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Ann Moeller

Ann Moeller reading

© 2007

Chapter One

At 5:05 P.M., Maddie Braun locked the door of her main street boutique, The Mad Hatter, glancing as she did so at the well-lit window display she had been fussing over all day.  Maddie kept the ladies of Castlerock in hats, scarves, and wigs year-round, and winter in Minnesota required head gear that did more than just look good.  A gust of damp January wind cut through her coat, and she promised herself a cup of hot chocolate the minute she got home. On crazy-cold days like this, it wasn’t worth it to drive to work. She lived only five blocks away, and her car couldn’t even warm up in that short distance. 

As Maddie began her trek up the main street, dodging patches of icy sidewalk, her thoughts were still on Gina.  At exactly 3:20 P.M. that afternoon, Gina Powers had burst through the door of The Mad Hatter with the news, “Maddie, I found a school!” 

“Do tell,” Maddie responded eagerly, climbing out of the front window where she was working on her new display of colorful winter scarves and hats.

“Well,” Gina went on, arms flying and eyes darting as she talked, “I’m crazy about Emerson – in Boston!”

“Really?”  Maddie asked, a little surprised.  “Wasn’t it just a week ago that you were mailing your one and only application to DePaul in Chicago?”

“Well, that was before I visited Emerson.  This school is just fabulous, Maddie.”

“Tell me, do,” Maddie said, willingly jumping into Gina’s enthusiasm.

“Well, it’s just the best.  Everything there is really state-of-the-art, and get this! When you step out the door of the campus recording studio, well, you’re practically right on the Boston Commons!  Don’t you think I’ll just love Boston, Maddie?”

“Everybody loves Boston,” Maddie agreed. 

“And Maddie, lots of famous people graduated from there and made it in theatre and film and broadcasting.”

Maddie had to smile as the conversation with Gina replayed in her head.  This charming brunette, who had loved to try on the wigs at The Mad Hatter ever since she was a toddler, had been planning her life on the Broadway stage for at least nine years. And now, as an eighteen year-old, she was bursting with eagerness to get on with it!  Maddie was no psychologist, but it was clear to her that Gina was beginning to move out of Castlerock already, at least figuratively. It was late January. Gina’s college days wouldn’t really begin for at least eight more months.

Maddie’s smile faded away as she thought about Gina’s mother Tess.  Somehow, it seemed that there was no topic those two could agree upon, and Maddie worried about that because she loved them both passionately.

Maddie lifted her head into the wind and stopped to look for traffic as she came to the corner of Main Street and Third Avenue. “Halfway home,” she thought to herself, as a familiar blue van pulled over to the curb.

“Maddie, do you want a lift?”  called Luke Owens through the partially opened
window.  “Come on, it’s eleven below zero.  Hop in.”  Luke was Maddie’s renter
in the downtown building that housed her boutique and his diner, the Castlerock Café.

“Luke, I’m almost home.  The fresh air keeps my head clear, and I’m not done thinking for the day.” Maddie smiled and waved him on. She crossed Third Avenue, lowering her head out of the wind once more as she continued her journey up the block.  

She resumed her pondering. “Tess and Gina don’t even know who the enemy is,” Maddie said softly to herself as walked past the post office, “or how to begin to patch things up.”   

Maddie continued her march toward home. She was only one block from her doorstep now, and visions of Tess at Gina’s age were bouncing around in her mind’s eye.  Tess had been Maddie’s favorite teen-aged employee over the years since she had opened The Mad Hatter. Sometimes, lately, when Tess stopped in at the boutique, she and Maddie found themselves reminiscing about the years when high-school-Tess had helped Maddie do the window displays. Tess always laughed when Maddie recalled the late seventies and early eighties  as “the era of screaming music and really bad fashion.” 

“I told you so,” Tess reminded her, when Maddie lamented that she hadn’t kept some of those goofy hats from that era. “Maddie, you always said that stuff was ugly – even when it was in style,”  Tess would tease, “but who’s sorry now?  Wouldn’t you love to use some of that old ugly stuff in your next window display?  Shoulda kept it!”

Maddie’s smile returned as she thought about just how alike Tess and Gina really were. When they stopped in at The Mad Hatter to say hello, not usually at the same time, Maddie loved to listen. She was a good listener, and for now, Maddie hoped that would  be enough because she remembered the end of Gina’s visit that afternoon, and it worried her.  

“I’ll tell you what, Maddie,” Gina said, eyes flashing again, “I’m not going to live my whole life in this boring little town. I’m not going to live my life like the goodie-two-shoes mom I’ve been blessed with.  I’m going to live my way.”  

Not needing a reply from Maddie, Gina grabbed her book bag and wrapped her scarf around her neck. She threw her arms around Maddie, hugged her, and headed to the door.

“And Maddie, I’ll tell you something else,” Gina announced almost fiercely just before opening the door to the cold wind, “I’m not going to wait to start living my way. Look at my classmate, Sophie. Do you think she’ll be ready and able to pack off to college in September, or will she be too sick to even start school?” 

“Are you afraid for Sophie?”  Maddie had asked. 

“Well, aren’t you?”  Gina had shot back.

“Of course I am,” Maddie had replied.

Ann Moeller presentingChapter Two

Maddie reached her front door and was just about to step into the warmth when the telephone begin ringing. Unzipping her goose down parka as she went, she crossed the room in four steps and picked up the phone.

“Hello,” Maddie said.

On the other end of the line, Maddie heard the deep, rich chuckling of Lucy Barnes, Castlerock’s octogenarian journalist.

Feisty and demanding, Lucy blurted out, “Maddie,  I’ve just pulled away from my appointment at Curls and Cuts.  Get on the horn and order me a lovely white wig that looks as much like my own hair as you can find, would ya?  I’ve got to interview the governor for an article on the 29th,  and Janice – God love her, she’s done my hair for twenty-five years – just turned me a lovely shade of lavender.”       

“I know just the wig for you,” Maddie assured her.  “I’ll order it in the morning,
Lucy.  It’ll be here by Friday.  I’ll call you.”  As she hung up the phone, Maddie chuckled a little too.  “Yet another reason for wearing a wig,” she thought to herself.

“Another crisis averted, Max,” Maddie said aloud to her gentlemanly Burmese cat who was weaving his way back and forth between her feet.  As soon as she looked down at him and asked, “How is the little fella of the family,” he leaped into her arms. 

“You are such a doggie cat, it’s no wonder we love you” she thought to herself.
She never liked to say that out loud.  She didn’t want to hurt Max’s feelings.