Here we go with the second part of our double post in celebration of reaching 50 episodes together. Hope you enjoy 🙂
Part 51: Earl’s Revelation
The day was slipping away from us in the garden when Earl took his place back on the bench beside Summer. Something in his eyes gave the impression he wanted to say he was sorry he cried in her lap, but it went unsaid. There was no need. A greater understanding had been reached between the two. I’m not saying it would be perfect from now on, or that she could even bring herself to think of him as her Father, but they had found a starting point, a place to begin a new journey, two strangers knowing they should be friends but still not sure how to get there. “You can keep the letter if you want,” he said, handing it back to her.
“No it’s yours,” she replied. “It was enough to read it, to know how she felt. I heard it said in a song one time, there’s three sides to every story- yours, mine, and the truth. I get that now.”
I wanted to tell her it was Don Henley, but now was not the time for my music nerd gene to kick in. Instead, I let them have their moment of clarity. After a few minutes, I think Earl got to thinking I had been left out of everything, and he sought to reel me into the conversation while imparting something very important to Summer.
“You know, your fellow and I were out here talking about how everyone comes into our lives for a reason. “
She looked at me with a quizzical look, but I didn’t know where he was going with this, so I just shrugged.
“When you showed up out of the blue the other day I wondered why…and why now…but now I think I know. Seeing you both here and knowing you both love each other…as your mother and I once loved before I got so stupid.”
Summer looked at him. “So why do you think we’re here?”
“Orchard House is the heart of everything,” he said, and I froze. Not in terror, but in recognition. It wasn’t the first time I had heard the place referred to as that. I had in fact called it that myself. “It’s the heart of all you have ever known,” he continued. ”or even wanted to know.” He looked at me as if to let Summer know he was talking about both the past and the future, and before I could even begin to grasp that myself, he added, “Summer, Orchard House is your home.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
He got up from the bench. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”
We both watched him walk away and go inside the house. “What is he talking about?” Summer asked.
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” I admitted.
Before either of us could ponder it further, Earl returned. In his hand was a small box. Written across the outside in faded permanent marker was “Old memories”. He sat down next to Summer and opened the box. Curious, I peered over her shoulder to try and catch a glimpse inside. I don’t think either of us had time to get a good look, because he pulled a photograph from the box and handed it to Summer. I saw it was an old picture, bent at the corners as if it had been handled many times before. In the photo, a young couple stood, arms linked together, their faces covered with smiles, the perfect picture of love in bloom. In fact, it wasn’t the only thing blooming in the photograph. A magnolia tree stood behind them in all its glory, and behind that the façade of Orchard House. I looked to Earl for clarification.
“We had been married for three days when that picture was taken,” he said. “We had actually honeymooned for the weekend at a romantic upscale resort. We were on our way home and your mother saw a sign for an apple orchard. She had never seen one she said, so we followed the signs and ended up at Orchard House. “
Summer looked from the picture to Earl and back again.
He cleared his throat and continued. “All these years I thought it was coincidence, but maybe we were called there, much in the same way you two were drawn there. Well, maybe not the same…You see Summer….” He reached over and patted her on the knee. “You were conceived there.”
She shot him a look that said she was not only surprised by this revelation, but in complete shock. After all, what are the chances that she would come looking for her birth father and end up staying at the same house in which she was conceived. Is this what they call coincidence, that after years of bad relationships she would fall in love, as if for the first time, in the same house that celebrated her parents first love for each other.
Earl smiled at the incredulous look on her face. “We figured it out when you were born, backtracked it to the date. So Orchard House is your home, in a sense. In this way, seeing you were conceived there, and have now fallen in love yourself there…well, for you, it truly is the heart of everything, now isn’t it?”
She looked like she wanted to cry, but she had too many questions. She looked to me and back to Earl. “So why did Matthew come there?”
He grinned as if he really knew the answer to that. “To make you happy, of course. Isn’t that true, Matthew?”
I smiled and nodded. While that wasn’t the original reason, it had become that in recent days.
“I can’t pretend to know what God wants of us,” Earl said. “Or what he has planned. I’ve never been much a believer myself, but things are happening here that can’t be coincidence. I may be wrong, but we all came to Orchard House from emptiness, from a desire to fill our souls up with something. After years of running, I came back to this area with a very empty heart because it was the last happy place I knew. It’s a place where love was alive and nothing seemed to be beyond my reach. I tried to buy Orchard House, but of course they wouldn’t sell, and I can’t blame them. Who would sell such a magical place, right?“ He took a deep breath. “I don’t know what your emptiness’s were. Or are. But I do know this now. Nothing is a coincidence, everything is planned. And we can either go with it or fight it. I fought it for a long time, and when I realized to just go with it, it was too late. Your mother was dying.”
He gave that a moment to settle with us both. “But maybe it’s not too late, as you said Matthew. Summer, the last time I saw your mother face to face, she said something about me being selfish and acting like a child, among other things. She said, ‘Earl, you need to make up your mind what you want, but don’t expect me to wait forever.’ Now maybe I’m reading too much into it, or perhaps I’m being selfish and vain again to assume this, but when she told you ‘tell father I’m still waiting’ I think it was her intention for you to come here and see me. Perhaps the letter had a message for you too, and you had to read it for yourself. Maybe she didn’t want you to live in that same loneliness that she and I did. Perhaps she’s the one who sent Matthew here… to make you happy.”
Tears were welling up in Summer’s eyes, and I have to admit they were coming close for me too. I reached for her hand, and she grasped it as if I were her lifeline now. “I miss her,” she whispered.
“I missed her for a long, long time,“ he agreed. “But to be honest, I think she’s here now, because I feel a comfort, a peace that I haven’t felt since we celebrated our love at Orchard House.” He got a faraway look in his eye. “Everything was different then. Everything was….so brand new.” He looked back to Summer. “I never fell out of love with your mother. I just fell too in love with myself. Pride, vanity, selfishness, arrogance…I put all those things before your mother and suffered a lifetime of loneliness for it. But now…I’m ready. Now it’s my turn to wait.” He wiped a tear from his cheek. “I have no doubt I will see your mother again, and if she’s still waiting as she said, then I know that heaven must look a lot like Orchard House.” He looked at us both. “Don’t you ever forget what you have found there. Don’t run away from it and then years later try to figure it out. Figure it out now. Don’t wait.” He took the old photograph and looked at it before putting it back in the box. “Don’t let it be just a memory that you store away somewhere. Believe me, it is better to live it than to dream it.” He closed the box and got up. “I had fixed your mother’s favorite pie for dessert. Would you like some?”
Summer smiled and pulled me up from the bench. “We’d love to, dad,” she smiled.
If you could have bottled his own smile in that moment, you would have sold millions…
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.