That Thanksgiving day, I just wanted to be left alone. I had broken up with my boyfriend of two years. It had been a long time coming, but I knew it was inevitable. Jason and I just weren’t meant for each other. But it still hurt, and I needed to be alone to lick my wounds and take stock of things.
I didn’t want a lot of family around me, telling me that I was lucky to be rid of the creep, or that I was better off without him, or even worse, dissecting the relationship, telling me what went wrong and how I could have kept him if only I had tried harder.
I just wanted to be alone—preferably alone with nature, in some beautiful, scenic, natural surroundings.
It just so happened that my Aunt Martha owned a small cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask to borrow it for a weekend. Aunt Martha was a bit of a busybody, but she had a heart of gold. She was always trying to fix me up with different men and asking me questions about when was I going to find the right guy and settle down. But there was no one, absolutely no one, who would come through for me in a time of crisis the way that my Aunt Martha would. And I knew that even though she wouldn’t like my plan, she would agree to it when she saw that it was what I really wanted. Aunt Martha just couldn’t say no to her favorite niece, who happened to be me.
Still, I wasn’t the least bit surprised at her reaction when I told her I wanted to spend Thanksgiving alone in her tiny cabin. She looked absolutely dismayed.
“A woman in your position needs her family,” she told me.
“It’s the best cure for a broken heart—that is, next to a new love. There is absolutely nothing that gets you over an old love like a new love.”
Aunt Martha considered herself an expert when it came to matters of the heart.
“I don’t have a broken heart,” I explained. “I’ve known for months that Jason and I were never going to make it. It’s not like we were married or even engaged. I just want to be alone to think about things.”
“You can’t think about things with your family around?” she asked incredulously.
“Nobody could,” I insisted. “Have you ever seen such a loud, outspoken, rambunctious—”
“. . .caring, concerned bunch of people,” Aunt Martha finished. “No, I haven’t, and that’s why you should be with them.”
“Aunt Martha, puh-leeze, just this once, humor me,” I begged. “I really, really, really just want to be alone. I’m not depressed, and I know I’ll get over this break-up. I just want to be alone. It’s not like I never see my family. The truth is, I’m around them all the time.”
Finally, she gave in. I knew she would. It was next to impossible for Aunt Martha to tell me no. I was just amazed that she would give in without trying to fix me up with someone. Maybe she finally believed me when I said I just wanted to be alone.
But all she did was give me directions to her cabin.
“You take the state highway from the interstate,” she explained, drawing me a map. “After you get off the state highway, it’ll be dirt roads the rest of the way up. My cabin is five miles up the second dirt road. It’s the third driveway on the right. You can’t miss it. The key is under the mat.”
“Aunt Martha, you’re an angel to do this,” I said, giving her a big hug.
She looked at me dubiously. “And you’re crazy to want to do it,” she added. “If you want my opinion, the best cure of all for a broken heart is to find a new love. Now, if you would only spend Thanksgiving with your family, I know a fine young man we could invite, and who knows what might come of it?”
“Aunt Martha stop it!” I said, practically yelling at her. “I really, really, really, just want to be alone.”
“I still say it sounds crazy,” she said, frowning briefly, “But you’re going to love the Blue Ridge Mountains this time of year. They are just beautiful.”
“That’s just what I need,” I replied. “Scenery and solitude.”
“The neighbors up there are really interesting,” she went on, “if you should feel like company.”
She looked at me slyly as if she had someone in particular in mind. That was like my Aunt Martha—always interfering in other people’s lives. Good-natured interference, but still interference.
“I’m going up there to avoid company,” I replied, cutting her short. “But thanks anyway.”
I packed very lightly, just a change of clothes. I didn’t do a whole lot of grocery shopping either, but I did bring plenty of frozen dinners so I wouldn’t have to come back to town for anything. The whole idea was to stay up there for three or four days, lick my wounds, and be ready to get on with my life.
I had never been to my aunt’s cabin and was anxious to see what it looked like. Fortunately, I had no trouble finding the place—it was the third driveway on the right, just like she said.
The cabin itself was tiny and efficient, but surrounded with beauty. The view I had of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the New River Valley was breathtaking. There was no television, but the cabin did have electricity. The freezer was well stocked, but I was still glad I had brought my favorite frozen dinners. There were a couple of six packs of beer in the refrigerator, which surprised me. My Aunt Martha was fond of wine, but to the best of my knowledge, she never drank beer.
The tiny living room in Aunt Martha’s cabin was lined with books. After unloading my groceries, I sat my suitcase down and browsed through some of them. There was a stack of mysteries on the coffee table. I picked one of them up and riffled through the pages.
Aunt Martha had written little comments in the margins for the next people who read the book. Things like, “Can you believe this?” and “This scene is so gross,” and “Anyone could figure out who the killer is in this book.”
