Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chapter 4 - Poppy


The divine fragrance of bright orange tea roses and sprigs of spicy scented Jasmine mingled in a plain mason jar on the window sill. Heavenly. The breeze through the open kitchen window dispersed the yummy scent throughout the kitchen better than the most expensive atomizer.

“I definitely prefer nature’s perfumes,” thought Poppy as she arranged the napkin and tea cup on the tray next to the fresh raspberry scone. “There,” she said out loud. “Nearly perfect…”

She broke off a small spray of Jasmine and one of the unopened rose buds from the arrangement on the windowsill, and placed them in a tiny bud vase. Settling it next to the bright orange teapot she smiled, satisfied. No matter that her mother would not appreciate the touch, or in fact any part of the beautiful arrangement. Poppy was long past caring about that sort of thing. It was years now since she came to the realization that living life on her mother’s dark and dreary terms was soul suicide. Having reached that conclusion, she had determinedly moved forward from that day on with an unstoppable sense of optimism and cheer. Perhaps in some small way to spite her mother, she also applied her natural artistic flair at every opportunity, and turned a deaf ear to her mother’s discontented muttering.

Turning her back on the tray, Poppy swished back to the counter next to the sink where the electric kettle lived. It was nearly boiling so she quickly switched it off and turned back to the tray to fill the teapot. Her mother liked her water ‘scalded, but not boiling’. Poppy had never discovered what the difference between these two were, so sometimes she let the water boil and sometimes she poured it just before it boiled. Her mother never seemed to notice any difference as long as Poppy assured her mother that yes, she had scalded it, so that was ok.

Squaring her shoulders, Poppy lifted the tray carefully and carried it through the sitting room into the solarium. Her mother was in her customary spot in the corner, with her back to the view, knitting as furiously as a 82 year old woman with fairly advanced arthritis could. No matter that it must really have caused her considerable pain, Catherine would just as soon be dead as without her knitting. Since her hearing was also diminished, she did not hear as Poppy stopped just inside the door and watched her. Catherine was small and frail, and for the millionth time, Poppy wondered how a tall, large-boned woman like herself had come from such a tiny woman.

Much later, after the tea things had been cleared, and her mother settled with a lap rug tucked tidily around her spindly legs, set to watch her favorite show, Poppy let herself quietly out the back door into the garden. An easterly wind was up and long silky tendrils of dark red hair pulled free of the knot at the nape of Poppy’s neck and danced wildly about her face. Her hair was truly beautiful and she was quite proud of the fact that, at 44, there was still no grey in it. Though she’d been told once by a boy in her class, on the eve of her 17th birthday, that she was the most beautiful girl in the world, Poppy had no illusions about her physical beauty. She knew she was considered plain by most of the folk in her hometown, and this bothered her not the least. In truth, while her features were not really remarkable in any way, time and experience had added a certain dignity to her face, and her naturally good nature added sparkle to her bright blue eyes and a spring to her step. She was among the precious few to be blessed with a sense of self so profound that she affected not the least bit of artifice. Of course, Poppy would have been amazed to hear such things about herself, for although she was quite the daydreamer, she was tremendously practical as well.

Poppy hummed as she futilely tucked the strands of hair behind her ears and surveyed the garden. Lots to do to get the garden in order. She was lucky to have Magnus Fahey, a still spry seventy something gardener and the local Jack of all trades, come every year to help with the cleanup in the fall and spring. The tying up of perennials, transplanting, and most of the weeding she could handle herself. Pruning the hedges and fruit trees was another matter. It wasn’t that she didn’t know how. But knowing how to do something and enjoying it were two different things. Poppy was more than content to pay Magnus twice a year to take care of this for her. In the fall, he pruned the fruit trees, often bringing his grandson Liam along, and Poppy always gave them a hand with barrowing the limbs and detritus off to the lower garden to be heaped for a late Spring bonfire. Come spring, the hedge trimmings were added to the already dry fall limbs and left to sit for a couple of weeks. Finally an appropriate afternoon, free of wind and rain, was settled upon and the bonfire started. This was perhaps the only perk of the entire process. A thermos of tea, jam sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, and she and Magnus could chat for hours, poking errant sticks back into the fire and gassing about the garden, local gossip, and the political suicide currently being contemplated by the Prime Minister and his cabinet.

