Havilah struggled to not over correct as she rounded the mountain turn going too fast, drifted into oncoming traffic and barely missed what would have been a fatal head-on collision with a wildly honking minivan full of what looked like a whole family and father-looking driver who managed to hug the far edge of his lane to give her time to get back into her own.
“Damn it!” She swore out loud at her own error as the road quickly turned the opposite direction where she caught sight of a turnout. She impulsively decided to use that turnout and stamped too hard on the brakes of her old Toyota Camry causing her to lose control and skid off the asphalt and into the dirt. She panicked as the car slid sideways and realized that now she might slide sideways over the edge and roll down into the river. She pinched her eyes shut and screamed as the car finally stopped — well short of tipping over the edge. Oh God — Oh God, she thought. What am I doing!? Driving like a maniac and slamming on the brakes like that! As the dust cloud from her skid gently rolled past, she forced herself to take a slow and deliberate breath and calm down.
As her heart rate settled, her father’s words came to mind, Havilah, don’t ever let your feelings manage a crisis. You are so intelligent. Stay calm and manage the situation. You can always be as emotional as you care to later when everyone is safe. She exhaled slowly. Kinda late now but thanks Dad. You’re right and I can do better than this.
Her fingers suddenly felt cramped and she realized she was still death-gripping the steering wheel. She pried them loose and shook her hands to get the blood flowing again. She stepped out of the car, stretched, breathed deeply and walked to the rear to sit against the trunk to think through what she knew and actually plan her next steps.
Her Saturday morning coffee and editing time had been interrupted by the call from the hospital. “Hello. This is Havilah Goldberg.”
“Hello Ms. Goldberg. My name is Kristine Baxter and I’m a registered nurse at Saint Mary’s Hospital. I’m sorry to have to tell you that Mr. Notthymn, and excuse me if I mispronounced his name, has been in a car accident and arrived here about an hour ago.”
“An accident? Ayem? No-no.” She sat up and dropped the manuscript off of her lap. “That can’t be. He should be home now. What’s happened?”
“We don’t know much yet. The ambulance team noted that it was a single car accident out in the Willamette National Forest on road 571, about two miles west of the Isoquester. I’m sorry, but I don’t even know where that is.”
“I do. He lives out past Isoquester and few even know it exists. Ple — Please tell me he’s okay.”
“He is alive but needed emergency surgery. I’m calling to let you know his status and ask if you would able to bring him some things from home. He’s been here for simple tests before so we have most of his medical information on file, which is how we found your name as his emergency contact.”
The nurse gave her a simple list and she answered, “Yes, yes, of course. Anything I can do. I have a key and will run out there right away. I’ll be there as quickly as I can get there.”
“Depending on how far away you are, there’s no hurry. He’s going to be in surgery or the ICU resting and recovering for at least another 5 hours so if you can be here between noon and one PM, it would be fine.”
When Ayem increased her job to include both editing and business manager, she became a full time employee and he gave her a key saying, “Just in case you ever had to get in when I’m away”. She recalled him saying it, but she never expected it to happen. He rarely goes anywhere past the Isoquester store and post office. He buys almost everything on line or has me pick things up for him in town. I think he dislikes being around people and is happy to just stay and work from home.
Oh no! Isoquester! Arnie’s going to kill me for racing through his stupid stop sign again. Ugh!
Havilah reviewed the list the nurse had requested: his medications, the file with his advance healthcare directive and maybe a good book he’s reading; then added what she knew he would want or need done: check his calendar and deal with any appointments, reply to any urgent email, sort through the paper mail and look for work related items. Suddenly, she felt ridiculous because she realized; none of this is urgent. It won’t make any difference to the hospital or Ayem if I rush off like a crazy person or don’t make it there until tomorrow. Why do I lose my mind so easily? I have plenty of time. Too much in fact. I’d rather be there with him, but the nurse said around noon. He is out of reach for at least that long.
She shook her head, struggling with her self-chastisement. I should have realized this, what, an hour ago . . . ? I’m not helping Ayem or the hospital.
Am I so dependent on him that I can’t stay calm? Dad warned me about depending so much on one client and here I am anyway. Now — if he dies, my job, my business and a great friendship all die with him. God, please don’t let him die. . .
She looked down the edge of the turnout and shuttered to think how she almost went over to roll down the rocky slope and into the river.
So Stupid! Even if I survived the roll down that slope, I probably would have drowned. To help calm herself, she looked across the river and cleared her mind by noticing and enjoying the view of the opposite hillside and all the ancient fir trees. But I’m still here and I do love this place. If I lose Ayem, I also lose working at Silver Longing and, all this. I could end up with a dull office job back in the city and my visits here would be just like any other tourist. I would no longer have my gorgeous 90-minute commute to his home office.
Wishing she had had the presence of mind to grab a travel mug with her coffee, she recalled how much she loved about what her life had become by working for Ayem. Popular published author, recluse but so warm and easy to work with now that we’ve been together for six some-odd years. He pays well and I’ve learned so much being his business manager and I love how he allows me in to help plan his plot lines. This really is a one of a kind job. I could find another, but not this perfect.
Suddenly she recalled and became anxious for his seventh novel which needed only their final approval for publication. We needed to approve final changes this past week and the cover art did not arrive. How will this complicate things? I’ll need to check with the artist when I get up the hill. And call Ayem’s attorney. Mr. Delgado would want to know about the accident.
With her resolve back under control, she resumed her drive to Ayem’s home but her sense of dread returned as she came upon the turn where Ayem might have had his accident. It was a left bend in the road with a waist-high retaining wall to keep cars from going over a much steeper and higher cliff than hers a few miles back. The impact site was part of a turnout so she slowed, turned on her blinker, looked for oncoming traffic and pulled across the middle line to pull in and park. She wanted see if it was the right spot and sure enough, there were fresh rice-glass fragments and shattered parts of his chocolate brown Volvo all around a fresh impact scrape on the retaining wall. This has to be the spot. That is the color of his car and this all looks fresh. It must have been a hell of an accident.
So, what caused the accident? Where was he going this early on a Saturday? Did he mean to pull into the turnout for some reason? Maybe an animal surprised him.
After reviewing what she could make of the accident, she continued up into the steeper hills surrounding the large Isoquester valley. The road snaked up higher into the mountains where the climate and altitude was most conducive to the gorgeous Pacific coast fir trees. Finally, she saw the familiar sign that read, ‘Silver Longing’ at the turn-off to his gorge.
