Pete's Postal & Frames Shoppe
On a deep red piece of soft velvet cloth spread out on the glass counter, a smooth blue with black vein stone that Gems swore was "the Siren's Soul" was carefully laid out for scrutiny. Two men, Gems and Pete Ashton, standing on opposite sides of the display counter were bent over, looking at the remarkable piece with earnest eyes, their crowns nearly touching.
Pete wore a headband magnifier as he peered down at the magnificent, far-too-perfect stone. He nodded with interest. "Fascinating."
"It's the real deal, Pete, I swear!" Gems said. "I know if I can just get this darn thing to work, it'll bring out the real Charly. I just know it!" Gems said, feeling uneasy in Pete's shop because of all the smiling faces framed in various picture frames looking down at him. Those things always made him feel as if they were all laughing at him, just like he knew everyone on the island were always laughing at him...and not always behind his back, either.
"Well, I don't know 'bout that, Gems. I do think this stone looks real strange. Never seen anything like it. I mean, it looks as perfect as if it were made by some giant clam, you know?"
"You mean, like a pearl?" Gems asked with big eyes.
"Yea," Pete said with a nod. "I don't see no seams so it ain't made in no factory."
Then he lifted the magnifier and flipped it back before he braced hands against the counter. He shook his head as he looked at the younger man's scruffy face. "It's real nice, Gems, but why did ya bring it here? Thinkin' of sellin?"
Gems looked as if he'd just been slapped in the face! "Thinkin' of sellin'?!" he cried, his voice skipping. "Heck no, Pete! No amount of money is gonna have me part with this!"
Pete shrugged. "So why'd you bring it in?"
Gems shrugged. "Wanted me a second opinion."
"Uh-huh. More like your hundredth opinion."
Gems frowned uneasily. "Whaddya talkin' about?"
"Oh come on, Gems! You know what I'm talkin' about! People been talkin'. They'd been sayin' that you've been haulin' this stone to just about every shop on the island. Mrs. Dazzle was talkin' about you bringin' the stone by the flower shop the other day. Really, Gems? A flower shop?"
"Yea, well, I just wanted to know what Mrs. Dazzle thought about it." He made a face. "She wasn't very obliging."
"She's a florist, not an appraiser. Maybe you should take it to Johnson's Jewelry Shop? He's a bona fide appraiser. He appraised Mrs. Dolen's mother's old wedding ring last year." Pete chuckled. "Who would'a thought that old piece of jewelry would be worth twenty thousand dollars? Anyways, Mr. Johnson is a real smart guy. Came from New York and did a bunch of appraisin' there so he's got a lot of experience. I'm sure he can tell you where this thing's been manufactured and maybe he can even tell you by whom."
Gems made a face. "Bill told me never to come down again. I don't wanna piss him off again cuz he can get real mean, ya know?"
Pete chuckled. "Yea. I know."
" 'Sides, you got that eye-glass thing, too," Gems said as he eyed the stone. "So you don't see anything that says it's man-made?"
"Nope. But that don't mean it ain't, and just because I've got a magnifier don't mean I'm an expert, Gems. But if that thing's man-made that artist sure knows his craft cuz he knew how to hide any seams and filin'."
Gems shook his head. "Nah. I knows it ain't been made by no man."
"Well, maybe a woman?"
"No woman, neither," Gems said with confidence. "The only artist that's made this here thing is the sea siren herself."
Pete frowned with a doubtful look just when the bell over the door rang.
Both men looked up to find none other than the object of Gems' obsession walk in. She was dressed in a man's blue/black flannel shirt that was so oversized that she had to roll the cuffs back a couple of times just to see her hands. The damn thing hung straight down to mid-thigh and from there baggy denims continued down to bunch around solid rubber-soled boots.
"Hi, Pete!" Charly greeted.
"Hey there, Charly."
Gems pretended he wasn't even there as he heard Charly walk up to the counter. He stole a few side-glances her way as he carefully wrapped up the stone and then held it protectively against him. When he felt her looking at him, he went red in the face.
"Didn't see you at Mac's this mornin'," she said as she handed Pete a receipt. "That's not like you." She smiled as she leaned her head in his direction. "I almost missed ya."
Gems bobbed his head and gave a twitchy smile as Pete shook his head and took the receipt from Charly's hand. "I-I was busy," he said uncomfortably. "No time to go out and do nuthin'."
