The Cottage on Grasshopper Lane by Catherine Jones

CHAPTER ONE

“Happy Birthday!”

Stephanie stared blankly at the cheerful girl who was working at the drive through window. She was holding out Stephanie’s order, an obnoxiously extra-large iced coffee that was teetering in the girl’s hand.

“Uh, it’s on your rewards card, that’s how we know,” the girl said after an awkward silence.

Stephanie grabbed the iced coffee and placed it in the cup holder next to her seat, ripping the paper cover off of the straw with her mouth and aggressively pushing it into the top of the lid, some of the cold liquid coming out and running down the sides of the cup.

“Anyway, you get a free cup of munchkins, and you’re automatically entered in our giveaway! Enjoy your birthday!”

“Thanks,” Stephanie replied in a monotone voice, forcing a smile while she pushed her dark sunglasses up on her nose and accepted the plastic cup full of the small, round donut holes from the girl.

Her birthday. She was fifty today. Whoopie.

She pulled away from the drive through window slowly, tears starting to roll down her cheeks as she exited the parking lot onto the main road and began the last leg of her drive. The large sign off to the side of the road that had once made her so excited now filled her with sadness, it was like a dark cloud rolling in on a perfectly sunny day. She avoided looking at it for as long as she could, as if it were a horrible traffic accident, and then glanced over just prior to passing it.

Welcome to Whispering Cove, Maine’s most beautiful secret!

Leaning over so she could reach the cup full of munchkins, she awkwardly pulled the plastic lid off with one hand and stuffed two of the cakelike donut holes in her mouth at the same time.

Whispering Cove.

For twenty-five years it had been her favorite place on Earth, a place where she had nothing but great memories. The beach, the shops, the food, the friends, so many wonderful memories had been made there.

The small town was a hidden gem along the coast of Maine, one that hadn’t been commercialized like many of the others had. There were strict bylaws that had kept it from changing much over the decades. No new construction was allowed, aside from replacing structures that had burned to the ground or been deemed dangerous. Unlike other towns, where buyers would purchase a piece of old property, knock it down, and build a new home, in Whispering Cove they could only enhance the original beauty of the existing house. This had limited the ability for hotels to be built, and because of that the town wasn’t as popular as others along the Maine coast, but it was still full of people every summer. Renting a house was what most vacationers did, or, if they were lucky, they were able to get a reservation at the one inn that the town had.

As she approached what was considered the center of town, nicknamed the square, she stopped the car, allowing a group of people to cross the road from the Ocean’s View Inn to the beach. The Oceans View was one of Stephanie’s favorites places to stay, a large Victorian style house that had operated as an inn for decades offering great ocean views, attentive owners, beautiful rooms, and an emerald green manicured front lawn with white Adirondack chairs that allowed for hours of great people watching.

She beeped her horn, lifting her hand up to wave to Stu Miller, the owner of the Ocean’s View. Stu had grown up in town and his inn was open year-round, which typically meant that it was often full-on holiday weekends over the off season and did its fair share of daily bookings during the Fall as well. Stephanie and Scott had stayed at the inn at least once a year over the winter and had gotten to know Stu and his sister, Bev. A pang of sadness started to sweep over her as she thought of the room that she and Scott had shared at the inn, the same one every year, a large ocean side suite with a fireplace. Bev was a Chef and would always cook them a rack of lamb when they went and the two would enjoy the meal with a bottle of red wine, enjoying conversation with Stu and Bev and any guests that might be there as well, and then eventually retreating to their room to enjoy relaxing in the giant soaking tub.

The car behind her beeped their horn and she pressed on the gas pedal slowly, creeping along the road. The half mile stretch of road consisted of the beach on one side and a variety of shops on the other, from souvenirs to beach toy rentals. Across from the end of the beach was where one could either continue straight, heading North towards the next town, or take a left into the square, where the one-way road led to more shops and restaurants as well as a parking lot.

The shops all resembled small cottages, many had front porches with rocking or Adirondack chairs, and each cottage was painted a different color, from vibrant red to weathered gray. It was a favorite spot for day tripping tourists, which was why most of the shops were only open during the warm weather. No one wanted to trudge through three feet of snow to shop.

