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Monday Puzzler > Some magical realism for September 3

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message 1: by Manda (last edited Sep 02, 2018 03:59PM) (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1925 comments Mod
Heroine arrived at Client’s home late that afternoon. Client lived in a cul-de-sac neighborhood just outside Orion College, and the only way to get to it was through the campus. The neighborhood had been for the instructors at the college, the houses built at the same time the campus was constructed a hundred years ago. The intention was to keep the academic community as insular as possible. A wise move, considering the opposition to a college for women at the time. Today, the chancellor still made his home there, and a few professors, including Client, lived in the original houses. But the neighborhood was dominated now by young families who had no association with the college. They simply liked the privacy and security of the place.

“Heroine, welcome,” Client said when she opened the front door to find Heroine on her porch, carrying a cooler of things that needed to be refrigerated immediately.

She stepped aside and let Heroine enter. “You know the way. Do you need help?”

“No, thank you. I’m fine,” Heroine said, though late spring and summer were her busiest seasons and the time when she had the least help. She usually hired first-year culinary students at Orion to help her during the school year. They, after all, were not from Bascom and the only questions they asked were culinary ones. She’d learned the hard way to avoid hiring anyone local if she could help it. Most of them expected to learn something magic or, at the very least, get to the apple tree in the backyard, hoping to find out if the local legend was true, that its apples would tell them what the biggest event in their lives would be.

Heroine went to the kitchen, put away the things in the cooler, then opened the kitchen door and broughtin the rest of the things through the back entrance. Soon the farmhouse-style kitchen was alive with the steamy warmth and crafty scent that eventually flowed through the house. It welcomed Client’s guests like a kiss on the cheek from their mothers, like coming home.

Client always wanted to use her own dishes—heavy pottery ones that she’d made herself—so Heroine arranged the salad on the salad plates first and was ready to serve when Client told her everyone was seated. The menu tonight was salad, yucca soup, pork tenderloins stuffed with nasturtiums and chives and goat cheese, lemon-verbena sorbet between dishes, and the violet white cake for dessert. Heroine was kept busy, monitoring the food at the stove, arranging the food on the plates, serving and then deftly and quietly taking plates away when the guests had finished a course. This was as formal as any affair she catered, but these were art professors and their spouses, casual and intelligent people who poured their own wine and water and appreciated the creativity of the meal. When she had to work alone, she didn’t focus on the people, just what she had to do, which was painfully exhausting that evening considering she had slept the night before on the hard ground of her garden. But it had its positive side. She was never very good with people.

She was aware of him, though. He was seated two places down from Client, who was at the head of the table. Everyone else watched the food as it entered the room, as it was placed in front of them. But he watched her. His dark hair almost touched his shoulders, his arms and fingers were long, and his lips were fuller than she’d ever seen on a man. He was . . . trouble.

As she was serving dessert, she felt something almost like anticipation the closer she got to sliding his plate in front of him. She wasn’t quite sure if it was his anticipation or hers.

“Have we met?” he asked when she finally made it to his place. He was smiling such a nice, open smile that she almost smiled back.

She put his plate in front of him, the piece of cake so perfect and moist, the crystallized violets spilling over it like frosted jewels. It screamed, Look at me! But his eyes were on her. “I don’t think so,” she replied.

“This is Heroine Surname, the caterer,” Client said, happy with wine, her cheeks pink. “I hire her for every department gathering. Heroine, this is Hero Lastname. This is his first year with us.”

Heroine nodded, extremely uncomfortable that all eyes were on her now.

“Surname, ” Hero said thoughtfully. She started to move away, but his long fingers wrapped gently around her arm, not letting her move. “Of course!” he said, laughing.

“You’re my neighbor! I live beside you. Pendland Street, right? You live in that large Queen Anne?”

She was so surprised he’d actually touched her that all she could do was give a jerky nod.

As if aware that she’d gone stiff or of the slight shiver along her skin, he immediately let go of her. “I just bought that blue house next to you,” he said. “I moved in a few weeks ago.”

