Authors: Donna Alward
It was Jess’s most lucrative time of year, too, and for the most part she loved it. Her store, Treasures, was always bustling with people looking for handmade local items. She enjoyed meeting them, listening to different accents, learning where they were from. She enjoyed the long days of sunshine, the way the sun sparkled off the water of the bay, and the crazy riot of blooms that happened up and down Main Street. Window boxes and planters were always a profusion of petunias, geraniums, impatiens, and trailing lobelia.
But she loved this time of year, too—late September, right before the leaves turned into a glorious kaleidoscope of color. It was like a brief oasis of calm between the busy seasons of summer and autumn. The air cooled, and the front stoops were decorated with the more hardy potted mums. The gardens let go of their brazen summer hues and settled into the more sedate colors of asters and goldenrod.
The fall lineup of workshops she held at the back of the store would start in another week or so. Then there was the quilting club at the church, where she coordinated different projects for the quilt show in the spring, which in turn made a fair bit of money for the women’s group and attracted visitors from all along the midcoast. When winter arrived, Jess could really focus on her first love—creating many of the items that graced her store shelves. Beaded jewelry, soaps, scented candles, felted articles. But for now, she was enjoying the time to herself before all the leaf watchers descended en masse to admire the fall colors in Jewell Cove.
Her first project was to finish the soft blanket she’d begun when she’d found out her sister, Sarah, was pregnant, then put aside when Sarah miscarried. It felt wrong to have those stitches sitting on the needles, incomplete. Jess planned to finish it and pack it away. When the time was right, she’d pass it on to someone. She figured she’d know when. And who. Life was funny that way.
Besides, maybe she could save it for her almost cousin-in-law, Abby. Abby Foster had inherited the legendary Foster mansion up on Blackberry Hill and in a few short months had managed to steal the heart of the town’s most eligible bachelor, Jess’s cousin Tom. Jess was particularly happy for them. Both of them had had their share of heartbreak, but Abby was perfect for Tom. Abby had fit right in with their family and felt like another sister. It was hard to believe she hadn’t always lived in Jewell Cove. Jess figured they might not wait too long to start a family of their own.
The door to the shop opened, bringing with it a gust of sea air.
Speak of the devil,
Jess thought with a smile.
“Morning, Jess.” Abby smiled brightly. As of course she would. Her wedding to Tom was only a few weeks away.
“Hi, Abs. What brings you by this morning? Say muffins. Please.”
Abby lifted a bag of muffins. “Straight from the bakery. Raspberry cream cheese.”
Bingo. “You’re a mind reader. I’ll put on some tea.”
In the summer months they’d gone through this routine occasionally, only with iced tea or lemonade and in between customers. Jess slipped to the back room and switched on the kettle. “How’re wedding plans going?” she called out.
“That’s what I came to talk to you about,” Abby called back. “I have a favor to ask.”
Jess heated the pot, added the tea bags, and then poured in the boiling water. She took a small tray and added two mugs and a little carton of milk from her bar fridge and carried them to the front. “Favor? I’m intrigued. Because you
ask me for favors.” She raised an eyebrow, teasing.
Abby grinned at the deliberate sarcasm and Jess chuckled. Abby was always asking for favors and Jess was happy to help. First it was to recommend a seamstress to do the alterations on Abby’s wedding dress, a lovely vintage gown that had belonged to Abby’s great-grandmother, Edith. Then it was to ask for advice about flowers and colors. And to Jess’s surprise, Abby had asked her to be her maid of honor—and sole attendant.
“You’ve been very patient,” Abby commented as she grabbed the spare chair, pulled it up to the desk, and helped herself to the first muffin. “I know I’m probably turning into a Bridezilla.”
Jess laughed and poured the tea. “No, you’re not. You’re happy and excited. And that’s just as it should be.”
“Well, you and Sarah are the closest thing to sisters I’ve got.” Abby’s face shadowed a bit. “How is she, Jess?”
Jess frowned, added a bit of milk to Abby’s cup, and handed it over. “She’s getting there. The miscarriage really hit her hard, but she and Mark have come through lots. They’ll come through this, too.”
