A raindrop splooshed onto Aubrey’s cheek. She wiped it away with the back of her hand, but another took its place. She tilted her head—gray clouds darkened the skies directly overhead. Dammit! They had seemed harmless, lurking in the distance when she stepped out of her Cape Cod rental just minutes ago.
One drop followed another, building to a deluge, cold and thick on her face. The way things had been going lately, the song Rainy Days and Mondays had never seemed more appropriate.
She ran toward the shelter of the red-and-white striped awnings protecting the stores on Main Street, each foot fall echoing the same refrain, fail-ure, fail-ure. Reaching the first door, she yanked it open and rushed inside.
Aubrey stopped and looked around at the darkened interior. A couple of pool tables filled the space to the far left near the windows. High tops, their chairs empty of patrons, were crammed together between the pool tables and the long bar.
At first, she had welcomed the quiet of the Cape in the off season, so different from the never-ending bustle she left behind in Boston. But without the noise, the voice telling her she had totally upended her life was louder than ever. Had she made a huge mistake? Aubrey knew in her heart the mistake had been trying to be someone she wasn’t. But that didn’t make her decision any easier.
“Sorry, we’re closed,” came a terse voice from just in front of her.
Aubrey jumped and peered in the direction of the voice. Her eyes adjusted to the low light, and she saw a man behind the bar.
“I’m soaked,” she said. “Can I just have a minute until the rain lets up? Please?”
She hoped he wouldn’t be able to resist this pathetic tourist who didn’t know enough to check the weather before going outside. She tensed when he turned from her without a word. Okay, not a conversationalist. Why did he go in the back? Did he have a gun? Why would she think that? The stress of the last few days was getting to her, she guessed. Let’s be honest, not just the stress of the last few days, but of the entire past year.
After months of dancing around issues, she had finally broken it off with her fiancé, Larry the Lawyer—rechristened Larry the Loser by her friends—just a few days ago. Even with no job, Aubrey couldn’t stay with someone who saw her only as a means to making partner while not being her partner. She shook her head to rid those thoughts, sending water droplets flying.
“Hey now,” said the same voice, friendlier now by the merest fraction. “I just mopped the floor.”
Aubrey hadn’t noticed that the man had returned, three bar towels and an oversized t-shirt that read Shorty’s Seaside Suds in his hands.
“These ought to do you,” he said. Sizing her up, he added, “Shirt’s probably too big, but it’s dry.”
Aubrey accepted the towels and shirt, holding her arms outstretched to keep them away from her drenched clothes. Her eyes skimmed the room.
“The Ladies’ is over there,” he said, jerking his head toward the back right corner. “Get you a coffee?” So, he took a little pity on her after all.
“If it has Bailey’s in it,” she said, only half joking. Remembering that she was dipping into her savings account, she gave a thin smile. “Scratch that. Just black coffee would be great. Thanks.”
While the house where she was staying had come rent-free, Aubrey still wanted to be careful of her spending. Elena, her bestie since college, had offered her parents’ Cape Cod rental. They were happy to have someone occupying it during the off-season slump that followed Labor Day, and Aubrey had needed a place to plan her next move, so she graciously accepted the offer.
After changing, Aubrey emerged from the bar restroom in the Shorty’s t-shirt, plus the yoga pants and flip flops that she thankfully had forgotten to take out of her beach bag that now held her wet, rolled-up clothes.
Aubrey saw the coffee sitting on the bar as she approached, steam wafting up and drawing her closer. She sat down, then surveyed her face in the mirror behind the bar. She wasn’t going to win any fashion awards, but she looked better than the forlorn, wet dog look she dragged in a few minutes ago.
The coffee went down smoothly, warming her instantly. The toasted caramel and vanilla flavors of the creamy liqueur were unmistakable. She looked up at the bartender and sent him a silent thank you. He nodded, then returned to inventorying the bottles against the wall.
The spiked coffee edged out the chill, and Aubrey relaxed. Gradually, her ears picked up music close by, but she didn’t see anything in the darkened room.
“Excuse me,” she said to get the bartender’s attention. “Am I crazy, or is there a band playing in here somewhere?”
