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Looking for Love

Linda Mayes

Looking for Love

  A Montana Love Story

  Copyright 2014 © Linda Mayes

  All rights reserved.

  Copyright © 2014 Linda Mayes

  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author and/or publisher. No part of this publication may be sold or hired, without written permission from the author.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are a product of the writer’s imagination and / or have been used fictitiously in such a fashion it is not meant to serve the reader as actual fact and should not be considered as actual fact. Any resemblance to actual events, or persons, living or dead, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.



  “Lucy, please stop swinging on the door. Get your brother and go get in the truck. Where is your sister?” Grace Dowler swiped an unruly lock of her curly blonde hair back out of her face and tucked it behind her ear. As Lucy, her over-active six year old, ran off to find her brother, Grace picked up the last cardboard box from the floor of the home where she had lived with her husband and children for the past eight years. She looked around the empty room and sighed. She had spent hours working on the trim to get it just the right color, and she had laid the tile around the fireplace herself. She had decorated and re-decorated the nursery three times, and then had taken pain-staking care to decorate each child’s room just so as they grew older. She let out a heavy sigh. She was going to miss this old house. Looking up the stairwell she yelled, “Macy! Come on, baby girl we have to go.”

  A minute or two went by before Macy, her oldest daughter, stuck her dark head out of her bedroom door. Looking at her mother defiantly she said, “I’m not going,” and then ducked back inside.

  Grace let out a low growl and set the box down. Lucy and Grace’s son, Brock, came around the corner from the kitchen just then.

  “If Macy doesn’t have to go, can I stay too?” Brock asked, innocently.

  Grace ruffled his curly, always messy hair. The poor baby had gotten it from her. “No, Brockie,” she told him, “Macy’s not staying here. We’re all going to Grandmother’s together. Now, go get in the truck with Lucy and me and Macy will be right there.”

  Lucy and Brock did as they were told, and Grace headed up the stairs. She found Macy sitting in the window seat of her own empty room. She was clutching a rag doll that she had carried since she was just a baby. She looked so small to Grace, and the troubled mother felt her heart ache in her chest as she looked at her.

  Macy didn’t turn to look at her when she came in the room, but she heard her mother enter, so she repeated, “I’m not going.” She sat looking out the window at the big oak tree where her daddy had hung a swing for her and her sister several years back.

  Grace sat down next to her daughter. Macy had long, straight black hair and dark brown eyes like her father. She was a beautiful child, and it never failed to amaze Grace how stubborn someone who looked so sweet and delicate could be. She took her daughter’s hand and said, “Macy, look at me.” Macy looked at her mother, with big tears in her eyes, threatening to spill over onto her cheeks. “I know how hard this is on you. You’re getting ready to start the third grade, and now you have to leave your school and all of your friends. I wish we could stay here, honey, really, I do. But, Mama needs to find work so that we can have a place to live. Until then, your grandmother was kind enough to say that we can stay with her.”

  “We had a place to live, until you made Daddy leave.”

  Grace sighed again. “Macy, I didn’t make your daddy go. He got a new job remember? It’s too far for Daddy to drive every day, so he’s going to find a place closer to his work in California. It was what he wanted to do.” That, and sleep with as many twenty-year-olds as would have him, Grace thought to herself, but didn’t share that with her daughter.

  “Grandmother scares me,” Macy told her, the tears breaking free and rolling down her smooth, delicate little cheeks at last.

  Grace took her daughter in her arms and gave her a big hug. “You know what, baby? Grandmother scares me a little, too,” she told her truthfully but with a smile. Grace looked at her watch then and said, “I’m sorry, honey, for everything, but we have to go now before it’s getting too late. We’re all going to be just fine, I promise. You’ll make lots of new friends and Mama will get a job. Before you know it we’ll have our own place.”

  Macy grabbed her mother and hugged her again, tight. She was eight years old and it was a hard age. She was no longer a baby, but not even a pre-teen yet. It was that in-between stage that no one understood unless you were an eight-year-old girl at least once. Grace understood. She had not only been an eight-year-old girl, but she had been that very same girl, once upon a time. The girl whose father had just abandoned her and her mother for greener pastures, leaving them both to wonder what it was they had done to drive him away.

