“Mind Sweeper” is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales,
organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond
the intent of the author.
Deborah O’Toole. All rights reserved.
Cover model photo:
2007: Timely Cataclysm
BETH MILLS WINCED when she heard Louise
Martin’s anguished sobs. The grief and tension in the room was highly palpable,
leaving no one immune. Beth averted her eyes from Louise, dipping her head to
stare at the floor. It was best not to interact with anyone unless she had to.
She heard a door open and close, but
refused to look up. The room grew hushed except for the sounds of intermittent
sniffling, and then the somber voice came.
Beth knew it to be her husband’s
employer, Misty Canyon Mines owner Bob Palmer.
“The current bore hole drilled to the
floor of the mine has given us additional information,” the voice was hesitant,
as if reluctant to continue. Beth took this as a good sign. “We dropped the
camera down and found three lifeless forms.”
The entire room gasped, as if everyone
present had drawn breath at the same moment. Beth was silent, still staring at
“I’m sorry to say we have assumed the
remains to be that of Tomas Martin, Kevin Reardon and Aaron Mills,” Bob said,
his voice cracking with emotion. “We can’t be one hundred percent certain
because of external damage to the bodies, but it stands to reason as all three
men are missing. We haven’t accounted for John Mejza and Al Pierce. At this
point, we have no reason to believe any of the trapped miners will be found
Louise Martin’s sobs began anew while
Annie Reardon cried out, rocking back and forth in her chair. Other women
rushed to Annie’s side, trying to comfort her. She folded into their arms.
Beth Mills displayed no outward show of
emotion at the announcement of her husband’s name. She continued to stare at
the floor, moving her feet around in little circles, her heels lightly scuffing
the hard surface.
Floors were funny things, Beth thought
idly. The Community Center’s concrete floor was a god-awful patchwork in
lime-green, with chips missing here and there. She remembered the May Day Dance
just three weeks ago when Aaron swung her to his side, his beer-laden breath
hot and repulsive on her face. She recalled the angry glint in his eyes; she
remembered the pain of the bruise on her back, of his balled-up fist striking
her over and over just a mere few hours before the dance. He always made sure
to leave her visibly unmarked, hitting her in places that would never be
exposed to public gaze.
“Bethany?” Bob Palmer was talking again,
but this time he was sitting next to her, his hand touching her arm lightly.
“Bethany, I am so sorry. I am so very sorry. Is there anything I can do
Beth fought the urge to laugh out loud.
Instead, the sound was muffled as she covered her mouth with her hands.
Bob took her display as grief,
sympathetic to her attempts to mask an outburst. “Is there anything I
can do?” He repeated quietly.
She finally looked up, staring at Bob. His
iron-gray hair was unkempt, and there were deep shadows under his brown eyes.
She wanted to laugh again, but held her hands firmly to her mouth.
“You have already done the best thing
you could ever do for me,” she wanted to say. “You waited too long to
drill the bore hole into the mountain and in all likelihood my husband
suffocated to death. Or was he crushed by the cave-in? Whatever the case, you
have liberated me from a monster, from a pig of a man.”
Instead, she moved her hands away from
her mouth and whispered: “I don’t know what to do. I never imagined this would
happen. What am I supposed to do now?”
Bob gazed into Beth’s damp blue eyes and
felt a wrench in his heart. He had been plagued by various stages of guilt
since the Misty Mountain Mine collapse six days ago. He felt great sorrow for
Beth because he admired Aaron Mills, who was known in the community as a man of
great character and ethics.
“I can help you, Bethany,” Bob told her
consolingly. “Whatever you need me to do, I’m there.”
She stared at him again. “For
starters I need you to stop calling me Bethany,” she thought with sudden
viciousness. “Aaron called me that, and I hated it. He called me Bethany
when he shoved my face into the toilet, and when he pushed my hand onto the hot
stove element. He called me Bethany when he sodomized me with a beer bottle,
and when he dry-shaved my privates. Please don’t call me Bethany. It’s
Bob took her silence as shock. He
reached for her hand as she lowered her head. He studied her short-cropped
auburn hair, taking in the beginnings of silver at the temples. He knew she was
at least forty years old, but despite the bits of gray she looked like a girl
in her twenties.
“I need to get out of here,” she spoke
without looking up. “I need to go home.”
“Let me take you,” he suggested.
She shook her head. “Thank you, but no.
Please, I need to be alone. It’s best if you stay here to comfort the others.”
He nodded in understanding. “Of course,
Bethany. I’ll call and check on you later, okay?”
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “I just need
to be alone to wrap my head around this, to try and comprehend…”
“Let me walk you to your car,” he said
as they rose from their chairs.
She refused his help. “I can manage, honestly.
I need some air, some space…” she purposely let her words trail off, hanging
her head again and covering her mouth with her hands as the grin threatened to
“I’ll call you later,” he repeated.
Bob Palmer watched as Bethany Mills
walked away from him, his eyes sad. She was such a lovely woman, tall and
slender with a naturally poised grace and lightness of movement. He continued
to observe her as she made her way through the room, accepting condolences from
all who approached her. While she seemed to be in an understandable state of
shock, she was managing better than he hoped.
Bethany and Aaron were a familiar sight
in Ivytown. They regularly attended church services and community events,
typically holding hands and conversing freely with the locals. Aaron was a
native son of Ivytown and highly thought of as a natural leader and a man with
a highly compassionate nature. He volunteered countless hours of personal time
to the Community Center, often with Bethany in tow. His loss was a great blow
to the close-knit mining town.
Twinges of guilt surged into Bob again.
The influx of emotions had become a familiar state of affairs for him in the
last six days. While he knew Misty Canyon Mines met all safety guidelines,
sanctioned and otherwise, he could not help but feel responsible for the
disastrous cave-in. Miners bonded like family, and Bob felt each loss
personally, to the core of his being. He doubted the community would ever truly
recover from the tragedy.
A HANDFUL OF journalists waited for word
outside Ivytown’s Community Center. Most of them were local, with only one
television crew from Portland. The magnitude of the mine accident was not
nearly catastrophic enough to warrant national attention. The assembled media
had been waiting all night, receiving only scattered bulletins from Bob Palmer
every few hours. The updates were not reassuring, nor were they deeply
informative as of yet.
