Orchard House Part 45: Dressed For The Party

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 45: Dressed For The Party

Inside the house we fixed up some sandwiches and sat down at the kitchen island to eat. After taking a few bites, Summer set down her Turkey and Swiss and looked over at me. “How did he know where to find us?” she asked.

“What?”

“Earl. How did he know we were here?”

She made a good point. We didn’t tell him where we were staying that day we went to see him, so how did he know? My only guess was the fact this was a small community and people talk. As intrusive as it may sound, everybody knows everybody’s business, and in the case of two strangers loving all over the place, I’m sure news gets around. I conveyed this to Summer and she seemed to accept this.

“I don’t like it,“ she muttered. “I don’t mind being talk of the town, but I don’t like him waiting on our doorstep. The next person that does that I’m liable to slug them.”

I laughed and she gave me a look to say that she was serious, which made me laugh more. I could just see her now punching out a milkman or postal employee. When I said so, she couldn’t help but grin with an added, “Hope the girl scouts aren’t out selling cookies…”

After we finished up our sandwiches, Summer went up to her room to change. “A girl can’t be looking like she just got in from picking taters when she’s dancing.”

I stepped into my designated room to try to upgrade my jeans and t-shirt as well. Changing into dark khakis and a button up ruffled white shirt, I threw on the only thing I had that looked formal, a black dinner jacket that was missing half of its buttons. Why in the world I even packed such a thing I didn’t know. I guess it had sentimental feeling as it was the same jacket I had worn at my parent’s funeral. Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to wear it to a happy party afterwards, but I wanted to look halfway nice for my lady. I made sure the ruffled cuffs of my shirt hung out from the jacket sleeves and wondered what my brother would think of me now, dressing up to go out with a girl to a party. Ashley had always wanted to party, but I was never happy at those kinds of things. With her, I felt like a poor excuse for a wallflower, but here and now with Summer, I didn’t feel like a drab piece of the scenery. I was the focal point of the room, or at least of her vision. This proved to be true when I heard her go, “Wow, not bad,” in the doorway. I turned to her voice and soon lost mine.

She was wearing a dress that seemed like she had painted it on. A low cut V dominated the bodice, revealing the shapely swell of her breasts with just enough tease without being trashy. The dress hugged her hips before flowering out so her legs would have room to move. The hem stopped at just above the knee giving one a great view of her smooth legs down to the matching red shoes she wore. It didn’t matter that the shoes were chucks; she still looked elegant and beautiful. With very little makeup and just a light curl to her hair, her natural beauty came shining through so much I felt she would be the envy of both men and women alike tonight. I was in such awe of her, it took awhile for my voice to come back.

“Wow doesn’t quite describe you, but it’s all I got right now,” I said.

She spun around so that I could see the outfit fully. “You like?”

“I adore,” I replied. “I am the luckiest man that ever lived.”

She smiled and put her arms around my neck. “I’m the luckiest girl.”

She kissed me lightly on the lips and I tasted vanilla. “I am going to be so jealous every time someone looks at you,” I confessed.

“Mmmm, don’t be, though a girl does like to know her man wants her all to himself.”

“Oh I do. But I feel as I’m just a little under dressed.” I stepped back to admire her again. “You look amazing, Summer.”

“Thank you. You look very nice too. I love the ruffled shirt.”

I nervously tugged at the sleeve. “Yeah this was part of my…” I stopped. I couldn’t go dancing with her in a jacket missing half its buttons or even dark drab khakis I had worn so many times. This was a special occasion, a coming out party so to speak, our first day stepping out as lovers who were not afraid to say the words that went along with the feeling. Summer looked absolutely ravishing and tonight she would catch every man’s eye whether she intended to or not. Every guy would look at me and ask, what’s she doing with this clown? He can’t even dress properly. Every girl would be thinking, she could do better. This wouldn’t do at all.

“Give me a minute,” I said, and she gave me a strange look as I led her out in the hall. “I’ll be just a minute, okay?”

I closed the door on her worried face and went over to my closet, taking off the poor excuse of a jacket as I went. Flinging open the doors, I looked inside and pulled out the ensemble that would tell everyone I was more than worthy of Summer. Every man would feel underdressed, and every girl would be like wow, why can’t my man look that good tonight? I stared at the outfit on the hanger, wondering why I had even brought it along. It’s not like I thought I would ever need it. I don’t know why I never turned it back in. At the time I thought I needed a memento of just how messed up things had gotten. Now however, it seemed to be a reminder of what could be someday.

