Note: Hello Friday! Today, as we prepare to enter the weekend, we celebrate with a post that is a little bit longer than usual. This part relays a little back story involving the house, and as such, to break it up into two posts would disrupt the flow of the story. Still, I hope you enjoy the read and have a great weekend. see you tomorrow with more!
If you are new to the story, or just need to backtrack, click the link below to access the main page and table of contents. Thanks!
Part 31: Under The Apple Trees
Summer was in the kitchen, having finished her bath and gotten ready to go to the orchard store. She flashed me a smile, but she knew something had happened. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “I called my brother.”
She stopped what she was doing and looked at me. “How did it go?”
“Well, it got some things off my chest, but it’s one of those things where you wish you would have said more.”
“I know what you mean.”
I nodded. I knew she felt the same way about talking to her father.
“Did you tell him when you’re coming back?”
I hesitated. Now wasn’t the time to tell her I wasn’t going back home. “No, not really, “ I replied. I flashed her a smile and reached for her hand.. “You ready to go?”
She leaned to me and gave me a kiss on my waiting lips. “Yeah, I’m ready.” She looked at her bags by the door. “But I haven’t taken these up yet.”
“It’s okay; you can do it when we come back.”
“You’re not scared I’m going to try and leave?”
I stopped. “Should I be?”
She smiled. “Nope.”
Hand in hand we stepped out the door onto the back porch. Closing the door behind us, we stepped into the sun and went down the path through the orchard, as if we were following the yellow brick road to Oz.
No matter how many times I walked through the orchard, with or without Summer, I was always amazed of how peaceful it was to me. Out here on this apple farm it seemed I was worlds away from the life I had lived, worlds away from anything I had expected to be. Some would probably say it’s just a farm, just a normal walk among apple and peach trees, nothing special about it at all. But I was learning it was very special indeed. It wasn’t just the fact you didn’t hear the sound of horns and traffic, or the shouts of people arguing in all the apartments around you. It wasn’t just the fact the air was cleaner, more natural, or that the sky looked bluer with bleach white clouds racing across the sky. No, it was more than those things. It was the knowing that this was the kind of life you always wanted – carefree, simple, slow paced, no concern for tomorrow, just this moment of walking through God’s beautiful acre. Summer made it even better. Not only was this the kind of living I always wanted, but unknown to me, this was the kind of girl I wanted – down to earth, beautiful inside and out, with a way to make sun shine out of the darkest clouds that could ever hover overhead. Spirited, compassionate, smart, easy to talk to and even easier to fall for. Maybe this isn’t the right way to say it, but Summer was everything Ashley wasn’t. The latter was one of those girls that when you were with her she had a way of making you feel you were the most important thing in the universe. But when you were away from her you weren’t sure, or maybe you didn’t even think about it. It was only after she ditched me at the altar that I began to think of her and all the things she had been and all the things she hadn’t. Ashley was pure city girl. Trendy restaurants, parties to be seen at, expensive designer clothes, hundred dollar hairdressers. She wouldn’t have been caught dead tubing on a river, sitting on a porch and watching a sunset, or even walking through an apple orchard on the way to a little country store that didn’t have a latte machine.
I looked over at Summer as we walked among the rows of trees down the dirt path. I didn’t have to do much to please her. She didn’t need to have expensive things or be seen by all the important people. It was enough for her to be walking hand in hand with me on a beautiful clear morning without a care for what the day would bring, other than that I would be there to share it with her. I couldn’t imagine Summer as the kind of girl that on the way to her wedding would decide the groom wasn’t good enough; she would have already known that. She would have known the depths of her heart and how much her husband-to-be meant to her. Ashley’s problem was she didn’t know what she wanted because she didn’t have a mind of her own. Too concerned about what everyone else thought or wanted for her, I don’t believe she ever took the time to ask herself what truly made her happy. She would never do anything out of pure love, or even out of wanting to be loved. As long as it kept up appearances, any relationship, close or distant, was good enough for her. Now, with summer’s hand in mine, for the first time I felt happy I had been left to stand at the altar. I know I would never have been this happy walking beside Ashley, and my life with her would never have been my own. Happiness, love, contentment, peace – it would have all been pretend with her. But not with Summer.
I stopped. We were almost at the store. “Summer,” I said, turning her towards me. “I want you to know how happy I am right now this very instant.”
She smiled and it lit up her whole face. “I am happy too, Matthew. There’s nowhere else I would rather be than here with you under the apple trees.”
Technically speaking, we weren’t under the trees, but one look in her beautiful brown eyes told me what she was thinking. She moved into my arms and kissed me soft on the lips. If a man could melt in the morning sun, I would have been a puddle. She took my hand and led me off the path until we were, in fact, under an apple tree. She eased me down onto the ground, tenderly pulling me on top of her. Slowly and ever so sweetly, we kissed and touched each other’s faces, so lost in each other we didn’t hear the approaching truck until it had passed by on the path we had just left. We could hear a few giggles as it went by, and I thought I heard one member of our rolling audience exclaim, “Tipo con suerte!”
It was twenty minutes later that we made it to the store. After the Latino workers had driven by in their truck, we had lay there together curled up under the tree. Staring into each other’s faces, we didn’t say much of anything. There was no need to. We both knew what we were feeling, even if we were still too scared to put it into words. Instead, our conversation was held with the eyes and lips, until we knew we had to get going to the store again.
Helen was working the register at the front of the store, and being Friday it was a little busier than usual. Still, the older woman spotted us from behind the counter and gave us a nod and smile as she waited on her customers. Summer wandered down an aisle made up of baskets of apples. Each basket held a different variety, and as I came up alongside her and asked her what she was looking for, she wistfully smiled.
