The perfect match, p.46
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       The Perfect Match, p.46

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 46

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  “You bet,” she said. “See you up there, Goggy. Behave yourself, Pops. ”

  She walked the short distance between houses with her father, the shrill, sweet sound of peepers rising from the pond. In another hour, it would be full dark.

  “How are things with Tom?” he asked.

  “Great, Daddy. ”

  Her father looked at her thoughtfully. “I wasn’t sure about him,” he said. “Not at first, anyway. But he seems like a good guy. ”

  “He is,” she said.

  “And you love him? Are you sure?”

  Finally, she could look her father in the eye. “I’m sure. ”

  Dad put his arm around her shoulders. “You look just like your mother when you smile,” he said gruffly. “Now this doesn’t mean I’m dying to give you away, you know. You can stay with Mrs. Johnson and me forever, so far as I’m concerned. You and Tom both, if you want. ”

  “Oh, I don’t think so, Daddy. ”

  “You two kids should take the house, and Mrs. J. and I will stay in her apartment. It’s perfect for two, and you and Tom will be having babies soon enough. Right? I’d love more grandchildren. Besides, the New House is where you belong.

  She smiled. “I’ll talk to him about it. ”

  Because that image of her and Tom, and a kid or two. . . it was a lot easier to picture these days.

  * * *

  AN HOUR LATER, as the sliver of the new moon rose on the horizon, every member of the Holland family, plus Tom and Charlie, gathered up near the cemetery.

  The sowing ceremony took place on the rise of the first new moon of April. The origins of the ceremony were unclear, but tradition was tradition.

  Tom came up next to Honor, smelling of soap from his shower, and kissed her on the cheek. Abby and Charlie were snickering, Levi was on the phone with his sister, growling to her about something, then passing the phone to Ned (and not looking too happy about it, either). Pru and Carl had their arms around each other, Goggy was fussing with the refreshments, which were laid out on a blanket in the back of Dad’s red pickup truck. She tut-tutted as Mrs. Johnson tried to help, and Mrs. J. tut-tutted back. Dad and Jack were talking pH levels in the latest batch of Riesling, and Faith sat on the ground next to Mom’s headstone, her face dreamy and sweet.

  “So what’s this about, then?” Tom asked.

  “It’s a blessing for the crops,” Honor said. “We’ve done it for generations. ”

  “Gather around, everyone,” Pops said, and the family made a semicircle around the little cemetery. Pops stood a little straighter and took Goggy’s hand. “All right, then,” he said. “As father, grandfather and great-grandfather—

  “And as mother, grandmother and great-grandmother,” said Goggy. “We welcome you tonight. ”

  “De liefde van God zij met u. ” the rest of them chorused.

  “That means ‘God’s love be with you,’” Honor told Tom and Charlie.

  “Tonight, we ask for God’s blessing on the year to come. We pray that the rain will fall softly on the fields, that the sun will shine warmly, that the food we grow will provide for our family, this year and in all the years to come. ”

  “Amen,” they said.

  Goggy handed the first bottle of wine to Pops.

  “That’s a wine we make only for the family,” Honor explained as Pops wielded one of his many corkscrews. “We call it the blessing wine and only use it for weddings, christenings and the sowing ceremony. ”

  Tom glanced at her, and she felt a prickle of heat in her cheeks. They’d be drinking the blessing wine again soon, both at Dad’s wedding, and then again at theirs.

  And maybe, in a year or so, at the christening of their baby.

  “Cool,” Charlie said, watching as Pops deftly uncorked that bottle, then two more.

  “First we take a drink, then pour some on the ground,” Honor explained as Pops took the first drink. “That way, we honor the family who came before us, and the soil that provides for us now. ”

  “Lovely,” Tom said. “I wish my dad could see this. He’d love it. ”

  “Maybe next year,” she said, and he flashed that grin.

  Oh, yes, she loved him so much her heart hurt in a wonderfully sharp ache.

  Faith passed the bottle to her, and Honor took a sip. Funny, all the ceremony over the opening and aeration of wine, assessing the bouquet and texture, the myriad flavors. . . but not tonight. Tonight, they chugged from the bottle, and it was the wine Honor loved most of all, sweet and smoky. One swallow, one slosh on the ground, a little prayer for the well-being of her family. And Tom. And Charlie.

  She passed the bottle to the boy, who’d be her unofficial stepson, too, soon enough, whatever her real title might be. He gave Tom a questioning look; Tom nodded, and Charlie took a little sip, grimaced, then swallowed and poured some wine on the ground.

  “Good job,” she said. He smiled back at her, then passed the bottle to Tom, who did his part.

  When everyone had had a sip, Pops took a box of matches from his shirt pocket and lit the fire Ned had laid earlier that day. As the wood began to crackle and the fire bathed all their faces in a warm glow, Tom took her hand. “I’m very glad I met you, Miss Holland,” he said.

  The words were ordinary; the feeling anything but.

  “Tom, darling,” Goggy said, “you have to do one thing for us. Since you’re the newest member of the family. ”

  “Wouldn’t that be Charlie?” Abby said with a wicked grin.

  “Well, Charlie and Tom, then,” Goggy said. “Here you go, dears. ”

  She passed them a plate. “What is that?” Charlie said. “Oh, man, you gotta be kidding me. ”

  Honor grinned. “It’s tradition, Charlie. Newest family members and all. ”

  “What is this, love?” Tom asked, tilting his head to look at the traditional Dutch dish.

