The next day after her surprise visit from Peter, Lorraine spent the morning cleaning her apartment and spraying the couch with Febreeze to get rid of the smell Peter had left behind. She was disgusted with herself for encouraging him by serving him food and drink and letting him sleep on the couch as a shelter from the cold. If he wanted to play at being a survivalist, he should learn to deal with cold weather. He was a kook and he was dirty to boot. She had enough going on in her life without getting involved with someone who was prepping for the collapse of civilization.

After the house was tidy and was smelling of Summer Citrus rather than Prepper BO, Lorraine made herself a cup of Earl Grey Tea and sat down at her antique desk to log onto her computer. She checked out EBay and left a bid on a cashmere sweater that was about to come to the end of its auction time. And while she was there, she went back on Match, for old times’ sake. It would be nice to find a boyfriend. If she had a real partner, that crazy Peter wouldn’t feel so free to barge in on her.

As usual, she began to feel depressed as she scrolled through the pictures of men who fit the parameters she had set. Oh dear… what a motley crew. It seemed that all men between the ages of fifty and seventy were bald and grossly overweight. Yet, when she told herself to stop being so superficial and look beneath the surface, she was appalled to find that these unattractive older men were looking for women younger than thirty. Who were they kidding? Unless they were Donald Trump, a young woman would never be interested in any of them. Out of boredom, though, she kept scrolling.

She jumped slightly when she spotted the picture of a man who had grey hair and a round face, but his smile was so warm that it stopped her in her tracks. She opened his profile and read his statement. John Kelly had lived all over the world, but was now in Eastern Tennessee teaching law. He was an avid reader, theater-goer, and movie fan. One of his favorite things to do was to see films at the Fine Arts Theater in Asheville. Her heart started to beat a bit harder as she read and re-read his profile. He seemed so right for her. She clicked on the “wink” button and closed the page.

Her heart was pounding like it did when she spotted an antique she loved. One of her favorite mystery series, written by Jonathan Gash, featured a “divvie” named Lovejoy. A divvie is someone who feels a physical reaction when she is in the presence of an authentic antique. She is never fooled by reproductions. Lovejoy is a shady character who fakes antiques extremely well in order to cheat people, but who reveres the real deal, and if he can’t afford an antique, he will find a way to steal it. Lorraine loved antiques and felt faint when she found an old piece that she really wanted. It was hard to resist the temptation. Just recently she found a piece at a local antique shop she just had to have. It was a walnut cubby which had served as a mailbox in a Victorian hotel. She brought it back to her small kitchen and used it to store napkins, place mats, and table cloths. She really couldn’t afford it, but she used her credit card and took it home. Isn’t that what credit cards were for? This man, John Kelly, made her heart pound in the same way. How could she snag him?

She decided to take Suki for a walk to help her calm herself down, but just as she started looking for the dog’s leash, the phone rang. Could it be John Kelly calling her back this quickly? She let the phone ring a few times before answering in what she hoped was a seductive voice, “Hello! This is Lorraine.” 

It was not John Kelly. It was Florence Krug, a new client of hers at the realty company. Florence lived outside of Orlando and was looking for a vacation home in the area around Black Mt. Florence, like so many of Lorraine’s clients, was crazy. She was dreaming the impossible dream. She wanted a three bedroom, two bath home on one level on a south-facing lot with several acres of land and a gorgeous view. She didn’t want to have to drive up a steep driveway, didn’t want to be near trailers, didn’t want to be far from shopping, and didn’t want unpleasant neighbors. And she wanted to keep the cost below $200,000. Right. Florence had lots of time on her hands and was always looking on the internet for houses. Then she would call Lorraine and force her to show her houses all weekend long. Of course, she never saw anything she found perfect. But Lorraine would drive her around and spend the whole weekend and her own money on gas, and listen to Florence complaining about people “misrepresenting” their houses on line. Florence was coming up the following weekend and had found some “fabulous” houses she wanted to look at. Lorraine agreed to set up appointments, and hung up the phone.

Why was it that any time there was a new client to the firm who was completely crazy, Lorraine was assigned that client? Hal, a man who was also a realtor with the firm told her that “like attracts like.” Now what did he mean by that?

That phone call cancelled out the excitement Lorraine had felt when she first saw John Kelly’s picture. She now needed to take a walk to dissipate her bad mood. She made a kissy-noise and Suki came running from her perch on Lorraine’s bed. She clipped the leash on Suki’s collar and they headed out to Cherry Street.

Standing outside her shop, Mountain Spirit, was Kate. Lorraine really loved Kate because she was eternally cheerful. Kate had two dogs whom Suki adored, but Kate’s dogs were aging and no longer came with her to her store. Suki tried to pull Lorraine towards the entrance to Mountain Spirit, but Kate tried to explain to the dog that her babies were not inside. Kate was sweeping the sidewalk in Cherry Street Square, and stopped sweeping to give Lorraine the news that she was going to retire shortly after twelve years of business. Kate was hoping to spend her days digging in the dirt, growing vegetables instead of hanging around her store.

Lorraine told Kate she was going to miss seeing her on Cherry Street, but wished her happiness. As she and Suki walked up the street towards the Dripolator, Lorraine thought about Kate. Lorraine hated being a realtor and would love to quit her job, but she needed the money she earned there. Her mind started spinning. What was it that she loved doing that she could do if she didn’t have to work? So many things…