Lily, continued (and finished)

I finished my Lily story on Father’s Day, but it’s taken me this long to sit down and post it. That’s one of the things that I am working on changing…. The posting bit. I veered away from this blog in recent months but writing this short story and enjoying the narrative form reminded me that I really love the longer prose of a post or a story. Also, as I finished this little tale, I realized that if I just wrote 10 of them I would have a novel. And that’s the funny thing, the last time I wrote a novel it wasn’t as quintessentially hard as I thought it would be. As long as I have a story in my head, then maybe I should put my hands to the keys and write it, no?

You’ll want to read Part One of the story here first to get a sense of how it’s all framed up, all the big cliffhangers (ha!) and such. It’s a simple short story, nothing triggering or fancy, just a blip into a different world for a few pages. I hope it gives you a little pre-bedtime escape, or maybe an over the coffee sort of drip by drip story to enjoy. Drop me a line to let me know what you think. After I post a few belated recipes here soon, I’ll write another one and serve it up alongside a piece of summer Italian plum cobbler for you to enjoy, if you like those sorts of things.

Lily, continued.

After landing in Newburgh and getting the keys to her car (she had packed light, no need to wait at luggage claim), she settled into her tiny white compact car. Figures that’s all they’d have, she thought, just like a little square Saltine. But it was the cheapest they had and she had already used up 50 weeks of lunch money to get herself out there on a last-minute ticket. She had splurged just a tiny bit on the bed and breakfast rather than a standard Econolodge, which is normally where she would stay. But the B&B looked so sweet in the online photos, situated in an old farmhouse that was still old on the inside—her room was supposed to have a little floral needlepoint chair and a mahogany roll top desk, but the thing that she really hoped would be true to photo was the coat rack. She’d always had a thing for those. This coat rack was a highly expressive one with extra arching arms and it reminded her of Mary Poppins and her endlessly magical carpetbag. She wanted to hang her coat on it the minute she arrived. As she drove, following Siri’s monotonous commands, she wondered if Thomas Green was the kind of guy who unpacked when he arrived at a new place, or more the sort of person who rifled through his suitcase and left it open on the floor with all the contents spilling out. She considered whether she would mind either way, and decided to hold judgement until she tasted his food.

As she turned onto a shady old-growth lane to the Sycamore Creek Farm B&B she had a sudden vision of standing outside Green’s behind a long line of young, fresh women dressed in sundresses while Thomas stood at the door taking names for the waitlist. Just imagine, she thought. Just imagine.

Turning the bend of the long driveway, the sweetest little vision of a farmhouse came into full sight. It was an antique white, not the bright white of the new farmhouses, and it had filigree trim and a wide covered front porch. Lily stepped out of the car and stood a moment to take it in. It was like viewing a painting through a wide-angle lens, a little bit blurry between the willow branches and moss-covered fence posts, a distant view of a pond glimmering off beyond the sycamores, and she remembered being a small child with dancing feet twirling under her grandma’s willow tree, laughing at the way the strands tickled her cheeks. She walked up the two sets of 4 big wide-plank front steps and opened the door to the sound of a tinkly bell.

“Just a moment!” called a female voice.

“No problem,” Lily called back.

The woman that emerged was beautiful, dressed in slacks and a sweater set, smooth hair parted to the side, big eyes and a smooth, coffee complexion.

“Welcome, Lily” she said, extending her hand with a wide smile. “I’m Margo. Welcome to my farm.” Margo had told her when she reserved the room that she was the only guest in the inn until Friday, when the weekend guests would arrive and fill the other three rooms. There were four rooms so while it was a big house, it had a cozy feel, too.

“It’s beautiful here!” Lily replied, shaking Margo’s hand and finding herself break into her own smile for the first time all day.

“Thank you, it’s been in my family for three generations,” Margo replied, smiling. “It was my grandmother’s. Come on up to your room,” she said, extending her hand to the curving staircase near the back of a comfortable sitting room around a grand stone fireplace.

Lily followed across the padded blue Victorian rug, which was impeccably clean, and smooth from age. Even the railing felt silky from wear beneath her hand as she ascended the stairs. Margo turned right at the top of the landing and opened the door to her room by twisting the glass handle and giving a little shove.

“There you are, Lily,” Margo said, staying outside the room. “The washroom is to your right. Breakfast is from 7-10. Just let me know if you need anything at all,” and with that her gracious host gave a big smile and left Lily to her reverie.

