Return to Westover

Portia Dawson

Maggie Kincaid leaves her high-paying job to work with her grandpa in a small North Carolina town. She’s returning home. Knowing nothing about real estate or property management, she takes on the task of running the vast estate that she will inherit. Not everyone in the town is supportive; some even go as far as performing acts of sabotage as Maggie attempts to make her mark and ensure the survival of the homeplace she loves. Going home opens old wounds for Maggie as she hears stories of the past, and she sets out to discover why her mother left her and her dad. The discoveries Maggie makes bring her sadness and joy as she endeavors to learn about her past and gain a deeper understanding of her mother’s decisions.

Age Rating: 18+

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Return to Westover - Book cover

Return to Westover

Portia Dawson

Maggie Kincaid leaves her high-paying job to work with her grandpa in a small North Carolina town. She’s returning home. Knowing nothing about real estate or property management, she takes on the task of running the vast estate that she will inherit. Not everyone in the town is supportive; some even go as far as performing acts of sabotage as Maggie attempts to make her mark and ensure the survival of the homeplace she loves. Going home opens old wounds for Maggie as she hears stories of the past, and she sets out to discover why her mother left her and her dad. The discoveries Maggie makes bring her sadness and joy as she endeavors to learn about her past and gain a deeper understanding of her mother’s decisions.

Age Rating: 18+

1: CHAPTER ONE

Introduction

If you live in Westover or have visited in the past few weeks, you probably heard the rumor that Maggie Kincaid is returning home.

Be warned. Rumors run rampant in Westover. But in this case, there’s a high probability that the rumor is true.

After all, Maggie is a Kincaid. She’s the granddaughter of Joe Kincaid, businessman extraordinaire, Westover’s ex-mayor, and the richest man in the county.

When Joe passes from this world to the next—he swears that he’s healthier than most men in their thirties, but that’s debatable—Maggie will inherit his vast holdings.

If Maggie doesn’t come back to Westover to manage the Kincaid Estate, who will? If you don’t know the Kincaids and have never been to Westover, let me fill you in.

Westover is located on Route 67, a fifty-eight-mile stretch of state road that originates in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and snakes northwest toward the Virginia state line.

When you pass the Welcome to Westover sign, sixty-seven turns into Westover’s Main Street.

Western North Carolina and Virginia vacationers who frequently travel sixty-seven regularly treat themselves to a lunch break at Ernie’s, a charming retro drugstore/restaurant at 229 North Main Street in Westover.

The restaurant is known throughout the state for its burgers and hot dogs. Travelers craving a stick-to-your-ribs lunch can order an old-fashioned Blue-Plate Special.

The specials include southern favorites like chicken pie, meatloaf, and macaroni ‘n’ cheese. In season, you can indulge in a straight-from-the-garden vegetable plate.

Some folks, who live in neighboring towns, come for the conversation. The radio behind the counter is always on, and bulletins of interest are discussed and dissected by diners and the staff.

Ernie’s lunch crowd is known for their discussions and arguments about everything from sports to politics.

Mayor Cam Meyers and Chief Handy, the local police chief, stop by for coffee every morning. In the afternoon, it’s not unusual to find one of the two at the counter ordering a large cup of sweet tea.

The mayor and the police chief are the first to know about any newsworthy events in the area, and they manage to get the news out to the public before the community newspaper hits the newsstands.

Chances are Sam Eisenhower Penney—Ike for short—will be sitting in his usual place at the end of the counter.

He’s become a lunchtime fixture since he retired eighteen years ago. He’s the spittin’ image of Andy Griffith, so you can’t miss him.

His recitation of What it Was, Was Football sounds so much like the 1954 recording of the spoof that you will think that you are listening to Andy himself.

Ike is pushing eighty-five, but his mind is as sharp as a tack. He can rattle off Bob Hope and Red Skelton jokes all day without repeating a single one.

Westover has several storytellers who are lunch regulars, so it’s not unusual for travelers to extend their lunch hour. If Bill Haley is at the lunch counter, travelers are in for a treat.

