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Authors: Lori Copeland

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BOOK: A Perfect Love
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“Must be the winter blues. Everyone gets them.”

“In this kind of weather? Nonsense.” Cleta picked up her purse. “Well, let's go. Aren't you the one yakkin' about being late?”

The two women left the house and hurried toward the dock where the ferry bobbed on the waters. Caleb was out back shaking rugs when they passed the de Cuvier house. Cleta and Vernie waved.

The old butler lowered his rug. “You ladies off for the afternoon?”

“Going to the library, Caleb,” Cleta called. “You need anything?”

“Nothing, thank you! Enjoy the weather!”

The women stepped aboard the ferry, gave the captain their tickets, and settled onto the bench seats in the cozy cabin as the motors revved. Cleta leaned out the window to wave at Crazy Odell Butcher as he pulled up to the dock.

“Wonder what Crazy Odell is up to today?” Cleta asked, leaning back against the seat.

Vernie snorted. “Probably no good—that's why they call him crazy.”

Cleta leaned back, enjoying the feel of the warm sun on her face. Soon they were skimming across the water under a clear blue sky that looked far more like April than January.

Certain that her mother had gone, Barbara crept down the stairs, leaning over the railing to see if her dad was in the house. The front room was empty. No television sounds blared from the parlor. The path was clear.

Taking the last few stairs in a rush, she scooted across the foyer and ran out the door, pulling on a light sweater as she sprinted toward the dock.

True to his promise, Crazy Odell Butcher was waiting for her, his wooden-hulled boat bobbing on the waves.

“There you are,” he called as she walked up. “Thought you might have changed your mind.”

“Nope. Are you ready?”

“Ready as I'm likely to get at my age. You got my fare?”

“Twenty bucks, right?”

“Only ten on a nice day like today. Each way.” He grinned, revealing a gap between his front teeth. “Got to make some mitten money.”

“Okay, but I'm only going one way. My husband will bring me home.”

Barbara slipped a ten-dollar bill from her purse and handed it over, and then sank onto a cracked vinyl seat. The old man took the wheel and the engines roared to life. The wooden-hulled boat pushed through the water like an army tank, taking twice as long as the ferry, but the ninety-two-year-old sea captain didn't have Cleta aboard. When they reached Perkins Cove, Odell tied up his boat
at a distance from Captain Stroble's spot. Barbara scanned the area for any sign of her mother, saw nothing, then disembarked and waved. “Thanks, Odell!”

Barbara called a cab from a pay phone, and then got out in the center of town. She had a lot to accomplish in three hours, but with a little help she'd make it. Shivers raced up her spine when she thought of what she was about to do.

It was all for Russell, she reminded herself.

For them.

After another quick look around, she ducked into a nearby building.

Cleta and Vernie each emerged from the library carrying a sack of books. The selection was sparse this time of year, being that people were stockpiling for winter weather. Everything new had been checked out, but the librarian and Vernie managed to find enough classics to satisfy Cleta.

Feeling satisfied with their book expedition, Cleta and Vernie decided to stop off at Hamilton's Family Restaurant for a sandwich and coffee. The town was dead in the winter, with few stores open for shopping, but the ferry wouldn't head back to Heavenly Daze until six o'clock, well after dark.

The women settled into their favorite booth and placed their order. The booth was next to the front window and offered a great view of Shore Road—not that anything much was happening in the quiet town.

Cleta took out one of her library books and thumbed through it, eyes alight. “There's nothing like a good read.”

“Ayuh,” Vernie agreed. “Nothing like it.”

Barbara came out of the Snip and Clip, then hurried toward the ice-cream store where she'd promised to meet Russell. The store was closed, of course, but it offered a sheltering awning where she could stand without being blown away by the wind . . .

Her heart thudded when she spotted her tall husband coming down the sidewalk. She tugged at the ends of her hair. What would he think?

She smiled as their eyes met. His long legs covered the ground quickly, then he lifted her in his arms and twirled her on the sidewalk. Pulling away for a better look, he grinned. “I like it.”

“You do? Honest?”

He pretended to rethink his opinion, looking her over closely. “No. I was wrong.”

