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Authors: Carolyne Aarsen

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BOOK: The Only Best Place
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Upstairs, I heard Anneke bopping along behind Judy. Downstairs, water ran in the bathroom off the kitchen as Wilma repaired
the damage done to Nicholas's jacket. Then, above that, the rattly growl of a diesel engine.

The truck pulling the trailer lumbered into the yard and drew up behind my little car. Dan had arrived with the remainders
of our other life. Time for smiley face number three.

After a moment Dan stepped out and stretched, twisting his upper body the way he always did when he wound down after a stressful
day. His dark blonde hair looked as if he had run his fingers through it in five different directions. But as he walked away
from the truck stretching out his arms above his head, I could see that the smile creasing his face was one of a man arriving
at the promised land.

“Dan's here!” Judy called out from upstairs. Her feet beat out a joyous tattoo down the stairs,Anneke close behind her.

“My boy is home.” Wilma's soft exclamation from the hallway laid further claim on him. Still holding Nicholas, she strode
out of the house down the walk, waving her free arm. Calling out his name.

Dan turned and ran toward his mother, like a soldier returning from battle. He caught her in his arms, Nicholas and all, pulling
them toward him in a hug that shouldn't have made me jealous.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

I can't believe U took three hundred and sixty-five Lindor chocolates along to Harland. U really are serious about this countdown
thing, aren't U? How are U going to keep track if U suddenly have a snack attack, or Dan finds them? BTW—love the new e-mail
name. How's life in La-la-land? Has Wilma told U she loves U yet? :) Will be a full-time job keeping her claws out of handsome
hubby. I still can't get over how she ignored me at UR wedding, though I did my best to let her know I was there. Ha. Ha.
Put a crust around that soft heart of URs. Don't let her get to U. Thankfully U got me giving pithy advice. Pithy I don't
live closer. :) Keep UR house money in term deposit, else U will have nothin' when U head back to Seattle. I think UR crazy
not to work. U'll find a job like that (me snapping finger) and U can use the money. I'm off to San Francisco next week. Try
to find a job there. Kiss the kids. I'll send pics when I have some. Heard anything from Mom? Me neither. Sigh.

Terrific Terra Testing the Tides

P.S. Did U ever hear more about that chick Dan worked with, the one U said could speak two languages? Forgot her name.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

I forget her name too. Not. I figured I would let sleeping dogs lie, if you get my drift. Near as I know she moved back home
to Canada. And the three hundred and sixty-two chocolates are in a box under the bed. Oh. Goody. It's almost 6:00. Supper
time and time for another chocolate. Must snack.

Lonely Leslie

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Hey, Josie. I'm here. And, well, I'm here. And, like you said, things are interesting. Please keep me posted on what's been
happening at the hospital so I'm not so out of it when I come back.


Chapter Two

irst thing tomorrow we should empty the rest of the boxes,” Dan whispered as he slipped into bed late Friday night. We had
been here three nights already, and I was still in the throes of moving-denial, which meant that not all our stuff had been
unpacked yet.

“I won't need the stuff out of them,” I whispered back. I had been all for leaving them back in mini-storage in Seattle, creating
an anchor that would eventually draw us back there. “Half those CDs qualify as antiques and the other half as poor taste and
most of the books are covered in three inches of dust, one from each state we've lived in.”

“You might want to read them,” he said. “You might even have time to start a hobby.”

“Right, Dan. Hobbies and me are nodding acquaintances—I read about them in the obituaries of older women.” I stifled the
jitters bubbling in my chest at the thought of being home day after day, trying to fill my time with knitting and tatting,
baking—things I knew nothing about. For a moment I regretted my decision to stay home and nurture my relationships with kith
and kin instead of going to work.

When I was younger, my sister,Terra, and I had made a list of must-haves for what we considered a normal life. Husband, kids
(in that order), all safely ensconced in a new house in the suburbs of a suitably sophisticated city. My job and Dan's business
had been ways to achieve these must-haves. For now I could put a check mark beside two of my goals.