“Well, I can’t attest to you being crazy or not, but there is a band playing.”
She assumed that was all the information she would get from him. She tuned her ears to the music, but it was too faint to hear clearly. The bartender had disappeared into the back, so Aubrey took her coffee cup and moved to a table nearer to the sound.
Straining, she could make out some of the words coming from the other side of the wall. It sounded like a band was writing lyrics, then adding the music to accompany them. The melody and voices were a combination of smooth and edgy. It was a little unconventional, but it worked. Her mood lifted while she absent-mindedly scribbled on some of the bar napkins.
She had no sense of the time that had passed until the bartender, clearly wanting his afternoon back, interrupted her.
“Rain’s let up,” he said.
Aubrey quickly gathered her things, stuffed the marked-up napkins into the outside pocket of her beach bag, and left the bar. Embarrassed at having overstayed her welcome, she didn’t notice until she was outside that she had forgotten to zip her beach bag closed. She pulled the zipper to protect her poetic musings in case the rain started again.
Clear skies dominated the forecast the next day, and Aubrey was excited at this second chance to take in the town. She stepped outside and raised her face to capture the sun’s warmth. The air was cool, but not cold, and she was comfortable in a long sleeve shirt, jeans, and topsiders.
She went into the garage where bicycles were stored for guests. She missed riding a bike and regretted leaving hers behind when she moved in with Larry.
It was just one of the things that she had given up at Larry’s suggestion; although plenty of people rode bikes in the city to avoid the congestion and traffic, Larry thought Aubrey should ride the T or take cabs. He was worried someone from his law practice might see her riding her bike, like some hippie—as he put it.
Looking now at her choices in the garage, Aubrey picked the hot pink two-wheeler with tassels streaming from the handlebars. She didn’t care if she looked ridiculous or like a hippie.
For so long, she had tried to mold herself to being the perfect partner for Larry that she stopped enjoying the simple things that made her happy. This bike, with its streamers dancing in the breeze, made her happy.
Red, gold, and orange leaves painted a brilliant landscape against the deep blues of the sky and ocean, and the salt air lingered on her tongue and skin. The day seemed to be special ordered just for her. She took her hands off the handlebars and threw her arms wide open, golden brown hair trailing behind.
Real life was going to puncture this picturesque bubble soon enough. She would enjoy one day before starting on job and apartment applications tomorrow.
Craving a cake donut, Aubrey rode to what was touted as the best donut shop in town. But once she was there, guilt started to rear its ugly head. Larry had never missed an opportunity to remind her that a lawyer at a prestigious firm like his shouldn’t have a wife with ‘weight issues.’ Screw him. He no longer controlled her life. She added the donut to her coffee order.
Aubrey grabbed a seat by the window and settled into people watching—what little of it there was anyway. Slivers of words from surrounding tables cut into her thoughts—she heard “failing,” “school,” and “tutor”—until all the words finally burst through at once. Someone at the table behind her was saying, “The school year has barely started, and Tony is already struggling in math. His teacher said he needs a tutor.”
Another woman responded, “You should call Coastal Tutoring on Main Street. I took Shelly there for her reading and within a few months she went from a second grade reading level to a fourth grade level.”
Why hadn’t Aubrey thought of this before? Tutoring could fill the gap until she found another teaching job. She typed Coastal Tutoring into the mapping app on her phone and saw that it was only a few minutes away from her by foot.
She downed the rest of her coffee, slid out of her chair, and went to track down the tutoring center. She left her bike on the rack in favor of walking so she could take in the cute boutiques, mom-and-pop restaurants, and art galleries that lined Main Street. She noted an art show for later that month that she wanted to check out.
Was she really considering finding a job here? Aubrey was afraid of making the wrong decision and risk screwing up her life even more. Doing nothing wasn’t an option. She didn’t have anything to go back to.
When her teaching position at the Canterbury Academy in the Boston suburbs had been eliminated last June, Larry convinced her to leave the cute two-bedroom house that she shared with Elena and move into his condo in the city. She had been sad to leave the quiet, leafy street a few blocks from where she taught, but she was excited to build a life with Larry.