After lunch, if you can spare an hour, drop by Kincaid Hardware. The hardware store was founded by Joe Kincaid almost fifty years ago.

When Horace Winters bought the store from Joe twelve years ago, he decided not to change the name. The store is located two doors down from Ernie’s.

Even if hardware isn’t your thing, you’ll be fascinated by the store’s display of antique tools.

The names Joe and Maggie Kincaid are frequently mentioned in tales about the town. Kincaid men have been town leaders for over a hundred years.

The Kincaids serve because they love the community and its residents, not because they need the money. Joe owns half the property in the business section of town and one-third of the farmland in the county.

Maggie is the last of the Kincaids on Joe’s branch of the Kincaid tree. After college, she took a job with Hendricks Electronics, a firm in California. According to Joe, she’s content out there, but that remains to be seen.

The Kincaids’ homeplace is a magnificent old house that you can’t miss if you are headed northwest on sixty-seven. It’s on the corner of Olive and Maple. Five generations of Kincaids raised their families in that house.

During those years, the family patriarchs collected and preserved photos, certificates of recognition, diplomas, deeds, and other legal papers that related to either the Kincaid family or the town of Westover.

If Joe Kincaid decides to turn the house into an inn or B and B, as his friends have encouraged him to, his library will be a magnet for history pundits and out-of-town guests who appreciate the gentility of the Victorian era.

***

Realize that if a door closed, it’s because what was behind it wasn’t meant for you.”~—~Mandy Hale

Maggie was standing by the kitchen window gazing out across the rooftops toward the Pacific shoreline.

The condo that she and her roommate Madison Knight share is less than a mile from one of the most beautiful beaches in the San Diego Bay area.

She arrived in the city filled with the typical hopes and dreams that many young and ambitious college graduates possess. At the time, she was eager to begin her new job and confident that she could handle any eventuality.

The day she walked into the offices of Hendricks Electronics was a day of soaring hopes, with a self-confidence that had yet to be tested.

She was determined to prove to herself and to her employer that she was up for the challenge ahead. What a naive fool she had been.

Now, four years later, she was seriously considering returning to Westover, her home in North Carolina. A decidedly unsettling feeling had been a constant companion for months. The bothersome feeling had turned to panic.

A call from her grandpa’s neighbor added to her anxiety. The only thing positive about the phone call was that she’d been pushed into making the decision that she had been wrestling with for months.

Now that the decision was made, she would have to face her West Coast friends and her employer.

A career change could be risky, but it was necessary. The thought of not seeing her friends and coworkers for months, or even years, brought tears to her eyes.

She would sorely miss the spectacular views of San Diego’s deep-water harbors, Coronado Bridge, and the Laguna Mountains.

Walks on the beach, trips to the zoo, and brunch at her favorite breakfast spot would be pleasures of the past. Memories. Just memories.

And—the weather. How could she forget the weather? The average daily temperature in San Diego was 70.5°F. Heavenly.

Having been raised in a small town, it had taken months to adjust to living in a city the size of San Diego, but the sights and sounds became endearingly familiar to her.

Returning to Westover would be a matter of trade-offs. She would become reacquainted with the sounds of nature instead of being surrounded by the sounds of traffic and the blare of fog horns.

She could once again marvel at the brightness of the stars and moon instead of the thousands of lights that illuminated the sky above the city of San Diego.

She would miss the youthful energy, the waterfront shops, and gab sessions with her friends. But in truth, there were things that San Diego didn’t offer.

One extra special thing. Her grandpa. He was her only surviving family member, and he made his home in Westover.

She didn’t relish the idea of sharing the news with Madison, her roommate. Madison would blame her grandpa for Maggie’s decision.

She would be wrong.

His state of health was just one of the reasons Maggie had made the decision to return to Westover. She missed her hometown, her dance students, and the people who resided in Westover.

Her grandpa was not going to be happy with her decision. For his and her sake, she was going to try to convince him that her reasons for returning to Westover had nothing to do with his health.

She was pouring a mug of coffee when Madison entered the kitchen.

Maggie usually steered clear of Madison in the morning. Her roomy wasn’t fit company until ten o’clock.

