Will the harvest moon bring light back into Lacey's heart?
Lacey stopped in her tracks and leaned over, hands on knees. Her long blonde hair fell across her shoulders and she breathed heavily. Three or four times a week she ran this path. It helped her stay fit and relieved her stress. A leaf brushed past her shoulder and fell softly to the ground. The colors of gold, green and red were exquisite, black dots marred the beauty. Just like my heart, once filled with color but now tinged with sadness.
She stood and wrapped her arms around her body. A chill invaded her now that she was still. Stepping onto the wooden bridge she walked to the middle and leaned on the railing. Looking below into the softly undulating water she saw little bugs dancing. She imagined frogs below with long tongues picking them off one by one. Above, noisy geese called out orders to each other as they flew to an unknown destination. Feeling lonely, she stared at the edge of the woods, hoping to see a deer. None appeared.
Thoughts came creeping back; the pain, that lonely aching pain pulsed through her veins. Inexplicable, unstoppable. She closed her eyes and could feel his body next to her, his hand touching her arm. It wasn't real she knew, but for a brief moment she could relive the sensation. She wondered if the longing for him would ever cease to exist.
Hearing laughter, brought back to the present, she looked up and saw a couple arm in arm coming down the path. Turning, she exited the bridge, looked once more behind her, and headed home, nodding to the smiling pair as she passed. Picking up speed once more she resumed jogging. Soon the trees would be bare and cool breezes would invade the land.
The little white house with a matching picket fence stood at the end of the block welcoming her. She smiled when the curtain parted and Samantha's little head appeared. The cat seemed to have a sense of time and knew exactly when her evening meal would be provided.Opening the gate, Lacey noticed that leaves were beginning to cover the sidewalk, they crunched under her feet as she walked to the door. Soon she would have to start raking them into little piles for the city to pick up.
A guttural sound greeted her as she entered the house.
"Hello Sammy, did you miss me?"
Samantha weaved in and out of her legs as she removed her jacket and shoes, accompanied by purring. Lacey flopped on the couch and the little cat leaped onto her lap and tried to push her face into Lacey's. Stroking the soft fur, a feeling of love enveloped her. The cat would always be there for her and it felt good to know she had something to care for.
"Come on, little girl, let's get something for you to eat. Oh, and me too, I'm hungry."
The cat ran to the kitchen, tail high, and wiggled on her haunches waiting for the meal she knew was coming.
Later, Lacey flipped through the TV channels but couldn't seem to concentrate on anything to watch. The newsman was talking about fall colors and the local apple orchard previewed.
Think I'll give Mom a call.
"Hey Mom, it's Lacey."
"Lacey, what's up?"
"Do you think we could take our annual trip to the orchard on Saturday? I'm sure Susie and the kids will want to come. The weather is supposed to be nice."
"It's a lovely idea, I'll call Susie. If you don't hear from me we'll pick you up about 1:00 if that's OK."
"That works for me, Mom. See you then."
Saturday, the front door was barely closed when Lacey heard the children yelling from the car.
"Sit by me, Aunt Lacey."
"No, sit by me."
Smiling, she opened the car door.
"Let me squeeze in the middle of you both and you'll have equal attention."
Susie, Lacey's sister piped in from the front seat.
"They'll wear your ears off Lacey, you don't know what you're in for."
"That's OK, I need some people talk, it's usually me and the cat."
The ride up to Sky Bluff only took about half an hour but the scenery kept them all captivated. The rolling hills lent themselves well to a breathtaking display of trees and bushes in every shade of orange, red, brown and green. The adults were quiet, enjoying the ride. The children were excited and chattered the entire time. Once at the top they parked, then took the well trodden path by foot further up the hill where the best view in the county could be found. Sarah and Tommy raced ahead, each trying to beat the other. Sarah's legs were no match for her older brother. she fell behind so grabbed onto Lacey's hand, happy to have her favorite Aunt to herself.
Standing on the peak, they marveled at nature's painting laid out before them. It never got old, even though they came here every year. One could have imagined an artist in the sky, gleefully flicking colors off of a pallet in every direction. Hills rolled into valleys as far as the eye could see. They felt autumn's breeze gently stroking their faces then rushing off to find something else to tease. Puffy white clouds drifted past slowly, sometimes hiding the sunshine for a brief moment. There couldn't have been a more perfect day.
