Ryan lay his paintbrush down and stared critically at the canvas in front of him. He shook his head and sighed. The blues weren’t right at all. He hadn’t produced any artwork worth keeping since Aaron died. That was what he kept telling himself, yet if he analyzed the situation, the block had been there well before Aaron’s cancer diagnosis. It had been there since he quit his job at the gallery. It was frustrating, but tapping into the usually full well of creativity just wasn’t happening. He shook his head in disappointment. He might as well abandon this work. It wasn’t something he’d want to show anyone, let alone try to sell.
He moved over to the coffee machine, a small luxury he’d added to his backyard studio a few months earlier. He no longer had to walk back to the brownstone for his morning coffee, which had the bonus that he could avoid Margie. Guilt rippled through him at this thought. He should be supporting his sister, not thinking like that. But it was hard to help her when she wouldn’t talk about Aaron, his illness, or how she felt since she’d been widowed. Neither Ryan nor their parents had managed to get anything out of her. She’d gone back to work only three days after the funeral, which had shocked him. She’d just shrugged when he suggested she needed more time, refused to discuss postponing her return, and left for work early on her first day back. Everyone told him that people dealt with grief differently, but surely this wasn’t normal. He wanted to help his sister but had no idea how.
Ryan’s phone rang as he hit the brew button on the coffee machine. He picked up the phone, not recognizing the number.
“Hello?” He answered immediately, regretting that he hadn’t let the call go to voicemail.
“It’s Matt Law.”
Matt Law? I haven’t spoken to Matt in years.
“This is unexpected! How are you?”
“Good, I’m really good. I hope you don’t mind, but I got your number from your mom.”
Ryan groaned. “Please tell me she didn’t brag about her artist son?”
Matt laughed. “I’d be lying if I told you that. I bumped into her a few weeks ago, and we had a long chat about you and Margie too. She’s very proud of you, as is everyone in the Ridge. But I only got your number from her this morning. It’s Margie I’m calling about.”
“Margie?” Ryan frowned. “I’m surprised Mom told you what’s been going on with her.”
Matt laughed. “I’m pretty sure the entire town knows of her culinary expertise.”
Ryan remained silent. His mother hadn’t told Matt about Aaron, which he knew Margie would appreciate.
“Is she there by any chance? Your mom said I’d have a better chance of reaching her if I called you. Apparently, she doesn’t answer her cell phone very often.”
“Mom’s right,” Ryan said. “But no, she’s not here at the moment, and I’m not sure when she’ll be back. Can I pass on a message or get her to call you?”
“That would be great,” Matt said. “Although, perhaps I should run this by you. Your mom said I should.”
This time Ryan laughed. “Mom’s good at meddling. What’s going on?”
“Do you remember the Sandstone Cafe?”
“Remember it? I was there two months ago when I was visiting my folks. Everyone in the Ridge knows the cafe.”
“I bought it recently,” Matt said.
“You sound surprised.”
“I didn’t realize it was for sale.” Ryan wondered how the rest of the town felt about Matt’s purchase. While he hadn’t seen or spoken to Matt in years, he was well aware of his parents’ feelings toward Matt’s developments. Like his father, he wasn’t popular in Hope’s Ridge. “Are you going to knock it down?”
“What? Of course not.” The indignation in Matt’s voice rang clear.
“Sorry,” Ryan said. “Dad mentioned you were trying to develop that corner. He and Charlie Li are friends. Charlie’s not too happy about your plans.”
“Well, my plans don’t include knocking down the cafe. But I am looking for someone to run it, and after speaking with your mom, I thought Margie might be interested. What do you think? Your mom said she could probably use a change of scenery.”
“Did she tell you why?” Ryan asked.
“No, just alluded to Margie having gone through a rough time lately, and she felt she needed a change. If she’s interested and feels up to it, I’d love her to run the cafe.”
Ryan was silent for a moment. Was this the change Margie needed to help her relax and possibly open up about how she felt?
“Sorry, just thinking. How about I get her to call you back so you can discuss the details? Do you have other staff she’d be working with?”
“Not officially,” Matt said. “There are staff available from when the previous owner was open, but the cafe’s been closed for a few weeks. The IRS closed them down. I can put Margie in touch with everyone if she wants to consider hiring them, or she can interview and choose her staff. I’m completely open to her deciding how she wants to run things.”
The wheels were turning in Ryan’s head.
“I’d better go,” Matt said. “If you could get Margie to call me back it would be appreciated.”
The call ended, and Ryan stood staring at his phone for a few minutes. He wondered what Margie would think of the idea. He doubted she was up to taking on the responsibilities of running a cafe and managing staff, but moving back to Hope’s Ridge was something both he and his parents had discussed and thought would be suitable for her. It would be a change of pace and she’d have people who loved her close by.
He took his now full coffee cup from the machine, still deep in thought about the cafe. An idea was percolating but would mean a massive change for both of them. He turned and looked at the incomplete canvas. If he ever wanted to get his painting back on track, perhaps a change was what he needed too.
“No way.” Margie looked up from the chopping board. “Not interested.”
“Hold on. I haven’t even finished telling you the plan.” Ryan had waited until the end of the day to broach the subject of the Sandstone Cafe with Margie and was now trying to discuss it with her as she chopped vegetables for a stir-fry.
“I’m barely managing to keep my head afloat,” Margie said. “I can’t be responsible for staff and a cafe.”
