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'Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe' Chapters 27, 28 & 29


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Illustration by Nick Matej

27

“The fire came as a shock,” Jena Barthelemy said. “But maybe, on closer look, it was a blessing in disguise.”

“How so?” the reporter asked. Mesmerized by her lilting voice, he’d long stopped taking notes.

Dark eyes full of wisdom held him captive. “Sometimes, it takes almost losing something to realize exactly how important it is to you.”

Anna Kate

My heart pounded as my gaze went to the sky. A skinny plume of black smoke rose above the café.

Gideon took hold of my hand, and we started running. Sirens wailed in the distance.

I stumbled on a crack in the sidewalk, but Gideon held me steady.

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Please let the trees be okay, please, I silently pleaded. The café was a good distance from them, but fires could spread easily. And please let all the mulberry preserves be okay.

Please, let it all be okay. Because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Not to the customers who’d become friends, not to the café, and not to Zee’s garden. Not to any of it.

Not yet.

Please, not yet.

Gideon kept tight hold of my hand as we weaved around families and friends on their way to enjoy their night, while I ran toward home.

Home.

Steeling myself, I looked ahead to the café. From afar, it didn’t look like anything untoward had happened, and I half expected to see Mr. Lazenby waiting on my arrival, but the bench in front of the café was empty.

A fire truck idled at the curb, and a small crowd of people had gathered.

I didn’t see any flames or anything unusual at all. The café looked … fine.

“Where’s the fire?” I asked, breathing hard, my lungs stressed from the exercise. I wiped sweat off my face and looked around.

A firefighter, a young man who’d eaten at the café a few times, stepped forward. “It was in the backyard, ma’am. It’s out now. Mr. Boyd saw the flames, and he and a bunch of other birdwatchers banded together to put out the flames using a garden hose and blankets.”

Small towns. I was growing fond of them, too. How else would this firefighter even know Mr. Boyd?

As the young man led us around the café, he added, “Due to their quick actions the damage was limited to the deck.”

The gate was open and as we went through it, my gaze went first to the mulberry trees. Branches waved in the breeze as if telling me they were just fine.

I let out the breath I’d been holding and turned toward the deck. Inky puddles pooled along the pathway and the café’s foundation, and I did my best to dodge them as I carefully inched forward, trying to take it all in.

There was nothing but blistered, blackened blocks of wood where the stairs had once been. The deck itself was blackened, too, but that looked to be more from soot than fire damage. All in all, it wasn’t too bad. The deck and brick could be power-washed. The stairs replaced. I could fix this. It could have been so much worse.

Relieved, I let my gaze wander. That’s when I saw the zucchini plants. I ran over to them and dropped to my knees in front of their remains. There was little left. Charred stems and a wet, soggy pile of ash and sorrow.

I gulped air. They’d been doing so well … thriving, even, giving me so much of themselves. Now this.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered to them, my voice breaking. Tears welled up, then flowed free. I couldn’t stop them.

Not even when I felt someone sit down next to me.

Gideon.

He put his arm around me, pulled me in close to him.

And let me cry.

Gideon handed me a cup of coffee early the next morning. “If you didn’t want to sell the café to me, you should have just said so. You didn’t need to try and burn it down.”

“It’s too soon to joke about it,” I said with a groan and a grimace.

My eyes felt like they’d been rubbed with sandpaper as I looked at the deck. It turned out there had been more damage to the deck than met the eye. The inspector who had come by last night told me I couldn’t reopen the café until the deck was replaced. Something to do with egresses. Honestly, I had tuned him out after he said I couldn’t open.

I’d been wanting a day off, but not like this. I needed to get in touch with the insurance company to see how long it was going to take to file a claim.

Gideon pulled out a stool for me, then went around the kitchen gathering ingredients. “I can only joke because no one was hurt and there was minimal damage.”

“What are you doing?” In the kitchen, other than a smoky scent that reminded me of camping, there was no evidence there’d been a fire at all. None of the soot had made its way into the building, and I was beyond grateful for that small miracle.

A sparkler had been found near the deck, and the investigators had labeled it the cause of the fire. No one knew how it had found its way there, but I had the funny feeling Mr. Cat had dropped it when it had gotten too hot. Why he’d picked it up in the first place, I’d never know. I was glad he hadn’t been hurt—I’d seen him lurking near the mulberry trees earlier this morning.

