The thunder crashed against the midnight October sky. Rain fell from the clouds, which formed a blanket, covering the line of view that existed between her and the stars. She carried no flashlight, nor a lantern. Only the flashes of lightning that pierced the darkness above lit her path.
She ran, plowing through the mud puddles with all of her might. The rain continued to fall, stinging her skin in a terrifying baptism. Her heart was racing, pounding against the bruising on her chest. She was breathing heavily as she ran. Her head was aching. She could feel the liquid trickling down her face. Is it the rain, or am I bleeding again? She did not bother to answer herself. Instead she forced herself to run harder and faster.
Her path was unclear. She did not know where she was going, or any other way to get there. She did not know how long her journey would take, or how she would survive. The pain that ravaged her body was nearly unbearable. However, the fear, which fueled her adrenaline rush, was greater than the pain. She continued to run, with only one destination before her. One place must be at the end of the long, dark, muddy road that she was running down. She only knew of one place that could offer her the refuge that she sought so frantically. She knew she had heard the sound of the metal creaking as it opened to allow her to become imprisoned. She had to reach the gate.
The summer months had just fallen upon the small town of Kingston, Georgia. The sun blazed brilliantly against the cloudless blue sky. A cool, refreshing summer breeze blew lightly across the trees, filling the air with the fresh scent of newly blossomed flowers and fresh cut grass. The sound of laughing children filled the open space, and echoed through until it could be heard by the old ladies that were sewing patchwork quilts while they sat on their front porches. The children were enjoying the beginning of a two-month long summer vacation from school. They had all congregated at the city park located behind the police station to begin their day of fun in the sun.
Little Jacob Penson was playing on the swings with Emily Taylor and Trey Davis. The older children were on the new skateboard ramps, turning tricks and riding air as they pretended to be on the X-games. Mothers were walking their babies around the track, while the children rested comfortably in their strollers, jabbering to each other as if they were carrying on a conversation in their mere eighteen-month age. The mothers would discuss everything from finances, to the great deals at Prime Outlet Mall, and end with how their marriage was going.
Across from the park, a group of kids ranging from the ages of ten and sixteen were gathered together for a game of baseball. They had started early to ensure they would be finished with all nine innings before the recreation department arrived to take possession of the field for the scheduled games that day. A small group of teenage girls giggled and chuckled on the bleachers as they watched the teenage boys act macho as they slid face first into the dirt after stealing third.
The old railroad line that ran through the middle of the city was still operational, and the sound of the train whistle could be heard off in the distance. Kingston was a railroad town when it was founded, and the railroad held a historically relevant story. Every resident had heard the story of Andrew’s Raiders, and The Great Locomotive Chase that ran right through the middle of town, before rushing through the neighboring town of Adairsville, only ten miles away. During the cool mornings, one could travel down Railroad Street and find a few of the town’s old timers talking about the good ole days by the railroad depot, or rather what was left of it.
Historical homes lined the streets. Because Kingston was founded more on the railroad than cotton plantations, the homes were not as elaborate as the ones that stood in Adairsville. They were mostly simple homes that simple families lived in. During the Civil War, Kingston was utilized as headquarters for the federal army. Most of the homes and businesses that stood in Kingston were destroyed by fire. One glance at the homes that have survived, and a lover of history would instantly become part of the history that this town held.
Nevertheless, over the years, Kingston had grown once again, and new homes and businesses were built, and the historical ones restored to transform Kingston into the tranquil southern town that it is today. The grocery store was up and running, as well as Morrell’s corner Café. A tanning salon had opened up next door to the grocery store. There were several thrift stores in business in the town, which provided a comfortable convenience for the residents and their budgets.
Of all of the small businesses that had arisen from the ashes of Kingston, Georgia, the most thriving of them was that of Maggie’s Handmade Marvels. Maggie’s handmade Marvels was an arts and craft store that operated out of the home that stood on the corner of Church Street and Railroad Street. The home originally known as the Rogers- Johnson- Lee house was now the home of the Fortenberry family.
Karen Fortenberry stood at the counter in her kitchen. It was eight o’clock in the morning. The aroma of apples and spice filled the crisp morning air. She slowly poured the wax into the mold with a steady hand. It was moments like this that she was glad that she had inherited the trait from her mother. She continued to pour carefully until the liquid wax reached the line. She placed the pot back on the burner of the one eye electric hot plate. She retrieved the wick for the candle from the stack that rested there on the imitation black marble counter top.
Karen was a professional candle maker by trade. Her father had laughed at her when she had informed him of her career intention. Of course, at that time, Karen was only seven.
She had always had a love for creativity, as well as the talent to sustain it. Her mother owned her own arts and crafts shop in Kingston. Some of the happiest times in her life came when she could sit up on the same kitchen counter and watch her mother create some of the most beautiful pieces of art. Her creations consisted of everything from floral arrangements to of course, candles.
