I’m sick of covid-19. Aren’t we all? When will it end?
I doubt it will end anytime soon. Maybe when we have a vaccine. Until then we will continue to wear masks and do the social distancing.
A friend and I often get together for a cup of coffee. My local Starbucks is open. We’ll grab a coffee and sit in the parking lot to chat. We even do tailgate meals in the parking lots. It gets us out of the house, and we can visit without being together. Yes, I know there is a certain danger even doing that, but it’s keeping us sane. Her birthday is Wednesday and there are no plans to go out for dinner or do anything special. She asked about my birthday in November. How are we supposed to know what life will be like in November? Will our favorite restaurants be open? Will they survive this pandemic? We hope they do.
July is a month filled with edits, and I thought I’d share the first chapter of my Christmas story for this year’s Authors of Main Street Boxed Set, Christmas Heroes on Main Street. This story starts in the summer. Terry was in the Army and planned to retire until an IED put an end to his career. He came to help his older brother. Meredith is a widow with a daughter. Her heart and head can’t seem to work together. Will these two people ever be able to put aside the past and find love?
Meredith looked around the room at the other downtown merchants. The discussion was over Shop Local, the Saturday after Black Friday. Barely four months away, everyone wanted to do something special to encourage people to spend their holiday money in the cozy town of Ponds Corner.
“Meredith, do you have anything to say?” Tom asked.
“Yes. Doesn’t anyone see the elephant in this room?” She looked squarely at Tom, who was vice president of the group. “Cole Saunders. He needs our help. Yet most of you have blissfully ignored the plight of that family. He’s president of this organization, and he hasn’t been here in months. His store is closed, and his wife, Amanda is running ragged between the family and her job. He needs our help. I think we should redo his store so when he does come back, and that should be before Thanksgiving, he’s coming back to something special. He could do a grand re-opening on Shop Local. And if we all pitch in, his store can become the focal point, showing off what it means to shop here in our community.” She took a deep breath and continued. “Instead of using Ponds Paint as the hub. We can use Taste. It’s centrally located with plenty of parking. We can create a flyer that says what things came from where. I’ll do the design work. If we all pitch in, it’ll show off what our town can do. Let’s help Cole.”
There was some mumbling around the room.
And then Marcus spoke, “I don’t mind donating paint and supplies to Cole. He’s always been there for me when I needed help. And honestly, I think we should take turns being the hub.”
Ken jumped in. “We’ve always been able to count on Cole for anything.”
Tygeri nodded. “That’s right. Need something? Just ask Cole.”
“Did you know that he shovels my mom’s sidewalk and driveway when it snows.”
“He busted his butt to help me when my shed collapsed last year.”
Dan stood up. “I’m not part of this group. I’m only here to take notes for the newspaper, but I wanted to say that Meredith did our cabin last year, and she did a terrific job.”
Betsy told the group that she had hired Meredith to do her place before the bakery opened.
Raven put his palm out, hushing the group. “I’ll do anything for Cole.”
There was plenty of discussion and everyone praised Cole for his generous attitude. Finally, Ellie spoke up and proposed that everyone pitch in to help Cole. And Betsy quickly seconded it.
“Okay, let’s have a vote. All those in favor say, aye.”
It wasn’t as enthusiastic as Meredith had hoped, but it sounded like a majority.
“Those opposed say, nay.”
There were three nays.
Tygeri proposed that they conclude the meeting and there was a very vocal aye response.
Tom asked Marcus to say a prayer before he dismissed the meeting.
Marcus stood and said a brief prayer asking that the group be blessed and for their safe passage home. Then Tom dismissed the group.
She glanced at her wristband and it was almost eight o’clock. Everyone in the room had been up since the crack of dawn. They were all tired and eager to get out of there.
Meredith stopped her flight from the room when she heard her name being called by her friend, Betsy. “I can’t do much, but I don’t mind donating to his open house.”
“That would be great. I think this is the best project our association has ever had.” Meredith grinned.
