Copyright © 2019 by Jessica Calla
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Gladys held up the triangle-shaped fabric, stretching the elastic that ran along one end. “I think this is your best work yet.”
Emma beamed. “That’s high praise coming from you.” She reached for the head scarf she’d made for Gladys Pickleton, the grumpiest senior at the center’s cancer support group. “Let me help you.”
She stood behind Gladys and pulled the elastic around the crown of her head, in her third attempt to provide Gladys with a scarf. For some reason, Emma couldn’t make a scarf that stayed on Gladys’s head. They kept sliding into her eyes. She’d made it her personal challenge to make Gladys a scarf she’d approve of—not a simple task since Gladys hardly approved of anything—and asked sewing experts, searched through patterns, and finally came up with the elastic idea.
Gladys had been fighting cancer for four years, in and out of remission. Emma didn’t know the details, she never asked, and when Emma offered to make a scarf, Gladys initially fought back. “I don’t need a scarf,” Gladys had said, a Texas twang purring from her red-painted lips.
But last week, Gladys looked tired, and her hair was thinning from the chemo. She motioned for Emma to follow her to a corner. “Miss Emma, I think it’s time for my scarf.”
Emma’s lips turned down into a frown. “Well, I’m not so sure about that,” she’d said. “But I’d be happy to make you one.”
Most of the group loved the scarves that Emma sewed. She wasn’t sure if it was because of her actual sewing talent, or because they were simply ecstatic that someone cared. Emma would spend hours at the group with them, listening to their stories, and then searching for fabrics that related to their lives. In Gladys’s case, Emma knew that her husband used to sing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” to her, back in the “good old days” when they lived outside of Houston.
At first, Emma was afraid that her scarves made people sad, or were some sort of symbol of them accepting their mortality. Instead, she found that they’d sort of became a status symbol around the center. A conversation starter. Something to brag about.
“Miss Emma made you one with glitter? Oh, I’m going to ask for glitter for mine!”
“See this kitten here on my scarf? It looks exactly like my first cat, Buttons. Oh, I loved Buttons!”
“I served in the Navy. Do you see this scarf on my head? It’s the Navy’s emblem. I was a SEAL in nineteen-eight-two!”
After Emma fitted Gladys’s scarf, she wasn’t sure about the way it bunched around the elastic. But as soon as Gladys lifted the hand mirror and looked at the headpiece, she gasped. “It fits! I love the roses.” Then she put down the mirror and held out a shaky hand to touch Emma’s arm. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Emma straightened her shoulders. “Now are you going to quit complaining all the time?”
Gladys pressed her lips into a tight smile, before saying, “Well, maybe not all the time.”
The cancer group came together every week to support each other and share their stories. Emma was proud of her scarves, but more of the people who wore them, who fought every day just to have another night, so they could wake up to another experience, another conversation with their kids and grandkids, another birthday celebration.
Of course, nobody at the center knew about the first scarf that Emma had made, ten years earlier. Emma still had it at home. It was a dark blue material designed with stars. Her mother had always loved the sky.
“Your iPad thing is dinging.”
Gladys’s voice pulled her out of her memories. “Excuse me?”
Gladys pointed to the pocket of Emma’s long, button down sweater. “Your thing. It’s glowing too.”
“Oh!” Emma pulled her phone out and smiled at the name that lit it up: Andrew.
“Are you blushing?” Gladys asked, peeking at the screen. “Who’s Andrew?”
Emma yanked the phone away. “Nosy!” But she couldn’t stop the corner of her lip from lifting into a grin.
“You are. Hey, everyone,” Gladys called to the room. “Miss Emma’s got a boyfriend.”
“Andrew,” Gladys yelled back.
“When did that happen?”
The questions came flying as Emma scrunched her nose at Gladys. “What kind of friend are you, spreading rumors like that?”
“Your flushed cheeks tell me that I’m right though.” Gladys moved closer as the interested people from the group, about half of the fifty or so in attendance, huddled around Emma.
