Mother’s Day Mayhem – Lynn Cahoon

Coffee, Books, and More, my coffee shop and bookstore combo in the tourist town of South Cove, California, was doing its regular business on a Wednesday morning. Which meant I hadn’t had a customer since the last of the commuters had left around seven thirty. You might think I would be upset at the lack of customers, but you’d be wrong. Mostly because I’d been reading the new Linda Castillo book this week and I had to know the ending. So when the bell over the door went off when I only had ten pages left, I groaned. Aloud. When I looked up, I saw the situation was worse than I’d expected. Instead of an actual customer, Josh Thomas, the antique dealer who owned the building next door, stood in his black suit in the middle of my dining room. I’d told him before that he needed to branch out with a little color in his clothing choices, but I guess I hadn’t made an impact. He looked like a funeral director at the local mortuary. And since I knew Doc Ames—who was actually a funeral director and looked less dour— Josh actually looked like a caricature of a funeral director. From a bad horror flick. He turned his head and located me, sitting on the couch. Sighing, I put away the book that I’d have to wait until after lunch time to finish and crossed the room to greet him. “Hey, Josh.

How can I help you today? Too late in your day for some coffee?” He glared at me, like I’d dragged him into the shop to interrupt my reading. “No, Miss Gardner, I’m not here for a coffee.” Josh had always called me Miss Gardner. Not Jill. At first, I thought it was due to our new acquaintance. But since I’d known him for over three years and he used to date my aunt, now I assumed he like referencing my single status. Like I was worried about it or something. Josh was staring at me now, and I realized he was waiting for a response to a question I hadn’t heard. “I’m sorry, what did you say?” Josh sighed, loudly, looked around at the door to make sure we were still alone, and then asked me the question again. “Have you noticed anything different about Kyle?” “Kyle?” I tried to think about the last time I’d seen Josh’s employee.

Had it been last week? He lived in an apartment over the antique shop next to Josh. Had it been over a week? “Kyle Nabors, the man who works for me? At the antique store?” Josh reminded me of Kyle’s identity as he glared. “Are you sure you’re all right?” This is why I didn’t like talking to Josh. He tried to make me feel like an idiot. On a regular basis. “I know who Kyle is, I was just trying to remember the last time I saw him. I guess it was last week when I left the store after my shift. He was coming down from the apartment and I was going out to the parking lot for my car. I’d driven in that morning because I had to go into Bakerstown to get dog food. I can’t believe how much food Emma goes through in a month.

” “I’m not here to talk about the care and feeding of your dog.” He pulled a small notebook out of his jacket pocket. He paused as if taking notes. “When exactly did you see him and what did you talk about?” I wasn’t sure how I felt about being interrogated, but I’d play along, especially since I might need to repay the favor one day when I was investigating—not investigating—one of our local mysteries. “Like I said, it was last Tuesday—” Josh interrupted me and glared. “You said, last week.” “Fine, so I said last week instead of Tuesday. But it was Tuesday. Can I go on?” I waited for Josh to nod, then continued my story. “Anyway, I saw him coming down the back stairs.

I waved, he waved, but that was it. He looked happy.” “He’s been looking that way for weeks. I know he’s still dating that woman from Bakerstown, but typically, he’s not that chipper about her.” Josh mused over his notes. When he finished writing, he looked up. “And?” “And nothing. I went to Bakerstown to get dog food. I don’t think I’ve seen him since.” A bad feeling came over me.

“Wait, are you telling me he’s disappeared? Have you called Greg?” Josh followed me to the counter where I grabbed my phone. “Calm down, Miss Gardner. Kyle is currently working the front counter at my store. Which means I need to get back to make sure everything is all right.” “So you’re concerned that Kyle’s too happy and you’re going to fix that?” I watched as Josh took two of the sample brownies from the plate on the counter and put them on a napkin. He didn’t answer me as he headed to the door. “Josh?” He turned back to look at me. “Yes?” “You’re a strange guy.” After he stomped out, I returned to the couch and my book. I had thirty minutes until Toby arrived to start his shift and if I hurried, I could not only finish this book, but sort through the advance reader copies in the back room for my next read.

