Tyler took a quick sip of his protein shake, then put it in the fridge in the break room. After he clipped his name tag to his uniform, he checked his holster. He’d never needed his gun on the job, not in the sleepy town of Magnolia Grove, but it never hurts to check and make sure everything was in place, just in case.
The early morning sun peeked through the glass at the front of the bank lobby, throwing little sparkling prisms against one of the customer sofas in front of the service office. Bank employees scurried around like worker ants in anticipation of the doors opening.
Tyler didn’t have to turn around to know who’d just spoken. That impish voice could only belong to Brianna.
She hurried behind the counter, spoke to the other teller, Julie, and put her name tag on. Tyler had been a security guard at the bank for almost three years and Brianna was the most enthusiastic bank teller he’d ever seen. Of course, that didn’t surprise him; she’d always been fun and outgoing. The other tellers were nice, but Brianna went out of her way to make people feel good about choosing to bank there.
Mr. Parks opened the doors at precisely nine o’clock. A few customers filed in and Tyler prepared himself for another monotonous day guarding the Magnolia Grove branch of the Bank of Kent.
Not that there weren’t occasional diversions. The Smith sisters came in at ten, and they were always a hoot. The old spinster sisters were both hard of hearing and spoke shrilly as if everyone else was hard of hearing, too.
He watched with amusement as Brianna tried to explain to them in a very exaggerated tone and big arm movements that the sisters had extra money in their account because quarterly interest had been paid the month before. Sadie Smith insisted the money wasn’t theirs, it was some kind of a trick, and Susie Smith bellowed if the young woman said it was theirs, then don’t ‘cha know, it was theirs.
Tyler didn’t think he’d have enough patience to deal with the Smith sisters, but Brianna took as much time as she needed to make them understand the money really was theirs, fair and square, and no one would ever take it away from them. She was one hundred percent focused on them and made sure they were happy with their transaction before they left.
Then at eleven-thirty, Ronnie Dobbs paced outside the front entrance, talking to, well, no one knew what imaginary character Ronnie talked to. Normally that would trigger some kind of suspicion at a bank, but the fifty-year-old was nothing but a big kid in a middle-aged body. He wouldn’t hurt a flea.
He came into the bank every couple of weeks to deposit the money he made from picking up cans off the side of the road. He’d never been able to hold a real job, but he took his can business very seriously. He picked up cans every morning, then went downtown after lunch and stood on the corner across from the courthouse and waved to everyone who drove or walked by.
Tyler eventually opened the door and a heavyset Ronnie lumbered into the lobby.
“I’ve got my can money,” Ronnie said as he clutched an envelope close to his chest. “I need to put it in the bank. You don’t blame me, do ya?”
“No, of course not.” Tyler gestured to the teller counter. “They’ll help you over there, Ronnie.”
Ronnie took two steps and then stopped. “Mama got me a new train. I like it better than the last train. You don’t blame me, do ya?”
“Of course not. No one could blame you for that.”
“I still like my other trains, but this one is bright red and shiny.”
“I’m sure it’s nice, Ronnie.” Tyler pointed again at the counter. “They’ll help you with your deposit right over there.”
Once again, Brianna channeled the patience of Job and helped Ronnie fill out his deposit slip. She didn’t seem to mind hearing about Ronnie’s newest train or how many people walked past the courthouse the previous day.
After the lunch crowd came and went, Tyler took his thirty-minute break. He’d just gotten his protein shake out of the fridge when Brianna tripped in the hall and stumbled into the break room.
He quickly reached out for her, and part of his shake splashed on the front of his uniform. “Brianna, are you okay?” he asked once he made sure she was steady on her feet. His palm tingled from touching her elbow and for some reason he didn’t want to let her go.
“I’m fine. Just need to remember to double lace these shoes.” She retied her shoe, then noticed the splatter on his uniform. “Oh, no. I’m so sorry about your uniform.” She tore off a paper towel and wet it at the sink. “If we get it now, it won’t stain.”
As she rubbed the spot on the front of his uniform he studied her face. When had she become so beautiful? She rocked that pixie cut, and her big brown eyes almost made her look like an anime character. And what was that incredible scent? Lavender? Must be her shampoo. It was nice.
“There. When it dries, it should be fine.” She tossed the paper towel in the trash.
“I’m going to the cafe for lunch. Can I bring you anything back?”
She asked him every time she went out for lunch, and he always said no. But she usually brought him a cookie or brownie back, anyway.
“No, thanks. I’ll just finish up my shake.”
“What is it with those shakes, anyway?” Brianna grabbed her purse out of her locker, then stared at him waiting for an answer.
Her deep brown eyes pierced right through him. “Um, well, I plan on going to the gym after work, and they give me energy.”
“I thought you were looking extra buff lately.” She reached up and felt his bicep. “Wow…uh, I mean, I’ll see you after lunch.” She hurried out.