“Oh my,” Emma said, holding up a hand. “I do not have a boyfriend. Absolutely not.”
Groans followed and the crowd dispersed. All except for Gladys.
“You may have fooled the rest of those baffoons, but I don’t believe you. Now you tell me what’s going on or I’ll…”
“You’ll what, missy?” Emma teased.
“I’ll…I’ll tell everyone that you smell bad and you don’t bathe!” Gladys’s eyes widened, like that was the most evil thing she could think of.
Emma plopped into a chair next to her. “I can’t have that now, can I? My reputation as a clean-scented lady would be ruined.” She opened the text.
Andrew: Hey Boss Lady. I know you’re busy today but was hoping I could call you later for some help with something for the girls.
“Huh,” she said to the phone. What could she possibly do to help? She stuck the phone back in her pocket.
“Who is he?” Gladys asked, her eyes bright for the first time in weeks. “Tell me everything. Is he hot?”
“Come on, throw an old lady a bone!”
Emma huffed. “He’s very handsome. But we’re just friends.”
“Uh-huh. That’s how it all starts you know.”
“How what starts?”
“Love.” Gladys lifted her chin, studying Emma like she knew a secret that Emma wasn’t in on. “First you find friendship, then you see if that changes. If it works.”
“Is that how it’s done?” Emma asked, furrowing her brow. “The only time I thought I was in love was a decade ago, when I dropped everything and followed a photographer around the world, just to be dumped in a foreign country.”
Gladys gasped. “That’s terrible! What an evil man to do that to you.”
“Right?” Emma appreciated the validation. Dario certainly was not a gentleman.
“That sounds more like lust than love though. Trust me. Mr. Pickleton was my best friend before we ever even kissed. And he gave me the best life I could ever dream of.” Gladys’s eyes started to water.
Emma took her hands, fighting back her own tears. “He was a lucky man to have you. And he must have been very patient to put up with your nonsense.”
Gladys’s jaw dropped but when Emma smiled, she scrunched her face and pointed at her. “You kids these day. No respect.” And just like that, Gladys was back to herself.
As Gladys fiddled with her new scarf, showing it off to the other ladies, the group meeting came to order. Emma sat in the back for a while, and then snuck out to get on with her day, like she did every week.
As much as she loved the seniors, she didn’t really have the time to linger in New Jersey for the entire Saturday. Saturday, post-senior center, always started with a latte from the coffee house at the corner. With a smile on her face, she got her coffee to go and waited outside for her car to arrive, thinking about the next scarf she’d sew for Reginald, the musician.
When she remembered Andrew’s text, she pulled up the message again and replied with one hand, while holding her coffee in the other. Multi-tasking, she thought, laughing to herself.
Emma: Call me later and I’ll try to help. Even though after some late-night Googling, I learned that Star Lord is pretty smart and probably wouldn’t need help…
His text dinged back immediately.
Andrew: Ha! Good research. But even Star Lord needs to collaborate once in a while. I’ll call later. And thank you. Again. Am I always saying thank you?
Gosh, he was cute.
Emma: It’s not the worst thing I’ve heard all day. Thank away, friend. I’ve been told a lot worse.
As her car came to the curb, Emma realized it was barely noon, and she’d already had a fulfilling day. The hot latte steaming in her hands made it all the better, as did the ding from her cell phone.
Andrew: Don’t let those corporate types talk bad to you. They give you any crap, you tell me and I’ll sabotage their computers… JUST KIDDING. Go. Talk later.
She smiled at the phone, as the car headed back to the city.
Andrew moved around the kitchen, grabbing snacks for the girls and cleaning up the remnants of breakfast. His father fiddled with their leaky faucet. “I’ll fix this up for you today while you’re all out.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?” Andrew knew the answer before he asked.
Jeffrey groaned, waving a hand. He’d always hated the city. “No thank you. It’s too busy and noisy, and it smells weird.”
