An exclusive look at the first three chapters of Adrienne’s Awakening is below.
Psst! Over here. Welcome to the super secret underground vault where Mindy keeps her works-in-progress. Enter at your own risk. The works she keeps in here are usually unedited. Think of each story in the vault as a pie in the oven. The top is starting to look nice and golden brown, but the gooey good stuff—the delicious bits in the middle—haven’t started bubbling yet. It just isn’t quite finished.
What did you say? Oh. No, she does not have a blind dragon guarding her vault. She could never be that villainy.
When you’re finished reading, let Mindy know what you think. She’s always interested to hear what her readers felt about a character, a scene, or an idea.
*Adrienne’s Awakening is set for publication on March 10, 2020. This version has not been proofread.
“No, I can’t get out of it,” I say into the phone. “There’s no one else to cover. And besides that, I don’t want to. This is an opportunity for me to earn a little extra.” My phone makes a beeping sound in my ear. I pull it away to see the low-battery indicator. Calvin, my boyfriend of three years, takes advantage of my pause to loudly let me know how he feels about the situation.
I had called to tell him that I’m unexpectedly working until close tonight. One of the cashiers never came back from lunch. Not that I blame her, I think as I look across the break room. Working as a cashier at a big-box home improvement store is a less-than-ideal career path. I knew before I called I was in for an argument.
A cough across the room reminds me Parker Holtman is sitting at the table in the center of the break room. He’s one of my best friends. He’s also the biggest pain in the butt to deal with most days. But I’ve known him for years, and he’s managed to be a good friend. I glance his way, and he rolls his eyes at me and takes another bite of his lunch. Calvin is still talking, his words terse. I raise an eyebrow and return Parker’s stare.
Parker’s the one who suggested I apply here. Big-box retail wasn’t my first choice, but it pays better than many other businesses. The result of getting hired here is that I have a love-hate relationship with my job. As in, I love when my paycheck hits my bank account and I hate every second of every shift. If only I could make money reading books and mostly ignoring the outside world, I think with a heavy sigh. But my retail job pays the bills and fits with my class schedule, which counts for something since the schedule changes every single semester. At least this is my last semester at community college.
I put the phone back to my ear and listen as Calvin continues to complain because I’m canceling our plans for the second time this week. I can picture him running his hand over his neatly trimmed goatee like he does when he’s upset.
“Ever since you moved in with Megan, this is how it’s been,” he says, obviously agitated. Megan—my tall, willowy goddess of a best friend—needed a roommate, and I jumped at the chance. She’s like the sister I never had.
“Do you really want to have another argument about where I live?” He’s right, but my canceling has nothing to do with Megan.
“Yes—no!” He says, backpedaling. “My point is that lately, there is always something more important to you than me. I needed you to be there tonight,” he continues, his voice raising a little.
I was supposed to go to dinner with Calvin, his boss, and the boss’s wife tonight. That isn’t happening now. Calvin had been talking about it for weeks, making sure I knew this dinner was important to his career. He had even written down a few talking points for me. When he handed me the index card with the talking points, I had laughed and refused to take the card. He couldn’t understand what I could possibly find funny about that. I still can’t believe he was serious. I had told him I might need to work instead. Today’s cashier is not the first to walk out or stop showing up recently. I heard our regional manager nicknamed spring in Missouri the “hundred days of hell” because the number of customers we see in a shift doubles and we sell four times as much seasonal inventory—stuff such as plants and mulch and topsoil and patio furniture and whatever.
“Calvin, if I’m going to go to anything other than community college next fall, I need the hours—”
Click. I pull the phone away from my ear to see the call has ended. Staring at the phone for a moment, I try to let my anger cool before I do something stupid like hurl my phone across the room. I hate being hung up on, and Calvin knows it.
Parker lets out a snort, and I jump. I forgot he was there.
“He hung up on you again,” he says, shaking his head. His dark-blond hair is longer than usual and sticking up.
I give Parker my best evil stare, hoping he gets the message that I don’t want to talk about it. How does he know this isn’t the first time Calvin’s hung up on me? My evil look seems to backfire because instead of looking apologetic, Parker smirks at me.
