Return to Owl Creek
What if a sudden death brought the greatest gift?
The Return to Owl Creek
“Delaney, this one is for you!” Min said handing her daughter a letter from a pile of unread mail comprised mostly of bills and collection notices.
Delaney picked up the familiar envelope, turning it in her hand, admiring the fancy red border and the fluid handwriting. “Grandpa Stone,” she whispered, bringing the letter up to nose and inhaling the masculine, woodsy scent of her grandpa’s favorite soap. A combination of bay leaves, cinnamon, and pine engulfed her senses. She reeled back from the headiness of it, childhood memories resurfacing like in an old movie projector. The images were fuzzy around the edges, but she knew what they were.
“What does it say?”
“Hold on,” Delaney said to her mom, carefully opening the envelope and pulling out the letter.
I hope this letter finds you well. I don’t have much to say. Everything is the same here. Coop is still the orneriest rooster you’ll ever meet. Old Gretna is about to kick him out on his tail feathers. She’s still the boss of the hen house whether he likes it or not.
I had to put good ol’ Doby to sleep last month. He was getting up there in age. I know he sure loved you. Best dog I’ve ever owned.
I still have Patches. I swear cats really do have 9 lives. She must be as old as you. I have pictures of you as a toddler carrying her under your armpit like a sack. I still chuckle every time I see them.
I wanted to tell you I’m not doing very well. I had to hire someone to help me at the farm. His name is Grant Peters. He’s a young guy fresh out of high school. Just a year older than you. Nice fellow. It’s been nice having another soul around. It’s been so quiet since your grandma died last year.
Sorry to keep this letter short, but my eyes don’t see as good as they used to. I hope you’ll come out and see me in the Spring. Tell your mama, I said hi. Love you kid.
“Doby died,” Delaney said, eyes welling up with tears.
“I’m sorry,” Min said, embracing her daughter. “He was a good dog.”
“They’re all gone. Daddy, grandma, Doby.”
“Some seasons in life get real heavy.”
“I’m tired of losing people I love,” Delaney cried.
“I know baby,” Min said hugging Delaney tighter.
Delany closed her eyes as she stepped out of her mother’s car. She took a deep breath in, smelling the sweetness of Owl Creek. The smell was all too familiar and comforting. She listened to the sounds. The cluck of the chickens, the mooing cows, the neigh of the horses in their stalls, and the pitter patter of the rain on the tin roof of the barn.
A deep chuckle brought her out of her daze. “You’re getting soaked.”
Delaney looked to see a young man holding an umbrella over her head. “I’m Grant, your grandpa’s farmhand.”
Delaney suddenly felt faint. She swayed left and right like a pendulum. The gray sky spun like a carnival ride. It started off slow and then gained momentum until all of Delaney’s world went black.
She woke up a short time later in her grandpa’s house on his couch. Everything looked the same as she remembered. She sat up to see two pairs of eyes watching her. Her mom’s and Grant’s.
“What happened?” Delaney asked, her face felt red hot.
“You fainted,” Grant said. “So . . . I carried you here.”
Cause that’s not embarrassing, Delaney thought.
“Are you ok,” Min asked, patting her daughter’s knee. “You had me so worried.”
“I’m fine,” Delaney said. “I just can’t believe Grandpa’s gone too.”
“I’m sorry, honey. He was sick for some time and held on as long as he could.”
“I should have come in the spring.”
“He knew why you couldn’t.”
“Yeah, because of some student senior trip.”
“Honey, you loved that trip, and grandpa understood.”
“It’s true,” Grant offered, flashing a bright smile. “He loved the pictures you sent him from spring break. He never left Owl Creek. He said it was like visiting Mexico himself.”
Delaney cried, “But I should have been here with him!” She ran from the room, slamming the guest bedroom door shut with so much force the pictures rattled on the wall.
“I’m sorry,” Min apologized. “She’s normally not like this. Delaney and her grandpa were really close.”
“He was a good man. He treated me just like a grandson.”
“She’ll be ok. She just needs some time.”
“Can I talk to her?”
“You can try,” Min said walking to the door. “Don’t take offense if she’s not very receptive. I’m going to bring the bags in. Thank you for all your help.”
“Yeah, whatever you need, I’m here.”
Grant knocked on the guest bedroom door. “Delaney? It’s Grant.”
“Please, just go away.”
“I want to show you something your grandpa made. It was very special to him.”
