Sam thought he heard a faint clicking but it had been a long day and he couldn’t see anything that might have been making that noise. So he paid the cashier, said thank you, and walked out of the aisle. And that’s when he slammed into the kid. How did he not see him? It seemed improbable that he was there even a second before. Sam tried to stop him from falling, hearing the ‘oof’ sound that came from his diaphragm in slow motion as he fell backward.
“Oh my God,” Sam dropped his grocery bags, so glad there was nothing fragile in them, and reached out for the kid. “I'm so sorry.”
“How come I didn’t know you were there?” the kid asked, seeming just as baffled by the collision.
“Good question.” Sam held out his hands. “C'mon, I’ll help you up.”
The kid didn’t seem to respond to his outstretched hands. Sam looked at him strangely for a moment and then saw his eyes. The boy was blind. He was blind, on his butt, and confused.
“Its OK Mister.” He scrambled up from the linoleum floor. “I'm OK. A few bumps and bruises are good for you.”
“I'm not sure about that.”
“Stanley?” a pretty blonde woman rushed over with her shopping cart. “Oh my God, are you OK?”
“I'm fine Mom, I promise. I didn’t know he was there…I didn’t feel him vibrating.”
“I told you, it’s really cool but echolocation might be better for whales than humans. Next time we’re bringing your cane.”
“I don’t want the other kids to see me with that.” he whined. “I'm telling you this works.”
“I'm a little confused.” Sam said, interrupting what seemed to be a familiar battle between mother and son.
“I'm so sorry sir.” The blonde shook her head. “We’ve been having this argument since we got to town.”
“I'm not sir, I'm Sam.” He smiled.
“Oh, OK.” She held out her hand. “Hi Sam, I'm Kate.”
“Nice to meet you.” he shook her hand, clearing his throat as her name echoed in his ears. That was one he could handle never hearing again. Not as if that was her fault.
“I'm Stanley.” The little boy smiled and held out his hand.
“Nice to meet you too.” Sam shook his little hand. He couldn’t have been more than nine or ten. He had a head full of thick black hair and beautiful blue eyes that couldn’t see. Still, his smile was infectious.
“I apologize for the collision.” Kate said. “Stanley is working on this new thing called echolocation.”
“It’s how human can detect objects close to them by using sound.” Stanley said. “Sound should bounce off the object and they can tell its close by and not bump into it. The blind can also tap the front of their canes on the ground and it’s the same thing. I make the clicking noises, which gained popularity in the 1960s and 70s and is only growing. Maybe sound doesn't bounce off other humans. I’ll have to see if it’s in my books.”
“Echolocation sounds awesome.”
“Whales use it to find other whales in the ocean.” Stanley said. “Bats use it to so they can navigate in darkness. Humans, blind just like me, have climbed mountains and run marathons using it.”
“It sounds as if you’ve done a lot of reading on the subject.” Sam said.
“I had to so I could convince my mom to let me try it and get rid of the cane.”
“I'm still not convinced.” Kate said. “Are you alright, Sam?”
“Oh I'm fine. My dog might weigh more than Stanley; no offense son.”
“None taken.” Stanley shook his head.
“Hey Chief Kassmeyer.” One of the locals walked by waved at Sam.
“Hi Cheryl; tell your dad I said hello.”
“Chief Kassmeyer?” Kate asked.
“I'm the Newberry Chief of Police.”
“Do you have a gun?” Stanley asked.
“Yes I do, and no you can't play with it.”
“What about your badge?”
Sam pulled it out of his pocket. He handed it to Stanley and let him feel all over it. He was just as fascinated as any kid would be at his age with a real police badge. He hardly wanted to give it back. Stanley did so reluctantly.
“Did you just move into town?” Sam asked.
Stanley grabbed hold of the cart as his mother slowly moved toward the automatic doors. Sam picked up his groceries, keeping in step with her.
“We arrived two weeks ago. I got a new job as a law researcher at a civil firm in Manchester. It’s a nice town but all Stanley and I could afford there was a two bedroom apartment. I want him to grow up somewhere he can run around, get to know other kids, and not feel trapped. Little boys need fresh air and a place they can just be kids. No one ever got that in an apartment.”
“How did you hear about Newberry?”
