Some secrets only the dead can tell


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Orchard House Chapter 3


Chapter 3

Most of the Wal-Mart’s I had been in were uniformly designed inside. If you had been in one, you’d been in them all. But not this one. I was completely lost and couldn’t find a thing. We had both started out with separate buggies and she had headed off towards health and beauty. “Girl stuff time,” she explained, leaving me with my buggy to head wherever. I tried to determine which direction the groceries were in but instead found myself passing by the book department, which was an instant hook for a fish like me. I stopped and browsed the paperbacks, wondering if one day I could ever write anything worthy to be on these shelves. The closest I had come was to see one copy of my first book in a Barnes & Noble. Of course, I bought it myself and never saw it in another store.
“You can’t eat a book,” Summer said from beside me. She had bath stuff and feminine products in her cart. “Well I guess you could but it won’t taste as good as fish sticks or a self-rising pizza. Well, okay it might taste better than fish sticks.”
I laughed. “Sorry, I kind of got lost. Couldn’t find the grocery department.”
“Lost? Heck, just follow the good looking guys. Every gal knows the hottest place to meet guys is in groceries.” Before I could inform her I wasn’t ‘every gal’ she went spinning off down the aisle towards where hot guys dwelled. Once I caught up with her in fresh fruit she was in full shopping mode. She would pick something up, put it in her buggy, and then two minutes later take it out and put it back. “We can get this at the fruit stand,” she reasoned out loud. Finally, she settled on one fruit we couldn’t get from the Orchard House store: bananas.
Two guys walked by and flashed her some college boy smiles. Problem was they both were overweight and looked so sweaty I thought there must be football tryouts the next aisle over. “See, hot guys,” she whispered in my ear.
With a giggle she was off again, heading around the corner and into the frozen food section. I had the feeling I was going to need roller skates before too long. Again, she was a whirling dervish, popping stuff into her buggy like the store was going out of business. Me, I ended up having like five things in my buggy to her fifty. We went through the whole grocery section like this, her dodging down each aisle, precariously avoiding running others over with her cart, with me trying to follow behind saying “excuse me” to everyone she nearly collided with. By the time we had navigated each aisle her cart looked as if she was preparing for three weeks instead of three days. When I told her this however her mood shifted. The exuberant little girl going crazy down every aisle vanished and was replaced by a hurt woman who was trying to enjoy life.
“Well, you don’t have to tread on my flag,” she said quietly. “Come on, I want to go.” She pushed her buggy up the main aisle towards the checkout and never said another word until we were back at the house and unloading groceries.

Inside the house, after we had gotten everything in and was putting our bounty in the refrigerator, she broke the silence. “Look, I just wanted to make sure we had enough food. I haven’t had such a fun time shopping in ages and you… well, you kind of ruined it.”
I sat down at the kitchen island that separated it from the dining room. “I’m sorry. I was just making a silly observation on all the things you were buying.”
She turned from the task of putting the eggs and milk up and faced me. “Maybe I’m wanting to stock things up so I’ll have it for the next place I go stay. I can leave in the morning if you like.”
“No, no, Summer. Wait. I didn’t mean to insult or offend you.”
“Well, you did,” she answered so low I barely heard her. She returned to stocking the refrigerator.
I got up and walked over to her. I touched her on her shoulder and when she turned to me, I jerked my hand away, feeling I had done the wrong thing again. “Look, I know this isn’t an excuse, but I haven’t been around girls much. Not to the point of actually interacting. Before you I was around two other women in my lifetime, my mother and Ashley. Other than that I barely said two words to another female except to ‘thank you’ to a waitress or ‘excuse me’ when trying to walk around someone. I don’t know how to say the right things. I didn’t mean to hurt you Summer; I just don’t know what to say to you.”
She sighed. “Just say you had fun today.”
I smiled. “I had more fun today than I have had in ages.”
“I don’t want you to leave tomorrow.”
She nodded and tried to hide a smile. “Thank you. But I will be heading out early to do a few things. I’ll try not to wake you.”
“Are we good, then?”
“Peachy as an orchard,” she replied. “Now what are you going to fix us for dinner?”
“Um…self-rising pizza?”
“Sounds great.”
“I hear it’s more appetizing than books.”
She smiled and sat down at the kitchen island while the ten minute chef put the pizza in the oven. When I turned around, she was still looking at me. It made me a little nervous.
“What?” I asked.
“Who’s Ashley?”
“Oh my, now that’s a long story.”
“I have three days.”
I turned back to the oven, wishing all of a sudden to crawl inside it. “Let’s talk about her another day,” I suggested.
“Sounds good,” she replied. After that, the pizza cooked in silence and once again things were awkward. It’s strange how one sentence, one question can make a person shut down emotionally. We ate our pizza sitting across from one another. She downed hers with tea, mine with soda. After three pieces she said, “Okay I’m done. You can have the rest. “She got up and walked to the window looking out on the orchard. “I think I’ll take a walk.”
She didn’t ask me if I wanted to go with her this time. She just went out the door. Maybe she realized that we both needed time alone, or perhaps she wanted me to take the initiative and follow her. Either way, I just sat there staring down at the pizza berating myself for being so pigheaded about Ashley. Once again, that woman had spoiled a nice thing.

