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The Summer Everything Changed
By Holly Chamberlin
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Elise Smith
All rights reserved.
It was a typically beautiful afternoon in early June when the call came in.
Afterward, Louise liked to refer to it as "the fateful call." Her daughter, Isobel, chose to refer to it as "the call that changed everything." Either phrase was appropriate, because with absolutely no warning or preparation, Louise Bessire, owner of the Blueberry Bay Inn in Ogunquit, Maine, found herself deep in a mostly one-sided discussion with a wedding planner to the stars.
"Yes, yes," she said. "I see." She did not see, not at all. She could hardly believe what she was hearing from this person calling herself Flora Michaels. "How many guests did you say? That many?"
Louise leaned against the kitchen sink and put her hand to her head, where she suspected there would be a big pain very soon. At forty-two Louise still had the slim, lithe figure she had had at twenty-two. Mostly, that was due to genetics and next, to nervous energy. She was five feet eight inches tall, with thick blond hair, darker now than it had been when she was younger. Usually, she wore it hanging straight to her shoulders or up in a messy bun; today, she had gone for the bun. At the moment she was dressed in one version of what had become her summer uniform—a pair of white jeans, a fitted T-shirt, and comfortable wedge sandals. Another version might have substituted capri pants for the jeans and flat sandals for the wedges. These days, Louise didn't have much time to spend on worrying about her wardrobe.
The inn's kitchen was located at the back of the house, and during the busy season it served as home base for the Bessire women. The walls were painted a cheery yellow. The floors, originally pine, had been replaced with good ceramic tile some years back. Windows all along the back wall, against which stood the sink and a long working counter, let in plenty of natural light. The backsplash tile was a springy green that worked nicely with the yellow of the walls. A big round clock—black-rimmed, white-faced, black-numbered—hung over the kitchen door, which opened out onto a small, semi-enclosed space for storage of gardening equipment, and then onto the backyard.
Though the room was off-limits to guests, it was still a bit of a showcase and, of course, spotlessly clean. The appliances were restaurant grade, as the inn served breakfast from seven until nine o'clock and in mid-afternoon provided tea, coffee, and homemade pastries in the parlor.
The meals were thanks to Bella Frank, a sixty-five-year-old local woman who had trained in her youth as a chef. After a lifetime of supporting her children by doing the books for her husband's hardware store and taking odd jobs when they presented themselves, she welcomed the opportunity to practice her passion. Louise felt beyond lucky to have Bella as an employee. Before buying the inn, she had had absolutely no experience in any area of the hospitality industry; she had never even waited tables, let alone cooked for potentially fussy strangers.
The table in the center of the pleasant room was an old, scrubbed-pine piece; it was the first bit of furniture Louise had bought for the inn. It was here that Louise and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Isobel, ate their meals together. It was where Isobel was sitting at that very moment, watching her mother intently. Louise felt a bit like a slow-moving bird being eyed by a hungry cat. Occasionally, Isobel mouthed a questioning word that Louise thought might be "what" or maybe "who," and her right hand was making a spasmodic gesture Louise interpreted as "hurry!" Isobel wasn't known for her patience. She was the kid who had to give you the birthday present she had bought you as soon as she got it home, even if your birthday was weeks away, just because she couldn't wait to see your pleased reaction. She was also the kid who routinely burned her mouth on cookies fresh out of the oven because she simply couldn't wait until they had cooled off.
Isobel, on the cusp of sixteen, was tiny, about five feet two inches tall, and her complexion was much darker than her mother's, closer to that of her father's side of the family. Her hair, too, was darker than Louise's, more of a golden brown than blond. Her eyes were a very deep blue—in contrast to her mother's light blue eyes—but like the Jones side of the family, she was very slim. At the moment she was dressed in—well, not a version of a uniform, because every day Isobel emerged from her bedroom in an entirely new and unpredictable outfit. Today that outfit consisted of a pair of bright green Converse sneakers; a tan crocheted skirt (with a silk lining) that came to mid-calf; and a man's blue oxford button-down shirt tied up at the waist. In her ears she wore hoops studded with turquoise stones; both wrists sported an assortment of bangles and rope bracelets; on her right hand she wore a massive faux gold ring set with a triangular bit of pyrite; and on her left hand she wore a Lucite ring in pink and orange. The Lucite ring had belonged to Louise when she was a child.
"But I don't—" Louise was interrupted, again, by Flora Michaels. "Well, yes, that's possible, I guess, but—" And again.
Isobel rolled her eyes, and her leg bounced with curiosity.
Louise turned away. Isobel's excitement was making her nervous. Well, more nervous than she already was and had been since buying Blueberry Bay Inn a little over two years earlier, just after her divorce from Isobel's father had been finalized. The purchase had been partly whim, and partly dream; she had presented a tiny bit of a plan, and had taken a hell of a lot of a risk. Louise still wondered if she had been entirely in her right mind when she signed all those papers at the closing.
