If you haven't read my first story....... Click Here First!!!!
If you have read my version of what happened in Hazard, Nebrask,
Then you are invited to "Return To Hazard"!
If you've already read the preface then
click hereto go to "Homecoming."
if you're just starting my story,
begin below with "The Summons".
Eric slowly hung up the phone, obviously in shock. He turned toward Cassie when
she placed her hand on his shoulder.
"What's wrong Honey?" she asked.
"That was my lawyer. Apparently they've found an old land deed that lists me as the
inheritor of an estate in Hazard," he explained.
"You're kidding?" She piped back, surprised.
"No. The deed states that I have to either claim the property or return to Hazard to
sign it over to the County."
"Why can't your lawyer take care of this for you?" Cassie asked, knowing how Eric
felt about returning to Hazard. She could tell that he was trying to remember his lawyer's
"The deed specified that 'parties involved must be present before September 2nd of
this year' to sign over the property or assume ownership by default and all due taxes," Eric
"That really sucks," Cassie told him and he chuckled. "I'm serious," she continued. "I
can't believe your lawyer can't take care of this. Did he say how much the back taxes were?"
"Apparently the property was willed to me at least three years ago. That means
there's at least three years of back taxes. If I sign something called a Non-informed
Inheritance document then I don't have to pay them," Eric explained as he sat down on the
"So you have to go back there?" she half whispered.
"I haven't been back to Hazard in almost 10 years," Eric said, his voice shaking.
"I know," Cassie comforted. She sat down next to Eric and wrapped her arms around
Ten years ago Eric walked away from Hazard after Mary's funeral and never looked
back. He followed the interstate, vaguely remembering two cars stopping to give him rides. It
was almost completely dark before Eric even realized it. He rented a room and went to have
something to eat. He fell asleep easily once his hunger was satisfied.
His mind cleared a little by the next morning and he continued heading west, knowing
that he would eventually end up in Colorado. The previous couple of days still weighed too
heavily on him to think much beyond that point. Through most of the afternoon, however, he
did slowly come out of his emotional withdrawal. Thanks to three rides this time, Eric arrived
in Denver late that evening.
Eric knew he had enough money to last about a week, possibly two if he stuck to the
basics. So, he again rented a room, bought a newspaper and began hunting through the
classifieds. He found four job possibilities and went to sleep feeling better and knowing that
he had at least a little idea of what to do next.
The first three jobs Eric tried the next morning were a waste of time. Even though the
paper hadn't specified it, they had wanted someone with at least a little experience. The
fourth was a clerk/currier position at a design agency. Without a car, Eric figured he had little
chance at that one but he tried anyway. He did have file clerk experience from working at
Doctor Avery's medical clinic back in Hazard.
As it turned out, they were more interested in hiring a file clerk, so Eric got the job.
They supplied him with a company car when they needed Eric to run errands, but he
basically worked in the offices helping to keep projects moving smoothly between the
About a year later, one of the chief architects saw Eric idly sketching on his lunch
hour. He asked Eric if he'd ever had any formal training at it. Eric said no but that he always
liked to draw. The chief architect took his drawing to the head of the creative department
and, a week later, Eric was enrolled in design school at the company's expense. Within two
years, Eric became one of their top designers.
He met Cassie about two years later at an advertising convention in Denver and they
hit it off right away. Like Mary, Cassie took Eric as he was and never pressed him about his
When he did open up to her, she never judged him or criticized the way he'd handled things
when he was younger. They dated seriously for over a year before moving in with each other
and had lived together now for three years.
Eric's only relative still living in Hazard was his cousin, Kelly. Her mother had taken
Eric in after his mother had died. Kelly's mother had always blamed herself for how Eric left
Hazard since they were away on vacation when he lost Mary. She knew Eric probably still
would have left, but not without some semblance of where he might go.
