Meadow Thayer Centowski's plan was to finish the current season with her rented farmstand downtown,
but not to renew her lease for the following year.
True, the venue was very profitable--people who worked downtown during the day came in on their lunch hours and just after work to buy Meadow's top-quality organic produce, and paid well for it,
but Meadow figured that--even if she grossed less money next year by just running a farmstand out of her own front yard--at least then she wouldn't have to incur rent and commuting expenses. 'Besides,' she thought hopefully, 'maybe my kids will be able to help me in the garden and the farmstand by next spring.'
Brittany Parker stopped by the farmstand the day after Marcus's birthday. "Hey, Brit!" Meadow exclaimed, delighted to see her childhood friend, who seemed--as far as Meadow could tell (because she hardly ever saw Brittany these days)--to work about 25 hours a day at her new science job.
"I'm thrilled to see you, honey," Meadow continued, "but I'm surprised you're doing your own food shopping!--I thought Chloe was making all your meals at this point."
"Oh--I'm just here picking up some organic carrots to munch on at my desk late at night," Brittany explained.
"But it's absolutely true that Chloe has spoiled me," Brittany nodded enthusiastically. "She prepares lunches and dinners that I can bring to the lab and just re-heat over my Bunsen burners!"
"So," she added happily, "I hardly ever have to miss even a minute of work!!"
On one hand, Meadow was glad that her friend was so excited by her new job, but on the other hand she was a bit worried for her other friend, Alvin Futa, Brit's devoted and lovestruck boyfriend. 'I wonder how much Alvin really sees of Brittany these days?' she asked herself. She resolved to invite Alvin and Brittany over for dinner in the near future.
When Meadow wasn't spending time chatting up her customers, restocking her produce inventory, or running the register (whenever her regular cashier took a break),
she would dash out back to the greenhouse to weed, fertilize, and harvest her plants.
By mid-summer, Meadow had gotten her venue to Rank 6,
and--partly because of the sincere emotional support she gave to her employees,
and partly because of the excellent relationships she had developed with many of her customers (some of whom had offered her jobs,
some of whom had offered her useful contacts,
and some of whom had offered her free electronics,
plus, occasionally, a customer who didn't know Meadow well, and who wasn't aware that she was happily married with two children, and who tried to fix Meadow up with a blind date!)--
by the end of the summer, Meadow's Farmstand had gotten first to Rank 7, and then to Rank 8.
The day after Marcus's birthday, Meadow returned home after dark, exhausted and covered in dirt, and found Orlando making dinner for their family.
"Ooooh, honey--you don't have to do that!" Meadow protested. "I can whip us up something simple and quick."
"Nonsense," Orlando answered, putting 3 plates on the dining table and sitting down. "I may not be the cook you are, but I can at least make our family omelets."
"Where are the kids?" Meadow asked, pulling up a chair across from her husband.
"Ophelia's asleep--I fed her already--and Marcus is out at the pond fishing," Orlando answered, nodding toward the back window.
"I called him for dinner," he continued, "so I expect he'll be in as soon as he stows the fishing gear back in the garage."
Meadow, famished, dug into her eggs.
Orlando hesitated for a moment. "Do you want to talk to Marcus tonight about Ophelia?" he asked his wife quietly.
"Can we do it tomorrow morning instead, please?" Meadow pleaded. "Marcus doesn't start first grade for a few days yet, and I'm just beat right now. Not to mention filthy. I don't think I have the strength tonight for what could end up being an emotionally draining discussion."
"Whatever you think is best," Orlando assented, without further comment.
Marcus came in and joined his parents at the table, looking enthusiastic about the simple dinner his father had prepared.
"Catch anything, son?" Orlando asked encouragingly.
"Only an old smelly boot, Daddy, but I'm hopeful--I'm just sure I'm going to get better at fishing pretty soon!" Marcus answered happily.
"That's my boy, Marcus," Meadow smiled at her son.
