Part 2 – Fall (Maximus)
He had a way of holding her eyes and when she thought she was going over the edge he would look away; she found him fascinating.
“I’m sure I don’t know what any of that means, I just know if I ask for something it will appear. I asked the house to let Max plan an evening and it happened. That’s the biggest thing I’ve asked for.”
“I was with the owner when he came into this property, he’d been brought here by a friend and the house chose him as the new owner. The property has never been bought or sold it’s passed on. I wonder if it’s happening again.”
Toni’s eyes widened, “Not to me surely…how would you ever know?”
“You’ll receive a message at some time if it is so. Would you like more wine?”
“Yes, thank you.” She held out her glass and he took her hand to steady it, the feel of his warm hand on hers, she couldn’t look at his face. He wore a ring she noticed as she concentrated on his hand.
Maximus was well aware of his effect on Toni, he smiled to himself; he was rather enjoying it. “Shall we drink a toast to fall? Here’s to a lovely season and a lovely lady.”
Toni met his eyes again and sipped her wine he’s doing it again turning away walking to the French doors. She couldn’t help but look at his broad shoulders, the way his arms filled out the soft sweater he had on, the way his pants fit across his hips. She took a deep breath and another drink of her wine. He was like a big cat; graceful and seductive and dangerous.
He turned and looked at her and she felt herself sliding off the stool and going to his side.
“The wind is coming in from the sea it will be cold tonight perhaps we’ll have a fire?”
Maximus and a fire oh god, “yes, a fire will be good,” she moistened her lips and he noticed. She looked out the doors, “we could walk along the cliff if you’d like.”
“You might get blown away.” a lazy smile
“Would you catch me?” she said with a nervous grin
“I would save you,” he said softly and slipped his arm around her waist.
Toni felt weak in the knees and pushed her hands in the pockets of her jeans to keep from touching him.
Maximus was intrigued since three of his brothers had fallen in love with her. She was nervous and trembled when he touched her waist. Her hair was a careless tumble of auburn waves and her skin still wore a summer tan she was a beautiful woman but not uncommonly so. Her eyes and lips held a promise he hoped to enjoy very soon.
Toni was beginning to feel like a dumbstruck teenager, “I’m not usually so…flustered I don’t know what to do with you.” She turned looking up at him biting her lower lip.
Maximus held her eyes, “will you place yourself in my care, let me guide you, will you trust me in all things…will you let me take you?” He saw the surprise in her eyes and they darkened; he smiled.
I feel I am taking vows, “yes I will,” she whispered. He bent to kiss her softly and looking into her eyes kissed her more urgently. Toni melted against him his scent made her dizzy a mixture amber, myrrh, earthiness, a touch of musk, timeless, ageless, exotic spice. She was breathless when he pulled away a slight smile on his lips he took her hand and led her up the stairs.
She was taken to his room which she had not seen before. The walls were rough plastered and gave off many warm colors, his bed was dark Spanish with heavy carvings, and the bedding was a green velvet duvet with cream sheets. A huge fireplace dominated one side of the room and in front of this was a low divan covered in fur with many colored pillows across the back. A low marble topped table sat beside it. His scent filled the room that seemed to glow.
It was the low divan that he led her to and sat down beside her holding onto her hand.
“I feel you are nervous Toni do not be afraid.”
“It’s just that I don’t know you.”
“That is what we are going to take care of right now.” He pulled her to him and kissed her slowly exploring and tasting her mouth. He took her palm and kissed it placing it on his chest. Toni began to run her hand over his chest and under his sweater across his skin, the sweater was too much and she started to pull it over his head he helped her. She found the hollow at the base of his throat and tasted, he sat back and let her play with him until he was ready to play with her.
Toni felt drunk when he laid her back on the fur divan she had some idea her clothes were coming off and felt his hands on her body. Had she really undressed him her head was swimming she had to hold on to something…Maximus…her arms went around his back and she felt his weight cover her. She was afire, “take me…oh god take me Maximus.” A movement as old as time itself took them together.
