Chapter One

Jannika Peterson had blind date remorse. Last week she’d been in a hopeful mood when she agreed to go out on her fourth blind date in two months. But after four straight days of cold rain, her last drop of hopeful ran down the catch basin.

She looked out the window of The Pageturner and rubbed the short hairs on the back of her neck. The bookstore closed at one on Sundays, and all she wanted was to go home, have a cup of tea, and read book reviews. She put her laptop and copy of Booklistin her tote bag.

The bells on the bookstore door jingled. Jannika turned around. A tall young man with blond dreadlocks stood in the doorway.

His words came out in a rush. “Are you closed yet? I need a book. It’s like…an emergency.”

Jannika smiled and waved him in. She loved book emergencies.

“I’m so glad you’re not closed. I need a book that’s, like, different, you know? I looked on the stupid interwebs, but I can’t find anything. I want something that’s going to help, you know? Something that will help me help the planet.” He scrunched up his face.

“Are you looking for something about the environment?”

“No, more like about our connection to the environment.” He looked over Jannika’s shoulder toward the bookshelves.

“Come. Follow me.” Jannika was happiest when she was connecting books and people. She’d learned to read when she was four, and for her the next best thing to reading was sharing her love for a book with another person. She’d always loved recommending books to her friends in school and discovered her talent for matching books and people during her first year of college when she took a part-time job in a tiny bookstore in Portland, Maine.

She ran one finger across the spines of the books as she walked. She stopped and pulled a book off the shelf.

“Here you go—Ishmaelby Daniel Quinn. It’s older, but I think you’ll like it.” She smoothed her hand over the book’s front cover.

“Huh, isn’t that, like, from Moby Dick? I didn’t like that book.”

“It’s not about Moby Dick—it’s a book about questions.” Jannika pointed to the back cover of the book. “The author deconstructs the myth that we are separate from nature and does it in a unique way. I think you’ll like it. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No, this looks great. Thanks for staying open for me. How much is it?”

He followed her to the front of the store and paid for the book. She locked the door behind him and turned over the Closedsign. It looked like the rain had finally stopped. She still had enough time to go home and get ready for her date with Brenda. She hoped it wouldn’t last long and paused at that thought.That wasn’t a good sign. Her string of bad blind dates had become a running joke between her and her best friend, Marcy. The humor covered up her fear that maybe there was no love of her life out there.

A montage of date bombs played in her head. The woman who thought she was from another planet and they were destined to be together; the movie date who held on to Jannika’s coat for the duration of the movie because she wanted to feel close to her; and the frightening blind date that extended into four days when the woman locked herself in a local motel room and serial called and texted Jannika.

She grabbed her bag from behind the desk and her leather jacket from the coat rack and headed out the door and downtown.

 

v

 

Lee drove her forest green Toyota truck down Avery Lane, the shortcut road that ran from Grangeton to Route 101. Her fingers tapped the top of the pizza box in time to WOKQ’s best country hits of the seventies. She sang along, making up words when she didn’t know the lyrics. Her friends took good-natured jabs at her for her taste in music, but she loved the she-done-him-wrong songs and would sometimes make up her own in the shower and while driving. It wasn’t les-correct, but she didn’t give a damn.

Lee stepped on the brake. Avery Lane was a great shortcut, unless you hit the red light. She turned down the radio and saw two women on the corner outside a coffee shop. They were either having a lovers’ quarrel or were on a really bad date. Whatever the opposite of sexual tension, that’s what was rippling through the air from the couple—they were obviously together but just as obviously apart. The light turned green and Lee turned the music up again and hit the gas.

She’d moved to Fairfield, New Hampshire, a couple of months ago from Maine. The only people she knew were her friend from college, Hannah, and her old work buddy Steve, a retired park ranger. Hannah was coming over tonight. Lee was in charge of pizza, and Hannah the movie. Fairfield’s town center provided just the basics—a post office, the large white clapboard town hall that housed both the library and the police station, the Fairfield Congregational church, and DJ’s Store. The nearest pizza place was in Grangeton.