Finally becoming bored, the children begged, "Can we go down and pet the animals now?"
"Of course." Susie replied.
Halfway down the hill they heard the annoying braying of the donkey putting on his usual show. The children laughed and ran even faster to see him. The women sat on a bench, glad to rest, and watched them play with the goats and sheep. There were even a couple of Llamas hanging their heads over the fence but no one was allowed inside with them. Chickens of every color and geese were allowed to roam free. They seemed to be happy running around, making clucking sounds and pecking on the ground. The stable, barn, and shop were decorated with orange pumpkins, gourds, hay bales, and corn stalks. The scene could have been out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Lacey laughed out loud when the donkey came trotting over by the children and pushed his head through the fence. Allison, Lacey's mom, smiled to herself. It was refreshing to see Lacey having a good time. She hadn't been the same person since the breakup. Once full of laughter and happiness, she now seemed withdrawn and quiet. Allison wished a nice man would come along and capture her heart again.
"I'm hungry for a caramel apple, anyone else want to come?" stated Lacey.
"I want to." Sarah yelled.
"I'm coming." Tommy replied.
The shop was a site to behold. Apples took up most of the large building, red and green shiny globes filling up bushel baskets everywhere you looked. Shelves were stocked full with every kind of jam, jelly, and marmalade. The aroma of apple pies came from the bakery and many different varieties were waiting for a hungry customer to take them home. Pumpkins and gourds surrounded the outside of the store and an entire corner inside. With so many choices of size, shape and color it wouldn't be easy to pick the right one.
The group headed for the display case filled with mouth watering caramel apples. They each picked one and then found a picnic table outside to eat them. For a short while the children were quiet, busy devouring their apples. At the bottom of the hill a sparkling pond winked at them. Several white swans were floating on the surface, oblivious they had an audience above them. Everyone was becoming sleepy, warmed by the sun, caressed by the breeze.
"Let's go pick our pumpkins before we fall asleep," Susie said to the children.
"I want the biggest one," yelled Sarah.
"No, I get the biggest because I'm the oldest," shouted Tommy.
"I want to come over when you make the Jack O Lanterns," stated Lacey. "You'd better call me!"
The time it took for each of them to pick out a pumpkin was almost unbearable. They wanted to outdo the other. Leaving them to figure it out, the women filled the cart with apples, pie, gourds and jellies. Everybody would go home with something.
The drive home was much quieter, everyone satisfied that the day had been fulfilling in body and spirit.
"Look who's in the window," laughed Lacey as they pulled up to her house.
"Can we come in and see her for a minute?" asked Sarah.
"Lacey grinned. "Fine with me but better ask Mom first."
"Please Mom, please."
"Of course you can, but don't take long. It's getting late and we need to get supper going for Dad."
The children scrambled to get out of the car. A race was on to see who would get to the door first. Sadly, as cats will be, Samantha only wanted her supper and didn't give the time of day to the kids. They received an angry meow as she ran off to the kitchen.
"Maybe next time she'll be more friendly," frowned Lacey.
"It's OK Aunt Lacey, we love her anyway."
"Good, and I'm sure she loves you in her own way. What do you say we go back out and find Mom?"
She opened the car door, gave a high five to the children and said; "Thanks everybody, I had a great time. Call me when you do the pumpkins. Don't forget."
"We won't, Aunt Lacey, love you," shouted the children in unison.
Friday night, once a month was saved for fun with her friends from high school. This had been a tradition since graduation. Five of them still lived in their home town but Ellie, the sixth, had joined the Air Force so couldn't be with them in person. The group gave her an occasional call to catch up. Joan and Lillian were married, Nellie was engaged to Ronald Oh boy . Lacey and Margaret remained single. Margaret always seemed to have a new boyfriend but never became serious about any of them. Her dream was to become a national news reporter but she hadn't made it past the local station yet. All had hopes her dream would come true, she certainly had the looks and personality for it with her flowing dark hair, full lips and bubbly personality.
