Linda Edwards Scribbles











The last writing project for a creative writing class I took.  It was an attempt to write something where no one died or came to an unfortunate end.  It got a bit rushed as I tried to finish it.  Maybe someday I’ll rework it, but for now it is done.

Helen let the door close heavily behind her.  The legs did not stir.  She stomped closer and coughed.  The legs didn’t even twitch.

As the finishing touch of the furniture fort prominently displayed in the center of the Snug Story Tea House and Bakery, the legs won most alarming and bewildering sight of the morning.  Someone—some two—had rearranged the tables and chairs in an odd and inexplicable form.  The chairs balanced on table tops creating a small tower.  The table cloths that should have been folded and put away for the night had been draped over the formation.  It could almost have been a stunning installment piece.  All the things that were supposed to be in the room—excluding the bare legs—posed in the most unexpected way.  It was more than just troubling; it was criminally distressing.  Scratch that, it was downright criminal that this couple took the liberty of making themselves cozy here.

Maybe it’s not what it looks like.  The corner of her mouth tugged up in a quick, wry smile at the thought.  The odds of that were low considering her shop’s—and her own—track record.  She hoped it really wasn’t what it looked like, but she didn’t want to dismantle the shelter immediately in case it was.

For a moment Helen considered quietly taking bits and pieces away as needed for the regular activities of the tea house and bakery.  The fort would get smaller and smaller until the intruders woke puzzled to find only the table cloths draped over them.  They would poke their heads out like gophers coming up from hibernation, surprised to find the world had changed drastically during their nap.  She grinned in full now imagining a few scenarios in which their dignity took leave at a variety of speeds.

All at once, Helen hoped those legs belonged to people she knew, and equally that no one she knew would be caught suggestively bare-legged at this hour in her shop.  She didn’t relish the idea of having to confront a pair she actually might have to face again.  However, she was none too keen on dealing with strangers in their position, either.  And anyway, there was no definite confirmation yet that she had found anyone in any kind of position.  It was early.  Perhaps she was hallucinating.

She’d let her hallucinated guests sleep a bit longer.  It wasn’t time to open yet, at any rate.  There was work to do in the kitchen before anything else.  Besides, hadn’t her super Catholic great-aunt always said, “Live and let love?”  Or maybe it was something about not judging.  Well, that aunt said a lot of things.  Helen wasn’t judging anyone, and definitely wasn’t getting in the way of love if she could help it.

If I’m lucky, they’ll clean up after themselves and scurry out so I can pretend they were never here.  The table cloths would require burning just in case, though.  She shuddered a bit at the thought of her precious patrons eating off what may very well have served as a soft surface for some heavy-duty canoodling.  She sighed and pushed her way through the painted canvas flaps hanging in the kitchen doorway.

Helen didn’t understand what made her little business such a sweet spot for couples.  She kept several large bottles of bleach in the storage closet because of the things she’d been witness to here.  Her primary reason for stocking up on bleach had been the time she came in early to find the baker and his new fiancé on the work table in the kitchen.  She hadn’t been satisfied until the whole of the wooden table had taken on a new bright color.  She once even walked in on a waitress and a regular customer in the middle of a hurried tryst in the bathroom’s broom closet.  (The closet, of all places!)  She’d considered picking up a lock for that door while shopping for a new mop and broom set.  The old set she donated to the now expecting couple before they’d even left the closet.  Discovering the older couple rediscovering each other in the book nook had been the oddest example yet of the Snug Story’s effect on people.

There was no hope as far as Helen was concerned.  The business of her dreams was doomed to be the epicenter of love explosions.  For a while she wondered if someone slipped substances into the baked goods or if the water held some contaminant that made people extra amorous.  But then wouldn’t she have felt the effects as well?  The lack of excitement in her own love life made it easy for Helen to dismiss theories of tampering and toxins.  Anyway, she’d given up on her romantic prospects.  There was no hope there, either.  She huffed loudly so the latest offenders would hear her and know to feel ashamed of themselves out in the main room for reminding her she was single.  She went back to imagining the ways in which the leg-owners would lose their dignity.

