Ian had spent the last several hours in the shop in his backyard, doing all the saw cuts, sanding, and pre-building he could do on a massive built-in fireplace mantle, entertainment center, and bookshelves that would span an entire wall in the home he was contracted to do the woodwork in.
As he ran the piece across the belt sander, he looked out the window and smiled when he saw Addi and one of her roommates talking in her backyard. She crouched down and ran her fingers across the top of the cut grass, seeming confused as to how it was freshly mowed when she hadn’t done it. Sometime soon he was going to have to tell her that he was still taking care of the inn’s grounds, just like he had every summer growing up, and like he’d done the last year and a half since he’d bought his grandparents’ home.
Ian hadn’t actually recognized Addi when they’d had their rather explosive first meeting at the grocery store. It hadn’t even clicked when she first mentioned needing to meet the moving truck at the inn.
It wasn’t until she was at the registers that he placed where he’d last seen the adventurous gleam in her golden-green eyes or the familiar blush on her cheeks. She had been pressing a flat rock into his palm that she had painted a scene on of the two of them jumping into Quicksand River, and saying that she would see him next summer. And then, while he’d been looking at the rock, she had darted forward and given him a kiss on the cheek. It had surprised him so much that he’d just stood there like an idiot who’d lost all ability to think or move.
And then she ran off to get into her Aunt Helen’s car to head to the airport, and they pulled away. He had been fourteen, so she must’ve been thirteen. He had come back to spend the month of July with his grandparents the next summer, but she hadn’t come all summer. Or any summer after that.
He wanted to ask her about that and to catch up on where life had taken them in the past fifteen years. When his now ex, Zoe, had stomped on his heart four weeks ago by calling off their wedding, she had kind of stomped on his confidence, too, leaving him questioning everything. But because it was the right thing to do, Ian still went over to the inn every time he’d seen a moving truck pull up over the past couple of weeks and had helped each of her three roommates move in. Addi had pretty expertly avoided him every time, though.
He should probably go tell her that he had worked out caring for the yard with her aunt, because he knew it was likely she hadn’t put it in writing anywhere. Yet, he hesitated. It was a busy season at work, so he had limited amounts of time when he actually could go take care of the inn’s grounds when it was still light enough outside to see what he was doing. But since Addi was avoiding him, part of him wanted to see how long he could keep mowing at times when she was gone, just to make her keep guessing.
By the time Ian got all the boards cut for the built-in, it was well past the time he usually stopped for lunch, and his stomach was growling louder than a table saw hitting a nail in a board. Since he had to spend the afternoon cutting and installing trim at one of his sites, he closed up the shop and headed toward the house. He smiled as the sounds of laughter from the ladies in his grandma’s origami club reached him before he even got to the door. He was so glad she hadn’t had to move away from her friends.
As soon as he stepped through the kitchen door, he heard a chorus of “Ian!” He smiled as all the ladies seated around the table said how good it was to see him, and that they were so glad he was here during their club.
“You all sure know how to make a guy feel like a rock star when he walks into a room.”
“Honey,” the white-haired Frances said, “if you ditched the flannel and donned a t-shirt and a leather jacket, you’d have adoring groupies following around wherever you went.”
Brenda nodded. “Especially with that perfectly mussed hair.”
The hair was more a product of the air displacement from the saws and sanders than actual styling, and he had to keep himself from reaching up and brushing some of the sawdust out of it. Instead, he washed his hands, then pulled open the fridge and started pulling out lunch meat, cheese, mayo, mustard, and lettuce.
“I like the flannel,” his grandma’s longtime friend, Carol, said. “It’s what attracted me to my dear Henry. I tell you, it was quite the trick to follow that boy around everywhere and make it seem like he was the one following me around for long enough to get him to propose. I would’ve followed him anywhere.”
Ian chuckled as he pulled a hoagie bun out of the bag and sliced it open. The fact that Henry and Ian’s grandpa allowed him into their conversations in the work shed when he was a kid spending his summers here was a big part of why he’d gone into carpentry. He liked to imagine the two of them hanging around a band saw in heaven, still telling stories about the good ole days.
“I agree about the flannel shirt,” Meera said. “And with that face of yours, you could be in one of those sexy calendars filled with men in flannel.” She turned back to the ladies around the table. “Don’t you think he could be in a calendar, posing with that shirt on?”
He smiled at their antics while he spread the mayo on his sandwich, very pointedly trying not to glance the direction of the table but feeling every pair of eyes on him.
“Definitely,” Frances said. “Especially if he posed with the sawdust still on him.”
