At Dawn on Groundhog Day

SPOILER ALERT!

This story is part of the Collected Stories of Ramsbolt.

It contains spoilers for those who haven't read Blood and Sand.

“What are we doing here? Why can’t we do this in the summer?” Logan kicked a block of snow from her path and fell into her circle of friends next to Penny.

 

Stupid small town and its stupid dumb town stuff. Emergency Groundhog Day meeting, my ass. Who has an emergency meeting before the sun comes up?

Wind shoved an empty chip bag across the town park and slapped it into the base of the sailor statue. Logan rubbed at her frozen nose with the palm of her glove trying to bring back the feeling. Everything was wrong. She was tired, barely hanging on after four hours of sleep. She still smelled like beer from her shift at the tavern. All she wanted was her warm bed and to be left alone.

 

“I mean, I love Ramsbolt and everything, but damn.” It wasn’t a lie. She loved Ramsbolt more than she ever liked New York, though she did miss having money sometimes. She tucked her chin in her coat instead, letting her breath heat her face. The lower half, anyway. “What’s the emergency? What’s it got to do with Groundhog Day?”

 

“I don’t know about emergency, but you can’t have Groundhog Day in the summer. Defeats the purpose.” Arvil’s breath turned into fog and vanished in the yellow air that pooled beneath the streetlight. He was planted in the long shadow cast by the statue. It stretched across the frozen grass, a distorted pre-dawn monster. The light caught just enough of Arvil’s face for Logan to see him roll his eyes. It deepened the lines on his face brought on by age and a grumpy lifestyle. It made him look far older than his years.

 

“I wasn’t asking you, Arvil. It was rhetorical.” She’d learned long ago to push back at his snippy retorts, earning his respect that way. She unzipped her coat enough to stick out her tongue and inched closer to Penny and Nate. There was warmth in the closeness. “This whole thing is stupid. The sun’s not even up yet.”

 

Clusters of people advanced like zombies, crunching through iced-over berms of snow that hugged the sidewalks. They were bundled up, and she couldn’t tell who was who. They were merely dark blobs lumbering toward the town park, tugging hats down over their ears.

 

“You should have worn a hat. Want mine?” Nate tore his sheepskin bomber hat from his head and held it out. His salt and pepper hair stood up on end. He was nice that way, always looking out for his friends, but Logan shook her head and declined.

 

“Two years I’ve been living here. You’d think I’d know by now.” New York had never been this cold. But then she’d never stepped foot outside her family estate in this kind of weather, either. The limo was always warmed up, waiting in the garage.

 

She hunched her shoulders against the cold, inching her collar up to cover her ears. “It’s just so damn freezing. And I don’t know why I’m here. Doesn’t that groundhog stuff happen in Pennsylvania somewhere? What makes this such an emergency?” Everything about it seemed wrong. Whatever it was, she didn’t want to miss it.

 

Nate lifted his chin, motioning toward the street where his toy shop snuggled up next to Penny’s Loft. “Here comes Adelle. She’ll know what’s up.”

 

“Where’s Grey?” Wild strands of Penny’s red hair sprung from beneath her green knit cap. She blew into her gloved hands.

 

The burst of air from Logan’s huff turned to ice and wisped away. “He got a call about some plumbing thing. Busted pipe, probably.” Her lips were frozen. The words were hard to form. All her Ps came out as Bs.

 

“Tis the season.” Nate shuffled closer to Penny, and linked arms with his girlfriend. They were a quiet couple, low-key as small-town romances went. From behind the bar at Helen’s Tavern, Logan heard more rumors than she cared to. It was nice to have friends who weren’t caught up in the rumor mill.

Adelle waddled up to the group and filled the gap in their circle. Her eyes were fixed on her heavy boots, black sludge caked to the sides. She was twice her frame with a bulky green coat and layers of clothes beneath, and Logan envied the practicality. She’d never been one for high fashion, but her mother’s voice was ever-present, short syllables and superior vowels, reminding her that impressions and status were critical no matter the weather. Logan never cared much for vintage Balenciaga, but she’d never shopped with both feet on the ground, either.

 

She shoved her gloved hands as deep in her coat pockets as they’d go. “Do you have any idea why I have been called from my bed before the sun comes up?”

 

Adelle rubbed her puffy eyes. “Groundhog Day?”

 

Waving an arm across the landscape of the town park, Logan growled. “None of these people should be awake right now. This is inhumane. Ramsbolt doesn’t even have a groundhog.”

