Upstate, New York
Seventeen year old Joeanne Darnell sat at the dresser in her bedroom, brushing her long black hair. She had been invited to eat supper with her neighbors, Nat and Mary Smith, and was almost finished getting ready. Usually she loved spending time at their farmhouse, but Mrs. Smith had casually mentioned that there was someone that she wanted her to meet. Joeanne was far from thrilled by the prospect. It had been several weeks since she had broken up with her boyfriend and she knew that Mrs. Smith fancied herself as a matchmaker. However, she loved Mrs. Smith and wouldn’t have hurt her feelings for anything. She was determined to be cheerful and enjoy the evening, regardless of how much she didn’t want to go.
Joeanne arrived at the Smiths’ farmhouse a few minutes early and went inside to greet her hosts. As they waited for the other guest to arrive, Mr. Smith asked after her family.
“They’re fine, sir. Sally has friends over tonight, so we’ve got more of a house full than usual,” she said with a laugh.
As Mrs. Smith began to reply, someone knocked on the door. As Mr. Smith moved to admit their guest, Joeanne looked up nervously, not knowing what to expect. As she looked towards the door, a very handsome redhead walked in. She reminded herself to breathe as she wondered why he looked so familiar. He greeted their hosts with a hug, then turned to Joeanne. She found herself looking into intense green eyes as he spoke her name. She nodded, suddenly remembering who he was. “Win!” she exclaimed.
He looked startled as he said, “I haven’t heard that in a long time! Even Mr. Smith here finally started calling me Jim.” He smiled warmly at Joeanne. He took her hand as he said, “I see you have become a beautiful young lady!”
“And you’re a very handsome man!” she blushed, realizing what she had said. She had never been that forward before. She was thankful that he didn’t seem to mind, as he said, “I can’t believe that it’s been six years since we last saw each other!”
As if from a distance, she heard Mr. Smith clear his throat. Both of the young people blushed as they turned to see him watching them with a smile on his face. The three went into the big kitchen where Mrs. Smith had supper ready.
While they were eating, Mrs. Smith asked Jim what was happening in his life. He answered, “I finished my master’s degree last month. I was told that I’m the youngest person to get a master’s at the university. I’ll start teaching in September, in Sleepyside.”
Joeanne suddenly felt like a child as she heard him talk about becoming a teacher and eventually starting his own school. After all, she still had another year of high school to go through. As Mrs. Smith asked questions, her mind wandered back to the summer her own family had left Sleepyside. She had run away from her family, getting lost in the woods. Trying to hide from the two girls she knew were chasing her, she caught her hair in a bramble bush. Unable to get loose, she had begun to cry when Jim Frayne, calling himself Win, had come to her rescue.
She realized that Jim was speaking to her, asking her what had happened over the years.
She answered, “Well, after you were adopted, we lived here until we were able to afford our own home. We bought the farm next to this one, where we’ve lived ever since. Can you believe my little sister Sally is already twelve?”
Mrs. Smith broke in, “Time flies nowadays. It seems like it was just yesterday that all of you were under this roof and Jimmy Crow was into everything. He doesn’t get into very much mischief anymore,” she said somewhat sadly. “Jim, how are Trixie and Honey? Are they still in school?”
“Honey is. She just finished her first year of college, majoring in criminal justice. She’s dating Trixie’s oldest brother, Brian.” He paused to take a sip of his iced tea, and Joeanne remembered that she had heard that Jim was dating Trixie. Before she could start to wonder, Jim continued, “Did I tell you that Trixie got married? She and her husband have an adorable baby girl.”
After supper was finished, everyone went into the living room. They continued talking, allowing Jim and Joeanne to discover that they had much in common. Eventually, Joeanne looked out the window and was startled to learn that it had grown dark. She had walked over, knowing that she could use the darkness as an excuse to leave early. Now, truly enjoying herself, she wished that she had driven. Reluctantly, she made her excuses to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, thanking them for a lovely evening. When Jim discovered that she had walked, he offered to drive her home.
The ride home was entirely too short for Joeanne. When he pulled up in her driveway, she asked Jim if he would like to go in to see her family. He readily agreed. She was surprised when he came around to open her car door. No one had ever done that for her before, including her ex-boyfriend. Together, they walked into the house, where Mr. Darnell immediately recognized Jim. They spoke for a few minutes, then Jim asked for permission to ask Joeanne to go out on a date.
Mr. Darnell replied, “It’s fine with me, but it’s up to Joeanne.”
Turning to her, he said, “Would you go out with me tomorrow evening?”
She blushed, replying, “I’d like that.”
“Will seven o’clock be all right?”
“That would be fine,” she answered. She couldn’t believe this was actually happening.
“Great! I’ll see you then.” He wished everyone a good night and left to return to the Smiths. Joeanne felt her family staring at her, even as they heard the noise of six twelve-year olds having a sleep-over. She sat down to tell her parents about her evening, trying to appear casual. She hoped no one would notice the stars in her eyes. She knew she was unsuccessful when her nine year old brother, Charles, asked her a question.
“What was it like riding in a Cadillac?”
“A what?” she asked.
“You know, a Cadillac. The car he was driving when he brought you home?” he asked sarcastically.
She admitted, “I really didn’t pay any attention to the car. I promise I’ll tell you all about it when I get home tomorrow night.”
Joeanne went to her room to get ready for bed. As she tried to go to sleep, she replayed the events of the evening over and over in her mind. When she finally slept, she dreamed of the summer that changed her life forever.
The next evening, Jim knocked on the door exactly on the dot of seven o’clock. Mrs. Darnell opened the door as Joeanne entered the room. She greeted Jim, who handed her a bouquet of fresh flowers. He presented a similar one to Mrs. Darnell, who took both bouquets into the kitchen to put into water.
As the night was cool, Joeanne decided to take a sweater. She folded it over her arm, then allowed Jim to help her into his car.
