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First pages

Falling in love is like baking.

Results may vary with experience.

~Aunt Francesca~

Chapter One

I opened the box and stepped back, tripping over a pile of Himalayan wind chimes I’d left lying behind me on the floor of the shop. They clanked in a discordant melody as I untangled them from my feet.

“What the heck?” I asked, ignoring the chimes and focusing on the parcel that had arrived in the mail earlier this morning. Tiny stone phalluses in various shades of grey filled the entire container to the brim. Checking the return address, I noticed the shipping cost and wanted to cry. Most of our inventory budget for the entire month had been used to mail one this small box halfway around the world.

“Mom, what exactly did you order from Inuyama, Japan?”

My mother popped her head around the corner, a bright smile on her face. “Did they finally arrive, Fiona? I’ve been waiting for ages.”

“For stone penises?”

Why was I even surprised? This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. My mother, Claire de Lune Campbell, had never been the master of impulse control, and she had a history of making very poor decisions. She’d been born Claire Campbell, and added the “de Lune” in, what I can only guess, was a moment of pot-induced inspiration. The pot no longer played a part in her life, but the total inability to make common sense decisions remained.

Mom picked up one of the stone penises, a happy twinkle in her eye. “Aren’t they lovely?”

On the outside, Mom and I looked alike. The same blond hair, the same blue eyes, the same stubborn tilt to our chins, but there the resemblance ended. Mom was as happy and bright as a butterfly landing on a flower, and had the same level of fiscal responsibility. I stressed about everything, especially money, but I had good cause.

My mom owned and operated The Enchanted Garden Café, where we served food, coffee, specially blended teas, and sold unusual items in our small gift shop. Nestled in the middle of the South Side, the funky, hippie district of Pittsburgh, it was the perfect spot for my mom, but a constant source of anxiety for me.

I wiped sweat from my face and brushed off my clothing. Dust covered my t-shirt and shorts, and some kind of stone powder had fallen out of the box from Inuyama onto my tennis shoes. Mom, glowing in a dress made from recycled saris, didn’t have a speck of dust on her, but she hadn’t handled the phalluses.

Kate, the girl who worked behind the counter, came over to us, her dark eyes alight with curiosity. “I want to see them,” she said. Mom handed her one and she studied it closely, peering at it through the thick black frames of her funky hipster glasses. “At least they are anatomically correct. Look at those veins.”

My cheeks grew warm and Mom smiled, putting a cool hand against my face. “Aww, Fiona is blushing.”

“No, I’m not. It’s hot in here.”

“Of course, it is,” she said, making me feel twelve instead of twenty-five, but it was hot for early June, and the air conditioning was broken. Again. Even with all the windows open, it still felt stuffy.

I ignored her and picked up a penis. “What are these things anyway?”

She beamed at me with pure, unfiltered happiness. “Fertility charms from a little shrine in the mountains of Japan. They have a big festival there every year. I went once.”

She sighed, most likely remembering happy times at the fertility festival, and went back to the kitchen. I looked at Kate and rolled my eyes, making her snicker, before getting back to work. The fertility charms came in all sizes, and seemed handmade. I just wasn’t sure how to sell them, or where to display them in our shop.

A Victorian eyesore, the café was painted on the outside in what once had been a mix of bright pink and various shades of green. The pink had faded to a dull rose, and the green looked like the color of old limes just before they rotted. It needed work, and a fresh coat of paint, but instead of doing so, we spent our money on phalluses from Japan. That was how things worked with my mother. No planning. No rhyme or reason. No logic. No rational thought.

The bell above the door tinkled, and I turned, a penis in each hand, as a stranger walked into the shop. I couldn’t see his face at first, because the sun was at his back, but he carried a guitar case. A sure sign of trouble.

“Hello,” he said as he came closer.

He had dark, straight hair that brushed his shoulders, brown eyes, and a goatee. He reminded me of a sexy, naughty French pirate, and I knew his kind well. Close to my age, he was definitely one of the artsy, flighty types who always hung out around my mom. I could spot them a mile away.

