I just returned from California. I went for the wedding of a beautiful young woman who married one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. I also went to see my daughter and son-in-law. And of course, the big draw was my grands. I’ve missed my family. They are scattered around the country, but they were all there for the wedding. What an excellent time I had. I sat on the deck of my kids’ boat and listened to the melodious sounds of Kenny G and…wait for it…The Beach Boys as they performed their concerts in a venue on the harbor. I slept on the boat—an experience. I’ve slept on boats before, but I was, ah…mm…much younger then. I thought I’d have a tremendous desire to move back to California. I didn’t. The state has become too crowded. I was saddened by the loss of the beautiful, old stucco buildings that were razed to make way for skyscrapers downtown. The same way I’m saddened in my little town that is bent on tearing down our old homes and buildings to make way for progress. I loved all the plants and trees and flowers that don’t grow in the Midwest—bougainvillea, pepper trees, palms, jacarandas… I think my kids were rolling their eyes as I pointed out species of trees and plants. Mexican food! Need I say more? I haven’t stumbled on any truly great Mexican restaurants in my area yet, but there’s always hope. If you’re in San Diego, stop by Miguel’s in Point Loma, you won’t be disappointed. These are just random thoughts. It is good to go, but it is oh, so good to be home.
Chapter One~November 2007
“Clare, take a look at those people. Who are they?” Clare followed her younger brother’s curious gaze out the window of their father’s pub. Her eyes settled on a small group of people. Five men and one woman. The shaved heads of the men glistened in the sun, and gusts of wind whipped their thin robes and bedraggled beards. Four of them gestured in the direction of Harrigan’s Irish Pub. A fifth man stood and glared. The woman shivered as she huddled in the doorway of a coffee shop across the street. She tugged at a white veil that shrouded most of her face.
“Are they some religious cult? She looks like a nun…or what, I don’t know. What the hell…” He stretched his lanky frame across the table to get a better look.
“That’s exactly what they are. They call themselves The Evening Star, but I’ve never seen them in Amelia Bay before. There’s a compound somewhere along the Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula. Look at the backs of their robes. They’re embroidered with emblems of the sun and a star. I wonder what it means? They sure as shootin’ seem upset about something on this side of the street.”
Clare felt a sadness wash over her for the woman. The dampness of winter in the Pacific Northwest cut to the bone. She watched as Bibi, the owner of the coffee shop, opened the door and motioned her to come inside. The woman shook her head and shifted away.
“Hmm.” Finn’s curiosity satisfied, he moved his gaze to the waitress who brought their lunch to the table. He had the attention span of a teenager viewing a documentary on the territorial habits of the platypus. Clare watched her brother give the waitress a lingering look as she set their lunch plates down. When it came to young and pretty, his attention span significantly increased.
Finn had come home for the holidays. Clare felt something was amiss, but he had not yet fessed up, and told her why he was here for such a long time. Normally he whipped in and out for a few days over the holidays, usually with the latest femme du jour in tow. He preferred to spend most of his time in Los Angeles or some exotic locale with the beautiful and glamorous people of Hollywood. Making movies held Finn’s attention, and he was dynamic at producing box office hits. Yet here he was, the second week of November, with Thanksgiving a stone’s throw away, and Christmas just around the corner. Him being here for about six weeks was…unquestionably odd.
“You’re new here, what’s your name?” Finn’s eyes slid to the waitress’ hand—a ring third finger left hand. Finn drew the line at married women. He learned a hard lesson at the tender age of seventeen, when an irate husband came after him intent on doing great bodily harm to Finn’s most private and sacred parts. He escaped injury through the intervention of their father and vowed never to cross that particular line again. Finn claimed he didn’t know she was married and twenty-five. Clare wasn’t so sure, but the dressing down their father gave him kept him on a straight and narrow. He was a man who simply loved women—all women of all shapes, sizes, and age. And they adored his fresh-faced good looks. Their mother’s friends had twittered and fluttered around him like a flock of happy birds from the time he was a babe in arms.
