Category Archives: Orchard House (The Serial Novel)

Orchard House Part 64: The Heart Of Everything

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Note: Wow, here we are at the end. What a journey it has been, and if you have made it this far, then thank you for tagging along with Matthew and Summer. So, here we go, the last chapter of the novel. Hope you enjoy!

Part 64: The Heart Of Everything

Standing at the side of the altar, facing all these people, most of whom I didn’t know, was a bit unnerving. The church was filled to near capacity, which wasn’t a huge feat since it was a little building, but I smiled enough to fill up the rest of the room, anticipating the arrival of my bride. My head couldn’t help but think of every bad scenario it could: she had changed her mind, cold feet, left standing alone again. My heart, however, told me this was not so. Summer would be here just as she promised. Someone had closed the sanctuary doors while I had been in the back with the preacher and Edward, but now they opened to reveal the bridesmaids and ushers. I didn’t know any of the girls as they walked down the aisle, their arms linked with the young men who escorted them. The ushers I recognized as the remaining members of the street party band, and I made a mental note to myself that if my music critic career ever took off again I would be sure to write about the coolest street band ever.

Beside me, Edward remembered he was out of place. I guess every wedding needs a hiccup or two. He hastily excused himself and made his way to the sanctuary doors, trying to stick to the wall so he wouldn’t be a distraction. He needn’t have worried. Everyone’s eyes were on the beautiful young men and women walking down the aisle to the acoustic strains of ‘Whiter Shade of Pale.’

Then there was Edward, finally in place, escorting his daughter, the maid of honor, down the aisle. Helen looked radiant, and I wondered where in the world they had gotten all these matching gowns on short notice. This had to be the hastiest put together wedding ever, and if it got pulled off, then Helen and her helpers should start a new business as emergency wedding planners. She and Edward, her Gunboats, came down the aisle, and when her eyes looked over at me, I smiled as if she were my own mother come to see her boy on his happiest day. And then, I looked to the back of the church as everyone stood and the acoustic guitar played a variation of the bridal march.

She came down the aisle proudly escorted by her father. Her eyes nervously looked around at all the people and I silently whispered, ‘keep your eyes on me’ so she wouldn’t stumble or falter. As if hearing my voice in her head, she looked at me with those beautiful brown eyes and allowed Earl to lead her. My own eyes were permanently locked on her, my smile threatening to infect the whole room with my joy. No feeling in the world could come close to the sight of Summer walking down the aisle to join me. As we both came around to join the preacher in front of the flowered gazebo I still could not tear my eyes away. I wanted this moment permanently ingrained in my eyes so that when I went to bed every night I’d still see my bride standing there, the most beautiful girl in the room forever.

The wedding was not rehearsed beforehand, so we followed the preacher’s lead every step of the way. From the lighting of the unity candles, to us staring teary eyed at each other during our nuptial song, a tender yet thankfully wordless version of ‘Still Got The Blues,’ to the exchanging of borrowed rings, to the pledging of our vows before God and man. I said “I do” with the voice of a man happy and proud to have reached this moment with the most wonderful woman he’d ever known. She softly spoke her “I do”, not because she was nervous or unsure, but because for her it was as a whisper directly in my ear, a pledge and promise for me alone, never to be said to another man. In that moment, she became mine alone for the rest of eternity, and I became hers. When the preacher said I could kiss the bride, it was no ordinary kiss. It filled up every fiber of my being, washing over me like a flood of happiness, and though I knew all eyes were on us, it was as if we were alone, standing on a mountaintop to let our love shine down on everyone lost in the valley below. When we finally parted, and the preacher turned us to face the crowd gathered to witness, he introduced us as man and wife, Matthew and Summer Dean. The rest as they say was icing on the cake.

I looked over at Summer. “Are you ready, Mrs. Dean?”

She smiled, and I saw the happy tears in her eyes as everyone stood and applauded our new married designation. “I’m ready, Matty, “ she replied, and we stepped off the dais to make our way, hand in hand proudly up the aisle, no longer two individuals alone in the world, but one living breathing union of love. We rushed to our waiting car, which someone had decorated with streamers and soda cans. It wasn’t lost on us that the cans were either root beer or crème soda. Shaving crème spelled ‘Just Married’ on the trunk and ‘Forever Love’ on the hood. Someone also had put Vaseline on the door handles so they would be hard to open, and as we fumbled with it, we were bombarded with bubbles and confetti. With Summer squealing delightfully next to me, I got the door open as a car full of helium balloons came tumbling out the door at us. On each one someone had taken a marker and written ‘Matthew and Summer Happily Ever After.’ We watched them take to the air like wishes on a dream.

We scrambled to get in the car and with a wave to friends old and new, drove out of the parking lot honking the horn, dragging noisy cans behind us. “We’ll come back for your car,“ I told her.

“I’m not worried, “ she replied, laying her head over on my shoulder. “Where are we going anyway?”

“We’re going home.”

She raised her head up. “I think you’re going the wrong way. There’s nothing but Orchard House down there.”

