Picture Perfect Frame – Lynn Cahoon

“Creation is the heart of art. No matter if the product isn’t quite what you want, the act of creation is one of rejuvenation. People need to celebrate not only the successes of their work, but their failures as well.” Meredith Cole glanced around the Coffee, Books, and More shop, crowded with Businessto-Business attendees. Her sharp features made her straight red hair stand out even more. And her green eyes were narrowed and focused on the audience. No one would ever call this woman warm and fuzzy. But somehow, her message and her voice felt soft and encouraging as she continued. “No matter what our job entails, we are all artists and creators inside.” Spring had finally arrived in the coastal California town, or at least spring without rain. The sun was shining, the birds singing, and after our newest business owner finished with her talk on Why Art Matters, the group of small business owners would be brainstorming marketing events for the upcoming months. A topic I was much more invested in than getting in touch with my creative side. “Maybe you have one deep, deep inside you.” Toby Killian leaned across the table and refilled my coffee mug. His strong jaw and dark, short hair made him look more like one of the romance novel cover models than a coffee shop barista.

Of course, his other job was as a South Cove police officer, so he did have that hero attitude. “Didn’t Jackie take decorating the store off your list of chores after the last Valentine’s disaster?” “Purple and black are totally appropriate Valentine’s colors in my mind.” I grinned at my parttime barista. Toby had been my first employee not related to me. Aunt Jackie had been the first, and even though I’d thought it had been a temporary offer of help so many years ago, my aunt was still here. Well, she would be here as soon as she and Harrold got back from their long weekend in Arizona. “Did Jackie call off for tonight yet?” Toby shook his head. “I haven’t heard from her. Do you need me to stay?” “Shh.” A woman across the table leaned over and gave us both a look of disgust.

“I’m trying to listen.” “We’ll talk later.” Toby gave the shusher one of his winning smiles and left me alone. Amy Newman, my best friend and South Cove’s receptionist, city planner, and meeting notetaker, giggled. Amy looked like she belonged in the central coastal community. Her short, blond hair sparkled against her always tanned face. If she’d been in a bikini and holding her board, she’d make a perfect beach promotional shot. Yes, my best friend was a surfer. But I didn’t hold that against her. Much.

The woman who had shushed us was one of the artists who had opened a studio last year on Main Street. I had no idea what her name was because this was the first meeting she’d attended. Art supports art, I guessed. I started making notes about what I needed to get done today just in case I needed to step in for the evening shift. After a very hearty round of applause when Meredith finished, Darla Taylor took the podium. If Amy was the image of an athletic life, Darla was the “before” picture. Even after making a habit of working out with her boyfriend, Darla still was more fluff than muscle. She was friendly and welcoming, an attitude that served her well as the owner/manager of South Cove Winery. We were friends and I gave her a big smile to let her know I was listening. Well, at least to her.

“Good morning, South Cove. I’m so glad you’re here today. We’re finishing up the final touches on our St. Patrick’s Day event. No parade this year, but we’ll have Main Street blocked off for a street fair so we can bring our businesses out on Main Street. Literally.” She grinned as she continued. “What we need to talk about today is Easter. I know we’ve gone back and forth on this, but I’d still like to have a B2B-sponsored egg hunt the Saturday before. If you’re out of town, that’s fine, but remember this the next time we come asking for something.

” “Darla, where can we sign up to help with the egg hunt?” Amy raised her hand, asking the question before Darla could respond. “I love working with kids.” “Of course you do,” I grumbled at my friend. Amy grabbed my arm and lifted it in the air. “Jill volunteers to help as well.” Darla took out three clipboards and passed them to the person sitting to her right. “Sounds perfect. I’m passing out sign-up sheets for the next three events. I’ve added a May Flowers Festival as well as a June wedding event where we’re bringing in some highly qualified wedding planners, florists, and caterers for your enjoyment. This event will be at the community center, and all the bedand-breakfast owners are giving away a free weekend stay to bring in visitors.

” “That sounds wonderful.” Amy literally purred. “I know I’ll be spending all day at the event.” I stared at my friend. “You already have your entire wedding planned. And the ceremony will be over by then anyway. You’re getting married the end of the month.” “Don’t say that, you’ll jinx it.” Amy didn’t meet my gaze. “Plans change.

Look at your aunt and Harrold. They were going to do a big wedding in the city and instead visited an Elvis impersonator. Besides, I don’t think Justin has picked out a honeymoon destination yet. If he’s not committed to something by then, I’m dragging him in that gym with me and making him sign up for something with the travel agent from Bakerstown.” “Not the most cooperative way to start a marriage, but you do you.” I understood where my friend was coming from and I was pretty sure she wouldn’t actually do it. Or at least I hoped. It has been a long engagement. Darla glanced around the room, watching to see who was signing up on what clipboard. “If there aren’t any questions, I’ll send out emails to the new committees and I’ll see all of you at the St.