“Making breakfast. You look like you could use some sustenance.”

“You’re right. I could. Thank you.” It was barely seven in the morning, and I’d hardly slept at all. I tried to think of the last time I’d eaten. It had been early yesterday afternoon. No wonder I was starving. “Just nothing with zucchini, okay?”

With a sad smile, he came over and pressed a kiss on top of my head. “Deal. How about pancakes?”

“Sounds good.”

Gideon measured flour, sugar, and baking powder into a large bowl. I wasn’t surprised he was good in the kitchen, but I hadn’t anticipated how nice it was to watch him cook.

I tried to let go of my worries as I kept an eye on him. “You know you’re making enough to feed an army, right?”

He glanced back at me. “Because I am. I should put some bacon on.”

“I’m hungry but not that—”

The front door swung open and Jena rushed in. She ran right up to me and wrapped me in her arms. “Good Lord, child. You look like you’ve been chewed up and spit out.”

Bow came up behind her and said, “What Jena means to say is we’re real sorry about the fire.”

“That’s exactly what I meant, bless your heart.”

Behind them, more people filed inside. Aubin and Summer, Marcy, Josh, and Cam, and Mr. Boyd along with several other birders. Seelie and Doc and Natalie rounded out the pack.

They were all wearing Blackbird Café T-shirts, and had smiles on their faces and a hammer, saw, or other tool in hand. Seelie’s was a pink tape measure.

My gaze fell on Gideon, who had fired up the griddle. “I’m dreaming, right?”

He said, “About time you finally admitted I’m the man of your dreams. I never thought this day would come.”

Jena faux swooned and fanned herself with her hand, while Bow rolled his eyes at her theatrics.

Faylene came over and put her arm around me. “I knew you and Gideon had something going. Ain’t no man cooks fried chicken just to be friendly.”

“Twice,” Marcy called out.

“Thank you, honey, for reminding me. Twice.” Faylene held up two fingers to emphasize the statement. “Pebbles and Mr. Lazenby send their best. They’re not here, on account of them volunteering to keep the little ones for the day—Summer’s going to go over and lend them a hand after breakfast.”

I squeezed my eyes closed tight, then slowly reopened them, one at a time.

“If you need a pinching, I bet Gideon would volunteer,” Jena said, waggling her eyebrows.

I glanced at him. “Look what you’ve done, Gideon.”

He shrugged. “Jena’s not wrong.”

“What’s going on?” I stood up. “What are all of you doing here?”

“Why, what do you think, child?” Jena said. “We’ve come to tear out the deck and build a new one. It’s not going to build itself.”

“Someone pretty special once told me that many hands make quick work,” Aubin said, his voice carrying.

“Hear, hear,” Bow echoed.

Tears pooled in my eyes. “But the insurance …”

“Pshaw,” Faylene said. “We ain’t got time for that. There’s a café to reopen.”

“But it’ll only be open a few weeks more  …”

“Sweetie,” Jena said, “we see how happy you are working here, and we didn’t want you to miss out on that these next few weeks. We love you and want you to be happy. You’re here now and we’re gonna enjoy every minute we can get with you. Understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Unable to stop myself, I hugged her.

Good God. I’d become a hugger and a ma’am-er. How in the world had this happened?

But..... I knew how.

Wicklow had gotten hold of me but good.

“Group hug!” Faylene yelled, throwing her arms around Jena and me.

Before I knew it, everyone had gathered around, hugging and laughing.

I was so overwhelmed with their love that I barely even noticed the soft brown feather sticking out of Jena’s hair.

28

Anna Kate

A few days had passed since the deck had been rebuilt. The café was closed for the day, and as I’d already made the pies, I should’ve been weeding. Instead, I found myself once again sitting cross-legged on the stone bench in the garden, having a one-way conversation with the mulberry trees. So far, all of my questions had gone unanswered.

“Hello? Anna Kate?”

I turned and saw Seelie waving from the gate, the silk scarf around her neck blowing in the mountain breeze. I motioned her in, and she gave me an awkward hug before joining me on the bench.

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She sat and brushed imagined dirt from the front of her knit shift dress and said, “James practically kicked me out of the house. Apparently, I ‘hover,’” she said, using air quotes.

“Do you?”

“Of course I do.” She laughed, and sunlight glinted off her light blue eyes, infusing them with warmth. “How could I not?”

“Hovering seems perfectly reasonable to me.”

