Every woman has a fantasy about running into the man who broke her heart. In such a fantasy, she’d be walking down the street, her well-dressed and gorgeous husband (let’s say George Clooney, shall we, circa Ocean’s 11) caressing her, perhaps nuzzling her neck because he can’t help himself. She’d be wearing something fabulous, her hair would be glossy and perfect, she and Clooney would have just left the nicest restaurant in town, perhaps, or the poshest jewelry shop, because heinsisted on buying her yet another token of his love—and then oh, my goodness, who’s that? Why it’s him, the first man she ever loved, the one who didn’t just break her young and loyal heart, but shattered it. He’s not looking so good these days. No, the years have not been kind. He’s gray—or better yet, balding—and slackly overweight, his posture hunched. He looks at her, recognizing immediately that the biggest mistake of his life was dumping her. Pleasantries will be exchanged. Clooney will shake his hand, giving Adored Wife a wry look (Him? Really?), and as the happy couple walks away to their snazzy car, the heartbreaker of old is already forgotten. But he will gaze longingly after her, wondering how he ever could’ve been so blind.
That would’ve been nice. Much nicer, Posey Osterhagen acknowledged, than being dressed in the waitress uniform of Guten Tag, her parents’ restaurant— dirndl, ruffled skirt and vest embroidered with dwarves (yes, dwarves), not to mention the green tights and painted red clogs. Cheeks bulging with the potato dumpling she’d just crammed into her mouth, as she was at the near-fainting part of her flea-like metabolism. The back door opened and there he was, standing right in front of her.
Liam Declan Murphy, the first man she’d ever loved, and the only man who’d ever broken her heart.
No Clooney. No jewelry. Just an empty kitchen in an aging German restaurant with a fist-sized dumpling practically splitting her cheeks.
Posey’s mind blipped into the blue screen of death—all data, erased. Fatal error. Speaking was clearly not an option.
His eyes were still that unnerving shade of clear, glacier green. Black hair showed no signs of gray or thinning. Still tall—obviously, Posey, people don’t usually shrink in their thirties. Still radiating his bad-boyYou want me/I ignore you vibe. Oh…bieber. This was just not good. Chew, Posey, chew,her brain instructed. She obeyed with difficulty. It was a big dumpling.
Liam was dressed in jeans, t-shirt and leather jacket, pretty much the same thing he wore back in high school, if memory served. And memory seemed to be wicked clear where Liam Murphy was concerned. He’d come to Bellsford to live with an uncle after getting out of juvie (squee!…okay, okay, she’d been fifteen, it had seemed uber-hot back then) for car theft. Rode an old motorcycle (come on!) and, as legend had it, had turned quite a few girls into women (gack). But, to everyone’s surprise, he’d fallen for the squeakiest-clean girl in school, just like a plotline on “Beverly Hills 90210,” Posey’s favorite show back then. When Emma Tate had gone off to college in California, Liam had followed. Eventually, they’d gotten married. It had been in the paper, before Emma’s parents had moved to Maine.
And here he was.
“Liam!” cried her mother. Stacia Osterhagen, six-foot-two of Germanic engineering, tromped into the kitchen, rattling the stacked dishware. “Posey! Look who’s here! We forgot to tell you! Max! Liam’s here! Liam, sweetheart, why didn’t you come in the front?”
“Force of habit, I guess,” he said with a slight smile at her mother.
“Good to see you, son,” Max said heartily, shaking their visitor’s hand.
Liam Declan Murphy.
Holy Elvis Presley.
“You remember Liam, don’t you, honey?” Stacia said.
Cheeks still bulging, Posey nodded. Could she look any more ridiculous? Not that she was exactly gifted with girliness when it came to clothes—her work required sturdy stuff, so sure, there was a lot of flannel, a lot of Carhartt. But even that would be better than her uniform (same one from high school, still regrettably roomy in the bust, as Germans didn’t take small chests into account when designing clothes, apparently).
“Hey,” he said with the same disinterested tone she remembered with unfortunate clarity. “How are you, Cordelia?” His tone implied he really didn’t care. And Cordelia. That was another thing. He’d always called her by her real name, for some reason…a name Posey hated. Honestly—bad enough to have been stick-figure skinny in high school, but to bear the name Cordelia Wilhelmina Osterhagen (named for a half-blind great-aunt who’d died by falling into a well)…obviously, she’d had more than her fair share of mocking.
“I’m good,” she squeaked, finally swallowing the last of the dumpling. “Hi. How are you?”
“Good! Good. Um…how’s Emma?”
“She died,” he answered coolly.
Posey’s head jerked back in shock. “What? Are you kidding?”
He gave her a glacier look. “No.”
How had she missed this news? "But…when did this happen?”
“It’ll be three years in October.”
That explained something, at least. Two and a half years ago, in October, Posey had taken a rare vacation and spent a few weeks in North Carolina. And she had been a latecomer to Facebook, so if there’d been any chatter, she’d missed it. And she and Emma hadn’t exactly run with the same people.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her face burning
Emma Tate, dead? Crikey! She’d been a nice girl. A very nice girl and a very popular girl back in high school, when such things seemed mutually exclusive. “So what happened?” Posey asked. Then, aware that perhaps this was none of her business, she added, “I mean, you don’t have to tell me. It’s…I don’t have to know. It’s your…private, um…thing.”
“Leukemia,” Liam answered.
Posey flinched. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“A tragedy,” Max added. “Such a sweet girl.”
“He told us at Home Depot the other day,” Stacia said. “You know how the fan in the upstairs bathroom has been broken for years? Well, we thought it was time to finally fix it, since Gretchen’s coming home, and there we were and who did we see but this handsome boy! We were so sad to hear about Emma. So sad.”
Granted, not sad enough to tell Posey, despite the fact that Stacia called her every morning at 8:15. Then again, not passing on big news was a family tradition. Stacia had told Posey about Carol Antonelli’s gallbladder surgery in relentless detail, as well as how much they’d saved by driving forty miles to y coffee at Stop & Shop instead of Hannaford’s, sure. But bigger news—deaths, births, marriages, etc.—tended to fall through the cracks.
A sudden flash of memory caused a lump to come to Posey’s throat—Emma at Sweetie Sue’s Ice Cream Parlor, loading up a waffle cone with four scoops instead of three, a conspiratorial wink as she handed it over the counter.
“I’m really sorry,” she said more quietly.
“Thanks,” Liam said, still staring with that cold, disinterested gaze.
Posey looked away, torn between sympathy, guilt for not knowing about Emma, trepidation (Liam had done some damage, after all). And yes, lust. “You guys have a kid, right?” she asked. At least she remembered that.
“Nicole. She’s fifteen now.”
“Wow. Fifteen. That’s…wow. Fifteen.”
Liam didn’t answer, but his look was loaded with that same disdain Posey so well remembered.
Once upon a time, when he was channeling Bono, Liam had worked right here in Guten Tag, a miraculous and agonizing time for Posey. The fact that the Osterhagens had given Liam a job at a time when his reputation was questionable (and fascinating) hadn’t caused Liam to warm up to Posey, however. Nope. He always treated her with the same interest he might give a speck of dust.
At first, anyway.