Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Free Reads: Blank Slate Chapters 10-12

Every week I'm going to post a segment from one of my books here on my blog. You can read the first three chapters to this story here. Chapters 4-6 are here, and chapters 7-9 are here.

Chapter Ten

d

Adrianna flipped through the TV stations, trying to find something to distract her for half an hour after Megan left. She tried not to think about Brock’s behavior because it only made her feel worse about her situation. She was grateful when Aiden began to call from his crib, letting her know he was up.

“Hey there, babycakes,” Adrianna greeted him as she lifted him from the crib and caught a potent whiff of his diaper. After dealing with that issue, she took him to the kitchen and settled him in his high chair. A search of the cupboards and fridge produced graham crackers and apple juice.

“How’s that for a snack, huh?’ She caressed his silky hair while he took a few bites. It looked pretty good to her, so she joined him at the table. She had done no more than take a sip of her own apple juice before he turned his gaze back to her. “Nana.”

“You want a banana too?” She wiped mashed cracker from his chin.

“Nana!” He pointed to the island where a bunch hung from a stand.

“I don’t see why not.” She stood and pulled out a banana, sliced half of it into pieces for him, then took a bite of the other half.

A couple more minutes passed in peace before he pounded his tray again, his banana and juice nearly gone, but with most of his cracker still left. “Tookie!”

Adrianna knew there was a package peeking from behind the toaster across the room, but was still surprised he’d noticed it. “Eat your cracker.”

“No cacker, tookie.”

“No cookies right now. Eat your cracker.”

“Tookie!” He threw the cracker across the room and started to wail, pounding his fists on the highchair tray.

“Sorry, kid, not this time.” She polished off her snack while he continued to throw a tantrum. She cleaned up and put everything away, picked up the cracker he had thrown, and wiped down the messes on the floor around the highchair.

Finally he calmed down and ventured to ask, “cacker?’

She looked at him and saw big crocodile tears trickling down his cheeks. His face was no longer red, though his nose and eyes would be for a while. “You want another cracker after you threw your last one?” She suppressed a smile.

“Cacker.”

“Okay. This is it though, so don’t throw it again.” She handed him another half a cracker, and added a little juice to his sippy cup.

After he finished, Aiden settled down to play with some toys on the living room floor.

Adrianna slowly cleaned up the messy high chair and put away the food. When she was nearly done, she realized the room was quiet. Too quiet. She looked up and saw no hint of her nephew—an ominous sign. She sighed and went looking for him, following a giggle down the hall to the bathroom.

She stopped and put her hands on her hips when she saw Aiden standing beside the toilet, unrolling the toilet paper with great gusto. He giggled again whenever he got the roll spinning. A pile of paper grew at his feet while the roll shrunk.

“Aiden, you little stinker.” Irritation and humor warred within her at the sight, but she settled on pulling him away gently. “That was very naughty of you. Don’t do that, honey.” She took him to the living room and interested him in a movie, then returned to the bathroom and re-rolled the paper.

With a sigh at his mess, she pulled the mangled roll from the holder and switched it with the neat one from her own bathroom. She wasn’t sure yet if she was going to admit to losing track of him for that long. By all accounts she often watched him while Megan was in class. Was it always this hard?

Back in the family room, Adrianna found his toy box had exploded. A plastic chicken and horse from a small farmyard set held a long conversation under a kitchen chair, while other animals from that collection were strewn from the toy box across the carpet and onto the ceramic tiles of the kitchen. Miniature cars and blocks were everywhere.

She sank carefully into the sofa to avoid causing herself any more pain in her still-sore ribs and watched Aiden push a red sports car along the edge of a nearby chair. She just needed to rest for a few minutes before putting the room back to rights. He turned and looked at her, flashing a happy grin, and Adrianna couldn’t stay irritated with him.

d

“How did it go?” Megan asked when she returned home a couple of hours later.

Adrianna felt like she’d been run over by a truck, rather than a one-year-old. She’d had fun, and wanted to tear her hair out all at once. “Great. I’m afraid the house isn’t as clean as when you left it. Aiden is playing quietly with blocks in his room now.” Quiet wasn’t the word for it, actually, since they could hear him well in the front room.