I turn off my phone to conserve the remainder of the battery, and sigh. This means I can’t read my newest e-book I downloaded to my phone last night. I turn away to put my phone back in my locker, pulling out my lunch while I’m in there.
“He’s such a douc—”
“Parker, stop,” I say, turning my head to look at him as I close my locker door with a little more force than needed. “I know how you feel about Calvin already.” And I agree with your opinion more often than I’d like to, I think, recalling again Calvin’s adamant protests to my moving in with Megan. Once he realized I was going through with the move despite his objections, he had called my mom in the middle of our next date to try to get her to convince me that it was a bad idea and that Megan is a bad influence. He was so confident she would agree, he had put her on speakerphone. My mom, much to my delight, asked him how he got her number and told him he had better talk to me about it and reminded him I’m a grown-up.
I need to dump him. My stomach feels queasy at the thought. I’ve never broken up with someone before, but I can’t imagine it’s a pleasant thing to do. My inner coward is already quaking in her boots at the thought. But I’ve already put it off for more than a year. I keep thinking he’ll break up with me and save me the agony of breaking up with him.
Parker raises an eyebrow while still smirking. “I heard you’re having a party next week,” he says after a pause.
“It’s not really a party,” I say quickly. “I prefer to call it a housewarming event.” I wonder where he heard that, and then decide Megan must have invited him. She probably went through my entire friends list on all my social media profiles and invited everyone who wasn’t old or married. Not that I have that many people on my friends list. Not that that will stop her from inviting a bunch of people I don’t know.
I plop down in one of the folding chairs at the lunch table, ignoring Parker completely. It’s been a long day already, and I have a much longer shift ahead of me. He clears his throat.
“What, Parker?” I ask, not bothering to look at him. I know he still wants to say something more about Calvin. He hasn’t liked Calvin since day one. And he hasn’t been shy about letting me know it, either.
I pull a sandwich out of my lunch bag, unwrap it, and take a bite. Parker still hasn’t answered me. I glance up at the sound of his chair scraping the concrete floor. He comes around to my side of the table, pulling out the chair next to mine before flipping it around and sitting with the back of the chair in front of him, facing me. He casually rests his arms on it before he noisily scoots it closer until he’s near enough that I could poke him in the eye without extending my arm. He scoots one more time, and his left knee bumps into my chair.
“You should blow off the party,” Parker says, staring at me, hunched over with his chin in his hand, his elbow resting on the back of the chair as he faces me. At six-foot-three, he looks a bit how I’d imagine a middle schooler would look in a kindergartener’s chair—all arms and legs folded up and sprawled out. He’s never been one to miss a party. After a lengthy silence and no explanation, I take another bite of my sandwich. “You should come with me instead,” he says slowly. He’s smirking at me again as if he knows something I don’t.
“Megan’s throwing the party as a sort of celebration that we’re roommates. So it’d be rude to skip it. Besides, it’s not really a party party.” Another bite. More chewing. “Hey, since when do you want to skip a party that’s sure to have lots of girls?”
“Lame,” he says, smirk gone, eye contact never wavering.
I will not look away first. I will not look away first. I keep his steady gaze, bringing my sandwich up to take another bite. After a few moments, he stands up and backs away swiftly, grinning. He turns his back to me and heads toward the door.
“You’ll wish you had come with me instead,” he says over his shoulder with a laugh. The door slowly closes behind him.
I’m afraid he might be right.
I wipe the steam off the bathroom mirror after my shower. I run my fingers through my blond hair, unknotting the ends. I towel dry and scrunch my hair, one section at a time, encouraging natural waves. Not like I can stop my hair from being wavy, anyway. It does what it wants.
Hair not a hot mess—check.
Next, I should decide whether to keep lingering or hurry up since people are already arriving before my shower. With a deep breath, I dress in my favorite pair of jeans and a long-sleeve, black shirt. Simple, comfortable, and me. I grab my phone from the vanity and check my messages. Calvin messaged me, telling me to have a great night. That will be all I hear from him tonight, I think. His texts are usually sporadic when he’s out of town for work. I’m sure this trip will be no different, which is okay with me.
My thumb hovers over the screen as I think about replying. I close my eyes and think about our last argument. We rarely seem to be on the same page about anything. I often wonder if this is what loving someone is supposed to be like. I’m not sure since I’ve never been in love with anyone else. Not that I’m sure I’m in love with Calvin, either. I never thought we’d still be together after high school.
