Love’s Labor: Part Two

Goldenrod 10 for webLast week in Love’s Labor: Part One, we learned that Faye Bennett’s interest in Brian Lambert, one of her brother Wil’s best friends, is reciprocated. That’s a happy circumstance for Faye and Brian.

But what’s happened to the great friendship between Faye and Suzanna Owens now that Faye finds herself in the midst of her first love?

It must be Thursday and time for another edition of the Carding Chronicles. So read on, enjoy, and then please do your part to boost tourism in Carding by sharing this story with your friends. Thanks!


Botanists estimate there are 140 species of solidago, or what we call goldenrod, in the world. Many of them have settled in New England.

This gorgeous yellow-flowered plant covers our open fields, lines our roadways and paths, and gives bees something to do right into some of the last days of fall.

In Carding, every teacher and school kid watches for the first appearance of goldenrod (the earliest varieties bloom the first week of August) because that means the period of summer dormancy is drawing to a close, and the flyers in the newspapers are screaming about “Back to School” sales. So it’s not unusual to see the energy at the town beach pick up, the number of local hikers on the Appalachian Trail grow, and the carnival rides get crowded at the local fairs.

It seems like everyone’s trying to cram as many moments at they can of summer’s freedom into the time left before heading back to school.

Ruth Goodwin, Carding’s mail carrier and woman-about-town, knows that as well as anyone. As she makes her rounds, she sees folks scrambling to finish the paint job on the garage, get wood stacked, and hustle down to the river to catch some of the bass and trout that have been fattening up since April.

So she didn’t understand why Suzanna Owens was spending a fine sunny day in the post office helping her Uncle Ted sort mail.

Suzanna, all of fifteen but looking like more like twelve, could be a skittish kid, often not responding to direct offers of kindness. Given the girl’s background—a derelict mother, an early life of random moves, sketchy schooling, and periods of abandonment—Ruth could easily understand that.

But that didn’t explain the girl’s presence in the post office.

“Hey Suzanna, nice to see ya,” Ruth ventured. Ted looked up from the pile of junk mail in his hands, relief clearly visible in his eyes.

“Yeah. Hey Ruth,” the girl sighed, and Ruth caught the sound of tears in her voice.

“Have you been waiting for me?” she asked.

“What? No.” Suzanna looked confused. “I don’t think so. Why would I do that?”

“Well, I figured you might be needing a ride up to the Tennyson farm,” Ruth said.

“Why? What’s up at the Tennyson farm?”

“They’re making plans for the corn maze,” Ruth said. “Didn’t you go to that with Faye last year?”

“Hmph, yeah, back when Faye had time for me,” Suzanna muttered. “Why would I want to go up there?”

Ruth glanced at the girl’s uncle, and Ted emphatically nodded his head. So the stories are true, Ruth thought, Faye Bennett does have a boyfriend. Aloud she said: “Well, Lee and Chris Tennyson rely on a crew from the high school to lay out the mazes, and that usually starts about now. Would you like to hitch a ride with me to check it out?”

Suzanna swiveled her eyes toward her uncle, looking for guidance.

“I used to do it for Lee’s father, back when I was in high school,” Ted said. “It was a lot of fun. We used to have different scenes set up in the maze, and one year, I played Dracula rising up from his coffin. I must have done a hundred sit-ups in one night.” He smacked his belly. “I was a lot more fit in those days.”

Suzanna dropped the pile of mail she was pretending to sort, jammed her hands into the pockets of her jeans, mumbled “Yeah, okay. I’ll go,” and scuffed her feet all the way out to Ruth’s Jeep.

As she turned to follow the girl, Ruth made the universal sign of “telephone call” to Ted while pointing in the general direction of the Tennyson farm. Ted nodded, and slid his cell phone out of his pocket.

No matter how hard Ruth tried to pry more than single word answers out of Suzanna, the girl stayed resolutely unresponsive, her eyes averted, her head bobbing in time to the dips and sways of the dirt road that led up to the Tennysons’ hundred-acre spread at the top of Belmont Hill.

