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Each summer the tourists flood the Sunshine Coast, and the chaos doesn't stop until Labor Day. But in between, at the back of the Way-Inn, best friends, Rose, Mercedes and Doris?aka the Gossip Queens?hold court. Everyone's business is discussed, and good sense reigns. However, lately it's the Gossip Queens whose doings are the talk of the town.
Rose has a husband who loves (and cooks) like an angel, but she's thinking adoption. Doris wants to give her granddaughter love and ...
Each summer the tourists flood the Sunshine Coast, and the chaos doesn't stop until Labor Day. But in between, at the back of the Way-Inn, best friends, Rose, Mercedes and Doris—aka the Gossip Queens—hold court. Everyone's business is discussed, and good sense reigns. However, lately it's the Gossip Queens whose doings are the talk of the town.
Rose has a husband who loves (and cooks) like an angel, but she's thinking adoption. Doris wants to give her granddaughter love and laughter, but can't take the first step. And independent Mercedes has been worrying about her daughter's love life for so long, she's forgotten to have one herself.
This summer will be remembered forever as the year the Gossip Queens became the hottest scoop. Love always gives people something to talk about, right?
The most beautiful woman in the world was getting married and I wasn't at all happy about it.
Oh, sure, it seemed to be a good thing; Julie wouldn't be moping around anymore. And the groom, the police sergeant of our town, would be more focused on his job. Or would he? At least I hoped he would be.
But, after years of the two of them suffering from twin cases of unrequited love, the minute they got together, I felt the temperature rise. Not just my temperature, but the ambient temperature of the Sunshine Coast. I didn't want to think about how hot their relationship had to be to cause the mercury to rise all over the peninsula, but I couldn't help it. I'd been worrying about Julie's love life for so long I'd forgotten about having one myself. And the heat reminded me of just what I was missing.
I stood on the dock outside the Sand Dollar Motel and sweated in the bright summer sun. This rare moment of peace was an indulgence I didn't often allow myself once the summer—and all its joys and aggravations and hysteria—came to Gibsons.
The summer wasn't a time for self-reflection, that's for damn sure. So I went back up the hill to the motel and got to work.
Mondays were always the worst. The weekenders often waited until the last possible minute to get on the road—which meant a flock of screaming children and frantic parents crowded into my office at six in the morning, before I'd had time for coffee. They needed to be on the road by six-thirty to make the seven o'clock ferry, and with ten rooms and what felt like a thousand racing visitors, panic reigned for that first hour of the week. And continued right through until after Labor Day.
The good news was that, like every Monday, by the time the sun burned off the slight chill of the night, everyone was gone and I got ready to settle myself in to do it all over again. But not quite yet.
The thought of dealing with ten rooms' worth of sand and salt, the filthy towels and smelly, crumpled bedding made me want to vomit. I couldn't even bear to think about the bathrooms. Combine that with the fact that Julie, my only child, was getting married in September and I desperately needed a break.
I muttered as I hurried along the sidewalk in front of the rooms, checking the doors, locking those left standing open by the visitors in the stampede to get back to their real lives.
"I can't stay away long," I said, pulling doors closed without daring to take a peek at the chaos within, "but I need to get out of here."
I ripped off my official Sand Dollar Motel uniform—a golf shirt emblazoned with a starfish (a sand dollar just didn't have the oomph for a shirt)—replaced it with a lime-green T-shirt, pulled on matching sneakers and hurried down the hill to the Way-Inn to find coffee, a plate full of hash browns, and Rose.
I figured Rose and Doris had saved my life at least once. When Julie's dad absconded with the family fortune before Julie was born, Rose and Doris propped me up, babysat once Julie arrived and helped me buy a living and regain my sanity. I own the Sand Dollar free and clear now, but I always thought of my two friends as silent partners. Rose, Doris and me, Mercedes Jones—the three of us owned the Sand Dollar. But they weren't just partners in business, they were my partners in life.
I tried not to think about how much I missed Doris. Almost every morning—not in the summer, of course, but every other morning of the year—I'd meet Doris and Rose at the Way-Inn. It wasn't always at the same time, but we'd been doing it for so long it was as if we could divine each other's schedule and Doris and I often ended up pulling our cars into the parking lot at the same time.
We'd sit in our booth in the back and Sam would wait on us. I grinned when I thought of poor Sam leaving his kitchen with a tray of coffee and hash browns.
