Category Archives: Orchard HOuse

Orchard House Chapter 6

Chapter 6

I was kind of embarrassed to have Summer riding in my car. I had been living out of it so long I was afraid it might say something about how I was as an individual. Apparently it did, because she delighted over the whole ‘living in my car’ look.
“Don’t you just hate cars that are immaculately clean?” she asked. “You have to wonder if anyone ever drives the darn thing. If there ain’t trash in the back floorboard you wasted your money.”
I laughed nervously. “Then I definitely got my money’s worth,” I replied, looking over into the back floorboard at all the empty soda bottles and fast food bags.
She patted my hand for reassurance. “Don’t worry; I don’t think you’re a messy guy. Cute when you blush, yes. Messy, no.”
Of course I blushed and she laughed at my embarrassment. “Ha! Love it!” she squealed in delight. “Let’s ride, Clyde.”
I started the car and backed down the drive to the gravel road. As I turned onto the gravel she reached for the stereo and turned it on.
“Let’s see what we got to sing to tonight,” she said, as the car was filled with some mid 90’s grunge song. “Nope, not that. I grew up with all that angry music; tonight I want to have fun.” She started scanning through the radio stations, passing over jazz, hip hop, and modern rock stations before she found the song to stop the dial. “Oh hell yeah, here it is!”
The sound of a harmonica in a rhythmic country groove came over the speakers and she started swaying in her seat to the music. She looked over at me, smiling sexy enough to melt an iceberg. “If you wanna get to heaven, you got to raise a little hell,” she cooed, and I nearly ran off the road.
I grew up in the 70’s and remembered this song. Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Never thought of this tune as sexy but once she started singing it I changed my mind. There are certain images that you just know will forever be ingrained in your memory, and watching her shimmy and sway in her seat to the country rock classic, singing it word for word with her head hanging out the window, assured that it would be scorched into mine. There are some days, even now, that when I get behind the wheel of the car and turn on the radio all I can see is Summer laughing and singing to that song. And when she propped one of her feet up on the dash and her dress slid up just a little to reveal the full shape of her leg I knew we were going to be in a ditch if I didn’t concentrate on the road.
If she had let down her guard in the orchard and afforded me a glimpse of her crumbling soul, out here on the road with “if you wanna get to heaven” blaring at top volume brought her back to the fun loving girl she wanted everyone to believe she was. And in that moment I truly believed this was the girl she wanted to be: in love with life and trying to infect everyone else with that same zest. I grinned when she let out a long playful squeal as we passed by an older couple sitting on a porch. I couldn’t help but laugh, because as we passed I swore the couple were shaking their heads and probably mumbling something like, “dern kids.” They would have fallen off their porch swing if they knew it was a guy in his mid 40’s and a sweet hell raising thing pushing 30.

We spent about 30 minutes getting to the restaurant she had chosen. The long winding road led us from Orchard House into the heart of Bedford. Not far from the old rail yards that used to bring passenger trains through the area, we crossed a bridge and she directed me to a small parking lot beside an old red brick building. A window in the front had painted on its glass, ‘Little Italy in the heart of the country.’ Above that you could see traces of stenciled letters that must have at one time been the name of the place. Now it couldn’t be read.
After parking and standing in front of the place I could tell just by looking in the front window we were indeed overdressed. Several people sat around tables dressed in their everyday clothes. A young couple wore jeans and tie dye shirts staring into each other’s faces over a large pizza. An older man in bib overalls sat in the corner hunched over his Stromboli. A pair of ladies shared a booth chatting, and they too were dressed casual. I looked at Summer and she realized how out of place we were going to look in our attire, and the fact we were a couple who to some looked more like father and daughter than two lonely people on a date.
“You ready to do this?” I asked.
She gave me a reassuring smile. “We aren’t here for them. We are here for us. “
“In other words if they don’t like it, screw them?”
She grinned. “Exactly.” She reached for my hand and I opened the door.
There are times when you feel so out of place in public that when you open the door you imagine everyone has turned to look. This was not one of those times. When we came through the doorway, some dared to glance up to see who had come in, but then they immediately went back to their own world, leaving us in ours. It was a relief. Here they didn’t seem to care like they would have in the big city. Back home I had seen how people stared and often glared at May-December couples. If there was more than an obvious five year age difference you were nearly branded as either a lecherous old man or a gold digging tramp, something I was sure neither of us was. But here there was none of that vibe. The waitress, a pretty dark skinned girl, greeted us with a smile that was both welcoming and genuine. She told us to go ahead and sit where we liked and the waiter would come take our order shortly.
We chose a small table at the very back of the place in an effort to not only have privacy but to continue going on unnoticed. The waiter, a young man of college age with the slight remainder of teenaged acne, soon arrived at our table and set our menus in front of us. He took our drink order. Summer had tea; I ordered root beer, naturally. Sitting across from me Summer barely glanced at the menu. Instead she looked up at the waiter, who seemed so awestruck by her you could have pushed him over with the slightest nudge, and asked him if they served Cheese Calzones. Speechless he nodded and she flashed him a smile. “I’ll take one then, sport.”
You would have thought she called him Baby cakes or something, for his enamored face flushed and he replied, “My pleasure.” I wondered if he was thinking about her order at all. Finally, he wrote it down on his order pad and turned to me. I couldn’t help but tease him. “Spaghetti, sport,” I said. He didn’t seem to like it that a man called him sport and he turned towards the kitchen with our order.
“You’re so bad,” Summer said. “I can’t believe you called him sport.”
“You said it first.”
“Maybe I should have called him sexy sport.”
“You trying to make me jealous right off the bat?” I asked.
She teasingly smiled. “A girl likes to have some power over her man.”
Her man. What a notion that was. I’m not sure how it made me feel to have her refer to me that way. In some ways it made me feel like the luckiest guy alive, but in others it scared the hell out of me. I wasn’t ready to be anybody’s anything, much less their man.
The waiter brought our drinks out. Maybe it was just me, but when he sat my drink down I could have sworn he intended it to come splashing out on the table a little. Summer snickered.
“I don’t think he likes you very much,” she reasoned.
“He better behave,” I joked. “Unless he wants a dollar tip.”
“You wouldn’t.”
“I would.”
“Mmm, I like a tough guy,” Summer softly sighed.
“I thought you were all about nerds.”
“Oh yeah that’s right,” she replied playfully. “Had a relapse. Tough nerds then.”
I smiled. This was fun. A little playful banter never hurt on a date. Of course, it had been ages since I had even been on a date. Ashley and I had long passed that stage, and even date nights we had before our intended wedding were dull, going-through-the motions affairs. We’d sit there and eat, maybe talk about our day, and then go home where she would do her thing and I would do mine. This date with Summer wasn’t anything like that, and I was amazed by the fact that this was our second day knowing each other and already it was natural for her to flirt with me and I to try to come out of my shell to flirt back.
Our food soon arrived and this time the waiter was friendlier. Of course, he was still trying to make eye contact with Summer and I had to silently berate myself for my own shyness. How come a kid barely out of high school could stare into her eyes with no problem and I could barely look into those dark depths for a few minutes before getting scared and looking away? What was it that I was afraid I might see there? Or was I afraid she might see something secret hidden within my own.
“You coming back to earth any time soon?” I heard her say, and I realized I had been staring off into space, lost out there somewhere in my own thoughts.
“Oh, sorry,” I apologized, turning my attention to her and the big plate of food the waiter had set before me.
“Please tell me you weren’t thinking about her.”
“No, I wasn’t,” I replied, daring to look at her for the briefest moment. “I was thinking about you actually.”
To this she smiled. “Now if I could just get you to look at me for more than two minutes.”
“I’m afraid you’ll think I’m staring.”
“Maybe I want to be stared at.”
I picked up my knife and fork and began to work on my plate of spaghetti. “Let me rephrase that,” I said. “I’m afraid you’ll think I’m being too..um… lecherous.”
She laughed. “I love your choice of words. I don’t think I’ve ever had a guy to use the word lecherous on me, even if they were lecherous themselves.” She cut a piece off her calzone and eyed it hungrily. “But I don’t think you’re like that.” She took a bite of her food. “I could be wrong,” she added with her mouth full.
“You’re not. I’m one of the nice guys.”
She seemed to snicker at this. “That’s exactly what a lech would say.”
I could tell she was teasing and so it was only appropriate to tease back. “Damn, busted.”
We both smiled and dug into our plates of food as if we hadn’t eaten all day. In between bites she would look up at me as if she were studying the way I ate, or how I looked around the room, or sat in my chair. She had that way about her. Summer just seemed to be studying you as if her desire to get to know you was the most important thing in the world.
I did have a habit of looking around the room when I ate and she noticed this I’m sure. It’s a habit I picked up from my father, who always seemed to be sizing up every room he was in, possibly looking for a way out if it got too uncomfortable. I noticed that this little establishment was definitely nostalgic. Italian style paintings depicting villas and vineyards decorated the walls. In one corner laid out on a table were pieces of homemade jewelry for sale, necklaces and bracelets made of gems and local stones by an area artist. A card read proudly, ‘Visit Me at the Artist’s Village.’ In another corner sat an old jukebox. So old in fact it played 45 rpm records. I imagined the records inside must be pretty scratchy by now, but still I was curious. I pointed it out to Summer.
“Look, that jukebox is almost as old as I am.”
She grinned. “So play me something old then. Educate me, oh wise music nerd.”
I took a bite of my spaghetti, and got up. “Be right back, young un.”
As I went past she playfully squinted her eyes at me as if she was mad. The jukebox was old indeed, but the records inside weren’t too ancient. At least not to me. Mostly from the 70’s, there were a lot of one hit wonders that I imagine no one knew now. I found one that I thought might be appropriate for a date, though maybe not the first one. I put in several quarters and made the selection. I found a second one as well, and happy with my choices returned to the table.
“This first one was popular before you were born,” I joked. “You may have heard it on an oldies station.” I made sure to emphasize ‘oldies’.
“You ever had calzone in your eye,” Summer threatened, and then she stopped. The song had come on. The smile had left her face and the dancing light that had been in her eyes seemed to snuff out. Suddenly I got the feeling I had ruined another perfectly good time. Obviously she had heard the song before and it meant something to her. And not something entirely good. She stopped eating and turned to look at the jukebox as if the machine had intentionally offended her. Then she turned back to me, a neutral look upon her face. She closed her eyes and then with a sigh said, “I always liked this song.”
“You don’t look like you do.”
“No I do,” she tried to convince me. But the sad look on her face said otherwise.
“But it reminds you of someone.”
She looked down at her plate of food. “When I was little my parents used to dance to this song in the living room. My dad bought my mama this record by them. Rock n roll alternative, it was called. They played this song over and over until I imagine even our next door neighbors knew the words. I didn’t know it then, but I was even conceived to this song.” She began to quietly sing. “I am so into you, I can’t think of nothing else…”
For a moment I thought she was going to cry. She closed her eyes as if to fight any tears from coming. Her soft singing dropped off and I felt bad for making her sad. It seemed to me to be just another example of how I could never seem to do the right thing to make her happy for a while. “I’m sorry, Summer. I didn’t mean to bring you down.”
She seemed to push the sadness away from her and opened her eyes. She attempted a smile at me. “Like I said, I do like the song. It’s great.” She looked down at her plate and picked at her calzone. “It just makes me think of my parents in happier times.” She took a bite as if the food would bury her memories. Again, she smiled and this time it seemed genuine. “So, what were your parents like?”
“They were great together. Of course, they didn’t dance to Atlanta Rhythm Section. They were more Dave Brubeck Quartet. I can remember them slow dancing too. Their song was called ‘Audrey’.”
“Was that your mom’s name?”
“No, it was pop’s favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn. Mom didn’t seem to mind. She had a sexy favorite too. Gregory Peck.” I looked at Summer, and for a moment she seemed lost. I realized she probably had no idea who I was talking about. “Well anyway, they loved to dance to slow piano jazz. Stuff from the late 50’s, when they were young.”
“Too bad you don’t dance. It is liberating.”
“That’s one thing I didn’t inherit from my parents.”
She nodded, taking a sip of her tea. Then her face got serious. “Promise me something.”
“Uh…okay,” I replied, suddenly wary of what she might ask.
“Before I leave, dance with me.”
“Summer, I can’t…”
“Yes you can.”
A new song coming from the jukebox saved me. My second selection had rescued me from committing to making a fool of myself. “What’s this?” she asked.
“True Fine Love. Steve Miller Band.”
She smiled in approval. “I like it.”
“Me too.”
“Ever find one of those? A true fine love?”
I thought about this a moment. I reached for my soda and took a sip. It was nearly empty and I signaled the waiter for a refill. He took my glass and returned with a new drink. I thanked him and then gave Summer my answer. “I think we all believe we have when we first fall for someone. Each time you fall you feel like it’s the first time you have ever loved.”
“But does that make it a true love?”
“If it’s true, it doesn’t end.”
“True,” she agreed.
“So, the answer is no. I believed what I had with Ashley was true, but obviously it wasn’t.”
“Perhaps on your part it was. There’s always one who loves more than the other.”
“It’s not supposed to be that way.”
She nodded and gave me a sad look. “I agree.”
The song from the jukebox had prompted some of the restaurant’s patrons to look at us. Two rock n roll love songs in a row. I guess they were expecting a proposal, or at the very least doe eyed looks across the table. We disappointed them on both counts.
“I don’t think my parents believed in a true fine love,” Summer said. “I guess that’s why I want to. The things they believed didn’t last, so I want what they never had, you know.”
“Yeah,“ I replied, and I knew she was going somewhere with this, so I waited.
”What do you want?”
The question surprised me. “Excuse me?”
“What do you want out of life?”
“Oh. I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“Well, I used to think I wanted a fairy tale romance. You know picket fence, little pink houses for you and me. But now I’m not so sure. I find it hard to believe in those things now. I guess if I have to give a real answer I would say I just want someone to love me, and not be trying to look for a way out behind my back.”
“Sounds fair enough. I think all I want is not to end up like my parents. To spend all that time falling in love, starting a family. All to watch it disappear in an instant. I guess that’s why all my relationships go straight out the window, because I’m afraid of devoting all that time and energy for it to come to nothing. Does that make any sense, or does that make me seem selfish?”
“It makes sense to me, and no, it doesn’t sound selfish.”
“You know I came here with what seemed to be my life’s purpose to find out from my father why he left mom and I behind. But, now I’m wondering if there is any point in that. I mean, what would that really accomplish? I fear it’s not going to make me happy to know. And it won’t give me lost time with my dad back.”
I didn’t know what to say. She had her reasons for wanting to track down her father and none of them had anything to do with me. I wanted to be there for her in her quest but what could I do, really? I had to be careful what to say; I didn’t want to influence her to make what could be the wrong choice. Lucky for me she didn’t give me a chance to respond.
“You know, I really didn’t want to talk about, or even think of, my father tonight.” She shook her head. “I just wanted to go out and have fun with someone. Forget my troubles and all that.”
“I’ve had fun,” I reassured her.
She smiled and reached across the table to pat my hand. “So have I.” She paused for just a moment as if listening for something. It wasn’t the jukebox; the songs I selected had finished. “But he’s still there,” she said after a moment. “A shadow hanging over everything.”
I thought to myself, her father wasn’t the only shadow. Ashley seemed to be in the background too; thoughts of her looming on the edge of the evening. I thought how crazy this seemed, for Summer and I had each other to make conversation with, to enjoy time together, and here we were still overwhelmed by the two people who caused us the most pain. I wondered if we would ever be over our pasts, whether they would ever let us go. I found myself wishing I could talk to Ashley right now, so I could ask her why she had….I stopped. This was wrong. To even think of her right now was wrong. If I was ever going to have any kind of relationship, even friendship, with another member of the opposite sex I had to put her out of my mind long enough to do so. Easier said than thought.
Summer seemed to be lost in thoughts of her own. Perhaps she was thinking something similar about her life and the place her father had in it. She looked up at me and downed the rest of her sweet tea. “I think I’m done if you are,” she said. “Want to get out of here?”
“Yes, I do,” I replied. I had been feeling like the walls were closing in on us here at the restaurant. I needed some fresh air.
Outside, the night had cooled down a little but you could still feel the humidity of the day lingering, much like our own demons hung out of sight, yet close enough to make us feel uncomfortable. We walked to the car, her hand clutching on to my arm, just as much for comfort as for guidance, for it was dark in the small parking lot. I opened the passenger side door and she got in. I closed the door behind her and went around to my side. I got in and rolled down the window to try and air out the car.
“You know, that is the first time in ages anyone opened and closed the car door for me,” Summer said, glancing at me.
I smiled at her. “Well it is our first date. After playing the wrong song I guess I better try and dazzle you in other ways.”
“It wasn’t the wrong song. Just kind of took me back and made me have too much to think.”
I grinned at her analogy and put the key in the ignition to start the car.
“Matthew, can I ask you something?”
I took my hand off the key. “Yeah, I guess so.”
She was looking at me with a solemn expression. “Have you ever felt a connection with someone you haven’t been in love with?”
“What do you mean?”
She turned in her seat so her back was to her door and she was facing me directly. “I mean, have you ever felt something special with someone you weren’t romantically involved with?”
“I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
“No reason.”
“Liar. Why do you ask?”
She looked away for a moment and seemed to be deciding what to say. Finally she was ready. “Well, I feel something special with you. When we’re together I feel great. I feel like I could do anything. I’ve had male friends before, and I’ve had lovers, but I don’t know…you make me feel special, and I feel like there’s something between us.”
“But you don’t know what it is,” I added.
“Yes.”
Now it was my turn to look away and decide what to say. I opted for the truth. “I feel the same way. I’ve never felt this kind of connection, but I like it.”
“I do too.” She laid her head over on my shoulder. I wasn’t used to such closeness, but I didn’t say anything. The truth was I liked this. It was comforting. Maybe she found comfort with her head resting on my shoulder. I know I felt comfort just having her do so, but I wasn’t sure how to say it out loud. She seemed to know what I was thinking as always. “Does this bother you?” she asked.
“No, it doesn’t.”
“You’re scared, aren’t you?”
Sometimes I don’t like her perception. “Yes I am. Aren’t you?”
“Always,” she replied, and wrapped her arm around my own and softly cried into my shoulder. A streetlight shone down on the car and for a moment I felt we were actors on a stage fumbling with our lines. If so, I had completely forgotten mine, and we sat there in a silence that was only broken by her muffled sniffles in my shoulder.
“I had a nice time tonight,” I finally said.
“Me too.” She lifted her head from my shoulder and looked right into my face. “Do you like me, Matthew?”
I almost laughed. “Well of course I like you. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”
“No, I mean…do you like me…you know…a lot.”
I felt a huge lump in my throat. It was like I escorting my first date to her front door and not knowing what to say. “Yes, I like you a lot.”
She leaned closer to me. Her chin was nearly resting on my shoulder, her face just inches away from my own. “I want that dance, “she breathed.
I swallowed, trying to rid myself of the lump. “I want…”, I began, only to be interrupted by a knock on the car window. She jumped, letting out a little yelp, and I have to admit I was startled too. A figure stood beside my open window. It was the waiter kid.
“Hey, I don’t mean to be whatever, but you forgot to sign for the tip.”
In his hand he held our bill. I had given him the credit card and he had run the ticket but I hadn’t signed it. In our desire to get out of there we had just left. “Oh sorry.” I looked over at Summer, and silently mouthed, ‘one dollar.’ She gave me a stern, ‘you better not’ look, and I filled out the bill with his tip and signed it. “Here you go, “I said. “Sorry about that, really.”
He grinned as if to silently tell me he would have forgotten too with the company I had this evening. The waiter walked away and I turned back to Summer. Our moment had been broken. In a way I was glad I didn’t have a chance to complete my sentence. I was afraid of what I wanted to say. And to be honest, she seemed relieved too. “I still expect the dance,” she said, as she put on her seat belt, letting me know that whatever almost passed between us would have to wait until both of us were daring and fearless again.

