Though it rarely stuck here in the south, Margo noticed that a light snow was fluttering in the air on the quiet streets of Seneca, a small town in South Carolina. Her hair swirled lightly around her face, causing her to toss it back over her shoulder. Her smile was slight, marveling at the serenity of the scene before her.
Here among strangers, she had made her new life, where people called her by name and no one knew her past, a past she so desperately tried to forget. She stopped at the little cafe next to the antique shop across from her store. One of the sidewalk tables already held Roy and Arnold Miller, seventy-something retired teachers, twins, and local historians. They would often debate local scandals heated sometimes, then burst into amiable laughter and buy each other lunch.
They took a moment away from their morning game of checkers to nod in Margo’s direction. She stopped and smiled at them, bracing herself for their daily diatribe.
“So when you gonna get Tom Clancy in that little store of yours Margo,” Roy asked her, his brown eyes twinkling with mischief.
“’Bout a month after Grisham has a number one romance on the shelves. Who could handle those kinds of crowds?”
“I’d play bouncer for you pretty lady,” Arnie said, adding in his two cents worth.
This sent Roy into recanting a story about their old military days and with his attention momentarily diverted, Arnie moved his checker to the back row exclaiming, “King me,” sufficiently stopping his brother’s reverie.
“You cheated,” Roy accused, his story forgotten, staring at the board before him in bewilderment.
Chuckling Margo left them with their banter for the different din of the busy coffee shop.
The owner of the antique shop stood in front of the large display case licking her lips sub-consciously over the pastry items. She looked up somewhat guiltily, and smiled in her direction, prompting Margo to acknowledge her.
“Morning Gail, how are you this morning?”
“Better than I deserve,” she said, continuing to smile, “Hey, stop by my shop before you open, Margo, I have something you are just going to love!”
“Oh?” Margo raised an eyebrow in question toward the woman, and reached for her coffee, already fixed the way she liked.
“Just come on by when you’re done here,” Gail abandoned her idea of a pastry treat and picked up the bottle of water she had set on the counter.
“Another diet Gail?”
“Another attempt at any rate. Hate to see these old friends go,” she said, patting her thighs lovingly, “but a girl needs to look her best at forty.” She walked out the door, the bell above jingling merrily as if to say goodbye.
Margo smiled at the thought of Gail’s being anywhere near forty. Gail was fifty if she was a day, but there was a lot to the older woman that did not add up, and Margo had never taken the time to dwell on the details. They each ran their businesses, resided in the small town and enjoyed the anonymity among the tourists. She turned her attention to the pretty attendant at the counter and added a whole wheat and carrot muffin along with her coffee. She reached forward to pay the girl behind the counter, who handed her a semi crumpled life section of the newspaper.
“I saved it for you Miss Margo, “she said, “Supposed to be a good crossword today.”
“Thank you Katie,” Margo smiled and turned to exit the shop. A couple of tourists came through the door looking for warmth at one of the tiny tables inside the cafe. The day had begun as usual.
An automated dinging rang when Margo opened the door to Gail’s shop, “A Time Forgotten“. Gail looked up from her computer and rose to greet her. She reached forward to put her coffee and bag on the counter and took her arm, leading her toward the back of the store.
“I saw this come in and just knew you’d want it. It will fit in right nicely with your little ritual I’d expect.”
The ritual was simple. Every year for the past eight years, since she had arrived in Seneca, Margo bought a present for Lexie, the daughter that she had not seen since the day after she was born. She would give each gift to Nikki and in turn Nikki mailed them to Lexie, along with a quote from a poem or an inspirational saying. It was important that she got the gifts on her birthday. A few weeks later she would send off an ornament for Christmas, along with some sort of figurine. She wanted her daughter to have a bit of her at the two most important times in her life. Christmas, that magical time when wishes came true, no matter what, and her birthday, when dreams were allowed to flourish in the mind of a young girl.
Margo hoped with all her heart that both Larson and Lexie knew the gifts were from her, and that Lexie treasured each one as Margo had when she’d chosen them. It was a way for her to stay a part of her daughter’s life, even though she had not seen her since she was a day old.
Margo turned her attention to the display table on the edge of the long counter in the back of the store. On it, in a box, still full of packing paper and Styrofoam peanuts, was an ebony and silver music box in the shape of a carousel. Four brightly painted miniature horses seemed poised to dance in a circle at any moment. The whole piece was barely eight inches square. Gail took it out of the box gently and pushed a button on the base. The horses began to rise up and down, rotating in a circle, the tune “Always on My Mind” playing melodically.
“What do you think?” Gail asked, a knowing smile on her plump face.