Still, there were aspects of her life as an innkeeper she enjoyed, and she downright loved the inn itself. The house had been built around 1880 and had remained in the possession of the Burke family for generations. Around 1993 the last of the Burkes sold it for far less than it might have been worth if failing fortunes hadn't rendered it almost uninhabitable. The new owners restored it from the near wreck it had become over time and converted it to an inn they called Blueberry Hill. Somewhere in the early 2000s the name was changed to Blueberry Bay. Louise wondered if the association with the famous 1950s Chuck Berry song had occasioned too many annoying questions like, "So, did Chuck Berry ever stay here, or what?"
The last owner had painted the big old building white, and the doors and window shutters a dark green. On the first floor, to the left of the entrance, was a parlor for the convenience of guests on a rainy afternoon or evening. It had a working fireplace, several large and comfortable high-backed armchairs, a couch that was just the right degree of saggy (that, according to Isobel), and a scattering of small antique occasional tables.
A smaller room across from the parlor, now called the library, housed the reception desk, a rack of tourist guides, stacks of local magazines and newspapers, and a collection of books amassed haphazardly over the years by the various owners of the inn. There was also a big supply of paperbacks abandoned by summer visitors. Those with steamy covers Louise had stuck up on the higher shelves. The inn did not allow children, but still, Blueberry Bay did have a certain reputation to maintain. That, or Louise was becoming prudish in her early middle age.
The breakfast room was beyond the parlor. There was a private table for every guest room, each one set with an eclectic assortment of old crockery, china, and silverware Louise and Isobel had scavenged from antique shops and flea markets. Each morning, Louise refreshed the tiny vase at the center of each table with offerings from the garden, a bit of Queen Anne's lace or a single peony or, later in the season, a bloom of hydrangea.
A small powder room was tucked in under the stairs. It had been installed fairly recently, within the last ten or twelve years, and like all of the other bathrooms at the inn, it boasted modern facilities along with touches of New England charm, like the basket of whitened seashells that sat on a shelf over the toilet, and a print showing the crew of a lobster boat hauling in their catch. (Louise had to replenish the contents of the basket on a regular basis; guests seemed to feel a compulsive need to steal the shells.)
On the second floor, at the back of the house, were Louise's bedroom, Isobel's bedroom, and the bathroom they shared. At the front of the house, there was a large guest room with an alcove big enough to serve as a sitting area; this room offered a private bathroom. From the window you could see a bit of Perkins Cove—at least, you could make out a few roofs and beyond them, on a clear day, a bit of horizon.
There were three medium-sized guest rooms on the third floor. From the front room you could see a wide strip of the energetic Atlantic, silvery blue in a certain light, bright teal in another, and deep navy in yet another. There was one shared bathroom in the hall.
The attic, off-limits to guests as was the kitchen, might have been a treasure hunter's paradise except that by the time Louise bought the Blueberry Bay Inn, all of the attic's antique and vintage contents had long ago been dispersed. Now, the room contained remnants of her own past, including boxes of her childhood toys and report cards and even the dried and crumpled corsage she had worn to her high school junior prom; mementos of Isobel's not-so-distant childhood; and things from the Massachusetts house Louise couldn't bear to part with but couldn't quite live with, either. Like the hideous oil painting her mother had given her one Christmas. It was one of those awful landscapes bought at a "starving artist sale" in some run-down office park. The trees didn't look like any trees Louise had ever seen, and the lake resembled a pit of boiling oil. Still, her mother had meant well ...
The basement, ugly, large, and utilitarian, was also off-limits to guests. It was home to the industrial-grade washing machine and dryer (Louise did the inn's laundry herself, though Isobel thought she was nuts for bothering when there was an affordable local service that could handle the washing, drying, folding, and delivery), the boiler, and all those other loud and nasty-looking machines necessary for operating a building.
The inn's front porch was, in Louise's opinion, the building's best feature—long, deep, and charming. There, one could practice the fine and almost lost art of "porch sitting." A guest could daydream, doze, wave to people driving by in cars or cycling by on bikes or strolling by on foot, read, or sip a cool drink.
The front yard sloped gently from the base of the porch, and the landscaping was simple but pretty—no opulent water features or ugly garden gnomes or reproduction "wishing wells" for Louise Bessire.
The backyard was about half an acre of perfectly manicured grass, with a gazebo sprouting smack-dab in the center. No doubt the gazebo was a bit of an eyesore to those who didn't care for excessive Victorian detailing such as its ornate tracery and vaguely grotesque sprouts of curlicues. Isobel thought it gorgeous; Louise tolerated its presence because guests seemed to find it something to ooh and aah over.
