by Courtney Webb


Kristie Nichols sat at her desk, drinking coffee and idly perusing the morning paper. It was a morning like any other morning at the Credit Union. It was early June and the day was just starting to get warm in Tranquillity, California. Sprinklers started to hum outside.

Sheriff’s Department Reports Success with Sting Operation. County Sheriff’s report rounding up several suspects in a drug operation which…”

She heard the front door bell tinkling. She glanced at the clock, 8:36 am.


She could hear Gwen flitting around in the supply room.

Oh, bother.”

She put down her cup and went out to the reception area.

A young man with a wild mop of brown hair slouched by the windows, looking out.

Good morning, may we help…?”

He turned and looked at her.

Hair, two months past a haircut and stubble on his chin, the hands stuck deep in his jacket pockets.


Kristie held her hand out for a shake, but the young man kept his hands in his pockets.

Staring for a moment, she put her hand down.

Peter? Peter Farringwell? How are you?”

She tried to minimize her surprise at his appearance. He had always been such a good-looking young man. Now…

Yeah, good. Is my mom in yet?”

Ah, Phyllis…no. No…she often works late and usually doesn’t get in until nine am. Can I help you with something, coffee?”

He stared at her a long moment, not saying anything.

Are his eyes bloodshot? She thought to herself. And he looks so skinny…

Nine o’clock?” He seemed to jerk back to life, glancing at the wall clock.

You could wait in the lunch room if you would like.”

No, no. Ah, I’ll come back later.”

He was already turning toward the door.

If you’re sure. Any message?”

He shook his head. Looking down, he left. The door bell tinkled once more.

Kristie stared after him. She was trying to remember the last time she had seen him.

Back at her desk, she grabbed her coffee cup and wandered back to the employee lounge for a refill, still thinking.

Gathering wool there, sweetie?”

She stopped stirring her coffee and looked over at her co-worker/friend.

Pam…” her voice trailed off.

Yup, that’s what my husband calls me. And?”

Kristie focused on her friend. “Do, you remember Phyllis’s son, Peter Farringwell?”

Yeah, good looking kid, smart, lots of hair. Why?”

When was the last time we saw him? Was it his college graduation?”

Pam was sitting at one of the white plastic employee tables also reading a copy of the news. She leaned forward and pressed her fist to her chin. “I think that was it, he graduated from State. We all trekked over there, in the heat, I remember that part. And then went out to dinner. Yeah, some fancy place downtown, served steaks. Smiths, Schmitt’s…”

How long ago was that? Two years?”

Ah, hum. I think maybe…two years in June. Right.”

Have you seen him since then?”

Well,” Pam was thinking hard. “He stopped coming around here. Didn’t Phyllis say he was off somewhere doing something? Can’t remember.”

Kristie sipped her fresh coffee.

Anyway, why?”

Ah, he was in here this morning looking for Phyllis and he looked…well, different somehow. Can’t exactly say…”

Huh. Well Phyllis is running late as usual. Maybe she can fill us in.”

Yeah, maybe.” Cups in hand, they drifted back to their desks.

The phones started to ring and Kristie’s thoughts about Peter Farringwell were pushed out of her mind. It nearly noon when her head jerked around as she heard a “No!” coming from Phyllis’s office. Forever the nosey one, she got up on tiptoe and peeked over the module wall.

Through the glass wall of Phyllis’s office, Kristie could see her boss. Her face looked flushed, even from this distance. Kristie recognized the moppy haired son, his back to her, sitting in front of Phyllis’s desk. Hands out of his jacket now, they were balled into fists resting on the desk. Kristie couldn’t hear what he was saying, too low, but she could see Phyllis shaking her head slowly back and forth.

Kristie turned back to her own desk and casually straightened up some papers. She pulled her purse out of a drawer. The front door bell tinkled again but with more of a clang this time. Pulling the strap over her shoulder, she walked slowly to her boss’s office.

She poked her head through the door. Phyllis was turned away, bent over.

Phyllis? You okay?” Kristie ventured further into the office.

Phyllis spun the chair around. Kristie could see her eyes were red and she had Kleenex in her hand.

You want to go to lunch?”

Phyllis just nodded. She reached over, got her purse and stood up. “You drive.” She dabbed at her eyes again.

The two women got into Kristie’s gold Sebring. Once in the car, the air conditioning running. Phyllis started to sob, both hands covering her face. Kristie reached for the box of Kleenex and handed it over.

Don’t want them… Didn’t want them…” the older woman gestured back at the office.

Don’t worry about it, Phyllis. We’ll go somewhere quiet for lunch.”

Kristie picked The Tartan Club because it was dark and none of the staff went there for lunch.

You want something to drink?”

Phyllis waved a Kleenexed hand at the waiter who hustled over.

Scotch, straight.”

Yes, Mrs. Farringwell.” He walked away briskly and returned in a minute with a short whiskey glass with amber liquid.

Phyllis…do you think…?”

Phyllis waved her hand at Kristie and downed about half the drink in one gulp. She let out a sigh, pushing some hair out of her face.

Kristie was silent not knowing what to say.

It’s Peter,” Phyllis started.

Obviously, Kristie thought wryly.

This has been coming on for months. Where do I start? He was fine until he graduated from college and now…” Phyllis waved her hands through the air. Grabbing a paper napkin, the tears started again.

Mystified, Kristie patted her back.

First he wanted to go to South America and work on some volunteer project and needed money for plane fare. It seemed like a good deal, he was young, so I gave it to him.”

Kristie nodded and sipped her ice tea. She vaguely remembered something about that.

That lasted exactly three months and then he was back with some story about how ‘it just didn’t work out, not his thing stuff.’ I thought, well, age and experience. Just a learning lesson.” Phyllis sipped her scotch.

Then it was a trip to Mexico to help children learn to read. I thought, okay, he’s trying to help children. Again, he needed airfare. Reluctantly,” she glanced at Kristie, “I gave it to him.” Another sip.


He was home in less than six months. Same story, not his thing, not his kind of people, they didn’t do things right, very unorganized. Blah, blah. Since then he has drifted in and out of one thing after another.” Phyllis stole a remorseful glance sideways at her employee.

Kristie nodded.

With…” there was a pause, “with less and less time visiting and fewer phone calls.” Phyllis dabbed her eyes. “Basically, he stopped answering his telephone or calling. I haven’t seen him in months. Then two days ago he called and wanted to see me, wouldn’t say what it was about.”

So, today…?”

Today was another trip, another mission, this time to Thailand.” Phyllis paused and took a deep breath. “So, I told him no, he would have to pay for the trip himself or find someone else to give him the money. I can’t do anymore.” Small tears trickled into her napkin.

Kristie patted Pyllis’s hand. She was getting the picture.

He told me he would get it from his dad and then stormed out.”


Kristie, I am so worried. You saw him, you saw what he looks like. He’s, he’s changed. He’s not the same. I don’t know what to do.” Tears started again.

It’s okay, Phyllis,” Kristie stated in a matter of fact voice, “we’ll get this figured out. Let’s get a little lunch. Maybe some soup?”

Phyllis nodded, and Kristie opened the menu. Calling the waiter over, she ordered for both of them.


Continued in Part II

(from Storyteller – Courtney Webb)