A Fresh Idea

            When it comes to getting my hair done, I’m an avowed cheapskate. As far back as I can remember, my hairdos were monitored and maintained by my mom. She cut it, permed it and styled it, all using home care products that were unpredictable at best. I learned my cheapness from her.

            My hair hung well below my hips until I was nine. At that point, after tiring of my cries of pain, my mom decided to cut my hair. We walked to a bus stop, then rode from Beavercreek, a country suburb, into Dayton, Ohio. There, at a shop, I got my first professional cut and perm.

            I loved the feeling when someone else shampooed my hair and ran a comb through it. I was entranced by the parting and snipping that shortened my hair to shoulder–length. I hated the perm. Long rods were wound into my hair, rods which were attached to an electrified pole. The smell of the chemicals cooking sickened me.

I hated my curly hair, but my mom loved it.

            My dad didn’t just hate it, he stated that only whores had hair like min. His words were so hurtful that it was a long, long time before I allowed my mom to get my hair cut again.

            After college it became popular to have an Afro style hairdo. The perm chemicals had improved so they didn’t burn as much, but the smell lingered for days.

I loved the finished product. My hair was only a few inches long. It easy to take care of, requiring only a good combing. The one downfall was that my hair did not take to the perm naturally, and so I had to have second and third dousings in order to get the tightly wound curls that the style incorporated.

            When I met my husband, I had stopped getting perms and let my hair grow out a tad. The problem was that my hair is naturally straight and lifeless. But it was easy to care for.

Shortly after our marriage, I decided to go back to the tight curls, mostly because I didn’t have time to wind my hair into curlers every night and sleeping on them was nearly impossible. As a working woman, I needed to be awake and alert at work.

            We had little money back then, and so when I discovered there was a beauty school in our downtown, it became my go-to for all things hair. I found that one of the greatest the joys of going to the beauty college was that I could get my hair cut for free. Yes, it took a long time. Often hours. Because I chose to go upstairs where all the novices were, every step along the way had to be approved by a supervisor. But it was free! And unfortunately inconsistent.

            After months of this, I decided to stay on the ground floor, where the skills of the students were much better. It still required hours and I had to pay a minimum fee; I think five dollars. Quality varied, and so I had to be flexible in terms of the final product. Sometimes I really liked what they did, most of the time it was tolerable, and sometimes it was downright awful.

            I decided to move over to the south side of the main floor where the operators were nearing graduation. My care was still monitored, but not as closely. I was still getting perms, but only enough to put some life in my normally straight hair. The good thing was that my hair was getting done regularly for a minimal charge.

            After I went back to work and was making a little more money, I found a local shop that only charged eight dollars. It was located in a poorer part of town, in an old house not too far from my school. No appointments were needed, but by that time I had given up on perms, so all I needed was a trim.

            Because of how cheap it was and how close to my place of work, I went there for years. Unfortunately, the quality varied. Sometimes I got a cut that pleased me. But more and more often the operator cut my hair too short, making me look more male than female. Or it was butchered, long in spots, barely showing in others.

            I switched to a shop not too far from home that was run by sisters. The first one I met did an excellent job and she only charged twenty dollars. I returned over and over until I got her sister. She cut my hair the way she wanted it, way too short, almost masculine. It was uneven to the point that when I got home I’d have to do my own trim.

            My stepmom used a salon within walking distance of my home. She only saw one stylist, so I made an appointment with her. I should have known better. My stepmom’s hair was bleached to the point that it looked like straw. In fact, all the time she was with my dad, I wondered if maybe she was wearing a really cheap wig.

            The first few times this stylist cut my hair, she did a pretty good job. But then she decided to do things her way. Once again I ended up with a masculine cut.

            Things changed when my sister-in-law treated me to a cut at a salon out near her home. She had won a Raffle ticket for a free cut and style from an operator that she never sees. Without knowing what they normally charge, I assumed it was in the thirty-dollar range. While she did a great job with the cut, the stylist insisted on fluffing my hair out into a bouncy, plastered helmet. The good news was that I’d never have to go back as it was a good forty-minute drive from home.

Despite my helmet-hair, I discovered two important things: you get what you pay for and there is a difference between a cut and a style. I fell in love with style. Not that my “do” is fancy, because it isn’t. What I liked was having my hair cut evenly, the finished product a blend all the way around.