When Karen had reached the age of twelve, Maggie Fortenberry had told her daughter that she was old enough to learn the trade. Maggie took the time to teach her daughter how to melt the wax using an electric one-eye burner, mix the scent, add the color, and insert the wick. After that, Karen spent every free moment she had practicing the art that would allow her not only to do what she loved, but also to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
Maggie Fortenberry passed away suddenly from injuries she received during a car accident the winter that Karen turned sixteen. With all of the bills and the cost of the funeral, Robert was forced to sell his wife’s craft shop. Karen had been furious, and refused to speak to him for three days.
Then one day after school, Karen came home to find her father in the kitchen of their home. He had torn out the kitchen counter that Maggie had used to prepare the holiday meals, and replaced it with the counter that she had used in the small kitchen of the craft shop. It was also the same counter that Karen had sat on as a little girl to watch her mom make the candles that she was so fascinated with making herself. Karen was so moved by the gesture, that she had no choice but to forgive her father for selling the shop.
Now here she was ten years later with her own craft shop that she ran out of the home that her mother had raised her in. Since Robert and Maggie only had one child and such a large home, he did not object when Karen had asked his permission to transform the living room and dinning room into the store that it was today. Therefore, at the age of eighteen, Karen Fortenberry purchased her business license, and took out a small loan to open her shop. She even named her shop after her mother, Maggie’s Handmade Marvels.
Two years later, Robert had an accident at work. While building a house in a new subdivision that was going up in Kingston, he fell off a scaffold and injured his spine. Robert survived his accident, but the injuries left him unable to work. Karen took it upon herself to increase her workload. She had also introduced the idea of renting out the five vacant bedrooms upstairs to supplement the household income. Robert had been against the idea at first, but Karen had been persuasive.
A young schoolteacher, Ms. Elizabeth Griffin, leased the first room. Ms. Griffin was a single woman that took a teaching position at the local elementary school teaching third grade. Ms. Griffin was a single woman, and with a full time teaching job, she did not require much space. Karen often wondered why Ms. Griffin was single. She had beautiful golden hair and crystal blue eyes. She had a petite figure that would lead one to believe that her career decision would have been leading more in the direction of a runway model instead of an educator.
When Karen and Robert had met Ms. Griffin, upon first glance, she appeared to be a teenager. Karen and her father thought for a moment that Ms. Griffin was playing a practical joke on them simply to get a laugh, as so many other kids in the area would. Karen had an idea of how to reveal the true age of her prospective tenant, and it had worked for many years. Karen requested Ms. Griffin’s identification with the rental application. When Karen had seen that this woman was indeed a woman as opposed to a teenaged girl trying to get a laugh, she had felt the redness appear in her cheeks.
Still, Karen enjoyed the company of the young schoolteacher just the same. When Robert Fortenberry approved Elizabeth Griffin’s rental application, Karen had decided to give Elizabeth her mother’s former craft room. Karen felt a connection between her mother and Elizabeth. They had a number of similar qualities, and Karen felt it was only right that Elizabeth Griffin have a room where she could feel comfortable. If spirits were indeed real, and possessed the ability to remain here among the living, then Maggie Fortenberry would approve of the young schoolteacher sharing her special space with her.
Mr. Taylor, a fifty something accountant rented the room beside of Ms. Griffin. He was also single, and while he mostly remained silent at the dinner table, Karen found contentment in his presence. He reminded Karen of her Grandfather with his silent demeanor. He was also good company for Robert, who was known to become a little restless from time to time since the accident. Karen had caught the two men congregated on the back deck together from time to time, drinking a cold beer and talking about “the good old days”.
The room at the end of the hall was rented to Mr. and Mrs. Whitehurst, a couple of newly weds that informed Karen that they only planned to board there for only a year until they could save the money for a down payment on a starter home. They were already seven months into their lease and Karen thanked God for that every time the sound of marital squabbling penetrated every wall and floor in the house. The readjusting phase that occurs during the first year of marriage had gotten under everyone’s skin. Karen had been sure to include a noise ordinance in her lease agreements, but being somewhat of a shy and tenderhearted soul, she could not bare the thought of evicting them.
Tony Carter occupied the fourth room of the house, which also happened to be the room that led out onto the second story deck in the rear of the house. Tony was a dashing young journalist that utilized his skills and talents to pursue a career as a novelist. He wrote for the local paper during the day, and worked on his novel by night.