“Since I’m not too familiar with this area anymore, Mr. Smith suggested that we go to the Blue Willow Restaurant. Is that all right with you?” Jim asked.
She agreed, even though the thought made her nervous. She had never been to such a fancy restaurant before. She hoped that she wouldn’t embarrass herself, or even worse, Jim. She didn’t and found that she was even able to relax after they got there.
They were shown to a small table, with an excellent view of the evening sky. As they waited for their order to arrive, Jim asked her questions about school, her family, and her interests. She was amazed by how comfortable she felt talking to him. As they were eating, she suddenly laughed. Jim looked at her, his eyes twinkling.
“Do I look that funny while I eat?” he asked.
“No, it’s just that I suddenly realized you haven’t changed over the years. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to talk to you, but you’re still the same person I found it so easy to trust when I was lost in the woods.”
He smiled gently at her. “Joeanne, you can always trust me. I hope that you never feel that you can’t.”
She blushed as she said, “Jim, I’m glad you asked me out tonight. I’m really enjoying this.”
“I am, too. Besides being beautiful, you are a very charming person. I hope you’ll agree to another date before I have to go home.”
She accepted the compliment as graciously as she knew how, pleased that he wanted to see her again.
During the week that Jim spent with the Smiths, he made a point of seeing Joeanne every day. She enjoyed their time together, knowing that, even if nothing else happened between them, she would cherish the memories.
The day came when he had to leave for Sleepyside. They promised to write to each other and Jim asked for permission to call her occasionally. She agreed, saying that she would look forward to it. He kissed her hand, then drove away. Mrs. Smith asked her to come inside for a snack, leaving her no room to refuse.
Within minutes, Joeanne was sitting in the Smiths’ sunny kitchen, eating chocolate layer cake and drinking spiced grape juice. After they ate, Mrs. Smith placed the dishes in the sink, saying that she would wash up later. They sat and talked for a few minutes, with Mrs. Smith finally saying, “Now, Joeanne, you’re not planning to break that poor boy’s heart, are you?”
Joeanne was startled. “What do you mean?”
“I know you well enough to know that you’re sitting there wondering when or if you’re going to hear from him again. Trust me, you’re going to get a letter or a telephone call very soon. I didn’t raise seven sons without being able to tell when a boy is smitten with a pretty girl. And believe me, Jim Frayne is definitely smitten with the pretty girl sitting here in my kitchen! Now, I want to know you intend to do about it?”
Joeanne was used to Mrs. Smith’s manner of speaking. She answered wistfully. “Do you really think that he’s smitten with me?”
“I’m as sure of that as I am that my name is Mary Smith. Joeanne, lamb, how do you feel about him?” Mrs. Smith asked kindly.
She replied soberly, “I think I’m falling in love.”
Less than a week later, she received her first letter from Jim. He wrote of his drive home, of watching constriction begin on the house he was having built on the land he called Ten Acres, and of how much he missed her. She answered his letter the next day. It wasn’t long before letters were being exchanged constantly. As much as she enjoyed corresponding with him, Joeanne was thrilled when he called her on the telephone. Her family teased her for days afterwards because she was so excited by his call.
Summer wore on. In early August, Jim arrived to spend a few more days with the Smiths before he began his teaching career in September. On his first afternoon there, he and Joeanne went for a walk through the Smith’s orchard. They reached the spot where years earlier they had sat and talked of their fears of the future. Now, they sat down on the grass under a gnarled apple tree. Unsurprisingly, a large crow flew down from the tree to sit on Jim’s shoulder.
Joeanne sat patiently, watching as Jim got reacquainted with Jimmy Crow. Although old by crow standards, Jimmy still flew around the Smith farm where he was treated as a pet. Joeanne knew that Jim was pleased that the bird seemed to remember him. She knew also that something else was on his mind, but didn’t want to push him into confiding in her if he didn’t want to do so.
Eventually, Jim took her hand, saying, “Joeanne, I have a confession to make.”
“Oh?” She didn’t know what to say.
“I think you realize that I didn’t make this trip just to spend time with Mr. and Mrs. Smith. I had an ulterior motive.”
“You did?” she asked nervously.
“Joeanne, the past few weeks that I’ve been in Sleepyside, I’ve thought about you constantly. I’ve wondered what you were doing, if you were happy or sad.” He paused, taking a deep breath. “I know you’re about to start your senior year. I’ll understand if you want to be free to enjoy it, free to go out with all the guys that will surely ask you out.”
She began to wonder if he was trying to let her down gently. She just knew that he was about to break a commitment that had never actually been made. Tears threatened to run down her face, but before they could, Jim continued. “I’ll understand it, and I’ve tried to make myself wait before I ask you to be my girl. But, when I had to call you just to hear your voice, I knew I had to find out what you would say.”
“Jim, do you really want me to be your girl?” she asked, her voice steady.
“With all of my heart. Joeanne, I know long distance relationships are difficult, but we can keep writing. I’ll call you on the telephone and I’ll come to see you as often as I can.”
She replied softly, “Jim, I would be honored to be your girl.”
His face lit up in a smile as he gently drew her to him. Jimmy Crow cawed disgustedly as he flew to a safer spot in the tree. Jim put his arms around her, bending his head to hers. Joeanne closed her eyes as their lips met in their first kiss.
August ended and school began. Joeanne settled into her new classes, enjoying being able to take electives now that she had finished most of her required classes. As the days passed, the students began to speak of the activities planned for homecoming. School tradition called for a football game to be held on Friday night, with a dance the following evening. Assuming that it would be unlikely that Jim would be able to take her, she was surprised when he asked her if he could come. He would have to work on Friday, but said that he could drive up on Saturday morning.
Joeanne was torn between being thrilled that he was coming and nervous about introducing her classmates to him. He never made her feel too young when he was with her, but she couldn’t help but wonder if he would feel uncomfortable in the high school setting.