Toni lay still within his arms slowly becoming aware of the heat on her back. The fireplace had begun to burn. She moved her face so her lips were on his neck. He had taken her somewhere she’d never been before, totally out of herself. She had groaned and growled and sucked his flesh as a thing primeval. Now as her mind began to come to itself she felt ashamed and buried her face in his neck. What must he think of me, I’ve never done anything like this even with Max. I’ve become an animal
Maximus had been surprised she wasn’t the nervous trembling woman he’d touched in the kitchen. She was alive with desire and truly uninhibited. He wondered if she was always this way or if something of the moment had touched her. He felt her lips on his neck and sighed then something else, tears?
He pulled her away from him, “what is this Toni why would you cry are you not happy?”
Her answer was muffled, “I…don’t know what came over me…what must you think of me?”
“I think you are very exciting and you’ve made me very happy.” And indeed he was as he smiled down at her.
“I’ve lost myself Maximus.” She turned onto her back looking up at the beamed ceiling. “I don’t know myself anymore I’ve become an animal.”
“Oh no my dear I think you have found yourself. I could tell when you let yourself go it was as I said exciting for me.”
“You don’t think I’m some wanton…”
“No you are a sensuous woman that is nothing to be ashamed of. We are one you and I cut from the same cloth.”
“It was you…you did it I saw that in you downstairs. What will happen to me when I leave here, I worry about that sometimes, how can I go back to what I was?”
“I suspect this was always a part of you Toni and always will be. I have no knowledge of you when you came here.”
“I’m not sure I do anymore. I need to talk to somebody…to you. I’ve been wanting to talk for so long. Jack…I could talk to Jack and I trusted him Maximus. I’m afraid I am a bit of a mess right now.”
Whatever started the tears she was having a cry and Maximus gathered her in his arms after finding her a cloth. In the blink of an eye she had gone from intense pleasure to tears.
“You couldn’t talk to Max?”
“Not really we had a rocky start and when we fell we fell hard and fast. It was so intense up until the day he left. We never talked about what was going to happen to me after he left and John, oh god, he was the first and his leaving left me in a pretty bad situation. Jack left before it got…too serious, but still I miss him to this day. Now there’s you already I’m lost in you Maximus and you haven’t been here twelve hours yet. I don’t understand how former occupants of this house survive it.”
“Oh Toni,” he held her tightly, “I know what you’ve been through and I hope it will never happen to anyone else. You see you’re the first to spend an entire year here. I was very surprised to find that out. I asked if you would put yourself in my care and trust me. I will try and help you.”
“Well you’re providing a very good shoulder to cry on, I am so embarrassed to do this to you after what we just shared.”
“Don’t ever feel embarrassed about anything in my presence. You are a woman and women cry when they feel like it one of the things that endear them to me so. We will think about this but right now I think dinner might be served in the dining room.” He ran his finger down her cheek and kissed her lightly on the lips.
Toni went to her room to clean up a bit before dinner. She was an emotional mess, poor Maximus she felt for him but he was strong and she trusted him to guide her out of her abyss. She found a soft robe hanging outside her wardrobe and tried it on. It was fancy enough for dinner she thought and wrapped it around her.
Maximus was in the living room staring into the fire and thinking. He was pretty sure the house was about to change ownership. What would she do then? Would she stay here and divide her life in to four quarters or leave and let it go on as before? Perhaps she could make some changes here in the way things were done. He turned when he heard her come down the stairs she was wearing a soft gold satin robe tied at the waist he thought she looked like a vision.
“Toni, how are you?” he asked
“Much better Maximus thank you for being so understanding.” She smiled up at him and received a kiss.
“Your cat Millie has taken over the hearth rug.”
“That’s where she spent the winter, I tried putting her bed there but she wants the length of the rug to stretch out on.”
“I don’t blame her, shall we dine?”
After dinner they carried their wine into the living room and sat by the fire.
“I can hear the wind blowing outside you were right about the fire tonight.”
