16. Boulevard of Broken Dreams

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My shadow's the only one that walks beside me - Green Day

11:52 a.m. Tuesday, September 28, 2021

As has become his habit, Harry settles himself into the chair in front of the fire. Today he's not eaten carbs, and he doesn't plan to nap, but he's determined to win Sophie over. Settling in with the newest book by John Green, Harry is intent on being still so the cat will settle in his lap again. But although she prowls around, she wanders away almost immediately. He can be patient.

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1:35 p.m. Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Having packaged the soft pretzels in cellophane bags, Michele sets off to deliver them. Yesterday had been so busy with the baking of the treats plus her fencing lesson that she hadn't had time to properly deliver the thank you she'd prepared.

With her basket of pretzels, the first stop is next door at All Booked Up. Upon entering, she notices right away that the bell over the door hasn't rung. Looking up, she sees it swaddled in bubble wrap. What the heck? Around the store, there are a few customers, and she greets them when she passes with a hearty "Good morning, Sally!" and a "Hi, Francine! Good to see you out and about!" Both women shush her as though the bookstore has become a library. What is going on?

At the counter, Michele places her basket on top, ringing the bell for service. Quickly, Alison pops out of the back room, stilling the sound.

"May I help you?" she whispers.

"Something wrong with your voice, Alison?" the baker asks, concerned.

Clearing her throat, the woman continues her low tone, "No. Not at all. Sleeping guest is all."

Confusion sweeps through Michele. "Sleeping? In the middle of the afternoon? Is this the guy that I've heard about? The vegetarian?"

Warily, the innkeeper eyes the baker. "Yes."

"A. He shouldn't be sleeping during the day. It will ruin his sleep tonight. B. He's all the way upstairs. Noise down here shouldn't affect him."

"No, no. You misunderstand, child. He's sleeping by the fire."

By the fire? Michele is mystified. Why is he sleeping there? And why are the bookstore's customers attempting to stay quiet for him? Not that it matters. She shakes off the whole situation. This is Nowhere after all. Weird things happen all the time.

"How might I help you?" Alison breathes out softly.

"I'm dropping off some thank you pretzels for you and anyone else you know who helped out on Sunday. It was so nice to return to a clean home after a day out with Paige. So thank you, Alison!"

The older woman's face turns red. "You're more than welcome, Chele. You know how this town is. Anything we can do for one of our own, we will. But you didn't have to do this, you know. We were happy to support you and the kids."

Feeling devilish, Michele teases, "Oh, so you don't want any pretzels as a thank you?" as she starts to remove the basket from the counter.

Hastily, Alison dips her hand inside. "Not at all what I'm saying, girl! Do not misunderstand. I will never turn down your homemade deliciousness. And I'll take an extra bag for Harry. He helped too."

"Harry?"

With a gesture of her head in the direction of the fireplace, Alison grabs a second set of pretzels.

"Oh. Maybe I should take them to him? Introduce myself?"

"Nah," the innkeeper disagrees, "He's sleeping. I'll be sure to let him know who to thank."

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