It had been in some English novel she had once read, an apt description that had stayed with her long after the reading, long after she could even remember the plot line or characters . . .
He had ordered his coffee, hesitated, then asked if she could join him. They sat together in the booth for nearly an hour. He forgot his to-do list for the day; she forgot that he was a good-looking single man. He forgot to wonder when the last time was that he had had such a refreshing conversation with a woman. She forgot, in that little slice of time, that she had a clearly hurting daughter at home, and did not know what to do about it. He did not have his dead wife Gloria in his mind. And she had George, in the wings, but for that interlude, not front and center. For Marjorie Dashwood and James Knightly, it was a very brief and uncomplicated holiday . . .
James Knightly had never been in the children’s store on Downing Street. He had never had a reason to be. Living in Washington DC for years, he had done his shopping there with its many options, or online. But this Saturday morning, he had come into town from his ranch home, to do a few errands. And under a sudden impulse, shop for a gift for a seven-year-old. An old friend from college days was coming that evening, bringing his wife, and seven-year old granddaughter. They were staying a few days, and he supposed the young girl would come laden with her own personal impedimenta . . .
She sat in the car knowing she should not be shocked. Of course time had marked and changed things, wiped away the comforting, the familiar. Still, she had hoped this place would have been the same as it had been ten years ago, when she jogged its length as an eager, energetic teenager. Anne Dashwood felt bitterness and disappointment rise up in her like bile, thinking that if she did not calm down, she would be opening the car door, to lean out and be sick . . .
She had not been on this particular walking trail in almost a year, perhaps longer. It had been one of her and George’s favorites—a few miles from town, bracketed by a meandering river on the left, mountains on the right. A clean, grassy trail, ribboning between tall stands of pine and fir, not too heavily trafficked, but not too remote that she felt unsafe by herself. In the first raw months after George’s death, she had assiduously avoided the trail. Too many remembered good times, too painful. In the next season of grieving she had gone there weekly with Rufus and Clover. It was a place to remember him, to feel close to him. In those days, at home, everywhere, she wanted to find him, to hold him tightly in memory anywhere she could . . .
It was the best line of the whole book, Marjorie thought. Worth the rereading, over and over. Easily delivered in her best dramatic voice, that made the little boy at her side rock with laughter. The next time she saw Trixi, she was going to try it out. “You are not fit to be seen Trixi! And I am affronted!” Marjorie, smiled to herself as she turned the page, once again a British author had brought her pleasure in reading . . .
One of her favorite views, in her little world, was the one from her small desk at the front of the small classroom, facing her students. Facing the only door, she could sit at her desk in the brief quiet moments before her students poured in, a phalanx of energy, noise, and affection. The sunlight filtered down in one single funnel of warm light. Exactly like a narrow, but powerful beam from a celestial flashlight. The light fell right on the doorway opening, for about eight minutes each day, and the young woman always sat still, in awe. She had come to think of this light beam as from God to her personally—a blessing, an affirmation, a loving presence, a telling her He liked what she was doing. But for the last twelve days, there had been no sunlight . . .
Leo was in a bad mood. Rachel was in a good mood. Marjorie was in a philosophical mood. How does a grapefruit know precisely where your open eye is when you plunge the spoon in? It was, she would allow, perhaps not the most profound thing to be cogitating over on this blustery March morning, but still, a curious, thought-provoking phenomenon nonetheless. The grapefruit juice has laser like accuracy hitting your open, innocent eye, like blinding acid. It could almost make you think the fruit had a personality . . .
It was a blunt honesty that Marjorie had not expected. It was, strictly speaking, strict honesty. The chai tea, whatever caffeine stimulation it contained, was not having the desired effect on her. She needed something to clear her mind, firm up her resolve. She would be sixty years old in one month, for goodness sake, and here she was quaking before a woman, her peer, as if she was back in school . . .
Marjorie glanced at the clock on the microwave. Another thirty minutes and she should be done. Home, jump in the shower, feed Clover, then back in the car to join a few friends for dinner. Four women off to a local dinner theatre, as excited as provincials off to Broadway. She had been looking forward to it all week. She had been working behind the counter, down on her knees, readjusting some shelving in the small fridge. She was tired, disheveled, sweaty, grease stained, and craving something sweet, with triple digit calories. Like a bite of everything in the pastry case . . .