Marie rested her head on the steering wheel and stared up at the overhead sign with the name O’Bryan in bold letters. The black paint was chipped and worn in spots with a greenish patina. Her feet crunched in the gravel as she strolled down the lane. It was eerily quiet as she lifted the latch to push the heavy gate open. She gazed down the narrow road that wound through a hardwood forest full of a variety of deciduous trees.
Marie had received a letter from Uncle John, her mom’s older brother, a couple of months ago. He had expressed his condolences about her mom’s passing but regretted not being able to attend the funeral. She had heard stories about them growing up in this remote mountain village, but her mom hadn’t visited very often. Photos of a charming cottage and large manor house were always on her mom’s bedside table.
Uncle John had said in his letter that this was the back entrance to the estate and that the cottage was now hers. Mom had inherited the cottage plus an allowance, but she had never claimed it. Mom had said she made enough with her hairdressing shop to provide all the necessities. Uncle John had sent papers that Mom had signed declining the inheritance and leaving it to Marie after her eighteenth birthday which had been a few weeks ago.
Tall grass filled the shallow ditches along the road that wasn’t much more than a trail. Marie’s knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel as she slowly maneuvered around the many potholes. Then suddenly she saw a large shadow a few yards ahead. Her foot hit the brake as she barely avoided a large pothole. A deer, with large antlers, paused on the road looking at her. He meandered across the road and disappeared into the dense forest. Marie rested her head on the steering wheel. “Whew! That was close.” Her hands shook as she realized how close she had come to hitting the animal but she took a few deep breathes controlling her rapid heart beat before continuing. The Explorer bounced in the shallow ruts as Marie maneuvered around the many twist and turns. She flicked her headlights on as she peered ahead in the dim light. She drove through endless miles of trees that formed an arch blocking out the remaining afternoon light.
Her thoughts were in a whirl as she peered down the gloomy road. Her mom had passed away last fall after a lengthy illness. Marie and her mom had been close like the Gilmore girls in the TV show. They had done everything together, and her passing had left a big void in her life. Uncle John’s letter had contained directions to the cottage and keys.
A clap of thunder made her jump and almost bump her head on the car roof. She glanced in the rear view mirror to check on Princess, her blond cocker spaniel, and Muffin, her white Persian cat. Muffin was curled up sleeping in her carrier while Princess scratched on her kennel door and whined. “Just about there. It shouldn’t be long now.” Her words were almost drowned out by the scraping of the windshield wipers and pounding rain. Princess had never liked thunder or stormy weather. Marie pulled over to the side of the road and placed a blanket over Princess’s kennel and talked to her in soothing tones. Now was not the time to have a dog on her lap as she navigated the narrow trail.
The sun filtered through the dark clouds and the trees as the road widened. Marie stared in amazement as a double rainbow formed above the hills behind the charming bone-white cottage. A neatly manicured hedge of honey suckles and roses surrounded the spacious yard. She inhaled the smell of fresh rain, honey suckles, roses, and clover. The photos hadn’t prepared her for the magnificent view, and she rubbed her eyes in disbelief. She grabbed the lease before opening Princess’s kennel and picking up Muffin’s carrier. “Here we are. Let’s go.”