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Welcome to Twin Oaks—the new B and B in Cooper's Corner. Some come for pleasure, others for passion—and one to set things straight
Check-in: The cozy Twin Oaks B and B a perfect retreat for divorced dad and dentist Michael Flynn to kick back over spring break with his two young daughters—and his St. Bernard. Single mom and supermarket cashier Colleen O'Connor had the same idea for her and her two little boys and their Siamese cat. Bad combination! No sooner had they arrived ...
Welcome to Twin Oaks—the new B and B in Cooper's Corner. Some come for pleasure, others for passion—and one to set things straight
Check-in: The cozy Twin Oaks B and B a perfect retreat for divorced dad and dentist Michael Flynn to kick back over spring break with his two young daughters—and his St. Bernard. Single mom and supermarket cashier Colleen O'Connor had the same idea for her and her two little boys and their Siamese cat. Bad combination! No sooner had they arrived than the snow began, the kids started brawling and the cat went after the dog. Even Mike and Colleen were fighting—their attraction!
Checkout: When Colleen finally admitted she wanted Mike, he made the outrageous proposal to join their families. She'd have to be crazy to say yes or she'd have to be in love!
"Telephone, Doctor." Julie Freeman, Mike Flynn's office manager, greeted him with the cordless phone as he walked in the door. ''It's your wife.''
''I don't have a wife,'' he reminded her, handing her his briefcase so he could pull off his jacket.
She made a face at him. Julie was a pretty brunette in her mid-thirties, the mother of three boys and wife of a cop. It was hard to rattle her.
''You know what I mean,'' she said softly, holding the phone to her chest as though to protect the caller's sensibilities. ''Your ex. And Mrs. Phillips is already here.'' She lowered her voice. ''The twins from hell are in three and four.'' She handed back his briefcase.
''Thank you.'' Mike walked toward his office with the phone, remembering how he used to hate it when a day started this way—patients here before he was, a frantic atmosphere in the office when he was determined to take a Zen approach to dentistry.
But he was older and wiser now. Zen had to be modified in a schedule dictated by other people's emergencies, and since Marianne had left with his children two years ago, every day was the same, anyway. In his office, he slapped his briefcase on a chair and went to the window with its aerial view of downtown Boston. He put the phone to his ear. ''Yes?'' he asked, polite but cool as he watched the early-morning activity.
''Michael,'' Marianne said sweetly. ''How are you?''
''I'm fine, Marianne,'' he replied in the same cool tone. And in no mood for chitchat, he added silently. ''What is it?''
He heard a theatrical gasp of indignation. ''Well, you might show a little interest. What if something was wrong with one of the girls?'' It amazed him that she continued to expect him to be friendly and forgiving when she'd taken their children and left him without warning for the contractor who'd been doing their renovation. During the divorce proceedings, he'd discovered they'd been lovers for several months. He hated being stupid.
''Claudie called me on her way to school this morning, so I know the girls are all right.'' Claudette was their eight-year-old. ''Whatever the reason for this call, it has to be about you.''
She sighed. ''So it is. Nardo and I were hoping to go to Provincetown for spring break. His friend runs a gallery there and wants to talk to him about having a show. We were hoping to turn the visit into a romantic getaway if you'll take the girls.''
Mike's interest was suddenly piqued. Nardo was an artist, the third boyfriend she'd had since the contractor. According to Claudie, he was Portuguese and nice enough, but strange. He used the garage for a studio, and Marianne was always complaining because when he'd moved his things into it, he'd dragged out the gardening tools and everything else stored in there. It all still stood in the driveway, covered with a tarp.
But their romantic getaway meant he could have Claudie and Angel, five, for longer than a weekend. ''Of course I'll take them,'' he said.
''And Chewie, too? The kennel's booked up.''
He smiled. Chewbacca, a one-hundred-and-fifty-pound Saint Bernard, had been Mike's when he married Marianne, but the girls were attached to the dog, so he'd let Marianne have him in the divorce. Mike missed him, though.
Mike's condo didn't allow pets, so a week-long visit from the dog meant that he would have to take the girls on a trip. He remembered that Julie and her husband had taken their children and two full-size poodles on a vacation in the Berkshires. He'd have to ask her where they'd stayed.
