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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.”


“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.


Orchard House Part 40: Gunboat’s Tale

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 40: Gunboat’s Tale

The further we walked from Orchard House, the less we heard and saw of the people. The orchard went further back than I thought, and as we neared the edges the trees grew heavier and were spaced closer together. Pretty soon the rows seemed to disappear, and as we climbed a small hill the house we had been looking for came into view.It was a downsized version of Orchard House itself. Instead of two stories, this house was just one floor, and whereas our place, as we had come to call it, was almost in a “L” shape with its large side porch, this house looked like a small cottage facing the orchard with its back to a thick stand of woods.

“Over the hills and through the woods to Grandma’s house we go,” I muttered.

Summer laughed. “So this is where Hansel and Gretel went.”

“I’ll try not to eat their house.”

It did look like a fairy tale cottage. Flower boxes were under every window. The shutters were painted rose red against the snow white frame of the home. It had a small front porch with barely enough room for a hanging porch swing and the front door itself. On the swing sat an elderly woman who appeared to be knitting something in her lap. She didn’t see us until we reached the foot of the porch. It was then she looked up. Her unfocused eyes slowly took us in, as if her brain were sifting through her memories to see if she recognized us. It was apparent she didn’t.

I put one foot on the porch steps. “Excuse me, mam,” I said. “We’re staying at Orchard House over there. My name is Matthew Dean. This is Summer. Are you Hope by any chance?”

It seemed to take a few seconds for it to register, but upon hearing her name she smiled. “I’m Hope,” she said.

Summer started up the steps. “Hope, we were talking to your daughter at the store and she said we should come see you.”

“Ah, my Helen. How is she?”

“She is fine. A little busy with the festival today though.”

She smiled. “Oh yes, I used to enjoy the festival myself. I’m afraid I don’t get around like I used to. This porch is about close as I get these days.” A wistful look crossed her face. “But I can still hear the music sometimes. Sounds carries well out here.” She seemed to be pondering on something and then looked up and past us into the orchard. “Why, just last night I thought I heard some squealing coming from out there. Wasn’t a hog slaughter, sounded too happy for that.”

Summer turned to look at me, her face already blushing up. Mine was too, as I recalled the way Summer let out a delighted squeal when I had given chase in the orchard the night before.

“It made me think of when I was younger and my sweet fellow would chase me through the orchard. The first time he kissed me was right here on this spot. Wasn’t a house here then.”

I walked carefully up onto the porch and Summer reached for my hand, which I happily took. I looked at the old woman, her soft eyes meeting mine. I noticed she wore a ring on her finger, the very same one she had once refused to wear. “Hope, the reason I’m here is I’m a writer and I was hoping you would give me permission to tell the story of you and your husband.”

Before she could answer the screen door beside the swing opened and an old man stepped out onto the porch. It was apparent he was approaching his nineties if not already there, but he moved just as spry as if he was forty years younger. City people of his age didn’t move like that or look half as healthy as he did. I imagined if he wanted to, he could still get out in the orchard and work all day with no problem.

“What is it you’re wanting permission for?” he asked, running one hand through his white hair. He looked over at Summer and his eyes took in the fact we were holding hands. For a moment I thought he might smile, but he was all business, and perhaps a bit protective of his still blushing bride.

“Are you Gunboats?” I asked.

Now he smiled. “Can’t say I have heard that name in recent memory, and especially not by a stranger, but yes, that’s me. Now who you might be?”

I held out my hand. “Matthew Dean, sir. This is my girlfriend Summer. We were talking to Helen at the store about finding romance at Orchard House, and she started telling us about you and Hope. I’m a writer and was hoping maybe to write down your story.”

He seemed to think about it for a moment, casting a glance to each of us before looking at his wife. She looked up at him, and even at their age it was easy to see they still got lost in each other’s eyes. He leaned down and kissed her cheek. Then he looked at me. “Let’s take a walk, son, while your lady sits with mine and talks about…well, whatever ladies talk about when we’re not around.”

