General Fiction (cozy small town fiction)
Date Published: August, 2019
Publisher: Pen & Key Publishing
A tiny town. A broken tavern. And one woman searching for a place to belong.
Logan Cole is used to getting her way and what she wants more than anything is for her father to get out of jail and restore her old life in New York. All she has to do is wait for his scandals to fade and the online rancor against her family to subside. Low on cash and out of options, she takes a bus north looking for anonymity and stops in the smallest town she can find: Ramsbolt, Maine.
When she stumbles into Helen’s Tavern, she finds a place in need of a make-over and a grandmotherly woman who could use some help. Soon, she finds herself growing fond of the bar, Helen, and the town. She’s even found a friend in Grey, the local plumber. The tiny town puts her at a crossroads: keep hiding her identity to preserve her new reputation or let down her guard and reveal her true self to the people she’s grown to love. But the choice is ripped from her hands when tragedy strikes the bar and saving it requires every tool at her disposal.
Can Logan find a true home among the people of Ramsbolt Maine?
The Collected Stories of Ramsbolt is a series by Jennifer M. Lane, award-winning author Of Metal and Earth and Stick Figures from Ramsbolt. Fresh and heart-warming, the series tells the stories of a small town looking for belonging.
Grey lowered his voice and leaned across the bar. “What’s with all the whiskey sours anyway?”
Logan leaned in, close enough to smell his cologne. “Remember when I said I like revenge served cold? This is it.” She pushed away and turned off a tap, letting the foam settle in a glass of beer. “And no, the revenge isn’t for you.”
“What did the rest of the drinks do to you? Or is it all of us? You hate us, don’t you?” He folded his arms in mock disgust.
Logan rolled her eyes. “Is there a drink you want, or are you just here to harass me about the ones you don’t?”
“I want a Sazerac. And one of those bull drinks. And something else that isn’t a whiskey sour.”
“Okay, but you can’t have three because the law says two, and it’s called a Boulevardier.”
“You break the law for Dan and give him a six pack every night.”
Logan placed her hands on her hips. “Dan’s Dan. What can I get you?”
“The Boulevard. I liked it.”
“Boulevardier. It has three and a half ounces of alcohol in it. You sure you can handle that?”
Grey cocked an eyebrow in feigned disgust. “Make it a double, and I’ll give you a nice tip.”
“Don’t tempt me.”
Tips were a sensitive topic. She needed them, she counted and recorded them with a level of detail that would make her dad’s accountants proud, but she hated her reliance on them, and she’d never accept them out of pity. She would earn it, not beg for it. She held her tongue, but shot him an icy look. It didn’t matter how good he smelled, she needed to draw a line somewhere. She turned to his drink, dropped ice into a mixing glass and added an ounce and a half of rye and a ounce of sweet vermouth, but there was no Campari on the shelf.
“Dammit. I must have run out and forgot to replace it.”
Logan left her bar spoon in the mixing glass and slipped into the back stockroom. Her least favorite space, it was the last frontier on her cleaning crusade. The shelves were overstocked with expired cans of fruit, old kitchen supplies from the bar’s days as a diner, and stacks of dusty table cloths. There was so much junk that the slivers of light that made it through the grimy window never reached the floor.
The light switch sparked when she flipped it. The bulbs barely had time to illuminate before she grabbed a bottle off a shelf and turned them off again.
At the bar, Logan twisted the cap off the Campari. She added an ounce to the mixing glass, stirred it until it was chilled, and strained it into a glass. From a jar she kept in the little fridge beneath the bar, she added a Luxardo cherry.
“Ooh, the good cherries.” Grey reached out a hand for the jar, and she swatted him away.
“These are for special occasions.”
He accepted the drink and set it on a bar napkin, another perk she’d been able to afford. “What did I do to deserve this?”
“I’m doing my part to keep the heating guy alive during our two hundredth consecutive day of snow.” She wanted him at a distance, but she still liked his company.
“Much appreciated. I’ve been meaning to tell you—”
Logan put up a hand. “Hold that thought.” She leaned in. “My arch nemesis is here.”
Arvil walked the length of the bar like an officer inspecting his troops, eyeing up glasses and bottles of beer. Unless an out-of-town customer who didn’t know better took a liking to the corner stool, it was empty in Arvil’s absence. Just as he expected it to be. He shuffled to the furthest seat from the door and shifted his weight until he was settled. He twisted in his seat and tugged his arms from his coat.
