“FIRST, SECOND, THIRD, FOURTH.”
I said each number as the car ground from gear to gear.
“That will show him to make fun of my abilities. Think I can’t drive a stick? Watch me.”
Traffic came to a stop. I bit my bottom lip, realizing the stoplight was at a steep incline. I did not want to roll back into the car behind me. Driving the sports car had been much easier on the open road. Give me straight highways any day to maneuvering the mountains of North Carolina.
The traffic light turned green, and I lifted my foot offthe clutch while simultaneously pushing down on the accelerator.
The car revved forward with the full power of its eight cylinders. “Whoops, a bit too much gas.” I quickly jumped forward a couple of gears to bring the RPMs under control.
For not the first time since coming into the Smoky Mountains, I thought about how much money the zippy car would fetch me.
A parting gift was how Bradley had worded it. As if I was retiring or willfully walking away. He might as well have said, “Take the car and leave. Don’t ever come back.” Not that there was anything left for me in New York City. Not now. I couldn’t even mount the energy to contem‐plate a comeback when I was still reeling from the backlash. Not that I had struck it big, but man, I was close. So close. People had started to notice me. The people that mattered— directors, producers, the press. I was going to be somebody.
And now I wasn’t.
I refused to let any more tears fall on the matter. Not now, when I was driving this beast and one slip of the accel‐erator would have me rocketing into the car in front of me. Besides, crying ruined my mascara, and I wasn’t prepared to have a makeup overhaul on the side of the road, so I pushed those thoughts aside and focused on the traffic.
Outside my window, the small town of Bakers, North Carolina, located just outside of Asheville, welcomed me home.
Even those words sounded foreign. It had been so long since I had considered any place home. I didn’t even know where that was anymore. I wondered when that feeling would lift or if I would stick around long enough to let it.
The truth of the matter was Gran was the only family member who hadn’t said told you so when I announced I was leaving acting. So, off to Gran I went.
Thankfully, Gran’s house wasn’t hard to find. It was tucked into a little retirement community called Pleasant View. Here the houses appeared uniform in their single- story design with their postage-stamp yards that I was sure maintenance took care of, and concrete back patios set for entertaining. Gran’s home was on the first street when you entered the community. Her little smart car was parked in the driveway. It was cute and spunky, just like her. I parked the Porsche at the curb and started to get out.
“Coming to ask Mother for more money?”
The middle-aged woman’s voice caught me off guard. For a second, I thought she was talking to me until I turned around and saw another woman walking down the side‐walk. The first woman appeared to be leaving Gran’s house while the other was just arriving, but as to who they were, I had no clue. What I did know was that if I had been doing a study on opposites, I imagine this is what it would look like. The first woman was polished and put together—black dress pants, white silk blouse, and black heels with the jewelry to match. The other was a sloppy mess—white sweatpants, black tank top with a bleach stain splashed down the front, black flip-flops, sans jewelry. I’d guess their ages to be somewhere between forty and fifty. It was too hard to tell from this far away.
I hung back and pretended to retrieve my bags from the car.
“What are you doing here?” the sloppy woman snapped in reply.
“Not that it’s your business, but I gave Mother a ride. Mabel’s granddaughter just got into town. They’re having a party. Bet you’ll like that.”
I stopped with my head ducked inside my car at mention of Gran’s name. She hadn’t mentioned a party, but that didn’t surprise me. Gran loved to entertain. Welcoming me home would be just the excuse she’d need to bust out the bubbly.
“Shut up, Gwen.”
“Make me,” the polished woman shot back. “Besides, what are you doing here? It’s not like you were invited.”
“I just got off work. Thought I’d stop by Mabel’s and see if she needed a hand.”
“Nice uniform,” the woman said under her breath. “And like I believe that. The day you become charitable is the day pigs fly. Just head on home. No one needs your problems, and that’s all you’ve got.”
“When did you become so nasty? Is that why Jim left you? Wait, no, that wasn’t it now was it?” The sloppy woman folded her arms across her chest and just glared.
“Why you … I swear, if it wasn’t for Mother—”
“You’d what, Gwen? C’mon, let’s hear it. What’s that?” The woman let the silence hang in the air. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. If anyone should just head on home, it’s you. Go on home to your sad, lonely little life.”
“Whatever, Roseanne. I do just fine on my own,” Gwen said, tossing her shiny brown and silver locks over her shoulder and revealing a designer handbag. Between the handbag and the oversized sunglasses perched on her head, I had to believe she was telling the truth. If her accessories were any indication, her life was just fine.
“You just keep telling yourself that,” Roseanne said over her shoulder as she walked up to Gran’s house. The combi‐nation of walking and talking was a disaster. Roseanne ended up tripping on the front step and landing face-first on the concrete. I temporarily forgot my ruse and left my bags in my car, jogging across the street to see if she needed any help.
“You’re such a mess. It’s embarrassing.” Gwen started to walk toward her sister.
“Go away. You’re the last person I need help from.”
Roseanne had rolled onto her backside and wiped her palms on her pants.
“You okay?” I asked, not even apologizing for my intrusion.
Gwen inspected her manicure, unconcerned. “I’m sure she’s fine. Don’t let her try and milk you for any sympathy.”
I, on the other hand, couldn’t hide my shock. Roseanne’s palms were bleeding, and I was sure her wrists had to be aching from bracing herself. These women weren’t senior citi‐zens, but they weren’t spring chickens either. Heck, I was in my twenties and knew a fall like that would have me smarting.
“I’m fine. I don’t need anyone’s help,” Roseanne shot back to both us. Again, I was shocked by the woman’s atti‐tude. What was with these ladies? Roseanne turned and walked up the front steps the rest of the way and disap‐peared inside Gran’s house.
Gwen rolled her eyes and clicked the doors open on the Mercedes parked at the curb in front of my fancy pants car.
“Nice car,” she said to me with a wink.
She clicked away in her heels before I could say anything else.
Mourning After is FREE through tomorrow (5/15.)
I hope you enjoy it!