Her heart sank.

“I
really
like it.”

She threw her arms around him and hugged tightly. “Thank you.”

“No, thank
you
. I feel like I have a new wife.”

“You weren't happy with the old one?”

“I adored the old one. But even a beautiful boat can benefit from a sprucin' up every now and then.”

She was tempted to playfully slug him, then thought the better of it. They had other, more important things to consider.

“Come on,” she said. “We have one more stop.”

“No, two,” he corrected.

Her eyes widened. “Two?”

“Don't ask; it's a surprise. Let's do your stop first.”

Cleta and Vernie cackled so loudly the waitress threatened to evict them. They'd been telling stories of days gone by and lost track of time. It was nearing five o'clock when they gathered their books and purses and asked for the check.

Feeling better than she had in days, Cleta looked across the table at her old friend. “Veronica, you're a nut.”

“It takes one to know one, girl.” They broke into snickers again.

“Land, I'm so full of coffee I'll slosh when I walk,” Vernie complained as she pushed herself out of the booth.

That set Cleta off in another round of giggles. After paying their bill, they were about to step outside when Vernie grabbed Cleta by the arm and pulled her back into the restaurant.

“What's wrong? Need a bathroom?”

“Unless my eyes deceive me, Barbara and Russell just walked into that house across the street.”

“What?” Cleta shoved her aside. “You're imagining things. Barbara is home, probably in bed.”

“I don't think so, Cleta.”

The women stared at the house, their gazes focusing on a prominent FOR RENT sign hanging over the front porch.

Cleta worried her lower lip. “Barbara wouldn't look at a house without telling me first.”

Vernie shook her head. “Maybe I'm wrong, but if that wasn't Barbara and Russell, it was their clones.”

The two women sank onto the bench in front of the restaurant and waited, their eyes trained on the large two-story house across the street. Cleta drank it in—why, that house would be a terror to heat, and it was so old the electricity probably wasn't up to code. The front porch looked rickety from here, and those colors! How could a body sleep at night with such colors blaring through the walls?

“Barbara wouldn't do such a thing without telling me first,” she repeated. “We share everything.”

“Maybe I made a mistake.” Vernie threw out a lifeline. “My eyes are getting bad, you know that. And it was dark. The sun goes down so early these days, and these street lights aren't the best.”

They sat, waiting.

After ten minutes, Cleta grabbed Vernie's arm. “What are they doing in there?”

“Well, if they're house hunting I imagine they're looking the place over.”

“Barbara wouldn't house hunt without me!”

“Then maybe . . .” Vernie's words drifted away as the sound of voices filled the early evening air. A porch light had come on across the street; a young couple emerged from the house. Cleta blinked as her eyes focused. For a moment she felt like melting in relief, for the woman's hair was all wrong, then her heart pounded when she saw that the man was definitely Russell. And that was Barbara, but she was so different!

Vernie waved her hand helplessly. “Maybe Russell was in there cutting her hair.”

“Ohmigoodness!” Cleta gripped Vernie's arm. “What has she done?”

“It doesn't matter,” Vernie answered. “But we'd better get out of here before they catch us spying.”

Too dumbfounded to protest, Cleta bolted from the bench and ducked around the corner of the restaurant. Peering through the thickening darkness, she watched as her daughter walked down the street and laughed up into Russell's face. Her long, beautiful hair was now styled in a short spiked do. She looked like one of those punk rockers.

How long had her daughter been living a secret life?

Bursting into tears, Cleta pressed her hands to her face.

“Hush now,” Vernie handed over a tissue. “For heaven's sake, Cleta, it's a haircut. It will grow back.”

Sniffing, Cleta accepted the tissue. “You don't understand, Vernie. You never will because you don't have kids of your own.”

Vernie flinched.

“That was thoughtless of me,” Cleta apologized. “Don't mind me, I'm so confused I can barely think straight. What is going on? Barbara looking at houses, getting her hair cut without asking me—”

“She's almost twenty-three years old, Cleta. She doesn't have to ask you if she can get her hair cut.”