I step out of the bathroom and the thump of music permeates the condo. Thankfully, the party seems contained to the lower level. There’s no one in the hall, and Megan’s bedroom appears empty when I pass by it. When I open my bedroom door, I stop in my tracks as I realize my room is already occupied by someone I don’t know. I don’t, do I? He kind of looks familiar. He has almost-black, silky-looking hair and light skin. Not a freckle or blemish in sight. He’s tall too, his shoulders broad and clearly muscled. Surely I would have remembered meeting him before.
“Uh . . .” I nervously clear my throat. “What are you doing in here?” I ask. “Are you one of Megan’s friends?”
“I need to talk to you privately,” the stranger says with an easy smile, revealing bright-white teeth. “Your grandma Effie wanted me to deliver a message. This was my best idea. Although, I’m rethinking it.”
“Wh-What?” I splutter before my brain can catch up. Now that he’s fully facing me, he does look familiar, but I can’t place his name or when or where I might have met him. “Who are you?”
“I’m sorry. I should have started with that,” he says with a shake of his head. “I’m Sawyer.” He sticks out a hand for me to shake. I don’t take his hand. He blinks and lets his hand drop after a moment. “Your grandmother would have talked to you herself, but she can’t manage the stairs tonight. She’s says it’s going to rain later.” He smiles again.
“Where is she? Is she downstairs? I’ll just come down to her.” I take a step back.
“Adrienne?” Calvin’s voice echoes down the hall. I jerk my head in the direction of his voice.
“I’ve timed this poorly too,” Sawyer says, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Adrienne,” Calvin calls, his voice closer this time.
“Timed what?” I ask, shaking my head. “I still don’t understand.”
“Your grandma’s message was meant to be delivered before . . .” He’s blushing now. “But it looks like we’re out of time.” I stare at him, even more confused now. His eyes dart nervously to the doorway.
“Adrienne,” Calvin says, nearer to me, but I can’t seem to stop staring at Sawyer. “Hey, there you are.” He’s striding toward me. “Come on downstairs.”
I finally look at him. “Calvin, what are you doing here? And actually, I just need a minute to—”
“Come on, we don’t have a minute. I have a surprise for you,” Calvin says, tugging on my hand to follow him. I glance at Sawyer again, standing in my room just out of Calvin’s view. Sawyer shrugs. Calvin tugs on my hand again. “Let’s go downstairs so I can show you your surprise.”
I reluctantly let Calvin pull me down the hall and to the stairs, stealing a look over my shoulder to see if Sawyer is following us down. But I don’t see him.
“Hey.” I slow my steps as we reach the top of the stairs. “I thought you were leaving this morning to go meet a potential new client in New York,” I say, wondering what he’s doing here.
“That’s what I wanted you to think,” he says with a wide smile. The music that wafts up the stairs toward us is different than it was earlier. It’s much quieter and it sounds like something my parents would enjoy. Sinatra? I shake my head slowly.
“Why would you want me to think you’re out of town when you’re not?”
“Just come on,” he says, his smile slipping. I blankly stare at him for a moment. His complexion is ruddy, sweat beading on his forehead. He holds out his hand for mine, and I hesitate before placing my fingers in his palm.
Calvin and I descend the stairs. I stare at the party below and watch Megan, who is directing people and funneling them to stand opposite the staircase and down the hall toward the kitchen.
I squint, staring harder as I realize that most of those people are older. Actually, they’re my family. My mom and my dad are standing in the doorway to the living room. And my grandma is in the foyer, walking slowly, tightly gripping her cane. Calvin’s aunt is standing in the hall, and his Uncle Bob is near the bottom of the stairs. What is going on?
Scanning the crowd, I pick out face after face I recognize—coworkers, old friends, and Parker. He isn’t hard to spot. No, he’s sticking out like a sore thumb all alone in the middle of the couch, gangly arms stretched out along the back. He’s the only one sitting down. Everyone else is standing. His expression is hard to make out from here, but I know my friend well enough to see he’s tense. A knot forms in my stomach. I wish he’d look up, but he doesn’t.
My feet aren’t moving any longer. I didn’t tell them to stop, but all my concentration is focused on the strange turn of events. What the heck is happening here?
