Anna Swann had been running late her entire life. And things had only gotten worse since she’d become a mother. Mommy Time, she called it. Mommy Time meant that you automatically had to add an extra twenty minutes just to get out the door, while shoes were located, diapers changed, sippy cups filled.
Anna was now late for her Mothers Coming Together meeting. She weaved in and out of the traffic clogging up U.S. 1, swearing silently at every red light. The monthly get-together was a more organized version of what Anna’s mother, Margo, had always called a Girls’ Night Out. Thirty or so women would get together at a restaurant, drink wine, eat too much, and spend some precious adults-only time away from the demands of children, husbands, work, and life.
Anna’s eyes flicked to the red numbers lit on the dashboard clock. If she got there right this minute, she’d be only five minutes late. Unfortunately, she was still two miles away from the restaurant, and traffic had slowed to a crawl.
Shit, she thought. Mommy Time strikes again.
Her cell phone started to sing—“Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen—and Anna fished around in her purse for the tiny silver phone, trying not to drive off the road as she did so. She finally grabbed hold of it, checked the caller ID, and groaned when she saw who it was—her ex-husband, Brad. Which could mean only one thing: bad news.
She clicked the phone on and said, “So where are you this time?”
“What, no hello?” He sounded like he always did—charming, upbeat, good-natured. Mr. Vegas, she used to teasingly call him, because of his effortless Rat Pack charm. He was the sort of guy everyone liked immediately—men, women, children, dogs, even cats.
“Where?” Anna asked again, her voice cold.
There was a pause. “I’m in Tampa.”
Tampa. That would make it difficult to kill him. Difficult—but not impossible. Of course, the fact that she’d have to drive over an hour down to the West Palm airport, purchase a plane ticket, and then fly across the state in order to murder him might weaken her temporary-insanity plea.
“My boss sent me out to handle a meeting,” Brad continued blithely. He worked in sales for a pharmaceuticals company, and he was, unsurprisingly, quite successful. Brad was a natural salesman, which was another way of saying that he was full of shit. “I thought I told you I might have to cover it.”
Ha! Anna thought. He knew damned well he hadn’t told her. She considered taking her cell phone and beating it against the car window, hopefully rupturing one of his eardrums in the process, but then a Ford Explorer zipped in front of her, nearly hitting Anna’s station wagon as it did so.
“Shit!” Anna said, hitting the brakes. “Asshole!”
“What did you say? You’re cutting out. Why don’t you call me back later when you get to a land line,” Brad suggested.
Typical, Anna thought. He knew she was pissed off, and, just like a turtle, Brad always snapped into his shell at the first sign of trouble. He had a truly remarkable instinct for self-preservation.
“No!” Anna bellowed at her ex-husband. “Do not hang up on me! Brad, you’re supposed to watch Charlie tonight. You promised. I already told him you were coming to see him.”
Their son, Charlie, was two, and therefore too young to understand that his father was ditching him. Yet again. But how long would that blissful ignorance last? Anna wondered. She had visions of Charlie in his pajamas, the blue ones with the glow-in-the-dark rockets on them, sitting up and waiting for his father to appear. Her heart pinched at the image.
“Yeah, about that. I’m not going to be back in time to take him.”
“What a surprise,” Anna said. She hated how bitter she sounded, hated that he’d turned her into this, but even more, she hated that Brad was letting Charlie down.
“Anna, don’t start. It was a last-minute thing, and I didn’t have a choice. Tell the little guy I’ll see him this weekend,” Brad said.
“Brad! Seriously, you can’t do this! I have plans tonight,” Anna said, her voice rising.
“Can’t your mother watch Charlie?”
“That’s not the point. The point is that you said you were going to take Charlie tonight, and you can’t just back out of it at the last minute. It’s irresponsible, and it’s not fair to me or to my mom or to Charlie,” Anna said evenly.
There was a weird cellular pause, then Anna thought she heard a female voice speaking in the background, and then there was the unmistakable rustling of a hand being placed over the phone to muffle the sound. Anna rolled her eyes. Obviously, Brad had not gone to Tampa alone.
