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Authors: Mariah Stewart

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The mayor stepped up to present the blue ribbon,
saying, “Let’s hear it for Doc Littlefield and his great-great-granddaughter. ”

“Very amusing”—Wally grinned—“but this here’s my date for the fete, Miss Zoey Enright.”

Wally gallantly handed the winners’ ribbon to Zoey, who on impulse leaned over and kissed him on the cheek to a round of catcalls and more whistles.

“Listen here, honey, you get the mind for a younger fella, you give me a call.” The mayor, who appeared to be well into his sixties, patted Zoey on the back as she followed Wally down the rickety pier to the edge of the lake.

“You’re a good sport, missy.” He squeezed her arm. “I’d like to buy you some lunch.”

“You’re on, Doc.”

“I hear the church”—he nodded his head to the right—“is serving their famed ham supper all day.”

“You just lead the way.”

They crossed the street and walked toward the white church Zoey had passed that first day she had driven through town. Up the long walk they ambled, toward a grove of trees under which long tables sporting red and white checked cloths spread out in clean straight lines. They were directed to their table by an ample lady with light blue hair and an apron that matched the tablecloths.

“So, then, Miss Zoey Enright

” Wally leaned back in his seat to look at her, as if seeing her for the first time. “What brought you back to Brady’s Mill?”

“I wanted a pumpkin.”

“No shortage of those around here,” he agreed. “Did you find one?”

“Several,” she told him. “I left them back at the farm where they’re
selling them…
back that way.” She pointed back down past the lake.

“Brady’s Farm.” He nodded knowingly.

“And then I just followed the crowd. Everyone looked like they were having fun, so I wanted to tag along, I guess,
and see what else was going on.”

“Now, if I were the nosy sort—which I’m not—I’d probably be itchin’ to ask why a girl as young and pretty as you should be so lonely. But of course, I’d never—”

“Lonely? Me?” Zoey interrupted, pointing a perfectly manicured index finger into her chest. “I’m not lonely. I have a very busy
life. I have a loving family…
lots of friends. What makes you think I’m lonely?”

“Might have something to do with the fact that you’ve spent the last, oh, what, two hours or so of a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in a strange town, in the company of an old man and a number of other people you don’t know.”

Zoey pondered a retort as another checked-apron lady set a small Styrofoam bowl of salad before her. She avoided Wally’s eyes while she dribbled pale orange French dressing—the only choice on the table—on the fresh greens, red onion, and halved cherry tomatoes.

“I wanted a pumpkin,” she repeated.

“Could have grabbed one and been gone ninety minutes ago, by my calculations.”

“It looked like a neat little town,” she told him. “The kind of town I always wanted to live in. I felt it when I drove through the other day. Then this morning, when I was thinking about pumpkins, I remembered the pumpkin party—”

“Fest. Pumpkin Fest,” he corrected her pointedly.

“Right. Pumpkin Fest,” she r
epeated, a smile curling the corn
ers of her mouth. “Now, is this an annual event?”

“Every year since nineteen thirty-nine,” he told her.

“No way.” She put her fork down.

“Yup. Next year will mark our sixtieth year.”

“That’s remarkable.”

He shrugged. “Don’t k
now ’bout that. But yup, fifty-
nine years’ worth of pumpkins and cider. Course, back in the early days we didn’t sell much more than
that

wasn’t like it is today. Seems like every year, though, something new is added.”

“What was added this year?”

“Why, you were, Zoey Enright.”

Zoey laughed, and so did he. The salad bowls were whisked away to be replaced by plates of ham, sweet potatoes, and green beans as a jolly group of six joined their table. Wally made introductions all around, and Zoey smiled at the newcomers, all old friends of the old doctor’s, as were, she guessed, ninety-five percent of those gathering in the old churchyard, waiting to be seated. After dessert—thick slices of creamy pumpkin pie—and steaming cups of pungent coffee, Zoey stood up and stretched slightly.

“I can’t remember the last time I ate so much at one time,” she told her companion, “or when I enjoyed a meal more. But I think it’s time for me to collect my pumpkins and head on home.”

“I’ll walk you back to Brady’s Farm,” Wally told her. “That is where you left your car, isn’t it?”

“Place with a weathered red barn
and a windmill?”

“That would be the one.” He fell in step beside her. “One of several working windmills in this part of Pennsylvania. Named the town after it.”

