Friday, December 25, 2020

Let it Snow, Chapter I


        “But I called last week!” 

Carl is having none of it. I’m tempted to pull a Karen here — make my best impression of aunt Tilly, raise hell on the large man behind the counter for daring disrupting my nonexistent plans, but when I fill my lungs, ready to unleash my inner beast, I can’t bring myself to do it.

But I could bribe him.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Let it Snow, Chapter II



And here we go. I killed her dog. That’s why she hates me, even though it’s been decades and we’re both fully grown adults now. She just can’t let it go, in true Willow Decker style.

Of course I didn’t kill her fucking dog, I’m not a monster. But try to reason with Willow—it's impossible. I should know.

Here’s what happened.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Let it Snow, Chapter III


Fortunately, we're able to find a charming little inn where we can stay until the road is cleared, hopefully, in the morning.


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Let it Snow, Chapter IV



Willow is sound asleep by the time I wake up. By sound I mean soundly, snoring lightly and rhythmically. Part of me wants to record it so I can taunt her later, but I ultimately decide against it. Not because I don’t want to—it’s just self preservation at this point. I’ve been doing this for years enough to know better than to poke the bear. 

She’s bad enough as it is. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Let it Snow, Chapter V


I don’t fall asleep, but I’m pretty sure I’m having a waking nightmare.

Nick seems to become desperate for my attention, popping jokes at every curve, like things are just working out for him. I’ve said this before, but here it goes again: my misery amuses him—no wonder he’s in such a great mood. 

With his shit eating grin, a winner in every sense, with a whole damn cabin all for himself. Imagine that. Even when Isaac and I were together, and I was still entitled to my own bedroom, we were still under the same roof as all (and I mean all) my relatives during the holidays. Which meant exceedingly early mornings, bathroom lines and very little privacy, after all, Cat wants to use the mirror! And whose child is that, playing hide and seek in my closet?!

I’m having war flashbacks here.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Let it Snow, Chapter VI


As I push up the ramp to the Cabin, I make the mental note to slip some money to one of the kids in the neighborhood so they keep the driveway snow free while I’m here. The thought makes me feel old — not so long ago, I was the one shoveling our elderly neighbors’ driveway for a few extra dollars. Now I’m pretty sure Mr. Maguire, the literal Vietnam war veteran from down the street, could do a better job than me.

“It is what it is,” I mutter to myself, giving one final boost into the even wooden porch. My shoulder snaps with the added effort and I dutifully ignore it.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Will You?

 Alice wakes up to breakfast. 

The sounds and smells of sizzling bangers and percolating coffee fill the small flat. She lies there for a moment, assessing whether or not the smells wafting in from the kitchen are going to make her puke before opening her eyes.

The morning light is soft. The sky is still pale blues and inky purples. It must be early. Figures. She always wakes up at an ungodly hour when she drinks too much. She tries sitting up, and is pleasantly surprised her head isn’t spinning. Gingerly, she swings her legs over the side of the bed and stands. Things are good until she bends down to retrieve her dress from last night.  

Thursday, July 30, 2020

A Set of Robes

 Theo wakes up to Alice. 

She’s facing him, one arm tucked underneath her pillow and the other hand under her cheek. Her eyes are closed and she’s still breathing rhythmically, deep in the throes of sleep. There are some flecks of dried black mascara dotting her cheeks and the pillow. Theo grins wryly. She’ll hate that when she wakes up.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Boy in the Garden — I



I was seven when I was taken to Misselthwaite. As the car neared the castle through the gravel path between the tall, dry from winter trees, I’d been impressed, overwhelmed by the sight that looked so much like the beautifully illustrated books mother would read me not so long before she died, in worlds of princesses and dragons, and I thought it was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. A first impression, because then, after being dropped off with a single bag and a doll tightly pressed against my side, I thought it looked somehow cold, bare, with vines growing on the stone walls outside, uncared and untamed, just like I would be in the years I spent there.

Monday, June 1, 2020


     There are several things I thought would happen when I became an adult. I thought I’d instantly understand how taxes and mortgages worked. I thought I would have more time for hobbies. I thought I would have hobbies. After all, when I was growing up, my mom took an art class once a week; my dad played tennis. I consider it a victory if I take a semi-relaxing bath once a week, but I think that hardly counts as a hobby. 

