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Authors: Melody Carlson

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BOOK: Hidden History
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Alice laughed. “Always the artist.”

“But,” Jane held up one finger, “can you put a ‘sold’ sticker on that one for me? Then I’ll stop by the booth and pay for it tomorrow.”

“It’s a deal.”

“Thanks, sweetie.”

Alice found Louise in the kitchen. “Do you want me to take your knitting with me to Sylvia’s booth?” asked Alice. “I’m on my way now.”

“Thank you, Alice, that would save me a trip. It is all in a box on my dresser upstairs.” She lowered her voice. “Just do not put Daisy’s sweater in by mistake. It’s up there too.”

“Don’t worry, Louise.” Alice winked. Alice went up to Louise’s room and could not hold back a chuckle when she saw the dainty pig sweater complete with a matching bonnet.

Alice finished her errands in town before noon, then hurried home to see if she could be of help to her sisters.

“You should see how great the town is looking already,” she told Jane as she started unloading the breakfast dishes
from the dishwasher. “Craig followed your example and decorated the exterior of Wild Things with pumpkins and cornstalks. And outside Sylvia’s store is a cute scarecrow lady wearing a patchwork skirt that Sylvia plans to auction off. And a lot of the booths are going up and—”

“Alice,” Louise called from the reception desk. “Telephone.”

Thinking it was Vera, Alice went into the hall and took the receiver from Louise. “Hello.”

“Hi, Alice, this is Mark.”

Alice blinked. “Mark? Hello, how are you?”

“I’m doing well. I just wanted to let you know that I plan to go to the Fall Festival tomorrow.”

“How on earth did you hear about that?” she asked, hoping she did not sound rude. “I mean, certainly there isn’t any promotion going on in Philadelphia.”

He laughed. “No. I just happened to look at the
Acorn Nutshell
this week.”

“You get the
Nutshell
in Phil—”

“No, no. I looked it up online.”

“The
Nutshell
is online?”

“Actually, it was a surprise to me too. I was doing a little research about Acorn Hill, looking into things like population and growth and community clubs and activities, you know, in case I should actually decide to make the big move
someday. And there was the newspaper. For kicks, I decided to read it. By the way, congratulations on helping your friend to figure out what was making her ill. That was remarkable.”

“Well, thank you.”

“Anyway, Susan and Tom plan to join me, and I just thought I’d let you know that I was going to be in town. I thought perhaps, if you’re not too busy, we could all four go to dinner later on. This is just a day trip for us, since Susan already discovered that your lovely inn is booked up.”

“We
are
booked up,” said Alice. “I’m sorry.”

“So how about it?”

“Dinner?” she considered this, unsure of what she really wanted to do.

“I know it’s last-minute,” he said quickly. “And I’ll understand if you—”

“Dinner would be lovely, Mark. I’d like to meet Susan’s husband.”

“Great.” Mark sounded truly relieved. “So, shall we plan to meet somewhere, or do you suppose we’ll just run into each other in town.”

“I’m sure we’ll run into each other,” she told him. “If not, just drop by the inn. I’m sure we’ll connect before evening.”

“Sounds good.”

“See you tomorrow then,” said Alice, still wondering what had made her agree to this unexpected dinner date.

She hung up the phone and returned to the kitchen, where Jane and Louise were just starting to fix some lunch. “What’s up?” asked Jane.

“Mark and his sister and brother-in-law are coming to the Fall Festival tomorrow.”

“That’s nice,” said Jane. “The more the merrier.”

“He just called to tell you that?” Louise looked doubtful.

“Actually, he invited me to join the three of them for dinner.”

“And?” Jane paused with her large knife in midair.

“I agreed to go.” Alice shook her head. “Although I’m not quite sure why.”

“Why not?” Jane turned back to where she was chopping up pumpkin and tossing it into a pot with melted butter and what looked like onions and herbs.

“What are you making?” asked Alice as she peered into the big pot.

“Pumpkin soup,” said Jane.