“Do the owners use it for electricity?”

“That they do.” He nodded. “As do some of our Amish neighbors, though many of them have gone to low-volt electric generators these days. They still use the windmills for backup.”

“I th
ought the Amish didn’t use modern
technology.”

“That’s something of a misconception. The Amish thrive because of their ability to compromise with mod
ern
technology.”

“In what way?”

“Well, for example, they don’t own or drive cars, but they very frequently will hire a car and driver. It’s not uncommon to see a telephone at the end of a farm’s lane, but not in the houses. They use tractors around the ba
rn
s, but not in their fields, which are plowed by modem equipment pulled by mules or horses. They have managed to maintain their own culture, but have adapted to progress when it best suits them.”

“I’ve seen some Amish buggies on the back roads occasionally,” she noted, “though I didn’t see any Amish folk here today.”

“You wouldn’t,” he told her. “It’s the Sabbath.”

The crowd was dwindling, Zoey noticed, the face painter’s line reduced to a mere two or three children, the juggler having packed up his equipment, and many of the craft tables near empty of their offerings. The sun was dropping down a bit, and as they walked past the lake, Zoey noticed that only a few small boys fishing from rowboats and a teenage couple in one of the paddleboats were all that remained of the afternoon’s flotilla, all of the others having been tied to the long dock at the far end on the opposite shore. The day was coming to an end, and unexpectedly, Zoey felt a little stab of regret at its passing. There had been something settling about the afternoon, something she could not define, and she wasn’t ready to let it go.

“Here we are at Brady’s,” Wally said. “Where did you leave your pumpkins?”

“Right there.” Zoey pointed to the basket that held her pumpkins.

“Well, then, let’s see what you’ve got there.”

Wally bent down and inspected the contents of Zoey’s basket. “Nice,” he nodded. “Now, are you a painter or a carver?”

“This year I will be both. I think I’ll paint the smaller ones and carve the big one.”

“Good choice,” Wally nodded solemnly. He hoisted the big one and nodded to her to grab the basket where the small pumpkins still sat. “I’ll give you a hand getting these to your car.”

“Thanks. That big one’s a two-hand pumpkin if ever I saw one.”

“Exactly.” He waited for her, then followed slightly behind her down the dusty rows through the cornfield. When she reached into her pocket and pulled out her car keys, his eyebrows rose.

“This yours? This little sports car?”

“Yup.” She grinned as she popped the trunk and gently placed her pumpkins inside. “Hop in. I’ll drive you home.”

“Been years since I’ve
had one of these little num
bers.” He chuckled.

“You used to have a sports car?”

He nodded.

“Convertible?”

“You betcha.” He laughed.

“I just bet you were some hot stuff in your day, Wally.”

“There are some who might say I’m still hot stuff, missy, and don’t you—”

He leaned back hard in his seat as Zoey made a quick U-turn in the cornfield and hea
ded out toward the paved road.

He cleared his throat. “They’ve added a few horses since then, it would seem.”

Zoey grinned and asked, “Which way?”

“To the right, then take the first left. We’ll have to go around town because the streets are still closed off.” She did so and he pointed up ahead. “Now, you can take that left up there, and it’ll take us to the other end of Main Street. Then you’ll make another left onto Skeeters Pond Road.”

She did as she was told, turning onto Skeeters Pond Road, then slowing down as the street narrowed slightly at a curve. Wide driveways led to houses of various vintage, from the tidy Victorians and long-slung colonial era houses closest to town, to randomly spaced homes that appeared to date from the turn of the century, to a sprinkling of 1920s-style bungalows, all set at different angles to the road on large deeply shaded lots.

“Slow down, here.” Wally pointed to a slight curve in the road. “Third mailbox after the bend.”

Zoey eased the little car to a stop on the shoulder of the road in front of a white clapboard two-story house with a porch that sat flush to the level ground and red shutters that looked as if they might actually close. At the end of a yellow gravel driveway sat a small barn, behind
which several outbuildings spread toward a wooded area.

“Well, then, here we are.” Wally unhooked his seat belt and turned to Zoey, saying, “This has been a real pleasure, Miss Zoey Enright. I’ve enjoyed spending the afternoon with you. You’re a good sport, and good company. Easy on the eyes, too, though I’ve heard that women don’t like to be told that these days. Want to be appreciated only for their minds, I’ve been told.”

