Read Friends & Fortune Cookies: A Sudden Falls Romance Online

Authors: Elizabeth Bemis

Tags: #"Single Women", #"Career", #"Family Life", #"Sisters"

Friends & Fortune Cookies: A Sudden Falls Romance

BOOK: Friends & Fortune Cookies: A Sudden Falls Romance
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Chapter 1 — Grace

“Dating is a blood sport, and I have the scars to prove it.”
~ Luddite in Love: A Cautionary Tale of Dating in the Modern Age,
Grace Mendoza

Late on a perfect Saturday afternoon in July, I jogged my way down the Sudden Falls bike path, enjoying the sweet smell of sunshine and honeysuckle. I moved along at a respectable clip, listening to the sound of chirping birds and the occasional cyclist calling “On your left”, with the quiet intrusion of my ancient MP3 player—ostensibly on random mode—playing a Katy Perry girl-power trifecta for the third time in a row.

Probably time to trade my first-gen iPod Shuffle and my geriatric flip phone in for a smart phone that would both play music and field calls. However, given my track record with electronics, the technology would undoubtedly fritz out within months of purchase, and the user interface would elude me. But listening to
Roar, Firework,
and
Part of Me
several times in a row was a sign of some sort. Like maybe I needed to step it up and find some power of my own.

Before I could allow myself to wallow in that depressing thought, a red, old-fashioned bike with a straw basket stopped in my path. Its rider, my parents’ neighbor and my first-grade teacher, climbed off. Still pretty spry given she had to be in her eighties.

I pulled my headphones out of my ears. “Hello, Mrs. Barrow.”

“Grace. It’s so good to see you! How are you doing after... well,
you know
?”

There were a lot of advantages to living in a small town. Privacy wasn’t one of them.

“I’m doing well,” I said, not actually sure if the statement was true or a bald-faced lie. Depended on the day. Today, it was up in the air. And not only because of my struggles with my MP3 player and an endless loop of Katy Perry.

Mrs. Barrow clucked sadly. Even a year later, I wished the entire town hadn’t been privy to my very public breakup, days before what was to be my equally public wedding.

“And your sisters? How are they?”

Part of my resentment came from the fact that getting left at the altar was the kind of metaphoric face-plant that didn’t happen to a member of the Magnificent Mendozas.

Except me. But I’d always kind of felt like a changeling in my family. A “moderate” in a family of extremes. The reasonably intelligent middle child of three girls, of medium height, with medium brown hair, and unremarkable gray eyes. My sisters both had IQs off the charts, had skipped a handful of grades between them, and were a physical study in opposites.

“They’re doing great! Inky’s working on her second doctorate—this time in anthropology—and Katie was recently named a creative director at the advertising agency she works for.”

My youngest sister, Ingrid a.k.a. “Inky” (don’t ask), was short and petite to the point of bony. Sadly, she looked like a girl named Ingrid might. Unless she learned to do more than run a comb through her hair as a nod to high fashion, she was going to die a virgin.

Katherine, Katie to the family, had graduated
summa cum laude
with a bachelors
and
a masters within five years and had gone on to take the advertising world by storm. Absolutely gorgeous with a full-figured, voluptuous body, she knew how to show it off to her best advantage. She was head-over-heels in love with the gorgeous owner of a chain of fitness centers, and he was over the moon for her.

Weight-wise, I was somewhere in the middle. I wasn’t overweight, but I could easily pack on the pounds if I wasn’t careful. Hence, my interrupted run. And I had dated, but not recently.

“And what about you? You’re still working for the paper, right? That article on that boy from the high school was so nice.”

I, on the other hand, had graduated from high school right on time. Went to college. Got precisely one degree (journalism) in just under five years before joining the Greater Cincinnati Consortium of Community Presses. My job allowed me the luxury of working in my hometown, Sudden Falls, a little bedroom community to the north and east of Cincinnati. I’d moved my way up to columnist, and I really loved that my work was seen in small papers all over the city. But the Pulitzer-nominating committee wasn’t on alert, and
The
New Yorker
wouldn’t be calling anytime soon. Not that I really needed it to. I liked where I lived.
Most of the time.

