Today is my husband's birthday which means I was picking up his gift, making his cake, etc. He came home early and we went on a bike ride. All totally worth it. I only got about 1500 words down, but 1500 words is better than no words.
Happy Birthday to the love of my life.
Tessa waved at red velvet @chair, encouraging him to sit. Steven folded into it and tried to find a comfortable position. The chair was more about appearances than comfort. The same could be said about Tessa’s store and clothes.
Tessa perched on the gilded coffee table before him, crossed her knees and folded her hands in her lap. “I know who your dream woman is.”
“I don’t have—” he began.
“I know you don’t think you need a woman in your life.” She shook her finger in his face. “Believe me, I know your type. In fact, I’ve had this same argument with your dream woman countless time.”
“Excuse me, but there is no—”
“Oh, there absolutely is. You two are perfect for each other. Pig-headed, thinking you’re better off on your own, blah, blah, boring, boring, boring.”
Steven sat back, stunned. He tried to recall the last time he’d seen Lisa angry. She’d been twelve, too old for dolls, and yet, not, because she’d been lugging around a Chatty Kathy doll for most of her life (up until that point.) He and Mitch had dressed Kathy up in camoflouge and had used her as B.B. gun practice. Even thought Kathy hadn’t been hurt (neither he or Mitch had been very good shots) Tessa had been furious.
Aunt Maureen had made him and Mitch clean out the horse stables for a month. Which even know seemed like an unreasonable punishment.
“—you two each other!” Tessa was still talking about this dream woman he didn’t know and had no intention of meeting. “You kissed her at the Mardi Gras party.”
He rocked back and a different sort of memory coursed through him. One that had nothing to do with Chatty Kathy dolls and BB guns and everything to do with a burning kiss.
“Aw,” Tessa said with a smile. “I see I have your attention.”
He shook himself. I’m not interested in women…he told himself. The burning in his belly told a different story. “Who?”
Tessa’s smile darkened and a knowing glint filled her eyes. “I told you. I have a proposition.”
He studied her. He had known her all his life and he had never seen this side of her. Of course he knew she had to be a cunning business woman to successfully create and market her own clothing line. Standing, he started to pace. A part of him told him to settle down, act calm, bored, even…He shoved his hands in his pockets and tried to sound casual. “So, I kissed a woman at a party. It wasn’t a big deal. I don’t even know her name.”
“And I do.” Tessa studied her nails as if they could tell her a story. She glanced up. “Do you want to know who she is?”
“Sure, but it really—”
She cut him off. “I know. You’re not interested in a relationship. But you do want to see her again, right?”
He sucked in a deep breath. “Sure,” he repeated.
“Good. Because I want you to come to a dinner as my date.”
She nodded. “And I want you to act like you’re crazy about me.”
“I am crazy about you. You’re my cousin.”
“But no one needs to know that.”
“Just go along with me, okay?”
“Why are we doing this?”
“I have my reasons. You’ll understand in a few weeks.”
“That sounds oddly specific. What’s in a few weeks?”
She shrugged and tried to match his nonchalance. “Things will…come to light soon.” Standing, she took his arm and steered him toward the door.
“Wait.” He balked. “You were going to tell me the name of the mystery woman.”
“And I will, but first you have to be my date to the dinner. She’ll be there. I’ll introduce you—as my date.”
“Then she’ll think I’m not available.”
“What does it matter,” she said with a grin, “you said you weren’t interested.”
Steven went home with a strange and uncomfortable mixture of longing and curiosity burning in his belly.
“Hey, Mom! Dad!” Maggie called out after she let herself into her parents’ bungalow. Their car had been in the driveway, so she knew they were home. Silence answered.
Maggie crossed through the tiny spotless living room and the kitchen where the smell of freshly baked cookies hung in the air. On the counters, cookies cooled on racks. Maggie knew better than to eat one without first getting permission. Chances were, the cookies were ear-marked for a fundraiser or an ailing neighbor. One of the earliest life lessons she’d had drilled into her was cookies are collateral—tickets into people’s good graces and tokens of friendship. A tool. Often used for manipulation. And they worked.