“I think you got bad information”—Zoey patted his arm—“and I thank you for the compliments, Wally, and for taking pity on a lost soul and making such a fine day of it for me. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed myself so much.”

“Well, now, that doesn’t say much for your social life, does it?”

“What social life?” She grimaced good-naturedly. “I’m a working lady.”

“Take the time to enjoy the ride, Zoey Enright. It all passes by very quickly.” His brown eyes deepened earnestly as he covered her hands with
his own well-
worked, callused ones.

Zoey gave a quick squeeze to his hands and nodded.

“Stop by and see me someday when you’re out this way.” Doc Littlefield pushed himself out of his seat and straightened himself up, then closed the car door with a soft thud.

“I would like that,” she assured him.

“Well, then, I’ll be looking forward to it.” He stepped back toward the house as she pulled away from the side of the road, then into a driveway two doors up the road. She slowed on her way back to wave out the window to Wally, who stood where she had left him at the foot of his gravel drive. She smiled as he tipped his straw hat.

She was three-quarters of the way past the house next door before she saw the For Sale sign that sat back about ten feet from a plain aluminum mailbox upon the side of which
Kilmartin
had been painted in black letters with a shaky hand. She slowed slightly, then stopped to peer at
the house, a bungalow with cedar shingles that had long since turned brown with age. Wooden steps rose to a wide porch that spread out from either side of the front door. No welcoming lights shone from the windows, no car stood at the end of the long drive. Along the left side of the house, on or near where Zoey guessed the property line might be, three large maples had dumped mounds of colored leaves, which gave a piebald appearance to the front lawn. All in all, Zoey thought the house looked outdated, but homey somehow. On a whim, she pulled paper and pen out of her purse and jotted down the name and phone number of the realtor.

After all, it couldn’t hurt to look.

 

 

6

 

 

T
rying hard not to sound too hopeful, Zoey called Peg, her realtor, the very first thing Monday morning to tell her she’d found a place that intrigued her. Peg made the calls to the listing realtor and called Zoey back, asking hesitantly, “Are you sure you want to see
this
house?”

Zoey frowned. “Is there some reason why I wouldn’t?” Zoey’s ever active imagination summoned forth visions of malevolent spirits, carpenter ants, and possible holes in the roof. “Is it out of my price range? It didn’t look as if it would be that expensive.”

“Not at all. As a matter of fact, it’s way less than anything else you’ve looked at. Properties in that area haven’t been selling well over the past few years, so the prices have declined. And this is an estate sale, so someone will be able to pick this up for a song. It just sound
s a little, oh, I don’t know…”
Zoey could visualize Peg biting her bottom lip while trying to find the most politic phrase. “It may need some work.”

“I don’t mind work.
Work
is not a problem.” Zoey sighed with relief. Pale writhing figures beckoning her from the top of the stairs would be a problem. Walls
collapsing from insect damage, roof leaks causing her bed to float downstream,
those
would be a problem.
Work,
on the other hand, was definitely not a problem. “When can I see it?”

“Is ten o’clock tomorrow morning good for you?”

“It’s fine. Great. I’ll be there at ten.”

Actually, it had been earlier than that when Zoey turned into the deeply ridged driveway of hard dirt and eased her little car carefully along the drive’s entire length to the old garage. She sat in the car for a few minutes, windows down, taking in the sights and sounds and smells. All was quiet save for bird songs. Nothing more. No traffic sounds. No voices. She could close her eyes and be in the middle of a deep forest for all the sounds of modem life that reached her there at the end of the driveway at 27 Skeeters Pond Road.

The rear portion of the property was much more expansive than she had envisioned, reaching, she guessed, a good acre or so to the woods beyond, where trees stood like scarlet and gold sentinels in the autumn sunlight. The back of the
house itself had a small shed-
type entry and a small porch over which draped ivy in shades of tawny red and fading green. From the porch to an area parallel to the ga
rage, a flat expanse of summer-
weary lawn spread out, the dried grass having yellowed in the August sun and never quite recovered. A faded white picket fence that extended twenty feet or so from one corner of the garage ended in a tall arbor, the thick grapevines hanging hea
vily to obscure whatever might l
ie within the large rectangle beyond. Zoey got out of her car to investigate.