“Holy guacamole, if he were any hotter, I’d need new underwear,” whispered Kate, and took off to the back of the shop, leaving me alone to greet the stranger.

“Hi.” For no reason at all, my cheeks grew so warm they pulsated. I needed to get the air conditioner fixed. Yet another item on my list of practical things we couldn’t afford to get done.

Sexy French Pirate Man looked down and smiled. “Sorry to bother you. It looks like you have your hands full.”

I’d almost forgotten about the penises. I quickly put my hands behind my back, a silly move since an open box of them sat right on the table in front of me.

Composing myself, I casually placed the phalluses on a shelf next to some potted herbs, hoping they’d be mistaken for some kind of garden sculpture. They did look a bit like worms from a distance. Up close, unfortunately, there was no disguising them.

Sexy French Pirate Man just stood there watching me. I found it extremely annoying. “Can I help you with something?” I snapped.

He looked like he was trying not to laugh. “I’m here to see Claire.”

“Of course, you are,” I muttered under my breath. It took some effort to force a fake smile onto my face. “Hold on a second.” I stuck my head into the kitchen and yelled, “Mom, someone wants to speak with you.”

She walked out in her apron, wiping her hands. When she saw the stranger, her eyes lit up. “You must be Matthew. How good of you to come.”

He smiled with genuine pleasure. “Hello, Claire.”

She pulled him into a hug. My mother was a compulsive hugger. She hugged everyone, even the mailman when he brought the mail every day. I preferred a handshake, or maybe even just a nod.

“Matthew Monroe, this is my lovely daughter, Fiona.”

“Mom. Please.” Dirty, hot, and desperately in need of a shower, I felt far from lovely at the moment. I glared at her, but she ignored me.

“Matthew agreed to host acoustic night for the summer while Frankie is away. Isn’t that wonderful?”

I stared at her in shock. Acoustic night, held every Saturday, was a pain in the neck. She made it a BYOB event, which meant we usually had drunk people in the back garden until well past midnight, and a mess every Sunday morning.

The garden was usually a tranquil oasis, a place with crumbling brick walls, bright flowers, and a gurgling fountain in the center. Mom, in typical Claire Campbell fashion, thought the fountain possessed magical properties, and somehow connected to a mystical underground spring mentioned in ancient prophecies. My theory? The water probably came directly from the muddy Monongahela River just down the street.

Either way, the garden was a big moneymaker for us. Every Sunday ladies wearing fancy hats and white gloves came in droves, travelling for miles in their expensive cars for the chance to nibble on tiny cucumber sandwiches and drink my mom’s famous teas. They also liked to browse the shop and pick up little things, like books on natural remedies, jewelry made by local artists, and the occasional bong. We sold them as water pipes, but they knew what they were just as much as we did. The last thing those ladies would want to see, however, was vestiges left from a bunch of drunks at acoustic night. It would ruin the whole ambiance for them.

I hated acoustic night, but we’d managed to keep it under control as long as my mom’s friend Frankie Quattrone hosted it. A tall, lean man with long curly hair and tiny glasses, people listened when he told them to get out or to stop smoking weed in front of the café. I doubted Matthew could do it. It would end up being complete chaos.

I struggled to remain calm. “I thought we planned to cancel acoustic night until Frankie came back.”

Frankie was currently staying in an ashram in India. It never ceased to amaze me how many of my mom’s friends stayed at ashrams. None of my other friends knew people who went to ashrams. They went to the beach, or stayed in a cottage on a lake. Nice, predictable, normal ways to take a vacation. Ashrams weren’t even on their radar.

Mom hugged Matthew’s arm. “We did, but Frankie called and said Matthew would help out.”

“Perfect.”

Of course, she missed the sarcasm in my voice. She had no sarcasm sensor at all. “It will be perfect. Exactly what we need. It’s been so stressful around here lately.”

“What do you mean?”

Matthew’s dark eyes immediately filled with concern. My mom had that effect on people. The top of her head barely hit his shoulder, and she looked like a tiny, lost fairy. People naturally wanted to protect her. A few inches taller and a whole lot tougher, I didn’t need protecting and made that clear.