“I know.”

She looked at me, a look of bewilderment on her face. “Okay, so…”

“Orchard House is our home now… sort of.”

“What do you mean?”

“You want to stay, don’t you?”

“Yes. You know I do.”

“Well then, how would you feel about managing a bed and breakfast inn for the nicest bunch of people we know?”

“Are you serious?”

I smiled. “Sincerious.”

Summer hugged me, and let out a loud cat call similar to the first day we rode down the road together with her shouting ‘life is a highway’ from the top of her lungs. I turned off the road and headed up the long gravel drive to Orchard House.


Alexander Graham Bell is credited as saying, ‘When one door closes another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.’ If that is true, then the open door of Orchard House removed the regrets and caused us to look beyond ourselves, our own hang-ups and wants, and see that which waited for us behind its doors. We arrived at Orchard House as strangers and left as husband and wife. There is no greater gift that could have been given to us than the true love we found.

In the beginning, I thought it best to keep the location of Orchard House a secret, for fear others would discover the place that had become so special to me But now I know that is not fair. That would be the same as denying someone the chance to fall in love and be loved, or to live and breathe in the open air. Orchard House is for all who would seek healing, for all who desire love, and wish for a better life in the hope of another. In your journey for hope or absolution, whatever the case may be, it is my wish that you would at the very least think of us, and all those who have come before you, wanting more than anything to be loved like never before, and with those thoughts seek what is missing in your life. Who knows, it may lead you down a country road, past apple trees and the scent of honeysuckles, to end at Orchard House and the heart of everything. If that should happen…well then, I guess we’ll see you soon.

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.

 It has been such fun sharing this novel with you. I hope you have enjoyed the journey! 

Orchard House Part 63: Waiting For The Bride

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Note: Here’s the second post for today. I’m really feeling strange, as if I’m sendin my kid out into the world on his own. Join me tomorrow morning for the final chapter of this novel. Somebody bake me a cake 😉

Part 63: Waiting For The Bride

I went out to the car to grab my tux and noticed there was now a small truck parked beside us. An elderly woman stood outside the passenger side talking to her granddaughter, who usually was selling lemonade at this hour. The driver got out and walked over to me. He pumped my hand vigorously. “Thank you,” I said. “Thank you both.”Gunboats smiled. “See son, I told you life is so much better outside the trench.”

I grinned ear to ear. “Yes, it is.”

The man pointed towards the church. Two ladies had now come out and were wrapping little white bells around the porch railing with red ribbon. “Sure glad you followed my advice,” he said.

“It wasn’t just yours. It seems everyone and everything was steering us in this direction. If not for Orchard House…no, let’s not think of that…let’s just say today I’m completely changed and perfectly happy.”

“No son, you won’t be that until she says I do.”

I smiled. “Speaking of which…would you do me the honors and be my best man?”

“The honor would be all mine. Been a long time since I been in a wedding. Hope it’s habit forming.” He pointed across the parking lot. Several other people had come out the front door, as if they had been inside helping decorate. I recognized two of the people right away – the boy from the street party band and his blonde braided girlfriend. They were loving it up on the steps of the church, arms around each other, staring into each other’s eyes like younger versions of Summer and I. Gunboats smiled. “You need to make sure that boy catches the garter.”

I grinned. “I don’t know, I may want to keep that for myself.”

He laughed. “Why have the garter when you can have the woman?“ he replied. Looking over at Helen and Twyla, he said, “You gals ready to go get dressed for a wedding?” He looked back at me. “We’ll see you shortly, Matthew. You better get dressed yourself. You only have an hour or two of freedom before the ladies are ready to get this show on the road. I imagine even now they are calling everybody to tell them the wedding is on.” As if to say this was true, the church bell in the steeple began to ring.

“Thank you, Gunboats, “ I said.

He smiled. “Please, it’s Edward.”

“Excuse me?”

“My name is Edward. Not many folks call me Gunboats anymore.”

“Oh, ok then. Edward it is. Thank you, Edward.”

The man smiled and nodded. “Our pleasure,” he replied. He got ready to get in the truck, then stopped. “You still got that envelope?”


“Did you look at everything? Read the papers?”

“No, you told me I would know when the time came for that.”

He smiled. “It’s time.” Then he was in the truck and starting it up. I stood there watching them drive away. The envelope was in one of my bags. I quickly opened the car and rummaged for it. Finding the envelope, I nearly tore it open. There were a few papers there I had already read, but there was one that had been sealed in its own smaller envelope that had my name written across it. It had been tempting the several times I had seen it before, but I had fought it, thinking to myself when Gunboats had wanted me to read it, he would tell me. I carefully tore the top and peered inside, pulling out a typed sheet of paper. At the top it read: Contract for Management of Orchard House.

I was mulling over whether to go into the church and change, when another truck pulled into the lot. Earl’s familiar face was behind the wheel. He practically jumped out once he was parked. I walked over to him and shook his hand.

“Glad you could make it, I know it’s short notice.”

