Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane had an epiphany about the men in her life and left the Date My Son! house and called Jesse. They agreed they belong together in Rosedale.

Chapter Fifty-Seven

 

It didn’t take long to pack up my tiny furnished apartment. I had my clothes and a few tchotchkes. By noon the next day, I’d given notice at the school and to my landlord, and April and I were chugging up I-5 toward the Valley and home.

I’d even managed a quick call to Nathan, still at the Date My Son! set. He confessed his feelings for Cassie and I told him I was thrilled for him. I really was and it didn’t have anything to do with my own light-hearted feelings for Jesse.

April kept herself occupied with her iPod and my thoughts continued to whirl like a tornado, touching down on various thoughts about where I’d live, work, and love in the future.

Jesse and I talked all night. The job he applied for was a good one. He could afford a place of his own while we got re-acquainted. I would insist that Jake and Daniel and Abel finish my garage apartment. I needed a place of my own, out of the main house. The clapboard farmhouse was Anna’s nest now and I had been kidding myself to think I had any say in how she ran it.

I shouldn’t have a problem getting my old job back at Rosedale Elementary. But even if Principal Reardon had replaced me, it wasn’t the end of the world. I could drive a tractor as well as my brothers.

By the time we pulled off 99 and into Rosedale, I was just the teensiest bit apprehensive about seeing my brothers and Anna. Would I be strong enough to stand up for myself? I never could before.

I stopped in front of Enns Dry Goods, put the car in park, and sagged against the seat back.

“Can I get an ice-cream?” April asked, pointing to the lunch counter.

“Sure.” It seemed like a good idea and would give me a chance to catch up with Emma.

The black stiletto heels, the ones I saw on the day Jesse and Rachael had returned to town, still held a place of honor in the front window. Along with a traditional Mennonite kappe. Our order didn’t wear them, but the tourists didn’t know that.

The juxtaposition of the chic heels and plain bonnet made me smile.

Inside, April slid onto a stool at the counter and placed her order. I kept looking over my shoulder at the front window.

“SarahJane!” Emma hugged me then stepped back. “Oh, I’ve missed you!”

I grinned at her. “I have so much to tell you. But first, I have to buy those shoes and that kappe.”

She grabbed my elbow and pulled me toward the window. “I can’t believe neither has sold yet. They’ve been in the window for weeks.” She reached over the waist-high back and snagged first the heels then the bonnet. “It’s like they were waiting for you.”

I laughed out loud at that. “You know, I think they were.”

At the register, Emma rang me up. Instead of a paper or plastic bag though, she pulled out a box from under the counter. “These deserve something extra special.”

The box was more than an ordinary shoebox. It was round, like a hatbox. Cream-colored with a black band around the lid.

“That looks like something out of the 1940’s,” I said.

“I ordered just a hundred.” Emma fit the shoes inside and laid the kappe on top. “They’re for the discriminating customer who will appreciate them.” She winked at me as she pushed the box across the counter.

Tears filled my eyes.

“SarahJane, are you okay? It’s just a box.” Emma’s concerned voice slipped around me like a warm comforter.

I blinked rapidly. “I’m fine. I—it’s just—I have so much to tell you and this is the perfect end to this summer. These shoes, the kappe, the box. It’s my life in one neat package. Our culture and heritage, and the reality show that gave me back my past.”

April scampered up then. “I’m ready to go home now.”

I propped the box on one hip and gave her a hug with my opposite arm.

“We are, sweetie. We are finally home. And there’s no place I’d rather be.”

The End

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Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

 

The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane arrived back at the Date My Son! house for her meeting with Austin and Linda to ask why they let her go and get some closure. Linda told her she was too sweet and not cut out for life in Hollywood or on a reality show. Austin told SarahJane that her brother Nate was about to propose to Cassie, her friend on the show and asked her if he could call her after the show. She had an epiphany about the men in her life and left the house and called Jesse.

 

Chapter Fifty-Six

 

“Thanks, Chip,” I called to the driver as I dashed out of the car and up the steps to my apartment.

“You’re home!” April launched herself at me from the couch.

Rachael reached for the remote and paused their movie.