Sunlight flooded the small room. There was the blue needlepoint chair with blooming roses. There was the old mahogany roll-top desk. There was the white coverlet on the double bed with damask-covered pillows. And there, thought Lily with satisfaction, was the coatrack. It was taller than her 5’6” height. She removed her jacket and hung it up immediately, then unpacked all her clothes into the mahogany wardrobe by the washroom door. It smelled like roses and furniture polish. Then she sat down on the side of the bed, stared at the curving footboard and the view of the meadow beyond, and thought, Well, here I am. She fell back on the bed and stared up at the angled ceiling and closed her eyes. It was 3 o’clock. Green’s opened at 5. She splayed out her arms and found herself giggling, just a little at first, and then full belly laughter took over. She rolled over and hit one of the beautiful old pillows. A downy feather danced into the air, sashaying through the room on a little oceanic drift of its own. She watched it lift to the apex of the roofline and slowly fall to the arm of the blue chair.

Rather than spending too much time wondering about finding herself suddenly in an old B&B in rural New York, she wisely turned on the faucet on the clawfoot tub and got in, glad for the heat and steam and simple offering of soap and sage shampoo. As she scrubbed, the night ahead played out, and the possibilities went something like this:

  1. She arrived at the restaurant and waited in line with all the summer dress ladies, situated somewhere between the 20th and 30th flowery dress. A solid chill descended over the evening air by 7 p.m. and after two hours of waiting, she sat down at a table with goosebumps and a quarter-inch stubble formed on the legs she was now shaving; she was cold, pale, tired, and was waited upon by a nice old lady who told her the unexpected onslaught of customers overwhelmed Thomas Green and there was nothing left on the menu except brie and champagne. She ordered the brie and a bottle of champagne, and, in a state of dejection, only had a partial view of Thomas Green’s elbow through the slightly ajar door to the kitchen, and eventually left the restaurant tipsy and depressed.
  2. She was the restaurant’s first and only customer. She sat alone with her book, realizing too late that she was reading a plot-driven narrative love story rather than an intelligent-looking dive into current affairs, and she remained hunched in embarrassment the whole time, unable to free herself from the obvious beacon of hungry love-struck beams shooting from her eyes, so she kept her gaze averted and ordered everything, ate too much, and only saw Thomas Green’s boot from beneath the counter of an otherwise cloaked back room.
  3. She arrived at 5 o’clock. Thomas Green, just him, opened the door to just her, and he stared into her eyes and immediately seated her in the best table in the restaurant, brought her a complimentary elderflower-infused cocktail, served her his favorite choices on the menu, and asked her thoughtful questions about the world and life in general that she found herself able to intelligently answer. She ate every bit of the chocolate soufflé and vowed to learn to cook, and when she left she felt that the mysterious pull of the moon toward Thomas Green had been solved and she would return to life in Seattle and look for a carbon copy of him somewhere that didn’t require uprooting her existence and living with sheep (even though later it would dawn on her that she did want to learn to knit homegrown sweaters).
  4. Despite every attempt to corral her anxious obsession, she arrived at the restaurant tired and disoriented and stumbled on her way to the table, sat in drenched nervousness, and stared at article after article about Thomas Green on her phone, unable to cogitate that he was there, in real life, offering her a meal. When presented with the menu, she didn’t think clearly and accidentally ordered lobster because she was focused on the sauce which sounded lovely, but lobster was something she wished she liked but couldn’t even in her wildest dreams, and she stared at it in disdain and harassed consternation while poking tenderly at a boiled claw and remembering that time in Maine when she saw one of them hauled up and thrown into a bucket. She left the whole thing woefully untouched and headed back to the B&B and never even so much as saw what might have even represented the whisper of a boot, belt, arm, or whisker of Thomas Green.

It’s true that the internal narratives in Lily’s head were a foregone conclusion. She’d learned to live with them. They were what kept her busy while she calculated all the audits for the corporations she served. They played a sort of constant background music to her life that she hadn’t thought much about; they were sort of like the elevator music that began when you entered the elevator and didn’t think much about whether you liked it or not, it just played. That was what it was like to be in Lily’s head, but more complicated because there was always possibility beyond the stories and every narrative went on forever and ever like little helixes into infinity. Maybe that’s why she liked Thomas Green. He had an infinity symbol on his wrist. Maybe he could explain to her what forever was all about and how to live like the music in her head instead of doing rote things in the real world while the fantasy took hold and life was so much more interesting inside her own head that she preferred her thoughts to the real stuff.