Marcus went to bed right after dinner,
and Orlando cleaned up the dishes and tended to the just-awakened and slightly cranky Ophelia,
while Meadow took a much-needed bubble bath,
and collapsed into bed, exhausted.
The next morning after breakfast, Meadow and Orlando sat down on the sofa, and called their young son over.
Sitting down hesitantly between them, and seeing his parents' serious faces, Marcus asked, "Did I do something wrong?"
"Of course not, honey!" Meadow assured her boy.
"We just want to talk to you about Ophelia."
"What about her?" the boy asked, sounding worried and slightly suspicious.
"Well," Orlando cleared his throat. "We just want to explain how we got her."
Marcus looked confused.
Orlando glanced at his wife and bravely continued. "Well, usually, when a mommy and a daddy have a baby, the mommy gets a big tummy and then the baby comes out of the mommy's tummy."
The boy brightened. "Do you mean like Auntie Tosh--like when she and Uncle George got Baby Tara?" he asked. He had heard the story of Tosha, George, Tara, the break-in, and Officer Kauker many times.
"That's right," Meadow answered. "Just like that."
"Well, minus the burglar, though, and the possibility of gunplay by your godmother," Orlando deadpanned.
Marcus looked even more confused, and Meadow shot a quizzical look at her husband.
"What Daddy's trying to say, honey," Meadow addressed her son, "is that we got Ophelia in a different way. She came out of another lady's tummy, and then we found her."
There was a short silence as Marcus digested this information. "Found her where?" he inquired.
Orlando looked at his wife, and said to Marcus, "Your mommy found Ophelia at the Church of the Good Shepherd, where we see Father Powers every Sunday."
Marcus looked from one parent to another. "And then what happened?"
"Why, then, we brought Ophelia home to join our family," Meadow explained, "and we've all been happy together ever since."
"So ... who's Ophelia's mommy?" Marcus asked.
Orlando answered, "Your mommy is Ophelia's mommy. Because a 'mommy' isn't always the lady whose tummy the baby comes out of. Sometimes the 'mommy' is the lady who takes care of the baby, and loves the baby, and helps the baby grow up."
This was all a bit much for young Marcus to absorb.
"Why are you telling me all this?" the boy asked his parents.
"Because," his father answered, "you're starting school on Monday, and you'll meet lots of new kids. And some of those kids' parents may know about how we got Ophelia, so those kids might also know, and Mommy and I wanted to make sure that you heard about it from us."
Marcus was quiet for a few moments.
He turned to his father. "May I please go outside and fish in the pond?" he asked.
"Of course, sweetheart," Meadow answered him.
Meadow watched her son head out to the backyard.
"How do you think that went?" Orlando asked his wife.
Meadow shrugged. "As well as can be expected, I guess."
Marcus fished for a long time that morning.
After about an hour, as Meadow was making a sandwich for Orlando to take to work,
her husband asked her, "Do you think I should stay home today? You know, in case Marcus wants to talk?"
"No, honey," Meadow replied. "I think he just needs some 'alone time'. Let's let him have it."
Another hour later, after Orlando had left for work, Marcus came in from outdoors. Meadow, who was tinkering with the trash compactor, tried not to appear too concerned about her son.
"Want me to fix you a snack, Marcus?" she asked over her shoulder.
"No thank you, Mommy," the boy answered. "Mommy, can I ask you a question?"
Meadow straightened up. "Of course, honey. You can ask me anything."
"Okay," Marcus took a deep breath. "What if the lady with the tummy decides she wants Ophelia back?"
Meadow didn't hesitate to tell her son, "Honey, that's not going to happen. Ophelia is part of our family. Please don't worry about it."
But, as Meadow went on with her chores that afternoon, Marcus's question continued to trouble her.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Join us next time, when we catch up with the Gothier Londons: Calista, Randy, Christopher, and Berjes and his new wife, Nanny Kendal.