to go to the back room to get more ice cream, but Deborah stuck around. She told herself she should probably be back at the Inn by four oâclock, but she knew she could stretch that a little if necessary. She liked watching Sage interact with customers. When the pound cake ran out, Sage closed down the tasting. Over the next fifteen minutes, the store slowly emptied. âThe treats are gone and so is my clientele,â he said as he cleaned up. âWell, nothing attracts like free food.â âI canât complain. I think this has been our busiest day yet.â He wiped down a counter with a damp cloth and then returned a display of gift baskets there. âIâm really glad you could come.â âMe too. Hey, I feel the same way about free food as everyone else. Definitely invite me to these things whenever you have them.â âYouâll be the first call on my list.â He looked directly into her eyes, looked down for a second, then looked back up at her. âWhat if I invited you somewhere else?â Deborah felt a little charge. âWhat did you have in mind?â âA drink sometime this week?â âI think Iâd like that.â He smiled. âWhen are you available?â âIt would have to be pretty late. Unless you want to go on Wednesday. The dining room is closed that night.â âWednesday would be great.â Deborah nodded. She didnât want to make too much out of this, but she was thrilled at the opportunity to get to know Sage better. She noticed the clock on the wall and that it was a quarter to five. âI definitely need to go. My staff is probably wondering what happened to me. Iâll see you Wednesday?â âAbsolutely. Iâll give you a call.â Deborah waved and then exited the store. Sheâd meant to buy a couple of the toppings before she left, but thought it would seem foolish if she went back in now. Maybe Iâll ask him to bring me some when I see him on Wednesday , she thought.
Monday, October 11 Twenty days before the party
Maxwell got up in the middle of the night because he had to go to the bathroom again. Decaffeinated coffee didnât keep him awake because of the caffeine; instead it kept him awake because he had to pee. Most people learned these things earlier in life. He flicked on the bathroom light, closing the door as quickly as he could. He didnât want to stir Annie, but at the same time, heâd learned from messy experience that he wasnât very good at doing this kind of thing in the dark. He stood for a second in the room to allow his eyes to adjust. As he looked down, the random pattern of the floor tiles seemed to readjust into a checkerboard. He blinked his eyes and shook his head, but the image held. His first thought was what the hell? Then another memory followed it almost immediately. It was of playing checkers with Tyler when Maxwell was twelve and the kid was just four. Some aunt who didnât know much about what boys played with at that age got Tyler a checkers set for Christmas. Tyler seemed befuddled by the thing, and one afternoon Maxwell saw him with the board out, stacking the checkers on top of one another with no sense of purpose. Maxwell decided to show him how to play the game, which took some doing. The concepts of moving only in diagonals and only in one direction were a little hard for someone Tylerâs age to retain. Tyler seemed to like doing this with him, though, and he regularly brought the board out when Maxwell got home from school, hoping for a game. Maxwell let Tyler win most of the time, foregoing obvious opportunities for multiple jumps and being kinged. Then one day, maybe seven or eight months after theyâd started playing, Maxwell realized Tyler was winning the game they were playing on his own. In fact, while Maxwell had barely been paying attention, his little brother had pulled off a triple jump. The