A year after he and Cassie moved in together, Kelly's mother had been diagnosed
with an inoperable form of cancer. She fought hard for over a year but, eventually, her body
just gave out. About a month before she died, Eric had spoken with her on the phone. He
again tried to make her understand that he didn't blame her for the way he'd left Hazard. By
the time they'd hung up, Kelly's mother had also finally forgiven herself.
Kelly had convinced Eric not to come home for the funeral, even though he insisted
because they were family. She told him that, though most of the town seemed to have
moved past what had happened, there was still some bad blood toward him. Instead, Eric
met Kelly in the nearby town city of Lincoln about a week after the funeral. This time it was
his turn to carry guilt for not being able to be there for Kelly at a time when she really needed
him. By the time he'd headed back home, Kelly had chipped away his guilt and in his
opinion, they were closer than ever.
"Definitely need to let her know," Eric said.
"What do you mean, Honey?" Cassie asked patiently.
"I'm sorry, Cass. Guess I was thinking out loud," Eric said. Cassie smiled and shook
her head. "What I meant was, that I should call Kelly and tell her that I'm finally coming home
for a visit."
Cassie pulled him a little closer. "Okay, so when do we leave?" Eric gave her a
confused stare. "I know I don't have to go with you," she continued. "If you're absolutely sure
you can go back there alone, I'll stay here, but you don't have to."
Eric kissed her forehead. "I'd be grateful for the company. To be honest, I'm scared to
death to go back there," Eric admitted.
"And you don't have to alone, not as long as we're together," Cassie reassured. "So,
when do we leave?" she asked again.
"This morning. My lawyer said I have to be in Hazard for a meeting at seven tonight."
"Okay. You call Kelly and I'll call our offices and let them know we won't be in until at
least Wednesday," Cassie offered.
"Why are you so good to me?" Eric teased as he pulled Cassie to her feet and kissed
her. She responded eagerly, then pushed him away and told him to make his phone call.
They packed some clothes and were on the road by nine o'clock.
The drive to Hazard was pretty quiet. Cassie knew not to intrude on Eric's thoughts
unless he wanted to talk. So much was still bottled up inside of him, even after 10 years.
Cassie knew that Eric had to be the one to open up or he'd just withdraw further away.
As they rounded a curve, Eric slowed the car and stopped. The bridge leading into
Hazard lay before them. Cassie placed her hand over his and nodded. Eric smiled, put the
car in gear and headed into the town he'd sworn never to set foot in again.
Nothing had changed in 10 years: The same farm houses were right by the river; the
trailer park still sat off to the left with only the more expensive one's visible from the road;
and Town Hall still loomed over everything, visible even at this distance. Kelly's house was
just outside of Hazard's business district. Eric pulled into the driveway and slowly got out of
the car. The house looked the same as it did while he was growing up. Because Kelly's
mother had taken Eric in, some of the town's distaste for him had also fallen onto her.
At the time, Kelly's mom was divorced and trying to raise her daughter on her own.
Most people said she never should have taken Eric in because he was nothing but trouble.
But Kelly's mom never saw Eric as a troublemaker, just a small child who was dealt a harsh
hand at a very young age. Kelly's mom also made sure that Kelly understood that, especially
when other neighborhood children started giving Eric a hard time. Eric had pretty much not
let anyone get close to him while he was growing up until his friendship with Mary. But Kelly
still tried to include him in almost everything she did.
Kelly had heard them drive up and was waiting on the front porch. "Hi. It's been a
long time," she greeted, as she hugged Eric.
"10 years, unless you count after your mother died," Eric said. "This is my girlfriend,
"Eric's told me a lot about you," Cassie said as she also received a hug.
"How'd you break your arm?" Eric asked as they followed Kelly back into the house.
"Trying to keep little Emily Castle from falling off of the school's jungle gym," she
explained as she and Eric sat down on the couch. Cassie settled into one of the over stuffed
chairs across from them.
