you are, Mom.” Only Bett couldn’t very well stand there and stare down at her mother, who was on her hands and knees. If Elizabeth wouldn’t get up, Bett was obviously going down. On hands and knees, the two women faced each other, both smiling. Elizabeth’s smile was delighted. “You know, we’re going to have such a good time together!”
“Yes,” Bett agreed. There was a semi due in for the peaches. The workers were expecting their paychecks. She was freezing cold and her yellow shirt was sticking to her. They were going to have to spray tonight because of the rain, and it would take hours to unpack the rest of Elizabeth’s U-Haul.
At another level, Bett felt a rush of warmth flood her at Elizabeth’s smile. Those smiles had been all too rare this past year. Okay, Mom, Bett thought fleetingly. I am not going to feel irritated. We are going to be calm together. And I am darned well going to keep you happy or die trying. She picked up the scrub brush.
Zach strode impatiently toward the house. The entire day was a bitch. Six hours of spraying coming up, not his favorite chore. He hadn’t liked leaving Bett with a crew in the rain, and in the meantime the semi had just arrived, with Caruso’s Mercedes trailing it. Their buyer always had an hour to spare for showing off pictures of his grandchildren. By spending time, Caruso seemed to feel he was “cultivating” one of his favorite growers. The only cultivating Zach had time for during the harvest season was in a field, and he still had miles to go this day. Bett usually handled Caruso, but Zach had seen the pink Lincoln in the yard, the one Chet had paid God knows how much to have custom painted some years back.
A warm, wet muzzle snuggled into Zach’s palm; he paused long enough to stroke the oversized, mangy beast to whom it belonged. “Baby” was one of Bett’s orphans. The thin line of Zach’s mouth softened. He crouched down on his haunches. “So where’ve you been, you old cuss? Bett’s been worried.”
The dog moaned at the sound of Bett’s name. Zach chuckled, stroking the bristly fur under the animal’s chin one last time. Bett had her bees. The cat. A fawn she’d managed to charm into the backyard last winter. She’d trained a covey of pheasants to come to the back door to be fed on snowy days. And the pigeons that made a disastrous mess on the barn roof were “homers”—which meant they were supposed to go home. Instead, they had a cooing fit whenever Bett set foot outside.
His wife was fey. Baby, the mangy mutt, was just a part-time visitor who’d limped up to the door one day with a trap caught on one paw. The dog somewhat resembled a Great Dane, but with a hound’s sagging jaws and a setter’s sweeping tail. He checked in regularly with Bett, just wouldn’t stay. Zach wondered fleetingly how Bett had ever thought herself happy as a city girl. His love for wild creatures matched hers, but he didn’t have her special gift with them.
Just an appreciation for it. He stroked the dog’s head one last time. “She’ll be out,” he promised, and made for the house.
Chaos greeted him at the door. Boxes and grocery bags and suitcases were piled every which way; the two canaries were chittering with fright. Sniper, who never came inside, was perched on top of the cage, interestedly batting his paw between the gold bars. Used to coolness and silence when he walked into the house, Zach swallowed a sigh of exasperation and made his way along a hazardous path toward the kitchen.
His nose wrinkled instantly at the smell of ammonia; after that jarring note came another. There was a feminine screech the moment his booted foot hit the floor; for some unknown reason the refrigerator was in the middle of the room; and before he had a chance to draw a breath, his mother-in-law was hurling herself at him.
He not only accepted the quick hug, he returned it; but he didn’t have much chance to greet her.
“I wanted so much for us
Amelia Earhart: Courage in the Sky