By the time she was ready to head out, it was 4:30 and she was a nervous wreck. None of the preparations had given her any peace. Despite her careful list-making and packing, she had forgotten a proper bra; she was wearing a sports bra underneath her summer dress, which thankfully wasn’t spaghetti-strap, but nonetheless…she had a uni-boob. Her hair was fine, it was just fine; it dusted her shoulders and hadn’t over-flipped itself, and it wasn’t too straight, either. But was there a glimmer in her eye or any kind of pizazz to speak of? Not at all. She looked exhausted. She nearly decided to pull off all her clothes and go to bed inside the soft sheets and downy cover of her new bed, but she was too hungry to sleep. So, as she trudged down the stairs and considered looking for a fast-food getaway to hide in for the evening, she took in the gorgeous sitting room below her room, really looking at the fireplace and the bookshelves full of good hardcover books. Maybe she should get food to go and start a little fire in this fireplace and grab a book? But it took her only seconds to remember that books were always her companions and bedfellows before she shook some sense into herself and finally folded herself into her compact car and followed Siri to the restaurant. It wasn’t a particularly scenic route; lots of little strip mally kind of places dotted the route, but when she finally saw the storefront, she was satisfied to see that it really was as cute as it looked in the pictures.

She found a parking spot and got out before really taking in her surroundings. There weren’t any other folks nearby. She was on a relatively lonesome street except for this one stretch of sidewalk where she had found a place to pull in between a similarly compact car and a pickup truck. Instantly the internal narrative kicked in: This was a lonesome restaurant at the brink of bankruptcy. A few manipulations and The New York Times had agreed under duress to feature Green’s to the tune of ownership after bankruptcy, etc. etc., and once inside Lily would succumb to the pallor and depression of a failed love affair with food, and she would leave even more empty than before. Also, Thomas would be quite short. Not short, but short-short, like, staring directly at her uni-boob and trying to look meaningfully up at her but it would feel failed from the beginning, and he wouldn’t have any of the internal electricity to make up for it. She didn’t have the energy.

As she clicked the car’s security key and watched to make sure the headlights flashed, she paused for a moment and considered: It wasn’t just a narrative in her head anymore. She breathed deeply for the first time in weeks. It might be one of the first times in her life when she had taken a story and brought it to light in real life. And wasn’t that something? So, she took her inner narrator and told herself to square her shoulders and walk on. And that’s just what she did. She walked down the sidewalk and noticed only that there was some nice foliage outside Green’s, and she didn’t stop to consider anything other than that before placing her hand on the old brass doorknob.

She pushed the door in and it creaked a bit. She stepped inside. It was dark, but comfortably so. The kind of dark that didn’t need you to provide an explanation. There were a few clean but warped old windows letting in plenty of evening light, but not enough to make the room feel like it existed in real time. Right now, she felt like she had entered late evening. She stood uncertainly by the threshold and shut the door behind her. It became even darker. There was a rustle in the back of the room and she jumped a bit, but stood still, taking the room in. It had tall ceilings and dark walls with sconces. The floor was worn cobblestone. There was a shiny bar in the back with gleaming countertops and a few lit glass shelves with recognizable labels, but also ones she had never seen before. There was a big green bouquet of what she thought was probably rosemary. The entire restaurant smelled amazing, but in a way that she couldn’t quite place. (In the back of her mind she thought it might be traveling to other places and adventure in the woods alongside sleeping in and snuggling deep into the covers on a rainy day with cups and cups of coffee and good red wine, but she wasn’t quite sure).

She stood uncertainly for what felt like many uncomfortable minutes. It was okay though because she took the opportunity to study everything: The checked tablecloths and the flowered ones, the mismatched comfort; the folded cloth napkins and the herbs at each table. There were just a few paintings on the walls; they seemed like new arcana.

Nothing happened for a long time. She waited and waited. Finally, she decided to sit down. She could have called out, but that felt presumptuous. So, she sat, and she set down her purse and pulled out nothing more than her own interest as she waited. She was focused on the methodical ticking sound of the grandfather clock near the front of the restaurant when she heard some new music scrape to life and fast-forward to classical. The curtain (because there really was a curtain, just as she had imagined) parted, and out stepped Thomas Green.