By this time, most of her classmates knew that she had a boyfriend, so Joeanne was surprised when her ex-boyfriend asked her to go to the game and dance with him. Without a bit of hesitation, she turned him down, telling him, “George, I’m sorry, but I’m seeing someone else.”
“So I’ve heard. But don’t you miss the way things used to be between us? It could be that way again,” he tried to tempt her.
“No, actually I don’t miss it. Besides, I’m not about to do anything that would mess up what I have with Jim,” she answered firmly.
“Joeanne, what could he possibly have to offer you that I don’t? What’s so great about dating a guy that lives a million miles away? I’m right here, you would see me every day!”
Wishing that she could send George a million miles away, she recalled how he had broken up with her because he wanted to date a cheerleader. Now that he knew someone else was interested in her, he suddenly wanted her back. She silently counted to ten before answering, “First of all, I know that Jim loves me. He’s not going to chase other girls while he’s dating me, unlike some people I could name,” she said with a pointed look. “Second of all, when we are together, he treats me like a lady. He brings me flowers, opens doors for me, just generally shows me that he cares, also unlike someone whose name I could mention.”
Another classmate had been standing quietly by, blatantly eavesdropping on their conversation. As Joeanne walked away, she heard him call, “Hey, George! Don’t you know who she’s dating?”
“Some Jim-guy. Why?”
“Jim Frayne, actually. You know, the adopted son of Matthew Wheeler, of Sleepyside. I know you’ve seen their names in the newspaper. If you haven’t, I suggest you go to the library and look it up. NO girl would ever choose you over him.
Joeanne laughed softly to herself as she walked towards her class. She still couldn’t get used to people’s reactions when they heard her mention Jim’s name. She hadn’t realized how well-known he was until the day that Mrs. Smith had shown her the scrapbook she kept. Having maintained a friendship with Jim after his adoption, Mrs. Smith had carefully clipped every newspaper article published about him. She had everything from the early headlines about the missing heir to articles concerning his role in capturing kidnappers, counterfeiters, jewel thieves, gun-runners, and more.
When the day of the dance arrived, Joeanne felt as if she had swallowed a family of butterflies. Knowing that Jim wouldn’t reach the Smiths’ house until shortly before he would have to pick her up, she was nonetheless relieved when he called to let her know exactly when to expect him. She dressed carefully, hoping to make a good impression. After deciding to wear her long hair in a French twist, she tried to remain calm as it took her much longer than she expected to arrange it. She finished just a few moments before Jim arrived.
He greeted her with a kiss on her cheek and presented her with a corsage that matched her dress. He was warmly welcomed by Mr. and Mrs. Darnell, who insisted on taking pictures before allowing them to leave.
They had decided to go to dinner before going to the dance, so they went to a relatively new restaurant located near Joeanne’s school. As they were waiting for their order, Joeanne said, “Jim, thank you for coming. This really means a lot to me.”
He smiled warmly at her, taking her hand in his. “Do you honestly think that I would miss a chance to hold you in my arms all evening? I’ve missed you so much, I’m not about to lose a chance to see you.”
Most of the songs played at the dance that evening were indeed slower songs. Joeanne found that she loved dancing with Jim. She enjoyed being in his arms, at least as much as the “six-inch” school rule would allow. Once, as a reminder of the rule came across the public address system to all the dancing couples, she flushed seeing Jim’s sudden smile. She looked up at him, wondering what he was thinking. Seeing her look of puzzlement, he explained, “I was just thinking about how good it feels to be treated as a student for a change! Yesterday, I had to help chaperone an afternoon dance for sixth graders. I felt so old and stodgy watching them!”
She laughed, saying, “I hope I don’t make you feel old!”
“You definitely don’t make me feel old!” he hastened to assure her.
The dance ended at eleven. Joeanne’s curfew wasn’t until midnight, but as nothing was open that late, Jim drove her home. After letting her parents know that they were there, the young couple sat on the front porch talking for over an hour.
Autumn passed quickly for Joeanne. She felt that she and Jim were growing closer, knowing that their letters helped them to open up to each other. They had stopped waiting to receive replies before writing again, now each wrote every day. Mr. Smith presented Joeanne with a small hand-crafted chest for her to use to keep Jim’s letters. She was touched by the thought, but even more by the time and effort that he had put into making it for her. In addition to writing, Jim called her at least once a week, sometimes more. Mr. Darnell teased her that he would have hated to see Jim’s phone bill, as charges for long distance were expensive.
One afternoon in early December, Joeanne came home from school to find her mother waiting for her. They went into the kitchen, where Mrs. Darnell handed her a plate of freshly made chocolate chip cookies. She poured two glasses of milk before sitting down.
As Mrs. Darnell asked her about her day, Joeanne tried to wait patiently for her to tell her what was bothering her. She knew that something was going on, because she only baked cookies when she was worried about something. Eventually, she said, “Joeanne, exactly how serious are you and Jim?”
“Um…, well, what do you mean?” she asked, surprised.
“Madeleine Wheeler called me this morning. No, nothing’s wrong!” she assured her as Joeanne quickly turned pale. “She said that Jim talks about you all the time and regrets not being able to come up here during the holidays.”
Joeanne nodded. She wanted to see him, but understood that he had commitments in Sleepyside.
Mrs. Darnell continued to speak. “We spoke for quite a while, but she called to invite us to spend the week after Christmas in Sleepyside. She said she wants to surprise Jim by having you visit and wants the chance to get to know all of us.”
Stunned, she repeated, “All of us?”
“All six of us. I told her that I would let her know in the next day or so. Joeanne, if Mrs. Wheeler wants to have our entire family visit them for a week, Jim is very serious about you. You know that your father and I think he is a fine young man, but how do you feel about him?”