I was sitting in the metal porch swing on the back porch when Summer returned. I had seen her several times from my vantage point, walking down the rows of apple trees, but as it got dark I lost sight of her figure and instead focused on the stars lighting the night sky. In the city you see scattered stars here and there but out here in the country the sky was full of them. It reminded me of a blanket that you could stitch going from star to star with needle and thread. It was beautiful. Not just the stars and how they lit up everything, but the night itself even looked different. The darkness was a more vibrant shade and I lay my head back just taking in this whole other world spread out across the sky. I was marveling at this when I heard the crunch of her feet on the gravel drive.
“I thought you were sleeping there for a minute,” she said, sitting down on the porch steps.
“No, just admiring the night.”
“Beautiful isn’t it?”
“Yes it is. In the city the night sky seems a bit stifling, as if it’s closing in on you. Here it’s wide open as if it just wants to free you.”
“Yes exactly. I forgot just how liberating the country sky can be.”
“Forgot? I kind of took you for a country girl.”
“Well I was born in Kentucky, lived all over the Carolinas and Virginias, but the past several years I have been in Baltimore Maryland. Trying to be a fool for the city. But I think I’m done there.”
“I can understand. I thought I was a city boy too. Born and bred in the urban squall.”
She smiled. “I knew you were a city boy the moment I saw you.”
“How’s that?”
She smirked as if I just said the dumbest thing. “Your car out there. It’s a city car. Your haircut. Definitely city.”
I feigned offense. “What’s wrong with my hair?”
“Nothing. It’s just neat, not wind blown. Live in the country long enough and your hair starts to get a certain look, like you threw your comb out the window or something.”
“And you got city hands too.”
“City hands?”
“Yeah. Flip your hands over.” I turned my hands so the palms were up. “Calluses on your hands. They are small, like you have been holding a pencil too long. If you was country they would be bigger from gripping a shovel or hoe.”
“You’re very observant,” I reasoned.
She grinned. “You have no idea.”
“Okay, so what else is city about me?”
“Your accent of course. No twang to your voice. You say fighting, country says fightin. You don’t have a country boy build either. Country guys are a little more beefed up and tanned from working outside all the time.”
“You like that, do you?”
She laughed. “Heck no, I’m into nerds. Didn’t you read my shirt?” Reaching in her back pocket she pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She lit one up and inhaled deeply. “One of my few vices,” she explained when she saw me looking at her.
“So this your first time in the country, Matthew?”
“No, my grandparents lived in the country. I used to spend summers there as a child. I just thought I would try and revisit that feeling before getting back to real life.”
“Did your grandparents live around here?” she asked, looking up from her perch on the steps.
“No. I ended up here quite by chance. Just passing through you could say. On a whim I rented the place. Looked like the right spot to gather my thoughts and decide what to do.”
“About her?”
“No, that’s been decided I believe.” I looked away from Summer and peered into the heavens again.
“Look, I’m sorry about earlier.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“Asking you about Ashley.”
Looking up at the stars was easier then looking at her. “It’s okay.’
“No it’s not. But I did want to say I am sorry. I know I can come off a bit nosy sometimes.”
“I don’t think that.”
“Liar. I know I can be in people’s faces a little too much. Just something I’ve learned to live with. Nobody else can though. I tend to scare people.”
“I’m not scared.”
She smiled. “Sure you are. But it’s okay. I’ll try not to be so intrusive.”
“Summer, there’s nothing wrong with you.”
She laughed and stubbed out her cigarette on the porch step. “If you say so. Hey I’m going to get some soda.” She got up and headed for the door. “Want anything?”
“No, that’s okay. I’m going to turn in soon.”
“I kind of figured you would,” she said, and I could hear the air of disappointment in her voice. The screen door closed behind her and I wondered if I would ever be able to say the right thing around this girl.
When I finally came indoors the first thing I heard was the water running in the bathroom. The door was closed and I figured she was taking her bath. I locked the back door and went around checking all the others. Old habit from the city. You never leave a door unlocked anywhere for any length of time where I came from. After making sure the house was secure I retired to my room where I shut the door. Kicking off my shoes I sat down at the writing desk and took out a pen and piece of paper. I wanted to write and tell my brother where I had gone. Eric might not have wanted to know, since the last time we talked it was a very heated discussion, but I was thinking he should know the path I chose if I didn’t return. How do you tell your brother how you’re feeling though if you don’t even know yourself? It wasn’t a secret between us that the passing of our parents hit me hard. That on top of Ashley ditching me at the altar was enough to crush and devastate me. He knew what Ashley meant to me and I suspected he knew where she had taken off to, which led to our last and final argument. It hurts even more when you feel your brother is still talking to your bride to be and you’re not. I don’t believe he had designs on her or anything but just knowing they were friends enough to share information on how much Matt hurts was enough for me to give him a big ‘to hell with you’ and leave all that drama behind.
I put the pen to paper and began:
I don’t expect you to understand what has happened to me inside. You never really got me when mom and dad were alive, and feel you still don’t. The fact that you told me you knew how to get in touch with Ashley tends to make me believe you have taken her side in the deterioration of our romance. I wish I had it in me to never speak to you again, but I don’t. I fear I don’t even have it in me to never speak to her because I know if she was here right now I would want to. I would want to know why she did what she did. And I’m afraid in my weakness I would believe anything she had to say.

I threw the pen across the room. I looked down at what I wrote and shook my head, disgusted at myself. Crumbling up the paper I threw it in the floor. For good measure I got up from my chair and started stomping the offending letter I’d started. A knock came at the bedroom door.
“Are you alright in there?” Summer asked from the other side.
“Yeah, I’m okay.” I reached down and picked up both pen and paper.
There was a hesitation at the door. I imagined her standing on the opposite side wondering what was going on in my bedroom. For a brief moment I wanted to ask her if she had ever had someone leave her and never tell her why. I almost reached for the handle and opened the door. But then I heard her footsteps going up the stairs.
“Alrighty. Well, I’m going to bed. See you on the morrow.” I heard a door at the top of the stairs open and close.
“Good night,” I whispered to no one. Outside the night was still. None of the noises of the city had followed me out here. Only the shadow of Ashley dared to trail behind me. I got undressed and crawled into bed pulling the blue roses over top of me. Sleep took a while to come but when it did I was thankful it wasn’t filled with dreams of Ashley. Instead it was nightmares of empty wedding altars and the ring I would never slip on her finger.

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2014 Paul D. Aronson

Orchard House Ch. 2 Notes

Second chapters always seem to be one of the most difficult to write. In most cases you have established the main character and set up the basic plot or action, so we ask ourselves what’s next. First chapters usually come pretty quickly but second ones can stump us in some cases. So for the second chapter of Orchard House, and if you haven’t read it yet please do so now or this won’t make much sense, there were a few things I wanted to accomplish or establish. First was to establish the female lead character. It’s key to not just introduce her but to show a few things about her. In the scene in which she is first introduced I use a music reference to tell us a little about her. Her singing “Call Me The Breeze” by Lynyrd Skynyrd as she comes into the house lets us know she is free spirited and independent without actually coming out and saying so. The scene is also played lightly and with a touch of humor as the two characters come face to face in an awkward sort of way. I did it this way so we wouldn’t be super serious about things right off the bat. There will be time for emotional drama later but for now to bring likability to the characters I felt it was essential to have their meeting occur in a way which the characters, and the readers, would remember.

