Jane spread a blanket on the lawn adjacent to her mother’s summer garden, expecting to see her guests to arrive at any moment.
The garden was especially beautiful this year. Fragrant lavender outlined its bricked border while white hollyhocks pushed past the top of a picket fence that ran along its back.
Yellow roses trellised over the fence and made a fetching backdrop to the orange clusters of daylilies and gladiolas that had recently bloomed in the garden’s dark, rich soil.
Jane closed her eyes and turned her face into the warm sun. Moments later, she heard voices – her friends. She opened her eyes to see them coming through her garden gate.
Hazel was in the lead, carrying a basket of wildflowers from the meadow just above a cliff that opened to the sea. Behind her came Adele, smiling and chatting with Gina. Adele was carrying yellow pillows, Gina a bright red book with gold letters on its cover.
All three wore blue bonnets to protect them from the sun. Likewise, all three were barefoot – they were geese after all - and such attire as shoes was considered but a foolish encumbrance.
Jane welcomed them warmly, giddy with talk of this and that. And, after running into the house for a vase for the wildflowers, she helped to space the pillows to sit upon. She then placed the flowers directly in the center of the blanket that all might enjoy.
“So pretty,” Hazel said. Everyone agreed and soon all were settled comfortably into her own cushiony pillow.
“What book have you brought to read?” Jane inquired.
Hazel spoke up. “Since Gina read to us last week us from her book…what was it called?”
“The encyclopedia,” Jane answered. “But we only got about two pages into the A’s before everyone dozed off…”
“Yes, very dry reading, Hazel said. “It’s no wonder I’ve forgotten. So this week I’ve brought one of my favorites, guaranteed to please, I promise.”
Adele interrupted. “And yes, I think from now on we must agree to bring books that are less, well, should we say tedious, than an encyclopedia. It is fine to know about aardvarks, but one can only take so much of their habitats, you know.”
“And books that are not so perplexing,” Hazel added. “I don’t like things that muddle the brain. “For instance that book on a heliocentric parallax Gina read to us two weeks ago. Gracious that was wearisome.”
“But it was the only book left in the library, what was I to do?” Gina defended.
“It’s quite all right, dear.” Hazel reassured. “At least now we know what to avoid.” She then put on her pinch-nez, rumpled her rump, and announced what she was to read. “The Wind in the Willows”.
Everyone clapped wildly, explaining it to be one of their favorites.
“I especially like Mr. Mole,” Gina blushed. “I find him so gentlemanly.”
“And I’d like to take Mr. Toad’s motor-car for a spin,” Jane admitted. “I know I need wait for Father to teach me to drive, but it sounds oh so much fun. I would carry you all with me of course.”
And so the Four Friends Afternoon Reading Club began, with only minor interruptions.
Dinah, Jane’s cat, named after Alice s kitten in her wonderland adventure, had jumped through Jane’s bedroom window to attack the blue ribbon tied under Hazel’s chin as she read.
And once, too, a hot air balloon floated silently in the sky, its festive colors catching their eyes and taking their thoughts, but momentarily, to a world just beyond the rainbow’s end.
When Hazel finished reading, Jane jumped up to bring out tea and ginger snaps from the house. The teapot, empty though it was, swirled with the sweet smell of chamomile, and the plate of ginger snaps, there, but not there, could not have been more satisfying to them all.
“And what shall we read tomorrow?” Hazel inquired.
“I’ve just started a book,” Gina answered. “One I think everyone will enjoy – about a rabbit, velveteen, I think.”
“And I know of one,” Adele said, “about a secret garden, I could bring that next week.”
“Wonderful,” Jane clapped. “I can hardly wait.”
“Until tomorrow then,” Hazel said. And they all sat in contented expectancy.
“Yes, until tomorrow,” Jane promised. Soon, too soon, her precious guests faded into comforting memories - four friends, reading stories together on a blanket in a garden, as real now as it was some sixty years past.
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