She had always felt comfortable telling her mother anything, so now she didn’t hesitate to say, “Mom, I love him.”
“Enough to spend your entire life with him?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
Mrs. Darnell patted her on the hand. “Then I guess we need to accept their invitation. I’ll discuss it with your dad tonight.”
Sleepyside, New York
During the long drive down the Hudson River, Joeanne fretted about meeting the Wheelers. She remembered his sister, Honey, because she had once saved Sally from drowning, but she had never met Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler. She wondered what they would think of her, hoping that they would approve of her and her family.
Arriving at the Manor House, the Darnells were warmly welcomed by the Wheelers. Mrs. Wheeler introduced Miss Trask, who offered to show them to their rooms. Three rooms had been prepared in a seldom used wing of the second floor. They took a few minutes to freshen up, changing into Sunday clothes as Joeanne warned them that dinner would probably be formal.
After they were all dressed, Honey gave them a tour of the house, promising to show them the grounds either after dinner or the next day. The tour ended in the dining room, just as dinner was scheduled to begin. Jim was talking with Miss Trask and his parents when Honey led them in. “Joeanne!” he cried. He rushed to embrace her, much to the amusement of his family. He then led her to the chair next to his as everyone else found their places.
The next morning, Jim offered to show Joeanne around the grounds. She accepted, wanting to spend time with him. Walking hand in hand, he took her to see the gardens and the frozen lake. He told her about the ice carnival that had taken place on the lake several years earlier as they walked to the stables. They planned to ride up to view the mansion at Ten Acres.
Inside the stable, the red-haired groom was doctoring a cut on one of the horses. He looked up as Jim and Joeanne approached.
“Regan, I’d like for you to meet Joeanne Darnell. Joeanne, this is Bill Regan. He runs the stables.”
“Hi, there. It’s nice to meet you. I know Trixie’s looking forward to seeing you again.”
Trying not to show her confusion, she replied, “it will be nice to see her again, too.”
“Did everyone know she was coming?” Jim asked.
“I think so, except for you, of course!” he answered with a smile, turning to ask Joeanne about her riding experience.
As Jim saddled the big, black horse that he called Jupiter, Regan saddled a horse for Joeanne. Jim helped her climb into the saddle, adjusting the stirrups to the correct length.
As they began the trek through the game preserve, Jim explained, “Regan is Trixie’s husband.”
“Oh! I wondered why he was telling me about her. They don’t live very far from here, do they?”
“No, their yard actually adjoins our game preserve.”
As they walked the horses, her thoughts centered on the girl, now woman, that had helped reunite her with her parents. Jim had told her about their relationship, how they had both realized that it could never work out between them. She knew that they had struggled to remain friends, eventually succeeding. Joeanne knew that it was irrational, but actually meeting the man that Trixie had married relieved a niggle of jealousy that she hadn’t realized that she had until it was gone.
Arriving at Ten Acres, Jim showed her the house he was having built. It was actually almost finished, there were just a few finishing touches that still had to be completed. They dismounted, tying the horses to a tree. They walked inside the house, where Jim asked, “Ready for the grand tour?”
“We begin our tour in the living room,” he said with a declamatory flourish.
Joeanne couldn’t help laughing and was relieved to see him laughing with her. They went through the various rooms as he explained what he planned to put where. Although it wasn’t as big as the Manor House, it was still much larger than the house where she lived with her family. Jim had obviously designed it with the intention of one day having a family, as there were rooms perfectly situated for a nursery and play rooms. Joeanne was astonished when she noticed that much of the house was painted in her favorite color schemes.
She commented on this, and Jim turned to her with a guilty look. He took her hands as he said, “Joeanne, I’m sorry. I know I should have consulted you first, but I asked Mrs. Smith what colors you like. You see, I’m hoping that one day you’ll marry me and make this your home.”
He looked at her with such a hopeful expression, that she knew he was waiting for her to reply. With much more calmness than she felt, she asked, “Is this a proposal?”
“That depends,” he answered. “I don’t want to rush you. Sometimes I forget that you’re only seventeen and I have to remind myself not to make plans that you may not be ready for.”
“Jim, I know I’m only seventeen, but I love you with all my heart. I want to spend my life with you, to help you achieve your dreams. I know I’m not able to teach, but there is a lot that I can do to help you with your school when you open it,” she paused, looking into his eyes as she said, “that is, if you want me.”
He gently caressed her cheek, saying, “then, let me do this right.” He knelt on one knee, and said, “Joeanne, will you marry me?”
“Yes, Jim, I will marry you,” she answered.
It was almost lunch-time before they finished grooming the horses and walked back to the house. Joeanne was slightly nervous, knowing that Jim planned to speak to her father after lunch.
As they were eating, Honey told Jim that all of the Bob-Whites would be coming to dinner that night so that they could meet the Darnells. Joeanne tried to look enthusiastic, and, to an extent, she was. She did want to see Trixie and her children, but didn’t know if she was ready to meet all of Jim’s friends at once. She reminded herself that once she became Jim’s wife, she would be expected to make a good impression on many influential people. She decided that she might as well start by meeting his friends.
As soon as lunch was over, Jim asked Mr. and Mrs. Darnell if he could speak to them in the library. They agreed, asking Sally to keep Lucy and Charles occupied. Miss Trask offered to find something for all three of them to do and led them out of the room.
Joeanne noticed that Jim seemed nervous as they walked into the library. She was surprised to see that her father also looked nervous. She knew that he approved of Jim; he had said as much before agreeing to make the trip to Sleepyside. Having never taken part in a conversation such as this, she had little idea of what to expect. Mr. Darnell began by saying, “Well, Jim, you wanted to speak to us?”
“Yes, sir. I’m sure that you’ve realized that I’m in love with your daughter. With your consent, I would like to make her my wife.”