 

“There is a groundhog.” Penny looked to Nate as if for confirmation. “It lives in the woods behind the shops. Across the parking lot. Saw it running around back there in the fall.”

Nate bounced on his heels, probably trying to stay warm. “Yeah. It dug a big hole.”

“But it’s not here. In the park. Before the sun comes up. Even if it were, it’d be pretty pissed off to be awake at this hour. Adelle? Who did this?”

Adelle pulled her phone from her pocket. She swiped at it, but the screen stayed dark. “Damn gloves. I got a text, same as you. Unknown number.”

 

“Hold on. I got it.” Nate tugged a glove off his hand and nudged the screen of his phone. “Emergency town hall meeting in the park. Six a.m. Feb 2. Says nothing about Groundhog Day.”

“No, mine said Groundhog Day.” Arvil stepped closer to the group but remained outside the circle. He read from his phone. “Groundhog Day Meeting. Important emergency. Six a.m.” He lowered his phone. “It’s two minutes of. If nothing happens in two minutes, I’m going home, and I’m writing an angry letter about this. This is a big gathering. There should have been a permit. Right, Adelle?”

 

Adelle kicked at the base of the statue and sludge slid from her shoe. Logan braced herself for a hard line from the town manager. Everybody knew Adelle had no tolerance for demands. But she must have been too tired to deal with Arvil. “Don’t make life hard at this hour. I do not have room for red tape in my life.”

 

Arvil’s eyes widened, lifting the lines around his eyes. “Aren’t you at all concerned, as town manager, that someone else is out here calling emergency town meetings? Seems a little lazy to me. I’d be demanding to know who was usurping my authority.”

 

“You’re assuming I give a crap about my authority. I didn’t want any to begin with.”

 

“Give her a break.” Nate’s cheeks and the tip of his nose were red. “Diane’s gonna kill her if the sewer doesn’t get fixed, the clock’s been broken for ages, and there are so many potholes, we might as well just remove the rest of the pavement and call them dirt roads.”

 

Adelle threw him a sarcastic smile. “Thanks, guys. This has been great. Good meeting.”

 

“Why did you even get out of bed if you didn’t want to come?” Arvil poked Logan in the shoulder. She shuffled to keep her balance and blinked to keep her eyes open.

 

“Are you kidding? This is the most mysterious thing to happen in this town since I showed up. I wasn’t gonna miss this for anything.”

 

Penny nodded. “True, that.”

 

“Doesn’t this seem wrong, though?” Logan’s teeth chattered. “It doesn’t feel right.”

Nate looked beyond Logan, into the crowd. “So, we have mysterious text messages from an unknown number, sent to the whole town. What else do we know?”

 

Logan turned and scanned the crowd. “I dunno. Who’s missing?” Town voices seemed dampened by the cold and dark. The expressions she could make out under the dim, yellow streetlight looked just as confused as she was. And tired. Everyone looked so tired.

 

Her fingers were frozen. She bent them into gentle fists and wiggled her toes in her boots. “Groundhog Day. Are we gonna have to do this a hundred times?”

 

“That was just the movie.” Penny squinted at the eastern horizon. “That repeating thing isn’t part of the holiday.”

 

“The groundhog looks for spring,” Arvil said. “If he sees his shadow, he goes back in his hole for six more weeks. If he doesn’t, he stays out. That means spring is here.”

 

“But it’s February. It’s never gonna be spring in February.” Adelle slumped against the base of the statue. The thought of leaning against cold marble made Logan shiver. “That never made any sense to me, anyway. If he sees his shadow, it’s because there’s sun. Why would he want to go back to bed if there’s sun? That should mean it’s spring-like already. If it’s cloudy, that should be more like winter, not spring. It’s backwards.”

 

“It’s not even supposed to be a groundhog. It’s a badger.” Arvil stepped into the circle, and Logan made room for him. There was a time she would have recoiled at being so close to the grumpy old man who ordered drinks just to criticize her and dump them down the drain. But that was a long time ago. Few people in town would make room for Arvil, but Logan would.

 

She yawned. “How’d it become a groundhog then?”

 

“Candlemas. It was an old Christian holiday in Europe. One of those things that happens thirty days after something else. Somethin’ like that. If it was a sunny day, there’d be a long winter.”

 

“How do you know all this?” Penny scratched at the edge of her hat.

 

Arvil shrugged. “I got curious and looked it up.”

 

“Why’s it a groundhog, then, if it’s supposed to be a badger?” Adelle hunched her shoulders as a blast of cold air pushed in from the west.

