Tag Archives: love-stories

Orchard House Part 64: The Heart Of Everything

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

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

Part 64: The Heart Of Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re going home.”

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

“I know.”

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

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

“What do you mean?”

“You want to stay, don’t you?”

“Yes. You know I do.”

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

“Are you serious?”

I smiled. “Sincerious.”

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

 

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

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

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


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

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Orchard House Part 63: Waiting For The Bride

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

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

Part 63: Waiting For The Bride

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

I grinned ear to ear. “Yes, it is.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you, Gunboats, “ I said.

He smiled. “Please, it’s Edward.”

“Excuse me?”

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I wouldn’t miss it, Matthew, but…”

“But what?”

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

I smiled. “Yes, I’m sure.”

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

“Consider it a lifetime loan then.”

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

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

He nodded. “Yeah, I believe so too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nervous?” Edward asked.

“Yes, I am.”

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

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

“No, sir.”

“Traditional vows ok?”

“Do they have ‘I do’ in them?”

He smiled. “Yes.”

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

“Yes.”

“That’s the one then.”

“Okay. Who has the rings?”

I froze again. I had forgotten to…

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

“I’ll pay you back or something.”

“Did you look in the envelope?”

“Yes.”

“And?”

“I signed it.”

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

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

“Moment of truth,“ I said.

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

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

Part 64: The Heart Of Everything

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

Orchard House Part 62: Saying Goodbye

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

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

Part 62: Saying Goodbye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Engaged, “ Summer replied.

“When’s the date?”

“Um…I’m not sure.”

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

“Yes mam, she is,” I agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not too much, I hope,“ he said.

“Just enough.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really?”

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

“What happened?”

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

She kissed me. “Silly boy.”

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

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

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

I pushed the door open leading into the sanctuary.

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

Her eyes found mine. “No.”

“I’m not scared anymore either.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes mam, there is.”

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

I grinned. “Yes, mam.”

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

Part 63: Waiting For The Bride

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

Orchard House Part 59: Dinner With Friends

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Note: Doubling up posts again today, so I can be ready to go with the National Novel Writing Month challenge in November. We are heading to our conclusion with only about 25 pages left to go, so we are almost there. Hope you enjoy!

Part 59: Dinner With Friends

For the rest of the afternoon we both seemed a bit mopey. It was finally hitting us – this was our last day at Orchard House. We ate sandwiches for lunch in near silence. Afterwards, we settled down and watched a little television. At one point I got up and went into the kitchen to look at the register book Helen had been talking about. It was on a small end table beneath the phone on the wall. I sat down at the dining table and began to look through it. True, there had only been about two dozen visitors in the last year, but in earlier years there had been more. Flipping through, I was amazed at all the stories the entries told. Retired couples enjoying life, young ones just starting out; busy people getting away, lonely people finding themselves; families needing to bond, loners needing to cry; children needing to grow, parents needing to remember – all these stories washed over me so much I wanted to cry. All the joy that had been discovered at Orchard House over the years was getting ready to be nothing but memories and words written down in a small notebook. Someone needed to tell their stories. Someone needed to let the world know that love was alive, and it was right here for all who would let go of hang-ups and anxieties and just take the leap into the wonderful unknown. The tale had to be told, and I couldn’t be the author. It had to be Orchard House. “What you doing?”

I turned to the sound of Summer’s voice, as she pulled out a chair and sat next to me. “Just reading everyone’s stories. Wondering how ours fits into it.” I turned the notebook to her and let her do some reading of her own. “I don’t want to be the last couple to write in this book, “ I said. “What’s the use in all these experiences visitors have had if it’s now going to be all over? I don’t buy it that it’s time has come and gone. People need this now more than ever.”

She looked over at me. “It breaks my heart, too.” Then she leaned her head against mine and we both cried. Not for the love we found, or even the sadness we felt over the closing of Orchard House. No, we cried over all the people who would never know, never find the heart of everything at the end of a country lane.

As it got close to six, we left the house and walked across the road to the creek. Our intention had been to jump over it and head across the field to Helen and Ray’s, but the waterway was too wide and there weren’t enough rocks to use as jumping points to carry us across.

“Ever been wading?” Summer asked.

“Don’t laugh,” I replied.

She cocked her head to one side. “Never?”

“Nope.”

“Cool, let this last night be a night of never done until nows.” She reached down and took off her sandals. Stepping into the water ahead of me, she froze. “Oh my, that’s freezing. Bad idea.”