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2014 Paul D. Aronson. All Rights Reserved.

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Orchard House Chapter 5

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Chapter 5

After our moment in the kitchen that afternoon things seemed slightly changed. Maybe we had a new respect for each other, or perhaps that heart to heart conversation took us from complete stranger to new friend. Either way, I did feel a little more comfortable around her. It’s a scary thing to feel exposed to someone you just met. My deepest sadness had been revealed to her, and maybe in a small way she had revealed her own. Feeling a need to get out of the kitchen, and indeed the house for a while, we decided to take a walk in the orchard. We could have wished to be alone and retired to our rooms, but suddenly I was very aware that I didn’t want to bear my burden alone anymore. I realized then we all needed someone to talk to. Bottling things up inside would just destroy a person from within. And even if you knew you wouldn’t have that person to talk to forever, you still needed them now.
“Thanks for everything, Summer,” I said, as we walked amongst the trees.
“Thanks for what?”
“For trying to get me out of my shell.”
“I didn’t do anything, Matthew. You needed to let some things out and I was there.”
“Yeah, but I feel like ever since you showed up you have been trying to get me to relax and…I don’t know…be a little more like you.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want you to be like me. I probably wouldn’t like you too much if you were.” She laughed. “I like you the way you are. You are an interesting guy. It’s been a long time since I met a guy I want to know more about.”
“I’m not that interesting. I’m just a forty-five year old has-been. Or never-was.”
“Don’t put yourself down so,” she chided. “You act like you’re so old life is over.”
“Some days I feel like it.”
“Well, forty-five ain’t old.”
I shrugged. “If you say so.” I noticed she wasn’t telling me how old she was. Maybe she wanted to keep that barrier between us. If that was the case, I wasn’t too bothered by it. I mean, just because we had become new friends didn’t mean anything beyond that. She might have found me interesting, but surely not that interesting.
“So what do you do, Matthew?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean do you travel all the time staying in old farmhouses or do you have a real job?”
I laughed. “Well, I guess I’m a writer.”
“You guess?”
“I had a book out. It didn’t do too good. My publisher decided to pass on anything else I’d written.”
“What else had you written?”
“Poetry.”
“Cool.”
“As a younger man I tried my hand at being a music writer.”
Her face lit up. “I knew it! You’re a music nerd. “
“Yeah, but a very boring one. I didn’t have anything bad to say about the bands or albums I reviewed. I loved the music too much to be critical about it. I covered the Southern Rock scene for a fairly decent magazine. Unfortunately, by the time the time the 80’s hit the southern rock scene was dead, so I was a bit too late.”
“I was a bit too late too,” she said. “I was born in the 80’s.”
There it was. A woman never says exactly how old she is, but she always finds a way to hint at it. And her hint made me feel incredibly old. She must have realized this because she let out a long sigh. “Okay, stop guessing in your head because you’ll get it wrong. I’m twenty-nine.”
“It’s okay, I wasn’t guessing.”
“Yes you were. I think part of what make you so nervous around me is the age difference. You think I’m so young, and that you’re so old.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Fibber. I’ve seen it in the way you treat me. I say things and you give me that look as if you aren’t sure what’s appropriate to say. Like today, I know you wanted to say I looked nice when I came home. But you didn’t because you were afraid of what I might say or think. But let me tell you something, a secret if you will. A girl likes to be told she looks nice. “
I didn’t know how to respond. She was right of course. I felt like there were boundaries to keep, and that if I crossed them, even innocently, they would be construed as something bad. So I had tried to keep things casual and simple, while she had been trying to get me to relax and just be free. In that way I guess we clashed. In that way perhaps the age difference did show. But walking with her now in the orchard on a sunny afternoon I did find myself relaxing. So much so, I wanted to reach for her hand. But still I felt I shouldn’t. This wasn’t what she wanted. Just because a person thinks you’re interesting or wants to be your friend doesn’t mean they want to be touched. Even though I knew I needed someone for emotional support, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be touched either, even if it was something as simple as holding hands. I lived in a world where people put up fences around themselves, cutting everyone off from each other, and if you let someone inside your fence it changed everything in your relationship with that person. So Summer stepped inside my fence and took my hand. If I was feeling I shouldn’t reach for hers, maybe she felt it was up to her to take the initiative or it would never happen.

