(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Harold was written by Ellie Mack.)
Harold Jackowski carried the caramel Frappuccino to the small table where Louise had sat down, nestled in the shade by the palm trees and railing that offered the best view out over the harbor on St. Alexander’s Pier. It was a short walk from the pier to the seaside Muse Shop where he had agreed to meet with the lovely young lady about Mr. Snow.
“Here ya go my lovely.” He shook his head wondering how she could stomach the sugary concoction that she called coffee. Spoiling her was his favorite thing to do. “You sit here and enjoy the view while I go tend to business. Afterwards, we’ll hit the marina and rent us a boat.” Bending down, they shared a light kiss as he held his hat to his head so the sudden gust of wind didn’t carry it away. A slight grunt as he straightened back to standing.
“Thank you, dear. Hope your meeting goes well.” She dove into her bag of goodies. He always stuck a couple of chocolates in the bottom under the books. Louise watched him as he walked away. He was slightly stooped with age, but still a spry man for his age.
His pace was slow but steady. Nodding his head in greeting to the people he passed along the way, careful to keep his expression one of cheer and not let the pain show on his face. Glancing up at the sign to make sure he had the right place before opening the door, he turned the old fashioned crystal knob.
A bell chimed his arrival as he stepped inside the air-conditioned shop. Glancing around at the eclectic items that filled the shop before he espied the table and chair in front of the window. He made his way over, pulling out the chair and lowering himself to it with a slight grimace as he supported his weight with his cane.
In just a few seconds a woman appeared through the door wiping her hand on a towel. “Can I help you sir?”
“I’m supposed to meet a Ms. Blanchard here.” He extended his hand to hers.
Kelly smiled as she shook Harold’s hand. “You must be Harold. I’m Kelly Blanchard. Thank you for meeting me here. Would you care for some chocolate chip cookies? I just finished baking some. How are you doing today?”
“Mmmm won’t turn down chocolate chip cookies. I’m doing great. This is a great location. You do much business? Seems like a perfect spot near the pier.”
Kelly smiled as she brought over the plate of freshly baked cookies and set them on the table then sat down across from him. She glanced out the window at the pier and nodded. “I get fairly good business, yes. It’s a nice place.” She smiled. “So tell me about yourself, where you come from, and everything like that.” She knew a little bit about him but wanted to make more.
Harold chuckled. “How long have you got doll?” he selected a couple of cookies sliding them onto his napkin. “I”m originally from a small town in South Dakota. Was too young to enlist in the big war and wanted to be just like my big brother, a war hero. I guess it’s just as well or I may have missed out on the best thing that ever happened to me. A little lady named Louise. Harold sat back, narrowing his eyes, and nodding towards the window. If you look real hard, down there at The Mean Bean, she’s sitting down there indulging in a sugar bomb she calls coffee.”
Kelly glanced out the window, looked down the street, and saw the woman Harold was talking about. She smiled and looked back at him. “Sounds like there’s a story there. How did you two meet?”
He nibbled on the cookie, eliciting a sigh of pleasure at the warm gooey melty chocolate while Kelly bobbed her head in the direction he indicated. “Yep, met her when I turned 17, two days before my brother came home. I worked at my dad’s produce market. Was stocking cucumber when she and a couple of her friends came in to buy some bananas. You know all the dames wore skirts back then. It was a better time. We dated for a time, then when my brother came home, dad passed away within the month and left the shop to Jim. I was angry. Me and Louise eloped to Niagara, and I started working at a shop in New York. A couple years later we had our own little market. “
Kelly sat back in her chair as she listened to all this, and then she tilted her head to a side. “So, your brother got the shop, and you left, started your own life. Are you and your brother close though?”
“Not really close, but we get together a couple times a year. Talk on the phone a few times in between.” He made an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders then reached for another cookie. “These are fantastic. Thank you Ms. Blanchard.”
Kelly smiled. “Thank you.” Then she set her elbow on the table as she leaned forward. “How do you know Derek?”
“Mr. Snow? Fine man. He would come into my shop often. First time he came in he had just moved to town. Lost in the big city, you know? Just between you and me, he looked like a deer in the headlights. I started talking to him, asking him where he was from gave him a bit of advice so he wasn’t an easy target. Next time he came in he was more talkative and much more relaxed. After that he made a point to stop in even if it was just for the paper and a pop. Fine young man, good lawyer. We keep in touch since he’s moved back to Pennsylvania. He and the Mrs. came by last week in fact. Invited us to the grand opening of her new bakery.”
“And the Mrs? So he got married to Julia?” Kelly raised her brows. She had only known that Derek was pursuing Julia but didn’t know how things worked out.
