Sometimes life and love are better when they're simple.
Welcome to Maplewood, where Cadence Mills is trading in her New York City life for a simpler experience. As she moves to Maplewood to care for her grandma, she comes to realize that sometimes simple is more exciting...and that sometimes love finds us in unexpected places.
Follow Cadence Mills' life and love in Maplewood with this serially published chick lit saga. To read parts one and two, click on the Simply Love page above.
It’s strange to say, but I think I saw a glimmer of glee in Grandma’s eye when I told her about the station wagon.
Not that I had to tell her much. Even with Grandma’s less-than-stellar hearing, I’m pretty sure she heard the crunching of the mailbox with her bumper.
I’d slinked back into the house, head down, dejected, awaiting the lecture from Grandma. Instead, when I fessed up about her bumper, she gave a little shrug.
“No worries, Cadence. Just take it to Creeson’s.”
“Creeson’s garage. It’s on the corner of Hemlock and Grove street. They’ll have it fixed in a jiffy.”
And then Grandma had scurried off to watch her soap operas, leaving me stumped at her calmness about the situation.
So here I am now, after three wrong turns, sitting in front of the dilapidated sign for Creeson’s garage. It looks like it’s straight out of the 1950s or something, a tiny garage without a lot of charm, however.
I sigh, pushing my sunglasses back on top of my messy bun as I slowly get out of the station wagon. I hate this sort of thing. I’m always out of my comfort zone, questions about cars or anything mechanical making me feel stupid.
Plodding up to the door, which is hanging wide open, I gingerly step onto the cement in the tiny “office” area.
“Be right there,” a deep voice bellows from under a car in the garage. It doesn’t seem like there’s much happening here today, which is good. Maybe this won’t take that long.
A few moments later as I’m studying posters on the wall of the office that seem to solidify the 1950’s vibe, I turn to see a man standing in the doorway, wiping grease off his hands.
Correction. I see a gorgeously handsome man, late twenties to early thirties, commanding my attention with his mere presence. I remind myself to keep my jaw closed as I eye those rippling biceps underneath his work uniform, his green eyes beckoning me forward. He’s got dark hair which, despite the sweat dripping down his forehead, is working for him in a messy kind of way.
Get it together, Cadence, I inwardly chide myself. What’s wrong with me? I act like I haven’t seen a man my entire life. He’s probably married or has a ton of baggage or isn’t interested in women or…
My incessant trail of thoughts is interrupted by a simple, “Can I help you?”
I feel my heart flutter ridiculously, and I’m pretty sure my pits are getting a little sweaty. Great.
“Um, hi, I’m Cadence Mills and I’m new to town. Well, my grandma lives here, do you know her? Anyway, I was backing down the driveway and I lost track of what was happening somehow and the next thing I knew, crash, I hit the mailbox and…” I can hear myself talking a mile a minute like one of those annoying teen movies… but I can’t stop myself. I just feel my lips flapping away, my words tumbling out. This guy has rocked me to the core.
I don’t understand it. I mean, yes, as I’ve clarified, this guy is super attractive, but it isn’t like I haven’t seen that before. There are plenty of good looking men in the Big Apple, although their personalities don’t always match. I’ve had a few not-so-great run-ins with love in the city, but I’d like to think they’ve taught me to be a little more cautious with my heart.
Yeah, but this run-in is telling me otherwise.
“Do you need your bumper fixed?” he interrupts gently, smiling. He’s got perfect white teeth. Great. The list of attributes and reasons for my nerves to amp up just keeps getting longer.
“Um, yeah. If you have time.”
He grins. “Look at this place. It’s not like I have lines of cars here. Plus, your grandma is amazing. Even if I was busy, I’d stop everything for her.”
“You know her?”
“Everyone knows her. Greatest lady in town. She always sends over a strawberry pie on my birthday and on my dad and brother’s birthdays. They’re the best.”
“Does your whole family work here?”
“Yeah. Dad inherited the business from my grandpa. Now, my brother Zeke and I work here.”
“Oh, that’s neat.”
“Yeah, I’ve always liked cars, so it worked out.”
“So you’ve lived here your whole life?” I know I should probably stop talking, should let the man get to work. I’m sure standing in the stifling heat talking to some rambling girl isn’t on the top of his list, especially a girl who can’t even handle driving a station wagon.
However, as I’m talking and he’s continuing to wipe off his hands, I notice something. There’s no ring. I’d like to say this doesn’t make me happy—but it does.
“Yeah. Left for trade school for a little while, but then I came back. It’s a small town, but I like it that way. It’s simple. How about you?”
“My grandma always lived here. I’ve been living in New York for a few years now. But when grandpa died, I moved back. I’m all grandma has left.”
“I’m sorry. That’s tough. But that’s really awesome of you to move back.”
“Yeah. Grandma did so much for me over the years. I knew it was the right thing to do. But it’s been quite a shift.”
“I bet. Well, if you ever need anything or want me to show you the finer points of Maplewood, just let me know.”
Was that a date offer? Stop it, I chide myself again. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Although, it did sort of feel like a date. My stomach flutters at the thought.
“I’d like that. It seems nice here but…”
“Dead? Boring? Yeah, it can be,” he chuckles. “I’m Zander, by the way.”
“Cadence,” I spew, before remembering I already told him that.
He doesn’t call attention to it, though, just smiling. “Well, why don’t I take a look at the car. Head across the street to Dina’s Donuts. Tell them I sent you, and they’ll give you a free coffee. I’ll come over and get you when I’m finished.”