Anna got pregnant after a condom malfunction when she and Brad had been dating for only six months. They were still in that early golden stage of the relationship, past the awkwardness of the first few dates and yet still oblivious to the other’s less forgivable traits. Anna—who was thirty-one at the time and making peace with the likelihood that marriage and babies weren’t going to be in her future after all—had been terrified and thrilled when she found herself perched on the toilet seat in her bathroom, staring down at the two blue lines that had appeared on the home pregnancy test.
I’m pregnant! I’m going to be a mother! she had thought, the knowledge cresting inside her, a soaring rainbow of happiness. And then, suddenly, a cold fear washed the rainbow away. Oh, God . . . I’m pregnant. . . .I’m going to be a mother.
She was still vacillating between happy disbelief and terrified disbelief when Brad came over for dinner that night. Her original plan was to tell him over a dinner of pasta carbonara, and she’d even engaged in a brief fantasy of how it would go down: She’d be sitting at the table when she told him. She’d remain calm and serene and poised, Princess Diana posing for the cameras with her chin tucked in, a sly smile playing on her lips. Brad would be gallant and thrilled. Maybe he’d even get a little teary and insist on kissing her stomach, which would be cheesy but sweet. And then they’d agree that although their relationship was still relatively new, maybe this baby was a sign that what they had together was right. That it was Meant to Be.
Instead, Anna panicked and ended up blurting out the news while she was salting a boiling pot of water before adding the pasta.
“I have something to tell you,” she’d said. Her back was turned to Brad, who was leaning against the kitchen counter, sipping a glass of chardonnay.
“Let me guess,” he’d said. She could hear the smile in his voice as he continued, “Your ultimate sexual fantasy is to have a three way, and you’re not sure how I would respond to the idea. Well, have no fear, I’m all for it. Provided, of course, that we’re talking two women, and not two men.”
It was just the sort of joke Brad would make, with a teasing growl that would normally make Anna laugh. But right now it was all wrong, and Anna didn’t laugh.
Instead, she said, “I’m pregnant.”
Brad was silent. When Anna finally worked up the nerve to turn around and face him, she saw that he’d responded to the news of their impending parenthood by blanching the greenish-white color of bad yogurt, while his mouth opened and closed soundlessly, making him look like a fish. It was this fishlike expression—combined with her taut nerves—that made Anna laugh. Nervously.
After absorbing the news—Brad actually had to sit down, and she noticed that his hands were trembling—he looked up at her and said, “Are you going to keep it?”
“Yes, I’m going to keep it!” Anna folded her arms over her chest and glared at Brad. He visibly wilted.
“Oh. So . . . what do we do? Should we get married?”
And Anna—who had never been one to fantasize about Vera Wang white silk dresses or headlining the sort of overstylized event profiled in Martha Stewart Weddings—had felt a keen sense of loss.
Still. Even though it wasn’t the proposal of her dreams, Anna tried to focus on the positive: She was getting married. They were having a baby. She had her dream job as the food critic at the local newspaper. After ten years of bad dates, selfish boyfriends, and crappy jobs, life was finally falling into place.
Five months later, Anna—enormously pregnant and retaining so much water the only shoes she could wedge her swollen feet into were a pair of Old Navy flip-flops—had stopped by her new husband’s office unexpectedly, planning to surprise him with the picnic lunch she’d packed. It had been one of those fabulous late-winter Florida afternoons. The sun was softly filtered through the cottony clouds, a salty breeze rippled up from the intracoastal river, and the idyllic weather seemed to have filled everyone in their small seaside town of Orange Cove with a feeling of communal goodwill. Anna had thought she and Brad could take the deli sandwiches she’d packed over to the beach, something they used to occasionally do while they were dating. To be honest, Anna was trying to recapture some of those stomach-fluttering feelings they’d had back in the beginning, which had been fading away over the months as they adjusted to married life and the prospect of a new baby on the way.