When Beth opened the doors of the
Community Center, reporters looked at her expectantly. One stepped forward with
microphone in hand, but Beth waved him away. “Sorry,” she murmured. “You’ll
have to wait for Mr. Palmer. I don’t have any news for you. Please, let me by.”
The reporter stepped aside, while others
in the group refocused their attention on the double doors of the Community
Center to resume their waiting game.
Beth breathed in the night air, grateful
to be away from the benevolent support of those inside the Community Center.
She felt as if she would snap if she had to endure another murmuring
conversation or light pat on the arm. It was unbearable…
“If there is anything I can do…”
“Aaron was such a wonderful man…”
“I am so sorry for you loss…”
“Please let me know if there is anything
I can do…”
The words racked her brain as she reached
her dark blue Bronco in the parking lot. She slid into the driver’s seat,
closing the door and locking it. She rested her forehead on the steering wheel,
trying to gather her thoughts before she drove away.
Her reality came with sudden clarity. She
was free. She was finally free of the monster everyone called her husband;
she was liberated from the pain, the pretense and the violence. Seven years of
subterfuge fell away from her in a clean wash, brought about by a blessed
natural disaster that no one could have predicted.
She wasn’t thinking of the other
families suffering through loss today. Truth be told, she did not feel she was
suffering at all but was rather elated by the seemingly impossible turn of
She smiled, her forehead still resting
on the steering wheel. Days of anticipation and hopeful, tortured waiting had
left her tired and drawn earlier, but now she was energized and renewed. Her
battery was fully charged and she couldn’t wait to run with it.
Beth started the engine and drove her
Bronco out of the parking lot slowly. She saw others leaving the Community
Center for their respective cars, but she studiously avoided them. Once she
reached the road, she turned left and accelerated.
It was a dark, warm night, the stars
bright in the sky. Her headlights stared down Main Street, glossing over the
painted yellow divider lines. She had made this trip many times before, more
often than not with Aaron. Their home next to Ivytown’s only cemetery was a
five-minute drive from the Community Center.
She balked at the location when Aaron
first brought her to Ivytown, but then fell in love with the old structure. It
took her a bit longer to realize Aaron liked the locality so no one could hear
The house itself was a dream. Aaron inherited
the family property many years ago – long before he met her – and it contained
a quintessential two-story turn-of-the-century sandstone abode. The attic
included storage and a large, finished area which Beth used as a sewing room.
It had been her one true salvation to retreat into “Bethany’s Tower” as Aaron
called it, a place where she could make her own clothes and achieve relative
peace while needle-working and knitting.
Aaron scoffed at her favorite pastimes,
rarely coming into her retreat. However, this did not stop him when he was in a
battering mood: he simply dragged her by the hair from the attic to pummel her
on the darkened staircase leading to the second floor. She always assumed he
did not beat her in the attic because he was afraid of accidentally sticking
himself with the many needles lying about.
“The prick was afraid of being
pricked,” she thought with some humor.
A mile from the Community Center, Beth
realized she was alone on Main Street. No cars were coming toward her, and none
were behind her. A great relief flooded her body as she allowed herself the
mirth she had been containing since learning Aaron was presumed dead.
The sounds of her laughter were muffled
in the Bronco, bouncing off windows and drowning out the air conditioner. She
snorted at the end of another round of giggles, causing her to laugh even
She tasted salt as tears of joy streamed
down her cheeks. She wiped her eyes and felt the stinging contact of her salty
flesh. She sniffled, coughing on another laugh with a wide smile.
Then her voice came fierce in the
confines of the Bronco: “The son of a bitch finally got what he deserved,” she
spat aloud. “And I didn’t have to lift a finger. I hope he suffered full terror
before life left his useless body, and I pray his last thought was of me, alive
and well without him.”
Beth turned onto Garden Street, her
laughter spent for the moment. Within minutes the Mills home came into view,
and she smiled again. It was her home now, free from the sounds of
berating and terror. No longer would she cringe in her own skin; no longer
would she lay stiff and repulsed in her own bed.
The Mills house was alone at the end of
Garden Street. A narrow, dirt road separated the structure from the Ivytown
Cemetery, which had been in existence since the town was founded in 1903.
Although the area surrounding the wooded graveyard was pristine and
breathtakingly beautiful, no other residential homes had been built in the near
vicinity other than the Mills house some one-hundred years ago. Aaron’s
great-grandfather purchased the property from Clackamas County in 1905,
assembling the two-story home over a period of a decade while working at the
Whether from antiquated superstition
about living so close to Ivytown’s dead or in the relative seclusion of the
woods, no one expressed interest in residing on Garden Street along with the
Mills family. Perhaps it was the many long and sad processions of funerals
rumbling by over the years, or the modest property values to be had with a
primary view of headstones. Whatever the case, the Mills family enjoyed the
relative privacy of their home without the intrusion of neighbors for
generations, despite its close proximity to Ivytown’s main thoroughfare.
Aaron had always forbidden Beth to park
in the driveway. He preferred she store her Bronco in the detached two-car
garage behind the house, forcing her to walk through the connected dirt-road
alley, rain or shine.
“We mustn’t let you get fat,” he was
fond of telling her. “I wouldn’t want to end up with a younger version of your
“Anything or anyone that gave me comfort
threatened him,” she said to herself as she parked the Bronco in the driveway.
“Everyone I ever loved is gone. I never had the chance to be myself with them,
to tell them why I was so distant after I married Aaron Mills. The bastard is
finally getting his just desserts, and I hope he rots in hell.”
Beth let herself into the house, closing
the door behind her. It was quiet and dark, soothing to her ears and her mind.
She turned on the lamp on the foyer table, setting her purse down.
Hugging her arms and closing her eyes,
she stood there for a long moment, wondering what to do first. “I can eat what
I want now,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about the bastard’s weekly
weigh-in to make sure I didn’t gain a few pounds. I can stay up late without
fear of retribution. I can watch what I want on television instead of sports
and war documentaries. I can read a book without hearing criticism of my
choice. I can get a dog, maybe a cat…”
She opened her eyes, the pupils clouding
momentarily. She’d had a dog once, an adorable chocolate-colored Labrador named
Gaby, but the bastard killed her. He said it was an accident, of course,
telling her Gaby was inadvertently shot in the head during the chukar partridge
She almost left him then, four years
ago, but his intimidation and threats paralyzed her with fear, rendering her
helpless and rooted.