I had already ditched my shoes and was rolling up my pants leg so they wouldn’t get wet. I looked up and saw her shivering, though I thought it was a bit over exaggerated for my benefit. I stepped barefoot into the creek. She wasn’t over exaggerating at all. The water was so cold, it almost hurt. “Jeez Summer, this is c-c-cold. However did you ever enjoy this?”

She laughed and danced through the creek, kicking the water with her cute painted feet. I couldn’t help but smile and follow her. We must have looked like two kids playing on a summer’s day, just trying to find a way to while away the hours. She spun on one foot and then kicked water up on me.

“Oh no, you didn’t,” I chattered, splashing her right back, which caused her to erupt in a playful squeal. We took turns splashing each other, until we realized we were getting our pants pretty wet. I moved towards her and slipped on a wet mossy rock. I went down on my butt in the creek. Now my whole seat was underwater, and it was much colder to that extremity than to the feet. Summer laughed, and as she came to my aid, I reached up and grabbed her, pulling her right down into the water with me. Another squeal of delight, and she too was soaked. We sat in the cold water together, and I leaned back on my hands as she put hers on the side of my face and kissed me long and lovingly. The cold went away and was replaced with a warmth, or possibly just a not caring, as we sank into the creek to lay back with the water rushing over our bodies. It was the kiss that kept us warm.

We trudged back up to Orchard House to change clothes. It would make us late for dinner, but there was no way we could show up soaked to the skin in wet clothes. We took turns undressing, and then dressing each other, which took a little longer as picking out her clothes again wasn’t easy. Finally, with us both dressed conservatively, she in capris and a bright yellow t-shirt with a sun on it declaring “every day is a summer day,”and I in vintage chinos and a button up Van Heusen with the sleeves rolled up.

This time we skirted the creek and walked up the dirt road until we found the head of their drive. We walked down a little ways and then crossed over into the field, as it would be much shorter this way, and we were already late by 15 minutes. In the distance, we saw the house. It was nothing like Orchard House. This was more modern, a one story ranch with two car garage. A deck came off the side of the house to overlook a beautiful flower garden two times larger than the one at Earl’s. Two wooden rockers sat on the front porch which stretched from one end of the house to the other, and on the door a large sign surrounded by an apple design declared WELCOME TO OUR HOME. It was a beautiful house to say the least, and was easy to see it had been crafted with love.

Inside, the house was even lovelier. It was more than evident who the designers were, as apples and peaches were the theme everywhere. Helen hugged us both and ushered us into a spacious dining room, where the table was already laid out for dinner and the guests were waiting. It surprised us that we were not the only guests. Twyla was there of course, but also Gunboats and Hope, as well. Raymond came in from the kitchen and gave us a cheery smile. “Glad you could make it,“ he said. “We were getting worried.”

“Sorry,“ I explained. “We went wading in your creek and got a little soaked, so we had to go change.”

“Oh that’s alright. I love the creek myself. It’s one reason we built on this side of the road. Well, I certainly hope you like cornbread because mama Hope went a little crazy with it.”

Everyone had a good laugh at that, and it made it a little less awkward for us. After all, we were the only ones in the room who weren’t family. Helen seated us together, and put Twyla on one side of Summer, with me on the other. Gunboats and Hope sat across from us, with Raymond taking the head of the table and Helen the foot. She reached her hands out across the table. “Let us give thanks,” she said, inviting us all to hold hands.

Raymond cleared his throat and I discovered a side of him I’d never seen before. “Father God, “ he prayed, “we come to you with a grateful heart. We are grateful for family, for friends, for food on the table, for the love within our hearts. We are nothing without you lord, and have everything because of you. We ask that you bless this table tonight and all who gather around it. Let this food bring us strength and nourishment, just as your grace brings us hope and salvation. Help us to remember the precious gift your sacrifice on Calvary brought us, and we ask you remind us of this when we get too much into the world and further from you. Father God, thank you for our dinner guests. Bless them in the new life they have chosen, and we pray you will provide their needs in the days ahead and fill their hearts daily with the love they have so embraced. We thank you for all things and ask you grant us wisdom, faith, and the willingness to look to you for answers before looking to ourselves. It is in Jesus precious name we pray…Amen.”

