Catherine smiled at all she saw. It reminded her of her Aunt Kendra and Uncle Milo’s ranch she loved to visit as a child. She turned around and surveyed the house. It almost seemed like it was Aunt Kendra and Uncle Milo’s house. She hadn’t been there since she was a young girl but this was how she remembered it. There was nothing to do besides knock on the door so Catherine did.
No one answered.
She waited a few minutes on the quiet porch. Surely if this is What Should Be, there had to be more than an empty porch. She pushed the door open and entered the inside of the house, dim and cool after the bright sunlit porch. Catherine still had a feeling everything was familiar. The furnishings were different (and she loved everything she saw!) but the rooms seemed similar to Aunt Kendra’s and Uncle Milo’s house.
“Hello?” she called, uncomfortable intruding.
No one answered. A phone started ringing which startled Catherine. She stood very still, thinking if anyone were home, they’d answer the phone. A disembodied voice, the answering machine, started talking. Catherine gasped. It was her voice. “You’ve reached Catherine. Leave a message.” It was the same greeting that she had on her answering machine at home. Except at home she had said, “You’ve reached the Hudsons.”
Was this her house? Where was Zach? Catherine wandered through the house. She saw mail on the table. It was addressed to Catherine Colson. Her maiden name. There was also mail addressed to the Diamond Bar Ranch. That had been the name of Aunt Kendra and Uncle Milo’s ranch. She was sure of it. They had both been killed in a plane crash when Catherine was seven. Uncle Milo loved to fly small planes. The two of them had been out checking on cattle from the sky when somehow the plane had crashed.
Catherine pulled a chair out at the kitchen table and sat down. She was lost in thought. She hadn’t thought about Uncle Milo and Aunt Kendra in a long time. Kendra had been her mother’s twin. They were very close. She remembered the sad tears her mother had shed at the time of the accident.
She also remembered there had been some sort of anger towards Uncle Milo’s family but she’d been too young to understand the situation. She remembered her father telling her mother that they needed to let it go, it wasn’t worth the feelings of bitterness.
A creak on the stairs startled Catherine. Someone was in the house! She stood up from her chair and instinctively faced the doorway. In walked a stooped old woman. She had a walking stick and was wearing a floral print housecoat.
“Are you a sage?” Catherine asked.
“My name’s Florence,” the woman said in a raspy voice.
“Hello, Florence,” Catherine said, “I’m Catherine.”
“I know who you are,” Florence said. She eased herself into one of the kitchen chairs. “Don’t ever get old, dearie. Those stairs almost did me in.”
“Maybe you can help me,” Catherine said, “I am a bit lost.”
“You’re home, aren’t you?” Florence said.
“Um.” Catherine didn’t know what to say.
“You are,” Florence said. “You inherited this home from your Aunt Kendra and Uncle Milo. They died when you were a little girl. They had no children of their own. They left this ranch to you and they left their beach property to your sister. They were quite wealthy.”
Catherine thought about that. Yes, they had seemed wealthy. “I didn’t know they’d left me anything.” Catherine said.
“Yes, Milo’s family tried to contest the will, said it wasn’t legitimate because it hadn’t been made official. Your parent’s fought them though. Took them to court. Justice fell on your side.”
“So, I live on this ranch?” Catherine looked around wonderingly. “What about Zach? My children?”
Florence gave a chuckle that sounded like a rusty gate scraping shut. “You have had no time for that my dear. This ranch takes up all of your time. You have been quite successful though. Don’t worry. You raise prize Angus bulls. They get top dollar and you are almost indecently wealthy. You have made some very good investments and cattle prices have been in your favor. Also, your parents managed the ranch very well until you were old enough to take over. It helps to have inherited it all, no mortgage worries for you.”
“So this is my life?” Catherine couldn’t take it all in.
“This is what should have happened,” Florence said. “You now get to live that reality.”
