Sundays are supposed to be a day of rest, but it rarely works out that way for real estate agents. Or, for that matter, Chiefs of Police. For some reason, this Sunday I had no appointments, no open houses, and no responsibilities. Evidently neither did Dan. If he did, he was ignoring them.
He sat at my kitchen table, eating pancakes, feeding bites of sausage to Jake, my yellow tom, and muttering under his breath while he turned pages of our local paper. I leaned up against the counter, slowly sipping coffee, watching him. In spite of his old brown bathrobe and his forty-some years, it was a most pleasant sight.
The phone rang. He looked up, frowned and raised one eyebrow at me. I sighed, and reached for it. There went our peaceful morning. Because it was, of course, one of my clients, wanting to see a house, or needing to ask a complicated real estate question that couldn’t possibly wait until office hours on Monday, or Dan’s office, calling to tell him about some murder that needed his immediate attention. It wasn’t a client. And it wasn’t a crime.
“Catherine. What a surprise.” I hadn’t heard from my sister in over a year and couldn’t imagine what she wanted. That she wanted something was never in doubt.
“Ellen. I’m surprised you’re home. I thought you’d be at work, in which case, I would have left you a message.”
“Humn. I thought that was your busiest day.” The implication was strong that I was shirking. Typical Catherine. “I got your number from Mother. I knew you’d divorced that good-looking doctor, but when she told me you’d gone back to that dreadful little backwater town, it was obvious you’d lost your senses. She says you’re living in our old house. And real estate! Isn’t that what bored housewives and retired military men do?”
“Ah.” As usual, I had no idea how to respond to Catherine. “My daughter—you do remember Sabrina, don’t you?”
Did she really think I’d forgotten my niece? I hadn’t seen much of her. Catherine lived in splendor on the East Coast and couldn’t be bothered to bring her to California, but that didn’t mean I’d forgotten her.
“Sabrina and her husband are moving to Santa Louisa.”
A double bombshell. I had no idea Sabrina had married. No one had told me, or invited me to the wedding. Had there been a wedding? And coming here? Why? I didn’t have long to wait for that answer.
“Sabrina’s husband makes wine. It’s supposed to be a good job, but I’m not convinced. Anyway, they, well, it seems that their last job ended a bit abruptly, some kind of conflict over winemaking or something, and they got jobs with a place in Santa Louisa called Silver Springs.”
“Silver Springs? That’s the most prestigious winery on the central coast. He’s their new winemaker? That’s a wonderful job.”
I could almost hear a sniff. “Maybe. Anyway, they’ll be there tomorrow. I told them they could stay with you while they house hunt. After all, you have all that space and it is the house where we grew up. You can find them a rental. Sabrina will call you.”
The line went dead.
I stood for a moment, looking down at the phone, then carefully placed it back in the cradle. Dan put down his paper and grinned at me.
“I take it that wasn’t for me.”
“It was Catherine.” I filled my coffee cup before turning around to look at him. “Why would it be for you? Did you give the station this number?”
“Of course. Do you think there’s anyone in town who doesn’t know I spend half my nights here?”
He grinned at me. I sighed.
“From the scarcity of conversation on your end, I take it Catherine wants something and was giving you instructions.”
“Sabrina, my niece, and her husband are coming to stay with me. Tomorrow.”
The newspaper was pushed away and he sat up straighter. “Why?”
“Sabrina’s husband, whose name I never got, is the new winemaker at Silver Springs and it sounds as if Sabrina is going to work there as well. They took the job rather suddenly and need a place to stay.”
“And Catherine immediately thought of you. How nice.” There was a pause. “What’s Sabrina like?”
“I really don’t know. The last time I saw her, she was fourteen. Pretty, shy, a few years older than Susannah, but completely intimidated by her.”
Dan laughed. “Vivacious, confident, beautiful Susannah? I can’t believe it.” Dan and my daughter had taken an instant liking to each other. He admired her irrepressible vitality and she liked the way he treated me. So did I.
“You may think that’s funny. I didn’t then. It was the only time we went back east to visit and—well, it wasn’t a success.”