I kissed Summer on the cheek and followed the old man down the steps. He moved pretty quickly for his age and I followed him as he walked around the house and into the back yard. A gravel drive turned into a dirt road that led from the back and into the woods. At the head of the drive sat an old pick up. Close to the house was a vegetable garden surrounded by a small fence. In its center sat a picnic table. Gunboats stopped at the drive.

“We don’t mind if you write about us as long as it’s not like an old dime store novel, all trash and no truth.”

“No sir, I promise to keep it clean. I just want to tell the story of you and your wife. It’s an interesting tale from what I have heard so far. And I really want to use the story of your romance to tell about Orchard House. That’s where Summer and I have been staying and it seems to have had a pleasant effect on us.”

He grinned. “I know that feeling. Sure had a pleasant effect on me too.” He started walking down the drive towards the dirt road and I followed. “But you don’t need to write about us to tell the world about Orchard House. Write about yourselves. I took one look at you two and I knew you are going through the same stuff we did..strangers meet, fall in love, get married…”

I glanced at him with what must have been a incredulous look because he laughed.

“Yes. Get married. Don’t let this get away from you, son. The war almost took my Hope from me. Don’t let any wars you might be going through take your… what’s her name again?”

“Summer, sir.”

“Ah yes, Summer. Fits her perfect. Hope and Summer, almost sounds like sisters, don’t it?”

“Yes sir, it does.”

“Let me ask you something, Matthew.”

“Okay, go ahead.”

“When you look at her, and I mean really look at her, do you honestly think you can live without her?”

“I don’t know.”

“I was in a ditch in the Ardennes when I realized I couldn’t live without Hope. Had bullet fragments lodged close to my heart. And as I lay there thinking I was dying with all this madness of war around me, all I could think of was, God please let me give this ring to Hope so she’ll know that I can’t ever live without her. So I took that ring and gave it to a buddy of mine, along with the last letter she wrote to me, and told him to make sure she got it. Because I thought then I was dying, and I look at you and I see that same look in your eyes, like you been dying a long time. You might not have been in a war, but shrapnel from something got close to your heart.“ He sighed heavily and stopped to look at me. “Don’t you give up and die in no ditch, boy. See, I gave that ring to my buddy and the more I lay there in the mud and blood, I knew I wanted to see Hope with that ring on her finger if it was the last thing I ever saw. It was that thought alone that made me crawl out of that ditch and get back to life. See, before Hope I had no purpose. No reason. No will to live beyond the moment. But once that ring left my possession and was on its way back home to her, I knew without even thinking twice I wanted to be with her forever. And I would go through hell or high water to get back to her. Because if I liked her before I went to war, I was going to love her with all the time I had left. I tell you, when you see a ring on Summer’s finger you’ll know what it means to love someone so much that forever just don’t seem long enough. What I’m trying to say, and maybe I don’t know you, but I believe I do, your coming to Orchard House wasn’t anymore an accident than when I arrived there myself. I came there looking for something totally different than what I ended up finding, and so did you. You can hide it from the womenfolk, but you can’t hide it from someone who’s been there. As men, we all find our ditches to die in, but that ditch in the Ardennes wasn’t mine, and your ditch out in the orchard ain’t yours.”

He patted me on the shoulder. “Come on, let’s get back to the house. Believe it or not, my Hope still makes one mean cup of tea. I’m sure they both have drunk nearly the whole kettle while we been gabbing.”

I followed Gunboats as he headed back up the drive, letting the things he had told me about the Ardennes and the ring sink in. I knew I had to tell Summer once and for all how I truly felt, not just about her, but everything. She had to know the truth, I couldn’t hide it from her any longer. I just didn’t know how to tell her.

Part 41: Caught In The Rain

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

Orchard House Part 39: Apple Festival

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 39: Apple Festival

Stepping outside, we noticed there were now more people in the orchard. The afternoon seemed to have brought out the pickers. Cars and trucks were parked at the side of the path that led to the country store and it looked like the whole community had come out for the fun. Deciding to get us a drink from the store and find out just what was going on, we headed down the path. Passing by families, couples, and even the fortune teller from the day before, everyone seemed friendly. For a moment I got the impression everyone we passed by knew who we were. Being a small community I could understand the familiarity, but it made me feel a little strange, as if suddenly we were a couple on display for everyone’s consideration. Any minute I expected people to start holding up placards with scores on them. Summer must have felt it too, as she clutched my hand and whispered, “Maybe you should have dressed me in a monk’s robe.”