“I am. But you need to go to bed and Rachael, thanks a bunch, but I need you to leave.”

“What’s going on?” Rachael reached for her purse but April only burrowed her head into my gut.

“I’ve invited someone over for a serious talk about the future.” I couldn’t help the grin spreading across my face.

A quizzical furrow appeared between Rachael’s brows. “Someone from that show? I thought you went to get closure or whatever.”

“Not from the show.” I kicked off my heels and unpeeled April’s arms from around my waist. “But the people there helped me see what I really want and what I deserve. Which is to be in a relationship without someone wondering what I can do for them and their career.”

“I agree.” My sister grinned at me and I flashed back to our years sharing a bedroom. Instead of wondering what she was doing when she sneaked out our window, she was the onlooker. It felt weird. But also right.

A knock sounded.

“That’s our cue, April.” Rachael pulled April down the hall and I heard the bedroom door click as I strode to open the front door.

“Hi, SarahJane.”

Jesse.

“We’ve been so stupid.” I drew him into the room and to the couch.

“I know I have but what did you do?” he asked.

“I let you be stupid.”

He grinned.

“I played the martyr at home instead of going away to school like you did. I was scared. Mom and Dad would have supported me.”

“Keep going.”

“So I spent years resenting you and Rachael both, for getting away.”

“Do you mean you’re not going back to Rosedale?”

The thought silenced me for about half a second. I shook my head. “Rosedale is my home. I see that now. These months in LA have been good, but I miss my home. I miss my brothers. I even miss Anna. But most of all, I miss you. I miss us.

His eyes widened at that. “Us?”

“Yes. Will you forgive me for giving up on us so easily?”

A grin spread from his lips to his eyes. “Maybe.”

“I know your job is here now and I want to go home to Rosedale, but you know what? I learned that home isn’t just a dot on the map. It’s where your loved ones are.”

He took my hand, twining fingers through mine. “I’ve been thinking this summer, too.”

My heart did a little jump-rope dance and skipped around my chest. “Oh?”

“You’re right. Rosedale is home. I’m ready to go back. I applied for a job with the county. I have an interview next week. And if I don’t get this one, I’ll keep applying until I get one.”

My cheeks warmed. “Are you saying—”

“I’m coming home, too. We belong together and we belong in Rosedale.”

The bedroom door opened with a crash and April barreled down the hall. “Auntie SJ, are you really coming home again?”

I pulled her into a hug. “We’re all going home.”

Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane arrived back at the Date My Son! house for her meeting with Austin and Linda to ask why they let her go and get some closure. Linda told her she was too sweet and not cut out for life in Hollywood or on a reality show. Austin told SarahJane that her brother Nate was about to propose to Cassie, her friend on the show.

The Bandbox Hat

Chapter Fifty-Five

My heart froze for an instant then I let out a breath. “Oh, wow.”

“How do you feel about that?” Austin asked.

“I’m not sure yet … Happy, I think.” As I turned over the idea in my mind—Cassie as my sister-in-law?—the more I liked it. “They’re a good fit. I love them both.”

“They’re lucky. They didn’t let this bubble of luxury and glamour mess with their heads. Mom was squared away when we got here, but somehow in the last couple of weeks, she’s lost it.” He sighed then stood and shook the clinging water off his feet.

“Thanks for the chat, Austin.” I slipped my feet back into my sandals.

“Do you think …” He paused and gave me an appraising look. I was suddenly conscious of the camera angled over his shoulder. “Could I call you when this is over?”

I swallowed a bark of laughter. “So much for finding true love on reality television?”

He shrugged. “I want someone who’s the same on camera and off. You and Cassie are the only two who resemble that.”

“And Cassie’s taken.”

He had the good grace to look away. “No, I really do like you, SarahJane.”

I glanced around. He was right. This place and this show sold an idea, an image of what a good life should be. A fully-stocked bar. A pool. Granite countertops. Fabulous dates and hip places. Helicopter rides to bowling alleys. But it was a faux life. The real good life is hot chocolate in front the Christmas fire. Scrabble on rainy days. Sparring about whether to order pizza or Chinese for dinner. And I knew who I wanted to debate pepperoni or fried rice with.

