Aurora Novel Excerpt

The Aurora Borealis dances above North America during a strong solar storm. Photo by Nace Hagemann. Visit the photographer’s website at Nace Hagemann Photography.

Whistle on Whiteface Mountain ♦

A Novel by Melissa F. Kaelin

Excerpt from Chapter 7

This is an excerpt from my novel, Whistle on Whiteface Mountain, which is under consideration by a NYC talent agency. The excerpt features a letter describing the details of a launch from Cape Canaveral.

THURSDAY, JULY 16, 2013

Before the break of dawn, the creatures outside were making a racket. A pack of wolves howled in the distance, loons crooned from the nearby lake, and blue jays warbled at the birdfeeder.

Clarence was still in bed, snug under a patchwork flannel blanket. It was dark outside, but it sounded like daybreak. The commotion was so loud it was impossible to sleep.

“Now, now,” his voice boomed, as he sat up in bed. “What’s all the hullabaloo about?”

He stood up on the hardwood floor. His flannel pajamas, too long for his legs, unwrinkled all the way down to the ground, and the plaid patterns covered his wide feet and toes. Turning to the window, he pulled the curtains open. He lifted the windowpane, letting the sweet summer air flood the room. He spoke to the birds as if they were old friends.

“Isn’t it a little early for you?”

Then it dawned on Clarence. There was only one other time he’d heard so much wildlife this long before daybreak. It happened during a powerful geomagnetic storm, when the Northern Lights had shone so bright the creatures mistook the light for sunrise. He combed his fingers through his silver beard, and lowered his head to peer out the window.

Beyond the north woods, a bright veil of green curled across the dark sky. Instantly, the light disappeared from the atmosphere, but a hint of it flashed back.

Clarence glanced at his old chronograph watch. It was 3:03 a.m. The sun wouldn’t come up for another three hours. That left plenty of time to catch Lady Aurora, the Goddess of the Dawn.

Leaving the window open, he went to the kitchen and brewed a pot of coffee. He shuffled a few steps to his darkroom, where he stored a cache of technological indulgences. The small room was the only modern space in his rustic cabin. On one side, the room was outfitted with everything he needed to develop film. Shelves lined the other side. They were piled with camera bags, tripods, and a stash of Aurora chasing gear.

Clarence reached over the headlamps, ice cleats, a satellite GPS SPOT, and grabbed a camera body. He fitted it with a wide-angle lens and wandered out onto his front porch. By the time he got outside, the wolves had stopped howling and the light in the sky had faded.

“Wasn’t meant to be,” he said to himself.

Retired from his work as a high school calculus teacher, Clarence’s life was quiet. Without his wife or daughter to dote on, he devoted his energy to art and science, composing photographs of nocturnal northern landscapes. He also studied outer space, indulging in an old college pastime. He knew the Aurora Borealis could flare up suddenly and without warning. Even for the experts, it was incredibly difficult to predict. The geomagnetic storms that caused the Northern Lights could fizzle out just as fast as they started.

A few hours short of astronomical dawn, Clarence logged onto his computer and surveyed the satellite data online. According to ACE, which was orbiting a point of gravitational equilibrium about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, the conditions were quiet and they would stay that way. An ejection of solar plasma was barreling toward the atmosphere, traveling at a speed of three million kilometers per hour. But the solar matter wouldn’t make impact for another two days.

With the skies dark once again, the north woods calmed. Yet, the birds kept bickering beside the cabin. Clarence padded to the bedroom window to see what was going on by the birdfeeder.

A cluster of chickadees chirped loudly, interrupted by the sound of an angry blue jay. The blue jay squawked as it plucked twigs from a chickadee’s nest, and the birds flew at each other in a fit.

“Well, I’ll be.”

One chickadee flew toward the half-open window. With a blue jay on his tail, she thumped against the windowpane instead, landing stunned on the ledge. Perched near the old man, she tweeted back in the direction of her nest.

“There, there,” Clarence told her. “That one can’t keep this up all morning. There’s plenty of seed to go around.”

The chickadee fluttered back to the action, chirping loudly in the ongoing skirmish. Clarence shook his head. Maybe it was time to separate those birds.

The squabbling reminded him of the birdfeeders at his family home in Grand Rapids. He’d started out hanging one hummingbird feeder, offering simple sugar water to his feathery friends on the back porch. After it was up for a year, the hummingbirds began to compete for seed. They fought every morning, dive-bombing each other in mid-air and knocking down the feeder.

