Oliver nodded enthusiastically, seemingly forgetting he was disgruntled with his mother. Maggie sent Finn a look of gratitude.
They began walking toward the storefront. Maggie stopped in her tracks and looked up at the shabby exterior. The windows were completely covered with heavy brown paper, making it impossible to see inside. The sign was weathered and worn, clearly in need of a fresh coat of paint. A long-ago memory tugged at her. A beautiful sign in a cherry-red color. It was a simple fix, she realized. One she could take care of herself with a fresh can of red paint and a ladder. She would make sure it was restored to its former glory. Thankfully, Hazel had made arrangements on her behalf to have the electricity turned on in the shop.
She turned toward Finn. “How long has the place been closed?” Maggie asked.
Finn shrugged. “About seven months, give or take. It was open last Christmas per usual. Tobias started feeling poorly and then lost the desire to keep the shop open. For a long time though no one knew he was ill. He kept it close to the vest.”
A feeling of guilt swept over Maggie. If she had accepted Uncle Tobias’s invitation to move to Alaska a year ago, perhaps she could have kept the store open and helped take care of her uncle. At the time she hadn’t been ready to make such a major life change. It was a missed opportunity, one she would regret for the rest of her life.
Maggie took the keys out of her purse and dangled them in the air. “Here we go.” She inserted the gold key in the lock. As soon as she turned the knob and pushed the door open, a musty scent filled Maggie’s nostrils. The interior was dark. All she could see were shapes and stacks of things piled up. She let out a cough as dust tickled her nostrils.
“Let me turn the lights on.” Finn’s arm reached out and he fumbled along the wall for a few seconds before the lights came on. The shop was now flooded with light. Maggie let out a shocked gasp. The entire shop was one big mess. Not a single surface was clear. Boxes had been strewed everywhere. Some were even piled up on top of each other.
“Oh my word,” she said, raising a hand to her throat. Maggie blinked, hoping it was an optical illusion rather than reality staring her in the face.
The entire place was in disarray. As her gaze swung around the establishment, Maggie was finding it difficult to even make sense of the layout. She spotted a counter and a cash register but there were random items piled up along the space.
“What in the world?” Finn exclaimed. He was standing behind her with Oliver at his side. How she wished her son wasn’t here to witness this.
“This place is a wreck!” Oliver said, walking past Maggie and peering around him.
Maggie reached for her son’s arm to stop him from venturing around the store. Things were stacked up high. It was very possible something could fall on top of him and he could get hurt.
“No one’s been in here since Tobias shut up the shop,” Finn said. “I had no idea this
place looked like this. It’s probably why he shuttered up the windows.” Finn had a stunned expression etched on his face.
Maggie shook her head. She felt sick to her stomach. “I—I don’t know what to think. This place isn’t even close to being ready for a grand opening.” Tears pooled in her eyes. Once again, she felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under her. She hadn’t expected the place to be in pristine, ready-to-go condition, but nothing had prepared Maggie for the ramshackle appearance of the store.
“I think Mommy is going to cry again,” Oliver said to Finn in a loud whisper.
Finn met her gaze. She tried her best to blink away the tears. She felt a few tears slide down her face. It was embarrassing. Maggie wanted to be a courageous person. Not someone who broke down every time she came upon a roadblock.
“I’m not crying, Oliver,” she said in a shaky voice. “I’ve just got a little dust in my eyes.”
“It is dusty in here,” Oliver said, scrunching up his face as if he smelled something rotten.
Suddenly, she felt Finn’s arm around her shoulder. He pulled her close to his side and began patting her on her shoulder. It felt comforting and solid. It had been such a long time since she’d been held up by a man’s strong arms. For the first time since she’d come back it seemed as if no time at all had passed since they’d been inseparable running buddies. Finn had always been good at drying her tears over skinned knees and squabbles with her mother.
“It’s going to be all right, Mags,” he said, using his childhood nickname for her. “All this means is that we have our work cut out for us. We can do this.”
Her lips trembled. “B-but Christmas is only a month away. It’s important that I hit the ground running so I can take advantage of holiday sales.”
Finn nodded. “I agree. Those holiday sales are crucial, which means we’ve got to get this place in tip-top shape. Starting today.”
She sniffled. “You’re right. I’m just afraid it will all fall apart,” she confessed. “I knew everything seemed too perfect.”
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them. For the Lord, your God, goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you,” flowed from Finn’s lips.
Maggie was familiar with the Bible verse, but it had been quite some time since she had cracked open a Bible. His words were comforting. They settled around her like a warm, cozy blanket.
“I know this must seem overwhelming,” Finn said, “and I totally get it. You weren’t expecting to see the place look like this.”
She shook her head, her hair swinging around her shoulders. “I thought maybe there’d be a little dust and a few cobwebs. A few boxes stashed in the corner.” She threw her arms wide. “But this! It seems a bit like a hoarder’s dream.”
“It’s not as bad as all that.” Finn looked around the shop. “This place needs some TLC. You’re probably an expert at that, right? You’re a mom. You’ve changed dirty diapers and wiped messy chins and faces. Mothers are warriors. Just think of this as taking care of a child, one who is totally dependent on you.”
Maggie chuckled. Taking care of a child was nothing like clearing up this tornado. But at least she could find humor in it. Finn had made her laugh at a moment when she felt deflated. Just like the old days. When they’d been ten years old Finn had brought humor and light to her life. The two summers and one Christmas she’d spent in Love palling around with Finn had been the best days of her life. He’d always had the ability to make her laugh. After all of these years, he still did.