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If I started crying right now, I’m positive the officer standing outside my car window would rip up my ticket.
Well, almost positive. Luck hasn’t exactly been a thing for me lately.
“Ma’am, are you aware of how fast you were going?” he asks.
His attention is on my driver’s license, so it gives me a few seconds to focus on his whole salt-and-pepper doppelganger look of Harrison Ford. I tilt my head to get a better look. Is that Harrison Ford?
“No, sir, I don’t remember.”
His eyes narrow as he looks me over slowly. “Hmm, well, where are you in such a hurry to?”
“I wouldn’t exactly say I was in a hurry.”
His left brow rises, and he stands up straight.
“I’m headed home. To Melody, Wyoming,” I answer quickly. His expression is so stony, I’m not sure if he’s waiting for a story or for me to just answer his questions.
“Nope. Just moving home.”
He nods at my back seat.
“Is that why your car is packed so full that you can’t see out the rearview mirror?”
“Can I get a ticket for that?” I twist to look at my entire life packed into my blue Volkswagen Atlas SUV. It’s the only thing I own to my name. “I just didn’t have a hitch on my car to rent a U-Haul, and making more than one trip would have been fine had I told my parents or brother I was coming back, or even my best friend, Will. But no one knows, and I’m already at a loss of what to tell them. I mean, I can’t—”
“Ma’am, let me just go run your license and plate and I’ll have you on your way.”
He walks off before I can say more.
I hadn’t meant for all of that to come out as some starter sob story, but I’m kind of glad it did.
I glance to the rearview mirror, but of course I can’t see him. Instead, my gaze lands on the boxes smashed together. The toaster oven and air fryer aren’t even in a box, and the groceries I do have, well, I should have taken the cooler.
“Just take it with you. I can buy a new one.”
“No, I’m okay.”
“Come on, Ava. It’s a six-hour drive. The food will go bad.”
“I’ll stop and get my own. It’s really okay.”
“Alright. But are you? Okay, I mean.”
I shrug. “Yeah, why not?”
He copies my shrug. “Because a lot has changed in the last week for you.”
I nod, grab my keys, and slide the box of food off the counter and onto my hip. “I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah. Of course.”
I let out a small laugh.
See him around, my butt. I’m moving to a whole different state. Chances are, I’ll never see my ex again. And now that I think of it, he was right. A lot did change for me in the last week. I graduated college with a bachelors in elementary education, the teaching job I thought I had for this fall fell through, my boyfriend and I broke up, and now I’m moving back home because the apartment was under my ex’s name. Three years and he never added me. I should have seen that as a sign.
The officer hasn’t moved from his seat.
Surely, it can’t take this long. I have a clean record. Everything I do is carefully calculated. Well, till the last seven days, and now, this moment. All right, so maybe I’m losing control on my life a little.
I must have sensed this would happen. I didn’t even consider staying in Colorado and finding another place to live. Not only would it have been too expensive—even though I saved as much money as I could over the past few years—for someone like me who completed college with multiple scholarships, lived rent free with her boyfriend, and worked part-time as a receptionist at a boat store to pay her car payment, insurance, and cell phone bill, but I wouldn’t have had renter’s experience for the good places.
But the biggest reason for not staying in Colorado: I don’t have any friends or people who support and motivate me. All those people are in Melody.
The only advantage to staying would be more job opportunities, but teachers are needed everywhere, even in Melody, so the decision was easy.
“Everything checks out. Slow down, all right? Get home safely.”
I wait, as instructed, until he turns his flashing lights off before I pull back onto the road. Five more hours to go. Let’s hope I don’t get pulled over again.
I set the cruise control just as my car alerts me of an incoming call.
“Hey, Mom,” I answer cheerily.
“Hi, honey, how are you?”
“I’m great. What’s up?”
“Oh, just a little baking. What’s the trick to your grandmother’s cookie recipe again?”
“Don’t use baking soda. Only baking powder.”
“Ah, yes. Yes. Thank goodness for your photographic memory.”
Both a gift and a curse if you ask me. One time, I tried to skip a piano recital. I didn’t get dressed up or do my hair or anything, and when my mom called me downstairs to leave and I told her I forgot, she knew better. Once someone tells me something or shows me something, I never forget it. I just turned for my room and got dressed.
“Who are you baking for?” I ask.
“Just refreshing my baking skills for the annual Fourth of July bake-off next month.”
Ah, yes, the people of Melody love their holidays, and they would never forget a bake-off.
“Thanks, sweetie, talk to you later. I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
I click End on the steering wheel and focus on the road ahead of me. I probably should have told my mother by now that Mel and I broke up. And that I’m moving back. But both of those things would warrant her to expect me to return to my old bedroom, and I can’t do that. In my mind, sleeping in my childhood room again would mean I hit rock bottom, and I’m not ready to accept that yet. Never mind the fact I have no job. My only redeeming quality right now is the barely two grand I managed to save over the years.
Boy, do I have a lot of changes to make this summer.
To start, I’m going to call the best friend I haven’t spoken to in months, ask for a favor, and hope that he takes pity on me. Pity without knowing the whole story, anyway.
