Hope Among the Apple Trees

“Where are you off to now?” Darcie’s father asked as she ran up to him, a giddy smile on her face.

“To the western wood, to tend the orchard, as always father.”

“You be careful, I want you around for the harvest.” He said jokingly.

“I promise.” She said as she leaned in close, kissing him on the cheek.

With that, she ran out of the house and into the open farmland. Her hair unfurled in the breeze, each lock flowing freely in the wind. She felt much the same. She was free. She could go wherever she wished, be with whomever she wished. But there was only one she wished to be with. And she knew where he lived.

She made her way to the westernmost point of her father’s lands, just at the edge of the orchard where his farmlands met their neighbors. A long, wooden fence divided the two properties, marking off what was her father’s and what belonged to the other man.

Darcie never knew the man’s name. But by how her father spoke of him, she had been afraid of him most of her life. He was apparently a very harsh, rude man, who didn’t take kindly to any trespassing on his property. He jealously protected his borders, not letting any pass over, on either side. He seemed to hate Darcie’s father as much as he hated trespassers. Perhaps he viewed her father’s ownership of the land next to his as just that, a trespass. But no matter, Darcie wasn’t going to see the man. She was going to see his son. And he was nothing like his father. Darcie knew this best.

She had met him at the start of spring, when the harvest was young, as she was out tending the grove nearest the border. The boy’s name was Calvin, though Darcie often called him Cal. He was out the same morning, watching over his father’s land. It was mostly barren, save a few old apple trees and some wildlife dotted among the trees and thickets, and the boy was tasked with making sure no one, especially of the neighboring land, crossed over. That is, until he met Darcie.

The two became friends almost instantly, both seemingly lonely in their father’s employment and desperate for companionship. And so, they spent the rest of the season together, talking from across the fence. Darcie would sit on a stump, next to the fence, while Calvin, or Cal as we shall call him, often leaned against one of the old apple trees, where he could see her better.

It seemed that Cal thought Darcie to be exceptionally beautiful, and not at all like the people he had met working for his father. She was gentle and kind, yet passionate and bold in the things she cared about. Most people he knew were jaded, hardened by years of hard labor and oppression by various landowners with little trust for any authority. When he saw Darcie, so young and hopeful, teeming with vibrant life and joy, he was smitten. Never mind her heritage or her father. He loved her. And she, much sooner than many would have thought possible, admitted that she loved him.

And so, the two were inseparable. Where Darcie went, Cal followed. And where Cal went, Darcie did the same. But always from the other side of the fence, neither one ever crossing over their father’s lands. They often discussed the border, and their fathers, and the ridiculousness of such a quarrel over nothing at all. Darcie thought, and believed very strongly, that her father should tear down the border and let the two lands become one. She thought that the opening of the border would allow the prosperity of her father’s lands to bleed over into Cal’s land, that the overgrown, desolate wasteland would become a blooming orchard like her father’s was.

In fact, she thought him to be awfully cruel for not doing so much earlier. After all, how could be ok with letting his own neighbor have such overgrown, barren lands when his own storehouses were overflowing? She thought it to be rather careless and insensitive on her father’s part, but she never voiced this to Cal. She loved her father, after all, and did not wish to speak ill of him. Yet her doubts grew deeper, and the thought nagged louder. How could he be so cruel, to keep all his riches away from those in such desperate need? She decided to do something about it.

She would talk to her father about it. She even told Cal. Cal was admittedly very excited by such a prospect, and all the more with being able to be close to Darcie, without a fence between them. But he was worried about her. He knew how much she loved her father and her farmlands, and he hated to think what would happen if he were to let her down, for Cal’s sake. He didn’t want his connection with his own father to jeopardize her relationship with her father. But Darcie didn’t care, she would talk to him one way or another. And he would listen.

“But what if he doesn’t?” Asked Cal, one afternoon as they sat talking like they always did.

“Then I shall never see him again.” Darcie responded coldly.

“Darcie, you love your father. You don’t mean that.”

“And I love you, Cal. I can’t sit by anymore as my father does nothing, while you and your father rot on that desolate land. And my father will agree with me. He will see as I do and break down the fence. Then you and I can be together.”

“And if he doesn’t? Darcie, I don’t want to lose you. But if our fathers can’t agree…”

“They will, just you wait.” She said determinedly. When Darcie set her mind to something, nothing would change it. Cal, unwilling to argue his point further, let it go with a smile. Darcie returned it, smiling at the ground as her long brown locks fell over her face as she watched her feet dangle below her.

Cal admired her serenity, her courage. She was not one to be trifled with. She had been though much, at the loss of her mother, as he had. But she was strong, determined, and so very lovely. Her green dress pooled at her waist like a vibrant spring of life in a desert; much like her father’s land in comparison to Cal’s. But he didn’t mind, he thought her all the more beautiful because of it. After all, he had never known anyone like her.

