Well, I have returned from my hiatus. Thank you very much for being patient with me! I really needed the rest and time away from the blog to work on my book…and be distracted by all the things I want to do around the house…and my kids…and my husband…and, well, you know how life goes! I’m excited to get back into the groove and share more books, chapters, and all the wonderful writerly things!
Let’s catch up with the girls and see how things are faring after Annie and Cheney argument on the way to The Hummingbird Boutique. If you haven’t read my previous chapters, you can catch up here: Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three.
The bell tinkled as I opened the door and danced again as I shut it behind me against the rain. My teeth chattered, the A/C chilling my drenched clothes, and I rubbed my hands together as Cheney headed for the back room of the boutique.
“Hi, sweetie! Oh, it’s so good to see you.”
Cheney’s mom cantered around the checkout desk and gave me a hug that was more patting my wet shoulders than an embrace. She held me at arm’s length, looking me up and down, judging the state of my clothes and lack of makeup, no doubt.
“Is it really that cold?” she raised an eyebrow as another shiver ran through me.
“Not outside. We just got caught in the downpour running to the car.”
She was already walking back around the desk, and I realized her question had been rhetorical. All these years of friendship with her daughter and she still hadn’t shaken the grudge she’d held against my mother. I shook my head, never understanding the pettiness this woman was capable of or how she’d managed to raise a child as kind as Cheney.
“Before I forget,” Cheney re-emerged from the stockroom with a stack of mail in her hand. “I have a book for Nan that I found online. I hope she won’t mind that I went ahead and ordered it, but if I keep clicking without buying something, I’ll lose it forever.”
She sorted through the mail as she talked, looking up every now and then, occasionally gesturing with an envelope.
“Well, that might explain the credit card bill you keep complaining about.” I chuckled at her silly, if not generous, logic.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She swatted my arm with the mail still in her hand, glancing at her mother to see if she’d heard.
“Anyway, it’s an audio slash hard copy combo that’s supposed to teach the basics of how to read braille!” She turned to face me with this last bit, eyes wide and mouth open with anticipation of my reaction.
I tried to match her enthusiasm, “Cheney, that’s so sweet of you. You really need to quit buying stuff for us though. You’re gonna go broke.” I eyeballed Ruth as I whispered the last bit. She had moved on to another part of the store, straightening and refolding odds and ends on the small sale display by the door.
“You’re no fun. Why can’t you just accept it and say thank you?” She pouted at me, still irritated by our conversation in the truck and using her gift as an outlet.
I stopped and turned to her, letting my hands fall to my side in mock exasperation.
“Thank you, Cheney. You’re the very best. No one is better at picking out gifts than you. No one, not ever.”
I bowed to her with flourish.
“There is that better?” I lifted myself back up and laughed when I noticed Ruth staring at me with a sternly raised eyebrow.
“Do you really think she’ll like it?” Cheney came around the counter and walked past me to the rotating card stand by the front door, adjusting the placement of a couple knick-knacks on a table as she passed by.
“Honestly? I don’t know. I hope so. That actually sounds really cool. She’s just been so against even trying to do anything like that. She always claims that as a purist, she couldn’t possibly enjoy the experience of reading when she can’t see the words.”
I heard Cheney chuckle behind me as she moved on to a different display.
“She does listen to audiobooks she checks out from the library from time to time, but she’s quick to find something to get frustrated by with those, too. The narrator speaks too slowly, or they do too many voices for the different characters and that’s distracting.”
I sighed thinking of all the late fees I’d had to pay when she’d talk herself into trying another one, get halfway through a book, and then forget to return it. She’d almost asked about the one Nan was listening to when they’d left but didn’t feel like having another bitter conversation about books. Nan didn’t refer to her blindness until it gave her a good excuse.
“Mostly, I just read to her. She’s not very picky, so I’ll just read aloud from whatever I’m already reading, and we make an old-school evening of it. Really she just needs a bonnet to complete the picture.”
“That’s so sweet that you do that. It would suck to not be able to do the one thing you really love anymore.”
I looked up when she said that, but Cheney didn’t let on if she had intentionally thrown the internship in my face again. Not wanting to give her a chance to realize it if she hadn’t, I half-joked a distraction.
“Well, at least she can still smoke,” I mumbled. Cheney laughed, but I could only manage a half smile, and I knew it didn’t reach my eyes.
“Where’s the desk? I want to measure it to make sure it’ll fit before I take it home.”
I turned away, ready to finish up and move to lighter conversation that could carry into lunch. Away from Nan’s eyes or internships to easy stuff I could nod through more convincingly.
The bell chimed again and I turned to see a man with day old scruff on his face and a backward ball cap walk through the door. He nodded with a half smile as he passed us, and walked toward the register where Ruth was clicking on the computer. I turned to look at Cheney whose eyebrows had disappeared under her bangs.
“Cu-ute.” she mouthed, lips pursed in an exaggerated “o” shape. I shook my head, trying to deter her from making a fuss. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d tried to set me up with a stranger, but it was the last thing I wanted to deal with right now. Even if he did have a nice smile. She ignored me and walked over to join them at the counter throwing me a mischievous look over her shoulder, shaking her hips in an exaggerated saunter until the man turned around and she stopped suddenly. I turned to face the window, hiding my laugh at her getting caught.