“Mom, we shouldn’t talk about this with strangers…”

“Oh, posh. Matthew isn’t a stranger. He’s one of us now. Aren’t you, Matthew?”

Matthew nodded, so mesmerized I wanted to groan. “But this is a legal matter. We aren’t supposed to discuss it.”

I felt the panic rising in my chest, but Mom remained unconcerned. “We can trust Matthew.” She lowered her voice. “A big corporation called Anderson Solutions is trying to buy up the whole block. They want to tear down all these beautiful little shops and build a giant, ugly parking garage.”

“That’s terrible,” he said.

“I know,” said Mom. “Aunt Francesca left me this place when I was pregnant with Fiona and had nowhere else to go, but the rest of the block is owned by a man named Mr. McAlister. He isn’t well, poor dear. He’s thinking about selling. And Anderson is doing what they can to intimidate us into selling, too, including filing a bunch of silly little complaints against us. Frankly speaking, I don’t have the resources to keep up. Lawyers are expensive creatures.”

 I’d lost sleep over it for weeks. On one hand, the café felt like a noose around my neck, strangling me ever so slowly. On the other, it was my childhood home and our entire source of income. If Mom had to close the café, I didn’t know what she’d do. She would never be able to find another job. The best she could hope for would be to buy another café and start from the ground up, but I wasn’t sure she’d manage it. She’d put too much of herself, body and soul, into The Enchanted Garden.

“There’s a city council meeting in a few weeks,” she said, “and that’s why this is so important. Acoustic night is a big crowd pleaser and brings a lot of young people into the café. We need all the help and support we can get.”

Mom had to blink away tears. I wasn’t sure I agreed with her conclusion, but she had the right idea. We did need all the help we could get.

The bell above the door tinkled again, and in walked my boyfriend. Tall, blond, and perfect, Scott wore an expensive suit and tie and didn’t seem to feel the summer heat. I stood on tiptoes to give him a kiss. As his lips brushed mine, he took one look at my hair and clothing and gave my ponytail a gentle tug.

“Fiona, we’re going to be late…” His eyes widened when he noticed the box of stone phalluses. I hurriedly shut it and shoved it under a table.

“Two seconds,” I said. “Promise.”

Mom and I lived in the apartment above the shop, so I ran upstairs to my room, taking the steps two at a time. Hopping into the shower, I said a prayer that the hot water tank still worked, and dressed as quickly as possible, donning a simple black sundress and pulling my hair into a tight bun at the nape of my neck. I put on a little lipstick, grabbed my purse, and ran downstairs. It was never a good idea to leave Scott alone too long with Mom.

Back in the shop, she was forcing Scott to taste her new tea, explaining to him why the phalluses would be such a huge hit. “They’re part of our new fertility line. That tea is as well. I call it Fertile Myrtle.”
Scott almost spat out the tea in his mouth, and Matthew bit his lip, probably an effort to keep from laughing at the horrified expression on Scott’s face. “What did you give me?” Scott asked, his cheeks growing pink.

I grabbed his arm. “It’s nothing, just herbal tea. We’d better go. We have reservations, right?”

As I pulled him outside, I saw my old friend Moses walking toward us, his gait uneven because of his bad leg. I gave Scott’s hand an apologetic squeeze. “Just a second. Promise.”

I jogged over to Moses, and his entire face lit up when he saw me. He had the most beautiful smile in the world, a slash of white in his dark face that made each person he bestowed it upon feel loved and important. “Baby girl. How nice to see you on this beautiful evening.”

I kissed his weathered cheek. He carried a beat-up saxophone case in one hand. “Are you going to play at the café tonight?”

His dark eyes sparkled as he caressed the worn black leather. “You know I will. It’s the best part of my week.”

“I put some soup in the fridge for you, and there’s fresh bread, too. Make sure you eat. I mean it, Moses.”

“You have a heart of gold like your mama,” he said, and leaned forward to whisper in my ear. “And you’re far too good for that one over there.”

