Authors: Robyn Carr
“Possible liver damage, but we didn’t see any blood or bumps. Let’s check the eyes.” The doctor waved a light across his pupils. “I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest you bumped your head on the way to passing out. So—this a problem for you?”
“Hitting my head and passing out?” he asked.
“No, drinking like a pig and falling down,” the doctor clarified. “Are you an alcoholic?”
“Ah, shit.” He rubbed his head. “I’m divorced. I got married in that same orchard a couple of years ago. It didn’t last long. The marriage, that is. It was kind of...what’s the word?”
“Painful? Embarrassing? Grievous? Lonely? Regrettable?” the doctor tried.
“Yeah, those are the words. I might’ve overdone it a little tonight.”
“So you’re not adjusting well?” he asked.
“My brothers and sisters have taken to calling me Mad Matt. Does that tell you anything?”
“You might want to consider some counseling. Before you really hurt yourself.”
“Doc, I appreciate your help, but if there’s one thing I don’t ever want to talk about it’s my ex-wife and my divorce.”
“Brother, there is life after divorce. I am living proof.”
“Me. According to my ex-wife I keep lousy hours, I’m inattentive off the job, I don’t pitch in, I’m snarky and critical, a tightwad, insensitive, selfish, many negative things. The list is long.”
“I didn’t think anyone divorced a doctor,” Matt said, sounding surprised.
“The divorce rate among doctors is high,” he said. “I’m going to let you go home. If you have any problems or questions, call me. Don’t sit and wonder if you’re okay, just call me. And be done drinking for the day.”
“Funny,” Matt said, “the divorce rate among farmers is low. Yet...”
“Even if you were given a reason, that’s just one opinion,” the doctor said. “You going to be okay now?”
“Yeah,” he said, sitting up. “I have to come up with a good apology for my sister, the bride. I don’t think I’ll see her tomorrow. There’s the honeymoon and everything.” And she wasn’t the only one he should apologize to, but that other woman, whose name he never got, was long gone.
“Look, kid, you’re young,” the doctor said. “You’ll get past this divorce thing. It happens to the best of us. The next time you’ll be wiser and more patient about everything.”
“Next time?” Matt asked. “You’re kidding me, right?”
The doctor, who wasn’t that much older than Matt, clapped a hand on his back and said, “You’re like looking in an old mirror.”
* * *
Matt had fallen in love with Natalie instantly. True, he’d been all of twenty-five, but if that hadn’t been love he’d sure like to know what it was.
At the time he was giving a couple of lectures at Portland State; his master’s degree was in biology. His undergrad degree was in plant biology, he had minored in agricultural science and he was a farmer. He was also a visiting professor, which had made his father laugh. But Matt knew a lot about farming, pesticides, organic farming, water runoff, landscape contouring, animal husbandry, you name it. In pursuit of his degrees he’d studied agriculture, environmental science, and the care and breeding of animals, and that made him a valuable resource. It didn’t hurt that his father was the owner of one of the most prosperous farms in the state, with two of his sons, Matt and George, being associates.
And Natalie had been a biology department secretary, also twenty-five, with the longest legs he had ever seen.
She was so pretty and fun-loving and dating her had been sheer bliss. He hadn’t rushed into anything, despite that ER doctor’s assumptions. They went out for months before they moved in together. She wasn’t Basque, which suited him fine. She was of Swedish descent, with a few other European countries in the mix. She was very polite to his family but made it no secret, from their first date, she was never going to be a farm wife. He had no quarrel with that, either. He wasn’t looking for a farm wife, just as his sisters hadn’t been looking to marry farmers. She didn’t want a slew of children. He was okay with that, but he wanted a couple of kids and so had she.
, she’d said. No hurry.
Matt loved the farm. But in order to commit to a relationship, one makes compromises. He and Natalie didn’t have to live on the farm. They’d build a house closer to the city, when they could afford it. He commuted from their small apartment near Portland and spent the occasional night on the farm when it was a real busy time—planting, harvesting or lambing. George had the sheep, but Matt was always there to help, too—with the breeding, shearing, lambing, inoculations, docking and castrating. Matt wouldn’t marry Natalie until it was clear—he wasn’t giving up the farm.