“I wouldn’t miss it, Matthew, but…”

“But what?”

“Are you sure she’d want me to walk her down the aisle?”

I smiled. “Yes, I’m sure.”

“I just found her – I’m not sure I want to be giving her away.”

“Consider it a lifetime loan then.”

He smiled and patted me on the back. “You know, I can already tell you’re going to be a better husband than I was.” He looked up to the sky and its white billowing clouds as if he were peering straight into heaven. “I hope her mother is watching today.”

“I’m sure she’s right here,“ I assured him. “Right next to my own parents.”

He nodded. “Yeah, I believe so too.”

“Well hey Earl, you can go on in. I think I’m going to drive down to the store and change in their restroom. I don’t want to accidentally see the bride before it’s time you know.”

“Alright then. We’ll see you soon.” He gave me a wink. “Don’t make me come and get you with the shotgun.”

I smiled. “No worries there. I’ll be back so fast no one will have time to miss me.”

The bell gave a little tinkle as I walked into the store. Raymond, behind the counter, had just rung someone up. He looked up and raised an eyebrow as if he was surprised to see me. “You better have come to tell me I can close up the store for a few hours as planned.”

“Well, no that wasn’t my intention. I need a place to change into my tux.”

He grinned. “Same thing.” He pointed to a doorway behind him. “Back there. Last door on the left.”

I went to the restroom and shut the door behind me. As I dressed I thought to myself, if someone had told me I would be getting dressed for my own wedding in the bathroom of a little country store a week ago, I would have laughed so hard they’d thought I was crazy. But now, looking at my reflection in the mirror, it was like looking at a different and far happier person. I finished dressing and made a few adjustments at the collar. When I smiled in the mirror, it smiled back as if the little boy inside, lonely and frightened, was finally free to be a man.

By the time I arrived back at the church, the lot was nearly full with cars. We didn’t even know that many people. They must have gone door to door in the community inviting people. Didn’t matter if they knew us or not, hey come to a wedding anyway. People were milling about outside, and the church doors now lay open. The bells had stopped their peal, but the sound of acoustic guitar music drifted outside. Earl came down the steps towards me.

“They aren’t quite ready yet, but Edward and the preacher are in the back waiting on you.”

I nodded. Butterflies flew into my stomach and flitted around. “Okay, thanks.”

Going up the steps, I smiled at those who had gathered for my wedding. I recognized some from the street party, others I didn’t know at all. Still it didn’t matter; they were here to help celebrate, and that was fine by me. Through the foyer and into the sanctuary, I was greeted and congratulated so much that my thank you response became automatic. It seemed everyone we had come in contact with was in attendance. The tubing guy, the boy in the Italian restaurant, the fortune teller, the migrant workers, all nodded and smiled in my direction. I felt like I was walking down the aisle to accept an award or something. Suddenly, someone stood up from one of the seats and planted himself in the aisle in front of me. I froze. For a moment, I didn’t know what to say. Then I smiled and held out my arms. “Brother,“ I whispered, and Eric welcomed my hug like a long lost prodigal. “I’m glad you came.”

“I can already tell this wedding will be different,“ he replied.

“Have you seen her? Have you seen my bride?”

“No, but I see you, and it’s clear she’s the one. Congrats baby brother.” He patted my shoulder. “By the way, this is Ashley.” For another moment, I froze so rigid you’d think there was a snake in front of me, but then he pointed to a young lady sitting on the end of the aisle. I breathed a sigh of relief; it wasn’t THAT Ashley, but another girl I’d never seen before. “We just got engaged. Isn’t that ironic?”

I wasn’t sure if he meant the irony that he too was engaged, or that her name was Ashley, so I smiled and said to her. “Just make it to the wedding and you’ll do fine.” She gave me a weird look, but Eric laughed at her confusion. I stepped around him. “Well, I got to let them know I made it, too,“ I told him.

Moving down the aisle, I saw where the acoustic music was coming from. The street party boy was sitting on the riser and doing a good job of entertaining the crowd while they waited for the ceremony to commence. He went through a whole range of material ; from ‘Wonderful Tonight’ to ‘Lady In Red’, as well as a whole slew of Chris Issak, which I’m not sure, but I think this was the first time I’d heard of ‘Wicked Game’ being played at a wedding. I gave him a nod of my head as I passed him, and went through a door leading me out of the sanctuary, into a side room where Edward and the preacher waited.

“Nervous?” Edward asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“You’ll do fine. Just don’t lock your legs when you see her. Otherwise we could have one of them America’s Funniest Home Videos moments.”

The preacher introduced himself and went over a few things with me. “Do you have your vows?”

“No, sir.”

“Traditional vows ok?”

“Do they have ‘I do’ in them?”

He smiled. “Yes.”

“Better or worse, sickness and health, til death do we part?”


“That’s the one then.”

“Okay. Who has the rings?”

I froze again. I had forgotten to…

“I do,” Edward said, pulling two silver bands from his pocket. “Hope we’re the same ring size,“ he whispered. I realized he didn’t have his own wedding band on. Instead, he was offering their own to me. “Nothing is going to stop you from getting hitched today, boy.”

