The bell over the door at Salty Dog Coffee jingles as I pull it open and walk in. The crowd has thinned by this hour, so I make my way straight to the counter.
“Good morning, Amelia. The usual?”
“Yes please, Marcel.”
The usual. That pretty much describes me and my life. I hand Marcel a five and say, “Keep the change,” as I step down toward the end of the counter to wait for my nonfat sugar-free vanilla latte, extra hot. I pick up a copy of the local paper left on an unoccupied bistro table browse. A woman squeezes past me to grab her drink and then turns to pass me again to get condiments. I step back toward the wall and glance at the page where the paper has fallen open.
Dalton Price. He’s the last person I’d expect to see featured in the local news since he left Cypress Cove as fast as his Audi would drive him five years ago. He always seemed too big for this town. Larger than life with dreams so lofty only a big city could contain them.
I scan down the article. Looks like his real estate and property investment company is opening a local branch—Price Properties. Well, good for Dalton. I imagine he’ll send someone else here to run it for him. I can’t see him coming back this way when he’s living the life he always wanted in San Francisco.
Not that I’ve kept up with him intentionally, I just hear the talk. It’s hard not to. People here tend to share the latest and you’d have to live in a hermitage to avoid overhearing what’s what. Honestly, we probably could save some trees and do without the local paper. I would bet this news about Dalton will be up and down Cypress Street before the tourist lunch rush is over today.
“Here you go,” Marcel says, snapping me out of my thoughts. “Have a nice day, Amelia. Don’t break too many hearts today.”
I laugh, even though he’s been saying the same thing to me since I was in high school.
“I’ll do my best, Marcel. No promises.” I wink. “And tell Sylvie I said hi.”
As I step out the front door, Mrs. Ojeda passes by taking her dachshund on a walk. “Oh! Amelia! Good Morning. Have you heard about Dalton Price? He’s opening a realty office right here in Cypress. You always did have eyes for him, didn’t you? I mean, of course you did. If I were your age, I’d be smitten too. He’s the whole package. Well, maybe now you’ll have your chance.”
I stand slack jawed for a moment. Then I get my wits about me enough to straighten Mrs Ojeda out. “Actually, no. I didn’t have eyes for Dalton. He may have asked me to a dance in high school, but that was years ago, and I said no, so … no.”
She makes a noise like hmph and says, as if she’s talking to no one in particular, “Well, you’ve got your chance now.” And then she keeps walking as though the matter is settled. “Have a nice day, dear,” she hollers over her shoulder.
As I watch her stroll away, muttering to her dog, I think about Dalton. I didn’t have eyes for him. Really. He was the typically gangly and awkward junior high boy, but he filled out a little in high school. He was nice enough, but not on my radar. Granted, I’ve seen a few pictures of him since he left. City life seems to have been kind to him. He has that sort of tousled hair that must take at least three products to make it look like he ran his fingers through it just right without any effort. His face sports a five o’clock shadow at all times, the kind of scruff that looks manly, but not disheveled. I mean, his name alone screams financially successful, drool-worthy specimen of manhood. But Dalton Price has never been my type, even if he has become extremely easy on the eyes in his more recent GQ years.
Besides, I’m strictly a small-town girl. I have everything I could ever want within the one mile stretch of our town from the south beach to the north village and the little farms on our eastern outskirts. Men like Dalton Price don’t appreciate the sweetness of a simple life. If and when I ever do settle down, it will be with a man who loves Cypress Cove as much as I do.
Enough dwelling on the daily gossip. I’m getting as bad as the seniors who hang out at Slices of Heaven and share the latest scoop. As much as I love my hometown, I could sometimes use a little space from the rumors and busybodies.
I hop up into the cab of my pickup and set my coffee in the flimsy, built-in plastic cup holder sticking out of the dash. Tonight’s the farmer’s market in San Luis Obispo, so I have to run out to our family’s farm and start loading up the fruits and vegetables we’ll be selling. I turn on the radio and sing along to a Tori Kelly song as the shops on Cypress Street pass outside my windows. Before long, I turn onto Old Ranch Road to head out the east end of town. I wind along the farm properties where trees arch overhead forming a canopy. I love this stretch of road. It’s like the section of town time forgot. Nothing has changed out here since I was little. There’s something comforting in having the same scenery year after year. Predictability is underrated.