All dressed for the evening out, Lacey gave a quick call to Margaret letting her know she would pick her up in a few minutes. Tonight the group decided to meet at a favorite Italian Restaurant for dinner. After, they would go to the annual Harvest Moon festival held in the town pavilion. Sounds of Midnight, a local favorite band along with several other bands would rotate and periodically local would be comedians would bravely appear on stage to liven up the crowd. The jokes might be lacking but all respected the bravery to do it.
"Bye Sammy, be a good girl. See you later."
A short meow was all she received in response but she knew the nosy cat would be at the window on her tree perch the moment she walked out the door and would keep watch until she returned.
Margaret looked stunning in an appropriate black dress surrounded with tiny golden moons floating in the background. Lacey always felt under dressed in her presence.
"Hey Lacey, love your outfit."
"Thanks Margaret, I see you've outdone yourself again."
"What, this old thing. I've only changed about six times before you came. I'm starving, didn't eat anything except an apple all day so I could gorge myself tonight."
"Come on Margaret, you could gain ten pounds and still look slimmer than the rest of us."
"Don't be silly Lacey, you're a knockout and you know it."
"I wish, don't feel like one."
Everyone except Nellie was seated at the table. The group lovingly called her dilly dally Nellie because it seemed impossible for her to arrive anywhere on time. After all these years they still couldn't figure out why as she always appeared somewhat disheveled. They wondered if she'd make it to her own wedding on time. Nellie, with her easy going personality took it all in stride and often stated that she was simply a disorganized person. It went without saying that the group would not be the same without her. She afforded all of them entertainment and they loved her to death. There was no jealousy or competitiveness within the group, that's why it had lasted so long. Of course there had been minor disagreements at times but they all took it with a grain of salt and never held grudges.
"Here she comes," laughed Joan. "I just saw her fly by the window."
True to nature she whisked past the seating host in a flurry. He seemed nonplussed as if he had lost control of his seating arrangements and stood with his mouth hanging open. Nellie was completely unaware that she had bypassed him.
"Hey everybody, sorry I'm late. I locked the door and then realized the car keys were inside so had to go back and get them."
"It's OK, we haven't been here long either," responded Lillian, always one to appease.
"You wouldn't believe what happened yesterday," Nellie stated. "Ronald offered to help Dad put some of those thing a ma jigs on the eaves to keep out the leaves. He didn't want Dad falling off the ladder. Dad argued and protested but finally gave up. He unhappily followed Ronald out back. We were in the kitchen and heard yelling outside so we ran out the back door. Ronald had fallen off the ladder and was laying on the ground. Dad looked like he'd seen a ghost and I almost had a heart attack. Ronald raised his hand and said he was OK, not to worry. Dad then gave a harrumph, proceeded to grab the ladder, and put it back in the garage. Ronald was embarrassed and said he had to go home. Later, Dad mentioned that it would be better if Ronald didn't help him with any more projects.
The group of girls looked down at the table, each trying not to laugh. It was so expected that Nellie would have yet another story to tell. They secretly called them Ronald's Escapades. If you wanted to find a nice guy, that would be Ronald but he lacked common sense and always seemed to get into trouble without trying.
"I hear they're having hay rides this year," stated Lacey.
"That would be fun if we were dressed for it," Margaret interjected. "Maybe we should have gone casual."
No one wanted to go home and change just for the hay ride so they opted out.
The meal was enjoyed by all and in celebration of harvest moon the restaurant served little cakes shaped and decorated like pumpkins.
"I'll have to dance off these extra calories," cried Joan.
Leaving the restaurant each one received a nod, smile, and thank you from the seating host except for Nellie who was given a disgusted look. Busy digging through her purse for car keys, she never noticed.
What a site greeted them. Miniature lights lit up the pavilion, trees, and bushes. Pumpkins, haystacks, and orange streamers were everywhere. Soft music was playing, couples were already dancing. Various food and refreshment stands had set up shop. Carriage rides were available, and hayrides were already underway up the hill. The town, as usual, had outdone themselves.
Joan and Lillian were scanning the crowd for their husbands. Nellie came rushing over, "Has anyone seen Ronald, he said he'd be here but I can't find him."
"I'm sure he'll show up sooner or later," said Lacey. "Look, there's your Mom and Dad."
"Oh he won't be over there I'm sure. He's been avoiding them since the incident."
"He'll have to talk to them sooner or later."
"I know but his feelings are still hurt, he only wanted to help."