Another thing I thought would happen is I would know how to cook. I would have a repertoire of fabulous recipes that I could instantly whip up and use to impress guests. One recipe in particular would be my signature, the recipe everyone requested when they found out Lauren Hadley was attending an event. 

That has not happened. Far from being gourmet, my recipes consist of one-pot meals I found on Pinterest or science experiments that happen when I clean out my fridge or pantry. My best recipe is called Bean Dish and consists of rice, pinto beans, mozzarella cheese, and kielbasa, if I’m feeling fancy. 

But apparently, Bean Dish is not an appropriate recipe to give to a budding bride as part of a bridal shower gift. Which is why I’m currently standing in my parents kitchen thumbing through my mother’s recipe book looking for a recipe worthy of gifting. After a few minutes of searching, I finally settle on Lemon and Rosemary Salmon en Papillote, which is just a fancy way of saying to throw it all in a packet or parchment paper and steam it in the oven for twenty minutes. 

I’m writing the recipe out on the minuscule card provided by the bridal shower host when my mom comes into the room. From the way she sidles up to the island, quietly tapping her fingers together and her mouth set in a straight line, I can tell she’s about to express an opinion I don’t like. 

“Yes?” I ask without looking up. 

“Lauren, you spelled en papillote wrong.” 

I glance at the card I’m writing and compare against hers, the original. Sure enough, I missed an l in papillote. That’s annoying but it’s not a big deal. I strike through it neatly and write the word again, this time with the corrected spelling, above it. 

My mother gasps in horror. 

“Give me that.” She swipes the index card from me and replaces it with a fresh one. “Start over.” 

I huff. “Mother, I doubt Brooklyn Levin looks at these recipes anytime in the next ten years. People my age don’t cook. And if we do, we just look up recipes on Pinterest.” 

My mom remains undeterred, and insists that I rewrite the card, while I persistently argue that it’s a waste of time. We engage in this back-and-forth exchange for several minutes until my dad's voice echoes from another room, exclaiming, "For the love of God, could one of you just rewrite the thing and end this argument?"

With that decisive outburst, the discussion comes to an abrupt halt. Reluctantly, I snatch the index card from her, ensuring I don't make any more spelling mistakes. 

"You'll appreciate doing that," she remarks as she heads towards the car. "Trust me."

Though I highly doubt it, I keep my skepticism to myself. 

The Levin house is on the other side of my parents' small neighborhood. It is easily within walking distance, but my mom insists on driving. Being driven through the neighborhood makes me feel twelve years old again. Now that my brothers and I are grown, my mom drives an Audi sedan; but when I was a kid she was the proud pilot of a GMC Yukon. The sedan is a nice upgrade. 

Cars already line the street in front of the Levins even though the shower doesn’t start for another fifteen minutes. Mom forgoes street parking and pulls right into the driveway, which is conspicuously empty, other than a boxy minivan. The minivan is new. I remember Mrs. Levin driving a Ford Expedition when I was growing up. It doesn’t seem like the kind of car one upgrades to once their kids are grown.

The minivan isn’t the only thing that’s new. There’s also a ramp leading to the front door. It is situated adjacent to the stairs, serving as an additional point of egress to the wraparound front porch. The gradient is low and it has been painted to match the rest of the exterior of the house, but it still sticks out. Apparently, the HOA still had a fit about it at first. As we make our way up the steps, I ask my mom, “How’s he doing?” 

Mom shakes her head. “Betsy thinks he’s depressed.” 

“Imagine that.” 


I don’t understand why shower games haven’t stayed firmly in the 1950s where they must have originated. But the scourges of toilet paper gowns and “Who Knows the Bride Best?” continue. When the games are finally over and it’s time to move on to gifts, I think everyone breathes a subtle sigh of relief. 

When Brookyn opens my gift–a set of crystal wine glasses, a decanter, and the recipe I co-opted from my mom–she gasps excitedly. “You’ve set me up for a dinner party, Lauren. I’d love to host you sometime!” 

