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Authors: Melody Carlson

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BOOK: Hidden History
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A
lice and Mark chatted amicably as he drove to a new Italian restaurant in Potterston. Then, after the initial awkwardness of sitting across the candlelit table from one another disappeared, Alice found it relaxing to visit with him. He told numerous entertaining stories of veterinary trips along with humorous animal anecdotes. Then he asked her questions about herself and her job at the hospital, as well as her life in Acorn Hill. To her surprise, he seemed sincerely interested in her slower-paced lifestyle in rural Acorn Hill.

“Acorn Hill seems a lovely place to live, maybe even to retire,” he told her over coffee and dessert. “Although I’m not sure that I’m ready to retire yet myself. After I turned sixty, I promised to hang on for another a year or two. But here I am at sixty-five and still going strong.”

Alice smiled. “You obviously take good care of yourself, Mark. And sixty-five no longer seems so terribly old to me. I think our generation thinks of itself as younger than the generations that went before.”

“I agree wholeheartedly. I feel that as long as I am fit
and able, there’s no reason to quit practicing. Sure, I might need to slow down a bit, perhaps not travel so much, but I think I need my work to keep me going and feeling young.”

“That’s exactly how I feel,” said Alice. “I did go to parttime last year, but that had to do with helping out at the inn. That’s a job, too.”

“Still, there’s no denying that we are getting older, Alice.” He chuckled. “I realize that I’m not up to wrestling orangutans at this stage of life. Consequently, I have considered the idea of taking up practice in a small town someday.” He smiled. “Maybe that day isn’t as far off as I’d thought.”

“You certainly did a wonderful job on Daisy. Clara Horn has been telling everyone in town what an absolute marvel you are.”

“It almost seems like fate, Alice.” He set down his coffee cup. “The way our lives have come together again after all these years.”

“It is interesting, isn’t it?”

“It makes me wonder if God is trying to show me that I should consider setting up a practice in Acorn Hill.”

“God does work in mysterious ways,” said Alice. She felt uneasy at the idea of Mark Graves’s living in Acorn Hill but was determined not to show it.

“I know that you don’t have a vet in your town,” he continued.

“The closest vet is in Potterston.” Alice picked up her teacup.

“How would you feel about it?” he asked.

“About getting a local veterinarian?” She knew she sounded coy, but she just could not bring herself to believe that he really wanted to know how she, Alice Howard, felt about him, Mark Graves, relocating to her hometown.

He grinned. “So tell me, what would you think if
I
took up a small-animal practice in Acorn Hill, Alice?”

She did not quite know how to answer this. “Well, Mark, if you truly believed that Acorn Hill was where you were supposed to be, I would happily welcome you into our community.”

He frowned slightly. “That sounds a little impersonal, Alice. Do you mean you would welcome me like the Chamber of Commerce, drop by with a welcome basket?”

She laughed. “Did you have something more in mind?”

He shrugged. “I guess I’d like to think we could continue getting reacquainted.”

She considered this. “Of course, Mark. I appreciate that you used the word
reacquainted
, because I don’t feel that we know each other very well. I feel certain that once you get to know me better, you’ll see what an uninteresting person I am.”

He reached over and took her hand. “I don’t think so, Alice.”

She took in a quick breath, thankful for the dimly lit restaurant, for she knew she must be blushing. “I lead a frightfully boring life, Mark, compared to yours. Although, I must admit that I like it just fine.”

“Alice, are you ever going to forgive me?” he asked, still holding her hand.

“Forgive you?” She blinked. “Whatever for?”

“For being stupid and shallow and letting you slip away.”

She felt her lips curling into a smile. “Oh, Mark, I’ve long since forgiven you for that. And, quite honestly, I’ve had to forgive myself, too. Perhaps I should even ask you to forgive me.”

His brow furrowed. “Why would I need to forgive you?”

“I was young and foolish and had unrealistic expectations for our relationship.”

“Well, I suppose we both made mistakes. Let’s forget about them and move on.”

She nodded. “I think that would be wise.”

“So, you’re not opposed to the idea then?”

“Of your relocating to Acorn Hill?”

“Yes. You don’t think my presence would crowd you?”