"He has a good heart, Nellie, and so do you."
"Thanks Lacey, you're a good friend."
Margaret was already on the dance floor. She was a good dancer and had an audience whenever she was out there. She enjoyed being the center of attention but still kept her hometown friendliness. Lacey knew she would be in demand all night, there was always someone waiting for the next dance. She sipped on her drink and felt content taking in the activities.
"There you are," Joan smiled as she approached Lacey's table. "I wanted to talk to you."
"Here I am," Lacey laughed.
"Listen, there's this great guy that Richard works with we'd like you to meet."
Lacey put her head in her hand, "Oh boy, here we go again."
"Come on Lacey, are you going to reject every man for the rest of your life just because one guy broke your heart?"
"Well I do only have one heart, Joan."
"Hearts mend and so will yours if you give it a chance. I'm not saying this is the guy for you but you won't know unless you meet him. If nothing else, you might make a new friend."
"I know you have the best intentions for me, Joan, I appreciate it, really I do. Let me think about it over the weekend."
"Please don't wait too long, Lacey. Someone else will snap this guy up, I know it."
"If that happens, then it wasn't meant to be. Seriously, I'll give it some thought."
"Good, all I want is for you to be happy."
"I know you do. Now stop fretting about me and go find that husband of yours."
Feeling a little bored, Lacey decided to take a stroll down to the stream that meandered along the edge of town. It cascaded into a small waterfall where it ran over a ledge of boulders. The water then formed a swirling pool that once again connected to the stream. Behind her, muted sounds of the festival were distorted by the soothing sound of water hitting the pebbles below. Crickets competed witht the festival music as if they were backup singers. Bullfrogs croaked in every so often and a slap could be heard in the water now and then from something playing in the water.
It wouldn't be long before frost crept into the ground and Lacey decided to see if Margaret was ready to leave. Making her way through the crowd, she felt a tap on her shoulder.
Turning she said, "Yes?" and then looked into the bluest eyes she had ever seen.
"Sorry, but I think you dropped this," he murmured, holding up a small purse.
"Oh my gosh, thank you, I never noticed."
Their hands met as he handed her the purse and a shock rushed through her body. "Guess I'd better be more careful from now on."
"Glad I found it. I'm John by the way."
She noticed a British accent and was intrigued. "I'm Lacey, are you here visiting?"
"Ah, you noticed the accent. No, actually I took an IT job here so you could say I'm a new resident in town."
"Welcome, I think you'll like it here. I've lived here my whole life."
"Could I interest you in a dance? Unless you're here with someone else?"
Blushing, she replied. "I'm here with friends, I'd like that?"
As they danced, feelings she thought were dead, started to awaken inside her. His touch alone gave her goose bumps. He kept hold of her hand after the dance.
"Would it be OK if we sat for a bit. I understand if you want to return to your friends."
"Oh no, they are quite busy elsewhere."
They found a table and he offered to get some refreshments. Once more seated, he smiled at her. "Truthfully, I felt a little bit like an outsider tonight, which I guess I am. I've only been here a couple of weeks so only know the people I work with."
"You'll find that everyone here is friendly, that's probably why I've never moved away. Leaving your home and friends must have been hard to do."
"It was, but I've always wanted to see the United States and it was a job offer I couldn't refuse."
Lacey noticed her parents and waved. They walked over to the table.
"John, this is my Mom and Dad. He just moved here from Britain and is working over at Mastic Communications."
Harold, Lacey's Dad, extended his hand. "Nice to meet you John, I was stationed in London for about six months when I was in the Army. Of course that's years ago."
"I'm from Manchester, it's quite large too."
"How are you liking the United States?" Allison chimed in.
"Oh, I'm mad fer it." John replied.
"Guessing that's good?" Lacey questioned.
"Yes, very good."
Allison decided she liked John and could see that Lacey did too. "Listen John, if you're free on Sunday, how would you like to come over for dinner? We'd love to have you unless you have other plans."
"I would like that very much but I have to ask. In Manchester dinner is lunch and tea is the evening meal so what time were you having dinner?"
Allison laughed. "Around noon but you can come earlier and we can chat. Does that work for you Lacey?"
Lacey, hoping that her parents hadn't put John on the spot replied, "Sure, I guess, would you like me to pick you up John?"