Walking hand in hand through the orchard was nice. I can’t properly describe how it made me feel, her soft warm hand in my own. It had been so long since I had held someone’s hand like this; I’m not sure what it meant. Ashley was never much for holding hands, nor any public displays of affection, unless she was trying to assert her place as my girl, and then only at the beginning of our relationship. In the later years I felt it was mostly show and rarely genuine affection that made her reach for me, unless it was in private and relegated to the bedroom.
“What ya thinkin?” Summer asked, noticing my mind had wandered off somewhere.
I squeezed her hand. “I was just thinking about how nice this is. Walking with you.”
She smiled, and it was like a ray of sunshine. “I like it, too.” She started swinging her arm and we walked on like two teenagers innocently clutching hands. “I kind of had a rough morning,” she added.
“What do you mean? What happened?”
“”I thought I was ready to see someone today.”
“I’m confused.”
“If you came here to get away from someone, well, I guess I came to find somebody.”
“A guy.”
“Yeah.”
“Does this guy have a name?”
She looked down at the ground. “Yeah, I’m just not sure what it is. He changed it since the last time I saw him.”
“Did you find him?”
“I thought so…but it wasn’t him. It made me think I’m really not ready for this, and I should just go home.”
“Is he like my Ashley?”
“Yeah, he is in a way. I mean, she ruined you for other people, and he ruined me in a similar way. Because of him I can’t hold a relationship for long, I can’t trust anybody, can’t even say I love you without breaking down crying, which tends to freak the guys out.” She shook her head. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
“Maybe you want to trust me,” I answered. “I trusted you with my…hurt.”
She smiled. “Yes you did.”
We walked on in silence for a while. I got the impression she was deciding what to say, or possibly how much of her pain she wanted to reveal.
“My mother died two months ago,” she finally said. “She was a brave woman. All my life I remember her facing down every bad thing that happened to her like she was some kind of war hero. She got sick last year and she tried to face that bravely too, especially when it was diagnosed as terminal cancer. I went to stay with her and in the past year I think she unloaded on me everything she ever wanted to say about my father.”
She let go of my hand because it was starting to shake. I wanted to grab it back but I thought it best just to let her have her freedom. For a brief moment I looked in her face and her eyes held this look as if she might bolt and run at any moment like a wild horse out on the range.
“He left her…us really…when I was seven. I remember sitting on the front porch waiting for him to come home from work one day and he never showed up. I waited until dark and mama made me come in. The next day she told me he wasn’t coming back. When I asked her why, she told me he decided he had a hungry heart and wanted to be somewhere else. I thought at the time she meant that one day we’d get to go to that some place else he went and be a family again. But it never happened. Finally, she just said he didn’t want either one of us and that I should get used to it. I’m still not used to it.” She looked up at me, her eyes dark and serious. “Every man I have known since doesn’t stay either. They all want to be somewhere else eventually. They always run.”
“I won’t run,” I promised.
She stared at me so hard I had to look away. It was making me very nervous.
“Yes you will. You’ll get a hungry heart too. In your defense you can’t help it. You’re a guy.”
“Hey wait a minute, that’s not fair. Not all guys are like your father.”
“No man I have ever known has stayed. Not just my dad, but every…single..guy. And I think sometimes that maybe if I could find my father he could tell me why every man is like that.”
“Summer, I’m not like that. If we were..you know, together…I wouldn’t do that to you.”
She shook her head sadly. “I wish I could believe you, Matthew. I know you mean well and want to be the ideal friend, but you can’t fight your nature.”
I grabbed her hand this time and stopped her right there in the orchard. “Look at me,” I said, and she obliged me, looking at me with her dark smoldering eyes. “As someone said to me earlier, my god, what has he done to you?”
I couldn’t hold her gaze for long, so I looked down, and she saw it as something else other than my own shyness. “What does it matter, Matthew? You won’t even look at me for long before your eyes turn away. How long before the rest of you turns away?”
“I’m not turning away. I’m right here.”
“But I am,” she said, and the dam nearly broke, tears building up in her eyes and threatening to stream down her face. Before that happened though, she did exactly what her eyes had originally told me. She bolted and ran. Without a word, she just turned and took off deeper into the orchard. I didn’t know what to do. Part of me wanted to chase after her; the other said let her go. I debated the things I would say to her that would make things alright, but maybe there was nothing I could say to right the damage her father had done to her. It’s sad how one person can ruin you for life, how they can have a dark effect on you and be a shadow in every relationship you have afterwards. Summer had her father, I had my Ashley. And like two trains gone off the rails, we were dying in the wreckage.

I think what surprised me the most about our aborted walk in the orchard was the temporary deterioration of the mask Summer wore. Up until that point her face was a happy one. Yeah, the night before I had hurt her feelings but in every other moment shared she had been smiling and like a happy go lucky girl in love with life. Now, all of a sudden, I was seeing another side. She had let down her guard and I’d caught a glimpse of the hurt and scared little girl hiding inside. I didn’t quite know what to do from this point forward. After all, maybe that happy exterior wasn’t real at all. Maybe it was there so that people would like her. Perhaps the real Summer was not summery at all. Was this the point she always reached before the men in her life abandoned her? Was this first crack in her wonderful exterior the thing that sent people running, as she claimed?
I walked back to orchard house, glancing behind me every now and then to see if I could spy her out there in the fields, with this new picture of Summer in my head. But if it chased others away from her, it had the opposite effect on me. It made me feel a little bit closer, because I felt she shared a similar pain as mine. Kindred spirits is what they called people like us, but was our hurt so great we would never be able to fully connect or let the pain go? I didn’t have the answers, but I was surprised by the fact that my problem with Ashley was receding to the back of my mind and Summer’s dilemma with her estranged father was edging its way to the front. Is this the way we get past our own troubles and worries, by helping someone else with their own?
I didn’t know what to do but return to the house and wait. Hopefully Summer would find her way back home too. Strange to call such a place home, but as long as she was there it was feeling as such. I sat down on the back porch and began my wait. It was kind of strange but on our first night I had found myself sitting here waiting for her to return from the orchard after I had upset her on our Wal-Mart trip. Now here it was our second night and I was waiting on her in the same fashion. It made me think of that Brad paisley song, ‘Waiting On A Woman.’ Man, was there no end to my music geekdom? Even in serious reflective moments songs popped into my head.
Something else popped into my head as well. I had been without purpose for so long. Forever wrapped up in my own heartbreak I had cut myself off from others. When I felt like I was no good for Ashley, I felt like I was no good to everyone else too. But now here was Summer and it was obvious she needed someone to help her learn to carry on without her mother and resolve the issues with her estranged father. But what could I do? Maybe I could go with her to help her find her dad. Or would it be better to just let her do this on her own and wait for her in the event she needed me when it was all over? As much as I wanted to help, there was this part of me that said let it be. Let her do what she needed to do alone. I think there are some things you have to go through alone, so maybe this was one of them. But on the other hand, I felt with her change of mood in the orchard she was tired of being alone. She needed someone to be there.
While pondering all this, she returned. The sun hadn’t quite gone down, but it was close to sinking behind the blue tinged mountains. I was sitting on the metal porch swing, my feet quietly rocking it on its rails. She came up the steps slowly and around to the porch where I sat. Wordlessly, she settled down beside me. For a moment she didn’t say anything, and neither did i. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, waiting for the best time to say anything. The sinking sun played its light across her freckled face and her eyes took on a copper glow. Staring at her when she wasn’t looking was easy. She was very pleasant to look at, but once she turned her head in my direction I averted my gaze like a shy schoolboy caught looking at the prettiest girl in class. She softly sighed beside me and we both stared off into the coming sunset. Finally she spoke. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to treat you so mean.”
“You don’t treat me mean,” I answered, daring to glance her way.
She looked my way too and tried to smile. “Really Matthew, I don’t mean to treat you badly. It’s just that you are the first guy…man…that I have felt comfortable around in a long time. It’s funny, really. I don’t know you that much. I’ve known you for two days and already I feel we have been friends for years.”
I smiled. “I feel connected too.”
“Yes exactly, that’s what it feels like. Like there is something special, you don’t quite know what it is, but it feels nice.”
“Yes it does.”
“But it scares me too.”
I grinned. “Terrifying.”
“You are still very nervous around me,” she suggested.
I hung my head, kind of embarrassed. “Yes I guess I am.”
She nodded, and then went silent. I could see she was turning something over in that pretty head of hers. “Maybe we just need to start over, so we can be nervous together,” she finally said.
“Maybe so,” I agreed, though to be honest, I wasn’t sure what she was getting at.
She turned a little in her seat so she was facing me. “Matthew, would you like to go grab a bite to eat with me?”
I wasn’t sure what to say. On one hand it seemed like she was asking me out, and on the other hand…well it seemed like she was asking me out on that one too. “You mean like a date?” I nervously asked.
“Well, yeah, if you want to call it that. Does that make you uncomfortable?”
“N-no,” I answered.
“Nervous?”
“Big time.”
She laughed. “Well then, that’s what first dates are all about. Chasing the butterflies from your stomach and getting to know each other. So, you game?”
“Yes I am,” I replied, but there must have been a touch of worry in my voice, because she gave me this look.
“Stop thinking about Ashley. I’m not going to leave you waiting for me to show. In fact, we’re driving together and I know just the place. I spotted it on my way back today. You like Italian?”
“Yes I do. My favorite.”
“Good, come on. Let’s get changed and go.”
“Changed?” I asked.
“Yes. You don’t think I’m going dressed like this, do you? I need to be back in my jeans and t-shirt. I can only take dressing up like a lady in small doses.”
I laughed. “I think you look fine.”
Smiling, she winked at me and stood up. “There ya go. You’re starting to loosen up and relax, I like that. But really, I don’t want to overdress. I’ll be back.”
I stood up to follow her. “Okay. Maybe I won’t overdress either. Taking my car or yours?”
“We took mine to Wal-Mart. Let’s go in yours this time. I’ll show you how to get there.”
“Only if we get to sing out the windows again.”
“Deal,” she said, and we both went into orchard house, she to change and I to wait.

