I remember her voice… soft, eager. Mom was always as steady as Gibralter, but occasionally, I knew something really meant a lot to her because her voice would get that special quality to it.
“We’ll just put these flowers in this like this…” She tucked white alyssum in the little plastic basket with its paper doily glued over one edge. “And you add the pansies.”
I suspect I looked a little solemn as I tucked in three pansy blossoms among the white. Regardless, I sure felt solemn. And there. It was done. Ready.
Mom led me down the walk to the corner of the yard. “Okay, now you hang it on the doorknob, so open that screen really quietly, or she’ll hear and catch you!”
“Then when you have it hanging, ring the bell and run!”
And so I did. I tiptoed my way up the walk, certain there was no way our elderly neighbor could catch me. I’d beaten my brother in a knee race finally–him on his knees, me on my feet. Surely, I could beat an old lady down the steps, across our yards, and into my house!
But the moment my finger went for the little white button to push the bell, the door flew open and that rickety old lady moved with speed I didn’t know she possessed.
Covered in kisses and with many thanks, she sent me back down the walk, chagrined. Mom stood at the corner, laughing.
Now, I’m not saying Mom called to tell her we were coming while I waited on the porch with that little green strawberry basket hanging from my fingertips, but I’m just sayin’…
May Day was one of my kids’ favorite days of the year, too.
I suspect partly because they got to eat a ton of strawberries to make those little baskets. Over the years, I got smart and bought potted flowers in those plastic trays of six. Cut them apart, staple ribbons on them, and bam! Instant May Basket!
But there’s nothing so nostalgic and beautiful as a traditional paper cone May basket, so this year, that’s what Lorna and I will be doing. She’s the only one left at home for May Day fun now. Everyone else is working or gone. Maybe Ethan will join us and pass a few out to some of the moms he spends a lot of time with. We’ll see.
If you want to bless someone in your life this year, but maybe Mother’s Day or Father’s Day isn’t the right one, how about a simple May Basket? For easy ideas, I found these Pinterest links to get you going!
- Tin Can Baskets
- A Paper Cup Basket
- A Printable Cone Basket
- A Jiffy Pot Basket
- A Traditional “Tussie Mussie” style as depicted below.
I may have to try this one for #1Daughter. After all, she’s a fiend for Mason Jars!
Meanwhile… as promised…
Note: Links may be affiliate links that provide me with a small commission at no extra expense to you.
“Bringing in the May”~ a FREE May Day Short Story
Seated in the cozy living room with its overstuffed sofas and chairs, hand-crocheted doilies on every surface, bowls and vases of blooms from the garden atop those doilies, and books tucked into every nook and cranny available, Elton Sadler crossed a bony ankle over an equally knobby knee and leaned back, his head slung in interlaced hands behind his head. Listening.
If the room didn’t have the hazy glow of nostalgia, the charming accoutrements of yesteryear, and the air of prim propriety, Elton only needed to close his eyes and listen to the gentle undulation of a woman who not only sounded like the very embodiment of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple but looked it as well.
“—went to public school, of course. Thanks to a wealthy aunt who no one in the family liked.” Mary Margaret Montmorency—one never said one of her names without the other two—gave him an indulgent smile. “Now, in England, you understand, public schools are those schools which you Yanks would call private schools.”
“I remember my father explaining once. Private schools are also technically ‘private’ by our standards, right?”
“Just so.” Mary Margaret Montmorency took a sip of tea and gave him an impish smile before adding, “We English would call your public schools a state school.”
“And this aunt of yours. She paid for your school? A boarding school?”
That faraway look that sometimes overcame her appeared. Mary Margaret Montmorency smiled after a minute of reflection. “Yes. Weeton Abbey. Such a wonderful place… such memories.” Again, she hesitated, lost in days long past, before she continued. “Oh, we had such times. It was near the village of Weeton… in Lancashire. Of course, Aunt Mary sent me there thinking it was a strict school that would keep me properly regulated, but we had a lovely headmistress who provided as much of a homelike an existence as one can in an institutional setting.”
“Homelike and institutional don’t sound like they belong in the same compliment,” Elton sputtered between snickers. “Are you sure you’ve not put on your rosy spectacles?”
The prim lips pursed into a gentle but obvious look of disapproval. “I recall with perfect clarity, young man.”
