***Part I of Simply Love: Welcome to Maplewood is available HERE***
“Oh dear, Tyrion doesn’t like to have his belly scratched,” Gram says, pulling her floral robe a little tighter in the cool morning air that is filling the house.
My hand is already bleeding from the crazy cat’s wild scratching and biting, his growls only punctuating his frustration. “I’m getting the idea he might not like to be pet at all,” I say, finally wrangling my hand back and standing up, my black leggings covered in white cat hair just from rubbing against him. So much for my favorite color to wear being black.
“How did you sleep, dear?” Gram is shuffling her feet in her hot pink slippers, her walker grinding into the carpet as she moves toward the kitchen.
“Great,” I lie as I head over to the coffee machine. I struggle to remember how to even make coffee in this ancient coffeemaker, making a mental note to put a Keurig on my list of things to buy as I attempt to open the foreign contraption.
In truth, I barely slept a minute, or at least that’s what the bags under my eyes seem to suggest. The mattress in the guestroom is probably circa 1950, and the yellow floral wallpaper just sort of gives me the creeps, even in the darkness. Perhaps its Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” or an overactive imagination, but I just feel like it’s watching me.
Still, I know things are hard enough on Gram. Going to bed alone, missing Grandpa—I can’t even dream of complaining. She’s done all she can in her condition to make my move comfortable, opening her home to me as best as she can.
I struggle with the measuring and pouring of the coffee for a while, hoping the liquid that comes out of the appliance won't be too tar-like. Here's to hoping.
Despite the peeling wallpaper, the bed, and the lack of modern appliances, I sit at the wooden table in the kitchen thinking about how warm I feel inside. To be in this cozy kitchen, gram trudging to the table with her cane in her right hand—it feels right.
This is where I need to be.
“So, what do you have planned today?”
“Well, I don’t have a Skype call until Thursday with Whitney,” I say.
I smile, shaking my head as I sloppily put my hair into a ponytail. “A call with work. I don’t have to call them until Thursday.”
“I do worry about your career with this move. I’m so glad to have you here. But I hate to see your dreams on hold.”
“Gram, I can design anywhere. Nothing is on hold.”
She smiles, taking a seat beside me as she pats my hand. “I don’t ever want to come between you and your dreams.”
The look in her eyes says she means it. It makes my heart swell even more to know she cares about me. I didn’t realize in New York how much I missed that, the connection of family.
“Thanks, Gram. Love you.”
“So you still didn’t answer me. What are you doing today?”
“Well, I need to run a few errands maybe. Pick up a few things to settle in. Do you want to get lunch?”
“No, honey. You take some time to explore on your own. Look around, see what Maplewood has to offer. You need to check out the young crowd.”
I laugh at the way the last words fly off her tongue like a foreign phrase. “Well, then maybe I’ll get us some takeout for lunch? I wouldn’t mind catching up on some soap operas you know.”
Grandma is a sucker for soap operas, or the “stories” as she calls them. She’s got a thing for quite a few of the actors.
“Oh, yes. Lovely! Your grandpa always made fun of me for watching them. It’ll be so great to have someone to share them with. You know, there’s a new Ricky on the stories and let me tell you, he’s something to look at.” She winks, and I shake my head.
“Always scoping out the men, huh Gram?”
“Hey, I might be old, but I’m not blind. A girl’s gotta get her looks in while she still can. Speaking of which, don’t you worry, Cadence. There are plenty of lookers in town here.”
I sigh. “Gram, don’t get any ideas. I don’t need you trying to set me up with anyone.”
She puts her hands in the air. “I’m just saying. My beautician Belinda has a grandson, and he’s not bad on the eyes.”
“Well, I’ll keep that in mind as I explore the town today,” I say, mostly just to appease her. She smiles as if pleased with herself.
“It’s about time you find yourself a nice young man, Cadence. Someone to share life with.”
“We’ll see, Gram.” I don’t have the heart to tell her that at my age, a nice young man isn’t exactly on my list. Give me some hot one night stands, give me a few fun nights out, and I’m happy. I don’t need a ring to make me happy. In fact, on the contrary. I’m doing just fine on my own, my career keeping me busy.
I know Gram’s from a different generation, though. A generation of commitment and settling down, of love being the answer. I don’t have the heart to tell her that’s not what I have in mind. Plus, I don't exactly want to explain the concept of a one-night stand to dear old Gram. She watches enough soap operas to know, but still--there are some things grandmas just don't need to hear from their granddaugthers.
Not that I’m against love or marriage. Someday maybe I’ll take that step. It’s just right now, I’m not ready to settle down, to let love take over.
I break out of my introspection, heading over to grab a cup of coffee for each of us. We spend the next hour talking about everything from the storyline of the soap operas to the weather to my job. Gram, although still in mourning, seems happy. It makes me feel good.
