Excerpt for The Cauldwell Incident by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Cauldwell Incident

Danielle and Friends

Book Five

Written by: Nick J. Mercorella

Creative Consultant: Deb Rhodes

Cover by: Gabrielle Mercorella

Author Photo Credit: Eileen Escarda

Editor: Bridget Hutchinson

ISBN: 978-1370147939


Copyright: 2016 – Nick J. Mercorella

All Rights Reserved


I have to start with my two Favorite fans. My sister Vicky and my daughter Kathleen. They both have read every word I have ever written and have given me sound advice.

Next, Deb Rhodes, my beta reader, and Bridget Hutchinson, my editor. My stories wouldn’t be the same without their input and critique.

And most of all, you who have taken the time to read my work. An author’s only wish is that someone reads and enjoys the product he produces.

My Texas Annie

I still miss you every day

Table of Contents








































Chapter 1 – The Dream Ended

The first thought I had when I looked out the window was to play hooky from work. It was a bright, sunny morning and I toyed with the idea of Sara and me driving to Daytona and spending the day at the beach. Being a part owner of the company and the sister of the CEO had its perks. I didn’t have to punch a time clock. I really didn’t have to work at all. The quarterly dividends I received from my stock in the company was more than enough to keep me in a very healthy lifestyle, but the thought of being a lay-about never appealed to me.

I had just gotten out of the shower when the doorbell rang. At eight o’clock on a Tuesday morning, it had to be Sara. I took the time to put on a pair of panties and a bra, threw my old, worn terry cloth robe over that, and headed for the door. It wasn't Sara at the door, it was two uniformed men, with a message.

I shouted at them, "Go away! Get away from me! I don't want you here!"

I slammed and double locked the door, turned my back and leaned against it to keep them out. They rang the bell three or four more times. I ignored it, I didn't want to talk to them. I wanted to go back to bed, back to sleep. When I woke up, this would all be a bad dream. They finally gave up. The doorbell stopped ringing.

When the doorbell started ringing again, I found myself sitting at the kitchen table, staring at my left hand. I had no idea how I got there. After a couple of tries, whoever it was gave up. A minute later, there was a knock at the back door. I ignored that also. A key slipped into the kitchen door lock. I knew it was Sara this time. She was one of the few people who had the combination to the spare key lock box Scott had installed for me. I didn't look at her, but I felt her walk behind me, put her hands on my shoulders and squeeze.

"Chester called.”

Why would Chester call? What does he have to do with this dream?

There was only one reason. It wasn't a dream, it was a nightmare and I wasn't dreaming it, I was living it!

I started to shiver. Suddenly I was very cold. Sara helped me up and brought me back into my bedroom. She had to pull the bed covers down. It was my habit to make-up the bed before I took my shower unless Scott was home. Then, I’d let him sleep late while I showered first, and I’d make up the bed while he showered. Except, sometimes he’d pull me back into bed for a second helping of what transpired the night before. Sara helped me into bed and placed the covers over me.

“Try to rest. We’ll talk later.”

She moved over to the corner of the room and sat in the club chair. It was quiet, and I couldn't deny it any longer. The tears finally came. Silent tears. There was no need for screaming or sobbing. That wouldn’t change anything. I grabbed Scott's pillow and cuddled it in my arms. It took a while, but finally, my tears put me to sleep. A dreamless sleep. An escape.

When I opened my eyes, a man was sitting in the chair Sara had occupied earlier. For a brief second, I thought it was Scott. I couldn't focus. The man got up and started moving toward me. I used the corner of the bedsheet to dry my eyes. Scott's pillow was wet. Apparently, the tears hadn't stopped when I fell asleep.

Tim came over to the bed, leaned over and gently kissed me on the forehead.

I struggled to sit up. Tim helped me out of bed. When I was able to stand, he wrapped his arms around

me in a tight embrace.

“I love you, Adeline.”

What else could he say? What could anyone say?

I gave Tim a weak impression of a smile. I knew he did. Tim and I were only a little over a year apart. We were always close, closer than normal siblings. We were buddies, probably my best buddy, and my only other confidant besides Sara. My older brother Grant was four years my senior and although close, not nearly as close as Tim and I. Grant and I had drifted apart a bit when Scott came along. I knew the reason, and I couldn't hold it against him.

After I made a trip to the bathroom, Tim led me into the kitchen. Grant, his wife Darlene, and Sara were sitting at the table. I sat next to Sara. There was a long silence. Everyone was looking at my hands. I must have grabbed Scott's pillow when Tim lead me out of the bedroom. It was clutched tightly in my arms. I sniffed at it.

I always changed the bedsheets just before Scott got home, and I kept the same sheets on the bed for weeks after he left. His odor lingered. But, I knew it was just my imagination. I must have washed this set of bedclothes at least three times since Scott was home last. Wishful thinking. Grant finally broke the silence.

“I’ve talked to the Navy. Scott will be flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and after a few days, he’ll fly home to Orlando by commercial airline.”

I managed to nod. Grant waited before he said anything else. I had to get it together. I had prepared myself for this possibility. But could anyone ever really be ready for something this life altering?

“It will take some time, Addi. Five days to two weeks. They’ll notify us when the arrangements have been completed.”

I nodded again. Grant paused, not sure how far to go right now.

“I’ve called Mason’s. Mr. Mason said he would be ready whenever Scott got here. He knows the procedure. He’ll take care of everything.”