“I’ll pay you back or something.”

“Did you look in the envelope?”



“I signed it.”

He smiled. “Well then, looks like you’ve paid me back.”

Earl poked his head through the door. “I think they are ready for you guys to come out,” he said.

“Moment of truth,“ I said.

“Moment of ‘if you smile any bigger your cheeks will hit the wall’ is more like it.”

We went out into the sanctuary, where the teenage guitarist had run out of ideas and was now playing an instrumental, yet slow downed, rendition of ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’. I don’t think anyone noticed it had just become a punk rock wedding.

Part 64: The Heart Of Everything

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.

Orchard House Part 62: Saying Goodbye

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Note: Wow, we are so close to the end. With two posts today, we’ll see the last post for our daily serial novel arriving tomorrow morning. So, without further delay, here’s our first part for today. Hope you enjoy!

Part 62: Saying Goodbye

We stood by our cars looking back at the face of Orchard House. I took a deep breath so I could have one more sensory overload. Apples, Peaches, Honeysuckle – from this moment I would always associate the scents with this place. I would never catch a whiff again without being mentally transported back. I took in the sights around me. The big white farmhouse with its magnolia tree out front. The vast orchard, populated with apples, peaches, and grapes on the vine. The migrant workers in the field, the visitors picking their own baskets of fruit. The makeshift stage in the field out front, the country store up the road, the sight of the church steeple around the bend. And it was then the vast array of memories came piling up on me at once: Summer’s embarrassing entry in the house, she trying to get me to dance to Kenny Chesney in the kitchen; tubing on the river, eating Italian in the nearby town. First kisses at the Orchard’s edge, streaking like wild teenagers through its center. Making love in every room, creating memories for all time; heartfelt conversations at night, love longing eyes in the morning; walking hand in hand down a path, watching the sunset from a mountaintop, finding her estranged father, forgetting a failure called Ashley; dancing at the street party, making friends of strangers; sleeping outside on our last night, laying in my bed and thinking of her on our first. With this, I turned to her and saw she was already looking at me.“I know,“ she said, as if I had spoken the words aloud. “I feel them, too.”

She leaned into my arms and I folded them around her, pulling her close so she could look up into my eyes. Our last kiss at Orchard House was just as warm and wonderful as the first. I could almost picture this scene, as if I were distant and removed from it, a bystander to the events instead of a participant. Two people standing on a hill, a white farmhouse looking over them like a protective angel. A sign reading “Orchard House”. A kiss speaking volumes of love that could never be fully expressed within the confines of a book. I knew I would write the story, but it wouldn’t be restricted to just Summer and I; it would also be of Gunboats and Hope, Raymond and Helen, Earl and Mary. And though we were told we would be the last to fall in love under her eaves, I had a feeling that others would come after us, and they would add their own chapter to the story of Orchard House.

I drove down the gravel driveway, looking back at the house and the woman who followed me in her own car. Out on the dirt road and up around the bend to the country store we drove, and yet I kept looking back as if were a child leaving the comforts of home for the first time. The country store wasn’t very busy. We parked side by side out front and stepped through the doors the same way. There were some customers milling about, mostly locals doing their morning must have shopping, practicing their right not to drive into town to the Wal-Mart. Two kids at the soda case looked over at us sheepishly smiling, and though Summer didn’t notice them, I gave them a smile. A couple at the back of the store was browsing the various jars of apple butter, and they too looked up at our arrival. With a smile, they went back to what they were doing. I noticed Twyla’s lemonade stand wasn’t set up, but a handmade sign was on the table reading CLOSED DUE TO ILLNESS, however ILLNESS had been crossed out and replaced with SOMETHING in small letters overhead. Raymond was helping a young mother close by select the healthiest apples for her brood who hovered nearby. He looked up and flashed us a smile and wave.

“Hello folks,“ he said as he walked by, heading to the counter to ring up the lady’s purchase. “Looks like the home place has done you both a great service.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, as we followed him.

He gave us a friendly smile. “Because you two are absolutely glowing.”

The woman turned around and looked at us. She too couldn’t help but smile. “Just married?” she asked.

“Engaged, “ Summer replied.

“When’s the date?”

“Um…I’m not sure.”

The woman nodded with a smile that you couldn’t have erased off her face, and she looked over at me. “You’re a lucky man, she’s adorable.”

“Yes mam, she is,” I agreed.

As the woman collected her apples and children, she headed out the door, looking back at us with a knowing smile, as if she remembered her own engagement and how she had glowed, too. I looked at Raymond. “So what’s up with Twyla? I asked. “She sick?” I pointed to her empty table.

He laughed a little nervously. “Oh that. No, she’s just creative. Had to take the day off and she didn’t want to disappoint all her customers. I’m closing up for a few hours myself.”

“Oh yeah?” Summer asked. “What for? Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, just some family business to take care of.”

“You’re closing the house today, aren’t you?” she asked.

