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Authors: Viola Shipman

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BOOK: The Charm Bracelet
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Arden took off jogging down Main, taking to the street to avoid all the vacationers. She was out of breath when she reached Third Coast Books and had to remove her glasses to wipe the perspiration off the lenses. Arden stopped and studied the giant windows, filled with exquisitely artful book displays and event posters, fronting the old bookstore.

Third Coast's old wooden floors creaked under Arden's feet as she entered. She went to the back, ordered a latte, and wandered the store's cramped aisles sipping and scanning. Her mother had bought countless books for Arden here. Between Third Coast and the local library, Arden had traveled the world without leaving Scoops, progressing from Nancy Drew to Judy Blume, from Michener to Hemingway.

Arden meandered into “classics,” took a seat on the floor, and placed her latte between her legs. She began to pull some of her favorite authors from the shelves, reminding herself of how much reading and writing meant to her.

Arden was so engrossed that she didn't hear the footsteps behind her. She was so enraptured that she jumped when Jake's rumbling voice began to read:

ALICE:

But I don't want to go among mad people.

THE CHESHIRE CAT:

Oh, you can't help that. We're all mad here.

Arden looked up, and Jake laughed, slowly folding his big body, like an accordion, and taking a seat next to her on the floor. “Great book. Even better advice.”

Jake cocked his head at Arden, lifting his big, black brows, and let his dark eyes search her soul.

“That's why you're here, isn't it?” Jake asked, nodding around the store. “And not just here, but
here
 … in Scoops … right?”

Arden's heart raced.


You've gone mad,” he said, “but not in a good way.”

“Yes,” she said softly, returning the book in her hands to the shelf and taking a sip of her coffee. “My daughter and I came to help my mother, but I think she's helping us even more. We are starting to find our passion for life again here.”

“Have you?”

“I don't have an ending to my story yet.”

A bell on the door of the bookstore jingled, and Arden smiled.

“The sound of my mother's charm bracelet is everywhere,” she said. “Now that—
that
—used to drive me mad.”

“Maybe you're just ready to listen now.” Jake's face broke into a smile as big and white as a Scoops blizzard. “You're not quite the cynic you want people to believe you are, huh?”

Jake laughed, suddenly placing a hand on Arden's leg. “Would you like to go out with me?” he asked.

His hand felt warm and natural on Arden's leg.

“Okay,” she said, surprising herself.

“I'm off Memorial Day. Maybe we can go to the beach or something. Weather looks beautiful. I'll call you.”

Jake leaned forward, took Arden's face in his sturdy hands—her chin resting in his palms—and kissed her on the lips. For a big man, his kiss was as gentle as the spring rain.

For a second, Arden thought she was dreaming. She was pleasantly stunned.

Jake stood, towering over Arden, and said, “I had to. You're just so darn cute. I'll call you later.”

“Okay.” Arden smiled.

After Jake left, Arden tried to piece together what had just occurred. Her heart was still pounding.

She leaned over and picked up the copy of
Alice in Wonderland
that Jake had left sitting beside her.

Arden ran her hands over the cover.

She smiled, again reading the words her mother had read to her so many times, the words her mother had tried to emphasize to her growing up.

She shut her eyes, and could feel her mother sitting beside her on her bed in the cabin. Arden could hear Lolly's voice reading:

ALICE:

But I don't want to go among mad people.

THE CHESHIRE CAT:

Oh, you can't help that. We're all mad here.

Arden smiled.

My mother was trying to teach me the secret to life long ago, but I never listened!

She lovingly carried the book to the counter and bought it.

 

part eight

The Snowflake Charm

To a Life in Which You Become a Person of Many Dimensions

 

Thirty

Arden sat on the edge of her childhood bed and clicked on the lamp.

The lamp—like her mother—was made up of an amalgam of mismatched, colorful parts: The base was an old red lantern while the shade was fringed like a skirt from the musical
Chicago
. The light and the fringe both moved and flickered as if dancing together.

Arden propped up a few pillows against the birch bark headboard and picked up her copy of
Alice in Wonderland
, smiling at the memory of Jake and of purchasing the book earlier in the day. Without thinking, she opened the book to a random page, something she used to do when she was a child. She once regarded it as a sort of an omen, the page and its words a sign meant to tell her something meaningful about her life. Arden had learned in journalism school, however, that there were three kinds of readers: Ones who always opened a book or magazine to page one, and started from the beginning; readers who always read the last page first (Arden could never understand those readers); and readers who randomly opened to a page somewhere in the middle to gauge their interest.

I still see it as an omen,
Arden thought,
shutting her eyes and turning to a page.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Arden gasped, and then reread the line she had just stumbled upon.

Life really is quite simple,
Arden thought.
Begin at the beginning.

She suddenly thought of Jake's kiss earlier in the day.

He is giving me a new start,
she thought.

Arden drew her arms around herself and shivered at the invisible breezes that always seemed to find their way through the cracks in the logs of the old cabin.

Is it the chill?
she thought.
Or his kiss?

She hopped out of bed and went in search of a blanket to ward off the chill. Arden unlatched the trunk at the end of the bed. It was stacked with childhood memorabilia: Yearbooks, plaques, ribbons, as well as other mementoes from her past. A signed picture of Shaun Cassidy, a Wonder Woman belt, a “drinking happy bird” sipping from a glass of water she'd always had sitting on her desk, a corkboard covered with old pins.

