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Here's what it's all about....
What would you do if your "what if" guy showed up at the lowest point of your life?
(Autumn Cole clocked hers with an encyclopedia.)
After losing her job at a swanky Seattle art gallery and finding out her father has been hospitalized, single mother Autumn Cole reluctantly returns to her tiny hometown of Fairfield, Washington, to put the pieces of her life back together.
Her disgruntled twelve-year old son isn't thrilled about going from hip to hick, but Autumn's got it worse. She resumes her role as the daughter of the town drunk, promptly facing a crisis with her father that's been decades in the making.
Running into Henry Tobler, and nearly breaking his nose, is almost more than she can handle, but can rediscovering love-and herself-with her "what if" guy teach Autumn to forgive before it's too late?
“I don’t dance.”
“I don’t care.”
“I don’t want to go.”
“I don’t care.”
“I look like an idiot in this outfit.”
“I don’t care.”
I opened the bathroom door and glared at my skinny-even-though-she-just-had-a-baby best friend. “Stop it.”
“Ha. You came out.” Holly smiled proudly. “You look fantastic.”
I looked down at my outfit for the dance—a fitted plaid shirt with pearl buttons and a denim mini skirt that I’d borrowed from the much shorter Holly. The outfit was way sexier than my usual attire. To top off the look, I’d pulled on an old pair of cowboy boots leftover from high school. I felt like a kid playing dress up.
I didn’t dance. Especially to country western bands. On the rare occasion that I’d gone to a club in Seattle, I always sat around with friends, mingling and chatting. I’d never been a dance-until-I’m-sweaty kind of girl. According to what Holly had told me, the Flag Day dances were those kinds of dances.
“I look like a prostitute going to a rodeo.” I tugged at my skirt a few times.
Holly raised an eyebrow. “You do not.”
“Whatever.” I went into the living room where Elliott watched a movie with my dad and Doris. “You still hungry, Dad?”
My dad waved me off. “Nope.”
Earlier, he’d eaten every last bite of the sausage dog I’d brought back from the park. He’d been napping off and on since.
I touched his shoulder. “Do you want me to stay home?”
“Get outta here.” His voice sounded weak. “We’re watchin’ a movie.”
Doris stood and patted my hand. “Don’t worry about your boys. I’m going to stay until the movie is over, then make sure they get to bed safely before I go home.”
“You’re blocking the screen,” Elliott called from the couch. “Why can’t I come, anyway?”
I scooted to the side. “Sorry, kiddo. Adults only this time. Now remember, I’ve got my cell phone in my pocket and I can be reached at any time. We’re just down at the—”
“Firehouse. I know.” El rolled his eyes. “Come on, Ma. I’m not a kid.”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not.” He smiled.
I planted a kiss on top of his messy hair. “Are too.”
I mouthed “thank you” to Doris, waved good-bye to my father, then Holly and I went out the front door.
“Wow. You girls look fantastic.” Cody said when we stepped outside. Holly and Cody were exceptionally chipper because his sister had agreed to stay home with their kids. Their enthusiasm was contagious. This would be my first Flag Day dance since I was seventeen, and the only one I’d ever gone to with a date. A handsome one, at that.
Even in the darkness, Henry looked like the kind of date a woman fantasized about. His hair was slightly shaggy. The end of the school year was nigh, and he’d relaxed his professional persona. The style reminded me of when we’d been in college, which was ironic, because Henry was forever telling me that my red waves, now long enough to reach my lower back, reminded him of younger days as well.
Henry’s clothes made my attempt at western attire look amateurish. He wore a fitted black T-shirt with tattered, worn Levi’s and a beat up pair of boots that looked like they’d seen a few miles. He scooped me into a warm hug, lifting me a few inches off the ground. “You look hot.”
“Whoa,” I said. He smelled like soap from his recent shower, but his whiskers scraped against my neck, a tell-tale sign that he hadn’t shaved.
“I don’t have a plaid shirt,” he said, as he set me back on the ground.
“I don’t think it’s a requirement.” I laced my fingers in his.
“Let’s get going.” Cody opened the door to his truck.
“Forget it, Judd.” Holly waved a finger at him. “This is a double date, like the good ol’ days. We’re hoofin’ it.”
He laughed. “We’re already late.”