He’s the sweetest best friend, motivator, inspirer, and comedian a girl could ask for.
My entire life is going to change in ninety days.
I step into Yup to a Cup, our town’s most popular coffee shop, and take a deep breath. I know I’m not the only one who enjoys the scent of a fresh brew. For me, though, that smell seeps into my pores and affects me like a sedative. It reminds me of what I want to do in life, and a coffee shop is just the beginning.
“Good morning, Will.”
“Morning, Katy.” I stride up to the counter as she hands me my drink. Coffee, black. I know, I know, you’d think that for someone who mentally connected coffee to a drug would have a fancy latte or whipped something or other, but sadly that’s not the case for me.
To be clear, it’s not the coffee I’m addicted to. It’s the smell, the aroma, the air, the aura and vibe that a coffee shop breathes.
Nope. I’m not passionate about this at all.
I take my first sip and calm down. I’m not some weirdo coffee freak. Or maybe I am. It goes deeper than that. Although the smell is my favorite thing about them, my second favorite thing is what that smell represents. The way a coffee shop is connected to success.
This is a place where people come every single day to work, to make progress on their goals. That’s amazing to me. It’s inspirational, and I can’t wait for the day I own a place that can bring this type of productivity to someone else.
“How’s work?” Katy asks and I nod, taking another drink.
Until my coffee shop dream happens, I’ll continue to work for my older brother, Carter, as head of accounting at Evergreen Properties, the company our father left to him when he passed. Both the company and the name are how most people in this town know me. Being an Evergreen brother, when your family owns over half the town property, makes it hard to go unnoticed.
I also live in Melody, Wyoming, and even though we aren’t a small town, everyone seems to know everyone here.
“It’s going great. How is life at the coffee shop?”
“It’s good. Nothing like an office job, though.” A new customer steps up to order. “Enjoy your day, Will.”
I hold my cup up as goodbye and head for the door.
Katy and I graduated the same year. I remember her vaguely. We didn’t have a lot of classes together because I was in all the advanced courses. When I wasn’t in those, I was at the small local college getting ahead. I was smart before my dad died, but it wasn’t till a few years after he passed that I really put my head down and focused. I’d just turned thirteen when Mom became a single parent, and those first few years were not my finest, so I figured getting a bunch of scholarships would be a start to make up for it. Which meant that as soon as I’d heard that college was free if you were still in high school, I did whatever I needed to sign up.
Anyway, some days I get jealous of people like Katy. Yeah, she’s busy between working at a coffee shop and still going to college, but even with her schedule, she has a lot more freedom than I do. Well, I assume anyway.
In ninety days, I hope to create my own freedom.
Don’t get me wrong, working with my brother is great, but we have different ideas of how we would run Evergreen Properties, and with him being the one in charge, my ideas don’t get pushed to the top as much as I’d like. Although, it was my idea to expand the company outside of Melody and he did agree to that, so that’s something. Carter owns Evergreen Properties, our mom owns her own bakery called Bake It, and soon I’ll have my own place, too. It must be in our genes.
In all honesty, I would have opened a coffee shop sooner. I might have even opted for going in that direction a couple years ago instead of doubling up on courses to graduate early and work with my brothers, but family is family. Carter and my dad had always wanted to run Evergreen Properties as a family business. After my dad died, our older brother Tuck took off to the East Coast, so I’m all Carter has to keep the dream of a family business alive. I can’t let him down. I’m just happy I found a way to put both our dreams together. Now we just have to keep things on schedule to make it work.
“William Evergreen,” a familiar old voice calls out behind me.
I might be on my way to the office, but I always have time for Fred Adams. Fred is the uncle to my soon-to-be sister-in-law, Lucy. He might be her uncle, but with the wrinkles around his eyes and the salt-and-pepper hair, he could pass as her grandpa.
“Mr. Adams, how are you today?” I ask, wrapping one arm around him to pull him in for a hug.
“I’m dandy. Just off for my morning walk.”
“And he’s going too darn fast.” My aunt Beatrice, my mother’s twin, comes around the corner. Her dark brown hair is pulled into a tight bun and her glasses are resting on her nose. “What did I tell you about going too fast? Just because you had a hip replacement doesn’t mean we need to speed walk everywhere we go.”
I smile wide, but don’t laugh, even though I really want to. Fred and my aunt have had a weird relationship that goes as far back as I can remember. Always bickering and giving each other sass. More than once I’ve thought of telling them to get a room, but I’m not sure how that would come off since it’s my aunt. Plus, at their age, if they wanted to be together, they would have figured it out by now, right?
“Listen to her.” I wink at Fred. “We don’t want you getting hurt.”
“Nonsense. One of these days I’ll be meeting you at the crack of dawn for one of those runs you and your furry friend take every morning.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, and I’ll lap you.”
This time, I do laugh.
“I’m going to hold you to it. Now, you two be nice to each other. With our families, you know I’ll find out if you’re not.”
“We’re always nice,” my aunt says just as Fred takes off without her. She shakes her head, gives me a quick hug, and then catches up with him.
