Authors: Jodi Lynn Anderson
A Novel by
The Darlington Orchard in Bridgewater, Georgia, had seen its shareâ¦
The grassy lawn of Columbia University was a vivid green,â¦
As usual, Birdie Darlington had her nose in a book.
As the Greyhound bus idled in the cavernous depths ofâ¦
Mexico City had nowhere quiet to walk. It was oneâ¦
Murphy stretched in bed, staring at the dingy white ceilingâ¦
Outside the banquet room of the Cawley-Smith Hotel, the lateâ¦
Murphy climbed off her bike at the foot of theâ¦
It was as if the whole year disappeared the momentâ¦
Primrose Cottage, the home of the late, great Grandmom Eugenie,â¦
Murphy sat cross-legged on the floor of the women's dorm,â¦
Birdie and Leeda sat at the decrepit picnic table behindâ¦
Leeda woke in her dorm room in a bed acrossâ¦
“Can you find me the tax stuff from last year?”â¦
The Dooly County Fair was in the town of Nominiâ¦
The Bridgewater Courthouse was lit up in the summer sun;â¦
“He's staying at the Homewood Suites,” Murphy said. She wasâ¦
“You sure you're gonna be okay, Bird?” Leeda asked.
Some people can predict whether it's going to rain orâ¦
Poopie and Murphy cooked a big “Get Well Soon” mealâ¦
It started with Leeda coming for a couple afternoons hereâ¦
Almost everyone was at church, so the orchard was desertedâ¦
Murphy lay in bed, staring at the ceiling.
“I'll have a profiterole,” Eric said. Leeda ordered the same.
Poopie and Birdie sat at the sorting table, sorting peaches.
Murphy biked circles around the courthouse parking lot like anâ¦
Wednesday night, Leeda woke to the sound of tiny pebblesâ¦
Long ago, Birdie had gotten into the habit of havingâ¦
Birdie stared at the Departures board at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport,â¦
From where Murphy, Leeda, and Birdie sat in the treeâ¦
Leeda hung up the phone in the kitchen and staredâ¦
Birdie ran around all morning, getting the workers ready toâ¦
“Do you think they want this?” Murphy asked, holding upâ¦
It was surprising how many people showed up on theâ¦
Leeda peered through the open doors of the trailer, makingâ¦
Murphy looked at the address and then up at theâ¦
Birdie was in the garden uprooting a few favorite plantsâ¦
Rex Taggart was packing up his truck in the parkingâ¦
For the first few days of September, Leeda felt likeâ¦
There were so many ways to get between Bridgewater andâ¦
he Darlington Orchard in Bridgewater, Georgia, had seen its share of love affairs.
Some of them, like the blooming love between Poopie Pedraza and Walter Darlington and the roller-coaster romance between Murphy McGowen and Rex Taggart, had been out in the open, plain as day. Others had been secret, hidden under the shade of the trees, stolen in moments, never revealed.
But even these left traces.
A box of letters sat tucked in a closet on the upper floor of Primrose Cottage, waiting to spill its guts. An envelope arrived at #504 Anthill Acres Trailer Park, regarding the past of an eighteen-year-old girl. A ring dotted with tiny diamonds was removed from where it had been hidden for over fifty years and dropped into a Jiffy mailer.
Poopie Pedraza would have told you it was ghosts of these things being stirred up. She believed in all sorts of ghosts. Ghosts of the peaches that had grown there. Ghosts of dead pecan trees. Ghosts of long walks and swims in the lake. She told everyone
who would listen that she believed in lost souls too, because once she had been one.
In the late spring, a nervous little Chihuahua was dropped off by the side of the road five miles outside Bridgewater and left to fend for itself. Judge Miller Abbott, the town justice, lost his wife and wondered how he would ever feel like his heart was whole again. A Mexican boy tucked a tiny box into his backpack and hoped.
Far away, in New York and Mexico City, Birdie, Leeda, and Murphy were blissfully oblivious to the fact that the ghosts were calling them home.
he grassy lawn of Columbia University was a vivid green, and Leeda Cawley-Smith lay entwined with her boyfriend, letting the sun's rays seep into her heavily SPFed skin. They were a T; she was perpendicular to him with her head on his stomach, big black sunglasses shielding her eyes. He had his knees up and a school catalog of summer classes covering his face. Occasionally someone appeared and hovered over them to say hello, as if they were Jackie and John F. Kennedy, beautiful and perfect and sunlit, being visited by their subjects.
“I don't know what I'm gonna do without you for the next couple of weeks,” Eric Woodard said, running his fingers through her loose curls. Leeda rolled over onto her stomach and propped herself up on her elbows to look at him. He was peering over his catalog at her, his dirty-blond hair messed up from lying on the ground. “Who's going to match my socks?”
Leeda smiled. She had an obsessive-compulsive habit of matching Eric's socks, which were all cashmere and sent by his mother. She also liked to fold anything that was hanging from
anywhere. Leeda was very visual. She liked everything in her vision to be orderly.
“I'll be back before all your groupies know I'm gone and you can get a new girlfriend,” she said. Eric rolled his eyes. Leeda liked to tease him about all the girls who constantly hit on him, sometimes right in front of her.
Leeda was headed home to Bridgewater, Georgia, for two weeks come Saturday. It was something she was ambivalent about. There were some things she was thrilled to see again after a whole year away. There were some things she would have been glad to skip. It seemed silly, but the hardest thing would be the two weeks without Eric.
They had met on the bus the first week of school. He had gotten her first name before he'd jumped off. Then he'd called the dean of her college and had made up some story to find out exactly who she was. When he'd showed up outside her second Tuesday econ class, Leeda had been wary. But Eric had assured her that once he set his mind to something he always followed through. He hadn't been lying. He had even known what he wanted to be since he was in fifth gradeâa surgeon.
