Orchard House Chapter 5

image

Chapter 5

After our moment in the kitchen that afternoon things seemed slightly changed. Maybe we had a new respect for each other, or perhaps that heart to heart conversation took us from complete stranger to new friend. Either way, I did feel a little more comfortable around her. It’s a scary thing to feel exposed to someone you just met. My deepest sadness had been revealed to her, and maybe in a small way she had revealed her own. Feeling a need to get out of the kitchen, and indeed the house for a while, we decided to take a walk in the orchard. We could have wished to be alone and retired to our rooms, but suddenly I was very aware that I didn’t want to bear my burden alone anymore. I realized then we all needed someone to talk to. Bottling things up inside would just destroy a person from within. And even if you knew you wouldn’t have that person to talk to forever, you still needed them now.
“Thanks for everything, Summer,” I said, as we walked amongst the trees.
“Thanks for what?”
“For trying to get me out of my shell.”
“I didn’t do anything, Matthew. You needed to let some things out and I was there.”
“Yeah, but I feel like ever since you showed up you have been trying to get me to relax and…I don’t know…be a little more like you.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want you to be like me. I probably wouldn’t like you too much if you were.” She laughed. “I like you the way you are. You are an interesting guy. It’s been a long time since I met a guy I want to know more about.”
“I’m not that interesting. I’m just a forty-five year old has-been. Or never-was.”
“Don’t put yourself down so,” she chided. “You act like you’re so old life is over.”
“Some days I feel like it.”
“Well, forty-five ain’t old.”
I shrugged. “If you say so.” I noticed she wasn’t telling me how old she was. Maybe she wanted to keep that barrier between us. If that was the case, I wasn’t too bothered by it. I mean, just because we had become new friends didn’t mean anything beyond that. She might have found me interesting, but surely not that interesting.
“So what do you do, Matthew?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean do you travel all the time staying in old farmhouses or do you have a real job?”
I laughed. “Well, I guess I’m a writer.”
“You guess?”
“I had a book out. It didn’t do too good. My publisher decided to pass on anything else I’d written.”
“What else had you written?”
“Poetry.”
“Cool.”
“As a younger man I tried my hand at being a music writer.”
Her face lit up. “I knew it! You’re a music nerd. “
“Yeah, but a very boring one. I didn’t have anything bad to say about the bands or albums I reviewed. I loved the music too much to be critical about it. I covered the Southern Rock scene for a fairly decent magazine. Unfortunately, by the time the time the 80’s hit the southern rock scene was dead, so I was a bit too late.”
“I was a bit too late too,” she said. “I was born in the 80’s.”
There it was. A woman never says exactly how old she is, but she always finds a way to hint at it. And her hint made me feel incredibly old. She must have realized this because she let out a long sigh. “Okay, stop guessing in your head because you’ll get it wrong. I’m twenty-nine.”
“It’s okay, I wasn’t guessing.”
“Yes you were. I think part of what make you so nervous around me is the age difference. You think I’m so young, and that you’re so old.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Fibber. I’ve seen it in the way you treat me. I say things and you give me that look as if you aren’t sure what’s appropriate to say. Like today, I know you wanted to say I looked nice when I came home. But you didn’t because you were afraid of what I might say or think. But let me tell you something, a secret if you will. A girl likes to be told she looks nice. “
I didn’t know how to respond. She was right of course. I felt like there were boundaries to keep, and that if I crossed them, even innocently, they would be construed as something bad. So I had tried to keep things casual and simple, while she had been trying to get me to relax and just be free. In that way I guess we clashed. In that way perhaps the age difference did show. But walking with her now in the orchard on a sunny afternoon I did find myself relaxing. So much so, I wanted to reach for her hand. But still I felt I shouldn’t. This wasn’t what she wanted. Just because a person thinks you’re interesting or wants to be your friend doesn’t mean they want to be touched. Even though I knew I needed someone for emotional support, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be touched either, even if it was something as simple as holding hands. I lived in a world where people put up fences around themselves, cutting everyone off from each other, and if you let someone inside your fence it changed everything in your relationship with that person. So Summer stepped inside my fence and took my hand. If I was feeling I shouldn’t reach for hers, maybe she felt it was up to her to take the initiative or it would never happen.