Heroine just looked at him.

“Well, it’s nice to finally meet you,” he said.

She nodded again and left the room. She washed up and packed away her things, leaving the last of the salad and cake in the refrigerator for Client. She was moody and distracted now and she didn’t know why. But as she worked, she kept running her fingers unconsciously along her arm where Hero had touched her, as if trying to brush something off her skin.

Before Heroine took her last box out to her van, Client came to the kitchen to rave about the food and to tell Heroine what a good job she’d done, either too drunk or too polite to mention Heroine’s odd behavior with one of her guests.

Heroine smiled and took the check from Client. She said good-bye, picked up the box, and left by the back entrance. She slowly walked down the short driveway to her van. Fatigue was settling low in her body like sand, and her steps were slow. It was a nice night, though. The air was warm and dry, and she decided she was going to sleep with her bedroom windows open. When she reached the curb, she felt a strange gust of wind. She turned to see a figure standing under the oak tree in Client’s front yard. She couldn’t make him out clearly, but there were tiny pinpricks of purple light hovering around him, like electrical snaps.

He pushed himself away from the tree, and she could feel him stare at her. She turned and took a step to her van.

“Wait,” Hero called.

She should have kept walking; instead, she turned to him again.

“Do you have a light?” he asked.

Heroine closed her eyes. It would be much easier to blame Cousin if the old woman actually knew what she was doing.

She set the box down and reached into her dress pocket and brought out the yellow Bic lighter Cousin had given her earlier that day. This was what she was meant to do with it?

She felt like she had water against her back, pushing her toward the deep end, as she walked toward him and extended the lighter. She stopped a few feet away, trying to keep as much distance as possible, digging her heels in as whatever force it was tried to take her closer.

He was smiling, easygoing, and interested. He had an unlit cigarette between his lips, and he took it from his mouth. “Do you smoke?”

“No.” She still had the lighter in her outstretched hand. He didn’t take it.

“I shouldn’t. I know. I’m down to two a day. It’s not a very social habit anymore.” When she didn’t respond, he shifted from one foot to the other. “I’ve seen you around. You have a wonderful yard. I mowed my yard for the first time a couple of days ago. You don’t talk much, do you? Or have I done something to offend the neighborhood already? Was I out in my yard in my underwear at any point?”

Heroine gave a start. She felt so protected in her home that she frequently forgot that she had neighbors, neighbors who could, from their second stories, see down into her sunroom, where she’d taken off her nightgown that morning.

“It was a wonderful meal,” Hero said, still trying.

“Thank you.”

“Maybe I’ll see you again?”

Her heart started to race. She didn’t need anything more than she already had. The moment she let something else into her life, she would get hurt. Sure as sugar. Sure as rain. She had Cousin, her house, and her business. That was all she needed. “Keep the lighter,” Heroine said, handing it to him and walking away.

When Heroine pulled into her driveway, she stopped by the front yard instead of pulling around back. There was someone sitting on the top step of the porch.

Heroine got out, leaving her headlights on and the car door open. She jogged across the yard, all her earlier fatigue gone in a panic. “Cousin, what’s wrong?”

Cousin stood stiffly, the glow from the streetlights causing her to look frail and ghostly. She was holding two packages of new bed linens and a box of strawberry Pop-Tarts. “I couldn’t sleep until I brought you this. Here, take them and let me sleep.”

Heroine hurried up the steps and took the things, then she wrapped an arm around Cousin.

“How long have you been waiting?”

“About an hour. I was in bed when it hit me. You needed fresh sheets and Pop-Tarts.”

“Why didn’t you call me on my cell phone? I could have picked these things up.”

“It doesn’t work like that. I don’t know why.”

“Stay the night. Let me make you some warm sugar milk.”

“No,” Cousin said curtly. “I want to go home.” After those feelings Hero had stirred in her, Heroine wanted to fight even more for the things she had, the only things she wanted in her heart. “Maybe these sheets mean I’m supposed to make up a bed for you,” she said hopefully as she tried to turn Cousin toward the door. “Stay with me. Please.”