I laughed. “You’d still look hot.”

We didn’t see any of the migrant workers out. They must have been given the day off, but there were still plenty of people in the orchard, going up and down the rows in groups trying to find the best apples. Smaller groups of children ran and played, and as we passed by a pickup at the side of the trail we noticed someone had set up a rocker in the bed. An elderly gentleman was rocking back and forth with a smile on his face.

“So, this is what they do for weekend entertainment,” I suggested.

A group of teenagers were going by and must have heard me. “No,” one of them said, a girl of about sixteen with hair the color of sunshine. “That’s tonight. The street party.”

“Street party?”

“Yeah, they block off the road on that far end for live music and stuff.”

“Cool,” Summer said. “What kind of music?”

“Blues, country, southern rock.” The girl’s friendly smile turned into a proud beam. “My boyfriend’s band is playing. “

“Where do they set up and play?” I asked.

“Right up there in front of that house.”

She was pointing up at Orchard House.

The country store was packed. if we thought we were going to hear the rest of Helen’s story today, it didn’t look like it was going to be happening. We managed to maneuver our way to the cold case and grab us some crème soda and root beer. We held hands the whole way, not because we wanted to show our affection, but so we wouldn’t lose each other in the crowd. As I reached into the cold case, something caught me by surprise. Jackson, the dog from Orchard House, was lying right beside it, probably cooling off from the outdoor heat.

“Well, hey there buddy,” I said, reaching down to pat his head. He rolled over so I could rub his belly too. As Summer leaned over to pet him, a squealing voice from the back of the store announced a fresh batch of lemonade was made. Peering through the crowd, I could see Twyla at her table, standing on a wooden crate like a barker at an auction taking orders for her sugary concoction. She saw us both and waved excitedly. Throwing up our hands to wave back, we heard someone come up behind us. Stepping out of the way to let them pass, we noticed it was Raymond, carrying a basket of golden apples. He smiled, recognizing us.

“Well hey, there you are,” he said. “We was wondering if you’d come out for the apple festival.”

“Ah, so this is what is going on.”

“Yep. Have it every year. Everybody loves it, as you can see. Helen’s over there somewhere if you want to holler at her.”

He moved off, continuing with his business, and from the looks of things he definitely was having a busy day. I heard a loud noise outside. Summer pointed to a huge tractor that had just started up. An open flatbed covered with hay was hitched to the back and kids were climbing on as it started to pull off into the orchard. We moved towards the front counter to pay for our drinks. I don’t think either one of us did well with crowds. We just wanted to get to some wide open place again.

We had to wait about ten minutes before we could set our drinks on the counter and pay for them. Helen looked up from her register and the smile that crossed her face threatened to light up the whole room.

“Well, there’s my favorite couple,” she announced.

“Yes, here we are,” I replied, a proud smile on my face as Summer held my hand.

Helen raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Ah, so finally you believe me! Ready to admit what your hearts can’t deny.”

Summer smiled. “Yes, we’re guilty.” She glanced at me and then added, “Big time guilty.”

Helen clapped her hands in delight. It didn’t take much to figure out what had occurred between Summer and I. Even the blazing sun can’t make people glow like that. “Isn’t orchard House wonderful?” the woman exclaimed. She gave us both a wink. “I fell for my Raymond up there myself.”

I got out my money as she rang up the sodas. “That reminds me,” I said, handing her a couple of dollars. “We’re still due a continuation of the story from the other day.”

“I would really love to tell it, but it’s crammed busy today. And we are closed on Sunday. Maybe Monday if you want to stop by.”

“Well actually, I wanted to ask you something.”

She handed me my change. “Ask away.”

“I don’t think I told you, but I’m a writer and I was coming up here to get away and write a book, but I couldn’t quite figure what to write about in the beginning. So I was wondering if you would mind if I wrote about Hope and Gunboats?”

