Deep Roots – Part 1
The hotel room door clicked shut behind her. Aileen dropped her overnight bag and collapsed onto the queen-sized bed. Her head was pounding and she heard the sound of the judge’s gavel reverberating like a tuning fork through her whole being again.
“The court finds Aileen Coleman guilty of breaching client confidentiality. As of this date, the defendant may no longer practice as a Counsellor in the State of Tennessee. The plaintiff’s awarded one hundred thousand dollars for defamation of character and emotional trauma. The defendant must pay the fine within thirty days or spend one year in jail. Court’s adjourned.”
Aileen’s world began to crumble the moment that gavel struck wood. Her bank granted a short-term loan when her insurance company refused her claim. The broker cancelled the policy she’d paid into for more than a decade. The bank recouped the one hundred thousand dollars from the sale of her house.
All her dreams lay shattered in the depths of her soul, with pieces of her broken heart in the debris. For the first time in three months, Aileen allowed her emotions to surface. They surged forward like a tidal wave. She grabbed the hotel pillow and managed to muffle her sobs as the tears flowed.
She woke up five hours later and brewed a cup of weak coffee. Aileen sat on the bed and reached into her purse for an envelope. She opened the letter and read it aloud.
You don’t know me and that’s all my fault. When your mama died, it about killed me too. I’ve spent the last thirty years drowning my grief in whisky and the doctors say my liver’s shot. They gave me a couple of weeks. News like that sobers a man.
You’re my biggest regret. In trying to avoid my own pain, I pushed you away and I’m sorry. An accident robbed me of my daughter, but my own grief and anger robbed me of you.
I’m leaving you the farmhouse and the land that goes with it. You can sell it and get a good sum. If that helps you then wonderful but, if life’s thrown you a curveball, please consider staying.
You have roots to discover.
Thomas J. Coleman
The address was Lower Sweet Grass Road, Big Timber, Montana. Aileen had no idea where that was! A quick search showed her it was twenty-seven hours northwest by car. It would take a full week for the moving truck to arrive at the farm. She’d made good time and would arrive later today. Big Timber was a small town in the middle of prairie grasslands. The best hotel was a Super 8 by Wyndham.
Aileen put the letter back in her purse and grabbed her overnight bag. She took the elevator down to the front desk and handed in her room key. She checked her map once more before pulling out onto the highway.
Fourteen hours later, she exited off the I-90 and pulled onto the main street of Big Timber. The buildings on either side of the street looked like something straight out of a Western movie. Every cell of Aileen’s body was screaming at her to turn the car around and leave, but she had nowhere else to go.
The Super 8 sign was visible for miles. She pulled into the parking spot and stretched her stiff legs. The lobby was plain with brown decorative tile and beige walls. Aileen approached the check-in counter and a middle-aged woman greeted her with a warm smile.
“Good evening, Ma’am, how may I help you?
“Good evening, I have a room reserved under my name, Aileen Coleman.”
The woman nodded and handed the room key card to Aileen, as she signed the guest registry.
“Thank you, it’s been a long day.”
“Honey, why don’t you let me take your bag up to your room while you pop in to the Country Skillet right across the hall. It’s open for another hour and you look like you need some dinner and time to relax.”
“Thank you, Ma’am, I’ll take you up on that offer. I haven’t eaten since breakfast at about six o’clock this morning.”
“My name’s Maisie and you’re Thomas’s granddaughter, ain’t ya?”
“How do you know that?”
“Cuz you’re the spitting image of your mama. Welcome home, honey,” Maisie replied while poking her head into the diner. “Daisy! Aileen’s here and she needs some TLC!”
A sweet, older lady rounded the corner and stopped dead in her tracks. “My word, ain’t ya the spitting image of Tracy!”
Aileen looked from Daisy to Maisie and shook her head. “It’s obvious you ladies knew my mom, but I’ve never been here. This is all a bit surreal.”
“You sit yourself down and I’ll be right back with a tall glass of iced tea. Today’s special is roast beef with mashed taters, lots of gravy and our homemade biscuits. There’s six different kinds of pie for dessert.”
“Miss Daisy, that sounds divine. Are any of those chocolate cream pie?”
“Of course! That’s my personal favorite.” Daisy confided.
Daisy disappeared into the kitchen as Aileen glanced around the country-style restaurant. It was a little outdated but clean. Daisy arrived with the promised iced tea and a plate filled with food. The buttermilk biscuit was huge!
“Oh my goodness…”
“Now hush and eat!” Daisy admonished.
Aileen nodded, her mouth full of the tender roast beef and thick gravy. It was delicious. Before she knew it, the plate was empty. Daisy appeared with a huge piece of chocolate cream pie, and Aileen savored every last bite.
“Thank you, Miss Daisy. Can you have this charged to my room? I’m in 402.”
“This is on the house and I don’t want to hear a word about it!”
Aileen took one look at Daisy and realized she best not argue. Instead, she got to her feet and headed up to her room. The accommodations were basic but the bed was comfortable, and she was asleep in a matter of minutes.
The complimentary breakfast opened at seven o’clock the next morning. Aileen arrived at seven-thirty and grabbed a mug of coffee and a cinnamon bun. She nodded to an older couple enjoying their breakfast and chose a table with a window by the front entrance. Mr. Williams was meeting her here at eight o’clock to give her the keys to her grandpa’s farm.
An older man, with a weathered face, half-covered by his cowboy hat sauntered into the hotel lobby. Aileen glanced his way and continued to look out the window.
“Pardon me, Ma’am, are you Aileen Coleman?” The man asked while removing the cowboy hat from his head.
“I am. Are you Mr. Williams?”
“That’s me, but please call me Gus. Bet you were thinking some real estate fella was coming in a fancy suit and all.”
“Something like that.”
“Sorry to disappoint. Your grandpa and I were friends for forty years or more. I own the farm on the other side of your western fence line. Your grandpa and I built those fences together. My son, Sheridan, was a small boy then—he’s grown now and my right-hand man. He’ll take over for me when I git too old to climb onto a horse.”
“Forty years is a long time. You must’ve known my grandpa well.”
“As well as a man can, I’m guessing.”
Aileen saw Gus’s discomfort and changed the subject. “Are we heading out to the farm now?”
“Yes, Ma’am, you follow me out there and we’ll meet up with Sheridan. He has the keys and the time to show you around the place. My wife, Eloise, cleaned that house from top to bottom, so it’s ready and waiting for you. Agnes, your grandma, would have loved to meet you, but the cancer took her when you were a baby.”
“Call me Aileen, and thank you, Gus. My mom wouldn’t talk about her mom’s life or her passing. Said it ‘weren’t for young ears,’” Aileen explained while gathering her things.
Twenty minutes later, Aileen pulled up beside Gus’s old Ford pickup truck in a large farmyard. As the dust from the dirt road settled, the house came into view. Aileen gasped. She was expecting an old rundown two-storey farmhouse, not a beautiful, large log house.
As she got out of her car, the front door opened. A man, roughly her own age, stood grinning at her. He had the same rugged features as his dad, minus the weathered look. Black wavy hair peeked out from underneath his cowboy hat, which he tipped in her direction. As his head came up the clearest sky-blue eyes met hers and she found herself speechless.
“Papa, the apple sure don’t fall far from the tree!”
Aileen heard Gus laugh as the heat rose into her face. She was too old to blush, dang it!