“Don’t let the girls hear you say that. This is their first time to the Big Apple and I want them to form their own opinions.”
Jeffrey harrumphed. “Devon will agree with me. Bella, maybe not.”
“You think so?” Andrew lifted his brows and side-eyed his father. “Want to bet on it? Fifty bucks says they both love it.”
“You’re on.” They shook on their deal, and Jeffrey moved to the table. He grabbed his phone and the paper newspaper that he still insisted be delivered every Sunday.
“I don’t like leaving you. I wish you’d come.”
“Are you kidding? I’ve been trying to ditch you three on a Sunday for six years. I’m going to fix that faucet and go enjoy the quiet now that this Emma lady’s getting you all out of my hair.”
Andrew knew his dad was kidding, but he did feel a little guilty running out on him. “This was all my idea, Emma just helped me with the details. And I guess, technically, she put the idea in my mind.”
Andrew remembered the way Emma’s face had looked Friday evening gazing out of her office window before they left for the play. Soft. Real. He’d loved that she had memories of her parents like that to recall, and thought it was time for his girls to have some Christmas memories, too. Rockefeller Center for a skate around the tree, Emma’s same tradition, was a good place to start.
When he’d talked to Emma the night before just for some general information about parking and timing and details like that, she’d gone into planning mode. Despite his protests that he hadn’t intended to bother her, she’d talked a mile a minute and begged him to let her plan the day.
Then, he’d asked her to join them.
The sound of her voice, the way her laugh made his stomach do a flip, turned him into mush, and by the end of the call, he’d basically given up any semblance of being in charge. She was the Boss Lady after all. Planning a city outing for him and his girls was certainly making her a happy woman, so why not let her do it? She was the one with the knowledge of holiday season happenings anyway.
Now all he had to do was get the girls into the city and to her building, where Emma had secured him a guest spot in the residential garage.
Jeffrey tucked his paper under his arm and headed for the door. “I’m glad you’re taking them. They’re big enough now for you to handle on your own, but I’m glad Emma will be there. You know that city is crazy, and with two of you to look out for them, I’ll worry less.”
“Two grown-ups. Two kids. Man-to-man coverage always works best. Why do you think I keep you around?” he teased his father.
“Brat.” Jeffrey laughed. “Have a good time today, okay? Don’t you worry about me. I’ll call you if there are any emergencies, which I don’t anticipate at all. And send me a picture of the girls and that big goofy tree.”
“You got it.”
As Jeffrey started to pull the door open, Andrew called him back. “Hey, Dad?”
His father turned in the doorway. For a second, Andrew almost told him to forget it, to go enjoy his day. But his father had become his best friend. His closest confidante. And Andrew needed someone to gauge his sanity. “This is okay, what I’m doing, right?”
“Taking your girls to that crappy, overcrowded city across the river?” Jeffrey nodded. “It’s more than okay.”
“But…Emma. Not that it’s like that, but exposing them to her…I don’t know.”
Jeffrey huffed. “They’re girls. They need to be around women who aren’t their teachers, and Emma’s a good example and role model. I don’t think she’ll do any damage.”
“But it’s not like we’re dating. We may never see each other again after tonight. What if they get attached?”
“I have no doubt that they’ll enjoy her company, and I’m sure she’s going to make this a day they’ll remember. I certainly don’t think this is the last time they’ll see her. But no matter what happens, kids bounce back.”
“I don’t want them to have to bounce back. They’ve already had a loss in their life. I don’t want to risk them having another.”
“Then you don’t want them to live.” Jeffrey waved the newspaper at him. “Let them live, Andrew. And while you’re at it, you should live a little too.”
“It’s not like that.”
“So you’ve said.” His father rolled his eyes.
“Remember the office policy? Even if I were ready, which I’m not, even if she were willing, which she isn’t, there’s the policy.”
