Fifteen Years Later
Celeste opened her eyes as the first rays of dawn shone through her window. Nothing like waking to the sunshine. It always perked her up and reminded her she had everything in the world to be thankful for.
“I’m not eating dirt today,” she said out loud and let out a little giggle.
Every morning she expressed some positive little tidbit. She’d done that since she was a teen.
Sure, sometimes she repeated the same one, but it didn’t matter. It was the sentiment that there was always something to be happy about. Something to look forward to. It was a great way to start the day in her mind.
She stretched her arms over her head, twisted to the right and then the left, heard her body pop and crack more than it should for a thirty-year-old, and walked into her bathroom to get ready for the day.
Twenty minutes later, she was strolling along the brick pathway into the kitchen of her bed and breakfast with her long brown hair in a braid that fell down her back. First things first, she filled the large industrial coffee machine and set it to brew. She always wanted coffee ready for her guests.
Her guests paid a hefty rate to stay at her B&B and she made it worth every penny for them, not only with the atmosphere and view, but also in making them feel like they were being pampered in their own home.
Breakfast wouldn’t be until eight, so she had plenty of time to bake some muffins for those that wanted something light.
While the coffee brewed, she pulled out the ingredients and started mixing up the batter for her blueberry muffins. Once the first batch was in the oven, she walked over to the chalkboard in the kitchen, and in her beautiful script updated the menu for tomorrow.
She always had the menu listed for the current and next day. That way her guests knew what she was cooking for breakfast and dinner, both which were served family style in her large dining room. Lunch was always brown bag.
When six of her eight guests were out the door with their packed lunches in hand for their hiking adventure, Celeste turned to her two remaining guests. Sisters, each renting the last of her five rooms. “What do you two ladies have planned for the day?”
“If you don’t mind, we thought we’d spend it out by the water. Maybe take out the paddle boat and get some exercise,” Sue, the older of the two sisters, said.
“I think that’s a wonderful idea. The weather is beautiful, the sun is shining and warm, and the water is peaceful right now. Don’t forget your sunscreen,” Celeste said as she wiped down the counters.
“We’ll be fine. The sun isn’t that hot this time of year,” Nancy, the other sister, said back. “We never wear it. In our day, we went outside and bathed ourselves in baby oil.”
Celeste just held her smile, even though she wanted to cringe. “Well, as someone who was diagnosed with melanoma a year ago, I feel the need to lecture, but I’ll hold my tongue.” She walked over to a cabinet, opened it up, and pulled out a can of spray sunscreen. “Humor me, please, and take the sunscreen with you. Just don’t tell me if you decide not to use it,” she said, adding a little wink.
Celeste chose to believe the grins they were both sporting meant they’d use it, but chances were they wouldn’t. You can’t save the world, she told herself, but at least she felt better doing her part.
“Thanks, dear, you’re so thoughtful.”
Yep, thoughtful. That was her. Always thinking of others and putting them first.
“Not a problem. I’ll make sure the shed is unlocked so that you can get the life vests and any other gear you might want. There are fishing poles in there, too. Maybe if you catch enough I’ll cook fish for dinner.”
Both women scrunched their faces up. She expected no less. They were pretty pampered and high maintenance, and the thought of them fishing almost set her over the edge of laughter.
“How about we stop in town and buy some fish? Our treat,” Nancy said. “You’ve been taking such good care of us this week, I don’t want to go back home to my husband. Just the thought of what my house looks like makes me want to reserve another week here.”
“I have to run to town in a few minutes on errands. If you ladies are in the mood for fish, I’ll gladly pick some up. If all the other guests are in agreement, I’ll change dinner over. Otherwise, I’ll just cook the menu and your fish. No worries.”
“Really, don’t go out of your way,” Sue said.
“I’m here to please. How does salmon sound?”
“Delicious,” Nancy said.
“Then consider it done. Enjoy your day. There is plenty of food in the kitchen, so help yourself.”
Twenty minutes later, she was walking into the hardware store and making her way to the paint samples. “Hello, Billy,” she said to an old classmate.
He was a little on the short side, kind of geeky with his bow tie, and his left eye wandered off in space, but he was harmless. He’d never really fit in with his sweater vests and khakis in school, but she found him sweet and endearing and made sure she went out of her way to say hi.
“Celeste, it’s good to see you,” he said, blushing slightly like he always did. “Did I hear you were buying the house next to your bed and breakfast and turning it into another business?”
“Your hearing is excellent as always, Billy,” she said, tilting her head with a smile, which only caused his blush to intensify.
“You’re going into business with that fancy plastic surgeon, right?”
Small towns—nothing got by them. “Dr. Hamilton and I are forming a partnership of sorts, yes. It’s going to be a small B&B for his patients only, but I’ll oversee it while his staff is on call.”
“Imagine that, a special B&B for a plastic surgeon. Who would have thought of that?”
“The world is full of possibilities, Billy, don’t you forget it. I think you’ve got a customer waiting for you.” She nodded her head toward the tall man standing at the paint counter. He looked a little unkempt and a whole lot of impatient. “Sorry about that,” Celeste said to the newcomer, adding a little smile to her apology.
She didn’t recognize him, but he didn’t look like a tourist. Probably new to the area. More and more people were buying vacation homes here, though he didn’t look the part of a some-time vacationer either.
It looked like he hadn’t shaved in days. His hair was disheveled and in desperate need of a cut. An old T-shirt and cargo shorts with beat-up sneakers completed his look.
He nodded his head quickly, but didn’t say another word. She continued to smile politely and went on her merry way.
Caleb had been listening to the woman and worker talk for a few minutes while he grabbed the paint color he was looking for.
Celeste, huh? And it was her bed and breakfast. He drove by it every time he came to town and saw her outside often. He thought she might have been an employee since she was normally mowing the lawn, raking, weeding, and sometimes even painting or touching up the outside.
