First of September ~ Chapter 1

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Everything about Clare Harrigan’s life had been fairytale perfect. She had a traditional childhood, grew up in a small town with loving parents and even liked her sister and brothers. She married a handsome man with a promising future and gave birth to three great kids. Then bam! She opened a door she could have left closed and yet, in her heart she knew, it had to be opened. In the blink of an eye life changed.

Clare gazed across the shimmering water of Amelia Bay, one of the countless bays and inlets that leant themselves to the allure of the magnificent Puget Sound of the Pacific Northwest. She sat on the deck of the Amelia Bay Hotel and Restaurant perched at the edge of the water and waited for her friend, Addie Halls, to join her for lunch. Gulls swooped and landed on the railing in hopes of a morsel from one of the patrons. Bev Hawkins, her waitress and friend, shooed them away as she approached Clare’s table.

“Clare.” Bev smiled and picked up Clare’s glass to refill her iced tea. “I know you’re waiting for Addie, but I wanted to ask a favor.”

“Sure, whatever you need.”

“There’s a couple, the Blooms, who’ve been waiting for a table. The lady isn’t in the best of health. Would you mind sharing your table with them? We’re so darn busy today and every table is full.” She set the glass down. “They’re a nice couple—easy to talk to.”

“Sure. Addie won’t mind. She ran up to her room to grab her things. She’s moving into her house today.”

“I’ve seen her around the hotel and here in the restaurant, but haven’t had much of a chance to talk to her.” Bev cocked her head to the side with a questioning look and an uncertain smile on her face. “So, she’s back for good, huh?”

Clare’s shoulders slumped. “I can tell by the look on your face what you’re thinking, Bev, but what happened was twenty years ago—all water over the dam. Addie was young.”

Bev shrugged. “You know small town folks, Clare. They can be long on memories and short on forgiveness. Some still blame Addie for what happened. I’ve heard a comment here and there from people who’ve seen her around town. For what it’s worth, though, I was always on her side.”

“All her friends were on her side—then and now.”

Bev smiled. “Heaven knows I’ve had my peccadilloes to live down over the years.” She came prepared for Clare to agree to her request and reached into her apron pocket. She pulled out silverware wrapped in crisp white napkins and placed them on the table, then flicked some imaginary crumbs off the bright blue tablecloth. “Heard Addie sold her real estate business in Seattle. Is that true?”

“Yep. She’s spruced up the house her dad left her. Hey, I’m thinking we should all get together for dinner, lunch, or just drinks at the pub one day soon? Like the old days. Talk about some of the crazy things we did.”

“Hmm…sure…maybe. I’ll scoot over and bring the Blooms. Real quick, I wanted to mention they bought a house up by you. The thing is…Stan’s doing the remodel on their house. Won’t bother you, will it?” Bev’s eyes locked onto Clare to gauge her reaction.

“No, of course not. Don’t give it another thought. I see Stan around town all the time.” She wished he would get the hell out of dodge. Heck, I’d even buy his ticket, she thought, but that wouldn’t happen anytime soon or anytime at all for that matter.

“Thanks, you’re a doll. I’m glad my exes aren’t around here. You know that song, All My Ex’s Live in Texas? In my case that’s true—both of them. Guess I’ve always been attracted to hot-headed cowboy types.” Bev gave a hollow laugh. “Your order’s in. The Blooms are guests at the hotel, and they eat the same thing every day. All the food should be out in a few minutes.”

Clare watched her friend walk away. Bev always reminded her of Marilyn Monroe. Her white-blonde hair waved and brushed her collar. When she looked at you, her dazzling brown eyes were filled with innocence. Bev had a figure women envied and men lusted after. She was the most popular girl in high school, a cheerleader, pregnant by the time she was seventeen, married and divorced twice by the time she hit twenty-five. She ended up with three kids, one ex-husband who spent time in jail for manslaughter and another who thought she was a punching bag. Sometimes being too pretty could get a girl in a load of trouble, especially when she exuded that special kind of sexuality mixed with sweet vulnerability. And the inability to say no to cute two-stepping guys in tight jeans and cowboy hats. Clare could not remember a time when she was not a part of her life. But when Bev’s life took a couple of wrong turns, she pulled away from her friends—the girlfriends as Stan referred to their little group.

Bev returned with a handsome couple. Clare thought they looked about her parents’ age—mid to late sixties. The man had snow-white hair with startling blue eyes that peered out from a tanned, rugged face. His wife, on the other hand, had kept out of the sun. Clare also guessed she had the help of a skilled plastic surgeon. Both were tall, slender, and casually but expensively dressed. She was slender in the extreme. Definitely the beautiful people of the country club set. She glanced down at her denim shirt tied at her waist and clay-stained shorts. Why didn’t she spruce up a bit before coming? she asked herself.

“Mr. and Mrs. Bloom this is Clare Par—”

Clare interrupted Bev, “Harrigan, Clare Harrigan. I’m happy to meet you both. It’s nice to have someone join me for lunch. A friend of mine will be with us in a few minutes.”

“Wonderful. We look forward to getting to know some of the people who will be our new neighbors. No formalities with us please—Ed and Gloria. Thank you for letting us join you,” Ed said as he helped Gloria with her chair. She eased herself into the chair. Her gnarled, arthritic knuckles gripped the arms of the chair. He held tight to her elbow until she settled herself.