This winter had been harsh, but short-lived. It was only March, but already the crocus and hyacinths were fully up and starting to show color. Daffs and tulips were clumped randomly throughout the borders, cheerfully heralding the news: ‘Spring is here!’ The trees were tightly budded and one or two were even beginning to leaf out.

While fall was Poppy’s favorite season, spring ran a close second. The promise of new life invigorated everything, like a freshly plucked bunch of orange lilies in a stark white room. Stepping into the garden for the first time each day felt, at least to Poppy, like a secret admirer had stolen into the garden in the night, and left little treasures for her to find. It was lovely.

With most afternoon spent outside, winter’s pallor, the result of too many cold months inside, quickly disappeared. Outside now more often than not, her fair skin freckled endearingly, smattering a light dusting over the bridge of her nose and forehead.

Her mother, never much of a gardener, had historically left the gardening to Poppy, and in Poppy’s opinion, that was just as well. Occasionally, Catherine could be found watching critically through the conservatory windows as Poppy cleared out beds, pulled weeds, and spread rich dark mulch from the compost pile over all of the beds, but for the most part she just left Poppy to it. Had she known what a gift she was giving Poppy, Catherine most likely would have found some excuse to insert herself more forcefully into the garden’s design and upkeep. As it was, she was content with an occasional critique or suggestion.

The garden in the spring was a place of solace for Poppy.

Here the northern wind wound fancifully around her, the sun darted in and out of the variety of seemingly ever present clouds, and the potpourri of blossomy smells emanating from the first blooms of spring was like having a perfumery in her very own back yard.

Here she allowed herself to remember long-ago summer evenings, rainstorms and summer houses, candlelit parties and afternoon teas. She lost herself to the memories of her brief and solitary experience with love, a girlhood tryst with a dashing boy that ended too soon.

And here, amongst the weeds and blossoms alike, Poppy dreamed.

Chapter 3 - Norma 'Juliette'


12 years ago. COLLEGE. When you start college it’s like taking out a clean, crisp sheet of white paper. No marks, no mistakes. And hopefully, by the time you start college you are old enough to appreciate that fact. I was. I started college with a new name. Even though very few people know this, my full name is actually Norma Juliette Harcourt. Norma. Heaven help me. My mother was a devoted fan of Agatha Christie’s novels, and having just completed the novel ‘The Third Girl’ the day before I was born, she decided to name me after one of the main characters. Leave it to my mother to choose the most insipid character in the book. In fact, having read everything Dame Christie has written as well, I believe my mother chose the most colorless, uninteresting character in any of Christie’s books. It’s my opinion that she followed my plain first name with the rather extravagant ‘Juliette’ out of some last minute remorse. My first name followed me painfully throughout my school career and caused me considerable grief, right up until I found out Marilyn Monroe’s birth name was Norma too. Suddenly ‘Norma’ didn’t seem nearly as terrible as it had. Of course, when I started college that didn’t stop me from telling everyone I met that my name was Juliette Harcourt. Even Norma Jean saw the marketing value in a name change.

With my new name all sorts of possibilities opened up, and I was ripe to take advantage of them. I was a woman with a Plan. So ‘Norma’ became ‘Juliette’ to her professors, ‘Julie’ or ‘Jules’ to her close friends, and once ‘Jewel’ to a lover that I would have gotten serious about, except he didn’t fit in with my Plan.

The Plan was, and had been, to travel. It really didn’t matter where; I just wanted to see the world. I remember exactly when I realized there was a great big world out there just waiting for me to explore it. Our family went on a camping trip to Victoria B.C. when I was seven. While I was there, I met a French girl named Celeste, and a brother and sister from Quebec named Jaques and Adele. Jaques and Adele spoke a little English, so we all managed to communicate fairly well. At one point, I was trying to explain something to Celeste but I just couldn’t make her understand. In stepped Adele and a stream of French bounced back and forth between the two with much waving about of hands and animated facial expressions. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever witnessed. Celeste’s eyes lit up with understanding as Adele explained what I had been trying to say. I ached to be able to jump in and speak that beautiful language. As the weekend progressed, Celeste and Adele tried on a few of my ‘American’ phrases, and I parroted their beautiful language at every turn. I may not have known what I was saying most of the time, but yes, they assured me, I was pronouncing it correctly. By the end of the long weekend, I had mastered counting to ten in French, but more importantly, I had found something I really loved. Languages.