  Grace and the kids got on the road at last. The drive from Boise, Idaho to Belt, Montana where her mother lived was going to take them about eleven hours. Grace had emptied out the savings accounts she had set up for the kids when they were each born, in hopes of giving them a good chunk of money to start their new lives when they finished high school. It wasn’t much money, and it was all that she had. Her split with her husband had been less than amicable, and he had left them with practically nothing. What little he’d left them, Grace had used up paying the bills for the past few months, waiting until the school year was over before she made her children leave the only home that they had ever known. The house would be going into foreclosure the following week, and she was at least glad to be getting out before that happened.

  It had cost her more than she wanted to spend to rent the moving truck, buy some snacks for the road and get gas, but if she wanted to have anything left when they got to Montana, staying in a motel for even one night would put her way over budget. If she didn’t stop, they’d be there in eleven hours. She had brought the portable DVD player, the iPod and lots of DVDs in hopes of keeping the kids entertained along the way.

  Grace was trying hard to act like this was all a new adventure. She was doing her best to put her kids’ anxieties at ease. It seemed to be working with the two younger ones. They didn’t understand yet exactly what was happening. To them, it was just the beginning of a summer road trip. Macy on the other hand had been a silent witness to the last argument that Grace and Macy’s father had just before he left for Los Angeles. Grace hadn’t known that the little girl had woken up and come down the stairs. She had chastised herself afterward, when she had found Macy crying on the stairs, for being so caught up in her own drama that she hadn’t noticed what it was doing to her child.

  Grace let the memories flow as she drove. She and Conrad had been married for almost nine years before it had all finally fallen apart. She remembered now the first time she had seen him in the student lounge at the University of Idaho over ten years ago. She even smiled to herself now as she pictured him as he was then. He was so handsome, and self-assured. She wasn’t the only woman in the room looking at him, but when he noticed her, he had made her feel like she was the only one there. He had been older than her by six years. To a twenty-one year old girl from a farm in Idaho, he had seemed so sophisticated and worldly. He had invited her to sit with him and had bought her a cup of coffee. He had done most of the talking, seeming to have no problem at all talking to someone he didn’t know, and Grace envied him that. She had always been shy, and most especially around boys, or in this case, men.

  Conrad told her that he was enrolled at the Un
iversity in the graduate program for bio-chemical engineering. He said that he had done his under-graduate work at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he was from, impressing her further. Grace had always dreamed of going to California. Television and the movies had always made it look like people in California were so happy. Happy was not something Grace had experienced much in her lifetime.

  Her father had left home just a few weeks before her eighth birthday. He hadn’t even told her goodbye in person. Instead, he had bought her a Hallmark card with a sappy saying on it about the love of a father, and told her he’d be in touch. Grace had been devastated. Her father had been her world, and he had left her alone with her mother who was a bitter, unhappy woman. She ripped the card to shreds, thinking that if he really loved her, he would have taken her along. How could he leave her here? He, of all people, knew how cold her mother could be. Once he was gone, the bitterness inside her mother had seemed to fester, and her mother had become colder and more withdrawn toward Grace than she had ever been.

  Grace had spent the remainder of her childhood lost in her daydreams of a knight in shining armor finding her and taking her away from all of this, and doing her best, to no avail, to win her mother’s affections. She had been a good girl, studying hard and getting straight A’s in school. She cooked and baked and cleaned. She helped out the farm workers when it was time to harvest the fruit trees. She had hardly dated during high school, opting instead to study, work, or spend her weekends doing the only thing that ever seemed to make her mother happy, quilting.

  Her mother loved to make quilts, and when Grace was growing up, her mother had supplemented the income they took in from the small farm her father had left them with by making beautiful quilts for people in the town where they lived. Once word got out about the quilts, she had even started getting orders from the surrounding counties. It gave her something to do, and sometimes while she was quilting, she would even open up and talk to Grace about her own childhood. She even smiled sometimes; something Grace rarely saw her do. Sometimes Grace thought that she had finally found what she needed to break through her mother’s icy shell, only to have that idea shattered the moment the quilt was done, and her mother had retreated back into her room with her television and her glass of wine.