She wasn’t bitter, really.  It got a bit lonely now and again when it was time to close and she locked up alone as one by one, her employees danced out the door into or on their way to waiting arms.  But it made her happy, too, that this place she created seemed to bring happiness to people on a regular basis.  It was nice, even if it got a little too personal on occasion.

The pairs of legs out in the main room were just another of those occasions.  She absently hummed to herself the torch songs of Dinah Shore and Peggy Lee.  She got into the rhythm of working the dough for the day’s sandwich bread.  A guy worked late in the night preparing the buns and sweet breads for the bakery side of the business, so Helen was left this morning ritual to herself.  She didn’t have great range, but her humming rose and fell and she relaxed into the task.  So when a crash and a shout reached back to remind her she had company, she yelped back in surprise and ran to the front prepared to defend her little business.

The furniture fort was in ruins and the owner of the smaller pair of legs had her back pressed against the taller shelf of the book nook and had her hands over her face.  Her accomplice was propped on one leg against the bakery display case muttering curses over his other foot.  He cradled it, hunched over to hold his injured appendage.  This was not one of the ways Helen had imagined the pair losing their dignity, but she was relieved to note they were at least not naked.  She’d worry later that her imagination hadn’t allowed for that in any scenario she’d come up with.

“I’m sorry!”  The girl squeaked an apology and dashed out the door, scooping up a pair of butter-yellow flats on her way out.  Helen hardly had time to open her mouth to call her back.  She didn’t know what to say to the girl, in any case.  The girl’s companion hopped twice after her before giving up the chase.

“Bugger all,” his shoulders slumped and Helen became acutely aware of how very shirtless he was.  “You know, your place is supposed to be better than any love charm gotten from Aphrodite herself.”  Helen focused on the palm-sized pair of wings tattooed across his shoulder blades.  He rounded to face her and hobbled a step closer.  “Love blooms here!  New love, old love, it doesn’t matter!”

Helen took a step back. The guy wasn’t just a sleeping concept anymore.  He was a real and unhappy male presence, and she was alone with him.  And then he seemed to deflate.

“You’re famous for it,” he trailed off and dropped to the floor with his legs out in front of him like a stunned frog.  He looked up at her as if begging her to answer a question he hadn’t asked.  He reminded her of a puppy left outside in the rain.  And then she felt stupid for being afraid.  Sighing, she reached to the side of the kitchen doorway to turn on the lights.

“Is that why you—you’re here?”  She modified her question to be less accusatory.

“I didn’t break in if that’s what you mean,” the guy had the grace to look ashamed of himself despite his defense.

Helen began straightening the tables and chairs, setting them in their proper places.  “How’d you get in?”  She kept her tone conversational, though she was curious to the point of peeved.

“Didn’t,” was all he said.  She heard him get up and put a table to right.

“What?”  She stopped gathering the table cloths to look at him.  He shrugged.

“We hid in the broom closet.  In the bathroom.”  He shrugged again.  Was he being sheepish?  At least he was being honest.  Helen resumed gathering the white coverings.

“Knew I should have put a lock on that door after last time.”

He stopped scrounging under tables to look at her now.  “What?”

She pulled a striped button-down out of the wad of material in her arms and handed it to him.  “Never mind.  I assume this is yours?”

“So I’m not the first?”  He took the shirt with a nod of thanks.  She thought—hoped—he’d leave, but he limped after her when she made her retreat back to the kitchen.

Was he the first?  Of course not.  It was her unfortunate habit to come across love scenes.  A lack of locked doors had been the tragedy of her life.  She turned around to tell him so and frowned instead at the shirt still in his hands instead of on his back.  Locked doors and a decisive lack of clothing.

The first instance had been the kind that happens to any small child awake when no one expects her to be.  Her mother and father had explained to her then about love and babies.  So she wasn’t surprised about the babysitter and her boyfriend, or years later her best friends on two separate occasions.  Those hadn’t bothered her beyond mild embarrassment.  The series to follow were an entirely different matter.

One love interest after another invented new and worse ways to let her down, come out and, in short, dump her.  They all had one common factor:  there had always been someone else.  Just as she was considering spinsterhood, she met another guy.  They were together for three years and engaged for two.  He proved to be the pièce de résistance of her calamitous parade of heartbreaks.

