Chapter Seventeen

Kimberly Stringer rolled out bed at five a.m. as she did every morning. Shedding her extra large orange University of Illinois sweatshirt that she used as a nightgown, she slipped into another sweatshirt from her old alma mater that was more her size as well as some bright orange sweat pants, thick white sweat socks and her Nikes. She thought the outfit made her look like an over-sized carrot stick, but the orange showed up in headlights well when out jogging before the sun came up. Better to be a visible carrot than to be run over by a tired early morning commuter.

After a quick SlimFast shake for breakfast, she stepped out onto her four-season porch in the rear of her new home for some pre-jogging warm-ups. A healthy body makes for a healthy mind, she had always believed to be true. She ran four miles to begin each day, seven days a week, rain or shine, snow or bitter cold, a ritual she had begun her senior year at the U of I and had managed to continue ever since. Though the run itself was usually completed in just over thirty minutes, she always took another full thirty minutes to loosen up before she began.

One of the main reasons she had chosen this particular house when she had been in the market for a new home three months ago had been the screened porch in the back, perfect for her morning warm-up routine. The back yard was shielded from the neighbors by a natural barrier of large pine trees and bushes so she didn’t have to worry about being watched under the light during her pre-dawn stretching exercises. Although her neighbors all seemed quite friendly and harmless, mostly young families in this young growing suburban city of Eagan, and she was far enough away from the city itself that peeping toms and crime in general were not normally a concern in the area, she still didn’t like the idea of warming up in view of others. Before her move out of the city to the ‘burbs, she had done her loosening up in her apartment, but the open, fresh air made her morning ritual much more enjoyable.

Finishing her warm-ups, Kimberly went out the back door of her porch and rounded the side of her house to begin her morning run in her new neighborhood. The area was perfect for jogging. Winding streets, slight hills, trees and parks and a lake were on the route she had mapped out for distance in her car when she had completed her move. The old city route had been straight, flat, square blocks with apartment buildings and aging homes in need of paint and repair crammed as close to each other as space would allow, with few trees and never the scurrying rabbits and occasional deer she now saw on her morning run in the quiet suburb.

She loved running at this time of the day. The sun was just coming up, the air crisp and new. And it was peaceful, quiet. Aside from the occasional barking dog, the only sounds coming from her Nikes slapping the pavement with her long easy strides, the beat of her heart and the trained rhythm of her breathing. This was her time to plan her day, to reflect on days past, to think, or sometimes to not think at all. It was a soul-cleansing experience for her each morning.

This morning was especially nice. Spring was in the air. The changing of seasons always exhilarated her. She welcomed each, but favored spring with its promise of new life and fresh green smells. It always managed to put an extra bounce in her step as she ran. This morning was a perfect running climate of forty-eight degrees outside with a few scattered white fluffy clouds coming into view with the morning light, promising to be a beautiful day. She thought she might try to move her small spare desk out to her porch and work from her laptop outside after the sun started spreading its warmth into the day.

Kimberly was a writer. She worked at home. She wrote children’s books. She loved her job. She had majored at the University of Illinois in Child Psychology, had always loved working with children and had even thought about going on to medical school and becoming a pediatrician after graduating, but had been deterred by the thought of having to learn all the technical medical terms and jargon that would involve. Psych had enough Latin terms and fifteen-plus letter words as it was. Medical school was like learning a whole new language, not to mention at least eight more years of school.

As it had turned out, fate had a completely different idea about what her contribution to the little people of our world would be. At the end of her junior year at the U, for her final paper in her Child Psychology class, she had decided to do something different. She was tired of writing reports regurgitating all that the professors were trying to teach about the make-up of the pre-adolescent mind. Her final was to be about the effects on young children of their transition from home to school. Always one of the more traumatic periods of time for any child, leaving the familiar and comfortable wing of the parent and the familiar surroundings of home, and venturing out into an unfamiliar, new and complicated world full of new experiences and demands. An important time in their lives, a time which will have a very heavy impact on the rest of their lives. Their personalities, social abilities and acceptance, their fears and much more all depend on how well the transition is made and the experiences they go through in the process.

