Separate Lives

The Horton Auction Series #1

by Rhonda Strehlow

Auctioneer Honor Horton is able to channel the past lives of her clients. Now working with Dr. Carson Ankerson, she catches glimpses of his past relationship with his best friend’s wife, Rachel. 

However, getting entangled in Dr. Ankerson story may pose a threat to Honor’s own future when she finds herself in bed with her client. Is it because of the rift with her boyfriend, Dustin, or is she channeling Rachel? Will Honor and Dustin be able to survive the havoc their indiscretions wreaked on their relationship?




“Oh, hello, Rachel.” The voice drops several decibels, from that of a practiced professional to a warm growl.

“You’re leaving, Marty?” I hear surprise and something else, hope?

“Please calm down. You need to talk to a counselor.” Now the voice is authoritative.

I’ve just stepped onto Mr. Ankerson’s lawn and already I’m hearing voices. I lean against a big oak tree to get comfortable for the show. These voices aren’t real—I know that. Well, they’re real but what I heard probably happened a while ago. How long? I don’t know.

Places speak to me. I’ve discovered that I can learn a lot about life from listening to them. Don’t worry, I’m not crazy. This has been happening for years, before I earned my auctioneer’s gavel. Well, now that I think about it, the voices go further back than that. My daddy’s an auctioneer and I’ve been helping him for years. So one day I was cleaning out an old shed on the Lasky farm, making piles of tools so we could sell them in an orderly fashion when I heard a young couple talking quietly and laughing about their day. I’d thought somebody had turned on a radio but as I listened closely, I recognized Mrs. Lasky’s voice.

Now, mind you, Mrs. Lasky is dead—very dead—having passed on a year before her husband. The fact that both Laskys are buried in the family plot is the reason we are auctioning off their farm. Nevertheless, I know what I heard.

But I digress. Let me share what I heard on this chilly fall morning.

“What are your plans, Rachel?” he asks in a carefully controlled voice.

“Please...” He starts but then Rachel must’ve interrupted him. I’m sorry that I can’t hear both sides of the conversation.

“Have you explored other options?” He is quiet a moment then I hear crying.

“What do you want from me?” I hear in his voice anguish, optimism, and then pain.

“I’m sorry that I disappointed you.” I hear a click and he says, “Again.”

The voices fade and I’m standing alone on Dr. Ankerson’s manicured lawn.



Chapter One


It takes me a moment to digest what I’ve just heard. Like most places, this house has witnessed at least one sad story. The scene that plays out today attests to that. I recognize the voice as Carson Ankerson’s because I’ve talked with him several times about his upcoming auction. But who is Rachel? What is her relationship to Carson? For the next week, I’ll be dealing with Carson Ankerson and already I don’t like him. I need the money this auction will bring so I’ll have to adjust my attitude.

Usually as I prepare for my auctions, I feel a sense of excitement; anticipation for what I might unpack. I equate it with archeology—the digging and the discovery. What people save gives me insight into the way they lived. When I pick through the remains of peoples’ lives and I find, for instance, an embroidered and carefully ironed tablecloth I can imagine Christmases filled with turkey, dressing and pecan pies. Or when find a family picture I often make up stories about a strong and loving father and a mother who makes homemade pancakes for their half dozen happy children.

But today is different. There’s an unsettled feeling in my gut. I’m anxious to get to cataloging but reluctant to enter the house. Maybe it’s the overcast skies with their threat of rain. I pull my windbreaker closed and zip it up to my chin.

Shaking my head, I return to the present. The upscale colonial house is better than seven thousand square feet, I guess, and the in-ground pool is visible from here. The blue and pink hydrangeas are gorgeous even as they fade into fall.

Before mounting the wide plank steps flanked by stone pillars I hesitate a minute. The house is open so I slip in. I take in everything, mentally cataloging the interior. The two-story foyer is dominated by a staircase that curves gracefully upward from the right and left. The foyer is softened by a round mahogany table adorned with fresh flowers. A beautiful great room is on my right. Near the door is an eight-foot tall walnut armoire. But it’s the pottery in the curved glass display case that makes me catch my breath. One shelf is all Royal Bayreuth; a stamp box, a milk pitcher, a creamer and a candy dish. The next shelf is all Roseville: a Bushberry pitcher, a pink Thornapple vase planter. My auctioneer mind imagines the bidding on these beautiful pieces.