It’s a sweet idea but not one I imagine will ever come to fruition. Although Brooklyn and I were friendly growing up, this is the first time I’ve seen her in several years, aside from a quick hello at the grocery store or gym. I know I was only invited as a courtesy because our mothers are good friends after years of being neighbors. And I’m fine with that. But I’m also not rude, so I smile politely and respond with a blithe, “I’d love that.” 

After gifts, most people go back for a second round of food and mimosas. We stand around, making semi-awkward chit chat, until one brave soul finally takes the plunge and is the first to leave. That kicks off an exodus until the only people left are Brooklyn and her bridesmaids, her bubbe, Mrs. Levin, and me and my mother.

Everyone peels off into their own groups. Brooklyn and her bridesmaids sit in the living room, excitedly making plans for her bachelorette. They’re going to Vegas, which sounds like a nightmare to me but Brooklyn seems pumped. 

My mother and Mrs. Levin flit between the dining room and the kitchen, cleaning up. Which leaves me and Bubbe, standing in silence, in the dining room. 

I take a stab at making conversation. “It was a lovely shower.” 

Bubbe gives me a sidelong glance. “You’re Joan Hadley’s daughter.” It’s not a question, but I nod anyway. “You went to school with Brooklyn and Jacob.”

That’s a bit of a stretch. Brooklyn was two grades behind me, and Jacob was three grades ahead of me. Besides that, once we entered middle school, the Levins went to a different school than my brothers and I did. Brooklyn and I drifted apart, but my two older brothers stayed friends with Jacob. Still, I didn’t know Jacob all that well. While we had a basement, the Levins had a guest house completely separate from the main house, which made it a much better place for a group of teenage boys to hang out.

Despite my limited acquaintance with Jacob, I nod again and lower my voice reverently. “How is Jacob these days?” I ask.

Bubbe clucks her tongue disapprovingly. “Wasting away out there” she says, shaking her head. “I tell him there’s plenty of good to come from this, that it’s just a small setback. But what does he do? Doesn’t listen. Just keeps pouting and wasting away.”

From what I’ve heard, the situation is more than just “just a small setback.” But who am I to argue with a seventy-five-year-old grandmother convinced her grandson is deliberately wasting his potential?

Unsure of what to say, I choose to say nothing, and we end up standing there in silence again.

However, the silence is short-lived because just as I’m about to excuse myself to go mingle with Brooklyn and her bridesmaids, Mrs. Levin pops her head around the corner. “Lauren, were you asking about Jacob?” she asks without waiting for my response, perhaps aware that I'll say yes no matter what. It’s kind of like my trademark. “He’s out back. Please, go and say hello. I know he’d love to see you.”

I can’t imagine that he would, after all, he barely knows me. But my mom is standing behind Mrs. Levin and nodding vigorously, so out I go. 


The Levin’s guesthouse is a small and unassuming wooden structure. Most of the front facade is made up of floor-to-ceiling glass, which lets me see right into the guesthouse. The mid-century modern vibe inside is at odds with the suburban exterior. One accent wall is made of high-quality wood paneling and an angular ochre-colored couch sits in front of it. The couch is flanked on one side by a low breakfast bar and on the other by an empty wheelchair. Jacob sits slouched on the couch, staring intensely at an iPad and frowning. 

I expected that Jacob would see me approaching, but his attention is totally occupied in whatever is on the screen. He scrolls up on the iPad, using his knuckle instead of his finger, and his frown morphs into a look of disgust. He tosses the iPad aside and lets his eyes close and his head drop onto the back of the couch. 

It doesn’t seem like the best time to knock, but I know both of our mothers–and possibly his bubbe, too–are watching from the main house, so I raise my hand and rap loudly on the glass door. 

He doesn’t respond, other than to heave a large and dramatic sigh. When he opens his eyes a moment later, I can tell I’m the last person he was expecting to see at his doorstep. His brow furrows and he cocks his head in confusion. I wave, a little–no, a lot– awkwardly. He nods and holds up a hand, the universal symbol for give me a minute. 

The walls are glass and the guesthouse is small, so there’s really nowhere else to look except at Jacob. I watch as he adjusts his position on the couch, gaze locked on the wheelchair nearby. Though I’m aware it’s impolite to stare, it feels more awkward to conspicuously look away. So I keep my gaze fixed on him as he leans forward and uses his arms to edge carefully off the couch and into his wheelchair. 

