It was strange to wake up in my childhood home. I guess no stranger than the previous week had been. My room looked exactly the same as I remembered. Penciled flowers and winding vines dotted the walls. I can’t believe Mom left these. I can’t believe she let me draw on my walls.
As I dug through my haphazardly packed bag, I realized I’d packed work clothes. At least I remembered a proper nightshirt. I slipped into a skirt and top and tamed my dark hair into stylish submission. Katie was already rapid-texting me. She was over the moon last night when I informed her I was coming home.
Coffee at Joe’s
Heading there now
Can’t wait to see you!
I’ll wait for you
I’ll order you a coffee
No, I’ll wait til you get here
Don’t want it to get cold
Hurry up already
“Mom,” I called toward the garage, which had been turned into an art studio after Dad died. “I’m heading into town to meet Katie for coffee at Joe’s.”
“Bye, dear. Have fun!”
The sun hit me like an abrupt wake-up call. I pulled my sunglasses from my purse and walked the ten minutes to the local coffee shop. I can’t believe Joe’s was still there. Joe Senior died a few years back, but Joe Junior had taken it over. As I opened the door to Joe’s, the rich aroma of coffee, pastries and old friendships greeted me. So many after-school danishes were consumed here while Katie and I giggled over who was dating whom or which teacher got pranked that day.
I was delighted to see my old friend and surprised to find Franny joining us. We ordered our drinks, selected a decadent dessert for breakfast, and sat in comfy chairs by the gas fireplace. It was summer so the flames were on, with no actual heat. We settled into our seats. Franny got straight to it.
“You’re still not seeing anyone?” Franny looked at Katie in disbelief.
Katie defended herself. “You know this town. Everybody left after high school. The good ones who didn’t were already taken.”
I stirred sugar into my coffee, happy to let Franny do the talking. She was always the bluntest person I’d known. She was Katie’s aunt, but as Katie put it, she was an oopsie baby. Much younger than her siblings, Franny used to babysit me and Katie. She was a good eight years older than us and the fastest to leave Cherryville. I’m not even sure she attended her grad, just high-tailed it off to Europe somewhere.
“So, nothing? Dry as the desert down there?” Franny’s green eyes smiled at Katie.
“Franny! If I’d known you were going to interrogate me, I wouldn’t have invited you to join us.” Katie looked sheepishly into her mug of apple cider. “I did have a brief fling with someone,” she confessed.
“Who?” I was surprised by my sudden interest in the conversation. Who could Katie have gotten into bed with in this town?
“Tell us. We need to know who kept our Katie company on those cold Cherryville nights,” Franny prodded.
“Okay, but promise not to laugh.”
“Cross our hearts.” Franny and I made the dramatic gesture across our chests.
“Howser,” Katie said almost under her breath.
“Who now?” Franny leaned in, pushing her auburn waves off her shoulder.
“Howser!” She overcompensated.
“Howser? Howser?” Franny wracked her brain. “How…oh! Howser. You mean that kid who peed himself in class? I heard about him. He was the only Howser in school.”
“Wasn’t he the one whose willy fell out of his gym shorts while doing the rope climb in grade six?” I remembered him.
“All right, all right, you two. That was a long time ago. We all did embarrassing stuff in school. It’s hard to find someone in this town. No one ever moves here. They all move away.”
“Except you, Katie. Still can’t figure that one out.” Franny leaned back in her chair, sipping her cafe mocha, extra hot, extra whip, with chocolate drizzle.
“Cherryville’s home. Our orchard has been in the family for–”
“Generations. We know.”
“So, you and Howser. What happened? You came to your senses and broke it off?” Franny continued to tease.
“He, um…” Katie kicked at the table leg. “He moved away.”
Franny looked at me. We burst out laughing.
“Was the sex at least good?” Franny looked genuinely interested. She scooped up her whipped cream with a finger.
“Well, it…” Katie dropped her shoulders and sighed. “I have nothing to compare it to.”
Franny wrapped her arm around Katie’s shoulders.“Katie, Katie, Katie…we either have to get you out of this town or bring in some new meat.”
Katie blushed at Franny’s brash manners. I kept my thoughts to myself about my waning sex life with my soon-to-be former husband. I took a large bite of my cherry pie.
“Oh! Here’s something you didn’t know.” Katie changed the subject. “Franny is doing tarot card readings at the reunion.”
“Actually, I did know.” I gestured an apology while I hastily swallowed. “You left that tidbit in one of your many voicemails. But, please, tell us more.” I gave Katie a look to say ‘you’re welcome’ for the diversion. I let her think that my return home was due to her powers of persuasion and not my shitshow of a week.
