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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 20: Crazy As Me

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 20: Crazy As Me

The morning sun coming through the window was what woke me. Or perhaps it was the smell of fresh coffee, or the fact I felt like I had slept in my clothes. I opened my eyes and discovered I was laying on the couch, a blanket pulled over me. Summer must have put it on me sometime during the night before she herself had retired to her room to sleep. I pushed the blanket off me and sat up. My clothes were nearly sticking to my skin. I needed a shower. I got up, stretched, and walked into the kitchen where I saw a coffee cup sitting out on the island half full. Summer was nowhere to be seen. I got out another cup and poured myself some of the morning java. After applying sugar and creamer I took a sip, marveling at how good it was. I myself made terrible coffee and so rarely drank it. I saw a movement out the corner of my eye, and through the back door I could see Summer standing on the porch, leaning against a railing and smoking a cigarette. I decided to take the opportunity to grab some clean clothes and get a bath in. In my bedroom, I grabbed some casual wear. Blue jeans and a black t-shirt, my favorite attire. I checked my phone and saw that I had missed a call. There was no voice mail, just an unfamiliar number in the call log. I grabbed the clothes and headed back around to the kitchen. Summer was now sitting at the dining room table, a piece of paper set out before her. I recognized it as being the list of names from the day before. Before she noticed me, I saw she had heavily underlined the last remaining one on the list.

“Oh hey,” she said, looking up. “Good morning.” She gave me a warm smile. “I see you found the coffee.”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Sorry I left you sleeping on the couch, but I didn’t want to try and drag you across the floor to your bedroom.”

“You could have carried me,” I joked.

“Oh no, the guy is supposed to carry the girl. That’s the way it works.”

“I’m on holiday.”

She laughed. “I can see that.”

“Hey look, if we have time can I get a bath in? I feel like I slept in my clothes.”

“You did sleep in your clothes. Go ahead though, we got time.”

I nodded and headed for the bathroom. I closed the door behind me and was getting ready to run the hot water when I heard her call out, “Hey I’m going to find us some morning music.”

Soon, I heard the little kitchen radio blaring Alison Krauss and Union Station from its tiny speakers. Crazy As Me. I imagined that’s how she was feeling this morning. I was a bit nervous, too. I mean, here I was going to go with her to find her dad, a man she hadn’t seen since she was a little girl, and who most likely didn’t want to see her. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this escapade. But Summer needed me. She wanted me with her today, so I would give it my best and hope for a good outcome.

The bath felt good. I made myself a mental note not to walk out just wearing a towel like last time. I sunk down in the bath and tried to relax, but it wasn’t happening. I kept imagining Summer’s dad and his possible reaction to us on his doorstep. Unable to let my mind rest, I went ahead and bathed quickly, so we could get this over with.

She was waiting for me when I came into the kitchen dressed in my jeans and t-shirt. She smiled. “You look nice.”

She could have been talking about herself, because in the time I’d been in the bath she had changed clothes, too. In ladies slacks and a floral patterned blouse, she looked like a typical city girl on her way to an interview.

“You look nice, too,” I said.

“I look nervous, you mean.”

“Yeah, a little,” I had to admit.

“Thanks for agreeing to go with me today.”

I smiled. “Hey, you’d do the same for me.”

“Yeah I would.” She let out a long heavy sigh. “Well, you better get on some shoes, so we can go.”

I nodded and fetched my shoes from the bedroom. “We taking my car or yours?” I yelled from the hallway.

“Mine,” she called back. I was fine with that. It would make her look more independent and in charge, and I wouldn’t seem like a chauffeur or bodyguard.

In the bedroom I grabbed my cellphone, shoving it down in my pocket. You never knew when it would come in handy, though depending how far we had to go out in the sticks, I might not even be able to get a signal. I put on my shoes and looked at my face in the dresser mirror. For a moment, I thought I saw some new lines under my eyes. Maybe it was just the awkward sleep I had been getting lately. I hated the feeling of getting old, or at the very least, older. Perhaps that was one reason I was drawn to Summer so much. Her youth was infectious, and around her I was starting to feel like a teenager, sometimes a very giddy one.

Returning to the kitchen, I found Summer waiting, clutching her paper of names. She handed it to me. I saw there were now five names on the list. Four of them still had the notations I saw the other day: NOT HIM. But the last name was underlined: Earl Cash.