“In a manner of speaking, yes, I guess we are.”

I pulled the key out of my pocket. “Well, you’ll be wanting this then.”

“Yeah, I reckon so.” He took the offered key and as Summer got hers out, she reluctantly handed it over, too. He smiled. “It has been so nice having ya’ll here,“ he said. “I guess you know you’ve been the talk of the community. Nothing bad, mind you, but it’s been wonderful to see you two falling for each other. I almost feel like a matchmaker. We’ll have to consider a new line of work after this.”

Summer and I both laughed. “It has been wonderful,“ I said. “Thank you for letting us stay.”

“Hey’ you paid,“ he reminded me with a chuckle.

“Yes, but still. You can’t begin to imagine what you and Helen have done for us. Is she around? We’d like to thank her personally.”

He pointed out the front window. “She’s up there at the church with a few ladies. It’s their turn to clean up this week. Feel free to stop in and say bye. I know she’d love to see you, just don’t let her talk you into any of that cleaning stuff.” He leaned forward and added in a whisper, “I love that woman, but she can kill ya with that pine sol.”

We laughed. “Okay will do.” I held out my hand. “It has been a pleasure, Raymond.”

He smiled. “Yes it has. You take care of this little lady, okay?”

“I certainly will,“ I promised, as he shook Summer’s hand as well.

Not contented with a handshake, Summer hugged him. “We’ll miss you, “ she said.

“Not too much, I hope,“ he said.

“Just enough.”

We all shared one last smile, and then taking Summer’s hand in mine, I led her out the door. The bell overhead seemed to make a louder clang as usual as if it too were saying its goodbyes.

“Come on, let’s go say goodbye to Helen,“ I said.

There were two other cars in the parking lot when we pulled in. We parked beside them, and as we got out and looked up at the church steeple, I wondered if it had an actual bell in it, or if the bells we’d heard the other morning was a recording. It certainly had enough room for a real one, and it made me think of an on old movie with a bell ringer pulling on a rope and letting the bells peal out as the end credits roll. I took Summer’s hand and we walked up the front steps. I stopped.

“Remember the first time we were in here?” I asked.

“Yeah,“ she laughed. “We got called down for making out.”

I smiled. “I wanted to propose to you then.”


“Yeah, you know we were in a church. It seemed the time was right.”

“What happened?”

“Well I didn’t have a ring at the time… and I wasn’t sure if you’d say yes.”

She kissed me. “Silly boy.”

“And…I was scared…really terrified of what comes next.”

I reached for the door and opened it. We stepped into the church’s foyer. The sanctuary lay ahead of us and I could hear Helen’s country twang coming from within.

“I guess I understand how you were feeling,“ Summer said. “I get scared too.”

I pushed the door open leading into the sanctuary.

“But it’s okay to be…” She stopped. The sanctuary was not being cleaned at all. It was being decorated. White and red flowers were lined across the backs of the pews. From the ceiling hung white plastic bells wrapped in ribbon. A red runner lay on the carpet leading up to the altar which had a gazebo type trellis sitting in front of it, decorated with wild flowers. Red rose petals were scattered down the aisles. I looked at Summer and squeezed her hand. “Still scared?” I asked.

Her eyes found mine. “No.”

“I’m not scared anymore either.”

She smiled and her eyes seemed to sparkle in the light of the sanctuary.

I took both her hands in mine. “Marry me today, Summer. I don’t want to wait three months, or six, or a year. I want to be your husband right now.”

A tear slid down her cheek. “I want to be your wife right now.” She wiped the tear away with her hand. “But I’ve nothing to wear.”

I smiled reassuringly. “I think maybe Helen has that covered.”

Summer turned to look at the altar and saw Helen coming towards her. “Please tell me there’s a wedding today,“ the woman said.

“Yes mam, there is.”

Her face registered happiness and then a little bit of alarm. “Then we need to get the bride ready.” She took Summer’s hands away from mine. “Come on, girl. Let me show you how us country gals get dolled up for weddings.” She started leading her up the aisle, but then stopped and turned. “And you sir…you ain’t going to get married in your blue jeans. So you better dig that fancy tux out of your luggage and finally put it to proper use.”

I grinned. “Yes, mam.”

Summer looked back at me, her eyes filled with happy tears. As she silently mouthed ‘I love you’ in my direction, I placed my hand over my heart and mouthed back ‘always.’

Part 63: Waiting For The Bride

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.

Orchard House Part 61: Packing Up

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

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.

Part 62: Saying Goodbye

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.

Orchard House Part 60: Last Night As We Were

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 60: Last Night As We Were

After dinner we all retired to the living room where an old fashioned brick fireplace burned steadily in its hearth. Summer and I were invited to sit in front of it, while the others took places on a couch and loveseat. I noticed there were no single chairs in the room, as if it was intended that no one sit alone in this house. Twyla, who had been fairly quiet during dinner, retreated to her room to play a video game. It was apparent that some progress you could not stop, even out here in the country. “That ring sure looks nice on you, Summer,“ Hope said.