 

When I came out of the bedroom, Summer was pacing the hallway. She was all the way at the other end with her back to me, and when she turned at the sound of the opening door, she stopped. It only took a second for her face to light up and smile in a way that said she more than approved. She was now in awe of me, too.

“Now I’m underdressed,” she happily sighed.

I turned so she could see the full ensemble down to the black wingtip shoes.

“Wow, wow, and more wow,” she said, taking in my attire. “I feel like a construction worker getting ready to make catcalls as the sexy thing walks by.”

“It’s not too much?” I knew it was, but I didn’t care. People were going to know we were at the party tonight, over dressed and on fire. I straightened my tie and made sure my cuff links were fixed right. I picked a piece of lint off the red vest.

“I have to ask.” Summer said. “Is this your tux from the wedding?”

“Yeah,” I admitted. “I kind of failed to return it on time.”

“Man, that girl is so stupid. If I was her, I would fling myself off the nearest cliff for not wanting you.”

I smiled. “Well, she doesn’t matter now. You’re all that matters to me.”

She wrapped her arms around my waist. “Really?”

“I don’t want anyone but you, Summer. And I want you to want no one but me.”

“No worries there, boyfriend.” She put her lips to mine. “I love you so much,” she breathed. As her lips pressed fully upon my own, and I clutched her tightly to me, I found myself wishing we could just skip the party and dance alone in the comforts of Orchard House.
We watched from the safety of the living room window as all the people started arriving for the street party. The music hadn’t begun as of yet, but the road was lined with cars, and people filled the dirt road, mingling with friends and strangers alike. It was hard to believe there were so many people in this area, but I guess it was known among surrounding environs too, and so party goers were arriving from other towns. We could see vendors setting up, and the artist village was expanding to allow other craftsmen and women to set up their handmade wares. Not wanting to be the first at the party, we had purposely hung back, preferring to wait until the music began. We were already getting nervous jitters from the realization we were going to be majorly overdressed. So, we sat on the couch like two kids waiting for their ride to the prom. Finally, we heard the tuning of guitars as the band in the amphitheater prepared to let it rip. There was a whine of feedback and then the band kicked off things with a rousing burst of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “The House is a-rocking.”

I looked to Summer. “You ready for a party?”

Nervously she laughed. “I’m not sure.”

I leaned over and kissed her. “Now or never?”

She grinned and stood up, straightening her dress. “Now.”

“Let’s do it, before I chicken out.” I got up to join her. “Hope you don’t expect me to dance.”

She grabbed my hand. “I sure do.”

“Great,” I mumbled as she pulled me out the door to head down the hill.

Part 46: Street Party

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

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In The Comfort Of Gathering Storms

We watched the gathering storms

From the safety of a bed of no pain

As the clouds moved across a darkening sky

We smiled at the coming rain
Reggae music wafted high in the air

Marley singing “No woman no cry”

And we fell in love all over again

In the blinking of a lover’s eye
I touched her bare caramel skin

her rain kissed lips touched my own

And in the comfort of the gathering storms

We made love our only home

Orchard House Part 44: The Invitation

Note: If you have been following along this far, then you might like to know we have made it to page 150 in the original manuscript. Wow, what a nice journey this is for me, bringing you along as the tale unfolds. We now have less than 100 pages to go, and I’m already preparing the next daily serial, so a big thank you to all those who are reading this novel with me. I’m just as much as a reader as you are 🙂

