My grandmother and I wave goodbye from the porch as my dad blinks his headlights in farewell from Bluff Road. After his car disappears, neither of us move as we drink deeply from the fresh breath of morning, our eyes lingering over the sight of the glowing fields under a sun still rising.
“How about some more coffee grandma?”
Studying her, I think my grandmother looks better this morning. The purplish color beneath her eyes is less pronounced than when I’d seen her last night. My father said she hadn’t been sleeping well; the cast and bruised tailbone making it difficult for her to get comfortable.
“Why don’t we head to the diner for our second cup, and breakfast? Or would you rather we eat here?” She says.
I smile, reach over and put my arms around her. “Sure you’re up for it? You’ll have to bring your inflatable toilet seat out in public.”
She laughs and begins hobbling toward the front door on her crutches. “You’re the one that’ll have to scoot it under my tush. After we eat, you can take me grocery shopping and then to the hairdresser. I already made us appointments.”
When I’d called Brenda asking for advice on how to take care of Therese, she’d admitted how difficult it’d been to get my grandmother to do anything. “Hasn’t left the house once since she’s been home from the hospital. I think she’s sad, honey, and also a little afraid of breaking something else. The doctor said she needs to move around more if she wants to heal more quickly.”
That Therese had planned for us to run errands today makes me optimistic.
On our drive to town, I glance toward the cottage as we pass and Therese notices. “He’s most likely beat us to the diner. Brenda says he comes in for breakfast like clockwork around 8:00.”
“I love that the house is hidden behind the trees, but I wish we could glimpse it from the road,” I say, checking my face in the rearview and thinking I look exactly like someone who’d rolled out of bed for the singular purpose of eating breakfast.
“You look lovely, angel,” my grandmother says, and I think I hear a hint of amusement in her tone.
The bell above the door tinkles as I follow my grandmother inside and it feels as though the room might erupt into spontaneous applause. People I vaguely recognize as well as old friends call out well wishes to my grandmother and surprised hellos to me. As Therese makes her way down the aisle toward our regular booth, she leans less heavily on her crutches, and people touch her softly on the arms with healing words of love.
“Your throne, your majesty,” I say, whipping the plastic doughnut out of my bag with a flourish. I smile into her beaming face as the energy that had amped up during our arrival begins to ebb, and people return to their breakfasts. “Looks like you’re missed around here.”
“Well, good morning!” Brenda says, sailing over to us with Sam in tow. She and Sam take turns pecking me on the cheek as Sam says, “Good girl; coming down here to take care of your grandma.”
“I might regret it. She’s already planned our entire day and scheduled a haircut for me, without asking.”
Brenda flips the ends of my hair up to take a look. “Hmm. A trim wouldn’t hurt,” she says, winking.
Sam slips the chair he’s procured under my grandmother’s extended foot, takes off his coat and bunches it under her knee. She pats his hand and smiles.
“How are you, Sam?” I say, admiring as always, the sweet way he has with my grandmother.
“Feeling much better now that you’re in town. That fiancé of yours okay with you being here for so long?”
I nod, twist my ring subconsciously around my finger. I see the way Sam glances at my ring, raises an eyebrow at Therese. “I might have to borrow that later, check my teeth for food.”
“It’s not that big,” I protest. “And Rich is perfectly happy for me to be here,” my smile wavers a little, remembering how eagerly he’d accepted my proposal.
“Maybe I’ll fly in for Thanksgiving,” he’d conceded, “And I’ll block out all of Christmas week right now, so nothing can get in the way of us being together.”
“He’s trying to get as much business tied-up before the holidays as possible. He wants us to save some money for a house before we get married.”
“Sounds very responsible,” Sam says.
Brenda walks up, her tray loaded with three breakfast specials and one large, white take-out bag.
“Livy darling, would you mind taking this over to Jake and Eli next door? Dana heard you were here and asked if you’d do her a favor. She was going to take it over herself, but the new cook just dropped an entire carton of eggs onto Dana’s shoes.” She smiles with amusement. “Oh, the look on Dana’s face. I don’t think he’s going to work out for us, poor thing.”
I’m already out of my seat.
“Sure, I’ll take it over,” I say, the thought of surprising Jake making my heart leap. I find myself grinning at the idea of casually walking through the hotel doors, shocking him with my presence.
“We’ve become friends... business and all that,” I say, trying to keep the defensive tone out of my voice as the three of them just look at me, my grandmother’s eyes twinkling with ideas I will have to straighten out later. “He doesn’t know I’m here.”
“Maverick, get back here, you troublemaker,” I grumble, picking him up and kissing him on the head before setting him down in the office and closing the glass door behind me.
“I’m working on buying a playpen for him right now,” Eli says, reaching down from his chair to scratch Maverick behind the ears.
I chuckle when Maverick jumps onto his hind legs, placing his paws on Eli’s thighs, his pink tongue making two giant swabs across Eli’s nose and glasses.
“Dude!” Eli says, laughing, pushing the puppy away and reaching for the edge of his t-shirt. “You have to stop doing that.”
Barking at Eli in response, Maverick bounds toward the back of the office where I’ve tossed a chew toy. According to the vet, Mav was probably near six weeks. He was old enough to be without his mother but too young to eat solid food.