Lee drove down the maple lined driveway to the little farmhouse she rented. Hannah’s headlights flickered in her rearview mirror. She parked, grabbed the pizza box, and waited for Hannah, who parked behind her truck.

“Hannah girl!” Lee reached one arm out to embrace her friend.

“I can’t even tell you how good it is to see you.” Hannah hugged Lee, then stepped back. “Look at this place. I always wondered what was down this long driveway. This is sweet. I bet I know what’s in there.” She pointed to the red and white barn to the right of the small white farmhouse.

“You bet. It’s one of the reasons I took this place, so I could have room for all of my woodworking stuff. Let’s eat, then I’ll show you everything.”

 

v

 

Jannika drove through Grangeton and into Fairfield, turning right onto Myrtle Street. The beams of her headlights bounced off the sliding glass doors of her cottage. She rested her head on the steering wheel.

Dating was exhausting. Each time she went out with a woman, she hoped for a good match, and each time she was disappointed. She was tired of downloading her life résumé across a table from someone she knew wasn’t a good match—just like she knew when a book wasn’t a good match because she felt it in her gut. She didn’t think she was too picky. She was just being careful since her breakup with Joanne. She wiped her wet cheeks with the back of her hand.

All she wanted was to be in her house surrounded by her things. The driveway gravel crunched under her boots. She went inside and sent a text to her best friend Marcy.

Another date—another disaster.

A few minutes later her phone chimed with a text from Marcy.

OO.

That was their code for otherwise occupied. She knew OOmeant Marcy was with one woman or another and not in town. Marcy didn’t go out around town for fear her parents or their friends might find out she wasn’t dating men since her divorce from Greg.

Jannika put her kettle on for tea, then changed into some yoga pants, a T-shirt, and a big old blue and red flannel shirt she’d found at the Methodist Church thrift store. She rolled the sleeves of the flannel shirt halfway up her forearms. She liked to pretend it was her father’s shirt. The image she had of her father was a cross between Harrison Ford and Steve Martin. Jannika didn’t know what her father looked like. She didn’t know his name. The subject was and had always been off limits in her family.

She pulled the flannel shirt tight around herself like a hug and let the heaviness of the fabric comfort her.

The red kettle whistled. She poured her tea and stuck a frozen vegetable lasagna into the microwave. She ate her dinner at her grandmother’s plain birch kitchen table. Her grandmother refused to be called Nana or Grandma but insisted everyone use the Swedish, Mormor. Jannika loved to cup her hand around a rounded corner of the table and imagine Mormor setting places for her mother and Aunt Gunnie when they were little girls on the farm in New Sweden, Maine.

Thinking about Mormor and the potato farm helped fill the hollowed-out place inside of her. Her grandparents and the rest of her family weren’t big talkers. Their economy of living was matched by their economy of words. Her family didn’t talk about feelings. The way they showed love was to do things. Aunts and grandmothers baked and made casseroles. Uncles and cousins and grandfathers fixed things, or helped you load hay, or cut wood.

She gave the table a pat and flipped open her notebook. October was a busy month at the bookstore. Several book groups were meeting, the Simon’s Warehouse sale was next weekend, and the window displays still needed to be changed out for fall. The action of making lists calmed Jannika better than any pill.

She added Call back Darleneto her list and waggled her pen back and forth in her hand. Darlene was a customer who 
had come into the store about a year ago and left a voicemail message late yesterday afternoon when Jannika was busy with customers.

When she’d first seen Darlene, a succession of book images shuffled through Jannika’s mind like a deck of cards. Darlene talked a lot and fast. Her hands hung still at her sides. Everything about her was still except her voice. At first, Jannika couldn’t pin down any book titles that would fit what Darlene thought she was looking for. It took Jannika a few questions and a few minutes of chatting about other things to recommend Paul Coelho’s book, The Alchemist.

