She sank her toes deep into the cool sand and slowly rubbed her feet back and forth. Nature’s foot spa, she thought to herself. The amber rays of the morning sun were starting to wash away the dark hues of night. It would be another beautiful summer’s day.
Already the first awakenings were occurring. Birds chirped their morning hellos, singing joyfully to greet the new day. The call of the Osprey pierced the cool morning air. A warm, familiar scent of sand and surf filled the air. Tiny shells rubbed smooth by the current were like little treasures peeking up through the sand along the shore. The cottage and this beach were her favourite place, and this was her favourite time of day. This was her healing place.
Nola had been born at the cottage, just as her brother and sister were, and their parents and grandparents were before them. It was a tradition passed down through generations. Each child was welcomed in with singing and the giving of thanks for such a precious gift. Everyone was baptized in the lake waters when they were one month old. A faith tradition carried across a hundred historical years.
She was the oldest, so the cottage came to her upon her parents passing, as was the tradition. It was a bone of contention among her siblings, who each had children of their own. Neither of them spoke to her anymore, even though she invited them repeatedly. Her calls, letters and emails went unanswered. She prayed one day they’d come around.
Nola had no children, would never have children. She had met her husband, Charlie, during her first year away at college. The same year her parents died in a tragic car accident. She had left school to raise her siblings, another reason they resented her, and Charlie had followed her.
He had left her a year after they were married when they discovered she could not bear children. The doctor had said it was a rare case, one he had only read about. Her fallopian tubes had collapsed in on themselves and twisted shortly after she had married. It was as if her body was rejecting the very idea of carrying an unborn child. She carried the pain and loss of it all with her. Now, at 25, she had made a decision and was sitting here, watching the sunrise, trying to come to terms with it.
Their laughter carried across the airwaves, joy bubbling up through the long grass that hid them. Nola heard them long before they even reached the beach. She hurriedly wiped at the rogue tears that had kissed her cheeks, memories of the heart that escaped through watery eyes.
“Nola!” The five-year-old twins yelled in unison before launching themselves at her. She barely had time to turn and catch them.
“Well, now, what do we have here? Turtles? Geese? Hmmm, let me look at you and figure it out.”
“No,” they laughed and hugged her. “We’re girls, silly.”
“Oh, yes, I remember girls. They walk on two legs and dance and sing and have beautiful blond curls. Aren’t you the ones that live on the moon?” Nola hugged them tightly.
“We don’t live on the moon. We live next door, Nola, you know it.” Their laughter was infectious. “Did you watch the sun come up again? Was it as magical as yesterday?”
“Better.” Nola smiled and readied herself for the daily tale she would tell about how the sun and the moon played together in an eternal game of chase. Every day the story would change slightly to keep it interesting. Just as she started, another voice yelled out, “Girls!”
Nola recognized the voice and turned. The girls jumped and ran toward him. “Uncle Nick!” He didn’t quite manage to steady his feet enough and toppled as they jumped into his arms at the same time. Nola was sure he planned it that way. She hadn’t expected to see him here. He sounded different than she remembered. The result of growing up, she thought to herself.
“Whoa, you’re going to kill me,” he laughed as he rolled to his side and tickled them until they pleaded for him to stop. “Okay, okay, enough tickling. I was sent to gather you and tell you that your breakfast, my dear princesses, is ready. Go on up and get washed so we can eat.”
He watched them go and then turned towards Nola. His hazel eyes shone like the sun as they reflected the day’s rays. He smiled at her, “How are you, Monkey? It’s been a while.”
No one but him had called her Monkey. A name earned by climbing trees together in their childhood. A time long gone, one of laughter, whispered secrets and shared dreams. Neither of them getting to see those dreams fulfilled.
“I’m good, Nick. How are you? It’s been a long time.”
“Living the dream, as they say. I was sorry to hear about your parents, Nola. I wish I could’ve made it back for the funeral, but I was overseas.”
Nick Harrison was a military ambassador and travelled the world. He joined the army shortly after his wife died in childbirth. Yet another tragedy of pain and suffering. Mother and child had both died, leaving him empty. He ran away to escape it all.
“Thanks,” was all she could manage. “How long are you here for?”
“Not sure, a few months, maybe. I finished my tour and am trying to decide if I should re-up or not. It might be time to stop running. I came back here to figure it out.”
She studied him. Not surprised at what he said as they had always been open with each other. Neither of them had ever tried to hide how they were feeling or what they were thinking. He was the boy next door, her best friend and secret confidant, and she was his.
“Uncle Nick, the pancakes are getting cold. Hurry up.”
“Well, that’s my cue. Catch you later, Monk…Nola.”
