[completed - PG13]
September slid into October but Elana barely noticed. All she could think of was her sore back, her aching muscles, and her bed. The air mattress was not giving her the support that she needed. She had vowed she would wait for the perfect bed, but she hadn't even had time to look in more stores or check in the Buy and Sell. Her weekend had been completely taken up with work and the next weekend was Thanksgiving. Sam had all kinds of ideas about selling pumpkin pies and gourds from the roadside stand. Chandra offered to share her secret recipe for crust, so Sunday evening was lesson night.
"We can make up a few batches and freeze them, and then on Friday you just have to prepare all the filling," said Chandra.
"I can't believe Sam did all this by himself last year with only that wood stove of his." Elana busied herself cutting the butter into the flour.
"Remember, he wasn't doing anything else."
"Right," she said, rubbing her back.
"You've severely got to do something about that bed," said Chandra. "Have you tried the little store just across the bridge in Courtney?"
"After you drive past the pool and the skate park."
"Is it an antique store?"
"Well . . . it's really more of a curio shop, but you can't believe the stuff that lady has - and she's like Madame Zonda or something - you expect her to pull out a crystal ball or read your tea leaves. She's too much - really."
Elana pushed her hair from her eyes with the back of her hand, lightly dusting her forehead with flour. "Cody has his first soccer practice tomorrow after school. I'll go take a look while he's at the park - that's the same one that has the soccer fields, right?"
The next day after school Cody was eagerly awaiting his mother at the school fence.
"Mom! We don't need to go buy soccer shoes. Bryce says his dad is bringing a few used pairs for me to try on - and he's got extra shin pads too." Cody gave her a big hug. "So that means we can go straight to the soccer field and I won't be late."
"No, you'll be early instead you silly noodle. Excited, eh?" Elana said as she rubbed the top of his head fluffing his hair into unruly curls.
"Bryce says I'm really good for someone who's never played for a league before, but I want to practice a bit before the rest of the team comes."
"I've got your ball in the car. Let's go."
As they drove the short distance to town, Elana reflected on how glad she was that Cody had settled in at his school so easily and had made a few close friends already. When he had come home begging to join Bryce's soccer team, she'd agreed readily and dialled the phone number Bryce had given him. The season had already started, but she was able to get Cody in on a late registration. It paid to know the right people - Bryce's dad was not only the coach but he was the division co-ordinator and the league registrar.
Elana parked beside the community centre and then went out on the field with Cody as he ran about with his ball and took practice shots at the goal. About fifteen minutes later a man with a huge bag of balls approached her, and the two boys with him went running off to join Cody.
"You must be Cody's mom," he said, holding out his hand. "I'm Coach Jerry."
"I'm Elana Barnes," she said, "but just call me Elana. I brought all the stuff you asked for, the checks and a copy of his birth certificate."
"Excellent," he said, "And I brought these." He waved some shoes he was holding by the laces.
"That's so kind of you."
"Well, I hope they fit," he said. "Are you staying for the practice?"
"No, I'm going to walk to the shops."
The coach called Cody over to try on the shoes and Elana, after ensuring that Cody was feeling comfortable in this new situation, walked across the field in the direction of the bridge. Normally she would have spent some time gazing over the parapet at the smoothly running water, but she felt an urging of excitement at the idea of possibly finding a bed like she had envisioned. The block of stores that led away from the bridge was old and dingy. She almost passed the curio shop, thinking that it must have been the next block that Chandra had meant, but a flash of deep red caught her eye.
There, through the dusty window, a small, beautiful carpet was laid out. The red was rich and dark, with traditional designs in black and white and a lighter shade of red. As she looked at it, she no longer saw the window of the grimy shop, but the hardwood of her living room floor, her dark green couch, and the oak coffee table. A little bell rang over the door as she walked in. A tiny grey-haired lady materialised from behind a curtain in the back.
"I've just made tea," she said. She tilted her head to one side, which only added to her bird-like quality. "You are interested in the rug."
It wasn't a question, but a statement. Despite her look of fragility the woman's voice was strong and sure.
"How did you know?" asked Elana.
"I have had it in my back room for weeks. This morning I felt an urge to place it in the window. I knew someone like you would come and claim it - someone who knows what she wants."
"I was really looking for something else, but I did want a carpet."
"Of course you did. Let me tell you a little about its history while we drink our tea." She motioned to a delicate round mahogany table with a Chinese teapot on it. "Jasmine," she said as she poured it into fine tea-bowls.
Elana bemusedly sat and thanked her, sipping the tea, her hands cupped around the china.
"It is a Middle Eastern prayer rug. The family who owned it bought it thirty years ago from a travelling trader in Malaysia." She went on to speak of the wool, the number of knots per square inch, and the significance of the various designs incorporated to make up the pattern of the rug. "Though all of this is to your liking I have a feeling that something is bothering you, causing indecision."
Elana nodded. "I can't help but think of the small child who tied all those knots. It is a beautiful thing, but it was created out of servitude. I've heard of the terrible conditions the children worked in and the long hours."
"All this is true. I believe you are one of the rare people who can see the child's soul in his creation, but I must give you two things to ponder. The first is harsh. Without this occupation would the child's future have been any better? I do not know the answer to that question. Now we can do something to help abolish this kind of slavery, but this rug was made long ago, and whether you buy it or not, it will not change the history of the making of it. Stay. Take the time to decide. You must be happy with your possession."
Elana sat and drank her tea. She looked about the room. There was a bizarre mixture of furniture, ornaments, and china. Clocks, vases, statuettes, and chess sets covered every surface and filled cabinets. She felt an odd sense of peace amid all the clutter. She sat back and allowed her mind to empty, and when it was clear opened it to the carpet lying in soft, glowing richness between an umbrella stand and a baroque mirror. What came into her mind was that she, of all the people who had ever owned the carpet, would see the child and not forget him. She would hold the suffering within the warmth of her heart and cherish the gift of beauty it had wrought.
As she turned to voice her decision, she noticed a bookshelf against one wall. It was golden oak, low, with deep, worn shelves, an assortment of battered books lying haphazardly in it.
"Is the bookshelf for sale?"
"It is if you want to buy it."
"Yes, I would like to, and the carpet too, but I don't have much money to spend."
"I will give you a price that will work for you. The true value of something is not monetary, but what the object means to the owner. These things mean more to you than they do to me, or the next person who might come into the store. If they should be yours it is only right that they are affordable." The lady smiled at her and patted her hand. "When you came into the store you told me you were looking for something other than the carpet. What was that?"
Elana told her about the bed and bureau that she had such a clear vision of when awakening upon her first morning in her new bedroom. The lady promised to call her if she ever came across anything remotely resembling the description. Elana gave the lady her phone number, paid for the carpet and bookshelf, and explained that she had to walk back to the park for her car but would return for the items as soon as she could.
When she got out onto the sidewalk she suddenly became aware of how long she had actually been in the shop. She sprinted over the bridge and into the park, relieved to see the children were still running about the field after the ball. When she arrived to the sidelines the coach blew his whistle and the kids all huddled around him. One of the mothers leaned over to Elana and said, "I can see you are used to coaches. They never end practices on time - if I was smarter I'd have come fifteen minutes late too."
Elana smiled and shook her head, stating that she was ignorant of coaches' habits but thankful for them because she truly was late. Cody came rushing off the field and flung himself upon Elana. "That was the most fun ever! Thanks for registering me mom."
"He's a natural," said the coach as he passed them, his ball bag slung over his shoulder. "He's going to be a real asset to the team. Now, don't forget to practice your dribbling, Cody. See you on Wednesday!"
Elana kissed Cody's forehead. "C'mon. We'd better hurry. I didn't find a bed in that store I went to but I bought something else and I can't wait to get it into our living room."
Cody liked her purchases but was more interested in telling Elana everything he had done in the practice, down to the minutest detail. It didn't take Elana long to realise that she was going to learn almost as much about soccer as her son.
"You'll come to my game on Saturday, won't you mom?" he said for probably the third time as they carried the bookshelf into the living room together.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world, honey," Elana said, as they placed the bookshelf against the wall. She stood back and appraised it, then moved it over a foot.
"Nice bed!" said Chandra appreciatively.
"I didn't find a bed," said Elana, "but wait until you see the carpet I bought."
"Chandra, can you come to my soccer game on Saturday?" asked Cody, dancing around her.
"Slow down, you maniac," she said. "What time is it at?"
"Ummm . . . ten o'clock, right mom?"
"Dunno, buster," said Chandra. "I'll check my schedule. Hope I'm not on breakfast shift, because if you play soccer as well as you can dance, that's gotta be a sight to see."
"Where's Joy? Is she home?" asked Cody.
"Then I'm going to go ask Sam - can I mom?"
"Sure Cody, anything that will get rid of your steam." When he ran out the back door she looked at Chandra. "Who knew soccer practice would give him even more energy? I thought it would tire him out."
"Go get your carpet already, girl. I'm dying to see it and to hear if Madame Zonda and you had a séance."
When Cody came back he found his mom lying on the carpet staring up at the ceiling.
"Shh, she's meditating," said Chandra with a grin.