Patrick’s Day Street Fair.” “Sounds fun.” The artist who’d shushed me gave Darla a big grin and started to stand. “Jill, did you want to close the meeting?” Darla glanced at me because I ran the meetings for the City Council, but I waved her off. It was time to get back to my real job, running Coffee, Books, and More, the only coffee shop–bookstore in the area. Darla picked up the wooden gavel we used to start and end the meetings and cracked it on the podium. “Then we’re adjourned.” As we moved table and chairs to get my dining room back in order, Evie Marshall, our newest barista and my new renter for the apartment above the shop came in the front door. Her green eyes scanned the room as she walked around the scattered tables. She carried Homer, her tan Pom.

He and Emma, my golden retriever, had met a few weekends ago at a barbecue at my house. They’d become fast friends. “Sorry to bring him in this way, Jill.” Evie stopped by where I’d been arranging a table. “I forgot to grab my keys when I went out and the back door locked on me.” Homer reached his neck so he could sniff me. I swear, the dog could smell a cookie crumb or treat from a mile away. I rubbed between his ears and focused on Evie. She had her hair in tiny braids, each one with at least one colored bead weaved in. She looked great in sweats and no makeup.

I should have hated her for that alone, but she was an amazing barista and had a wide knowledge of books too. And she was nice. “No worries. Evie, have you met our newest business owner here in South Cove? This is Meredith Cole.” “So nice to meet you.” Meredith reached out to pet Homer, but a small growl emitted from the dog’s throat. “Sorry, I should have asked first.” “He’s usually great with strangers. Maybe he’s just had too much change lately.” Evie pulled him closer to her chest and put her hand over his nose to keep him from actually biting the newcomer.

“Totally my bad. I was raised with dogs. I should know better.” Meredith flashed Evie a smile, then turned to me. “I was just making sure you were coming tonight. Neal and I are buying the wine this afternoon, so I wanted to get a solid head count. You and your guy, Greg, right?” I nodded. As long as there wasn’t a crazy problem that kept him at the station, we’d be there. “I’m coming. And Greg’s onboard.

Unless something happens.” “Remind me. He’s a firefighter?” Amy snorted. “Nope. Greg’s our local police detective. He should be police chief, but Mayor Baylor keeps shooting down the title change. He’s afraid Greg’s going to challenge him for his mayoral spot.” “Oh, that’s right.” Meredith turned to Amy. “You and your fiancé are coming, right?” “Our first date night for a while.

Justin’s been crazy busy with midterms over at the university for the last few weeks.” Amy put the last chair under the table by where we were standing. “You and Neal are married, right? Did you get married locally? What was your venue?” I giggled and Amy threw me a dirty look. “Sorry, but I’m glad you have a new victim in this whole marriage insanity.” Darla picked up all three clipboards and tucked them into her tote. “I was going to mention that Matt’s not going to be able to come. He’s in Missouri at his folks’ house doing some sort of farm stuff. Plowing or planting or something. He’s told me, but I keep forgetting. I don’t even have a garden or an inside plant.

He really shouldn’t expect me to follow his discussion on crop raising.” “Darla, a farm wife.” I tried out the image. It didn’t take. Although the girl was so crazy in love with her boyfriend, Matt, I wouldn’t put it past her to at least try. “Don’t start. Anyway, sorry about the late notice.” She turned away from me and focused on Meredith. “No problem.” Meredith glanced at Evie.

“Do you want to come? We’re set up for ten—the guy who runs the antique shop is bringing his girlfriend and a couple who’s staying at Main Street Bed and Breakfast this week.” Evie’s eyes widened. “Me? You’re inviting me to the party?” “Free of charge. I need to get some karma going around here and I’d rather not bring in just anyone.” She looked around the room. “Some of the local artists are kind of touchy when you talk about teaching others how to paint. Everyone has an opinion. Like they’re all Degas or Monet. I’ve visited most of the galleries here, and although they do a great job in seascapes, I’m certain no one is going to break out and take over the art world.” I decided right there and then that I liked Meredith.

I had always thought our artist members of the business to business group were a bit too in love with themselves. Meredith seemed down-to-earth and a great judge of character. “Evie, you need to come. It will be a great way to meet other people in South Cove.” “I like the people I know. I’d hate to risk fate.” Evie glanced around the shop, now put back together for the day’s business. Her grip tightened on Homer, who’d stopped growling but was still watching Meredith closely. “I’ll think about it. What time?” “It starts about six thirty.

Greg doesn’t like to be out late on a work night.” I glanced over at Toby, who was behind the counter. A line was starting to form. Most of the students from the cosmetology school were here for their morning break. “I need to go help Toby. See you all tonight. Evie, I’ll stop at the apartment if you want to walk over with us.” “I do need to get out. So, yes, that would be perfect. Thank you.

” Evie moved toward the back door to the apartment. “I might have to take a break to check on Homer. He’s having some problems adjusting.” “Oh no.” I rubbed the little dog’s chin. “Are you homesick, Homer?” “No, he’s not. Neither one of us are.” Evie turned on her heel and stomped toward the back door. I watched her leave before asking the group, “Did I say something wrong?” “Not that I heard. Maybe she’s just a little nervous about leaving the dog?” Amy put her hand on my shoulder.