“I looked up real estate online for Manchester and found a couple of houses for rent here. They called it a bedroom community but I'm starting to see it’s a town all its own.”
“Yes it is.” Sam nodded.
It was drizzling but neither of them seemed to mind. Once outside, Stanley let go of the cart and once again gave his echolocation a try. He stuck close to his mother and Sam was glad. Sometimes people around here drove like bats out of hell. He didn’t know how well his little sounds would bounce off the fender of a Dodge.
“We live on Canal Street.” Stanley said. “There are other kids there but I haven’t made any friends yet.”
“I told him to give it time; we just got here.” Kate said.
“I'm sure you're going to make lots of friends, Stanley.” Sam said. “Do you like school so far?”
“Its OK I guess.” He shrugged.
“We just got him fully enrolled and now he has an assistant to help him in the classroom.” His mother lowered her voice. “He's a brilliant little boy, working on a genius scale. But some want to assume he’s mentally deficient just because he can't see. How people can have that mentality in the 21st century I’ll never understand? He needs assistance for his blindness, not because he can't think.”
“I can hear really well too.” Stanley said. “I know you're talking about me.”
“The car is a few feet ahead young man, and no cars are coming. Get going.”
Stanley grinned, his sneakers moving a little faster as he clicked his way to a beat up minivan.
“There are lots of activities in town for a kid his age.” Sam said. “I'm sure he’ll have some challenges with his blindness but he seems like a go-getter.”
“I can hardly sit him still.” Kate said. “Thanks for being so great about him running right into you. Sometimes people are cruel.”
“Never.” Sam dismissed the notion. “I love kids and I work with them a lot. When you get better settled in, bring Stanley down to the police station. I’ll introduce him around, get him his own badge, and let him play with the police siren. Just give me a call.” He pulled a card from out of the pocket of his work khakis.
“Seriously? That’s really nice of you.”
“I wouldn’t mind showing you around either.” Sam smiled. “It’s a small town, a great walking town, but when you're new it’s not always easy making your way around.”
“Do new people come here often?” Kate unlocked her doors with a clicker and Stanley pulled the sliding door open. When she popped the trunk, Sam started helping her with her groceries.
“No. It’s nice to see some new faces, especially friendly ones.”
“Yours is pretty friendly too Sam. Thanks for helping me.”
“It’s my pleasure. You should get out of this rain though; I’ll take your cart back.”
“See you around Stanley.” Sam always held up his hand to wave but then remembered that the boy wouldn’t see him.
“Bye Chief Kassmeyer; it was nice to meet you!”
Sam took the cart from Kate and watched her get into the minivan. She pulled out of the space, honking her horn before driving to the exit of the Albertsons’ lot. Sam smiled, putting his two shopping bags in the front of the cart. He pushed it back to the cart holding pen, saying hello to at least four people as he did. Then he spoke to another three as he made his way over to his squad car.
The bags went on the passenger seat and Sam started the ignition. Now he was running late. It would be alright; the ride home was only about 15 minutes in traffic. Since it was just after four, Sam wouldn’t have to deal yet with commuters coming home from work in Manchester and even Boston down Route 101. He pulled out of his parking space and made his way out of the parking lot as well.
Jessie wasn’t the one who came running out to greet Sam. It was Bug instead, barking happily at the sight of his owner. Sam smiled too. He got down on one knee to say hello. Bug was a bit damp; he’d likely been in the side yard running around in the drizzle.
“What's up buddy? Did you have a good day Bug? Where’s Jessie, huh, where’s Jessie Bug?”
“Here I am.” Jessie came out of the kitchen, through the dining room wearing her typical smile. “I was actually coming down the back stairs when you walked in. I wanted to check on the chicken first.”
“It’s in the oven already?” Sam asked, opening his arms. His wife walked into them and they shared their first of many evening kisses.
“I wanted to cook it halfway before adding the other ingredients. You bought the steamed lobster meat, right?”
“Yes ma'am.” Sam picked his grocery bags up from the floor by his feet. “I got everything that was on your list. Sorry I was late but…”
“You met a pretty blonde at the market and contemplated running away with her.” Jessie finished his sentence.
“Huh?” Sam couldn’t help the strange look on his face.
