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Chapter One

Elizabeth Hamilton rubbed her eyes that were beginning to feel tired after yet another long evening of reading in the all too quiet house. It was the third book she had finished that week, all of them stories of paranormal fiction.

She looked around the living room, part of the house that did not feel like home to her, and probably never would. In fact, it was not her home, just a place where she lived because a check was written each month to the true owner of the dwelling. It was nothing more than a stop in life for her, a stop that may or may not last much longer.

She glanced at her watch and considered beginning another book she had downloaded onto her e-book reader, yet another escape into her favorite fantasy world, and another diversion from reality. But she decided that she was probably carrying her avoidance a little too far as of late.

The subject of her avoidance, and all that he represented, was asleep in the bedroom down the hall. And between the living room where she was reading, and the room where her husband slumbered was an empty room that mocked her by its sheer emptiness.

She rose wearily and walked cautiously as she neared the spare room. She stepped close and peered through the door as if one of the spirits in one of her novels was awaiting her there in preparation for a ghostly ambush.

Stopping and staring at the silent room had become a nightly ritual for Elizabeth. When they had moved into the rented house a year before, she had still been hanging onto the hope that there would be a need for the room to be turned into a nursery. And as recently as then, her husband Jamie had shared a cautious optimism in that regard. But the room was still empty, as was her womb, and the emotional distance that had grown between Elizabeth and Jamie gave little prospect of any of that changing.

Elizabeth shook her head, as she did every night as she made her way through the silent house to the quiet bedroom. It was near midnight now, and as had become the pattern of late, she had stayed up reading her beloved books on the paranormal, while Jamie had turned in over two hours earlier, so that he could be on time to work at his cousin’s warehouse on the outskirts of Little Rock.

Elizabeth reminded herself on a nightly basis that she needed to feel fortunate that Jamie had been offered the job working for his cousin in the largest antique auction business in that half of Arkansas. His taking the job had removed much of the financial uncertainty from their lives. But she so badly missed Chicago, the culture, the nightlife and the friends and family she had grown up with.

When she had met Jamie while they were both students at Northwestern University and had quickly fallen in love, she’d had no reason to believe that they would ever move so far away. Whenever they were together each spoke of their future lives together in Chicago, even discussing which section of the city they might select as the place to establish their life together. And when they had found the perfect place to be their first home three months after Jamie had landed a job that he liked very much, it appeared that all their plans were falling into line.

During their first months of marriage, they enjoyed all of the sporting events, concerts and culture that the city offered and that were within their budget. They had even begun to look at listings of homes for sale in the pricey market of a big city, looking toward a bright future.

Now they still had a bright future, at least circumstances were offering one, under vastly different terms. Elizabeth simply did not like living in the South. She was put off by the culture and the accents, and found the pace of life to be too slow and quiet. But when Jamie had been downsized from his job managing a large home improvement store, they had been forced to surrender the lease on their suburban condominium, so that he could accept the offer of the new job that actually paid much more. That increase in pay, combined with a lower cost of living, took the pressure off of Elizabeth to contribute very much to the household budget. As she had done in Chicago, she worked at her leisure for a Little Rock temporary agency, utilizing her degree in accounting.

It was not that she did not appreciate the fact that she and Jamie now had more disposable income; the problem was that she could not stop dwelling on her desire to be living somewhere else.

For Jamie, his work days were long, but he was able to put his business education to good use in the growing company, and he had quickly become an equal partner with his cousin Jerry. He had helped his cousin to set up a better website for their business, and they were now holding online auctions as well, which meant that they were even dealing with overseas customers. The growth of their firm seemed limitless, and the two of them had become fast friends after having known each other only casually before.

Jamie and Elizabeth’s bank account had grown steadily in the twelve months since they had moved to Little Rock, but that factor added a down side. Each additional dollar they saved brought them closer to the day when Jamie would propose that they buy a house there, adding an ominous touch of finality to residing in the town and greatly reducing the possibility of eventually returning to Chicago.

With each passing day, she could see that Jamie was enjoying his new position more and more, and she feared she might never be able to convince him to move back to Chicago. Consequently, she was trying to decide if their futures were to be permanently intertwined or whether it was time to make new plans.

The move had been a pivotal moment in the marriage of the two twenty-six-year-olds. They had been married for just under three years before moving, and that marriage had already been lacking in excitement and passion. Still, they were both happy with each other’s companionship. Whatever it was they were doing, if they were doing it together they found great enjoyment.

Prior to the move, there had not been any question that they were deeply in love. But while their love had been emotionally strong, there was an unspoken and mutual realization that the marriage was lacking in physical intensity.

