Wednesday, Hannah wrapped up the cake and took it over to Seth. This time, she decided to walk under the bridge and along the overgrown path that led to his house and deliver it in person. She realized she hadn’t spoken to a soul except Joan—did talking to a parrot count?—since she’d gone to church on Sunday with Mrs. Putty. Seth Wilbee was working in his garden, an interesting hodgepodge of unrecognizable vegetables and weeds.

“Hello there, miss,” he said, leaning on his spade.

“Mighty fine cookies those were last week. Mi-ighty fine. I’m very partial to raisins.”

“I brought you a cake today,” Hannah said, handing him the foil-wrapped loaf. Lucky about the raisins, she thought. “What are you digging up? I thought your garden would be done by now.”

“Oh, a little bit of this, a little bit of that,” the tramp said. “Two or three parsnips for my supper and a bit of celery. Parsnips don’t mind the weather, you know.”


“Yep. See these leaves?” He bent and lovingly ran his hand along a line of green fronds sticking out of the ground. They looked amazingly healthy for early November.

“Don’t they freeze, Seth?”

“Oh, yes. I generally kick a little straw over ’em this time of year. But a spot of frost improves a parsnip. Sweetens ’em right up. I don’t suppose you knew that.” His pale blue eyes twinkled as she shook her head. She wasn’t fond of parsnips, frost or no frost. He seemed delighted to be telling her something she didn’t know.

“Come in for tea, miss. I’ve got something to show ya.” Seth planted his spade deeply and left it standing there. “Come in! Come in!” He waved her toward his shack.

Hannah hesitated, remembering the last time she’d had tea, then thought, Oh, what the heck—we’re both lonely. And she followed him in.

The shack was no more than six or seven feet wide—a corridor, really—and maybe twelve feet long. A cot at the far end, with a frayed curtain in front of it, which he hastily pulled shut as she entered, was obviously Seth’s bedroom. The front of the shack, near the door, had a wooden table and one chair, no doubt Seth’s own handiwork, and a potbellied stove, which threw out considerable heat. There was no electricity. No lights, beyond candles and an oil lamp. No books, no magazines. No personal items, no photographs. The few pictures on the wall—literally pasted to the boards—had been cut from calendars and magazines.

“Here, sit, miss!” Seth pushed the chair toward her and rolled an empty wooden barrel on its edge to the other side of the table for himself. When Hannah had been there before, the barrel had contained an injured skunk, which Seth had been nursing back to health. There was no sign of the skunk now.

Hannah sat down and watched her host as he busied himself making tea. He wasn’t an old man, probably no more than fifty. But he was worn-looking, thin and threadbare. She knew he reused tea bags that he collected in the town restaurants and cafés, but she also knew that he kept a small canister of unused tea bags for guests. Seth poured boiling water into the two mugs he’d set out on the table. She was relieved to see he was taking the cracked one for himself.

Slowly he dipped a new tea bag into first one cup—hers—then the other. When the water in both mugs looked fairly brown, he removed the bag, let it drip for a few seconds, then carefully pegged it to a small line strung across a corner of the shack. He was saving it for another day.

“Milk or sugar, miss?”

Hannah shook her head. “No, this is just fine. And please don’t cut the cake,” she protested. “I can’t stay long. I just had lunch anyway. I’m not a bit hungry.”

“Well, if you say so,” Seth said. “If you say so.” He sat down and stared at her while she drank her tea. Pretty insipid stuff. One could only guess at how old the tea bags were. Or where he’d found them.

“You said you had something to show me,” she reminded him.

Seth bolted up and went to his cot, where he rummaged under the mattress and produced an envelope. “A letter!” he said, brandishing it.

“I see.” Hannah took the envelope. It was a little tatty-looking and had obviously been much handled, but Seth hadn’t opened it. The letter was from the Town of Glory, addressed to Mr. Seth Wilbee.

“Aren’t you going to open it? Maybe it’s important,” Hannah said, laughing. The intense look on Seth’s face stopped her.

“You go ahead, miss. You open it,” he said with a shrug that didn’t quite manage nonchalance. He leaned forward and took a great slurp of his tea. His eyes never left her face.

Hannah opened the envelope carefully. There was one sheet inside. “Here—” She started to hand it over to him, but he gripped her wrist and pushed her hand with the letter in it back to her side of the table.

“No! No, you go ahead. You tell me what it says.” His eyes still focused intently on hers. It was as though he was trying to tell her something without putting it into words. She suddenly realized: Seth Wilbee couldn’t read.

“Okay,” she said, hoping her voice didn’t betray her surprise. The poor man! She quickly scanned the letter, her heart sinking, then read its contents aloud to him. The town was informing him that his shack would have to be removed from municipal property immediately, that the town was planning to landscape the riverbank to integrate it into a walking and bicycle path connecting the town square to the municipal park farther upstream. He had until the middle of December to relocate.

