I didn't get as many words in as I would have liked, but I did get this cover that I love. What do you think?
You can read previous episodes here:
You can read previous episodes here:
The lunch crowd was especially slow that day. As had been yesterday. It couldn’t be because of The Fox Den, could it? Maggie peeked outside at the line forming near the end of the street. Because Steven Fox’s shop was around the corner, she couldn’t actually see the what was happening down there, unless she left the bakery…She had run out of shampoo that morning. Her plan had been to pick some up on her way home, but she could run to the drug store now…
Maybe she should pick something up for mom and dad. They were always needing a prescription filled. The thought warmed her and she pulled out her phone.
Mom picked up on the first ring and Maggie explained why she’d called.
“That’s so sweet of you, baby, but we just got our prescriptions filled yesterday.”
“Are you sure?” Maggie worried at a hangnail.
“Well, we could use some WD40. The bathroom door squeaks something terrible and with your dad getting up several times a night—”
Maggie stopped listening because she didn’t want to go to the hardware store which out near the interstate, she needed to go to the pharmacy which was around the corner directly opposite the Fox’s Den.
“Isn’t there something you can get to help Dad sleep through the night? Advil p.m. or something?”
“Goodness. I’m not sure I want him sleeping through a full bladder,” Mom said.
“No, I suppose not.”
Mom began to talk about Rob. It had always concerned her and Dad that Rob had never married. Never had the time. They’d thought that after med school maybe he’d devote some effort, but residency had followed med school, and then he’d gone and gotten that Ph.d, which had just been over the top, and now that he was head of @ he should have more time, but of course, we all make time for what we really want, and did Maggie think Rob’s single-hood could be blamed on bad parenting?
Maggie made reassuring noises. She and Mom had had this conversation many times before.
Now that Maggie had pulled off the hangnail, she needed a band-aid. She wandered over to the employee restroom and pulled the first-aid kit off the top shelf. A fine layer of dust lay over the top and a spider had spun a web around the handle. Goodness. She hadn’t realized the kit was so old. All of these things would need to be restocked. The Band-Aids had probably even lost their stickiness. What good would a Band-Aid without stickiness do? She ripped open one of the band-aids and found it worked just fine.
But still. The Aspirin must have expired. She checked the date. Nope. Still good. But according to who? She had better get some fresh Aspirin, just to be safe.
“Mom, I gotta go,” Maggie said.
“You’ll pick up the WD40?”
“Do you think they’ll have it at the pharmacy?”
“I wouldn’t think so…” Mom paused. “I’ll send your dad. It’ll get him out of the house for a bit.”
Maggie ended the call, traded her apron for her purse on the hook on the back wall and said goodbye to Camille before heading out. It felt good to be outside in the sunlight.
@DESCRIBE RANCHO ALLEGRO. She waved hello to Patsy who owned the hair salon with her barber husband, Stan, and Mrs. Felix who worked in the Second Time Around antique store. The Fox’s Den had a small cluster of people gathered around its entrance. Maggie tried not to stare or be offended when she spotted a couple of her friends from the community choir inside the shop.
It didn’t take her long to pick up the shampoo and aspirin. On a whim, she bought a sleep aid for her dad. She looked around for WD40, but after not finding it, she grabbed some orange oil from the cleaning supply section. It could work the same and would most certainly smell better.
She stopped short when she spotted Steven Fox in the pet aisle. Remembering how he’d snubbed her the day before, she lifted her chin and averted her eyes as she passed him.
“Aren’t you the woman who owns the bakery?” Steven Fox asked.
She started as if she hadn’t seen him. “Yes. Maggie LAST NAME@”
He smiled, his skin crinkling around his eyes. “Steven Fox.” His voice was deeper than Maggie had remembered. Of course, the only time she’d ever heard him speak was that awful night when they’d both pleaded their cases before the Chamber of Commerce…and Steven Fox had won.
“I remember,” Maggie said.
“I hope your worries have been unnecessary,” Steven said.
“Oh, yes.” She gave a false laugh. “Business is good. And you?”
Steven glanced out the window at the crowd clustered around his shop. “At this rate, I may need to hire another assistant.” He waited for her to reply, but since she couldn’t think of a response an awkward silence fell between them. After a moment, he said, “Have you ever considered Goat Yoga?”
“Excuse me?” Maggie knew what those words meant, but she couldn’t fit them together in a sentence. It was like peanut butter and Worchester sauce in the same recipe—fine on their own, but incomprehensible when combined.
Steven Fox nodded at the sleep aid in her basket. “Yoga helps you relax and the goats are…well, you just have to try it to see what I mean.”
Goat yoga. “Yoga…where do the goats come in?”
“Well, actually, the goats are already there. You go to the where the goats are.”