Tears sprung to Margo’s eye as she watched the tiny horses circle their silver pole, and nodded in agreement.
“Perfect,” she managed. She fingered the delicate edge of the canopy to try to shrug off the unsettling display of emotion.
“I’ll have it ready for you by the end of the week. We can take care of the paperwork then. Want me to wrap it like last year?”
“That’s not necessary; I kind of want to take care of this one myself. Nevertheless, thank you so much for keeping such a careful eye out this year. Come over later if you want, I‘m discounting those Kasey Michaels romances you like so much.” Margo took a few steps backward and collected her things before turning to exit the little shop. Outside on the sidewalk she hoped she did not look as stricken as she felt. Taking a deep breath, she crossed the street to her own shop, pulling out her keys. She walked slowly, willing her heart rate and her emotions to subside.
The bell above the door rang softly when Margo slipped her key into the door and unlocked her little bookshop. The cool interior met her and the silence seemed deafening. It was what met her every day. That quiet part of each morning when she reflected on the courses her life had taken. If she had not succumbed to her grandfather’s wishes, where would she be? Would she and Larson have had more children? What kind of woman would her daughter have grown into if she had been a part of it? She allowed herself a few moments each day for “what ifs” then settled into her daily routine. She set her coffee on the counter in front of her shop and went to hang her coat and purse in her office. A picture of Larson and Margo taken on their weekend at Tybee Island after their marriage was on her desk. She lovingly caressed the silver plated frame that showed Margo laughing, her head thrown back, and Larson’s arm around her, his face full of laughter and love.
If a magic lamp came into her possession, she would gladly give up two of the mythical wishes. Her only wish was to have that weekend at the beach back, where she could have warned Larson about her grandfather. Papa had told her to enjoy her short-lived fantasy, for in a years’ time she would be alone, with only her family to comfort her. Senor Grenaldi was adamant that the only source of true happiness and success was the family. His family.
If she had told Larson the extent of power and strength her grandfather possessed maybe the resulting heartache at her departure would not have been so hard felt. She knew everything that had gone on the first few weeks after she had left. She had cried continuously and begged her parents to let her return. Christmas came and found Margo in such a deep depression her parents were worried. Weeks passed, then months and she made no effort to move about or get on with her life. She just went through the motions; eating, dressing, and sleeping.
Then one morning, sitting on the veranda outside her room she saw a picture in the paper of Larson in front of the courthouse holding a press conference. He was the defense attorney for an up and coming business mogul accused of murdering his father-in-law. For weeks, Margo followed the case, hungrily scanning the papers and watching every clip on television. She felt as if she was there, in the courtroom, each day, watching her beloved doing what he wanted. When the jury acquitted after a brief deliberation it became apparent to her that what her grandfather had done literally did provide for her young family. Larson was on a few morning talk shows, interviewed by Larry King on CNN, and it was clear that the young upstart attorney, single father to a beautiful baby girl, was someone to watch. It was then Margo made her decision to stay out of their lives, but to rid herself of her family as well. If she could not have the family she wanted, she vowed, she would have no one.
The only person from her past that she saw and spoke to regularly was Nikki. Nikki had been her college roommate. It was through Nikki that Margo had met her brother Larson. Nikki knew where she lived, visited when she could and supplied her with pictures and videos of the ever growing and maturing Lexie.
Margo shook her head to stop the flood of memories playing. The past was where it belonged, and she had work to do. She stepped quickly to the back of her shop, put on the latest CD collection from Yanni, and made a pot of chamomile tea for her reading group that was coming in around 11:00 A.M. They were going to discuss a new James Patterson novel, and it was going to get hectic.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Larson was going to be late.
It was inevitable that his daughter would spend the better part of the early morning fixing her hair when he was due in court at 10 am. He had to get her to school, stop at the office to get a forgotten file for a deposition he had that afternoon, after the judge dismissed his current case. The judge would dismiss when he saw that the flimsy evidence that the prosecution had was not going to be admissible. Nonetheless, he had to show up, and Judge Malloy was not one you wanted to keep waiting.
Frustrated, he walked back to the stairway that entered the kitchen and called once again, “Lexie! Are you trying to make me crazy?”
The pint-sized peanut that could beat a linebacker into shape given the chance answered in a pixie like voice as she descended the stairway.
“Lighten up Dad; we’ve got oodles of time!”
“Oodles,” he repeated, looking at his watch a third time, shaking his head. “Four years of private school in New York and ‘oodles’ is the best narrative you can come up with?”