“Adrienne,” Calvin says with a squeeze to my hand. I reluctantly meet his eyes. He’s a step below me on the landing, and instead of continuing down, he’s stopped too and he’s facing me. I’m a couple of inches taller than him from this step, and I feel tall looking at him. He reaches out for both of my hands and my confusion slowly turns to panic as he kneels down on one knee.
My throat freezes up. No air goes in or out of my lungs. Get up! Do not do this! I scream inside my head.
I can’t take my eyes off Calvin in front me. I’m silently hoping someone will do something to stop him. Surely I’m not the only one who knows this shouldn’t be happening.
The knot in my stomach transforms. It’s a writhing, living thing, and it’s thrashing its way up the back of my throat. I manage to gulp air and push it down as Calvin releases my hand. My hands are so sweaty. He reaches for something in his pocket, his fingers fumbling as he pulls out a little box. It’s black and velvety and a perfect little cube.
Put it back, put it back.
He opens up the velvety box, and I’m mesmerized by the light dancing off the enormous diamond in the center. My heart is hammering in my chest. I want to kneel down and urge Calvin to stand back up, but I can’t move.
“Adrienne,” he begins, “the day I met you was the best day of my life.”
Do not vomit, I command myself, covering my mouth with my hand, my very sweaty, hot hand. A rushing sound whooshes loudly in my ears and little black spots appear in my vision. Oh no, I’m going to pass out. I look down at the crowd again, working hard to focus on the faces below. I don’t want to say yes. But I can’t humiliate him in front of these people. Or can I? Should I? A strangled breath escapes me, and there’s something intense behind it, pushing to get out. Tears sting my eyes.
“We are still young and just starting out in life,” he says, and I nod vigorously in agreement, “but I know without a doubt that you and I are meant to be together.”
I’m tasting bile again. Calvin looks like he isn’t doing much better than I am. He’s sweating more now than ever, and his cheeks are brigh-red circles.
“Adrienne, will you marry me?”
The room is silent. Someone shut off the music. I can feel every eye on me as they wait for a response. A flash from someone’s phone goes off, shining in my face from below. My hands drop to my sides.
No, I say in my mind. My vision is blurred through unshed tears. My cheeks are hot, and I can feel my neck beginning to flush as well. The swirl of people below me is still waiting for my answer. Another flash.
“Yes,” I breathlessly blurt out.
Calvin sweeps me up into a big hug that would have been a big kiss, but I slap my hand back over my mouth as soon as the word yes has left my mouth. Everyone claps and cheers, and I fight the urge to push the heel of my hand against my chest. There’s a pressure there behind my sternum that’s building. With each new shouted cheer of congratulations, the pressure in my chest balloons larger, making it feel as if my ribs are being stretched to accommodate a giant ball.
Calvin releases me and we walk side by side the rest of the way down the steps. I feel numb. One person after another invades my space, each wishing us well and giving Calvin a congratulatory clap on the back.
I study Calvin as another person stops him to shake his hand and offer us both congratulations. How can you want this? I think as I stare at the back of his head while he hugs his aunt.
He’s twenty-one. He already earned his business degree and he’s very proud of his job in sales. Maybe he’s figured his life out. I know I haven’t, though. Do I want this?
As his aunt wipes tears from her eyes and hugs me, my mind drifts to Calvin’s family and I grimace. When we went to have dinner with his parents last month, they were awful to him. They talked about his brothers the entire time. His father flaunted Calvin’s accomplishments, instead reminding everyone sitting at the table of what Calvin’s brothers had been able to achieve while being husbands and fathers. It was painful to witness. I can’t imagine being in Calvin’s shoes. I look around and realize his parents aren’t here tonight.
Am I an accomplishment for you? Am I on the checklist of things you’re marking off to make your parents proud? I watch him smile at another person whose name I can’t recall. I look down at our joined hands. The giant diamond ring is digging into my finger.
We reach my parents. My mom’s shoulder-length blond hair is impeccable, not a hair out of place, but her eyes are red-rimmed. She delicately swipes at her nose.
“Congratulations, Adrienne, Calvin,” Dad says. I open my mouth to speak, but Calvin steps in closer, shaking Dad’s hand and leaning in to give my mom a hug.