We’ll just make it work, Anna thought. You can make anything work, if you put enough effort into it.
But then she walked in on her new husband sticking his tongue down the throat of one of his coworkers.
Debbie. That was her name: Debbie, spelled with an ie. Debbie, with her perky breasts, tiny waist, and freakishly large lips. Debbie, who didn’t even have the grace to look embarrassed when caught making out with another woman’s husband. Instead, while Anna stood there, mouth gaping open, Debbie raised her chin defiantly and smirked at her.
Anna had stared at the two of them, waiting for the shock and anger to writhe up inside her, waiting to feel the sharp pain when her heart shattered. Instead, there was only an oddly hollowed-out feeling, as though it wasn’t really a surprise but something she’d been expecting all along. And then, distantly, a fluttering thud as the baby shifted and turned before settling directly on top of her bladder.
“I have to pee,” Anna finally said, and then she turned and left.
She regretted that more than anything, wishing she’d had the poise and quickness of mind to think up a Dorothy Parkeresque quip. I have to pee. It had to be the worst exit line in the history of scorned women.
Afterward, Anna realized she had known, had even had a premonition when her hand curled around the doorknob to Brad’s office, that she didn’t want to see what was on the other side. There had been signs that later seemed obvious, and in an annoyingly clichéd way at that. Suspicious phone calls. Late nights at work. Odd excuses for where Brad had spent a Saturday afternoon or Wednesday evening. But it wasn’t until she’d actually seen the kiss, seen Brad’s hand resting on Debbie’s perfectly aerobicized bottom, that she’d faced up to the truth: Her husband was a cheating rat-bastard piece of shit. And Anna wasn’t about to give him a second chance.
Two hours later Anna had the locks on their modest bungalow changed. By the time Charlie was born, the divorce proceedings were under way. Anna took sole custody of their silver-fawn pug, Potato. Sharing a child had proved to be a little more difficult.
“Brad,” Anna now said, struggling to stay calm. It wasn’t as though she cared whom he slept with these days, but he was supposed to be coparenting Charlie with her. Ditching their son for work was annoying, but ditching him to jet off to Tampa with his girlfriend was unacceptable.
“Look, I’ve got to go. I’ll call you when I get back in town. Give Charlie a kiss from me,” Brad said.
“Brad!” Anna tried again, but he was gone. The words CALL ENDED blinked up at her from her phone.
The traffic came to a sudden stop at yet another red light. Anna slammed on her brakes again, narrowly avoiding plowing into the Explorer, and glanced at the clock to confirm that, yes, she was now very, very late.
“Gah! How is it that I’m always late? How? How?” she said out loud, thumping one hand on the steering wheel.
Most days, Anna didn’t mind being a single mother. Sure, it was hard at first, when Charlie was a newborn and totally dependent on her for everything, but Anna had lots of help from her mother, Margo—or Gigi, as Charlie called her. His baby-babble name for her had stuck, despite Margo’s attempts to brainwash Charlie into calling her Grandmère. And Anna couldn’t get enough of Charlie. After she’d spent nearly twenty hours in labor and one solid hour pushing, Charlie entered the world with a birdlike shriek. The nurse laid him across Anna’s chest, and she’d taken one look at her squalling, blood-covered infant and fallen helplessly in love. Now just breathing in the powdery scent of his head or feeling his solid little body relax against her while she read to him brought Anna an indescribable joy.
But then there were days like today, days when Anna felt the full weight of single motherhood, of having to do everything on her own. Her morning had begun when she took Potato out in the pouring rain for her morning tinkle. Potato flatly refused to lay one paw on the wet grass and mulishly resisted all of Anna’s attempts to wheedle her into peeing. Anna, soaking wet and insanely late, finally gave up and dragged Potato back inside. Five minutes later, Potato deposited a puddle of urine and one large, stinky turd in the middle of the bathroom floor. Anna cleaned up the mess, took the fastest shower in modern history, and then raced around getting Charlie’s breakfast ready. Charlie—who had recently thrown himself into the terrible twos with alarming enthusiasm and was having the mood swings of a premenstrual teenage girl—wept bitterly when Anna presented him with a toasted whole-grain waffle spread liberally with cream cheese.
