Born in a Small Town / Page 15

Page 15


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Including the blood that pooled in the bottom of the big enamel pan.

Hannah and Lorna had grabbed at each other’s shoulders and screamed, and then run out of the porch, all the way to the street where Emily waited. Branches scraped at their faces, brambles tore at their bare legs. Hannah lost her glittery Cinderella shawl.

They didn’t stop at the sidewalk, and Emily ran, too, yelling at them to wait up. That had been Hannah’s last—and final—experience with Halloween.

Later, many years later, Hannah realized that poor old Mrs. Birch had probably planned to boil up her hog’s head the next day with herbs and cornmeal for scrapple or headcheese, or some such rural delicacy. And, of course, she wasn’t a witch at all. Just a lonely old woman who no doubt would’ve been pleased to have a visitor or two on Halloween.

Naturally, if Hannah went to the party in Calgary, there would be no need to dress up. Emily had made that clear. She’d said she and her friends weren’t dressing up; they were just going out for a little dancing and fun.

Hannah sat on the Queen Anne hall chair that she’d recently recovered with a scrap of toile she’d found on sale and pulled on her boots. Then, on tiptoe, she went back to collect the cookie tin from the kitchen counter. Joan squawked her displeasure at seeing her mistress dressed to go out, and Hannah put her fingers to her lips to shush the bird.

The phone on the kitchen counter jangled and and Hannah picked it up. Joan shrieked, “Blimey! Fiddlesticks! Take off, eh?!”

“Han? It’s Em. About the party, you make up your mind yet?”

Hannah stood on one foot, annoyed at the interruption. Her boots were gritty and she’d just polished the hardwood hallway. “No.”

“You mean you might come? Oh, that’s terrific! There’s a whole bunch of us going and—”

“‘No’ just means I haven’t decided, Em. Look, I’m ready to go out. I have some errands to take care of—you’re at work? Okay, I’ll catch you at home tonight. ’Bye.”

Hannah hung up and tiptoed back to the entry, carrying the carved pumpkin and the tin of cookies. Why was she even considering Emily’s plan? They might be all grown-up, but sometimes Emily still felt like the taunting younger sister, now singing the refrain that Hannah didn’t know how to have a good time, that she’d never meet a man and fall in love, that if she didn’t do something exciting once in a while, nothing would ever happen.

She’d pointed out more than once that Hannah was the hideous age of twenty-eight and she’d never had a boyfriend, not a real one. Which was true. You couldn’t count a few snatched kisses and a feel or two with Lennie Thompson backstage at the Christmas concert in grade eight. Or the occasional holiday romance, now that she was an adult. And worst of all, Emily would wail pitifully, Hannah would die an old maid if she wasn’t careful, living alone with her cats and her birds. Like that creepy old Mrs. Birch! Was that what she wanted?

Of course not. But suffering through a few parties where she was sure to be bored silly certainly didn’t guarantee that she would not. Hannah was happy to leave love to chance. After all, their mother had been nearly thirty-five before she’d met and married their father. Hannah wasn’t worried. Things happened—good things—when you weren’t looking for them.

And of course it would never occur to Emily that she might prefer her quiet weekends, Hannah reflected, carefully locking her apartment door behind her and nodding to Mrs. Putty, who lived two doors down and across the hall. “Good morning, Mrs. Putty!”

“Lovely day, isn’t it, dear? I’ve just been to the Shop-Easy. Got a cake mix for a treat and a dozen eggs. Ooh, what a nice pumpkin you have there! I suppose you’re getting all ready to go out to some fancy party tomorrow,” Mrs. Putty wheezed, her eyes twinkling. “With some handsome young man. Oh, my. You youngsters have all the fun—”

“I don’t know about that, Mrs. Putty,” Hannah said with a smile that quickly faded as she headed down the stairs that Mrs. Putty had just lumbered up. We youngsters have all the fun? Still, the poor woman probably did wish she was thirty again.

Hannah delivered her cookies and put the red flag up. She set the pumpkin on top of the mailbox. Then she decided to continue walking on into town. It was her regular day off from the library—Friday—and she had three weeks’ holidays starting next week. Other years she’d gone somewhere, for at least a week of that time. Mexico once. San Francisco another time. This year she’d decided to stay home.

No reason. She just couldn’t think of anywhere she’d rather be. And it was always a nuisance finding someone to take Joan and Mr. Spitz for a week or two.

She waved at several people she passed on Main Street—knowing everyone was part of what she loved about living in Glory—and popped into Foster’s Drugs to pick up some dental floss. She paused at the long shelf of hair products, inspecting the pictures on the packages. Beautiful women, gorgeous hair. Her own was a plain serviceable brown, although Emily tried to convince her it was a glorious chestnut. Chestnut! Once in a while she’d flirted with the idea of trying a rinse. Even trying to straighten out its jumble of curls. She usually kept it tucked up in a neat twist. Maybe now that she had three weeks off…

Or maybe not. Hannah put the box back on the shelf and left the store.