Charly smiled with unemotional eyes. "Okay."
"Your photos came out real nice, Charly. You captured the sunset off the northern black rocks perfectly. Betcha gonna get a nice sum for them," Pete said as he headed for a wooden slide-out cabinet and pulled open a drawer before he ran fingers over the files in the section marked with an "L-O".
"Excellent." Charly nodded while she stood calmly by the counter.
Gems stole another sidelong glance. "Have you heard anything from your Pa?"
She looked at him with unreadable turquoise eyes. "No."
"Shouldn't he be back by now? It's been a while."
"I guess he decided to take an extended vacation."
"You sure, Charly? Mister Meeren never takes vacations."
"There's a first time for everything."
"You don't think he's, maybe, lost at sea or something like that?"
She smiled as she looked from him to the deep red cloth he was clutching at his chest. She knew he was aware that she was staring at it because his long fingers wrapped tighter around it. "Is that that blue stone you got there, Gems?"
Gems sniffed and fidgeted a little. "Maybe. Maybe not." He was getting more and more uncomfortable the longer she looked at him with those pretty and strange eyes. "And if it is, it's mine, Charly. Found it fair and square."
She arched an eyebrow. "Wasn't gonna try and take it from you, Gems."
"Yea, cuz that would be theft and aggravated assault."
She arched a surprised eyebrow. "Aggravated assault? Don't know if you know it, Gems, but you're twice my size—"
"—But you knows, I knows you're ten times stronger than any man." He gave her a quick, distrustful look before he leaned out the other way as if she was already reaching for the stone. "You can't take it anyways, even if you wanted."
She frowned with a curious smile. "I wasn't planning to."
"Yea, cuz, once a person has the Siren Stone, the siren can't get it back unless he says she can. She can't even touch it without his permission." He eyed her suspiciously. "They also say the sea siren has to obey the one who has the stone."
Pete frowned over his shoulder, his curious gaze going from Charly to Gems as he pulled out a big envelope. It contained photos that she'd brought in to develop the other day. "Do you know what he's talkin' about, Charly?"
"Not really," she said as she kept her gaze steady on the scruffier and younger man. "But I'm sure Gems is gonna tell us whether we want him to or not." She looked at him without a smile on her lips. "Like he always does."
"Yea," he nodded as he licked his lips. "I'm talkin' about people who know about these things and who write about sea sirens cuz they know all about them."
Her eyebrows shot up. "You've been reading old Captain Steven's log books again, haven't you?" She chuckled as she shook her head. "What did I tell you about those moldy old books? You really need to get rid of them, Gems—"
"—They say she can't refuse him anythin'. She's got to obey whatever the owner of her stone tells her to do because the stone is the Siren's soul, and the one who owns the stone—"
"—Owns the soul," she finished with a smile, seeing his surprised look. "That kinda went without sayin'," she confided before she winked.
Pete came to stand in front of her and handed her the large envelope. "Here ya go, Charly."
"Thanks, Pete," she said with a kind smile. "Oh, and can you put it on my tab? I'm kinda short this month on account the Ferry's a week late with mail and my publisher's check for the other photographs hasn't come in from the mainland."
"So you're a little short on cash?" Pete said with a twinkle in his eye.
Her smile faded as she cocked her head with a curious look. "Yea."
"Well, it's your lucky day."
"Is it now?"
"Yea," Pete nodded with a big smile. "I've got good news for you, Charly. Real good news."
"Good. I can use some."
"Yep." Pete nodded. "You're gonna like this. I finally sold that old coin."
She frowned, confused. "Coin?"
"Your pa's coin, the one he brought in a few years back and what's been lying here collectin' dust. Got a real good price for it, too."
"Wow. Really?" Her eyes lit up.
"Yep." Pete nodded again. "Sold it to that handsome mainlander the other day. Paid twice as much for it than your pa'd been askin' for it." He winked as he leaned her way. "Well, I actually doubled the price and told him it was firm." He winked again. "He must've seen I was serious because he didn't flinch and even paid cash," he said before he bent and pulled open a drawer under the counter.
"Yea," Pete said as he pulled out a white envelope, not catching the brief drop of her smile. "And I took my full commission off of it since, well, you can afford it," he added as he set the thick envelope on the glass counter surface.
