Never Too Hot
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Josh had made it through his childhood and early teens relatively unscathed, in large part, she believed, because Blue Mountain Lake was a world apart from the fast-moving city she'd grown up in. It helped a great deal that cell phones hadn't made their way into town until recently. Because of the thick forests throughout the Adirondacks — and a blanket unwillingness to rent out land for cell towers on the part of the locals — cell reception had been little to none in most parts of town.
Over the years, as cell phones had become increasingly popular, Isabel often had to swallow a laugh at summer visitors standing in the middle of a canoe on the lake waving their cell phones in the air trying desperately to stay connected to their fast-paced lives back home.
Wasn't that the whole point of coming to Blue Mountain Lake? To get away from everything they needed to get away from?
It was what she'd done.
Her first day back in town she'd seen the FOR SALE sign on the old diner and the lightbulb had gone on. Cooking had always been her passion, the best way to settle her nerves at the end of a long, irritating day.
Fortunately, living full-time in the lakefront cabin had given her the freedom to use her savings to lease and fix up the old diner. And in the end, having to figure out how to cook, day in and day out, for paying customers, learning how to hire other cooks and waitstaff and be a good boss to them, was the perfect way to get over her divorce. To get past it.
Long hours behind the stove or hunched over her computer in the office going over payroll helped her turn down the volume on the things she and Brian had said to each other at the end, the horrible accusations he'd made.
“Did you ever really love me, Isabel?” he'd asked. “Was there ever enough room in your heart for both me andhim?”
Dampness crept between her br**sts, across her forehead. The Big M was creeping up on her. More and more often she found herself tangled up in sweaty sheets in the middle of the night. She didn't mind at all the thought of not having a period anymore. That had never been her best week of the month.
What got to her was the sense that she wasn't going to be a real woman anymore. That forty-eight would turn to fifty in the blink of an eye and she'd be nothing more than a dried-up old woman. That her best years would be far behind her.
As she moved through the kitchen and into the blissfully cool walk-in refrigerator to check the stock, she knew it wasn't fair to paint the past as bad. As a kid, she'd spent many happy rainy afternoons at the original diner's counter, sipping milkshakes and malts, giggling with her friends over the cute boys. Thirty-five years later, the picture hadn't changed much. Every summer, girls on the verge of becoming full-blown women came in through her doors in cutoff shorts and flip-flops and giggled with their friends over the boys they'd seen that day on the beach.
Sometimes in her dreams she still felt like one of those girls. Unlike Ginger, fifteen hadn't been bad for Isabel. Just the opposite, in fact.
Fifteen was when she'd met… well, there was no point in going back there.
Caitlyn, a lovely twenty-two-year-old who had a way with greens, poked her head in. “Oh, Isabel, you're in here.
Just making sure the door hadn't been left open.”
Isabel knew she must look like a crazy lady standing in the refrigerator staring at nothing. Grabbing a couple of eggplants and a fistful of carrots from a metal shelf, she took them over to the sink and washed them. She was drying her hands on a brightly printed dish towel when Ginger came back into the kitchen carrying a special.
“Is there something wrong with the food?” Isabel asked.
“No. It was Connor's. But he's gone.”
Just then, Isabel heard a loud crack from behind her. She turned around just in time to see the upper hinge on the back kitchen door finally pull free from the wall, leaving a rusty hole on the white door.
As they stood there watching the door swing back and forth haphazardly on its remaining hinge, Isabel couldn't help but feel that it was a bad omen.
The horror movie had sucked. Big-time. But Josh Wilcox didn't care. He couldn't have concentrated on it anyway.
Not with Hannah sitting right next to him. She'd grabbed his arm during one scene where the doll's head spun off and blood spurted everywhere. It had been awesome.
Everyone else had to get home after the movie, but Josh knew his mother would be at the diner until eleven at least. He had plenty of time before he needed to get home.
“It's pretty dark out,” Hannah said when their friends dropped them off on Main Street.
He wasn't sure if she was hinting, but he dared a, “Want me to walk you home?” anyway.
She smiled at him and they headed down to the beach. Hannah's house wasn't far from Main, unlike his, which was halfway around the lake. He could bike the route into town in his sleep.
There were several campfires going and Hannah said, “Can you believe that I've never had a s'more?”
He turned around and tried not to stare at her like a total dork. “Seriously?”
“Weird, huh?” she said, looking a little embarrassed. “Maybe you could show me how to make one sometime?”
His heartbeat kicked up as he nodded in a way that he already knew was a little too enthusiastic. But he couldn't help himself. Not when this was his chance to shine. Because everyone knew that he was a master s'more maker.
“Sure.” They were nearly at her house now. “How about tonight?” Then it occurred to him. “You probably don't have the stuff for it, though.”
But she nodded, and said, “Actually, I do.” He sat on her dock as she ran up to her house and came back with graham crackers and marshmallows and chocolate and matches.
“Follow me.” Walking over toward some trees, he pointed to the ground. “First, you've got to find the perfect stick. Not too fat, not too thin, not too short, not too long. And it needs to have a narrow tip so that you can slide the marshmallow on to it.”
She picked up a stick. “What about this one?”