“Well, I’m sure they’ll have no problem finding a simple garden in someone’s backyard in Fairfax,” Cici said.
“With a vineyard and a mountain view in the background?” Paul interjected. “And a grand staircase and an antique rose garden with fountains and reflecting pools?”
“Good heavens,” Lindsay said, looking pleased. “You make us sound like the Taj Mahal.”
“Which we’re not,” Cici pointed out.
“Well, it’s up to you,” Paul said. “I just hate to think of that poor girl’s heart being broken again. She was so excited when I spoke to her on the phone.”
“This really is the perfect spot for a wedding,” Bridget said, a little wistfully.
Paul asked, “Did I mention the budget?”
Cici was immediately alert. “What budget?”
“Well, the father of the bride was hoping not to exceed twenty thousand for the reception.”
exclaimed Lindsay. “For one
“They call that simple?” Bridget gasped.
Cici simply stared at the telephone speaker.
“Washington dollars,” Paul pointed out. “And that’s about average. If you can quote anything under that, they’ll consider it a steal.”
Bridget looked at Cici. So did Lindsay. Cici cleared her throat. “Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to meet with them. When can they drive out?”
“How about tomorrow?” Paul suggested quickly.
“Tomorrow!” Bridget jumped back to avoid the swinging door to the pantry as Ida Mae reentered the kitchen. “Couldn’t you give us a little notice?”
Ida Mae scowled at the telephone. “We having company?”
“Hi, Ida Mae,” Paul greeted her cheerfully. “And don’t worry you won’t even know we’re there.”
Lindsay said, “This is not exactly a cottage, you know. This place takes a little while to get ready for inspection. Couldn’t we do it next week?”
“We’re on a short deadline here,” Paul pointed out. “The wedding is in three weeks.”
“Three weeks! Who plans a wedding in three weeks?”
“The invitations went out last month. They really only have a matter of days to get change-of-venue cards out, so they have to make a decision quickly.”
Cici said, “I don’t know...”
“It will just be the bride and her mother. All they need to do is walk around the property and talk to you about what they have in mind.”
The three women glanced at each other. “That doesn’t sound too hard,” Bridget offered.
“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to talk,” Lindsay agreed.
“Perfect!” They could practically see the sparkle in Paul’s eyes over the telephone line. “I knew my favorite girls wouldn’t let me down. And I have a feeling you’re going to be very happy you did this. We’ll be there about lunchtime.”
Ida Mae muttered, “Good thing we won’t know you’re here.”
Paul laughed. “Good-bye, my darlings! I’ll see you tomorrow!”
The three women looked at each other for a moment. “Well,” said Cici at last.
“Yeah,” said Lindsay, and she grinned. “I guess we
famous. You know there’s going to be no living with that daughter of yours now. It couldn’t have been better if she had orchestrated it all herself.”
“She practically did,” Cici said.
Bridget thought out loud. “I should bake something. Maybe a seven-layer lemon-raspberry torte. We still have some raspberries in the freezer. And a shrimp and asparagus quiche.”
Ida Mae opened the container of thawed peaches and dumped them into a mixing bowl. “Where’re you gonna get the shrimp?”
“Ham and asparagus quiche,” Bridget amended, her eyes glowing as the menu took shape in her mind. “And beaten biscuits with dill butter—no, I know! Scones with those stone cherries we dried last year. Ida Mae, let’s save those dandelion greens for a salad tomorrow.”
“Got a yard full of them.” She poured sugar over the peaches. “You gonna make a cobbler or roll out a crust?”
“Crust. I wish the raspberries were in.”
“You making a pie
“No, for the salad. Ida Mae!” Bridget’s voice was alarmed as she snatched a bottle out of Ida Mae’s hand just before she sprinkled the contents over the peaches. “What are you doing? That’s red pepper!”
Ida Mae grabbed the bottle from her and slammed it down on the counter, her color flaring. “You don’t like the way I cook, you can just do it yourself!”
She jerked off her apron, flung it on the counter, and stomped out of the kitchen.
The three women shared a cautious, questioning look.
“Definitely crankier than usual,” Lindsay said after a moment, her voice subdued.
Cici cast a quick glance over her shoulder before agreeing, “Definitely.”
Bridget picked up the pepper bottle, read the label, and returned it to the cabinet, her expression carefully neutral. “Guess I’d better get busy on that piecrust,” she said.
Every evening at twilight since they had moved into the house, they gathered on the front porch to say farewell to the day. A glass of wine, a sweater against the chill of a spring evening, a rocking chair for each of them ... and peace. For three seasons of the year, the routine never varied. In the summer, they watched the hummingbirds dart back and forth between the red feeders. In the fall, the cardinals and the blue jays scolded each other from the ancient boxwoods that flanked the porch. In the spring, barn swallows soared against the pale lavender sky.
The mountains grew black, and the low-hanging sun etched distant evergreens in brilliant gold. They settled into the taste and texture of the coming night and let go of the challenges of the day. It was as though, in that quiet hour, they reconnected with the place that had won their hearts, with their reasons for coming here, and with each other.
Bridget said, sighing a little, “What a difference a year makes, huh?”
“I don’t know.” Cici sipped her wine, her voice lazy and content. “This time of day, it seems that nothing has changed for thousands of years. Or ever will.”
“Which is why I love this time of day” Lindsay put in with a sigh. She lifted her glass to Cici. “To things that never change.”
“I’ll drink to that,” agreed Bridget. She tried, not very successfully, to hide her grin of pleasure in her glass as she added, “One hundred two comments on the blog. I guess that means I’ll actually have to start posting to it more often than once a month now.”
“Good heavens, what are they saying?”
