Authors: Pepper Phillips
“I don’t know. She just held me and then I started to cry.
We both cried for a long time. Then after giving me a great big hug she
laughed and said how silly we were to not accept life for what it was,
difficult. She patted my face and said that she loved me, and I knew that she
loved me and that was all that mattered in life, that someone loved you even
though you had faults. I wasn’t angry at my father anymore, and while I’m
still not comfortable around my stepmother, I am courteous in her presence.”
“Oh, the usual. High school. I went off to college, but
came here for summer breaks. Got married, got divorced, and since my ex-wife
wanted everything, I just gave her the house, the car, the dog, even the water
hose.” He gave me that killer grin again.
I had to ask. “The water hose?”
“It’s so funny. When she started to argue over the water
hose, I just gave up and let her have everything.”
“Then, since I didn’t have a home anymore, it seemed so
logical to stay here. Maudie never indicated that she wanted to be alone...and
I feel at home here. In fact, it is home.”
Standing up, he walked into his bedroom and came back a
moment later with a wad of bills in his hand. He held them out to me.
Rent. He was giving me rent? “What do you mean?”
“I owe Maudie for the past month. Here it is.”
I didn’t know if I should take it or not, but he pushed it
into my hand.
“Maudie always marked it on the calendar when I paid her, in
case I ever forgot.”
I looked over to the calendar that was hanging in the
kitchen by the phone and reluctantly got up.
He glanced at his watch. “I
have to go run, I’ll be back in half an hour.”
He hesitated. “Would you
like to come?”
I had to laugh. Me, run?
Not likely in this lifetime. “I don’t own running shoes and never will.”
He grinned. “Not the
“Shopping is all the exercise
I ever need.”
He frowned. “Oh.”
So the man had issues with
Tough. I wonder what he
would think if he knew I loved to shop in grocery stores.
He started his arm stretches
as he walked away from me.
I looked around the room. Yes, it was a home. But did I
fit in here?
Walking over to the calendar, I grabbed a pen from a coffee
cup by the phone and marked down that the rent was paid. That was good, as I needed
to buy some new clothes. I stuffed the money in my shorts.
Opening the refrigerator, I
pulled out eggs, cheese, some wilted green onions, salsa and began preparations
for a Spanish omelet. I was surprised. It seems that Grant at least fixed
breakfast here. He said that I would be busy today at the store. In that case
I could fix some tongue-loosening bait. Searching the cabinets, I found the
ingredients that I was looking for, and what I couldn’t find, I could
improvise. It was time to get down to basics.
Grant arrived thirty minutes later. Bringing a friend.
A woman friend.
I envied her on sight. She was everything I wasn’t. A few
inches shorter than I, she probably never got called a beanpole in her life.
Dark glossy hair held in place with a headband, elegant bone structure. She
looked fantastic without makeup. Plus the clincher, she didn’t sweat.
She glared me. She made Alice look like my best friend.
Grant made introductions. “Sara, this is my running buddy,
Tina. Tina, this is Maudie’s daughter.”
She looked at me up and down and certainly didn’t like what
she saw, if her curled lip was any indication.
“Maudie’s bastard. How interesting.”
I was stunned.
I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so angry so fast. I could
feel the blood rush into my face and my hands tightened into fists.
She put on an innocent face and placed her hand on her
heart, like I injured her feelings. “Excuse me?”
I thought I would explode. “I said ‘Get out.’ I don’t
think it’s that hard to understand.”
Grant touched her arm. “You better leave.”
She flowed into his arms. How sweet. She was definitely
more than a “running buddy.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s the truth.” She
simpered. She actually simpered. How do women practice that maneuver? She
needed some lessons in reality.
I walked over to them, and she looked up at me. Sometimes
it’s so great to have people have to look up at you. I smiled. “If you’re not
out of here in one minute, I’ll throw you out myself.”
I walked into my bedroom and slammed the door as hard as I
could. Yeah, I know. Childish, but it felt awfully good.
I went into the bathroom and got dressed. It was time for
* * *
I was applying my eyeliner, when a knock on the door
“She’s gone. I’m sorry about that. It won’t happen again.”
to myself. It was a good
thing she left, as I was all primed to throw her off the balcony and let her go
splat on the sidewalk. Then I was going to run down the staircase and kick her
a few times for an extra measure. In my dreams. Fantasy is good for you at
times, and this was one of those times.
I slipped into the kitchen. Grant was nowhere to be seen,
but I could hear his shower running, so I put the flame under the pan and went
It’s a good thing I was working on an omelet, as those eggs
got a thorough beating. The yolks were not survivors.
Grant stepped out of his bedroom a dozen minutes later. His
hair was still damp. Dressed in suit pants and a white button-down shirt, he
looked fantastic. His aftershave oozed into the room, making me want to hug
him, even if he had an evil ‘buddy.’
I reached into the oven and brought out his breakfast.
He stared at me as I placed his plate before him.
“What’s with the lab coat?” He asked.
I smiled. Everyone asked the question the first time they
saw me cooking. “I’m a home ecology teacher. It goes with the job and I got
used to cooking with one on.”
“What is home ecology?”
“So, I imagine you did have some ‘cooking’ classes in
college. This is going to be wonderful.” He rubbed his hands together in
anticipation and placed the napkin in his collar. I could tell he was
impressed and it pleased me to see the glee on his face. This was a man you
could get if you concentrated on his stomach, that is if you wanted him.
“Aren’t you joining me?”
“In a minute, I’ve some baking to do.”
He’d already taken a big bite of eggs, so his next words
were hard to understand. “Baking? You bake too?”
Duh. What kind of teacher would I be if I couldn’t bake?
“Well, the way I figure it, you told me there would be a
crowd today, if I have some coffee and tea, along with some scones and cookies,
I might get more answers than questions when people come to call.”