Everyone was silent for a long moment. Mr. Darnell’s face was expressionless as he finally replied, “Jim, you proved to me a long time ago that you could take good care of Joeanne. If it wasn’t for you, there is no telling what would have happened to her when she was lost in those woods. She told us how you even let her use your own tent while you looked for other shelter. If I must give her up, I can’t think of anyone that I would rather entrust her to.”
Jim’s face matched his hair as he said, “Mr. Darnell, I promise you that I will always take good care of her.”
Joeanne’s father nodded. “I know you will, son. When do you plan to be married?”
“Since Joeanne will graduate in May, I’d like for the wedding to be sometime this summer. Unless of course, that would be too soon for her.”
The two men looked to her for her input. Even as she said the words, “summer will be fine,” the reality of the situation hit her. She suddenly realized that within just a few months she would be a married woman, no longer a young school-girl.
The conversation continued around her as she thought about what was happening. She didn’t doubt that she loved Jim or that he loved her. She knew she wanted to spend her life with him, to be his wife and helpmeet. By the time the men finished talking, Joeanne had inwardly reaffirmed her own decision.
Leaving the library, she accompanied Jim to tell his parents the good news. Neither Mr. or Mrs. Wheeler seemed surprised, and both expressed their pleasure at the match. Mr. Wheeler asked Jim for permission to officially announce the engagement at the party they would have on New Year’s Eve. After discussing very tentative plans, the decision was made to do so.
That evening, Joeanne grew nervous waiting for the other guests to arrive. She knew that these people would of necessity become her closest companions when she moved to Sleepyside as Jim’s wife. Hoping desperately that they would approve of her, and that she would like them, she sat with Jim and Honey as they discussed plans for the wedding. Honey had warmly congratulated her, readily accepting her as her future sister-in-law. Joeanne remembered how kind Honey had been six years earlier, not only saving Sally’s life, but giving her own puppy to Sally. She was relieved that she hadn’t changed over the years, as she was able to feel truly comfortable around her.
The first to arrive were Regan and Trixie with their children. As Honey took the baby from Trixie, the toddler ran to climb into Jim’s lap. Trixie hugged Joeanne, telling her how good it was to see her again. Just then, Joeanne’s family entered the room with Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler. Mr. and Mrs. Darnell both remembered Trixie, who greeted them warmly.
Two young men arrived next. Jim introduced them to Joeanne as Trixie’s older brothers. He added that the brunette, Brian, was Honey’s boyfriend and currently attending medical school. Mart, the blonde, was a college junior.
To her surprise, she knew the girl who next entered the room. Remembering the circumstances in which they had last met, Joeanne felt awkward until she came to greet her. “Joeanne, how are you? I’m really glad you and your family were able to come. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen you!”
She knew then that everything would be all right. The past would stay in the past, as Diana Lynch, her one-time friend, embraced her. Although Diana was a couple of years older than Joeanne, the girls had been close friends until that fateful summer. After her dad returned the Robin to Mr. Lynch, Joeanne had felt too ashamed to keep up correspondence with her.
Finally feeling at ease, Joeanne was still relieved to meet the final Bob-White, Dan Mangan, who was accompanied by his girlfriend. As everyone talked and laughed, she tried vainly to sort out all of the relationships. Honey tried to help her, as Jim was very involved in playing with little Rebekah.
“So, Brian is Trixie’s brother and your boyfriend?”
“Right. He’s the oldest.”
“And Mart is also their brother, and Diana’s boyfriend?”
“Yes, and now is where the confusion comes in.”
Joeanne gave Honey a puzzled look as she continued, “You see Regan is not only Trixie’s husband, but he’s Dan’s uncle.”
Trixie entered the conversation, saying, “Which makes Dan my nephew! Dan’s girlfriend, Hallie, is my first cousin!” She laughed, as she continued, “We like to tease them that if they ever get married, no one will be able to figure out all the ways we’re related!”
Dan and Hallie both blushed, even though they were both used to the good-natured teasing. Jim assured Joeanne, “Don’t worry. It’s really not as complicated as it seems.”
After a delicious dinner, everyone gathered in the large living room. Jim tried to get his friends’ attention, saying he had an announcement to make. Caught up in individual conversations, no one seemed to hear his request until Rebekah, going from one lap to another, bumped her head on the coffee table. She began to wail, immediately causing everyone to look at her. After assuring everyone that she was okay, Trixie managed to dry her daughter’s tears. Everyone chuckled when Rebekah struggled from Trixie’s arms, saying, “Daddy!”
Regan gently picked his daughter up, settling her in his lap. Within minutes, the child was sound asleep. Mrs. Darnell looked from Rebekah to three-month old Billy, snugly nestled in Mr. Wheeler’s arms. She said, “Trixie, your children are beautiful! You parents must be so proud of them!”
Joeanne noticed a shadow pass over Trixie’s face. It was gone as suddenly as it came, as she smiled, saying, “Thank you. I know Regan and I are certainly proud of them!”
Mrs. Wheeler said, “Matthew and I claim them as our honorary grandchildren, too. Which is only fitting, since Trixie is like a daughter to us. Speaking of family, Jim, isn’t there something you want to share?”
Jim blushed as he took Joeanne’s hand. “Yes, Mother, there is. Everyone, Joeanne has agreed to become my wife. We will be getting married this summer.”
Late that night, Joeanne lay awake, thinking about the reaction to their engagement. She had been watching Trixie when Jim announced it, and had been relieved to see nothing but happiness for the two of them. She knew that fear had been illogical, but, as much as she liked her, it had still been impossible to overcome that little bit of dread. All of the Bob-Whites had been excited, asking about plans for the wedding. It suddenly occurred to her that the next six months of her life would consist entirely of wedding plans.
She thought of the people that she had met that night, pleased that she could feel comfortable around them. She knew that she could be herself around them and that they would accept her anyway. “Yes, they’re definitely of the race that knows Joseph,” she thought, remembering a line from one of her favorite books. She finally slept, dreaming of her future.