The wait was longer than I thought. How long does it take for a woman to put on jeans and a t-shirt? I thought about that Brad Paisley song again and realized I didn’t mind waiting on a woman either. However, the longer I waited, the more I realized now was my opportunity to impress her. I went to my bedroom and dug through my clothes until I found something nicer to wear. I chose a pair of black khakis and a matching button up shirt. As an added touch I picked out some silver cuff links. I changed into dress shoes and was debating whether to add a tie to my new ensemble when I heard her on the stairs. I didn’t want to keep her waiting so I rushed out the room into the hallway just as she reached the bottom of the stairs.
I stopped in my tracks. Now I knew what was taking her so long. “I thought you said you didn’t want to overdress,” I said, when I finally found my voice.
She was wearing a black dress, the hem coming down to just below her knees, giving one a look at her legs. The dress was slit at one side affording a more teasing glimpse, while allowing her to actually walk. A slightly plunging neckline revealed the beginning swell of her breasts without showing off too much. This was not a trashy dress, but one that was all classy lady. I looked down. On her feet, she wore black high heels, but I could tell from the way she stood that she wasn’t entirely used to them.
“I changed my mind,” she said. “I’m glad I did. That look on your face is priceless.”
Suddenly aware I was staring, I looked away from her. “Oops, sorry. Again, I was expecting jeans and t-shirt. You have surprised me.”
“I can go and change again if you like.”
“Absolutely not. Now we match.”
It was now her turn to look me up and down and she took it at her own leisure. “I like. You look good in black.”
I blushed. “So do you.”
Her smile lit up her whole face. I noticed she had put on a little eye shadow, and the violet shade brought out her dark eyes and the shape of her face, though I had already been aware of those things when we were walking through the orchard. She was one of those rare women who didn’t need makeup, but for tonight if it made her feel more beautiful, then I was all for it, too.
She held out her arm. “So, let’s go paint the town black then.” I took her arm, linking it in mine and we marched together down the hall, and around to the kitchen, as if we were waltzing down the aisle. And even with that thought in mind, never once did I think of Ashley. She was worlds away, and tonight was all Summer.

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2014 Paul D. Aronson.

Orchard House Chapter 4 Writing Notes

When looking at these chapters it has been enlightening to me to see how some elements were intentional and yet others weren’t. I believe every writer experiences that moment when a story begins to write itself. We lay down the characters, what makes them tick, their desires, their hangups, their way of talking and interacting and then we just let them go. Often I am surprised where a story goes once I start writing it. This became evident to me in Chapter 4.

Two scenes here weren’t even intended and yet they flashed into being. One was what I now call the flirting scene, where Summer attempts to get Matthew to dance. Originally I had intended to build a scene around the kitchen radio and once I decided on the song the scene just wrote itself. The only thing I intentionally tried to do was to keep it innocent. Though it may be a little flirtatious, it was about fun not desire. I wanted Summer’s carefree, fun attitude to contrast with Matthew’s ineptitude when it comes to interacting and understanding women. Looking back on this after the fact I didn’t realize I was turning the normal romance novel scenario around. In most novels of the genre I have read it’s usually the guy who is trying to bring the girl out of her shell, but here the female is the protagonist.

The second unplanned scene in this chapter was Matthew’s confession about his ex, Ashley. I had always intended this subject to be broached but not quite this soon. It would need discussion(and still needs it further) eventually, but it wasn’t until the exasperated Summer walks away that suddenly it all came out of my character. By starting the reveal of Matthew’s ill fated romantic back story we can now focus on fleshing it out and see how it has damaged his whole outlook on relationships. When starting this I began with a basic idea that he had been left standing at the altar. As we get further into it in later chapters we’ll see how basic ideas come leaping into being when you don’t try to map them out. This for me is the most exciting part about writing: Watching the unplanned parts of the story unfold.

Once again, music played a big part in the flow of this chapter and when I went into it I had a few songs as my outline and built the events around those tunes. First off there was the REM song “(Don’t go back to) Rockville.” Though it is not specifically mentioned, the reference can be found in the mention of a REM t-shirt Matthew wears. Then as he walks to the convenience store and passes the migrant workers it was the Gypsy Kings Latin version of Hotel California that figured largely in the writing process. I don’t think Matthew would have interacted much with these workers in the course of the story if I hadn’t been for that song which I heard on a Latin playlist on the rhapsody streaming service. The scene here had actually begun being written while listening to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John. It’s notion of giving up city life for the country way appealed to the story, but once I arrived upon the migrant workers I didn’t think it was a song they would have been singing amongst themselves. Finally, musically speaking, I got to the scene in the kitchen with Matthew and Summer in the kitchen. The hint is laid out that the first song playing before she arrives home is “Tiny Dancer” by Tim McGraw, but I felt the Kenny Chesney song “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” fit Summer’s carefree personality better, and it also gave me the words to pepper her dialogue with as she begins to dance. I really like how this scene shifts from a physical scene to one that is about emotion when Matt reveals what had happened  between he and Ashley. Again, this scene seemed to shift on its own and not because I had mapped it out as such. My music references and the way music helped craft the story and its events in my head will become a little clearer with the next chapter hopefully. I personally do love music in a big way, but with chapter five we’ll see how it plays a little into the life of our narrator.

In finishing my notes on this chapter I have to admit this was the chapter in which I realized this would be a dialogue heavy story. I personally believe solid relationships are built on dialogue. In the beginning when i first met my wife we spent hours talking. about our life, the past, things we liked or didn’t like, and so if the old adage that a writer should write about what he knows is correct then I know this to be true: If you want to start a relationship of any kind you have to talk. Here the talk is first fun and flirty, then deep and serious. Not only does dialogue help unravel the story in this way it also allows us a peek into the character’s personalities, desires, and dreams. I hope you’ll join me for chapter five and see just how much there is to know about a person once you get characters interacting.

Orchard House Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

Summer was gone when I got up. Just as she said she would be. I had slept in until nine, a full two hours later than I usually would back in the city. It wasn’t noise, or the lack of it, that finally roused me. It was the sun coming through the sheer blue curtains, lighting across my face, the warmth bringing me up from my rest. Once awake however I was very aware of the lack of noise. In the distance a hound was baying; I could hear what must have been a farm truck far out in the orchard. But that was it. No horns blaring, jackhammers cracking pavement, no police sirens or ear shattering music, no people yelling profanities up and down the street. Any gunshots heard here would be the sound of hunters after a buck, not one punk shooting another over a pair of shoes.
I got up out of bed and dressed for the day. Nothing elaborate, just my favorite jeans, complete with rips in the knees, and a t-shirt advertising a long since passed R.E.M. concert. Looking down at myself as I slipped into my shoes I was amazed at how little I had changed over the years in my fashion. Twenty years ago I would have been wearing the same thing, though my hair would have been much longer. Nowadays it only reached my shoulder; back then it would have been halfway down my back. It’s amazing to think that after all that time, I would have been like others my age, settling into my job of choice, owning my own home, and be far into a marriage that had seen better days. But here I was, still entertaining the notion of being a writer, owning nothing more than my car, and learning that some people in this life are destined to be alone, rather than be married so long they could even begin to tire of it. This morning it hit home just how little I had done with my life. I imagined that even Summer who had to be at least fifteen years my junior had accomplished more than I had.
Shaking this pathetic thought from my head, I stepped out into the hallway and around to the kitchen where I found a note waiting.
“Hey Matt – Gone out. I’ll grab us some hot dogs on the way back in. Laters. “
I laughed. It wasn’t that I found the note funny, it was just that here was a girl I barely knew leaving me a note to say she was going out, and yet the woman I had been set to marry couldn’t leave me a single word, much less a note, to say why she didn’t want to show up for our wedding.
I went to the refrigerator and got out some bread and apple butter. Fixing some toast and pouring myself a large glass of milk, I looked out the back window at the peach blossoms. The morning sun seemed to light the orchard far more than it did yesterday, and I stood there thinking I would probably never see anything lovelier all day than those blossoms blowing in the wind, some falling from the trees to make a skirt around its trunk. With milk still in hand, I opened the back door to get a better view. I jumped back startled as something moved on the porch. It took me just a second to realize I had awakened Jackson from his favorite sleeping spot. He wagged his tail and let out a friendly bark. I couldn’t help but share my toast with him. He ate it right out of my hand and sat up on his haunches anticipating more. Guess he loved apple butter better than dog food.
I downed the last of my milk and decided to take a walk through the orchard down to the store. I felt it right to let them know they had mistakenly rented the house to two separate parties. It’s not that I wanted them to boot one of us out for the other’s benefit; I just didn’t want them seeing both of us leaving the place and thinking I had snuck some young girl in here while they weren’t looking. I’m sure southern tongues would wag then.
I checked to make sure I had the house key and then I closed the door shut behind me. Stepping out into the country sun the scents of the orchard and the wildflowers scattered around the home came to me on a light breeze. I could smell the magnolia and honeysuckle, even the faint scent of honey and hay from somewhere far off. It seemed everything smelled stronger out here. Back home all the scents were covered up by exhaust fumes and factory smoke. To catch the scent of a flower there you had to stick your face right down in it. Here, you could walk by a flower and smell it. The scent practically trailed after you as you passed.
These orchard smells became more prevalent as I headed down a row of low growing trees on my way to the little store I had originally believed to be Orchard House. For a moment I thought this is how Dorothy felt, going down the yellow brick road on her way to Oz. She had come from a drab and dreary existence in dustbowl Kansas and found herself plopped down in the Technicolor world of Munchkinland. I felt just as transported to another world as she was. To top it all off I found myself humming a certain Elton John song that said goodbye to such things too.
My little rendition was interrupted however by a different song on the breeze. Not a tune sung by another wandering individual, but from a radio somewhere. It got louder as I left the shadow of the house and delved deeper into the orchard. Up ahead I saw an old pickup. It was red and seemed to be fighting mad rust disease. Behind it, a group of Mexican men seemed to be digging ditches or perhaps planting more trees. The song was coming from the old truck over an equally old radio. It was a familiar tune, something made popular by The Eagles in the seventies, but here it was being sung in Spanish. The familiarity of the song made it possible to tell when the chorus came in and I found myself singing along in English. As I passed the truck I waved to the workers. Their faces shaded by baseball caps and other hats designed to keep the sun off of them, they nodded and waved, all smiling broadly to acknowledge I was in their midst. Or perhaps they were smiling about something else they shared between them with whispers in their native tongue. The tale of Hotel California faded behind me as I started down the small hill to reach the little fruit stand store. Looking back, I saw the men had returned to their work and farther in the distance Jackson lay in the shade of a gnarled apple tree to await my return.

The bell over the door tinkled as I walked into the store. The matron was behind the counter talking on the phone. She hurried off the phone as I went to the drink cooler pulling a root beer out and bringing it up to her.
“Well hello there,” she said. “I was wondering if the orchard would be leading you in here today.”
“It’s hot out there to be so early in the morning.”
“Oh my. This aint early. 5 am, now that’s early. That’s what time our boys start out there in the fields.”
I figured she meant the migrant workers. “Wow, too early for me. I guess you can tell I’m a city boy.”
“Just a little,” the woman teased. She rung up my root beer and I handed her the money. “So how did you sleep last night? Did the silence keep you awake?”
I laughed. “Almost. But yes, I slept very well. Though I was under the impression I’d have the house to myself.”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You rented it out to someone else.”
“Are you sure? I didn’t…oh wait, maybe Raymond did. He has a habit of not looking at the register sometimes.”
She left the counter and disappeared through a door to go into the back office. I turned around to see if anyone else was in the store. An older couple was at the back looking at the jars of home canned fruit. When I turned back around, Helen was coming back out from the office with an apologetic look on her face. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry; he did rent it to someone after I had already rented it to you. I can refund your money if you like.”
“No, it’s okay. It’s a big house. She and I made arrangements that I think will work.”
She shook her head. “Well, really I should refund someone’s money. The price I charged you was for single or double occupancy. If you add a third, then we charge you extra, but as a couple you’re…”
“Oh no, we’re not a couple.”
She smiled. “Well regardless, someone has overpaid.”
“No one has overpaid, mam. We both are renting the house as two separate individuals. Non couple status.”
She almost couldn’t contain a knowing grin. “If that’s your wish.”
I smiled kindly. “It is.” I opened my root beer and took a drink, as I was getting a bit flustered. I wasn’t expecting this kind of reaction when I informed her the house had been double rented. “Um..can you tell me how long she rented for?”
“She has paid for three days.”
“Okay. Thank you. That still gives me 4 days to myself. I think we’ll be fine with that.”
She nodded with that conspiratorial smile again. “I’m sure,” she agreed. “If you two need anything, just holler.”
“Thanks.” I turned around to go, but what she said next stopped me.
“Summer seems to be a nice girl.”
I turned around. “How did you know her name?”
“It’s on the register.”
I suddenly felt I had been baited to react.
“And she stopped in this morning. She said you would probably show up to tell us about our mistake. She said not to let you buy any lunch.”
I had been baited. She had known since earlier this morning the place had been double rented and was just playing ignorance to see how I felt about the mistake. Even out here the women were out to make me feel stupid. I smiled as graciously as I could and said goodbye. “Tell Twyla I said hello,” I added.
“I will. She will be sorry she missed you. She had school today. But you two stop by later and say hello, won’t you?”
I noticed she said you two, meaning summer and I both. If I was ever going to get any privacy to get my thoughts together I better hurry up before everyone else made plans for me.

