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The Hideaway
Author: Lauren K. Denton

1

MAGS

MARCH

Sunsets in Sweet Bay have always made me feel a little like a child. I think it’s all that vast, open water. I expect something to come rising out of the deep at the last minute, something huge and unexpected. I’m always waiting, anticipating. But each night is like the one before—a frenzy of color, the disappearance of the sun, the dusk settling in like an old friend getting comfortable.

Earlier this evening, when I left the house to come out here to the garden, Dot was standing by the microwave waiting for her popcorn while Bert washed his cast-iron skillet with just the right amount of gentleness. Business as usual. We’d had a pleasant dinner—good food, lively conversation—but everyone knows after dinner is my time in the garden. They stopped asking me long ago to join them in their nightly routines—a television drama, a jigsaw puzzle, Glory laying out her quilt squares. Late evenings belong to me and my memories.

I sit here on my old bench, made by hands that once held mine. The bench isn’t much, just cedar planks and peeling paint, but it’s been a friend, a companion, for almost as long as I’ve lived in this house. My fingers curl under the edge of the bench, a habit formed over the years. I close my eyes and breathe in deep. So much has happened. Sometimes it hurts to think on it all. Other nights, like this one, the memories are sweet.

Next to me is the latest issue of Southern Living that came in the mail today. Sara and her shop are featured on page 50. I like having her photo close. This way, I can pretend she’s sitting here next to me. Just as I’m about to open the magazine, I get that hitch in my chest again. A tightness, like a little fist squeezing closed, then a fluttering. Then it’s gone.

I reach down and pull off my shoes so I can feel the dirt under my toes. That always makes me feel better. My doctor suggested I wear these ridiculous white orthopedic walkers even though I much prefer my old rubber boots. Good Lord, I loved those things. They were practical, hardworking. Same with the waders and hats. You can’t fix a busted boat motor or change the oil in a truck wearing a fussy dress and teetering heels. My Jenny never seemed to mind my getups—she felt right at home in our unconventional life—but Sara was a different story. I saw how she looked at me, like she wondered how in the world her grandmother, not to mention a house as grand as The Hideaway, could have turned out so strange.

I’ve wondered from time to time whether I should sit Sara down and tell her my story. By the time she moved in with me, she was already at that tender point in every young girl’s life where friends’ opinions mean more than anything else, and I knew my existence in her life didn’t help her climb the ladder of popularity. But I always wished I could find a way to help her see The Hideaway, and me, in a different light.

Truth be told, I think she’s a stronger woman now because of who I turned out to be. If I’d remained under my parents’ thumbs, always worrying about how others perceived me, I would have been a wispy shadow of a real woman. And I have to think that somehow my refusal to bow to the norms helped shape Sara—even if she hasn’t consciously realized it.

Maybe the time is now. She’s no longer a fickle teenager but a grown woman. And a smart one too. She’d do well to know my story, know how it changed me from quiet to bold. Weak to strong. I’ll tell her. I’ll sit her down and tell her everything. One of these days.

2

SARA

APRIL

I love the smell of New Orleans in the morning. Even now. The city’s detractors say it smells like last night’s trash or the murky water dripping into the sewer drains, but I know better. It’s the smell of fish straight from the Gulf—not stinky, but briny and fresh. It’s the aroma of just-baked French bread wafting through the Quarter from Frenchmen Street. It’s the powdered sugar riding the breeze from Café du Monde. Sure, there’s the tang of beer and smoke and all the sin of Bourbon Street, but when you mix it up together, the scent is exhilarating.

I walked out the front door of my loft at nine fifteen and inhaled the crisp air. It was April, which in New Orleans—and anywhere else in the Deep South—could mean anything from eighty degrees to forty, depending on the whims of God and the Gulf jet stream. This day had dawned cool and bright.

Instead of slipping into my Audi, I walked to the corner of Canal and Magazine to catch the bus to my shop. It was more of a walk than I preferred to do in wedge heels, but Allyn was always telling me I needed to break out of my routine and “do something unexpected.” I smiled. He’d be proud of me for ignoring the time—and my feet—and enjoying the morning. After all, no one would mind if we opened up a little later than usual.

In the Big Easy, businesses were always opening late or closing early for one reason or another. It wasn’t the way I preferred to operate, but it was the way of life here, and I’d gotten used to it.

“Hey there, pretty lady,” a deep tenor voice called out from the shady depths of Three Georges Jewelers. This George was always trying to hawk CZ jewels and faux baubles to unwitting tourists. I never bought into George’s ploys, but I couldn’t avoid him. He was too charming.

“Hi, George. Planning to cheat anyone out of their hard-earned dollars today?”

“All day long, my dear. One of these days, you’ll have one of my beauties shining on your finger. Send your beaux my way and I’ll set them up with something perfect.”

“I’m sure you would, but there is no beau for me today.”

“A pretty lady like you? I’m shocked!”

He called everyone a pretty lady. Even some of the men.

I wound my way through the Quarter to where the bus picked up shoppers and business owners and shuttled us to the middle of Magazine Street. Everyone I encountered was in a jovial mood, and I remembered why I fell in love with New Orleans.

As I twisted the key in the lock at Bits and Pieces, balancing a tall to-go cup of coffee in the crook of my elbow, Allyn roared into the driveway on his Harley.

“You’re late.” He gracefully dismounted the bike. “Pull an all-nighter like me?” His Hollywood starlet shades covered half his face. His hair was orange today.

“No, I didn’t, thank you. You’re one to talk—you’re late too.”

“Can’t make an entrance if I’m always on time.” He hopped up the front steps and grabbed my cup of coffee just before it slipped from my arm.

I pushed the door open and the welcome scent of gardenias drifted past us. We carried a line of hand-poured soy candles in the shop with such pleasing fragrances. Light, not overpowering. I designed Bits and Pieces to make people want to stay for a while. We even kept a Keurig in the back and pralines in a dish by the cash register.

I was in love with everything I’d tucked into the old shotgun house—from restored furniture to antique silver to vintage linen pillows embroidered with the ever-present fleur-de-lis. I’d found much of it at antique markets and estate sales. Even a few garage sales. I didn’t limit myself to specializing in one particular type of item—that’s why I named it Bits and Pieces. A little bit of everything.

Invigorated by the sunshine and the freshness of the spring air, I propped open the front door and we began the day. I set the music to Madeleine Peyroux while Allyn tinkered with one of the vignettes he’d set up in a side room. In deference to his constant harping that I needed to allow a bit of Southern Goth into the shop—to appeal to the legions of Anne Rice and voodoo fans in the city—I gave him some leeway.

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