You can find earlier excerpts from The Reunion here
“Well, who doesn’t love a good game of chase?” he leaned forward and casually picked up one of her hands, running his fingers over hers. She was aware of how much larger and harder his fingers were, a little roughened from the carpentry work, obviously stronger than hers. Now that she thought about it, everything about him was larger and stronger than she remembered.
So,” she said, and the word came out a little huskier than she intended. Brian still toyed with her fingers and she turned her hand over to grasp his. She cleared her throat and tried again. “So, what was it you got your degree in after all, Brian? I always thought you’d be a mathematician or scientist or something.”
Brian grinned down at their joined hands. “Saw me as a mad scientist, did you? I’m an architect, actually, but designing big commercial buildings was not for me. I did that for a while, but got tired of the traveling and big cities. And I’ve picked up plenty of building skills along the way, enough to act as general contractor on building the inn. I have to admit, I really like being hands on.”
The electricity between them was palpable and Jen was afraid she was reading more than was wise into Brian’s casual remarks. But when she met his eyes, she could clearly see the teasing warmth. Down, girl, she admonished herself, as she felt the tingle down to her toes. She needed to keep this easy and uncomplicated. But, then again, there was something to be said for sexy and sweaty, too!
Brian paid the check and they decided to take a walk down by the riverfront while it was still light out. There was a beautiful breeze and it was just beginning to turn cool. Brian grasped her hand again as they walked along in front of the stores and shops.
“I’d like to see our little town build up like this over the years, have a true downtown area that might draw more than just the college kids’ parents. So I bought the inn as a start, figuring I could live there and run it until I hire someone to take over, especially if I want to keep renovating other places in town. I don’t know about the old bowling alley or skating rink, but it seems the kids in this area need something to do, too.”
“It seems like you’re doing a beautiful job of restoring the inn from what I’ve seen. I can’t wait for the reunion to see the downstairs all put together. Part of my job is meeting planning, so I’ve had some experience with pulling venues together and deciding on decorations for events, things like that.”
“Sounds like you like what you’re doing, then?”
“I do like it most of the time, although I admit I’m not sure how I feel about living where I do anymore. The commute in to the city is long and when the weather is bad, it makes the days incredibly long. Especially in the winter, I feel like I can go days without seeing daylight!” And even though she laughed, Brian could see a little bit of sadness in her eyes.
“I know this is asking a lot of you and you’re only here for the reunion, but maybe you’d find the time to go through some catalogs online and help me pick out some things for the inn? My skills are more geared to picking out wood finishes and flooring, not paint colors and drapes and furniture.” He’d be willing to take any help he could get from her in that area.
That does sound like fun, kind of like having a new house to decorate!” Jen beamed. It seemed Brian really was interested in spending time with her. This could end up to be a very enjoyable week. Or longer if the text she’d gotten from her friend at work was true.
You can find earlier excerpts from The Reunion here
Parking in front of the Bluebell Café on Third Street at about 9:35, Jen saw her pretty, blond sister already sitting in a booth by the window, drinking a steaming cup of coffee. Rushing inside, she forgot just how annoyed she’d been with Pam and hurried to give her a hug and kiss.
“Jen, my gosh, you look so glamorous!” Pam’s eyes went wide. “I love the hair and you look like you’ve been doing Pilates or something!”
“Pammie, don’t be silly, who does Pilates? But I do still try to do yoga when I can and walking Jack every morning and night helps a lot. But I’ll never truly be rid of these hips!” Jen studied her sister’s face and thought Pam was looking awfully tired.
“Well, I think you look great. I’m so glad you came out this week. Kevin is out of town again on business so it’s just me running the kids to their weekend lessons and getting ‘em off to school in the mornings.” Pam stopped talking and winced at the serious look on her sister’s face.
“You really are mad about Brian being at the house? Mom called a few weeks ago and said Mrs. Walsh had asked her about him staying there while he’s got some project going on. And then he called me and said he needed to stay at least a month until his place would be ready and I told him sure, Mom had said it was fine and he insisted on paying and –“
“Well, jeez, Pammie, I don’t care what Mom and Dad do with the house. It is theirs, after all. But why didn’t you just tell me he was going to be there at the same time as me? A little heads up would have been nice!”
“I was afraid you’d change your mind about coming out at all. You know you could always stay with us, but it’s hard with the kids and our dogs and little Jack not being used to ‘em – so I just figured you would stay away again. And I miss seeing my big sis!”
“Aww, honey, I miss you, too, and seeing Kevin and the kids. But like you said, it’s hard with Jack and your two dogs. Jack’s not used to all the wide open spaces and he gets pretty territorial around other dogs. You’d think he wouldn’t, as little as he is, but what can I say?”
The waitress came by just then with coffee for Jen and a refill for Pam and they put their orders in for a good, old-fashioned home cooked breakfast. Jen looked around and realized that it was kind of nice being home again, especially when she remembered her Claritin.
So they ate their breakfast and talked, then paid and walked around the little downtown area, talking some more. Jen was waiting for Pam to say something about her life, her marriage, the kids, anything that would explain the exhausted look on her face, but she said nothing. Pam pointed out the old Fairview Inn to Jen and said that was where Brian was working, and that was his big black pick up truck in the parking lot.
