Here we are, safely returned over those hills from a journey far more beautiful than anything we had hoped for-how is it this safe return brings such regret?
The explorers filed into the house carrying their damp clean clothes, a bandana brimming with blackberries, and blue shell fossils to bring home with them. The conversation about their hike was full of excitement, but after they ate, they would be ready to leave Payne Hollow. As if everyone realized this at the same time, the room grew quiet.
"I planned on waiting till after breakfast to give you these things, but maybe this is the best time." Anna said, presenting three small small parcels. "I wrapped them carefully and who they are for, but you will still need to be careful; two are breakable. Open them when you get home."
Harlan produced bundle of his sketches of the horses at the river. "We wouldn't want you to forget your visit here."
The girls were made nearly speechless by their kindnesses. Kellie grew serious, "You have been so good to us, is there anything we can do for you?"
"Ah Kellie, have you forgotten? What we need is at hand." Harlan smiled.
"There must be something?" Hannah thought grandma might have some idea what to send from home.
"Truly, we are not in need," Anna said serenely. "Someday you may help someone who is lost. Then you will come to understand that there are different ways this can happen. Lost is not always a matter of location. We've experienced how it can be to receive kindness from strangers on our journeys, and yes, even in our own home. It amazes us when people we have never met come looking for us here. They're not lost is a physical way, like you were, still they appear to be lost just the same. We hope they'll find something of what they're looking for in Payne Hollow; some measure of peace. Do you see?
We are content, except today...well, I heard your laughter when you were all in the garden this morning. I think we will be a bit lonely when you leave. But we'll soon be back to our routine, and Emily has our address and has promised that at least one of you will write. Maybe you can take turns?"
It seemed then that there was nothing more anyone wanted to say. With breakfast finished, Harlan and Anna insisted they clean up so that the girls could get ready to meet their parents. With the horses saddled they said their good-bye at the house.
"Girls, smile!" laughed Anna. "You can come back anytime."
"Good-bye! Thank you for everything." the girls turned to wave several times.
As they climbed the hill, Harlan had to hold Ranger back from running with them. The girls waved one last time. Would they see Anna and Harlan again?
They just made it to the main trail after turning away from the narrow path when they heard the first rumble of thunder. There was a heavy and isolated thunder shower moving beyond them on the other side of the river. It wouldn't pass over them, but it was close. It was a strange sensation to climb the steep hill with the sun in their faces and the dark clouds not far behind them.
It was exhilarating to reach the crest of the hill, but looking back, the forest was so dense that they could see no sign of Payne Hollow. They were already in another world, and that made last night seem almost unreal. The feeling was a bit troubling.
Then a brilliant rainbow displayed its colors, and the end of it dipped there, in Payne Hollow! Emily was stunned with the memory of a promise.
"When we get home...it is time to tell you all about my dream."