"That had to hurt," Eric commented. Kelly could see the anxiety just behind his eyes.
"Did they really have to make you come back here?" she asked with concern.
"According to the fax they sent my lawyer early this morning. The only way I can sign
over the land is in person," he confirmed. "We have to be at a meeting in Town Hall at seven
tonight. Besides, I've got Cassie to look after me." Eric winked at Cassie.
Kelly turned toward her. "Have you checked into the hotel yet? If not, I've got plenty
of room here for you if you'd rather," she offered.
"That would be great," Cassie accepted before Eric had a chance to decline. Kelly
giggled when she saw his surprised face.
"Good. I'll just get you settled, then I have to head over to Dr. Avery's office to have
my arm checked." She then turned back toward Eric. "Would you mind coming with me?" she
asked. "The last time I saw him, he gave me a pain injection that made me dizzy and I had a
hard time walking back home."
"Sure. We'll just get settled then I'll head over there with you," Eric accepted.
"You and Kelly go ahead. Just tell me which room you want us to use and I'll see you
later, " Cassie offered.
"You sure?" Eric asked.
"It'll give you and Kelly a chance to talk," Cassie said. So, Eric got their bags out of
the car then headed over to the clinic with Kelly. They returned about an hour later and Eric
and Cassie insisted on helping Kelly make dinner. While they ate Kelly explained in more
detail what had happened to her arm.
She'd been teaching first grade at the grammar school since just after her mother
died. She also helped out at the daycare center, which is where the accident happened. Little
Emily Castle lost here balance on the jungle gym and when Kelly went to catch her, her arm
slammed into one of the bars.
After they finished the dishes, they went back into the living room and continued
catching up. Though they'd stayed close, ten years was a lot to try and share while talking on
At about quarter to seven, all three of them left to walk over to Town Hall. Kelly knew
she didn't need to go, but her curiosity just wouldn't leave her alone. As they cut through
Town Square, they saw quite a few people standing around in front of the building.
"What's all this?" Eric asked nervously.
"These sort of meetings are generally open to the public, but I didn't think word had
gotten around." Kelly saw Eric's eyes widen. "I'm sorry, Eric. I thought your lawyer explained
more of this to you."
"He didn't," Eric said through clenched teeth. Cassie lightly squeezed his hand to
show her support, then all three of them crossed the street to Town Hall.
It looked to Eric like at least a third of the town's residents were already milling
around outside. Most were surprised when they saw Eric cross the street and head into the
building. A deep sigh escaped Eric's lips as he heard several angry whispers behind him.
Nothing's changed he thought and then was bombarded by even more people.
It was almost like walking past a receiving line. Cassie was introduced to one person
after another who stopped Eric to shake his hand and ask how he was. Several of those who
kept their distance flashed him angry stares, but most were actually delighted to see him.
They slowly worked their way to the front of the room and tried to sit down at the
respondent's table. With people still filing up to them to greet Eric and meet Cassie they
decided to remain standing. Eric saw Sheriff Drake and his wife walk in and all the color
drained out of his face.
"Do you need to take a break before all of this starts?" Cassie asked him.
"Maybe I'd better," Eric agreed. He again glanced over at Sheriff Drake who was
slowly making his way toward them as Cassie began hunting through her purse.
"Eric, is everything all right?" Kelly asked worriedly when she saw how pale he was.
Eric flashed her one of his roguish smiles. "I'm fine, Kell. Sheriff Drake seems intent
on coming over here, so I figured why take chances." He discretely showed her the
prescription bottle that Cassie had just handed to him.
Shortly after he arrived in Denver, Eric suffered several fainting spells. The doctors
discovered that he suffered from iron deficiency anemia and moderate anxiety disorder.
Because of his lower than normal red blood cell count, stressful situations easily
overwhelmed his anxiety maintenance medication. To avoid potential problems, he used
Xanax, a stronger narcotic when facing stressful situations in order to avoid a full anxiety
attack and possible anemic seizure.