Helen echoed his amen and began to pass the food around. As I filled up my plate, I looked at the faces of the other two couples around the table. I thought to myself, we represented three generations of happy loving couples. Three pairs of lonely people who had found their heart’s desire and persevered until it was theirs, going through wars of country, depressions of the soul, the utter despair of loneliness, to come out on the other side of life’s storms to bask in the rays of their rewards. It would be wrong to say of myself that I deserved the love I had found, but I could honestly say that what God had given me, I would cherish, and nurture, and love all the days of my life. Summer and I would not be a wasted couple. We would be just as loving as our hosts around the table, and seeing their bright contented faces, I looked forward to growing old with this woman at my side. I looked at her, and she could tell I was in thought again, but she didn’t say anything to call me out. She just whispered, “I know,” as her eyes kissed me with her glance.

Part 60: Last Night As We Were

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

Orchard House Part 58: Thanking Helen

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 58: Thanking Helen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I grinned. “I see that.”

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

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

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

She smiled. “I already have a ring.”

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

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

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

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

Helen sighed. “So will I.”

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” Summer cried. “Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where you live?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry. Didn’t mean it that way.”

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

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

Part 59: Dinner With Friends

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

Orchard House Part 53: Matthew’s Confession

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 53: Matthew’s Confession

The drive down the back roads and rural routes to Orchard House was quiet at first. Neither of us turned on the radio or dared to even break the silence. Maybe we just need to assimilate all the information our visit with Earl had brought. Summer leaned against the passenger side door, peering out her window as I drove. “You okay?” I finally asked.

“Yeah,” she sighed, turning to me. “I’m sorry. I was lost in thought.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“What you thinking about?”

“I was just thinking about life’s little connections.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you and Orchard House for one. I mean, you had no idea that you were made there so to speak. You never even knew your mom and dad had been there.”

She nodded. “And yet it’s connected.”

“Yes. What are the odds, do you think, that where life began for your parents…well it became a place for you to begin again as well.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“You’re connected to this too. Did my mother wish you into being here? I find that pretty far-fetched. Earl seems to think she lured you here somehow with the help of God or something, and while it’s a very romantic notion, I don’t think that’s what brought you here.”

I looked away from her for a moment. Glancing out my driver’s side window, I watched the wide open fields roll by, knowing the time had come for the truth. As if realizing this, she prompted me further.

“Exactly how did you find Orchard House?” She asked.

“I was just driving along, saw the signs like your parents did, and decided to drive down this road.”

“But you weren’t interested in seeing apples like my mom was. So what was it?”

“I felt like it was secluded. I wanted to be alone. Make things easier for myself if people weren’t around me.”

“You had no agenda then, just wanted seclusion? I was looking for my father, which was my whole reason for coming to these parts. It was secluded enough for me to gather my thoughts and work up the courage to do what I had to do. What did you want the seclusion for?”

I pulled the car over. Though we were close to the house, and the orchard itself lay on either side of us, I knew I couldn’t hide the truth from her forever. The road ahead and behind us was empty, and it made me think of the emptiness within me when I had arrived here. This sorrowful, wailing emptiness that had been eating me from within.

“Summer, if I tell you why I came, I will look very weak in your eyes. Right now you need someone to be strong for you, and if I tell you, then I fear I’ll no longer be that in your eyes.”

“Maybe you need someone to be strong for you too,” she said.

“Maybe.”

She reached over and put her hand over mine. “Matty, I will never think less of you, if that’s what you’re afraid of.”

I looked into her beautiful brown eyes. “Are you sure?”

“Yes I am. You have changed my world. I’m not the same person I was a week ago, and that’s because of you. You’re a beautiful man and you have made me feel more beautiful than I could ever imagine. You are a wonderful human being. Through you I have discovered the true wonder of living. Now, please tell me.”

I took a deep breath. “When Ashley left me standing there on our wedding day with baited breath, I didn’t want to be around anyone anymore. I wanted the world to just leave me alone. The more I sat around my apartment thinking, the more it hurt and twisted me up inside. The apartment reminded me of my hollow emptiness. Everyone I knew reminded me that everything I had known for the past years with her had been a lie. I took to the road to escape all that, and then as I was on the road, it came to me to find the most secluded spot I could find and just end it all.”

“What?”

“Summer, I was tired of everything. Tired of living. Tired of losing. Done with the disappointment. Over with the loneliness. My parents were gone. My brother a stranger to me. My bride to be was a no-show. My career a failure. There was nothing left, but to give up.”

She let go of my hand. “I understand about the giving up. But to kill yourself?”

