Authors: Audra Osorio
The Swear Jar
By Audra Osorio
Text copyright ©
2013 Audra Osorio
This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of
the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
I would like to dedicate this book
to my husband, Felipe. I love you. Thank you for being my knight in shining
armor. Keep holding my hand because we both know I’m a klutz. The best
adventures are yet to come.
And to my Dad, keeping an eye on me
from Heaven, I’m proud to be your daughter. Thank you for saying ‘you can’t do
that!’ because I’ll always say ‘watch me!’
One late Saturday morning in June, a
grumpy Duncan Phillips drove into the parking lot of Pin Oak Grove’s only
supermarket. He was in a bad mood for three reasons. First, it was unbearably
hot. It felt more like the desert than summer in New Jersey. Second, he had
put off food shopping until he was desperate. His refrigerator was almost
empty. Third, the silver Jeep creeping along in front of him was getting on
his nerves. He was forced to park way out in the lot because it was almost
filled to capacity. He soaked up the last of the air conditioning and watched
the Jeep circle like a shark. Finally, it parked further out in the lot than
he did. In a town this small, it was highly unusual he didn’t recognize the
Getting out of his car, he saw a
sandy-haired woman and a red-headed girl emerge from the Jeep. The woman and girl
were deep in conversation. The woman wore a blue t-shirt, denim shorts and
sneakers. The shorts were attractive and hugged her curvy figure. The girl,
who looked about ten years old, wore a rainbow colored t-shirt, denim shorts
and sneakers. He assumed they were mother and daughter. The girl rapidly
fired questions at the woman, who threw up her hands in exasperation. He could
tell the girl was pressing the woman’s buttons on purpose. As they reached the
only row of shopping carts, the woman scrounged around in her purse. He
briefly touched the quarter in his pocket, instantly knowing that’s what she
“Anne, I can’t find one. Fork it
over. Stop being so stubborn! It’s too hot to argue. My contacts are going
to fuse to my eyes,” the woman hissed quietly.
“Why didn’t you bring one? You’re
the adult. You should plan for these things. And you should wear your
glasses,” retorted Anne.
“I brought the list, a credit card
and you. What more do you want?” snapped the woman.
With the freckles on her nose and
cheeks dancing, Anne smiled brightly at Duncan. His bad mood disappeared as he
beamed back at her. Rolling her eyes, she tilted her head in the woman’s
He cleared his throat. “Is there a
The woman was about 5’3” and in her
mid-forties. She looked younger because she wasn’t wearing makeup. Her cheeks
were rosy and plump. He felt too many women were skinny and looked hungry all
the time. It was good to see a healthy woman for once. Her dirty blonde
ponytail had gray streaks in it. She had light blue eyes with flecks of green
and an attractive dimple in her left cheek.
The woman saw his smile and mischievous
green eyes. She was bad at guessing ages. He looked to be in his late
fifties, early sixties. He was half a foot taller than her. He was stocky,
but he was very attractive in a pair of jeans and a short-sleeved, gray Henley
shirt. He had light reddish-blonde hair with touches of gray at the temples.
There was an adorable cleft in his chin.
Finally, the woman remembered to
smile. Grinning, he caught his breath as her blue eyes danced. Mesmerized, they
stared at each other. Shaking her head, Anne watched them. She thought if
this had been a silly romantic movie, this would be the moment they fell in
The woman’s smile faltered. “I’m
sorry. I’m blocking the carts. Let me get out of your way.”
He frowned. “It’s not a problem.
You need a quarter to unlock the cart. You can have mine. I can run back to
the car and get another one.” He held out the quarter.
“No, thank you. I couldn’t let you
go back to your car in this heat! Anne has one. She’s going to give it to me
right now if she knows what’s good for her!” The woman growled.
Anne whined. “But I want you to
use one of those kiddie carts shaped like a car!”
The woman turned a cold, withering
look on Anne. Anne had gone too far and quickly handed over the quarter. The
woman unlocked the cart and pulled it out of the row.
The woman smiled shyly at him.
“Thank you again.”