Jannika loved reading reviews, sorting through used books for treasures she knew her customers would love, and buying books, but her favorite part of her job was reader’s advisory. It was an intimate few minutes between strangers. People came in the store when they were looking for comfort or trying to figure out a problem or learn something about themselves. Many people came in to try to find copies of books they had read when they were younger, and some wanted a great mystery or suspense story. As they described their quests and Jannika asked questions, bits of information came together in her mind like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. As soon as she could see enough of the picture, she knew which book to recommend.

She smiled and took a sip of tea. Her dating life might be dismal, but she was happy every hour she spent at The Pageturner.

She underlined Call back Darlenetwice and closed her notebook. She had an early morning meeting tomorrow at the bookstore with Betty Busby, the leader of one of the monthly book groups. Betty Busby was the last person she wanted to see tomorrow.

 

Chapter Two

Jannika ruffled her hair, then grabbed her travel mug, a tote bag full of book reviews, and her laptop. She juggled her things from one hand to the other and unlocked the side door to the old brick building.

She whispered Thank youeach morning when she opened and Good night, little bookstoreeach night. This secret daily ritual began after her Aunt Gunnie told her the owner of The Pageturner was looking for a new manager, and Joe Bosworth hired her a year and a half ago.

Joe had greeted her on the day of her interview with a clipboard in one hand and a timer in the other. He asked her to sit at the big desk at the front of the store and fill out a run-of-the-mill employment application. He took it when she was finished, passed her the clipboard and a pen, and said, “There’s a list of titles of books on one side and authors of books on the other. You have to fill in the blanks. Give me the authors to the books, then flip it over and see how many titles you can come up with next to each author’s name. I’m timing you. Go.”

It was one of the strangest interviews she ever had. Her boss was a big man. Not fat, but tall and large-boned. He had started the bookstore for his daughter, but she’d moved to Portland, Oregon, after two years of the book business. Joe ran the business for about a year but felt trapped in the store. One of his buddies told him he should hire a manager, and there Jannika was, wildly writing down the names of authors and book titles, so she could get her dream job. And it was. The minute she walked into The Pageturner she felt like a long-lost key and the bookstore was the lock. She fit.

Jannika set her bag and tea on the big oak desk at the front of the store. She turned on lights, adjusted a display, and tapped wayward books back onto their shelves. A flash of purple caught her eye. She turned to see Betty Busby, dressed in a lilac polyester pantsuit with matching lilac socks in white vinyl sandals. A purple and green flowered scarf was tied around her neck in a neat knot. Betty’s silver hair was a teased and lacquered helmet. Clip-on pansy earrings completed her ensemble. She tapped at the door with what looked to be the arched back of a cartoon black cat on a stick.

“Just a sec. Good morning, Betty, how are you?” Jannika opened the door and took one of the three bags Betty carried.

“I’ve talked with the girls and we’ve got a great plan for this year. We’ve decided on a Halloween theme. We’ll dress up the corner of the store with these decorations, and we want to read something spooky, but not violent. You know we don’t like violence, Jannika, or cursing or”—she lowered her voice to a whisper—“anything sexual.”

Betty pulled orange and black cardboard decorations, plastic ghosts, and a jack-o’-lantern with battery operated candles out of a large bag.

Jannika eyed the props and inwardly sighed. “It looks like you had a great time at Michael’s. Since we only have a couple of weeks until Halloween, I thought a short story might work for everyone. How about ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’?”

She chose her words carefully. Betty Busby was a townie. She’d grown up in Grangeton and the farthest she had traveled was the hour trip to Concord, New Hampshire. She helped organize fundraisers, sat on the select board at one time, and now wrote a column for the local weekly paper, The Bugler. Jannika liked Betty but learned she needed to set some limits and set them with care. She didn’t want to end up the subject of this week’s newspaper column. She’d witnessed that with Trisha Pusie from the flower shop down the street.

Last summer, a not-so-blind blind item about a certain flower shop in town was mentioned in Betty’s column. The owner was described as a know-it-all who liked to boss her customers around rather than give them good service. Tricia’s experience reminded Jannika to try to stay on Betty’s good side, or she would have to spend her time fixing the damage Betty did with her column instead of selling books.