“It’s been ten years since our class graduated, but of course, all other grads are invited back. We’ve had a lot of people say they will stay for the Cherry Festival also. That was Phoebe's idea to plan the dates close together. I’m leading the Reunion Committee, and we need all the help we can get. You’ll be staying with your mom until then, Maya? I can introduce you to the others at the next meeting.” Katie’s face lit up as she talked about the events and how the people in town were making preparations. “Franny has been a big help since she got back!” Katie beamed at Franny, the teasing already forgotten.
I turned to Franny. “What brings you back to Cherryville after all these years? You were my inspiration for getting out alive.”
“I worked as an au pair for a European family after I left home. And then in the fashion industry in Paris for a while. Not as a model. Though I was asked to on several occasions.” She ran her hands along the sides of her slender torso for effect. “Those girls were whack, but I helped in the dressing rooms.” Franny brushed crumbs off her lap.
Katie clearly worshiped the adventures of her babysitter aunt. Even as a grown woman, her eyes were dreamy as Franny talked.
“So what brought you back here?” I was ready for whatever tragedy had befallen such an outgoing world-traveled woman to need to return home. I wasn’t about to share my own.
Franny gulped the last of her mocha. “Sometimes, it’s just time to come home.”
Katie chimed in, “Franny joined the Heritage Committee and the Fundraising drive. She’s really helping the town out. And…” She looked at Franny.
“Can I tell her?”
“Knock yourself out.”
“Franny’s opening a tapas…did I say that right? A tapas bar in town! In the old video rental store. They went out last year. I can’t believe they hung on this long. No one knows what to do with their VCRs now. Anyway, how exciting for Cherryville.”
“I do my part.” Franny grabbed her scarf from the back of her chair and stood. “Shall we? It’s been great to catch up but I’ve got a meeting with the contractor in five.”
Katie protested,” But we haven’t had a chance to hear what Maya’s working on.” She turned to me. “You always have the most interesting clients.”
I searched for an appropriate response that didn’t require me to spill my failures all over the coffee shop floor.
Thankfully, Franny spoke before I could. “Maya, you coming to the Heritage Committee meeting tonight? We can chat more then.”
“Katie wants me to. I’ll see what Mom is up to.” I hugged the girls and left the coffee shop, slipping my sunglasses back on. After two refills, I vowed that I would need to cut back or switch to tea if this was typical of a quick coffee here in the slow-paced town. I could have crushed two client meetings in this time.
My curiosity had been piqued by Aunt Franny and the tapas bar. Pretty exotic for Cherryville. I walked the two blocks to see the progress on the building. It’s not like I had anything better to do with my time. The front windows were papered up, and there wasn’t much to announce the ‘Coming Soon.’
Everyone would be gossiping, no need to run a marketing campaign. So much of my corporate experience of the past six years felt irrelevant here. It was wise to withhold my broken marriage. The local gossip mill was too great a force. I at least wanted to explain in my own way to the people who mattered.
I wandered down a few side streets, remembering what used to be there, surprised to see that a storefront or house I recalled was exactly the same. Other houses had been torn down and something entirely unrelated erected in their place. I breathed in the floral scents of the trees lining the street; there were rose bushes nearby, and abundant flower gardens in front of the older buildings. Colors burst everywhere.
I felt a bit overwhelmed. This town was like two worlds for me. The memory of the school years I’d left behind, plus an overlay of where current time had crept in. My final year in school was such a blur. My father had passed away after a lingering battle with cancer. I withdrew into myself after the funeral, ignoring much of life around me. I made a vow that I would get out of the town, just like Franny had. I zeroed in on my studies, my grades were my ticket out. I even tuned out the boys. Except for… Shaking off the memories of the past, I stood at a street corner, deciding if I wanted to continue meandering or if I should get back to Mom. I scanned down one street and then the other.
“You’re not lost are you?” The man’s voice was smooth like caramel. A bit of an accent that I couldn’t place, and a hint of familiarity. I turned to see his face.
“Oh, no, it’d be hard to get lost here.” My eyes met his. My mind overlaying the old buildings of the past onto the present did the same with this man. A familiar face from another time. I could tell he didn’t recognize me.
“You’re one of the investors?” he asked. “Sorry,” he apologized gracefully, “I have been meeting so many new people through the Heritage Committee, I’ve been getting mixed up.”
I glanced down at my tailored skirt and heeled sandals. No wonder he assumed I was an investor. How could he not recognize me, though? They say you never forget your first love. Have I changed that much? I ran my hand through my hair, biting my bottom lip.
He tilted his head as if something caught his eye. He was trying to place me. Suddenly, I didn’t want to identify myself. “I’m here for the weekend. I’m on my way to the old church.” I pointed across the street. “I’ll be seeing you.” And I stepped off the curb, leaving him puzzled behind me.
