Finding Her Peace

By Kerry Nelson Selman

Romance, Women's fiction, General fiction

Paperback, eBook

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62
8 mins

Chapter One

Stay! Yes, stay—just a little while longer. You do not need to do this, Katherine.
Kate Harrison stirred with the pre-dawn light. It had just gone five o’clock and, although early spring, the remnant heavy frosts of the long winter had not yet finished for the year. Kate tested the room temperature; her arms snaked from under the covers before quickly burrowing back down under the comforter.
It’s so snug and safe in here.
She was toasty warm nestled in her much-cherished brass bed, and it was very early, of that there could be no doubt. The antique bed had been her first purchase for the boutique farm-stay accommodation she was working toward and she planned to enjoy it for as long as possible.
You have no need to be up at this hour. … Yes, Katherine—actually, you do.
The inevitable conversation continued in her mind. It was now impossible to relax back down into even a half-sleep. She did need to get up. There was a reason for being up and out at this time—and Kate knew it.
She threw back the blankets and comforter and shivered in the old T-shirt that was her concession to the cold mountain nights. Kate was not one for nightgowns or pjs—without fail she awoke feeling restricted, with them somehow twisted about her—and she certainly had never been one for slinky nightwear or femme fatale lingerie. Kate had never been a game player.
Maybe that’s been my problem over the years.
In any event, she had learned long ago to be brutally honest with herself, about herself; she was as equally confident of her considerable talents as she was acutely aware of her deficiencies. After forty-five years, Kate well recognized those areas in which she would always be found wanting.
A long sleeved wool T-shirt was layered over thermals before pulling on thick leggings, and topped with her favourite fleecy top, now faded to the palest of salmon-pink after so many washes but, with its huge roll collar, still as snug and warm as ever.
Next, icy cold water on the face ensured she was awake, her favourite herbal toothpaste freshened her mouth, a smear of moisturizer soothed her skin and one deep inhalation allowed the calming blend of Lavender and Neroli oils to soothe her spirit.
Passing through the kitchen, she added a couple of logs to the slow combustion fire and flipped the coffee maker to life with a well-practiced economy of movement. She moved through the kitchen to the mudroom for her joggers while twisting her chestnut hair up the back of her head.
Grabbing a pale grey county cap and cashmere scarf, she tucked her hair firmly under the cap, adjusted the roll collar and scarf at her neck and glanced at her watch as she pulled on gloves—as usual it had taken only ten minutes to be ready, and out through the back door, right on five-fifteen.
The countryside was a sea of white ice and soon the sun’s early morning rays, diffused through the mist, would bring the fantasyland to life. It was a sight she had come to know and love over the last few months. The long driveway leading from the old farmhouse was lined with towering pine trees planted by an early settler more than one hundred years ago and frosty icicles now glistened and dangled from their dark green needles. Kate smiled as she walked along the gravel driveway, listening to the crunching under her feet, and thanked the Fates for bringing her here. She loved this place with a passion that she had not known possible, and her life in the city was now a distant blur. Life in the city was the story of someone else, a lifetime ago. Incredible to think she was unaware this place existed a year ago—until the solicitor handling Jimmy’s estate had contacted her. What a strange turn of events had brought her here. But there could be no doubt that this was where she was meant to be. This was her place in the world.
Kate giggled as she opened the old timber gate with light-handed ease; the original rough-hewn gate had now been hung so that it actually swung.
Sure beats lifting and dragging—this old boy was built to last, that’s for sure!
The builders had been keen to install a smart new gate and replace the fencing but Kate would have none of it; the gate and old post and rail fence had been repaired and restored to their original glistening white. Closing the gate, she turned east. Kate walked for an hour every morning, returning home with the sun at her back.
The mountain air was fresh and, as always, the mist would clear to reveal a beautiful spring day. Kate verbally exhaled a long slow breath as random cleansing thoughts ebbed and flowed through her mind.
God, I love this place.
Winter was over. She had made it. Sure, the old farmhouse was warm now that the restorations were complete, but living through mountain winters can be difficult. She knew, full well, that few expected her to last and most back in the city could not even begin to understand her decision to try.
Thankfully, I no longer feel a need to explain. Explaining always felt like defending—I hated that. I always felt like energy was being sapped from me.
No wonder I never felt strong, sure of my choices: I was forever explaining why I was doing what I was doing to the peanut gallery!