She slowed down as she approached the street, pushing her large, black sunglasses up onto her head and taking a deep breath. Flicking her signal to turn right she slowly pulled onto Grasshopper Lane and drove past the first two houses on the left before pulling into the familiar double wide short driveway and sat in silence, staring at the house beside her for several minutes before shutting the car engine off.

It had taken her a little over two hours to drive from her house in the New Hampshire suburbs to the small coastal town of Whispering Cove, Maine, but it had seemed more like minutes. Driving always took her mind off of things, and more than once she had considered continuing north on the highway instead of taking the exit to Maine. Would it be so bad if she drove all the way to Canada? Would anyone even notice if she didn’t show up in Maine?

As she looked over at the house nothing had changed since she had been there last summer, not that she had expected it to. The tan colored paint had peeled off in a few areas, the result of the salt in the air from the frequent ocean breeze. The Spencer’s, who owned the house, always talked about installing vinyl siding so that they didn’t have to get it painted as often as they did, but that never happened.

The small front lawn was spotty, with patches of brown and green grass, the white birch tree that stood in the middle of it had sprouted it’s leaves after the frigid winter and stood tall, casting a bit of shade over the wildflowers that ran along the edge of the property.

The hedges that ran along the front of the house were unruly, the tops of them scraggly and creeping up over the bottom of the large windows that lined the front of the house. Stephanie groaned as she realized that trimming them for the summer would be her responsibility now. She didn’t have much of a green thumb and the one time that she had used a pair of hedge trimmers the result had been disastrous. Her husband Scott had laughed at her when he had seen what she did, pulling up their driveway and yelling, “Don’t quit your day job!” out of his window, making her laugh. She smiled as she remembered that the two of them had stood and looked at the crooked hedges while they drank an ice-cold beer, several of their neighbors eventually joining them for an impromptu cookout in the backyard. She had so many happy memories of a failed marriage, how was that even possible?

Sighing heavily, she reluctantly opened the car door and got out, stretching her stiff back before she reached inside for her iced coffee and purse. She walked around the large SUV to the rear and opened it up, removing her suitcases, and then lugged everything up the short walkway to the front door.

Standing on her tip toes, she reached her arm up along the top of the doorway and found the key to the front door resting on the top of the wooden door frame in its usual spot. The housekeeper cleaned the day before their arrival every year and left the key in the same spot, despite Stephanie suggesting leaving it under the door mat. She always worried that it would fall before they arrived, and they would have to break into the house.

She pulled open the storm door and then took a deep breath before placing the key in the front door lock, turning it slowly and pushing the door open cautiously, as if all of the memories that she had there would come flying out at her. They didn’t, of course. She stepped inside and looked around, the familiarity of the home calming her anxiety a bit, which was unexpected as she had assumed it would do the exact opposite and she would have yet another crying session.

Bob and Carol Spencer, the owners, had referred to the home as a cottage in the ad the first year that Stephanie and Scott had rented it, and Stephanie had been pleasantly surprised when the small cottage that she had envisioned turned out to be a two-level house. It was a cape style with a twist, there were no dormers on the second floor, they had been replaced by skylights as the living room had a cathedral ceiling.

The interior had been renovated just prior to the Spencer’s deciding to rent the house out, they had knocked the wall down that separated the living room from the kitchen and created a large archway instead, opening up that part of the house. There was also a main bedroom on the first floor, along with a half bath that had a washer and dryer in it. A large, wide staircase in the back of the house led to the upstairs level, which had two bedrooms, a large bathroom, and another living room that had a queen sleeper sofa in it.

The Spencer’s lived in Brookline, an affluent suburb close to Boston, and had fallen in love with Whispering Cove when visiting friends one summer. They had built the house there for summer vacations, Mrs. Spencer and their two children would spend the summers there while Mr. Spencer came for long weekends. Their plan had been to summer there and spend winters in Florida when Mr. Spencer, a prominent lawyer in Boston, retired, and with their kids starting to get married they had renovated to make more space for them. Mrs. Spencer had told Stephanie that her dream was to have her grandkids running around the house, to watch them play on the beach and enjoy the laid-back life there as she had been able to. Unfortunately, that hadn’t happened as her kids all moved out of state, and her own mother became ill towards the end of the renovation. They had made the decision to rent out the house, or cottage as they still called it, assuming it would just be for that one summer. Of course, it had now been twenty-five summers.