“Thank you,” she said pointedly, then smiled. “I shouldn’t grump. James did me a favor kicking me out—I’ve been meaning to come talk to you.”

“Oh? About?”

“Two things. The first is this.” She opened her leather tote bag and pulled out a manila envelope. “It’s a copy of the police report you were wanting. Look it over; let me know if you have any questions.”

I took it from her outstretched hand, wondering if I even needed to see what was inside. It wouldn’t change anything. But, I had to admit, I felt a spark of curiosity ignite, wondering once again if it was possible to finally put to rest all the questions surrounding the accident. “Thank you.”

Next, she lifted a leather portfolio from the tote. “You’re welcome. And secondly, I know you’ve heard by now that I’ve been on a quest to get to know Eden better.”

“I’ve heard one or two people mention it.”

Or a dozen. Small towns held few secrets.

“Yes, well, my interviews were mostly fruitless—Eden kept mostly to herself. Then I came upon the realization I already had everything I need to know at hand.” She opened the portfolio, revealing a blank note page.

I waved away a gnat and said, “There’s nothing there.”

“That’s because it’s all right here.” She gestured to me. “Who’s a better reflection of Eden than you? In you, I’ve seen kindness in the way you stepped up to help Summer afford college. I’ve seen generosity in the way you’ve allowed the birdwatchers to stay on your land. I’ve seen creativity in your recipes. I’ve seen fairness, in the way you turned profits from the blackberry tea back to the Pavegeaus. I’ve seen strength in the way you’ve taken on running the café after suffering personal tragedy. I’ve seen forgiveness with me, with Natalie. I’ve seen a heart of gold in the way you care about Mr. Lazenby. I’ve seen humor in the T-shirt slogans. And I’ve seen love, especially in the way you look at Ollie. Now,” she said, taking my hand, “some of that is all you, Anna Kate, but I’m betting you learned a lot of those characteristics from your mother. And that tells me all I need to know about Eden. I believe the car crash was an accident, plain and simple. I’m sincerely sorry for treating her terribly. I’m ashamed of myself.”

I glanced at the mulberry trees. I hoped Mom had heard the apology. It had been a long time coming. Moreover, I hoped she accepted it, because it seemed to me it had come straight from the heart.

Sunbeams glinted off Seelie’s pearls as she pulled her hand away. “I, of course, cannot speak on Eden’s behalf, but as a mother who’s learned some valuable lessons of late, I cannot help but think that Eden would want, above all else, for you to be happy, promise or no. You mentioned once that no one ever asks you what you want, Anna Kate. I’m asking you now. What do you want to do?”

I squeezed my hands into fists. “I don’t know.”

“I think you do. I think you’ve known since the first day you came to Wicklow. You need to own that truth, Anna Kate, or you’ll never be truly happy.” She stood up. “I’m going to head on home. I have hovering to recommence.”

“Do some hovering for me, too, will you?”

“Absolutely.”

With a wave, she was gone. I sat, thinking about what she’d said.

I knew what Zee wanted.

I knew what Mom wanted.

What did I want?

I glanced back at the café, then over to the birders, and Hill House.

I wanted to see where Mr. Lazenby and Pebbles’s relationship was headed and listen to Faylene’s gossip. I wanted to know how Summer fared at school and see Aubin’s B&B plan come to life. I wanted to know if Ollie would be swimming on her own by the end of summer and if Natalie would allow her heart to love again. I wanted to hear Mr. Boyd’s stories of his mother. I wanted to see Seelie continue to find her new self, and I wanted to hear Doc tell me every story he could remember about anything, including my dad. I wanted to get postcards from Bow and Jena. I wanted to have coffee with Gideon every morning.

I wanted to create tea blends.

I wanted to make pies and listen to the blackbirds sing.

I wanted to be here, right where I was, in Wicklow.

“I’ve made my decision,” I said to the mulberry trees. “I choose ... me. I’m happy here. I want to use my gifts to heal, to soothe, and to comfort the people here, in Wicklow. I belong here.”

It was then that I noticed a blackbird among the mulberry branches, watching me. She dropped to the ground, and I could see the green in her eyes. Mom.

She hopped around, pecking at the ground. I thought at first she was scratching for mulberries like the other birds, but her pattern wasn’t random.

It was a message for me, her own love note.

I watched with a smile as she repeated the route, over and over again, following the path of mulberry tree roots.

