“Sorry, I’m all out,” Greta says, her apron smeared with frosting, proof she had a crazy morning. She only bakes what she bakes, and when she’s sold out, she’s sold out.
Matchmakers trust their guts, so I should’ve trusted mine this morning when I woke up with a sour pit in my stomach.
I should’ve pulled the covers over my head, rolled myself into a ball, and forgotten anything existed outside of my bedroom for the rest of the day.
But a failing business coupled with a fear of failure pushed me out of bed.
Now I stand inside Sweet Suga Things staring into an empty case that should be filled with donuts. And it probably was an hour ago when I should’ve been here.
“Your brother grabbed a bunch for the high school science club,” Greta says.
Austin, I think with a growl. Instead of showing Greta my annoyance, I smile and peruse the glass cases. “That’s okay. I’ll find something else.”
A potential new client is coming in today, and I want to look professional. So I figured some mouthwatering donuts and coffee from Brewed Awakenings might get him to sign on the dotted line.
As I’m looking over her cookie selection, I hear my last name mentioned behind me. Actually, I overhear two people having a conversation about my family.
I slyly glimpse over my shoulder to find two old ladies Grandma Dori’s age seated at a table.
“Three of them just had babies. One is pregnant with their fourth. She’s now a great-grandma six times over,” the one says.
“She must be tired,” the other one says.
“You know Dori, it’s more bragging material,” the first continues.
Did they not notice me walk in?
“She acts like they’re so perfect. Even up in Fairbanks, I heard the stories about those twin boys. Always up to no good.”
“Well.” The first one lowers her voice. “I heard they’re all pretty much settled now except for three of them. Even that Phoenix lives with some hotshot music producer from LA.”
“My daughter was telling me something about her…”
Greta’s expectant eyes on me cause me to stop eavesdropping on the women who think my family is their business.
“Two of those and three of those.” I randomly point at the case of cookies. “And fill the rest with those.”
Greta’s eyes follow my finger, then she grabs a box and tissue to get to work.
“What is the big news around here now?” the second woman asks.
“Colton Stone is engaged.”
My heart squeezes. Who are these women and why can’t they see I’m right here in this small shop?
“Leta Stone’s grandson?” the one asks.
“You know she passed, right? Ten years ago now.”
That fall day flashes through my mind.
The flowers I stared at the entire time so that I didn’t have to think about my parents as the pastor preached about what a great person Colton’s grandma was and how we should keep her memory alive.
“Oh, I forgot. It’s been so long since I’ve been back,” the second woman says.
“He’s engaged to some French veterinarian doing her internship with Dr. Murphy.”
There goes that fist squeezing my heart again. French, beautiful, intelligent, and has a helluva lot more going for her than me. I’m sure she would’ve been up in time to get the donuts.
Before I can turn around for a better look at them, the bell above the door rings and Grandma Dori enters the small bakeshop and cafe as though she owns the place.
One of the things I love most about her is that she does what she wants, damn the consequences. The woman’s been hurt just like us.
She’s lost her husband and her son, yet she lives for her nine grandchildren.
“Juno!” she says with excitement.
I turn around fully, glancing at the women to my right. Their faces pale like gossiping church women who got caught by the preacher.
“Hi, Grandma,” I say.
She hugs me tightly. She’s been hugging me tightly ever since Colton announced his engagement six months ago. She, along with all of my family and probably most of this town, thinks I’m heartbroken.
Well, I might be, but I have a doctorate in denial and know how to smack on a smile and assure her I’m fine.
“I was going to go see you after I had a morning coffee with my friends.” She gestures to the women. “Come say hello.” She drags me toward them, but I stop.
“Let me pay Greta first,” I say.
She releases me, and I head to the cash register while Grandma Dori goes to the table. I hear all their exchanges of, “it’s been too long” and “I missed you.”
“Thanks, Greta.” I accept the small box from her.
Grandma Dori is busy, and I might be able to sneak out of here. I’d suffer the consequences later, but they might be worth it.
Then again, do I want Grandma Dori busting into my meeting with a potential new client? The answer to that would be hell no.
So instead of dodging her, I figure a polite hello and goodbye will be sufficient.
“Juno!” Grandma catches me in her peripheral vision like the hawk she is.
The first woman looks familiar, but I don’t know her name. The second woman looks at me with scrunched-up gray eyebrows.
“This is my dear friend, Nelly, from Fairbanks. She grew up in Lake Starlight but moved away when you… well.” Grandma Dori looks to Nelly for confirmation.
“I think you only had a couple grandkids then.” They all laugh.