Kate was pleased with her growing inner strength. For the first time, she felt good about herself, comfortable in her own skin. The family and colleagues she’d left behind had always seen her as smart, chic, and ready for any occasion; her mother had taught her the importance of looking the part and Kate had always presented well.
But now their reactions ranged from confused to disdainful—the make-up, jewellery, classic wardrobe, and stilettos had been replaced with lipstick, moisturizer, jeans, and well-worn elastic-sided boots. Her mother explained it as some kind of amusing mid-life premenopausal crisis as the big five-o loomed—the novelty of playing country would soon pass. Kate chuckled. Her mother saw her as approaching fifty, while she thought of herself as merely forty-something.
At the very least, Kate now understood why the support she had expected, and indeed needed after those fateful mornings, had not been forthcoming—as always, she’d covered well, and they had seen what they had wanted. The charade was complete and she had played her part in the game.
She now realized just how adept she had become at always looking the part and maintaining the façade. Kate had learned well at her mother’s knee. How others saw one was all-important; the impression and perception of others was everything. She had deliberately and diligently reinforced the sturdy wall with which she had long surrounded herself, and life had gone on. Only Jimmy had wept for her.
Kate shook herself out of this reverie. It was a new day. She was safe. She was happy. Life was good. No longer a victim, she was survivor. She’d made it on her own. She no longer relied on others for her happiness—after all, her happiness was no-one else’s responsibility. This had been a difficult realization at first, but she now accepted that it never had been … and most of the time she felt at peace with that reality.
She understood that she was not a woman to inspire men to fight for her, but it had been disappointing to accept that she could not even move them to anger for her. The irony of such old-fashioned thoughts was not lost on her. Kate had always been an achiever—it was in the genes—and she had always done it on her own. She may have been a genial nature, but if there was a battle to be fought, she would lead the fight. She was not one to hide behind another. However, she had assumed that those she loved would always be there for her.
Dammit, they should’ve been there!
Did she really expect them to go to battle for her?
You bet! And it hurt like hell when they didn’t.
She took another deep breath of mountain air, and then another. Each long inhalation of fresh air seemed to cleanse; each slow exhalation soothed and healed as she let go a little more.
Thank you, Jimmy, for this gift. Aah Jimmy … dear Jimmy.
She’d not even known his last name. It had never been offered—and then she’d become acutely aware that she had never asked.
Why was that? Was I really so locked-down, so busy getting on with it?
James Gilbert had always been Jimmy to Kate, an ageing bagman in an old greatcoat who lived on the streets of Sydney. Kate and her partner, Iain, operated an up-market café, The Goose, in the city’s east.
Jimmy had been going through the garbage at the rear of the café early one cold morning. Kate had been baking for the day ahead. She was surprised to see him and had taken him a coffee; she would forever remember the look in his tired old eyes as she offered him that first steaming cup.
There’d been a knowing gentleness there—a kind of immediate trust. He wanted no pity, and knew that she offered none. That trust blossomed into an easy acceptance, a mutual respect, and an early morning ritual of coffee and freshly baked muffin whenever Jimmy chose to call.
He was a big man, both in body and spirit and, to Kate, a wise old street philosopher whose gentle words always left her smiling and, very often, calmly reflective as her busy day began. Jimmy had a face that hinted at the journeys he had made and Kate was completely enchanted by him.
A family friend had once described a young Kate as a woman of pause—an unusual observation she had politely acknowledged, privately mused over, and dismissed. However, talking with Jimmy, Kate had recognized what it was to talk with someone who truly had great pause. He had the ability to really listen. He took the time to hear what she was saying and gave her words careful consideration.
More than a good listener, he allowed her time to form her thoughts before she spoke them and, with Jimmy, she had found the confidence to give first voice to many long-hidden thoughts and dreams. It was a sense of pause that would regularly draw her out and, ultimately, he would even hear what she did not say.
Never judgmental, content to occasionally agree to disagree, Jimmy would often leave Kate with a simple question that she may wish to consider, reconsider, or reject. Although fascinated and intrigued, Kate did not pry into his past, instinctively knowing he appreciated her absolute acceptance of him, respect for him, and their friendship.
Of course, Iain and her parents were horrified that she would encourage an old vagrant to hang around the chic premises, even though it was in the early hours prior to opening—that she would actually take a half hour to sit with him absolutely mystified them and questions constantly ran thick and fast.
