If Only, page 1
(A Romance at the Madonna Inn)
On the Central Coast of California
Ann S.(Ritchie) Domela
Ann Ritchie (Domela) was born in Boston, with the lifelong desire to be a writer. If Only is the third book of four written with a fifth in the works. The first is Triangle of Fear, the second Fall of Fear. The third is Banned in Boston, all written under the name, Ann Ritchie. If Only is the fourth with a fifth, a sequel to Banned almost complete and yet another romance in the works.
If you’ve ever been in love or especially fallen in love for the second time around, this book is for you. Katherine Watson is vacationing at the unique hotel in mid California where she had planned to go with her now deceased husband. It is there she meets an old love. Each of them is hiding a secret. Hers is one of deception that could destroy their relationship. His could cost Katherine her life.
This book is dedicated to Alex and Phyllis Madonna who followed their dream.
Copyright © 2010 by Ann S. (Ritchie) Domela
All rights reserved. No part of this book or disc may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously with the exception of places used in the book by permission of the owner’s or their agents of those establishments. Any resemblance to any actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book was printed in the United States of America. This disc was produced in the United States of America.
Table of Contents
It really wasn’t fair for all this exquisite scenery to taunt her with it's’ serenity and beauty when she was at one of the lowest ebbs of her life. Frank’s death had come too soon, too sudden, without a hint of warning, after less than twenty years of what had been considered a reasonably “good” marriage. Katherine Watson was well.., too young to be a widow, but ill prepared to face the rest of her life alone, so very much alone. Tears escaped the hazel green eyes and coursed down the makeup-less cheeks as she thought of the years of empty hours, days, and endless months ahead. The logistic part of her mind knew that she should be grateful for the frugal way Frank had planned for almost any eventuality. There were sufficient funds on which to live if she were careful and worked at least part time. Work might, at least, help to kill the long, very lonely hours. Their home, no, it was her home now, was free and clear from payments. In fact, there were few debts to pay, but the minimal insurance wouldn’t last forever. Even Frank hadn’t planned on leaving her that unexpectedly. His plan had been to increase the insurance and start a savings account before his demise, something, on which she could live well without him. But, his sudden death from a heart attack a few days from his fiftieth birthday came all too soon. Her emotional side argued that both of her daughters were grown with no real needs that they couldn’t handle. Neither one especially didn’t desire a mother looking for someone about which to care. Was this what would be termed the “empty nest syndrome”? Whatever it was, she was feeling so completely useless with very few fond memories to tide her over the solitary times.
Frank had been so engrossed in his work, somewhat of a workaholic, but he had faithfully promised that someday, they could take time to start enjoying their “golden” years. “Some day” never came, nor if she would admit it, she knew it never would have come at all. Her husband had loved his job and spent most of his time working as much as he could. It hadn’t mattered too much when she was busy being the best mother she knew how. But after her daughters had gone out on their own, Katherine had begun to really learn the meaning of being alone.
When she had begged Frank to take a little time off, he always put her off. “No, not now. I have things to finish first. There were always the things to do, time for his job, but never for his family. That was Katherine’s job, to care for the home, raise the children, do what “a good wife should do.”
Perhaps she should go back to the vague dream of learning how to improve her painting skills, if it wasn’t too late in her life. In her heart, even the attempt at the art would be forced, as would the façade of happiness and independence, but she wouldn’t allow Beth or Jesey to feel sorry for her, enough to offer to give up their own youthful freedom. Katherine knew that deep down she was just plain lonely, not so much for a man, but for a companion and friend, as her husband should have been. There was no way she would submit to her feelings of abandonment and be so asinine as to accept the first offer she might get, if any. In some of her few friends, that foolishness had proved disastrous. This past miserable year, she had quickly learned, as had some acquaintances, that widows were not well accepted in society, as if widowhood were a contagious disease. Although it was a shock, it had appeared to be some unwritten law. While she did have a few friends of her own, suddenly she was not invited to anything, barely acknowledged. Her married friends seemed to fear that her being a widow might make her a threat. Single friends? She just never had any. Frank frowned at that. Hopefully, although she knew this vacation was a luxury she could little afford, it might help her sort out her thoughts and she might find a real zest for life. When Beth was home, at least she pretended she needed a mom. Jesey found it more difficult to even pretend. She was almost too independent, although both girls had been brought up that way. With Frank gone, her children on their own, daily life had become drab, an almost useless passing of time. Kathy had found herself cleaning the house and garage, putting things almost in alphabetical order until there was nothing more she could do, except repeat the process. There had to be a way to find some semblance of happiness and self-worth.