“Nice things. How much they loved the article, and how beautiful our place looks, and how they wish they could live like this...”
Cici choked on a laugh.
“And,” insisted Bridget a little defensively, “twelve requests for information on gift baskets!”
“Say that’s great!” Lindsay lifted her glass to her.
And Cici added, impressed, “You go, girl. At thirty-six dollars a pop, that’s not exactly chicken feed, you know. ”
Bridget frowned a little, disconcerted. “Actually it is. Just about enough to keep the chickens in that organic feed they like through the summer.”
“Ah, well. Easy come, easy go.”
They were quiet for a while, listening to the distant muffled clucking of the chickens as they settled into their roosts in the coop behind the house, a single ferocious volley of barking from the border collie, Rebel, the soft baaing of the sheep in the meadow as they, too, settled down for the night. The sky was streaked with bruised red clouds and slashes of gold.
As they watched, a long-legged deer picked his way across the lawn, nibbling at grasses and budding flowers, accompanied by the soft clanging of the miniature cowbell that hung around his neck. Bambi had followed Lindsay home from a walk as a fawn, been adopted as a pet by Noah—who, as a country boy, should have known better—and made Ladybug Farm his home. They had tried building pens and fences for him to keep him safe from eager hunters, but as he reached maturity he simply leapt over them. It was Noah who had come up with the idea of the cowbell, to alert hunters to the fact that the deer was not ordinary prey. Now they fenced their flowers and their crops, and the deer roamed free.
Lindsay asked, “Are we really going to do this wedding thing?”
“I think it could be fun,” Bridget said.
“You think everything is fun.”
Cici was more thoughtful. “It’s a lot of money. I don’t see how we can turn it down.”
“I know.” Lindsay’s enthusiasm, if it existed at all, was muted. “I just don’t know how I feel about all those Washington society types roaming around all over the place.”
Bridget stifled a laugh. “Some of those ‘Washington society types’ are our best friends! Not to mention my own son.”
“You know what I mean.” Lindsay was unmoved. “And just because Kevin works in DC doesn’t make him one of them. Not yet, anyway.”
“Good to know. You used to date one or two of those Washington society types, if I recall,” Bridget reminded her.
“Which is why I can speak with authority on how smarmy they can be.”
Bridget repeated thoughtfully. “There’s a word I haven’t heard in a while.”
Cici lowered her voice a fraction so as not to be overheard from the rooms inside. “You know Noah’s scholarship is only for one year. And tuition at John Adams is not exactly cheap.”
“Not to mention college,” Lindsay added unhappily. She sipped her wine. “Believe me, I haven’t overlooked that. Whoever thought I’d be worrying about college tuition at my age?”
Bridget said, “We promised his mother we’d take care of him.”
Lindsay said firmly, “I’d make sure Noah went to college with or without that promise. He has too much potential to waste.”
Cici said, “And if you didn’t, Bridget and I would.”
Bridget added simply, “He’s one of the family now.” And Lindsay smiled gratefully at both of them.
Cici asked Lindsay, “Have you heard from her since Christmas?”
There was no need to specify to whom she was referring. Noah’s mother, Mandy Cormier, had come into their lives only last year, but hardly a day passed that they did not think of her. She had given up her son when he was only a toddler, believing him to be safe in the care of his grandmother. But the grandmother died unexpectedly, and Noah had never known his mother was alive. By the time Mandy found her son again, he was well on his way to becoming a full-time member of the Ladybug Farm household, and Mandy herself was suffering from a terminal illness. She had granted Lindsay legal guardianship of Noah on the condition that she, Mandy, be allowed to tell Noah about her illness herself. Unfortunately, she had also insisted that Noah be allowed to choose when—or whether—he wanted to be in contact with her, and so far Noah’s choice had been silence.
Lindsay shook her head. “I sent her some photographs of Noah, and his first semester report card from John Adams.” She hesitated. “I thought Noah might want to send her a card, after I gave him her mailing address. But I guess not.”
“It’s easier for him this way, I think,” Bridget said softly. “He’s had so much to adjust to the last couple of years. He’ll deal with it when he’s ready.”
The two women glanced at her briefly, but no one had to state the obvious. By the time Noah was ready, it could very likely be too late.
The cowbell clanged softly. Squirrels chittered. Rebel, a black and white shadow in the deepening twilight, slithered across the lawn toward his bed in the barn.
Lindsay said, “We can apply for another scholarship. He’ll probably get it.”
“Probably” agreed Cici. “But a traditional scholarship only pays for tuition. There are still books and lab fees and uniforms and, well, what am I telling you for? He was lucky to win the money this year that covers everything.”
“And there’s still college.”
“Right,” said Cici.
“So, I guess we have to give the smarmy Washington society types a chance.”
“They might not even want us to do their wedding,” Lindsay suggested.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Bridget, rocking contentedly. “Why wouldn’t they? This place is perfect. We’re perfect. And I’m going to blow them away with my food.”
Cici said, “Well, then, I guess we’ve got the job.”
Lindsay sighed. “Are we ever going to be able to retire?”
Cici rolled a glance her way. “Um, no.”
Bridget said, very quietly, “We should talk about Ida Mae.”
No one answered for a while. When Lindsay spoke, it was with her gaze fixed with solemn absorption on the deep purple pits of shadow that crept across the lawn. “She’s really old, Bridget.”
Cici said, “Maybe she’s just going through a downswing. You know, like people do. It could be nothing.”
“It could be something,” Bridget countered, reluctantly.
“Old people have it tough,” Lindsay said. “Their knees start to go, their hearing, they get arthritis and atherosclerosis, and with all that bothering them, it’s no wonder they get confused now and then. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”