Despite the long drive, I contemplated returning to that shop. Until I attended a birthday party for a wonderful man that I had known for years. I sat next to his son during lunch, where I learned that his wife was a stylist in a nearby town. The next time I needed a cut, I went to her. I loved the result. I have returned over and over and will continue to go to her as long as she is local.

Now my cuts cost big dollars. It pains me to pay so much, as the cheapskate part of me is still there, but I love the end result. It is well worth it to pay more if, when you walk out of the shop, you feel pleased.

Shopping for a Phone

            At first I was proud of not having a cell phone. It was like a badge of honor. Both my husband and I felt that if someone wanted to call us, they’d use our landline. It worked just fine and there was an answering machine attached to it.

            Then I went away to a writer’s conference. It was a long, five-hour drive south. Portions of the road were desolate: nothing out there for miles. Potions took me past cities and growing housing developments. I was only slightly worried about what I would do if something happened to my car.

            The next conference took me north into the redwoods along California’s coast. For the most part I was on a freeway that passed through cities where help could be found if needed. The last stretch was a winding, twisting narrow road toward the coast. It anything had happened there, I would have been dependent upon whoever took pity on me. It was a sobering thought.

            During the 2010 Census my husband got hired and had to spend hours in the field. He needed to be able to make and receive calls. We went to a provider and he bought a cheap phone (less than $20). It did the job so well that we went back and got one for me.

            While I seldom used that phone, it was, after all, for emergency use only, I soon discovered the joys of being able to call my husband whenever I was away.

            About two years ago we switched providers. A commercial appeared on television that said I could add a cell phone for $10 a month! I was overjoyed.

            I researched the various phones that the provider sold and settled on an iPhone SE. It was all I’d need.

            We went to the store, I held the phone and knew it would do. But…it was sold out. I panicked. I knew that if I didn’t get a phone then, I might never get one. So I chose the phone closest in price. It was not an iPhone.

            From the time I got it home I hated it. It was slow and awkward to use. It took forever to come on, it was hard to take pictures with it and it was slow when making phone calls. Texting was sheer torture. So I seldom turned it on.

            A few months ago I researched how to trade it in for an iPhone with our provider. It wouldn’t be all that hard and I’d get something in trade. But when I suggested to my husband that I wanted to do this, he said there was nothing wrong with my phone. (He had never tried to use it!)

            So I kept the thing in my purse but didn’t use it.

            Recently my daughter had an opportunity to check out my phone. She confirmed all of my complaints. It was slow and awkward. It jiggled when you took photos. It was hard to punch the right circle to make it do what you wanted it to do.

            She also told me that I could get an older iPhone for a little over $100.

            I was in agreement and after hearing my daughter’s complaints, my husband finally understood.

            While on vacation my daughter arranged for me to try out a phone that her Bishop was selling. I loved it! I am used to an iPad, so there was no learning curve as there had been with my current cell phone.

            There was one problem, however: you could only hear the person on the other end if the phone was on speaker. I hate speaker phone, so this was a huge problem.

            Thus began an online search.

            I discovered a trusted vendor sold phones that carried a 90-day warranty. My daughter and I perused the offerings. I’d find one, then it would be sold. She’d find one, then it too would be gone.

            This morning we finally found what I wanted! An iPhone 6s Plus is now on the way! I can hardly wait to for it to arrive.

            Way back when I panicked and bought my current phone, I should have taken the time to look at what iPhones they did have in stock. If I had, perhaps I would have been using my phone like other people do, as an extension of my arm instead of something stuck in my purse.

            It goes to show that panic buying is not the best choice.

            This is an apt metaphor for life.

            Anytime a person makes decisions on the fly, there’s a good possibility that she might later regret not taking the time to analyze, to be rational and careful.

Regret is a powerful emotion. Often times such decisions cannot be undone. They can cause irreparable harm, destroy relationships, cause a lost job or friendship.

It’s better to take time and make the right decision from the beginning.

I wish I had.

Election Day Thoughts

            I still recall my first opportunity to vote for a president. I was not a political activist, but I became one because I wanted to make what I thought was the right choice for all Americans. I attended rallies, workshops, seminars and listened to countless speeches. My university was predominately liberal, but all voices could be heard. And listen I did.

            When it came time to vote, I did so with great pride.

            My candidate won and went on to become a good president, a good leader. He lead with compassion and thought.