* * * * Walking down to Diamond Lille’s to meet Greg for lunch, I paused in front of Antiques by Thomas. Kyle was working on a window display. He saw me watching and waved at me with a big grin on his face. The tattoos that peeked out from his rolled-up sleeves reminded me of his background, before joining the South Cove community. The kid looked way too happy as he scrubbed dirt off the window sill. Josh was right; something was definitely up with our bad boy turned good. As I entered the diner, Greg saw me and waved from our favorite booth. He’s my boyfriend and also South Cove’s police detective. I keep telling him he needs to get Mayor Baylor to change his title to Chief King, but Greg isn’t the power type. Besides, the mayor was already concerned that Greg wanted his job.

The good thing about that was it kept the guy on his toes. Everyone loves Greg. Not so much the mayor. I paused at the booth, taking in his sandy hair and tanned face. If not for the South Cove Police dress shirt and the handgun at his side, you could mistake him for a surfer fueling up for the next wave. I brushed his hair out of his eyes and then kissed him lightly. “Hey, stranger. I’m glad you set up lunch. I don’t think I’ve seen you for weeks.” “It hasn’t been that long.

” He pushed a glass of iced tea toward me. “I told Carrie you’d order when you got here, but I’ve got the stuffed meatloaf special already going.” I glanced at the menu. It was Wednesday, and I was having my favorite meal, fish and chips. Carrie was busy with another customer so I set the menu aside and sipped my tea. “Emma found a doll on the beach this morning during our run. I told her she could keep it since it looked like it washed up on shore.” “I haven’t had any reports of missing dolls, but you might want to check the condition of the face, I’d hate to have her choke on a loose eye or something.” He leaned back as Carrie set his plate in front of him. “Thanks, that smells amazing.

” “I don’t even want to know what you’re talking about.” Carrie grinned at Greg, then turned to me. “Fish and chips?” “Of course, it’s Wednesday.” I glanced at the iced tea. “I guess that’s all.” “No vanilla milkshake?” Carrie pressed since that was my usual drink on Wednesday. I figure it’s a good cheat day since I’m running daily, except for Sundays. “No, I’m good.” I felt my cheeks heat as both Greg and Carrie stared at me. “Okay then, carry on with your eye swallowing conversation.

” Carrie headed back to the kitchen. “I guess we should have clarified whose eye.” Greg nodded to the glass. “Didn’t you want tea? You could have ordered a milkshake.” “The tea is fine.” I took another sip as if to prove it to him. I didn’t want to be considered a diva. His first wife held that title. My goal was to be the sweet and kind alternative. Girlfriend, I mean, not wife.

“The doll is a rag doll and I threw it in the washer when I got home. If it survives that, she can have it. No buttons or plastic eyes to come off.” Carrie arrived back at the table with my lunch. “Here you go.” “Whoa, that was fast.” I glanced toward the kitchen. “What, do you have magical elves doing the cooking now?” “Nope. Tiny saw you come in and started your order. You really need to expand your food choices.

You’re way too predictable.” I watched as Carrie walked away to pick up plates from another table. “I might consider being offended at that, but I have my food faster than normal. So why should I?” “Hey, let’s go away next weekend. I’d say this weekend, but I’m covering Toby on Saturday night, so we’ll have to wait a week.” He snatched a French fry. “What do you think? Maybe a drive up the coast to Oregon? We haven’t been that far yet.” “Sounds great. I couldn’t go this weekend anyway, as I’m covering Toby’s Saturday shift at the shop. I know he wants more hours, but when he’s off, he messes up both our schedules.

That being said, I’m glad that he’s getting a short vacation, even if it’s really putting a crimp in my reading time.” I shook malt vinegar over the top and took a bite. Heaven. “Perfect. Then on the 14th, we’ll go into Bakerstown and have lunch at that seafood place you like.” Greg kept his head down, apparently focusing on the food. “Boy, you are just full of plans today. Sounds great, but maybe we should go to the beach instead and eat out of one of those food trucks.” I grabbed my phone and opened my calendar. “Nevermind, that’s a Sunday, not a Saturday.

