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Authors: Steena Holmes

The Word Game

BOOK: The Word Game
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“Steena Holmes is a natural storyteller who skillfully aims for the heart—and writes from it too.”

—C. J. Carmichael, national bestselling author of
The Fourth Child


The Memory Child
, Steena Holmes explores motherhood, love, and the notion of who we really are, all of which adds up to a complex, character-driven story that packs a great punch.”

—Allison Winn Scotch,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Time of My Life
The Theory of Opposites


“Poignant and richly drawn, Steena Holmes’s novel tells a layered and complex story.”

—Jane Porter, bestselling author of
Flirting with Forty
Easy on the Eyes



Finding Emma

Emma’s Secret

The Memory Child

Stillwater Rising


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2015 Steena Holmes

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by Lake Union, Seattle

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Lake Union are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.

ISBN-13: 9781503949430 (hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1503949435 (hardcover)
ISBN-13: 9781503947139 (paperback)
ISBN-10: 1503947130 (paperback) 

Cover design by Mumtaz Mustafa

First Edition




Friday night

In this moment, at the core of who she was and all she wanted to be, Alyson Ward was happy. Contented, even—for the first time in years. She didn’t understand it, but it was amazing how one simple decision, one act of letting go and giving in, could change so much.

“This is kind of fun, isn’t it?” she said.

Rachel, her best friend, raised her glass of merlot in agreement. “Fun? It’s brilliant. I’m so glad you thought to do this for the parents. And a chocolate and wine tasting? Great idea. If it had been left up to me, we’d be sitting at the pub right now.”

Alyson took a quick sip of wine and looked around the room. The small restaurant was packed with parents and friends from the dance group. Her husband and Rachel’s were both at the bar, talking with a few friends.

“I like doing stuff like this. You know that.” Alyson settled back in her chair and thought about checking in with her daughter but decided there was no need. If anything happened, her sister would call.

“Maybe consider a second career in event planning? Accountant during the day, event planner by night. Could be a good business.” Rachel reached for one of the remaining chocolates from the tasting.

“Ha. I’d be the most frazzled event planner. And you know I like working with numbers.” Alyson winked before she reached for her own small piece of dark chocolate.

One of the things taught them by their speaker tonight was how to savor the chocolate—to take small bites, let it sit on the tongue, and allow the flavor to announce itself. If you chew the chocolate too fast, you don’t get any of the nuances, and in fact, it can turn out to be quite bitter. Alyson wasn’t a fervent chocoholic, but she had to admit, eating it slowly did make a world of difference.

“The kids performed really well tonight, didn’t they?” Rachel pulled out her phone and began scrolling through the photos she’d taken of the evening.

The dance recital had been fun, and their girls had done a great job. The styles Myah had incorporated into the routine had been a balanced blend of contemporary and jazz, and considering this had been the first recital for this new class, it’d been a success. To celebrate, all the girls were over at Tricia’s house, Alyson’s sister, for a sleepover. It would be a madhouse with all those kids, but Tricia no doubt reveled in the chaos. She was like that. Alyson, on the other hand, needed to be in control of things—which is probably why she enjoyed working with numbers and spreadsheets so much. She created order out of disarray for her clients, and loved it.

“Myah did such an amazing job. I was actually surprised at how well it all turned out.”

“Maybe if you actually came to more of the classes and rehearsals, you wouldn’t have been so surprised.”

“Give me a break, Aly. You know my schedule is crazy on the best of days. I try to make as many practices as I can, but honestly, if I have to sit beside Melinda Brown and listen to her complain about Myah and her class one more time . . .” Rachel sighed and reached for her almost-empty wineglass.

Rachel was the principal of the elementary school and, to be fair, was quite busy with after-school programs and meetings.

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I don’t blame you about Melinda either. Although, isn’t she on the PTA?”

Rachel shook her head. “Not this year. I might have talked her out of running for another year.” She looked around to make sure Melinda wasn’t within earshot. “But don’t tell anyone, because you know I’ll have to deny it.”

Alyson fiddled with her glass but didn’t say anything. They both knew Melinda Brown wasn’t one of her favorite people.

“Did you happen to book our next cooking class? I know you were waiting to see about your schedule.” It was Rachel’s turn to pick the class, their last of the year before things got busy with Christmas concerts and parties.

“How does pizza sound? Apparently, we’ll learn from a guest chef from Naples. Just think, real authentic Italian pizza. Oh, that reminds me, I actually have the whole weekend off, so Paul has convinced me to try out a new bed-and-breakfast that one of his friends opened on the coast. He wanted to leave Friday after school, but I told him we had a date. So,” she twirled a thick strand of her long hair in her fingers, “do you think Melanie can sleep over on Saturday while we’re gone?” Rachel glanced over to where their husbands stood and waved. Her husband blew her a kiss.

Alyson rolled her eyes, but then Rachel elbowed her in the side.

“You guys can be sickening some days. You know that, right? You’ve been married how long? I swear, at times you still act like newlyweds. And, of course, Melanie can stay over. She’s always welcome.” Alyson teased her, but she had to admit to being a little jealous at the same time. They both had celebrated their fourteenth wedding anniversary this past year, Alyson in the spring and Rachel in the summer, but that didn’t mean their marriages were the same.

For fun, Alyson and Rachel once filled out an online marriage survey and were asked to sum up their marriage in three words. Alyson had used the words
. Rachel, on the other hand, listed

“Oh look. It’s Debra.” Rachel’s eyes skimmed the tables, and she waved to someone who sat across the room with a bunch of other women.