Kimberly, in her attempt to bypass the tedious task of yet another technical report filled with the expected jargon of the field, wrote a series of three short books geared to the first and second grade reader. "My Friend in Me," "A Different Difference," and "A Home Away From Home" were their titles, each being a learning tool for the young reader as well as an instructional tool for parents and teachers to use to help their young ones in their transition. Though she wasn’t much of an artist, she did her best to draw in the pictures relating to the words on each page. She hoped she wouldn’t be graded on her art work, but rather on how well the professor thought the stories she had written would actually help the early student in their transition. And she actually had fun putting together the stories, something that had never happened before while writing a term paper.

As it turned out, though her art work had left a lot to be desired, her professor had loved her creative approach. She had two young daughters herself, 5 and 6 years old, who were currently just beginning their own school careers, and she had given them Kimberly’s books to read, asked them what they had thought, and part of Kimberly’s excellent grade, though she had not told her this fact, had been due to how thoroughly her daughters had enjoyed the books.

Next Kimberly’s professor showed the books to a friend of hers, a publisher. The publisher hired an artist who drew for another writer specializing in children’s books to rework the pictures. By the time Kimberly had gotten her exam back from her professor, it had been type-set, put into a colorful hard cover binding, had an ‘A’ from her professor and a note attached to the cover from the publisher asking if she thought she could write more. A lot more.

By the time Kimberly graduated a year later, she was working on her ninth book. The publisher had hooked her up with an agent, and elementary school libraries and book stores around the country were ordering her books by the truckload. The royalties for each book sold were small, a scant thirty-three cents, but the quantity that were being sold were quickly ensuring Kimberly a financially secure future. When it came time to decide on graduate school and which direction her career was going to go, she realized she had already begun her career--as a writer.

Now six years later, at the age of 27, Kimberly Stringer had become a household name in homes with young school-age children with fifty-six instructional, fun stories published. Also, at the suggestion of her publisher, to help maintain her writing career, she was currently trying to broaden the age group of her audience. She was almost done with her first short adventure novel, "Missy’s Summer Vacation," written for the pre-teen.

Kimberly jogged off her street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and turned left down Marvin Gardens smiling and thinking to herself that life was pretty good. She loved her new running route through her new neighborhood. She was thinking about maybe finding a new dog, a golden retriever or a shepherd or something to keep her company. She hadn’t felt lonely in her small apartment near downtown amid the hustle and bustle of Minneapolis, but out here in her new suburban home in Eagan, surrounded by two-car garages, tricycles and bicycles laying in the yards, the sound of balls bouncing in the streets, dinner chimes on front porches ringing in the evening, she had begun to feel more alone in her new little house. She often reminded herself that she had nothing to complain about, that life had been kind to her, but if she did have one complaint…

Kimberly had worked on her career. When she got her first royalty check, along with an advance for her next three books, she hardly felt like she had earned the money and had dug in hard to make sure she met what she felt was expected of her. She rarely dated. She did her best writing late afternoon into the evening, sometimes late into the night when ‘on a roll’ and not wanting to break the flow, prime time for dating, so she rarely allowed herself the opportunity. Then of course, working alone and at home didn’t give her the chance to meet too many new people either.

Yes, she thought, a good dog might be just what she needed.

Many of her new neighbors had come by and introduced themselves and their families. No one had come out and said so, but she could see in their eyes the same question, Why aren’t you married? Or, Are you a lesbian? She knew that was what Tammy Anderson next door had wanted to ask, but had refrained from doing so. She had looked almost confused when Kimberly told the young mother of three that she wasn’t married, and then her facial expression had suddenly changed. Tammy had just come up with a reason in her mind why Kimberly, a successful, young, intelligent, very pretty woman must be single. "Ohh," Tammy had said somewhat absently, probably not even realizing she had said it out loud, as if in response to an explanation Kimberly had voiced. Then Tammy stuttered over her next couple of words, eyes looking everywhere but at Kimberly, where they had been focused throughout their conversation up until that moment, and quickly changed the subject. Kimberly almost laughed knowing what was running through Tammy’s mind, but she didn’t bother trying to correct her.