Back in those days, his daughter would watch the hummingbirds quarrel outside. She laughed when they dove through the air and cried when they attacked each other. But Clarence’s wife, Veronica, hated the racket. She begged him to put an end to it. To remedy the problem, Clarence set up two hummingbird feeders, one on either side of their house. He filled them both with sugar water, coaxing some of the hummingbirds to the front lawn. Then he mounted five common feeders around the house, offering a variety of seed and re-establishing peace in the backyard.

Veronica wasn’t satisfied. If she’d had it her way, the birdfeeders would’ve been thrown away, leaving the birds to find another source of food. That was the trouble with his wife. She didn’t see the value in accepting a situation or slaving toward a solution. When things got tough, she wanted easy answers. When answers didn’t come easy, she wanted the problem to go away. Even if it meant she was the first one to leave.

Maybe that’s why Clarence wanted a simple life.

When he’d moved to his cabin, he’d left almost everything in storage. In setting up a sort of solo photography studio, he’d neglected to unpack everything. For decades, boxes full of treasures and family keepsakes lined the tiny attic in the A-frame of the cabin. His solution wasn’t to throw things away, but instead to preserve them. Something from his former life might come in handy someday.

Clarence poured himself a steamy cup of black coffee. He could still hear the squabbling down the hall. So, he resolved to brave the attic that day and unpack the birdfeeders. He didn’t know if it would help with the babel, but he liked feeding the wilderness creatures, and it couldn’t hurt. He finished his coffee, grabbed a heavy-duty pocketknife, and headed for the attic.

A wooden ladder led up to the apex of the cabin, with decades of dust coating the steps and the attic floor.

Clarence was a shorter man, and he didn’t have to duck very low to fit into the crevice below the A-frame. He extended his arms and braced himself against the walls of the attic. He leaned his head back in the dark space, and feeling a tickle in his nose, let out a sneeze that rocked his head forward. A cloud of dust filled the air. He could’ve sneezed at least twice more, but instead moved straight to the tightly packed boxes below him, twitching his nose. He fiddled in the dark to pull the string for the lamp – a single bulb that dangled from the ceiling. In the dim light, he got down on his knees.
“Eh… Eh… Achoo!” Clarence turned his head this time.

The blow scattered dust from a small box stacked at eye level, revealing the writing on top. It was labeled “Veronica’s Things” in permanent marker.

Clarence’s breath caught in his chest. This was the box that’d been in storage the longest. It was the first thing he had packed away, and the last thing he’d looked at when he moved into the cabin. Never opened, the cardboard box contained the small things Veronica had left in Grand Rapids.

Feeling the pang of a life once lived, he decided it would be too painful to go through Veronica’s belongings. He’d always wondered what she kept inside, but he didn’t want to intrude in case anything sensitive had been stowed there. Even now, he thought it would be too much of an invasion of her privacy to look inside.

Clarence turned back to the rest of the cardboard boxes, and opened them up one by one. The first box was full of hardcover books. It was packed tightly with algebra and calculus textbooks from the classes he’d taught at the high school, as well as a few of his own indulgent texts. Underneath the textbooks, he found three volumes of Principia Mathematica. Each book in the set, which explored the foundations of mathematics, was bound with a dark cover and an ornate Cambridge seal on the spine.

Packed neatly next to the volumes was The Princeton Companion to Mathematics, a heavy tome filled with over two hundred entries from the mathematics field. His favorite entries were the ones that blurred the lines between math and science. While he was trained in one field, he was a complete amateur in the other. Clarence pulled the book out of the box and opened it to page 493. Reveling in the sensation of the heavy text in his hands and the thin pages beneath his fingers, he reread the section on Newton’s universal law of gravitation.

“’Any two objects in the universe exert a force of attraction on each other.’ What a humdinger!”

The page aroused years of teaching memories in his mind. Meandering away from scientific and mathematical ideas, he pictured all the high school students who had gravitated toward him over the years. He’d delighted in their curiosity, especially the students who took an interest in math. To his students, Clarence had been the animated teacher, the tireless tutor, the difficult test giver. Many of them even came back to visit after they’d gone off to college, trying to impress him with complex proofs and telling him stories about monotone professors.

When Clarence retired from teaching, he’d left a part of himself behind. He’d traded long days of instruction, mentoring and grading, for adventurous nights of chasing the Aurora Borealis. He wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do, but after what happened, he had no choice. He couldn’t find it in himself to answer his students’ curiosity anymore. He closed the book, and gingerly set it down beside him on the floor. Before long, he’d created a large stack of books to carry down from the attic.

