Archer's Voice Page 2

After drying off, I put on a pair of clean shorts and a t-shirt, and picked up my phone to call my best friend, Natalie. She'd called me several times since I'd first texted her and told her I was leaving, and I'd only texted her back. I owed her an actual phone call.

"Bree?" Nat answered, the sounds of loud chatter in the background.

"Hey, Nat, is this a bad time?"

"Hold on, I'm going outside." She put her hand over the mouthpiece and said something to someone and then came back on the line. "No, it's not a bad time! I've been dying to talk to you! I'm at lunch with my mom and my aunt. They can wait a few minutes. I've been worried," she said, her tone slightly accusing.

I sighed. "I know, I'm sorry. I'm in Maine." I had told her it was where I was heading.

"Bree, you just took off. Geez. Did you even pack anything?"

"A few things. Enough."

She huffed out a breath. "Okay. Well, when are you coming home?"

"I don't know. I thought I might stay here for a little while. Anyway, Nat, I didn't mention this, but I'm running low on money–I just spent a big chunk on a security deposit for my rental. I need to get a job, at least for a couple months, and make enough to fund my trip home and a few months of living expenses once I get back."

Nat paused. "I didn't realize it was that bad. But Bree, honey, you have a college degree. Come home and put it to use. You don't need to live like some kind of vagabond in a town where you don't know a single person. I already miss you. Avery and Jordan miss you. Let your friends help you get back to life–we love you. I can send you some money if it means getting you home more quickly."

"No, no, Natalie. Really. I… need this time, okay? I know you love me. I do," I said quietly. "I love you too. This is just something that I need to do."

She paused again. "Was it because of Jordan?"

I chewed on my lip for a couple seconds. "No, not entirely. I mean, maybe that was the straw, but no, I'm not running away from Jordan. It was just kind of the last thing I needed, you know? Everything just got to be… too much."

"Oh honey, a person can only take so much." When I was quiet, she sighed and said, "So the semi-strange, impromptu road trip is already helping?" I heard the smile in her voice.

I laughed a quiet laugh. "In some ways, maybe. In other ways, not just yet."

"So they haven't gone away yet?" Natalie asked quietly.

"No, Nat, not yet. But I feel good about this place. I really do." I tried to sound chipper.

Nat paused again. "Honey, I don't think it's about the place."

"That's not what I mean. I just mean, this feels like a good place to get away to for a little bit… oh gosh, you've gotta go. Your mom and aunt are waiting for you. We can talk about this another time."

"Okay," she said, hesitantly. "So you're safe?"

I paused. I never felt entirely safe. Would I again? "Yes, and it's beautiful here. I found a cottage right on the lake." I glanced out the window behind me, taking in the beautiful water view again.

"Can I come visit?"

I smiled. "Let me get settled in. Maybe before I turn back around?"

"Okay, deal. I really miss you."

"I miss you too. I'll call again soon, okay?"

"Okay. Bye, honey."

"Bye, Nat."

I hung up the phone and went to the big window and drew the shades in my new bedroom and climbed into my freshly made bed. Phoebe settled in at my feet. I fell asleep the minute my head hit the pillow.

**********

I woke up to the sounds of bird calls and the distant lap of water hitting the shore. I rolled over and looked at the clock. It was just past six in the evening now. I stretched and sat up, orienting myself.

I got up, Phoebe trotting along behind me, and brushed my teeth in the small bathroom. After I rinsed, I studied myself in the medicine cabinet mirror. The dark circles under my eyes were still there, although less pronounced after the five hours of sleep I had just gotten. I pinched my cheeks to bring some color into them and gave myself a big, cheesy, fake grin in the mirror and then shook my head at myself. "You are going to be okay, Bree. You are strong and you are going to be happy again. Do you hear me? There's something good about this place. Do you feel it?" I tilted my head and stared at myself in the mirror for a minute longer. Lots of people gave their own reflection pep talks in the bathroom, right? Totally normal. I snorted softly and shook my head slightly again. I rinsed my face and then quickly pulled my long, light brown hair back into a messy twist at the nape of my neck.

