Home > When in Rome(8)

When in Rome(8)
Author: Sarah Adams

   Harriet nods, her scowl still deeply marring the space between her brows. “Well, good. Keep it that way.”

   Great, glad that’s over.

   “I’ll have your peach pie ready at closing for you.” It’s Wednesday so I know she’ll be by to pick it up on her way to her knitting group. I lift my coffee in silent cheers and then keep walking.

   I pick up my pace and miraculously do not encounter anyone else as I pass the diner, and then the flower shop (which is run by my youngest sister, who I’m sure would be bursting out and demanding answers if she wasn’t out of town currently with my other two sisters), and finally make it to the front door of The Pie Shop. I shove my key in the lock even though I could probably leave the thing wide open at night and no one would even consider vandalizing or stealing anything. In fact, Phil would probably come in and fix the wobbly barstool and then lock the place up for me on his way out.

   Stepping inside the shop feels like a hug. It might not look like much to anyone else, but to me, it’s home. This pie shop has been in my family for decades. Very little about it has changed over the years, which I’m grateful for. The same blue-and-white-checkered curtains hang above the double windows. The same scratched-up wooden countertop sits beside the pie case. I had to replace the high-top table that sits in front of the large storefront window because it was definitely the worse for wear, but I managed to find one that was nearly an exact replica.

   I take ten steps into the shop, lift the folding countertop, walk through, and then latch it closed behind me. It, as well as the domed-glass pie case, separates the front half of the store from the back half. And back there behind me is a tiny kitchen where my mom, and my grandma, and her mom before her, and her mom before her baked our Walker family pies with their secret recipes. But that’s basically it. It’s small, or quaint, or whatever you want to call it, but it’s all I need.

   I spend the next few minutes getting the shop ready to open—turning on the giant oven, brewing a fresh pot of coffee for customers, wiping down surfaces. I’m just popping a tray of pies from the freezer into the oven when the back door opens and James steps in with a crate full of apples. Like me, he grew up in this town and took over his family’s farm. We went to school together from preschool all the way through community college where we both majored in business.

   “How’s it going, Noah?”

   “Good. How are—”

   “So who’s the woman?” he says, setting down the crate and crossing his arms.

   I pour myself a fresh cup of coffee because I get the feeling today could be a several-cupper. “Damn. How do you know about her? It’s only eight in the morning.”

   He shrugs a shoulder. “Mabel called asking if I could see anything from my porch.”

   James is technically my neighbor. Except our houses are separated by several acres.

   I raise my coffee to my lips and take a sip. “Could you?”

   “Nah—too far off.”

   “Couldn’t find your binoculars?”

   “I think I lent them to someone.” James helps himself to a Styrofoam to-go cup and fills it with coffee before leaning back against the counter like he doesn’t have a damn thing to do all day. He crosses one booted foot over the other.

   “You comfy?” I ask in an annoyed tone. “Anything else I can get you? A magazine? A blanket? A chair?”

   “I’m good, thank you.” He smiles indulgently. Women often call James charming. I call him a pain in the ass. “So…what’s her name?”

   I actually don’t know what the protocol is here. Are you supposed to tell people if you have someone famous in your house? “Rae,” I say with a discreet clear of my throat.

   “Last name?” He blows on his coffee and peers at me over the rim of his cup.

   I turn my eyes up like I’m racking my brain for the answer. Like it’s not been buzzing through my head all morning. Sitting on the tip of my tongue. Racing through my dreams last night. “Umm…I think it was Mind-Your-Own-Damn-Business. Don’t you have more crates to unload? I know I ordered more than this.”

   I pick up the apples and carry them over to my walk-in pantry and start unloading them into bins. My annoying shadow follows. “Why are you being so secretive?”

   “I’m not. I’m just tired of talking to you.”

   “Hmm, extraprickly today. This woman must have gotten under your skin. How long is she staying?”

   I turn around and bump his shoulder on my way out of the pantry. “You’re the one getting under my skin.”

   If he’s not going to unload the crates, I will. This town is making way too much out of nothing. So there’s a woman at my house? Big deal. She’s not staying. In fact, I’m hoping she’ll be out of there by the time I get home. The last thing I need is some privileged pop star running up my electricity bill.

   I go out into the back alley and pull a crate of eggs off the bed of James’s truck. I consider skimming one or two off the top and throwing them at his front windshield. When I turn back toward the shop, James is blocking the back entrance looking just as mischievous as when we were kids and he talked me into sneaking out at night so we could go swimming with the Fremont girls. It was a good night, though.

   “Just give me the details and I’ll leave.”

   I let out a deep breath and it escapes more like a growl than an exhale. “Fine. Her name is Rae Rose and her car broke down in my front yard. I let her sleep in my guest room and that’s it. End of story.”

   His brows pull together and I can see that he’s trying to place her name. He’s heard of her—everyone has—so it’s only a matter of time before he realizes just who is at my house. Annnnnd there it is. His eyes go wide and his mouth drops open. “You don’t mean to tell me that…”

   I nod, finishing his sentence for him. “The princess of soulful pop is in my house right now breathing up all my bought air.”

   “No shit!” A new dawning look that I don’t quite like hits him. Like he’s imagining her face. Like he’s imagining his new prospects. And then his eyes shift to me and his look changes. “Ohhhh, now I see what’s up with the surly attitude.”

   “I’m always surly.”

   He’s smirking now like he understands everything about me. He probably does. I hate it. “She’s gorgeous and talented and you like her. But she’s an out-of-towner, and you’re too jaded to let yourself even talk to her.”

   “I talked to her just fine. Now move,” I say, breezing past him and setting down the eggs. I run my hand over some pots and pans, making a ton of noise just for the hell of it. I don’t like that he picked me apart so easily.

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