Scott tapped his foot impatiently, but I ignored him, patting Moses on the shoulder. I felt his bones under the thin fabric of his meticulously ironed shirt, and it worried me. He’d been an adjunct professor at the university until he got sick last year, a job he loved but one that left him with no health insurance or pension. It made me furious. Moses deserved better.

“You don’t think anyone is good enough for me. You never have.”

He laughed, the sound rich and deep. “That is the honest truth, and I will not deny it.”

“Go eat your soup.” I gave him a wave goodbye, and ran back to Scott.

He glanced at his watch. “If you are done socializing with the city’s indigent population, can we please go?”

I frowned. “He isn’t homeless. He’s going through a rough patch.”

“I’m sorry, Fi,” he said, drawing me close. “I know you’re protective of him, and I adore you for it. This isn’t about Moses. Your mom…”

I squeezed his hand. “I understand. Trust me. So where are we going tonight?”

Sometimes changing the subject was better than having a discussion that could lead to an argument. Scott didn’t like my mom, and I suspected the feeling was mutual. They both put on a brave front for my sake, though.

He smiled. “I made a few calls and got a table Le Mont. Nothing’s too good for my girl.”

He opened the door of his Jaguar for me and I slipped in, feeling relaxed and happy for the first time all day. Scott had that effect on me. Being around him made me feel calm and safe. Sometimes, I felt like he was the only thing I could count on, the one stable, normal element in my chaotic life. And I needed stable and normal. I’d never had it before. I’d never even come close.

Kate once said I spent so much time trying not to be my mom I had no idea who I truly was. She suggested meditation, journaling, and self-realization techniques, but I didn’t need any of that. I had dreams and plans of my own, and I had Scott.

As the sun set over the river, and we sped out of the South Side, I closed my eyes. As soon as I finished my last class in the fall, I planned to move out. I’d already talked to a friend who needed a roommate, so things were lining up. I just had to wait until everything was settled with Anderson Solutions, and then find a way to tell Mom without breaking her heart.

 

Even the worst dinner party can sometimes

be saved with the right amount of wine.

~Aunt Francesca~

Chapter Two

Scott forgot to mention his co-worker, Harrison, would join us for dinner with his girlfriend, Mindy. Scott and Harrison worked together at Burgess and Garrett, a big real estate investment firm downtown, and Harrison was a bit of a drinker. As they waited at the bar for us, he already looked slightly toasted.

“Sorry we’re late.” Scott rolled his eyes and ordered a drink.

“Women.” Harrison raised his glass in manly agreement.

Mindy fluttered her eyelashes. “But we’re so worth the wait.”

We’d gone out with Harrison and Mindy many times before, and I hadn’t enjoyed it. Harrison, a stocky redhead with a thick neck, had an opinion about everything. Mindy, a bleach blonde with a fake tan, seemed to have no opinions at all.

The restaurant, elegant and expensive, sat high on Mount Washington and overlooked the entire city of Pittsburgh. Scott and Harrison immediately got wrapped up in a conversation about work, leaving Mindy and I to awkwardly stare at our menus.

“How’s work? Are you still waitressing?” she asked, taking another sip of wine. We’d gone over this before, but Mindy had the short-term memory of a gnat.

“I’m getting my MBA, but I work for my mom part time. She owns a café in the South Side.”

Scott leaned forward with a smile. “It’s where old hippies go before they die.”

Harrison and Mindy laughed. I forced a smile onto my face. “Now, Scott…”

Scott held up a hand to stop me, enjoying himself. “You should have seen what Fiona was doing when I walked in. She was filling a shelf with stone schlongs.”

Harrison almost choked on his drink. “Why?”

“Fertility charms.” I picked up the menu and pretended extreme interest in the selections. “Imported from Japan.”

“Her mom gave me fertility tea.” Scott and Harrison laughed so hard their faces turned red, and Harrison had to wipe his eyes with his napkin. “She’s a character. The tea was called Fertile Myrtle.”

I didn’t like the way he made fun of my mom, even if she kind of deserved it. “She’s famous for her teas, and the shop is one of the most popular places on the South Side.”

