Heartland Stars

Chapter 1

 

Meg carried the three leftover hot dogs into the house.

Rose’s one-year birthday party had been a huge success. But most of the guests had left, and it was just her sisters and a few close friends cleaning up.

“Look at this!” Candace said, holding up a bag of rolls. “Three rolls left too. How often does that happen?”

Meg smiled. Never. “That’s definitely a first.”

“That’ll be supper for you for the next three days,” Candace said with a happy smile. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you letting us have Rose’s birthday here, rather than trying to have it in our new place when we’re doing all of those renovations and getting everything settled. Thank you.”

“My pleasure. You know you’re always welcome here. I think it would be hard to move out of the home you grew up in and not feel at home when you come back. I hope that doesn’t happen.”

“Oh, Meg,” Candace said, her eyes going to the window where her husband, Jefferson, carried Rose around on his shoulders while he cleaned the grill and put the yard furniture back in their rightful places. “Things change.” She sighed. “That’s just one of those things in life that we have to get used to.”

Meg nodded, but Candace’s words made the unsettled feeling that had been in her chest all day even worse.

“You girls talking about changes?” Aunt Bev said as she walked into the kitchen. She had gone in earlier to take a little nap on the couch, saying all of the excitement had worn her out.

“Yeah. Good changes. But even good changes make you sad,” Candace said, her smile not quite as bright, as she wrapped the bag around the rolls and put them in the cupboard.

“That’s the truth, girl,” Aunt Bev said. “It’s probably best if you just accept the fact that your life is going to shift when you least expect it and understand that most of the time when God changes your life, He does it for a reason. Sometimes, it takes a little bit until we see it, and we have a tendency to fight the change, but if we could see our lives from God’s perspective, we’d know that the changes are necessary.”

Meg put the hot dogs in a baggie and set them in the refrigerator. They truly would make her supper for the next three nights, along with some of the other leftovers.

“I know you’re right, Aunt Bev, and I’m not upset or trying to fight anything, I just… I guess I get overwhelmed by the memories sometimes, you know? Just last year, my two sisters and I were happy and having fun in this house, working on the farm together. And now…now Esther is happily married, with a little one on the way, but living in town, and she hasn’t approached me about it, but I think that she and Monroe would like to sell their third of the farm. And Candace just moved last month, and I’m happy for her and excited because I think they’re going to really enjoy living where they are, and they’re not that far away, it’s just…just different.”

“You know, when you’re the one left behind, it’s always a little harder,” Aunt Bev said with a sad smile. She ought to know. She raised four girls who all moved out of the house. All of a sudden, Meg understood how that might feel. To have that change.

Aunt Bev went on. “You’re the one that’s still in the same spot, walking around with all of the memories, while the person who moved on, or people, or whatever, they’re living a new, exciting life, and they don’t have as much time, or as much empty brainpower, to think about the past. Plus, they’re not living with the house and everything right with them.”

“That’s a good explanation. I’m just kind of living with the memories every day, and it’s hard to shake them.”

“Miss Matilda always said when you take something away, you need to replace it with something. She was talking about sin. Like when you stop listening to music you know you shouldn’t be listening to, because it glorifies immorality, or cheating, or just encourages you to do bad things, she would say you need to replace it with good music. Because you don’t want to take it out and just have a hole there. So when you take something bad out of your life, you make a decision to replace it with something good.”

Candace wrung a rag out at the sink and started wiping the table. “It’s not that anything bad has left your life, but the people who leave, like we were talking about, they have already replaced things. They’ve taken something out and replaced it with something else, but the person who’s left behind hasn’t. Often doesn’t. They just have that hole, and they don’t think of replacing it with anything.”

“I had never thought about it that way. But I remember Miss Matilda saying that, and that’s kind of been a principle that I’ve thought about. But I didn’t apply it to this.”

Candace stood and walked across the kitchen to Meg where she leaned against the counter and put her arms around her. “It makes me sad to think that you’re sad. I’m sorry.”

Meg hugged her back, relishing the contact. She’d been alone in the house, and she hadn’t realized how much she had missed the contact with her sisters.

Now that there was no one, she wouldn’t say she got lonely exactly, she just…kind of craved human touch and interaction.

“Please don’t be sad. I…I’m not sure how we got on the subject, but it definitely wasn’t because I wanted you to feel guilty. I’m glad we talked about it, because it’s obvious to me that I need to fill the hole, as Miss Matilda would say, with something, rather than just trying to power through the sadness.”