            I never regretted my decision even when I changed political parties for the next election.

            In over 50 years I have never missed an election cycle because I feel it is my civic duty to vote. When I study the issues and the candidates I am constantly aware of how, many years ago, not all Americans had the right to vote. If you weren’t a white man, you had no voice. When women finally won the right to vote, many chose to vote as their husbands, fathers or brothers told them to do. Politics was considered above the head of women and discussing political ideas was considered unseemly.

            My candidates didn’t always win, but I told myself that the winners would still represent me, would still keep me in their minds as they brought forth bills. At times I was sorely disappointed. Decisions were made that angered me or negatively impacted me, such as when taxes were increased or boundaries were gerrymandered to enhance the strength of a different political party than mine.

            For the most, part, however, I understood that the voice of the many was what drove decisions, what won elections, what dictated how laws were interpreted and enforced.

            Until 2016. My candidate did not win, not because of popular vote, but because of an archaic system called the Electoral College. I understand why the founding fathers established the College many years ago: it was to make sure that all states had equal voice in choosing who would be president. However, at that time, much of America was rural, with people scattered across vast swaths of land.

            Those “fathers” most likely didn’t expect things to remain static, that America would remain mostly rural. They also probably expected change to take place as time and circumstances dictated. There has been no change. So what we have is a system in which a wide-open mostly rural state has the same two votes as a densely populated state. Essentially this means that not all voters are equal, not all votes count.

            The current president won because of the Electoral College. His “two votes” came from predominately rural states, states that for the most part are mostly white, run by white males. His victory represented those white ideals, not the majority of Americans, not the majority of women or people of color. We have seen the results, over and over as mandates have been signed and laws have been passed or rules have been challenged which weaken the voice of anyone who is not white male.

            The importance of voting has become more and more apparent as the years have passed. During 2016 many sat out the election because they didn’t like a particular candidate, sort of a protest non-vote. There were Independents who chose to vote for candidates who stood no chance of winning because of our primarily two-party system. Because of the many who chose not to endorse the candidate who did win the popular votes, our country ended up with a president who represents a narrow spectrum of America: white males.

            By the time you read this, it will be too late to vote. Hopefully you did turn in a ballot. Hopefully you chose wisely after much thought and research. Hopefully you are pleased with the outcome.

            After the results were announced in 2016, many across America mourned. Hopefully the same will not happen again.

            Americans have always been proud of how we come together, regardless of many diverse circumstances, in pride in our country. We are not perfect: far from it. We make mistakes. Often we learn from those same mistakes, but it sometimes takes many, many mistakes before we do something about it.

            We need to understand that choices have consequences. Just as when one buys a particular brand and model of car after much research, choosing a political candidate requires the same amount of careful research. The difference is that car buying affects only one family while the political candidate affects thousands, millions, billions.

            My hope is that Americans who chose not to vote last election, Americans who chose to vote for a third-party candidate, have awakened to exactly what that wrought.

Choosing the Sunny Path

On any given day we are bombarded with stories of fear and intimidation, of cruelty and loss. When we read them, sadness fills our soul. That’s the expected reaction because if we didn’t experience the horror, one might question our inner light.

It’s not easy to push those thoughts aside especially when they are replayed over and over on social media. We can choose to learn from what evil others do and behave in some way to counteract the actions that offend us or we swallow it down, sending it deep inside us.

Being an activist is not easy. It takes courage to stand up for one’s beliefs knowing that out there are people who will spit on you, call you offensive names and even threaten your life. We should applaud those we choose to disregard the safety of their lives in order to bring injustices to the forefront, thereby forcing the public to rethink attitudes and beliefs.

The sunny path is not always smooth. There are pitfalls that can suck you in and hold you there, consumed by despair. You can sit there and wallow or pull yourself up and continue down the path.

Soon another obstacle will arise, making you choose, once again, how you will react. Too many roadblocks might cause you to give up. But if you jump over each, if you move one person to act with you, if you change one mind, think of the rewards.

No one will give you a medal, but many will follow in your shoes.

That’s why we choose to walk in the sunshine: to feel goodness and light, joy and power.


The Orchard

The view from the back porch was spectacular. White blossoms covered every single tree, looking like giant marshmallows clustered on strong, brown arms. Morning spring rains had freshened the air, releasing the sweet flowery scent and dampening the ground, feeding thirsty roots.