She smiled. “Acorn Hill is small, but there’s always room for one more.”

“I wouldn’t want you to think I was trying to pressure you into a relationship, Alice. Although I would like to continue our friendship.”

“And so would I, Mark.”

“That’s all I wanted to know.”

Alice felt a confusing mixture of feelings as Mark drove her home. She maintained her end of the conversation, chatting lightly about some of the challenges of running a bed and breakfast, but the whole time she was wondering exactly where this thing with Mark could be heading. Was he really only looking for a friendship with her? Or was this meant to be the beginning of something more? She remembered how she had assumed that he wanted to marry her forty years before and how she had been hurt when he stopped calling. Oh, she knew it had to do with a number of circumstances, including their disagreements about religion and her commitment to staying in Acorn Hill and wanting to be near her father. She also knew that most of those conditions had changed since then. So what did all this mean?

Mark walked her to the door and thanked her for joining him for dinner, then politely told her good night. For some reason she had almost expected him to take her hand or even attempt to kiss her in the same way he had done back when they were still in college. But he did not. She felt silly for even considering such a thing. What had come over her?

“How did it go?” asked Jane before Alice even had a chance to slip upstairs to her room to ponder these things further.

“I’m not sure,” said Alice.

“Come in the kitchen and tell me about it,” said Jane. “Louise has already gone to bed, but I was just finishing up a batch of biscotti, and I put on the teakettle when I heard Mark’s car out front.”

Alice was not sure that she wanted to tell Jane about it. But somehow, seeing her sister in her pink bunny slippers and plaid bathrobe, looking so hopeful, Alice decided to give in.

She removed her pretty suede jacket, carefully hung it on the back of the chair and sat down. “Mark is considering setting up a small-animal practice in Acorn Hill.”

The kettle was whistling, and Jane scurried across the checkerboard tiles to retrieve the teapot and fill it with the boiling water. She set it on the table and looked at Alice with wide eyes. “Are you serious? He wants to move
here?”

“You left the bright lights of San Francisco to move back here.”

“Well, that’s different.” Jane set their teacups on the table, then sat down to pour. “I have you and Louise here, and this is home for me.”

“Mark’s parents are dead, and although Philadelphia is his hometown, I don’t get the impression he feels much at home there. He’s longing to retire in a small town.”

“A small town where you live?”

Alice shrugged. “I’m not convinced that it’s because of me, Jane.”

“What if it was?”

“I don’t know.”

“How do you feel about Mark, Alice?”

She shrugged again. “I’m not sure. I’m not saying that to be evasive, Jane. The honest truth is I don’t know how I feel. Mostly I feel confused by the whole thing. Part of me wishes that Mark Graves were still just a piece of my past.”

“But the other part of you?”

“I guess I’m curious. I can’t deny that I like Mark. He’s a nice man, but I don’t really know him. He has changed a lot.”

“For the better, it seems.”

“That’s true, but that probably just makes it harder.”

“Because it’s more tempting to get involved?”

“Maybe.”

“Well, what’s the harm in trying?” asked Jane. “I realize that it didn’t work for you way back when, but there’s no reason you two couldn’t try it again.”

“I’m not even sure that Mark wants to ‘try it again,’ as you put it.”

“Maybe he does. Maybe he doesn’t. Why not just keep your options open, Alice? No one’s asking you to commit for a lifetime. Just get to know him again. What could it hurt?”

“Nothing, I guess.” Alice sighed.

Jane blew over the surface of her tea. “You know, Alice, despite how upsetting it was to go through everything with Justin, I’m not sorry that I married him.”

“You’re not?”

“I know I act like it was the worst decision of my life. But sometimes I think that if I hadn’t married him, well, I might’ve spent the rest of my life regretting it.”

“So you’re saying it was better to have loved and lost—”

“‘Than never to have loved at all.’”

Alice nodded. “Yes, but don’t forget that I did love, and I lost. It may have been forty years ago, but sometimes it feels like just yesterday.”

Jane patted Alice’s hand. “That’s because you have such a tender heart.”

“Have you forgotten about Justin yet?”

“No, no, I haven’t.” Jane frowned, then brightened. “I will tell you this, though, if the day comes when the right man comes along, I wouldn’t be afraid to take the risk of getting to know him better.”