This time, I offered Grant a weak, “Thank you.”

The thank you wasn’t necessary. Since Mommy and Daddy were gone, Grant was the head of the family, a responsibility he took very seriously. Even more seriously than he did the responsibility of running the company Daddy had left to the three of us.

I could feel the emotion pouring out of everyone. Love for me and sorrow for what I was facing. For the first time in my life, I saw my brother Grant at a loss. Just like Daddy, Grant always had the answer. He always knew what to do in any situation. He ran the company just like Daddy had and he kept the three of us together as a family after both of our parents were gone. But, today, sitting here in my kitchen my big brother didn’t know what to do or say.

Family! That’s just what I needed right now.

Suddenly, it hit me.

“Grant, did they notify Scott’s family?”

“I’m not sure Addi, they didn’t have too much information.”

“Addi, you’re listed as next of kin,” Sara offered. “They probably only notified you.”

“I have to tell them. I have to let them know.”

“I’ll take care of it, Addi. I’ll call them.”

“No, Grant. This is my responsibility, and I can’t do it over the phone.”

Everyone was watching me while I struggled to get my head together. I had responsibilities.

“You’re right. Addi. I’ll make arrangements.”

A few phone calls later, Grant gave me the results.

“I could only get three reservations for today. You, Sara and I will take them. Darlene and Tim can fly out tomorrow. We'll fly into Detroit and drive down. It will be quicker.”

I didn’t expect everyone to go to Ohio with me, but it was what families do. I knew I’d need the support when I faced Scott’s family. I was grateful for Grant’s thoughtfulness, but it wasn’t anything unusual.

Sara, Grant and I flew to Detroit that afternoon. We arrived in Toledo around dinner time. It went just as I had imagined it would. Scott’s parents and June, the older of Scott’s two sisters took the news calmly. It wasn’t as if it was a shock. We all knew it could happen. April was a different matter. She was even more devastated than I was if that were possible.

They too were family. Scott had often commented that we were both lucky to have loving, close relatives to rely on. From the first day I met Scott’s family, they had made me feel a part of them. I was as close to them as I was to my own brothers. That closeness helped me make a decision.

“Grant, you have to call the Navy and tell them to bring Scott here.”

“Addi, take some time before you make a decision like that. At least sleep on it.”

“No, Grant! Since Scott and I met, he has spent less than one hundred days in Orlando. Even when he was home on leave, we spent most of our time here in Ohio. Orlando is my home, but, this was Scott’s home, and I want him to rest here.”

Everyone knew I was right, and fourteen days later, when the very formal military funeral was finally over, Scott was at rest. I sent Grant, Darlene, and Tim home. I wanted to spend some time with my other family. Sara stayed with me. As close as I was to Grant and Tim, I needed this time here, where Scott grew up, where he proposed, where we spent our happiest times together. Getting used to this would not be easy, and I hoped sharing my grief with Scott’s family would help.

We all knew this could happen. Sara, who was married to Scott’s best friend, was aware of the possibility that either Scott or Chester or both, would not survive the perilous missions they were assigned. But, knowing it was possible and facing the fact that it had happened was not the same. I had to deal with the fact that the man I loved, the man I had dedicated my life to, the man to who I had vowed never to love another, was gone, and I was alone. Before I left for home, each member of the Devoe family spent some alone time with me. From each of them, I got the same message.

“Scott loved you totally, Addi. He would not want you to spend your life mourning him. It won’t be easy, but you have to go on. You have to find a life without him.”

I knew they meant well, but a life without Scott in it would be empty. Even though his deployments limited our time together, that time was incredible. And the other times, the times when he was away, were filled with anxiety and fear, but also with anticipation of how it would be when he returned.

The other message I got from each member of Scott’s family was comforting.

“Addi, you are one of us. You will always be a member of this family. Please don’t abandon us!”

That would never happen. These people had become as close to me as my own family, and I could never bear the thought of them not in my life.

When Sara and I got home to Orlando, I tried to find some order in my life. I returned to work, and instead of taking advantage of my position and taking extra time off, I threw myself into the work. I worked full time and even stayed late many nights. It kept my mind occupied and lessened the time I had to dwell on my loss. Grant managed to find enough work to keep me busy.

When Sara's husband came home on leave, I tried to stay away from them as much as possible. They needed what little time they had to be alone, together. But, Sara and Chester wouldn’t hear of it. They insisted on including me in almost everything they did. I even went with them on their annual trip to Chester’s hometown, Cauldwell, Georgia.

Everyone tried to keep me busy. Keep me from thinking about what I had lost. But there were only so many hours they could fill. That left too much time for me to think about my situation. The only man I had ever truly loved was gone. The concern I felt from Sara and my families didn’t help much. I felt completely alone.

A year after I lost Scott, Chester decided it was a good time for Sara to move to Georgia. They had been planning this since they married, but Sara wanted to stay with me when Chester and Scott were on deployment. That worked out great until Chester was promoted to Chief Petty Officer and transferred from Scott's team. After the transfer, they were never deployed at the same time.

Chester suggested I make the move with Sara. I had mixed feelings about leaving Orlando. I didn't want to leave Grant and Tim, and I loved my two young nephews. But the thought of being without Sara was just as traumatic. She was my closest ally ever since we met, and she was responsible for my meeting Scott.

