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The Blizzard


by


T. J. Robertson



Smashwords Edition




Copyright 2019 T. J. Robertson




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The last thing I wanted was to fall in love again. Been there, done that. And believe me, it was with regret. Oh, the truth is Miriam and I were both at fault. She came from high society and the Big Apple; I, from Spartan simplicity and small-town America. In our senior year at college we met for the first time in a class entitled Publishing Short Fiction. Because writing was one of the few things I did well, she took a fancy to me. After graduation and a whirlwind courtship we became husband and wife.

From the beginning the marriage was doomed. No way could I provide her the lifestyle to which she was accustomed; for by nature I was a dreamer and she, a doer. Irreconcilable differences, our lawyers called it. Upon looking back, I must confess that the sex was great. That pleasure alone, however, was not enough to sustain the marriage. But I digress; so, allow me, if you will, to get on with the story.

Because I have salt water in my veins and love the woods and open spaces, two years ago I moved to Stonington, Maine. Before deciding to do so, I had given Cape Cod serious consideration; for, after all, I was born and raised in the Bay State. Although the Cape has the ocean and some of the country's most beautiful beaches, it has become a tourist Mecca and, thus, lacks the wide, open spaces.

I did not, as some of my friends hinted, retreat to the Pine Tree State to escape the clutches of my mother--even though I admit she tried to convince me to stay put. That she can be demanding and meddlesome goes without saying. But are not all mothers like that? Because I love her, I have learned to roll with the punches and hang on to my independence.

In February I had returned to her home to be with her before and after her varicose-vein surgery. Although the procedure--a phlebectomy, to use the medical jargon--was not life-threatening, I, as her only child, felt obliged to be by her side. Besides, just over a year ago my father had died and although she wore the pants in the family, she always sought his advice before making any decisions and now missed him dearly. Fortunately, my job as a free-lance writer allowed me to spend time with her; for, thanks to the laptop computer, nowadays one can write and get into print from almost any place on earth.

Early on, as an aspiring author, to my surprise I found out I had a knack for writing romance novels. Because, for the most part, the authors of romances are women, I deemed it wise not to write under my name, Tommy Hebb, but rather to use the pseudonym, Tami Hebb. Over the years I have built up a loyal following and, so, make a decent living. In response to the demand for ebooks on the internet, I recently turned my attention to writing short romances for that market, thereby adding to my income.

As for my mother, within days she was walking and back to being her old self and, so, I decided to return to Maine. As I was getting ready to do so, I learned that the weather forecast was for snow. I thought nothing of it; for, this, after all, is New England and snow in February is not unusual. Although anxious to get on the road--for I was suffering from a severe case of writer's block and returning to Massachusetts did not provide me the relief for which I was hoping--at my mother's urging I chose to wait until the storm passed. That decision would prove to be one of the most important of my life.

Because my mother no longer drives, she goes shopping via a van, which for a small fee the senior center provides. To save her a trip, that morning amid the flurries of snow and the whispers of the wind I drove to the local supermarket to stock up on groceries for her. On the drive back the flurries became heavier and the wind, gustier. Setting the shopping bags down onto the floor of the entry way and stomping my feet to remove the snow, I said," Whew! It's getting nasty out there, mom."

"It's going to be a big storm," she said, looking out the window.

"Oh, you've heard the latest weather report, have you?" I asked, hanging up my jacket.

"Good heavens no," she replied, turning to me, "I can feel it in my bones."

One has an indescribable feeling of security when he or she is curled up on a sofa in a warm and comfortable living room--snug as a bug in a rug, so the saying goes--while outside a winter storm is raging. So, that afternoon, while savoring that very feeling, I put aside my pencil and notebook--for, writer's block still held me firmly within its grip--and began to doze.

I awoke at dusk to find my mother peering out at the blinding snow and darkening sky. "It's really coming down, Tommy," she exclaimed.

"The weatherman predicted a foot of snow," I replied, stifling a yawn.

"There's well over a foot out there now." Just then the lights flickered and, turning around to face me, she said, "Oh no, don't tell me we're going to lose our electricity?" At those words I was on my feet and heading for the kitchen. "Where are you going?" she demanded, peering at me over her bifocals.

"To the garage. Although I may not be as talented a mechanic as was dad, I'm going to see if I can get the snow blower and generator working just in case."