Clarence pushed on, and slit open another box. This box was full of miscellaneous items. A pair of binoculars, used for birding. An antique map, rolled into a cardboard tube. A throw blanket. Clarence picked up the throw, a colorful knit piece with tribal designs, and wrapped it around his shoulders. The last time he’d used the blanket had been under a brilliant Aurora display, when the winter weather dipped into the single digits.

“Aha.”

There, underneath the throw, he found the empty birdfeeders from the house in Grand Rapids. He pulled out the common feeders, leaving the hummingbird feeders in the box.

Clarence made several piles of things he would bring downstairs that morning. He set the tea box on top of the pile of books. He put the binoculars beside the antique map, and he planned to mount the map to his kitchen wall. Finally, he grabbed the birdfeeders. When he got down, he would hang them on opposite sides of the house, and fill them with the seed he had on hand.

He was about to close the box, when he caught a glimpse of black handwriting on a crisp, white envelope, with a small grape juice stain on the edge.

He reached into the box and grasped the corner of the envelope, carefully sliding it out from under the other items. His nose wrinkled at the dust he’d dislodged, but his eyes squinted, and his expression morphed into a crestfallen smile. This letter was a relic from a different time, a time when the old man’s life was boisterous and full.

The collectible stamp and the flourish in the handwriting brought Clarence back to 1970, when he was still exchanging letters with an old friend. Frederick Bertschinger had been his college roommate, forging a bond with Clarence over advances in science and technology.

Their friendship was marked by fervent debates, as they saw the space race take shape between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. For them, the space race was a point of national and personal pride. Clarence and Fred were in their early 20s when the U.S.S.R. launched its first satellite into space in 1957. Both men took the national defeat in the face of Sputnik as a personal blow, but they recovered their pride when the U.S. launched Explorer 1 into space just four months later. They were crushed by defeat again in April 1961, when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, but they rallied when Alan Shepard made a suborbital flight, less than a month later on Freedom 7.

He and Fred kept in touch after graduation, corresponding with one another during the space race. They exchanged ideas and predictions, as they watched NASA launch the first American to orbit the Earth, then send the first humans into orbit around the moon, and finally, in 1969, land the first man on the moon.

In 1970, NASA was still sending the Apollo missions to the moon.

Clarence remembered that April so clearly. Simon and Garfunkel had just released their album “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” he was driving a brand new 1969 Camaro convertible – painted ocean blue with a white vinyl top – and the country was watching, as NASA prepared to launch the third crew of astronauts to the moon aboard Apollo 13.

In the 70s, Fred was working at Emory University on a science fellowship. He took a few days off to make the drive from Atlanta, Georgia, down to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch of the space shuttle. He posted a letter to Clarence right after he witnessed the launch, using a mailbox near Cape Canaveral, Florida, so his friend could share in the excitement.

Kneeling on the attic floor, Clarence turned the letter over in his hands. He smiled proudly as he slid his thumb over the 10-cent stamp affixed to the envelope, a 1969 commemorative issue printed with the words “First Man on the Moon.” The stamp depicted Neil Armstrong as he took his first step on moon rock, with the planet Earth setting like a sun in the background.

More than 40 years had passed since he received this letter. Clarence hesitated. He slid the college-ruled paper out of the envelope, and opened it to reveal the flourish of Fred’s handwriting.

April 11, 1970

Dear Clarence,

As promised, I am writing to you from the Kennedy Space Center after NASA’s successful launch of Apollo 13. The launch was astounding! If only you could have been here to witness it.

I do not consider myself a social person, but I was quite taken with the crowd as we waited for the shuttle to lift into the air. We numbered in the hundreds, and the tension was palpable as we waited eagerly for a sign of liftoff. First, I saw the flames from the Saturn V. There was a cloud of smoke at the tower. Not a sound could be heard for what seemed like an eon. The rocket lifted into the air, and it popped and cracked. The sound was loud and deep. It shook the ground, and by Jove, I swore I felt vibrations in my chest. The crowd roared with enthusiasm.  

It fills me with pride to see how far this nation has come in the field of space exploration. To see so many common citizens take an interest in science was certainly of consequence, as well.

Perhaps we could identify a rendezvous point of our own in the future, and attend the next launch together, whenever that may be. You would most certainly be welcome in Atlanta, and it behooves me to offer you a tour of the university and our research facilities. The travel distance to Kennedy Space Center is manageable from here. We could stand side by side and watch history be made.

