As we went entered the cottage the first thing that caught my eye was that the insides of the cottage looked like a traditional log cabin. Appearances were very deceiving. The outside looked like your run of the mill bungalow in the city. A dwelling for two adults and two children. A third child would have been pushing it. But the Willowby family consisted of two adults and just one child. Dr. And Mrs. Willowby only had a daughter, Trina.
Wilma, as she insisted we call her, conducted a small tour.
“Over on your left is the master bedroom complete with an en-suite bathroom, and next to it is Trina’s bedroom. Trina is our daughter and pride and joy.” That much was more than obvious. Trina was also an accomplished athlete. There were shelves between the two bedrooms and they had all kinds of trophies and ribbons all over the place. “Didn’t do so well at the matrimonial game though. Her husband walked out soon after Kenny was born and became one of those deadbeat dads you hear about on the news. We helped raise Kenny as best we could. Kenny lives with us during the week in his mother’s old room and lives with Trina on the weekends. That way we get to spoil him a bit and Trina can finish up her university. Being an Olympian on a scholarship is pretty hard. But speaking as a grandmother I love this arrangement. At Trina’s wedding, Bill said something about now being able to rent out her bedroom. What I said to Bill wasn’t very ladylike but it was from the heart.”
That was my cue to ask her what she said.
“OK, I’ll bite. What did you say?”
“To hell with that idea Bill Willowby, I’m counting on grandchildren. After I said that he tried to convince me we’d done our bit of parenting.”
“What did he say to that?” I asked. Dr. Willowby probably came to the conclusion that if Wilma’s mind was already made up there was little chance, if any, of changing it.
“He didn’t say anything. He just walked over to the bar and ordered his first Martini. He usually doesn’t drink Martinis so this was a new experience for him. To this day he doesn’t know how many he had. But I had to pour him into the car and drive him home. It’s an episode he doesn’t like to be reminded of or talk about. But since the primary subject matter has neatly segued into weddings have you given any thought about yours?”
It was about this point in the conversation Peters eyes started to glaze over and his stomach growled.
“I want a small wedding. Nothing elaborate. But I draw the line at being married by an Elvis impersonator.” Wilma laughed at the thought of being at a wedding and seeing an Elvis impersonator.
Peter let go of my hand and really inspected the cottage. He even made notes. He paid particular attention to the built-in shelving. He measured the shelves with the iPad. He knew the iPad was ten inches long from end to end and measured the shelves using that scale. Dr. Willowby noticed this and went over to ask him if anything was wrong. Peter typed his answer on the iPad, and showed it to Dr. Willowby. He nodded his approval and raised a thumb.
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.
Peter had some sort of idea but he wasn’t sharing. I noticed he went into the bedrooms and made a note of something. I made a mental note to ask him when we got home just what was going on. Dr. Willowby, drink in hand, approached me and asked me if I wanted discuss my employment quandary. We walked into his den which was a rather large collection of medical journals as well as books of fiction and history. There were a few fishing trophies on the wall.
“Well, I see that Trina get her competitiveness from you.” I said. Dr. Willowby had already composed his reply.
“Her mother and I taught her that once she a goal in mind she should put all her might into achieving that goal be it boys, grades, or athletics. Her greatest achievement to date has been Kenny. That little boy has given me a chance to experience so many things that I missed when Trina was growing up. All the “firsts”. First step, first day at school, that sort of thing. But nothing, absolutely nothing, prepared me for the day I hauled to school and I was his “show and tell” exhibit. I’m just a doctor, but he made it sound like I performed the first heart transplant single handed. But enough about me. I think we’re supposed to be talking about you.”
Dr. Willowby sat in a wooden chair near his desk but soon moved to one of a pair of massively over stuffed chairs. I sat in the one opposite him. It almost swallowed me alive.
“Holy Crap!” I shrieked.
Dr. Willowby started laughing so hard I thought he was he going to bust. He was laughing so hard he almost fell out of his chair. I could also feel my face getting hot and rapidly becoming hotter. The longer the laughter went on the hotter my face became.
“Sorry Cassie. It was the look on your face. It was priceless. It was one those times when I wished I had a camera. And you needn’t apologize for your language. Mine was was much worse when it tried to devour me. Buts lets get down to cases. First, I want to make it clear this is not a formal job interview. Therefore, I might ask some questions you wouldn’t normally expect. It’s just one friend talking with another. We could talk about this all evening but what it boils down to is this: what does Cassie Carter want to do?”
I thought about the question. I noticed in college that questions worded very simplistically were frequently the most difficult to answer. This was one of them.
“I want to help people when they’re really sick.”
Dr. Willowby leaned forward in the chair, interlaced his fingers, and continued talking. He talked to me like a father trying to help his only daughter with a difficult decision.
“And what does Cassie Carter need, not want, need to do this.” He didn’t pull any punches.
“A good salary is going to be really important. I may need to get a new car. The one I have now is old and an embarrassment. It’s getting harder each year to maintain it. The commutes is not going to be an easy one especially in winter. I want…no….need a salary to enhance Peters. Right now I’m living off my savings, savings I had earmarked for my retirement. Right now, Peter is paying for a lot of things he shouldn’t have to, so right now I’d say the most important thing is a good salary.”
Then he caught me by surprise by asking a question I had never considered. One I should have, and one that I should have given a great deal of thought to already.
“After you and Peter marry what are your plans with regard to children. Do you plan to move?”
I suddenly felt like I’d been punched in the face. I didn’t have any concrete answers for him. And I should have.