Knowing only too well that unlike my father, a tinkerer and Rube Goldberg type, who could repair about anything with moving parts, I was a klutz, she cautioned, "Be careful."

Needless to say, they were, as he had left them, in excellent running condition. The blower started up on the first pull and, hoping to get a jump on the mounting snow, I decided to plow the driveway. Because I proved to be no match for the gusts of wind which blew it in drifts all over the place, to my chagrin the endeavor became a lesson in futility and, so, I retreated back into the house.

When I settled back onto the sofa, the television was blaring away. At the emergency command center, the governor, sporting a white Irish woolen sweater and surrounded by a solemn band of officials, was holding forth.

"A typical politician," I quipped. "If his handling of a big snow storm goes well, his reelection is a sure thing."

"Shush, Tommy," my mother cautioned with a wave of her hand, "let's hear what he has to say."

"The snow's falling at a rate in excess of three inches an hour with no end in sight," he said. "In spots the wind is blowing at seventy miles an hour and white-out conditions are making driving impossible. Abandoned cars are clogging the highways and plows are stuck among them. Because of the wind chill, frost bite and hypothermia pose a danger to anyone venturing outdoors. So, for the reasons just mentioned I'm declaring a state of emergency effective immediately. Except for essential personnel--police, firemen, hospital workers, and snow-removal crews--nobody will be allowed out on the roads. Too, I'm requesting businesses to keep their workers home.

I ask patience on the part of the public until all the stranded cars are removed and the roads, cleared. How long, you ask, will this emergency last? At this time, frankly I have no idea. Suffice to say, however, it will be in effect as long as it takes to insure the safety of the people of this great state of Massachusetts."

Turning off the television, I again assumed my favorite position on the sofa in the living room, the pencil in one hand and the notebook in the other. This time, however, with the snow storm acting as a catalyst, I suddenly got an idea for a short ebook romance: An off-duty cop goes into a bank to cash his check and, while waiting in line, a robber bursts in and orders everybody down onto the floor. How long I was writing--at a feverish clip I might add--I am not sure when, to mine and my mother's consternation, there was a knock--or rather a pounding--on the front door.

"Who could that be?" she asked, peering at me over her bifocals.

Reluctantly getting up and going to the door, I quipped, "Even Santa Claus would have second thoughts about venturing out on a night like this."

Opening the door, I could not be blamed for assuming that the creature standing before me, covered from head to toe in ice and snow, was the Abominable Snowman. "Help me, please help me!" At the sound of the voice I realized it was a woman and, in the nick of time, reached out and caught her in my arms as she was falling.

"Oh, Jeez," I exclaimed in a panic, "getting an ambulance in this weather will be impossible."

"Carry her into the spare bedroom off the kitchen," my mother replied, closing the door and leading the way. "Hopefully, she'll come to and I'll be able to get her into some dry clothing. Meanwhile start some coffee perking in the kitchen."

As I was turning on the gas beneath the pot, I breathed a sigh of relief. For, in the adjacent room, the voice of our unexpected guest was music to my ears. "I'm--I'm sorry for barging in on you like this but I--I didn't know where to turn," she said with a faint tremor. "I--I thought I was going to die."

"Well, one thing for sure," my mother replied with a display of her dry humor, "we don't allow people to die in this house."

"Again I apologize for the inconvenience and will pay you for your hospitality."

"Pshaw!" the older woman chided. "I hope that in the future you, too, will show kindness to those who may have the misfortune of finding themselves in dire straits similar to the one you've just survived."

"That goes without saying," she murmured.

"Now let's get you out of those wet clothes and into a warm shower," my mother insisted.

* * *

Perked up by the warmth of the water and wearing a pair of slacks and a blouse from my mother's wardrobe, both hidden beneath a pink bathrobe, the visitor dutifully followed her into the kitchen. "Beth, this is my son, Tommy," she said with a wry smile. "When he opened the door and saw you, I was more fearful of his passing out than I was of yours."

"Pleased to meet you, Beth," I replied, blushing, "and, even more so, to see you looking so well." And believe me; I was not kidding. "In case you haven't noticed, my mother has a tendency to exaggerate." I paused and, with a hint of censure in both my look and tone, directed at the older woman, continued, "But then again nobody's perfect."