"I am not," said Elana, rolling over and sitting up. "Look Cody - isn't it perfect?"
"Yes mom. Do you think Smeagol will like it?"
"Don't tell me!" she said, but he didn't have to. Cody's eyes were shining even more than they had been before.
Sam walked in from the kitchen. "I've put the litter box in the laundry room if that's okay with you, Elana, and there's a bag of food on the counter." He handed the kitten over to Cody. "Here ya go. Let the little guy get used to his new house."
Cody held the tiny kitten close and stroked his head. Soon Smeagol had crawled up to sit on his shoulder. "Will he miss Twilight?"
"You just keep him company all evening and he'll be fine," said Sam.
"Thanks for everything, Sam," said Elana and then she suddenly jumped up. "I'd better stop daydreaming and get supper cooked! You want to stay, Sam?"
"Thanks, but I've got stew ready at home. I'll see you tomorrow."
Chandra followed Elana into the kitchen and soon they were cutting up vegetables and frying strips of chicken. Cody sat on the carpet and placed Smeagol beside him. The little grey kitten sniffed and walked forward tentatively, then skittered back to Cody's lap. Each time Cody placed him down again he ventured a little further. Soon he was scampering about the room and almost got stuck under the couch twice, only Cody managed to drag him out. Half an hour later Elana came into the living room to say that supper was ready. Both Cody and the kitten were curled up on the rug fast asleep.
On Tuesday afternoon Darien gave up all attempts at writing. The chapter was dragging. In the end he'd let Lanea have her way; her eyes were hazel, her hair was an unruly tangle of dark curls, she was defiant and persistent. And obstinate, which was his main problem now. She was insisting on facing the Thregols when she was unprepared and had no idea what she was getting into. He hadn't a clue how he would get her out of the mess she was heading for. He closed all his windows and put his computer on standby, then headed down to the stables. He needed to check the west fence anyway, so he may as well go for a ride.
Phantom was a horse that never got spooked, so when he stopped short by a stand of trees Darien wondered what was up. He patted the horse's neck to calm him, and then dismounted. Phantom did not seem so much disturbed as interested, and Darien moved aside a low hanging branch of Douglas fir to see what had caught the horse's attention. There was a boy under the tree, close up against the trunk.
"Hi." Darien did a swift appraisal. The boy's hair was dark, a trifle long with loose curls falling on his forehead. He had a face like a pixie, and his wide-open eyes were unmistakably hazel. He was wearing a striped t-shirt and old blue jeans with torn knees.
"Are you going to come out? My horse wants to meet you."
"Am I on . . . is this your property, mister?"
"Yes. How did you get here?"
"You're not mad?"
"No. You're not doing anything wrong, only . . . does your mom know where you are?"
"I didn't mean to leave my yard - I just wanted to explore it to the end. There's a hole in the fence."
"Holes are always irresistible."
The boy smiled. "Did you go through holes in fences when you were a kid?"
"Worse. I climbed over perfectly good ones."
This time the boy laughed.
"I think we should get you home to your mom." Darien held his hand out and the boy took it and came out from under the tree.
"Are you still mad at my mom?"
"What . . . oh - you mean about the fire. No. I kind of got carried away that day. Sorry."
"That's okay. What's your horse's name?" The boy reached up and nuzzled the animal's velvety nose.
"Phantom. Would you like to ride him?"
"I've never ridden a horse before."
"It's easy. I'll be leading him. You aren't frightened are you?"
"Do you think your mom would mind? Phantom is very good with children or I wouldn't have suggested it."
"I don't think she'll mind."
"Okay. Come here - I'll have to toss you up." When Darien had him in the saddle he smiled up at him and said, "What's your name?"
"So, how does it feel to be up there, Cody?"
"Just hang on to the saddle horn and we'll get going."
Darien led the horse along to the fence that divided the two properties and Cody showed him where the hole was. Then they followed it as closely as possible until they were behind the riding ring. The entire time they talked about Phantom and horse riding and cowboys.
When the house was in view Cody said, "I'll just get off here and run through the trees."
"What about the fence?" asked Darien. "There's no hole."
"Is it okay if I climb over?"
"I think that's a better idea than going under."
Cody laughed again. "Thanks for giving me a ride on your horse."
"You're welcome. If you ever want lessons, just let me know." Darien held his hand up in a half salute, half wave. As he watched Cody run off he smiled. What a nice kid - and did he ever look like his mom. He turned around and started leading Phantom to the stables. As he hung up all the tack and curried the horse, ideas for his story began swirling around in his mind. He still didn't know how he'd get Lanea out of the trouble she was headed for, but he had a clearer idea of some of the happenings on her way into it.
Cody hopped off the top rail of the fence and walked through the trees. He was just about to run across the yard between the house and the greenhouses when he saw a sudden movement. At first he thought it was a dog, but then realised it was a goat. He crept up behind it and grabbed it about the neck before it could run off. He dragged it, twisting and turning, until he was almost at the back door.
"Mom! Mom! I caught a goat!"
Elana opened the door and stared out in disbelief. "Now where in heaven's name did you find a goat?"
"Just here in the yard."
"We'll have to get Sam. He might know where it came from."
They found Sam in the far greenhouse and when he saw the goat he laughed.
"That's Jessabelle! She's a rare old sneak, that one. Just give me a minute to get a rope and I'll take her back over across the way."
The excitement with the goat drove everything else out of Cody's mind. He spent the evening alternating between doing his homework and coming up with new and interesting reasons why they really needed to get a goat of their own. It wasn't until he was lying in his bed on the edge of sleep that he realised he had forgotten to tell his mom that he'd met the next door neighbour and even ridden on his horse. He resolved to tell her in the morning - sleep was more important right at that moment. And in his dreams he rode a horse that looked like a goat all the way to the soccer field.
All day Friday, Elana baked pumpkins for the pie filling. They were going to spend the evening baking as many pies as they could. Sam intended to sell them Saturday morning from the roadside stand and regretfully told Cody he would have to miss his first soccer game. Cody was quite philosophical about it, telling Sam that there would be many more so it was okay if he missed one.
Pies started going in the oven as early as four o'clock. At four pies per batch, and about an hour and a quarter baking time, the eighth batch of pies was still in the oven at midnight. Elana was totally beat, and Cody had long since gone to bed with Smeagol curled up on his pillow beside him. Chandra was moving cooled pies to shelves in the laundry room, which stayed much colder than the rest of the house. The front door opened and Joy came in from her late shift. She threw herself on the couch and took a deep breath of the air fragrant with baking.
"I love pumpkin pies," she said.
"I'm not sure if I ever want to see another one," said Elana with a grin.
"You mean you won't eat some on Sunday with our Thanksgiving dinner?" asked Joy.
"I'm sure I will."
"Speaking of the dinner, I did something you might be mad at me for."
"What could you do that would make me mad?"
"I invited someone without asking you."
"Don't worry - there'll be plenty of food - it's just all of us and Sam. Who did you invite?"
Joy blushed. "Carl Bingham."
"What?" Elana sat up suddenly and looked at her. "Where did you see him?"
"He's been in the store a few times since he came over here. He . . . um . . . joined me for my coffee break tonight."
Chandra had come into the living room by this time and sat beside Joy. "Planned or just a coincidence?"
"Well, he asked me when my break was earlier while he was shopping."
"You've been holding out on us, sugar!" Chandra gave her a poke in the ribs.
"I didn't want to say anything until, well . . . you know . . . I knew he was interested."
"Elana and I knew he was interested the moment he saw you."
Joy blushed some more and giggled. "So is it okay if he comes for dinner?"
"He's more than welcome, as long as he knows it's not going to be very special," said Elana.
"He'll hardly care if it's Martha Stewart or not anyway," said Chandra. "We could give him Kraft Dinner and he'd be happy as long as Joy was by his side."
"Stop it!" said Joy, giving Chandra a friendly shove.
Elana got up to check the last batch of pies and take them out of the oven. Thirty-two pies. She hoped that Sam was right and he could sell them all. As much as she liked pumpkin pies the idea of eating thirty or so of them was a little daunting.
The next morning Cody and Elana had to be at the field by 10:30 for an eleven o'clock game. Cody was proudly sauntering about the house in his soccer uniform - royal blue shorts with a blue and white striped jersey. The day was bright and crisp so Elana, Joy, and Chandra dressed more warmly for standing around on the sidelines. Both girls had to leave the game early to be at work by noon so they were driving themselves in on time for the kick off. Elana managed to get Cody to sit still long enough to eat a plate of pancakes and then they were off.
When they arrived at the field the previous game had just ended and the boys all ran out to do their warm up exercises and then some dribbling and shooting drills. Elana was proud to see how adept Cody was after only two practices. There was a tall man on the field who she hadn't seen before and when Cody came off just before game time, she asked him who he was.
"That's the assistant coach."
"Does he have a boy on the team?"
"No - he used to be a pro. He's awesome."
Joy and Chandra arrived and gave Cody high fives before he ran onto the field and took up his position in left mid.
"Why have I never come to these games before?" said Chandra emitting a low whistle. "Take a look at that!" She jerked her head to the right where the coaches were standing calling instructions out to the boys.