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 44: The Invitation

It may be a hard thing for some to understand but telling someone you love them is not always an easy thing to do. In today’s society we take for granted we are loved, sometimes assuming the person we are with loves us without ever hearing it. Such it was so with Ashley. I had spent all that time with her, never hearing her say in an honest word that she loved me. Looking back, in all the times she said it, it was to get something material she wanted, or just to get her way in a discussion. Love is used far more than it is given. But with Summer it was different. The moment she spoke “I love you too” in the church, I knew without question she spoke the honest truth. She loved me in a way that said she demanded nothing from me and expected only my heart. It may sound odd, but in all the times we had kissed or made love, neither of us had made a statement for the other. Maybe we assumed the other knew it. Perhaps we believed if we uttered those words there would be no going back to the way life was as solitary individuals. Maybe fear of rejection or of being greeted with silence instead of like-minded feelings was enough to keep our true feelings to ourselves. No matter the reason, in all our intimacies we had failed to admit the most important things to each other and ourselves – that we were in love. After we both confessed our love, once that leap was taken, it was as if a weight had been lifted from us; a new liberation of the heart had been found. And while it made no further promise beyond loving each other, somehow we knew this was no fleeting thing, this was permanence in the process; that to continue would mean someday a choice would need to be made on how far we were willing to go with this. But right now, as we walked down the road, it was enough to know that maybe for the first time in my life I was honestly loved by another. And this put a new vibrant step in my walk; this had already changed me. The man who had reached the end of his road was now the man who had come to live a life much fuller than he ever could have imagined. Down the road we went, passing by cars and people preparing for the coming festivities of the street party, and I could think of no better occasion to celebrate than this. We smiled at each other as we walked into the country store for sodas. I went to the cooler for root beer and crème soda while Summer sought out Helen who had just handed a young couple a basket so they could go out in the orchard and pick their own apples. When I reached the two women, Helen was grinning ear to ear. Summer turned to me with a sweet beaming smile.

“I told her,” she said.

I feigned ignorance. “Told her what?”

Helen put her hands on her hips. “She told me what I knew all along but you was too pigheaded to admit.”

“Pig head, that’s me.”

“A cute pig head,” Summer cooed. I must have turned a couple shades of red because both women laughed so loud everyone in the store glanced over to see what was going on, which only added to my embarrassment. I think sometimes women enjoy putting their men through moments like this. To be honest though, I don’t mind.

“So, is the happy couple going to do some dancing in the street tonight?” Helen asked.

“Oh we’ll be there,” I told her. “Not sure about the dancing in front of everybody, but yeah.”

“Dancing ain’t hard, son. Once you realize it’s just you and her alone in the world, you’ll be swaying all over that orchard.”

I wanted to tell her I thought we’d already done our share of swaying in the orchard, but some confessions are best kept between two people, so I just smiled and replied, “We’ll try that then.”

Summer and I left Helen to wait on other customers and went up to the counter to pay for our drinks. Raymond was behind the register and his face lit up too upon seeing us. We made small talk about the house and how we were going to miss it come Tuesday morning. He made us look at the bright side with a knowing smile.

“You still got a couple days to enjoy it. No sense in getting sad about it now. I’m sure Orchard House still has some treats and surprises in store for such a happy couple.” He gave us a nod and wink as I paid for the drinks. I got the impression he had seen the old house work miracles and emotional magic for many couples before us.

If things had seemed different for us as a couple after making love for the first time, then things seemed different with the world after admitting we loved one another. Walking out of the country store and stepping back onto the road, it seemed like a different place. People we passed by looked at us and smiled as if they knew exactly what we felt. There must be certain glow among those in love that shines outward for everyone to see. If that was the case, everyone we saw should have been blinded.

Walking down the road and turning into our drive, we saw a group of young men, some of them the migrant workers from the field, setting up the stage for evening’s show. Lugging generators up the embankment, they set up lights that would illuminate the area when the sun went down and the party went up. We looked at each other in anticipation, wanting to be around other people so we could infect them with our brand of joy. We were so high in our own love it was as if nothing could bring us down, until we saw the pickup truck at the top of the drive. A man sat on our front porch as if he had been waiting for us. As we topped the hill he got up. It was apparent he had been waiting there awhile, petting Orchard House’s resident watchdog.

Jackson came running to us, his tail wagging. I reached down and petted him briefly as the man stepped slowly towards us. He walked as if he were unsure whether he should be here, and when he saw the cloud cross Summer’s face and wipe her smile completely away, Earl stopped and stared at the ground.

“What are you doing here?” Summer asked.

“I wanted to see you,” he said.

“Why? It never occurred to you before.”

He took her verbal punch on the chin and I almost admired him for taking a chance in coming here. “I felt like we got off on the wrong foot,” he explained.

“That’s an understatement.”

He put his hands in his pockets, unsure on how to proceed. “I would like to make up for that.”

“And just how do you propose that? You going to make up for all the years you pretended not to have a daughter, too?”

He hung his head. “No, I can’t make up for that. All I can do anything about is today. That’s all I have. I can’t go back. I can’t see the future. But I can do something about today.”

“And what are you going to do?”