When the three of us were seated around the table, my mother, who had set it quickly with slices of pizza, dinner rolls, and cheese all of which I had brought home from the market that morning, said, "Come on now, Beth; eat and get your strength back."

Beneath the ceiling light, I took her measure and, indeed, liked what I saw. Rich, dark hair, which tumbled carelessly over her shoulders, framed a smooth, olive, oval face. Perfectly arched eyebrows hovered above clear, intelligent, hazel eyes within which lurked a touch of sadness. The smile, toying at the corners of her delicate mouth, would at one moment appear warm and bright; the next, cold and wan. Likewise with regard to her body--I should note the borrowed clothing could not hide her slender legs and slim hips--she was, at one minute relaxed and at ease; the next, tense and uptight. Summing up my impressions of her, I felt as if I were sitting across from a human enigma, which I readily admit I was anxious to solve.

"So, tell us, Beth, how you happened upon us on a night like this?" my mother asked, smiling across at her.

Breaking the awkward stillness that followed, she replied, "I'm a teacher at Belmont High School."

She had my undivided attention. "What subjects?"

"Mathematics."

"Oh?" My enthusiasm cratered as quickly as it had arisen. "Unfortunately, in school math and science were my Waterloo."

"But he writes wonderfully," my mother interposed, rewarding me with a smile.

Beth's hazel eyes caught and held my blue ones. "What do you do for a living?"

Because I always have had trouble handling compliments, I found myself quipping, "This and that, now and then, here and there."

"Oh, shame on you." After chiding me and giving my arm a love pat, my mother turned to her. "He writes books." A broad smile crossed her lips. "Very good ones if I do say so myself."

"What kind?" our guest asked, leaning across the table.

My mother answered the question for me. "Romances."

"Really?" Her dark eyebrows rose inquiringly.

Unwilling to undergo any more questioning about myself, I blurted out, "You were about to tell us, Beth, how you happened to arrive on our doorstep when I interrupted your train of thought, for which I apologize."

She hesitated, leaning back and putting the fingers of her hands together to form a steeple. "As I was saying, I'm a math teacher at Belmont High. And today because of the worsening weather conditions school was dismissed early. Unfortunately for me, on the way home the traffic was heavy and slow-moving--so much so that by the time I reached Route 2 and Belmont Hill everything was at a standstill." She toyed nervously with strands of her hair. "Nothing was moving and I mean nothing. I was in the car for hours, shutting off and restarting the engine at intervals to keep from freezing. With the snow mounting, my gas gage dipping, and no hope of help in sight--my cell phone needed charging--panic set in; for I was afraid I was going to die." Again she hesitated and then, heaving a heavy sigh, said, "So I decided to abandon my car and seek safety. Somewhere, anywhere. Although I could barely see a foot in front of me, I had the good luck to stumble upon your house." With her voice trailing off to a whisper she concluded, "So, here I am."

"And we're honored to have you," my mother said, reaching across and squeezing her hand.

The blizzard with its hurricane winds and snow drifts of fifteen feet set a record for its duration--thirty-three hours. Because thousands of abandoned cars clogged the roads, untold numbers of people, who had sought safety, were living in emergency shelters, and public means of transportation--busses, trains, and airplanes--were unable to operate, the governor's emergency travel ban was extended to a week.

One thing I can say with certainty is that my mother is not a good cook. Oh, sure, she knows how to boil water and toast a slice of bread, but once you get beyond the basics, things get dicey, if not downright dangerous. For that reason, canned and packaged foods are our standard fare. Beth, on the other hand, was a clever, resourceful chef. Under her magical touch, a zucchini would become a Parmesan; an egg and a couple of slices of bread, French toast; a sweet potato, delicious fries. And, so, for that week my mother, recognizing her guest's culinary superiority, willingly turned control of the kitchen over to her.

Beth entered the house as a stranger but, in record time, became an important, if not essential, part of our life. And my mother enjoyed her company as much as did I, if not more so. Living in this world of crass materialism, thanks to her I learned the importance of the simple things in life. Sitting across from her at breakfast and chatting idly over raised coffee cups; building a snowman with her in the afternoon--the cold air brushing her delicate cheeks and, in its wake, leaving a rose tint; and exchanging smiles with her over word games played late into the night--what more could I ask for?

Looking back, I can honestly say that week was the happiest of my life. Like a silly boy wishing for another snow day off from school, I hoped our time together would never end. But, like all the good things in life, end it did.