Walking hand in hand through the orchard was nice. I can’t properly describe how it made me feel, her soft warm hand in my own. It had been so long since I had held someone’s hand like this; I’m not sure what it meant. Ashley was never much for holding hands, nor any public displays of affection, unless she was trying to assert her place as my girl, and then only at the beginning of our relationship. In the later years I felt it was mostly show and rarely genuine affection that made her reach for me, unless it was in private and relegated to the bedroom.
“What ya thinkin?” Summer asked, noticing my mind had wandered off somewhere.
I squeezed her hand. “I was just thinking about how nice this is. Walking with you.”
She smiled, and it was like a ray of sunshine. “I like it, too.” She started swinging her arm and we walked on like two teenagers innocently clutching hands. “I kind of had a rough morning,” she added.
“What do you mean? What happened?”
“”I thought I was ready to see someone today.”
“I’m confused.”
“If you came here to get away from someone, well, I guess I came to find somebody.”
“A guy.”
“Yeah.”
“Does this guy have a name?”
She looked down at the ground. “Yeah, I’m just not sure what it is. He changed it since the last time I saw him.”
“Did you find him?”
“I thought so…but it wasn’t him. It made me think I’m really not ready for this, and I should just go home.”
“Is he like my Ashley?”
“Yeah, he is in a way. I mean, she ruined you for other people, and he ruined me in a similar way. Because of him I can’t hold a relationship for long, I can’t trust anybody, can’t even say I love you without breaking down crying, which tends to freak the guys out.” She shook her head. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
“Maybe you want to trust me,” I answered. “I trusted you with my…hurt.”
She smiled. “Yes you did.”
We walked on in silence for a while. I got the impression she was deciding what to say, or possibly how much of her pain she wanted to reveal.
“My mother died two months ago,” she finally said. “She was a brave woman. All my life I remember her facing down every bad thing that happened to her like she was some kind of war hero. She got sick last year and she tried to face that bravely too, especially when it was diagnosed as terminal cancer. I went to stay with her and in the past year I think she unloaded on me everything she ever wanted to say about my father.”
She let go of my hand because it was starting to shake. I wanted to grab it back but I thought it best just to let her have her freedom. For a brief moment I looked in her face and her eyes held this look as if she might bolt and run at any moment like a wild horse out on the range.
“He left her…us really…when I was seven. I remember sitting on the front porch waiting for him to come home from work one day and he never showed up. I waited until dark and mama made me come in. The next day she told me he wasn’t coming back. When I asked her why, she told me he decided he had a hungry heart and wanted to be somewhere else. I thought at the time she meant that one day we’d get to go to that some place else he went and be a family again. But it never happened. Finally, she just said he didn’t want either one of us and that I should get used to it. I’m still not used to it.” She looked up at me, her eyes dark and serious. “Every man I have known since doesn’t stay either. They all want to be somewhere else eventually. They always run.”
“I won’t run,” I promised.
She stared at me so hard I had to look away. It was making me very nervous.
“Yes you will. You’ll get a hungry heart too. In your defense you can’t help it. You’re a guy.”
“Hey wait a minute, that’s not fair. Not all guys are like your father.”
“No man I have ever known has stayed. Not just my dad, but every…single..guy. And I think sometimes that maybe if I could find my father he could tell me why every man is like that.”
“Summer, I’m not like that. If we were..you know, together…I wouldn’t do that to you.”
She shook her head sadly. “I wish I could believe you, Matthew. I know you mean well and want to be the ideal friend, but you can’t fight your nature.”
I grabbed her hand this time and stopped her right there in the orchard. “Look at me,” I said, and she obliged me, looking at me with her dark smoldering eyes. “As someone said to me earlier, my god, what has he done to you?”
I couldn’t hold her gaze for long, so I looked down, and she saw it as something else other than my own shyness. “What does it matter, Matthew? You won’t even look at me for long before your eyes turn away. How long before the rest of you turns away?”
“I’m not turning away. I’m right here.”
“But I am,” she said, and the dam nearly broke, tears building up in her eyes and threatening to stream down her face. Before that happened though, she did exactly what her eyes had originally told me. She bolted and ran. Without a word, she just turned and took off deeper into the orchard. I didn’t know what to do. Part of me wanted to chase after her; the other said let her go. I debated the things I would say to her that would make things alright, but maybe there was nothing I could say to right the damage her father had done to her. It’s sad how one person can ruin you for life, how they can have a dark effect on you and be a shadow in every relationship you have afterwards. Summer had her father, I had my Ashley. And like two trains gone off the rails, we were dying in the wreckage.