"He's the assistant coach," said Elana. "Unless you were referring to the older one who's balding."
"I'm referring to the stud that has all the mothers drooling. Don't tell me he's married."
"I have no idea - I've never met him. Cody did say he doesn't have a kid on the team, but that doesn't mean anything."
"Be still my heart!" said Chandra. "I don't believe you haven't gone and introduced yourself yet."
"He's busy coaching," said Elana.
"That wouldn't stop me," said Chandra.
The whistle blew and the game started. Elana knew less than nothing about soccer but she cheered and yelled encouragement to all the players on Cody's team and became apprehensive whenever the opposing team gained possession of the ball. She didn't understand when the whistles blew for fouls, or why sometimes the boys were allowed to throw the ball in or at other times a kick was taken from the corner of the field, but when Cody passed the ball to a boy in front of him who shot and scored she understood well enough and cheered him heartily for his first assist.
At half time the game was tied 1-1, and the boys were all given a pep talk by the coaches as they ate sliced oranges. One of the mothers came up and introduced herself to Elana and put her name down on the orange list.
"You just cut up about a dozen oranges and bring them to the game," she explained.
Cody joined them full of excitement. "Did you see that when I stole the ball and passed it up to the forward and he scored? Did you see my slide check? Did you see when I got to do the throw in? Coach Colin said I did it really well because I remembered to drag my toe and brought the ball back over my head properly before I threw it - and I got it right to my man!"
"That was a great assist," said Elana.
"Awesome," said Joy.
Chandra nudged Elana and whispered in her ear. "Don't look now, but he's coming over."
"I hear one of you ladies is Cody's mom," he said, holding his hand out. "I'm Colin Fox, the assistant coach."
"I'm Elana, his mom." Elana took Colin's hand and shook it.
"I'm Chandra, his surrogate mom," said Chandra holding out her hand and smiling.
Colin shook her hand and Joy's as well then turned back to Elana. "He's really shaping up. We're glad to have him on our team."
"So, you're new in the area?"
"Yes. I own some greenhouses on Haven Road."
"The ones beside Stewart Stables?"
"Great. I know exactly where that is. Well, I'd better get back to the kids. Half time's just about over. I'll see you later." He smiled and walked away.
"My prayers are answered," said Chandra. "No ring."
"What do you mean?" asked Elana, confused.
"She checked him out for a wedding ring," Joy giggled.
"You are a madwoman," Elana said to Chandra.
"I'm not the one who practically drew him a map to my front door," said Chandra. "Though if it had been up to me I'd have invited him to dinner tomorrow while I was at."
"There's still time. You can run over and ask him before the whistle blows."
"I don't know what kind of girl you think I am. Anyway, I'm in total awe. I'm just going to stand here and replay the sound of his voice over and over in my head."
They all laughed and then the whistle blew and the game recommenced. It was a tightly fought battle. The saves on both sides were amazing, bringing on groans and gasps, depending on which team had stopped the ball. By the time Joy and Chandra had to leave the game was still tied. Cody was weaving through players, carrying the ball up the left side of the field and just about to pass when he was fouled hard from behind. He lay on the ground, winded, as the assistant coach ran onto the field and then limped off with Colin's arm around his shoulders. Elana worried that he was hurt but knew better than to run over and embarrass him. Colin brought Cody right to Elana.
"He'll probably have a few scrapes and bruises even through his shin guards," he said. And then he turned to Cody. "Just let me know when you feel up to it and I'll put you back in the game."
"Thanks," said Elana. "Are you okay tiger?"
Cody was busy rolling down his sock and pulling back his shin guard to examine a nasty scrape. He nodded his head bravely and then pulled his sock back up and began cheering his team on. The free kick given to his team for the foul against him put the ball into great position. A shot was rebounded, passed quickly to right forward and driven hard into the top corner of the goal. Cody jumped up and down and then ran back to his coach to see if he could enter the game again in the remaining few minutes.
Elana watched as Cody ran onto the field to replace an exhausted player and was relieved to see that he was barely limping. A man standing on the other side of the field caught her eye. Even from that distance she knew immediately who it was. There was just something about how he stood - the way he held his body - that told her it was Darien Stewart and she was at a loss as to why he was watching eight year olds play soccer. As far as she knew he had no children, but she had to admit that she knew little about him besides the fact that he was an arrogant self-righteous jerk. She turned her attention back to the game and cheered as Cody stole the ball from an opposing player and kicked it downfield. The referee checked his watch and blew three long blasts on his whistle signifying the end of the game. The boys all cheered then rushed to line up and shake hands with the opposition. As they came running off the field she noticed Darien Stewart walk out and speak with the assistant coach, Colin, and then pat him on the back and walk away over to the parking lot. She was still watching him, lost in thought, as he got into his truck and backed out of his parking stall.
"Mom! Mom! Earth to mom! Can you hear me?"
Elana shook herself and turned to Cody. "Sorry. I was just wondering what he was doing here."
"It's not important. Congratulations buddy! Your game was wonderful."
"Thanks! The coach said the team we played was undefeated!"
"Now they're not! They met their match today."
"Sure did!" Cody grabbed his mom's hand and started retelling every play of the game as they walked back to the car. Colin Fox smiled and waved at them from across the lot as he got into a new black Thunderbird. Elana waved back and watched him as he drove out. She wondered about him and Darien Stewart. They were similar in height and build, and although Darien was decidedly the better looking of the two, Colin had the friendly personality that Darien lacked. If her neighbour had been more like the assistant coach, she might have found herself in some serious trouble, because then she would have had a hard time hating him.
After lunch, Elana allowed Cody to go down to the stand to help Sam while she began to bring some order to her kitchen in preparation for the big meal the next day. The turkey was in the laundry room sink thawing out, and Sam had brought a sack of freshly dug potatoes up to the porch in the morning. She checked that they had enough butter and bread, garlic and onions, wild rice, mushrooms, and herbs for the stuffing, then she got out her recipe for buttered yam and pecan casserole, and began preparing it.
Cody told Sam all about his game in between customers. After about an hour Sam said that most of the people he expected had been by and suggested they should close up shop, but Cody was enjoying being in charge of the booth and told Sam he'd look after it on his own to see if he could sell any of the half dozen pies still remaining. Twenty minutes later, Cody realised that Sam had been right. Not one car had even driven down the road let alone stopped to buy anything. Just standing in the booth was becoming quite boring. Cody helped himself to a slice of the sample pie and left the stand to sit under a tree and idly throw rocks into the ditch. A large dark blue truck drove up and he hurriedly stood and ran over to the roadside.
"Oh! It's you," he said as a familiar tall figure climbed out.
"What're you selling today?" asked Darien Stewart.
"Pumpkin pie. Do you want to try some? It's really good, even without whipping cream."
"No jam? My sister really likes jam and I was hoping to buy her some."
"I could get you a jar from the house and bring it over to your place. Did you want blackberry or apple jelly?"
"Blackberry would be great, and I'll taste your pie. Did you make it?"
"I helped a little, but it was mostly my mom and Chandra. Joy was at work." Cody served a piece of pie on a paper plate and found him a plastic fork.
Darien leaned against his truck and tasted the pie. "Delicious. Could I have two?"
"Sure!" cried Cody and carried them out to the truck carefully, one at a time. "I knew you would like it."
"You tell your mom she's a good cook," he said as he reached into his pocket for his wallet. "How much do I owe you?"
"The pies are six dollars each, but you get two for ten."
"That's a deal. And how about the jam?"
"It's four dollars a jar."
He gave Cody a ten and a five. "You keep the change as a delivery charge for the jam. Bring it up to my house whenever you have the time. I'll see you later. And don't forget to ask your mom about riding lessons."
"I won't," said Cody who just realised he had not yet even said a word to his mom about meeting Mr. Stewart and having a ride on his horse the other day.
"By the way, I caught the end of your soccer game. I never knew you played - you looked good out there. I saw you get taken down hard too, how's your leg?"
"A bit scraped but it's okay."
"Good man!" He gave Cody his empty plate and then waved as he got into his truck and backed up to his own driveway.
It wasn't long after Darien had left before Elana came down to see how Cody was doing. He was just about to tell her about his big sale when a silver BMW drove up. A lady with spiky red hair lowered her window and looked over at them impatiently.
"Not again," said Elana under her breath as she went up to see what the stick woman wanted. Cody followed her.
"What are you selling today in your cute little stand?" she asked.
"Pumpkin pies," said Cody.
"They are amazingly fattening," said Elana. "They are full of cream and eggs and brown sugar and maple syrup. If I'd known you were coming I'd have made some with just pumpkin and artificial sweetener. You should have pre-ordered."
"Do you really think I would buy anything from your roadside stand? I only stopped to warn you that we're not going to allow this kind of thing to continue. Do you have a business licence? Has the board of health inspected your kitchen? Darien will report you - I can guarantee it. There is no way he'll stand for the sort of gross violations you are involved in. And putting your child to work too - there are child labour laws you know." She didn't wait for a reply but put her car in gear and drove off, tires spinning on the loose gravel.
"What business is it of his?" cried Elana. "How could he?"
"I don't think Mr. Stewart would . . ." began Cody.