“Look…Summer…I am not a perfect man any more than you have grown into a perfect woman. We are flawed. You and me both, and your fellow there, too. We all have made mistakes in our lives I’m sure. We can’t go back and change those things. All we can do is learn from them. And if what you have learned is that you hate me, that’s okay. If you can’t forgive me for abandoning you and your mother, I don’t blame you. But before you make the final judgment about me I wish you would just give me a chance to explain a few things.”

“Okay. Explain.”

“Not here. This house is too special for that. Please come to mine.”

Summer hesitated and turned to look at me. I gave her a reassuring smile. She turned back to the man who had helped bring her into the world. “Why your house?” she asked.

“There’s some things I want to show you. It’s best you see for yourself I think. If you and your man here would like to come to dinner tomorrow I would love to have you.”

Again she looked to me for reassurance and I nodded, letting her know I was with her whatever path she chose to take.

“Okay, we’ll come.”

“Good. I’ll expect you around one. Is that okay?”

“That will be fine.”

“Good.” He walked over to his truck and opened the driver’s side door.

“Earl,” Summer said. “I’m not making any promises to you. I don’t see how this will change anything between us. You can’t take away the fact that you left us. Not ever.”

“I know,” he said. “That’s my devil to live with, but I don’t want you to live with yours. So please just come.” He got in the truck and started it up. Taking one last look at us he backed down the drive and onto the road.

Summer looked at me. “Well, Raymond was right. Orchard House still has some surprises in store for us.”

Part 45: Dressed For The Party
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.

Orchard House Part 43: Church Confession

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 43: Church Confession

I looked up and saw Summer coming down the aisle towards me. She wasn’t in a wedding gown, but she didn’t need to be. She was just as beautiful as any bride could wish to be. She wasn’t coming towards me as my wife to be, but as someone I loved. Yes, I knew in that moment, seeing her walk towards me, concern on her face, longing in her eyes, and my name wordlessly on her lips, that I loved her more than anything under all the heavens. “Are you okay?” she asked, stepping up to me, worry on her face.

“You know, I was going to get married in a church like this. Had a great big foolish idea of how wonderful it would be to see my bride coming down the aisle towards me.”

She moved to me and gave me a hug. “I’m sorry, Matthew. I know it must be hard to forget.”

“It is. No matter how I feel about her now, it keeps coming back to haunt me.”

Still hugging me, she asked, “What can I do to help?”

I gently pulled away from her. “Tell me why she left me standing there waiting.”

She took a breath and seemed to be pondering how to answer. “Perhaps she was terrified of belonging to someone else. Perhaps she was scared of how life would change for her or her new responsibilities to a spouse.”

I nodded, turning it over in my head.

“It could be she didn’t feel as deeply as you,” she continued. “Sometimes there is one that loves more than the other. It shouldn’t be that way, but it happens. Or it could be she’d been playing at love and not really feeling it, and when the time came to prove it, she could not.”

I didn’t know what to say. All these things Summer was telling me could have been right.

“Or maybe she just wasn’t the right bride,” she said.

I looked up. “Are you suggesting something?”

“Are you?” she countered.

For a moment I didn’t know how to answer that. I sat down on the edge of the raised podium that served as the church’s altar. “”Summer…I have something I have been trying to confess ever since…well, just ever since.”

“Okay,” she replied nervously.

I patted the spot next to me. “Please sit down.”

. She sat down next to me and folded her hands in her lap.

“When I came here to this area, to Orchard House, I didn’t know what was next for me. I had failed as a writer, a music critic, and a groom. I felt so worthless, unimportant, unwanted. You name it. All the negative things a person could pick to describe themselves, I was feeling it. For me Orchard House was…the end of the road, so to speak. I certainly didn’t expect to meet anyone here. In fact, I never thought I would meet anyone anywhere after Ashley, and as a result I have spent every minute here with you just waiting for the great big disappointment to come.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re too good to be true, Summer. Things don’t happen like this to me. A beautiful girl with happiness on her shoulder doesn’t come waltzing into my life just when I’m feeling like there is no sunshine left. And yet you did.” I took a deep breath. “I didn’t believe in much when I arrived here, and now miraculously, because of you, I believe in everything. I believe a man doesn’t have to wallow in self-pity. I believe a woman doesn’t need a father’s love in order to gain a man’s love. I believe Orchard House is a magical, eye opening, heart convincing place. I believe everything comes to everybody in its own time. I believe I can’t bear the thought of you leaving. I believe…no, I know…that I love you more than I have ever loved before, more than I believed it was possible for me to love, and I can’t go another day unless I know that you are mine.”