As much as I loved the exotic sounds of other languages, soon it was the cultures and customs attached to other countries that became the fascination. I knew whatever I ended up doing to make a living had to involve travel. In high school I studied French and Spanish with travel in mind. In my senior year, I met with my guidance counselor, Mrs. Whitney, to prepare my applications for different colleges.

“Have you any idea what you want to do Norma?” she asked, peering at me over her reading glasses.

“No ma’am,” I replied quietly.

“Your grades are excellent, and I see you have done well in your Spanish and French classes.

“I love languages,” I volunteered.

“Mhmmmm.” She made a note on a piece of paper and looked again at my transcripts. “Mr. Thomas tells me you are quite the writer as well. I read the piece you wrote in the school paper about our exchange students from Japan. You captured the challenges of coming to a foreign country very well. I appreciated learning about some of the differences between school in the United States and schools in Japan too.” She smiled encouragingly at me.

I tapped my fingers nervously on the binder in my lap. “I have always wanted to travel,” I blurted out suddenly.

Mrs. Whitney sat back in her chair and removed her glasses. She towered her fingers in front of her and rested her chin on them. “Have you considered Journalism?”

I hadn’t.

“I think you should,” she said thoughtfully. “You have a unique voice. Depending on what you write, you could pair that with travel.”

Gradually, I let this new idea wash over me. I loved writing. I wanted to travel. I had never considered a career that involved both of them. In the pit of my stomach I felt the first flutters of excitement. “How do I find out about that?” I asked her eagerly. Mrs. Whitney put me in touch with the head of the Journalism department at the University, and after meeting with him, my course was set. Juliette Harcourt had a Plan.

Fast forward twelve years. My Big Plan is a reality. I am 34 and busy. BUSY. In my work as a feature writer for various magazines, I spend several weeks a year travelling and then writing about it. Great life. Still, sometimes I wonder if I am the only one in the universe that operates at warp speed all the time. Then I talk to my best friend Laura and I realize it’s not just me…for most of us life is just a collage of moments crammed up tight next to each other so we can fit as many into a day as possible. I’m not sure what our motivation is for living like this, but at some point, I decided I wanted off the ride. At least occasionally. The quintessential queen of ‘Plans’, I found myself without one. I just knew I needed to humanize my life a little and slow down, so I could actually feel the moments I was in while I was in them. I needed to find a way to take some time out and let myself just be.

I had this vague idea of joining a book club or knitting group or taking a gardening class – I was pretty unfocused to begin with. But once I made the decision to steal moments from my own life, I couldn’t let the idea go. The intrigue was irresistible. I started to feel like a secret agent planning an undercover op., except the op was my own life. I kept living my life at the same frantic pace, but just under the surface the idea had taken hold, and I walked around every day hugging it tight to my chest.

As it turned out, just opening myself up to a change in my life was liberating.

Still, I had no idea that my life was about to change in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Chapter two

I am a morning person.
Except when I consume copious amounts of wine and close down the pub. Then I am an early to mid-afternoon person.
This was definitely one of those days. I made it back to my apartment by 2:30 in the morning and fell asleep to dreams of writing a wildly successful novel in Ireland. Around 1:00 that afternoon, an insistent knocking on my door woke me. Damn! I pushed my sleep mask up and opened my eyes. Fortunately I had shut the blinds and pulled the drapes before falling into bed. The room was nice and dark. I settled back into my down pillow and prepared to ignore whoever was at the door. More knocking. Just lifting my head off the pillow was agony. Insistent knocking now. I sat up slowly, swung my feet to the floor, and stood and dragged myself through the bedroom and across the equally darkened living room to the door. I looked out the peephole. Laura. Probably the only person in the universe that could get away with waking me up in the middle of a sleep it off Saturday. Unlocking the deadbolt, I put on my I can’t believe you’re doing this to me face and swung the door open.