“Bagel!” he’d cried piteously, pushing the waffle away as though it were poisonous. When Anna—running on only one cup of coffee and thus not awake enough to fight about it—had given up and toasted a cinnamon-raisin bagel for him, Charlie poked at the bagel unenthusiastically, looked up at her, and said in a hopeful voice, “Waffle?”
And then, when Anna dropped Charlie off at his Montessori day care, which he normally loved, Charlie had clung to her like a baby koala.
“Mama has to go to work,” Anna said in a singsong voice, as she attempted to detach him from her legs. “But guess what? Gigi is picking you up today!”
“Noooo!” Charlie screamed, reattaching himself to Anna’s legs.
In the end, the teacher had to hold back a sobbing Charlie while Anna rushed out the door, feeling like the worst mother in the world.
Now, after a long day at work, Anna was stuck going to the Mothers Coming Together meeting. Not that she didn’t normally enjoy the get-togethers; she did. But work had been stressful as she’d rushed to meet a deadline, and she hadn’t slept all that well the night before—Charlie had gotten up twice, once with a wet diaper, once wanting a drink. Now she was so tired, it felt like her eyes had been rubbed over with sandpaper. Sharing a grilled-cheese sandwich with Charlie and then curling up for a few rounds of Brown Bear, Brown Bear sounded infinitely more appealing than engaging in the sort of grown-up conversation that took effort. So appealing, she nearly turned her car around.
I promised Grace I’d be there, Anna reminded herself, and, swallowing back a yawn, she dialed her mother’s phone number.
“Hello,” Margo said brightly when she answered the phone.
“Hi, Mom, it’s me,” Anna said. “How’s Charlie?”
“Hi, honey! Charlie, it’s Mama,” Margo said. “Do you want to say hello to Mama?”
There was suddenly the sound of heavy, stalker-like breathing on the line.
“Hi, baby,” Anna cooed. “Are you having fun with Gigi?”
More heavy breathing. And then a high voice piped, “Mama?”
And just like that, Anna fell in love with her son all over again. It was always this way. One sight of his radiant smile or a whiff of his sweet little-boy aroma, and Anna was overcome with a wave of love and longing.
“Yes, baby, it’s Mama! How are you? How’s my baby?” Anna continued.
Margo returned to the phone. “You’ll never believe what Charlie said to me today. He looked up at me with those big blue eyes and said, ‘Gigi beautiful.’ Can you believe that?” She giggled breathily. “At least we know he has good taste.”
Breathe in, breathe out, Anna reminded herself, as she tried to squelch the irritation that always flamed when her mother went off on one of her narcissistic tangents.
Anna’s editor, Teresa Picoult, had always been great about letting Anna work flexible hours, but Anna was still a single parent, and one with a flaky ex-partner at that. So on days like today, when Anna wasn’t able to pick Charlie up at day care, she had to rely on her mother to fill in for her. And although Margo was great about it—she and Charlie adored each other—Anna felt guilty every time she had to lean on her mother. It didn’t help that Margo could, at times, be the most infuriating woman in the world.
“I thought you had your moms’ meeting this evening,” Margo continued.
“I do, and I’m already late. You wouldn’t believe how bad the traffic is.”
“It’s all the snowbirds down for the season,” Margo said. “What time is Brad picking Charlie up? I thought he’d be here by now.”
“That’s why I called. Guess what?”
“He’s not coming,” Margo said.
“He’s not coming,” Anna confirmed.
“What was his excuse this time?”
“Apparently he went to Tampa and only just now bothered to call and tell me,” Anna said.
Margo made a pfft sound. “What a surprise,” she said tartly.
Anna knew that the only reason her mother didn’t launch into an anti-Brad tirade—A Complete List of Brad Lewis’s Faults, Annotated—was that Charlie was close enough to overhear her, and Anna had made her mother promise not to run Brad down in front of Charlie.