This was the first he’d seen her up close and was shocked to realize how young she seemed.
She obviously didn’t recognize him, not that he expected her to, but she’d waved to him a time or two as he’d driven by. Now he was starting to think she waved to everyone that passed her house. Good thing she didn’t live on that busy of a street or she’d never get anything done.
“Can I help you?” Billy asked him.
“I need to get two cans of this paint,” Caleb said, then turned his head and watched Celeste as she browsed tile samples a little ways down the aisle.
“Isn’t she just beautiful?” Billy asked him, a wistful tone in his voice.
Caleb grunted, but didn’t say anything else. Obviously Billy had a major crush on Celeste. It wasn’t hard to miss how he blushed and looked at her longingly.
To Celeste’s credit though, she didn’t humor Billy at all. No, she talked to him like he was a person, maybe like they were good friends, though they probably were no more than acquaintances. Just like she turned kind eyes on him and apologized for keeping him waiting.
He didn’t mind waiting, not really. It’s not like he had any pressing matters to get home to. Just painting and fixing up the cabin he’d bought. Then working out the kinks of another app he was writing.
“I went to school with her, and everyone just adored her,” Billy commented, then started to set the colors to blend in the mixer. Guess Billy didn’t get the hint that Caleb wasn’t much for conversation.
“That’s nice,” Caleb said and looked in the other direction, trying to find something else to focus his attention on.
“She’s nothing but a walking miracle. After all that’s happened to her, she’s never let it bring her down. Always had that bright sunshine smile on her face.”
Caleb refrained from snorting over Billy’s description. It was most likely an exaggeration from someone that was infatuated with her.
Besides, it wasn’t of any concern to him. He just wanted his paint so he could get home.
But Billy didn’t get the hint. “Was named prom queen two years running, too. No competition. But it never went to her head, either.”
Wow, Caleb thought. This was why he couldn’t get out of the small town he grew up in fast enough and was wondering what the heck he was thinking, relocating here. He’d thought it would give him the solace he needed to survive and move on, but instead it was just giving him a headache.
“I’m sure she was thrilled,” Caleb said, not knowing what else he should say. Proms were something he didn’t pay much attention to, even for the short period of time he was in high school.
“Nope, she didn’t want the honor. Her senior year, she handed the crown over to a classmate with Down syndrome. Told everyone that it wasn’t fair to be queen twice and she gave it to the runner-up instead.”
So Celeste was a saint on top of having a sunny disposition. Oh yeah, let’s not forget she was a walking miracle, whatever that was supposed to mean.
Not that Caleb believed in miracles. Just the opposite, actually. Miracles didn’t happen to him; they failed him. Cut a hole in his heart and left him to bleed out alone. Left him to pick up the pieces that were remaining and find a way to move on.
“How much longer is the paint going to be?” he asked, trying to figure out what else he needed so he could walk away from this ridiculous conversation.
“Almost done, just another minute. Do you need some brushes or pans today?” Billy asked, and Caleb was thrilled the topic had changed.
“I’m all set, thanks.”
Billy took a tiny bit of paint and put it on the outside of each lid, then slapped the top down hard and printed out the order slip. “Here you go then. Just take this to the register and they’ll ring you up. Have a great day.”
“Thanks,” Caleb said, nodding his head and walking to the front, paying quickly and making a beeline for his truck, only to be brought up short.
“I’m sorry,” the woman from the store he was trying to avoid said. She had her hand up and was rubbing the head of his German shepherd.
Some guard dog he ended up being. Gigantic head sticking out the window, tongue flopping to the side, and his eyes all but rolling around in his massive head as Celeste briskly rubbed his fur. Then she reached her hand under his chin and gave him a tickle, the dog’s head wobbling around in glee.
If dogs could talk, he’d swear the dog would be begging for more attention like Billy in there was.
“Don’t you know not to pet strange dogs?” Caleb asked.
“He looked lonely,” Celeste said. “No one should be lonely.”
Caleb grunted. She was like a little Pollyanna. Where the heck did she come from? “He just loves attention.”
“What’s his name?” she asked, her voice like a soft caress. Okay, maybe she had some magical powers in her voice, because he could see how someone could be drawn in.
“That’s a cheerful name,” she said, rubbing the dog one more time on the head, which got her a lick in return.
Man or dog, always a sucker for a beautiful woman, he thought. Good thing she didn’t know how Sparky got that name—she might not think it was so cheerful then. “Let’s go, boy, head back in the window.”
Sparky turned his head, eyed him once, then let out a sigh but did as he was told. Caleb walked around to the bed of his truck and put the cans in there. Celeste followed suit. Guess it wasn’t just Billy that couldn’t take a hint.
She held her hand out to his. “I’m Celeste McGuire. Thanks for letting me pet your dog. I’ve seen his head hanging out the window of your truck multiple times. Sorry I didn’t recognize you up close in the store.”
She was more observant than he thought. As much as he wanted to walk away, he wasn’t that much of an ogre, regardless of what people said. He returned her handshake. “Caleb Ryder.”
“You must be new to the area. I’ve only seen your truck for about six months now.”
Yeah, she obviously knew what was going on around town. He’d been in the area close to a year, but purchased the truck about six months ago. “Yep,” he said, not adding anything else.
He didn’t want to get close to any locals. He just wanted to go back to his cabin in the woods and be alone. He was better that way. It was better for everyone.
“It was nice to meet you, Caleb,” she said, her smile never leaving her face. He got the feeling she was humoring him now, but let it go.
“You too,” he said, and walked around the bed of his truck, climbed in the driver’s seat, and started the engine.
He didn’t look in the rear-view mirror at her while he was pulling out of the parking lot. Not really.
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