The Road Chapter Two 6-20-2024


 Chapter Two
Betha sat in the bay window of her sister’s bungalow, experiencing an unknowing agony. Her sister was missing for six days now.
Loretta disappeared during the violent storm that shook the island nearly a week ago. The police were working on the assumption that Loretta had fallen over the cliff abutting the road where the car was found with a flattened tire. The Maine Coast Guard was still searching the icy waters off Doe Island, so far to no avail. 
The search of the woods turned up nothing of Loretta, though Mick was found near the car. The police figured he had struck his head on a rock, probably while trying to fix the flat.  
Betha hated all the uncertainty surrounding the deaths, but she hated the waiting even more.
Mick’s funeral was a painful affair, but she had to attend. He was, after all, nearly her brother-in-law. Much as she had disliked him in life, she had to pay her respects.  
Mick’s parents, the McLaughlins, and nearly everyone on the small island attended. Spring flowers adorned the casket, and bagpipes played Amazing Grace in the church cemetery of East Bay. The tombstones stood in testament to a life lost too early, too tragically. Betha’s tears flowed.
She left the funeral abruptly, before she was besieged with questions, the questions she couldn’t answer. She fled to the rocky beach, then the cliff by the road, and let the tears fall into the sea that had claimed her sister.
Eventually the Coast Guard and the police called off the search. Betha was devastated but understood. It was time to move to the next step.
The memorial for Loretta was held at her home in mid-summer. Betha arranged for catering under a tent in Loretta’s sprawling garden. Much less fanfare then at Mick’s service. Still, people came, even from the mainland.

As these things go, Betha felt certain that Loretta would approve.

        Betha in her sister’s garden
Alone now, Betha sat in her sister’s garden. It was dusk and the air was scented with sweet honeysuckle. She watched the sun set over the sea,  and she hoped Loretta had found a good resting place, just there, beyond the rocks. 
Loretta sat in a shade of palm trees, staring at an impossibly aqua blue sea.  A light steady breeze made the scene as perfect as it could be.
She sat waiting. Shielding her eyes from the sun, she watched as a figure approached beach side.
“There you are, my love,” he said. “ I awoke and you were gone. I knew I would find you on the beach.” Birch sat down beside her, placing a cold drink on her chair. “Thought you’d be thirsty.”
Loretta leaned over and laid a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered in his ear. “I love you more than anything. You do know that, don’t you?”
“Hmm,” he said I do,” settling into the lounge chair. “But do you miss him, Loretta?” he paused.  “Even a little?”
“Mick? No! He was a despicable man, controlling my every move, jealous, manipulative, too. You are my life now!”
“And he hurt you … I saw the scar on your arm the first time I met you in your gallery in East Bay! “ he paused.”Remember?”

Loretta nodded. She loved his melodic voice.
“I was stunned by your watercolors. Exquisite. Unusual.  Then I looked into your tortured eyes. The scar. And I knew. “
It was true. Birch had understood her pain. He asked her out for coffee. They sat for 3 hours, sharing so much.
He was an expat living in Spain, which was the hub of his business. He was a gallerist who owned 5 galleries across Europe. Once a year he came stateside seeking art for his galleries. That day he had added two more.
After that, they met for coffee, and the next day, and the day after that. She began slowly to open up. Trust was rare to Loretta. Mick had destroyed that. Their public image was not the private!
For a year, Birch made more frequent trips to her gallery … to her.
She began to yearn for their coffee dates, wanting more. 

Eventually Birch realized he loved this complex woman.
One day, Birch said, do you ever think of a different life, without Mick?” he queried hesitantly,
“All the time!,” she cried, looking into the warm eyes she’d come to love. “But there’s no way. He’ll never let me go.” She rubbed the new bruise on her neck.
Birch replied,” but what if there is a way? He wanted to take her hand but restrained himself. There were eyes in the coffee shop.
After that, they began meeting in more remote areas of the island.
Slowly a plan formed, one in which Loretta would disappear, not just from Doe Island, but from the U.S. altogether.
Their first kiss brought an explosion of emotion, for Loretta and for Birch.
Loretta thought, “is this what real love feels like? Trust? Kindness, too?”.
The tumult of emotions continued in the following weeks. Could she really walk away from her life? Her sister! The gallery?
Then in the spring, Loretta met Birch on the mainland where they talked things through.
“Here,” Birch said, handing her an oblong metal box.
“What is this?” she met his eyes.
“It’s your escape. Bury it in a safe spot in your garden.”
Loretta opened it tentatively.”Oh, my! “
Inside was an undated plane ticket, a passport with a new name, same with a driver’s license. Money, too.  

“Are you sure, Birch, really sure you want to do this? I can’t ask you to …”
“Shh,” he placed a finger softly to her lips. Taking Loretta in his arms, he whispered hoarsely, “I’m sure. But only when it’s safe. When the time is right.” He paused. “Are you afraid?”
“No! I’m not afraid of you, Birch. I could never be afraid of you!”  She stopped. “It’s just that … “
 She was crying hot tears now. “I’ve tried to leave him before. How can I not be afraid” …she stuttered.
Her memories turned to the last time she’d told Mick she was going to leave him.
He broke his wine glass, enraged. He was shouting, drunk and out of control. 

“No one else will ever love you, Loretta!” Then he slashed her arm.
Loretta screamed.
“See? Next time it will be your face!” Mick shouted.
“So, yes, Birch I’m afraid, But not of you. Never of you.  I love you, Birch … I trust you … completely. With you at my side, I can do this now!”
“Just call me,” he promised, “and I’ll be here!”
Then, 2 weeks later, unexpectedly the moment came, in the form of a terrifying storm, on a lonely road beside a cliff.
But she paused, uneasy suddenly. Could she really do this unspeakable thing? Then she imagined him with a knife in his hand. The time for hesitation was over.
The storm was howling, and the wind was whipping the trees. She picked up a rock. Mick never heard her approach.
She struck him on the head. He fell soundlessly. Eyes open. Staring at her. Accusing her.
Loretta then crossed to the other side of the road and slipped and slid her way up the mountain that was the spine of Doe Island. Branches slashed her face. She didn’t care. She had escaped forever from the monster that was Mick.  
Birch would meet her, just as he had promised. She hid in the thick undergrowth of her yard. Her heart was racing.
Then she heard the boat. In the moonless night, she plunged into the icy water and waded out to him.
Now, at last Loretta was settled and happy nearly an ocean away, in the Maldives.

                Loretta on the beach
She had the man she loved, and she had her painting. And very soon a child. Birch made her feel accomplished, loved, and safe in a way Mick never did.
But she was burdened by a terrible secret. What would Birch think of her if he knew the truth, that the woman he loved, the woman he’d given up his life for, was a murderer.

Oblivious to her thoughts, Birch
relaxed sleepily into the lounge chair.
The sun sparkled on the water, winking approval.
She leaned over and kissed his lips softly. She closed her eyes and drifted into sleep, her secret all but forgotten. Almost.
What do you think about Loretta’s story … and the ending?
I’m listening!
watercolors by Elaine

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