“Hi,” I managed to squeak out a greeting.

Laura had on her I can’t believe you’re not up yet face.

“Hello yourself Cherie,” she sailed into the living room, and the delicious smell of coffee from the two huge Starbucks cups she had with her wafted around me. The plain white bag in her other hand meant French pastries from the patisserie near her apartment. “I come bearing gifts,” she said, and set the drink carrier and bag down on the coffee table. “Heavens but you keep it dark in here.”

She marched to the tall windows and, before I could stop her, she pushed the drapes open, pulled the blinds, and cracked open the window. Laura is a firm believer in fresh air. Outside the rain was definitely gone and the sun was out in full force. It streamed merrily in through the windows like a freight train on a collision course with my already aching head, causing it to throb with even greater intensity. I fell back into my wonderfully soft floral armchair, pulled my sleep mask back down over my eyes, and held out my hand. Laura placed one of the coffees in it and I took a cautious sip. Ahhhh. Nice and hot, but drinkable. I took another sip. So maybe I would live. This was just like college - countless times Laura rescued me after a late night and got me up and ready for classes.

I pushed up the right side of the mask and looked at Laura out of one eye. She was disgustingly cheerful looking, beautiful in a simple blue linen dress, bare legs and flats. A light sweater swung from her shoulders and one of her signature scarves was wound artfully around her neck. Her dark hair was loosely coiled at the nape of her neck and even though she wore no makeup, she showed no signs of our late night at all, nor for that matter, a cold.

Catching my glance, she shrugged and said, “Wine is like water to the French,” as if that explained everything.

“I could hate you,” I muttered, lowering the mask. “It’s utterly unfair that you can drink and show no signs of it the next day. Meanwhile, here I am in agony.” Gratefully I took another long sip of coffee. The paper bag rustled and I held out my other hand. Laura placed the napkin wrapped pastry in my hand. I didn’t have to look to know it would be Pan au chocolat, my favorite. Taking a small bite, I said, “And this would be the reason that I don’t hate you.” She laughed delightedly and I smiled a tiny smile. The pastry was fresh and predictably delicious.

“So tell me what happened after Mike and I left last night,” Laura said, settling herself decorously on the arm of the sofa opposite me. “You and Ian seemed to be getting on well.”

Alternating nibbles and sips, I told her about my conversation with Ian and his offer of the house. Of course now, without the wine, candles, and Ian, the idea seemed crazy.
“Of course it’s impossible,” I said, sitting up straighter in the chair and pushing the mask up fully onto my head. I squinted painfully, but the coffee was working and the sun was not quite as offensive as it had been.

“Why impossible,” Laura asked simply.

“Because I’ve got a million things on right now,” I told her. “I’m committed to doing this article on Barcelona, and then I’m off for an Italian cooking tour that I will critique and write about for MAGAZINE NAME. One of my favorite magazines NAME HERE is talking about doing a piece on Indonesia and my name came up; I think that one is just a week or two from being a done deal.”

“So you’re busy,” Laura is maddeningly masterful at understating the obvious. “So you get unbusy.”

“It’s not only that,” I said stubbornly. “I’ve got this apartment, the rent, how would I continue to pay for it if I wasn’t living here. I mean, to do this thing right, I would have to spend 6 months to a year over there.” I was sitting up now, punctuating my speech with jabs of my coffee cup, and I could feel myself getting agitated. “I can’t just walk away from my life for that long Laura.”

“Why are you putting so many obstacles in your own way Jules?” Laura could be stubborn too. “Sublet the apartment. This is a high demand neighborhood and close to the university. You would have no problem finding a student to sublet it. As to supporting yourself, you can write from anywhere, right? You can travel from anywhere. So you work on your novel and occasionally take the time to do some feature pieces about Ireland.” Laura was quiet for a moment, then she said quite seriously, “You have to make room for your dreams Jules. Now. Life is for living, not just existing.” For a moment I thought I detected a note of sadness in her voice, but then it was gone and she said teasingly, “Maybe you will meet the man of your dreams over there.”