Overall, the Blueberry Bay Inn was the epitome of New England picturesque. If it lacked that "wishing well," complete with pail and crank, you could find one down the road on the property of one of the kitsch-loving summer residents.
"Yes, that sounds—" Again, Flora Michaels interrupted.
"Okay, I'll expect—"
Louise finally managed to end the call with a series of thanks and assurances, neither of which she felt were particularly genuine. She put the phone beside the sink and turned back to her daughter.
"Violet," Isobel said.
"Your face is violet. No, wait"—Isobel squinted critically at her mother—"maybe lavender. Yeah, that's more accurate. So, I'm dying already. What was that all about? Who's getting married? Someone we know? Do I have an excuse to buy a new dress? Something awesome and vintage and maybe covered in lace? I don't have anything covered in lace. Pink might be good, if it's not too bubblegum. A pretty dusty rose might be a nice change for me. Or maybe buttercup yellow."
"Uh, in a sense it's someone we know," Louise replied, as she sank into a chair at the table. "I don't know if the occasion justifies a new dress, though ..."
"Mom, come on! Tell me!"
"You know that television show, Tell Me You Didn't Just Say That?"
Isobel shook her head. "No. I mean, I've heard of it—it's a sitcom, right? But I've never watched it."
"Well," Louise went on, "that was a wedding planner. It seems that two of the stars, someone named Ashley Brooklyn or something like that, and a Jake or a Blake, I can't remember exactly, want to get married at a traditional, charming New England inn. In short, they want to get married at the Blueberry Bay Inn."
Isobel jumped from her seat. Louise was surprised she had kept still this long.
"Mom, this is amazing," she cried, pacing excitedly. "This could really be fantastic for us. For the inn, I mean. Imagine the publicity!"
"Yeah. Fantastic, if I don't totally mess up and wind up losing the business." How Andrew would gloat, she thought, if I had to declare bankruptcy. But maybe that was being unfair to her ex-husband. He wasn't a gloater. He would simply shake his head, lips compressed, and say something on the order of: "I told you a country inn was a bad idea." In Andrew's opinion, Andrew was always right. Annoyingly, as the opinion of much of the world proved, he was, indeed, most often right.
"Mom, come on," Isobel was saying, her hands on her hips, "how hard can it be to throw a wedding? You've been to dozens of weddings, I'm sure. So buy a few magazines, get some cute ideas, and voilà."
Louise stared. Isobel's general optimism and enthusiasm really could be viewed as an astounding naïveté. She decided not to comment on her daughter's personality quirks. "We're not throwing anything," she corrected. "We're—hosting, I guess would be the right word. We're hosting a wedding for a minor celebrity couple. Oh, it sounds awful! What am I thinking? I can't pull this off!"
"Mom, don't be a Gloomy Gus. How did they find out about us, anyway?"
"Online. Where everyone finds out about everything. Oh Lord, I must be out of my mind. I'll call the wedding planner right back and say that something came up and—"
Louise made to rise, but Isobel gently pushed her mother back into the seat. "Mom," she said, leaning down and looking her squarely in the eye, "you'll do no such thing. Come on, where's that fighting spirit, that gung ho attitude? Where's that devil-may-care woman I know so well?"
"Gung ho?" Louise couldn't help but smile. "Devil-may-care? Are you feeling all right?"
"Of course. I'm just trying to encourage you. And I'll be here to help every step of the way, don't forget that."
And she would, Louise thought. Isobel was a person of her word. "Are you sure I turned lavender? Not sickly mint or icky puce? Not disgusting pea soup?"
"You like pea soup," Isobel pointed out. "Especially when it has ham in it."
"Answer the question."
"Periwinkle!" Isobel cried. "That's the word I was looking for. You turned periwinkle."
"Periwinkle?" Louise felt her stomach drop heavily into her lower intestines. "Crap," she said. "What disaster did I get us into?"
Isobel squeezed her mother's shoulders. "It'll all be okay, Mom. I have a feeling our lives are about to change in ways we never even dreamed possible. Isn't it exciting!"
Louise managed a pathetic smile. "That's one word for it," she said.
Greetings, Dear Readers!
Gwen, my sidekick extraordinaire, my partner in daily adventure of the most varied kind, was extra Gwentastic yesterday when she unearthed a treasure beyond compare at the very bottom of a lopsided cardboard box stuffed under a shelf at Say It Again, one of our favorite hunting grounds, on Route 1 in Wells. With her usual (careful) vigor she rooted through layers of old and delicate lace, some of which threatened to fall apart in her hands, to finally uncover a sterling silver, monogrammed calling card case!! It's even got a silver mesh chain on one end so you could carry it around your wrist when you went a-calling.
Excerpted from The Summer Everything Changed by Holly Chamberlin. Copyright © 2013 by Elise Smith. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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