If one were to ask me to name a fault of hers--and that, indeed, would be difficult for me to do--selfishly I might express my disappointment with the amount of time she spent with me. What with cooking, drying dishes, washing clothes, and performing countless other household chores, she was perpetual motion incarnate and, so, had little time left over to share with me. Of course, by willingly undertaking such tasks, she earned even more of my mother's love and respect.

Wednesday morning of that week while Beth was down in the cellar putting clothes into the dryer, my mother stole over to the sofa upon which I was lying and writing another part of my romantic ebook: While the robber is grabbing hold of the bag of money, the cop leaps up and overpowers him. Hovering above me, she whispered, "I'm worried about Beth."

"Why?" I asked, setting my writing pad and pencil aside. "Has she done something wrong?"

The alarm in my voice did not go unnoticed. "No, of course not," she protested with a dismissive wave of her hand, "she's a wonderful young woman." Then with a deep sigh, she said, "I just wish your paths would have crossed earlier."

Knowing only too well what was to come, I took a deep breath and rolled my eyes. "Mom, please, let's not go there."

"I told you Miriam was not the girl for you but you wouldn't listen," she persisted, waving a finger. "And, in the end, I was right, wasn't I?" While I was biting my tongue, she added, "Not that she was a bad girl, mind you, but the two of you were like oil and water; you didn't mix."

"Getting back to Beth," I said, sitting up and sighing in frustration, "in case you've forgotten, she's engaged." Although Beth was averse to talking about herself, on one occasion she had let it slip out that she had a fiancé. The name of the lucky fellow, to my chagrin, was Harry Nazarian.

"Oh, I haven't forgotten," she retorted, "that's the problem."

"What problem?" I demanded.

"She and her fiancé aren't getting along?"

"How do you know that?" No sooner had I spoken than I answered my own question. "Mom, have you been eavesdropping on their cell phone conversations?"

"No, of course not," she replied indignantly, "but he was yelling at her so loudly on the other end of the line, I couldn't help but hear."

"So they had a lovers' quarrel," I said with a wave of my hand. "Big deal."

"Believe me, it was more than a lovers' quarrel, "she retorted with a wag of her head. "He's not a nice man, that's for sure."

"With all due respect," I chided, "I think you're jumping to conclusions."

With arms crossed and her eyes ablaze, she said, "All I know is she's too good for the likes of him."

"Mom, don't meddle," I cautioned.

She thought for a moment and, then, with a nod said, "All right, I won't meddle but the least thing you can do is ask her if everything is okay."

"All right," I replied, throwing up my hands, "at the proper time and place I'll do that."

"And make sure that you don't dilly-dally," she retorted, waving a finger at me.

"Mom, I told you I'd talk to her about it and I will."

With that promise I settled back onto the sofa and continued writing another part of my romance: Ripping off the hold-up man's mask, the cop is astonished to find that the robber is a woman.

* * *

It was on a Thursday evening after a delightful game of scrabble with Beth that I, aware of my mother's request, chose to ask her about her relationship with her fiancé. "Beth," I said, looking down awkwardly at my clasped hands, "are you okay?"

"Why do you ask?" she said, those beautiful eyes of hers studying me with a curious intensity.

Never being a good liar, I found myself stammering. "Well, it's--it's my mother. She's worried about you."

Stroking her chin, she hesitated and thought for a moment. "So, she heard me on my cell phone?"

"Yes," I said with a wag of my head, "I'm afraid so."

"I'd be surprised if the whole street hadn't heard it." Her eyes saddened and her smile faded. "The fact is my fiancé and I aren't getting along."

For want of something better to say, I murmured, "I'm sorry to hear that."

"But for the kindness of your mother and you in taking me inside here," she said, gesturing, "I could've perished in my car out on Route 2. He, however, could care less about that." While I was pondering a response, she said, "He’s jealous and possessive, accusing me of lying somewhere on a rug before a roaring fire place and cuddling up with some mythical lover."

Turning scarlet at the implications those words held for me, I managed to reply, "Obviously he has some problems."

"Tell me about it," she said, her eyebrows drawing together in a frown.

Surprised by her tone and look, I found myself offering, "Have you and he tried counseling?"

"Are you kidding?" she replied with a hollow laugh. "According to him, everything's my fault; I'm the one who needs the counseling, not him."