When she talked about looking for a job near the condo, Larry had hinted that her time would be better spent planning their wedding. She had been overwhelmed thinking of guest lists, tablecloths, the venue, and everything else involved, so she agreed to hold off on her job search. With all of the public and private schools in the Boston area, she didn’t think it wouldn’t be too hard to find a teaching position after the wedding.
Once she moved in, though, it didn’t take long to figure out that Larry viewed her as little more than a live-in housekeeper and someone who would smile and nod at company functions while he clawed his way to partner. Aubrey lifted her blinders to the other signs that theirs wasn’t a relationship built on love or mutual respect.
Their last fight ended with him saying that it was beneath the stature of a lawyer to have a teacher for a wife. Aubrey left Larry’s condo—and him—right then. She knew she would be all right when her first thought had been thank goodness we hadn’t put down deposits or ordered the invitations. Now, Aubrey felt like she had emerged from a six-year hibernation, hungering to find her own interests and desires.
Why not stay on the Cape? It was beautiful, and still close enough to Boston to visit friends. Viewing her and Larry’s relationship in hindsight over the past few days highlighted how much he had controlled her decisions. She needed to start thinking about what she wanted. It wouldn’t hurt to see if the tutoring center was hiring.
When she reached Coastal Tutoring, Aubrey peered into the window. The brightly lit space popped with color from the wall art and rainbow-hued chairs. Her first thoughts were inviting and warm. Round tables were positioned in each corner and computers sat on desks that were separated by partitions along the side walls. She couldn’t see anyone, but when she pulled the door, it opened. A woman who was probably a few years older than Aubrey hurried out from another room.
“Hello. We don’t open for another few hours.”
Aubrey plunged ahead, desperate for her fortunes to turn. Pasting on her friendliest smile, she said, “Hi, my name is Aubrey. I heard someone talking about this place and I’m looking for a tutoring job. Do you have any openings?”
Aubrey couldn’t tell if the woman’s tense smile was a reaction to her rushed introduction or from wanting Aubrey to leave. She held her breath, waiting for the woman’s answer. Please say yes.
“I’m sorry, we don’t right now.”
Aubrey’s smile collapsed. “Okay, thank you. Do you anticipate any?”
Her heart had soared at the possibility of teaching in any capacity. Against her will, she had also allowed herself small scenarios of what her life on the Cape might look like. Hearing that this avenue would be closed before she could even explore it nearly crushed Aubrey.
“Not any time soon, I’m afraid.” The woman paused and looked directly at Aubrey as if trying to figure out who she was. “It’s a small town once the tourists are gone. I haven’t seen you around. Are you from here?”
“No. I’m living in Boston, but I’m thinking of moving here. The private school where I was teaching second grade merged with a rival academy, who installed their own teachers. My friend’s parents, Kay and John Chipman, are letting me stay in one of their rentals while I look for a job.”
Aubrey thought she detected a change in the woman’s demeanor at the mention of one of the more prominent family names in this small town. She took it as a sign to keep going.
Her voice rose as she talked about her passion for teaching. “I love watching the wheels turning in the kids’ heads, then seeing the look on their faces when everything clicks.” She stopped, embarrassed by her enthusiasm.
The woman’s face softened, and she said, “My name is Samantha. I’m one of Coastal Tutoring’s managers. You certainly do sound like someone we would love to have helping our kids.” She handed Aubrey a business card. “Email me your resume and references, and I’ll contact you if anything changes.”
Aubrey left feeling dejected, but she sent the information to Samantha anyway when she got back to the house…just in case.
The next day after lunch, Aubrey checked her email and was surprised to see a message from Samantha.
I talked with my boss. We could use someone with your experience and enthusiasm at Coastal Tutoring
for our younger students. Could you come in for an interview tomorrow at 1:00 p.m.?
This was the news Aubrey had hoped for, but reality intruded on her joy. Thoughts swirled in her mind. Even if she were hired, where would she live? New renters would be in the Chipman’s house in less than two weeks. Would her savings cover rent on an apartment until she got paid? She didn’t even know how much her salary would be.
