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Home Away From Home

By Penny Frost McGinnis

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Marigold Hayes jabbed a spade in the soil. A flat of geraniums waved their scarlet heads as she lowered her fifty-four-year-old body onto a grassy spot. The joints in her knees popped and cracked, another reminder her fifty-fifth birthday loomed over her. Five years to sixty, but she had never lost hope of finding her father.

Forty-years had passed since the accident, and the occasional nightmare still haunted her. Newspaper clippings, library research, yet not one morsel about her father. Mom had died, a fact Marigold learned the morning after the accident, and Dad vanished. Not a trace of his being existed after the crews towed the car from the wooded ravine.

She plunged the small shovel into the loamy soil she had worked for the last twenty years. Without fail, she planted annuals and nurtured the perennials plotted in the memorial garden she had created to honor her parents. Blooms of red geraniums and multi-colored zinnias would burst with radiance all summer. White daisies, the flowers Dad had gifted Mom with on anniversaries and birthdays, created a happy backdrop. Along the edge of the corner garden, she tucked in bright yellow marigolds, her namesake.

As she spoke her annual prayer, her heart pleaded and sought God’s help to find her dad. After a murmured, "Amen," soared to heaven, she tipped a geranium from its plastic container, loosened the bound roots, and plugged the plant into the earth. From a plastic jug, she sprinkled water into the hole, then scooped dirt in, and patted it around the stem. Soon, three red-headed flowers stood side by side. From the zinnia seed packet, she sprinkled the beginnings of a rainbow of color. Her steady work soon filled the flower bed with the promise of summer blossoms and her soul with restored hope. With an old tattered dish towel, Marigold wiped the soil from her hands, then she rose from the ground and dusted dirt off her knees. She fingered a red bloom, and a pungent but pleasant fragrance filled the air.

Hands loaded with containers, gardening tools, and the water jug, Marigold trekked to the house.

Feet pounded on the nearby pavement, as Johnny Papadakis jogged from the street into her yard. His tall, slim, well-muscled form raised her pulse, even as she stilled. At fifty-eight, he kept himself in shape. She tipped her chin up. "Hey, there."

"Hi, Mari." He stopped a few feet away, bent, and placed his hands on his thighs. After a few deep breaths, he raised to his full six-foot-three height. His brown eyes sparkled in the sun as he adjusted his baseball cap. Hands on his hips, he turned to the garden in the corner of her yard. "Working on your parents' flower bed?"

She moved to the porch and deposited her armload. "I finished a few minutes ago. You know, I wonder every year whether to continue. Dad would be eighty-three by now and may not be alive." The memories of her dad and mom had faded with time, except for a few. Whenever she found a worm in the garden, the squiggly creature between her fingers transported her to a happier time.

One autumn day, they had fished in Lake Erie right here on Abbott Island. She'd mustered the bravery, as only a child could, to bait her own hook. Mom had packed potato salad, apples, and a yellow cake with chocolate icing and Dad grilled the fish they caught over a campfire, even the small one she had snagged. A full moon shone and a cool breeze waved as she had cuddled between them in her safe place. Forty years had passed since she'd hugged her dad. Where had he gone?

Johnny rested his hand on her shoulder. "Giving up depends on whether the flowers bring you hope or make you sad." Without hesitation, he drew her into a hug.

Her head rested against his sweaty shirt, but she didn't care. This man who walked into her life ten years ago empathized. Uncertain she deserved such a wonderful guy in her life, she stowed her emotions deep in her heart. Maybe fear, perhaps set in her ways, or not sure how to respond to his affections, she valued his friendship and company without a deeper commitment.

He patted her back, then let go and reached for the jug and tools she had left on the floor. "Where do these go? I'm happy to put them away for you."

She grasped the jug's handle. "I appreciate your help, but I can do it."

Her tall, handsome friend didn't budge. She released her hold and shook her head. "Thank you. They go in the shed out back."

With the gardening supplies firm in his arms, he trailed her to the backyard. "Your she shed, of course." A deep laugh escaped his chest.

Hand on her hip, she turned to him. "Do my paint choices make it a she shed? You know I love color, and chartreuse and periwinkle brightened the yard. Did you see my pink and red tulips when they bloomed and how they created a painting on the front? Besides, I love my little she shed."

She swung open the door to the building and the earthy odor of potting soil drifted to her nose. On the inside, an antique writing desk sat in the corner, covered with gardening books and journals. A shovel, rake, and several baskets lined the space behind the desk. A pale-pink wall held life jackets, kayak paddles, and other lake life paraphernalia. "Set them on the floor by the desk, and I'll put them away later. I want to spray out the buckets."

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