Her eyes dropped as she looked at the envelope. "Thanks, Pete," she said with a friendly smile. "But I was thinking," she lifted her eyes and smiled, "can you hold on to that money 'til Pa returns? It's his, after all, and I don't feel comfortable taking it on his behalf, know what I mean?"
He looked taken aback as his smile faded and a sympathetic gleam appeared in his eyes. "Yea, sure, Charly. I can do that," he said with a nod and returned the envelope to its drawer. "I'll just put the photos on your tab then."
"Thanks, Pete," she said gratefully. Then she took her photographs and turned and left, saying her good-bye as she exited the shop.
She closed the shop door and stepped off the stone step. She suddenly had a sad look on her face, and she paused for a moment, squeezing her eyes shut. Then she opened them and they shimmered suspiciously as she proceeded to walk along the shops.
Tears burned in her eyes. She swallowed big, hoping to push them and her unstable emotions back. When she felt a single teardrop trickle down her cheek, she knew she needed some water posthaste.
She stopped by a public water fountain and had a refreshing drink. It helped to water down her suddenly thick saliva caused by her tears—a physical flaw in her genetics that could damage her through rapid dehydration if she didn't quickly replenish herself. It was a curse to have this physical ailment—among other, equally detrimental ailments.
But she missed her father enormously. She worried deeply about him. Those tears have been threatening to fall for years now but she'd always been able to hold them at bay...until now. It still broke her inside that he'd taken her children out to sea without telling her or asking her permission. When she'd awakened that fateful morning and found that her father had taken her children, she thought it was into town. When he didn't return for lunch, she got worried. Knowing that she couldn't just go to the townsfolk and ask them if they'd seen her father and her children, she couldn't do anything but wait...and wait...and wait.
She hadn't heard from him again.
She paused with drinking, watching the arch of fresh water for a few moments. Then she closed her eyes and let out a trembling sigh. "Why?" she whispered. "Why did you have to do it?" She felt tears rise again and quickly took a few last gulps of water until she felt a dull sense of equilibrium take hold of her again. Then she released the button and straightened, feeling in control of her emotions again, and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. Then she paused.
Someone had come to stand by her and was now leaning a shoulder against the stone building. Her wet eyes moved up to look at an all too familiar face before her gaze dropped to watch as he let a familiar coin tumble across his knuckles. Her father's coin. Then she looked up at him again and dropped her arm.
She didn't say anything but side-stepped him to pass.
"How did you do it?"
She stopped in her tracks, standing in profile to him. Then she looked at him with a quizzical frown. "Do what?"
"That neat trick yesterday."
Her gaze dropped to watch the coin flash in the sun as it rolled across his tanned knuckles. "Neat trick?"
"Tossing that heavy bag of trash on my boat without being seen?"
She popped eyebrows. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
With a light ringing sound, he flipped the coin in the air and her gaze followed its ascent before it dropped back into the palm of his hand. She watched as he slipped the coin in the pocket of his cream linen slacks before she raised her gaze and found him watching her with an earnest look.
"Okay. So can you tell me why you're so sad?"
That question took her aback and her long eyelashes flickered before she quickly averted her face. "You're mistaken. I'm not sad—"
"—A blind man can see you've shed tears."
She was silent for a few moments. "You're mistaken. I had somethin' in my eye."
"You'd been crying."
She swallowed hard before she shook her head. "No. I don't cry, Mr. Masterson," she said before she moved to quickly walk away.
"How did you know who I was?"
She paused. Then she raised her head and looked at him with the biggest, most wounded eyes he's ever seen in his life. Those eyes gripped him and he found himself completely captivated by her, even to the point that he could actually feel her sadness inside his own heart.
"This is a small island, Mr. Masterson. People talk—"
"—Have we met before?"
"Yea. At the lighthouse and at Mac's diner."
"I mean before that...long before that."
She felt her eyelashes flicker before she shook her head, but she didn't look convincing. "I-I don't think so."
He walked to her and was surprised that she didn't step away or run off. She merely followed him with those captivating eyes. "I believe we have," he said before his gaze left her eyes and roamed along her hair. Then he reached out a hand to take a swirling raven lock, but he paused when she quickly stepped out of reach, and he lowered his hand. "Ah, yes. I remember. You don't like to be touched."
