Garden of DreamsGarden of Dreams
Leslie Gould
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Raised by a constantly worried and fearful mother, Jill vowed her life would be different. And her dreams come true---a beautiful family, faith, and a best friend, Caye. When family secrets shatter Jill's perfect world, their friendship's put to the ultimate test. Will these women learn that they can do all things through Christ? 320 pages, softcover from Waterbrook.
     

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1

"Rob," Jill said. She stretched an arm across the bed and patted her husband's bare chest with the back of her hand. "Simon's awake."

Rob rolled toward the wall.

"Get the baby," she said, turning to look at the clock: 6:15 A.M.

She slapped at the monitor, dragging her finger along the switch, silencing the frantic wails and scratchy bursts of static. "If you get him now, Hudson and Liam might sleep longer. Let the dog out too, okay?" She heard Rob's feet slap against the wood floor, one at a time. She heard him pull on his sport pants and make his way around the bed and out into the hall. She imagined him trudging up the open staircase to the boys' room. He'd been out of town for the past two weeks—he'd forgotten how early Simon awoke.

How many times had she been sick during the night? Four? Five? She remembered Rob getting up with her the last time at 4:30. "This is some nasty flu bug you have," he'd said.

She hoped it was just a flu bug.

Jill pulled the violet duvet up to her chin, rubbed the soft cotton against her face, and rolled over on her side. The morning light illuminated the wall. The bureau was covered with black-and-white photos. Rob and Jill on the beach in Argentina, the Atlantic behind them, Rob's surfboard between them. Hudson as a newborn. The three boys in Lithia Park. A best-friend picture of Jill and Caye hamming it up while on a cross-country ski trip at Lake of the Woods. Caye's husband, Nathan, shot the photo while Rob broke trail across the frozen lake. On the wall, to the right of the bureau, hung Jill's favorite painting. The figures were small and abstract. Two women on a porch. Children in the yard. A garden. It was her painting. Her house. Her life.

She felt the urge to call Caye, but she wouldn't. Now now. Not yet.

Her lower back hurt. Her stomach roiled, turning the nausea up her throat churn by churn. She hated for Rob to miss work, but she couldn't get to the doctor on her own. Not today.

She knew Caye would take the boys. That, at least, was a given.

* * * * *

Caye leaned over the yellow Formica counter, both hands wrapped around her coffee mug, and gazed out the kitchen window. The morning sun filled the backyard. The grass looked like a sheet of emerald. The just-open blooms of the white dogwood fluttered outside the window like a lace curtain in the breeze.

She was dressed in a pair of old Levi's with the knees ripped out and a blue sweatshirt splattered with white paint. Two gold clippies held her short reddish hair back from her face. Her yellow gardening clogs waited at the back door.

Caye had just dropped seven-year-old Andrew off at school. Audrey sat at the breakfast-nook table and kicked the heels of her black rubber boots, inherited from her big brother, against the bench seat. Her plaid skirt stuck in bunches to her ivory tights. She pulled the Chutes and Ladders game board out of the box.

Nathan had tilled the plot against the fence the evening before. Caye would plant zucchini, peppers, lettuce, spinach, carrots, and tomatoes. In the back, along the cedar fence, she would plant the sunflowers. The image of the flowers' faces bowing gently in the summer heat made her smile.

"Come play, Mama," Audrey said, unfolding the board onto the table. She jerked her head from side to side; her chestnut pigtails brushed against her face.

Caye stared at her daughter. Chutes and Ladders wasn't what she had in mind.

Audrey's fourth birthday was tomorrow. Caye added bake a cake; decorate like a daisy to her mental to-do list.

"Mama!"

"Just a minute, sweetie. I'm thinking about the garden," Caye said, turning her head back to the window.

"Pumpkins!" Audrey shouted, her brown eyes wide.

Caye had forgotten the promise she made to Andrew and Audrey. By the end of August the far corner of her perfectly square yard would be a jungle of vines.

"Right. Pumpkins."

Every year her best friend, Jill, teased her about the garden.

"All those vegetables," Jill would laugh. "You'd think we were at war."

Jill's large Victorian home above the Boulevard had a yard twice the size of Caye's. Jill grew only flowers and herbs. She bought her organic produce at the grocery store. Caye liked the idea of a victory garden. She imagined the Railroad District, where her bungalow was located, full of vegetable plots fifty-five years ago.