Tonight he'd make Leeda study with him like he always did. He liked to tease her that he was the reason she had an almost perfect GPA. But they both knew that wasn't true. Leeda didn't like Bs. They made her grade sheet look messy.
There were some ways, though, in which Eric had shaped her life at school. He knew everyone. He was always invited somewhere. He took to people like a swimmer takes to water, and he was always liked. It had been too easy for Leeda to ride his coattails into her group of friends at Columbia. She wasn't sure
where she would have been without him in that aspect. She, too, was usually well liked. But not great at making close ties. She was too contained.
If there was such a thing as a white knight, Eric was hers. When he was around her, Leeda felt like she didn't have to worry about anything. It was something she couldn't explain. He was the kind of guy who took care of things. If there was anything she needed, she knew he would give it to her. It made her life feel as smooth as silk.
“You'll be batting off all those southern boys,” he said, grinning up at her and also looking the tiniest bit worried.
Leeda rolled her eyes. “Yeah, you know how I'm into guys who drive tractors and drink Bud Light,” she said. Murphy McGowen would have said she sounded snobby. But Eric didn't seem to notice.
He opened up the schedule book and showed it to her. “Here's the class I signed us up for.”
Leeda read the description. Art of the Italian Renaissance. “That sounds good.” It was a summer class Eric had talked her into. They planned to spend the rest of the summer sitting at sidewalk cafÃ©s, seeing movies, and taking advantage of all the city had to offer.
Leeda sometimes felt like her life as a Georgia girl had gone up in a puff of smoke, replaced by a NewYork life that was full of conversations about things that mattered and countless things to do. It had all surpassed her wildest expectations. On Fridays, she and Murphy had a permanent date, no matter who else tried to get in the way. Friday afternoons and evenings were theirs, without fail, to ride ferries, to tramp Fifth Avenue
and window-shop, to ice-skate, to lie on the grass in Central Park, to eat falafel from stands, to get crepes in the East Village, to take up seats at diners for way too long while eating rice pudding, and sometimes just to stay cooped up in one of their dorm rooms and cowrite lively, chaotic e-mails to Birdie.
“What's the first thing you're gonna do when you get home?” Eric asked, scrunching up his eyebrows thoughtfully, his hazel eyes half caught in the shade Leeda cast. He had a smooth, open face, the kind you liked right away. Even his features were uncomplicated and honest.
Leeda's thoughts immediately went to the smell of peaches, which she had almost forgotten, and the Darlington Orchard. She had the same eager feeling about seeing it that a kid might get while anticipating going to Disney World, like it was something huge and far away. But in two days, she thought, it would be New York that felt far away and the orchard that would feel realâquaint and quiet and full of shadows and tucked away at what felt like the edge of the world. She didn't know how to explain her excitement to Eric, though. He was more of a facts and figures guy. “They're reading my grandmom Eugenie's will on Saturday. So I guess I'll do that.”
Eric looked confused. “Didn't sheâ¦die a long time ago?”
“Yeah, last spring. The reading was supposed to be in the summer, but we all have to be there, and Danay and I have both been away.” Leeda had spent Christmas with her sister, Danay, Danay's husband, and their parents in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, skiing and being civil to one another.
Leeda watched a group of girls walk across the grass, between them and a redbrick building where she had calculus.
“Do you think you'll inherit something interesting?” Eric asked. “I may need you to support me in med school.”
Leeda smiled. They both knew he'd graduate nearâif not atâthe top of his class and get a scholarship. Even though his family was pretty well-off, and he didn't need one. “Grandmom was pretty wealthy, but Murphy says that if she left me anything, it will be doilies. Or maybe some coasters. She was really type A,” Leeda joked. “She would want me to keep my glasses on coasters.”
“Apple doesn't fall far from the Granny Smith tree.”
Leeda shook her head furiously. “Oh no. I'm not like my grandmom.”
“Was she defensive?” he teased, propping himself up on his elbows and playing with a bit of her hair, then leaning in to kiss her near her ear.
“Apparently,” Leeda said, distracted by the question, considering it. “She got in a fistfight with my great-aunt once, because she told my grandmom she had handwriting like a boy.”
“Ha!” Eric looked intensely interested. “She sounds wild.”
Leeda thought of her grandmom, her minuscule frame, her tight white curls, her giant hats on Sundays. “Maybe when she was younger. When I knew her she was more stubborn than anything. And really conservative.” Leeda twisted to face him more directly. “She wrote fan letters to Ronald Reagan.”
He ran his hand across her cheek, just once, smiling. “Was she pretty like you?”
Leeda shrugged. She had looked kind of like a walnut by the time Leeda had known her.
“Who knows, maybe you'll inherit something surprising,”
Eric said, pulling a textbook out of the knapsack that Leeda had brought and handing it to her so she could study for her next exam.
Leeda wondered about what that something might be. Maybe she'd get more money than she'd thought, or less. Maybe she'd be slighted altogether. You never really knew with Grandmom Eugenie, who had been buried to the tune of “Blue Hawaii” and had owned a rescue shelter for miniature ponies.
If there was one thing her grandmom had been, besides conservative, it was contradictory, and that meant she was full of surprises.
Eric sighed. “Time to hit the books.” He opened her book for her, happening on a page where she had stored a peach blossom and forgotten about it. It slid off the page and down into the grass.
“What's that?” he asked absently, pulling out a book of his own.
Leeda stared at it, touched its dry, paperlike petals, and smiled. “Just a flower,” she said. “It's nothing important.”
She brushed it aside and left it on the grass.