The walk back was a leisurely stroll down a country road. Not wanting to return by the orchard I decided to walk back by the road. One car passed by on the way, the driver, a complete stranger, throwing up his hand to wave. Not only would this be alien where I lived, but the cars would be racing down the road nearly pushing bumpers to get where they were going. This slow paced way of living was both refreshing and strange at the same time. Could I ever get used to this lazy pace of life? Not alone I couldn’t. I mean, I knew I stopped here to be alone and get away from my troubles, but after a while the loneliness would get to me I know and I would be wishing for that hectic pace of life again, the people rushing around going nowhere fast, the noise that made you abandon your thoughts and just be like everybody else. How could I ever live like this, walking down a road without a care in the world?
I walked up the drive to Orchard House. The scent of the magnolia tree was powerful here, and if I was trying to avoid Jackson in the back yard it didn’t work. He must have heard my footsteps on the gravel because he came running around the house, tail wagging. He ran to me and immediately lay at my feet, rolling over on his back, as if he had a sign painted on his belly, saying ‘rub me.’ I pet him a few minutes and then headed into the house.
You don’t realize how quiet things are until you live in the city. There even inside your home you can hear everything your neighbors are doing. Someone is fighting next door, kids are playing with a basketball in the street, and another neighbor is working on his car. But walking inside the empty house here in the country the silence was almost maddening. I guess after you get used to noises all the time, peace and quiet can seem deafening itself.
In the kitchen a radio sat on top of the frig and I pulled it down, setting it on the kitchen bar. It wasn’t a large radio, just a little AM/FM with a speaker no bigger than my hand. I turned it on to kill the silence and another Elton john song came on, this time sung by Tim McGraw it sounded like. I left the radio playing in the kitchen and walked around to my bedroom. I opened a suitcase and dug around in the bottom looking for something. My cellphone. I hadn’t turned it on since leaving home. I didn’t want to hear anybody asking where I was. But now I turned it on. Of course nothing happened, the phone was dead. I got out the charger and plugged it up. If I wanted to hear if anybody missed me I was going to have to wait.
I stepped out of the room and into the hallway. I was tempted to go take a look upstairs. I hadn’t even been up there to see what the place looked like. All I knew was there was two bedrooms up there, one of which Summer had taken as her own. I started up the staircase. As long as I didn’t go into the one she had claimed I would be okay. At the top there was a door on my left. It was closed shut. To the right the landing went around to another door diagonally across from the closed one. It was open. I went around the landing to the open door. Just as I assumed it was unoccupied. Stepping inside I noticed it was almost a carbon copy of my own which lay directly under it on the first floor, except instead of blue roses, here they were pink. I imagined this to be a room for families that stayed here with children because instead of a desk in one corner, another bed was set up in its place allowing multiple people to sleep here. The bedspreads were both adorned with pink roses on green vines. Two lamps, one by each bed, had pink shades, the window curtains were a light pink, and even the carpet had a light floral pattern. On one of the beds sat a doll, an old porcelain thing whose face was cracked by time. It was obvious it was old, just the kind of thing young girls would have had maybe back in the great depression. It immediately made me think of my mother and her own porcelain doll collection. She had a doll very similar to the one I was looking at. It was a cherished heirloom, the one doll she swore she would never part with. Until Ashley came along. Pleased that I had found someone she offered it to her as a gift. But Ashley hated dolls and she refused it. My mother never let me forget that afterwards. In fact, she often would say to me in confidence, “I don’t like that girl. She’s not right for you.” It’s funny how mothers seem to know these things.
On this memory I left the room and returned to the stair case. I hesitated beside the door to Summer’s room. I was curious about it, wondering how she may have fixed it up for her brief stay. Was everything still packed in her duffel bags or had she arranged everything neatly in drawers? Perhaps she had just strewn her clothes about the floor or on the bed. Had she taken a picture of her guy and placed it on the dresser to remind her what was waiting for her after her business here was done? Maybe she had her own happy couple picture taken during a trip to the beach or just goofing around in the house she shared with him. I shook my head and went down the stairs. Why did I care if she had someone to call her own or not? Her business was her own, and her love life certainly not of interest to me.
Back in the kitchen I noticed the music had stopped on the radio. Instead a commercial for a local farmer’s festival two months away was playing. It advertised good fun, food, and dancing to local musicians, and then proceeded to rattle off a list of sponsors. I turned off the radio. I wouldn’t be here long enough to even know what they did for fun around here.
I walked into the living room and plopped down on the couch. I was bored out of my skull. On the coffee table beside me a couple magazines lay: National Geographic, Better Homes and Garden, Outdoor Living. Nothing at all to pique my interest. Looking over to the end table on the other side of the couch I saw a couple of travel magazines. On top lay a folded up piece of paper. I slid across the couch and picked it up. Unfolding it I saw it was a list of names, all beginning with Earl. There was Earl James, Earl Jackson, Earl Jessup, and an Earl Jones. Beside each one was a notation: Not Him. The writing on the paper was definitely feminine and so I guessed that maybe Summer had sat here this morning looking over this list. But why? Who were these guys? Did this have something to do with her business here?
Just then, I heard Jackson barking. It wasn’t a warning signal, but more a happy sound. The sound of tires coming up the drive alerted me to the fact Summer was back. I folded the paper back up the best I could and set it down where I found it. Getting up, I went down the hallway to my bedroom and sat down at the desk. I got a pen and some paper out the drawer and pretended to be writing a letter home. I made it through a cheery ‘Hello everyone’ when I heard the kitchen door open and close, followed by Summer’s voice, “Hey matt, you home?”
I acted like I didn’t hear her and kept writing my letter to no one. I had maybe made it through a sentence when I heard her in the bedroom doorway.
“Hey there, guy,” she said. “I brought us some hot dogs. Hope you like chili.”
“Yeah chili is..”, I turned to face her and was stunned by the sight. “Fine,” I finished in a mumble that must have told her I thought she looked fine herself. She was wearing form fitting slacks that seemed to hug her frame like a second skin. A silky black tank top lightly covered by a stylish sweater completed her outfit. The tank top revealed her figure in a way I had not seen until now, yet hiding enough of her with the sweater to make a guy wonder just where the curves started or ended.
She smiled as if she knew all this already. Maybe I had that certain look on my face guys get when they are realizing peach trees in bloom are not the most beautiful things they will see all day. “Well come on, dogs are getting cold then,” she said, and left my doorway for the kitchen. I felt embarrassed for letting her catch me off guard like that. I was prepared for her coming back to Orchard House, but I guess I just thought she was all blue jeans and an ‘I love nerds’ t-shirt.
She was sitting at the kitchen table already biting into a hot dog when I got there. “I waited like one starving fool waits for another,” she giggled.
“That’s okay. You’ve probably been up much longer than I have. Thanks for the food.” I took one of the hot dogs and bit into it. “Where did you get these?”
“Little store on the main road. Same place I got the peach ice cream.”
“Peach ice cream?”
“Yep. I put it in the freezer already. Figured we might want some later. Nothing like ice cream on a warm night. Heard on the news the humidity is going to be terrible this evening.”
“We have an air conditioner in some of the rooms I think.”
She smiled. “What fun is that? Sweating is good for you, gets all the impurities off your skin.”
I didn’t want to tell her it would make me uncomfortable to see her sweating, impurities or not.
“So what did you do today?” she asked.
“Nothing really. Just walked through the orchard down to the store.”
She looked up at me. “Yeah I stopped there on the way out. They were just opening. Helen’s a nice lady.”
“Yeah, she said you were too.”
“I knew you’d go down there and tell them,” she said.
“And how did you know that?”
“You’ve got an honest face. I knew you’d want them to know. Did you ask for your money back?”
I looked at her and shook my head. “No I did not.”
“Good. Neither did I.” She finished up her hot dog, and grabbed another. “I’m going to be fat one day.”
I laughed. “I can’t see that happening.”
“Oh it will one day. My fat clock is ticking.”
“Mine must have already tocked,” I confessed, and patted my t-shirt covered belly.
She leaned up off her stool and peered over the kitchen bar. “Oh that’s not too bad. Fat looks better on guys than it does on girls anyway.”
“Speaking of fat, how much I owe you for the hot dogs?”
“A smile.”
“I don’t know. That sounds kind of steep.”
She smirked. “Don’t make me come over there and poke you, fatty.”
I laughed so hard it took me some time to stop. Seeing me laugh like that must have been infectious because she soon found herself laughing right along.
“What’s the radio for?” she asked, after we stopped laughing. She meant the little one I had set on the counter earlier. “It wasn’t here this morning.”
“Yeah I got it from the top of the frig. I was listening to a little music after my walk.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Do you dance?”
“Um, no, I can’t dance.”
“I bet you can.”
“Nope.”
“Ever tried?”
“Yeah,” I said, getting nervous as to where this conversation was leading.
“Let me guess, it was a rock song.”
“I’m not sure.”
She nodded knowingly. “Yeah buddy, it was a rock song. I can tell. But if you have a great country song you don’t even have to try to dance. Your body will do all the work. Here I’ll show you.””
She reached for the radio and turned it on. Kenny Chesney came through the speakers, singing something about no shirt and no shoes. She grinned broadly. “Now that’s what I’m talkin about.” She got up and kicked her open toed shoes across the floor. “No shoes,” she said.
“Hey wait,” I started to argue, and then she took off her sweater and set it across one of the dining room chairs.
“No shirt,” she teased. Her silky tank top clung to her in all the right places, and with horror I suddenly realized what was coming off next: me from the chair. She grabbed my hands and pulled me up despite my protests. “Come on, it won’t kill ya.”
“It might,” I said nervously. She was swaying to the music, a slow country rhythm with a bit of the beach thrown in. She was moving my hands and arms to try and get me to move, but my dancing was like someone tapping their foot and shifting their weight from one hip to the other.
“Come on, just loosen up a little. Let the music move you.”
I couldn’t loosen up. Not like her. She was moving like I hadn’t seen anyone move for a very long time. I thought to myself this must be how a celibate priest feels when they accidentally walk into a honky-tonk bar on ladies’ night.
“You are stiff as a board, Matthew. Just relax. Here, let me help…” She put both her hands on my hips and began to move them in time with her own.
It freaked me out a little. I wasn’t used to having my own personal space invaded. “Uh summer, can we please stop?”
She stopped dancing as suddenly as if someone had reached up and punched Chesney in the mouth.
“I make you uncomfortable don’t I?”
“No, it’s not like that, I…”
“I made you uncomfortable in Wal-Mart, made you uncomfortable asking about Ashley last night, and now I’ve made you uncomfortable dancing in the kitchen and being dressed a little more girly than usual. I think I would make you uncomfortable if I was wearing a burlap sack and sitting in a corner.”
“I’m sorry, Summer. I’m not comfortable around people. Ok, girls. You’re young and pretty and we’re staying in the same house, and this is the most contact I have had with a female since Ashley.”
A sad look came over her. “Oh my, Matthew. What did that girl do to you?”
I hung my head. I wanted to cry, but didn’t want her see me do it. She was right after all, Ashley had ruined me. I couldn’t even look at another girl without feeling she wanted to get away from me too. Or would, one day.
“Look, I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” she said. “If you wish I’ll put on something different, or not look at you when I talk, but it’s not going to fix what she’s done.”
She picked up her sweater and slipped it back on. Then she walked around the bar, picked up her food and threw it in the trash. Turning from the trash can and walking past me she said, “I’m going to go now.”
I didn’t turn to watch her go, but I heard her pick up her sandals and put them back on. Her footsteps seemed to echo across the kitchen linoleum.
“She left me on our wedding day,” I said. “I loved her like I loved no one. I’d known her since childhood. We dated in school, lived together in college, played house for years after that. Then one day I decided it wasn’t enough. I had to know she was completely devoted to me, committed to our relationship. So I asked her to marry me and she said yes. Looking back I realize she didn’t cry happily or beam proudly, she just said yes. I should have known then. She was about excited over our wedding as you are about sitting down and having a hot dog with me.”
She walked back to the kitchen bar and sat across from me. “I am very excited about sitting down and having a hot dog with you.”
I couldn’t look at Summer. I stared down at the bar wishing I could be saying these things from another room. “She never showed up. Do you know what it’s like to be sitting there and waiting and waiting and waiting for someone you love to show up and say ‘hey I just got scared. Forgive me’. But she couldn’t even do that.”
“I do know what its like,” she confided. “I waited for someone too.”
I looked up. “Really?”
“Yeah really. I waited for someone I loved to show up and say those very same things to me. And they never did. Years passed and I never saw their face again. I got beyond caring after a while but I still think about it sometimes. One day I hope I will forget it completely, but I know I won’t without some kind of closure. And neither will you.”
I nodded. Suddenly I didn’t feel like my problem was the biggest one. Sitting across from Summer I wasn’t half as alone as I thought I was. I had a friend. One who understood, or at least wanted to understand, how I felt. I was still uncomfortable around her; I wouldn’t be looking in her eyes anytime soon, but if the proverbial ice had been broken, she melted it with her next words.
“Sometimes Matthew, people just get scared. Some of us hide it behind a happy smile.” She smiled to show me she meant herself. “Some of us let the fear show in our every word.” She nodded in my direction. ”I think you’re scared to move forward because you think nothing’s out there now. “ She reached across the table and patted my hand gently. “I’m scared that way too.”
She squeezed my hand briefly, and then let it go. Outside the world went on, while inside we were frozen in time, caught up in our own separate sadness, yet still feeling someone understood. Maybe that was a start in the right direction. Perhaps that’s how you move on, getting someone else to understand how you feel.

