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Authors: Carolyne Aarsen

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BOOK: The Only Best Place
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Considering that Wilma already had that department well in hand, I didn't think the pennies needed my eagle eye on them, as
well. I glanced at Dan, sitting across from me at the kitchen table, wondering what he thought of the check that lay on the
table in front of him.

Dan had been up before me this morning so before I could tell him I didn't want his mother coming over, she was striding up
the sidewalk, farm books in hand and a take-no-prisoners look in her eye.

“We won't have lots of expenses.” Dan stroked his chin with one hand as he picked up the check with the other. “If the farm
pays for fuel for the truck, power, and upkeep on the house, we won't need to use this for more than our personal stuff.”
He smiled up at me. I felt heartened by the glimpse of disappointment I caught in his eyes.

“Of course, if things go well this year, I'm sure I'll be able to give you extra money.” Wilma smiled as if she had just granted
us stock options in a blue-chip company. “Though I think the amount you are getting is a fair bit.”

A fair bit? If she knew how much I could make in a week, she would choke on her decaf.

“Now if you will look at this budget, you'll see that it won't be hard to live on what you are getting.” She handed me a paper.
Call me stubborn, but I didn't spare it so much as a glance. Dan, however, dutifully picked it up and looked it over, nodding
his approval.

“I did put in an entry for contributions to the church…” Wilma let her sentence drift off, her eyes on her son. “That is,
if you will be coming to church. Of course, there's no obligation…”

Of course, there
was.
While her words were meant to let us off the hook, the raised eyebrows and the tilt of her head caught Dan neatly in a snare
of expectations.

“It would be wonderful if you could come.”

“Of course we will,” Dan said, sitting back, setting the paper down. I caught the question in his eyes as he looked at me
and I subtly shook my head.

“I wouldn't be comfortable,” I said. “I'm not familiar with church.”

“C'mon, Leslie. You've gone at Christmas and Easter.” Dan's awkward laugh made me nervous. “And you, your mother, and sister
used to go when you could get…”

“That's enough, Dan,” I said sharply, cutting off his sentence.

Wilma's eyes darted from Dan to me and then back again, as if hoping she could weasel out what I had stopped. Not a chance.

“Well, I hope you will reconsider coming to church.” Wilma continued, as always brisk and efficient. “And look over that budget
and tell me what you think.”

I already knew what I thought of it. Not much. But she was the payer and we were the payees. Powerless and puny.

“There's one more thing. I would really like to have the family together to talk about the farm. We are in a bit of a cash
crunch…” She paused and I immediately thought of Keith, but she rallied and forged ahead. “So if Gerrit and Dayton could
offer us some advice, that would be helpful.”

“That's a good idea,” Dan said.

“Your Grandma VandeKeere has been asking after you and the kids,” Wilma said to Dan. “Once seeding is done you should go.”

“I haven't seen her since Christmas. How is she doing?”

Wilma leaned a bit closer, as she brought him up to speed on the care and maintenance of the family tree.

I picked up my coffee mug and washed it out as their conversation covered all the twists and turns of names and connections
I doubted I would ever master. I didn't feel left out. Not a bit.

How was I going to make it for another eleven months, two weeks, and five chocolates?

Wilma finished her coffee, wound down the conversation, then went to the living room to see Anneke and Nicholas.

“Sorry about that church comment, Leslie,” Dan said as he set the coffee cups beside the sink. He touched me on the side of
my neck, then pulled me close in a hug. I really needed the hug and turned gratefully to him, letting his strong arms hold
me close. “I shouldn't have…”

“It's okay,” I muttered against his shirt. I didn't want to talk about my past; I had my husband, I had my children. And,
oh yes, I had a budget. But we would get through that as well.

I leaned back, holding his face between my hands. I let my eyes linger over his blue eyes, his long nose that veered ever
so slightly left, his high cheekbones all framed by hair that needed to be cut.

“Hey, you,” Dan whispered, brushing a strand of hair out of my eyes.

“Hey back.” I smiled at him. He was here, with me. He was smiling at me. He was lowering his head.

“I'm going now,” Wilma called out. I jumped.

