"You people with hearts," he said once, "have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart, and so I must be very careful."
—L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
HER GRANDMOTHER HAD always claimed the secret to living on Summer Island was owning a good sweater. "The kind that feels like an old friend when you put it on, warm and comfy. One that always feels a little like...coming home."
Meg Sloan had collected a few such sweaters over her fifteen years here and she wore one now—a thick cable-knit cardigan of cornflower blue. She wrapped it tight around her as she stood on the wide front porch of the Summerbrook Inn, looking out over Lake Michigan, watching as a fishing boat named the Emily Ann disappeared into the silvery morning fog like a ghost.
It was cold—but then, mornings here were almost always cold, the small island being situated off the northern tip of Michigan's mitten, near the spot where Lakes Michigan and Huron met. She told people she was used to the cold and didn't feel it anymore—but sometimes it snuck up on her, surprised her, and today the chill seeped right through the cable-knit and into her bones.
She watched the boat until no trace of it remained in sight, and even though it wasn't much farther away than it had been a moment before, the distance was palpable—and that seeped into her bones, as well. He was gone.
"It doesn't matter," she whispered to herself.
Of course, it did matter—when you have to talk yourself into something, obviously it matters. But she didn't want it to matter, and she knew that if you told yourself something enough times, it started to become true. "It doesn't matter."
It doesn't matter, even if you already thawed the steaks.
It doesn't matter, even if you need help with the shutters.
It doesn't matter, even if the bed feels colder now.
It always did on the first night Zack was gone, no matter how many blankets she added.
She took a deep breath, drawing the brisk morning air into her lungs, letting it wake her up a little more. A glance up Harbor Street revealed just how early it was—no one stirred, every business and home sitting quiet and still. A robin twittered somewhere behind the inn, reminding her spring had come and summer would soon follow. Life went on, with or without Zack, and as the island's name suggested, summer was everything here.
When a bit of movement drew her gaze to the flower shop up the street once run by her great-aunt Julia, she saw Suzanne Quinlan unlocking the front door. With her dark hair drawn up into a messy bun and wearing a thick sweater of her own, the current owner waved at Meg. "Someone's up and out early!" she called.
Regretting the reason for that, Meg forced a smile. I could have stayed in bed, should have stayed there. Watching him go didn't change anything—it was simply a compulsion, a silent goodbye. "I was thinking of making some pancakes," she called back impulsively. "You should come over—we'll have breakfast before you open."
Suzanne tilted her head, looking pleased by the suggestion. "Yum! Be down in five."
Meg was about to turn and head inside the inn—empty of patrons this early in the season—when she heard a familiar voice. "Is this pancake soiree a private party, or can anyone join?" She leaned forward past the wooden porch railing to see Dahlia Delaney pedaling her lavender bicycle up the street. The older woman owned a quaint lakeside café named after herself, which sat almost directly across the street from the flower shop—and she also happened to be Zack's aunt, the person who had introduced them five years ago.
Dahlia was a woman of her own, one who'd perfected the fine art of being both pragmatic and flamboyant at the same time, and Meg never minded spending time with her. "I think we can squeeze a third plate on the table," she informed Dahlia, this smile coming easier. A pleasant morning with friends would distract her from Zack's departure—at least for a little while. And as she walked in the door, her heart lifted at simply knowing her kitchen and sunroom would soon be filled with laughter.