“Yes it’s making its presence known, the season is changing,” he said and looked back at the fire, “perhaps other things as well,” he said quietly
“Maximus tell me about this house when did the magic start?”
“The magic is as old as time Toni, it’s always been here I think, the house however has no doubt been many things before its present state. It may be the magic of love that chose this spot in the beginning. I like to think that is so.”
“Does the present owner ever come here?”
“No he did at the beginning a few times but his life is a busy one, he has married and lost interest in the place, otherwise you would not be here. The house chooses its occupants carefully as you know but without a guiding hand it does not always make good decisions.”
“I rented from a real estate office, how can that be?”
“There was no real estate office Toni, surely you know that by now. You rented from your computer did you not?” he smiled
“Ahh cyberspace who knows what’s really out there,” she rounded her eyes and smiled. “Well for all that I’m still not sorry I’m here, I’ve met such extraordinary people I would never have known.”
“And they in turn have met an extraordinary woman,” he held her eyes a moment and looked back to the fire.
Toni studied him, you could never know what he was thinking, and he was so calm and quiet. His arm lay across the back of the sofa and she wanted to curl up against him, would he mind she wondered? He turned and looked at her again…no he wouldn’t mind and she moved over leaning on his shoulder.
Maximus shifted his arm around her feeling the soft silkiness of her robe under his hand. He smiled she was much like her cat now curled asleep on the rug. She smelled of roses and lavender and something else he had not noticed before…amber truly a timeless scent.
Part 3 Fall (Maximus)
The wind blew hard all night awakening Toni from her bed, the balcony doors had come open and she got up and shut them. She had a glass of water from her bathroom and went back to bed. She felt strangely comforted as she snuggled back under her comforter. She slept soundly for the rest of the night.
The next morning she woke to the smell of coffee. A tray had appeared on her coffee table and she got up and poured a cup looking out her balcony window, the sun was out and it looked like it was going to be a perfect day, the sky was bright blue and cloudless.
Down the hallway Maximus had walked out onto his balcony noticing the sun and he looked up at the sky. It’s happened now await the messenger. He hurried and dressed wanting to be with her when the message arrived and he knew not just how it would arrive. He walked down the hall and knocked at her door.
“Come in Maximus there’s coffee,”
“Good morning Toni did you sleep well?”
“I did after the wind died down and you?”
“I slept well, yes.” He smiled at her and tilted his head as he poured out a cup of coffee.
Toni thought he looked beautiful in the morning, no bedhead hair for him, he was dressed in dark blue and his eyes held a twinkle.
“Come and sit with me,” he moved to the sofa, “I think I will stay close to you today, if you don’t mind.”
It was the way he said it, “Maximus what is wrong?”
“Wrong, nothing my dear but I think you will have a message today and I would like to be with you.”
“Message? The house…I don’t know about this,” she began shaking her head.
“You will have much to consider Toni but let’s wait until its here.”
“I should dress…in case…well I think I’d feel better with my armor on.” She rose from the sofa and went to her wardrobe, corduroy jeans appeared with a heavy cream sweater so she put them on while Maximus watched her dress. “You don’t mind watching do you?” she said with a side glance.
“No, I like the way your armor fits,” he smiled, “are you ready for battle now?”
“I think so…no…I don’t know what this is all about…what it means for me.”
“The message will spell it out it should be much the same as the last owner’s message.”
“How did his come?”
“By messenger a young woman on a horse delivered it if I remember correctly.”
“Oh Maximus what am I to do?”
“Put your boots on and come down to breakfast with me.” He cocked and eyebrow and watched her pull on her brown leather boots. Taking her hand he led her down to the kitchen where breakfast awaited them on the island.
For something to do she loaded the dishwasher and wiped down the counter. She was nervous and needed activity. Maximus watched her from his seat at the island.
“We should walk up to the stables and see if my horses have arrived, perhaps we might ride today.”
