Shape of My Heart
WITH A LITTLE LUCK
Jimmy opened the sliding glass door and stepped out onto his big balcony, eager to begin a songwriting session. He smiled at the scent of the ocean, carried to him by the balmy evening breeze. The sizzle of the June day had surrendered to yet another warm, humid night. The thick heat of a Sea Breeze summer had officially arrived.
Raising his arms above his head, Jimmy stretched, cracked his knuckles, and tilted his head left and right, easing any uncomfortable kinks from his body. He wore his favorite faded gray cotton gym shorts and no shirt, wanting to be as comfortable as possible while he worked on another new song for his brother Oliver, who’d recently gone from pop to becoming the other half of a country music duo with his fiancée, Belinda.
Closing his eyes, Jimmy inhaled deeply. During the day, his balcony ten stories up in the high-rise building
gave him a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean beyond the sea oats and sand dunes. At night, the inky black sky was usually littered with stars, but tonight, clouds were rolling in, carrying the threat of thunderstorms—not unusual this time of year.
Jimmy sat down in a cushioned chair and propped his bare feet up on the wrought iron coffee table. He reached for his guitar and began strumming the melody that had been bumping around in his head for the past couple of hours. After twilight, the calm cloak of gathering darkness teased out his muse from where she successfully hid within the nooks and crannies of his brain during the day, when she would only pop out here and there to tease him with a word or phrase, the hint of a melody.
Jimmy didn’t care if it rained—in fact, he preferred it. Thunderstorms at sea were his favorite backdrop, bringing out the best of his creativity. He loved the lightning flashes, the low rumble of thunder, the wild wind whipping through the palm trees. But right now, all he could hear was the rhythmic sound of the waves lapping against the shore, a soothing, calming repetition that helped him settle in for the night. But later, when the storms rolled in, Jimmy planned to watch nature’s beautiful fury unfold. Tonight was shaping up to be a good one to compose the long overdue love song.
“Yap . . . yap, yap! Grrrrrrr. Yap.”
“Seriously?” With a groan, Jimmy looked over at his neighbor’s balcony and spotted the little dog with the shrill bark. A scraggly haired terrier mix of some sort, Trixie always appeared as if she’d had a rough night out. “Shhh, Trixie.” Blowing out a sigh, Jimmy placed his
guitar across his thighs and looked over at Trixie’s snout poking through the metal slats in the railing to his right. His own end unit had an extended, wide balcony that jutted out beyond Maggie Murphy’s, giving him pretty much a full view of her deck, since they were separated by just a few feet.
“Grrrrrrr . . . yap!”
“Come on, Trixie,” Jimmy coaxed, wanting to get back to his songwriting. His muse could be damned fickle when interrupted, and he needed to finish this song that should have been done over a month ago. Trixie loved to piss off his muse. “Calm down, girl.”
“Yap!” Trixie responded, followed by her series of rapid-fire yaps.
Dammit! How could a tiny dog make so much noise? And why? Apparently, Trixie wasn’t a fan of music. Or maybe she just hated him, a troubling thought since Jimmy was an animal lover. After all, Jimmy considered himself to be a pretty laid-back, likable guy. He was the calm Heart brother, most often the voice of reason when one of his brothers said, “Hold my beer.”
“Yip, yip, yap!”
“Why do you dislike me, Trixie?” Jimmy flipped his guitar up and strummed a few soothing chords.
Okay, that was a fail. Jimmy leaned sideways, trying to spot Trixie’s owner, but the feisty redhead was nowhere to be seen. He knew from experience that Maggie left the sliding glass door open just enough for Trixie to hang out on the balcony and bark at him.
“Go find your mama.” Light spilled out from
Maggie’s condo, and he could smell the delicious aroma of whatever she was making for dinner. If what she cooked tasted half as good as it smelled, she was quite an accomplished chef. When Jimmy closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, his stomach rumbled in protest.
Jimmy would usually have eaten dinner by now, but when the elusive melody had started to gel in his brain, he’d opted for a cold beer and pretzels to tide him over while he jotted bits of lyrics on his notepad. All had been going well, with great things to come.
