In my latest Carding novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, Stephen Bennett (co-owner of the Crow Town Bakery) is in a serious truck accident. This story, “Sunrise Hill,” takes place several months later.
Copies of The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, plus copies of all my other books, will be available during my October Book Sale starting October 5. There will be lots of good deals. Stay tuned.
Stephen Bennett wasn’t much of a morning person. Even though he could stand, sip coffee, and talk before nine, his wife and kids knew better than to expect him to do much of anything else before then.
So Faye and Wil could be excused for being a bit unnerved by the sight of their Dad whirling around their home kitchen when they filed in for breakfast as he filled the three parts of their stainless steel tiffin with a variety of foods.
Faye glanced at the clock. “Whoa, Dad. Is the house on fire or are you really just that glad it’s the first day of school for us. It’s only seven o’clock, you know.”
Stephen grinned as he arranged a tier of cherry tomatoes stuffed with guacamole in the top tin. “It’s also Monday, the bakery’s closed, and I’m taking your mother for a picnic,” he said.
The back door opened, and Diana stepped in with a bottle of milk she’d retrieved from the restaurant below. “Hey, first day.” She shook her head as she looked at her two kids. “Wil starts his senior year. That is so hard for me to believe.”
“Mom, I think you’ve said that on my first day of school every year since first grade,” Wil said as he shoveled granola into a bowl, and grabbed the milk from his mother.
“Yeah, how come you don’t say that to me?” Faye said.
Stephen stopped for a moment to take in his daughter. She’d managed to lose the last bits of her little-girlness over the summer, and her body now had a shape that he knew attracted attention. Suddenly he leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “I think it’s because you’re the youngest, and every time you cross a threshold, your Mom and I just want to slow everything down. It makes it more real if we say it out loud, somehow.”
Wil and Faye traded eye rolls as their parents sighed. “It’s a long way from September to June, Dad. Forever,” Wil said.
“So where are you two going for your picnic?” Faye asked. “In case we need to launch a search party, that is.”
“Remember where we let that hawk go last spring? The one named Freya?” Stephen said.
He felt his family squirm uneasily. The hawk’s release was the same day he flipped his truck off the Hooke Road bridge, and nearly died.
“Look, I know that none of us like to think about that day,” he said softly. “But I’m tired of feeling so tender every time I think about what happened. I don’t want to live with that fear any more. My accident doesn’t make Sunrise Hill any less beautiful, especially on a day like today. We’ll be able to see clear across the valley to the valley beyond.”
Diana lifted her chin. “We used to go up there when we were in high school to…to…” She blushed and stopped.
Wil snorted into his cereal. “Really, Mom. Faye and I know what goes on up there at night. The top of Sunrise Hill is pretty remote, and some kids don’t hide what they’re doing.”
Diana opened her mouth to ask Wil if he had ever been up on Sunrise Hill at night but then decided she didn’t really want to know.
Faye caught her brother’s eye. “She’s dying to ask, you know.”
“Hmm, but she won’t because then we might guess what she was doing up there.” He looked up at his mother, and winked.
Diana tugged at his hair. “Smart guy.”
With that, the Bennett family crashed through the rest of their morning, making lunches, figuring out who was going to be where and with whom after school, cramming parts of their lives into backpacks, and then Faye and Wil disappeared down the stairs. Carding Regional High School’s opening day had begun.
The air in the kitchen seemed to vibrate with the back door’s slam. Diana strolled over to the coffee maker to top up her cup then leaned against the counter next to her husband. They sipped in silence for a few minutes, savoring their closeness.
Finally she sighed. “You’re sure you want to do this.”
Stephen nodded. “Yes. No. But seriously yes. I’m not sure what it’s going to take to make my fears go away but this is as good a place to start as any.”
He looked down at his wife. Small wrinkles now gathered regularly in the outer corners of her eyes, and worry lines appeared in her forehead more often than before. He kissed her.
The winding dirt road up Sunrise Hill was a constant source of disagreement in Carding. Only one family, the Handy clan, lived up there any more, and everyone knew they used Temptation Road to get in and out of their enclave. Temptation was a mile longer but less steep than Sunrise, and a lot less curvy.
But over the years, Sunrise had become a beloved byway for hikers, cross-country bikers, birdwatchers, and amorous teenagers. Everyone in town agreed that each view from the road across the Corvus River Valley was more spectacular than the last as you walked or drove to the top.
So far, the Sunrise Hill lovers had prevailed over the town’s cost-cutters to keep the rough dirt road accessible for recreation though they had managed to keep the road crew’s attentions restricted to clearing trees, and reinforcing the outer slopes of the tight curves.
In other words, no plowing, no salting, no grading, and no sanding.
Stephen and Diana oohed and aahed like tourists during foliage season all the way up the hill, laughing at themselves. “You’d think we’d never seen this before,” Diana said as the low-hanging arm of a large maple arched over the road in front of them, half of its leaves orange, the other half yellow.
“This is why we live here,” Stephen hollered over the rumble of his truck. “What’s the sense of living in Vermont if you don’t appreciate the foliage?”
They parked by the remains of an old shed, its timbers weathered to a fine gray, its metal roof a study in the myriad colors of rust.
“Oh, will you look at that?” Diana said as she ambled through the tufts of long grass toward a bulge of granite where the land dropped away into the forest below. The day was clear, the last of summer’s haze now dissipated. Off in the distance, the land rippled and folded in muted tones of red, orange, yellow, gold, and cinnamon brown. To their left, the Crow’s Head Falls glinted in the sunlight.
Diana sat cross-legged on the lichen-stained rock, soaking in every detail. She reached up to encircle Stephen’s calf with her hand. “You okay?”
He sat down next to her with a deep, deep sigh. “Yeah. I needed this.”
A breeze swept up the hillside, and they both breathed in the earthy scent of fallen leaves. Diana took her husband’s hand, and let the silence stretch on.
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The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):