Authors: Robyn Carr
“That’s George. His wife isn’t too interested in that sort of thing. George says she won’t plant or cultivate but she’s good at picking for dinner. She, like Peyton, is more inclined toward medical pursuits. Lori is a physical therapist and has worked since they got married. Peyton, I have no doubt, will continue to work with Scott even after they have more children. She loves her work.”
“Where is everyone?” she asked. “I expected a lot of action around here.”
“By now I think they’re all at the big house. It’s not the biggest house—George’s is actually bigger, but it will always be the big house because my parents are there and it’s built for an army. Only seven rooms, but they’re huge rooms. On Sundays when the farm is quiet, no planting, breeding, lambing or harvest, the family just maintains. There are daily chores but it’s the only day of the week there’s actual rest. They take care of the animals, then go to mass, then have an early dinner. It’s the only day of the week the family eats before six. I left a note for my mother that you might join us, but it’s up to you. There could be a lot of them.”
“George’s family, I have two sisters nearby, Ginny and Ellie, but they divide their time between my parents and their husbands’ families. You know the food will be great but I don’t want to overwhelm you.”
“If you’re sure I wouldn’t be imposing...”
“I’m sure it would be a challenge to get you away from them. My mother especially. She lives to feed people, especially people who are at her table for the first time.”
“That would be so lovely.”
“Does your family have traditions like that? Sunday dinner together?”
“My married brothers have split all the holidays with their wives’ families, but we have some. Then there’s the occasional gathering—a backyard barbecue, a Sunday brunch and numerous company parties, often at one of my brothers’ homes. Richard has a boat and RV—there are family trips to the lake now and then. It’s nothing like your family. I was at the reception, remember.”
“That’s not a typical family dinner. But when we’re harvesting, that’s when everyone turns out—we need the help. They work like mules, men, women and kids. Then they eat like vultures. Then they drink and dance.”
“I did see some of that at the reception,” she said with a laugh.
He took her hand and they began to walk down the road to his parents’ house. “Sunday is different. It’s the only day Paco sits in his favorite chair and spends hours on the newspaper. Or he might read his magazines—all about agriculture. The television stays off and doesn’t come on until
when he argues with the TV and accuses them of having everything wrong, but he never misses it.”
“We have that in common,” she said. “My father does the same.”
She enjoyed the walk, the hand-holding, the fact that they had everything and nothing in common. There’d been those divorces, but that seemed to be where it ended. Their families were completely different but both had built family businesses. Her family was so vanilla and ordinary while he had that rich Basque culture. Between them there seemed to be a unique understanding that allowed them to explore each other’s lives and emotions.
When they got to the house they found it bursting at the seams. She had trouble counting them all—it was the mother lode. Matt reintroduced her to people she’d met at the wedding reception—the women were in the kitchen, the kids were all over the place, everyone was smiling a little wildly as they said hello and she knew, then and there, they were hopeful that Mad Matt had found a woman. What the devil was she to do about that? They had gone over that—they weren’t about that, they weren’t able to couple up, even though just for a moment she thought about how comforting that could be.
“They set a place for you,” he whispered to her.
That’s when she was able to count. There were nineteen plates on the long oak table.
Soon she was settled into her place next to Matt, beside his mother, his father not far away. There was a momentary silence for a brief blessing. Then everyone was again talking at once. Paco was pontificating to one of his sons-in-law while simultaneously loading up his plate, mothers reprimanded children, women laughed, kids argued. She looked at them, seeing a few pale brunettes and blondes among the in-laws and children. Serving platters and tureens crowded the table and people moved them around quickly. Much to her disbelief, Corinne picked up Ginger’s plate and served her, heaping a little of every dish, filling her bowl with soup, tearing off crusty bread with her hands and placing it on the bread plate. Her glass was filled with white wine.
“Oh, no,” she protested. “I have a long drive ahead!”
Without a word, Corinne switched wineglasses, taking Ginger’s full one and pouring a small amount into her empty one, then placing it in front of Ginger.
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to eat it all,” Matt whispered to her. “And you don’t have to drink the wine. I want you to have a safe drive.”
The plate Corinne had filled was placed in front of her and she stared at it in disbelief. There was enough food for at least three meals before her. She looked at it uncertainly. She picked up her fork, not knowing where to start.
The table fell silent, even the children. They were all staring at her—she could feel their eyes. Ginger sampled what she believed to be a chicken dish, though what kind she had no idea. She slid the fork into her mouth and the flavors seduced her instantly. “Mmm,” she said, letting her eyes close briefly.
Everyone immediately began talking again, laughing, gossiping, lecturing. She looked at Matt in confusion, her brow furrowed.
He laughed and whispered, “Everyone wants to know if you like our stuff. Our Basque stuff. She overfilled your plate, don’t hurt yourself. Be glad she’s not spooning it into your mouth.”
“Is this like an initiation?”
“Yeah, something like that. Don’t worry now. You gave the approved response.”
She wanted to ask if Natalie almost fainted from the beauty of the food, but of course she couldn’t. Maybe during one of those late-night phone chats she’d brave it. Mick would have loved it; he’d have written a song about it because everything was all about him. He would have played his guitar and sung for them.
She ate a respectable amount, joined the conversation to talk about the flower shop and Grace, spoke admiringly of the new chicks and lambs, even commented on the amazing June weather. She poked at a rich desert, feeling stuffed. When dinner was done she insisted on helping in the kitchen where there was no dishwasher and many difficult roasters and pots to scrape. They shooed her away but she wouldn’t go. First of all, she liked them and second, it was bad manners to ignore the cleanup.
Eventually, before the meat and sauces were blasted out of the huge pans, Matt rescued her. He held her denim jacket and said, “Come on, everyone, Ginger has a long drive ahead and needs to be on the road.”
They all chimed in.
Of course! Please go before you miss the light! Thank you for everything! You are too wonderful to help!
She hugged each one, thanking them for making her so welcome, for sharing their amazing Sunday dinner. Matt walked her outside where she paused beside her car and took a deep breath of the clean air. Then she turned her startled eyes to Matt. “Oh, Matt! I wanted to see where you were going to build your house! How did I forget that?”
“Next time,” he said with a smile. “We were too busy for that today.”
“Next time? Your family will think I’m a freeloader!”
family?” he asked, laughing. “You’re lucky they didn’t hold you down and stuff you! You complimented them very nicely without even knowing it. My mother will be ecstatic.”
“Thank her again for me, will you please?”
“Of course. I’m glad you had a good time. Will you do something for me?”
“What’s that?” she asked, wondering if she should send Corinne a thank-you note.
“Will you call me when you’re home? You don’t have to call the second you arrive, but tonight? Maybe we can do a postmortem on your visit to the crazy Lacoumette farm.”
“It was far from crazy,” she said. “I’m so glad I saw you last night. So glad I came today.”
He had a hand on her waist and leaned his forehead against hers. “It was a nice day.”
“Perfect,” she agreed.
“Will you kiss me goodbye?” he asked. “It won’t obligate you to anything.”
She put a hand against his cheek. “I don’t have anything.”
“Not yet, maybe. But we’re pretty lucky, you and me. Our time together has been good. For both of us, I think.”
She pressed her lips against his. Briefly. Softly. “Okay,” she said. “Forty-eight.”
“I’m flattered. Drive carefully. Slowly. Call later.”
* * *
Inside the house, several people were crowded at one small window, carefully peering through the sheers, not moving the curtains. Corinne and Paco, Ginny and Ellie, Lori and George. A couple of kids. They watched the goodbye at the car.
“They look like dawn and dusk,” Corinne said.
“The princess and the dark knight,” Ginny said.
“Matt and a second chance,” Ellie said. “She’s so lovely in her heart, isn’t she?”
“Do you think he knows he’s in love with her?” Lori asked.
“He’s a blockhead. He won’t know for months,” Paco said.
“Paco!” three people admonished at once.
“He’s stubborn! You think I don’t know my son?”
They saw the kiss, saw him smooth her hair, watched him turn from the car and walk toward the house. They all scrambled away from the window. Even Paco moved at warp speed to his chair, looking all innocent.
When Matt walked in the house, everyone was occupied. No one looked at him.
“Uncle Matt, do you know you’re in love with her?” Ellie’s nine-year-old daughter asked him.
“What?” Matt said.
“Paco said you won’t know for months because you’re a—”
There was a sudden plague in the room, a burst of heavy coughing. Ellie whisked her daughter away.
* * *
By the time Ginger made the freeway, there were tears on her cheeks. The Lacoumettes were so wonderful, all of them. Matt was such a lovely, strong man and what she felt for him was growing in her heart. She wondered what it might have been like to begin her romantic life with someone like him. If her baby was destined to die, how would her life have been different if she’d had a loving husband to hold her through the pain and tears?
She might be falling in love with him a little. She was very afraid to love again. She was afraid she wasn’t very good at it. And when she screwed it up and made mistakes, the next pain would be even worse.
n Monday morning, Ginger made it to the shop early. Of course Grace was already there. Who knew how early she had arrived? She was standing in the back room wearing a wedding dress. A sheet was spread out on the floor beneath her to keep the hem of the dress and its train clean. Iris and her mother-in-law, Gwen, were looking at the dress.
“Good morning,” Ginger said uncertainly.
“It’s going to be madness this week,” Grace said. “Utter madness.”
“Um, beautiful dress,” Ginger said.
“Not quite yet, it’s not. It’s my mother’s dress. It’s not really to my taste and it’s certainly not right for a wedding on the beach, but it would make her happy if I wear it. She has no problem with me altering it, but...”
“I don’t know that I can,” Gwen said. “It’s a little complicated.”
“What do you want to do to it?” Ginger asked.
“I like the basic lines, but these puffy sleeves are atrocious. These gathers in the back over the butt, ack. And we can’t have a train—this thing is long and heavy and I’m not dragging it through the sand. The deep cowl neckline and bodice—nice. I think I want about four yards of satin removed from this thing.”
“Little cap sleeves, gathers smoothed and no train but maybe three inches longer in the back than in the front and maybe some lace appliqué right under the bust,” Ginger suggested. “But not an empire waist—that’s too sixteenth century. Fitted, sliding right down your hips. Some seed pearls around this stunning décolletage would be nice. You’re not showing yet so it should be sleek. Simple, clean, brilliant white satin, smooth lines. A couple of small flowers in your hair.”
Everyone just stared at her.
“What?” she said. “Just an idea...”
“Perfect.” Grace looked at Gwen. “Can you do that?”
“I don’t know,” the older woman said. “It terrifies me. This is a designer gown!”
“I can do it,” Ginger said. “I sew. But I don’t have a machine with me or any supplies. I didn’t even bring a pair of scissors—and this fabric would need especially sharp scissors. I’m just not set up for it...”
“I’ll fix you up,” Gwen said. “I’m a quilter, I have everything and what I don’t have we can buy. We can do it at my house and I’ll help with the handwork. Oh, my God, it will be beautiful! But I’m not cutting it, not me! I think that dress must have cost a million dollars!”
“For all I know...” Grace muttered. “Ginger, please be sure the front door to the store is locked.”
“It’s locked,” she said.
Iris and Gwen helped Grace out of the dress. “Are you sure? Are you willing to alter it?”
“I’m sure I can do it,” Ginger said. “Are you sure you trust me with it?”
“You may have saved my life—again.”
“But your mother may not recognize it with all those changes,” Ginger pointed out. “She’ll recognize that beautiful cowl neckline but nothing else.”
“That’s not the most important thing,” Grace said. “If I can swear to her it’s her dress, that’s all that matters.”
“Good then,” Ginger said. “We’ll save and preserve the removed pieces so your daughter can use them someday. And we’ll need an industrial-strength steamer—no iron is getting near that fabric.”
“Anything you need.” Grace got into her jeans and shirt. “I have to get out to the house. A nurse is meeting me there at nine—she’s going to take care of mother during the day. Peyton and Scott recommended her. Another woman is coming at three—she could be an evening and weekend nurse if we need her. We don’t need round-the-clock coverage yet but Peyton says there’s an excellent agency with lots of good part-timers when we do have a need.
“Troy’s parents will be here on Wednesday and his brother, sister and her family arrive on Thursday.” She stopped dressing and stood stone still. “I’m sorry, Ginger. It’s going to be madness.”
Ginger smiled despite her nerves. “It’s going to be beautiful. Try not to worry.”
School was out. Troy was around to make sure his family had everything they needed and Iris was off for the summer and offered to help in the flower shop. Ginger and Iris wanted the wedding flowers to be perfect. And, as if having an important wedding wasn’t a big enough issue with Ginger, the dress was top priority.
“It will be such an intimate event,” Ginger said.
“There is no such thing on the beach,” Iris said. “Trust me, I’ve lived here all my life. If they marry on the beach, everyone will know about it and they’ll either be invited, come even if they’re not invited or be hurt that they weren’t invited. I warned Grace—she’s going to have to tell Carrie and Rawley to be prepared to cater to a crowd. God, I hope the weather holds...”
“What happens if it doesn’t?” Ginger asked.
“They get married in the living room and depending on the weather, food is served on the deck or in the foyer.”
“Oh, my,” Ginger said.
“It’ll hold,” Iris said, tenderly placing the dress in the large hang-up bag.
The week started out crazy and definitely didn’t ease up, but Ginger was so happy to have something new to talk to Matt about that she didn’t care. She explained all the excitement and complications of the week, how every hand was needed to make this happen quickly so Troy’s family could meet Grace’s family before health issues got in the way or, God forbid, Grace was as ripe as a melon!
“You’re on speaker,” she told Matt. “No one’s here at the moment, but you’re on speaker because I’m sewing seed pearls around the neckline of this dress. The dress lives with Gwen during the day and then after dinner I bring it home so I can look it over, fit it to Grace and do a little handwork at night.”
“You must be exhausted,” he said.
“Not yet, but I’m working on it. I just want this wedding to be wonderful for Grace. And if you could have seen my hand tremble as I was about to take the scissors to this one-of-a-kind gown... I tried not to let it show I was scared to death. But it’s going to be beautiful.”
“You’re full of surprises.”
“Tell me everything you did this week,” she said. “While I go blind on these itty-bitty pearls, tell me everything.”
“I don’t want you to fall asleep while you’re supposed to be sewing.”
“Tell me,” she said.
“It’s June, the farm is stable. We aerate, irrigate, spray for bugs here and there. George has turned out the lambs, Paco is watching for potato worms and other pests. We make our own compost and it’s a double-edged sword—we don’t run the risk of transplanting pests from commercial products but sometimes we create a haven for our own pests because we stay away from the chemicals that will kill them. Our potatoes are well-known for being big, healthy and tasty. During summer, we mind the pears and potatoes, we have a small cherry orchard, some apple trees. We’re watching the crops. George has needed a hand with the lambs—a little docking and castrating.”
“Cropping their tails. If they’re left long, they get messy back there, if you get my drift.”
“Poopy is the drift, I take it.”
He laughed heartily at that. “You don’t want poop on your sweater.”
“Why do you castrate them? Where do you plan to get more babies?”
“George has a couple of very happy rams.”
“They take care of the whole flock?” she asked, stopping her sewing for a second. She had seen the flock. It seemed there were hundreds of them.
happy,” he clarified. “The lambs of these rams grow bigger and faster. George has a very successful business, his sheep are high quality and healthy. I’ll spend a couple of days this week helping him vaccinate, too.”
“Wow. I wish I could watch all these things. Maybe not the castrating part. I think farming sounds fun.”
“I think it’s fun. No offense, I have no interest in watching you sew seed pearls onto a wedding dress.”
“No offense taken. Watching sewing is like watching paint dry.”
“When is this wedding, exactly?” he asked.
“Saturday at four. I just want her to be beautiful and happy, then my work is done.”
“It’s a nice time at the farm. We just watch the weather, which has been predictable, and do our chores, which are manageable. When can you come back up here? I can think of things to show you. It’s only peak of summer and dead of winter I’m not running around like a maniac getting things done. I can show you the plans for the house.”
