Authors: Kristan Higgins
“I’d love to,” I say, hugging her. “It would be an honor.”
She starts to cry again, and I smooth her beautiful hair. I’ve been a crappy friend, an untrue friend. I will make it up to Chantal.
Making it up to Malone will be a little harder.
HE LATE SPRING SNOW
finally melts, leaving us in three fresh inches of mud. I slog to work, taking off my boots before going in through the back door and slipping on my cooking clogs. I throw together the batter for some muffins, then start breaking eggs for omelets and scrambles.
I know I need to see Malone, apologize and try to make things right. But it’s going to be hard, and I need a little time to plan what I want to say. Can’t be rambling all over the place as I usually do. Still, it’s hard to find a nice way to say “I thought you were sleeping around on me, fathering children… Want to see a movie?”
“Hey, boss,” Octavio says, coming in the back. “Nice day, don’t you think?”
“I think it sucks, Tavy,” I say. “I’m thinking of moving to Florida or something.”
“I’m from Florida,” he answers. “Don’t go.”
Stuart slides onto his stool at the counter. “Good morning, Maggie,” he says. “Got any apple pie this morning?”
“Eve with a lid on it, coming up,” I tell him, forcing a smile. “And one blonde with sand.” I pour him his coffee and slide a creamer over.
“Cool,” Stuart says, shaking out two sugar packets. “Eve with a lid. I like that.”
“Mold with that?” I ask.
“Hmm…would that be cheese?” he guesses correctly.
“Yup. Side of cheddar.”
“No, thanks, Maggie. No mold.”
I settle down as I work. The diner, my shining little jewel, calms me. When Granddad owned it, I have to confess, it was much more a diner in the bad sense of the word. Fairly filthy, mediocre, greasy food, lots of prepared stuff that Granddad would just heat. Even if I don’t win the best breakfast title, I know that Joe’s is the heart of our town. Where would Rolly and Ben go? Who would throw Stuart his diner lingo? Where would Georgie work? Where would Judy pretend to work?
Speaking of Georgie, in he bursts, an ebullient ray of sunshine. “Hi, Maggie! Did you see the sunrise today? It was so pretty!” He hugs me tight. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” I tell him. “Muffins are still warm if you want one, Georgie. Or two. And Tavy’s waiting to scramble your eggs.”
The regulars are in and out early, and only a couple of people still linger. I wipe down the counters and start the meat loaf for today’s lunch special. Everyone loves meat loaf day, so I know we’ll be busy.
The bell above the door tinkles and in comes Father Tim. I flush, remembering that horrid flash of a moment when I thought he was the father of Chantal’s baby. “Hey, Father Tim!” I call out.
“Good morning, Maggie,” he says. “How are you, Georgie?”
“Great, Father Tim!” Georgie announces. “I’m great!”
“How’s everything?” I ask Father Tim. “I, um, haven’t seen you for a while.”
“Sorry, Maggie,” he says. “I’ve been a bit swamped these days. Some difficult matters to attend to.”
Difficult matters…like how to leave the priesthood? He slides into his booth and smiles up at me. I force a smile back. “I’m thinking it’s the eggs benedict today, love.”
Is it normal for a priest to call his friend “love”? Am I reading into too much here? What did the “counting on it” phrase mean, exactly?
“Maggie? Eggs benedict?” His smile is full of warmth.
“Right. Right, Father Tim. Coming up.”
up the hill to Malone’s house on Thursday. The late afternoon wind gusts hard enough to make biking difficult, and I have to stand on the pedals to make it to the top. I still haven’t figured out exactly what I’ll say to Malone, but I can’t put it off any more.
Because it’s so windy, the lobster boats are all in today, bobbing wildly on their moorings. I stop and take in the view. The water is deep blue with sprays of foam dancing off the waves. White horses, my dad once called them. The sky is rich, a blue so pure you can almost taste it, thin cirrus clouds streaking across the horizon. The leaves on some of the earlier trees are out, and hyacinth and daffodils poke up here and there. The past few days have been sunny, and the mud has finally dried into earth. Tomorrow we may even hit fifty-five degrees, the weatherman says. People will be wearing shorts, teenagers will grease themselves up with baby oil and iodine and try to fry some color into their skin. Maybe I’ll take a hike up in the blueberry barrens. Maybe Malone will want to come with me.
I knock on his door, but there’s no answer. However, I hear a vague banging from the back, so I walk around to the dooryard. Malone is wrestling some traps off his pickup, and at first he doesn’t see me. I take a minute to study him.
It’s hard to believe I ever called him unattractive, because now he’s the most appealing man I’ve ever seen. Even compared to Father Tim. Long and lanky but with the broad shoulders common to lobstermen, he moves with efficient grace, hefting the pots onto the ground. The lines of his face tell the story of Washington County—severe, difficult and beautiful, too. His flannel shirt flaps in the breeze, his workboots thunking against the floor of the cab. Then he sees me and freezes, midswing.
“Hi,” I say.
He sets the trap down, then turns to unload the final two or three. Not exactly the warm greeting that would make this a little easier for me, but hey. He’s got reason to be mad at me; more than he knows, in fact.
“Got a minute?” I ask.
He picks up two traps, one in either hand, and walks them to his cellar door, then returns to the pile of traps and repeats the action. Apparently, he’s not going to stop.
“Um, Malone, well…listen, can you take a break for a second? I really…just…I need to…” He tosses the traps down with considerably more emphasis than the last time and finally relents, leaning against the tailgate of his truck, oozing impatience. I inch a little closer so I won’t have to yell to be heard. I’m nervous, I realize. Of course, he’s glaring and that doesn’t do much to put a person at ease. Did he ever actually smile at me? It’s hard to conjure at this moment.
