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ELEVEN

I PLUNGED INTO A frenzy of housework. Unfortunately, I'm wired to clean and tidy before venturing away from the home fires. It was only a day trip to La Conner, too, which shows how pathetic my life had become.

Besides, the harder I scrub, the less I think about things that are bothering me. And between Ariel and Hannah, I was plenty bothered.

Two loads of laundry, a sparkling clean refrigerator, stove, and kitchen floor, a swept front step, tidied mudroom, two scrubbed toilets and a dusted living room later, I fell into a kitchen chair, drank a glass of iced coffee and contemplated the pile of lettuce I'd taken out of the fridge and put in the sink.

Time to get back to work.

There is something about rinsing every square inch of every leaf of lettuce to rid it of dust and make sure no crawlies make it onto the dinner plate that is back-breaking. We hadn't even reached the time of year when we did most of our canning and pickling, but I was getting that stuck-over-the-sink feeling already. I'd never do it if it weren't for the fact that I absolutely love how a big pile of lettuce wilts into a manageable, delectable mound when tossed with crumbles of bacon, a little hot bacon grease and warm cider vinegar mixed with a little salt, pepper, and sugar. It wasn't food you could get in a restaurant, and besides, for me, it was one of the definite signs that summer had arrived.


Cleaning takes a certain amount of concentration; rinsing lettuce does not. My mind was now free to obsess about Hannah.

My second view of her today confirmed it: she looked a lot like me. But men are well known to find a certain type of woman attractive.

Of course, women have their preferences, too. Which was entirely beside the point.

I wondered if she was a nice person. Well, she would be, wouldn't she? I mean, Barr wouldn't go and marry someone who ate kittens for breakfast or yelled at old ladies. Because I had to give him credit for his taste in women, or else what was I saying about me?

Oh, B.S., Sophie Mae. She followed you around town and gave you the stink-eye right in front of your own house. She's been told to go home, but she wants her ex-husband's money. Face it. She's not nice at all.

Two million dollars. Some women would do a lot for money like that.

Like what? Beg, steal… kill?

Oh, man. This was nuts. I reached for the kitchen towel, dried my hands and went out to the hallway for the phone. My heart went kachunka ka-chunka as I waited through the rings for Barr to answer.


He picked up.

"I thought you might like to know your ex-wife followed me home."

"Hell," he muttered under his breath. "Okay. I'll take care of it."

"Is she violent?" I asked.

"What? No, of course not."

I wondered whether he really knew.

"Sophie Mae? Can we talk about this tonight? I'm kind of in the middle of something."

"Sure. I'll see you later." I pushed the off button on the cordless handset and replaced it in the cradle. I went back to my pile of lettuce, thoughts roiling.

When I was nearly done, Meghan came in and offered to take over.

"That's okay. But I wouldn't mind some company," I said.

She flipped on the kitchen light. I hadn't realized how dark it had become with the sun on the other side of the house.

"Okay. When you're done I'll stuff the squash blossoms," she said.

I'd almost forgotten. The thought made me feel a little better.

A very little.

I heard a faint clicking noise and looked over my shoulder to see Meghan knitting peach-colored cotton yarn into a rectangle.

"What are you doing?"

"Making a purse for Erin. Apparently Zoe got one for her birthday, and Erin feels left out." Zoe had been Erin 's best friend since first grade.


"Those two haven't been hanging out as much this summer," I said.

"I think it's the math camp," Meghan said.

"I didn't even know you knitted."

"My mother taught me. I haven't done it for a while, but all your talk about spinning and fiber inspired me. It is kind of fun."

Well, of course Meghan would already know how to knit, would be able to pick it up after years and years and create something totally funky and cool like that little bag. I sighed, thinking about how I struggled with the twin needles, preferring a simple crochet hook and only a few loops of yarn to worry about at a time.

"I called Barr," she said. "He told me you'd already invited him to dinner."

I finished the last leaf of lettuce, tossed it in the drainer and turned around with the dishtowel in my hands. "Do you know what he did today?"

