Authors: Donna Ball
A WEDDING ON LADYBUG FARM
By Donna Ball
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the author.
Copyright 2013 by Donna Ball, Inc.
Published by Blue Merle Publishing
Mountain City Georgia 30562
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, organizations and places in this book are either a product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously and no effort should be made to construe them as real. Any resemblance to any actual people, events or locations is purely coincidental.
On Matters of Life and Death
The church was packed to overflowing, and those who were unfortunate enough to arrive less than forty-five minutes early were forced to stand in the vestibule, where the air-conditioning was less than ideal, or even beneath the shelter of the portico outside. They did so gladly, because on an occasion like this the important thing was to be able to say you had been there. The Baptist parking lot was filled, as was the adjacent fellowship hall lot, and the Methodist parking lot across the street. Cars lined both sides of the street for two blocks, and even as the organ music began to play, latecomers dressed in their Sunday best made their way up the sidewalk toward the assembly. They would be among those who ended up standing against the walls or crowding the vestibule.
There were roses everywhere. Baskets of them lined the church steps, the aisles, and
the altar, along with the usual selection of potted plants and ostentatious arrangements of lilies. Cici, the practical one, wondered what in the world they were going to do with all those fresh flowers when the service was over. It was too bad no one was giving a dinner party afterwards; the arrangements could be broken down into gorgeous centerpieces. Cici realized her musings were more than a little inappropriate under the circumstances, and she glanced guiltily at Bridget who sat next to her on the pew sniffling into her tissue.
“I’ll never be able to look at another rose without thinking of her,” Bridget whispered brokenly.
Cici patted her friend’s knee sympathetically. “She did love roses,” she whispered back.
Lindsay, who sat on the other side of Cici, leaned in close and murmured resignedly, “She’s right, you know. I can forget about using roses at my wedding now.”
Cici inclined her head in regretful agreement.
“It’s just not right,” Bridget said, blotting her face with the soggy tissue.
Cici looked at her reproachfully. “I’m sure she didn’t do it just to ruin Lindsay’s wedding. She couldn’t have known everyone would send roses.”
Bridget’s wet, red-rimmed eyes looked at her friend as though she had never seen her before. “I meant,” she said deliberately, “she was so young. Younger than I am.”
Lindsay leaned across Cici and told her, “Actually, no. Farley said she was seventy-six.” Farley was their handyman, and the second person they had met when they moved to this small Shenandoah Valley community. The first person was his sister-in-law, the subject under discussion.
“Oh.” Bridget looked surprised, and cast a curious look across the aisle to Farley, who looked somber and distressed in a too-tight blue suit, his thinning hair slicked back, his fading ginger-colored beard combed but not trimmed. It was the first time since Easter they had seen him inside a church.
Bridget sat back, mollified. “She certainly looked a lot younger. Not,” she added quickly, “that that makes it any better.”
“No it doesn’t,” agreed Cici with a sigh. “Seventy
-six still sounds young to me. And I can’t believe I’m old enough to think that.”
The other two women nodded glumly.
None of them was accustomed to thinking of themselves as old, and they all looked much younger than their driver’s licenses would have them believe. Bridget was actually the oldest, but with her short stature, round face, and platinum bob, was often mistaken for the youngest. Cici was a tall, athletic woman with thick honey-colored hair and a penchant for the outdoors which had resulted in head-to-toe freckles, and a talent for carpentry and construction that left her, more often than not, concealing one or more scrapes behind a flesh-colored bandage. Although Lindsay’s shoulder-length auburn hair might not be quite as naturally pigmented as it once had been, and though she had abandoned the fight against the few midlife pounds that had turned her willowy size-six figure into a slender size eight, she could still turn heads in a pair of skinny jeans and heels. Today, however, in their somber navy and dove suits, with their hair pinned up and their expressions muted with the shock of the circumstances, the lines on their faces and the years that registered in their eyes were not so easy to disguise. And no one cared.