“We used to read that in school. I haven’t read it for ages. A short story. Hmm, I’m not sure, but we’ll try it. So, what do you think of my decorating ideas? I think the other gals will love it.” Betty clapped her hands.

“Betty, my only concern is the other book groups. What if they want different themes?”

“Like what? It’s October, it’s fall, it’s Halloween. Who could have a problem with that? Who do you think might have a problem with that, Jannika?” Betty placed a hand on her polyestered hip.

“I don’t think anyone will have a problem Betty, and I love your theme, but I am thinking about the Purple Tent Book Group. One of the members doesn’t celebrate holidays, and I know how sensitive you are, and you wouldn’t want to—”

“Me? I’m not sensitive. I think all you young people are too sensitive. They’re Halloween decorations, Jannika, and our ladies will love it. It’ll bring back memories, make them feel young. Maybe we’ll dress up. Oh, wait until I tell Mildred! We’re going to dress up and make our own trick-or-treat goodies for the night.” Betty turned to leave. “It’s all set. It’s all planned. Thanks for your help. We’ll see you the last Friday of the month as usual.” She put down her bags of decorations. “I’ll leave these here and be over a few days before to decorate. Oh, it’s going to be a hoot. I’ll tell the girls to pick up the story here. Oh, and Jannika, don’t think I didn’t see that article about you in the Concord Monitorlast week. But we’ll talk about that later.” Betty waved a hand over her lilac shoulder on her way out.

Jannika’s stomach did a flip as she grabbed the door on its return and opened for business. Managing Betty Busby was always more labor intensive than she anticipated. She was happy Betty didn’t want to decorate today. There were four people waiting for Jannika to open, and one of them was an artsy looking young woman with short, messy-in-that-cool-way blond hair, carrying a good-sized box of books.

Jannika had a love/hate relationship with boxes of used books. Along with moldy and dirty books, she had found a cat turd, a handmade icon of a saint, a half bottle of perfume, melted candles, and a filthy baby shoe among other non-book items. She could usually tell at first glance if she needed the box of vinyl gloves behind her desk. After a few months at The Pageturner, she began to take photos of her book box goodies. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do with the photos, but collecting them took her mind off the ick factor.

“Put these here on the desk and let’s have a look.”

“My grandmother passed away and I didn’t want to throw these out. You can have them. I don’t want store credit or anything. She used to read to me each time when I visited.” The woman stroked the spines of the books with long fingers fitted with multiple silver rings.

In Jannika’s mind an intimacy existed between most people and their books. She stepped with care into the space of the relationship of book and person. She thought it was like trying to put your hand through a bubble and not have it burst, but have the bubble absorb you into itself, making you part of the relationship. She could tell who wasn’t quite ready, and would try to persuade them to take at least some of the books and wait a while if possible. She also could tell who was ready or needed to part with their books. But she couldn’t grab the box from them. To her that would be ripping a loved one from the arms of another.

“Are there any special books? One or two you might like to keep?” Jannika asked.

“No. I don’t know. Maybe?” The woman shrugged and touched the books again. “Maybe this one,” she said, pulling out a book with a slightly worn cover, its dust jacket long gone.

“Ahh.” Jannika smiled. “The Wind in the Willows.”

The young woman looked up at Jannika. She had very blue eyes.

“Yes. Thank you so much for encouraging me to look them over again. I’ll keep this one. I’m Amy, by the way.” She extended her hand.

“You’re very welcome.” She shook Amy’s hand. “I’m Jannika.”

Jannika put the box of books on the floor behind her desk.

“Hey, Nick.” Marcy, Jannika’s best friend, came into the store with a paper coffee cup in each hand. “Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt.” Marcy put both cups on the desk and cracked open the plastic lids.

Amy looked over at Marcy. Jannika watched Marcy dive right into Amy’s ocean blue eyes.

Marcy extended her hand. “Uh…I’m Marcy. I stop by whenever I’m around to fortify Jannika with some caffeine. In the form of tea of course. I like to think I’m doing my bit to support local bookstores by keeping Jannika functioning. Looking at books all day would make my head spin.”

