Who am I? Briar Sankey asked herself after she'd hugged her closest friends, kissed all their precious babies, and started back to work. What am I doing with my life? Or isn't this my life? This is the life my parents expected me to lead, to follow through on, but is it the life I actually want to be living?
Only recently had Briar started indulging in a long lunch with her girlfriends every Tuesday. Her lifetime best friend, Lona Rose-Childs, had insisted she start attending, and Briar didn't doubt the reason for her urging centered of the death of Briar's mother's barely two months ago. While Bea was alive, Briar would never have considered skipping work for anything. It wasn't the way her parents did things...therefore, it wasn't the way she should act on her own. Lona had pointed out that the family restaurant, Bea's Café, was running better than ever with Briar in charge and with the addition of several needed, reliable employees that her mother hadn't allowed her to hire on for so many years.
I never questioned anything my parents did or told me to do. This restaurant wasn't my business. Even now, I'm not sure it is. It was my parents' and I was required to run it the way they saw fit. My life has been no different. But now they're both gone and here I am, still following SOP--not my own. Honestly, I don't even know what "my own" is...in any aspect of my life. I don't know who I am or what I want.
As soon as the question filled her mind, Briar realized she did know. All she had to think about was the time she spent with her friends and her friends' children. Lona, Summer, Sheila and Melina were all married, ecstatically happy, with many children between them that gave their lives purpose and direction.
I'm forty-seven years old, and I've never had anything vaguely similar to that. Maybe I never will have any of it. Lona can jokingly call this my "spinster problem", but she has no idea how that damn list she's drawn up of all the single men in the area has occupied my thoughts since Mom died. I'm sole owner of a successful, lucrative business--one that makes a profit even during the dead months of winter when Amethyst becomes a ghost town and few people can survive on what little there is for work here, in what can only be considered strictly a resort town. Our population during the cold months dwindles from thousands to a few hundred. I can get by. My parents left me with a considerable inheritance and an ongoing legacy that I've turned into something even more financially viable. I don't want to leave any of that behind, but I want more. I want a husband. More than anything, I want a child of my own. But is any of that even possible anymore?
According the eligible bachelor list that Briar had dismissed every name on countless times, the prognosis wasn't good. As she parked behind Bea's Café, she couldn't help snorting at the irony of remembering she'd once been one of the most popular girls in town with her pick of any of the good guys and not just the leftovers who'd made Lona's list.
No, she wasn't likely to fall in love with anyone from Amethyst, and Lona's crazy suggestion of going on vacation and meeting the man of her dreams was beyond ludicrous. More than once, Briar had considered that she'd have to announce at first contact with her Vacation Prince Charming that she was looking for a husband, and what could scare a guy off faster?
Not much. Except that I'm forty-seven and I want a baby. The safest option is pregnancy now, ASAP, before my birthday coming up in October. Is this even a reasonable option?
Despite her age, Briar was healthy. She rarely came down with so much as sniffles. She'd never had a serious illness. There were no genetic issues to worry about. She didn't smoke, drank very little. She was in peak health, the optimal weight, and she exercised every single day. There wasn't a reason why she couldn't get pregnant, despite her age. She was healthier than most twenty-year-old women. She wanted a baby of her own, no question about that. No other option for her. Since she'd resigned herself to not falling in love within the next few weeks, she needed a sperm donor. Lona's list came to her mind. Briar had all but memorized it but had never considered the men on it in this light before. Were there any single guys on that list who would have desirable traits as a father to a child, her child?
Walking in the back door of the café, Briar greeted the line cook on duty, and the older woman said, "Harper came in early. She seemed upset. She's in your office."
Harper Marasek was sixteen, but she'd been working in the café as a waitress since she was fourteen, back then during summers. She now worked year-round but only part-time during the school year. Briar had found her to be an excellent employee and the customers had always loved her. She was never late and she had the personal responsibility of an extremely mature adult.
Since Harper's mother had died when she was very young, her father Roman (or "Bud" as everyone except Briar called him) had raised her alone, and he'd done an admirable job of it. As attractive as Harper was--the way her mother had been--it was no surprise she'd always had boys chasing her. For the last six months, she'd been dating Donnie Garner who was just a year older than her. Briar had been glad when she'd started dating someone closer to her age. Ever since Summer's ex-husband Clay Wooten had come through Amethyst with his sister about a year ago, Harper had done nothing but talk about him. She'd been infatuated at first sight, despite that he was old enough to be her father. While it was true that Clay had the kind of charm big city guys all seemed to have, he'd flirted with Harper as if he hadn't realized how young she was. Maybe he hadn't. Players like Clay rarely cared about age. A part of Briar had worried Harper wouldn't get over him easily, though he'd no doubt forgotten her long before he'd left Amethyst's borders. Clay and his sister hadn't been here long, but Harper talked about him on a daily basis for months afterward. Briar had wondered often whether she should tell Roman about the crush. In the end, she hadn't because he would only become tormented. Fortunately, Donnie had entered the picture and become the center of Harper's world.
In maturity, few could compete with Harper, luckily, but Roman fretted about her a lot. She looked much older than sixteen and she was remarkably beautiful. Often, Roman asked Briar if he should talk to his daughter about her fashion style--was it too sexy? Should he ask her to tone it down? What was normal for a girl this age? Should he let her stay out until midnight on dates? Was it wrong of him to insist she let him know where she was at all times? Was she too young to be working so hard, between her job and school? She excelled in both.
Briar had reassured him that Harper was a model teenager, her personal style fashionable but tempered, and she wasn't rebellious in the same way other teenagers usually were. He didn't need to stress so much. He could trust his own instincts and those he'd lovingly instilled in his daughter.
As soon as Briar entered her office, Harper came to her with tears making her eyes red and hugged her.
"What happened, honey?" Briar asked. She knew all about Harper's boyfriend woes, the many breakups and makeups with Donnie. The emotional love affair had all but taken over Harper's life in the last six months.
"We had a fight. He gets so jealous. I don't know what he wants me to do. I didn't do anything to encourage Mark's interest. And I wasn't flirting."
"Of course you weren't. You didn't do anything wrong."
"We were just talking."
"Donnie is insecure. It has nothing to do with anything you've done or not done," Briar reminded her patiently. "This is something he has to deal with on his own."
"I love him. I want him to know that I love him alone. Why can't he believe that?"
Harper nodded. "You're right. You're always right."
Briar pushed the thick curtain of chestnut hair back from the right side of the teenager's face. Her dramatic copper eyes were scoured, her mascara running slightly. "Do you want to keep this relationship going, Harper? It's up to you. How much more can you take? He doesn't seem capable of change in this regard."
"I love him," Harper said again, and it'd been her answer almost since the beginning of the tumultuous relationship.
"Then just keep doing what you're doing. There's nothing else to be done."
Harper nodded. "Okay. Thanks. I'll call him after I fix my makeup. I'll hurry. I don't want to be late for my shift."
"You can be a few minutes late," Briar assured her, smiling.
Though Harper thanked her again, Briar knew she wouldn't consider starting her shift even a minute late. After the teenager went to the restroom to fix herself up and make her call, Briar opened the bottom drawer of her desk and put her purse inside. As she considered her words to Harper, she realized--almost as if everything today was about her having a baby--she was good at this. She was good with children whether they were newborns, toddlers or teenagers. She could handle any age. I'd be a good mother. And, not having a child of my own, raising him or her through every stage of development, would be my greatest regret. I can't let this slip away from me. I have time. Maybe not a lot, but I can do this.
Briar got up and put on a clean apron before going out to the dining room. Although Harper's father usually didn't come in until dinnertime, Roman was already there, his face covered with his distress for his daughter. Briar picked up a full coffee carafe and went to him at the counter.
"How is she?" he asked. "She and that kid had a fight at the house. He left and she...she wouldn't talk to me." He sighed, shaking his black-knit-cap-covered head. "Why would she talk to me? I'm her father. She needs a mother. I don't know how to be what she needs."
"She's fine," Briar assured him, topping off his coffee. "She just needed a little reassurance."
"Really?" Roman managed, looking at her with his narrow, silver-gray eyes filled with so much trust and willingness to believe her, Briar couldn't help setting down the carafe and covering his hand with hers.
"Someday you'll get used to this, Roman," she assured him, smiling. "Teenage girls are emotional creatures."
He nodding, expelling a cross between a sigh of relief and a chuckle of embarrassment at possibly overreacting. "She's really okay?"
He nodded, picking up his cup. "Good." He sipped, then his relieved gaze found hers again. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Briar. Thank you."
I'm good at this. This part of life. Being a friend, being a mother, being a shoulder to lean on. I'm good at my job, too. But it's not enough. Not anymore. It's time for a change and there's no one left to tell me I can't, that it's wrong, that there is only right way--not my way. This is my life, and I don't want a single other regret from this point forward.