Writing Middlewalk

Dr. eeL

Planter
Thanks for the hearts. And, Ms. P, as I stay up till the stars come out trying to dream up new stories, only one star never moves. I sincerely hope that some readers are Haley fans (she always trails badly in the polls). As the farmer's love interest, Haley and farmer Lee will be having plenty of adventures together.
 

Dr. eeL

Planter
MIDDLEWALK-35

I'm invited to a candlelit dinner at Emily and Haley's, where I'm treated like a king. Before eating, we play a game of Horse-opoly. I easily fit in with the game banter. Both girls laugh when I get a card that states, "Perform your best trot around the table." I get up and go around once, give out a couple of proper "Neighs," and then go around a second time, where I pat Haley on the top of her head and say, "Duck." I give Emily a "Duck," and as I sit down, say, "No goose." In the game, I happen to be the farrier, and when Haley lands on my property, I say, "Alright pretty girl, pay up big time." The cost of new horse shoes is based on ten times the number that appears on a throw of the dice. Haley rolls snake eyes, and burst out with peals of laughter. These girls are really good at playing table games. Note to self - never play strip-tease poker with these two.

During our dinner, Emily kept the conversation going by talking about her work at the saloon. She explained how genuine and nice Gus is. How Fridays are her favorite evening, not only because the place is full, but because everyone is so happy it's the end of the week. She is in a unique position to be able to talk with most people from the entire village and to learn about what is going on in their lives. Emily especially loves the sounds - the buzz of multiple conversations, the click of balls on the billiard table, the clink of glasses, and music from the jukebox. She admitted that she knows all of Robin and Demetrius's favorite tunes, and is the one that slips coins into the jukebox.

After eating, while Emily 'volunteered' to do the dishes, Haley and I snuck off to her darkroom for a little privacy. Once inside, Haley extinguishes all the lights, so that it is pitch black. It was easy to either bump or kiss noses, because they stick out. But just as Haley is the girl of a thousand faces outside the room, inside she knows and plays countless spontaneous little games. I really believe that creative ideas simply fall from Haley like rain, and for me, I'm always caught (and delighted by) her unexpectedness. She can whisper magic words in your ear, or nonsense words, or nip it, or blow in it, or wet it. Tonight, with a little assistance from Haley with a hidden hook, I even explore as far as second base. No roller coaster in the world has so many dips and turns (or so many delights) as ten minutes in the darkroom with Haley.

When we pop out of the darkroom, and into the light, it is obvious to Emily what we've been up to, because I'm wearing lipstick all over my face. It's a good thing that Haley was too busy to think of her camera, for otherwise there I would be forever captured on page 44 of her album, red-faced, red-eared, and with my hand caught in the cookie jar. Both girls point at me, laughing, and I admit an, "Oops" and head off to the bathroom to clean up the evidence. It is frustrating trying to clean off lipstick. The more one rubs, the more it just streaks.

Heading home, it is easy to imagine a high-flying me walking on air, not walking in snow. And to a certain extent, on the outside I was. After two years in the valley, I owned a nice house, a prosperous farm, and the prettiest girl in Stardew had made her choice clear that I was to be hers. Right now, on the inside, I wrestled with insecurities. I'm sure that girls do the same, worried about the shape of their nose, or an extra ten pounds in the wrong place, and believing that these external features are what prevents them from finding love. I was most worried about my upbringing. I really, really did not want Haley to wake up some day and find out that she married my father. I wanted any and all childhood life memories to fade away, as completely as me trying to remember what I ate last week, all freshly replaced by new memories. Was it possible to escape my father? Comparing him and I, in almost every emotional way possible, I took every path leading directly away from him. If he was stern, I was kind. Today, I laugh a lot; I do not ever recall him laughing. I cannot deny that somewhere inside, he's given me a core of love-less iron. Growing up, that iron once made me successful in many endeavors. Now, I want my heart to be Haley's alone, uncontaminated by any and all iron.

I walked toward the lake, where Haley and I circled so many times, and looked up at the stars. There are a lot of stars, and suddenly an intuitive thought came to me that when I focused on one star alone, I couldn't see all the others. If ever there was an antidote to my past, Haley was it, and by focusing on a fear, that focus blinded (the rather stupid) me as to how lucky I really was. My actions are my choice, not some defective gene that could be passed on from father to son. Let there be no doubt, I choose to walk the path of love, and to have two hearts sing together in synchrony. By now, I was halfway around the lake, and it was getting later by the minute, so after this profound thought, I quickly turned around and 'chose' to take the path home.
 

Dr. eeL

Planter
MIDDLEWALK-36

One morning, I decide to make a run around the valley to forage for flowers, worms in the ground, and whatnot. I end up on the beach, where I find some seashells, and then I see Alex near the water's edge. As I get closer, I see that he's looking out into the ocean and crying. It doesn't take long for me to ask, "What's wrong," and Alex sadly relates that on this day twelve years ago, his mother died, leaving him with regrets, memories, and only a tiny music box. I ask him if he would like to wind it up and play it, and he agrees. The haunting tinkles move him back to that fateful time, and he recalls to me that he failed to thank his mother for taking care of him as a child. I tell him that I'm the kind of person who willingly will hold out a stick to someone caught up in the quicksand of problems. (I'm tempted to tell him in a joking way to lighten the mood, that I even play the role of healer in the Solarium Chronicles game, but quickly and carefully squelch the thought). I also tell him that the wonder of holding a little child in their arms, and watching them take their first steps in life, are non-verbal ways a child thanks a mother. Mother's too, are thrilled watching their ten-year-old running around with boundless energy, and making startling discoveries about life. Every mother in the world would say, "Thanks are not necessary." Alex slowly answers, "You're different from the other guys in the valley. I'm starting to understand why Haley is so crazy about you." "You know, as a farmer, I grow all kinds of things. Come by for a visit some time, and if you let me know in advance, I'll be sure to have a plate full of salted radishes on the table." (I silently thank Haley, who tipped me off about Alex's fondness for this dish).

I carefully study Alex. "I'm not a doctor, but here is one man's opinion. When someone suffers childhood trauma, and you were a child at the time, this is my picture about what happens. At the moment of the traumatic event, that part of the brain that was all fired up and active gets injured. It's far more than a bruise, and if one could do a super-sensitive brain scan, there would be a hidden damaged area, having the appearance of a ghostly brain tumor. Scar tissue tries to cover over the damage, but in the future, whenever something or someone activates that particular part of the brain, the electrical impulses become garbled, and only some repetitive thoughts come out (like a broken recording)." I ask Alex, "Do you find yourself coming here again and again?" He nodded, "Yes." "Are your thoughts always of you and your mother at a certain age?" Again, Alex nodded, "Yes." "Are you crying now, as you did then?" For a third time, Alex nodded, "Yes, but don't ever tell anyone," He implores me.