He wasn't going to kiss me.

“Thanks for coming, Mom.” Dan let go of me. Then gave Wilma my kiss.

“Bye, Leslie,” she said, tossing me a quick wave. “Dan, I was wondering if you could have a look at my car. There's a funny
knocking sound in the engine.”

As they walked out the door,Wilma took him by the arm and pressed her head against his shoulder. Dan bent closer and gave
her a hug. They talked a moment as Wilma brushed her fingers over his cheeks.

I really wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. I really wanted to be a good person and feel sorry for her. But as I
watched her clinging to Dan, I felt that although Miss Bilingual had been left behind she had been replaced by another, more
powerful combatant for my husband's heart.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

So Dan is making noises about going to church? So not fair. Tho I figured that would happen once he got back to mommy. She's
got a hold of him U gotta watch. And the whole finances and Wilma thing? Lee-lee, be afraid. Be very afraid. I don't think
this woman has met a dollar she couldn't put in a bank account. Speaking of, mine should be out of the red soon. Got a job.
Not great, but we can't all be brilliant nurses. And hey, I think I have a right to push U back to work. After all, I had a
part in UR edjumacation, sugar plum. If anyone can prove the Froeses can be productive members of society U are the one. Two
kids, one husband that UR still married to. :) Give my darling nephew and niece a hug kiss from their

Adventurous Aunt, Alive and Adorable

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

The noises about church have become actions. He went this morning and took Anneke with him. I just remind myself to grow accustomed
to this phase—once we're back in Seattle we get normal back.

Laconic Leslie

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Hey, Josie. You alive? Write to me. Talk to me. Buy a coffee at Starbucks for me.

Les

Chapter Three

W
hat are you doing?” Dan bent over my shoulder, the scent of hay and warm masculinity teasing my nose. It was a kinder, gentler
smell than the gagme-in-the-throat odor of oil and gasoline fumes that usually swirled around him after a day of mechanic
work.

Farm chores had turned Dan into a kinder, gentler man. Seattle Dan would never have had time for lingering in the kitchen,
watching me work. Then again Seattle Leslie would not have been frowning over the arrangement of cookies on a plate for company.

“I'm trying to make these cookies look tastier than they are,” I said.

“I don't know why you bothered.” Dan slipped his arms around my waist. “My mother and sisters said they'd bring dessert.”

“Well, I felt duty bound to provide my own temptation.” I sighed as I moved away from him. Much as I wanted to, I didn't have
time to nuzzle. I had domestic duties to perform and an obligation to bring the family shrine up to VandeKeere specs. Nuzzling
was on the B list.

When Dan had come home from church on Sunday, it was to inform me that his mother, Gloria, Gerrit, and their kids were coming
over on Tuesday to help with the cows. This was said with an expectant look that I could translate only as, “Could they stay
for supper?” In a moment of insanity I caved in to familial pressure. Then, as if to make my breakdown complete, I invited
Judy and her family to join us for pizza afterward, as well. This necessitated making a quick run to the grocery store in Harland
to buy said pizza and, of course, cookies that I didn't have to bake myself.

Wilma had made her bi-daily visit yesterday with her take-no-prisoners attitude… and a pile of cookbooks. She had helpfully
folded over the pages that held Dan's favorite recipes. It wasn't like I didn't have cookbooks of my own. It was just that
I read recipes the way I read science fiction—with skepticism and disbelief that people could even think this stuff up. I
put the books in an obscure corner of a cupboard and closed the door of self-preservation on them. I may not be in charge
of the farm checkbook, but I was in charge of this home and this home
bought
cookies.

“C'mon, be a sport.” Dan rubbed his nose along my neck. “We haven't done this for ages.”

In Seattle, I worked night shifts so Anneke and Nicholas would spend minimal time in day care. When Dan's business declined,
he started working extra hours in a futile attempt to save it. That gave us time for nothing more than an occasional heart
scrawled on a Post-it note slapped on the fridge. Hardly enough to keep the fires of passion burning brightly.

Now it seemed he had time. I could hardly complain about his desire to indulge in some marriage maintenance.