At the midpoint of the arbor, an arch led into a garden neglected and untended for at least one summer season, maybe more. Dried hollow stalks that once were graced by daylilies stuck out of the thick maze of grass and dull greenery like bony arms reaching skyward. Dense layers of vines—some with tiny white starlike flowers, some with pale blue morning glories, one of the few flowers Zoey could identify—seemed to cover all. Here and
there, tall clusters of pink, white, red, and purple flowers, knee deep in gold and crimson drifts of leaves, fought the weeds for space. The air was redolent with the fragrance of flowers—which ones, Zoey could not say—and grapes fermenting on the ground beneath the arbor. Apples that had fallen from a tree on the other side of the fence now, brown and rotting, lay scattered like forgotten marbles throughout the yard.

I’ll bet this was beautiful once,
Zoey thought idly as she touched the pale pink petals of a rose that grew stubbornly despite the late season and the tangle of weeds doing their level best to choke it.
Someone loved this place once.

She wandered around the various flowerbeds, wishing for the company of her mother or her sister, either one of whom could most likely have identified the remains of everything in the garden, despite their being dried and lifeless. Zoey smiled to herself, thinking of what fun Delia and Georgia could have sorting through the jumble to see what lovely things might be clinging to life beneath the thicket.

The sound of a car door, not particularly loud in itself, echoed across the silence like a shot. Zoey emerged from the arbor gate and waved to Peg.

“The listing realtor, Mrs. Beck, told me t
h
at this property

actually, all of the land from the co
rn
er down there out to past the old granary

used to be part of the original Davis farm, which predates the American Revolution. I was told that the Davises lost all four of their sons in the battle of Brandywine, and three of them are buried out there somewhere.” The realtor waved a hand toward some vague place off in the distance behind the trees. “The farm passed into the hands of their daughter and her husband, whose name was McConnell.”

“Interesting.” Zoey nodded politely, though at that moment she was more interested in the house itself than in local color.

“This house was built in the twenties when descendants of the McConnells sold off some of the land. There’s only been one owner”—sensing Zoey’s eagerness to see the inside of the house, Peg gestured for Zoey to follow her towards the front of the house—“a family named Kilmartin. The husband was a professor at Lancaster College. Mrs. Kilmartin taught English at the district high school, and was a local historian of sorts. He died eight or nine years ago. She stayed here until she died last spring. The house has been on the market since.”

“Isn’t there a granddaughter?” Zoey thought back to her conversation with Wally.

“Yes. One, I believe. Mrs. Beck mentioned an heir.”

“You learned all of that from one brief phone call?”

“Zoey, there’s no such thing as a
brief
phone call between realtors.” Peg grinned, then pointed to the side of the house and pointed to the shrubbery saying, “Lovely old hydrangeas. And masses of peonies. Lilac out front. Mrs. Kilmartin must have loved fragrant things.”

“So does my mother,” Zoey noted.

“Then your mother would be in her glory here next spring.” From her pocket Peg produced a key for the lock box that secured the front door and dangled it. “Ready to take
a look inside?”

“More than ready.”

Swinging the heavy wooden door aside, Peg walked ahead of Zoey into the darkened entry and turned on a small lamp, then pulled back pale green drapes that shielded the windows in the living room beyond the small foyer.

“Looks to be chestnut.” Peg carefully inspected the handsome grain of the woodwork around the door frames. “Nice.”

Zoey stepped into the living room and sighed deeply. Along the long outside wall stood a large fireplace, the surround done in terra-cotta tiles, some of which appeared to have raised designs of flowers. Bookcases on either side were topped by long narrow strips of stained
glass windows depicting what appeared to be scenes from the Middle Ages. The deep silled front windows overlooked the porch, which was shaded by a large Japanese maple tree, its lacy orange leaves shimmering in the morning sun, while the side windows faced a row of staunch pines and the house next door. Doc Littlefield’s house. Zoey smiled at the thought of having the retired gentleman as a neighbor as she followed a wide arch at the far end of the room into the dining room, which had a lovely view of the grape arbor Zoey had previously inspected. A small kitchen, outdated and badly in need of everything, opened onto a small back shed and porch. On the opposite side of the hall were two bedrooms and a bath. A somewhat narrow door led to a flight of steps to the second floor, which was one very large unfinished room. Windows all around gave views on all four sides. It would make the most wonderful bedroom, with a spacious bath and one enormous walk-in closet. Zoey could close her eyes and imagine skylights that would open to bring in the night sky, or the first glow of a new day. She went back down the steps and walked through the house again.