“Thanks, Austin. But, well, no thanks.”

“Really?” He actually looked disappointed.

I would have bought it except he spoiled it by looking in the camera and sighing.

I laughed. “See you around, Austin. Tell your mom bye.”

I skipped down the walkway and back to the front drive where the limo waited.

The door was barely closed before I had my cell phone out and dialed.

“Hello?”

“Jesse. It’s SarahJane.

Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

 

The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane arrived back at the Date My Son! for her meeting with Austin and Linda to ask why they let her go and get some closure. Linda told her she was too sweet and not cut out for life in Hollywood or on a reality show. SarahJane told her that’s why Liam recruited her for the show. She left, but Austin grabbed her on her way out the door.

Chapter Fifty-Four

“Let me go.” I stopped walking but kept looking straight ahead, away from the cameras. Austin’s body kept the camera operator behind us but I knew as soon I opened the door the outside crew would have a perfect shot of my red-eyed and snot-nosed devastation.

“Wait, SarahJane.” He didn’t let go. “I’m not letting go until you listen to me.”

“Fine.” I shifted a bit to see him, but still kept him between me and the camera.

He guided me through the maze of people and rooms and out the back door. We paused by the pool and he sank onto the pool deck.

“What do you want from me, Austin?” I wrapped my arms around myself.

“Sit.” He patted the concrete and rolled up his pant legs before dangling his feet over the side.

I complied. I’d come here for answers and even though I didn’t like what Linda had to say, I couldn’t say I hadn’t asked for it.

Austin could have read my mind.

“I tried to tell you,” he said now. “I told you my mother had motives for the show.”

I nodded. “You did. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”

He sighed. “The truth is that I’m done with this whole thing.”

I turned to look at him. He gazed at the water and drew a foot through, making a wave that lapped my ankle. “Do you mean that?”

“I do. I grew up in Hollywood. I’m tired of everyone having double motives for everything they do. Sure, it’s nice to help your son find love, but the fact that it also launches your own show is only typical of the stuff I’ve seen. I envy you.”

“You do not.” I gave him a shoulder butt. “You’d hate life in a small town.”

“I’m not so sure.” He sounded rueful.

“You’re just tired of life in front of a camera. You’ll propose to Cassie and start planning a televised wedding, then call it off because you’re moving too quickly. You’ll quietly break up, and marry the girlfriend your mom made you break up with so she could get the two of you on the show.”

He twisted my way. “Wow, did we make you turn so cynical?”

I shrugged. “Does it matter? Cynical or real? The end is the same.”

“Maybe. He returned his focus to the water. “But you’re wrong about one thing.”

“You didn’t actually break up with your girlfriend?”

He chuckled. “Two things.”

“I knew it! I knew you were too great not to have someone.” Glee at being right stimulated my leg to kick up a stream of drops that plopped back into the pool. “What’s the other thing?”

“You forgot the twist in the show.”

My heart stilled. “Nate. He’s still on.”

Austin nodded. “I think he’s going to propose to Cassie.”

Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

 

The Bandbox Hat

 

Previously: SarahJane arrived back at the Date My Son! for her meeting with Austin and Linda to ask why they let her go and get some closure. She was greeted by Austin, Linda and a cameraman.

Chapter Fifty-Three

 

Linda’s face lit up. “SarahJane! I’m so pleased to see you.”

Confusion made me stutter. “Y-you, too.” At least I hoped it was confusion and not Austin’s eyes, grin, and dimpled chin. “I – I –what’s going on?”

“You said you wanted to come back.” Liam had his ever-present tablet computer and he barely glanced up from looking at his Facebook page or Google+ or whatever else he was doing.

“I said I wanted to talk to Linda and Austin. I didn’t say I wanted to be back on the show.”

“Oh. My bad.” Liam finally met my gaze. He sighed and propped the iPad on his waist. “Look—”

“Can we all go inside?” Linda motioned and waved us from the foyer into the living room.

The cameraman walked backwards, the red light on his camera steady and unblinking.

I straightened my shoulders. One thing I learned on this show was that posture was exaggerated on screen. I had to stand straight to have a chance at appearing calm.

