The rooster’s crow pierced through her dreams. Zoe groaned and looked at the alarm clock on her bedside table. It was early. The events of the day before flooded her mind, pushing all thoughts of sleep aside.
She got up, put her robe and slippers on without really being aware. Once she’d had a few sips of her first cup of coffee, the cobwebs cleared from her mind. Zoe watched the first streaks of sunlight stream in through the kitchen window. She’d have to talk to that rooster. His internal clock was off by over an hour.
Sighing, she rubbed her eyes. Zoe needed to process everything that happened, and the only way she could do that was to journal. She moved from the kitchen to her office and located her leather-bound journal in the bottom drawer of her desk. She grabbed her favourite pen and headed outside to the porch swing.
Her nana’s apron, trowel, and gardening gloves were still there. Zoe blinked. It wasn’t a dream! She gathered up the items and placed them on the bench in the hall, then curled up on the swing and pushed off with her left foot, putting the swing into motion. For the first time since yesterday, Zoe felt as though she could breathe.
Her lungs filled with air so pure it seemed to push oxygen into every red blood cell in her veins. The colours that surrounded her became more vibrant, enhanced by the smells of pine, rose, lilies, and fresh-cut grass. Zoe picked up her pen and wrote.
The words flowed effortlessly as she lost herself in the memories. It all seemed so surreal, and yet it had happened. Once she placed the last period, Zoe closed her journal. It felt as though time had stopped. The sun’s rays shone down directly overhead. It was noon, at least!
She got up slowly and stretched. She had nothing planned for the day and loved the feeling of being spontaneous. Zoe felt like a leaf in the wind and relaxed into it. Today, she would just be. The day was a blank slate, and she had misplaced the chalk.
She hummed as she tidied her kitchen and hand-dried her dishes after savouring her lunch of cold chicken and potato salad. There were no bills to be paid or emails to be sent, so she bypassed her office and headed upstairs to her old bedroom.
An old crocheted throw covered her childhood bed. It had one big sunflower in the middle, and Zoe loved it as much now as she did then. She surveyed the bedroom, overcome with feelings of nostalgia. Shaking her head, she sighed. What she wouldn’t give to be twelve again, with the knowledge she had now. Zoe imagined asking her nana all the questions she had, but the nana in her daydream remained silent.
Once she entered the back flower beds, the demands of the grounds occupied her time and attention. One day folded into another and, before she knew it, a month had passed by. Zoe had put the garden out of her mind. The mundane work kept her busy, so she continued to go with the flow.
A knock sounded at the front door just after lunch on the last Friday of July. The summer heat had set in, and the old house did not have central air conditioning. She’d contacted the heating and cooling company to come and install it, but Mr. Craddock told her it would take a few weeks.
Zoe rushed downstairs and opened the front door, expecting to see men in overalls with tool belts and a large crate with the cooling unit in it. Instead, there was only one man standing facing her. The eyebrows and eyes reminded her of someone, but she had never met this man.
“Yes, and you are?”
“My name is Jasper McEwen. You knew my grandfather, Adam… he’s the reason I’m here today.”
She stared at him for a long moment, taking in his tall, slim build, sandy blond hair, and lapis-blue eyes. “Forgive me for staring, but you referred to Adam in the past tense…”
Jasper’s eyes dropped to the floor as he took a deep breath, held it, and let it out. “I did. He passed on about a week ago now. I found a letter with my name on it. Inside were instructions for carrying on the McEwen legacy. He said that our family legacies remain entwined. I don’t know what that means.”
A wave of unexpected grief washed over Zoe. Adam was dead! “I’m sorry… this news has come as a shock. Your grandfather appeared to be in perfect health the last time I saw him. He even said he would pop around for tea again, but he never did…”
“No, the doctor said he had a major heart attack in his sleep. He went to bed one night and never got up again. I found him the next morning with the most peaceful look on his face,” Jasper answered softly.
“That must have been quite a shock. Please, come in and have a seat in the living room. Can I get you something to drink? Iced tea, maybe?”
“That sounds perfect,” Jasper said, sitting in her grandpa’s chair.
She hurried to the kitchen, grabbed the pitcher and two glasses, placing them on a serving tray along with a plate of gingersnap cookies.
After she served her guest, Zoe sat on the sofa and they sipped their tea amid an oddly comfortable silence. She cleared her throat. “So, you’re to carry on your grandfather’s legacy. Might I enquire what that legacy is?”
“I don’t know. The instructions in the letter said I was to come here and you would ‘let me in.’ To what, I don’t know, but if you have anything you can share, I would be grateful.”
Zoe got up and paced. “The only thing I could let you into would be the garden. No, not the ones you saw as you drove up… the one that is hidden. That’s my family’s legacy, only it’s the women in my lineage who have been the keepers of the key – I am the third generation.”
“I am the third generation in my family as well. Would you take me to the garden? I think that’s what my grandfather wanted, and I need to understand all this.”
“I’ll be right back.”
She raced upstairs, donned her grandmother’s apron, and grabbed the key from her office before returning to the living room, slightly out of breath. “I’m ready.”
Jasper turned his face toward her. He was standing at the same window Adam had looked out of only a few short weeks before. “We’re going now?”
“No time like the present, Mr. McEwan.”
“Call me Jasper.”
“Very well, if you call me Zoe. You remind me of a younger Adam. You look a lot like your grandfather, including the bushy eyebrows and that rare shade of blue in your eyes.”
“Thank you… Zoe. Yes, I am well aware. As a child, I hated the eyebrows, but now that he’s gone, I am glad that gene got passed down. I have big shoes to fill and no idea how to do it.”
Zoe nodded. “I feel the same way. My nana was very gifted, but she died before I turned sixteen. I missed out on learning what she knew.”
“I was sixteen when grandfather started teaching me our family history. He mentioned the garden and then disappeared for a day about a month ago. When he came back, he told me he’d completed his last task and would pass the torch on to me. Unfortunately, he died in his sleep.”
The walk to the gate seemed much shorter this time. Jasper gasped when she swept the ivy aside, revealing the ancient door. A quick twist of the key, followed by the barely audible click, and one shove sent the ancient hinges creaking, and the door swung inwards. The cobblestone path extended inwards. She glanced behind her, and Jasper stared wide-eyed.
“Come on, but make sure you push the door shut behind you. It locks itself.”
Jasper did as she asked and followed her until they stood at the fork in the path. She scanned from left to right, but the caretaker was nowhere in sight.
“Which way do we go from here?”
“That’s complicated…” Zoe began.
“Not so very complicated.”
They turned to face the caretaker. He smiled, and it seemed like the garden brightened a bit more.
“I am glad you have returned, Zoe. You have much to learn, but I think it will be easier if Jasper joins you.”
Zoe stood rooted to the spot. She watched as the caretaker’s eyes contacted Jasper’s. His mouth dropped open as his face filled with wonder. Tears filled his eyes as he dropped to his knees and bowed.
“Adam did well. You know who I am,” the caretaker said as he embraced the younger man.
Jasper’s tears gave way to sobbing. Zoe felt uncomfortable watching such a vulnerable and intimate moment. She wanted to look away but couldn’t.
Jasper knows who the caretaker is… why don’t I?