After a small rush of customers passed through, Josie felt somewhat settled. She scanned the Knitting Club's table and caught Dalma pouring maple syrup into her cup of coffee. She was just a wisp of a woman but had filled a giant void in Josie's life. A smile pulled at her lips as she thought about helping Dalma plant tomato bushes the week before even though the lady adamantly declared they were strawberry plants.
Josie's reverie came to a screeching halt as the screen door squeaked open and ushered in not only a briny breeze, but also a vision from her past.
With a pronounced air of confidence, August Bradford walked over to the counter and halted in front of a dazed Josie. Her heart jolted at the sight of him, something only this man could elicit. He spoke—or at least his lips moved—but she couldn't hear anything over the roar suddenly residing in her eardrums.
The Knitting Club's table kicked up in volume, sounding like a bunch of hens clucking away, but there was no focusing on what they were clucking about either. She knew the answer anyway and had a feeling their timing wasn't coincidental. All Josie could do was just stand there and stare, as if looking into his silvery-blue eyes had turned her to stone. With a hint of purple near the center, those uniquely hued eyes were made to belong to an artist such as August Bradford. The thick fringe of black eyelashes only emphasized their beauty. It was enough to spawn jealousy in Josie, her own fair lashes barely visible, but it didn't. It only tempted her to stand there and stare unabashedly. Mouth agape, that's exactly what she did.
"Are you okay?" A throaty voice penetrated the roar in her ears as a hand waved in front of her face.
Oh, my . . . that voice . . .
The words simply wouldn't come—only pitiful squeaks of breaths escaped—so Josie did the only thing to come to mind. She hightailed it into the kitchen.
As the swinging door flapped a few times before shutting behind her, she knelt behind the workstation and tried working some oxygen into her seized-up lungs. The normal comforting scents of fried seafood and sizzling breakfast meats did very little to calm her as she slowly inhaled and exhaled.
"What in the world's ailing you, Jo-Jo?" Her dad turned his back to the grill, wiped his hands on his apron, and ambled over to check on her.
She shook her head when her tongue remained frozen.
The burly man glanced out the small circular window in the door and grumbled under his breath. "We got two girls out sick today and customers lining up. Whatever this is, you need to get over it."
"I just n-n-need . . . a minute," she managed to stammer out while wiping away the sheen of perspiration that had broken out on her forehead.
With another grumble under his breath, her dad pushed through the door and then let out a guffaw boisterous enough to have Josie scooting over to the door. She cracked it open just enough to catch sight of the dark-haired man at the counter. Seeing him was so exhilarating it was nearly devastating.
"August Bradford! All the way back from New York City! How are ya, boy?" Jasper moved around and grabbed the boy, who was close to a foot taller than him, into a bear hug.
"Good to see you, Jasper." August returned the hug with as much exuberance while chuckling in such a deep baritone it seemed to rumble throughout the building.
"Are you just passing through?" Jasper gave August's shoulder a firm clap before moving behind the counter.
"No. I'm home to stay." August settled onto one of the stools.
"Really? I figured those hoity-toity galleries up north wouldn't give you back to us."
"Nah. I have a few of my pieces on display in a couple different galleries there, but my uncle offered me the front space in his music studio here." August shared the impressive information with as much humbleness as if he had merely said his art would be on display at the run-down flea market up the road. It was a charming characteristic Josie had always admired about him.