“They don’t go together.” EveLynn stared out the display window while watching the happy newlyweds who had just left my store. EveLynn is my employee, and I’m Cara Mia Delgatto. I own a shop called The Treasure Chest. We specialize in upcycled, recycled, and repurposed goods with a coastal theme.

As I followed her gaze, I had to admit that EveLynn made a good point. Kristin and Gerry Escada were a visual mismatch. He was tall and thin; she was short and plump. He had a chiseled, handsome face, while hers was as round as a full moon. On my mental attractiveness scale, he was an eight and she was maybe a five. All in all, the Escadas seemed an unlikely pair.

“EveLynn? That’s a personal remark.” Honora patted her daughter on the shoulder. Besides being EveLynn’s mother, Honora is the oldest and the wisest of my employees. Because EveLynn has Asperger’s, Honora is constantly battling to teach her social skills. Typically, I keep EveLynn off the sales floor, because I never know what she’ll say. But today she was setting out a new batch of her placemats, napkins, table runners, and tote bags. Her handmade soft goods are a real hit with our customers.

Honora continued, “Remember? We don’t make personal remarks.”

Evelyn pouted. “That was not a personal remark. I stated the obvious. She likes blues and greens. He likes red and orange. She likes Country and he likes Mid Century Modern. Those styles and colors don’t go together when you are decorating. That is a fact.”

“Yes, dear.” Honora seemed to think the conversation was finished, but Evelynn had staked out her position and intended to protect it. “People who get married should go together,” she said, turning to me for affirmation. “Tens go with tens. Eights go with eights. That’s how it works. I know I’m right. That’s how it works, right, Cara?”

Rather than argue, I smiled at the young woman. “It’s more complicated than that. I think love is a mystery.”

***

After work, my employees were invited to my house for dinner. Honora and EveLynn decided not to join us. EveLynn is rigid when it comes to schedules, and this particular night was the one she’d set aside for watching Outlander on TiVo.

However, my other two worker bees, Skye Blue and MJ Austin, took me up on my offer. At my house on Jupiter Island, they helped me mix up a salad while a pan of my frozen lasagna heated in the oven. After we ate, we took our wine glasses onto my deck. The view from my place is terrific. I have 185’ of beachfront property. Looking out over the endless horizon, we sipped glasses of California red by Ménage À Trois. Palm leaves rustled overhead. Waves lapped at the sandy beach. The sky was black as a bottle of India ink. In the absence of light pollution, the array of stars overhead was positively dizzying. The Treasure Coast of Florida truly is paradise.

“Really, how could things be more perfect? A good bottle of wine, a sweet breeze, the sound of the waves, and my besties,” Skye said. She lifted her glass in a toast. Her silent proposal was answered by the raising of two more glasses, mine and MJ’s.

“I don’t know if this will make ‘everything more perfect,’ or not…” MJ began in a halting tone. “But I have an announcement to make. Pete has asked me to marry him.”

“Again?” Skye smiled over the rim of her glass.

“Doesn’t he do that every year? At least once?” I added.

“It’s different. This time I’ve decided to accept,” MJ finished.

We squealed in excitement, and hugs were dispensed all around. Ever since MJ was diagnosed with breast cancer, Pete Harris has practically moved in with her. He’s taken incredible care of her. So, this announcement shouldn’t have come as a surprise, except that it signaled a changing of MJ’s mind. Previous to this, she had vowed never to marry again.

“Spill it.” Skye bumped MJ’s foot with her toes. “Inquiring minds want to know. What made you accept him this time?”

MJ took a long slow inhale, blew it out, and said, “To be perfectly frank, in the past I always said no because he’s so ugly.”

I thought I’d fall off my Adirondack chair. As it was, I spilled wine onto my jeans. This confession had a similar impact on Skye. She sputtered a mouthful of wine into a napkin. MJ reached over and slapped Skye between the shoulder blades. I sopped up the spill on my pants. When we were back to a semblance of normal, I told my friends what EveLynn had said in the store today about couples needing to match up in the looks department.

“It’s true.” MJ nodded, more to herself than to us. “I’m an eight or a nine, and Pete’s a four. I have always married handsome guys, and look where it got me? Six marriages and six divorces. All the time, Pete has been waiting in the wings. And it took this, this cancer, for me to see him for who he was.”

“Hello? Ladies?” A masculine voice called out from the shadows.

Pete appeared as if conjured from thin air. While MJ grabbed her purse and finished her wine, he stood nearby, holding open a cashmere shawl. He’d gotten it for her to wear while getting chemo, after noticing how cold she got in the treatment room. As we watched, he wrapped her in it tenderly. Pete treated MJ like a princess, and it did my heart good to know MJ recognized his devotion.

As the two of them stood cloaked in darkness, I had the chance to study them carefully. MJ had been honest in her appraisal. I’d judge her to be a nine or ten, and Pete? Well, he was definitely not much to look at. In silhouette, the man was built like an egret, all legs and a receding chin. Full face, he wasn’t much of a prize either. Once MJ was ready, Skye and I gave quick goodbye hugs to her and Pete. After they left, Skye and I returned to our lounge chairs. I poured us another helping of wine.

“I am so happy they’re going to get hitched,” I said.

“Me, too,” Skye agreed. “I’ve heard people ask, ‘What does MJ see in him?’ That makes sense because MJ is a real looker. She’s just gorgeous, and Pete is…um…”

“Unattractive.”

“Unattractive. That pretty much covers it.” Skye sighed deeply. “But the longer I watch them together, and the more I see of him taking care of her, I forget how he looks. I mean, if you asked me right now, I couldn’t describe him clearly. I really couldn’t. There’s this halo around him, you see? The glow of it changes his features. It’s like, I used to see him with my eyes, and these days I see him with my heart. I guess that MJ sees him that way, too.”

I raised my glass, and she raised hers. “To life’s sweet mysteries.”

~~ The End ~~

Cara Mia Delgatto believes in second chances. After the passing of her parents, and her son’s moving off to college, Cara seizes the chance to start a new life. . .but her past has a way of catching up with her. Will she ever really be free? You can read another Cara Mia Delgatto short story by Joanna in Happy Homicides 5: The Purr-fect Crime. It’s only 99 cents until May 26, 2017.


About the author
RT Reviews has called Joanna Campbell Slan “one of mystery’s rising stars,” and it’s easy to see why. She’s the award-winning and national bestselling author of three mystery series. Her first series, the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery series, was an Agatha Award Finalist, and features ace scrapbooker Kiki Lowenstein. Previous to writing fiction, Joanna penned seven scrapbooking technique books and wrote for Creating Keepsakes, Memory Makers, and PaperKuts. She has taught scrapbooking online, on cruises, and in Europe, as well as here in the US.

Her historical mystery series–The Jane Eyre Chronicles–starts where Charlotte Bronte’s classic left off. Reviewers have said, “For readers who love Jane Eyre, she lives on in Joanna Campbell Slan.” Joanna also is under contract for two other mystery series yet to be released. In her past life, Joanna was a television talk show host, an adjunct professor of public relations, a sought-after motivational speaker, and a corporate speechwriter. She is the mother of Michael Slan, an executive with Team Dignitas e-sports, and she is married to David Slan, CEO of Steinway Piano Gallery-DC. The Slans and their dog make their home on Jupiter Island, Florida. Connect with Joanna at joannacampbellslan.com.

All comments are welcomed.

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