“For where your roots are, your heart is,” I said, repeating Zee’s words.

She bobbed her head once and then flew back into the tunnel, disappearing out of sight.

Blackbirds only made daytime appearances on the rarest of occasions.

Today it had been to welcome me home.

Fluffy clouds swept across mountaintops in the distance as I walked under the rusty metal archway of the Wicklow cemetery.

This afternoon it wasn’t a cat or a blackbird I was following. It was my heart.

The leaves of the tulip trees fluttered in the breeze, and I kept my gaze straight ahead, so it wouldn’t wander over to where Zee had been buried.

Passing the Linden family monument, I said hello to my dad, and kept on going.

I found Aubin Pavegeau exactly where I expected to this time of day: in front of Francie’s gravestone under the big maple tree.

He glanced up as I cleared my throat. He took the sweetgum stick out of his mouth and tucked it into his back pocket. “Anna Kate. What’s doing?”

“Mind if I sit down?”

Apprehension came quickly into his eyes as he patted the grass. I sat down and set a manila envelope between us.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“The police report on my parents’ car crash.”

His eyes went big and round as he lifted his cap, wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “I’ve been waiting twenty-five years for this day to come. The day of reckoning.”

“You were there that day, in the car when it crashed, weren’t you?” I worked hard to keep the hurt out of my voice. He had to have some sort of reason for keeping quiet all this time.

“How’d you know?”

I opened the envelope and pulled out one of the photographs taken after the wreck. It was of the backseat, which had been littered with broken glass ... and a sweetgum stick. “Freshly chewed,” I said, pointing to the white, pulpy end.

I had to assume the police hadn’t recognized what the twig was or considered it important in any way. But the moment I saw it, I knew. And I’d known who it belonged to.

“What happened that day, Aubin?”

Aubin plucked a piece of grass and rolled it between his fingers. “You know some of it already. We took a ride down to Tuscaloosa to see AJ’s campus. He and Eden were so in love, those two, it was like to make a man feel sick with the gooey way they talked to each other.” He glanced at me. “I didn’t understand love at that point, because I was years away from meeting my Francie.”

I had a hard time picturing my mother talking sappy at all, but the thought of it made me smile. “They weren’t fighting? I’ve heard they had been that summer, because of Seelie’s ultimatum.”

“They hadn’t been fighting that day, because AJ had made his decision.”

“Did he pick my mother?” That certainly would have put an end to their squabbles.

“Kind of. Mostly, he chose himself. He decided he was going to do what he wanted—not what other people wanted for him. He loved Eden and wanted to marry her. And he wanted to go to college, so that’s why we were going down to the school. He was meeting with a counselor to figure out how he could pay for college on his own.”

He chose himself. A burst of pride brought tears to my eyes. I’d followed in my father’s footsteps after all.

“AJ was nothing if not charming,” Aubin said as he flung another piece of grass, “and by the time he left campus, he had financial aid in place. Plus the school had married housing options, so he and Eden decided they’d bump up their wedding date to Labor Day weekend. We’d stopped for lunch on the way home, a celebratory picnic, and AJ and I indulged in a few drinks.”

“But I read that alcohol hadn’t been a factor in the crash.”

“It hadn’t been for Eden. She didn’t drink at all that day and insisted on takin’ the keys.”

I supposed that would have been all the police cared about—after all, she’d been the one driving.

Aubin’s head dropped, and he stared at the ground as he said, “It had been a great day. We laughed a lot. We were near the bridge that crosses Willow Creek when—”

He cut himself off, and I gave him time to collect himself.

Closing his eyes, he said, “When out of nowhere this gray cat comes darting out from the tree line, chasing a bird. Eden swerved, clipped the cat and the bird, lost control, and hit the tree. She didn’t even have time to brake, it happened so fast. When I came to, I saw Eden was alive but knocked unconscious at the wheel. AJ had been thrown from the car.” Aubin swallowed hard. “He’d died on impact.”

“And you?” I asked, my throat tight.

“I’d smacked my head good on a window, and my arm was cut up pretty badly from flying glass. I used the blanket in the car to staunch the bleeding, and ran from that crash as fast as I could.”

I bent my knees, wrapped my arms around my legs. “Why’d you run?”