“Yes, that sounds good…horses.” A messenger on a horse…
Toni fed Millie and let her out the back door, “okay, I guess I’m ready,” she cast a pleading eye to Maximus who took her in his arms and kissed her.
“Now you’re ready for anything,” he smiled and led her out the back door.
They walked up to the stables and before they got there Maximus knew his horses had arrived. Toni was surprised to find a man in the stables brushing down the big white war horse.
“Ah East, how kind of you to bring them.”
“Yes sir, they have been fed and I am just finishing up here. G’day Toni.”
“Good morning East, what beautiful horses Maximus.”
“Yes they are my friends, this one has seen me through battle and this one is for you Toni.”
“For me!” her eyes rounded, “to keep?”
Maximus laughed, “Of course to keep do you think I would give you a gift and take it back?”
“I don’t know what to think anymore, and this one?”
“Ah that’s mine; I’ll be leaving now Maximus, g’bye Toni.” East mounted his horse and took off down to the dirt road.
Toni watched him ride, “funny I never thought about them being delivered by East or anyone else for that matter, I figured they’d just appear like everything else.”
“That’s the magic of the place Toni one never knows just how something will be accomplished. Shall I saddle them up?”
“Oh yes please do.” She sat down on a bench outside the stable and watched him as he worked. After a while a movement up the road caught her eye, “Maximus he’s coming back.”
Maximus stopped and walked out of the stable shading his eyes he turned to her, “that’s not East Toni.”
Toni slowly stood up; it was her messenger coming on horseback as he neared her eyes widened.
“Good morning ma’am,” he said in his soft southern voice, “you are Toni Stanley?”
“Yes, Cort, that’s me.” She stood firm not knowing exactly what he was supposed to do.
“I have something for you, a message from the uh former owner,” he smiled, “I can read it to you or just hand it to you and get you to sign this bit of paper here.” He held a rolled up parchment paper tied with a brown leather string.
Maximus stood off to the side of her watching.
“I think I’ll just sign off on it Cort, no reason for you to have to read the thing to me, I may want to study it for a while.”
“Yes ma’am, don’t blame you.” He held a receipt for her to sign and passed the scroll to her, he turned to Maximus, “hello Maximus good to see you.”
“Cort,” he nodded
“Um what if I don’t want it Cort?”
“I don’t think that’s a question Toni, you own it.”
“Okay, will you come to the house?” she asked looking up at him
“No I have to get back…maybe some other time,” he met her eyes for a moment
Maximus smiled it would be interesting to see what she does.
“Well, thank you Cort, I think,” she smiled.
He smiled and turned his horse back the way he’d come.
Toni turned to Maximus, “I don’t want to read this, not now, and I don’t want to know what it says.”
“Yes you do Toni and you should read it we can ride later. Come and sit down.”
Toni sat on the bench staring at the rolled up parchment there was something papercliped to the inside and she untied the string. It was a typewritten note and she looked up when she saw the signature.
“Oh Maximus he owned this place?”
“Yes for about eight years now.”
This is my way of transferring ownership of The House Of Four Seasons to you, Toni Stanley on the 2rd day of September, 2008. Enjoy the magic.
The second sheet was very old but in excellent condition it was written in script.
“This is going to be hard to read,”
Know that you have been chosen as the owner of The House Of Four Seasons. It is not for you to wonder why the house has chosen you.
Know that this is a magical place not found on any map. As the owner you may come and go as you wish a road will open for you when you are ready.
Know that you may live here if you desire or visit for the seasons
Know that there will always be four seasons of love this cannot be changed
Know that you may call for anyone you desire for the season but they must meet approval by the house
Know that you may let the house to someone else for a season if that person is approved by the house
Know that you may make any changes to the house or grounds you desire. The house will make changes for seasonal companions
Know that this is a gift of love to you to hold until the house decides to change ownership.
Know that this property is not to be sold or given to anyone else
“That’s it Maximus, Oh my god what am I going to do with it?”
“That’s something you need to think about Toni don’t make a decision today.” He took her hand, “will you ride now?”