“Back to Mark,” said Louise. “You said you do not know why you agreed to go out with him, Alice?”

She shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know why I said that. I guess Jane’s right, there’s no reason not to go out with him. Besides I’d like to see Susan again and meet her husband.”

“Well, if you really want to…” Louise still looked unconvinced.

“Oh, Louie, Louie,” said Jane. “Don’t make this into something it’s not. Alice isn’t eloping. She’s simply going out with some friends to have a bit of fun.”

Louise scowled. “Does Alice
think
it is fun? I am not sure that she actually does.”

“I probably do seem as if I’m dragging my heels,” said Alice. “Mark’s invitation just caught me off guard, but Jane’s right. I do think it’ll be fun. Don’t worry.”

“All right,” said Louise. “If you really want to do this.”

Jane rolled her eyes, but she was standing where Louise could not see her. “Want to hand me that chicken stock, Alice?”

Alice brought her the chicken stock and watched as she poured it in. “Is this like your squash soup?”

“Similar, but I use a few different spices.”

“Hello?” called a female voice from the dining room.

“That sounds like Cynthia,” said Louise with excitement. She opened the swinging doors to the dining room. “Oh, it is so good to see you, honey.”

“Hi, Mom.” Cynthia came into the kitchen, set down her bag and gave her mother a big hug. “I decided to leave work early and bring my project with me.”

“Welcome,” said Jane with a warm smile.

“Hey, Aunt Jane,” said Cynthia, giving her aunt a hug.

“Hi, Cynthia,” said Alice. “Did you have a good trip?”

“Not bad, Aunt Alice.” She now gave Alice a hug. “I feel like I’ve come home.”

Louise smiled. “That is what we wanted to hear, honey. Let me help you get your things to my room. Jane is just starting some pumpkin soup.”

“Ooh
, sounds lovely.”

“I don’t know why Louise seems so resistant to the idea of your dating Mark,” Jane said to Alice when Louise and Cynthia were out of earshot.

“We’re not dating, Jane.” Alice watched as her sister stirred the just simmering pot.

“Okay, whatever you want to call it.” Jane replaced the lid on the pot and turned the flame a bit lower. “I just don’t know why she keeps insisting upon throwing a wet blanket on everything.”

Alice considered this. “I think she’s just trying to protect me.”

“Protect you?” Jane frowned as she removed a loaf of pumpernickel bread from the bread drawer.

“I haven’t thought about it for ages, but Louise was quite indignant when Mark dumped me almost forty years ago. Maybe she’s afraid it will happen again.”

“He
dumped you?”

“Well, it probably was more of a mutual parting of ways, but I didn’t see it like that at the time. We had a disagreement
over religion, and then he and Father didn’t hit it off. Plus he couldn’t accept my need to live in Acorn Hill. We had a lot of differences.”

Jane nodded.

“I’ll bet that Louise remembers how hurt I was and just wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“You’re probably right, Alice.” Jane looked truly repentant. “There I go, assuming the worst about my dear sister again. When will I ever learn?”

“You were just protecting me, too.” Alice smiled. “How sweet to have two sisters looking out for my best interests.”

“It’s because we love you.”

“Thanks,” said Alice as she gave Jane a hug. “Now what can I do to help?”

“The soup’s going to take a half hour more. I thought we’d make a green salad and slice up that bread and—”

“Yoo-hoo,”
called Ethel from the back porch, “anybody home?”

“Come in,” called Alice.

“Did I see Cynthia arrive a little while ago?”

“You did,” said Jane. “She and Louise went upstairs to get her settled.”

“What is that lovely smell?” asked Ethel, peering curiously at the big soup pot.

“That’s pumpkin soup,” said Alice.

“Would you like to join us for lunch?” asked Jane. “It might be a bit crowded, eating in the kitchen, but if you don’t mind getting cozy—”

“I don’t understand why you think you must eat in the kitchen when you have guests staying at the inn,” said Ethel.