“I love the South Side,” said Mindy. “I’ve been to some fun bars there. We should go to your mom’s place after dinner.”

Imagining Harrison and Mindy at acoustic night made me cringe. “Or we could go to that nice place near Station Square with dueling pianos.” I tried to sound enthusiastic, and it worked.

“That would be awesome,” said Mindy. Harrison and Scott launched back into their work discussion again. Mindy and I were stuck with each other. I tried to think of something to talk about as minutes ticked by.

“I love your dress.”

A lie, but I’d gotten desperate. Her dress, so short I could almost see her panties, was an awful shade of green that looked like the sludge we sometimes had to clean out of the fountain at the Enchanted Garden.

“Thanks. I bought it at the new designer shop in Shadyside. Expensive, but worth every penny.” She whispered how much it cost, an enormous sum that would have been enough to pay the shipping on that box of phalluses ten times over.

“Wow.” The idea of spending that much on a dress made me ill.

“Harrison doesn’t mind.” She smiled. “He likes to buy me nice things. I’m sure Scott is the same way. You met in college, right?”

She’d heard this story before as well, but at least it was something to talk about. “I saw him on campus a few times, but we didn’t meet until later.”

I’d admired him from a distance. He’d been the student government president at the University of Pittsburgh and in a popular fraternity. I was the wide-eyed freshman who nearly swooned every time he smiled at me. He’d been my ideal, my dream man, for years. Even before I knew his name.

“I was a big, bad senior,” said Scott with a wink. “And stupid. I should have scooped you up years ago.”

“How did you two finally meet?” asked Mindy.

“He got lost a few months ago in the South Side and came into my mom’s shop to ask for directions.”

“I ended up asking her out instead,” he said, kissing my hand.

“And the rest is history,” said Harrison, raising his glass to us. “You two are perfect for each other.”

For once, I agreed with Harrison. If I had a checklist of every single thing I wanted from a man, Scott met each requirement. Smart, handsome, employed, he was not an artist or a musician or a stoner. He didn’t believe in alternative medicine. He’d never been to a Reiki therapist. He had no idea what ear coning was or why anyone would do it. He was perfect and normal in every way. My only concern came from the fact my mom didn’t like him.

When I first started dating him, she’d gotten right to the point, “Do you think you could fall in love with him, Fi?”

I’d never said as much, even to Scott. “Why wouldn’t I?”

Judging by the expression on face, I assumed she could think of several reasons, but, wisely, she didn’t mention them. She chose a different tactic. “Is he good in the sack?”

“I am not going to talk to you about my sex life.”

Currently, I had no sex life, and she probably knew it. Other than two boyfriends when I was an undergrad, neither of them exceptionally remarkable, I’d been too busy studying and working to have a serious relationship. When I met Scott, I thought he had potential, but every time we’d even gotten close to having sex, something went dramatically and horribly wrong.

Once, after a particularly romantic dinner and several bottles of wine, Scott had gotten food poisoning. Another time, I broke out in hives. The last time, he tripped on his way into the bedroom and ended up at the ER with a badly sprained ankle.

I wasn’t about to share this information with my mom, however. She’d say it was the universe’s way of telling us we shouldn’t be together. If so, the universe was wrong, and the less my mother knew about my relationship with Scott the better.

He interrupted my thoughts, pulling me back to the fancy restaurant and the company of Harrison and Mindy. “So what do you want, Fiona?”

I stared at him blankly, and he laughed. “You’ve been looking at the menu since we sat down. What are you going to order?”

“I’m not sure.”

The prices weren’t listed, making me a little uncomfortable. Scott always insisted on paying, but I didn’t want to take advantage. I went with vegetable pasta, certain it was one of the less expensive items.

We ate in a comfortable silence. Harrison and Scott drank heavily. I sipped on my glass of wine, and Mindy chugged hers. The evening would have been more enjoyable if I’d been drunk, but I was painfully sober and very tired.