It’s interesting to watch the way he moves and to see the ways he has adapted. Unsurprising, given how long it has been, but interesting all the same. As he adjusts his legs and then wheels across the small house to the door, I notice he uses his wrists, rather than his hands to do most things. Even when opening the door, which is a sliding glass door, he uses his wrist to hook in the crook of the handle, rather than his hands, which look stiff and immobile, the fingers curled slightly inwards. 

“Hey, Jacob.” I back up a little because  now that he’s on the patio too, we’re suddenly very close to one another in the small space. Two steps backwards and my legs hit the edge of a patio chair. I stumble a little then sink into it and give Jacob a self-deprecating smile. “How’s it going?” 

Despite the waves of irritation rolling off him, this question seems to amuse him. He shifts in his wheelchair, using the butt of his palms on his thighs to push himself up and a bit straighter, for a moment, at least, until he shifts again. The second his arms aren’t there to support him, he sags in the chair, shoulders slightly rounded, with a small paunch at his waistline. He crosses his arms and studies me for a moment. 

“Lauren. Cut the shit. You’re just out here because you’re a sweet person.” Heat rushes to my face, and Jacob grins triumphantly. “Let me guess. You heard I’m depressed.” 

“The expression used was ‘wasting away,’ actually.” Sure, I’m a nice girl, but I’m also not going to play games if I don’t have to. I shrug and add, “But I’ve heard depressed, too.” 

“Christ on a stick,” he mutters darkly, all suddenly amusement gone. “Excuse me, everybody, for mourning the loss of my career.” 

While that reaction is on the extreme side of things, I have sympathy for what he’s going through. I’m an accountant, a numbers girl through and through. It’s cut and dry and completely unexciting, and I like it that way. I can’t imagine being one of those creative types who willingly and repeatedly puts the most vulnerable parts of themselves out into the ether for all to see.

Jacob is exactly one of those types, though. He’s only in his early thirties, but he’s already penned two successful books and, as of recently, one... not so successful book. I haven’t read any of his stuff, but the neighborhood book club did, according to my mom, and they loved both of his first two books: one about food culture that developed along the Silk Road trade routes, and the other an analysis of culinary traditions in the American Southwest.

The common thread is clearly food, and this has served him really well. Yet, for his third book, Jacob apparently tried to branch out. His latest novel is a LitRPG about a young time traveler from modern-day California who ends up in fifteenth-century Turkey. It sounds like the most interesting of his books to me, but apparently, I’m in the minority on that one. Sales have been only slightly better than dismal, and reviews have not been kind.

I know I don’t have the capacity to understand what he’s going through – I didn’t even bring my own recipe to the shower today – but I still try to be nice. "I don’t think having a single book underperform means your career is over."

He mumbles, "Okay, shows what you know," as sarcastically as possible under his breath.

I’m starting to remember why Jacob and I weren’t ever friends when we were younger: aside from the fact that he was three grades ahead of me and I was his friend’s kid sister, he’s kind of an asshole, a quality that has probably served him well in the cutthroat publishing industry, but one that I find really grating.

I purse my lips tightly in annoyance. I came out here with the intention of making the moms and the grandma happy, and yes, because I consider myself a nice person. But now, I think it's time for me to make my exit. I begin to rise from my seat when Jacob unexpectedly speaks up once more.

"Sorry," he sighs begrudgingly. He rubs his face with the palms of his hands, dragging them down, as if trying to physically shake off his frustration. The motion momentarily resembles the anguish depicted in The Scream.  "I don't handle failure well."

"It's just one book!" The words fly out of my mouth, and before I can stop myself, I burst into laughter. I've hit my limit. I recall his earlier comment and decide to borrow his phrase. "Christ on a stick, you're being dramatic. I heard once that Stephen King had several missteps in his career, and look at him now."

Jacob shakes his head, but this time his response is more cordial. "Stephen King and I don’t exactly have the same decks stacked against us." He glances pointedly at his curled hands and immobile legs. Then he shrugs and changes the subject. "How's the situation up there? Still Wedding HQ?"