It was always fun to read a book after Aunt Martha was through with it. In fact, sometimes her comments were more interesting than the book itself.
I was curled up on the sofa, reading my book, happy to get my mind off my problems, when I heard a car drive up.
My first thought was that it was a member of my family who had come to check up on me. I got up from the couch and went outside to confront the person. But I didn’t recognize the car—or the tall, dark, and handsome stranger who got out of it.
“Can I help you?” I asked him. He seemed as puzzled to see me as I was to see him.
“I’m not sure,” he answered. “Who are you?”
“My name is Susan McClintock,” I said. “I’m Martha McClintock’s niece.”
The man still looked puzzled.
“You do know Martha McClintock,” I said, uncertainly. I mean, why else would he be here?
“Of course I do,” he answered. “Everyone around here knows Martha.”
The man still looked puzzled, as if he were wondering who I was and what I was doing there. Well, it was his job to tell me who he was and what he wanted. He didn’t do it, though.
I decided that if I was going to find out anything about him, I would have to ask him outright.
“Who are you?” I finally asked.
“David Jordan,” he answered. “I’m Martha’s neighbor.”
“I figured you were,” I said. “Aunt Martha said she had some pretty interesting neighbors.”
“Apparently, her niece is even more interesting,” he said, raising his eyebrow. He looked at me curiously—or maybe it was more than curiosity that made his eyes flicker, ever so briefly, up and down.
“Why don’t we go inside and discuss this?” he finally said.
I had no idea what he wanted to discuss. And he was pretty rude, inviting himself inside my aunt’s cabin when she wasn’t even home.
I tried to think of a reason not to let him in, but nothing came to mind. He was probably harmless, and heaven knows the man was handsome, but the truth was, I didn’t know him. He could be anybody. He could be a serial killer for all I knew. Just because he was drop-dead handsome didn’t mean he wasn’t some kind of criminal. Or he could be some sort of weird stalker who had followed me all the way up to the cabin, knowing I would be there alone. Still, all I knew right then was that he was handsome and that he knew my aunt—or at least he said he did.
I sat down on the sofa and tried to look as if I wasn’t the least bit uncomfortable by his presence.
“There’s beer in the refrigerator, if you want one,” he said.
That’s when I really started to freak. How did he know what was in the refrigerator? Had this weirdo been breaking into my aunt’s cabin on a regular basis?
I wanted to call the police, but the batteries in my cell phone were dead. I wasn’t sure what to say. If he was a psycho killer, I didn’t want to make him mad by saying the wrong thing. Whoever he was, I wanted him to leave as soon as possible.
“I really don’t have time to drink a beer,” I said, trying to sound calm. “Why don’t you just tell me why you’re here? Is there anything I can help you with?”
Now he was staring at me as if I were the crazy one.
“You can start by telling me what you’re doing in this cabin, if you don’t mind,” he finally said.
He talked slowly, as if I might have trouble understanding the words or something. In fact, he talked as calmly and carefully to me as I had been talking to him, as if he thought I would freak out if he said the wrong thing.
Then it occurred to me: maybe he thought I was some kind of weirdo trying to break into my aunt’s house. Maybe all he was doing was looking after my aunt’s interests. After all, he was my aunt’s neighbor up here, and while my aunt had said the neighbors were interesting, she hadn’t said a word about any of them being crazy. I decided to prove to him who I was—that ought to convince him that I had every right to be there.
I showed him my driver’s license. “My name is Susan McClintock,” I said. “Martha McClintock is my aunt. She said I could spend Thanksgiving weekend in her cabin.”
“Ahh,” said David, staring at my license and then at me, as if he were a police officer trying to determine if I had a false ID or not.
“But if Martha gave you permission to spend the weekend at her cabin, then what are you doing in my cabin?”
That’s when I decided that David was crazy after all. There was no doubt in my mind that this was my aunt’s cabin. I mean, it was the third driveway on the right, just like she said it would be. The key was under the mat, just like she said. And if there was any doubt in my mind after all that, there was the stack of books on the coffee table—mystery books, just like my aunt loved. Plus, all those notes in the margins were my aunt’s. Nobody wrote notes in the margin like my aunt did. It was her handwriting and her words.
I explained all this to David, once again speaking very slowly and pronouncing each word very carefully, the way you would for a small child. I mean, if the poor man didn’t even know which mountain cabin was his and which was Aunt Martha’s, he must be severely mentally challenged. Maybe he came up here so rarely he really didn’t know. I thought that once I explained everything to him, he would be really embarrassed.
But instead he just stared at me as if he were finally figuring the whole thing out. Then he started laughing. He laughed as if he thought the whole situation was extremely funny.
Finally I asked him, “Would you mind explaining this little joke to me? Did you and Aunt Martha cook this whole thing up? I told her I wanted to be alone this weekend. Did she send you?”