Lexie giggled and gracefully browsed by the refrigerator, pausing to take out a yogurt and a string cheese package. She sat down on a stool in front of the marble counter-top in the dining area and fiddled with the plastic cheese covering. “Begging your pardon, Father,” she said, in a slightly exaggerated, proper English accent, “but you needn’t worry about the time. We have an extensive amount before us.”
Larson looked at his daughter with a raised eyebrow, his hair suddenly in his eyes. For a split second, he saw Margo, and his heart lurched inside. So much like her mother, he thought to himself, and she would probably never know it. He shook off the unwanted emotional burst and handed her a spoon.
“Snap to it regardless”
In the car a scant ten minutes later, Lexie started bombarding him with questions about when she could start driving.
‘Driving?’ A small, startling clutch of fear sprang into Larson’s throat making him nearly choke on the wheat and honey bagel he had most recently consumed. When it seemed like only yesterday that they had moved to Boston, Larson could hardly believe that that little girl that clung to his hand on the first day of school; ran into his arms when he’d pick her up from camp; bowed with her face beaming at her first recital at the tender age of 6; that little girl of his memory was talking about driving!?? Her voice snuck back through his head, interrupting his wistful memories, forcing him to pay attention.
“I have a chance to take driver’s education in school next semester; you just have to sign my slip. I’ll be sixteen!”
“We’ll see sweetie,” he said, his patent answer for conversations he was not ready to have with her. “Now do you need anything for after school?”
“Well, Courtney, Alissa and I are walking to the mall after track, so some money would be nice. Oh, and can you get Nigel to pick us up at the mall around six?”
Larson nodded as he pulled into the circular drive of the magnificent high school where her friends waited excitedly. He put the car in park and pulled his wallet from inside his jacket. He pulled out a fifty, thought for a moment, and pulled out his personal bank card as well, handing them both to her. “Keep it under $500.00 please,” he quipped, smiling when she leaned across for a hug. Slim, athletic, the picture of grace and beauty, she was every bit her mother. It did not seem to matter that her friends were waiting. She always said ‘I love you,’ and kissed him before they parted for the day.
“Want to do something special for dinner tonight?” Larson swallowed past the lump in his throat, forcing his lips into a smile.
“Food!” she laughed and kissed him on the cheek.
He watched her with a wistful smile. He looked at the dashboard clock and relaxed when he realized he would not be late after all.
He enjoyed the drive into the city. The four-lane highway did not seem to be as clogged with traffic as he made his way across the Mystic Tobin Bridge into the back bay area of Boston. Just outside the park, across from the famed Boston Commons, Larson pulled his Lexus into the multi car parking structure that had once been a bus station. Private parking now for the financial and business commuters of Boston, the structure sat adjacent to the John Hancock building, a huge glass structure so magnificent it seemed to end in the Heavens themselves. It was near the top of this beautiful building that his law offices called home. The lobby was like a small city, a few restaurants, a museum, a gift shop and gallery, elevators and an escalator. There was always some artist or another displaying their paintings or sculptures in the wings of the great tiled floors. People milled busily along the esplanade as though in perfect mesh to a symphony played in the background. If you stood on the balcony of one of the office suites in the top, and watched, it looked just that way. It was a happy and safe existence for someone who was successfully driven. For Larson, it only fueled his career, the only part of him aside from his daughter that was alive. Any romantic wishes, feelings or thoughts remained dormant as they had since the day his love, his true love, left him. She was in his heart, long since buried, but nonetheless there. Around him, women watched him, smiled, flirted and tried to gain his attention but none of them were of any interest to him. No one could claim that piece of his heart. He did not even bother to look.
He went about his business daily without knowledge of the real world. All that existed for him was Lexie, and his career. He had, with help from a small staff, managed to combine fatherhood with a successful law career. He had money, fame, prestige, and a happy teenager to show for his hard work. He was successful in every way that mattered, and that was all that concerned him. He knew he was a good-looking man. He was not naive about that, nor that he had become a virtual Poster Boy of the law world. Every magazine from New York to LA wanted to do articles about him, the successful “bachelor“. He was actually still legally married. He could never bring himself to file the papers that he had prepared so long ago. His heart was not ready to let go of a woman who gave him up so easily. So easily, that she simply walked away. For sixteen years, she had been gone, but the one thing that held him bound to her was the fanciful notion that those mysterious gifts were from her. Anyone that would take the time to purchase, prepare, wrap and send the perfect gift every year had compassion. Even, admittedly, love. They may be anonymous, but both he and Lexie felt they were from her. Well, Lexie knew, Larson just hoped. Lexie had since stopped sharing the gifts with him, somehow sensing his heart’s lurch as he studied the packaging for a sign of where she was. His heart, his love, was somewhere, and that kept him going when the loneliness got the better of him.