Joanna’s eyes glazed over as she stared at the chair, Sam’s chair. The chair was a reminder of her long and complicated history with Sam. His very presence reminded her of her mother’s death, her lack of self-confidence as a child, Rhonda’s bullying, a vacillating relationship with her dad, her broken engagement to Matthew, and several other minor crises. Sam was the voice of reason when she became emotionally paralyzed and withdrew into a world of fantasy. She relied on her Aunt Polly and dad for moral support and wisdom of age, but unlike her family, Sam was more than willing to give her a swift kick in the butt when she needed one.
She smiled as she remembered brimming with excitement her first day back in Fairview. She had a plum teaching position at the school of her choice, and she was looking forward to becoming a first-time homeowner. She didn’t dream she would find a home with a readymade artist studio, but she struck gold. The previous owner of her soon to be home had hired an architect to design a studio to his specifications. The custom storage units were more than adequate, and the northern light was a bonus. The only addition Joanna made to the workspace was a desk for her desktop computer. She could roll her chair at the drawing board back, swivel to the right, and face her computer. All of her character studies were stored on the computer, as were photographs she used for reference.
Initially, the only chair in the studio was hers. Shortly after she moved in, she came home to find Sam in her studio. She marched into the den, picked up a straight-back chair, and hauled the chair into the studio. She plopped the chair down, none too lightly, by the door. Sam got the message. It wasn’t that she never invited anyone to see her work. She did, but she valued her privacy when she worked.
Until Josh sat in the chair, Sam was its only occupant.
Now that Sam’s expiration date was close at hand, she dreaded the thought of losing his friendship. How many times had she glanced up to find him and to find him watching her. He was a patient friend.
When she was a needy child, she didn’t get upset when he disappeared for days or even weeks. It didn’t occur to her that he wouldn’t come back. Realistically, he should have returned to his own world long ago.
She brushed away the tears and chastised herself for moping. She had work that was fulfilling in addition to friends and family who were supportive. The only burr in her saddle was Chip Singleton. If she could find a way to get him out of her life, she would have no complaints.
She picked up her cell phone to make a call, but before she could punch in a number, her doorbell rang.
Joanna opened the door to find her Aunt Polly standing at the door shivering, her gray curls whipping in the wind. Polly breezed by her into the hall. “The temperature dropped 20 degrees since I left home this morning. I’m chilled to the bone. I hope you don’t mind if I use your kitchen to brew a pot of tea.”
Joanna chuckled. “There’s nothing like a hot cup of tea to warm up a body on a cold and windy November day. My kitchen is your kitchen.”
Polly reached out and patted her cheek. “Only until Tuesday, my dear. When your casts come off, you are on your own.”
“Poor me. I’ve become accustomed to my in-house gourmet chef.”
Polly handed her a white bag. “Turkey supreme sandwiches from Carmine’s Deli. I hope you are hungry.”
Joanna followed her aunt into the kitchen. She set out plates and napkins while Polly boiled water for tea. She asked, did you stop by Crow’s Nest before you went to Carmine’s?”
Polly nodded. “One on the downsides of retail success is that free time for the owners is rare. If I want to spend time with Betty and Ed, I have to stop by Crow’s Nest.”
“The first couple of years are the hardest. If the shop is financially successful, they will eventually be able to hire a manager.”
“Betty asked about you. She’s hoping that you will be able to come up with a holiday ad for them.” She dug in her pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. Those are the December events the shop is sponsoring.”
“Thanks for delivering her message. I will give Betty a call Monday.”
Polly placed the teapot on a trivet and sat down at the table.
“Was the shop busy?”
“Bustling. You will never guess who has become one of the shop’s regulars. Gretchen Singleton. She shows up two or three times a week, buys a cup of coffee, and makes herself comfortable in one of the conversation nooks. Sometimes she stays two or three hours.”
“With her social calendar, I am surprised she has time to spend reading and drinking coffee.”
“She told Betty that she is taking a break from all of her social obligations. She has a sister in Utah she hasn’t seen in ten years. She plans to fly out for Thanksgiving and stay until after Christmas. It’s an easy out for her. When it comes visiting family, people don’t ask too many questions.”
“Interesting. Are Martin and Chip going with her?”
“As an acquaintance, I didn’t feel that it was my place to question her, but she did say that Martin didn’t like to travel.
“How do you know her?”
“She came to one of my church’s dinners with a friend. My contribution to the dinner that evening was my chocolate cherry cake. After dinner Gretchen sought me out and raved about the cake. When I saw her today, she claimed that it was the best piece of cake she had ever been served.”
“Aunt Polly, you are an answer to prayers. How do you feel about baking a cake for Gretchen? Are you willing to share your recipe with her for a good cause?”
Polly’s eyes widened. “Joanna Avery, what do you have up your sleeve.”
Joanna preceded to share Alex’s plan with her aunt.