I tell Alex that I'm going to tell him something that I promised not to reveal. It's a secret (Please, don't get me in trouble) and should be kept private, but Kent is currently under treatment for his wartime PTSD. It's all being done at his home, over the internet. His case is more serious that he lets on. He talks with his therapist, and practices techniques that are not supposed to erase memories, but only to reprocess them, so that they are no longer so painful. (I get all this inside information from Haley and Emily, since they are neighbors). Haley has told me that he is already showing some improvement. I offer the idea, "You know, there's remembrance and honoring a memory, and then there is childhood trauma. The difference is in how one reacts to the memory. The reason why you find yourself on the beach today, tells me that you are still hurting. What you are experiencing seems strangely similar to PTSD, where memories continually reoccur and interfere with one's daily life. Why not see if, like Kent, a therapist could help you? You are still under Granny and George's medical coverage; it would only cost you a co-pay, and maybe only one visit to Zuzu City. If you really do have childhood trauma, it is a possibility that you could do the remainder of any treatment at home. No one would have to know." Alex didn't answer right away. "I've probably talked too much, and given you way too much information, and I want to thank you for being so open with me here on the beach. You don't have to make any choices right now, but as much as you wish you could talk to your mother, I believe that she would wish that she could reach out and help you. You are not really hiding your pain. Haley knows. She has told me how much she has felt of your pain, and if you want, I'll bet that she would be eager to ride with you on the bus to the city. I'll tell her it's a team Alex event. You don't have to tell her why, just say you are going in for a physical so that you can try out for the Zuzu City Cats. It's a perfect role for her to be a pretty blonde guardian angel, and make that first visit go easier. Maybe you could go shopping with her afterwards." Now, I was getting through. I could see it in Alex's eyes, that he was beginning to actively mull over the idea. "Thanks farmer Lee. You've given me something to think about. I'll look up what you said when I get home. If I'm going to do it, I'll call you, and maybe you could approach Haley with your idea." "No problem. Haley and I both are on your team." Walking back through the sand, Alex noticeably brightened and with a chuckle said, "I wonder how my 'team' would do against the Thunder Cats?" I laughed, "With Evelyn and Haley blocking up front, and with me as one wide receiver and George as the other, I'd say . . . you better be able to run real fast."

After leaving Alex out by Dusty's pen, I continued my collecting tour of the valley by checking in at the library. I could not help but notice Vincent looking like he was near death, staring absent mindedly at a Mount Everest-sized pile of schoolwork in front of him. It's becoming obvious that somehow, I'm finding flowers, shells, and sad males today. I ask Penny if I could "borrow" Vincent for a couple of hours, and probably because she was tired of torturing the poor guy, she quickly answered, "Sure." Once outside, I asked Vincent if he wanted to go to the movies, and he noticeably perked up. Together, we took the short walk to the theater, and watched the movie, "Wumbus." Add in a few jawbreakers, and Vincent was instantly revived and brought back to his normal happy self. By the time I returned him to Penny, he was bubbling with energy, and even ready to tackle that pile of homework. Penny probably thought that I was some kind of miracle worker, but I was not about to give away any secrets.
 

Dr. eeL

Planter
MIDDLEWALK-37

It was early in the afternoon, on a bitter winter's day, when I was walking past Willie's shack, and on a whim, decided to ask him to take me out fishing. Willie offered that it was rather late in the day, but, "Seein' that I ain't had a customer all day, let's take the ole Sea Bass out. It's too late to go to the islands, though." This was my first trip to deeper water on the Sea Bass, and to prevent a bout of seasickness, I kept my eye on the horizon and stayed behind the pilot shack, centered in the middle of the boat. I need not have worried, for there was not much of a swell, and in under an hour, Willie found a good stopping point. He kept the diesels running at their slowest speed, and we cast our lines off the back of the boat, as it drifted forward at about one knot. Within ten minutes, we had both snagged and brought aboard a tuna. Despite the deeper water, the fish were the same here as what could be caught off of the pier, with the exception that out here they were bigger. Willie's catch was a beauty.

It's pretty quiet out in the ocean, with only the water slapping the hull and a toned-down hum of the engines making any sounds. So, both our ears perked up when we heard off in the distance the sputtering sounds of an engine in trouble. I pointed out to Willie a low flying dot, that gradually took the form of a single engine plane trailing smoke. It was headed in our direction, and in a minute, actually flew right over the Sea Bass less than a hundred feet off the water. A short distance ahead, it smacked down in the water, coasting for a few seconds, then flipping over. As Willie scrambled toward the pilot house, I watched as the tail of the plane stood upwards, then quickly disappeared into the water. Willie fired up the diesels and headed for the crash. Standing beside Willie in the pilot house, I saw some binoculars hanging on a hook, so I grabbed them and watched the water closely as we closed in to approximately where the plane had gone down. It was hard to make anything out, because the waves were rising and falling, and there was no reference point (except for a general direction). Suddenly, I saw a little orange life vest, pop up from nowhere as a wave crested, and then it disappeared into the next wave trough. I yelled to Willie over the roar of the engines, and pointed, and he nodded. As we came within a hundred feet, it became clear that there was a small boy wearing the life jacket, and clinging to it was a lady, likely his mother. Willie cut the engines, and I went to the side of the boat to try and grab them. It wasn't easy. The waves kept pushing them away. The water was colder than ice. Finally, I grabbed one of Willie's nets, threw it over them and hauled them in like a pair of fish. I got the little boy first, then pulled the lady on board. Both looked half dead, but the lady cried out, "My husband." Knowing that there was a third person still out on the water, I yelled to Willie, "There's one more," and his experienced sharp eyes then spotted a swimmer about fifty feet away. Soon, we had one more on board, all exhausted, all freezing from being in the water. The deck was no place to be, with a brisk wind blowing across it, as Willie gunned the engines heading for the coast. So, I opened the hatch and let them down into the engine room. There were little benches on either side of the hull, and although the diesels were roaring, they were also hot, and the four of us could at least sit down. Since we couldn't hear, all we could do was see, and our eyes followed water dripping off the survivors, and forming a little pool that sloshed back and forth in the bottom of the boat in tune to the wave action.

Once at the dock, I suggested that we take the three to see Dr. Harvey, as they were all likely to be suffering from hyperthermia. But they begged us not to. Not knowing exactly what to do, I suggested, "Let's go to Emily and Haley's. They're the closest house." So, our little party slowly made it in that direction, with their shoeless socks leaving holes in the snow. I knocked on the door and Haley answered. I quickly asked for her to let everyone in, and Haley answered the call like a trouper. She said, "Emily's at work, but she has plenty of clothes of all sizes." And in less than two minutes, she found something for all three. Each then took turns in her bathroom, warming up under the shower, and changing into dry clothing. Finally, they were able to sit down and collect themselves and we learned that they were the Reeds, Sheldon, Charlotte, and Eddie. Mr. Reed often flew into Zuzu City on business, and this time it was planned to be a mini-vacation with his family. The plane had been working perfectly, until suddenly the oil pressure gauge dropped to zero, and the engine began to quit. They were too far away from land, and the only thing that they could see was Willie's boat, out in the middle of nowhere. When the plane tipped over on landing, it was all they could do to get out of their seat belts, while hanging upside down, before the water rushed in through the open door. While we were learning their story, Haley rustled up a hot dinner, and soon life slowed down again to its normal Stardew pace. One issue was that none of the three had shoes. Mrs. Reed was close to Emily's size, and Haley found some athletic shoes for her. They looked brand new, and Haley said, "Emily bought them, but she never wears them." I went next door and told Jodi and Kent what happened, and they volunteered a pair of shoes (also athletic shoes) for Mr. Reed and Eddie. No one wears sneakers in the winter snow.