"That’s too bad," I murmured for want of anything better to say.

"Why don't you break up with him?" Those words came from my mother, who, standing on the threshold between the dining room and living room, was listening to us. If they were shocking to me, Beth's response was even more so.

"I--I don't dare," she stammered, a flicker of apprehension coursing through her.

Suddenly I found myself taking her hand in mine. "Beth, has he hurt you?"

The silence hovered above us like a heavy mist. "Not physically," she murmured at last.

"Psychologically?" I asked.

When she did not answer my question, my mother intervened. "Either way, Beth, you don't deserve that kind of treatment."

"Yes, I know and I'm giving the matter a lot of thought." Awkwardly she cleared her throat. "But right now, if you don't mind, I'd rather not talk about it."

"Of course." Chastened by both her words and the tone of her voice, I released her hand and leaned back on the sofa.

"But remember; we'll always be here for you," my mother offered, leaning over and patting her on the shoulder. "That's what friends are for."

* * *

Friday afternoon I asked Beth to go sledding with me on a hill in a park a couple of blocks from the house. On winter days long since past I used to enjoy slipping and sliding there. To my pleasant surprise she accepted my offer. Although we had to share the hill with a gaggle of frolicking youngsters, we enjoyed ourselves just as much as did they. What more could I ask for than to be going down a snow-covered hill on a toboggan with the arms of the love of my life embracing me. And, yes, I confess--fiancé or not--that's what she had become to me.

As I was helping her up from the sled after our last trip down, she looked up at me, both the snow on her woolen cap and her eyes glistening in the setting sun, and smiled. "Don't you know you can't recapture your lost youth?" she said, a gentle softness in her voice.

I nodded. "That's why I'm so determined to make the most of what I have left of life."

Passing Mary's Coffee Shop, an old hangout of mine, on the way back home, I noticed to my surprise that it was open for business. Because I wanted to spend as much time as possible with Beth and knew if we went straight home, she would find another chore to do, I blurted out, "Hey, Beth, how about me treating you to some hot coffee and pastry?" Setting the toboggan aside and taking her hand, I said, "And I won’t take no for an answer."

With neither a husband nor children, the coffee shop and its customers filled the void in the life of Mary Dwyer, an attractive spinster with frosted salt and pepper hair, sparkling eyes, and a warm smile. Bubbly and cheerful, she kept her shop neat and clean and knew most of her customers by name. Upon seeing me, she enthused, "Tommy Hebb, how nice to see you again."

"Likewise, Mrs. Dwyer," I replied, always respectfully using her last name.

She could not do enough to please us and although I appreciated her warmth and kindness, I really wanted to be alone with Beth. To my relief, two customers--plow drivers taking a break--came in, compelling her to shift her attention from us to them.

All I knew about Beth Boghosian--that was her full name--was that she was a teacher at Belmont High, lived in Cambridge, and had a fiancé by the name of Harry Nazarian. Because I did not like to talk about myself, I was hesitant to criticize her reticence on that same topic. So anxious was I to learn everything I could about her, however, that after some idle chatter about Mrs. Dwyer's kindness and the weather, I turned hypocrite and plunged into forbidden territory. "About your fiancé?" I said.

Her smile vanished and her body tensed up. "What about him?"

"How the hell did you ever get hooked up with a guy who treats you like dirt?" I replied, all my pent-up frustration and jealousy bursting forth.

Clasping her hands in her lap and staring down at them, she said, "It's a long story."

"I have nothing but time."

I waited, challenging her to answer me. She sighed and ran a hand nervously through her hair. Then, looking up at me, she said, "In case you haven't noticed, I'm Armenian-American."

"Oh, I noticed," I retorted. "The last three letters of your surname were a dead giveaway."

Her wan smile vanished as quickly as it had appeared. "My family came to America from Aleppo, Syria."

"Aleppo?" I replied, my brow wrinkling with concern. "Unless I'm mistaken, they've bombed the hell out of that place."

"That they have." She hesitated, her face darkening. "My father and Harry's were in the jewelry business together back there. Over the years our families became close--too close." Pushing away an errant strand of hair, she took a deep breath. "Because of the volatile political situation, both fathers wanted to get their families out of there."

"Oh, so, that's how you came here, eh?" I answered, regarding her with somber curiosity.