” “It’s Mother’s Day.” I glanced up from keying the new plans into my calendar. “So…” “I thought you might want to invite your aunt.” He still wasn’t looking at me. I was beginning to smell a rat here. “You’re telling me you want a family dinner? Will Jim be there?” “More than likely.” Finally, Greg looked up and set his fork on his plate. “As well as my mom. She’s coming into town for the weekend and I want you to meet her.” I started choking on the fish I’d just taken a bite of.

When I got myself under control, I stared at him. “You want me to meet your mom at a Mother’s Day dinner with Aunt Jackie in tow? That’s what you’re asking.” Greg went back to his meal. “That about sums it up. Do you have a problem with meeting my mother?” “Of course not.” Well, that’s what I said. What I was screaming inside was Oh, my lord, help me out of this mess. “Good, then it’s settled. I’ll call Jim tonight and you let your aunt know. Harrold is invited too, of course.

” Greg finished his meatloaf. When I didn’t respond, he put his fork down and took a sip of his tea. “Okay, tell me what I did wrong?” “Seriously? You have to ask?” I waved a French fry at him. “You ambushed me with this whole situation.” “Are you saying you don’t want to meet my mother?” Greg’s voice held a touch of anger. “That’s not what I’m saying.” I didn’t want to fight, not about this, and definitely not here. “I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m just shocked. I didn’t realize your mother was planning on coming to South Cove soon.

” Greg leaned back in the booth. “Honestly, neither did I. I guess she and Jim pulled this visit together. She thinks she needs to meet you before I get too involved.” “She realizes we’ve been dating more than a year, right?” I dipped the fry I’d been using as a weapon into the fry sauce and ate it before continuing. “What has Jim been telling her? I’m a wanton woman who is keeping you away from reconciling with Sherry?” “Even if you weren’t a wanton woman”—Greg paused as he expertly caught the fry I threw at him, then continued—“I wouldn’t go back to Sherry if she was the last woman alive. I know my judgment was flawed once, it doesn’t mean I’m stupid.” “I don’t know why this is freaking me out so much. I mean, you know my relatives.” I hadn’t talked to Greg about the other people in my family tree.

And I was keeping it that way. Aunt Jackie was enough for the guy to have to deal with. Greg watched me, like he could see the lie of omission as it fell out of my lips. One of the reasons I loved him was his ability to bide his time with questions. “I know it’s a lot for you to deal with but let me ask a little more gently. Would you like to have dinner with my mother, my brother, and me on Mother’s Day?” “As long as I can bring my aunt, I think I’ll be safe.” I reached over and grabbed his hand. “Thanks for understanding.” “I have to admit, it’s got me a little edgy too. Don’t get me wrong, I was planning on introducing you to my mother.

Just not in less than three weeks.” He squeezed my hand. “Aren’t we a pair? I love you, Jill Gardner.” His words took my breath away but I didn’t know exactly how to respond. The correct answer seemed to escape me, time and time again. The moment passed and Greg dropped my hand. “I’ve got to get back to the station. I’m looking forward to our weekend. We need to spend some time together. Can you get a babysitter for Emma?” He checked the bill Carrie had left on the table and threw down several bills to cover the cost of lunch.

“I’ll talk to Toby and see if he can watch her.” I started making a list in my head of all the things I needed to do before we left. Like a pedicure. And maybe a manicure. And I’d have to grab at least a couple more books just in case I had time to read. While I was lost in my thoughts, Greg had stood from the booth. He turned my head gently toward him and kissed me. After the kiss broke, he tapped me on my nose with his index finger. “I don’t know what you’re thinking about, but somehow I believe it’s about a book.” I didn’t want to admit that he’d hit the nail on the head, so I smiled.

“I’m packing in my head. Thanks for lunch.” Since I hadn’t finished eating, I stayed at the table, thinking. Carrie stopped by and took Greg’s now empty plate. “Do you want that milkshake now?” “Yes. Yes, please.” I glanced around the almost empty dining room. “You don’t mind if I hang around for a while, do you?” “It’s not like we’re turning people away. Lille will be back for dinner service at five. Just in case you wanted to know.