Logan placed a bar napkin in front of him, a welcome mat that kept his attention on the drink to come instead of whatever was missing.
“What’ll it be tonight, Arvil?”
“Thirteen. Thirteen days of whiskey sours. This whole thing is stupid. Egg whites in the winter. Nobody wants egg whites in the dead of winter.” He wrestled with his coat and fumbled it onto the back of the stool.
“You desperately wanted one a month ago when I didn’t have any egg whites. Remember? And people eat those little meringue cookies in the winter.”
“What’s that? I don’t know what that is.” He narrowed his eyes at her.
“Not your usual playful self today, huh? You know what meringues are. Those little poofs? Taste like peppermint or vanilla or whatever and… Never mind. Order anything you want. I’m not forcing you to drink egg whites.”
His lip curled in disgust. “Stupid frothy thing. Walk outside and your stomach turns to ice cream.”
“Sounds delicious to me. You want to sit there and complain, or you want to order something to drink? You’ve been here before. You know this is a bar, right?”
The trick to navigating Arvil’s mood was to offer a snappy comeback. If his cheeks burned red, she’d be in trouble. But his eyes widened and lit up, and she knew it would be a calm night.
“Beer. Michelob. Bottle.”
She pulled one from the tall refrigerator, popped the top off, and placed it on his napkin. “I’ll start you a tab.”
Funny thing about Arvil, the less she tried to make him happy, the easier he was to get along with.
As another day of relentless snow drew to a close, Arvil led the charge. One by one her customers paid their tabs and made their way into the frozen air. The few stragglers closed their tabs, so Logan seized the opportunity to close early. She wiped down the bar, restocked the coolers for the next day, and prepped fruit. Anything to get a head start. She crouched on the floor behind the bar, moving aside jars of cherries and syrups in the small fridge to make room for containers of fruit.
“Logan!” Panic elevated Grey’s voice an octave. “Get the cash from the drawer and run. Come on.”
Were they being robbed? “What are you talking about?” She stood, and the acrid, bitter, sour waft smoke from a fire hit her. It consumed wood paneling in the back room and licked around the doorway, teasing at the bar. Did they have a fire extinguisher? There had to be one in the back. Her coat was back there. Her bag with her snow boots. They were expensive. Irreplaceable. She’d saved for so long, and without them, she’d freeze. The smoke alarm went off, the shrill screech assaulting her ears.
She lunged for the back room, toward the thick smoke that streamed through the door and Grey grabbed her arm. “Where are you going? We’ve gotta run!”
“I need my coat.” She screamed over the alarm. People rushed past them, through the door and into the lobby. Cold air pushed in, throwing smoke across the room. It stung her eyes, and she covered them with her forearm. “The safe! My boots!”
“There’s no time. We have to run.” Grey grabbed the donation jar for Glen with one hand and Logan’s wrist with the other. Flames licked around the stockroom door, they rushed out into the ankle-deep snow and across the street, where they stood with bar patrons and a few close neighbors in the motel parking lot.
She pulled her phone from her pocket and dialed 911, but someone had already reported the fire. She was losing everything. Her coat and boots. Her job. The source of her self-worth. She took in a deep breath of cold air tinged with the sweet smell of smoke, but it did nothing to calm her or sooth the desperation. It only made her feel worse for Helen and Ramsbolt. Flames began to eat through the roof. At least she’d be warm soon.
“It was that wiring,” she said, mostly to herself. “That ancient wiring in the back.”
Grey stood behind her. “The light back there always sparked when you flipped the switch.”
“I know. Helen never fixed it. I have to call her.”
“I can do it—”
“No, it should be me.”
Logan dug her phone from her pocket and pulled up Helen’s number. “It’s Logan. I have bad news.”
“I already know.” Helen’s voice cracked, broken by the sharp edges of grief.
“How did you know?”
“The Garlands next door have a police scanner. She rushed over in her nightgown. They said everyone got out. Are you okay?”