She had been kidding herself, creating this ridiculous fantasy of living on the Cape, thinking it was possible. She would call Elena tomorrow and accept the offer to stay on her couch while she looked for a new teaching position in the city or surrounding towns.
That would be the grown-up thing to do, but Aubrey felt like something precious was being taken from her. Accepting Elena’s couch would be a default choice. Samantha was offering Aubrey a chance to choose for herself and escape her pattern of settling.
Writing had always helped her release the tightly corked emotions she bottled up around Larry, and felt it would help with her current dilemma of where to stay. She brought out her poetry notebook to revisit the verses that flowed from her subconscious at the bar on Monday. Now where were those napkins?
She was sure she had put them in the outside zipper pocket of her beach bag, but they weren’t there. She checked the rest of her bag but came up empty. They must have fallen out when she hurried from the bar.
Searching for the napkins also reminded her that she wanted to pay for the Bailey’s Irish Cream that the bartender had generously added to her coffee. She may be down on her luck, but she wasn’t a mooch. She wrote a short note:
Hello bartender who worked Monday afternoon,
Thanks again for the dry towels and Irish coffee. You were a life saver!
I don’t know if the $5 covers it, but I hope so.
She stuffed the note and a five-dollar bill into an envelope and tucked it into her bag. It was such a beautiful day that she walked into town rather than riding the bicycle.
Shorty’s door was locked, so Aubrey shoved the envelope through the mail slot on side of the door. Not wanting to be seen by anyone in Shorty’s, she stood up quickly and turned away from the door, colliding with a lime green polo shirt.
“Oof,” came two cries. Aubrey jumped back apologized.
A man grabbed onto her arms and steadied her. “I think it was my fault,” he said. “I had my mind on something else and wasn’t paying attention.”
Once free from his grasp, Aubrey’s eyes traveled up from his chest to his gray eyes and light brown hair. She saw that he was looking her over, and not being very subtle about it. He had some nerve.
“No broken bones as far as I can tell. Now that I can see you’re not hurt, why are you sneaking around Shorty’s?” The playful smile and twinkle in his eyes softened her temper.
He was just making sure she was ok, not checking her out. Was she now mad that he wasn’t checking her out?
“I’m not sneaking around,” she said. “I’m, um, returning something.” With that, she turned and walked as fast as she could in the direction of the rental house.
Once Aubrey was a safe distance from Shorty’s, she stopped to catch her breath. She didn’t know what she was afraid of, but her nerves were on edge.
As her pulse returned to normal, she replayed the scene from outside Shorty’s. That guy held something that seemed familiar. Her handwriting. Those were the napkins that she scribbled on while waiting for the rain to stop. Why didn’t that bartender just throw them away? They were personal—she had to get them back. Green polo shirt guy had looked like he was going into Shorty’s, so maybe he was still there.
Aubrey broke into a light jog back in the direction of the bar. When she was a few feet from the door, it flew open, and out stepped green polo shirt guy. He looked to the right, then to the left, and his eyes locked on Aubrey’s. She stopped and her muscles tensed. He still held the small white squares covered with her writing.
“Aubrey?” He asked in a tone that sounded more familiar than she would have liked.
Why was he smiling at her? Did he think that she came back to see him? That he was so irresistible? The smile that charmed her just twenty minutes ago now irritated her with its smugness.
She cocked her head and frowned. “How do you know my name?”
He stepped toward her, his easygoing demeanor contrasting with her rigid pose. “The note you left for Chris with the five dollars. I assume that’s what you were doing when I literally ran into you.”
His grin widened. How was that even possible? He added, “Chris was a bit miffed that you didn’t mention the t-shirt. Anyway, you signed your name on the note.” He held out his hand and said, “I’m Derek, by the way. I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself before you bolted.”
Aubrey had no time for idle chitchat, and she reminded herself what was at stake. A stranger possessed her personal thoughts and she had to get them back.
“Where did you get those?” she asked, reaching for the napkins.
Derek’s smile faded as he seemed to grasp the situation. He looked down like he had forgotten what was in his hands, and he let go as Aubrey’s fingers pulled the napkins from his grip.