Ida Mae Simpson, who sat next to Bridget in a black crepe dress, black tights, and a black felt hat with a veil and a rather scraggly looking black feather that had likely last seen the bird to which it belonged sometime in the 1940s, folded her arms across her chest and gave a curt nod. She was older than any of them by an indeterminate number of decades, and had known everyone in the community most of her life. By contrast, Lindsay, Bridget
, and Cici had moved here only four years ago, when they had fallen in love with the fading brick Victorian mansion nestled in the lush Shenandoah Valley and had made the life-changing decision to leave the suburbs of Baltimore behind, pool their resources, and buy the place. Ida Mae, who had been taking care of the house almost as long as its new owners had been alive, was a bonus which, even on her best days, the ladies were not entirely sure was a good thing.
Maggie Woodall, the only real estate agent in town, had sold them the house. Now she rested, bedecked by roses, in the satin-lined casket at the front of the church while mourners murmured about how unfair life was and the organist played a medley of hymns that included “In the Sweet Bye and Bye” and “In the Garden
“I thought she looked real natural,” Ida Mae pronounced with satisfaction.
Several people, overhearing, nodded in agreement, and Bridget patted Ida Mae’s arm with a weak smile.
Lindsay sat back, looking uncomfortable. “Why do people say that?” she muttered. “I hate it when people say that. The last thing I want to look when I die is ‘natural
.’ I want to look dead.”
“Sshh,” Cici admonished, elbowing her as the organist switched chords and the soloist, resplendent in a ruby choir robe and gold stole, stepped to the podium.
It was, they all agreed later, a magnificent service, one of the finest funerals the little town of Blue Valley had seen since the untimely demise of its mayor half a decade previously, and a fitting tribute to a fallen pillar of the community. The hymns were heartfelt, if not always on key, the sermon was stirring, and the eulogies went on for forty-five minutes. Everyone, no matter how close or casual the acquaintance with the deceased, shed a tear. Afterwards, the congregation shuffled to its feet and stood in silent attention as the six pallbearers bore the rose-draped casket down the center aisle to the solemn strains of the organ. Farley took his place in the middle, and the shoulders of the blue suit jacket strained at the seams. Afterwards, the family attended a brief graveside service beneath the green funeral home canopy that had been erected in the cemetery, and friends gathered at the home of the deceased to deliver comfort, casseroles, and as many baskets of funeral roses as they could pile into their cars. Cici managed to transport six in the back of her SUV, along with a baked ham, a chicken and dressing casserole, and Bridget’s famous coconut cake. All would freeze well.
The ladies were exhausted by the time they arrived back at Ladybug Farm shortly before sunset that evening. They climbed the wide front steps wearily, dropped their purses on the porch, and sank into the rocking chairs that were waiting for them. Cici glanced around to make sure no
one was watching, and then stripped off her pantyhose and tucked them beneath a cushion before sitting down. Bridget brought out wine and glasses. Ida Mae said, “Y’all gonna want any supper?”
They all groaned a negative. They had stuffed themselves on the buffet that was the inevitable aftermath of any funeral.
“Good,” declared Ida Mae, “because you could get it for your own selves if you did.” She was limping noticeably as she went into the house, and the three women shared a look of alarm and concern.
Bridget waited until she was out of earshot to say, softly, “She seems frailer to me. Does she to you?”
Cici poured the wine. “I worry about her going up and down those stairs.”
“Have you thought about what we’re going to do when she becomes, you know, too old to get around?”
Cici handed her a glass of wine. “What can we do? Someone tried putting her in a nursing home before, and that’s how she ended up back here with us.”
“Well, we need to at least have a conversation, ask her about her final wishes and everything. After all
“Oh, please, you two.” Lindsay kicked off her shoes, tucked one leg beneath her, and held out her hand. Cici placed a glass of wine in it. “Ida Mae is going to outlive all of us, I thought we’d agreed on that. She’s already outlived five popes and nine presidents, for God’s sake. Can we talk about something else?”
Cici filled her own glass and sat down between Bridget and Lindsay. The early evening peace of Ladybug Farm settled in around them like the familiar folds of a well-worn shawl, and almost as one they released a soft breath of relief, sinking into the welcoming scents and sounds and sights of home.
