Welcome back to another installment of “The Sweetest Of Woods”, otherwise known as simply “The Book” around these parts.
I received so many wonderful comments and pleas to publish the rest of the story when I shared Chapter One that I decided to publish it chapter by chapter, every Tuesday morning at 9:30 am California time until it’s finished or by stroke of luck I am able to sell it. Tuesdays with Meg, a story time not to be missed!
I’m working on the second book currently and have plans for a third so you’ll be here a while.
You may read Chapter One HERE.
If you are all up to speed, I lovingly present to you…
Chapter Two- Muted Magic
Bridget sat in her closet, face pressed against his pants that still hung in the closet. She felt close to him surrounded by all his things that smelled so familiar. She had done that for so many hours that she was afraid she had already smelled all his scent away.
“Get your sorry butt up girl!” Rose called from the doorway. “Ash called me. He’s worried about you. I’m worried about you. Everyone just wants to help you sweetheart.”
“I’m getting a grip. It’s just taking me a bit longer… is there really a time frame for these things Rose? I don’t know what to do. I need a checklist. Buy milk, toilet paper, pick up Prozac and grow up?” she asked her friend.
“I don’t think anyone expects miracles here babe. We just need to get you up and moving again. You have two beautiful children that need you more now. You need to start making plans and figuring a few things out.” Rose said, offering an outstretched hand to pull Bridget up to her feet.
The women made their way to the kitchen where Rose put on a fresh pot of coffee. The kids were in school and Bridget struggled to recall how many weeks it had been since her best friend was buried six feet into the earth making their fairy tale life just a memory.
Rose opened the refrigerator to look for some milk or creamer for their coffee. The opening door sent a Jell-O mold ejecting from its cold prison like it was shot from a cannon, followed by a shifting in the casserole pans that were stacked one on top another taking up nearly every inch of the fridge. She reached up and opened the freezer. It too was wall to wall frozen meals prepared by friends, neighbors and people how had so generously shared to lighten the stricken families load.
“That’s almost depressing,” she said surveying the lime Jell-O between her toes and soaking into her sandal.
“The Jell-O or the fact that we could eat a mystery meal every day of our lives… FOREVER, or the fact that I still have to write thank you notes to everyone on the list on the front of the fridge?” Bridget commented as she slumped into the barstool where the kids ate breakfast, no energy to hold herself up any longer. “I don’t like water chestnuts. Did you know that every mystery casserole contains water chestnuts? Is that part of the official bereavement diet? A meat, a starch, a veggie, then water chestnuts and a thick layer of cheese in an attempt to conceal the heinous chestnuts of water. I kind of feel like that Jell-O, all smooshed and slimy.”
Rose found the milk and poured them each a cup of coffee, adding a plate of muffins and donuts next to her friend in the hopes that she would at least pick at something to eat absentmindedly.
“I have some good news but we need to talk,” Rose started cautiously. “Here.”
She handed her friend an envelope that contained several pieces of paper. The first was a statement from the local credit union bank showing a memorial fund had been set up for their family. Members of the community had come together to donate several thousand dollars to help them. This brought a fresh batch of tears to her eyes as she thought of those wonderful people sacrificing for her little family.
The next few pages were letters from local businesses that had been touched by her husband’s kindness and were offering their services to her free of charge.
“Did you see? Corey offered to give the kids haircuts free for life. Stan said you never have to think about your car tires and weekly washes on the house. The Goodman Brothers donated their plowing services…” Rose realized what she was about to say.
“It’s alright to just say it. I need them to plow because Fallon always plowed out this side of town on bad days. Really, these are things I am going to have to think about. This is really special. I really appreciate everything, I do. I’m about to lose it. I just don’t know how to put my feet underneath me.” Bridget could hear her bed calling to her and she thought she might need to hold down the sheet and cry about all of this some more. “I haven’t stood on my own feet since he swept me off of them all those years ago. Could we take the party to my bedroom? I just need to lie down for a few minutes.”
“Oh no you don’t,” Rose’s voice had the tone that said listen up or you’re going to get it. “I love you. I love those kids. You guys are our adopted family so know that I don’t mean to hurt you but you need to live. You need to pay bills, make plans and bake cookies. You need to take walks with the kids and take pictures again. Hello! It’s been almost eight weeks honey. I want to support a really good plan. Let’s make some great plans darling!”
“Eight weeks!?” She leaped up and ran to their office.
Throwing open the desk drawer to grab the checkbook and get bills paid before too much damage had been done. The checkbook was missing and the desk had been cleaned. The black fog of grief swirled around her, threatening to snatch her up and sweep her away once again. She stood there like a statue gripping the old leather chair with such force it caused her knuckles to turn a sickly shade of white and purple.
“You think I’d let you drowned without jumping in?” Rose said putting an arm around her friend. “Everything is paid through next month and Derek has assembled some volunteers that have been running the shop to bring you some extra income for now. He got a really good offer on the garage and we think you need to consider it.”