Her eyelashes flickered. Then she shook her head. "No. I don't."
"By anyone? Or just me?"
She didn't expect that question! She glanced uneasily around, seeing that they were drawing curious looks from people. "I don't know you." Then she set stern eyes on him. "Or is it common where you come from for strangers to willy-nilly touch other strangers whenever they please?"
"But we're not strangers, Charly."
"Yea, we are."
He shook his head. "No, we're not, but I can see you know that."
She quickly looked up at him, now seeing the look of recognition in his eyes. She slowly shook her head, as if that could wipe his memory—and memory that was quickly returning to him the longer he stared at her.
"You've got me confused with somebody else," she said, shaking her head. "I have gotta be going—"
She stared up at him with a look of fright but she quickly shook her head. "Like I said, you've got me confused with somebody else—"
"—No," he said quietly as he shook his head. "I know it was you that night."
She popped eyebrows. "I have no idea what you're talkin' about—"
"—Yes, you do. That night, five years ago, on my family's boat," he said. "It was you."
"Again, I've never met you before the lighthouse and Mac's diner—"
"—You had longer hair back then. Much longer," he continued, ignoring her denials. "That's what threw me off. But then I caught a glimpse of your profile in the diner the other day just as a ray of sunlight fell across your face—"
"—You're making me nervous and you really need to stop—"
"—I'm making you nervous because you know I'm telling the truth," he said, ignoring her as she shook her head. "At that moment, when a ray of sunlight fell across your face, it was then when I knew it was you that night. It all came back to me in one fell swoop. You're unmistakably my mystery lover."
"You're the one I made love to that night—"
"—No!" She finally shouted, uncaring of the curious looks cast their way. She narrowed her eyes on him. "How can you possibly remember anything from that night?!"
"I don't know, but I do."
"No." She shook her head vigorously. "No. That's not possible." She shook a hand as she shook her head. "You were so drunk that you were teeterin' and swervin' like a buoy in the sea, so how can you remember anything?!"
He cocked his head and narrowed thoughtful eyes. "How did you know I was drunk?"
She froze before her jaw dropped, and then she quickly clamped her mouth shut.
"How did you know, Charly?"
Irritated that she blabbered, she looked angrily up at him. "How else? You just told me."
"No. I didn't."
"Of course you did! How would I otherwise know—?"
"—Because you were there."
She stared up into his eyes for a few seconds. She knew he was just guessing, probing, like that dog unwilling to give up his bone. But in those few seconds, her anger ebbed as a growing sense of empathy filled her when she saw the desperation, felt his desperation, and knew that he's tried hide it deep inside him. She knew, then and there, that he was heading down the same path as Gems.
Her expression softened. "Do yourself a favor, Mr. Masterson. Let it go," she whispered. "Don't throw everything away chasin' a fairytale, because if you don't stop now, you'll rue the day you ever met me."
"I didn't go out of my way to meet you," he corrected. "You came to me, Charly."
She swallowed as she gazed up into his eyes. "Regardless what you want to believe," she said with a plea in her eyes, "you have to let it go."
"I need to see you. Alone."
"No." She shook her head. "I can't."
"You can't or won't?"
"Both," she said without hesitation.
"Then I can't and won't 'let it go'," he said with a determined gleam in his eyes.
Seeing it, Charly opened her mouth to try to persuade him again, but she was interrupted.
"Royce! There you are!" a familiar feminine voice rang out.
Charly lowered her eyelashes and his jaw tightened just as Sharon came up to them carrying bags of some shopping she'd done.
"I was wondering where you went off to." Then she looked from Royce to Charly Meeren, and she smiled. "Hello again, Miss Meeren."
Charly raised her head. "Hello," she returned with a polite smile. "I was just thankin' your friend here—"
Charly looked at the woman, felt her jealousy reach out to her like a claw with sharp talons even though she was smiling. "That's right. Your boyfriend," she corrected. "I was just thankin' him for being so generous."
"Generous?" Sharon arched an eyebrow as she looked up at him.
"Yea," Charly said, and drew Sharon's attention back. She smiled. "He bought an old coin that my pa's been tryin' to sell for a long time."
"Oh." Sharon looked up at the man beside her. "That was nice of you, Royce."