Caye shifted her focus to the window box in front of her and the drooping red, orange, and yellow tulips. Jill had given her the bulbs last fall. Now the petals were fading and falling into a weak pile at the base of each stem. The black stamens were exposed and nearly naked.

Caye planned to cut the waning flowers and tuck the leaves behind the red geraniums and white and blue lobelia that she would plant by noon.

She took a sip of coffee and smiled. It was a perfect day.

"Mama," Audrey whined. She flicked the blue arrow of the game spinner and sent the pieces of cardboard across the table.

It was the perfect day, except that Audrey was driving her crazy.

"I never imagined a four-year-old could talk so much," Caye had complained to Nathan the night before. Andrew had never been a chatty child—he was a doer, building with LEGOs, drawing cowboys, turning his bedroom into a fort.

"She was made to talk," Nathan had answered. "That's how her brain is wired. Besides," he said with a chuckle, "she takes after you."

Caye hoped Audrey would busy herself playing in the sandbox while she planted the vegetables, took care of the window box, and cleaned out the leaves that had blown under the raspberry bushes during the winter. She would garden and then bake the cake, and continue, she knew, to obsess about the job, the paying job, that she had interviewed for yesterday.

On any other warm spring day, she would have been on the phone with Jill planning a picnic in Lithia Park. They hadn't waded in Ashland Creek yet this year; maybe today would have been the day. She imagined the kids jumping and yelling and scrambling up the cement steps from the dappled creek to the sunshine in the park.

She would not call Jill until afternoon, late afternoon.

Yesterday, after the interview, Caye had phoned Jill. Caye measured her enthusiasm as she talked about the position selling ads for a travel magazine. "That's so not you," Jill had blurted out. "If you feel like you need to go back to work, why don't you go for what you really want to do?"

They didn't finish the conversation. Jill's baby woke from his nap; Caye needed to pick up Andrew.

As she pushed Audrey in the umbrella stroller to the school, Caye realized she hadn't asked Jill how she was feeling. Jill had been run-down since Simon was born ten months before. Her milk had recently stopped.

"Awhile ago," Jill had answered as they were sitting in her garden earlier in the week and Caye had asked when she'd stopped nursing Simon.

"Are you pregnant?"

"Not according to the test."

The sweet lullaby scent of the pink cherry blossoms dusted the air around them. Audrey, Hudson, and Liam stripped rusty-colored flowers off the camellia bush and flung them at each other, littering the brick walkway with the fading, curling petals. Jill's black Lab puppy, Scout, jumped from falling flower to falling flower.

The day had been overcast; Jill had worn sunglasses.

"Allergies," she's said when Caye asked about that, too. "They're really bad this year."

It’s the in-between year—this year 2000. Caye took another sip of coffee. The last year of one millennium or the first of another, depending on who was counting. It felt like a year hanging in time, a year of uncertainty for Caye—the year between staying home and going back to work. If not this job, then another by year's end. They couldn't keep scraping by on Nathan's teaching salary.

When Audrey was born, Caye had only intended to stay home a year. She never expected her leave would stretch into four years. Jill, quite honestly, was the reason she hadn't gone back to work sooner.

Audrey whined, "Mama, you never play with me!" She flicked two orange pawn holders off the table. Caye wanted to sweep the entire game into the garbage. She took a sip of cold coffee and gave Audrey "the look."

The phone rang.

Audrey hurled three cardboard children to the floor.

She checked the caller ID: Rob and Jill Rhone.

Caye instantly forgot her thoughts of a moment ago. Maybe they would go to the park today. She would have a chance to explain to Jill why the job possibility really was a good thing.

"Hi," Caye said in her sunny-day voice.

There was no greeting, just Rob's hoarse voice asking, "Can you come get the boys? Jill's sick."

"What's wrong?"

"She's been throwing up all night. I have a call in to the doctor."

Caye hesitated, adjusted her plans again. No park. No gardening. A day—at least a morning—alone with four little children.

"I'll be right over."

Caye dumped the last swallow of coffee into the empty sink, rinsed the cup, and put it in the half-full dishwasher. "We're going to get the boys," she said to Audrey. Maybe Jill would get in to see the doctor right away.