Once we’d filed inside, Linda perched on the edge of the plush couch “So, SarahJane, what did you want to talk to us about?”

I cleared my throat and threw a glance at Liam who ignored me. Or at least didn’t meet my gaze. “I wanted—no, I want to know what happened. I thought you liked me and the next thing I know I’m ushered out the door. I feel like I need—no, I do need to know why, I need closure.” I’m not sure I had articulated all that to myself before that moment, but the need to know infused me.

Linda sighed and flashed me a smile. “That’s why, SarahJane. We do like you.”

I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and tried to understand. “I don’t get it.”

“Look, sweetie.” She leaned forward and folded her hands on her knees. “This show isn’t about Austin falling in love. It’s about a whole bunch of other things, the opportunities this kind of exposure buys. We liked you too much, and it’s apparent you’re a sweet young woman who would get eaten alive in this business. We cut you to save you from this.”

Tears welled but I fought for a clear voice. I would not let them see me cry about being kicked off a reality television show. I’d rather chew off my arm and toss it to a gator. “So you’re saying I don’t have what it takes.”

Linda shook her head but before she could speak, Austin laid a hand on her shoulder. “What Mom’s saying is that we could tell you’re a good Christian girl from the middle of the state. You’re the epitome of ‘you can the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.’”

Now my outrage colored my voice and dried up the tears. “So I’m a hick?!?” I stood. “Are you freaking kidding me? Liam recruited me—” His head finally surfaced above his iPad but I held up a hand—“You did, you know you did.” The fierceness in my voice must have convinced him not to protest and I turned back to Linda and Austin. “Liam recruited me because I’m ‘country’ and ‘sweet’ and all those other things you got rid of me for.”

Linda stood too. “We’re not saying it’s fair or even right, but you wanted to know why. That’s why.”

I whirled and marched to the door.

“SarahJane! Wait a minute,” Austin called after me. “I have something to say.”

I made it to the door before he grabbed my elbow.

Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane decided she needed closure from Linda and Austin at Date My Son! so she called Liam and he told her to come back to the house at 4:00 that afternoon.

Chapter Fifty-Two

I managed to exhaust April. We went to the zoo, the Gene Autry Western Museum, and railroad park, and did some shopping at the mall.

She loved it all and nodded off in the back seat as I drove us back to my apartment. I had an hour to get ready and drive across town to the Date My Son house.

I’d called Rachael and she readily agreed to come watch a movie with April while I was gone.

April was rubbing her eyes and I slipped on my strappy heels when I heard the knock.

“April, let in Aunt Rachael please,” I called.

She sighed but staggered to her feet to do it.

“Wow, you said you had something to do, you didn’t say it was a hot date!” Rachael surveyed me from the door.

“It’s not.” I must have grimaced because her brow furrowed.

“What’s going on? Anything I can do?”

“You’re doing it by staying with April. I just have to go settle a few things. I shouldn’t be more than a couple of hours.”

I dropped a kiss on April’s forehead and squeezed my sister’s elbow as I passed them.

“Are you really my aunt?” April asked as I clicked the door shut behind me. Little did April know that not only was Rachael was her aunt, but she had a cousin back home that she knew as an older kid at school. As glad as I was to have my sister back in my life, there were some issues we still had to discuss. Like did she ever plan to come back to Rosedale? Be a part of her son’s life?

Those questions would have to wait. Now, I had an appointment to see a man about some answers of a different kind.

Traffic flowed nicely for mid-afternoon and it was ten minutes to four when I pulled up to the security gate.

“Hey, George.”

His face creased into a grin. “Hey there yourself, SarahJane. What are you doing here?”

I sighed. “It’s a long story. Did Liam put me on the list or do I need to call him?”

George perused the iPad in his beefy grip then his grin faded. “You’re on here all right. You sure about this?”

My head cocked. “Very sure. Why?”

He shrugged. “I just didn’t figure you for the type–never mind, it’s none of my beeswax. Go on up to the house.”

“Thanks, George. How’s your puppy’s training going? Is he still stealing kitchen towels.”

Instead of chatting like we used to do, George shrugged again and pushed a button. The wrought iron gate swung open.