“And the goats wander around while you do yoga?”
“You don’t do yoga, you practice yoga—”
“And the goats are also practicing yoga?”
“Not really, they’re just there, climbing over and under you.”
“Goodness.” Maggie let out a breath and it took her moment to realize why the tightness in her chest loosened just a smidge. She was relieved. Steven Fox was clearly a delusional man and delusional men couldn’t run successful businesses. At least not for very long. She heard that he’d been a high powered bond broker in New York before coming to Rancho Allegro. He must have had a mental break down along with that heart attack Tessa had told her about.
“Yoga, meditation, @ exercise,” he continued, “a healthy regimen will do wonders for your sleep.”
“I’m sleeping just fine.”
He glanced at the sleeping aid in her basket.
“Oh, this is for my dad. His restlessness is keeping my mom awake.” She didn’t need to tell him about her dad’s shrinking bladder, did she? She gave him a sunny smile. “I better get back to work and bet you need to do that, too.”
He looked disappointed that their conversation was coming to an end, but didn’t try to stop her.
Steven watched Maggie go. There was something familiar about her. Of course, she was still angry about his opening the shop. He could hardly blame her. But she had to realize that her buttery and sugar loaded baked goods were clogging people’s arteries and playing havoc with their blood sugar! And it wasn’t his fault if those same people were wise enough to make the healthy choices he offered.
A saying his mother used to say came back to him as he watched Maggie’s attractive backside sashay down the street. Never trust a skinny cook. Maggie wasn’t skinny, but she was curvy in all the right places and in all the right ways. Soft, supple.
He paid for Ailenie’s@ flee medicine and tried to put the cranky baker out of his head. Back outside, he inhaled the fresh coastal air. He already loved this town with its Spanish architecture, stately oaks, and vibrant bougainvillea. He’d bought an ocean-view home within walking distant of Main Street. It had been
@MAKE STEVEN A FAMILY FRIEND, NOT REALLY A COUSIN
Tessa stopped him on the street. “Hey,” she said. “Mom told me about your girlfriend.” She winked.
He scratched his head. “Yeah, I feel terrible about lying to her. I just…I know that everything I tell your mom will go straight to mine and from there, it’s a short jump to @ Monica.”
Tessa cocked her head and stared up at him. “Why is it so important that Monica knows you have a girlfriend?”
Steven raked his fingers through his hair. Discussing his divorce or the accompanying emotional tailspin on the street was not on his to-do list.
Tessa must have read his hesitation, because she said, “We don’t have to talk about it here, if you don’t want to.”
“Thank you,” he said, pulling open the door of his shop. To his surprise, Tessa followed him inside.
“But I think you want to talk about it and maybe your office would be a good place.”
He chuckled and weaved through the patrons lining up in front of the cash register. “I don’t think so.”
Mike, one of the few employees that wasn’t still in school, shot him a glad you’re here glance.
“Oh, I know so,” Tessa said.
Steven went to the backroom to fetch a Fox’s Den apron. Tessa trailed after him. He loved Tessa like a sister. Given how close their two mothers were, she was as close to a sibling as he would ever have. Although, he and Mitch were the same age while Tessa was six years younger.
He stopped to study her smug expression. She was approaching forty-five, but her diminutive size made her appear much younger. Her thick brown hair was still dark and untarnished by gray. She’d gained some weight, he noticed, no longer as wiry as she’d once been. Should he introduce her to the Whole 30 diet?
No, women never appreciated introductions to diets. Not really.
“I’ve got work to do, Tessa,” Steven said.
She patted his arm. “Come by my shop after work. I have something you want.”
He really doubted that Tessa carried anything in her shop that would interest him. She had her own line of clothes and catered to the wealthy who refused to wear anything off the rack. Heaven forbid they should ever be caught wearing an outfit identical to anyone else! But a black t-shirt was still a black t-shirt—until Tessa put her signature @emblem on it. With the @, the cost of the one of a kind black t-shirt skyrocketed.
Steven remembered when Tessa had first told him her idea for making one of a kind clothes. She had just graduated with her MBA from NYU, Steven’s alma mader. @ She had emphasized in marketing, while Steven had specialized in finance. Proctor and Gamble had offered Tessa a position, but she was on the fence. In the end, she taken a different sort of gamble and started her own business. He’d joined the chorus of naysayers and shaken his head. Still, part of him was proud of her success. Undoubtedly, she would have made more money playing with the big boys, but Steven had learned the hard way that money didn’t always define success.
Now, clearly Tessa felt she held something over her head. He had no clue what it could be.
“You want me to go where?” Maggie asked Tessa.
“To a cooking class,” Tessa said again.
Maggie leaned against her mop. “Should I be offended?”
