An axe-murderer might be excited to get rid of some clue. But he wouldn’t have that hopeful look plastered on his rugged, handsome face. I glance down at the picture of him with his arm around his sister, and I have a moment’s hesitation. Would a murderer be that protective of a younger sister?
“So, who is it?” I ask, point-blank.
I can tell by the long pause that he doesn’t want to come right out and admit it. To admit it means telling someone how crazy he is. I understand his problem. I’ve been dealing with the same thing for almost a month now.
“I can’t believe she made herself known to you.” He drops the crumpled straw on the table. “She hasn’t for my mom or my sister. Or cousins. Just me.”
“Why only you?” I ask because I have a strange feeling that he needs someone to believe him.
“I’ve never believed in a heaven or hell. Or that we go anywhere once we leave this life.”
I didn’t expect that one. He sounds like me. Maybe that’s the connection. Nonbelievers. Skeptics. But why would a ghost come to haunt me? It doesn’t make sense.
“So, you’re saying that this…this…person—“
“My grandmother,” he interrupts with a quick affirmative nod.
Holy Moses. I’ve been scared of a little old granny?
“But why would she be haunting you? Or me?”
“For me, it’s not about haunting. Back when I was a sophomore at college, I came home for Christmas break and was visiting her. I had just finished a semester learning about how culture and religion play a part in our belief system. I told her that I didn’t believe in an afterlife. At all.” He glances around the coffee shop like God Himself was ready to drag him out by the ear. “She disagreed.”
“That still doesn’t explain why—“
“She told me that if it was at all possible to stick around after she died, that she would do her best to make herself known to me. And if she succeeded, it would prove that there was an afterlife. I’d have to believe.”
I suck in a quick breath. It sounds so much like another conversation I’d had. It was with an older woman after my yoga class. She and I had bonded over deep breathing, comfortable stretching and meditation. As a part-time yoga instructor at the senior center, I taught her the first two, but it was Gladys who taught me more about the meditation. Of course, for her, meditation was something she did on a spiritual level. For me, it was to connect with myself and find inner peace.
Over breakfast one morning, she talked with me about my beliefs. She shook her head sadly and said I reminded her of someone else she knew.
My eyes scan the pictures once more. Then I lean forward and take a longer look at the blurry image in the background.
“What was your grandmother’s name?”
I start laughing. Inappropriate, I know, but I can’t help myself. What a small world. And a huge coincidence. Somehow, this meddling, sweet woman got what she wanted. She had tried for three years to get me to meet her grandson. I resisted, assured that I wouldn’t be interested. And I didn’t want to damage our relationship if I blew off her grandson. Why, oh, why didn’t I ask to see a picture?
“What’s funny?” The corner of his mouth pulls up in an endearing smile.
“I knew your grandmother.”
There. That wiped that smile off his face. His eyebrows pull together with a look of confusion.
“Are you sure? How is that even possible? How could you have known—“
“Oh, I knew her. Spunky. Played poker with your grandfather’s old friends on Friday nights and usually cleaned them out of their money. Couldn’t quilt to save her life, although she tried for her sister. She hated the quilting group because they were a bunch of gossipy—“
“—old biddies.” We finish together.
He sits back and runs his fingers through his dark hair. Then he looks out the window, deep in thought.
“You don’t happen to teach yoga, do you?”
Now, it’s my turn to have the smile wiped off my face. I guess he can tell by my look that I do indeed teach yoga.
He shakes his head back and forth, chuckling softly. “My Maddie says this, my Maddie says that. My Maddie…”
I can feel the lump growing in my throat. I was her Maddie? God, I miss her. She’s been gone for six months, but I still expect to see her on her bright purple mat, face scrunched up with concentration as she tries to do a particularly hard stretch. I miss her sarcasm. I miss her sweetness. I even miss her meddling in my life.
“I miss her…” I admit aloud, with just a touch of sadness.
And now that I know who’s been in my condo, watching Dexter with me and making sure my front door is locked at night, it will be so hard to give back that armoire and lose her. Now that slight scent of roses makes so much more sense. Like she was trying to tell me that I was safe. That it was just her. The rosewater and glycerin she used on her face in the evenings always left her with a slight scent of roses. I used to tell her that she reminded me of a yellow rose. With her combination of sophistication and feistiness. And the fact that she grew up in the Texas panhandle. My yellow rose of Texas. That’s what I called her.
“Are you the one who sent the quilting square to the funeral home?” He asks, as if he’s reading my mind.
I sent the quilting square as an inside joke. Since she hated quilting, but she tried so hard to like it for her sister. But it was the pair of quilting squares that grabbed my heart. Each one had a yellow rose on a blue background with a sun in the corner. When I saw them in my mother’s antique shop, I had to buy them. After having them framed, I intended to keep one and give her the other one.
Three days later, she died, and I never got that chance.
I wonder if she somehow knows that I meant for her to have it.
“She hated flowers at funerals. The idea that people bring you flowers when you’ve died but don’t do anything for you when you’re alive and can enjoy it.” Shawn says, head tilted and looking at me in quiet thought.
I nod my understanding. I remember her saying that as well. “That was why I sent the quilting square. Sort of a private joke between us.”
“My sister, my mom and cousins took home most of the flower arrangements,” he says, never taking his eyes away from mine. “I took home the quilting square.”
My breath hitches. Maybe she knows then. That I wanted her to have it. My yellow rose of Texas.
“I took it because it reminded me of her,” he admits with a touch of hesitation.
“Sunny and feisty…” I swallow past the lump forming in my throat and then clear it to continue, “with just the right touch of serenity.”