I gave something very close to a snort and resettled myself in the chair. The only thing more non-existent at this particular moment than my love life was a padded savings account that would allow me to go off to Ireland and write a novel. I was so busy I didn’t date often and the last two dates I’d been on had been certifiable disasters.

Laura got up and walked over to the open window, her back to me, and wrapping her arms around her waist, she leaned against the window frame. The bright sunlight framed her like a full body halo. It was a beautifully peaceful tableau. Not for the first time I wondered why my beautiful friend remained unattached.

“What about the man of your dreams?” I countered. “Who’s the latest conquest? Are you still seeing that banking fellow…What’s his name?”

Laura lifted her shoulders slightly in an elegant shrug. “Paul. He was transferred to another branch in Eastern Washington. He left two weeks ago.” She glanced at me over her shoulder. “But we parted on good terms. If I ever make it over to Spokane, he told me to be sure to look him up.” She smiled at me.

“Of course he did.” I rolled my eyes and sighed. “You know darling, someday you’re going to have to commit to one of these guys.”

Another casual shrug was the only acknowledgment I received, so I left it at that.

After visiting Juliette, Laura headed downtown to do one of her favorite things. Shop. She was unexpectedly happy, considering her life at this moment. The sun was out and a light breeze swept over and around her like a soft caress. Laura’s was a very old soul, and it weighed on her sometimes. Perhaps that was why she and Juliette had remained such close friends for so long. Juliette was refreshingly down to earth, a younger soul, and as such, far less complicated. Darling Juliette. At times Laura did not know how she’d ever made it through life before meeting her friend. And what a different life it had been.

Nearly anyone you asked would describe Laura as ‘vivacious’. Words like ‘confident’, ‘outgoing’, and ‘sparkling’ were commonly applied to her. But she had a past that she had never shared with anyone, including her best friend.
Laura had been fascinated when Juliette had told her about using her middle name when she started college as a way of starting fresh. Juliette was not alone in choosing college as the perfect place to reinvent herself, and Laura had immediately been drawn to the shy but genuine girl so unlike herself. Through their school years and beyond, Laura came to admire her friend for her single-minded determination to realize her dream. Juliette worked extremely hard and it had paid off for her.

Equally determined to leave her past behind, Laura had applied herself as well. She mastered three languages in college - Spanish, Mandarin, and Russian. Pairing this with law school and a minor in International Business had made her an extremely valuable recruit when it came time to find a job. Several law firms specializing in international business clients had aggressively courted her. The compensation was always very attractive, but it was important for Laura to help people too, not just make money. She sifted through the offers until she finally convinced a downtown Bellevue firm to take her on ¾ time, leaving her one day a week to work with various non-profit organizations. She had a natural head for business, was an extremely capable lawyer, and with her language skills, she quickly became an invaluable part of the firm. Eventually her volunteering turned out to be in their favor too as positive press releases regarding Laura’s volunteer work reached her bosses’ ears. She made a very decent living, while being able to give back to people that really needed her help.

Her history with relationships was slightly less dynamic than her career. While she dated different men off and on over the years, she was careful never to let them get too serious about her. Laura became an expert at the ‘soft let-down’. Nearly every man she eventually broke up with would have sworn the break-up was their idea, which was exactly how she wanted it. She remained friends with all of them, and gained the reputation of a girl that was fun to take out casually, but not someone to get real serious about. Most of her friends assumed she was just too busy to get that serious about a man and they were partly right. Not even Juliette knew the whole truth. With a past like Laura’s, a serious relationship was not an option.

Anyone looking in at her life from the outside would conclude Laura had realized her dreams. Aside from Mike, her younger brother, all of her friends and colleagues saw exactly what she wanted them to see – A successful, happy, dedicated young woman, with a bright, positive future - someone with a variety of interests, a love for good wine and food, and a source of unerringly intuitive advice. Juliette alone knew that there was more to Laura than the picture she presented to the world every day. Still, after initially receiving vague answers to her inquiries about Laura’s life in France before college, Juliette had eventually accepted that Laura couldn’t or wouldn’t share the details of her past.

