THE GOLDEN HEARTS CLUB
Katie’s suitcase had been sitting on her bedroom floor for the past three weeks. She intended to fill it systematically during the weeks before the trip but it now gaped open with a disorderly pile of clothes spilling over the sides and draped over the top. They were leaving on their trip tomorrow and she was definitely not ready to go. Each time she attempted to pack a few items or organize her clothes, her heart beat frantically and a sickening feeling twisted deep inside her stomach. Unmoving, she sat on the bed and stared at the luggage. An eerie silence in the room allowed the foreboding dream to creep back into her mind and goosebumps twitched down the back of her neck.
Impossible. How do I pack for a six-week cross-country road trip? Cool in the mountains, warm at the beaches, and always the possibility of rain. What was I thinking when I said yes to my sister, to her adventurous spirit, to this by-the-seat-of-our-pants escapade? No hotels, no definite itinerary—just our tent and sleeping bags. I must have been drugged, intoxicated, tied to a chair and tortured. Okay, a little too heavy on the sarcasm.
I’ve wanted to see California forever, but I didn’t imagine it would be so much work planning and organizing all the things we would need. And, it’s a good thing we started saving our money a year ago so we could buy a used car. I really like our cool red car. It’s completely full, and so is the giant home-made luggage box our neighbor gave us. I hope the ski rack holds that box on top of the car securely. We have everything we need … I think. I can picture the things we piled in that big travel box; the tent, a small grill, accessories, a tarp, lantern, flashlights, beach towels, an emergency kit, and coats. And, at Mom’s insistence, canned foods and protein bars. Plus, the important stuff is stacked in a box on the front-seat; maps, magazines, travel guides—and Megan’s great selection of music.
At least we’ll have good music—if we’re stranded on the side of the road when our car breaks down or we get a flat tire. I don’t even know how to change a tire. Meggie does. She knows how to do everything. I did like camping with my family when we were kids. But … me camping? Did we even take the tent out of the bag to see if all the parts are there?
I honestly do want to go. We’ve been planning this trip for over a year.
What am I afraid of? I know the answer to that. Over the years I probably should have told someone about my obsession with my dreams. The most recent one—well it wasn’t a dream—it was a nightmare, and I’ve had the same dream several times. It was dreadful; about a run-down motel out in the middle of nowhere—and a blazing fire—and two sisters screaming.
Is it a sign? Are my dreams trying to tell me something? Everyone says my dreams are just my crazy imagination, but for some reason they feel like much more than that.
Deep breaths. Repeat after me. The trip is going to be fun. We’ll have a great time. We’ll have a great time.
CHEERFUL GREETINGS AND intimate laughter carried through the house as the party guests began to arrive. Grandma Summers arrived early, eager to help with the refreshments and food. “Congratulations Katie! The ceremony today was very nice. A college graduate—we’re so proud of you.” Happiness glimmered in her eyes. “And your adventure sounds so darn fun—I wish I could tag along. You and Megan are going to have a ball!”
Katie thought her grandmother was the coolest of all grandmothers. She often invited the girls for an overnight junk food night, she took them on special lunch and shopping days, taught them how to make pies, cakes, and candy, and she always loved attending social events and parties. For this occasion, she prepared a large chocolate sheet cake topped with smooth fondant frosting that made the cake look like a giant gift-wrapped box. Meticulously scripted words stretched across the center of the cake in bright green icing. Congratulations. Happy Travels. Painted around the top of the cake were hand-designed roads, trees in various shades of green, dots of yellow flowers, and an oddly shaped red car. In one corner of the cake where the road ended, a multi-colored rainbow posed regally. Popsicle sticks held small, hand-made road signs that were placed strategically near the roads. Believe, Watch for the Signs, Acts of Kindness, Follow Your Dreams.
Her grandmother was always an inspiring woman. Grandma routinely shared uplifting messages about life that over the years left lasting impressions. Katie remembered one insight Grandma shared many times; that there are no coincidences in life. Everyone should believe in the signs and watch for the opportunities that life presents. But the one concept that drew warmth into Katie’s heart was the reminder that showing compassion toward others can help make the world a kinder place.
