Note: If you have been following along this far, then you might like to know we have made it to page 150 in the original manuscript. Wow, what a nice journey this is for me, bringing you along as the tale unfolds. We now have less than 100 pages to go, and I’m already preparing the next daily serial, so a big thank you to all those who are reading this novel with me. I’m just as much as a reader as you are 🙂
Part 44: The Invitation
It may be a hard thing for some to understand but telling someone you love them is not always an easy thing to do. In today’s society we take for granted we are loved, sometimes assuming the person we are with loves us without ever hearing it. Such it was so with Ashley. I had spent all that time with her, never hearing her say in an honest word that she loved me. Looking back, in all the times she said it, it was to get something material she wanted, or just to get her way in a discussion. Love is used far more than it is given. But with Summer it was different. The moment she spoke “I love you too” in the church, I knew without question she spoke the honest truth. She loved me in a way that said she demanded nothing from me and expected only my heart. It may sound odd, but in all the times we had kissed or made love, neither of us had made a statement for the other. Maybe we assumed the other knew it. Perhaps we believed if we uttered those words there would be no going back to the way life was as solitary individuals. Maybe fear of rejection or of being greeted with silence instead of like-minded feelings was enough to keep our true feelings to ourselves. No matter the reason, in all our intimacies we had failed to admit the most important things to each other and ourselves – that we were in love. After we both confessed our love, once that leap was taken, it was as if a weight had been lifted from us; a new liberation of the heart had been found. And while it made no further promise beyond loving each other, somehow we knew this was no fleeting thing, this was permanence in the process; that to continue would mean someday a choice would need to be made on how far we were willing to go with this. But right now, as we walked down the road, it was enough to know that maybe for the first time in my life I was honestly loved by another. And this put a new vibrant step in my walk; this had already changed me. The man who had reached the end of his road was now the man who had come to live a life much fuller than he ever could have imagined. Down the road we went, passing by cars and people preparing for the coming festivities of the street party, and I could think of no better occasion to celebrate than this. We smiled at each other as we walked into the country store for sodas. I went to the cooler for root beer and crème soda while Summer sought out Helen who had just handed a young couple a basket so they could go out in the orchard and pick their own apples. When I reached the two women, Helen was grinning ear to ear. Summer turned to me with a sweet beaming smile.
“I told her,” she said.
I feigned ignorance. “Told her what?”
Helen put her hands on her hips. “She told me what I knew all along but you was too pigheaded to admit.”
“Pig head, that’s me.”
“A cute pig head,” Summer cooed. I must have turned a couple shades of red because both women laughed so loud everyone in the store glanced over to see what was going on, which only added to my embarrassment. I think sometimes women enjoy putting their men through moments like this. To be honest though, I don’t mind.
“So, is the happy couple going to do some dancing in the street tonight?” Helen asked.
“Oh we’ll be there,” I told her. “Not sure about the dancing in front of everybody, but yeah.”
“Dancing ain’t hard, son. Once you realize it’s just you and her alone in the world, you’ll be swaying all over that orchard.”
I wanted to tell her I thought we’d already done our share of swaying in the orchard, but some confessions are best kept between two people, so I just smiled and replied, “We’ll try that then.”
Summer and I left Helen to wait on other customers and went up to the counter to pay for our drinks. Raymond was behind the register and his face lit up too upon seeing us. We made small talk about the house and how we were going to miss it come Tuesday morning. He made us look at the bright side with a knowing smile.
“You still got a couple days to enjoy it. No sense in getting sad about it now. I’m sure Orchard House still has some treats and surprises in store for such a happy couple.” He gave us a nod and wink as I paid for the drinks. I got the impression he had seen the old house work miracles and emotional magic for many couples before us.
If things had seemed different for us as a couple after making love for the first time, then things seemed different with the world after admitting we loved one another. Walking out of the country store and stepping back onto the road, it seemed like a different place. People we passed by looked at us and smiled as if they knew exactly what we felt. There must be certain glow among those in love that shines outward for everyone to see. If that was the case, everyone we saw should have been blinded.
Walking down the road and turning into our drive, we saw a group of young men, some of them the migrant workers from the field, setting up the stage for evening’s show. Lugging generators up the embankment, they set up lights that would illuminate the area when the sun went down and the party went up. We looked at each other in anticipation, wanting to be around other people so we could infect them with our brand of joy. We were so high in our own love it was as if nothing could bring us down, until we saw the pickup truck at the top of the drive. A man sat on our front porch as if he had been waiting for us. As we topped the hill he got up. It was apparent he had been waiting there awhile, petting Orchard House’s resident watchdog.
Jackson came running to us, his tail wagging. I reached down and petted him briefly as the man stepped slowly towards us. He walked as if he were unsure whether he should be here, and when he saw the cloud cross Summer’s face and wipe her smile completely away, Earl stopped and stared at the ground.
“What are you doing here?” Summer asked.
“I wanted to see you,” he said.
“Why? It never occurred to you before.”
He took her verbal punch on the chin and I almost admired him for taking a chance in coming here. “I felt like we got off on the wrong foot,” he explained.
“That’s an understatement.”
He put his hands in his pockets, unsure on how to proceed. “I would like to make up for that.”
“And just how do you propose that? You going to make up for all the years you pretended not to have a daughter, too?”
He hung his head. “No, I can’t make up for that. All I can do anything about is today. That’s all I have. I can’t go back. I can’t see the future. But I can do something about today.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“Look…Summer…I am not a perfect man any more than you have grown into a perfect woman. We are flawed. You and me both, and your fellow there, too. We all have made mistakes in our lives I’m sure. We can’t go back and change those things. All we can do is learn from them. And if what you have learned is that you hate me, that’s okay. If you can’t forgive me for abandoning you and your mother, I don’t blame you. But before you make the final judgment about me I wish you would just give me a chance to explain a few things.”
“Not here. This house is too special for that. Please come to mine.”
Summer hesitated and turned to look at me. I gave her a reassuring smile. She turned back to the man who had helped bring her into the world. “Why your house?” she asked.
“There’s some things I want to show you. It’s best you see for yourself I think. If you and your man here would like to come to dinner tomorrow I would love to have you.”
Again she looked to me for reassurance and I nodded, letting her know I was with her whatever path she chose to take.
“Okay, we’ll come.”
“Good. I’ll expect you around one. Is that okay?”
“That will be fine.”
“Good.” He walked over to his truck and opened the driver’s side door.
“Earl,” Summer said. “I’m not making any promises to you. I don’t see how this will change anything between us. You can’t take away the fact that you left us. Not ever.”
“I know,” he said. “That’s my devil to live with, but I don’t want you to live with yours. So please just come.” He got in the truck and started it up. Taking one last look at us he backed down the drive and onto the road.
Summer looked at me. “Well, Raymond was right. Orchard House still has some surprises in store for us.”
Part 45: Dressed For The Party
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.