“Ms. Horton, I presume?” A regal looking gentleman in his sixties, wearing a practiced smile that doesn’t quite reach his cold brown eyes gets my attention. I’ve been so involved studying the pottery I don’t know how long he’s been watching me.

“Yes.” I extend my hand. “And you must be Carson Ankerson.”

“Good call since you are standing in my house appraising my pottery.” His voice is laced with sarcasm. I take a small step backward.

“I was told that it would be okay to catalog your belongings today. If this is not a good time, please let me know.”

“I’m not quite through yet. I thought I was. Most of my personal things are packed but ...” His voice trails off. His eyes go past my head as if he’s seeing some distant memory. Then, he quickly moves to pluck a picture off the wall. He carefully wipes the glass and stares at it for a moment before tucking it beneath his arm.

“Excuse me. You were saying?”

His actions are so unexpected that I’m momentarily speechless.

“I can come back later if it suits you, Mr. Ankerson. Just tell me a time that works for you. There’s a lot of work I can do at the office.”

“Actually, it’s Dr. Ankerson.” His voice is disapproving, as if I should have known this fact. In his voice, the same tone he used with Rachel, controlling and absolute.

“Excuse me, Dr. Ankerson,” I say coldly. He’s deliberately chosen to point out the chasm between employer and employee.

When I turn to go, he touches my arm. “I’m sorry. I’ve lived so long by myself I’ve forgotten how to be civil. My mother often warned me about my behavior.”

This time he smiles, a charming smile, but I’m not appeased. I cross my arms and stand quietly facing him. Waiting.

“Ms. Horton, may we please start over? My name is Dr. Carson Ankerson, I am or was, actually, a general practitioner at St. Xavier Hospital with a private practice at the Monroe Clinic. I believe that I’m ready as I ever will be for this auction to take place. Would you care to join me for coffee or tea before you begin your... whatever you were doing?”

“I’m cataloguing your merchandise.” I answer automatically.mmon.” His eyes go to the beautiful display case. I’m counting on the commission from this auction to get me through the long

“If I’m not mistaken, we have a love of pottery in co

Wisconsin winter so I give him my best the-customer-is-always-right smile.

I’ve got hours, actually more like days, of cataloging in front of me but since he is, as he has so aptly pointed out, my employer I follow him quietly into a kitchen, which is bigger than my entire cabin. The marble countertops are cream and gold and the fifteen-foot island is dramatic black granite. He leads me to a breakfast nook furnished with a cherry table and chairs. He pulls out my chair and moves to the glass-fronted refrigerator.

“You strike me as a Chai tea drinker, am I right? If not, I have an assortment of regular teas and a pot of coffee always brewing.”

“I love Chai,” I confess. “It is my favorite indulgence. Dustin claims I’m addicted to it.”

“Is he your partner?”

“Friend,” I clarify.

“Any person who’s privy to your addictions is a pretty close friend.” He turns back to the counter and I watch as he carefully measures the milk, adds the Chai and puts it in a special pot.

“I’ll have it frothed together in a few minutes. Would you like whipped cream?”

“I’d better not.” I smile ruefully.

“You have nothing to worry about.” He studies me for a minute. “One tablespoon? Just for looks?”

He passes me a mug piled high with whipped cream and I smile my thanks. I lick off the peak and close my eyes to thoroughly enjoy this little respite at the beginning of my day.

He climbs up on the seat opposite of me, cradling a small cup. “One expresso a day makes me feel ...” He hesitates, and then continues lamely, “Invigorated.” There’s a lot Dr. Ankerson isn’t saying.

“To new beginnings.” He raises his paper-thin cup and I carefully touch my mug to his.

“Ms. Horton ...” he starts.

“Please, call me Honor.”

“Is there a story behind your name?” He smiles.

I blush. No one has ever asked me before.

He notices my discomfort and takes a new tact. “You have quite a reputation, Honor.”

“Thank you. I think. I hope it’s for honesty.”

“That, too. But I was thinking more about your ability to channel life stories.”

“Places sometimes talk to me,” I admit softly. I’ve been ridiculed for my ‘gift’ so I’m reluctant to follow his train of thought.

“When did places start talking to you, Ms. Horton?” There’s skepticism in his voice and I wince.