It was too late for the Reeds to take the bus back to Zuzu City, as Pam had been at Gus's for at least an hour. Haley and I decided that the best place for the family to stay the night would be in the Community center. It was warm, and although there were no beds, there were couches. With Haley leading the way, we took our tired troop there. I brought up the rear, carrying extra blankets and pillows.

The next morning, I showed up bright and early at Emily and Haley's. Both girls were already up and had breakfast on the stove. They covered the plates in aluminum foil to keep them warm, and the three of us headed for the Community center. During the night, Haley had washed, de-salted, dried, and folded their clothes, and again I brought up the rear, this time carrying a bag full of their belongings. When we got there, we found that Robin, Demetrius, and Maru had also made them a breakfast, and a few minutes later, Caroline and Abigale showed up, also with a pile of breakfasts. We all sat down and ate together. We told them about the Stardew Valley summer fair, and invited them to return and this time to come and have some fun. Time flew, and around quarter to ten, I volunteered to take them to the bus stop, as it was on my way home. At the bus, I realized that Mr. Reed's wallet, and Mrs. Reed's purse were both at the bottom of the ocean, so I purchased three tickets for them. Mr. Reed wanted me to write my address down so that he could pay me back, but I refused, saying that, "It's a gift from Stardew Valley." Walking back to my house, I wondered at how close it almost was, that a family of three could have mysteriously disappeared forever, except for the amazing coincidence that led me to ask Willie to go fishing. It was almost as if it never happened.
 

Dr. eeL

Planter
MIDDLEWALK-38

It was the night before the Feast of the Winter Star, and I invited Haley and Emily out for a visit to my place for an early celebration. Neither had been to my farm, and likely both imagine that I live in an old dilapidated farmhouse. That may have been how it once looked, but now, I've added a series of Robin inspired upgrades and as a result, my house is bigger and newer than their beach cottage. In the early evening, I knock on their door to escort the ladies out to my place. As a surprise, we go by way of mine cart, whizzing through the cold air as if we are actually riding in a one-horse open sleigh. Haley is delighted by the ride, as she and I sit up front and sing "Jingle Bells" at the top of our lungs. I glance back at Emily, who was just trying to stay warm in the wind, while being entertained by two goof balls. We all get off at the bus stop, and I lead them along the snow-covered path to my home in the valley. I open the door, and can see the look of astonishment on both faces, because this house is nothing like what they expected. The fireplace is crackling, the house is warm, a giant Christmas tree loaded with bright glowing decorations dominates the living room, and both girls are open-mouthed. Maybe in the back of Haley's mind there was a worry about leaving her cozy cottage for a smelly old farmhouse, but that worry vanishes like the wind-blown dust of ancient history. I take their coats, place them on a chair by the door and offer them a tour. Upstairs, there are two bedrooms. The master has a king-sized bed designed by Robin with matching dressers. I can see that Haley recognizes her favorite bedspread, because I asked her to help me pick one out, months ago. Even Weasel the cat, caught sleeping at the foot of the bed, rolls over with pleasure after being rubbed down by Haley. Above the backboard hang a set of nicely framed eight by ten pictures that Haley gave me. Although I had installed extra windows to brighten the room up during daytime, plenty of wall space was left over for a set of Lupini originals. The guest bedroom features some giant plush animals that I had either found or won, and it's easy to see that it is a room begging to be converted into a nursery. We went down the second short set of stairs and into an extra room that Robin had added on. The centerpiece of this room was a large fish tank that I had purchased from Willie. Haley put her finger on the glass as the eel undulates past, and both laughed at the squishy movements of the squid. Emily asked about the strange looking fish, and I said that it was a hard to catch ice fish. Finally, we did a quick look into the basement, where the casks were all full, and the juke box was playing a quiet version of winter music.

I had already set the table earlier, and now I brought out dinner, which was pre-cooked and prepared by Gus. All I had to do was to bring it out to the house, and briefly reheat. Gus is a mind-reader when it comes to knowledge about each individual's favorite dishes, and my guests were suitably impressed. Afterwards, I cleared the table and we played the table game, "Harry Potter". Of course, I was Harry, Haley played Hermione, and Emily played Luna. It's a game of cooperation, where the three of us work closely together to defeat creatures and assorted well known villains. I rummaged in a kitchen drawer and found a wand-like stick for Haley. On the spell cards, the shape of the spell is shown, and Haley would wave her wand before banishing some watery-eyed evil creature to the discard pile. After two hours together, our team easily defeated, "He whose name must not be spoken."

Emily looks up at the cuckoo clock and remarks, "Wow, where did the time go? It's getting late. We've got a big day tomorrow." I piped in, "Well, before you two go, there are a pair of presents under the tree." Emily received a red square box, about one-foot high and wide. When opened, it revealed a stack of cloths (compliments of Carrots, the rabbit and my spinning wheel) each a different color, and hidden away in between each stack was a gemstone of a color that matched the cloth. Emily's eyes watered, and she blurted out, "Haley, if you don't want to, I want to marry Lee." We all laughed. Haley's green wrapped box looked similar to Emily's on the outside, but when opened revealed a smaller circular box. With trembling hands, she opened the inside box, and there, with a magic-like glow sitting on a soft green background was the blue mermaid's amulet. For a moment, Haley was frozen, and then burst up, knocking portions of the game to the floor and jumped on top of me with an explosion of kisses and, "Yes! Yes!! Yesses!!!" We both nearly ended up on the floor, as I lost my balance and almost fell over backwards under the onslaught. I guess she really wants that amulet. Haley got up, grabbed Emily, and they held hands and danced in a little circle, both crying, while Haley exclaimed, "Emmy, I'm getting married." She sang, "I'm getting married in the spring time." Will you be my bridesmaid?" Of course, Emily nodded to her hyper-excited sister. I had a brief moment of concern for Emily, for now her younger sister was getting married first, and perhaps Emily had always imagined that it would be the other way around, but Emily looked genuinely happy for her sister.

You might wonder how I obtained the amulet in the middle of winter, when it never rained. Actually, after that date in the Secret forest, I had raced on the next wet day to the seashore and grabbed it. I had held on to it so long because dating Haley was the most fun and exciting adventure I had ever experienced, and a part of me didn't want it to end. But . . . our relationship was heating up, and both of us were more than eager to jump into the fire.

On the way back, Haley was quiet and rested her head on my shoulder. Who knows what thoughts are dancing through that ever-inquisitive mind? Alone at their door, I once again said, "I love you, you pretty star." Haley replied, "I'm bursting with happiness. I don't know how to express how much I love you." As she directed her huge sparkly blue eyes at me, I replied, "Maybe I'll peek in on some of your dreams tonight." Her cheeks pinked up a bit, and just before she closed the door, I could hear her yell out to her sister, "Hey Emmy, I'm going to marry a naughty bad boy!"
 