“You already have plans?” she asked.
“Not official. I have a rendering. I’m trying to keep it from being just another farmhouse.”
“How do you do that?”
“Glass. Views. Modern kitchen and bathrooms. Sliding cupboard shelves...”
“There’s no reason it can’t be a beautiful house just because it’s on a farm, right?”
“Tell me about it,” she said.
Almost an hour later, after having made suggestions to the construction of Matt’s beautiful house, she was ready to put the wedding dress away, get in her pajamas, get an ice water for her bedside table.
This had become a nightly event, talking each other almost to sleep, filling each other in on everything from their deep emotional issues to the mundane events of seed pearls and sheep docking.
“Are you okay?” he asked her. “Surrounded by wedding plans and pregnant women?”
“I am,” she said. “As Ray Anne says, we’re stuck with life so we have to live it. I’ve been okay since I came to Thunder Point.”
“I’m glad,” he said. “I better go then. Pears, potatoes and sheep get up early.”
She snuggled down into bed and wondered if this habit, the phone calls that reached into the night, was a rite of passage. She needed to get back to having girlfriends to share some of this information with. Since she married Mick, they had drifted away or she had drifted away from them. She’d ask Grace. Maybe Iris.
In eighth grade she had a boyfriend named Bruce and she remembered talking to him for what seemed like hours. Sometimes they just found recorded songs to play to each other because they had nothing more to say. Sometimes they just listened to each other breathe. They weren’t nearly as exciting face-to-face.
Matt was so protective.
Are you okay? Surrounded by wedding plans and pregnant women?
What a darling.
Her cell chimed and she smiled. She clicked on. “Forget something?” she asked.
“Yeah. I forgot to tell you how awesome it was that you came to my gig.”
Mick! Holy crap!
“You looked so awesome. More beautiful than ever. It made me remember how much you inspire me. I’m never better than when you’re in the house. Oh, babe.”
“What do you want?” she asked.
“I’m going to be in the area for a few weeks and I thought we should get together. You can come to a couple of shows. We have a lot of history, good history. Might be time to have another look at that. It’s good for me so it’s gotta be good for you. Right?”
She started to laugh. She couldn’t help it—it was so Mick. If it was good for him it must be good for everyone else.
“I was there to meet a guy. We didn’t know you were the show or we would’ve picked another bar.”
“What? A guy? Since when?”
“Since a very long time ago. I don’t live in Portland anymore. And the last thing I’m ever going to do is get together with you to talk about our
. Lose my number!”
“What? Where do you live?” he asked.
“Houston!” she yelled, hitting the end icon. She turned the phone to vibrate and turned off the light.
It vibrated at once. A text was coming in. Why hadn’t she changed her number? Because she hadn’t needed to! Mick never called.
Baby, what’s wrong? Wasn’t that the right song for you? For us? I thought it was just right! I thought about At This Moment. What’s wrong?
She couldn’t resist. She knew it was futile, that he’d never get it, that he was a self-absorbed cretin, but she just couldn’t resist.
What’s wrong? Gosh, let’s see. You divorced me when I was pregnant with your child, you brought me flowers at the hospital and I didn’t hear from you again until you sent a card a month after his funeral! And it wasn’t even in your own handwriting! What could possibly be wrong, you stupid, arrogant asshole!
Hey, I paid tribute to him in the next four concerts! I played Tears In Heaven!
I must have had a mental break,
Brain damage, that’s what it was. How in the world did I ever think this idiot was a real man?
Go away. Never contact me again. My boyfriend will kill you. Then my brothers will chop you into little pieces.
Whoa, baby, you got some hostility.
It was hard to sleep after a phone call like that. Then when Ginger did finally nod off, she was restless with anxiety dreams, the one that finally shook her awake being the worst. It was so vivid, so colorful. And shamefully real. Their house and the freestanding garage where Mick liked to jam with his friends were both full of people, spilling out into the yard. A lot of people gathered around to listen to him play, sing, talk about the business, gossip about artists he knew.
Yeah, that’s when I met The Boss...he really liked a few of my songs...wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted to buy a few.