I think what surprised me the most about our aborted walk in the orchard was the temporary deterioration of the mask Summer wore. Up until that point her face was a happy one. Yeah, the night before I had hurt her feelings but in every other moment shared she had been smiling and like a happy go lucky girl in love with life. Now, all of a sudden, I was seeing another side. She had let down her guard and I’d caught a glimpse of the hurt and scared little girl hiding inside. I didn’t quite know what to do from this point forward. After all, maybe that happy exterior wasn’t real at all. Maybe it was there so that people would like her. Perhaps the real Summer was not summery at all. Was this the point she always reached before the men in her life abandoned her? Was this first crack in her wonderful exterior the thing that sent people running, as she claimed?
I walked back to orchard house, glancing behind me every now and then to see if I could spy her out there in the fields, with this new picture of Summer in my head. But if it chased others away from her, it had the opposite effect on me. It made me feel a little bit closer, because I felt she shared a similar pain as mine. Kindred spirits is what they called people like us, but was our hurt so great we would never be able to fully connect or let the pain go? I didn’t have the answers, but I was surprised by the fact that my problem with Ashley was receding to the back of my mind and Summer’s dilemma with her estranged father was edging its way to the front. Is this the way we get past our own troubles and worries, by helping someone else with their own?
I didn’t know what to do but return to the house and wait. Hopefully Summer would find her way back home too. Strange to call such a place home, but as long as she was there it was feeling as such. I sat down on the back porch and began my wait. It was kind of strange but on our first night I had found myself sitting here waiting for her to return from the orchard after I had upset her on our Wal-Mart trip. Now here it was our second night and I was waiting on her in the same fashion. It made me think of that Brad paisley song, ‘Waiting On A Woman.’ Man, was there no end to my music geekdom? Even in serious reflective moments songs popped into my head.
Something else popped into my head as well. I had been without purpose for so long. Forever wrapped up in my own heartbreak I had cut myself off from others. When I felt like I was no good for Ashley, I felt like I was no good to everyone else too. But now here was Summer and it was obvious she needed someone to help her learn to carry on without her mother and resolve the issues with her estranged father. But what could I do? Maybe I could go with her to help her find her dad. Or would it be better to just let her do this on her own and wait for her in the event she needed me when it was all over? As much as I wanted to help, there was this part of me that said let it be. Let her do what she needed to do alone. I think there are some things you have to go through alone, so maybe this was one of them. But on the other hand, I felt with her change of mood in the orchard she was tired of being alone. She needed someone to be there.
While pondering all this, she returned. The sun hadn’t quite gone down, but it was close to sinking behind the blue tinged mountains. I was sitting on the metal porch swing, my feet quietly rocking it on its rails. She came up the steps slowly and around to the porch where I sat. Wordlessly, she settled down beside me. For a moment she didn’t say anything, and neither did i. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, waiting for the best time to say anything. The sinking sun played its light across her freckled face and her eyes took on a copper glow. Staring at her when she wasn’t looking was easy. She was very pleasant to look at, but once she turned her head in my direction I averted my gaze like a shy schoolboy caught looking at the prettiest girl in class. She softly sighed beside me and we both stared off into the coming sunset. Finally she spoke. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to treat you so mean.”
“You don’t treat me mean,” I answered, daring to glance her way.
She looked my way too and tried to smile. “Really Matthew, I don’t mean to treat you badly. It’s just that you are the first guy…man…that I have felt comfortable around in a long time. It’s funny, really. I don’t know you that much. I’ve known you for two days and already I feel we have been friends for years.”
I smiled. “I feel connected too.”
“Yes exactly, that’s what it feels like. Like there is something special, you don’t quite know what it is, but it feels nice.”
“Yes it does.”
“But it scares me too.”
I grinned. “Terrifying.”
“You are still very nervous around me,” she suggested.
I hung my head, kind of embarrassed. “Yes I guess I am.”
She nodded, and then went silent. I could see she was turning something over in that pretty head of hers. “Maybe we just need to start over, so we can be nervous together,” she finally said.
“Maybe so,” I agreed, though to be honest, I wasn’t sure what she was getting at.
She turned a little in her seat so she was facing me. “Matthew, would you like to go grab a bite to eat with me?”
I wasn’t sure what to say. On one hand it seemed like she was asking me out, and on the other hand…well it seemed like she was asking me out on that one too. “You mean like a date?” I nervously asked.
“Well, yeah, if you want to call it that. Does that make you uncomfortable?”
“N-no,” I answered.
“Nervous?”
“Big time.”
She laughed. “Well then, that’s what first dates are all about. Chasing the butterflies from your stomach and getting to know each other. So, you game?”
“Yes I am,” I replied, but there must have been a touch of worry in my voice, because she gave me this look.
“Stop thinking about Ashley. I’m not going to leave you waiting for me to show. In fact, we’re driving together and I know just the place. I spotted it on my way back today. You like Italian?”
“Yes I do. My favorite.”
“Good, come on. Let’s get changed and go.”
“Changed?” I asked.
“Yes. You don’t think I’m going dressed like this, do you? I need to be back in my jeans and t-shirt. I can only take dressing up like a lady in small doses.”
I laughed. “I think you look fine.”
Smiling, she winked at me and stood up. “There ya go. You’re starting to loosen up and relax, I like that. But really, I don’t want to overdress. I’ll be back.”
I stood up to follow her. “Okay. Maybe I won’t overdress either. Taking my car or yours?”
“We took mine to Wal-Mart. Let’s go in yours this time. I’ll show you how to get there.”
“Only if we get to sing out the windows again.”
“Deal,” she said, and we both went into orchard house, she to change and I to wait.

The wait was longer than I thought. How long does it take for a woman to put on jeans and a t-shirt? I thought about that Brad Paisley song again and realized I didn’t mind waiting on a woman either. However, the longer I waited, the more I realized now was my opportunity to impress her. I went to my bedroom and dug through my clothes until I found something nicer to wear. I chose a pair of black khakis and a matching button up shirt. As an added touch I picked out some silver cuff links. I changed into dress shoes and was debating whether to add a tie to my new ensemble when I heard her on the stairs. I didn’t want to keep her waiting so I rushed out the room into the hallway just as she reached the bottom of the stairs.
I stopped in my tracks. Now I knew what was taking her so long. “I thought you said you didn’t want to overdress,” I said, when I finally found my voice.
She was wearing a black dress, the hem coming down to just below her knees, giving one a look at her legs. The dress was slit at one side affording a more teasing glimpse, while allowing her to actually walk. A slightly plunging neckline revealed the beginning swell of her breasts without showing off too much. This was not a trashy dress, but one that was all classy lady. I looked down. On her feet, she wore black high heels, but I could tell from the way she stood that she wasn’t entirely used to them.
“I changed my mind,” she said. “I’m glad I did. That look on your face is priceless.”
Suddenly aware I was staring, I looked away from her. “Oops, sorry. Again, I was expecting jeans and t-shirt. You have surprised me.”
“I can go and change again if you like.”
“Absolutely not. Now we match.”
It was now her turn to look me up and down and she took it at her own leisure. “I like. You look good in black.”
I blushed. “So do you.”
Her smile lit up her whole face. I noticed she had put on a little eye shadow, and the violet shade brought out her dark eyes and the shape of her face, though I had already been aware of those things when we were walking through the orchard. She was one of those rare women who didn’t need makeup, but for tonight if it made her feel more beautiful, then I was all for it, too.
She held out her arm. “So, let’s go paint the town black then.” I took her arm, linking it in mine and we marched together down the hall, and around to the kitchen, as if we were waltzing down the aisle. And even with that thought in mind, never once did I think of Ashley. She was worlds away, and tonight was all Summer.