His driveway followed a small river up the winding gorge for another 20 minutes and finally, she rounded the last bend where she could see his home near the bottom of the waterfall basin. As she always did, she looked to see how his waterfall was behaving. The roar always filled the small, deep basin but she always hoped that the wind was right and the mist would cling to the valley wall opposite from the house, but no joy today. Great, just great, she’d thought as she parked in her normal spot and stepped out onto the crunchy gravel parking area. A break today of all days would have been nice. She quickly turned to pull her full length rain coat from the back seat and with a practiced spin, rolled into the coat and pulled the hood over her head. Without her coat the mist would quickly soak her hair and clothes.
The mist and coat exercise often reminded her of the first time she met Ayem here to interview for her job. It was warm that day down in the city and she’d never been to Isoquester or any of the private estate gorges hidden in the mountain valleys east of it.
At the time, Havilah was the lead editor for her college’s literary journal, Authorial Corpus. She was in her last year and more than ready to claim her Masters of Fine Arts degree but worried about getting a real job out in the real world. She had spent most of her savings and all of a student loan so she was graduating with her MFA–but she was also almost broke.
She recalled the day when Dean Morris brought Ayem by to introduce him to the staff. As a local published author, the faculty had invited him to be a guest editor and after a short get-to-know conversation where Havilah noticed that he had some significant scars on his face and arms, everyone went back to work.
Afterwards, Dean Morris called to tell her that Mr. Notthymn had, “asked about you because he is looking for a personal editor. He has reviewed your work in the last edition and liked what he saw.” A week later, Ayem called her asking if she might be interested in a part time job working for him. It felt like a God-sent miracle because many of her peers were struggling to find work, any work at all, let alone work that used their MFA.
The drive up into the hills, then up into the mountains had been pungent with the summer forest air and for much of the 90 minute drive. It was lovely, and calming despite her anxiety of an imminent job interview.
She had some concerns about meeting him at his home, but the Dean Morris had told her, “He works from his home and rarely comes down to the real world. You’ll be fine Havilah.”
But no one had warned her about the waterfall so she was completely unprepared for the heavy mist in her business casual, white cotton blouse, knee length skirt, comfortable pumps but no coat. That day, it had been so thick it that the short walk from his parking area to his front porch almost fully soaked her. When he opened the door, she was dripping wet, cold and mortified as she realized how her soaked blouse was clinging transparently to her body.
She recalled his reaction. “Oh no! Ms. Goldberg! Please come right in! I’m so sorry about this. I should have warned you. I always wear a full rain coat, but . . . . Never mind. This is completely my fault.” He had been almost as embarrassed as I was.
Even now, she still cringed to recall, how incredibly unprofessional I must have looked soaking wet but, with his eyes averted, Ayem had been a complete gentleman and showed me straight to his small library to freshen up. “It’s right this way Ms. Goldberg. There, it’s the second door on your right. I’ll grab you a towel and something dry to change into. If you like, we can run your wet things through the dryer.”
In the brief moments as she stood waiting in the library with the door closed, she worried about how to salvage the interview. She, didn’t know immediately what to do, so she looked around the room to at least understand where she was.
There was a small bench seat and small table with some unopened mail in the middle of the room. There was a mirror on the back of the door and a small table against the wall with an open laptop, but otherwise, it looked like a normal small personal library and reading room. There were bookshelves on her left and some art and filing cabinets on her right. At the far end was a large picture window with a comfy-looking couch and small table with a floor lamp so one could sit comfortably and need only to glance up to enjoy the view of the waterfall and basin.
She turned back to see herself in the mirror. Ugh! So much for leaving a good first impression. Her skirt looked fine, but was wet almost to the point of dripping. Her blouse, on the other hand, had not been up to the task of repelling the mist. It was ruined for this meeting along with her hair and makeup. She despaired that the interview might now be a lost cause. Havilah was not overly sensitive about her 5’4” body, but at 23 years of age, she already knew that she was collecting a few pounds she could do without and this poor blouse now advertised it. She pulled the blouse away from her body hoping to hide some of the details of her bra before Ayem’s return.
I was miserable and soaking wet, but he said “change”. Change into what I thought? What was he going to bring? He quickly returned with a laundry basket that he slid in through a barely opened door with a large and small towel, a pair of folded sweat clothes and some wonderful comfy socks. Then he left me to dry off and straighten up. He had a hot coffee and some soup ready when I came out.
It could have been such a terrible first meeting.
She was thankful that Ayem never again mentioned it and she could let incident begin to fade into forgotten history.
I was so uncomfortable about wearing his too-large sweat clothes but laughed when I saw that he too had changed into sweats so I couldn’t really feel inappropriately dressed for the interview. We were both in sweats, but he did not have the wet-rat hairdo like I did.
When she opened the door to join him, she saw his downstairs was wide and open with a large dining room table across from the library. She accepted both the coffee and soup, then sat down and gave him a folder with her resume, a page of details about her role as editor of the Authorial Corpus and her driver’s license.
“Thank you Ms. Goldberg, but I don’t think I’ll need to examine your license.”
“I would like you to examine it anyway because that’s the way my hair normally looks.”
He smiled and made an exaggerated act of analyzing the tiny photo. “Ah—I see now and you are correct Ms. Goldberg. It’s a good photo and captures your adroit grasp of the intricacies of both English prose and the publishing industry. Your hair style bears witness to your editing skills for the role of polishing great literature to inspire the unwashed masses. Your bangs in particular certify your pedantic approach to strict Oxford punctuation.”
“Wow, all that from my photo,” she answered playfully. “Are you saying my hair outs me as a grammar Nazi?”
“Actually, that came from Dean Morris.”
Havilah laughed because she could see Dean Morris saying exactly that with his big gregarious smile. Now she smiled yet again to recall how Ayem had so perfectly diffused the tension caused by the waterfall mist. She expected him to be shy and reclusive, but instead he quickly proved to be warm and charming. If anything, the man was overdoing friendliness perhaps to make up for how he could easily have prevented the whole incident.
They talked about the job, then writing, editing and the business of publishing fiction. He asked about her marketing experience and she offered what little she had through the literary journal, “but isn’t that the job of the publisher? I do have some experience in planning the release marketing campaign for the Corpus, so I’d not be starting from ground zero.”
