Someone was watching me.
I stood still in my vast sunny backyard. My hand tightened
on the rake and my heartbeat raced. Quickly I looked around.
No one was there. I was alone, except for the ultra-realistic
satyr statue next door, surely the most decadent piece of
art ever crafted.
Horns poking up through marble white curls, gaze frozen in
a perpetual leer, he stood in the center of my neighbor’s
fountain, trapped in a circle of falling water. His eyes burned
in the morning sunshine, and he held his left hand out in
an unmistakable invitation. If it weren’t for his goat
legs and long tail, he would have been quite handsome.
It—not he, I corrected myself. It’s a stone carving
of a satyr, more suitable for a Roman villa than a backyard
in Maple Creek, Michigan. Sensuous and wicked, but only a
pricey lawn decoration that contrasted sharply with the wood-cut
daffodils and bunnies in front.
Why would a sedate piano teacher like Libby Dorset keep such
a monstrosity on her property?
Still, the fountain was a fixture on Beechnut Street, as
old as the elegant white Victorian that towered over my modest
ranch-style house, and, although it couldn’t be seen
from the sidewalk, passersby knew it was there because of
the constant splash of water.
I looked away and tried to concentrate on raking last fall’s
dried leaves out of the tulip bed. The warmth and high humidity
had dampened my enthusiasm for spring clean-up, and I felt
uncomfortable with the statue so near.
He was disconcerting, a little disturbing, almost disgusting.
Don’t be silly, I thought. It’s a slightly risqué
hunk of stone. Nothing more.
My unease was an ongoing state with clear causes that had
nothing to do with the satyr fountain. Not making the cut
on the Texas Starfall Project. Starting over at the age of
twenty-nine in my hometown. The endless porch renovation I’d
set into motion. Too many changes; too little diversion.
In truth, I didn’t feel settled in my new house yet.
Maybe that would never happen.
You can’t go home again. Why did you think you could?
Having no answer, I guided the garden debris carefully into
a lawn bag. Neatening my slice of the environment was something
I could do.
A screen door squeaked open, and the fountain’s owner,
Libby Dorset, glided down the steps of her wraparound porch.
Dressed for an afternoon piano recital in a bright floral
print, she carried an enormous basket filled with spring flowers.
“How pretty,” I said.
“Good morning, Cressa.” Libby set the arrangement
down on a long table set up under the yard’s lone maple
tree. “They came from the Farmers Market. Everything
has to be perfect today. My students worked so hard. They
deserve the best.”
Her face was flushed, her voice and hands fluttery; and a
few blonde strands had wandered away from her neat chignon.
“I ordered individual strawberry tortes from the Swiss
Bakery. We’d love to have you join us for refreshments.”
“I’d like that,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Around three-thirty then? I’m wrapping up the
program with one of my own compositions.”
“The piece you were practicing this morning?”
“Yes, Fountain Music.” Libby pulled the yard’s
other fixture, a white wicker rocker, over to the table to
join a collection of mismatched lawn chairs. “Now if
the storm holds off . . .”
She glanced at the sky, a spring-blue expanse with clouds
floating above the treetops and not a sign of rain.
“It should stay dry until tonight,” I said.
Two slender girls with streaming yellow hair burst through
the screen door, trailing bunches of multi-colored balloons.
They’d traded their traditional denim for long sheer
dresses and chandelier earrings that sparkled in the sunlight.
They were Libby’s oldest students, Aleta and Linda,
soon to be high school graduates.
“Where do you want these, Miss Dorset?” Linda
“Around the table. Then in the maple if you can reach
that low branch.”
“I’ll give one to the satyr.” Aleta stood
on the fountain’s narrow edge and tied a purple balloon
to the statue’s beckoning hand. I noticed that his fingers
were long and curving. Like talons.
“Be careful,” Libby said.
“Oh, Miss Dorset. You worry too much.”