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

Orchard House Chapter 4 Writing Notes

When looking at these chapters it has been enlightening to me to see how some elements were intentional and yet others weren’t. I believe every writer experiences that moment when a story begins to write itself. We lay down the characters, what makes them tick, their desires, their hangups, their way of talking and interacting and then we just let them go. Often I am surprised where a story goes once I start writing it. This became evident to me in Chapter 4.

Two scenes here weren’t even intended and yet they flashed into being. One was what I now call the flirting scene, where Summer attempts to get Matthew to dance. Originally I had intended to build a scene around the kitchen radio and once I decided on the song the scene just wrote itself. The only thing I intentionally tried to do was to keep it innocent. Though it may be a little flirtatious, it was about fun not desire. I wanted Summer’s carefree, fun attitude to contrast with Matthew’s ineptitude when it comes to interacting and understanding women. Looking back on this after the fact I didn’t realize I was turning the normal romance novel scenario around. In most novels of the genre I have read it’s usually the guy who is trying to bring the girl out of her shell, but here the female is the protagonist.

The second unplanned scene in this chapter was Matthew’s confession about his ex, Ashley. I had always intended this subject to be broached but not quite this soon. It would need discussion(and still needs it further) eventually, but it wasn’t until the exasperated Summer walks away that suddenly it all came out of my character. By starting the reveal of Matthew’s ill fated romantic back story we can now focus on fleshing it out and see how it has damaged his whole outlook on relationships. When starting this I began with a basic idea that he had been left standing at the altar. As we get further into it in later chapters we’ll see how basic ideas come leaping into being when you don’t try to map them out. This for me is the most exciting part about writing: Watching the unplanned parts of the story unfold.

Once again, music played a big part in the flow of this chapter and when I went into it I had a few songs as my outline and built the events around those tunes. First off there was the REM song “(Don’t go back to) Rockville.” Though it is not specifically mentioned, the reference can be found in the mention of a REM t-shirt Matthew wears. Then as he walks to the convenience store and passes the migrant workers it was the Gypsy Kings Latin version of Hotel California that figured largely in the writing process. I don’t think Matthew would have interacted much with these workers in the course of the story if I hadn’t been for that song which I heard on a Latin playlist on the rhapsody streaming service. The scene here had actually begun being written while listening to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John. It’s notion of giving up city life for the country way appealed to the story, but once I arrived upon the migrant workers I didn’t think it was a song they would have been singing amongst themselves. Finally, musically speaking, I got to the scene in the kitchen with Matthew and Summer in the kitchen. The hint is laid out that the first song playing before she arrives home is “Tiny Dancer” by Tim McGraw, but I felt the Kenny Chesney song “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” fit Summer’s carefree personality better, and it also gave me the words to pepper her dialogue with as she begins to dance. I really like how this scene shifts from a physical scene to one that is about emotion when Matt reveals what had happened  between he and Ashley. Again, this scene seemed to shift on its own and not because I had mapped it out as such. My music references and the way music helped craft the story and its events in my head will become a little clearer with the next chapter hopefully. I personally do love music in a big way, but with chapter five we’ll see how it plays a little into the life of our narrator.

In finishing my notes on this chapter I have to admit this was the chapter in which I realized this would be a dialogue heavy story. I personally believe solid relationships are built on dialogue. In the beginning when i first met my wife we spent hours talking. about our life, the past, things we liked or didn’t like, and so if the old adage that a writer should write about what he knows is correct then I know this to be true: If you want to start a relationship of any kind you have to talk. Here the talk is first fun and flirty, then deep and serious. Not only does dialogue help unravel the story in this way it also allows us a peek into the character’s personalities, desires, and dreams. I hope you’ll join me for chapter five and see just how much there is to know about a person once you get characters interacting.