Jannika watched her normally smooth-talking friend stumble over her words.

“I’m Amy. Nice to meet you.”

Marcy kept holding Amy’s hand.

“Those are some interesting rings.”

“I have a friend who makes jewelry and she loves to try out designs on me.”

Marcy and Amy relinquished their hands in slow motion. This was better than watching a rom-com.

“Could I find your friend’s work around here?” Marcy took a step closer to Amy.

“She has a studio in the White Mountains in a little village. You’ve probably never heard of it. Tassy Brook, over by Littleton?”

“I know Tassy Brook. My family has a camp about fifteen minutes from there.”

Jannika watched this exchange with keen interest. Marcy usually kept a careful distance from anyone local, for fear her mother or father might catch wind of the fact their daughter was a lesbian.

Jannika saw a customer near the home improvement books who seemed to be looking at the front of the store, seeking assistance.

“I’ll be right back,” Jannika said.

Marcy and Amy didn’t so much as glance her way. Jannika thought she could have jumped up on the desk and danced, and they wouldn’t turn their heads. The customer waited at the end of an aisle with a book in each hand.

“Hi there. How can I help you?” asked Jannika.

“Which one of these is better?” the older man asked. “Nona, my wife, wants a book on greenhouses. Do you know anything about greenhouses?”

“Why don’t we bring them over here to the table and take a look,” Jannika said. She led the way to a table by a window and moved a chair out of the way. “Does your wife like to garden?”

“She used to be out in the garden, but ever since she retired, all she thinks about spring, summer, fall, and winter is what she’s gonna buy from the nursery and where she’s gonna put it in the yard. Now she wants to grow her own and wants to draw up some kinda greenhouse for me to build her this winter.” He hitched his pants an inch or two up his big belly.

“This one. I think she’ll like this one,” Jannika said. She pointed to How to Design and Build Your Garden Greenhouse. “Is there anything else I can help you find?”

“How much is it?”

Jannika looked inside the cover where she or the manager before her had penciled in a price in the upper right corner. “Twelve dollars.”

“I noticed you could use yourself some shelves in the back there. I’d be happy to make you some. Maybe for some book credits for Nona. She’s the book person in the family. Name’s Tommy.” He put out his hand for Jannika. “I did some work for your boss on his house a few years back, and I’ve got some nice wood. Take me, I don’t know, a day or less to get some shelving in there.”

They did indeed need the shelves. “Sure thing, Tommy.” Jannika handed Tommy the book.

“I can come the end of the week.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Jannika liked to barter for services she or the store used. Her boss encouraged her to do this, as long as the bartering didn’t go over a hundred in sales. He considered it her monthly bonus and thought it was good community relations. She traded mystery novels for fresh eggs, and Clive Cussler books for syrup. Jannika had never met Tommy’s wife. Tommy came by often to pick up books Jannika picked out for her, but he never said why she didn’t come to the store herself. She must be able to get around if she gardened, Jannika thought. Maybe she was claustrophobic or allergic to dust.

She often made up stories about her customers’ lives. Aunt Gunnie would take her to the library when she was a little girl. When they got home, they would have rosenmunnar cookies and make up stories about the people they had seen. Aunt Gunnie would tell Jannika she was her littlerosenmunnar, her little red mouth, and would playfully scold her for licking the jam out of the middle of each Swedish thumbprint cookie before she ate it.

Jannika wanted to give Amy one last chance to accept an offer for her grandmother’s books.

“Well, Amy,” Jannika said, putting her hands on the box of books, “are you sure you don’t want a store credit or cash for these?”

“I don’t want anything. I just didn’t want to throw them away.” Amy’s voice trailed off. She glanced over her shoulder at Marcy, who—Jannika knew—only pretended to look through the free books bin over by the door.

“Thanks. These are great books. Here you go.” Jannika handed Amy her grandmother’s copy of The Wind in the Willows. “Don’t forget your book.”