"Yea, it was," Charly said with a smile. "Well, I guess I'll be...movin' on." She looked at Royce as he raised his eyes to her, not missing the pause. She smiled politely. "I hope you have a pleasant stay on Mount Desert Island."
"Isle of Enchantment," Sharon said.
Charly frowned with a curious smile, watching as Sharon, in turn, looked up at Royce.
"An apropos nickname for this place, don't you agree, sweetheart? Isle of Enchantment," she repeated as she looped a possessive arm through his and arched an eyebrow up at him. He didn't respond. Then she looked at the tomboyish girl who Royce was becoming a bit too friendly with. "Isn't that what you people here call this island? Isle of Enchantment?"
"I just call it by its official name. Mount Desert," Charly said.
"So what you're saying is, you have no idea that your people here have nicknamed this island the Isle of Enchantment because of your mother...and you? I find that hard to believe."
Charly's eyebrows shot up. "I have no idea why people would nickname this place on account of my late mother or me," she said with a polite smile.
Sharon smiled; her blue eyes sharp and her smile not reaching them. "Why, indeed."
There was something in the blonde's tone that didn't sit well with her. Her gaze dropped and glanced at the bags in the blonde's hand before she smiled and raised her gaze. "The village was founded by fisherman, and I guess the love of telling tall tales is still a favorite past time."
"Miss Meeren," Royce began, "I'd like to cash in that rain-check for dinner, and hope you'll join us this evening—"
"—Gems!" Charly suddenly called out, shooting up a hand and cutting him off, and acted as if she hadn't heard him.
Royce watched just as Gems came walking by hugging his precious cargo to him. He had stopped in his tracks the moment he heard Charly's chipper voice, and then he looked jealously at the tall man she'd been standing with.
"Come on. I feel generous today. I'll buy you a glass of ale at Ye Olde Brits Pub," she said with a friendly smile, seeing him blink in surprise as she approached him.
"Y-You sure you wanna—with me, Charly?"
"Yea, I'm sure," she said as she stopped in front of him. Then her expression changed as she looked at him with an earnest gleam in her eyes. "You and I, Gems...we need to talk." And before he could protest, she took his arm and nearly dragged him into the direction of a nearby pub without a single look back.
Charly led Gems into the Ye Olde Brits Pub and to a very private booth at the far end of the establishment. After she motioned for him to sit, she took her seat across him, set the large envelope with photos aside, and folded her arms on the table as she smiled at his somewhat uncomfortable and distrustful face.
"Why you smilin' at me like that, Charly?" he asked with a frown as he tightened his arms around the red bundle against him.
"Just tryin' to be friendly, is all, Gems."
He narrowed suspicious eyes on her. "Whaddya really want from me?"
"Hm." She smiled as her lashes dropped for a moment before they rose to look at him now with a more stark gleam in their crystalline depths. "I should be askin' you that, Gems."
"You're the one who'd asked to buy me a drink."
"What I mean is, what is it that you want from me, Gems? Because it seems you're escalatin' your attentions on me and with those mainlanders on the isle, that can cause me all sorts of trouble." Then she returned her hand on her arm. "You know why they're here, don't you?"
He frowned. "No."
"They wanna buy the lighthouse," she told him, and watched as he looked indignantly at her. NO islander wanted her to sell the lighthouse. "It's the same people who bought westward lighthouse and nobody's been happy with that ever since all that construction's been goin' on, on the other side of the island. I'm sure you're not, either."
Gems looked down, shame-faced. "No. I don't want that." He looked apologetically at her. "I don't want that," he repeated, "cuz I knows that if you have to sell, it means you're gonna leave this place, don't it?"
Trish Bailey, a rotund, middle-aged woman stuffed in an old English serving wench frock and apron came to stand by their table, and Charly smiled as she looked up her.
"Hi, Charly." Then she looked at Gems who kept his head down, and barely hid her disgust. "Gems." Then she smiled as she looked back at Charly. "What'll it be today for you two?"
"Just water for me and Gems here will have his regular." She smiled. "I'm buyin' today."
Trish nodded and smiled. "Comin' right up!" And then she left to get their order.
Charly fished in her pocket and took out a small tin with pop-up lid, and set it on the table.
"There's sea salt in that, isn't there?"
"You know it is."
"Why do you have to drink sea salted water, Charly?"
"Guess," she answered.
"I don't need to. I know."
