Shielded Past
by Patti Morelli
Trafford Publishing

Katie finally has her life in place. After being raised in foster care, this interesting young woman has the husband and home of her dreams, albeit the latter is not too far from an abandoned psychiatric hospital. No problem. Katie is finally content, although a light emanating from the old hospital will pique her curiosity and lead to life-altering discoveries about her past. With engaging characters and building suspense, author Morelli crafts a spell-binding read from the start. As interesting as the narrative spine is the backstory upon which it is built. Look for a gripping conclusion as well as the next offering from Morelli.

 

Chapter One

WHIRLWIND

Kate, a 34-year-old woman employed as a regional manager of the perfume division for a well-known, high-end designer, lived in Manhattan with her husband of two months. Her job took her to different locations within the Tri-state area. Today, she was dropping off special event items to the sales team at the Freehold, NJ store. This would be the first time she has seen the team since her wedding. As soon as she walked into the perfume section, they surrounded her, bombarding her with questions.  

“How was the honeymoon?”  “Where are you living?”  “Do you want to start a family?”

She was overwhelmed, but warmed by their excited attention and her own fresh memories. She answered all of them, smiling into the circle they made around her saying that she would like to buy a home and start a family in the near future.

Suzie, (a member of her team) overheard this and told Kate about a beautiful home in Marlboro, New Jersey, the town south of Freehold. Suzie’s husband was a realtor and worked on homes that were going up for auction from the State or the Municipalities. She showed her a picture of the home on her cell phone and explained that whoever purchased it would be getting a rare deal for well under the market price.

The reason for the pricing was that it was once part of the Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital. The facility had been closed for years and the home was to be sub-divided and sold separately. Suzie said that her husband would be available on the weekend if she wanted to view it.

Kate said, “I’ll have to speak to Gregg this evening. Could your husband send me the information on the house?”

That night when Gregg came home Kate was on the telephone, with pen in hand, writing down the information.

“Thank you Tom, my husband just came in and I will discuss it with him. Please send me the information, and I will call you back. Thank you again for everything.”

Kate hung up the phone and said, “Gregg, Suzie’s husband is in real estate and she told me about a house that seems to be a great investment. The State is putting it up for auction next month.”

Kate called Gregg over to her computer so they could view the house together. The picture was of an older colonial home with all the doors and windows boarded up. The listing stated that there were 5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a den, living room, eat in kitchen, library, and solarium. The house sat on 5 acres of preserved property.

Gregg said, “It looks interesting, how far away is Marlboro?”

“It’s about an hour from Manhattan but only 30 minutes to Newark Airport.” Kate answered, pausing. “The location is great for me, it's central New Jersey, I could be at most of my stores within an hour.  You would have access to not only Manhattan but also the airport.

She continued on, in a lower, softer voice, “I know we haven’t discussed purchasing a home of our own, but look at the starting bid.”

Gregg looked at the bid. Kate could see his eyebrows rise and his entire face peaking with interest as he said, “It’s too good to be true.”  

Then he said, “Call Tom back and ask if we could see it this Saturday, and also ask him how the bidding process works.”

 

ANTICIPATION

On Saturday, Gregg and Kate drove to Marlboro where they met Tom at a shopping center. They followed his car to a long landscaped entrance where a large weathered and fading sign read, Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital. They drove on a winding road, passing 5 cottages that were boarded up. They were all painted dark green. The paint was chipped away here and there, in large sections, having been gnawed on by the wind and sun. Some of the cottages seemed to be buckling, ruptured by time and gravity. Still, they stood neat and determined, each one with a like expression fashioned by the contrasting wood that boarded them up.  Kate thought to herself that they were more fit for restoration, than a wrecking ball.

They drove up to the side of the house and Tom explained that the hospital had been closed for over ten years. He told them tidbits of history and that the Head Psychiatrist of the Hospital had always resided there.

