Today's Reading

CHAPTER ONE

Henry grimaced, not sure which irritated him more—the persistent ache in his knee or the relentless voice in his ear.

"Please, Uncle Henry. She has nowhere else to stay."

The voice. Definitely the voice. "Last time I checked, there were these things called hotels." Henry adjusted the phone against his ear as he raised the dishwasher door with his cane and shoved it shut.

"Uh-huh," Kat's droll voice responded. "And when was the last time you checked? 1945?"

"If you're referring to the fire that destroyed the Westshire Hotel, I think you mean 1937."

Henry punched the quick-wash button.

"Ugh!" His niece's frustration competed in volume with the sound of spraying water. "I didn't call for a history lesson."

"Well, maybe next time you should. And maybe you should also read the newspaper every once in a while, because it mentioned the town fire in the 'This Day in History' section just yesterday."

"And what a riveting read that was, I'm sure. Point is our town doesn't have a hotel. Let the woman stay with you."

Henry shifted his weight, the floorboards beneath him creaking as much as his joints. "Why can't she commute?"

"From where?"

"I don't know. Peoria."

"She's flying into Moline."

"Okay then. Moline." Henry grabbed the frying pan coated in egg residue and plopped it into the sink. He'd get to it later. Along with the pile of dirty casserole dishes he needed to return to his office manager, Peg. The scent of garlic marinara still lingered in the air from last night.
 
Not Peg's best dish, but Henry knew what they said about beggars and choosers.

Perhaps his niece needed the reminder. "Look, if this lady doesn't want to commute, there's always the bed-and-breakfast downtown. Built sometime after the fire. You ask me, she's got plenty of places to stay."

"Not for free."

"What is she, a charity case?"

This time Kat growled loud enough to completely drown out the dishwasher. Loud enough to make Henry's lips twitch as he hobbled into the living room, his cane thumping a slow beat across the wooden floor. With the way life had been going lately, he'd take whatever pleasure he could find. And pushing his niece's buttons was one particular pleasure he never tired of.

"She's doing volunteer work," Kat said. "She's donating her time to a good cause. She shouldn't have to pay for shelter—not when I promised her a place to stay rent free."

"Sounds like your problem, not mine."

"Oh, for crying out loud, would you stop acting like a crotchety old miser? How was I to know my kitchen would flood as soon as I left for the summer?"

"You know why I don't have to worry about stuff like that?"

"Because you never go away?"

"No." Henry eased onto his worn brown leather sofa and propped his right leg on the coffee table, stifling a moan as he massaged his knee. "Because I have crotchety old miser insurance. Keeps me protected from kitchen floods and impromptu displays of hospitality."

"If only it protected me from your mediocre displays of humor."

Henry cracked a smile, scanning the couch for the TV remote. "How long would she need to stay here?"

"Not long. My landlord's already on it. Edith can move into my house once it's livable. I promise, you won't even know she's there. She's the quietest, sweetest lady you'll ever meet."

"I thought you'd never met her."
...

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