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Emily turned her thoughts from the unhappy past to her promising new life. To her place by the Little Deer river and the nearby town of Burnham. And also to Liliana McCarthy. Emily had met Liliana on her first trip out to Burnham, when she first came to look at the old place by the river.

Lili ran several businesses based around the old livery stables and warehouses in the heart of the town. She ran a hybrid book store and antique shop, a café that operated through the day and a restaurant which operated Friday to Sunday evenings. All of which operated under the same roof.

She also owned a small open gallery showcasing local arts and crafts, mostly run by volunteer contributors. And in addition to this, she co-owned the local pharmacy and news agency with a woman named Lorraine Watson, or Rain as she liked to be called.

And as if this were not enough Lili McCarthy was an inveterate tinkerer. One of those natural born fixer-uppers with the knack for keeping things going. Whether it was a generator, car or computer, Lili had the kind of mind that could deduce the problem and find the fix. She maintained a workshop behind the old stables filled with old cars and miscellaneous machinery in various states of perpetual restoration.

Lili thrived mostly on the steady traffic of weekend visitors from the city, seeking a little distance from the clamour of city life. Things were always slow in the winter of course, but come summer time Liliana pulled in more than enough revue to keep body and soul together. And to keep more than a few of the local kids in steady if somewhat seasonal employment.

Indeed so integral to the life of Burnham was Lili McCarthy, she had become a kind of unofficial town mayor. She had a lot of contacts at the shire offices in the nearby town of Coleraine. And she understood enough of the machinery of local government to get things done.

Burnham simply wasn’t big enough to sustain its own local council, but was administered as part of the shire of Coleraine. And Lili made damn sure the little town was looked after and didn’t get forgotten in council budgets.

Everybody in the district knew Lili McCarthy. She was well respected and universally regarded with great affection. She loved Burnham with all her heart and was a driving force in its preservation. And Burnham for its part loved her in return, for without her it would probably be a ghost town by now.

And Emily could surely see why Lili was so widely adored. She was energetic, eminently capable and concerned with the wellbeing of the community as a living entity.

Whether it was machinery or people, Liliana understood that maintenance and repair were critical to longevity. And she saw to the wellbeing of Burnham and its people just as diligently as she cared for everything else she loved.

Although she was by no means a busy body. She just seemed to be the one that people turned to for help, the one they could always rely on.

Lili was strong and resourceful, able to get things done decisively without being overbearing or aggressive. Lili simply had a particular way of helping people along to the right decision.

And if you were old with no kin of your own, you could bet your bottom dollar Lili would come calling. And you could be sure that by hook or by crook she’d see to your care like she was one of your own.

And likewise if you were young and struggling to make ends meet. For Lili McCarthy seemed to know everyone and could help you find a day’s work. Even when it seemed like there was no work to be had.

But woe betide the one who shirked their responsibilities or took advantage of another. And doubly so the man who took too much drink and put a black eye to their wife. For you could count on Lili bringing a reckoning.

Indeed on more than one occasion Lili had found it best to very publicly lay out some miscreant or other. Even going so far as to run one or two brutes straight out of town. And with their tails between their legs at that just so everyone knew what was what.

But strangely, Lili wasn’t in the least bit aggressive or unduly hard by nature. She was in fact a paradoxically quiet and soft spoken soul given to gentleness rather than severity. Everything Lili did she did out of love. And Emily could see the fundamental goodness of the woman plain as a bright summer’s day.

Emily liked Lili, in fact she liked her quite a lot. She was smart and well read, gregarious but without excessive ebullience. And there was a kind of calm warmth to her as well. But also a depth which suggested she carried some emotional burden. A hint of some kind of sadness or loss, a broken heart perhaps?

Although Liliana was by no means a melancholic figure, quite the opposite if fact. There was always a smile on her face and she was quick to laugh.

And again there was that juxtaposition, that odd duality that so endeared Emily to Burnham. And so endeared her to Lili McCarthy too.

Lili was kind of rugged looking in general, certainly no stranger to a hard day’s work. But she was beautiful as well, very beautiful in fact. She was tall and broad featured, shapely and obviously strong. But with the most classically delicate and refined features which contrasted handsomely against her considerable stature.