''You're a dear,'' Marianne said, her voice breathy and lowered an octave. Was she tiring of the artist already? In the two years since their divorce, she seemed to have been on some kind of self-exploration odyssey. He'd spoken to his lawyer about filing for complete custody of the girls, but he'd been told he didn't have a leg to stand on. Claudie was doing well in school and Angel seemed happy in preschool. There was no evidence that Marianne was a bad mother—just a woman who was indecisive where men were concerned.
So Mike was biding his time and watching the situation carefully.
Meanwhile, he was delighted at the prospect of having his girls and Chewbacca for eight or nine days.
''Yeah,'' he said. ''I'm a prince. I'll pick them up at nine Saturday morning.''
''Perfect. Thank you, Mike.''
''Sure. Bye, Marianne.''
He shifted his weight and tried to reply patiently. He had things to do now—block out that week of appointments, find a motel that'd take a Saint Bernard, lay in chocolate-cream-filled cookies for Claudie and Rice Krispies Treats for Angel.
''Yes?'' he asked.
''Are you ever going to forgive me?'' Her voice was plaintive and wheedling.
''No,'' he answered, astonished she could even ask the question. ''You ruined our lives.''
''Because I deceived you and you're embarrassed that I put something over on you.'' She spoke the words as though convinced it was his problem and not hers.
''Because I trusted you and believed in you,'' he corrected, ''and you stole my children.''
There was a moment's silence. ''But you see them every other weekend,'' she argued.
As if that was enough. He had to bite his tongue. He had an office full of people. And she just didn't get it, anyway.
''Is there anything else?'' he asked stiffly.
''No,'' she replied. ''Nothing. Goodbye, Mike.''
''Goodbye, Marianne.'' He turned off the phone and took a minute to clear his mind. He'd recovered from her deception, and he was doing fine without her, though not so well without the girls. He had a thriving practice and a reasonably satisfying life. But he'd never let love into it again. He'd learned an important lesson.
That resolved, he walked back to Julie's desk with the phone and asked her to clear next week's appointments. She blinked at him. ''The whole week?'' She flipped through the appointment book to show him the filled pages.
''I'm getting the girls,'' he explained. ''Just reschedule as best you can.''
She understood his devotion to his daughters. ''I'll get right on it.''
''I'm also getting Chewie.'' He picked up the files for today's patients. ''What's the name of that place where you and Rick and the boys stayed with the dogs?''
She pulled a business card off the bulletin board to her left and handed it to him. ''Here you go. Twin Oaks Bed and Breakfast in Cooper's Corner. You'll love it.''
''And they'll take a Saint Bernard?''
''I'm pretty sure. There was a young couple with a Newfoundland staying the same time we were.''
He studied the card, then handed it back to her. ''Will you book it for me, please? Monday through Saturday.''
''Sure. It's wonderful. Rural setting, rolling hills, church steeples and homes from the 1800s." She sighed dreamily. ''Wish I was going back. It was so romantic in the fall.''
''Thanks.'' He didn't need romance, just a place where the girls and the dog could run. He headed for room one and Mrs. Phillips, who was about to begin a teeth-whitening procedure. As he walked by room two, he saw five-year-old Travis Holland standing in the middle of the exam chair, inspecting the drill, while his mother sat nearby reading a magazine.
In room three, Trevor Holland and his father played catch with a can of Carbocaine. He had to talk to Julie about making sure the new assistant remembered to clean up at night before leaving. The Holland twins and their permissive parents drove organized and disciplined Julie crazy, but Mike rather enjoyed them because their little family was so tightly knit.
He envied them that.
''And the winner of the Neighborhood Market's People's Choice Employee of the Year '' Toby Janeiro, manager of the market and leader of this morning's meeting, smiled tauntingly from the head of the long table in the staff room. Around the table sat six checkers, four box boys, two butchers, the produce manager and the customer-service clerk. They all waited expectantly.
Colleen o'Connor glanced at her watch, wondering if she'd still have time to call her sister before the store opened. Spring break was a mere week away and she still hadn't lined up a sitter for the boys. Their customary sitter was going away for the week, and the drop-in child-care center at the church was booked up. Her younger sister, Jerri, a freelance writer who worked from home, was her only hope.
She would bribe her with chocolate, Colleen stra-tegized. Jerri would do almost anything for peanut clusters . Her thoughts were interrupted when she realized that everyone was staring at her. Great. Toby had probably asked some question of her as the employee association representative and she'd been caught with her mind wandering.
