That's me, she thought, not just geographically undesirable, but I've lived alone too long.
Her last date occurred almost five years ago and it had been a disaster. So she'd given it up, and gone on her merry way, hoping to meet some nice guy by accident. No such luck. When the Gazette started carrying personal ads, she'd thought about placing one herself. SWF, over 40, seeks mature man. That's where she got stuck. The other ads were so - so personal - and Susannah couldn't bear the thought of exposing herself that way. Everyone in town would know about it. And besides, Susannah hated meeting strangers. She still lived in the town where she was born. She knew everyone and they knew her. She couldn't date a stranger.
But deciding not to place an ad didn't stop her from reading and trying to guess who placed them. George Wilson ran the same ad he'd been running since the beginning. Cantankerous rancher seeks lively widow for cooking, cleaning, and a little hanky panky. He'd had few responses but George was an optimist.
Susannah finished reading the paper, shrugged her shoulders and contemplated the scene outside her kitchen window. A moving van sat in the driveway of Aunt Lila's house. She'd been gone for almost a year. Aunt Lila had stood on her front stoop to watch Susannah's comings and goings, had made cookies (usually burnt) and left them on her back porch in the night. Susannah missed her. The two houses lay on the last paved street on the south side of town. Beyond wilderness.
Susannah sighed and picked up her carafe of coffee. She made a mental note to bake a lemon poppyseed loaf to drop off to her new neighbors after the moving van left and walked up the stairs to the attic.
Susannah loved her attic. It was the reason she bought the house instead of staying in Lively. The man who built it was an architect and a painter. He installed skylights, french doors instead of windows, light oak flooring, and built cupboards right around the walls.
She put the carafe down and surveyed her working space. Bits of vibrant fabric littered every flat surface. Sequins, paints, scissors, silk wings, satin scales, beads, glitter, stuffing, and tiny line drawings of fantastic creatures filled the room with color. Susannah woke up this morning with an idea and now she prowled, fingering fabric, opening drawers and doors, collecting raw materials. When she finally looked up, the sun was setting and she was starving. But a gorgeous lime green half cat, half dragon sat on the table, and she smiled as she thought of the look on her agent's face when she dropped by to pick up the month's output.
Susannah raided the fridge and inhaled a tomato sandwich before starting on the loaf. As she moved around the kitchen, she caught glimpses of shadows moving in the windows of the house next door but the blinds were closed so her view was limited. Exhausted, she placed the loaf on the cooling rack and went to bed.
Early the next morning, she took a page from Aunt Lila's book and tiptoed across the lawn in the cool light of dawn. A basket lined with a red and white checked napkin held the loaf and a card: She'd painted it yesterday afternoon in a break from the lime green creature. Her house wore a smile and flew a flag from its chimney saying, "Welcome to the neighborhood."
Susannah spent the week watching for the new neighbors in her spare time. Each night she baked something - muffins, cookies, cheese straws - and dropped it off on the back porch. But because she wanted to see the occupants, assess them, before meeting them, she dropped the food off in the early morning or late at night after the lights went out.
Five days into this schedule, Susannah started feeling a bit, well, resentful. She phoned Frannie.
"I've been dropping off cookies and stuff every morning for a week and nothing. Not even a thank you card. And I still haven't seen a single soul except in silhouette behind the blinds."
Frannie said, "You don't have any other neighbors. You have to stick it out. Maybe they're shy. Or busy. Did you leave your name and phone number? I mean, what if they don't know it's you?"
"Oh, please. Of course they know it's me. I painted my house on the card. All they have to do is open their front door and they'll see my house." Susannah pondered that for a minute. Oops. She'd painted the house on the card lime green to match the creature, and her house didn't really have a flag saying "Welcome to the neighborhood." So maybe it wasn't quite so easy. She told Frannie what happened.
"Why am I not surprised? Susannah, you just have to march over there and say hello."
"I can't. You know I can't. I live in Likely because I can't talk to strangers. My agent keeps telling me I'd be rich if I moved to the city and did a little marketing. I can't go next door."
"Okay, okay. But you'll have to talk to them eventually."
"I know. As long as I don't have to plan it, I'll be fine."
Susannah sat down at the kitchen table with her first cup of coffee and the Gazette. She ignored the pictures of engagements and weddings and christenings and turned directly to the personal ads. George Wilson. A woman from French Creek looking for a rich husband. Two of Frannie's creations - her personal ads were complete fiction. Two twenty-somethings looking for a couple of girls to double date. Susannah laughed. Good luck to them, there were no young women in Likely. They headed off to the city as soon as they finished high school. Except for her and Frannie, of course. And then she choked on her coffee.
Who are you? I just moved into the green house on Wilson Street. Someone has been leaving me home baked goodies in the night. Thank you. Can I meet you? Please call.
She jumped when her phone rang.
"See?" Frannie said before Susannah had a chance to speak. "I told you. They have no idea who you are. You have to go over there right now."
"I can't. Besides, it's Saturday. And I can't keep sneaking over there in the middle of the night. They'll catch me."
Frannie tried and tried and tried to convince Susannah. She even offered to come over and go next door with her.
"No. No. No. I can't."
Susannah started to panic. What if the neighbors came to her house to see if she knew anything about the midnight goodie giver? She pulled the shutters closed, locked the doors, and hurried up to the attic. She always felt safe there. There was magic in the fabric, in the fantastic creatures lining the walls, in the multi-colored wings hanging from the ceiling. She'd work on something new. Except she couldn't. Nothing came to her, not a face or a claw or a shape.
Three hours later, Susannah realized the attic's usual magic wasn't working. She couldn't concentrate because all she could think about were the neighbors. No matter how uncomfortable she was about meeting strangers, she had to put this to rest before she'd be able to get any work done.
A deep breath, a cup of camomile tea to calm her nerves, a small square of her favourite deep green silk in her pocket for courage, and Susannah was as ready as she'd ever be to call on a complete stranger.
The green house's door opened before she had a chance to knock.
"Ah ha!" A deep voice said. "I caught a glimpse of you last night but I didn't realize how beautiful you were. Come in, come in. I've been baking."
As soon as Susannah took a breath she could smell the sweet scent of cinnamon and brown sugar. "Cinnamon buns?"
"I thought you might like them. You use a lot of cinnamon in your baking."
Susannah looked up a tall man with eyes the colour of the silk square in her pocket. He held out a flour-covered hand. She took his hand and smiled up at him.
"My name's John Twining. Come on in. I'll show you around the place."
"I was tired of the city," he said, "and I missed knowing everyone. It's easier to concentrate in a small town. - I design furniture."
Bemused, Susannah found herself sitting at John's kitchen table, looking out at her house. She had a cinnamon bun in one hand and John's hand still holding her other. She felt a shiver of anticipation. John Twining wasn't going to be a stranger for long.