“Yap, yap, yap, yap, yap! Grrr . . .”
And then Trixie had arrived on the scene.
“Seriously, Trixie? What have I ever done to you?” Jimmy shook his head, thinking that maybe he should do as his sister-in-law, Arabella, suggested and ask Maggie if he could get to know the little dog better. Blowing out an exasperated breath, he put his guitar to the side, stood up, and walked over to the railing. “Be a good girl and go inside.”
Backing up, Trixie raised her head, pursed her doggie lips, and began a high-pitched howl. “Ahhhhhoooooooh.”
What the hell?
In a panic, Jimmy reached for a pretzel and tossed it Trixie’s way. The howling ceased while Trixie sniffed and then licked the peace offering. Apparently intrigued, the little dog put the pretzel in her mouth.
Yes, mission accomplished.
But then the door to her mistress’s condo slid all the way open. Maggie Murphy emerged, looking sexy in faded jean shorts and a white tank top that she wore very well. Her deep auburn hair was piled in a messy bun with
a few wavy strands escaping. Her face appeared a little bit flushed, and then he saw the pot holder in her hand. Ah . . . The delicious dinner aroma wafted his way again. Stew? And the yeasty smell of baking bread. Damn, he’d love to sample whatever was on the menu.
Jimmy could imagine Maggie puttering around the kitchen and wouldn’t have minded watching her do some cooking. Unfortunately, Maggie didn’t seem remotely interested in Jimmy. Of course, being better at flirting would help, but unlike his brothers, he’d missed getting the flirting gene.
Maggie didn’t seem to notice Jimmy when she made a beeline for Trixie. “Hey girlie, whatcha doin’?” she asked in a soothing, melodic voice as she hurried over to the corner of the balcony. In contrast with Jimmy’s basic wrought iron patio furniture and a couple of potted plants, Maggie’s balcony overflowed with colorful flowers, plump cushioned furniture, and an eclectic variety of decorative displays. Even in the dim light coming from the interior of her place, the balcony popped with pizzazz, making Jimmy wonder what the interior of her condo looked like. In truth, he was curious about her, period.
“What do you have in your mouth?” Maggie asked with a measure of concern. She tossed the pot holder aside. “Come on, give it up,” she pleaded, but Trixie backed away, guarding her prized pretzel. Jimmy wondered if he should make a quick exit, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off his sexy neighbor. “Not a gecko, I hope.” She pried Trixie’s mouth open. “A pretzel? Where . . .” she began, but when Jimmy took a hasty step backward,
nearly knocking over a plant, she looked up and spotted him.
Maggie held up the soggy, half-eaten treat. “Did you toss this to Trixie?” she asked rather sharply.
“I . . . uh . . .” Jimmy scrubbed a hand down his face.
“Don’t bother denying it.” Maggie tilted her head. “The guilt is written all over your face, Johnny.”
“Jimmy,” he corrected, a little put out that she’d forgotten his name. Seriously? “Okay, yes,” Jimmy admitted, half tempted to take another step back into the shadows. After all, how bad could a damned pretzel be for a dog? he wondered, but he wisely kept the question to himself.
“I only feed her organic dog food. I’m very strict about her diet. No people food.” She wagged a finger at him. “Ever.”
“Sorry. I was just trying to make friends.” Jimmy raised his palms in surrender, wondering what his outgoing twin brother, Jesse, would say in this situation. “Would you like a pretzel?”
“No. How dare you, anyway?” she chided.
Jimmy bristled at her accusation. “Oh, come on, that’s a little strong. Lighten up.”
“Are you kidding me? Who does that?” Maggie shook her head. “Feeds someone else’s pet?”
Jimmy folded his arms across his bare chest and couldn’t resist. “Oh, come on, it’s a pretzel, not poison.” He laughed, but at her scowl, he wished he’d stuck with the apology, and decided to stop channeling Jesse.