Donald tapped Meredith on the shoulder. “Think we can just do this and surprise Cole? If he even gets wind of what we’re doing, he’ll protest and not because he doesn’t need the help.”
“You’re right,” Betsy said, and Meredith nodded.
Donald turned and in his big booming voice told everyone not to say a word to Cole or Amanda. “Let’s keep this a surprise.”
Dan shook his head. “There goes my article.”
Meredith giggled. “I’m sure you’ll manage to bury five hundred words on the bottom of the third page.”
“Thanks, Meredith. I give you a compliment and that’s what I get?”
Meredith laughed and then planted a kiss on his cheek. “I’ve got to run. My parents have Phoenix. I’ve got to get her home and in bed.”
Fifteen minutes later, Meredith pulled onto her parents’ driveway and got out of her SUV about the same time as the sky flashed with lightning. By the time she made it to the portico and the back door, she was soaked.
“Mommy’s home!” Phoenix ran and gave her mother a hug. “You’re all wet.”
Meredith laughed and then shuddered. It was cold in the house.
“Come see what I made for dinner tonight. I helped Mee-maw make pisketti.
Meredith allowed the child to drag her into the kitchen.
“See?” Phoenix pulled a stool to the stove and stood on it.
“Be careful, it’s probably still hot.” Meredith raised the lid on the tall pot and sniffed. “Oh, that smells so good.”
“Now I get to make your noodles.” She reached for the box sitting next to the stove.
“Wash your hands first.” Meredith reminded her daughter.
Phoenix got down and hurried to the sink where her grandmother stood washing dishes. Then returned to the stove.
“You have to turn on the stove, Mommy, because I can’t reach.”
Meredith turned on the burner under the pot that was used for noodles. “Too many noodles. Only use half that amount, baby girl.”
“Mee-maw says that you shouldn’t call me that because I’m not a baby anymore.”
“But you’ll always be my baby.”
“How was the meeting?” Meredith’s mom asked.
“I’d say the usual, except this time I convinced everybody to help Cole. We will renovate his store and then use his store as the hub for the Shop Local event.
“What a wonderful idea. Let me guess, you will be the designer.”
“Of course, and oh does that store need it.”
“Is the water hot enough to put in the noodles, Mommy?”
Meredith peeked at the pan. “Yes, but don’t let it splash. That’s boiling water.”
“It’s okay, Mommy, I know what I’m doing. Mee-maw says I’m very good in the kitchen.”
Meredith turned and looked at her mother. “I really don’t like her working around the stove, and I guess you had her using a knife.”
“You were doing the same thing at her age, and yes, I let her cut up the tomatoes and the herbs.”
“Pee-paw even let me pick the tomatoes and all the things that we would need, and then I came in and washed everything, because the bugs crawl on them, and we don’t want to eat anything that had bugs feet on it.”
Meredith looked at her daughter, and her heart melted. Phoenix was growing up way too fast.
“I’m starved. I skipped lunch today because I had a client come in and wanted help with her dining room. She just wanted to give it a new fresh look for fall without screaming Halloween or Thanksgiving.”
The ping of the old timer caught Meredith’s attention, and she looked at her daughter. “Did you set that?”
Phoenix nodded. “Mee-maw showed me how to do it. I’m learning my way around the kitchen.”
Meredith tested a noodle and turned off the burner. By the time she grabbed a plate and the tongs, the noodles would be perfect. Phoenix got the cheese grater and stood ready to put the shredded cheese on her mother’s food.
“Thank you,” Meredith said as she sat at the table. She twirled a forkful and put it in her mouth. “Mmm!” she chewed and swallowed. “This is perfect.”
Phoenix’s face split with an enormous smile.
Meredith couldn’t help being proud of her daughter. “Will you go back to the den and clean up your things so that we can leave when I’m done eating? It’s already past your bedtime.”
Phoenix nodded and scampered away.