Sara and I had been assigned as dorm mates our first semester in college. We clicked immediately. Sara was an only child, and since we both had lost our parents, we became as close as sisters. Even Grant and Tim began to think of Sara as another member of our small family. We both were popular with the boys. Sara a five foot six, blue-eyed blond, and me a half inch taller with auburn hair and hazel eyes, we never had a problem getting dates. We were always invited to whatever party was happening, and we very seldom turned an invitation down.

When we graduated college, Grant gave both of us jobs in the Accounting Department. They weren't make work jobs, the assignments we worked on were important, but they weren't time sensitive, and we only worked part-time. It was never a problem if we took a day off to go to the beach or came in late because we had partied the night before.

Grant included us on the invitations the company received for Charity Balls and Corporate Banquets. These parties were usually fun, and Grant made sure we had proper escorts. We were representing the company, and Grant wasn't always pleased with the men Sara, and I dated. These men were usually junior executives of the company. Grant would also invite a few of these men to join us when Sara and I went to his house for dinner or to one of his pool parties.

We didn't mind. The men were usually good looking, young, and polite, and it was nice to have a conversation with someone other than my brothers, who I talked to every day. Occasionally, one of them would ask us out to dinner, and sometimes we accepted. But they never pushed. These men were always respectful. I guess you don't fool around with the boss's sisters.

This practice continued even after Sara and I married. Both Chester and Scott were deployed for months at a time, and it helped us fill up some of our free time. None of these men ever made a pass. Sara and I decided Grant had somehow put an 'Off Limits' sign on our backs. Of course, all that stopped after I buried Scott. I was not in a party mood. Not even polite conversation with a decent man. I had become a recluse.

Six months after I lost Scott, Grant decided it was time for me to get out of my funk and rejoin the real world. Sara was on his side, and soon, whenever Sara and I went to Grant's house for dinner, there were two of the company's young executives there as table mates. It did help. I had buried myself in my sorrow, and I was taking my friend and my family down with me. I eventually became comfortable with the situation and even attended one of the Charity Balls. Life was starting to return to normal. At least as normal as life could be without the man I loved. It was easier because I knew none of these men would push past casual conversation. I eventually loosened up and began to accept the occasional company of a decent man. I even danced at the Charity Balls. But it wasn’t as it had been before I met Scott.

That is until Jamie. He had been at one of Grant's pool parties, and he made it his business to spend a good deal of the evening with me. I didn't mind, he seemed nice. When Grant told me about an upcoming Corporate Banquet, he informed me he had asked Jamie to be my escort. Again, I didn't mind. Jamie seemed pleasant enough at Grant's party. When he dropped me off after the party, Jamie asked to have dinner with me. I agreed but insisted it would be a double date with Sara. Jamie said he would arrange for a suitable dinner mate for her. Dinner and the conversation were pleasant, but this time when he dropped me off, he told me he was interested in more than a causal relationship.

"Addi, I know about your late husband. I understand you may not want to get involved this soon, but I really like you, and I'd like to see you more often."

"I appreciate that Jamie, but I'm not ready."

Jamie seemed to accept my rebuke, and I allowed a light embrace and a peck on the cheek when he left. But, he did not accept my turndown. He made time to visit me at my cubicle at work. He found excuses to run into me away from the office. He kept repeating his interest in me and assured me he would not push for too much until I was ready.

Sara suggested I ask Grant to talk to Jamie.

"Tell Grant to make him back off."

"I don't want to get Grant involved, Sara. Jamie is an employee. I can handle this."

And, I did, but it was becoming uncomfortable. Jamie is one of the reasons I was considering Chester's proposal to move to Cauldwell with Sara.

The other reason I considered making a move was Tim. When Daddy died, Grant, Tim and I, being the only stockholders in the company, installed Grant as the CEO. Some of the older men, those who had been with Daddy when he started the business, believed one of them should have been put in charge. Grant was doing a great job, running the company, maybe even better than Daddy had done, but there was resentment.

When Tim graduated college, we made him the Chief Financial Officer. This caused even more resentment. Tim felt it almost every day, and he was unhappy. He offered to step down, but Grant wouldn't allow it.

"This is our company, our family’s company. We will run it just as our father had. No one is going to dictate to us how we do it."

Of course, Grant was right, but that didn't help Tim.

During dinner one night at Sara’s house, Chester continued to talk about Sara moving to Cauldwell, and me going with her. Tim surprised the three of us with a question.

"Do you think I can find a decent job there?"

Chester was sure he could.

"Cauldwell is a small town, and although there are plenty of people to work in the factory, good executive material is scarce. Mary Ann Cauldwell is always looking for talent."

"Why the question, Tim?"

"Addi, I'm not happy at the office, and I don't want to upset Grant. If I quit and got a job here in Orlando with another company, he would be insulted. But if I told him I wanted to go to Cauldwell to keep an eye on you, he might accept it."

Tim's answer just added to my indecision. I would be leaving a major city, with a population of over a quarter of a million and moving to a small town of little more than a thousand. I had visited Cauldwell with Chester and Sara, and it did seem like a nice place to live. I had to admit I liked it there. Chester had given us the lowdown on Cauldwell during our first trip there.

"Cauldwell is a one employer town. Cauldwell Industries employs ninety percent of the residents. The other ten percent run the shops and business that keep a small town running. When I graduated high school, the factory had fallen on hard times. I thought the Navy was a better deal than a failing town. But, the factory has recovered, and today the town is vibrant and alive. Full of good friendly people. A great place to live and raise a family."