“The dance is only at the firehouse.” I could see the lights down the hill. “And it’s eighty degrees out. Too nice to drive. It’s a short walk.”
Holly smirked at me. “Someone’s been walking to the little house next to the firehouse often?”
“It’s Fairfield,” I said quickly. “You can get anywhere on foot within minutes.”
“Especially home after a date, huh?” Cody teased. Holly hopped onto his back like a spider monkey.
“Oh, shut up.” I tried to frown, but couldn’t contain my smile.
Henry turned around and motioned for me to hop on.
“No way,” I said. “You’ll wind up in traction.”
His mouth tugged up in the corner. “I’ve carried you a time or two before. Hop on.”
“No. Have you seen how short this skirt is? It’ll be obscene.”
He eyeballed my legs. “Yes, I’ve noticed how short that skirt is. Now hop on.”
Holly screamed. Cody broke into a sprint.
“They’re just jacked up because they’ve got a babysitter,” I said.
Henry stooped down. “They’re beating us. Hop on, let’s go.”
“Oh for Pete’s sake,” I huffed then put my hands on his shoulders, and heaved myself up. “Ready for spinal surgery?”
Henry charged off at full speed, passing Holly and Cody. I yelped and grabbed his neck. The sounds of Holly’s laughter and Cody’s feet hitting the pavement swirled behind us. It felt good to act young and silly, speeding through the nearly abandoned streets of Fairfield, confetti littering the sidewalks from the day’s celebration.
Fairfield’s two fire trucks had been pulled out of the station and the inside decorated to the rafters with streamers and balloons. At one end of the building, a plywood stage had been set up for the band. They played a classic Willie Nelson song—of course. It was odd to see people like Ray and Ramona Fisk, and Helen and her husband, Dirk, be-bopping to the music. But by the time we’d been there half an hour, we’d all joined them. Though I’d never been a fan of the house music in Seattle clubs, there was something about the relaxed nature of line dancing between Henry and Holly that set my anxiety at ease.
We learned to do the Applejack, the Waffle Step, and collectively struggled with the Catfish, laughing and singing along with the songs. It became clear fairly early that the punch was spiked, so Holly and I avoided it after a half-cup. Others became more and more boisterous as the hours passed, their dancing sloppier and sloppier.
I couldn’t remember having this much fun in years. Big-city clubs had nothing on a Fairfield Flag Day dance. Henry and I were sweaty and exhausted. Our faces hurt from smiling and laughing.
During a slow song, sometime around midnight, he pulled me close and kissed my ear, raising goose bumps on my arms. “I want to do this every year.”
I laughed. “Line dance and sweat excessively?”
“Yes.” He looked into my eyes. “Every year. You and me. We’ll dance our butts off to Willie Nelson. Is this a Willie song now?”
I listened for a moment. “I have no idea.”
“Regardless, we’ll get a sitter for the kids, and you’ll wear…” He glanced down at my skirt and whistled. “That again.”
“A sitter for the kids? Elliott is getting to be old enough to stay home alone.”
Henry’s gaze intensified. “Well, by then we’ll have a few more.”
My stomach twisted. “Oh? More kids? How many?”
“At least two.” Henry spun me around. Ramona Fisk watched us with pointed interest. “Maybe three?”
“Four kids? Are you nuts? You’re not trying to turn me into a baby machine like Holly, are you?”
He shook his head. “Nope. Just talking about having a family with the woman I love.”
“I love you, too.” I stood on my toes and planted a long kiss on his lips. I was sure that the people around us had stopped to stare at us in their glassy-eyed state, but I didn’t care. I was so happy. I had Henry. Elliott and my dad were home in bed, safe and sound. And there was a possibility that I’d have a career painting murals. Nothing could bring me down.
“Your pocket is vibrating,” Henry said.
“Hmmm?” I opened my eyes lazily. I yanked my phone out of my pocket and flipped it open. “Hello?”
I couldn’t hear anything over the music, so I stepped off of the dance floor and headed toward the door. “El? Is that you? You okay?”
As soon as I stepped into the cool night air, I heard Elliott sobbing on the line. “Mom?”
My heart leapt into my throat. “Honey? What’s wrong?”
Again, he choked on a sob. “Grandpa won’t wake up.”