Seven o’clock. Just about time for my evening walk. I tucked my cell phone into my pocket and headed off down the road, where the summer cottages stretched out along the Juniata River in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. I walked past the cottage next to mine, past . . .
I stopped. Gladys’s cottage stood empty. It was still hard for me to believe that she wasn’t inside. We weren’t family by blood—she and her husband were great friends of my parents while I was growing up. Her daughter and I were like sisters, and Gladys was like a second mother to me. Our families spent every summer up here together, with just one cottage between us.
When I became a middle school teacher I started spending my summers up here again. My father had died, and so had Gladys’s husband. Mom often came up to stay for a week at a time, but mostly it was just me and Gladys. In the evening when I took my walk I’d call into her screen door as I passed her cottage. “I’m leaving now!”
Gladys would appear at the screen door and wave. “Seven-oh-five!” she’d call, checking the time. If I wasn’t back after 40 minutes or so, I knew she’d come looking for me. “You never know what might happen,” she used to say. “What if you tripped and sprained an ankle?”
Of course that was why I always carried my cell phone on me, but I really did feel better that Gladys was alert to my absence. It was a comfort to know someone cared about me and was ready to come if needed. It made me feel loved in a personal way. So each evening when I returned from my walk I made sure to call in as I passed Gladys’s cottage. “I’m back, safe and sound!”
Now Gladys was gone from this life. She’d died unexpectedly just before summer began. Her daughter called to let me know, and we cried over our great loss together. Not until now did I realize all the little ways I would miss Gladys daily. I looked up at her dark windows. Who will keep track of me now?
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