Ayem was detailed about what he was looking for; help with both draft and final editing, some back office help on the days she was here. “So, you prefer I work here rather than working from home?”
“I’d prefer we not try to work remotely, at least not at first. I work pretty well with people who think out loud and you seem to be of similar mindset. I also asked Dean Morris about your ‘thinking out loud skills. After a while, we can adjust as we find what makes the most sense. If you really need time to power through a large edit then I see no value in you driving out here. How long did it take you today?”
“I live east of the city so it took about 90 minutes, but that’s a pretty substantial commute.”
They discussed ways to make it work and near what felt like the end of the interview he said frankly, “Okay, I’ll plan on providing your lunch on days you’re here to save you time but I also want to be clear on one awkward point. I’m looking for your editorial and business help and, please excuse my candor, but I am not interested in any romantic or sexual involvement.”
She recalled blushing and grinning to herself, like I would be interested in a man nearly 20 years older than me. But this was good of him to set the expectation right from the start.
Ayem then asked her to sign a non-disclosure agreement and explained how it compelled her to protect his privacy.
“Ms. Goldberg, you need to know that I have a colorful past with many things I’m ashamed of and prefer that none of it become public as it would almost certainly impact my sales. As we get to know each other, you’ll learn what I do and do not want to discuss, but as you see in the NDA, this condition of your employment limits your public comments about working for me to just that you do and for how long.”
Other than this she was not allowed to mention his name in any manner. As she considered it, this made perfect sense to her. We all have luggage, things we prefer not become public and I might easily feel the same way if I wanted books with my name on them to sell well.
So, she left with the job and the current manuscript for his third novel. Her first paycheck arrived in time for her to pay the rent. He really saved my financial bacon that day.
By the end of their next meeting she was paring his prose, pruning his passive voice, pacing his paragraphs and polishing his punctuation. They easily got comfortable with each other and she quickly found herself thoroughly engaged in what was already going to be a great story. He listened to her ideas and crafted the words to adjust how his plot unfolded. As she crawled into bed that night, she was gratified that he had let her earn her pay right from the start.
From that day on, each morning when she arrived for work, Ayem had set aside all but 2 chairs from around the large dining room table. The kitchen was at Ayem’s back, her chair faced him from across the table. Behind her was a wall with a large white board along with a fireplace that was already burning during the winter months — so welcome after any walk through the waterfall mist. To her right was a wide set of windows looking out to the wild foliage of the steep gorge wall. To her left was the open hallway separating the dining room from a bathroom and the small library where she had changed during her interview. When she needed to just read and edit, she would take over the couch in the library with the large picture window of the falls and basin.
They had plenty of space and Ayem always treated her as a welcome guest and work partner.
By the end of her first month, she had read his first three novels to catch up, met his attorney, Thomas Delgado and both his publisher and banker down in the city to establish her access to each as she managed his business interests.
Now safely at his front door she let herself in with the key he’d given her and grabbed three packages left at his door. One did not look like online orders but was sent from: The Offices of Thomas Delgado. She moved them all indoors and stepped past to let the door close itself. Thanks to the sound insulation of his home, the roar of the waterfall fell almost silent as the door clicked closed. She had just deactivated the security system and paused to soak up the soothing silence when a new thought arose. Have I ever been here without him? After all the work we’ve done together; no, I don’t think I ever have.
She laid her purse and an empty canvas shopping bag on the dining room table and contemplated her next steps.
She first climbed the stairs to the bedroom floor and felt awkward as she opened the door to his. She felt a wave of impropriety as she thought, I’ve never seen his room before. She would have to search for what she needed and knew that Ayem himself would be embarrassed when he learned that she had to dig through his things. He would want his own comfy sweats, tee shirts and underware.
His bed is unmade, but the room is otherwise clean, but why do I notice such things? She quickly found his duffle bag in the closet, then his pants and shirts, but paused to steel herself for the search through his dresser for underwear and socks. Sorry Ayem. I can’t think of another way to do this. She found the sweats she herself had worn the day of her interview, and could not find his other pair, so she bit back her superfluous reluctance to bring that pair and just crammed them into the duffel. Resisting the urge to snoop around, she did a quick scan of the room hoping to leave the room as she found it. Satisfied, she returned to the dining room with the loaded duffel.
She picked up the canvas bag and was surprised to find it empty. Ugh, why am I such a scatter-brain? I blew right through Isoquester without stopping for his mail. I’ll have to stop on my way to the hospital. She turned to review his running to do list from corner of the large white board they always used for their brainstorming sessions, refilled the living room fish tank feeder and played back his land line answering machine for any messages. She sighed when she could not find his business laptop downstairs. She knew the library one was old and rarely used. It contained none of the things she needed.
Bummer! There’s no choice. I have to go up to the tower office to retrieve his laptop.
Ayem had his builder thoroughly insulate the main and second floors with soundproofed, extra thick walls and windows so inside was very quiet, but his tower office was different. A squared off, spiral staircase began its ascent from the first floor, had a landing for the second floor where all the bedrooms were located and continued to an extra high third storey tower room which was his office. From the driveway, it looked almost like a water tower turned office with a deck surrounding the single room.
A single soundproof door separated the floors beneath that last flight of stairs from his office. It had a small a small kitchen with a sink and refrigerator and a simple bathroom in one corner. In the center of the spiral stairs, Ayem had a dumb waiter to move supplies between floors.
The office had wide windows on each wall overlooking the full valley, but all without any sound insulation. It’s almost as loud inside as outside. I don’t know how he works up here. I couldn’t concentrate.
She recalled asking him, “Why did you build your office like this?” She felt like she was yelling at him over the noise when he showed her around on her first day of work.
He answered with a comfortable but loud voice, “The sound of the waterfall helps me concentrate. It isolates me and keeps me focused on the story by drowning out distracting thoughts. But, I confess, I do sometimes wear noise suppression headphones with recorded music.”
She thought at the time, those must be some seriously distracting thoughts but, “It’s your office Ayem. Whatever works for you, but I hope we can do our work downstairs?”
Today, she found his laptop and charger then quickly returned to the dining room to sit at her normal spot at the big table to work through his calendar and email. Finally she opened the package from Ayem’s attorney. Expecting some new contracts for a future book, she was confused to find that they were documents that originated with the US Federal Marshal. She quickly realized this was not what she expected and that it may be something Ayem would not want her to see. She slid everything back into its heavy envelope and put it into the bag to take to Ayem, but her mind spun with curiosity. What does the marshall want with Ayem?