Of course, Grant was against the move. It was only a five-hour drive from Orlando, less when Tim was driving, but that was much too far for Grant. His final argument did not help his cause.

"What about Jamie?"

"What do you mean, what about Jamie?

"Aren't you and he in some kind of relationship?"

"Whatever gave you that idea?"

"You're all he ever talks about. He spends a good deal of his day at your workspace. Are you telling me nothing is going on between you two?"

"Nothing going on as far as I'm concerned. I don't know what Jamie has in mind, and I don't care. I had dinner with him alone once, and I made my attitude perfectly clear."

"Addi, it's time to put Scott behind you and move on with your life."

"Maybe it is time, Grant, but that's my decision, and Jamie is not the man to help me do that."

"That's fine, Addi, but since you refuse to accept any other man's offer of a date, how will you ever find that man?"

Grant was right. There were a number of men at the office who had asked me out. I just wasn't ready. Maybe I'd never be ready. There was still too much Scott Devoe in my heart.

Sara made one final pitch.

“Addi, you’ve fallen into bad habits. You’re just existing, day to day. You have nothing to look forward to, and you’re just going through the motions of life without any real purpose. A change of scene might be good for you.”

Maybe she was right. A change of scene might help. I also had the other reason to leave Orlando. Chester assurance to Tim that Cauldwell Industries was always looking for good executives helped me make up my mind.

I would move to Cauldwell with Tim and Sara and start a new life. But, I knew in my heart, there would be no new life for me. Life as I knew it, as I wanted it, ended at eight-ten on a beautiful, bright Tuesday morning, and my life would never be the same.

Chapter 2 – Cauldwell, Georgia

Sara moved into Chester’s family home, and Tim and I bought a comfortable, two-bedroom house on the edge of town, not too far from her. I took most of my furniture with me, but I left the piano behind. That memory was just too painful.

We settled in and started to look for jobs. Chester had assured us that Cauldwell Industries would be able to employ the three of us in suitable positions. It didn’t happen as planned.

Tim and I both made enough from the company’s quarterly dividends, we didn’t have to work, so we took our time getting settled. Sara was doing okay. She had an inheritance from her parents and Chester's Navy allotment. The three of us weren’t in a hurry to find work. We spent the time getting to know Cauldwell and its people. Before we were fully settled, two things happened.

Mr. Baldwin, the Cauldwell Bank Manager, offered Tim a job at the bank. Tim would be Account Manager. It wasn’t a high paying job, not what he would have received for the same position in a mainstream bank in a big city, but it was what he was trained to do, and he happily accepted the position.

Then, Danielle Palmer, the lady whose husband had brought Cauldwell back to life, came to town for a visit. It seems she made this trip often. I learned Danielle loved Cauldwell. It was where she was born and grew up. Charlotte Anders invited Sara and me to have lunch with her and Danielle. Charlotte was an older woman who lived about halfway between Sara’s house and mine. The three of us became very friendly. Charlotte ran the Palmer Foundation. The foundation was responsible for maintaining and operating the Bandwagon, a rec center, on the edge of town, and also taking care of the scholarships, the foundation gave to deserving Cauldwell High School grads. She had been a friend of Danielle's parents and remained close to Danielle.

Since Caudwell Industries had been revitalized, two new restaurants had opened in the center of town. Alfonso’s, upscale Italian and Frenchie's, classic French Cuisine. But, Danielle preferred the homey charm of Carl’s Place, especially for lunch.

Carl’s severed breakfast, lunch, and dinner and later in the evening, it became a dance hall. Country music was the standard fare, but, ever since the Bandwagon opened, Anna Lee, Danielle's niece, and a lifetime resident of Cauldwell taught ballroom dancing to the high school seniors in preparation for their prom. She also held night classes for any interested resident. So, on any given night you might see couples at Carl's, occasionally doing more refined dances.

During lunch, Charlotte announced she was retiring and moving to Texas to be closer to her son. Her position at the Palmer Foundation was available. Thanks to Charlotte's recommendation, Danielle offered it to Sara and me. It would only be part-time, but that was okay with both of us. We accepted immediately, and just like that Tim, Sara and I had settled into Cauldwell. This would be my new life. I hadn't the faintest idea of what the future would be, and I didn't much care. I was still living in the past. A past I could never have again.

Cauldwell was a pleasant place to live, and I hoped the right place to get my life back in order. Everyone knew everyone else, and everyone was friendly and helpful. Tim was happy at the bank and Sara, and I were doing well with the Foundation. The three of us settled into life in a small southern town. New arrivals to town are always welcomed warmly, and when two rather attractive women moved in, it caused a stir. Since the town was so open and friendly, everyone knew Sara was Chester’s wife. And since I continued to wear my wedding band, and Scott and I had visited Cauldwell with Chester and Sara, everyone knew I was also married to a military man who was away on deployment. The single men of Cauldwell kept their distance. That was alright with both of us.

Tim was a good-looking guy and had no problem attracting the local single girls. After playing the field for a while, Tim settled on a very pretty, very popular girl. Allison was sought after by most of the single men in Cauldwell. She was outgoing and friendly to all the guys, but she seemed to be drawn mainly to my brother Tim and the Mayor’s son Ron. She was undecided, but I thought Tim had the edge.