“Thank you, but it feels strange that it’s on my hand and not yours.”

The old woman looked at her hand. The ring had left a permanent mark on her finger. “I still got it,“ she said with a smile. She looked up at us both. “I always carried Gunboats ring right here,” she said, tapping over her heart. “I’m certainly glad that now it will bring its promises to another life. That’s what the ring is, you know. A promise.”

“Yes, mam.”

“When my fellow sent that to me, it was a promise he’d always love me, no matter what. Even when he thought he was dying on the battlefield, he kept that promise and it got him up to see it through. As long as you keep that promise, the both of you, you’ll always pick yourselves up when times is hard or uncertain. But more than that, I can honestly tell you that ring is a sign of your love for each other, an eternal promise to never falter, and if you do, to grab on to each other, lift each other up, get back to the house so to speak.”

“Alright mama,” Gunboats said affectionately. “Don’t preach to them too much.”

We laughed. “It’s okay,“ Summer said. “I’ve probably needed some preaching all these years.”

“Me too,“ I replied. “Thank you for sharing your home with us, your lives, and now your ring. I don’t know how we can ever repay you.”

The woman smiled. “Just love each other.”

Summer and I shared a look. “No problem there,“ I replied.


The rest of the evening was spent with idle chit chat. I talked about my career as a failing writer, Summer spoke of dumping her boyfriend and job all in one day. Helen talked of the little boy she had a crush on, whose family returned to Orchard House every summer, until the boy was old enough to decide he wanted to stay with the girl. Raymond talked about the time she pushed him in the creek to get his attention, and of course both Hope and Gunboats regaled us with tales of separation and wartime that did end happily for them both. It was nice to just sit like a big family at Thanksgiving and “reminisce” about the things that had happened to us in life. Despite all this, and we did tell them some of our adventures at Orchard House, I felt or rather hoped, the best was yet to come.

We walked home in the dark. In the city it would have been impossible, but here it was a relaxing night, as we found our way down their drive to the dirt road and finally the gravel drive of Orchard House. Heading up the driveway, Summer’s hand in mine, I told her how I was dreading the morning hour. She agreed but then added, “We should do something different tonight.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, we have slept in nearly every room of the house right?”


She hesitated for a second, then looked to the dark sky. “It’s nice out here. Have you ever been camping?”

We were almost at the side porch. It was a nice night, but I wasn’t sure what she was getting at. “No, never have,” I replied.

She rolled her eyes. “Man, I have so many new things to teach you.”

“I’ve already done so many new things with you, I am a changed man.”

“Well, I think I should teach you one more – sleeping under the stars.”

“I’m not sure…”

“Hush. I have a little tent and sleeping bag in my trunk. We can share them. We can make a bonfire and cook marshmallows. I saw an unopened bag in the pantry. What do you say?”

I shook my head. No use in fighting it. And anyway every new experience she had showed me so far had been exciting. “Okay,“ I answered. “I’m game.”

“Great,” she excitedly exclaimed. “Let me get everything.”

I watched her skip to her car and pop the trunk. As always her youth and vibrant personality was infectious, and I found myself following after to help.

On the other side of the house, away from the trees of the orchard, we set up our makeshift camp. She singlehandedly pitched the tent like it was nothing and put me in charge of a fire. I selected a bare spot of ground where no grass had grown in quite some time. I went down to the creek with a flashlight and found some rocks to keep the fire in. It took me four trips to haul them back up the drive, but despite my breathlessness, it was worth it. The fire pit successfully constructed, I then went in search of wood. Not wanting to stray too far from the house, I picked up fallen twigs and branches from the apple trees to get started. Then I skirted the closest edge of the orchard, where I found a pile of logs that looked to be from where they cleared this part of the property. Hoping they wouldn’t mind if I used a few, I made several jaunts back and forth to carry the logs. Jackson faithfully followed me in my trips, and I found myself wishing I could hook up a wagon to him and get him to haul the load. With all the ingredients finally in place, I got the fire started fairly quick and bragged what a boy scout I was.

Summer laughed. “Everyone’s a boy scout with a lighter in hand.”

I sat on the ground tending the fire, while she went inside after the bag of marshmallows. She also came out with pillows and soda for us both. Using a couple thick twigs I had saved, we put marshmallows on the ends of them and held them over the fire. Not only was camping out a first, but so was the roasting of marshmallows. When I told her this, she grinned. “Oh my,“ she said, “the next thing you’ll tell me is you’ve never slept outside naked.”

I smirked. “No I haven’t, though I have been streaking through an apple orchard.”

She laughed. “What a coincidence, so have I.”

She leaned towards me and pressed her lips long and lovingly to mine. I welcomed her kiss and nearly dropped my marshmallow in the fire.

“You need to turn it every now and then,“ she instructed, showing me how to roast all sides of the mallow. With her hand on mine, she turned the twig between my fingers. It was a simple gesture, but just her hand on mine was enough to cause me to lean back into her, taking her sweet kiss on my lips. After a moment, my marshmallow burst into fire and we both laughed. “It’s okay, I’ll share mine,” Summer said. I wasn’t sure if she meant the marshmallow, because her hand was resting on my chest and her lips sought my neck to plant fiery kisses against my skin. The warmth that washed over me had nothing to do with the fire.