Maggie shook her head so hard this time that her bun slid a little sideways. “You can’t feed my dog a pretzel, or
“Well, then maybe you should keep her a little quieter,” Jimmy said. He gestured toward his guitar. “I was trying to work, but it’s pretty difficult with Trixie yapping away. And this is a regular thing, not a one-off. Honestly? I think I’ve been pretty patient.”
“It’s your choice to work outside.” Maggie picked up the wiry-haired dog, as if to protect her from him. Trixie gave Maggie a little dainty lick on the cheek and then turned her head and growled at Jimmy. “Do you want the birds to stop chirping? The waves to stop crashing on the shore?” she sputtered, making Jimmy want to chuckle.
“I think you’re going a little overboard.”
Maggie remained silent, but she bristled.
“I have the right to come out here and enjoy my balcony,” Jimmy said with a gentle smile. “But as soon as Trixie spots me she starts barking . . . or making whatever noise it is that she makes. It doesn’t seem quite fair.”
Maggie lifted her chin. “Really? Is it fair that you’re always strumming your guitar? Maybe I don’t want to hear you singing constantly.” Maggie scratched Trixie behind the ears. “But do you hear me complain?”
“Give me a break. Music is way different from a barking dog.”
Maggie lifted one bare, sexy shoulder. “We’ve been down this road before.”
“Yeah, and it’s a dead end, although it shouldn’t be. Come on, surely we can arrive at a compromise? I mean, why does Trixie hate me so much, anyway?” He shoved his fingers through his hair, feeling frustrated. “I’ve never
done anything to deserve her wrath.” Or Maggie’s either, for that matter. Jimmy wasn’t used to women being confrontational toward him.
Maggie hesitated and then said, “She’s a rescue. I was told the guy who owned her before me abused her. She’s afraid of men in general, so don’t take it so personally. And she enjoys being in the fresh air. This balcony is her backyard.”
“Oh . . .” Jimmy’s anger deflated like a popped bubble. Maggie’s answer made him look at the little dog in a different light. “I’m sorry to hear that. What kind of jackass would do something so cruel?” He felt a sharp flash of anger.
Maggie stepped forward and shrugged. “Good question.” She pressed her lips together. “I just don’t get meanness. Never have, never will.”
Jimmy decided this was his opening and to go for it. “Well, then, Maggie, do you think Trixie could get to know me better? So she’s not afraid of me?” He patted his chest and then went for a smile, suddenly feeling sorry for yappy Trixie.
“I don’t know . . .”
“I’m a nice guy, Maggie. I’d never raise a hand to a dog—or anything else, for that matter. I have trouble killing bugs, and we live in Florida,” he said, wondering where she’d moved from a few months ago. Her accent seemed midwestern, with a lilt of something else thrown in. His few attempts at conversation with her in the past had resulted in minimal responses.
“She’s super gun-shy.” Maggie scratched Trixie on top of her spiky head.
“I think you mean guy-shy.”
“Can you blame her?” Maggie rubbed her cheek against Trixie’s fur.
“No, I can’t,” Jimmy said, and then stepped closer. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you give me a treat for me to give to her?” he asked hopefully. “An organic olive branch?”
Maggie hesitated just long enough to give Jimmy hope.
“Come on, Maggie.” He leaned his hip against the railing and smiled. “Give me a chance. What do you have to lose?” he asked, suddenly realizing he was talking way too much, which wasn’t really like him. “You know, with Trixie,” he clarified.
“I—I don’t know. She’s still adjusting, and she’s overly jumpy tonight because of the rumble of thunder in the distance. Trixie literally shakes like a leaf during thunderstorms. And I’m almost as bad,” Maggie added, but then cleared her throat as if sorry she’d given him any personal information. She looked over at him but then quickly glanced away.
What was it that made Maggie so skittish around him? Jimmy wanted to find out. “Don’t you think she’d adjust better if she finds out that not all guys are mean?”
Maggie returned her gaze to him for a lingering moment, as if mulling his suggestion over. For some reason, Jimmy’s pulse quickened. “You could be right,” she answered slowly.
“So, what do you say?” Jimmy asked, but Trixie, as if somehow knowing something was going on, took the opportunity to give him a low, steady growl.