The pretty waitress smiled. “Yup, I was hired this morning. My name’s Lynn. Bev Hawkins recommended me. I used to work with her at the Amelia Bay Hotel. Bev’s a friend of yours, right? And your father, Mr. Harrigan, owns the pub?” she asked, looking at Clare as she placed their plates on the table. Clare nodded. “Anyway, when I came in to apply this morning Bev’s dad hired me on the spot. One of the regular waitresses, Bets I think, was a no show today. My lucky day.”
Lynn was a tiny girl with a shining cap of dark hair that framed her face. Large brown eyes peered out from behind the slim rectangular frames of her glasses. The glasses suited her strong square jawline.
“I’ll be right back to refill your coffee,” Lynn said. “Is there anything else you need?”
“No, just the coffee. Thanks.” Clare looked at the expression on Finn’s boyish face. “What’s the matter, Finn? You look puzzled about something.” She cocked her head to one side and stared at him across the scarred table. Their father had kept a few of the original tables and wooden booths in the bar area from earlier days. He said they reminded him of how far he had come.
“It’s nothing, Clare. I’m fine.” She continued to look at him. He was bothered about something, but thoughts of Finn’s discomfort flew out of her mind when the heavy wooden doors of the pub crashed open and slammed against the walls. Lynn screamed and dropped the glass coffee carafe she was carrying. Clare watched it explode into tiny shards of glass and spew out its scalding liquid.
A blast of cold air followed the swirling mass of blue and white robes as the members of The Evening Star filled the pub. The men fanned out through the dining room with the exception of one who stood in the bar area. The woman hesitated, then walked through the open doors and pressed herself against the wall to the left of the doors. Clare heart pounded. Every one of the patrons’ eyes filled with fear as the scene unfolded before them. The glowing warmth from the old stone fireplace, the murmur of pleasant conversation, the soft laughter, and gentle sounds of people enjoying good food with good friends in a pleasant atmosphere had vanished.
Jack Hawkins placed both hands on the bar and swung himself over. He landed nimbly in front of the solitary man who stood by the bar. Clare marveled at the dexterity he displayed, considering Jack was in his late sixties.
“Let’s calm down here, sport. You’re disturbing my guests.” He pulled himself up to his full height of six feet three inches. Jack towered over the man.
Another robed man stepped behind the first man. He was larger and gave Jack a menacing look. Both men stared at him—defiance burned in their eyes.
“Don’t call me sport. I am the leader of The Evening Star. We are God’s chosen ones. His arm swept toward the dining room. “People who come to a place such as this, a place that serves liquor and caters to sinners, deserves to feel anguish.” He turned back and glared into Jack’s dark eyes. “They and you should feel shame!” His voice boomed and reverberated off the walls. The other three men began to crisscross the room and scowl at the diners as they wove their way in and out of the tables.
“Okay. Sir. I’d like you to leave…right now.” Jack sensed real trouble and shot a quick look at Finn and gave him a barely discernable nod. Finn reached in his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. One of the robed men stepped up to the table and glowered at Finn.
“That is a tool of the devil.” His voice quivered as he stared at Finn’s phone.
“Look pal, if you don’t want to deal with the cops, I suggest you take your band of merry men and leave this establishment.” Finn stood up and slid his phone over to Clare without taking his eyes off the man. “Clare, call the police while I help Jack escort these gentlemen outside.”
The man in front of Jack spoke in a threatening tone. “I want my daughter. I want her out of this Satin’s den.” His voice started low and swelled. “Elizabeth, come out here right now! You’re coming home with us.”
Jack responded, “There’s no one working here by the name of Elizabeth.”
The spokesman of the group turned with terrifying fierceness to the woman who had come in with them. She pushed herself further back against the wall, as if wishing she could squeeze through the cracks in the paneling and disappear. “Wife, you told me this was the place,” he said, as he strode over to her. The blur of blue-robed men stopped their circling of the room and stared at their leader.
The frightened woman’s hands involuntarily reached up to shield her face.
“Bets, she goes by the name Bets.” She looked down—fearful to meet the man’s eyes. Clare could hear a tremor in her voice, then she noticed an ugly bruise on the woman’s cheek when her veil slipped back.
Clare’s fingers flubbed the numbers for the police station three times, before getting it right. It was a number she knew by heart, because of the terrible murders she had been involved with only two months ago. She realized too late she should have dialed 9-1-1.