I hung my head in shame. “I didn’t think there was anything left. I’m not exactly a young man anymore. The world wasn’t wide open to me as it was when I got out of college. If Ashley didn’t want me, then who would? It was too late to change careers. I felt like the only thing left was a life of loneliness, and I didn’t think I was strong enough to endure it.”

“So the day I came through the door of Orchard house, you were, what, in the shower plotting out how to do it?”

“Yeah. I was thinking of just going out in the orchard with a pile of sleeping pills and let the breeze take me away. That was my actual thought. Let the breeze take me. And then you came through the door singing ‘they call me the breeze.’ At the time, I didn’t know if it was God’s way of laughing at me or whether some prayer from too many years ago had finally been answered. “

She slid over closer to me and put her arm across my shoulder. “When I came through the door that day,“ she said, “I may have seemed like this happy go lucky country girl, but I was just hiding it better than you. My mother was gone, guys in my life just wanted to drink and watch football, and my father, whom I despised like no other man, was all I had left. I just wanted to find him, tell him what an asshole he is, and waste the rest of my life away, working jobs I hate and following some loser of a boyfriend who’d rather yell ‘touchdown’ than say ‘you’re beautiful.’ But the moment I met you, something inside of me started to break free. I put on this face, this brave happy face so you would like me. But it wasn’t exactly who I was at the time. I’m not saying my loneliness was worse than yours, or my emptiness on par, I’m just saying life before you, life a week ago, was very different for me.”

“It was different for me, too. I didn’t throw away the pills until the night we danced on the edge of the orchard. It was then I realized there was something to live for. Something worth fighting for. And when you kissed me, as silly as it may sound, it was like you drew the desire to die right out of me and replaced it with a different kind of desire.”

She smiled. “You handled that desire very well.”

I couldn’t help but smile now myself. “Yes I guess I did. But I fought loving you, because I felt once I did, you would go. You’d find your father and have someone new to take care of. In my experience, love was hurt, and I was scared of that. I was afraid the moment ‘I love you’ left my lips that ‘see you later’ is what I would hear back.”

“Matthew, I admit I was, and am still scared. Loving someone makes you very vulnerable, and no one wants to be exposed like that. But I also admit I feel wonderful when I’m with you. These days with you, these nights with you, have been the very best times of my life. And I don’t want them to end. Not by my leaving, or by you killing yourself. Understood?”

“Yes,” I said, and the tears came forth like a waterfall that had been held back for so long. I cried against her soft warm cheek, my tears mingling with the ones she too was shedding. “I never want to feel so alone again,” I said.

“You won’t, I promise.”

“I love you, Summer.”

“I love you too, Matthew.”

I smiled. “The first time you ever said my name, I remember it was like… the first ray of sunshine after forty years of rain.”

I could feel her lips curl into a smile against my face. “Let’s go home, “ she said.

And I imagined that Orchard House not far down the road, if it could have, would have broken into a smile too.

It was early afternoon and we settled down in front of the TV. There wasn’t much to watch, so we settled on browsing the small collection of Dvd’s and VHS tapes that had been collected over the years. I almost selected the Ernest video we had watched earlier in our stay, but instead went for more serious fare, a travel video that showcased some of the local attractions. One of the attractions was the mountain peak we had visited not long ago and watched the sunset. We both looked at each other and smiled. But there was a look on Summer’s face that told me she had something on her mind other than local tourist attractions. It was a look of serious concern, but when I asked her what was wrong, she said it was nothing and went about watching the television. After a few minutes, she couldn’t keep quiet anymore.

“Would you really have done it?” she asked.

I didn’t have to ask her what she was talking about. “I don’t know,” I replied. “After my parent’s death, I had to go to the hospital. I wasn’t handling things very well, so my brother called someone and they recommended I get help.”

“Did you?”

“Well yeah, for a little while. When I got back home, Ash took care of me. I look back on it now and I think she was preparing to bolt then, but I guess her mothering gene kicked in and she stuck around. I think maybe the only reason she agreed to marry me was she needed to be needed. Otherwise she had no use for me. She didn’t want to be loved, nor did she know how to love…and I promise one day I will stop talking about her.”

“She hurt you very badly, Matthew. I don’t expect you to stop talking. I want you to talk to me more. One day she’ll be out of your system and you won’t have to worry about her anymore. You’ll have better things in your system.”

I smiled to reassure her. “I already do.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. Deep in my system.”

“How deep?” she teased.

“Well…you know that Bee Gees song?”

