A Contest of Wills: Chapter 2

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.

A Contest of Wills: Chapter 1

Kate Szczepanski was sitting at the desk in her den, signing the letter she had just finished writing. Hurriedly, she folded it and slipped it into an envelope. She heard the decisive footsteps of her husband down the hall, and the car keys jingling in his hand as he pulled open the front door. He called out to her.

“Kate, are you ready? We need to go!”

“Just a minute Bill, I’ll be right there!”

She heard the sigh from the front door and hurried to write the address on the envelope. She didn’t like to keep her husband waiting; although he was usually patient with her last minute scrambling he was in a hurry today, anxious to get to the county zoning meeting a little early to get a good seat.

Kate quickly sealed the envelope she had just addressed and winced as she felt a slight sting on her tongue. Darn it! She hated getting a paper cut on her tongue! She hated feeling rushed like this, and the letter was important so she needed to get it out today. But she also knew that Bill wasn’t going to be patient for much longer, and she didn’t want to have to ride to the meeting in stony silence. She quickly put a stamp on the letter and was standing up to go as her daughter Tiffany walked into the room.

Tiffany had recently moved back home from Chicago. She had gone there two years before to live with a man that Kate hadn’t ever liked or trusted. When Tiffany had come home one day to find another woman sitting at her kitchen table, wearing Tiffany’s bath robe and drinking coffee as if it were her kitchen, Tiffany packed her bag and called her mother from the airport, crying. Although Bill didn’t think having Tiffany come back home to live was the best idea – he had said something about making her responsible for the consequences of her decisions, and making her stand on her own two feet – as a mother Kate couldn’t stand to hear her daughter’s pain, and had immediately paid for a plane ticket to get her home. Not that Bill had really objected. They were both glad to have their daughter home, but Kate was starting to wonder if letting her come home without a discussion of her future plans had really been such a good idea.

“Mom, you better get going. I think dad is about to have an aneurism.”

Kate frowned slightly and walked toward the doorway where her daughter stood. “Tiffany, don’t say things like that, it isn’t funny. Here,” and she held the envelope out to her daughter, “I’d like this to go out today and I know we won’t have time to stop at the post office. Would you please go to the post office for me and make sure it goes out today?”

Tiffany crossed her arms and looked down at the envelop in her mother’s hand. “What’s in it?”

“Nothing you need to worry about. Please just make sure it goes out.”

Tiffany sighed and shifted her weight so her hip was leaning against the doorjamb. She looked at her mother and said with a pout, “Mom I don’t want to go out, can’t you take it later? There’s an old movie on T.V. I really want to watch. You know how hard it’s been for me going out lately. I’m just not sure I’m up to it.”

Kate squared her shoulders and looked her daughter in the eye. “Tiffany,” she said firmly, “listen to me. I’m sorry that you had a bad experience in Chicago, and I’m sorry that your heart got broken. But you’re living her now, and….” Tiffany abruptly straightened up and grabbed the letter from her mother’s hand.

“Please, I don’t need a lecture. I’ll mail the stupid letter.” She looked down at the name and address on the envelope then up at her mother with undisguised amazement. “Why are you writing him?”


Tiffany jumped slightly and Kate pushed past her daughter into the hallway. As she headed toward the front door Tiffany called after her, “I don’t know why you care about saving all this land. You don’t need it and you could get a ton of money for it if you just sold it to that developer.”

Tiffany heard her mother’s response coming down the hall. “There are more important things in life than money Tiffany. We know what we want to do with our land, and it isn’t selling it off so it can be turned into condos and strip malls. Please just make sure that letter gets to the post office. Today!” Tiffany heard the front door close and the key turn in the lock. A moment later she heard the roar of the car engine and the sound of popping gravel as the car headed down the driveway.

She ambled into the den and looked around. Although it was only September her mother had a fire going in the fireplace and the room was quite warm. Tiffany walked over to the Queen Anne desk and sat down. The desk was neat and clean; a new brand new laptop computer sat off to one side of the desk, the lid closed and the power off. Tiffany looked at the computer and snorted. Although her mother had been trying to use it, she always seemed to have some kind of problem, undecipherable error message or other failure.

She pushed back from the desk, stood up, and looked around the room. It was the same room, exactly as it had been throughout her entire childhood. Nothing ever changed here, and her parents seemed to think they could make time stand still. She looked down at the letter in her hand. After a moment’s hesitation, she grabbed the letter opener from her mother’s desk and slid it under the flap. Quickly, she sliced open the envelope, pulled out the letter and began to read. She couldn’t believe her eyes. She looked up and spoke into the empty room. “What on earth are they thinking? They can’t do this!” She stood thinking for a moment, then jammed the letter back into the envelope and walked over to the fireplace.

“This is one letter that will get lost in the mail,” she muttered. She hesitated for just a moment, and then tossed the letter onto the flames watching as the envelope and its contents curled up, turned black, and dropped into ash through the grate. She knew her mother would eventually realize the letter hadn’t reached its intended recipient, but Tiffany figured she had at least a month to come up with an idea that would reverse the action the letter would have put into motion.