  “It’s raw herring and onions,” Honor said. “Eat up, boys. ” Ah, the Dutch. Who else loved what was essentially cat food? She herself hated herring; just the sight of it made her stomach flip. Faith shared the sentiment and gave a subtle dry heave.

  “You know, I’m not technically part of the family,” Charlie said. “Tom’s marrying you, but I’m kind of unofficial here. ”

  “Not in our hearts,” Abby said sternly. “Eat it. ”

  “It’s only horrible the first twenty years or so,” Ned added.

  “What are you talking about?” Goggy demanded. “It’s wonderful. ”

  “You first, mate,” Tom said.

  “Just take a little nibble, son,” Dad said. “You don’t have to eat the whole thing. ”

  “Someone has to,” Faith said. “Tom. Be a man. ”

  Charlie held up the bony fish. “Oh, God,” he said. Closed his eyes and took the smallest bite possible, just a scrape of the teeth, gagged and manfully forced it down his throat. “It’s. . . good,” he wheezed, tears coming to his eyes. “A little strong, maybe. ”

  “Good job!” Pops said, clapping him on the back. “Tom? Go ahead. Finish it up, son. ”

  Tom looked at Honor. She raised her eyebrows and smiled. “For you, my love,” he said, and, much to her horror, picked up the fish and bit it right in half, the bones crunching. His face contorted, and everyone laughed. He chewed, swallowed and then ate the other half. Dear Lord.

  “Now there is a man,” Mrs. Johnson said approvingly.

  “Good job, babe,” Honor said, taking the plate from him. Blick. The smell was wretched. Poor Tom. Time to get to the real food—the casseroles and ham and pies.

  “Not so fast, darling. ” Tom jerked her back to him. “How’s about a kiss?”

  “No! Don’t you dare!” She broke away from him and ran behind Levi. “Officer, help me. That man has fish breath. ”

  “Far be it from me to come between a man and his wife,” Levi said, stepping awa
y.

  “We’re not married yet,” Honor shrieked, dodging and laughing as Tom chased her. She bolted for the nearest row of grapes. “And we won’t be if this keeps up. Daddy, help me!” Her traitorous father merely laughed.

  “Go get her, Tom!” Pru called, and sure enough, he caught her arm and spun her around.

  “Darling? Don’t you love me anymore?” he said, his sweet, crooked smile flashing.

  Then he kissed her, herring breath and all.

  And you know, it really wasn’t so bad. Her family gave a cheer, and Honor felt him smile. Then he kissed her again, and hugged her. “This is lovely,” he said, his face growing more serious. He tucked some hair behind her ear. “Thank you for having us. ”

  “Come get some real food, you two lovebirds,” Goggy sang. “Did I mention that I always knew they’d be perfect together?”

 

 

  CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

  ON SATURDAY, TOM cornered Honor just after her shower. Little was more appealing than a woman wrapped in a towel, her skin damp and pink. Lose the towel, and life would be perfect.

  But his unofficial stepson was waiting. “Want to come out with Charlie and me?” he asked.

  “Sure,” she said, and he watched as a flush spread into her cheeks. “Where are we going?”

  “It’s a surprise. ”

  They stopped at Lorelei’s and got sandwiches and iced tea from the sunny owner, then picked up the lad and headed north. Charlie was plugged into his phone, listening to music, but he wasn’t sullen, Tom thought. Just a teenager. He had Spike in the back with him; the dog reserved her animosity for Tom and seemed quite content to sprawl on Charlie’s leg in exchange for a belly rub.

  The boy’s face was changing, Tom thought as he glanced in the rearview mirror. He’d lost the softness of a little kid, and his bone structure was becoming more pronounced. His freckles had faded, and his eyes were more observant.

  He looked a lot like Melissa.

  Someday, he and Honor might have a baby in the backseat there with Charlie and Spike. A car seat, a diaper bag, a knapsack, all that.

  The image made his hands a little sweaty. But that was the deal, was it not?

  Besides, he liked kids. He could handle a baby.

  It was the family part that made him nervous. Perhaps not nervous in a bad way, though.

  Speaking of family, he’d spoken to his father again this week. He should get Dad to move over here. Since he’d be staying and all.

  “All right, darlings,” Tom said, pulling off the highway. “Three guesses as to where we’re going. ”

  “Brigham Airfield?” Charlie asked as they passed the sign.

  “Genius,” Tom said. “Thought we’d take little project of mine out for a ride. ” He turned onto the airport road, and ten minutes later, they were standing in front of the Piper.

  “So what did you do to it?” Charlie asked.

  “We put in a bigger engine, modified the wings, adjusted the rudders. The owner wants to do some stunt flying. ”

  “Cool. ”

  The plane looked quite cheery. Tom walked around, explaining the preflight check, the different parts of the plane, and much to his surprise, Charlie seemed to be listening—no headphones, no sullen staring. When he was done, Tom opened the door. “Charlie, mate, up here. You’re my copilot. ”

  “You have your pilot’s license?” Honor asked.

  “I do. But I don’t fly too much, so hang on tight. ” He winked at her, and she smiled, her dimples flashing.

  In the cockpit, he showed Charlie which controls did what, checked the switches, valves and the rest of it, then radioed the tower and started the engines.

  It was a bumpy ascent, though not too bad. Everything felt worse in a little plane, of course, and Charlie was a bit pale. But once they’d gotten level, the kid was glued to the view.
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