It took months before word got out that I was a widow. Surprising, because word travels at lightning speed in a small town. Suddenly, I was getting attention from almost every single man in Cauldwell. I wasn’t interested, but both Tim and Sara insisted that I had to, at least, get out and start living again.

“Addi, you don’t have to marry any of them. You don’t even have to have a relationship with them. Just have dinner, go on a picnic, dance with them. You can’t spend the rest of your life alone, without male company.”

I finally gave in and started spending time with the single men of Cauldwell. At first, I insisted on a double date with Sara. We stuck to a strict set of rules. If it were dinner, we would meet them at the restaurant and return home alone. Cauldwell was a very safe place and a woman alone traveling at night had little to fear. If it were a picnic, we would meet them at the picnic grounds, about six miles out of town. They were not to be considered dates. Knowing Sara was married to Chester, meant no man would make a pass at her.

Eventually, I went out without my best friend. I’d stop at Carl’s some nights and dance with some of the men there, and when we had a party at the Bandwagon, I would sit with some of the single men and dance with them. I was in love with my Scott, and I had promised him that I would never love another, and I intended to keep that pledge. Tim tried to talk me out of my attitude.

“Addi, it’s been almost two years. That promise was made to a living man. I’m sure Scott expected you to keep it while he was alive. But, I know he would never want you to carry it on after he was gone. That’s not the Scott I knew.”

“Tim, Scott is still part of me, and I'll never forget him. How can I have a relationship with another man if Scott will always be there in my heart?”

Once the men realized that there was no chance for an ongoing relationship with me, the attention waned. Most of them stayed friendly and would occasionally ask me to have dinner with them, and they all continued to dance with me, but one by one, they stopped asking for a date. That is, except for three men.

John Tyler, the local real estate agent, never stopped trying. John had made a lot of money when the town turned around, and he was the town’s most eligible bachelor.

Harry Goodwin, the County Prosecutor, also didn’t give up. Harry lived in Cauldwell but spent some of his time in the other small towns in Miller County. He was the best looking of the three.

Dale Murray was the most persistent. Dale owned most of the fast food franchises in the county. Dale was also considered by many to be the town gossip. He had to know everything about everybody, and never hesitated to spread it around.

I got to know these three men very well, but I kept to my rules. No official dates. Casual dinners, picnics, and dancing were as far as I was willing to go. They were not happy, but all three seemed to accept it.

I was not happy either, but I was content with my life. I had friends. Everyone in Cauldwell was your friend. I had Sara and Tim. The work for the foundation turned out to be more fun than work. Even the quarterly visits by the foundation's accountant were fun.

Troy Manners would fly up from Fort Lauderdale every three months to do the Quarterly Non-Profit Tax Reports. He would also notify Danielle and Mary Ann Cauldwell if we expected a shortfall in donations for the next quarter and a week later, we would receive a check. It was easy running an organization with a guaranteed income.

Troy was a man in his sixties. He was friendly and funny. He would fly in on one of NAS Aviation's planes, early in the morning. Sara and I would meet him at Carl’s for breakfast, spend the day with him at the Bandwagon going over the books and then have dinner with him at Alfonso’s or Frenchie's. He would fly back to Florida that night. It was a routine that I looked forward to. Troy could always make us laugh.

Even though the job with the foundation was only part-time, I kept busy. There were the monthly parties to plan. Weddings and such to book and arrange for. We opened the Bandwagon after school and on weekends to give the kids of Cauldwell a safe place to hang out. The high school band used the rec center for practice sessions, and we often used them to play at our parties. We also used one of our monthly parties to run a local talent show, and Danielle's niece, Anna Lee used the Bandwagon for her dance classes. It was work, but it was fun work. It also gave me a lot of free time.

Naturally, when Chester was home on leave or could get away from his stateside base, at Little Falls, he and Sara tried to include me in everything they did. I also traveled to Orlando occasionally to see Grant, Darlene, and my nephews. I made the trip to Ohio to visit Scott’s family at least twice a year, and of course, I had company sometimes. Grant and Darlene would visit, and Scott’s parents and sisters would sometime come for a holiday weekend. We often spent the holidays together.

Life was moving along. I was lonely at times. There were so many things that reminded me of Scott. I stopped having dinner with one man because he wore the same aftershave Scott used to wear.

Silly, I know, but that’s how it was.

Sara and I were together almost every day when Chester wasn’t home. At first, we never talked about Scott. But as time passed, she tried to get me to open up about him.

“Addi, he was a major part of your life. I know you think about him, why won’t you talk about him?”

Eventually, I did, but only to Sara. Being married to a Seal and facing the possibility that the same thing could happen to her made us even closer. I did talk about Scott and why I refused to date any of the men here in Cauldwell.

"I'm still having a difficult time believing Scott won't come home to me. I know it's stupid, I buried him, but he's still with me."

"I can't begin to understand, Addi, but sooner or later you'll have to let him go."

"I know, but it's not easy. If I did, where will I find someone to replace him. Surely, not here in Cauldwell."

"There are some good men here."

"Maybe, if I had never met Scott. But no one I've met can live up to him."

There was another reason I didn't want to get involved with another man. It was stupid. I knew it was stupid, but it nagged at me. I felt so silly, I never told anyone about it, not even Sara.

"You could spend more time in Orlando with Grant and Darlene. There's a greater variety of men there."

“I know, Sara, but I can’t get Scott out of my heart or my mind. What can I offer another man if I’m always thinking about Scott when I’m with someone else? Every man wants a woman to be faithful to him. How can they deal with a competitor who’s a ghost? Maybe, if I'm ever ready, but it's not time. And every time I visit Grant, Jamie shows up. He won't take no for an answer."

"Talk to Grant about it. I'm sure he'll stop Jamie from bothering you."

"I don't want to create a problem between Grant and one of his employees. Plus, Grant thinks Jamie would be good for me. I'm not in Orlando often enough for it to be a problem."

“Maybe you should tell Grant you have a boyfriend here in town. Maybe that will get him to back Jamie off.”

“Sara, Grant has visited here enough times to know most of the single men. He’d know I was lying. I’d have to ask one of them to back up my story, and then I’d be indebted to them. That’s not an option.”

Nothing was ever settled. I was convinced that I had my one chance at true happiness, and now that it was gone I was destined to spend the rest of my life alone.

A little over two years after I moved to Cauldwell, about three years after I lost Scott, two seemingly unrelated things happened that would change my life. The first was devastating. The second would force me to reevaluate my very existence. Both had huge impacts on my life, and I would never be the same. At the time, I didn’t know how much the two incidents were related. It was almost a year before I found out the truth, and that truth turned out to be a revelation that again would change the course of my life.

The first happened on a Friday evening. Tim had left the house early. He had a date with Allison. I was alone, waiting for Sara. We were going to have supper together and then go to Carl’s for dancing.

The front door burst open, and Tim came storming in.

“What happened to your date?”

“Forget it and forget her. I don’t need this.”

Tim hardly had time to get the words out between the trip from the front door to his room. He slammed the bedroom door, and I knew I’d have to wait for him to calm down before I found out what was going on. It wasn’t the first squabble between Tim and Allison. They usually didn’t last long. I was sure Allison liked Tim as much as he liked her, but she kept Ron on the hook. I figured it was so Tim didn’t take their relationship too casually.

About ninety minutes after Tim locked himself in his room, there was a knock at the front door. It was Sheriff Travis.

“Ms. Adeline, is Tim at home?”

“Yes, he is, Sheriff, come in, and I’ll get him.”

“If you don’t mind, Ma’am, I’d rather talk to him out here on the porch.”

Leaving the Sheriff in the doorway, I went to get Tim. When I informed him that the Sheriff wanted to talk to him, he got even more upset than he was when he first got home.

“I don’t believe that punk called the Sheriff.”

When Tim stepped out onto the porch, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Timothy Brady, you are under arrest for assault.”

The Sheriff read Tim his rights and put handcuffs on him. Tim was yelling at this point.

“If I knew that bastard was going to call you, I would have really done a job on him.”

I tried to talk to the Sheriff, but he didn’t have much to say.

“Ms. Adeline, you better find a good lawyer. Tim’s going to need one.”

As the Sheriff led Tim away, I called Grant. I tried to explain what just happened, but I had no idea what was going on.

“We’re leaving now. We should be there by midnight.”

Before I had finished my call with Grant, Sara arrived, and the two of us drove to the Sheriff’s office. We had to wait while Tim was being questioned. When the Sheriff was done talking to Tim, he came out to speak to us.

“Your brother and Ron Marsh got into a scrap earlier over Allison. Tim beat Ron up pretty bad. He’s in the hospital.”

“That can’t be right, Sheriff. Tim’s not a violent man. He’d never beat up anyone, much less over a girl.”

“There are witnesses, Ms. Adeline. All tell the same story. Tim saw Ron kissing Allison and went crazy. He’s going to need a lawyer. I’ll let you talk to Tim for a few minutes. Tell him to keep his mouth shut until he has a lawyer present.”

I did get to see Tim for a few minutes. I told him what the Sheriff said about not saying anything, but Tim protested that he was innocent. We didn’t have enough time together to get the whole story. They took Tim away. He would spend the night in jail.

As soon as I got home, I called Grant. He and Darlene were in their car, on the way to Cauldwell. I told him what little I knew.

“Do you know a good lawyer in town?”

“I know a couple of lawyers, but I don’t know which one to call for this.”

“What about your friend, the prosecutor? He should be able to tell you who to call.”

My next call was to Harry Goodman. He didn’t seem to know anything about what happened.

“Addi, call Manny Madden. He’s the best man in town for criminal work. I’ll get down to the Sheriff’s office and find out what’s going on.”

I made the call and had nothing else to do until Grant got here. About an hour later, Harry called.

“Addi, I talked to the Sheriff and Tim. Your brother denies the charges, but the Sheriff has witnesses, including Allison. This isn’t too serious.”

“How serious?”

“Tim will be arraigned tomorrow morning in front of Judge Klein on a charge of simple assault. Manny will ask for ROR, but I have to demand bail. It's procedure, Addi. I have to do this. Bring five thousand dollars cash to the courtroom at ten tomorrow morning. The judge will set a trial date, and Tim should be out by eleven. If this sticks, Klein will probably give Tim thirty days suspended sentence and six months' probation.”

Sara and I settled in to wait for Grant and Darlene. I thought about calling Allison, but Sara suggested that I let Mr. Madden deal with everything. When Grant and Darlene finally got in, I told them what little I knew. No one slept well that night.

The next day, Tim was arraigned on a single count of assault. Judge Klein was a nice older man and had lived in Cauldwell all his life. He liked Tim and released him in my custody, without bail. Harry argued, but not very hard. A court date was set. Grant and I took Tim home, and we finally got the story.

