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When Seth Sileski was a kid, Thunder Point was his playground. Even as a freckle-faced, towheaded little kid he'd held this town in the palm of his hand. He could run the fastest, hit the hardest, throw the farthest and charm the most cantankerous teachers. His two older brothers, Nick and Norm Junioraffectionately known as Boomerhad also had great childhoods, but they never matched Seth's notoriety. He went from beautiful kid to adored adolescent to most popular and accomplished teenagergreat grades, superb athlete, handsome, a good and loyal friend. He'd had it all. And then, at the age of twenty, his life took a dramatic turn and all that great luck and good fortune seemed to blow away.
Or, if you listened to his father, Norm Sileski, Seth threw it away.
So now he was back in Thunder Point, a little scarred and damaged but whole. And definitely humbled. He'd traveled a long way since leaving town at the age of eighteen and if you'd told him five or ten years ago that he'd return home he'd have called you a lunatic. Yet here he was, and by choice. This time he was wearing a deputy's uniform. He was thirty-four years old, and his battle to regain a sense of pride and accomplishment had been mighty and difficult. Seth was taking over the Sheriff's Department Thunder Point substation from Mac McCain. He'd be the officer in charge while Mac moved to a lieutenant's position at the headquarters in Coquille.
Seth had been back to town fairly often over the past sixteen years. He visited his mother and tried to check in with his father. Every time he drove into this small coastal town he was surprised by how little the place had changed. People changed, the economy changed, the world changed, and yet Thunder Point, Oregon, always seemed to remain the same. The linoleum in the diner had been old and cracked when he was a boy, all the same fast-food establishments were present, Way-lan's Bar was still the only real dive in town and it looked frozen in time. In fact, Waylan still propped the door open with a paint can, as if he intended to paint the place. It hadn't happened yet.
It was the second week in September and school had resumed just a couple of weeks ago, so there was still a lot of optimism and excitement winding up the students. Those on bikes weren't staying out of the middle of the road very well, but a little whoop-whoop from the police SUV moved 'em over quick, followed by yelps of laughter and shenanigans.
Seth caught sight of Iris McKinley, his next-door neighbor and childhood friend when he was growing up. She was still riding her bike to school, but now she wore a skirt and carried a briefcase in the basket. When the wind caught her skirt it revealed tight, black bike shorts underneath. The kids raced her. The school buses passed her, honked their horns and kids leaned out their windows to wave. Iris jingled the bell mounted on her handlebars and waved in response. She threw back her head and laughed as a bus driver laid on the horn for a long blast. She still had that wild, unrestrained laughter he remembered. Before she noticed him, he turned off the main street, heading back to the substation to park.
The Sheriff's Department substation was one sign that some changes had taken place in Thunder Point. The department had always had a strong presence in the town as there was no local law enforcement, but the substation office was only about ten years old. The clinic next door was quite new so Seth made that his first stop. He walked into the clinic to face a beautiful woman standing in the reception area. She could be mistaken for Catherine Zeta-Jones with her dark straight hair and brown eyes.
"Hi," he said, smiling, putting out his hand. "I'm Seth Sileski and I'll be your new neighbor. Mac starts working in Coquille in about a week."
"Well, it's a pleasure," she said. "Peyton Lacou-mette, physician's assistant. And this is Devon Law-son, our office manager. Scott?" she yelled. "Do you have a minute?"
The doctor came to the front of the clinic wearing the native dressblue jeans and denim shirt. "Hi, I'm Scott Grant. So, you're the new guy," he said with a smile.
Seth laughed and stuck out his hand. "Seth Sileski. I'm not exactly new. I grew up here. Norm is my dad."
"No kidding. Which one are you? He said he had three sons and none of them lived in town."
"I'm the youngest. I've only been back to visit since leaving for college."
"Then welcome back," Scott said. "We'll be glad to have you. And we're darn proud of Macmoving up in the world."
"Those are going to be hard shoes to fill," Seth said.
"Did you know Mac before now?" Peyton asked.