Orchard House Chapter 4

image

Chapter 4

Summer was gone when I got up. Just as she said she would be. I had slept in until nine, a full two hours later than I usually would back in the city. It wasn’t noise, or the lack of it, that finally roused me. It was the sun coming through the sheer blue curtains, lighting across my face, the warmth bringing me up from my rest. Once awake however I was very aware of the lack of noise. In the distance a hound was baying; I could hear what must have been a farm truck far out in the orchard. But that was it. No horns blaring, jackhammers cracking pavement, no police sirens or ear shattering music, no people yelling profanities up and down the street. Any gunshots heard here would be the sound of hunters after a buck, not one punk shooting another over a pair of shoes.
I got up out of bed and dressed for the day. Nothing elaborate, just my favorite jeans, complete with rips in the knees, and a t-shirt advertising a long since passed R.E.M. concert. Looking down at myself as I slipped into my shoes I was amazed at how little I had changed over the years in my fashion. Twenty years ago I would have been wearing the same thing, though my hair would have been much longer. Nowadays it only reached my shoulder; back then it would have been halfway down my back. It’s amazing to think that after all that time, I would have been like others my age, settling into my job of choice, owning my own home, and be far into a marriage that had seen better days. But here I was, still entertaining the notion of being a writer, owning nothing more than my car, and learning that some people in this life are destined to be alone, rather than be married so long they could even begin to tire of it. This morning it hit home just how little I had done with my life. I imagined that even Summer who had to be at least fifteen years my junior had accomplished more than I had.
Shaking this pathetic thought from my head, I stepped out into the hallway and around to the kitchen where I found a note waiting.
“Hey Matt – Gone out. I’ll grab us some hot dogs on the way back in. Laters. “
I laughed. It wasn’t that I found the note funny, it was just that here was a girl I barely knew leaving me a note to say she was going out, and yet the woman I had been set to marry couldn’t leave me a single word, much less a note, to say why she didn’t want to show up for our wedding.
I went to the refrigerator and got out some bread and apple butter. Fixing some toast and pouring myself a large glass of milk, I looked out the back window at the peach blossoms. The morning sun seemed to light the orchard far more than it did yesterday, and I stood there thinking I would probably never see anything lovelier all day than those blossoms blowing in the wind, some falling from the trees to make a skirt around its trunk. With milk still in hand, I opened the back door to get a better view. I jumped back startled as something moved on the porch. It took me just a second to realize I had awakened Jackson from his favorite sleeping spot. He wagged his tail and let out a friendly bark. I couldn’t help but share my toast with him. He ate it right out of my hand and sat up on his haunches anticipating more. Guess he loved apple butter better than dog food.
I downed the last of my milk and decided to take a walk through the orchard down to the store. I felt it right to let them know they had mistakenly rented the house to two separate parties. It’s not that I wanted them to boot one of us out for the other’s benefit; I just didn’t want them seeing both of us leaving the place and thinking I had snuck some young girl in here while they weren’t looking. I’m sure southern tongues would wag then.
I checked to make sure I had the house key and then I closed the door shut behind me. Stepping out into the country sun the scents of the orchard and the wildflowers scattered around the home came to me on a light breeze. I could smell the magnolia and honeysuckle, even the faint scent of honey and hay from somewhere far off. It seemed everything smelled stronger out here. Back home all the scents were covered up by exhaust fumes and factory smoke. To catch the scent of a flower there you had to stick your face right down in it. Here, you could walk by a flower and smell it. The scent practically trailed after you as you passed.
These orchard smells became more prevalent as I headed down a row of low growing trees on my way to the little store I had originally believed to be Orchard House. For a moment I thought this is how Dorothy felt, going down the yellow brick road on her way to Oz. She had come from a drab and dreary existence in dustbowl Kansas and found herself plopped down in the Technicolor world of Munchkinland. I felt just as transported to another world as she was. To top it all off I found myself humming a certain Elton John song that said goodbye to such things too.
My little rendition was interrupted however by a different song on the breeze. Not a tune sung by another wandering individual, but from a radio somewhere. It got louder as I left the shadow of the house and delved deeper into the orchard. Up ahead I saw an old pickup. It was red and seemed to be fighting mad rust disease. Behind it, a group of Mexican men seemed to be digging ditches or perhaps planting more trees. The song was coming from the old truck over an equally old radio. It was a familiar tune, something made popular by The Eagles in the seventies, but here it was being sung in Spanish. The familiarity of the song made it possible to tell when the chorus came in and I found myself singing along in English. As I passed the truck I waved to the workers. Their faces shaded by baseball caps and other hats designed to keep the sun off of them, they nodded and waved, all smiling broadly to acknowledge I was in their midst. Or perhaps they were smiling about something else they shared between them with whispers in their native tongue. The tale of Hotel California faded behind me as I started down the small hill to reach the little fruit stand store. Looking back, I saw the men had returned to their work and farther in the distance Jackson lay in the shade of a gnarled apple tree to await my return.

The bell over the door tinkled as I walked into the store. The matron was behind the counter talking on the phone. She hurried off the phone as I went to the drink cooler pulling a root beer out and bringing it up to her.
“Well hello there,” she said. “I was wondering if the orchard would be leading you in here today.”
“It’s hot out there to be so early in the morning.”
“Oh my. This aint early. 5 am, now that’s early. That’s what time our boys start out there in the fields.”
I figured she meant the migrant workers. “Wow, too early for me. I guess you can tell I’m a city boy.”
“Just a little,” the woman teased. She rung up my root beer and I handed her the money. “So how did you sleep last night? Did the silence keep you awake?”
I laughed. “Almost. But yes, I slept very well. Though I was under the impression I’d have the house to myself.”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You rented it out to someone else.”
“Are you sure? I didn’t…oh wait, maybe Raymond did. He has a habit of not looking at the register sometimes.”
She left the counter and disappeared through a door to go into the back office. I turned around to see if anyone else was in the store. An older couple was at the back looking at the jars of home canned fruit. When I turned back around, Helen was coming back out from the office with an apologetic look on her face. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry; he did rent it to someone after I had already rented it to you. I can refund your money if you like.”
“No, it’s okay. It’s a big house. She and I made arrangements that I think will work.”
She shook her head. “Well, really I should refund someone’s money. The price I charged you was for single or double occupancy. If you add a third, then we charge you extra, but as a couple you’re…”
“Oh no, we’re not a couple.”
She smiled. “Well regardless, someone has overpaid.”
“No one has overpaid, mam. We both are renting the house as two separate individuals. Non couple status.”
She almost couldn’t contain a knowing grin. “If that’s your wish.”
I smiled kindly. “It is.” I opened my root beer and took a drink, as I was getting a bit flustered. I wasn’t expecting this kind of reaction when I informed her the house had been double rented. “Um..can you tell me how long she rented for?”
“She has paid for three days.”
“Okay. Thank you. That still gives me 4 days to myself. I think we’ll be fine with that.”
She nodded with that conspiratorial smile again. “I’m sure,” she agreed. “If you two need anything, just holler.”
“Thanks.” I turned around to go, but what she said next stopped me.
“Summer seems to be a nice girl.”
I turned around. “How did you know her name?”
“It’s on the register.”
I suddenly felt I had been baited to react.
“And she stopped in this morning. She said you would probably show up to tell us about our mistake. She said not to let you buy any lunch.”
I had been baited. She had known since earlier this morning the place had been double rented and was just playing ignorance to see how I felt about the mistake. Even out here the women were out to make me feel stupid. I smiled as graciously as I could and said goodbye. “Tell Twyla I said hello,” I added.
“I will. She will be sorry she missed you. She had school today. But you two stop by later and say hello, won’t you?”
I noticed she said you two, meaning summer and I both. If I was ever going to get any privacy to get my thoughts together I better hurry up before everyone else made plans for me.