She nodded. "Everyone in the families except my dad and Harry's. They had a very successful business and, because they thought soon a new regime would take over the country and things would improve, they chose to stay."

"Obviously that was wishful thinking on their part," I offered, knowing only too well how long the devastation to that city went on.

Her eyes welled up with tears. "Barrel bombs claimed their lives."

"I'm--I'm sorry to hear that," I said, taking some napkins from the holder and handing them to her.

"Not long after we came here, my mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer," she said, dabbing at her eyes. "It was a virulent form--so virulent she didn't last a year after the diagnosis."

"It never rains but it pours," I murmured, reaching across and squeezing her hand.

"During those difficult times, I had nobody to turn to except Harry." Those beautiful eyes of hers gazed across at me and pleaded for understanding. "He was a great help to me."

"So you felt an obligation to him?" I probed, jealousy getting the better of me.

She nodded. "Yes."

"Did that obligation include marrying him?" I said, wanting, as it were, to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

She hesitated, her fork toying with the muffin. "Perhaps."

"Perhaps?" I echoed, confused.

The silence grew taut with tension. "Things changed when I got a scholarship to attend Tufts University."

"So that's how you got into teaching?" I offered.

Again she gave a wag of her head. "And, more importantly, the years there opened up a whole new world before me."

I picked up my cup and leaned back in my chair. "What do you mean?"

"I became more independent and looked upon Harry more as a father figure?" she replied with detached inevitability.

Those words were music to my ears; for I now knew I had a chance to take our friendship to the next level. Peering at her over the rim of my cup, I observed, "One shouldn't, however, be afraid of his or her father."

"Yes, I know." With those words she heaved a heavy sigh and got to her feet. "C'mon, let's go," she said, glancing at her watch, "I promised your mother I'd wash the kitchen floor for her."

Not, at that moment, looking kindly upon my mother, I rose slowly and complained, "You know you're spoiling her, don't you?"

She smiled bewitchingly. "Yes, and I wish I could do more for her; after all, she did save my life."

What about me, I thought but held my tongue.

During our walk to and from the park, I noticed that, although the roads were plowed and passable, snow and ice still hid their pavement. And despite the governor's edict, some vehicles, mostly pickup trucks--their owners suffering from cabin fever--had ventured out. Intuitively, I knew within a day or two the travel ban would be lifted and the idyllic time spent with Beth would come to end.

The next day between chores, she began making calls to the public works departments to find the whereabouts of her car. Hanging up after her most recent one, she turned to me and, sighing with relief, said, "Tommy, my car's been towed to a lot in the neighboring town of Arlington."

In the words of Shakespeare, parting is such sweet sorrow, and for me that oxymoron took place at noon on Sunday; for, that was the time Beth took leave of us. So long did she hug and kiss my mother that, at last, I had to break up the love fest; for I was going to drive her to Arlington to pick up her car.

After arriving at the lot, as if unwilling to see our time together draw to a close, we stood awkwardly in silence by the open door of her car. At last, her hazel eyes capturing my blue ones, she extended her hand. I eagerly took hold of it and drew her more closely to me. How long I held her in my arms, I do not know. All I remember is savoring the fragrance of her hair, the caress of her cheek upon mine, and the touch of her lips. When she climbed behind the wheel, closed the door, and turned on the ignition, I thought I saw tears in her eyes. Then, with a wave and a smile she was gone.

Because I was planning to return to Maine, early the next morning I grabbed hold of an iron coal shovel, a family heirloom, and went out to the end of the driveway where for the nth time overzealous plowmen had left a calling card of snow. No sooner had I started shoveling than a stranger in a red pickup truck pulled up in front of me and stepped out from behind the wheel.

"Are you Tommy Hebb?" he asked in a gravelly voice.

I stopped shoveling and, pretending to check myself over, wisecracked, "I plead guilty." Obviously he was not amused; for, if looks could kill, his at that moment would have reduced me to ashes. "Now how may I help you?" I asked, chastened.

"Where's Beth?" It was a demand, not a question.

Now I knew at once who he was and, so, leaning on my shovel, I took his measure. A moon face, the most prominent features of which were piercing green eyes, a hooked nose, and a twisted mouth, was set upon a barrel chest that united with a potbelly to form a body in the shape of a bowling pin. "Oh, you're Beth's fiancé," I declared.