Jess turned her attention to the muffin, biting down with a satisfied sigh. “You are a lifesaver,” she said, washing it down with a sip of tea.
“Well, I still haven’t told you the favor.” Abby grinned at her, her blue eyes sparkling. “I wondered if you’d make me my wedding jewelry.”
“You’re sure? You could find something lovely at a store in Portland.” Jess loved making jewelry, but it was a lot of pressure creating something for someone’s wedding. It was an important day. One that would never be duplicated. A day when everything should be absolutely perfect.
Not that she’d know. Or probably ever know. She’d have to actually start dating again to ever have a chance at a proposal. Jess figured she’d be relegated to the role of Fun Aunt. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing … but it didn’t sound as thrilling as it once had.
“I looked, and I couldn’t find anything I liked. I’d like something vintage-y feeling, but not too heavy, you know?”
Jess couldn’t help it. She was already formulating a picture in her mind of something that would suit Abby’s dress. “What color?”
“What about ruby? The dark red would look fabulous with the ivory satin, don’t you think?” She reached into her handbag and took out a photo in a frame. “Since I’m wearing her dress, I wondered about replicating my great-grandmother’s necklace.”
Jess looked at the photo, examining the piece carefully. The necklace was stunning, a simple yet elegant circlet of dark red stones. “Where’s the original?”
Abby shrugged. “I honestly don’t know. I have a box of a bunch of Edith’s finer jewelry, but the necklace wasn’t in it.”
That was too bad. If it belonged to Edith Foster, it had most likely been genuine gems and expensive. “Hang on a minute.” Jess went back into the workroom, pulled a drawer out of a plastic organizing box, grabbed a few more items, and returned to the desk. Once there she moved her tea and muffin aside to clear a spot and began lining up garnets and wire.
“It would need detailing, and the stones would need to be set in something special to imitate the foil backing, but I can see this with your dress. They’re not real rubies, of course, but…”
She looked up at Abby hopefully.
Abby’s eyes lit up. “I knew you’d know exactly what I’d like. How do you do that, Jess? You’ve got such a talent and a wonderful eye.”
The words sent a pang through Jess’s heart. She knew she was talented, but sometimes she let her own insecurities get the better of her. For a while her creativity, the deepest part of herself, had been stifled. More than stifled, she ruefully thought as she started packing away the beads. It’d been completely silenced by a man who had been charming on the outside and a monster in private. This life, this business, was her victory over an ugly past.
“You like it, then?”
“It’s perfect. That design would complement your dress, too. Can you make two?”
“I could make a smaller one in dark blue for me. If you want.”
Abby nodded. “That sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to see your dress when it’s back from the seamstress.”
Neither could Jess. It was the prettiest thing she’d ever put on. They’d found it in one of the chests at Abby’s along with lots of other vintage clothes. Most of the items Abby had graciously donated to the Historical Society. But some she’d held onto, including the deep blue gown that they’d guessed to be post World War One. The filmy fabric, beading, and drop waist suited Jess’s slightly bohemian style perfectly.
“Only a few more weeks now.” The wedding was scheduled for mid-October and would take place at the church with the reception at the Foster House garden, weather permitting. After a brief honeymoon—rumor had it they were going to Paris for a week—Abby and Tom would be living in the grand house together. Tom was already looking at turning the old garage into a woodworking shop and they were planning on renting out his cottage at Fiddler’s Rock.
Changes. Good ones. Sometimes Jess felt a little left behind. Which was silly because she had everything she wanted right here.
“I can’t believe I’m getting married,” Abby said quietly, a soft smile touching her lips. “It seems so impossible, and yet … not. Your cousin is pretty special, Jess.”
Jess raised an eyebrow. Tom
special. He’d supported her dream to open Treasures when others had discouraged it. He was also a pain in the butt, but as a member of the family, that was part of his job description. “I’ll never confirm that. It’ll get back to him and go straight to his head.”
Abby looked down at her mug and turned it around in her fingers. “I should probably tell you that he finally decided on a best man.”
Something in her tone made Jess’s heart beat out a warning. “Is it Bryce?” It made sense Tom would ask his brother to stand up with him.
There was a moment of silence in which Jess had a feeling she wasn’t going to like the answer.