About halfway to the farm, Ruth suddenly realized that her companion was grieving. Being a woman of direct action, her mouth was open before her mind was fully engaged. “Boyfriends are tough,” she said.

Suzanna started. “What?”

Ruth took a deep breath, and plunged on. “I remember when I was in high school, and my best friend got interested in boys,” she said. “I wasn’t ready yet, I realize that now, so I didn’t understand why she wanted to hang out with Jerry Hastings instead of me. I thought he was kinda dumb.”

Suzanna sighed. “Brian Lambert’s not dumb. He’s nice, actually.”

“So you can’t hate him,” Ruth said, pulling into the Tennyson farmyard, praying that the “Maze Gang” would really be there. “That makes it harder.”

“Did you hate Jerry Hastings?”

“At first I did,” Ruth said. “I was lonely without my friend. We did everything together, and I missed her.”

The farmyard was empty, and Ruth’s heart sank. This wasn’t going well at all. But then she heard hammering and talking and laughing in the distance.

“What was her name, your friend, that is?” Suzanna asked as she opened the Jeep’s door.

“Nancy. She lives in Arkansas now.” Ruth cocked her head to listen. “Sounds like something’s going on in the barn.”

“What happened to her? Did she stay with that guy?”

“Yeah, unfortunately. He turned out to be as dumb as I thought he was. Left her with two kids and a mortgage and a junk car,” Ruth said.

Suzanna sighed as she looked around. “I wouldn’t wish that on Faye.”

Ruth reached out and squeezed her hand. “I know. Listen, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret, one that might not make any sense to you right now but I want you to remember it. Okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“After I got over being mad, Nancy and I were friends again,” Ruth said. “In fact, we still talk about once a week, and we still make each other laugh. There’s nothing in the world like a good friendship between women. We understand one another in ways that guys just don’t.”

Suzanna studied the scuffed toes of her sneakers. “Do you think Faye and I are like you and Nancy?”

Ruth nodded. “Yeah. I do. Look, I’m not trying to tell you that everything’s going to go back to the way it was before Brian Lambert showed up. You and Faye are growing into women together, and that’s not the same as being girls together. You’re both going to branch out to have your own experiences, and that’s the way it should be. ”

She leaned forward to grip the girl’s shoulders. “But you’re both going to need someone to share that with, someone to help you keep your head on straight when you think you’re losing yours And that’s really important. So don’t give up on Faye, okay?”

Suddenly Faye’s brother Wil appeared in the barn door, and Suzanna’s head came up, a smile hovering in the corners of her mouth. Wil waved, and halloed, beckoning them closer. As Ruth watched, Suzanna reacted like a dry plant getting water.

“So, I guess I’ll leave you here,” Ruth said. “Is that all right?”

Suddenly, Suzanna whirled around, and hugged the older woman. “You know, you were my first friend when I came to Carding, and I’ve never forgotten that. Thank you,” she said. And then she was gone.


 Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find a short story in your inbox every Thursday morning along with food photos and recipes from the Crow Town Bakery, and other green peak moments from Vermont.

If you enjoy the Carding Chronicles, please share them and encourage your friends to subscribe to this website. And please review the Carding novels wherever and whenever you get the chance to talk about books. Your opinion matters more than you can imagine. The more folks who share Carding, the more books I get to write, and the more you get to read.

The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

 

 

Love’s Labor: Part One

Eagle 2 smaller for webThe Carding Chronicles are weekly short stories about the small town in Vermont (population 3,700) that no one seems to be able to find on a map.

Please share this story with your friends. And if you subscribe, you’ll find a Chronicle in your inbox every Thursday.

Enjoy!


“Faye? What are you doing up so early?” Diana Bennett asked as she stumbled out of her bedroom, rubbing her eyes.

“Mom, you should see your hair!” Faye said.

Diana reached up to find an odd bristle on the side of her head, just above her ear. “Do I look like a cockatoo?” she asked.

“More like a crazed rooster.” Faye turned her attentional back to the thick layer of peanut butter she was spreading on bread slices  laid out on the kitchen counter. “I’m headed over to the beach to see if the bald eagle shows up to roost on Belmont Island again.”