After I change out of my leggings and touch-up my makeup, I decide to head out. Gram lets me borrow her car, an ancient station wagon. I make a mental note that procuring a car is also going to be on my ever growing list of to-dos.
Uprooting your life isn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be. Once I finally get the thing to clink to a start, I back down the driveway, carefully watching the rearview mirror. It’s been so long since I’ve driven, the taxis in New York City and the subway substituting for driving most days. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I’ve actually been behind the wheel.
It’s not as if I’m driving in New York City traffic, though. There’s not a single car in sight for miles. I guess if I need to get reacquainted with driving, this is the place to do it.
I ease my way back down the driveway, momentarily getting hung-up in the mirror on my wonky eyebrow. When was the last time I had those things waxed? I think to myself.
And then crash, crunch, boom. I’m no longer looking at my eyebrow but slamming on the break, hoping to stop the crunching metal feeling before it’s too late.
But it’s way too late. The damage has been done. I exhale loudly, wondering if this whole moving thing was such a good idea after all. Because right now, looking at the crunched mailbox underneath the tire of the equally crunched up station wagon, I wonder what the hell kind of message the universe could possibly be sending me.
***To be continued***
**Simply Love will be a work published serially. Contemporary romance slash chick lit, this piece will be updated every week. Follow Cadence Mills as her twentysomething life of cocktails and fashion is turned upside down with a family tragedy. Moving to Maplewood isn’t her choice, but could living the simple life put things in perspective…and even lead to love?***
Sometimes putting your dreams aside can lead you to new passions.
Our lives don’t typically change in a formulaic, mapped out fashion. Our lives usually morph because of a fleeting idea, a dancing fantastical whim coaxing us forward onto a new path.
My life changed forever when a whim beckoned me home, or at least to the closest thing I had to home.
I don’t know if I’d call it a whim exactly. Perhaps it was more of a gut reaction, an instinct that it was the right thing to do. In the moment, it seemed like a simple act, simple words. In fact, I upended my entire life with three little words: “I’m coming home.”
It was a mucky Thursday, mud sloshing under my knee-high boots, when the words escaped my lips and transformed my life. Standing under the umbrella the funeral director held above my head, I put an arm around Gram. Squeezing her into me, the soft floral scent of her familiar perfume dancing around me in the midst of the ashy rain smell, I practically whispered the words.
“I’m coming home.”
“What, dear? What do you mean?” Tears danced down her cheek, and her voice cracked from the strain of the day.
It was a bold statement to make backing away from Grandpa Joseph’s grave. Gram’s tears were still flowing, and our hearts were still panging with the heaviness of good-bye. Still, walking away from the graveyard, my frail Gram in my arms, I knew the words were necessary. More than that, I knew the action behind them was necessary.
The words, although genuine, were arguably inaccurate. No wonder poor Gram was confused. Maplewood had never been home for me, not really. It was Gram and Grandpa’s home their entire lives. I’d visited here a few times a year when Mom and Dad were still alive. Growing up, I’d spent holidays in Maplewood, had been here to walk the creek in the summer months every now and then.
But it was never home.
Home for me was with my parents in South Carolina. Home now was in my overly expensive two-bedroom in New York City, the bustle of the nightlife energizing me.
Maplewood would never be home, not physically. The word slipped off my tongue though, perhaps saying more about my situation than I even knew.
Gram was there, my only living family member. Perhaps Maplewood was home after all, even if I didn’t know it yet. How couldn’t it be? That beautiful woman who had saved me during my darkest hour, who had upended her own life to take care of the lost seventeen-year-old I once was, needed me. I owed her.
“I’m moving. I’m coming to live with you.”
e walked toward the hearse, ready to go to the funeral luncheon. I knew it was a formality, but I didn’t know if I wanted to face everyone’s cheerful conversations over ham sandwiches, cookies, and strange punch. I wanted to mourn in peace. I wanted to surround myself with Grandpa Joseph’s favorite things, to talk about him with the only woman who truly knew him—Gram.
“No, honey. You can’t do that. Your life is in New York. You’ve got an amazing job and friends. You can’t,” she said, vehemently shaking her head.
“Gram, it’s not up for debate. It’s done. I’m coming to live with you. I want to do this. Let me do this.”
“I won’t let you do this. I’m fine, dear.”
I opened the door for her and helped her creakily lean down, her bones cracking as she moved her frail bottom across the seat.
Gram let out a loud “umph” as she settled in, and I crawled in beside her. The funeral director shut the door. I wondered if he ever felt awkward, like he was privy to conversations too intimate for funeral director’s ears. Then again, when you handled the dead, perhaps nothing was off-limits or too taboo.
“Gram, listen. It’ll be great. I can talk to Whitney. I’m sure with Skype and things, I could just work from home, work remotely. And it’ll be good. A change of scenery will help with the creative juices.”