Delaney slowly opened the door. Her eyes were red from crying. “What is it?” she asked.
“It’s in the garden,” Grant gestured toward the back of the house. “Want to see?”
“Sure,” Delaney said wiping her face with the back of her sleeve. “Sorry, I don’t normally look this bad.”
Grant smiled. “I think you look beautiful.”
Delaney’s eyes swept the floor. “Thank you.”
Once outside, Delaney gasped at the beautiful garden. Each row was dedicated to someone her grandpa loved. “Look,” Delaney said running between the rows. “Roses for mama, lilies for grandma, daisies for me. He remembered.”
“He made this garden a co-op. Over there, children from St. Michaels have planted watermelon. Back there, Hope’s House planted rows of corn.”
“The woman’s shelter?”
“Yes, your grandpa wanted to bring this community together.”
“He was so amazing. I can’t believe he’s gone.”
“I know,” Grant said nervously running a hand through his hair. “Hey, there’s something I need to show you. I left it in the barn. I’ll go get it.”
“I’ll come with,” Delaney said putting her hands into her overall pockets. “Patches still there?”
“Patches is there. Believe it or not she had kittens. Lola, Louie, and Laddie.” Grant said with a chuckle. “I helped name them.”
Delaney smiled. “Is that what you wanted to show me?” she asked when they got to the barn.
Patches immediately ran up to her, rubbing her body in and out of Delaney’s legs.
“Looks like she remembers you,” Grant said smiling. He pulled a box down from a dusty shelf. “No, this is it. This is for you.”
Delaney opened it slowly. Inside the box was a certified letter. She saw her name first, then her mother’s. “The deed to the farm?”
“Yes, he wanted to leave it to you and your mom. He said you’d know what to do with it. Why do you look so disappointed?”
“I thought,” Delaney shook her head. “It’s silly, but I thought maybe he had left me his pocket watch.”
“Oh, he wanted to give that to you, but lost it some time ago.”
“I remember being very small and any time I so much as cried, he would let me play with it. I’d open and close it, put it to my ear to listen to the ticking, run my hand across grandpa’s name engraved into to gold.”
“I saw it. It was nice. It’s a shame he lost it.”
“I can’t believe I own a farm!”
“You’re going to keep me around, right boss?” Grant asked, playfully swatting Delaney on the arm.
She felt a spark the moment he touched her. She looked up into his bright blue eyes. He looked so confident, so sure of himself.
“I still can’t believe he’s gone,” Delaney said crying now.
“I know,” Grant said, holding out his arms to offer Delaney a hug.
She walked into his arms and collapsed against his body. All the stress from the past week flooded her. She sobbed so hard; the front of Grant’s shirt was soaked. She took a step back, “I’m so sorry.”
He gazed at her warmly, brushing the tears off her face with his fingertips, and thinking of the right words to say. Suddenly, he cupped her face in his hands. She leaned forward into his kiss, into his arms, into the madness of kissing a stranger.
“Oh,” he said pulling back quickly. “What have I done?”
“Not you . . . we,” Delaney said laughing. “And I liked it.”
Grant relaxed. “Oh, good. Me too!”
They kissed and talked until the sun went down. “Brrr. . .” Delaney said, “It gets so cold at night.”
“We should head back to the house. Your mother must be so worried.”
“I’m 18, you know.”
“Yeah, I know. Your grandpa talked about you all the time. I can see why he was so smitten with you.”
Delaney blushed. “He probably told you all the embarrassing stuff.”
“Oh, you mean like the time you got your foot stuck in the tree and a neighbor called the fire department and all you had to do was take your shoe off.”
“He didn’t,’ Delaney cried.
“He sure did,” Grant laughed. He turned to leave the barn, “You coming?”
“Can I just have a minute in here by myself?”
“Yeah, I’ll see you inside.”
Delaney watched him go. She put her fingertips to her lips recalling their kiss. What had she gotten herself into?
She stepped out into the night sky. She looked up at all the stars. “Did you plan this, grandpa?”
An owl hooted beside her. It was the same owl she saw every year when she visited Owl Creek.
Their eyes met. Delaney felt as though the Owl was telling her goodbye one final time. Several moments passed before it took to the sky, dropping something at Delaney’s feet.
Could it be?
She picked up her grandpa’s pocket watch. She opened and closed it, listened to the familiar ticking, and traced her grandpa’s name. She felt something new, so she turned the locket over in her hands. There was something engraved on the other side.