Libby fussed with the flower basket while the girls decorated
the table and tree. The statue cast a long, odd-shaped shadow
on the grass, but nobody seemed to notice it. The sound of
splashing water blended easily with light chatter and laughter.
The festive air was contagious, and soon the day would be
filled with music.
Since the weather had turned warm, Libby left her windows
open. If I was working outside, I could hear the scales and
sonatas and sweet airs that evoked the graciousness of a bygone
age. Libby, who practically lived at her piano, had a special
fondness for the songs of Stephen Foster. She often played
them in the evening, after her last student had gone home.
In many ways, I was fortunate in my choice of neighborhood,
even though I’d imagined myself renting a cottage on
Marble Lake for the summer. Instead, I was of renovating the
smallest house on a street known as Victorian Row. For the
rest of my life?
I sent that thought away. Nothing in my life was certain
anymore. Nothing was forever. Like the seasons, the best laid
plans had a way of changing. The secret to survival was to
change with them. I suspected that I was suffering from a
delayed case of buyer’s remorse.
Or perhaps envy. I’d like to have been able to purchase
a grand old mansion with gables, gingerbread trim, and a charming
storybook turret. The house I could afford was a plain white
frame with green shutters and three porches, one in front
and two in back. It looked as if it had been set down on its
lot long after the block was complete, but it had a bountiful
spring garden and a magnificent weeping cherry. Its blossom-laden
branches swept down to the ground like a pink waterfall, brushing
the tops of the purple violets that bloomed in the grass.
I leaned the rake against the tree and gazed at the soft
mix of color that surrounded me. After a chilly, rainy April,
nature was working overtime. The flowers appeared to be growing
even as I watched them. They were familiar plants in happy
Easter colors: showy hyacinths and several varieties of golden
daffodils, all planted by the house’s previous owner.
Now to enjoy the fruits of my labors.
I picked up the shears and cut a large bouquet of tulips
for myself. Red and deep pink, purple with fringed petals,
orange, and bright yellow, their colors formed a rainbow in
my hands. They matched the balloons and the splashy florals
in Libby Dorset’s dress.
Fresh flowers always made a house more cheerful. Feeling
almost happy, I climbed the wooden steps to the porch and
* * * *
Later that afternoon, I changed into beige pants and an ivory
blouse, clasped my star pendant around my neck, and joined
the small group of piano students and guests who had gathered
in Libby’s backyard to celebrate a successful recital.
While the strawberry tortes rested on paper plates, the tablecloth
was linen and the punch bowl was made of antique cranberry
glass. Libby’s refreshment table was as elegant as her
Throughout the day the temperature had climbed steadily,
but a light breeze and deep shade transformed the yard into
a cool oasis. No one ventured near the fountain. Still, nobody
could escape the statue. It was at least six feet tall, and
its shadow seemed taller. The purple balloon moved frantically
in the falling water as if trying to free itself from the
I didn’t see Libby, but several people had remained
in the house where it was undoubtedly cooler still. In a far
corner of the yard, some distance from the statue, the children
clustered around a smaller table of their own. Like bright
little birds, they chattered about the recital and decorated
their ice cream with chocolate syrup, crushed nuts, and maraschino
Helping myself to a torte and punch, I found a vacant lawn
chair and settled back to listen to the soothing splash of
water. Snatches of conversation swirled around me. The women
nearest to me were talking about the fountain in subdued tones.
One quiet exchange caught my attention:
“They say that as long as the water runs, the satyr
will protect the family.”
“Who are they?”
“It’s something I heard a long time ago. Call
it a neighborhood legend.”
“What happens in the winter?”
“It keeps going. There’s a heater inside.”
“That fountain must cost a fortune in energy bills.”
“Consider it a propitiatory offering. Anyway, Libby
Dorset has plenty of money. She only buys the best.”