"I wouldn't put it past him," said Elana. "Just be glad you don't know him - he's not a nice man."
"But . . . he . . ."
"No, Cody," said Elana severely. "It's better that I don't talk about it now. I'd be sure to say something I'd regret later. Let's just forget about him and take the pies back to the house. How many are left?"
"Four," said Cody quietly, not used to seeing his mom so angry. "I sold two."
"You are such a sweetie, and I love you," she said, giving him a hug. "I'm sorry I got upset. I'm not mad at you, you know."
"I know mom, but I think . . ."
"Shhh. Let's not worry about those people again. We have to live next door to them, but we don't have to like them."
"But . . ."
"No buts, honey. Let's just have a good day. I'll put the pies into boxes and you take down the sign."
Later Cody went into the kitchen cupboard and found the biggest jar of blackberry jam he could. He put it into a bag and slipped out the back door. Now was not a good time to tell his mom about it, but he had promised Mr. Stewart and been paid for the jam, so he had to deliver it. At bedtime, when she was no longer upset, he'd tell his mom. He hoped he wouldn't forget this time.
Darien Stewart's house was much bigger than Cody had expected. He had only seen the gabled roof rising up from the trees at a distance, but now he found himself in a well-manicured garden with big, lush shrubs. The house was white with green trim and a wrap-around porch. He ran along a pathway that followed the perimeter to a set of stairs and a door that appeared to lead to the kitchen. He hesitated and then knocked lightly, and again, a bit more loudly. A young woman opened the door and smiled at him.
"I brought this jam that Mr. Stewart bought."
"Thanks. I'll see that he gets it," she said as she held out her hand. "Do you need any money for it?"
"No - he already paid me," said Cody returning her smile. He turned and quickly ran back the way he had come as she stood and watched him.
Justie placed the jar of jam on the kitchen table and was about to look for Darien when he walked into the room.
"A cute little boy just dropped this off," she said, indicating the jar.
"Is he gone already? I was hoping to see him."
"He looked like he was in a hurry to go." She eyed her brother suspiciously. "Is he a friend of yours? A new riding student? Or is he selling jam for a Cub fundraiser?"
"He's our next door neighbour. I actually bought that jam from him as a present for you, and two delicious pumpkin pies as well."
"Doesn't Mrs. Renton always make us pies for Thanksgiving?"
"Yes, but I couldn't resist his sales pitch. Besides, he was giving out samples. Don't tell Mrs. R., but as good as her pies are they just don't measure up."
"Really?" There was a glint in Justie's eyes. "Maybe we should just eat them before she finds out they exist - we don't want her feelings hurt. Got any whipping cream?"
"Right. Shall we heat the pies or eat them cold?"
"We're going to eat both of them now, by ourselves?"
"It's called hiding the evidence."
"Mrs. R. won't be here till Monday - we can save one for tomorrow."
"Okay, but if Lina and Carl come in and want some, don't expect me to share my half."
"How you manage to stay so skinny the way you eat, I'll never know."
"You can talk! I'll whip the cream if you put the pie in the oven."
"So you want it hot, then?" said Darien as he went over to the oven and pressed the buttons. "It'll take longer."
"I'm prepared to wait," said Justie. "After all, I've got this jam to test." She got a loaf of bread out of the cupboard. "You having some too?" At his nod she put two slices in the toaster. "Just like old times." She smiled and pulled herself up to sit on the counter.
"I've missed having you around. I'm glad you're back, even if it was because things didn't work out for you."
"Water under the bridge. I never should've left. I can see that now - but hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it? Trust me, I'll meet some new guy and get just as blinded. How about you? Anyone interesting in your life, or just your stalker?"
"Lina's not that bad, and she's doing an amazing job with all the equestrian events. You know I can't be bothered with that end of the business."
"You're avoiding my question."
"Sorry to disappoint you - my life is as boring as ever."
Just then the toast popped and Justie reached for the butter as Darien got two plates out. She spread both pieces thickly with the jam.
"Blackberry! It's heavenly. You just don't get this in the city." She took another huge bite and closed her eyes as she savoured it. "Don't tell me that little boy made this."
"I think his mom did," said Darien in an off-hand way.
"So, what's the story there?"
He let out a huge sigh. "She's not selling the place. Thinks she can clean it up and make it operational."
"She?" Justie looked at him intently.
"Cody's mom. She's divorced or something. She's trying to rebuild the business with just the help of that old hippie who's been living there. Selling jam and pies. Labouring out there in those ramshackle greenhouses from morning till night, with nothing to show for it. I've got to hand it to her - she's determined as hell but it's a losing battle. I don't know what she knows about business but that place is going to kill her."
"I thought you said there was no one interesting in your life right now?"
"What? You're way off base, Justie. I've barely spoken to her, except to tell her off. I think what she's doing is pointless - she should take my money and run. I'm offering way more than that place is really worth, you know. I just want to get rid of it." He finished his toast and licked his fingers. "She does make good jam, though. Hey, aren't you supposed to be whipping the cream?"
"Yes," she said as she got out the mixer. "So, what's her name?"
"The little boy's mom. The one that's got you so riled. The one who's not interesting and not in your life."
"Her name's Elana, and she's definitely not in my life."
"I believe you," said Justie, smirking.
They were sitting and eating their pie when Lina tapped at the back door. Justie sighed and gave Darien an 'I told you so' look.
"Justie darling!" cried Lina as she burst through the door without waiting for either of them to open it. "How are you? I thought you'd be resting from your trip."
"It's only a three hour drive on the best road in BC. My Cabrio loved it."
"So you're back to stay!" She gave Justie a look of deep pity and then continued, attempting to suffuse her voice with empathy. "You poor thing. Don't worry - I'll take you out to the best parties and introduce you to some really great guys. It's like falling off a horse; you have to jump right back on."
"Thanks Lina, but I'm fine. I can't wait to get back into teaching lessons again."
"I've been telling everybody. They are just so excited!"
Lina sat down and began to fill Justie in about her plans for the next meet, and the many social obligations that she had. Darien got another plate and served her a piece of pie, making sure that it was from his half because Justie's eagle eyes were on him.
"Oh, thank you, Darien," Lina said, turning a flashing smile on him. "I have to tell you about the run in I had earlier today with that hippie who lives next door."
"Sam? He's an inoffensive old guy. What did he do to bother you?"
"Not him! I wouldn't be caught dead talking to him. I mean her. Elaine. Remember I told you what she said to me about the jam? That she makes it with stuff that causes cancer in rats? Well, today she was down there in her tacky little stand selling pies, like a little kid. Pathetic. And she came on to me all smart-ass saying that they were full of ingredients that would make me fat and that she would have made some diet pies for me if she knew I wanted some." She took a forkful of her pie and then continued. "As if I'd eat some stinking pie she'd cooked."
"Of course you wouldn't," said Darien levelly as Justie almost choked in an attempt not to laugh.
"Mrs. R. makes the best pie," said Lina as she finished another mouthful. "Don't forget to tell her how much I enjoyed it."
"I'll make a point of it."
"Anyway, I let Elaine have it. I told her you'd call the board of health and have them send inspectors out, and I said you'd report her for not having a business licence. Really, what does she think she is, having that stupid little roadside stand there so close to our place?"
"What gave you the right to tell her I was going to report her?" Darien's voice had become cold and hard and the laughter had gone from his face.
"Of course you will. She has to be stopped. She's going to give Stewart Stables a bad name, setting up her airy-fairy business next door. It's bad enough the trash she has living there, but this is totally unacceptable. Mrs Burke-Lewsen was complaining just the other day about having to drive behind that rusty Volvo as it belched exhaust on her Lexus all the way up Haven Road. You have to do something."
"When I think I have to do something, I will. I don't want you speaking for me, and I certainly don't want you telling me what I have to do."
"Darien, sweetheart, I'm not telling you what to do. I'm just giving you some good advice from a business standpoint. Maybe I went overboard a bit, but really! You wouldn't have taken that nonsense from her yourself!"
"Who has been giving you nonsense, Lina?" asked Carl as he walked into the room. He looked over at Darien. "I rang the doorbell but no one answered, so I let myself in. Figured you'd be in here."
"Oh, you wouldn't care, Carl," answered Lina. "You like those people."
"If you're talking about Elana and Joy and Chandra, then you're right. I do like them and I'm having Thanksgiving dinner with them tomorrow."
"If you want a preview," said Darien, "how about some pumpkin pie? Elana made it. I bought two pies from Cody at the stand today."
The look on Lina's face was so priceless that it was all Justie could do to stop herself from laughing out loud. She didn't even comment when Carl cut a large piece from her side of the pie.
Lina turned to her brother and, with less control than she'd used earlier, repeated her entire conversation with Elana leaving no doubt as to her feelings.
As he was being tucked into bed, Cody suddenly remembered that he had something important to tell his mother.
"Mom, you know those two pies I sold today?"
"Yes sweetie, that was just great," said Elana as she sat on the bed and brushed his hair back from his forehead.
"Well, the person who bought them was Mr. Stewart."
"What?" asked Elana in surprise. She began to feel the resentment from earlier in the day rise again. "What's he doing buying my pies? Planning on taking them in for analysis?"