A dull headache took root, and when the others wanted to go to a bar for after dinner drinks, I begged off and said I’d take a cab home. I knew one bar would turn into two and possibly three or four. Unlike Scott, Harrison, and Mindy, I had to work in the morning. Scott gave me a sweet, sloppy kiss, and paid for the taxi.

I gave him a stern look. “Don’t drive home. You’re sloshed.”

He kissed me again. “Sloshed? It’s so cute how you’re always taking care of me. I love that about you, Fiona. I love everything about you, in fact. You know that, right?”

“Thank you, Scott.” My standard answer. He’d been hinting around to telling me he loved me for weeks, usually when intoxicated, but I’d never quite been able to say it back.

Scott waved as I sped off in the taxi, looking a little unsteady on his feet. Luckily, his apartment wasn’t far away. After bar hopping, he’d walk home, sleep it off, and pick up his car in the morning, his usual routine. It didn’t bother me, but I had no desire to join in.

The cab let me off right in front of the café. People sat at the small tables we’d set up on the sidewalk, and others hovered near the door, listening. It was quite a crowd, and as soon as the sound of the music reached my ears, I understood why.

Matthew sat on a bar stool, strumming his guitar. Mom softly kept the beat with a set of bongos she had tucked between her legs. Moses played his saxophone, the sound twisting and winding though Matthew’s music like an intricate quilt. A young woman with braided hair and skin that glowed in the candlelight belted out a soulful melody about love and loss and hope.

I stopped, as enthralled by the music as the others. The woman had a lovely voice, and Moses was a genius, but Matthew grabbed my attention and held it. His black shirt and jeans accentuated his sleek muscular body. A necklace with a yin and yang symbol carved in wood hung on a leather cord around his neck. His dark hair brushed his shoulders, as soft and smooth as silk, and his elegant fingers flew skillfully over the guitar, making it moan, and sing, and cry with a hauntingly beautiful sound. I’d never heard anything like it, and Matthew was as mesmerizing as his music.

As soon as the song finished, Matthew’s eyes met mine. I’d been caught watching him, but couldn’t look away. This time he didn’t smile. He stared back at me, his expression as haunted and sad and beautiful as the song he’d played.

Mom came up and touched my arm. “Isn’t he amazing?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. I managed to pull my gaze away from Matthew with difficulty and turn to my mom.

“How’s it going tonight?”

“Quite well,” she said, and gave me a worried look. “You’re back early. Did something happen?”

I shook my head, trying to clear it. My headache was gone, but Matthew’s music had put a spell on me. I felt foggy and strange.

“I had a little headache, but I’m fine now. I’ll help in the kitchen. I’m sure Chad is going nuts.”

On acoustic nights, my mom closed the kitchen for hot food, selling snacks and smoothies instead. She didn’t have a license to sell alcohol, but she put a complimentary shot of vodka or rum in the smoothies if the customer wanted one. Most of them did. Some of them wanted the shots without the smoothies, so I had to be strict.

Chad Wallace, a college student, helped us out on acoustic night since Kate couldn’t work evenings. He had his Afro tucked into a slouchy hat and he wore an old “Free Mandela” t-shirt. There was a line about ten people long when I headed back, and he looked relieved to see me. “Thank goodness. It’s been crazy here.”

The kitchen was the most modern room in the house, a gourmet’s dream, with top-of-the-line appliances and a marble slab for baking. We’d spent a great deal of time and money remodeling it, even turning a small butler’s pantry into a room for my mom to mix her teas and herbal concoctions, but tonight the kitchen wasn’t used for any of those things. It served as smoothie central.

I pulled on a white apron that said, “Kiss the Cook,” and set to work. Soon, the line dwindled down to a more manageable number. As we made the smoothies, I listened to Matthew play, swaying to the music and sometimes singing along. Chad did the same.

“I don’t remember it ever being this busy on a Saturday night,” said Chad as he cleaned out the mixer. “It’s the guitarist. He’s great.”

I frowned as I thought about it. He was great. Maybe even a little too great. That idea stuck in my head as we worked, and the more I thought about it, the more worried I became.

