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She had just one wish for the holidays. The same wish that continued to be denied. Until now.
Inside the modest little house on Parker Street, five doors down from the courthouse, Hanny Cooper sat in the old wooden rocker unmindful of its endless creak, creak, creak as she moved slowly to and fro. Frail hands, gnarled tributes to years of hard work, rested serenely in her apron covered lap.
One by one, the lights of surrounding houses had blinked to darkness as the town of Winslow tucked itself in for the night. And she imagined the children in bedroom after bedroom with wide eyed expectation of Santa’s visit.
A lone candle made of red colored plastic and white glitter radiated its dim artificial light through Hanny’s front picture window. Golden Christmas garland, draped by an unsure hand, adorned the weathered railing of her porch.
Swaying to a stop, she flexed tight shoulders in an effort to ease the ever present pain. At one time it was so easy to do her chores. But now the stiffness would creep in like a wounded animal unwilling to give up its bed, and make her body hurt so bad she could hardly stand it. The discomfort had been like that before and gone away, yet now it stayed.
She followed the ache in her mind as it traveled down her arms to settle in thin fingers where the tips of them throbbed with each beat of her worn heart.
“Hanny!” Her head raised in alarm as a voice she didn’t recognize called to her from out in the yard. “Hanny, where are you?”
Another time, she might have welcomed the sound of her name in the quiet. Not tonight. Tonight she wanted to alone with her wishes. If she stayed very still and made not one peep in response, they might give up and leave her be.
It could be Franklin.
Her head rose a bit at the possibility. Not a day went by when she didn’t think about her one and only true love.
But, I must be careful. Franklin had warned her about believing in strangers. He’d always protected Hanny, proclaimed that taking care of her was his esteemed pleasure, born of an everlasting love.
A contented smile graced thin lips as memories of her darling Franklin, warm and comforting and true, began to twirl and loop in her mind.
“The house is smack dab in the middle of downtown, here on Parker Street.” Franklin jumped out of the old, low slung roadster he’d borrowed from his dad and circled around to help Hanny step down from her side. “But it needs a little work.”
Not yet glancing toward what her soon to be husband had warned was a somewhat dilapidated structure, she looked up instead into the loving gaze shining back at her. Eyes that suddenly held touches of anticipation then apprehension as he reached down to pull her hands into his.
“It needs a lot of work,” he admitted, dropping his gaze but not the hands he held so tight.
“But, nothing you can’t handle,” she assured him, linking her arm in his as he guided her toward the tiny, but somehow appealing clapboard. As usual, Franklin was right, the house was badly in need of quite a few replacement boards, new shutters and an overall coat of paint. “Or, we can’t handle together.”
“Together, Hanny. Yes. Together.” He stopped walking and turned to gather her into his arms. “We can do anything together.”
Strong, sure hands came up to frame her face, and for the space of a heartbeat she expected, and wanted, him to kiss her. Which she knew he would never, ever do. Not here. Franklin was too respectful to subject her to public displays of affection. Though they were long engaged and would be married the very next month, standing in even a partial embrace in broad daylight was scandalous enough. And just a few doors down from the courthouse to boot.
Reading the caution in her eyes, he released her then again grasped her hand.
“Oh, I love you so much Hanny.” Bringing her palm to his lips, he stopped to look around. “I can’t wait until you become my wife.” He gave the hand a reassuring squeeze, pressing palm against palm, skin on skin together in a way that held a promise of much more love to come.
“Nor can I.”
As they knew they could, Hanny and Franklin had fixed up that quaint little place, together. The house where they resided for a very long time to forge a happy life full of precious memories.
Up until the day Franklin had to leave her.
Bringing tentative fingers to her chin, Hanny thought hard, but couldn't recall exactly why Franklin had left her alone. Doc Harley had tried to explain it to her once. Even now, she could see the kind old doctor's face, awash with sympathy as he spoke. But the precise words coming from his lips, or what they meant, escaped her. Oh, it had been so long ago, she had forgotten.
At the sound of metal scraping metal the recollections vanished. Fingers moving to cover her mouth, she listened to the bolt on the kitchen door slip slowly from its shaft. With her eyes tightly closed, she shrank back against the rocker and wished with all of her heart she could disappear.
“Hanny!” The voice seemed angry with her, so it couldn’t be Franklin. “Don't play games with me, girl. I haven't the time.”
She guessed disappearing wasn’t going to work, she would have to answer.
“Over here.” A trembling hand cupped her mouth.
“Hanny!” The voice, a woman’s voice she should know, spoke from beside her. “I've been worried about you, Hanny so I decided to come to see you tonight, even though it's late.”
Deep lines of concentration streaked Hanny's brow as she listened and tried to identify who spoke, but she must be careful. She must heed Franklin's warning.
Oh, Franklin, where are you? She cried out, but only in her mind. I miss you so.
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