I feel like this post needs an introduction, in which I confess how aware I am that this part of the story is deeply flawed and my ability as a fiction writer is sorely lacking. I also want to re-invite you to leave any suggestions you might have for improvement. I will write more by way of explanation at the end of this post as well but for now, here we go...
Connor had napped longer than usual that afternoon and so was up later than his sisters. Lara sat with him at the green formica table in the kitchenette, munching on store-bought brownie bites. Connor was chattering away, Lara was trying to listen but her thoughts kept wandering away. She pulled another brownie bite from the bag and thought how nice it would be to bake a batch of brownies from scratch, like she was used to doing on a late night. She had been enjoying store-bought treats and the occasional chocolate microwave bowl but as Lara sat there she realized that she really truly missed baking. At that same moment she bumped against the realization that this kitchen was not equipped to bake, because really, how many people want to bake brownies while they are on vacation? A tube of cookie dough maybe, not much more.
Since making her decision to stay longer in Palm Coast she had started to bump up against these moments of inconvenience living semi-permanantly in a place that was meant to be temporary. They were few and far between and the benefit from this simple lifestyle overwhelmingly outweighed these few, minor inconveniences, but still. Like waves crashing onto the shore of Lara’s tired mind she swelled with excitement, crashed with disappointment and then had the realization that sweet Mrs. Gerald would possibly lend her what she needed.
The next day Lara and the children paid a visit to Mrs. G in the office. Lara explained her craving to bake a bit of something and if she might borrow a kitchen tool or two. “Tell you what, I have an even better idea." Mrs. G replied "Why don’t you come on over after dinner tomorrow night and we’ll do some baking in my kitchen, maybe if we're lucky we’ll even convince Mr. G to clean up after us."
“If it wouldn’t be an inconvenience?” replied Lara
“Naw, honestly it would be a real treat for me. Our little cottage gets mighty quiet most nights and it would do me and Mr. G a world of good to have some company.”
“I really appreciate it” replied Lara and Connor began to jump around with excitement.
Details were worked out, grocery trips were made and that night found Lara and her family at the Gerald's. The evening was full of light and laughter and no small amount of chocolate. At the end of it Lara and Mrs G sat at the kitchen table sipping coffee, watching the kids as they played with Mr. G who was excitedly showing them his extensive collection of driftwood carvings that he had gathered throughout the years.
“Mr G was asking over dinner tonight” began Mrs. G “and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before now - but well, I have a sister, who lives just a little bit farther inland, out in the country. I go visit her every chance I get and Mr. G asked me why not take you and the kids with me next time I go, for a change of scenery and whatnot. Anyhow, I’m going this Saturday and I’ve already called my sister and she would be delighted if you’d like to come with me for a visit. She’s got a massive blueberry patch you just would not believe, I usually help her with the harvesting and thought the kids would probably enjoy it. Anyhow, you’re more than welcome to come if you’d like, you know, if you think that’s something you and the children would enjoy.”
“We would love to.” replied Lara
So the next Saturday found them all sqeezed into Mrs. G’s ancient Carola, heading North on the A1A. After an hour or so, over highways, through agricultural establishments and rustic, if not somewhat run down, old towns they arrived at a small white house with a large front porch and a small woman sitting on the front porch sipping tea from a mason jar.
Mrs. G & Ms. May were like two sides of one coin. Mrs. G was a talker, Ms May was a listener, both busy in their own way, both economical and rather plain but where Mrs. G was a strait line, Ms Mae was a curve. Mrs. G was well-suited to be a businesswoman, Ms Mae was too much of a homebody for that. Her home was soft and cozy and one of the most inviting places Lara had been to. Ms Mae had lunch spread out on the back porch when they arrived - an assortment of cold lunchmeat, pickles, olives, deviled eggs and a big leafy green salad. A big pitcher of pink lemonaide for the kids and sweet tea for the adults. The kids scarfed down their food and ran to explore, watch the chickens, spy on the goat, and cuddle the kittens, which left plenty of time for the three women to talk as they ate lunch before heading to the blueberry bushes.
"So tell me about yourslef." said Ms. Mae "where are you from then?"
"I'm from Georgia." she replied "though I lived in a lot of places."
"And where did you enjoy living the most?"
"I thinked I liked something about nearly every place I lived. Though I think my favorite was Augusta. When we were stationed there we were nearer my family than ever, we bought our first house there, and Ian, my husband was talking about starting his own business. He was thinking wedding and event planning, if you can believe it. He as so excited about it. We'd talk about it almost every day."
"That sounds very nice. What a good memory to have of him."