Madison was mumbling under her breath as she shuffled into the kitchen and slumped into one of the dinette chairs. “What good is a morning off if you can’t sleep in?”

“Every morning is a morning off for you, Madison. If you are still sleepy after our conversation, go back to bed.”

“Too late, I’m up. I can’t resist the aroma of brewing coffee. Let me get my morning jolt of caffeine, and I will be all ears.”

She yawned, stretched, and rubbed her eyes. Then a puzzled expression flitted across her face. “Why are you still here? You’re usually out of here at the crack of dawn.”

Maggie handed her the mug and poured another mug for herself. “I took the morning off. I have made a decision that you need to know about.”

Madison shuddered. “Ouch, that sounds ominous. I hope you aren’t going to spoil my day before I get a cup of coffee into my system.”

Maggie’s hands were clammy, and her throat ached. “I hope that you will support my decision even if you don’t agree with it. Gramps’s neighbor, Mable, called last evening. She’s worried about him.”

Madison placed the mug on the table. “I’m sorry, Maggie. Is he ill?”

“Before I give you the details, I really should apologize for bringing this up in the morning instead of the evening, but our current schedules make conversation time almost nonexistent.”

“Don’t mind me, Maggie. I’m a grump in the morning. I realize that your grandpa is a senior, but you’ve never mentioned any health issues. I assumed that he was hale and hearty. What’s going on with him?”

“Fortunately, he hasn’t been diagnosed with a major illness, but he is working himself into an early grave. He works fifty to sixty hours a week and has for years.

“He refuses to listen to the advice of his friends and finds excuses for not getting an annual check-up.

“He forgets to eat and, far too often, he burns the midnight oil. According to Mable, his lifestyle is finally catching up with him.”

“Sounds like he is one of those dreaded micromanagers.”

“I suppose that’s an apt description. He will take advice from his lawyer and his CPA, but when it comes to real estate or city government, he charges in like no one else has the capabilities to handle the situation.

“‘If you want the job done right, do it yourself’ is his mantra.”

“Sheesh. I had no idea he was such an ogre. If he had raised me, I would have waged war against his strong-arm tactics. I don’t understand workaholics, and certainly not people his age.”

She took a sip of coffee before continuing.

“Speaking of workaholics, I have honestly tried not to be critical of your work hours, but I don’t like to see my friends obsess about their careers.

“I should have encouraged you to enjoy life a little more. Sadly, I haven’t. Now that I am aware of your grandpa’s work habits, it’s obvious why you drive yourself.”

Maggie snapped. “I don’t work any harder than you do.”

“Not true. You’re like a dog with a bone when you’re challenged, and you’re challenged every time you’re handed a new project.

“I’ll bet you were up half the night coming up with a plan to rectify the situation with your grandpa. So, is our little chat about your plans?”

Maggie stopped pacing and sat down across from her. “It is true that Gramps is a workaholic. He claims that retirement is highly overrated.

“I need an argument that will convince him that he needs to moderate his work schedule, and I’m not a diplomat.

“And although it is a little late in the game, he needs to develop healthier eating and sleeping habits. I’m hoping that he will warm to the idea of taking on a partner.”

“If what you said about him being a one-man show is true, it will take an act of congress to convince him.

“You would be wise to remember that he needs to be in charge. Any changes need to be his idea. Lifelong habits are almost impossible to break.”

“True, but I have an advantage. He wants me to return to Westover.”

“I thought he encouraged you to accept the job with Hendricks?”

“He did, but that was four years ago.”

“I can’t believe that you’re seriously thinking about turning your back on the fairy-tale life you have out here. Why would you even consider saying goodbye to a way of life that most people would sell their soul for?

“Good heavens, woman. You have a fabulous job, sexy boyfriend, and a condo that’s a ten-minute walk from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.”

She hesitated and then added in frustration, “Seriously. If you walk away from your job at Hendricks, Maggie, you’ll regret it.”

“Maybe so. Am I concerned about leaving Hendricks? You betcha, but I have responsibilities in Westover.