Beth made her way to the kitchen,
turning on the overhead light. She admired the gleaming white counters and
stainless steel appliances. The entire house was tidy thanks to her, but not
because cleanliness was in her nature. Dust and grime often resulted in
beatings, whether it was her fault or not.
She started brewing a pot of coffee, and
then walked down a hallway to the bastard’s study. He rarely allowed her
presence in the masculine room, except to clean it. The study was his
retreat – as if he needed one – which contained a large oak desk, gun cabinet,
tall Jacobean fireplace, small pool table and a giant-screen television.
She knew he had a legal will because she
had met his attorney Anthony Simonetti many times before. She was now curious
about the bastard’s state of affairs as he had no living relatives besides her.
Aaron’s father and younger brother died
in a mining accident twenty years ago, in similar circumstances to his own. His
mother left the family when Aaron was barely ten, never to be heard from again.
To Beth’s knowledge, there was no one else.
Entering the hallowed study, she smelled
the stale odor of lingering Aqua Velva. She wrinkled her nose, reminded
and repulsed by her husband’s preference in aftershave. At the desk, she turned
on the touch-lamp and sat down. As with every room in the house, the study was
devoid of clutter and personal brick-a-brack, including the well-polished
surface of the desk.
She opened the middle drawer, spying a
cluster of paperclips, a cigarette lighter, and two yellow post-it notepads.
Then she checked the left drawer, finding file folders full of paid bills, and
Aaron’s checkbook. She flipped through the register, her eyes widening in
surprise when she saw the remaining funds available:
She never knew how much money he had,
although she was aware he received a bundle from an insurance claim filed after
the deaths of his father and brother, and he earned a great deal at the mine.
He felt she has no business in his finances, but at the same time he kept her
well-dressed and manicured for appearances sake.
She opened the right desk drawer, which
contained more file folders. She ran her finger along the tabs until she came
to one marked “Anthony Simonetti.” She withdrew the file and laid it open on
There were attorney invoices marked
“paid” in Aaron’s handwriting at the front of the file, and then she found the
legal document she was looking for. Dated three years previous, the bastard’s
last will and testament revealed itself. She began to read the document, her
brow furrowed in concentration.
He left everything to her. While this fact
was a natural event in any normal family, she was shocked the bastard had seen
fit to provide for her so generously. His verbal and physical abuse during
their marriage belied the instructions of the will, of his last word to her.
Three years ago he dictated that his
“beloved home” and its property go to her in case he predeceased her, along
with the contents thereof. There was a list of four bank accounts, the balances
of which were not listed in the will but that would come to her in the advent
of his death. There was also a special request that he be buried at the
specially-built Mills Mausoleum in the city cemetery next to the house.
Beth was dismayed that her husband would
be buried so close to the house, although she knew her thoughts were illogical.
“I don’t want him near me,” she said aloud. “Damn him. He will always be
at hand. Even in death, the bastard gives me no peace.”
She returned the file to the desk
drawer, at the same time her eyes catching another folder marked “Bethany
“That’s me,” she said in wonder. “Why on
earth would he have a file on me?”
The folder was filled with photographs:
of their frozen-smiled wedding in San Francisco to the annual Ivytown community
picnic, of her cooking in the kitchen, of her sleeping, of her sewing in the
The expression on her face in all of the
pictures struck her. Her eyes held a faraway, sad look, and she never wore a
smile apart from the wedding photograph. “That’s before I knew better,”
she thought sourly. Why had he kept the images, and why did she have no recall
of their circumstances? Had Aaron seen her cheerless demeanor in the pictures
as well? Is that why he collected them, to happily remind him she was
Baffled, she gathered the disturbing
images back into the file folder and into the drawer. All of a sudden her eyes
darted around the room in fearful consternation, imagining Aaron would
materialize and catch her in the act of snooping through his desk.
“Thought I was dead, did you?” he would say. “You
stupid bitch – don’t you know I would never leave you in the peace and quiet
you so crave?”
Old habits died hard. Her inherent dread
of Aaron’s physical presence was so ingrained into her mind that she found it
hard to shake. Before the accident, she would have never dared rifle through
his desk, or it would have been cause for a severe beating.
Beth returned to the kitchen and poured
herself a cup of coffee, adding a liberal amount of sugar. Sitting on a stool at
the island counter, she sipped the hot brew slowly, savoring the sweet, roasted
She was suddenly bone-tired as the long
day drew to a close. It was the kind of weariness that felt satisfying, like
after a long bout of exercise. Even though she drained a cup of coffee, she
doubted she would have trouble falling asleep. The range of conflicting
emotions she had experienced within the past six days finally left her spent,
devoid of comprehensive thought.
She climbed the staircase to the second
floor, watching her feet on the amber carpet. She walked along the upper
corridor, for once oblivious to the impressive mahogany walls and muted
lighting. She opened the door leading to her bedroom, switching on the light.
She stared at the king-sized bed, which
was surrounded by dark blue carpet stamped with decorative fleur-de-lis
feathers. The sheer curtains on the tall windows were open, the glass black
with the night. She stepped toward the bed, but then halted.
She had suffered years of degradation in
that bed, the memories freezing her. She knew the sheets were clean as she
changed them on the last morning before the bastard left for work. His presence
was virtually erased from the fabric of the linens, but she could still feel
him in the room.
“Don’t be silly,” she scoffed at
herself. “He’s well and truly gone, and it’s just a bed. I can sleep without
fear, without being abruptly awakened by a slap in the face. Just relax,
Beth. He’s gone for good.”
Shrugging off her trepidation, she sat
on the bed and then lay on her back. She stared up at the ceiling as if seeing
the matching feather swirls for the first time. Aaron may have been a bastard,
but he was a master craftsman and builder.
“No longer he isn’t,” she muttered,
giggling at her jumble of words. With a deep sigh, she closed her eyes and
sought the darkness gladly.
BOB PALMER CAME to see her the next day.
Beth saw him park his white Jeep in the driveway behind her Bronco, the
diamond-grooved tires making crunching noises on the ground. The mid-morning
sunshine reflected off the driver’s side mirror of his jeep, and she could make
out the outline of his iron hair and elongated face.
She moved away from the front window and
steeled herself for the meeting. She was hard put to exhibit a dreary face
because she was so happy, but for proprieties sake she made the effort. By the
time she answered the door, there were tears in her eyes and she purposely
clutched a sodden tissue in her fist.
“Bob,” she murmured, eyes downcast.