Later, as the two decide on their road trip to Wal Mart again I used music references to set the scene, particularly the emotions and character of my two lead players. I realize that the references may seem like too many all crammed together – we find three song references in a very short span of time – but my idea was to help put the forth the idea that at one time Matthew had wanted to be or had been a music critic. So beginning with a reference to an obscure one hit wonder of the late 80’s, early 90’s – “Power Windows” by Billy Falcon – I attempt to let the reader know that Matthew initially sees Summer as a simple, love-is-all-that’s-important kind of girl. If one doesn’t know the song, and I don’t expect many readers to, my hope is maybe they’ll look into it. By the next line it seems Matthew’s assessment is wrong as another song reference comes: “Life Is A Highway” by Tom Cochrane. Again, and this song is more popular so maybe the point will be taken, I try to show the carefree, everyday-is-an-adventure spirit of my female character. I was going to end the references there, but I wanted the scene to reflect that they were clicking thanks to music on the radio and so I added yet one more music reference: “I’m On Fire” by The Dwight Twilley Band. I realize music references can be lost on the reader if they don’t know the song, but here I was writing more for myself to help me get into the fun mindset of these characters together. I could imagine them hanging their heads out the window and shouting the line “You aint, you aint, you aint got no lover” from this early power pop classic. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to use obscure references that the reader may not get, but in this case I’m trying to show the reader that Matthew has extensive music knowledge and it’s obviously something he loves and can relate to. On a personal level I feel we do shape our lives around music we listen to or enjoy, and in this story in particular i wanted to explore that with a character.

Finally, in notating things about this chapter I want to point out that only one character was introduced in this chapter. That was intentional. My idea was to show the importance of this character to the story. In chapter one we met the narrator and two other minor characters, but here it all centers around Summer and her arrival on the scene. This is designed to let the reader know she is possibly the most important character in not only the author’s eye but the narrator as well.

Like I said in my previous notes I don’t know if any of this will be of interest to anyone, but I thought I would share a little about the writing process and what goes inside this writer’s head as he is crafting a story. Hope to see you soon with Chapter three.

Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything Ch 2


Chapter 2

Back out on the gravel road it didn’t take long to go around the bend to Orchard House. On the right stood grape vines wrapped around wooden trellises, and not far ahead on the left sat a row of gazebos and small buildings with a large hand painted sign reading “The Artist’s Village. Open every Friday -Saturday.” Across from that a graveled drive led up a small hill to the house. I made the turn and passed through an opening in the fence, watching as the big white farmhouse came into clearer view. I passed by a large magnolia tree in the front yard and parked beside the house. It was a huge structure painstakingly restored on the outside so it looked like it must have appeared in my parent’s time. The front porch was small; a mere shadow of the house, but one could tell it was full of rooms and history. Getting out of the car, I felt like I had been instantly transported back in time to when large families all lived together, mothers and fathers, their children and their spouses, and their children, all under one roof. The fact that it was surrounded on three sides by the massive fruit orchard gave me a feeling that this house was too big for one person. Probably why the dog came free. And free he was, running free towards me.
I barely had time to prepare myself for Jackson’s excitement over company. He barked hello several times and then parked himself at my feet waiting for me to pet him. “Well hello, you must be Jackson,” I said, rubbing the top of his head, which made his tongue hang out drool and all. I laughed. “I’m going to need a bib just to pet you.”
I stood beside the car with Jackson at my heel and took in a deep breath. Even the air was different here. Gone was the smell of car exhaust, trash tossed along the roadsides, factory smokestacks spewing forth their poison for the cluttered masses. No, in this air I could smell the magnolia tree in the front yard, the peach blossoms and apple trees, the wildflowers that grew around the house. I could even catch the scent of that most glorious smell from my youth, honeysuckle. As a young boy I had traipsed through near meadows of it at my grandparent’s home, and here it was again, that sweet scent on the breeze as if to say, ‘Welcome to your second childhood. We have been waiting. ‘ If only I could have believed such a thing were possible.
I got my bags out of the car and began to lug them around to the back of the house. Here the house could truly be enjoyed in its splendor. A large porch wrapped around the back. On one end a gas grill and one of those old metal porch swings. Not the kind that hung on chains, but that gained its swinging motion from metal runners at its base like a rocking chair. On the other end of the porch sat a pair of metal chairs with a glass end table between them. The glass was painted with roses looping around vines reminding me of church windows. Beside the chairs was the back door, adorned with a wooden plaque with painted apples and peaches on it. On it was painted “Welcome home. Friends enter.” I got the key out and let myself in. Turning back, I looked to see Jackson had stopped and was sitting at the foot of the steps. Probably trained to stay off the porch, I thought.
Setting my bags down, I saw that I had entered into a large room that served as both kitchen and dining room. On the left side was an oak dining table, covered by a tablecloth decorated with images of apples in baskets. Four chairs sat around it, and a fake flower arrangement served as the table’s centerpiece. To the right was the kitchen area tiled with, you guessed it, apple painted linoleum. A modern kitchen bar stood in the center, while along the walls was all the conveniences of a real home: refrigerator, electric range, a washer and dryer stacked on top of each other, sink, and cabinets. Looking out the kitchen window, I could see rows upon rows of peach trees all blossoming pink. A small door led outside into the yard, and as if in trance I followed it out into the orchard. The scent and color took my breath away. The trees blanketed the land, canopies of pink blossoms stretching far into the hills, making me feel as if I had just stepped out into an alien landscape in some other world. “Dorothy, I don’t believe you’re in Kansas anymore,” I whispered to myself.
Back inside the house I inspected the kitchen, pulling out cabinet drawers and seeing what kind of things they kept around. Everything for the perfect kitchen could be found here, from silverware to cooking pots and pans, to steak knives, and pizza cutters, and all manner of cooking utensils. It seemed when they furnished the place they didn’t leave out anything. Hand towels and wash cloths hung neatly by the sink. Everything was cleaned and in its proper place. Off the kitchen an open door led into a small bathroom. It was cramped and in one corner stood a hot water heater. An old fashioned sink sat in another corner, a porcelain basin sitting upon a pedestal. The bathtub was the old style as well. It sat up on clawed legs and made me think of a cowboy in an old western relaxing after a day on the range with a cigar in his mouth and hat still on his head.
I returned to the kitchen and picked up my bags. I walked through the dining room and into a living room area. Here there was a real fireplace, a couch, a couple of chairs, an old TV with a VCR hooked up. I noticed there wasn’t a DVD or blu ray player. This didn’t surprise me. The TV sat in a homemade entertainment center, its top shelf lined with VCR tapes, mostly western movies and old shows. The bottom shelf held old fashioned board games for families to enjoy, checkers, parchesi, backgammon, even an old well worn Candyland. Looking out the living room window I could see the magnolia tree and beyond it the artist village and gravel road. It instantly made me weary from my travels. I sat my bags down on the couch and looked back towards the kitchen. The tour of the house could wait. I needed a bath and I needed it now.
It took me awhile to get used to the tub. After all, for the past several years all I had taken were showers. Life had been so hectic I was always in a rush, and I barely had time to stand still, let alone sit still in a bathtub. But here at Orchard House there was no shower. Just this big claw foot bathtub. I almost had to force myself to stay in the tub, draping my arms over the high sides, and letting the warmth take me away. There was a half empty bottle of Bubble bath, so in this rare moment I poured nearly a fourth of it under the hot running water. I have to admit that it was relaxing laying there in the luxurious warmth and bubbled splendor. I felt like I could nod right off. And that’s just what I did. Or at least I think I did.
A loud noise brought me up from my bathtub nap. It sounded like a slamming door, then something getting slung down hard on the kitchen floor. I heard a whistle. Not the sound of a kettle boiling or a train coming down the track, but the whistle that represents awe and exclamation when someone finds something beyond their expectations. Then the whistle turned into a happy sounding tune. I recognized it instantly. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Call me the breeze. It was at that point I finally realized someone else was in the house.
I climbed from the tub and threw my legs over the high sides, snatching a towel from a shelf on the wall. I bumped the sink as I wrapped it around my waist. I heard a low voice whisper, “Oh hell,” as I rushed out into the kitchen area. Standing between the dining room and the fireplace that separated it from the living room was a young woman. She had been looking at my luggage there on the couch and realizing she wasn’t alone. With my rush out of the bathroom she spun towards me. Surprise turned to shock, which quickly turned to embarrassment.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” she apologized. She put her hand to her mouth, then corrected herself and covered her eyes instead. I looked down quickly to make sure nothing was showing and clutched the towel tighter to me. “I’m sorry,” she repeated and turned her back to me.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
She dared a glance back at me. She took her hand and pushed a strand of long dark hair out of her eyes. “I just rented the place. I didn’t think anyone else was here. They didn’t say anything about other guests.”
“Well, I just rented it no more than half an hour ago. They must have a short memory.” I reached for the phone on the wall. The number to the fruit stand was posted beside it and I started dialing.
She turned to face me again. “What are you doing?”
“I’m calling them to find out what’s going on.” Then my towel fell off.
She let out a squeal and quickly turned away. “Maybe you should dress first,” she suggested with a nervous giggle. I don’t know who was more red – she, I, or the apples out in the orchard.
As a child I had a recurring nightmare. It’s the first day of school and I’m walking the halls. It’s nice to be there and I’m happy to be reunited with my friends after the summer and maybe meet a nice girl to boot. I’m alone in the hall lost in thought when the bell rings. The classrooms dispel their students and they come rushing out in the hallway to go to their next class, their lockers, or quite possibly the smoking block. As everyone is scurrying around me I suddenly realize I’m naked. And within seconds everyone else does too. They laugh and point and I’m so embarrassed I’m trying to find an empty classroom to escape to. That’s what it felt like with this stranger in Orchard House, and I, just like in the dream, ran for it. Dashing back into the bathroom I slammed the door behind me and began to hurriedly dress. Getting my pants and shirt back on I looked in the mirror. If I was trying to gain courage from my reflection it wasn’t happening. I took a deep breath and stepped back out into the kitchen to confront the woman. Unfortunately I didn’t know what to say. I never was much good with the ladies, and especially not ones who just showed up inside your house. It didn’t help matters that she was beautiful. She had long dark hair that framed a face that carried a slight trace of Native American heritage. She wasn’t dark skinned, but her high cheekbones and shape of her face gave it away. She had deep brown eyes and light freckles painted her face, which bore no trace of makeup. She was wearing long jeans, brown at the knees as if she spent most of her time on her knees in a garden, and a brightly colored t-shirt that happily exclaimed “I love nerds” on the front. For a moment I almost wished for a pocket protector and black framed glasses.
Finally finding my voice I asked her, “So what’s your name?”
She held out her hand. “I’m Summer.”
I took it and her hand shake was pretty firm. “Matthew.” I sighed and picked the phone off the wall again. “Well, let’s get this thing straightened out I suppose.” I dialed the number on the wall and it began to ring. I looked at the woman who had now sat down at the kitchen table to wait the outcome. She was watching me with her dark eyes, brown like the rich earth, and I had to look away because I wasn’t used to it. It’s not that I found her gaze intrusive, it’s just eye contact has always been an alien thing to me. When no one picked up the phone on the other end I dared to look at her again. She sadly smiled.
“Hey look, you were here first,” she said. Her duffle bags had been sitting in the kitchen floor and so she stood up reaching for them. Hefting one in each arm she started for the door. “I’ll just go back to the store and ask for my money back.”
I hung up the phone as she came around me and opened up the door. I didn’t know what to say.
“I’m sorry to have intruded, Mr. Matthew. I truly thought the place was empty.” She held out her hand and I took it. Her palm was now soft and warm and it made me realize her handshake earlier was the first time a woman had touched me since Ashley. Not a thing to be thinking of at all when this woman is walking out the door. But it was just a handshake after all. Business, not pleasure.
She stepped out on the back porch and went down the steps without looking back. She was proud. She wouldn’t show me a look of sympathy, nor regret. She wouldn’t look at me from beneath her dark locks, or stare at me from deep eyes to say she didn’t want to go. Instead, she disappeared around the corner of the house and I heard her fumble for her keys to open her car door. I stood there in the doorway, just staring out at the orchard. I had come here to be alone, to find what was next for me if anything. I didn’t want company; I just wanted my sad world to stop spinning enough to gather my thoughts.
The closing of her car door brought me out of my thoughts of aloneness. “Hell,” I muttered, and pushed open the screen door. I ran down the steps and around the corner. She had put the car in reverse and was getting ready to back down the long drive. I threw up my hand. “Hey wait!” I came around to her window. She was looking at me curiously.
“Did I forget something?” she asked.
“No, it’s not that. Look, the house is huge. It has rooms upstairs and downstairs. It should be enough space for us both to live in without running over top each other. If you don’t mind sharing the house with a stranger, I guess I don’t mind either.”
She seemed to think about it, staring down into her own lap silently before looking up at me. “I’ll tell you what. I have business here in the area. It may take me three days to finish up. Once it’s done I’ll get out of your hair. I won’t be a bother in the meantime.”
I smiled. “Neither will I. and I promise not to flash you anymore.”
She laughed. “Okay. Deal.”
I stepped back and let her get out the car. “You want ground floor or upstairs?” I asked.
She reached into her back seat to grab her duffel bags. “I’m used to apartment living. I’ll take upstairs if you don’t mind.”
“That’s fine, here let me help you.” I reached for one of her bags but she wouldn’t let me take it. Miss independence. “Well, I’m going to go and finish settling in. Just make yourself at home, Summer.” I left her to carry her bags as she wished and returned to the house. Back in the kitchen I had to ask myself what I was doing, staying in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with a woman who had to be twenty years my junior. In the city the neighbors would have been wagging their tongues for sure. I stepped into the bathroom and looked at the discarded towel in the floor. I had to laugh at my embarrassing moment upon meeting Summer. It was the stuff of sitcoms and comedy movies, not real life. It was also the kind of things you tell your kids when they grow up. Now where did that thought come from? Maybe once I had thought of children, but never more. One woman can kill everything for you.
I had taken my bath things out and set them on the sink before my bath. I looked down at a razor sitting on the edge. Picking it up I stared at it, wondering if I would ever be so brave to show Ashley just what she had done. I ran some warm water and sprayed shaving cream into my hands. Rubbing the cream on my face, I took the razor more firmly and shaved the three days growth off my face. I watched myself in the mirror with red rimmed eyes but I refused to cry.

