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Page 5

Mayo forgotten, I take a bite of my sandwich. The bread is damp and the shaved turkey dry, but it has crunchy pickles, so I take that as a victory.

After I inhale my sandwich and have time to take stock of Aunt Maggie’s pantry—it’s filled with shoeboxes exploding with old receipts but no food—I grab my keys to make a trip to the grocery store for supplies. No one should home renovate without plenty of potato chips. I glance around at the knickknacks on every flat surface and add wine to my mental shopping list. I have my work cut out for me.

Taking my chances, I go out the front door and hold my breath until my Keds hit the cracked sidewalk. As I walk to my car, it’s impossible not to notice the picture-postcard suburbia around me. It could be a movie lot—especially compared to New York, where half the beauty of it is the mix of architectural styles in one city block.

There, the glass-encased skyscrapers are within view of the once–Gilded Age homes that are now museums. Here, it’s all the same, just in different combinations of the HOA-approved color palate. It’s pretty in its own way, but it definitely is not where I saw myself living. Ever.

Across the street, a guy mowing his lawn gives me the once-over. I wave as I open my car door, but he doesn’t return the gesture.

Whew. That’s at least the level of what-the-fuck-are-you-looking-at friendliness I’m used to in the city. It’s kinda comforting, like spotting a rat dragging a slice of pizza down the sidewalk.

I get behind the wheel of the used Ford Focus my parents helped me buy, insert the key in the ignition, and turn it. Nothing happens. I try it again. And again. And again.

Dad insisted I don’t need a car—I would be going back to New York soon. When he realized I was serious, though, he begged me to let him buy me something newer. Something from this decade. But pride is a fickle bitch, and I decided this is the right car for an unemployed soon-to-be divorcée. A dented and banged-up, useless shell of its former glory that’s now reduced to an anecdotal epitaph. The car, I mean.

I let my head drop to the steering wheel, hitting it just right so that the horn blares and scares the ever-loving shit out of me and sets off half the dogs in the neighborhood. The dude mowing slows down enough to glare at me.

I keep my single-finger salute below the dashboard so he can’t see. Then I march back into the house—using the back door, because I have a feeling that the third time is definitely not the charm for me with that porch disaster—to figure out how in the hell I’m going to pay for a tow truck in addition to the inheritance tax and home repairs.

If only Aunt Maggie hoarded hundred-dollar bills.

Chapter Five


   I should take the death of my car (melodramatic? me?) as the sign it surely is. An hour later, my dead car has been towed to a garage. Thank goodness Aunt Maggie’s car is still in the garage, though I probably need a boating license to drive something that big these days. I decide to not risk another misadventure and instead scour the kitchen for the only thing on my grocery list that really matters—wine.

I find an unopened bottle in the fridge and have it open in five seconds flat. Well, mostly because it has a screw cap, but it’s an urgent necessity, too. I just discovered that my HGTV addiction and newfound (and misplaced) confidence has led me to a very dark place.

Literally.

There isn’t a single light in the living room of Aunt Maggie’s house that works, and the sun is minutes away from disappearing altogether for the night. I toss back the last of the wine in my classy red Solo cup and pour another before I lose all light entirely. Priorities and all. Plus, I already spent forty minutes trying to find the circuit breaker box. It defeated me.

The Property Brothers make it look so easy. Jonathan and Drew are now officially a pair of straight-up lying jerks. I’ll still watch them, though. Hell, I swore off men forever after Karl but, no joke, I’d blow Jonathan right now if he showed me where the breaker box is located.

Okay, that might be the wine talking—at least a little. But anyone who has ever tried to find a breaker box in an unfamiliar house in the dark knows my frustration level.

Even more pathetic, I’m doing that alone as I wander onto my death-trap front porch and sink onto the middle step, wrapping one arm around the fallen tree limb like it’s a lifeline, and stare out at cookie-cutter Americana.

The only thing that stands out more than Aunt Maggie’s ramshackle two-story cottage with its cracked driveway and raggedy yard and porch is the droopy-eared dog of indeterminate breed and age lying in the middle of my jungle-themed front lawn.

I set my empty cup down and slowly approach the sad-looking dog. She apparently has worse survival instincts than I do because she just lays there like this is to be her fate. She is clearly well fed and cared for, so she must have a home somewhere in the neighborhood. I reach for the bone-shaped tag hanging from her collar and flip it over to show her name. Buttercup. But of course no address.

“Nice to meet you, Buttercup.” I scratch behind her ear, and her foot immediately starts slapping against the grass.

I wish I felt a tenth as happy as she does. Instead, I’m an anxiety-riddled pretzel who, after way too long staring at my phone today, is now a YouTube-licensed contractor, which is about as legitimate as having a medical degree from WebMD.

Scared?

Yeah, me too.

Of course, being frightened out of my mind and running on panic-fueled adrenaline is pretty much my life right now. To be honest, I’m not sure I ever knew which way I was going besides following the lead of someone else.

A loud three-note whistle comes from down the street. Buttercup lifts her head and looks in that direction but doesn’t get up. The sound blasts out again. My girl Buttercup, though, is not interested.

“Butters, come.”

A commanding male voice has both of us straining in the dark to gaze down the tree-lined street, lit only by the occasional faux gaslight lamps, at a man jogging toward my house. He runs under another lamp, the soft glow illuminating him enough to pick up that he is a big guy in running shorts with a T-shirt tucked into the waistband. Then he disappears as he moves out from underneath the umbrella of soft light. He shows up a few seconds later under the light of a different lamp. Each time, I take in different details. Wavy brown hair. Broad shoulders. Nice arms. Trim waist. By the time I notice his calves, I realize I’m holding my breath every time he disappears in the shadows.

Yeah, it has apparently been that long since I’ve even remotely found someone attractive. It’s like sometime during the past few years, my libido was turned off. It was there, and then it wasn’t. Even worse? I really didn’t care.

But suddenly there it is again—tanned, rested, and ready for action like it just came back from vacation on Horny Island. I’m so startled by this revelation that I stumble backward to my porch steps and plop down next to the tree again. Honestly, that’s the only wood I want in my future.

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