 

“The Germans brought it here. Guess they couldn’t find a badger in Pennsylvania. They used hedgehogs in England.”

 

“Aw. Cute.” Penny pulled her hat back down over her ears.

 

Logan would have killed for a hat. Her ears ached. She should have accepted Nate’s when he offered. “Who’d want to drag a badger out of a hole first thing in the morning to see if it was happy or not? Good luck with that. This is lovely, but I still don’t know why I couldn’t hear all this in the daytime.”

 

“I think we’re about to find out.” Adelle pointed up Main Street. Heads turned, one by one, and murmurs spread through the crowd.

 

Fog rolled in at the end of the road, shrouding a lone figure, thick with coat, who held a lantern that bobbed when they walked.

 

“What is this Ichabod Crane, Halloween crap?” Logan had enough. She threw her hands in the air and turned to leave. The cold would make for a long walk back to the cottage she shared with Grey. It was just a few blocks up, tucked between houses much larger with a backyard that looked down onto the frozen creek. It was no New York estate on the Hudson, but it was warm and had her bed in it. “My curiosity is not stronger than my ability to endure drama at this hour. Text me and tell me what happens.”

 

She took a step and put one foot firmly on the brick sidewalk when someone grabbed her arm and tugged her back.

 

“Hey, you made it this far. Stick it out.” Penny whispered in her ear. “This could be good.”

 

“I think it’s…” Nate stepped forward and squinted into the darkness. “No. That doesn’t make any sense.”

 

“What?” Logan tried to focus on the figure moving toward them, but it was too far away and too blurry. She hated to think she needed glasses. “What do you see?”

 

Nate wrinkled his nose. “I think it’s Grey.”

 

Logan rolled her eyes. “He’s probably just walking back to his truck with his flashlight on. He’s blind as a bat. Walks into walls all the time.”

 

“But there aren’t any cars. Where’s his truck?” Nate folded his arms and shivered. “He’s not looking for anything. He’s coming this way.”

 

As he got closer, the saunter came into focus. The fluid stride was familiar, the way his feet hit the ground and the swing of his arms. It was definitely Grey. Everything about it was wrong. He’d said someone needed help across town. Why was he on Main Street? He didn’t turn like she expected to slip between buildings or step through a door and disappear to some pre-dawn task. He came closer, swinging a lantern.

 

“What is he doing out here?” She didn’t expect an answer, but her heart demanded one. Why had they all been called out of bed before dawn in February to stand in the park and freeze? Grey crossed the street, climbed the gentle slope to the sidewalk and held the lantern like a trick-or-treater who got the holidays mixed up.

 

He moved into the pool of yellow light at the edge of the park, his head down, one hand in his jacket pocket, the other clutching the lantern. It was the one from their back porch, the citronella thing they bought at the market to keep the mosquitoes away. She folded her arms, her back rigid, and hot anger rose within her. She could have drilled a hole through his face with the heat of her stare, but he made eye contact with no one.

 

He placed the lantern on the bench and waved his arms for attention.

 

Something snapped within Logan. A dark lightheadedness spread across her vision and laughter swelled. The absurdity of the scene, Grey with a bug lantern like a Dickensian orphan walking through the street before dawn, climbing a bench to get the town’s attention. She tried to hold it in, but the giggles took over. Her eyes watered and tears stung her cheeks. They hurt like they might shatter in the cold. She covered her mouth with her gloved frozen hand, double over, and gave in. Her ribs ached with laughter. It felt good, like pressure released from a value. She started to stumble and grabbed Penny’s arm to steady herself.

 

“Stop laughing. This isn’t funny.” Grey hopped up on the bench. “I have something important to say.”

 

“You’re… you’re walking through town with our candle. You look like Paul Revere.” She snorted and spit her words through gales of laughter. “The British are coming.”

 

“I needed to see. It’s dark out. The sidewalk’s all wonky, and I could fall.”

 

She wiped her nose with the back of her glove. “Where’s your flashlight? I hope you put that candle back when you’re done.”

 

“It’s in the truck. I’ll put it back. I have something to say first, though.”

 

Arvil groaned. “I know what this is.”

 

“Well, I don’t.” Logan snapped at Arvil. Like a rubber band stretched too tight that gave up under strain, she threw her arms in the air, and growled. “I don’t get why this thing, whatever this is, couldn’t be done when I was awake. You know I get home at three in the morning. I fall into bed smelling like a brewery. I want to sleep. It’s freezing out here. Did you send text messages to the whole town? From what phone number? This is insane. I am so confused!”