What do you think you’re doing? What will people think? What on earth could you think of to talk about … why would you try? For goodness sake, Katherine, where’s your sense of propriety?
Her urbane father was a lawyer with a much sought after client base comprising the city’s establishment; her stylish mother was an interior designer with a client list comprising the city’s fashionable elite. She’d realized too late that Iain was simply a snob who lived solely to preserve his inclusion as one of the adored and assured see-and-be-seen crowd. Not only decidedly irritated, Kate was also highly embarrassed by the attitudes voiced by all three.
Casting her mind back to the many disputes over Jimmy, she was aware that neither her parents, nor her partner, had been worried about her welfare in the early hours—their only concerns were those of appearance.
Yet that gentle man with soft grey eyes and quiet voice was more engaging, more articulate and more insightful, than any of them could ever hope to be. Jimmy simply chose not to acknowledge them, which Kate found interesting to witness; none were accustomed to going unnoticed and Kate had been quietly amused by the dynamics of such encounters. Jimmy did not simply ignore them; he seemed to have the innate ability to actually not see them.
He had a profound effect on Kate, of that there could be no doubt. Looking back, she recognized that her life began to change from the moment she handed him that first cup of hot coffee. Yes, Kate was the richer for having known Jimmy and she would be forever grateful for the gift of his friendship. He had taught her what it was to truly have pause and the student would spend a lifetime striving to emulate the master.
She remained deeply saddened that he had died alone and remembered well the mind-numbing shock at being contacted by his solicitor. The fact that Jimmy actually had legal representation should have been surprise enough—but the information she received at their meeting over-shadowed all other thoughts.
Jimmy had not been destitute. In fact, he had left quite a tidy estate, which included twenty acres a few kilometres outside the town of Bradford, situated a few hundred kilometres southwest of Sydney and north of the Snowy Mountains and the High Country. The bulk of Jimmy’s estate was to be divided between various refuges for the homeless, but the Tablelands property had been bequeathed to Kate so that she might find her peace.
The solicitor quietly informed Kate that Jimmy had been devastated he’d not visited on the morning of the first incident; he’d been desperately ashamed that he’d been drowning his own demons in the bottle on the morning of the second. He had changed his Will within a few days, believing that Kate would be ready to heal by the time it was read. Jimmy knew that his would not be a long life, and now felt complete.
Jimmy had loved this part of the country, and had purchased the property as a young man. It had appealed to his young whimsical nature. As a young man he’d even found personal meaning in the town’s name. Bradford, traditionally a broad crossing across the ford, gave him a feeling of space and openness to connect with that which he was searching for … a crossing point to connect. He was conscripted and sent to Vietnam and, like so many other veterans, had returned a different man. He’d dropped out and later dropped down through the cracks of the various support agencies, ending up on the streets. Before he left for Vietnam, Jimmy had placed his affairs in the hands of his old friend and solicitor who continued to look out for his interests, even in death.
A neighbouring land owner had been informally grazing stock on the majority of the land—there was no formal lease but he maintained fences and managed the land well. Until recently the farmhouse, and surrounding couple of acres, had been leased to local teachers, but the property was in need of substantial repairs and had been empty for the last year or so. The solicitor had advised there was no onus on Kate to keep the old property and, indeed, she could probably fetch a decent price from the neighbour who had, for some years, expressed a desire to purchase.
“James didn’t intend his bequest to be, in any way, burdensome to you, Kate.”
“It sounds … magical.”
“The climate can be extreme, Kate, and the name probably came from hard-working settlers looking for a new life. I know there’s an area nearby that locals call Celtic Corner … and Jimmy was one of life’s seekers, that’s for sure. I’m a city boy. It’s never appealed to me. I just made sure it was maintained for James.”
She had appreciated the solicitor’s kind manner but selling Jimmy’s gift was not an option. He had presented her with a challenge, and an extraordinary opportunity, with specific instructions that Kate should find her peace. To do less would have been foolish; to do less would have been totally unacceptable to Kate.
Yes, James Gilbert had enriched her life in so many ways. His spirit had left a trail through her heart, and his legacy had changed her life forever.
As she walked, Kate could often feel his presence … as if he protectively enfolded her in that old greatcoat, and a great calm would engulf her.




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