Moon's choice is the second story in Moon Pool by Jane Toombs and myself.
Janet Lane Walters
Faith sat at the kitchen table and cradled a mug of tea. Had she made the right decision? Selling the farm gave her a chance to finish her education and provide for the children’s future. She had seen a house in town near the community college and had enrolled to start the fall semester. The house would be hers tomorrow. There was money in the bank for the children’s education. She should be dancing not feeling sad.
The cup thudded on the table. What would Jimmy think? She wished she could ask him but he’d been dead for a year. She also wished he had loved her as deeply as she had loved him. Not that she resented the marriage. He had been the man she was destined to love.
Her aunt entered the kitchen from the porch. “How are the children?”
“The twins and Patty are in bed and Buddy’s reading.” Faith sighed.
“Child, you’re doing the right thing.”
Faith nodded. “I can’t help thinking about the land being in Jimmy’s family since they came to this country. What if one of the children resents leaving? One of the might want to be a farmer?”
Grace Lowe poured a cup of coffee. “Haven’t seen any of them showing a love for the land. They’re young. They’ll adapt.”
Faith laughed. “Maybe better than their mother.”
Grace sat at the table. “How would it have been until you lost the land to the taxman? You sold the stock and the machinery to pay him. You’ve the chickens, one milk cow and the kitchen garden. Sold your ring last year to buy school clothes for Buddy and the twins. House is falling apart.”
“I know but I still wonder what Jimmy would think.”
“No question there. About the money and how much drinking he and his buddies could manage.” The older woman walked to the screen door. “Moon’s full tonight. You might catch a glimpse of him in the moon pool at the Lodge.” She dangled her car keys. “Take these. I’m here in case one of the kids wakes.”
Should she, Faith wondered. Why not? The pool in the maze had shown him once. She checked herself in the age-speckled mirror. “I won’t be long.”
“Take your time.”
When Faith pulled into the parking lot at Quinnesec Lodge she frowned. She’d forgotten this was the day the last group of guests arrived and were served dessert in the garden near the maze. A wave of sadness slipped around her. Soon there would be a different kind of guest here. Instead of vacationers, business people would come for retreats and conferences.
She left the car and stood in the shadows cast by a large oak tree. A group of people wandered past. Their laughter over the legend made Faith want to confront them but she refrained lest she be identified as an intruder.
The legend was true. On the night of a full moon a seeker could see the image of their true love in the water. Ten years ago she had seen Jimmy.
A few more people strolled from the garden. One of the staff dimmed most of the lanterns while others gathered the remains of the welcome party. Once they left Faith slipped into the garden and reached the entrance to the maze. She ducked inside the boxwood hedge and caught her breath. Did she remember the path to the center?
She closed her eyes and envisioned the route. Inhaling deeply she chose the second from the right of the five openings and made her way along the gravel path. Clouds skimmed across the moon forcing her to stop several times. When she reached the end of the path she crossed the grass to the pool.
Faith knelt on the stone-lined edge. For a short time she wondered how the area had appeared before the Lodge had been built. Trees would have surrounded the clearing. Perhaps animals had come for water. There would have been wild flowers growing near the pone. And on the night of the full moon an Indian maiden had seen the face of her true love.
Her thoughts calmed. She brought memories of her dead husband to the fore. “Jimmy, I had to sell the farm. I’ve already sold everything I could to pay the taxes. When the children were ill, without the kindness of strangers, I would have lost them.”
She bent her head and gazed into the pool. Moonlight sparkled on the dark water. Slowly they formed the face of the man she had loved. Tears trickled over her cheeks and splashed on the image. The features changed. She covered her mouth to stifle a gasp.
The man she saw was blond. She didn’t know him yet he seemed vaguely familiar. Perhaps the set of his eyes or the stubborn chin sparked a fleeting memory of someone she had known.
What did it mean? She had already seen her true love in the pool. Was it possible to find true love a second time? Not wanting to consider the idea she rose and rushed along the twisting path toward the garden.
When she reached her aunt’s car she sat and shook. What did the vision mean? She had no time to search for a particular face among strangers. The moment her churning emotions settled she drove home.
Her aunt waited on the porch. “You look as scared as a raccoon caught in the hen house.”
“I saw Jimmy. His face changed into a stranger’s.”