“Hello there,” he said, looking at her with a moment of puzzled confusion on his face. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.” He seemed to cast about for the time and finally settled on the clock in front of them with some consternation.

“I’m sorry, I’m early, aren’t I?” Lily asked. “I probably read the time wrong. I always do that. I’m terrible about keeping the time.” Which wasn’t entirely true; she always made the bus and she always got to work on time, but it was because of a manual override she had needed to perform on her otherwise impossible brain. Normally she was late for everything and she usually got the last 30 minutes wrong on all things.

Thomas Green stared quizzically at the clock. “No, you’re right on time, blast it. I’ve been trying to get that thing to reset for awhile and actually alert me when 5 o’clock rolls around, but it’s got some kind of a glitch. I’m sorry you’ve been waiting.” He wiped his hands across a towel attached to his belt. He was wearing a button-down dark green shirt and earth-colored twill pants with a brown belt and boots. Just, Lily thought, as she had imagined. He walked over to the front door and pulled the entryway hosting station out from the wall, then thumbed through the menus until he found one. He approached the table.

“This is the wine and cocktail list for this week, would you like to look it over?” He asked her. Lily noticed he was standing quite tall above her. Nothing hobbity about him at all, she realized. The issue was really the electrical storm that surrounded him. She was too scared to reach out and take the menu, so she just nodded her head and dropped her gaze.

“That would be lovely,” she mumbled, staring at her hands. Then she cleared her throat and made herself look up at him. “What do you recommend?” she asked, feeling boldness descend over her like a blanket.               

“Well. They’re all great. My favorite right now because it’s insanely prolific in the garden is the muddled mint mojito. The mint is just at its peak, you know, and I use a burnt sugar in the base of the cup that I sort of muddle in a bit but let stay a bit rough. It’s pretty lovely, you know, not too sweet but sweet enough. Or the herbed martini with a splash of thyme vermouth that I make every month. It’s just a simple basic martini but a top shelf gin and I add a few pickled veggies that I think do the trick. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with the wine list. It’s just in from Piedmont, this list.” He stood for a minute, staring at her, then looked about him. “Nobody here yet, you can take your time, let me get you some bread, ok?” He walked to the kitchen in an unhurried amble and flicked his hand against the doorframe as he entered. Lily sat in a state of frozen surprise. He was actually everything she had pictured. She wasn’t sure if it was because the article had done such a lovely job of detailing him and his restaurant, or because maybe her brain was better than she realized at filling in the empty spaces.

Thomas peered out from behind the curtain. “Menu’s on the blackboard over yonder,” he stated, pointing to the blackboard on the opposing wall. “That’s what’s available tonight. I hope something fits.” He retreated and Lily heard some gentle bangs and slices before he arrived with a basket of bread and a little shallow dish with olive oil and herbs. He set it down and was about to speak again when the door opened. He turned and greeted the customer, a man about their age who was holding a folded newspaper.

“Is this the place with The New York Times article?” the man asked, holding out his paper.

“Indeed, come in,” Thomas said. “Take a seat anywhere you like.”

The man hung up his jacket on the coat rack by the front door that Lily noticed for the first time was far superior to any restaurant coat rack she had seen before. It was painted black and stood not much taller than both the men, which she guessed were around six feet. As he was hanging his coat, the door opened again and in stepped an older couple, both with softly graying hair and white shirts, slacks, shiny shoes. They looked so accustomed to each other that Lily wondered if they ever wondered where one ended and the other began.

Thomas suggested a table in the far corner for them, leaving just three empty besides the three that were now filled. Thomas returned with a small armful of rosemary bouquets, setting them at each table, then expertly lit each candle alongside.

“What do you think?” He asked Lily, pulling out a chair and sitting down at her table. “What sounds good to you tonight?”

The menu was so simple she was grateful to not have to give too much thought to the choices. “I would love to try the martini you mentioned. And the Caesar salad to start? And then the herbed halibut and new potatoes.” She folded her hands in her lap and stared at him.

His eyes were lively and sharp. He was memorizing everything. He tapped his fingers on the table and said, “Perfect. You got it.” And hopped up before zigzagging over to the gentleman in the corner.