Knowing that, Natalie still wanted to get married. She chose the orchard as the venue—but the reception was held in a large hall in Portland. When a bee stung her forehead during the vows, causing a very large red bump, it should have been an omen. But even with that big red bump the size of a quarter right in the middle of her forehead, the wedding was a success. The wedding pictures had to be doctored, but they were beautiful. If you could predict the success of the marriage by the wedding, they should have made it fifty years. Not only were all the Basque relatives present but also every friend and family member Natalie had ever known.
Very soon after the wedding, before the last thank-you note had been written, Natalie was already growing unhappy. She didn’t like his hours or the dirt under his nails or those big family dinners on the farm with all the noise and chaos. Being married to a farmer, even a commuting farmer, was trying and boring for her. He was up at 4:00 a.m. and home, exhausted and hungry, at five, and in bed by eight. She’d rather have brunch at the Hotel Monaco than dinner with the Lacoumette clan. She liked clubbing and dancing. And she’d appreciate it if he could stay awake through one movie!
Natalie had many suggestions for alternate careers. Matt could get his PhD and teach full-time, even head a department. He could consult for companies. He could go to medical school; his degree was a premed qualifier. Or he could go to work for one of the big food companies, like Harry & David. He’d be president in no time!
As for Natalie, she was only working at the college to supplement her income, most of which she spent on clothes, while she built her modeling career. It was important for a model to look good and she did. Well, she definitely had the body for it—tall and lean and beautiful. She’d had a few modeling jobs, but that career choice wasn’t exactly taking off for her and she was already aging out of it. Matt tried to be supportive even though he thought her expectations were unreasonable if not delusional.
Thus, they argued quite a bit. Every day, in fact. A few times he’d stormed out and gone back to the farm for the night.
Though annoyed by the fighting, he tried not to take it too seriously. Sometimes he just laughed and kissed her ear. “I’ll try to get all the dirt out from under my nails before I come home, babe.” He encouraged her to do what she wanted and he would follow his dream and they could meet in the middle. He supported them and she spent her money on herself, which was perfectly fine with him. He just wished she could be more agreeable. He wasn’t sure what more he could do.
Everyone in his family had an opinion about his disintegrating marriage.
There’s a period of adjustment,
his mother had said.
Women have to think they’re getting their way, at least most of the time
, George had said.
You’re both young and need to mature
, Lori had said.
You have to talk to the priest
, Ginny had said.
You worked out these details before the wedding
, Paco had said.
Tell her a deal’s a deal!
But it all unraveled. The fighting escalated; cruel and terrible things were said and done. There were tears and the sounds of hearts breaking. They didn’t make it a year. Both of them were in a great deal of pain with a complete inability to find any more compromises or solutions and, ultimately, an inability to forgive and repair the damage.
Matt spent many nights on the sofa while Natalie sobbed and raged. She wanted him to understand she felt trapped. She didn’t want to be stuck in a small apartment with a bunch of kids, held captive in a life that she didn’t sign on for, no nightlife, no romance, in-laws who treated her like an outsider—like a ridiculous child because she dressed nicely rather than in jeans and rubber boots. His work at Lacoumette Farms wasn’t a job, it was a life sentence! She never saw him, they argued but never talked like they used to and he never saw the need to court her anymore.
Then one fateful morning when Matt could go no further, he got up at his usual 4:00 a.m. and left her a note.
I’ll be at the farm if you have an emergency and need me. I’ll stay there until you move out. Please let me know when that will happen. Or, if you want the apartment, you can have it and I will live at the farm. It’s over.
he flower shop was a safe haven for Ginger. She couldn’t possibly have handpicked a better place to rejoin the human race even though she found herself surrounded by pregnant women. She would have expected to be envious or frightened for them or thrown into worse depression over losing her own precious son. But strangely, it felt like exactly the right place for her, among this group of women. It allowed her to finally talk about her own pregnancy and childbirth, both of which were wonderful experiences. In fact, she had been so healthy and energetic, her son so perfect, he should be toddling around now, not gone.
