Part 22: Accidental Couple
We drove half the way home in silence. Summer didn’t bother to wipe the tears from her face, but after a while I opened the glove compartment and got out a tissue. I handed it over to her.“Thank you,” she said, and dabbed around her eyes as she drove. “I can’t believe he said those things to me. How can someone be so selfish and cruel?”
“When all you care about is yourself I guess it’s easy to be that way,” I replied.
“All I told him was who I was and what had happened to mom. And since I found one of his letters, I thought I would try to find him and have some kind of closure to all this. Some closure.”
“Summer, don’t let his words get to you. I’m not defending him or anything, but he’s so mad at himself he lashes out at everyone. He knows deep down he did a bad thing. He’s just too stupid to admit it. He’s too busy making excuses to accept the blame for what he did to you and your mom.”
She shook her head. “I hate him.” For the first time, she looked in the rear view mirror. “How can you do that to a kid? Tell them they weren’t even wanted beyond saving a marriage. How does he get off letting someone know they aren’t worth a damn to them or anybody else?”
“You’re worth a damn to me, Summer.”
She looked over at me and tried her best to smile, but it looked more like she was in pain. “And you’re a worth a damn to me. I didn’t realize how much until today when you stood up for me. That took guts. And you said you weren’t brave.”
“It’s easier to be brave for someone else than yourself, I guess.”
“Then maybe I’ll be brave for you someday.”
We turned down the road that would lead us back to Orchard House. “Now I know why my mom had a drink.”
“We can stop at the store, get you a beer or wine cooler.”
“I think that’s a good idea.”
“Just don’t get drunk because you’re upset.”
“What should I do then?”
“Well, when I’m upset I try to do something…um…spontaneous. Do something you’ve never done before. Something out of character. Just anything to get your mind off of the things that upset you.”
She glanced over at me again. “What are you suggesting?”
“I don’t know. Nothing really, just trying to help.”
“Would you have me forget today?”
“No, but I don’t want you to base the rest of your life on it.”
“What if I do something really wild before the day is over? Could I base my life around that?”
“I suppose you could, as long as it’s not too dangerous. Like jumping out of airplanes without a chute, or playing chicken with a tractor trailer.”
She looked at the road ahead lost in thought. Then she smiled. “You know, I think I’m ready for some music now.”
She reached over and turned on the radio. Marty Stuart was just fading out and Keith Urban coming in. I recognized the song. Like a blast from my past, it was a country version of the pop folk classic ‘Romeo’s Tune’. I used to have the Steve Forbert version on cassette tape as a teenager. Its upbeat lyric and sound seemed to infuse Summer with a new sense of spirit. It was hard to believe that just minutes ago she was crying and close to giving up on everything. Now, just like the Summer I believed her to be, she threw her head back and began to sing along with the radio, though she didn’t really know the words. I helped her find the tune and sang along. Using me as a guide, she looked over every few seconds to try and match what I was singing. We both smiled and laughed and sang until we pulled into the little store at the edge of the Orchard.
The morning was nearly over, and the store was getting its fair share of business. Both Helen and her husband Raymond were busy with customers. Their little store offered up not only fresh fruit, but all manner of canned goods and groceries. Twyla’s lemonade table stood unmanned at the back, but laid out on its surface were home baked goods, which seemed to be popular among the locals. When Helen saw Summer and I her face lit up like Christmas.
“Well, there’s our favorite accidental couple,” she beamed in delight. I almost reasserted we weren’t a couple, but then I figured what the heck, just let it drop. No need to be politically correct out here. Let her think what she wants to.
“Hi,” I said. “Please tell me you’re serving some kind of alcohol this morning.”
She grinned. “City folk. Never too early for alky- hall.” She pointed to a cold case. “Over there. Got beer, but not much stronger than that I’m afraid.”
“Thanks,” Summer said, and headed for the cooler.
“So, how’s it been fella?” Helen asked. “You like life at Orchard House?”
I smiled. “There’s nothing like it. It’s the heart of country living.”
“Nah,” she said proudly. “It’s the heart of everything.” She cast a glance towards Summer , who was trying to decide which brand of beer she wanted. The older woman looked at me when she was sure I caught where she was looking. “You know what I mean,” she said.
I glanced back at Summer and sighed. “Yeah, I suppose I do.” I turned back to the woman. “So, what do couples do for fun around here anyway?”
“Well, there are all kinds of things. Junior Baylee gives hay rides every afternoon over in his orchard. Just down the way and to the left. And then you got the tubers down at Mill Creek. They go tubing I think every couple hours. Truck stops right here to pick up. Should be along soon if you want to go floating down the crick.”