"Uh, no."

"He pulled me over on Cedar Street. Lights, sirens, the whole bit."

She laughed. I scowled.

"Then what happened?" she asked, sounding far too delighted and knitting away faster than anyone who hasn't done it for years has a right to. She didn't even look at her hands while she was doing it.

Suddenly, I remembered the image of Barr's palm against the truck window, and a wave of emotion washed through me.

"Sophie Mae?"

I waved the dishtowel and took a deep breath. "He was just checking in."


She laughed. "What, he can't call your cell phone?"

"Oh, gosh. My cell phone. It's still in the truck. I'd better go get it." After finally joining the rest of the wireless world, I kept forgetting I had the dang thing.

As I came back in the door the hall phone was ringing. "I've got it," I called to Meghan. Twisting my mouth at the irony, I put my cell phone down and answered the land line.

"Is Sophie Mae Reynolds there?"

"Speaking," I said.

"This is Cassie Ambrose. Barr's mother. My knucklehead son's told me quite a bit about you. Sounds like he's really stepped in it, and I thought perhaps I could help."

Ohmygod. "Mrs. Ambrose. How nice to hear from you. Barr's told me a lot about you, too."

"Oh, has he now." She laughed. "That's not what I heard. I heard he's been a regular horse's patootie about telling you about his family and his past. And please, call me Cassie." Her voice was strong and deep, with a homey inflection I took to right away.

"Did he ask you to call me?" I asked.

"He did not. In fact, he asked me not to. But I thought it was high time we got ourselves acquainted. After all, he said you two are talking about living together."

Oh, dear. "Does that bother you?"

"Not at all. Much better than jumping into a marriage like he did with Hannah. It would have been better for all concerned if they'd found out ahead of time that they disliked each other so much."

"Disliked? Then why did they get married in the first place?"

She snorted. "Lust. Pure lust."


I coughed. "I see."

"It happens to all of us, of course. The question is what do we do with it?"

I couldn't believe I was having this conversation with Barr's mother. "So you think living together is a good idea?"

"Sure. Especially if there's still all that lust. You can't make a good decision about the rest of your lives if your brain's all clouded with love chemicals."

"Ah," I said.

"And I don't think you're interested in my son because he's loaded now. Right?"

"Uh, no. Of course not. I only found out about the inheritance from his uncle yesterday. Was it your brother who passed away?"

"My oldest brother. He was a clever sort, played his cards right in the oil fields."

"Well, I'm sorry for your loss. Barr didn't tell me."

"See, there you go. He's a knucklehead, thinking you wouldn't be interested in knowing a relative had died. You're a nice girl, I can tell."

"Urn," I said.

"Hannah isn't being too much of a pain, is she?"

"Well," I said.

"Because she's really a very nice girl, too, only you know, kind of crazy."

"What?" Crazy? What kind of crazy?

"Not crazy crazy. Just, a bit unpredictable. Don't you worry. She'll come on home here in no time. Barr will see to it."

Right. So far that hadn't worked so well, but I refrained from mentioning that to Cassie Ambrose.


"Well, dear, I'm glad we had this talk. I sure feel better, and I hope you do, too. The dudes are coming in from a ride and will be wanting their dinner, so I'd better go light a fire under the kitchen staff. You take care now, bye."

And just like that, she was gone.

Holy cow, I thought. So that was Barr's mother. I wondered what his father was like. Probably quiet. How could he not be, if that was any example of Cassie's conversational style?

Knuckles rapped on the frame of the front screen, and I looked up to see Barr standing on the step.

"Your mommy called," I said, opening the door for him. "She thinks you're a knucklehead." "

Shaking his head, he glanced skyward as if invoking the heavens. "I told her not to." "

I got the feeling that wouldn't make much difference," I said.

"Obviously."

I like her"

"Good, because you're stuck with me, and that means you're at least partially stuck with her. Now, where's my grub, woman?"

I laughed and led him into the kitchen.


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