They walked around the house, shadowed by its huge expanse. Kate loved the towering majestic columns and the sprawling front porch. Gregg loved the Spanish tile roof. Tom explained that the sale was “AS IS”.  There would be no inspection and it must be bought sight unseen. This was the reason the bidding began so low. They walked around the property enchanted by its bucolic splendor. It was beautiful.

Gregg commented on the trees,   “You would never find these trees in a newer development, some of them are over 100 years old.”

“They are amazing.” Kate said, looking up as she slipped her hand in his.

“Well what do you think, should we go for it?” Gregg asked.

“I think it’s right; I feel like something brought us here, I can’t explain it,” replied Kate.

“Well then that’s the answer, we’ll move to suburbia, and raise our family in this home,” Gregg said.

Gregg put his hands around her waist from behind and he was swaying her from side to side as they looked at the house with awe.

“It’s going to be quite a home; we’ll bring it back to life and restore it to its original beauty.”

Kate seemed mesmerized, and with a hint of reticence in her voice she spoke to Gregg dreamily,   “It looks like an old face, aged and full of wonderfully complicated details.”

Silently she wondered if what they could not see had the same enduring, but worn charm as what they could see. 

They filled out paperwork and to Kate’s surprise Gregg put in a bid for $50,000 over the asking price.

Gregg told Tom, “I don’t want to lose this house; my wife loves it too much.”

Tom replied, “I will call you the day of the auction.  I have a good feeling about this.”

In the car Kate didn’t say much, she was daydreaming and thinking to herself, over and over, I’m going to have a home. She found herself drifting back to her past. Lost in thought, she floated backwards. She never had a real home; she was raised in foster care. By her fourteenth birthday she had lived in 5 different foster homes.

 

THE PRESCOTTS

When she was a freshman in high school she moved into a housing complex on the lower east side of Manhattan. There, in the Prescott’s two-bedroom apartment, she finally had a family.  The Prescotts were considerate people and Kate was always grateful to them for taking her into their home.

The Prescott’s had raised their three children and were an older couple. When Mr. Prescott became disabled they became foster parents in order to subsidize their income. They weren’t offensive people, but were not affectionate either. The only affection she had known, in that home, was an occasional pat on her shoulder from Mrs. Prescott as she said, “You are a good girl.”

Mrs. Prescott’s life had been hard.  She worked full time, took care of her husband, and then cooked and cleaned well into the night until fatigue finally forced her to rest. Mrs. Prescott never asked for help, but by the age of fifteen Kate started cooking and cleaning to help her out. Mrs. Prescott always thanked Kate for help, and Kate could remember the almost constrained look on her face when she did.  Mrs. Prescott never had anyone help her, not even her own children.  Her children were very different than Kate.

Tammy was the Prescott’s youngest and only daughter. Tammy was more than ten years older than Kate. It was after Tammy had gotten married that Mrs. Prescott fostered Kate. Kate thought it was strange that none of her children would visit her regularly. They would go months sometimes without visiting their parents or even calling them. Kate would think to herself how lucky these children were to have parents who loved and provided for them.  She wished that she had the chance to have a real family.  She knew that she would treat them respect and love.

Mrs. Prescott would always have to make the initial phone call to see how her children were doing.  The conversations were short; they went through the usual question and answer periods. Kate could tell there was no real concern on their part of their parents' plight in life. When they did come to visit, it was Mrs. Prescott that would do all the fussing. They were all spoiled, and did not offer any assistance to their parents at all, but Tammy was the worst.

She purchased a home in Long Island and never invited her parents to spend the weekend or even to visit for the day.  She would tell them that there was not enough room for all of them. Kate knew there was no room in Tammy’s life for Kate. She would have liked having an older sister, but Tammy wanted nothing to do with Kate. She was jealous of Kate and Kate could not figure out why.

Mrs. Prescott was a smart woman but had no formal education. Whenever there was an opportunity, she would constantly reinforce the importance of an education and a college degree to Kate. On the few occasions when Tammy visited, Mrs. Prescott would talk about education and college.  Kate could hear Tammy’s disdain for her mother in her voice. She would sarcastically say to her, “Oh mother, get over it. None of us got a college degree and we are sorry that we all disappointed you. You have your Kate now, she'll graduate college, probably with honors, she does everything perfectly.” Her remarks made Kate very uncomfortable and a light went off in Kate's head as to why Tammy disliked her. At least Kate didn't have to try to avoid Tammy and her nasty comments since Tammy hardly ever visited.