“Maybe another time,” Maggie said, dashing his hopes.
When she started to turn away, Jimmy said, “Okay, well, I’m easy to get to know. As you know, I’m usually out here in the evenings, working, so ‘another time’ translates to ‘anytime.’ Just say the word.” He cringed, thinking he sounded like such a dork. Why couldn’t he be smooth like his brothers?
Maggie hesitated again and gave him a sideways glance. Did he detect a hint of interest? “I’ll keep that in mind. Now, I’ll let you get back to . . . whatever you’re working on over there.”
Jimmy frowned, and then it hit him that maybe Maggie didn’t know who he was. True, she wasn’t from Sea Breeze, but she looked to be in her late twenties, meaning she should have been a Heartbeat fan. “I’m a songwriter,” he said, but he didn’t really know if he wanted her to put two and two together. The Heartbeat reunion benefit concert had been over eighteen months ago, but they’d continued to promote their mother’s lupus foundation, and the song he’d written in honor of his parents had been a top-ten pop hit the previous year that still got some airtime. “Unfortunately, I prefer to work in the evening.”
“Interesting,” Maggie said, but appeared eager to end the conversation. “Okay then, I’ll try to keep Trixie quiet, but I can’t promise anything.” With a brief wave, she headed back into her condo.
Jimmy stood there for a moment, feeing a pang of disappointment that Maggie had gone inside without asking more about him. He didn’t understand her reluctance to
get to know him better. If she’d give him half a chance, he’d be happy to show her around Sea Breeze. She didn’t appear to recognize him, though, and that was probably a good thing. After all, Jimmy was the most quiet and reserved of the Heart brothers, so his face wasn’t in the tabloids nearly as much as the rest of Heartbeat—especially Grady. While he loved music, performing for an audience still filled Jimmy with anxiety, and he’d always avoided the limelight whenever possible.
Jimmy stood on the balcony for a few more minutes, wondering if he could keep his identity from Maggie and get to know her as just her next-door neighbor, and not as part of a boy-band sensation that had once toured the world. Even now that their heyday was long over, some of the locals still treated him and his brothers like Sea Breeze royalty—something he really didn’t relish. How cool would it be to get to know someone without the Heartbeat thing hanging in the room? Of course, the trouble was that Maggie Murphy didn’t seem very interested in getting to know him, period. This exchange was the longest conversation they’d had since she’d moved in over ten months ago. In fact, he’d seen her change directions while walking her dog, just to avoid talking to him.
Jimmy sighed and finally pushed away from the railing. He glanced at his guitar, but then shook his head. The Trixie interruption had chased away his muse, so he might as well head inside and scrounge up something substantial to eat. Later, he’d come back out and give it another go.
Sliding the balcony door open, he stepped into the cool interior of his condo, but before he could make it to
the kitchen he heard his cell phone ring. “Where the hell is my damned phone?” he grumbled, since he rarely took it outside while composing. Spotting it vibrating on the coffee table, he hurried over, looked at the screen, and answered. “Oliver, what’s up, bro? How’s life treating you in Tennessee?”
“Finally warming up now that it’s June. My Florida blood does not like cold weather. And Belinda thinks it’s funny when I shiver.”
“You mean she’s not keeping you warm?”
“Uh, she likes it so cold in the cabin that you can see your damned breath,” Oliver grumbled. “It’s like a meat locker in here, but at least now I can warm up outside. But up here in the mountains, it still gets cool at night, even in the summer.”
Jimmy laughed. “As Floridians, we define cold differently than most.”
“True. I’m missing the beach.”
“I bet you are.” Jimmy headed to the kitchen and started pulling cold cuts from the fridge while listening to his younger brother complain, when he knew that Oliver would have followed Belinda to Alaska if need be. “So, how are the shows coming? Still selling out the theater?”
“Yeah, but Belinda and I are talking about taking some much-needed time off to chill at the beach house for a couple of weeks, maybe longer if we can pull it off. We’re dying to hold little baby Ella. How old is she now?”