Not long after, with our clothes discarded outside the tent, we lay curled up in the sleeping bag, the closeness of our bodies generating enough heat to keep us warm in the night chill. The tent was made for one person, so quarters were tight for us both, but that was what we wanted. There shouldn’t be much space separating lovers. The fire burned on not far from us, and we watched the flames as they slowly died down. The stars above us gave little light, but it was the glowing light of the fire that illuminated our faces to each other. The light flickered across Summer’s beautiful skin and I traced the shadows the flame made with my fingertips, kissing her softly after each touch.

She ran her fingers across my chest and looked into my eyes. Her hand found its way to my face and she laid the palm against my cheek. “I never could have dreamed this,” she confessed. “I have little imagination.”

I smiled. “I feel the same way. Even in my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have imagined I would ever be so lucky. A year ago, a month ago, heck, a week ago, I never thought I would feel this way for someone. Even when things had been good with …you know…it had never felt anything close to this. Even my first crush, or my high school sweetheart, never gave me the thrill that being close to you brings. “

“I feel the same way, too. I try to recall how I felt about boys or men I loved and I just can’t remember it. It’s like it’s all blacked out now by your love, as if loving you has made those other memories pointless, so they went away somewhere.”

I kissed her lips, then her eyelids, her cheek, her ear. “I wonder, ten years from now, when we look back on this week, will we still remember it as vividly as we lived it?”

“I don’t know, Matthew. But I certainly hope so.”

“If our married life together is just a fraction as exciting as it’s been this week, then I will live a very fulfilling life.”

She nuzzled against my neck. “I don’t want a fraction. I want it all. I want to continue doing new things – I want my heart to leap every time I see you – my skin to tingle every time you touch me.”

I touched her and I felt her body slightly tremble beneath my hand. I could see the chill bumps on her arms.

“Just like that, “ she said.

“Summer, you have made me feel things I thought were long gone. You have shown me so many new things. And I know there are still things I want to do. I want to go horseback riding with you – swim in a mountain lake – I want to paint your picture – I want to walk hand in hand on a deserted beach – I want to marry you in a little white church.”

She slid her arms around me, pulling my body as close to her as she possibly could. The very warmth and comfort of her made me feel as if the fire still raged outside the tent, flames burning high into the sky. Our lips met in a whirlwind of this passion, and later as the embers of the real fire died to ash, and the stars began to go out one by one, we eased into an easy sleep, watched over by the pleasant shadow of Orchard House on this, our last night as we were.

Part 61: Packing Up

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.

Orchard House Part 59: Dinner With Friends

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

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.

Part 60: Last Night As We Were

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.

Orchard House Part 58: Thanking Helen

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 58: Thanking Helen

Monday seemed to be a fairly busy time for the country store. Closed for Sunday, it appeared everyone was now rushing to get the things they had forgotten – fruit for the palate, food for the soul. The thing I had noticed about these little roadside country stores: there weren’t like city convenience stores where you walked in, got your stuff and left. No, in these types of places it was more than a place to buy groceries, cigarettes, or beer. It wasn’t just a fruit stand either, with numerous varieties to choose from. No, beyond all that, it was a place to socialize and catch up on the latest news among your neighbors. It was like a city bar in this way – conversation went along with whatever had brought you in. This was very evident as we walked through the door and spied Helen bagging up a few grocery items for a young couple whose cross country backpacks lay at their feet on the floor. She was engaged in spirited conversation with this hiking duo, all of them smiles and laughter. I lifted up my hand and waved. She smiled brightly and gave the couple their change. Moving around the counter, she came toward us with a lively bounce in her step. Before she could say anything in greeting, Summer’s excitement got the best of her.

“Guess what?” she exclaimed, nearly bouncing on the balls of her feet.

Helen was smiling before she even took the bait. “What?”

Summer hesitated, not because she was ashamed or worried, but because she was so happy it was threatening to explode from within her. “We’re engaged!” she shouted, and it seemed to echo through the store. We got a few curious looks from shoppers, and several even applauded, but that was nothing compared to the joy that spread across Helen’s face.

“See the ring?” Summer asked, holding it out for Helen to see it, not realizing that Helen had seen it many times before. By the time she remembered me telling her that the ring had been given to me by her family, it didn’t matter, she was bubbling over. Finally, she made a half apology. “But I guess you knew about the ring, sorry.”

“Yes I did,” Helen replied. “And I had hoped you would say yes to this gentleman. I knew he was the right man for some lucky girl, and when Ray accidentally put you up in the house with him, I knew you were the one. It took him a little longer to get it…” She looked over at me and winked.

“Yes mam, it did,” I agreed. “But better later than never.”

