Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Beautiful American by Marilyn Holdsworth @m_holdsworth

Chapter 2

Abby turned the van into the long driveway, drove down to the garage, and parked. From the house, she could hear loud, welcoming barks and scratching at the door as she hurried up the steps. “All right, all right, I’m coming,” she called, fumbling with her key in the sticking lock and pushing on the old, warped wood.

A moment later, she burst into the kitchen and a large, tail-wagging fur ball catapulted across the floor at her, almost knocking her legs out from under her. “Yes, yes, I’m glad to see you, too.” She laughed, stroking the joyous animal’s head, scratching behind the silky ears. “Come on, Muttie; let’s go out for a quick walk. You’ve been cooped up long enough.” From a hook inside a utility closet, she took down a leash and fastened it to the dog’s collar, and they both bounded down the back steps, two at a time.

It was a warm, sunny afternoon, and Abby enjoyed the walk almost as much as Muttie did. She watched the dog playfully dive under bushes, pushing her nose into piles of leaves hoping to flush out a bird or squirrel. Abby had never been sorry she had taken the animal home with her the day it had turned up at the shop. A skinny, frightened stray with a hurt paw, but with the most beautiful, big, soulful brown eyes Abby had ever seen. It had been love at first sight for both of them. Abby said the dog looked like a shepherd crossed with a spaniel. Max and Mildred, her helpers in the shop, both said she looked like a big mutt. Muttie. The name had stuck, and Muttie had become Abby’s constant companion, always closer than a shadow. Today, she stood watching the dog sniff around the base of a towering oak tree barking, excitedly at a squirrel chattering and scolding from a limb far above her. Yes, she thought, Muttie came into her life like everything else-suddenly without warning.

When her grandmother had been stricken with a stroke and died unexpectedly, Abby had been devastated. Her grandmother had raised her, taken her in after the fatal accident that had claimed the lives of her parents. The old house on Oak Lane in Westfield had been the only home she had known, and she had stayed.

She had stayed not because she had to, but because she loved it and wanted to. Her years growing up there had filled her with happy memories. Her grandmother always had been there for her, guiding her through her shy, awkward stages until she blossomed into a bubbling, confident teenager. Always a good student with a keen love for learning, Abby was at the top of her class her senior year at Westfield High. She had been accepted to several Ivy League colleges, but in the end she had chosen State to be closer to home. She’d wanted to be able to spend weekends with her grandmother. And when, after four years, she’d graduated with honors, she again had chosen State for her master’s degree. The art history department had offered a fine program focusing on antiques and period furniture design. But her grandmother had urged her to study abroad for a semester, and when she was accepted by the Sorbonne she reluctantly agreed.

The months she spent in Paris had been glorious. Every course at the Sorbonne opened her eyes to new wonders in art. Her days flew by, filled not only by fascinating classes but also with wonderful bicycling trips through the rural French countryside and sightseeing excursions to the many quaint villages outside the city. And of course, she spent hours and hours roaming through the Louvre, awed by the museum’s vast collections of the world’s most famous old masters. She never tired of exploring the many galleries and, on each visit, discovered something new to appreciate in some painting or sculpture. She marveled at the Titians, Rembrandts, and her special favorite, Leonardo da Vinci.

Writing home to her grandmother, Abby recounted her first glimpse of his most famous portrait. “The Mona Lisa is more captivating than I dreamed she could be,” she enthused. “Her mysterious half smile fascinates me. I can stand for a very long time studying her enigmatic face, wondering what secrets hide behind her darkly veiled gaze.”

But it was Paris, the enchanting city itself, that had captured her heart, and when the term was over she’d vowed to return one day.

Abby smiled ruefully remembering that vow today as she watched Muttie tugging vigorously on the leash, nose quivering with the sweet autumn scents in the air. “Paris. I haven’t forgotten my dream. I’ll get there. I’m just not sure how or when. But one day, I will, Muttie,” she said aloud as she turned back toward the long driveway up to the house.

The phone was ringing when they bounded up the back steps, and Abby dropped the leash as she hurried to answer it.

Mildred’s crisp Cockney accent came across the line. “Just checking to see if you need a bit of a hand, love—that is, if you’ve done the usual, packed the van with auction treasures.”

“Oh, Mildred, you know me too well.” Abby laughed. “Only one piece today—a gift from me to me. But it’s a beauty, and I will need a hand getting it into the house. If Max is free, I’d be grateful for his help.”

“Right. Send him along straightaway. And, Abby, I’m glad you got something for yourself this time. You deserve it. You work much too hard. A young lass like you should be steppin’ out for fun,” the older woman chided gently.

“You know I love my work. It’s my fun. But I did splurge today, Mildred. Wait till you see it. I found my desk. It’s just what I’ve been looking for—the period and style I wanted. And in good condition too. A real treasure. How soon can Max get here?”

“He’s watchin’ the tellie. I’ll just pop along and ask ’im.” Moments later, Mildred was back on the line. “Be over straightaway he says. And if you might be fixin’ a cup of tea later, I’ll be ridin’ along with ’im.”

“Perfect. Tea it is. Come as soon as you can. I can’t wait to show you my find.”

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Genre - Biographies & Memoirs

Rating – PG-13

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