"Sure, from the department. I think I've known him eight years or so, though we worked in different parts of the county. He has a very good reputation. Before it's down to meare there any needs you have or issues you're concerned about? Anything you want me to know?" He grinned. "As your neighbor and your cop?"
Scott chuckled. "Trash pickup is Wednesday in the alley behind the stores. I'll have to think about anything else."
"Trash," Seth said. "Good to know. Let me ask you thishow do you get along with the youth in town? Any problems I should be aware of?"
Scott shook his head. "I had to stitch up some wild ones in the E.R. in North Benda fight at an unsupervised party. I haven't dealt with any injuries caused by bad behavior around Thunder Point in the past year. Mac had some bullying issues before I opened up the clinic, but I'm not sure of the details. I've just had the usual stuff and the kids around here are better than most."
"Strict parents, for the most part," Seth said. "And a nosy town in general."
"Do you have teenagers, Deputy?" Peyton asked.
He shook his head. "I'm not married and don't have kids, ma'am. Asking about the teenagers is just something I do when trying to get a profile on a new place. The town isn't new to me but the people arethe faces have changed after sixteen years. Right now I'm in orientation with Mac as my supervisor and part of the process is to introduce myself to the businesses. The stores haven't changed much but the owners, managers and employees have." He looked over his shoulder at the diner. "We used to go there after school and I hear Stu is still the owner and cook but now Gina is the head waitress. Gina's mom was the waitress in charge when I was a kid."
"And now Carrie has the deli next door and some of the best sandwiches and take-out dinners you'll find around here," Peyton said. "I haven't cooked in a long time."
"I'll stop in and say hello to both of them."
"What about Cliffhanger's?" Peyton asked. "Was Cliff the owner when you were growing up?"
Seth shook his head. "His dad built that place about twenty-five years ago. I'm not sure when Cliff took over. Sometime after I left. Cliff's family owns a lot of property around the marina. My dad used to say that place would never work heretoo fancy for this town."
"It's full almost every night," Scott said. "It's where people around here go when they want a tablecloth."
"I've been in there once or twice," Seth said. "Good food, nice atmosphere. Listen, it's nice meeting all of you." He pulled out a business card. "I'm going to continue my rounds, but here's the office number and my personal cell. Feel free to use it."
Peyton laughed and took the card. "It really kills me the way everyone gives out their cell numbers! Everyone knows Scott's and Mac's and now yours. I'm used to the city where you never do that."
The doctor put his arm around the P.A.'s shoulders and gave a squeeze. "I have her cell number and with the right incentive, I can be talked into giving it to you. Until then, just call me if you need me. And I'll call you."
"Hey, if this is my town, I want to be called if there's a problem. There are three ways to reach methe office, the cell or 911 in emergencies. If you call 911 you'll never get voice mail and whatever deputy is on duty will respond immediately. Don't hesitate." He smiled and gave them a little salute. "See you later."
Seth made his way to the diner to say hello to Gina. They'd known each other growing up, but they hadn't been in the same class or part of the same crowd. It was safe to say that he knew Carrie better. Carrie and his mother, Gwen, had been friends for years.
After a quick visit with Gina he went into Waylan's. Damn if it didn't look like the same crowd of old boys who had been in there the last time he'd stopped by at least ten years ago.
He headed for the flower shop, which still bore the same name although the owner was relatively new. Pretty Petals had been owned by his next-door neighbor when he was growing up, a single mother and Gwen's good friend, Rose McKinley. Rose's only child, Iris, had been Seth's best friend when they were kids. Iris had sold the shop a few years ago after her mother had a stroke. Then Rose had passed away after a couple of years of infirmity.
Seth talked to his mother at least once a week, usually more often, and she kept him current on the happenings in town. Rose's death had taken a toll on Gwenthey'd been close to the same age. Rose had died too young and it left Gwen feeling as if she was living on borrowed time. Gwen was now sixty-five.