"Mom, I don't think he'd do that. He's nice. He told me to tell you that you're a good cook."
"He said that? He tasted the pie?"
"I was giving out samples. He really liked it."
"Well, I'm sorry honey, but I don't trust him. You know what his girlfriend said - that he was going to report me."
"Is that scary lady really his girlfriend?"
"Probably. She's always over there and he deserves her. Anyway, don't worry about it. I'm proud of you selling the pies regardless of who bought them." She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. "Have a sweet night. Don't let the bedbugs bite."
Cody put his arms around her neck and hugged her. "I put all the bedbugs in your bed," he teased. This wasn't the right time to tell her about the jam or ask about riding lessons. He didn't really understand why she'd been so upset earlier and why she didn't like Mr. Stewart, but he knew it had something to do with the time he'd yelled at her about the fire. Cody had to admit to having been sort of scared that day himself, but when he'd met Mr. Stewart again the man was friendly. He didn't like to see his mom worried; she worked so hard all the time and he wanted her to be happy. When she got to know Mr. Stewart better she'd see that he was nice - the thing would be for them to talk to each other without getting mad. That stick lady with the weird hair was just causing problems.
Thanksgiving dinner was a united effort. Sam and Cody decorated the table with a basket spilling over with red and yellow maple leaves, decorative gourds, and Indian corn. The three girls worked on the feast together and Joy also made a special effort in getting the house looking just perfect. By 5:30 she was very obviously nervous, fiddling with the place settings and napkin holders and plumping up the throw pillows on the couch for the umpteenth time. When the doorbell rang she rushed into the kitchen and urged Cody to go and open the door.
"But you were just in the living room," said Cody as Chandra and Elana snickered at Joy. He ran to get the door anyway while Joy tried to convince one of the other girls to join her in the living room.
"I'm still making the gravy," Elana said.
"Have to drain the Brussels sprouts," said Chandra. "Very serious business. Get in there - you're the one he wants to see."
Joy went into the living room to see Cody introducing Carl Bingham to Smeagol. Carl looked up and smiled and the kitten in his arms was forgotten until it climbed up his sweater to perch on his shoulder.
Joy reached for the kitten. "I hope he's not being a pest," she said.
"Not at all."
He bent his head forward as Smeagol crawled around the back of his neck, out of the way of Joy's hand. She reached with her other hand to get the kitten as he made his way onto Carl's shoulder, but suddenly stopped when she realised she almost had her arms around his neck. They both giggled and then Carl reached up and plucked the kitten from his back. Joy helped extricate the claws that didn't want to give up their hold of the wool. He placed the kitten in her hands as his warm eyes held hers. She smiled shyly and then put the kitten on the couch.
"I'm glad you were able to come."
"I am too. Dinner smells delicious and the room looks wonderful - so do you."
"Thanks," said Joy, colouring lightly, and offered him a seat. "That's a really nice sweater you're wearing. I hope the kitten didn't snag it."
"It wouldn't matter if he did."
Cody was distracted from watching this interesting exchange by the doorbell ringing again. This time it was Sam who had gone home to dress up for dinner. He was now wearing his best jeans and a new denim shirt with a rust coloured tie.
"Well aren't you all spiffed up!" said Chandra to Sam as she came from the kitchen. She greeted Carl and then continued, "We need someone to carve up the bird. Which of you gentlemen want to do the honours?"
Carl offered, saying that he didn't often get the chance. "I always spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with Darien and his family and he never lets me do it. You don't know how thrilled I am to have been invited here today. First I get to enjoy all your lovely company, then I get to have an extra turkey dinner, which is my favourite, and now I get to carve. A dream come true."
"You're having dinner at the Stewart's tomorrow?" said Chandra. "I'm going to dinner with my family in Comox, and Joy's going to her aunt's. It's great that Elana decided to do hers today instead. Of course by Tuesday we'll all be a size larger and won't fit any of our clothes."
"That's a chance I'm willing to take," said Carl.
After dinner they sat around the table for quite some time just talking and laughing, then Carl insisted that he and Sam and Cody would do the dishes while the girls put away all the leftovers. When that was done Carl built a fire in the fireplace while Sam went home to fetch his guitar. They sang old favourites as Sam and Carl took turns strumming. Before they knew it, it was 9:30, and Elana got up to put the kettle on and warm up the pies. Chandra offered to help with the tea and coffee and to whip the cream, leaving Sam behind teaching Cody a few easy chords, and Joy and Carl sitting side by side on the couch talking softly and gazing into the fire. When Elana eventually handed around the desert, Carl suddenly remembered something he'd been meaning to tell her.
"I want to apologise for my sister."
Elana looked at him, confused. "Your sister?"
"Yes. I was at Darien's yesterday and she told me what she'd said to you in the afternoon."
"The woman in the silver BMW is your sister?" asked Elana.
"I'm sorry - I didn't realise she'd never introduced herself to you. Yes, she is. She works at the stables and gets quite . . . overprotective where Darien is concerned. What she said to you was completely out of line. I hope you don't think Darien had anything to do with it - he was just as angry as I was when he found out what she'd said to you."
"See, mom! I told you," piped up Cody.
"He has no intention of reporting you to anybody," said Carl. "I don't know what got into Lina or why she thought she had to say those things, but there's no foundation to them. I'm really sorry she was so rude to you."
"Don't worry about what your sister said." Elana took a sip of her tea and then looked Carl in the eye. "I think that I set her off with my own remarks. She'd said something that got my back up another day and I was being reactive. You have nothing to be sorry about. And thanks for telling me that Darien Stewart isn't about to report me for anything. It really eases my mind, though I don't think I've done anything illegal, have I?"
"I think what you are doing right now is on such a small scale that you don't need a business licence, but you'll have to get one in the future, when you start production in the greenhouses."
"Of course," said Elana.
"By the way, I have to admit that this isn't the first time I've tasted your delicious pie," said Carl. "When I walked in on Darien and his sister and Lina yesterday, they were all enjoying it around the kitchen table."
"Your sister was eating my pie?"
"By the look on her face when Darien told me you made it, I don't think she knew it was yours," said Carl with a laugh.
Later that night as Elana lay in bed she recalled what Carl had said and how she had laughed until tears were streaming down her face. What poetic justice! Then she sobered a bit as she thought of Darien Stewart. She had misjudged him a bit - she was forced to admit it. She had been ready to believe the worst of him, but he'd only bought the pies to eat, and he'd enjoyed them. She felt a little thrill of pleasure, as if she'd proved something to him. But she knew that by selling jars of jam and pumpkin pies she still really hadn't accomplished anything, and Carl's sister Lina had really brought that home to her. She had to stop Mickey Mousing around with little projects and concentrate on the big picture. The next step was going to be a huge one, but she had to decide what direction she'd take the business in. There was going to be no room for error - the way she saw it she had only one chance to prove herself. She was going to make a go of it if it was the last thing she did, and Darien Stewart was going to eat crow.
Thanksgiving Day was a quiet one for Elana and Cody. They spent the morning relaxing about the house in their pyjamas and then, after a lunch of turkey sandwiches, they went outdoors. While Cody ran around taking his kitten on a guided tour of the place, Elana wandered through the greenhouses trying to come up with a decision of what she was going to grow. When Bennet Thompson had run the business he had grown a wide variety of flowering shrubs, ground covers, perennials, hedging materials, vines and trees. In short about everything that one could find in a garden centre. Elana felt daunted by the idea of growing so many diverse plants that she knew nothing about. The climate here was so mild compared to what she had been used to in both Ontario and Nova Scotia that she was completely unfamiliar with most of the varieties commonly grown. She had to keep the business on a smaller scale and more specialised so that she didn't find herself in way over her head.
In the evening her family phoned and it did Elana good to talk to everybody, especially her father. He listened to her concerns about the business and advised her to do some intensive research and then follow whichever avenue she thought most promising and felt the most comfortable with. He also convinced her that if she wanted to succeed she would have to go to the bank and get a line of credit and not try to do it on a shoestring budget.
The next week Elana spent at the library and touring all the local nurseries from Parksville to Campbell River. She tried to get a feel of what was working for other people, where the market was saturated, whether there was an area where she could fill a need that wasn't being met locally, and what she could do with little expertise that would not take years to develop. At night she often found herself disillusioned and almost ready to give up, but in the morning her determination always reasserted itself. It only took a glance at the Stewart Stables sign as she was driving Cody to school to firm her resolve once more and begin to think with her usual optimism.
On Saturday Elana was glad to take a break from facts and figures and clear her head on the soccer field. The morning was bright, but with a chill wind. She was amazed at how the boys could run about in their shorts and thin jerseys while she had her jacket zipped all the way up and her scarf wrapped around her ears. They were short of substitutes and Cody was on for the entire first half, which he thought was much preferable to sitting upon a pile of soccer balls on the sidelines and freezing. He came off at the half, tired but excited. They were ahead two goals to nil and he had been involved in the play that led to one of the goals. As he chattered eagerly, Elana wrapped him in his jacket to keep him warm and urged him to put his track pants on.
