THE SMELL OF freshly brewed coffee and powdered sugar hit my nose as I entered the coffee shop my older brother, Lucas and his wife owned. The scent of coffee and sweet pastries was heavenly and I stepped in the long line of customers, eager for my caffeine fix.
“Allison? Is that you?” I heard my name being called and I turned toward the sound, spotting my sister in law, Kaelyn rushing over to me from behind the counter. Smiling wide, I moved into her widely held arms and felt her sigh of relief against my shoulder. I’d been driving all night long and was bone tired, but I was excited to finally be here.
I graduated from Art School yesterday and to say it felt damn good would be an understatement. It felt amazing. It felt even better to be near family again, even if I wasn’t back home in Chicago like I wanted.
When my brother asked me to help out in the cafe over the next three months, I thought it would be fun to have a nice, relaxing winter down south.
My sculptures could wait, after all.
“I’m so happy your here! We are going to have a blast this winter!”
Kaelyn’s excited voice said in my ear and I nodded, my smile getting even bigger on my face. As she squeezed me even tighter to her side and we stepped forward in the line, I gave her an even tighter one in return.
Now that I’d seen her, this place felt so much warmer than I thought possible and it felt just like coming home.
God, how I had missed this girl.
We sat in the large, deeply cushioned chairs that were placed against the walls of windows making the space light up with bright, natural light. My eyes took everything in and I felt my body become rejuvenated just from the ambiance of the place.
How had I never been here before?
The coffee shop and bakery had been in Kaelyn’s family for two generations and now I could see why it was so important to her. My brother had wanted her to sell off her shares of the business and move back to Chicago with him and their two beautiful daughters but she’d resisted. She wanted to finish out the year before transferring her half of The Joyous Cup to her best friend and business partner, Meghan. Having grown up in the heart of the windy city, I couldn’t help but want her and my brother to come back home where our family was. Ever since I was a young girl, I was surrounded by people who loved and cared for me. My family was tightly knit and though, yes it could prove to be a bit stifling- I loved every moment of it.
“So? How was the drive in? Did you hit any traffic?”
“No, it was a pretty smooth drive. I stopped for a few hours half way through. Who knew staring at the road could make me so damn tired?”
Kaelyn laughed softly, shaking her head.
“I still can’t believe you drove all the way here, by your self for that matter. Babe, Luke would have driven you.”
I waved her concerns off, unworried.
When I was growing up, my Dad took a truck driving job one year when the business at the garage wasn’t doing very well. Most times, I would tag along on his long drives if they landed on a weekend or during that winter. I loved the feeling I got from the slow hum of a powerful engine underneath me and the sight of the road in front of me. But after close to thirty hours behind the wheel, it had definitely worn me out.
I desperately wanted to get to the Bed and Breakfast I booked for the winter and sink my tired body into a nice, hot bath.
“You look exhausted, Allison. How about I close down early and drive you to the hotel?” Her hand rested on my knee then, but I shook my head, not wanting to be a bother. It was only a few minutes drive, anyways.
“No, no. That’s okay, Kel. I’m going to head out, though.”
I stood and embraced her and felt her slender arms wrap around my waist and hug me just as fiercely.
“Give the goofball a big kiss and hug for me, OK?”
I said into her ear, fondness for Luke clear in the tone of my voice.
Nodding, she pulled away and I stepped out into the cool, crisp night air. Digging a hand through my black-strapped purse on my shoulder, I slid my keys out and unlocked my car before sliding back in front of the wheel.
Only a few more minutes. I told myself, putting the gear into drive and merging back onto the now quiet street toward my home for the winter.
A Bed & Breakfast was nested between two large, very old oak trees and the only parking that I could find was a spot just next to the front door.
My feet ached as I went inside and set my suitcase and carry on bag on the luggage cart I spotted by the interior doors.
“Welcome to Bunk and Bean Bed and Breakfast! My name is Bree, how can I help ya?”
The familiar voice roused me from my long, indulgent yawn and a smile spread my lips as the petite woman behind the counter turned toward me.
“Oh my gosh! Allison?”
Nodding, I dropped my purse onto the luggage cart and rushed toward her, curling my arms around her as soon as I got close enough.
“I can’t believe your here, Bree! I’ve missed you so much!”
She pulled away from our hug first, her eyes shining with excitement.
“How have you been? Shit, girl, it’s been so long since I last saw you!”
I wiped away a stray tear from my face, nodding. Bree James and I had been best friends since I could remember ever having one. Our mothers were the best of friends, even calling each other sisters as we were growing up. It was natural that we became fast friends as children. I shook my head in blissful remembrance at all of the shenanigans we caused back then. Bree and I were attached at the hip. As soon as we could leave home without our protective mothers hovering nearby, we set out to cause mischief. My favorite had to be when we poured ice water in a metal jug and attached it to the door of my fathers tool shed, causing him to be pelted when it opened. The look on his face as he spotted us hiding and giggling loudly in the nearby bushes? Priceless.