The walk back was a leisurely stroll down a country road. Not wanting to return by the orchard I decided to walk back by the road. One car passed by on the way, the driver, a complete stranger, throwing up his hand to wave. Not only would this be alien where I lived, but the cars would be racing down the road nearly pushing bumpers to get where they were going. This slow paced way of living was both refreshing and strange at the same time. Could I ever get used to this lazy pace of life? Not alone I couldn’t. I mean, I knew I stopped here to be alone and get away from my troubles, but after a while the loneliness would get to me I know and I would be wishing for that hectic pace of life again, the people rushing around going nowhere fast, the noise that made you abandon your thoughts and just be like everybody else. How could I ever live like this, walking down a road without a care in the world?
I walked up the drive to Orchard House. The scent of the magnolia tree was powerful here, and if I was trying to avoid Jackson in the back yard it didn’t work. He must have heard my footsteps on the gravel because he came running around the house, tail wagging. He ran to me and immediately lay at my feet, rolling over on his back, as if he had a sign painted on his belly, saying ‘rub me.’ I pet him a few minutes and then headed into the house.
You don’t realize how quiet things are until you live in the city. There even inside your home you can hear everything your neighbors are doing. Someone is fighting next door, kids are playing with a basketball in the street, and another neighbor is working on his car. But walking inside the empty house here in the country the silence was almost maddening. I guess after you get used to noises all the time, peace and quiet can seem deafening itself.
In the kitchen a radio sat on top of the frig and I pulled it down, setting it on the kitchen bar. It wasn’t a large radio, just a little AM/FM with a speaker no bigger than my hand. I turned it on to kill the silence and another Elton john song came on, this time sung by Tim McGraw it sounded like. I left the radio playing in the kitchen and walked around to my bedroom. I opened a suitcase and dug around in the bottom looking for something. My cellphone. I hadn’t turned it on since leaving home. I didn’t want to hear anybody asking where I was. But now I turned it on. Of course nothing happened, the phone was dead. I got out the charger and plugged it up. If I wanted to hear if anybody missed me I was going to have to wait.
I stepped out of the room and into the hallway. I was tempted to go take a look upstairs. I hadn’t even been up there to see what the place looked like. All I knew was there was two bedrooms up there, one of which Summer had taken as her own. I started up the staircase. As long as I didn’t go into the one she had claimed I would be okay. At the top there was a door on my left. It was closed shut. To the right the landing went around to another door diagonally across from the closed one. It was open. I went around the landing to the open door. Just as I assumed it was unoccupied. Stepping inside I noticed it was almost a carbon copy of my own which lay directly under it on the first floor, except instead of blue roses, here they were pink. I imagined this to be a room for families that stayed here with children because instead of a desk in one corner, another bed was set up in its place allowing multiple people to sleep here. The bedspreads were both adorned with pink roses on green vines. Two lamps, one by each bed, had pink shades, the window curtains were a light pink, and even the carpet had a light floral pattern. On one of the beds sat a doll, an old porcelain thing whose face was cracked by time. It was obvious it was old, just the kind of thing young girls would have had maybe back in the great depression. It immediately made me think of my mother and her own porcelain doll collection. She had a doll very similar to the one I was looking at. It was a cherished heirloom, the one doll she swore she would never part with. Until Ashley came along. Pleased that I had found someone she offered it to her as a gift. But Ashley hated dolls and she refused it. My mother never let me forget that afterwards. In fact, she often would say to me in confidence, “I don’t like that girl. She’s not right for you.” It’s funny how mothers seem to know these things.
On this memory I left the room and returned to the stair case. I hesitated beside the door to Summer’s room. I was curious about it, wondering how she may have fixed it up for her brief stay. Was everything still packed in her duffel bags or had she arranged everything neatly in drawers? Perhaps she had just strewn her clothes about the floor or on the bed. Had she taken a picture of her guy and placed it on the dresser to remind her what was waiting for her after her business here was done? Maybe she had her own happy couple picture taken during a trip to the beach or just goofing around in the house she shared with him. I shook my head and went down the stairs. Why did I care if she had someone to call her own or not? Her business was her own, and her love life certainly not of interest to me.
Back in the kitchen I noticed the music had stopped on the radio. Instead a commercial for a local farmer’s festival two months away was playing. It advertised good fun, food, and dancing to local musicians, and then proceeded to rattle off a list of sponsors. I turned off the radio. I wouldn’t be here long enough to even know what they did for fun around here.
I walked into the living room and plopped down on the couch. I was bored out of my skull. On the coffee table beside me a couple magazines lay: National Geographic, Better Homes and Garden, Outdoor Living. Nothing at all to pique my interest. Looking over to the end table on the other side of the couch I saw a couple of travel magazines. On top lay a folded up piece of paper. I slid across the couch and picked it up. Unfolding it I saw it was a list of names, all beginning with Earl. There was Earl James, Earl Jackson, Earl Jessup, and an Earl Jones. Beside each one was a notation: Not Him. The writing on the paper was definitely feminine and so I guessed that maybe Summer had sat here this morning looking over this list. But why? Who were these guys? Did this have something to do with her business here?
Just then, I heard Jackson barking. It wasn’t a warning signal, but more a happy sound. The sound of tires coming up the drive alerted me to the fact Summer was back. I folded the paper back up the best I could and set it down where I found it. Getting up, I went down the hallway to my bedroom and sat down at the desk. I got a pen and some paper out the drawer and pretended to be writing a letter home. I made it through a cheery ‘Hello everyone’ when I heard the kitchen door open and close, followed by Summer’s voice, “Hey matt, you home?”
I acted like I didn’t hear her and kept writing my letter to no one. I had maybe made it through a sentence when I heard her in the bedroom doorway.
“Hey there, guy,” she said. “I brought us some hot dogs. Hope you like chili.”
“Yeah chili is..”, I turned to face her and was stunned by the sight. “Fine,” I finished in a mumble that must have told her I thought she looked fine herself. She was wearing form fitting slacks that seemed to hug her frame like a second skin. A silky black tank top lightly covered by a stylish sweater completed her outfit. The tank top revealed her figure in a way I had not seen until now, yet hiding enough of her with the sweater to make a guy wonder just where the curves started or ended.
She smiled as if she knew all this already. Maybe I had that certain look on my face guys get when they are realizing peach trees in bloom are not the most beautiful things they will see all day. “Well come on, dogs are getting cold then,” she said, and left my doorway for the kitchen. I felt embarrassed for letting her catch me off guard like that. I was prepared for her coming back to Orchard House, but I guess I just thought she was all blue jeans and an ‘I love nerds’ t-shirt.