"I'll just have to take them off again in two minutes, Mom. I'm fine. You're a wuss to be cold!"
"Where do you get off calling your mother a wuss?" said Colin Fox as he approached them. There was a pretty young woman with him.
Elana was glad that Chandra had not come - she had developed a bit of a crush on Colin and would have been disappointed to see him with somebody. Well, more than a bit of a crush, really. She was forever offering to drive Cody to his soccer practices and usually stayed to watch. This was the first game she had missed, but the girl who worked Saturday mornings at the café had called in sick.
"Elana, I want you to meet my cousin Justie. She's just come back to town after living in Victoria for a few years." Colin introduced them and then looked around. "Where's Cody's surrogate mom?"
"She had to work," said Elana, smiling at the thought of how Chandra would feel when she found out she had been missed. When she noticed Justie's bemused expression she explained who Chandra really was. Colin stayed and talked with them for a minute then took Cody away for a team meeting to plan second half strategies.
"So, have you moved back here, or are you just visiting?" asked Elana.
"I'm here for good," said Justie. "Victoria is a beautiful city but, to tell you the truth, I really missed the Comox Valley and my family. I'm excited to get back to work, too. Actually that's one of the things I wanted to talk to you about."
"Yes?" said Elana, wondering what Colin's cousin could possibly have to say to her about work. She couldn't imagine that the girl wanted a job at the greenhouses. By the way she was dressed, she seemed to be very well to do. Besides, Colin obviously had money and connections.
"Well . . . I give riding lessons and I heard that your son was interested in learning how to ride."
"He is?" asked Elana. "Did Colin tell you? Cody hasn't mentioned it to me, but he always wants to do everything. You know kids. A couple of weeks ago he was bugging me for a goat."
Justie laughed. "I understand he's very eager. And Colin tells me he's a hard worker and a quick learner."
"He is," said Elana, warmed by the praise. "And actually soccer is the only thing he's registered in right now. He would have the time for riding lessons if he's really interested, but I don't know if I could afford them . . . and we don't have a horse."
"There are horses available for the kids that don't have them, and maybe we could work something out to reduce the cost if Cody was interested in helping around the stable."
Elana thanked her and said she'd ask Cody about it after the game. They watched the rest of the second half together, talking about the plays and cheering excitedly when Cody took a big shot that went off the cross bar. When the final whistle blew he came running off the field grinning.
"Did you see that? It was so close. I almost had my first goal!"
"It was a wonderful shot, buddy."
"I put a bit too much into it," he admitted.
"Hey, why didn't you tell me you're interested in learning how to ride horses? I had to hear about it from a stranger," Elana teased.
Cody blushed. "I don't know . . . I guess I thought you wouldn't let me . . . but I really do want to learn."
"Honey, you know if there's something you really want I'm always open to talk about it."
"I know, Mom. It's just . . . you've been so busy lately and it never seems like the right time to ask you."
"If it means so much to you, and you are willing to work hard at it, Justie here has an offer for you. She teaches riding and she says we might be able to get cheaper lessons if you do some chores around the stables."
Cody's entire face lit up. "Really?"
"Yes," Justie answered. "I could use an assistant."
"I'm afraid Cody has no experience around horses at all," said Elana.
"That doesn't matter," said Justie. She turned to Cody. "You know how to use a shovel, right? And I'll teach you how to brush the horses down and show you where to hang the tack. Nothing could be more simple."
"How much are lessons?" asked Elana.
"Private lessons are forty dollars for forty-five minutes, but I also give kids group lessons, four to a group. They run twenty dollars a session, twenty-five if you rent a horse. I have a beginner group starting up next week so he'd fit right in." She noticed the disappointed expressions on both Elana and Cody's faces. "Don't worry, he can work most of it off."
"That's so nice of you to make the offer," said Elana. "You've only just met us."
"I hate to see a kid miss out on something he really cares about," said Justie. "So, what do you say? Shall we give it a go?"
Cody looked up at his mom beseechingly. "Please?"
"I guess so," said Elana, "but you can't let your homework or other chores slide because you're shovelling out stalls all afternoon."
"He won't have to do too much work," said Justie.
"That's great. So when are the lessons?"
"Tuesdays at three-thirty, but Cody could come by right after school if he wants and I'll show him around the stable and explain his jobs to him."
"Sure, I could drop him off on the way home. Where is your stable?"
"Oh . . . it's right next door to you. Stewart Stables. Didn't you know? I'm Darien Stewart's sister."
Elana just stood there with her mouth open as images ran before her eyes. She remembered seeing Darien at that first game, watching him talk to Colin, noticing the similarity between them. Justie was Darien's sister? She was so friendly, so open, so unlike him. Now that she knew, she could see a resemblance about the eyes. Justie's were grey too, but instead of piercing into her they were full of warmth and humour.
In a daze Elana said goodbye to Justie and took Cody to the car. She drove home in silence, all the time thinking, 'What have I done? I've agreed to send my son over there. What if . . .' They were half way down Headquarters Road when Cody finally spoke up.
"Can I still get to take the lessons, Mom?"
Elana looked over at him. His face was white and drawn. She pulled the car off to the side of the road and put it in park. Taking him in her arms, she hugged him tightly and kissed his forehead. "Of course you can, hon," she said.
That Sunday, after much discussion with Joy and Chandra and exhaustive sessions in Chandra's room exploring the web, Elana came to a decision about her business. She would grow hanging baskets and bedding plants. It was the quickest, simplest, and most cost effective product she could think of. She investigated sources for seeds and cuttings, and determined logistics for volume and greenhouse use. Two greenhouses would need to be heated, to be used for propagation. Those would need double plastic, fans, and propane heaters. The other four would be used for housing the baskets and flats of bedding plants after they had been potted up. They would only need single plastic. She would have to order heater cables, lumber, potting soil, flats, plant trays, baskets, rooting hormones, fertilisers, hoses, misters, landscape fabric . . . the list grew longer and longer.
She spent another week working late into the night calculating quantities and costs, deciding on seeds and cuttings, planning growing schedules. Her calculations showed that she had to have the two heated greenhouses and cutting benches ready for November. She placed a large order for fuchsia and ivy geranium cuttings, which needed to be planted for rooting right away. Joy and Chandra helped her decide on a selection of varieties, then they delved into the seed catalogues, ordered lobelia, impatiens, pansies, marigolds, petunias, fibrous begonias, pelargoniums . . . the list seemed never ending.
Supplies began to arrive and Elana and Sam were busy building the potting and cutting benches and installing plastic pipes and hoses. Technicians from the power company replaced the electric lines out to the greenhouses. The propane heaters were installed, and finally, on November first, a crew came and replaced the plastic on all the greenhouses. Dennis helped Sam and Elana do the plastic on the ends of the greenhouses and put up the doors. The finishing touch was the sign they erected out by the road. Joy had designed and painted it. There was a brightly coloured bird flying up from the ground, reborn. Above it arced the words Phoenix Nursery.
From where Darien sat in his study, he could have been able to oversee all the work done on the greenhouses next door, if he had so chosen. But besides all the business that pertained to the stables, he had a novel to write. The sight of Elana carting lumber, hammering, and digging trenches for water pipes was much too distracting. It seemed there was nothing she wasn't willing to do to get the job done. He couldn't help but admire her work ethic and her determination. He snorted at the idea of Lina getting herself dirty, or even trying to dig a shovel into the ground.
His character, Lanea, started to become more physically adept. At times he found it difficult to separate the two. Who was Elana and who was Lanea? Both were fiercely independent and staunchly loyal. Both were strong, vital, resourceful. Both were lithe, nimble, and surprisingly attractive. Both were . . . no, he really had no idea who Elana was, inside. He didn't know about her intelligence, her spontaneity, her sense of humour. He didn't know what books she read, what music she liked, what made her happy or sad. He didn't know anything about her but what he saw for himself out his window, and what he remembered from his two brief encounters with her. He decided that he was becoming obsessed, and it worried him. He had to get out more.
He moved his desk so that instead of being under the window that faced west, across her property, he now looked out over the neat corrals and onto the road. He limited his writing times to the evenings and sat, typing, late into the night. But he often found he had to dispel the urge to glance out that west facing window, even in the dead of night when there was nothing to see but the dark shadows of trees and the silver glow of the moon upon the translucent greenhouse roofs.
He spent much more time exercising and training the horses that he bred, but invariably he was accompanied by Lanea who would morph with unexpected suddenness into his next-door neighbour just at the ring of a hammer or the smell of a branch of pine crushed underfoot. On one such occasion he headed with his horse to the big arena where Justie gave her lessons. He needed the type of conversation that his horses could not provide. Something to drive a little sanity back into his brain. He was spending way too much time on his own these days. That was the cause of his aberrant thoughts.
The lessons were over and she wasn't in either the outdoor or the indoor ring. He walked up the left hallway and checked the twelve by twelve box stalls that ran along the side and opened onto large run-ins. Most of them were empty, the horses outside in the turn out pens. He checked the tack room and there he discovered Cody hanging up a bridle.
"Hello there! Are you on the payroll now?" he asked.
Cody grinned. "I'm getting riding lessons."