She walked into his office to find him enthusiastically receiving affection, equally enthusiastically given, from a pair of twin brothers she’d met the day before as his “favorite clients.”  The encounter hadn’t been pretty.  She thought she’d surprise him with lunch.  They were all very surprised.  No one moved at first.  She put down the little cardboard tray of drinks.  She felt light headed.

“I’m moving in with them tomorrow.”  He wrapped his arms around the bare hips in front of him, hugging them closer like a child clinging to a favorite toy.  “Tonight,” he amended.  He was flat on his stomach across a narrow folding table, the twins like naked book ends.  Not one of them tried to cover up or pull away.  All she could think was how she had never seen him blush before then.

She didn’t see him again after that.  She stayed with a pitying co-worker that night and picked up her fiancé’s— ex-fiancé’s keys from her landlord the next morning.  He had been her longest, happiest relationship.  It ended with the word “Sorry” on a sticky note left on the bedroom door.

At the end of every relationship she did the normal things to cheer herself up.  She got a haircut, bought a new dress, watched sappy movies over rocky road ice cream, and ran in the morning and again at night to work off the ice cream.  She applied the usual regimen of crushed-heart-first-aid to that instance, as well, and agonized when it failed.  What else is a girl supposed to do when the typical methods don’t work?  Here she had all these plans, had saved up and made all kinds of arrangements only for it all to be wasted?  She was not about to let that happen, so she did the only thing that made sense.  She used what she could to make her own happiness.  She used her wedding fund to open the Snug Story.  It was probably the healthiest relationship she ever began.  She was happy most days.

Today she had a shirtless invader watching her work in the kitchen.  He seemed determined to stay shirtless.

“Can I help?”  He perched on the edge of the sink.

She ignored him.

“I’m Lowell.”

She checked the time and kept working.

“You have a nice voice.”

She dropped an oven mitt.  He grinned at her.  Helen scowled at him and then at the bread she still had to slice.  It didn’t look like he would just go away of his own accord.

“Why’d you have to bring your date here?”  She glanced at him and his grin faltered.  Lowell squirmed on the metal rim and became very interested in a spot of pink paint on one leg of his rolled-up jeans.

“Your humming woke me up,” he answered instead.

Helen shook her head and let out a long breath, “I have work to do still before opening.  Go home, please.”  He looked so hurt when he looked up at her again, she almost told him to stay.  He slid to the floor, easing himself onto one foot only, and started limping out.  At the doorway, he paused.

“That was the fourth girl I brought here.  It never worked during the day, so I thought I’d try at night.  Like maybe she’d be able to see the real me then, like in the swan princess, you know?”  Helen didn’t know what to say.  “I guess the magic really won’t work on me.”

He walked out then, and she listened to him scuffle around in the front.  She kept listening even after the door to the Snug Story huffed open and thudded closed.  Helen wondered if he would come back.  She didn’t hum again for the rest of the morning.  She worried about the limping.

——

She didn’t worry long.  The Snug Story opened as usual at 7 a.m. and an hour later Lowell came limping in the door.  She gaped at him as he pretended to study the shop.

“Am I allowed back in?”  He grinned at her over the head of a waitress who came to seat him.  “Or am I banned for life?”

Helen wanted to take a broom and shoo him out just as much as she wanted to bodily move him to a seat.  The grin on his face irritated her in a way she couldn’t place.  Why was his grin so big?  Why did he grin so big at her?  (Why does it bother me so much?)  She couldn’t think of anything he’d done in particular to deserve any kind of ill-treatment—never mind the morning’s escapades.  There was a twisting feeling in her middle like she was a doll someone popped apart, top and bottom halves, and put back together askew.  She was halfway to him with a hand reaching, whether to take his arm or to take hold of the broom by the door she hadn’t decided yet.  He stepped toward her leaning on a bowing umbrella for support.  There was no question.  She wanted the broom.