“Uh yes I will, I think I need to ride…ride away from this responsibility,” she looked down the road
Maximus gave her a thoughtful look, “it is a gift Toni think what it can mean for you.”
She turned and met his eyes, “you’re right I have much to consider here, please let’s ride.”
Part 4 – Fall (Maximus)
Maximus rode in front of Toni leading the way through the trails over the rolling landscape.
“Maximus, what is that place up there?” she pointed to a small cabin on a hillside
He stopped and looked up, “Oh that’s Egan’s hut let’s ride up there.”
Toni followed him up the hillside, it had been an enjoyable ride especially watching Maximus seated on the big warhorse. She put all thoughts of the house aside when they left the stables to enjoy the day with him.
He pushed the door open and they went inside. “What a small snug little place here.” She said and turned to Maximus. She caught her breath he was standing just inside the door in a shaft of sunlight his eyes seemed to glow he was magical.
“There should be tea things shall I start a fire?” He hadn’t moved
“Maximus…um yes by all means start a fire.”
He smiled and looked toward the little stove turned and walked out for some wood. Toni ran her hand over her face and began to search out the tin pot and the tea. What was it in him that called out to her, that she responded to…something deep within her something ancient…like fire.
The fire had burnt down to embers, tea cups on the floor by the little bed where Toni lay in his arms listening to his strong heart beat, he shifted his weight from her and kissed her again before sitting up.
“We should start back,” running his hand from her breasts to her belly, “it’s getting late.”
“I’m afraid you will have to carry me back,” meeting his eyes, “I can’t move from this place without your help.”
“I did say I would help you didn’t I, then give me your hand,” he pulled her up against him and rested his hands on her hips. “but you my dear are not helping me.”
She could feel him against her belly, “it’s getting late you said,” and touched his lips with her finger, “we have to dress the horses are waiting for us.”
He released her and smiled, “everything is waiting for us.”
They were famished when they returned and the house had a meal keeping warm in the oven. They sat in the dining room after filling their plates.
“I hadn’t thought about food all day until we neared the house; it was very nice to find something ready for us.”
“You should know you don’t have to worry about meals, they will appear.”
“I know I still like to think I had something to do with it though. I cooked when John was here; there were only a couple of times something appeared. I made Max help me in the kitchen, “she smiled at the memory, “I like to cook actually something about preparing food and feeding it to someone you love and it’s like giving a part of yourself. I’d like to cook for you Maximus.”
“Would you my dear, I would like to eat something you have prepared.” He caught her eye for a moment. He wondered if she knew what she had just declared. He was finished and pushed his plate back sitting back in his chair and letting his soft eyes settle on her and then taking in the room. She had not mentioned the house all day and he wondered if she had even thought about it.
“I don’t know anything about Spanish food but I do know some Italian, or maybe just something I like. It might be interesting to see what you like and don’t like.”
“You’re planning on experimenting with me? Hmm, cook something you like, I’m sure I should like it too.”
“Would you like some coffee Maximus?” she started to get up and make it when a coffee service appeared on the sideboard. She twisted her mouth, “see what I mean?”
Maximus chuckled, “I think you need to decide what you’re going to do here and set your own rules for the house to follow. It’s only trying to please you.”
Toni poured out to cups and brought one to Maximus pausing at his side she ran her hand over his shoulder and walked across to the living room. It was impossible for her to be near him without touching. The house…she was going to have to think about it. She took a sip of her coffee and set it on the round table and went over to the fire, Millie stretched for a pet and rolled over on her back.
“You’d like to stay here wouldn’t you pet, your own private fireplace and rug, food appearing when you go looking for it, a clean litter box at all times; it would be perfect for you Millie but what about me? I think I would become fat and lazy; my mind would shrink away to nothing but the thought of pleasure. All my creative juices would dry up and I’d never write another word.”
“What does she answer?” asked Maximus quietly from the doorway where he had been leaning listening to her talk to the cat.