Kimberly figured she’d meet Mr. Right some day, when the time was right. She wasn’t sure how she’d know when the time came, but things were moving along nicely in her life. She had no complaints. She was in no hurry.

Turning down Boardwalk Avenue, finishing up her first mile of four, she saw the paperboy walking towards his van parked in front of the Billows’ place. Well, not really a paperboy, she thought. Even out here in the suburbs, the paperboy had grown extinct. Now it was the paperman, like the mailman and the milkman, or person in the politically correct world. Now they drove cars instead of bicycles and they paid taxes. She had seen him a few times before, driving slowly down the wrong side of the street stuffing papers into the tubes. She would give a neighborly wave as she jogged by from the opposite side of the street but usually he seemed to be concentrating on his job, occasionally nodding and returning her wave with one of his own.

This was the first time she had seen him out of his van, however. She noticed he was about her age, tall, clean shaven, kinda cute actually, she thought. Then she noticed he had stopped walking at the front of his van and was literally staring at her as she got nearer.

Kimberly knew she was a pretty good looking woman and was used to men she’d never seen before staring, their cat calls and whistles and tongues hanging out. She was good at ignoring them. But this wasn’t one of those stares. He had a weird, almost haunted look on his face, one of disbelief mixed with recognition. Did she know him from somewhere else, she wondered? The university maybe? She didn’t think so. She had run into a couple of old classmates over the last few years, Illinois and Minnesota aren’t that far apart, but she didn’t think she recognized him at all. Although it certainly appeared that he recognized her…and that he couldn’t believe it.

As she got close, just across the street from him, as she tentatively waved a neighborly hello in passing, she almost decided to stop and ask if she knew him from somewhere. That was when their eyes met and locked for an instant, and for that split second she thought she did recognized him. But on another level, she knew she’d never met him before. This was too weird.

She picked up her pace a bit and jogged past quickly, not looking back, although the urge to do so was very strong.

"What was that all about?" she huffed to herself out loud, turning onto Baltic Avenue and out of his view.

Increasing her pace more than usual, she tried to concentrate on her running and put the brief encounter out of her mind, but found that to be impossible. She could still see his eyes, the way he was looking at her, the way he had frozen in place as she neared and passed. She couldn’t shake the feeling that he had known her, but for the life of her, she couldn’t think from where. She was sure she recognized him only as the paperboy she had seen a few times before on her morning run in her new surroundings but wasn’t sure he had even really noticed her on those occasions. Certainly not to the extent that he just had this morning.

Unable to quiet the uneasiness stirring in her belly, Kimberly cut her run short and turned towards home rather than going around the far side of the lake. She ran back the same way she had come, half hoping that he would still be there so she could confront him. What she would say, she hadn’t yet figured out, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to let it rest in her mind until she knew from where he thought he had recognized her. And why he had looked so afraid.

Afraid. That was how he had looked. The more she thought about it, the more she was sure of it. He looked like he had just seen a ghost. That was why his stare seemed so strange.

As she turned back onto Boardwalk Avenue, running more than jogging now, the street was empty. He and his van were gone. She slowed her pace back to a jog, then stopped in the middle of the street where she had seen him in front of the Billows’ place, bending over, hands on her knees, breathing heavily. She knew what she had to do. She knew she wouldn’t be able to let it rest. She knew she was going to have a tough time today concentrating on the novel she was trying to finish. She checked her watch and made a mental note of the exact time. She knew that tomorrow she would be back on Boardwalk Avenue at the same time.

* * * * *

Chapter Eighteen


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As Fate Would Have It

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Tweny-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven