Dear Diary, farming is not easy work and now I know why my mother decided to do something completely different with her life. When I first arrived in Winchester, I was quite enchanted by life here and I still kind of am. There is a quiet satisfaction in knowing you’ve put in a hard days’ work caring for the animals and land, feeding your family and the community. It’s just not for me.
I figure that was already a no-brainer, I just thought I’d put it out there anyway. I respect everything about this way of life. I even think I’d like to come back here to visit my extended family. My grandparents are wonderful people who love each other more than I’ve ever seen anyone love. In fact, when they think I’m not looking, they still exchange what I’d call googly eyes. Can you believe it? Is this kind of dedication and affection available to everyone or does it only happen for special people like them? I don’t think I’ve ever looked at anyone that way before.
If anything, though, I admire my mom even more than ever because she grew up here, not knowing much about the outside world. Even so, she had the guts to venture out on her own without a single person holding her hand. I’ve read her part of the diary and she had such big dreams and aspirations. I hope I’ve inherited some of her adventurous spirit.
Ellie was over a lot to help out with the chores since my Uncle Charles and his family were away. I learned that Uncle Charles would be taking over the farm once Grandpa decided to retire. Grandpa was pretty strong for his age but he told me he felt good that his son Charles would carry on what he and Grandma began. It seemed to me like every bit of this place was a part of them and I couldn’t imagine them anywhere else.
“They remind me of big dogs,” Ellie said, speaking about the cows.
We’d just shared the chore of milking them which is something she taught me to do. And, that’s a whole other story that maybe someday I will write down. Suffice it to say the first cow hated me so much, I’m hugely uncomfortable with this particular chore.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, when they’re in the field, sometimes I like to throw a big ball out there. They play with it like dogs. They’re really smart, too.”
“I think you’re smart,” I said genuinely.
She smiled and I liked that my compliment didn’t embarrass her. She accepted it as truth because she was confident enough to know that it was.
“C’mere, Buddy,” she said, kneeling down to pet Grandma’s Beagle.
“He’s cute but he kind of smells.”
“That’s how hounds smell. It’s a chemical reaction that is delivered through their hair follicles via their body oils.”
This girl. “I’m amazed you know that.”
“Don’t be,” she laughed. “I am really interested in science and animals.”
When I looked into Buddy’s eyes, I found myself ignoring how he smelled. He was so adorable and sweet.
“Haven’t you ever had a dog?” Ellie asked, scooping the little guy up into her arms.
“I wanted one when I was a kid, but our family traveled so much, it never worked out.”
Was that sad? I wondered. Perhaps the energy I would have put into a dog went into my dancing. I’ll have to think more on that another time because I’ve found if I don’t pay attention to her, Ellie will have already said a thousand things I could have learned from her.
The best thing about Ellie, though, was that she was easy to be around. There were no strange demands or expectations. She didn’t care how accomplished I was or even that I knew less about things than she did. I felt like she wanted to spend time with me just because she enjoyed being my friend.
“There you are!” she said with a smile one day. “I was working in Leo and Wilda’s garden when I saw you jogging by. Isn’t that hard to do in this heat?”
Shrugging a little, I smiled back at her. “Have a seat if you have time. I jog every day at home, rain or shine, although sometimes, like if it’s really muddy outside, I use the treadmill.”
“I’ve seen you doing something else, too. It’s not yoga.”
“Pilates,” I grinned. “It probably looked really weird.”
“Umm, you’re very… flexible.”
Whenever she laughed, it was expressive, straight from her belly. It was contagious, too. I must’ve smiled and laughed more with her than I had in my whole life.
“For me, that’s the point in doing it.”
“I know you told me you dance in a ballet company professionally, I just never realized all the things you have to do to stay in your field.”
“Not just to stay in my field but to be the best.”
“It sounds very competitive.”
“It is. No matter what you do, I think there is always someone better than you and worse than you. But you have to strive to be the best in order to become a principal dancer and stay there.” I decided to change gears. “What is it about you? I mean, I’ve met a few people here on the island and you seem different to me.”
At first, a frown seemed to barely just touch her lips, then she smiled again. It was as if no matter how she tried, she couldn’t be sad for herself. “Well, to make the story short, I didn’t grow up in Winchester. I lived with my parents on the mainland. They were good people and we were happy like any other family.”
She nodded. “Yes, they died when I was fourteen. Our house caught fire. My father and I got out of the house. He died after he ran back in to find my mother. Later, I found out it was some kind of electrical problem.”
I was speechless. When I compared my life to hers… well, there was just nothing at all for me to be sad about. Ever.
“How are you not destroyed by that?”
“I was destroyed, believe me. I couldn’t get out of bed and my heart ached so badly. I even wondered if life was worth living.”
I took her hand as she spoke. It seemed she was trying to hold back the emotion she felt from telling me about this awful time in her life, but I could feel the grief and despair coming off of her.
“What changed?” I asked quietly.
She was silent for what seemed ages. “Nothing for a long time. What made it worse was that I was a minor with no family to go to. I was sent to a juvenile facility… it was awful. I can’t even describe how much I hated it there. It felt like all the kids around me were angry or just as depressed as I was. It wasn’t until I came here, though, to this peaceful, unhurried life that I began to heal. I know Leo and Wilda were worried about me because I overheard them one night talking about how quiet and withdrawn I was. They were kind and patient, yet I couldn’t make myself do anything worthwhile. If I was able to get out of bed, I sat on the porch trying not to think about how my life was over.”
“That sounds miserable.”