Since I moved away from our home town of Chicago, Illinois, we had lost touch. At first, it was small. We would miss our daily phone calls, a visit back home would be canceled or I would forget to video chat her after class one night. It was hard to be so far away from the large, loving home I grew up in. It was even more difficult to adapt to living without the constant presence of my two best friends, Bree and Nathan. I didn’t notice how far Bree and I had strayed from our friendship until it was too late.
As we hugged again and reminisced on our childhood adventures, I thanked God that there was a such thing as social media. We’d reconnected online last year and were thankfully as close as ever, especially now that I was spending the hot, Texas winter here. I was so happy she was here.
“The last few weeks have been crazy, Bree. With final projects being due and my older brothers coming into the city to attend my graduation, I was sure I’d go crazy before the ceremony ended!”
Her sweet, carefree laugh hit my ear.
I sometimes thought that it was crazy we were ever able to get along.
We were opposite in almost every way. I was bright and happy, overly excited for every phase of life and eager to take the world by the horns.
I had always been that way.
The always present support of my loving family had made me thrust out of my shell at a young age.
Complete with bright, neon colors, long flow skirts and enough books to last me a lifetime, that was who I was.
Bree was this small, light skinned beauty with black hair that fell down her back in waves. Her eyes were the color of the sea- deep, navy blue with flecks of green and yellow in them. She always wore dark colors, black, brown or brown. And she was always in either a pants suit or a pair of snugly fit Levi jeans. Bree hated to dress up and thought of herself somewhat goth. Her makeup was dark, ruby red lipstick and silver eye-shadow. The faint lines of her midnight black eyeliner made her eyes look even brighter as she lifted her head and I smiled.
Out of all of the time I had known her, she never changed.
I loved that so much because I knew she was real, through and through.
Growing up under the watchful gaze of the public meant that most friends I had made as a child were that of motive. Girls became friends with me to get closer to my musician brothers. Boys befriended me in hopes of getting a shot with my families record company. Almost none of them were founded by true friendship. At first, it hurt. But then I realized that in time, I would find who my real, my true friends were. In the end of high school, I learned who that friend had been all along.
“I’m so damn proud of you. I knew you could do it. When you left, I was mad. Not going to lie about that. But your my best friend. My confidant. My sister from another mister,” A loud laugh leaves me at that but she just squeezes my hand in hers and continues.
“I couldn’t be mad at you for long, though. You followed your dream of sculpture like a fucking badass, Allison.”
I broke into a mess at her honest words and flung my arms around her, again. As she hugged me just as fiercely, I realized she was here. In Fredricksburg, Texas.
My eyebrows drew together at the realization because it just didn’t make sense. We’d grown up in Illinois. Her family was in Illinois. Why was she here, now?
“What are you doing here, Bree?”
She pulled back, smiling wider at my question.
“I own this place. My husband and I bought it after the Wilson’s, the previous owners, passed away. Don’t you just love this little place?”
My heart squeezed in my chest almost painfully. God, I’d missed out on so much while I was away. Somehow my once cynical and hopeless romantic best friend had gone and gotten married and if the twinkle in her eyes was any indication, she was happy. She had the life I always hoped she would. Surrounded by love and happiness and void of the sorrow her childhood had once given her. My best friend was finally happy.
“Oh, I’m so happy for you. God, we missed a lot in each others lives, huh?”
I asked, cradling her face as a bright, no holds barred smile spreads across her face.
“It was only last month that we got married.”
I was pretty sure my eyes bulged out of my head as I heard her voice whisper across the space between us, her voice quiet as if she hadn’t meant to omit that confession.
“I wish I had known, girl. I would have loved to be there”
Shaking her head, she busies herself with the folder in her hands.
I could feel the nerves radiating off of her in waves. Somewhere between the topic of the bed and breakfast and Kingsley, she’d become a bundle of nerves.
“It was, uh, a quick wedding”
“Oh my gosh, Bree!”
“What!” Her quiet yell snapped back at me and my eyes widened as I noticed the blush that was now littered across her cheeks.
“It was a shotgun wedding?”
Sighing loudly, she plopped back into the chair next to me and nodded, then quickly, she was shaking her head again.
“Uh, no, I swear it wasn’t like that. I moved here a year ago and I needed a part time job between classes. Something to fill my time. Kingsley worked at the local bar and hired me on the spot. Almost immediately, we began dating. It was slow going at first, though. He would stay after his shifts ended and we had dinner after the night crew had left. He’s just got this way about him, Allison.”
“My ears are ringing, Bree. You bragging about me to our customers, now?”
A deep, booming voice came from the doorway of the front lobby and my eyes moved toward the sound. When my eyes landed on the large, tall man that not only stood in the doorway but filled it completely, I gasped in surprise.
“Hey, I didn’t think you would be home for a while. How was the meeting?”