Besides, even though Anna shared Margo’s low opinion of her ex, she knew from experience that this conversation would quickly turn into the familiar rant of how Margo had known from the first time she met him that Brad was all fizz, no substance, and how you can never trust a man who pushes out his lower jaw when he smiles, but oh, no, Anna wouldn’t listen, and then she had to go and marry him, blah blah blah blah blah.
This was all true, but Anna wasn’t in the mood for a session of I told you so just at the moment.
“Supposedly it was a last-minute work thing,” Anna said.
“I just bet,” Margo huffed.
“Mom, I hate to ask, but could you possibly keep Charlie a little later than usual? I promised Grace I’d be there tonight. It’s her first meeting as president, and she says she needs the moral support.”
“Of course. Don’t worry about us at all,” Margo said.
“Thanks, I really appreciate it,” Anna said, feeling a rush of warmth toward her mother. Two-parts gratitude and one-part guilt for her earlier knee-jerk irritation.
“In fact, why don’t you leave Charlie here for the night, and go out and do something fun afterward? Go out to dinner or get a few drinks,” Margo urged her.
“No, that’s okay. I’ll just go to the meeting, and then I’ll swing by to pick Charlie up. I don’t think I’ll be much later than eight or so.”
“I mean it,” Margo said, warming to the topic. It was one of her favorites. “There must be dozens of nice men who’d like to take you out to dinner. You’re still a very attractive girl, Anna. You get that from me. Well. Except for your chin. That’s your father’s, unfortunately. It should have been my first clue as to what he’d be like. Men with weak chins are always unreliable.”
“What’s wrong with my chin?” Anna, horrified, peered at her reflection in the rearview mirror. Had she always had an ugly chin and never known it?
“All I’m saying is that if you just took the time to do something with your hair and makeup, you’d have loads of men interested in you.”
If she hadn’t been driving at the moment, Anna would have banged her head against something hard.
“Believe it or not, I don’t know any nice men. And I doubt I’m going to meet one at Mothers Coming Together,” Anna said wearily. Her phone beeped out a warning. “Look, Mom, I’ve got to go. My phone’s running out of power. Give Charlie a kiss and a hug from me. Bye.”
Anna tossed her cell phone onto the passenger seat. The traffic started to move slowly, reluctantly even. It was as though every driver in front of her dreaded reaching their destination and wanted to draw out the trip as long as possible. The light turned yellow, and although the LeBaron now in front of her could have easily sped up and allowed them both to make the light, it came to an abrupt stop, trapping Anna behind it.
“Oh, come on,” Anna groaned.
She could feel her frustration swelling in her chest, pushing up and out until even her fingers were tense. She drew in a deep breath, then another, opening her throat the way the yoga teacher had instructed at the one class Anna had attended. She’d always envisioned herself as a calm, serene yogi, smugly turning down coffee and capable of wrapping her legs behind her neck. Instead, she found the stretching and breathing . . . breathing . . . breathing . . . for ninety straight minutes to be excruciatingly boring. Afterward, when Anna asked if they offered a shorter class—“Like, maybe one for people on a tighter schedule?” she’d said hopefully—the teacher gave her a pitying look.
Now stuck at the light, Anna glanced around. There was a new strip mall to her right, wedged between a discount furniture store and an auto-parts supplier, that seemed to have gone up overnight. The signs lined up over each new store were uniform—cream rectangles with the names set in a black Engravers font.
Purrfect Pet Grooming. Map World.
Jenny Kay Interior Design. Bacchus Fine Wines.
Bacchus. Anna remembered her editor, Teresa, mentioning the store.
“It’s amazing,” Teresa had enthused. “Very sleek and hip, and they have an incredible wine selection. They’re even set up to host wine-tasting parties. Maybe you should do a piece on it.”
Anna suddenly felt an irresistible urge to go into the store and check it out for herself. She glanced at her clock; she was still late. So would it really matter if she was a little later than usual?
