All she wanted was a little sun.

    If all the world was indeed a stage, then Mae Ames was the director, star, and prop-mistress. The plan for
    today’s scene was to portray an idyllic summer setting. A striking woman (who teased the edge of pretty
    when she tried), could be seen reading a book on the front lawn of a charming 1920s bungalow, bettering
    both her mind—and her tan.

    She’d started with just a book and a lawn chair. But once she got the chair positioned in the front yard, she
    quickly realized the June sun was hot and she needed her sunglasses, a straw hat, sunscreen, her pink Japanese
    fan, a glass of raspberry tea, and four Milano cookies on a plate. Never mind. Bring the bag.

    She was just settling in—realizing to be really comfy she should go get one of the toss pillows from the couch
    when she heard a familiar clearing of the throat. She didn't have to turn toward the porch. “You grunted,
    Mr. Husband?”

    “What are you doing out here?”

    She opened her paperback. “Reading a book.”

    “Looks like it would be easier sitting inside. Or on the porch swing.”

    “Easier, perhaps. But it’s a proven fact that books read better when accompanied by the proper
    accouterments.”

    “Want me to hire a neighbor kid to fan you with a palm leaf?”

    She fluttered her own fan. “No need. I have it covered.” She turned around to look at him. “Care to join me?”

    “Nah. I’m not sure the recliner would fit through the door and I’d want—” His eyes moved to look at a car that
    was driving toward them.

    Mae looked too. Then she popped out of her chair—or attempted to pop, as the lawn chair objected and tipped,
    forcing her to straddle it or put a foot through the webbing. Collier was halfway down the front walk when she
    finally got free of it, knocking over her tea. She tossed her hat toward the house like a Frisbee. It capped a
    mound of Black Eyed Susans. She ran toward the car. “Ringo! Soon-ja!”

    Ringo parked and Collier opened the door for their daughter-in-law, while Mae made a beeline for the backseat
    where the love of her life was seated backwards. She got him free of the car seat, pulling him to her shoulder.
    “Ricky, baby. How’s my sweet-ums?”

    Ringo came around the front of the car and kissed her cheek. “I’m fine, Mom. How are you?”

    “Oh. Sorry, son. Never work with children or animals. Scene-stealers, every one.”

    He flipped his head to get his longish hair out of his eyes. “I’ll remember that.”

    Mae took a deep breath, filling her nostrils with the luscious smell of baby. If only they could bottle it. She
    turned her attention to Soon-ja. The girl’s skin always looked pale against the black of her hair, but today,
    there was a pallor . . . “And how are you doing, Soonie?”

    Soon-ja smiled, but looked to Ringo, as if needing advice on how to answer.

    And she didn't answer.

    Uh-oh. Something was up.

    Collier led them to the porch where Soon-ja and Mae took seats on the swing. “What brings you to town?” he
    asked.

    Ringo and Soon-ja exchanged that look again. “Life.”

    Double uh-oh. Mae held Ricky even closer. “Out with it. What’s wrong?”

    Ringo took a position against a column at the top of the steps as if positioning himself to flee. “I've lost my job.”

    Mae didn't quite understand. Ringo was a roadie with a rock band so the work always was seasonal. “The tour’s
    over,” Mae said. “You knew that was going to happen.”

    “But my next gig fell through.” He glanced at Soon-ja, then his son. “And I have responsibilities now.”

    “And no income,” Soon-ja said.

    Ringo gave her a look.

    She gave him one back. “It has to be said, Go-Go. Now is not the time for subtlety—or pride.” She angled in the
    swing toward Mae. “Can we move in here?”

    “Just for a little while,” Ringo added.

    Mae sought her husband’s eyes. Poor Collie. They’d only been married eighteen months and already they’d
    endured one adult child come home. Just last fall, Mae’s daughter, Starr, had come to live with them while she
    and her fiancé worked things out. Now, to have her son’s family move in . . . Was she pushing the toleration
    limit of her darling Mr. Husband?

    Probably. But that had never stopped her before. “Of course, you can,” she said. She nuzzled Ricky’s cheek. “It will
    give us a chance to spoil this precious baby.”

    “I will get a job,” Ringo said. “I’ll start looking tomorrow.”

    Collier stepped forward. “I had lunch with Joe Ambrose the other day and he needs workers. Construction.”

    “I could do that,” Ringo said.

    “Of course, you could, honey,” Mae said.

    There. Problem solved.

                                                                                     **

    “There.”

    Evelyn smoothed the pastel quilt on Margaret’s bed. The trouble was, it wasn't Margaret’s bed anymore.
    Margaret Jensen had just moved out, moved away from Carson Creek altogether, and Evelyn was readying
    the room for a new boarder at Peerbaugh Place.

    Another tenant, Piper Wellington, stood in the doorway with Peppers the cat rubbing against her legs. “It’s
    hard, isn't it?”

    Evelyn collected her cleaning supplies and put them in the handled tub. “I shouldn't get so attached to the
    ladies.”

    Piper picked up Peppers, snuggling her under her chin. “I suppose it would be less painful to just pass each
    other in the halls, and call each other, ‘hey you.’”

    Not funny. Especially since Piper would also be moving out in a few weeks to be married. “I just don’t
    understand why Margaret felt the need to move hundreds of miles away. She had a teaching job here. Her
    parents are in Jackson.”

    “But Bobby is in Jackson.”

    Nuf said. Margaret had broken her engagement to Bobby when she’d caught him finagling some of the
    inheritance she was to receive from an old mentor. But their relationship had been doomed way before that. Bobby
    was not a nice man. Nice men didn't make their fiancées feel inferior. That wasn't love. Margaret’s
    parents were no better. It was best she get away and start over. Sad, but best.

    Piper let Peppers go and helped Evelyn by carrying the broom downstairs. “Are you ready for the meeting of
    the bridesmaids this morning?” The bridal party was meeting at Catherine’s Wedding Creations to choose the
    style and fabric for the dresses.

    “I must warn you, it’s been nearly three decades since I've been a bridesmaid,” Evelyn said. “I’m out of
    practice.”

    “But remember, you’re not just a maid, you’re the matron of honor,” Piper said.

    “‘Matron’. Oh, yeah, that sounds loads better.”

    Piper laughed. They reached the kitchen where they put the cleaning supplies in the broom closet. Evelyn
    arched her back with a groan, feeling every one of those decades. She had an awful thought. “We’re not
    going to wear anything strapless, or with a big bow in the back, are we?”

    “Not unless you’re outvoted,” Piper said as she got a drink of water. “I must say it is a challenge to find a
    dress that will look good on two fifty-somethings, a twenty-five-year-old, and a woman over seventy.”

    “You will definitely get the grand prize for the most eclectic group of attendants.”

    “That’s why I need you along, as a calming influence between Mae’s madness and Tessa’s prim-and-proper,”
    Piper said. “Only you and Audra have taste I trust. Besides, with Mom gone, I don’t know what I’d do without
    you helping with all the wedding plans.” Piper’s mother Wanda had died eleven months before.

    “I’m happy to help or negotiate, as needed,” Evelyn said.

    Piper put her hands on Evelyn’s shoulders, her face set in mock seriousness. “Knowing this group, you may
    need to add ‘arbitrate’ and ‘mediate’ to your job description.”

    “Okay, but that’ll cost extra.”

    “Whatever it takes,” Piper said...(continued)

               


                                                   Copyright 2005 Nancy Moser and Vonette Bright
                                                                    

Excerpt from A PLACE TO BELONG