“That’s so nice. Thank you,” I say, meaning it. Zander nods before heading to the car. I turn and walk across the street, hoping I picked the jean shorts that make my butt look round and not saggy. I mentally tell myself not to sway my hips, to not look like I’m trying to hard.
Not that it would work, anyway. I’ve never been one of those women who have the natural flaunt-it characteristics. My form of flirting usually looks like I’m having a seizure. Still, something about those green eyes, something about Zander’s voice makes me want to try.
“Cadence?” he says, and my heart freezes. Maybe he’s going to ask to join me for coffee.
“Yeah,” I say casually, turning before I cross the street.
“What?” I ask. “Oh, right.” I walk back, handing him the keys to the car.
Great. Now he definitely thinks I’m a bimbo.
“Thanks,” he says, as I hand them to him. Our hands graze each other’s as we pass off the keys, and I shudder at the roughness of them.
“See you soon,” he says, giving me a grin.
“Likewise,” I say, and then shudder inside. Who the hell says “likewise?” I better work on this flirting thing.
Still, as I head through the door to Dina’s and take in the cute charm, also reminiscent of the 1950’s, I’m smiling way too wide for a donut shop.
“Can I help you?” a perky, pink-haired girl with a nametag that read “Ivy” says.
“Um, Zander sent me?”
“Did he now?” Ivy gives me a grin, and there’s a sparkle in her eye.
“Uh, yeah?” I say as a question, not sure what’s going on.
“Gee, I wonder why.”
I’m confused as hell. What is she talking about? What is she getting at?
“Um, because he’s working on my car?”
“Honey, if you think Zander only sent you over for free coffee because of that ratty station wagon, you’re out of your mind. Have you looked in the mirror? Your gorgeous. No wonder Zander wanted to keep you around as long as possible.” She winks at me, showing me there’s no malice in her voice. She smiles, giggling a little as she heads over to the coffee pot. I’m still not sure what’s going on or how to take her.
I get out my wallet to pay, but she shoves it away, handing me a coffee. “It’s covered honey. We’ve got it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Oh, I’m sure. So what’s your name?” She comes from behind the counter, leading me to a booth. There’s a ninety-something year-old man in a corner booth, but other than that, the shop’s desolate. Still, I’m surprised she’s just abandoning the register so freely.
“Cadence. Just moved here from New York.”
“Oh, are you Gladys’s granddaughter?” she asks, taking a seat across from me, smiling at the name.
“Yeah, do you know her?”
“Of course! She’s the sweetest lady. She always sends me my favorite, a chocolate pie, for my birthday.”
Apparently my grandma is into pies. I had no idea.
“Zander said she does the same thing for him and Zeke?”
“Yeah, she does. But strawberry? The morons would like strawberry. Ew.” Ivy shrivels up her nose. I’m not sure if it’s at strawberry or the names Zander and Zeke.
“Do you know them well?” I ask.
She laughs hysterically. “You’re not used to small town life, yet, huh? Everyone knows everyone here. Seriously. There’s no privacy.”
I smile. I like this girl already. “Yeah, I’m gathering that. So what’s Zander like?”
Ivy shakes her head. “He’s an idiot. And an ass most of the time. Good with cars, but a smartass. Drives me crazy.”
I feel my heart sink a little. I don’t know this pink-haired girl well, but she doesn’t seem like one to sugarcoat things. Maybe my instincts about Zander were wrong.
Not like it matters, I remind myself. He’s fixing the bumper on my grandma’s station wagon, not asking me out.
“But, I’ve heard he’s not so bad to date.”
“Yeah, if you’re into that sort of thing. I mean, I’ve heard that he’s not so bad to look at. But that’s not something for a sister to analyze.”
“Wait…” I pause, tilting my head in question.
“Yes, that idiot’s my brother. Zeke, too. They work with dad at the family business. I work with mom, here. She’s the Dina in Dina’s Donuts. We’re just one big happy family.” She shakes her head.
“That’s really neat. I had no idea.” Now I get a little worried. I had no idea this was Zander’s sister. Was I obvious in my interest? What if she tells him? I don’t want to see like a psychotic, desperate stalker.
“It’s something. In all honesty, it is pretty great. I love my family. It’s just a lot sometimes. Zeke moved out last year when he got married, but Zander and I still live at home. Not quite how we pictured our twenties, but you know, life and all that.”
“So Zander’s not married?”
“More like forever alone. He had a rough relationship in his senior year of high school. Broke his heart. He’s dated here and there, but let’s be honest, Maplewood population practically nothing, well, it doesn’t offer a lot of options, you know? Zander needs someone a little more…exciting than what we have here. He needs a woman who doesn’t have marriage and babies as her only goals. Not that he’s against that. I just think he’s a little wilder than that, wants a life a little bigger, you know?”
“I do get it. But why hasn’t he left?”
“Family. I think he doesn’t want to leave us. We’re a close bunch and all. But if the right opportunity came along, the right woman…” she winks at me.
I feel myself blush. “Well, you never know when things can change,” I say, not really sure how to respond.
“Indeed. So, when are you going out with my brother?” she asks, jumping straight to the punchline.
“I’m not—we’re not—he’s just fixing my car.”
“Okay. Whatever you say. All I know is he wouldn’t have sent you over here if he didn’t want me to get some information out of you.”
I should feel set-up and a little bit violated, being scoped out by the family. But I don’t. There’s something about Zander, and even something about Ivy, that makes me feel like maybe Maplewood won’t be so bad after all, 1950’s décor and all.