“Sometimes we do eat in the dining room, but we try to avoid doing so, particularly at lunchtime,” explained Alice, not for the first time. “Our guests use the living room and would notice us taking a meal in there. It would be awkward for everyone.”

“That’s right,” said Jane. “Already we’ve been asked ‘what’s cooking?’ more times than I care to recall.”

Ethel lifted the lid and took a peek at the soup. “Pumpkin soup? I don’t believe I’ve ever had that.”

“It’s a bit like squash soup,” said Jane. “It won’t be ready for another thirty minutes or so.”

“That’s fine by me,” said Ethel. “I had a late breakfast anyway. I met Lloyd and gave him a hand with the Chamber booth. Oh, you girls should see it. It looks grand.”

“I did see it, Auntie,” said Alice as she washed a big red tomato. “It’s impressive.”

“Are you girls coming to the Chamber’s chili feed tonight?” she asked.

“The Chamber’s proceeds are going toward the Kitchen Project, correct?” asked Jane.

Ethel nodded, causing her chins to jiggle. “That’s right. Remember, Grace Chapel helps out with the Kitchen Project, too, mostly during the holidays. Lloyd said this year might be even harder than usual for some folks. Last year there were only about a dozen families who asked for assistance with groceries, but he expects that to double or triple this year, what with the layoffs at the factory in Potterston.”

“Oh my,” said Alice. “I hope we can raise a lot of money with the festival.”

“I’m praying that we’ll have lots of out-of-towners come,” said Jane as she sliced mushrooms.

“With deep pockets and generous hearts,” added Alice as she washed a green pepper.

“Alice’s—uh—friend is coming,” said Jane. “Remember the veterinarian?”

“The one that Clara thinks walks on water?” said Ethel. “Of course.” She narrowed her eyes slightly as she studied Alice. “Are you getting involved with him, Alice?”

“Involved?” Alice cut the green pepper in half and began cleaning out the seeds. “He’s just a friend who’s interested in possibly relocating his practice in Acorn Hill.”

“I thought that he treated elephants and penguins and such,” said Ethel.

“That’s been his focus, but he’s considering a practice with small animals as a way of moving into retirement.”

“Oh.” Ethel eyed the pumpernickel loaf. “Would you like me to slice that for you, Jane?”

“Sure. I thought nice hearty slices would be good. About an inch. Then we’ll warm it in the oven.”

“Hello, Aunt Ethel,” said Cynthia. “I thought I heard your voice.”

“Well, Cynthia,” said Ethel as she set down the knife and opened her arms wide, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Cynthia hugged her great aunt and looked around the kitchen. “Oh, it’s so good to be here.”

“Been working hard?” asked Jane as she handed her niece a carrot stick.

Cynthia nodded and took a bite. “I’m getting ready to go to the international book convention again, but there’s so much to get done first.”

“Tough work,” said Jane with a friendly tone of sarcasm, “jetting off to Frankfurt every fall.”

“Yes, and just in time for Oktoberfest too.”

“Do you get to do any sightseeing?” asked Alice.

“Last year we took a day trip down the Rhine. It was very pretty.”

“Humph,”
said Ethel. “There are plenty of places in the good old USA to see. Besides, I’ve heard that international travel is getting more and more dangerous.”

“Oh, Aunt Ethel,” said Jane. “I’m sure more people
get killed driving on our freeways than flying overseas these days.”

“That’s statistically true,” said Alice. “I’ve heard that flying has never been safer.”

Soon the five women sat down at the kitchen table, and elbow-to-elbow they bowed their heads and thanked God, not only for the good food, but also for their loving family. “And bless all the booths and activities of the Fall Festival this weekend,” said Alice. “And help us to raise enough money to help anyone in need and to make Acorn Hill a better place for everyone to live. Amen.”

“Amen,” echoed Ethel as she rubbed her hands together. “Now, let’s see what on earth this pumpkin soup tastes like.”

Chapter Twenty-Two
BOOK: Hidden History
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