Katie took a few steps toward her grandmother and slid her arm around her waist. “Thanks for being here Grandma. The cake is beautiful.”
The voices of her three brothers attracted her attention and Katie looked toward them as they greeted family and friends at the front door. Happy guests felt the thrill of anticipation for the dual celebration of Katie’s college graduation and the kick-off party for the much-anticipated road trip Katie and Megan were taking.
A charming smile lit up her face as she watched her brothers embracing cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, as well as friends they had known most of their lives. She admired her brothers. They had become handsome young men, and she appreciated the deep sense of honor and respect they had for others. Now, at ages eighteen, seventeen and sixteen, they often joked about their parent’s passionate relationship, because they were born so close together. And since they were all close in age, they fell naturally into a best-friend relationship. They hung out together at school events, congregated at the city park with their friends, and rode their bicycles to every corner of town. Plus, they all played sports and had girlfriends, so having them all here tonight would surely incite an enthusiastic celebration.
Megan’s outgoing personality always shined in a crowd which made her a perfect hostess at any social affair. Her enthusiastic greetings could be heard across the room. She leaned into a hug with a close friend of hers. “We leave tomorrow morning. The car is packed and we’re ready to head out. It’s going to be crazy-fun.” Her bright eyes showed her excitement as she recapped their plans.
The party was in full-swing when Katie walked outside to the front porch to check the weather. Smiling, she leaned on the railing and pointed her face upward to watch the gentle raindrops falling from the sky. Her eyes closed as she inhaled an appreciative breath of the woodsy scent of pinecones and wildflowers. The steady sound of raindrops tapping on the roof was like music to her and she could always smell the wholesome sweetness approaching before it dropped from the sky. To her, the cool Ohio rain was the soothing freshness and delicious fragrance of spring that drew the bright yellow daffodils from the warm soil. It was the moisture that fed the crops, filled the lakes, and made the trees explode with lively colors. Those magical showers brought the meadows to life, transformed lawns into plush green grass, and was the sweet nectar that dripped life into the world.
Her lips tipped up in an affectionate smile as she stood on the porch looking inside the house. The open front door offered a charming appraisal of her family and friends as they talked and laughed together. Their natural engagement and delight in each other seemed as idealistic and entertaining as an episode of Happy Days. This was as the world had always been for her. It was her bucket of joy.
Back in the house, Katie saw that her brother had set up the projector and was replaying home movies from their childhood. The colorful video was being projected on the back wall in the living room. She and Megan were seven and nine years old and all dressed up in their fancy attire. She recalled the day they spent cutting out the over-sized cardboard fans, and when they finished decorating them, they were covered with bright blue feathers. In the video, she and Megan were singing the song “Sisters” from the movie White Christmas. Happiness filled her heart as she remembered how often over the years, they sang that song together.
Megan jumped up and waved her arms excitedly, beckoning Katie toward her. Standing in the middle of the living room, she started singing along with the home movie and pointed toward Katie, urging her to join in.
“No way Meggie.” Katie firmly placed her hands in front of her and vigorously shook her head.
Megan continued singing alone, but the crowd hooted and clapped, chanting, “Katie, Katie, Katie.”
A whimsical expression twisted on her face and Katie rolled her eyes. She hesitantly joined her sister—front and center. Megan’s face lit up with an approving glimmer as she leaned down to pick up two magazines from the coffee table and handed one to Katie. They would be the substitute fans needed to complete the scene. The girls continued singing along with the home movie playing on the wall behind them. Now performing together, their movements became a little more animated.
The unplanned moment pulled on Katie’s heart strings and she offered a sentimental nod toward her sister. She turned to watch the antiquated movie playing on the wall as she and Megan performed the song when they were young girls. Katie knew the words of the song by heart. It was about sisters who would always be best friends and would never allow anything or anyone to come between them.
When they finished the song, illustrious smiles stretched across their faces as they leaned into a closing, formal bow. After the enthusiastic applause, they both joined their guests in laughter.
Megan placed her arm around Katie’s shoulder. “You know you can’t marry anyone without my approval?”
“I know—and ditto sister!”
It was a personal agreement they had with each other forever and their pledge to each other was firm. They were soulmates.