“Please, please send someone to Harrigan’s Pub on Main Street,” she said. “We have a disturbance here and need some help. Hurry. Please.” She listened for a moment. “Harrigan, Clare Harrigan,” she told the woman whose voice she didn’t recognize. “My father owns the pub. Yes, on Main Street. Thank you.” She placed Finn’s phone on the table, she was mystified because she knew everyone who worked at the station, but the woman she spoke to didn’t know her either.
Chef Ollie Moran came out of the kitchen clutching a billy club, one of a couple leftover from days gone by when the pub had been a raucous place. Finn held up his hand to stop him at the door. Ollie nodded and stepped back into the kitchen. Clare hoped he was not going back to the storeroom where her father kept a gun.
“Bets didn’t show up for work today. I have no idea where she is. Now I’m asking you again to leave. The police are on their way,” Jack said, as the man turned away from his wife and walked back to him. Finn edged over to Jack and stood next to him. The men of The Evening Star fell in line behind their leader.
“I have no fear of police,” he said in a booming voice. “The Lord is the only One. His judgement you should fear.” He poked his finger close to Jack’s chest, but was wise enough not to touch him. “I am on His side. I do His work.”
“Y’all don’t have no need to fear the police, sir. Less maybe you broke some law here about.” Chief Bradshaw maneuvered his considerable bulk through the door with several uniformed officers behind him. “Let’s just step on outside and let these nice people finish their lunch.”
The policemen moved in behind the group, and tried to guide them to the doors. They stood firm until, with a final penetrating look around the room, their leader began to move toward the door. With a rough shake, he pulled away from the guiding hand the chief had placed on his back. Clare could feel the tension drop as the doors closed behind them.
“Folks, I’m real sorry for what just happened here. Everyone’s lunch is on the house. I’ll get the staff out here to refill your drinks and bring you some fresh, hot food,” Jack stepped behind the bar and flipped a switch on the stereo. The melodious strains of Kenny G filled the room and people visibly relaxed. Chatter slowly resumed as the diners started to discuss what they had witnessed. Clare stooped down to pick up the glass fragments on the floor and Finn grabbed a towel from behind the bar to soak up the coffee mess. Eddy, the handyman and all round good guy, walked out of the kitchen with a broom and mop. Clare felt protective of him. He smiled and shooed her away. He was back to his old self after the brush with death the poor man suffered a couple of months ago. It could have been her or her friend, Bev, in the car that night, and they might not have been as lucky.
“Jack, where’s Bets?” Clare asked as she walked up to him and Finn with a napkin full of bits of glass.
Jack didn’t answer her, but instead bent over in front of Lynn. When he straightened up, he said, “There’s a bathroom off the office, Lynn. You’ll need to go to the clinic to make sure there’s no pieces of glass imbedded in your legs. I don’t see any, and the cuts don’t look too deep, but the burns need attention.”
Clare looked down and saw blood on Lynn’s legs where shards of glass had sliced her skin when the carafe shattered. Nasty blisters were already beginning to form from the hot coffee.
Jack walked her back to the kitchen and called to Ollie to soak some towels in cold water and wrap them around Lynn’s legs, being careful to check for bits of glass.
Bets had been working at the pub since last summer. Clare knew her to be a sweet, attractive young woman who was taking a break between finishing her master’s degree and starting her doctorate. Clare pictured her innocent face with its sprinkling of freckles, that was framed by a soft cloud of strawberry-blond hair. She worked hard and charmed everyone she met. Clare had served with her a few times whenever extra help was needed at the pub.
Jack raised his eyebrows at Finn, as he took the napkin from Clare’s hand and tossed it into the trash can next to the bar. Finn responded with a shrug and said, “Come on, Clare, let’s finish our lunch.” Clare looked back and forth between them, then turned to walk over to the table when Chief Bradshaw came back through the door. He was followed by an attractive man Clare didn’t recognize.
“They’re gone, Jack. Least for now anyways,” Chief Bradshaw said. “What’s the story with the girl he was lookin’ for?”
Jack explained about Bets not showing up for work, and how long she had worked at the pub—about four or five months.