“Part of it was fear. I’d called off work that day, and I knew if word got back to my boss, I’d be fired. My mother was countin’ on my paycheck to pay our bills and put food on the table. And I was scared about the drinkin’, thinking the cops would put me in jail ... The Lindens didn’t like me, and they had sway with the police. It was stupid to run, because I knew Eden was likely to say I’d been there, but it was instinct, pure and simple. By the time I came to my senses and decided to turn myself in, word came ’round that Eden didn’t have any memories of the crash.”

“So you let her take the blame?” I asked, choking back emotion. “I was going to, yes, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I thought for sure the police would find evidence of cat fur or feathers on the car and realize what happened, but nothing like that ever came out. Guilt was eatin’ me alive, especially after Seelie started accusin’ Eden of causing the crash on purpose. I cleaned up AJ’s blanket real good, and I went by the café to talk to her, to tell her what I planned, and to give the blanket back. I told her everything, and I cried like a big ol’ baby. I promised her I’d make everything right.”

A maple leaf fluttered to the ground. “But ... you didn’t.”

“Eden stopped me from going to the police. She said she forgave me, said I’d done her a favor by keeping quiet, because it had showed her the Linden family’s true colors. She made me promise not to tell anyone what had happened, that there was no point and would only cause me a world of trouble. She said we’d keep it between us. Next thing I knew, she’d left town. I’ve never told another soul what really happened that day. Until now.”

Mom and her promises ... I hugged my knees even tighter. She hadn’t broken her word to Aubin, either—while she insisted she knew the crash had been an accident, she’d never once explained why she knew.

I suddenly wondered if Zee knew the truth. The hair rose on my arms, and instinctively I knew she had. Now it all made sense. The terms of her will ... and the connections to Summer. Zee had planned it all, because without Summer, I wouldn’t have met Aubin.

Through her will, Zee had gifted me time to find the truth about the accident.

And to find myself.

She’d been a nurturer until the very end.

“I was such a coward. I let Eden down. I let AJ down. I let myself down. And even though Eden forgave me, I’m still working on forgiving myself.” He glanced at Francie’s headstone. “I don’t know what I would have done if someone had accused me of killin’ Francie on purpose. I don’t know how Eden survived it.”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure either. I put the photograph away.

He reached for the envelope. “I’ll go see Josh Kolbaugh right now, get this all sorted. It’s long past time for the truth to come out and to clear Eden’s name once and for all.”

I put my hand on his arm. “No, it’s not what she wanted then, and she wouldn’t want it now.”

He let that sink in, and then said, “Anna Kate? I’m real sorry about what happened. I wish more than anything you could have known your daddy. And that you could have seen Eden and him together. Seen their love.”

“I wish that too,” I said softly. But all wasn’t lost—every day I was in Wicklow, I learned more and more about the people who’d given me life. I learned it through Aubin. Through the Lindens And I’d keep on learning, because I wasn’t leaving.

“I hope you can forgive me, too, Anna Kate.”

I reached out for his hand, and he rested his palm on top of mine. “What is friendship, Mr. Pavegeau?”

He lifted up our joined hands. “I think it looks a lot like this, Anna Kate.”

“I think so too.”

But to my eyes, it didn’t just look like friendship.

It also looked a whole lot like healing.

29

Anna Kate Callow stepped up to the table, her coppery-colored hair shining in the sunlight streaming through high windows. The room was awash in light, the woodwork gleaming, the atmosphere warm and friendly. A heavenly scent filled the air. Something sweet yet spicy.

She said, “I thought you’d be done with that article by now. You’ve been at it awhile.”

He thought he’d have finished too. But he was having trouble trying to come up with a way to explain to his editor that his blackbird article had devolved into an existential essay on life, love, loss, and forgiveness. “I shouldn’t be here much longer. Maybe another day. Or two.”

She smiled sweetly at him as she tucked her hands into the pockets of her waist apron. “I probably should have warned you when you arrived that Wicklow has a way of holding on to you once you’re here.”

A drop of condensation slid down his glass. “One of the first people I interviewed told me this wasn’t any old ordinary town. She was right.”

Laughing, Anna Kate’s green eyes sparkled with pure happiness. She turned toward the kitchen, then stopped to look back at him. “You stay as long as you want. You’re always welcome here at the Blackbird Café.”

 

Anna Kate

“Yoo-hoo!” Faylene Wiggins yelled, waving her arms. “We’re over here! The movie’s about to start, so get a move on. Hey, y’all, Gideon and Anna Kate are here.”