“As for Kevin Stephenson, he’s a friend, not a boyfriend. As much as I like and respect him, a serious relationship was never in the cards for the two of us.”

She paused, then added, “I won’t be able to forgive myself if anything happens to Gramps while I’m living on the West Coast.”

“Then convince him that his place is with you. Tell him about all the exciting things to see and do out here.”

Maggie laughed. “He won’t even come for a visit, so moving here is a pipe dream.

“Madison, since we are discussing Gramps, there are things about him that you need to understand. Maybe then you will be able to more readily accept my position.”

“Positive things or negative things?”

“Depends on your viewpoint. Until a year ago, he was the mayor of Westover and had been for over forty years. His dad was the previous mayor.

“Gramps is the second oldest citizen of Westover, so the local folks come to him when they need historical information, encouragement, or even financial help.

“His home office was the official mayor’s office during his time in office, so we always had an open-door policy at home. People were in and out of the house from sunup to sundown.”

“What happened to the hardware store he owned?”

“He sold it when I was a freshman in high school. He had been investing in property for years. He sold the store so that he could concentrate on managing his assets.

“Currently, he owns one-third of the farmland in Cartland County and 50 percent of the real estate in downtown Westover.

“Here’s the kicker. Unless he’s changed his will, I will inherit his holdings when he dies. So…it would give him peace of mind knowing that I am capable of managing his estate.

“As of now, my knowledge of property management would fit in a thimble.”

Madison wore a stunned expression on her face. “He’s a business tycoon? Why have you been so secretive about his financial worth? OMG, Maggie. You’re a fraud. What did you do with my roommate?”

“I’ve never lied to you, Madison. When I moved out here, I wanted a fresh start. I didn’t want to be known as Joe Kincaid’s granddaughter.

“I wanted to be judged by my accomplishments, and I wanted to pay my way with money I earned. As much as I love Gramps, I didn’t want to live in his shadow.”

Maggie had expected a rebuttal from Madison, but she hadn’t dreamed that Madison would feel slighted. It pained her to put their friendship in jeopardy, but her decision had been made.

In reality, her return to Westover was as inevitable as growing up or growing old.

“If you can’t understand my position, I do hope that you’ll respect it. I can’t ignore the needs of others, especially the grandpa who took me in when I had nowhere else to go.

“I could have ended up in foster care, Madison.”

“That’s ridiculous. Why wouldn’t he take you in? You’re his granddaughter. You can’t spend your life paying back your granddad for providing a home.”

“I’m not paying him back. He’s my only family, and family comes first. Although my decision must seem spur of the moment, it isn’t.

“I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of leaving Hendricks for months. Mable’s call was the clincher. In the past few weeks, I’ve had calls from Gramps’s lawyer and his CPA.

“They’ve made it clear that I am needed back home.”

“With that kind of family loyalty, I’m amazed that you ever left North Carolina.”

“Four years ago, leaving was the right thing to do. I needed to prove to myself that I could live on my own.

“When I graduated from high school, Gramps urged me to attend college out-of-state. I wasn’t ready to give up the security of living at home.

“I’m not sure that I would have accepted the Hendricks’ offer if he hadn’t been so enthusiastic about the opportunity.

“Mable Carleton, Gramps’s next-door neighbor—and my surrogate grandma—dug out the photo albums that she put together after each one of our summer globe-trotting experiences.

“Remember I told you about all of my summer excursions with the Carletons?”

“How could I forget? London. Rome. Tokyo. Moscow.”

“The only traveling Gramps did was in state, so without Mable and Howard, my life would have been far less exciting, and I would have been less willing to explore on my own.

“From the time I was a child, they encouraged me to spread my wings. Mable liked to say, ‘You’ve got one life, Chickee. Why not make the most of it?’

“She didn’t want me to miss out on anything, especially the freedom that comes when you have no one to depend on but yourself.

“I learned the value of work when I was young, but I had a support team that moved in to pick up the pieces when I failed. I wanted to be strong enough to pick up the pieces on my own.”

Madison was obviously struggling with Maggie’s disclosure. “Don’t expect an argument from me. I’ve said my piece. I’m terribly disappointed, but only because I’m going to miss you.”