“Of course,” he hastened to add. Elton shifted, leaning forward and resting his forearms on the knobs he called knees, hands clasped before him now. “How did she do that?”
“We had our own gardens, you see—little plots where we grew vegetables and flowers. Just like we might at home.” As if it explained everything, the woman who had herself made his own childhood a series of special delights told about her headmistress.
“Mrs. Somercliffe married a German refugee after the war, you know. She wasn’t married long, however. The terrible things that had happened to him made him sickly. He died by 1950. But during her married years, as she hoped for a family of her own, she studied everything she could on educating children.”
To Elton, the aside meant nothing. What did it have to do with the kinds of things the woman had done to make little Mary Margaret Montmorency feel like her school was a home away from home when libraries were stuffed with stories of horrid schools full of cruel teachers? He didn’t ask again, however. No one in his right mind would.
“The triple-M,” as he sometimes thought of her, would answer in her own good time.
“She’d discovered Charlotte Mason’s work just a couple of years before Mr. Somercliffe died, and had made it a passion of hers. So, she went into education, spent years becoming highly sought after, and eventually became headmistress—where she could finally have leeway to attempt her own ideas.”
He didn’t care about nature walks and gardens, about libraries full of wonderful books and someone always in one of the common rooms, reading aloud to a group of girls of all ages. Elton wanted to know about how she made the place like home. But one couldn’t argue that the triple-M thought she was telling that story.
“And the parties! Oh, how she loved her celebrations. A birthday, a remembrance, Christmas, St. George’s Day, Bonfire Night…” A twinkle in her eye made Elton lean forward just a bit more. “And, even lesser holidays… like the one for tomorrow.”
All it took was a hand sliding into his pocket and a glance at his phone to take him from uncertain to confused. “What’s May first?”
“We called it ‘Bringing in the May’ back then. We’d have a lovely Maypole with ribbons and Queen of the May…” Mary Margaret Montmorency’s voice grew soft and a soft pink dusted her cheeks. “They crowned me Queen of the May the year I was twelve. Oh, I was so proud to wear my white dress and yellow sash with a wreath of daisies in my hair.”
As picturesque as it sounded, Elton didn’t see the fun in skipping around a great pole and wrapping ribbons around it. “Seems a little Greenaway-like to me.”
“I suppose,” she agreed, “that is much how it might seem to a modern observer. As children, it was terribly exciting. We worked for weeks making the pole, learning the dances, choosing who would be queen, making out May baskets—”
Here, Elton perked up. “And what is a May basket?”
The triple-M didn’t answer. She stood, replaced their tea things on the tray and carried it to the kitchen. But, as he expected, a moment later she returned and pulled a rather large, black, bulky photograph album from the shelf. “Let’s see… it’s in here somewhere…”
Seated beside him, her little cardigan pulled close around her shoulders, the woman seemed a lot more frail than he’d remembered from his last visit. “Visit her often, Elton. She’s my dearest friend,” his mother had said just before she died. “…and when I’m gone, she’ll be completely alone but for you.”
He’d kept his word that he would—for a time. But the last quarter of high school had been busy. Summer had gone well, but going off to college—university, she called it. That had made visiting harder. And the less frequent his visits, the easier it became to forget her.
But since he’d moved home to Hillsdale, Elton had made it his goal. Once a “fortnight.” At the very least. For Mom and for her sake, too, he’d promised himself. He’d kept that promise, too.
For three years now.
“Oh, here it is.” She pointed to a rather plain girl wearing an enormous wreath of daisies and with the most awkward, self-conscious smile he’d ever seen. She giggled—positively giggled. “I know how dreadful I look, Elton. I was always so stiff in front of a camera until Bertie Weeton told me, ‘Don’t look at the lens, Mary Margaret. Look at the person behind the lens and try to make him comfortable.’” A sigh escaped. “It worked, too.”
Elton couldn’t let that go. She’d begun to turn the page, but he stopped her. “Wait. He called you Mary Margaret—just Mary Margaret. No Montmorency?”
“I was Mary Margaret St. John back then—before I married Gerald Montmorency.”
He nearly snickered at her oh, so British pronunciation of “Sin-jin” for St. John. “But they still called you Mary Margaret? Not just Mary? Molly? Peg?”