I didn’t know the article Mrs. Barrow was talking about, but I smiled anyway. “There’s some talk that the
Cincinnati Enquirer
is going to pick up my column.” I didn’t mention I wasn’t holding my breath until it happened.

“Good luck with that.” She climbed back on her bike. “Tell your folks I said hello!” Moments later, she pedaled away, and I plugged my headphones back into my ears.

Katy Perry continued to sing her warning to me. I poked at a couple of buttons on my player, but the music continued on.

I pulled the headphones back off as I came to a stop at one of the few roads that intersected the Sudden Falls bike path and pushed the crosswalk button. Right then, a motorcycle roared up and stopped, leaving me breathless when I realized who sat upon the tomato-red 1940 Indian Scout.

And, of course, without a helmet. Instead, he wore a cocky grin, twinkling blue eyes, and enough sex appeal to get one or the both of us in serious trouble. Not that I would have ever admitted that, even under threat of torture.

“Still working to become an organ donor,” I said, pleased I didn’t even sound out of breath.

He cocked an eyebrow quizzically.


Helmet
, Joe,” I said with a calm my pounding heart absolutely did not feel, indicating the helmet resting on top a mid-sized army-green backpack secured to the back wheel cover with a bungee cord.

“I haven’t seen you in more than a year and all you can say is ‘Helmet, Joe’?” His voice went up about three octaves from his usual deep bass as he mocked me.

“And whose fault would that be?” My surprise at his sudden arrival turn to molten anger.

He didn’t answer.

But I had a right to be mad. What kind of person tells their best friend
two weeks
before her wedding day that her fiancé is a jerk and she should call it off? Then, just disappears?

An event made especially distressing given that ten days later my fiancé left me for a twit with huge boobs and tiny morals. Joe hadn’t been there to help me pick up the tattered pieces of my life. For which I might never forgive him.

“God, I’ve missed you, Gracie,” he said in a voice that was even rougher than usual. I caught a momentary flash of stark loneliness on his face, and it did something weird to my throat.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, expecting that, like always, he’d make an appearance and then take off again. His M.O. for the better part of the eighteen years I’d known him. I remembered us both at seven years old and him beating Robbie Fenton up for yelling “Ugly! Ugly! Grace is Ugly” in a horrid little chant on the bus one morning.

That was the last time Robbie Fenton so much as looked sideways at me. And the moment Joe had become my hero.

He shrugged. “At least a couple of months.”

Two months in the world of Joe Baker was practically forever, and yet I still couldn’t help the traitorous lurch to my heart at the idea that he’d be around for a while. Even during our school years, he’d bounced from one parent to the other, depending on whichever was most capable of taking care of him. “Capable” being a relative term because Joe had pretty much been raised by his uncle. As soon as high school was over, he’d gone into military, even though I’d tried everything I could to convince him not to do it. He’d still left. Because that’s what Joe did. He left me.

The red “DON’T WALK” sign turned into a white “WALK”. And so I did.

He called my name as I reached the other side of the road.

But I kept walking. Because yet another thing I wouldn’t have admitted to him for the world were the tears tracking down my face.

Chapter 2 — Joe

It figures
. Gracie marched her cute little can up the bike path, and I watched until she disappeared around a bend. Back less than twenty-four hours and I’d already had my first fight with her. Scrapping had been our way of communicating more often than not since about the first grade when I cleaned Robbie Fenton’s clock for something he said to her on the bus—though for the life of me, I have no recollection what he’d said—and Gracie lit into me for fighting on the playground and getting called to the principal’s office.

It used to be that when we’d fight. Then, we’d end up laughing, as neither of us could stay mad for long. Looked like some things
did
change after all. Gracie still held a grudge, which she’d only done once before. And since she’d had a pretty good reason then and it had only lasted six months, I didn’t count it.

