls me into her so fast I can’t stop her. She gives me a big hug and I relax in her arms. I don’t know why but I feel tears come to my eyes. I haven’t been hugged like this since the last time my dad hugged me. I feel like a burden has been lifted and I feel like this could be the place I have been looking for. Haddie releases me and steps back. I swipe at my eyes to make sure no tears have escaped.

“Now let’s get you upstairs so you can get into that shower.” Haddie walks out the door and I follow her. “Dinner may be a bit late tonight, so I would say about six-thirty. You can come down anytime you want and keep me company in the kitchen if you like.” We reach the staircase and walk up the stairs.

“I won’t be down to eat tonight. I am going to take my shower and then go ahead and turn in. It has been three days since I slept in a bed and I will sleep soundly tonight.” I don’t want Haddie waiting on me to eat.

“I don’t like it but alright. If this old body had to stay awake in a bus for three days, I would be hurting for a week if not longer. You’ll need a big breakfast in the morning and I don’t want to hear any backtalk young lady. You are a slip of a thing and you need some meat on those bones.” I laugh at that. We make it to the top of the stairs and Haddie turns to me and hands me a key. “It’s the last door on the right. The bed is turned down and I hope you sleep well. Welcome home.” Haddie turns to go back to the stairs.

“Don’t you mean welcome to your home?” I ask the woman.

“No, you had your mind made up before you got here. You are home and I am your welcome wagon.” I don’t have a chance to say anything as she makes her way down the stairs. She’s right though, I did have my mind made up.

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