Bree stood and walked toward him, her hands instantly drawing up to touch his scruffy face. I watched, entranced as the seemingly hard, stone faced man visibly softened the moment she was touching him. Bending his knees just slightly, he brought his wide, muscled arms around her back to take hold of her ass as he lifted her up his body that had to be at least 6’5. Her hands smoothed over his cheek as she smiled, a look passing through them that spoke volumes as to how they felt about each other. My best friend was in love.
“It was fine. This contractor is gonna get his ass kicked if he doesn’t stop beating around the bush. I don’t need him to argue with me. I just need him to get this shit done” Even with the anger spliced through his tone, his body molded tightly to hers, his hands squeezing her bottom in a silent claiming.
“King. I want you to meet someone. Stop feeling me up, silly man”
He scoffed roughly, hiking her body up a few inches until their mouths touched.
“Don’t tell me what to do, woman”
“Let me down.”
Frowning, he kissed her briefly, then caved to her softly spoken demand.
“Allison, this is my husband, Kingsley. Kingsley, baby, meet my best friend from high school, Allison.”
He stepped forward, out reaching one large hand to me.
“I’m damn glad to meet you, Allison. Bree has missed you something fierce.”
Shaking his hand, I nodded.
I had missed her, too.
“Me too. It looks like you make her very happy.”
Bree rested her head against his shoulder, proving my words were true.
A small, almost private smile took up residence on his face.
“Yeah,” He nodded once. “I guess, I do”
The softly blowing wind whispered over my face, my feet stepping over crushed leaves as I walked toward the small park in the middle of town the following day. After spending some much needed time with Bree and her husband, I hadn’t been able to keep the smile off of my face. It felt so damn good to be back near the people that made me happy, made me laugh. Though I hadn’t seen my brother yet, I knew that feeling of true happiness of this place would only grow once I did. Luke was my biggest fan, after all. Hell, wasn’t that what older brothers were for?
The wind of the cool, winter day picked up and my hands reached for the small zipper of the black fleece jacket I wore, dragging it up until it reached my chin. The sun shone above, causing rays of light to cascade over the hills of the grass covered ground in Fell’s Park.
There was another rolling hill toward the ending of grass, where the green ground led to a small, dirt road and I noticed a quaint little brick house nearby. I squinted my eyes, my gaze landing on the small sign at the top of the door. As I moved closer, my hands slipped into the deep pockets of my Lucky dark denim jeans. The sign becoming larger as I approached, my curiosity piqued.
Who knew an animal shelter lay in the center of the small park I chose to take a walk in?
Ever since I was a young girl, I had a very special love for animals of all kind.
Dogs, cats, anything I could get my hands on, I loved them.
I couldn’t count on one hand how many animals I had as a kid.
The time away from home hadn’t changed that.
An excited smile tugged my lips as I headed toward the small, brick house. But the closer I drew to the house, I noticed it wasn’t really a house at all.
It was three brick cottages built together, connecting by a large, cherry wood wrap porch. Behind the buildings lay a long pasture of grass area where I saw the heads of a few grazing horses. The excitement inside of me caused my heart to flutter like that of a little girl but still, I couldn’t retreat from what I had stumbled upon.
The large, wooden door creaked as it closed behind me and I stepped inside, cautious. The floors were the first thing I noticed. They were laminate hard wood and as I looked at them, I could tell they’d been laid by hand. I watched my older brothers do enough construction to know that wasn’t an easy task. My eyes moved next to the large front lobby and a long, narrow hallway that most likely led to where the animals were kept.
I all but jumped out of my skin from surprise as a woman’s voice came from the other side of the reception desk in front of me.
“Be with you in just a moment, Ma’am”
A shiver ran up my spine at the sound of the raspy voice and my hand came to rest on the handle of the door I’d just come through.
As if at a moments notice, I would bolt.
Maybe I would.
I didn’t understand the mixture of trepidation and curiosity that was now humming through my veins like liquid adrenaline.
I didn’t know why I suddenly wondered why I’d stumbled inside the building in the first place.
I stepped deeper inside as I heard the woman’s footsteps retreat from the desk, most likely getting something from the the office.
For some reason, the sound of her voice had struck a cord in me.
I had no idea how it sounded so familiar to me, since I hadn’t been here even a few days yet. How could I know her if we’d never actually met?
Maybe she was another old friend from up North, where I grew up.
Shit, maybe I was going crazy from the lack of sleep.
Between the long drive from New York, my late night yesterday and a fatigue from the drastic change of weather I’d experienced, I was probably losing it.
I was about to step back from the reception desk and toward the large, oak wood door when the woman came from the back office and into my view for the first time.
No. My inner voice screamed at me as I took a step back unconsciously, as if from sheer instinct. It couldn’t be. I told myself, shaking my head in disbelief.
“Ally,” She said, her rasped voice now so much clearer as she stood in front of me. There was only one woman who’d ever called me that. She was a ghost from my past but for this one, small moment, she was real.