“It was far from perfect, my dear, and I have put it behind me. That is all you need to know.” Laura told her when they met. “My brother Mike and I are each other’s only family now.’

A small cloud passed in front of the sun and Laura shivered. Just as quickly it cleared and the sun shone brightly once again. Still… that feeling… Her brow knit for a moment and her step slowed. She glanced over her shoulder and then to her left and right.
Silently chiding herself for being so silly, she strode forward purposefully. Turning right at the next corner, she swung open the heavy door and prepared to lose herself for the next couple of hours in the accessories department at Nordstrom. There was nothing like scarf therapy to take your mind off your troubles.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chapter One - Jules

Serendipity: chance, karma, coincidence, luck, fortune, accident, fate, destiny, design.
At one time or another we’ve all fooled ourselves into thinking that we are in control - that we are the ones running our lives. I used to think that. Maybe to some extent I was, but the truth is, the most delicious, most memorable moments in my life have happened serendipitously. Completely unexpected, unplanned encounters, that once experienced, changed my life forever.


I was late, so I ran for it- but really I had to. I live in Seattle - have done all my life. So it’s not like the rain is a surprise to me. I’m used to it. And like all true Washingtonians, I never use an umbrella because ‘What’s a little rain gonna hurt?’ There are, however, some days when the rain is… well … wetter. This was one of those lovely days. It soaked the back of my neck under my brown cotton crochet cap and dripped down underneath my summer scarf, soaking my coat collar. It ran into the top of my ridiculously high heels, (oh yes, we wear heels in the rain here in Seattle) and generally made me wet, cold, and miserable. I hate being cold. And wet. So I ran for it.

Darting between Virginia and Stewart Streets, I hurried down Post Alley. I dodged puddles and jay-walked because the thought of walking in an ‘L’ down to the corner to cross was ridiculous when there was this much rain. Running in the rain in high heels is something akin to leaping tall buildings for me, so I really should have been pissed beyond words. In fact, there was definitely some disgruntled muttering going on, but by the end of the evening it was completely replaced by a chance encounter and some great wine.

Despite my dash, I was still soaked by the time I made it to Kells, the Irish pub down the alley. As I ducked through the doorway, the familiar warmth and sounds of a traditional pub and the smell of great food enveloped me. – Kells is like the best bear hug you’ve ever gotten except it’s the people, food, atmosphere, and of course the Irish music and great beer and wine that wrap around you. It’s like coming home. Unbelievably, I was in luck and the coat rack just inside the door still had an open hook. I unwound the completely inadequate, and now soaked blue scarf from around my neck, dragged my sodden mess of a coat off of my shoulders and hung it inside the door, where immediately a puddle of water formed on the floor beneath it. Fortunately, Kells is always kept on the warm side, so the chances were good both my coat and scarf would be dry by the time I headed out again.

I put my name in with the hostess, Cairyn, and told her I was meeting someone tonight. She surveyed my saturated appearance and said, with absolutely no guile, “It’s no rainin’ oot there is it?” Cairyn is a direct import from Ireland, right down to the curly red hair and authentic accent. The Irish have a little experience with rain too, so we’d had this conversation before. Right on cue I wryly replied, “Nowat more then a lighyut dreezzle”, in my best imitation of her accent. Her blue eyes twinkled as I headed to the powder room to survey the damage caused by the rain. I passed the long bar against the south wall and hummed along to the celtic music playing softly in the background. This was a Friday night and the musicians (name) playing later tonight were one of my favorites. It would not be quiet around here for long.

I keep a quick make-up repair kit in my purse for after-hours business meetings, late-night trysts, and of course, torrential downpours. Exactly seven minutes later I emerged freshly made up from the ladies room ready to take on all comers…or at least meet my best friend and her brother for drinks and dinner. After the day I’d had, it would be in that order too. I quickly surveyed the room for my friend Laura. Not seeing her, I headed for the bar, slid onto the familiar polished stool, and ordered a glass of King Estate Pino Gris. Light, wet, and fruity. I closed my eyes, inhaled, exhaled, and sipping, rolled the delicate flavors of pear and honeydew around my tongue. Delicious.

