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Jenna stepped out onto Good Riddance, Alaska's snow-covered sidewalk, into the last of the October sun's dying rays.
Edging back into the middle of Main Street, Norms Watts dodged a pothole and waved Jenna more to the left. "I want to make sure I get the entire window in the shot." Curl's lettered window was something of an attention grabber. Curl's Taxidermy, Barber Shop, Salon and Mortuary.
"Wait. Let me grab Tama. He needs to be in the photo, too."
Norris sighed. "Fine, go get the cat." Norris wasn't really put out. She liked Tama as much as everyone else did.
Jenna dashed back into Curl's and picked up the big Maine Coon mix lounging on top of his scratching post on the far side of the room. "C'mon, you big punkin', photo op."
Tama blinked at her, unimpressed and she laughed, pressing a kiss to his furry head. She'd adopted him two months ago from a no-kill shelter in Anchorage. He was, without a doubt, the most awesome, perfect cat on the planet. Of course, he just happened to be her very first pet ever but he was still perfect.
He went everywhere with Jenna, except Gus's. Honestly, it was as if he was half dog because he followed her everywhere. She adored her fur-baby.
Holding Tama, Jenna stood to the right as Norris had previously directed. "How's this?" She held up one of Tama's paws as if he was waving and said to him, "Say kitty treat."
"Perfect," Norris said, speaking without removing the lit cigarette in her mouth. Her gravelly voice interested Jenna. The older woman, an unapologetic chain smoker, sounded as if she'd been puffing a pack of unfiltered cigarettes a day since birth.
She fired off a couple of shot. "Perfect. We needed to get those shots before the sun was gone completely. Now just a couple more questions, if you don't mind."
"Sure." Jenna didn't mind. She liked Norris. She liked everyone in Good Riddance.
Norris, even more of a newcomer than Jenna, had retired to Good Riddance in June after a fortysomething year stint as a reporter for a daily newspaper in Philadelphia. At first content with spending the longer days of the Alaskan summer fishing and camping, Norris had claimed to be bored out of her skull once the days began to shorten. She'd decided Good Riddance and the other remote towns needed a local newspaper to keep folks in touch with what was going on locally.
Because Jenna was one of the newer residents and a business owner, Norris wanted to do a "feature" on her. While Jenna didn't much see herself as particularly newsworthy, she was all for helping a friend. So here they were.
The photo over with, Norris took a final drag off her cigarette and extinguished it. She dropped the butt in a little tin she carried with her.
They stepped back into the "front room" of Curl's where Jenna worked at a table in the small rectangular room. A sink and a barber chair shared the area as well. Compliments of the taxidermy and mortuary located in the rear, a faint odor of formaldehyde always hung in the air, blending with the scent of nail polish and remover.
Luckily, Curl's animal stuffing business was a whole lot more active than his funeral home gig. In the past year there'd only been one funeral. While it had been kind of sad, they lived in a place where life and death seemed more accepted as the natural order of things.
Jenna returned Tama to his platform and gave him the promised kitty treat, earning a head bump against her hand. Crossing the room, she sat in the straight chair behind the table.
"So, I understand you initially came to Good Riddance with your former fiance, Tad Weatherspoon?" Norris eyed the straight chair on the opposite side of the table and shook her head.
"That's right." That had been a close call.
Norris settled in the barber chair and swiveled it around to face Jenna. "But once you got here, you found out he was still married to the town founder and mayor, Merrilee Danville Weatherspoon Swenson?" Norris popped a stick of chewing gum in her mouth. "Sounds kind of like a soap opera to me."
"Yeah, I guess it does. Life's sort of like that sometimes. Except on the soaps, they're always dressed up nice all the timelike that would happen in real lifeand there are no commercial breaks."
Lucky, a retired Army cook who had taken over Gus's, the town restaurant, was addicted to two soap operas. From noon until two, Monday through Friday, both televisions in the place were tuned in. He'd even been known to burn a grilled cheese or two if there was a high-drama scene involved. These days, half the town crammed in to watch them, too.
"So, Tad was still married to Merrilee. And nobody in town guessed Merrilee was married, either?"
Norris said, shaking her head. "You've got to love a married man with a fiancée on the side."
"Tell me about it. He said we were just coming for a visit. It turned out the reason for the visit was because he needed Merrilee to sign the divorce papers so he could marry me."
"But you didn't marry him?"
"Hel-lo, Norris. I'm here and he's not."
"I'm just checking facts."
Jenna nodded. "No wedding there. I didn't want to marry a liar. He'd lied about being divorced, his age and who knows what else at that point. I decided he wasn't the kind of man I was meant to be with." She'd mistakenly thought an older man had meant stability. Boy, had she been wrong.
"Why'd you stay here instead of going back to Georgia with him?"
"While I was here, I'd popped into Curl's to check out the place out since he advertised a salon. I have a beauty supply store back in Georgia which is doing well. I've got a great manager and it's set up as a profit-share. Every employee, after being with the company for six months, gets a percentage of the profits. They treat my business like it's their own, because well, it kind of is. Anyway, Curl and I got to talking and I wound up doing a couple of manicures for free with some nail polish I had in my suitcase." It had been fun and the people were interesting, which was more than she could say about Tad at that stage.