Stephanie and Scott had started out renting the house for just one week on a whim and had fallen in love with the small town. They slowly added on a week as Scott’s salary had increased at work, eventually renting the house from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Although Scott couldn’t be there during the week as he had to work, Stephanie and the kids stayed there all summer and he often arrive on Friday afternoon and left Monday morning. They were the Spencer’s favorite renters, always letting them have their choice of weeks that they wanted to rent until they were able to rent for the whole summer, and they even exchanged Christmas cards every year. Since then, Mr. Spencer had retired, and they had moved to Florida ten years ago where they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Leaving the screen door open so that the light breeze could flow through the house, she stepped through the living room, pausing to place her iced coffee on a coaster on the end table, and turned right, walking down the short hallway to the master bedroom to drop her luggage off. Walking straight ahead past the half bathroom that led to the garage she turned and proceeded up the wide set of stairs to the second floor. After opening one of the crank out casement windows in the living room up there she peeked into each bedroom and then the bathroom before going back downstairs. Reaching for her drink she took a sip and walked through the rounded archway into the kitchen, placing the drink down on the kitchen island.

The house was always immaculate, the result of a weekly house cleaner who came during the off season even though the home wasn’t used during the winter. The interior of the house was a bit outdated, with its pale blue, low pile carpeting, blue and white vinyl kitchen floor, and matching laminated countertops.

The kitchen was good sized, with an island that could seat five and plenty of countertop space. Behind the island was a dining room table, which was rarely used as there was a slider in the room that led to a massive deck that ran the entire length of the house and had a large patio set, chairs, and a gas grill on it.

The living room, Stephanie’s favorite part of the house, was cozy and natural light poured in through the large windows that ran the entire length of it, as well as through the skylights that had been installed during the renovation. The light blue fabric sectional couch had seen better days, but it was comfortable, and Stephanie loved to sit on it and people watch, as the street was often busy with walkers due to its proximity to the beach and shops.

Grasshopper Lane had twelve houses on it and was an L shaped road, with the end of the street abutting a large, popular seasonal cabin area. The guests from there often used Grasshopper Lane as a shortcut to walk to the beach and town center instead of walking along the main road the entire way, which none of the street’s residents cared about as without that foot traffic the street was eerily quiet.

Stephanie didn’t feel as sad as she thought she would, although it was a strange feeling to be there alone. In previous years, by now her two kids, daughter Alex and son Ryan, would be out the door to go see the summer friends they had met over the years, and her husband Scott would be puttering around in the yard or out on the deck while she put everything away.

She walked back out to her car and took out two large tote bags that she had filled with food, mostly non-perishables, as she would do her grocery shopping there later. She hadn’t wanted to pack the giant cooler they had to keep things cold like she had done in past years, what was the point? She didn’t need such a big cooler for the beach and there wasn’t going to be half as much food this year since it was just her staying there.

Mrs. Spencer always had the cleaning woman leave a few items for them in the fridge, bottled water, butter, milk, juices, and a six pack of beer. Stephanie stared at the items, her heart growing heavy. Every year she and the kids would all have a good laugh over the six pack of juices that were left, as if the kids were still toddlers.

This year she wasn’t laughing.

Sadness slowly crept into her heart, an overwhelming feeling of loss and loneliness. She stood in the kitchen, looking out the window above the sink into the backyard, watching a cardinal teetering on a thin tree branch.

“Hello?”

Stephanie dabbed at her eyes and stiffened up when she heard the familiar voice coming from the front door.

“Come on in,” she yelled out, wanting nothing more than to run into one of the bedrooms and hide.

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” Sue Walsh yelled cheerily, walking into the kitchen with a bunch of brightly colored balloons and one extra-large black one that had “Fifty and Fabulous” written in gold on it, along with a large gift bag. She placed the bag on the kitchen island and proceeded to tie the balloons onto one of the chairs.