Dan’s expression changed. The grin faded. “Is that why you didn’t tell her about our wedding?”
“She didn’t give me a chance.” I turned away to top off my cup. “Besides, you only asked me last night. We’ve got plans to finalize before we start announcing the date and—”
Dan didn’t say anything, but he kept watching me. I wondered if he knew about the butterflies, make that starlings, fluttering around in my stomach.
It had been close to midnight. We’d had dinner on the coast, had taken in a romantic movie, and finished the evening with a very satisfactory episode of our own. I was in bed, more than half asleep, cuddled close to Dan, my face buried in his shoulder, when he murmured, “I think we should get married. December would be good. That’s only four months, but that’s plenty of time, isn’t it?”
“Sure,” I agreed, and fell asleep, full of contentment, completely at peace.
This morning the sun had streamed through the bedroom window, promising a beautiful fall day. I was instantly awake, wondering what I’d done. I crept out of bed and into the bathroom, staring at my face in the mirror. My marriage to Brian McKenzie had been a slow, disintegrating disaster. Could I face that possibility again? Dan wasn’t Brian, but still…I washed my face, brushed my teeth and hair and resolutely returned to the bedroom, prepared to tell Dan I liked our relationship just the way it was, him spending several nights a week, lunches, dinners, no commitments. He lay there, smiling at me, the gray in his hair bleached to gold by the sun. Damn the man. He looked like he belonged in my bed.
“Where’ve you been? I missed you.” He pulled the cover back and looked at me expectantly.
Oh well, I thought. Oh well.
Only now we were in my kitchen, doing ordinary things, like eating pancakes, and the doubts were back.
Time to change the subject. “More sausage? There’s one left.”
“Give it to Jake. He’s begging for it.”
“Dogs beg. Cats expect the best as their God-given right.” I cut up the sausage and put it in Jake’s dish. “Dan, there was something funny about my conversation with Catherine.”
“Other than the fact that she bothered to call you at all?”
I smiled somewhat ruefully. Dan had grown up next door to us. His parents and mine had been best friends. He was in and out of our kitchen as much as his own. Catherine and her supreme indifference to anyone’s needs but her own was no surprise to him. “That, of course. And, since I’ve lowered my standards by returning to this backwater town and becoming a lowly real estate agent, I can make myself useful and find them a rental.”
“You don’t do rentals.”
“I know.” Evidently I did now.
“She called Santa Louisa a backwater town?” He sounded torn between amusement and irritation. “Guess she doesn’t know about the new housing tracts, all the new restaurants the wine industry has brought here, the new shopping center…”
I had to laugh. “I’m sure Catherine still thinks we have one stoplight in town and that going out to eat means the bowling alley. But that’s not what’s bothering me. She told me Sabrina and her husband had left their last job in a hurry. Some kind of conflict.”
“So? People do change jobs, sometimes because it’s a move up their own personal ladder. Getting a job at Silver Springs is hardly a move down it.”
“I know, but Catherine said there was some kind of problem. At least, I think she did. It all sounds so rushed. I wonder what happened.”
Dan pushed aside his paper and got up. He came around the table to where I was leaning up against the counter. He took my coffee cup and put it on the countertop behind me. His hands slid down my shoulders to my waist and he pulled me close. His mustache scratched my ear, then my neck. It felt wonderful.
“They got a better job, Ellie. That’s it. A better job. Quit worrying about them and start worrying about wedding plans. We’re—”
The phone rang.
I squirmed out from under Dan and reached for it. “It’s for you.”
I could tell by the look on his face our peaceful Sunday was gone.
“Four-car pileup on 46E, just inside our city limits,” he told me, already on his way towards the stairs and his clothes. “Sounds like I’ll be a while.”
He pushed open the swinging door that led to the dining room, paused, and turned back. “How long are Sabrina and her husband planning on staying here?”
I had no idea. “Just a few days, I’m sure.”
“Yeah? I’ll bet you a hot fudge sundae it’s more like a couple of weeks.”
The door swung shut. I picked my coffee cup back up, wondering if Dan was right.
He got his hot fudge sundae. A month came and went and they were still with me.