“You’ve always said you wanted to run your own place.”
“It wouldn’t be my place. It would be Matt Law’s.”
“Yes, but it would be great practice for opening something of your own, which you’ve always talked about doing. And you’d be closer to Mom and Dad, which might be nice at the moment.”
Margie shook her head as she chopped the vegetables. “Moving in with Mom and Dad is the last thing I want. Mom will fuss over me constantly.”
“I wasn’t suggesting you move in with Mom and Dad. Hope’s Ridge is hardly the same real estate prices as New York. You could get something nice for yourself and only see them occasionally.”
Margie stopped chopping and looked up at Ryan. “Do you want your space back? Is that what this is about?”
“Of course not.” When Aaron passed, Ryan had suggested Margie move out of New York to his house in New Jersey, so she wasn’t on her own. Even though it gave her a much longer commute to work, she’d jumped at the chance, saying she wanted to get as far away from the memories of what had happened as possible.
“Are you sure, because I don’t mind looking for something. It’s not about money. Aaron’s life insurance left me quite comfortable.”
Ryan moved closer to Margie and put a hand on each of her shoulders. “It’s not about getting rid of you; it’s about giving you a change and something to get you out of this rut.”
Margie snorted and shook Ryan’s hands off her. “You’re in more of a rut than I am. It’s been months since you left the gallery and months since you had any work ready to sell. If I need a change, then you need an even bigger one.”
His sister was right, and her words played right into the thought he’d been tossing around in his mind since Matt’s call.
“Okay, how about this as an idea. I’ll agree with you that I’m in a rut if you agree with me that you could use a change.”
Margie sighed. “Yes, I agree with you, but taking on the responsibilities that come with running a cafe isn’t something I’m interested in doing right now. I want to keep life as simple and as stress-free as possible.” Her eyes filled with tears. “It’s only been a few months, Ryan. I’ve got to get used to starting again.”
Ryan’s heart contracted at the pain in his sister’s face. “What if I came with you?”
“To Hope’s Ridge?”
Ryan nodded. “You’re right. I’m in a rut, and I haven’t painted anything worth showing in months. I need to do something different to get my flow working. I did my best work in the evenings and on weekends when I was working full-time at the gallery. I need something else to fill my days and make painting my second job again. I used to feel passionate about my art, whereas now I feel pressured to get canvases completed to sell them.”
“What would you do in Hope’s Ridge?” She grinned. “Last time I looked, there wasn’t a gallery to run or an art school to teach at.”
Ryan picked up the tea towel from the counter and flicked it at her. “Ha ha. No, I’m thinking we run the cafe together.”
Margie’s eyes widened.
“You can be in charge of the kitchen and what comes out of it, and I’ll do everything else.”
“Do you know anything about running a cafe?”
Ryan shrugged. “I know how to run a business. I’ll do plenty of research before we go, but I’m pretty sure we can work it out.”
Margie’s eyes filled with tears again. “You’d do that for me? Give up New Jersey and move home?”
“I’d be doing it for me too,” Ryan said. “I love New Jersey and how close I am to New York, but I feel like a change of pace. It might not be forever, but I’d want to commit to a year minimum if we do it. I can rent out this house, and we can find somewhere in the Ridge to rent.”
Margie stared at him, and he could feel her interest rising. “When did Matt want us to start?”
“You to start,” Ryan said. “He doesn’t know anything about my idea. He’s expecting you to call him back to discuss the opportunity.”
“How about this,” Margie said. “You call him back and suggest your idea to him. I’ll do it if we’re both going, but otherwise, I’m not interested.”
Ryan’s heart leaped. He’d been sure she’d say no.
A few minutes later, he was back on the phone with Matt.
“Margie asked me to call back on her behalf,” Ryan said.
“I assume that means she’s not interested?” The disappointment in Matt’s voice was unmistakable.
“No, that’s not exactly the situation,” Ryan said. He went on to tell Matt of his idea that they run the cafe together.
“If you think you can do it, then I’d be happy to give it a try,” Matt said. “Having an internationally renowned pastry chef in the kitchen will be a huge draw for the cafe.”
“And don’t forget the internationally renowned artist,” Ryan said.
Matt laughed. “Unless you’re planning to display your artwork or run classes, I’m not sure that will…” He stopped, and there was silence at the end of the line.
“Sorry, just thinking. You know, we could consider both of those things. If you have artwork you’d want to display in the cafe, I’d love that. It’s pretty ordinary at the moment. Not sure if you remember, but the previous owner liked black-and-white photos, and it’s not very vibrant. It might be a way to sell your art. And I’d be open to you running some classes if you’d like to. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the community often objects to my developments, so offering a community activity would be a fabulous way to show them I intend to improve the Ridge, not tear it down.”
Excitement began to build in Ryan. He decided to be tactful and not let on that he knew what the town thought of Matt. He was more interested in the thought that the tourist trade in the summer blew the town up from a couple of thousand people to around thirty thousand. It would be wonderful to have his art on display in such a prominent location.
“What do you think?” Matt asked.
Ryan smiled. “I think we have a deal. When would you like us to start?”
Ryan and Margie embed themselves in the small-town life of Hope’s Ridge. You’ll see more of them in both Beyond Hope’s Ridge and Return to Hope’s Ridge. Click here for more information on those Hope’s Ridge titles.