Stephanie forced a smile as she looked at Sue. Dressed in khaki shorts and a white tank top, with white sneakers and black designer sunglasses perched on top of her short blonde hair she fit in perfectly in the relaxed beach town.

“Thanks,” Stephanie said, hoping that she wouldn’t start to cry again. She had never been big on birthdays, at least not her own. This year was different. She was turning fifty, and her in-laws had hinted to her about throwing her a surprise party. She had actually started to look forward to it, she was always the one in the family who planned all of the parties and get togethers. It would be nice to have one special day where everyone else doted on her. After all, you only turn fifty once.

Both of her kids had called her to wish her a happy birthday early that morning, and she had cried each time. Then she had cried at the drive through when it had been mentioned. Was she going to spend all day crying anytime someone mentioned that it was her birthday?

“Where’s the crew?” Sue asked, looking around. “I texted and called you a few times, but I know things are always hectic the weeks before you leave to come here. Brad’s only up so he can see Scott this weekend, he’s been a royal pain in the neck so far. Thank God Scott can take him off my hands now.”

“Scott’s not here,” Stephanie said softly, her head starting to throb.

“Oh. Stuck at work, huh? When will he be here? Are the kids with him or did they want to drive their own cars here? Or did they already high tail it down to the beach? Ashley’s at work, it’s a nice day for…”

“Scott and I are getting a divorce,” Stephanie blurted out, unable to listen to any more of Sue’s questions.

Sue’s eyes opened wide, and she raised her hands to her head, inadvertently knocking her sunglasses off.

“Stephanie! What? When? I don’t know even know what to say. Oh my gosh.”

Stephanie stood in silence, eventually moving to the refrigerator after several seconds and opening it up. She pulled out a beer, twisting the cap off and taking a big chug before speaking.

“Do you want one?” she asked Sue.

“It’s only eleven,” Sue replied nervously.

Stephanie shrugged and shut the refrigerator door, taking a seat at the end of the kitchen island.

“What happened?” Sue asked, her eyes wide open. “You guys always seemed so happy, I don’t understand.”

“Join the club,” Stephanie mumbled, taking another swig of the beer. She didn’t normally drink beer, but that seemed more acceptable to drink at eleven in the morning than her usual beverage of choice, a vodka tonic.

“Steph, why didn’t you call me? This must be so hard for you.”

Stephanie shrugged and picked at the label on the beer with her fingernail.

She had realized shortly after she started to tell her friends about Scott leaving her that they weren’t the most supportive people. In fact, most of them had told her that they didn’t want to take sides or be involved. She hadn’t asked anyone to be involved or to take a side, all she had needed were a few shoulders to cry on.

The fact that she and Scott had been together for twenty-five years, twenty- eight total, and that all of their close friends were friends with both of them, was the problem. She had built her friend group as a couple, and while she had made many friends with the kid’s schoolmate’s parents, the reality was that they were acquaintances, people that she sat with at games and helped plan fundraisers and team dinners. Those friendships had drifted away when the kids had graduated from High School.

She didn’t have any family, both of her parents had passed away years ago, and she was an only child. Scott’s family had become her family, she had been extremely close with them, or so she had thought. Even their neighbors, people that she had known for decades and considered good friends, had all turned their backs on her.

“I just don’t want to get anyone involved in the drama. I’m fine, really,” she replied, taking another sip of her beer.

Sue eyeballed the beer and then looked Stephanie in the eyes.

“I’ve known you for twenty years, and I haven’t ever seen you drink alcohol before noon unless it was a mimosa for a special event. I know Scott and Brad are friends, but that has nothing to do with our friendship. If you need to talk about what’s going on, I’m here for you, okay? I won’t talk to Brad about it, I promise.”

Stephanie felt the warm tears running down her face and wiped them away as Sue stood up and walked over to her, holding her arms out and wrapping her in a hug.

“Oh Sue, it’s all been such a mess,” Stephanie croaked, stepping back, and wiping her face again. She had cried so much that day already that she wasn’t quite sure how there were any tears left.

“Tell me from the start. First, grab me a beer, too. Something tells me I’m going to need it.”

Stephanie took a beer from the refrigerator and slid it across the island to Sue and then sat down next to her.