She left with another smile, promising good news at their next meeting. Cal smiled back, waving her off as she set off across the farmland towards her father’s house. Today was the day, she would finally ask him, and settle this silly dispute once and for all. Then she and Cal could be together, hopefully, forever. She let herself imagine it as she walked across the plains, leaving the orchard behind her as she neared the house on the hill. Her father was home, there was smoke from the chimney. Now was the time. What happened next would alter her life forever, one way or another. And she was determined to see it changed.

“Father?” She asked, leaning in the doorway. The sun shone behind her into the warm, wood-paneled home her father had built many years before. This was her home, the place she grew up. And she loved every inch of it. She stepped in the doorway, letting her hands gently brush across the rough-hewn walls and doorways; each groove filling her mind with memories and laughter. She smiled, recounting all the time she and her father spent together in this home. Their home. She loved every second of it.

“Father?” She called again. No answer. “Father?”

She made her way onto the back porch, where her father often sat, gazing out across his lands toward the south and the lands beyond. And sure enough, there he was, sitting in his chair, facing east, as he always did. He loved to watch the sun rise there each morning, and as he worked, he reveled in watching it soar above him. It was like a challenge to him, to see if he could outwork his oldest friend. But he never could, and the sun always set in the west, having made its journey across the sky much quicker than he could attend to his work. So, every night, he admitted defeat, on the back of his porch, smiling, enjoying the company of something so playful yet so brilliant. Darcie never really understood her father’s fascination with the sun. Nor did she really care. At least not anymore. The stories that once fascinated her as a child now bored and confused her; they made her think her father was really much more confused than he let on.

“Ah, Darcie. My best girl. Come sit with me.” He said, smiling back at her from his chair.

Darcie moved forward slowly, preparing her words with each step.

“Father, I have something I need to say to you.”

“Of course, my dear, anything.” She breathed in deep, mustering all the boldness she could find within her. She thought of Cal and wanting to be with him, and so the words came quickly. Perhaps too quickly.

“I want to tear down the fence on the west side.”

“What?” Her father replied, his face etched with confusion.

“I want to tear down the fence on the west side.” She said again, this time pronouncing her words more carefully.”

“Why on earth would you want to do that? I have often told you, Darcie, that fence is there to protect you, and our lands.”

“But… I want to open our land up to Cal’s lands, so that Cal’s father may prosper as you have.”

“So, this is for Cal?” He asked, his eyes searching.

“No, it’s more than that. I want their land to be better, their storehouses to overflow as ours do. They have almost nothing, they can grow almost nothing. Surely we must do something to help them.” She swallowed hard, choking back emotion. “I have to save Cal, father. His inheritance is almost nothing, his wealth is nothing now as it is. I have to help him. We have to help him.”

“Is this what has been troubling you? Answer me honestly, Darcie.”

“Yes, father.” She sighed, relieved to have her anxieties at last breathed out and made open to her father. She thought that surely this would be the end of her begging and yearning to be with Cal and have their lands be as one.

“You think it is up to you to see that land made right.” Her father said, gazing out across his land.

“Well, I think we have some responsibility to our neighbors beyond the fence. I mean look at our lands compared to theirs. We have so much, and they have nothing. We must do something to help.”

“Darcie, do you know how I got this land?”

Darcie was puzzled to hear her father bring up such a random topic. It actually frustrated her. It was like he wasn’t listening at all. She kept quiet, pursing her lips in silent defiance as she tried to remain calm at her father’s rejection. He continued.

“I bought it, with my own money. I cared for it for years, planting each tree, caring for them, raising them up until they were of age to bear fruit. Then I harvested and provided for the local towns as I was able, and I filled our storehouses so you and our laborers would be well fed and looked after.” He paused, his expression turning sour. “Do you know how Cal’s father got his land? He inherited it, from his father, who got it from his father. But do you know how he first got it? He stole it, from my great grandfather, after a dispute over his work.”

“He worked for your great grandfather?” Darcie asked, opening her pursed lips for the first time in curiosity.

“He did. But he didn’t agree with him, or his methods. He thought he should give less and keep more, lest he risk losing the land and his wealth to the people. But my great grandfather refused and would not stop sharing his wealth. And so, the man left in anger, angry with the man he thought he was. Instead of trusting my great grandfather, and helping him serve the people, he took some of the land for his own, as his own inheritance. But it was not his to take, he was not an heir. He wasn’t even a brother. He was a laborer, who thought he deserved more; he thought he could make a better owner than my great grandfather, so he made himself one.”

“Why didn’t your great grandfather take it back? Wasn’t it his to begin with?”

