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The instant my sister, Rox, sees me fumble down the hallway, she perks up. “Happy New Year!” she announces at the top of her lungs. Then she doubles down. “We’ve got a lot to tackle today—a lot that I need to um…to go over with you.”
As I round the corner to the kitchen, I squint at the light bursting through the open blinds and grumble something indecipherable. Frankly, it’s too early, and her voice is way too…ready and raring.
Which I’m decidedly not.
Her New Year’s goals started at approximately one second after midnight. Goals, which, along with reading every self-help book about finding love, apparently include bookkeeping.
“Hmm?” I mumble.
I haven’t had my coffee yet. Thus, I don’t have coordinated motor skills nor the brainpower to hit the ground running. Especially not for whatever resolution she’s so eager to get a jump on.
Unlike my sister, I’m not a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed morning person. I’m more caffeine-deficient grump and socket-shocked hair until late afternoon. I’m also not big on making grand resolutions I probably won’t see through anyway. Beyond upping the number of times I brush my teeth from two to three times daily and drinking more water, that’s about as good as it gets.
“Ah, ah, ah.” I give her a small headshake, warning clear in my tone. I can almost taste the rich, hot liquid as I pull out the drawer below the Keurig where we keep the K-Cups and lift the box lid.
Instantly, my heart sinks at the empty box.
I ransack the entire drawer, tossing the empty box, stir sticks, and stray Monopoly dollars—the ones Rox likely hid when she was the banker last time we played. I feel like I’ve played a four-hour game only to land on my opponent’s loaded property and discover I’ve already used the last of my stashed five-hundred-dollar bills. I’m bankrupt and ready to make all sorts of ill-advised bargains for even a few teensy sips.
No, no, no, no, no.
The room tilts on its axis. The sound that spills from my lips isn’t quite a whimper as it is a whooshing battle cry from my bloodstream.
“Roxanne Sloane.” I use her full name, enunciating every syllable. “Please tell me you didn’t use the last K-Cup. Tell me you have a secret stash somewhere and we’re not completely out of coffee.”
Because she’s my sister, Rox ignores my clamped-shut eyes and the finger I’m holding up, my other hand planted on my hip.
“You used the last one yesterday.”
Did I? That’s right. Shoot, I did.
Her sharp tone rips through my haze. “Now, seriously. We need to talk.”
With an impatient lift of my chin, I meet her unblinking gaze.
She draws her perfectly arched eyebrows together, and that’s when I register the tilt of her head. The seriousness in her oversteeped brown eyes is so much more. It’s a mix of worry and…sadness?
There’s a heaviness to her faraway stare before she wraps her hand around to knead the back of her neck.
I flit a glance over to the coffee table stacked with mail, papers, and books, where she was sitting earlier.
Together with my sister and my best friend, Nadia, we own Love & Games, a one-of-a-kind ode to classic board games. I’m the creative tier. I merchandise, choose the inventory and product displays, and represent the brand in the community. Nadia is the glorified HR department. When it’s more than just the three of us, she’ll handle recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training staff. For now, she oversees workplace safety, labor laws, and company culture policies (i.e., social media). Rox runs the business end. She pays the bills, balances the books, that kind of thing.
And she color-codes profit and loss statements to explain earnings trends to Nadia and me.
This is not a Ferrari or sexy stilettos. Red is not good.
“What’s going on?” I suck in a lungful of air and hold it. “I thought we had an amazing December. It should have rounded out a stellar quarter, right? The year-end numbers can’t be that bad…” I let the words die on my tongue when her eyes flood with tears. “Holy shit, Rox. What is it?”
She shakes her head, kneading the back of her neck again. “It wasn’t enough.”
“What wasn’t enough?”
“I thought I could fix it…” Rox swallows and lifts her gaze to meet mine. Then she blurts out, “Our cash flow is steadily declining. Our sales just aren’t enough to cover our expenses and the deficit. We might lose the shop.”
Dang, I was supposed to look at the numbers.
I’m so confused. Rox Sloane is nothing if not the person with answers. She’s a financial guru. If there’s a way to make a way, she will grab a shovel and grind out an alternative path. She is hardcore. Business. Numbers. Profits and losses, she just gets it. The notion that Love & Games could fail blindsides me.
How did I not see this coming? I should’ve been paying attention to my sister at the very least.