Norm was seventy-two and just as cranky and unforgiving as ever. He might've sold the service station he'd owned for decades, but he wouldn't retire. He still worked for the new owner. Gwen wanted to spend some of their money and retirement doing fun things, traveling, maybe taking a cruise or two, but Norm wasn't at all interested. Why Gwen wanted to spend leisure time with the old coot was beyond Seth, but he felt sorry for her, sitting out her last years in the same small town, not having much fun except for church, cards and bingo, missing her best friend, Rose.
He walked into Pretty Petals and took off his hat. He said hello to Grace Dillon, the new owner. His mother had mentioned her several times. She was an attractive young woman about thirty years old or even younger, living the dream. She'd bought the flower shop from Iris and was thrilled to own her own business. Looking around, he saw that it had been updated since the old days.
"Well, Seth, are you back to stay?" she asked.
"I am for now. Just introducing myself to the folks in town, or reintroducing, as the case may be. How are things in the flower business?"
"Very pretty," she said.
"Anything you'd like me to be aware of now? I'm prepared to take over Mac's post in less than a week."
She shook her head. "No flower thefts that I'm aware of. Do you have any plans to move to town, now that you'll be here all the time?"
"Not at the moment." He laughed a little. "My mother offered me my old room, but I think
" He ended by just shaking his head and Grace laughed with him. "It might not feel like a bachelor pad, living with Mom and Dad." Not to mention, Dad hadn't offered, he reminded himself. "But there's no question, I'd eat well!"
"Maybe you can just swing by Mom's at the end of your workday for a little something to eat before heading home to the bachelor pad."
"There's an idea. In fact, I should swing by there now
. How about a nice arrangement to take along? That always makes her so happy with me."
Grace turned and pulled a centerpiece out of the cooler. "Do you like this fall arrangement? I can give it to you cheapI worked it up a couple of days ago and it hasn't sold yet."
"I'm all over discounts," he said, fishing out his wallet. "Have you seen Iris lately?" he asked without looking up.
"I see Iris every week. At least once, usually more. She likes fresh flowers in the houseit's a hard habit to break. Sometimes she comes in and makes her own arrangement. I can't tell you how often I wish she worked hereshe's got a gift. That'll be ten dollars, even."
"Ten? Wow, you're sucking up to the law!"
"I hope I never have to use my brownie points," she said. "Welcome back, Seth. It's nice to know you'll be taking care of us."
"I'll do my best. Be sure to let me know if I can help in any way. It won't be flower arranging, I know that." He gave her his business card with all the numbers on it. Then he gave her a second one. "One for the shop, one for home," he said, though he secretly hoped that second card might make its way into Iris's hands.
He wished he could reconnect with Iris. When they were kids, they'd been inseparable, playing kickball, softball, fishing, hanging out on the beach or sitting at one of their houses playing video games for hours. In junior high and high school they had taken different pathshe was on all the sports teams, and she was doing girl things, plus helping her mother in the flower shop. But she'd always been his closest friend even if he didn't admit that in mixed company. He could tell Iris anything. Anything. If he had trouble in school, frustrations with football, couldn't get his homework right or even if he liked some girl and she wasn't liking him back. They talked on their porches, on the phone, anywhere they met around town. If their second-story bedroom windows had faced each other's, they'd have been hanging out of them, talking.
Then there was some misunderstanding their senior year. Something to do with prom, but he didn't remember all the details. She'd been angry that he wasn't taking her to the prom, but he was going steady with someone and was planning to take his girlfriend. He and the steady girlfriend had a blowup, a messy breakup and Seth had been bummed. He had a few beers, and as usual leaned on Iris to talk about his girl problems. It was senior year, he'd had a spectacular year, was going to the University of Oregon on a full football scholarship in the fall and how dare that girl dump him right before senior prom. He could only vaguely remember, but knew he had uttered some lame thing to Iris like, I wish I was taking you, anyway. And then he got back together with the girlfriend the very next day. He thought Iris would be happy for him. He had expected her to understandit had been a stupid spat and he and his girlfriend were all made up.