Fall always brings changes to Deepwater Cove,” Charlie Moore said
as he sat at Patsy Pringle’s styling station in her Just As I Am beauty
salon. “And I don’t mean the good kind.”
“Now you stop talking like that, honey,” Patsy chided, brushing the
back of Charlie’s neck. “Especially on a Friday afternoon in my favorite
month of the year. There’s nothing like a September weekend to
lift a girl’s spirits....and I won’t have you trying to squash ’em flat.”
Patsy finished brushing the wisps of hair off Charlie’s neck. Then
she turned him around and let him have a look in the mirror.
He checked to see that his sideburns were even; then he nodded.
“Good work, Patsy. You always fix me up right.”
She smiled and patted his shoulders. “I have a feeling this autumn
is going to be one of our prettiest in years, Charlie. The leaves are
starting to change colors already, and a cool breeze is blowing in off
the lake. I don’t know why you’d think we’re in for a rough season.”
Charlie shook his head. “History, Patsy. Look at our history. A year
ago, the last of the Hansen kids went off to college, and, well....you
know things got pretty difficult for Steve and Brenda.”
“What else happened in the autumn, Charlie?” she asked. “I’ve
owned this salon for umpteen years, and I can’t remember a single
“That’s you, Patsy. The eternal optimist.” He leaned back in the
chair, adjusted his glasses, and began. “Last fall, we had the Hansen
problem. The year before that, fl u took two of our widows....one in
September and the other in early November, as I recall. And don’t
forget the year the pizza restaurant went belly-up, the main bank in
Camdenton shut down its local branch, and the new tavern set up
shop....all of them right as summer ended.”
“Well, I have to admit I’m no fan of Larry’s Lake Lounge. Why is it
that bars never go out of business? That rankles me,” Patsy declared,
whisking the cape from Charlie’s shoulders and helping him from
the chair. If he didn’t know better, he’d think the young woman was
trying to hurry him along.
Charlie started for the cash register. “I’m with you on that one,
Patsy. Too many young guys waste the better part of their time and
their money there. Never understood it myself.”
“And don’t forget the fall colors,” Patsy said. “I know folks enjoy
going on tours to look at the leaves changing along the East Coast
and up toward Canada, but land’s sakes, why don’t they open their
eyes right here? The Ozarks has some of the prettiest fall colors God
ever painted on a tree.”
“Sumac,” Charlie said as he tugged his wallet from his pocket.
“Now there’s a red you won’t often see in nature.”
“See what I mean? Fall is a wonderful time of year.”
Charlie chuckled. “I reckon you’re right, Patsy. Plus, most of the
out-of-towners are gone, and we don’t have to put up with all their
fireworks, speedboats, and barhopping.”
“I love the excitement and fun the summer crowd brings, but I
don’t mind too much when they leave. There’s a kind of peace that
settles around us....even though we’ve still got plenty to do. Fall festivals, bake sales, church hayrides. And the high school homecoming
parade, trick-or-treaters, Thanksgiving....”
“All right, all right,” Charlie sputtered, holding up a hand. “If I stay
here any longer you’re going to talk the blues right out of me, Patsy
Pringle. I was just working up a good head of melancholy and pessimism,
but you’re fixin’ to ruin the whole thing.” He shrugged. “You’ve
plumb worn me down with all your zip-a-dee-doo-dah. I won’t have
any choice now but to be in a good mood, which means I’ll go home
and infect Esther, who’ll get all chipper and talk my ear off.”
“Esther’s due here in about twenty minutes for her weekly set-and-style,” Patsy said. “In fact, I was surprised you didn’t come
“I’m not going to sit through that ordeal again. I did it once and
believe you me, once was enough. Nope, I think I’ll head home and
start putting the vegetable garden to bed.”
Patsy sighed as she studied him. “Charlie, I just want you to know
that every time I see you and Esther together, I feel like there’s hope
for the world. You’re both so kind and helpful....and sweet as apple
pie to each other. How long have you two been married?”
He scratched the back of his neck. “Well now, that takes some figuring.
My seventieth birthday is just around the bend, and I was born
in . . .” He paused, lifting his eyes to the ceiling as if the numbers were
written up there in the wallpaper border. “And we got married in . . .
hmmm . . .” He calculated some more. “Good gravy, we’ll be coming
up on fifty years before we know it. Who would have thought?”
“Well, you’re a wonderful example for the rest of us,” Patsy said.
“If I had ever gotten married, I would pray to have as happy a home
as you and Esther.”