THE CELEBRATION CONTINUED longer than anticipated so when the rising sun peeked through the window, it felt like it arrived much too early. From the depth of a sweet dream, Katie woke and slowly opened her eyes. A modest smile lifted the sides of her mouth when she realized she had woken herself again, laughing with a dream. She was accustomed to waking from the intensity of an emotional dream, occasionally weeping with a sad story or giggling along with fantasies of moonbeams and flowing dresses. She didn’t know where the elaborate visions came from, but at times detailed scenes played out with people she had never met.
Katie knew her dreams could never be described to anyone to be as comical, as emotional or as intense as they truly were, but she felt her far-reaching dreams were the most enchanting, completely bizarre, and tremendously powerful element of her being. During her deepest sleep, the visions appeared in vibrant colors as clear as a computer-generated film. Many of the images were recurrent; bouquets of purple and white flowers, a bright blue canoe floating on a serene lake, and horses she talked to like they were her best friends. Curiously and always there was the sad-eyed Indian woman with a long grey braid, a woman Katie knew somehow … and loved. She was equally attached to the dream that portrayed a heavyset woman who roared with jolly laughter and seemed to be part of her family. Sometimes when she dreamed, the fragrance of sweet flowers was so intense, it created the impression that she was sleeping in a grand floral garden. Randomly, there were colorful chirping birds and mysterious hooting owls. And often, beaming brightly from a distance, was a large golden moon with a wide-toothed smile. Always there was the same man, tall and handsome with gentle blue eyes.
And there was music. Her sleeping brain turned on like a Bose stereo with drums, strings, horns, and the bewitching keys gently tapping on the piano. The songs were not only familiar; she knew the tunes, the rhythm, and the words to the songs by heart. Her dreams were delicious, they were romantic, and they felt real. They felt so genuine that when she woke in the morning she felt as though she had emerged from that dreamy place. There was something heavenly about her dreams and she had the deepest heart-to-gut sensation they were somehow real.
It’s not a surprise I woke myself again, laughing at something silly. I should be used to it by now since it happens all the time. I definitely need to do more research about dreams. Do dreams come true? What do they mean—and where do they come from? Why does it happen to me with such dramatic details that unfold like a colorful movie in my mind?
Do I know what I was dreaming about? What was so funny? Yes, I do. It was years ago when my brothers built that home-made rocket from an old metal washing machine agitator. They must have loaded it with a lot of gun powder, because when they lit the fuse—that rocket exploded with an ear-piercing blast and torpedoed into the sky so high, we all lost sight of it. It was frightening when that winged beast finally appeared above us; heavy, solid metal spiraling downward at supersonic speed. It could have easily killed one of us. I remember the terrified and astonished expression on our faces—and seconds later—the powerful, deep-toned THUD. That monster slammed into the shallow creek bed and we were all suddenly covered with blobs of chocolatey mud that doused our clothes, splattered our faces, and dripped through our hair. After a moment of stunned silence, we all began laughing … and we laughed ourselves to tears.
A sweet smile rested on her face as that memory danced through her mind. Although it was many years ago, the events of that day remained crystal clear and she knew she would laugh about it for the rest of her life. Glancing around the bedroom, she took a moment to appreciate each piece of special décor that held sentimental memories of her younger years. Still smiling, she rolled over and snuggled deeper into the warmth of her bed.
Since I believe so strongly in destiny; that the world has already chosen a path that each of us will follow, then maybe I should pay more attention to my dreams. Perhaps they aren’t just random dreams or my desires or silly and bewitching fantasies. What if they’re signs that are trying to lead me and I’m ignoring them because I don’t know how to interpret them. Like … it’s not the right time for me to have a relationship … that’s why Randy cheated on me. Oh, right. Now that’s brilliant justification for infidelity. Adults say things always work out for the best. But are there other signs? — The dreams — My dreams are so real I can almost feel someone tapping me on my shoulder, someone trying to tell me something, someone talking in capitalized words. FOLLOW THE ROAD. LOOK FOR THE SIGNS. NEW BEGINNINGS.