“You just don't understand!” Cleta whirled around and started down the darkened street. “I'm going to find out exactly what that girl's up to and why she would do me this way.”

“I wouldn't start anything,”
Vernie advised, following. “You'll only alienate her and then where will you be?”

“I'll be her mother, like I've always been! I have a right to know what she's doing, especially since she's doing it under my roof. And just now Doodles wasn't wearing her glasses—how many times have I told her she has to wear her glasses, she's blind as MaGoo the cat without them.”

By the time they reached the landing at Perkins Cove, Barbara and Russell were nowhere to be seen. As the wind blew cold and frosty across the dark parking lot, Cleta scanned the area lit by a single streetlight. “Where could they be? The ferry hasn't left yet.”

“Maybe we were both seeing things—you know, it was dark. Maybe it wasn't Barbara and Russell at all. Maybe we're both kooks.”

Cleta turned to give Vernie a blistering look. “Are you saying I don't know my own daughter?”

Vernie shrugged. “I didn't say that.”

Cleta sat down on the bench outside the ferry office.

Vernie took a step toward the waiting ferry, then turned and placed a hand on her hip. “What are you doing?”

“Waiting. They have to be around here somewhere. They'll show up soon.”

“You're going to sit out here when we could be inside the boat where it's warm?”

Cleta crossed her arms.

Vernie stamped her foot. “Good grief, woman! It's twenty minutes until the ferry leaves. If you stay out here all that time, the wind will chap you like shoe leather.”

“I don't care.”

“You're a stubborn old goat, Cleta Lansdown.”

“I'm a mother. Mothers are allowed to be resolute.”

Shaking her head, Vernie stalked over the ferry gang- plank with her stack of books on her hip. Cleta watched her go, then shifted her gaze to the road leading to the cove.

Vernie would never understand. Nobody whose only dependent was an old fat cat could ever empathize with a mother worried about her own flesh and blood.

Back at the bed-and-breakfast, Floyd closed his mechanical engineering book, wiped his thick glasses, then glanced at the kitchen clock. Six-fifty-five, the sky as black as tire rubber outside, and no sign of Cleta. Pacing between the sink and the refrigerator, he asked, “What in blue blazes is keeping your mama?”

Barbara set a bowl of stew on the table and blinked back tears. She had a wad of tissues in her dress pocket fat enough to smother a moose.

Russell dug into the stew, took a big bite, and grinned up at her. “This is great, hon. I always knew you could cook.”

Smiling timidly, she wiped her eyes.

Russell picked up a piece of hot cornbread and reached for the butter. “Pop Lansdown, what do you think of Barbara's hair?”

Floyd turned from the window, his eyes focusing on Barbara's hair for the first time. Frown lines appeared between his brows. “What'd you do to it?”

Barbara tugged on the fringe of hair at her neck. “I cut it, Dad.”

“Oh.” He turned to consult the clock again. “What's keeping your mother? If she caught the last ferry, she should have been home half an hour ago.”

Blinking, Barbara took her place at the table. She dabbed again at the stream of tears.

Russell reached out and squeezed her hand. “You doin' okay, hon?”

She smiled at her husband. “I'm fine.” She hesitated. “In fact, I'm great.”

Floyd pulled out a chair and sat down. He had just filled his bowl when Cleta burst through the back door. Riding a cold wind into the cozy kitchen, she stopped in the middle of the kitchen and pointed a reddened finger at Russell and Barbara. “Where have you two been?”

Barbara felt a familiar guilt rise in her chest. Her mother had looked at her in that same way the time she came home an hour late from the Wells football game six years ago . . .

Russell sprang to his feet, knocking his chair over in the process. “Uh . . .” He swallowed a mouthful of cornbread. “We've been right here, Mom Lansdown. Why?”

“Don't lie to me!” Reaching back, she slammed the door, fluttering the kitchen curtains. “I sat outside the ferry landing until the boat left, and you weren't on it. How did you get here?”

Barbara blinked, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Why'd you do that?”

“I have a boat,” Russell said, calmly settling back into his chair. “I took my wife home on the
Barbara Jean.”

BOOK: A Perfect Love
6.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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