Marta smiled as she imagined how proud her husband would be, if only he was still alive. Burt would have stood there and counted the crop, taking careful note of how many individual apples creating how many bushels, which then generated how much income compared to cost. He had been good at this, thanks to time spent as a young child following his father around the fields.

After his parents’ deaths, as sole heir, the orchard became Burt’s, which although it was not the career he wanted, he carried on, understanding the importance of tradition. When they married several years after Burt took over, Marta understood that they would live the rest of their lives on the farm and that she would work by her husband’s side, caring for the trees.

And children. All the children they would have that would dash up and down the rows chasing butterflies and giggling until their sides hurt. But they were never blessed with children. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Their doctor offered no logical explanation, so eventually they quit dreaming of little ones pulling off ripe apples and devouring them on the spot.

Normally this was a busy time of year. Burt would walk up and down the rows, cutting off suckers that sprung up along the bases of the trees. He’d plow furrows down the middle, creating natural basins for the spring rains.

The problem is that Burt had fallen off a ladder in the fall when he reached too far to trim a wildly growing branch, the ladder had tipped, and his back had been broken. Mercifully for Marta, he didn’t die immediately. When he didn’t show for dinner, she went looking for him and found him in the dirt, the ladder on top, unable to move or speak.

She held his hand and kissed his sweaty forehead, crooning words she thought Burt needed to hear: “I love you” and “It will be fine” and “Don’t worry.” After all that, as she bent to kiss his cheek, he closed his eyes and quietly passed away.

The farm was hers now. The neighbors had offered to buy the land, but she said no. Townsfolk told her she’d never be able to keep up, all by herself, and encouraged her to sell, but she refused. Her brother in Minnesota called her a fool for not taking the money and moving into a nice, new condo in town, but she hung up on him. And her last living aunt laughed when Marta insisted she could manage on her own.

And now, standing under the porch roof, looking out at all the blooming trees, Marta wondered, for the first time, if she had made a huge mistake by not selling and taking the easy way out.

How, when the fruit ripened, would she get it all picked?

Burt had relied on the migrant workers that came through every season. During his grandparents’ time, the workers had camped out along the river, building shelters with fallen branches and leftover pieces of wood. Burt’s parents had wanted to provide better accommodations for the workers, so in the off season hired a local men to build a row of little houses. They weren’t fancy, but they had windows and doors, heat and electricity, tiny kitchens with working stoves and refrigerators, and private bathrooms with showers and sinks. Clean, sturdy, and safe.

Rumor had it that the migrant workers were not coming. That increased deportations had frightened them off, and so they had bypassed America and gone to Canada.

Marta believed the rumors, for the clusters of men that always hung out down on Main Street were gone. Completely gone.

Marta advertised on the Internet, offering a good wage and a free place to stay, but only one man had replied, and when he found out how much work was required, he quit responding. No one wanted the job. No one saw working on the farm as worthwhile. No one saw the beauty of the apples and the rewards of picking. Good, honest work, with a bag of apples a week as a bonus.

That left Marta in a quandary. Soon there’d be fruit to pick, but no one to pick it.

She put on a sweater, picked up her purse and drove out past town, beyond the suburbs and schools, factories and plants until nothing was left but a long, winding road. She parked in front of the county jail. Stood and sighed and then strode to the sentry’s gate.

“I’m here to speak to the warden.”

“Do you have an appointment, ma’am?” the blue-uniformed man said.

“Yes. I called yesterday and set one up.”

The sentry ducked inside the shack, picked up a phone and then, after speaking to someone, returned with a smile on his face. “Ma’am,” he said. “Go straight through the double doors. Someone will be waiting to escort you to the warden’s office.” He tipped his hat with one hand while the other pushed a button that opened the gate.

When Marta arrived in the warden’s office, she was shaking. What she was going to ask for was reckless. Downright dangerous. Maybe even a little insane. But she had no other options.

“Please have a seat.” The warden smiled reassuringly and nodded to an armchair facing his desk. When she was seated, he asked, “Would you like something to eat or drink?”

“No, thanks,” she said.

“The coffee here is quite good and the pastries are delicious.”

Marta smiled demurely, trying to look both intelligent and winsome.

“I understand that you own an apple orchard and that you need help with the trees.”

