Note: We are three days away from the end of this novel, and as such I’m already thinking about what comes next for this. Should it be made available in book form, or as an e-book, or does it work best here in its original posted form? I’d be really interested to know what everyone’s thought of this, so if you haven’t taken the time to comment yet, please share your thoughts, good or bad. Thanks for following along, so here you go with the second post of the morning…
Part 61: Packing Up
We woke with the sun, but instead of it filtering through the curtains of a window as we lay in a soft bed, it splashed through the opening of our small tent. With the down sleeping bag as our bed, Summer’s long chestnut hair splayed across my bare chest, her hand resting gently upon my thigh. My first thought was this had been the best escape ever. For all my running, for all my want of being rid of my troubles, this was the best possible ending ever. I could see us, just like this, living out under the stars every night and waking to the southern sun on our faces every morning. As my eyes came into focus and I glanced out through the open tent flap. The fire pit long cold, Jackson lay sleeping in front of it as he must have through the night. I knew I would miss the old dog and wondered about the circumstances surrounding his heroic saving of Twyla, as she insinuated on the first day she showed me the house from outside the country store. I figured he must have been just as protective as we slept last night. Beyond the dog, lay the familiar shade of Orchard House and I thought it was such a pity we were the last lovers its halls would welcome. No more would the echo of laughter, conversation, or even cooing, sound through its rooms. This, and the realization that we had to pack and prepare to leave it behind, was enough to make the morning a sad one.I gently prodded Summer awake and her eyes opened to see my face hovering above hers. My blue eyes looked into hers of brown, like the blue sky peering down upon the brown earth it loves and protects. “Wake up, love,” I whispered, to which she smiled.
“Love,“ she sleepily replied. “Mm, I like that.”
I kissed her softly and stroked her cheek with my hand. “There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing your eyes looking at me in the morning light.”
She smiled. “There’s nothing more beautiful than having a poet for a fiancé.”
I slowly worked my way out of the sleeping bag. ”And seeing you naked,“ she added.
I laughed and shrugged my shoulders. “Oops.”
I peered out the tent flap to make sure no one was in the orchard, and then went after our discarded clothes, rushing back inside just in case I had overlooked migrant workers or others in the neighboring fields.
Freeing herself from the confines of our makeshift bed, she took her clothes and hastily dressed. I also dressed a little faster than I would have had we been inside. Once our modesty was protected, we stepped out into the sun.
“Wonder what time it is,” I mused.
“I don’t know,” she answered, as she started to tear down the tent. I reached over and patted Jackson’s head as he approached us for some early morning attention. “But I could sure use some coffee,” she added.
“Okay baby. I’ll go make some. Be right back.” I gave her a brief kiss on the cheek and headed to the house. Entering through the back door, I turned the coffee pot on and set about fixing us some caffeine brew. As I waited, I watched Summer through the kitchen window, as she methodically rolled up the tent and kicked some dirt on the fire pit, just in case there was some live ash we couldn’t see in the sun.
I brought her coffee out to her just as she was putting the tent and sleeping bag in her trunk. “Here you go, babe,” I said, handing it over. “Careful it’s hot.”
“You’re hot,“ she teased and took it carefully from my hand. She took a sip and I followed suit from my own cup. We stood there like two early morning conquers looking over the land as if we were the first to discover it. “Going to miss it,” she said, mirroring my own thoughts. “I don’t want to go home.”
“Neither do I.” I let that stand a moment and then added, “That’s why I’m following you home.”
She laughed. “Is that the plan then?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Good. I don’t want to be apart from you.”
I smiled. “I don’t want to be apart from you either.”
She leaned her cheek to me in a gesture that said she was waiting for a kiss. I easily obliged her.
Once inside we knew it was time. We had to pack and prepare for leaving. Even though we’d been told we’d be the last couple to stay at Orchard House, we felt it best to treat it like any bed and breakfast and go for an early check out time. Plus, as Summer informed me, we had a long drive to the house she once shared with her mother.
“Want me to fix some breakfast?”
“There’s nothing left. We’ll have to eat on the road I guess.”
“Okay. Want me to help you pack?”
“No, that’s okay.” She sounded so sad I wanted to hug and comfort her, but her sorrow wasn’t over something I did. Her sadness came from us having to leave this house.