"Please, I don't have a vehicle yet."
Standing, Allison said, "Great, all set then, we'll see you Sunday. It was nice meeting you."
"Yes, looking forward to it," Harold piped up.
John stood as the couple rose to leave. "Likewise, I will see you Sunday, it was so kind of you to invite me."
John took Lacey's hand, "You have great parents. I hope their invitation to me didn't make you uncomfortable, I sensed that it may have."
"Only because I thought the same of you."
"On the contrary, it's no fun to have dinner alone."
"It's getting late. I have to go and find my friend Margaret, she rode with me. I can offer you a ride home as well. That is if you're ready to go."
"I don't mind the walk but will accept. Then you will know where I live when you come on Sunday."
Lacey had a restless night. After tossing and turning she finally got out of bed, opened the patio door and walked out on the deck.
"Geez, won't be sitting out here, too cold."
The night was crisp and clear, stars twinkling above, not a cloud in the sky. She took a big breath of fresh air then went back inside where it was warm.
"Sammy, come sit by Mommy, I can't sleep."
The cat was more than happy to jump on Lacey's lap as she sat on the couch, half awake, half asleep. The conversation with Joan came to mind. Was she as pathetic as everyone seemed to think. Jake, oh how she missed him, even now.
Jake was a classmate, they had gone from grade school through high school together. He was gorgeous, popular, a quarterback, and genuinely nice guy. None of the girls had a chance with him, Rhonda was his arm piece since they were freshmen and this continued through graduation. Rhonda was in a group of girls who considered themselves a grade above the rest of their classmates. They were the cheerleaders and divas who snagged the football stars and always made it on prom and homecoming court. Jake was completely opposite. He hung out with all the guys, popular or not. He acknowledged everyone he knew and had no airs about himself at all. Many wondered how the pair of them could have been together so long as they seemed to be complete opposites. Then again, opposites attract.
One day, long after graduation, Lacey was on the bridge kicking colored leaves into the water below and watching them drift away.
"Well hello stranger?"
She turned, "Jake, oh my goodness, I haven't seen you since graduation. How are you?"
"I'm good, still fixing cars in Dad's garage. I've seen you around a few times, usually with Margaret or your Mom. Joan and her husband come into the shop every so often so I get updates on the classmates."
"I've never left town either, no desire to see the world I guess. You and Rhonda must have a couple of kids by now."
"Nope, no kids. No Rhonda either."
Lacey laughed. "That's a shock. I thought the two of you were tied at the hip."
"I thought so too, but she had other ideas. We had a spat, she took off to her cousins in Philly and never came back. I got a call one day that said she liked it there, was staying permanently, and thought we should break it off."
"Really, how did you feel about that?"
"What could I say? I wished her well and haven't talked to her since."
"I'm sorry Jake."
"Don't be, I'm over it."
"Look Jake," Lacey pointed. "Right at the edge of the woods over there."
Across the water, against a backdrop of majestic green pine trees, oaks, and a carpet of brightly colored leaves he stood there. With a flick of his head he slowly stepped forward to the water's edge. His reflection revealed a huge set of antlers. Bending his massive head, he lapped the water, took a look around, gave a snort and was gone in the blink of an eye.
Neither Lacey nor Jake moved, transfixed in the moment.
And so it began on that little bridge, leaves falling around them, sharing a memory together. What began as a new friendship turned into a full blown relationship.
Lacey fell head over heels in love but there was always this nagging doubt that Jack wasn't as committed as she. He never mentioned engagement or talked of marriage and kids. Friends and family would ask when they might take the next step but Lacey was clueless and shrugged it off. Lately he hadn't wanted to do anything together on weekends and his calls were less frequent. She knew something was up and worried what it might be. Was he tired of her?
One day the truth reared its ugly head.
"Lacey, it's Jake, I need to talk to you about something. I just don't know how to tell you."
"What is it?"
"It's me, not you. I mean, it's about me and you. Oh darn, it's about me and Rhonda."
"Rhonda? What are you talking about? Are you seeing Rhonda again? Is she back in town?"
"Yes, well no, she will be. She wants to get back together."
"That's what you want too?
There was a pause on the other end of the phone.
"Jake, is that what you want too?"