The house would have to wait.

“I think the roof leaks,” I said, counting the water spots on the ceiling of the upstairs bedroom.

“I don't understand why we couldn't take the downstairs room.” Dan yanked on the blankets and shifted around, making his usual

“There is no way I'm sleeping in the same room you were conceived in.”

“Over-sharing, Leslie,” he groaned.

“Besides, I want to be close to the kids,” I whispered. “They're not used to this house yet.” Nor was I. It smelled wrong
and made me feel disoriented. The last time we'd been here, Dan and I had slept in the spare room, Anneke and Nicholas in
this room. Though our furniture graced most of the house now, this still seemed like Wilma's domain.

Dan cuddled closer, a contented sigh drifting over his face. And why shouldn't he be feeling all jovial? Things were tipping
heavily in his favor. We were in his old house, in his old yard. His territory.

“Gloria phoned last night,” Dan said, pulling me close. “She thought maybe we could have a family dinner here sometime. Maybe
after church.”

Family? Dinner? All those VandeKeeres in this house? Wilma and Gloria walking through the house doing minute inspections of
my kitchen and bathroom, critiquing my furniture and towels and snooping through my medicine chest?

“That sounds like a good idea, but really, Dan, I'm still an apprentice in this whole family-supper course.” And if it was
after church, the implication would be that we should attend the service. Though this subtle morphing of my husband to his
pre-Seattle days wasn't a shocker, it created a low-level fear that we were making incremental shifts away from our goal.

“Leslie, you're a great cook.” He lifted himself up on his elbow, and in the half light of the bedroom, his eyes shone down
on me.

“If it's tacos or barbecued steak you want, hey, I'm your girl. But Sunday dinner? I've never met a turkey that I didn't dry
out. I hate cooking ham, and I don't know how to make my own croutons.” I pulled out a list of excuses, determined not to
get railroaded again by his crooked smile and soft voice. In the months before we moved here, I hadn't seen much affection
from Dan but now, it was as if back in his home place, he was slowly reverting to the man I had fallen in love with. Loving,
attentive, and caring. Though the shadow of Miss Bilingual still hung like a silent specter over our marriage, she was slowly
getting eased away by the obligations and expectations I was sure Dan felt from his family.

“Leslie,” Dan said, going down softly on the
part of my name. I hate that light intonation even when I know it's coming. It signals his intention to be long-suffering
and patient with the woman he promised to stay faithful to until death do us part, but Oh, Lord, it shouldn't have to be this
hard. “It doesn't have to be Sunday dinner. We can buy pizza and ice cream and have them over during the week. We haven't gotten
together in this house since Mom and Keith moved out.”

“I don't know what kind of pizza they like.”

“It would be fun to have a dinner here, in the old house. For Mom's sake.”

The burden of moving into the flagship of the VandeKeere line dropped like a yoke on my shoulders. This house had been built
by Dan's grandfather, replacing the older house now overgrown with willows and poplars, which replaced the small dugout that
Great-grandfather Willem VandeKeere had moved his young bride into when they first came to Harland from Holland.

This yard was a veritable museum of VandeKeere history, and I had taken reluctant possession of one piece of it. And if Dan's
sisters wanted to have a family supper, it was a sure bet that in the long run I was helpless to stop the plans. But for now,
the home was mine and the control was mine.

“Let me think about it, okay?” I said, reverting to Ambiguous Wife as I turned to him, trying to re-create the faint moment
of warmth he had kindled in me.

“Sure. Whatever.” Dan flopped onto his back, replying with What's-So-Hard-about-This Husband.

I deflected my automatic sigh. No need to fan the flames with that outpouring of breath.

“Oh, by the way, Mom's coming over tomorrow,” Dan said.