“Sorry. Chris was going to throw them away.” He shrugged in a helpless gesture.
If she could have put two coherent thoughts together, Aubrey might have filled the silence. Instead, she was paralyzed by this turn of events and waited to see what he would say next.
“You wrote those, right?” Derek finally asked.
She nodded numbly and he continued. “When I read them, I couldn’t believe how perfectly they fit with the lyrics I was trying to write Monday afternoon. I didn’t mean to take anything from you. But since you left them, and I had no idea who you were or how to reach you, I didn’t want such beautiful words to go to waste.”
Derek liked her poems? It was a strange feeling. The one time she had shared what she considered her heart with Larry, he had said that writing poetry was a waste of time and suggested she hang out more often with the other lawyers’ wives. That was the last time she had let anyone know her deepest thoughts. She never imagined someone appreciating her poems, let alone wanting to sing them.
She looked up to see Derek trying to read her face. “I’m sorry,” Aubrey said. “You telling me this is kind of insane. I seriously can’t even think about it right now.”
His wounded puppy dog eyes tugged at her, but what could she do? She had more pressing concerns than whether some guy liked her poems. Shoving her words into her beach bag, Aubrey turned to go back to the rental house.
After taking a few steps, a noise stopped her. She looked over her shoulder to see Derek strumming his guitar and singing while he walked. Was he serenading her? This was ridiculous. She kept walking, but the music followed her.
Couldn’t he take the hint? She couldn’t help but listen, though, and she recognized the verses she had scribbled in the bar. She stopped and fully turned around, hands on her hips.
“Okay, you’ve got my attention.”
His face lit up, and the impish grin returned.
“We’re performing at Lighthouse Park on Friday night. Why don’t you come? Maybe after that we can talk about combining my music with your poems. Only if you’re interested, of course.”
So, this is how it sounded when someone appreciated her for who she was and actually heard her. Aubrey smiled. “I’ll think about it.”
Derek pumped his fist. “Yes! You won’t regret it, I promise.”
Clarity struck Aubrey with an undeniable force. This is where she belonged—somewhere she could lean into her own strengths and talents rather than stifling them to please someone else. People had waved, smiled, and said hello every time she ventured into town.
Jaded by the rudeness of city dwellers, she had suspected Derek of exaggerating his friendliness because he wanted something from her, but his attitude seemed to be the rule, not the exception.
She imagined future experiences in the cafés, galleries, and boutiques she had passed on her way to Coastal Tutoring yesterday. And Shorty’s, in spite of—or maybe because of—Chris’s gruff friendliness, felt more comfortable after one visit than the fifteen-dollar-a-drink place she and Larry had frequented over the three years since he had moved to Boston.
She replied to Samantha’s email as soon as she got back to the house.
Thank you for the opportunity to interview tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. I look
forward to seeing you then.
Save Me a Dance – the Posey Falls Series prequel that tells the love story of Jean Beck and Allen Brantley in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Paint Me A Story – follows Jean and Allen’s daughter Sarah. After her obsession with financial security has cost her nearly everything, she finds herself in a small Virginia town trying to rebuild trust and relationships.
Forgiving the Past – follows Sarah’s client, Trish, owner of the Mayfaire Inn. Guilt from her sister’s death three years ago has put her business at risk. When Trish finally gains control, will it be too late to save the Inn?
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
All rights reserved. Copyright © 2021 by Miranda Schell.
No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
My husband, Rob, deserves my biggest thank you. You have brought joy and happiness into my life for nearly thirty years, and I couldn’t ask for a better husband, friend, and cheerleader. And to my son, who never hesitates to ask me about my writing. Your belief in me keeps me going on the days the words struggle to come.
To my editor Georgette Taylor from Taylor Your Writing, whose guidance and insight has been invaluable. Any typos, errors, or awkward phrasing are the sole responsibility of the author who can’t help but tinker with her writing up until the last minute before hitting publish.
I’m grateful to my fellow writers and critiquers at The Write Practice. Receiving and giving feedback has improved my writing and made the solo journey of being a writer more fun.
Cover Design by Diana Toledo Calcado, www.triumphbookcovers.com