Last week I posted part of Chapter 1 of Hooked on You, which releases May 11. Today I’m posting more of Chapter 1. Hooked on You is available for pre-order. Visit here for ordering information.
Chapter 1, continued.
“You’re not decrepit.” Erma McAllister was far from feeble, but she was seventy-two, and Riley didn’t like thinking about her getting older. She also didn’t want to point out that her social media wasn’t exactly a reflection of her life. She kept it going with carefully curated pictures of her works in progress, hoping to catch the eye of someone in the art business. A far-flung idea, but it didn’t take much effort to post a picture and write a caption. “You’re also too classy for guilt trips.”
“It was worth a shot.” Mimi sighed. “I guess I better get to the point. I need you to come home. ASAP.”
Riley pressed her hand against her chest, feeling her heart rate speeding up. “Why? Are you sick? Are you in the hospital?”
“No, I’m not sick . . . or in the hospital. At least not anymore.”
Riley sat up. “You were in the hospital and you didn’t tell me?”
“There wasn’t time. I broke my leg—”
“You broke your leg?” Her voice choked in her throat, and Melody rushed to sit down next to her. “When? How?”
“If I can get a word in edgewise, I’ll tell you.”
Mimi’s quiet, composed tone immediately calmed Riley, as it had for so many years. After an unstable childhood, she’d moved in with her grandmother when she was thirteen. Mimi had been her rock ever since. “I’m listening.”
“Put her on speaker,” Melody said.
Riley tapped the screen. “You’re on speaker now. Melody wants to know what’s going on too.”
“Oh, hello again, sugar. As I was saying, I broke my leg when I slid into third base last Sunday.”
Riley and Melody stared at each other. “What?” Riley finally said.
“You see, the young man playing third was blocking the base, so I had to slide. Myrtle hit a lousy outside pitch straight to the first baseman, who clearly should have been riding the bench instead of playing the infield. He flubbed the ball, and I thought I’d made it to third, until everyone started yelling at me to go back to second. I was already committed, so down I went. I was safe, by the way.”
“Is she serious?” Melody whispered.
Rolling her eyes, Riley nodded. Softball was one of her grandmother’s favorite sports, and she had dragged Riley to many a community game until Riley was seventeen. Then the community games had stopped.
“Mimi, you shouldn’t have been playing softball in the first place.”
“I don’t need a lecture from you, young lady,” Mimi grumbled. “I need you to come home and take over Knots and Tangles while I convalesce.”
“Oh no,” Riley said, getting up from the couch. She shook her head. “I’m not falling for this again.”
“Falling for what?”
Her grandmother sounded so innocent Riley almost believed her. “Like I’ve said a million times before, I’m not moving back to Maple Falls, and I’m definitely not taking over the yarn shop for you.” She walked over to the painting and scowled at the hole in the canvas. “I am impressed, though. You spun a good yarn, pun intended.”
“I’m not spinnin’ anything.” Mimi’s tone was sharp. “It’s the truth. Myrtle and I joined the new church softball team a few weeks ago, and we just had our second game. Now I’m out for the season, so stop what you’re doing and get back here. Pronto.”
Riley spun around and met Melody’s stunned gaze. Her grandmother rarely used a commanding tone with her, and not once since Riley moved away had she been insistent about her returning to Maple Falls. Until now. While she had asked Riley to visit around the holidays, she never pressured her and even visited New York a few times. She understood how important Riley’s career was to her and had always supported it 100 percent. Riley was banking that she still did.
“Mimi, I’m sorry you broke your leg—”
“Thank you. Now, about your return—”
“And I would love to come help you.” Which she would, if it didn’t mean going back to Arkansas. “But I can’t exactly drop everything here at the last minute. I have a jo—” She hadn’t told Mimi she was working part-time for a food delivery service. She had to pay her bills somehow, since her art wasn’t making any money. “I, um, have a show coming up.” At least that part was true. Mostly.
“Oh?” Excitement entered her voice. “I didn’t know that. Where is it so I can tell everyone about my famous granddaughter?”
She wouldn’t exactly be bragging about her one and only granddaughter, the supposed artistic rage of New York City, if she knew her art show was at the local flea market. It wasn’t even a show, really. Just a place to sell some of her work so she could make her part of the rent. Telling herself it was an art show made it easier to swallow. “The details aren’t worked out yet.”
“So it’s something you can postpone? Sugar, you know I wouldn’t ask you to come if I wasn’t desperate. Myrtle’s going on a three-week cruise again, so I can’t count on her.”
Guilt hammered Riley, but she stood fast. “What about one of the other Bosom Buddies?” she asked, referring to the small group of ladies that met weekly at the yarn shop for coffee, knitting or crocheting, and copious amounts of gossip.
“I suppose one or two of them could help,” Mimi muttered. “But they’re awfully busy.”
