I swing my handbag by its handles and whistle “Oh, My Darling, Clementine” while I stroll down Main Street. I inhale a deep breath of the fragrant cherry blossoms billowing over the town. My whole heart wants to skip and sing and dance for joy.
I breeze into the candy store and spin a pirouette. Patty and Zack stand behind the counter in their aprons. Gilly leans over the glass display case talking to them. They all turn around and stare at me when I enter. I give a final flourish and end with a sweeping bow, and all three burst into applause.
“Work it, Margaret!” Gilly hoots.
Patty laughs. “That was some performance.”
“You’re awfully chipper, Mom,” Zack adds. “What turned you into a ray of sunshine all of a sudden?”
I spread my arms wide to drink in all the ecstasy filling my soul. “It’s springtime, my dear boy! Springtime! Nothing can ever be dull in spring. Have you seen the cherry trees in bloom? I never knew the world could hold so much beauty and gladness, and it’s all for me! Me!” I clasp my hands to my heart and close my eyes in delight.
“It might be spring,” Patty remarks, “but it’s still only the end of March. We still have some cold, stormy weather to get through before the weather warms up, and don’t forget the mud season. If that won’t bring you down to Earth, nothing will.”
“Don’t confuse me with details!” I hurry toward my office. “I struck it rich with that hot drinks promotion in February. Now I need to cook up another event to welcome in the spring.”
“What about caramel apples?” Gilly calls after me.
“Or a candy pull.” Patty’s voice drifts through the open office door. “That’s a traditional New England activity and it fits the theme of the store.”
Their suggestions entice me back to the front. “Those are too summery. I need something that suggests warm weather but that doesn’t steal anything from Fourth of July or the harvest theme of late summer.”
“What suggests warm weather?” Gilly asks.
“Shorts and t-shirts,” Zack replies.
“Barbeques at the beach,” Patty adds.
“Going swimming,” Gilly goes on.
“No, no,” I counter. “None of those will work.”
“What about making ice cream?” Zack asks. “That’s a traditional summer activity and it suggests warm weather.”
I cock my head to one side. “Maybe.”
“You can’t go serving ice cream,” Patty argues. “It’s still freezing outside. The ground hasn’t even thawed.”
Zack unties his apron strings and heads for the register. “Just don’t start serving frosty margaritas with little paper umbrellas sticking out of the glasses. That would be taking this thing a little too far.”
Patty turns away, too. “I’m out of here. I’ve got guests coming in two hours and I need to vacuum my floor.” She hangs her apron in the storeroom and opens the front door.
“Goodnight, Patty,” I call to her. “Thanks again. See you tomorrow.”
“No, you won’t,” she returns. “I’m off tomorrow. You’re rostered tomorrow, Margaret, so don’t tie one on tonight. Stay away from the margaritas.”
Everybody laughs. Zack punches buttons on the register to check out for the night. He takes the receipts and logs them into the ledger spreadsheet on his laptop.
Patty pulls the door shut behind her, but before the latch clicks, David Graham takes it out of her hands. He and Ariel enter the store. I rotate around to greet them. “Hello, you two. I hope you’re keeping out of mischief.”
Ariel slides a stack of books onto the counter in front of me. “I won’t get a chance to get into any mischief. I’ve got enough homework to last until I’m forty.”
“What’s the matter?” Zack cuts in. “You’re a whiz at homework. Since when do you drag yourself around like you’re on your way to the thumbscrew chamber? You’re usually thrilled to do your homework.”
“Yeah, but….,” Ariel moans. “This is different. I can’t figure out differential Calculus. It’s too complicated.”
“No, it’s not,” Gilly tells her. “It’s a snap once you understand it.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Ariel fires back. “You’re a prodigy.”
“Not really. My dad explained it. I thought I was too stupid to understand it. I almost quit school over it until he sat me down and walked me through it step by step.” Gilly takes hold of Ariel’s stack of textbooks and swivels them toward her. “Come on. I’ll show you.”
Ariel blinks at her in wonder. “Really? Did you feel the same way when you were in high school? I always thought everything came easy to you.”
“It did. That’s what my dad explained,” Gilly replies. “He told me that everything came easy to me and I sailed through all my years of school before that. He said now I was hitting something I actually had to try to learn instead of it just falling into my head with no problem. He said math is like a foreign language and you just have to learn the words for everything to fit them into sentences.”
Ariel’s features brighten. “That’s exactly how I see it.”
Gilly flips open the book to a bookmark. “Look. See this? This explains how to calculate the integral of the function.”