“Five months old, and she already has Grady wrapped around her tiny finger. Arabella will have to be the voice
of discipline,” Jimmy said with a chuckle.
“Well, we already know she can fill that role. She sure as hell whipped us back into shape for the reunion concert. Choreographer? More like drill sergeant.”
“Yeah, but we’re not cupid-faced little sweetie-pies. I’ve never seen a cuter baby,” Jimmy said. He melted every time he held Ella in his arms. “So, what else is going on?”
“Just seeing how you’re coming along with the song. Belinda wanted me to ask you when it will be ready. We’ve been throwing out hints during the show that we’ll be debuting a new Jimmy Heart tune soon.”
“I’m trying.” Jimmy groaned and looked up at the ceiling. “The dog next door is driving me nuts.”
“Still? You haven’t approached the owner again?”
“I finally made a little bit of progress just a few minutes ago. Maggie explained that Trixie is a rescue and was abused. She hates men in general.”
“Ah, well at least not you in particular.”
“Yeah.” Jimmy started putting slices of turkey on bread, thinking that he’d like to have some of what Maggie was cooking instead.
“So use some of that Heart charm on the owner.”
“The flirt gene skipped me.”
“That’s fucking silly.”
“I wish. I need some pointers.”
“Try flowers or something, then. No pressure, but Oliver, I really need the new song soon.”
“That kinda sounds like pressure.”
Oliver chuckled. “Belinda and I are toying with heading into the studio, and we want another Jimmy Heart
“You’re recording again? Really?”
“Yeah, maybe, and making an EP to sell in the theater’s gift shop. I want to give some of the proceeds to mom’s lupus foundation. I’ve already mentioned it to Grady. Sorry, but you might get some pressure from him soon too.”
Jimmy squirted mayo on the bread with one hand. “I’m gonna grab a bite to eat and give it another try later,” he promised. “I’ve already got the melody in my head. But remember, I’m not used to writing duets.”
“I know. The other thing is that when we get all of this wrapped up, we can take some time off at summer’s end before the crazy busy fall season hits. And then we need to plan the wedding.”
“Are you doing a beach wedding, then?”
“No, Belinda wants to have it here. She might be an only child, but the entire town of Brookside Bend knows her and wants to be invited to the ceremony. We’re thinking of having it at the theater next spring and making it into a giant music festival.”
“Yeah, I think so, but I’d do anything she wants,” Oliver admitted. “But first we need the song.”
“I hear ya. I’m on it. Give Belinda a hug from me. I want to come to the theater and take in a show sometime soon too.”
“We’d love that. I miss you, man. Talk to you later.”
“See ya,” Jimmy said, and ended the call. He looked at the bland sandwich ingredients and vowed to go to the grocery store later and stock up on some real food. He
didn’t mind cooking—he just hadn’t been in the mood lately. With Grady married and a new father with a baby, Oliver having moved to Tennessee, and Jesse busy doing double duty at the family music store, Jimmy felt loneliness closing in on him. And, uh, maybe the difficulty composing his latest love song might have something to do with the lack of romance in his own life—not just the interruption of the little dog next door.
While spreading the mayo on the hearty seven-grain bread, he started humming the melody to the song he’d been working on. He sliced a tomato and added shredded lettuce and avocado slices to the sandwich to feel as if he were eating a balanced bite, and not just another quick-fix meal.
Hopefully, Trixie would stay inside for the remainder of the night . . . although he’d like to see feisty Maggie Murphy again. “Flowers,” he said under his breath. “Worth a shot.”
While Jimmy ate his sandwich, he jotted down words, phrases, but his mind kept drifting to Maggie, and he finally tossed his pen down and leaned back in his chair. Jimmy couldn’t remember the last time thoughts of a woman had crowded his mind. He liked the way his pulse quickened when he looked at her, and he wanted to know what it would feel like to have her in his arms and to kiss her. He glanced at the time on his phone and nodded slowly. If he left now, he could make it to the store before closing time.
With a little luck, maybe Maggie Murphy would give him a chance.