Instead she nodded to the waitress, patting the girl’s arm.  She didn’t have to worry about this; Helen would handle it.  The waitress looked back and forth between her employer and this obviously flirtatious fellow.  While he didn’t seem concerned, the waitress thought the look on her boss’s face suggested it wouldn’t be rude to step out of the way for safety.  Helen’s smile did nothing to sway this sensation and the waitress hurried to check a table that suddenly seemed wanting.

“You’re not banned for life.  I didn’t think you’d be back, though.”  Helen feigned looking around for a free seat, so she wouldn’t have to notice the way he tilted his head and gave her a soft, crooked smile.  It was as if he heard her thoughts and it amused him that she chose not to share aloud.

“Of course I came back.  I figured I owe you an explanation.”  Lowell followed her to the couch in the book nook making a big show, Helen thought, of favoring one foot wrapped in an ace bandage.  “Besides, I love this place.”

The twisting sensation warmed.  “I never asked for an explanation.”  Helen suddenly couldn’t remember a natural resting position for one’s hands.

“You did,” he said, “right before you asked me to leave this morning.”

The twisting sensation tightened.  Was it too late to go for the broom?  She arranged books left on the coffee table.

“Oh, right.  Will this be a long story?  I should get some drinks.”  A tray of tea and sandwiches appeared next to the books. The waiter winked at Helen and darted back around the bookcase that separated the nook from the rest of the Snug Story.  The waitress from earlier gave her a small thumbs up from the register.  What do they think is going on over here?  She wasn’t sure if she should be proud of them for trying to anticipate her and Lowell’s needs or bothered at the conclusion they’d clearly jumped to.  It was the wrong conclusion.

Lowell was grinning at her again.  It took her a minute to register the cup of tea he was offering, but she took it and muttered a thank you.  Alright, she could see how this could all be misconstrued.  She knew what it wasn’t, even if she didn’t really know what it was, and that’s what mattered.

“My da always said, ‘Love is essential to have a happy every day,’ and that if I found a place I loved, I should do my best to love the people in it.”  Lowell was smiling at Helen.  She wondered if he ever stopped smiling.  She didn’t know what to say, so she took a sip of her tea.  Cinnamon.  She swirled the tea in her mouth.

“Your father sounds like a nice guy,” she said after a long moment.

“Oh, sure, he’s a great guy.  He raised me all on his own and I came out alright, I think.”

“Except for the trespassing.”

“Right, except for that.  In my defense, I did it in search of love.  I think it’s a good cause!”

Helen raised an eyebrow at him.

“You can blame my da for that. I never knew my mum, but he always talked about her.  He said she was his perfect match and he’d never love another woman after her.  I always thought I wanted a love like that.”

The twisting feeling in her middle warmed again and relaxed.  “That’s really sweet,” she said, “How old were you when your mom died?”

“What?”  Lowell choked on a sip of tea.  “Oh, no, she left him.  She asked Da to take me home and come back for her, but she was gone when he got back to the hospital.  Checked out all on her own.”

“Oh, wow, jeez.  I’m sorry.”  Helen felt her face get hot and took a big gulp of her tea.

Lowell laughed.  “Eh, Da never seemed broken up about it.  He said she probably just got scared.  Always said he was happy at least to know her.  It’s likely he’s just that forgiving, but I like to think she was that much worth knowing.”

Helen came out from behind her teacup.  He was tilting his head, watching her with that same little amused, crooked smile.  She cleared her throat and reached for a sandwich.

“So you’re saying you stayed in my shop overnight because your father made you a romantic?”  She took a firm bite of her sandwich and stared back, waiting for his reply.

His small smile turned back into a grin.  “I suppose you could look at it that way.”  He picked up a sandwich of his own, took a bite and chewed before continuing, “I said before I was searching for love.”

Helen nodded.

“I’ve never had a love before.”  Helen’s eyebrows shot up and Lowell took another bite of his sandwich.  “I’m very good at finding love for other people, I guess, but I can’t seem to do the same for myself.  Or rather, it’s like the universe conspires against me in that matter.”

Helen opened her mouth to tell him that was absurd and then closed it again.  Was it really?  Didn’t the events of her life, the consistent conditions in similar situations suggest this was possible?  In that case, wasn’t she in the same boat?