“Ditto. You’ve been a wonderful roommate and friend. I’m grateful that we met and grateful for your support and the support of my coworkers at Hendricks.”

“Hendricks was an excellent training ground for you, so please don’t ever think that you made a mistake by coming to San Diego.”

Maggie shook her head. “No regrets. We have shared too much, and working with the people at Hendricks was an education. If I had worked for Gramps four years ago, we probably would have damaged our relationship.

“I was a cocky, over-eager college graduate who entered the workplace with my mind filled with theories about work and life.

“It took a few hard knocks to understand that success doesn’t come without experience and hard work.

“I think I learned more from my coworkers and supervisor in six weeks than I did in four years in the classroom. Fortunately, I was aware that he would expect more than I was able to deliver.”

“Knowing you, you would have delivered.”

Maggie shook her head.

“I can relate. I was an immature know-it-all when I finished culinary school.

“Believe it or not, I was naive enough to believe that the chefs at the Culinary Arts School I attended would clamor for my recipes and be awed by my talents.

“It took one class for me to realize that my skills were mediocre at best. Talk about a rude awakening!

“Later, I was beyond thrilled when Jace offered me a job at the bakery. What I didn’t realize was that I still had a lot to learn. The first six weeks were a revelation.

“I finally understood the importance of working with people who knew the ins and outs of the bakery business.”

Madison glanced at her smartphone. “Oops! Speaking of the bakery. I need to send a text to Jace.”

After completing the text message, she pushed her phone aside.

Maggie asked, “Everything okay?”

“Surprise, surprise. The ovens are down again. Jace will call me when he needs me.

“Back to your grandpa. I never doubted your love for your grandpa. What I didn’t realize was that your ties to Westover were so important to you.”

“If I had admitted that I was homesick, it would have been senseless to remain in San Diego. I had something to prove to myself, to Gramps, and to the Carletons.”

“Your grandpa and the Carletons sound like extraordinary human beings.”

“They are. Knowing what I know now, I find it amazing that Gramps did everything but demand that I accept Hendricks’ offer.”

“Why do you think he did?”

“Because of my dad. Gramps mapped out my dad’s life—go to a state school, work at the hardware store on holidays and step into his dad’s shoes when he graduated.

“Dad went along with the plan until the week before his college career was to begin. Then he walked out of my grandparent’s home, never to return. Gramps and my grandma were devastated.

“After Grandma died and I came into his life, Gramps’s child-rearing tactics changed. He gave me the freedom to make some of my own choices.

“When I reached my teens, Gramps and I discussed all decisions that affected my future. Sometimes he offered advice, but I made the decisions.

“Until recently, I had no idea how hard it must have been for him to let me go off on my own.

“He wants me in Westover, and his wish is going to be granted.” Maggie paused briefly before asking, “Have you ever had a premonition that disaster is right around the corner?”

“Isn’t that what psychologists call depression?”

“But I’m not depressed. As you pointed out, I lead a fairy-tale life.”

“Well, I’m not the person you should ask about premonitions. I’m not into the supernatural, and I’m suspicious of people who are.

“In fact, Maggie, I don’t see trouble coming until it knocks me off my feet and tramples on me.

“It could be that your unsettled feelings are due to the uncertainty of the situation, or maybe because you need to see for yourself that your grandpa isn’t on his deathbed.”

“Hmm. Maybe.”

“So, will working with your grandpa keep you busy, or will you need a part-time job?”

“I have a bank account that Gramps set up when I was in college, and I haven’t touched it. I don’t want to depend on it, but if a time comes when I need to, I will.

“Living in a small town and living at home provide benefits. The cost of living is far less and your neighbors, at least in Westover, have your back.

“Learning to manage Gramps’s estate will be my first priority, but I hope there will be time to start a dance class for girls.

“I find it gratifying to work with young dancers. I miss their innocence and their zest for life. Even when the students lack talent, they can enjoy sharing an activity with a friend.

“I’m inspired when I watch the freedom of movement in young children. Most of them aren’t self-conscious.