My mom gave the last call for smoothies, and we cleaned up the kitchen. We ended the night with a piña colada smoothie and a shot of rum for ourselves, and I made one for my mom and Matthew, too. Moses never drank, so I made one for him without alcohol. I took off my apron and carried the smoothies to the main room.

It was packed, and I had to push my way through the crowd. Mom and Matthew chatted like old friends, so I set their smoothies aside and looked for Moses.

He winked when he saw me. “Thank you for the soup, Fiona. It was wonderful. It warmed my heart as much as it filled my belly.”

“There’s always a place set for you here, Moses.”

I knew he’d never ask for anything. He had too much pride. I’d finally gotten him to the point where he accepted a cup of soup from me without trying to pay for it. I handed him a bag of cookies and he grinned. “The Cookie Monster strikes again.”

“Snickerdoodles. Your favorite. And I made a smoothie for you, too.”

I put it on the table next to him. He took a cookie out of the bag and moaned as the first taste of cinnamon and sugar hit his tongue. “You have magic in your fingertips, Fiona.”

“You know how I feel about magic, Moses.”

He laughed, taking a sip of his smoothie. “Having a mother who sees magic everywhere has made you into a cynic, young lady. Just because you can’t see it, count it, or quantify it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The way you bake, the way you create such wonderful things to eat, if that isn’t magic, what is it?”

“High quality ingredients and lots and lots of butter.”

“Call it what you might, but it tastes like magic to me. Tonight was an evening to remember, but it’s time for me to pack up my rusty old saxophone and head back home.”

“I put your saxophone case next to the door to Mom’s office so it wouldn’t get trampled. It’s a full house tonight.” I gave him a hug. “Be careful out there, Moses.”

He laughed. “The only things I have on me of any value are these cookies. Goodnight, baby girl, and thanks for always taking care of me.”

“Goodnight, Moses.”

I surveyed the room. Although crowded, the customers seemed to be having a nice time and no one looked trashed. A good sign. I saw several people take flyers for our upcoming poetry nights, Reiki sessions, and even for the tarot readings. Mom went back to the kitchen to help Chad close up, and I turned to Matthew.

“I hope you like piña colada.” I took a sip. Cold, sweet, and tropical, it had a slight warm kick from the rum.

“My favorite,” he said with a grin.

Charming. Another bad sign. No reason a charming, handsome, sexy-like-a-French-pirate, incredibly talented guitarist would host an acoustic night for free with the smoothie being his only payment. It didn’t make sense. He could easily get a paying gig at any of the bars in the South Side.

“Have you seen the garden yet?” I asked.

Matthew shook his head. “I haven’t.”

I led him back to the garden. It was mostly deserted. We sat on a bench near the fountain, sipping our drinks. There was hardly any mess, no broken beer bottles or piles of vomit. No one had passed out on a bench or slept half naked under a table. Everyone had thrown away their trash, and it looked like they’d even recycled. Other than a few random candy wrappers and empty glasses, it appeared I’d have little to do Sunday morning. I might even be able to sleep in.

“It’s so nice back here,” he said softly. “Did you do this?”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Abigail Drake has spent her life traveling the world, collecting stories wherever she visited. She majored in Japanese and Economics in college and worked in import/export before committing herself full time to writing. Abigail is a trekkie, a book hoarder, the master of the Nespresso machine, a red wine addict, and the mother of three boys. A puppy named Capone is the most recent addition to her family, and she blogs about him as a way of maintaining what little sanity she has left.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
My youngest son was invited to sing at an acoustic show one weekend in the South Side area of Pittsburgh. The place was called "The Enchanted Garden," and the atmosphere was so interesting and eclectic and fun. As soon as I got home, I started writing this book.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
Readers can find out more about me on my website, www.abigaildrake.com, or on my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/abigaildrakewriter). If they really want insight into my crazy life, they should take a look at my dog's page (https://www.facebook.com/caponethewonderdog). He shares everything.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
The series is called South Side Stories, and each book is a contemporary romance with a hint of magical realism. The stories feature different shops in the South Side, and different main characters. The second book in the series is called "The Hocus Pocus Gift Shoppe" and it's really fun.

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