“No! They’re not for me! I don’t know what they’re for! I never know what they’re for!” Cousin said, her voice rising. She took a deep breath, then said in a whisper, “I just want to go home.”

Despising herself for feeling so needy, Heroine patted Cousin gently, reassuringly. “It’s okay. I’ll take you home.” She set the sheets and the Pop-Tarts on the wicker rocker by the front door. “Come on, honey,” she said, leading the sleepy old lady down the stairs and to the van.

When Hero Lastname got home, Heroine’s house was dark. He parked his Jeep on the street and got out, but then he stopped on the walkway to his house. He didn’t want to go in yet.

He turned when he heard the clicking of small dog feet on the sidewalk. Soon, a tiny black terrier skittered past, hot on the trail of a moth that was popping from one streetlight to the next.

Hero waited for what was coming next.

Sure enough, Mrs. Kranowski, a spindly old woman with a hairdo that looked like vanilla soft-serve ice cream, appeared. She was chasing after the dog, calling,

“Edward! Edward! Come back to Mama. Edward! Come back here now!”

“Need help, Mrs. Kranowski?” Hero asked as she passed.

“No, thank you, Hero,” she said as she disappeared down the street.

This neighborhood spectacle, he’d quickly discovered, happened at least four times a day.

Hey, it was good to have a routine.


message 2: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1925 comments Mod
Hero appreciated that better than most. He would be teaching classes that summer, but there were a couple of weeks between the spring and summer semesters, and he always got restless when he didn’t have a routine. Structure had never been his strong suit, though he took a lot of comfort in it. Sometimes he wondered if he was made that way or simply taught. His parents were potters and potheads, and they had encouraged his artistic streak. It wasn’t until he started elementary school that he realized it was wrong to draw on walls. It had been such a relief. School gave him structure, rules, direction. Summer vacations had him forgetting to eat because he spent hours and hours drawing and dreaming, never moderated by his parents. They had loved that about him. His had been a good childhood but one where ambition ranked right up there with Ronald Reagan as taboo subjects. He’d always assumed that, like his parents, he could make a meager living from his artwork and be happy with that. But school was nice, college even better, and he didn’t like the thought of leaving it.

So he decided to teach.

His parents never understood. Making good money was almost as bad as becoming a Republican. He was still standing there on his walkway when Mrs. Kranowski came back down the sidewalk with Edward now wiggling in her arms. “That’s a good Edward,” she was saying to him. “That’s Mama’s good boy.”

“Good night, Mrs. Kranowski,” he said when she passed him again.

“Good night, Hero.”

He liked this crazy place.

His first position after getting his master’s was at a high school in Florida, where they were so desperate for teachers that they were paying premium salaries, living expenses, plus moving expenses from his home in Connecticut. After a year or so, he also started teaching night art classes at the local university.

It was serendipity that eventually led him to Bascom. He met a woman at a conference in Orlando, an art professor at Orion College in Bascom. There was wine, there was flirtation, there was a wild night of sex in her hotel room. A few years later, during a restless summer break, he found out about an opening in the art department at Orion College, and that night came back to him in beautiful and vivid images. He interviewed for and got the position. He didn’t even remember the woman’s name, it was simply the romance of the thing.

By the time he arrived, she had moved on, and he never found her.

The older he got, the more he thought about how he hadn’t married, about how what brought him to this town in the first place was another restless summer and a dream of a life with a woman with whom he’d had a one-night stand.

Okay, was that really romantic or just pitiful? He heard a thud come from around the side of his house, so he took his hands out of his pockets and headed to the backyard. When he’d mowed a couple of days ago, the grass had been high, so there were big wet clumps of grass clippings all over the yard.