“You met a woman at the supermarket today.”
“I…how did you…should I even ask…?”
“Remember what town we live in Sam.” Jessie smiled and hugged him again. “Who was she?”
“Her name was Kate, and I’d like to apologize for that even though I know that’s a bit silly.” He said. “Anyway, her son slammed into me as I was coming out of the checkout line. He’s blind and was practicing echolocation. He’s still getting the hang of it.
“So we started chatting and I walked her out in the parking lot to help her with her bags. They just moved to town recently and got a place on Canal Street. I offered to show them both around. Who called you? Am I allowed to ask that or is it breaching some kind of gossip chain protocol?”
“Sarah called me from the diner because Meg called her really worried. I mean she's sure you wouldn’t cheat on me except in the pit of her stomach she’s not quite sure and then she freaked out because a friend would never keep something like that to herself. So she called Sarah for advice, God knows why, and Sarah said she’d take care of it so that Meg could stop worrying. She has enough to worry about Sam; she needn’t worry about that.”
“Well I hope that you know…”
“Don’t finish that sentence.” Jessie put her finger on his lips. “I need to get back to fixing dinner. You should go upstairs and get into your relaxing clothes. There’s time to take a shower if you want.”
“I'm really confused by what just happened here.” Sam said.
Jessie just laughed, kissing him again. She walked out of his arms and her husband sighed. It was disappointing that people would assume he was up to no good from just having a conversation with someone. Of course it probably wouldn’t have hit the Newberry grapevine if the woman hadn't been unrecognizable to folks. That still didn’t make it right.
They’d all smiled in his face, said hello with such exuberance. And he hadn't even seen Meg. Most likely she got it second hand from someone who had been there. Sam just hoped no one gave Kate Wolcott trouble about it. She was in a new town, trying to make a new life for her and her son. The last thing she needed was that kind of Newberry welcome.
“You like it?”
“I love it. I can't believe this is the first time you're making it.”
“Well I have made stuffed chicken before. This is the same concept with a few different ingredients.”
For dinner Jessie made stuffed baked chicken. She’d had boneless, skinless chicken breasts thawing in the fridge but she wasn’t sure what to do with them. Jessie cooked chicken a lot. It was good for them but could get boring. So she went online and looked up some new, fresh recipes.
She sent Sam to the market after work for all the ingredients she needed. Tonight Jessie stuffed them with lobster meat, three different melted cheeses, and just a touch of mayo to mix it all together perfectly. Jessie made baked potatoes and artichokes with the chicken, since Sam loved them. It was something a little different and the couple enjoyed it. She set up dinner in the dining room with candles and nice music playing on the satellite radio. There was nothing like a romantic dinner on a random Monday night to add a little more spark to their happy relationship.
“It’s still amazing.” He said.
“So tell me more about Kate.” Jessie said.
“I don’t know a lot about her.” Sam cut his chicken. “Like I said, she has a little boy. I think he’s about 10 and he’s blind. She's working in Manchester and renting a house here on Canal Street.
“That’s pretty much all we talked about, except for echolocation. Stanley seems like a great kid. And I did tell them that I’d show them around the town right? People probably think it’s easy to find your way around Newberry but its not really if small town living has never been your thing.”
“Is she married?”
“No, I don’t think so. She wasn’t wearing an engagement ring or wedding band.”
“Does she know that you are?” Jessie asked.
“I don’t think…Jess…”
“I'm just saying be careful Sam. One thing I need you to understand is that there isn’t a woman in the world who can completely trust her husband. She’ll say that she can but have this little weirdness in the pit of her stomach that she just ignores. I don’t have that feeling. I trust you implicitly. I know that you're a decent, wonderful man.
“I also know you're a happy man, which is important. That surely doesn’t mean I trust every woman you come into contact with, whether they’re new to town or I grew up with them. Show Kate around, get to know her. I’d like to do the same. Just make sure that you communicate that you're only available for friendship. You don’t want to send the wrong signals. Please don’t worry yourself that I'm concerned about your straying.”
“I would never stray.” He took her hand on the table. “I love you.”
“I love you too. Would you like some more sour cream?”
Jessie put a spoonful of sour cream onto his baked potato. He picked up her hand and kissed it.