"He's my personal slave," said Justie, coming out from a locker.
"I hear you're becoming quite a good rider," said Darien.
"I've only had a few lessons so I'm not good yet, but it's fun."
"Don't be so modest, Cody," said Justie. "You're my star pupil. I'm gonna put you on all my posters." She winked at him.
"I actually came to see if you wanted to ride with me, Justie, but I see you're still busy."
"We're all done. I was just going to walk Cody home."
"I'll do that while you saddle the Pontiac."
Justie stuck her tongue out at him and turned to Cody. "Don't listen to him. My horse is not called Pontiac. She's called Firebird after a bird in one of my favourite books, not some stupid macho car. Would you mind if he takes you home?"
"That'd be cool."
"See," said Darien. "He thinks I'm cool."
"He just knows you've got Phantom with you and he wants a ride," said Justie.
"Would you like to ride him?" asked Darien.
"Okay, but I'll lead him like last time. He's a little too big for you to ride on your own yet."
They went outside of the building to where Phantom was waiting, his reins loosely wound around a railing. Darien helped Cody up onto the saddle and then led the horse down the drive and along the street to Cody's driveway, chatting as they went.
"I usually run up my driveway on my own," said Cody.
"Okay," said Darien. "That looks great. Who painted it, your mom?" He pointed at the newly erected sign. By this time he suspected that she was capable of almost anything.
Cody laughed. "She can't paint that well! Joy did it - she's an artist. Isn't the bird awesome? Do you think it's something like the one Justie named her horse after?"
"I'm not sure what a firebird really looks like. It's magical, not mythical like a phoenix, but I guess they're similar because they are both survivors."
He was about to help Cody out of the saddle when he heard the crunch of footsteps on the newly gravelled drive and turned to see Elana coming towards them. It seemed there was no escaping her, and this time she was no manifestation of his mind. He felt his blood rush a bit faster and he attempted to greet her without letting her see that her presence affected him in any way.
"Hi," he said rather stiffly. "We were just admiring your sign."
"Thanks," she answered, and then she tentatively reached out to stroke Phantom's neck, and looked even further up at her son. "Isn't this horse much too big for you? If I knew you were riding . . . it looks quite dangerous."
"No, mom. This is Mr. Stewart's horse."
Darien saw the concern in her eyes, and something more. She was annoyed. "All the horses we use for our lessons are a suitable size and very good tempered and trustworthy. You don't need to worry about Cody's safety."
"I'm sure the lesson horses are fine because I trust Justie's judgement, but I don't like him being on your horse. You can't tell me you ride a slug."
"No. He has a lot of spirit, but he's good with children, and I am in control, not Cody."
"You are standing here on the side of the road, barely holding onto the reins. What if someone were to drive by suddenly and spook him?"
"Phantom is level headed - he doesn't spook easily."
"Cody, I want you to get down right now."
"I was just about to help him . . ." said Darien, reaching up to grasp Cody under the arms and toss him down.
"I don't want him on your horse ever again."
"But, mom! I was fine."
"That's okay, Cody. If your mom doesn't want you on Phantom that's her decision. I'll see you later."
Darien nodded to Elana and led Phantom away. As soon as he was at his own driveway he got up into the saddle and rode back to meet Justie, wishing all the while that he had handled the situation better. Why did it always have to be a confrontation when he met her? She had somehow put him on the defensive and he hadn't been able to regain his ground. His quick burst of anger had already dissipated. She didn't know horses - he couldn't expect her to have the same confidence in Phantom that he had. To her he was big and powerful and somewhat intimidating. To him, Phantom was a friend.
Cody and Elana walked back to the house together.
"Why was he bringing you home anyway?"
"So Justie could saddle her horse. They are going out riding."
Elana didn't answer. She was trying to bring herself under control. Somehow anything that man did got under her skin.
"He didn't do anything wrong, Mom. He was just being nice to me - he knew I wanted to ride Phantom."
"I'm sorry buddy, but seeing you on that horse so high above me really freaked me out."
"I know, Mom," said Cody quietly.
Elana stopped and grabbed hold of him and held him close. "I guess I overreacted again," she said as she let him go. "Race you to the house."
"I'll waste you!" he said as he started running.
Cody arrived at the steps a few paces before Elana and they both collapsed on the porch out of breath and giggling.
Even though the plastic had been replaced on the greenhouses there was still an incredible amount of work to do before Elana would be ready to receive and plant the cuttings that she had ordered. The fans for the heated greenhouses were on backorder and would not arrive for another week. The potting and cutting benches were not ready - the installation of the hoses had taken much longer and had caused much more trouble than expected. And when the benches for the cuttings were finished all the heating cables had to be run across them. Elana found that if she just took one day at a time and did not look at the big picture, she wasn't quite as overwhelmed by the amount of work she had still to do. If it wasn't for Dennis coming every day she knew that she and Sam would never be ready on time.
In addition to this there was her continued concern about Cody's developing friendship with him - Darien Stewart. From things he let slip it was apparent that Cody had some kind of contact with Stewart on most of his lesson days. She was still furious with the man for allowing her son on his horse. That had not occurred again, nor had he brought him home since that first time, but he often stopped and talked to Cody as he passed by the stables and the look in Cody's eyes when he mentioned him frightened her. She knew that though Cody was happy with her, he really did miss having a masculine figure in his life. His open admiration of Colin Fox proved how much a male role model meant to him, and though his regard for Darien Stewart was more guarded, Elana sensed that it was somehow stronger. She did not mind at all that he idolised Colin Fox, but her neighbour was another matter. Perversely she felt that if she did not like him, her son shouldn't either. As she worked, conflicting thoughts continually revolved in her head - she wished she had never agreed to the riding lessons though it was a pleasure to see Cody's face light up every time he spoke of them.
It was the middle of November - the greenhouses were finally ready, and the cuttings were arriving first thing in the morning. Elana was bone tired. She upended her wheelbarrow on the rubbish heap and looked about her. A huge jack-o-lantern grinning from the compost pile took her by surprise in the waning light and set her heart beating rapidly. As she stood, trying to calm herself, she realised that Halloween had come and gone and had barely even registered upon her. Sam had sold most of his pumpkins to classes of primary school children who had come to the pumpkin patch the last week of October while she had been digging and hammering, totally oblivious to anything else that was going on around her. Chandra had made Cody's costume. Joy and Carl had helped carve the pumpkin and taken Cody out trick or treating. She steeled herself and stared back at the ghoulish face that appeared to be rising out of the mouldering compost.
"Thanks," she said. "It took a pumpkin-head like you to tell me that I've been neglecting my kid." It was little wonder all she heard from him was Mr. Fox this or Mr. Stewart that.
She almost ran back to the house, wheelbarrow bouncing and jarring through ruts and potholes as she went. Elana washed up in the laundry sink and pulled off her coveralls, hanging them on a hook.
In the kitchen Joy was cooking supper. She turned around from the stove and smiled. "You look exhausted. The pasta's almost ready - I know you must be hungry - Sam says you didn't stop for lunch."
"He'll be back soon. Chandra's picking him up from soccer practice, remember? They're always a little late . . . getting those two away from Colin Fox is like . . ." She searched for a suitable metaphor.
"I think Colin exacerbates the problem," said Elana as she took the rotini that Joy held out to her and tasted it to see if it was done. "Al dente, perfecto! He loves the attention."
The front door burst open and running feet clattered upon the hardwood. Cody's excited face appeared in the kitchen doorway. "Mom! I got chosen to do corner kicks! Mr Fox said I've got the best left foot on the team." He was just about bouncing up and down.
"That's wonderful, honey, but you've still got your cleats on don't you?"
"Oops. Sorry mom." Cody sat down and pulled at his laces. "I just wanted to tell you so badly."
"Hey, what're these huge gouges on the living room floor," cried Chandra as she came into the house. "You little melon head!"
Cody's face turned white.
"She's only joking, silly," said Elana as she crouched down to help him off with his shoes. "Now go and get changed. Supper's ready. You can tell me all about it while we eat and I promise to listen to every word. I'm really proud of you." She tousled his hair before he ran to his room.
The rest of November Elana worked just as hard. There were hundreds of cuttings to be dipped in rooting hormones and planted into flats while Sam worked at getting the other four greenhouses in order, levelling beds, building benches, and running wires across for hanging all the baskets on in the spring. There was no end of work to be done, but Elana stopped her workday when Cody came home from school, always walked him to and from his riding lessons, and took over all the soccer driving duties she had given up even though Chandra wasn't very thrilled with the idea.
"How'm I ever going to convince the guy I was made for him if he never sees me again?" she complained.
"I thought absence made the heart grow fonder," said Elana, laughing.
"Look, I'm dying here!"
"So, maybe he'll call you. He knows the number."
"He did ask me if you were coming to the next game," Cody piped up.
"You're not just saying that to make me feel good?"
Chandra grabbed Cody and whirled him around by his arms. Elana stood back and watched, her smile growing. It didn't matter that once Cody was in bed she would be back out in the greenhouse planting cuttings by the weak light cast by a dangling bulb. Her afternoons with Cody made all the intensive work bearable.