” “Thanks, Carrie.” And with that assurance that the owner and dragon queen of Diamond Lille’s wouldn’t be around to mess with me for taking up space, I pulled out a book and settled in to read. Life was good. Or it would have been if Greg hadn’t thrown a stone in the pond. Now, I had to deal with the ripples his request had caused. CHAPTER 2 Thursday morning the too-chipper Kyle walked into my store. I was up refilling my coffee cup after having a restless night. Meeting Greg’s mother was a big step. His brother Jim already didn’t like me. If his mother felt the same way, I’d be two for two.

I’d been trying to put the upcoming meeting out of my head but even reading the newest release from my favorite mystery author hadn’t kept the thoughts from invading my morning. “Hey Jill! Can I get two large mochas?” He paused at the small round carousel where I had some cards for sale. “Do you have any Mother’s Day cards?” “Some. I’m kind of sold out since it’s coming up soon.” I watched as he pulled out one, then the other. I got his drinks made, wondering why Josh thought the kid was too happy. “What’s your mom like? Sometimes that makes choosing a card easier. Like does she go for the flowers and mushy stuff? Or is she funnier?” He put the cards back, sighed, and walked over to sit on one of the stools at the counter. “I don’t know.” “I’m sure if you think about what she liked when you were a kid we can figure this out.

” I put sleeves on the coffees and came around the counter. “What did she like to do when you were a kid?” “She wasn’t around much.” He rolled a coffee stirrer on the counter. “If I tell you something, can it be just between us?” “Of course.” I nodded to the counter. I might have lucked into finding out what Josh hadn’t. “You want some coffee on the house? I feel like this might be a long conversation.” He shook his head. “Can’t be too long. Josh will have a fit if I bring him back a cold mocha.

Anyway, my mom left me with my grandmother when I was five. She kept sending me postcards, and she said she was coming back, but when I went to school, some kid told me the truth. My mom was in jail for robbing the local grocery store. I guess his dad owned the store and told him to stay away from me because I was trouble.” “Small towns, they never forget.” “Exactly. I confronted my grandmother and she told me the whole story. Mom was only in the car waiting for her latest boyfriend, but when they caught up with them, he said she was the mastermind.” He smiled, just a little. “She was just a small-town girl looking for love.

And this jerk took advantage of her.” “She’s out now?” I’d known Kyle had had a rough childhood, but not this rough. He shrugged. “A few months ago, my girl started asking me about her, so I looked her up. She’s been out and living in Reedsport for a few years now. Can you believe that she’s been this close? I found her on Facebook and we’ve been talking. She said she’d come down to see me, but now she’s having cold feet.” “You thought a card might warm up the feet a bit?” He grinned. “Something like that.” “Then let me help you.

What’s her name?” I stood and walked over to the cards. I needed to set one aside for my aunt and one for Greg’s mother anyway. “Rebecca Nabors. She didn’t marry my dad so I had the same name as my grandmother.” He stepped back away from the cards like they might bite him. “Honestly, I don’t know why I’m even doing this. I should have learned by now. She always promises but never follows through.” “Maybe she’s changed.” I didn’t think that would be true, but the kid seemed like he needed some encouragement.

“What do you remember about her?” “Pancakes with maple syrup. We’d have them every morning before she left for work. My grandmother liked waffles, not pancakes. She said they’re easier to make.” The smile returned to his face. “Mom’s just flighty. You should see my baby book. About half the pages are just empty. She lost interest.” “Or maybe she was working too many hours and didn’t have the time or energy to keep up with it.

” I could see that Kyle wasn’t buying my optimistic viewpoint. “Anyway, let’s get the card chosen and sent before you change your mind. At least then, you can say you did everything you could. I even have a stamp in the cash register you can have.” He looked over the cards again, then picked out one with flowers on the front. “This one. It’s pretty but not too mushy and doesn’t talk about how she was such a major influence on my life. Of course, she was, but my grandmother was really the nurturing one. The woman was a saint.” “Do you need a second card for your grandmother?” I thought I had a book of stamps in the office desk if I needed more.