Twenty minutes later the place was starting to fill up and I was onto my second glass of wine when the sound of Laura’s soft french voice brought me out of my reverie. “Darling Jules, so sorry I’m late.” If the wine had not already begun to mellow me, Laura’s voice would have done the trick. She is naturally one of the sweetest women I have ever met. It seems almost unfair that she should be beautiful too, but there it is. Laura has that indefinable ‘French’ thing – she’s just naturally gorgeous. I don’t think I have ever seen her wear more than a light dusting of powder and some sheer lip gloss, but she always looks sensational. My best friend and I are complete physical opposites. With Laura’s dark hair and olive skin, she’s the perfect contrast for my strawberry blonde hair and fair, freckled skin. I’m 5’ 9” and willowy tall. She’s 5’4” and all curves. Even our personalities are totally different. Laura is a vivacious extrovert, who makes friends easily. I tend to be more introspective and cautious. Somehow though, we complement each other and have remained best friends since we met in college.

Smiling at her reflection in the glass behind the bartender, I swiveled around and gave her a quick kiss on each cheek. “No problem. I started without you.” Laura grinned and shrugged out of her long chocolate brown overcoat. “This does not surprise me. What are we drinking?” I told her. “Charming.” she said ambiguously. It can be difficult to impress a French woman when it comes to wine. Laura is no exception, so I’ve long since given up trying. Though I’ve been to France twice, and enjoyed wonderful wines there both times, I admit I’m an amateur when it comes to the particulars. I do know what I like and often enjoy incredible wines produced right here in the Northwest. In fact, Oregon wines are some of my favorites. Laura’s been here long enough to appreciate our wines too, but she staunchly insists the French are the masters when it comes to producing wine. She has to say that. She’s French.

I caught Cairyn’s eye and raised my eyebrows questioningly. She nodded and motioned us to one of my favorite tables in a corner at the back. It had a great view of the stage. Laura and I wound our way through the tables to the back and settled in. “Where’s Mike?” I asked as she laid her coat across the extra chair. Her brother, Michele, ‘Mike’, is very much like his older sister. Habitually late. “He’ll be along soon.” Laura glanced at me coyly through her eyelashes. “He missed you.” I laughed. Laura’s brother was a very good looking but young twenty-six and had sustained a crush on me since we first met when he was sixteen. He was passionately vocal about it, so I had been a quite worried for a while. When I voiced my concern to Laura, she’d laughed and finally told me that Mike was not pining away for me as I had imagined. On the contrary, he’d had a string of girlfriends over the past several years and was currently dating a young legal secretary from the downtown Bellevue office where both he and Laura worked. I admit to being a teensy bit let down by this knowledge, but Mike continued to swear I was the only true love he would ever have every time we met, and somewhat mollified, I pretended to believe him.

As the pub filled, the noise level rose as well. Mike eventually found us and we spent a lively hour and a half enjoying our wine and dinner. At quarter to nine the band set up – by nine fifteen they were in full swing. More wine flowed. By the time the dinner crowd began to settle in for dessert and music, our party had grown to a happy and relaxed six. Laura, Mike, and I, plus Finn and his wife Claire, the owners of Kells, made up five. The sixth was an old friend of Kell’s from Ireland, a man I had never met named Ian. He was a definite ‘type’, tall, and thin, bright blue eyes, and very charming. His once vibrant red hair was just starting to turn to ginger with age, and I would have guessed him to be about 50. For the next two hours Ian and Finn traded stories about their youth growing up in Ireland, each funnier than the last, keeping us all in stitches. It felt good to laugh. Ian was an outrageous flirt. A little complement, a devilish wink, and every female he came in contact with was gone, Laura and I included.

Finally, just past midnight, Laura declared she was tired. She still looked beautiful, but I noticed the beginnings of faint, bruise-like smudges under her eyes. As this was definitely not typical of her, I asked her quietly if she was ok. “Of course Cherie, just fighting a cold,” she smiled widely at me and kissed me on both cheeks. Amid much protest, she and Mike headed home. Finn and Claire took off for the front of the restaurant to assist with the final two hours before closing. That left Ian and me.