“Where does she live, Jack?”
“Down by the marina in one of those new apartments. I’ll check in the office for whatever information we have for her. I didn’t want to tell them where she lived. I’m pretty surprised, Bets never mentioned family to me. But I guess now that I’ve seen the family…I understand why.”
“Okay, I’ll have my people check out her place. Make sure she’s okay. Let me introduce you to this fella first. This here’s the man who is takin’ my place when I retire at the end of the year. All the final papers aren’t finished yet, but I don’t see no problems with this fine man.” The chief stepped back and put his arm around the shoulder of the man standing next to him. “Meet Jake Fleming, the Acting Chief of Police of Amelia Bay. Hell, I’ve got so much vacation time built up, I’m headin’ outta here tomorrow and won’t be back till my retirement party after Christmas.
Clare stood listening for a moment to the good ole Texas boy, who had been a member of the Amelia Bay Police Department for decades. She checked to make sure Eddy had the clean-up under control and didn’t need any help before she sat down. She shifted her gaze to Jake Fleming.
“Close your mouth, Clare. Remember Mom always tells us it’s rude to stare.” Finn followed her to the booth and signaled for a waitress to bring fresh coffee. “He’s a great looking guy.” He paused and looked the man over. “Rugged, not too good looking or smooth. Yeah, he looks like someone central casting would send over. A little short, though, wouldn’t you say?”
“He is not too short. He’s normal. Not everyone has to be a giant like you and the rest of the family, Finn.” Why did she feel defensive of this guy?
“Those all-American good looks—clean-cut. He looks athletic too. Probably just about the right size for you, little one.”
Clare had always been patted-on-the-head by the rest of the family because she had to stretch to reach five-feet-two inches. She wasn’t the youngest in the family, but her sister and two brothers treated her that way. Clare took after their Irish father, Mike Harrigan. She had his loopy auburn curls and emerald green eyes, while the others had inherited the long legs and blond hair of their Scandinavian mother, Grace. Their mother’s fair, creamy skin was a gift they were all blessed with.
“Don’t be silly. I’m surprised, that’s all. I heard the new chief was single. I never expected him to be so young. I thought he’d look more like Bradshaw.” She took a bite of her grilled cheese sandwich. Jake Fleming caught her gaze and smiled. She nodded and smiled back as best she could with a mouthful of food.
“Bradshaw’s been here around twenty-plus years. Maybe he looked like…” They looked at each other and laughed. “Uh…no.” The retiring chief looked like an ex-prizefighter who stayed too long in the ring, opened a bakery, ate all his mistakes, and then some.
“Single, you say? Hell, if I wasn’t straight, I’d fall for him myself. Of course, maybe he’s looking but not for a woman.”
“Finn, the man is an officer of the law, and divorced. I believe, I also heard he had a son,” Clare said, with a slight edge to her voice.
“Clare, you lead a sheltered life. Most of the guys in LA who look like him are gay. Some of them have even been married, hell…are still married and have kids.”
“Well, this isn’t LA, and the people here are not actors you hire for your movies.” She had just taken another bite of her sandwich when Chief Bradshaw approached their table with Jake Fleming.
“This here young lady is somebody you gotta watch out for, Jake. She’s been known to go meddlin’ in police work.” Bradshaw chuckled. “Clare, Finn, I’d like you to meet Jake Fleming. He’s the Acting Chief of Police of Amelia Bay. But if all goes well, this fine man will take over my job. Can’t think of a reason why not.” Both men stood next to the table looking down at Clare as she chewed and tried to swallow her sandwich. She took a quick sip of coffee and swallowed as gracefully as possible—gracefulness never being her strong suit.
“I did not meddle in your case, Chief. I first had to convince you that you even had a case, or a murder would have gone unsolved.” Clare wiped her hands on her napkin and reached out to shake Jake Fleming’s hand as Chief Bradshaw cleared his throat and sputtered a bit.
“Clare Harrigan, and this is my brother Finn Harrigan. It’s nice to put a face to a name. The town’s been buzzing about you. I understand you’re from Portland.” A fleeting look flashed across his face. Pain or something else? It was gone in an instant, and replaced by a smile.