She was sitting at the kitchen table already biting into a hot dog when I got there. “I waited like one starving fool waits for another,” she giggled.
“That’s okay. You’ve probably been up much longer than I have. Thanks for the food.” I took one of the hot dogs and bit into it. “Where did you get these?”
“Little store on the main road. Same place I got the peach ice cream.”
“Peach ice cream?”
“Yep. I put it in the freezer already. Figured we might want some later. Nothing like ice cream on a warm night. Heard on the news the humidity is going to be terrible this evening.”
“We have an air conditioner in some of the rooms I think.”
She smiled. “What fun is that? Sweating is good for you, gets all the impurities off your skin.”
I didn’t want to tell her it would make me uncomfortable to see her sweating, impurities or not.
“So what did you do today?” she asked.
“Nothing really. Just walked through the orchard down to the store.”
She looked up at me. “Yeah I stopped there on the way out. They were just opening. Helen’s a nice lady.”
“Yeah, she said you were too.”
“I knew you’d go down there and tell them,” she said.
“And how did you know that?”
“You’ve got an honest face. I knew you’d want them to know. Did you ask for your money back?”
I looked at her and shook my head. “No I did not.”
“Good. Neither did I.” She finished up her hot dog, and grabbed another. “I’m going to be fat one day.”
I laughed. “I can’t see that happening.”
“Oh it will one day. My fat clock is ticking.”
“Mine must have already tocked,” I confessed, and patted my t-shirt covered belly.
She leaned up off her stool and peered over the kitchen bar. “Oh that’s not too bad. Fat looks better on guys than it does on girls anyway.”
“Speaking of fat, how much I owe you for the hot dogs?”
“A smile.”
“I don’t know. That sounds kind of steep.”
She smirked. “Don’t make me come over there and poke you, fatty.”
I laughed so hard it took me some time to stop. Seeing me laugh like that must have been infectious because she soon found herself laughing right along.
“What’s the radio for?” she asked, after we stopped laughing. She meant the little one I had set on the counter earlier. “It wasn’t here this morning.”
“Yeah I got it from the top of the frig. I was listening to a little music after my walk.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Do you dance?”
“Um, no, I can’t dance.”
“I bet you can.”
“Nope.”
“Ever tried?”
“Yeah,” I said, getting nervous as to where this conversation was leading.
“Let me guess, it was a rock song.”
“I’m not sure.”
She nodded knowingly. “Yeah buddy, it was a rock song. I can tell. But if you have a great country song you don’t even have to try to dance. Your body will do all the work. Here I’ll show you.””
She reached for the radio and turned it on. Kenny Chesney came through the speakers, singing something about no shirt and no shoes. She grinned broadly. “Now that’s what I’m talkin about.” She got up and kicked her open toed shoes across the floor. “No shoes,” she said.
“Hey wait,” I started to argue, and then she took off her sweater and set it across one of the dining room chairs.
“No shirt,” she teased. Her silky tank top clung to her in all the right places, and with horror I suddenly realized what was coming off next: me from the chair. She grabbed my hands and pulled me up despite my protests. “Come on, it won’t kill ya.”
“It might,” I said nervously. She was swaying to the music, a slow country rhythm with a bit of the beach thrown in. She was moving my hands and arms to try and get me to move, but my dancing was like someone tapping their foot and shifting their weight from one hip to the other.
“Come on, just loosen up a little. Let the music move you.”
I couldn’t loosen up. Not like her. She was moving like I hadn’t seen anyone move for a very long time. I thought to myself this must be how a celibate priest feels when they accidentally walk into a honky-tonk bar on ladies’ night.
“You are stiff as a board, Matthew. Just relax. Here, let me help…” She put both her hands on my hips and began to move them in time with her own.
It freaked me out a little. I wasn’t used to having my own personal space invaded. “Uh summer, can we please stop?”
She stopped dancing as suddenly as if someone had reached up and punched Chesney in the mouth.
“I make you uncomfortable don’t I?”
“No, it’s not like that, I…”
“I made you uncomfortable in Wal-Mart, made you uncomfortable asking about Ashley last night, and now I’ve made you uncomfortable dancing in the kitchen and being dressed a little more girly than usual. I think I would make you uncomfortable if I was wearing a burlap sack and sitting in a corner.”
“I’m sorry, Summer. I’m not comfortable around people. Ok, girls. You’re young and pretty and we’re staying in the same house, and this is the most contact I have had with a female since Ashley.”
A sad look came over her. “Oh my, Matthew. What did that girl do to you?”
I hung my head. I wanted to cry, but didn’t want her see me do it. She was right after all, Ashley had ruined me. I couldn’t even look at another girl without feeling she wanted to get away from me too. Or would, one day.
“Look, I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” she said. “If you wish I’ll put on something different, or not look at you when I talk, but it’s not going to fix what she’s done.”
She picked up her sweater and slipped it back on. Then she walked around the bar, picked up her food and threw it in the trash. Turning from the trash can and walking past me she said, “I’m going to go now.”
I didn’t turn to watch her go, but I heard her pick up her sandals and put them back on. Her footsteps seemed to echo across the kitchen linoleum.
“She left me on our wedding day,” I said. “I loved her like I loved no one. I’d known her since childhood. We dated in school, lived together in college, played house for years after that. Then one day I decided it wasn’t enough. I had to know she was completely devoted to me, committed to our relationship. So I asked her to marry me and she said yes. Looking back I realize she didn’t cry happily or beam proudly, she just said yes. I should have known then. She was about excited over our wedding as you are about sitting down and having a hot dog with me.”
She walked back to the kitchen bar and sat across from me. “I am very excited about sitting down and having a hot dog with you.”
I couldn’t look at Summer. I stared down at the bar wishing I could be saying these things from another room. “She never showed up. Do you know what it’s like to be sitting there and waiting and waiting and waiting for someone you love to show up and say ‘hey I just got scared. Forgive me’. But she couldn’t even do that.”
“I do know what its like,” she confided. “I waited for someone too.”
I looked up. “Really?”
“Yeah really. I waited for someone I loved to show up and say those very same things to me. And they never did. Years passed and I never saw their face again. I got beyond caring after a while but I still think about it sometimes. One day I hope I will forget it completely, but I know I won’t without some kind of closure. And neither will you.”
I nodded. Suddenly I didn’t feel like my problem was the biggest one. Sitting across from Summer I wasn’t half as alone as I thought I was. I had a friend. One who understood, or at least wanted to understand, how I felt. I was still uncomfortable around her; I wouldn’t be looking in her eyes anytime soon, but if the proverbial ice had been broken, she melted it with her next words.
“Sometimes Matthew, people just get scared. Some of us hide it behind a happy smile.” She smiled to show me she meant herself. “Some of us let the fear show in our every word.” She nodded in my direction. ”I think you’re scared to move forward because you think nothing’s out there now. “ She reached across the table and patted my hand gently. “I’m scared that way too.”
She squeezed my hand briefly, and then let it go. Outside the world went on, while inside we were frozen in time, caught up in our own separate sadness, yet still feeling someone understood. Maybe that was a start in the right direction. Perhaps that’s how you move on, getting someone else to understand how you feel.