He should probably rake it all up. But then what would he do with all that grass? He couldn’t just leave it in a big clump in the middle of his yard. What if all the cut grass dried and killed the live grass under it?
One day out of school and he was already obsessively preoccupied with his lawn. And it would probably get worse.

What was he going to do with himself until the summer session started?

He had to remember to make notes to himself to eat. He’d do it tonight, so he wouldn’t forget. He’d stick them to the refrigerator, the couch, the bed, the commode. The light from the back porch illuminated the backyard—a small yard, not nearly as large as the one next door. The Surnames’ metal fence, covered with honeysuckle, separated the two yards. Twice since he’d moved in, Hero had pulled kids off the fence. They were trying to get to the apple tree, they said, which he thought was stupid because there were at least six mature apple trees on Orion’s campus. Why try to go over a nine-foot fence with pointy finials when they could walk to Orion? He told the kids this, but they just looked at him like he didn’t know what he was talking about. That apple tree, they said, was special.

He walked along the fence, taking deep breaths of sweet honeysuckle. His foot hit something and he looked down to see he had kicked an apple. His eyes then followed a trail of apples to a small pile of them close to the fence. Another one hit the ground with a thud. This was the first time he’d ever had apples fall on his side of the fence. Hell, he couldn’t even see the tree from his yard.

He picked up a small pink apple, rubbed it to a shine on his shirt, then took a bite.

He slowly walked back to his house, deciding that he would put the apples in a box tomorrow and take them to Heroine, tell her what happened. It would be a good excuse to see her again.

It was probably just another instance of following a woman to a dead end.

But what the hell.

Do the things you do best.

The last thing he remembered was putting his foot on the bottom step of the back porch.

Then he had the most amazing dream.


message 3: by Dls (new)

Dls | 2102 comments Mod
Oh I love her books. And a perfect scene for the end of summer

message 4: by Leigh-Ayn (new)

Leigh-Ayn | 1207 comments I have no idea but it sounds so lovely!

message 5: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1925 comments Mod
It's a book Janga recommended to me. It took me a few years to get to it but once I did, I glommed all of this authors books. Just one of many great book suggestions I got from her. ❤️

message 6: by Susan (new)

Susan (susaninaz) | 1044 comments This one sounds like a lot of fun. Art Professor and a Caterer next door.

message 7: by Irisheyes (new)

Irisheyes | 896 comments Don't know, but now I really want to know what it is! :)

message 8: by Susan (new)

Susan (shaydock) | 727 comments The author spins her scenes well, I feel the air, smell the apples and oh yes that magical touch. Certainly has potential. Will watch for the reveal. Thank you for sharking Manda!

message 9: by Dls (new)

Dls | 2102 comments Mod
I got this recommendation from Janga as well. She read so widely and made so many wonderful reading recommendations.

message 10: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (nikanne) | 222 comments Can't wait for the title! Pretty sure this will be a new author to me.

message 11: by Chocolatesoup (new)

Chocolatesoup | 398 comments Haven't read this but I have an idea on who it could be :-)

message 12: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1925 comments Mod
I'm pleased I was able to stump some of you! As Deb guessed, it's Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. This, and all her books are lyrical and lovely and have romantic elements.

message 13: by Irisheyes (new)

Irisheyes | 896 comments Janga recommended I read that, too!!! I hadn't gotten to it yet. It's on my Kindle. I guess it's time I give it a go. I've read THE PEACH KEEPER by SAA and loved it. I do buy her books whenever they're on sale so I'm sure I've got most of them on my Kindle.

message 14: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1925 comments Mod
Irisheyes wrote: "Janga recommended I read that, too!!! I hadn't gotten to it yet. It's on my Kindle. I guess it's time I give it a go. I've read THE PEACH KEEPER by SAA and loved it. I do buy her books whenever the..."

The Peach Keeper is one of my favorites. ❤️

message 15: by Susan (new)

Susan (shaydock) | 727 comments Have read all her books except this one

message 16: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1925 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Have read all her books except this one"

Oh funny! It's her first but it doesn't read like a debut. She's so talented.

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