“Mom, you’re about to have another son,” he says with his arms around her.
“I’m sorry. I need to use the restroom,” she says with a smile as soon as he releases her. She turns and heads toward the bathroom.
Dad gives me a hug, squeezing tighter than usual. “Hey, kid,” he says into my hair. I squeeze him back. He holds me out at arm’s length, then lets his arms drop to his sides. “Go on, go talk to the rest of these people. I’ll still be here later.”
“I’d much rather stay right here.” I give him a half-hearted smile and move along toward Calvin, who is talking to someone I don’t know.
Megan catches my eye with her unmistakably tall, willowy frame as she moves away from me and down the hall. Calvin couldn’t have chosen anyone better to help him with this. She is in her element, hustling about. She disappears into the kitchen, reappearing with someone who is holding a beautiful cake. After the cake is settled on a table I hadn’t noticed in the living room, she turns and scans the crowd, smiling and waving when she spots me.
“There’s plenty of cake,” I overhear Megan say. “Help yourself!”
My attention snaps back to Calvin. He’s saying something to his uncle, but I haven’t been listening until I hear my name.
“—Adrienne will move with me,” I hear him say. I turn toward him, brows furrowed, certain I hadn’t heard him right.
“What did you just say?” I ask, stepping closer. His uncle looks startled at my question. Calvin gives a short laugh and then shakes his head.
“When will you be leaving?” Uncle Bob asks.
“I need to go as soon as possible to find us a place. It won’t be long after that.” Calvin ignores me.
What is he talking about? I don’t remember anything about moving to Boston. I’m sure I would have remembered that conversation.
“Will you excuse us for just a moment?” I smile at Calvin’s uncle. He opens his mouth to speak, but I pull Calvin away a few steps. “What are you talking about? You’ve never mentioned moving to Boston,” I say, leaning in so only he can hear me.
He smiles and waves as someone across the room holds up a glass and gives a congratulatory nod.
“If you had gone to the dinner with me and my boss last week, you would know all about Boston,” he says with a tight smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “The promotion is in Boston, and I have to leave immediately.”
“And when were you going to tell me about it?”
“I’m telling you now.” He leans down so he is eye level with me. “Hey, come on, be excited. This is what we’ve wanted.” He reaches out, placing a hand on both of my shoulders. “This is what I’ve been working so hard for. All my hard work is finally paying off.” He smiles and cups my cheek in his right hand. His hand is soft and smooth and damp. “And it will pay off for both of us. We can start somewhere new together.”
Before I can respond, Megan’s voice silences the crowd. It looks like Uncle Bob has been recruited to make a toast. I heave a sigh and shake my head as I stop myself from saying anything else to Calvin. “This is what we’ve wanted,” Calvin had just said. I need everyone to leave.
Someone pushes us forward while someone else holds out a glass to me. I notice it’s a champagne flute, and it’s filled with a bubbling, amber liquid. I take a sniff, relieved it smells like sparkling cider.
“I couldn’t be prouder of Calvin than if he were my own son,” Uncle Bob begins.
My stomach churns. I can’t do this. I tune out the toast completely. I cannot move to Boston—with no notice—and become someone’s wife. I can’t do this. I edge away from Calvin, but he turns to me and clinks his glass against mine. The toast has ended. I’m supposed to take a sip now. I bring the glass to my lips and force my mouth open enough to take the tiniest of sips. I know I’m supposed to smile and appear happy too, but I don’t think I’m doing a good job of that.
“Now come here and get a picture with me and your aunt,” Bob continues, motioning Calvin to come stand by him. I slowly step back, hoping to put more distance between us.
“Hey,” Megan says from behind me. “I have been dying to put this in your hair since Calvin asked me to make it.” A white, filmy material touches my arms.
“Whoa, what are you doing?” I ask, knowing it is a veil in her hand. I don’t want anything to do with it.
“I thought this would be perfect for photos,” she says a little dreamily. I don’t have words for that. At least none I can say without possibly hurting Megan’s feelings. I take a deep breath and try anyway.
“Megan,” I feel a hairpin as she pushes it in, finding my scalp, “I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but I don’t want to wear this right now.” Her fingers stop tugging on my hair.