She arched an eyebrow. "Then why ask?"
Trish brought their order: a large pitcher of water, a clean glass, and a tall ice-cream spoon. For Gems, she brought a large glass of brown ale. After Charly thanked her, the woman left and Charly popped open the tin and took out some white wafers of dehydrated sea salt and added half of what was in the tin in the glass before she added water and stirred. Gems watched curiously as he took his big twenty four ounce glass of brown ale and drank thirstily.
"Gems?" she finally said, and he stopped drinking and lowered his glass as she raised her eyes and looked at him while she tapped the spoon on the glass and set it aside. "I need you to do me a favor."
He was instantly guarded. "What kinda favor?"
"A big one."
"I need you to lie low 'til the mainlanders leave. Can you do that?"
He frowned. "Whaddya mean by 'lie low'?"
"Don't go talkin' about Captain Steven's log books and all the stuff you're always talkin' about. Can you do that?"
"Why should I?" he said with a derisive sniff, nose up. "You know what people've been sayin' and thinkin'. Everybody thinks ol' Gems is real soft up here," he tapped a finger to his temple. "I knows I ain't always been the brightest bulb, but I knows what I'd seen. I knows it, Charly, and you knows it, too. You know I ain't crazy, but people 'round here think I am. Do you know how hard it's been on pa, havin' his son bein' laughed at as the island's idiot?"
"You're the one who made it hard on yourself, Gems." Charly looked tersely at him. "You had to go tell everyone you'd seen me that evening." She shook her head as he blinked when he heard she wasn't denying it!
"So it's true. I'd seen what I'd seen—"
"—Are we good now?" she asked, not confirming or denying.
"B-But the other people—?"
"—They know, Gems. They all know. But they're keeping it to themselves." She leaned forward as she looked him deep in the eyes. "And I need your promise that you'll lie low until the mainlanders leave. Steer clear of them. Don't let them approach you. Can you do that?"
"Yea, yea...I can do that," he said, nodding vigorously.
She smiled. "Good." Then her gaze dropped as she looked at the deep red package he was holding against him. "I need that back, Gems."
He was willing to keep his mouth shut until the mainlanders left, but under no circumstances was he willing to part ways with his most treasured find. He shook his head.
"No," she said as she looked at him. "It isn't yours."
"I found it fair and square!"
"It doesn't matter. It still doesn't belong to you. Now do what's right and give it to me," she said as she stretched out the palm of her hand across the table.
"No! No!" he said, clutching the wrapped stone against his chest. "It's mine and you can't make me give it to you. You can't." He shook his head vigorously. "No. You can't have it and you can't take it from me. I knows that. I knows that!"
She remained staring at his stubborn face for a few seconds more, and saw that he wasn't going to give up the stone. Then her fingers slowly curled into a loose fist before she retracted her hand and slowly sat up.
Without taking her eyes off him, she picked up her glass and drank until it was empty before she put it back on the table and ran her sleeve slowly across her damp lips. Then she lowered her hand to her lap and slowly took in a deep breath; her eyes slowly closing.
Gems watched with a frown in confusion and curiosity, but that was short-lived.
Suddenly, her mouth dropped open and her body jerked as if she were about to vomit, but nothing came out, not even a sound. But Gems heard something all right!
His hands flew to his ears and he covered them as he winced as if in pain, and the few people in the pub did the same. He dropped the wrapped up stone, but before it could drop into his lap or on the floor, a quick palm was there to catch it, and when he belatedly remembered he was holding the stone, he quickly dropped his hands to catch it himself. Then he saw that Charly was back in her seat, holding the wrapped stone in the palm of her hand while she looked from across the table.
He swallowed big, not knowing what to do now. There was a look of fright on his face as he stared at her earnest but calm face as she looked back at him from behind the wrapped stone that she was still holding out across the table. Then, to his shock and surprise, she slowly placed the wrapped stone in front of him on the table and rose to her feet as his round eyes followed her.
She calmly took her envelope from the table and said, "You shouldn't believe everything you read in old moldy log books, Gems. If I wanted to, I can take it anytime I please."
"S-So why didn't you?"
She slowly frowned as she looked at him as if he asked a ridiculous question. "Because I want you to give it to me out of your own and because you want to give it to me. That's why." And with that, she turned and left the pub.
Feb 3, 2018 in romance