“Well, he said he was going to be working there today. I guess he got an early start, because he was long gone before I got up and Jack never barked. Is he some kind of handyman or carpenter or something?”
Pam looked slightly amused at that. “No, Jen, he’s a builder. I think he got his degree in architecture. I thought you knew that. I’m not sure, but I think he said he was fixing up the Inn and planning to reopen it again as an even site or something. There’s been all kinds of meetings going on down at City Hall with the Zoning Committee because of some changes he wants to make.”
“You’re kidding, right? Who even knew Brim had a Zoning Committee?”
“Well, I guess if you’d see fit to come back here a little more often, you’d know how up and coming we’re getting to be,” Pam smiled. The college getting bigger has created a lot more jobs around here and it looks like things may pick up a little.”
“So, little sister, what’s going on with you? You look great, but maybe a little tired. Are the kids running you ragged?”
Pam looked a little uncomfortable and scuffed her toe against the concrete sidewalk. “Not exactly. Kevin and I have been having some problems. For awhile now, I guess, if I’m being honest.”
You can find earlier excerpts from The Reunion here
Three weeks later, on a Friday after work, Jen pulled her shoulder length, carefully highlighted hair into a messy bun on top of her head, loaded her little King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Jack, and his crate and dishes into the back of her car along with her suitcases and garment bag and began the drive home. Pulling away from her little townhouse in the Chicago suburbs, she headed toward Route 80 and the semi-boring drive through the small hills of western Illinois that led to the flat and treeless terrain of Iowa. She stifled a yawn and thanked her lucky stars for the Starbucks sign up ahead. She still had several hours of driving left before she got to her destination, the little town of Brim, Iowa, nearly smack in the center of the state. And after moving to Chicago, she’d heard the “Idiot Out Wondering Around” acronym for Iowa more times than she could count and it always annoyed her. Or embarrassed her, if she was really being truthful. But really, at 38, wasn’t it time to stop feeling like a little girl from the country?
Pulling off at the exit, she opened Jack’s crate and snapped on his leash so he could sniff around and find just the perfect spot to do his business in the little grassy area behind the strip mall. His yips and plumy tail wags reminded her that he thought now was the perfect time to feed him his carefully measured cup of doggie chow which he promptly inhaled as quickly as she poured it into his dish. Five minutes later and he’d done his business for the evening. After cleaning up after him and a quick trip to the restroom herself, Jen was soon smiling her thanks at the hunky, much too young for her barista who made her a tall, no fat, no whip mocha, expertly crafting a heart in the foam on top. With a flirty wave, she got back in her little SUV, savoring the chocolately coffee while pulling back out onto the highway.
Tuning the radio to MY93.9, the home of the 80s and 90s, she sang along with Rachel Platten’s Fight Song and let her mind wander to growing up in Brim. To a young girl with bigger dreams, it had sometimes seemed like the most boring place on earth. And growing up in such a small town meant even though everybody knew who you were and looked out for you, they also knew every good and bad thing that ever happened in your life. Like the debacles of gym class and being picked last for every team. Or having Ms. Sinclair, her third and fourth grade teacher, always seating her next to the class clown because she was so well behaved and such a calming, studious influence. Just once, couldn’t she have sat next to a popular boy?
High school had been just as painful in its own way. Sure, she’d had friends like Sue Esther and Ruthie who lived down the street from her. They studied together and went to the movies and sometimes to a school dance, but they were both chubby girls, too, and Jen wondered if she’d stayed friends with them because, of the three, she was always the thinnest and looked even smaller by comparison. Had she really been that shallow? Well, yes, she’d been a teenage girl trying to get through life… But she was never a cheerleader or on the pom squad, too shy to even try out for the debate team. She liked English and history; math and science, not so much. She thought 4H would be sort of like a riding club, but it had turned out to be about all kinds of farm animals. And, of course, more of the kids from the outlying farms had joined than from the little town where she lived.
Then there was her prom date. Or lack of a prom date. It wasn’t like she’d been going out with Brian Walsh and he wanted to take her to prom. Her mom and his mom were friends from working at the library together for years and had thought it would be so nice if their children went to the dance together since neither one had a date. Brian was friendly enough when their families got together for barbecues in the summer, as talkative as any teenage boy would be with a girl he obviously had no interest in. He didn’t seem to have much interest in anything other than shop class and fixing cars and woodworking. But one day he strode up to her locker and very seriously asked her if she wanted to go to prom with him. His dad said he could borrow the car so she wouldn’t have to ride in his pick up. And his mom said to let him know what color her dress was.
So Jen and her mom had driven into the city to find a flattering long dress in a coral pink and she had her hair and nails done and was kind of excited/nervous about going. She was ready by 7 p.m. on the dot, waiting by the front room window, with her mom and dad poised to take the required pictures. Then Brian had called with some lame ass excuse that he’d had to work at the last minute at the Burger Barn/Video Store. On prom night. Jen had never known if he’d chickened out or really had to work, but she knew her mom and Mrs. Walsh hadn’t seemed to be such good friends after that night. Brian had called the next day, but Jen was too mortified to come to the phone and her mom hadn’t pushed her.
By graduation she’d earned enough scholarship money to convince her parents to let her go away to college where nobody knew her name. And then she’d begun the process of reinventing chubby, bookish Jennifer Meyers into the woman she was today.