I thought it might be fun for those who haven’t read Book One of the series to see the first couple chapters. Let me know what you think in the comments. To order your copy click here. Blue Meadow Farm Book One
The weather was a little warmer than usual for the middle of March. According to the Almanac a scorching hot summer was on tap for Piedmont North Carolina. Rain would be sparse but somehow God willing, she’d survive another year in the landscaping business. As she turned over the soil in her vegetable garden she noticed dogwood trees scattered throughout the woods doing their best to bloom by Easter. They seemed to offer hope. Perhaps this would be a better year.
Her neighbor Jesse told her the legend of the dogwood shortly after her husband died. With its cross shaped blossoms surrounding a crown of thorns, the most intriguing part was the dark bloodstains on the tips of each petal. Every year when they bloomed she could hear the deep voice of her friend.
“God is an Artist and He loves a good illustration darlin’. That’s why He made dogwoods. You’re an artist too. He made you special that way. Let Him use your brokenness to give others hope. The things you’ve been through are for a purpose girl.”
She didn’t feel much like an artist. And she sure didn’t feel special. But for some reason she thought about digging up another dogwood to transplant near the house. Or even better, she could plant one at Jesse’s. She knew without him she’d be a whole lot worse off or probably even dead. Gently he’d helped her through so many dark days that she’d finally begun to hope again. For some reason it scared her a little.
As she climbed off the tractor she noticed a small dogwood with a particularly nice shape. Its limbs stretched upward as if surrendering. Walking through the woods the ground crunched beneath her boots announcing her arrival. Squirrels scurried away and birds grew silent. Pulling a faded red bandana from her pocket she decided it would do. Easily she tore the threadbare cloth into strips then tied them around branches of the chosen tree. If she survived another year she’d come back when the tree was dormant. Though she’d not had much success with transplanting dogwoods she would try again. If for no other reason, Jesse loved them as much as she did. Maybe in her own way she could offer hope to him as well.
The reflection staring back at her was hopeless. She tried tipping her chin upward in feign confidence. A little hair gel to tame the light copper curls into a twist might help disguise the fear which caused her stomach to flutter. A successful interview could be the game changer she’d needed for so long. She glanced at her shaking hands. Too bad she couldn’t afford a manicure. But perhaps they’d understand. After all she was a Landscape Artist. The title made her laugh relaxing her nerves. It was quite a fancy label for a woman who dug in the dirt for a living. But Jesse had given her the title so she would keep it.
She stood gazing into her closet wondering if she should wear a dress. The blue cotton one still fit though it was a little faded. But it was soft and comfortable. Perhaps comfort would promote confidence. Lydia had heard that somewhere. Plus a friend had passed down some casual heels which would work nicely. But what if she tripped as she approached the meeting? An image of her lanky frame sprawled face down on the ground started her stomach to fluttering again. She reprimanded herself.
You are such a bumpkin! What made you think you could be considered for such a high profile project?
In her blue cotton dress she practiced walking in the chunky heels outdoors as she knew the interview tent would be set up on site. Finally she kicked them off and stepped into the old cowboy boots which stood guard at her back door. Retrieving a towel from the clothesline she wiped the dust from them and decided to just get it over with.
As she headed toward her truck she realized she was looking down as though searching for lost change.
Good grief girl. Hold your head up and act like you’ve got some sense. And don’t forget to smile… but not too much. Those boys from up North will think you’re a goober if you go in grinning like a possum. Not too many teeth, just a pleasant, confident, I know stuff, smile.
She had never used a portfolio before. Hopefully the pictures on her phone would suffice. All her clients had been secured by word of mouth. Just the other day some lady in the grocery store had said loud enough for God and everybody to hear, “Ride by Norma’s house and look at what that Miller girl did to her yard. It looks like a park!”
Lydia wasn’t sure if the lady knew she was on the next aisle and had said it for her benefit or if she had actually overheard a true compliment. Either way it spurred her on to pursue the interview. She tossed her phone into the truck and straightened the old beach towel over the cracked and worn seat. She smoothed her dress as best she could. The humidity would surely steam the wrinkles out of the fabric anyway. Glancing in the mirror she sighed that it was already wreaking havoc with her hair. Plus she’d have to ride with the windows down since the heat of a North Carolina June was already bearing down. Maybe she would roll the passenger side up to shield some of the wind. But then she might sweat through her dress and have armpit circles.
She sighed aloud and thought again,
Good Lord woman. Just get it over with.
Her old truck started the first time. But it should’ve since she’d just had to buy a new motor. She’d joked with the mechanic that she was getting a new truck, one part at a time. The truth was that her daddy had taught her to drive on that truck; a three speed on the column. She couldn’t afford to part with it even if she wanted to.
Roaring up to the job sight she was amazed at the crowd. The interview tent was surrounded by neatly dressed men she had never seen around town. She should’ve realized the competition would come for miles. As she reached for her phone which held her makeshift portfolio she noticed her hands were still shaking. They looked even rougher in the sunlight. The one redeeming quality was the wedding band from her beloved high school sweetheart. Though she had been a widow for seven long hard years, she couldn’t bear to remove it. Like her daddy’s truck, she couldn’t let go of it even if she wanted to, which of course she didn’t.
