Ed felt Polly’s hand on his arm, but he said nothing. He didn’t like the way she’d begun acting as though she owned him. Sometimes, though, it was better to just let things go.

Like Linnie Mae Sparks.

He stared after her wagon as it rolled down Main Street.

“Come on, Ed.” Polly tugged at his arm. “We have a lot to get done this morning, and I’m hungry.” Her lips formed a playful pout.

“Right.” With Polly clinging to his arm, he pushed open the door of the cafe. “Morning, Elmer. Morning, Mackie.” He nodded to the owner and to the shy, dark-eyed girl who stood at her father’s side. She’d worked at the cafe from the time she’d been big enough to carry a tray, but Mackie Ledbetter still got nervous and clumsy when customers came in. Ed always tried to encourage her, tried to draw her out a bit. He smiled her way, hoping to put her at ease.

Polly nudged him. She guided him toward a table and stood waiting until he’d pulled out her chair for her. More and more, it seemed, the woman had come to expect things from him. Things Ed had no intention of giving.

Not things like pulling out a chair. That was the least of it. Things that had to do with what women called being a couple. He and Polly were friends, sure enough, and they’d been spending a good many hours together over the last few weeks, but that didn’t make them a couple. Not by a long shot.

Ed took his seat, picked up the menu and studied it, noting the new prices written in with an ink pen. Cost of living seemed to go up every day.

Already Polly was chattering at him from across the table. He caught a word or two, figured it wasn’t anything too consequential, and went on reading.

Chapter 2 BreakfastA moment later, she tapped him on the arm. “I swear, you haven’t heard a thing I’ve been saying. And put down that menu.” Polly reached across the table and snatched it from his hands. “It’s not like you don’t know what you want. You’ll have two poached eggs, black coffee, toast, and hashed brown potatoes, same as you have every morning.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mackie grinning.

“The usual, Mr. Ferguson?”

He nodded. But Mackie didn’t move. “Something wrong?” he asked.

The girl shifted her weight from one foot to the other and rocked back and forth, apparently trying hard to decide whether or not to say what was on her mind. When she leaned closer, her brown eyes widened.

“Was that really Linnie Mae Sparks you was talking to? That’s who Pa said it was. Is she coming back now? Is she going to be in the show? And did you come up with a part for me yet?” Mackie’s voice cracked on the last question.

Ed’s heart went out to the girl. She was almost eighteen now and had a head filled with dreams. Big dreams. Unrealistic dreams. Mackie wanted to be a star someday, and maybe she had some talent hidden deep down inside somewhere, but she didn’t have near enough confidence.

Ever since Polly had rooked Ed into directing the special Founder’s Day performance at the new Barn Theater going up, he’d been pestered by one aspiring actress after another. Mackie had begged and pleaded for a chance, and he’d given her one. In fact, he’d given her a slew of chances. But every time she stepped in front of an audience— even if it was only him, Polly, and a couple other cast members— Mackie got tongue-tied, turned beet red, and went running off. Ed promised he’d think of some role the girl could play that wouldn’t require her to talk. He hadn’t come up with anything yet.

Polly cleared her throat. “Yes, Mackie, that was Linnie Mae, but no, she is not going to be in the show. Now, run along and get our food.” When Mackie nodded and hurried away, Polly rapped her knuckles on the table. “Ed? You did hear me, right? I don’t want you getting any ideas. Linnie is not going to be in our show.”


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