"You've had a difficult night. We shouldn't be teasing you." Dorothy and Helen each put a hand over hers. "Give your grandmother our love when you visit her tonight."
Before Sarah could find her feet again--even though the truth was that she hadn't been steady on them from the first moment she had set foot back in Summer Lake a week ago--the door opened. For the next hour, Sarah reassured her grandmother's friends. And when customers from out of town came in, Olive's friends were right there helping them to find yarn and needles, helping to explain confusing patterns, sharing their experience with new knitters.
Calvin had been there for her last night. Today, it seemed everyone in town was joining in.
The stack of get-well cards she had to deliver kept growing, becoming tall enough that she needed to co-opt one of the store's shopping baskets for them. Through it all, Sarah was amazed at the outpouring of love.
Jenny, a pretty, middle-aged woman who worked ten hours a week in the store and had the quickest fingers with needles and yarn that Sarah had ever seen, came in carrying an enormous vase of flowers. "I ran into the delivery guy outside."
She put them on the counter, and after giving Jenny the update on her grandmother, Sarah remembered to ask, "How did your son do on the math test he was so worried about?"
"He got a ninety percent. And Susie got the lead in the school musical."
"They're great kids." Sarah had met Jenny's son and daughter the previous week when they'd dropped by the store for a few minutes after getting milk shakes at the diner.
"Susie wants to have a formal knitting lesson with you soon, by the way. She keeps asking me if I've talked to you about setting it up."
"But you're a much better knitter than I am."
"I'm also her mother. Trust me, she's better off learning from you."
Sarah couldn't hide her pleasure at the request. "Tell her I'd be thrilled to teach her what I know."
"You're great with kids, you know. You have the same touch Denise and Olive do. All of you are effortless teachers."
Surprised yet again by the positive comparison to the women in her family, Sarah replied, "I'm just trying to keep from running all of my mother and grandmother's customers away while they're gone." Especially given that her grandmother's doctor had made it perfectly clear that she would not be able to resume her regular hours at the store. Her days of running Lakeside Stitch & Knit were over.
"Actually, Jenny," Sarah said, "I really need to find someone to manage the store. Are you interested?"
"Part time is pretty much all I've got right now," Jenny said with obvious regret. "But what about you? I thought maybe you were--" Sarah knew her expression must have been pretty bad, because Jenny stopped abruptly. "Sorry. I know you've got a big job in the city. I was just hoping that you'd started to think about sticking around. Especially with you and Calvin being together."
"Calvin and I aren't--" She cut herself off before the lie could drop completely. "Are people talking about us?"
"You've been spotted around town together. At the bar. In his car." Jenny shrugged as if it was no big deal. "Look, if people are talking, who cares?"
Sarah opened her mouth to explain all the reasons she cared, but nothing came out.
"Calvin's an amazing guy," Jenny pressed on. "You're a wonderful woman. If anything, people are going to be thrilled to find out that the two of you are a couple."
Until she left him high and dry. Again. Then she'd be the villain. Local girl gone bad. It was just what she'd wanted to avoid, part of the reason she had tried so hard to resist him. In a town like Summer Lake, gossip was as much a part of the local infrastructure as the historic buildings.
Wanting desperately to steer the conversation away from her and Calvin, she said, "Well, if you think of anyone who would be a great manager, could you let me know?"
"Sure. I'll help out any way I can. You know that. But for the record, I still think you're the best choice. No pressure, of course."
Considering that pressure was her middle name lately, Sarah had to force a laugh she didn't really feel. She felt guilty about leaving her family's store in a stranger's hands by going back to her job in the city. She felt guilty leaving her company in the lurch by being here in her family's store. She had been pulled in so many directions since returning to town--by Calvin, by her family, by the store, by her job, by her new friends--she felt dizzy with it.
"How about you let me take over for a few minutes while you get out of here and find something to eat and drink?" Jenny offered.