Meredith’s mom joined her at the table. “Remember when you said you would take Phoenix to see Martin’s parents in August, but you hated to close the shop for a week? Well, your father and I discussed it, and we’ve decided that we’d love to take her. We’ll make a real vacation out of it and make it educational for Phoenix. Your dad has lots of vacation time to use up. When we get to the ranch, we’ll get a hotel room nearby so Phoenix can visit without all of us intruding.”
“I hate to put that burden on you. I’ll just the close store and get a round trip flight.”
“This would be better. We can take our time and let her visit parks, museums…we’ll take her to the King ranch, and I think there’s a huge zoo out there. Plus, all the sights between here and there.”
“Mom, she’s four, and she’s a handful sometimes.”
“I’m fifty-four, not ninety-four, and we’re both in perfect health. Phoenix is a good child. We’re not going to have problems.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“There’s nothing that needs any deep contemplation. I’ve never been to that part of Texas, and when I mentioned it to Cindy and John, they were thrilled at the prospect of seeing us again.”
“You talked to my in-laws?”
“Oh, darling, we chat all the time on Facebook. They are wonderful people.”
Guilt washed through Meredith. “Sometimes I’m bad about staying in touch with them.”
“They know you stay busy, and you’ve had a difficult time after Martin died. They did, too.”
Meredith picked up her plate and took it to the sink.
Her mom instantly stood. “Don’t worry about that. It’s past Phoenix’s bedtime. I’ll take care of it.”
Meredith drove back downtown to her apartment she had over her shop. She worked hard to renovate the store and her apartment. Her grandfather owned the building and let her do whatever she wanted. Between finishing her degree in design and having a baby, she couldn’t do much other than plan. But when the time came, she was hands on. Her grandfather was a builder, and he taught her about the industry. When she started her renovations, he was at her side almost every day. Then he died. He left the building to her.
She unlocked the door to her apartment, and somehow, she carried Phoenix up the stairs and put the sleeping child in bed. When she put her phone on the charger, she realized she had missed calls and text messages. She picked up the phone and texted her friend Betsy. Still awake?
Betsy immediately called. “Hi, I have an idea. We’ve got to get the key to Cole’s store, and short of me taking baked goods to Amanda and stealing it if I even knew which key, I’ve got this great plan.”
“I was wondering about that. I thought maybe I could ask if I could store some things in there for the time being. We’ve got to get that key.” Meredith sorted through the laundry basket.
“Oh, that is a good one. I never thought about storing, but I think I have a better one. Did you know that Cole’s brother is staying there, and I bet I can get him to help us.”
“I didn’t even know Cole had a brother.”
“He’s slightly younger and even better looking and there’s no wedding band. Apparently, he’s there to help, and this will be a wonderful way of helping. And wait until you see him, he is gorgeous – positively lickable.”
“Betsy, you’re married. You shouldn’t be looking.”
“Oh, Gerry looks all the time, and I don’t care, as long as he doesn’t touch.”
Meredith laughed at her friend.
“I have the perfect way to get Terry to come to the bakery, and once he comes to my bakery, I can explain what we’re up to, and I know he will go along with it. I promise, he is s-s-so-o-o cute.
“That’s right. Betsy, you turn on the charm.” Meredith ended the conversation and gathered up the rest of the dark clothes and put them in the washer.
Amanda was getting the boys’ breakfast when her phone rang, and she picked it up. She looked at Terry. “It’s for you.”
Terry took the phone from her and wondered who would call him and why. A moment later, he smiled. It was Betsy. He had met her the other morning when she showed up with a half dozen Danish pastries and cupcakes for the boys. When she said she had more for them, he promised to come get them. “I’ve got to take Cole for his treatment, I can stop by after I drop him off. And by the way, those Danishes were delicious. I don’t think I’ve ever had any that good.”
“Well, if you’re trying to twist my arm, I’ll look and see if I have any to spare.”
He smiled at the thought. Thanked her again for her generosity and disconnected the call. “Betsy wants me to stop by today. She said she’s got cookies for us.”
