decorated with strikethroughs, circles, stars, and arrows. “Rutabagas?”

I’d crossed off the rutabagas at least twice and had, twice, returned them to the dinner plan. “It’s a family thing.”

“Ah.” He gave me a glance, then went back to the list. “Oyster dressing? Same side of the family?”

I thought a moment. Family lore said Uncle Rolly, my mom’s bachelor brother, had started bringing the rutabaga casserole. The oyster dressing had come from Grandma Chittenden, an East Coast transplant. “No. And unlike the rutabagas, most of us eat the oyster dressing.”

He frowned. “If no one eats the rutabagas, why—”

We were saved by the ringing of the telephone. I picked up the receiver. “Good evening, the Children’s Bookshelf. How may I help you?”


“Hi, Marcia.” I made a dead-bolt-turning motion to Evan and mouthed the word “Please.”

“Oh, good, I caught you before you left.” Her words ran together. This was unusual for Marcia, who normally wouldn’t, couldn’t be rushed.

“What can I do for you?” Maybe she’d forgotten to tell me something. This wasn’t necessarily a phone call that meant trouble. Why did I assume the worst?

“It’s about Wednesday night,” she said.

Or maybe I assumed the worst because that was what so often happened. “What about it?” Wednesday night was the sole evening that all the downtown retailers were open, a tradition handed down in the mists of time. Marcia had worked Wednesday nights for years.

It worked out well because Wednesday was PTA night. I dedicated that evening to secretarial duties, even if we didn’t hold a meeting. If there weren’t minutes to work on, there were letters to write or fund-raisers to plan or parental e-mail to answer, and I was almost keeping up with it. This Wednesday there was a meeting, and since I’d asked to get something on the agenda, attendance was an absolute must.

“I can’t work Wednesday night,” Marcia said. “It’s not going to be a problem, is it?” She didn’t wait for an answer, but plunged on. “You’ll figure out a new schedule. It shouldn’t be too hard, one extra night. See, my grandson is starting swim lessons and I’d never forgive myself if I miss seeing him learn. You used to swim yourself, didn’t you? I knew you’d understand.”

“Are you talking about missing just this Wednesday?”

Marcia gave a peal of laughter. “It takes longer than one time to learn how to swim. No, these lessons run until March. Or is it April? Do you want me to check right now?”

No, I didn’t. What I wanted was an employee who actually wanted to work. I said good-bye and hung up the phone. Marina was right: Something had to be done about Marcia. Too bad I hadn’t a clue what it was.

“Problems?” Evan put his elbow on top of a nearby bookshelf. At the end of a long, busy day in retail he still managed to look unrumpled and drop-dead gorgeous. Curly blond hair going gray at the temples, long lean body, and a smile that quirked up on one side of his face, he was on track to become a Distinguished Older Man.

Some days—okay, most days, to be truthful—it was hard to believe he was interested in plain old me. What he saw in Beth Kennedy, age forty-one, divorced mother of two, and busy owner of a children’s bookstore who’d been endowed with mousy brown limp hair and had accumulated an extra fifteen hip-area pounds, I had no idea.

Well, twenty pounds.

“What makes you think there are problems?” I asked.

“When you’re worried you get little lines right here.” He stretched out and tapped his index finger above the bridge of my nose.

His touch sent a cold wave down my back. Why did I keep feeling like a love-struck teenager around this man? I was Beth Kennedy, once voted Least Likely to Scream at a Rolling Stones Concert. “Lines?” I lurched backward, frantically scrubbing at my forehead. “I’m not old enough for lines. I’m not gray enough. I’m not lined enough.”

Evan chuckled. “Then you’d better stop worrying. They might stick.”

I stopped my fake rubbing. If I got wrinkles, would he still want to be seen with me in public? If I got any uglier, surely he’d stop—

The phone rang. Automatically, I reached to answer. “Hello, Children’s Bookshelf.”


Instantly, my senses went on red alert. “Kathy.” My sister had never in my entire life called me at work. That she did so now could only mean . . . “It’s Mom, isn’t it?” She was sick. Why hadn’t she told us earlier? Though Mom and I didn’t have the ideal mother-daughter relationship, she was still my mom. If something had happened to her, I’d never forgive myself for not getting back to Michigan last summer. “How is she?”

“Mom?” Kathy’s round voice sounded puzzled. “Fine. At least she was this morning when I talked to her.”

“Oh. Good.” My spine lost its stiffness. “So, um, how are you?”

She laughed. “Same old Beth. Small talk isn’t one of your strengths, is it?”

Never had been, and thank you very much for reminding me, biggest of all sisters.

“It’s about Thanksgiving,” Kathy said.

“Oh, good. We should talk about the menu.” I scrabbled around for the pencil. “Ron’s allergic to green beans, right? And is it the red or the orange Jell-O you can’t stand?”

“Sorry. No can do.”

The pencil rolled out of reach. “What do you mean?”

“I mean we can’t make it on Thanksgiving. Ron’s company gave him an early Christmas bonus. Can you believe it?”

“Um . . .” Kathy’s husband worked for a large financial services firm and made obscene amounts of money. I tried very hard not to be jealous and succeeded almost half the time.

“Anyway,” Kathy said, “part of this year’s bonus is a Thanksgiving cruise to the Caribbean. The U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, St. Lucia.” She sighed dramatically. “It’s going to be heaven.”

I did not want to go on a cruise, I told myself. Especially not at Thanksgiving. Who would want to take a vacation on this most honest of all holidays? Thanksgiving was about gathering around a crowded table with as much family as you could shoehorn in, knee to knee and elbow to elbow, praying, laughing, and having the same arguments you had every year. Thanksgiving wasn’t about shiny cruise ships and smiling waitstaff.

I’d almost convinced myself when Kathy said, “Ron’s company is telling us the whole family is invited, so the kids are coming, too, plane tickets and all!”

Her voice was alive with excitement, and in spite of my jealousy—not that I was jealous, of course I wasn’t —a smile spread across my face. “How long has it been since all the kids were in one place at the same time?” I asked.

“Three years and five months,” Kathy said. “Ron thought you might be mad about us missing Thanksgiving, but I knew you’d be fine with it.”

“Um . . .”

“Oop, there’s the call waiting. Got to go. I’ll send you a postcard from the ship!” She hung up, laughing.

“More problems?”

I debated how to answer Evan’s question, and finally said, “Nope.” The menu lurked on the counter. I pulled a pen out of a coffee mug decorated with cats and rewrote “Green bean casserole.” Then I underlined it. Twice. “I just need to make a phone call.”

My purse was in a drawer back in the glorified closet I called my office. I fetched it out front, extracting my cell phone on the way and finding the phone number for the PTA president. “Erica? Beth. It’s about Wednesday night.”

Chapter 2

I spent Wednesday night at the store. My manager, Lois, had bowling league that night,

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