“You make it sound like things have always been perfect.” He
reached across the counter and touched Patsy’s nose as if she were a
child. “You know better than that, kiddo.”
She laughed. “I guess so, but I can’t imagine what could come
“Well now, we’ve had our ups and downs, Esther and me. More
good times than bad, but we’ve worked hard to make it that way.
You ever heard that opposites attract? That’s us. She’s a talker, and
I’d rather read a book or watch TV. I’m up at the crack of dawn, and
she’d sleep till eight or nine if she didn’t drag herself up to make my
breakfast. We’re kind of like sunshine and rain, you know. You’ve
gotta have both to keep things growing.”
“I’m late, I’m late!” Esther Moore hooked her purse strap over her
arm as she hurried into the kitchen. “Cody, where did you put that
stack of mail I set on the table by the door?”
“Mail?” Cody Goss turned from the sink, where he was scrubbing
the gray and white speckled pot Esther used to fry crappie and
catfish. “Is mail the same as letters? Because I read in my Giant Book
of Myths and Legends that King Arthur and his knights wore mail.
And also, the other day at the post office, I had to sign a paper to be a
soldier if ever the president wants me to fight, and I checked the box
that said male. So that’s three kinds of mail. There might be another
mail that I don’t even know about, because I also found out that tail,
which rhymes with mail, can mean....”
“I’m talking about letters,” Esther cried. “Not half an hour ago, I
put a stack of envelopes on the little table in the living room, and
now they’re gone.”
Gracious sakes. Esther dearly loved Cody Goss, but sometimes the
young man could drive her right up the wall. Cody had appeared in
Deepwater Cove this spring as a homeless, bedraggled stranger. Since
then, he had been helping clean some of the neighborhood houses
and shops....earning minimum wage and carefully building his savings
account. After vacuuming, dusting, and tidying the Moores’
home, he often spent the night in their spare bedroom, and both
Esther and Charlie enjoyed his company.
“The side table by the couch,” Esther clarified. “This afternoon,
Charlie paid our bills before he went to get his hair cut. Then I wrote
a birthday card for one of my grandkids and a get-well card for Opal
Jones. I put stamps on every envelope and set them right there by the
door. Where did you move those letters, Cody?”
He blinked at her, his blue eyes shining in the afternoon sunlight
that slanted through the kitchen window. “You don’t have to put a
stamp on Opal’s envelope,” he told her. “Since Opal lives right across
the street and three houses down, I could take that card over there
and give it to her.”
“Yes, but Charlie and I support our federal postal service,
because....” Esther cut herself off with a little growl of frustration.
“Cody Goss, where did you put my mail? If I don’t get those letters
into the mailbox on time, Charlie will pitch a fit. That means I’ll
have to knock on the back door of the post office and remind them
that Charlie used to be a mail carrier, which might make me miss my
appointment with....with . . .”
She shook her head. “Well, where am I going, Cody? You’ve got
me so flustered I can’t even remember.”
“You’re driving over to Tranquility to get your weekly
at Patsy’s salon,” Cody said, his fingers dripping soapy water on
the vinyl floor as he trudged past her. “And there’s your mail, right
on the table by the couch. See?”
Esther would have dropped her teeth but they were still attached.
There sat the stack of letters, exactly where she’d laid them earlier.
But she would have sworn that when she looked for them a moment
before, they were gone.
Now they were back. Just like that.
“Did you put them there?” she asked Cody.
“You put them there,” he replied. “The only letters I ever touch
are the ones that come from my aunt in Kansas, when she writes to
say she loves me and please eat my vegetables. She also mails me ten
dollars every month, and I put that into my savings account, which
I hate to tell you is something you can’t see at the bank even if you
ask very nicely. Did you know that, Mrs. Moore? I asked to see my
savings account one time, and the bank lady said sorry, but no. She
told me an account is not a box with money in it. It’s just pretend. An
account is nothing but numbers inside a computer. You have to have
faith that those numbers are the same as dollar bills, which is exactly
like having faith that God is real even if you can’t see Him.”
Esther stared at Cody as she gripped the stack of letters in one
hand and her purse in the other. What on earth was he rambling
about? His aunt? Savings accounts? God?
“Cody, one of these days you’re going to drive me to drink,” Esther
said as she opened the front door.
“I can’t drive; remember, Mrs. Moore? I’m not yet smart enough
to get my driving slicers.”