Amanda put another bite of egg on William’s tray. “Any other time I would complain because I don’t want the boys eating a bunch of sweet stuff, but with the money being what it is, at least it’s food.”
“I told Cole I’m willing to pay rent and board, but he said I’m family, and he wasn’t charging me. Keep this between us.” He pulled his wallet from his back pocket and withdrew several large bills, dropped them on the table, and planted a kiss on the top of his sister-in-law’s head. “I’ll get you more.”
He left the kitchen and went to see if Cole was ready. His older brother was sitting on the side of the bed tying his shoes.
“I’m ready.” Cole stood.
The two men walked out the front door and climbed into Terry’s Jeep. Terry looked at his brother and asked, “Are you nervous?”
“Remember, I’m a pro at this. I’ve got it.”
Terry grinned at his brother. His older brother never shirked at any adversity. He always was the kind to face it, no matter what it was. Even as kids, Cole believed he could do anything, and he did it. When he was ten, he wanted to take up tennis. He taught himself to play, practiced all winter long, and made the team that spring. Cole also had a ton of friends and always did. Terry admired his brother and wished he were as naturally outgoing. Even their career choices were different. Cole went to college to study journalism and Terry was the computer guy. But Terry never imagined his brother would open a gourmet shop.
“Turn left at the light. It’s the three-story glass building just past the hospital.”
Terry pulled up by the front doors and his brother hopped out.
Cole had a half-hearted smile as he raised his hand in a wave. Terry was certain that this was going to be one tough battle. The doors to the building slid open as Cole approached them and then closed behind him.
Terry turned on his GPS and found the bakery. The aroma of baked goods hit his nose, and he thought he might salivate on the spot. It was set up like a quaint café with a few indoor tables and plenty of coffee to go with Betsy’s pastries. As his eyes adjusted, he spotted Betsy off to one side. Her light brown hair was pulled into a knot. She was very petite. He estimated that she was probably no more than five-one. He walked up to the counter. “Hi.”
She turned and gave him the biggest smile. “I’m so happy to see you. How do you like your coffee or do you want it iced?”
“Iced with nothing added sounds delicious. It’s already roasting out there.”
“Grab a table. I’ll be right there.”
She came around the counter and put a large glass in front of him along with a blueberry cheese Danish. “I’ve got cookies for the kids, but honestly, they were a ploy to get you here. We need to talk.”
After taking her shower and fixing her hair, Meredith woke Phoenix, got her off to daycare, and back to her own store by nine o’clock. She wasn’t there long when the bell over her door jingled that someone had entered. The woman immediately came to her.
“I want you to make my living room as special as you did Joanne’s dining room yesterday. I just love the look, but I’m on a fixed income, and I don’t have much to spend. I haven’t done a thing in there in years. Oh, will you help me?”
“Certainly, that’s why I’m here. Were you looking for that same autumn theme?”
“Since I’ve never seen your house, let’s start with what appeals to you. Let’s look around and pretend that money is no object.”
After browsing for a while, Meredith promised to take a few things to the woman’s house and let her see what fit and what looked best. It was just the sort of service that her clients loved and appreciated.
The woman left and when Meredith raised her gaze, she spotted a very tall man standing in her shop. “May I help you?” As soon as the words fell from her mouth, she recognized that the man had to be Cole’s brother. “You must be Terry. Did you talk to Betsy?”
“Yes. She sent me here.”
She watched him surveying the shop. As tall as he was, he probably could see everything. “So what do you think of our plan?”
“I told my brother I’m here to help. I’ll do anything, and that includes getting his store operating again. But I know nothing about retail and even less about cooking.”
He smiled, and Meredith could feel the butterflies in her stomach take flight. He was taller and had a lot more muscle than Cole. Chill. Chill. Oh yum. Yum, yum, yum. Be cool, we need his help.
She stood and came around the display to where he was standing. Her heart was playing leapfrog in her chest. “Care to sit, and I’ll try to answer any questions.”