On the Rocks (True North Book 3) is available now! Check out the first chapter below (the second half coming next week). And Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read all of my books for free through the program.
Sitting cross-legged on her best-friend’s guest bed, Jennifer Campbell scanned the notes she’d jotted down on the spiral bound notebook. Her mind blanked as the words bled into one another. Agreeing to teach a semester long seminar at her alma mater had been easy and opportune. But actually planning her lectures and lessons ten years after graduating college had proved a difficult task. A knock sounded at the door seconds before the door burst open and the knob banged against the wall.
“Cookie?” Rebecca held out a platter overflowing with chocolate chip cookies.
Jen slid off the bed and held out her hands to grab the treats from her pregnant best friend.
“Cookies too? Becs, you should be resting!” Jen set the platter on the nightstand and offered a hand to help. But Rebecca waved her off and lowered herself onto the end of the bed. The mattress tilted a little when Jen joined her.
“You sound like Tom,” Rebecca stuffed a cookie in her mouth, crumbs spilling out at her words.
Jen bit her lip to stop the reply. Being compared to Tom, Rebecca’s adoring and steady husband, wasn’t a bad thing. She grabbed the plate off the table and set it between them, taking a bite reached for a cookie off the plate now resting in her lap and took a bite. The bitter dark chocolate and sweet brown sugar nearly had her swooning.
“These are sinful.”
“And there are plenty more,” Rebecca wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. “I had a craving and couldn’t stop making dough. If you want one, just look for the bag in the freezer.”
“So right now in your kitchen you have a giant bag of cookie dough? Why did you have to tell me? Even looking at a cookie makes me gain five pounds!”
“You look great, as always. I’d love to be a size twelve again. I’d love to be able to see my waist!”
Jen fought against her inclination to roll her eyes. Eating in an upstairs bedroom in a snug bungalow on a quiet street in Bloomington, Indiana both dressed in pajama pants and oversized t-shirts, transported Jen back in time. But the warmth and safety of the future had evaporated for Jen with the mistakes she’d made since leaving the college town. Rebecca’s protruding tummy only served as a reminder of the twists and complications of her adult life.
“Rebecca, thanks again. I have no idea where I would have ended up.”
“You’re welcome Jen. But stop thanking me. I have a spare room, you’re only here for a couple of months, and what would you have done? Gone to an extended stay?
“Or maybe a dorm?”
“Ugh, gross,” Rebecca shuddered. “I’m glad to have you here. We haven’t gotten together since, my wedding? And geez, even then I was so distracted.”
“Yeah it is nice. Weird, all things considered.”
“I’m sure,” Rebecca nodded before reaching out to put a hand on Jen’s knee. Jen shifted and Rebecca let her hand slid off. “I’m sorry about that.”
“No you aren’t,” Jen crossed her arms. “You told me my relationship was a dead end years ago.”
“True, but I didn’t want you to waste so much time.”
Neither did I. Admitting the truth to herself had been hard, she couldn’t figure she had anything to gain by rehashing the demise with Rebecca. Again.
“I’m back and is it odd that this feels like a fresh start? I know I’m only here to teach the fall semester, but the timing couldn’t have worked out any better.”
“No, not at all,” Rebecca assured with a kind smile. “When do you have to start?”
“I’ll leave you then. It’s already late and you only have one more day.” Rebecca yawned and raised one hand to cover her mouth.
“I’m sorry, I’ve kept you up,” Jen apologized.
“Don’t apologize, I’m always tired.”
She only felt the merest hint of jealousy, looking at her friend. Pregnant, married to her college sweetheart, steadily rising in her career, and recently settled in her own home, Rebecca had somehow checked off everything on Jen’s list. When they’d first graduated college, anyone would have thought Jen and not Rebecca would be in that enviable position. But how much could change in a decade?
“I might sneak out early, if I can.”
“Of course! I’ve left you a set of your own keys. Just come and go as you please, make yourself at home, all that stuff. And if you need something, ask me or Tom if you can’t find it, alright?”
Rebecca pushed herself off the bed and Jen watched her waddle to the door. Although she assured Jen she felt great, Jen couldn’t help but be concerned as Rebecca lumbered.
“Thanks again Becs,” Jen called as Rebecca shut the door behind her.
Jen swallowed the lump in her throat. Her friend’s kindness threatened to undermine the hardened exterior she’d built up over her career in brand management. Everything is business, nothing is personal had been the mantra she’d instilled in all of her clients. She hadn’t understood how hard those words were to live by until she’d decided to hit reset and walk away from the mess she’d been living.
Her palms itched and she rubbed her hands together with enough force to start a fire without the twigs. She should probably check in on Olivia, her former protégé now running the business. Dropping her hands, she slid off the bed, reached the desk in three steps and grabbed the phone. Nine o’clock pm flashed at her.
I can’t call her. I’ve only been gone for ten hours and it’s a Saturday. She’ll call me if there’s a problem. That’s the whole point.
A warm breeze rustled the sheers in the two windows in front of her. The heady perfume of honeysuckle released into the air of a perfect Indian summer evening. Jen closed her eyes. I owe it to myself to make the most of this opportunity.
Turning off the light on the desk, Jen crossed the room to shut the door. The murmur of the TV in the open main floor of the house drifted up the stairs. Jen smiled. If she had to come back and start over, at least she’d found a home. Leaving the door open a crack, Jen tiptoed in her heavy socks across the hardwood floor. Pulling back the quilt, she got into bed, rested her head against the crisp, cool cotton sheets, and instantly fell asleep.