The next few days were eventful, as Joeanne and her family were taken on extensive tours of Sleepyside. They spent one day in New York City. The Wheelers took the Darnells to see some of the attractions; Sally desperately wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. Jim took Joeanne to select an engagement ring.
Joeanne was in awe as she walked hand in hand with Jim down Fifth Avenue. She had instructions to choose any ring she wanted and not ask about the price. She had known that Jim was well off, but hadn’t realized the extent until they had discussed financial matters the day after their engagement. Still, she felt intimidated as they walked into Tiffany’s.
She didn’t know very much about jewelry, so she relied upon Jim’s advice in making the final decision. Knowing that she would wear it everyday for the rest of her life, she didn’t want anything too ostentatious. She finally chose a diamond solitaire that was similar to the one worn by Mrs. Wheeler.
On New Year’s Eve, she helped her sisters and brother dress for the children’s party that would be held at the Lynch estate. Sally was reluctant to go, claiming that she was too old for a children’s party. She said she would rather stay in her room and read, until Joeanne had Honey assure her that there would be boys her age in attendance.
Joeanne and Honey both laughed as Sally repeated, “Boys? Are you sure?”
“Yes, I know that Terry and Larry Lynch will be there, as will Bobby Belden. Di told me that he’s spending the night with the twins,” Honey said.
“Are they cute?”
“Sally! Go and find out for yourself!” Joeanne admonished her.
“I really hope you’re right,” Sally muttered as she hurried to dress.
“Oh, to be twelve again!” Honey said laughingly. She offered to help Joeanne dress for their party, to which she gratefully agreed.
Soon after she was ready, Jim knocked on Honey’s door. He escorted his sister and fiancée into the ballroom, which was rapidly being filled to capacity. Joeanne stayed close by Jim’s side as he introduced her to what seemed like the entire town of Sleepyside. Jim told her privately that many of them were Mr. Wheeler’s business associates. As he led her around the room, she glanced sympathetically at her parents. She knew that they felt even more out of place than she did.
Shortly before midnight, Mr. Wheeler had the string quartet cease playing as he called for everyone’s attention. After commenting on the success of the past year, he said, “And now, as we prepare to toast the new year, which I trust will be prosperous and happy, we have many things to celebrate. I can think of no better time to toast the engagement of my son to the beautiful young lady seated by his side, Miss Joeanne Darnell.”
The applause stopped only when the countdown began. At the stroke of midnight, Jim softly kissed Joeanne as the quartet began to play “Auld Lang Syne.”
Upstate, New York
After the magical week in Sleepyside, Joeanne found it difficult to settle back into her normal routine. Unaware that it would generate such interest, she had been surprised to see accounts of her engagement in all of the major newspapers. With Mrs. Smith’s help, she began a scrapbook to keep all of the clippings. Mrs. Smith also gave her advice on dealing with the problems she now had at school.
Thanks to the newspaper articles, Joeanne’s classmates knew about her engagement when they returned to school after the holidays. Although her true friends were happy for her, many people began to treat her differently. Having never been one of the so-called popular girls, she was astounded when they began to treat her as one of themselves. They began to ask her to their parties and invite her to visit in their homes. She knew they were insincere in their attentions to her and declined their invitations as politely as she could. She was thankful to have an excuse, although she sometimes wished that it was simply an excuse. For she discovered that her premonition had come true. She found that her life was consumed with planning the wedding. Mrs. Darnell conferred constantly with Mrs. Wheeler. Evenings were spent making decisions about color schemes and fabric swatches.
At first adamant about paying for the wedding, Mr. Darnell refused to let the Wheelers help. Mr. Wheeler argued that his business connections made it necessary to have a large, society wedding. As the guest list grew and plans became more elaborate, Mr. Darnell finally agreed to let them pay for much of it, though he insisted on paying what he could.
The hardest decision to be made concerned the location of the wedding. Joeanne wanted to be married in her church, but realized that three hundred guests would be too many for the small building. Somewhat reluctantly, the decision was made to hold the wedding in Sleepyside. Even then, pinpointing the exact location was a dilemma.
Mrs. Darnell suggested using the Manor House gardens. Joeanne reminded her that when Jim’s cousin had gotten married, there had only been two hundred guests. “Besides, that was where Trixie got married. If we got married there, I would feel like I was trying to show her up, and I don’t want to do that.”
“Joeanne, dear, what are you talking about?”
“Well, Trixie only had two weeks to plan her wedding. Mrs. Wheeler and Honey helped her, but it was still a very small wedding. Her parents weren’t even there. I know she’s happy, but I don’t want it to seem like I’m trying to outdo her.”
“Well, you are marrying Jim. She only married the groom, after all.”
After stifling a laugh at her mother’s unintentional pun, she said, “Mom, you do realize that Trixie used to date Jim, don’t you? That everyone always expected him to marry her?”
Mrs. Darnell nodded thoughtfully. “I’d forgotten about that. Did you say she planned her wedding in two weeks? Why on earth did they do that? I almost wish we had two years!”
“Mom, Trixie and Regan married in June. Rebekah was born in November,” Joeanne quietly said.
Understanding came into her eyes as she said quietly, “I really messed up by asking about her parents, didn’t I?”
“There is no way you could have known. I didn’t even know until I asked Jim about it the next day. When she…, well, her parents haven’t spoken to her since they discovered Rebekah was on the way,” Joeanne explained.
“That poor child. That poor, poor child,” Mrs. Darnell whispered sadly. Then, with a mischievous glance at Joeanne, said, “I’m so glad you have a long distance relationship!”
“Mother!” Joeanne blushed as she caught her mother’s meaning. “Even if I didn’t, I plan to wait until I’m married! You know, I probably shouldn’t say this, but just between you and me, I wonder if they planned it. No one has ever hinted that they did, but I know her parents didn’t approve of Regan in the first place. That may have seemed like the only way that they could get married. Mom, I’m so glad that you and Daddy like Jim!”