“That’s awful flattering. Never thought their story was book material, but maybe there’s some folks like to read that kind of thing after all.”

“Is that okay?”

“Well son, I’m really not the one to be asking.”

Oh,” I replied. “I just thought since they were your parents, you were the one to give me the okay.”

“I could, but you should just ask them yourself.”

“Ask them myself?”

“Yeah, they live on the other side of the orchard. You can’t see their place because of all the trees, but they got a little house over there. The old home place got too big for just them.”

“I’m sorry, I thought they were deceased being their story took place during the war and all. And you said the ring came back to her before the body did. “

She laughed. “You liked that, did you? Maybe I should be a writer too?”

I smiled. “Yes, maybe you should.”

I opened my soda and took a sip. “You want to call and tell them to expect me?”

“No phones on that side of the field. Just walk on over. I’m sure they would love to meet another orchard couple.”

“Cool. Okay, we’ll do that.”

Helen looked at Summer. “Your outfit is so cute. You’re the prettiest flower in the wild.”

“Thank you, Helen, but he dressed me.”

“Oh well! I can almost hear the bells then.” She grinned. “Let’s see you deny that, young man…”

Heading out of the country store, we ran into Raymond again. He was taking what was probably a much deserved break. Sitting in a wooden chair out front, he was enjoying some of Twyla’s lemonade and nodding to customers who crossed his line of sight. He saw us and smiled. “Hey, you folks going to the party tonight?”

“Well, I guess so since it’s in front of the house.”

Summer nudged me and I realized it came off sounding a bit rude.

“But I’m sure it’s going to be fun,” I added.

“Yes sir, it is. I was thinking we probably forgot to mention it to ya. We get so excited about the Apple festival it slipped our minds someone would be staying there. Hope the loud music don’t bother you. It’s a little ways from the house, down the hill out front right before it meets the road. There’s a little amphitheater we made, got about ten long benches in front of a little stage. We first built it for family get-togethers, but then the street party idea came along.” He smiled. “Now people just stand out in the road and dance. It’s quite a sight.”

“I bet it is. Sounds like a little bit of the city coming to the country.”

“Well, that’s about as city as we get,” he said with a laugh.

“Good. I was trying to get away from the city myself.”

“Don’t blame you none.” He got up and stretched his legs. “I guess we’ll see you there then?”

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

The big tractor came pulling into the parking lot again. It was now empty except for the hay. As soon as it stopped more people came out from the store and got on. I turned to Summer. “Want to hitch a ride home?”

She looked at the truck bed. “Yeah sure. Why not?”

We jumped on board with the rest of them, and as the tractor pulled off to head up the Orchard path, I put my arm around her. She leaned against me with a happy contented sigh. If you had told me on Monday I would be riding on the back of a truck bed in an apple orchard with a beautiful country girl, I would have laughed at you. I guess it just goes to show that when you’re out of your element, expect the unexpected.

When the tractor got close to the house, we bailed out. We landed on our feet, sodas still intact, despite the fact the tractor hadn’t stopped. Some of the other riders cheered and clapped at the two romantic daredevils, and in a gesture of complete silliness I curtsied and Summer bowed.

“So, want to go see Hope and Gunboats?” I asked.

“Are you kidding? Of course I do. I loved Helen’s story. It’s killing me to know what happened.”

“Let’s go see then. She said it was on the other side of the orchard. I figure we’ll just walk in a straight line from our place and hopefully we’ll get there.”

“Sounds like a plan, Matty. Ready when you are.”

So we headed across the orchard, down the rows and past all the pickers who were still filling up their baskets and bags. Eventually, we left them behind as we headed into a part of the orchard I remembered from our streaking event the night before. We jumped over a ditch and I remembered chasing after Summer’s naked frame in the dark.

“I just thought of something,” I said. “What if last night we streaked right past their house in the dark?”

“Oh my god, I hope not,” she replied with a red blush to her cheeks.

It was the cutest thing ever.

Part 40: Gunboat’s Tale

“Orchard House And The heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.