“Out here, evenings on the dance floor have been a rarity. When I’m not dancing or teaching dancing, I don’t feel whole. In Westover, I will be able to round up enough local girls for a class or two.

“Unless things have changed, most of the young mothers spend far too much of their time chauffeuring their daughters to out-of-town activities.”

“Sounds to me as though you’ve been making plans.”

“For weeks.”

Madison asked, “If diplomacy doesn’t convince your grandpa, do you have a Plan B?”

Maggie grinned. “I always have a backup plan. Remember the software program I developed?”

Madison nodded. “Some kind of digital storage and cataloging program, if I remember correctly.”

“The program is similar to Access, but it was designed specifically for city government. I am hoping that Gramps will provide the documents that I need to do a test run.

“I can download the software onto his computer, digitize his personal business records and the town’s official documents, and do a test run.”

“Does he have the authority to grant that kind of permission for town documents?”

“Even though he is no longer mayor, the town’s documents are in his office. He is the only person who is able to determine whether a document is available.

“The mayor has lived in Westover less than fifteen years, so some of the town’s history is unfamiliar to him, and he doesn’t understand the citizens’ likes and dislikes the way Gramps does.”

“If he’s a town newbie, why was he elected mayor?”

“The town is growing, and most of the new arrivals are thirty-five and under. The newly elected mayor, Cam Meyers, is forty.

“More to the point, Gramps refused to run. He informed the city council that it was time for fresh ideas and new leadership.

“Cam agreed to run, and Gramps supported him. Problem is, he is a part-time mayor, and the town needs a mayor on the job forty hours a week.

“Cam’s trying, but it will take a couple of years for him to familiarize himself with the town’s early history and to understand the inner workings of the town’s governing system.

“For now, Cam stops by Gramps’s office every morning to brainstorm ideas for solving the town’s current issues.

“Recently, he and Gramps have been trying to convince the council members to authorize moneys to be used for a town hall and mayor’s office.”

“I had no idea that small-town issues were so complex.”

“I can’t speak to the issues of other small towns, but Westover’s issues are complex. Gramps is the only person who is familiar with county property lines.

“Having been a lifelong resident, he is familiar with the town’s history backward and forward. He was his dad’s sidekick when he was a teenager, so he learned the ins and outs of politics at an early age.

“Besides all that, he genuinely cares about the people.”

“And you are his only kin. Wow!”

“Only close kin. He receives Christmas cards from a few distant cousins, but their families left Westover years ago. The relatives communicate when one of their children marries or a family member dies.

“That hasn’t always been the case. When the Kincaid family settled in the Westover area in the early 1800s, the family was large. As the younger Kincaids matured, they struck out on their own.

“By the 1950s, only two Kincaid males lived in the area around Westover, Gramps and his brother Stephen. Stephen was more involved in politics than Gramps.

“He and his family moved to Raleigh when he was elected to serve in the state legislature. When he retired, his family moved to Wilmington.”

“For some reason, I was under the impression that Westover was little more than a crossroads.”

“Not anymore. When I was in high school, Gramps and a handful of town leaders decided to turn the sleepy farming village into a destination for tourists.

“They recruited entrepreneurs, health-care workers, and working artists and musicians. Now, the town is more diverse, but 50 percent of the residents still continue to commute to jobs in Winston and Greensboro.

“Unfortunately, commuters rarely take part in town activities, so they aren’t interested in the local politics.

“In the past, a core group of people have run the town, and another core group of people have complained about every decision the board and mayor made.

“One of the town’s greatest attractions to outsiders is the friendly atmosphere. Visitors love the laid-back atmosphere.”

Madison said, “You should be hired as the publicity director for Westover. Now, as fascinating as Westover’s history is, I would like to hear more about the software program you designed.

“Will you be financially compensated for the program and its installation?”

“The software has no value until it can be tested under real-world conditions.”

“Will the program improve the town’s current way of doing business?”

“Tracking down public documents can be a tedious proposition, even in small towns. Since Gramps has access to Westover’s documents, I will have access to the documents.