I took the ground floor bedroom as I had said I would. It lay at the front of the house. One step out of the room and you would be out in the hallway. Another step and you’d be out the front door. A staircase descended to meet the ground floor here in the hallway. Following the hallway in the opposite direction and you would wind around a corner into the living room. From there it was just another right into the dining room and kitchen. It may have seemed something of a maze in this farmhouse, but it was perfect in making one feel that they weren’t sharing it with someone else. I could hear Summer upstairs, opening dresser doors and closets it sounded like. I set about putting my things up as well.
I set my luggage up on the bed, and looked around the room. While it was designed to look like home, it certainly didn’t look like any home I had ever lived in. The room was done up in blue. The bedspread was blue and white roses, and everything seemed to match it. On the bed the pillowcases were light blue. A lamp of the same color sat on a nightstand. Fake blue flowers sat on a dresser and were reflected in the mirror behind them. The valances above the windows were done in blue patchwork, and hanging on the wall was a framed reprint of ‘The Blue Boy’, the famous oil painting by Thomas Gainsborough. I thought it appropriate that I had set out on this road trip because of my blues, and now here I was in a room done completely in blue.
I opened my suitcases and went about putting my clothes away in the dresser. Might as well make it like home since I had paid for a week. I was happy to see a small desk in one corner with a blue stone paperweight on its top keeping in theme with the rest of the room. The desk looked perfect for writing on and so I unpacked all my writing gear into its empty drawers. Paper, pencils, pens, erasers, an electronic dictionary and thesaurus, as well as all my various notebooks filled with half finished writing on an array of subjects, all of which I had lost interest in. Also on this desk I set a framed photo of two people in happy times. They were standing outside a movie theater, its neon marquee declaring “FOX” in big capital letters. The man in the picture looked a lot like me though his smile was beaming much prouder than mine these days. On his arm was a beautiful woman, and she had her head leaning on his shoulder obviously so in love and happy to be standing there in front of The Fabulous Fox Theater in Atlanta. I remembered the picture well. It captured a moment in time that I would always associate with my idea of the perfect couple. I had been just a boy in those days but as I stood there taking their picture with a camera nearly as big as my face I knew I wanted to grow up to be just as happy in love as my parents.
A knock on the door frame brought me out of my reverie. I turned to see Summer leaning against the doorjamb. She had changed clothes. Now instead of brown kneed jeans she had switched to more comfortable capris, yet her t-shirt still declared her love of nerds. She had also switched from shoes to open toed sandals. A small denim purse was draped over her shoulder and she had pinned her hair back in a ponytail, much like I used to wear my hair when I had a head full of it.
“I think I’m going to Bedford for a food run. There’s nothing in the frig here. You want to come?”
In my current reflective mood I really just wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to be reminded of what it was like to go shopping with a companion, or even riding side by side down the road. I didn’t want to be reminded of all the little domestic things couples do. And even though Summer and I were never going to be a couple I still didn’t want a feeling that such a thing were even possible. With anyone.
“Sure, why not, “ I replied.
“Great!” she said. “Meet you at the car.” I heard her skip happily around the corner and I shook my head hoping she wouldn’t skip like that through the local Wal-Mart.

