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Authors: Carolyne Aarsen

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BOOK: The Only Best Place
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“I mean, coffee—like the visiting thing.”

I gave her a blank look, and she laughed. I hardly knew her, and she was inviting me over already?

“Let me explain,” she said in the patient tone specific to use with especially dense people, misunderstanding my hesitation.
“I come over, you make coffee—though for me, you make tea—we sit down at the kitchen table while our kids fight over LEGOS,
and we talk about the people we know.” With her hands still in her pockets, she pointed at herself. “Me. Kathy. Incurable
Gossip.”

“I think I got that,” I said with a light laugh. “I've done coffee.” Not as often as I would have liked. I had a couple of
friends in Seattle, mostly co-workers, who had the same hectic juggling schedule I did. Coffee was often a quick cup at the
local McDonald's while our kids alternately played at the Play Place or cried for our attention. The topic of conversation
never rose above the advantages of cloth over disposable diapers. Or vice versa. Depending on which article we read in what
magazine.

“I don't want to overwhelm you,” Kathy said, angling me a puzzled look. “Your sisters-in-law said you weren't much of the
visiting type. But I'm the kind of person who needs to find out for herself.”

I felt a pinch of anger at Dan's sisters for talking about me behind my back, transforming me from a person to a topic of
conversation. I'd had enough of “she” and “her” at the family meeting.

“I could come.”
Gee, didn't that sound gracious.

Kathy smiled as if sensing my confusion. She patted me on the arm. “Don't worry about the gossip part. I know how to keep
my mouth shut when I have to. I can wait.”

“No. That would be great. I don't have a lot of secrets anyhow.” I set Nicholas down in the wagon, glad to be relieved of
his weight and even gladder he didn't kick up a fuss.

“Good thing. People in this county can sense a secret quicker than an upcoming sale at the Coop.”

“Coop? Now you'll have to translate.”

“Coming, Sprout?” Kathy held her hand out to Anneke, who, to my immense surprise, took it as Kathy angled her chin toward
the crowd and started following. “The Coop is more formally known as the Harland Co-operative started about the same time
that Harland was birthed back in the early 1900s. Locals call it The Coop or The Co-op. Make sure you capitalize the ‘The’
when you're talking to give it and the ancestors the proper respect.”

Kathy flashed me another grin.

“It's that important?”

“Oh, very. We may have a bunch of churches in Harland but we have only one graveyard and one main store, The Coop. Theology
may not unite us, but death and shopping do.”

I had to laugh. I could like this blunt outspoken character and Anneke, who never went to strangers, tripped alongside her,
telling Kathy about her dolls and about Nicholas and how he liked to eat dirt and how his diapers smelled bad, bad, bad. Kathy
pulled a face at that and pinched her nose and Anneke giggled.

“Is your husband here?” I asked as we squeezed through the mob gathered around the farm-equipment shed and headed toward Dan. The
crowd had thinned out. An aura of intense focus surrounded the remaining group. Clearly I was in the presence of serious buyers.

“He's holding the fort with the kids. It's my afternoon off.”

“So you came here?”

“Hey. Out is out. Besides, I picked up some good deals. The tradeoff is that I'm supposed to stick around long enough to find
out what the equipment went for. We're not in the market, but Jimmy likes to stay on top of the prices in case we ever are.”
Kathy pulled a pen and paper out of her pocket, all the while holding on to Anneke's hand and throwing my daughter a question
now and again to show that Anneke still had her attention. As I studied her, I knew I was in the presence of a professional
mother and wondered if I should take notes myself.

“So, what's that he's selling now?” I asked, daring to expose my ignorance. Kathy seemed totally non-threatening.

“A John Deere 9650 combine. Not in our league, but obviously old Harris had a few pennies or more.”

“Not enough to paint the house.”

“Dead investment,” she said, winking at me. “Lesson number one—farmers tend to see houses as a money drain. If you want the
kind of farmhouse that gets featured in
CountryWoman,
you have to stake your claim early on in your marriage and defend it against tractors, combines, more land, more pivots,
and more livestock.”