  Grace had gotten a scholarship to the University of Idaho. It was close to home, but as far as Grace was concerned, it would be a whole world away. She was able to live on campus in the dorms, and once away from her mother and the darkness of her world, Grace began to blossom.

  During her sophomore year in college, her mother had called to tell her not to come home for Christmas. She had sold the farm, and was moving to Montana. She had bought a house just outside of Belt, Montana of all places. It was a town with less than a thousand people, and Grace couldn’t understand why anyone would want to live there. Her mother had bought a small shop in town, she had told her, and was planning to open up a quilting business. Grace remembered that her first thought was what a terrible businesswoman her mother would be. She never made any secret of the fact that people only annoyed her.

  Grace had gone home once more to help her mother pack and gather the rest of their things. Since then, she and her mother had talked on the phone a few times a year, and her mother had visited them twice in the past nine years. The first time had been just after Macy had been born, and the second time was for Christmas when the kids had been six, four and three. Grace had begged her to come, and had held out hopes that being a grandmother would warm her mother up, but it hadn’t seemed to. Her mother had been almost as cold with her grandchildren as she had been with Grace. Grace had decided then to give up on the warm, fuzzy relationship that would never happen and concentrate on her own family.

  That had gone well up until about six months ago. Conrad had started coming home later and later. Grace normally wouldn’t have thought much about that. His hours on the job often varied greatly depending on the company’s current assignment. What made her worry originally, was the fact that although he was seemingly working an excessive amount of hours, he was constantly telling her they needed to stop spending so much money or their savings would soon be depleted. Conrad paid all the bills, but Grace had found a letter from the mortgage company in his desk threatening foreclosure. When questioned why they had suddenly gone from comfortable to living on a shoestring and being behind on something as important as their mortgage, he had become enraged, telling her that maybe if she “got off her ass” and got a job they could live better.

  Conrad had been the one who had wanted Grace to be stay at home mom in the first place. She had still been in college when she discovered she was pregnant with Macy. Conrad had insisted they get married right away and he be the one to support them. Grace had objected at first, but by the time Lucy was born she realized that the cost of daycare and the stress of leaving the children with strangers wouldn’t be worth the payoff of whatever she might earn. It had worked well for almost nine years, and then all of a sudden, Conrad objected.

  Grace had learned the hard way, growing up with her mother, that conflict never amounted to more than an upset stomach and regret, so she had told Conrad that as soon as Brock began school in the fall, she would look for a job. She had hoped that would fix whatever was causing his foul mood, but it hadn’t. He became more sullen anytime he had to spend time with her and the children, and more and more stingy with the money. He had started giving her less than half of the normal budget for groceries even.

  One evening, when Conrad was supposedly working late, Brock had an asthma attack. Grace called him and the call went straight to voicemail. She left a message and told him that she had to take Brock to the hospital and she needed him to come and pick up the girls so they didn’t have to sit in the waiting room of the ER. Once they got to the hospital, she decided to try him at the office. He had always told her to call his cell phone if she needed him at work. He had said the company had strict rules against personal calls, but this was an emergency, and she thought it would be okay. When the receptionist answered and Grace asked for Conrad Dowler she was put on hold. After what Grace thought was an exceptionally long time, a man came on the line.

  “Hi, this is Mike Lord. Can I ask who is looking for Mr. Dowler?” the man asked.

  “Yes, this is his wife, Grace. Our son is ill and I need to reach him. He’s not answering his cell phone.”

  The man on the other end sounded sad as he said, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Dowler. Your husband isn’t here. He hasn’t actually worked here for almost two months.”

  Grace didn’t know what to say. “There must be some mistake,” she said at last. “Conrad Dowler is who I’m looking for. He’s a bio-chemical engineer, and he’s worked for your company for almost eleven years.”

  The man cleared his throat and said, “There’s no mistake Mrs. Dowler. I’m very sorry. I don’t know why Conrad wouldn’t have told you, but I let him go myself in June.”

  Grace’s mind began to work then. It was August now. June was when Conrad had begun to act grumpy and sullen. It was also shortly after that when he began to budget their money tightly as well. She felt like such a fool.

  “I’m sorry to have bothered you Mr. Lord. I’ll let you get back to your work.”

  “It was no bother, Mrs. Dowler,” the man said with real regret in his voice. “I’m the one who is sorry. I hope your son will be okay,” he told her before hanging up the phone.

