By Alice Baburek
The gloomy day was cold and blustery. Abbey Norton stood rigidly next to her elderly father, who dabbed at his runny nose. Age had finally caught up to the sixty-five-year-old man. His eyes filled with tears as the priest recited the Lord’s Prayer. Abbey never saw her father as a religious man. In fact, she couldn’t even remember one time he stepped inside a church.
The half-dozen people who stood around the burial spot shifted on their feet as the wintry winds picked up, along with the falling snow. Abbey didn’t mind the weather so much. Her thoughts raced to her late grandmother—Allison Norton. She had been a feisty woman who built a thriving bed and breakfast—The Evergreen Inn. A fitting name for a three-floor cottage immersed in the middle of a forest of evergreens intentionally planted for the sole purpose of enhancing and selling its name. But the inn was much more than just money to Allison Norton. It was a dream come true. A successful legacy left behind.
As the elaborate coffin inched its way into the ground, Abbey’s father turned to leave. Wiping his nose, he briefly stopped and hesitated before turning around to face his only daughter.
“Abbey, I need to talk with you about your grandmother’s wishes.” And with that command in place, Alfred Norton left his daughter and trudged back toward the inn.
Abbey opened then closed her mouth, without saying a word. A younger couple came up and gave sympathy wishes on the loss of such a wonderful person. She was loved by all…and the compliments kept on coming. Abbey politely excused herself as she contemplated the last time she had visited with her grandmother. So wrapped up in her own world of graduating with a business degree from the local university, Abbey had put relationships on the back burner. Studying and taking tests left her little time to socialize and spend time with family. Now that her grandmother had passed, Abbey felt a tad bit guilty for not spending more time with someone she had grown so close to over the years, after the untimely death of mother.
Grandma Allison had stepped in to fill the necessary shoes her dying mother had left so long ago. Abbey had watched her grandmother raise herself up and open a thriving business when so many told her it could not be done. Allison Norton had beat the odds, along with raising her granddaughter.
It was hard for Abbey losing her mother to cancer at such an early age. She didn’t quite know how to grieve or what to do with the broken pieces left behind. Her father was not a family man. He worked and provided financially, but his “fatherly skills” were obscured with providing a means to live. Emotional support was given by her Grandma Allison, whose warm and cheery disposition lifted Abbey from a dark and dismal world, one where life goes on even after death claims its next victim.
And now Allison Norton was gone, leaving Abbey alone to fend for herself. Granted, she was twenty-three with a bachelor’s degree in business and had plenty of experience in social networking. But Abbey had lost her best friend, her sounding board, her pathway in life.
Allison Norton was more than just a grandmother. She was all Abbey knew, and now her grandmother was gone.
Abbey wiped off her wet shoes on the carpet inside the front door of the inn. A tiny bell jangled and announced her arrival. She instantly smelled the burning of firewood from the radiating fireplace in the lobby area. High back cushioned chairs decorated the enchanting room, beckoning a sense of relaxation. Twinkling lights surrounded the marble mantel, and giant snowflakes hung from the wooden rafters in preparation for the upcoming holiday—Christmas.
“May I help you?” asked the young attendant standing behind the highly polished, planked receiving desk. Her dark blue jacket read “Estelle.”
“Hello…I’m Abbey Norton. I’m meeting my father in my grandmother’s office.” Estelle’s smile vanished.
“I am so sorry for your loss, Ms. Norton. Your grandmother was loved by all her staff, and we will miss her terribly,” said Estelle.
“Thanks…I’ll miss her, too.”
Abbey’s eyes blurred. She moved quickly down the narrow hallway. The main office inside The Evergreen Inn had been remodeled a few years back, expanding electronic capabilities that included the entire inn granting free wifi service. Allison’s Apple laptop sat on the antiquated desk. Even in her advanced years, Allison knew technology was the future.
Alfred Norton stood by the large framed window, watching the snow pile up outside the inn. His coat and scarf were still on. He didn’t seem to hear Abbey as she entered the room.
“Dad,” called Abbey. Her father did not respond. “Dad…I’m here,” she said.
Alfred Norton slowly turned to face his daughter. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Allison was more than just my mother. Over the years, she became a dependable friend and confidante. She was a good woman, your grandmother, Abbey. She cared deeply for you. She missed the fact that you stopped coming to visit when you had the time,” said Alfred.
Abbey’s face grew hot. She knew she should have visited more often, especially during the breaks from college. But she was caught up in her own world and forgot the true meaning of family. Now, with winter in hand and the beautiful scenery outside, she could no longer sit by the fire with her grandmother and talk about her future escapades.
“I know, Dad…I should have come more often…and there is no excuse. I loved Grandma Allison, and I miss her dearly. What I wouldn’t give to have just a few more minutes with her. I didn’t realize how sick she had become,” she said, with a lowered head.
“You’re a grown woman, Abbey, and you’ve made choices that’ll affect you the rest of your life. I won’t sugarcoat the fact that I’m very disappointed in you. Allison raised you like her daughter after your mother passed on. I know I haven’t been the best father, and…I have to live with my mistakes, too,” said Alfred.
Abbey’s eyes teared. Sorrow was a heavy burden, and she felt it pushing her down. She sniffed back the tears.
“Why did you want to see me, Dad? To lay on the guilt trip? I know what I did…or should I say didn’t do…” Her words trailed off into silence.
Alfred Norton moved slowly to the desk. A single manilla folder lay on top. He didn’t even bother to sit down.
“Your grandmother’s will. Read it. It’s entirely legal. Sign on the bottom line, so we can both get back to our own lives.” He gently pushed the folder across the desk.
Abbey stood still. She had a hunch his request for her presence had to do with her grandmother’s passing. She shivered, even though the office was comfortable.