She unfolded her hands and reached for my own. “Look at me, Matthew.” She took my hands and compelled me to look in her eyes, those beautiful brown eyes. “I have always been yours,” she said.

“Summer, you had me at, they call me the breeze.”

She smiled and it lit up her whole face. “Matthew, the first day I met you, I knew you were something special. And I think you thought the same of me because you didn’t let me leave, even though we were both embarrassed as hell about the mix up.”

“And the towel thing,” I added.

She laughed. “And the towel thing. But the truth is we both knew there was something about the other. Something that neither of us wanted to let go. And as I grew closer to you, I tried to tell myself this was just another crush and any minute now it would be over. You would be like all the rest since my father, and leave. Instead you begged me to stay. That’s when I knew I was falling.”

“When you asked me what happened with Ashley, I thought at first you just wanted the dirt. To hear something dramatic that happened to someone else. But then I realized that wasn’t your reason. You wanted to know because you cared about me. You wanted to know what had crushed and broken me so. And in the beginning I said to myself why? You can’t heal me, I’m too broken. But I was wrong. You did heal me. And more than that, you put me back together better than I was in the first place. And once that happened, once we danced on the edge of the orchard to ‘still got the blues’ I knew I was never going to feel blue again..and more than that…Oh Summer…I…I love you. I love you so much I can’t bear the thought of you ever…”

She let go of my hands and nearly leapt onto my lap, wrapping her arms about me, her lips meeting mine in a way she had never kissed me before. We had shared plenty intimate moments in our days together here, and many times her lips had hungered for my own, but not like this. This was a kiss that revealed every longing of her heart, every happiness she had ever wished for. And when our lips parted she told me exactly what the kiss already had. “I love you too, Matthew.”

We embraced again, this time getting to our feet so we could wrap our arms around each other tighter. I tried to tell her I loved her again, but her lips opened against mine, shutting out any words that may have come. But that was okay, because words were no longer necessary in this moment, only the desire and longing, the love and affection, the heart of everything pounding within us so much it threatened to explode into the world for everyone to know that this kind of joy was…

“Didn’t I tell you to remember you are in church?”

Startled, we came out of our embrace like kids pulling their hands out of the cookie jar Mama told them to stay out of. Florence stood there with a mock scolding look. We couldn’t help but giggle.

. “Sorry about that,” I said. “Guess I got carried away. I’m crazy happy, because I confessed to this beautiful woman that I love her.”

“Well, it’s about time, fella. I knew it when you came through the door.”

When we left the church, it had stopped raining. The sun was out and shining again as if it was a brand new day. For me I felt like it was. With Summer holding my hand, I stepped off the porch and went down the steps of the church. Florence stood in the doorway smiling at us, as if she had helped us in some way. Perhaps she had. If she hadn’t let us in out of the rain, if I hadn’t stood in that church looking down that aisle at Summer walking towards me, I may not have been able to confess how much I loved her. Funny, how things work out like that. It’s like here everyone we have met have provided tiny pieces of the puzzle that make up Summer and I. It made me wonder what piece would come next, but then I looked out at the sea of cars that were now starting to line the road.

“You lovebirds better hurry. Pretty soon you won’t even be able to walk up and down the road.”

We smiled at Florence and gave her a little wave. “See you tonight,” Summer told her, and we walked back out to the road, hoping we could get back to the house before the street party began.

Part 44: The Invitation

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

Orchard House Part 42: Florence

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 42: Florence

We almost fell through the doorway. If a woman hadn’t been standing there, we would have tripped over our feet and been sprawled on the foyer floor. As it was, we were embarrassed anyway. The woman smiled. She was about forty years old and was dressed in loose jeans and a dark blouse. Her autumn red hair was tied in a bun on the back of her head and she wore little makeup so one could see that she was aging normally and proud of it. “You folks can come in and get out of the rain if you want,” she said with a knowing smile. “I’m just finishing up some cleaning left over from the wedding.” She moved out of the doorway so we could step through.

“Thank you,” I said, not looking directly in her eyes. I think a part of me was a bit self-conscious of the flush that kissing Summer had brought to my cheeks.

Summer, a little flushed herself, smiled graciously at the woman and tried to explain what we were doing on the front porch. “We got caught out in the storm; we don’t mean to be a bother.”