For old times’ sake.

Respectfully Yours,
Frederick Bertschinger     

Clarence slumped under the weight of regret. No longer on his knees, he found himself sitting in a thick layer of dust, resting his head against the angular attic wall. Cobwebs dangled next to the silver threads of his beard. He pushed his fingertips against his brow.

“How much have I left in the dust?”

He massaged the skin on his forehead, trying to ease the tension above his eyes. He wondered if he still had the rest of Fred’s letters.

Fred had written again a few days later, on April 13, 1970, after he heard the news that an oxygen tank exploded aboard the spacecraft and thrust the crew into crisis. He’d taken it hard when a flash fire had erupted on a vessel just a few years earlier, killing the three astronauts aboard Apollo 1, including one scientist he greatly admired. The new explosion brought his skepticism to the surface. In this letter, Fred criticized NASA and the space missions. ‘It is high time that this great nation withdraws from outer space,’ he wrote. ‘The United States has already been to the moon. Americans have nothing further to prove.’

When the Apollo 13 crew returned safely to Earth on April 17, 1970, Clarence wrote a reply. He reassured his friend NASA knew what it was doing, and the safe return of the astronauts aboard Apollo 13 was evidence of that. ‘It’s possible for us to recover from even life-threatening challenges,’ he wrote. ‘Just because a mission is difficult, it doesn’t mean we should stop progress in its tracks.’

After the exchange, Frederick’s letters became less and less frequent. It was hard for Clarence, not only because his friend was becoming more narrow-minded, but also because he had always hoped they would meet again. He hadn’t heard from him in decades.

Tenderly, he folded Fred’s letter and slid it back in the envelope.

On the edge, he saw the reverse side of the grape juice stain, where the purple had soaked through. It almost looked like it was still wet. Clarence knew it was dry, but he placed his thumb on the stain anyway.

The grape juice had spilled in a flurry of excitement, at his family home in Grand Rapids.

Clarence had just received Fred’s letter from the Apollo 13 launch. He was so excited to read the letter he paced the living room floor, until he reached the signature line. Then he invited Veronica and his daughter, Laura, to sit on the living room couch, while he read the account of the launch aloud. His scientific friend had managed to transcend a habit for matter-of-fact descriptions, instead sharing a story filled with lifelike detail and grand emotions.

… We could stand by side and watch history be made. For old times’ sake.

When Clarence had finished reading, both Laura and Veronica applauded. They shared in the excitement of the launch, trying to simulate the sounds of the space shuttle and chasing each other around the living room furniture. They ran so fast Laura knocked over a cup of grape juice she had set on the coffee table. The juice spilled to the edge of the envelope, and it left a small purple stain on the edge.

The letter dropped to the attic floor, sending up a cloud of dust particles.

Clarence reached for it, but he stopped short of picking it up. He set his wrinkled hand on the floor. Then he gradually pulled his hand in closer to his body.

Outstretched, his fingers left empty lines in the dust.

.       .       .

Bonus Excerpt: ‘A Cherry in the Crate’

This is a bonus excerpt from my novel, Whistle on Whiteface Mountain. For a little background: After the loss of her 15-year-old brother, Allison finds herself listening to classic rock n’ roll on a road trip through the Great Lakes region. She’s traveling with her dog and her friend, Danny, who is a chef and restaurant owner. Allison is a budding photographer who is vying for a job in the marketing office at Children’s Hospital in Albany, New York.

SATURDAY, JULY 27, 2013

The sun rose over the rolling hills, radiating warm light in the form of a red rubber ball. With the Gremlin parked snugly in a gravel driveway, the road stretched out before us until it reached the tree-lined horizon. Touristy signs dotted the roadway, boasting of local art and Michigan’s crop of tart cherries. The nearest sign was only a few yards away.

I leaned against the front bumper, crossing my legs at the ankles and stopping to take it all in. My Australian Shepherd sat by my side, and Danny stood casually in front of me.

“I don’t know how we got here.”

“That’s easy,” Danny said, looking up from under his fraying blue ball cap. “We took 41 up through Escanaba, found our way east on Route 2 after Munising, and caught 31 South when we reached the mainland.”

I sighed, staring off into the distance.

“That’s not what you meant.”

A look passed between us.

“I thought we could use a break.” He stepped toward me. He placed his hand briefly on my shoulder. “Let’s check this place out. Stretch our legs.”

“Isn’t it a little early?” I asked, peeling my body away from the car.