"Yes, it's just that it made it very hard. So many dreams..."
"I know, dear. I know."
After awhile the children joined them, eager to help. They picked blueberries by the bucketful. Lara was surprised by what enthusiastic little workers they were, and Ms Mae was kind and patient in her instructions and lavish in her praise for their excellent work. Lara ambled along more slowly, enjoying the sunshine, and watching her children, soaking in the happiness on their faces.
Mrs G walked beside her “it’s so good for children to be out in nature.” she said
“Yes,” Lara agreed “and I think they really enjoy being useful,”
“Of course, they do. Everyone does. Work is what makes rest all the more sweeter.”
Blueberries were picked and packed, children washed, dinner served. The women were chatting at the table over an after-dinner cup of coffee, the kids finishing up bowls of rainbow sherbet when the screen on the back door swung open and clanged shut. In ambled a tall, muscular man, nearly thirty, dressed in dirty work clothes. He waved in their direction as he stepped to the sink to wash his hands “Hey Ma!” he called from the kitchen, his voice soft and deep. “There’s a plate for you on the counter” his mother called back. “Mmmm, smells good!" he called out in the general direction of the women as he poured a tall glass of tea “Did you bring the peaches? Wow, these look amazing” he stopped dead in his tracks as he rounded the corner of the kitchen into the dining room. Recovering quickly he placed his plate, his tea and a large peach down on the table. “You remember I told you Mrs. McMullen and her children were coming up today?” said Ms Mae “Yeah, right of course.” he replied extending a hand to Lara “I’m Matthew, nice to meet you.” Lara shook his hand “Lara.”
The night wore on and the children got sleepy. “I’ve already made up a cot in the guest room, if you’d like to stay the night.” offered Ms Mae and Lara gladly accepted. She helped the kids wash and get into bed. She sat with them for a few minutes, rubbing Connor’s back until he fell asleep. Lara tiptoed out of their room and down the hall.
At the dining room Matt sat talking to his mother and aunt. He had heard his aunt talk plenty about the family who had taken up residence at her hotel, and he had heard his mother inform him that the widow and her three young children would be staying with them, most likely for the night, still somehow Matt had failed to make the mental connection. The woman who had been sitting across from him at the dining room table could not have been more than thirty, and while her eyes were sad and tired her smile was warm and genuine and Matt noticed her gently prod each child towards bed, saw her laugh, smile, scold. He thought she must be a good mom.
Ater a bit Lara returned to the table, a fresh glass of tea in hand. Ms Mae busied herself in the kitchen and Mrs G said good night and headed to bed with a jar of tea and a thick book. “So where are you from?” asked Matt in an attempt at small talk, something he, as a general rule, did not like, but seemed like the appropriate thing at the moment, Lara’s eyes stayed on her tea “Georgia” she replied. If only she weren’t so freakishly shy. “I moved around a lot after I married my husband, but Georgia has always been home.”
“What part of Georgia?”
“My parents live just south of the Atlanta airport.”
“Hey, I’ve got a friend who moved out that way. Someplace called PeachTree City, I think, is that nearby?”
“Yes, that’s fairly near where my parents live.”
Lara attempted to make eye contact. Matt seemed like such a nice, friendly man. This shouldn’t be so hard. Her eyes dropped back to her hands.
“So your kids are in school there?” asked Matt
"Yes, my Connor went to pre-school three days a week and my girls went to school, right down the street.”
“and they liked it?”
“Yes, very much.” The corners of Lara’s lips turned up slightly.
"I’m really fortunate." Lara continued "My family really came through for me. They’ve been there for me when I’ve been a mess.”
Ms Mae sat down with them with her mason jar of water
“Honey, we are all a mess, some of us just work harder at hiding it, that's all.”
Lara looked up at Ms. Mae with an appreciative smile.
Matt stared at his hands, for awhile. Trying to decide if he should say anything. His eyebrows turned down but his mouth was soft as he looked up.
“I can’t say as I know what it’s been like for you, or I know what you’re going through, cause I can’t but I do know what it’s like to suffer a loss like that.”
His mother reached out an touched his hand.
