“The End” or “Once Upon A Time?”

The week of Labor Day marks a transition.  For me Sunday was the end of an energizing summer at our “new” cottage in Western New York, and a trip back into the reality of daily life in Northern Virginia.  Closing up the cottage for the first time I was struck by how symbolic the day seemed.  Rain had moved in, a cold rain that changed the location and atmosphere of the neighborhood “end of summer” block party, from the middle of the street to porches and living rooms.  Since our cottage has no heat, it was as chilly inside as out, and a nudge to pack faster and leave earlier the next morning.  The chilled Hershey Bar pies I’d made for the party felt less appropriate than pies straight from the oven.  (And wouldn’t Wanda be proud of me either way?) 

As the weekend progressed, endings seemed to be a theme. The final harvesting of my community garden plot and the ritual application of mulch in our flower beds to tide perennials over a long, hard winter.   Saying goodbye to friends and taking the last walk to the lake.  Several deaths in our congregation and one in the family of our in-laws.  Days growing shorter, nights longer.

For me, another ending was in sight.  Sunset Bridge, the sequel to Happiness Key and Fortunate Harbor, is nearly finished.  At month’s end the manuscript will wing its way to New York, albeit by Internet and not US mail.  Still, with it, ends the story of a shabby beachfront community in Florida and the women who have found each other and friendship, despite every inclination not to.  If ever there was an opportunity to type “The End”  on a manuscript, this will be it.  Happiness Key was intended to be a stand alone novel, but when I suggested we make it a trilogy, my publisher was enthusiastic.   Still, there was never any doubt in my mind the series would end after three novels.  While some series can go on forever, this one, with the same major characters from book to book, only had so many possibilities.  After all, how much angst and how many disasters can one small group of women live through before we throw up our hands?  This time “The End” is appropriate, even right.

Appropriate or not, those words have never graced the final manuscript page of any of my more than sixty novels.  Perhaps I live in denial.  For me, the characters I created continue on, the ebb and flow of their lives no longer recorded by me, but left to the ample imaginations of my readers.   Helen in Toms Brook, VA, of the  Shenandoah Album series?  I suspect she’s busy finishing yet another quilt for some lucky recipient to enjoy for the winter.   The Donaghue sisters of Whiskey Island?  They’re all busy with children of their own, Megan still tending the saloon, Peggy in faraway Ireland, and Casey a part-time social worker.  And Dawn of Rising Tides?  I’m sure she’s watching a new generation of Aurore’s family find their way after the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina.  But I’m also confident they will make it.

Most endings come with beginnings attached.  As I finish the Happiness Key series, I’m already looking toward my writing future, ripe with possibilities to explore.  The summer cottage is closed up now, but I have all winter to think about what I’ll do there next summer, and in the meantime, I’ll enjoy the attractions Virginia offers.  The end of a season is a reminder of all I’ve loved so well and all I still have ahead.  Endings and beginnings.  Without them, how could we assess our lives?  How could we move on?

Finished or not, I won’t type “The End” on the last page of Sunset Bridge.   Instead, I’ll be ready for my next “Once Upon A Time.”  I hope you will be, as well.

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