Dr. eeL

Planter
MIDDLEWALK-39

Two weeks before the Feast of the Winter Star, I had received a call from Leah. She asked me to come by for a quick visit, and after morning chores, I ended up down at her house. Once there, she tells me that she is Haley's secret Santa, and asks me for a few ideas about what Haley really wants. I know exactly what she wants, because at last year's feast, I overheard Haley telling Emily that she wished for a new camera. When I told this to Leah, she looked a little downcast and replied, "I'd love to get her a camera, but there's no way that I could afford it." I told her that I understood, and responded with, "Maybe we could cheat a little. I could purchase the camera, and give it to you to be wrapped." "But then it would be your gift, and not really from me. I want her to have a gift that's truly from my heart." "Hmm, what to do?" I pondered. "Here's another idea," I suggested. "How about if we swap gift partners? I'm the secret Santa for Emily." In a tight knit community like Stardew, it is hard to say whether or not secret gift swapping takes place. But after some hesitation, Leah actually thought that my idea was fine with her, and besides, she quickly came up with a number of ideas of gifts that Emily would really go for. So, we swapped.

Once home, I broke out the farm computer, opened it up to the internet, and scanned the options for cameras. Haley already had a rather nice camera, so anything ordinary was an instant scratch. I wavered a bit, being tempted by a Nikon, but settled on a Hasselblad. It came with enough adjustments to accept the close-up lens that Haley most often favored. I paid a little extra for one-day shipping, and the next day I had a rather small package to wrap. Luckily, I had remembered to borrow some wrapping paper from Leah, so that the source of the gift was well disguised.

Today is the day of the Feast. Haley has on a pretty blue dress, but most importantly, her matching blue amulet, and quickly becomes the center of a pack of highly excited ladies. I can see her beaming and looking exactly like the prophecy of the Winter star. It takes a while for the information to wind its way back to me, but I eventually find out that I'm getting married on Spring 2. One by one, the men of the valley come up and congratulate me. Over by a second Christmas tree (not the gifting tree) Marni and Lewis are together, one of the few times that I actually see them together, except when Lewis is on "official business." Normally, I think that Lewis would feel a little bit upstaged by having Haley steal the show from one of Stardew's big events, but he seems not to notice. I casually walk down to Leah, and give her a wink. It does not take a mind-reader to see that she is dying of boredom listening to Gus explain how he made the large candy cane decorations using Fern Island ringfruit. No doubt, he did a fine job. They are unique and nice, but a detailed description of how they are made is way too much. When Haley is not looking, I slip her gift in amongst the pile

Gift opening time. When my name is called, I step up and receive mine from Evelyn. I get a box of cookies. Am I sad? Not in the least; her cookies have a well-deserved reputation. Since the kids are looking hungry, and the present opening is dragging on, I let Jas and Vincent inspect my gift and help themselves. Finally, there are only two present left. Willie is next up, and opens his box from Emily. She has made him a new Captain's cap, a red knit scarf, and a pea coat (to replace his badly patched one). I can't help thinking that Willie could not have picked out a better secret Santa if he tried. Now it was Haley's turn, and Lewis calls out her name. The last box wasn't very big. It looked kind of lost among all the torn and balled up wrapping scattered about under the tree from the other gifts. I did not step forward right away and reveal the source of her gift. She delicately unwrapped the outer paper, to reveal an intentionally non-descript box. Opening one end, she pulled out her new camera. Instantly, her eyes shot in my direction, and she knew. I walked up to her, took her hand, and addressed the crowd, "Hey everyone. Save the date of Spring 2, for there is going to be a wedding, followed by a reception in the Community Center, and you are all invited. Even if you don't want to sit down for a wedding, please come and join us for a fun time at the Community Center.

Suddenly the two of us were the center of a crowd of noisy people all talking at once, but it didn't last long, as the food was hot, and everyone was starved. Haley and I sat at one of the tables holding a big turkey, and I took out a giant-sized scoop of the mountain high green jello salad. Haley leaned over and whispered in my ear, "I love you." And if she told me those words once every day for the rest of my life, I couldn't be happier.
 
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Dr. eeL

Planter
MIDDLEWALK-40

Deep underwater, the creature in the dark mud slowly starts to stir. The lid over one eye gradually lifts, as if waking from a deep sleep. A second large eye joins the first. Now the first creature is joined by a second, and four eyes survey their surroundings. Slowly, painfully, the two creatures break free from the mud and drift to the water's surface. "Is it spring yet," asked Rana? "Spring day 1," responds Hoppy. "It doesn't feel like spring. Brrrrr. I've got ice cubes bouncing around in my blood," added Rana. Stiffly, very stiffly, both frogs headed for the lily pad in an attempt to warm up. "The ice may be gone, but this water is cold," observed Rana. She continued with, "Each and every year, hibernation seems more difficult. Hey Hoppy. You are looking rather trim, my man." "Well, I'm not complaining, but you are pretty slender yourself," replied Hoppy. He observed that, "We need to rustle up some grubs." That being said, the valley was waking up, some insects were out and about, but overall, pickings were rather slim. Even the flies must have known that the water was cold (or else they were not very thirsty), for none ventured near.

Strangely, the farmer's land seems a little untidy this year. Normally, all the collected detritus from the winter snows and storms, would have been already cleared off, and fresh brown furrows would stretch for as far as frog eyes could see. But not this year. Hoppy looked about, and yep, there was the farmer, along with another male human, working together to carry something large and heavy from the path to the house. Even though Hoppy was still quite early in the process of warming up, these humans were sweating and grunting as they lifted the items up the short steps and through the doorway. Something was going on.

Just like last year, however, the coop was open, and the barnyard animals were partying. Plentiful grass filled the yard, and all creatures great and small were feasting. It wasn't as if they had been starved, it was simply a joyful expression of being outside again, and chowing down on the good stuff. Hoppy could easily imagine that being cooped up for an entire season with a squad of ornery chickens (Mrs. Cluck immediately comes to mind) called for a little celebration when the door to freedom was finally opened.

"Hold still for a second," said Hoppy. "What for?" Zwooott! "What was that?" "You had a mosquito on your back," replied Hoppy. "You didn't save any for me?" complained Rana. "It was a small mosquito." "Just a taste?" she added. "Sorry, no can do. I ate it." "I hate you, you know," declared Rana. "What do I have to do to be forgiven?" queried Hoppy. "Find me food," growled Rana. Hoppy got out of the pond and started to flip over rocks by the water's edge. "Ah Ha!" "What?" "Take a look," said Hoppy. "What's that?" "It's a millipede." "So?" "So, they're meaty and tasty," responded Hoppy. "You want me to eat that?" asked Rana indignantly. "Sure." Rana grabbed the millipede, stuffed it into her mouth and gulped it down. "So?" "So. What?" "How was it?" asked Hoppy. Rana responded with, "Not very big. There's a remote possibility that I might be forgiving you. But only if you find me another one." A few minutes later, Hoppy did find a second millipede. Without hesitation, Rana ate that one too. "Okay, now you're forgiven. Look, I even saved you a piece of the tail." "There's no meat on the tail, " noticed Hoppy. Rana came back with, "Well that's more than you left me." "I'm sorry." "Sorry. Beggars can't be choosy. Oops. Too late, it's gone."
co
 

Dr. eeL

Planter
MIDDLEWALK-41

In as much as Haley and I are getting married tomorrow, I hired Kent for the day to help me move some of Haley's stuff. The largest two pieces are a dresser, and a vanity. After we took off the mirror, the two of us carried the pieces to the mine carts, which brought them close to my house. I cleared out one end of the first floor, past the dining room table, to be a space just for Haley (her private girl cave). It was here that we arranged most of the items that she wanted us to bring, including a sizable bulletin board. While we were moving the heavier items, Haley packed the things that she wanted us to take (clothes, shoes, makeup, towels, bathroom items, dishes) into rather heavy suitcases for us to also move. Tomorrow, all Haley has to do is to wake up, have Cinderella (I mean Emily) help her with nails, hair, getting dressed, calming nerves etc. etc. and show up on time. I also hired Leah to be our official wedding photographer, and she will show up at Emily and Haley's house early in the morning to take pictures of the bride's preparation.

