Russet Avenue is designed for foot traffic and browsers. There’s parallel parking on the street and a couple of municipal lots around back. Among other things, there’s an inn, a craft shop, a print gallery, a few restaurants, a jewelry designer, and a chocolatier for the tourists, and a bank, a drug store, and my father’s store for the locals. I’m not sure which category of consumer I fit into at this point, though I certainly hadn’t returned to Amber for its quaint New England flavor. As the morning turned into afternoon, I spent a lot of time watching pedestrians out the window from behind the counter. I remembered quiet afternoons such as this when I felt shackled to the store and believed that every other teenager in Amber had something more interesting going on.
It was while daydreaming that I saw Iris entering the gourmet food shop across the street. As I watched, my thoughts ranged from wondering if it was actually her, to how I would respond if she walked in here, to considering going to the stockroom until the moment passed.
When I saw Iris come out of the shop and head down the street, I decided it was foolish to pretend (or even wish) that I hadn’t seen her. I told Tyler I’d be back in a few minutes and went out the door. I was crossing the street and she was about to walk into the bakery when I called out her name. She turned in my general direction, but didn’t make eye contact for several seconds. When she did, she seemed stupefied by the sight, as though we were standing on a street in Bali rather than in the town where we both grew up.
“What are you doing here?” she asked as I walked up to her. I noticed her eyes scanning me from head to toe. She didn’t seem to be appraising me; it was as though she was taking inventory.
“I read about this place in a guidebook and decided to check it out,” I said.
“You look good. You seem – taller.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot.” She looked stunning to me. I was surprised at how my memory had failed to do her justice. Her hair was shorter than I remembered, but her eyes seemed even more cobalt, her skin smoother, her posture even more approachable.
“So what are you doing here? Last I heard, you were off wandering the globe.”
“Yeah, moving from suburb to suburb in search of thrills. I finally got tired of the fast lane and decided to stop by for a little small town calm.” As I said this, I rolled my eyes to make sure that she understood was being ironic. “Actually, my dad’s sick and I’m here to check up on him.”
Concern darkened her expression. “Is he okay?”
“I think so. I’m gonna watch the store for him for a few days.”
“Wow, things have changed.”
“Well I guess you can do anything for a few days, huh? So what are you doing here? You haven’t moved back, have you?”
“God, no. I live in Lenox now. I come down every month or so to see my mom. My dad died a few years ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. He seemed like a good guy.”
Iris nodded and looked up the street. I couldn’t tell if she was thinking about her father or feeling uncomfortable about seeing me.
“Do you want to go grab a cup of coffee?” I said.
She wrinkled her nose. “I can’t. I’ve got a few more stops to make and I told my mother I wouldn’t be gone long.”
I shook my head and looked down at my shoes.
“That just sounded like I was blowing you off, didn’t it?”
“No, your mom doesn’t like to be alone. I get it.”
“Actually, my mom is fine being alone. She just gets irrational if I tell her I’m only going to be gone a short while and then I come back a few hours later. Even if I call her.” She chortled. “Mothers. You’re here for a few days?”
“Yeah, three or four probably, assuming everything turns out okay with my father.”
“I’m going to be here until the weekend. Do you want to get a drink sometime?”
“That would be good,” I said, disproportionately cheered by the fact that she wasn’t blowing me off. “Tomorrow night?”
“I’d like that. I’ll meet you at the Cornwall at, say, 8:30?”
“The Cornwall. Yeah, absolutely.”
“It’ll be nice to catch up. You can tell me about all of your adventures.” She smiled and touched me on the arm. “This was a nice surprise. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
She headed into the bakery and I returned to the store. It was no more active there than when I left and I again found myself looking across the street from the window. When Iris came out of the bakery, I saw her take a quick glance in my direction before walking away.
For a reason that wasn’t entirely clear to me at that moment, I found this extremely satisfying.