Adrianna had a dirty diaper in her right hand, and toy farm animals in her left.

Megan smiled, and Adrianna returned the favor. “I think by Monday when you’re in class, I’ll be a pro again.” She yawned. “You mind if I take a nap?” She crossed to the kitchen garbage can to empty her hands. She wasn’t sure she would ever be a pro at this, but once he had settled with some toys, Aiden had calmed significantly.

“You’re more than welcome to. Are you sure you’re ready to deal with him again so soon?”

After washing at the sink, Adrianna turned back to face Megan. “For once I felt as if I was doing more than taking up space. If you can stand a few minutes’ of cleanup at night, I can take care of things.” She thought of finding Aiden in the hall bathroom. “No problem.”

“And what if you get too tired and can’t handle him?”

“I’ll call Jake and he or Gavin will come bail me out, but I’ll be fine. It’s only a few hours. And it’s right during his nap time.” There was no way she would call Jake and complain that she couldn’t take care of Aiden unless she was on her death bed, but she needn’t tell Megan that. Adrianna knew finances were tight for them and that things had been difficult for the family while she’d been in the hospital. She wanted to be helpful again.

“If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.”

Megan didn’t look convinced, but accepted Adrianna’s help anyway.

d

Gavin dropped a flat of sodas on Jake’s desk to refill the mini-fridge. It had gotten down to nothing but cran-apple juice and bottled water—his client that morning hadn’t been impressed with the choices. Tara normally kept the fridge full, but she hadn’t been around, and the last little while she hadn’t done her work all that well, anyway.

He pulled out the money box in the bottom drawer of her desk and opened it to find nothing but a couple of receipts. The slips of paper only added up to twelve dollars—a far cry from the seventy-five they usually stocked in there.

He groaned. The cash had come up a little shy here and there over the past six months, but never more than a few dollars at a time. Unless Jake had forgotten to turn in a receipt, Tara had to have cleaned it out this time. He didn’t want to think she’d been shorting them, but what else could he believe?

He decided not to jump to conclusions, though. After he talked to Jake would be soon enough.

Jake walked in a few minutes later with pursed lips, looking more than a little distracted.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Gavin asked as he hung up the phone, where he’d been listening to voice messages.

“I just don’t get it. My sister’s like a stranger sometimes. She’s been home for days and as far as I can tell, she hasn’t even sat at the piano. She’s even . . .” He lifted his hands as if stopping himself and shook his head. “Sorry, I just talked to Megan. She’s worried about Adie.” He eyed the list of messages Gavin had written. “What’ve you been up to today?”

Gavin gave him a quick rundown on the projects he’d checked on that morning, then casually turned the subject. “So, I was about to cut a check for a little more money for the cash box. You don’t have any receipts to turn in, do you?” He had to know if it had been Jake or Tara who’d emptied it.

“No, I haven’t bought anything in ages. Is something wrong?’

“Nothing serious.” Gavin saw no sense in bringing it up right now when Jake was upset and Tara was long gone. They would discuss it later, but for now, he had other issues to deal with. “I got an e-mail this morning. Keith Loren is working on another subdivision and would like to talk to us about cutting a deal. Want to look it over with me?” He stood and moved toward his office.

d

After sharing a nap with Aiden, who fell asleep in her lap while they watched a movie after lunch, Adrianna did some basic cleaning. She was bored and television didn’t interest her at the moment, so she searched through the bookshelves in Jake’s home office. Noting that four short shelves seemed to hold everything in the house, Adrianna took a closer look.

The shelves contained a few scrapbooks and some construction texts. Besides that, there were only a couple dozen books—a mix of novels and non-fiction. “Not much for reading, are we?” she murmured to herself. The paperback Gavin had lent her had been read and returned ages ago. She glanced at her watch and tried not to think about the fact that Brock still hadn’t called her in the three days since he’d rushed out of the house. Would they be able to put things back together? Was there even a point in trying if she didn’t remember what it was about him that she loved?

Her bedroom had another shelf of books including a few music history books and some journals. She ran her fingers along the book spines as she skimmed over the titles, then turned her attention to the journals. There were three or four and she checked the first pages and learned they were in consecutive order. Picking up one dated the previous calendar year, she flipped to a random page.