"I discovered I really liked it here. So Tad left and I stayed."
To say she liked it here was an understatement. All she'd ever wanted was some stability in her life and a place where she could put down roots. Her heart had recognized Good Riddance as that place.
Tad had been mad as a wet hen. She smiled, thinking of him clucking instead of strutting around like the rooster he liked to pretend he was. "It was the best move I ever made. Well, actually, I guess you could say being engaged to Tad was the best move I ever made. Otherwise I wouldn't have ever come here. I'd never heard of the place before."
Norris nodded, scribbling furiously on her notepad. "And now, eleven months later, you're building a destination spa."
"It's more like a co-op spa." She was setting it up the same as her other business. She'd found a couple of part-timers couldn't handle all the requests coming her way. She was still looking for someone to cover the massage end. "My nail business has outgrown Curl's and I've had a lot of requests for massages and facials." She'd done a couple of facials in the barber chair but it just wasn't the same. "Just because a woman lives in the wilderness doesn't mean she has to look like she dies. I've got bookings already lined up into the spring."
"And you're scheduled to open the new facility when?"
"Well, the exterior's just being finished up," she said, as if Norris hadn't seen the new building going up every day for the past couple of weeks. "And they'll spend the next month working on the interior. We're scheduled to open the first of December."
Norris knew all of this. Heck, everybody in Good Riddance knew, but what the heck, Jenna would go over it again in an interview format if that's what Norris wanted.
"Just in time for Chrismoose?" Norris said.
Chrismoose was way cool. Jenna was even more excited about it this year because she knew what was coming. There was a lot to be said for anticipation. The whole town had a festival the week before Christmas because some hermit guy named Chris used to ride his pet moose into town every year with toys for the kids. Merrilee had turned it into a tradition after Chris had passed away. People came from all over the area to join in the fun and games.
Jenna nodded, "We're already booked solid for Chrismoose." She'd had to turn business down.
"Tell me one thing about you that no one here knows."
Jenna didn't know how to cook, but really, pretty much everyone knew that. She'd adopted a cat from a rescue shelter six months ago, but who didn't know Tama who was curled up sleeping in the sink now behind the barber's chair? Heck, she brought him to work with her every day.
She was a virgin. If Norris thought the business with Tad, Jenna and Merrilee sounded like a soap opera, she'd really pass out at that admission. Then again, Jenna would probably pass out if that fact got around. It was a conscious choice she'd made. Not necessarily to wait until she got married, but she at least wanted her first time to be special. But she hadn't yet met a guy who tripped her trigger. Back in the day, she'd had a thing for Logan Jeffries and then some. Just looking at him would leave her flushed and flustered. But that had gotten her a big fat nowhere when he'd turned down her Homecoming invitation. And she hadn't run into anyone else who made her feel that way inside since. Until she did, she'd just wait. She'd always wondered what touching Logan and being touched by him would be like, if just looking at him left her feeling that way. She'd spent many a fantasy working through that one.
"Come on," Norris said, interrupting her woolgathering. "You've got to give me something!"
There was her family. Talk about a soap opera. "Okay. I have twenty-two step-siblings and six half siblings. At least I think that's right."
"Holy smokes." Norris sat up straighter. "How'd that happen?"
"Mom's on husband number six. Dad's with his fifth wife."
Norris whistled beneath her breath. "Your family could have its own soap opera."
"Or a really bad reality TV show," Jenna said with a laugh. But for the grace of God that had never happened. All she'd ever wanted was a nice stable home environmentto just stay put in one spot for a while. At least her mother had been considerate enough to consistently remarry within the same school district until Jenna had graduated.
"That's perfectjust the kind of thing I was looking for." Norris snapped her notebook shut. "Okay, well, I think that covers it. I'll want to do a follow-up story when the new place is open for business." Norris tucked her notepad and pen into her pocket and stood, heading for the door. Norris was nice enough not to smoke in Jenna's little business space and even if the interview hadn't been over, Jenna knew the other woman was jonesing for a nicotine hit.
"Cool. Merrilee's planned a ribbon cutting and as mayor, she's booked the first appointment. I'll see you tomorrow at ten for your mani/pedi." Norris had insisted on doing the interview outside of her appointment. She didn't believe in mixing business and pleasure.
They both stepped out onto the sidewalk.
"See you then," Norris said, taking off as if she was running late for a day-after Christmas clearance sale. She always looked as if she was running late to something. Jenna figured it must've been all those years in the news business.
Jenna's event notification went off on her cell phone. Perfect timing. She'd be right on time to meet Nelson over at the new spa.
Bundling up, she blew Tama a kiss and headed out the door. Strolling down the sidewalk, her interview fresh on her brain, she thought, for about the millionth time, how much she loved it here. She waved at Nancy and Leo Perkins as she passed the dry goods store. Petey, driving past in his beat up Suburban, blew the horn at her.
For the first time in her life, she almost felt settled. There was still something that niggled at her, a dissatisfaction of some sort, but she was sure once the business was finished and she moved into her own placethe apartment above her shopthat would disappear as well. Then she'd know complete happiness.