Authors: Pepper Phillips
Grant placed my suitcase on the bed. “Come, I’ll give you
the nickel tour and then we can go eat.”
He led me into the major part of the apartment. I stopped
mid-step. I was in heaven. The colors were red and yellow. Lusty and vibrant,
it shouted comfort. It was one huge room. A bookcase covered the wall from
floor to ceiling on the right. The living area was in the middle, featuring a
couple of sofas and love seats, everything matched, yet it didn’t. It drew a
person in. Whoever designed this area had serious gifts.
“Who did the decorating?”
Grant barked out a laugh. “Maudie. And she would be
insulted to think someone ‘decorated’ it.”
“Why? It’s stunning.”
“Maudie was always moving things around trying to find the
correct ‘Feng Shui’ and finally gave up. She said that she liked ‘cozy
The dining area was on the left wall with a view of the
courthouse square. The antique table held a huge crystal bowl filled with red
poppies nestled in glass marbles. The kitchen butted next to the dining room,
the cabinets painted a sunshine yellow with fire-engine red countertops.
Everything was open. Light, bright, airy. It was perfect.
Grant stood there with his hands in his pockets. “Maudie
hated walls, except for the bedrooms, of course. She wanted to know what was
going on all the time. She felt walls kept everyone in separate little boxes.”
“She’s right.” I loved this open look. You couldn’t hide
secrets in this room. It would be impossible. My parents’ home was just the
opposite. Separate bedrooms for everyone, including my parents. Separate
rooms for each function. You could not go into the kitchen unless you were
cooking. You ate only at the dining room table. Never in the living room or
your bedroom. You could study only at your desk. Everything was
compartmentalized. Everything. Even emotions.
I shuddered. For an instant, I felt a chill. But as I
looked around me, a warm glow entered my body. For some reason, I
felt...safe. Loved. Protected. Something about this place just embraced me.
“Do you want to see my room?”
“Sure. Just this once.”
Grant brought his hand up to his heart. “Oh, how you do
wound me, woman.”
His room was next to the kitchen area. He gestured for me
to enter. I hesitated, then walked over the threshold.
It wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t know what I expected,
but it wasn’t this.
The furniture was from different periods. All antiques.
What brought everything together were the colors of the accessories. Every
shade, every hue, was all in deep green. It looked lush, inviting, sensual.
“Something, huh? Maudie used my room as an extension of her
shop downstairs. If she needed to sell my bed, it was gone by the time I got
home. I never knew how my room was going to look from one day to the next.
But it kept life interesting.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call this curbside furniture.”
“You would if you waved it good-bye while you stood on the
curb wondering if you should have bought it first.”
I laughed. Poor Grant, never knowing what he would sleep
on. The bed in his room now was a huge four-poster with deep moss-green
“Who moved her large items?”
“One the high school wrestlers is always ready to make some
extra cash after school. If it was a heavy job, he called some of his
“No one ever called Maudie dumb. She was shrewd.
Especially about antiques. Follow me. Let me show you something.”
Grant walked back into the living room. Three sets of
French doors opened onto the balcony. A spiral staircase heading down was in
the right-hand corner. Next to it was the bookcase wall.
Grant gestured with his hand. “These books are a complete
library on any antique--furniture, glassware, jewelry, tablecloths--you name
it, Maudie had a book about it. She studied every night and during the day.
There wasn’t a thing she didn’t know about antiques.”
I was amazed. There were hundreds and hundreds of books. It
would take a lifetime to study them all.
“Something, huh? I sure would hate to move them. But come
here. I want to show you my favorite spot.” Grant walked to the middle set of
French doors, unlocked them, and opened both of them. I followed him out onto
the large balcony.
The furniture was white wicker, a table with a glass top
that looked shattered, four chairs surrounding it, and a swing hanging from the
rafters at one end. Brightly colored pillows were on every seating surface.
