I knew I was in love with Verona Cove on the first day, but I waited until the seventh day to commit. After one week here, I’m carving my name into a tree in the center of town. It’s way harder than you might think, digging a pocketknife into ancient bark. Eleven letters have taken me hours, or it felt like that, anyway. Fortunately, before the sun rises, no one polices Irving Park—or anywhere, really. I’m pretty sure the worst crime Verona Cove has ever seen is someone dropping a napkin. The napkin dropper tried to chase it, I bet, but the wind swept it up, and eventually, somewhere, the napkin became litter.
And besides, I’d actually enjoy getting caught—clearly, since I implicated myself in jagged lines forever etched into a tree older than any of the 3,051 people in this town: Vivi was here.
When I’m done, I pat my handiwork because—okay, yes, I’m a nature vandalizer, but this is a crime of passion. I know the park doesn’t mind because I love it here, and I think even the neatly trimmed grass and placarded benches can sense my affection.
I take the footpath out of the park, only now realizing how much later I am than usual. The morning sun has edged past the horizon line, casting shadows of the leaves like lace on the sidewalk. Flowers burst throughout every inch of the town—fuchsia roses crawling over trellises, forsythia blazing like yellow fireworks. As I walk down the sidewalk, the trees undress above me, dropping pale pink petals like a slow burlesque.
This is why I want to stay forever, not just for the summer. So far, my argument to my mom has been that Verona Cove makes Hawaii look like a floating garbage heap. I mean, I’ve never been to Hawaii, technically speaking, but I’ve seen pictures. Verona Cove is a tiny coastal town you might expect to find on the shore of Massachusetts or North Carolina, but instead it’s tucked into a tiny notch on California’s curved back. I’ve lived in a few towns, so believe me when I say that Verona Cove isn’t one. It’s Mayberry meets the rain forest meets Shangri-La. Each detail is so perfect that it feels like a film set, and I want to run my hands across the painted lattices, the retro mailboxes, the street lamps that glow like rows of white moons. Everything is clean but not totally pristine, like every inch of town is lived in and loved.
The shopping district is a three-by-three grid, and Main Street creates the center line. Every morning, I pass a handsome brick restaurant, a locally owned hardware store, and the bookstore. The storefront I’m aiming for is marked by a sandwich board with “Betty’s Diner” in beautiful, chalk script at the top. Below, it reads in pink block letters: Voted Best Breakfast by the Daily Gazette, followed by the breakfast and lunch specials. Cove Coffee displays a similar certificate in its window: Voted Best Coffee by Daily Gazette. There’s only one of everything in this town—a drugstore, a grocery, an art store—so each is the best by default, but I love that the town takes the time to honor each contribution.
Bells jingle on my way into the diner, and I’m hit with the smell of maple syrup and coffee and spicy sausage. I’ve come here all seven mornings, since there’s nowhere else to go at this hour, and the excitement of a new town has been waking me up early.
Because I’m later than usual, Betty’s is full up with octogenarians—white puffs of hair hovering like clouds over the backs of the aqua vinyl booths.
Betty herself is behind the register, punching at buttons. “Oh, hey, honey bun. One sec.”
I think Betty keeps words like sugar, darlin’, and honey etched on a pair of dice in her mind. With each customer interaction, she shakes one or both dice to land on a single word or a combo: honey pie, sugar darlin’, doll baby. I like to hear who I am each day. The term of endearment is like a fortune cookie at my favorite Chinese restaurant; it’s not why I go there, but it makes the experience a touch sweeter.
She comes out from behind the counter, surveying the packed diner. “Might be a quick minute before a table frees up.”
But I’ve already spotted my in: an older man wearing a thin sweater. “That’s okay. I’ll sit with Officer Hayashi.”
She looks at me as though I have just said, I will tame a tiger now, and he will feed me pancakes with his paws. “Uh, sweetie, he’s a little particular about his alone time in the morning. And always.”
“I’m not worried.” I flash her a smile because I know something she doesn’t: Officer Hayashi is no curmudgeon.
My third morning here, I was on my way into Betty’s when I spotted a German shepherd—all sharp angles, nose, and ears—sitting in the back of a cop car.