“No,” David finally said. “If there is a plan to get us together, your Aunt Martha didn’t bother to tell me, but this sure sounds like her. She is a bit of a—”
He didn’t finish the sentence. I knew he didn’t want to say anything bad about my Aunt Martha, so I finished for him.
“She can be a busybody,” I said. “But what has that got to do with who owns this cabin?”
“First of all, this is my cabin,” he said. “If there is any doubt in your mind, let me take you on a complete tour of the place.”
Without saying another word, he led me into the bedroom and proceeded to open the closets and drawers. By the time he had shown me his collection of boxer shorts, he had me convinced. Unless my aunt had a secret life, there was no reason for her to be keeping a selection of boxer shorts at her cabin or anywhere else.
“But the key under the door, the third driveway on the right,” I exclaimed. “Was Aunt Martha trying to set us up?”
“I really don’t think so,” said David. “Her house is the third driveway on the right. But the owner of the first driveway never comes around, and the mailbox is missing, and the driveway is overgrown. So you probably missed it.”
“And the key under the mat?” I asked.
“Things are pretty casual around here,” David explained. “Most folks keep the key under the mat or in the mailbox. And some folks don’t bother to lock the door at all.”
“But the stack of books on the table,” I insisted. “I know those are Aunt Martha’s. What are they doing in your house?”
“Your Aunt Martha and I both happen to be mystery fans,” David explained. “She brought those over the last time she was here. I just love reading your aunt’s old books. It’s always fun to read the notes she leaves in the margins.”
“I know,” I giggled. “Sometimes her notes are better than the book.”
“Now, how about that beer?” David asked. “Now that I’m sure you’re not a burglar who likes to break into mountain cabins, the least I can do is offer you some refreshment.”
“And now that I know you’re not some weird stalker, the least I can do is accept it.”
David and I visited for almost two hours before he finally escorted me to my aunt’s real cabin. We found out we had a lot in common, from country music to NASCAR racing. In fact, considering the strange way we met, I couldn’t believe how comfortable I felt with this man.
“So what brings you up to the mountains this weekend?” I finally asked him. “It is Thanksgiving, after all. Most people want to be with family.”
“Usually, I would, too,” he admitted. “But this year I just wanted to be alone. You see, I’m newly divorced. I just needed time to myself.”
This was almost too strange to believe. But all I said was, “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he replied. “We parted friends. It’s just that I wanted children and she didn’t. Neither one of us was willing to budge. Something like that can’t be resolved.”
“I guess it can’t,” I said. I looked him over again. I can’t say that I was exactly heartbroken to find out he was single.
“And you?” he asked. “What brings you to the mountains this time of year?”
“Let’s just say I wanted to be by myself,” I said.
“Then I’m sorry I intruded on your solitude,” he said.
“Don’t apologize for coming home to your own cabin,” I said, suppressing a giggle. “In fact, I was just thinking, as long as we’re both up here—”
“Why don’t we spend the Thanksgiving holiday together?” he finished for me.
I nodded. “I can’t offer much,” I explained. “But I did bring some frozen turkey dinners. I could leave them in your freezer and we could eat them tomorrow—that is, if you would like to.”
Dave gave me a look that let me know he was definitely interested. “I can’t think of a better way to spend Thanksgiving than with a heated-up frozen dinner, a cold beer, and your company.”
“Gee,” I said, “that almost sounds poetic.”
And then we both started laughing.
It was a great start to a great relationship. We kept things light that first day, mostly swapping stories about my aunt, but eventually we talked about the breakups both he and I were going through. We kept things on a friendly level, but I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was thinking what I was thinking: the day would come when we would both be ready to move beyond friendship.
And it did. We both somehow managed to spend the same weekends in our neighboring cabins. My aunt had a hand in that, too. She would call me up and offer the use of her cabins during certain times, and she always had a little errand for me.
“Return the pruning shears to Dave,” she would say. “Somehow, last week, I forgot to do it.” Or, “Be sure to give Dave that mystery he’s been asking for. I promised him I’d loan it to him when I was through.”
Somehow through it all, I managed to overlook my aunt’s meddling personality. Maybe it was because for once, things were taking a positive direction for me when it came to men.
Dave and I started planning things together—dates, mini-vacations, and then, finally, the rest of our lives.
Last Thanksgiving we once again spent time together in our cabins in the Blue Ridge mountains. Dinner was a little bit more involved. I actually cooked a small turkey instead of heating up a TV dinner. Dave made the dressing, and I baked a pie.
After dinner, we toasted our first Thanksgiving with a small glass of champagne and David presented me with a small, velvet-covered box. Somehow, I knew what would be inside it. Somehow, I knew he would be asking me a very important question.
And I very definitely knew what my answer would be.
We are planning a Valentine’s Day wedding, and, of course, Aunt Martha will be my Matron of Honor.
But as far as I’m concerned, our real anniversary will always be Thanksgiving!