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The rumor mill baffles Irene. Of course, she understands that, as an attractive young widow with her own store, she's going to raise eyebrows. People are, after all, naturally suspicious of independent women, and most would find it quite improper that she hasn't remarried after all this time. Yes, she understands the why of the matter quite well; it's the rest of it she can't fathom.

For instance, she doesn't understand why they all skulk about as though she doesn't know that Mrs. Anders thinks Irene is trying to seduce her husband, or that Mrs. Smith is certain she's out to prey on her twenty- and twenty-two-year-old sons. It's not as though it's some great secret. They make it perfectly obvious through their word choice and body language: this woman is not to be trusted. And she certainly doesn't understand where either got the idea that she would want anything to do with the cantankerous Mr. Anders or the brutish Daniel and Evan.

Yet the rumors continue to fly: Irene Molloy is a wicked woman who is out to steal any and every male relative of every woman in the city. They range from vague to audaciously bold and specific, and not one rumor has a lick of truth in it. This baffles Irene the most -- for she is a wicked woman, a terribly wicked woman with a great secret, and no one notices at all.

When Irene has Minnie model a hat and cups her chin to adjust the angle, no one notices the way her fingers linger against the smooth skin -- or the way Minnie leans just slightly into the touch. No one sees that their lip color starts each day different and ends it the same. And no one understands the double meaning of their conversation, the hundred blushes and glances and smiles that pass between the two every day.

But although the rumors are exasperating, they cause no real harm, and although Irene dislikes collecting the suspicion of half the town, she knows it could be worse. And Minnie has told her, quite rightly, that she should be thankful for them. When everyone is busy looking for secrets that aren't there, they miss the ones in plain sight.