“Oh, was I not supposed to let the cat out of the bag? Hmmmm. Well I guess it’s too late now. At least he made the right choice.” Harold squirreled his face into an odd expression. “You know, on the surface it must have been a hard choice—between a gorgeous fashion model and a sexy as hell stunner. But when he finally took my advice and listened to his heart, well I”d be willing to bet it was no contest. Yeah, they got married. He invited us. Louise and Gloria, that’s his mom, hit it off right away. They gab on that Facebook like two hens in their boxes. “
Kelly smiled. “I’m happy for them, and I’m glad you knocked some sense into him.” Now that she had determined how exactly Harold fit into the story, she considered him, trying to determine her next questions. “So, tell me about Julia. How would you describe her?”
“Lovely gal. Cooks like a pro. IN fact, we are carrying some of her baked goods in our shop. She’s a bit nervous at first, until she gets to know you but she warmed right up to me and Louise. Louise sort of took her under he wing. Poor gal’s own mother wasn’t much of one, I think she really likes it when Gloria and Louise dote on her. She blushes, it’s cute but she’s smiling the whole time. Can’t wait till those youngins have one of their own but no need to rush it. That’s a commitment—OY!” Harold sat back in his chair, licking his lips from the tasty cookies waiting for the big questions.
Kelly smiled at him and nodded. “They still have time. Now though…” She glanced at the table, pondering her question before looking up and meeting his gaze. “I’m going to take a step back and return to the topic of your past. What was the relationship like between your father and you? You mentioned you were angry that he left the shop to Jim instead of you.”
Harold’s brows furrowed. Worked my a—he glanced up at Kelly then averted his eyes to the window. I worked my butt off for that man. He never paid me squat. Worked like a dog and he did nothing but push me harder and yell and scream at me. Jim comes home and it’s hail the returned hero. He survived the Pacific theatre, so I guess that makes him a hero. It would have helped if he were less smug about it though. He came home and I no longer existed except for being a lackey. I guess in the long run he did me a favor. Jim being the eldest and all I should have realized it would go to him. At the time I was angry and bitter, but me and Louise.” He turned back to Kelly, his expression stern as he shifted in his seat a little. “We made our own way. I don’t owe anyone for my success. It was just me and Louise, and we did it on our own.” He leaned in lowering his voice in a serious manner. “Jim went under back a few years when the economy went into the crapper, but we hit the million status just before that. ” “Since that time I got more grace for poor Jim.”
Kelly nodded when she heard this. She understood complications family caused. “So, your dad dies and left the shop to Jim, and you get angry. Did you ever forgive your dad for everything he did? Even though he’s dead?”
“Oh sure.” Harold answered almost too quick, his eyes glancing around the shop not looking directly at Kelly. “Took me a while, but after several years of learning the ins and outs of the business I learned to accept some of the things the old man used to say.” He turned back facing her, his right hand turning the end of his cane over and over before glancing up. “That and my mom was relentless about telling me to let it go and that pop meant well.”
Kelly tilted her head. “I can tell you’re still bitter about it.” She left it there to see what he would do with it.
He shrugged again raising his hands palm up in the air. “What can I say. LIfe’s hard. You live, you learn, you try to let things go. Some of them stick in your craw and color your world. I’ll tell you this though,” He took a deep breath then exhaled slowly. “That woman out there.” HE pointed down the pier. “She keeps me on my toes. She tells me if I don’t let it go once and for all, I’m gonna die of a heart attack or of her killing me. It’s a toss up. Some days I think it will be her. Sad thing is I can see how I’ve colored my son’s world. He learned his hatred from me. “Shaking his head as he slowly stated the next bit. “Gotta make amends for that. People need to learn their own lessons and have reasons to love or hate, not just pick up their parent’s biases. Derek, now that man has a good head. He doesn’t hate anyone but that Ashleigh.”
Kelly wanted to discuss Ashleigh, but Harold said something that she first wanted to focus on. “Wait, back up a little. You mentioned your son learned his hatred from you. Explain that. What do you mean?” She furrowed her brows as she sat back in her chair.
Another sigh, his brows furrowed a bit deeper. “Yeah. Robert, my eldest boy. Sat at the last family get together and made a comment about pop’s prejudice towards Jim. I didn’t realize that he had listened you know? He throws out that Jim should be better off since he got the favoritism, he got the shop and I had to build mine from the ground up. Louise just about cleaned his plow right then and there. But the thing is,” Harold leaned over the table , his forearms resting on it. “It’s not true. I mean I used to think that. But in fact, pop’s favoritism is what handicapped Jim. He didn’t have to work for it, you know? He had that ‘privileged mentality’. In fact, pop did him a disservice.” Harold sat back shaking his head. “Wish I’d realized it when I was younger. I”d have treated Jim different. “
“That’s why things didn’t go so well for Jim and the shop, did it? You knew how to do well because you had to figure it out whereas everything was merely handed to him.” Kelly nodded her understanding, but still she was curious. “What are Robert’s ambitions?”
