Pausing for a moment, she gazed at the multitude of family pictures crowding the wall in a long chronology, her grandparents at the top, followed by her parents, then ending at the second-floor landing with herself, from childhood to the last one taken a few years ago where she stood between her grandparents on the wide front porch, all smiles, arms tangled around each other, the deed to the bookstore--rolled and tied with a bright red ribbon—clutched tight in her hand.
Her eyes ran down the line of photos. She loved seeing her grandparents in their so-called “wild years,” though as far as she could tell, smiling at the most recent picture in front of their home in Ireland, not much had changed over the years. Her grandmother, Grace, gray-blond hair brushing her shoulders, had always worn long, flowing gypsy skirts and bright, blousy tops; her grandfather, Mickey, said Grace would forever be a hippie chick. In this latest picture, the two were smiling at each other with such happiness, their love utterly transparent. Lily touched the glass, her finger tracing their faces, missing them so much since their move to Ireland three years ago.
Moving down several more steps, she looked at her parents. Her mother, standing in the middle of a vast field of tall, vividly golden sunflowers, hand on the crown of her large straw hat, head thrown back, face to the sun, a few shining strands of hair blowing across her laughing face. Lily knew the exact sound of that exuberant laugh. Her father, Jean Michel, loved nothing more than taking spontaneous photos of his family, but especially of his wife. Lily had inherited the rich shade of blond hair from both her mother and grandmother, though the glints of deep red came from Ireland; the rich amber-brown of her eyes and her height—just shy of six feet—were her father’s gifts.
In another photo, her mother held an enormous sunflower head, standing next to her father in the doorway of a stone villa, both smiling broadly into the camera. Lily remembered taking that picture of her parents, and though she had trouble swallowing around the lump in her throat, she also couldn't stop the smile. She’d spent her childhood in that house, run wild through the acres of sunflowers on the family estate every summer. Missing her family was a painful ache in her heart. With a soft touch to their smiling faces as well, Lily sighed, then continued downstairs, ignoring the photos of herself that cascaded along the wall in a pictorial waterfall of her life.
As she did every morning, Lily stopped on the small landing at the bottom of the dark, polished oak staircase and surveyed the bookstore. From where she stood, her view encompassed most of the main floor, except for the kitchen to her right behind swinging doors and the bathroom tucked beneath the stairs. She glanced down at the floor. When she was very young, visiting her grandparents, she used to swan down the grand staircase like a princess, her grandfather solemnly bowing at the bottom, her grandmother tossing handfuls of fairy dust— glitter and confetti—making such a wonderful mess that to this day, if the light was just right, little sparks of color still shimmered between the cracks of the floorboards.
Though not today. In the sullen gloom of an overcast fall morning in Seattle, there wasn’t enough light filtering through the windows to dispel the shadows, let alone see fairy dust. For some reason that thought made a shiver run down Lily’s spine. What was the matter with her today? Usually she stood on the landing admiring the mellow shine of the old floors, the prism of colors that danced around the room from the many beveled windows. She loved stepping into the broad rainbow bands that stretched across the floor from the two long panes in the double doors at the front of the store. Instead, today everything felt dreary and flat.
Attempting to shrug off her mood, Lily grabbed a dust cloth from a cupboard under the stairs and settled into her usual routine, dusting and straightening her way around the book shelves. This morning however, hard as she tried to ignore them, nostalgia and melancholy rode her shoulders, determined to bring her down. As she worked, Lily let her mind wander to her family, looking for the comfort they always gave her...
When her grandmother, Grace, was twenty, she decided to postpone college for a year and travel. With a small backpack, her passport and a Michelin guide to Europe, she left her bewildered parents and set out to see the world. Six months later, in a boisterous pub in Dublin, she met Mickey Donovan. At the end of the week, unable to let her go, Mickey bought himself a backpack; together they traveled Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean. Two years later, happily working at a small lavender farm in France, Grace and Mickey married, and that very night their daughter Helene was born.
Undaunted by parenthood, convinced it takes a village to raise a child, the Donovans continued their nomadic lifestyle until Helene was nearly six. Agreeing it was time to settle down, they returned to Grace's roots, finding a home and their place in the world in a ramshackle old Victorian house on the edge of the vibrant, bustling university district in Seattle. Within a year, the two lower floors had been remodeled into a new age shop with books, crystals, tarot cards, incense, wands and whatnots. Mickey completely gutted and rebuilt the entire third floor, transforming it into a spacious three-bedroom, two-bath suite, with an open-plan great room, gourmet kitchen and spectacular views from every window.
Oddly, the child of nomads had no inclination whatsoever to travel. Helene had no desire for a quest, no urgency pulling her toward adventure; she was content with her classes at the university and her job at the bookstore. Worried their daughter wasn’t showing any interest in broadening her horizons, Grace and Mickey gave her an open-ended airline ticket for her graduation gift, and after careful deliberation, Helene chose to return to France, to see her old childhood friends, visit the lavender farm where she’d been born.
One day, nearly a month after arriving in France, Helene was riding her bike from the home of a close family friend to the local village, when she was run off the road by a small Citroen, spewing clouds of exhaust as the driver careened around a blind corner. Swerving to avoid a collision, she landed in the ditch, the front wheel of the bike spinning wildly near her head.
The car screeched to a halt, and a very large man somehow unfolded himself from the tight confines of the tiny vehicle and rushed toward her, waving his hands and spouting a string of apologies in rapid-fire French. Unhurt, Helene relaxed in the ditch and watched with amusement as he snatched handfuls of thick, unruly dark hair in his agitation. As she admired his broad shoulders, his long-legged strides, she wondered just how long it was going to take before he helped her out of the ditch. When he continued to pace back and forth, feverishly muttering, she started to laugh. At the sound—deep, rich, deliciously intoxicating--the man stopped abruptly, staring in bemused wonder at the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Smiling, Helene raised a hand, expecting to be pulled to her feet. Without hesitation, he lifted her out of the ditch and straight into his arms. It was a running joke in the family that he still hadn’t set her down.
Jean Michel Chareau owned one of the largest sunflower farms in southeast France. Helene and Jean Michel were married two weeks later, and not quite a year after that, Lily was born.
Shaking her head out of the past, Lily tossed the dust cloth back in the cupboard and made her way to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. Glancing at the large clock that hung over the front doors, she realized with a start that while tripping down Memory Lane, she’d lost nearly half an hour. Was it the weather making her feel so morose, unsettled? Her mother and grandmother had long found love by Lily’s age; maybe looking at the photos, daydreaming, made her realize she couldn’t even remember the last time she'd been on a date.
She sighed. Just her luck, Cupid seemed to have skipped a generation.
She sighed. Just her luck, Cupid seemed to have skipped a generation.
-----to be continued-----