I haven’t heard from you in a while. I hope you’re doing well.
Danny is managing day to day operations now at Dogwood Estate. I’m glad he's here. I don’t know what I would do without him.
Which brings me to why I’m writing you, I have some health problems. Please come see me. I’ll bake a caramel cake for you and I promise not to nag you about being single.
I would’ve called, but I forgot your number. I know you're not much for phone conversations anyway. Hope to see you soon.
The last time I saw Aunt Dot was last Christmas. She was the only relative who stepped up to care for me after my dad died unexpectedly making me an orphan at fourteen. Dad and Aunt D had a contentious relationship ever since Grandma willed full ownership of Dogwood Estate, the antebellum home my family owned since Reconstruction, to her. Aunt D turned Dogwood Estate into a bed and breakfast and special event locale. She assured the family that she had no plans to sell, the family was allowed to have their annual family reunions there and Aunt D moved into the house, which put their minds at ease. Aunt D never held dad's vitriol towards her against me, thankfully.
Daniel was an only child whose family lived across the road. He was the kind of person who excelled at whatever he did: sports, playing musical instruments, academics, engineering and he knew it. Danny was also honest, reliable and hard working. Aunt Dot took a liking to him and hired him to do odd jobs on the property. Initially, I thought Danny to be a little too cocky for my tastes. We bickered as young teens, eventually evolving into high school sweethearts who enjoyed long walks through the driveway when the dogwoods were in full bloom. In late spring or summer, the fireflies alit the landscape at dusk, making the grounds appear enchanted. Oddly enough we intentionally chose separate colleges far way, then wondered why we grew apart. I moved away and took a dead-end job in the corporate office of a retail chain. Danny remained in Poseyville, found work as an investment broker in a neighboring metropolis and was engaged to be married; it didn’t work out for whatever reason. I hadn’t fared any better. My romantic life was virtually non-existent; no other guy seemed good enough. Returning to Poseyville would be admitting defeat.
I made it to Poseyville Friday night after driving three hours through a torrential, windy downpour. I sped through the driveway until the antebellum home with the Georgian styled columns came into view. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the fallen tree until it was too late. My little convertible would not move backwards nor forwards. Frustrated, I stepped out to survey the damage. The front end would need extensive body work.
“Need some help?”
I jumped and half-screamed.
“It’s me!” Danny reassured, laughing, shining the flashlight in his face, holding a golf umbrella. He was still just as fine as he was all those years ago.
“Dude, you scared me!”
“I see you still haven’t learned to drive slower.”
“Help me move the car, goofy.”
“Woman, it’s raining hammer handles and pitchforks out here! We’ll move it tomorrow. Give me your bag.” He helped me onto the ATV and he drove slowly towards the front of the house.
“How’s Aunt Dot?” I inquired as we stepped onto the porch.
“She was in good spirits today. Ms. Dot, get decent, we have company!”
Aunt Dot shuffled into view; her bald head covered with a scarf. I tried to keep my facial expression neutral, but failed miserably.
“Annabelle, you made it!”
We embraced; she felt thinner than the last time we hugged. She squeezed me so hard. I inhaled; she still smelled like lavender and vanilla.
“Now, don’t you go crying on me.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I told you in my letter. Are you hungry? I can heat a plate of chicken and rice for you and how about a big slice of caramel cake for dessert?”
“Maybe tomorrow, Aunt D; I’m turning in. Good night, love you.”
“Love you, too, Sweetie.”
At sunrise, Danny and I inspected the damage to my car from the storm.
“You hit a tree.”
“With Aunt Dot, smartass.”
“She had this persistent cough. I threatened to hog-tie her if she didn’t get checked out. She’s been on chemo a month; her prognosis is good. She’s melodramatic, like you.”
“You could have told me,” I replied, smacking him playfully on his shoulder.
“You should have kept in touch.”
“Yeah, make me feel more guilty than I already do. Thanks for being there for her.”
“She’s family to me, too. Here, put this chain in the tow hook. Is the car in neutral?”
“Yes, and the brake disengaged.”
He started the truck, slowly pulling the car away from the log. Next, he cut the tree into logs and the branches into bundles. We loaded the timber into the truck bed.
“I have a friend who can take a look at your car, if you’d like.”
“I would, thanks. The grounds so look breathtaking when the trees are in bloom. I’d forgotten,” I remarked.
Danny promptly took his pocketknife and cut a few twigs from the branches we gathered.
“Place these in water. They will sprout in a month or so. See those saplings over there? Those started from cuttings.”
“Aunt Dot used to tell me the wood of the cross Jesus died on was made of dogwood and God cursed the tree by making it not grow tall anymore. She also said the flowers symbolize rebirth, strength, purity and love.”
“During Victorian times, if a man was interested in a lady, he would give her a sprig of dogwood. If she returned it, she wasn’t interested. If she kept it, she was interested.”
“Hadn’t heard that one,” I replied, gently squeezing the cuttings against my chest.
“What happened to us, Annie?”
“I don’t know. As I recall, you wanted us to stay here; I wanted us to leave. Besides, you were engaged to what's-her-name."
"Savannah. She actually wanted to get married here. I broke it off because I wasn't being fair to her." He gently stroked my cheek, then leaned in, our lips brushing against each other, parting slightly, then connecting in that beautiful, familiar way. Sometimes, what you’re seeking most in life is right where you left it.
“I love you, Daniel Wolfchase.”
“I love you, Annabelle Buchanan, always have.”