Good Intentions

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"Panoramic Destinations?" asked Jordan, his voice dripping with disdain. "Interested in your property? You mean the Hound and Sparrow?"

I felt the world speeding around me as if I was caught in some sort of tear in the space-time continuum, watching the present take place at accelerated speed. I felt utterly incapable of altering the events unfolding before me. I was trapped in a rush of water with my head just barely above it.

"Yes!" exclaimed the cheery Mr. Myers as he came around the table. "From what the waitress told me you're the caretaker, Mr. Wells. I'm an acquisitions manager for Panoramic. Here's my..." He started to pull out a business card from a pocket inside his suit jacket, but paused when he reached out to hand it over. I followed his eyes and soon realized Jordan and I were still holding hands. "Am I interrupting something? I didn't mean to intrude, the waitress told me you two were here on business..."

"We are," I said as we both snatched back our hands and folded them into our laps. "We were just discussing the inn's Christmas display for the town's annual contest." Though I directed my words to Devon, I kept my eyes on Jordan. Unfortunately, he didn't return my gaze. Instead he chewed on the inside of his cheek while he looked out over the restaurant. Every now and then his nostrils flared and I saw him biting back a coarse word upon his tongue. Pain, fear, and remorse clenched my heart and my breath grew shallow. I balled my fists and squeezed it away.

"Oh, really?" asked the oblivious Mr. Myers. "That sounds exciting. I'd love to hear more if you wouldn't mind me being a fly on the wall. I won't disrupt you. I'd love to just sit and listen..."

"I can pull up another table if you'd like," said Bernice as she brought out our plates of food. Our quiet corner of the restaurant had suddenly become loud and crowded, and my head raced with the ever quickening beat of my heart.

"I think, maybe..." I started, but Jordan's sudden rise from his chair cut into my words.

"Don't bother," he said, stepping away and offering his seat to Mr. Myers. "Here have mine. Ms. Creeke and I have discussed about as much as we can for tonight. Plus, I know how important this sale is to her."

The formality of my name cut into me like a knife and I was too wounded by this sudden blow to get to my feet in time to stop Jordan from heading straight to the exit.

"Are you sure?" asked Devon, his tone apologetic. "I really didn't intend to be a bother..."

"Yeah, well, I hear good intentions are great for paving roads," he added before turning down a row of tables and getting out of earshot.

"What?" muttered the real estate investor.

"That boy," sighed Bernice with a shake of her head. "Mr. Myers, please excuse my nephew. The holidays are a stressful time. Why don't you take his seat for now and discuss what you need to with Ms. Creeke. I'll see if I can bring him back."

"Did I cause a problem?" he asked, looking back to me while Bernice caught up with Jordan, who was busy pulling his coat off a hook by the entrance.

"I...no, it's just that he's having a rough time dealing with Georgina's death." I watched the two from over Devon's shoulder, their words lost in the din of the restaurant. Bernice tried to offer a reassuring hand on Jordan's arm, but he shook her off and headed out the door. I knew he wouldn't be back.

"Georgina was your aunt, correct?"

"Great aunt," I said, turning to face my new guest for dinner.

"They must have worked closely together then if he's the caretaker."

"Yes," I said, settling back into my seat and gesturing for Devon to do the same as Bernice returned to our table.

"Sorry, I think he won't be joining you tonight," she said with a sigh. "Will you be eating here then, Mr. Myers?"

"If that's okay," he said, looking to me.

"Yeah," I said, my voice resigned. "Could you box up Jordan's dinner Bernice? I'll take it home to him once we're done here."

"Of course," she said with a smile. "Mr. Myers, your food should be out shortly."

The remainder of dinner was spent discussing the state of the house, the various amenities on the property and in town, and the many events Hereford Hills held, all in hopes of drumming up tourists for their local businesses. After we squabbled over the check and I lost out to Devon's insistence that he should pay after disrupting my dinner, he wished me a good night and expressed how excited he was to stop by the house the next day to see the inn for himself. I knew it would have been better to tell him no, that he could see the inn another day and give Jordan some time to recover, but I also thought that perhaps getting Mr. Myers out of the way as soon as possible was the better course of action.

I took my time leaving, insisting he grab a cab on his own since I had some unfinished business in town. Instead, I bundled up and walked out to the main square a couple blocks away. Already a crowd had gathered around the bleachers. I made my way over and stood in the very back as the concert began.

I had started to pick up the names of songs from the radio. Jordan always had them running in his car and though he kept the volume low so we could talk, they still managed to seep into my subconscious. Yet, the carols I heard through the truck's sound system paled in comparison to their renditions by the choir. Standing there, listening to them in person, I could feel the power of the caroler guild's voices washing over me.

They repeated a couple songs from the week before, but a few new ones were thrown in. Then, at one point, one of the carolers stepped forward and took position before the choir. Standing alone, he began to sing a slow, smooth song, his voice rich and warm. Eventually, the choir joined in to back up his moving vocals, only for him to end on his own. His words a firm declaration that I found both wonderful and heartbreaking.

I'll be home for Christmas. If only in my dreams.

After that they broke out into a joyful rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" just as they had the previous week. I decided then that it was time for me to go home. Or at least, to go back to the inn.

I hailed a cab before the mass exodus from the main square began. When I arrived at the inn, I could see Jordan's truck in the parking lot and his light on in the guest house. I considered for a moment going down to deliver his dinner and have a talk with him, but thought it better to let him have his space. I trudged up the porch steps, deposited his meal in the fridge, and found my way to my room, where I winced at the sight of the unmade bed.

Too tired and beaten down to find the energy to put the sheets on, I once again flopped onto the pillow mattress on the floor. With a sigh I rested my head upon my cheek and stared into the darkness beneath the bed.

Then I saw it.

Until that day, I'd only ever seen the frill of a satin bed skirt. However, having stripped the bed bare, I now had a glimpse of what lurked beneath my aunt's old bed frame. Like with much of her room, it was kept clean and tidy, save for a single box shoved into the farthest corner and cozied up against a neighboring night stand. Too small to be additional clothing storage, my curiosity urged my weary muscles to lurch me off of the floor and send me to the other side of the bed to fish out the box.

What I found was a wooden chest a little under two feet wide and about a foot deep. With a simple brass clasp keeping the lid secured, my trembling fingers opened the box and revealed the secrets hidden inside.

***

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