Diana silently counted the slices of bread. “And you need three sandwiches for that? Not that I mind but you don’t normally eat that much.”

Suddenly, Faye’s face felt quite warm, and she turned it away from her mother’s view. A tiny smile flickered over Diana’s lips. Aha, so it’s a boy, she thought. This should be interesting.

“Um, some other kids might be coming along so I wanted to have something to share,” Faye said quickly, dipping a spoon into a pot of strawberry jam and smoothing it over the peanut butter. “We’re all bringing something.”

“Uh huh. And how are you getting down to the beach? Is Wil taking you?”

“Hmph, I don’t think so, Mom.” Faye shook her head. “If it’s not baseball or basketball or football, Wil doesn’t know anything about it. This is birds, not balls.”

“So how are you getting to the beach?” Diana leaned against the wall. It wasn’t that she like to watch her daughter squirm but it was only a month ago that Faye had declared her undying devotion to the idea of never letting “any boy, ever” into her life.

“Um, Brian Lambert’s picking me up.” Faye made quite a show of cleaning up after herself. “You’ve met him. He’s Wendy’s older brother.”

“Wasn’t he on the basketball team last year?” Diana asked. “And he’s a friend of Wil’s, right?”

“Yeah, he and Wil hang out but Brian also likes birds, and he’s got these really cool binoculars, and he’s already showed me how to tell the difference between a hawk and an eagle when they’re way up in the sky.” Faye took a deep breath, and turned her still-burning face toward her mother. “Please don’t tell Wil. He’ll tease me, and I just don’t want to hear it. It’s just bird watching.”

Diana strolled into the kitchen, tilted her daughter’s face up, and kissed her on the forehead. “Not a word. Promise,” she whispered. “But in the future, tell me where you’re going, and who with, okay? I don’t need to know all your business but you know how I worry. Deal?”

Faye nodded. “Thanks, Mom. Deal.” She started piling sandwiches into a small cooler.

“Do you want some cookies to go with those?” Diana asked.

“I thought they were all gone,” Faye said. “They just disappeared out of the bakery after that bus showed up yesterday.”

Diana opened a cupboard door. “What’s the sense of being a baker if you don’t have a stash of chocolate chip cookies in case of emergency. Help yourself.”

Faye gave her mother a quick hug, grabbed a handful of cookies, and slid out the door without another sound.

Diana yawned, stretched her arms above her head then turned to go back to bed. The alarm would go off soon enough so there wasn’t a moment to lose.

“Was that Faye?” Stephen asked sleepily as Diana snuggled up close. “I thought I heard her voice.”

“Yep.”

“Where’s she going this time of the morning?”

“First date.”

“What?” Stephen didn’t sound so sleepy any more. “Are you serious?”

“Quite serious,” Diana said, “and you can’t say a word to Wil, though I figure he’s going to find out soon enough because it’s his friend Brian.”

“But I thought…?”

“That your daughter was going to be a nun? Never have a boy in her life? Shun all male company forever?” Diana asked.

“Well, that’s what she told us, and not too long ago,” Stephen said.

“Hmmm, that’s what they always say…just before it happens,” Diana reached up her face for a kiss, and Stephen obliged. “They’re headed down to the beach to see if that eagle shows up again.”

“Mmm, do you think I should get in the car and follow them, just in case?” Stephen asked.

“No.” Diana laughed. “I think you’re going to stay right here, and let Faye figure this out on her own.”

……………

Faye’s nerves had reached the jangling point by the time she slid into the passenger seat of Brian’s car. This is totally stupid, she chided herself. Brian and I have been hanging out for a while now, and we never have a hard time talking to each other. So why is my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth?

Brian glanced over at her, still trying to figure out if this was a good idea or not. He liked Faye. He liked her a lot, in fact. But she was Wil’s sister. What if she didn’t like him? What if Wil didn’t want him anywhere near Faye? What if everything that came out of his mouth was completely stupid?

And why was his tongue suddenly glued to the roof of his mouth?

