“I can’t believe how empty this house seems!” Trixie commented as she glanced around the living room. While some of the furniture remained, most of the personal touches that made Crabapple Farm a home had been placed on a moving van just hours earlier. She shook her head. “I never thought they’d leave Sleepyside.”
Her brother put his arm around her shoulder. “It’s for the best, Trixie. Moms would never be able to heal if they remained here.”
“I know, but I still feel guilty, Brian. Then I feel even worse knowing how happy I am.”
He smiled gently at his younger sister, a touch of sadness in his own eyes. “Trixie, none of this was your fault. You know that.”
“I do, and I know I wouldn’t do anything differently if I could somehow go back. That doesn’t mean I don’t blame myself, though.”
Brian took a deep breath and looked around to make sure no one was there to overhear his next statement. “Don’t, Trix. Don’t even do that. Yes, I know that circumstances contributed to her collapse, but I’m not talking about the decisions you made. I love our mother, but she is the one to blame for her decisions, not you.”
“Deep down I know that, but still…,” she trailed off, wiping a tear from her eye.
“There was nothing you could do. Look, do you remember that trip you took to Paris with Honey and her parents?”
“Yeah,” she nodded. “What about it?”
“Well, that was when I first noticed that she was changing, Trix. It happened years before you and Jim broke up. That entire weekend, she stayed on Mart and me about ‘improving ourselves’ and ‘rising out of the middle class.’ Dad finally had to have a talk with her before you got home, but trust me, it started way back then.”
“Really?” Trixie looked up at him. “Why didn’t you ever mention it?”
“Because I know you, Trixie. I know you realized she was trying to relive her life through you, but there was no way I could tell you that she was jealous of her own daughter.” He hugged her tightly, wiping her misty eyes with the clean handkerchief he kept in his pocket. “But think about this. She’s back to thinking about others instead of being so wrapped up in herself, and because of that, Bobby will be able to finish growing up in a loving family instead of the way things were.”
“Thanks, Brian,” she squeezed his arm. “I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed right now, and these mood swings are definitely not helping!”
“Aren’t you used to those yet? It’s not like this is new territory for you or anything,” he chuckled.
Trixie heard the teasing in his voice. She glared at him, but she failed to suppress her giggle. They both turned as their younger brother entered the room, carrying a box of photograph albums. “Hey, guys? Have either of you seen the one that’s missing?”
“No,” Trixie shook her head. “I haven’t seen any of them.”
“I have,” Brian nodded soberly. “Moms took that one with her, Bobby.”
“I wonder why?” the thirteen-year old mused. “I mean, this is the box that’s been in the attic for so long, and she had all those other ones that she left behind.”
“The four of us need to sit down and go through them one day soon,” Brian said, his expression suddenly unreadable. “That way we can divide them evenly.”
Trixie nodded, deciding to corner Brian at her first opportunity. “Right now, Bobby, you need to finish packing. Regan should be back with the truck pretty soon.”
“He just pulled up,” Mart said as he walked through the front door. “So did Uncle Andrew with the kids.”
“It’s about time!” she exclaimed. “It’s way past time for their nap, and they’re going to be so wound up it’s not even funny.”
“Hey, that’s what uncles are for, Trixie! We’re supposed to spoil them; it’s our job!”
“Just wait, Mart,” she threatened him. “Once you and Diana have children, you’ll change your tune!”
Brian laughed. “By the way, Mart, have you and said Diana set a date yet?”
“No!” Mart glared at his older sibling, then sighed. “Trixie, don’t you dare breathe a word of any of this to her!”
“I won’t!” she promised, although worry crossed her features. “Everything’s all right between you two, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he nodded reluctantly, “I’m just worried. I mean, I had planned to propose this summer, which would have given us a year before her graduation to plan the wedding, but now I’m responsible for this whole place. Uncle Andrew’s promised to help me get the fields, such as they are, back in shape for farming, but I really need Di to help me here.”
“Have you talked to her about it? To see how she feels, I mean?” Trixie asked softly.
“No,” he whispered. “I love her, and I don’t want her to have to give up so much for me.”
“Talk to her, Mart,” Trixie advised. “She may not think she’s giving up as much as you think she is.”
Mart looked at her sharply. “Has she said anything to you?”
“My lips are sealed,” she smiled at him. “Just trust me on this one. Talk to her.”
“When did you become so philosophically authoritative?” he grinned.
“I’m raising a teenager, Mart. I have to be!” she laughed.
“Have I thanked you for that?” he joked, after first making sure that Bobby was nowhere nearby. “Talk about a life time of Bobby-sitting gone awry!”
“Oh, hush!” she playfully smacked his arm. “Just for that you get to go help him finish packing!”
“And have him hurry, Mart,” Regan called from the doorway where he stood holding his two children. “After this load, I promised Rebekah that we’d go to Wimpy’s.”
“Let her rest for a while first, Regan. She’ll be grumpy if you don’t,” Trixie said, as she kissed her daughter’s cheek. “Brian, is the guest room still furnished?”
“Well, there’s a bed in there,” he grinned. “I don’t think they’ll notice the accessories are gone.”
“Probably not,” she laughingly agreed. “Mart, you really should go talk to Di. I was teasing about helping Bobby; he should be about finished anyway.”
“Talk to me about what?” a voice said from behind Regan. “Traffic was so bad coming through town that I thought I’d never get here!”
“Do it!” Trixie stage-whispered, even as she turned to follow her husband from the room. Speaking in a normal tone, she said, “Regan? Why don’t we get Bobby and go on to Wimpy’s? We can finish up when we get back.”
“But I thought,” he started to say, stopping at the look she gave him.
“Brian, do you want to come?” she glanced meaningfully toward Mart.
“Sounds good, Sis. Mart, we’ll bring you two something back.”
“I’ve already eaten, but thanks, Brian,” Diana said. “Mart, what’s going on?”
He smiled nervously at her, saying softly, “Why don’t we sit down?”
“What’s wrong?” she squeaked. “Mart, tell me!”
Mart waited until they heard the front door close, then he said, “Di, there’s something we need to talk about, but I don’t want you to feel like you have to do this.”
“Do what?” she asked. “Can’t you just tell me what we’re talking about?”
“About how much I need you to help me here,” Mart sighed. “Now. Or at least, once I graduate this spring.”
“I know we’ve talked about building a house and raising a family after I graduate.” She smiled at him. “Plans change, though. We couldn’t have known that your mother would do what she did or that you would be given Crabapple Farm, but I do know how much it means to you to get it running as a farm again.”
“I know you do, Di. That’s why I haven’t been able to ask you to go ahead and marry me this summer. I need you by my side, but I knew that you would agree without thinking about what you want.”
“This is what I want, Mart,” she assured him. “You can’t do this on your own, even with your Uncle Andrew’s help, but you can do it if you let me help.”
“Are you sure?” he whispered. “I’m just worried you’re going to regret it.”
Her violet eyes met his blue ones. She returned his whisper, “Mart, I would never regret marrying you.”
“Then, Diana Lynch, will you marry me?” he asked.
“Yes, Mart, I will marry you,” she answered, smiling at him.
He returned her smile, then glanced around the room that held so many memories. Stripped of its pictures and knickknacks, it nonetheless reminded him of the many hours he had spent there both as a child and as a teenager. Now, this was where the girl that had been his first crush before becoming his high school sweetheart had agreed to become his wife. Visions of the family they had often discussed having entered his mind, and he pictured their children growing up there just as he had. Turning back to Diana so that they could begin making plans, he mused, “How can any room seem so full?”