“Certainly not!” After he drew back, unable to hide his surprise at the outburst, the triple-M softened her tone. “I apologize, Elton. You see, I was named for Aunt Mary—so she would provide my education, of course—and for my mother. I couldn’t go by just Margaret or Maggie without raising Aunt Mary’s ire. I refused to be called just Mary like her. By consequence, I became Mary Margaret, and so I am to this day.”
Her finger traced the edges of the photograph of her as “Queen of the May” while he considered her story. It wasn’t part of that day’s tale, but Elton couldn’t help but ask. “And when did you become only Mary Margaret Montmorency? I’ve never heard you spoken of as anything else!”
“The day I married Gerald, of course.
He introduced me to everyone in those first weeks after we moved to Surrey. ‘And this is my wife,’ he’d say. ‘Mary Margaret Montmorency.’ It just became how people addressed me—at first, by way of teasing, you understand. But after a time, it was just my name.”
He had so many questions… so many. Why had her aunt been so despised? And had her parents really named her after that despised aunt just to ensure the girl’s education would be funded? It seemed impossible. And what had brought her and Gerald to America? But those could wait for another day. She had another story to finish.
“You could call me just Mary, I suppose.”
To him, the offer spoke of her great love for him, but he couldn’t do it. “I would feel disrespectful, and you know Mom would get a special dispensation from the Lord to return and spank me for that one.” Something in her wilted a little, and Elton rushed to revive it again. “However, I should confess that sometimes I call you ‘the triple-M.’” At the nickname, he dropped his voice to a deep, ominous tone best suited for movies from the 50’s.
It took him a moment, but he caught her meaning. “Mmm… yes. Just like that.”
Her voice softened a bit—grew wavery as she murmured, “It’s the closest thing I’ve ever heard to Mum or Mother.”
It’ll kill me, but I’ve got to do it now. Mom would insist. “Mmm… that I can do. Now tell me all about bringing in the May.”
And she did. The hours making cone baskets out of thick paper and ribbons knotted at the sides for handles. It all seemed silly to him until she turned the page and showed one hanging from a doorknob. “That was the headmistress’s basket—it was the first we hung every year. She’d be waiting there—possibly for hours. With the marble floors and our hard-soled shoes, she could hear us coming before we got off the stairs, but that year, I was determined. I made every girl take off her shoes and go down in stockinged feet.”
“Smart! I knew you were a sharp one!”
Despite her pshawing him, the pink returned to her cheeks. “It was one of my cleverer tricks. It would have worked, too—had all of the girls used sense God gave them. Half of them tried to run back upstairs!”
“Only to be caught when they came back down?
He had to ask. Yes, there would be a good explanation, but he couldn’t get it if he didn’t ask. “And how did you deliver the rest?”
“We had brought them to the kitchen earlier. Half those girls got kisses that day. An improvement from nearly all of us in previous years, but still!”
She flipped the page once… twice… on the third page, she pointed to a blurred picture of a little boy of about four kissing her cheek. “He caught me. That little scamp must have been hiding in his mother’s garden for hours waiting for someone to come along But he caught me. Fair and square.”
Again, Elton echoed her. “Caught you?”
She tucked the photograph album between her and the side of the couch before turning to explain. Hands folded on her lap in that pose that always signaled her desire to gesture—something she’d learned not to do at that school. That he’d learned years ago.
“It worked like this. Recall that for the week or so leading up to May Day, we’d spend hours with thick paper, bits of ribbon and lace, and the paste pot. We’d fill the bottoms with sweeties—things that wouldn’t spoil. Then, the night before or on May Day morning, we’d arise early and cut flowers from the gardens to fill our little ‘baskets.’”
He hung his fingers in the air and made quotes with them. “Baskets?”
“Exactly. They wouldn’t hold much—not for long. But as long as we didn’t make them too heavy, and people were home when we delivered them, it worked well. You would take the basket and hang it on someone’s door, you see.” Mary Margaret Montmorency gave a half-sigh before sitting upright and pulling herself back out of her memories and into the present. Again.
“Must be nice for the recipient…”
“Oh, it is. It’s terribly exciting to hear the bell ring or a knock. Once you’ve hung it, you see, you ring the bell and run!”
Her hands wrung and rubbed, over and over as if working lotion into them. “Well, if the person inside opens the door and sees you…” She nearly quivered with excitement just telling him about it. “We didn’t expect our elderly to chase us, you see, but for a younger person, if he or she catches you—that person would kiss you.”