Lowell was once more watching her, though there was an intensity in his face now.  What did he want her to say?  She didn’t know what to say.  She didn’t really have a reply; not one she felt comfortable giving.  Either way, she didn’t have an answer to his problem.  She couldn’t solve her own problems, much less his.

She frowned.  “So what about last night?  You haven’t exactly answered for that.”

“Right, that,” Lowell sighed.

“If you’ve never had a love, who was that girl?  It didn’t look like you two did nothing.”  What exactly did you do? Helen wanted to ask.

Lowell refilled her cup and then his own.  He glanced at her.  She didn’t look away.  “It’s embarrassing,” he began, “but we really didn’t do much at all.”

“Really.”  Helen took a sip of her tea, continuing to watch him through narrowed eyes.

“Really!  Look, I—we hid in the closet with the cleaning supplies and I’d brought a little flask to make things interesting, but I guess the flask held more than I thought and by the time we got out of the closet we were really goofy and sleepy and…well, then we went to sleep.”  He’d been talking to his hands through the whole explanation, but he looked sideways at her when he finished.

Helen didn’t know whether to laugh or call him on it.  On the one hand it sounded like a load of crap.  A guy and a girl alone all night together making their own little playground here, and they did nothing?  On the other hand, his ears had taken on such a bright red that she didn’t think there was any way it couldn’t be true.  She laughed.

The red spread across Lowell’s face and down his neck, which just made Helen laugh more.  Was that all?  What was there to be embarrassed about?  She’d been in more than her fair share of awkward situations for that to make her blush.  And then it hit her.  If he’d never had a love… if all his stories of attempted romances were like this, then…

All at once she understood and turned her own shade of pink.  “Then,” she wasn’t sure how to say it, “you’ve never…”  She glanced at Lowell and put her face back into her teacup.  He was flushed and didn’t say anything.  Helen was ashamed of herself.  What he’d just inadvertently admitted to wasn’t something to be embarrassed about and she’d technically just laughed at him for it.  It’s not like he couldn’t.  At least he hadn’t said he couldn’t.  Christ, what am I thinking of?

She knew exactly what she was thinking.  “I’ll help you.”

“What?”  Lowell’s head whipped around to look at her and Helen’s own eyes stung in sympathy at how wide his eyes were.

“I’ll help you find love, I mean.”  She could feel her cheeks burning at what it had sounded like.  “I’m good at finding love for other people, too.  Sort of.”

For a minute it looked like Lowell would hug her, jump up and shake her hand, maybe kiss her.  Instead he grinned, frowned and grinned again.  “You would really do that for me?”

“Sure,” she said.  “Why not?”  She shrugged and tried to smile at him despite the butterflies that suddenly seemed to occupy her body.  She’d never tried to play matchmaker for anyone in her entire life.

“Of course!” he said, “If the magic of the shop alone can’t save me, then maybe the hands of the lovely owner will help me find happiness!”  He took one of her hands and kissed it.  She heard a gasp and for a split second, she thought it came from her, but she looked around to see several of her employees peering at them from around the bookshelf.  One of the girls had a hand over her mouth.

“Busted,” said one of the others.

Helen took her hand back from Lowell and put it one hip.  “So if you’re all here, who’s waiting on tables?”  They all laughed and went off behind the bookshelf.  She turned back to Lowell.  “And now you’ve given them something to gossip about.  Thank you.”  He beamed at her and wiggled his eyebrows.

——

He came back every day to discuss their “plan of action.”  Helen would look for him in the morning when she opened the shop.  She always had this daydream that her shop would be like the one you see in movies where the star animal actor has a place where it’s a regular and the owner is always happy to see it and has a treat for it.  This wasn’t quite what she had in mind, but, she mused, it wasn’t really that different.  She liked when Lowell came in and they could talk over a mid-morning snack.  It was fun and she was more comfortable with him than she ever had been with anyone.  She would never say she didn’t want it to end, but if he could continue to come in the mornings after they’d found him a girlfriend, she wouldn’t object.  He could even bring the girl along.  After all, wasn’t the whole point of their partnership an effort to find him someone all his own to love?  Of course!  Of course.  And she had the Snug Story.  She was happy.

