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Here's an excerpt from Time Will Tell:
Holly tossed and turned, unable to sleep. Dinner with Adele had turned into an evening of board games to entertain Uncle Kipp and his growing frustration at not being able to get out of his recliner. Holly couldn’t say she blamed him, but the best thing would have been for her and Zach to get the A/C unit installed and more of the clutter cleared away.
As for Adele Abberley, Holly thoroughly enjoyed the woman, her wit and the way she could so easily stain Uncle Kipp’s cheeks a bright red. Holly wished she could banter so easily with the opposite sex in such a harmless, flirtatious manner. Any time she’d tried, it sounded contrived and awkward.
McTavish jumped on the bed. Holly gasped. He ran and jumped off the other side. She sighed. Darn dog. He needed to stay with Uncle Kipp in his recliner. Of course, this had been Uncle Kipp’s bedroom until she’d arrived, but he said he slept better in the recliner. Or, was it because only one bed existed and he was being polite? Either way, was that why McTavish ran across her bed several times every night? Must be.
Holly punched her pillow and groaned, trying to get comfortable. No use. Her heart raced and sleep escaped her. She couldn’t get Zach out of her mind. Not her attraction to him, or her suspicions of him, or the fact that he was homeless. Thoughts of him seemed pointless. She’d be leaving here soon anyway, going home to her new job at the arc welding company. Eurgh. Not exactly that exciting, but it was a job. Salt Lake City wasn’t the place for her. She couldn’t handle all of the emotional chaos and secrecies going on around here. And, she just couldn’t get involved with someone in Zach’s position. Not with her idiosyncrasies. Her heart felt like a limp noodle.
Bolting upright, she swung her legs over the edge of the bed and slipped quietly over to her suitcase. She carefully unzipped the outside zipper and reached in for one of the cans of Pringles potato chips she’d packed. Okay, maybe she was a bit obsessive. She knew they must have cans of chips here in Salt Lake, but what if she hadn’t been able to get away, or there wasn’t a store nearby? What then? Better safe than sorry. She popped the inner seal and drank in the smell. She’d save them for downstairs.
The hot night was as sticky as double-sided tape. She forwent getting dressed and opted to stay in her nightshirt. She tiptoed out into the living room with her chips and spotted Uncle Kipp snoring in his recliner, McTavish curled in his lap. Zach rested stretched on the floor, his arm covering his face. She faltered, trying not to stare at his manly form but feeling much like her eyeballs were stapled in place. She forced her head to turn away from his enticing image, picturing him asleep near a cool pool of water instead of lying on Uncle Kipp’s moldy, old carpet.
She pushed herself to move toward the stairs. Hopefully the old wood wouldn’t creak too loudly on the way down. She moved in a serpentine fashion around the clutter and glided down the stairs, holding her breath. There. She’d made it. She moved a few items out of the way so she could close the door leading upstairs, and then she turned on the lights and set about stuffing herself with perfectly shaped chips. Of course, she didn’t exactly stuff them in her mouth. She had a habit of eating around them in little rabbit nibbles so as to keep them perfectly round until the last bite. She didn’t understand why she did it, and who cared anyway? The practice had just become a hard habit to break.
As she nibbled, the clutter in the shop set her nerves on end. She placed the can on the counter and went into the back for one of the empty boxes Zach had collected from somewhere. There had to be an end to this mess at some point. She came through the entry just as the door swung open and caught her in the shoulder.
“Whoa.” She lost her balance and stumbled backward.
The box in her hands went flying into the air as she started to go down. Zach stabilized her with his strong grasp. McTavish rushed down to participate in the commotion.
“Sorry about that,” Zach said. He quickly pulled away and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Couldn’t sleep?”
“Too muggy. I couldn’t quit thinking about…” —well, you, actually— “…about all the work waiting down here.”
“Um, me too.” He turned on the fan and picked up the empty box. “As the saying goes, ‘After all is said and done, more is said than done’.”