Orchard House Part 38: Apples Not Peaches

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 38: Apples Not Peaches

The wind up clock read 2:30 before we got out of bed again. Summer got up first this time, and I watched her cross the room, graceful and free, towards her dresser. Opening a drawer, she got out the clothes she wanted to wear and turned towards me. “Come on, Chubby,” she said. “Let’s go take a bath.”I raised an eyebrow. “A what?”

“A bath. You know hot water, bar of soap, wash on, rinse off.”

I grinned. “I know what you mean, I just never…”

“You’ve never taken a bath? How do you smell so nice?”

I laughed and a blush came to my cheeks. “No, I’ve taken a bath. Just not with someone else in it.”

She nearly dropped her clothes. A sly grin crossed her lips. “You’re kidding, right? Never taken a bath with a girl?”


“What about bitch face Ashley?”

I laughed. “No, she would have had a fit if she couldn’t have the bathtub all to herself. That was her me time.”

“Well, my me time is you time, so come on.” She didn’t wait, but sauntered across the floor making sure she had my attention and was allured to follow. She stepped out on the landing and I heard her bare feet padding down the steps. “I’ll get it started,” she called out. “Don’t make me come back to drag you in the tub.”

“Oh please, drag me,” I mumbled, climbing out of bed and following in her pleasant wake.

I was halfway down the stairs when I heard her scream. It wasn’t a blood curdling cry of terror, but a yelp of surprise like when you realize you aren’t completely alone. I jumped the rest of the way down and rounded both corners into the kitchen where I saw she was hunched down in front of the cabinets by the sink.

“There’s people out there,” she hissed. “In the orchard.”

All the window shades were open, affording a clear view both inside and out, and sure enough I could see there were people out in the orchard. Several groups were picking apples from trees and putting them in baskets. I stepped up close to the window and drew the shades before anyone saw inside. After all, there were kids out there, too. No need for children or their grandparents to see us both naked as the day we were born. I had to laugh just a little.

“It’s okay, Summer. They must open the orchard to tourists and locals on the weekends. Nothing to worry about.” I walked around the room to close the remaining shades, being careful to avoid being seen by all the fruit pickers who had invaded our little sanctuary.

“Nothing to worry about?” she exclaimed, slowly coming out of her crouch, now that we had a little privacy back. “They could see everything I got. Apples and all.”

I grinned and stepped up to her, taking her in my arms. “Oh baby, you are peaches, not apples.” I kissed her on her neck and she made a purring sound in my ear.

“Well, I hope there’s no fruit pickers in the bathtub. Except you.”

She gently pried herself from my embrace and sauntered into the bathroom with a self-assured shake to her walk. She knew I found her beautiful and that brought out her playful side. Thinking of her in the bath brought out mine.

I followed her into the bathroom, and habit made me shut the door. She already was in the tub, hot water filling up the old claw footed antique. She didn’t have to invite me in. The sight of her was enough to coax me over the edge of the tub and down into its steamy waters.

“I can’t believe you’ve never taken a bath with anyone,” she said, as I sat across from her, her smooth bare legs touching mine.

“Believe it.”

She looked at me with an incredulous look on her face. “Didn’t you and Ashley ever do anything together?”

I gave a little snort in response. “Not much. Eat dinner. Go to sleep. Have sex whenever it suited her.”

“Why did you stay with her so long?”

I thought about it. “Sometimes I guess we get comfortable in a relationship. Even when it’s not a good one. We tell ourselves there’s nothing else out there for us. This is as good as it gets.”

“Yeah, I know,” she agreed, swishing the water around her as it came level with her stomach.

“With her, I thought I was in love. Things would get bad, or I would get to feeling unimportant, and she seemed to know it. So she would do something thoughtful to bring you back to her. But in reality, she only wanted you when she wanted you.”

“I knew a guy like that once. I thought I loved him, probably would have married him too if it hadn’t been for me taking care of my mom. I adored him, though he only adored himself. Once I got away from him, I was like how in the world did I end up with that guy?”

“Yeah, all the while you tell yourself you are in love. I think my problem was I had never been in a serious relationship until her. I had never known someone who really loved me, so I had nothing to compare it to. In those cases, you are none the wiser and easily taken in by someone who says, hey this is love. Even if it really isn’t.”