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2014 Paul D. Aronson

Orchard House Chapter 3

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Chapter 3

Most of the Wal-Mart’s I had been in were uniformly designed inside. If you had been in one, you’d been in them all. But not this one. I was completely lost and couldn’t find a thing. We had both started out with separate buggies and she had headed off towards health and beauty. “Girl stuff time,” she explained, leaving me with my buggy to head wherever. I tried to determine which direction the groceries were in but instead found myself passing by the book department, which was an instant hook for a fish like me. I stopped and browsed the paperbacks, wondering if one day I could ever write anything worthy to be on these shelves. The closest I had come was to see one copy of my first book in a Barnes & Noble. Of course, I bought it myself and never saw it in another store.
“You can’t eat a book,” Summer said from beside me. She had bath stuff and feminine products in her cart. “Well I guess you could but it won’t taste as good as fish sticks or a self-rising pizza. Well, okay it might taste better than fish sticks.”
I laughed. “Sorry, I kind of got lost. Couldn’t find the grocery department.”
“Lost? Heck, just follow the good looking guys. Every gal knows the hottest place to meet guys is in groceries.” Before I could inform her I wasn’t ‘every gal’ she went spinning off down the aisle towards where hot guys dwelled. Once I caught up with her in fresh fruit she was in full shopping mode. She would pick something up, put it in her buggy, and then two minutes later take it out and put it back. “We can get this at the fruit stand,” she reasoned out loud. Finally, she settled on one fruit we couldn’t get from the Orchard House store: bananas.
Two guys walked by and flashed her some college boy smiles. Problem was they both were overweight and looked so sweaty I thought there must be football tryouts the next aisle over. “See, hot guys,” she whispered in my ear.
With a giggle she was off again, heading around the corner and into the frozen food section. I had the feeling I was going to need roller skates before too long. Again, she was a whirling dervish, popping stuff into her buggy like the store was going out of business. Me, I ended up having like five things in my buggy to her fifty. We went through the whole grocery section like this, her dodging down each aisle, precariously avoiding running others over with her cart, with me trying to follow behind saying “excuse me” to everyone she nearly collided with. By the time we had navigated each aisle her cart looked as if she was preparing for three weeks instead of three days. When I told her this however her mood shifted. The exuberant little girl going crazy down every aisle vanished and was replaced by a hurt woman who was trying to enjoy life.
“Well, you don’t have to tread on my flag,” she said quietly. “Come on, I want to go.” She pushed her buggy up the main aisle towards the checkout and never said another word until we were back at the house and unloading groceries.

Inside the house, after we had gotten everything in and was putting our bounty in the refrigerator, she broke the silence. “Look, I just wanted to make sure we had enough food. I haven’t had such a fun time shopping in ages and you… well, you kind of ruined it.”
I sat down at the kitchen island that separated it from the dining room. “I’m sorry. I was just making a silly observation on all the things you were buying.”
She turned from the task of putting the eggs and milk up and faced me. “Maybe I’m wanting to stock things up so I’ll have it for the next place I go stay. I can leave in the morning if you like.”
“No, no, Summer. Wait. I didn’t mean to insult or offend you.”
“Well, you did,” she answered so low I barely heard her. She returned to stocking the refrigerator.
I got up and walked over to her. I touched her on her shoulder and when she turned to me, I jerked my hand away, feeling I had done the wrong thing again. “Look, I know this isn’t an excuse, but I haven’t been around girls much. Not to the point of actually interacting. Before you I was around two other women in my lifetime, my mother and Ashley. Other than that I barely said two words to another female except to ‘thank you’ to a waitress or ‘excuse me’ when trying to walk around someone. I don’t know how to say the right things. I didn’t mean to hurt you Summer; I just don’t know what to say to you.”
She sighed. “Just say you had fun today.”
I smiled. “I had more fun today than I have had in ages.”
“Good.”
“I don’t want you to leave tomorrow.”
She nodded and tried to hide a smile. “Thank you. But I will be heading out early to do a few things. I’ll try not to wake you.”
“Are we good, then?”
“Peachy as an orchard,” she replied. “Now what are you going to fix us for dinner?”
“Um…self-rising pizza?”
“Sounds great.”
“I hear it’s more appetizing than books.”
She smiled and sat down at the kitchen island while the ten minute chef put the pizza in the oven. When I turned around, she was still looking at me. It made me a little nervous.
“What?” I asked.
“Who’s Ashley?”
“Oh my, now that’s a long story.”
“I have three days.”
I turned back to the oven, wishing all of a sudden to crawl inside it. “Let’s talk about her another day,” I suggested.
“Sounds good,” she replied. After that, the pizza cooked in silence and once again things were awkward. It’s strange how one sentence, one question can make a person shut down emotionally. We ate our pizza sitting across from one another. She downed hers with tea, mine with soda. After three pieces she said, “Okay I’m done. You can have the rest. “She got up and walked to the window looking out on the orchard. “I think I’ll take a walk.”
She didn’t ask me if I wanted to go with her this time. She just went out the door. Maybe she realized that we both needed time alone, or perhaps she wanted me to take the initiative and follow her. Either way, I just sat there staring down at the pizza berating myself for being so pigheaded about Ashley. Once again, that woman had spoiled a nice thing.

I was sitting in the metal porch swing on the back porch when Summer returned. I had seen her several times from my vantage point, walking down the rows of apple trees, but as it got dark I lost sight of her figure and instead focused on the stars lighting the night sky. In the city you see scattered stars here and there but out here in the country the sky was full of them. It reminded me of a blanket that you could stitch going from star to star with needle and thread. It was beautiful. Not just the stars and how they lit up everything, but the night itself even looked different. The darkness was a more vibrant shade and I lay my head back just taking in this whole other world spread out across the sky. I was marveling at this when I heard the crunch of her feet on the gravel drive.
“I thought you were sleeping there for a minute,” she said, sitting down on the porch steps.
“No, just admiring the night.”
“Beautiful isn’t it?”
“Yes it is. In the city the night sky seems a bit stifling, as if it’s closing in on you. Here it’s wide open as if it just wants to free you.”
“Yes exactly. I forgot just how liberating the country sky can be.”
“Forgot? I kind of took you for a country girl.”
“Well I was born in Kentucky, lived all over the Carolinas and Virginias, but the past several years I have been in Baltimore Maryland. Trying to be a fool for the city. But I think I’m done there.”
“I can understand. I thought I was a city boy too. Born and bred in the urban squall.”
She smiled. “I knew you were a city boy the moment I saw you.”
“How’s that?”
She smirked as if I just said the dumbest thing. “Your car out there. It’s a city car. Your haircut. Definitely city.”
I feigned offense. “What’s wrong with my hair?”
“Nothing. It’s just neat, not wind blown. Live in the country long enough and your hair starts to get a certain look, like you threw your comb out the window or something.”
“Oh.”
“And you got city hands too.”
“City hands?”
“Yeah. Flip your hands over.” I turned my hands so the palms were up. “Calluses on your hands. They are small, like you have been holding a pencil too long. If you was country they would be bigger from gripping a shovel or hoe.”
“You’re very observant,” I reasoned.
She grinned. “You have no idea.”
“Okay, so what else is city about me?”
“Your accent of course. No twang to your voice. You say fighting, country says fightin. You don’t have a country boy build either. Country guys are a little more beefed up and tanned from working outside all the time.”
“You like that, do you?”
She laughed. “Heck no, I’m into nerds. Didn’t you read my shirt?” Reaching in her back pocket she pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She lit one up and inhaled deeply. “One of my few vices,” she explained when she saw me looking at her.
“So this your first time in the country, Matthew?”
“No, my grandparents lived in the country. I used to spend summers there as a child. I just thought I would try and revisit that feeling before getting back to real life.”
“Did your grandparents live around here?” she asked, looking up from her perch on the steps.
“No. I ended up here quite by chance. Just passing through you could say. On a whim I rented the place. Looked like the right spot to gather my thoughts and decide what to do.”
“About her?”
“No, that’s been decided I believe.” I looked away from Summer and peered into the heavens again.
“Look, I’m sorry about earlier.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“Asking you about Ashley.”
Looking up at the stars was easier then looking at her. “It’s okay.’
“No it’s not. But I did want to say I am sorry. I know I can come off a bit nosy sometimes.”
“I don’t think that.”
“Liar. I know I can be in people’s faces a little too much. Just something I’ve learned to live with. Nobody else can though. I tend to scare people.”
“I’m not scared.”
She smiled. “Sure you are. But it’s okay. I’ll try not to be so intrusive.”
“Summer, there’s nothing wrong with you.”
She laughed and stubbed out her cigarette on the porch step. “If you say so. Hey I’m going to get some soda.” She got up and headed for the door. “Want anything?”
“No, that’s okay. I’m going to turn in soon.”
“I kind of figured you would,” she said, and I could hear the air of disappointment in her voice. The screen door closed behind her and I wondered if I would ever be able to say the right thing around this girl.
When I finally came indoors the first thing I heard was the water running in the bathroom. The door was closed and I figured she was taking her bath. I locked the back door and went around checking all the others. Old habit from the city. You never leave a door unlocked anywhere for any length of time where I came from. After making sure the house was secure I retired to my room where I shut the door. Kicking off my shoes I sat down at the writing desk and took out a pen and piece of paper. I wanted to write and tell my brother where I had gone. Eric might not have wanted to know, since the last time we talked it was a very heated discussion, but I was thinking he should know the path I chose if I didn’t return. How do you tell your brother how you’re feeling though if you don’t even know yourself? It wasn’t a secret between us that the passing of our parents hit me hard. That on top of Ashley ditching me at the altar was enough to crush and devastate me. He knew what Ashley meant to me and I suspected he knew where she had taken off to, which led to our last and final argument. It hurts even more when you feel your brother is still talking to your bride to be and you’re not. I don’t believe he had designs on her or anything but just knowing they were friends enough to share information on how much Matt hurts was enough for me to give him a big ‘to hell with you’ and leave all that drama behind.
I put the pen to paper and began:
Eric,
I don’t expect you to understand what has happened to me inside. You never really got me when mom and dad were alive, and feel you still don’t. The fact that you told me you knew how to get in touch with Ashley tends to make me believe you have taken her side in the deterioration of our romance. I wish I had it in me to never speak to you again, but I don’t. I fear I don’t even have it in me to never speak to her because I know if she was here right now I would want to. I would want to know why she did what she did. And I’m afraid in my weakness I would believe anything she had to say.

