AChapADay

AChapADay: Chapter Seventeen

Saturday, April 14

Hank had to find his glasses before reading the clue.  This took longer than the girls would have expected.  When he finally found them – in a case on his desk – his lips moved as he read the clue.  Twice.

The girls were growing antsy.  He moved far too slow for them.  They had clues to find!

“Well,” he started, taking his glasses off.  “We do store some of the old winter gear up in the attic.  We used to let people rent jackets and snow pants, snow shoes, skis, helmets, goggles.  All of that old stuff is up there.”

“Elevator!” Hannah said, heading for the lobby.

“Wait!” Hank called after them.  “You can’t get to the attic from the elevator.  You have to go up to the third floor, then you’ll need to take the stairs.”

He still held the clue in his hand.  He read it again, feelings of unease rising in his belly.  The thing was, nobody on the new staff went to the attic.  Most of them probably didn’t even know anything was up there.  How would the person sending the girls on this goose chase know anything about the winter stuff that remained up there. 

Hank sighed, and dropped his glasses and the clue on his desk.  He would have to go up there and investigate.  He wasn’t terribly excited to take the stairs that would get him to the attic, but what choice did he have?  There was something strange going on.

*****

At the top of the stairs, he could hear the girls running from room to room.  They were on the north end.  He looked the other direction, to the south end, and saw one of the room doors standing open.  After catching his breath, stairs always winded him these days, he turned right and walked to the open door.

Inside, there were racks of winter coats and snow suits.  These were new, with tags still on.  He knew the rooms on the north end had racks of winter clothing but they were older.  Some from the 1980s.  Where had all of this come from?  He walked through the racks, fingers trailing along the sleeves of the brand new jackets.

The new owners must have sent these.  It was the only explanation.  Hank looked around the room and noticed the closet door was open, with odd light coming from the crack.  He went back to the hall and could hear squealing from the other end.  The girls must have found their next clue.

He turned back to the closet and made a decision.  If he was to properly manage this place, he needed to know what was going on.  The door squeaked quietly as he pulled it open.  It was a normal closet, except, the door on the opposite wall.  Why would the closet have another door?  It too was ajar and when Hank walked through he was in an in-between space.  In front of him stood yet another door.  He tried to remember what book that was, the one where the characters climbed through a wardrobe into a different world.  This was kind of like that.

There were two options here.  Hank could ignore this strange space and go back down to his office.  That seemed easiest.  But, what if guests like the girls who were running all over the lodge found this?  Could it be a problem?  And while Hank appeared to be an old and meek man, he really wasn’t.  He nodded a confirmation to himself and he knocked on the door three times.

*****

Anna was busy making a chili cheese dip, one of her specialties.  She would have chips, crackers, dip, cookies, and fruit.  She didn’t hear the first three knocks, but the second three were louder and she froze.

Where was it coming from?  She scrambled to find the remote to her TV and then her iPad.  She scanned the cameras that surrounded her part of the lodge.  Her heart sank when she got to the view of the attic entrance to her apartment.  Hank stood at the door.  She could see the two closet doors behind him standing wide open.

Anna tried to remember when she came in early this morning, after placing all of the clues.  Did she forget to shut and lock those doors?  Apparently when you decide not to be a criminal, you stop thinking like one. Maybe he’d go away?

He knocked again.  Then he actually tried the door handle.  Thankfully she hadn’t been that careless.  It was too late to run.  She knew he wouldn’t stop until he figured out what was on the other side of that door.  Anyway, she was going to have guests in her home for the first time ever.  She wasn’t going to miss that opportunity.

She wiped her hands on the blue and white checked apron she was wearing, pulled her fingers through her hair, clicked off the TV, and went upstairs.  She unlocked the door slowly, still sure this wasn’t actually what she wanted to do, and she opened the door.

Hank stared, unable to speak.  Because he wasn’t sure what, or who, he was looking at.

“Oh, come in,” Anna said, giving in to the inevitable.  “Do you want some coffee?”

Hank followed her into what was, he had to admit, an actual home.  A home inside of the Carlos Lake Lodge.

They got to the bottom floor and Anna pointed to the tall chairs that lined the kitchen island.  Hank took one and he folded his hands on the granite countertop.

“Coffee?” Anna repeated.  Hank nodded.  She started a cup and turned to face him.

“So my name isn’t actually Ann Jones.”

“Anna?  Anna Johnson?” Hank asked.

She was startled and a little dismayed that he’d figured it out so quick.  Her gut reaction was to deny it.  Anna?  Who is Anna?  But, she knew, the jig was up.

“Yes,” she said quietly as she busied herself with Hank’s coffee and setting out cream and sugar.

“I knew,” he started as he took the cup from her.  “I knew something was familiar about you.  I knew it!”

They sat in silence.  Anna wasn’t really prepared for this conversation.  She got back to making the dip.  It wasn’t complicated.  A can of chili, Velveeta cheese, and a microwave.

You own the lodge.  They gave you the lodge.” Hank wasn’t even asking.  He was just working it out in his mind.  “Well, it’s the least they could have done.”

Anna looked up at this.  “What do you mean?”

“They just treated you so poorly.  We always wished we could steal you away and raise you the way a child is supposed to be raised.  With unconditional love.  It broke Betty’s heart every time we saw you.”

Anna thought about this as she started to pull out crackers and chips, and bowls for each to go in.  This meant that Hank and Betty weren’t just being nice to her because they had to.  They wanted to.  She felt her body go warm and her heart swell.

“You deserved so much better,” he said, quieter, and sipped his coffee.

She couldn’t help herself.  She wasn’t a hugger, at all, but she went to his side of the island and hugged him.  Tight.  This was the father, or uncle, or grandfather she always wanted.  And, she supposed, now she had him.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

For the next two hours, Anna told Hank about her life – an edited version.  She told him she’d been working in the schools but then had been left the lodge and the other real estate.  She explained why she remodeled the lodge as she had, and what her hopes were for its success in the future.  She admitted that she changed her name because she wasn’t very fond of what her old name reminded her of – her family and an unhappy life.

The really strange part was that, as Hank listened, he smiled and showed interest.  He was proud of the work she did in the schools.  He was excited about her plans for the lodge.  And he seemed ecstatic to know that she would be living right here, in the same building as he did, some of the time.  It was as if, as Anna explained and exaggerated what her life was, it was becoming true and real.  Like she was forming into a real person, the real Ann Jones, the more she spoke.

Joking, she asked “Hank, can I adopt you as my new family?”  She was digging in the refrigerator and facing away from him when she said it.

“Oh Ann.  I would be honored.”  

There wasn’t time for either of them to properly process this before the sound of knocking made them both jump.  It came from behind the kitchen.  

The girls had finished the treasure hunt.

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