A part of me wants to keep Jacob talking about his career because it feels like we could be on the precipice of a breakthrough, but another, more logical and kind, part of me knows the right thing to do is to let it pass. So instead I give him a knowing smile. “Still wedding HQ,” I confirm. “But there were lots of mini quiches and cupcakes. I’m surprised your mom didn’t send me out here with a plate for you, to be perfectly honest.” 

“I’m not,” he shakes his head. “She’ll make me schlep up there and see everyone so Brooklyn can keep basking in the glory of being a bride.” 

“It is a very glorious mantle to take up.” 

He laughs. It has a pleasant low timbre to it. Now that we’re off the subject of his (supposedly floundering) career and he’s not being downright irascible, I’m actually enjoying myself. It’s a hot afternoon but there’s a gentle breeze fluttering through the trees and the patio of the guesthouse is catching it just right. I settle back in the chair, getting comfortable. 

“Who do you think is more excited about the wedding, your sister or your mom?” 

Jacob snorts. “My mom, for sure.” He grins wickedly. “Did you see her new car?”  I nod and bite my lip, holding back laughter. How could I miss it? “Brooklyn was engaged for approximately five minutes before Mom upgraded to the world’s ugliest minivan and started asking when she was going to give her grandkids.” 

His delivery is funny but we both grimace afterwards. “Moms are going to mom,” I say, even though mine swung the opposite way and bought a sedan to haul her future grandchildren around in. “Speaking of…” I nod towards the house where our mothers have been perched for the last several minutes. Mrs. Levin sees me notice them and gestures for us to come up. 

Jacob groans. Given his rumored track record the last few weeks, I expect him to turn around and go right back inside the guesthouse, but to my surprise he pivots and starts to wheelin the direction of his parents. I smile triumphantly. 


Later that night, my mom and I are having a glass of wine and swapping gossip from the shower, when my phone vibrates.

Who’s texting you?” my mom asks.

I do my best not to take offense to her tone, but the insinuation still stings. My mom can be like that sometimes. Nevertheless, where there's smoke, there's usually fire, and it stings because there's truth to it. Honestly, I have no clue who would be texting me at 8:30 on a Saturday night.

The text arrives from an unfamiliar number, but with a local area code. I'm anticipating spam, so when it turns out to be a picture of the recipe card I had given to Brooklyn earlier, my jaw drops in disbelief.

My phone vibrates once more, and this time a message pops up:

Simple but elegant. 👍 Good choice. 

The grin on my mom’s face stretches from ear to ear even though there is literally nothing to get excited about from this text message. I know this. Yet…I can’t stop my stomach from flipping gleefully. 

“What if I hadn’t made you rewrite it?” Now the initial shock of Jacob Levin texting me has worn off, she’s in full gloating mode. “This is a man who has written two books on the history of food. What if you’d spelled en papillote wrong?” 

Knowing Jacob, I'm certain he would have texted regardless. However, instead of being complimentary, he would have been condescending. I would never openly admit it, but I'm secretly relieved that I rewrote the text and corrected my spelling. I much prefer a compliment over a reprimand.

I have to admit, I plagiarized that recipe from my mom. I was going to do a Lauren Hadley original. Bean Dish: pinto beans, mozzarella cheese, rice. Kielbasa, if I’m feeling extra.

It takes a few minutes for his reply to come back. At first I worry it’s because he didn’t actually want to talk, he was just being nice. But then I remind myself that, out of the two of us, I’m the nice one, not Jacob, and he wouldn’t have sent a message in the first place if he wasn’t interested in going somewhere with it. Sure enough, his response has only a modicum of thoughtfulness yet is also immensely reassuring. I read it and re-read it and then hand my phone to my mom so she can see. 

It sounds like an abomination. I guess I’ll just have to try it to decide. What are you doing tomorrow night? 

"You text him back immediately, Lauren," my mom instructs, and unlike our earlier argument about the recipe card, this time I follow her advice without argument and with a grin on my face.  

Friday, May 1, 2020

Through the Door


    My hands are sweaty. I rub them on my navy dress pants and glance at the clock. 


    My heart starts beating faster, and it's so loud, I'm sure he'll hear it the moment he arrives. I bounce my knees up and down, trying to get the nerves and the jitters out of my system before he gets here. Three minutes later I hear the door alarm sound. Any second now he'll be walking through that door. 

    Well, not... walking, per se.