Riley pressed her fingertip against her temple, feeling her pulse throb. She had vowed not to return to Maple Falls until she made it big in New York—or at least could say she wasn’t living from hand to mouth, and she was barely doing that. She knew the Bosom Buddies wouldn’t hesitate to help her grandmother if Mimi asked. Most of the seven women had been friends since grade school, except for two who had been folded into the group over the years.
“I . . .” She turned and looked at Melody, whose thin brown arms were crossed over her chest, her dark eyes peering over bright green square glasses. Riley knew that reproving look, and she didn’t like being on the receiving end of it. In truth she didn’t need Melody to prod her. Riley couldn’t refuse the woman who had practically raised her after her mother abandoned Riley for God knew where. If Mimi needed her, Riley would be there—just like Mimi had always been there for her. “I’ll get the next flight out,” Riley said, holding back a sigh. The expense would almost max out her one credit card, but she’d worry about that later.
“Oh, Riley, thank you! Thank you!” Mimi gushed. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me. I know the shop will be in good hands with you while I recuperate. I won’t keep you. Once you’ve made your reservation, text me your flight info, and I’ll have someone pick you up from the airport.”
“I’ll just get an Uber,” Riley said.
“Nonsense. The airport is over an hour away. That would cost way too much money. Don’t you worry, sugar. I’ll make all the arrangements to get you back home.”
Home? Maple Falls had never felt like home.
“Love you, sweetie,” Mimi added before Riley could say anything else. “Talk to you soon!”
She stared at the phone after Mimi hung up. A few seconds later, she glanced at Melody, who had sat back down on their lumpy, secondhand couch and was now grinning at her.
“I knew you wouldn’t let her down.”
Riley trudged over to the couch and sank onto it again, her phone still in her hand. She continued staring at the black screen. “I don’t know about this.”
“What’s the big deal? You’re taking care of Mimi, who means a lot to you.”
“But that also means going back to Maple Falls.”
“So? You’re overdue for a visit home, Riley. I’ve been back to Minnesota three times this year alone. When was the last time you were in Arkansas?”
Nearly ten years ago, when she first moved to New York. She wasn’t about to tell Melody that. The two of them had become good friends over the last two years since they became roommates. But there were things Riley didn’t want to share with her—or anyone else, for that matter. Like her reasons for staying away from Maple Falls. Shifting the subject, she said, “You’re right. I need to focus on taking care of Mimi. That’s what matters. I’ll make sure she’s following doctor’s orders.” She smirked as she set
her phone on the coffee table. “She has a tendency to think she’s invincible.”
“No way.” Melody chuckled. “Imagine that.”
“I can’t believe she slid into third base,” Riley said. “Or that she is even playing softball at her age. Then again, Mimi has been in sports all her life. She and Myrtle were on the first girls’ softball team in Maple Falls, and they were both excellent. She still plays tennis with Gwen too.” Riley looked at her slightly pudgy tummy, the result of cheap food, a few too many glasses of wine alone in her apartment, and more than a little stress. She didn’t doubt her grandmother was in better shape at seventy-two than Riley was right now.
“I had no idea Erma was so athletic,” Melody said.
“I shouldn’t be surprised she’s on the team. Well, maybe a little because of her age. Whoever is coaching that team ought to be smacked upside the head for letting her do something so ridiculous.”
“You think they could have stopped her?”
“They could have stalled her at second.” Riley shook her head and turned to her friend. “Anyway, what’s done is done. I’m heading back to Arkansas.” A sour lump formed in her stomach at the thought. She would have to quit her job and cancel her upcoming “show.” “Don’t worry about rent, Melody. I’ll still pay my share.” Somehow. Melody nodded. “Any idea how long you’ll be gone?”
Riley shrugged. “Depends on how fast Mimi’s leg heals, I guess. I’ll be back as soon as I can, but it could be a while.”
Nodding, Melody adjusted her headband, seemingly deep in thought. After a pause, she said, “Would you mind subletting to Charlie?”
“The guy in your acting class?”
“Yeah. He’s been couch surfing for the past two months after a bad experience with his last roommate. He’s looking for a place to land until he can find something more permanent.”
“Are you sure he’s . . . safe?”
“That boy’s practically got wholesome tattooed on his forehead. I kinda feel sorry for him. He’s character actor material and not bad, but he’s rough around the edges. I’ve gotten to know him pretty well over the past year. Trust me, he’s safe.” Melody gripped Riley’s hand. “Thanks for caring, sis.”
“Always.” Riley held her hand tight, then let it go. She was so grateful for Melody’s friendship. She had answered Riley’s ad for a new roommate at the local university she took theater classes. Friendship had never come easy to Riley, but Melody’s easygoing and caring personality had eventually pulled her out of her shell. She was also grateful to the unknown Charlie for taking over the rent for a little while. “Guess I better search online for a flight.”