So I closed my eyes, concentrated on Dan, and allowed myself a quiet moment of leaning, concentrating on the welcome warmth
of his shoulder, the rough hairs on the back of his hands layered under mine. I had always loved Dan's hands. The first time
he kissed me, his fingers played over my face as if reading my features by Braille.

“Do you think you'll have enough temptation for later?” Dan growled, his voice heavy with innuendo.

And now I was thinking about “her” again, juxtaposed against images of a female praying mantis who ate her males after they
mated.

The forgetting would come, I assured myself as Dan's arms held me close. A time would come when I wouldn't imagine her in
Dan's arms. When I wouldn't wonder if that faraway look in his eyes was about her.

“What do you mean, later?” I asked hoping the right amount of flirtation slipped into my voice, reassured that he still found
me attractive.

“For the meeting. After supper.”

“Oh.” My heart downshifted with a mixture of relief and disappointment. He meant cookies.

“I talked to Gloria and she agreed that we should get together like Mom suggested to bring me up to speed.”

Meanwhile I was trying to switch lanes, switch gears, get in sync with the direction of my husband's thoughts. “Good idea.”
I pressed my lips together to stop a surprising tremor. I still loved him. It was his feelings for me I was unsure of. Meanwhile,
we had practical issues at stake, and I knew he wasn't ready or able to face down his family en masse. The burden of our future
lay on my size-eight shoulders. Lovely.

“Are you going to talk about doing the assessment, then?” I asked.

Not the best thing to say given his mood, but someone had to look to the future—away from this place.

“We agreed to make sure the year we are here is recognized. At least a little bit.” Wilma's visit last week had made this
a priority.

Dan sighed and pulled away, and the brief moment of marital togetherness twisted toward the usual Business of Being Married.
“I don't think tonight is a good time. We've got other important things to discuss with the rest of the family.”

“The longer we wait, the longer your family is going to think we're staying.” Dan's stern expression made me feel like a negotiator
in a hostile takeover. I wanted to be on the same page as Dan, but the hard stuff was important, too. We had to be practical.
Take care of our little family. “Once the year is over, we're moving back. It's not fair to raise your family's expectations
and then dash them.”

We had gone over it all before we came here. Talked about it endlessly while we checked out all our options. He couldn't switch
allegiances on me now.

His resigned sigh told me that he was shifting back to my side. “Okay. I'll try to work it into the conversation tonight.”

The hard block of tension that had lodged in my chest dissolved. I gave him a look that hopefully transmitted love, but to
cover all the bases, I added a cookie to the gesture.

“Thanks,” he muttered, then leaned back against the counter as he ate, cupping one hand under the other to catch the crumbs.
“I remember eating cookies straight out of the oven in this kitchen,” he said with a smile.

It was a throwaway memory, but saying it in this kitchen where thousands of homemade cookies had been baked added a bit of
a sting. “Good thing you didn't marry me for my baking skills,” I said with a quick smile to show him I was okay with the
memory, on the surface at least.

“I married you for other reasons.” Dan leaned over and kissed me again. Though his declaration was imprecise, his kiss was
a good kiss and as I looked into his eyes I thought,
I love this man.
A warmth I hadn't felt in a while curled around my heart and I reached over to touch his cheek.

The screen door slapped open, and Anneke burst into the house. “Mommy, Mommy, I found a worm!” She held it up, a long pink
string that bunched and pulled and made my stomach curl.

Okay. Calm voice. Soothing voice. Don't make her drop it. “Honey, Mommy doesn't like worms in her kitchen.” Surely it was
too cold for worms. Where had it come from?

Anneke held it up in front of her face, inspecting it further. Then, with a light shrug, she turned and ran directly into
her little brother, who had followed her in. Nicholas fell back on his diapered bottom, his bland expression registering only
mild surprise.

But Anneke collapsed in a tangle of long, skinny legs and flailing arms, her cry of indignation a complete overreaction to
what had actually happened.

“Where's Teddy, the worm?” she exclaimed.

“Should have gotten her a dog,” Dan muttered, finishing his cookie as Anneke scrabbled around on the floor.

BOOK: The Only Best Place
13.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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