“Well, we were at home one night, having drinks after dinner. I had made a nice pot roast and baked some bread in the bread maker Alex had bought me for Christmas. I had just finished cleaning everything up and was searching for a movie for us to watch and he said he had to tell me something. And, that something was that he had fallen in love with someone else.”

“What!” Sue gasped, her jaw dropping.

Stephanie nodded her head yes as she took another swig of beer. “He then went on to tell me how happy he was with her, and that he wanted a divorce, and he said that I would be happier too. Except I wasn’t unhappy and didn’t know that he was or had been. I really thought we had a great marriage. I thought…I thought we were fine. I thought he was on track to retire in five years, and that we were going to be spending our golden years together like we had planned.”

“I…I don’t even know what to say Steph. But I guess this answers why he didn’t reply to my texts about throwing you a birthday party up here. It sounds like he was cold about it, too, that he wasn’t emotional or crying, I mean. That’s just terribly insensitive.”

“Yeah, you could say that. He packed most of his clothes up and left that night, leaving me alone sobbing hysterically while he checked into a suite at the Marriott.”

“How long ago was this? Do the kids know?”

“It’s been three months and yes, I told the kids. I had to tell them the next day, because no matter how hard I tried to pull myself together I just couldn’t. They didn’t take it too well, although they’re both older so there’s no issues with custody or things like that. And I told them that they should talk to Scott, I don’t want to speak for him. I haven’t said a bad word about him to them which is killing me, but I refuse to be one of those bitter ex-wives who spews hatred to their children about their father. They’re old enough to make up their own minds.”

“It’s the right thing to do, not to say anything bad about him to the kids. Even if he is a jerk. Do you have an attorney?”

“No.”

“Steph! Why not? Are you thinking that he’s going to change his mind?”

“At first I did. He had just turned fifty, and it all seemed so cliché, you know, it’s textbook mid-life crisis type stuff. She works at his company and she’s only twenty-five. He’d lost some weight and started wearing trendy clothes, like those ridiculous skinny jeans. I really thought that he would come to his senses and realize that he was walking away from his family. But nothing’s changed. In fact, as of last month they live together. Anyway, he asked if we could use a mediator for the divorce, that there was no need to pay lawyers and for it to get messy.”

“Easy for him to say,” Sue said rolling her eyes.

“He’s being reasonable with the financial aspect of it. At least I think he is. We will split everything equally, the house, the bank accounts. We’ll each keep our own cars. We don’t have any debt aside from the mortgage, which is almost paid off. So, I think it’s fair.”

“Steph, what about alimony? And a retirement account?”

Stephanie frowned.

“I don’t want alimony, I plan on working full time. The only reason I stopped working years ago was because of Scott and the kids. I’ve kept my license active and worked a few open houses here and there over the past few years to help other agents out. I hadn’t thought about the retirement money, but I’m sure he will split it with me.”

“Steph, I know you can eventually support yourself. But you also have to realize that you left your career right as it started, and then you didn’t work for a long time, and then when you went back you did it part time. All so you could be the one who took care of the kids, driving them all over the place and volunteering at their schools, hosting all of those dinners for the sports teams they were on, dealing with their schoolwork and playdates and all of that. You didn’t get to contribute to a retirement account all of those years, but Scott did. So, what if he gets to keep it all and you have to start over at age fifty? And what about medical insurance? You can’t not have insurance, and neither can the kids, if they’re still under his plan. It is incredibly expensive. And do you plan on selling the house? That’s a lot for a single person to live in and maintain.”

Stephanie sighed heavily. She knew that Sue was right, she just hated to even have to think about hiring a lawyer. She just wanted the divorce to be over with already, every day was like a nightmare no matter how positive she tried to be. It was too overwhelming for her to deal with, and now she felt foolish for not even thinking about things like insurance or where she was going to live.

“You’re right. I’m just having a tough time mentally with it. That it’s over, I mean. That I spent twenty-five years married to someone, and he walked away one day for good showing no emotion, no remorse. And I’d like to think that he will do the right thing, that he will split all of the assets equally with me and keep us all on his medical insurance, but the truth is if he can just leave us one day then I guess he doesn’t know what the right thing is.”

