Friday, 17 October 2014

The First Snow flake

The shop bell rang to signal the arrival of the coach load of tourists. They burst into the small store chattering and calling out to each other in excitement as they admired all the souvenirs and local produce.
Ellie had been waiting for them all morning since Linda, the tour guide, had sent a text to say they were on their way. Ellie had got to know Linda well and she looked forward to her visits. Linda had told her that she was with a new driver because the usual one, Chuck, had a sprained ankle.
This would be the last coach load of what were affectionately known as the 'Leaf Peepers' before the Winter settled in.
It had been a good season for Ellie . She had sold all the maple syrup and homemade preserves and most of the little soft toys,that her mother had made. Ellie's handmade plaids and quilts in the rich Autumn colours of ruby, amber and gold, had all sold out.
The group of tourists were soon out of the shop with their purchases and sitting in the sunshine enjoying Ellie's special hot chocolate and marshmallows.
Ellie went to join them and chat to Linda. The coach driver jumped down and helped himself to coffee. Linda introduced him as Hank. He held out his hand to Ellie and she felt her knees buckle and a tight feeling in her chest. She sprang away and they looked at each other.

In a fluster, Ellie called over her two dogs Sugar and Red. They were named after the maple trees that Ellie loved so much. This year they had been  dazzlingly beautiful, making  the New England woods yet again one of the most stunning shows on earth. The American Beech, the Mountain Ash and the Northern Red Oak were still resplendent in their Fall finery.
Ellie's father used to tell her that the nip in the September air was what told the trees to prepare for Winter. He taught her the names of all the trees and made up stories about the animals that lived in the vast woods. Ellie's father had been a Forest ranger and sometimes took her with him along the trails during her school vacation. She liked checking the books that were placed at the beginning of each trail so the rangers knew who had gone into the woods. The trees were so thick that it was impossible to find people who got lost and there were warnings everywhere about sticking to the trails.
Now both her parents helped her and her brother Sam look after the store. It had belonged to their grandparents. Sam's wife Patty was a teacher at the elementary school and came to lend a hand on her day off .
Their six year old twins Katie and Tom liked to help make the home-made molasses and blueberry muffins for the cafè.
Red and Sugar started barking  and running round in circles to let her know they were ready to take the tourists to the covered bridge.

 Linda told her group some facts about the covered bridges. They had probably been built with roofs to protect the bridges from the harsh winters. Now they had become popular with romantic couples and were known locally as Kissing bridges. At this, the group , who were mainly older couples winked and nudged each other .This was the cue for photos in playfully passionate poses. One couple , from Virginia, Harold and Marion, wanted Ellie in their photo.

'You remind us of our granddaughter, honey. Have you got yourself a boyfriend? Let's have Hank in the picture too.'
Ellie felt her cheeks grow hot as Hank came to join them. What was happening to her? She was nearly forty and had given up thoughts of love a long time ago. Mother nature hadn't blessed her with a pretty face and she was totally unaware of how the kindness shining from her heart made her look quite beautiful to those who met her. She had her family, her niece and nephew, her store and her beloved mountains. She had always felt herself to be really lucky.
Hank gently brushed her cheek and then beamed at the camera. 
Linda told the group they had half an hour to explore the area before getting back on the coach.
Hank asked Ellie if she would  have another coffee with him, for the road. As they walked back to the store he took her hand. 
'This is my last trip before the winter and then I'll be working in the new hotel just ten miles away, for the skiing season. Could I come and take you dancing?'
Ellie saw Linda grinning and giving her a thumbs up .
The couple from Virginia were pointing up at the sky. Marion's face was shining with delight and Harold  came up behind her and put his arms round her. She turned towards him with the grace that must have accompanied her all through her younger years.
Ellie felt Hank's hand tighten. She closed her eyes tightly and made a wish.
'Look everybody ! The first snow flake!'

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