Wind chimes caught a small breeze and tinkled cheerfully. Graceful ferns hung
across the front of the building. Scattered planters had larger green plants
in them. It looked like you could take a picture and submit it for publication
in a decorating magazine.
Grant leaned against the front railing, a large grin on his
face. “I’ll have to move the plants inside once the weather changes, but it’s
my favorite spot after a hectic day.”
“It’s beautiful.” It was more than beautiful. I wanted to
stay here in this apartment forever. I felt at home. For the first time in my
life, I felt welcomed, warmed, and comfortable. I frowned.
They say that you can tell what a person is like by
examining where they live, their nest, so to speak. If you judged Maudie by
her apartment, you would have to like her. I didn’t want to like her. I just
wanted to understand how any woman could give up her child without a backward
I ran my fingertip across the balcony rail. It had slight
imperfections painted over, gloss hiding the flaws and bumps underneath. But
if you took off the paint, the truth would come out.
The next six weeks were going to be the hardest of my life,
unless I could find the answers as to who my father was and why Maudie gave me
Grant turned to leave the balcony. “Well, I’m hungry after
my workout. Are you ready to try out Hank’s?”
“Yeah, Hank’s Hole-in-the-Wall . Maudie generally ate an
early lunch there before she opened up her shop. That way she could get all
the early morning gossip.”
I followed him inside. “She gossiped?”
“World-class. Sometimes she found out what cases I would be
handling a day or two before I did. It was amazing.”
“Do I need to change before dining?”
Grant started to laugh. “This is strictly a come-as-you-are
Grant locked the French doors, then turned to me. “Would
you like to see the shop? We could go down the spiral staircase and out the
front. It’s shorter.”
“Yes, that would be nice, since I’m going to be stuck there
every day for six weeks.”
“Hey, you’re off on Sundays and Mondays.”
“Oh, a reprieve twice a week.”
“Do you even like antiques?”
“Well, yes. Sort of.”
“Then you’re going to love how Maudie has set up her store.”
Grant led the way down the steps and flipped a switch by the
bottom of the stairs.
I stopped several steps from the bottom, getting a good
overview of the entire store. The light switch turned on individual lights.
Not overhead lights, which would have seemed harsh, but lamps. Fabulous
antique lamps sitting on tables and desks cast a warm, friendly, cozy glow
throughout the store. But it was the way the furniture was set up that was
There were three or four parlors, and half a dozen bedroom
areas. All the furniture was arranged as though it was in a room in someone’s
home. How clever! Someone could come in and buy one piece or the whole room.
There was even an antique kitchen in the back corner. That was something I
wanted to check out. Old kitchen gadgets were interesting, if you could figure
out their uses.
“Once or twice, I’ve had to sleep down here. Maudie didn’t
have time to replace my bed before I got home, so I had my pick of beds.”
“It must have been a hard choice. I’ve never seen beds made
up, ready to sleep in, inside an antique shop.”
“It was easy. Maudie liked to display the antique quilts
and embroidered pillowcases, though most don’t have any sheets. I picked the
bedroom farthest from the windows. In case someone decided to window shop, I
didn’t want to be seen in my altogether.”
I laughed, then blushed at the visual. I knew that I would
have my nose pressed to the window in order to see him in his
again. Even if he was a jock.
“What’ll it be, chickie?” The waitress was all of five
feet, if that. Her white hair had grown out an inch and the rest was dyed a
bright red with an even redder bow sitting perkily off-center. A shiny black
uniform with a pristine white apron encircled her tiny waist. Her name tag
read Naomi and she was chewing gum like it was the last piece on earth.
I stopped gawking and directed my attention to Grant.
“Would you please order for me?” I settled back into the
Grant studied the menu over the counter for a second.
“Today’s special should be good, with sweet tea.”
“Sure, chickie. Be right back.” Naomi strutted off,
wiggling her hips in a suggestive manner.
I burst out laughing. “Just how old is she? Eighty?”
Grant grinned. “No. Naomi is only sixty-six. The same age
as Maudie. Naomi lives a rougher life.”