Lowell nudged her and gestured with his chin to a girl walking in the door with a book, “She’s cute.  She’s been a fairly frequent one, hasn’t she?”

Helen shook her head like a dog shaking off water.  “She’s too nice for you.  She comes in here to study, so leave her alone.”

Lowell put a hand to his chest and said in a breathless stage whisper, “Too nice?  For me?  How could you say that?  I’m the nicest guy I know!”

Helen flapped a hand in his direction and took a sip of her tea.  “Exactly.  She doesn’t need to get mixed up with a guy whose standards are based solely on himself.  Narcissist.”

“I’ll have you know, I happen to think lots of things are prettier than myself,” he said.

“Oh yeah?”  Helen picked deliberately through a plate of muffins.

“Yeah,” he said, “You for instance.”

“Hm, I see.”

“Helen?”

“Hey, what about her?”  Helen waved her teacup toward a girl with bright red hair across the room.  “You should say hi to some of the girls who come in, you know.”  She picked up the plate of muffins and said over her should, “I’ll go get more blueberry.  Back in a bit.”

She didn’t want to look at him.  He was just being nice.  She knew he was nice.  She watched him open the door for people all the time as he came in or left the Snug Story.  The waiters and waitresses all said he tipped the best of all the regulars.  He was a great friend and she wanted to keep it that way.  Besides, she promised to help him find love.  How could she do that if she wanted to keep him all to herself?

And she didn’t want him to become just another float in the parade of heartbreak that was her love life.  The best way to avoid that was for him not to become a float in the first place.  He was off limits and that was that.

If her resolve had any weaknesses, they were resolved when she got back to the table where she’d left him.  There was a girl sitting in her seat laughing at something he’d said.  She had her hand on his arm.  Helen was sure she’d never seen her before, but this girl leaned into him like she knew him.

“Helen!  This is Morgan,” Lowell said, half rising to reach for a seat for her, “Morgan, this is Helen.  She owns the Snug Story.”

Helen put the muffins down and pushed the chair Lowell was pulling to the table back to the other table.  She smiled at Morgan.  “Welcome to the Snug Story.  Let me know if you need anything, alright?”

“Sure, thank you.”  Morgan smiled back.

“Helen?”  Lowell sat back down and looked at her, a little furrow appearing on his forehead.

“I have some things that need my attention in the kitchen, but I hope you’ll enjoy your tea,” she put on her best hostess face and nodded congenially before turning on her heels and affecting a sort of glide back to the kitchen.  There, see?  It’s a good thing I had no interest in him.  He’s already got a girl on his arm. She thought.

——

She spent several days avoiding Lowell when he came in the mornings.  When she did come out of hiding in the kitchen, it was always with a purpose.  She was rewarded by the sight of Morgan sitting close to him in low conversation.  At least his relationship seemed to be progressing nicely.  Lowell tried to catch her eye on these occasions, but she made a point of looking everywhere but in his direction.  He probably just wants to reassure me of how well it’s going.

One evening he surprised her as she straightened the shelves in the book nook.  He almost never visited after 4 p.m., so she squeaked when his voice piped up behind her.

“So this is what the shop looks like in the twilight hours.”

Helen spun around fumbling with a book in her hands.  Her heart hammered the Morse code for “run,” but her feet didn’t know how to translate.

“You’ve seen it in the evening before,” she said, feeling a little lame for standing there with a book crushed to her chest.

“I was in a closet, remember?  I didn’t see much.”

Helen stepped forward to move around him and out of the book nook trap, but he stayed directly in her path.  “Why aren’t we talking anymore?”  He was straightforward and his half-lidded eyes seemed unnatural to her.  It made her uncomfortable that they weren’t crinkling at the corners the way they did when he grinned.

“We’re talking right now,” she said, turning around and trying hard to find a spot on the shelf for the book in her arms.

“Well, yes, sort of,” he said, “but why don’t we talk anymore?  In the mornings?”  Helen heard him step forward, his shoes soft on the carpet.

“I didn’t want to get in the way.”  She shuffled some books at eye level closer together to squeeze her book in.  She wished she could climb in with it.

