“Barndominium Birthday Surprise”
Marsh rolled his eyes at his first glimpse of the “barndominium.” Winifred would be disappointed that she was still asleep as he reached the end of the drive lined by apple and pear trees. Now she’d missed his reaction at seeing this small, rustic barn that was surely close to becoming a centenarian. Gaps below broken planks of gray wood had been replaced with bricks, stucco, and even embossed tin painted in various pastel shades. The aesthetic was somehow redeemed by matching window boxes – and the coordinated colors of assorted miniature golf structures set amongst the blueberry bushes surrounding the converted barn.
Beside him, Winifred jolted awake. “Are we there y–” she interrupted herself with wide eyes. “We’re here! Isn’t it adorable? Mom would have loved it.”
“You rascal,” he murmured, gently tousling her hair and wishing he could mention her mother as matter-of-factly. Maeve had been gone nearly two years, yet he still had little control over when and where he choked up. “You knew I was expecting one of those trendy, industrial barndominiums with metal roofing.”
Winifred laughed her contagious ripple. “There’s a reason I wouldn’t let you look at the website when I booked my birthday surprise.” She jumped out of the car and shouted over the hood, “Let’s go in! I can’t wait to meet Sage Bryant. Her Barnful of Blueberries is in my top ten.”
Behind Winifred’s back, Marsh’s eyes rolled again. She had to be the only tween on Planet Earth who devoured blogs. Must be the old-fashioned name Maeve had landed with rock-paper-scissors the night before she went into labor, a tribute to her favorite childhood novel.
A thirtyish woman with tight blonde curls dropped the hose she’d been using to sprinkle vegetation beyond the barn-house. She bounded toward them. “Welcome to Blueberry Barn B & B. You must be the Sullivans.” Her smile was huge, dimpling her cheeks and crinkling honey-brown eyes. Her looks and exuberance were endearing, but inevitably, Marsh compared her to Maeve. Polar opposites, physically. His wife had been rail thin, working out daily before her hour commute with a green smoothie in tow, and she’d always taken time to straighten her hair. Yet, Maeve had delighted in whimsy, and this bed and breakfast was straight out of the Land of Odd and Fanciful. It was going to be a difficult weekend.
Winifred beamed. “And you must be Sage. I’m in love with your ‘Pygmies of Blueberry Barn’ memes. I can’t wait another minute to meet your goats.”
Before Marsh could reprimand his daughter for addressing her by first name, the bubbly woman had wrapped an arm around his daughter’s shoulders and was guiding her toward a cluster of small sheds with wire pens.
“We aren’t in Manhattan anymore,” Marsh muttered as he ditched their luggage beside his BMW and followed the trail of laughter. If Winifred’s laugh was a brooklike trill, Ms. Sage Bryant’s was the fullness of a river in sunlight. Overflowing with zest for life. Certainly, the song of someone who had never known heartache.
Marsh had to admit the miniature goats were charmers, especially the attention-seeking one bumping his nose into the wire by Marsh’s knees while the others played king of the mountain on a teeter-totter made by a plank balanced on a chunk of wood.
“This is Popcorn,” their hostess explained. “When startled, he springs up on all four legs.”
“Hence his name,” March chuckled. “You’ve got quite a menagerie here. For a bed and breakfast.” He motioned toward the rabbits and chickens in nearby pens.
“Sage hosts all sorts of special events here, Dad. It’s not just a B & B.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Alexander,” Sage must have seen his worry. “The locals know not to show up during my guest weekends.”
“Speaking of locals, I’m starving. Could we walk the pretty path into Oak Hills you post photos of on your blog? And eat lunch at Grandma Grace’s Griddle?” Winifred fisted her hands in front of her chest beseechingly.
Brown eyes gazed into his grays as Sage Bryant’s forehead furrowed. “I’d be glad to walk you into town, and you can’t beat Grace’s cooking. But all your meals are included here at Blueberry.”
“Whatever the birthday girl wants, she gets this weekend. I’ll put the luggage back in the trunk, and we can wash up at the restaurant.”
Once Sage pointed the way, Winifred skipped ahead on the leaf-splattered path, shouting tidbits over her shoulder as if encouraging them to converse. “It would only be an hour’s drive from our lake house to Oak Hills!” “Dad is an entertainment lawyer. Isn’t that cool, Sage?” “Dad’s also an online chess champion.”
At that last declaration, Sage stopped in her tracks. “Are you a ChessNchat member?”
“I am.” Marsh felt as though he’d been clobbered over the head by destiny. “Are you– You can’t be–“
Those brown eyes looked soft and full of wonder. “I’m BlueBryant23. And you must be Swampmaster.” Her nervous giggle was adorable.
Marsh wasn’t a spontaneous sort, but he didn’t think twice about wrapping his arms around this woman as she leaned toward him. “I don’t think I would’ve made it through the last year-and-a-half if it weren’t for our weekly chats over chess,” he husked.
“And your advice helped me keep the B & B from falling into my ex-fiancé’s hands.” Her head nuzzled into his chest. “Wow! I can’t believe it’s you.”
“Group hug!” Running feet thudded closer, slender arms reached for both of them, and Marsh didn’t even mind that his tween’s voice was smug. “Ha. My diabolical matchmaking scheme worked. Crazy fast, too!”