“Okay,” she says, her brow creased. “Let me pull the pins back out then. Are you feeling okay?”
I don’t trust myself to answer her. I’m screaming inside, silently begging for someone—anyone—to make this all stop immediately. I wish she could read my mind. The size of the crowd around me makes the whole condo feel small and closed in, despite the cathedral-height ceilings. I try to control my rapidly increasing breathing, as it feels like the crowd is growing larger and larger with every passing moment.
“Here,” Megan says, putting the veil in my hands. I look at the thin, flimsy material, feeling it between my fingers. It’s scratchy and rough. “You just let me know when you’re ready for it.”
Parker, who I haven’t seen since I was rooted in place on the stairs, grabs the veil from my grasp as he steps between Megan and me, his back to me.
“Hey, they need you in the living room,” he says and gently pushes Megan on her way, letting the veil fall to the floor as she walks off. I could hug him. But he just keeps standing there, his back to me, his spine straight.
“Thanks,” I say quietly.
“Now’s your chance to sneak away,” he says over his shoulder.
“I shouldn’t. I don’t want to be rude.”
“You should quit waiting for someone else to make it all stop. Go. At least take a minute for yourself.”
I press my hand to his shoulder blade. “Thank you, Parker.”
Furtively, I look at Calvin around Parker—Calvin is in his own world, talking to another relative, basking in the congratulations—then flee toward the kitchen. I make it there without anyone stopping me, and I silently rejoice that the way is clear to the back door. I take the opportunity to slip out the door onto the deck and down into the yard.
I move as quickly as my old legs will carry me. As soon as yes slipped out of Adrienne’s mouth, I knew I needed to get out of there. Adrienne and her now-fiancé have just made it down the stairs, and I’m glad to see she hasn’t spotted me yet. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I don’t end up speaking the truth. My Adrienne and I know each other too well for her not to see that I’m hoping for an immediate breakup, not a wedding. And in the midst of this crowd is hardly the place for such a conversation.
Sawyer lopes down the stairs and joins me just as I make it to the door. “I’m sorry,” he says with a shake of his head. “He interrupted before I could warn her.” He shuts the door behind us.
“That’s all right, my boy.” I give him a pat. “This isn’t over yet. Help me around to the back.”
Sawyer sticks out an elbow, and I link my arm through his. He’s a sweet boy. I begin to pick my way through the grass and head toward the side of the building.
“I could drive you around instead,” he says. His slow and sturdy steps punctuate how frail and feeble my steps are this evening. I don’t much like the juxtaposition, so I let go of him and straighten my spine.
“I’m just having a bad day, but I can manage the short distance just fine.” I focus on my next step and the one after that while keeping my face as close as I can to looking like every other step doesn’t hurt. “Besides, it will be a minute or two before Adrienne makes her escape.”
“What makes you so sure she will?”
“Come now, you saw it too. The poor child.” I shake my head. “How everyone else didn’t see it is beyond me. As Calvin went down on one knee, Adrienne looked like she had smelled something rotten.” I stifle a laugh, remembering the moment I thought for sure my Adrienne was going to get sick all over that arrogant, controlling boy trying to claim her.
“She did look uncomfortable,” Sawyer says.
“I have never seen a more closed-off, unobservant, ignorant group of people in my life. All those looky-loos staring at what should have been a private moment between two people in love.” I humph and take a moment to breathe. I can feel my blood pressure rising the more I talk about it. Sawyer just gives me his famous look. The one I know is usually followed by the words Calm down, Effie. So I try to focus on something else. Anything else. Except everything comes back to my Adrienne. That thought gives me a smile. Everything always has circled back to my darling, hasn’t it?
“She’s too polite for her own good, but she’ll bolt as soon as she can.”
We finally make it around to the back of the house. I stop while we’re still in the shadows to wait and watch. The yard is short, and just before the grass ends at the alleyway, there is a small concrete bench to the left. We don’t have to wait long before Adrienne comes out the back door and into the yard, heading straight for the bench. She plops down, heaves a big sigh, and covers her face with her hands.
I touch Sawyer’s arm. He gives me a nod and stays right where he is. I step forward quietly, listening.