“Does Wilma think we need more help?” I had used my limited powers of persuasion to convince her to stay home today. I couldn't
maintain a loving façade and deal with another litany of “suggestions” on how to arrange the kitchen or veiled criticisms
about the number of appliances I owned. So what's wrong with having a crepe maker
a waffle iron? “Isn't she tired from helping out all day yesterday?”

“She said she'd like it if you'd call her Mom.” Dan's comment was delivered in quiet, reasonable tones.

Not happening, though. I already had a mom. Not the best mom, but she was

“She wants to talk about our finances,” Dan said, dropping that bomb as casually as I would a dirty diaper. “To give us some

I pressed my hand to my thumping heart, trying to keep it in my chest.
I commanded myself.
Breathe… and relax. Again. Good girl. Now you can talk. Use short words and… smile… and you're on.

“That's okay, Dan. I'm sure we don't need her help.”

“She doesn't mind.”

Obviously the smile had worked too well. I needed to lay down hard and firm boundaries. With each dish I put away and each
item of clothing I hung up I felt tiny threads anchoring me to this unfamiliar place that was Dan's home and territory. “We've
managed for years without her help, I'm sure we'll be fine now.” Nice firm delivery, strong intonation. Much better.

“But the farm belongs to her.”

“I don't see the connection.”

“She'll be writing the checks.”

Don't panic. Do not panic.

“Mom's real good with money. She can help us out. Said she had a budget drawn up for us.”

“I don't think… We never really… Budget?” I couldn't grab the right words from the hundreds that swirled around my head.
“I thought you would be doing the finances.”

He looked up at the ceiling, avoiding me. “Mom asked if you would mind if she kept doing it. I said sure. It will make things
easier for us, and it gives her something to do.”

Dread spiraled in my stomach and made a home. Wilma. In charge of the farm finances. Our finances. It didn't take a gourmet
cook to know this was a recipe for disaster. “But how is she going to figure out… “I faltered, still trying to absorb this
latest information. “Why didn't you ask me—”

Dan feathered a quick kiss over my forehead. “You had enough to do getting the house set up. I didn't want to bother you.”

“If we're going to be talking finances, are you going to tell her about the assessment?”

When Dan and I talked about giving a year of our time to help out his mother, we decided it would be in our best interests
to have an assessment done of the farm. We assumed once we left, the farm would be sold. I knew Dan. Every place we'd lived
in, he'd fixed up. Every place we lived, his work hadn't been recognized. This time I wanted to make sure that Dan was paid
for any improvements he did.

“It seems a bit soon for that,” Dan hedged.

I was about to encourage him to do it anyway, when I heard Nicholas let out a loud wail. Kiddy timing. I could have let him
cry but inherent guilt won over the current crisis. Our boy needed me so seldom, I didn't want to miss any chance to connect.

“Let him cry,” Dan grumbled.

“He's in a strange bed in a strange place…”
Like me,
I thought, glancing around the room that still had Judy's posters on the wall. “I'll be right back.” We weren't done with
Wilma and the budget thing yet.

But as I walked down the hall, Nicholas's already loud cries grew in intensity, and by the time I got to his door, his screams
filled the room and he thrashed about, kicking his feet, his adorable face squinched so tight that his eyes disappeared.

This is going to take a while.
I lifted Nicholas, a stiff and unyielding bundle of terry cloth, out of his crib, his screams piercing my ears.

Anneke appeared in the doorway as I tried to rock Nicholas out of his snit. She sidled up to me, sniffing. “I'm scared!” she
called out above Nicholas's cries.

And I knew that by the time I got back to the bedroom, Dan would be snoring.

The farm has to support two families now.” Wilma folded her hands over the checkbook as if defending it from my grasping clutch.
Her gaze flicked from me to Dan and back again. The significance of the equal triangle we formed around our circular kitchen
table wasn't lost on me. Dan sat equidistant from me and his mother—torn between two women again. I almost felt sorry for
him. Emphasis on
“We will have to watch every penny,” Wilma continued.

BOOK: The Only Best Place
11.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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