The holidays were always the worst for Mrs. Prescott.  She would try to make each holiday joyous, but it was difficult since Mr. Prescott was set in his ways and being disabled made him very angry at times. He would try to help out, get frustrated, and then would give up because he couldn’t do very much with the use of only one arm. So Mrs. Prescott would have to do the holiday shopping, decorating and cooking.

Truly the worst times was when one of her children would call, just a few days before a holiday, and cancel on her. They would use the excuse that they had to spend the holidays with their in-laws but Kate felt that wasn't the real reason. One Christmas all three children cancelled. Mrs. Prescott never cried in front of Kate but she could see the hurt on her face.

So as the years went by it was the three of them. Kate remembers one Christmas Eve in particular; it was the year before she graduated college. She had never seen the Prescotts drink, but this year an old friend, who had once lived in the building, had come by for a visit. She was a lovely woman full of life and quite funny. She brought Christmas gifts for the Prescotts, all alcoholic in nature. The Prescott's drank that evening and reminisced about the good times and when they were all young. It was wonderful to hear them enjoying themselves. Kate believed there was a time in their lives when the Prescotts were happy and carefree. That night she saw a glimpse of what the Prescotts once shared in the past and it made her feel good. 

After her friend had left Mrs. Prescott said to Kate, “Do you know if I hadn't taken you in I would have spent these past three years alone with only my husband.  Thank you, Kate, for being everything my children are not. I am so proud of you. You have far exceeded my expectations for you. Promise that you will not become like them looking down on us once you have become successful in your life.”

“Never” Kate said to her, “I owe everything to you and Mr. Prescott.” Mrs. Prescott smiled at her and said, “You say that now, but when you meet a man and he becomes a part of your life, you will be embarrassed to bring him into this home. There was a time when my children were content to live in this little apartment, but you can clearly see that in these last few years, they never come.”

“Mrs. Prescott this is the only decent home I have ever known.  Do you know how horrible it was in the orphanage?  And in the other foster homes? I will never forget how the two of you took me in and took care of me.” She went to walk over to embrace her but Mrs. Prescott had turned away. She probably would have cried if Kate had embraced her. Kate understood and was fine with that. 

 

IN THE CAR

“Kate?” She looked at Gregg surprisingly.

“Didn’t you hear a word I said,” he murmured as he turned the car on to the highway.                    

“Sorry, I was just thinking about the past”

“Were you thinking about me and the first time we met?” he said with a smile and gave her a wink.

“I always think of that day, it was one the best days of my life.”

“What were the others?” he asked.  

She responded back, “The day I met Annie, my college graduation and the best day was,” as she was finishing the sentence she took his hand and said “The day you married me.” He squeezed her hand gently. He smiled with such admiration towards her.

Kate drifted back thinking of the day she had first met Gregg.

 

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

She had met Gregg at the Macy’s in Herald Square, where she was working the Christmas rush and assisting her girls. When Gregg came to her counter something magnetic tugged inside her chest. He wanted to sample a new men’s cologne and he insisted on Kate helping him. As he came closer her stomach did a strange and funny thing. It was as though a real butterfly was inside her, fluttering. He was flirting with her and asked if she had plans for New Year’s Eve. She thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t.

“I’m new in town and I don’t have any family and the holidays are so lonely. Could you take pity on this lonely guy and have dinner with me on New Year’s Eve?”

His words seemed to ramble on. They poured out of his mouth, and, transfixed on his face, she found it difficult to listen.  He gave her his business card.

“Think about it, I’m really a great guy, please call me. My name is Gregg Lawson, Kate.”

Kate was taken aback when he said her name and then Gregg pointed to her nametag and she smiled.

