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This Time Around
Author: Denise Hunter

 

Chapter 1

 


Allie Adams shoved the last red rose into the gaping vase and eyed the massive arrangement of blood and thorns with a scowl. The fragrance of flowers permeated the back of Blooms and Buds, reminding her of funerals, Georgia summers, and broken hearts.

“See, lookie there.” Charlotte Jackson’s grin lit up her rich brown face as she swept in from the storefront. “And I didn’t even have to do triage this time. Or bring you a paper bag.”

“I didn’t hyperventilate.” Allie blotted her pricked finger, the blood a bright spot against her pale skin. “I just . . . got a little woozy. And how did a flower with spikes become the international symbol for love anyway?”

Charlotte lifted a perfectly arched brow. “You tell me. And what happened this time? I told you to wear gloves, girl.”

“I forgot. I was a little distracted.”

“By the other five arrangements that need to be done in . . .” She checked her watch as she joined Allie at the worktable. “Half an hour?”

“Hey, don’t blame me. I’m just the summer help.” Allie’s real job—teacher’s assistant for a local elementary school—gave her summers off. She arranged the fern fronds and baby’s breath to best set off the two dozen roses. Some poor guy needed forgiveness in a bad way.

“It’s just this trip . . . ,” Allie continued. “I’m kind of dreading it.”

“Your grandparents’ anniversary party? I thought your family was close. Unlike mine.” Charlotte smirked as she gathered a bunch of hydrangeas and went to work on an arrangement. “No wonder my parents wanted me to be a psychologist—probably hoped I’d come back and fix them. As if.”

Allie was looking forward to seeing her family this weekend—it wasn’t that. Despite the fact that she had moved to Atlanta seven years ago, her parents and big sister remained in close contact. Her grandparents were wonderful—their Pennsylvanian farmhouse spacious and cozy.

“We are close. We just . . . It’s hard to explain.”

The bell on the shop’s door jingled.

“To be continued.” Charlotte set down a stem of snapdragons and went to wait on the customer.

Allie’s phone vibrated in her pocket. She brushed off her hands and checked the screen. “Hey, Mom. What’s up?”

“I just finished packing.” A zipping sound accentuated the words. “But I wanted to call and remind you about your flight tomorrow. Have you packed?”

Allie rolled her eyes. It was a wonder she managed to brush her teeth without a reminder. “I didn’t forget.” Not that she’d started packing. Hadn’t done her laundry yet either, but there was still plenty of time.

“Well, you remember that one time . . .”

“I was eighteen, Mom, and I just forgot about the time change.”

“You missed Olivia’s college graduation.”

Allie sighed, then it dawned on her that her mother was just now packing. “Wait, I thought you were supposed to leave for Gram and Gramps’s yesterday. Dad said he was going to restain their deck before the party.”

“We were. But there was a delay with the Chevy. Your grandparents aren’t happy—we had to make up some excuse. But they’ll forget that soon enough when they see Dad’s old girl pulling into the drive. They’ll be so surprised.”

For all these years the ’57 Chevy had been atrophying on the property her parents had inherited from her grandparents. The restoration was her parents’ surprise for their fiftieth anniversary. It had been in the works for months.

“But what about the deck? Gramps said they wouldn’t host the party unless the deck was refinished.”

“Well, he insists he can do it himself.”

“He’s in no shape for that.” He’d recently had a knee replacement, and it was too hot for him to be working outdoors.

“I’m not happy about it either, but what else can we do? We can’t leave the car here, and your grandma has tried talking him out of it, but you know Gramps.”

Allie wished there was something she could do. But she knew nothing about refinishing decks.

A sudden thought occurred. “When will the car be finished?”

“Tomorrow morning. Your dad and I will pick it up and be on our way. At this rate we’ll probably arrive after you.”

“Wait, Mom. What if I picked up the car and drove it to Pennsylvania?” She’d have to cancel her flights, but that was okay. On Sunday she could ride back to Copper Creek with her parents, collect her car, and drive back home.

She realized her mom hadn’t responded. Heat prickled beneath her arms. “Mom, did you hear me?”

“Oh, honey . . . that’s just . . . too much to ask. We’ll be fine.”

“But Gramps could hurt himself, and Dad can still get there in time to help if you leave today.”

“But—the Chevy is . . . it’s a big responsibility, honey. Driving through the mountains all by yourself. It’s just not a good idea. I don’t want to put that on you. Thank you, though. So sweet of you to offer.”

What her mother meant was, she didn’t trust Allie with the precious vehicle. Allie’s shoulders hunched in, warmth bleeding into her face. No doubt if Olivia didn’t have a husband and three kids in tow, the assignment would’ve been passed to her without a blink of an eye.

“Mom, I can do it. I’ll be careful, I promise.”

“Honey . . . you’ve had a lot of speeding tickets.”

“I’ve had a total of two and none in the past five years. I’ll drive the speed limit—under the speed limit. I’ll treat the car like a baby bird.”

She heard her dad talking in the background. Then her mom’s intense whisper—somewhat muffled, yet Allie heard every word.

“She offered to drive the Chevy so we could head up to my parents’ today.”

“Allie? Drive the car?”

“What should I say?”

“Well, I don’t know. You think of something.”

“I can’t say yes!”

“Are you sure? Your dad’s set on having that heatstroke, you know.”

“It’s Allie, Bill. She couldn’t commit to a teeth-whitening strip.”

Okay, her mom hadn’t said that last part, but it was clearly implied.

“Oh, that’s right,” her mom muttered. “Allie, I don’t think you can drive the car. It has a—”

Her dad interrupted and her mom’s reply was muffled.

“Mom? Mom, of course I can drive the car. Can you just—?”

Her parents were back in negotiations.

For heaven’s sake. This was ridiculous. Allie cradled the phone on her shoulder and gathered the flowers for the next arrangement while her parents discussed whether or not their twenty-five-year-old daughter was up to the task of operating a motor vehicle.

When were they going to see she wasn’t the impetuous girl she’d been at eighteen? Sure, she was still a little impulsive, and maybe she wasn’t quite as stable as her parents might like—certainly not settled, like Olivia.

But she paid her bills on time (usually) and held down a job, sometimes two. (Though, okay, she switched frequently. But just because she had a short attention span didn’t mean she was irresponsible.)

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