He nods his understanding, and I suddenly feel so connected to this man I’ve just met. This man that, if Gladys had her way, I would have met three years ago.
And I know. Somehow I know. This was her intention.
Gladys knew that I would be at the auction. I go every year with my mom to help temper her enthusiasm for buying. If left to her own devices, my mom would end up with every piece from every estate. So I go to put my hand over her numbered cardboard paddle when it seems to be going up with greater and greater frequency.
By the end of the afternoon, with only a few estates left to auction, I was getting increasingly irritated playing chaperone to the world’s most spontaneous and financially irresponsible woman. Mom’s assortment of gaudy bracelets made such a racket with the excited motions of a woman in the pure, unadulterated joy of making bids.
Then they wheeled out my armoire. Mine. I felt a certain connection with it at first glance, but I didn’t intend to make a bid. I truly didn’t. And neither, it appeared, did my mom. Just as a gentleman in the back was one second away from walking out of there with my armoire, something made me grab Mom’s auction paddle and whip it into the air. And when I did, I immediately felt relief of such overwhelming magnitude. I was meant to take that piece home.
But how did it even end up at the auction house?
“You said your mom put it up at the auction house? That it was a misunderstanding?”
“I knew about the auction. As a matter of fact, I had several pieces that belonged to my great-grandfather and were a bit too large for my taste. When my mother mentioned that she’d be collecting things from my house and my sister’s that we didn’t want, I told her that I would put a post-it on the things intended for the auction since I was leaving for London the following morning.”
“And there was a post-it on the armoire?”
His left eyebrow rises a bit. “So she says.”
My curiosity peaks more. “If there was a post-it on the armoire, why do you think your grandmother wanted it taken away from you? That doesn’t make any sense.”
He shrugs. “That was why I knew she didn’t do it. There would be no reason for that. It was her only piece of furniture that I ever wanted, and she knew it.”
“Well, of course I’ll sell it back to you. And don’t worry about paying me extra for the inconvenience. It didn’t cost me anything to have it delivered.”
“My mom owns an antique shop here in Old Town, and I just added my one piece onto her order. She tends to go overboard at auctions.” I take a last sip of my now-cold latte. “Would you like to come to my place? See the piece again? See if Gladys missed you a bit?”
He smiles at my joke. “Now?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“Maybe because you thought I was a chainsaw killer.”
“Actually, it was an axe-murderer. But, I’m sure Gladys could take you on if you get out of line.”
His smile broadens.
When we open the door to my condo, the smell of roses hangs in the air, and now I understand. It was her clue for me so that I wouldn’t be scared. Too bad I was always a little slow piecing things together.
Shawn looks around my place and sees the armoire in the corner of the living room. He opens it up and smiles at the television hidden inside. He looks at the wall next to the armoire, and the smile leaves. He stares at the framed quilting square that’s identical to the one he took home from the funeral.
He must be thinking about his grandmother, and I hate to intrude on his thoughts but I do.
“Would you like a drink?”
He leans against the armoire, a soft smile directed at me. “What kind of drink?”
Is that a trick question? “Ummm. Water? Soda?” I swallow. “Wine?”
Now the soft smile reaches those deep green eyes. “Wine would be nice.”
I sidle backwards toward the kitchen, wishing I had worn something a little nicer to the coffee shop. Granted, my jeans and t-shirt is slightly better than the Spongebob jammies, but still. A handsome man in my place. Wine on its way, and I’m in freaking jeans.
I take off my tennis shoes—the shoes I strategically wore in case I had to run for my life—and ball up my socks, tucking them inside the shoes. I’m so glad I had a pedicure last week. It’s the one luxury my mom and I share together. I wiggle my toes, and the light catches the deep, shiny red surface of my nails.
It’s too late to go change my clothes, but the sexy toenails will have to do. After removing the cork and pouring the Cabernet Sauvignon into two glasses, I take one out to Shawn. He’s now standing by the window, looking toward the stars.
I put the wine on the table beside him.
When he turns to me, I smile. I smile for all the things Gladys did to bring us to this point. And I wonder if he realizes the same thing.
A chilly breeze drifts by, the scent of roses in its wake. A few seconds later, the chain rattles at the front door.
He looks at me in question. “Is she locking me in?”
I swallow. And then I nod.
His eyes light up, and he takes a step toward me. “She went through a lot of trouble to get us here, didn’t she?”
I nod again.
She meddled again. My Gladys. She wanted me to know that there was something more. To believe in things I felt were unbelievable. To believe that we do go on after we depart this world. To believe in something beyond ourselves. That’s what she always wanted me to know. It only took four classes before we were making a ritual of having breakfast together on Saturday mornings. Those mornings were something I looked forward to all week. I would laugh with her about disastrous dates. And she would hint about her charming grandson. I would slap her hand and tell her not to try setting me up. I didn’t believe in true love, anyway. I never believed in true love or soul mates or love-at-first-glance bullshit.
But I do believe in Gladys.
I take a step forward to meet him.
We hesitate a few seconds too long because I feel a soft pressure on the back of my head, pushing me forward. He takes another step.
When our lips meet, it’s like everything was meant to be. His soft lips slant over mine, and our bodies come together. When I give a little sigh of pleasure, he deepens the kiss, and my body comes alive. My heart cracks open, and for a moment I believe in everything.
My hands reach up toward the back of his neck, and my fingers make a trail into his hair. One of his hands is gripping my hip as if he thinks I’ll ever walk away. The other is wrapped in my hair, holding my mouth to his.
And just as our mouths pull apart a bit reluctantly, I could swear I hear a low chuckle. On a rose-scented breeze, I hear the whispered words…