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       Moon Signs, p.38

           Helen Haught Fanick

  Grandma Flynn believed in living life according to the signs of the moon, and she taught my sister Andrea and me everything she knew. Andrea, being a natural skeptic, never believed a word of Grandma Flynn’s wisdom, but I’ve always been sure she was right. The dark of the moon is a time of trouble. The waning halfmoon means turmoil and disaster, and the waxing halfmoon means change, but sometimes a positive change can occur in that phase. The twenty-four hours surrounding the full moon are when good luck flourishes; we experience harmony, peace, and good fortune. That’s why it’s so hard to understand what happened on the night of the full moon, that last Saturday in June, the night of the wedding.

  Ivy McGee and I talked my niece Maggie into getting married that particular Saturday evening rather than some other date in June. Ivy works at the Alpenhof Hotel in West Virginia’s Canaan Valley, and Maggie works there, too. In addition to that, Maggie’s engaged to the owner of the hotel, Stefan Novacek. Ivy believes in living by the signs of the moon, just as I do, so when Maggie told us in January that she and Stefan were getting married the following June, we immediately checked the calendar and found there was a full moon on the last Saturday of that month. It seemed like the perfect time for a wedding.

  Andrea and I live in the little town of Pine Summit, and we drove to the Canaan Valley a couple of days early in order to help Ivy and Maggie get ready for the wedding, which would be held under a large sugar maple on the side lawn of the hotel. Asbury McGee rode with us—he’s Ivy’s husband—since he’s a native of Pine Summit and had hitchhiked to his brother’s house to pick up some things he’d left there.

  Asbury sat behind us with the sun turning his fringe of silver hair into what looked like a halo that had collapsed around his head. “I think Maggie and Stefan are gonna make a fine couple,” he said as soon as we got started. “Ever since the ski season ended, they’ve been working together like a couple of beavers to remodel the attic and add some more rooms up there. She works right along with him, and they done made a lot of progress.”

  “Are any of the rooms in the attic ready for guests?” Andrea asked.

  She was thinking what I was thinking, that the hotel would be full of wedding guests. Well, our room was reserved well in advance, and I made sure it was our favorite—on the corner, at the back of the hotel, east wing. We had the room when we were there in the winter, and it provides a lovely view of the valley sweeping away toward the mountains, and out the back window, we could see the beautiful woods. I was hoping that area would be full of rhododendron bushes in bloom.

  “Stefan put some rollaway beds in the attic for some of their ski school friends who’ll be coming,” Asbury said. “The two lower floors should fill up if everyone shows up that made a reservation. There’s more than enough room for all the relatives on the two lower floors.”

  Andrea pulled into a McDonalds at a crossroads. “How about some breakfast?”

  “I’m ready,” I said.

  We sat down with our Egg McMuffins and coffee, which Asbury insisted on paying for. In spite of his rough upbringing, he has an inherent chivalry which isn’t that uncommon in our Appalachian Mountains. I’m not sure how much he makes as a handyman at the Alpenhof, but he wouldn’t listen to our objections, so we let him pay.

  “Are preparations for the wedding already underway?” Andrea asked.

  “Ivy and the new hired girl been busy cleaning up all the rooms. Giving them a good going-over, they are. Everybody’s been real busy, what with the kids working in the attic, too. Now and then we get an interruption from that woman named Eva that lives down the road.”

  “Is she still there?” I asked. “I’d have thought she’d be back in Germany by now.”

  “Oh, she’s still there. They’re saying her husband and her are getting a divorce. If you ask me, she’s way too flirty with Stefan, and him about to be married. I hope she don’t cause trouble at the wedding.”

  We met Eva Weiss when we stayed at the hotel in January, and we were very much aware at the time that she was making a desperate play for Stefan. Her husband had returned to Germany, and we heard rumors even then that he was getting a divorce. Bad as I hate to, I have to admit the woman’s a true beauty, with her long blonde hair and ice-blue eyes. And I’d never admit it aloud, but she truly outshines Maggie in that area. Maggie’s the girl next door, with her short auburn curls and a few freckles across her nose. Pretty, yes, but not a great beauty. The news that Eva was still in the valley cast a shadow on my previously sunny mood. I decided it was time to change the subject.

  “Had any of Stefan’s relatives arrived from Europe before you left for Pine Summit?” I asked. Andrea thinks mingling with foreigners is a broadening experience for us—me, I’m just nosy about what Stefan’s relatives are like, and I freely admit it. After, all, they will be Maggie’s in-laws.

  “Nobody had arrived yet, but I think Stefan’s parents were supposed to come the next day after I left.”

  “Stefan told me when we were here before that she’s German, and his father’s Czech. I wonder what they’ll be like,” I said.