While still in Chicago, they had made love with the frequency to be expected with a young, newly married couple. However, to their joint disappointment, Elizabeth had never been able to achieve a climax; but it certainly wasn’t because Jamie would not willingly attempt anything she asked of him in bed.

She consulted doctors, then a counselor, and then moved on to a psychiatrist who prescribed medications to help her relax. Still, the problem continued and Elizabeth began to become more introspective and, at times, even withdrawn.

Jamie had done everything he could to convince her that he was happy with her just the way she was. He made it clear to her that seeing her get more sexual fulfillment out of the relationship would make him happy as well. But he emphasized to her many times that his feelings for her were in no way diminished by the condition.

Elizabeth had discovered, sometime before their marriage, that Jamie was a caring and attentive lover who would do anything to bring her pleasure. He also made sure that she knew that he found Elizabeth to be extremely attractive, both physically and emotionally. And when they were still living in Chicago, Elizabeth had seemed to resign herself to the fact that she might or might not someday come to enjoy a more dramatic responsiveness from their lovemaking. But when they moved away, it was just one more thing to overwhelm her.

The loss of Jamie’s Chicago job, and her grudging agreement for him to accept the job in Little Rock jolted her already fragile concept of not only herself, but also their marriage and her role as a wife. Jamie’s long hours at his new job only seemed to exacerbate her sense of isolation.

She rejected Jamie’s suggestions for her to supplement her contacts with other young women by joining some kind of organization or becoming involved in volunteer work when she was not on a temporary accounting assignment. But all that she could think about was how much she wanted to be back in Chicago, and when she was not reading or working she would sit glumly and think about her hometown.

Jamie became concerned that she was suffering from a severe case of depression. As with other matters, she rebuffed his suggestions regarding that.

And after they had moved, and she began to see that Jamie was settling into his new position, it became easier for her to simply avoid him. Avoiding Jamie meant avoiding sex, and she equated avoiding sex with being reminded that the act was, for her, always a matter of unfinished business.

When Jamie went to bed at night, they would engage in the obligatory good night kiss, but she would usually still be in bed when he rose before sunrise each morning. If she were awake when she felt him stirring, she would sometimes pretend to still be sleeping to discourage any thoughts of early morning romance.

Jamie often had to work on Saturdays when major auctions were held, so since Elizabeth had stopped going to bed at the same time, they simply did not see each other very much. Sometimes three or four days would pass without them actually encountering each other, and they fell into the habit that each would leave notes for the other, usually in an affectionate tone.

Still, as had been the pattern since they moved to Little Rock, they had not made love now in several weeks, even though Elizabeth had stopped taking her birth control pills a couple of months after the move, when it became so quickly evident that their income would not hold them back from becoming parents. But sensing that her marriage was hanging by a thread as a result of her growing, conflicting emotions of indecision and indifference, Elizabeth decided that it was best to not encourage the possibility of bringing a child into the situation.

When they did spend some time together, they were cordial, though neither seemed willing to broach the subjects that needed to be addressed. In the first three months of their life in Little Rock, Jamie had made several attempts to encourage Elizabeth to talk about her feelings, and their marriage, and even suggested that they go to marriage counseling. But she had dismissed all such suggestions out of hand.

That morning, as she had for several mornings in the recent week after Jamie had left for work, she had pulled from her purse the business card of a divorce attorney who advertised heavily in the local newspaper. One afternoon during the previous month, she had stopped by that office, and taken a card from the receptionist, but since then, she could not seem to be able to summon the will to make an appointment.

She finally slipped into the bedroom, silently kicked off her shoes and removed her jeans and blouse before stepping into the bathroom and flipping on the light. The image that gazed back at her from the mirror reinforced what Jamie had always said to her: she was quite pretty and desirable. Her red hair fell down upon her shoulders, framing a face full of freckles and fair skin that had immediately drawn Jamie to her. As she took off her bra, reached for a nightshirt on the hook on the back of the door and then pulled it on, she could not help but remember how she had several times complained to Jamie that she was a bit chubby, only to hear him respond that he found that to be not only endearing, but absolutely sexy in his eyes.

She closed her eyes and thought of him, the man she would be sleeping next to once again tonight; but whom she would not rouse from his sleep for any reason, let alone a desire for some action. He was as attractive to her as she was to him; at six feet tall, several inches taller than she, his shoulders broad above his athletic torso, and his collar length blonde hair were always a pleasing sight along with his rugged face and piercing blue eyes.