“Yeah. I understand all that,” Ariel replies. “It’s the other processes I don’t get.”
I throw up my hands. “This is all Greek to me. You kids take it away.”
“You could learn it, too, Mom,” Zack tells me. “It would do you good to stretch that brain of yours.”
“No, sirree,” I counter. “You won’t catch me within a ten miles of a math textbook.”
Ariel giggles behind her hand. “You are within ten miles of one, Margaret.”
I wag my finger at her. “Don’t confuse me with details, young lady. Just let me live my life as an uncomplicated plebeian.”
Zack jerks his thumb over his shoulder. “Come into the office. Gilly can explain it to you while I tally up these receipts.”
Ariel hefts her books into her arms and the three of them disappear. David sidles up to the counter. “Aren’t you going to help close shop?”
“Today was my day off. I don’t have to help.”
“What are you doing here, then?” he asks. “Don’t you have a garden to weed or something?”
I roll my eyes. “Oh, God! Don’t remind me.”
He laughs. “Seriously. What are you doing here on your day off?”
“I’m trying to figure out another promotion idea to welcome in the warmer weather. Patty, Zack, Gilly, and I were just talking about it. I like the idea of doing something with ice cream.”
He snorts. “What do you think you’re going to do—scrape the ice off your windshield to make the ice cream? It’s freezing out there.”
I arch my eyebrow at him. “Don’t get sarcastic with me, Mister. I wasn’t planning on doing any such thing. It might still be cold, but summer’s just around the corner. Anyway, I wasn’t thinking to make the ice cream myself. I’m far too busy for that.”
He throws up his hands to the ceiling. “Hallelujah! She’s finally seen the light. After all the time I’ve known you, I never thought I’d live to hear those words cross your lips.”
I punch him in the shoulder. “Cut it out. Quit teasing.”
He laughs again and his eyes sparkle. “Okay. So you’re not going to make the ice cream, so what are you going to do? You don’t really have the space in here to sell it, either.”
“I know. This is just another promotion, so we would have to do it outside or at some other location like the Happy-Go-Lucky Café.”
“Which means,” he adds, “that you’ll need to work with Stacy to promote it.”
“Right. I don’t really like selling ice creams anyway.”
His shoulders droop and his chin falls on his chest. He closes his eyes and groans. “Oh, for the love of God! Now what?”
“I mean I don’t really want to sell ice cream cones. I was thinking of something else like maybe milkshakes or something.”
He peeks up at me. “Yeah? That sounds good.”
“I would need to borrow or rent a few blenders, and I need to source the ice cream and any other ingredients I’ll use. Other than that, it should be a piece of cake.”
He guffaws again. “A piece of cake! You always say that.”
“Well, maybe if I keep saying it enough times, that will make it true.” I catch him pulling a face and I have to grin. “Anyway, that’s a conversation for another day. Why don’t you and Albert Einstein come over for dinner tonight?”
“I can’t,” he replies. “Ariel has school tomorrow and I was up late last night at a Department meeting. I just want to go home and crash and I don’t think Ariel can handle another late night hanging around your living room talking ‘til all hours. And don’t even try to stand there and tell me we won’t because we always do.”
The picture he draws lures me toward him. I slip my arm around his waist. “I do so enjoy staying up ‘til all hours with you—both of you.”
“So do I.” He bends down and kisses me. “I wish I could, but it won’t work tonight. I don’t even relish making dinner when I get home. I just want someone else to make dinner for me for a change so I can turn my brain off and relax.”
“We can do that. How about the five of us go next door and get dinner at the café? I’m buying.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” I hug him close. “You won’t have to touch a dish.”
“You talked me into it.” He kisses me again.
I stick my head into the office. “When you’re done with those receipts, Zachary, we’re going next door for dinner.”
He looks up from the computer. “We?”
“Yeah, all five of us—unless you have to be somewhere, Gilly. I’m taking you two and David and Ariel out for dinner.”
“I’m finished.” He sticks the last receipts in the cash bag and drops it into the safe. He spins the lock and shuts his laptop. “I’m pretty sure these two are ready to go, too.”
I move around the desk to inspect the notebook in front of Gilly and Ariel. “Are you sure? I don’t want to take too much time away from you doing your homework.”
Ariel jumps up. “You don’t have to worry about that. Gilly explained everything. Integrals are easy when you understand them. I can finish this in no time once I get home.” She slams the book closed.
“Great. Meet me out front when you’re ready.”