“Oh, really? Interesting. I imagine it was a popular thing with teenagers, then.”
“Not particularly. It was a little too complicated for younger sweethearts. If a girl was caught…” The pink returned once more. “Well, that’s rather imprudent of her. But if a boy was caught—if he couldn’t best a girl in a footrace, well then…”
But even as she spoke, Elton shook his head. “They thought about it all wrong. Those girls should have let themselves be caught—the guys too. If they liked each other, that is. Or maybe…” An idea germinated.
Elton wrapped one of her hands in both of his and held it. “I just thought it might have been a nice way to tell a girl what you thought of her. It’s too bad people don’t do that here.”
“Oh, but they did! It was very popular in America, from what I’m told. But it died out in the seventies like so many other traditions did.”
He heard the regret in her voice. However, despite it registering, his mind was already occupied with other thoughts. “It’s just too bad.”
“I wish people would revive some of the old things like that. They’re lovely customs. To be sure, sanding is all but a lost art, but May baskets… Why would we want to give those up? We’ve kept mistletoe and Christmas crackers!”
As much as he wanted to ask what she meant by “sanding,” Elton decided not to ask. Not this time. He’d miss his nightly chance to say hi to his neighbor if he didn’t hurry home to walk his dog. “You’ll have to tell me about sanding next time. And who knows? Maybe I can convince the youth group to try May baskets next year—for the seniors at least.”
Mmm stood and put away her photograph album. She walked him to her gate, just as Miss Marple would accompany the local vicar to hers. He kissed her cheek as he said, “I’ll be back soon… Mmm. I promise. I love you.”
“You’re a good boy to me, Elton. Be safe.” And she stood there, waving at him until he couldn’t see her anymore.
One thought occupied his mind all the way home. May baskets…
His Airedale terrier, Tolkien, whined as they neared the house where Bethany Dwight lived. A glance at his phone told him that she should be rounding the corner—and there it was. Her little Subaru Outback appeared and pulled into her drive just in time to get out as he reached the corner of her yard. “Hey, Bethany!”
She stepped out but didn’t open the back passenger door—no shopping bags. She’d talk. “Hi, Elton! How was your day?”
“Got called for jury duty, so it was short. Spent the afternoon with Mary Margaret Montmorency.”
“Your… mother’s…? friend?”
“Yep. Got to hear about life in an English boarding school in the late fifties and early sixties.” An idea hit him. “Oh, and all about May Day. Who knew it was a thing?”
She leaned against the car, her huge leather tote that always looked completely empty slung over one shoulder. “Oh, it used to be a big deal—especially in England. They did the whole Maypole and everything. Sanding the doorsteps… May baskets…”
“You know about May baskets?” The idea had now sprouted. “I’d never heard of it.”
“Saw the sanding thing in one of those movie adaptations and looked it up. That led to May Day, which led to bringing in…”
“The May. The Queen of the May. All that stuff. It sounds like a lot of work, but if you could have heard her talking about it.” He wanted to suggest that he bring her sometime, but there didn’t seem to be a casual enough way to do it.
Bethany cocked her head and gazed down at Tolkien. “I think I should meet this Mary Margaret Montmorency he talks about all the time.”
Tolkien barked his half-whined sound when he didn’t know how he should respond. Bethany hit the garage door opener from somewhere inside that enormous bag and the door rose. “For agreeing with me, I’ll get you a treat. Hang on.”
While Tolkien scarfed down a designer dog biscuit that probably cost more than the dog’s daily ration of food, Bethany told him about her near miss on The Loop.
“I seriously thought I was done for. That car came out of nowhere and almost disappeared as soon as he tried to take off my bumper!” It had been funny—the way she described the “missile masquerading as a Mustang.” However, when he saw just how shaken she still was and realized that she really could have lost her life, the idea sent down deeper roots and shot up through the fertile soil of his imagination. I’ll do it.
Deciding, however, and managing to force himself to leave a perfectly good conversation, that proved more difficult. Still, within the hour, he presented himself at the local Scrap Shack and sagged when he saw it still open for “Scrappy Night.”
Thirteen women turned to look at him as he entered. Thirteen women refused to look away, even when their obvious leader stepped forward. Stop looking at them like it’s some sort of coven. Eeesh.
“May I help you?”