“He’s a Doctor. He did six years in the navy, got most of his education paid for which is beauty. He is studying entomology. Right now he’s doing rounds as a general MD, but working on that. We’re going to go visit him and his family tomorrow.” Harold’s face lit up. “Tell you what, there is nothing like holding your grandbabies on your lap.” HIs eyes twinkled with a brightness that hadn’t been there before.
“But what does he hate? You? Or something else? You specifically mentioned his hatred, and hatred is pretty strong.” Kelly rested her forearms on the table and clasped her hands together as she observed Harold.
He raised in hands above his head, making a forward motion towards Kelly. “Jim. He’s got it in his head that Pop and Jim did me dirty. Something about his navy honor that they screwed his dad over, you know? I try to talk with him about it, but once that boy gets an idea he’s like a pit-bull. I guess what I need to do is drop a bug in Louise’s ear so she can talk some sense into him. She has a way with the kids you know.” He stared thoughtfully out the window, his expression changing from a near scowl to a more relaxed cheerful one like he had when he first came in. ” I don’t hate them. Not any more. I guess I just forgot to share the good parts with him.”
“And you have two daughters, right?” Kelly lifted her brows. “Tell me of them.”
“Marie, she’s the oldest. Looks a lot like Louise. She’s a nurse, got three girls and a boy. The little guy is just now six months old. She’s a scrapper. Always been a feisty ball of fire. Green eyes, dark curly hair.” A fond reminiscent expression seemed to glaze over his eyes as he remembered some of the times growing up. “She could hit a baseball further than any of the boys I coached, Could run sprints faster than any of the locals, made the all star team when she was only fourteen and got a scholarship on her athletics. Now she runs 5ks for fun. Go figure! Amy is my artist. She’s 2 years younger, was always the day dreamer. Long flowing blonde hair from my side. She got Louise’s blue eyes. Some of her work is at the New York City Art Expo, you should go check them out. She does sculptures, paintings, and multimedia stuff.” She’s got one daughter and is sharing her loft with her latest boyfriend. There was a much more relaxed manner to Harold when he bragged about his children’
Kelly smiled warmly as she listened to him talk about his children. “And what do the girls thinks of their Uncle Jim? Do they have the same resentment? Or are they past that?” She knew girls always did tend to mature faster than men, but Kelly wasn’t sure how deep the issue went here.
Harold glanced down at the table, putting one hand on top of the other acutely aware of the age spots that covered them now, the enlarged knuckles from arthritis, and the scars from years of manual labor. “Nah.I don’t think either one of them ever paid much mind to anything like that. They both seem to be indifferent to it one way or the other. They live their life and let other s live their own.” He worried his hands over one another then slipped them under the table. ” I guess they get that from Louise. They are a lot like their mother in their mannerisms.”
Kelly saw how disturbed Harold seemed, and she wanted to try and touch upon it. “What’s your greatest regret, Harold?”
He made a guttural grunt as a sort of chuckle bounced through his chest. “That I didn’t make peace with my pop before he passed. I was young, cocky, and a belligerent son. I hope he would have been proud of me, at least in who I’ve become now that I’m an old codger.” He offered a weak grin as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat.”
Kelly smiled back at him and nodded. “I’m sure he would be very proud of you and who you’ve become. He would have loved to met your children. It’s unfortunate he never got the chance to meet them. However, what is your greatest concern? Could be about your family, the future, or whatever. But what do you worry about most?” Kelly regarded him as she asked this, hoping that he question made sense.
Harold worked his teeth over his lip. ” I guess that I will leave Louise well provided for. I’d be nothing without her. I want her to have what she wants, to make up for all the years that we scrounged and saved and did without. I want her to have the new clothes that she wants, the new shoes, to be able to experience the things that we couldn’t afford in our early years.” He blinked several times before continuing, his lip trembling slightly. “I want her to know how valuable she is, and that I owe her my very life.””I guess that’s my biggest worries, that she doesn’t know how much she means to me or how I value her>”
“Do you tell her how much you love her? Do you give her flowers or chocolate randomly? Do you tell her ‘thank you’ when she helps resolve an issue? Do you go up behind her and clean up the dishes without being asked? Do you insist on taking care of her and that she relax when she’s not feeling well?” Kelly lifted her brows as she asked these questions but watched Harold’s face.
“I tell her every day. At least a dozen times. I give her flowers every week. On different days so she doesn’t think I’m predictable.”Harold pulls something from his pocket, holding it in his hand as he continues. “I tell her thank you for all the little things she does and for the big. I brag on her every chance I get. I”m not so good at cleaning up behind myself, but I got a lady to come in and clean for us every Tuesday so that Louise can go to bunko and not worry about the housework anymore. Can’t remember the last time she didn’t feel well but I even cooked for her, It was only chicken noodle soup, and tea but she liked it.” Harold worked the object in his hand, as he continued. “I pick up little gifts for her here and there. You know any time I see things that remind me of her. She likes blue birds. I found this last week, going to give it to her over dinner tonight.” He reached across the table holding the item until Kelly opened her palm, then set it in her hand. It was a small, antique metal box. Either a pill box or snuff box, he wasn’t sure but the top was pained with a tiny little bluebird sitting on a branch with delicate tiny leaves. “I leave her love notes.” He shrugged, glancing down at the floor a little embarrassed. “Guess that means I’m a sucker.”
