The next morning Stella walked into Ellie’s room around ten a.m. “Morning, Stella. How are you feeling?”
Stella’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m scared. What if the whole pregnancy is like this? How am I supposed to work when I have no energy and I can’t keep food down?”
Ellie patted her bed and Stella sat down next to her. “Maybe you should go see a doctor.” She rubbed her friend’s back gently.
“I called and they said the next available appointment is in two weeks. I could be dead of starvation by then.”
“Let’s drive in and you can go to Urgent Care. There has to be something they can give you to help.”
“You can’t drive. And I’m so shaky I’m not sure I should try either.”
Ellie’s father cleared his throat from the hallway. “I wasn’t sneaking up on you ladies, but I was just coming to tell Rosie that I have to run some errands and to see if you two wanted to come along. If you need to be dropped off at the clinic I can do that.”
Stella’s face brightened. “That would be wonderful. If it’s not too much trouble.”
“Not at all. I’ll go bring the truck around.”
“That’s so nice of him.” Stella turned to Ellie. “Is Rosie your middle name?”
“It’s actually Rose, but he’s called me Rosie for as long as I can remember. It’s so old-fashioned sounding, but I love it.” She smiled and shrugged. “Although Elanor is also old-fashioned so I guess they go together.”
“It’s classy sounding. So much better than Stella. Do you know how many times someone’s asked me if I’ve gotten my groove back yet?” Stella rolled her eyes. “I’m going to go brush my teeth. I’ll meet you downstairs.” She left the room and Ellie grabbed Misty to put her outside.
Ellie watched her father pull up with a dog crate latched in the bed of the truck. She arched her brows and pointed to the crate.
“I need another working dog, sweetie. We’ll always miss old Murphy, but I need the help with the heifers.”
Ellie nodded, feeling ridiculous for questioning him. Of course he needed the help. Murphy wasn’t just a dog; he had been an important part of the cattle operation. “Of course you do, Dad. I’m sorry. Are we meeting Randy in town?”
“Yep. At Ace’s. And the dog we’re getting is a great-grandson of Murphy’s. Good stock.”
Ellie was actually looking forward to seeing him. Wait. “Dog? Didn’t you mean to say ‘pup’?”
“Nope. This late in the summer the pups are all sold. I got lucky though. They bought a new stud last year so they were glad to make a deal on this dog. He’s been the stud for the past five years and they retired him. Randy’s been putting him through a refresher course on herding.” The squeak of the storm door opening and closing announced that Stella had arrived. “And now honey, you know we aren’t mad at you or anything, but the next time you decide to take the dog with you, please let us know a little beforehand. I could have had another dog ready before you took Murphy with you the day of the accident.”
“Ready to go,” Stella announced as she stopped beside the pickup. “I’ll get in back.” She reached for the door handle but Ellie grabbed it first.
“No, no. You take front. The seats are more comfortable and it’ll be less bouncy.”
Stella paled. “Bouncy? Ugh. I’ll take you up on your offer. I don’t think I could take bouncy right now.
Ellie climbed into the back seat of the extended cab truck. Stella hauled herself up into the front seat. They chatted about something, but Ellie didn’t pay attention. What did he mean about taking Murphy the day of the accident? Her memories were fuzzy about that day and many of the days following the wreck, but Ellie had gone to an antique show down in Branson that weekend and had been on her way back to her apartment when it happened. Did she go to the farm and just couldn’t remember?
Her father dropped Stella off at the clinic and Ellie moved into the front seat. “Dad, you said something about me taking Murphy from the farm?’
“Yeah, but it’s okay honey. Don’t worry about it.”
“Thanks Dad, but did you see me at the farm that day?”
He kept his eyes on the road, but his bushy eyebrows twitched the way they always did whenever he was worried.
“Dad, there are gaps in my memories from that day, so I’m just wondering when I would have picked Murphy up.”
He nodded. “We weren’t home during the afternoon so we think that’s when you came out. If you would’ve told us, we definitely would’ve stayed home. Both of us feel guilty about that. We think that if we were there, you would’ve probably stayed for supper and then you wouldn’t have had that wreck.”
“Aw, Dad,” she touched his arm, “You guys shouldn’t feel that way. It was an accident, pure and simple, and I do remember wanting to get back to Misty so I probably wouldn’t have stayed.” Something occurred to her. “Wait, Dad, what time did you and Mom get home?”
“About 4:30, I think. Why?”
“Because I didn’t leave Branson until after 5. I’d lost track of time and was still browsing when the store closed.”
“But . . . Murphy?”