As I sampled the torte, I had to agree. The strawberries
in the batter were fresh, and real whipped cream topped the
little squares. I finished the last bite and glanced at the
table. Libby had set out at least four dozen servings for
a handful of people. Should I take another one? They were
smaller than cupcakes. Miniatures, actually. If they stayed
out too long in the sun, they would spoil.
Apparently someone else had the same idea. A woman emerged
from the overgrown area between the houses and made her way
up to the refreshment table. Her gaudy patchwork skirt and
the blue bandana tied in her hair suggested that she wasn’t
one of the guests.
But she must be. How else would she know about the recital?
As I watched, she grabbed six tortes, squishing them together
on a single paper plate. She trailed her finger through whipped
cream and licked it clean. Then, with a furtive glance behind
her, she slipped into the brush and thin woods that arced
around the house behind Libby’s Victorian. In her wake,
twigs snapped and leaves rustled.
No one had taken any notice of her. Or so I thought.
“Who was that person?” The voice was loud, the
tone angry. A hush fell over the yard. “Does anybody
The woman fixed me with a belligerent glare, obviously waiting
for an answer.
“I’ve never seen her before,” I said.
My mind registered stray details. The angry woman might have
stepped out of the seventies with a stiff, sculptured hairdo
in a glossy brown shade. Her dress had a high waist and short,
Her companion, who was plump, fair-haired and pretty, had
squeezed her ample form into a hot pink sundress and applied
matching lipstick with a heavy hand. She waved a fan lazily
back and forth. “I didn’t see her inside,”
“She’s not one of us then.” The angry woman’s
gaze fixed on me.
“Libby Dorset invited me,” I said quickly. “I
live next door.”
Her frown rearranged itself into a hint of a smile. “In
that little white house? You must be the girl from Texas.
I noticed your license plate.” In a minute she would
add, “You’re not one of us then.”
“I was raised in Maple Creek,” I said. “My
name is Cressa Hannett.”
The smile broadened but didn’t offer any warmth. “Pleased
to meet you. I’m Gwendolyn White. Welcome to the neighborhood,
The other woman said, “I’m Patti Graham. Gwendolyn
and I live right across the street.”
“Not together,” Gwendolyn said quickly.
Patti giggled. “Good heavens, no. We’d never
make it as roommates. Tell me, Cressa, why do you have a Texas
license plate on your car?”
“Well . . . I’ve been working on the Gulf Coast,”
“What do you do?” Patti asked.
I hesitated, uncertain of what else to say. Naturally new
acquaintances would be curious about my Texas years, and I
couldn’t give them any details. I’d better order
a Michigan plate as soon as possible and be vague about my
“I had a government job, but I can’t talk about
it,” I said.
Gwendolyn’s eyes lit up. “Top Secret! How fascinating!
Do you mean you were a spy?”
“Nothing so glamorous. I worked in an office.”
“Oh. As a secretary?”
“Gwendolyn, she can’t talk about it,” Patti
I shifted in the chair, uncomfortable with the direction
of the conversation. I could excuse myself, wander up to the
table for a second torte, and find another place to sit. Or
I could start an interrogation of my own. Which did I want
“I see you ladies have met.” Libby appeared with
an enormous bakery box. “I’ve brought reinforcements.
There’s a fresh pot of coffee inside and hot tea. Anyone?”
“Lord, no,” Patti said. “I’m burning
up. It’s too warm for May.”
“Well that’s a Michigan spring. Forty degrees
one day, a heat wave the next. How about you girls? Gwendolyn?
“The punch is fine,” I said. “It’s
delicious, and I enjoyed the music. You have a talented bunch
Libby nodded. “We put together a good program, and
all the kids did their best.”
“My Aleta was amazing,” Patti said. “She
puts so much sparkle into her performances.”
“She certainly does. Aleta can have a career as a concert
pianist, if she wishes.”
“Did you see that woman with the scarf over her head,
Libby?” Gwendolyn asked.
“She looked like she was dressed up for a costume party,”
Patti added. “Like a gypsy.”