Anne winked at him. Putting a hand
over his mouth, he choked back a laugh. He didn’t want the withering look to
be turned on him. He stared at his quarter. Resigning himself to unlocking a
cart, he headed into the supermarket. Anne and the woman stood in the lobby. Staring
at a display of cookies, Anne pleaded to buy some. The woman was looking in
her purse again. Duncan chuckled quietly.
“I can’t believe you wanted me to
push you around in a kiddie cart. Did you think I was going to risk heat
stroke and a hernia? If it’s not on the list, we’re not buying it. You know I
hate food shopping. There is nothing fun about food shopping. If we get this
over quickly, I’ll take you for ice cream.”
He was intrigued with this woman. He
wanted to follow her. If he did, he was afraid she might think he was a stalker.
If he didn’t, he felt he would be missing out on something very important. He didn’t
know why he was so drawn to her. While he struggled to decide, the woman found
her pen and grocery list.
Anne said, “Deal. What IS on the
“The first thing is bread. To the
bakery. Let’s go.”
The bakery was on the other side of
the supermarket. If he followed them, it would leave no doubt he was a
stalker. Hanging his head, he wheeled his cart into the produce aisle. He
agreed with the woman. Food shopping was not fun. He picked up red onion,
cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and garlic croutons for a salad. He wasn’t much
of a cook, but he tried to eat healthy food occasionally. Anne and the woman
raced into the produce aisle. His frown lessened. As he listened to their
conversation, a smile spread across his face.
“Anne, grab some bananas. I’ve got
the eggplant and zucchini. And what kind of apples do you want? Red, really
red, green, or yellow?”
“Why are you buying eggplant and
zucchini? You don’t know how to cook them. The apples do have names, you know,
but fine, I’ll take the red ones.”
“If it’s on the list, I get it.
Someone else can figure out how to cook it. And you, missy! I give you the
raspberry!” The woman stuck out her tongue and made a rude noise.
He couldn’t help himself. He was
hooked. Even if she thought he was an axe murderer, he had to follow her. He
wanted to introduce himself. He wanted to see her smile and make her laugh. He
wanted to kiss that dimple. Shocked, he shook his head to clear his thoughts.
“What’s next?” Anne asked.
“Cereal. Unless I stuff you behind
the bananas. Or throw you in with the lobsters. Or shove you in a freezer.”
“Cereal it is! Is ice cream on the
list?” Anne asked hopefully.
“Not this trip. You’ll get some if
we get out of here soon.”
They hadn’t seen him skulking by
the crouton display. There was no harm in being a curious guy. He racked his
brain for other items in the cereal aisle. Oatmeal? No one ate hot oatmeal in
June. Jarred fruit? Nuts? Marshmallows! Marshmallows were further down the
aisle, clearly non-stalking distance. It would buy him some time to introduce
himself. He stopped in front of the marshmallows. He acted as if he was comparison
“What cereal should we get?” Anne
“The list says cereal. Get two
boxes, one grossly healthy looking and one that’s chocolatey. Next victim on
the list, marshmallows. Anne, watch the cart.”
Out of fear, his feet rooted to the
floor in front of the marshmallows. The woman slowed down when she noticed
him. He pretended to contemplate the unit price of each different type of
marshmallow. He wondered how many marshmallows he would need to make s’mores
for an army. He didn’t want to scare her off. The woman beamed at him.
“Hello again! Are you picking out
marshmallows too? Can you believe there are so many kinds?” the woman asked
He turned slightly in her direction
so he could see her and the shelf. He didn’t want to appear creepy. He could
also see Anne looking at cereals. She held one box like it was radioactive.
She honed in on another box on the top shelf. He hoped she would be careful.
He smiled. “Hi. Yes, I’m trying
to decide. I’m not sure which ones.”
The woman bubbled. “We can rule
out the miniature ones. No one is drinking hot cocoa now. You can OD on the
medium-sized ones if you’re making s’mores. The giant ones make volcanoes in
the microwave. Unless you’re really on a sugar binge, I’d go with the giant
“I think you’re right. I’ll try
them,” he said.
He used both hands to grab two bags.
The woman’s smile instantly faded when she saw his wedding ring. For him, it was
as if someone had turned off the sun. As the colors around him dimmed, he lost
his smile too, but for a different reason. Anne reached for a box of cereal on
the top shelf. She teetered on the edge of the second shelf from the bottom,
using the slowly rolling cart for leverage.