She sat up brightly, trying to imagine what he'd asked her so she could formulate an answer. Then Barbie Hoyt, another checker, who looked like Ma-riah Carey and had the worst taste in men, leaned over to give Colleen a hug.
''Congratulations!'' she said excitedly. ''Imagine! A whole week off on the store!''
''What?'' Colleen asked in disbelief.
Toby rolled his eyes. ''If you'd pay attention to me,'' he teased, waving a sheet of paper in his hand, ''instead of using staff meetings to daydream, you'd have heard that you won Employee of the Year by a landslide!''
She gasped in surprise. ''I did?''
Her co-workers laughed. They were a good group, friendly and supportive of one another. She'd worked for the Neighborhood Market in New Bedford, Massachusetts, for nearly two years, and though she often dreamed of winning the lottery so she could open her own design studio, she was levelheaded enough to face reality. That wasn't going to happen. And she hadn't had a good idea for a greeting card design or verse in more than a month, anyway, so her ability to supplement her income was currently down the tubes. If she was going to have to work like a dog to support her two boys, she'd just as soon do it where her co-workers were kind and fun to be with.
Toby came around the table to hand her the sheet of paper. ''This is confirmation of a week's stay at the Twin Oaks Bed and Breakfast in Cooper's Corner for you and the boys.'' He handed her a business-size envelope. ''And this is some spending money. Thank you, Colleen, for being such a good employee.''
Everyone applauded and she smiled her thanks. She looked over the letter, still stunned, then peeked inside the envelope. She saw hundred-dollar bills. Several of them. She was too polite to pull them out and count them.
''Thank you,'' she said, her voice frail. A week's vacation at someone else's expense! With cash! She'd died and gone to heaven. And she wouldn't have to worry about calling Jerri.
She looked through the brochure that was in the envelope and saw a beautiful rustic setting, playground equipment, horseback riding nearby. The boys would be ecstatic and she wouldn't have to worry about meals or laundry for an entire week.
Maybe she'd come home refreshed enough to feel creative again. She experienced a little shudder of excitement. She'd never won anything. In fact, as luck went, except for her two beautiful, healthy sons, hers was usually bad.
She and her sister had been born to a mother who died young, leaving them in the care of a kind but alcoholic father who'd never been sober when they'd needed him. He'd died, too, when Jerri was a senior in high school.
Marrying Danny had been a mistake for which Colleen had paid over and over. Thanks to her chronically unemployed husband, there'd never been enough money to put down on a house or to buy a car less than ten years old. Since he'd left two years ago, she'd lost her job as a copywriter for an ad agency, worked briefly for a small publisher that went out of business, and delivered newspapers at four o'clock in the morning to have money to buy groceries. Then she'd come to work at the market.
She lived in a three-bedroom apartment in a converted factory and drove an eleven-year-old Toyota that was fortunately reliable. She'd had to give up the newspaper delivery job, unwilling to leave the boys alone at that hour.
She had no money for vacations or frivolities of any kind. Whatever clothing budget she squeaked out of her paycheck went to keep her growing boys outfitted. Her own wardrobe was thanks to Jerri's weakness for chocolate, which developed last year when her position was downsized in a merger of marketing firms. The chocolate and sudden free time had caused her to go up a size and pass the clothes she'd outgrown on to her sister.
A week away! Colleen couldn't believe it. Then she remembered the cat. She'd have to board Fu Man-chu. Of course, Colleen had been asked not to return to the kennel where she'd boarded the cat when she had accompanied the Boy Scouts on a camping trip. The cat had apparently terrorized all the other animals—dogs included—and given the owner of the kennel a very rakish scar.
Maybe she'd have to call Jerri, after all.
Then she noticed the line in bold print on the bottom of the brochure. Your Pets Welcome, Too! No! She couldn't believe it. Even that little detail was in her favor.
She accepted the congratulations of her friends as the clock struck eight and they all went to begin their duties. Was her luck changing? She was afraid to think so.
The little part of her that remained cynical despite the Pollyanna front she put on for her children and the world wouldn't let her quite believe that. But she proceeded cheerfully, anyway. Something had happened in her favor, however temporary, and that was remarkable.