“WAKE UP KATIE!” Megan pranced into her sister’s room full of her giddy morning enthusiasm. “This is going to be the best adventure ever! Just you and me driving across the country. I arranged everything else in the car, and the travel box is closed and locked. That big box looks so funny attached to the top of the car and painted the same cherry-red color of the car—we’ll look like the Clampetts traveling across the country. Come on. We just need to attach the bike rack and throw your suitcase in the trunk—then we’re ready to go.”
Megan stepped closer to the bed. “I know you’re awake Katie. Stop hiding under the blankets. Aren’t you excited? Imagine the vibrant energy of the Florida sunshine, miles of sugar-white beaches, and swimming in the deep blue sea.” Sarcasm dripped from her words. “There will be scrumptious food and jazzy music in the crazy city of New Orleans and—California here we come! We’re going to have a blast.”
Pulling the covers away from her face, Katie laughed. “Vibrant energy? Sugar-white beaches? The deep blue sea? What is that? Are you writing a book?”
Megan was always so full of energy and so damn cute. She was often up early assisting Dad with breakfast on the weekends, she enthusiastically watched and learned while Dad worked on the car, and she was a tomboy-spitfire, always hanging out with their younger brothers riding motorcycles and playing softball.
Katie always admired her younger sister because she had a confidence that made her seem fearless; a confidence Katie wished she had also inherited. The contrast in their personalities was apparent with Megan always seizing an opportunity to attend a sports event or social activity, while Katie was content visiting with friends or quietly enjoying a book. They both attended the local college and chose to live at home. To them living at home was much like living in a dormitory because they shared a bathroom, cut each other’s hair, and borrowed each other’s clothes. They both agreed it was much more fun to live at home with their family.
With a sideways glance, Katie asked, “Why exactly do we need to leave so early Meggie? I’m tired. I need to do my nails … and I don’t think all my things are going to fit into my suitcase.”
The sweet scent of soap floated through the small room and Katie’s eyes shot back toward her sister; at how cute she looked with her spiky short blonde hair, threadbare jeans, tennis shoes with purple shoe strings, and she was wearing a red Ohio State sweatshirt. “You’ve showered already?”
“Yep. And we only have a few more things to do before we leave. Our trip planning for the past year has finally paid off. It’ll be a long drive today, but we should be able to make it through Tennessee by dinner if we hit the road. Come on—get up. Breakfast is almost ready!” Megan disappeared from the room as swiftly as she had popped in.
As she burrowed under the covers again, Katie thought about her life and her world. As a young girl she remembered people saying the most interesting things were in faraway places. Katie was sure they were mistaken, because she thought the most captivating things in life were in her own backyard. Her world had always been a secret space for her and a private sentiment that possibly others didn’t know about or perhaps had never experienced in their lives. It was her tranquil place, as delightful and harmonious as a love song that occupied her soul.
Katie realized her creative imagination had been formed when she was a child because her mother encouraged fantasy. Her lively spirit presented the children with adventures that carried them into another world. Every day was filled with unique objects of interest, fascinating observations, and new explorations of nature. A day in the woods could easily sweep them into a journey of the purest discoveries. Her vivid descriptions transported them into a world that seemed to encapsulate them inside a fairy tale. She said butterflies were colorful fairies that were sent on missions around the world to sprinkle happy-dust on all the people. The shapely snapdragon flowers were vibrantly costumed ladies that danced in the gardens to provide entertainment to the other flowers, and the wide-eyed owls were the kings of the darkest night skies, hiding in the trees to offer protection to all the children. She also revealed that because the Blue Moon appears only once every few years, people should always look toward it, because if he’s smiling at you, it’s a sign that your future will light up with good fortune.
She wished the progression of time would somehow pass by her, that she could remain in the dream-like existence she was living in now. That nothing would change. She didn’t want to be swept up into an expansive, fast-paced adult world or into a future that was uncertain. She didn’t want her siblings to grow up and leave the cozy nest, or her parents to get older, or her grandparents to ever pass away. She loved everything just the way it was now. These were her roots, deeply embedded in a small rural town in Ohio. It absorbed her heart—it was her home.
The scent of her mother’s sweet perfume floated down the hallway and into her room before Katie heard her voice.
“Good morning sunshine!” Katie loved the sound of her sweet voice. It was always so pleasant, so soothing and so … motherly.