For answer, Mrs. Darnell embraced Joeanne, holding her the way she had when she was small, the way she still held seven-year-old Lucy.
Joeanne continued to receive letters from Jim daily, as well as frequent telephone calls. Her eighteenth birthday fell on Valentine’s Day. She knew that Jim wasn’t too fond of the holiday for various reasons, but knew that he was planning something special for her birthday.
The Darnells collaborated with the Smiths to surprise her. They held a small party at the Smiths’ farmhouse for the two families. Having received two dozen red roses from Jim that morning, Joeanne was astonished to walk into Mrs. Smith’s kitchen and see him standing there. He laughed at the look on her face, saying, “Now you know how I felt,” as he drew her to him.
Joeanne thoroughly enjoyed the evening. She received several gifts, including some sent by the Wheelers. As she prepared to go to bed that night, her mother entered the room.
“I just wanted to tell you ‘happy birthday’ one more time,” she said.
“Thanks to all of you, I have had a very happy one. Mom?” Joeanne answered.
“I really enjoyed tonight. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I just can’t believe you’re already eighteen!” Mrs. Darnell said with a sigh.
Joeanne sighed wistfully. “When I come home to visit, can we do this again? Just us and the Smiths?”
“If you want to. Joeanne, are you worried about getting married?”
“No, it’s just that everything is going to be so different! I mean, it’s going to be a whole new way of life. I won’t be a farm girl anymore. I’ll be Mrs. Frayne, a society matron. I just want to be able to know that some things will say the same.”
Mrs. Darnell hugged her. “You know that some things have to change. Sally, Lucy, and Charles will grow up; they’ll even eventually leave home themselves. But I can promise you that we’ll be here for you when you need us. Even when you just want us, we’ll be here.”
Joeanne felt reassured as she fell asleep.
As days passed, wedding plans were made and finalized. Joeanne spent the week of her spring break being fitted for her gown and choosing dresses for her bridesmaids. She was initially disappointed that Jim would be unable to visit, but knew that he was spending his vacation getting ready for their impending marriage. She reminded herself that within just a few more weeks, they would be together everyday.
Jim did insist on taking Joeanne to her senior prom, which was held during the first week of May. Knowing that her parents were spending a good bit of money on her wedding, she decided to wear the prom dress that she had worn the year before. However, in discussing the dance with Honey over the telephone, Honey very tactfully offered to lend her an evening gown. She gratefully accepted the offer, knowing that everyone would be looking to see what she was wearing. She still found it ironic that she could start fashion trends simply because of who she was engaged to marry.
Keeping her old dress as a backup in case the borrowed one didn’t fit, Joeanne waited anxiously for the day to arrive. She felt as if this were a rehearsal of sorts for the formal events she would be expected to attend as Jim’s wife.
The morning of the prom, Jim called her from the Smiths’ house, where he had spent the previous night. They made plans to meet for a picnic lunch under “their tree,” as they had taken to calling the spot where their relationship had begun.
At two o’clock, Jim walked with Joeanne back to the farmhouse. Mrs. Smith, who had volunteered to fix Joeanne’s hair for the evening, guided her to a chair in the kitchen. She firmly steered Jim out the back door. “Jim, as happy as I am to have you here, I still remember what you did to this child’s hair the last time you got a hold of it, and I don’t want you near her until I’m through!”
Jim winked at Joeanne as he meekly said, “Yes, ma’am. I’ll go help Mr. Smith in the garden.” He slipped out the screen door before she could say anything else.
Not wanting Jim to see her until she was completely ready, Joeanne slipped out of the Smiths’ house carrying Honey’s gown. Once she reached home, she began to get ready. She bathed carefully, trying not to muss her hair. She then tried on the gown. To her relief, it fit perfectly.
Joeanne walked into the living room where her parents were playing a game with her brother and sisters. When they looked up at her, she could see astonishment on their faces. “Joeanne! You look so…, so…, grown-up!” Sally exclaimed.
“You look lovely,” Mrs. Darnell assured her. Mr. Darnell nodded his agreement as he went to answer Jim’s knock on the door.
Entering the room, Jim stood speechless, holding her corsage in his hands. As Mr. Darnell pointedly cleared his throat, Jim found his voice. “Joeanne, you look stunning!”
She blushed as she returned his smile. She knew that she looked much more sophisticated than she usually did. After taking a multitude of photographs, Mr. Darnell reminded Jim of Joeanne’s curfew before allowing them to leave.
They stopped by the Smiths’ farmhouse, as Mrs. Smith insisted on taking her own snapshots. Thus began an evening that Joeanne knew she would never forget.
After dining at the Blue Willow Restaurant, they arrived at the actual dance as many of Joeanne’s classmates were arriving. As they walked into the building, she tucked her hand under Jim’s elbow with a familiarity that surprised her. He smiled at her, whispering, “You do know how beautiful you are, don’t you?”
She answered, “I’m glad that you think so,” as they walked towards the building.
The young couple left the dance just in time to get Joeanne home before her curfew. Jim walked her to the door, discreetly kissing her goodnight. “Can you believe that this is one of the last times I’ll bring you home and have to leave you at the door?” he asked.
She nodded, saying, “Just a few more weeks and we’ll be married.” She looked into his eyes as he squeezed her hands.
“I love you, Joeanne,” Jim whispered huskily.
“I love you, too,” she answered.
The school year rapidly drew to a close. Graduation was held on a Friday evening, the last Friday in the month of May. That morning, all of the seniors were required to meet for a rehearsal that ended at noon. After being dismissed, Joeanne went home and shared a quiet lunch with her parents. It was rare that she had the opportunity to have them all to herself, but the younger children had a full day of school.