The whole area was filled with trucks; big shiny new pick-ups with fancy company emblems on the sides. She made her way to the end of the road where she squeezed her truck into a small opening. The old beach towel followed as she exited. Retrieving it from the road she shook it out and tossed it back through the open window. Smoothing her dress again she began the walk to her future. Nervously she reminded herself.
‘Esse quam videri’ honey. That’s Southern Latin for ‘To be rather than to seem.’
Her sweetheart had many such wise sayings that came to her during difficult times. She could almost hear him reminding from the grave.
Oh if only.
If only she could be herself and still walk without tripping, smile without grinning and talk without redneckin’ it up.
When the line dwindled and she stepped up to the interview table, she was surprised to see that the two brothers in charge of the project were not much older than her. She guessed early thirties maybe. The poor guys apparently had been at it a while as their shirts clung to their bodies with sweat. She glanced at them and sighed as she thought,
Good grief. Why do they have to be so dang handsome?
They stood to their feet and each shook her hand. Neither of them recoiled at the calluses but smiled warmly as she spoke the name of her company.
“We’ve heard of you Mrs. Miller and Blue Meadow Farm. You certainly do beautiful work!” spoke the youngest of the pair. Both men had black hair and deep hazel eyes, but something about the eyes of the older brother caused her to look away. Perhaps if she concentrated on the younger she could keep from stammering like the bumpkin she knew herself to be.
Lydia tried to speak. “Really? How in the world did you hear of me?”
The older brother continued to smile warmly at her with eyes that seemed to search her soul. The younger continued. “We stopped by the local market and a nice elderly lady gave us directions to the home of… I think her name is Norma? We were hoping you’d come by today. Now let’s take a look at your portfolio.”
She swallowed hard as she glanced up trying to relax.
Hold your head up girl. You’ve always been more comfortable with men than women anyway. They’re just not usually quite this fetching.
She felt her face flush with embarrassment as if she were in middle school.
What are you girl, thirteen? Hold your fuzzy head up and act like you’ve got some sense!
The company name Stephens and Sons had become synonymous with charity. Their father had instilled in them the desire to help those who were hurting and the successful family construction business paved the way for the projects he chose.
“We do our best to take care of orphans and widows. That is God’s heart!” he often reminded. It seemed the more he did for others the more his business boomed. Finally in his sixties he turned the physical aspect of the charity over to his sons. When he first started building and remodeling homes for those in tragic situations he set the goal to complete at least one project per state. Later he realized he didn’t like traveling as much as he thought. The older he became the more he relished being at home with his wife in New York. Their daughter lived nearby and he loved seeing her when she popped in for visits.
His sons however enjoyed the work away from home. The latest adventure had taken them to North Carolina. People had questioned the wisdom of starting a job there in the heat of summer. But the homeowner they had chosen to assist was still recovering from a horrible car accident two years prior. Her neighbors had sent in an application for consideration and Jack Stephens Sr. had known immediately that Denise Parker would be granted a complete home and garden makeover.
Jack Senior’s youngest son Johnny was quite outgoing and thrived when meeting new people. Small talk came easy for him and he never met a stranger. With an eye for design and a winsome personality he was the life of every party. His older brother Jack Jr. was larger in stature and much quieter. He brought sound wisdom into the mix and did his best to keep his brother focused. Having been through several personal tragedies of his own Jack poured his heart into the work. He would much rather be on the road than back in his New York apartment where the memories still haunted him.
However the humidity in the small southern town was unbearable. Jack could hardly catch his breath as he and his brother conducted one interview after another. A fan oscillated furiously in the corner of the tent to no avail. He wondered whose idea it had been to do outdoor meetings in that God forsaken place during the heat of June. Looking up from his notes he was surprised to see that last in line was a woman in a cornflower blue dress. Her eyes seemed to be cut from the same cloth. Perhaps the heat would be worth it after all. His brother stood and reached for her hand which prompted him as well. She smiled a beautiful smile then actually blushed when they spoke of her company. As she pulled up the pictures on her phone he couldn’t help but notice her trembling hands. The pictures were impressive but he wondered if she were strong enough to handle the job.
Jack could hardly focus on the interview and was thankful that Johnny apparently was not quite as captivated by the quiet woman before them. As they scrolled through pictures of her work his heart took a nosedive when he subconsciously checked her ring finger. On her left hand was a wedding band. How could he be so foolish?! Of course she was married. And he knew better than to pursue a married woman. Had he not been down that destructive path before?
She stood, shook their hands, smiled shyly and thanked them both for their time.
“Did you get her number Johnny?” Jack heard himself say. They both looked at him as he too felt embarrassed for the first time since middle school. He’d always heard how hot the summers were in the South. Now he knew it to be true firsthand.
For those of you who do not have a Kindle, download the free app under the order button on Amazon so you can read it on your computer or phone. Hope you enjoy!
Blue Meadow Farm Book One