I’m belting out a line in the song about not worrying when my phone rings. I keep one wrist propped on the steering wheel while I grab my cell off the passenger seat. This old truck wouldn’t know Bluetooth if it jumped up and hitched a ride, so I have to answer the old-fashioned way. Good thing I could navigate these farm roads with my eyes closed.
It’s my younger twin sister, Katie.
“Hey, Kates. What’s up?”
“Are you driving?”
“You know it. I’m heading to the farm to load up for tonight’s market then I thought I’d pop in on Nana. What are you up to?”
“Just finishing uploading some photos onto my website before I go back to painting,” she says. “I need a break, so I thought I’d check in.”
I switch the phone so it’s on speaker mode and prop it in my other cup holder so I can sip my coffee.
“Are you one-handed driving?” Katie asks.
“Yes, Mom. And since when are you the responsible one of the two of us?”
She laughs. “You’ve got me there. So, fill me in on all things Cypress.”
“Oh! There is one juicy tidbit. Dalton Price is opening a realty office in town. It was even in the paper.”
“Of course it was. Not that you’d need the paper to find out.”
“Right?” I agree.
“So, you think he’ll come down?” She asks.
“Who knows,” I say. “I mean, he’s stayed away all these years. I don’t see him coming back.”
“You never know,” Katie says. “I have this theory that they put homing devices in us at birth. Something always seems to pull people back to Cypress Cove. Maybe Dalton feels the magnetic tug of home.”
I just hum in agreement. What’s with this day? I can’t seem to dodge the topic of Dalton Price.
“Speaking of coming back home, when are you heading up here again? I miss hanging out with my baby sister.”
“Baby by two minutes,” she reminds me. “And, I was thinking maybe in a few weeks. I need to get this painting done. There’s a coffee house owner here who wants to feature me next month and I need to make a priority of finishing some originals for her.”
“You know you can always paint up here.” I remind her.
Maybe it’s the cliché twin thing, but I feel the absence of Katie whenever we go too long without seeing one another face to face.
And as though she could read my thoughts, she says, “I miss you too.”
“Okay. Well, plan on a trip in a few weeks. We’ll take the kayaks out and I’d even go into San Luis with you if you want to do something other than hang out locally.”
“Sounds good,” she says. “I could actually use a little time away from L.A.”
After we hang up, I think of everyone who left our town right after high school. They took off like a flock of gulls being chased by a child. Here we live in a seaside town where travelers from all over the world go out of their way to visit, and people like my sister and Dalton couldn’t wait to move out. I’ll never understand it.
I pull off the road onto our farm driveway. The modest yellow farmhouse sits toward the back of the property along a creek. Vegetable gardens, mini orchards and a building that serves as our weekend farm stand line the front of the property closest to the main road.
I hop out of my truck and walk back toward the house. I hear my name and turn to see my mom on her hands and knees in a row of tomato plants surrounded by baskets on either side of her.
“Want to pitch in?” she asks. “I’m picking half of what’s ripe to send down with you and keeping the other half for the stand this weekend. Should be a big crowd considering Cypress Days start Saturday.”
Oh, yeah. Cypress Days. I had nearly forgotten one of our annual festivals. It’s not a big deal to those of us who live here, but people from all around Central California and other tourists flock into town for events like this. All the hotels, inns and B & Bs fill to capacity and the shops nearly unbearably overflow with total strangers. I know our economy thrives on tourism, but I have such a love-hate thing with people overrunning our town like some cheap one-night stand.
I bend to help Mom pick tomatoes, putting some in each bushel basket and feeling the invisible weight I didn’t even know I was carrying ease off my shoulders as I fall into the rhythm of working with my hands outdoors in our garden.
“I’m popping in to see Nana after we load up for tonight,” I tell Mom.
“Yeah? She’ll love that. You can take her a few tomatoes and I’ve got a squash for her too.”
“Did you hear about …?”
She doesn’t get a chance to finish her question before I say, “Dalton?”
She chuckles. “Yes. Dalton.”
“Yeah. I’ve already been to town, so yes.”
“I haven’t seen him since his parents moved to Houston to be nearer to their grandbabies. I wonder what his intentions are,” she sighs.
“Intentions?” I’m curious.
“Real estate. It might involve strictly buying and selling properties, but sometimes people want to make changes,” Mom says as she looks off toward the farmhouse. “Call me old school, but I get sentimental when I think about someone overhauling our town. I say leave well enough alone. We’re charming and we don’t need to be updated.”
“Couldn’t agree more,” I tell her. “I guess time will tell what Dalton’s intentions are.”