“I had a date with Allison last night. I was to pick her up at Carl’s when she finished her shift. We were going to a movie and then dinner. When I got to Carl’s, she wasn’t there. Bubba said she was out back with Ron. He said Ron was going to use Allison to break in his new car. I didn’t take him seriously until Cletus whispered that Ron had slipped something into Allison’s coke before they went outside. The other guys all laughed.”

“Slipped what into her coke?”

“After what Bubba and Cletus said, and the way the other guys were acting, I thought it was one of those date rape drugs.”

“Ron wouldn’t do that!”

“That’s what I thought, but I had to be sure. I went out back to check. Allison was sitting in the front seat, mostly hidden by Ron, who was standing outside the car and leaning over her. I didn’t know what to think. I walked over to the car and saw that Ron was kissing her. She seemed to be trying to resist, so I pulled Ron away from her and punched him.”

“That why you were arrested, for punching Ron?”

“According to the Sheriff, I did more than that. They say I beat him with a club of some kind. You know I’d never do anything like that, Addi.”

“Yes, Tim, I know you’d never do anything like that, but why do they think you did?”

“The Sheriff said he had witnesses, including Allison, who told them I beat Ron until he couldn’t move.”

“Why would she say that and who are the witnesses?” Grant asked.

“I don’t know. Mr. Madden said he’d get all the information from Mr. Goodman and the Sheriff and then come over here.”

We sat around until Mr. Madden arrived. He said that simple assault was not a big deal, and Tim shouldn’t have to serve any time. Later that same day, Harry called.

“Addi, the State Attorney General’s office called. Since I live here in Cauldwell, and I know you and Tim personally, they feel that I shouldn’t prosecute. They’re sending someone from their office to handle the case.”

“What does that mean?”

“It shouldn’t matter. It’s a simple assault case. It should be fast and clean. Don’t worry.”

But, it did matter. The State Attorney, Mitchell Carson, decided the case should be upgraded to Aggravated Assault, a felony. That meant real jail time for Tim if he was convicted. Harry was no help.

“Even though it’s not my case, I still have to assist the state prosecutor. It wouldn’t be right for us to talk until this is all over. I’ll do what I can to mitigate the charges.”

Once the charges were upgraded, the prosecutor demanded higher bail, fifty thousand dollars. It took a day for Grant and me to get the money together and transferred to the Cauldwell Bank. Tim had to spend that time in the town’s jail.

The trial was quick. Allison and five men all testified that Tim had indeed beaten Ron. Because they said he hit Ron with a broom handle, the prosecutor classified that as Assault with a Weapon and that made it worse. Tim didn’t have a chance. Mr. Madden questioned each witness on the stand, but he couldn’t get any of them to change their story. He never had Tim testify in his own defense.

Allison’s testimony was especially harmful because it indicated motive. Mr. Carson’s closing argument was a killer.

“Mr. Brady was so enraged at seeing his girlfriend kissing another man, that he lost control and beat the other man senseless.”

Judge Klein, knew Tim and didn’t want to believe the charges. He went out of his way and allowed Mr. Madden to push his questions to the witnesses further than he should have, all over the objections from the prosecutor. The jury, all people of Cauldwell and all friends of ours, had no choice. Tim was found guilty.

Before sentencing, there was a line of people testifying as to Tim’s character and good nature. Everyone in town liked my brother, and all found it difficult to believe what had happened. Mr. Baldwin, Tim’s boss at the bank, was very forceful in his defense of Tim.

“I have so much faith in the good nature of this man that I promise him and the court that his position at the bank will be waiting for him when he is released from prison.”

Judge Klein did the best he could. The charge required a sentence of not less than five nor more than ten years in the State Penitentiary. The judge sentenced Tim to five years, the minimum, but based on Mr. Baldwin’s promise about keeping Tim’s position available for him, Judge Klein indicated that Tim would be eligible for parole in eighteen months. That was the best we could hope for. We were allowed two hours with Tim before he was led away in handcuffs.

When we got back to my house, Harry was there. It was the first time I had talked to him since the day after Tim’s arrest.

“I’m sorry, Addie. I tried to get Carson to back off, but after talking to Allison, he was adamant. I wish I could have done more.”

“Thanks, Harry. I know you did what you could. I just can’t believe that Tim is capable of what they said he did.”

“Addi, I know some people at the State Penitentiary. I’ll ask them to go easy on Tim. You can visit him once a month and get weekly phone calls.”

That was the best I could hope for, and Tim did call me every week. Grant and I visited him on the very first day possible. It was over a month after he was led away from the courthouse. We were both surprised at what he had to tell us.

“You know I love you guys, and I’d like to see you as often as possible, but it only makes it more difficult. Waiting for Visitor’s Day is tough, and I’d rather not spend my time counting the minutes until I see you again. Let’s just deal with the phone calls. I’ll be out of here in a year and a half, and we’ll all be together again.”

We tried to argue with him, but his mind was made up. Tim had requested ‘No Visitors,' which was his right. He didn’t leave us any choice.

Grant and Darlene went back to Orlando, and I went back to Cauldwell. It was not the same without Tim there. I resigned myself to not seeing Tim for the next sixteen months. It was difficult, but he seemed upbeat during our weekly phone calls.

“I’m mostly with guys who committed white collar crimes. I’m not in with hardened criminals. It’s really not too bad.”