No problem. I had no intention of creating a farm show home out of the VandeKeere residence.

The auctioneer shouted “Sold!” and moved on to the next item. Bidding shot up quickly but then, just as quickly, stopped. The
people here seemed to know exactly how much they would spend before they came. Kathy scribbled the amount down in her book,
and as soon as she was done, Anneke reached for her hand.

Nicholas started crying, and I snagged a couple of annoyed glances, even one from my own husband. I may not be able to take
charge of my kids, but I could take a hint. “I'll be back,” I whispered to Kathy, as if my discretion could offset the angry
wails of a little boy who had had enough of auctions.

Kathy shooed me away with a friendly wave. “No worries.”

I quickly pulled the wagon away, hoping the vibration of the wheels over the ruts would lull Nicholas into mellowness. Picking
him up would only net me his balled-up fists in my face. Public demoralization wasn't something I liked to indulge in.

It took a few minutes, but he finally settled and slowly slumped to one side, his eyes blinking sightlessly. When I was fairly
sure he was burrowed deep in sleep, I laid him down in the wagon and returned to Dan's side to continue my role as faithful
wife and good mother. I was doing A-okay so far.

Anneke and Kathy still stood beside Dan as Kathy frowned at the auctioneer. “Nineteen five, Nineteen five on the Massey!”
I guessed he was coming to the end of the sale. I grimaced at the mangled wreck of the tractor and wondered who in the world
would buy that thing. “Going once, twice—” He paused, then pointed to my husband and called out, “Sold to Dan VandeKeere for
nineteen thousand dollars!”

“What?” I couldn't stop my involuntary cry. I turned to Dan, who was writing something down in a book he always had tucked
in his shirt pocket. “Don't tell me you just bought that tractor?” I hissed, aware of the people now watching us.

“You were here,” he said. But he wouldn't look at me.

“How… What… Where are you going to get the money for it?” Wilma had been pretty adamant that there wasn't a lot of money
available right now for any of what she called “extras.”

Dan sighed, dropped the book in his pocket, but still didn't meet my eyes. “From the term deposit.”

My heart leapt into my throat, momentarily choking off any words I might have been able to utter. My hands clenched the handle
of the wagon. “You mean the Dream Home Fund?”

“It's just a bank account, Leslie,” he said. Then he walked away.

But it wasn't “just a bank account.” It was part of our future. In Seattle. It was our investment in our life. In
Seattle.

And with one wave of his hand he had chosen the needs of the farm over that.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Dan had planned all along to buy that wreck of a tractor. Had planned all along to use the money from the DHF to pay for it. That's
why he looked so guilty when I asked if I could come. Nineteen thousand dollars for something he can't even drive home. Said
he was going to take the motor out of this one and drop it in the tractor we have now. Oh yeah. And a dog. My by-the-book,
non-impulsive man got a dog at the sale too. I didn't know you could get dogs at auction sales. It belonged to the lady who
owned the farm and she decided at the last minute that it would be cruel to take the dog to town with her so she gave it away
to whoever wanted it and Dan wanted it. Every time the kids and I go outside, Sasha comes running up to us and jumps around
the kids' wagon, her tail spinning like a windmill. Okay, she's not the Golden Lab that was supposed to be gamboling in the
yard of The Dream Home, but she is kind of cute. She loves going for walks, so she's been very happy lately. And every time
I walk, with each step I repeat, Nineteen Thousand, Nineteen Thousand.

Lunatic Leslie Lenient about the Licking

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Okay, I'm getting nervous for U. Taking money out of the Dream Home Fund AND getting a dog? That is not playing fair. Sounds
to me like U are going to HAVE to get a job. Think on it seriously, Sweetums. Taking money out of the DHF is a serious breach
of ethics. To me that calls for retaliatory methods. Get a job. NOW. BTW what are U going to do with the dog when U leave?
Seems kind of cruel to me to get a dog and then bring it back to the city.