Brock Chellester took me out again last night. We went for dinner and dancing after the symphony performance. He’s so witty and charming, yet down to earth. He’s incredibly brilliant and I could sit for hours talking to him about music. He’s been everywhere.

Brock makes me feel so special, like a rare orchid. Just being with him makes me tingle inside. I’ve never felt this way before about anyone.

Adrianna set the open journal in her lap. “So once he made me feel like a rare orchid. And he made me tingle.” She admitted that Brock still treated her well. He’d been very gentle, sweet, and considerate—his burst of frustration not withstanding—but he didn’t make her tingle.

Shutting the journal, Adrianna set it on a nearby table and continued searching through the stack. She pulled out a more recent journal and carried both to her bed. What better way to revive her memories than to read about her recent past? Perhaps it would help her understand things, or maybe even help her fall in love with Brock again.

d

Adrianna spent a week at home baby-sitting, sleeping off her Aiden-induced exhaustion, and letting her face heal more before venturing into the real world. Other than the occasional calls from fellow musicians checking up on her, she was left blissfully alone. Brock didn’t contact her once. She’d left a couple of messages on his cell phone, but he didn’t return them. She looked down at the ring on her left hand and wasn’t sure if she wanted the relationship to be over or not. Her strongest feeling was that of failure.

Monday morning she rose and found Jake in the kitchen eating a slice of toast and jam. “That doesn’t look very filling,” she said.

He smiled good morning to her and swallowed his mouthful of food. “I always have milk and toast for breakfast. I’ll have a snack before lunch.”

“Oh, all right.” Adrianna pushed her jagged-cut hair back from her face and leaned against the counter, one arm tugging her robe tighter over her pajamas. “So, do you have any idea what I do all day? I mean, I haven’t the slightest clue what I’m supposed to do, besides keep Aiden out of the toilet paper.”

Jake laughed, spitting some milk out in the process. He covered his mouth with his hand and coughed, then quickly swallowed and reached for the dish rag in the sink to clean up the counter. “Sorry, we should have warned you, but didn’t think of it. He has a thing for toilet paper.”

“Yeah, so I noticed. And while I’m asking about my usual routine, do you have any idea where I go to get my hair cut? This mess has got to be shaped up a bit before I go out in public.” She realized as soon as she asked that Megan would probably know more about that than Jake.

He named a salon, however, and gave her basic directions. “You’ll want to call as soon as they open and see if you can get an appointment. You’re always complaining you have to schedule three weeks out to get in with your favorite hairdresser.”

She poured herself a short glass of milk and settled beside him. “I don’t think they’re called hairdressers anymore.”

“Whatever.” He waved it away, then pointed back to the family room. “You usually spend a good part of the day practicing on the piano too, I think. At least you did all those days I was sick last spring. Since you’re supposed to play the music in church this weekend, you might want to test those stiff fingers.”

“Wait, this weekend?” The idea was appalling. She hadn’t even sat at the piano yet.

“Unless you need a little more time. You also sing in public, but then you’re scared stiff giving a speech. I never quite figured you out.” He reached over and tapped her on the forehead. “I gotta go now. I have inspections of several projects to conduct and paperwork coming out my ears. Tell Megan I’ll try and make it back for dinner tonight.”

“Yeah.” Disconcerted, Adrianna saw him grab three sandwiches, an apple, and some chips, and disappear through the door that led to the garage.

As she wandered back through the house, she came upon the piano. The book of Mozart sat on the stand and she ran her fingers across the title. “No better time than the present, I guess.” She sat, tugged her robe closed again, and opened the book.

The notes looked vaguely familiar. As notes would be if she sang any songs. Ever. However, nothing on the page looked like it could possibly have anything to do with the keys on the piano. She knew the keys corresponded to the letters ABCDEFG, and that each line on the music determined which note you played, but had no idea how they matched up. “No way is this going to work. No way.” She stood, shook her head, and returned to her room. She’d try to get some more sleep, since she heard no stirrings from Megan or Aiden.