Ellie closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. “I . . . I don’t know, Dad. I don’t know how he could’ve been with me in the car, but I have flashbacks and he’s in them. When did you notice he was missing?”
“Well, he wasn’t on the porch when we got home. He didn’t come running to the truck for a treat either. We even honked the horn in case he hadn’t heard us pull up. Nothing.”
“That’s so weird.” She looked at her father. “Could you show me where I went off the road sometime soon?”
“If you really want me to, then I guess I can.” He held up a finger. “That’s another thing. The paramedics who rescued you said a Border Collie led them to you. They described Murphy perfectly, right down to his collar. They even said he was limping on a bloody paw.”
Ellie’s eyes burned as tears filled her eyes. “Yes,” she whispered, “He’d shown it to me, too, and there was nothing I could do for him.”
“You really think he was there?”
“He looked and acted like Murphy. But I don’t remember picking him up from the farm. And Dad, I would never take him without asking you first. I knew he was a working dog.”
“Then . . .”
“I can’t explain it, Dad. I didn’t take Murphy, but he somehow turned up when I needed him.”
“That’s, I don’t know, incredible? Is that the right word?” He scratched his head.
“Yeah, I think that’s the perfect word.”
“How would he even have known where to find you?”
Ellie shrugged. “I think it was a miracle.”
“Miracle. Now that’s the perfect word.” He pulled her close for a one-armed hug and quickly released her. But not before she noticed the tears in his eyes.
* * *
Since they weren’t sure how long Stella would be at the walk-in clinic, they decided to visit their favorite bookstore in Springfield, Missouri. They parked about half a block away and were mildly surprised to see people gathered around tables in front of Spencer’s Antiquated Books as they approached.
“Do you think he’s having a sale?” Dear old Mr. Spencer had never held a sale in the thirty-five years he’d been running the bookstore. Occasionally he would discount a book to move it along, but since he dealt in hard-to-find acquisitions he tended to hold onto them until the right buyer came along. He was also known to call his repeat customers if he found something he thought they would like. Ellie’s heart sank as she read the sign posted in the store window: Inventory Liquidation and Estate Sale. “Oh no, Dad.”
Her father sighed. “He said he planned to retire at the end of the year.”
“I wonder what happened.”
“Let’s go inside.” He held the door open for Ellie to enter first.
“STOP RIGHT THERE!” A male voice bellowed. Ellie and her father jumped out of the way as a man raced out the door. “DIDN’T I JUST TELL YOU ALL THAT I HAVE CAMERAS MOUNTED OUTSIDE SO I CAN WATCH YOU? GIVE ME THAT!” The irate man, Ellie realized, was her Uncle Jim, the lawyer she wanted to speak with about Miss Ruby’s will. “I saw you start to earmark that page,” he continued, taking a book away from another man, “and I will call the police if you don’t leave this instant.” The would-be-book-defiler gave her uncle a withering look and turned on his heel to walk away. “Oh no you don’t,” her uncle muttered as he grabbed another book tucked under the retreating man’s arm. “That’s it! This sale is over for today. If you want to buy what you have in your hands, go to the register. If not, put it down and leave. Right now!”
Several people complained loudly until Jim the Lawyer turned their way, eyes blazing and hands on hips, while the rest grasped their books tighter and hurried to get in the checkout line.
Uncle Jim shook his head. “Do either of you know that man I ran off?”
Ellie glanced at her father, who shook his head. “No, we’ve never met him before.” She studied her uncle’s frown. “Do you know him, Uncle Jim?”
He nodded. “He’s a multi-millionaire.”
“No!” Ellie searched the sidewalks and nearby cars to see if he was still nearby. “Why would he try to damage, or steal for that matter, a book he could easily afford to buy?”
“He’s got a reputation for that kind of thing. He’s known for finding the cheapest way of getting what he wants and occasionally it’s landed him in trouble. Nothing that his lawyers haven’t been able to handle, so far, but I refused to be one of them and he’s not likely to forget that.”
“We’re witnesses, if you need us.” Her father put his hand on Jim’s shoulder.
“Thanks, but I’ve also got it on camera.”
“What a sleaze ball!” Ellie clamped a hand over her mouth, not intending to say that out loud, but her father and uncle just chuckled.
“I think I’d better move those tables, and one of those cameras, inside before we open again.”
“What books did he have?” Ellie cocked her head, trying to read the title off the spine of the book in her uncle’s hand. He gave it to her. “Is it worth very much?” She passed the book to her father.