“I think he changed his name,” she said. “I have checked into all the Earl’s in this area. My mother had a letter in her things after she died. It was from the year before, no envelope. She must have thrown it away. But the letter was from him. It didn’t say much, just mentioned the county he was living in now and how she would love it there. I still don’t know why he wrote her. It just seemed to be , ‘hey, here’s how am I doing.’ There was no apology, explanation, or anything.” Summer opened the back door and stood on the threshold, staring out at the orchard. “I think I remember when she got the letter. I only saw my mom drink once in my life. That was last year. I’d be willing to bet it was the letter that did it.”

“Are you sure you are ready for this?” I asked her.

“Ready as I’m ever going to be, I reckon. If I don’t do this now, I’ll never get on with my life. I’ll be forever trapped in relationships with men who are the image of my father, just so I can recapture what I never had.” She looked at me. “Does that make sense?”

“Yes, it does. I knew a girl once who kept marrying men who beat her. It was all she knew, I guess. That’s all she saw her dad do and figured it was normal for all men.”

“I just want to get past this, Matthew. I want my answers and to say what I want to say, and then be done with it.”

I came up behind her in the doorway. She turned to me and looked up in my face. “A hug for good luck?” she asked.

I didn’t say anything. I just put my arms around her and she nestled her head against my chest. She wrapped her arms around me too, giving me a little squeeze. “I can feel your heartbeat,“ she said. “It’s racing like mine.”

“For different reasons though,” I replied, letting her go. She looked at me, a puzzled look on her face, as if she were trying to figure out what I meant.

“Come on, we better go. This last Earl doesn’t live far from here. I wrote the address on the back of that paper.”

I had put the paper in my pocket, but now I pulled it back out and flipped it over. Sure enough, an address was there; a rural route number with a description of the house, followed by general directions and a few landmarks. I followed Summer out the door and into the morning sun. Locking the door behind us, we went down the steps and around the gravel drive to her car. I noticed there were several work trucks out in the orchard. The Latinos were getting an early start on things, and as we got in her car, I noticed a few had stopped working to look at us. I thought to wave, but by then they had gone back to work.

Part 21: Goodbye Earl

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

Orchard House Part 19: What About Dad?

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 19: What About Dad?

What are you going to do about your dad?” I asked.

The question threw her off. If Ashley was the thing that robbed me of hope and caused me to believe there was nothing else out there, I think Summer’s father had done similar things to her soul.

“I think I have it narrowed down to where he lives now. I’m going there in the morning. Hopefully he’ll be home. I’m scared though. I don’t even know what he looks like other than old snapshots from our family album. I mean, what am I supposed to say? Part of me wants to smack him right in the face and the other wants to hug him. Is that weird or what?”

“No, it’s not weird. It’s okay to have mixed emotions about things. I have them, too.”

She turned all the way to face me and drew her legs up to her, so her chin was resting on her knees. “All my life I have wanted to know things. Didn’t he love us? Why did he leave? Why did he never write, or call, or attempt to even remember me on my birthday?”

I could see the tears welling up in her eyes. I reached over and put my hand on her foot, just trying to make some kind of contact to reassure her I was there for her, and it was okay to let go if she wanted. She placed her hand over top of my own.

“I haven’t had a decent relationship with a man because of him. I’m always afraid I will come home one day and they’ll be gone. And I think my fear, my expectations, drives everyone away. The longest I was with someone was three years, and the last two of those were horrible. Hardly loving at all.”

She took the back of her hand to wipe a tear that was now running down her cheek. I wanted to reach for her, but I was afraid. Now I saw it. She was fragile, and like me, on the edge of breaking completely apart.

“I don’t understand how he could have done this to my mother and I. I don’t know how she did it, getting over it all. Maybe she didn’t. Maybe she hid it and just pretended to be happy. Maybe she held it together for me, I don’t know. All I know is, in my heart I judge every man like my father.”

“I understand. Guess I judge women like they’re Ashley. If there was a girl out there wanting me, I would probably just push her away like she did me.” I sighed. “I understand your pain more than you think, Summer. I really do.”

She looked up at me, tears wet on her cheeks. Her eyes were red from crying. “Will you go with me, Matthew?”

“Excuse me?”

“Will you go with me to see my dad?”

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. It’s a very personal matter. I wouldn’t know what to say or how to act. I don’t know if my presence would make things easier or harder.”

“I don’t know how to act or what to say either, but I need your strength.”

“My strength? I’m not strong. I couldn’t face anyone, I ran away. How can I be strong for you?”

“You are strong for me. You just don’t know it. Please, just go with me. You can sit in the car or stand outside, but I need you there, please.” She began to cry more, as if my answer would decide her very fate. I had never seen her so vulnerable. I imagine most guys, or at the least ones she had known, would have seen their opportunity and went for it. They would have kissed her then, touched her, taken advantage of her heartache, told her they would make it all better, lead her from the room and into another to expose her even further to her shame under the guise of tenderness. But that wasn’t me. Summer needed me to be strong for her, not abuse her weakness. I squeezed her hand.