“Why? I loved Jimmy with everything I was. How could I ever love another man?”
The older woman glanced at the sky. “Moon’s choice. You’re too young to remain alone. I believe the moon offers you another chance. Don’t make my mistake. There’s nothing wrong with finding love again.” She opened the screen door. “I’m for bed. The imps will be up with the sun.”
Faith nodded. “I’ll sit awhile.”
After her aunt left, Faith sat on the edge of the porch. She stared at the full moon. Though she knew the time to move on had arrived she felt edgy. She wasn’t sure she was ready or even wanted another love.
* * *
Labor Day Weekend – Friday
Gabriel Tanner, aka G.T. Blake, rode into town on his Harley. People strolling along the sidewalks of the small upstate New York town stopped to stare. Gabe laughed and waved. No one responded. Before long they would know he had returned for a few months, maybe as long as six. Depended on how long he took to finish a new book, to rub some noses in his success and to become bored. He’d grown up here, been the local nerd and the favorite target of the town’s bullies.
He aimed the bike for the open gate in the wall surrounding the quaint Victorian house he had inherited from his parents. He came to a skidding halt in front of the steps leading to the wide front porch, kicked the stand and dismounted. As he pulled off his helmet a man and woman stepped onto the porch. “I’m here,” he announced.
The woman ran down the steps and hugged him. “About time you decided to visit old friends. How long has it been?”
“Eight years or so.”
“You look wonderful.”
He threw back his head and laughed. “Aren’t you going to say, ‘My how you’ve grown.’?” When he’d left for college he’d been six inches shorter and forty pounds lighter. “You’ve done some growing, too. When?”
Mark bounded down the steps and slid his arms around his wife’s waist. “She’s all mine.”
“Always has been.” While growing up the pair had been his best and only friends. He followed them to the porch. There had been another person he’d wished had been a friend. Faith Lowe. She’d never joined the teasing crowd or the nasty pranks. “Any trouble getting me set?”
Mark shook his head. “Truck arrived yesterday. The Jaguar is in the garage. Your computer is up and connected to the net. When do we see your latest opus?”
“It’s in the bookstores.”
“Not that one. The new one.”
“When I finish writing.” Gabe groaned. “Once I settle in, go over my outline and do some local research I’ll begin. Three to six months.”
Sarah entered the foyer and strode down the hall leading to the kitchen. “Who would have believed there’d be a lot of money writing scary stories for children?”
“My publisher.” He laughed. “I wrote the first one on a whim. Is that pizza I smell?”
“What else?” Mark asked. “Gino’s best. Since you left town a Chinese and a deli have opened. The mall has a slew of fast food joints and four restaurants.”
“The diner?” Gabe asked.
“Still in business. We could have gone there but after all the pies we shared there was no other choice for a welcome home.”
Sarah winked. “We left the take-out menus beside the kitchen phone.”
“For convenience. Thanks. Cooking isn’t my thing.”
They sat at the round table in the large kitchen. Gabe alternated bites of pizza with questions about the town, the people he remembered and the ones he wished he could forget. “What about the bully boys?”
“Mechanic, plumber, dentist and town drunk,” Mark said.
“What about Faith Lowe?” From the looks on their faces Gabe wished he hadn’t asked.
Mark arched a brow. “You did have a thing for her.”
Still did. Mark shrugged. “Just wondering.”
“Heard she married some farmer who lives near Quinnessec Lodge,” Sarah said. “She dropped out of college after the first semester and just vanished.”
Mark snagged another slice. “So what’s on your agenda? Going to keep the house or sell?”
Sarah swallowed her last bite. “Let me know. Mom’ll be glad to list the place. She sold the house across the street last week. New neighbors are moving in tomorrow.”
“Any idea who?” Gabe asked.
“Mother-in-law didn’t say.” Mark grinned. “That’s odd. She can usually learn a new family’s history in fifteen minutes.”
Sarah laughed. “She did say the woman was nice.”
“Guess we’ll soon learn,” Gabe said.
* * *
Faith watched the movers carry the last of the boxes to the van. She stood on the porch and stared at the barren yard. Regret warred with excitement. The past few weeks had brought more changes than she had time to absorb.
She walked to the sturdy minivan where four children waited, eager and ready for a new adventure. She had used Jimmy’s battered truck on a down payment for the new vehicle and severed another tie to the past.
