DURING THE SUMMER OF 1961 Larkin City suffered a blistering heat wave. Accustomed to temperate weather even during summer months, residents of the harbour town went to great lengths to keep cool. As a result, regular power outages ensued as people ran their air conditioners day and night. Those less fortunate relied on electric fans, frequent trips to the community swimming pool or the Byre. Others made-do with quick dips in the harbour as summer slowly wore on.
Few shops on Main Street offered air-conditioning. Not only was it expensive, it was also unnecessary as Larkin City was not known to be a typical hot spot. Bruno's Café was one of the few places with indoor air, so the eatery did a brisk business all summer long.
Patrons of the local grocery store weren't so lucky. Despite being owned by the Larkin family, the former mercantile was devoid of cooling comforts and therefore remained blistering hot inside. The sight of people leaning into freezer cases to get relief became common, and on more than one occasion customers were known to faint from heat at the check-out stand.
One Saturday morning in mid-July, the old mercantile was filled with shoppers. The temperature had already soared to ninety degrees, but the store was oddly quiet except for the sound of squeaking wheels on shopping carts. Housewives wearily trudged along the tile floors with their children in tow. The air was laden with humidity, and expressions of bored annoyance as the heat of the July day continued to wear into the century-old market.
Five-year old Michael Sullivan followed his heavily pregnant mother through the store. The boy was blue-eyed with ash blond hair framing his face, the features strikingly unusual and beautiful for his age and gender. His eyes were spaced close together, giving him a cross-eyed look, but the darker lashes were thick and startling against his pale face.
Linda Sullivan glanced at her young son. "Come on, Mike," she said. "I just need a loaf of bread and then we can go."
Mike nodded absently and followed her into the next aisle. It was predictably crowded, and incredibly stifling. Linda tapped her foot impatiently as she waited in line behind the half a dozen women ahead of her.
"Awful hot, isn't it?" a slightly accented and cultured voice said behind Linda. "They simply must install air conditioning in here."
Linda looked at the woman who was speaking. She was tall and slender, smiling as if the heat was in everyone's imagination. She was also pushing a shopping cart, dressed fashionably in a crisp, white pantsuit. Her long, wavy light brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun, revealing her thin but elegantly shaped cheekbones and full lips. A little girl, perhaps eight or nine years old, stood next to the woman. The child was of a lithe built, with olive-tinted skin and a distinctively heart-shaped face, her nose small and thin, her cheekbones high and her lips full and pink. Her hair, ebony black, reached down to her waist in a tight ponytail. Linda noticed the young girl's eyes in particular. They were almond-shaped and almost as dark as her hair.
The woman in the white pantsuit continued smiling. "My name is Mary Larkin, and this is my daughter, Shannon."
Linda returned the smile, momentarily surprised. "I am Linda Sullivan, and this is my son Mike." She glanced at the crowded aisle. "If anyone can get air-conditioning installed in the store, it would be you."
Mary laughed at Linda's comment. "I've tried many times over the years," she said. "My husband's excuse is that summers in Maine are not long enough to warrant the expense of central air, but no one could have anticipated the current heat wave, could they?"
Linda liked Mary's open and friendly manner. She was certainly not what she expected a Larkin to be, assuming they were all cold, reserved and pompous. Mary was just the opposite.
Shannon was looking curiously at Linda's son. The young boy stared back at her. Their eyes held for several seconds. Then, shyly, Mike said, "hi." Shannon blushed, but continued to look at him. She said, "hello" in return. As their mothers continued to talk, the children kept gazing at one another. Suddenly, Mike smiled. "You're pretty, Shannon," he ventured in a soft voice.
Shannon smiled back at him. "And you're cute, Mike," she giggled, ducking her eyes.
Mary finally made her way through to the bread display. She grabbed several loaves, turning to Linda. "At long last, now I can get out of this blasted heat. It was a real pleasure meeting you, Mrs. Sullivan. I'll badger my husband Brian to get central air in the store."
Linda laughed. "I'll be forever in your debt if you do."
As Mary and her daughter moved away from the bread aisle to the cash register, Mike's eyes followed Shannon. She did not look back at him. He was disappointed if not a bit annoyed. His facial expression took on a faraway look, as if he were daydreaming.
Linda nudged him. "You okay, Mike? Are you ready to go home?"
He nodded and followed his mother to the cashier. He sighed sadly, which his mother failed to notice. He again sought Shannon Larkin with his eyes, but she was nowhere to be seen. It was almost as if she had disappeared.
Mike's brain began to churn. "That face, that sweet, beautiful face." He wished he could put her image in his mind permanently, but wondered vaguely in his five-year-old fashion if it was damaging to think about one thing for too long. What did it matter? It couldn't hurt him that bad, could it? Besides, he was unable -- no matter how hard he tried -- to rid the image of Shannon Larkin from his mind.