When the cheers went up around the table, Ian was sure his cheeks reddened.
“I call that ‘man glitter,’” Meera said, and all the ladies laughed.
He shot his grandma a look, but she just shrugged, like she couldn’t do anything about the conversation. She probably could have. But she told him every night what a “beautiful young man” he was, inside and out, and she seemed to get that he thought she was only saying it because she was seeing him through the lens of a loving grandma. Right now, she wore a look of triumph—one that told him she was loving not only having her opinion validated, but having it serve as proof to him that she was right.
Of course, they were all wearing grandma lenses, too. He knew all of these ladies from spending every summer here growing up, and all but one of them from their bi-weekly club meetings since he moved to Quicksand a year and a half ago. Brenda was the only one of his grandma’s friends he hadn’t known as an adult—she had moved in with her granddaughter in Phoenix around the time that Ian moved to Quicksand, to watch her great-grandkids while her daughter went through cancer treatment. He knew this was her first club meeting back.
“You’ve always been such an adorable boy,” Brenda said. “I’m surprised that no one has snatched you up yet.”
His grandma might not shut down a conversation about his looks, but she was always quick to shut down conversations about his love life—or lack of it—and for that he was eternally grateful. He just needed to keep stacking meats and cheeses on his sandwich while she did, then give a quick goodbye and head back out of the house, sandwich in hand.
“Do you know who would be perfect for him?” Brenda asked. “Emily Erickson. Don’t you think? I was excited to see that she still lives here, and she’s such an adorable girl. It’s hard to believe that she’s still available, too. And she could use a man as helpful and thoughtful as you. But you better act quickly, because I bet it won’t take long for someone to come along and sweep her off her feet.”
He could tell by the way Brenda’s voice changed for that last sentence that she was directing it at him instead of the group, so he glanced at the group of ladies as he put the top bun on his hoagie. Frances’s, Carol’s, and Meera’s eyes were all fixed on their scattered colored paper and the intricate pieces they were folding, but Brenda’s were on him. He really didn’t need the reminder that even though he’d been in love with Zoe, he hadn’t been a great catch for her in the end. Ian gathered up the meats and cheese and condiments and started putting them back in the fridge as quickly as possible, the familiar guilt already eating away at him.
“Have you met Lauren Pearson? She’s Linda’s granddaughter, and she’s delightful. Oh, and speaking of granddaughters, I have one moving to Quicksand in just over a month! Really, if you’ve had troubles meeting eligible women since you’ve been back, I’m sure that between the five of us, we could set you up with quite a few like that.” Brenda snapped her fingers.
Ian put his sandwich on a paper towel and quickly cleaned up the mess of crumbs he’d made. Then he wrapped the paper towel around the sandwich and held it in one hand so he could make a quick escape. He stopped by the table, though, and wrapped his hand around Brenda’s papery one and gave it a squeeze. “Thank you, truly, for thinking so highly of me and being willing to set me up on dates with people you respect. But I’m going to have to decline.”
“Oh! Are you not single?” He almost pulled his hand away, but she grabbed hold of his forearm and turned to the other ladies around the table. “I thought you were single. Is he not single?”
“I am,” Ian said, then set his sandwich on the table and patted the woman’s hand that still gripped his arm. “It’s not that. But thank you for being willing to set me up.”
Brenda let go of his arm and turned back to the table, so he grabbed his sandwich. “I don’t get it. Why would he not want to date if he’s single? It makes no sense.”
His grandma opened her mouth to answer. But before she could say anything, Meera said, “Because he got his heart ripped out ‘bout a month ago. Their wedding was supposed to be a couple weekends ago, and he’s still a bit broken.”
Ian froze where he stood.
“What?” Meera said. “It’s the truth, right?”
“It’s—” His grandma turned her gaze from Meera to him, her eyes clearly asking for forgiveness.
She was his grandma. He knew she told her friends everything—he couldn’t be upset at her in a million years just because Meera said his reason in such a succinct, yet blunt, fashion. She tended to say everything with facts and force.
“Thank you for explaining for me, Meera. Now if you’ll excuse me, ladies, I need to get back to work.”
As he was opening the kitchen door and escaping outside, he heard Carol say, “Don’t you just love how polite he is? If anyone deserves love, it’s that boy. If I had a grandson like him, I wouldn’t be in the predicament I’m in now with my house.”
Ian shook his head as he bit into his sandwich and walked toward his truck. Every once in a while, he wished he could put on a pair of grandma lenses and look at himself in the mirror and see the perfection they saw.