Note: Doubling up posts again today, so I can be ready to go with the National Novel Writing Month challenge in November. We are heading to our conclusion with only about 25 pages left to go, so we are almost there. Hope you enjoy!
Part 59: Dinner With Friends
For the rest of the afternoon we both seemed a bit mopey. It was finally hitting us – this was our last day at Orchard House. We ate sandwiches for lunch in near silence. Afterwards, we settled down and watched a little television. At one point I got up and went into the kitchen to look at the register book Helen had been talking about. It was on a small end table beneath the phone on the wall. I sat down at the dining table and began to look through it. True, there had only been about two dozen visitors in the last year, but in earlier years there had been more. Flipping through, I was amazed at all the stories the entries told. Retired couples enjoying life, young ones just starting out; busy people getting away, lonely people finding themselves; families needing to bond, loners needing to cry; children needing to grow, parents needing to remember – all these stories washed over me so much I wanted to cry. All the joy that had been discovered at Orchard House over the years was getting ready to be nothing but memories and words written down in a small notebook. Someone needed to tell their stories. Someone needed to let the world know that love was alive, and it was right here for all who would let go of hang-ups and anxieties and just take the leap into the wonderful unknown. The tale had to be told, and I couldn’t be the author. It had to be Orchard House. “What you doing?”
I turned to the sound of Summer’s voice, as she pulled out a chair and sat next to me. “Just reading everyone’s stories. Wondering how ours fits into it.” I turned the notebook to her and let her do some reading of her own. “I don’t want to be the last couple to write in this book, “ I said. “What’s the use in all these experiences visitors have had if it’s now going to be all over? I don’t buy it that it’s time has come and gone. People need this now more than ever.”
She looked over at me. “It breaks my heart, too.” Then she leaned her head against mine and we both cried. Not for the love we found, or even the sadness we felt over the closing of Orchard House. No, we cried over all the people who would never know, never find the heart of everything at the end of a country lane.
As it got close to six, we left the house and walked across the road to the creek. Our intention had been to jump over it and head across the field to Helen and Ray’s, but the waterway was too wide and there weren’t enough rocks to use as jumping points to carry us across.
“Ever been wading?” Summer asked.
“Don’t laugh,” I replied.
She cocked her head to one side. “Never?”
“Cool, let this last night be a night of never done until nows.” She reached down and took off her sandals. Stepping into the water ahead of me, she froze. “Oh my, that’s freezing. Bad idea.”
I had already ditched my shoes and was rolling up my pants leg so they wouldn’t get wet. I looked up and saw her shivering, though I thought it was a bit over exaggerated for my benefit. I stepped barefoot into the creek. She wasn’t over exaggerating at all. The water was so cold, it almost hurt. “Jeez Summer, this is c-c-cold. However did you ever enjoy this?”
She laughed and danced through the creek, kicking the water with her cute painted feet. I couldn’t help but smile and follow her. We must have looked like two kids playing on a summer’s day, just trying to find a way to while away the hours. She spun on one foot and then kicked water up on me.
“Oh no, you didn’t,” I chattered, splashing her right back, which caused her to erupt in a playful squeal. We took turns splashing each other, until we realized we were getting our pants pretty wet. I moved towards her and slipped on a wet mossy rock. I went down on my butt in the creek. Now my whole seat was underwater, and it was much colder to that extremity than to the feet. Summer laughed, and as she came to my aid, I reached up and grabbed her, pulling her right down into the water with me. Another squeal of delight, and she too was soaked. We sat in the cold water together, and I leaned back on my hands as she put hers on the side of my face and kissed me long and lovingly. The cold went away and was replaced with a warmth, or possibly just a not caring, as we sank into the creek to lay back with the water rushing over our bodies. It was the kiss that kept us warm.
We trudged back up to Orchard House to change clothes. It would make us late for dinner, but there was no way we could show up soaked to the skin in wet clothes. We took turns undressing, and then dressing each other, which took a little longer as picking out her clothes again wasn’t easy. Finally, with us both dressed conservatively, she in capris and a bright yellow t-shirt with a sun on it declaring “every day is a summer day,”and I in vintage chinos and a button up Van Heusen with the sleeves rolled up.
This time we skirted the creek and walked up the dirt road until we found the head of their drive. We walked down a little ways and then crossed over into the field, as it would be much shorter this way, and we were already late by 15 minutes. In the distance, we saw the house. It was nothing like Orchard House. This was more modern, a one story ranch with two car garage. A deck came off the side of the house to overlook a beautiful flower garden two times larger than the one at Earl’s. Two wooden rockers sat on the front porch which stretched from one end of the house to the other, and on the door a large sign surrounded by an apple design declared WELCOME TO OUR HOME. It was a beautiful house to say the least, and was easy to see it had been crafted with love.
Inside, the house was even lovelier. It was more than evident who the designers were, as apples and peaches were the theme everywhere. Helen hugged us both and ushered us into a spacious dining room, where the table was already laid out for dinner and the guests were waiting. It surprised us that we were not the only guests. Twyla was there of course, but also Gunboats and Hope, as well. Raymond came in from the kitchen and gave us a cheery smile. “Glad you could make it,“ he said. “We were getting worried.”
“Sorry,“ I explained. “We went wading in your creek and got a little soaked, so we had to go change.”
“Oh that’s alright. I love the creek myself. It’s one reason we built on this side of the road. Well, I certainly hope you like cornbread because mama Hope went a little crazy with it.”
Everyone had a good laugh at that, and it made it a little less awkward for us. After all, we were the only ones in the room who weren’t family. Helen seated us together, and put Twyla on one side of Summer, with me on the other. Gunboats and Hope sat across from us, with Raymond taking the head of the table and Helen the foot. She reached her hands out across the table. “Let us give thanks,” she said, inviting us all to hold hands.
Raymond cleared his throat and I discovered a side of him I’d never seen before. “Father God, “ he prayed, “we come to you with a grateful heart. We are grateful for family, for friends, for food on the table, for the love within our hearts. We are nothing without you lord, and have everything because of you. We ask that you bless this table tonight and all who gather around it. Let this food bring us strength and nourishment, just as your grace brings us hope and salvation. Help us to remember the precious gift your sacrifice on Calvary brought us, and we ask you remind us of this when we get too much into the world and further from you. Father God, thank you for our dinner guests. Bless them in the new life they have chosen, and we pray you will provide their needs in the days ahead and fill their hearts daily with the love they have so embraced. We thank you for all things and ask you grant us wisdom, faith, and the willingness to look to you for answers before looking to ourselves. It is in Jesus precious name we pray…Amen.”
Helen echoed his amen and began to pass the food around. As I filled up my plate, I looked at the faces of the other two couples around the table. I thought to myself, we represented three generations of happy loving couples. Three pairs of lonely people who had found their heart’s desire and persevered until it was theirs, going through wars of country, depressions of the soul, the utter despair of loneliness, to come out on the other side of life’s storms to bask in the rays of their rewards. It would be wrong to say of myself that I deserved the love I had found, but I could honestly say that what God had given me, I would cherish, and nurture, and love all the days of my life. Summer and I would not be a wasted couple. We would be just as loving as our hosts around the table, and seeing their bright contented faces, I looked forward to growing old with this woman at my side. I looked at her, and she could tell I was in thought again, but she didn’t say anything to call me out. She just whispered, “I know,” as her eyes kissed me with her glance.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.