“No, not Bryce. Rick.”
Something strange swirled in Jess’s stomach, a weird flutter of nerves that she credited to her recent aversion to Rick Sullivan. “Really? But what about Bryce? They’re brothers and…”
“He offered it to Bryce first, but you know Bryce. For such a burly, alpha male, he really hates being anywhere near the center of attention. It was all Tom could do to convince him to be emcee at the reception. I wonder how he even made it through his own wedding.”
Jess forced a chuckle. “I think Tom had to drug him.”
The two women shared a smile. “Jess, tell me honestly, will Rick being the best man be a problem? I know you don’t get along, but he’s Tom’s closest friend.”
Jess frowned. To say how she truly felt would sound awful and small-minded. And she of anyone should know that people deserved second chances; that challenges and trials could take a lot out of a person, and Rick had had his share of both. Still. Rick was unpredictable with a substance abuse problem. And he’d be paired up with her for the entirety of the wedding day.
“I don’t know, Abby. I mean it’s your day. It’s just…” Jess sighed. She remembered the boy he’d been before joining the Marines. Always good for a joke and laughing, getting into his share of trouble with the boys, but nothing serious. Once, when he was fourteen and she was twelve, he’d kissed her in the equipment room at school while they were putting the basketballs away after lunchtime intramurals. It had been her first kiss, and she’d looked at him with stars in her eyes until he’d pulled some prank with Josh and Tom that had her steaming at the ears.
But the truth of the matter was, their relationship had always been fraught with ups and downs that went beyond childish pranks. When she was eighteen, they’d almost started something at her graduation party. Instead he’d cooled his jets without any explanation, leaving her behind a dune wondering what on earth she’d done wrong. These days all he thought about was feeling sorry for himself.
With another sigh and a shrug, Jess conceded defeat.
“Rick and I can manage to be civil for a day, I’m sure,” she assured Abby. She would not cause wedding trouble. It was Abby and Tom’s day and they should have it the way they wanted without bridesmaid drama. She just hoped Rick would stay sober throughout the day and not make an ass of himself.
Abby reached over and took Jess’s hand. “I know you have worries. Rick’s a bit of a loose cannon. But he’s been so much better since his mom took sick. And now she’s gone. Tom and I thought it would give him something positive, you know? He needs that.”
Jess couldn’t argue. And at least Rick had finally gotten a job. Granted, he’d been working for one of the whale boat charters, and like her own business, that was slowing down for the season. What would Rick do with all the extra time on his hands?
Hand, she reminded herself, and immediately felt guilty for her negativity. He
lost his hand in combat, after all.
“He does need that. I haven’t been a very good friend. It’s just that…”
She hesitated. She never talked about her past. Never talked about Mike, or the year and a half they’d spent together. It was something she’d rather forget and knew she never would. Some scars ran too deep.
“Just that what?” Abby asked, her face wreathed in concern. “Jess, are you okay?”
No, she wasn’t okay. Rick’s drinking had shaken her more than she liked to admit, bringing up painful memories of a history she’d worked hard to move beyond.
“I’m fine,” she said, putting on a smile and reaching for a second muffin. “It’ll be great, Abby. Your wedding is going to be perfect.”
* * *
Rick put the key in the lock and let the door swing open with a long, lonely squeak. He stood on the threshold, not entering the cozy white-and-green Cape Cod he’d once called home. It seemed wrong. Wrong that his mother wouldn’t be there to say hello in her warm, welcoming voice. She wouldn’t give him shit for never coming over or having a decent meal. She’d never make his favorite clam chowder again, or the blueberry cake with the cinnamon crumb topping that he liked so well, or hang clothes out on the clothesline to dance in the breeze.
It felt … final. That once he stepped off the porch and into the kitchen, it would really be real. She was never coming back.
He swallowed, trying to screw up his courage. All his life his mom had been his lighthouse. Even when he’d been far away, she’d been there, a light in the darkness to bring him home safely again, especially after she and Rick’s father had divorced when he was eight and it had just been the two of them. She’d driven him to Little League, gone to every parent-teacher conference, and once bailed him out of jail when he’d been picked up for underage drinking when he was seventeen.