“I’ll have to think about it, you seem like a nice man,” she said to him. Gregg grinned as he walked away; he never did buy any cologne that day.

As the distance between them grew she waited for her insides to rejoin her frame. She had tried so hard to remain cool and professional, but his words took her on an elevator ride that stopped on every floor with a counterbalanced jolt.

As soon as he left Annie came running over and said, “Wow! Now that’s a good-looking man. Annie had overhead the entire conversation. You’re going to call him right, because if you don’t, I will.”

“He was nice looking wasn’t he?”

“Yes, so are you going to call him?”

“Yes, Annie, I will.”

The absence of longevity and safety that one particular home could have given her had left Kate guarded. Even in early childhood she was oblivious to any of the young boys that showed any interest in her, even if it was only as a friend or playmate. She saw herself as always having to move on. There was no foundation, upon which she could have built the concept of trust.

At college she made it a point not to notice the young men that were in her classes. She did observe a few of them watching her at times, but she would walk a little faster, or turn to look away. She didn't have time to date seriously or become involved with anyone. Studying so diligently, helping Mrs. Prescott, her internship, these things had filled her world and had made it easy not to address the subject of romance. She had met a few of her classmates for study dates in the library, but she always lost interest quickly.

The one unwavering bond in her life was with a girl she had met in her early teens, Annie. This staunch allegiance took the place of any family she might have known and loved.

Kate called Gregg. It wasn’t an easy thing for her to do. She felt giddy, almost silly, and realized that the only men she had ever called were business associates or doctors. She rehearsed several times, and with a very un-steady hand took the little leap of faith. It was all she had thought about for a week. The moment she heard his voice, she knew she was no longer a girl who could simply turn away. She was a woman; enraptured by a man she did not know. He was at the wheel, and she was ready and willing to go wherever he would take her. It made no sense, but Kate felt for the first time, as if she was above the clouds.

He had reservations at the Plaza Hotel and Kate met him there. He was waiting in the lobby and from afar Kate could see what an attractive man he truly was. He was over 6 feet tall, and had brown wavy hair. He was wearing a black tailored suit with a green shirt, which brought out his clear green eyes. His smile, his smile was what Kate noticed first.

He started walking towards her and said, “You are so beautiful, you are absolutely ravishing in that that dress.”

Kate being shy, put her head down, felt the blood rush to her cheeks and said, “Thank you.” 

Kate knew how good she looked this evening. She was working in the mall earlier that day and had her hair and make-up done. She was wearing a black sequined dress with a sexy little slit on the right side that showed just enough leg. The top was fitted, but not too tightly. It showcased her toned arms and sleek waist. Kate was a beautiful woman, but never knew how gorgeous she appeared to others. She had natural blonde, wavy hair, shiny and fluid. Her light blue eyes darkened around the pupils. She appeared to be taller than five feet, four inches because of her exceptional posture.

He put out his arm and said, “Shall we go in?  Our table is ready.”

Kate took his arm as he led her into the restaurant. It was grand. She had always heard about the “The Plaza” but had never been inside. The waiters wore white gloves and they pampered them with impeccable service. He told her that he grew up in Chicago and that his parents had been killed twelve years ago in an automobile accident. He was twenty-two years olds, in his senior year at college, when it happened. He went on to get his masters in Architectural Engineering and never returned home. Since that time he lived wherever there was work. Kate listened attentively, but did not tell him about her childhood in foster care.

After dinner they went on a carriage ride through Central Park. It was cold and Gregg wrapped his arms around Kate as he said to her, in a soft voice, “I'll keep you warm.”

Normally, Kate wouldn't have liked someone touching her so quickly. It was only their first date, but there was something different about him that made her welcome him into her personal space. It felt right.  Kate, turned her head slightly and whispered, “Okay.” 

In the carriage they could hear the voices and noises in the distance of people celebrating the arrival of the New Year. Being a gentleman, Gregg kissed her on her cheek, “Happy New Year, Kate.”  She returned the kiss, barely brushing his cheek. “This year is starting out to be amazing,” he said while looking into her eyes. She thought he was going to kiss her on her lips, but he didn't. She was a little disappointed but was relieved that he was willing to wait.