NOT ALL MEMORIES ARE GOOD
Is that you, Maya?” Mom called out from the kitchen. The sound of the fridge opening and closing echoed through the house.
“Yeah, Mom,” I called from the front door.
“I was just about to make lunch. You hungry?”
“No, I ate at Joe’s.” If you call pie a lunch. I still didn’t have much of an appetite and I didn’t want her making a fuss. I texted Katie.
Can’t attend the Heritage
Committee Meeting tonight
Who are you avoiding now?
I sighed and plopped down onto the couch, kicking off my shoes.
“What’s wrong, dear?” Mom came into the living room carrying a plate with one of her famous egg salad sandwiches.
“I miss the city.”
“You’ve only been gone a day. They say it takes almost two weeks to unwind and truly have a vacation.” She placed the sandwiches in front of me.
“This isn’t a vacation, Mom. And who are ‘they’ anyway?” I bit into a pickle.
“How’s Katie?” Mom settled into her favorite chair, balancing a plate on her knee. She savored her sandwich wholeheartedly.
“She seems to be on every committee possible. There’s the Heritage Committee. Katie heads the School Reunion committee. There’s an Agriculture Association. She’s on the Board, ‘representing the voice of family orchards,’ as she puts it. I had forgotten about the annual Cherryville Festival. I said I would help with the reunion but somehow she also thinks I should hear what the Heritage Committee is working on. I was mistaken as an investor this morning.” Maya had let it slip so soon. She held her breath, hoping her mom missed it.
“Who thought you were an investor?”
“I was a bit shocked myself. Whatever the Heritage Committee is working on, it sounds like they are bringing in investors. Our old classmate Phoebe is on the Town Council,” I babbled on, hoping the redirect would work. “You remember Phoebe? She singlehandedly ran the high school newspaper, tracked all the team scores and player stats, and wrote reviews for school performances. If podcasts had been a thing back then, she would have cornered that market too. She’s not the Mayor. Yet.”
“Who mistook you for an investor?”
“You know, it’s weird to see what has changed since I moved away.” I got up to get us some water, talking over my shoulder as I stepped into the kitchen. “When I think of my friends from high school, we all seemed so young, so innocent. Now, it’s all committees, festivals, and investments. Ten years feels like such a long time ago. This reunion makes me feel so old right now Old and tired.”
“You are just in a bad place because Zach surprised you with his moving out. I cannot believe he was so deceptive.” She bit into her sandwich again, and we were both silent on that thought. “I assume you have a good divorce lawyer? You are not the bad person in this situation. The two of you still need to have a conversation.”
“My lawyer is in touch with his lawyer.” My voice caught. Now I definitely did not have an appetite. I’d told her about Zach, but not about losing my job. “Sometimes, I am so angry, Mom, that I want Zach to pay dearly. I want to take him to court on every little detail. I used to love our house, and now I hate almost everything about it. I just want to liquidate and make it all go away. Other times, I wish it could have been different.”
The house was still. I could hear the mantel clock ticking. Mom finished her sandwich and looked at me the same way she had when I was a teenager. “What’s in your heart, dear?”
Mom had a way of cracking open something inside you. A truth. Even if you didn’t know it. Maybe it was the years she spent looking after Dad when he was sick. She could touch the most vulnerable places, those places from which most people hid or buried. And she did it with a kind word and an equally kind look.
“Honestly?” I sighed. “Relief.”
Mom nodded as if she’d already known my marriage was over, and that it was okay. She picked up the sandwich plate, my half untouched. She would never utter an “I told you so,” or give a lecture. She could go on and on about her passions, but when it came to truly tender conversations, she knew less was more. Something about her mindful presence shored me up.
“I’m gonna snoop around my room, Mom. Thanks for lunch.” I needed to do something physical. “I can’t believe you left everything.”
“I was going to turn it into a studio after you went to university, but with your father’s passing, I realized the garage was free since that was always his space.” Mom grabbed the remote control. It was just about time for The Young and the Restless. She padded back into the kitchen as the blare of TV ads filled the house.
I’d just plunked myself down on my old bed when my phone buzzed. I stood up, straightening my skirt, and smoothing my hair, as I glanced at myself in the mirror. I wiped a finger at the bags under my eyes. It was a text from Katie.
You have to come tonight
I’m not feeling up to it
The Heritage Committee
could really use your
professional input on
how to better appeal to investors
Haha. Nice try
Maya! We really could
use your experience
Dusty mistook me
for an investor
I ran into him after coffee
He didn’t recognize you?
Love in the Cards 23
And no one’s called him
Dusty since high school
Yeah, it was weird
I didn’t think I’d
changed that much
He went away for a while
to study Architecture
So that’s who you were
trying to avoid by not
Eventually you’re gonna
run into him
Might as well rip the
See you in a few hours