Orchard House Part 20: Crazy As Me

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 20: Crazy As Me

The morning sun coming through the window was what woke me. Or perhaps it was the smell of fresh coffee, or the fact I felt like I had slept in my clothes. I opened my eyes and discovered I was laying on the couch, a blanket pulled over me. Summer must have put it on me sometime during the night before she herself had retired to her room to sleep. I pushed the blanket off me and sat up. My clothes were nearly sticking to my skin. I needed a shower. I got up, stretched, and walked into the kitchen where I saw a coffee cup sitting out on the island half full. Summer was nowhere to be seen. I got out another cup and poured myself some of the morning java. After applying sugar and creamer I took a sip, marveling at how good it was. I myself made terrible coffee and so rarely drank it. I saw a movement out the corner of my eye, and through the back door I could see Summer standing on the porch, leaning against a railing and smoking a cigarette. I decided to take the opportunity to grab some clean clothes and get a bath in. In my bedroom, I grabbed some casual wear. Blue jeans and a black t-shirt, my favorite attire. I checked my phone and saw that I had missed a call. There was no voice mail, just an unfamiliar number in the call log. I grabbed the clothes and headed back around to the kitchen. Summer was now sitting at the dining room table, a piece of paper set out before her. I recognized it as being the list of names from the day before. Before she noticed me, I saw she had heavily underlined the last remaining one on the list.

“Oh hey,” she said, looking up. “Good morning.” She gave me a warm smile. “I see you found the coffee.”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Sorry I left you sleeping on the couch, but I didn’t want to try and drag you across the floor to your bedroom.”

“You could have carried me,” I joked.

“Oh no, the guy is supposed to carry the girl. That’s the way it works.”

“I’m on holiday.”

She laughed. “I can see that.”

“Hey look, if we have time can I get a bath in? I feel like I slept in my clothes.”

“You did sleep in your clothes. Go ahead though, we got time.”

I nodded and headed for the bathroom. I closed the door behind me and was getting ready to run the hot water when I heard her call out, “Hey I’m going to find us some morning music.”

Soon, I heard the little kitchen radio blaring Alison Krauss and Union Station from its tiny speakers. Crazy As Me. I imagined that’s how she was feeling this morning. I was a bit nervous, too. I mean, here I was going to go with her to find her dad, a man she hadn’t seen since she was a little girl, and who most likely didn’t want to see her. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this escapade. But Summer needed me. She wanted me with her today, so I would give it my best and hope for a good outcome.

The bath felt good. I made myself a mental note not to walk out just wearing a towel like last time. I sunk down in the bath and tried to relax, but it wasn’t happening. I kept imagining Summer’s dad and his possible reaction to us on his doorstep. Unable to let my mind rest, I went ahead and bathed quickly, so we could get this over with.

She was waiting for me when I came into the kitchen dressed in my jeans and t-shirt. She smiled. “You look nice.”

She could have been talking about herself, because in the time I’d been in the bath she had changed clothes, too. In ladies slacks and a floral patterned blouse, she looked like a typical city girl on her way to an interview.

“You look nice, too,” I said.

“I look nervous, you mean.”

“Yeah, a little,” I had to admit.

“Thanks for agreeing to go with me today.”

I smiled. “Hey, you’d do the same for me.”

“Yeah I would.” She let out a long heavy sigh. “Well, you better get on some shoes, so we can go.”

I nodded and fetched my shoes from the bedroom. “We taking my car or yours?” I yelled from the hallway.

“Mine,” she called back. I was fine with that. It would make her look more independent and in charge, and I wouldn’t seem like a chauffeur or bodyguard.

In the bedroom I grabbed my cellphone, shoving it down in my pocket. You never knew when it would come in handy, though depending how far we had to go out in the sticks, I might not even be able to get a signal. I put on my shoes and looked at my face in the dresser mirror. For a moment, I thought I saw some new lines under my eyes. Maybe it was just the awkward sleep I had been getting lately. I hated the feeling of getting old, or at the very least, older. Perhaps that was one reason I was drawn to Summer so much. Her youth was infectious, and around her I was starting to feel like a teenager, sometimes a very giddy one.

Returning to the kitchen, I found Summer waiting, clutching her paper of names. She handed it to me. I saw there were now five names on the list. Four of them still had the notations I saw the other day: NOT HIM. But the last name was underlined: Earl Cash.

“I think he changed his name,” she said. “I have checked into all the Earl’s in this area. My mother had a letter in her things after she died. It was from the year before, no envelope. She must have thrown it away. But the letter was from him. It didn’t say much, just mentioned the county he was living in now and how she would love it there. I still don’t know why he wrote her. It just seemed to be , ‘hey, here’s how am I doing.’ There was no apology, explanation, or anything.” Summer opened the back door and stood on the threshold, staring out at the orchard. “I think I remember when she got the letter. I only saw my mom drink once in my life. That was last year. I’d be willing to bet it was the letter that did it.”

“Are you sure you are ready for this?” I asked her.

“Ready as I’m ever going to be, I reckon. If I don’t do this now, I’ll never get on with my life. I’ll be forever trapped in relationships with men who are the image of my father, just so I can recapture what I never had.” She looked at me. “Does that make sense?”

“Yes, it does. I knew a girl once who kept marrying men who beat her. It was all she knew, I guess. That’s all she saw her dad do and figured it was normal for all men.”

“I just want to get past this, Matthew. I want my answers and to say what I want to say, and then be done with it.”

I came up behind her in the doorway. She turned to me and looked up in my face. “A hug for good luck?” she asked.

I didn’t say anything. I just put my arms around her and she nestled her head against my chest. She wrapped her arms around me too, giving me a little squeeze. “I can feel your heartbeat,“ she said. “It’s racing like mine.”

“For different reasons though,” I replied, letting her go. She looked at me, a puzzled look on her face, as if she were trying to figure out what I meant.

“Come on, we better go. This last Earl doesn’t live far from here. I wrote the address on the back of that paper.”

I had put the paper in my pocket, but now I pulled it back out and flipped it over. Sure enough, an address was there; a rural route number with a description of the house, followed by general directions and a few landmarks. I followed Summer out the door and into the morning sun. Locking the door behind us, we went down the steps and around the gravel drive to her car. I noticed there were several work trucks out in the orchard. The Latinos were getting an early start on things, and as we got in her car, I noticed a few had stopped working to look at us. I thought to wave, but by then they had gone back to work.

Part 21: Goodbye Earl

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.

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