Nan’s phone jingled like bells. The slightly shrill sound usually carried over the din of housework, kitchen appliances, or crowds, which was how she preferred it. This morning was no different. The late season crowd at the farmer’s market was boisterous, high on the Indian summer day. The insistent ringing cut through the chatter, the gleeful shrieking of small children, the rustle of the breeze in the ancient maple trees which ringed the town common.
She reached into the small outer pocket where she kept the tiny phone, answered the call, grateful for the forwarding service which sent the Inn’s calls to her Blackberry when she was away.
“Valley Inn, Nan Grady speaking,” she answered, seeking out a quieter place to take the call.
“Nan!” the trilling voice on the other end of the line was unmistakable.
“Elisha?” Nan was shocked to hear the journalist’s voice again. While they’d parted on friendly terms, she wasn’t entirely convinced the New Yorker didn’t still harbor a grudge.
“I’m wondering if I can book into the Inn for a few days early next week,” Elisha steamed forward, focused as always.
“I’m not in the office right now, Elisha, so I can’t confirm you, but I do know I’ve got a room for you. When would you like to make the reservations for?”
“Checking in on Monday evening, leaving Wednesday morning. I have meetings up at the College all day Tuesday,” and she paused dramatically.
“I’ve been asked to teach a late addition to the January Term catalog. A course in commercial journalism. I’m just thrilled. And? I’m going to be able to write about it for Flair, so the magazine is going to foot some of the bill! Which, of course, means I’m hoping to stay with you for the month of January. But we can talk about that next week, right?”
Nan took a moment to digest that. Obviously, Elisha wasn’t one to waste energy on wounded pride.
“I’d be happy to have you, Elisha, and congratulations. That sounds like a wonderful opportunity for you,” she replied warmly.
“Let me get you into the computer when I’m back in my office, and I’ll email you a confirmation,” Nan continued.
“That sounds great, Nan. Thank you. I’ve got to run. See you Monday evening!”
Nan smiled in spite of herself. Elisha was nothing if not dynamic.
She was startled by a large, older man in a sweatshirt and jeans who crashed into her shoulder, knocking her oversized tote bag to the ground.
The contents spilled out across the path, and she stumbled. The man’s big, rough hands steadied her.
He was handsome, in a rough kind of way, with a scar through one eyebrow that spoke of a long ago fight.
“I’m so sorry!” he exclaimed. “Are you okay?”
His voice was deep, gruff like his face, his inflections broad, his r’s dropped. Boston, Nan surmised. A tourist.
“Oh, no. I wasn’t paying attention. Silly of me to stop to take a call on a crowded path,” she said with a shrug and a small laugh.
She knelt to retrieve her things from the sidewalk.
The big man dropped to a crouch, surprisingly light on the balls of his feet for a man his size and age.
“The least I can do is help you with your bag,” he grinned.
She grabbed her lip balm from the grass beside the path. Her sunglasses and key ring had skittered just out of reach.
Her companion snagged them away from oncoming traffic, his movements quick and agile.
“Are you in town to visit a student? Or for the foliage season?” Nan asked, intrigued by the stranger.
“Business, actually,” he answered.
“Do you live in town?” he asked, deflecting the conversation.
“I own a small bed and breakfast in town, the Valley Inn,” she replied.
“Sounds like a nice line of work,” he said, picking up the little make-up bag she carried. She thought of the contents, nail file, small scissors, tissues, a band-aid, a small pill box with some Advil, hand cream, another lip balm. It looked delicate and ridiculously feminine in his hands, graceful though they were, with their dry cuticles and scarred knuckles.
Nan gathered up her wallet, a graphic printed sateen one from Coach, an extravagant graduation gift from Jack. He’d given Kate one, too. They’d squealed like little girls.
“It is. I love it,” she answered.
He handed over her business card case, fanciful, engraved silver. She flipped it open, took out the Inn’s business card, handed him one.
“In case your business brings you back to town,” she offered.
“It would be a pleasure,” he replied, standing slowly, knees a little stiff.
She tucked the card case into her tote, did a quick mental inventory. Her iPod? She looked down, glancing around for it.
The older man saw it first, on the other side of the sidewalk, and bent to pick it up.
“I don’t have one of these,” he commented, “yet.”
“My daughter keeps telling me I need one. Says my CDs are obsolete,” he shrugged.
“She doesn’t realize I still listen to all my old vinyl.”
Nan took her iPod, dropped it into her tote.
“Thank you,” she said. “I’m sorry again for being in the way.”
“No problem,” he said. “I wasn’t paying attention. It was nice meeting you.”
He pocketed her business card and offered his hand.
She shook it, her small hands swallowed up in his.
As he turned to leave, she realized she hadn’t even asked his name, or offered her own.
So, I’m using the NaNoWriMo challenge to push myself to finish the romance novel I’m working on. One can only be an aspiring novelist for so long. It is time to, as they say, shit or get off the pot. The unedited, raw excerpt above is both part of my daily writing quota and a response to this week’s Red Dress Prompt: Your protagonist empties the contents of his/her pockets, purse, and/or backpack onto a table. What all was dumped onto the table?