It’s less than a month before the release of Anchored in the Bay. Time for some fun!
Emily locked the front door and pulled the shades down to block out the faint midday sun streaming through the storefront windows. Running a coffee shop on a tiny island in Lake Superior in February allowed her to keep her own hours. Her regulars, who were few and far between in the off-season, knew she closed early. It offset the summer months when she kept her store open nearly twenty-four hours a day.
She’d just turned off the lights when someone began pounding at the door. Emily raised the shade to the right of the door and smiled. She unlocked the door, turned on the lights, and let him in.
“Hi babe,” Ryan greeted with a kiss on her cheek.
He made no attempt to divest himself of the snow clinging to his boots and pants. Instead, he tracked the powder into the store, leaving big, slushy boot prints on her gleaming maple floors. Emily swallowed her sigh and smiled at him as she locked the door again.
“What’s that?” She asked, noticing the package under his arm.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged as he put the box on one of the tables and removed his coat and scarf. “But it’s from Jessica.”
Emily gave him a significant look. She strode away from the box, eager to put distance between herself and whatever craziness lurked inside. She went behind the old wooden bar top to pour Ryan a cup of coffee.
“Thanks,” he replied, taking the cup between his hands as he sank into a chair.
Emily sat opposite of him and stared at the box.
“Aren’t you curious at all?” He prodded.
“I am willing to bet the store that it’s going to involve a lot of time I don’t have.”
Ryan opened his mouth to reply, but the shop telephone saved him from voicing it. Emily jumped out of her chair to grab the phone from behind the counter. “Hello?”
“Emily, it’s Jess. I need your help!” Her best friend and sole investor exclaimed without any preamble.
“Of course, Jess, whatever you need,” she said in her typical placating manner.
“Do you promise you’ll help me no matter what it is?”
“Not if it’s illegal, Jess,” Emily told her seriously and more than a little alarmed. She had sudden visions of helping Jess dispose of a body.
“No, no, nothing like that. Todd just proposed! We’re engaged! And I want to get married up north in Bayfield.”
“Ohmygod,” Emily whispered.
She had been expecting it, but her stomach dropped to her ankles all the same. Jess had been dating Todd for nearly a year, and their relationship had been serious from the first moment. Emily forced herself to smile, even though her friend couldn’t see it. Jess’s announcement only added to Emily’s anxiety. Since deciding to move in with Ryan a month ago, Emily had been silently flipping out every chance she had to be alone. Emily’s lease would be up in only a few days and with each day she struggled more. She’d been raised to believe that a girl didn’t move in with a guy, especially without a ring. And especially if they’d never even discussed their future together. She’d been with Ryan for nearly two years and moving in together had been the most serious move forward he’d ever suggested. Emily had jumped on it.
She didn’t know how to begin talking about their future without him balking at it. Ryan liked flexibility and lived life spontaneously. Emily didn’t operate like that; she relied heavily on structure and rules and plans.
“I’m really happy for you both,” Emily said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. “That’s fantastic news. What do you want me to do? Help scout out a few locations for you?”
“Actually, I need a bit more than that. We want to get married sooner rather than later. I won’t be able to come up. I’m slammed right now. I need you to do everything.”
Emily bit her lip and considered her reply. She lived in a stunning, if somewhat remote, little town on one of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. Jess had fallen in love with Todd while spending the previous summer with Emily. A wedding in Bayfield, the town on the ‘mainland’ in Wisconsin, would be gorgeous.
“Of course I’ll help as much as I can,” Emily replied. “But I am running a business, of which you are a partner,” she stammered.
Everyone knew she had ample time until June.
“Silent partner,” Jessica corrected and Emily held back her snicker. “But that’s great that you’ll help! Because I want to get married this October, during Apple Fest.”
“WHAT!” Emily shrieked.
Jessica’s words slid through Emily’s heart like a knife through butter. Emily had wanted her own wedding to be in the fall in the town across the bay. She chocked back a sob and tried to backtrack.
“I don’t know Jess. I’m pretty busy with work myself right now, and I don’t think you’d be able to have a wedding here that weekend. All the caterers and event locations and hotel rooms will probably be booked.”