“So you didn’t really love Ashley?”

“At the time I thought I did. But getting stood up at the altar tends to make one stand back and analyze things.” I shook my head and laughed. “Why in the world are we talking about her while I’m in the tub with you?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know, I guess I just wanted to see how you felt about her now. Whether anything remains.”

“Nothing remains,” I said.

She nodded with a little smile. “I’m glad. I don’t like sharing.” She smiled. “Unless it’s soap.” She handed me a bar of soap. “Now, would you like to wash me?”

It may be difficult for the average person to understand, but there is something exceedingly beautiful about seeing your partner in the bath. The way the water cascades in rivulets down their body when you splash it onto their skin, the way that same body seems to rise to meet your hands when you put soap to them and work it into lather. Perhaps it’s the way your hands feel upon them, how you linger in your favorite places, or discover new ones you never noticed before. Maybe it’s the soap beneath your fingers creating a slippery surface on soft skin and the desire that wells upon with you, wanting to touch even more. I cannot say for certain, but there is something about soapy water and bare skin that is just so sensual that it invades every sense, smell, touch, even taste…but I do recommend waiting until the soap is off before the latter.

Summer laughed, looking at my face after I dared to kiss her breast with soap intact. So lost in my thoughts and longing for her, I didn’t realize I hadn’t washed the lather from her. With this horrid look on my face, we both could do nothing but laugh. I handed her the soap and felt she should do the rest herself. I couldn’t be trusted not to want her, suds and all.

As she took her turn to bathe me, I still could not keep my eyes off her lovely frame. She seemed to glow in the tub, and I don’t think it had anything to do with the fact I had washed her. There is a particular look that comes over new lovers, especially when they have made love three times in less than twenty four hours. There was a fresh aura about Summer that made her look different to me. She looked far happier and her whole body seemed to bask in it, as I’m sure mine did too. I could feel myself glowing as her hands caressed my skin with the warm lather, and I knew I must look different in this light too, as if something inside me had broken apart and was now coming back together in new and wonderful ways. She put her hand upon my heart and I knew she could feel the racing beat, for she smiled and kissed me lightly on the lips. “I know,” she whispered, and there was no need to say anything else. She let the soap fall from her hands and took me into her arms. The comfort that came from that gesture, the reassurance that we all need, washed all over me, and I thought to myself I was living the best love story ever.

After our first bath together, Summer surprised me again by suggesting we dress each other for the day. I found this to be a bit awkward, for part of me wanted to dress her conservative so as not reveal all her womanly charms to everyone else, and yet another part of me wanted to dress her as sexy as the mores of the country town would allow. In the end, I put her in tight fitting jeans, and we laughed as I tried to work them up past her shapely hips. For a top, I chose a low cut blouse that hugged her breasts, revealing the shape of her without making her pop out everywhere. Ruffles bordered the floral blouse and I chose a few bracelets from her jewelry to complement the outfit. I also picked out her earrings which were shaped like little cupcakes. When I told her she could pick out her own shoes, she protested, saying I had to completely dress her, so I put some ocean blue flip flops on her gorgeous feet.

If I thought I might have dressed her in too revealing attire, I needn’t have worried. She made me try on every pair of jeans I had until we found the tightest ones. For a shirt she repeated the process, finally finding a solid black button up shirt that was missing the top two buttons. I guess if her cleavage was going to be revealed some, then so would mine. Normally, I would have worn an undershirt, but she said no. “I want to see your cute skunk trail,” she said. From her own jewelry she took a handmade bracelet, a peace sign wrapped in hemp cord and put it on me. Then she took a vial that contained some kind of oil and had me rub it into my wrists. It had the smell of sandalwood. She couldn’t quite find the right shoes from my own luggage, so to keep us matching she put me in a pair of her sandals to top everything off. Dark and made of leather, they fit a little tight but looked good against the rest of my wardrobe. We both looked at each other head to foot. Smiling, I thought she looked so cute and sexy, and as for myself , well let’s just say I had never been dressed so well in my life.

“Now I think we are ready to face the apple pickers,” she proudly said.

Part 39: Apple Festival

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