Guess I’d have to grovel. Sudden Falls wouldn’t be the same—hell, my
life
wouldn’t be the same if Gracie wasn’t in it. This last year had sucked donkey balls. And even if she was married to some weasel who wouldn’t appreciate her, I still wanted—no
needed
—her friendship.

A car’s horn beeped behind me as the light turned green, and I waved the driver around as I reached behind me to disengage my helmet from the bungee cord and put it on.

Before the light could change again, I gunned the engine, loving the way Uncle Tommy’s Indian Scout rumbled and vibrated under me. Tommy had been king of the antique. Bikes, cars, furniture, and houses. He’d restored them all. He’d given me the bike right before I went into the army. Not that I’d gotten much chance to use it while stationed overseas, but he’d stored it for me to ride when I was stateside. It still ran as well as it had in 1940.

Besides Gracie and her family, Uncle Tommy had been the only constant in my life. When I was little, his house had been a refuge from the vodka-pickled home I shared with my mom when I hadn’t been in whatever bourbon-soaked locale my father had landed himself. Tommy had let his son Alex and me sit on the concrete floor of his shop while he’d restored some ancient car or another and imparted life wisdom like our own personal Obi-wan Kenobi. When we hit high school, he gave us both summer jobs doing construction work for his company, Baker Restoration.

God, I missed him. Almost as much as I’d missed Gracie this past year. When Tommy died two years ago, he left the company to both Alex and me. I appreciated the gesture, but never really understood. I still had a year left on my enlistment, so I let Alex run things as he saw fit. Tommy’s manual skills were part of my cousin’s genetic code. He was a brilliant craftsman. An electrician of the highest caliber. A certified plumber. And he could shingle the steepest sloped roof with the balance of a goat.

But Alex’s business sense? Not so much, unfortunately. School had never been his thing. Much to Tommy’s dismay, Alex had dropped out during his second pass through eleventh grade. So, when I finished my enlistment last year, I came back to town to join my cousin in the business. Unfortunately, Alex didn’t really seem to want my help, and then Gracie and I had our big blowup. I knew I couldn’t stay. Brian, a buddy from the army who’d saved my bacon on more than one occasion, called needing help with his security company start-up. Perfect timing.

The pay was good, Brian was grateful, and the job kept me busy and out of the country more often than I was in. It almost kept me busy enough to keep my mind off the fact that Gracie had married some yahoo. That had eaten at me every day of the last year and some change. And kept me from even considering coming back.

At least until Alex called a few days ago to admit that between the economy and his struggles in the front office, he was close to losing the business. I hadn’t realized it until I heard Alex’s voice, but I’d been desperately searching for an excuse to take a leave of absence and come back home.

So here I was, pulling up in front of the trailered offices of
Rehab-a-rama
, ready to beg, borrow, or steal to get us into the action this year. All we had to do was prove what Baker Restoration was capable of. This was the fastest way I knew to get the company back in the black. Proceeds from the sale of the
Rehab-a-rama
house would help, but the publicity would be worth its weight in gold.

I untied my rucksack from the back bumper, then slid the strap of my helmet over one of the handlebars, and climbed the stairs, ready to put it all on the line.

Recognizing Jack Haroldson from his photo in the newspaper, I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality of him. At six-four, rarely do I run into someone taller than me. But compared to this guy, I felt like a dwarf. He had at least three or four inches and fifty pounds on me. None of flab. Rumor had it he’d played pro football for the Bengals. I had no trouble imagining him as a defensive lineman.

“Mr. Baker.” He held out a dinner-plate-sized hand to shake.

I took it. “Joe, please. Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.”

“All right, Joe. Call me Jack. We only have one house left.” He motioned to follow him back to his office.

BOOK: Friends & Fortune Cookies: A Sudden Falls Romance
10.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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