  “Not too hoity-toity, I hope,” Asbury said.

  Andrea smiled. “They’ll be fine, I’m sure. Look how nice Stefan is.” Andrea is totally comfortable with anyone and in any situation. She’s a retired math teacher, a spinster, and she’s always been brimming with self-confidence since the day she was born. She struck out on her own right out of high school and worked her way through the university. As soon as she had her degree, she began teaching at Pine Summit High School, where she taught for forty years.

  I, on the other hand, am a widow. My husband, John, died two years ago, leaving me fairly well-off. I miss him, but I’m content with my memories. I quilt with a group of my friends—we’re all members of the Pine Summit Methodist Church—and I go to lunch frequently with one or another of them at our local Nell Flanagan’s Restaurant.

  When we went to the Alpenhof in January, Asbury was riding with us then, too, and he helped us find our way. This time, Andrea didn’t need any help. That’s Andrea. Her sense of direction is unerring, so I always let her drive. She scares me, whizzing around our mountain roads in her Honda Accord, but she always gets us there.

  We pulled into the Alpenhof parking lot about four in the afternoon. I was surprised to see they had painted the place. When we first saw the hotel in January, It wasn’t what I had expected. I had imagined a sleek but rustic chalet with a huge stone fireplace in the lobby. Instead, we saw a boxy rectangle, a three-story frame structure, painted white, with porches on the two lower floors. The third floor was the attic I mentioned earlier, the one the kids are converting into additional rooms.

  Now the building was painted a deep brown, with window boxes full of geraniums at all the windows. “I like it,” I said, and Asbury beamed.

  “Stefan and me did it,” he said. “We had some help from David, too, once school let out for the summer. He helped us finish up.” David is Ivy’s fourteen-year-old son from a previous marriage.

  “It looks much better,” Andrea said.

  We got out as Andrea popped the trunk, and Asbury insisted on carrying our bags and coming back afterward for his three plastic grocery sacks full of possessions. I wondered what was in those bags; if it were clothes, Ivy would undoubtedly give them to some local charity the minute he took them from the bag. Asbury’s life has improved considerably since he married Ivy; he wears clothes that are clean and new-looking now, and Andrea and I are happy about the change.

  He took our suitcases from the trunk, and Andrea and I got our cosmetic cases. “They put you in Room 10 again, just like you asked,” Asbury said.

  As we approached the hotel, I could see four Adirondack chairs and some tables on the porch. I had a pleasant mental image of sitting there with an early-morning cup of coffee. On the second floor, I was able to see more chairs and tables through the railing. This was another change that made the place look inviting. We walked into the lobby, wh
ich is located in the middle of the building, and saw that it had been painted, too. It was a soft spring green, perfect for the woodsy surroundings. Ivy was behind the registration desk, and she came out and hugged us. “I’m so glad you’re here. Maggie and Stefan went to Parsons to see about the flowers for the wedding, but they’ll be back shortly. Thanks for giving Asbury a ride.”

  “We enjoyed his company,” Andrea said. She filled out a registration card and also signed on a large registration book which lay open on the counter. I signed, too, thinking as I had in January that this must be an old world custom, the registration book. I couldn’t resist the impulse to look at the other names on the page. Three had signed in yesterday—Franz Novacek, Erika Novacek, and Laszlo Novacek. Franz and Erika were Stefan’s parents, but I hadn’t a clue who Laszlo was. Stefan’s an only child. An uncle, maybe?

  We went to our room, and I plopped down on one of the twin-size beds. “Did you notice the signatures on the registration book?”

  “Yes, I noticed.”

  “I wonder who Laszlo Novacek is.”

  “He’s Stefan’s uncle.”

  Andrea amazes me. I’m the nosy one, but she’s always the first to know everything. “How did you know that?”

  “Maggie told me on the phone the other day that Stefan’s Uncle Laszlo was coming. He’s Franz’s brother, of course. I called her to see how wedding preparations were going, thinking we could come earlier than we’d planned if we were needed.”

  I decided I’d better get up off the bed and get organized. “We’re going to be here a while, so why don’t we unpack and put everything in the chest and closet? Our suitcases will fit under the beds.”

  “Good idea,” Andrea said. She immediately began putting things in the two lower drawers of the chest. She’s four years older than I am, but I have to confess she’s in better shape, so I was glad she’d be the one doing the bending. While I’m quilting or watching TV, she’s out hiking around Pine Summit, which is built on a hill.

  Our room was small, but we had adjusted to that idea when we were here during the winter. There was no phone or TV—just a four-drawer chest between two side windows, two twin beds, and a nightstand with a lamp between the beds. The hotel had once been a boarding house for the loggers who cut West Virginia’s red spruce, and I imagined at that time there had been one bathroom per floor. Somewhere along the way, changes were made, rooms were sacrificed, and now each room has a bath.