“She’s confused she thought we might stay…perhaps through the winter. I thought that too but I wonder if it would be the same. If I thought John and I could pick up where we left off…maybe, oh I don’t know Maximus I’m worse than Millie.” She drew her knees up and rested her arms on them. “Something in me says I need to leave as I’d planned. I think I could become too into this place if I stayed here to live do that make any sense at all?”
“Yes Toni it does this place will always be here for you when you need it or want to come I should say. If you stayed here your life would be drawn in quarters by the season. You already know how easy it is to become attached or fall in love with someone only to give them up. It’s not known what would happen if you tried to call back the same companions every year. They may remember you or not it could be heartbreaking.”
“I do know some memories remain with them, Jack for instance but John if he didn’t know me I couldn’t stand it. Maximus you are so wise and understanding and wonderful I can’t imagine having to make a decision like this without you here with me.”
“Ah you flatter me, I can’t make the decisions for you but will guide you as I can.” He sat down in a chair and pulled her against his legs. “I think you will come back Toni if only for a season.”
“You think that do you? I don’t know…”
“I thought you might have had an invitation this morning.” He bent down and smiled cocking his head sideways.
Toni looked at him and then back into the fire, “Cort,” she said softly and looked down at her knees.
“Whatever you decide will be correct for you. Come up here off the floor and into my lap.” She settled in his lap and he caressed her hair and looked at her mouth. She was barely breathing and unconsciously moistened her lips. He kissed her driving all thoughts of anything else from her mind.
Toward the end of September Toni hunted out the garden shears to cut the last of the roses. Maximus had taken his horse for a workout and she had declined to go knowing he wanted to run. She placed the basket on the ground not thinking of anything and let her mind wander as she clipped. It wandered to Jack perhaps as she was in his garden. A thing unfinished between them had been left in her lap when sailed away. She admired him for what he had done, his strength and dedication to duty. It was the man himself she missed, his humor and their ability to talk about many things.
She placed a handful of pink roses in the basket and moved to the white roses, Max wildly exciting and exasperating at the same time had claimed her heart. The white roses were fragile and she was careful when she placed them in the basket.
The red roses were for John her true love they had lived together as lovers and as much as man and wife as she had ever experienced. She placed a kiss on the rose as she placed it in the basket. Only one for the rest shattered as she cut them.
Yellow roses for Maximus, he still coursed through her veins. Some were shades of orange in the center, orange for fire. He was magnetic and she was drawn to him not caring if she fell into the fire and came away burned. She smiled knowing he would not let her suffer he would care for her.
She sat down on the bench toying with the shears. She would leave when Maximus left and return to her other life. But perhaps she might come back in spring…some other time…he’d said in his soft voice. She smiled and got up taking the roses into the house.
Toni arranged the roses in a low vase and placed them on the hall table. Back in the kitchen she checked on her roast. She was cooking for Maximus today a leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary and a pan of root vegetables slowly cooking in the oven. She’d made gingerbread and honey butter for afters. The music was low in the background, haunting; she thought of Gladiator and wondered where he was now.
Part 5 Fall (Maximus)
Maximus was in the stable tending to his horse. He looked over at Toni’s horse and thought if she was leaving at the end of the season he needed to ask her if he should take it with him and leave it with Cort. He knew that was going to happen, just a matter of time.
He kicked off his boots at the back door and entered the kitchen. “My gods what is that smell, you’re cooking!”
Toni grinned, “I hope that means it smells good in here, I’ve been slaving all day for you.”
“Ah slaving have you I don’t recommend it but it smells wonderful Toni,” he bent to give her a quick kiss. “I have been riding with the wind today.”
“It was good?”
“Oh yes it was and before I forget what do you want me to do with your horse when you leave?”
“I hadn’t thought of that, oh my it can’t stay here by itself and I can’t take it with me Maximus.”
“I had a thought,” he said from the stool looking up at her his eyes teasing, “I might take it with me and leave it with Cort.”
Toni stared at him a moment, “Maximus…you see too much.”