“Yes, that’s correct. There are 100 trees. They’re currently in bloom. I cannot keep up with the trimming of suckers and the plowing between the rows. I cannot operate the machinery that brings water to the roots. And when the apples are ripe, I will not be able to harvest the crop. I need help. Lots of help.”

He tapped his chin with his pen. “How have you managed in the past?”

“Migrant workers. For generations my husband’s family employed migrants, but they aren’t coming. My husband passed away in the fall and I’ve got no family to help. This is why I’m here. To see if you can provide assistance.”

He looked out the wire-covered window and into a dusty yard. Prisoners milled about, some walking briskly while others stood talking in groups. A few played basketball while others kicked a soccer ball back and forth.

“Let’s get this straight.” He leaned forward, his brow furrowed. “You’re proposing that prisoners work on your farm.”

Marta nodded. “Yes. With supervision, of course. Work begins early in the morning and goes late into the night.”

“Wouldn’t you be afraid? After all, these men have committed crimes.”

“I’m assuming you wouldn’t send rapists or murderers. Or those at high risk of running off. Maybe only choose those that are close to being released. And I’d pay a decent wage. Enough that they’d have money to send home or to save.”

The warden nodded. He intertwined his fingers and placed them under his chin. He stared out the window, as if evaluating the men. “I think I might be able to help you,” he said. “I know about a dozen men that fit that profile. Most of them are here for drug–related offenses. Some for shoplifting, but none for burglary or home invasion.”

Marta looked down and nodded slightly. She had expected the warden to offer these types of criminals. “Okay,” she said. “How will this work?”

“First I’ll need to contact the correct people in the state office. Get permission. Then I’ll meet with my officers and ask them to suggest men for the program. We’ll conduct interviews to see who’s interested and if any have experience working in an orchard. We’ll narrow it down to only those men that we feel are trustworthy, hardworking and reliable.”

“How long will this take? My trees need help right now.”

“If things go well, which I assume they will, I can give you a few workers as early as next week. As we complete the interviews, I’ll give you more.”

“Wonderful,” Marta said with a smile and then she drove home with warmth in her heart.

Three days later a van pulled up. Out got an officer and three prisoners. Marta greeted them with a tray of chocolate chip cookies still warm from the oven. The men were introduced and then she walked them out back. She showed them the suckers and how to remove them. She demonstrated how to make furrows and how to lay the hoses that would bring water.

The men understood, so she left them to do the job and returned to the house.

At the end of the day the men got back in the van and drove away. Marta checked their work and found that they had done a fine job. They had earned a days’ wage.

Inside three envelopes Marta put eighty dollars, the going rate for labor.

The next day, the same men returned. Marta gave them their wages, then explained that they would receive the same for each day they worked. As time passed, more and more men showed up. The orchard slowly changed from an unruly mess to a trim, producing business. The apples grew and ripened.

One afternoon Marta went into town to withdraw more money from the bank in order to pay the men. Her friend, Susan Goodstone greeted her with a hug.
“Is it true?” Susan asked. “Do you really have prisoners working your land?’

Marta nodded. “I had no choice. I advertised, but no one wanted the job.”

“Aren’t you scared? I’d be terrified.”

“There’s nothing to be scared of. The men are supervised. They’re kept busy. They come in the morning and leave just before dinner. It’s perfectly safe.”

Susan shivered and wrapped her arms protectively around herself. “But what if one of them slips away and comes into your house? You could get raped. Or killed.”

“None of them are rapists or murderers. The warden promised me.”

“That’s not what I heard. One of them, I think his name’s Karl, murdered a man outside a bar. Claimed it was self-defense, but was sent to prison anyway.”

This was disconcerting news. Marta had trusted the warden completely, but maybe she should keep her doors locked just the same.

The next day while she was hanging out laundry to dry, one of the guards approached and asked for water for the men. “Sure,” she said, “if I can ask you a question.”

“Yes, ma’am. What would you like to know?”

“Is one of the men called Karl?”

The guard nodded as she handed him a pitcher of water. He slipped a stack of cups under his arm. “Karl’s a hard worker. He puts in a good day’s work.”

“Is it true that he killed someone?”

“Who told you that?” He leaned forward, a stern look on his face.

“It doesn’t matter,” Marta said. “Is he or is he not a murderer?”

“Ma’am, I don’t know what crimes these men committed. All I know is that they are all up for parole in the next few months. Most have families waiting for them at home. Two finished their GEDs and got high school diplomas. Karl’s been taking college classes and is almost finished with his Bachelor’s in Math.”