“Thank you for coming, but you needn’t have bothered. I’m doing okay.”
He looked stricken. “I’m afraid this
isn’t a social call, Bethany, not really.”
She opened the door wider. “Please come
She led him to the kitchen, where they
sat on barstools in front of the counter. She offered him a cup of coffee, but
he politely refused. She sensed he was nervous, out of sorts, as if reluctant
to begin speaking.
“Tell me,” she said gently. “Whatever it
is, just tell me.”
He finally met her eyes, pain shadowing
his face. “I had a meeting with the mine stockholders late last night. Because
of the impossible position of the bodies in the mine, combined with the
operating costs, there won’t be a recovery effort made to retrieve the
Beth was quiet for a moment, watching
him closely. “In other words, I won’t get Aaron’s body for a proper burial?”
He nodded, hanging his head.
“Who gives a rat’s ass?” she
thought with glee. Aloud, she said: “Does that mean I can’t have a funeral for
him? That he will forever be in limbo?”
Raising his head again, Bob was quick to
reassure her. “Of course not, Bethany. Go ahead and plan a funeral - you just
won’t have a body for the casket.”
“Why waste money on a coffin just to
throw it into the ground or into the mausoleum?” she thought without
feeling. She looked down at her lap, twisting the tissue in her hands. She
tried to keep the smile from her face and succeeded. “I suppose that will have
to do, then. It seems I have no other recourse.”
He regarded her with such wounded guilt
and sorrow that Beth wanted to laugh out loud. While she had no ill feelings
toward Bob Palmer, she thought him ridiculous at the moment. Who honestly
cared about Aaron Mills, how he lived or died much less how he was laid to rest?
None of it really mattered, but of course she could not tell Bob that and even
hope he would understand.
She changed the subject. “What caused
the mine collapse? Do you know yet?”
He looked down at the floor. “We think
it was caused by a spark from a rail car that ignited methane gas. It brought
the stopes down, crushing anyone who happened to be underneath. Then, of
course, the mine simply buried them alive. We’re thinking a few of them may
have been killed on contact, but some may have lived awhile before dying from
lack of oxygen or injuries sustained in the collapse. Since we can’t see the
entire area through the bore hole camera, we have to assume those among the
missing account for the death toll.”
Beth did not know what to say. “I
hope Aaron lived from the onset and then suffered unimaginably before he died,”
she thought. She glanced at Bob and spoke aloud. “I hope Aaron was one of those
who died instantly. I hate the thought of him suffering so horribly…” she let
her voice trail off.
“Would you like me to take care of the
funeral arrangements?” he asked generously.
She shook her head. “No, I would like to
do it. Aaron would have wanted me to see to his funeral, don’t you think?” She
forced tears to well in her eyes, and then placed the tissue over her mouth and
nose. “I still can’t believe this is happening,” she whispered. At the same
time, she thought: “How did I get so god-damned lucky?”
Bob reached over and took her hand.
“Whatever you need, I’m here for you. Please remember that.”
She looked at him, her eyes glistening.
“Thank you, Bob. Thank you for helping me through such a difficult time.” She
paused to emphasize her next words: “I will never forget it.”
2000: Meeting Aaron Mills
BEFORE MEETING AARON Mills, Beth Kern
was happy with her life and solid career. She was the quintessential modern
professional woman, working at an advertising firm in San Francisco. She
successfully climbed the corporate ladder, becoming an executive director at
the Gillis Advertising Agency within eight years. Friendly and outgoing, Beth
was popular with her fellow employees, and counted many of them as casual
She lived with her mother in a two-story
house in the South Beach residential area, overlooking San Francisco Bay. Beth
and Paula Kern were more like sisters than mother and daughter, achieving a
degree of comfortable companionship. Beth’s father had been killed in an auto
accident when she was thirteen, but Paula never remarried.
By the time she was thirty, Beth enjoyed
few serious relationships with men but had yet to meet anyone she wanted to
spend the rest of her life with. She knew she was fairly attractive, with
shortly-styled auburn hair, a creamy complexion and dark blue eyes. She was
tall and slender, moving with an agile grace that came naturally to her.
Then she met Aaron Mills. It seemed
unlikely that an ad executive and a coal miner from Ivytown, Oregon could ever
meet in a social setting, but by a coincidence of fate that was exactly what happened.
It was late summer in San Francisco, seven long years ago, when she first laid
eyes on him. Little did she know then it would be a vision that would haunt her
One Friday evening, Beth agreed to join
friends from work at Jester’s Lounge inside the Argent Hotel. The dark and
somewhat exotic lounge setting blended with her attire that night, when she
wore dark dress slacks with a silky blouse tucked into the waist. She found her
friends at a rear table, and soon the group was talking and laughing together.
She was seated next to the firm’s
receptionist, Maxie Daniels, a small, dark-haired woman with round, luminous
amber eyes and an infectious smile. Beth and Maxie were friends, spending time
together at work-related events as well as in their leisure.
Next to Maxie sat Morgan Bailey, the
rather mousy executive assistant of Gillis’ president Carl Gillis. Although he
made a habit of associating with Beth and Maxie, and gravitated toward them at
the agency during coffee breaks and lunch, Morgan rarely had much to say unless
it had to do with work or his vast knowledge of computer programs. He was a
tall and painfully thin young man, with long, greasy brown hair and light brown
eyes peering out of thick, black-rimmed spectacles. He looked much younger than
his twenty-five years, the blemishes on his face reminiscent of teenage angst
and raging puberty.
Beth liked Morgan; she found him to be
intelligent and kind, although his serious-minded approach to life and work
left little room for humor. He always addressed her with a reverent respect she
found amusing – as he never seemed to treat other employees at Gillis the same
way – but she accepted him as he was and he appeared to be grateful for it.
Over the din at Jester’s Lounge, Maxie
spoke into Beth’s ear: “I have a friend meeting me here. Do you think anyone
Beth shook her head. “I doubt it. The
more the merrier. Who’s your friend?”
“He’s someone from my hometown,” Maxie
replied. “He’s in San Francisco with some of his buddies to see the sights. His
pals have tickets to the football game, but Aaron’s not one for contact sports.
So he’s sort of on his own tonight…”
Beth would recall Maxie’s statement for
many years to come. Aaron was not one for contact sports on television or on
the playing fields, but he was a big fan of pummeling women – especially his
wife – over and over again…
“Is Aaron an old boyfriend of yours?”
