By: Shirley Penick

“Then, you don’t need anything technical like exact measurements or anything.”

“No, just a general idea of where things are. I’m not planning to draw things to scale. In fact, I’m going to emphasize certain businesses or areas. Like the public park with the Tsilly climbing structure Kyle built, Amber’s restaurant, and the amusement park—maybe the library. Things that kids would enjoy.”

“I’m sure it will be clever. You’re very talented. We’re so proud of you and all your books.”

Jeremy cringed inwardly. He knew the real truth. He was a fraud. Yes, he could draw, but none of the Tsilly stories were his brain-child. The script came from Sandy and the game company. He just drew the fairly standard pictures of Tsilly and Kalar and edited the stories down to bite-sized amounts for kids. “Thanks Mayor, but you know Sandy is the real brain behind the whole thing.”

“Don’t discount your abilities, Jeremy. The stories are Sandy’s, yes, but you bring them alive for the children. My daughter has a vivid imagination, but she’s always said you gave her stories substance when you started drawing them—long before the birth of the game.”

“I guess. Anyway, about the map?”

“Oh, yes. Well, I know Gus has a nice touristy-type map that he’s been working to have printed so it can be handed out at the ferry landing. It emphasizes the retail stores and tourist attractions, so it might be perfect.”

“Awesome, thanks Mayor.” He stood.

“You’re welcome, Jeremy. Think about what I said. You are a vital part of the children’s books. Without you, they would just be ideas.”

Jeremy nodded to hide his embarrassment from her and walked quickly out the door. He knew some day they would all realize he was just riding the wave of fame from Sandy’s game. He was a poser, pretending to be an author.

AMBER DECIDED THAT talking to Chris and Barbara at the same time would be good. Barbara had clever ideas, and they were expecting their first child soon, so their heads were wrapped up in kids. Since it was a slow night because of the potluck and bingo game at the church, she called them to see if she could stop by later.

Barbara said, “Come for dinner. We are having Nolan and Kristen over and have plenty of food for you, too. Chris put some meat in that smoker he bought, and Kristen made up a bunch of salads. I worked really hard and bought dessert from Samantha.”

“Are you sure? I wanted to ask you guys about some creative ideas for the children’s menu Jeremy is making for me. He wants me to think up cute names for the different meals.”

Barbara squealed. “Oh! That sounds like fun. Invite Jeremy to come, too.”

“I don’t know about that. He’s a busy guy,” Amber hedged. She felt weird about inviting a man to dinner. It seemed so pushy.

“Don’t be silly, he has to eat and no man is going to turn down meat from a smoker. Call him.”

“I’ll text him and see if he’s available.”

“Great. See you both about six thirty,” Barbara said before she hung up.

Darn, now she had to text him. Or it might be easier to call to explain. But she didn’t want to call—it seemed too forward. Maybe she could email him. And then, if he didn’t want to come, he could pretend he didn’t get the message. Or she could pretend he didn’t get it. Yeah, email.

She carefully constructed the note to give him all the pertinent information without being too wordy. She sent it and breathed a sigh of relief. She had asked. But in a way that was not threatening. Maybe he wouldn’t see it until tomorrow and she would be off the hook. Just as she thought that, her email dinged. A reply from Jeremy. Darn. She just looked at it, afraid to open it. Come on, suck it up. He’ll either say yes or no, not a big deal.

Amber held her breath and clicked. She felt like throwing up when it said he would be happy to join the party and asked if he could bring something. How could she be both excited and terrified at the same time? She quickly typed a note indicating he didn’t need to bring anything—they had it all worked out.

Now she had to decide what to wear. This was getting out of hand. The idea had originally been an after-dinner chat with her brother and now it was dinner with everyone—including the guy that made her tingle all over just from a simple touch of his hand. Well, that was going nowhere, and she was just going to ignore it. But maybe she would wear the new dress she bought—so she could show her sister-in-law. Yeah, her sister-in-law.

Amber drove up at almost the same time Jeremy did. What were the chances of that? Was the universe plotting against her? He got out and came over to meet her on the sidewalk. He looked good in black jeans and a long sleeved, dark blue T-shirt. His ever-present backpack was over one shoulder and there was a large bouquet of flowers in his hand. She just looked at the mums and raised an eyebrow.