“True. Just don’t wait so long to ring them bells. Don’t be one of those couples that get engaged and then wait years to walk down the aisle. Heck, I would have you walk down the aisle to the register just to see the ties that bind made into a knot.”

We both smiled, and as Summer reached for my hand, I took it proudly as if Helen herself was the minister. “You’ve been the best to us, Helen. When I walked through the door last week, I had no idea I would have such a good friend.”

“You didn’t realize you would be engaged to the prettiest gal in the land either, but look at you. Never doubt the power of love, or the generosity of God, because they both will surprise you.”

I grinned. “I see that.”

Summer hugged Helen and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you so much for the ring,” she said.

Returning the affection of friends she replied, “Wasn’t me. That was Hope and Gunboats.”

“But it would have passed to you one day.”

She smiled. “I already have a ring.”

“But it’s a family heirloom. It’s meant for someone special.”

“You are special, girl. And now it’s a heirloom to two families. One day that ring will have one doozy of a story to tell.”

She looked over to the register. A line had formed, but Raymond was doing his best to wait on everyone. “I got me a good man too, Summer. Orchard House brought me mine just like he brought you yours. I think sometimes that God himself touched that house and blessed it.”

“Sure seems that way,” Summer replied. “I will always love Orchard House. I’ll miss it for sure.”

Helen sighed. “So will I.”

Summer furrowed her brows. “What do you mean?”

Helen winced, as if she knew she said too much too soon. “You didn’t tell her, did you?” she said to me.

“No, not yet. I didn’t want to spoil the occasion.”

Summer looked at me. “Tell me what?” she asked.

I looked back at Helen, who nodded her assent. “Orchard House won’t be open for visitors anymore,“ I said. “We are the last.”

“No,” Summer cried. “Why?”

“Lot of reasons, girl,“ Helen interjected. “For one, we don’t get that many visitors. Look at the guest register. Last year we had maybe two dozen visitors. And for the first time, we have no reservations ahead of you. Economy is changing. People and tourists are changing, too. No one wants to go stay in an old farmhouse in the middle of an orchard. They want to go to an island and lay out on a beach. If they go to the mountains, it’s to stay in a resort with hot tubs and dancing all night long.”

“We had hot tubs and dancing all night long too,” Summer reasoned with a smirk.

Helen laughed. “I bet you did. But the point is this slow life is not want anyone wants anymore. It’s all cellphones and internet and everybody running here and there trying to experience every possible thing, good or bad, before they are old. Used to be the only experience people wanted was love, and I’m sorry to say you don’t see that much anymore, even among couples. Been a long time since I’ve seen a real spark in somebody. It’s been so wonderful to watch you spark and turn into such a bright flame.” She sighed. “But I guess Orchard House’s time has come and I don’t want to wait until it’s gone. Let it end on the highest note possible, I said to Raymond.”

“I don’t want to see you close it down,” Summer said. “Where else are we going to go on our honeymoon or when we want to get away from city life?”

“Oh, the house will still be there. We’ll let you come stay. It’s just not going to be open for business is all. We’re expanding the country store. Going to open another one on the other side, closer to Roanoke city. Lord knows they need a little country. And I have to think of Twyla, too. Been juggling time with her, and I really want to be there for her in these young years. They are only kids once. After that, they are married and gone, and truthfully, I want to enjoy her being a kid just as much as she does.”

Summer was close to crying over the news. “Well, we will miss it like you can never believe. And we’ll miss you.”

“Yes we will,“ I agreed, giving the woman a hug. “This place has literally saved our lives. If it wasn’t for you, we may never have met.”

She blushed. “Oh shoo, blame Raymond. He’s the one rented the place twice.”

“It was teamwork,“ I replied. “One special couple working together to bless another. I’m glad it was us.” I leaned towards Summer and planted a kiss on her face.

“We are too,” Helen replied. “But now I have to get back to the register before Ray lets the line get out the door.” She smiled in a conspiratorial way. “Love that man to pieces, but he needs to get out of my kitchen.”

She hugged us both. “Speaking of kitchens, why don’t you two come to dinner at our place tonight? Unless you got something else planned.”

We looked at each other and shrugged. “Sure, we’d love to,” Summer replied for us both.

“Where you live?” I ask.

“Big white house on the other side of the creek right across from Orchard House. You can’t see it so much this time of year for the trees, but its back there. You can walk up the drive or just skip through the field. We’ll look for you around six.”

I smiled. “Cool. Looking forward to it.”

“Alrighty then,“ she replied, moving off towards the register with a wave of her hand.

I looked at Summer. “Well, I guess we don’t have to worry about our last meal.”

She had a sad look on her face. “Don’t say it like that.”

“Sorry. Didn’t mean it that way.”

She kissed me on the cheek. “I know. I’m just kind of bummed now.”

“That’s why I hadn’t told you yet,“ I answered, as we selected the few grocery things we had come to get. Within a few minutes, we had them paid for and were trudging back up the path to Orchard House, which now seemed to beckon to us in loneliness, as if it too knew we were the last lovers to grace its halls.

Part 59: Dinner With Friends

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.