Chapter Eleven

d

Since Adrianna had no idea who her usual cosmetologist was, she ended up with an appointment for later that morning with the first person who had an opening. At least, she told herself, she would have her hair looking somewhat better by the time she went to church Sunday, even if she couldn’t read a lick of music. She thought it should have come as easily to her as reading books had done—after all, she had no trouble making it through several more volumes of Agatha Christie. If she’d been playing the piano for as many years as everyone said, shouldn’t she have remembered that, too?

To her embarrassment, Adrianna found several weeks of lying in the hospital bed made most of her clothes tighter than she was comfortable with. Before she went to her appointment, she dug through her closet for something that fit right. What she found when she looked closely surprised her. Did she really buy a pumpkin-colored pantsuit? When she tried it on she was stunned to realize it looked fabulous on her—it even fit properly. The color and cut were more flattering than she’d expected. And all those slinky black dresses for performing in the symphony—she could think of no other reason why she would have purchased them—they were reasonably modest, but Adrianna couldn’t imagine a need for six of them. Six! The red strappy heels were gorgeous, but she wobbled when she tried them on—and yet, the soles looked like they’ve been worn several times.

The trip to the salon restored a good deal of her self-confidence. The light, breezy hairdo felt distinctly unlike her, but it was smooth and chic, and made her feel like a million dollars.

When she got home for the afternoon, the phone calls from other members of the symphony began in earnest. Instead of one a day or so, as she had experienced the previous two weeks, they seemed to pile up all at once.

“Hello, Adrianna, this is Bonnie Harward, first chair clarinet. I wondered how you were doing. We sure have been worried about you.”

And ten minutes after hanging up the first call:

“Hello, Adie. This is Penny Lawrence. I just had to call and check in on you now you’re home.”

If it wasn’t concerned musicians, it was reporters wanting interviews or at least quotes about her condition. Each call drove Adrianna more batty, but Megan’s teasing grin flashed every time the phone rang. She slung her laptop bag over one shoulder and turned to Adrianna as the phone call ended. “You’re sure you’re up to watching Aiden?”

“We’ll be fine, I promise,” Adrianna assured her before Megan hurried out the door.

A moment later the phone rang again. “Hello, Adrianna, this is Kallie. I was just checking up on you to see how you’re feeling today. We’re all so glad you’re home.”

When she finally hung up, she knew she couldn’t take much more. She was grateful for their concern, but seriously, did the phone have to ring every five minutes?

Finally, desperate to escape, Adrianna grabbed the car seat from the hallway that led to the garage. Fifteen minutes and five breaks to check on Aiden later, she had the car seat secured. Should that have been like riding a bike, she wondered as she trudged back into the house to grab the toddler and find her purse. She must have done it dozens of times before.

Getting Aiden into the car seat didn’t prove nearly as hard, but when she tried to slide the key into the ignition, she couldn’t get it to fit. She tried three more before one on the ring turned in the lock. “If I have to go through this every time we leave the house, Aiden, we’re not going anywhere ever again. Got it?” She sighed as she heard the echo of the telephone. “But in that case, the phone is definitely coming off the hook.”

Aiden only clapped his hands and shouted, “Truck!”

“Truck, yes. Daddy has a truck.” She pushed the remote control above her head and the garage door opened. Aiden had taken to calling out ‘truck’ every time any vehicle drove within his sight—a fact she found amusing, especially when the automobile in question turned out to be an old VW Bug, in pink.

Thankfully, driving was something she remembered as she slid easily back into the routine of turning, signaling, and wending through traffic. Paola wasn’t a large city but though she had an address for Jake’s office, it was still difficult to find among all the unfamiliar streets, even with a map.

There was only one truck in the parking lot when she pulled to a stop in front of the building sporting a sign declaring it the home of Mueller and McFaddin construction. She didn’t think the vehicle was Jake’s, but she might have been mistaken. She shrugged, checked her lipstick, bandages, and makeup in the rearview mirror, and exited the car to pull Aiden from his car seat.

The front office door was open, so she let herself in and found a reception desk piled high with papers, the phone ringing off the hook, and no one in sight. She set Aiden on the floor to play with the miniature truck he must have left in the car’s back seat on a previous trip, and walked around the desk, snagging the phone before it stopped ringing. “Mueller and McFaddin Construction, can I help you?”

“I need to speak with Gavin right away,” a male voice demanded.