“Sometimes we can power through things, but sometimes it’s okay to try to make that powering through a little easier,” Aunt Bev said.

Meg nodded, feeling hopeful. Which was better than the slightly depressed feeling she’d been having as everyone packed up and started leaving. The amount of people who had been here after having no one for days had been a little overwhelming. But the idea that both of her sisters were married, and she wasn’t, made her feel even more left behind.

She honestly didn’t begrudge her sisters any happiness, not at all, but the fact of the matter was she did have a hole in her life, she did feel left behind, and it was up to her to fix it, not up to anyone else to undo something they had done, just to try to make her happy.

“I think maybe I’m going to make some changes,” Meg said, thinking about the message she had gotten earlier this morning.

She had determined to do something about it but then changed her mind.

Now, it seemed like the Lord might be opening a door, after closing several others.

“Well, honey, don’t be too rash,” Aunt Bev said, coming over and patting her arm. “You also don’t want to make snap decisions, just because you’re trying to grasp at anything to replace the things that you’ve lost.”

“That’s good advice, Aunt Bev,” Candace said, giving her sister a concerned look.

Meg smiled. “I’m not gonna do anything that I’m not going to pray about first and feel like God wants me to do.”

“That’s a relief. And that’s much smarter than I was,” Candace said, kind of sadly, her eyes again going to the window. “But God can take bad mistakes and turn them for good. Sometimes despite the fact that we don’t deserve it.”

Meg wanted to argue and tell Candace that she deserved every good thing, but she understood what Candace was saying. That no one truly deserved the goodness God gave to them, that each and every thing that came through His grace was a gift beyond measure and one they needed to be thankful for. Especially when it came after they had made poor decisions and even sinned.

“Promise me that you’re not going to do anything rash,” Candace said, studying Meg’s face.

“I promise,” Meg said easily, knowing that she wouldn’t. Although, if she truly did answer that social media post, some might consider it rash. But this conversation in the kitchen had been exactly what she needed.

Glancing out the window, she saw Preston, their neighbor, trying to move the picnic table back by himself while Jefferson carried some chairs back to the barn.

“I’m gonna run out and give him a hand,” Meg said quickly, hurrying to the door and stepping out. The picnic table was heavy. Although Preston was moving it, it would be much easier with two people. She was so grateful that Preston had stayed to help clean up, and she didn’t want to see him working extra hard when she could help.

“Hang on a second,” she called as she walked through the yard. “I’ll give you a hand with that.”

“This thing must be made with bricks. It weighs a ton.”

“It’s pressure-treated lumber, and I ought to know, since I made it in high school.”

“You made this? You don’t typically see an octagon picnic table like this.”

“I love it, except you can’t push the seats in and out. Which I suppose is typical for a picnic table, but it makes it kind of hard to have a group of people of various ages and sizes sitting together.”

“That’s the story with picnic tables, right?” Preston said as Meg picked up the other end, and they carried it, somewhat awkwardly, back over to the oak tree where it typically sat, not far from the rope swing.

They settled it down, and Meg brushed her hands off, figuring she’d walk back up to the house with Preston and kind of waiting on him.

But he stood there, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Nice party.”

“You know it’s funny we do so much celebrating with one-year-olds, because the kids never remember them. It’s mostly for the adults.”

“And the other kids. Lisa and Oliver seemed to have a great time.”

He referred to Candace and Jefferson’s other two children, the ones that they didn’t have custody of but had permission to keep.

“They did. Birthday parties are always fun for kids. Hopefully anyway.”

“As long as there’s cake, they’re fun for me too.”

Meg laughed. “I guess I could say the same thing, although I always love to eat off the grill, and we just don’t cook on it unless we have people over.”

“That’s part of summer as well,” Preston said and leaned his hip against the picnic table like he was planning on staying for a while and chatting.

Meg didn’t mind, almost everything had been cleaned up, and she’d be heading down to the barn to start the work, a little late, but it would be there when she got there, so she wasn’t in a huge hurry.

“This is going to sound odd,” Preston started, and Meg’s breath caught in her throat. He almost sounded like he was a little unsure, and she thought he might be going to propose something to her.

Preston was a great guy, a good friend, and someone she really liked and admired.

He didn’t date, and everyone pretty much assumed it was because the girl he’d fallen in love with in high school had married someone else.

But maybe he was like her, ready to do something desperate just to move on with his life.