We walked down the hall. At the staircase, we parted ways and I watched her trudge upstairs like a lonely child sent to her room. I turned and stepped inside my own room. I softly closed the door behind me. It’s not that I wanted privacy; I just didn’t want to see her cry – at least not like this. I got my bags out of the closet and tossed them on the bed. I emptied the dresser drawers of all my stuff. Because we had both unpacked and tried to have a semblance of these being our permanent rooms, it felt like I was having to move out of the place I called home. On the desktop, I picked up the notebook in which I had attempted to write Eric in my first days here and shoved into one of the bags with my clothes and sundries. Walking over to the closet, I took my nicer clothes from the rack, carefully removing them from their hangers and folding them neatly to lie atop the clothes I had already packed. The last thing I took out was the tux ensemble, worn once to a failed wedding, again to the most exciting street party ever, and third…well hopefully someday. I smiled to myself, brushing the suit off, and draped it over my shoulder. I picked up the bags, and with some effort managed to open the door, pulling it wider with my foot and stepped into the hall. I could hear Summer upstairs, opening and shutting drawers, and when she didn’t come down right away, I headed down the hall and to the kitchen. I set my bags down and went into the bathroom to gather up my shaving stuff, shampoo, and deodorant. Tossing them into one of the bags I then made my way out onto the back porch, lugging my things to the driveway where our cars waited. Throwing my luggage into the back seat, I laid my tux across the bags and closed the door.
Back in the house, I found Summer had found her way down to the kitchen and was looking wistfully around the room as if she were having a hard time saying goodbye to an old trusted friend. I took her bags from her and carried them to her car. By the time I got back, she had made it out on the porch where she sat on the top step crying. I sat down and put my arm around her. She leaned her head over on my shoulder.
“It’s okay, Summer,” I said. My fingers traced around the outline of her ring. “Please don’t be sad.”
She looked at the ring and tried her best to smile. “I’m not sad about us,” she replied. “It’s like… I feel like this is home and now we have to leave it.” She sighed. “I have found all the answers to my prayers while staying here. I’ve reconciled with my father, I found you, I’m engaged to be married…it’s like I was granted three wishes by a magic genie, and now that I’ve used them all up, I have to bottle the genie back up.” She looked up at me. “Does that make sense?”
I kissed her forehead. “Yes my love. It does.” I kissed her softly. “It has been a place of wishes come true for me, too. I think about how I came here – lonely, desperate, rushing headlong to an end. And now I have the most perfect love I could have imagined, I have learned to relax and just let things be, and I’m tumbling headlong into a new beginning – and I want to feel this every day.“ I gave her a squeeze so she would look me in the eye. “I love it here, and I love you. And if I had to choose one over the other, I’ll always pick you.”
“Matty, I’ll always pick you, too.” She gave me a big loving hug. “Well, I think it’s safe to say you have done pretty good at cheering me up.”
“Good.” I stood up. “You got your key?”
“Well then, I guess we better go turn them in and get on the road.”
“Oh wait…the guestbook, I almost forgot.”
“No one else will read it,“ she replied. “We’re the last, remember?”
“Still…if our words are the last then it should be something to make it count – an ending worth smiling about.”
“You’re the writer. I can’t find the words at this point, so go get ‘em, tiger.”
I left her sitting on the step and went back inside. I picked up the guestbook from its place on the small table beneath the wall phone. I took it over to the kitchen island and sat down to write the very last entry. I didn’t know what to write at first, but once I started the first sentence, the rest came easily. And though it didn’t say everything I wanted, it was close enough. I signed our names to it just as Summer came in and sat beside me. I slid the book towards her.
“You want to approve it?”
“Silly. I know you wrote the right thing. But you can read it to me if you like.”
“Okay.” I cleared my throat and read my words. “If a man could wish to find in this life the perfect home, Orchard House has been, and will always be the place. I arrived here shattered, Summer arrived broken. Together we would find each other and indeed ourselves. Within these walls in the space of a mere week we found healing, purpose, and passion. It couldn’t have happened in any other way or in any other place, of this I am convinced. Orchard House is magic, a special place, and if it is the heart of everything as I have heard it referred to in recent days, then it is a very big heart indeed. We carry with us when we leave a lifetime full of memories, hearts full of love with the brightest hopes for our future. We leave with a clear sense of the things that are important, such as family, forgiveness, living free, loving freely, and the things that aren’t like bitterness, despair, and unforgiving hearts. We leave with our heads full of dreams, which is the true spirit of Orchard House – the power to make one reach for the unattainable, to seek the elusive dreams of youth, to find that which has always desired to be found…each other. We will miss it here, but we will not miss its magic, for we carry it with us when we go, perfectly imbedded within our souls, remembered always in our hearts. Thank you Orchard House. You will never be forgotten…ever. – Mathew & Summer Dean”
There was the briefest of silence and then she said, “It’s perfect.” I don’t know if she meant the guestbook entry itself or hearing our names together as if we were already married. She smiled and wrapped her arms around me. In Summer’s embrace I felt the wonder and magic of Orchard House, and just as I had written, I knew then it would always be with us. No matter where we went, it would be there in every look we gave each other, every touch and kiss, every word spoken in love would carry its message and promise for all eternity. Is it possible for a house, a place, a moment in time to affect a person in this way? Certainly so.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.