“Let’s get to work.”
They both turned as something crashed to the floor. McTavish stared down from the counter at the broken potato chips on the floor. Holly cringed. Not my chips! The dog jumped from the counter to a stack of papers and then to the floor.
“No,” Holly called to him, trying to shoo him away without actually touching him.
Zach stepped over and scooped up the can with only a few chips left. McTavish scarfed down the rest. Holly knew she shouldn’t cry over spilt chips, but her eyes teared anyway.
Reaching into the can, Zach pulled out a broken chip. “Want it?”
She shook her head, staring at the uneven chip. He chomped it down and then pulled another perfectly shaped chip from the can. Holly’s mouth watered.
“Want it?” he asked again.
“Yes. Yes, I want it.” She reached for it.
He withdrew his hand. “Why didn’t you want the first chip?”
She bit her lip. “No reason.”
He smiled slowly. “Because it was broken? You’re kidding? Answer me this, have you ever eaten a real chip?”
“These are very real chips.” She grabbed for it again.
“I mean, sliced from a real potato with all its imperfect shapes.”
“These are made from mashed potatoes, and I prefer them that way.”
He inched closer to her with a big grin on his face. “I don’t think you prefer the taste. I think you prefer the fact that they are all identical and stacked together perfectly.”
“I do not.” Holly realized that came out a little too tersely. “I mean, it’s only logical that you can fit more into a smaller space if they are the same and together. Other chip bags are too bulky…and…and you know kids like to go down the store aisles and punch them so they are nothing more than chip dregs.”
Zach let out a hearty laugh. McTavish whined and looked at her and then Zach.
“You’ve finished your snack, McTavish,” she said, waving a hand toward the stairs. “Now go to bed, you chip hound.”
McTavish bolted for safety. Zach continued to grin at her. What gave him the right to psychoanalyze her about her eating habits? What about…What about him and his lemon fetish? Lemon candy, lemon pie, lemon chicken… He obviously had obsessions.
Zach chomped down the chip while pulling out another perfect one. “Last one. Do you want it?”
Her mouth yearned for the salty crunch. Yes, she wanted the darn chip. Although she wanted to nibble it around and around in a circle without an audience. She remembered the other chip can neatly tucked away in her suitcase upstairs. “No, thank you. I’m just going to get back—”
His teeth crunched into the chip. Then he tipped the can up and poured the remaining crumbs into his mouth, swallowing them down greedily. Her fingers stiffened straight, wanting to slap him a good one. Heavens. How could she begrudge a homeless man a few potato chips? She exhaled. Let him enjoy his little game. Two could play at this.
“Guess I’ll be eating all the glazed lemon cookies by myself tomorrow,” she said.
The smile disappeared from his face and he stopped chewing. “You wouldn’t.”
“Every last one, mister.”
He looked down at the empty can. “And if I replace this can of chips…what then?”
“Then I’m pretty sure at least six cookies will have your name on them.”
“Okay. Maybe a dozen,” she said, picking up a stack of newspapers.
“That’s better. A dozen glazed lemon cookies in exchange for a real bag of potato chips.” He nodded.
“No way. I want a can of Pringles original potato chips.”
“I’m telling you, real chips are better.” He swept up twice the newspapers she could carry in his arms. “Variety counts. You get folded chips, slightly brown chips, chips with bubbles—”
“I’ll take my perfect chips, if you don’t mind.”
He dropped the stack on the counter and pulled her into his arms. He eyed her up and down. “Somerset Maugham once said, ‘Perfection has one grave defect: it is apt to be dull.’” His gaze fixated on her lips.
Potato chip flavoring drifted toward her from his rapid breaths.
She bit at her bottom lip. “Are-are you saying I’m not perfect?”
He pulled her closer. “Oh, you’re perfect, all right.”
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Cindy A. Christiansen
Sweet romance, humor, suspense...and dogs!
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