“No. She passed on a few years ago.” He took a twenty and a pen out of his shirt pocket. “Give me a minute and I’ll have this ready. Then you can mail it and I won’t be able to back out.” “I’ll put it in our mailbox today.” I held up the money. “Let me get you your change.” I went to the cash register and was surprised to see Kyle there with the sealed envelope before I even finished counting out his change. He slid the card toward me.

“Tell me I’m not making a mistake.” “You’re never making a mistake by making yourself vulnerable. You’d regret it more if you didn’t take a chance.” I handed him his change and pushed the coffee toward him. Then I tucked the card underneath the counter. “Besides, it’s gone now. I hope she comes to visit.” Kyle tucked the money into his Dockers and picked up the coffee. “I don’t know if I want her to come or not. I’m really messed up about this.

” “Then we’ll leave it to the universe. If she comes, be happy. If she doesn’t, it cost you the cost of a card to know where she stands.” I patted his arm. “You’ve made a good life for yourself here. Any woman would be proud to call you her son.” “Thanks Jill.” After he left, I took the card out and studied the address. Reedsport was just over a day’s drive from here, eleven hours, give or take. And this woman had known she had a son living that close? If it had been me, nothing would have stopped me from doing everything I could to see him.

But as Greg often told me, not everyone was like me. Which I took as a compliment, even though I had the sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t all the time. I put the card into the mail basket by the door where the postman would see we had outgoing mail. Then I poured out my now cold coffee and got another refill. I had time to finish a couple of chapters before Sasha came in for her shift. When she arrived, Sasha busied herself with setting up the coffee bar and started working on a window display for her monthly youth book club. When she was done, she plopped down on the couch and pushed a book toward me. “If you’re done with that, I’d like you to read this. We’re doing it at the book club this month. It’s by a new author and really, really good.

The subject is a little dark so I’d like to get your take on it, just in case parents come after me with pitchforks.” “I told you that you had free rein on the book selection.” I set the other book down on the table. “Sometimes I just wish I could re-write the endings and make everyone happy. Why do some books have to end so sad?” “Maybe because some lives are sad. You can’t have good without evil. Light without dark. Happy without sad.” Sasha picked up the book I’d just finished. “But I think I’ll move this down my TBR pile.

I need some happy in my life.” I studied my barista and wondered what exactly was going on with her, but I tried to keep out of my employees’ personal lives. Well, at least, unless they told me the issue. I picked up the book she’d handed me. “I’ll read this next. Everything okay with Olivia?” Sasha had been an unemployed single mom when we’d met. Now she was a young single mom with a job and working on her degree. The woman was a powerhouse who loved her kid fiercely and was taking extra credits to get through school as fast as possible. I knew her time at the coffee shop was limited, but I loved having her here. “The girl’s fine.

She’s on a pink kick. Probably because I never bought anything pink for her. I don’t believe in the whole pink/blue distinction. So now, everything has to be pink. I’ve created a monster.” Sasha took a sip of the coffee she’d brought over to the sitting area. “Motherhood is full of potholes. I saw the card in the mailbox. Is that for a friend?” “No—well, yes.” When Sasha narrowed her eyes at me, I laughed.

“Kyle is sending a card to his mother. He hasn’t seen her since he was a kid. It’s complicated.” “That’s weird. When we first started in South Cove as interns, I could have sworn he said his mother had just died. Or was that his grandmother?” Sasha tapped her fingers on the cup, trying to remember. “His grandmother, at least from what he told me today. His mom was, well, in jail. But now she’s out and he’s hoping for a reunion in a few weeks.” I realized after I spoke that I’d promised Kyle to keep this between us.

I knew Sasha and Kyle were friends. In fact, I’d hoped the two might be more than friends, but that hadn’t happened. The heart knew what the heart knew. “I screwed up. I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone this.” Sasha held up a hand in a Scout salute. “I’ll keep it between us. I just hope that this woman doesn’t hurt Kyle. The guy is a little fragile around family stuff. He was pretty broken up about losing his grandmother.