I went out to the kitchen and opened the freezer where I had put the frozen meals I had had in a cooler on ice in my car. I hadn't had a lot of food to bring with me–just the few things that were in my refrigerator at home–a few microwaveable meals, milk, peanut butter and bread, and some fruit. And a half a bag of dog food for Phoebs. But it would do for a couple days before I had to find the local grocery store.

I popped a pasta meal into the microwave sitting on the counter and then stood eating it with a plastic fork. I watched out the kitchen window as I ate and noticed an old woman in a blue dress and short white hair come out of the cottage next to mine and walk toward my porch with a basket in her hands. When I heard her light knock, I tossed the now-empty cardboard meal box in the trash and went to answer.

I pulled the door open and the old lady smiled warmly at me. "Hi dear, I'm Anne Cabbott. Looks like you're my new neighbor. Welcome to the neighborhood."

I smiled back at her and took the basket she offered me. "Bree Prescott. Thank you. How nice." I lifted a corner of the towel on top of the basket and the sweet smell of blueberry muffins wafted up to me. "Oh gosh, these smell delicious," I said. "Would you like to come in?"

"Actually, I was going to ask if you'd like to come have some iced tea with me on my porch. I just made some fresh."

"Oh," I hesitated, "okay, sure. Just give me a second to pull on some shoes."

I stepped back inside and put the muffins on my kitchen counter and then went back to my bedroom where I had kicked off my flip flops.

When I came back to the front, Anne was standing at the edge of my porch waiting for me. "Such a lovely night. I try to sit out in the evenings and enjoy it. Pretty soon I'll be complaining about how cold it is."

We started walking toward her cottage. "So you live here all year round?" I asked, glancing over at her.

She nodded. "Most of us on this side of the lake are year-round residents. Tourists aren't interested in this town as it is. Over there," she nodded her head toward the far side of the lake, barely visible from this distance, "is where all the tourist attractions are. Most in this town don't mind that, like it even. Course all that's going to change. The woman who owns the town, Victoria Hale, has plans for a bunch of new development that will bring the tourists here as well." She sighed as we climbed the stairs to her porch and she sat down in one of the wicker chairs. I sat on the two-person porch swing and leaned back on the cushion.

Her porch was beautiful and homey, full of comfortable white wicker, and bright blue and yellow cushions. There were pots of flowers everywhere–wave petunias and potato vine cascading over the sides.

"What do you think about bringing tourists here?"

She frowned slightly. "Oh, well, I like our quiet little town. I say let them stay over there. We still get the passer-throughs which is enough for my taste. Plus, I like our small town feel. Supposedly condos are going up here, so there won't be any more lakeside cottages."

I frowned. "Oh, I'm sorry," I said, realizing she meant she'd have to move.

She waved her hand dismissively. "I'll be okay. It's the businesses in town that will be closed down because of the expansion that I worry more for."

I nodded, still frowning. We were quiet for a second before I said, "I vacationed on the other side of the lake with my family when I was a little girl."

She picked up the pitcher of tea on the small table next to her and poured us each a glass and handed me one. "Did you? What brings you back here now?"

I took a sip of my tea, purposefully stalling for a couple seconds. Finally I said, "I'm on a short road trip. I was happy there that summer." I shrugged. I tried to smile, but talking about my family still brought a tightness to my chest. I settled on what I hoped was a pleasant expression.

She studied me for a second, taking a sip of her own tea. Then she nodded. "Well, dear, I think that sounds like a good plan. And I think if this place brought you happiness before, it can bring happiness again. Some places just agree with people, I think." She smiled warmly and I smiled back. I didn't tell her that the other reason I was here was that it was the last place my family had been truly happy and carefree. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when we got home from that trip. She died six months later. From then on, it had just been me and my dad.