“Nah, I don’t think so. Snakes and all, you know.”
“Bah, you got snakes everywhere.” She gave me a conspiratorial wink. “I even married one.”
“What else is there?”
“Well, it’s Blues Night out at Shelfy’s Barn. It’s up the road and around the corner. Big red barn behind the church. They charge a couple dollars, but they play live music. No line dancing though, it’s all blues. Shelfy’s son, I think his band is playing tonight. They call themselves ‘Blue Not Red’, or some such. Silly kids and their names.”
Summer came up to the counter and set two bottles of beer down. “You are going to drink one with me, aren’t you?”
“Um, no..Yeah..I suppose…I’m not really a beer guy.”
Helen leaned across the counter to me. “Here’s some advice, never let a girl drink alone.”
“Oh okay.” I looked at Summer who was waiting for a commitment from me. “In that case, yes I’ll drink one with you.”
“Well, hey there it is,” Helen exclaimed, pointing outside. Summer and I turned to look. It was a big blue pickup whose paint job had seen better days. A bunch of kids, and a few adults, were all sitting in the bed, which also seemed to be carrying inner tubes. A number of the kids scrambled out the back and headed into the store. The boys were wearing swim trucks and the girls in bikini tops and cutoff jeans. On the side of the truck were painted the words ‘MILL CREEK TUBING. EVERY AFTERNOON AN ADVENTURE.’
Summer had an excited look on her face. “I changed my mind. No beer, let’s go tubing.”
“Uh no,“ I replied. “I think I’d rather have the beer.”
But she wasn’t listening. She was already running outside to talk to the driver in excited tones. The driver, a guy about her age, seemed just as excited to be talking to her. I shook my head, just knowing I was going to regret this. I was interrupted from this thought by a pat on my back. I turned to see Helen’s other half, Raymond. He was a big, square shouldered man. He looked like he lifted railroad ties for a living.
“Hey there, you must be our orchard guy Helen’s been chatting me up one side and down the other about.” He held out his hand and I took it. He had a firm grip and a smile that took over the entire lower part of his face. “You got everything you need up there? You just holler if you need anything.”
“Yes, I will,“ I said, trying to divide my attention between him and the guy in the truck. I wasn’t the only one watching the guy though. Out of the corner of my eye I had seen some of the Spanish workers had come in from the orchard and were sitting on a couple of barrels outside the store and drinking orange sodas. The look on their faces and the way they talked amongst themselves made me think they didn’t have much love for that guy. Or perhaps they didn’t like how Summer was talking to him, I’m not sure. “Excuse me a minute,“ I told my host and headed outside.
The bell over the door signaled someone was coming and Summer turned around to see. Her face lit up and she smiled. “Hey Matthew, this is Daniel.”
“Danny,” the guy corrected her, to which she looked back at him and laughed.
“Okay, Danny.” Returning her attention to me she added, “He does the tubing adventure.”
“Hey Danny,” I said, and I reached through the window to shake his hand. He had a firm grip too, but it wasn’t like Raymond’s. No, this guy’s handshake was about dominance, not friendliness.
“The little lady wants to go tubing,” he said. “But she says she’s with you.”
I smiled. “Yes, she is.”
“Well, I hope you won’t mind if she goes. We got room for…” he looked back to the bed of the truck, “maybe one more.”
Summer looked at me with a raised eyebrow. I think she might have been wondering if the testosterone levels were getting a bit high or not. I smiled to reassure her. This wasn’t a contest. She was free to do what she wanted, go with anyone she wanted anywhere she might want to go. She didn’t need my approval.
“Yeah, sure it’s okay. She can ride in the back. I’ll ride up front, no problem.”
Danny frowned, foiled at his own game. Summer laughed and muttered under her breath, “boys.” It was easy to see she was enjoying this. “Hey, we need to go get changed. Can you give us ten minutes?”
The guy didn’t seem so thrilled, now that I was going. “Yeah sure,“ he mumbled. “But no more than that.”
“Thanks Daniel,” she said, and grabbed hold of my arm, dragging me back to her car. I noticed the guy watching her walk as she led me away, and I felt something stir in me that was pretty darn close to jealousy.
When I got in the car, she had already started it up. “Come on,” she urged and we pulled around the store and headed up the dirt track through the orchard to the house. Jackson had heard her car and was waiting. “Not now, Jackson,“ Summer said, nudging him away. “It’s swimsuit time.”
I thought to myself, oh no. We are going to be out on the river, or creek or whatever, and old eagle eye Danny is going to be ogling Summer to the point I’ll want to toss him in with the snakes. I just knew I was not going to like this at all.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.