” Feeling like a jerk for spilling the story, I picked up the books and took the one to the Advanced Reader Copy pile we kept in the back. The other, I tucked in my tote. Then I met Sasha at the counter. “I’m going home before I spill any more state secrets.” “At least you’re not in the CIA or Homeland Security. You know South Cove residents have no secrets from each other. If you hadn’t told me, someone else would have. Josh came in a few days ago and tried to get information about Kyle out of me. I’m glad it happened before today, because I didn’t have anything to tell him.” Sasha put a hand on my shoulder.

“We pry because we are a family. And we don’t want outsiders messing with our family.” As I walked home, I thought about Sasha’s words. We were family in South Cove. There were people I didn’t care for and people I loved and would walk through fire for. The town was my family. And I needed to make sure that Kyle’s newly found mother didn’t hurt him. But how I was going to do that was still a mystery. When I got home, I started an internet search on Rebecca Nabors. Two hours later, all I knew was what Kyle had told me. I’d found her on Facebook and stared at her picture. Did she look like her son? The hair was the same, but the eyes? She looked tired and worn down by life. I got up and grabbed the notebook I kept in my tote. I wrote down the address in the notebook and then Googled a map. Reedsport had an upscale tourist area but this address was closer to the mountain than the ocean. I found a bed and breakfast in the area and checked for availability. I had found where Greg and I were going next weekend. And if I did a little snooping while I was there, it was all for Kyle. That was my story. I closed the laptop. Emma raised her head and watched me. It was time for a run. Maybe my head would be clearer then. The beach wasn’t crowded, but I kept Emma on a leash anyway. Tourists came in early to relax before the weekend crowd hit, and even in early May, we were having record visitors this year. I thought it was mostly because Darla Taylor, winery owner, newspaper reporter, and marketing maven, had taken over the town marketing not only for the businesses, but the council’s budget. She was amazing at figuring out just the right spin for each month. Thinking of Darla, I realized I’d wanted to talk to her about a possible book event this fall. Sasha had brought up the idea of bringing in local authors for a book day with a signing at the end. I told her I’d think about it but I wanted to get Darla’s input on how we might include the rest of the town in the event. As we turned the corner, I was ready to get home and shoot an email off to her. It was too late to call, she’d be working at the winery by now. But I needed to get her wheels churning on the idea. When Emma and I got home, Greg was sitting on my front porch. He slipped his phone into his pocket and stood to greet us. “What are you doing here?” I stretched into a quick kiss. He pulled me closer into a bear hug and then released me when Emma tried to nose her way in between us. “Hey girl, I know, you want some attention too.” Emma wagged her tail in agreement and melted as Greg rubbed a spot under her chin. My dog could be bought for small bits of attention or a doggy treat. Especially from Greg. He took my key from me and we walked up the stairs together. When we reached the door, he unlocked it and held it open. “Let’s go inside. I’d rather not grovel in sight of the neighbors.” “Esmeralda’s my only neighbor and if you believe in her gift, it doesn’t matter where you grovel, inside or out, she’ll still know.” But I followed him in and took off Emma’s lead. Then I went into the kitchen to hang it on the hook. The easiest way to find things when you needed them was to keep them exactly where they belonged. “You want something to drink?” “Iced tea will be fine.” Greg’s voice was right behind me. I guessed he’d followed me into the kitchen. When I turned around, he was sitting at the table, with Emma by his side. I poured two glasses and joined him. “So, why are you here again?” “Does a guy have to have a reason to come see his best girl?” He absently stroked Emma’s head. “You talking about me or Emma? Because if I find out I’m not your only girl, you’ve got some explaining to do.” I sipped my tea. He reached over and squeezed my hand. “You know you’re the only one for me. I have to admit: Mom’s call has me tied in knots. I don’t think I handled things well at the diner so I wanted to apologize.” “It’s fine. The idea just threw me for a minute.” I leaned back in my chair and watched him. “We don’t talk a lot about our families.” “You and Jim don’t get along. I know it’s more his fault, but there’s a family loyalty thing that I have to balance with the supportive boyfriend rules. I didn’t think adding in a too intrusive mother would be good for our relationship.” He squeezed my hand. “Maybe I could take you to dinner to make up for my blunder?” “You think feeding me is going to solve our problems?”

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