The Me I Used to Be [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Jennifer Archer
eBook Category: Mainstream
eBook Description: Baby boomer Allyson Cole is the poster child for modern success. But a surprise visitor is about to take her down memory lane--back to her teens, and that day in Woodstock, circa 1969...
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Next
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2005
3 Reader Ratings:
"Jennifer Archer's The Me I Used To Be is a luminous novel, rich with depth, humor, and unforgettable characters. A poignant tale of long-lost loves and the redemptive promise of tomorrow, The Me I Used To Be is a standout in quality women's fiction. Look for more from this talented author: Jennifer Archer is one to watch."--Britta Coleman, author of Potter Springs
"A deeply emotional story of one woman's journey toward forgiveness. A tender tale of life's choices and the joys and sorrows they bring. The Me I Used To Be will warm your heart and lift your spirit. A must read for women of all ages!"--Ronda Thompson, New York Times bestselling author of The Wild Wulfs of London series
"Brilliantly conceived and written by Jennifer Archer, The Me I Used To Be is a poignant tale of one woman's road to self-discovery. What she learns along the way is so touchingly emotional you can't put the book down."--Candace Havens, author of Charmed and Dangerous
I slide a bubbling vegetable pizza from the brick oven, scenting the kitchen's warm air with garlic.
"Allyson?" Joleen, my newest employee, though she's worked here four years, steps up beside me. "There's a lady at the register who wants to say hello."
As Joleen hurries back to work, I set the pizza on the work counter and turn. My heart slides to my toes at the sight of a young woman up front with long auburn hair. But then I realize it isn't this woman Joleen speaks of, but my neighbor Mary Keller, the blonde beside her.
Mary waves and calls, "Hi!"
I smile, wave back, then breathe again.
I've been seeing them everywhere today. On my early morning run before breakfast. In the car next to mine at a light on the way into work. On the sidewalk outside the café when I opened up. Girls and young women with red hair, skin as pale as milk. They're all ages. Gurgling toddlers, gangly, gap-toothed preteens, laughing college students, stressed-out mothers approaching middle age.
Why am I startled each time I catch that flash of color so like autumn leaves? These girls, these women, have stalked me before. Many times. But always, always, each year on this very date. Today of all days, I should expect them.
I've learned only one thing helps drive their image from my mind. Work.
On the aromas of yeast, onion and sweet red pepper, the clatter of pots and pans, the rise and fall of voices and laughter in the adjoining dining room.
Empty your mind.
Get caught up in the rhythm of chopping and spreading, of pouring and slicing.
Behind me, the café hums and buzzes. Today, like all Fridays at the Slender Pea, my gourmet health-food café, the lunch crowd always seems noisier than any other day of the week. People are pumped up for the weekend ahead, ready to relax and have fun. Businessmen loosen their ties. Businesswomen kick off heels and swing swollen bare feet beneath the draping white tablecloths.
I'm pulling double duty today since Guy Ward, the young man who shares the cooking with me, is off on day five of his weeklong leave of absence. Guy and his wife Kylie just had their first child, and he's home getting to know the baby. A girl, by the way. Pink-cheeked, mostly bald and squirmy. A gorgeous, living, breathing doll. And difficult to look at.
At least for me.
Her sparse hair is feathery brown, not red. And though I didn't hold her when I stopped by their house to visit last night, I know exactly how she'd feel tucked in the crook of my arm, a warm, satin weight against my breast. I stared at those tiny fingers, wrapped so tight around Kylie's thumb, and I knew that years from now, when the baby is grown and off living a life of her own, her mother will still feel that gentle grip, that connection.
When the kitchen wall phone rings for the sixth time, Teena, who is twenty-seven years old and has been with me since I opened the café's doors ten years ago, picks it up as she passes by. "Ally-thon, i'th for you," she says, lisping due to her recent tongue-piercing. She presses her palm over the mouthpiece to muffle all the noise. "I'th your thith-ter. Beverly."
As if I don't know my only sister's name. "Tell her I'll call her back when things slow down."
"I can cover for you." Teena jabs the receiver at me. "Here. Joleen hath everything under control out front."
Giving in, though I'd rather not talk to Bev or anyone else right now, I place a second pizza on the work counter behind me. "Thanks. I'll take it in my office. Shout if you need me. And refill the raspberry-tea dispenser, would you?"
I grab a stalk of celery from Teena's hand as I pass by, taking satisfaction from the crunch as I bite into it, from the sharp, tangy taste.
Seconds later, I collapse in the chair behind my desk and scan the frames lining the opposite wall. There's a magazine photo of me standing in front of the café on the day of the grand opening, certificates proclaiming the Slender Pea Portland's best casual-dining choice for lunch five years running, a newspaper article recounting my "journey to success."
I bite off another chunk of celery, slip on my reading glasses then pick up the phone. "Hey, Bev, what's up?"
"I'm on my break, thank God." As usual, she sounds hurried, dramatic and cynical. All signs that my sister is happy. "After a decade of teaching, my last-period class has me seriously considering a new career."
"Like what?" I ask, knowing she loves her work and would never give it up.
"I'm not sure. Something less stressful. Police work, maybe? Brain surgery?" She sighs. "I was thinking I'd drive over for the weekend and see if you can come up with any better ideas."
My sister lives in Washington. Walla Walla. A long drive away just to cheer me up. I know that's her true reason for wanting to come.
My appetite gone, I throw the rest of the celery stick into the trash. "If you're worried about me being alone tonight, don't be. Warren and I have a date."
"Good." At my mention of Warren, her voice bounces up, as if her vocal cords are on springs. Sometimes I think she likes him even more than she likes me. "I hope he has something special planned. You know, to take your mind off things."
copyright © 2005 Jennifer Archer