“Oh, it’s no bother. I’ll be here about another hour, so that should give enough time for you to dry off.” She looked past us to the sky outside. “I don’t think it’s a storm though, just a little summer shower. We get them a lot around here. Come on, I’ll get you some towels and you can sit in the sanctuary while I finish up.”

She led us into the body of the church. We passed through a double doorway and into the sanctuary. This large room took up most of the building, dominated by rows upon rows of worn wooden pews, separated by a long aisle carpeted crimson red that led to an altar down front. On the altar was a large wooden podium in front of a choir loft that would seat about thirty. On the wall behind the loft were brass effigies of three crosses, the center one much larger than the others and lifted higher so as to draw attention to the words “He has risen” on its brass crossties.

“Please, sit where you like. I’ll be right back.”

We sat down on the end of the closest pew and watched her leave. Once gone, we turned to each other and smiled. I kissed her forehead, not sure if it would be appropriate to kiss her lips in the sanctity of a church. I could see us getting removed for such behavior in some churches and I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to take the chance in this one.

“Well, I guess that puts a little damper on the street party,” Summer said.

“I don’t know. Maybe she’s right and the rain will pass in time.”

“You talking about the party tonight down by Orchard House?” the woman asked, returning with two towels and handing them to us. “They’ll have that thing come rain or shine. We prefer shine though.”

“You going?” I asked.

“Yeah, I better. My daughter’s boyfriend is in the band, but I still got to keep an eye on them. Kids will get frisky anywhere if you let ‘em.”

I felt like telling her not just kids, but thought I better keep my mouth shut. Instead, I dried my hair with the towel she had given me.

“I’m Florence, by the way,” the woman said.

Summer smiled at her. “I’m Summer.”

I looked up from under my towel. “Matthew.”

“I don’t recall seeing you around,“ the woman said. “You just move in or are you here for the Apple Festival?”

“Neither really,” I replied. “We are staying up at Orchard House. Just passing through.”

She smiled. “Well, you know you can’t just pass through. That’s not allowed. If you have been here longer than five days we consider you neighbors.”

“Well, it’s day five, so I guess we’re neighbors.”

The woman smiled again and this time it lit up her whole face. “Well howdy there, neighbors.” She shook both our hands as if she were the welcoming committee for the community. “You’ll find we’re friendly around here. If you’re from the city, we may have to hospitalize you from the shock.”

“Yes, it’s very nice here. We love it.”

“I’m from the city myself, married a good old boy who broke down out front of my mama’s. I didn’t know it then, but found out later he was the only boy for me, and right here is the home I was missing. Now you couldn’t drag me away from here with a hundred Chippendale’s dancers.”

We laughed at her comment. I could almost imagine her fighting off hordes of male dancers with her broom. She was right though; people around here were friendly. We hadn’t met a person here who was hard to take, with the possible exception of the river tubing guy. It didn’t take a degree in psychology to figure he was trying to put the make on my girl that day. My girl. A week ago it would have been hard to imagine referring to any woman like that again. But here I was already claiming Summer as my own after just a few days. I guess sometimes that’s all it takes. I wasn’t sure I believed in love at first sight, but I was pretty convinced in love at few days.

“Well, I’m going leave you two alone while I go finish up in the kitchen.” She started heading down the aisle towards the back wall where I noticed there was another door. She turned around to us and said with a wink, “Just keep in mind you’re in church now.”

We laughed, but for a moment I wondered if she had seen us out there in the road in the rain. Summer must have had the same thought because she gave me this slightly embarrassed look. The cleaning woman made her exit, and while Summer finished drying her hair I got up and took a look around. I meandered down the aisle towards the altar.

It was a beautiful country church. In every window there was a candle, though at the moment they were unlit. The pews had a small brass plate attached to their back, and as I leaned down to see why I discovered the names of people were etched into the brass, all marked with ‘in memory of’ or ‘dedicated to.’ Moving down the aisle, I faced the altar which held offering plates sitting on a runner the same color as the carpet. I turned away from the altar to face the open sanctuary. Summer was still seated at the back drying off, but I was staring at the empty aisle and thinking of another one just like this. On another Saturday afternoon not long ago, I had stood waiting at an altar for a woman who never showed. I had stood on a similar spot waiting in anticipation for when my bride would enter in and start her way down the aisle towards me and our life together. I remembered how the minutes had stretched out until the smile had slowly left my face, replaced by worry and an anxiousness that no one can know unless they had been in my shoes. That day the thought of seeing a happy blushing bride taking her steps towards me was replaced by a completely empty feeling, a black void of realizing you are not good enough, you are unloved, you are a failure.