Meanwhile, the door opened again and 7 more people entered, grouping themselves into small groups—two couples, three younger women. Thomas seated them all, lit the candles, brought out the menus, pointed to the blackboard, retreated to the kitchen, returned with baskets of bread and disks of oil on a big tray. He seemed completely unruffled by the activity. Another couple entered. They looked at the full restaurant. Lily heard Thomas explain the wait.

“I could share my table,” announced the man in the corner. Thomas looked at him, then looked at Lily, before Lily saw the impact.

“Oh!” She found herself saying, stumbling through responses but arriving at nothing except a nervous “thank you but really,” and she was hoping nobody would notice and ask her to carry through with anything, but the man was already moving his leather case from the chair across from him and pointing to the chair. “Unless you’re expecting anyone?” He asked Lily. Everyone in the restaurant was watching. The older couple exchanged glances. Clearly, they were in favor. Weren’t all mated pairs constantly wanting to achieve similar results within their outer circles? Lily glanced an appeal at Thomas but he was distracted by a request from the table of three women. The man across the restaurant was seated again, taking a pull from a dark lager and returning to his outstretched book, which appeared to be a hardback without a cover so perhaps something antique. Lily considered her options. She could pretend she was deaf, but she was afraid she’d already lost that argument. She could pretend she was contagious and begin a massive coughing fit, but then nobody would want her there and besides, how embarrassing. She was debating making a quick run for the door when something caught her eye. The man’s leather case was old and battered and out of the corner of her eye she saw her dad arriving home from work and setting his briefcase on the entryway bench, day after day. Every morning he would pick it up. Every day he would return and set it down again. What happened between those hours was entirely unclear to Lily as a child; as an adult she understood the total adherence to schedule and dedication that her dad had embodied to support her family. He was an engineer for the local phone company. He worked there until retirement. Lily couldn’t remember a time ever in her childhood when he was ill or took a day off. He marched off every morning and marched home every evening. He looked at her schoolwork, tugged at her brother’s hair, snuggled her baby sister, kissed her mom, ate the dinner her mom prepared like clockwork every evening, kissed everyone good night. She remembered a near-sleep-walking incident when she found herself confused and in her pajamas in the living room, staring at her dad who was drinking a mug of something and reading a book on the couch with the lamp on. He had scooped her up, settled her into bed, rested his big hand on her forehead while she settled back into sleep, and as she drifted off she remembered wondering what he was doing out there all alone. She had never seen him alone. He was always wandering around with a child hanging off him like a Shakespearean feathered hat.

So Lily wondered if it would be so bad to just share a table with someone whom, after all, was alone, too. And she had a book to keep herself occupied, as did he. She noticed the couple standing at the door conferring with each other. Another woman swept in. She picked up a tablet at the door, asked the couple their name, jotted it down without any preamble, and then she headed to the back of the restaurant.

“Sorry I’m late, Tommy,” she heard the woman say. “It was my car again. It’s time for a new one.”

“No worries, all’s good,” she heard the reply. And if she hadn’t been looking up she wouldn’t have noticed the momentary glance of Thomas Green’s hand across the woman’s shoulder. It wasn’t so much the glance of the hand but the glance of Thomas as he watched this woman arrive to the front of the restaurant and place bread and oil at every table. Lily gathered her purse and bread and was balancing her drink and the plate of oil when the new server swooped in.

“I got you, let me help,” she said, and lifted everything from Lily’s hands like it was just a small thing. Soon Lily was settled in at her new table, sipping her martini and nibbling on a pickled pepper while reading her book.

“Is it any good?” her new table companion asked.

“It’s alright,” Lily replied. She took a deep breath. “I’m a bit embarrassed, really. It’s an airport buy, you know, one of those read-no-matter-the-turbulence kind of books. It’s quite predictable,” she dunked a piece of bread into the olive oil and took a bite. “But,” she said with a partially full mouth, “I’ve recently decided I like plots more than I used to. So, I’ve given in a bit sometimes so long as it’s well written and not a load of hogwash, if you know what I mean? And really sometimes it’s just about the cover.” She glanced at the front of hers. “I know mine looks like a watercolor romance in the middle of a teen summer, but it’s actually full of some basic humanity that I’m actually quite enjoying. How’s yours?”