Tony had only been occupying the room for a week or so, but in the two years prior to that time, he had offered his landlady any information that he believed would be informative in regard to who he was. This wasn’t a difficult task considering Tony and Karen had been dating for the past two years. He enjoyed his job with the local newspaper, but his dream was to write a novel, have it published, and see it on the best sellers list. Karen, being the polite southern girl that she was, offered his ego a little boost by telling him I’m sure with your brilliant mind, you will succeed. Karen’s best friend Penny Myers (and the occupant of the fifth room) had told Karen that she was flirting. Of course, Karen denied the accusation at the time.
Karen heard the chime of the bell, which she utilized as her signal that someone had entered the shop. She tied off the wick to the candle, and made her way through the French doors that allowed her entry into her shop area. She wasn’t surprised to find Olivia Baker waiting there for her.
“Mrs. Baker, how nice to see you this morning.”, Karen stated with a smile that slightly revealed her pearly whites.
Mrs. Baker was in her late forties, but no one who met her would guess that just by looking at her. She was a beautifully slender woman, with ash blond hair. She was always well dressed, but given the fact that she was the Mayor’s wife, it was to be expected.
“What can I do for you Mrs. Baker?” Karen asked as she took her place behind the counter and assumed her professional demeanor.
Olivia removed her designer sunglasses from her face, revealing her deep brown eyes and replied,
”I was wondering if the candles I had ordered for Leslie’s wedding are ready yet?”
Karen smiled before responding. “As a matter of fact, they are. I finished them up last night. Wait here and I’ll get them for you. You are going to love them.”, she said before excusing herself and walking across the room to her storage closet.
Karen opened the door to the closet and retrieved the box from the middle shelf. The candles were amazing. Mrs. Baker had ordered fifty of the champagne candles with a violet wax tinting, and two wedding cake shaped candles. Karen was proud of the designs that she had created. She had discussed her idea with her mother, and Maggie had loved it. She was also impressed when she had watched her daughter make the first ones.
“Here we are.”, Karen stated as she placed the box on the counter.
“Oh wonderful!”, Mrs. Baker exclaimed as she reached out to open the box.
“I simply have to see these wedding cake candles.” Karen watched anxiously as Mrs. Baker removed the wedding cake candles from the box, and sat them on the table. As Olivia removed the clear plastic wrapping from the candles, a slight scent of vanilla and lavender filled the air.
“Oh they’re scented! Karen this is wonderful.”, Olivia stated as she lifted one of the creations to her nose and inhaled the sweet fragrance deeply.
“Vanilla and lavender are Leslie’s favorite.”
“I thought it would be a nice surprise.”, Karen replied with a smile.
“They really are perfect Karen. You are just as talented as your mother was. I hope they weren’t too much trouble to make.”
Karen smiled again. She loved being compared to her mother.
“Thank you and no they were no trouble at all. They were a piece of cake.”
Both Mrs. Baker and Karen laughed at her little joke. Mrs. Baker rewrapped the candle and placed it back in the box.
“Well dear I hate to rush off, but I swear I have a million things to do, and no where near enough time to do them in. The clock is ticking.”
“No, it’s fine I understand. I’m pretty busy myself. There are three other weddings happening in Kingston besides Leslie’s.”
“Well, I hope that you included your own in those calculations Karen. Don’t over load your calendar so that you don’t have time for your own decorations. After all, it is the one day that every little girl dreams of.”
Karen knew that Mrs. Baker was right. She had dreamed of her wedding day her entire life. Of course when she thought of it, she pictured her Mother making her decorations of flowers and candles, instead of doing it herself.
Mrs. Baker picked up the box, and replaced her sunglasses over her eyes.
“Will we be seeing you at the wedding? I know that when Leslie sees the wonderful job you have done, she will want to thank you in person. You also have to see how beautiful your candles look on display.”
Truth be told, Karen didn’t like attending weddings that were not her own. They always make her feel so uncomfortable. Not because of the wedding itself, but because Karen was a shy type, and not very social these days with the citizens of Kingston. Nevertheless, Karen was aware that it was bad for business not to accept an invitation to the wedding of the daughter of the mayor and first lady of the town. Leslie was also a friend of Karen’s, which made a no call, no show impossible. Karen would much rather stay home and finish the preparations for her own wedding. If given the choice without her business taking a hit, she would stay home.
“Of course I will be there. I would not want to miss those candles shining in all of their glory. Although, I’m sure that the bride will be shining much brighter.” “Well then, I will tell Leslie that you will be there. Now I really have to go. I can’t wait to show these to her.”
With that, Mrs. Baker left the shop. The doorbell rang as she left.
Karen worked straight through lunch, and had not realized it until her father came to her and asked if she planned to prepare the necessary afternoon meal. Karen apologized and quickly went to work preparing lunch for Robert and herself. She had a lot of work to do that day, and she had gotten started earlier than normal. She wanted to eat and then take a nap. She quickly decided on vegetable beef soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Robert had asked Karen to have lunch with him on the patio out back. Karen was happy to agree. She ate every meal with her father everyday, but she enjoyed the spring season in Georgia.