“No, silly! You’re a great cook, it’s just…well, it won’t hurt you to learn a few new tricks, right?”
Maggie grumbled and thought about her dwindling cliental.
“And would it be so bad if you offered sugar and gluten free desserts?”
Maggie shuddered. “Julia would turn over in her grave.” @IS JULIA CHILD DEAD? Maggie liked to trot out Julia Child quotes whenever she needed culinary back-up.
“This isn’t about Julia! It’s business.”
Maggie bit her lip and went back to mopping. “People have been baking with flour and sugar for centuries. This whole sugar and gluten-free nonsense is a passing craze. Remember when people thought bagels were a health food? Or how fasting was bad for you? And people are still arguing over the merits of caffeine, wine, and carbohydrates!” She let out a big sigh. “No one is ever going to convince me that a dough-not is the devil’s food.”
Tessa steepled her fingers and gaze at Maggie over the top of them. “Please come with me to the cooking class.”
“It’ll be fun…and enlightening. Besides, it’s the least you can do after I made you the butterfly costume.”
True. But Tessa had said it was a gift with no strings attached and yet her she was tugging on strings. Suspicion crawled up Maggie’s spine. “Will I be home by ten?”
Tessa rolled her eyes. “The class ends at nine, so if you want to be, you will.” Muttering, she added, “But maybe you won’t want to be.”
“You’re not trying to fix me up, are you?” Maggie carried her mop to the drain in the back and wrung it out with more force than needed.
“I know you loved Peter,” Tessa called out from her booth. “And you always will.”
Maggie nodded even though she knew Tessa couldn’t see her.
“And that you think most men over fifty are looking for a nurse or a purse,” Tessa continued.
After hanging the mop on its hook above the drain, Maggie headed back into the dining room. She glanced around the Muffin Stop, loving it. She and Peter had built it together. They had raised Emily in this place. Even though Maggie shared the bakery and her wares with dozens of customers a day, she still considered it an extension of her family’s home. “You forgot maid…I don’t want to clean anyone’s toilets.”
“But what if you found someone who had their own purse, didn’t need a nurse, and could clean their own toilets?”
“Are you talking about lesbian? Because you just described another woman.”
Tessa slammed her hand on the Formica@ table top. “Why are you so cynical?”
“I’m not…I’m just not interested in dating.” Her traitorous thoughts flashed to the man in the Zorro mask and his kiss. She leaned against the now empty display case and crossed her ankles in an attempt to look casual.
“Just say you’ll come,” Tessa persisted. “Rob will be there.”
“Robbie? My brother?” This startled her. “Why?”
Tessa shrugged and didn’t meet her eye. “The hospital is putting it on and inviting all of the head doctors. It’s a team building function.” Tessa plucked a straw from the dispenser on the table and shook it at Maggie. “You’re lucky I got you a spot.”
“Lucky?” Maggie echoed.
“I don’t get you,” Tessa turned whiney. “You love to cook. I thought you would be all over this.”
“Okay, I’ll go,” Maggie said. But only to try and figure out what you’re not telling me.
Steven pushed open the door of Tessa’s Threads. The smell of @EXPENSIVE PERFUME hit him and his stomach turned. Monica had worn this scent. He remembered the first time she’d bought. He was fresh from grad school and they were living in a tiny apartment on the Eastside. If he stood on his toes and looked from the corner window, he could catch a peek of Central Park. They’d signed the lease on that fact alone. It didn’t matter than Monica would need a stool to see the spot of green, or that most of their windows looked out on to the side of brick wall, the fact that they could say with a crumb of honesty that they had a peek-a-boo view of the park had sealed the deal.
This alone should have told him something about Monica. But he’d been deaf and blind to any and all Monica warnings in those heady days of first love. He was going to be stock brokerage genius. She was going buy and sell New York properties like they were bags of peanuts.
If you’re going to sell something, sell something pricey, Ned, Monica’s father, liked to say. Because it’s just as easy to sell pencils as it is yachts. Just another one of the many lies Monica’s family liked to tell.
Steven had nearly killed himself buying and selling stocks and bonds. So now he sold health and fitness gear and products. And he loved it. But, of course, in a way that was totally different from how he’d loved Monica.
Monica, like the stocks and bonds, had been a thrilling ride. Skyrocketing highs and crashing lows. An adrenaline rush followed by dark despair. His fitness shop provided a smooth and steady income. Tomorrow, he wouldn’t wake to find the cost of Traveler Boots had tripled, the profit margin on Cliff bars wasn’t going to double over night. He wasn’t going to make a million dollars over the weekend…or lose it.
He wasn’t ever going to gaze across the dinner table and see Monica again.
“Oh good,” Tessa breezed into the room, “I’m glad you’re here. I have a proposition for you.”