“I’m sure he’d take good care of it and bring it with him when he comes.” He said grinning
“Okay,” she said lifting her chin and turning back to the stove. How could she talk about Cort with him sitting there, “are you having dinner smelling of horse?” she threw over her shoulder as she basted her roast. She heard him get up and felt a smack on her bottom.
“No I think I shall bathe even though I know you like the smell of horse.”
She grinned and straightened up, “It’s the rider I like the smell of Maximus don’t you know that by now?”
He stood very close to her, “since you’re slaving today I think you should bathe me.”
“Dinner will burn.”
“The house won’t let it.”
“I’m your slave Maximus direct me as you will.” She threw the potholder over her shoulder
His bath was a scaled down Roman bath with a marble pool sunk into the floor, statues and candles on tall marble bases filled the corners around the pool. Toni had not been in there before.
“This is lovely however I don’t see how I am going to reach all your parts from the side of the pool.”
“As my slave you will have to figure that out for yourself, I have only commanded you to bathe me.”
“Am I to undress you as well?”
Toni did as she was asked and he settled down in the warm water. She removed her shoes and her sweater and stripped down stepping in the pool with him. “I hope this is okay you never said I could get in with you, I’m not up on bath slaving.”
“You’re doing well; I’ll let you know if you don’t please me.” He closed his eyes and leaned back on the side of the pool.
“Well…okay hold your breath,” She jumped and pushed him under water and moved quickly to the other side.
He hadn’t expected that, ah but she would pay dearly.
By the time they finished their romp in the pool there was more water out than in and she sat astride him their lips locked together.
They ate dinner in the dinning room, Toni anxiously awaiting the verdict. It was the first meal she had cooked for him and he seemed to be enjoying it. He hadn’t said anything.
Maximus was enjoying his meal he could taste everything she had added including the love. He understood now about her all the things that made her who she was. He also understood how his brothers had fallen in love with her. He looked up from his plate and met her eyes across the table and smiled, she was concerned about the food she’d cooked for him.
“It’s excellent Toni and knowing you cooked this for me makes it more so.”
Toni sighed, ‘I’m glad you like it.” A beaming smile on her face
October was fast coming to an end and Maximus and Toni had ridden out to the forest, leaving the horses tied they walked through the trees. It was windy and cool in the middle of the day.
“I love the smell of a forest in all seasons,” she said as she brushed her booted feet through the leaves.
“Yes they all have their distinct aroma.”
“Fall is a sad season, everything is dying.”
“No not dying Toni, it’s only getting ready to sleep through the winter, shedding its summer cloak stripping down to the basic elements of life. The trees have shaken off their leafy adornments and stand naked in the forest trusting the gods to preserve them for another year. The trees and shrubs are deep rooted and protected the little undergrowth, the plants will die but already their seeds are sown for spring.”
“That’s beautiful Maximus. I feel like a naked tree right now stripped down to basics,” she stopped and took his hands. “I love you Maximus, it’s nearly the end for us and I haven’t said it out loud.”
“You didn’t have to Toni, its apparent in everything you do,” he looked up at the bare branches above them to the graying sky a moment and then met her eyes, “I want you to know that I understand why John, Jack and Max fell in love with you as I have. This has been a very special time we’ve had together.”
“Yes it has been you’ve helped me so much Maximus to put everything in perspective. This place is not the end of anything it’s a beginning. I’ve learned so much about love and the different kinds of love. I think I will visit from time to time and perhaps if I have friends who would like a season here I will let them come. Thank you for everything.” She put her arms around his neck and kissed him.
It was a cold morning in November when she walked up to the stables with Maximus, he was dressed as he was when he came but didn’t seem to mind the cold. Toni took his picture and he held her in his arms kissed her soundly and mounted his horse and turned it toward the dirt road. Toni watched him until he was out of site and walked back to the house. Soon she would pack up her vehicle and gather Millie from the hearth rug and go home. It had been a year of her life she would never forget.