“Do you want me to read it now?” asked Abbey, not touching it. Alfred walked around the desk and through the open doorway.
“Yes…and Abbey, take care of yourself.”
With that said, her father left her alone to read the documents.
Abbey sat on the snow-covered bench, shivering from the unforgiving weather. The air was cold and damp as the snowflakes lightly fell from the winter clouds above. The white-covered grounds surrounding The Evergreen Inn remained silent.
How could her grandmother do this to her? She didn’t want—any of it. She had no clue how to run a business—let alone such a well-known and profitable bed and breakfast.
It took her a while to come to terms with the magnitude of her grandmother’s bequest. There was no shortage of money in the inn’s account, and plenty of it in her account, too.
Abbey glanced up at the cloudy sky.
“Why, Grandma? Why me? I don’t deserve any of this. I’m sorry I wasn’t here for you, especially at the end. Why didn’t you tell me you were so sick? You hid it from everyone…even Dad,” murmured Abbey as she wept for the loss of someone she loved so dear.
“Why not? You’re the perfect person to take over my legacy,” whispered a familiar voice.
Abbey wiped her nose with the back of her frozen hand.
“Who’s there?” she cried. Abbey instantly stood up and looked around. “Who’s there?”
But Abbey was alone.
“Great…now I’m hearing things,” she said to herself.
Minutes later, she was inside the lobby. She instinctively wiped her boots on the thick rug. Within the hour, she was busily reviewing the online Excel spreadsheets her grandmother had created. Her records were impeccable. Every cent accounted for, and then some. Allison Norton was a highly intelligent woman and business entrepreneur.
A tapping on the door made Abbey jump.
“Come in,” called Abbey.
The door slowly opened. It was Estelle, the attendant Abbey met when she came for her grandmother’s funeral.
“Ms. Norton? The staff…well…we’re wondering…now that Ms. Allison is gone…what will happen to The Evergreen Inn?” The young woman shifted on her short legs. The blue uniform hung loosely on her slim stature.
“Yes…I guess I should address the staff. Could you please round up whoever is working and have them meet me in the conference room? It’ll be brief,” said Abbey.
Estelle gave a slight nod and closed the door.
Abbey released a huge sigh. She was not a public speaker. In fact, she loathed going up in front of the classroom to deliver a speech. And now this would become a monthly requirement—staff meetings. She would have to learn the names of all the staff members, too. Their schedules. Who did what and when. Her shoulders dropped.
“You can do this, Abbey. You are a Norton. I wouldn’t pass along my entire life’s work to just anyone…but my granddaughter…well, she’s got the grit to get things done. Make me proud, Abbey,” said the familiar voice of her late grandmother.
Abbey jumped out of her chair, sending it flying backwards. Her heart beat faster as she swirled in a circle, searching for the body that came with the specific voice.
“Grandma…is that…you?” whispered Abbey. A coldness crept over her skin. The air turned frigid, and she could see her breath. “What is happening?”
“Abbey…don’t be afraid. I’m not really good at this sort of thing…yet,” echoed Allison Norton’s voice.
Abbey closed her eyes and recited a short prayer. “Please let it be my imagination,” she cried out loud.
She then felt a cool breath on the back of her neck. Her eyes widened.
“Grandma…is it…is it really you?” A gasp escaped Abbey’s lips as a ghostly figure faded in and out.
“Yes, Abbey, it’s me. I want you to know I have the utmost faith in you, my dear, to carry on and keep The Evergreen Inn alive,” said the spirit.
“Grandma…I’m so sorry I didn’t visit often, and that I didn’t call…I never knew you were sick. Please forgive me,” cried Abbey.
“Abbey. Stop your sniffling. I didn’t expect you to live your life around me. College is an experience in itself. But now that you’ve graduated with top honors, I am hoping you decide to keep the inn and run it the way you see fit. But I understand if you don’t. It’s a lot of work, and it takes guts and determination – which, by the way, I know you have, my dearest granddaughter. You’re a chip off the old block, as the saying goes. Again, Abbey, it’s your decision, and yours alone. I will always be with you in spirit. I love you, my sweet, sweet Abbey.” As fast as the swirling image appeared, it was now gone.
“Grandmother! Grandmother!” shouted Abbey.
She raced to the door and pulled it open. Estelle was on the other side and took a step back.
“Ms. Norton…are you all, right? I heard you shouting,” said Estelle.
Abbey looked at the young woman.
“I’m fine.” Abbey glanced down the hallway. “You didn’t happen to see anyone leave my office, did you?” Estelle remained silent.
“Never mind…it wasn’t important. How can I help you, Estelle?” Abbey slowed her breathing. Warmth surrounded her, pushing out the coldness that still lingered.
“The staff is ready for you, Ms. Norton—in the conference room, as you requested.” Estelle cleared her throat.
“I’ll be there in a minute. Thank you, Estelle,” said Abbey in a calm voice.
She closed the door and walked back to the desk. Something made her open the top drawer. Inside was a photograph. A vintage frame enclosed her late grandmother, dressed in winter attire, standing in front of The Evergreen Inn. The bright white snow glistened as the sun peeked through the endless evergreens. Abbey held the photo to her chest as tears silently dripped down her face.
Abbey’s destiny had been left by her grandmother. An inspiration and frontier in building a permanent legacy. She would do her best and make her grandmother proud. And maybe someday, Abbey could pass on the same inspiration to her daughter or son, to continue on with what her grandmother had started so long ago.
2 thoughts on “The Evergreen Inn”
Enjoyed the read!
Alice, as always, I have enjoyed the journeys that you’ve taken me on, through the years of reading your stories. Please continue into the future with many more. A friend, as always,. Mrs Patricia Mazzeo