There was a knock on the door and Catherine rose to answer it. Before her stood a young man. He doffed his hat and scuffed his boot onto the boards that made up the porch floor. “I’ve irrigated the lower field and Bob told me to ask you if you want the steers moved into the corrals today.” Catherine studied the young man. He was obviously some sort of employee of hers. She had no idea what he was even talking about.
“Sure,” she said, hazarding a guess that she wanted the steers in the corrals.
“All right,” he said. He stuck his hat back on his head and walked off the porch. He was bow legged and swung his arms as he walked. Catherine turned back to the kitchen and Florence was gone.
The first thing Catherine decided to do was tour the house. She loved every bit of it. The leather on the couches was smooth and cool, there was an impressive rock fireplace with the Diamond Bar brand worked into the design. There were several rooms that appeared to be guest rooms and then a room she assumed was her own. There was a sumptuous looking bed and on the dresser there were framed photographs. There was a picture of her parents and one of Michelle with her family. They were standing in front of a beach house. Catherine knew that Aunt Kendra and Uncle Milo’s ranch was in Wyoming. She lived far away from Michelle.
Catherine felt decidedly intimidated by one room. It was an office filled with filing cabinets and there were pedigrees of cows spread across the desk. Was she really the owner of a ranch? A breeder of prize Angus bulls? Wait until Zach heard that. She didn’t even want a pet.
Zach. Her heart sunk. There was no Zach. No Gus. No Sloane. That couldn’t be true. She would find Zach.
Catherine turned on the computer in the office. It was password protected. Without thinking, she typed in PERPLE. It was always her password. She had heard somewhere to pick a common word--so she chose her favorite color--and spell it wrong. Sure enough, the password worked. Catherine giggled to herself, feeling very clever that she had chosen the same password in both realities. She googled Zach Hudson. There were 4,610,000 results. She added Huntington Beach, where they lived. She came up with 350,000 results. She added architect and it bumped back to 599,000 results. (How was that possible?) She scanned through several of the results. None of them seemed like her Zach.
Catherine slumped her shoulders. She still had a hard time believing any of this had happened but she also felt very sad. “I don’t want what should have been,” she said to no one. The house was silent.
Then she heard footsteps and a tapping of a walking stick. Florence walked in the room.
“Where did you go?” Catherine asked.
“Around,” Florence said. “You don’t want what should have been?”
“No,” Catherine said, “I want what is.”
Florence smiled and her wizened features were transformed and Catherine could see that she was once a beautiful woman. “I am the sage of What Is.”
“You said you weren’t a sage!” Catherine said.
“No, I just told you my name. It's so much more personal that way.”
Catherine just looked at her. She didn’t know what to say.
“Do you still have the other key?” Florence asked.
“Yes,” Catherine said, she stood and fished it out of her pocket. She pulled out the small key and held it in her palm.
“If you would like to return to What Is, you will find a door under the stairs. Think carefully though. Are you sure you want to give this up? You have wealth. You own a beautiful ranch. You are respected in the community. Make sure.”
“I’m sure,” Catherine said as she strode toward the stairs. She didn’t have to even think about it. She found a little door and fitted the last key into the lock. She stepped inside and exited into a nondescript hallway that seemed to be in an office building. Was she back? Her cell phone in her pocket began ringing. It was her mother. She answered.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” her mother said. She sounded harried and Catherine could hear crying in the background. “Sloane has diarrhea. She has been crying and I’ve used all the diapers in the diaper bag. I think she’s teething. I can run to the store and pick up more diapers but I wondered if you were going to be much longer. Gus is down for a little nap, bless his heart, and I didn’t want to wake him if you would be here soon.”
“Yes!” Catherine said, “I’ll be right there. I will bring diapers. I’m so sorry about the trouble Mom. Thank you so much!”
“You sound almost excited,” her mother said.
“I am!” Catherine exclaimed. She realized she must be sounding crazy. “I mean, I’m excited to get back to my children.”
On the drive to her mother’s house, Catherine dialed Zach. Just to hear his voice.
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