“We’ve only talked about children once. And we’ve never talked about where we’re going to live after we’re married.”
Dr. Willowby got up from the chair, put hands in his pockets and walked about the room. He came to a conclusion and returned to his chair.
“Let’s return to those questions after dinner. It might be a good idea to get Peters input as well. I’m trying to figure out what my department can offer you and to be honest you’re answers haven’t helped that much. Would you mind if I brought Peter in on this discussion?”
I said I didn’t mind a bit. If it would help form my answer I was all for it.
“Would you mind if we talked about the other job offer? What Dr. Wilson wants me to do.” I asked. I was really nervous. Much more than I thought I expected to be.
“Dr. Wilson wants me to head a brand new department at the hospital. To build it up from scratch. He’s also asked me to put together a database of comic book characters past and present. I know next to nothing about databases let alone computers. I can turn on a computer and I can turn it off. And that’s the sum total of my computer knowledge. I should add I can break them too. I’m great at that. But the thing that’s really scaring me is ordering people around. People who are older than me. If I’m the head of some department I won’t see the people I want to help. I don’t want to push papers around or find out how many paper clips the department has. I want to help people.”
Dr. Willowby crossed his legs, leaned back in the chair, and cradled his head. He smiled at me.
“Would you please write a speech for me?. Wilma doesn’t know it yet but I want to resign being head of my department. I became a doctor so I could treat people. Right now I’m driving a desk and shuffling papers. And I’m doing exactly what you just said. I’m keeping track of paperclips. The money is great but I’m not doing what I was trained for, what I love. I’m a doctor for heavens sake not a paper pusher. And if you don’t mind me saying this it sounds like you’ve made up your mind about that other job offer. We’re a fine pair you and I. Dr. Wilson wants you to become a department head, and I want to stop being one. But your reasons for declining the job offer are the same as mine. We both don’t want to shuffle papers and we both want to help people. If that isn’t irony I don’t know what is.”
It was then he noticed that I didn’t have a drink in my hand.
“A thousand apologies Cassie. I should have asked you if wanted anything to drink.”
I wasn’t planning on drinking anything so I declined his kind offer as politely as I could.
“Peter is just beginning to drive again. He drove here and it would too much to ask him to drive back. So since I’m going to be driving I better not drink. You know, I’ve been up north for just over half a year. And I haven’t seen one single O.P.P. traffic cop or plane patrolling the highway.” Dr. Willowby started staring at me. And he put his drink on a small side table.
“Cassie Carter, you did it again. As soon as you mentioned you were driving I asked myself when the last time I saw a an OPP traffic cop. And the answer is about twenty years ago. This is starting to get spooky.”
I wanted to ask him what he and Peter were talking about earlier in the evening. The curiosity was killing me.
“Can you please tell me what you and Peter were talking about? It looked so hush-hush and secretive.”
“You really want to get me in trouble don’t you? OK, but I’ll only tell you half of what you want to know. For the other half I think you better ask Peter. Part of what Peter told me was that you read the opening chapters of the new book. What you don’t know is that he sent six chapters to his agent and he thought they were fantastic. Peters agent doesn’t think his current publisher would be interested given their lack of interest in Peter when he had cancer. So right now he’s shopping the manuscript around to different publishers looking for the best deal for Peter and you.” When he said the words “and you” the words were so forceful and had such impact I felt like I’d hit with a thunderbolt.
“Apparently it’s the detail that’s generated the most interest. In other words, my dear, you apparently have the gift of the gab.”
After dinner Peter took me by the hand into the study to tell me the other half of my question to Dr. Willowby. I wasn’t prepared for the answer and I was glad I was sitting. Peter was sitting in one of those very overstuffed chairs and I was sitting in the other facing him. The iPad was in his lap. Even though his hands flashed over the keyboard the wait felt like a thousand years.
“Before you pressed my mute button you caught me reading the cottage issue of Architectural Digest. Then you caught me making notes and measuring with the iPad. And when you thought I was writing I told you I was doing some research. You already told me that you didn’t think too highly of the internal layout of Blue Cottage. I discovered the fellow who originally designed Blue Cottage for your aunt Heather is still alive. He still has the original plans for the cottage. His son, Peter, took over the business a couple of years ago. I had the idea, that we gut Blue Cottage, keep the roof and walls, and we plan an entirely new layout for Blue Cottage. We have it built and while we’re waiting for it to be finished live in my place. We can bring Blue Cottage up to code, and have it rebuilt the way we want it to be by the original builder. When it’s finished we slowly move into Blue Cottage and we sell Casa Christopher. You’re probably about the kids. This week I got a notice from the Shadow Lake Cottagers Association saying the road will now be plowed in the winter. We can drive the kids to school in Kinmount or Norland. Some other things about the book that Dr. Willowby didn’t tell you about is that “The Long Road Home…” will be the books official title, Random House wants it, and is willing to pay us a six-figure number for the rights to publish. I requested one thing that isn’t normally done. That both our names appear on the book.”
I was so happy I jumped out the chair, wrapped my legs around his waist, worked my way up his six foot four inch frame and gave him the biggest kiss of my life. I asked Peter about a book deal.
“They want the rights to first refusal. All that means is they get to see the manuscript first and the chance to say “no” first. But right now, I have a three book deal with them. Depending on the sales of “The Long Road Home…” they may want another Peter and Cassie book.” When we got home we started on the “details” of the second book. And those details will never be published.
… still more to come