“Wake up sleepy-head.” Her mother’s delicate face shined as she sat on the bed beside her oldest daughter.
Katie nuzzled deeper into the warmth of the down-feather quilt. Her eyes slowly opened and she moaned a sleepy affirmation. “Mom, why are you up so early?” A lethargic yawn widened her mouth.
“Do you need help packing? I’ll help you organize your things.”
“Tell Meggie I’m too tired. We can leave tomorrow.” Katie covered her face with one of the pillows.
“Is it possible you stayed up too late last night? Your sister is helping Dad with breakfast. She seems more excited about this adventurous journey than you are.”
Katie moved the pillow from her face and glanced at her mother. “I’m not ready to go yet. I haven’t finished packing and I don’t think there’s enough room in my suitcase for everything I need. What if we run out of money or we have car problems? Six weeks might be too long. Maybe we didn’t think through all the details completely.”
“You’re going to have a marvelous time. You can always call us if you have problems. And it would be nice if you would call occasionally to let us know you’re safe and where you are.”
Katie yawned again and stretched her arms. Her emerald eyes offered a morning-happy glimmer. “We will. I promise.”
“Think of the new friends you’ll meet and all the interesting places you’re going to visit.” Her mother smiled. “Not too many people have the privilege of driving around the country for a summer escapade. Think of it as a journey of learning and sharing. Open your mind, spread your wings, fly … and experience a world you’ve never been exposed to. Your destiny may be waiting for you to discover it.”
Mmm, spread my wings … fly … new experiences. That does sound intriguing. But what about my break-up with Randy? I loved him. And now I have all of this … this heartache. Maybe it’s good that I’m getting away. People say I’ll grow, that the feelings will subside, that one day his name will fade away into a distant memory.
“I’m sad Randy and I broke up. Everyone told me he wasn’t good for me. I suppose I should have realized sooner our relationship wasn’t going to work.”
Mom doesn’t need to know all the details about his cheating and lying. It would just make her feel bad and worry. She and Dad both liked him. It’s amazing Randy was able to pull the wool over all of our eyes. Skirt-sniffing philanderer.
“Besides, after all the trip planning Meggie and I did this past year, I just want to have fun. Relationships are complicated, aren’t they? It wasn’t what I expected or what I dream about. I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Qué será, será, right?”
“I know the break-up was hard for you honey. But it’s true, if it’s meant to be, it will be.” Her mother leaned down to fold some of the clothes in the open suitcase.
Katie laid her head on the pillow and closed her eyes. As she contemplated her elaborate dreams, she realized how much she cherished them. To her they were visions that were somehow authentic, maybe in another place and time, but her heart and her mind told her they were genuine. Her visions were colorful and alive, saturated with vibrant interpretations that were often random and mystifying. She wished she could remember all the fine details about her dreams so she could write a charming story with all the characters she encountered.
Katie opened her eyes. “Do you believe dreams come true, Mom? Most of my dreams are happy, but sometimes I have one that scares me.”
Her mother offered a sweet response. “You have a very creative imagination sweetheart. Remember, the bad images may only be part of a dream that has a happy ending.
I believe your dreams are insights into your future and I have faith that if you visualize your happy dreams you can make them your reality.”
A happy glow lit up Katie’s face. “Mom, how will I know when love is real?”
She listened to her mother’s sweet words. “The best and most beautiful things must be felt by the heart. When you feel that special connection and when your heart tells you that you are meant to be together, you’ll know. Sometimes it just seems like there’s magic between you.”
Katie sat up in the bed and fluffed the pillow behind her as she contemplated her mother’s words.
“My guess is that when you return, you’ll probably say it wasn’t long enough. This is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and the experience will weave a colorful thread in the tapestry of your life. Your family will always be here for you.” Her mother’s gentle words settled in her heart.
“I wrote this poem after my mother died. You don’t remember your Grandma Minnie because you were only five years old when she left us. Listen to it and tell me if you like it.” Beverly’s pretty face glowed as she recited the poem
. “Home is where the heart is, no matter where you are; your family is a treasure, to cherish near and far; a love that lasts forever, that words cannot portray; remember when you’re lonely, your family loves you in every way.”
Katie wrapped her arms around her mother. “I love that poem.”