“I think she likes you and the girls. That’s a special gift. That’s all I’m going to say about.” He winked at Andrew and cupped a hand around his mouth. “Devon! Bella!” he yelled up the stairs. “Come say goodbye to your old grandpa.”
The girls sounded like a herd of elephants as they clamored down the stairs. “Grandpa!” Bella yelled. “We’re going to Manhattan, where Eloise lives!”
Devon shoved her sister with her shoulder. “I’m bringing my doll.” She held up Ginger. Andrew’s Christmas bonus the year before had gone toward two Country Girl dolls and accessories.
“Good for you.” Jeffrey touched their noses, one at a time. “Listen, stick with your dad and Miss Emma, okay? Don’t go wandering off. The city is a big place to get lost in and Ginger won’t be much help—she never pays attention.”
Bella giggled, shaking her head. “When are you going to learn that Ginger isn’t real?”
Devon scowled at her sister. “She’s real to us, right, Grandpa?”
Their exchange went on for another minute until Jeffrey was able to drag himself away. Andrew waved as Jeffrey made his way to his half of the duplex. “If you need anything, call me, and I’ll get home.”
“I’m fine. I’m happy to see you all going on an adventure.” Jeffrey looked past Andrew to the girls. “They’re ready, Andrew. Are you?”
He shrugged. “I guess we’ll find out. Wish me luck.”
When he turned back to the girls, they were packing the snacks he’d bagged into their backpacks. They’d worn matching outfits—Christmas skirts with green and red stripes, red tights, red turtlenecks, and their black fuzzy boots. Devon ran her hands over Bella’s long, blonde hair, in an attempt to make a ponytail.
“I’ll take care of that, Dev.”
At the sound of his voice, they both looked to him. Two sets of blue eyes, exactly like Hayley’s. Andrew shouldn’t have missed her as much as he did, because every time his girls set their eyes on him, she was there. He knew it. He felt her in them.
Soon, the twins’ eyes would be set on a different woman. A woman with dark features, warm, brown eyes, and long dark hair. Andrew’s body jerked awake at the thought of Emma, remembering her runway walk and her dress the night of the play. The way she worked the room at Russell’s party. The way his pillowcase smelled like peppermint since she’d used it the weekend before.
As alluring as Emma may be, the girls looking back at him were full of Hayley’s spirit. They were Hayley’s blood, heart, and soul, and he couldn’t let them lose that, no matter how much of a nice time they would have in the city that day.
- I’ve been hesitating posting this chapter because it’s not my favorite. It feels clunky to me. If I were publishing this to sell, I’d definitely rewrite the first half of the chapter. I think it’s nice to see Emma at the senior center, but I’m not thrilled with how I crafted it. Maybe it’s just me.
- I added this softer side of Emma specifically for the publisher who shall not be named-slash-Christmas movie maker channel, thinking this would be something they’d be into. I’m not sure if the acquisitions editor got this far before rejecting, but if she did, then maybe cancer support groups were too depressing for their kind of book/movie? I tried to keep it light, but maybe it crossed a line. Who knows! Publishing is weird.
- Speaking of publishing being weird, here’s some insight for aspiring authors. You never know when an acquisitions editor or agent decides to reject your story. It could be after the first paragraph, or they could have read the entire thing and rejected it. They don’t have to tell you squat. Sometimes, you get a form rejection such as, this isn’t for me but thank you, and other times you get a detailed letter explaining exactly why your book was rejected. If you are an aspiring writer, learn to live with rejection. Learn to live with the fact that you many never know why your book was rejected. It’s not fun, but it’s a part of the job. More importantly, don’t take rejection personally. (Note: This is by no means an easy thing to do!).
- Probably my favorite part of this chapter is when Andrew’s dad tells him that if he tried to protect the girls from everything, then he’s not letting them live. I think, maybe, I did an okay job in this book of conveying Andrew’s feelings and fear and hesitation of moving on.
- I hope you keep reading! Next chapter, Andrew and Emma have Christmas fun in the city with girls, and maybe do some hand holding 😉