Rose was the waitress, the hostess, the glue that kept the Way-Inn going. Sam was, without a single doubt, the best cook on the peninsula, but Rose... Rose was a miracle.
Just a few minutes with her, I knew, would rid me of the antsy feeling I'd been carrying around for days. Oh, it wouldn't get rid of it forever, maybe not even for the rest of the day, but it would damp it down considerably for a few hours.
Part of that feeling was Julie's wedding. That was the obvious part.
Part of it was Doris's ongoing absence. I missed her and I was pretty sure it'd be a while before I'd see much of her. Baby Emily wasn't the problem—we'd all spent hours with our own little ones at the Way-Inn and the beach—but Tonika's injuries were far worse than they'd first expected.
Poor Doris. She'd been looking forward to her first grandchild, not to playing mother to the baby and nurse to her daughter. Sixty-eight was too old for that kind of work. But Doris would never admit that.
I tapped my right temple, then spoke the reminder out loud.
"Talk to Rose. Maybe we can help with Tonika. Or the baby."
I'd been using the temple tap and verbalization for six months, ever since Rose sent me the link to the memory Web site. It seemed to help.
I pulled into the Way-Inn parking lot and smiled. Monday mornings were either frantic or dead slow and stop. Today was a dead-slow-and-stop Monday. One other car sat parked haphazardly in the lot. I didn't recognize it, so assumed it was someone from away.
The front door was propped open so the bell didn't announce my presence as I hurried through it. I missed the bell, too.
"God, Mercedes Jones," I whispered as I scanned the restaurant, "you are a frigging pathetic woman. First Doris, then Julie, now the bell? What is wrong with you?"
And then Rose smiled and raised her hand from behind the counter, wiggling her fingers and nodding her head toward the young man sipping coffee at the table in the window.
"Five minutes," she mouthed. "He has to catch the next ferry."
I settled into the booth at the back and watched the young man. There was something familiar about him, something I couldn't quite decipher. I didn't know him, I knew that much.
Or at least if I did know him, he was now out of context.
I closed my eyes and pictured him in each of the appropriate uniforms.
Nope, times four.
Maybe Rose would know. She never seemed to forget a face and she saw far more people than me. A summer after Rose had first seen her, a woman could walk into the Way-Inn and Rose might say, "How's your mother? Did she finally have her hip operation?" And this to a woman she'd seen once.
But there was something about this young man. Actor? Maybe that was it. There's something about the way he moves, I thought. Something about the way his hands bring the coffee cup to his lips.
Did it matter that I couldn't figure out who he was? On top of everything? It seemed to, because I couldn't take my eyes off him. I tried to remember to blink so he wouldn't feel my stare but my eyes began to sting, drying from the air.
I watched as he finished his coffee, smiled at Rose when he gestured for his bill, stood up and waited at the cash register while Rose giggled in the kitchen with Sam. I watched him pull a wallet from his pocket and hand money to Rose.
I saw him smile at Rose, a grin almost unbearably sweet, and I blinked away my tears so I could watch him walk out the door.
Whoever he was, it would probably come to me in the middle of the night. Or not.
I remembered no one—or very few people—and I envied Rose her ability, her joy in every story she heard, each smile she received. And today, more than anything else, I envied her Sam.
Short, yes. Definitely round. Never going to be a mover or a shaker (except on the dance floor), never going to set the world on fire. But he could cook like an angel and his love for Rose—and hers for him—shone like the April sun once morning's fog had burned off.
I pinched my thigh. "God, woman." I spoke to the old-fashioned salt and pepper shakers on the table. "What is wrong with you this morning?"
"Nothing that I can see." Rose laughed, sitting down with a tray of coffee and hash browns. "And you look fine to me. A little tired, but it's Monday."
"It's not Monday."
"It is so. Look." Rose grinned around at the empty room. "Of course it's Monday."
I groaned. "Okay, okay, it's Monday. But it's not Monday, you see?"
Rose pushed the plate of hash browns closer to me. "Ah, it's not Monday, I get it. Well, eat your hash browns first and then we'll talk about Julie. And Doris. And your pathetic—dare I say, completely nonexistent—sex life."
I mumbled through the hash browns, "I don't want to talk about it."
"Your sex life, you mean?"
"Okay. We'll talk about Julie. And Doris. But seeing as Julie's marrying one of the sexiest men on the peninsula and Doris is babysitting her granddaughter—who arrived because of an act of sex—sex is going to get in this conversation one way or the other."