“And I’ve got to get ready for the exciting world of waitressing. Double shift today. Yay me.” Melody got up from the couch and headed for the one bedroom in the apartment. When they first rented the place together, they agreed to change rooms every three months. The arrangement had worked out well, especially since neither of them was big on entertaining visitors. When she wasn’t delivering food, Riley was focused on her art, while Melody, a social butterfly who liked being out and about, often spent time with her actor friends at various places around the city. The few times she dragged Riley out of the cave had been torture. Riley was used to being alone, and she liked it that way.
A few moments later, Melody emerged from the bedroom, dressed in the white T-shirt and black pants her job required. Her blue-and- orange- striped drawstring backpack was slung over her shoulders, and her lips glistened with plum lipstick that perfectly complimented her dark skin. “See you tomorrow,” she said, opening the apartment door. “Don’t wait up.”
Riley waved goodbye as Melody closed the door. She rose from the couch and turned the double locks into place, then glanced at her ruined art. She wasn’t in the mood to try to fix it now. Instead, she walked over to the window and gazed at the view of the brick apartment building next door. Not much of a vista, but like every struggling artist trying to make it in the big city, she couldn’t afford to be picky. Still, New York was her home.
The window was cracked open, letting in the buzz of city life. When she’d first arrived, she had been awed by the place. Too awed, to the point of culture shock. She wasn’t used to the mix of cultures, but she had grown to quickly appreciate the diversity of the people living here. She’d never gotten used to the night life, but that was fine. Her focus wasn’t on having fun. She was determined to break into the hip art scene that had eluded her for the past ten years. She might be broke and in serious need of some vitamin D, not to mention shedding a few pounds, but at least she wasn’t in Maple Falls. The only way she’d planned to return was after she had proven to herself and everyone else that she was different. Successful. Responsible. And nothing like Tracey. Thanks to her grandmother not acting her age,
Riley’s plan was now in shambles.
Riley turned and stared at the ruined peacock feather and the golden threads she had painstakingly glued over thick, lifted curls of purple, blue, ochre, and green acrylic paint. Poking through the colorful swirls in what seemed like a random pattern but had taken hours to design were the glossy black-and- white magazine pictures of city life. The comfort of nature’s colors clashing with the harshness of human constructs. She loved to explore opposite concepts in her art using unexpected materials—fabric, feathers, a variety of paints, anything with texture and especially substances that on the surface were easily discarded things yet could be transformed into something beautiful.
A sigh escaped. There’d been a time when she thought her art was unique, and in the unsophisticated town of Maple Falls, it was. But not here. Mixed-media artists were everywhere, and getting herself noticed in a sea of aspiring creatives had been beyond difficult. But she wasn’t going to give up. There wasn’t time to fix the piece the way she wanted to, but she would tackle it when she returned. Right now she had to go take care of her grandmother, which meant working at Knots and Tangles again.
A car horn sounded below, jolting Riley’s thoughts. She’d never imagined she’d be working there again. During her teen years she spent hours in her grandmother’s yarn shop. Not only working but practicing her art in the all-purpose room in the back. The old yarn store had been her job and her haven. But even she could see that it was a fifty-year millstone around her grandmother’s neck. Mimi needed to sell the store and retire. Riley had mentioned it to her over the years only to be instantly shut down. Maple Falls was in decline when Riley moved away, and from little hints she gathered during conversations with Mimi, things hadn’t improved. Riley thought her grandmother not only needed to sell the store but also needed to put her large house on the market and move in with Myrtle. Or maybe Myrtle could move in with Mimi. Riley wasn’t naive enough to think her grandmother would come to New York with her, but Mimi moving in with one of her good friends was a possibility. They were both widows, and paring down expenses would benefit them both. If there was something Riley was an expert at, it was pinching her pennies.
While her brain knew retirement and consolidation were in Mimi’s best interest, the thought of the store being in someone else’s hands pinched at her heart. She shoved the feeling away, as she normally did when she grew sentimental. It was time her grandmother embraced change. This visit was a prime opportunity for Riley to convince her of that.
She felt an unexpected spark of hope. She had a plan now—help Mimi heal and convince her to sell her shop and the house. All three tasks wouldn’t be easy, but she was determined. Once her grandmother unchained herself from the past, Riley could too—and when she left Maple Falls this time, it would be for good.
She crossed the small living room, opened her ancient laptop, and started to search for a flight. As she surfed, another thought popped into her mind. But no—she didn’t have to worry about running into him. Like her, he’d moved on from Maple Falls. Still, remembering the crush she’d had on him in high school—one he had no idea about—caused a tiny flutter in her stomach. Talk about silly. She hadn’t given him a single thought since she left Maple Falls. Okay, maybe one . . . or fifty thoughts since she’d left, but not any recently. And there was no reason for her to think about Hayden Price again now. She put him out of her mind and booked her flight to Arkansas.