Beth asked, more for polite conversation than curiosity.
Maxie laughed. “Good Lord, no. We went
to school together in Ivytown, but whereas he stayed to work in the mine, I
couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there. I rarely go back, so I haven’t seen
Aaron in years.”
“Ivytown? I’ve never heard of the place.
You once mentioned you came from Oregon, but I thought it was somewhere like
Portland or Salem.”
“Ivytown is a small mining community in
Oregon, near the border of Washington,” Maxie told her. “Not hard to miss,
actually, so there’s not much to tell. It’s an ephemeral community for the most
part. I rarely mention the place, but its so-called rustic community ambience
is one of the reasons I left.”
Beth sipped her drink. “Good for you.”
The words were barely out of her mouth
when she saw him for the first time. He was approaching the group’s table
tentatively, as if reluctant to intrude. She took in his rather shaggy blond
hair, the five o’clock shadow that somehow seemed attractive when worn by him,
and the bright green eyes that found hers almost instantly.
He was tall, certainly taller than she
was, with a fit bulk that bespoke regular physical activity. Another remarkable
attribute was his hands, unusually large and lightly furred with the same color
of hair that spiked from his head. She had no inkling then that she would come
to know those hands most intimately.
Maxie introduced Aaron Mills to the
group, and they greeted him with enthusiasm except for Morgan, who barely
nodded in the man’s direction before returning his attention to a tall gin and
Aaron seemed relieved by the reasonably
friendly atmosphere, pulling up a seat between Maxie and Beth. Soon the group
was chatting amongst themselves again, and Beth felt Aaron’s attention rest on
At close range he was strikingly
handsome. He had a naturally ruddy complexion, the emerald of his eyes alert
Beth didn’t remember what they first
talked about, no matter how hard she tried to recollect the moment. She did
recall being impressed with his physique, intrigued by the deep timbre of his
voice and his over-large hands.
Maxie appeared tickled by their instant
spark of attraction. She had always liked Beth, and in her memory she knew
Aaron to be a hard-working, honest and considerate person. She had never seen
any evidence to convince her otherwise.
THEIR COURTSHIP WAS a veritable
whirlwind, but Beth was so swept away by Aaron’s apparent charm that she
ignored the warning signs.
Aaron remained in San Francisco for an
extra week to woo her. He was a gentleman: soft-spoken, courteous, and
respectful of her mother. Paula Kern seemed to like Aaron at first sight,
charmed by his subtle flattery and good looks.
Little things didn’t seem to matter
then. The angry red flush on Aaron’s face when a server mixed-up his order at a
local burger joint; his sudden impatience and subsequent moodiness when she demurred
his initial sexual advances; his habit of drinking an extra beer or two at
lunch, or the faint smell of alcohol on his breath in the morning despite his
clear eyes and crisp speech.
They went to dinner, to movies, for
walks on Ocean Beach. They toured old clipper ships at Fisherman’s Wharf, ate
fish and chips on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and kissed endlessly in the
moonlight. She couldn’t have read a better romance than they were living it,
and sometimes she wondered if she was dreaming.
She learned about his life. He was born
and raised in Ivytown. He had worked in the Misty Canyon Mines since graduating
from high school, where his father and younger brother also toiled.
However, a few years after he started his job a tremendous underground mine
collapse took the lives of his father and brother. Aaron told Beth he had no
surviving relatives and that he managed without family for many years.
“But what about your mother?” she asked
“She left us when I was ten years old,”
Aaron said bitterly. “She just up and deserted us one day and ran away with
another man. I never knew what happened to her.”
Beth was not inexperienced sexually, but
she was so head over heels in love with Aaron she did not want to appear too
eager, or God forbid too easy. Yet as their romance proceeded at breakneck
pace, she found herself unable to resist his charms.
Their first time together occurred in
his small room at the Cartwright Hotel on Sutter Street. It was the night
before he was to return to Ivytown. He had taken her to the cozy Sutter Café
for dinner, where they held hands and enjoyed a plate of Americana
meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Afterward, he asked her to come back to his room
and she agreed, sad at the prospect of his departure the next day.
It never occurred to her that she might
not see him again after he returned to Ivytown. Rather, she envisioned long
weekends together, maybe some holidays back and forth, and regular telephone
calls. Their attraction was too intense, too breathtaking, to be over just
That he wanted her in his bed
desperately was obvious – but she wanted him, too. With the hum of traffic on
Sutter Street muffled by their passion inside the darkened hotel room, Aaron
and Beth came together in a flash of joy and astonishment that left them both
He smoked a cigarette as they lay in the
dilapidated bed – which had been heaven on earth just seconds before – as she
rested her head on his chest. They were quiet and languid, content in their
“Marry me,” he said, turning his head on
the pillow to look at her. “Marry me, Bethany. Come and live with me in
Ivytown, be my wife and the mother of my children.”
She was not as shocked as she should
have been. In fact, she had almost expected some sort of declaration from him
before he left. She sensed he did not want to leave her, that he wanted to
continue their relationship in an exclusive vein. But marriage?
She tried to be practical. “Aaron,” she
said gently. “Today marks seven days since we first met. How can you be sure
you want to marry me? We barely know one another.”
He doused his cigarette in an ashtray on
the nightstand, and then turned in the bed to face her. She was touched by his
sincere expression, the earnest look in his eyes. “I know all I need to know,”
he told her strongly. “I want to marry you. I feel it in my bones, to the
depths of my soul – you are the woman I’ve waited for my whole life. Why
waste time when we could be living as husband and wife now?”
She was quiet for a long minute,
avoiding his eyes. He was right. Why wait when the inevitable outcome would be
the same? She had fallen in love with him, of that there was no doubt, but some
inner sense of caution and rationality told her that marrying him after seven
days was simply foolhardy, and perhaps dangerous.
“But why side with caution?” she
thought, finally looking into his green eyes. “I’ve never been rash in my
life – instead I’ve plodded along doing the expected. I’ve always been stable
and dependable. It’s time I took a plunge for my own happiness. Throw caution
to the wind and let the chips fall where they may. Aaron loves me, and I love
him – marriage will let us love each other every day for the rest of our lives.”
Aaron mistook her lengthening silence as
rejection. Tears sprung into his eyes, and he began to move away from her. Beth
took her hands and cupped his face, raining kisses on his nose, his mouth, his
“I’ll marry you,” she whispered against
his lips. Her own tears of gladness fell from her eyes, and he laughed as he
gently kissed them away.