Truthfully, she was a
envious. The caveat was she probably would never have the courage to try for another baby, even if she had the chance.
Talking with Peyton was particularly encouraging, however. Her medical training emphasized what Ginger had learned from the doctors and in her own reading—she had done nothing wrong. SIDS was extremely rare, one of those unpredictable flukes that was not likely to ever happen again in her family.
“As if I’d ever be brave enough to risk it by having another child,” Ginger said.
“I can’t imagine how fearful that concept must be,” Peyton said. “But the next time you’re blessed, your circumstances will be very different. You’ll have a lot more support. Not to mention close medical supervision. Just getting over this one is a big enough job for right now.”
And that’s what she was finally doing, one day at a time. And in the best possible place—in a quiet shop that did brisk business but was not crowded with people all day. She was becoming skilled at building and even creating the arrangements that Grace sold and those hours she spent by herself in the back room with the flowers were important to her healing. She was productive and she could think, but she didn’t think too much because Thunder Point was a town bristling with friendly people. Had she come here on her own, she might’ve remained a stranger for a long time, but she was living with Ray Anne. Everyone knew Ray Anne. And since Ray Anne had told her friends about Ginger’s circumstances, she had frequent company. People would drop by the shop to chat, stop her on the street or in the diner to visit a little; they’d include her in plans, or sometimes Ray Anne would invite a small group of women over to the house. Rather than feeling self-conscious and marked as the one whose husband left and baby died, she had an almost instant sense of belonging. There was abundant nurturing.
And she was needed. Boy, was she needed! Grace spent every morning in the shop, usually starting early. But in the afternoons she had other tasks. She was trying to get the house out on the beach ready for her mother. She’d bought the house from Cooper—it was one of three spec houses he’d built and it was perfect for her needs. Grace’s mother had ALS and was using a wheelchair most of the time now. Grace wanted her nearby—it was uncertain how much time the incurable condition would give her.
Grace made daily runs to the house to prod the workers and spent the rest of the time rounding up furnishings. Almost every day after school and on weekends, her fiancé, Troy, was pitching in at the house, trying to finish up. In what Ginger learned was typical of Thunder Point, Troy’s friends were always lending a hand. Together the newly engaged couple put up drywall, textured, sanded, installed molding and painted, trying to get the entire house done before Winnie arrived, or at least to leave just a few decorating details on the upper and lower floors. Troy and Grace planned to move into the lower level because between the two of them and their tiny apartments, there was no space for a baby. The lower floor with two bedrooms, a large bathroom and a game room was perfect for them.
“Yes, it seems like half the town is pregnant, though it’s only the three of them—Grace, Peyton and Iris,” Ginger told her mother during one of their phone calls. “In fact, their due dates are so close together it makes one wonder if there was a blackout or bad storm during one particular week in early April.”
“Maybe it was just spring,” Sue said.
It was a beautiful spring. There was something about the feeling of rebirth that lent itself to Ginger’s desire for a fresh start, a new beginning. And one thing she now knew for certain, she couldn’t make it in that bedroom in her parents’ house where she had lived when her baby died. Just that brief visit when she went with Grace to attend Peyton’s wedding had made it glaringly obvious. It was time for her to move on.
She hoped Ray Anne wasn’t feeling crowded in her small house. Given a little more time to get her finances in order she’d look around for an apartment or something. The woman never complained and seemed to genuinely enjoy Ginger’s company, but Ray Anne had Al, her boyfriend, and Al had three foster sons at home. She was aware that time alone for the two of them was hard to find since Ginger had come to town.