“The right man?” Alice smiled. “Do you mean someone like Pastor Kenneth?”

“Oh, you sound just like Aunt Ethel now. Simply because Pastor Ken and I are good friends doesn’t mean I want to marry the poor man. I just happen to enjoy his company, plus I admire him a lot.”

“Well, I’m with you there, Jane. He’s a good man. In some ways he reminds me of Father.”

“Alice, do you think it’s possible that you never married because you could never find anyone who could measure up to Father?”

Alice considered this. “Oh, I don’t know. I have never thought about that possibility. But don’t forget what the Bible says about some of us being called to be single. The honest truth is that I’ve been perfectly happy living as a single woman. There’s a lot of freedom in the single life, you know.”

Jane smiled. “I suppose that’s sort of what I thought, but I’d always wanted to ask you. Thanks for letting me.”

“I don’t have any secrets, Jane. I suppose I might seem like a private person sometimes, at least to you, but that’s probably because you’re so comfortable with yourself and you seem to be open and up front about almost everything. I hope you never feel that you can’t ask me about something.”

Jane’s eyes twinkled. “Okay, then, did Mark kiss you?”

“Oh, Jane!” Alice shook her head, then started to giggle. “Well, if you must know, he didn’t. And to be honest, I’m still not sure whether I feel disappointed or relieved.”

Jane laughed. “Oh, I know exactly what you mean, Alice. Sometimes life stays a whole lot simpler without the fateful kiss.”

Chapter Nineteen

B
ecause of meetings, last-minute preparations for the Fall Festival and Alice’s “date” the night before, it was not until Sunday night that the three sisters were finally able to meet again to read from their father’s journal.

“It feels like it’s been ages since we did this,” said Jane as she dropped generous dollops of whipped cream on the three dishes of still steaming apple cobbler.

Louise set their desserts along with forks and napkins on a big tray. “Are you ready, Alice?”

“Coming.” Alice picked up the teapot and the three of them proceeded to the Daniel Howard Library.

“As nice as all our guests were this past weekend, it’s lovely to have the house back to ourselves,” Jane commented.

“I wonder how we’ll feel if this place ever starts getting booked throughout the week,” said Alice. “I mean we had a couple of fully booked weeks during the summer, but I can’t imagine keeping up that kind of frantic pace seven days a week, week after week.”

“Nor could I,” said Louise with a sigh. “I am sure you
both noticed that I sneaked off for a long nap after chapel today.”

“That’s the beauty of running our own business,” said Jane as she handed them each a dish of cobbler. “We set the rules. We never have to accept reservations for the beginning of the week if we don’t want to.”

Alice smiled as she lifted her fork. “You’re absolutely right, Jane, and that is a comforting reminder.”

Louise took her cobbler and leaned back in the easy chair, putting her feet up on the little needlepoint footstool that their mother had stitched more than fifty years before. “It is not such a bad life, is it, girls?”

Jane laughed. “Not at all.”

“This cobbler is scrumptious, Jane,” said Alice after a couple of bites. Then she opened her father’s journal and began to read.

September 11, 1926. I am extremely thankful for two things tonight. Make that three. First of all, I am thankful that the bulk of summer farm work is finished. We got the crop in last month and now we have just finished tilling our fields to prepare them for a winter crop. It seems that my father’s marriage has made him a lot more industrious. As a result, I have never worked so hard in my life. Next, I am thankful
that school has begun. More than ever I feel I am more interested in academics than in farming. Still, I know to keep these opinions to myself. The third thing is now that school has begun I am able to see Adele Brooks on a regular basis. On the first day of school she walked with me to the newspaper office. Of course, we stopped for a soda first. We were having quite a nice visit until a couple of her girlfriends asked to sit with us. I am sure my face turned the color of a ripe tomato, and although I tried to be polite, I fear that my social skills were sadly lacking. The next day I searched for help in the form of a book in the library. I found one, which is titled
MANNERS, ETIQUETTE, AND PROPER PROTOCOL FOR YOUTH.
It promises to help make me into a “courteous young man capable of performing with comfort and ease in any social setting.” We shall see.

BOOK: Hidden History
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