 

His shoulders slumped and his brow furrowed with sheepish regret. She’d never seen him so dejected.

 

She went to him, put a hand on his calf. “Please. I’m sorry. I don’t understand what’s going on. I’m tired, that’s all. Everything seems so wrong. I don’t get the point of this.”

 

Grey peered down at her, hands pressed together. He was pleading for her forgiveness, but she wasn’t ready to give it.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I needed the whole town to be here. I asked around, but no one could do any other time, and I figured this was a good holiday. Nobody celebrates Groundhog Day. This is really important. It’s a surprise.”

She folded her arms. “Unless the sewer is falling apart permanently, and we’ll all be flooded, nothing could be this important.”

 

Adelle’s eyes widened. “Is something wrong with the sewer?”

 

“What did she say? The sewer is broke? Forever?” The crowd shifted, standing on tiptoes, wavering as they tried to see past and around each other.

 

A woman threw her hands in the air. “What the hell?”

 

Arvil grunted and folded his arms across this tweed coat. “Glad I got a septic system.”

 

“Guys. The sewer is fine.” Grey put both hands up.

 

“The sewer is not fine.” Diane’s nose was red. Another blast of icy wind tore across the park.

 

Beside her, Carol tugged her coat tighter and nodded. “It’s not fine. But why do we need a meeting about the sewer right now? It’s just as broke in the afternoon.”

 

“It’s not about the sewer.” Grey straightened his black knit cap. “I can’t fix that anyway.”

 

“Then what the hell is this about, Grey?” Logan tried to crack her neck, to relieve the tension between her shoulders, but it wouldn’t budge.

 

“I just wanted to know if Logan would marry me, and I wanted to have a nice proposal, but you guys so impossible. In any other town this would have been romantic.”

 

“I knew it.” Arvil tilted his head to the sky. “I knew it. Damn kids.”

 

Logan blinked down at her shoes. Proposal. He wanted to marry her, and she ruined it. What a totally predictable Ramsbolt thing, to drag the whole town into a proposal. She couldn’t feel her toes anymore. She couldn’t feel anything, not tired or hungry or confused or happy. She’d ruined his proposal.

 

She was wide awake. Every cell of her body begged to run, and every little thing came to life. The golden yellow of the streetlight made the frost on the grass glow. It pulsed with its own heartbeat. The earth melted beneath her feet. Arvil shifted his weight beside her, and the grass cracked and crunched. Sparks sizzled beneath her skin like rock striking flint.

 

Everything was wrong. She was supposed to marry a guy with so much money he didn’t need a job. Her father was supposed to pay for the wedding. Her mother was supposed to approve of the flowers. She was supposed to choose bridesmaids from a perfect social circle, and her guest were supposed to be celebrities and rich New Yorkers and no one of substance, because that entire life was devoid of connection.

 

For two years, she’d been so far from who she used to be. The expectations of what her life would become had been shattered, and she’d welcomed it. She’d been so focused on surviving and finding herself in a town that let her, making true friends in a place that accepted her, that she never checked in on the future. She wasn’t that little girl anymore who assumed there’d be diamonds and moonlight. But who was she?

 

Everything was wrong. All her childhood notions of what life would be, what it would look like, what she would wear. Nothing had moved in to take their place.

 

Her mother was in France, and Grey had never met her. Her father was in prison, and her money was all gone. She couldn’t afford a dress or wedding shoes. The best shoes she ever owned were on her feet. The snow boots Grey gave her were covered in white splotches of dried road salt. They meant more to her than any designer shoe she’d ever worn.

 

She filled her lungs with the sweet, cold air of Ramsbolt, of her town, and she could have thawed the very air when she let it all go. Warmth spread from the tips of her ears to her toes.

 

She lifted her face into the wind. Grey stood on the bench, the curls of his brown hair tinged gold by the light. His arm was outstretched, a black velvet box in the palm of his hand, and the world fell away. She tried to capture every pixel of what stood before her. His crooked beanie hat, his work boots damp with snow. The wrinkle of his jacket and the way his jeans hung from his hips.

 

He stepped off the bench, put the box in her hand, and nothing ever felt more right. She closed it in her gloved fist.

“I emailed your mom. Got the address off her Christmas card. I wanted to know if it was okay with her. She sent me this in the mail. It was your grandmom’s. She wanted you to have it. I wanted to get you something special that I picked out, or maybe something you wanted, but I figured we could do that later. This seemed right.”