The bedrooms could be a comfortable guest, bath, and sitting room suite for overnight guests, the sitting room doubling as a home office. The living room was just right for her curved and cushy sofa, which would wrap around the fireplace perfectly. She could see the bookshelves lined with books and that collection of American pottery her mother had started for her years ago. The dining room would be sunny and cheery, and even without closing her eyes she could see an old crockery tureen overflowing with lilac and peonies in the middle of a well-worn antique harvest table. There was no redeeming the kitchen, however. The counters, floor, and painted metal cabinets would all have to go, but since the room was small, it probably wouldn’t take much to renovate. That and the bathroom—also well outdated— and the second floor makeover would be the big expenditures. The rest of the house—well, some cheery wall
paper would work wonders. The handsome millwork would be left untouched.

“It’s perfect. It’s exactly what I was looking for,” Zoey announced.

“Are you serious?”

“Oh, yes. I love it. It’s definitely me.” Zoey grinned. “Or will be, once I’m done with it. Let’s go back to your office and talk over the numbers.”

“You are serious.”

“Absolutely.”

“Fine. Great.” Peg shook her head. She had been prepared to show Zoey two other older homes—larger and much more expensive—once Zoey had seen and dismissed the bungalow. And though there were larger commissions to be made elsewhere, one look at Zoey’s face was enough to convince Peg that the sold sign would go up as soon as the paperwork was completed.

While Peg wrestled with the lock box, Zoey stood on the lawn beneath the trees, rustling the paintbox colors of the fallen leaves with the toe of her shoe, studying the front of the house that was, in her mind, already hers. It was a handsome little house, and had felt like home. It had just enough ground to give her space, and just enough room inside to spread out. Once she had completed the plans that were already spinning in giddy circles around and around in her head, the bungalow would be charming. And it would be hers, all hers. What a surprise for Delia, once she completed her tour and arrived back home.

Zoey bent down and picked up a large acorn that had dropped from the large oak that stood at the very end of the driveway and turned it around and around in her hand like a lucky coin.

Of course, Delia would love the house.

Of course, Delia would expect to take over the renovations, would most likely want to pay for the new furniture as well.

Zoey began to tap her foot unconsciously.

I want to do this myself. I want to hire the contractor and pick the wallpaper and argue with the plumber if necessary. I want to chose the new kitchen counters and floor by myself.

A cloud of guilt began to wrap around her, and the thought that perhaps she was, in a sense, betraying her mother tried to seep into her consciousness, but she pushed it back.

I’m a grown woman. I can do these things for myself. I want to do this for myself.

Zoey
suspected that with her new job’s generous salary, she could afford to buy the house, and still qualify for a loan to renovate it, but knew also that her mother would want to be involved with the process. She would just have to find the way to balance both, she decided, and she would somehow do just that. She nodded, as if in silent agreement with herself, and started to walk across the lawn to her car when the front door on the house next door opened and Dr. Wallace T. Littlefield stepped out.

“Thought that was you,” he called and waved a greeting. “You weren’t planning on leaving without stopping by to say hello, now, were you?”

“Actually, I thought I’d stop back when I finished up with the realtor,” she told him.

“So. Whatcha think of the place?” Wally’s eyes took on a hopeful shine.

“I love it.” Zoey grinned and fought an urge to jump up and down and fling her arms around the old man’s shoulders.

“That so?” He nodded happily.

“Yes. That’s so. As a matter of fact, I’m going back to the realtor’s office right now and we’re going to talk over what it would take to buy it.”

“Really?”

“Really. Thank you, Wally.”

“For what?”

“If it hadn’t been for you, I’d never have found this
road, I’d never have seen the house

” Something in his eyes stopped her mid-sentence. “Wallace Littlefield, you wanted me to look at this house.”

“Nonsense. All I did was accept your gracious offer of a ride home.”

“You knew that if you helped me carry my stuff to the car, I’d offer you a ride.”

“You’re obviously a young lady who has good manners, it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility for you to—”

“You knew I was looking for a house. How did you know I’d fall in love with this one?”

Caught, he shuffled a little. Something caught his eye on the ground and he bent slowly to pick it up.

“That’s from the tail of a red-tailed hawk.” He handed her the deep auburn feather. “In the morning she sits out here and scans the fields for her breakfast. She’s a beauty, she is.”

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