She watched as he turned and walked away. Tall, square shoulders supported a lean muscular body, making him look like some Greek God as he strolled along casually in pj bottoms that she knew concealed strong muscular legs. His dark hair, now short, still held the hint of curls, wavy curls that used to caress his face when it was longer. His good looks were not lost on Nola. She had dreamt of them throughout her teenage years. She always thought they would marry, but he had met and fallen in love with Cassidy when she was away at college. Who could blame him? Cassidy was an angel, and Nola had adored her. Besides, they had never really said they loved each other, not in that way, so how would he know? It was the only secret she ever kept from him.
She looked back at the water. Boats were beginning to reveal themselves. The early morning fishermen coming back with their catch. Rising, Nola brushed off the sand that clung to her and headed in for a shower and her own breakfast.
She studied the cottage in all its glory. It stood tall, as if rising to meet the sun. There were nine bedrooms, four bathrooms, a large kitchen with a walk-in pantry, two small rooms off the kitchen for a cook and housekeeper, and a porch that wrapped around the entire house. The shutters on the windows and the porch railings could use some paint, but the pale blue house with its intricate lace white trim was almost magical. Too bad she was going to have to let it go. Years of tradition and history lost on her watch, not because she couldn’t afford it, but because she couldn’t bear the heartache of an empty house any longer.
Shaking it off, she headed for the stairs that would take her from the beach to the tall grass that separated the yard and sand and the well-worn path leading to the house. A path that generations had tread daily. If you stopped and listened, you could hear the memories.
Again, Nola asked, “Why?” It was hard not to question why this had happened to her. She knew God had a plan for her. She just couldn’t figure it out. Quietly she asked forgiveness for her questioning. Truthfully, she knew he didn’t ‘do’ this to her.
After a quick shower and a breakfast that consisted of a banana, toast and tea, Nola headed into town. She volunteered at the local orphanage. It was the only way for her to be around children every day and watch them grow, helping heal their hurts, even though they weren’t hers. It was healing for her as well and made her feel useful.
The building was old and battered and in need of many repairs. The walls moaned, and the stairs creaked from years of use. Nola expected that everyone in town was tired of her constantly calling and pleading with them for help. The roof leaked, the railings were loose, and the entire house needed painting. If they didn’t find a way to get it fixed, the orphanage would have to close. They had been given sixty days to repair or relocate, and then they would be out on the street.
Nola pasted a smile on her face and walked through the weathered doors. Almost instantly, she could feel a difference in the air. It was too quiet. Something must have happened. She sprinted forward toward the kitchen and found no one. The same was true for the living and dining rooms and the playroom.
“Mabel! Molly!” No response. She raced upstairs. Again all the rooms were empty. Everyone was gone. Nola’s heart was pounding in her ears, so she didn’t hear the quiet giggles happening outside. As she passed the hallway window, she discovered where everyone had gone. There, in the middle of the backyard, was Nick, surrounded not only by 15 children of various ages but by the entire house staff. He was crouched down low, exaggerating his movements as he talked. The kids focusing on his every word.
She sat down on the window bench to watch. The bench had been built for the children who didn’t want to go downstairs and needed their own space. They had made a window bench that could hold two, so no one would ever be alone unless they wanted to be. She had held many a child in her lap on this bench, soothing tears, reading stories, or listening as they revealed their fears and secret wishes. Now it was her turn to sit and be entertained.
Nola watched as he told them some kind of story. A story, she imagined, that must have included monsters or crawling things by his movements. The kids giggled and laughed. As he rose, he lifted his head, saw her and waved. Everyone turned to see who he waved at, and the kids yelled in unison, “Nola!” She laughed and waved back and turned to rush down the stairs to greet them.
They took turns hugging her, all trying to tell her about Mr. Nick’s story at the same time. Nola laughed as she tried to slow them down a little. She looked over at Nick, leaning against the door jamb, grinning from ear to ear.
Once the children were settled, she walked over to him. “I’m surprised to see you here.”
“Rob said they needed some help, and I need to keep myself busy, so I thought I’d come down to see what I could do. I’m afraid the list of what is needed will take longer than the time they have, but I will do my best, starting with the railings, inside and out. I’ll try and get someone here to help with the roof too.”
“So, how did you get roped into storytelling if you are here to do repairs? It wasn’t a judgemental question, just a curious one.
“I wanted the kids to be at ease with me around the house, so I asked the staff if they could bring them outside and join me for a story. That way, I’m just the friendly story guy’ who happens to be fixing the house.
She smiled at that. He was always a caring person, but this melted her heart. “You know, you’re going to have to tell them a story every day now, don’t you?
He rubbed his chin. “Well, now, I hadn’t thought of that. I’m sure I can come up with a few. So, what are you doing here?”
“I volunteer. I love the children, and since,” she wrung her hands together, “well, since…you know.” She didn’t have to say anymore. He knew exactly what she meant and, to the same extent, how she felt. He wanted to pull her into his arms and hold her tight, but she was fragile, and he was sure she would turn and bolt. So he walked over, tussled her hair like he used to when they were kids, and said the only thing he knew would put her at ease, “I know, Monkey, I know.”