Now standing in this church, I bowed my head and shut my eyes tight, wishing the tears not to come. Even though I had reconciled any left-over feelings I had for Ashley, and indeed had found a new happiness with Summer, there was still hurt and pain from what had happened that fateful day. There is no way it could not hurt. Something like that stays with you no matter how you pray for it to leave you alone.

Part 43: Church Confession

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

Orchard House Part 41: Caught In The Rain

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 41: Caught In The Rain

Walking back to Orchard House with Summer by my side, I felt changed somehow by our visit with Hope and Gunboats. And it wasn’t just me. I felt that Summer was also affected by the visit, as if she and Hope had a similar conversation as the one between Gunboats and I. Summer must have been thinking the same thing as she squeezed my hand.“So what did you good old boys talk about?”

“Not a lot,” I replied. “We talked about the story. He seemed to think I should write about us instead.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I mean, I guess he gave me permission to write about them, but the more I think about it I wonder if that story is best left to them alone. It’s a personal private thing that changed their whole lives. But then again, maybe their life can be inspiring to someone else. Oh heck, I don’t know what to do.”

She smiled and nodded her head as if she found my indecision humorous. “Hope seemed to think the story should be about us, too.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah, but she said something strange. She said something like, while our men are out there fighting wars; we women fight our own here closer to home. She said it took the war to make her realize she loved Gunboats more than anything.”

“I think he realized the same about her.” I told Summer about his experience in the ditches of war torn France and how he gave the ring to his buddy to give to Hope. I left out his thoughts about dying. I didn’t want to depress her with images of wounded soldiers sprawled in the mud awaiting death’s hand and wanting more than anything to see their loved one’s face before they left this earth.

“So his buddy brought the ring back and then Gunboats showed up alive a little afterwards?”

“I’m assuming that’s what happened. He never really said.”

“I bet Hope felt devastated seeing the ring brought back by someone else. To think your lover is dead would be the most horrible thing. “

“Yeah,” I agreed. It was a depressing thought and made me wonder what life would be like when Summer was gone and on her way back to Baltimore or wherever she came from. That in itself would be like dying to me. She must have known I was thinking deep lonely thoughts because she reached for my hand and pulled me close as we walked across the orchard towards the place we had come to call home. She pulled my arm around her shoulder forcing me to walk so close to her side it was as if we were conjoined at the hip.

“You are thinking bad thoughts, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I replied, knowing there was no point in trying to hide it.

“Well, you shouldn’t. It’s a beautiful day. Tonight there’s a street party and I’m sure that in the house afterwards there’s a nice comfy bed with both our names on it.”

I smiled. After all, how could I not? Summer was infectious.Her upbeat demeanor was always there to lift me up. I couldn’t feel down for long when she was around, but that was just it. When she was gone, I would be in danger of falling to pieces. Being next to her was the most important and fulfilling thing I would ever experience.

“Yes I know,” I finally said, squeezing her shoulder. Flashing the best smile I could muster, I kissed her cheek, to which she then turned her head so I could kiss her lips instead. “I don’t really feel like going back to the house just yet. Would you like to take a walk with me, Miss Summer?”

She giggled at my feigned formality. “Why certainly, Sir Matthew. I would love to walk with you. Where pray tell are we venturing to on this lovely Saturday afternoon un-chaperoned?”

“Why, Miss Summer, chaperones would just spoil the adventure. I was thinking of just walking down a country road and seeing where the sojourn may take us.”

“Sounds absolutely lovely,” she replied in a perfectly pronounced voice as if she were a cultured southern belle on her way to the debutante ball. “Lead on, kind sir.”

We walked to the edge of the orchard and beyond the house, down the gravel driveway towards the Artist Village and the dirt road it sat by. Along the drive we passed by the grape vines on our left and the big magnolia tree that sat out front of the house on our right. The smell of both tree and vine seemed to waft on the air and assail my senses. If I were to write down a list of top ten scents, right below the number one spot occupied by my companion, you would find magnolia, honeysuckle, and all the other outdoor scents I had discovered during my time at Orchard House.

Going down the hill towards the road, we also passed by the small amphitheater benches and stage where they would set up for the street party this evening. It was hard to imagine this place overrun with people singing and dancing in the field and road, and I said as much to Summer.

“Wonder if they will play our song?” she asked.