The house was exactly what they had always dreamed it could be. Weekend projects and tons of love, they had their own cream puff slice of the American pie. One of the best features was the large yards, woodworking room and expansive garage. It would be getting colder soon and for the first time in a very long time, she was on her own but now she was trying to navigate life with a hefty mortgage, a business she knew nothing about and two kids that needed her to be stronger than she thought she was capable of. She had never split the firewood or even had to bring it in very often, Fallon did that. He set the water heater, changed the clocks after a power outage, unclogged the plumbing, handled the bats that nested in the attic last year and always trimmed their flower beds perfectly with the weed wacker because he knew how she enjoyed her flowers. She felt small and unworthy of the mountainous task that lay before her.
Every time she walked into the bathroom they shared, her foot would always find the loose tile. That one piece that wiggled in its place was like a stab of a dull rusty knife into her body that was barely clinging to life.
Fallon was dancing in the bathroom while brushing his teeth with Asher, rocking out to Tooth Tunes when his toe caught the loose square.
“I think we should retile the bathroom.” He announced in a way that let her know to get ready to grout, like it or not.
They had looked at every tile sample in the county, thought of every possible color combination and had finally settled upon absolutely nothing. There was talk of a full on bathroom makeover complete with spa tub but they didn’t know plumbing and that sounded a tad out of their league. The 1-2-3 Home Improvement Guide Book sat porcelain throne adjacent with the chapter on tile flagged with portions highlighted. Notes in his handwriting in the margins along with small pattern designs he drew in the blank places to spark a memory at another time.
Each step was painful as she forced the lifeless lump of flesh back onto the bed they shared. Her tears had washed any scent of him off his pillows but she still closed her eyes, snuggled his pillows close breathing deeply and picturing his perfect face with the little scar on his chin.
She rolled over and looked up at the ceiling above her bed. After all these years, the glow in the dark sticker star packages still glowed in the patterns they were placed in over a decade ago. They had jumped up and down on the bed like gleeful four year olds up to no good sticking the stars to the ceiling of their new home. When the lights went off they reveled in their glowing handiwork. Bridget had been putting constellations of the Northern Sky above their bed they shared and Fallon, like a joker, put the stars in little groups to make hearts. He had said that no matter where they go, what they did or how grand their life became that their hearts always belonged in the stars while they were dreaming.
Her mother had called that afternoon to report that the senior citizen townhome association had agreed to waive the must be 50+ rule to allow Bridget and the children to move into her Mother’s town home. Everyone seemed to be making plans for her. They all seemed afraid she would move away and be lost to them. Maybe they just knew better than she did. Her mother said that it was just until she got on her feet and not to worry that it would be the right step for her children. She wasn’t sure she even had legs let alone was capable of taking an actual step. She would ponder how she could go around feeling like she had been hit so hard that the wind was knocked out of her. Gasping for small slivers of air but unable to take any healing oxygen in; she must be part fish.
Rose asked her to move in with them but in the midst of all this tragedy an unbelievable blessing occurred. After years of trying, Rose was pregnant with their first baby. Bridget was thrilled for her friend but knew from experience that now was not the right time to disrupt the life that Rose had tried so hard to achieve. Besides having a total life break down is a grand imposition of crazy that most often should only be handled in the company of family.
She could knock herself out trying to hold on to their dream or admit defeat and return home to her mother’s care.
As she solidified their fate in her mind, the hot heavy tears cascaded down her cheeks and leaving little wet spots on her shirt. She looked out the bedroom window, down at the garden that once seemed just like a magical special place from one of Kendra and Fallon’s stories but now the glitter had faded. Reality had set in and she could no longer see the colors dance or hear the call to feel the blades of grass under her bare feet. The Elm tree danced in the wind, stretching its branches up closer to her window reaching out to comfort a drifting soul. For a second she thought she heard a whisper. She strained with her ears to hear it again but decided it must just been the sound of all her dreams dying and she closed the window and went to pour a glass of wine. If hope was lost, a nice glass of Pinot Noir might be the night’s companion.
The smiling gentleman showed up early on a Saturday morning and shoved one of those metal signs with a picture of his face and a number to call into the lawn.
Asher drew a mustache on the smiling man, horns, made fire come out his ears and every other tooth was the color of Purple Sharpie. When Uncle Derek busted him for his handy work Asher said “No one is happy about this! Why should he sit in the yard smiling away when this sucks?”
Gotta give it to the kid, there was nothing fair about the situation. Derek “accidentally” stepped in the mud and kicked the unmarred side of the sign. The blow sent the sign off its hinge on one side and totally caked in mud. Ash was right, nothing about this was okay.
The next week all of their personal things were moved into Unit J #26 at Fountain Oaks Retirement Resort.
Bridget moved into the sewing room and the kids shared the guest room.
Everything else was sold or donated before the new owners moved in. She was told that it was the healthiest choice and would give her a fresh start.
Bridget had a secret.
Secrets are hard to keep in a small town so she had to be extra careful in the measures she took to conceal a fact that would stay that way for the better part of a year, between only two people and one of them didn’t speak English.
Kendra reluctantly placed several toys she really wanted to keep into the pile for the garage sale and eventually donation. She was going to share a room with the big brother she idolized and they couldn’t bring much with them. She didn’t want Ash to think she was a baby that still needed her ponies she thought as she dumped an armful of brightly colored My Little Ponies and various accessories into the donation pile. Turning back around to fish four colorful ponies back out and their matching saddles before accepting the fate of the rest of the heard of happy horses.
She sat on her bed and looked down at the Barbie comforter. Her mom had sewn it for her using all of her favorite colors. Her parents painted her room bright pink with colorful streaks of glitter tossed across the paint while she was visiting her Grandma one weekend.
She knew that the glitter had to be her Dad’s idea, since he complained loudly that he was always covered in glitter since the day she was born.
The room she would share would not have cheerful pink walls that shines like they contained a dusting of pixie dust mixed in. The wind chimes started to clatter as the weather picked up. She opened the window and leaned out just slightly taking a long deep breath of the cool night air.
Everything had changed so much.
She wondered if the magic that they shared in the garden would find her when she was forced to leave this perfect place. Auntie Rose said not to be over dramatic when she voiced her concerns about leaving their home and her garden.
“Ken, after you get settled in, you will be so close to my house you can walk right on over. I need your help making our yard as beautiful as this one. I don’t have the green thumb you do. Do you think you could show me how and we could share the magic in my yard?” Auntie Rose offered genuinely.
Kendra knew her honorary auntie loved her as if she were her own and really enjoyed spending time with her. She loved being at Auntie Ro’s but the trouble was that the magic she created in the garden was part of a team effort.
“I’ll try.” She offered.
Her father would spin the tales and she would bring them to life; together in the garden.
She was far too young to understand that adults looked at their beautifully kept garden as merely an attractive leafy oasis. They did not see the magic. They couldn’t be bothered to look past their Smartphones, text messages and impersonal way of life to see that there was things that could not fully be explained at work in our very every day normal lives.
She wrote Auntie Rose’s address on a picture she had drawn of her house. Careful to make sure to show the elm tree in the front yard and the neat white home with sunny yellow trim and multicolored flowers lined up in rows in the perfect planters under the front windows of the quaint American Bungalow style home. She folded her picture and placed it in a Ziploc baggie without sealing it. She walked out the back door.
The noise alerted her mother that had been staring off in an overwhelmed state.
The woman opened the backdoor and called to her daughter, “We leave in five minutes baby! Try not to get messy. You know your Gran will want to show you off to the neighbors when we get there.”
All the grown up’s acted like they were taking some long trip and moving excessively far, not just to the other side of town.
It felt like they might as well be moving to the moon.
She brushed off her favorite rock that looked over the small koi pond they had built the weekend before the accident. There had not been any time to get the fish, frogs or the water plants for their project but she hoped that the new owners would love it as much as she did.
The wind whistled through the large tree that Ash had built a fort with their father the summer before she was born, causing it to almost sound as if it were crying mournfully.
“I have to go.” She whispered into the wind. “Here’s a picture of the new garden. My Auntie Rose has a big old dog but he won’t hurt you. She’s really nice. She has tons of lady bugs and butterflies in her yard already so I think it will be a special place.”
In the distance she could hear her mom calling her and her brother. She jumped up and started walking towards the tree, lovingly running her hand along the side of several plants along the way. When she reached the weathered old trunk she caressed it as though it was as soft as velvet and walked around to the backside of the tree. Just below a knot in the tree was a small hole. Asher said that a family of squirrels had once called it home when she had discovered it the year before. She slipped her hand into the pouch of her sweatshirt and retrieved her drawing in its plastic bag.
“I didn’t close it, but just in case it takes a long time for you to find me, it might rain before then so I put it in a bag.” The child explained as though she were addressing the air its self. “I’ll miss you my friends.”
She slid the plastic baggie into the hole in the tree.
Bridget appeared at the porch and the girl ran to leave with her family.
The air felt heavy and if someone had been there to notice they would have seen the tree shake heavily and continue to drop a steady stream of leaves into the night.
The vivid green grass got a few shades duller and the vine looked like it might give up ever flowering the perfect rich purple trumpet shaped flowers again.
The bright white fence looked like it needed a good dusting and the mood marbles refused to shine as if a haze that covered them.
They all stood solemnly watching her go, some clamoring down the trunk of the tree to retrieve the message. Each knowing that they were part of something bigger that was going to happen. Their muse was only beginning to learn. She didn’t understand the role she would play yet.
They had to find her- stay together.
She was going to need every bit of their magic to protect them all.
Chapter Three: Feeling Moldy…