Summer’s car seemed to be nearly as old as she was. It was remarkably well taken care of and she informed me it was the only decent thing that came from an ex. I didn’t ask if she meant boyfriend or husband. None of my business. It was a nice car though. Pontiac Sunbird, complete with sunroof. Not the automatic kind of sunroof, but the ones where you had to slide it open by hand. It made me think of a little heard song from the early 90’s. ‘Power Windows’ by Billy Falcon. I nearly interviewed him once when I was a young intern for Southern Sound magazine. One of the many near interviews I had when I was training to be a failed music critic.
When I got in the car the music comparison changed. Summer wasn’t ‘Power Windows’. No, she was more ‘Life Is A Highway.’ As she started the car and the old rock song came blaring from both speakers I knew this was going to be one fast ride to Bedford.
“Love this song,” she said, as if to rationalize turning up the radio until the speakers started to vibrate and rumble. “But it can’t be the Rascall Flats one. Got to be the original. I hate covers.”
“Tom Cochrane,” I informed her. “Canadian. Used to be in the band Red Rider. “
She raised an eyebrow and pointed to her shirt. “Nerd,“ she grinned, but I wasn’t sure if she meant him or me. She seemed to know my thoughts. “I’m talking about you,” she said, and turned the volume up another notch as we spun out onto the gravel road.
We sped past the store, windows down, and neither of us thought to stop and complain about renting the house out to both of us. As if to send this point home she let out a whooping rebel yell out her side as we passed the Latino men working in the fields. In the city they might have looked at her as if she was crazy but here they just answered right back as we sped off down the road.
When we left the gravel for pavement she turned it up again. “Last notch,” she said, as if to be proud of blowing out her speakers. My thought at this was to wish she would turn it down a little; that it was much too high. But then I laughed. I was sounding like my parents had when I blared out Kiss or Led Zeppelin down in the basement when I was a teenager.
“Too loud?” she shouted.
“Nope,” I yelled back, and in a long suppressed act of rebellion I hung my head out the window and screamed “turn it up!”
By the time we reached the Wal-Mart in Bedford my voice was hoarse from our shouting duet out the car window, finally ending with a mad yelling version of the 70’s radio rock classic “I’m on Fire” by the Dwight Twilley band. I had that record back in ’75 when I was a kid, and it was very appropriate now because on this whole ride I felt just like one of those again. Wild, free, and definitely on fire.

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything by Paul D. Aronson. 2014.”

Orchard House Chapter 1 Notes

I don’t know if anyone other than my wife and I would find this interesting but every time I read fiction I find myself wondering where ideas and inspiration comes from. I’ll read a sentence or some clever line and find myself curious of its origins. So with that said I thought I would share a few thoughts about the writing of this chapter and some of the things behind it.

As I mentioned in my brief introduction to chapter one, and if you haven’t read that chapter I would say do so now, the genesis of this story was a desire to write a love story for my wife Heather. This desire was in place from the moment we met, but every attempt to do so fell short, until we were on our way home from our honeymoon driving down a back road in the Virginia countryside. it was there we discovered a farmhouse for rent on the edge of an orchard and decided to extend our honeymoon a couple extra days. Once there, ideas were already falling into place and i believe i jotted a few notes down at the breakfast nook. Before we left I had already fashioned some of the basic ideas we will see unfold in the chapters ahead. But again all these things were shelved as we got on with our new wonderful life together. A year later we returned to the farmhouse for a few days and the story called to me once more so I hashed out more ideas that would become scenes in this growing tale in my head. I’ll talk about some of these scenes as we get to them.

The opening paragraphs of this first chapter were not so well planned. I may have had a story idea but I didn’t know where to start telling it until listening to the local rock station and hearing an old song from the 70’s, “Running On Empty” by Jackson Browne. A great road song, the opening lines go something like “Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels”. This musical image of a guy driving down the road not sure where he’s going gave me my opening, and when it came time to figure out why my character was driving down the road in the first place another 70’s tune came to mind almost instantly: “Can’t You See” by Marshall Tucker. In that song the singer relates the feelings of being mistreated by a cruel hearted woman and just feels like escaping to anywhere. It seemed to fit the character that was taking shape in my mind. This would not be the last time music loomed large in the creation of this story. A lot of key scenes ended up being constructed around a song in an attempt to lend even more character to the people within the story. In this way I hope to illustrate how music does shape our lives and how we connect with songs that speak to us. We’ll just have to see if i actually achieve that or not.

In another music related note another song I was listening to as I put this chapter together was an 80’s southern rock tune called “Living On A Dream” by Arc Angels. Even though the song didn’t really inspire me directly the band would show up mentioned as the main character Matthew Dean muses how he could do without the memory of his ex in his old Arc Angels t-shirt. They aren’t so well known today and so I thought the reference would go unnoticed, so there you go, notice it 😉

In trying to keep the first chapter basic and the focus on the protagonist I only introduced two additional characters (unless you count the mentioning of the dog Jackson) the young lemonade seller Twyla and her grandmother. At first these characters weren’t intended to play much of a part, only to get my main character to the farmhouse at the heart of the story, but they ended up getting fleshed out more further down the road, so to speak.

First chapters should be designed to get the reader’s curiosity and as such this one is set up pretty simple. I knew I didn’t want to divulge too much and so I just threw little tidbits of information in there to be fleshed out later. This is a  writing habit of mine, as it gives me more to work on as I move on to other chapters. What may seem like just a descriptive line of text in many cases is something for me to return to later when i start to lose focus. I also knew I wanted an “every man” type of story where just about anyone could relate or follow, and so first person narrative seemed the way to go. I hope you will stay on the journey with me as we join Matthew Dean and his time at Orchard House. After all the best road trips are taken with friends.

Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything ch 1


Introductory note:
This writing project came about with my desire to write a contemporary romance novel for my wife Heather. I came up with this tale of two baggage laden people wishing to come to terms with their past and problems while staying at an old rented farmhouse. Inspired by a very real place I was able to weave real events and fiction, music and imaginings, and even a little family history into the mix. Along the way here I’ll try to include notes and inspiration of the writing process. These will be posted separately after each chapter, if we get that far. So let’s begin shall we? Here is the first chapter of “Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything”….