She stopped at the delicatessen to pick up half a pound of fresh-ground coffee. Kenyan, her usual. On her way past Maude’s Unique Boutique, she paused to study the window. Maude Bexley had outdone herself with bats and spiders and daring black-and-orange merry widows cinching up sexy lace stockings on the headless, armless mannequins. One had on a very short leather skirt, a nearly see-through tank top and a black boa. Grinning, winking, lighted pumpkins were positioned along the bottom of the window.

Emily had said you didn’t have to dress up for this party at the Howlin’ Tiger. The idea was to meet other people and have fun. Supposedly you could come in whatever you were wearing.

Hmm.

Suppose, just suppose, Hannah Parrish was the type to wear a short leather skirt and a boa?

CHAPTER THREE

JACK LISTENED to his buddy’s phone ring for the tenth time and hung up. So much for that. He leaned on the small wooden shelf in front of the telephone in the hotel lobby, drumming his keys and considering who else he could call for companionship this evening when he suddenly realized he was eavesdropping on the conversation next to him.

“Sick? What do you mean—sick? You can’t be sick. You were fine this afternoon when I talked to you, and now I’ve decided to come in for this…this stupid party and my car’s in the garage, I can’t even drive home and…and now you’re telling me I’m the only one here. The what?”

Jack held his breath. The woman’s voice was deliberately low, but he could hear the passion in it. The fury. The energy. He smiled, wondering idly what she looked like.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she began again irritably, “something to do with the starter or something, Em. Forget the car. Listen, I want to know if you’re coming down here or not. You’re not? And what about that guy you were meeting here? All the…the friends you said were coming?”

This was getting interesting.

There was a pause, broken by an exasperated sigh. “Oh, that’s just great. He’s over at your place, holding your hand and feeding you chicken soup. Wonderful. Just make sure he’s gone before I get there, because I have to sleep on the couch.” Pause. “He’ll be…with you. Oh.”

Then, in a painfully serious voice, she said, “What if he gets sick, Em? Whatever you’ve got? That wouldn’t be fair. You’d better be careful. Okay, take care, Em.” You could tell the woman was fond of this “Em.” Her initial anger had melted away. Jack heard a thump as she hung up the phone.

“Damn! Blimey! Fiddlesticks!” Blimey? A few more unladylike sounds followed from the other phone carrel and then Jack realized that all kinds of small shiny things were rolling around his feet. She’d dropped her purse. He spotted coins, two lipsticks, a small bottle of aspirin, some keys, a half roll of Rum ’n’ Butter Life Savers, a film canister, a package of tissues…. He backed out and bent to collect them.

“Ma’am?” He rose and held them out to her, hoping to mask the surprise that must be all over his face. She was gorgeous. About five and a half feet—or she would be without those incredible three-inch platform boots. She was wearing a minuscule black leather skirt, some kind of brief glittery top, weird earrings with feathers and gold hoops, and her hair—her hair was out of this world. Red, slinky, down past her shoulders. Bare shoulders.

Man, this was his lucky day.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said. Jack noticed that she was blushing. He didn’t think women who looked like this ever blushed. She seemed totally thrown by the loss of half the contents of her bag. And, no doubt, by the conversation he’d overheard.

She’d picked up the spillage on her side and now held out her hand to take the things he’d collected. He gave them to her, wishing their fingers had touched. “Not at all. Glad to be of help.” He glanced at her left hand—no ring. Not that it was of any consequence.

“Yes, well,” she muttered, tossing the assortment of items back into her bag and zipping it shut with a ferocious yank. She flipped back her hair with her free hand. Her eyes were stormy, tawny, flecked with green. She was a knockout. “Well…” She hesitated and bit her lip, an anxious childish gesture that, like the blush, didn’t go with the rest of her. She looked scared. “I’d better get moving. Thanks!”

Then she turned and stalked off toward the door leading to the new club, the Howlin’ Tiger, that had just opened beside the hotel. She disappeared behind the glass-and-brass doors that led, twenty feet farther on, to the club. Jack knew, because he’d checked the place out earlier, just after he’d had his dinner. The setup on the bandstand and the general appearance wasn’t what he’d expected. It was clearly aimed at a young crowd, and he wasn’t in the mood for a lot of loud techno-rock.

He took the elevator back to his room and switched on the television. News, the World Series, a game show featuring couples who’d met in a supermarket, an English sitcom, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a Disney movie… He settled down to watch something on ancient Egypt and realized twenty minutes later that his attention kept wandering away from the pharoahs.

To a certain green-eyed redhead. What was she doing in that club? Did “Em” ever show up? Was she with someone? No, she’d said she was alone. Her car was out of commission.

Jack made up his mind. He flicked off the television and took a quick shower. He found that he was actually humming as he pulled on a clean turtleneck sweater and refastened his old Rolex. He’d bought it at an auction. How many farmers wore a Rolex? A memento of one of his flusher periods. Easy come, easy go. But it was a damn fine timepiece, all the same.


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