That was weird. And unlike George not to want to talk about his little Rottweiler pup. He could jabber about that dog all day long. Oh well. Maybe he was having a hard day. The show was winding up. He could be preoccupied about his next job or … or anything, really.

At the top of the hill, an intern motioned me where to park then fell into step next to me.

“It’s good to see you again, SarahJane,” she said.

“Thanks–” I wracked my brain for a name and came up with it just a hair too late to make it seem like I hadn’t forgotten her “–Jaime.”

She tossed her blonde hair over one shoulder. “I couldn’t believe it when Liam said you were coming back.”

“Really? Why?”

“Well, I mean–it’s done all the time sure, but I didn’t think you would be–”

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” I asked. We turned from the driveway and made our way down the front walkway. Scents of lavender and cool earth tickled the air and I inhaled deeply.

“I guess, you just seemed more like the kind to get on with your life, not to wallow in–”

“I’m not wallowing in anything. I just want some closure.”

“Wait–what?” She tripped and did a quick step to regain her pace.

“I’m here to talk to Linda and Austin and ask why they strung me along only to dump me without a warning.”

“Oh SarahJane. I had no idea. Liam thought–”

We climbed the last step onto the porch and the door swung open. Liam stood in the opening.

With Austin behind him.

Then Linda behind her son.

And a cameraman behind her.

What did I get myself into?

Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

 

The Bandbox Hat

Previously: April, Rachael, and SarahJane talked. SarahJane realized she needed some answers and closure about her experience with Date My Son! and decided to contact the show and request to meet with Austin and Linda.

Chapter Fifty-One

April’s eyelashes had barely lifted the next morning before she asked for the rollkuchen. Until we sat at the table to eat, my mind kept wandering back to my decision last night to call Liam and get some closure with Austin and Linda.

“Can we go to the zoo today, Auntie SJ?” April smacked her lips and powdered sugar went flying across her plate.

“I suppose. I just have to make a phone call.” I refilled my coffee mug and sipped the hot brew.

“What time does the zoo open? Can you call now? Can I watch The Barefoot Contessa?”

“Not for another couple of hours. Yes, in a minute. The television cooking show or the movie?”

“The show. I’m an Ina Garten fan.”

April’s earnest expression provoked a chuckle from me. “Are you now?”

She nodded. “My lets me cook dinner one night a week and I always make a Barefoot Contessa recipe.”

“Okay, if you can find Ina, you can watch her.”

April skipped to the couch and flipped on the television. After just a minute of searching, sure enough, she found Ina plucking basil from her herb garden.

So … time to make my phone call. I’d been so sure last night, but now …

“Oh, buck up buttercup,” I muttered. “Make the call.” I scrolled to Liam’s number and pressed Call.

He probably was busy and couldn’t answer. Or—even more likely—he’d see my name on his incoming call screen and would decline. I might get his voice mai—

“Hello? SarahJane?”

Oh. He didn’t send me to voice mail at all. I was talking to the real live Liam.

“Hey, Liam. It’s SarahJane.” What an idiot, he knows who’s calling. “I mean—”

“Drop that right now!”

“Uhhh … pardon me?”

“Sorry, SarahJane, I was talking to the stage manager’s assistant. She insists on changing the throw pillows around in the living room and I want them left there!” His voice raised to a shout.

“Is this a bad time?”

“No, it’s perfect. What can I do for you?”

Deep breath in. Count to three. Exhale. Spit it out. “I want to talk to Austin and Linda and get an answer about why they sent me home.”

He was silent.

“Liam?”

“Oh, sorry. I was watching the pillows. Yeah, sure, come back to the house at … about four o’clock?”

Disbelief wriggled up my spine. “Really? I expected a fuss.”

“Nah, it’s fine. Happens all the time. We decide ahead of time who we’ll let—I said leave the tweeds and plushes where I had them! Listen SarahJane, I’ve got to go. See you at four.”

He hung up to attend to his pillow crisis before I could thank him or ask what he meant about what happens all the time and deciding who they’ll let do something. Apparently the same something that I wanted to do: go and get some closure, hopefully with a few answers.