When Anna stepped into Bacchus, a bell on the door signaled her entrance; the reporter in her began to mentally record the details. The dark-stained wide-plank wooden floors. The white walls lined with minimalist shelving. The Spartan yet artful way each bottle of wine was lined up on the shelf, three deep. The long, distressed trestle table sitting in the middle of the room, also displaying wine. The glass-fronted counter along the back wall that held a selection of cheeses, jars of olives, and loaves of pâté. The store was empty of customers, or employees for that matter.
But then a man stepped through the door behind the counter, presumably from a back office or storage room.
“Hi,” he said. “May I help you? Or are you just browsing?”
He was a compact man, neither short nor tall, with an athletic build that ran to thin. His skin was pale, as though he spent most of his time indoors, and his hair was dark and recently cut. His brown eyes were kind behind silver-framed glasses, and his mouth was gentle, which made Anna like him immediately. She’d always thought that the mouth offered the best insight into a man’s character. People learned to shutter their eyes but rarely made the same effort with their lips. Tense and pinched up, or twitching nervously, or turned down in permanent displeasure: All of these were bad signs.
“I’m just looking around,” Anna said.
“Okay. Let me know if you need anything,” he said. He picked up a case of wine and brought it out to the front, where he unloaded it onto the trestle table.
“Thanks,” Anna said, smiling briefly at him before turning to examine the bottles on the shelf. It was an interesting selection, not the standard chardonnays and merlots from the same megawineries you could find in every grocery store.
And then a silver label emblazoned with the black silhouette of an owl caught her eye. Was that . . . ? Could it possibly be? Anna looked closer. It was! A 2003 Snowy Owl pinot noir!
“You have good taste,” the man said, noticing what she was looking at.
“I just read an article about this wine in last month’s Wine Spectator,” Anna exclaimed. “The reviewer was raving about it. Said it was one of the top wines of the year.”
“That’s right,” he said, looking impressed. “I was lucky to get a case of it. It’s been in such high demand since the article came out.”
“I’m so glad you opened up. Orange Cove’s really needed a store like this,” Anna said. “How long have you been open?”
“One month,” he said proudly.
Anna had originally estimated that the man was in his forties; now she readjusted it. Between thirty-five and forty, she thought. He was wearing a blue shirt and khaki pants, both crisply pressed, although the shirt was open at the neck and the sleeves were rolled up. He looked like the sort of guy who’d be an architect or lawyer, and she found herself wondering how he’d come to work in a wineshop.
But she’d been watching him too intently for too long, and she suddenly realized he was looking back at her, his expression puzzled.
Oh, no, she thought. He probably thinks I’m coming on to him. Or, worse, that I have some sort of disorder where I stare at people for inappropriate lengths of time. Like Phillip who used to write obits for the paper, and who never seemed to blink when he spoke to you.
Suddenly, with rising panic, she wasn’t so sure that a staring disorder would be worse. After all, what was worse than being seen as a desperate, man-crazy, lonely divorcée? That was far more pathetic than having a medical disorder that you couldn’t even help.
So Anna did what she always did when she was nervous: She began to interrogate the man. Which, she realized, was probably not the best way to convince him that she wasn’t stalking him.
“Is this your store?” she asked, although she was fairly sure she already knew the answer from the proprietary way he was surveying the stock.
“Yes, it is.” He smiled again. “I was an investment banker in my previous life.”
Aha! I was right, Anna thought. He’s the sort of guy who looks naked without a tie on.
“Why did you change careers?”
“Um . . . well, this was always my dream, I guess,” he said, with a self-conscious shrug, as though he was embarrassed to be talking about his dreams with a stranger.
“Really? That’s interesting. Were you an investment banker here in Orange Cove?” Anna asked.
“No. Palm Beach,” he said. His voice was still friendly, but his brow was crinkled quizzically.
Stop interrogating him, Anna told herself firmly.
“Oh,” she said. And as she forced herself to squelch her next question—Why did you open your shop here, instead of in Palm Beach?—an awkward silence spun between them. Anna waited a few beats, until she couldn’t stand the silence any longer.