I remembered us swaying to blues music at the orchard’s edge. Again, on a list of top ten things, that evening would definitely be close to the top. “I think it’s probably a different band this time.”

“We can still request it,” she replied with a wink. “Before we go running naked into the orchard again.”

I laughed. “I’m sure that would go over well with the crowd.”

We got to the bottom of the drive and I steered her to the left, away from the artist village, where several of the locals sat selling their creativity. We gave a casual wave to the artists there and walked up the dirt road, the orchard on our left and the creek on our right. Within minutes we were around the bend and passing by the country store, which was still packed with people enjoying the Apple festival. We walked on, hand in hand down the long stretch of road, my arm around the most wonderful woman I’d ever met. She lay her pretty head against my shoulder, the scent of her hair blending beautiful with that of the apple trees we quietly passed.

“I used to daydream of walking down a road like this,” I admitted.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. Sitting in the city, looking out my window at all the busyness, just wishing to be somewhere else. I would wish I was walking down a country road surrounded by mountains instead of traffic and tall buildings…in the rain no less.”

She looked up. “Looks like you might get your wish.”

Following her gaze, I peered skyward and smiled. Dark clouds seemed to be gathering.

“Still, this is peaceful,“ she said. “When I was a kid it was like this. Nothing to do but play in the fields and splash around in the creek. When mom moved us to the suburbs, it was a strange experience. After a while I kind of forgot this way of life, but I do miss it.”

“Yes, who would have thought something as simple as this could be so….beautiful.”

“People don’t know what they are missing.”

“No, they don’t.”

“After we moved, I realized that running through the rain in the city is nothing like it was in the country.”

As if the skies had heard her, I felt a couple sprinkles on my head and looked up. The dark clouds had opened up and it was starting to drizzle. Summer smiled, a couple drops splashing upon her face.

“It’s wish time,” she said with a tiny laugh.

The sprinkling of rain started building and it fell faster around us. At this rate, it would soon be a shower. I stopped walking and swept Summer against me. I planted a kiss on her upturned face, the rain coming down on us, the country road slowly getting muddy beneath our feet. Her lips were wet and warm against mine, her arms encircling me in an embrace that was like something out of a Hollywood movie. And as cliché as all that sounds, what I felt in this moment could never be captured on a movie screen, unless there was a way to film the emotional contents of one’s heart. There is no way to properly describe the warmth of love as it washes over you, as if it were the rain itself washing away all the insecurities that had built up over time. With Summer against me, her lips pleasantly parting to welcome my kiss, the rain falling upon us much harder now, it was like we were standing alone, the last two people in the world clinging to each other as if it were all that was left. In truth, it was just that. When you took away all the worries and negativity, the uncertainties and fears, all that is left is love, finally free to wash over you like a summer shower cleanses the air and ground upon which it falls. But eventually,even a shower can get to be too much, and so we pulled back from our embrace, now realizing we were getting soaked. We both looked around, our eyes seeking shelter. We could run back down the muddy road to the store, but the little white church was closer, so with a grin we both ran for its safety, hopelessly trying not to stomp through puddles on our way to sanctuary.

Bounding up the steps and crouching underneath the small awning that protected the porch, we huddled against each other, squeezing into the tiny dry space, laughing all the while. If one could see us out there, they would have thought we were a pair of giggling teenagers, happy in their first crush and daring the rain to spoil their happiness. If one could see the look upon our faces, they would have seen we had not only taken a step out in the rain today, but had taken a step further as individuals, and indeed a couple. Today I felt so close to being completely healed. And then the door of the church opened behind us…

Part 42: Florence

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

Hushed Whispers 

Hushed whispers in the corner store

“Be quiet, here she comes”

A girl walks through the door

Pregnant and young.
She braces herself for the silence

That’s always in the air

Rumors are worse than violence

When people stop and stare.
Life here in such a small town

Everyone knows everyone

The gossip can wear you down

With talk about what you’ve done.
She’s been made to feel ashamed

Ever since she began to show

“I wonder who the father is?”

“I bet she doesn’t know”
She fights back the rising tears

And forces them not to fall

Harsh critics were once friends

Who used to visit often and call.
Everyone has their pride to hold

She tries to hold hers up high

Though the world’s ugly and cruel

Beauty she nurtures inside.
Hushed whispers in the corner store

“Be quiet, here she comes”

A girl walks through the door

Just the same as everyone.
Poem by Paul D Aronson. 

Photographer unknown. 

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