Today is Spring 2. As the bride makes her entrance, and walks down the aisle, most weddings play Bach's Prelude #1, or the currently popular Pachelbel's Canon. I had a different idea that I hoped would forever etch this moment into my bride's memory. I went to Elliott, and asked him how they put the piano in his shack. He said that it was not too hard, as four men could move the piano rather easily. I then asked if I could borrow the piano for the wedding, and remembering the last time that I played, he instantly agreed. So, there I was, sitting at the piano, when on a signal from the back that all was ready, I began to play Chopin's Etude In E, Opus 10, #3. Jaz our flower girl appears, walking down the aisle, smiling like crazy, and flinging flower petals left, right, and everywhere from her basket. Haley and Emily then follow, walking slowly arm in arm to the front. The short dazzling (and difficult) middle section of the piano piece slowed down to a reprise of the opening page, perfectly timed as they reached the front. I then hopped up and took my place next to Haley. And when Lewis said, "Who gives this woman to this man?" Emily spoke up and said, "Her sister does." When it came time for the rings, I nodded to Vincent, who had a front row seat, and looking very serious and honored, he got up and handed me the box with the two rings. Haley easily put mine on, but when it came to my turn, I pretended to try and put it on her thumb. Haley said, "Ouch! That's my thumb," loud enough for everyone attending to hear, and laugh. Then I gave her a smile and the tiniest stick out of my tongue (so only she cold see it) and slipped the ring where it belonged. (I've picked up a trick or two from the master, but I'm sure that I'll pay for it later). A few moments later, the time arrived for us to seal our destinies with a kiss.

Although not everyone attended the wedding, the entire valley turned out for the reception. And why not, for everything, including the booze was free (for them, not me). Even Linus and the Wizard were there, sitting at the same table with Marlon and Gil. I had hired Clint to tend to the bar, and I asked him to keep an eye out especially for Pam. But Pam's liver could burn through alcohol at a record pace, and there was not enough time between the start of the reception and the serving of the food for her to get really drunk. Actually, it was poor Doc. Harvey who might have overdone it. His face was flushed, and he drifted about from single lady to single lady trying to talk about airplanes; a subject of less than zero interest to young ladies at a wedding.

Gus was in charge of the food, and since he did not have any extra help, he served it buffet style. Salads and rolls at the beginning of the line, vegetable dishes in the middle and baked fish with a carving station (manned by Gus) at the end. Both Haley and I had too much adrenaline flowing to be hungry, so for the most part, we simply walked about the room to each of the tables, and tried to make the guests feel special and welcome.

Outside of an occasional glass of wine, neither Haley nor I are into alcohol, but we do eventually sit down and sip a little pink champagne as a toast, before Emily takes center stage and gives the loveliest speech about us. Music from the juke box is turned off, and his catering chores done, Gus steps up to our table, and two feet apart from Haley, plays a magical tune on his violin. I instantly recognize it as Massenet's, "Meditation from the opera Thais." For nearly five minutes, one could hear a pin drop in the room, no forks hit the plates, no coughs, a pure musical gift.

It's time for Haley to throw her bouquet, and the single ladies form a tightly knit pack a short distance behind her. Ten feet behind the group, Leah is positioned to capture a picture of the lucky recipient. Haley chucks the flowers high and far, and to the surprise of all, they land right on Leah's face and camera. Now our album has two pictures of that moment. One with the flowers high in the air, and one in which they are considerably larger, landing with the size of a jet passenger plane, inches away from the camera. No one is more shocked than Leah, who eventually holds the flowers up as the winner. Both Haley and I hope that there is something to this tradition.

Of course, our wedding cake was pink. I fed Haley a piece rather politely, and then my pretty bride took an extra-large piece and at the last moment, smashed it up against my nose. I knew it was coming. I probably deserved it. Later, we put the top of the cake in a box to take home. Supposedly, one is to freeze it for a year, and then to eat it, but I can personally promise that this particular top will not survive the next few days. I loved our wedding. I sincerely wished that it would never end, but of course, the time arrived for us to go. The community center door closed behind us as hand in hand we walked in the dark to 'our' new home.
 

Dr. eeL

Planter
MIDDLEWALK-42

Upon arriving home, we stacked some gifts on the kitchen and dining room tables. Since we could not leave the farm for a real honeymoon, our big plan was to have a pretend one. For the next ten days, we would pretend that we were staying at some fancy hotel, minimize any and all necessary chores, and give a quality time focus on each other. But tonight, both of us were past tired, and as I helped Haley to get out of her dress by untying all the lacing down her back, I came up with the idea, "I'm exhausted. You're exhausted. How about if we put off until tomorrow all the things that we could do tonight?" Haley, who was working on all the plaits in her hair, replied with a grateful nod, "Yes." And just like that, our wedding night ended before it started. The last thing I remember was Haley's soft breathing beside me, and before you can count ten sheep, we were both asleep.

My eyes popped open. I looked at the pillow next to me and it was empty. My heart sped up and I bolted upright. And then, climbing the few steps to our bedroom, Haley appeared, wearing only a nightgown, and carrying a tray loaded with breakfast. "Weasel woke me up. And by the time I found out where you keep the cat food, I also discovered plenty of breakfast fixing." "You are simply an awesome beautiful creature. Let's eat," I enthusiastically respond. Later, we put the plates aside, and the kissing started (sweetened by a little pancake syrup), and pretty soon the nightgown was on the floor and the girl with a thousand faces showed me a few that I had never seen before.

My eyes popped open. This time, the pillow next to me contained a mass of yellow curls, who gradually stirred. We must have taken a cat nap. Talking together, we decide to get up, make lunch and get out of the house for a bit. It was so so weird taking a shower together. Of course, Haley made it fun, and we used a hundred times more soap than usual. I guess that it finally dawned on me that we were now a couple, that from now on out, a whole bunch of things were going to be done in twos. While Haley was drying her hair, I had time to strip the bed and start the laundry. I put on fresh sheets, and remade the bed, even adding a piece of candy on the pillows, exactly like the fancy hotels do.

Together, we assembled a fruit salad, with triple the strawberries. Haley took a bite out of a big one, and blew half a can of whipping cream into her mouth, and then shot the other half of the can in my direction. I scooped whipping cream off of my face and shirt, and chased her a short distance before eating what was left. Then, I got out another can, and this time did not hand it to Haley, but squirted it onto the salad. After lunch, she suggested, "Let's go for a walk." We walked slowly, gradually in the direction of Robin's house, side by side, our hands welded together. The springtime world seemed so fresh, so vibrant, just like us, starting out our new life together.