Darien hadn't failed to notice the soft light shining through the trees every night for the past two weeks. It made him think of those Soul Asylum lyrics, your dim light shines from so far away*, and that didn't make it any easier. That song was about things not working out - not reassuring by any means. He was still haunted by the very thought of her and trying hard to ignore the fact. The only time he really let it overtake him was each night while he was writing, and then Lanea would take shape under his fingers and fly freely as he pounded on the keyboard, taking all those withheld thoughts and creating vibrant, evocative images that he knew had nothing to do with Elana at all - though she, it seemed, was destined to be his muse, whether he wanted it that way or not.
What she would think of it, he had no idea. He'd seen her a few times, mostly from a distance, when she'd picked Cody up from his lessons. Once he'd even been in the barn when she was there and had nodded to her as he hung his tack upon a peg. She'd glanced his way and then said something to Cody, her eyes warm with affection as they'd rested on her son. He hadn't had another opportunity to speak to her, but after their encounter in her driveway he could only think that it was a good thing.
Despite himself, he got up from his desk and walked over to the window and watched the unsteady glow that came from the greenhouse. His light, too, must be shining through the trees, visible to anyone who was looking - but nobody was looking. He returned to his computer.
The light shifted and she had to adjust her eyes to the darkness once more. But she knew it was shining from the hill. She knew she had to get there. She didn't know how or why, but she was drawn inexorably. Her blade met vine, stem, rock as she hacked her path. The hillside shifted and changed before her. Elusive. Always hiding what she was after - and yet she could not stop. It was a stronger power that called her and she could not resist though her arm grew weary and her blade dull.
The Christmas craft fair opened on Friday, December third, at the Filberg Centre. The clatter of Joy's loom had been heard almost constantly for most of November. She'd reduced her hours at Superstore and concentrated on her craft. Chandra and Elana spent the afternoons knotting and twisting fringes on scarves and even Cody made himself useful, helping set up Joy's bobbins when she wound a new warp upon her sectional beam, and keeping Smeagol away from the yarns as she threaded them through the heddles. He loved to watch her weave, the steady rhythm of shuttle and beater, the pump of the treadles and clack of the harnesses as they flew up and down, heddles rattling softly. He loved to watch the cloth grow and stretch over the breast beam, and down around the thick cloth beam as her knees steadily rose and fell.
Besides scarves, she wove shawls, blankets, hangings, pillows, runners and place mats in silks, wools, and cottons. Some she hand dyed; some had painted warps, ikat, double weave, tapestry. Colours ranged from muted and mellow to vibrant, fiery hues and deep, dark indigos.
All day Friday they set up her booth, using screens, tables, baskets and an antique hallstand on which to display her wares. Tiny fairy lights were threaded all around on strategically placed twisting branches. At 5:45 Joy stood back for the umpteenth time to survey the effect.
"I think it's ready."
"It's about time," said Chandra. "Doors open at six."
"It looks lovely," said Elana, who had come for the tail end of the set up, after she'd picked Cody up from school and run a few errands. "Now go and change quickly if you're going to, or meet your first customers in faded jeans and a dusty sweatshirt.
"Oh!" cried Joy, and she grabbed her bag from behind her chair and ran for the washroom.
"Wait for me," cried Chandra. "I'm sure I look like I've been dragged through hell's half acre."
"I'll look after the stall, don't worry," said Elana.
The first night of the fair was almost a society occasion, it was such a popular event. As the doors opened and people began to filter in Elana realised that they were not only there to look at and buy quality crafts by the best island artisans, they were also there to see and be seen. All the craftspeople had to have their work accepted by a jury in order to rent a booth for the week-long event. The booths were large and well set out in the spacious hall. At one end was a café with wrought iron tables, but for opening night, drinks and hors d'oeuvres were being passed around on trays by servers dressed in chic black. She hadn't really expected it to be quite so dressy and she hoped she didn't look too dowdy in her simple grey skirt and sage green shirt. None of that bothered Cody at all - he just wanted to eat a few sausage rolls and go to the booth that sold hand tooled leather belts with scabbards and replicas of Frodo's dagger, Sting.
"They're not sharp at all Mom, c'mon - I'll show you."
She smiled in assent, and when Joy and Chandra returned she followed Cody as he led her through the growing crowds and between the rows of booths to the place in question. There was no doubt that the craftsmanship was superb, or that the daggers were solely for ornamentation, but the prices were well beyond Elana's means, so they only looked. And as Cody dreamed Elana allowed herself to be distracted by a booth that sold wonderful soaps with delicate, natural fragrances. As she reached for a goats' milk and aloe soap a low voice spoke beside her.
"No, try this one. Bergamot."
While she instinctively reached for the smooth greenish bar, she raised her eyes up. She'd recognised the voice. Darien Stewart was looking down at her with an unreadable expression on his face. She took the soap and raised it to her nose, breathing in the tangy fragrance. How did he know I like bergamot? It was hard for her to put it down, but she did. She picked up the aloe one and sniffed it, but the scent didn't even register.
"What do you think?" he asked.
Did he really care? "They both smell very nice," she said, not wanting to commit herself at all.
He picked up the goats' milk and aloe one and smelled it carefully. "I think I can still smell the goat," he said.
Despite herself, she laughed. "Let me see that." He placed it in her hand and she gave it another sniff. "I can't even smell the aloe, let alone a goat," she said.
"Well, it probably tastes like goat then."
"I wasn't planning on eating the soap, though sometimes I wonder. Look at this - passionfruit, kiwi, melon. I'm wondering where the wasabe one is."
"Try that green one over there."
"It's only lettuce. But this one smells good. Ginger."
He took it from her. "A little sharp - like the root, not like gingerbread."
"More like ginger beer."
"Are you buying soap?" The new voice was throaty and provocative. "For me?"
Lina leaned up against Darien and attempted to sniff the bar he still held. Her hair was a more brilliant russet than usual and she wore a slinky, silver dress that dipped deeply in both front and back. Her voice had surprised Elana who had never heard her sound other than imperious and shrill. She bit back a grin and was about to turn and look for Cody when Lina noticed her. The look of contempt she received plainly said she did not belong.
"I was just looking," he said, "but if you're interested in soap, you might like to buy this one." He pointed at the aloe and goats' milk soap.
By this time the craftsperson had finished with a customer and came over to try and make a sale. "It's very good for the complexion, especially if you have allergies or delicate skin," she said, and went on to explain all the benefits of the soap.
Elana was surprised by Darien's remark after the conversation they'd already had about the soap. Why would he steer his girlfriend to a soap he apparently did not like? She picked up a soap at random and said, "What about this one?"
"Rose geranium?" asked Lina scornfully, her normal tone back in her voice. "I suppose it appeals to little country girls - but I'm buying the one Darien suggested." She handed the goats' milk soap over to the vendor and smiled up at Darien.
"I'll take the rose geranium one for my sister. It's just the kind she likes," said Darien, looking straight ahead. He waited till Lina's purchase was finished and then placed the pale pink soap on the counter, along with the ginger one he still held.
Elana excused herself and turned to look for Cody who had luckily only wandered to the next booth where they were making chocolate truffles. She had found the whole exchange about the soaps rather confusing and was happy to be with Cody who was straightforward and uncomplicated. He wanted chocolate - that was very easy to understand. She bought enough for them to share with Joy and Chandra, and then they continued looking at the various crafts on their way back through the fair.
Darien watched her walk off and meet Cody, then keep going without a backward glance.
"Still slumming?" came the sultry voice in his ear. "Her Volvo would look great in your garage - or maybe you two should use her place. The old hippie could give her away at the wedding, and if you could ever get the kid to wear something without holes in the knees he could be the ring bearer . . ."
"Really Lina, sometimes you're completely encyclopaedic in your ignorance."
She stared at him, unsure of the meaning of what he had just said, but thinking that it might not be complimentary, she decided to change her tactics. "I know I'm going to love that soap you recommended," she said, pulling on his arm. "Let's go find Carl."
As he followed after her she reflected that it was probably just a coincidence that he had been talking to that . . . that nobody. After all, Elaine, or whatever her name was, was dressed so plainly and her hair was so . . . unstyled - there was no way he'd gone up to her on purpose. Nothing to worry about. But she'd almost blown it over the soap. How was she to know that Justie liked that kind?
Darien wasn't thinking of soap at all. He'd actually forgotten that it was there in his pocket. He was picturing Lanea in a sage green tunic, smelling of lemon and ginger. When they ran into Justie at a pottery booth he almost didn't even see her.
"Justie honey," crooned Lina, "guess where we just were? Buying you some soap! Rose geranium - your favourite - I helped Darien choose it."
"I guess you could say that," said Darien as he snapped back to the here and now. "Are you looking at raku pots, Justie?"
"Yes. There's some here I really think you'll like," she said, leading him into the stall.
Lina was left standing on her own. She looked around and saw some friends across the room, flashed them an empty smile, and then affected a deep interest in raku.
Two hours later, when Elana took Cody back to view the daggers one last time before going home, she found herself in front of the soap booth again. The bergamot soap was in her hand and she was buying it. She wasn't sure exactly how it had happened.
* "Promises Broken", Soul Asylum
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