I laughed again, then frowned, doing the math in my head.
“Then Maudie was thirty-nine when she had me?”
“I guess so. Why? Does it make a difference?”
“No.” I hesitated. “It’s just that I thought she would be
younger. Much younger. That’s how old my adoptive mother was when I was
“Maybe.” I looked around the Hole-in-the-Wall. It was
charming in its own way. Brightly colored red-checked curtains hung at the
windows. A miniature railroad track sat on a shelf a foot below the ceiling.
A train slowly chugged around the room. The ceiling was painted the color of
the sky with clouds dancing along the edges. Four customers sat in a booth in
Grant cleared his throat.
“Fascinating, isn’t it? When I was a kid, I begged my
parents to eat here. For a long time, I thought I was on a real train.”
“I can see how a child would get that impression.”
“Yes. Children are easily impressed. It’s only when you
become an adult that you learn how fragile life really is.”
“That sounds philosophical.”
Grant studied me intently. “Life isn’t all roses, as you’ve
just learned. There are thorns.”
I’d been stabbed lately with life. “Yes, there are thorns.”
Naomi walked over to the table and deposited two large
glasses of tea with lemon in front of us along with two small cups of soup.
Snapping her gum, she rested her arm on Grant’s shoulder and asked, “So tell
me, chickie. Who’s the date?”
Grant looked hesitantly at me.
I decided to jump right in and declare that Maudie was my
mother. Maybe I could get some answers quick. “I’m Maudie Cooper’s daughter,
Naomi swallowed her gum and gulped loudly. Her eyes opened
so wide you could see the white surrounding the pupils.
“Oh.” She whispered. Her eyes blinking like a bumblebee
desperate to stay mid-air, she turned and hurried away.
“I think you got her attention.” Grant remarked dryly as he
picked up his soup spoon.
“I think I got everyone’s attention.” I gestured to the
other patrons sitting around the room. They were all staring at me.
The place was absolutely quiet. Even the man behind the
cook station was looking at me through the pass-through window. Naomi was
dialing a pay phone in the back corner.
“Naomi is known to gossip.”
“Then everyone in town should know before the week is out.”
Grant’s spoon hesitated in mid-air. He grinned, then added,
“I venture to say that everyone will know before we finish our soup.”
I laughed at that one. “Good. Maybe I’ll have answers to
my questions before the six weeks are up.” I scooped up a spoonful of soup. Ambrosia--Corn
and shrimp, one of my favorites. Then I bit sharply into a cracker and laughed
again as crumbs landed all around me.
“So, exactly what questions are you going to ask the
I stopped eating and looked around the Hole. The customers
were no longer paying attention to me but busily conversing among themselves.
“The truth,--that’s all I want. The truth.”
“You may not like the answers once you get them.”
What could be worse than knowing that you weren’t wanted?
“But I won’t know that until then, will I?”
“No, you won’t.” Grant finished off his small cup of soup
and pushed it to the side of the table out of his way.
I pushed a shrimp around with my spoon, scooped it up and
ate it. Then I placed my cup next to Grant’s.
“I need to ask you one thing.”
Grant flashed that dimple and smiled at me. “Great. It’s
about time you show some interest in me. I knew my innate charm would
eventually wear you down.”
I was wearing armor against his innate charm, chanting
‘jock, jock, jock’ in my mind, That was all I needed to be immune. Right.
“No.” I hesitated, then the words tumbled out. “Why do you
rent a room in Maudie’s apartment?”
Grant stared at me in disbelief, then started to laugh.
Heads turned to see what the commotion was about.
“Stop it, Grant. Everyone is staring.”
“It didn’t bother you before.”
“Stop laughing so hard.”
“Well, I thought you were going to get really personal. And
all you want to know is why I rent a room?”
I felt embarrassed.
Grant leaned forward conspiratorially, a deep smile still on
his lips. “Because it’s convenient.”