When Danny had seen a sign for locally grown cherries, he’d pulled off the road without hesitation. Just beyond the sign was a white trailer with a red and green logo, and it overflowed with cherries in wooden crates. The trailer, shaped more like a garden wagon, created a stark contrast to the lush green landscape. It stood just off the side of the road, on land that looked to be part of someone’s home or small farm.

“Really? A cherry stand? We could just get donuts or something.”

“Why not?” Danny asked. “We haven’t had anything to eat in a while. We might be able to find the owners. And I thought you would like the light.” He gestured to the east.

I lifted my gaze to see a gorgeous gradient of color. The glow of dawn gave the grassy knolls a red tint, and the sky was soaked in the early orange that beckons a bright blue day. It was the most sunlight I’d seen since we left Albany, so much my eyes needed time to adjust.

“Want me to grab your camera?”

“No. The lens is broken.”

His eyes widened. “How did that happen?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Danny knew how important photography was to me, but he must’ve sensed my resignation. It wasn’t every day a prized possession broke, especially one that doubled as a passion and a source of income. Camera lenses weren’t cheap, and I didn’t know how I was going to afford a new one.

Maybe it was a sign – a hint from the universe I should leave it all behind. There were many other ways to make a living in marketing. Besides, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of working for that haughty boss in the first place. Especially after seeing the way he treated the children in the hospital.

“How long have you had your camera?”

“Actually, the camera is fine.” In the last few days, I’d developed a habit of avoiding eye contact. This clearly made him uneasy. “Only the lens is broken.”

He studied my expression, waiting for me to go on.

“Since high school,” I said finally. “Senior year.”

He turned slightly and walked toward the cherry stand, and I followed behind him. There was no one in sight, but a wheel barrel sat on the sidewalk by a modest brick house with gardening gloves strewn over the top.

Danny glanced back at me. “Was the camera a gift?”

“It was the first thing I really spent a lot of money on, when I worked part-time in high school. No one in my family is creative. Well, maybe Eric.” A lump formed in my throat. “Guess I’ll never know what he would grow up to be like.”

“Not even your mom?”

“Least of all, her.” I gazed at the red rubber ball on the horizon. “I don’t really have anything in common with my parents.”

“You don’t like to talk about them, do you?”

I shrugged. “We’re not very close. We never spend time together, so why spend too much time worrying about it?”

“How long has it been since you moved away?”

“Seven years,” I said. “Our lives are our own. What good can come from looking back?”

The scent of cherries greeted us when we reached the wagon, and I was struck by a vision.

In my parents’ kitchen, while they were still asleep, the same scent filled the cluttered room. One corner of the oak kitchen table was cleared. There, my wrists and Eric’s wrists reached into a metal mixing bowl, our hands stirring a batch of cherry coffee cake with a wooden spoon. It was a Saturday on a long weekend, and the old recipe was a family favorite.

At 3 years old, Eric was such a ball of energy he wanted to be part of everything. That day, he was my little helper. He would make a mess of the batter and scoop some up to his face to taste it, before we transferred the pale goo to a glass pan. Our parents would wake up in time for the coffee cake to come out of the oven. They would never say it out loud, but they looked forward to it too – the breakfast treat we saved for long weekends.

Damn cherries.

This whole trip had thrust me into the past – the flashbacks and dreams following me like an unshakable shadow. I wanted to push forward, to get Danny back to his restaurant. To move on. Part of me even wanted to get back in time to start my new job.

Danny wasn’t one to reveal his emotions. He turned to me then and said something matter-of-factly. “You’re so independent.

“Me?”

I didn’t know whether it was a compliment, a slight, or merely an observation.

Below a mandarin orange sky, I clutched a handful of ruby red cherries. It was one of those times when everything feels so strange, it settles into your memory like a surreal dream. The words we said were framed in this light. Every phrase arrived in my mind like an echo. There was too much truth to it, or not nearly enough.

“Look who’s talking,” I said. His comment was so ironic that I first formed my reply as a jab. After the words took shape, a smile formed and a laugh escaped my lips. Danny was the most independent person I knew, but I admired him for it. I wanted to create my own legacy the way he had, without relying on a single soul.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re a self-made man,” I paused. “Just think about what you’ve created. With your restaurant.”

“I didn’t do it on my own.”

“Might as well have. You put everything into Meraki Blue, and look how successful it’s become.”

“It took a long time for it to get that kind of traction.”

“But it was your dream,” I said, my voice full of admiration. His modesty tempted me to run away with the conversation. If I had achieved something like that, it’d be hard to resist telling the story at every turn.