“So why’d you open your shop here? Instead of down in Palm Beach, I mean?” she asked. Then quickly she added, “I’m sorry, you don’t have to answer that. You can just ignore me if you want.”
“That’s okay,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t mind. I opened it up here because I thought there was a market for an upscale wine store in this town, and not a lot of competition, whereas the market in Palm Beach is already pretty tight. Glutted, even. Plus it costs a lot less to open a business up here . . . although that’s probably way more detail than you wanted,” he finished dryly. “I did warn you that I was in finance before this.”
“That’s okay. I asked,” Anna said.
“Yes, you did. Actually, you ask a lot of questions,” he said, and then he grinned at her.
“I’m sorry,” Anna said, feeling her cheeks grow hot.
“No, don’t apologize. It’s just, most of the customers who come in here are more interested in the wine than they are in my business plan,” he said.
“You mean all of your customers don’t do this?” Anna asked in mock surprise. “And here I thought that was how everyone shopped.”
He laughed. “I’m Noah, by the way. Noah Springer.”
“I forgot to ask you your name.” Anna thumped herself on the forehead. “Clearly I’m losing my touch. I usually start off with names and only then start asking about business plans.”
“And what comes after business plans?” Noah asked, still grinning at her.
Wow, that’s a great smile, Anna thought. It kept catching her off guard. He’d look like a normal, nice-enough-looking guy, and then he’d smile, and—wow.
“Oh, then I downshift into the really embarrassing and inappropriate personal questions. You know—how much money do you make, how’s your love life. Stuff like that,” Anna said.
“So basically you’ll be channeling my mother,” Noah deadpanned, and Anna laughed.
“I come by it honestly,” Anna said.
“What? You mean . . . you are my mother?” Noah asked. “Wow, you look amazing for a seventy-year-old. All of those ballroom dance lessons have really paid off.”
“I meant I’m a reporter. Or I was a reporter, anyway. Once upon a time,” Anna said.
“And now you just go from store to store interrogating strangers?” Noah asked. This time when he smiled at her, she actually felt her stomach do a flip-flop.
It had been a very, very long time since Anna had experienced the flip-flop. Not even Brad had inspired a flip-flop.
“Now I’m a restaurant critic for the local paper. I write a weekly column,” Anna corrected him, and she couldn’t help feeling pleased at how impressed he looked.
“What’s the name of your column?”
“ ‘Silver Spoons.’ I know, Ricky Schroder flashback. But my editor thought it sounded punchy,” Anna said.
“No, I think it’s excellent. I’ve always been a Rick Schroder man myself,” Noah said, patting himself over the heart. “I loved him in NYPD Blue.”
Anna laughed, and reluctantly glanced at her watch. “I better go. I’m late for a meeting.”
“Are you off to review a restaurant?”
“No, not tonight. I have a Mothers Coming Together meeting,” Anna said.
“That’s the name of my group. Mothers Coming Together. I know, it’s a stupid name. My best friend, Grace, thinks it sounds like the title of a porn movie,” Anna said.
“Then I’d be safe in assuming that it’s not porn related?” Noah asked.
“No, not porn related. Just a bunch of moms getting together.”
“You have kids, then?”
“Yes. Well, kid. Just one,” Anna said. “A little boy.”
“So where’s he tonight? Home with your husband?” Noah asked.
“Oh, God, no,” Anna said, remembering her earlier argument with Brad. “I mean . . . I’m not married. And my mom’s watching my son. So . . . anyway. I really should get going.”
“Wait . . . before you go . . . you haven’t told me your name,” Noah said.
“Oh! Sorry. I’m Anna,” she said, and held out her hand.
Noah took it in his and shook it solemnly. “It was very nice to meet you, Anna,” he said.
It wasn’t until after Anna was back in her car, fighting her way up U.S. 1, that it occurred to her that Noah had made a point of asking if she was married. And that realization made the flip-flopping start up all over again.