The landscape had changed since the first time they had sat on this porch and opened a bottle of wine together. They hadn’t even had furniture then, much less a plan, and they sat on the steps and watched the stars come out and wondered whether they were about to embark upon the biggest mistake of their lives, or the biggest adventure. Over the following years they had painstakingly restored the gardens, polished blackened statues, hacked away hidden paths. They had lost two trees and part of the sunroom. But after clawing away ivy and chasing away reptiles, they reclaimed a gorgeous stone dairy, and shored up a barn to house the unexpected gift of a flock of sheep. The barn subsequently burned to the ground, but from its ashes had risen the office of the brand new Ladybug Farm Winery, whose curving gravel drive now led to a hillside lush with vines. The dairy, also graveled with a separate parking area, had become
The Tasting Table restaurant, opening in the spring for lunch and available any time for catered events, Chef Bridget Tyndale, proprietor.
Four years ago, they had been three women with a dream. Now they were an enterprise. In the interim, Lindsay had adopted a son, and that son was now wearing the uniform of the US Marine Corps in Afghanistan.
Cici’s daughter Lori, who had been as pesky as a housefly and as enchanting as a butterfly around Ladybug Farm for the past three years, had graduated from college and moved to Italy. Bridget, who at the outset had been a new widow crippled by grief and intimidated by her grown children, now ran an Internet business and a restaurant. Lindsay was engaged to the manager of the Ladybug Farms Winery.
The purple hedge of mountains still cast long shadows across the lawn of Ladybug Farm. Fading pink and purple hydrangea blossoms still nodded in the breeze. A black-and-white border collie still leapt the fence every day at twilight to herd the placid flock of sheep into a corner of the meadow predetermined only by himself, and the sunset still painted an amazing Technicolor stillscape across the horizon of their lives. But everything had changed.
Cici said softly, “It seems like only yesterday that we walked through this house with Maggie for the first time, doesn’t it? But look how much has happened since then.”
Bridget shook her head sadly. “It’s like the preacher said, in the blink of an eye everything can be gone.”
“That’s a cheery thought,” Lindsay murmured, lifting her glass.
a funeral,” Bridget pointed out reasonably.
Cici took a sip of her wine, and then paused, frowning as she held out her arm a foot or so in front of her face. “Does that look like a mole to you?”
Cici held out her arm to Bridget. “There.”
“It looks like another freckle to me.”
“Not that. This.”
Bridget patted her hair for her glasses, found them missing, and shrugged. “Could be.”
Cici examined the blemish again. “Maybe I should have it checked out.”
Lindsay groaned. “How did we get so old? All we ever talk about any more is moles and menopause and the way things used to be.”
“Wait until we start talking about ingrown toenails and cracked teeth,” Bridget said, unconcerned.
Cici looked at Lindsay curiously. “What did we used to talk about?”
She shrugged, trying to remember. “I don’t know. Stuff. Interesting stuff.”
The three of them were thoughtful for a moment, trying to come up with something interesting to say. The result was silence.
Finally it was Lindsay who gave in with a sigh and said, “I just don’t understand where the past four years went. Why does time seem to go by so much faster than it used to?”
“Because we’re old, that’s why,” Cici said. “Also, the earth is spinning faster, remember? We’ve been losing 1/8 millionth of a second a day since the Japan earthquake in 2011.”
Lindsay stared at her. “How do you know that?
“Bridget looked it up.” And then she frowned a little. “Or maybe it was Lori. I remember it was someone who’s always coming up with useless information.”
“That is not useless information,” Bridget protested indignantly. “I for one want to know if my day is getting shorter. It helps me plan. Besides, that’s not why time seems to be speeding up—even though we
losing 1/8 millionth of a second every day.” This was said a little defiantly to Lindsay, who simply shrugged. “The reason time goes faster as we age is because we’re not making as many new neural pathways, and the reason for that is because we’re not experiencing or learning as many new things for the first time as we did when we were younger.”