Kelly looked at the item in her hand then smiled warmly at him as she looked back at his eyes. “Then you’ve shown that you love her, and you continue to do so, so she knows it, and I’m sure she loves you very much. I’d like to meet her one day. Now what is your fondest memory of her?”
“Oh that’s a tough one. After so many years there are numerous. Hmmmmmm. The day she said yes! That may be cheating but still tops. Standing in a little chapel walking distance from Niagara, she wore this perfect number that was cream colored with blue satin bows. One of those little pillbox hats with a short veil. She was quite the looker then and still is.” Harold opened his wallet to show the yellowed picture of them at the chapel that he’d paid all of $2.00 for, a huge amount back then. and the one next to it, taken last year on their anniversary of the two of them dancing at a New Year’s ball. Scariest day of my life was when my neighbor called me to say he had called the ambulance and she had to go to the hospital. She had fallen down the stairs of our apartment and broken two ribs and her left arm.”
Kelly winced. “I know the feeling. Same kind of thing when my Mom broke her arm. It’s never fun when that happens.” She shook her head. “So what are your plans for the future? You said you have your own shop. What are the plans for that?”
“Going to keep it running for the next few years at least. Not ready to retire because I like to stay busy. We’re looking at property down here though, thinking of taking on a junior partner that can run the shop in the winter so we can become snow birds. Cold gets hard to handle with these old bones.” His face lighting up with enthusiasm. ” I didn’t tell Louise this, but I had a look at a beach house just down the way. It’s rough, but we can pay someone to fix it up and maybe lease it out over the summer while we are back in New York. Might bring in a tidy amount then we can come down around October. I think Louise would do well with the antique shopping around here, she likes decorating and the excitement of shopping for eclectic little things to fill a space. She has really made our house a home. Other than that, we might eventually sell out to our daughter, but I think we’d have to find someone as a partner to run things ’cause Amy doesn’t have the business sense. Although, if I could find a little business to rent, I might set up shop down here. That’s a few years away though.” H e combed his fingers through his silver hair, stretching as he pursed his lips. “Can’t plan too far ahead at my age. Not guaranteed of any tomorrows kiddo.”
“That’s understandable. But it sounds like things are going smoothly for you.” Kelly smiled. “And about your son’s issue with Jim, I’m sure that’ll get cleared up…eventually. And I’m glad Derek is doing well and that you’ve managed to be there for him.” She smiled warmly at him then rose to her feet. “Our time’s about up, but let me wrap these cookies for you, so you can take them.” She stepped behind the counter to get some plastic wrap. “Oh, by the way, if you see anything you’d like to get your wife, by all means, pick it out. I’d give it to you free of charge–payment for your time and all the answers you’ve given me.”
“Seriously? Well, if you don’t mind, that blue glass bird up there on the shelf. I’ve had my eye on that since I fist came in. Tell you what, if you can wrap up the little pillbox with it, I’ll have Julia ship you some of her scones! ” He rose with effort form his seated position then slowly stood, the signs of age showing on his frame. After a few seconds he managed a few steps towards the counter.
“Sure thing.” Kelly smiled, taking the requested items and wrapping them up. Once she finished, she offered them to Harold with a warm smile. “I enjoyed this conversation. Thanks for putting up with my nagging questions. I hope your wife enjoys those.”
“You’ve been a doll Ms. Blanchard. Thank you. Oh by the way, if you can recommend a good seafood joint, one that serves fried clams. Those are Louise’s favorite.” HE leaned on the counter, wincing as he turned towards the door, the twinkle in his eyes no dimmer.
“I honestly can’t make any good recommendations only because, unfortunately, I’m not a seafood fan. Yeah, I know where I am…” she motioned to the fact that her shop was on the pier, but then she shrugged. “Just never developed the taste for that, so you’ll just have to explore a bit. I’m sure you two would have fun with that.” Kelly smiled.
“Fair enough. He tipped the brim of his hat to Kelly. “If you find yourself in New York, be sure to stop into my shop and I’ll give you the best restaurants for sandwiches and for Italian.” He shot her a brilliant smile before he pulled the door open to walk out into the bright sunshine. Indeed, exploring with Louise on his arm was one of his favorite things to do.
Ellie Mack’s book Red Wine & Roses is available on Amazon. Be sure to check it out! Also, follow her on social media: