Home > The Last Letter(3)

The Last Letter(3)
Rebecca Yarros

“How’s the pain today?” he asked, coming down to her level.

She shrugged and focused on the iPad.

I tugged it free of her little hands and arched an eyebrow at her disapproving face.

She sighed, the sound way older than a five-year-old’s, but turned back to Dr. Franklin. “It always hurts. It hasn’t not hurt in forever.”

He looked over at me for clarification.

“It’s been at least six weeks.”

He nodded, then frowned as he stood, flipping the papers on the board.

“What?” Frustration twisted my stomach, but I bit my tongue. It wasn’t going to do Maisie any good for me to lose my temper.

“The bone scan results are clean.” He leaned against the exam table and rubbed his hand over the back of his neck.

My shoulders sagged. It was the third test they’d run on Maisie and still nothing.

“Clean is good, right?” she asked.

I forced a smile for her benefit and handed the iPad back to her. “Honey, why don’t you play for a sec while I sneak a word with Dr. Franklin in the hallway?”

She nodded, eagerly getting back to whatever game she’d been in the middle of.

I met Dr. Franklin in the hall, leaving the door open just a smidge so I could keep an ear on Maisie.

“Ella, I don’t know what to tell you.” He folded his arms across his chest. “We’ve run X-rays, the scan, and if I thought she’d lie still long enough for an MRI, we could try that. But in all honesty, we’re not seeing anything physically wrong with her.”

The sympathetic look he gave me grated on my last nerve.

“She’s not making this up. Whatever pain she’s in is very real, and something is causing it.”

“I’m not saying the pain isn’t real. I’ve seen her often enough to know that something is up. Has anything changed at home? Any new stressors? I know it can’t be easy on you running that place by yourself with two little kids to take care of, especially at your age.”

My chin rose a good inch, just like it did any time someone brought up my kids and my age in the same sentence.

“The brain is a very powerful—”

“Are you suggesting that this is psychosomatic?” I snapped. “Because she’s having trouble walking now. Nothing has changed in our house. It’s the same as it has been since I brought them home from this very hospital, and she’s not under any undue stress in kindergarten, I assure you. This is not in her head; it’s in her hip.”

“Ella, there’s nothing there,” he said softly. “We’ve looked for breaks, ligament tears, everything. It might be a really bad case of growing pains.”

“That is not growing pains! There’s something you’re missing. I looked on the internet—”

“That was your first mistake.” He sighed. “Looking on the internet will convince you that a cold is meningitis and a leg pain is a giant blood clot ready to dislodge and kill you.”

My eyes widened.

“It’s not a blood clot, Ella. We did an ultrasound. There’s nothing there. We can’t fix a problem that we don’t see.”

Maisie wasn’t making it up. It wasn’t in her head. It wasn’t some symptom of being born to a young mom or not having a dad in the picture. She was in pain, and I couldn’t help her.

I was completely and utterly powerless.

“Then I guess I’ll take her home.”

I savored the walk from the county road back to the main house. Getting the mail this time of year was always my own little way of sneaking out, and I enjoyed it even more now that I had Chaos’s letters to look forward to. I was expecting number six any day now. The late October air was brisk, but we were still a good month away from the slopes opening. Then my small moments of serenity would be swallowed by the torrent of bookings.

Thank God, because we really needed the business. Not that I didn’t enjoy the slower pace of fall after the summer hikers went home, but it was our winters that kept Solitude in the black. And with our new, painful mortgage payments, the income was necessary.

But for now, this was perfect. The aspens had turned gold and were beginning to lose their leaves, which currently covered the tree-lined drive from the road to the house. It wasn’t far, only a hundred yards or so, but it was just enough distance to give visitors that feeling of seclusion they were looking for.

Our main house held a few guest rooms, the professional kitchen, dining room, and game rooms, plus a separate, small residential wing where I lived with the kids. It always teemed with life when someone wanted company. But Solitude got her name, and her reputation, from the fifteen secluded cabins that dotted our two hundred acres. If someone wanted the convenience of luxury accommodations and proximity to civilization, while still getting away from it all, we were the perfect spot.

Now if only I could afford the advertising to get the cabins booked. You could build it all day long; people only came if they knew you existed.

“Ella, you busy?” Larry asked from the front porch. His eyes danced under bushy gray eyebrows that seemed to curl in every direction.

“Nope. What’s up?” I fidgeted with the mail as I walked up the steps, pausing on a board that might need to be replaced. The thing about rebranding yourself as a luxury resort was that people expected perfection.

“There’s something waiting for you on the table.”

“Waiting?” I ignored his grin—the man was never going to be a poker player—and headed inside.

I kicked off my boots and slid them under one of the benches in the foyer. The newly refinished hardwood was warm under my feet as I crossed in front of the receptionist’s desk.

“Good walk?” Hailey looked up from her phone and smiled.

“Just got the mail, nothing special.” I gripped the stack of letters in my hand, prolonging the torture for a few more moments. Besides, that top envelope was a bill from Dr. Franklin, which I wasn’t in a hurry to open.

It had been almost a month since I’d taken Maisie to see him, and there was still no diagnosis for her worsening pain. This was just another bill to remind me that I’d dropped us to the lowest insurance premiums possible to get us through this year.

“Uh-huh. You’re not looking for a letter, are you?” Her brown eyes were wide with mock innocence.

“I shouldn’t have told you about him.” She was never going to let me hear the end of it, but I honestly didn’t mind. Those letters were the one thing I had just for me. The one place where I could be open and honest without judgment or expectation.

“Hey, it’s better than you living vicariously through my love life.”

“Your love life gives me whiplash. Besides, we’re just writing. There’s nothing romantic. Ryan needed a favor. That’s all.”

“Ryan. When is he coming home again?” She sighed that dreamy sigh most of the local girls let out whenever my brother was mentioned.

“Should be a little after Christmas, and seriously, you were what? Twelve when he left to join up?”

Hailey was only two years younger than me, but I felt infinitely older. Maybe I’d aged ten years per kid, or running Solitude had prematurely shoved me into middle age, but whatever it was, there was a lifetime between us.

“Stop dawdling!” Larry urged, nearly jumping up and down.

“What’s the big deal?”

“Ella, get in here!” Ada called from the dining room.

“Both of you are after me now?” I shook my head at Larry but followed him into the dining room.

“Ta-da!” Ada said, waving her arms in a flourish toward the dark farmhouse-style table.

I followed her motions, finding the magazine I’d been waiting for sitting there, its bright-blue cover standing out against the wood.

“When did it get here?” My voice dropped.

“This morning,” Ada answered.

“But…” I held up the stack of mail.

“Oh, I just left all that in there. I wasn’t going to deprive you of your favorite time of day.”

A few quiet, tense moments passed while I stared at the magazine. Mountain Vacations: Colorado’s Best of 2019. Winter edition.

“It’s not going to bite,” Ada said, scooting the magazine toward me.

“No, but it could make or break us.”

“Read it, Ella. Lord knows I already did,” she said, pushing her glasses back up her nose.

I snatched the magazine off the table, dropping the pile of mail in its place, and thumbed through it.

“Page eighty-nine,” Ada urged.

My heart pounded, and my fingers seemed to stick on every page, but I made it to page eighty-nine.

“Number eight, Solitude, Telluride, Colorado!” My hands shook as I took in the glossy photographs of my property. I knew they’d sent someone to review us but hadn’t known when.

“We’ve never been in the top twenty, and you just landed in the top ten!” Ada pulled me into a hug, her larger frame dwarfing mine. “Your grandmother would be so very proud. All the renovations you’ve done, everything you’ve sacrificed. Heck, I’m proud of you, Ella.” She pulled back, thumbing the tears from her eyes. “Well, don’t just stand there blubbering, read!”

“She’s not the one blubbering, woman,” Larry said, coming around to hug his wife. These two were just as much Solitude as I was. They’d been with my grandmother since she’d opened, and I knew they’d stay with me as long as they could.

“‘Solitude is a hidden gem. Nestled in the San Juan Mountains, the unique resort boasts not only a family feel in the main house, but over a dozen newly refurbished luxury cabins for those unwilling to trade privacy for proximity to the slopes. Only a ten-minute drive to some of the best skiing Colorado has to offer, Solitude offers you just that—a haven from the tourist-heavy Mountain Village. This B&B feels more like a resort and is perfect for those seeking the best of both worlds: impeccable service and the feeling of being alone in the mountains. It is the pure Colorado experience.’”

They loved us! We were a top ten Colorado B&B! I clutched the magazine to my chest and let joy wash through me. Moments like this didn’t come every day, or even every decade, it seemed, and this one was mine.

“The pure Colorado experience is what exists when the tourists go home,” Larry muttered but grinned.

The phone rang, and I heard Hailey answering it in the background.

“I bet the reservations are about to book solid!” Ada sang as Larry danced her around the perimeter of the table.

With a review like that, it was a sure bet. We were going to be slammed, and soon. We’d be able to pay the mortgage and the construction loan for the planned cabins on the south side.

“Ella, the school’s on the phone,” Hailey called out.

I dropped the magazine with the other mail and headed for the phone.

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