There were three things I said I’d never do—move back in with my parents, let my mother set me up, and date a guy with a dog. But thanks to an unexpected bolt of lightning and my mom’s persistence, I’d already scratched two of those off my list. Technically, the second one I’d only agreed to. I hadn’t actually gone on the blind date. Yet. That special type of fun was scheduled for tomorrow night.
I could hardly contain my excitement.
It had been a long summer, and this was only the first week of July.
When my cute little all-to-myself three-bedroom house was struck by lightning in late May, I was forced to move back home. But only temporarily.
My sanity clung to that one word. Temporarily.
Understandably, I was eager for the repairs on my house to be finished. But expecting contractors to finish on schedule only set me up for disappointment. That didn’t stop me from going to the house just to check on the progress.
Because of the pickup parked at an angle in my driveway, I had to park on the street, which gave me time to admire my house as I went to the door. Repairs to the outside made it impossible to tell lightning had targeted my house. “Hello?” The place seemed eerily quiet.
Derek, my ever helpful contractor, hadn’t texted back when I mentioned stopping by, but I showed up anyway.
“Eve?” He poked his head around the corner. “I didn’t know you were coming today.” His chipper greeting worried me. Derek was rarely chipper.
“I sent you a message.”
“The repairs are coming along.” That was code for they aren’t done yet.
I stepped past him, flashing my sweetest smile. “Oh, I know. I just wanted to take a peek. I’ll stay out of the way.” I headed for the master bedroom, the part of the house still being fixed.
If the water hadn’t been turned off during the repairs, I’d have moved into the guest room and put up with contractors and workers traipsing through my space. But I couldn’t figure out how to live without water.
Derek stayed close. “The flooring didn’t come in yesterday as expected. But it should be here Monday.”
It wasn’t the end of the world, but it meant more time. “How long will it take to install?”
“A few days. Maybe a week.” He hooked a thumb toward the master bath. “The painter messed up. That’s what I get for hiring my brother-in-law.”
Bracing for the worst, I ran to the bathroom. “Ugh. The fifties called. They want their bathroom back. Bubblegum pink? It was supposed to be a soothing aqua.”
Derek ran his fingers through his gray hair. “I’m leaving to buy the right color soon. Painting won’t take long. Then we just have the flooring and the baseboards.”
“One more week?” Surviving at my parents’ house was a struggle few understood.
“Probably.” Derek was the king of noncommittal.
Purse on my shoulder, I walked outside before I ranted or cried. Neither would help the situation. “Call me when it’s ready.” I glanced up at the canopy of my massive oak tree. I missed my house.
“I will. And don’t worry. I fired the painter. I’ll be sleeping on the couch for a week, but I can’t do much about that.”
“Sorry.” I felt a little bad for Derek, but I did for me too. I’d taken off the afternoon for nothing.
I sat in the Volkswagen, staring at the house. I just wanted my life to settle back into normal. Before pulling away from the curb, I clicked the name at the top of my favorites. Talking to my best friend always brightened my day. “Hey. I went by the house today.”
“And?” Haley had heard all about my house troubles.
“There is no longer a hole in the front of my house, but the flooring was delayed, and they painted the bathroom an awful shade of pink. Besides all that, it looks great.”
“Sorry. How much longer?”
“A week maybe. But I’m not sure I’ll survive another week at my parents’ house. I’ve put on ten pounds in two months. Mom offers me every sweet thing imaginable, then lectures about how I should take better care of myself so I can attract a man.”
“My couch is yours whenever you want it.”
I wasn’t quite ready to give up a queen-size bed for a couch. “Don’t be surprised if I show up this week. Want to grab dinner later?”
“Sure. What time do you get off work?”
“I took the afternoon off. I think I’m going to take a calming bubble bath; then I’ll call you.”
“You still going out tomorrow?” The laughter following her question did not go unnoticed.
“Don’t remind me. Mom won’t tell me the guy’s name or anything about him except that he’s muy guapo.”
“How are you supposed to know who you’re meeting?”
“I’m supposed to walk into the restaurant carrying a yellow rose.” It sounded so much worse when I said the words out loud.
When Haley finally caught her breath, she cleared her throat. “Seriously? A yellow rose?”
“We are in Texas after all. I’m sure my mom thought it was a wonderful idea.” “The Yellow Rose of Texas” would probably be stuck on repeat in my head the rest of the day.
Haley laughed all over again. “I still can’t believe you let your mom set you up.”
“She wore me down. I got tired of telling her no.”
“Eve, it’s called threatening.”
“Yeah, well, to Mom that’s just adding motivation. But it’s only one date. How bad can it be?”
“Bad enough that you’ll wish you never asked that question. Eek. I gotta go. Dinner sounds good. Call me later.” When it came to friends, Haley was the best of the best.
The drive to my parents’ house didn’t take long. Traffic hadn’t spooled up yet, and I lived just far enough away that it was inconvenient if they drove over and found no one home but close enough that they’d never need to spend the night. At least that was part of my rationale for buying in that area.