“About three hundred.” Jim’s hands swept the air, indicating the book-laden tables. “None of these out here are worth much more than that. Murphy kept impeccable records of each acquisition. But I’ve got yours behind the counter, just like I promised.”
“Like you promised? When?” It had been months since Ellie had last spoken to her uncle.
“I called you last night to tell you about the sale but no one answered so I left a message. Isn’t that why you’re here?”
“We didn’t get the message.” Her father turned to her. “He must have called while we were outside hunting for you, Ellie.”
“Why were you hunting for Ellie?” Uncle Jim looked alarmed.
“It’s a long story. I fell asleep under the willow tree and didn’t get home until the middle of the night.” She waved her hand dismissively. “But Mr. Spencer’s first name was Murphy?” She glanced at the name on the door. “It says ‘Rupert Spencer’ on there.”
“His middle name was Murphy and that’s what we, who were his closest friends, called him.”
“I’m sorry.” She paused. “Do you know what happened?”
“Haven’t heard yet. But I handled his business affairs and had the will so here I am.” He stroked his chin. “I’ll get back to you on Miss Ruby’s will when I’m done tonight. I haven’t forgotten you, just been swamped. It’s somehow fitting that Ruby and Murphy died the same day. They’re together again now.”
“Miss Ruby and Mr. Spencer had a past together?” Ellie’s head swam. She leaned back against the door frame.
Jim eyed her for a moment before he motioned them inside. “Come in and sit down, you two. We’ll talk after I close up the shop.”
Ellie and her father entered the small bookstore and he put an arm around her shoulder. “Are you okay, Rosie? You look a little pale.”
She smiled up at him. “I’m all right, Dad. I’m just feeling a little light-headed.”
“Do you want me to get you something? A sandwich maybe? Or a Dr. Pepper?”
“Oh, a Dr. Pepper would be awesome! Would you mind?”
“Of course not. There’s a deli right next door. Be right back, sweetie.” He kissed the top of her head and hurried away.
Ellie hobbled over to an upholstered chair and collapsed into it. Another Murphy? She remembered the old bookseller with fondness. How many times had they come to this store through the years? And he’d always waited on them with genuine interest and kindness. He’d also been extremely generous. If she had an item she was interested in, he always managed to find it. And at a very reasonable price, too. She realized with a pang that she would honestly miss him, and not just because of the books, but because of his gentility. She supposed it could have been just a persona he’d put on whenever they stopped by, but shook her head at the thought. No, she could tell when someone was being obsequious. Mr. Spencer was not one of those people.
Her father returned with a bottle of Coke. “Sorry, Rosie, but they don’t sell Dr. Pepper. Will this suffice?”
“Dad, it’s Coke with pure cane sugar. I love this stuff! So, yes, it’s perfectly sufficient.” He smiled, but still seemed a little tense. “Are you okay?
“Well,” he glanced around, “I’m not so sure we’re supposed to have that in here. I maybe shouldn’t have brought it in.”
“Oh, well I won’t open it until Uncle Jim says I can. How’s that?” He nodded. “Why don’t you pull that chair over and join me.” He did as she suggested but still couldn’t seem to relax. His hands stayed busy either smoothing imaginary wrinkles from his jeans or literally twiddling his thumbs. What was up with him? Did he think she wanted him to buy her a lot of these books? A buzzing sound interrupted her thoughts and she dug her phone out of her purse.
“It’s a text message from Stella. She’s dehydrated and they’re giving her an IV. She’ll be there at least another hour.”
“I’m glad they can help her. She doesn’t have any fat stores to use up. Morning sickness, right?”
“You’re a good guesser, Dad. She just found out.”
“Does Reid know yet?”
She shook her head. “She wants to tell him in person.” He didn’t respond, just studied her. “I’m fine, Dad. All of that is way over.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“So seeing him again hasn’t changed anything?”
“Nope. He’s Stella’s problem.” She smiled so he’d know she was teasing.
“We men are problems, that’s for certain.”
“Some more than others, Dad. If I could find someone like you, I’d be thrilled.”
“Oh no. Thankfully that mold broke over fifty years ago.”
“Gosh I hope not. We need more loving, hardworking, honest, dependable, faithful men like you in the world.” He put his hands on his head and then expanded them outward, like his head was growing from all the praise. She gently knocked one of them aside. “Goof ball.”
Her uncle approached them. “Do you have time to come to my office? I’d like to lock up the shop for the day and let Mrs. McLane go home.”
Ellie looked at her father. “We have to wait for Stella anyway.” He nodded. “Okay, that’s fine, Uncle Jim. We’ll meet you there.”