Gideon looked over at me and said, “Third time’s the charm for the fried chicken?”

“It better be. I’m starting to think I’m the only one in this town who hasn’t tasted it yet.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, squeezing my hand. “I know where you can get plenty more. All you’ve got to do is ask, Anna Kate.”

“Is this all part of your grand plan to reunify our properties?” “Yes,” he said with a smile, “yes, it is.”

“I approve.”

Faylene’s eyebrows went into the stratosphere as we approached and she spotted the hand-holding, but much to my surprise, she didn’t call attention to it.

Marcy and Josh were there with Lindy-Lou, who was, as usual, asleep. Mr. Boyd gave a sheepish wave from his spot next to Faylene. Doc leaned against the magnolia tree as he read a book to Ollie, who was nestled in his arms. He gave me a wink and kept on reading about a little blue truck.

“Finally,” Natalie said when she saw us. “I swear Mama bribed someone to keep the movie from starting until you got here.”

Seelie glanced at me. “It was hardly a bribe. Ten dollars and a What the Flock T-shirt. Pittance, really.”

“I don’t know about that, Seelie,” Cam said from his spot at Natalie’s side. “Those shirts are a hot commodity.”

“They’re selling faster than Aubin can make them,” Marcy said. “Please tell me you brought your fried chicken, Gideon. I’ve been dreaming of it.”

“Poor Josh,” Pebbles said. “Losing out in Marcy’s dreams to chicken.”

She and Mr. Lazenby sat next to each other in matching lawn chairs. It seemed Gideon and I weren’t the only ones doing some hand-holding tonight.

“Don’t feel sorry for me,” Josh said. “I’ve been dreaming about it too.”

I smiled at that as I spread a blanket in the empty spot between Natalie and Seelie.

“What’s this about chicken?” Mr. Lazenby asked, eyebrows raised with interest.

“It’s your favorite kind,” Faylene said. “Free!”

He tried to scowl but it quickly turned into a wheezy laugh that filled me with happiness.

As Gideon passed around the plate of chicken, I pulled mason jars of blackberry tea from the cooler to hand out. Jena had helped me pack them as she told me of her and Bow’s plans to travel around the country. They were leaving as soon as I hired on more help. When I fairly begged her to stay on, she patted my hand and told me she’d been grounded too long and was ready to fly once again. She vowed they’d be back for Christmas, however, and I was going to hold them to that.

“Hi, Annakay!” Ollie said when she looked up from her book and spotted me.

She’d added the extra a this past week. Before I knew it, she’d be saying my full name with perfect enunciation. I was over the moon that I’d get to see her grow up.

I walked over and kissed the top of her head, then Doc’s as well. “You two look cozy over here.”

Doc winked. “Not as cozy as you’re looking with Gideon.”

Seelie swatted him. “Oh, hush now. You’ll embarrass her.”

“I come from hearty stock,” I said. “I don’t embarrass easily.”

“That’s good to know,” Doc said, “because Seelie’s planning family photos. In matching outfits.”

“They’re not matching,” she corrected. “They’re complementing.”

“My mistake, dear.”

I laughed as I sat back down. My gaze slid to Natalie and Cam, who were playing tug-of-war with a chicken leg, then back to Seelie to see how she was reacting to the obvious date.

She slowly smiled and leaned into me to whisper, “If she likes him, then I suppose I like him too. We must get him to shave that beard, though. Good Lord.”

The amphitheater lights dimmed, and quiet fell across the crowd. Gideon sat next to me, pushing in close to press a kiss to my temple. He’d been extra early for coffee this morning—because he’d stayed the night.

If Zee and his granddaddy had played matchmaker as we suspected, then I owed them a debt of thanks.

The movie screen lit up, then went dark a second later. The crowd groaned.

The screen lit up again, and cheers erupted as the opening of Find­ing Dory came on.

Then boos erupted, because the characters were speaking in French.

 

Despite the language barrier, the movie kept rolling, but many people started to pack up and leave.

Faylene said, “What do y’all say? Should we leave or should we stay?”

“Fishy!” Ollie bounced on her toes as she pointed at the screen. “Fishy!”

“Stay,” we all said at the same time.

Faylene laughed. “Stay it is. You got any of those hand pies this week, Gideon?”

I smiled as I looked around at all the faces I’d come to know, and the people I’d grown to love.

Wicklow might have taken hold of me, but I was never letting it go.

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