It would have been criminal to shut the windows of Frank’s deep blue Dodge Stealth and not thoroughly enjoy the cool ocean breezes stirring up her dark auburn hair. It wasn’t actually her real hair color; that had changed so often she had almost forgotten the shade it had been. If memory served, it had once been sort of a mousy tone, like the owner. At first, coloring had been for enhancement until it was needed to cover up the few gray hairs, which still had a strong tendency to seek their way to visibility. Deep hazel green eyes took in the view of the powerful waves crashing on the almost perfect beach, some rock, some sand, while some form of sea life played on the massive brown rocks just back from the shore. Never had Kathy recalled seeing such a vivid blue sky or an ocean so thrilling to view, the sight of which exhilarated her to goose bumps. A thousand words couldn’t describe this wonder. Katherine wondered why she had waited so many years to return to the thrill of the ocean.
In spite of his job, Frank had always promised her that some distant day they would take a vacation by the ocean, away from their safe nest in Arizona. It wasn’t as if they had lived that far away, but Frank had been content with the Grand Canyon in their back yard, a trip they had taken on rare occasions. It had only been a thirty-minute drive to Williams where they boarded the steam train to the Grand Canyon. Come to think of it, that had been one of their few r
Frank had been a toolmaker inspector which had offered him enough of a challenge as well as enough money on which to live comfortably with very little set aside for their future, but that would be many years away. There was plenty of time to do all the things they had planned and still save for that far away day. Unfortunately, there hadn’t been the anticipated “plenty of time”. Katherine had been reasonably content to just be a homemaker and raise her children. Beth was winning awards in journalism school and ecstatic in her new found independence. Jesey had won all kinds of scholarships for tennis and was excelling in college and in her first year. Once, many long years ago, Kathy had dreamed of becoming an artist, but she had never taken time away from her busy schedule of motherhood to fulfill her aspirations. Now that Frank was gone, she was determined to complete as many dreams as she could while there was enough money and before she would go as suddenly as had her husband. His death had proved to her that life was too uncertain to waste waiting for that elusive dream.
Why is it, she thought, that we always hear about “life is so short,” and no one does anything about it. She wasn’t the only one she knew who waited for the right time to go forth with their dreams, go places, do things. “There isn’t that time,” she wanted to shout to her friends. “Why are you waiting? Why did I think there was all the time in the world?”
Years ago, she had read about the famous Madonna Inn just inland from the California coast half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. A flight would have taken her to either major city in no time and a commuter plane would have taken her close to the hotel. Although it would have been a brief trip, Kathy had decided to drive using Frank’s beloved car. It was almost as if he were accompanying her on the vacation. That blue Dodge Stealth, his middle age crisis car was what she had called it. Frank had explained in detail that this would be his last new car and it would have to last for years with special care. Vivid, deep almost electric blue, sun roof, every option available, Frank had cleaned and polished it almost every day, even buying an expensive special electric polisher to maintain its’ high gloss. Even in their rare arguments, Frank would quickly walk away to the garage to tenderly care for the real love of his life. She never talked back to him, just held him in her dark blue leather arms and comforted him. Unlike Kathy, who hated wearing makeup and keeping her hair in a tight French twist upon which Frank had strongly suggested, the Stealth thrived with her constant upkeep. Kathy had considered jealous thoughts against Frank’s blue princess, but she knew how ridiculous that would sound to anyone in their right mind.
It had not originally been part of the plan to take the car on her vacation, as she had planned to drive her old sensible Oldsmobile. But, “old sensible” was in the repair shop, as usual. Reservations confirmed, plans made, Kathy had no choice but to take the blue princess. At least it gave her some relief from the guilt she felt in some way. It seemed as if Frank was right along side of her enjoying the stimulating view. She could hear his stern voice, “Watch the road, not the scenery. The speed limit is 55, not 59, not 60, but 55.” For a moment she glanced over to the passenger seat to see if he was actually there.
The day was perfect; the weather was perfect, even the temperature was just right for an early day in spring. It was sunny enough to be somewhat warm, but breezy enough to need her light gray car coat, a perfect match to her new dark gray pants suit. In spite of watching her pennies, Kathy had felt it necessary to purchase some new things for her vacation. Beth had tried to get her to purchase some brightly colored things, younger styled, but she had refused. She was, after all, a widow.
The place known as Pismo Beach off to her left, as she drove north to her final destination, was a resplendent sight. Only a few stalwart surfers dared venture out to ride those immense waves. Kathy didn’t know what would make the waves the best for surfing, but then she would never find that out. Her only sporting activity was her daily fight with the house to maintain cleanliness, a fight that she never seemed to win. Even when her daughters had left home, for some reason, the house was always a challenge. Perhaps it was because she had been fighting that losing battle for so many years.
