A Bliss Harbor Novella
She’s out to catch a man—if only her feet will cooperate.
Terminally shy, sometimes clumsy Frannie Colleti has spent most of her life focused on her business, content to stay in the social background. But the return of her former high school crush jolts her out of her routine, and she realizes she’s never going to get what she wants out of life if she doesn’t reach out and take it (before she trips over it). Her two best friends come up with a plan to help Frannie catch a man’s attention, but soon it’s clear that the men of Bliss Harbor—and any breakable items—had better watch out.
This Perfect Kiss is a novella of about 18,000 words.
“Make a wish.”
Frannie looked at her two friends and then at the cake sitting on the bar counter in front of her with thirty-three candles painstakingly arranged, a reminder that it had been ten years since anything in her life had changed. She burst into tears.
“Frannie! What’s wrong?” Monica put her arm around Frannie’s shoulders. She half-turned to furiously whisper at Tori, “I told you we should have waited and celebrated her birthday tomorrow at your house. You have the worst ideas. Nobody wants to have their birthday cake at a bar smelling of cheap beer and peanuts.”
“Hey, you watch your mouth. I don’t sell cheap beer here.” Tori placed her hand on Frannie’s arm. “Seriously, what gives?”
Frannie tried to stop crying. She hadn’t cried about anything real—crying when they canceled Ugly Betty didn’t count, right?—in years. She waved her hand out in front of her and managed to get out, “It’s not that.” She waved her hand at herself. “It’s this.”
Monica handed her a tissue. “I felt like that at my last birthday. A little bit of existential anxiety is perfectly normal as we get older. You’re where you want to be, but at the same time you’re not, right?”
“I think Sloppy Tony is making more sense than the two of you right now.” Tori gestured her chin at one of her regulars slumped over the bar in his usual spot in the corner of Tori’s bar. “Simple question, Fran: why the eye leakage?”
“Because I…turned thirty-three today.”
“I hate to say this when you still have wet marks on your cheeks and you’re obviously upset, but…duh. That’s why Monica spent all day obsessing over the direction the frosting was spread in.”
“Wow, way to be sympathetic.” Monica glared at Tori.
“You worry about being sympathetic, I’ll help her solve her problem.” Tori turned and looked expectantly at Frannie.
Taking a deep breath, Frannie said, “I woke up this morning and realized that it’s been almost ten years since my mom died.” She held up a hand to stop Monica from interrupting. “That’s not it, though. Do you know that my life largely hasn’t changed since then? In all the ways that really count, each day now is the same day that it was ten years ago. I mean, how pathetic is that? What do I have to show for the last decade?”
“How you can you say that? Your shop barely paid the bills when you mom died, and now it’s one of the most profitable businesses on Main Street. You’re a businesswoman who’s contributed a lot to the community,” Monica said.
“Ugh, and you sound like your dad trying to get a campaign donation.” Tori never hid the fact that she didn’t like Monica’s father, the mayor. She walked back behind the bar, poured a glass of chardonnay, and pushed it in front of Frannie. “Monica does have a point, though. That prom dress contest thing you do each year has put you on a pedestal in the eyes of Bliss Harbor’s teenage girls, which is not the easiest demographic to win over. And you really clean up during wedding season. I’d say that was an awesome accomplishment if the explosion of giggly bridesmaids in this town from May to September didn’t make me nauseous. You have a successful business, and that’s something to be proud of.”
Frannie took a big gulp of wine. “You’re right, it is successful. Because I’ve spent the last ten years in there.”
“Well, that’s what you do when you own a business. It’d be hard for me to run this place if I was never here. And even harder not be to be here if I lived upstairs.” Tori set two plates down next to the cake and pulled a knife out from behind the counter. “You need to make your wish and blow those candles out.”
‘Candles’ was probably a liberal description at this point—more like waxy puddles barely supporting the small flickering flames. Frannie closed her eyes, wished for the impossible, and blew them out.
“Thattagirl.” Tori cut two monstrous pieces of cake and set one in front of Frannie and one in front of Monica, who was lucky enough to be able to eat whatever she wanted and stay slim. Tori wouldn’t eat cake because she was always saying she had a body to maintain, something Frannie didn’t factor into any decision involving chocolate. Tori asked, “What’d you wish for?”
Monica gasped. “She can’t tell you; it’s bad luck.”
“Well, she blubbered all over the candles before she even blew them out, so she’s probably already screwed on the luck front.”
Frannie laughed at Monica’s admonishing tone. “It might be time for a change, but I hope this never does.” She motioned to all three of them.
“Great, we’re back to the ‘this and that’ thing,” Tori said.
“What changes are you making?” Monica said, concern evident in her voice.
“Me. I need to change me. It’s like I’ve been sitting inside my shop looking out the front windows at life happening before my eyes, watching it like it’s a movie and I’m in the audience, not living it.”
“Frannie—” Monica started.