“Oh Bethany,” he exclaimed, hugging her
tightly to him so she could no longer see his face. “You won’t regret it. I’ll
devote my life to making you happy. You’ll see. We’ll have our own family, a wonderful
life together. I promise you’ll never want for anything…”
She silenced him with her mouth, their
kiss deepening into a spiral of passion that was more frantic than before. A
life-changing decision had been made and they were euphoric because of it,
determined to go forward and never look back.
In that moment, Beth didn’t think about
life as she knew it before Aaron Mills came along; she didn’t consider her
career or her mother’s reaction to the news. Full of boundless hope, she was
convinced everything would work itself out in the end.
AS MUCH AS she liked Aaron and the idea
of Beth dating him, even Maxie Daniels was stunned when Beth told her they were
getting married right away.
The two women were in Beth’s office the
next day, taking a coffee break together. Although small, the office was
comfortable and lived-in yet with a professional touch. Leafy green plants
adorned the desk and file cabinets, some hanging from decorative hooks on the
ceiling. The square picture window overlooked Montgomery Street in Jackson
Square, where the Gillis Advertising Agency was located.
Maxie has been aware of Beth’s floating
elation since meeting Aaron, but today she was distracted and more flushed than
“Didn’t Aaron leave this morning?” Maxie
asked from the chair across Beth’s desk, sipping her coffee.
Beth nodded happily, oblivious to her
own mug of coffee. “Yes. I saw him off at the airport at six o’clock this
Maxie was puzzled. “Then why are you so
Beth hugged herself, squeezing her eyes
shut. “Because he’ll be back within the week. He’s arranging for time off so we
can get married and have a honeymoon.”
Maxie nearly choked on her coffee. As it
was, noticeable dribble stained her cream-colored blouse. “Married?” she echoed
in alarm, her eyes wide with shock. “Married?”
Beth nodded, her eyes now open and
dancing, too riddled with excitement to respond.
Maxie set her coffee cup on the desk for
fear of spilling again. “When did you decide to get married?” she wanted to
know, then quickly amended her tone. “I’m happy for you, but isn’t this rather
“He asked me to marry him last night and
I said yes,” Beth blurted out before she was overcome with a fit of giggles.
She leaned back in her executive chair, giving into the joy she felt
Maxie stared at her friend, now
dumbfounded beyond words herself. She thought of Aaron and Beth as perfect for
one another, naturally, but she never expected an accelerated version of
courtship in their case. It was unlike Aaron as far as she knew, and it was certainly
Maxie didn’t know what to say. She
studied Beth for another minute until she calmed her giggles. Pasting a smile
on her face, Maxie asked: “What did you mother say about your news?”
Beth rolled her eyes, wiping tears of
mirth from her cheeks. “At first she thought we were crazy,” she managed to
respond, her voice still tinged with laughter. “We left Aaron’s hotel and went
straight to the house, where we told mother the news. She was surprised, I
grant you, but she took one long look at us with our glowing faces and then
threw her arms around us, welcoming Aaron to our little family.”
Maxie knew how close Beth and Paula Kern
were. She also knew how Paula looked after her daughter and could not imagine
her blind acceptance of the happy news without countless questions.
“What about your job at the agency?”
Maxie wanted to know. “You worked so hard to make executive director.”
Beth shrugged, as if she had already
made up her mind - which of course she had. “Some things are more
important, you know? Aaron and I want to get married and start a family. I’ll
be moving to Ivytown after the honeymoon.”
“I’m so happy for you,” Maxie repeated,
prompted more by lack of something to say rather than genuine sentiment. “When
is the big day?”
“We’re trying to set it up for a week
from tomorrow,” Beth replied animatedly, leaning across the desk. “Mother is
trying to book the Cathedral Event Center on Gough Street. It won’t be a
religious ceremony because Aaron doesn’t practice any particular organized
religion. We’d like to have a small reception at St. Francis Hall, and after
that we’re off to Mendocino for a week-long honeymoon.”
“What about a dress?” Maxie pressed, for
some unfathomable reason hoping to find a hole in the lightening-quick plans.
“Did you already pick out a wedding dress?”
Beth giggled again. “What do you think I
spent my morning doing, aside from giving Mr. Gillis one week’s notice? I have
an appointment at the Alexandra Bridal Salon on Post Street this afternoon.”
Maxie’s mouth dropped open. “How do you
manage to move so fast?” she asked dazedly. “On top of the planning, you
already gave notice to Mr. Gillis? My God, what did he say?”
“He had the same reaction you’re having,”
Beth smiled. “Then he said as long as I’m happy, he’s happy. He offered
to give me an excellent reference in case I want to work in Portland or
somewhere just as close to Ivytown, or he said I could come back here anytime I
wanted as well.”
Maxie suddenly thought of Gillis’
executive assistant, Morgan Bailey. “Have you told Morgan yet?”
Beth shook her head. “Not directly, no,
but I’m sure he overheard me in Mr. Gillis’ office because the door was open.
I’m sorry, I was – and am – on cloud nine. I didn’t stop to speak to
Morgan afterward. In fact, I think he was away from his desk by then…”
Maxie felt a twinge of sadness for poor
Morgan Bailey. He had nursed a major crush on Beth for a long time but was too
shy and insecure to act on his feelings, certain she would never reciprocate.
He was probably devastated, yet enough of a class act not to display his hurt
Beth’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
“There is one question I don’t have an answer for, though.”
Maxie raised her eyebrows in askance.
“Will you please be my bridesmaid?” Beth
Then Maxie began to cry, her doubts and
concerns washed away by Beth’s touching request to be her bridesmaid, to be
part of the most important day of her life.
She stood up and went around the desk to
hug Beth, sniffling and babbling: “I’d love to be your bridesmaid, but what on
earth will I wear?”
The two women dissolved into laughter.
2007: The Funeral
BETH VISITED THE Ivytown Funeral Home the
day after Bob Palmer imparted the news about Aaron’s forthcoming lack of
remains. The local mortuary had been in business for more than one hundred
years and was the only funeral home within forty miles. Dressing in a pair of
black dress slacks and white blouse, Beth arrived at the mortuary shortly
before noon, hoping to catch its staff impatient and ready for lunch so that
her ordeal would be over quickly.