“And a lot can happen in a week,” Tiffany declared to the empty room. She knew that from hard experience. Her entire life could change in the course of a week. And this time, she intended to make sure that the change was for the better.

Bill Szczepanski was in a hurry. He had wanted to get to the county planning meeting early so he could be sure to sit up front where he could look everyone in the eye. He didn’t trust all the committee members, and wanted to be sure he could see exactly what was going on. He loved his wife tremendously, but her habit of finding things to do as she was walking out the door was extremely irritating, especially on a day like today.

Kate knew from her husband’s silence that he was upset with her. He would often stay silent until he could trust himself not to snap at her or say something that would hurt her feelings. Early in their marriage she would press him to talk to her until he would blow up. Then she would cry and it would be a scene. Over the years, she had learned to leave him alone and let him sort through things. When he was ready he would talk to her. But this time was a bit different. She needed to talk to him about the letter that Tiffany was taking to the post office. She wanted to be sure they were both clear on the content so there were no misunderstandings. She also knew he was irritated she seemed unable to figure out how to use her new computer, and decided to begin by addressing that.

“Bill,” she said, turning to her husband, “I don’t want you to be upset, because I really do appreciate the computer you got me.” She waited, but her husband didn’t respond. After a brief moment, he nodded. Kate turned to face the road.

“I’ve been trying to use it, I really have. Maybe I’ll need to sign up for a class or something – it just seems like nothing ever works when I try to use it.” She glanced over. He still didn’t look at her, but she could see his expression had softened slightly. She turned forward and continued, “Anyway, there was a letter I needed to write and I had it all ready this morning. It was all typed up in the computer, but then I couldn’t get it to print. And,” here she glanced nervously over at him, “if I’m being honest there are some letters I’d rather write than type. I can’t help it – I think a hand-written letter is just so much more personal.” Bill gave a tired sigh, and then reached out his hand and rested it on his wife’s thigh. She looked over at him and he just shook his head and smiled.

“Well, I do. Particularly when it’s a special letter and you really want the person reading it to feel your sincerity. The way I look at it, anyone could type a letter and pretend it was from me. But it would be pretty hard to deny that I put a lot of thought and feeling into a hand-written letter. But that aside, the printer just wouldn’t work! It just wouldn’t print out that letter. I figured it would just be faster to hand-write it then spend time trying to figure out why it wouldn’t print.”

Bill had to smile at his wife’s logic. So that’s why she’d been late. She was rewriting a letter she’d already composed on the computer. He had gotten her the computer late last year, thinking she could use it to create her annual Christmas letter. For weeks before Christmas every year she was glued to her desk in the den, handwriting letter after letter to their family and friends. He had hoped the computer would give her more time during the holidays. But she had been appalled at the idea. He had tried to point out that she could learn to put pictures and graphics in her letters, but she wasn’t interested. He couldn’t help but feel that all her issues, errors and problems with the computer were welcome reasons for her to keep hand writing her letters. Although, it sounded like she really had tried to use that morning. Even though she had still hand-written the final letter, drafting it on the computer was a start.

Kate’s voice broke into his thoughts. “And Bill, we really need to do something about Tiffany.” Despite her intention to talk about the content of the letter, she found herself more worried about their daughter.

Bill snorted. He knew what he thought they should do about Tiffany. He loved his daughter; she was still his little girl at heart, but he was disappointed with the choices she had made, and not altogether happy with the woman she had turned out to be.

“How about grounding her for the rest of the year?” he asked wryly.

Kate slapped his leg lightly. “Bill, I’m serious. This break-up was hard for her, and I’m glad her first thought was to come home. But now that she’s here she doesn’t seem to want to do anything with her life. She just hangs out around the house like a petulant teenager.”

“Kate, she’s an adult. We can’t control the choices she makes. All we can do is give her tough love and make her live through the consequences.”

Kate looked at her husband imploringly. “What do you want me to do? Kick her out? Where would she go? Bill, I know you don’t understand it, but I think Colin Dawson was abusive to her.” At the words, Bill’s head snapped around and he glared at his wife. Hurriedly, Kate continued. “Oh, I don’t mean he hit her, don’t worry.” Bill turned back to the road, but was still glowering. “I feel like he abused her emotionally. I’ve been reading about it on the Internet. Yes,” she said at his raised eyebrows, “I have actually been using the computer and I do know how to use the Internet. At any rate, these guys will get women into a relationship, then they slowly separate them from all of their friends and family. They pressure them to spend time with only them, and they start controlling every aspect of their lives. Then they treat them like trash. He probably thought Tiffany would just put up with another woman since he had managed to alienate her from everyone who cared about her.”

Bill cursed softly and Kate looked over, thinking he was upset about what she had just told him. But then she saw that there was a huge tractor ahead of them on the country road. Bill shifted impatiently in his seat, and Kate rubbed his thigh. “It’s o.k. honey,” she said, “we’ll get there in time.” Bill didn’t say anything. He followed the tractor for a few miles at a crawl. His patience ran out at the bottom of a rise, and he banged the steering wheel in frustration.