“I don’t know if he’s in. Hold on, I’ll check and see who’s here.” She pushed the hold button as she heard boots pounding up a set of stairs she hadn’t noticed when she walked in.

“Hello, can I help you?” a masculine voice asked. Not Jake’s.

“Is that Gavin?”

His head poked above the half-wall that separated the stairs from the rest of the reception area. “Adrianna, what are you doing here?”

“Just popped in to see where you two work. Someone’s asking for you on the phone.”

“Crud.” He shoved his hands though his hair. “I guess Jake forgot to forward the phone. Hold on a minute.” He snagged the receiver and pushed the button to talk.

Seeing Aiden begin to wander, Adrianna lured him back to play while she waited for Gavin to finish his conversation. Curious, she took a look around the room, noticing details she missed when she first entered. There were a dozen pictures of beautiful homes framed on one wall of the office, the usual filing cabinets and fax. The back was filled by the desk and a couple of doors. The room felt surprisingly spacious, despite every inch of wall being flanked by business furniture.

Finally, Gavin hung up, finished scribbling his message, and turned to her, shoving the paper into his pocket. “I’m afraid Jake got called out. One of our clients came back into town early and wanted to discuss some changes this morning.”

His fingers tapped on the phone receiver. “Geneva Clark called a little while ago to ask if you’d be well enough to start playing again in church Sunday. I guess she couldn’t reach you at home. It’ll sure be nice to have you back.”

Though she seriously considered spouting off the baloney about her fingers being too stiff, when she looked in his eyes, she found the truth slipping out. “Yeah, well, here’s the thing. You see, I can’t remember how to play the piano.” It was embarrassing to admit it to him. To anyone. If she used to be so good at it, everyone would expect her to play, but she couldn’t.

His eyebrow lifted in surprise, then glanced into the parking lot. “You could remember how to drive a car.”

She twisted her fingers together in front of her. “Yeah. Apparently driving is just like riding a bicycle—you never forget—but playing the piano is not. The music looks vaguely familiar, but none of it really makes sense to me. I’ll see if Geneva can find someone else for the next while. Maybe it’ll come back to me with my other memories.” She bit her lip and felt an embarrassed flush spread over her cheeks.

He studied her for a long moment, then pulled out his phone. “I have her number here.” The office phone rang and he reached for the receiver. “Yeah, I have the plans in my office, hold on,” he told the caller after a couple of minutes. He covered the receiver and pointed to the cell, “Larry Clark. Look it up and call while I take care of this.” Then he disappeared into his office.

Adrianna walked around and picked up his cell. It was one of those fancy Blackberry phones, like the one she’d seen Jake carrying. In only a few seconds she worked her way through the menu to the number she needed.

“I’m sorry, I forgot Jake said you couldn’t—” Gavin stopped speaking at the doorway when she started to talk into the phone.

“Hi, Geneva, this is Adrianna Mueller.”

“Adrianna, I’m so glad you’ve come home. We’ve all missed you so much. I’m sure your family is thrilled—everyone is.” The voice was soft and thin, that of an old woman.

“Yes, well, it’s really nice to be out of the hospital. I’m not quite up to full strength yet, and there are other issues I’m still dealing with.” She wasn’t sure exactly what to say about her memory loss. There was no way to know how far the story had spread, or whether this woman might be in on the facts, or rumor tinged with fact, as the case may be. She really didn’t want to explain it all right now.

“I understand you have a few holes in your memory. That must be very confusing. You poor thing. And on top of all the other healing that needs to be done, too. It’s no wonder you needed another week to recuperate. We certainly have missed hearing you play.”

“That’s the trouble, actually. I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to play the piano in church this week, or anytime in the near future. I’m finding my skills decidedly rusty.” Not strictly a lie, but not honest either. Oh, bother. Tears stung her eyes and she covered her mouth with her fingers, willing her voice to stay steady. When she felt Gavin’s hand settle on her shoulder, she took strength. “I promise to let you know when I feel up to it again.”

Geneva clucked her tongue. “Well, I hope you’re feeling much better soon. We’ve all been real worried about you. Is there anything you need? Anything I can do for you, dear?”