When everything was done, she stepped into the kitchen and helped herself to a soda from the fridge.
Okay. What’s next? Oh—call Thomas to let him know about Ayem’s accident. She did so, but being a Saturday, she could only leave a voice message.
The nurse had invited her to call for an update in a few hours and it had been almost three so she called. “Hello Ms. Goldberg. He’s going to be okay. The surgery took longer than we expected but he came through fine. He is going to be one sore author for several months. He came out about 20 minutes ago and is sleeping it off in the ICU. His surgeon thinks he’s out of danger.”
Havilah answered with a sigh of relief. He’s not going to die.
“He should be in a regular room in about six hours and will be spending at least three nights with us. You should be able both bring his things by and talk with him then.”
Havilah thanked her and thought through the timing. It will take almost two hours to get there and if I stop for twenty minutes for a burger and his mail in Isoquester, I need to leave in two hours and forty minutes. I could just leave now and read while eating. Darn. I forgot about breakfast. No wonder I’m so hungry. If I left now, that would leave me trying to kill time at the Isoquester café or the hospital. I could read in the hospital parking lot or at the burger joint but, nuts, I left the manuscript at home. I could swing by to pick it up but I’m still so wound up, I doubt I could edit much anyway. So, what am I going to do? As she walked into the kitchen, she remembered the deadline for the cover galley for novel seven. Ugh, what am I going to do with Mathew?
Mathew was Ayem’s cover artist and . . . BING-BING–BONG! Her phone rang out an alert. She checked her inbox and, Yes! There it was. She clicked to open the attachment, smiled to see the result and clicked on reply; ‘Thanks Mathew. I was minutes away from coming after you for this. It looks great. HG’.
Havilah quickly created a new email to Ayem’s publisher and attached the new cover with her authorization to let the presses roll. Okay then. I guess I will try to find something to read. She turned and walked into his library. The view of the falls and basin was always breathtaking. Ayem’s couch still faced out and now, his current reading pile was on a small table beside the couch as his favorite place to read.
Because she was always working she had rarely looked through his book shelves. I guess I have time to study his collection. She walked over to peruse and noticed first some old photo albums.
The first few pages contained some photos and printed history of the creation of Isoquester. The first photo was of a very young Arnie Grannen, the same Arnie she recognized from the small store and post office where she always stopped to pick up Ayem’s mail. He really is going to give me hell for running his stupid stop sign. Someone had typed and added a short description of how Arnie and a Keith Long had been roommates in college and it was Arnie’s vision to start his own small town. She read the note, but already knew much more than it described because of her frequent conversations with Arnie who still operated the core functions of the small downtown. She recalled meeting and talking with him the first time she stopped to try out his café and learned about Isoquester. Who wants to start their own town? But, he does make an amazing bacon and swiss burger.
That café and burger had become a frequent dinner for her long commute home. When she wanted to just relax and unwind or read before the drive, she’d sit at a certain small table with a view over the river and Arnie would stop by each time to ask if she needed anything. Often they’d end up chatting about stuff, never anything deep, but she frequently had to navigate the conversation away from Ayem because of the NDA. Arnie never really pressed, but his friendly nature made it challenging to keep up her side of the conversation without betraying any details of what Ayem was working on. She got good at politely changing the topic to something she could talk about.
She recalled asking, “The name ‘Isoquester’ is odd. Where did the name come from?”
“I made it up way back in college. I wanted a quiet little town to live in that was almost hidden from the public. It comes from the words ‘isolated’ and ‘sequester’. I wanted at most of couple of hundred citizens, families of artists, philosophers and thinkers who just wanted a small community of like-spirits to live and do their thing in peace. This valley was available and I was able to afford it as long as I sold most of the gorges right away. It was a scramble for a couple of years to get all the homes started and families planted, then a couple more to incorporate the town officially, but here we are today, still quietly doing our own thing outside the headaches of the big city where you live.
“Ayem’s gorge, Silver Longing, was the first lot I sold. The buyer, Keith Long, was my roommate in college.”
The rest of the photos were of the town growing up. The original store and post office, the original café, store and gas station were all depicted.
Next there were a group of photos of a young couple with one child. Fortunately, someone had added labels which put names to each, Keith and Sharon Long with their young daughter Abigail.
The settings were all here at Silver Longing and at the site of Ayem’s home but in its place was a simple cabin. Cool, she thought, these are the Longs, the original owners.
One page contained only one large photo of the family with the daughter proudly standing in the middle holding the familiar sign in its distinctive flowing script that read ‘Silver Longing’. Below the photo, Sharon had typed, trimmed and taped in an explanation.
How Silver Longing got its Name
Abigail was five when we moved into our cabin. The waterfall basin and the surrounding trees and wildlife became her playground. Never caring about what she called the “water fall fog”, she was in her rain suit, out playing or tending to her trees. On her own, she decided that a certain type of tree in our basin was her favorite which she called her “all-year Christmas trees”, She further decided that she was their caretaker and collected their peculiar purple cones and kept the area around them tidy.
Keith and I looked up the type of this tree and found it was the Silver Fir with the scientific name, ‘Abies Amabilis’. She was delighted when she heard the scientific name because it sounded like the possessive form of her nick name, Abbi, and concluded that we had named the tree after her. We tried to tell her that it was a coincidence because the tree already had this name before she was born. But she was resolute. These were her trees because they were named after her.
We thought she would outgrow the notion, but whenever we traveled, she would nag us about hurrying home so she could take care of her all-year Christmas trees. Keith, during one trip quipped about how much she ‘longed’ for her silver trees and we should just name the place, ‘Silver Longing’. Abbi was delighted by the pun of her last name with her silver trees. For her tenth birthday, we had this sign made up and mounted near the beginning of our road in. Thus, our narrow gorge with the dreamy water fall fog and all its gorgeous Silver Fir trees acquired the name; ‘Silver Longing’.
Fascinating, she thought. But they look like rich hippies. The last few pages were just of Keith and Sharon working what looked like a garden in the waterfall mist. What happened to Abbi; off to school perhaps?
The second album was newer and contained photos of a much younger Ayem and a woman about his age. And that might be Tabitha, she thought. These photos reminded her of a certain lunch after a hard morning of editing. Ayem was tired and became melancholy.