Late afternoon was Ginger’s favorite time, now that the days were longer and the weather milder. The middle of May was kind to the oceanside residents. Storms blew up at night sometimes but the afternoons were generally warm and sunny. Wildflowers bloomed on the hillsides that framed the town and bay. When Ginger was pulling in the shop’s sidewalk displays, people would stop to talk. Sometimes someone would insist on lending a hand. Waylan, a grizzly old coot who owned the bar across the street, had taken to her and she believed he watched for her to start her closing-time ritual so he could at least come pass the time. Al seemed to be mysteriously available as well, right when a strong arm would come in handy. Lou Metcalf often stopped by before heading out of town after her day teaching at the middle school. Lou was a close friend of Ray Anne’s and had twice invited Ginger for a cup of coffee at the diner. And it was usually right about the time Ray Anne was quitting for the day and would drive that little BMW of hers to the flower shop to talk about dinner. Would they stay in, just the two of them? Go out? Get something from Carrie? Cook? Have Al to dinner? Should it be every man for himself tonight?
But as she pulled in the big wooden Mother’s Day tulip, she saw a man walking down the street who looked vaguely familiar. Her brow wrinkled as she studied him. Where had she seen him? He was tall and handsome, she could see that much from a block away. Black hair, broad shoulders, jeans and boots, the common wardrobe around town, but a crisply pressed cotton shirt, sleeves rolled up to expose strong forearms and big hands. As he got closer she could see the jeans were in very well-preserved condition—this guy had not just stepped off a fishing boat. His hair, brows and eyes were black and he sported a slight, whiskery beard, a day or two’s worth. The moment she found herself thinking he was heart-stoppingly sexy in a very exotic way she also realized who he was.
Oh, my God, it’s Peyton’s brother!
By then he was upon her and gave her a slightly shy but brilliant smile. Complete with dimples.
He nodded his head, almost a bow. “Miss Dysart...Ginger...I came to apologize.”
She actually took a step back. “Um. Okay,” she said a little nervously. “You came all the way from Portland?”
“I came to see my sister,” he said. “And to apologize to you. To explain. I can explain.”
“Water over the dam,” she said. “You don’t have to explain...”
“I was drunk,” he said, as if he hadn’t heard her. “Stinko. I don’t get drunk and I don’t like drunks. I got married in that same orchard a while ago and the marriage didn’t take. I’ve been divorced over a year and it was bitter. I’m either going to stop going to those weddings or stop drinking. But I guess all the Lacoumettes are married now. If they have better luck than I did, we should be all right.”
“I’m sure Peyton understood,” she said.
He gave a bark of laughter. “She’s my sister. She’s going to make me pay for a long time. I didn’t hurt you or anything, did I? Because I remember reaching for you. I think I was going to drag you onto the dance floor. I’m a clod.”
“You groped me,” she said. “You said your intentions were to drag me to the hayloft but you missed my arm and got my...” She stopped. But he understood.
“Oh, Jesus,” he said, hanging his head slightly. “What an ass.”
“No damage done,” she said. “Apology accepted.”
“Listen, can I take you to dinner? To make amends?” he asked.
“Not necessary, Matt. It is Matt, right?”
“Matt Lacoumette,” he said, sticking out a hand. “I know it’s not necessary, but it would make me feel better if I could do something for you. Peyton says you’re one of the nicest women in town.”
Ginger tilted her head and her eyes rounded in surprise. And right then she heard the beep of Ray Anne’s horn as she pulled up in front of the shop.
Ginger still wore her green work apron. Ray Anne stood just outside her closed car door, the motor still running. “Quitting time?” she asked.
“Almost,” Ginger said. “Ray Anne, this is Peyton’s brother Matt. Matt, this is my dad’s cousin Ray Anne. I’ve been staying with her in Thunder Point.”
“It’s a pleasure,” he said. “I just invited Ginger to dinner and I’d be happy if you joined us.”
“Oh, you sweet boy,” Ray Anne said. “I just stopped by to tell Ginger I have plans for the evening, so you two go ahead. Ginger, I’ll see you a little later, honey.” She slipped back into her BMW and disappeared down the street.
Ginger looked back at Matt. “As it happens, it’s been a really long day,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about a quiet evening at home tonight.”