Hannah watched his pale eyes fill with tears and his big gnarled hands begin to tremble as he attempted to hold his tea mug steady. “Oh, my,” he said finally. Sadly. “Oh, my.”

There were worse things, Hannah decided, than having a stubborn red tint that would not wash out of your hair and a parrot with a bad mouth.

That was Wednesday.

On Thursday, just as Hannah finished drafting a letter on Seth’s behalf, asking the town to give the harmless homeless man more time to relocate, the telephone rang, and Joan squawked in protest, as she usually did. Hannah got up from her dining table to answer it.

“Hannah Parrish?”

Hannah’s heart leaped. She knew immediately who it was. But she hadn’t told him her last name….

“Y-yes. Speaking.”

“It’s Jack. From last Friday? Jack Gamble.”


“JACK!” HANNAH CLUTCHED the phone in one hand, trying to shush Joan with wild gestures. The parrot ignored her.

“Happy to hear from me?” He sounded pleased.

“What’s that in the background—a radio?”

“No.” She looked behind her. “It’s a…a parrot. How did you get my number? Oh—of course, I’m pleased to hear from you.”

“You are?” There was a brief silence. Joan, mercifully, had shut up. “I went to see your sister this morning, early. Before she went to work. She told me you were staying in Glory, that you were house-sitting for a friend.”


“She said you’d be there for a while, she didn’t know how long. I thought, hey, that’s good news. Because guess where I am?”

“I…I have no idea, Jack,” she said weakly. House-sitting? She’d kill Emily!

“Glory. Yeah, no kidding!” he said, although she hadn’t spoken. “I guess we never got a chance to learn much about each other on Friday. I didn’t mention it, but I’ve given up prospecting and I’m taking over my uncle’s farm. You know, once from a small town, always from small town?” He laughed.

“Sure. I guess so,” Hannah murmured unconvincingly. She must be coming across like an idiot. He had to be wondering why he’d bothered calling.

“My uncle’s place. Ira Chesley, east of town, toward Vulcan. Maybe you’ve heard of him?”

She had. Ira Chesley lived near the Longquists on the Gallant farm. Phoebe Longquist had been one of the library’s high-school volunteers. But there was no way she was getting into that—why a house sitter would know of a scruffy old bachelor farmer like Ira Chesley. House sitter? “It’s great to hear from you, Jack,” she went on, gathering all her resources. “Really great. I’m so glad you called.” It was true; she was delighted to hear from him. But…then what?

“I thought maybe we could see each other again,” he said, rushing a little. Was he nervous? Impossible!

“I’d like to take you out, maybe tomorrow if you don’t have any other plans. Dinner? A buddy told me about a nice place in High River we could try. Japanese. What do you think?”

Hannah realized she was being awfully quiet. She had to say something—anything. Another chance with Jack? This was just too lucky. “I’d love that. Shall I meet you somewhere? My car’s fixed.”

“No, I’ll pick you up at your place. Emily gave me the address. She’s a nice girl, Hannah. Very helpful.”

After Jack had hung up, promising to collect her at six the next evening, Hannah dialed her sister’s cell phone. Very helpful, was she? Very helpful, indeed!

“BUT, HANNY, HE WAS so drop-dead gorgeous, I couldn’t believe that—”

“That he’d be interested in me,” Hannah interjected grimly.

“No, no! I just was worried that—you know, that he’d wonder what a cool girl like you was doing in a boring apartment like that out there in Hicksville and, well, maybe put two and two together—”

“I want him to put two and two together! Now you’ve got me in deeper, Em. I could have come clean about last Friday. Laughed it off as a Halloween thing. Now it just seems like we’re a couple of liars.” Hannah practically wept. She knew Emily was just trying to help her, but some help! And it wasn’t as though Emily’s life was on the line here.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Hannah. I really wanted to help, that’s all. Honest.” Emily sniffed. She sounded suitably chastened. Hannah forgave her, as she always did.

“Now maybe you can tell me how I’m going to get out of this one, since you’re so darn smart,” Hannah returned grumpily, feeling a little better. At least Emily was contrite.

But was she really?

“Oh, I’ve had some super ideas, Hanny,” she rushed on. “I’ll gather up a bunch of stuff from some of my friends, some really funky clothes, and I’ll drive out and you can try them all on. Something’s bound to work. You want to convey, let’s see, cool, class, funky—”

“Emily,” Hannah interrupted. “I don’t think you get it. This isn’t a part in some play, you know. All I want to convey is me. Me! Hannah Parrish. No matter how boring and ordinary. If I’m too ordinary for him, then he’s not my kind of guy. Maybe it’s just not meant to be.”

“Don’t say that, Hannah! You’ve got this great chance with a super guy. Who would’ve guessed he’d actually come over to my place? He’s persistent, too! You must’ve really made an impression. I nearly died when I opened the door this morning…” Off she went on her own train of thought, and Hannah tuned out. All she could think about was what a mess she was in—again. Only this time it wasn’t entirely her own fault.