Sarah nodded gratefully. Her throat felt raw from the constant talking all morning, the tears the night before, and the in-between when she'd been unable to hold back her sounds of pleasure at how sweet it was to be back in Calvin's arms.
She bent over to pick up her bag, and a folder slid out. Her heart stilled. How could she have forgotten for even a second the entire reason she'd come back to town?
In order to make the architectural review deadline for the month and be a part of the town hall meeting this Thursday, she needed to file the papers today. She looked up at the clock in horror.
The town clerk's office closed in ten minutes.
The taste of betrayal filled her mouth. This morning, she'd been in Calvin's bed. And even if she'd made it perfectly clear to him that it couldn't happen again, it didn't make filing the papers to get the condos under way just hours later feel any less wrong.
He would think she was using the condos to lash out at him, to push him away. He wouldn't understand that the condos had nothing to do with what she felt for him, that it was all her own deal. He wouldn't understand that she'd worked too hard to fail now, that she couldn't stand the thought of waking up and seeing that everything she'd given up for her career might all have been for nothing.
"You dropped this," Jenny said, handing her the thick folder.
Sarah stared at her project plans for a long moment before she took it.
The town clerk's office was on the other side of Main Street. Every step she took was heavier than the one before it. And still she continued on, past the grocery store, past the art gallery, past the ice cream shop, past the building that Rosa Bouchard had made her new headquarters for her project to fight online bullying.
Sarah came to a stop at the mayor's office and looked up at his window. Never more than at that moment did she wish that they weren't on opposite sides of her project. They'd had to overcome so much from their past just to get to where they were now.
A few seconds later, she pushed open the heavy front door to the town clerk's office and practically walked straight into Catherine.
"Sarah, I'm glad to see you."
Sarah wasn't at all sure she managed to mask her surprise in time. Where was Catherine's cold glare from knitting night when they had been going at each other in the back room of the store?
"I've been wanting to come by the store all morning to ask about Olive. Calvin told me she was awake and wanting to knit this morning, thank God. Any
"She's still on oxygen, but the nurse let her talk to me for a minute." Sarah had to smile at what her grandmother had said. "She wanted to make sure I could handle the store on my own."
"Sounds like the Olive we all know and love."
As they stood together on the sidewalk chatting, Sarah could almost think they were friends again. But then Catherine looked down and saw the folder in her hands, the KLEIN GROUP PROJECT tab facing out in bold, black letters.
Catherine's smile fell. It was perfectly clear just how disappointed she was. "You're still going through with your plans?"
Sarah took a deep breath. "I am."
"Everyone in town is going to be at the town hall meeting, you know. And they aren't going to care that you grew up here." Catherine didn't look angry anymore, not the way she had last night at the knitting group, but she obviously wasn't thrilled in the least with what Sarah was doing. "It isn't going to make them any less honest about what they think."
Sarah had loved town hall meetings as a little girl, the way the adults would often laugh with each other--and also yell at each other--for what seemed like absolutely no reason in either case. But she'd never thought she'd be one of those adults.
What other choice did she have? If she didn't file the papers, she'd lose her job. And the truth was, Sarah still believed the condos could be good for Summer Lake. Just as she'd told Calvin that first night at the Tavern, she would make sure they were.
Finally, Sarah said, "I'm sorry you're so upset with me."
Catherine's gaze didn't waver. "I am too."
As she walked away, Sarah had to put her hand over her breastbone. It felt like something sharp was digging into her chest, piercing her skin, trying to get all the way into her blood and guts.
Ten minutes later, she was back out on the sidewalk, holding an empty folder.
Calvin and Jordan walked into the store as Sarah was ringing up her last customer of the day. Jordan showed her brother all the yarns she liked while Sarah closed up. It should only have taken her five minutes to clear out the register and put away the order forms she'd been filling out, but the collage of images of her and Calvin together in his bed, then in his kitchen, and all the words they'd said--I love you and it's still a mistake and you are so beautiful and please, Calvin, now--made her slow and clumsy and confused with the money and papers.