"I'm sorry Lacey, I never meant to hurt you, I cared about you, truly. I feel like a heel. It's just that Rhonda and I, well we've grown up together. Forgive me, I can't explain it."
"Don't try Jake. Listen, I have to go. Have a good life with Rhonda."
"Please Lacey, try to understand."
"I don't Jake, I don't understand. I loved you."
She hung up the phone and sat there for a long time. She felt empty, used, alone. Strangely, there were no tears, no emotion at all.
With a start, Lacey jerked, unsure if she had been sleeping or not.
"Oh my gosh, Sammy, Iet's go to bed, I'll never get up in the morning."
Samantha grunted and jumped off her lap, annoyed that she had been disturbed.
In the back of her mind she had a sense that she'd drempt of Jack and wondered briefly when she would no longer think about him.
On Sunday, Lacey pulled up in front of John's apartment building. Already outside waiting, his long, lanky form leaned against the light post."
She rolled down the passenger window. "Can I interest you in a ride, stranger?"
He peeked into the open window. The blue polo shirt matched his eyes. "Not sure I should be letting myself get picked up by a beautiful woman."
"Not even if I can offer a homemade dinner?"
"I see how you are, trying to get to my heart through my stomach."
"If I recall, it was my Mother who did that, not I."
He laughed, "You're a sharp witted one, aren't you?"
"Get in the car now or I'll have to drive away and leave you on the street with an empty stomach."
He hopped in the car and gave her a peck on the cheek. "I was thinking about you this week and wanted to call, then realized I never got your number."
She gave him a flirtaceous smile, "We'll have to do something about that, won't we? Did you have a good week?"
"Yes and no. It's challenging to learn new things but sometimes frustrating as well."
"Do you work a lot of hours?"
"Quite a few right now but I'm hoping once I get adjusted to the new job there will be less. I'm interested in exploring the town and eventually these United States. I'll have the opportunity to do some traveling and am looking forward to it. Just purchased a new camera and am honing up my phtographic skills."
"Is England beautiful? I've never been."
"Yes it is but there's a difference. You could look at it this way. England is an old country with lots of history, American is new and exciting."
"Have you always interested in photography?"
"I've dabbled some, wouldn't say I'm an expert by any means."
"I'd love to see your pictures some time."
"Maybe later this afternoon or some evening next week you could stop by and I'll show you. I've brought pictures with me from home; my family and such."
"Well here we are, Mom and Dads."
The Wilcox home was a large ranch with attached garage. Allison was an amatuer gardener so the grounds were well kept although at this time of the year few flowers were still in bloom.
"Nice home, looks cozy."
"It is, my parents are great hosts."
She grabbed his hand as they walked to the door thinking that he may be a bit shy."
Once inside a cry of "Aunt Lacey, Aunt Lacey," was heard.
The children came running at the sound of her voice but came to a dead stop when they saw John.
"Sarah, Tommy, this is my friend John."
John gave each of them a handshake, "Nice to meet you both. I see you are fond of your Aunt Lacey."
Allison came from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.
"Welcome John, so glad you could make it."
"Something smells good, Mrs. Wilcox, haven't had a home cooked meal for a while now."
"Now, now, you must call me Allison," she said, taking John by the arm. "Harold and Stephen are in the garage, I'll show you the way. We'll have dinner on the table in no time."
John looked behind him as he was led to the garage and Lacey shrugged her shoulders as if to say she had no control over the what her Mom did.
Sarah followed Lacey into the kitchen. "Your friend talks funny."
Lacey laughed. "He's English, that's how they talk over there.
"Where is English?"
"It's England, across the ocean, I'll show you on a map someday. We talk English too, but in England they have a different accent than we do. It's like people from the United States who live in the North have a different accent then those who live in the South."
"I'm not sure why, dear, that's just the way it is."
Susie was busy mashing potatos and Lacey donned an apron to help with the meal. Soon the food was ready for the table which Allison had masterfully decorated with tiny gourds and pumpkins from the orchard.
"Children, go tell your Dad, Grandpa, and John that dinner is ready."
Off Tommy and Sarah ran, always happy to be of help.
John was in a conversation with Stephen and Lacey heaved a sign of relief. It appeared as though he was comfortable with her brother-in-law.