Audrey picked up the pieces of the game off the floor and table, crammed them in the box, and slammed out the back screen door, boots flying down the steps, chasing Abra, Caye's ancient calico cat.

* * * * *

Caye drove up A Street to Oak in her old Toyota wagon, and then darted along the little overpass above the Plaza. Below stood the statue of the pioneer, the "tree of heaven," and the entrance to the park. Just up the hill were the Shakespeare Festival theaters and the towering Mark Anthony Hotel.

The Plaza was the heart of Ashland; she saw it anew every time she drove through it or by it, even on this quiet Thursday morning, even though she had lived in Ashland for seventeen years. As she waited at the light to turn onto the Boulevard, she craned her neck, looking beyond the Plaza, and noted the clouds rolling in from the southwest, slipping over the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains, threatening the blue sky. The light turned green; she pushed on the gas and then turned left by Briscoe School, or "Not Andrew's School" as the younger kids called it, and hurried up the hill.

* * * * *

Jill sat on the edge of her bed with a cup of peppermint tea cradled in her hands. The duvet was wadded behind her, leaving the tired-looking lavender sheets exposed. Rob had poured the tea into one of her Royal Copenhagen blue china cups and brought it to her with no saucer. He'd also buttered the toast. The smell of the butter, even though the plate was on the dresser, made her throat thick.

Jill's dark wavy hair hung loosely around her face. The odor of vomit hung in her nose.

"Caye's on her way," Rob said, poking his head into the room. "Do you think she'd keep the boys this afternoon? After we're back from the doctor? So I can go into work?"

Jill didn't answer.

Simon was at the door, wiggling his way through. "Ma-ma-ma-ma," he chanted as he quickly crawled across the floor; he grabbed the leg of Jill's flannel pajamas with fierce determination and pulled himself to his feet.

"Hey, you," she whispered, looking down.

"Here, I'll take the tea," Rob said, reaching toward her.

"No. The baby."

Rob slung Simon over his shoulder and headed out the door.

Jill noted Rob's irritation. She knew how much he hated it when she was sick. It wasn't just the inconvenience. He didn't know what to do. He didn't know to hold her hair back, to give her a glass of water to rinse her mouth. He didn't understand how hard it was for her to take care of Simon, how hard it was to keep trying to explain what needed to be done for all of them.

After being coddled beyond reason by her mother when she was ill—and then practically ignored the rest of the time—Jill found Rob's aversion to sympathy refreshing. Except when she really was sick.

She stood and put the tea on the dresser, looked again at the toast, and headed down the hall to the bathroom.

* * * * *

Caye let herself into Jill's Victorian house, peering through the leaded glass window as she opened the door. Audrey slipped around Caye and planted herself in the middle of the living room and began kicking her feet, showing off her boots to the three boys. The brothers wore matching blue-footed pajamas and looked like oversize stuffed toys. All three had blond hair and blue eyes—Hudson's straight hair was beginning to darken, Liam was a towhead with loose curls, and Simon's fuzz was nearly white. Hudson and Liam bounced on the living room sofa. Simon sat in the doorway to the hall—on the fringes of the burgundy Oriental runner—crying. Tears slid down his face, and drool cascaded around his two bottom teeth, over his lower lip.

The dog came bounding into the living room from the hall, brushing past Simon, barking at Audrey. Caye hoped that Scout, at eight months, was done growing.

Simon held up his arms; Caye picked him up and felt the wetness of his diaper against her arms as he leaned his compact body against her. He stopped crying. He smelled of sour spit-up and all-night urine. Caye ran her hand over his smooth head.

"Hi, little guy," she said. "Hi, to you big guys, too" she added, signaling with a quick jerk of her thumb for Liam and Hudson to get off the couch.

The periwinkle brocade drapes were drawn; the living room, painted a bluish-gray with a white alcove ceiling, was cold and dark. She pulled the drapes, switched on the Tiffany lamp in the corner, and turned up the heat.

"Where are you mama and daddy?" she asked.

"Back there." Hudson pointed through the doorway.

Caye heard heaving as she headed down the hall. She tapped quietly on the bathroom door and said calmly, "I'm here."

"We'll be out in a minute," Rob answered.

Hudson, Liam, and Audrey tumbled off the couch when Caye walked back into the living room.