Marta felt the tension leave her shoulders. “I’d like to meet them. Is that okay?”

“Sure,” the officer said and led to where the men sat in the shade. “Men,” he said, “I’d like you to meet Mrs. Whitson, the property owner.”

All ten men stood, bowed their heads and looked at her with respect in their eyes.

Marta thanked them for working so hard. Then she asked them to tell their names. When Karl introduced himself, Marta smiled. He resembled her Burt! He had broad shoulders, thin hips, but well-formed thighs. His strawberry blonde hair was neatly trimmed. A hint of a beard outlined a strong jaw.

“Karl, could I borrow you for an hour? I have a fence that needs fixing.”

Karl looked at the officer, and when he had approval, he followed Marta to the east end of the property. Boards had fallen down, leaving a large hole, large enough that the neighbor’s cattle could easily sneak through.

“Do you think you can fix that?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

She watched for a while as he worked, but she had things in the house that needed her attention, so she left him alone. Marta knew that being unsupervised meant he could escape, but she felt that he would not.

An hour later there was a knock at the back door. Karl stood there, hat in his hand. “I’m finished, ma’am. Is there anything else you need me to do?”

Marts shook her head. “Not today, but maybe tomorrow.”

Karl stood there for a moment and then asked, “Ma’am, why did you choose me?”

Marta sighed. “I heard that you finished your college degree and would soon be out of prison. I knew that you wouldn’t run away when you’re so close to being done. Plus I knew you were smart enough to know right from wrong.”

Karl nodded. “Thank you. I appreciate that you gave me a chance.”

The next day Karl installed a new screen in her back door. After that he trimmed the bushes in the front yard. He edged the front and back lawns, oiled the lawn mower and removed weeds from her flower beds. Day after day he worked, always thanking Marta for trusting him.

The apples got picked, a bigger crop than she’d had in years. Burt would have been so proud that Marta had found a way to get the harvest done. Marta had sold bushels and bushels of apples, so many that she would be financially sound for another year.

One morning after breakfast she walked out to the front porch and looked down the road. No van from the prison would come. Not today or tomorrow or the day after that. Marta’s eyes filled with tears. She had loved hearing the men’s voices, but especially that of Karl. She would miss him.

One day she drove to the prison to see the warden.

“Hello, Mrs. Whitson,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, I wanted to thank you,” she said. “The men worked hard and earned every penny they got. There were no problems and all the work got done. I thought you should know.”

“I appreciate it. My officers felt that the program worked so well that we should do it again. Would you be interested?”

“Oh, yes! That would be lovely.”

“Great,” he said as he rubbed his hands together. “Is there anything else?”

“Yes, actually,” she said as a blush covered her neck and cheeks. “There was a prisoner named Karl. He helped me so much! Not just with the apples, but with other jobs that had needed doing for some time.” She took an envelope out of her purse and held it to the warden. “He deserves a bonus for the work he did. Can you give this to him?”

“I’d love to, but Karl was released on Monday. I think he’s going to return to Fresno where he has some family, but I don’t have an address for him.”

Marta’s spirits deflated as fast as a punctured balloon. She slowly put the envelope back in her purse. “Well, then I guess that’s it until the trees need to be pruned.”

She drove home, feeling down in the dumps and lonelier than she’d felt since Burt died.

When she put her car in park, movement at the front of the house caught her eye. It was Karl, now dressed in a button-up-the-front blue shirt and clean jeans. He looked so handsome that Marta could hardly breathe.

“Ma’am,” he said. “I was on the bus heading away from here and then I got off and took the next one back. I had to see you before I left. I thank you for trusting me and for giving me a chance. Your kindness touched me.”

Marta smiled. “Would you like something cold to drink?”

“Tea, if you have it.”

They went inside, and over glasses of ice-cold tea they talked about everything and anything. Hours later, as darkness fell, Marta led Karl to one of the laborer’s houses at the back of the property. She unlocked the door and showed him inside. “You can stay here, if you like.”

Karl swept her into his arms and gave her a hug. Just as quickly he let her go. “Sorry, ma’am. I shouldn’t have done that. Yes, I’d love to stay here. And I’ll work hard. I’ll keep this place up as if it was my own.”

Marta stepped back into his arms and felt safe and loved for the first time in a long time.