“You don’t deserve to be so hurt, and you’ve also got to make sure you’re covered in the divorce. It’s the lawyer’s job to make sure all of your bases are covered. I have a great contact for a divorce attorney, my neighbor in Boston used him last year. He’s based out of Boston, but I’m sure he can give me the name of someone in his firm that’s licensed in New Hampshire. I’ll get it for you.” Sue picked up her phone and started to type.

“Thanks,” Stephanie said softly. She was grateful that Sue hadn’t been negative like her other friends that she had tried to talk to, the comments about having to start life over at her age, how they had heard that dating was a nightmare, how Stephanie would have to walk away from her beautiful house and live in a horrible, small apartment. All they had done was push her into a hole of sadness and negativity. It was bad enough having your husband leave you, learning that the people you thought were your good friends being so negative was just the cherry on the sour sundae that she had been served.

Sue reached for the pad of post it notes on the island and scribbled something down as she looked at her phone.

“Okay, the lawyers name is Lynn Rowe, she’s located in Concord. You set the appointment up and I’ll take the drive with you when you go.”

Stephanie looked down at the neon pink Post it note, nodding her head in agreement that she would call. “I’ll call later on.”

“Steph…”

“I promise,” she replied firmly. She knew that Sue was trying to help, and Sue knew her well enough to know that the longer Stephanie didn’t make the call the less likely it was to happen. She just needed a break from thinking of the divorce. It was all that she had thought about every day since Scott had left. She had dreaded coming to Whispering Cove, assuming that all of the memories that had taken place in that house would drain her mentally, but instead she actually felt good, she had a small glimmer of hope for a great summer. Making the call now would only mean talking about and getting prepared for the meeting.

“I’m sorry, it’s just that I want to relax. I just want a few hours where I’m not focusing on the divorce, and as soon as I make that call, I will be on edge until the actual meeting.”

“Okay. I won’t ask again, at least not today,” Sue teased. “Speaking of relaxing, this year everyone’s up here already. I was going to kick off the first Summer Girls weekly get together at my place tonight. You’ll come, right?”

Stephanie smiled at the mention of the Summer Girls. She hadn’t left her house in months aside from running errands, and the Summer Girls were always a fun crew.

“Count me in.”

◆◆◆

Sue walked across the street to her house, jumping when the screen door slammed shut behind her. It had needed to be fixed since last summer, but Brad hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Just as he hadn’t gotten around to telling Sue about Stephanie and Scott’s divorce. Brad and Scott had become friends over the years and kept in touch during the off season, mostly about sports, but Sue couldn’t imagine that Scott wouldn’t have told Brad what was going on with the marriage. The fact that he had abruptly decided to go to the store when she said that Stephanie had arrived was all she needed to know that he was well aware of the situation between Scott and Steph.

She picked up her cellphone to call him, hanging up when her house phone rang.

“Hello?” she asked, knowing that it most likely was a sales call. Hardly anyone called the house phone anymore, they all called the cell phones.

“Susan? It’s dad. Where are you?”

Sue slumped down as she heard her father’s confused voice on the other end of the phone.

“Dad, I’m in Maine at the house. We talked about this, remember?”

There was a long silence, followed by the sound of the phone being dropped.

“Dad? DAD!” she yelled into the phone, worried that something had happened to him. She envisioned him falling down, the phone tumbling across the floor.

“Yes? Why are you screaming at me?” her father asked.

“Dad, is Abbie there?”

“You’re in Maine? When will you be home? We could go out to dinner maybe if you aren’t home too late. We could go to Café Tresco.”

Sue bit her lip, trying not to snap at her dad. Since her mother had passed away a few years earlier his health had slowly declined, more so mentally, and recently his doctors had suggested that Sue consider placing him in an assisted living facility, where he would still have his freedom but also have onsite supervision and care if needed. Her parents had lived in the same house, the one that she had grown up in, for sixty years and her father didn’t want to leave it, and she didn’t blame him. She would not force her father to leave that house, so she had researched what options were available for having a helper come to his house a few days a week and had found a young woman, Abbie, who had been a godsend. Sue spent as much time as she could with him as well but couldn’t be there twenty-four hours a day, and Abbie was a nurse’s assistant who had a lot of experience with situations like this.