As bad luck would have it, she was
paired with the funeral home’s owner Marvin Peters. The man was the common
definition of a mortician: tall, bone thin, with wisps of black hair
strategically placed about his pate. It was impossible to determine his age,
although she assumed he must be in his fifties because he had taken over the
family-run parlor shortly after Aaron’s father and brother were killed.
Marvin was slow and methodical, not
seeming to mind that Beth arrived during the lunch hour. “Why would he mind?”
she asked herself wryly. “He looks as though he hasn’t had a decent meal in
Of course condolences were in order. She
accepted his sympathies with a slight wince, keeping her eyes focused on his
waxy, thin hands.
“I am so sorry for you loss, Mrs.
Mills,” he intoned in a nasal voice that never seemed to vary in its monotone
pitch. “Your husband was highly regarded in our little community, and his
tragic death has affected us all. I will do all I can to assist you in his
“There won’t be a body,” she said
“My husband’s remains are
irretrievable,” Beth told him, her voice flat. “So the casket will be empty at
Marvin looked momentarily pained, but
then spoke in his monotone again: “I understand, Mrs. Mills. Forgive me for
acting surprised, it’s just that I haven’t heard details about the mine victims
as of yet.” He shuffled a small stack of papers on the desk in front of him. “I
assume interment will take place at the family mausoleum in Ivytown Cemetery?”
She nodded. “Yes. I’d like to have a
service here at the funeral parlor, and then another short service at the
grave. Afterward, of course, I will offer refreshments to guests inside the
house.” She paused. “Is there anything you need from me to start the
He looked awkward, and then said:
“Perhaps there is a favorite photograph you’d like displayed at the first
Beth hadn’t thought of that, but it was
only natural to place Aaron’s likeness in full view at his final public
front. “I’ll find a photograph and send it to you,” she said. “I’m sure I
can provide something suitable.”
“We can have the image enlarged and
placed on a pedestal near the casket,” the mortician continued.
She dreaded the idea of having to stare
at her husband’s picture for the duration of the service, but she had to appear
touched by the gesture. “Thank you,” she said softly.
“And you can have the photograph after
the funeral service as a keepsake,” he went on.
“Are you insane?” she wanted to
shout at him. “Why would I want a life-sized image of the bastard who beat
me and degraded me for so many years?” Aloud, she murmured: “Again, thank
Marvin produced a binder from the bottom
drawer of his desk, its navy blue color slick and shiny. “Would you like to
select a casket now?” He opened the binder, revealing a large number of
clear-covered pages containing text and images of coffins.
She shuddered with distaste, which the
mortician assumed was a result of her fragile state of mind, shrouded with
grief. Before he could speak, she asked: “Since there won’t be a body, what do
you suggest in the way of a casket? Something practical rather than lavish,
don’t you think?”
Of course Marvin would prefer she spend
as much as possible, and she knew that, but she was not prepared to give him
any leeway. Playing the grieving widow was grating on her nerves, although she
realized she was maintaining control in superb fashion. To give Aaron the lap
of luxury in death was not high on her agenda.
“May I?” she entreated, pointing at the
He was startled by the swiftness of her
actions, remaining mute as she flipped through the pages of material. After
several minutes she returned the binder to him, her finger on the casket she
had in mind.
“How about this one?” she asked,
watching his face for a reaction.
Marvin glanced down at the page, keeping
a passive expression while inside he groaned with disappointment. She had
chosen the Wesley Casket, the least expensive item in the catalogue. It
was non-protective, and made of wood with a Taupe-colored covering. At $578, it
was thirteen hundred dollars cheaper than their most expensive casket, the Sterling
model. He could not openly fault her choice as there was no body to contend
with for burial, so he said slowly: “Very wise, Mrs. Mills. The Wesley
is practical for your purpose, considering the circumstances.”
“Yes,” she agreed demurely. “I thought
about not having a casket at all, you know. I mean, what’s the point? Aaron’s
earthly remains are forever lost to me. However, I think having a casket will
prove to be of great comfort to my husband’s friends, providing closure for
them as well.”
“Indeed,” he said, bowing his head
slightly to her. He still could not fault her sound reasoning, so he let her
take charge of the conversation.
“All right then,” she said in a clipped tone.
“Let’s figure out the rest of the memorial, shall we?”
Less than an hour later, Beth had
decided on a simple, printed agenda for the funeral, declined a video tribute,
and chose minimal services offered by the mortuary. Marvin printed out an
agreement and invoice for the funeral, handing it to her across his desk.
She glanced at the bill:
Photo Enlargement &
Use of Facility & Staff
Memorial Set 200 Count
Transfer of Casket to
Graveside by Hearse Coach: $325
Use of Equipment &
Staff for Graveside Service: $295
Basic Fee of Funeral
Director, Staff & Overhead: $950
She signed the bottom of the
invoice, acknowledging the terms. “Thank you for your help during this
difficult time,” she told the mortician.
Marvin inclined his head.
“It’s my job and my pleasure, Mrs. Mills.”
“I’ll get you that photo by
tomorrow morning,” she said, standing from her chair to leave.
He rose, extending his hand.
“If you think of anything else, please don’t hesitate to call me.”
She smiled thinly. “Yes,
I’ll be sure to do that.”
After she left, Marvin
picked up the telephone and called his assistant. Speaking into the mouthpiece,
he said: “Mrs. Mills was just here to arrange her husband’s funeral. She chose
the cheap route so our day will be light when the poor man’s service comes to
pass. No, don’t bother calling in the part-timers as we won’t need them for
this quick memorial…”
THAT EVENING, BETH sat on
her bed pouring over photographs of her husband, old and new. It was not a
pleasant task, so she fortified herself with several glasses of wine before
undertaking the ghoulish chore.
The sun was setting as she
flipped through the images, leaving small shadow spots on the bedroom carpet.
She sipped her red wine slowly as she gazed at black and white and color
pictures, many of them brining back memories she had hoped were long erased
from her mind.
Aaron smiling on their
wedding day, giving no hint of his truly dark personality.
There was another. Aaron pictured in his work gear and mining hat, standing
in front of Misty Canyon Mines with his fellow coal diggers, smiling and
looking into the camera with an almost innocent eagerness. And yet another:
Aaron with her at the May Day Dance just three weeks ago, a few hours after
he had beaten her with his balled-up fist and leaving hidden bruises on her
back. His face was passive in the picture, as if all was right in the
world, while Beth looked pinched and nervous.