“It’s good. Really good, actually,” and he partially closed his book to drink his beer. “It was on the shelf at my hotel. I just grabbed it. It’s Steinbeck. I haven’t read Steinbeck in a long time. Winter of Our Discontent. Have you read it? Really thoughtful stuff. Great writing, of course.”

“I love that book,” Lily replied. She felt herself light up. “It’s so simple but really deep. That’s the thing about Steinbeck. He just showed up and wrote what we were all thinking but were afraid to say. It’s such a relatable tale. The shopkeeper. How many of those do we know? The ones who show up every day and stock the shelves and keep the town afloat? But also how quickly one false move turns into the end.” She chewed on a pickled carrot and dunked another piece of bread. “He’s quite the one for those big sweeping tales.” She paused as she finished the light, flaky crust. The man was dark-haired and dressed in a dark blue button-down shirt and jeans. He was wearing glasses that he removed as he looked up at her.

“I’m Eden,” he said, and held out his hand.

“Oh. Lily,” Lily replied, and wiped her hands quickly on her napkin before extending her own. It wasn’t so much that she wanted to make note of it but it was that she couldn’t ignore it. When she grabbed his hand there was a huge electrical spark. They both jumped.

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” Lily squeaked, laughing. “It must be the static from this napkin. Or this bread! Ouch!” she rubbed her hand furiously. “That was really something! I thought that only happened after you rubbed at balloons,” she was giggling and then the giggle took over and she couldn’t stop. Soon the laughter forced tears and she was gasping and holding her sides, sputtering the water she was trying to drink while she held the napkin to her mouth and looked at Eden with apology, eyes watering, her mascara brimming over and pooling beneath her eyes. “I can’t stop,” she whispered. “Tell me something horrifying.”

Eden had been smiling along but he stopped immediately and put a stoic expression on his face. “My father is dead,” he said. “And I am here for his funeral.”

“Oh,” Lily giggled and then stopped. “Oh, Lord, you’re serious. I am so sorry,” she held the napkin to her face and exhaled. “Oh that is simply terrible. Are you okay? When did it happen?” She let out a few final coughs and guzzled her water.

Just then the server arrived with her entrée, a beautiful dish of poached halibut and roasted new potatoes with a drizzled herb sauce and a balsamic reduction alongside something that looked like a reduced butter brown gravy, her absolute favorite. Eden had ordered the rare tuna salad, which was arranged with hardboiled eggs and crisp green beans. They both picked up their forks and knives and set to the task of eating.

“It was sudden,” Eden said. He set his fork and knife down and fiddled with his napkin. He took a sip of his new beer. “My mom’s a mess. It was a heart attack. We all blame ourselves for not doing something sooner because honestly the signs were there we just didn’t think they were serious enough. Plus, I’ve been living overseas and I was just getting the snippets, you know?” Eden polished and replaced his glasses before spearing a green bean. “But it happened in about 5 minutes, they think, with very little suffering.” He looked at Lily with wet eyes. “I’m sorry. You didn’t know what you were asking for,” he said. “My family is here unexpectedly for the funeral and we’re all a little bit batty from it all. My sisters especially.”

“Where were you before?” Lily asked.

“Belgium. For work. But I was planning to return anyhow right about now, just not for this reason. I just got in this afternoon and haven’t seen anyone yet. I’m trying to fortify myself. Why are you here?”

Lily cleared her throat. There wasn’t any point in explaining everything. Along with her book it would be a clear giveaway that she was a hopeless romantic and only a few people could really deal with the ramifications of hopeless romantics. Once they liked something they held on fast, and usually for the rest of their lives, and only a few people could really handle that. She’d learned to either hide it or be clear about it up front.

“I guess I just needed a break,” Lily explained. “I was looking for something more colorful.”

“In rural New York?” Eden asked, smiling.

“Sort of. I mean. There are cities nearby. But I wanted a rest and some good food first.”

“Did you find it?”

“I think so,” Lily said. She smiled as she watched Thomas put his arm casually over the shoulders of the waitress and they gave each other a brief smooch. “I think I’m good now,” she said. “Tell me about your family,” she smiled. “Tell me about your dad.” She set her hands in her lap and looked at Eden, noticing that he had a 5 o’clock shadow that went up over his cheeks and down below his chin. “Was that his briefcase?” she asked.

“Yes, it was. How did you know?”

“My dad had one too,” she smiled.

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