“I’m glad to hear that Tim, I’ll have to thank Harry. He said he’d talk to some people up there.”

Tim’s reply surprised me.

“Don’t dare give that bastard any credit. It’s mostly Judge Klein. That jerk, Goodman sold me down the river.”

“Tim, that’s not fair. It was taken out of his hands. He didn’t have any choice.”

“That’s what he wants you to believe, Sis, but he could have done a lot more to help me. Do me a favor and stay away from him.”

I didn’t want to have an argument with Tim, so I agreed not to thank Harry and not spend too much time with him. Our weekly phone calls weren’t our only connection. Tim had access to a computer, and we sent e-mails back and forth. I did thank Judge Klein.

“The least I could do, Addi. The boy doesn’t belong there.”

Chapter 3 – Life Goes On

A little over two months after Tim was sent to the state prison, the second thing that would impact my life happened. A new man came to town. Sara and I had a date for lunch. Carl’s was already crowded, and we had to wait for a table to open. While we were waiting, Carl spotted us and waved us over to the counter. He was talking to a stranger. A very nice-looking stranger, with a great smile.

“Ladies, meet Gino D’ Gassi. Gino, this is Sara Jones and Adeline Devoe.”

The gentleman stood up and very politely took our hands.

“A pleasure to meet you, ladies.”

Gino D’ Gassi was tall, stood with a military bearing and was polite and congenial. My heart raced for a moment, but I quickly got myself under control. Since the day I met Scott, no other man had an effect on me, and this man was not going to either.

Sara had no problem talking to this stranger. I just stood quietly in the background.

“What brings you to Cauldwell, Mr. D’ Gassi?”

“I’m here for a job, Ms. Jones. I’m an accountant.”

I remembered when Sara and I had lunch with Mary Ann Cauldwell last week, she mentioned she was looking for an accountant to replace Mr. Brewster, who was retiring.

“Where are you from?”

“Fort Lauderdale, Florida, originally, but I spent ten years in the Navy.”

“Think you’ll like small town living?”

“I’m not a stranger to Cauldwell, Ma’am. I sort of have family here, and I’ve visited often.”

I knew Sara wanted to get more information out of this man, but luckily, a table opened, and I suggested we take it. We said goodbye to Mr. D’ Gassi and made our way over to the empty table. When we sat down, my back was to the counter, but Sara was facing it, and the handsome stranger.

“Not bad, Addi. And no wedding band.”

“Stop it right now, Sara.”

“All I’m saying is this one may be worth a look. He seems polite, and a gentleman and he’s a hell of a lot better looking than those three guys you choose to hang out with. He’s going to give the single men in town some real competition.”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

Sara laughed and gave me a look, “Really?”

Her attitude made me smile.

“No, Sara, I didn’t notice that hard body, or that handsome face, or that sexy wavy hair, or those sparkling brown eyes, or that devilish smile. I didn’t notice any of that!”

Then we both laughed, but I couldn’t laugh at the momentary reaction I had to that smile.

I would have to keep my distance from this one!

That turned out not to be a problem. I didn’t see much of Mr. D’ Gassi in the following days. Then, one night, Sara and I stopped into Carl’s. We’d drop in occasionally, just to break up the routine and we both liked to dance. Dale Murray and John Tyler were sharing a table and asked us to join them. Dale, John, and Harry appeared to be the only men willing to completely accept my ‘no official date’ attitude. Just as well. I did enjoy male company, but I had no intention of getting involved with anyone.

I did notice that Gino D’ Gassi was there. He didn’t dance once while we were there. But, he did seem to spend a lot of time with Allison. Strange how that affected me. I believed it wasn’t Allison’s fault for the fight between Tim and Ron, but I couldn’t bring myself to completely exonerate her. Her testimony was devastating to Tim’s case.

Thursday was Poker Night at the Bandwagon. It had become a tradition. Some of the men and a few women played Texas Hold ‘em. The stakes varied by table, and the same players usually sat at the same table. We kept the Small Blinds as donations to the foundation. At the high stakes table, the blinds were raised every twenty hands.

This particular night, Gino D’ Gassi was there. He sat at the table with John, Harry, Dale, Mr. Baldwin, and Rick, the owner of the auto parts store in town. The high stakes table. The regular players usually sat in the same seats every week, and when Gino D' Gassi joined them, the only chair open was to the right of the dealer.

Sara, Carl, a couple of other residents, and I generally acted as dealers at the various tables. Seeing my three, not dates sitting with the new guy got my curiosity aroused, so I made sure to deal some hands at that table. It was very interesting. John and Harry were trying to get personal information from Mr. D’ Gassi. Dale, like me, was just listening. We didn’t hear much.

Gino D’ Gassi revealed that he had spent ten years in the Navy. He also said he had done six tours in Afghanistan. He had been married for a little over three years, but that ended about three years ago. He was an accountant by training. That was all they would get out of him that night. But, I did notice that he was a pretty good poker player. He would be formidable competition for the other men in Cauldwell in more than one way.

The following Thursday afternoon, I went to the Bandwagon to set up for poker night. Gino was there playing three-man basketball with some of the high school seniors. I noticed that he was not only playing with the boys, but he was also instructing them. When he saw me, he nodded but kept working with the boys. I knew Dale also played three-man with these kids, sometimes, but I didn’t remember any instructions. Dale’s interest seemed to be winning and showing off, probably for my benefit. And, he stopped playing and came right over as soon as he spotted me.

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