By: Megan Hart

"Ari, dear. I have another delivery for you." Miriam appeared from the curtained doorway behind the front counter and looked over her half-glasses at him. "Right away. Don't take two hours like you did the last time."

He rolled his eyes but took the envelope from her and kissed her cheek. "Yes, Bubbe."

"Good boy. Now, Paige. What can I do for you today?" Miriam watched him go with a fond smile before turning to me. She was impeccably made up as usual, not a hair out of place or a smudge to her lipstick. Miriam is a true grande dame, at least seventy, and with a style few women can pull off at any age.

"I need a gift for my father's wife."

"Ah." Miriam inclined her head delicately to the left. "I'm sure you'll find the perfect gift. But if you need any help, let me know."

"Thanks." I'd been in often enough for her to know I liked to wander and browse.

After twenty minutes in which I'd caressed and perused the new shipment of fine writing papers and expensive pens I couldn't afford no matter how much I desperately wanted one, Kira found me in the back room.

"Okay, Indiana Jones, what are you looking for? The Lost Ark?"

"I'll know it when I see it." I gave her a look.

Kira rolled her eyes. "Oh, let's just go to the mall. You know Stella won't care what you give her."

"But I care." I couldn't explain how important it was to…well, not impress Stella. I could never impress her. To not disappoint her. To not prove her right about me. That was all I wanted to do. To not prove her right.

"You're so stubborn sometimes."

"It's called determination," I murmured as I looked one last time at the shelf in front of me.

"It's called stubborn as hell and refusing to admit it. I'll be outside."

I barely glanced up as she left. I'd known Kira's attention span wouldn't make her the best companion for this trip, but I'd put off buying Stella's gift for too long. I hadn't seen much of Kira since I'd moved away from our hometown to Harrisburg. Actually, I hadn't seen much of her even before that. When she'd called to see if I wanted to get together I hadn't been able to think of a reason to say no that wouldn't make me sound like a total douche. She'd be content outside smoking a cigarette or two, so I turned my attention back to the search, determined to find just the right thing.

Over the years I'd discovered it wasn't necessarily the gift itself that won Stella's approval, but something even less tangible than the price. My father gave her everything she wanted, and what she didn't get from him she bought for herself, so buying her something she wanted or needed was impossible. Gretchen and Steve, my dad's kids with his first wife, Tara, took the lazy route of having their kids make her something like a finger-painted card. Stella's own two boys were still young enough not to care. My half siblings got off the gift-giving hook with their haphazard efforts when I'd be held to a higher standard.

There is always something to be gained from being held to the higher standard.

Now I looked, hard, thinking about what would be just right. Don't get me wrong. She's not a bad person, my father's wife. She never went out of her way to make me part of their family the way she had with Gretchen and Steven, and I surely didn't rank as high in her sight as her sons Jeremy and Tyler. But my half siblings had all lived with my dad. I never had.

Then I saw it. The perfect gift. I took the box from the shelf and opened the top. Inside, nestled on deep blue tissue paper, lay a package of pale blue note cards. In the lower right corner of each glittered a stylized S surrounded by a design of subtly sparkling stars. The envelopes had the same starry design, the paper woven with silver threads to make it shine. A pen rested inside the box, too. I took it out. It was too light and the tiny tassel at the end made it too casual, but this wasn't for me. It was the perfect pen for salon-manicured fingers writing thank- you cards in which all the i's were dotted by tiny hearts. It was the perfect pen for Stella.

"Ah, so you found something." Miriam took the box from me and carefully peeled away the price sticker from beneath. "Very nice choice. I'm sure she'll love it."

"I hope so." I thought she would, too, but didn't want to jinx myself.

"You always know exactly what someone needs, don't you?" Miriam smiled as she slipped the box into a pretty bag and added a ribbon, no extra charge.

I laughed. "Oh, I don't know about that."

"You do," she said firmly. "I remember my customers, you know. I pay attention. There are many who come in here looking for something and don't find it. You always do."

"That doesn't mean it's the right thing," I told her, paying for the cards with a pair of crisp bills fresh out of the ATM.

Miriam gave me a look over her glasses. "Isn't it?"

I didn't answer. How does anyone know if they know what they're doing is right? Until it's too late to change things, anyway.

"Sometimes, Paige, we think we know very well what someone wants, or needs. But then—" she sighed, holding out a package of pretty stationery in a box with a clear plastic lid "—we discover we are wrong. I'd put this aside for one of my regular customers, but he didn't care for it, after all."

▶ Also By Megan Hart

▶ Hot Read

▶ Last Updated

▶ Recommend

Top Books