Libby frowned and surveyed the gathering. “I didn’t
notice her. Why?”
“She just stole a bunch of your cakes and took off
in the woods.”
“That’s strange.” Libby looked around again,
just as another twig snapped. This time the sound was farther
away. “I know everyone here.”
“Like I said, she’s gone.”
“I won’t worry about it. I have more than enough
“We could follow her.” Gwendolyn started to rise.
“Bring her back. Call the police.”
“No, let her go.” Libby walked over to the table
and began to bring the new tortes out of the box. “If
she’s hungry, I guess she’s welcome to what I
That was what she said, but a slight tremor in her voice
didn’t match the words. Quietly, she threw the empty
plates in the trash can and glanced once again toward the
They were shadowy and secretive, the way woods should be,
with trees growing too close together, saplings vying for
light and space, and weeds taller than I was. They provided
a haven for birds and squirrels and no doubt other wild creatures.
I’d never seen anyone walking in them before, or even
considered the possibility of an intruder on this quiet street.
“That’s somebody’s property, isn’t
it?” I asked.
“It belongs to the old Maywood house over on Poplar,”
Gwendolyn said. “The owner wants to keep the acre in
its natural state. It’s the largest undeveloped tract
of land in Maple Creek.”
“I always meant to have a privacy fence put up,”
Libby said. “It’s something I never got around
“Oh you should, Libby,” Gwendolyn said. “It’s
so much safer when people can’t see into your backyard.”
“I’ve always felt safe here.”
“Times are changing, even in a little town like Maple
Creek. A strange woman just crashed your party. Little kids
come to your house all the time. Someone could swoop down
and carry off one of them off into the woods.”
“Gwendolyn, you’re spouting gloom and doom today,”
“I like to think of myself as forewarned. Give that
cute Lieutenant Gray a call, Libby. Have him check out the
gypsy woman.” She turned to me. “If you’re
in the market for a man, Cressa, you should meet him,”
she added. “He’s Maple Creek’s finest.”
* * * *
Later still, in the last hours of daylight, I heard a familiar
melody coming from the street. I couldn’t quite identify
it, but the merry notes conjured happy memories from the past.
A song from my school days? Square dance music?
Then I had it. Oh, there never was a fiddler like old Zip
Coon, he can play all night on the same old tune . . . Or
something like that. The Good Humor man’s theme. The
music was near and coming closer every minute, growing louder
with each repetition.
I thought ice cream trucks had vanished from Michigan’s
towns, along with soda fountains and street cars, but here
was a tiny bit of Americana alive and well in Maple Creek.
It had been a lifetime since I’d answered its siren
call. Why not do it today to celebrate the first warm day
of the year?
As the music ended in mid-refrain, I slipped a few coins
and a house key into my pocket and hurried outside to the
gleaming white truck parked at the corner of Beechnut and
Eversleigh. The giant ice cream cones painted on its side
were as bright as beacons. If the music didn’t draw
a crowd, the pictures would.
A gaggle of noisy children had converged on the driver, a
person in a clown costume and bright Raggedy Ann wig. A little
apart from them stood a tall blond man in jeans and a plaid
shirt. He was stocky and muscular with handsome features.
His warm, lazy smile made me feel as if we’d already
met in some distant place, perhaps under a hot Texas sun,
but, of course, I’d never seen him before.
As the man stepped to one side to make room for me on the
sidewalk, I noticed that he walked with a limp and that his
eyes were attractive, a blend of green and blue with light
flecks that matched the streaks in his brown hair. “Ginger
is the most popular girl in town today,” he said.
“Who’s Ginger?” I asked.
“The clown. My neighbor’s daughter.”
“Oh . . .” I looked again. The Good Humor person
had pale hands with four rings on her fingers and long red
nails. She handed a cone to a towheaded boy and turned to
a little girl waiting patiently beside her tricycle. “What’ll
you have, honey?”
“Chocolate, please. Double dip.”