Coming near to the spa, Haley suddenly turned to me and said, "Let's go skinny dipping." "Whaat?" "Come on, I dare you." We went on in, and I got out of my clothes quickly and waded out into the water. For a few moments, there was no Haley, and I was beginning to wonder if I was the latest sucker for one of her tricks, when the other door opened and out came a beautiful bare bottomed nymph. "Isn't this exciting," she exclaimed, "I've always had the urge to do this, but was too chicken." "It will be doubly exciting," I replied, "If we hear the front door bang from someone else coming in." I came up with the idea of having Haley try to stand up on my shoulders. Now, wet skin is slippery, and it was harder than it looked. But we had fun trying, with lots of tangled arms and legs. Often Haley would get 90% of the way up before losing her balance and falling. Finally, we did it, and I walked about in the steamy water holding on to her calves. After dumping her with a big splash, we decide to go visit Emily, and got dressed. "That was so much fun. We have to do that again," exclaimed Haley. Whoever wrote or said that marriage was boring, obviously had never encountered a Haley, and it was beginning to dawn on me that when I signed my name to that marriage certificate, the devil was laughing and that I was in for quite a ride. It also came to me that Haley was an intuitive genius. The warm water of the spa cleaned out a lifetime of inhibitions and misdirected thoughts, and as they faded to nothingness, a new kind of love for Haley took their place. This must be similar to the love that Haley had felt too, when she knew that my love was fully unconditional, and that I did not want in any way to try and change her.

W headed down to the saloon, where Haley pulled Emily aside and began to talk secrets. I talked to Gus, and ordered up a nice supper and an omelet breakfast for tomorrow. Later, we sat on the front porch, watched the sky turn different colors, watched the stars come out, and simply dreamed together about our future. When it was bedtime, in a long-awaited, long-deserved measure of revenge, Haley kept that frog awake.
 
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Dr. eeL

Planter
MIDDLEWALK-43

Our honeymoon plan for ten days of pretending that we were living it up at a posh hotel ended abruptly after six days, because on the seventh, right on schedule, Haley started her period. She just wanted to lay low, but encouraged me to get out of the house and do something. "Maybe later in the day, if I feel up to it, I'll start in on the thank you letters for our wedding gifts," she offered. "Don't hang around here because of me." Speaking of wedding gifts, I recalled that Willie had offered to take me out to the islands. After fixing a nice lunch for Haley, I headed down to the docks. Willie fired up the Sea Bass, and off we went. The islands were further out that I imagined. "We'll head for Ginger Island," said Willie. "There's still a dock there where we can stay. Back when my pappy was a youn'un, the island us'ta be a resort for the villagers. But it's been abandoned for decades, and nature has grown back. But who knows, you might still find some artifacts, and there's a real volcano on the West side," he added. We pulled into the tiny harbor with its dock, and I jumped off to help tie up the Bass. Willie shut down the engines, and said, "Take yur time. I'll just sit here and fish a bit. You might try it too. Some fish here are different from those you catch back at the village. Oh, and thank you for bringing the pale ales. You really know how to take care of an old man." The sun was bright, the weather was warm to hot, and suddenly, if felt so strange to be out here by myself, without Haley. Wouldn't it be great if I can bring her along next time and we can explore the island together? On the beach, there were a few planks of what was left of a building, and several paths that led in different directions. I certainly enjoyed watching the pretty colored parrots that seemed to be everywhere. Some could even talk, and whenever I approached them, they would squawk out a request for walnuts. Walnuts were apparently in big demand around here, but as far as I knew, walnuts grew on trees, and all the trees that I could see might be good for coconuts, but not walnuts. I did kick some coconut palms and actually found a good coconut. Maybe a little fresh coconut milk will help Haley feel better. Some paths were blocked by walnut begging parrots, but I simply walked to wherever the way was open, and in the general direction of West, hoping to see Willie's 'volcano'. Next, I encountered a tent, one that had the look of being recently occupied. Nearby was a small garden plot, and now it was apparent that somebody was living on the island. Just ahead, I could hear (and smell) the volcano. I hope that the sea air on the trip back will blow the smell out of my clothes. Once inside the volcano, the path I had been following is interrupted by a stream of flowing lava, guarded by some kind of lava creature. It blew some balls of fire in my direction, which I easily dodged. To my right was an ancient decrepit prison cell. I pity the poor person locked up there. To my left was a rather sophisticated set of piping that looked like a hot water heating system. Clearly the island does contain secrets, but not knowing what to do next, I decided to retrace my steps and go back to the beach.

Having a little time left before we go back, I decided to take Willy's advice and try fishing. First cast, flounder. Second cast, tuna. Third cast, a lionfish. Willie's right. There are different fish here. Fourth cast, a golden walnut. This must be what those parrots are talking about. Proud of my one walnut, I felt like a kid in an ice cream store with a gold coin in hand and every item in the store costing five gold. Looking at the sun, I realized that I've go to get back to the village. There's no way Haley's cooking tonight, so I've got to order up some supper from Gus. Willie gunned the Sea Bass for home, and soon I was at the saloon talking to Gus. Later, while he was preparing the food, I ran up to Doc. Harvey's, and slipped through the door just as he was getting ready to close up, and picked up some pain medicine.

"Hi Hon. I'm home. Look! I brought you supper and a coconut." "Ew, Ew, Ew, you smell terrible! Take off those clothes right now. What did you do, step on a skunk? Get in the shower. You smell like rotten eggs!" Haley probably used a stick to get my clothes into the laundry. I should have known that female noses work a hundred times better than those of males. Our chances of ever exploring the volcano together are not looking very good either. Later, after I had freshened up, and the house was aired out, we ate the supper I brought home. I happily chatted away, sharing with Haley all my adventures of the day, but tonight the girl with a thousand faces simply looked (how can I describe it), pensive. I then sat next to her and watched her write out thank you letters. Her penmanship was absolutely beautiful, like that of a Japanese calligrapher. I told her so, and the compliment did produce the tiniest of smiles. Even better were her choice of handwritten words, an almost childlike use of expressions that fit each addressee perfectly. Compared to Haley, the dancing Tinkerbell, my ability to write is as sparkly as a stuck in the mud rhinoceros. Thankfully, my role in the project was to fold the letters, lick the envelopes, and to be the delivery boy tomorrow.
 