It wasn’t where I’d grown up. After all the kids had left the house, Mom and Dad moved out of their small town and bought a house in the city thirty minutes down the road. I loved San Antonio, but I sometimes missed Stadtburg. Living there was its own kind of interesting.
Tonight would give me a reprieve. My parents were gone for the night, and their quick trip to see their only grandbaby meant I would get to enjoy a quiet house. Out of habit, I parked along the curb and was out of the car before I thought about it. Moving my VW was too much trouble.
I breathed in the smell of fresh cut grass. For early July, the weather was surprisingly pleasant. That wasn’t always the case in San Antonio.
I waved at the neighbor, slightly alarmed at the chainsaw in his hand. What did an eighty-five-year-old man need with a chainsaw? He had kids and grandkids who were better suited for that type—any type—of work.
“Evening, Mr. Raymond.”
“What are you doing with that? It looks dangerous.” I stopped long enough to hear his response.
Mr. Raymond snickered. “Dangerous. You sound like my wife. But you sure don’t look like her.” The man was losing his filter. “I’m going to trim my tree a little. Not hard at all.” He set the chainsaw on the ground and leaned a ladder against the tree.
Combining ladders and chainsaws seemed even more dangerous than either one by itself, but why bother saying anything? He had no interest in listening to me or his wife.
“Be careful.” That seemed the polite thing to say.
My keys jingled as I dropped them on the entry table, and my purse landed on top of them. “Pookie, I’m home.”
Enjoying freedom, my fuzzy black kitten ran up the hall then slipped on the tile as she tried to stop.
When my parents were home, the poor kitten had to be confined to my room. What kind of people didn’t like cats? I gave her a good scratch as I carried her to the bedroom. “I’ll fill your food bowl and get you fresh water, then I’m going to take a bath. Please stay out of trouble while I do.”
She didn’t answer, which probably meant she was ignoring my every word. As soon as food landed in her bowl, she ate, and I turned on the hot water.
My room wasn’t fancy, but it was comfortable. The bed was draped with a pink comforter—my mom’s favorite color. It was a nicer bed than I’d had growing up. But the same long dresser I’d had in my room all through high school sat against the wall. Some drawers had memories stuffed in them—things of mine that Mom wanted me to keep. The others were empty, but I didn’t use them.
While the tub filled, I slipped out of my shirt and laid it over my suitcase—not putting stuff in drawers made the stay seem less temporary. Temporary was the word I used to console myself when my parents acted like I was a teen again.
My other clothes were tossed all over the bed and floor, but cleaning that could wait until after I’d had time to relax in the tub. I wasn’t the neatest person in the world, but no one complained . . . except my mother.
I walked into the bathroom, and if not for the overflow drain, water might have spilled over the edge. I needed to drain off a little or the floor would be covered in puddles when I slid my not-so-skinny body into the water. While the water drained, I slipped out of my jeans, ran back to the bedroom, and laid them beside my shirt, hoping Pookie wouldn’t nap on them.
With my hair pinned up in a messy twist and my phone—positioned far away from the tub—playing my favorite playlist, I slid under the bubbles.
The entire bathroom was painted a bright yellow. I’d never liked that color when I was younger, and I liked it even less now. Yellow was my least favorite color. It didn’t give me a warm and sunny feeling. I’d choose any variation of blue every day of the week, but even gray or beige were better than yellow.
Of course Mom would choose that color for the rose I had to take on the date. It wasn’t even worth countering with a different idea.
I closed my eyes, as the warmth and bubbles almost made me forget my problems. Almost.
Mr. Raymond and his chainsaw could barely be heard over the music.
Humming along, I sank into the tub. There were few pleasures that compared to a hot bubble bath.
An eerie creaking sound made me wonder what Pookie was into. Was it worth getting out of the tub? Whatever mess she’d made, I could clean up later. I didn’t even bother opening my eyes.
A loud crash shook the house, something clawed at my face, and a sharp pain radiated through my leg. Now I didn’t want to open my eyes.
Pookie was much too small to cause such havoc.
As I pushed up out of the water, my head hit something hard and large. Why was there a tree branch as wide as my hips in the bathroom? My gut said it had something to do with Mr. Raymond and that stupid chainsaw.
The branches were too dense to push through. With the tree across the tub and the way the big branches were situated, I couldn’t get out. If I'd been sitting up or even standing beside the tub, I'd be in a world of hurt ... or dead.
How much of the house was damaged? I couldn’t see enough to know how the rest of the bathroom looked, but considering there was a tree in the bathroom, it couldn’t be good.
Bits of sunshine cut through the dense canopy of leaves.
I couldn’t let myself think about how bad things were or about how I could’ve died. Right now, I was alive, but I needed to get out of the tub.
No helpful ideas popped into my head.
Forcing myself to breathe in and out slowly, I focused on keeping my face out of the water.
Sirens sounded in the distance.
My phone had survived because George Strait was still singing “The Fireman.”
Connecting those two things, I questioned whether I’d survive the ordeal. The tree hadn’t killed me, but embarrassment might.