"Yes, I am, Sherlock," he snapped. "Now answer the question. Where is she?"

"I have no idea." Because all I got in response was a nasty look, I made the mistake of blurting out, "I know that you and she are having problems, Harry, but don't blame that on me."

"So, you know my name, do you?" I nodded and, turning red with rage, he shouted, "And as for my having problems with her, there's just one and it's you." For emphasis, he poked me in the chest with his flabby finger.

"Me? Are you out of your mind?" I replied, pushing his hand away. "Beth nearly perished in a blizzard out there on Route Two." I pointed to the highway. "Fortunately for her she made it to this house which my mother owns." Again I gestured. "Here she sought refuge and safety both of which my mother gladly gave her. At the time I had been visiting and was getting ready to leave. The snow storm, however, as it did for Beth, made driving impossible for me."

"Don't give me that bull crap," he retorted tartly, "I know what you're up to."

I hesitated and, trying to keep my cool, took a deep breath. "Had I known I was going to have to deal with the likes of you, I would've had my mother slam the door in her face. Then, of course, she would have frozen to death but obviously that would've been of no concern to you."

"Don't be a wise ass," he exclaimed, going nose to nose with me.

"She's not here; she left yesterday." Taking a step backward, I quipped, "And you should do something about that bad breath of yours."

"You're itching for a fat lip." With those words he shoved me aside and started to climb steps. "But first I'm going to search the house."

"Over my dead body you are."

Those words came from my mother, who had opened the storm door and stepped onto the porch. Although she is a small and bent woman with a wizened face and crepey skin, looks can be deceiving. For, other than the varicose-vein problem, she is in good health. And woe to anyone who gets on her bad side; for he or she is sure to witness first hand her feisty and combative nature. And in her eyes Harry Nazarian was already enemy number one for the way he treated Beth.

"If you take one more step, I'm going call the police," she shouted, grabbing hold of a broom and peering at him over her bifocals. "But before I do that, I'm going to beat you senseless.”

With those words, looking like a baseball player in the batter's box, she steadied her feet and raised the handle of the broom. Yielding to the old adage that the better part of valor is discretion, he beat a hasty retreat. With a parting shot at me, he snarled, "You better leave Beth alone or else."

After the encounter with Harry a feeling of impending doom hung over me like a heavy mist. So heavy was it that I decided to put off leaving for a few more days. And well it was I did so.

The next morning, having finished sprinkling rock salt on the slick sidewalk in front of the house, I had gone up onto the porch and was about to go inside. Suddenly, a familiar but tremulous voice brought me to a halt. "Tommy, I need to talk with you a minute."

"Beth?" I gasped, turning. "What are you doing here?"

"I--I came by to let you know that Harry may be here any minute," she stammered, holding onto her cheek and glancing nervously behind her. "He's out of his mind and dangerous."

Her hand could not hide the bruises on her face. "That's his handy work, isn't it?" I replied, stroking her hair and kissing her on the forehead.

"Yes," she whispered.

"Come on in and tell me what happened?" I said, reaching for her arm.

"I can't, I'd be putting you and your mom in danger," she replied, stepping back. "That's the last thing I'd want to do."

As she turned to leave, I caught her by the wrist and pulled her back. "Now tell me what happened between the two of you."

She shrugged. "I told him I didn't love him and wouldn't marry him."

"So he flew into a rage and hit you?" She nodded and I cursed, "That son of a bitch."

Fear, dark and vivid, shone in her eyes. "I jumped into my car and drove to the police station where I took out a restraining order against him but all that did was to throw more wood on the fire raging within him," she said, her voice trailing off to a whisper. "Now, for yours and your mother's safety, I must go." With those words she broke free of me and hurried toward her car.

"Beth, you can run but you can't hide." Dashing down the steps and catching up to her in the driveway, I pleaded in vain, "Let me help you get through this."

No sooner had she climbed into her car than Harry's red pickup truck came to an abrupt stop in front of it, preventing her from driving away. Jumping out and pulling her roughly from behind the wheel, he began spewing forth worn, thin, and hollow words. "Look, Beth, I'm sorry I blew my top and regret hurting you back there; I promise it won't happen again." He held out his hands, offering an apology.

"It's too little, too late," she said, hurling her words at him like stones.

"After all I’ve done for you and your family, how can you treat me this way?" Casting a withering glance in my direction, he spat out, "You've fallen for this oudeh, haven't you?”