“Come on, Cadence. I might be ancient, but I’m not daft. You’re not moving here for a change of scenery. You want to babysit me.”
“It’s not like that, Gram. I know you’d be fine. I just…I miss you. I miss Grandpa. I want to be close to you.”
Sighing, Gram leaned in to give me a squeeze, her cold, bony fingers digging into the soft flesh of my arm. I rested my head on her shoulder like I'd done so many times, the comfort of her familiar yet scratchy sweater soothing me.
“I miss you, too. I just don’t want you changing your whole life for me.”
“Gram, let me do this. Please,” I begged, knowing I’m winning her over.
“Okay,” she said simply, patting my hand. We sat in silence the whole way to the luncheon, thinking about Grandpa, thinking about how frail life is, and thinking about how so much was changing.
For me, though, the big changes hadn’t even begun. I just didn’t know it yet.
I shove the three suitcases into the trunk of my Uber driver’s car. He looks a little annoyed that I’m jiggling and wiggling them into the trunk of his flashy red sports car, but I don’t care. It’s been a long day, and I just want to get to Gram’s house.
My house, I correct myself.
I blow a piece of my hair out of my eye, sliding my sunglasses back down as I plod to the passenger seat. He shuts the trunk as I prepare for the awkward twenty-five minutes of small-talk I’m about to endure.
Mercifully, though, my phone rings. It’s probably rude to answer it, but I don’t care right now. Roger will just have to deal with it.
“Hey, miss me already?” I say into the phone once I pick up.
“Don’t you know it. I still can’t believe you’re gone. This is crazy, Cade, you know that right?”
I exhale. I’ve been through this so many times with Lilly, with Whitney, and with everyone else in my friends’ group in the city.
“It’s the right thing, Lilly. She’s all I have left, and vice versa. I can’t just let Gram live alone.”
“They have places for this sort of thing.”
“I can’t put Gram in a place like that. She’s too feisty for those witchy women there. She’d be evicted in five minutes. Besides, she upended her life for me not that long ago. It’s the least I can do to pay her back.”
“But she was in her seventies when she did that for you, not twenty-six. There’s a big difference.” Lilly’s voice is a tad whiny, as if she can change my mind.
“Lil, I know. But I need to do this. Look, I’ll come back to the city as often as I can. And who knows, once Gram recovers a little from the shock and gets back on her feet, maybe I’ll come back.”
“Well, maybe I’ll find a new roommate by then,” Lilly says into the phone. Her voice tells me she’s smiling.
“Please, I know better. Who the hell else would deal with your obsession with Teen Mom and your messy habits?”
“You’re right. Well, listen. If you’re going to be in another state, at least do some prospecting for me, okay? Let me know how the man market is there. Maybe I’ll have to make a visit out there.”
“If you can’t find a man in New York City, what makes you think you’d find one here, in the middle of nowhere? Pretty sure the pickings will be slim,” I say, accidentally making eye contact with Roger who is at a red light. I wince a little at my implied insult, and turn back to look out my window.
“Well, call me once you get settled in. I miss you already.”
“Miss you too. Don’t worry, I’ll be calling plenty. The biggest thrill here is Dunkin Donuts and Wal-Mart. Seriously. There’s like nothing.”
“Despite the fact I think you’re insane for giving up your awesome, youthful life here in the city, I think you’re doing a nice thing. Your Gram is lucky to have you.”
“Thanks, Lilly. Be sure to harass Stuart for me at work on Monday.”
“Of course. Much love,” she says, and she hangs up. I rest my phone in my lap, feeling sad.
Glancing out my window, I peer at the trees as they pass by, missing the bright lights and crazy traffic already. When I headed for the city at twenty-two, I thought I’d be there forever. I thought the city life would be mine to own for as long as I wanted.
But life changed. I learned early on that life doesn’t always go as plan. Tragedy can strike at any time, and sometimes your life takes an unexpected turn.
Still, as Roger pulls into the familiar driveway, the one-story brick house in view, my Gram waving from the rocker on her front porch, I smile. I miss my friends and our cocktail hours already. I miss the sushi bar down the street from our apartment. I miss the hustle and bustle of the office, of going across the hallway at the office to show Lilly my latest sketch for the new collection. I miss all of the possibility, the exuberant feeling of walking down the sidewalk feeling like I’d achieved my goal.
As I hand Roger cash, though, and tug my luggage out of the trunk, I can’t help but feel hopeful in a new way. Maybe moving to Maplewood will be a new kind of dream, a new kind of possibility. Maybe a new life is waiting right around the corner.
Regardless, I walk onto the porch, rushing into Gram’s arms. “Welcome to Maplewood,” she says as if she’s greeting me for the first time.
In some ways, I guess she is. Because the old Cadence Mills is gone again, her designer heels and sunglasses looking quite out of place in this simple setting.
Welcome to Maplewood, indeed.
TO BE CONTINUED….