Evergreen Properties is right in the middle of downtown Melody, across from Melody Square Park, the main events center for our town. Carter bought it a few years ago and fixed it up as a tribute to his fiancée and her family. It’s pretty neat how the whole thing worked out for them. They’re getting married this winter, and as someone who still doesn’t know if he’s the best man or just a groomsman—Carter hasn’t announced his pick—I can’t wait for their wedding. It’ll be one to remember, I can feel it.
I swing open the door to the building and smile at Trudy, our receptionist. She’s worked here longer than my brother. My dad hired her when he opened the company, so she’s basically working for two guys whose diapers she used to change. It’s pretty cool that she’s stuck around this long. She loves to dress up for every holiday—you just never know what you’ll see when you get to work. Today, even though it’s a little more than a month away, Trudy’s already wearing a sparkly red hat and earrings that look like fireworks. Not to mention she’s already got the office lobby decorated in all the patriotic décor she could find. My favorite is that she traded out all the fake plants with firework displays.
“Good morning, Trudy. You look beautiful today. How is your day starting off?”
“Oh, William Evergreen, stop flirting with me and get to work.”
I chuckle and head down the hall to my office.
Flipping the light on, I drop into my chair and wake up my computer. There are spreadsheets and numbers calling my name. The smell of coffee, the feeling of inspiration, and numbers. I’d say those are my three favorite things, and all I need to know is that this is going to be a successful day.
I’m just double clicking the first email of the day when my cell rings. My hand pauses, hovering over the phone as I stare at the name on the screen.
My lips tug into a smile, and my heart beats a little faster. It’s been months since I’ve seen that name on my phone. Time and distance can be that way sometimes—even when it comes to best friends.
“Will!” Ava squeals into the phone. “Oh, how I’ve missed your voice.”
I’ve missed hers, too, but in a way she’ll never know.
“It’s good to hear yours, too. What’s going on? How’s Colorado treating you?”
After high school graduation, Ava didn’t waste time leaving for college. I’ve seen her here and there since she left, mostly when she comes home for the holidays, but it’s nothing like it was when she lived here. We used to be inseparable.
“Oh, um, I’m actually moving back.”
I sit up straighter. “You are?”
“Yeah. It’s a long story. I can tell you about it over drinks sometime, but I’m actually calling for a favor. I’d originally planned to move back in with my parents, but then I remembered my best friend’s family owns rentals all over town and I thought maybe he could find me one. Please.”
I can picture her looking up at me with her hands laced together as she gives me her best puppy dog eyes. I’ve always been a sucker when it comes to Ava.
“I would be honored.” I click out of my email and pull up the available listings. We don’t have many, but we do have some coming up in the next few months that I think she would like. “When will you be back?”
There is a pregnant pause before she answers. “Oh, tonight, actually.”
Tonight? That’s sudden. Has she been planning this? Was it the spur-of-the-moment?
“I know. I’m sorry. I understand if you don’t have anything, because, I mean, who just has something available same day and I know there would be contracts and deposits required and we also have not talked in a while and this is probably weird and I just—”
“No, I do,” I cut her off before she can really start to ramble. Although, if I’m honest, I’ve missed the rambling. “The apartment next to mine is vacant, and don’t worry about deposits and rent. I’m happy to help you out.”
“Oh, no, no, I can’t do that.”
“You can and you will,” I say, adding in a chuckle so she knows I’m not going to force her. “It’ll be good to have you back in town.”
“You seriously have a vacancy you can afford to give out rent free?”
“No interested renters.”
It’s not exactly the truth, nor is it a lie. There aren’t any interested renters because we haven’t advertised it. We plan to remodel the duplex I’m currently in, into a single-family home. The location is great and the profit will be even better. We actually already have an interested buyer for after the conversion, but without a signed contract, it’s not anything I feel I need to share with Ava. So, if she needs a place to live, I can make an exception. My brother will understand.
“I don’t believe that.”
I clear my throat. “I’ll get some keys made, and you can pick them up from me when you get here today.”
“It’ll be later this afternoon. Can you leave them in the mailbox or something? I don’t want to bother you.”
“Okay.” I laugh. It’ll be hard not to drop everything to see her, but I’ll do as she asks. “Sure, I’ll leave them in the mailbox. Why not just crash at your parents’ till you find a place? Not that I mind you staying next to me. I’m just curious.”
“Eh, they might not know I’m coming back yet.”
Definitely a spur-of-the-moment decision … but why?
“I’ll add that to the list of things you can tell me about over drinks. How about tonight or tomorrow? Or is that too soon?”
“How about the night after tomorrow?”
“Perfect. I’ll call you tomorrow to make sure everything looks good in the apartment, and we can make a plan from there.”
“Thanks, Will. I can’t wait to see you. Bye.”
She hangs up before I can say anything more. Which is probably a good thing, too. I have a lot to say to her. Words I should have spoken years and years ago. I’ve always told myself that if Ava ever moved back to Melody, I would tell her how I really feel about her, but as the years went on, the idea of actually having to do it became more of a forgotten fantasy.
There’s just one issue.
The girl I’ve loved since I was fifteen is moving back, and in three months, I’m moving to Wind Valley, a city two hours away.
End of Excerpt