“Oh, right, thanks. It was nice meeting you. I know my grandmother’s books are in good hands.” Amy again glanced back, no doubt searching for Marcy. “Thanks again.” Amy walked toward the door.

A blur in the shape of Marcy flew past Jannika’s desk and caught up with Amy before she left the store. Jannika watched her friend as she stacked books on her desk.

“Hey you,” Marcy said. She touched Amy ever so lightly on the elbow. “See you next week? You have my number?”

“I can’t wait.”

“I can’t wait either.”

Amy left the store and Marcy rushed over to Jannika.

“What did I just do, jeez.” Marcy slapped the palm of her hand against her forehead.

“What didyou just do?” Jannika pretended to brush something off her shoulders. “Brushing off wayward sparks.” She smiled. “Sarah comes in at ten today. She’ll be here any minute. Let’s go get brunch at the Over Easy. You owe me some in-person condolences after my disaster last night with Blind Date Brenda.”

 

Chapter Three

The little brass bells on the bookstore door tinkled, and tinkled again. The door opened halfway, then shut, then opened again. Jannika watched long blond hair fly into, then out of the doorway. She rushed over to help with the door. Her one and only employee had her hands full of tote bags filled with…something.

“Oh gosh, goodness,” Sarah struggled to catch her breath. “The universe wasn’t cooperating today. I think Mercury is in retrograde. First my car wouldn’t start—my neighbor had to come over and jump it—then the gas pump was out of order, then I couldn’t find a parking space. I even invoked my parking angel. Nothing. And I bought these for the store.”

Sarah dropped the bags. She reached into one and pulled out a small, perfectly round pumpkin and flipped her hair over her shoulder.

“Aren’t they nice? Very womanly. I thought you’d like them, Jannika.”

Jannika smiled and caught Marcy’s eye. Sarah was forever finding womanly or femme-centric things to bring to the store.

“Thanks, that was very thoughtful.” She helped Sarah pull pumpkins out of the bags. “Can I leave you with the store for an hour or so? Marcy and I thought we’d grab some brunch.”

“Oh, for sure. But don’t touch anything mechanical. It’s not the day for mechanical things, trust me.” Sarah frowned and shook her head at them.

“Not to worry Serenity…sorry, darn, Sarah, I mean,” said Marcy.

“That’s okay, Marcy, but I’m trying to distance myself from my old name. You remember my parents. They mean well and everything, but growing up with that name was no party. Every time someone calls me by the name my parents gave me, it makes it harder for the universe to take my old name back. My old name gets held here in space and time—you know what I mean?”

Sarah outlined an invisible box with her hands.

“Okay, Sarah. I promise I’ll try to remember,” Marcy said.

“I know you were my babysitter and everything, so I get you might hang on to my name longer, but I’d like to let it go.”

“Totally get it, Sarah,” Marcy said.

“Be back in about an hour.” Jannika slung her jacket over her shoulder.

As soon as they stepped onto the sidewalk, Marcy slapped her thighs and stomped one foot. “Damn, Jannika. What am I going to do about Amy? Isn’t she gorgeous? Isn’t she wonderful? Did you see her eyes? Oh no, that’s a bad sign. Isn’t it?”

“Whoa, my friend. Everything will be all right. Walk with me. Let’s go get some sustenance.”

They walked on the uneven brick sidewalks past Bronislaw’s Bakery, Stone Bridge Jewelers, McCray’s Rare Books, and Tricia’s flower shop—Pusie’s Posies, before turning down a cobblestone alleyway to the riverfront restaurant. They’d missed the breakfast rush and were seated in a booth overlooking the river, but they weren’t here for the view this time.

“Okay, Jannika. The date sounded bad, even for you, the queen of bad dates. Let’s talk about that first, then the Amy thing.”

“She wore a Porky Pig jacket and thought I was staring at her boobs when I noticed Porky. She made some snarky comment and called me babe every other sentence.”

“I know how much you love to be called babe, babe.” Marcy chuckled. “Sorry, did you leave after the third or fourth one?”