“It was, and it still is. Even now, generations later, the deed is still in my family. It has not changed owners. Yet that man’s great-grandson, Calvin’s father, guards it like it’s his. He lets none pass, but he lets nothing grow. Even after three generations, that family has not seeded a single crop or planted a single tree. They stole it, but they will not care for it. It rots and decays, every day becoming wilder and more untamed. They will never change.”

“But what of the apple trees? I have seen some near the border, on Cal’s side, I mean. Surely they planted those?”

“What was sown there was sown in defiance, mocking my ancestor’s lands and orchards, and now of mine. It grows fruit born of rebellion, not of love or of peace. Such fruit is sour, evil. You must never eat of it. It is not safe.”

“It’s only an apple, father. I’m sure I am stronger than a piece of fruit.”

“You heed my words, child, lest you become like them. Fruit bears seed, and seed sows trees of the same. I will not have my daughter become as one of them, you are my daughter, and all this is your inheritance. Don’t throw it away for an apple.” He stopped, his eyes welling with concern. “Not even for Cal.”

“What are you saying, that Cal is evil?” Darcie asked, visibly angry.

“He is his father’s son. And no matter how much he loves you, he always will be. Lest he comes to me.”

“You would let him?” Darcie asked, dumfounded but seething with anger.

“Have I ever turned one away?”

“No. But I don’t see why he must come to you when you haven’t seen him, all these years. He loves me and wants to be with me. But he doesn’t think he is welcome on this side of the fence.”

“If he comes to me, he will be.”

“You won’t let me bring him over on my own? He trusts me and loves me. And he will come if I ask him.”

“But he will still not be a son. He will still be another man’s son, living on my land.  He will never be at home here, and you will never truly be at home with him. And I think you know that.”

“How can you say that? It’s like you don’t trust me to know my own mind! I know my heart, father. I know whom I love.”

“But do you love me enough to let him go, Darcie? If I asked you to?”

“You can’t make me do that.”

“Why not? I’m your father, aren’t I? You trusted me once, knew that I wanted only what was best for you. Yet now you treat me as a stranger as if I didn’t know you or your desires. Darcie, if you would let Cal go, and wait for me and what I have for you- “

“I have what I need, now, in Cal. And I won’t let you take that from me.”

“Darcie, please. Hear my heart in this. I love you, and as your father, it is my job to protect you. Even if you cannot see the danger, I must keep you safe. That’s what fathers do.”

“I’m starting to wonder if you are really my father at all. My real father would trust me and let me do what I know is best.”

“That wouldn’t be love, Darcie. That would be evil of me, to let you walk into something I knew was wrong. I wouldn’t be much of a father then.” His eyes welled with tears as he spoke. Her words cut him deep. But she didn’t care. Darcie was determined to get through to him, one way or another. But he would not listen. That was obvious now. And so, there was nothing more to say. She turned and started back towards the door.

“Where are you going?”

“To see Cal. If you won’t let him over, and if you won’t go to him, then I will.”

“Darcie, you cannot save him. He has to choose for himself what he will do.”

“Then I will make my own choice. Goodbye father.”

“Darcie, wait- “

“If you won’t bring him, I will.”

“And if he refuses?”

“Then I will be with him, where he is at home. I will get him to come, father, you’ll see.”

“Darcie, please don’t go. I want you here, with me, as we have been.”

She shook her head. “I won’t stay without him.” She went inside and backed her bag, determined to convince him to come. If he wouldn’t, she would go with him, to his father’s land, long enough to convince him to come over. Cal always spoke of his adoration for her father’s land. Surely, he would come. At least he would see the merit of coming over and come with her. If her father would not go to him, she would bring him to her father. One way or another.

Her father stood on his back porch, watching her head towards the western wood, where the fence was erected. His words had not kept her, nor had his pleading with her. And he wept at the loss of her. She would not return until she had Cal, and her father knew, as much as Cal spoke of his love for Darcie, he loved his father and his duty to him more.

Cal would not come to Darcie’s father, as he required. He loved his father too much. And Darcie could not bring him lest Cal heard her father’s words and came on his own. And so, her father wept, for the loss of his daughter.

“But my dear, you will miss the harvest.” He called, smiling. He seemed to be recalling their days spent together, when they harvested the orchards together, with joy and peace with one another.

Darcie stopped and turned to face him, smiling.

“Don’t you worry about me, father. I will still be here come then. I promise.”

With that, she disappeared as she headed down the steep hill towards the western orchard. Her father fell back into his chair, overcome with grief.

They had long discussed the harvest with anticipation, and Darcie especially looked forward to it each season. She talked of little else until she met Cal. And now, her father feared that because of Cal, she would miss the very thing she longed to see. She would be too lost in her own fantasy to realize it until it was too late. But her father would not let this happen. And so, he stood, at the edge of his porch, waiting. Every sunrise, he watched the edge of the hill, waiting to see her coming, her brown locks waving in the wind. He wept. But he kept waiting, every sunrise until she came home.

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