Last Tuesday night, right before I dozed off, I heard a firm knock. Donning my housecoat, I peeked out the window by the front door.
There, back turned, while she surveyed the street, was a woman, impeccably outfitted in a long hunter green dress—silk from the look of it, though I couldn’t be sure in the dim glow of the porch light.
Suspicious, I cracked open the door only a few inches. She turned around. I spotted her cameo brooch. She saw me looking and brushed a delicate finger across its surface.
“Lovely as you remember?” she asked.
“Lovelier,” I said, opening the door wider. “I’d know it anywhere.”
She fluffed her lace collar. “I hope I dressed appropriately. I didn’t want to overdo. On the other hand, I didn’t want to embarrass you either.”
Pained at being in my faded pajamas, I straightened my collar and tied the sash of my housecoat in a neat square knot.
“You could never embarrass me,” I said. “You’ve always been the best dressed of my—”
Though I knew full well who she was, I could not bring myself to say the word.
“Characters,” she said, smiling broadly.
“Uh-huh,” I said, still hesitating. “You’re exactly as I pictured you.”
“May I come in?” she asked. “Don’t worry. The pirates aren’t with me.”
“Of course,” I said, stepping back to admit Bonny Bee Rackham. “How have you been?”
“Fine. Still surrounded by”—she tapped her finger on her lips—“how did you put it? Oh, yes, ‘happiness of my own making.’”
I closed the door. “You deserved a happy ending after Calico Jack…and the hurricane…and the kidnapping. Sit down. Can I offer you something to drink? I don’t have tea.”
“No, thank you. Adelaide packed enough food for ten. I’ve only just finished the last scone.”
She sat on the sofa by the window. I sank onto the ottoman, leaned my elbows on my knees, and stared at her.
“Bonny Bee, don’t get me wrong. I’m delighted to see you, but what are you doing here?”
“Meeting a friend.”
My heart was touched. “I’ve always thought of you as a friend, too, but don’t you feel like we know each other already? We’ve been together so long.”
“Not you.” She glanced over her shoulder out the window behind her. “There she is now.”
The door to the screened back porch opened and banged shut. Alarmed, I hopped up to turn on the back porch light and open the blinds.
Jiggling the doorknob, this guest shouted through the closed door.
“We don’t never lock our front doors in Hog Holler, much less the back. What in the world is the matter with you?”
I fumbled with the lock, apologizing, and welcomed Maybelle Higginbottom, who never stood on ceremony. She flung her arms around me and hugged me tightly.
“It is so good to actually lay eyes on you.” Stepping back, she held me by the shoulders. “You’re keepin’ fit. That’s good. You’ve got a whole lot more to write. Ain’t none of my kids got married yet and I don’t have nary a grand-youngun. When are you going to move my life forward?”
Awash with guilt, I was relieved when I saw Maybelle wink at Bonny Bee and then I knew it was a put-on speech. I volleyed back.
“Not my fault, Maybelle. I came up with a perfectly good match for your oldest boy, Luke, only for him to throw her over for that cute blonde from Hoboken.”
Maybelle closed the door with her foot. “And then sent her off to college to date some football player. Is that your idea of a solution?”
I promised to do better.
“Have a seat, Maybelle,” I said. “Would you like something to drink? Eat?”
“Do you have cornbread and sweet milk? That’s my favorite late night snack.”
Oh, brother. How was I going to admit to Maybelle I didn’t cook anymore? I’d never hear the end of it. The conversation played through my mind as if it had already taken place.
I don’t remember the last time I made cornbread, I would say. I don’t cook much anymore.
Well, what do you eat? she would demand. She took nutrition seriously.
I would joke, I do well to cut open a bag of lettuce.
A bag of lettuce? You don’t grown your own? With a backyard the size of yours, you could grow lettuce, cabbage, corn, butter beans, field peas and still have room for two rows of sunflowers and a blackberry vine or two.
Bonny Bee would chime in: the key to running a house is a bustling kitchen. I wouldn’t have a single boarder at the Peregrine Inn if…
But before I could light upon a single word to say, the doorbell rang.
Glad for the diversion, I hurried over and swung the door open.
And there she stood: a stately woman, with the knowing smile, eyebrows raised, who would either rush to my defense or agree with my other guests that if I wasn’t taking time to cook every day, I had no excuse not to write faster and solve the problems I foisted on them with a little more agility and haste.
There was no need delaying the inevitable. I stepped back to admit her.
“Hello, Ivy Leigh,” I said. “Come on in.”
[To be continued]