“No, then we walked down to the antiques place, you know, the Quonset Hut place, and it was almost closing time. She made a big show of not wanting to leave and told me if we got locked in she could break us out because she’d done it before. I think she was trying to impress me, but no, just no. It was awful.”

“Whoa, that’s kind of creepy,” Marcy said.

“Kind of?”

“Definitely creepy and definitely bossy. I know how you feel about bossy women. Two words. Origami class,” Marcy said.

Jannika laughed and tossed a piece of her straw wrapper at Marcy.

“You’re the one who got us in trouble,” she teased Marcy.

“I don’t even remember what was so funny, do you? We kept laughing, and it sure as hell pissed off Miss…What did you call her?”

“Miss Stay on Task. Ladies, you are not staying on task,” Jannika said with a nasal tone. “You snorted.”

Their laughter was interrupted by a pale, very skinny, very young waitress. Her staff T-shirt with the words Over Easyand a picture of a giant fried egg hung off her in folds. She took their order of two breakfast sandwiches, coffee for Marcy, and tea for Jannika.

“I knew we’d be best friends that day,” Marcy said.

“Me too,” Jannika said. “Thanks for trying to cheer me up. I know everyone wants me to get out there, but I hate it. As of last night, I’ve taken a no-more-blind-dates vow. And the cherry on last night’s sundae was the truck with Maine plates that drove right past me at the end of the date. I freaked out a little. Which is really dumb. There are hundreds of cars around with Maine plates. It was a bad date and the truck reminded me that I’m still alone over a year after the breakup.”

“Crap, Nick, I’m sorry you had another bad one. Maybe not a vow, maybe a little break? I know that shit wears you out. I think you have some kind of beacon that attracts, shall I say…unusual women?”

“Thanks, Marce. All I know is, I’m done for now. How about you tell me about what just happened at the store with the very fetching Amy while I eat my sandwich, I’m starving.”

“Did you see her eyes?”

“Yes, I saw her eyes, and I also noticed the way they looked at you. I felt the wave of heat across the room. What about your I never date local womenrule.”

“Exactly. Why did I even talk to her? I know I can’t go out with her. I’ve been this route before, dating a local. I’m not going to sneak around and pretend. I’m not going to ask her to do that either. I need to call her and say I got caught up in the moment. I forgotten I have a girlfriend or wife or something.”

Marcy’s hands played with the straw in her glass of water, stretching the little ribbed bendable neck in and out like an accordion.

“See this? This is my heart. I meet someone I like, who I think I want to get to know, and zip”—she squished the ribs of the straw back together—“my heart closes down because of the reality of my family. Who doesn’t know Barclay’s Burgers? They’re all over New England.”

“Marce.” She reached across the table for Marcy’s hand. “How long will you keep doing this? I know you want to go out with Amy.” Jannika lowered her voice. “You’re my best friend. I love you. It hurts to see you always shutting down, turning away from love, from life. What can I do to help? I’ll do anything to support you.”

“Jeez, Nick. Maybe it’s time for me to leave Grangeton and start a life somewhere else.” Marcy looked over Jannika’s shoulder at the river.

“So you’re going to run away? From your family, your job, your friends, Amy—from your life? I know everyone knows your family, you’re Marcy Barclay of the Barclay’s Burgers chain. I can’t imagine how public your life feels anyway.”

Marcy put her head in her hands.

“What do you really want? Marce, what is your heart saying?”

Marcy raised her head and looked at her with wet eyes.

“I want to live like you do. I want to feel like a whole person, not a person split in two. The good daughter my parents see, the good straight girl who just hasn’t found the right man after her divorce, and the horny lesbian who trolls the bars in Provincetown and Ogunquit to let go. I want to be me. I want to go after this Amy with the crazy beautiful eyes and the voice that…Did you hear her voice? Did you see how beautiful she is? And…oh…” Marcy shook her head and sighed.

“Your parents.”

“My parents,” Marcy replied. “I can’t. I’ve lived like this for so long. I don’t know where to start. I’m afraid of what they will do, of how they’ll hurt me.”