“Who’s Debra?” Alyson didn’t recognize her.

“She’s new. Just moved from Boston. She’s a social worker and really nice.”

Alyson glanced at the woman and forced a smile. She wasn’t overly fond of social workers in general—not after having problems with one years ago.

“Alyson! There you are. Why are you hiding away in the corner? And where is Myah? I thought she’d be here by now,” said one of the women among the group of other moms surrounding their table, wineglasses in hand. “Whoever came up with the idea of the kids and adults having their separate parties was brilliant. I bet it was you, wasn’t it?”

Alyson blushed. “Myah’s at Tricia’s. She’ll be here shortly. It was Tricia’s idea actually. She thought it would be a fun way for the kids to celebrate, and then, well, you know how things escalate.” Her head dipped toward her tensed shoulders, and she became aware of feeling uncomfortable with everyone looking at her.

“What’s she’s not saying, Penny”—Rachel leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table—“is that yes, it was her idea for the parents to have their own party, and then she went a step beyond and organized the wine and chocolate tasting with a real Parisian chocolatier.”

Alyson sat back and sipped more of her wine as Rachel came to the rescue and took the attention off of her.

“Thank you,” Alyson said quietly once Penny and the ladies left and Scott and Paul returned.

“And this is why you’re not an event planner.” Rachel smiled. “You need to start accepting these accolades you know. You are amazing, and everyone knows it.”

“Amazing? My wife? Didn’t you know she’s secretly Wonder Woman?” Scott scooted in beside her in their booth and placed his arm around her shoulders.

“Stop. Both of you.” Alyson’s gaze settled on the menu she’d set aside. “Anyone hungry? I’m thinking—”

“A plate of nachos or fried pickles or even a basket of wings sounds good right about now.” Scott plucked the menu from her hand and winked at her.

“I’m surprised you didn’t suggest the fried calamari too,” she teased him.

His eyebrows rose in pretend surprise. “Hey, I plan on taking full advantage of this evening. You do realize that right?”

She chuckled but didn’t bother to reply. She made sure they ate clean at home, and while her husband had benefited from their improved diet and lost almost twenty pounds, she knew he still craved all those deep-fried death sentences she refused to allow in the house anymore.

Scott waved a waitress over, and everyone ordered an appetizer to share, even Alyson who got the special hummus and pita plate.

“Did you notice the renovations at the theater? It looks great. Scott, did you guys work on that?” Paul, Rachel’s husband, asked. Paul worked as lawyer at one of the firms in their small town.

Scott shrugged. “Eddie didn’t think we’re specialized enough, so he brought in some city crew that probably cost him a small fortune.”

Alyson focused on a water stain on the table. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all, right? And when it came to Eddie, Myah’s soon-to-be ex-husband, she had absolutely nothing nice to say at all.

“Why would he do that when you probably would have been cheaper?”

“Who knows why that man does a lot of things? No doubt he found someone to sponsor the upgrades in exchange for something else. You know how Eddie works.” He drank some of his beer. “Either way though, the place does look great.”

Scott worked alongside Alyson’s father and Tricia’s husband as a carpenter at Wilhem & Sons Designs. They were the go-to carpentry company in town.

“I heard he wants to get back to doing competitions,” Rachel said.

Alyson turned. “Who did you hear that from? He’d need a new partner for that, because I know for sure Myah has given up competitive dancing. She’s happy teaching now.”

“Well, they are separated. Maybe that’s his new partner there?” Rachel pointed toward the bar where Eddie stood with his arm around a tall blonde’s waist. “Was he even there tonight for Keera?”

“He was. I saw him off to the side giving her a pep talk and hug.” Alyson eyed the woman, not recognizing her at all. Why would he bring her here? He knew the dance parents were coming here. He’d gotten the invitation as well, unless . . . he wanted to show everyone that he was moving on from Myah?

“Ignore him. He’s here for the attention. You know that.” Scott said to her, nudging her knee with his own. “I have to say, I’m impressed.” Scott said. He glanced at his watch. “It’s been over two hours, and I don’t think I’ve seen you use your phone yet.” He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “Tell me you haven’t called to check in on Lyla.”

“I haven’t.” She smiled back at him with happiness.


She shook her head. “Not at all.”

He arched an eyebrow, as if challenging her to tell him the truth. But she was.

“You were right, and I was wrong. She’s almost eleven and probably the only girl in the group who hasn’t gone to a sleepover party. It’s time.” She played with the napkin in her lap, twisting the corners while managing to contain her smile.

She was happy. It
time. Time for her to let go of some of her control over her daughter, time for Lyla to grow up and spread her wings a little. And she was at her sister’s . . . a place completely safe and trustworthy.

“Anyway, if she gets scared, she can come home.” She released the napkin and smoothed it back over her lap.

“But she won’t,” said Rachel. “She’s going to have so much fun with everyone tonight that she won’t even think about it being her first real sleepover.”

Tonight was a big deal, in more ways than one, and everyone here at the table knew and understood that. By letting Lyla go to the sleepover, it meant Alyson was giving up some of the control she’d held on to so tightly all of her daughter’s life. It meant taking a step toward putting her marriage first—the real secret to why Rachel and Paul were still so much in love. It meant learning to trust others as well, like her own husband, who’d been the one to champion the sleepover at Tricia’s.

That happiness she’d felt earlier in the evening—it was still there, and she’d ride this wave for as long as possible. After all, her daughter was at her sister’s house . . . what could go wrong?

BOOK: The Word Game
6.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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