Leaning back into a big leather chair he said, “I married an amazing woman Havilah. You would have liked my Tabitha. She was bright, creative, opinionated, and even proved to be a street fighter for me. I was pretty messed up and struggling in college where we met, but she saw something to fall in love with. Despite all the bad habits I’d collected, she stayed with me as I began to get sober and cleaned up. Do you recall the theme of confessing to those you injure in novel three? That was her idea and I think it became a key message for the whole story.
“She believed in me, wouldn’t let me quit and defended me from anyone who put me down. She found her way to Silver Longing because she was good friends with Abigail Long who grew up here.
“Tabbi’s parents had her when they were older and died within a year of each other while she was in college, leaving her as their sole heir. She had just turned 21 and her trust fund immediately turned over so she had full access to all the funds. She and I were dating by then and her friend, Abigail, took her home for holidays to the gorge several times because she had nowhere else to go. The Longs pretty much became Tabitha’s adopted step-parents and she also fell in love with this narrow gorge with the dreamy water fall fog. When Abigail and her parents died in a car accident, Tabitha used some of her inheritance to buy the property from the Long’s estate. She and I were married about a year later, but we had less than 2 years together before that damned cancer took her from me. We were barely unpacked after moving in when she found the lumps and she was gone less than five months later.”
With the photos in front of her, Havilah thought, Funny how things work out. Where would Ayem and I be if any of this had happened differently? Would he have hired me if Tabitha had lived? Two families had to die for Ayem’s and I to end up here.
Finally, there was a few wedding photos of Ayem and Tabitha. They look happy, but the wedding looks almost like a half effort; small, informal and both the guests and bridal party looked like they came from a cheap clothing catalog. She recalled Ayem’s description one evening as they relaxed after a long day of editing. “I’d never been to Silver Longing, but heard about it from Tabitha. She brought me with her when she moved into the original cabin. I brought my 3 boxes of stuff and joined her. I mostly had my clothes, some books and my story manuscripts that I’d been working on since my teen years. I was getting serious about publishing them. Silver Longing was both our honeymoon and our home as we began our life together but got only a few years together before Tabitha died. We wasted so much time trying to understand each other, but mostly I was difficult to deal with. I was angry and frustrated with much of my life. When we finally felt like we’d turned the worst corner and gotten married she became ill. We fought it but I lost her.”
Havilah could not forget the look on Ayem’s face as he shared this.
“Her architect had just delivered the plans for this place and we were ready to break ground when we got the bad news about her cancer. “ With that final statement, Ayem dropped his head to sip his soda but said no more on the topic. She told him how sorry she was and that this all sounded so terribly sad.
“Would you like me to stay, help clean up, anything?”
“No – no, but thank you. I’m sorry for going down this sad path. I’ve been avoiding these memories for some time now and maybe I just needed to air them out. It’s getting late. Let’s call it a day. ”
“If you’re sure, because I . . .”
“No, you have helped me plenty today. I’m fine. I just miss her more than I realized perhaps.”
Ayem was not one to display such raw emotion as she saw that afternoon, but by Monday he was back to normal. She closed the album and put it back on the shelf.
There was a shelf of Ayem’s books. They were set in the order that he published them so it was easy to see the titles he had published both before she joined him and then those she had helped with.
She recalled his common theme, the forgiveness and redemption of seriously troubled souls–powerful, touching and compelling. Where does such insight come from?
Novel four was the first she helped edit. Havilah had no experience with extortion, the danger and emotions it brought, so the scenes Ayem had written felt surreal and they spent long afternoons talking them through. She helped him tone down his most graphic scenes without reducing their impact. She was enthralled by how his protagonist found his way out of that life with the help of a clever attorney.
In novel five Ayem explored the life on a young woman caught up in insurance fraud. Havilah had no direct experience with this either, but he shared his research and as scary as it all was, Ayem had struck a note of hope from the beginning as his protagonist learned ways to protect herself and begin building a way out. Some his scenes troubled her, but when the protagonist met another woman who helped turn things around it was inspiring. Both characters were vivid and alive as Ayem detailed the path of change. The ending left her wanting to applaud. Book sales surged and his publisher did applaud.
Each story depicted vivid dramas of the underbelly of different crimes and moral failures, but each ended with forgiveness and redemption for characters he made you care about
Ayem’s most recent novel seven had been the hardest for her. It was a rape. He built the tension as his characters moved through work in an office setting. The scenes were shocking and Havilah struggled to maintain a professional distance. She recalled how she began reflecting painful emotions rather than editorial feedback.
– – = = ( o ) = = – –
Ayem finally paused their discussion to ask, “Havilah, why are you so stressed over this story? You know how it turns out. What’s different this time?”
She closed her eyes and struggled to wrangle her thoughts. “This is such a horrific event. You told it so accurately. The self-doubt and self-blame and outrage. . . You really take the reader to a painful spot. Do your readers need to read such painful images.”
“But, all my novels put the protagonist in horrific situations.”
“I don’t know Ayem, this scene in chapter eight, is over the top. How important are these details?”
“I think it progresses the rapist’s story. It makes the final forgiveness from guilt so much more meaningful.” But something about this bugs her, he thought.
They went back and forth as Ayem began to suspect that Havilah might have some a topical bias. He stood up from the dining room table where they always worked, and walked back to the kitchen counter to pick up the coffee pot. Good, still hot, he thought, and brought it out to refill their mugs. She was still breathing hard from pressing her last point when he sat down again. “Havilah. I think something else is on your mind regarding this scene. Do you have some experience with rape?”
Havilah’s eyes got big and she almost doubled over as the question hit her. “Why, would you . . . ? I’m not . . .”
“It just seems like this story has affected you differently. It’s almost as if. . . Um, whatever it is, you don’t need to tell me.” He reached out across the table and took her hand, but something deep inside her erupted and her eyes betrayed her near-panic reaction. Realized that touching her only made it worse, he quickly let go and backed away from the table as it hit him, she has experienced rape and I need to drop this–now.
Awkwardly, he tried to close out his thoughts. “Actually, I withdraw the question. I think I’ve stumbled across something painful and I have no business knowing the details. Let’s take a break so you can catch your breath. I’ve got some roast beef and Havarti cheese today. Can I make you a sand. . .?”
– – = = ( o ) = = – –
Ayem stopped at her interruption. “No!” Answering the question would be painful, but leaving it to hang there in the room unanswered would be worse.