Logan glanced behind her at Grey and counted the faces. The two women who’d been sitting closest to the door were there. The couple from out of town were huddled by their hotel door. Arvil leaned on a plastic chair, his face lit by the glow of the fire. He’d barely had time to make it out of the parking lot when it started. Now here he stood, his expressionless face tinted orange by the fire. Not even destruction could please the man. “Yeah. Everyone’s out. We’re across the street, in the motel parking lot. Grey grabbed Glen’s donation jar, but everything else…” Her mind was too busy, too scattered to count the toll. Like fireflies, the thoughts arrived and were gone, ungraspable. Her notebook. There were things at her apartment. The ledgers. A bar book. The rest of it gone.
“Should I come?”
“No. Definitely no.” Helen didn’t need to suffer the cold, and her spirit didn’t need to endure the vision of it. “The firemen are here and—”
“It’s all gone, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry. There wasn’t any time. It just came out of the back room and…Do you have insurance?” Would it cover lost wages? Logan couldn’t bear to ask.
“It’s not the best policy, but I’ll call them in the morning.” Helen sniffed through the phone. “You should go home and get out of the cold. Get a good night’s sleep.”
People came from town, lured by the flashing lights and sirens. They walked up the street in clumps and gathered to watch it burn, a landmark consumed by an insatiable inferno. The melting sign. The charred bricks. “Yeah. You’re right. I will in a bit. Talk to you tomorrow.”
Logan ended the call and tucked her phone back in her pocket. She wasn’t even cold. The warmth of the fire reached across the road.
“I lost my coat in there.” Logan spoke to no one, but Grey was still listening.
He stepped forward and stood at her side. “You can get another one.”
“I sacrificed a lot to get that coat. I’ve never been this poor in my life. I don’t know how I’ll replace it. I hated that thing. It was ugly, but at least it was warm. Snow boots don’t come cheap, either.” It was a stupid thing to focus on, the loss of her coat and boots, while watching her work burn to the ground. She was lucky and grateful to be safe. But complaining about her coat kept her mind off the loss and uncertainty, and it kept the tears from streaming down her cheeks. Another job might not be so easy to find, let alone another boss like Helen. Customers like Grey. People who didn’t want to eat her alive. She’d only just begun to put a life together behind that bar.
The fire raged across the street, loud and bright behind the flashing lights and idling engines of the fire trucks. Water rushed from hoses, but it wasn’t enough to save the place. It was more than enough, however, to fill Logan with gratitude for the people who fought to save her home. For making her realize she’d even felt that way at all.
“Insurance. They’ll wanna know what was lost. Make sure Helen tells them about your stuff.” Grey bumped her shoulder with his. It was a friendly gesture, meant to console her, and the only human contact she’d had since she hugged her mother and moved to Ramsbolt. Part of her wanted to crumple into him, to fall into a hug with anyone, any random stranger.
The flames did their best to battle the night sky, but they were no match for the dark. The firefighters doused the fire in what felt like no time at all. But when Logan checked her phone, three hours had passed by unnoticed. Unfelt. Nothing could penetrate the numbness. Around her, the people from town bounced on their heels, hands in their pockets. They sat in plastic Adirondack chairs scavenged from the hotel, blowing into their hands for warmth. Some dabbed at tears with sleeves and tissues. Others stared in disbelief. Murmurs and soft chatter washed right over her. They’d all lost a thing they loved, but Logan had lost the only thing she had. She was back where she started, with nothing to lose, a defiant girl with no skills and no promise.
Her old world had been full of easy fixes. Pick up a phone and call a lawyer, call a bank, make a request or a polite demand. Now, every solution seemed as distant as the stars, and the only thing on Logan’s side was the luck that went up in flames.
She shivered as the fire died out and the cold set in. Next to her, Grey cleared his throat. His words were soft, almost a whisper.
“That thing I was gonna tell you,” he said. “I signed you up for that bar competition. I feel kinda bad about it now.”
About the Author
A Maryland native and Pennsylvanian at heart, Jennifer M. Lane holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Barton College and a master’s in liberal arts with a focus on museum studies from the University of Delaware, where she wrote her thesis on the material culture of roadside memorials. She is the author of the award-winning novel Of Metal and Earth, of Stick Figures from Rockport, and the series of stand-alone novels from The Collected Stories of Ramsbolt, including Blood and Sand. Visit her website at https://www.jennifermlanewrites.com/.