“Emily, please. I really don’t want to wait forever for this wedding, and I’ve always dreamed about getting married in the fall. Please, I need your help. I’m in my last semester of grad school. It’s taken me forever to get his far. I work full-time and study whenever I can. I don’t think I can take this on all by myself. And—you do kind of owe me.”
Emily’s heart skipped a beat. Jess intended to pull out all the stops to convince her to help. Even alluding to that long ago time, when Jess had taken her broken heart and given her direction, made Emily tear up.
“Okay, Jess. I’ll help. But I don’t really know the first thing about weddings. You’re going to need to send me every bridal magazine out there so I can get up to speed,” Emily added.
“I already did,” she replied.
Emily turned to look back at Ryan and the box on the table. She sighed and rolled her eyes. Of course, Jess had known that Emily would agree.
“Thanks Emmy, you really are the best.”
“I’ll do this for you Jess, but then you can’t invoke that summer anymore. Deal?”
“Okay—can you give me a call in a couple of days? I’ll start studying and come up with a plan for this. Out of curiosity—how many guests are you anticipating?”
“Two hundred give or take.”
Emily swallowed her groan and with it any lingering jealousy.
“Emily, I’ve got to get going. I love you, thank you for helping me. I can’t do this without you.”
She sounded so sincere and so earnest; Emily determined to get over her attitude. She needed to be happy because Jess would be if their roles were reversed.
Emily returned the phone to the receiver and walked back over to Ryan. He gave her a questioning look but didn’t say anything. Her eye twitched as she stared at the box. She shook her head, blinked, and lifted the deceptively heavy box. Emily brought it back behind the counter, grabbed a pair of scissors, and carefully opened the box. She upended it on the counter, and magazines spilled out and onto the floor.
Ryan jumped out of his chair.
“What’s all this?”
“I’m planning Jess’s wedding, apparently,” Emily deadpanned.
Emily shrugged and rolled her eyes. Even after two years, Ryan still didn’t understand her.
“She wants to get married up here in October; it makes sense for me to help,” Emily said.
“But didn’t she meet that guy like a day ago? What’s the rush?”
Emily bit her tongue. She wanted to spit out all of her feelings about his reticence and the current pace of their relationship. But she’d never been good with confrontation. For all her angst over where they were heading, she loved Ryan. She wanted to be with him. If being in a relationship with Ryan mean moving at a glacial speed, then she had to accept it. Although, it didn’t stop her from wanting her glacier to suddenly warm up from the sun and have a giant chunk of it slip into the sea.
“I don’t know.”
Ryan’s eyes grew wide. “Is she…”
“Is she what?” Emily asked.
“You know, pregnant?”
Emily’s mouth dropped open. “I hope not. Could you imagine?”
Ryan shuddered. “No.”
He picked up a few of the stray magazines off the ground and handed them back to her.
“Thanks,” Emily muttered.
She turned to put the magazines on the counter, and when she turned back, Ryan wrapped his arms around her. Emily relaxed, as she always did. Being held by Ryan always erased all of her doubts, fears, and insecurities. He didn’t move to kiss her, just to hold her, so she rested her head on his shoulder and sighed.
“Have you finished packing?”
“Not quite,” Emily mumbled.
“You want to do this, right?” Ryan asked. Confusion and a hint of nerves settled over his features for the first time since he’d started the conversation about living together.
“Yes,” she replied with more certainty than she felt.
Ryan pulled back to look down at her, perhaps finally sensing her hesitation in her body while her words said something else. He gave her a questioning look, but before Emily could protest, a loud knock came at the door.
“One minute,” she called out towards the door over Ryan’s shoulder.
“I love you Ry,” she assured him, looking deep into his eyes.
He nodded but Emily didn’t think he looked fully reassured.
Emily walked across the hardwood, unlocked the door, and pulled it open just a crack.
“I’m sorry we’re closed,” she apologized without looking at the patron.
When her eyes finally did connect with the figure, her mouth went slack. She opened the door wider without thinking.
“Ed?” Her mouth dropped open.
“Hi Em,” the sandy blonde half-Viking said on her doorstep.
Emily longed to race across the wooden floor and launch herself in his arms. She ached for him to lift her up high and twirl her about, making her feel diminutive and dainty. But instead, she froze. The pain of their decisions stilling her feet and making her heart race in her chest at his mere presence.