Maybe if I sit here long enough, they’ll all just go away. That’s what my girl is sitting there thinking on what should have been a happy occasion. If he wasn’t the wrong boy, it would be. I want to tell her that, but she needs to be ready to hear it first. And I’m not sure she is.
“Not likely, my darling.” She starts at my words, her phone and her hands dropping to her lap. “Someone will come looking for you sooner rather than later.”
How does she do that? Adrienne is wondering now. She is staring at me, and I can see her thoughts as clearly as a sunrise.
“How do you always do that?” she asks with one of her sweet smiles. “How do you always know what I’m thinking?” I move closer and sit beside her on the little concrete bench.
“Do you remember that time you tried to run away when you were . . . how old were you then?”
“Seven,” she says quietly. “I was seven.”
“You were so determined you could go out on your own and be just fine,” I say, a grin on my face.
“Yes, and you were waiting for me at the bottom of our driveway,” she says with a sigh. “You ruined my big plans. How did you know I was going to run away?”
“I knew because you’ve always been so much like me,” I tell the half-truth without hesitation. Little does she know I couldn’t have been prouder of her the moment I saw her striding down her driveway, backpack strapped to her, full of purpose and angst. It was exactly what I would have done in her situation.
I was there when she and her mother had butted heads, again, earlier that day. I had watched as Thea did what she always does: ignore what’s right in front of her. I didn’t need to be a mind reader to figure out what Adrienne was thinking that day. But hearing her thoughts loud and clear didn’t hurt, either.
“Watching you grow up has been like watching myself in a mirror.” I laugh quietly. “When I think about how I was at the age you are now . . .” I let my sentence trail off as I scan the night sky, remembering. “What sticks out the most to me now as I think back is a feeling of excitement. I was excited about life and where I was going and what I was going to do.” Breathing deeply, I savor the night air. It’s feeling thicker and it tastes like rain.
“Did you know your grandfather was not the first young man in my life?” I say after a minute. Her eyebrows shoot up. “Before your grandpa, I had a fiancé of sorts.” I lean in closer and so does Adrienne. “He was everything I was supposed to want,” I whisper to her. “But when I thought about being tied to him for the rest of my life.” I shake my head. “I wasn’t so excited about life anymore. I could see it the moment he asked, my future all laid out for me.” I pause and take another deep breath. “If I had chosen him, I surely would have suffocated.”
“What about Grandpa Hank? How did you know you weren’t making a mistake when you married him?”
“I didn’t. Your grandfather was a good man, but he was sort of a mess when we got together. He had a lot of baggage to work through, and I wasn’t so sure he’d be able to. But I had a feeling. A good feeling. So I leaped.”
Adrienne picks at her cuticles and chews on the inside of her lip in the silence. I lay my hand on hers and she stills her fingers. She clears her throat.
“What do you think I should do?” She turns her hands, palms up, in mine.
“I can’t answer that one for you. But I do know this: You will find your spot in life, Adrienne.” I pat her wrist. “You’ll find the thing you were meant to know or be or do, and then you’ll discover every other decision will be a little easier to make.” She lowers her head, and I think I might see a single tear trail down her cheek. “But you must be patient with yourself. That piece of the puzzle is coming, but it isn’t here yet.”
She looks more confused now than when she first came out here. I reach out, crooking my index finger under her chin. I kiss her forehead before dropping my finger. “Grandma,” she says, and I smile to myself as I hear her question before she even asks it, “did you send someone here to talk to me before the proposal?”
I nod and laugh.
“Because I wanted to warn you before Calvin proposed, to give you a chance to prepare yourself.”
“Why didn’t you just call me or come see me yourself?”
“Where is the fun in that?” I smile and glance over my shoulder. “Sawyer, come on out here, please.” Sawyer steps out of the shadows and walks toward us.
“How do you know him?” Adrienne leans in and asks as Sawyer walks casually our way. He smiles and offers a nod to Adrienne. She doesn’t smile back.
“He helps me from time to time,” I say as I reach out to pat Sawyer’s arm.
Lucky Grandma, I hear her think. “Like he gets the newspaper off the porch and drives you places and goes grocery shopping for you . . . or what?” Adrienne asks, her tone implying she doesn’t believe he does any of that.
“Don’t you worry about it, my darling,” I tell her with a wink. “Sawyer is a smart and capable young man. He helps me on my own little missions.” If she only knew how close to the truth that really is.
