Bob Taylor was just finishing a cup of coffee when the call came on his radio. Bad accident on Route 723; a head on collision involving a car and a truck, and a tractor had also been involved. Some serious injuries and paramedics were on the way, but it would take at least 25 minutes to get the victims to the nearest hospital. Bob quickly threw his cup in the trash and raced out to his cruiser. Lights flashing and siren blaring, he tore out of the Gas Up and Go parking lot and called for back-up as he headed to the accident.
Her act of defiance forgotten, Tiffany was sitting in front of the television eating popcorn and watching an old movie. She loved these cheesy old films where life seemed so easy and troubles so trivial. Things always worked out and the worst thing a man ever did to a woman was fail to immediately admit his undying love. There had been a time when she really thought life would be like that, but she knew better now. But it didn’t stop her from being swept up in a romance played out on screen.
During a commercial she looked up at the clock and sighed. She knew she couldn’t stay cooped up in her parents’ house forever – in fact she didn’t want to – but she just didn’t feel like going anywhere. She hadn’t kept in touch with any of her friends in Chicago, and was embarrassed to call them now. It had been a year and half since she had talked to most of them. Her mother kept encouraging her to call, but she just couldn’t face it. When Colin had coolly invited her leave if she didn’t like his having a “friend” over, Byrd’s Mill had seemed like a sanctuary; now it was starting to feel like a prison. The town had remained untouched by time, and while many thought it was charming it drove her crazy. In her opinion everything here was too “small town” and she wanted the things she had gotten used to in the city. Shopping at major stores, getting her hair and nails done at well-known establishments, and getting regular spa treatments that most people here had never even heard of. The closest places that might have anything near what she was looking for were Charlottesville or Richmond, and they were both at least an hour away. She hated the thought of driving along a highway lined by nothing but trees, in the car alone. And she couldn’t imagine asking her mother to go with her.
She tossed a piece of popcorn in her mouth and mused on her life with Colin Dawson. Maybe it hadn’t been so bad. He had bought her nice clothes and beautiful jewelry. They went out to dinner to wonderful restaurants, and he had taught her a great deal about things like wine and art. She had felt grown up and sophisticated with him, and despite the fact that he had made her feel unloved and insecure, and had jealously kept her from having a relationship with anyone else, including her parents, she missed him. When she had once told that to her mother, Kate had asked what she missed about him. When Tiffany began talking about the trip to New York, and how Colin had promised to take her to Paris, her mother had remarked that it didn’t sound much like she missed Colin, but that she missed his money. Although it stung, Tiffany had to admit it was true to some degree. And it was at that point that Tiffany had a major epiphany. She needed her own money. She just hadn’t been sure how to get it. And then George Hartwell had come knocking.
George was a developer who had arrived in Virginia a few months earlier. He had stopped by the house once when both Bill and Kate were out. He had been funny and charming and, Tiffany had to admit, kind of cute. Although she knew her parents would have had a fit, she was bored and lonely so she invited him in. They talked about the places he had visited, but eventually he began asking her a lot of questions about her parent’s land. He asked about the acreage, how it had been used, zoning restrictions. He’d had a lot of questions she couldn’t answer, but when he told what he thought the land could be worth, she had been shocked. It was then that she realized the land might be her way to get her own money.
She knew that her father would be dead set against selling the land for development, but Tiffany didn’t see why he needed all 300+ acres of it. She thanked George for his time, and told him it would be better if she spoke with her parents first. He left his card with her, and when Bill and Kate returned Tiffany tried to broach the subject of selling the land.
Of course her father was dead set against selling. He had raged against the developers who had been putting up all kinds of town homes and strip malls in other areas of the state, and he was determined to keep Byrd’s Mill as rural as possible. He had reminded her that he had been going to all kinds of meetings with the County Developers, trying to convince them that it was to everyone’s benefit not to turn Byrd’s Mill into just another town full of chain restaurants and strip malls. Tiffany knew then that she had her work cut out for her. She wasn’t sure how she would do it, but she was going to have to find a way to sell some of this land.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the doorbell. Tiffany frowned and got up from the couch. She hoped it wasn’t George – she hadn’t showered yet today – but she had no idea who else would be coming to visit.
Tiffany wasn’t surprised to see Bob Taylor on the other side of the door. While she’d been growing up he’d often come by during hunting season when the “No Trespassing” signs her father posted were ignored. She was surprised to see the young woman with Bob. She wasn’t wearing a uniform, but had an official look about her. She opened the door wider to let them in.
“Hi Bob,” she said, and began to feel nervous. Bob wasn’t smiling and he looked serious. Bob looked at the woman with him, took off his hat and stepped into the door. Tiffany stepped back and both of her visitors came in.
They stood for an awkward moment in the hall until Tiffany said, “My dad’s not here right now Bob. Is everything o.k.?”
Bob looked again at his female companion who stepped forward and held out her hand with a warm smile. “Hi Tiffany, I’m Justine Hartwell.” Tiffany took the woman’s hand and shook it, looking at Bob in confusion.
Justine spoke, “Why don’t we all go sit down somewhere?”
Tiffany led them into the den and sat down on the couch. Bob picked up the remote and turned off the television. Justine sat on the edge of the coffee table and took one of Tiffany’s hands. Tiffany looked at Bob, and her eyes had grown wide with fear. “Bob,” she asked, and her voice trembled, “what’s going on?”
Bob looked at the floor for a minute, and then met her eyes. “Tiffany, it’s your folks. There’s been an accident.” Tiffany gasped and pulled her hand from Justine’s. She looked at the woman in front of her with accusation in her eyes. “What happened? Why are you here?”
Bob shuffled his feet, and Justine took her hand again. “Tiffany,” she said softly, drawing the younger woman’s attention to her, “there’s been an accident. I’m sorry honey, but your parents have been killed.”
Tiffany just stared at her, as if trying to make sense of the words. Justine moved from the coffee table to the couch, and put her arm around Tiffany. Tiffany looked at her as if she was still trying to solve a difficult puzzle. “What happened?” she asked. Justine looked over at Bob, who answered.
“We’re still not completely sure. It was a head-on collision out on route 723. It looks like your dad was trying to pass a tractor on a hill, and the oncoming truck was driving too fast.” Bob stopped for a moment, wondering how much he needed to tell her. “The driver of the truck was also killed, and the driver of the tractor is in critical condition. It will be awhile before we know everything.”
Justine spoke again, “Tiffany, I’m a grief counselor with the county, and I’m going to stay here with you until you can reach someone else. Do you have someone to call honey? A friend who can come over and stay with you?” On the way to the Szczepanski’s house, Bob had briefed Justine on the situation with Tiffany, and that she didn’t really have any friends in town.
Tiffany sat on the couch with a stranger’s arm around her, her thoughts drifting into her head slowly, like fallen leaves drifting downstream. Suddenly everything seemed to be going in slow motion, and she couldn’t make her mind form thoughts properly. Bob cleared his throat and she looked up at him, her expression confused.
“Is there anyone you can call?” he asked, repeating Justine’s question. “Justine can stay with you tonight, but is there anyone else you can talk to who can come and stay with you?”
She looked at him blankly for a moment and slowly shook her head. Then she stopped for a moment and said slowly, “Oh, wait. Well, yes, there is a call I guess I should make.” Justine and Bob exchanged a look as Tiffany got up from the couch and wandered out of the room. Justine nodded at Bob and followed.
Bob took a few steps away from her and spoke into his shoulder radio. He told his dispatcher that he was going to be another hour or so, and he wasn’t sure how long Justine would need to stay. When he finished, he could hear the murmur of Tiffany’s voice in the other room, and the sound of her weeping.
Justine returned a moment later, her arm still around Tiffany. The three of them sat on the couch, and Justine began to talk softly. Bob didn’t pay much attention to what she was saying, but was wondering who on earth Tiffany could have called, and who would be coming to stay with her. He’d always thought of her as spoiled and a little selfish, but right now he just felt a profound sense of sadness. He reached over and patted her knee, and felt ashamed that he was wondering how long he would have to stay. He really just wanted to go and be anywhere else right now. He heard Tiffany saying that someone would be there in a few hours, and saw Justine hand the young woman a glass of water and some kind of pill. Then she led her out of the den and told Bob he could go, that she would put Tiffany to bed and stay until whoever she called arrived. Bob tried not to look relieved and hoped he didn’t look like he was rushing out the door. But neither woman seemed to notice as he made his way out.