“Just trying to determine which type of apple tree we were making out under.”
I smiled back and kissed on the cheek. “Do you want me to ask Helen?” I asked.
“You better not,” Summer hissed under her breath.
“Well, hey there, couple who are not a couple,” Helen said, approaching us from across the store. “How goes it today?”
“Pretty good,“ I said. “We are just out enjoying the orchard on a Friday morning.”
Helen looked at Summer with one eyebrow raised. “Watch this one girl, I detect friskiness in his voice.”
Summer laughed. “Oh he’s that, alright.”
The woman laughed at this and rolled her eyes in my direction. “I don’t know what it is, but this country air is sometimes charged with tomfoolery.” She shrugged. “But that’s okay, if it wasn’t for that, I imagine most of us wouldn’t be here, now would we?”
I didn’t know if she meant frisky behavior brought us all into the world or whether the reason we were here was to get frisky ourselves. Either way, she may not have been too far off the mark. “I’ll just grab us a soda,” I told Summer and made my way to the drink cooler.
As I walked off I heard Helen whisper low, “I think I embarrassed the poor fella.”
I grabbed two drinks out of the cooler and came back over to them. Summer must have broached the subject of paying to stay on an extra couple days. Helen was shaking her head.
“No doing,“ she was saying. “I told Matthew earlier that it was double occupancy, so couples can stay under one price, and since he has already paid up…”
“But we’re not a couple,” Summer interrupted.
“Yes, that’s exactly what he said too.” She smiled at us both. “He was serious about it then, but you’re not now. So keep your money and have fun at Orchard House.”
“Okay then,” she uncomfortably replied. “Well, thank you.”
“It’s not like you are the first two who tried to deny their feelings up there,” Helen said. She looked at us closely as if waiting for us to protest, but Summer and I just cast glances at each other as if to silently ask , is this what it is?
“I guess you didn’t know,“ Helen went on. “Orchard House has a way of bringing people together no matter where they came from or how they was brought up. In fact, my mother met my father there. It wasn’t for rent then. She lived there with her parents, her older sister, and a younger brother. It was a regular farmhouse then, my grandparents had started the orchard and it was young in those days. Her younger brother Sammy was in the war. This was about ’42 or ’43, and he came home with this buddy of his, a fella he called Gunboats. Now right away, they fixed that blonde hair, blue eyed soldier boy up with the older sister, Jessica, but the one that boy really had the eye for was my mother, Hope.”
Helen stopped long enough to make sure there weren’t any customers that needed waiting on and then continued with her story. “Now, Gunboats was staying at Orchard House while the boys were on leave, and it always seemed to everyone, even my grandparents, that he was going to end up proposing to Jessica before they had to go back to England and the war. Problem was, Jessica was the lady type, and prim and proper, all dolled up all the time. She wouldn’t let no boy see her without her being perfectly presentable, if you know what I mean. So, in all the times she made Gunboats wait to see her, he entertained himself by making conversation with Hope, who was to most the tomboy type. She didn’t dress up for nobody, didn’t doll herself up, and was more content going outside and climbing a tree than going to dances.“
She cast a look at Summer to say she knew which girl she was more like.
“Needless to say, Gunboats fell so hard for Hope, he ended up proposing to her instead. Of course, that didn’t settle with the doll of the family, and in an effort to get him to change his mind, my grandparents told him he could marry Jessica now or wait until the war was over and marry Hope.”
The bell over the door jingled, and a couple customers came in. Helen waved to them and then turned back to us. “Care to guess what Gunboats did?”
Neither of us knew what to say, we were so wrapped up in the story of her parents, so she answered for us.
“He went and bought a ring for Hope. She wouldn’t wear it though. Said she didn’t want the pain of having him, and then losing him in that awful war. When he asked her to at least be his girl, she wouldn’t do that either. She told him they could be friends while he was away, and if he came back they could court. So, he took that ring he bought, put it on a chain around his neck, and promised her both the ring and he would come back.”
Summer smiled, and I have to admit it was a nice story, but unfortunately she wasn’t going to finish it. Customers were up at her counter.
“Tell you what,” she said. “Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you the rest.” We both gave her a look of disappointment. We wanted the rest now. “I’ll tell you this much. The ring came back before the body did.”
Helen sauntered off to wait on her customers and Summer gave me this sad look that said she wasn’t looking forward to how the story ended anymore. “I thought it was going to be a pretty love story,“ she said.
“Yeah me too. Come on, let’s get in line and pay for these.” We went up to the counter, and after a few minutes Helen was ringing us up. She looked at our said faces.
“Oh don’t have them long faces, you two. Orchard house is about living and loving, not dying and losing. Just do me a favor, tonight when you’re up there, think of Gunboats sleeping on a cot set out in the living room. Around the corner down the hall, Jessica waiting for him to wise up and marry her before the war killed him. And upstairs, Hope, wanting that boy more than anything but not wanting to endure losing him. I think sometimes the fear of losing someone keeps us from loving them. Hope knew that. The house up there knew that. But Gunboats didn’t. He left Orchard House thinking that girl didn’t love him, and it took two years before the house drug him back. But that’s a tale for another time.”
“Tomorrow?” Summer asked.
“You bet. Just come see me and I’ll dish the rest.” She smiled. “But before you go, let me give you a piece of advice just in case you get busy and don’t come back for the rest of the story. Don’t either one of you be a Gunboats, thinking the other don’t care. Because you know as well as I do, you can say you’re not a couple, but Orchard house knows you are.”
She winked and sent us on with our change, a smile, and that damn story of hers bouncing around in our heads.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.