She smiled at him as tears formed. His own heart melted a little.
“Well, come on, we have work to do.”
Over the next four weeks, Nola helped entertain the kids and helped Nick with repairs. She told him about her plans to sell the family home and her regrets in doing so. Nick told her about his need to stop travelling and running and put roots down somewhere.
Standing there, looking at the house, they both knew they wouldn’t make it in time.
“What are we going to do?” she asked.
“I’ve been giving that some thought and think I even may have a solution. I just need a bit of time to investigate it first.”
Nola could tell he wasn’t going to say anymore. There was a look he got that said as much, and when he crossed his arms, she knew that there would be nothing she could do to get the answer out of him. She smiled knowingly.
“What are you grinning about, Monkey?”
The two fell into a comfortable silence and began painting the repaired and sanded-down railings. Even if the kids had to move, they needed to make the place the best they could so the orphanage could sell it for as much money as possible.
Later that night, Nola sat down with her Bible. She read her Bible and prayed at the end of every day. It both soothed and settled her. Tonight, the Bible remained closed. “Lord, please let us find a way to help the orphans. They are your children and deserve love the same as any other child. We need a small miracle, Lord. Whatever you can manage will be enough, I am sure of it.”
One morning, as she sat on the beach watching the sunrise, she prayed again. There had to be something she could do. Nola loved those children as if they were her own.
She didn’t hear him approach, so she was surprised when Nick plunked himself down beside her. “Breathtaking.”
“Yes, it is,” she said softly and turned to look at him.
Nick wasn’t looking at the sunrise, though. He was staring at her. Lifting his hand slowly, he reached over and tucked a stray strand of golden hair behind her ear, rubbing his thumb across her cheek. It was an act of intimacy that made her blush like a schoolgirl. Nola stared back, saying nothing, absently wetting her suddenly dry lips with her tongue.
Shaking his head Nick turned his gaze towards the sunrise, but not before dropping it to her lips. He wanted to pull her close and kiss her but was afraid she would run like a spooked deer. He would find out soon enough, he thought. What he was about to propose would make her run or stay.
“I have an idea about what we can do for the children, but I want you to hear me out before you say anything. Agreed?”
Nola looked at him and nodded her head.
“I think the two of us should adopt the children together and live in that wonderful house of yours. It’s been too long since laughter ran through those halls, and both of us are quite attached to them. It is the best thing for them…and for us.”
“Nick,” she started, but he only shook his head and raised a finger to her lips.
“You said you’d let me finish. I’ve loved you since I was ten years old. When you went away to school, I was crushed. It left an opening in my heart for Cassidy. I loved her too, just as you loved Charlie. This is different.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring, twirling the box in his fingers before continuing.
“Nola Marie Henderson, to be clear, I am asking you to marry me and give us a shot at the love we should have had years ago. I am also asking you to fill our lives with the children we can’t have but so dearly want by adopting those precious children. We can hire Mable and Molly, who can live in the rooms off of the kitchen if they agree, or they can just come daily. I have enough money to support you and…” he stopped. Nola was shaking her head, and tears were streaming down her face. He was a fool, and it was a fool’s dream.
Nick rose to leave. Nola reached out and grabbed him, pulling him back down. This time it was Nola who put a finger to his lips. “Yes, yes to it all. I’ve loved you forever,” and she practically leapt into his arms and kissed him.
It took several weeks to arrange, but since the children were going to be displaced and most were of an age that was hard to adopt out, they were approved quickly. Mabel and Molly gladly moved in to help with the children as they, too, had no place to go. The money from the sale of the orphanage belonged to them, as it had been their house, something neither Nola nor Nick knew, so they refused to take any salary. They said it was a labour of love for two old maids such as them and had laughed.
So, it came to be that Nola was sitting on the beach in the arms of a man she had loved almost her whole life, surrounded by their children. The children may not have been hers biologically, but they were hers in every other way.
In keeping with tradition, they sang a song of thanksgiving and gratitude the day the children arrived at the house. Each child was baptized in the lake waters one month later. Even her siblings had come around and were there for the event at Nick’s insistence. It would take time for complete healing for all of them, but they were well on their way.
Nola said a silent prayer of thanks and gratitude to God for this wonderful gift of love and rested her back on Nick’s chest as she watched the kids make sand castles and play in the waves. Even the twins joined in the daily fun now that they had new friends to play with and their Uncle Nick living right next door.
She was truly blessed. God had answered her prayers in a way she could not have even imagined for herself. Life didn’t get much better than this. She was married to the man she had loved her whole life and had the family she always wanted. Yes, life was good, God was good, and Nola would be fine.
© Leslie C Dobson
If you liked this faith story, you can find others on the Faith Stories link of Leslie’s website.