I threw the pen across the room. I looked down at what I wrote and shook my head, disgusted at myself. Crumbling up the paper I threw it in the floor. For good measure I got up from my chair and started stomping the offending letter I’d started. A knock came at the bedroom door.
“Are you alright in there?” Summer asked from the other side.
“Yeah, I’m okay.” I reached down and picked up both pen and paper.
There was a hesitation at the door. I imagined her standing on the opposite side wondering what was going on in my bedroom. For a brief moment I wanted to ask her if she had ever had someone leave her and never tell her why. I almost reached for the handle and opened the door. But then I heard her footsteps going up the stairs.
“Alrighty. Well, I’m going to bed. See you on the morrow.” I heard a door at the top of the stairs open and close.
“Good night,” I whispered to no one. Outside the night was still. None of the noises of the city had followed me out here. Only the shadow of Ashley dared to trail behind me. I got undressed and crawled into bed pulling the blue roses over top of me. Sleep took a while to come but when it did I was thankful it wasn’t filled with dreams of Ashley. Instead it was nightmares of empty wedding altars and the ring I would never slip on her finger.

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2014 Paul D. Aronson

Orchard House Ch. 2 Notes

Second chapters always seem to be one of the most difficult to write. In most cases you have established the main character and set up the basic plot or action, so we ask ourselves what’s next. First chapters usually come pretty quickly but second ones can stump us in some cases. So for the second chapter of Orchard House, and if you haven’t read it yet please do so now or this won’t make much sense, there were a few things I wanted to accomplish or establish. First was to establish the female lead character. It’s key to not just introduce her but to show a few things about her. In the scene in which she is first introduced I use a music reference to tell us a little about her. Her singing “Call Me The Breeze” by Lynyrd Skynyrd as she comes into the house lets us know she is free spirited and independent without actually coming out and saying so. The scene is also played lightly and with a touch of humor as the two characters come face to face in an awkward sort of way. I did it this way so we wouldn’t be super serious about things right off the bat. There will be time for emotional drama later but for now to bring likability to the characters I felt it was essential to have their meeting occur in a way which the characters, and the readers, would remember.

Later, as the two decide on their road trip to Wal Mart again I used music references to set the scene, particularly the emotions and character of my two lead players. I realize that the references may seem like too many all crammed together – we find three song references in a very short span of time – but my idea was to help put the forth the idea that at one time Matthew had wanted to be or had been a music critic. So beginning with a reference to an obscure one hit wonder of the late 80’s, early 90’s – “Power Windows” by Billy Falcon – I attempt to let the reader know that Matthew initially sees Summer as a simple, love-is-all-that’s-important kind of girl. If one doesn’t know the song, and I don’t expect many readers to, my hope is maybe they’ll look into it. By the next line it seems Matthew’s assessment is wrong as another song reference comes: “Life Is A Highway” by Tom Cochrane. Again, and this song is more popular so maybe the point will be taken, I try to show the carefree, everyday-is-an-adventure spirit of my female character. I was going to end the references there, but I wanted the scene to reflect that they were clicking thanks to music on the radio and so I added yet one more music reference: “I’m On Fire” by The Dwight Twilley Band. I realize music references can be lost on the reader if they don’t know the song, but here I was writing more for myself to help me get into the fun mindset of these characters together. I could imagine them hanging their heads out the window and shouting the line “You aint, you aint, you aint got no lover” from this early power pop classic. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to use obscure references that the reader may not get, but in this case I’m trying to show the reader that Matthew has extensive music knowledge and it’s obviously something he loves and can relate to. On a personal level I feel we do shape our lives around music we listen to or enjoy, and in this story in particular i wanted to explore that with a character.

Finally, in notating things about this chapter I want to point out that only one character was introduced in this chapter. That was intentional. My idea was to show the importance of this character to the story. In chapter one we met the narrator and two other minor characters, but here it all centers around Summer and her arrival on the scene. This is designed to let the reader know she is possibly the most important character in not only the author’s eye but the narrator as well.

Like I said in my previous notes I don’t know if any of this will be of interest to anyone, but I thought I would share a little about the writing process and what goes inside this writer’s head as he is crafting a story. Hope to see you soon with Chapter three.

Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything Ch 2

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Chapter 2

Back out on the gravel road it didn’t take long to go around the bend to Orchard House. On the right stood grape vines wrapped around wooden trellises, and not far ahead on the left sat a row of gazebos and small buildings with a large hand painted sign reading “The Artist’s Village. Open every Friday -Saturday.” Across from that a graveled drive led up a small hill to the house. I made the turn and passed through an opening in the fence, watching as the big white farmhouse came into clearer view. I passed by a large magnolia tree in the front yard and parked beside the house. It was a huge structure painstakingly restored on the outside so it looked like it must have appeared in my parent’s time. The front porch was small; a mere shadow of the house, but one could tell it was full of rooms and history. Getting out of the car, I felt like I had been instantly transported back in time to when large families all lived together, mothers and fathers, their children and their spouses, and their children, all under one roof. The fact that it was surrounded on three sides by the massive fruit orchard gave me a feeling that this house was too big for one person. Probably why the dog came free. And free he was, running free towards me.
I barely had time to prepare myself for Jackson’s excitement over company. He barked hello several times and then parked himself at my feet waiting for me to pet him. “Well hello, you must be Jackson,” I said, rubbing the top of his head, which made his tongue hang out drool and all. I laughed. “I’m going to need a bib just to pet you.”
I stood beside the car with Jackson at my heel and took in a deep breath. Even the air was different here. Gone was the smell of car exhaust, trash tossed along the roadsides, factory smokestacks spewing forth their poison for the cluttered masses. No, in this air I could smell the magnolia tree in the front yard, the peach blossoms and apple trees, the wildflowers that grew around the house. I could even catch the scent of that most glorious smell from my youth, honeysuckle. As a young boy I had traipsed through near meadows of it at my grandparent’s home, and here it was again, that sweet scent on the breeze as if to say, ‘Welcome to your second childhood. We have been waiting. ‘ If only I could have believed such a thing were possible.
I got my bags out of the car and began to lug them around to the back of the house. Here the house could truly be enjoyed in its splendor. A large porch wrapped around the back. On one end a gas grill and one of those old metal porch swings. Not the kind that hung on chains, but that gained its swinging motion from metal runners at its base like a rocking chair. On the other end of the porch sat a pair of metal chairs with a glass end table between them. The glass was painted with roses looping around vines reminding me of church windows. Beside the chairs was the back door, adorned with a wooden plaque with painted apples and peaches on it. On it was painted “Welcome home. Friends enter.” I got the key out and let myself in. Turning back, I looked to see Jackson had stopped and was sitting at the foot of the steps. Probably trained to stay off the porch, I thought.
Setting my bags down, I saw that I had entered into a large room that served as both kitchen and dining room. On the left side was an oak dining table, covered by a tablecloth decorated with images of apples in baskets. Four chairs sat around it, and a fake flower arrangement served as the table’s centerpiece. To the right was the kitchen area tiled with, you guessed it, apple painted linoleum. A modern kitchen bar stood in the center, while along the walls was all the conveniences of a real home: refrigerator, electric range, a washer and dryer stacked on top of each other, sink, and cabinets. Looking out the kitchen window, I could see rows upon rows of peach trees all blossoming pink. A small door led outside into the yard, and as if in trance I followed it out into the orchard. The scent and color took my breath away. The trees blanketed the land, canopies of pink blossoms stretching far into the hills, making me feel as if I had just stepped out into an alien landscape in some other world. “Dorothy, I don’t believe you’re in Kansas anymore,” I whispered to myself.
Back inside the house I inspected the kitchen, pulling out cabinet drawers and seeing what kind of things they kept around. Everything for the perfect kitchen could be found here, from silverware to cooking pots and pans, to steak knives, and pizza cutters, and all manner of cooking utensils. It seemed when they furnished the place they didn’t leave out anything. Hand towels and wash cloths hung neatly by the sink. Everything was cleaned and in its proper place. Off the kitchen an open door led into a small bathroom. It was cramped and in one corner stood a hot water heater. An old fashioned sink sat in another corner, a porcelain basin sitting upon a pedestal. The bathtub was the old style as well. It sat up on clawed legs and made me think of a cowboy in an old western relaxing after a day on the range with a cigar in his mouth and hat still on his head.
I returned to the kitchen and picked up my bags. I walked through the dining room and into a living room area. Here there was a real fireplace, a couch, a couple of chairs, an old TV with a VCR hooked up. I noticed there wasn’t a DVD or blu ray player. This didn’t surprise me. The TV sat in a homemade entertainment center, its top shelf lined with VCR tapes, mostly western movies and old shows. The bottom shelf held old fashioned board games for families to enjoy, checkers, parchesi, backgammon, even an old well worn Candyland. Looking out the living room window I could see the magnolia tree and beyond it the artist village and gravel road. It instantly made me weary from my travels. I sat my bags down on the couch and looked back towards the kitchen. The tour of the house could wait. I needed a bath and I needed it now.
It took me awhile to get used to the tub. After all, for the past several years all I had taken were showers. Life had been so hectic I was always in a rush, and I barely had time to stand still, let alone sit still in a bathtub. But here at Orchard House there was no shower. Just this big claw foot bathtub. I almost had to force myself to stay in the tub, draping my arms over the high sides, and letting the warmth take me away. There was a half empty bottle of Bubble bath, so in this rare moment I poured nearly a fourth of it under the hot running water. I have to admit that it was relaxing laying there in the luxurious warmth and bubbled splendor. I felt like I could nod right off. And that’s just what I did. Or at least I think I did.
A loud noise brought me up from my bathtub nap. It sounded like a slamming door, then something getting slung down hard on the kitchen floor. I heard a whistle. Not the sound of a kettle boiling or a train coming down the track, but the whistle that represents awe and exclamation when someone finds something beyond their expectations. Then the whistle turned into a happy sounding tune. I recognized it instantly. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Call me the breeze. It was at that point I finally realized someone else was in the house.
I climbed from the tub and threw my legs over the high sides, snatching a towel from a shelf on the wall. I bumped the sink as I wrapped it around my waist. I heard a low voice whisper, “Oh hell,” as I rushed out into the kitchen area. Standing between the dining room and the fireplace that separated it from the living room was a young woman. She had been looking at my luggage there on the couch and realizing she wasn’t alone. With my rush out of the bathroom she spun towards me. Surprise turned to shock, which quickly turned to embarrassment.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” she apologized. She put her hand to her mouth, then corrected herself and covered her eyes instead. I looked down quickly to make sure nothing was showing and clutched the towel tighter to me. “I’m sorry,” she repeated and turned her back to me.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
She dared a glance back at me. She took her hand and pushed a strand of long dark hair out of her eyes. “I just rented the place. I didn’t think anyone else was here. They didn’t say anything about other guests.”
“Well, I just rented it no more than half an hour ago. They must have a short memory.” I reached for the phone on the wall. The number to the fruit stand was posted beside it and I started dialing.
She turned to face me again. “What are you doing?”
“I’m calling them to find out what’s going on.” Then my towel fell off.
She let out a squeal and quickly turned away. “Maybe you should dress first,” she suggested with a nervous giggle. I don’t know who was more red – she, I, or the apples out in the orchard.
As a child I had a recurring nightmare. It’s the first day of school and I’m walking the halls. It’s nice to be there and I’m happy to be reunited with my friends after the summer and maybe meet a nice girl to boot. I’m alone in the hall lost in thought when the bell rings. The classrooms dispel their students and they come rushing out in the hallway to go to their next class, their lockers, or quite possibly the smoking block. As everyone is scurrying around me I suddenly realize I’m naked. And within seconds everyone else does too. They laugh and point and I’m so embarrassed I’m trying to find an empty classroom to escape to. That’s what it felt like with this stranger in Orchard House, and I, just like in the dream, ran for it. Dashing back into the bathroom I slammed the door behind me and began to hurriedly dress. Getting my pants and shirt back on I looked in the mirror. If I was trying to gain courage from my reflection it wasn’t happening. I took a deep breath and stepped back out into the kitchen to confront the woman. Unfortunately I didn’t know what to say. I never was much good with the ladies, and especially not ones who just showed up inside your house. It didn’t help matters that she was beautiful. She had long dark hair that framed a face that carried a slight trace of Native American heritage. She wasn’t dark skinned, but her high cheekbones and shape of her face gave it away. She had deep brown eyes and light freckles painted her face, which bore no trace of makeup. She was wearing long jeans, brown at the knees as if she spent most of her time on her knees in a garden, and a brightly colored t-shirt that happily exclaimed “I love nerds” on the front. For a moment I almost wished for a pocket protector and black framed glasses.
Finally finding my voice I asked her, “So what’s your name?”
She held out her hand. “I’m Summer.”
I took it and her hand shake was pretty firm. “Matthew.” I sighed and picked the phone off the wall again. “Well, let’s get this thing straightened out I suppose.” I dialed the number on the wall and it began to ring. I looked at the woman who had now sat down at the kitchen table to wait the outcome. She was watching me with her dark eyes, brown like the rich earth, and I had to look away because I wasn’t used to it. It’s not that I found her gaze intrusive, it’s just eye contact has always been an alien thing to me. When no one picked up the phone on the other end I dared to look at her again. She sadly smiled.
“Hey look, you were here first,” she said. Her duffle bags had been sitting in the kitchen floor and so she stood up reaching for them. Hefting one in each arm she started for the door. “I’ll just go back to the store and ask for my money back.”
I hung up the phone as she came around me and opened up the door. I didn’t know what to say.
“I’m sorry to have intruded, Mr. Matthew. I truly thought the place was empty.” She held out her hand and I took it. Her palm was now soft and warm and it made me realize her handshake earlier was the first time a woman had touched me since Ashley. Not a thing to be thinking of at all when this woman is walking out the door. But it was just a handshake after all. Business, not pleasure.
She stepped out on the back porch and went down the steps without looking back. She was proud. She wouldn’t show me a look of sympathy, nor regret. She wouldn’t look at me from beneath her dark locks, or stare at me from deep eyes to say she didn’t want to go. Instead, she disappeared around the corner of the house and I heard her fumble for her keys to open her car door. I stood there in the doorway, just staring out at the orchard. I had come here to be alone, to find what was next for me if anything. I didn’t want company; I just wanted my sad world to stop spinning enough to gather my thoughts.
The closing of her car door brought me out of my thoughts of aloneness. “Hell,” I muttered, and pushed open the screen door. I ran down the steps and around the corner. She had put the car in reverse and was getting ready to back down the long drive. I threw up my hand. “Hey wait!” I came around to her window. She was looking at me curiously.
“Did I forget something?” she asked.
“No, it’s not that. Look, the house is huge. It has rooms upstairs and downstairs. It should be enough space for us both to live in without running over top each other. If you don’t mind sharing the house with a stranger, I guess I don’t mind either.”
She seemed to think about it, staring down into her own lap silently before looking up at me. “I’ll tell you what. I have business here in the area. It may take me three days to finish up. Once it’s done I’ll get out of your hair. I won’t be a bother in the meantime.”
I smiled. “Neither will I. and I promise not to flash you anymore.”
She laughed. “Okay. Deal.”
I stepped back and let her get out the car. “You want ground floor or upstairs?” I asked.
She reached into her back seat to grab her duffel bags. “I’m used to apartment living. I’ll take upstairs if you don’t mind.”
“That’s fine, here let me help you.” I reached for one of her bags but she wouldn’t let me take it. Miss independence. “Well, I’m going to go and finish settling in. Just make yourself at home, Summer.” I left her to carry her bags as she wished and returned to the house. Back in the kitchen I had to ask myself what I was doing, staying in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with a woman who had to be twenty years my junior. In the city the neighbors would have been wagging their tongues for sure. I stepped into the bathroom and looked at the discarded towel in the floor. I had to laugh at my embarrassing moment upon meeting Summer. It was the stuff of sitcoms and comedy movies, not real life. It was also the kind of things you tell your kids when they grow up. Now where did that thought come from? Maybe once I had thought of children, but never more. One woman can kill everything for you.
I had taken my bath things out and set them on the sink before my bath. I looked down at a razor sitting on the edge. Picking it up I stared at it, wondering if I would ever be so brave to show Ashley just what she had done. I ran some warm water and sprayed shaving cream into my hands. Rubbing the cream on my face, I took the razor more firmly and shaved the three days growth off my face. I watched myself in the mirror with red rimmed eyes but I refused to cry.

I took the ground floor bedroom as I had said I would. It lay at the front of the house. One step out of the room and you would be out in the hallway. Another step and you’d be out the front door. A staircase descended to meet the ground floor here in the hallway. Following the hallway in the opposite direction and you would wind around a corner into the living room. From there it was just another right into the dining room and kitchen. It may have seemed something of a maze in this farmhouse, but it was perfect in making one feel that they weren’t sharing it with someone else. I could hear Summer upstairs, opening dresser doors and closets it sounded like. I set about putting my things up as well.
I set my luggage up on the bed, and looked around the room. While it was designed to look like home, it certainly didn’t look like any home I had ever lived in. The room was done up in blue. The bedspread was blue and white roses, and everything seemed to match it. On the bed the pillowcases were light blue. A lamp of the same color sat on a nightstand. Fake blue flowers sat on a dresser and were reflected in the mirror behind them. The valances above the windows were done in blue patchwork, and hanging on the wall was a framed reprint of ‘The Blue Boy’, the famous oil painting by Thomas Gainsborough. I thought it appropriate that I had set out on this road trip because of my blues, and now here I was in a room done completely in blue.
I opened my suitcases and went about putting my clothes away in the dresser. Might as well make it like home since I had paid for a week. I was happy to see a small desk in one corner with a blue stone paperweight on its top keeping in theme with the rest of the room. The desk looked perfect for writing on and so I unpacked all my writing gear into its empty drawers. Paper, pencils, pens, erasers, an electronic dictionary and thesaurus, as well as all my various notebooks filled with half finished writing on an array of subjects, all of which I had lost interest in. Also on this desk I set a framed photo of two people in happy times. They were standing outside a movie theater, its neon marquee declaring “FOX” in big capital letters. The man in the picture looked a lot like me though his smile was beaming much prouder than mine these days. On his arm was a beautiful woman, and she had her head leaning on his shoulder obviously so in love and happy to be standing there in front of The Fabulous Fox Theater in Atlanta. I remembered the picture well. It captured a moment in time that I would always associate with my idea of the perfect couple. I had been just a boy in those days but as I stood there taking their picture with a camera nearly as big as my face I knew I wanted to grow up to be just as happy in love as my parents.
A knock on the door frame brought me out of my reverie. I turned to see Summer leaning against the doorjamb. She had changed clothes. Now instead of brown kneed jeans she had switched to more comfortable capris, yet her t-shirt still declared her love of nerds. She had also switched from shoes to open toed sandals. A small denim purse was draped over her shoulder and she had pinned her hair back in a ponytail, much like I used to wear my hair when I had a head full of it.
“I think I’m going to Bedford for a food run. There’s nothing in the frig here. You want to come?”
In my current reflective mood I really just wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to be reminded of what it was like to go shopping with a companion, or even riding side by side down the road. I didn’t want to be reminded of all the little domestic things couples do. And even though Summer and I were never going to be a couple I still didn’t want a feeling that such a thing were even possible. With anyone.
“Sure, why not, “ I replied.
“Great!” she said. “Meet you at the car.” I heard her skip happily around the corner and I shook my head hoping she wouldn’t skip like that through the local Wal-Mart.

Summer’s car seemed to be nearly as old as she was. It was remarkably well taken care of and she informed me it was the only decent thing that came from an ex. I didn’t ask if she meant boyfriend or husband. None of my business. It was a nice car though. Pontiac Sunbird, complete with sunroof. Not the automatic kind of sunroof, but the ones where you had to slide it open by hand. It made me think of a little heard song from the early 90’s. ‘Power Windows’ by Billy Falcon. I nearly interviewed him once when I was a young intern for Southern Sound magazine. One of the many near interviews I had when I was training to be a failed music critic.
When I got in the car the music comparison changed. Summer wasn’t ‘Power Windows’. No, she was more ‘Life Is A Highway.’ As she started the car and the old rock song came blaring from both speakers I knew this was going to be one fast ride to Bedford.
“Love this song,” she said, as if to rationalize turning up the radio until the speakers started to vibrate and rumble. “But it can’t be the Rascall Flats one. Got to be the original. I hate covers.”
“Tom Cochrane,” I informed her. “Canadian. Used to be in the band Red Rider. “
She raised an eyebrow and pointed to her shirt. “Nerd,“ she grinned, but I wasn’t sure if she meant him or me. She seemed to know my thoughts. “I’m talking about you,” she said, and turned the volume up another notch as we spun out onto the gravel road.
We sped past the store, windows down, and neither of us thought to stop and complain about renting the house out to both of us. As if to send this point home she let out a whooping rebel yell out her side as we passed the Latino men working in the fields. In the city they might have looked at her as if she was crazy but here they just answered right back as we sped off down the road.
When we left the gravel for pavement she turned it up again. “Last notch,” she said, as if to be proud of blowing out her speakers. My thought at this was to wish she would turn it down a little; that it was much too high. But then I laughed. I was sounding like my parents had when I blared out Kiss or Led Zeppelin down in the basement when I was a teenager.
“Too loud?” she shouted.
“Nope,” I yelled back, and in a long suppressed act of rebellion I hung my head out the window and screamed “turn it up!”
By the time we reached the Wal-Mart in Bedford my voice was hoarse from our shouting duet out the car window, finally ending with a mad yelling version of the 70’s radio rock classic “I’m on Fire” by the Dwight Twilley band. I had that record back in ’75 when I was a kid, and it was very appropriate now because on this whole ride I felt just like one of those again. Wild, free, and definitely on fire.

“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything by Paul D. Aronson. 2014.”