“Anne, watch out!” He shouted as
he zipped past the woman.
“Yikes!” Anne cried, plopping in his
“Anne!” the woman exclaimed. “You
shouldn’t be climbing the shelves! You could have hurt yourself. Thank this
gentleman for saving you.”
Anne shyly said, “Thank you.”
He replied, “You’re welcome. Your
mother’s right. You shouldn’t climb the shelves. Just ask for help.”
Anne giggled as if he had said
something extremely funny.
The woman chuckled. “Anne, people
think you’re my daughter. There’s no way I would have such an ‘abomination,’ a
‘child of the corn,’ a ‘red-headed snippet’ as my kid!”
He didn’t hesitate. “Frank
Herbert, Stephen King and L.M. Montgomery.”
The woman looked at him curiously.
Anne huffed. “This is my Aunt
Meara. We moved here in May and she moved here last week. She used to be a
Meara was horrified. “Anne! I’m
still a librarian. I’m keeping an eye on you for your parents! I’ll get
around to checking out the local libraries.”
He smiled. It was going to take
great skill to get a word in between the two bickering relatives. He liked
listening to them fight good-naturedly.
Anne’s turn came next. “Checking
out the libraries? You said most librarians are in their jobs until they die.
You said the only way to get a job would be to give a librarian the evil eye or
make a voodoo doll.”
He took advantage of Meara’s
stunned silence to hold out his hand. “Aunt Meara, I would like to welcome you
and Anne to Pin Oak Grove. My name is Duncan Phillips. I’m the director of
Pin Oak Public Library.”
Meara blushed as she shook his
hand. “Oh, crap. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Meara Martin.”
Anne chirped up. “You owe me a
He didn’t understand Anne’s comment,
so he kept talking. He didn’t want them to start fighting. He wanted to see
Meara again and he quickly thought of a way to make that happen.
“I’m happy to hear you’re a
librarian. We’re looking for a Head of Youth Services. Why don’t you stop by
the library next week and drop off your resume?” he said, formally.
Meara regained her ability to
speak. “Thank you, Mr. Phillips.”
His sense of mirth was threatening
to make him laugh. He had to get away even though he didn’t want to leave. He
spoke quickly before he changed his mind.
“It was nice meeting you, Meara. I
hope to see you again soon. And it was nice meeting you too, Anne. I hope
you’ll come with your aunt to the library.” He winked at Anne.
Anne grinned, winking back at him.
Meara was still slightly stunned by the encounter. Without looking back, he
wheeled his cart away. They watched him go. Anne held onto their shopping
“Too bad,” Meara whispered.
“What’s too bad?” Anne asked.
“He’s wearing a wedding ring.”
“It means he’s married, right? But
you’re wearing a wedding ring too. When are we going to the library to give
him your resume?”
Meara looked at the band of gold on
her left hand. “Anne, let’s get this over with, okay?”
As he loaded his groceries into the
car, Duncan decided to go to Moe’s Barber Shop for a haircut. He wanted to
look presentable for Meara. That wasn’t entirely true. He also wanted to look
attractive for her. He shook his head. What had gotten into him? As he sat
in the barber’s chair, he thought about what had happened.
With a simple smile, Meara had
stirred something in him. She was funny and unpretentious. She had been
nervous when she spoke to him. He wanted to get lost in those blue eyes of
hers. She was beautiful. He blinked, shocked by his thoughts. How could she
have affected him so deeply, so quickly? Who was this woman?
It was true his Head of Youth
Services had retired, but he wasn’t actively looking for a replacement. His
Board of Trustees would consider her, especially if she was qualified. Would
she come to the library as he had suggested? Right before Anne fell, Meara’s
demeanor had changed. He wasn’t sure why. As he climbed out of the barber’s
chair, he noticed his wedding ring on his left hand.
“Oh, crap.” He muttered to
Did he owe Anne a penny? He had been
worried Meara would think he was a stalker. Now she probably thought he was an
adulterer. He hoped she would come to the library so he could explain. Why
couldn’t he get her out of his mind?