“It was. After a time, they brought me to your Uncle Laurent who is known as a healer here. He was able to treat my depression with some herbs. It helped a little but my big turn around happened when Leo and Wilda began giving me chores to do. I wasn’t their only orphan, there were several children there. I miss my parents with all my heart. But in the end, what I really want is to become someone they would have been proud of.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about that. I just met you and I’m proud of you.”
She rewarded me with that hilariously joy-filled laugh I was beginning to love.
One evening, Grandpa and I bedded down the horses which meant putting the bed back down, arranging the banks and plaiting the straw behind the door so it wouldn’t be trailed all over the yard. Before bedding down, though, we had to muck out the stalls. I didn’t like that part very much but Grandpa and I got it done pretty fast.
I found I liked the horses a lot, but what I loved, even more, was working with Grandpa. He was kind of quiet, a man of few words. We had a pleasant time together regardless of that, however.
“Is this what you always wanted to do with your life?” I asked him.
He nodded. “I can’t imagine any other life, nor do I want to. I was just lucky your grandma wanted this life, too. For a time, I thought she might want to return to ‘busy life.'”
This gave me some interesting things to think on. “I read how you and grandma went to Monte Vista and stayed with all of your kids there.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, his eyes lighting up at the memory.
“You and grandma talked about staying there, didn’t you?”
“Why yes, I believe we did.”
“I remember reading how you would have given up everything you loved to make grandma happy because she wanted to stay there.”
“You are partly right, Son. You see, it’s true that I love it here and don’t really know any different. I do love this farm. But your grandma… well, she rings my bell in a way nothing or no one else can. Compared to your grandma’s happiness, this place means absolutely nothing.”
Wow. Now, that was love! Where could I get some of that? is what I wanted to know.
Of course, I couldn’t ask my grandpa. That would just be weird.
“If it was up to your grandma, you’d stay here forever and marry that little Ellie-gal.”
My eyes widened and I coughed from swallowing wrong.
“You all right?”
We climbed the ladder to the loft and I began working on the hay. It had a peculiar aroma that I found kind of sweet and wild. It also made me sneeze.
“Has Grandma always been a matchmaker?” I asked between moving pitchforks full of the allergy inducing stuff.
Grandpa chuckled before answering. “Ever since I’ve known her. I would never tell you what to do. She would, but not me.”
“I feel like there’s a ‘but’ in there somewhere.”
“Well, you might do well to listen to her. She’s never wrong.”
I couldn’t believe that. Well, maybe that was true here on the island, but how could she be right about me when she hadn’t seen me in years and she didn’t know any of the other people I knew? I just had a hard time believing grandma knew what was best for me in that department.
Of course, I thought as I stared at the pitchfork in my hands, I hadn’t done very well relying on myself in the love department.
As I turned to ask him more about this, we heard Grandma shouting up at us from downstairs.
“Old man! I cannot believe you went up that ladder! Get yourself down here at once before you break your neck!”
Grandpa and I shared a smirk, then he shrugged helplessly and headed for the ladder.
After supper, Ellie came by again but this time, we stayed indoors. My grandparents decided to take a walk while Ellie and I visited in what Grandma called ‘the parlor.’
“Are you sure that’s Grandma and not Aunt Susan?” I asked as Ellie and I stared at the painting on the wall.
In a quiet voice, full of wonder, Ellie said, “Oh, it’s your grandma all right. No question about it. Years ago, when she was a teenager and new on the island, she met Dax St. Cyr. From what I’ve heard, he was a troubled individual but he had a fascination for her. He even restored her back to health after she collapsed with fever, never leaving her side for even one minute.”
During her recitation, her voice had become almost dreamy sounding and I found myself being sucked into the story the way she told it. You see, I already knew about Dax St. Cyr and how grandma had happened upon Winchester. It was much more romantic hearing Ellie’s version, I’ll admit.
“Sounds like a lot of men fell in love with Grandma.”
I turned to stare at her as she continued gazing at the portrait and going on with her story. “Oh, but they did. Not only Dax but his older brother Elliot and Matthieu, too. Anyway, Dax was the first to meet her when she came to the island. And she was feverish. When she collapsed, he carried her to his room and bathed her febrile forehead with a cool cloth. Isn’t it the most romantical thing you’ve ever heard?”
“Yeah.” At least the way she told it, it was.
Turning to face me, she said, “That’s the kind of love I want.”
“You want to get sick?” I joked.
“No! I just want something so romantic, it sweeps me right off my feet and takes my breath away!”
“How do you know it will happen?”
As she looked at me, I got lost in her baby blues and the pure look of hope on her face.
“Because I have faith, Holden. Someday, something wonderful will happen and I’ll know it’s meant to be.”
Her sincerity nearly swept me off my own feet, but I controlled myself. The last thing I would ever do is allow myself to get overly involved in a girl I’d just met. I was leaving soon and then what would happen? No, Grandma was definitely wrong about this one.
“You know what?”
“What?” she smiled.
“I have faith it will turn out just as you hope. You’ll have the full enchilada and live happily ever after.”
Instead of asking me what an enchilada was, she rushed into my arms, hugging me tightly. She was a tiny thing, but her spindly little arms nearly took my breath away. Her light blonde hair smelled like the salty ocean wind and faintly of flowers. Of course, I embraced her back but not as tightly since I was afraid she might break in half like a twig if I did.
“It will be that way for you, too,” she whispered in my ear. “I just know it.”
Author’s Note: Thank you again, Jowita for that awesome portrait of Blue you made for me. I’m so tickled I got to use it in the story again!
As always, thank you for reading,