Arden started to pull out her old yearbooks, but stopped herself, dropping the trunk lid and moving her search to the dresser. Every drawer was filled with long-ago Dolly costumes: Dresses missing half their sequins, threadbare boas, snagged gloves.

Arden's heart skipped a beat.

Memories shoved away for far too long,
she thought.

Arden moved toward her old closet, the warped door opening with a loud squeak. She zipped through hangers filled with her old clothes and her mother's winter jackets, thinking a blanket might be somewhere in the midst.

Nothing.

That's when she noticed, illuminated by the bare bulb that hung from the ceiling, the bottom of a quilt, its ends dangling over the edge like her feet on the dock.

She reached up, standing on her tippy toes, but the quilt was just out of reach. Arden turned, searching the bedroom for a stepping stool or a sturdy chair. She walked over and pressed down on the top of the trunk, but it felt flimsy to the touch.

I can do this myself,
Arden thought, turning back to the closet.
This is why I run and spin.

Arden crouched and jumped, but in midleap, her arms got entangled in the hanging clothes. She made it only a few inches off the ground before the hangers came flying off in a shocking jangle that sounded like a wind chime in a hurricane.

“Mom?” Lauren yelled from the bedroom next door. “Are you okay?”

“I'm fine,” Arden yelled back. “Just dropped the book I'm reading.”

“Sounds like you dropped a library.” Lauren laughed.

That was as graceful as my dance with Jake,
Arden murmured to herself
.

She picked up the fallen clothes, and then pushed all the hangers to one end of the closet to give herself room.

Here we go again,
she thought, leaping into the air.

Arden's fingers snagged the end of the quilt, and, at the very last minute, she yanked it off, grunting at its unexpected heft.

As Arden descended, she saw white, and wondered if she had hit her head.

But as she looked up, she smiled: It was snowing.

Falling all around her were hundreds of homemade snowflakes—their lacy silhouettes softly drifting about, as if she were trapped in a snow globe.

Mom and I made those decades ago,
Arden thought, remembering when they used to hang the snowflakes on the cabin's windows at the holidays.

Arden sat down on the floor as if pulled by force, and pulled the quilt around herself, watching it snow, finding herself in the middle of an unexpected blizzard of memories.

When it stopped, Arden gathered the snowflakes into a pile and stretched out, resting her head on them.

She held up a snowflake—the paper yellowed, the edges bent—and ran her fingers over it, before doing the same to the quilt. Arden shut her eyes, and listened to the sounds of the cabin. It always seemed to have a life of its own, like the seasons in Michigan.

Arden sighed and slowly drifted to sleep in a pile of newly fallen pretend-snow.

 

Thirty-one

November 1977

“It's a winter wonderland,” Lolly yelled from the front window of the cabin. “Arden, hurry! Come look!”

Arden padded downstairs in her stocking feet and peered toward Lost Land Lake. She couldn't even see the dock.

“But it's not winter yet,” Arden said. “It's only November.”

Always so logical,
Lolly thought, smiling at her daughter.

“C'mon! We have to check this out,” Lolly said, pulling Arden by the hand and opening the door to the screened porch. “Wow!”

Snow was blowing through the screens and already drifting onto the wood floor. Lolly pulled her daughter out onto the porch and said, “Ssssh! Listen.”

The snow hissed in the air as it fell, but, beyond that, the world was silent, hushed, buried.

Snow was as common in Scoops as pine trees and deer. The first snow typically fell around Halloween, grew heavier in November, and often continued into early April. The town received over two hundred inches of snow a year, thanks to its close proximity to Lake Michigan. Much of the heavy snow—like today's—came from a weather phenomenon called lake effect, in which arctic air routinely moved across the relatively warmer waters of the big lake, causing a dumping effect, almost as if the town were located at the wrong end of a snow blower.

“Scoops should have been named Shovels.” Les laughed from the cabin. He put on his gloves and pulled a ski mask over his face, until only his eyes and lips were visible. He grabbed his red plaid thermos of coffee and said, “Time to make some cash. I'll see my beautiful girls later.”

In the winters, Les Lindsey led ice-fishing excursions for the hearty, or, as his wife put it, “the crazy.” Locals loved to ice fish in the many inland lakes, like Lost Land, that dotted the area. It was as popular as skiing, snowshoeing, and building snowmen. The weather didn't matter much to sportsmen because Les did most of the work anyway. He put up the shanties that kept out the snow and wind, and which kept the fishermen warm; he cut the hole in the ice; he kept them fed and jovial with his “special” coffee; and he told them all the stories of the big fish he had pulled from holes in the ice, just like the ones that were about to jump on their dangling lines any second now.

Arden watched her father trudge through the snow, which was already up to his knees. After only a few feet, he became a ghost. And then, he was gone.

It was snowing so hard that the world had become one-dimensional, white on white.

Arden felt as if she were trapped in a snow globe that had been shaken. There was no color differential between the sky, the ground, the world. It was a blur of white.

The happy screams of children shattered the silence.

“They refuse to get up on a school day”—Lolly laughed, mussing Arden's hair—“but they will jump out of bed on a snow day.”

Although the joke in town was that the school district only called a snow day “when the bus drivers could no longer see the stop signs or the school,” there were days when the kids might have gotten to school but could never have gotten home.

This was one of those days.

BOOK: The Charm Bracelet
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