“Don’t worry about it. We’re just getting to know one another. You know that process takes some time. She moved from a house on an acre outside of New York City; living here in an apartment must be a total change.” I glanced at the line, which seemed to be even longer, so I excused myself and went to help Toby. But my thoughts were stuck on Evie. Was she going to fit in? Was this just an isolated incident or would our customer service suffer from her verbal snaps? Amy turned down meeting for lunch when she came to say goodbye. She was driving into the city to meet Justin that afternoon because Mayor Baylor and his wife, Tina, were off on a cruise. From what I saw, our mayor did a lot of vacationing under the guise of networking and promotion. I wasn’t sure people who cruised were actually small-town coastal tourists.

But he somehow convinced the Council. After the rush had left I picked up an Advanced Reader Copy one of the book publicists in New York had sent us. I loved this mystery author and decided to snatch the book before my aunt even realized it had arrived. I was about to call her when Deek Kerr came in the front door, his laptop case over his shoulder. Today his blond cornrows were dyed green. He set down his stuff at a table near the wall where he could plug in his computer and then strolled behind the bar. “What are you doing here?” He filled a large mug with coffee and then sprinkled some cinnamon on top. He glanced at the clock before answering me. “For the next three hours I am writing and hope to get this chapter done. I so hate the middle.

I know everyone told me it would be the pits, but did I listen? No. I did not.” I glanced at the schedule we had sitting by the cash register. Deek wasn’t working until tomorrow, when he took over for me, unless he’d taken Aunt Jackie’s shift. “After you pen your opus, what then?” “Then I try to fill your aunt’s shoes. Do you know she listed off all the things I needed to do on ‘her shift’ and made me repeat them after her? When she tried a second time I politely reminded her that she was asking me for a favor. She shut up after that. Although I think her new hubby hung up the phone, not her. She was ready to give me the what’s for.” Deek grinned as he walked back to his table.

“I like your new uncle. He’s got moxie.” “Okay then.” I wished my aunt had called me to deal with this but, typical Jackie, she had to handle everything on her own. Even setting up coverage for her shift when her vacation went long. “She doesn’t like to bother you. It makes her feel weak,” Deek said without looking up from his laptop. “Stop reading my thoughts. I may have some X-rated things up there I don’t want you to know.” I filled a travel mug with ice and poured tea over the top.

Then I chose a cookie for the walk home. I could stop at Diamond Lille’s for lunch, but without Amy to chat with, I’d rather go home and cuddle with Emma. “I don’t read minds, I read auras. Besides, you’re too much of an open book. Even if I tried, I wouldn’t be able to stop. You throw up these billboard-size messages.” He glanced up from the screen. “Besides, if the two of you would just talk, I wouldn’t have to act like Apollo and transport messages.” I paused by his spot on the way out the door. I’d already said goodbye to Toby.

He was stocking the dessert case. The group from the meeting had cleaned out the treats to take home for afternoon snacks. Which was another reason I let the group meet at my place. It increased sales once a month. The worse the news from the City Council on fees and zoning issues, the better my sales went that day. “Well, I’m just glad you’re here to translate. With you, Greg, and Harrold as buffers, I may never have to talk to her again.” I glanced at the screen. “Page 205? I thought you were on page 250 yesterday?” “I threw away a scene. My professor didn’t like where it was going.

” Deek slumped in his seat. “I can’t believe books get written when there’s so many opinions involved in every step.” “Want a piece of advice I heard along the way?” He nodded. “Sure. Your advice is usually just what I need to hear. I’m thinking you’re the author whisperer.” “Heaven help me. That would be awful.” I shook the idea off me like it was a sticky cobweb. “Anyway, what I heard was you never let anyone read the first draft until you’re done.

” “That won’t work. Professor Hogan makes us turn in pages every week.” Deek leaned back his head. “Paper copies that he gives back with red ink all over them.” “That doesn’t seem helpful.” I thought about the lectures I’d heard from a lot of authors doing tour talks. “Okay, this one is better. Don’t throw away anything. Keep it separate. You realize that once you get your grade on the class, you’re going to have to be the one to take a risk and find an agent.

Your professor won’t be there to judge your work. You should keep what speaks to you.” He stared at me. “You’re telling me to keep two sets of books? One just for the professor and one that would be the real book?” “That way you won’t hurt the guy’s feelings, and by the time it gets published, time will have passed and you can blame the publisher’s editors for the changes.” “That’s genius. I can pretend I agree, but not really.” I nodded. “That could be true.” “You’re doing it right now, aren’t you?” Deek grinned as he returned to his keyboard. “Is that what you do to your aunt?” “I don’t know what you mean.

” I waved at Toby and left the shop, heading home to an afternoon cuddled with Emma and the new book. Life was good. “Miss Gardner? I need to talk to you about the way the business meetings are being run. Darla Taylor is always pushing her own agenda, and it always benefits her winery more than other businesses in town. Exactly what am I going to drag out on the street to sell to drunk green people?” Josh Thomas stared at me as I paused by his antiques shop where he stood, sweeping the already clean sidewalk. “Maybe a priceless set of Queen Anne dishware or some crystal? I’ll lose more in people dropping things than I’ll sell.” And as it does sometimes, life turned from good to crap with one conversation.

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