Determined not to cry, Havilah again closed her eyes and swallowed her fear. She saw only one way to regain control. “Okay! Okay. . . . I was raped. I was nineteen , was working as a file clerk for a title company. He was the owner’s son. It exploded my world. “
“I’m so sorry Havilah. Please forgive me and don’t go into any details. Would you prefer to take the rest of the day off?”
Still embarrassed by the power this memory had over her, she’d answered. “No. Thank you–but I’ll be okay.” After lunch, they went back to work and she slowly recovered her editorial composure.
The painful memory snapped her back to the library with her heart pounding. She shook it off and stepped away from the shelves, almost surprised to find herself back in the room. Whew, I need a drink. Too bad Ayem doesn’t keep anything alcoholic around. She walked out to the kitchen to pull out the pitcher of ice tea Ayem always kept. She took a deep drink and walked over to the dining room window to look out and again let her mind settle. Damn! I hate how any mention of stuff like this derails me.
As she finished her glass, she realized that she needed to use the restroom. Five years later and that rape still messes with my emotions and bladder. Is this memory going to haunt me for the rest of my life? Ayem has never been a threat and yet I responded so instinctually defensive that day.
She rinsed her glass out before walking towards the bathroom and stopping with a sudden thought. If I were coming from the front door, the bathroom door would be the first on the right. The library is the second. She stepped into the bathroom that she’d used often during her employment, but today, something disturbed her. She looked at the familiar bench that Ayem kept in the bathroom. Why have I never noticed this before? This bench has been here since Ayem hired me and is identical to the one he keeps in the library; the same one I used to change out of my wet clothes before my interview.
Why did he direct me to the library instead of the bathroom that day? I had to walk right past it to get to the library. . .
Weird. I’m going to have to ask him about this.
After using the restroom, she walked back into the library. Doubting now that she was in any mood to read anything, she stepped past the bench and around the couch to approach the wide picture window looking out over the waterfall basin. As she came around the tall reading lamp she noticed the small table and something unusual. “Hello, what’s this?” On the small table next to the couch she noticed, an envelope with my name on it.
She circled the couch to pick it up. As she did, it uncovered a much larger envelope beneath, stamped, addressed and mailed to her at this address. It carried one of Ayem’s return address labels. Why did he send something to me here? She then noticed the cancellation date on the stamp. It was 2 days after interview visit so long ago. Huh? I don’t understand this at all.
She opened the smaller envelope first and was shocked to read his apology for committing suicide. Wait! Say what? She reread the sentence, but it was clearly an apology for committing suicide because, “I simply can’t bear my life any longer”. He directed her to open a second larger envelope. Hoping to find something that corrected what had to be a misunderstanding, she opened it and instead found photos that she immediately recognized and could not believe her eyes. Ayem had printed images of her from his security cameras the day of the interview: her wet, transparent blouse from the porch and then the library where she had changed clothes–in this very room. Her breath froze.
She stood up and dropped the photos like they were poison; compromising pornographic poison.
She hurried around the couch to where she had stood that first day, soaking wet, and tried to work out where the camera must have been. There– there it is! She stepped to the old laptop that had been there that day and was still sitting open with a small camera in the top rim of the screen. Nothing about the computer looked active, but it was plugged into the wall and, wait, is that a cooling fan I hear running? I’ll bet he has one of those programs that makes the camera act as a motion detector and snaps images of everything until the scene stops changing.
Her mind raced. What does this mean? He took and saved those photos, but sent them here six years ago–why? All this time, have I completely misread him? Embarrassed and violated, she slammed the laptop closed so it could no longer capture any images. With her thoughts now racing He took the photos then left them for me to find!? She blurted out loud, “This makes no sense!”
She began pacing and thinking. Ah—he was counting on being dead before I found these. It must be a clumsy attempt to confess on his way out– except that he survived.
Now, what do I do? His note clearly indicates a suicide attempt, but he failed.
Her father’s advice came back in quick pieces, manage, stay calm, get emotional after everyone is safe
Oh damn! I need to prevent him from trying again. She quickly stepped out to the hallway and picked up the Ayem’s landline phone to call the hospital and asked for the head nurse for his floor. She quickly explained the suicide note adding, “Please put some kind of watch on him.”
“Thank you for calling Ms. Goldberg. We have a protocol for this. He’s only been in his room for about an hour and is not awake yet, so he’s fine for the moment. I’ll arrange for him to be watched, but please get here as soon as you can. These situations work out much better if someone he cares about is here to discourage him from trying again.”
She politely ended the call and grabbed the duffel, the photos envelope and the package from his attorney and shoved them into the canvas bag, then quickly left for the hospital, thankful that she had a two hour drive to sort out the rest of her thoughts.
– – = = ( o ) = = – –
In a hurry once again, Havilah again flew through Isoquester, knowing that Arnie would notice and give her hell for ignoring his speed limit sign again. The drive took just over two hours and she arrived at the hospital as quickly as she thought the highway patrol would allow and spent the time planning her next words to Ayem. At times, it felt like a 3 way conversation between a very angry Havilah, her father’s cool logic, and the thinking Havilah trying to find the best path forward.
She paused as she exited the elevator on his floor to review her plan and again at the nurse’s station to check in with the head nurse to see if anything had changed. She was on her way to his room when her stomach growled in protest of her two skipped meals. Satisfied that she had clarity, she stormed down the hall and crashed through the silence of his room and dove straight into work. “Okay, Ayem; you’re awake. Good. First the cover for novel seven is back from Marcus. It’s perfect, so I packed it up and sent it off to the publisher. I also have your clothes, meds and laptop.”
“Havilah?” He sounded groggy as he struggled to sit upright. “You’re here? Hell, I’m here.” He settled back, frustrated, and looked at the ceiling. “Did you see my note?”
She starred at him with barely concealed disdain but was determined to execute her plan calmly. “Yes Ayem! You left a suicide note but you obviously survived. I broke several speed laws, to get here before you could try again. I just verified that someone is watching you on a security camera but no, we don’t have any nude shots yet. Why do you ask?”
He had lowered his gaze to look at her, but as she spoke he closed his eyes and shook his head. “I deserved that I guess.”
“But since you asked, I am here and am ripping angry right now. I’ll get to these photos in a bit, but about this suicide, Ayem, you are much more than my employer. You’re my friend, at least I thought you were. Why didn’t you say something, give me or someone some kind of clue or chance to help? “
He paused, struggling with how to answer. “Two reasons; I’ve been living with a crippling secret for over two decades and last night I was depressed about running out of stories to write and was missing Abbi.”