“Bev tells me you purchased a house in my neighborhood. If it’s the one I’m thinking of, your property backs up to mine.”

“Then we are neighbors. We won’t be moving in until next summer though. Gloria needs to be where the weather is dry for health reasons. So, it’s off to Arizona for the winter months. It’ll help Gloria’s asthma and arthritis. I plan to be back and forth for business.” He looked at his wife not with frustration, but compassion.

“We stayed here last winter because Gloria’s best friend was not well, but now that she’s passed away there’s no need to stay for another damp winter.”

Clare noticed a look of sorrow flash across Gloria’s face at the mention of her friend’s death. “I’m sorry, Gloria. I’ve been blessed with wonderful friends. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose one.”

Gloria blinked back a tear and said, “Life is filled with many losses, dear. So, tell us about yourself, Clare. Have you lived here long?”

At that moment Bev and another server brought their lunches to the table. Cold avocado and crab soup for Clare and Addie, a Caesar salad for Gloria, and a batter dipped and fried Monte Cristo sandwich for Ed. Bev topped off the water and iced tea glasses. “Let me know if you need anything.”

“Why don’t we go ahead and start eating. My friend will be along in a few minutes. And to answer your question, Gloria, yes, I have lived here pretty much my entire life with the exception of one year in Southern California. I raised my three children here,” Clare said as she lifted the cover off her soup bowl.

“Three children—what a joy. Do they live here?” Gloria asked. She pushed her salad around the plate, but only took little nibbles. Perhaps an indication of an anorexia, Clare thought. On the other hand, Ed dug into his lunch with enthusiasm.

“They’re all in college at the moment. Most of my family lives here. I love working in a setting as beautiful as Amelia Bay. It’s inspirational.” Clare took a sip of her iced tea. “I’m a potter. It’s my passion, and I’m fortunate to work at something I love. I apologize for the clay stains all over my clothes.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. You look charming, dear.” Gloria changed the subject to ease Clare’s discomfort at her less-than-perfect attire. “I’m godmother to my best friend’s two children. I never had any children of my own.” She paused. “You haven’t mentioned your husband, Clare. What does he do?”

Clare hesitated, then pushed forward. “I would imagine he’s busy working on the remodeling plans for your new house. My ex-husband is Stan Parrish. He’s an architect with a great deal of talent. I’m confident you’ll be pleased with his work.” Her voice tightened, although she tried to keep it light.

“Yes, yes very talented,” Ed said. “We were very impressed with his designs. He came highly recommended by friends.”

Just then Addie walked up to the table. With relief Clare said, “Here’s my friend now. Gloria, Ed, this is Addie Halls.”

Ed stood to extend his hand to Addie. Gloria’s body went rigid, and her fork clattered onto her plate.

Addie Halls.” Gloria looked down at her plate and fumbled with trembling hands to rescue her fork which had fallen into her salad. Stunned into silence, not knowing how to fill the awkward moment everyone sat and stared at Gloria. She grasped at the fork, and it flipped out of her hands and onto the floor. Ed had a look of shock, then bewilderment. He reached down and picked up the fork while she continued to stare at her plate. She dropped her hands into her lap and one gripped the other to stem the trembling. Even her shoulders shook. Gone was the chatty, confident woman of a few moments earlier.

Addie gave Clare a bemused look, then smiled and said, “Guilty as charged.”

“Do you know Addie?” Clare asked, surprised by the strange reaction. When Gloria looked up she was distraught. Clare felt baffled and waited for an answer.

“No…no. Of course, not. It’s my arthritis. I…can be…so clumsy at times.” She closed her eyes and her face shut down. She took a deep breath then composed a tight smile on her lips, but when she opened her eyes they told a different tale.

“Isn’t there an Addie Halls’ Real Estate in Seattle?” Ed asked, as he looked back and forth between the two women. “I recall seeing signs on homes in our neighborhood of Magnolia Bluff and lots of other residential and commercial properties all over Seattle. You’re that Addie Halls?” Addie nodded. “Well there you go, Gloria. You must have recognized the name.” He tried to cover for his wife, but did not seem to understand why. Tension radiated from Gloria’s side of the table.

Addie walked behind Clare’s chair and sat down next to her. “Gloria, I am sorry if I have—”

“Absolutely not. I’m not feeling well. I think I’ll go up to my room.” As Gloria stood she jerked and knocked back her chair. Ed reached out and grabbed it before it tipped over. He remained seated. She looked at her husband and said, “Ed?” He gazed at his half-eaten lunch, sighed, then pushed his chair back and stood. “Thank you again…for allowing us to share your…” Gloria’s voice quivered, and she cleared her throat. “Very…nice to…meet you both.”

Ed held her elbow to steady her as they walked away from the table. Clare heard Ed ask, “What the hell was that all about?” She couldn’t hear Gloria’s mumbled response.

Clare watched them weave their way through the sea of bright blue tablecloths and red umbrellas on the hotel deck. At the door, they paused to talk to Bev. She noticed Ed sign the lunch check. Gloria looked back at Addie with a hostile look on her face. The entire incident sent prickles down Clare’s spine. “To mimic Ed, what the hell was that all about?”

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