She held up her hands as if she were trying to ward me off. “Oh no, you don’t,” she said. “Don’t you dare!”

I opened my mouth to sing the song, my voice coming with a high falsetto, though not nearly as high as any of the Brothers Gibb. Not only that, I couldn’t keep the notes and my voice was cracking. All in all, I have to admit it was pretty horrible. As I got to the chorus she leapt up from the couch to try and get away, but I grabbed her at the waist and started to tickle her. She squealed in delight and jumped back from my grasp. Still attempting to sing the worse version of “How Deep Is Your Love”, I got up and came after her. She let out a playful scream and took off. I gave chase and we both fled down the hall, me on her lovely heels. She ran around the corner and right up to the front door, as if she were going to go crashing through it like the Road Runner being chased by Wile E. Coyote. I grasped for her waist and she spun around, allowing me to collide into her until her back rested against the door. I put my hands on either side of her like I was trying to keep her from ducking under my grasp and escaping. I don’t think she planned for escape, however. Instead her lips met mine in a furious hunger, her arms circling around me to pull me into her, pinning her pleasantly against the door. Our mad kiss, full of hungry passion, was not an unrelenting brutal thing however; it was just an urgent outpouring of our desire for each other. Perhaps it was the events of the day, all the revelations that had been uncovered that made us cling together as if we were life itself. I scooped her up in my arms and carried her up the stairs. With her one hand holding onto me, while the other caressed my face, we went around the corner on the landing, right towards the last untouched room in the house. And there, behind that door, we made love in Orchard House one last time.

Part 54: Matthew’s Decision

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

Orchard House Part 52: Her Mother’s Letter

Orchard House: Daily Serial Novel

Part 52: Her Mother’s Letter

The key lime pie was delicious. We sat around the table enjoying each other’s company in a way that was more relaxing than before. It seemed a certain stress had been removed from us all, but especially Summer and Earl, who no longer seemed on pins and needles waiting for the next explosion. The latter regaled us with stories about the early days of marriage, anecdotes from pleasant times at Orchard House, and when Summer was a newborn. He skirted around his leaving and any of the negative emotions that caused on anyone, and focused instead on the things he remembered of his once bride. After our dessert, we retired to the living room, where he invited us to sit on a love seat covered in images of flowers swirling and entwining around each other. He pulled the letter out of his pocket again, turning it over in his hands. “Are you sure you don’t want it?” he asked. “I think you’re right. In a way it was written to us both.”

“No, Earl , that’s okay. I appreciate the gesture but…” she hesitated and looked over at me. “But I would like Matthew to read it if you don’t mind.”

I looked at her. “It’s okay Summer, I don’t need to…”

“I want you to. Please.”

“Okay. If it means that much to you.”

“You mean that much to me,” she answered, and then looked to Earl.

“Fine by me,” he said, handing the letter to her, and offering me a reassuring smile.

She took the letter, unfolded it carefully, and handed it to me. “Go ahead. Read it.”

I took the paper from her and settled back in the love seat to read the letter. I felt pretty awkward because I felt this didn’t have anything to do with me. It was a personal letter from a dying woman to the man who had left her to raise their child alone. It may have had bearing on Summer, as she was that child, but I was completely outside of the box. The way Summer looked at me though, I felt as if she were ready to put me inside with the rest of them. I started to scan the first few lines when she interrupted me.

“Would you read it out loud?” she asked.

“Well, I guess I could,” I stammered.

“We already know what it says, but I would still like to hear it out loud.”

“Okay,” I answered. I looked over at Earl who nodded. I cleared my throat and began:

 

“Dear Earl,

I don’t know where to begin here, but I know there’s things that need to be said, and the best time, perhaps the only time, is now. To receive your last few letters have been a surprise to say the least. I’d often wondered if our paths would ever cross again somewhere, and I have equally wondered how I would react if that indeed happened. I do not think we have to worry about that now. If our paths cross it will not be here, but in some other place.