“Okay, I’ll go with you.”

“Oh Matthew, thank you.” She threw her arms around my neck and cried into my shoulder. I could feel her tears on my skin, the way her arms clutched me close to her bosom, the scent of her perfume, and yet all I could think was I had a purpose at last. To be strong for another.

Summer continued to hold me close to her. She rocked back and forth, as if that slight motion soothed her somehow, like a baby being rocked to sleep. At some point, she stopped her sobbing and let me go, returning to her original position on the couch. She turned her attention to the TV, where the DVD was still playing the silly antics of Ernest. She lightly laughed and then laid her head on my shoulder. I looked down at her, wiping the last remaining tear from under her eye. I saw her lips curl up in a smile and she closed her eyes. At any other time, I would be lost in thought. My mind would be out there wandering and wondering about all manner of troubles, mostly Ashley or whether I would be able to do what I had come here to do. But not now. Now, my mind was blank, except for this beautiful creature beside me. This wonderful girl who now found comfort in my shoulder. Looking back down at her, I marveled at the way the light from the TV played across her skin. I reached my hand up and traced a line between two freckles on her cheek. She said something in a small whisper but I couldn’t tell what it was. She couldn’t either for that matter, because she had fallen asleep. I turned my attention back to the television, and as the flickering picture lulled me into my own moment of reverie, Summer slept against me and dreamed without worries for tomorrow.

Part 20: Crazy As Me

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


Orchard House Part 17: Damage

(Note: Keeping in celebration mode for 1000 likes, today we get another double dose. Here is the first half, a scene that is less than a 1000 words, but hopefully giving a little more insight into Matthew’s relationship with his brother. I’ll post the second half of our double shot shortly.)

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 17: Damage

Summer and I rode in silence the rest of the way. We parked in the driveway beside the house, I was getting out when she touched my hand. “Matty,” she said. “I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me.”              I thought to myself, there it is, the death sentence of romance. If there’s one all-purpose excuse for ‘I don’t like you that way’, that was it. I nodded to let her know I understood.

She sat outside on the porch and smoked a cigarette, while I went in the house. Grabbing a root beer from the refrigerator, I retreated to my room. I sat on the edge of the bed and looked over at the closet where I knew my suitcase hid. Soon, she would be back on the road. She had only paid for three days. Tomorrow was the last day. Four days later, I would be leaving myself, going on to wherever, if anywhere at all. I don’t know what I had expected tonight. I knew I hadn’t been looking for romance when the evening began, but after being with her, I got caught up in the moment and forgot how unlikely a romance could ever exist between us. I shook my head, berating myself for letting my emotions, and need for companionship, to carry me away.

I walked over to the desk and retrieved my cellphone from where I had plugged it into the wall to charge. Looking at its face, I saw it was now fully charged and had at least one voicemail waiting. I accessed the service and put the phone to my ear. It was my brother.

“Matthew, hey it’s Eric. Listen, you seem to have fallen off the face of the earth. Just wondering where you took off to. Look bro, I’m sorry if our last conversation ended a bit angry. I know I should have told you sooner that I had been in contact with Ashley. There’s nothing going on between us, she was just worried about you, and I was the only one she knew to call. Again, I’m sorry if you felt I was going behind your back after she walked. It’s not like that at all. And if she could, I’m sure she would tell you the same.” There was a very brief silence and before the voicemail could end on him, he spoke up again. “Hey, just so you know I think she feels very bad for leaving you like she did in front of all those people. She knows it’s the worst kind of breakup, but I think she just got cold feet because every time she calls, she asks about you. Wish I could tell her you are okay, but I know you’re not. Well anyway, when you get this message call me, alright? I just want to make sure you are okay and haven’t gone off to do anything stupid. See ya, bro.”

Gone off to do anything stupid. I don’t know what infuriated me more, the thought that he had talked to Ashley multiple times over since the wedding fiasco, or the fact she had the nerve to tell him it was just a case of cold feet. I disconnected the voicemail and flung the phone across the room, wishing it would explode into a thousand microscopic pieces. No one seemed to understand what had been done to me. Not Eric, not Ashley. Hell, I doubt even Summer could understand this penultimate form of rejection. Yeah, her father had walked out on her and her mother, but it was nothing like standing at an altar, looking out at all the glowing faces, anticipating your bride to be walking down the aisle to join you in matrimony for the rest of your life. Nobody understood the feeling of having my legs collapse out from under me when my best man whispered the dread news that my fiancée wouldn’t be coming. No one knew what it was like to break down completely in front of a hundred of your closest family and friends, to be so exposed to everyone you knew. To be the laughing stock of…

“Matthew,” a voice said from the doorway. It was soft and feminine, full of concern and compassion. I hung my head and closed my eyes. Even now, in this farmhouse out in the middle of the country, I was feeling humiliation in front of someone I cared about.