"I'll be right back, " he told both of them. He walked over and whispered something to
one of the court clerks then disappeared through a side door to take his medication. He was
back at Cassie's side not 2 minutes later.
Sheriff Drake had made progress but had not yet reached the front of the room. Eric
saw a smug look leave his face as he again took his place by Cassie. He didn't think I could
face him Eric thought then paid him no further attention until he stood before them.
"Sheriff Drake," Eric greeted as he extended his hand, "It's been a long time." Eric's
voice was polite and never wavered.
The sheriff was thrown off guard. "I hadn't expected to actually see you here," he
answered a little uncertainly as they shook hands.
"My lawyer said I had to be," Eric replied then turned his attention to the sheriff's wife.
"Mrs. Drake, it's nice to see you again. This is my girlfriend, Cassie Roberts."
Sheriff Drake stood speechless as his wife first hugged Eric then Cassie and Kelly.
There was no way he could start anything now and not have the rest of the town turn on him.
He'd just have to hope for another opportunity.
Kelly breathed a sigh of relief as the sheriff and his wife continued over to the Town
Council's table. She fully expected Sheriff Drake to start something and was relieved and
proud of her cousin for not even giving him the chance. Now if we can just get through this
meeting she thought then felt little Emily Castle tugging on the bottom of her sleeve.
Jay and Jenna McConnell, the third husband and wife to serve as Town Clerk and
Registrar came in and the rest of the people began taking their seats. Jay called the meeting
to order then turned his attention solely toward Eric.
"Eric, I trust your lawyer explained what this is all about?" he asked.
"Only that I'm listed as an inheritor of property here in Hazard," Eric answered. "He
didn't have any of the specifics to give me to this morning."
"Then I will definitely begin by explaining what has happened," Jay stated then
glanced at Jenna to be sure she was ready at her stenography machine.
"Three years ago Charlie Davis passed away but left no mention in his will as to who
inherited his house and its surrounding property. Since he had two grown sons and there
were no objections, the County granted them the estate. Approximately one week ago, they
were served notice regarding unpaid taxes. They quickly disputed the notice and produced a
deed listing you, Eric Jacob and Mary Keller as the inheritors of the property."
Eric sat in shock as the entire room erupted with chatter. Most of them had known
about the deed being found but not who was named on it. That's why they'd turned out for
the meeting. Sheriff Drake glared at Eric who was too stunned to even notice.
Eric hadn't really thought about being back in Hazard until Jay had mentioned Mary's
name. Then his mind flooded with images. Most vivid was the morning of Mary's funeral.
Everyone had been treating him like a grieving husband but whispered accusations behind
his back. After collecting what little possessions he had left after the fire, he walked away
and hadn't returned to Hazard until that morning.
It took Jay three tries before getting the people to settle down. Eric blankly stared at
him as he continued.
"I know this comes as a shock to you, " Jay told Eric." The amendment added to the
deed listing you and Mary as inheritors was drafted about three months before she died.
Since she had passed away and you had moved out of town, Mr. Davis' sons never reported
the deed. Once they were hit with notice on the back taxes and turned over the deed, they
were relieved of any responsibility for those taxes."
"I thought the County could take over property for back taxes," Eric stated, his mind
again starting to clear.
"Normally they can," Jay answered," but because of the wording in the amendment,
you had to be notified of the property. Whomever Mr. Davis had draft that amendment, he
wanted to make sure you and Mary got his estate."
"Why?" Sheriff Drake interrupted angrily.
Jay turned toward the sheriff. "Apparently, he believed that Eric and Mary would
eventually be together and wanted to insure that they'd have a house of their own if they
Sheriff Drake had no response to that. Even he had to admit to himself that Eric and
Mary's growing relationship was obvious to see at the time. Since Mary had made it a point
to look after old Mr. Davis, she'd probably also mentioned her growing feelings for Eric.