The movers closed the truck door. Before they reached the new house they would stop at her aunt’s. Persuading the older woman to live with them had been a terrific idea. Once school began Aunt Grace’s help would be vital.
Faith slid into the driver’s seat. “Orders. We’re stopping at the diner for lunch. Best behavior is required.”
“I’ll help with the littles,’ Buddy said.
Faith smiled at her too-serious child. So much work had landed in the nine-year-old’s hands since his father’s death. She prayed the move would give him a chance to be a boy.
She captured the twin’s gaze. “You will stay with us. No running off to explore.” They nodded and she turned her attention to the youngest. “Miss Chatterbox, no telling everyone our business and do not repeat everything you’ve heard.”
Four-year-old Patty grinned. “Peoples want to know fings. I only tell them what they ask.”
Faith started the engine. “Should have named you Gabriella and called you Gabby.” On instant recollection of the boy who had sat in front of her in most of her high school classes popped into her head. Gabriel Tanner. She hadn’t thought of him for years. Why now? What had happened to him? She’d always felt sorry for the way some of the boys had harassed him.
Forty-five minutes later she pulled into the diner parking lot. Almost before the van stopped the twins were out of their booster seats. Buddy grabbed their hands. By the time Faith and Patty reached the restaurant’s door the two had claimed the large corner booth.
A waitress brought menus. She smiled at Patty. “You’re a cutie. Haven’t seen you before. Are you new in town?”
Patty nodded. “How you know we’re moving to a new house? Mama says the place needs work but it won’t fall down like our old house.”
Faith turned from refereeing the twins’ argument about what they wanted to eat. “Patty, do you want bread and water?”
The child giggled. “You always say that. Didn’t tell nuffing bad.”
By the time lunch ended Faith’s head ached. She didn’t blame the children for their eagerness to see the new house. She prayed when they arrived they would stay calm enough to help organize their rooms. She herded them to the minivan and drove the once familiar streets of town.
At the new residence she parked behind her aunt’s car. The movers arrived moments later. The younger children erupted from the van like prisoners released from solitary confinement. Donny and Hope headed for the street. Faith caught them at the curb. “To the house. We have work to do.”
“Want to visit the scary house,” Donny said.
Hope pointed at the Victorian across the street. “Just like the house in Buddy’s books.”
Faith shook her head. “No house, scary or not, unless you’re invited.”
“Why not?” Donny asked.
“We don’t know who lives there.”
“Maybe a ghost,” Hope said.
Faith marched the pair inside and stationed each in a bedroom. She paused at the head of the stairs. If she survived the weekend on Tuesday when school began she might have a few moments to relax. Or not, since she also started classes that day.
* * *
Gabe stood at the window of the second floor room he’d taken as his office. The printer spat pages of the tentative outline he’d created for his next book, “The Creature on the Mountain.” During the next few days he intended to bike around the area to find the perfect setting for the haunted house modeled after his current residence. As a kid he’d imagined ghosts, ghouls and monsters lived here. As an adult a variation of the house appeared in each of his five books.
He stared at the moving van across the street and groaned. Bunk beds meant children. What was the chance his new neighbors children had read his books. So far only two people in town knew his secret identity. He would remain Gabe Tanner until he had completed a rough draft.
The door of the house he watched opened. A pair of children dashed into the yard. Gabe thought they appeared too young to be readers. When a woman ran after them he stuck his head and shoulders through the open window and whistled softly. He couldn’t see her face but the rest of her intrigued him. Tall and slender, long dark hair and well-muscled legs. She wore shorts and a bright shirt. He considered going over and offering to help.
Slow down. If she was the mother of the pair there was a father in the picture. He saw two cars in the driveway. No matter how tempting, a children’s author couldn’t afford to be caught in a triangle. Gabe forced himself to turn away from the window.
The last page emerged from the printer. His cell phone rang and he flipped the cover.
“Gabe, Mark here. Want to join Sarah and me at the park for food and fireworks? You might even get a glimpse of the bully boys.”
“I’ll pass for not on them. Not ready to gloat.” Maybe he never would be. “I’ll stop by the house and go with you.” He grabbed his jacket and dashed downstairs. As he started the bike he glanced at his neighbor’s house. The yard was deserted.