“Secret? What secret? Wait, don’t you mean Tabitha? You just said Abbi.”
“I did? I must not be fully. . . “
“No, I don’t I buy that you’re confused by the drugs. You said ‘Abbi’, like you knew her by her nick name, very much like you called Tabitha, Tabbi?”
Ayem starred at her, thinking desperately how to answer.
“Be very careful Ayem with what you say next. This all feels like something much larger is coming unwound. I don’t need any more deception from you.”
“I think I need some time to think. There are factors I don’t have control over and I too am under a form of an NDA restricting with I can say. I can say that I’m exhausted with my ongoing failure to become the man I want to be. If anyone knew my full story — I’d be rejected as an author, as a civilized person and even. . . ” He paused to shake his head, unable to meet her eyes. “I would be a public pariah, unworthy of readers or friendship.
“It’s the main reason I live in Isoquester but the secret is too heavy to keep so I’ve been leaking it out.”
She starred at him, confused. “And Havilah, because of you, millions of people now know my story without knowing it.”
“Wait! What does that meant? How have you leaked it?”
“My novels. It’s laid out in my novels. You’ve read them. You know how painful those events would be. Havilah, for me, they are not just a story. They are my story.”
“Your novels are–autobiographical?! You never said anything about this.”
“I changed the names, places and even some character genders to hide my confessions in plain sight.”
“Wait — just wait!” She stepped away from his bed, thinking. “This changes so much. Now, I don’t know where to begin. I had this all plotted out. Ayem, it was a long drive to get here and I thought this all through. I knew what I wanted to say. I wanted you to know how angry I am at you. Do you even recall how you staged your envelopes for me to find? “
“I… I was drinking and–damn! Of course you found the photos.” Tears appeared in his eyes. “This would have been so much easier if I’d just died. . . My plan would have worked if I’d remembered those damned airbags, or if I hadn’t gotten drunk, I’d like to think that a sober me would have thought to just burned them and not caused you further pain.”
She blinked her eyes incredulously. “You forgot . . . about the airbags? Seriously Ayem?”
“I’m an alcoholic and after almost 10 years being sober, I was drunk and depressed. I just planned to drive towards the city and hit that retaining wall.”
“Okay. Fine! I accept this part, but Ayem–you also produced and kept photos of me from the day we first met.” Unwilling to let her anger go, she began to pace around the cramped room. “You printed them and, what, studied or enjoyed the look of my wet blouse and me changing?! Do you realize how sleazy and perverted that is? Can you understand how violated I feel? And that stunt of mailing them to me at your address; was that supposed to prove something? You easily could have made and shared copies. You also acted the part of such a gentleman about helping me freshen up and then we had our meeting and all along I thought that you were impressed with my credentials but now should I suspect you only wanted me around for a possible repeat of the wet tee-shirt event. Now I’m worried that those pictures are out in the internet.”
Ayem had quickly dropped his eyes again. “Havilah, I’m so sorry. I could have made copies, but I didn’t. I could have shared them, but I didn’t. They aren’t out on the internet. No one else knows that it ever happened, but it did happen. I realized the next morning that security cams must have caught your images. It was like someone from my distant past watching and printing them. Once they were in my hand. I wanted to destroy them, but that would only hide the evidence of what I’d done and I could not bring myself to hide the truth again; not from you. But I never found the courage to tell you.”
She watched him for a moment, glad that he was suffering. “You just said that you ‘realized’ the next morning.” He tried to speak, but she held her hand up and stared him into silence. “Ayem, I think you’re lying and that you set this up deliberately hoping to capture those photos. That day, you shuffled me into the library to change rather than let me use the bathroom where I doubt even you would have a hidden camera. Instead, you walked me right past the bathroom to use the library. Ayem, do you recall that I even used the bathroom that day before driving home? So I know damn well that the bathroom was useable, but you wanted me in front of that camera in the library. Do you even want to try and defend your action?”
He looked breathless and looked like he was searching for words. “No.” He finally answered. “No — I have no defense. It was me but I was the man I’ve tried for years to not be. Clearly, I have failed. I’m tired of silently fighting him and losing to him.”
Havilah starred at him, amazed because she was expecting some kind of explanation, something benign that would make him less guilty. Her temper flared to be left his simple confession. She wanted to fight any defense he raised but this left her with nothing other than anger.
“I need to leave for a while.”
“Havilah, I . . .”
“No! I’ve heard enough for now and need to process. I’m leaving,” and she did.
When she walked back in the room, it was almost two hours later and the nurse was there taking his temperature and blood pressure. “Oh, Ms. Goldberg. You’re back. We thought you were staying with him and watching . . .”
“I needed a break and some time to think. Sorry. I should have let someone know.”
“No harm done. He’s been resting well. We’ve updated his pain meds so he’s comfortable.” She folded up her instruments, stepped aside and left the room.
“Havilah. I’m glad you came back. I can’t apologize enough to. . . .”
“You’re right. You can’t. I don’t think you can even understand how angry I am. On the drive here, I thought I understood what you did to me, but I did not expect you to be capable of deliberately sending a young woman into a trap of being photographed her without her clothes or knowledge. What kind of animal does something like that?
“No — no. Don’t interrupt me. I just walked a couple of miles through some neighborhood in a daze trying to figure out what to do about all this. I had a plan, a good plan, but this new fact . . . I just had to re-digest everything and decide again what to do about you.
“First, about that laptop; why do you even have such a setup? It’s like something a hard core pervert would have.”
“My security guy set it up long before I knew you. He’d installed the safe behind the book shelves. He was there when I was getting ready to upgrade my laptop and suggested I use the old one as a motion detector to capture images of anyone trying to break into the safe. The rest was my idea and I’m so ashamed.”
“Okay. You premeditated capturing those pictures. You walked me past a safe room to change and all but stood me in front of your hidden camera. No – don’t say anything. I’m just stating the facts. What you did was awful and I think illegal. I could press charges and likely win or the DA could, whatever.
“On the other hand, that was six years ago and other than whatever that stunt was about mailing the sealed photos to me, via yourself, which still makes no sense and proves nothing, I’m not aware of anything else you’ve done to me or anyone else. Have you done anything else to me or anyone else right under my nose?”
“Uh, no – I don’t think so.”