May. Good one. Aloud Elton just said, “I hope so.” In an unexpected twist of irony, his face heated—something he couldn’t ever remember feeling before. “I need…” He read the list from his phone. “Really thick paper, some ribbon, and ‘red crafter’s tape.’”
The woman—Di, she said her name was—nodded as if what he’d said made perfect sense. “Do you want plain paper, printed, single-side, double-sided—”
He cleared his throat. “I’m rolling it into a cone, gluing it down, and turning it into a basket. Tonight. Whatever is easiest. I have no sense of craft design whatsoever.” When she protested, he tried again. “My mom dressed me in Garanimals until I was eighteen.”
It was a lie. He didn’t know what a “Garanimal” was, but it was how she’d described it before she died when he was fifteen. “I’ll be dressing him in Garanimals until he’s eighteen!”
“Okay… what kind of flowers are you putting in your May baskets?”
He blinked. “Um… you…” How’d she know?
“That’s what you’re making, right? May baskets?” Even as she spoke, she wandered through the store pulling things off the shelf—more things than he’d said he needed.
“Yes… how’d you know?”
“Tomorrow’s May Day, you’re here technically after closing, and you’re describing every one I’ve ever seen.” After giving him a curious look, she put a package of sequins back. “You’re not the glitz kind of guy. Okay, how many are we making?”
He started to say one, but the memory of Mary Margaret Montmorency stopped that thought in its tracks. “Two.”
Back went a few more things. “Well, that’s good.” She pulled a paper punch off the shelf, paused, and held it up. “Are you in a hurry?”
Against his better judgment, Elton shook his head. “No… why?”
Three-quarters of the stuff went back on hooks all over the store. At the paper, she asked him one question. “Just give me a color for each basket.”
Before he could answer, a woman with startlingly huge red-rimmed glasses called out, “Get him the wicker paper! It’d be so cute!”
Apparently, Di agreed. She pulled three sheets off the shelf and led him to the end of the table next to her vacated chair. “Have a seat. Cookie? Tea?”
“I’m fine, but thanks. He glanced around the table of curious onlookers. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your party…”
A chorus of demurs followed. “We’re just glad to have you here,” one lady said. Another, one a bit more snarky, added, “Watch them. You’re just fresh meat. They’ll suck you in and you’ll be scrapping in no time.”
If she hadn’t had the decency to wink right about then, Elton might have bolted. Di, however, told them all to hush. “Um… I don’t know your name.”
“Awesome! Okay, Elton is here to make May baskets, not be recruited into our Monday Scrappy Nights.” She gave him a pointed look. “But you’re always welcome. Trust me, we need more male scrappers in the world.”
“No offense,” he began, “but it doesn’t feel like a very… guy kind of thing.”
The entire room erupted in a unified shout of, “Tim Holtz!”
Apparently, he’d been mistaken on that one.
Di grinned. “I’ll show you some Tim goodness later. Right now, we need to create a cone. So…” In seconds she’d inveigled a couple of rolls of “red tape” from the ladies and informed him to use one on each basket. When he asked why, she gave a much more logical answer than he’d expected. “It’s not a lot of tape if someone just donated a foot. But two feet is a lot from one person. So, if you use some from each one, no one misses it, and you don’t have to buy a full roll of something you may never use again.”
Who could argue with that?
He cut, taped, punched ribboned, glued, affixed, ripped off, and tried again. But, with a little help from Di and taking twice as long as he’d expected two cone baskets hung from her fingertips. “He did great, guys, didn’t he?”
“What’re you putting in it?”
Who asked, he wasn’t sure, but he found himself echoing Mary Margaret Montmorency. “Some kind of candy in the bottom and flowers on top.”
“Duh.” The snarky lady gave him a wry smile and added, “How about specifics? Chocolate? Mints? Gobstoppers? Daisies? Red roses? Sunflowers?”
He hadn’t thought that far. “I—um. Well…”
The room exploded in a mushroom cloud of suggestions and questions. After grilling him for a good five minutes, Di wrote the final suggestions on a sticky note that said, “Don’t Sweat the Important Stuff: Just Buy It!”
Gift Card to Restaurant
Di also grabbed a pretty piece of paper, folded it in half, put it between some plastic pieces, cranked it through a machine. Once through, she pulled out two scalloped rectangles of paper, folded them, and punched holes through them. With a sheer piece of ribbon, she tied one to each “basket” and handed them to him. “There. You can even write a small note, but do it before you fill it. It’ll be easier.”