“Okay, wait.” My legs feel weak, and suddenly I need to sit down. “You said deficit?” I shoot her a curious glance over my shoulder as I walk into the living room and plop down onto the couch.
“Remember when the storm zapped the electrical back in June, and we had to pay out of pocket to get back up and running until the insurance reimbursed us?” When I nod, she continues. “Well, they’re not. Apparently, ‘acts of God’ aren’t covered.”
Shoot, the repairs were somewhere over fifteen thousand. On top of our existing expenses and debt…
I’m still reeling, still questioning, backtracking the past year. I vaguely remember Rox moving money around to offset the expense. We don’t exactly have a cushion in savings, and the tiny line of credit the bank gave us simply won’t cut it.
My stomach rolls as I curl up on the couch, searching Rox’s eyes, trying to make this all make sense.
“Did you talk to Don?” I ask, referring to our landlord for the building.
She blows out her cheeks then slowly releases a breath that feels like a bomb drop. “He’s claiming that it falls under regular maintenance and repairs as a tenant.” Shit. She shrugs. “I tried to reason with him but getting him to reimburse us is a freaking longshot.”
My breath hitches in my throat. “So, you’re using—”
“The cash in the business checking to pay for rent, inventory, loan and credit card payments,” Rox says. “Also, to fund payroll.”
“Oh, my goodness.”
Heat swarms my face. I feel nauseous.
A toxic mix of fear and anger twists at my gut and wrings my heart. I’ve got to think of something to fix this. This is not our fault, but we can’t fail.
I don’t have a backup plan.
The thought of eventually losing everything we’ve worked for due to something completely out of our control shatters through me. Tears prick at the corners of my eyes as I flit a blurry glance between Rox and the spreadsheets.
How is this happening?
A tingling sensation sweeps up the back of my neck. “I’m going to figure something out,” I say, unable to sit here and look at my sister, internalizing this “act of God.”
She swallows. The pride that normally flows from her is gone. It’s like I’ve plugged up the drain and now she’s drowning in it. “I didn’t want to tell you or Nadia until I was sure we needed to start thinking about other options.”
The vein at my temple throbs.
“Right. I need to start thinking of ways to fix this.”
My skin feels impossibly hot under my sister’s gaze. “We need to start thinking of ways to fix this,” she corrects me. “Maybe we…could ask Dad for the—”
“No! We didn’t need his money to build this business. We’re certainly not going to let him bail us out.”
Annoyance flickers across her face. “I figured you’d say that. Anyway, my only other solution to make an immediate dent is to maybe go to the bank and get a home equity line of credit on my house.”
The pounding of my heartbeat grows louder in my ears. “I’m not going to let you risk your home over something that wasn’t your fault.” I blow out my cheeks and drop my head into my hands, kneading small circles over my racing pulse. “I just need to think.”
I need to get out of here.
After a few seconds, trying not to let my head explode, I get to my feet. I shuffle down the hallway to my bedroom to slip on flip-flops and throw on my red coat. When I get back to the living room, I rummage around for my keys and phone then stuff them in my pocket. I try unsuccessfully to ignore my sister’s imploring gaze latched on to my every move.
“Where are you going?” There’s desperation, worry blended in the grooves of her tone.
“Right now, I just need to get out of here for a bit. Clear my head.” My hand won’t turn the knob, though. So, I’m just standing here, immobile. Staring at the grainy wood and blurred light shining through the coated glass of the front door. “I’m running out for coffee. Want anything?”
Black. Decaf. A sprinkle of cinnamon.
I know it by heart like we know everything about each other. We’re sisters. We’re supposed to know the tiny details—we’re supposed to be able to talk through anything…
“Don’t shut down on me, Harp.”
I can’t even look at Rox, I’m so disappointed in… Who should I even be disappointed in? Maybe that’s what’s really eating at me. There’s no one to blame. Yes, we should’ve planned for emergencies, but one random event shouldn’t unilaterally screw up everything for us. This isn’t a game. We can’t just mortgage everything and pray we land on Chance to send us back to Go.
I tighten my grip on the handle, absorbing the hardness.
Rox stands and a rush of heat swarms over my skin again.
Before she moves, I twist the knob and leave, headed for the café around the corner. I’ve got a lot to tackle when I get back. But first, coffee.
End of Excerpt