Thank you so much to those who read and reviewed the first chapter. I'm a bit rusty but I hope to get it back and get better with each chapter.
"He must have known you would always want to come back." – J.K. Rowling
The next morning, it is still raining. Not as hard as it had been during the night. Cecilia had laid in bed, staring up at the ceiling, listening as the rain pounded against the roof and the wind had blown so strongly, it had rattled the glass windowpanes. She had never been able to get a good night's sleep if it was raining outside and she wasn't sure when she had finally drifted off, but it had been sometime after three.
And now, it's just seven, the rain has been reduced to a soft drizzle and Cecilia leaves her mother in her room so she can go downstairs to breakfast in the dining room. She normally isn't the sort to eat breakfast. She has a glass of orange juice and a piece of dry toast each morning and that can hold her until lunch. But one thing she definitely remembers of her time living in Chestnut is that Maggie makes the best blueberry muffins and Cecilia had been able to smell them baking all the way up from her room.
Maggie smiles as soon as she comes into the dining room and Cecilia is able to smile in return. She's still nervous about Maggie's son just randomly popping up around one of the corners no matter how many times she has told herself it doesn't matter whether she sees him or not. Of course she'd be nervous. She hasn't seen him since she was seventeen; hasn't spoken to him and had ignored all of the ways he had tried to contact her once her mom moved her away and she can't even imagine how running into him again after all of this time would be.
But she's not going to think about it. Not right now. Right now, she's going to sit at her little table next to the window and watch the rain and eat her delicious blueberry muffin, the conversations of other guests that morning in the room washing over her with a gentle hum. The Chestnut Treasure isn't the fanciest place to stay in Chestnut but Cecilia has always felt that it's the coziest. Everything is decorated in dark woods and pale colors. The tables in the dining room are all wood, refurnished and stained to keep its rustic look and the walls are painted a light yellow. Each table has salt and pepper shakers and a small vase of wildflowers. Besides the muffins, there is a buffet set up against one of the walls, offering fruits and cereals and granola and a hot pan of scrambled eggs as well as jugs of milk, juice and steaming coffee.
Cecilia has always loved the scent of coffee and she remembers that John used to give her little coffee-scented candles so her bedroom could smell like a coffee house but she never has actually had the taste for it. The only coffee she can drink is iced – which her mother always liked to point out to her was loaded with calories.
People had always thought that Samantha Sharp was mean. Unnecessarily so. But Cecilia had never agreed. Her mother had been a bit cutting, yes, but it's just because she wanted Cecilia to be the best she could be. Her husband had died tragically in a car accident when Cecilia had been just a little toddler so Samantha found herself as a young widow and a young mother and she had done the best she could.
Samantha had never cared for John. When Cecilia was fifteen, John was seventeen and even though it was only two years, Samantha had thought the boy to be some sort of pervert. And she had had absolutely no problem telling John that to his face. Why couldn't he date someone in his own grade and his own age? Why did he have to go for a freshman when he was a junior? What did they possibly have in common?
But that was the thing Cecilia had tried to explain to her mother but what the woman had never been able to understand. She had nearly everything in common with John. They came from the same kind of family – though Maggie Hunt was infinitely times friendlier than Samantha Sharp. Both didn't have fathers around and their moms were working moms and strong women. They both loved living in their little town and unlike most teenagers, who seemed to have that dream of leaving and never coming back and exploring the whole world, John and Cecilia had always talked about staying here forever, growing chestnuts and living in a little house and living a quiet life together.
John had never made it a secret that he hated her mom but when Cecilia would frown at him and tell him that he couldn't possibly hate her, he always amended himself and said he strongly disliked her but Cecilia always knew that he probably did hate her. He hated the things Samantha said to her. Things about what she was eating and what she wore and whether or not she looked good in it. And she would often talk about boys she felt were much more suitable with Cecilia – right in front of John.
Cecilia still remembers the way he would clench his jaw before he'd finally snap at her.
And then, once he was gone and it was just mother and daughter again, Samantha would always say that she couldn't believe her daughter would date such a disrespectful boy. But breaking up with John was one thing Cecilia never did no matter how many times her mom told her or tried to guilt her into doing.
So many of the memories from year earlier flood into her mind and all just from smelling the coffee brewing in the air.
She really hopes she can scatter the ashes today. She doesn't know how much more of this she can take if she has to stay here for much longer.
The chair across from her suddenly pulls out away from the table, shaking her from her thoughts, and Cecilia's eyes meet those of the woman now sitting down across from her. And she smiles when she sees her, the woman grinning in response.
"Please explain to me how you can eat two of these muffins and keep looking the way that you do," Bridget Harris asks her and Cecilia laughs a little before guiding another bite into her mouth and it's as if she and her old best friend from school haven't been apart for the past eight years.
There are no hugs or tears of happiness to see one another. It's amazing to Cecilia how comfortable she feels in Bridget's presence still after all of this time.
Perhaps it's because Bridget still looks the same. They had always been completely opposite when it came to their looks. Bridget has blonde hair – cut into that stylish long bob that many people try but few people can actually pull off and Bridget it one of the lucky ones who are able to pull it off – and light blue eyes, skin that is able to tan in just being under the summer sun for five minutes, and a curvy body that she had used to be so uncomfortable with until she found out that many boys liked that rather than Cecilia's own stick straight frame.
Cecilia sees she is wearing a diamond engagement ring and matching diamond wedding band on her left third finger and Cecilia wonders about who Bridget's husband is. Bridget used to be a self-proclaimed introvert and had always preferred the company of herself – and Cecilia – rather than being around other people.
"Do you want one?" Cecilia asks, nudging her plate with the other muffin closer to her.