“I promise not to keep you out late. We can walk down to Cliffhanger’s or I can drive. I’ve only eaten there once before, but it was excellent. And probably the best way to get rid of me is to accept, let me make my amends, and then I’ll go back to the farm and leave you alone.”
“I’ll behave very well.”
“Of course you will, but...”
“I’m kind of a pest until I’ve had a chance to apologize properly. Because, really—”
“That damn Ray Anne—she doesn’t have plans,” Ginger blurted. “At least she didn’t until you invited her to dinner and then she got an idea that she could be sure I went and I’m really not keen on the idea. And I don’t buy that you have to make amends over dinner or you won’t sleep at night.”
“Okay, you’re right. It’s not just amends. I really want to convince you I’m not a total asshole. I know how to treat women and I don’t do...” He shook his head. “I don’t do the things I did. Paco had his ways of training us in manners. In respect. Respect is very important in our family. I was disrespectful to you, to the bride and groom, to everyone. Paco has been reminding me daily.”
That made her smile in spite of herself. She raised one brow. “Ice water?”
He grinned. And really, it was a convincing grin. As handsome as he was, it was boyish. “Whatever is at hand,” Matt said. “Can I pick you up or would you like to walk down to Cliff’s with me?”
“I think I’d like to go home and change. I’m just closing now. Give me an hour? I’ll meet you there.”
“Can I help you move this stuff inside?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, you can.”
* * *
Matt had pulled that off perfectly while giving the impression dinner had been part of his plan from the start. It hadn’t been. The truth was he didn’t remember Ginger very well. Big surprise, since he had been completely toasted. All he really remembered was a blonde in a purple dress. In fact, he remembered the dress better than the blonde in it. Then when he saw her in jeans, green florist’s apron, simple knit shirt, so pretty, freckled, looking fresh as a schoolgirl, he was stung. He saw that she wasn’t really blonde-blonde. There was a little red in that hair streaked with gold and it looked so soft. And those green eyes sparkled in the afternoon sun. She didn’t wear much makeup—her cheeks were a peachy pink and her lips shiny. She had a fine arch to her light brows. And green stains on her fingers. At dinner, he would ask what it was like working with flowers.
When he got back to Peyton and Scott’s house, Peyton was spreading butter on a French baguette for garlic bread. There was red sauce bubbling on the stove and two empty Ragu jars on the counter. Peyton was not the cook his mother was.
“I’m going out for dinner,” he told his sister. “Sorry it’s so last-minute—I hope that doesn’t spoil everything you have planned.”
“Out?” she asked.
“I went to see Ginger. I apologized and I asked her to dinner to make amends. Just here in town. That restaurant at the marina.”
“Dinner?” she said.
“I thought it was the polite thing to do.”
“Listen, Matt,” she said, putting down the spreader. “Go easy on her, okay? She’s a sweet girl but she’s coming off some hard times. I’m sure she can take care of herself, but I don’t think she’s ready for a wolf.”
“Yeah, you,” she said. “I know what you’ve been doing the last year and change. Chasing women, running through them fast, moving at warp speed...”
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “I’ve been getting up at four and having dinner at the farm most nights. Dating hasn’t been a priority at all. In fact, I mostly avoid women.”
“Whatever,” she said, picking up the spreader.
But she was right. That’s why he kept the apartment he hated, to have a little privacy. He’d been whoring around since the day his divorce was final and he wasn’t sure why. Oh, he had a healthy libido, he knew that. He came by it honestly—his people were like that. But it was possible he was trying to change the taste Natalie left in his mouth. He might also get a little satisfaction from thinking it would make her unhappy if she knew, but then he never prowled around in her territory. Or maybe he just wanted to prove to himself that he could get along fine without a steady relationship because taking a chance on another marriage was out of the question. And sometimes when he had a woman under him, he forgot. After what he’d been through with Natalie, he didn’t even feel guilty. He did have the courtesy to warn them, however. He was temporary at best. It was amazing how many women were of a like mind.