Maggie's was the place. What it was the place for was up for debate. Today, I was there for a much-needed haircut. I'd planned weeks ago to grab that coveted first appointment of the day. Get in, get out, and avoid the regulars, the ladies who stopped by nearly every morning. Maggie's was the place to go for the latest news, aka Gossip.
I had lived in the same small town my entire life, except for seven years, which I still referred to as the greatest brain fart I'd ever had. Not because I'd left town, but because of him. The reason I'd left town with the hope of living happily ever after. Right. In all fairness, some good things came out of that marriage. It showed me that I didn't need a man in my life to be happy, and there's no place like home.
Maggie chattered animatedly while she cut too much length from my hair. I cringed with every snip-snip of her scissors. It's only hair, I thought. I glanced at my watch, knowing in about ten minutes the front doors would fly open and the magpies, as I called them, would breeze into the salon.
Five minutes later, Elaine and Tammy bustled in, bringing the July humidity inside with them. Damn. They were early.
"Good lord, have you heard?" Elaine said.
I rolled my eyes and thought, here we go.
"I hear a little bit of everything in here, you know that Elaine," said Maggie. "But what juicy tidbit are you talking about?"
Before Elaine was able to catch her breath, the sun glinted off the shiny chrome of the longest, darkest car any of us had ever seen on the streets of Peach Pit. We watched as it coasted to a stop in the street in front of the shop.
Our mouths collectively dropped to our chests. "What in the world?" Tammy whispered.
The rearmost door of the limo opened and a tall, blonde-headed man stepped onto the curb. Sunglasses perched low on his nose, he looked left then right and headed straight for Maggie’s shop. The bells over the door made the only sound as he ducked inside. I swear we had all stopped breathing momentarily and I thought we might have to clap Elaine on the back to get her heart started again.
"Mornin’, ladies,” he drawled with a voice sweeter than Tupelo honey. Nobody had the good sense to return his greeting. I guess we were too awestruck by his good looks and charm. His eyebrows rose and disappeared behind the mop of hair on his forehead.
Tammy nodded at him and gave Elaine a little nudge forward, thereby designating her as the spokesperson for the group. I stared at paint stains on my hands, wishing I could disappear into the chair.
He smiled and held up his cell phone, "I'm looking for Cherry Street, and I seemed to have lost service."
All eyes shifted in my direction. There were exactly two houses on Cherry Street and I happened to live in one of them. The suspicious side of my personality narrowed my eyes at him.
"Why, exactly, are you looking for Cherry Street?" I asked.
Maggie yanked hard on my hair letting me know that I wasn't exactly being hospitable to the handsome stranger. "What Caroline here means, is, Cherry Street is the last street before you're out of city limits," she nodded toward the limo idling out front, "and you're already headed in the right direction."
"Thank you, ladies," he said. His steely blue gaze homed in on me, not going to lie, it was hot enough to cause sweat to bead at the back of my neck. He pushed the mirrored sunglasses into place and spun toward the door with the grace of a dancer.
"Good lord," Elaine said, sucking in a breath like she'd just remembered to breathe. "Moves like that, he must be a dancer."
"Um. I don't think he's a dancer. At least not in the traditional sense," Tammy said. She had been busy running her finger over the screen of her phone.
"What do you mean?" Maggie asked.
Tammy linked her arm through Elaine's and pulled her closer so that everyone huddled around me. She held up her phone so we could all see what she was looking at.
"While tall, blonde and hunky was busy practically undressing Caroline with his eyes, I snapped a picture of him and ran it through a face recognition search," Tammy said. "I'm pretty sure that was Rick Hardwood."
"Good lord, what kind of name is Rick Hardwood?" Elaine said with a giggle.
Maggie said, "Sounds like the perfect porn star name," She gave my shoulder a little push, "doesn't it, Caroline?"
My thoughts were still racing about what business he had on Cherry Street. She nudged me again, and I nodded slowly.
"Rick Hardwood is a porn star. One of the biggest, rumor has it," Tammy said. "If you catch my drift."
Elaine's cheeks flamed and she fanned herself. "What in the world is a porn star doing in Peach Pit?"