The air was always fresh in the Northwestern region. There was a lot of country still left around Kingston. She loved to go for a drive through the country backwoods in her spare time. The outskirts of town was only one and a half miles from her historical home within the city limits. She would let the top down on her Chrysler so she could smell the fresh scent of newly bloomed flowers and crisp cedar.
Out on Norton Road, there were several locations where people still planted large gardens every year. Karen enjoyed driving down that road, especially when the Tommy Kilgore was plowing his garden for planting season. Just beside the Kilgore garden, Ellis Worthington was doing the same, only he would till his land by hand with a garden tiller that had to be pushed by the operator walking behind it.
The sound of Robert’s voice saying her name pulled Karen back from her thoughts.
“Karen? Honey are you alright?”
“Yeah daddy. I’m fine. I’m just a little tired.” Robert thought it was a perfectly reasonable explanation. He had worked for most of his life, and he understood just how tiring a hard day’s work could be.
“So I heard Mrs. Baker here before.” Robert began as he scooped a bite of soup and crackers up with his spoon.
“Yeah, she came by to pick up the order for Leslie’s wedding.”, Karen respectfully replied.
“How much did she order?”, Robert asked in an attempt to make conversation. He somewhat missed the business life.
“Well, you know those champagne glass candles that mom would make?” Karen asked as she took a bite of her grilled cheese sandwich.
“Yeah, those were some of the pertiest candles that she ever made.”
Karen smiled at her father. She loved to hear the southern draw in his voice when he spoke. She found conversations with Robert to be very entertaining. Karen remembered being a child in elementary school, and correcting her father’s southern, country boy grammar on a daily basis. It would always irritate Robert to death when she did that.
Karen retrieved her glass of iced tea, and took a drink to wash the grilled cheese down her esophagus.
“Well, Mrs. Baker ordered 50 of those in violet, and two of the wedding cake candles that mom helped me make.”
“That’s a perty large order there hon. Did ye make a good profit off it?”
“It was decent. I could enjoy the profit a little more if I didn’t have to restock the materials. Cost is going up with the recession. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to raise my prices.”, Karen stated as she finished the last of her t
She hated the thought of raising prices again. She was only one and half quarters into her fiscal year and she had already raised prices three times. Her unofficial CPA Mr. Taylor had informed her that the percentage of her mark up was too low, but she didn’t listen. She refused to put stress on her clients and her business like the rest of the country had done. She would rather cut her losses. Her father had agreed that if she took the client’s feelings into consideration, then Maggie’s Handmade Marvels would still be around when America’s recession was just a memory.
Maggie had always told Karen to care about her customers and they will be faithful to you. Karen had done just that, and her mother’s words proved to be true.
“I spoke with Mrs. Baker for a few moments. It sounds like they are planning to go all out for Leslie’s wedding. I swear, Mrs. Baker was running around like a chicken with her head cut off.”
“Them two spoiled that kid rotten. They ain’t no reason for people to spend that much money for a weddin’ I bet that ole’ windbag mayor of ours could have bought that girl a house with all the money he spent on food.”
“Awe Daddy, wouldn’t you spend thirty thousand dollars on my wedding if I wanted you to?”, Karen asked, the sarcasm was evident in her tone. Robert glared at Karen as he chewed his soup and crackers. “You are too stubborn to let me. I was gonna take out a loan for it.”
She would not allow Robert to spend that much money on her wedding, even if he was a millionaire. However, Robert Fortenberry knew that Karen and Tony could hold their own budget wise with their wedding. Before Tony came into Karen’s life two years ago, Robert was afraid that he would never see his daughter get married. After the painful break up that Karen had suffered five years earlier, she spent three years in a deep depression, with a mindset that kept her against marriage all together. She had gone all out planning her wedding to Scott Jenkins. Scott was her high school sweetheart. He was on the Varsity Football team for the Cass Colonels. He was the ideal catch for any teenage girl in high school. He had the dark hair, sparkling green eyes, and a body that could tempt any girl into giving it up before marriage. The only detail that didn’t fit with the typical description of a high school football player was that of his personality. Scott did not suffer from an agitating ego trip, or the asshole syndrome. He was genuinely kind, and that is what attracted Karen to him in the first place.
Karen was only a freshman when she met Scott. She was running down the front hall at Cass High in an attempt to make it to her Physical Science class on time. She did not even see Scott until she plowed right into him in a full sprint. Their books and papers flew everywhere as they both hit the floor.
The memories of Karen meeting Scott were still painful ones, but Karen had recovered nicely from her broken heart. When she met Tony Carter, he seemed to glue each piece back together so well that the scars were no longer there.