“I think if you show her around before Friday then you should invite her and her son to come bowling with us. Jack is going to be there and Sophia as well so there will be other kids. I know Stanley is older than them but he’ll have a great time.”
“Oh that sounds like a great idea.” Sam smiled. “I think Stanley would really like that. Kate will too. She’s going to want to make friends here. I fear I may have gotten her off on the wrong foot. The least I can do is set it all straight. Thank you baby.”
“For what?” Jessie asked.
“Thank you for being the love of my life, the best cook, and one of the most amazing people I've ever met.”
“Wow, when you say it Sam, you definitely say it right.”
Kate and Stanley walked into the police station the next afternoon. The rain had cleared and it was a bright sunny day. School was over for the afternoon and Sam’s shift nearly so. Charlie Russet came over to the desk to greet them.
“Is the Chief expecting you?” she asked. She felt bad for eyeing the blonde suspiciously but had already heard about the Albertsons’ parking lot thing. Charlie had known Sam for his entire life. It was rare to think a man above reproach but she considered him to be. She didn’t know this woman.
“Yes. My name is Kate Wolcott and this is my son Stanley.”
“Hi.” Stanley said with a smile.
“Hello. Just wait right here and I’ll get the Chief.”
“Thanks.” Kate smiled as Charlie walked away.
The station was bustling as they prepared for a shift change. People were standing around talking and a radio was playing Eddie Money. Kate thought people might be staring at her and whispering. It had to be paranoia…she just didn’t recognize faces. Soon enough she and her son would blend in with other Newberry families. It wasn’t easy but being new wouldn’t last forever.
“Chief,” Charlie knocked on Sam’s door and went into his office. “Kate Wolcott and her son are here.”
“Great Charlie.” Sam smiled. “Thanks.”
“Is everything alright? She didn’t come to report a crime did she?”
“Oh no. I offered to show her and Stanley around town this afternoon. They’re new; I'm going to help them get a lay of the land.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Charlie asked.
“I'm thinking this has something to do with Albertsons’ parking lot.” Sam replied.
“Well you’ve known me long enough to know I barely pay attention to the spinning rumor mill in this town. I'm just looking out for you, and Jessie. I know people can be brutal.”
“I appreciate it but we’re fine. She encouraged me to make Kate and Stanley both feel welcome in the community. Everything is just fine.”
“OK Chief.” Charlie smiled and left the office.
Sam grabbed something from his drawer and walked out right behind her. Kate smiled when she saw him coming.
“Hi Chief Kassmeyer.”
“Hey Kate, its good to see you again.”
“Hi Chief.” Stanley said.
“Hey Stanley; I have a surprise for you. Hold out your hand.”
He did and Sam put the badge in it. He’d driven to Manchester that morning and got it specially made. He knew he’d see them today and thought it would be a nice gift for the boy. He was new and didn’t have any friends yet. A friendly gesture would go a long way.
“Oh boy, is this a real police badge?” Stanley slipped his hand out of his mother’s and ran it over the badge. “Wow.”
“It’s a real official Deputy badge.” Sam smiled. “I thought you’d like it.”
“I love it; it’s awesome.”
“Thanks so much Sam.” Kate said. “That was really kind.”
“No problem.” He came from behind the gate and led them toward the door. “I hope you're looking forward to a nice tour.”
“Are you sure we’re not taking up too much of your time?” She asked.
“I don’t mind taking time out for this. I don’t mind at all. This is a small town and people can be wary of someone new. If I introduce you around it could go a long way. I just want you to settle down comfortably. Newberry is a great town and you guys are going to enjoy it here.”
“I think we will too.”
“I love the way the wind smells here.” He said, inhaling deeply through his nose. “It’s definitely different than Buffalo and even from Manchester.”
“I love it too.” Sam smiled. “I lived in Boston for years after college but soon I came back home. I missed the smell of Newberry.”
“I understand.” Stanley nodded.
“Speaking of smells, there is one more place I want to take you guys. Do you want to experience some beauty?”
“I do.” Kate smiled.
“Me too.” Stanley said.
They walked another three blocks, enjoying the last of the day’s sunshine. Soon they were walking into Baird’s Flowers. The bell above the door rang and Bobbi looked up from her laptop.