  Grace hung up the phone feeling like crying, but right then Brock needed her, so crying could wait. She managed to keep the girls occupied with crayons and a coloring book while Brock got a breathing treatment. Once she had loaded them all back in the car and was headed home she allowed herself to think about it. She didn’t understand why Conrad hadn’t told her that he’d lost his job. They had always shared everything until recently, and it seemed to all start about the same time. She promised herself on that ride home that, like it or not, Conrad was going to talk to her when he
got home. She deserved at the very least, the truth.

  Grace was shaken from her memories by Lucy’s voice. She and Brock had been engrossed in a DVD so far and Macy was still sulking, so the ride had been unusually quiet. The DVD had apparently ended, and now Lucy was saying that she needed to use the bathroom.

  “Are you sure, Lucy?” Grace asked her. “We’ve only been on the road a little over an hour baby.”

  “She didn’t go before we left like you told her,” Brock said.

  “Okay, Brockie,” Grace warned. “No tattle-tales. Lucy, I’ll pull off as soon as I can.”

  Grace found a place off the freeway a few miles up, and after all three children had used the bathroom, and Lucy and Brock had begged enough change out of her to get a snack from the vending machine, they were back on the road. The kids were back to watching another movie, and Grace was cursed once again with memories of things she’d rather not think about.

  When Conrad had finally gotten home that night, well after midnight, Grace was awake and waiting.

  “Conrad,” she said, startling him as he came in the room.

  “Grace, what are you still doing up?” he asked, his tone indicating he was not happy about it.

  “We need to talk,” she said, more firmly than usual.

  “About what, Grace? I’m tired.”

  “Did you even listen to my voicemail?” she asked him.

  Conrad sat in the chair across from her and pulled his cell phone from his pocket. Looking at the face of it he said, “No, I didn’t even realize you had called. What happened?”

  She told him about Brock’s asthma attack and their trip to the hospital. Before he could interrupt her, she said, “I called your work too.”

  He looked at her then with fire in his eyes and said, “So then I suppose you know I don’t work there anymore.”

  “Yes, I know that. What I don’t know is why you didn’t tell me. What happened Conrad?” she asked.

  “I just got laid off. The details aren’t important.”

  “And why didn’t you think I needed to know?”

  “It’s not like you were going to support us,” he said in a hateful voice.

  “I could have tried to help,” she said. “Where do you go every day, Conrad, when you’re supposed to be at work? And at night, too, sometimes?”

  He was silent for a long time, and she thought he wasn’t going to answer her. When he did, it was the equivalent to being slapped in the face as far as Grace was concerned.

  “I don’t love you anymore, Grace. I want a divorce.”

  Grace sat there looking at him, stunned before asking, “Is there someone else?”

  Conrad had smiled then, and it seemed to Grace that something like relief might have even crossed his face. “Yes, and I do love her.” He stood up and continued, “I’ve been looking for another job. I have an interview in Los Angeles next week. You have until the end of the month to get out of the house. I’ll take care of the divorce.” He walked away, dismissing her, just like that. She sat there feeling like she was caught up in a bad dream, hoping if she were that she’d awaken soon. Conrad had never given her any indication he wasn’t happy in their marriage, and suddenly he wanted someone new, a divorce, and seemingly a whole new life.

  The next few weeks had passed in a blur. Conrad had announced that he had gotten the job in LA and he and his girlfriend would be moving out there the following week. That was the fight Macy had witnessed. Grace had asked him how he could do that to his children. Conrad had told her that he was tired of being the one who took care of everything and he needed to be with a woman who was strong enough to take care of herself. He said that once the kids saw how happy “Heather” made him, they would be glad he had left.

  Grace forced herself to stop thinking about it now. The fight had gotten ugly and they had both said things that Macy should have never heard either of them say about each other. She had though, and now Grace needed to do her best to pick up the pieces. Conrad had told her that once he got on his feet, he would start sending child support and have the kids out to visit him. Grace wasn’t sure either of those things would ever happen, and she wasn’t going to waste time right now worrying about it. She had to do whatever was necessary right now to take care of her children. She was much stronger than Conrad had ever given her credit for, and she was going to prove that.