"How long are you planning on staying?" Anne asked, pulling me out of my reverie.

"I’m not sure. I don't really have a specific itinerary. I will need to get a job though. Do you know anyone who's hiring?"

She set her glass down. "Actually, I do. The diner in town needs a morning waitress. They're open for breakfast and lunch. I was in the other day and there was a sign up. The girl who worked there before had a baby and decided to stay at home with him. It's right on the main street in town–Norm's. You can't miss it. Always nice and busy. You tell them Anne sent you." She winked at me.

"Thank you." I smiled. "I will."

We sat quietly for a minute, both sipping our tea, the sound of crickets singing in the background, and the occasional mosquito buzzing past my ear. I could hear distant shouts from boaters on the lake, probably about to head in and call it a night, and the soft sound of the lake lapping on the shore.

"It's peaceful here."

"Well, I hope you don't find this forward, dear, but it seems like you could use a good dose of peaceful."

I let out a breath and laughed softly. "You must read people well," I said. "You're not wrong there."

She laughed softly too. "Always have been good at peggin' people. My Bill used to say that he couldn't hide anything from me if he tried. Course, love and time will do that too. You get so the other person is practically another part of you–and you can't hide from yourself. Although some are good at tryin', I suppose."

I tilted my head. "I'm sorry. How long has your husband been gone?"

"Oh, it's been ten years now. I still miss him though." Melancholy skated briefly across her features before she pulled her shoulders up and nodded her head at my glass. "He used to like a little bourbon in his sweet tea. Made him frisky. Course I didn't mind. Kept him smiling and only took a minute or two of my time."

I had just taken a small sip of tea and I put my hand over my mouth not to spit it out. After I had swallowed it down, I laughed and Anne grinned at me.

I nodded after a minute. "I guess men are pretty simple that way."

Anne smiled. "Us women learn that young, don't we? Is there a boy waiting back home for you?"

I shook my head. "No. I have a few good friends, but no one else is waiting back home for me." As the words spilled from my lips, the true nature of my alone-ness in the world felt like a sucker punch to my gut. It wasn't news to me and yet somehow, saying the words brought it home in a way that the knowledge itself didn't. I drained my glass of tea, attempting to swallow down the emotion that had suddenly overcome me.

"I should get going," I said. "Thank you so much for the tea and the company." I smiled at Anne and she smiled back, beginning to stand as I did.

"Anytime, Bree. You need anything at all, you know right where I am."

"Thank you, Anne. That's very kind. Oh! I do need to make a trip to a drug store. Is there one in town?"

"Yes. Haskell's. Just drive back through town, the way you came in and you'll see it on your left. It's right before the one stoplight. You can't miss it."

"Okay, great. Thanks again," I said, stepping down the stairs and giving her a small wave.

Anne nodded, smiling and waved back.

As I walked back through my own yard to get my purse out of the house, I spotted a lone dandelion full of fluff. I bent and plucked it out of the ground and held it up to my lips, closing my eyes and recalling Anne's words. After a minute, I whispered, "Peace," before I blew and watched the fluff float out of sight, hoping that somehow one of those seeds carrying my whisper would reach that something or someone who had the power to make wishes come true.

CHAPTER 3

Bree

The sky was just beginning to dim when I drove into Pelion, a quiet, almost old-fashioned, little downtown area. Most of the businesses looked to be family, or individual-owned, and large trees lined the wide sidewalks where people still strolled in the cooler, late-summer twilight. I loved this time of day. There was something magical about it, something hopeful, something that said, "You didn't know if you could, but you made it another day, didn't you?"

I spotted Haskell's and pulled into the parking lot to the right of it and pulled into a spot.

I didn't need groceries just yet, but I was in need of a few basic necessities. It was the only reason I'd run out at all. Even though I had slept five hours or so today, I was tired again and ready to settle into bed with a book.

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