The cost of his basket making? $2.18 for the papers, $0.70 for the ribbon, and $1.43 for the flat trims he’d used to decorate the tops of the baskets. Less than five bucks for a class and supplies.
Elton slapped a ten on the counter, and when Di went to make change, he pointed at the sign behind the register. “It says Scrappy Night class fee is five bucks. I’m paying the fee. If I ever need to make anything with paper again, I hope it’s on a Monday, because I’ll be back.”
In his car, he stared at the sticky note. Gift card for a restaurant. They said she’d like it. They said she’d want me to take her somewhere. They said… and they’re women. Maybe…
It took an hour of planning, but Elton managed to work out the perfect scenario. Out the back gate, down the alley to the cross street, and up Bethany’s side of the street. At the neighbor’s drive, he cut up to Bethany’s garage and played a cartoon-like stealth game. Flattened against the door, he slipped around the corner of the house and hugged the other wall as closely as he could without trampling flowers that reminded him much of Mmm’s garden. Still, unless Bethany stood at the window, she’d never see him coming.
And that’s the key to this thing. Stealth. It only works… Elton inched toward the door, poised to hang it up. …if she doesn’t see me. He’d almost hooked the handle on the doorknob when the door jerked open.
“What are you doing?”
He raised his head and met her confused gaze. “Um…”
“Well, I know what you’re doing, but what’s with the double-0-seven moves?”
“You saw that?”
Bethany grabbed his shirt sleeve and dragged him to the middle of the yard—right in front of her large picture window. “What do you see?”
There it was—in the reflection of a minivan’s side windows—a perfect picture of them standing there, him still holding the paper basket. “Oh.”
Her gaze fell to the basket. “I don’t know what to do.”
That was probably the last thing he would have expected her to say. “Um… about what?”
“Well, you’re supposed to hang that on the door, do a ding-dong ditch, and run. I’m supposed to try to catch you.”
A slow smile formed. If he’d had any doubt about just how interested he really was, it would have run for its life at that smile. “Well, I caught you before you could do that. I don’t know what happens with that.”
And Elton winced. “That’s what Mary Margaret Montmorency described. I don’t know what happens, either.”
The afternoon fuzzed around them with all the romantic glow of a cheesy Hallmark movie. Then, as if inspired by the old gal herself, Elton knew exactly what to do. He slipped his hand into hers and led her across the street.
“Where are we going?”
“To the expert, of course.”
She froze in the middle of the sidewalk. “Can I at least shut my front door?”
While he had the guts to do it, Elton just shrugged. “I’ll pick you up out front in two.”
Bethany had made it to her front yard before turning around and calling back, “We should pick up flowers for her, too.”
That’s when he realized he still held the basket of flowers in his hand.
Mary Margaret Montmorency knelt before her garden, working the soil around a cluster of hollyhocks when Elton pulled up in front of the tiny Sears & Roebuck bungalow where Mmm had lived almost since her arrival in America. “The Rodessa, the land agent called it. A tiny house—just the two bedrooms, of course—but perfect for Gerald and me. And with my flowers, I could make it feel like a proper English home even here.”
She said it anytime someone commented on the charm of her house. Bethany began raving before he could turn off the engine. “It’s… it’s exactly what I tried to do with my house! I knew I should have bought on this side of town, but Dad thought the older houses would have more problems.”
“He’s right about that. One in particular.”
The way her head whipped around released a whiff of her shampoo. Elton had never been able to determine what scent was. It was just…clean. “Do you think so? What?”
“The worst of all… for me.” His throat shriveled into a dry, cracked crust of its former self. A choked, hard swallow helped. Since when do I flirt? And without even thinking about it?
Bethany, on the other hand, donned her sassy mantle. She elbowed him after several long seconds had passed and prompted, “You still haven’t told me what that is—that ‘worst of all for me’ bit…”
“Not meeting you.”
The sass melted into a pool of sweet tea that any Southerner would appreciate. “But you would have. You and Tolkien would have visited Mary Margaret Montmorency as you do every week or two, he would have demanded a walk, and I…” She swept the street with what could only be described as a discerning eye and pointed to a house catty-cornered to Mmm’s. “I would have stepped out of that house to be sure I could meet such a handsome…”
Elton choked when the impish quality returned to her tone. “Dog.”