Some might describe Lili as a sturdy or substantial woman, perhaps even burly. But Emily could think of no more delightful a prospect than to be gathered up in those strong arms and wrapped in the woman’s embrace.

The simple truth was that Lili pressed all the right buttons for Emily and just thinking of her lent an extra beat to her heart.

Emily remembered the first time she met Liliana. She was sitting on the front porch of the old stables with a chainsaw on her lap, swapping out the old chain for a new one. And Emily remembered being taken quite by surprise by the gorgeous face that looked up from the task to return her greeting.

At first blush she looked rather incongruous in grubby work clothes and boots, her hands slick with two stroke fuel and bar oil. But that was who Lili was, industrious and capable and usually at least a little grubby from work.

Lili had invited her in for coffee and they talked for several hours. And Emily and Lili had connected right away. They each had enough in common to be interesting to one another and enough in contrast to be compelling too.

But more than that, there was a certain chemistry between them and sparks seemed to fly in the best possible way.

They had talked that afternoon as though they had known each other for a lifetime. Communicating with the easy familiarity of old friends rather than fresh acquaintances. Mutual fascination rapidly growing between the two alongside notions of possible romance too. Although neither had been willing to act upon that attraction much less speak to it just yet.

Lili had introduced Emily to Rain Watson, old Jean Lemieux the local lawyer and a couple of locals who drifted through the café as they talked. Everyone knew her and everyone seemed to love her. Yes indeed, Lili was quite something.

Emily speculated as she negotiated the rough road. Liliana said that she lived alone and wasn’t married. She and Rain didn’t seem to be a thing.

“Maybe Lili…?”

“Hmm….”

“Maybe….but first thing’s first.” Emily declared, putting her idle speculation regarding the eligibility of the beguiling Liliana to one side, in deference to taking things one step at a time.

The road was now running along the banks of the hauntingly gorgeous Little Deer River. And the thought of building a new life in such a magical place excited Emily right through to her bones.

Lili had put her in contact with a local named Hannah Miller, who worked odd jobs here and there doing whatever needed to be done. She worked part time for the government, mostly survey and tagging and tracking work. But she made ends meet taking whatever odd jobs came up. And fixing up the old place outside town suited her down to the ground.

So on Lili’s advice Emily hired Hannah to fix up her new home by the river. To get it into shape while Emily settled her affairs in the city.

The property had become overgrow and a little dilapidated since it was last occupied. And the house was badly in need of work, especially the roof. There were a lot of general repairs to be done and a fresh coat of paint would certainly help.

The old house was structurally in surprisingly good condition but superficially it was a shambles. It was in pretty good shape inside and was fully furnished with aging but sturdy and well-constructed furniture. But the place would need a hell of a lot of cleaning up before it was acceptably habitable.

It wasn’t too far out of Burnham, as the crow flies at least. Indeed Emily could have walked the distance to Burnham in less than an hour were it not for the impassable terrain.

And although the house was connected to the electrical grid and phone lines, everything was old and in a state of disrepair. But Lili had helped Emily to get a linesman out to make any necessary repairs and get her properly connected and in touch with the world.

When Emily had first looked at the property it was so overgrown that it felt like the middle of nowhere. But Lili had helped her work things out, helped make a possibility look like a potential reality.

And Hannah had been happy to take on the work and was delighted with what Emily was offering to pay in return. Emily hoped she had done a good job, Lili said she would be well worth the investment, and that was good enough for Emily. She would find out soon enough either way.

The road had narrowed now and was nearer the sloping birch lined banks of the river, compelling Emily to slow the van down. And as she was negotiating a serpentine bend in the road, something down by the river bank caught Emily’s attention.

A flash of bright colour amidst the dark tones of nature which compelled Emily to stop and investigate.

She brought her van to a halt, pulled on the hand break and immediately became aware of the song of a multitude of birds coming from down by the river. Emily recognized their distinctive song.

‘Whip poor-will, whip poor-will’ went their jaunty lament.

And through a gap in the birch which obscured much of the river bank, she could see someone down by the river. There was a young girl sitting on a fallen tree tossing stones into the rapid flowing waters. A whippoorwill perched beside her like it was a tame pet.

“Well, may as well make friends sooner rather than later.” Emily declared as she rolled down the window.

 

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