Although only about fifteen miles from the hotel with her destination almost in sight, Kathy pulled off the freeway and drove down a short side street toward the ocean and parked. Now was the right time to pull out that untouched sketchbook and begin her life as an artist. The sight, sound, thrills of the exciting waves; she had to try to get that immortalized on a plain white canvas. Her hands itched to pick up a brush and put life in an oil painting with her very own signature in the bottom corner.
This would be the first thing she could cross off her little notebook of things she had planned to do before; well, before she couldn’t; before she joined her husband in death. The second was almost in view. Two great wonderful indulging weeks at the Madonna Inn was the next thing in her little blue book. Years ago, they had set down with a flyer from the hotel, some post cards and a map of the hotel grounds. This would be the dream vacation to which she had saved regularly. Frank had just wanted to spend a week, frugally, as usual, in the same room. He saw no reason to go to the effort of changing rooms often. They were, after all, on vacation. Kathy had made up her mind that she wanted to spend three nights in as many rooms as she could in two weeks, culminating their stay in the intriguing cave man room. It was there she hoped they might kindle up some kind of romance that had been absent from their marriage of almost twenty years.
He had been a fairly good provider and she had made an adequate homemaker, but there had been little more to their marriage than the convenience. Arguments were few in that she attempted to agree with him at all times, whether or not it was right. It was just easier. Then she did owe him some debt of gratitude. After all, he had taken her and her child into his house when they had been in a desperate situation. Frank, himself, had just lost his wife in childbirth with their first daughter. It would be a marriage of convenience. Kathy had just given birth to her daughter in the same hospital where his wife had died. He needed someone to care for his child. She needed a home in which she could care for her newborn. Frank had given her little Beth his name and raised her to be as his very own. Frank had never asked questions about the father, questions she did not want to answer and a man whose memory brought more pain than she cared to endure. It was again time to get on with her life.
The sun was setting over the ocean. Such a sight! The sky a vivid blue with tufts of fluffy cotton clouds floating past the setting sun. Each cloud picked up varied hues of pinks, golds and shades of orange. The water was taking on some of the reflections and colors. Kathy held her breath, marveling at this wonder. Getting out of the car for a minute, she felt necessary to pull on her car coat, with its imitation fur collar, close to her chilled body. Thank goodness for slacks. Brrr, it was cold. The ocean breeze was exhilarating, but too almost too brisk. It did feel good, but she wasn’t used to that chill. To think she would have the enjoyment of this sight for fourteen more days. Perhaps she had best get back on the road, register at the hotel, settle in and explore the rest of this new world.
Without realizing it, she had spent most of her life as a wife and mother with little time for herself. Best not waste a moment of this precious time. She returned to the warmth of the car and headed back to the freeway.
Eleven more miles to San Luis Obispo if her directions were correct. Kathy could hardly wait to aim the Blue Princess North. Soon, she was surrounded by many hills of green, magnificent houses on almost every one. Such mansions! Wouldn’t it have been nice to own one of them? Even just to visit one. It was too late in her life to wish for the impossible. She would have to be content with their small home in Arizona, getting more hours at the office, and sell the Blue Princess. This vacation would be her last fling for quite a while, a long while. Kathy supposed she should have saved the vacation fund, b
The car radio offered some form of company. Sounds of old songs, gentle songs that brought forward repressed memories of the time in her life when she had been deliriously happy. “Walk on by, wait on the corner. I love you, but we’re strangers when we meet.” How often those words reminded her of the illicit romance. They had to meet in secret, but when she was in his arms, nothing mattered. “Always, I will be loving you always.” How true those words. She had loved him always, from the day they had met, through the marriage to Frank and still. Sadly recalling the times with him brought tears. He was gone from her life years ago, and now Frank was gone as well. At her age, it was too late for a romance. A sob escaped with the knowledge that for the rest of her life, she would remain alone. Maybe it was what she deserved for having the unbelievable joy of the one year with him. Forcibly closing down her thoughts, she determined to try to get on with what time was left to her.
Within twenty minutes, she was heading up the driveway to the Madonna Inn. The exit was so clearly marked. What else would be at the Madonna Road, but the famous Inn? Never had she recalled seeing pink lampposts, but they were perfect for the white on pink gingerbread styling of the inn. Pink also dominated the décor of the white buildings. Rock columns, rock chimneys; she head that the Madonna’s had used a great deal of local rock. There were so many things to see, flowers, animals, quaint buildings, but that would wait. Kathy eased the Blue Princess into a waiting parking space near the rock archway that led to the registration office. The young woman at the desk was so pleasant. Muriel was written on the nametag. Kathy felt that the reservation request must have been unusual. First of all, she had requested that she and Frank take each room on their list for only three nights. When she had first made the plans, she had of course, requested the room for two. A phone call, the changes to accommodate only one person; no comment was made. No questions were asked. It was just the same courteous responses.