Maggie had finished straightening my hair and unclipped the cape from around my shoulders. She grabbed a broom. "I'm sure we'll find out," she said with a shrug. "Town isn't that big, and there are only two houses on Cherry Street."
"Maybe the big porn star is going to film a movie in our little town," Tammy said. "With Caroline just across the street, I'm sure we'll know soon enough."
My eyebrows pinched together and I shook my head. "What do you all think, I'm going to bake him a pie and welcome him to the neighborhood?"
"That's a great idea, Caroline," Elaine said.
"I was only kidding," I said, shaking my head.
"I like pie," Elaine said with a sigh.
"You ladies are a straight-up mess." I rolled my eyes and moved toward the cash register so that I could settle my bill and get back home.
"Oh, don't give me that innocent act, you know you are just as curious about why he's here as the rest of us," Tammy said.
"Okay, yes. I admit, I am curious, but I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation," I said.
"Right. He's either here to make a movie, another in a long line of porno hits," Tammy said. "Or maybe he's decided to retire from the business and wants to settle down in Peach Pit."
"Who owns that other house?" Maggie asked. "I didn't even know it was for sale. It's been vacant for as long as I can remember."
I took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "I'm sure we'll find out soon enough. There are no secrets in Peach Pit."
"Still think you should bake him a pie," Elaine said. "Wait, do you know how to bake?"
"Yes, I know how to bake," I said indignantly. "I just prefer not to."
I left the salon and walked the four blocks home. Though it was only mid-morning, the sun was beating down brutally hot, the air so thick you could stir it with a soup ladle. All the work Maggie had done on my hair was wasted. By the time I got home, I looked like something my dog Oscar had tried to bury in the backyard instead of someone fresh out of the beauty parlor and I needed another shower.
Feeling halfway human after my quick shower, I decided to pour myself a tall glass of fresh lemonade and read for a while. I had more painting to do in my bedroom upstairs, but that could wait until the sun went down. I had just gotten settled into my favorite chair when a loud banging and clanging from out in the street gave me a start.
I jumped up and went to the window to see what all the commotion was about. "What in the Sam hell…" I muttered.
A large moving truck sat across the street, bulky pieces of furniture bouncing down the ramp with two men helping to guide them down and a third guy barking orders. Rick, if that was his real name, stood with his hands on his hips and watched the workers go about their business.
About that time, my cell phone rang and I reluctantly moved away from the window to grab it. I frowned when I saw that the call was from Tammy. Of all the busybodies in Peach Pit's population of 350, she was the biggest one of all.
"You are not going to believe this, but," Tammy started. "That man from this morning? He is Rick Hardwood."
"And, are you going to tell me the rest of the story?" I asked.
"I'm getting to that. But I'm telling you, you won't believe me," she said.
"Let me guess. He bought the Hillcrest Mansion and is going to be my new neighbor?" I said.
She clucked her tongue, "How did you find that out already?"
I walked back to the window. "Because I'm watching the moving truck right now."
"Oh my God. You're not serious?" Tammy said, practically squealing. "I'll be right there. You're going to need my help if you plan on meeting him properly."
"Tammy, I'm not interested in meeting him, or any other man for that matter," I told her.
"You say that now, but you just leave it to me!" she said.
I didn't get a chance to get in another word before the call disconnected. Just then, Rick looked up and saw me watching him.
"Shit," I said under my breath. He smiled and waved. "Double shit," I said again as I backed away from the window.
Less than a minute later, my doorbell rang. I couldn't ignore it, pretending like I wasn't home. He'd already spotted me, so I opened the door a crack and peered cautiously out at him.
"Hey there," he said. "I won't bite, I promise."
I felt my face burn with embarrassment. "Forgive my manners," I said.
He held out his hand. "I'm Zach Hillcrest," he said. "Your new neighbor."
I shook his hand. "Oh, I, I thought your name was. I mean, hi, I'm Caroline Truman."
I didn't know if I was relieved or disappointed that he wasn't the porn star Rick Hardwood. Honestly, it didn't matter. Whatever his name was, I was pretty sure our paths would not cross any further than a quick wave and 'hi neighbor' from across the street.