“Yes?” I asked, looking at the floor, so my feelings would not reveal my inner turmoil.

“Are you okay? I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I didn’t mean to. I just don’t…”

“Don’t worry about it, Ashley,” I replied, interrupting her. “I just wish you’d told me sooner.”

It didn’t dawn on me until I heard her retreating footsteps going up the stairs that it wasn’t Ashley in my doorway, but Summer. By then it was too late, and I felt the damage was done.

Part 18: Peach Ice Cream and Television

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

Orchard House Part 15: Parking Lot Interlude

(Note: It’s Friday. The weekend is here. Paul Writes has hit the 1000 total likes milestone, so in celebration of that I will be posting two chapters of “Orchard House.” Here’s the first. I’ll post the other here shortly. Thanks for all the likes!)

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 15: Parking Lot Interlude

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 over 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.

“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. “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. “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, like there’s something between us.”

“But you don’t know what it is,” I added.


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 lay 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 it just having her do so, but I wasn’t sure how to say it out loud. As always, she seemed to know what I was thinking. “Does this bother you?” she asked.

“No, it doesn’t.”

“You’re scared, aren’t you?”

Sometimes I didn’t like her perception. “Yes I am. Aren’t you?”

“Always,” she replied, and wrapped her arm around my own and began to cry 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 forgotten mine, so we sat there in a silence that was only broken by her muffled sniffles against my shoulder.

“I had a nice time tonight,” I confessed.

“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 was 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 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 had passed between us would have to wait until both of us were daring and fearless again.

Part 16: Tiny Lights and Something More

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

Orchard House Part 14: So Into You

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 14: So Into You

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 berate myself for my own shyness. How come a kid barely out of high school could stare into her eyes with no problem, but I couldn’t 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, returning 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. “To be honest, I was thinking about you.”

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 feeling that way.” She cut a piece off her calzone and eyed it hungrily. “But I don’t think you’re lecherous.” She took a bite of her food. “I could be wrong,” she added.

“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 ate 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, looking for a way out if it got too uncomfortable. In my perusal, I noticed that this little establishment was 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. “Play me something old then. Educate me, oh wise music nerd.”

I took a bite of my spaghetti and got up. “Be right back, youngun.”

As I went past her, she playfully squinted her eyes 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 seventies, there were a lot of one hit wonders that I imagine no one knew anymore. 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. It was obvious she had heard the song before, and it meant something to her. But not anything good. She stopped eating and turned to look at the jukebox, as if the machine had meant to offend 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.

“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. 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 back 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 more genuine. “So, what were your parents like?”

“They were great together,” I replied. “They didn’t dance to Atlanta Rhythm Section, though. They were more Dave Brubeck Quartet. They loved slow dancing. 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. Or maybe she had no idea who I was talking about. “Well anyway, they loved to dance to slow piano jazz. Stuff from the late fifties, 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, somewhat wary of what she might ask.

“Before I leave, dance with me.”

“Summer, I can’t…”

“Yes, you can.”

A new song began from the jukebox. My second selection had arrived to rescue me from 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 almost 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 in reality 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. 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? 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 had selected were 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 with, 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 someday 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.

Part 15: Parking Lot Interlude

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

A Wife In The Comfort Of Love

Her dark hair on a pillow

A wife sleeps peacefully

In the comfort of love.

Sunlight through a window

Casts pleasant shadows

Across bedroom walls.

Birds song outside

Serenades the morning

In sweet summer splendor.

A husband adjust his tie

Sees in dresser mirror

His wife’s sleeping image.

Child runs through doorway

Jumps on the bed once still

Awakening the family angel.

Husband shakes his head

As his wife drowsily smiles

Pleasant intrusion of youth.

Kisses her child on forehead

‘motherhood becomes her’

Thinks the beaming husband.

Shooing the child outside

The couple share a smile

Whisper their love tenderly.

Leaning into each other

They kiss lips so sweetly

This evidence of their love.

“Go back to sleep, darling”

He tells his lovely bride

Tucking her in once more.

Husband, lover, father

Looks back in admiration

Upon the woman he loves.

Seeing child off to school

He closes doors quietly

And goes out into the day.

Her dark hair on a pillow

A wife sleeps peacefully

In the comfort of love.
© Paul D. Aronson.