  I finished unpacking, putting the plastic-bagged dress I’d wear for the wedding in the closet with a few other things. I went to the side window and looked out over the valley. Then from the back, looking into the wooded area, I could see the rhododendron bushes were blooming under the trees. In January, two feet of snow had covered the ground, and the pine branches were so loaded they sagged to the ground. “It’s just as beautiful in summer as it was last winter. Everything’s so green.”

  Andrea joined me. “It’s lovely. Makes me want to find a trail and go hiking.”

  “Makes me want to find a bench under a tree and read a book.”

  “I guess what we need to do is check with Ivy and see if there’s something we can do to help get ready for the wedding.”

  We went to the lobby, where Ivy was talking on the phone. On the east side of the lobby, a brick fireplace stands against the wall. Facing the front of the hotel, two newly-upholstered chairs flank the fireplace. Opposite them, a couch covered in the same dark green fabric stands. A round coffee table sits between. A tall man who was dressed in jeans and a tweed jacket was seated on one of the chairs, and he looked up as we came in. It was impossible not to notice that, even though he looked to be in his sixties, he was incredibly attractive. He had green eyes like Stefan’s and dark hair with just enough unruly curl to give him a roguish appearance.

  We approached the couch to wait for Ivy to finish on the phone, and he gave us a smile that indicated he was delighted to meet not just one, but two women. “Ladies,” he said, as he got up with a little nod and shook hands with both of us.

  “We’re Maggie’s aunts,” Andrea said. “I’m Andrea Flynn, and this is my sister, Kathleen Williamson.”

  “I’m Laszlo Novacek, Stefan’s uncle.”

  He shook hands with both of us, and we all sat down. “Did you just arrive?”

  “We got here at four. I understand Stefan’s parents are here, too.”

  “They’re out exploring somewhere. They’ll be back later, and we’re planning to go to the lodge for dinner. Would you care to join us?”

  The Alpenhof has no restaurant, so we usually go to the lodge at the Canaan Valley Ski Resort for meals. I was getting hungry already, and hoped it wouldn’t be too long before the party got on the road.

  Before I could say anything, Andrea said, “We’d like that.” She looked at me to make sure I agreed.

  “Fine,” I murmured. It would be a chance to get to know Stefan’s family. “We’re in Number 10. Would you knock on our door when everyone’s ready to go?”

  “Certainly. You can ride with me. I have a rental car. Stefan and Maggie can go with Franz and Erika.”

  I wasn’t so sure I wanted to ride with the suave Laszlo Novacek. In spite of his good looks, or maybe because of them, he was a mite too suave for me. I didn’t want to rock the boat, however, so I didn’t say anything. Ivy was finished with her phone conversation, so we excused ourselves and went to the desk. “Is there something we can do to help you get ready for the wedding?” Andrea asked.

  “Not at the moment. I don’t know if Maggie told you, but they hired a new woman to clean rooms when they promoted me to handle the desk. Her name is Angie Ferguson, and she’s a part-time student at Davis and Elkins. Maggie and me pitched in and helped her, and we gave all the rooms a good cleaning. Got everything spic and span for the wedding guests.”

  “There’s nothing to do in the kitchen?” I asked.

  “No, we went through and washed everything and even scrubbed the cabinets while we were at it. We don’t have enough china and glasses for the wedding supper—we’ll use paper and plastic—but we washed what we have in case some folks want to have breakfast here, or in case it’s rainy at night. You remember how we used to have soup and sandwiches when we were snowbound. We do the same if it’s raining hard.”

  “Do we know yet how many guests will be here?” Andrea asked.

  “It’s not going to be a big wedding. I think they invited fifty at most, and you know how it goes—probably thirty will show up.”

  “I suppose they invited everyone from the ski school, since Stefan and Maggie both work there, but I imagine a lot of the instructors have gone elsewhere for the summer,” Andrea said.

  “Some are working at the lodge and at restaurants around the valley, I hear. Then Maggie said some college friends of hers will be coming.”

  “Thank goodness, since Andrea and I are Maggie’s only relatives,” I said. “She’ll have some folks on her side of the aisle.”

  Andrea nodded. “That will help. But what about chairs for the ceremony?”

  “Stefan came up with a bunch of folding chairs from somewhere. They’re all stored in the kitchen right now, but of course they’ll be moved outside for the wedding. We’ll be serving the food in the kitchen after the ceremony, so the men will bring the chairs back in for the reception.”

  We stressed the idea that we were available to help with whatever was needed and then retreated to our room, where I hoped to take a short nap. Andrea put on her hiking boots and said she’d be back in time for supper.








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