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

Orchard House Chapter 3 Notes

If you haven’t done so already, go read Chapter 3 first, as my notes here will be pointless otherwise. But if you have already read it, then we notice this chapter is all about interaction, first in Wal-mart, and later in the farmhouse. After having both the main characters come into our story within the first two chapters we can now step back and watch them interact. We see how they get along, and even how they disagree. We are offered a glimpse at their lives on the surface as well as the emotional side of their characters. In this way we try to subtly (or not so subtly) build both the commonalities and conflict that all dramatic stories share. We see her happy go lucky exterior has a few cracks and we stand by shaking our head at his ineptness with the opposite sex.

Also in this chapter we see slow reveals of the characters’ back story. Back story isn’t always easy as it’s so simple to fall prey to telling people what went on before rather than showing it. I’m not sure if I succeed in that struggle, but we do learn a little about their past this time around and get the impression they both may be running from something, an idea we will build on in later chapters. I like throwing hints into my stories no matter what genre I’m working with. Namedropping and alluding to events that haven’t been previously discussed adds a “come back for more” element that hopefully makes the reader go, “Oh, what is this? Do tell.” In drama the twists and shadows are a little more subdued than say in an action or horror novel,  but as a writer I feel they are not only interesting, but essential to the growth of the story. In fact , often when I throw these hints in there even I don’t know what they mean at the time, but they serve as good tools for me to dive into my characters and find out. In this sense I am a reader too.

Finally, because I felt I may have overused music and song references in the last chapter (I will overuse them again, trust me), I left out that element in this chapter and focused solely on interaction and dialogue. Hopefully it works to draw the reader into the characters more, and less into the music that may shape this story or their lives.

Well that’s my notes for Chapter 3. Hang tight, Chapter 4 is on the way…