Dr. eeL

Planter
MIDDLEWALK-44

If you are patiently waiting for Haley and I to have our first argument, well, don't hold your breath. Somehow, without much effort on either one of our parts, our lives seamlessly blend together. Haley usually wakes up before me and starts breakfast. We sit at the kitchen table and eat together. Afterwards, Haley likes to have a little time to herself in her powder room while I clear the table and go upstairs to make our bed. There is only two of us, but on days when the laundry basket looks a little full, I load and start the washer. Later Haley will take the clothes out and put them back in their proper drawers. Once Haley is prepped up (she is always beautiful, but somehow, she thinks that she has to work at it), we go outside to take care of the animals. Her role is to do the petting. Mine is to clean up the poop, coop and barn and to empty the auto-collectors. At first, the animals weren't too sure about Haley, and kept their distance. But she quickly found that treats are a winner, and now, every morning, you will see a pile up of animals waiting at the gates just for Haley (they never did that for me). Her favorite is, of course, Carrots the bunny. Our farm is really a petting zoo, for we have only one of each type of animal: one of each color chicken, one duck, one rabbit, one so-called dinosaur, one cow, one pig. Next, I grab the mushrooms, while Haley waits outside. The cave is dank and Haley is not comfortable in dark places. It only takes me a minute. Just because we are married does not mean that each of us has to adopt the other's interests. Haley is not into planting and harvesting, but she does like to help me pick fruit in the greenhouse. I have a small ladder that I move to each tree so that I can reach the ripe fruit on the top branches. I then drop what I pick to a waiting Haley with her basket. She likes to pick (and often eat) what she can reach. After these little chores, Haley heads back to the farmhouse. She has really adopted the house as her own, and loves to keep it straightened up. Woe be the farmer that brings leaves, dirt or mud past the doorway. This is my time for completing the daily work schedule. I always make sure that I am home for lunch, which we make together. I do all the cutting, chopping, stirring and mixing, while Haley does the creative parts. We eat together, and afterwards, if the sink if full of dishes, she washes and I dry. More often than not, a hoard of soap bubbles heads my way, and if I can catch her, I retaliate by smacking her butt with a wooden spoon or pancake flipper. Two minutes later, there's soap bubbles heading my way again.

I strongly encourage Haley to keep up her camera work. She has her favorite spots outside, and I can often look up from picking and planting and see her. Despite showing off her fishing prowess on that date in the Secret Forest, she really does not have the patience for fishing. But when I want to go fishing, she likes to walk with me there and back, and while I am sitting waiting for a bite, she wanders close by taking pictures. We don't eat the fish that I catch, as neither Haley nor I like to eat things with eyes and bones. We will eat stuffed salmon, which can be purchased at Pierre's. Chicken is also not on the menu, as it reminds Haley too much of her new friends outside. But bacon and hamburger (again purchased from Pierre's) are part of our approved food groups. For example, a little hamburger, cut string beans, and mushroom soup all stirred together makes for a pretty good dish. I definitely eat a more varied and interesting diet now, than pre-Haley.

At least once a week, and sometimes more often, Haley likes to go into town and visit her sister. I am completely happy that she goes, as sisters belong together, swapping stories about what's happening at the farm and in the valley. More often than not, Haley will bring home a cooked dish for supper. I use these visiting days to accomplish tasks that require a lot of time away from the farm. Whatever the task, however, I make sure that I am home in time for dinner. In the past, I often would stagger home well after midnight, with a backpack overloaded with stuff, but those days are now behind me. All of this attention to Haley really cuts down on my time for various travels around the valley, so I bit the bullet and invested in the 'Return Scepter'. Yes, it's expensive, but now, no matter when I am, in the desert, out on the ocean, deep in some mine, I can be home right on the dot. And believe me, I've needed it a lot. Dinner with Haley, and our after dinner quality time together, is now my number one priority. Her favorite time of day is when the sun is going down, and shadows begin to extend themselves. She really has an eye for light and color. We are often outside walking short distances about the farm during that time, and are never at a loss for words (teasing and puns included). Friday nights are always reserved for date night. If there's a new movie showing, we go. We also will stop at the saloon, where Haley and Emily chat and I order a supper and tomorrow's breakfast from Gus. Sometimes we'll ride the mine carts ten times in a row, just for fun, laughing and singing the entire time.

None of this constant togetherness bothers either one of us the tiniest bit. Haley is not altogether comfortable with being alone, and likely she has never been alone for more than a few hours her entire life. The married Haley has discovered that I'm only truly happy when I'm with her, and that knowledge comforts her in ways that I can only imagine. Me, I was born alone. I've been there and done that. I'm astonished every day to find myself as one-half of a couple, an internal upheaval that's amazing in too many ways to count. Having bathed in the beautiful light at the end of a tunnel, I'm never going to turn around.

One of Haley's favorite games takes place while we sit on the porch together. She leans back against me and a mass of beautiful curls are inches form my face, so perfect in shape and texture. I'm always astonished that she's so relaxed and happy. She likes for us to compare forearms. I am the opposite of a caveman, and have small hands and delicate wrists. Side by side, our arms are surprisingly similar. Mine have a brownish fuzz, but it is almost invisible, and Haley's blonde fuzz also cannot be seen. Because I am out in the sun so much, my skin tone is a shade darker. Otherwise, it is eye opening to see how much we are exactly the same. She likes sliding two fingers up and down my arm, and then up and down her arm, as if trying to find a difference that really isn't there. I am part of her and she is part of me.

Come bedtime, we can and do sometimes collapse in the bed and quickly fall asleep. But more often than not, I am lying there peacefully, when I feel a tapping toe moving up my leg, or something poking in my ear, or two little fingers walking over to my side to say, "Hi!" But what Haley really wants to do is wrestle. She's good at it. Really good at it. She's fierce, fast, flexible, and has powerful legs, and is very determined. But if I use a little too much muscle, she squawks, "Hey! Unfair!" I also have more things to protect than she does, and Haley cheats a lot. At first, I thought that wrestling fed directly into Haley's current sense of liberation and kept away some past fear of being squelched. Gradually, I came to understand that it is a form of invitation. She wants me to shut my brain down, completely stop thinking, and to start feeling. Pre-Haley, I spent an entire life clinging to my individuality, with all its attendant thoughts and cares as being my most important asset. No longer. It is hard for me to describe in words what she understands so well, but what she wants is for us to merge together through a blurring away of two individuals until only a single, something greater, exists. Once there, we share together a form of instantaneous communication that uses only feelings and emotions. I had no clue. In the end, spoils are shared by whoever ends up on top and bottom. Then it's off to the showers. Afterwards, while Haley dries her hair, my everyday thoughts have returned, and I get to remake the torn apart bed. All my nicely tucked in corners from the morning are ancient history. After all that, it is easy for both of us to climb in, fall asleep and start all over again the next day.
 

Dr. eeL

Planter
MIDDLEWALK-45

Some kind of hidden psychic impulse told me to look at the calendar this morning, and Gaack! Haley's birthday is on the fourteenth. I've got three days to avoid big time trouble. I know exactly what she wants. She would prefer a unicorn, but she'll gladly take a pony. My one saving grace is that today is Haley's visit to Emily day, which frees my afternoon up for a ton of errands. Once she's safely out of the house and on her way, I dash down to Marnie's. Please, please, be there. And she was. "HI Marnie. I'm in the market for a pony. Not a Shetland pony, but a small horse, perhaps just under 14 hands. It's for Haley's birthday." Marnie seemed a little hesitant, as this was very much last minute, but she said that she would try her best. "Call me if you get lucky, and don't tell Haley. It's a secret," I reminded her as I headed out the door. My next stop was at Clint's. I found out that one of his many talents was that he actually liked, and was very good at shoeing. Check that off my list. The easy challenge was at Robin's where I paid for a new stable to be installed. Again, my timing was last minute, but still the stable could be finished on the evening of the thirteenth. All I had to do now was to act cool and calm and pretend that in all the excitement of the last eight days, I had completely forgotten about birthdays.