I wandered through the store while they talked, Ruth pointing toward the back wall and nodding along to whatever the man was saying in response. I was fiddling with a tangled tassel on the corner of a throw pillow when Cheney called over to me.
Shit. I squeezed my eyes shut, for a moment, bracing myself for the awkward moment of forced civility with a stranger before turning to face my dearest friend and her good intentions.
“Yeah?” I forced the corners of my mouth into something resembling a good-natured, I’m friendly, but please don’t talk to me too long, smile and walked over to join them. The man returned the gesture, though his looked far more genuine.
“Annie,” Cheney took hold of my forearm when I got close enough and pulled me the last few inches to stand close to her and the gentleman. “This is Gavin. Mom hired him to help us with the new display shelves. Gavin, this is Annie.”
After having made eye-contact when I first stepped up, my eyes had begun to wander while she made introductions. I knew it gave my nervousness away, but I couldn’t help it. Cheney had always been the social one who never seemed to meet a stranger. I, however, met them all the time and while I wasn’t quite shy, I didn’t like being thrust into small talk with an expectant spotlight over my head.
His hand appeared before me, forcing me to look up. I shook it and smiled again, fumbling somewhere between awkward and annoyed. He did have very nice eyes.
“Hi, there. It’s nice to meet you, Annie.”
His voice had that born and raised twang to it that told me he must have just been a few years ahead of us in school because, while I couldn’t recall having seen him before, there was no doubt he was a local.
“You, too, Gavin,” I managed after clearing my throat.
“Annie, you should have him take a look at your desk before we load it up. Didn’t you say one of the drawers was stuck?” Cheney grinned from ear to ear before nudging me toward the secretary desk we’d come for that did not, and had never had a drawer stick.
Gavin followed me over to the back corner where Ruth had stuck a “sold” sticker on the scratched up surface of it. It had seen better days, but it had been a favorite of mine from Nan’s house. Mom always said it had character. She’d even added a bit of her own when she was a young girl and feeling rebellious. She’d shown me once where she’d carved her initials on the underside of the desk when Nan had sent her to bed without supper after she’d sassed her too hard one day. She’d been so mad and desperate to get back at her, she secretly defaced the old thing. Nan never found out, as far as I knew.
“Well, here it is,” I turned to face Gavin, resting my hand on top of the desk. “But, there’s nothing wrong with the drawers, as you’ve probably guessed.”
He had the grace to laugh at that.
“Yes, ma’am. I figured that was the case.”
I nodded with a sheepish look. I didn’t know why I felt guilty, but he seemed like a perfectly nice man who didn’t deserve to have his time wasted.
“Look, I know it wasn’t your idea, but…” Gavin broke into a wide grin, dropping his hands into his pockets before pulling the trigger. “You feel like humoring your friend? Can I take you to dinner on Friday? Nothing crazy, no strings. Just some company from a pretty lady for a meal we’d both be eating anyway.”
I laughed and was surprised to find I didn’t want to say no.
“Sure. I think I can make that work.” I smiled and rolled my eyes when Cheney’s bouncing back by the register told me my face had already given away her success. Gavin turned to look and chuckled himself, waving, which she returned with an insufferable smile.
“Well, here.” Gavin pulled his phone from his pocket and handed it to me after pulling up the right screen. “Just put your number in here and I’ll give you a call tomorrow to figure out timing.”
I typed in my phone number, adding “Annie” to the contact name before handing it back.
“Great. It was nice to meet you, Annie.”
“It’s nice to meet you too, Gavin. Try not to look too smug when you leave? She’s already going to be a pain in the ass about this as it is.”
“I’ll do my best,” he laughed, sliding his phone back into his pocket and turning toward the door.
“Thanks, again, Mrs. Stevens,” he hollered back toward the open storeroom door with a wave, and I saw Ruth pop her head out for a moment to return it, hand over the receiver on the office phone.
Cheney skipped over to meet me after the door shut behind Gavin, fluttering her eyelashes in mocking flirtation.
“Oh, my. Does someone have a date?”
“Shut up, Cheney. I can’t believe you did that!” I shoved her gently as she exploded into giggles. I hiked the strap of my purse higher on my shoulder, waiting for her to hurry up with her gloating so we could go have lunch already and I could get back to Nan. She wiped tears of laughter from under her eyes but quickly flashed to a deep frown when I reminded her that if I even ended up going to dinner, that was where it would end.
“Oh, why?” she pouted.
“Because of Nan! Have you not been listening? I still haven’t figured out a long-term solution for me getting a job and how that’s going to work with her appointments and all that. I don’t have time for dating right now. I don’t even know why I said yes to begin with.”
Her smile returned with my last sentence, “Because he’s cute and charming and that’s good for you! Come on, Ann. You need a little fun in your life. I can’t be around all the time,” she swept her hair back in full diva glory and walked back to the office to retrieve her purse.
“You, know,” I called after her, “if this works out, I’ll just have one more reason to stay.”
Cheney walked out of the room with the shocked face of someone who’d just been had. I knew the likelihood of me actually being interested in someone enough to make life-changing decisions for was slim to none, but payback was payback and the look she had as her error registered was so very sweet.