Chapter One

The heart of everything lies at the end of a dirt road not far from Bedford, Virginia. Perhaps it’s best for the moment I not give its exact location for in doing so I’m afraid it will attract others and my special place will become nothing more than a haven for curiosity seekers. I know others will want to know what makes it so special, how it can thrust two people of different ages and backgrounds, seeking two very different things, into a headlong time of discovery and awakening. But it’s more than just a farmhouse at the end of a road which sheltered two lost souls; it was also the rain, the orchard, and the little white church that contributed to the events that would change my life forever.
Before I discovered the big white farmhouse I was a failure. My first book, a coming of age novel set in the great depression, had done miserably. A book of poetry had been shelved by my publisher as a result and my future as a writer looked entirely bleak. In addition, after the death of my parents, my relationship with all my siblings had soured, making me feel as if I had no real family. And let’s not forget my failure as a husband. Well, I can’t really say that, because I never quite made it that far. Ashley left me waiting at the altar, having had second thoughts on the day of our wedding. I felt like my name was no longer Matthew Dean, author. It was now Big Nobody, complete failure.
I had decided after my disastrous wedding day I would just get in my car and drive with no destination in mind. It took me a year before I actually gave up on everything around me, packed my bags, and decided to embark on my drive of no return. How I ended up in Bedford I have no idea. Perhaps it was the D-day war memorial, part of that town’s tragic wartime history when most of its sons died in battle, or the fact it was close to Roanoke, where my parents had grown up during the 1920’s and inspired my first novel. Or perhaps it was just the beautiful mountains, tinged blue in the early morning sun.
No matter the reason, I found myself and what remained of my life hurling down Route 43 away from the Bedford limits and towards the calling mountains. But before I began my ascent I saw a sign: ORCHARD HOUSE – 4 MILES.
On impulse I made the turn down a paved road that weaved its way among farmland and meadows for the first couple miles, before entering a lane of trees that soon lost its pavement and was replaced by loose gravel. Coming out of the lane I found myself seeing small farmhouses and mobile homes that appeared to have been plopped down on tracts of land as if its inhabitants didn’t worry about the neat placement of houses I was accustomed to in the city. Here, a house stood surrounded by trees, another lay not far from a bubbling creek bed. A log cabin stood on a small rise overlooking a yard in which it looked like the owners were slowly thinning out the thick forest to accommodate another log cabin in progress. A mobile home stood far off the road, so far back that its driveway could be easily mistaken for another road. Rounding a corner several chickens were crossing the road and I came to a complete stop to accommodate them. While waiting for them to cross I noted there was a small white church just up the road, and on the other side of it the beginnings of a seemingly large orchard.
Making sure all the chickens were across the road, obviously to get to the other side, I drove on, making my way towards the church. It reminded me of the old church my grandparents had attended: a white single floor structure, topped by an open steeple with a bell that clearly hung there ready to summon parishioners to Sunday service. I thought to myself, it doesn’t get more country than this. To reaffirm that thought, passing by the church I found myself driving through an orchard that lined both sides of the road. Here acres of apples and peaches had been invaded by civilization, and a road had been built going right through its heart. I could see a few workers with baskets picking the fruit and then loading them into the back of a beat up pickup truck. Two of these farmers were at the roadside inspecting an apple tree that seemed to be growing out from between two large boulders. I stopped the car and rolled down my window.
“Hello,” I called out and they turned to me, all smiles.
“Hola,” they replied, their dark faces shaded by the large hats they wore to keep the sun out of their eyes.
“Orchard house?”
They continued to smile, nodding their heads and pointing up the road. “Si, si,” they heartily exclaimed.
I grasped what little Spanish I remembered from high school. “Muchas gracias,” I said.
“De nada,” both men replied, and I drove off up the road leaving them with a friendly wave.
If this had been the city I came from there would have been no waving, no friendly smiles. Not because of any racial or cultural differences, but just that in the cities I’ve known everyone is so closed off in their own little three feet of space, anything neighborly is quite alien. But down this country road I was feeling like I stepped into a whole other world.
As the gravel thinned out and the road turned to dirt and clay I saw a little store ahead on the right just on the edge of the orchard. A sign out front read: WELCOME TO ORCHARD HOUSE.
I don’t know what I had expected when I first saw the sign that brought me down this road, but I guess I had envisioned a resort hotel or some old historic plantation house with luscious gardens for tourists to walk through. I wasn’t expecting a country grocery store. Heck, maybe Orchard House was just the name of this quaint rural community and the store had simply adopted its title.
Casting my disappointment aside, I decided I better go in and get a soda or tea for the road. It was a few miles back to the main highway and if I was going up the mountain after all I better have something to drink. Getting out of the car I stretched my legs and went in the front door. A little bell jingled from somewhere above my head and I found myself facing a slightly older woman in a country apron just inside the doorway.
“Well hi there,” she said in a southern drawl, which sounds much better coming from women than it does men. “Welcome to Orchard House. What can we do you for?”
I had to chuckle. In the city that phrase would be taken in a completely different way. “Something cold to drink,” I replied.
“Right there,” she said pointing to a refrigerated cold case against the back wall. “We got soda, water, tea, fruit drinks, even beer if that’s your thing.” She said “thing” like “thang” and I found it a bit endearing.
“Thank you mam.” I walked back to the cooler and grabbed myself a can of lemonade for now and a large bottle of my favorite root beer for later. I set them on the counter and reached into my front pocket for a couple dollar bills I had crammed there after pumping gas that morning.
She rang up the root beer and looked at the lemonade in a curious fashion before turning her eyes on me. “If you want a good lemonade fella, we got some homemade back there in the fruit stand,” she said, pointing to an open doorway where I could see baskets and baskets of various fresh fruit from the adjacent orchard. “My little Twyla makes it herself. Go try you a cup.”
I figured why not, there’s not much you can do to ruin lemonade. So I headed through the doorway and into the fruit stand. Everywhere you looked there were baskets and bushels of fruit. Apples, peaches, oranges, lemons, grapes…you name it. If it could be grown in the American south it seemed to be under the roof of Orchard House. Walking down an aisle that had to include at least a dozen different varieties of apples, I saw a little girl, Twyla I presumed, at a table in the back. She sat on a stool like an eight year old bartender (though I have never seen one of those before) mixing up a new batch of her lemonade. Spread out on the table was assorted lemons, a sack of sugar, and what appeared to be her creation in a bottled form. She, being the good little salesperson, saw me coming and perked right up.
“Hey there Mister, want some lemonade? First cup is free.”
“Yeah your mom told me you made it yourself.”
The girl giggled and beamed proudly. “She will like that,” she grinned. Then she leaned forward and said in a hushed whisper, “She’s not my mom. She’s my grams.”
I turned around to the doorway I’d come through to see if the woman had followed me. She hadn’t.
“Well little miss,” I said, “she looked young enough to be your mom.”
“Oh, she’s not an old gram. She’s only 50. You probably aren’t far behind.”
I laughed out loud. You have to love the honesty of children. She was right of course. At forty five I guess I wasn’t that far at all.
She poured me a cup of her concoction and handed it to me. I took it and without hesitation drank the contents down in one gulp. It was very good, probably the best I had tasted. “This has got to be the worst orange juice ever,” I exclaimed, to which she frowned. “But for a lemonade it is absolutely the bestest.”
She smiled brightly. “Thank you mister.” Then she frowned at me as if she were a parent getting ready to admonish a child. “But I think you should know ‘bestest’ isn’t a real word.”
“Yeah I know. But it is the best lemonade I have tasted in many a year.”
The saleswoman in the girl saw her opportunity. “Would you like to buy a bottle?”
I feigned surprise. “What? A bottle?”
“No I won’t buy a bottle.” Then I gave her a wink. “But I’ll take a whole case of the stuff if you got it.”