Before he said something he wasn’t ready to admit, Elton grabbed the cone-shaped basket with the carnations and daisies filling it, and reached for the door handle. “Wish me luck. I can’t let her know I want to be caught.”
Though he couldn’t bring himself to look at her, Elton explained in a low murmur as he climbed from the car. “Get caught, get kissed? Yeah, a guy wants to get caught.”
“I’ll remember that.”
Those words prompted him to pop his head back in the car one last time. He caught and held her gaze. “You do that.”
Pushing the door closed so that it wouldn’t startle Mmm—essential.
It was also essential to keeping his secret until the last second. Risking a scolding, he crept along the grass beside the walkway so as not to crunch the gravel and alert her to his presence. Four steps up. Hang the basket on the door… and turn.
She stood there, a great straw hat covering her snowy hair and garden-gloved hands on her hips. “Akimbo” she called it when describing some story or another. “I caught you.”
“So you did.”
Despite climbing the steps, she still stood too short to kiss his cheek without his help. Elton moved down a couple of steps and leaned close. “That’s better.”
“Quite.” She retrieved the basket and beamed over it. “I didn’t think until you’d left yesterday that you might do it. And then I didn’t let myself hope. But I decided to be prepared… just in case.”
To his amused astonishment, she stepped down, hooked her arm in his, and led him back down the walk. “You took your time about it, too. My knees will ache for days, although the hollyhocks haven’t fussed yet.” She smiled at Bethany. “You must introduce me to your lady friend.”
“She’s actually why I’m here.”
Bethany stepped from the car as they approached, ready to finally meet the much spoken of Mary Margaret Montmorency. But both her and Elton blinked at the woman’s next words.
“I hoped you’d bring Bethany around soon. I’ve been anxious to meet her.”
“He’s talked about me?”
“—talked about her?”
Heat crept up his neck at an alarming and increasingly intense pace when Mmm smiled, transferred her flowers to the hand already laced through his arm, and hooked her other through Bethany’s. “Only half a dozen times a visit. He’s not indiscreet. Ellen taught him better than that, but when a young man’s thoughts stray to a lovely young lady, it’s difficult to keep her from his conversation.”
Let me sink right through the concrete.
“Is that so…?”
“All the way to China.” Both women stopped and stared at him, and that’s when Elton realized he’d spoken aloud. “Just an expression.”
Not until they were seated on Mary Margaret Montmorency’s overstuffed couch with its chintz cabbage roses being squished by their backsides and holding delicate teacups in their hands, did Mmm settle herself in her favorite chair and beam across the room at them. “Now what brings you to me, besides my lovely flowers?”
If he’d doubted the choice of carnations and daisies, and he most certainly had, he had only to see her fingers stroke the petal of one daisy to realize he’d made precisely the perfect decision. “Bethany.”
Both women snapped to attention. Bethany spoke first. “That’s putting it one way.”
“The only way, as far as I can see. Mary Margaret Montmorency gave me the idea for the basket and told me how it works—what happens if someone catches you after you leave it, but…” He gave Bethany a sheepish smile before turning back to Mmm. “What do you do if they catch you before you can hang it on the door?”
A half-suppressed giggle preceded Mmm’s eventual response. “Catching is catching, dear Elton. If you’re caught…” She gave Bethany a knowing look. “Well… you’re caught.”
And as if she hadn’t just issued the equivalent of an order to rectify the situation, Mary Margaret Montmorency stood, collected their tea things, and carried them from the room. “You’ll excuse me for a moment, won’t you? I’ll just wash these up. Won’t take more than five minutes or so.”
Again, as if he hadn’t spent six months trying to work up the courage just to ask her out for coffee, Elton’s courage rose to the occasion. He turned to her with more casual finesse than he felt and quirked one eyebrow—he hoped.
“You heard the expert. I’m caught. The rest is on you.”
By the time Mmm returned to her parlor, Elton and Bethany were seated beside one another with a most circumspect air about them. But Bethany’s rosy cheeks, the hint of a smile at the corner of Elton’s lips, and their fingers laced together told quite a different story, he suspected.
Elton’s smile grew at Mary Margaret Montmorency’s indulgent look. What can I say? His eyes questioned her. It was what you would probably call a “lovely kiss.”
As her expression shifted from indulgent to beaming, he added, And why did I wait six months again?