“Finn tells me you are a great travel writer.” Ian grinned at me. “Where can I read your stuff?” I named several magazines I regularly contributed to, and he seemed impressed. “And what parts of our fair country have you written about?”

Amazingly enough, I’ve been to Scotland but never to Ireland.

“It just hasn’t worked out yet,” I said. “I had planned to travel to Ireland after Scotland, but I had to cut that trip short when my mother died.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Ian offered genuinely.

I nodded my appreciation, my brow furrowing at the memory. “It was a few years ago now, and we were not very close, but thank you.” I picked up the cork from one of the bottles of wine we had been drinking and twirled it between my thumb and first finger rhythmically. “So anyway, I’ve just never made it back.” I shrugged, still looking at the cork. The wine, the candlelit corner and Ian’s charming attentions made for a perfect confessional. “Do you know… my life is very structured.” I sighed and looked up. “I mean I’m very responsible and I work really hard doing something I am fortunate enough to love. It’s just…,” I paused, searching for the right words, “I feel like somewhere along the way of pursuing my dream to travel I got off track. I do a lot of rushing about, from one commitment to the next. I don’t know that I do a lot of actual Living.” My own surprise at these words must have shown in my face.

Ian’s hands had been folded under his chin as he listened to me, but now he reached out and covered my hand loosely with his, large and calloused. It was warm and comforting. I felt the cylindrical shape of the cork on the table beneath my fingers as his hand weighted my own.

I raised my eyes and met his deep blue gaze. In for a penny …“I have always wanted to rent a house in the back of beyond, doesn’t really matter where, just somewhere a bit remote, and work on a novel. Take a block of time and disappear for a while. Silly, huh?” I said lightly. “A silly dream.” My face must have reflected my uncertainty.

A serious expression had settled on Ian’s face. “Dreams are never silly, sweet Juliette. Embracing our dreams and pushing the edges of our lives to make room for them is an integral part of living. You should go,” he said simply. “You should go and write and laugh and Live.” He sat back in his chair, taking his hand with him. My hand cooled where his had been. We were quiet for a few moments.

“If you’re serious,” Ian said eventually, “I know a place. I live in Dublin now, but my family has a small cottage just outside of Bantry in Co. Cork. No one uses it anymore – we have a property manager that rents it out to the occasional tourist. It is a bit remote, but it has all the mod cons. You would have quiet there, and it’s right on the coast, so you’d have the water too. Water is very conducive to creativity.” Ian reached across and lightly touched the tip of my nose with his finger. “You should go Juliette,” he repeated.

The prospect, no doubt combined with the wine and the company, was suddenly very exhilarating. “I should go,” I said passionately. Embarrassed, I looked back down at the cork. “Anyway, it’s something to think about,” I said and smiled warmly across the table at him.

Looking around me, I suddenly realized we were the only two people left in this part of the pub. Time to go. I looked down at the cork in my hand and clenched and unclenched my fingers around it, reluctant to have such a wonderful evening end. Sensing my mood, Ian’s gaze settled on my hand and he reached over and took the cork. The pen left by the server when we settled our bill was still on the table. He held the cork in his left hand, and wrote a few lines on the cork, turning it slowly as he wrote. Then he handed it to me and said “So you’ll never forget.” I started to read it, but then I spotted Finn and Catherine headed over to our table, and the moment passed. I dropped the cork quickly into my bag to read later. It was now past two in the morning and Catherine was headed home. She offered to drop me off at my apartment as it’s on the way to their house. Since I’d taken the bus and planned on a ride home from Laura, and since I was well into the wine, this was ideal. Finn and Ian would stay and close up. Ian walked us to the door and helped me into my coat. I wound my scarf around my neck and glanced out the window. Still raining.

“It was lovely meeting you.” I said inadequately and offered my hand.

Ian grinned and enveloped my hand in his. Then he reached across and lightly touched the tip of my nose again. “And you as well, my darlin’ Juliette.” Leaning in to kiss me lightly on the cheek he whispered, “Ireland awaits. Bring your dream.”

It wasn’t until I was home and in bed that I realized I hadn’t gotten Ian’s contact information.