“Dad, Café Tresco closed twenty years ago. Could you let me talk to Abbie please?”

She heard Abbie’s voice in the background and let out a sigh of relief.

“Hello?” Abbie’s voice asked.

“Hi Abbie, it’s Sue. My dad called me. Is he having a bad day?” Whenever her dad was confused Sue called it a bad day, which somehow sounded better than asking if he was losing his mind.

“Hi Sue, I’m sorry. Yes, he’s been a bit mischievous today. So far, he’s tried to drive into town, make brownies from scratch and then he emptied the beads from the large glass vase in the living room into the sink because he thought they were ice cubes. I was cleaning that up when he called you.”

“I’m sorry Abbie. Maybe I should come home for a while,” Sue said softly, feeling guilty for leaving her dad.

“No need to apologize, that’s what I am here for. He’s fine, I’m going to take him on a long walk soon and that should tire him out. You don’t need to come here, Sue. He’s in good hands, and this is common. Don’t worry, okay?”

“Okay. I appreciate your help Abbie, and he does love his walks. Thanks, and please call me if he needs anything.”

She hung up the phone, pausing for a minute before picking up a towel that her daughter, Ashley, had left lying on the back of the couch, making a face when she felt that it was still wet. Walking down the hallway to the bathroom she opened the hamper to toss the towel in, frowning when she saw that it was already full. Sighing loudly, she lifted the hamper up and carried it down the hall to the washer and dryer, a small stackable unit that was stuffed into a closet in the half bath on the other side of the kitchen.

She could feel anxiety start to sweep over her like a blanket. The kitchen was still a mess from breakfast, Ashley had wanted bacon and eggs and her co-workers Robin and Finn had shown up, so of course Sue had made them all breakfast as well. Despite the fact that she was twenty-two, Sue doted on Ashley. She was her only child, and odds were that this would be the last full summer that Ashley spent in Maine as she would be starting a full-time job in September. She was a lifeguard at the town beach for the summer, a job that she had wanted to do since she had been a toddler, and this would be her final year. It was bittersweet for both of them.

Brad wasn’t happy that Ashley was spending her summer being a lifeguard, he had expected her to work in Boston since she had just graduated from college. Her degree was in Marketing Communications, and Brad had a friend who offered her an unpaid summer internship which, to Ashley, was no comparison to her lifeguard gig. This had resulted in a huge fight between the two, of course, and Sue had to referee it as always. She was frustrated with the two of them, they were well aware that her stress level was already high from her father’s declining memory.

With the dirty laundry in the washing machine, she stepped into the spare bedroom, relief immediately washing over her as she surveyed all of the crafting items that she had, each of them in a specific area of the room. She sat down at the long folding table and pulled out several feet of black and white plaid fabric from a roll and then began to wrap it around the wreath that she had started to make earlier that week.

“Did you call me?” Brad appeared in the doorway, a baseball cap on his head. He had started to lose his hair and wore that hat as much as he could when he wasn’t at work. Sue didn’t mind that he was balding, he was still as good looking to her as the first time they had met years ago. His amber eyes reminded her of jewels and his neatly trimmed black beard had sucked her in.

“Yes. I had to hang up because my dad called,” she replied, waiting for him to ask how her father was.

“Sue, what is it with all of this junk?” he asked irritably, making a face as he looked around the room.

“Is that a serious question, Brad? And why didn’t you tell me about Scott and Steph getting divorced?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugged, his T-shirt lifting up a bit on his large frame. “I figured she would have told you. I only found out a month or so ago.”

Sue stared at him angrily as she tightened the fabric around the wreath.

“Well, you knew that I was trying to plan a surprise fiftieth for her, so it probably would have been a good idea to mention to me that her husband left her for someone the same age as their son. I mean, come on Brad.”

Instead of replying to her he turned around and disappeared down the hallway, avoiding the argument that he most likely knew was bound to happen if the discussion went any further.

She went back to working on the wreath, plugging in her glue gun, and clicking the TV on for background noise. She was glad that, after years of putting it off, she had started to work on her crafting again.

It helped her escape, and lately that was exactly what she needed.