“Additionally, the program has the capability to tie into the systems of other town and state agencies.”

“Will the town leaders object? If so, will you try to overcome their objections?”

“If Gramps is convinced that the program has value, the council will go along.”

“Now I get it. You plan to use the software as an excuse for returning to Westover, don’t you?”

“Yep! If Gramps thinks that I’m returning because of his health, he’ll send me packing.

“The major advantage for me will be that I can live at home, and my living expenses will be negligible. Arguably, the arrangement is a win-win setup for both Gramps and me.”

“I’m on information overload. As for you, my friend, I am going to have to work up a new bio for you, although the jury is out on how that bio will read.

“You definitely don’t fit the stereotype of the girl next door, and I can’t picture you as a wealthy businesswoman.

“Business moguls tend to have Type A personalities. Despite your tendency to overwork, you aren’t a Type A.”

“Thanks, I think.”

“Compliment intended. You have another character trait that most wealthy people don’t possess. You are extremely patient with people’s imperfections.

“I’m a chronic complainer, and you’ve put up with me.

“And I firmly believe that any person who chooses to shop at secondhand stores when said person can afford fancy boutiques and Pottery Barn is either a loony-tune or a saint.”

“Don’t pretend that bargain hunting isn’t fun. You love the hunt.”

“Sorry, Maggie. I’m just giving you a hard time. Once a mental picture of a person or situation is formed, it is difficult to adjust your thinking.

“I don’t like some busybody coming along and destroying the picture I’ve created.”

Maggie laughed. “Sorry. My life has been divided into segments—my life in Germany, my life in Dallas, my life in Westover, and my life here.

“Experience is a great teacher, and I’m a good student. I try not to become too comfortable in any one place.”

“The amazing thing about you is that you always land on your feet. You can communicate with people from all walks of life.

“I don’t have that gift. Some people intimidate me. I get starry-eyed and act like a silly fool when I see a celebrity or dignitary.

“If I chanced to meet Brad Pitt at Starbucks, I would probably trip over my own two feet. At the very least, I would dribble coffee down the front of my best white silk blouse.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic, Madison. You make friends easily. In my humble opinion, the only difference between the famous and the rest of the population is perception.

“Elites usually make way too much money for the amount of work they do, and they too often have an ego as big as their paycheck. I don’t ever want to fall into that trap.”

“Ditto. All kidding aside, my only complaint is that you weren’t upfront with me. I talk too much, so you are privy to my deepest, darkest secrets, and you did not trust me enough to keep your secrets.”

“As I pointed out, my decision to avoid the subject of Kincaid money did not come up in conversation. I chose you as a roommate. One of the reasons I did is because I trust you.

“I choose my friends because of their character, not the material things they possess or don’t possess.”

“Thank you, Maggie.”

“We were strangers when we decided to share an apartment. Since I was living on the money I earned, and you were struggling to pay your bills, it would have been insensitive to bring up my wealthy grandpa.”

“I can see your point. I apologize. Now that your secret’s out, I’d like to hear about your early life. I can’t imagine growing up not having to buy bargains.

“I don’t mind occasionally, but financial anxiety ruled the day at my house.”

“There are advantages. Gramps encouraged me to think big. Doing without possessions was not an issue, but not having the emotional support of Gramps and our neighbors would have been.

“The folks in Westover are caring people, loyal no matter what.

“The house I grew up in is beautiful, but that’s because the people who settled in the area built beautiful homes.

“Building supplies were plentiful, and large homes were fashionable during the mid to late 1800s when the Kincaid home was built. The Kincaid home isn’t the largest home in town.

“My lifestyle was no different from my friends whose families were less financially successful. I envied them because they lived with their parents.

“I think kids always want something they don’t have. I didn’t complain because my needs were met, and I didn’t have a lot of wants. Even when I was a kid, I had a bank account, but so did some of my friends.”

Madison said, “My childhood couldn’t have been more different. My parents’ constant struggle to pay the bills and keep food on the table undoubtedly affected my attitude about money.

“I was an adult before I realized that my grandparents’ and parents’ frugality was because they didn’t have a choice. We teased Granddad about milking a dollar out of a dime, but he had to.