He eyed the cherries in my hand. “Are you going to do something with those?”

I glanced down, and looked back at him. “It was your dream, and you turned your dream into a reality! Danny, give yourself a little credit.”

A man and a woman moved about in the back lawn, working between the house and a large pole barn. They hadn’t seen us yet, but they must’ve owned the produce stand. From the looks of it, they were starting the day’s work in the garden.

“Do you think they know we’re here?” I asked.

“They’re bound to come this way eventually.”

I looked out across the land, wondering how many acres they had in the backyard. It was way more than the lot back in Wisconsin.

“It’s true,” Danny said. “I always dreamed of starting a restaurant. But a lot went into the decision. Even before our college years.”

“I know. You worked really hard on that place.”

“Dad did too,” he said.

“Anthony? Are we talking about the same person?” I had a hard time imagining Danny working alongside his father to start his business. This was the same guy who lingered around the restaurant, giving unsolicited advice.

“Yeah.” Danny took the fraying ball cap off his head and rustled his thick, curly hair. His hard eyes softened, the way they did when he opened up or got caught flirting over dinner. “He taught me a lot about running a business, and he used to let me bounce ideas off him when I was a teenager. Dad was my mentor.”

“But you guys disagree on everything.”

“Right. Well, that’s just family for you.” Danny raised the corner of his lips in a smile. “I mean, Dad taught me what he could, but he wanted me to go a different direction. He tried to get me to take over his store. I wasn’t sure a restaurant gig was the right fit, and I almost did go into management. Then, when I didn’t and went to culinary school instead, Dad had to take a back seat.”

“That couldn’t have been easy for him.” It surprised me Danny had ever doubted becoming a chef. The tone of his voice gave him away, though, and it was clear he still had doubts about the decision.

“It took some getting used to,” Danny said. “For both of us.”

“I’m sure.”

Still, Danny was his own person. He was nothing like his father. Being raised in a father’s image and groomed to fill his shoes ought to be enough to stamp out a person’s ambition. Or at least push them away. But there was pride in Danny’s eyes.

“Do you ever wish you had done it on your own?”

“Not really,” Danny said. “Dad was great. He’s smarter than he lets on. When the restaurant first got up and running, he really helped me hold it together. You know, there were times when it might’ve been easier to go it alone. But it all comes down to one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Trust.”

Danny looked into my eyes, and I fought to push down a range of emotions. I glanced down at the cherries in my hand, and I started to put them back in the wooden crate, lifting each one and setting it on the pile. I couldn’t look at Danny.

The man and woman turned in our direction, noticing us for the first time. They began to walk toward the garden wagon, and they waved and smiled from the back lawn.

“What about your parents?” he asked. “Did they do anything to help you get your feet on the ground?”

I couldn’t think of anything to say. A cherry slid between my thumb and index finger, and I let the ruby red fruit fall into the wooden crate.

“Come on. There must be something?”

“They were pretty absent from my life,” I said. “Especially in my teenage years.”

“Nothing? Not even a small gesture?”

I set another cherry in the crate, and wondered if it was truly worth sifting through painful memories just to find something to share with Danny. My upbringing in Wisconsin had been marked by long silences, arguments and parents who were completely checked out.

We had been perusing the cherry stand leisurely, but the owners didn’t seem too concerned about us being on the farm. The couple finally reached the white wagon. Then the woman took off her gardening gloves and set them on a table nearby.

“Would you folks like to buy some fresh cherries?” she asked. “We don’t usually open this early, but if you’re buying, I’m selling. We have some spreads and jams inside too, if I can interest you in that sort of thing.”

“Sure,” I said, realizing there were still three cherries in my hand. “Do you have a bag or something I can put these in?”

“You bet.” She set a few farmers market baskets in front of us. “Those work great.”

“How much for two?” I asked.

She gave the price, and I started counting out some cash.

“I’ll get this one,” Danny said.

Before I knew it, he was handing her the cash, and I was standing there with an extra wad of dollar bills. “Danny, I was going to –”

“You know, it’s okay to depend on other people sometimes.”

“I know.” It wouldn’t hurt him to take his own advice.

He moved right next to me, so his shoulder touched mine, and he scooped up some of the cherries from my pile. He slid them into the basket, letting the fruit that had slipped through my fingers tumble together into our stash.

I looked up at Danny.

“Not everyone expects you to go it alone.”

.        .        .

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♦ The title above may change, as it is only a working title.
© Copyright 2016 by Melissa F. Kaelin
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