“No, nothing time and a return to my normal routine won’t accomplish.” Whatever normal means.

“Well, all right then. Let me know if I can help. I’ll see you Sunday, though?”

“Yes, we’ll be there.” Adrianna said goodbye and ended the call. She stared at the phone for a moment, pushing back her frustration.

“I’m sorry. It must be hard to know you can’t play right now.”

She shrugged and Gavin’s hand slid away from her. “I don’t remember loving it, so it isn’t like I broke my hands and long to play. I just feel embarrassed everyone expects me to do it, but I can’t.” When she heard him step away from her, she turned to face him. The compassion in his eyes made her heart skip. “Thanks for letting me dig through your phone.” She picked it up from the desk and handed it to him, avoiding his gaze.

“Jake said you had trouble navigating his phone—that you could never figure it out. You found the number pretty quickly.” He returned his phone to the holder at his hip, then slid his hands in his pockets as if unsure what to do with them. The move made his T-shirt ripple across his muscled chest and his biceps flexed slightly. She couldn’t help but notice. Had she always found him this attractive?

Again, she shrugged. “It’s fairly basic. At least finding your list of contacts is. I must’ve played with his since he said that. Where’s your receptionist? You do normally have one, don’t you?”

“Yeah, she quit a few weeks ago to run off to LA. Apparently she had a secret dream to be in movies.” He looked as though he were trying to smile, but she could see he was tired.

“How on earth have you kept up with everything, then?”

“Lots of extra hours. Jake’s been coming back here in the evening a lot, and I think he’s taking paperwork home. He brought Aiden to work with him several times when you were in the hospital. The playpen is still in the closet. Hopefully we’ll get someone else hired soon.” He glanced at the clock and shifted his weight to his other foot. “I really need to go, and Jake’s likely to be at least another hour. You can stay if you like, but there’s not much point. There are drinks in the mini-fridge in Jake’s office, if you want to wait.” He gestured to the open door to his left.

Feeling tired from her short trip, she turned and scooped Aiden off the floor, where he had been banging his toy truck on the desk. “Then I guess I’ll see you later.”


Chapter Twelve

d

Gavin rubbed his eyes as he looked at the stack of statements, deposits, check stubs, and projects sitting on his desk. Tara’s record-keeping had been even more haphazard than he’d thought. There seemed to be a reasonable amount of money in the account—low, but reasonable. There was no way to know how it would turn out like until he dug through the stacks and entered it all onto his money management program on the computer.

Tara had done a good job with the paperwork until about six months earlier, at which point things started to get lax, with fewer entries since then—and it was even worse in the past three months. Oh, she’d recorded payments and checks—she wanted to get paid, after all—but the invoices and notes weren’t there and nothing seemed to be in a recognizable order.

Jake came in the front door, calling out to Gavin, “Hey, you’re still here? Don’t you ever go home?”

“I’ve got tickets to the King’s game tomorrow night. I’ll leave early. What’s going on?” He noticed the way Jake ran his hands through his hair, making it stand on end. That had always been a sign he felt frazzled.

“Turnbaugh decided he wanted to change the layout of the master bedroom and push the wall out another five feet—after we got the foundation poured. I just spent an hour explaining the delays and extra costs involved if he does that. He doesn’t care—it’s what he wants.” He dropped into the chair across from Gavin.

“I told you he’d be a pill. A lucrative client, but a pill. You’re going to earn every penny of that paycheck.” Gavin sat back in his chair and prepared to listen to the full details. The stack of papers would still be there tomorrow.

d

Adrianna sat in bed, reading from the journals again when she heard Jake come in a little after eight. She put the book away and went out. She needed to get her mind off Brock, and the journals had talked about him incessantly. She’d been worse than a love-struck teen.

She found Jake putting leftovers from dinner into the microwave. “Another long day, huh?”

He looked over at her and smiled. “Yeah, one problem leads to another until a ten-minute walkthrough on a site turns into a four-hour mess. It’s good to be home again.” He set the cooking time.

“And then there’s paperwork.”

“And then there’s paperwork,” he echoed and opened the fridge, pulling out the milk. “That’s the part that never ends. I spend way more time pushing papers than swinging a hammer these days. Especially with Tara quitting on us.” He unscrewed the cap on the milk and looked over at her. “I heard you popped by the office.”