Oudeh, as I learned later, refers to a person who is not Armenian.

"Leave him out of this," she protested, "he has nothing to do with us."

Dismissing her with a wave of his hand, he replied, "That's not true and you know it."

"Because I have nobody I can turn to," she persisted with a white lie, "I came here to talk with his mother."

"But you can talk to me," he declared.

Grimacing with frustration, she said, "Harry, you just don’t get it."

"What’s there to get?" he demanded.

"I appreciate what you’ve done to help me and my mother," she said, her tone gentle but firm, "but you’re not my father and you can’t run my life."

"I don’t want to be your father," he replied, his voice softening, "I want to be your husband."

Rolling her eyes, she let out a long, audible breath. "That’s not going to happen, Harry."

Harshness replaced his veneer of softness. "How can you talk to me like that after all I've done for you and your family?"

"Because I don’t love you," she retorted, spacing her words evenly.

"If you think you're going to find happiness with this bozo, you're mistaken?" With that slur he lunged at me, shouting, "Before that ever happens, I'll strangle him with my bare hands."

Rushing between us, she screamed, "Leave him alone; I told you he has nothing to do with us."

"What kind of fool do you think I am?" He let out a hollow laugh. "He has everything to do with us." Then, grabbing hold of her and shaking her violently, he said through clenched teeth, "Your mine, do you understand? Mine, all mine. If I can’t have you, nobody will."

"Get your hands off her!" With those words I hurled myself at him with such force that I bowled him over. Slowly he got to his feet, his green eyes glowing with a mix of surprise and rage. Then, springing forward, he grabbed me by the throat. As his pudgy hands tightened their grip, I kneed him in the groin, breaking his hold and sending him reeling backwards. With his being taller and heavier than I was, I knew I was in for the fight of my life.

"Beth, take my car," I hollered, turning and throwing my keys at her, "and get out of here."

As I turned back to face my foe, his fist hit me on the chin and, blacking out, I crumpled onto the driveway. Blurry-eyed and in and out of consciousness, I vaguely remember him sitting atop me and flailing away. All the while Beth was trying in vain to pull him off me. Then, in a rage, he struck her so hard that she, too, ended up on the ground.

Feeling helpless and preparing to meet my fate, I closed my eyes and said a prayer. No sooner did I do so than I heard what sounded like a metal pot being set down on a stove top. Opening my eyes, I saw Harry, in a single motion, grab onto his head, roll his eyes, and tumble off me. Hovering above me and leaning on the shovel, with which she had knocked her enemy number one, Harry Nazarian, senseless, my mother was smiling down at me. Beth, standing next to her, was more concerned about my well-being than about her own.

As Harry, regaining consciousness, was struggling to his feet, my mother hit him with the shovel again. And down he went. Had I not stayed her hand, I am sure she would have given him yet another blow to the head. "Mom, subdue him; don't kill him," I warned.

To our surprise a patrol car came to a stop in front of the house. Apparently, a neighbor, alarmed at the fisticuffs in the driveway, had called the police. After Beth and I explained to the officer what had happened, he called for an ambulance which came and took Harry to the hospital. Because, unbeknown to Beth, charges of assault and battery filed by others against Harry were pending in the courts, upon his recovery he was sent to the state mental hospital for observation.

That I had a deep hatred of Harry Nazarian is undeniable but after learning the results of his medical evaluation, some sympathy for him seeped into that depth. He has a tumor on the brain, which may be the cause of his violent outbursts and erratic behavior. Suffice to say the prognosis for him is not good and he remains at the state hospital.

As for Beth and me, we are seeing a lot of one another. Because of what she went through with Harry, she is in no hurry to take our friendship to the next level. And who could blame her for her caution?

Of course, my mother, who loves her dearly, looks upon her as the daughter she never had. I, at this point in my life, do not view her as a sister but rather as a soul mate. And given time, I am confident that she will accept me in that role and reciprocate in kind.

Oh, and, by the way, as for that romance book I am writing, the last chapter is now complete: The robber, a divorcée, furloughed by the government shutdown, was unable to pay her rent and feed her children. So, in desperation, she tried to rob the bank with a toy gun. Out of sympathy, the cop has helped her with her finances and legal fees. By his doing so, they have become close friends, if not lovers.

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