Bridget shakes her head though she does look tempted. "I still haven't lost everything after my second. I can't afford to start gorging on Maggie's muffins. I'm going to wake up and look exactly like my mom if I do."
Hearing that, Cecilia smiles. "Two?" She asks.
Bridget smiles, too, and nods happily. "Yep. Charlie and Toby. And before I offer to have you meet them, I should warn you that they're just absolutely evil."
Cecilia laughs at that and pops another bite of muffin into her mouth. "And their dad?" She asks, hoping she's being subtle even though she knows there's no reason to be. It's only natural to wonder about her old best friend's husband and just with her asking, Cecilia can see the way Bridget's smile remains bright and happy.
"I don't know if you remember him. He was in our grade but he was one of those skater kids," Bridget tells her. "Grant Shaw?" She then asks and Cecilia takes a moment and she feels guilty for some reason for not remembering him.
She shakes her head almost reluctantly.
But Bridget just keeps smiling. "I'll make sure you two meet. He owns the barbershop in town. I've married a barber," she then says with a slight laugh as if she's never heard anything more amusing and Cecilia can't help but laugh, too, a cause of Bridget's mood.
Maggie comes to their table then, a coffee pot in her hand from going around to the other tables in the room, and she smiles as Bridget turns her white cup over and Maggie fills it nearly to the brim.
"It's good to see you two together again," she says and that's all she says before she moves onto the next table.
Cecilia finds that she agrees. It's been eight years but it feels as if no time has passed at all and she's just grateful that Bridget doesn't seem hurt or angry for the way Cecilia had just up and left those years earlier. Bridget had always been her closest confident. There were things she couldn't tell her mother or John but she could always tell Bridget and she looks at her and knows, even eight years later, that Bridget has never breathed a word of anything Cecilia has ever told her to anyone.
"How's Chicago?" Bridget asks as she takes a sugar packet and shakes it back and forth between her thumb and index finger before ripping it open and dumping it into her cup.
Cecilia shrugs. "Good," she answers and then tells herself to say more about it. "Nothing like here," she then says as If she needs to and Bridget laughs a little.
"God, I hope not," she says and then takes a sip of her coffee. "What do you do there?"
And Cecilia realizes that no one here knows anything about her life in Chicago. And why would they? She hasn't talked to any of them since she left and they know absolutely nothing about her.
"I'm a hair stylist," Cecilia answers. "Just something I decided to do and I wound up loving it."
"Good for you," Bridget's smile is genuine and happy. "You were always so creative and you liked people far more than me."
Cecilia laughs at that.
"Well, now, you definitely have to meet Grant. He's been looking to get a stylist in the shop, wanting to take some of Patty's customers away from her," Bridget says and she says it all so easily as if it's already been discussed and planned that Cecilia is staying.
Cecilia chooses though to just sweep past that comment. "Is Patty still crazy then?"
"The craziest," Bridget gives her a nod and Cecilia smiles before breaking off another bite of muffin and she looks towards the window as she chews on it slowly.
It's still raining, a rumble of thunder lowly off in the distance, promising even more to come. Is it supposed to rain all day? She can't let her mother go while it's raining. Her mother would probably haunt her and throw a fit if she did. Samantha would probably demand sunshine and birds singing and Cecilia's surprised her mother hadn't actually put down the necessary weather down in her will, as well.
She looks back to Bridget, realizing that her old friend is in the midst of telling a story about Patty, the owner of the women's hair salon, but Cecilia knows she doesn't necessarily have to hear all of it in order to follow it. Patty Glass is crazy. Always has been and always will be – constantly convinced her stylists and customers alike are stealing from her, her salon is haunted and has had more than one physic walking around, waving candles and reciting chants while people are getting their hair shampooed and she has a terrible habit of yelling at everyone for any reason. She yelled at Cecilia once for even thinking about maybe wanting a purple lock of hair. Actually yelled at her. It's a wonder to Cecilia that Patty is still in business or someone hasn't decided to go and open up their own salon.
"Are you going to the carnival tonight?" Bridget asks, switching gears so suddenly, it takes Cecilia a second to realize that she is meant to answer.
The carnival at Chestnut's high school football field. Rides and games and food. As a teenager, it had been one of the highlights on her yearly calendar. She has completely forgotten about it. She hasn't expected to be here this long.
The carnival always used to be so much fun – practically the entire town and everyone who came to visit for the chestnut harvest in attendance – and the last carnival she had gone to, John had pulled her behind the fun house for a moment alone, away from their friends, and he had asked her…
Cecilia feels a clumping in her throat she tries to swallow down and her eyes begin to burn behind their lids.
She had said yes – screamed it actually and threw her arms around his neck – and three days later, her mother told her they were moving and there was nothing she could do about it. Cecilia knew she could have refused and run away from Chicago, back to John and to Chestnut, but her mother made sure Cecilia wouldn't want to do that.
"He loves me!" Cecilia shouted, tears streaming down her cheeks. "And you can't stop us from being together. I'm going to marry him!"
"Well, what is his other girlfriend going to say about that?" Samantha asked in her always steady voice. "The one I saw him with just yesterday, kissing her in front of Jasper's where the whole town could see?"
And Cecilia believed her because she was her mom and why would she lie to her?
"If it doesn't stop raining and you aren't able to today-" Bridget says and Cecilia is reminded that it's a small town and everyone probably knows why she's come back here. "You are more than welcome to come with me and mine tonight."
Cecilia knows Bridget is trying to be casual and just make a suggestion but she can hear the hope in her old friend's voice. And Cecilia has no idea why she's just not able to turn Bridget's offer down right then and there.
Thank you so much for reading and please review!