 

She lifted the lid of the little black box. The ring had been in a safe for as long as she could remember, tucked away with jewelry she couldn’t play with as a kid. It was yellow gold with a giant rock, surrounded by other tiny diamonds. It was an heirloom, sure, but it wasn’t her.

Air caught in her throat, leaving no room for words. But Grey’s expectant look and the impatience sizzling off Arvil sped her up.

 

“I’d rather not wear it, if that’s okay.” The ladies of her youth, waving rings around, perching their chins on useless baubles, played at games she never cared for, fluffing their plumage and staking their claim in a meaningless economic pecking order. “It’s just not me.”

 

Grey stepped back. “That’s okay. You don’t have to wear a ring.”

 

She swatted his arm. “You got the whole town out of bed for this? All these people are standing in the dark and cold. They set alarm clocks and dressed their kids for this? Grey. Why?”

 

He took off his cap and wind blew at his dark brown curls, sending them swirling. “Because you don’t just marry somebody from Ramsbolt. You marry the whole town. This town raised me. It wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t ask you in front of everybody. Sticking with me forever means sticking with Ramsbolt, too. What do you say? Wanna celebrate Groundhog Day with me every year?”

 

Logan tucked the box in her pocket, safe in her coat where she wouldn’t lose it. She’d never wear it, not for a day, but it survived when so much of her past hadn’t. It meant something to her, but she wasn’t sure what yet. All she knew was that it wasn’t her future.

 

She wiped her nose with the back of her hand again and realized she was crying. “Yes. Of course, I’ll marry you. And Ramsbolt.”

She’d never been one for public displays of affection, but Grey’s hug melted her. She fell into him, his jacket pressed against her cheek. It felt no different than the day before, snug and safe and just like home.

 

“Jesus, why did that have to take so long.” Arvil spun on his heel and turned toward the street. Everyone followed in little groups, families and couples and friends, plodding back to the homes they came from. Murmurs of congratulations split the air, but Logan caught none of them.

 

“Marissa’s should be open.” Penny looked at the time on her phone. “Anybody want a celebratory bagel?”

 

“I’m not getting back to sleep after this.” Cold settled back in Logan’s skin. She blew into her gloved hands. “I could go for a bagel.”

 

“And some coffee.” Grey snagged her hand and wound his fingers in hers.

 

The five of them plodded across the park and onto the street. She walked beside Grey; her arm entangled with his. They shared their warmth.

 

The pieces started to come together. Penny grabbing her arm when she tried to leave. Nate spotting Grey, making her stay. “Did you guys know?”

 

Beside her, Adelle tugged her coat down over her hips. “Of course, we did. There are no secrets in Ramsbolt. I already have ideas for your flowers.”

 

Penny lifted her chin from the neck of her coat. “What kind of wedding do you want?”

 

Logan glanced at Grey. The corners of his eyes wrinkled with his smile. Of course, he’d know what she’d say, that she didn’t want one at all.

 

“It’s not about you, Logan,” he said. “Weddings are for everyone else.”

 

Adelle nudged her arm. “You’re the least bridezilla woman I’d ever do flowers for.”

 

They reached the door to Marissa’s Bakery. Pink light ribboned on the sidewalk, and the smell of coffee dragged her in. She let go of Grey’s hand and pulled the door open. Inside was bright, and the air was thick with the smell of baking bagels and sweet, sweet coffee. Her belly grumbled.

 

“I have no idea what kind of wedding I want. Not a clue. I’m happy with a justice of the peace, but I don’t think Grey would go for that.”

 

He pulled off his cap and stomped his boots on the floor mat. “Hell, no. We need to have a party.”

 

Marissa waved from the back room. “I’ll be right out. Congrats you two!”

 

“Thanks. No rush.” Logan waved back. She peeled off her gloves and tucked them in her coat pocket. Of course, the whole town knew before she did.

 

The Logan of three years before would have cringed knowing that. There’d be dinners to schedule, parties to plan, and behind her back the wheels of her mother’s networks would have churned. Climbers would seek their invitations and alliances would form to knock her down a social peg. She could see them now, her old classmates, peering down their noses at her for marrying a small-town plumber.

 

Nothing ever felt more right.

 

She grabbed Grey’s hand and squeezed. “I love you so much. You know that? I can’t picture myself anywhere else.”

 

The corners of his eyes crinkled when he smiled. He pulled his wallet from his pocket. “You really don’t know what kind of wedding you want?”

“Not a clue. All I know is, it’ll be perfect. And it won’t at dawn on Groundhog Day.”

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