I have to admit I was always flattered by your offer to come see you there so close to where life began for us. And while you have gone there to relive those memories, I cannot follow. The memories will always bring with them pain, and I have seen enough of that lately. Please don’t take it badly that I can’t come. From the pictures you sent it looks wonderful and I am flattered beyond words that you took the time to decorate it with me in mind. Not long ago I would have been angry that you would assume that I still cared for you but the anger has left my body just as surely as my health has. I have struggled with forgiving you. From time to time I have thought it would be the thing to do, then I would tell myself I’d rather see you suffer with silence as I did. it was only recently in seeing the effect your failure and my bitterness have had on our daughter, that I came to realize some things. One, Summer was born out of love. It may have been a brief season for us but for her it is her life. We consummated our love and marriage in a little farmhouse, and all the beautiful things we were we poured into her. She had all the good things of us both and a future wide open for happiness. The end of us Earl, you and me, took all that away from her. Growing up with my bitterness towards you robbed her of a father. True, you didn’t exactly try to contact her much, but the few times you did I didn’t tell her. At the time I thought if I couldn’t have you why should she. In this I was just as selfish as you. Your abandonment coupled with my resentment shaped her young life and her attitudes towards relationships. She doesn’t hold boyfriends for long because she’s always waiting for them to leave her just like you did. And while it seems I’m saying she is the one who suffered, and still suffers from this, we are the ones who truly suffer. I have no illusions that I will ever see her marry, and I fear you will never walk her down the aisle. Not because of whom she is, but because of what we made her, what we taught her with our own behaviors. It would take the rarest man to break the spell we put her under.

Two, I have learned I can’t go stand before God and expect to be rewarded or welcomed into his grace while harboring hatred, resentment, or bitterness towards another human being. If I can’t forgive you how can I expect God to forgive me? Perhaps I’m just tired of all the negative feelings, but I know without a shadow of doubt that I will be the better person if I just slaughter my damaged pride, shove away the bad things I feel for you and just forgive you. It is no secret you hurt me to my very core when you left, but when you wrote me it started a healing process. It was a process I really didn’t want, but this isn’t just about me. It’s not about you either. It’s about Summer. You know, we gave her the cheeriest, happiest name we could think of, and then turned her into a lonely child who is still trying desperately to find her way. I hope that when I am gone, she will find her way, for I have held her back with my attitudes and opinions. And you have held her back by being the first example she ever had of what it is to be a man. In this, we both have fed her the wrong things.

Finally I realize this, in writing this letter to you, a weight is lifted. I know I can’t come there to you. If I were to experience any resurgence of the joy we once felt towards each other it would be that much harder to leave, and I’m told by my doctors I am leaving soon. The train will pull out from the station with me on it. Maybe one day the train will come back to the station to pick you up. If that should happen it would be my wish that when I see you, you’ll be able to tell me that you have seen her, that you have seen our daughter, our bundle of joy, and that you in perhaps some small measure have tried to do better than I have. I pray that you will tell me she has found that rare man and that together they have found their Orchard House in which to begin their life together. But most of all I pray you will once again say the words that first made me cry. I love you Earl. I always have. Even in my anger. But just because I hurt gave me no right to hate, and for that I have to ask your forgiveness. I feel in these trying days there is another house for us somewhere. It’s not in the orchard, nor has it been built by your hands, but nevertheless I will be waiting there for you when you are ready to walk by my side again.

Remember that song by Atlanta Rhythm Section. The one we used to dance to with Summer playing in the floor at our feet. I am so into you, I can’t think of nothing else. I hope they have that on heaven’s jukebox while I wait. Until then Earl, take care of yourself. And take care of our baby girl if you can. She may fight you on that, but perhaps that’s just what you need.

Love always,

Mary

There was a hushed silence as the letter was finished. All our eyes seemed clouded by tears, our throats dry, our hearts affected by hearing the words she had left, not only with Earl but with her daughter, and even to me it seemed. I quietly folded the letter and handed it back to Earl. There was no need for words in this moment. Earl was finally in mourning, the realization having sunk in she was gone, but waiting still. Summer was grieving once more not only the loss of her mother, but the inability to tell her she was sorry if she had caused her to resent Earl even more. And then there was I, the rarest man, knowing I had the herculean task of bringing this hurt and lonely child back to life, in correcting all the damage her father and other men in her life had done, and yet cherishing every moment that I was given to love this beautiful fragile creature, as if it was what I was born to do. And in feeling this way, I came to realize what my purpose in life was, and had always been. Things don’t work out sometimes in relationships, and maybe the reason for this is to bring you closer to the one you are supposed to be with, the one who has been chosen for you, either by God, or a mother’s dying wish. In this I knew, as we bid farewell to Earl with the promise of returning soon, that there were still things left to do. One of them dealt with an envelope that had been resting in my pocket all day, the other with the truth of why I had come to Orchard House to begin with.

Part 53: Matthew’s Confession

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