It was was to pass off Robin's banging and sawing outside, as part of a new shed that I wanted to have for extra storage. Running the farm was my domain, and Haley ignored the noise and changes. I did promise her a tour when it was finished. On the morning of the thirteenth, the phone rang, and Haley yelled out the front door that it was for me. Leaving my shoes behind on the front doorstep, I went in and found Marnie on the other end of the line. I was in luck, for she had purchased a pony and was ready to deliver it. It was a small grey (actually grey means white in horse talk) gelding (which is what would happen to me if I wasn't careful wrestling with Haley) Arabian (delicate and cute) named Max. Making sure that Haley's bloodhound-like nose and ears couldn't hear me, I said, "I'll leave the stable door open tonight, and if you could, quietly sneak the pony in after dark." Marnie seemed to enjoy the conspiracy and promised that no one would know.

The next morning dawned bright and beautiful, and after a very ordinary breakfast, I volunteered for the dishes while Haley spent some time in her parlor. If she remembered that today was her birthday, she was not giving off any hints. We went outside, and for a few minutes, Haley was the center of attention of all the barnyard animals begging for treats. "What are the carrots for?" She asked. I nonchalantly replied, "Let's see if the pig likes them." As we passed the new stable, I suddenly said, "Hey Haley, take a peek into our new shed." I opened both doors wide and instantly, Haley stopped in her tracks. Now, Haley's beautiful blue eyes are magically huge, and if possible, they instantly grew three sizes larger. "A pony!" "You got me a pony!" "A real pony!" She turned and looked at me. "My special husband got me a pony! Just wait till we get back in the house!" "Happy Birthday, Haley," was my unnecessary reply. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," gushed Haley. Max sauntered over and poked his head through the pipes, looking for treats, and I handed Haley the bag of carrots. "His name is Max, and I'm told that he's smart and friendly," I added. Now Arabians are intelligent, and Max certainly lived up to his bloodlines, for he instantly sized Haley up as a promised source of treats, today, tomorrow, and into the far far future. Marnie could not have picked out a better-looking pony if she had ordered him out of a catalogue, for Max's fur had a soft fuzzy white texture, with pink strawberry colored dots. "Can I ride him?" asked an eager Haley. "Well, you could, but he only has a lead line, and you would have to get on bareback. Probably not the best combination for a first-time rider. But I talked with Marnie, and she has agreed to come up twice a week and give you lessons." While Haley dashed off to the house to get her camera, I rubbed down Max and told him, "You and Haley will definitely be spending a lot to time together."
 

Dr. eeL

Planter
MIDDLEWALK-46

Looking at the calendar, I noticed that a birthday for Jas was coming up next Wednesday. Why not give the little girl a birthday that she will remember for a long time? I talked it over with Haley, and she thought it was a wonderful idea to have a party at our house. The guest list included Jas, Marni, Shane, Penny, Vincent, and Emily. Now, ponies are little girl magnets, and on the appointed day, Haley braided Max's mane and tied pink bows along its length. She also wove in pink ribbons into his tail, and I painted his hooves pink. My initial plan was to put a white unicorn horn between Max's ears, but I couldn't get it to stay put, and so I scrapped the whole idea. Early in the morning, Shane came by, and after letting him peek in on the chickens, I sent him into the house to help Emily and Haley with the decorating. I walked Max down to Marnie's to pick up our guest of honor. It does not take a lot of imagination to picture how happy Jas was when a pony shows up at her door. I stood behind the pony and asked in my best deep pony voice, "Hello, Jas. Would you like a ride?" Duh. Now that was a genuine squeal of delight! With Marnie leading the way on the lead line, and Jas perched up on Max's back, I walked alongside the group keeping an eye out just in case Jas forgets to keep her balance. It's a real good pony ride from Marnie's up to our house, but Jas beamed with a huge smile every inch of the way. Max dropped his guest off at our doorway, and while Jas and Marnie went inside, I guided him back to his stall.

By the time I get back inside, the party is already well underway. First of all, Emily, Haley, and Shane did a marvelous bang-up job with the decorations. Giant colored paper flowers covered the walls, and pink streamers hung from the ceiling. The round table in the living room was set up with (Haley's) tea service for nine, spoons, napkins and all. Two of the seats were taken up by a large pink stuffed rabbit and an even larger blue stuffed bear (borrowed from our guest room). Jas poured the 'tea' and I helped the rabbit take a couple of sips, while Shane did the same for the bear. After tea, we all played games. Haley and I held hands to become 'London Bridge' and all the remaining guests circled the table and went through the bridge as we sang the song. Of course, as Jas tried to go through the bridge, it fell down, and we sang, "Take the keys and lock her up, lock her up, lock her up. Take the keys and lock her up, my fair lady." As equal opportunity capturers, we also snagged Vincent and later, Penny. Then, it was back to the table for a game of 'Duck, Duck, Goose.' More than once, Jas was the, 'Goose'. Next, Haley brought out floppy bunny ears (with a band in between) for each of us to put on and wear. We then sang the song, "Do your ears hang low, do they wobble to and fro. Can you tie them in a knot, can you tie them in a bow . . . " At each cue in the song, we tried to make our ears do the same. There was plenty of laughter at everyone's silly looking ears that no longer were hanging low. Finally, we played, "Pin the tail on the pony." On one wall was Haley's large paper hand drawn cutout of a pony with no tail, and a couple of extra tails. First, we had Jas, then Vincent, and then Penny (as the volunteer kid) get blindfolded, spun around, and walk towards the wall with their tails. Of the three, Jas came pretty close, whereas when it was Penny's turn, Jas had to laugh, "Look. Penny put the tail on the poor pony's nose!" While this game was going on, Emily went to the kitchen and lit a huge collection of candles on a giant pink cake. I found out that not only is pink cake Haley's favorite, it is also Jas's favorite too. As Emily brought it to the table, we all sang the "Happy Birthday" song. After blowing out all the candles (which took some doing) Jas got to cut out her own slice of cake. I noticed that Vincent didn't say anything, but through his eyes, was wishing that he had a chance to do the same, so we let him cut his (sizeable) piece too. Emily dropped a scoop of ice cream into everyone's empty tea cups, and it was sugar consumption time. When it came time to open presents, among other gifts, Penny game Jas a new book. Haley and I gave her the big box (64 different colors) of marking pens.

Afterwards, the party moved outdoors, where Emily and Haley had converted a bed sheet into a kind of parachute. Everyone stood in a circle holding on to a portion of the parachute. Then we put a beach ball into the center of the chute, and as each person stretched their portion of the sheet fairly tight, in one swift motion together we lifted and flung the beach ball high into the air. It was surprising how high we all could make the ball go, and how difficult is was to catch it on the way back down. Once a puff of wind blew it into the cow and pig's corral, and Jas had to go in and retrieve it. Anything that is not fresh grass and Haley is pretty much ignored by our farm animals, including beach balls and little girls.

Finally, when it was time to go, I retrieved the pretty pinked up Max, and Jas received another pony ride back to Marnie's farm, this time escorted by everyone but Haley and Emily (the cleanup squad). By now, Jas was a professional pony rider, and asked if she could come by our farm and ride Max on another day. I looked at Marnie, and she nodded yes, so it looks like we will be getting an occasional visitor.
 
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