"Five years ago I married the kindest, gentlest woman I’d ever known. Her name was Selah, kinda like Kayla but with an S, like in the Psalms, it means “rest”, her daddy was a preacher. She played the piano at church. Selah and I were married for seven months. She got pregnant pretty much on our wedding night, with a boy. She wanted to name him after the writer of one of her favorite hymns. But then one day a storm came through, Selah was on her way home from her doctor’s appointment in St. Augustine, but the storm got bad really bad, even for here. Kinda like the one that blew you in here, come to think of it, anyway an SUV hit her head-on and nobody walked away. The driver, my Selah, our baby boy. All gone”
His voice trailed off, his eyes raised again to Lara’s who were filled with tears for this man’s devastation. “I’m sorry, “ said Matt "it’s not like I tell my sob story to everyone who passes through town, just so you know, but you seem like you needed to hear this from someone who has lost someone near and dear to the heart,” he put his hands out on the table near hers "you’re going to be okay. Now I’m not saying it gets a whole lot easier, the hole they left in my heart is pretty much the same as it’s ever been, but life has somehow healed around the hole and somehow it gets a little easier to live. That probably makes no sense to you at all.”
“No, I understand what you’re saying. Thank you, for sharing your story with me.” Lara felt utterly lost for words. She hated how flat and hollow her words felt but she couldn’t find any more to express the compassion she felt for him, or how deeply she felt the bond of mutual loss.
After a bit Matt stood up. “Well, I better be getting on home, it’s getting late.” said Matt gather his things and kissing his mama “Night ma.” “Goodnight son” said Ms Mae. “You don’t live here?” asked Lara “Naw, I’ve got my own place in town, closer to work.” “My son indulges me with his presence once or twice a week.” said Ms Mae “I get lonely here all by myself if he doesn’t come round.” “And I’m not one to say no to a home cooked meal.” added Matt with a wink. “Goodnight Lara, I’m glad we met.” said Matt as he turned for the door. “Goodnight, and you as well.” said Lara, wishing from the very tips of her toes that she didn’t always sound so stiff and formal when she was nervous.
After the door had shut and the lights of Matt’s truck had faded Lara thanked Ms Mae for her hospitality and headed upstairs. Ms Mae had laid out towels and toiletries and a simple white cotton nightgown, Lara eagerly took them into the guest bath and started a hot shower, washing away the sweat and fine layer of grime she’d accumulated from being outdoors for most of the day. She heard the door to Ms Mae’s bedroom close and like a switch, finally turning off or a plug being pulled Lara allowed herself to cry. All the layers of strength, and self-protection from the overwhelming grief she’d been carrying with her for the past months, it all began to fall away and Lara sobbed. She cried for the years and the dreams she had lost. She cried for the days and the nights she had spent alone since then. She cried away the anger and the deep disappointment at the way things had turned out. She cried for the doubt and fear for her future that threatened to strangle her. She cried and cried till the water turned cold and she was all out of tears.
Moments later Lara was laying in bed, her children, snug and asleep nearby. A cool breeze blowing in through the open window and the moon shining in bright and clear and Lara breathed it all in. She felt as though she could see herself like a beach. Her shores were storm-tossed, the shipwreck of the past months strewn across her shores, but she also saw the waves, slowly, gently, sweetly, carrying her debris away, clearing bit by bit the sandy beach, slowly starting to clear and Lara felt an unfamiliar tug at her heart. What was it that danced along the edges of her emotions? “oh,” she suddenly realized “that’s hope.” and she smiled and fell asleep.
Back at the hotel, Lara sat near the open window, listening to the sounds of the rain and the pound of the surf. Nearby her three were playing a card game Clara had learned from Mr. G. Lara sat back in her chair and sipped her iced tea, thinking back to those first few intense years. It had been so hard giving birth to three children in the span of four years. It had felt like she was drowning, constantly needed, constantly touched. Now, here she was. She sighed contentedly.
Breathing in gratitude. Lara had spent the last few minutes writing an email to her editor, Marleigh, with fifty good ideas for articles. Okay, well maybe ten good ideas and forty lame ideas and of those ideas only two or three might ever be printed, but as Lara typed, her thoughts flowing freely, she felt like a part of her had come back to life. Like a piece of her brain that had been asleep for the last year had finally been able to push through the fog and wake up. Lara scanned over her email for the twentieth time, hit send and shut her laptop. She walked over to where Clara, Sophie & Connor sat in a circle and watched as they finished their game, gently stroking Connors sun-bleached blond hair. “Do you want to play with us?” asked Sophie, Lara smiled hugely “Yes!"
Could this be any more obvious, or cliché? I know, I know. I've been cringing about this part of the story all week. Here's why I included it: I liked how Matt was bare-faced and without an agenda. I like how he sees someone hurting and is willing to say "I've been there, and things are going to get better" I also liked Matt's voice in this passage. I felt like it was clear and distinct from the other voices in this story so far which is why I didn't delete it all!
Also - I wanted to include this link. I hope it works for you. It's something I've been thinking about this week.