“This is the second pup I’ve seen today,” the vet told me on Saturday. “Could have been from the same litter, though the other puppy looked a bit more like a collie than this little fella. You could have a blood test done, see what mix he is but I’d say by looking at him he’s a retriever, collie mix. He’s going to need a lot of attention and training, guaranteed. Think you can handle it?” He’d looked at my cowboy boots; my Omega watch as though watching their destruction in real time. “Might want to put valuables out of reach for a bit.”
I’d already decided to name him Maverick by the time I left the vet’s office, and in a half-hearted attempt to do the right thing, I’d put a few posters up in town but I had a feeling that if someone called to claim him, I’d give them a small fortune to quietly walk away.
“Still okay to pick up the office stuff we need, boss?” Eli says now, clicking away at his laptop. “The orders I made on Saturday arrived. I have an email saying we can pick them up anytime today until nine.”
“Why don’t we do that after we get the renders of Blue Moon printed out and prepped for our meeting with Marty and then...”
The light beaming through the front door of the hotel shifts and I look up.
Her dark brown hair tumbling nearly to her waist, her smile so sweetly shy and bright my mouth goes dry like a desert; is Olivia Weiss.
Was she making the sun glow behind her or was she glowing because the sun was lighting her from behind?
All I know for sure as my eyes search hers is that she is as happy to see me, as I am to see her. It’s as though these months apart, we’ve been running on reserve power and someone’s finally flipped the switch, pushed the plug all the way into the outlet, found the loose bulb in a string of Christmas lights.
Two long strides and I’m at the door with what I’m sure is a foolishly broad grin on my face but before I can invite her inside, a furry round body is wedging himself between my legs and throwing himself at Olivia like his life depends on it; yippy, excited cries, as though his little puppy heart recognizes hers.
The way her face lights up at the sight of him solidifies my earlier resolve to keep Mav at all costs.
“Oh, my goodness!” she cries in a way that is universally reserved for mammal babies of all species. She drops the paper bag she holds and lifts him into her arms, lets him bathe her cheeks in wet kisses as she cuddles him close to her chest. “I love you already!”
I lean against the door jamb and watch them, chuckling at their mutual display of affection. Her slender fingers find the sweet spot behind Maverick’s ears, making him writhe, and then, it’s as though the power trips, the energy zaps out.
Even in the dark, it would be impossible to mistake the smooth pool of ice glinting off a very significant finger and everything that has been right in my world, suddenly, isn’t.
“Hi,” Eli says, coming to the door.
Still holding Maverick, she sticks her hand out, shakes Eli’s hand. “I’d know you anywhere by my grandmother’s description,” she says. “Eli, right? I can’t believe how often we’ve spoken over the phone and still not met in person.”
“I can’t either,” Eli says. “I’m sure she described me as tall, studiously handsome. Amazing head of hair.”
“Yes,” she laughs. “Especially that amazing head of hair part.”
When she turns her eyes on me, I do my best to shove my unexpected feelings aside, ignore the ring blaring out a warning to stay away. Instead, I step toward her into the hotel lobby. “Get over here,” I say and wrap her and Maverick into a big hug. My arms wrap entirely around her, and she reaches for me on her tiptoes, as though it’s instinctive for her when she’s hugging someone taller. Grimly I remember that Rich is about my height, but this doesn’t take away from how sweet she feels, her chin grazing the top of my shoulder.
When she steps away, I feel as though we’re still connected, like some of her essence has brushed off on me.
“And who is this?” she says almost breathlessly, kissing the top of Maverick’s head.
I reach for the pup, who is now squirming like crazy and ready to play. I set him inside the office and close the door. “That’s Maverick, my new roommate. He was hiding under my porch when I got home Friday night.”
She sighs. “It happens a lot in the country.” Her eyes follow him through the glass. “Someone’s dog has puppies, and they don’t want to go through the trouble of finding homes for them or taking them to a shelter, so the puppies get dumped on the side of the road.”
When her gaze finds me again, all I can think about is how glad I am to see her and how insane it is that one week spent together in the summer, and a handful of interactions over the phone can lead to the overwhelming knowledge that I am crazy about her. That I have been enchanted with her since she glared me down, jumping as I had to the front of the coffee line at my hotel.
“Olivia,” I say, “What in the world are you doing here?”
She grins as though she’s about to give me a wonderful surprise. “I’m here to take care of my grandmother until after Christmas.”
I sense Eli reading me, but I don’t care. “Just to keep your eye on her?” I say. “I think you’re here to make sure I don’t ruin your little town with my big ideas.”
She laughs. “More like with your big ego. I like your big ideas,” she says. She turns her attention to Eli. “Has he made more friends in town yet?”
Eli shakes his head grinning, happy to play along. “I’d say he’s the most unpopular guy in Tomahawk Hill right now.”
“Good thing I came to town to rescue you and my grandmother both,” Olivia says, looking up at me through her long lashes.
“Good thing,” I murmur, thinking how lovely she is and how timely it is having a trip lined up to New York next week. Given the way she’s making me feel, it might have been better if I’d booked a one-way ticket.