“That’s my favorite flavor,” the man said.
“Ice cream is a surefire way to beat the heat.”
Yes, the heat. It was warmer now than it had been only a
few hours ago. Away from the shelter of the maple trees that
lined the street, the sun beat down on my head, and my rayon
blouse felt as heavy as wool.
“Mine is rocky road,” I said. “How long
has it been since you patronized an ice cream truck?”
“A long, long time.” He laughed, and his eyes
seemed to grow lighter. “One day last August.”
“Just a minute, young man.” Ginger held a fudgsicle
in mid-air, well out of the grasp of a sandy-haired little
boy. “You don’t have enough pennies. You need
five times that many.”
“How ’bout if I give you the rest tomorrow?”
the boy asked.
“It doesn’t work that way.” She turned
to the man. “What’ll you have, Mr. Emmerton?”
“One chocolate cone, and here . . .” He reached
into his pocket and, bringing out a crisp dollar bill, nodded
toward the boy. “This should cover it, Miss Ginger.”
Matt patted the boy’s shoulder roughly.
“Thanks loads, Mr. Emmerton.”
“Okay, then.” She took the money, relinquished
the fudgsicle, and handed the man—Mr. Emmerton—his
cone. He gave her a special smile.
“Eat it up before it melts,” he said to the boy
who scampered away with another mumbled thanks, holding his
treat tightly in his grasp as if afraid that someone would
snatch it away.
“That was a nice thing to do,” I said.
“It’s called sharing the wealth.”
Ginger turned to me. “For you, Miss?”
“I’ll have an ice cream cone,” I said.
A few seconds later, it was in my hand. I bit into a nut
that lay on top of my scoop. “This is absolute perfection.”
“So is mine. Stay cool,” Mr. Emmerton said and
limped away, heading west toward Main Street.
The children had already run off in different directions.
Ginger cranked on the fiddler song again and moved the truck
slowly down the Eversleigh, where she made a right turn. As
the merry notes faded, I began the short walk home, feeling
unaccountably happy as I savored each marshmallow bit and
This cone was even better than the Libby Dorset’s strawberry
tortes. And why had I never taken the time for a leisurely
stroll in my new neighborhood? I really needed to slow down.
Overhead, the leaves moved languidly in a gentle breeze,
and blossoming trees scented the air. I breathed deeply and
felt instantly lighter, practically rejuvenated. Oh, to be
in Michigan now that May’s here! I was home, and this
street where I lived was spectacular.
The houses were vintage Victorians set on wide, shady lots.
Each one was slightly different from its neighbors in color,
style, or degree of gingerbread trim, but all had spacious
front porches and graceful gables reaching up to the sky.
Atmosphere and nostalgia hung in the air with the fragrance
Although I walked on a paved sidewalk past twenty-first century
vehicles parked in the street, I felt as if I were traveling
backwards through the years. Each step seemed to bring me
closer to a distant era when life was easier. For the first
time in days, I felt calm and optimistic about my choices.
In spite of the dozen concerns that chipped away at my sense
of well-being, I had to admit that my world was stable, reasonably
satisfactory, and, at the moment, blessed with the magic of
this wondrous season of rebirth. I had new people to meet,
a host of career opportunities, and a future in a town to
which I had strong ties.
Everything was going to be all right.
Then, like a dark shadow, an image of the woman in the patchwork
skirt slipped into my mind. The gypsy, scooping up six strawberry
tortes and disappearing into the darkness of the woods. She
was someone whom Libby didn’t know and Gwendolyn White
wanted to report to the police, a person who might pose a
danger to me.
The Maywood acre adjoined my property as well as Libby’s
and every other house on Beechnut Street. Perhaps I should
think about installing a high fence to keep unwelcome visitors
A splash of falling water broke through my thoughts. Soft,
insistent, soothing—but not entirely so. Always there.
Without realizing it, I had begun to walk faster. Three more
houses, and I would be home.