Welcome to the third installment of The Visitor Misses a Visit. We seven authors have all contributed a chapter to this prequel, and today’s installment is by Julie B. Cosgrove, a writer of suspense and cozy mysteries.
Fanny Lee Gillespie Henderson sat in the sunroom of her mansion sipping her second cup of coffee. Her housekeeper and cook, Izzy, brought the cordless phone to her.
“Eeats your niece, Meet Connie,” Izzy whispered as she handed the call over. “She is the one who just graduated, si?”
Fanny nodded, then she punched the button and put the receiver to her ear. “Is that my favorite niece calling?”
“Hi, Aunt Fanny.”
“Congratulations, my dear. Graduated Cum Laude with honors. Not a small achievement. But I knew in my heart you would succeed, and I know you will, now in your new position.”
“I got your amazing bouquet of star lilies. So kind of you to remember they are my favorite. I promise to write you a proper thank you note as soon as I settle in.”
Fanny chuckled. “I know you will, my dear. And I know it isn’t the horse you always wanted. Oh, how I recall the times you’d visit the family ranch here. You’d dash to the stables the moment the car stopped.”
“Snowball always seemed to be ready to greet me. I loved that horse.”
Fanny detected her niece’s voice crack with emotion. “He loved you as well.” Perhaps the stallion’s demise five years ago still stung. But horses were not meant to live forever.
“Aunt Fanny, I called to discuss the information you sent to Dad.”
Fanny took a sip of her coffee and set the cup down. “I see. Do you foresee any problems?”
“No, it’s not that … well … I need your advice.” Connie seemed a bit distracted. Not like her at all.
“Oh, what is it? You can always come to me, you know.”
“Which is why I called. Just a minute.”
Fanny heard a door softly close. “That’s better.” Connie’s voice lowered. “Have you heard about the new accountant, Clint Rutherford?”
“Your mother mentioned him in passing on the phone last week.” Eleanot’s voice had sounded almost sing-songy. “She seems to think he’s a Godsend.”
“I get the same feeling.”
And Fanny detected a flatness in Connie’s response. “From what your mom told me, he seems to be a gung-ho young man. Has a knack for numbers. And a steady churchgoer. That’s important. Why do you ask?”
She heard Connie suck in her breath. Had her sister’s intuition been flawed? Fanny had learned to rely on it in the past. Sort of a Holy Spirit teleprompter. It had yet to steer her wrong in all the years that Eleanor and Mackenzie ran the foundation, which is why Fanny always agreed to help them find outlets for their funding.
“There is something about him. I don’t know. His smile didn’t seem genuine. It never reached his eyes. And they, well … dart about, as if he schemed what to say next. Like plotting the next move in a chess match.
“It isn’t tangible, just something I sensed. He seems to have taken on quite a lot of authority very quickly, though.”
“Have you had much contact with him?”
Connie sighed, making a roar through the receiver. “I know that tone. Judge not lest ye be judged. Not only Jesus’s warning in the Bible but your motto for life. Mine, too.”
A pause lasted so long Fanny wondered if there had been an interruption in the connection. Then Connie’s voice returned. “Frankly, we just met.”
“Aw, well then perhaps you need to wait before you decide about his motives. Your parents talk well of him. And he is only a few years older than you. Maybe you sense your mother playing cupid and are a bit defensive?”
“Perhaps. I admit Mama’s facial expression when she mentioned him sent prickles up my arm, like the times she suddenly invited a visitor to dinner who happened to be close in age when I came home from college for a visit.”
Fanny laughed. “She can’t help being a mother, dear.”
“True. And you may have a point. Still …”
“Tell me about your conversation, Connie. I sense this has stuck in your craw.”
She did. Fanny remained quiet as Connie spoke. Being a successful businesswoman herself, she had long ago learned that good listening skills were key to an acute insight into people. If Connie’s initial impression was off, Fanny would detect it.
When Connie finished, Fanny took another long sip of her now tepid coffee. She peered out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the garden. If only people could be pruned like flowers and bushes to grow right. Oh, well. Her niece had been well-groomed for this position. She needed to consider her intuition as valid. However, like her new dahlia shrubs. Connie was still growing and might need some bolstering to blossom in the right direction.
“Sounds as if perhaps the young man may be a tad over enthusiastic. As you may be as well, my child. If anyone can rein him in, it is your father.”
“I would suggest you keep an open mind over the next few weeks …”
Connie’s scoff came through the line.
“You don’t sound convinced.”
“It’s just a gut instinct, I guess. But you are absolutely correct. I shouldn’t jump the gun.”
Fanny applied a serious tone to her voice as she leaned forward in her armchair. “Look, Connie. You are a smart young woman. You have your father’s knack for business and your mother’s heart for charities. I think God put you on earth when He did for a reason. You, above all your other siblings, have the talent and skill to carry on this foundation. Your parents are not getting younger, you know. Someday it will all land in your lap, not just the fundraising part.”
Silence. Had Fanny been too harsh? In her sixties, she could see the end of the line more clearly. Connie? At twenty-three, the world remained her oyster.
She tried again. “You have always had a good head on your shoulders, and if you sense something amiss about this young man, perhaps you should discuss it with others that you can trust. Your siblings have all been involved in the foundation at one time or other. I think you should speak to them about it. If Clint is pulling any wool over your parents’ eyes, your brothers and sisters should be made aware of it as well.”
Connie let off what sounded like a nervous giggle. “I feel vindicated and taken to the woodshed all at the same time. You do make sense. I trust your insight, Aunt Fanny. Perhaps I need more evidence to validate my initial reaction.”
“That’s my girl.”
“Thank you for your wisdom and your confidence in me. I appreciate your advice.”
“Then accept one more, my dear. Don’t let his nervousness or your own cloud your judgment. You are both getting your feet wet, as they say. However, you always were good at discerning people’s motives. Make sure you’re praying for God’s leading. then, if your gut, or shall we say, the Holy Spirit, continues to send off warning signals, heed them.”
“I will.” Her voice lilted with warmth. “And again, thank you for the flowers. They’re lovely.”
“Goodbye, my dear. You are in my prayers, but I know you will do just fine. Give your parents my love, and I look forward to hearing more about your plans for the pregnancy center fundraiser.”
Fanny hung up and tapped the phone to her chin. When she’d been talking with Eleanor the other day, she’d heard a man’s voice in the background. Had that been this new man? He’d spoken to Anna Hodges in a rather authoritative tone. Not a respectful one that a long-term volunteer like Anna, who knew the ropes, should command.
Well, he was young as well. If it was him at all. Youth tended to be impulsive. I Clint Rutherford had any ulterior aspirations, Connie would get to the bottom of things. Yes, she would.
Aunt Fannie’s advice stirred Connie.
As hurt as she was that most of her siblings had ignored her college graduation—high school graduation, too, for that matter—she really did need to reach out to them. Family had always been so important to her, probably because, being so much younger, she’d been a little unincluded by most of them. Even Paul had childhood memories of a full house, family trips in a full van, and holidays around a full table that she never had.
For the most part, she got along with her siblings, but maybe she should reach out first to the ones she didn’t relate to as well, in order to get a more objective spin.
She needed to pray about it, but either Margaret or Kimberly needed to be her first call. Come to think about it, Margaret wouldn’t likely spend to her at all. Connie had only seen her oldest sister a handful of times as she was growing up. The woman didn’t seem the least bit interested in Connie.
Kimberly, it would be, then.
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