“Driver’s license!” she called over her shoulder. Then she began
to mutter. “Driver’s license not driving slicers. Oh, that poor boy is a
dim bulb. I don’t care what Charlie says about him being smart as a
whip. He’s never going to make it in this world without help, and I
shouldn’t even be leaving him alone in the house.”
Wearing heels a little too high for the occasion, Esther tottered
over to the carport. She set her purse and the mail on the roof of the
sturdy Lincoln Town Car she’d been driving for decades. Fiddling
with her car keys, she tried to find the one that unlocked the door.
The car was too old to open electronically. That was okay with Esther,
who had a hard time getting used to automatic door openers, television
remote controls, cell phones, computers, and other modern-day
necessities. A person could go crazy trying to understand the new
Finally Esther got the car unlocked and slid behind the steering
wheel. She was definitely going to be late, thanks to Cody moving the
mail all over the house. It was one thing to have the boy help with
the dusting and vacuuming. But if he kept putting things where they
didn’t belong, Esther would have to talk to Charlie about letting him
go. After all, she had been cleaning house for forty-eight years, and
she could certainly keep it up a while longer.
Through the open front end of the carport, Esther could see the
purple martin birdhouse Charlie had built and set up on a tall metal
pole several years ago. It was listing a little to the left, and she would
have to get him to straighten it. The trees that dotted their large backyard
were starting to turn. It wouldn’t be long before Charlie would
be out mulching and putting everything into his compost bin.
As she turned the key in the ignition, Esther reflected with pride on
her husband’s fine garden. Every year they had the tastiest, freshest,
plumpest vegetables in the neighborhood. Nothing pleased Esther
more than to drop off a pint of ruby red strawberries as a get-well
gift or leave a surprise basket of peppers and onions on someone’s
front porch. She pulled the car’s transmission lever into reverse and
pressed on the gas.
Just as the Lincoln began backing out of the carport, Esther saw
her purse slide off the roof and land on the driveway. Oh, what now?
She quickly put the car in neutral and pressed the brake.
Charlie had his mind on tomatoes as he drove around the curve that
led to his clapboard house with its neatly manicured lawn. Feeling
a little itchy for change, he had tried some different varieties this
year. In the past, Esther had wanted only beefsteak and cherry tomatoes.
Beefsteak for their sandwiches and cherries for their salads. But
Charlie had put in three new plants as an experiment....pear-shaped
red romas, a yellow variety, and even one that had a hint of purple to
it. To his surprise, Esther thought the new tomatoes tasted delicious,
and she had enjoyed showing them off at Deepwater Cove’s Labor
Having decided to be bold with peppers in the coming spring,
Charlie was pondering the difference between sweet bells, anchos,
and jalapeños when he heard a loud bang from the direction of his
Charlie stepped on his brake, gaping in disbelief as Esther’s long
bronze Lincoln flew through the air, sailing off the four-foot-high
concrete wall that divided the driveway from the backyard and then
slamming down a good ten feet onto the lawn. On its way, the car had
taken out two of the wooden support posts holding up the carport’s
roof. Now the hood popped open and the horn began to blare. And
the car kept going, careening across the grass as steam billowed from
the engine and the hood bounced up and down like a jack-in-the box
lid. Somehow the Lincoln swerved around the purple martin
house before grazing the trunk of an oak tree and mowing down a
walnut sapling. Then it hurtled toward the thin strip of beach and
the lake edge beyond, with only the shed blocking its way.
His heart frozen in his chest, Charlie put his own car in park
and threw open the door. Was someone stealing the Lincoln? Had it
rolled down the driveway on its own? Or could that dark shape in
the driver’s seat be his wife?
“Esther?” Charlie took off at a dead run. The Lincoln was now
barreling toward the shed. Charlie had built it a few years earlier to
store his riding lawn mower and tools. Just as the car reached the
shed door, it veered to the right.
“Mrs. Moore! Mrs. Moore, stop!” Cody Goss suddenly burst from
the house, leaped off the end of the carport, and raced past Charlie.
“Mrs. Moore, the post office is the other direction!”
With the Lincoln’s horn still blaring, Charlie could hear little else
as he watched the car miss the side of the shed by inches. It pulled
around in a tight curve, swayed toward the lake again, and then rolled
to a sudden stop beside a lilac bush. Smoke billowed out from under
the hood, and steaming water gushed onto the ground. The unremitting
horn sounded louder than ever.
Cody reached the car five steps ahead of Charlie, but as the young
man grabbed the handle, the door swung open.
Esther surged up from the driver’s seat, shoved her way past Cody,
and headed up the slope in her high heels. “Where’s the mail?” she
shouted. “I’ve got to get to the post office before it closes.”