“Yep. I retired last January after twenty years on the force down there, but you can only do so much fishing,” Jake said. “I guess news sure travels fast around here.”
“That’s the way all small towns are. The fishing here’s great, and it’s usually a quiet town. Too quiet for my taste,” Finn said.
“Their daddy owns this here place.” The chief jumped into the conversation. “Won it in a poker game back in the fifties. Isn’t that right, Finn?”
“Yes, sir, that’s a true story. Of course, it’s changed and expanded considerably over the years. Please, join us.” Finn motioned to the empty seats next to himself and Clare.
“Nah, but thanks anyway. We promised those strange folks we’d try to track down that young lady. Make sure she’s okay.”
Clare noticed Finn looked down and become very interested in his sandwich.
“Who were those people, Chief?”
“The old fella says he’s her daddy. The Woodman guy. The younger one who was standin’ behind him claims to be her fiancé.”
Finn’s head snapped up. “Fiancé?” Clare looked at him. He dropped his eyes back down and picked up his sandwich.
“Yep. The lady I’m assumin’ is her mama.”
“What about the others? They tried to frighten the people here in the dining room by rushing around the tables and glaring at everyone. They sure made me nervous.”
“One of the fellas said his name was Elder Josiah Bergman. His son, True Bergman, was the one who claimed to be the betrothed.”
“Did you see the bruise on the woman’s cheek, Chief? She was very meek, like a woman whose husband is violent. He didn’t even call her by name, just wife. Maybe Bets doesn’t want to be found. Not by them anyway. Bets isn’t a child. She’s old enough to legally down a beer, cast a vote, and make her own choices in life.”
“I don’t go lookin’ for problems, Clare. Plenty seem to find their way to me without my searchin’ for ‘em.” There was a finality in his voice. “If y’all hear from Bets, tell her to give me a call. We’ll see you folks later.”
“It was great to meet you both,” Jake said. “Hope to see you again…soon.” His eyes lingered on Clare for a moment, then he turned to follow the chief. They stopped by the bar on the way out, and Jack handed the chief a card with what must have been the information about Bets.
Clare waited until they were out of earshot then turned to Finn who had finished his sandwich. “I’m sensing something a little off kilter here, Finn. Each time Bets’ name is mentioned you pull your head in like a turtle. What’s going on?”
“Nothing. Leave it alone. I’ve got to go home and help Mom get some boxes out of the barn. The chief’s right, you just go looking for trouble.” He stood and tossed his napkin on the table. “Will I see you later at the farm?”
Clare held him there with her eyes for a moment. “Not tonight. I’m going home. I plan to curl up with a good book next to a cozy fire.”
He turned and collided with Bev Hawkins in his rush to get away from Clare and her questions. “Sorry, Bev.” And he was gone.
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Happy Fall Y’all. No, I’m not a Southerner, but I love to say that! I’m a Mid-Westerner who’s being drenched in buckets of rain these days and praying for the magnificent, sunny days of Indian Summer. As my mother used to say, and I would guess yours too, “It’s raining cats and dogs out there.” As a little kid, I’d run to the window, and I’ll be danged if I could see those cats and dogs coming down. And I worried too—would they be hurt when they hit the ground!?
Our leaves haven’t started to change yet, but I want to believe all this rain will turn the trees into a glorious display of vibrant red, brilliant yellow, and eye-popping orange, all mingled with a gingery amber. Each leaf glided by the sun. It’s coming, and I’m excited to see Mother Nature dressed in her finest. It’s over in a flash. Like going to the prom or planning for a wedding, it comes, and it’s gone in the blink of an eye. Then we hunker down and cuddle next to the fireplace as snowflakes glide down blanketing the trees in glistening, ruffled petticoats of white, while we wait for the splendor of spring, and the warmth of summer to visit us again.
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” Ecclesiastes
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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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At the beginning of summer, on Memorial Day, our neighbor welcomed the start of warm days to come by lighting up the sky with an amazing firework display. He dazzled us on the Fourth of July, and last night he closed out the summer with an incredible show that flashed into the heavens and brought our summer to a end. Bob and I sat on our patio for twenty minutes in childlike wonder.
We look forward to next year!