Sheriff Drake's face was crimson with anger, but he said nothing. Here was not the place for
"So what do I do now?" Eric asked anxiously. He desperately wanted to get away
from all the staring eyes.
Jay passed Jenna a folder, which she then brought over to Eric. "This is a complete
file of everything concerning the deed in question. It outlines your possible options. You can
either assume ownership of the property and all due taxes, or assume ownership with the
sole purpose to sell. The amount of the taxes would be paid from the liquidation of the
property. Or, you can sign a 'non-informed inheritance' document, which relieves you of any
financial obligation to the property but also signs any profits from auctioning the estate over
to the County."
Now Eric did feel overwhelmed. He was glad he'd already used his anxiety
medication. "How long do I have to decide?" he asked through a shaky voice.
"Because of the issue of the back taxes, I can only give you until close of business
tomorrow," Jay informed.
"At least I don't have to tell you now," Eric piped back relieved. A ripple of laughter
spread through the room.
"By close of business tomorrow is fine," Jay confirmed through a chuckle. He
adjourned the meeting.
As they left the meeting hall, Eric was swarmed by people wanting to ask him
questions. He politely excused his way through them saying he was tired and just wanted to
go back to Kelly's and relax. Someone bumped him from behind and sent him sprawling into
Tammy Fredericks and almost knocked her down. There were still too many people around
him to be able to tell who might have pushed him. So, he just left all of them on the front
steps of Town Hall to speculate about what he might do.
Eric didn't say much as they walked back to Kelly's house. Everything he looked at
seemed to trigger old memories. If it hadn't been for Cassie lightly squeezing his hand
whenever he tensed up, Eric would have bolted. The worst hit came when they arrived back
at Kelly's house.
He stopped in the center of the front walk, staring at the porch. He remembered
clinging to the rail and crying when he was seven. Kelly's mother was trying to coax him
down the steps and into the car that would take him to his mother's funeral. He begged her
not to make him go, but eventually her comforting voice won him over. He jumped slightly
when Cassie touched him on the shoulder.
"Eric, Honey? Are you all right?" she asked worriedly.
"I'm fine. Just bad memories, " Eric told her as the glazed look left his eyes. He put
his arm around her shoulders and they went inside. Once in the living room, Eric sat down
heavily on the couch.
"I hope that meeting wasn't too much for you," Kelly said as she sat down across
from him. Cassie sat next to Eric on the arm of the couch.
"It's been a long day," Eric told her through one of his roguish smiles. "I'm just tired."
Kelly glanced at Cassie for confirmation of this and she nodded her head. "All he
needs is a good night's sleep," Cassie confirmed then added, "Will us sharing a room bother
"Oh not at all," Kelly piped back quickly." Otherwise I'd have made up both spare
bedrooms this morning."
Cassie stood up and lightly pulled Eric to his feet. "Then I think this little boy needs to
get some sleep," she teased. Eric hugged Kelly then followed Cassie into the bedroom.
Before going to sleep, Eric and Cassie decided to look over the file that Jay
McConnell had given them. Initially they were just going to skim through it, but found
themselves really discussing each of the options open to them.
They both quickly agreed against assuming ownership of the estate. Eric had no
intentions of ever living in Hazard again and also had no desire to keep the property as an
investment. That left trying to sell it or signing it over to the County.
The file included the recent assessment of the property listing its value at over 100
thousand dollars. With the current real estate market, Eric knew he could easily get 60 or 70
thousand for it, making this a very tempting idea. The only downside would be how long it
took to sell the house with the taxes continuing to add up the entire time. Still, even with the
taxes, Eric would stand to make a hefty profit from the sale.
After going through the entire file again, Eric and Cassie finally decided to sign the
estate over to the County. They just didn't want the burden of trying to sell it. They'd head
over to Town Hall in the morning to fill out all the necessary paperwork to have this matter
dealt with as quickly as possible.
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