Heat rose to his face. What was that about? Brianna was his best friend’s sister; he’d known her since she was a little kid. Still, the skin warmed under his shirt where she touched his arm…
Brianna rushed out of the bank a little short of breath. Why had she grabbed Tyler’s arm like that? She needed to walk faster to get her mind off how nicely he filled out his uniform these days.
A delicate whiff of honeysuckle hung in the air as she walked past the stone wall at the corner of the bank property. The cafe was on Main Street, just a couple of blocks from the bank, and even though it was hot as Hades that August, she’d been enjoying her lunch walks the past few weeks. It was fascinating to observe the dramatic day-to-day changes in the summer flowers and trees.
She turned left at the courthouse onto Main and stopped. Overnight the two rows of Crepe Myrtles that lined each side of the street had popped, and their fiery red blossoms blazed like flames in a roaring fire. Nature was putting on a dramatic show that year.
Brianna reminded herself as she approached Antiques and Cafe on Main that she was there to eat lunch, not buy furniture. She loved visiting the antiques’ side, but she’d have to settle for the cafe side of the building that afternoon. Her budget had just been blown for the foreseeable future and she promised herself when she began the renovations on her house she would pay for things as she went and not go into debt.
Douglas Brinks glanced up from his desk when the tinkling of the brass bell on the door announced Brianna’s entrance. “Oh, my dear Brianna!” he said, standing and clapping his hands together. “Are you antiquing today?”
Douglas and his partner, Seth, moved to Magnolia Grove a decade earlier from up north and opened up the eclectic shop Antiques and Cafe on Main. Brianna bought most of her furniture for the little mill house she was renovating from Douglas, and the two of them had become fast friends.
“No, Douglas, I’m eating today. I’ve been craving one of your BLTs.”
Douglas came from around his desk with a sour look on his tanned face. “I’m so sorry, dear, but all the lettuce from our supplier was recalled because of a salmonella scare in West Virginia. Seth is over at the Piggly Wiggly now to get some greens. Do you have time to wait?”
She glanced at her watch. “Not really. How about a grilled cheese with tomato on your fabulous sourdough?”
“Coming right up!” Douglas snatched up a purple apron with Julia Child’s face on the bib and the quote, “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”
Brianna tossed her purse onto a small bistro chair near the front window. The cafe was quaint, and there was just enough space for three tables. The cafe only opened for lunch, and most people placed to-go orders, so Brianna usually had the place to herself when she came midday.
While she waited for her sandwich, she glanced over the announcements on the community bulletin board. She’d seen the same old notices for weeks, but a new light orange flier caught her attention.
The neighboring city of Kent was holding a half marathon in October. Brianna ran cross-country in high school and kept running until she broke her foot the previous winter when she slipped on her front stoop during a freak ice storm.
She had wanted to get back into running but hadn’t found the motivation. This might be just the thing to get her back on her feet. Two months to train. That would give her enough time if she were serious and did the work.
“Hey, Douglas! Do you happen to have another flyer about the marathon?” she called to the kitchen.
Douglas poked his head around the corner. “I’ll bring it with your lunch, which is coming right up.”
Brianna ate her sandwich and watched as the world spun slowly on the other side of the building’s front picture window. She occasionally thought about leaving Magnolia Grove when she was younger, but that was before Chase joined the army. She decided she’d rather be close to her family in case anything happened to him overseas; he was a ranger now, and the stakes were much higher. She’d always looked up to her older brother and would be devastated if anything ever happened to him.
As she was finishing her last bite, she noticed an old blue Chevy truck drive down the street. When she saw the profile of the driver her blood turned cold as ice water. Lee Garvin, a customer at the bank. She hoped he didn’t have bank errands that afternoon.
“I’m ready to check out, Douglas,” she called when she finished her sandwich.
“Don’t forget about movie night on Thursday.” Douglas gave Brianna her change. “We’re showing the musical, An American in Paris. It’s a great date movie,” he said with a wink.
Douglas had ribbed her before about not having a boyfriend, but no one in the small town of Magnolia Grove had ever caught her attention. Well, no one, except for Tyler. She had a huge crush on him when she was in high school. But that was a long time ago. Besides, he was Chase’s best friend.
“I’ll try to make it.” Maybe Macy would want to go with her if she didn’t have chorus practice; her best friend, Macy, loved musicals. Brianna tossed the change in her hand. “Do you have any macadamia nut cookies left?” They were Tyler’s favorite.
“You’re in luck. Oh, and are you still looking for an armoire?” Douglas asked as he put a big cookie in a bag. “I’ve got a line on a beauty from Boston.”
She took the bag and gave him back the change. “I am, but I’ll have to save up a little money first. I had to have the electricity rewired in the house and that’s wiped me out for a while.”
“Well, let me know when you’re ready, dear. There are many other armoires in the sea,” he said with a quick flourish of his hand.
Brianna tossed her purse over her shoulder and headed back to the bank, stopping long enough to wave to an enthusiastic Ronnie across from the courthouse. She had gotten to know many of the town’s colorful characters during the year she’d worked at the bank, and most of them she found endearing. Her mind flashed to the blue truck. There were some characters, however, she could do without.