Her mother pulled something from her pocket and handed it to Katie. “This is for your trip. I bought one for each of you.”
Katie held the small figurine in her hand and turned it from side to side, intrigued as it glittered in the light. It was an angel designed with multi-faceted crystal, complete with outstretched wings and a glistening halo.
“This is a symbol of faith, protection, and hope. Keep these with you so they can watch over you while you’re away from home. Remember, we are all children of the angels, so create your own special avenue to help encourage love for others.”
Katie’s head tipped happily. “Thanks Mom.” She bounced up from the bed and placed the small cherub inside her suitcase.
THE ORCHESTRA PLAYED powerfully and Frank Sinatra’s dreamy voice crooned loudly through the entire house. Dad turned up the volume of his favorite music while he prepared breakfast for his family. He sang along as he turned the bacon, flipped the pancakes and fried the eggs. Megan joined in singing as she filled glasses with orange juice and began setting the table.
Still in her flannel pajamas, and unhappy she was forced from her cozy bed so early in the morning, Katie walked in the kitchen. Seeing the musical theatrics being performed by her family, she inhaled an exaggerated breath and rolled her eyes. “Really—this early?”
Dad took a step toward her, and with the spatula still in his hand, gathered Katie into his arms and swept her into a morning dance. His voice echoed loudly as he sang along with one of his favorite songs, “Let’s Fall in Love”.
Some of the greatest music ever written continued to play; intimate and glamorous songs, that when Sinatra sang them with his smooth torchy voice, were bewitching. They were songs the whole family knew the words to, “That’s Life”, “Theme from New York, New York”, “I’ve Got the World on a String”. The music from this generation was the norm on the weekends at the Summers’ home, and the family was not only accustomed to it, but they actually looked forward to hearing it.
Everyone had settled at the table when David, the last to show for breakfast, pulled out a chair.
Mom glanced across the table toward her husband. “You prepared a delicious breakfast for us Clark, as you always do. Shall we join hands for a prayer.”
Her proud expression beamed as she looked around the table at the faces of her five children and her husband. Tipping her head down, she began, “Dear Lord. Thank you for providing us a wonderful home, food in our bellies, and our good health. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. Let us all remember that a single act of kindness can encourage many more. Please watch over our girls as they begin a new adventure in their lives, and please keep them safe from harm.”
“Amen,” the family all said together.
David passed the plate of pancakes. “So, where’s your first stop?”
“Destin, Florida,” Megan answered. “Sunshine, white sandy beaches and warm ocean water. Then we head to the New Orleans Summer Festival—I can’t wait!” Enthusiasm radiated in her voice. “Then we’ll drive along the gulf coast and stop in Galveston to see the Texas beaches. They say everything is bigger in Texas.”
“Don’t forget to check the oil and watch the temperature gage,” Tim added confidently. “And make sure you keep the radiator full of water since you’ll be driving a lot. If you see the temperature gauge rising, pull over right away.”
“Then we’ll go to Arizona and California, then drive up the coast to San Francisco,” Katie said before taking a bite of her syrup-drenched pancake.
“I wish they all could be California girls.” Tim chuckled. “How long will you be gone?”
“We don’t know exactly. Five or six weeks … or more … or less, if we run out of money,” Megan answered. “It should be fine if we stick to the plan and stay at campgrounds.”
“Katie, how will you to paint your finger nails and curl your hair if you’re camping?” A quirky grin flashed across Greg’s face as he passed the salt and pepper.
“Well, you’re going to have a great trip so it won’t matter that you don’t always look perfect.” Beverly grinned. “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”
Megan finished her breakfast and started clearing the dishes. “Thanks Dad. That was delicious.”
“Let’s finish packing the car Katie.” Megan peered anxiously across the room as she wiped her hands on a towel. “Can you hurry please. It’s going to be a long day.”
When the last item was packed in the car the family all glared at each other with equally astonished expressions. The car was packed full—front seat, back seat, trunk and luggage box.
“We may have over-packed.” Katie shined an awkward expression toward her family and raised her shoulders. “Well, I won the coin toss to drive first so I guess we’re off.”
After an exchange of loving hugs, the girls hopped in the car, excited to begin their anticipated cross-country journey.