But they’d lost their appeal to Maggie.
After Peter’s death, Maggie dropped thirty pounds. It wasn’t something she’d consciously thought about. She hadn’t joined a gym or sworn off carbs. Just one day, she found her clothes floated around her. Even her shoes had grown too big. It was as if Peter had taken half of her, not only metaphorically, but also physically. He’d left her with only a shadow of who she’d once been.
Now, all these years later, she wasn’t quite sure who she was anymore, but her parents were good reminders.
“Mom?” Pushing through the backdoor, Maggie found herself in her parent’s postage-sized backyard. She spotted her mom hunkered down in the vegetable garden pulling weeds.
Mom stood and righted the straw hat on her head. Her smile grew when she saw Maggie. “Pumpkin!”
“Hey, Mom. I brought you those things we talked about the other day.” Maggie settled into wicker chair and set the pharmacy bag on her lap.
“Orange wood oil?” A questioning scowl darkened Mom’s expression.
“I thought you could use it instead of the WD40. It’ll smell better. I also brought you something to help you sleep so that even if Dad does get up, he won’t disturb.”
Mom twisted her lips. “You know I don’t like taking medicine.”
“But you do like sleeping through the night, right?”
Mom pushed back her hat, wiped the sweat off her forehead, and crossed the lawn in Mother-May-I large steps.
“Want me to get you something to drink?” Maggie asked.
“No, I’ll get it. I want you try this new tea I made and tell me what you think.” Mom dropped her trowel on picnic table and headed up the steps to the backdoor.
Maggie gazed around the yard with admiration. How many eighty-year-olds grew their own food in a garden they planted and tended themselves? And her parents didn’t just grow the regular but boring vegetables. They had several different varieties of tomatoes, beans, beets, carrots, and peas, plus the staples of corn, cabbage, and watermelon. Maggie both admired and pitied her parents. She marveled at their self-reliance, but she pitied their joyless work ethics.
Their family, as far as she knew, had never taken a vacation. Until they’d allowed her to take over the bakery, her parents had worked there six days a week, fourteen hours a day. Apprehension tickled in her mind. She couldn’t lose the bakery her parents had worked so hard to create. She wouldn’t let that Steven Fox destroy her parents’ business!
The Foxes Den was just a flash in the pan! That fitness shop was just all the other countless small startups that she’d seen come and go in Rancho Allegro while Maggie’s Muffin Stop had been in business since the year she was born. Her parents liked to brag about how they opened the bakery when her mom had Maggie’s buns in the oven.
“Something wrong, sweetie?” Mom, bearing a tray with two cups of tea, reappeared.
Maggie wrinkled her nose. “Just thinking. What do you think of all this gluten-free this and dairy-free that?”
Mom placed the tray on the wicker table in front of them, picked up the two tea cups and handed one to Maggie. “Food fads come and go.”
“I know, right? While flour, sugar, and butter have been staples for centuries.”
Mom settled into the chair beside her and stretched out her legs. “But that doesn’t mean they’ve been doing us any good.”
Maggie, who had been about to sip her tea, froze. “What are you saying?”
Mom took a swallow before answering. “According to Dr. Jake, we need to be adaptable.”
Mom had recently discovered podcasts and Dr. Jake’s pop-psychology was one of her new favorites.
“But Mom, butter and flour—”
“You have to be willing to change because life likes to throw curve balls.”
This sounded suspiciously not like her mom. “Even the Bible tells us for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
“Well, I hope butter and sugar will always be in season.”
Mom patted her knee. “Me, too. What do you think of the tea?”
Maggie took a sip and let it linger on her tongue. She liked the fruity sweetness mixed with something tangy and told her mom so. “What is it?”
Mom winked. “It’s a secret. For now. I’ll let you in on it if I decide to take things any further.”
What things? Further where?
“Tell me, is Robbie seeing anyone?”
“Not that I know of.”
Mom sighed. “That boy! It’s not too late, you know! He could still have children.”