He mumbled around a piece of toast. “Let me know if it
works, I might want to use that angle during a deposition.”
He gave me a wolfish grin and dug back into his breakfast.
* * *
After baking, I drove into town, I noticed a little boutique
with some interesting clothes in the front window, so I headed there.
A bell jingled when I opened the door. Someone called out
from the back. “Be there in a minute.”
“Fine.” I yelled.
The clothes were great. I noticed some cute things in my
size right off the bat and grabbed them to try on. To be honest, I hate to
shop. When you’re tall, it’s really not a fun thing to do. A fitting room was
located in the corner, so off I went.
The voice called out again, closer this time. “Can I help
you with anything?”
I hate saleswomen in stores, they lie for one thing.
that looks just fantastic on you.
And you know you look awful. I group
them with used car salesmen and horse traders, which when you think about it,
the same thing only different centuries.
“No. I’m just trying on some things.”
Two of the outfits looked great, the other was so-so. Two
were good for now. I put everything back on the hangers and stepped out.
Shit! Tina stood behind the counter.
Her smile faded fast.
Then her face went into a snarl mode. She pointed to the
door and pointed. “Begone.”
Begone? Begone? What planet did she drop from?
I dropped the clothes on the floor and stepped on them on my
way out. “Certainly.”
I gave her a big smile as I closed the door that made her
turn a rather unhealthy shade of red.
It was delicious. I nearly danced to my car.
There was a discount store halfway down the block. I could
get some things there. So, I ‘begoned’ in that direction.
It was hard to wipe the smile off my face.
* * *
I was nervous about opening up the store. I noticed that
Maudie had a little area close to her cash register with several chairs and end
tables that looked like it would be a great place to have conversations.
So, I set up the coffee and tea things close by. There were
cups and saucers in beautiful designs located in the dishware section by the
kitchen, so I washed them in the ancient porcelain sink that amazingly worked.
Several tiered serving plates would work fine for serving the cookies and
Maudie even had a little refrigerator tucked under the cash
register, so I placed milk in there. The little area looked nice after it was
dusted. There was a fine layer of dust throughout the store, testifying to the
long absence of Maudie.
So, I grabbed a cloth and began to dust. As I went along, I
checked the prices on some of the articles. Maudie had quite an eye if the
price tags were any indication. I picked up one piece of glassware, it was a
round globe with a hole in the top and split sideways through the middle. I’ve
never seen anything quite like it. I guess I would have to start checking out
her reference books and begin researching some items. It had a price tag of
seventy-five dollars, so it should be something pretty special.
Noon came and I unlocked the door. I didn’t make it ten
feet back into the store when I had my first customer or, would that be my
A tiny woman, easily a foot shorter than I, walked in,
stared at me for a second, and then began to cry.
I was at a loss. What should I do? Hesitantly, I grabbed a
tissue from the box on the counter and brought it to her.
“Here, use this.”
She looked up at me, then threw her arms around my waist and
proceeded to hug me. “Oh, thank heavens. Maudie has a daughter. I didn’t
believe it when I heard the news last night, but look at you, the spitting
image of Maudie.” She let go of me and stepped back, a large grin on her face.
I was taken aback. I looked like my mother? That news
surprised me. Grant said I didn’t look like her at all. What was the deal
“I’m Bitsy Moreau, Maudie and I, along with the rest were
the best of friends in high school.”
She was wearing hot pink gardening gloves that floated on
her tiny hands. Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt with the motto, “If you think
I look bad now...wait till the shirt comes off!” on the front and yellow duck
feet gardening clogs. She was the epitome of the I-don’t-care fashion school.
I adored her on sight.
Her face was wrinkled. I mean alligator skin wrinkled. In
fact, I don’t remember ever seeing someone with so many wrinkled squares on her
face. She looked like an aging wizardess stuck on earth.
I finally regained my composure and indicated the seating
area with my hand. “Would you like some coffee?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve been gardening all morning, and couldn’t
wait to see you when the store opened.” She perched herself on the lowest
settee, her feet just touching the floor. “Of course, I could have trotted up
the back, but Maudie hated to be interrupted during the morning, so I just
thought that...oh, I’m rambling. Just black coffee, please.”
The doorbell tinkled again, and another short woman came
in. This town must have nothing but short women, I’m impressed.
“Joanna. Come, sit down and have some coffee.”
Joanna looked me up and down, apparently she didn’t like
what she saw, her face was disgruntled. She nodded at me and walked slowly to
where Bitsy was sitting.
“Joanna likes her coffee with two sugars and milk.”
Joanna sat next to Bitsy. “It better be decaf.” Joanna
muttered under her breath but loud enough to carry.
I finished pouring the two cups of coffee, placed the
antique sugar and creamer on a handsome silver tray and placed it on a tea
table in front of the ladies.
“Oh how nice. Isn’t this nice, Joanna?” Bitsy said.
Joanna’s gaze moved around the store as she picked up her
coffee. She smelled it, then took a small sip. “This isn’t regular coffee.”
“No, it’s a special blend of mine...do you like it?” If you
could call a teaspoon of cinnamon in the grounds a ‘special blend.’ But that’s
my little secret.
“Why, it’s delightful!” Bitsy slurped another portion and
reached over for a cookie and took a bite. “Oh heavens, I just love lemon
cookies. Try one of these, Joanna, they’re delicious.”
Joanna had a slight smirk on her face as she took the
offered cookie, then grimaced after she took a bite. “It seems way too tart
. I watched her sitting there, like a mouse.
Her face was narrow and pinched. An old expression--“she looks like she was
weaned on a pickle”--came to my mind. Her black eyes darting here and there
over her cup of coffee. Looking...for something. I thought it was time I
asked a few questions.