It was a magical evening. He hailed her a cab and asked if he could see her again. The thought of saying good-bye was almost painful. As she stepped into the cab their hands let go and she answered yes.

The following week they went on another date. They talked every day, and became a couple before she even realized that, aside from work, they rarely did anything separately.

One year had gone by and they were out to dinner at the Plaza Hotel. Gregg insisted on their doing this once a month. It had become “their place”. There were roses and a small gift box sitting on the table when they arrived. 

Gregg looked at her with his head to the side. His face only hinted a smile, and his voice was steady and serious. Kate could feel the endearment in his stare as he said to her, “I feel this is the appropriate place to ask you to be my wife, since this is where we shared our first date.”

He then took the ring from its gilded box and bending down on one knee said, 

“Kate, I need you to be my wife. I have been so lost for so many years and the first time I saw you I felt like I was home. I love you. Would you share the rest of your life with this lonely man?”

Kate was sobbing with happiness. She loved Gregg and threw her arms around his neck as she said, “Yes, yes, yes.”

Gregg reenacted their first date by taking the carriage ride through Central Park. Kate could not stop staring at her gorgeous engagement ring the entire evening. Gregg looked at her saying, “When the New Year rolls in this coming year you will be my wife and we will be celebrating every New Year’s Eve here in this park until the day we die.” He leaned over and kissed her passionately.

They were married six months later at City Hall. Kate could not believe how in just one year this one man had turned around her entire life.

Kate had kept her promise to Mrs. Prescott. She and Gregg would have dinner weekly at the Prescott’s apartment. Mr. Prescott truly enjoyed Gregg’s company.

 

BACK HOME

As Gregg was parking the car in front of her co-op, she just looked at him and thought to herself, how lucky she truly was, for now the possibility of owning a home was no longer a dream, it was about to become a dream come true. Kate and Gregg had been living in Kate’s one bedroom co-op apartment in downtown Manhattan. Kate had purchased the co-op five years before she met Gregg. She had not been unhappy there, but now, for reasons she could not explain, the space seemed cold and generic. It lacked color, texture, and anything that might have reflected her personal touch, a touch she had never explored. Gregg had never commented, nor did he seem bothered by the fact that it was merely functional.

 

There was still no news on the home. They waited anxiously for any word on the auction date. They were just about to give up hope on owning that home. Kate wanted to look at other homes but Gregg had insisted they should wait to see what the outcome of their bid.

Almost four months had passed before Tom called and told Kate that they won the bid and they were now the proud owners of 1198 Route 520. Kate called Gregg immediately and he told her they would be celebrating when he got home. Gregg, being an Architectural Engineer, could not wait to restore the house. He came home a little earlier than usual that evening with flowers and a bottle of champagne. He told Kate that he would take care of everything. He would hire the contractors and she would have the home of her dreams.

“Oh Gregg, I’m so excited, but really sad about leaving Annie.”

“You’re not leaving her, we are not moving that far away,” he said.

“We’ve lived in the same city since we were 14 years old. We have always taken care of each other. I feel like I’m deserting her.”

“Why don’t you sublet the apartment to her? You don’t have to sell it; we bought the house at such a great price. I have the money to do the restoration.”

“I like that idea of her having her own place. She meets the worst men, and moves in with them without thinking about the consequences.  She’s been doing that for years.” Gregg commented, “Not everyone is as practical as you.” Kate replied jokingly, “What do you mean, I just agreed with you to put a bid on a house sight unseen.” 

Kate immediately called Annie to tell her the news about winning the bid on the house, and also to ask her if she would like to sublet her apartment. Annie was thrilled for Kate and immediately said yes to Kate's suggestion. He heard Kate giggling. He knew, at that moment, Annie must be telling her some juicy story. Gregg went into the other room as he knew when the two of them were on the phone it would be hours before he would see Kate again.

book text © Patti Morelli

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