“Well then,” she reached into the bag and pulled out the large thick envelop. “Shall we see if Mr. Delgado has anything to add to our conversation?” Without waiting for him to respond, she pulled out the paperwork from the US Marshall and he attorney.
“What is all that?”
“That’s my question and I’ll bet you can explain to me why you are getting new agreements from a US marshal? What did you do and when?”
Ayem closed his eyes and let his head fall back into the pillow. “Oh no. You should not have opened that. I’m not. . .”
“Not what? Not being fully honest with me all of a sudden?”
“No. You don’t understand. I’m not allowed to talk about that.”
“Sorry, but it’s a bit late for that. I think there is a lot more going on that I’m not aware of and now I think I want to know if I should be trusting you. I work in your home, just the two of us. Would your marshal recommend I keep doing that?”
“Did you read any of it?”
“Just enough to know that you did something very illegal. You were captured, charged and found guilty but Mr. Delgado, worked out a plea agreement in exchange for your testimony against three other defendants. Lots of legalese, but now I think you are in a witness protection program and the income lien for your victims is about to expire. Am I correct?”
Ayem paused, his lips moved and he appeared to be thinking, but not quite out loud. “I think — no, I know that I need to introduce you to the marshal. As I understand my agreement, you know too many things you shouldn’t. Part of my agreement was to live very quietly and work out of my home, but no one was supposed to know the details. But yes, you summarized it pretty well.”
“And what really happened to Abigail, because her name showed up in the documents as well?”
“Tabitha was Abigail’s new name. A girl named Abigail was traceable to both me and Silver Longing. It was decided that Abigail would be documented to have died with her parents and Tabitha came to life with a bogus history and background. This allowed us to buy Silver Longing from Abigail’s estate and both of us got new names. We even produced a bogus wedding party as part of the background for Ayem and Tabitha.
“That way Silver Longing was sold to someone unconnected with the Long family. They made it look like the house was sold to Abbi’s friend from college. They gave me a new name, new history and a chance for a new life.”
She took a deep breath. “This is a much bigger story than anything I imagined. I told you that I had decided on what I wanted to do and all this, complicates my decision.”
“Regardless of what you want to do, we have to disclose all about you to the marshal.”
“Okay, I think I understand, but like I said, it was a long drive to get here and I’ve decided what I’m going to do. All this new stuff;” she paused to let her thoughts settle, then with her voice breaking up, continued, “all this crap makes it harder for me to execute my decision; but it does not change the principle of what I decided. You just increased the cost.”
“Of course you want to terminate your employment. I compl. . .”
“No! I don’t. Ayem, I’ve read all your novels and even helped you write the latest ones. Each of your stories limns a broken person, crippled by their own decisions but you always provided a forgiving character to break through your protagonist’s darkness, someone who rescued him, shook him and brought him to some kind of redemption.
“While driving here, I decided to treat you the way your story redeemers treated your protagonists. I did not want to forgive you, but the principal in your stories overruled my hurt feelings. But Ayem, it never occurred to me that you were — are all of your protagonists.
“Did you really commit an extortion, robbery, and all that other stuff? Were you also a drug dealer and grifter?”
Ayem appeared to be taking hits from invisible fists at the mention of each charge. “Yes, yes; I was each of the. Please stop.”
“And you really had a redeemer each time?”
He looked up with red, moist eyes, “Yes, each time, someone to pull me to safety.”
“Even novel number six, ‘Redeeming Edward’ the rapist”?
“Please Havilah – you’re killing me here. Yes, yes! They are all true but obfuscated.”
“Wow! Didn’t see this coming. Let me think. Okay, this is huge, but . . . ” She took a deep breath, set her jaw and continued, “It doesn’t change my decision.” She paused to let the idea hang there before them. “Ayem, I still want to be your editor, your friend but I also forgive you and want to be your redeemer for setting me up and producing those photos.”
She paused for a deep breath. “I am the injured party and have the right to hold you accountable or decide to not press charges. I’ve decided to forgive you. There . . . I said it. Your cost is that it may take you years to earn back my trust.”
Ayem, raised his eyes to her; exhausted with emotion.
Havilah silently walked to his window. Looked out but not really seeing anything. Anxious now to change the topic, she turned and asked. “Exactly how is it that you’re not in jail?”
He smiled meekly and shook his head. “Thomas Delgado is an amazing attorney. He and the DA made me an offer to testify in exchange for going into witness protection. It was my chance to start over. I only asked for my Isoquester home and to choose my new name. The two made me virtually untraceable, but Havilah, how can you forgive all this?”
“I can because I’ve known you for several years now. I know something of what you’re capable of being. I think I know your heart and most of my experience with you is after all the crimes you committed — but understand that those photos. . . they make me want to punch your lights out.”
“I understand and can hardly believe you are giving me such a chance.
“You understand that you are still bound by that non-disclosure agreement. The marshal is going to be furious that you know this much.”
“I can handle life with that NDA but the rest is between you and the marshal!.” Unsure what to say next, she asked. So, what was your original name?”
“It’s classified but you can know the story behind my new name. It’s a reminder to me of my past and goal.”
“My new name separates me from my past, except that I’m not perfect about carrying it out. Every time I hear it spoken or sign it, it reminds me that I’m not that twisted man anymore.”
“I don’t understand. How does your new name do that? I always assumed it was foreign.”
“I think everyone does. Pretend it’s not a name and say it slowly, out loud and let other words to form up.”
“Ayem Note-hymn? Eye-em Knot-em?” She made a face, not yet seeing it. “I-em Not-hym?” She abruptly rose from her chair and put a palm to her forehead. “Oh good grief! How could I’ve missed this all these years, I’m not him, as in you’re not the man from your past. Ayem; this, is, brilliant. Has anyone ever figured it out?”
“No, I doubt anyone even questioned it. Why would they?”
“Right.” She crossed her arms and turned to take a few steps around the room. “So, have you started novel eight and what’s it going to be about?”
“No. I’ve not started it yet because I told all my stories in seven novels and didn’t have an eighth. But now, it seems that I do. How soon can you get me back to my Isoquester tower room and what gender would you like to be?”
Havilah smiled smartly, knowing that Ayem was now safe with a fresh story to tell and once again, she would be part of getting it published.
“Oh, we can talk about this, but Ayem; all this is going to cost you. I want a raise.” That was when her stomach growled again. “Ugh, and a sandwich. Damn I’m hungry.”