Twyla’s grandmother looked very surprised when I came walking out of the fruit stand with a case of her lemonade in my arms. She laughed.
“My, I thought she had it in her to sell, but she has clearly outdone herself.”
“Mam, Twyla makes the best lemonade I had to overlook my disappointment in Orchard House.”
For a moment her smile faltered. “Disappointed? What disappointed you?”
“Well,” I confessed, “The sign at the end of the road said Orchard House, and I guess I just thought it was a hotel or bed and breakfast. Some place I could kick back my heels and forget the things I have to do for a while.”
Now she smiled. “Well technically, this here isn’t Orchard House. The actual house is up around the bend on the backside of the husband and I converted into just the sort of thing you are looking for.”
“Wow, well I guess it’s not a real disappointment after all.”
“Nope. And it’s empty at the moment and ready for visitors. Only 65 dollars a night. “
“That sounds very reasonable. Indoor plumbing?”
“Sure is. You got a full bath, kitchen, dining room, den, two bedrooms downstairs, two more on the upper level. And like I said, it’s empty so you can sleep in any room you like.”
“Can I see it?”
“Sure can. Just go out to the road, take a right, head around the bend and you’ll see it. It sits up on a little hill looking down on the orchard on one side, the road on the other. “
I pulled out my money and paid the woman for the lemonade. “Okay, yeah I’ll go take a look.”
“Really there’s no need to drive. You can just step out back and see it on the hill. Twyla, show this nice man the house.”
Since the girl had made a new friend in me she grabbed my hand and led me out the back door of the store. Sure enough, it sat up on a hill not far off, and I could tell from even here it was just the place of solitude I was looking for. Nearly surrounded by fruit trees, I could imagine myself walking through the orchard gathering my thoughts and trying to plan what was left of my life. Sifting through the wreckage left behind by Ashley I was certainly going to need the isolation.
Twyla squeezed my hand. “You okay, Mister?”
I looked down at her and smiled. “Sure. I was just lost for a moment.”
“I got lost once,” she offered. “But Jackson came and found me.”
“Who’s Jackson?”
She pointed to the house. “See there in the yard? That’s Jackson.”
Because of the distance it took me awhile to focus on what she was talking about, but then I saw it, a big brown and white dog lying in the grass.
“He comes with the house,” she told me. “He don’t bite or nothing. “
“That’s good.”
“Unless you bite first,” she added with a smile.
“Swell,” I said. “Well, I guess I’ll take it.”
She let go of my hand and ran back into the store. I could hear her shouting for her grams with glee in her voice. “He wants it! Now gimme my dollar, I sold it.”
I laughed. Twyla was going to be a force to be reckoned with in the business world one day.

By the time I got back inside, the matronly woman had a key in her hand. “Twyla tells me you’re going to stay. How many nights you be needing?”
I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I was winging things and not thinking beyond the moment at all. “Go ahead and set me up for a week. Got no place I need to be until then.” I didn’t want to tell her I had no place to be at all. That home didn’t exist for me anymore. It’s odd when there is no way back from where you came. All you can do is stand still or move forward when every bridge behind you is burning. I figured this was as good a place as any to stand still.
“That will be 300 dollars,” she said. “I knocked off 25 for your disappointment.”
When I saw her knowing smile I grinned and thanked her. I opened my wallet and counted out the cash. Noticing credit cards peeking out, she informed me, “We do take cards if you prefer. We ain’t so far out we only know the color green.”
“Oh. Ok. I didn’t know. Yeah, let me pay with my card then.”
I took out my credit card and she handed the cash back to me. “We also like the color gold,” she chuckled, and it reminded me of my own mother, sitting on her back porch and telling Ashley all my boyhood horror stories. I didn’t mind the memory of my mother, but I could do without the image of my ex in my old Arc Angels t-shirt.
She handed me my receipt and got me to sign for the charge. “You should have everything you need up there already. Clean towels and sheets. There is a washer and dryer in the kitchen so you can clean your clothes and stuff. If you need anything there is a phone on the wall. Local calls are free and our number is posted beside it. There’s no food in the frig, so you will have to stock that yourself. Umm, let’s see, what else?”
I tucked the receipt away in my wallet and was already looking forward to a nice long bath. I had some soap left over from the last hotel and a new bottle of shampoo from where I stopped off at the shopping mall in Bedford.
As if reading my mind she said, “There may be some soap, but probably no shampoo. And in case Twyla didn’t mention it, we have an old Australian shepherd who stays at the house. His name is Jackson, but he stays outside and won’t bother you. There are some dog biscuits in the cabinet if you want to give him a treat from time to time though. But other than that, I think you are all set. If something happens and you lose the key, just give us a shout either here or on the phone and we’ll bring you another. Twyla and I have to head out soon, but my husband Raymond will be here to help if you need anything. He’s out in the orchard with the workers right now. “
“I think I’ll be okay. Thank you.”
“You enjoy it up there. Generations of my husband’s family have lived there. Lots of history and good times behind those walls. Hope it will be good for you too.”
I smiled, thinking I really could use some good memories to outweigh the ones that had been less than kind here lately. “I’m sure it will be a pleasant experience,” I told her and headed for the door.
“Oh wait, here’s a basket,” she called. “Be sure to pick you some apples while you’re there. Personally I like the red delicious, but Twyla is all about the granny smith.”
I took the empty basket and thanked her again. I waved to the little girl in the back, who true to her grams word had just taken a bite of a green apple and was waving back. Going out the door, I looked back, wondering if all this could be a mirage. After a lifetime in the city, Orchard House seemed like a dream. I had no idea how dreamy it was about to get…