“Mom still stays on my back about spending money. If I treat myself to a latte, she points out that coffee at the corner café costs a buck.”

“I’m truly sorry, Madison. Long-standing money issues aren’t something that I’ve experienced. Since I haven’t faced that kind of struggle, it would be presumptuous of me to pretend to understand.

“Material possessions are way down on my list of priorities, possibly because that’s the way I was brought up.

“I believe that people’s unrealistic expectations for life have been created by a steady diet of advertisements and politicians’ promises.

“The latest model cars, smartphones, computers, and beautiful homes are great if you consider them a privilege instead of a right and you can afford them.

“When I have fulfilling work, friends to hang out with, and a grandpa I love, I am content.”

Madison nodded in agreement. “I’m guilty of being tempted by advertising promises. Unfortunately, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool shopaholic, especially at Christmas.

“Out of curiosity and just a smidgen of envy, did you grow up on one of those magnificent southern plantations?”

Maggie laughed. “You’ve watched Gone with the Wind too many times. I’m no Scarlett O’Hara, and Gramps is more of an Atticus Finch than an Ashley Wilkes.

“Style-wise, our home is a cross between Palladian and Victorian architecture; the house is similar to some of the homes on Horne Street in San Diego.”

“Describe the house for me.”

“I can do better than that. When the spring flowers were in bloom, Gramps sent me a photo.” She scrolled through the photos on her smartphone, found the one she was looking for, and handed the phone to Madison.

“I’m green with envy! A three-story turret, mullioned windows, and a gazebo built into the porch; what more could you ask for? Is that a swing in the gazebo?”

“It is. My friends and I spend a lot of time in that swing.”

“I’ve never seen a Victorian built with brick.”

Maggie nodded. “Brick Victorian homes are rare. When the house was built, brick was plentiful and cheap in North Carolina. There are three other large Victorians in Westover that were built at about the same time.

“They are clapboards with lots of gingerbread detailing. The brick doesn’t require as much maintenance. And obviously, the Kincaids preferred simpler styling.”

Madison handed Maggie the phone. “That’s a big house for one person, or even two.”

“I’ve tried to talk Gramps into turning the house into an inn, but so far, he hasn’t been receptive to my idea. Tell you what, Madison. When I’m back in Westover and settled, why don’t you come to Westover for a visit?”

Madison said, “Don’t be surprised if I take you up on the offer.”

“One more thing. You need to start thinking about another roommate.”

Madison nodded. “I don’t think that will be a problem. What about your furniture? Any thoughts?”

Maggie said, “No. I’ve been too busy to think about details.”

“Will you be offended if I make a suggestion?”

“Are you kidding? I welcome one.”

“My friend Christa is looking for a furnished apartment. If she likes ours, I can add a seventy-five-dollar furniture payment to the current rental payment.

“She specified furnished, so the arrangement might work for her. If so, her problem will be solved, and so will yours.”

Maggie nodded. “Sounds like the ideal solution to me. I don’t like the idea of storing my furniture, and that’s what I’ll have to do if I ship it home.”

“How much notice does Hendricks require?”

“The company policy is two weeks or the completion of all projects in process. If things come together the way I think they will, my team will finish our current project in about a week and a half.

“I’ll inform Sanjah of my decision if he’s in the office today. He’s a top-notch supervisor, but he’s also a trusted friend. I owe him the courtesy of informing him before I submit my resignation.”

“I’m willing to help with anything you need, Maggie. You will stay in touch, won’t you?”

“That goes without saying. With smartphones and Facebook, you’ll barely notice my absence.”

“Oh, I’ll notice, and so will a half dozen other people.”

Maggie shrugged. “Everything changes, Madison. I hope that when you’ve had time to think about my move, you’ll be happy for me.

“Westover isn’t exactly the boondocks, and my reasons for going back home are far more complicated than my concerns about Gramps’s tendency to work too hard. The people of Westover are my family. That’s where I belong.”

Maggie checked her watch. “Gotta go. We’ll talk more tonight.”

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