She slipped quietly back into the bedroom, and slowly, carefully, pulled back the covers on her side of the bed, wondering how a future that had seemed so promising and bright could have gone so wrong. But she knew that, for both of their sakes, she would have to make some kind of a decision soon; for it was she who was unhappy with the marriage, while Jamie was simply disappointed that her unhappiness with their new surroundings had seemed to emotionally remove from him the only woman he had ever loved.

As she closed her eyes and tried to go to sleep, she felt a tension building. The next day would be a Friday, and for some reason she had agreed to go with Jamie to visit his beloved uncle for a few days at the family homestead north of Memphis, a little farm just a few miles from the Mississippi River.

The farm was where Jamie’s father had grown up before enlisting in the Navy right out of high school, and then settling in Chicago to work in a meatpacking plant for the rest of his life. Jamie had actually never been there, and had only met his paternal grandparents twice. In contrast, his father’s brother Mason, a Chicago Cubs fan, had come to the Windy City on several occasions, the group of them going to see baseball games at Wrigley field.

Each time his uncle came to visit, he would talk about how he and his wife Helen, Jamie’s physically fragile aunt, were making changes to the stately old home. And during each such time together, Jamie would promise to come there some time for a visit.

 His uncle, who still lived at the family farm, was now retired from his job with the railroad. Jamie’s father was his only sibling, and since he had died several months before the move to Little Rock, Mason, the uncle, was the last of the Hamiltons to have inhabited the farmhouse that had been built and owned originally by a Confederate officer. The size of the farm had been greatly reduced over time, with much of the surrounding farmland having been sold to neighbors. What was left was a humble but quite pleasant little estate.

Now Jamie’s uncle was contemplating selling the large home and the surrounding ten acres of farmland to a housing developer. But the home was full of furniture, nearly all of it many decades old. So Jamie had received a call from his uncle, inviting him, and the young wife that Mason had never met, to come to spend a weekend with him, so that Jamie could evaluate the household items and renew their relationship.

Jamie and Jerry, his cousin from his mother’s side of the family, decided that it might be profitable for their business if he would spend several days in the area, as his uncle emphasized that he knew many other people who lived nearby who might also be interested in doing some business with their firm.

Elizabeth and Jamie would be leaving the next day at noon, as it would take several hours of driving to reach the family farm. And Elizabeth felt quite ill at ease at the prospect of the trip. She was going along with Jamie only because there was no logical reason to not go with him, and no reason to embarrass Jamie by insulting his favorite relative.

To Elizabeth, his uncle Mason was just a person in an old photograph of Jamie and his father in the picture of them wearing Cubs hats and standing outside the gate to Wrigley Field. His family had not been one to take a lot of photographs, so his heritage was not a matter of great detail to her. The family was small, with a tendency to maintain its privacy.

When they had gotten married, Mason had been unable to attend due to an injury in his last year of railroad work. However, he had spoken to her on the phone, and sent some very warm letters to them, expressing his desire to have them visit. Now the trip was about to happen; and Elizabeth attempted to resign herself to what would be yet another awkward and uncomfortable situation with Jamie. She knew that sleep would not come easily that night as she wrestled with her anxiety.

As expected, she had been in bed for more than thirty minutes, but still could not fall asleep. She turned onto her side, and then argued with herself as to whether she should get up out of bed and begin reading the next book she had selected, or perhaps have a small glass of wine to facilitate her slumber. But after tossing and turning for several more minutes, her fatigue, fueled by anxiety and tension, finally brought slumber.

To her frustration, Elizabeth woke frequently during the night, her exasperation mounting each time her eyes fluttered open to see the red digital numerals glowing on the clock on the nightstand. Each time that would happen, she would angrily turn over onto her other side, only to wake later, once again to find herself facing the glaring red numbers.

It was another night of odd dreams, much as had been the case since she had been prescribed the medication by her psychiatrist. In one she saw herself sitting at a desk on a boat dock working at a computer in her business attire, next to a lunch wagon which was selling barbecue. Later, she was at one of Jamie’s auctions, jogging through the crowd of bidders in just her bra and panties. Then she was in Chicago, sitting in a café with an old friend, but everyone around them seemed to be speaking loudly and with pronounced southern accents.

It was nearly 5:00 AM when she woke yet again, her mind racing: Chicago… the old photo taken outside Wrigley Field… the business card from the attorney… the impending trip to the Hamilton homestead.

With a grunt of frustration, Elizabeth held her pillow over her face to block out the light that was beginning to creep in around the window shades, and squeezed her eyes shut once again. She had found during her childhood that it was a trick that was often effective in helping her go back to sleep.

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