“What about one at a time? What if you told your mom? You told me you used to be close.” She leaned toward Marcy. “How much do you want to see Amy again?”

“Dirty pool, Nick. That’s dirty pool.”

“You know I’d never push you into anything. And I know we’ve had this conversation before. But I want to see you happy, and I’ve never seen the look on your face you had when you talked with Amy. I couldn’t take my eyes off the two of you.”

“Maybe I could talk to Mom or at least start talking about something with her. We’ve grown so far apart. The part of me that isn’t terrified wants her to know who I am.”

“I’ll be there for you. Whatever you need. Whatever you want,” Jannika said. She looked over Marcy’s shoulder and smiled as Amy walked into the café.

“Thanks.” Marcy said. “What are you smiling about? Where’s our server?” She looked past Jannika, waved, and nodded for the check.

“Amy’s here and she’s walking this way,” Jannika said.

Amy smiled at Jannika.

“Hi,” Amy said.

“Hi again,” Marcy said. She stood and wiped her hands on her napkin.

“I picked up a smoothie up front and saw you back here and…” Amy shifted her weight and took a step back. “Sorry I interrupted. I wanted to say hi again. Which is kind of silly because I met you about an hour ago.”

“No, no, we were about to leave, and I’m glad you came over,” Marcy said.

“You are?” Amy said.

Jannika watched Marcy’s gaze travel over Amy.

“Very glad,” Marcy said.

“I’m looking forward to your phone call,” Amy said. She reached over and touched the cuff of Marcy’s jacket sleeve with one finger. Two kids ran past the booth, and Marcy and Amy both turned to face the booth, bumped shoulders, and laughed.

“I think we might be blocking traffic,” Marcy said.

“I have to run now anyway—I just wanted to say hello,” Amy said.

“Who’s taking this check?” The skinny waitress waved their check in the air.

“I’ll get it.” Jannika held out her hand.

Jannika walked behind Marcy and Amy to the front of the café. She paid the check at the counter while Marcy and Amy talked behind her.

“See ya,” Marcy said.

“Can’t wait,” Amy replied. The door swung shut behind her.

Marcy opened the door and held it for Jannika. Her eyes were still fixed on the retreating figure of Amy.

“I have no idea what’s happening, but she’s too amazing to say no to, rule about local women or no rule. I’ll walk you back to the store, then I’m off to meet Dad,” Marcy said.

As they passed Pusie’s Posies, Jannika pointed at bunches of flowers in the window. “I want to go into Pusie’s and pick out flowers for my date. I want to actually like my date. There was that one woman that I dated a few times. I liked her, but she went back to her ex. But I didn’t feel heartbroken. I was disappointed, I wanted to see where it went, but…you remember.”

“I remember. I always thought you were trying to force that one. She sounded nice, but not your type. More my type, a party girl.”

“I don’t know how you go out on all those dates.”

“They’re not dates, that’s how, kiddo.” Marcy elbowed Jannika. “I’ve got to be careful, but you don’t. You can go out with anyone, anywhere.”

“But I want it all, the whole package. I want the fireworks, someone who gets me, and someone who I’ll want to spend the rest of my life getting to know.” Jannika looked down at the brick sidewalk as they walked up the hill. She pushed her hands in her jacket pockets. “Silly, huh?”

“And I thought my pool of fish was small.”

“I’m serious.” Jannika stopped and looked at Marcy.

“I know, sorry for joking. Tough subject matter for me. But I guess you can’t give up, right? If that’s what you want, then you can’t just stop dating, because how will you ever find your Ms. Whole Package?”

“Maybe just a small break from dating, like you said.”

“That’s the stuff. I’ll keep you posted about Marcy-world. Sorry about the disaster date last night, truly.”

“And my meeting with Betty B this morning.” Jannika exaggerated a frown.

“Ouch, been a rough twenty-four for you, my friend.”

“But the Purple Tent meets tonight, so somehow it all balances out.” Jannika sighed and smiled.