“Yes, Mrs. Watson, we have your plans as you requested. Your first two nights are to be in our “Old Fashioned Room”. As we had notified you, this is the only room in which we could not arrange for the three nights. I do hope this is acceptable. If there’s anything we can do…” The comment was polite as had all the communication with the hotel had been. There was in Muriel’s voice, such a delightful tone of sincerity. Muriel handed the keys to Kathy. “If you would like to enjoy dinner in our coffee shop, it is now open or our main dining room will be open at 5:30.”
“I don’t know. It is a toss as to whether to see the room first or explore. Perhaps I had better go to my room and freshen up. That is room 163, correct.
“Yes.” She was handed a small packet. “Here is your map. This is your room. There’s also a local map of the area, a list of current events going on and mini menus from other restaurants as well as our own famous, and I might add, fabulous restaurant.”
“Alright, Kathy,” she spoke to herself as she climbed back into the blue car, “this is it. This is your first night here. Your dream vacation. Enjoy every minute, every second. It may not be what you prefer for your life, but you know now, how short life can be.” The car headed up the steep hill beside the immense pasture. So peaceful, so beautiful. Katherine was sure this was just the beginning. Parking at the top of the hill, she went up the curving stairs of the hotel carrying only one small suitcase of the four she had packed. Knowing it would be difficult to lug all her luggage with each move, wisely, she had packed the small cases with what she would need for a few days in each one. Within a few minutes she opened the door to the “Old Fashioned Room”. It was that, very old fashioned, very quaint. Unlike most rooms, these walls were rounded in some areas and covered with exquisite wallpaper of delicate red flowers. The carpet was burgundy while the drapes and bedspread were dark red crushed velvet. The bed looked Victorian with the high four posts and a dark wood frame, but Kathy knew that king size beds were modern. Lovely, the bed looked to be as high as it was wide. The material of the antiques almost matched the spread except it had more golden accents and coordinated perfectly with the small rocker. Golden lights flooded the room from the old brass and glass tabletop lamp. So quaint, it was like stepping back in time. Kathy was delighted that they had chosen this as their first room. “Hold it,” she spoke to her reflection in the mirror. “You are not with him any longer. You are widow and alone.” Her reflection stared back. Where had the years gone? When had she gained those laugh lines? The hated mirror told her that she was getting older, not a pleasant reminder. She didn’t feel that old. In fact, she had begun to feel as if she were only about 30, maybe mid-twenties. Her body did feel tired, but a quick shower revived her sufficiently that she decided to walk down to the coffee shop. As late as it was, there was no need to fuss that much over her clothing. It was well known that in California, anything went in the manner of clothes, especially casual. Kathy slipped into a plain black pantsuit and added a tan and black print blouse for color. Not that she had worn much color for the past year of mourning. Widow’s weeds, her daughter had called her clothing.
For months, she had planned everything, even down to the smallest detail from the main menu that she had received in her initial package. There was that spectacular champagne cake she knew she shouldn’t plan to eat, a mile high delicate champagne cake with the Madonna pink frosting and topped with curls of pink chocolate. Hopefully, there would be room after the barbequed primed rib sandwich, Madonna pink, medium rare, she laughed to herself. Since she had eaten nothing other than a light breakfast, Kathy felt she could handle all of that including the salad and vegetable that would come with the dinner.
The brisk wind assisted her gently down the hill toward the rock archway that led to the restaurant area. Through the stained glass windows, she could see the bar and main dining room all lit up. Just opposite the registration office, there was an ornately carved door that she knew led to the coffee shop. Up the short flight of steps, holding onto the carved banister, she quickly found herself staring at the portraits of the two people who had built this paradise, Phyllis and Alex Madonna.
A new tear came to Katherine’s eye. Those two had shared a dream and seen it through. What a joy that must have been. If only Regrettably, the world is full of “if only’s”. Kathy thought back to some of the dreams she had wanted to share with Frank so many years back. As few as they were, Frank scoffed at each of them. It would never have occurred to him to share a dream as these two had done. To Frank, they only way to get anything was to work for it. “Dreams are for fools,” he would say. But, she reminisced; he would have, thinking of another. It had been so long since she had allowed herself to think of him. They too had shared so much, exchanged dreams, laughed together and cried together for such a short time. With him, life would have been exciting. Just to be near him had brought such joy, such unbounded happiness. It hardly seemed fair that she had done “the right thing,” married another, made Frank a great wife and still… She even lost him. If only…