“They’ve been talking to me for a more than half a life time, Dr. Ankerson.” My back stiffens.

“Do places just whisper in your ear?”

“It’s more like going to a play, but I can hear their thoughts.” I realize how ridiculous this sounds when I say it out loud. I move restlessly in my chair. His scrutiny makes me uncomfortable.

“What has this place been saying?” His eyes are intent on me. Another time I might have noticed that they are nice eyes, chocolate brown with gold flecks, behind round, steel-rimmed glasses. Now those eyes look anxious or sad or maybe just resigned.

“I haven’t been here very long,” I say, stalling for time. I’ve not yet processed the encounter I witnessed.

“But I saw you from the window and you looked as if you were watching a performance, leaning against Elmer.”

“Elmer?” I’m puzzled. “Oh, your old oak tree? How did he come by the name Elmer?” I change the subject.

Dr. Ankerson isn’t fooled. My guess is that Dr. Ankerson isn’t often fooled. He gives me a look that tells me we are not done with the subject.

“Elmer was my gardener. He passed away last year. I miss him, but whenever I feel sad, I look at that magnificent tree and send up a silent thank you. Not a prayer, mind you. Elmer would have dismissed that. Just a simple thank you.

“Elmer was a cantankerous old man but a brilliant gardener. He worked for me for almost thirty years and until the end, he thought I was some dumbass, over-educated city slicker. He frequently reminded me of his opinion, too. However, Elmer had a good reason to question my competence because the first time we met he told me to have the big oak cut down because it was so ugly and out of proportion to the rest of the property. But I ... just couldn’t. That old tree reminded me of home so, ugly or not, it was here to stay. Eventually, old Elmer and I came to a grudging understanding. And, I always let him cut down the new oak tree wannabes. Anyway, that’s why I call the tree Elmer.” Almost to himself he adds. “I hope the new people don’t cut it down.”

“Where are you going to go when you leave here, Dr. Ankerson?” I note that he hasn’t asked me to call him Carson.

“Back to my home town, ninety miles north of here. I inherited my family’s farm home and for the last twenty years, I’ve rented it out. When Pat and Janel Grosse, my renters, moved out last spring I decided it was time to return home.”

“Will you continue practicing as a physician?” I ask politely, distantly. I’m not over my first impression of Dr. Ankerson yet.

“No. I’m going to garden, play cribbage and write.”

“Are you going to write medical books?”

 “No,” he starts and then smiles. He hesitates before going on. “I’ve been keeping a journal for more than forty years and want to see if anyone would be interested in reading the musings of an old man.”

“Would the musings include Rachel?” I ask before I can put a filter on my mouth.

“So, this place has been talking to you. What else have you heard?” His voice is level, but his tone is accusing.

I close my eyes to try to capture the earlier conversation.

“Well?” he asks impatiently. When I don’t speak immediately he challenges. “Was it a conversation about how badly I treated her? How I pushed her away? Broke her heart?”

“To tell you the truth.” I’m surprised to see tears come into his eyes but I continue. “It was just a snippet from a time when she needed your support to leave her husband.”

“We had a number of those conversations. None of them had satisfactory endings as I remember.” He stares off into the distance and he is gone for so long I get up from my chair, rinse my cup and leave it in the sink.

“Excuse me. I need to get back to work.”

“She was right, you know,” he states harshly. “I can be a bastard.”

“It’s not for me to judge, doctor,” I say although I do have an opinion. Based on the way he’s treated me he’s arrogant and overbearing. Still I hope that I’ll get to see more of Carson’s story. These encounters are a surprise for me, since I don’t get to determine the sequence or the completeness of the stories I see. Sometimes they come in fits and starts, small, unrelated pieces. But, often I experience a complete sequence, one act if you will, in the life of a person or a place.

“We’re all judged, Honor, if we want to be or not. But often we are hardest on ourselves.”

Because there’s nothing left to say I leave to do my cataloguing in the great room. I get lost in the wonder of the beautiful things, dishes, furniture, paintings. In every room I find something for which I have to do a Google search—a first edition medical book in the library; a stunning side table in the great room and a collection of old valentines. Valentines? I ask myself. Dr. Ankerson doesn’t seem like the hearts and flowers type.


Second Act by Rhonda Strehlow


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