He struggled against the thick silence between them for a moment before he finally blurted: “I brought stuff to drink.”

“Good thing,” Faye said, wishing her face would cool down. “I think I put way too much peanut butter on the sandwiches so we’re going to need it.”

“Did you…does your…I mean, Wil…?”

Faye shook her head. “Wil’s still in bed. My Mom got up so I didn’t need to leave a note. She gave us some cookies out of her stash.”

Brian concentrated more than he needed to on the turn down Beach Road. “I mean, there’s no reason not to tell Wil, you know.”

“I know,” Faye said. “But he doesn’t tell me everything so it’s okay.”

The two of them sighed at the same moment, glanced at each other, and then giggled as Brian parked the car near the path to the local diving rocks. Once there, they’d be able to see the dead cottonwood on Belmont Island, the tree that had become the favorite roost of a bald eagle who was new to the Carding neighborhood.

“I brought a couple of blankets, the ones my folks use when we go camping,” Brian said as he extracted stuff from his trunk. “I figured it will be cold down by the water.”

Faye nodded, and noticed that her heart rate rose a little at the mention of the word blanket. This is really happening, she told herself. I’m down here at the beach when there’s nobody else around with a boy who’s got blankets. She wanted to look at Brian, to indulge herself in enjoying the curve of his cheek and the way his eyes crinkled in the corners when he smiled. But she felt quite shy, a rather rare emotion in Faye’s experience.

“What do you think the odds are of seeing the eagle?” she asked as they trekked off down the path. But Brian didn’t bother to answer because the trees were suddenly filled with the clatter of crows warning of an intruder. He looked at Faye, and they grinned at one another.

“It’s got to be here now,” he said, grabbing her hand and quickening his pace over the slippery rocks. “Crows don’t make that much noise just because we show up.”

Faye followed, quite breathless. Brian’s hand was warm and strong, and she liked the way her fingers felt wrapped in his. Did he realize what he had done or was this just a way to hurry her along to their birdwatching post?

He pulled up at the edge of the trees, fixing his eyes on the stark, white tree just visible in the dusky light. But he had a difficult time concentrating because Faye had not pulled her hand away when he took it. Now that she was standing so close, would she notice how hard his heart was beating? And if so, would she guess why?

“Do you see anything?” Faye whispered, moving up close to his side. They were both vividly aware of the shared warmth of their arms touching one another’s from shoulder to elbow.

“I think so,” Brian said, pointing with the hand he was willing to move. “I think that white spot might be the bird’s head.”

“Where?”

Brian took a deep breath, and looped his arm over her shoulders, nudging Faye over until she stood in front of him. He slowly lowered his head until it was at the same height as hers. Their cheeks brushed. Neither one of them moved, and if you’d asked Faye in that moment, she would have sworn that neither one of them breathed.

He pointed again, and Faye carefully followed the trajectory of his finger. “What do you think?” Brian whispered, and she felt his words whisper over her neck. Goose bumps tingled down her back, and she involuntarily shivered.

“Are you cold?” he asked.

“A little, yeah. Do you think that we could…um…?”

“Oh sure.” Brian plucked a blue and white blanket from the pile of stuff at their feet, fluffed it open but then stopped. The two of them stared at one another then at the blanket. “Um, you can take this one,” he said. “I brought two.”

Okay, Faye thought, this is it. He either likes me or he doesn’t. She raised her head, and looked Brian straight in the eye. “Why don’t we put the other one on the ground so we have something to sit on?” she suggested. “We can share this one to keep warm, if that’s all right with you.”

Brian started a little but then grinned from ear to ear. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. I think…I think sharing would be perfect.”


 Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find a short story in your inbox every Thursday morning along with food photos and recipes from the Crow Town Bakery, and other Vermont moments.

If you enjoy the Carding Chronicles, please share them and encourage your friends to subscribe to this website. And please review the Carding novels wherever and whenever you get the chance to talk about books. Your opinion matters more than you can imagine. The more folks who share Carding, the more books I get to write, and the more you get to read.

The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.