I once had a best friend. The kind of friend who felt more like a sister, was one of the best critique partners I’ve ever had, and would do anything for you regardless of the time of day. Unfortunately, this friend, Karen, died a few years ago of brain cancer. And her loss is still a painful hole in my heart.
During this summer’s lockdown, I’ve felt her presence even more keenly. Karen was a summer girl–she loved the pool (which is closed), she was addicted to farmer’s markets (also closed), and loved going on summer adventures like driving hours into the Virginia mountains to find an elusive lavender field.
So one summer a few years ago, while she was taking a break from chemo, I packed her into the car and drove for hours until I found the lavender field. When we got out of the car, the first thing I noticed (after the blistering heat and humidity), was the scented air. Every breath we took filled our senses with the smell of lavender.
After buying our tickets to walk the field, we grabbed baskets and scissors and hit the fields. While we had some trouble getting her wheelchair to move along the narrow, dirt rows, we were able to traverse the acres of fields that stretched before us.
It didn’t take long to fill our baskets with lavender and other wildflowers. Since we’d paid for the “picnic ticket”, we were allowed to cut however much we could carry and then bring our own picnic into the field. Luckily, we claimed a picnic table (which was much easier for her wheelchair), and I put out the lunch we’d carried with us. I’d put together a charcuterie board with foods that I knew Karen liked and was still able to eat. But when I took out the iced tea, Karen began to fret. You see, Karen was English–like, from England. London, actually. So the concept of iced tea was still, even after years in this country, totally foreign to her. She simply didn’t get it.
Since I knew this about her, I pulled out some homemade iced cold lemonade. With her limited speech, she thanked me. After lunch, I bought us ice cream at the Lavender Shop. Although we made a mess, the treat was worth it.
After another two hours of wandering the fields and cutting flowers, she knew it was time to go home. How did I know this? Because she started to cry. At this point in her illness, she couldn’t speak but she could cry. Since I knew she wouldn’t want to return home–to her protocols and drugs and hospital bed–I gave her a surprise. I’d set up an afternoon tea in the Lavender Shop.
Once we were settled in the Lavender Shop, we were served black tea along with plates and trays of lavender-infused treats. Lavender shortbread. Lavender Lemon bars. Lavender and chocolate cookies. Even a lavender, pineapple, and chicken salad sandwich. So we ate and ate and ate until the hot summer sun began to set. And although Karen was a born-and-bred English woman-who was always critical of anything regarding tea–she loved it as much as I did.
As we drove home, the sun began to set and Karen grabbed my hand and squeezed. I knew what she was saying but I didn’t want to admit the truth. This was going to be Karen’s last summer in the lavender fields. And after a long, hard fight with cancer, that ended up being true. Still, every summer I still take my kids to tea in the Lavender Shop. It’s a way of remembering my dearest friend in the loveliest way possible while making memories with my own children.
I have a feeling that for the rest of my life, every time I smell lavender, I won’t just think of hot summer days and lavender shortbread cookies. I will always think of Karen.
Sharon Wray is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and now writes about the men in her Amazon bestselling Deadly Force romantic suspense series where ex-Green Berets meet their match in smart, sexy heroines who teach these alpha males that Grace always defeats Reckoning.
Her third book, IN SEARCH OF TRUTH, is about an ex-Green Beret desperate to win back the woman he loves and save the men he betrayed, even if he must make the greatest sacrifice. It’s available at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | iBooks| Google | Kobo | IndieBound | Audible