"Go get dressed."

"We're hungry," Hudson said.

"You can eat at our house." Caye shooed the boys and Audrey up the cherry-wood staircase and followed Simon. All three of the boys slept in the turret room, or castle room as they called it, Liam and Hudson on bunk beds and Simon in the crib. The other upstairs rooms were used for a playroom, a guest room, and Rob's office.

Jill thought it was good for the boys to share a room.

Caye yanked the rings on the three eggshell-blue shades and zipped them up the windows. Simon startled each time. The neighbor's cedar tree across the street filled most of the view, but around the edges she could see the east side of the Rogue Valley.

Jill had painted white clouds on the faint blue ceiling. A mural of a stone wall with turtles, butterflies, frogs, and dragonflies on a sage-green background surrounded the room.

Caye rummaged through the boys' drawers. No clean socks for Hudson or Liam. The dirty-clothes hamper was full. Caye put Simon in his crib; he started to cry again as he pulled himself up against the rail and thrust his foot through the slats.

"Come down," Caye said to Hudson and Audrey, who had perched on the top bunk. Hudson jumped from the top rung of the ladder.

"Don't you do it," Caye told Audrey, her eyes leaping the distance to her daughter. "Come down the ladder."

Audrey rolled her eyes. Caye ignored her.

Caye gave Hudson his clothes. "Put them on."

"I can't. Mommy does it for me."

Caye knew this wasn't true.

"Give it a try; Audrey will help you," she said, thinking that offering Audrey's help might inspire him to be independent. It didn't. He wiggled out of his sleeper pajamas and then lifted his arms for Audrey. She yanked the shirt down over his head and knocked him over. They both fell on the floor giggling.

Caye peeled off Liam's mushy Pull-Ups, turning her head from the acrid smell. She put a new Pull-Ups on him, not wanting to hassle with big-boy underwear, and then his orange shorts and yellow T-shirt. He needed a bath, but it would have to wait. He walked to the closet and pulled out his yellow rubber boots. "Like Audrey," he said with a smile and sat on the floor in front of Caye.

Audrey wrinkled her nose. "No, Liam. Mine are black."

Caye pulled the yellow boots on Liam's bare feet.

Simon continued to cry as she changed his diaper and then lifted him out of his crib. He banged his head against her chest and pulled on her shirt. "Poor baby," Caye cooed, kissing his head, the fine strands of hair caressing her lips. She wiped the tears away from below his big blue eyes with two swipes of her index finger.

* * * * *

Rob threw a tea bag in the garbage as Caye and the kids paraded into the kitchen. Last night's dishes sat in the sink with half-eaten corn dogs, mustard, and ketchup dried on the plates. Rob had obviously fixed the meal. He must have stopped at the store on his way home from work. It wasn't the kind of food Jill kept in the house.

"How is she?" Caye asked.

"Not any better."

"Maybe you should just take her to the doctor's office. Don't wait for the call back. Especially if she's getting dehydrated."

Rob's blond, bushy hair was uncombed. His gray eyes were dull. He hadn't shaved. His white T-shirt was wrinkled. He didn't answer.

"What about the dog?" Caye asked. "Should I take him?"

"He'll be okay," Rob said. "We won't be gone long." Rob started toward the door.

"I need the car seats," Caye said.

"The Suburban's unlocked," Rob answered, looking over his shoulder.

Caye put Simon on the slate floor and handed him a rubber spatula from the drying rack to chew on.

"Where are Simon's sippy cups?" Caye called out, opening the cupboard beside the sink.

"Sippy cups?" Rob stopped in the doorway and turned around.

"And formula?"

"Does he use a cup?" Rob asked. "Isn't Jill still nursing?"

"No," Caye said.

"Is she pregnant?"

"She doesn't think so," Caye said, feeling befuddled. Why hadn't Jill told Rob she thought she might be pregnant?

"The test was negative," Caye blurted out. She immediately regretted her hasty tongue. Heat began to rise under the collar of her sweatshirt and up her neck.

Rob pressed his forefinger against the bridge of his nose. "I don't know where she keeps the cups and formula," he said, looking hurt. "Try over the microwave."


Excerpted from:
Garden of Dreams by Leslie Gould, copyright 2003.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.