“Thank you,” I say, fiddling with the zipper of my jacket. “How are you? How’ve you been?”
He says nothing, just stares at me from those icy eyes.
“Well, okay, listen, Malone. Um, I’m here to apologize. Remember I said you weren’t my type?” I wince even as I speak…
Of course he remembers, dummy, you were such a bitch, who could forget?
“Right. So anyway, here’s the thing. I think we might have a laugh over this, actually.”
Malone continues glowering, and he is, I must admit, excellent at it. A true skill.
I sigh. “Malone, look. I thought you were the father of Chantal’s baby. That’s why I broke up with you.”
His eyes widen slightly, then narrow dangerously. My nervousness grows, and my mouth picks up velocity. “Yeah. I—I—I just misunderstood something. See, I was there, that night that Chantal told you she was pregnant. I was listening to you play the piano, and—” God, his scowl could make an Al Qaeda terrorist wet himself. “Okay, I guess I should’ve stayed and heard the whole thing, but I didn’t. But she… I know that I was wrong. And I’m wicked sorry.”
Malone considers me for another long moment. “You thought I slept with Chantal,” he states, as if for clarification.
“Um, yes. Sorry.” Adrenaline makes my feet prickle. I tuck some hair behind my ears and try not to look at that scowling face.
“Ever think about asking me?”
“Should have, but no.” I realize I’m compulsively zipping and unzipping my jacket…zip, zap, zip, zap. “You can be…um, a little, uh, hard. Hard to talk to.” Zip. Zap.
“That’s great, Maggie. So you thought I was two-timing you, with Chantal, no less, and didn’t bother saying anything about it. Great. Thanks for coming over.” He picks up two traps and starts stacking them in the dooryard.
“What?” he barks, and I jump.
“I thought…I kind of thought…”
“What? What did you think, Maggie?” He drops the pots with a crash and puts his gloved hands on his hips.
I wince. “Um…well, maybe you could…you know. Forgive me. Because I was thinking the wrong thing. That’s why I broke—”
“No thanks, Maggie,” he snarls. “I don’t want the priest’s leftovers.”
Youch! Direct hit, like a blow to the head. My mouth drops open. “Leftovers?”
“Yeah,” he says, coming over to me. I have to force myself not to look away. “You spend half your time drooling over that guy, dropping everything when he crooks his finger. You don’t want to be with a real person. Think it’s an accident you picked a priest to fall in love with?”
My head jerks back. “I’m not—”
“Don’t bother. Any relationship you and I might’ve had was a joke, anyway. You were just killing time with me.”
“I wasn’t killing time!” I yelp. “You never—”
“You didn’t want anyone to know that we were together, did you, Maggie?” Malone asks. He jerks another trap off the truck and I jump out of the way. “Think I didn’t notice that?”
“Well, neither did you, Malone!” I snap, my face heating with anger. “It’s not like you were falling over yourself to see me. You never came into the diner. You never came over for dinner or lunch or anything! We were
together. We didn’t do much more than that.” His jaw clenches, and I continue. “What about that day you went overboard? I wanted to see how you were doing and you practically kicked me out of your house. That’s not what happens in a real relationship, Malone.”
Malone hurls the traps onto the pile and turns to face me, folding his arms across his chest. The anger shimmers off him in waves, and I feel my own rising to match it.
“See, the way I see it,” I say tightly, “a relationship would involve, I don’t know—talking? Communication? A little more than just sex, maybe? Now, okay, the thing when Colonel died, that was nice. But Malone, you barely speak to me! Not about your daughter, not about your family, nothing! I don’t even know your first name!”
His whole face looks knotted and furious, but I don’t care. Everything I’m saying is pathetically true, and if he won’t talk, then I will. “Remember that piece of pie?” I snap. “I wanted to give you some pie for helping me out, but God forbid you should come in and eat it, right? God forbid that anyone is allowed to be nice to you, Malone, let alone—”
I’m about to say, but fortunately or not, he interrupts.
“Maggie—” he says through clenched teeth. His jaw is iron, his neck stiff. “We’re done here.” And then he turns and walks away.
’M SHAKING WITH RAGE
the whole way home. Stupid Maggie, to think that Malone—Malone!—would forgive me. Ha! The wind snatches the words from my mouth as I mutter aloud. “Of course I thought you were the father! How many times does a woman burst in and say ‘I’m pregnant’ to a man who’s not the father? Not many! So it wasn’t such a stretch. You’d think you could cut me a little slack, Malone!”
Mrs. K. is lying in wait, an arthritic little panther, when I stomp up the porch steps. “Maggie, dear! I need a
“Right,” I sigh. “What is it?”
“Well, you don’t
to help if you’re in a mood, dear.” She folds her arms and frowns disapprovingly.
“Mrs. K., whatever you need, I’m happy to help. I’m sorry. I’ve had a
“Would you like to tell me about it?” she asks.
I laugh grimly. “No. But thank you. I’d like to forget it, actually.”
“We could watch a movie,” she suggests, and there’s a hopeful note in her voice.
“I’d love to,” I say. “That would be just the ticket.” I reach down and give her a careful hug. “Thank you, Mrs. K.”
is on TNT tonight, and I’ve been dying to see it again!”
And so I fix us some dinner, cut the new bunion pad for her as directed and make popcorn. As we watch Jeff Goldblum vomit on and then consume a donut, Mrs. K. reaches over and squeezes my hand. “Things will get better, dear,” she murmurs. “Don’t worry.”
“I love you,” I tell her, and her cheeks flush with pleasure.
“I love you,
honey,” she says.
goes into commercial break. “Now
me, dear, when is that
man coming back? MacDuff?”
“Malone,” I correct automatically. “We broke up.”
“Oh, dear,” she says. “Well. I’m
you’ll work things out.”