Ticked off Terra

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Sasha will stay with the tractor and our ever-expanding livestock when we leave. Or so Dan told me when I asked him. Yesterday
his Aunt Gerda came with Uncle Orest and brought me some chickens. That's live chickens, by the way. Complete with feathers
and cluck. Gerda's a very sweet lady who loves to chat and give advice. While Aunt Gerda was here, Wilma stopped by again
to see Dan's new tractor. She was excited about it. I'm thinking beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I'm in
the “laminate flooring” camp. For my new house. Which is not going to happen now that Dan has used up fully half of the money.
I'm still so mad.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Go back to work. U will need $$$ to make up for what Dan spent.

I stood in front of the hospital and wiped my hands on the front of my jacket. Ten minutes till showtime. I could change my
mind. I didn't have to take the interview.

It had been seven chocolates since the auction sale. The very next day my anger with Dan sent me here to fill out an application. When
I got a phone call to come in, I knew I had started a process I had to see to the end.

I had agonized longer over what to do with my children during the interview than the interview itself. In Seattle the kids
were in day care. Here in Harland, it didn't feel right to drop the kids off when they had relatives. But Wilma, Gloria, and
Judy all lived in the opposite direction of Harland, farther up the valley from our place. Judy lived the farthest—a twenty-minute
drive from our place—but she was my first choice today. I simply couldn't imagine bringing the kids to Gloria or Wilma's and
facing their censure.

But if I took the job, I would have to rethink Judy. Soon the greenhouse would be too busy, and she couldn't take the kids
regularly.

But could I bring them to day care again?

Second thoughts spun their insidious web, tangling my plans.

Then I thought about staying at home day after day and I felt a moment of panic. Yesterday I had alphabetized my CD collection,
then changed my mind and arranged them by category. I knew other mothers filled their time with various activities but I was
neither gardener nor baker nor seam-stress nor true-blue farmer's wife. I was a nurse. It was what I loved to do.

I closed my eyes and opened the door. I didn't have to take the job if I got it.

I'm so glad you decided to come in.” Sally Richards, head nurse at Harland Hospital, picked up the last of my papers and glanced
quickly at her watch. Shift change in fifteen minutes. The atmosphere told me more than the clock did. Tired nurses winding
down from their shift had “going home” written all over their faces.

“John told me that he talked to you,” she continued, “and I hoped you would come. Some of the ward nurses have been covering
in the emergency department, but they certainly don't have your broad area of expertise.” Sally tapped the file folder holding
my application and test scores and smiled. “You might not see near the drama here that you did in Seattle, but we have our
busy times.”

“If it's an emergency department, I don't doubt you do.” I slowly inhaled the mixed scents of the hospital. Clean linen, waxed
floors, the pervasive scent of disinfectant that was the first line of defense against a hospital's biggest enemy—infection.

I missed it. I yearned for it. I wasn't a farmer's wife. This was where I was meant to be.

“I was impressed with the results of your NCLEX scores.”

“I test well,” I said, a faint nervousness bringing out my flippant side.

“And your résumé is also encouraging.” Sally tapped her fingers lightly. “Though I have to say, I am concerned with how often
you've moved around.”

“Restless husband,” I said apologetically.

“I wish we could offer you full-time employment but in light of the fact that, as you told me, you are only going to be here
a year, I would like to offer you a casual position. I am going to be doing another interview in a few days for the full-time
position we have advertised.”

I didn't let my relief show. Casual sounded pretty good to me. The best of both worlds. I would be home enough to satisfy Dan
and gone enough to make me feel like I wasn't losing valuable skills. ER work demanded constant upgrading to stay on top of
all the latest technology. But my stomach knotted up as I thought of my kids. I didn't want to bring them to day care, but
I couldn't bring them to Judy's. Gloria. Wilma. Gloria. Wilma.

BOOK: The Only Best Place
9.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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