Then she came upon a
photograph taken a year ago during the Misty Canyon Mines summer picnic, which
was held in the public park nestled between the Ivytown Library and City Hall.
Aaron was seated at one of the wooden picnic tables, wearing a white polo shirt
and khaki knee-shorts. He looked refreshed and at ease, a slight smile on his
face. She stared at his ruddy features, wondering who had taken the picture.
She could not remember. It was a blur to her, probably because earlier in the
day he viscously kicked her in the shin when she served his breakfast fifteen
minutes later than usual.
“This will do,” she whispered, taking
another sip of wine. “His friends will like this photo. It captures Aaron as they
knew him. Too bad I never got a picture of him red with rage as he beat me.
Then they’d know the real Aaron, the man they so admire and adore.”
She released the photograph and watched
it flutter to the top of the pile on her bed. If she had the nerve, and the utter
gall to disrespect the dead no matter how loathsome he had been in life, she
would proclaim her abuse at his hand to the entire community. But what good
would it do now? If anyone did happen to believe her, they would
probably find it in appalling poor taste if she revealed the truth so soon
after his “tragic” death.
She picked up the picture again, placing
it on the nightstand next to the bed, along with her empty glass of wine. Then
she swept the rest of the photographs onto the floor with her hand, not caring
as they floated and scattered over the carpet.
Beth laid her head on her pillow, her
eyes closing wearily. “Somehow, someday, I will get revenge for what Aaron did
to me,” she said to herself groggily. “Whether he is aware of it from his place
in hell or not, I will have my judgment day.”
AARON’S EMPTY CASKET was interred in the
family mausoleum in Ivytown Cemetery a few days later. Prior to burial, there
was a short memorial service at the funeral home.
The Mills Family Mausoleum had been
built shortly after Aaron’s great-grandfather completed construction on the
Mills family home.
The gray-stone structure was deceivingly
small, with wrought-iron coverings around the entrance door and the tiny
basement windows. A short flight of stairs led into the heart of the mausoleum,
which had a large floor space and stone markings for each individual crypt.
Beth never liked the building, found it unsettling that it was so close to the
house, but Aaron seemed content to have the remains of his father and brother
“Me and you will be in there someday,” he told her
often, usually after he had consumed several beers. “We’ll be right
alongside each other for eternity, with Daddy and Jesse for company.”
After Aaron’s posthumous burial, at
which half of Ivytown attended, Beth hosted a gathering inside the house. She
stayed up late the night before, baking cakes and cookies, and preparing trays
of cold appetizers. Bob helped her serve tea and coffee, assisting her with the
Beth wasn’t sure how she made it through
the reception with her sanity intact. She wanted the entire farce to be over
with, but she forged ahead with the proper sad smile pasted on her face.
Roger Ellison came to the reception,
having missed the crypt-side service. He was one of Aaron’s oldest friends, the
two of them having gone to high school together. Roger was now a local doctor
who operated Ivytown’s only walk-in medical clinic, which specialized in
treating miners and their families. He had been married and divorced twice in
ten years, with three children who lived with their respective mothers in
Portland and Seattle.
Roger reminded Beth of Aaron in so many
ways – the tall frame, husky build and blond hair. But where Aaron had
possessed a classically handsome face, Roger’s countenance was rounder, less
defined, and his eyes were coal black rather than green. Roger, too, was kinder
and more thoughtful than Aaron was in private, his concern for the welfare of
others prevailing over secretive and hellish needs.
Despite Roger’s medical qualifications,
Aaron had never seen fit to use him as their primary doctor over the years.
This puzzled Beth in the first flush of their marriage, but after the beatings
commenced she understood all too well why her husband avoided the local medico
in favor of strangers at a hospital in Portland. Roger never questioned his
friend’s choices, which puzzled Beth even further although she never pursued an
answer for fear of retribution.
Roger looked sad and exhausted, his
blond hair tousled with dark circles under his eyes. Beth had not seen him at
the Community Center the night Bob Palmer spoke to the crowd because he had
been at the mine site, waiting for rescue workers to bring the injured and
maimed up to the surface. His wait had been in vain as the course of events
played out. Beth had not seen him since the official announcement that the
trapped miners were dead.
Roger made his way to her and hugged her
lightly. He stood back to look at her face, and she saw the sorrow in his eyes.
“I’m so sorry, Beth,” he said, his voice hoarse. “I wish there was something I
could have done, but there was no hope.”
Beth nodded in understanding, hoping she
appeared convincing to one of Aaron’s oldest friends. “I know, Roger. There was
nothing you could do. It was out of everyone’s hands, including the rescue
Roger looked down, shaking his head.
“Nothing like this has happened here since…well, since the accident that took
Aaron’s father and brother some twenty years ago. I suppose that’s a good
average as far as mining accidents go, but it doesn’t provide solace for those
“No, it doesn’t,” she agreed with a
“I’m sorry I haven’t called or stopped
by sooner,” he apologized, looking at her again. She saw the tears in his eyes.
“After I left the mine site, I returned to the clinic. I have been inundated
with patients – wives, children, and other kin – all of them distraught and
experiencing symptoms of grief. I can’t tell you how many prescriptions for
sleeping pills I’ve filled in the last few days.”
“Poor thing,” Beth said with genuine
sympathy. “You need to get some rest, Roger, or you’ll be the one
collapsing. Then you won’t be of use to anyone.”
He looked stricken. “I didn’t mean to
imply that my brand of suffering is worse than that of the community,” he
apologized again. “I just wanted you to know why I hadn’t contacted you
Beth took his hand in a gesture of
forced sympathy. “I completely understand.”
He leaned over and pecked her on the
cheek. “You’re busy with this reception right now, so I’ll give you a call
sometime, okay? If you ever need to talk, just pick up the phone and call me,
too. I’m in the book.”
“Aaron had you on speed dial,” Beth said
with a small smile.
Roger tried to return her smile but it came
back as a cheerless grimace. He squeezed her hand and move on. “At least he
didn’t say ‘is there anything I can do?’ or ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ before he
walked away,” Beth thought with relief. “He is a bit of a hand-toucher,
Beth also saw Anthony Simonetti at the
gathering. She looked forward to her private meeting with him later. She was
still uncertain how much Aaron actually left her in his will, but anxious how
it might affect her future.