“Hey Chief, you're early tonight.” she smiled.
“I brought some guests with me. Bobbi, this is Kate Wolcott and her son Stanley. They’re new to town and I'm showing them around.”
“It’s great to meet you.” Bobbi came around the counter to greet them.
“Wow, it smells amazing in here.” Stanley smiled. “I think there are roses and sunflowers and poppies too.”
“I should've known he knew flowers.” Sam smiled. “He's brilliant.”
“Do you want to feel some flowers, Stanley?” Bobbi asked.
He reached out his hand for hers and they walked away to the other side of the store where so many flowers lay waiting to be perused and bought.
“This is a beautiful town Sam.” Kate said.
“Thanks. I know it’s not all my doing but I'm still very proud.”
“Well you do keep it safe so it being beautiful does have something to do with you. Bobbi said you were early tonight. You come to the floral shop often?”
“I buy my wife flowers every Tuesday evening for family night.” He replied.
“She's a very lucky woman.”
“I hope you meet her soon. She told me to invite you and Stanley to the bowling party we’re having on Saturday afternoon. There will be other kids there, a little younger than him but I think he’ll still have fun. And you can meet more locals.”
“People aren’t normally as nice as you…at least that’s been my experience.”
“Welcome to Newberry.” Sam smiled.
“Why do I have a feeling this is more of a Kassmeyer thing than a Newberry thing?”
“Mom, check it out!” Stanley exclaimed. “Some of them are smooth and silky. Some are bumpy or rough or prickly. Some even tickle my hand.”
“What kind of flowers am I getting you today, Chief?” Bobbi asked.
“Do you have any dark red dahlias? I think Jessie would love those.”
“I certainly do.” she put her hand on Stanley’s shoulder. “Stanley, you just keep feeling; I'm going to get these flowers for the Chief.”
“OK.” He smiled. “C'mere Mom, this is awesome.”
“I'm coming.” Kate turned and smiled at Sam. “I’ll be right back.”
“Good evening Mrs. Kassmeyer.”
“Good evening Chief Kassmeyer.” She walked out of the door, closing it behind her. “What are you hiding?”
“I bought you flowers.” he handed her the dahlias.
“Oh Sam, they're beautiful.”
The flowers weren't a surprise; he gave her a dozen every Tuesday evening since their one week anniversary. Jessie loved each set and put them in a vase on the buffet in their living room. For one week they got to shine until they were replaced with another dozen. The flowers were just one more amazing thing about her husband. She would've loved him just as much if he never thought of it. But Sam was Sam because he had.
“I'm glad you like them.” Sam wrapped his arms around her and kissed her lips. “You look beautiful tonight baby.”
“I really just threw this on; Scout’s honor.”
Jessie wore a pair of black sateen cropped pants and a maroon ribbed v-neck from The Gap. She wore a pair of black ballet flats on her feet. Sam said it was OK to dress casual for their night out but Jessie wasn’t in the mood for jeans. She wore them practically everyday so something different made her feel good. Her husband’s compliments weren't bad either. Down on the curb, he opened the passenger side door of his Mustang for her. Jessie smiled as she slipped inside.
“How was your day?” she asked when he was in the driver’s seat.
“I did a bunch of chiefly things today…you would've been proud of me baby. Kate and Stanley came by and I gave them a good tour of the town. I also invited her to our bowling party on Saturday as per your request.”
“Oh good. Are they going to come?”
“I think so.” Sam nodded. “She also knows that I'm married now. She’s looking forward to meeting you.”
“I'm looking forward to meeting her as well.”
“And hopefully settling down will be easier for her and Stanley now that I've introduced them around. I don’t want her to forever be known as the blonde hussy from the Albertsons’ parking lot.”
“That would be horrible, but so Newberry.” Jessie shook her head.
“Where are you taking me tonight?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Are you sure I'm appropriately dressed?”
“You look beautiful. Its nothing fancy and special, just date night.”
“Sam,” Jessie reached over and caressed his hand on the steering wheel. “Every moment we spend together is special.”
“See, this is why our friends hate us.” Sam laughed, taking a moment to glance at his wife before focusing again on the road ahead.