Recap of Chapter 16: Penny met with the writer from Serenity and was instantly impressed. She seemed to grasp the heart of her story and why she wanted to tell it. Although she refused to show her an advanced copy, Penny still had faith that she would do it justice and the results would be good. At least she hoped so. Her whole future was riding on its success.

“Dad… ” Penny whispered into the mouthpiece of the bar phone. “You are not going to believe what’s happened.”

He could hear noise in the background. That was typical when she called from the bar and pub, but it seemed exaggerated. “Well, hello there, Lucky.” He said, calmly, “What’s going on?”

“It’s the article. It must be,” she continued, excitedly. “The place is jam-packed and there’s a line out the door. It’s been this way since the article came out three days ago. Everyone is showing their support by filling my place to the rafters. It’s amazing.”

“That’s wonderful news,” her dad said. “I knew it would come out in your favor.”

He smiled, truly relieved that the big plan worked.

“Oh my God! Dad, the writer just came in through the door. I need to go and thank her personally. I gotta go, Dad. Love you. Hey—go online and read the article.” The line went dead.

“Everything was working out perfectly.”

The Serenity writer came in the door, removing her gloves and shedding her coat. It had only been a couple of weeks since the interview, but Penny noticed that the writer had changed her hair, adding several face-framing streaks of burgundy. It was very becoming. Penny approached her in a rush. “It’s you! Oh my God, I am so glad you came in. I really want to hug you. Is that weird?” The writer held open her arms and Penny grabbed her in an earnest squeeze. “Look around! This is the result of your article. And it’s not just people showing up. They’re saying that they read what you wrote and that they want to show their support.” She couldn’t seem to stop smiling. “And I have you to thank, which I feel I will never be able to do enough.”

The writer shrugged. “I’m so glad you are pleased. And that it did the trick. It’s a compelling and flat-out intriguing story, Penny—the best one I’ve gotten my hands on in a while. No need to thank me. It was my pleasure, believe me.” She looked over Penny’s shoulder. “I was hoping to get a bite to eat, though.”

“Oh, my! Of course. How embarrassing.” She grabbed a menu. “Are you coming alone or meeting someone?”

“I’m coming in alone today, but I won’t be for long,” she said, following Penny to a booth overlooking the creek. “Perfect! I can see who comes through the door and watch the water roil under the ice—my favorite!” She settled into her seat. “Oh, one more thing. Call me Chloe. I know I use my initials in my writing, but for the people I like, I encourage them to call me by my first name.”

Penny was beaming. The article was exactly what she needed, written in a slant that depicted her harrowing tale. Anyone reading it would feel for her and hold her blameless. There was humor, sympathy, and a clear timeline of what had happened. Chloe was true to her word about being able to trust her to do it right, and Penny was eternally grateful.

“You did good, Boss Lady,” Jesse said, planting a kiss on her cheek. “I can hardly keep up.” Penny looked at the packed room and the recently added waitresses moving past with full trays. The Christmas decorations looked cheery, twinkling above all the booths and tables and over the bar. Of course, Jesse had added a bunch of mistletoe over his favorite spot for stealing kisses. It was turning out to be a popular stopping spot, which never hurt business. Just as she thought it, a happy commotion caused her to turn just in time to see a bubbly group of college-types coaxing kisses from Jesse. She shook her head. It wasn’t even 5 o’clock yet.

She went to check on how it was going in the kitchen. They added some cooking help too and they were kept constantly busy. The homespun menu was a huge hit, and Penny kept adding to the varieties of macaroni & cheese offered. This week, the menu featured bacon bleu cheese crumbles, a touch of Irish with Dubliner, and a smoked salmon variety. With these new entrees, she added personal sized tureens with lids for serving piping hot from the oven. They also doubled as the perfect tureen for French onion soup when it was on special. The hottest ticket this week was the loaded potatoes alongside ham and 15 bean soup. Two days in and they were at a decision point: make more soup or move on to another flavor. As she suspected, the dynamic writer was now joined by two other women, all laughing and having a great time. Penny approached their table. “You guys are having waaaay too much fun over here.”

The three women objected, “Oh, you can never have too much fun!” they said laughing.

“Do you need anything else? Wine? An appetizer? A pitcher of margaritas?” Penny sold them on bacon-wrapped dates with fig vinaigrette and a caprese board. “On the house,” she said with a proud smile. “And I’ll bring you another mini sourdough loaf and some rosemary butter.” She left to the sound of oohing and aahing, a skip in her step.

She couldn’t believe she had triumphed over this problem and how much time she had spent worrying about being accepted. Everything was working out perfectly. No one blamed her—that much was clear—and shining a light on the whole doleful tale only made people want to come in and support her, not run for the hills as she suspected. She had met so many people in the last few days and every single one had been glad to know her. She had babbled nonstop to Matthew on the phone. He was nearly back to normal now and doing a lot of the work on the house himself, but he made time for her each night on the phone, tired as he was.

“Oh my God, Matthew! You should have seen the writer who wrote the article—Chloe is her name by the way—she and her friends were at this table just having the best time! Of course, her friends are all stylish and chic too. She’s just the best! I so wanted to join them. But instead, I made good recommendations for appetizers—on the house of course—and made sure they had plenty of wine, served by the charmer, Jesse. It was such a fantastic day!” she took a breath. “I wish you were there to see it, Matthew.”

Matthew was sitting by the fire nursing a beer. He’d rummaged for a frozen lasagna for dinner and was almost too tired to finish it. He longed for some time with Penny, but he knew he had absolutely no energy to be good company. These nightly phone conversations were about all he had to give.

“Oh man, I’ve been jabbering on, giving you hardly an opportunity to speak. How was your day? How are you feeling now that you’re doing more of the work again?”

“To be honest, I’m dog tired, babe. I can barely keep my eyes open long enough to finish this beer in my hand. I think it’s time for this one to go to bed.”

“Yeah, I get that. I wish I was there to tuck you in. But, then again, you wouldn’t get much sleep if I was there. I don’t seem to be able to keep my hands off you when we’re in the same room.”

“I do know what you mean. And I miss that too. Good night, sweetie. Sweet dreams.”

“You too.”