As if reading what was happening in the car behind him, the driver of the tractor stuck his arm out the window and began motioning that Bill should pass him. Although they were at the bottom of a rise, Bill accelerated the car and pulled into the left-hand lane.

Kate gasped and grabbed the bar above her window. “Bill!” she said, scared. “You’re passing on a hill!”

“It’s o.k.,” he reassured her, “he must be up high enough that he can see over the hill. He wouldn’t motion us to pass him if he couldn’t.” He was just coming even with the tractor getting ready to top the hill when the driver stuck his arm out the window again and began frantically waving for them to get back. In the confused moment it took Bill to understand the gesture, the truck suddenly crested the hill in front of him, going far too fast for the narrow country road.

The Copeland Cats

At one point my love of cats – and my very patient husband’s love of me – turned me into what some might call a crazy cat lady. (Although I honestly don’t think ten cats is that many, especially when most of them are outdoors.)

After spending years trying to write something “serious,” I decided to go back to what comes naturally, and wrote the very sing-songy poem below about the heyday of the “Copeland Cat” era. The photo above shows the nine outdoor cats having breakfast on the porch. Although most of the cats are gone now, I have fond memories of the sight of “all the cattails wavin’.”



In the country, in Virginia, in a little place called Rockville,

Is a farm that gives a second chance to cats that got a raw deal.

Here the catnip grows in long straight rows; the farm’s called Copeland’s Haven.

Come and take a closer look – there’s something quite amazin’!


There are kitties at the Copeland’s over-running all the acres,

With their whisker-lickin’ groomin’ and their loud meowy-makers.

First is Idaho, then Leroy, next are Zed, Moe, Boo and Tina,

Then there’s Chingo, Honey, Rikki, and there’s also Grace and Xena.


All the kitties love the Copelands, in particular the Missus,

‘Cause she’s the Kitty Momma granting all their kitty wishes.

And although she is a human she’s an expert at the art

Of understanding feline feelings and respecting feline hearts.


So come and meet the Copeland cats, their antics are amusing,

(Just know that some may run away, while others may be snoozing).

But even so, come say hello – give in to cat seduction,

We’ll get you started on your way with this brief introduction.


Idaho’s an indoor cat; he’s pampered, sleek and happy,

He loves to eat his chicken bits and nap in Momma’s lappy.

On winter nights he stays inside and curls up by the fire,

In spring the open windows let him hear the birdie’s choir.


Leroy is the leader of the cats that live outside,

He’s a black tuxedo rascal with a lion’s royal pride.

He will be the first you’ll see, the one to give a greeting,

And Leroy is the first to give another cat a beating.


Zed is quite a scrapper with his dapper, long black coat,

He’s got a ton of cattitude and not much else of note.

He loves to run and climb the trees; he loves his kitty kibbles,

And when you’re busy petting him, he loves to give love nibbles.


Moe rhymes with “NO” – it’s apropos – the naughty little booger!

He’s also loving, cute and smart, and can be sweet as sugar.

He loves to chew on cardboard, eat the bills and tear up tissues,

Apparently this little guy is full of pulp-based issues.


With Boo it’s true you don’t see much, he tries not to be seen.

A solid black, big ‘fraidy cat, his birthday’s Halloween.

He slinks along behind the trees; he likes things nice and quiet.

And Boo’s the first to rush away should things become a riot.


Tina is the biggest cat and stately as a queen.

A calico with manners, she is never cross or mean.

She is fond of Chingo, and she finds his love inspiring,

Although his constant presence can occasionally be tiring.


Chingo is a tabby cat that sports a fat white tummy,

From thinking that most everything is absolutely yummy.

He’s in love with Tina, so much so it makes him loopy,

And when she is ignoring him, his tail gets sad and droopy.


Honey is the newest cat; he comes from who knows where,

He needs to learn to bathe and groom his honey colored hair.

He wants so badly to be loved, but runs away from petting,

You’ll always find the clumps of fur he leaves behind from shedding.


Rikki is a little man; he’s white with tabby patches,

He’s always mending from a scrape or one of many scratches.

Although he’s shy he’s quite a guy, he’s full of kitty charm;

The Momma’s constant worry is he’ll come to kitty harm.


Poor Grace is just a mental case and needs to get a clue.

She’s purring while you’re petting her, then bites before you’re through.

She has a way, like Puss in Boots, to look sad and appealing,

She could be sad, she could be mad – who knows what she is feeling!


Xena is a princess and our mighty warrior kitty.

She’s a pastel tortoiseshell, and just so itty-bitty.

She hunts for prey both night and day; you often see her stalking,

And when you hear her tiny voice, its daintiness is shocking.


That’s all the cats there are for now; the future is unwritten,

For if the Momma sees in need a kitten, she is smitten.

Come back to see the Copeland cats, they’re here at Copeland’s Haven,

You’ll recognize it by the sight of all the cat tails wavin’.