“Mrs. Moore, you had an accident!” Cody called after her as she
marched toward Charlie, arms flapping in agitation.
“Esther, what on earth?” Charlie caught her by the shoulders and
forced her to stop. “Are you all right, honey? What happened?”
“I can’t find the mail,” she snapped. “Cody keeps moving it, and
I’m late for the post office. Those bills aren’t going out today unless
She looked up at her husband and seemed to see him for the first
“Esther.” He wrapped his arms around her and drew her close.
“Oh, sweetheart, you scared me half to death.”
“I don’t know....I’m not sure what happened, Charlie.”
“You drove the Lincoln out the wrong end of the carport. You’ve
been in an accident, honey. Let’s sit you down.”
“Where’s my purse?”
“Here, sit on my jacket.”
“On the grass?”
“Yes, right here. I’ll help you.” He pulled off his lightweight jacket
and spread it out for her. Then he eased her down onto the lawn.
“Now catch your breath, Esther.”
“What did Cody do to my car?” She glared in the direction of
the shed. Cody was leaning into the driver’s side of the Lincoln. A
sudden silence sounded loud as he somehow managed to turn off
“Look at that boy,” Esther grumbled. “He’s gone and wrecked my
car. I knew we never should have taken him on. You think you can
trust someone, and then....where’s the mail, Charlie? I’ve got to
hurry to the post office. And my hair. Good heavens, I’m late for my
As she checked her watch, Charlie noticed a discoloration on her
wrist. “You’re hurt! Esther, honey, let me see your other arm. Oh, for
pete’s sake, sweetheart, you’re all bruised up.”
“Esther? Charlie, what happened?”
He looked up to see their neighbor, Kim Finley, hurrying across
the lawn with her twins in tow.
“Charlie, is Esther all right?”
“We heard the crash!” Lydia sang out.
“Your carport roof is caving in, Mr. Moore,” Luke added as they
neared the couple seated on the grass. “You lost the two middle support
Behind them, Charlie noticed Brenda Hansen and Kim’s motherin-law, Miranda Finley, moving toward the scene. Suddenly it seemed
like half the neighborhood was descending on the Moores.
“I wish Derek was here,” Kim cried as she knelt in the grass at
Esther’s feet. “He’s got all that first-aid training. Charlie, it looks like
she might have hit her head. Her face is beginning to swell.”
“Whose face?” Esther asked. She was looking from one person to
another. “What’s wrong? What happened?”
“You drove the wrong way out of the carport,” Cody told her.
“You meant to go backward, but you went forward. We need to call
911 right now, because that’s what you do when someone has an
accident. Even if they don’t look hurt too much, they could be hurt
inside, and that’s why the doctor needs to check them. I saw it on
TV when I was at my aunt’s house. They said to call the ambulance
no matter what.”
“I’ve already called.” Brenda Hansen, crouched beside Esther, took
her hand. “Do you remember getting into your car?”
“Well, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell everyone. I need to get to
the post office. And Patsy’s expecting me for my set-and-style.”
Charlie had noticed a lump growing in his throat, and he tried to
speak around it. “After you got into the car, honey, why did you put
it in drive instead of reverse?”
Esther gazed at him, her blue eyes misty. “Did I do that?”
“Do you recall driving off the end of the carport?”
“I saw the birdhouse; that’s all.” She blinked a couple of times,
and then she turned to where the car was still sending up clouds of
steam. “I looked up, and the birdhouse was coming right at me, so I
turned the car a little bit. And then there was a tree.”
“Two trees,” Cody said. “You did some fancy steering, Mrs. Moore.
You missed the birdhouse, the trees, and even the shed.”
“Well, what do you know. . . .”
“We know you scared us halfway to deaf!” Cody exclaimed. “I still
can hardly hear. But I got the horn to quit, and here are your keys. I
switched off the engine all by myself.”
Charlie reached up and took the keys. The Lincoln wouldn’t be
going anywhere soon, if ever again, he realized. The front end looked
somewhat like an accordion, and the smell from the smashed radiator
still hung in the cool late-afternoon air.
“I hear the ambulance,” Esther said. “Oh, goodness, I don’t think
that’s necessary. But I guess we ought to go and thank them anyway
for coming out this far.”
As Esther moved, Charlie saw her pretty face crumple in pain.
“You sit right here with me, Esther,” he said, tucking her under his
arm. “Just the two of us. We’ll sit here together, and everything will