Adrianna made herself stay and smile, though she was a bit uncomfortable with the affection radiating from his eyes. She’d really come to care for his family since she woke up, but she didn’t feel the same sibling love he showed her. “Gavin gave me a phone number so I could have them arrange for someone else to play the piano Sunday.”

He set the milk jug back on the counter and turned all of his attention to her. “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you going to play?”

Adrianna considered for a moment being as honest with Jake as she’d been with Gavin, but knew it would hurt Jake to know the truth—she might yet mysteriously realize she did know how to play. She flexed her fingers, which were mildly stiff, but not seriously impaired. “I’m not quite back up to par, but I’m sure that will improve.” Her hands had been beat up pretty badly in the accident, though thankfully it had been mostly cosmetic, no broken bones. She nearly sighed in relief when he accepted the implied explanation.

“I’m sure it’ll get better. Your hair looks great, by the way—did I forget to mention that? It’s nice, very chic.” He teased the ends along the bottom with his fingers, then gave her a noogie.

She pulled away from his restraining arm, laughing despite herself. “Thanks, it makes me feel like a whole new person.” She ran her fingers back through her hair to smooth it and glanced at the piano. She was alone with only Aiden in the house for hours most days. Maybe a bit of concentrated study with her music books wouldn’t hurt.

d

Adrianna was wrong, it did hurt to practice—it hurt her head. She had to look online for information on playing the piano. Luckily, there were some simple primers that taught notes and chords, and she spent most of the hours that Megan was in school either practicing, or chasing Aiden around so he wouldn’t tear up the house too badly.

She now knew what the dots corresponded to on the keyboard, and what they each meant, but her progress was frustratingly slow.

And though everyone told her how much she had loved playing the piano, she found she really hated it. How could it have been this big, important thing to her once when she felt so differently about it now?

After two hours of much-interrupted work, Adrianna gave in for the day and put the primers away. There would be time to work on it again tomorrow. And maybe she would regain some of her determination by then.

d

“I won’t be back until dinnertime tonight. Maybe I’ll grab some pizzas on the way home,” Megan said as she snatched up her purse and headed for the garage.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll cook something,” Adrianna said. “It’s about time I tried to fix a meal. You all keep talking about what a great cook I am.” She had helped Megan with several other meals, and it looked easy enough.

“That would be great! Are you sure you’re up to it while taking care of Aiden?”

“I used to do both, didn’t I?”

“You’re a peach. You can use anything you find in the house. Thanks!” Megan closed the door behind her.

Adrianna poked through cabinets and the fridge. When she found a fun Pilgrim Jell-O mold, she dug out a couple packages of gelatin and some fruit to go in it. It was a bit early for Thanksgiving, but Halloween had come and gone the previous week, so she figured it was close enough. Jell-O should be easy to do. A few minutes later she settled on spaghetti for dinner.

There were some frozen loaves of French bread dough in the freezer, so she pulled one out and covered it in plastic wrap so it wouldn’t dry out while it defrosted and rose, then began mixing up the gelatin. She finished pouring the mixture into the Jell-O mold and slid it into the fridge. She brushed her hands against each other, as if dusting them off after a job well done.

Her cell phone rang, and she answered it, checking on the toddler who played noisily with his toy farm animals in the living room. “Hey, Jake, what’s up?”

“I invited Gavin for dinner. We have a couple of bids to put together tonight. I was just checking to see if Megan left anything or if I should grab takeout on the way home.”

Adrianna smiled as she checked on the bread. “I’m cooking tonight. Nothing fancy, just spaghetti. We’ll shoot to eat about seven and then you guys can sequester yourselves in your office. How’s that?”

“Sounds great.” A moment passed while Jake told Gavin. “He says he’s always up for anything you make. We’ll be on time.”

“See you then.” Adrianna swapped goodbyes and hung up, satisfied with her plans for the afternoon.

Check out Chapters 13-15 here.

You can read the story in its entirety in ebook format for $1.99 on Kindle, Nook, and most other ebook formats through Smashwords.com. It is also available in paper from my website(autographed to you!) or onAmazon.com

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