“How did you know ahead of time that Calvin was going to propose? Did he tell everyone?”
“He invited us all here a couple of weeks ago, and it was the only logical conclusion,” I reply as I smooth an imaginary wrinkle in my pants. I hate lying to her all the time. But soon. Soon I won’t have to.
Sawyer steps forward and holds out his arm to me. Adrienne takes a deep breath. My darling girl, I wish I could keep her wrapped in a bubble and safe from everything that might be on its way.
“It’s also important you know Sawyer is a good boy,” I continue, “and I trust him with my life. You should too. No matter what.”
Her eyes widen and she lets out a nervous laugh. “Okay, Grandma,” she finally says with a polite smile. “You’re starting to make me worry.”
“We’ll talk soon.” I return her smile. Sawyer’s gaze is settled on Adrienne. She stares back, raising her chin ever so slightly, and he shrugs before extending his arm to me once again.
“It was nice to officially meet you, Adrienne,” he says. She gives him a stiff nod and briefly shakes his hand. “Oh, one more thing . . .” He reaches into his pocket, then plops her keys into her hand. “I thought you might want to miss the crowd.” I want to give him one of those fist-bump things I see the kids do for a job well done.
“Oh,” she says with a smile and an almost laugh, “thank you. You couldn’t be more right about that. Sawyer,” she reaches out a hand and quickly retracts it, “have we . . . have we met?”
“No.” He gives her one of his beautiful grins. “We haven’t met before tonight.”
“Let’s go home, my boy,” I say before there are any more questions. “Good night, my darling girl.” With one last squeeze-tight hug for Adrienne, I take my leave.
“We’re here,” Sawyer says as he pulls into the garage attached to my house.
“Sweet boy, did you hear anything else from you-know-who?”
Instead of answering, he hops out and comes around to my side of the car. He opens my door and holds out a hand. I take it.
“Well?” I ask after an old-lady grunt escapes my lips as I haul my decrepit body up and out of the car. It’s a shame my body doesn’t match my mind. My mind is still young and strong.
“I did,” Sawyer says as we walk into the house.
“Am I going to have to peel you apart layer by layer? Spit it out.”
“There has been nothing new. We’re at a dead end.”
I let out a not-so-old-lady curse. Sawyer flips on a light and stops, turning to face me.
“Before you say it,” he says, “I’m not doing it.”
I give him my best smile. “All right.”
“Did you hear me, Effie?” He crosses his arms over his chest He looks adorable when he’s frustrated. It’s a shame Adrienne hasn’t found someone like Sawyer. If I were his age, I would look twice, that’s for sure.
“Hmm?” I say innocently.
“I am not, under any circumstances, helping you kill yourself.”
“You should know by now that if you won’t help me, I’ll do it anyway all on my own.” I give him my best smile once again. He doesn’t look pleased one bit with me. “Oh, stop it,” I say as I swat at his arm. “I’ll be fine. What’s the point in living if you never take any risks?”
“You know the chances of your plan working without causing you permanent brain damage are none. That’s more than a risk. It’s a certainty!”
I sigh heavily and take a shuffling step forward. “That may be true, but we’re fresh out of ‘safe’ options. Do you have any better ideas?”
“You could wait patiently. He will show himself again, and this time we’ll be ready.”
“Maybe by the time you get to him, it will be too late. Don’t you think I’ve been waiting patiently for years already?” I frown at him. I’ve been searching, watching for an opportunity to end this for almost as long as Sawyer’s been alive.
“Why don’t you ask Thea to help you at least? You and I both know she is uniquely qualified—”
His face is red, but I wave him off as soon as she says Thea.
“No.” I interrupt. “We’ve been over this, Sawyer. Thea has her head buried in the sand. She wants nothing to do with any of it.”
“And you’re above begging, I can see.” Now I smile. Just a small smile. His resolve must be slipping if he’s making jokes about the situation. He knows my ego is entirely too large for such a thing as begging my own daughter for her help.
“Absolutely. It’s part of the reason you find me to be so endearing,” I reply.
“I’ll be sure to say so at your funeral.”
“You haven’t learned yet, have you? I’m unstoppable. Brain damage or not, I’m not going anywhere.”