That evening, garbed in her white cap and gown, Joeanne felt relieved when Jim arrived with Mr. and Mrs. Smith to attend the ceremony. She later found out that he had reached the Smiths’ house just in time to change clothes. Surrounded by her fellow graduates, she listened to the speeches given by the valedictorian and salutatorian. As they spoke of the changes coming into all of their lives, she thought of the plans made by her senior class. She knew some were going to college, but many would be working on their family farms or trying to find jobs in the community. Several other girls also planned to marry soon.
She returned her attention to the speaker as the principal began calling names. When it was her turn, she walked across the stage to proudly accept her diploma. She took her seat to await the signal for everyone to move the tassels on their caps. Eventually the signal was made and the school superintendent pronounced them high school graduates. Immediately, most of the students threw their caps into the air. Feeling that such behavior would ill become the future Mrs. Frayne, Joeanne made a point of keeping her cap firmly on her head.
The new graduates marched out accompanied by the strains of Pomp and Circumstance. Joeanne went with her family to the Smiths’ farmhouse, where a small celebration was held in her honor.
The days after Jim returned to Sleepyside were filled with frantic activity for Joeanne and her family. By this point, most of the wedding plans had been finalized, except for what had to be done in the ten days that Joeanne and Mrs. Darnell would spend at the Manor House before the wedding. They used these June days to go through her wardrobe, deciding on what to keep and what needed to be purchased. Mrs. Darnell insisted that she have a complete trousseau before the wedding, so several days were spent in shopping for the perfect items.
By the end of June, Joeanne had everything done that she could think of that needed to be done. Packing for her move was bittersweet as she dealt with the questions and pleas of her younger siblings. Of the three, only Sally seemed to understand that Joeanne would be living in Sleepyside after her marriage. Charles and Lucy tried, but didn’t fully understand the changes coming into their sister’s life.
Sleepyside, New York
The wedding was scheduled for the second Saturday of July, exactly seven years after Jim released Joeanne from a bramble bush. At Mrs. Wheeler’s invitation, Joeanne and her mother spent the last days before the wedding at the Manor House. Mrs. Smith offered to watch over the rest of the family, as Mr. Darnell couldn’t leave the farm until the last minute. Joeanne was grateful to be close to Jim, who had already moved into the house at Ten Acres, but was even more grateful to be in Sleepyside to finalize wedding preparations in person.
With Jim’s help and advice, she had managed to find a way for those closest to them to participate in the wedding. The wedding rehearsal was held the evening before the wedding, soon after the Smiths and the rest of the Darnells arrived. Jim’s cousin, Juliana Vorwald, also arrived with her husband and children. The Manor House filled with guests in town for the wedding: not only the Darnells, Smiths, and Vorwalds, but also Jim’s adoptive grandparents who were accompanied by another cousin, Ben Riker.
After eating breakfast on the morning of her wedding, Joeanne went for a long walk through the game preserve. During her time in Sleepyside, she had begun to feel at home, but the new commotion in the Manor House was unsettling. She felt like she had been on display since guests had started to arrive. She just hoped that all of Jim’s relatives would approve of her. She giggled, remembering how much her sister obviously approved of Ben Riker. When introduced, Sally had been too shy to speak for the first time in her entire life. She glanced at her watch, realizing that she needed to hurry in order to be on time for her hair appointment.
After a whirlwind of activity, Joeanne found herself standing with her father in the vestibule of the First Church of Sleepyside. The organist played as Sally, Diana and Honey walked down the aisle as her bridesmaids. As the procession continued with Juliana’s children as ring-bearer and flower-girl, Mr. Darnell spoke softly. “Baby, are you sure about this?”
“Yes, Daddy. I’m very sure,” Joeanne assured him. She took his arm as the music changed to the Wedding March. At the cue, they stepped into the sanctuary of the church to begin the walk up the petal-strewn aisle. When she saw Jim waiting for her at the altar, the rest of the church seemed to fade away. She paid no attention to the guests looking at her, she didn’t notice the tears running down her father’s face. All she really saw was the handsome red-head, waiting for her with love in his eyes.
Mr. Darnell placed his daughter’s small hand in Jim’s sturdy one. He kissed her softly on the cheek before moving to sit beside his wife. Joeanne felt Jim gently squeeze her hand as the minister began the time-honored vows that would join them together in the holy bonds of matrimony.
She listened carefully as he said, “James Winthrop Frayne, will you take Joeanne Patricia Darnell to be your wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy relationship of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and cherish her in sickness and in health, to be true and loyal to her, as long as you both shall live?”
He turned to Joeanne, saying, “Joeanne Patricia Darnell, will you take James Winthrop Frayne to be your wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy relationship of marriage? Will you love, honor and cherish him in sickness and in health, be true and loyal to him, as long as you both shall live?”
He instructed them to face each other. Repeating after the minister, Jim began, “Joeanne, I now take you to be my wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy relationship of marriage. I promise to love and comfort you, honor and keep you, and forsaking all others, I will be yours alone as long as we both shall live.”
Joeanne didn’t notice all the eyes upon her as she repeated, “Jim, I now take you to be my wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy relationship of marriage. I promise to love and obey you, honor and keep you, and forsaking all others, I will be yours alone as long as we both shall live.”
Moments later, her wedding band feeling cold upon her finger, the minister said, “I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
Joeanne closed her eyes as Jim’s lips met hers in their first kiss as husband and wife. Time seemed to stand still as she knew beyond all doubt that they had truly become one.
Author’s Note: I want to thank all of you who were in chat the night I mentioned this story. Thank you for assuring me that the Jim/Joeanne pairing isn’t too far-fetched! The phrase “of the race that knows Joseph” is taken from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic, Anne’s House of Dreams. The wedding vows are the traditional, non-denominational wedding vows. I found this version on The Wedding Vows Worksheet.