“Get in the way?”  He sounded genuinely perplexed.

“Of you and Morgan.”

Lowell’s hand touched her shoulder and Helen jumped.  When he didn’t say anything, she was confused.  She turned around to see his head tilted in that way that always made her spine feel a little detached.  He smiled at her a crooked smile.  “I’m not interested in Morgan.”

Helen’s heart hammered harder.  There was no telling what it was trying to say anymore, but whatever it was, it was terrifying.  She backed up into the bookshelf.  “But you’re always sitting with her in the morning now.  I see how she looks at you.”

He grinned.  “I’m not interested in Morgan,” he said again.

“You’re going to tell me you were just being polite?”  She couldn’t get a full breath.  It felt as though her panicking heart was battering her lungs in its effort to get away.

“Yes,” he said.  He stepped closer.

“You’re just that nice a guy that you would arbitrarily spend time with a woman just because she sits down with you?” She pressed her back against the wood, pushing with her toes as if that would get her farther back.

He tilted his head the other direction and loomed over her, though still a good three feet away.  “You know, I think I would,” he said, and he stepped closer again.  “I also think I’d intentionally spend time with a woman who sat down with me.  If I liked her.”

Where was the broom when she needed it?  Helen felt defenseless, and worse, she didn’t think she really wanted any defense.  He was so close she could feel the heat radiating off of him blocking the chill from the shop’s large window.

“Helen,” he said, his voice gentle and low, “I won’t leave you like they did.”

Helen was pretty sure she’d stopped breathing.  She stared, dumbfounded at him.  He seemed just as surprised as she was to hear the words.

He loomed less, but didn’t look away.  “One of your girls told me,” he said, “about you and guys.  How you came to open Snug Story.”

She was getting dizzy.  It wasn’t just her spine anymore that felt detached.  All her limbs seemed to have separated from her body and were merely floating in proximity; too distant to follow any orders she might have for them.  She couldn’t think of any, anyway.  She couldn’t think at all.

“Helen, I have no interest in Morgan, or any other girl,” Lowell grabbed her hands, “Your shop worked the best magic of all.”  He drew her off the shelf and forward so he looked down into her eyes.  “I love you.”

She’d never been more conflicted in her life.  Here was this great guy confessing to her in her favorite spot in the world and she wanted most of all to make a break for it.  She was pretty sure her heart had stopped beating, too.  And then he was kissing her.  Yup, her heart had definitely stopped.

She could see up close that his cheeks were going from pink to red and she thought, I’ve never seen a guy color so quickly, and she closed her eyes enjoying the softness and the warmth of his mouth on hers.

The ringing in her ears died away and she became aware of cheering from behind her.

“It’s about time!”  One of the waiters swung a tea towel in the air and whistled.  Several of the girls were wiping their eyes on their aprons.  Helen and Lowell looked up and around.  A crowd had gathered around the book nook, several standing on chairs to peek over the shelf.

Helen gaped at them, “What?  You mean you guys knew?  What the hell?  Get down from there!”  Lowell laughed and threw his arms around her.  The faces over the shelf dropped out of sight and the chairs scraped back to their spots on the other side.

“Of course we knew,” one of the girls offered, sniffling, “Lowell had to talk to someone while you ignored him.”

Helen turned to Lowell.  “But what about all that time you spent with Morgan?”

A waiter reappeared over the bookshelf.  “She wouldn’t take no for an answer.  She figured he was encouraging her when he didn’t tell her to shove off.”

“She confused good manners for attraction,” another girl continued.

“Plus, you wouldn’t come out to steal him away!”  The girl who came in to study popped out from behind the waitresses.

Helen leaned back into Lowell’s hug and surveyed her audience.  “You—will you all let him tell his own story?”  They all grinned and called congratulations, but moved out of view to give the couple some privacy.  She looked up at Lowell, “Well?”

He smiled down at her and kissed her forehead, “I think they about have it covered.”

She smiled back up at him, “Really.”

“Yes,” he said, “That and I love you.”

She sighed and pulled his arms tighter around her, “I should have taken the broom to you when I had the chance,” and she kissed him.

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