“No, thank you, Mrs. Horner. It’s not in the way.” She gestured to the sink. “I’m going to finish up here. You should go in and say hello. Just about the whole town’s in the living room. I’m sure my father will be happy to see you.”
Not quite the truth, but her dad’s mood had nothing to do with Gladys Horner.
Her father, the stoic Elias Muldowney, hadn’t been happy in years—at least, not with her.
Mabel, the insolent Muldowney daughter.
It was easier when she was a girl, still fascinated with feeding the chickens and helping him mend fences. In his defense, he probably couldn’t make heads or tails of why his little girl had gone from a rough and tumble tomboy to a fashion-obsessed thirteen-year-old in the blink of an eye.
In her defense, at the time, she didn’t know what else to do to recapture her place with Cal.
But somewhere between being not quite a woman and not quite a girl, she’d found her passion. Unfortunately, her love of beauty products, couture fashion, and the allure of life in a big city only widened the gulf between her and her father.
Not long ago, she’d spent some of the money she’d saved up from waitressing at Elverna’s only diner to purchase a pair of secondhand Prada high heels off of a consignment website. Perfectly pink and the most feminine thing she’d ever worn. Her father had scoffed when she’d told him she’d spent over two hundred dollars on the high-end purchase. He’d deemed them a waste of money, and worse than that, he’d called them useless.
Utterly and unequivocally useless.
Those were the man’s exact words.
And nothing was a greater sin to Farmer Muldowney. To him, everything of value had a use—a purpose.
In his eyes, those hot pink pumps were the epitome of everything wrong with this world.
An extravagance. A gaudy indulgence.
But to her, they were a symbol of hope and a life waiting for her just beyond the horizon.
She glanced at her feet and couldn’t help but smile. Those Prada heels were as exquisite today as they were when they’d arrived wrapped in white tissue. More than that, Jamie wouldn’t have minded that she’d worn them to his funeral.
Too bad her father and most of the town disagreed.
Mabel Ruth Muldowney, Elverna’s freak.
Gladys chuckled warmly as her gaze slid to the Prada pumps. “I wish I could wear shoes like that. You look like those fancy girls in the magazines at the beauty shop. I must seem quite tired and frumpy to a fashion plate like you.”
Mabel took a step back and gave the woman a once-over. Gladys Horner never gave her grief over her love of pretty things.
“Let’s see what we can do to spruce up your look. May I?” She gestured to a scarf tied around the strap of Mrs. Horner’s purse.
“Go ahead, dear,” the woman answered with an amused lilt to her words.
Mabel untied the peacock blue scarf and fashioned it around the woman’s neck. “There! It’s called a French knot. Very stylish, and it brings out the color of your eyes. See.” She picked up her phone and turned the camera to selfie mode so Mrs. Horner could get a glimpse.
The woman’s cheeks grew rosy as she patted the smart little knot at her neck. “Not bad for a seventy-nine-year-old farmer’s wife, is it?”
Mabel smoothed the collar of Gladys’s blouse. The woman had been more like a second mother to her, but it had been a while since she’d spent time with their longtime neighbor. Something was different. The woman seemed frailer than she remembered.
“Quite lovely, I’d say,” she replied, her throat tightening with emotion.
That’s what happened in Elverna. Time passed like a thief in the night. Endless days blurred into years. Is this how she would end up? Would this town swallow her whole?
“All right, then, dear,” Mrs. Horner began, “I’ll head in and see your father. We’re right next door if you need anything,” she added, then stole one last glance at herself on the screen before heading down the hallway.
Mabel closed the camera app, and the screensaver picture appeared—an image of her brother making a silly face while holding one of their goats. Her heart ached as she gazed into her brother’s eyes. “What am I going to do without you?”
The screen went into sleep mode, and she glared at the table.
Feed their guests.
That was a start.
“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,” she said, pointing at the casseroles as she recited the schoolyard chant, then settled on a rectangular dish.
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