But Frannie was on a roll. “I watch the people I grew up with find success, find love, find happiness—find whatever it is they’re looking for. I’ve watched them leave Bliss, come back, and leave again. I’ve watched them start relationships, start families, start businesses. I’ve watched them say goodbye to family members, say goodbye to love, say goodbye to jobs. I’ve watched change happen every day here, for years, and like some sick, sad voyeur, I just keep watching it, never living it myself. Which is why all I have to show for myself is the business I’ve been hiding in for the last decade.” She felt her cheeks grow hot as she realized how loud her voice had gotten, and how many heads had turned her way. At least it was a Wednesday night and only the hardcore regulars were here, like Sloppy Tony, who grinned at her and held his glass up to her in salute. She downed the rest of her wine and held out the glass for more.
Tori poured the wine and considered Frannie, a grave look on her face. Whatever she saw in Frannie’s eyes must have confirmed her thoughts, because she grinned and clapped her hands slowly. “It’s about damn time. What’s his name?”
“As hard as it might be for you to believe this considering the way you juggle men, sometimes there is no guy,” Monica said.
“You’re right, it’s hard to believe. There’s always a guy.” Tori smirked. “Even when you’ve spent years living in a self-imposed taffeta nunnery, like Frannie has.”
“If this was about a man, Frannie would have taken me up on my offer to arrange a date for her with one of Jeremy’s friends.”
“Not if she thought your boyfriend’s friends would be just as much of a snoozefest as he is.”
“Jeremy is a gentleman and—”
“Boring as hell. Which is what you get when you date someone picked out and approved by Daddy.”
“More wine please,” Frannie said, as she dug into her cake. Someone must have drunk her wine while she wasn’t looking, because she could have sworn her glass was full a minute ago. If she had to listen to this back and forth on the subject of Jeremy for the gazillionth time, her glass full should be full while she had to do it.
“Easy, lightweight. I don’t want to pour you into your front door at the end of the night.”
Frannie lived above her shop a block away, so at least she wouldn’t have to stumble far. Tori refilled her glass with a very stingy portion. “And as much as I wish you were ready to let loose and go man-hunting, I’m guessing it’s a specific guy, right?”
Frannie bit her lip and glanced sideways at Monica, a little shamefaced. So okay, maybe this was about a guy. And not just any guy, but the golden boy from high school that Frannie had adored and had never forgotten.
Monica’s eyes grew wide. “Oh my gosh, tell me this isn’t about Nick Fletcher.” Monica whispered the last part.
“The Hollywood screenwriter? The one that’s recently returned to Bliss, here to accept the adoration given all small-town boys made good?”
Frannie buried her nose in her glass, wanting to disappear, and left Monica to answer Tori.
“That’s the one. He’s the same age as Frannie. They graduated together,” Monica explained.
“So what? He’s an old high school crush or something?” Tori asked. It was easy to forget that Tori was one of the few transplants to put down roots in Bliss Harbor, and she lacked the town’s collective knowledge on things that had happened before she had arrived in Bliss.
“Yeah, he was everyone’s high school crush.” Frannie sighed. “I think I was in love with him.”
Monica nodded in agreement. “She was. She really was.”
Tori looked dubious at that—it was love they were talking about, after all—but she didn’t comment on it, instead saying, “And now that he’s back in town, you want to finally sleep with him?”
“Tori!” Monica sounded as scandalized as if Tori had just suggested she get up and dance naked on the bar. Frannie giggled at the thought.
“Oh, sorry. You want to marry him, make beautiful and respectful love with him, and have two perfect children to raise in a house with a white picket fence and a golden retriever?” Tori curled her lip, her thoughts on that idea evident.
“Just because the thought of domestic happiness gives you hives, doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with wanting it.”
“I think that depends on the ‘it’ we’re talking about.”
Frannie ignored their bickering and propped her elbow on the counter, leaning her head on her hand. “He walked by the shop last week. I didn’t even know he was back in town. It was like he’d stepped out of my forgotten teenage dreams. He looked…”
“Yeah?” Tori wiggled her eyebrows.
“He looked…so different, and yet the same. His hair still curls slightly at the end, like it did in high school. It looks like…chocolate silk. Looking at him makes me want—”
“Oh-ho, now we’re talking.” Tori urged her on.
“—to watch fall football games snuggled together under a blanket, to sip coffee and talk for hours, to find out if he still reads the same things he read in high school, or why he’s back in Bliss and how long he’s staying; to see how he looks in candlelight and if his smile still makes my heart leap, to spend all day and all night in b-bed,” Frannie stumbled over her words, her cheeks burning and her head spinning. “That’s what I want. All of that.”
Monica’s mouth was hanging open and even Tori looked surprised, her eyebrows raised as she gave Frannie a considering look. Tori finally said, “In the six years I’ve known you, I’ve never heard you talk about a guy like that. So even though I’d like to state for the record that I think you should at least start an application process for your best prospects, if this guy is what you want, then this guy is what we’ll get for you.”