“Yeah, I suppose you have been gone for decades, not years,” the other woman says, putting out her hand. “I’m Willa. We were all high school friends.” She twirls her finger between them.
I shake her hand. “I’m Juno Bailey.”
“Are you the one who married the tattoo artist?” Nelly asks.
“No, that’s Savannah.”
She nods. “The one who’s married to the New York millionaire?”
Grandma Dori giggles and her chair screeches across the floor, her hand reaching for me before I bolt. “Juno’s our matchmaker.”
She wouldn’t be the proud grandmother with her arm around me if she knew I’m late on my rent this month.
“That’s interesting,” Nelly says in the same tone I’d expect if my grandma had told her I’m the tarot card reader with the giant neon sign off the highway.
Meanwhile, Willa keeps staring at me with a puzzled expression. “I never would’ve guessed that you were a Bailey. Dori, where does the red hair come from?”
This question has plagued me my entire life.
People blatantly ask if I’m adopted or if I dye my hair or, worst of all, a foster child the Baileys took into their home. Not looking like any of my siblings is an ongoing joke.
Thanks to the movie Cheaper By the Dozen, I was called FedEx the entire year I was eleven. I still feel a kinship with Mark Baker from that movie.
Being the red-haired kid in a huge family royally sucks.
Grandma looks at me with a sweet smile—the one reserved for when she knows someone is poking an open wound. Austin gets it when people talk about baseball.
Savannah when they compare her to our dad in regard to running Bailey Timber. There’s a list for each one of my siblings.
“She gets it from my daughter-in-law, Beth’s side,” Grandma Dori says. “They have matchmaking in their blood as well. Right, Juno?”
I smile at my grandma, giving my rehearsed spiel. “There’s a long line of matchmakers on my mom’s side. My Aunt Etta was kind of famous for matchmaking famous actors and actresses for years.
“Casting directors would hire her to figure out who had the best chemistry before casting a film.”
“That was ages ago. In the nineteen-forties and fifties,” Grandma chimes in.
Neither Nelly nor Willa seem like believers in the matchmaking profession though. Just like me, they smile to be polite.
“And who are you married to, dear?” Nelly asks.
Well, thank you, Nelly. Lay me on the table and slice me open, why don’t you?
“She’s not married yet. But if I look into my crystal ball, I see that her guy is about to walk into her life any time now.”
The bell over the door chimes and we all turn as if Grandma’s a fortune teller. In walks Colton, my best friend and the man currently starring in my wet dreams. I squeeze my eyes shut for a moment.
I do not want to do this with him in front of Grandma Dori.
“Grandma,” I say, sighing heavily. She must have caught him in her peripheral hawk vision.
Colton spots us on his walk up to the counter. “Ladies.” He dips his head in our direction like a true gentleman.
His dark hair is perfectly styled and he’s freshly shaven, his collared shirt tucked in with no tie. At least he’s not wearing his white medical jacket with his name embroidered.
That’s made too many appearances recently in my recurring dreams. He turns to Greta to order, displaying his ass in a pair of snuggly fit khaki pants. I swear even Willa whimpers.
“I should get going.” I kiss Grandma on the cheek and turn to the women. “Very nice to meet you both.”
They say their goodbyes, although their eyes linger on Colton.
Willa touches my arm. “If you can get me a guy like him, I’ll sign up for you to match me.”
My smile slips for a second. Oh Willa, there’s a long line of women who want in Colton’s pants, and I should warn you, I’m scrappy.
“You never know who you’ll match with,” I joke.
“I’ll come by later,” Grandma says.
Jeez, the whole reason I stayed here to get judged by her friends was to avoid a visit from Grandma.
“I heard Harley wasn’t feeling well,” I lie.
She nods and her eyes scrunch. “I better check if she needs help with the kids then.” She looks at her friends. “That’s Rome’s wife. Three kids and another on the way.
“I just love being a great-grandmother. They need me so much.”
I giggle and walk toward the door.
“Juno. Hold up,” Colton calls out as my hand is on the door to push through.
I wasn’t trying to dodge him. I mean, if he really wanted to talk to me, he knows where to find me. My office is literally one block over from his.
“I figured you were in a rush?” My gaze dips to his two coffees. One for him and one for Brigette, the French goddess.
I push the door open and he says the words I’ve dreaded since I made a fool of myself when I got drunk at my sisters’ triple baby shower last week.
“I think we should talk,” he says.
Of course he does. We’re opposites in every way. He likes to talk all his shit out and I’d rather shove it under a rug.
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