The lady looked familiar, but I was sure she didn’t live in the village. She was dressed very informally, what I like to call “apri-beach wear”, but I could tell it was very expensive. She was in the kitchenware isle, picking up objects, turning them over to see the price, frowning, and then putting them back.
I sighed. My store is for locals, not tourists. I carry a bit of everything, from construction hardware to computer software. If you live here year round and need it, I have it. If not, I’ll get it for you. Sure, you can usually find it on the Internet for half the price, but people here appreciate having someone in town who will help them pick what they need and work with them. In other words, they trust me and so reward that trust with their business. Tourists, seeing the prices, usually think I’m a bandit and can never appreciate how much it costs me to actually have most of my inventory at this remote location.
“May I help you?” I asked the lady.
“No, thank you, I’m just browsing,” she said.
“Fine,” I said, “if you have any questions don’t be afraid to ask.”
“Oh, I have questions,” she said, “but I could never ask them.”
“Look, ma’am,” I said, “this store caters to people who live here year round. I mean no offence, I just want you to understand why what you’re looking at is the way it is.”
“But I am a local,” she said. “I just bought a place out on Overlook Lane.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” I said. “I didn’t mean any offence. Some gorgeous places out on Overlook.”
“There are,” she said. “Do you know them well?”
“I used to spend a lot of time up at Mistview Manor,” I said. “Sorry, I mean the Goodberry’s place; that’s just what Dale used to call it. He was my best friend when we were kids. When he inherited it he offered me a job there. Said I could live there in the big house. Ah, but I was in love so I turned him down. I never saw him again except in passing. Funny thing, though, he sent me a goodbye note the day he took his own life. I was in shock, like everyone else, and then there was this note in my mailbox after more than 30 years without a word. I’m sorry to bore you ma’am.”
“Not at all, it’s fascinating. I have a vested interest, you might say,” she said.
“Oh, you must have bought the Goodberry place,” I said. “How could I have been so stupid? That’s the only place that’s been up for saleon Overlook Lane for years. I hadn’t realized it wasn’t still on the market.”
“That’s fine Mr. Hawthorne,” she said. “I made sure it wasn’t publicized that I bought the house. I want to be settled before anybody knows I’m there. But there is one thing you said that puzzles me. I thought Mr. Goodberry sent you a note after your wife passed away. You said not a word in over 30 years, Mr. Hawthorne.”
“Yes, I guess I kind of forgot about it,” I said. “It was mostly a condolence note from an old friend. How did you know, Miss….”
“Just call me Susan, Mr. Hawthorne,” she said. “That’s my real name, you know. Everyone knows it, but the press usually is kind enough to call me by my screen name.”
“Uhm, OK Susan, and I’m Nate,” I said. “But that doesn’t explain how you knew he sent me that note.”
“Dale Goodberry’s diary was still in the house,” she said. “I tried to give it to the family, but they refused to take it, saying they already knew too much about their uncle. I’m not usually nosy, Nate, but with that I had to know what was up. Do you know why he invited to live up in the house after your wife died? You never knew why he refused to even meet Margret? You never saw the jealousy? Never knew you were the love of his life?”
A crushing weight descended on my shoulders. I stared at the now familiar famous face. Although she was smiling she had tears in her eyes. She came over and put her hand on my arm.
“I’m sorry, I never knew, I never even suspected. I’m so sorry. I just never,” I said.
She hugged me. Through my numbness I began to feel the humanness of this lady.
“How could you know?” she said. “He told no one except his diary. His family knew, but they kept it secret. That’s why they didn’t want the house, why it stood empty for the last 4 years. Don’t feel bad. It’s not your fault.”
She pulled back a small amount and kissed my cheek. She then hugged me even tighter. Something inside began to feel the femaleness of the woman in my arms. I could smell her perfume, feel the soft curves pressed against me. My body began to react. Embarrassed I pulled back.
“No, you wouldn’t have known,” she said. Her smile was warm, her eye friendly. And yet her face was so well known, loved by so many. I was sure she thought my reaction was due to her fame. I started to stammer something, but her light squeeze on my arm made me stop.
“The last few nights out at Mistview Manor have been a bit lonely,” she said. “I want to become part of the community, get to know people, but I’m afraid I started off on the wrong foot with you. I’m sorry to introduce myself by shocking you like that. Can I make it up to you? Can you come out for lunch at my place tomorrow?”
My eye was caught by hers. I no longer saw the movie star, just Susan, the woman who had given me human comfort after a shock.
“I’d love to, Susan,” I said. “It’ll be great to see Mistview Manor again.”