Me and the Cute Catastrophe

Chapter 1

 

Claire

I was going to start this book out with a nice introduction of myself and tell you that my name is Claire Harding and I’m a home nurse, divorced with two girls, and my ex is a jerk.

But my plans got interrupted a little, and I’m currently scrunched down behind my car, the bumper digging into my back, my daughter’s—extremely heavy—pink unicorn bookbag clutched my chest, and I am praying—because I do pray and not just when I’m in trouble—that my sister will not answer the door, and Trey Haywood will walk back over to his father’s house or, better yet, get in his car and drive back to Washington where he belongs.

God answers prayers. I know He does. I’ve seen it. But he doesn’t answer this one.

And I just want to be clear, I don’t usually do this. I am forty-one years old, and typically I don’t hide from people.

But my daughter Melody, who’s ten, is cooking supper. (Lord, please don’t let the kitchen catch on fire. At least not until Trey leaves.)

I know all of you are probably thinking I’m afraid my homeowner’s insurance isn’t up-to-date. The real fear though, if the house catches on fire, is that my mom will show up.

She’s the fire chief in Good Grief, the town in which I live. It’s a volunteer company. Mom goes to every fire.

I don’t know about all of you, but I love my mom. I do. Still, I definitely don’t want her to show up now. Not when Trey is here.

Anyway, my daughter Melody, she’s exactly like me and has trouble getting her nose out of a book long enough to breathe, is cooking supper, so I told her I would get her bookbag.

And yes, she’s in seventh grade and way too old for a pink unicorn bookbag, but she’s the kind of girl who totally doesn’t pay attention to that kind of thing and would still be using the bookbag she used in kindergarten if it hadn’t fallen apart.

She gets attached to stuff just like I do.

Stuff like her father.

That was all my fault. If I hadn’t gotten old and ugly, he wouldn’t have left.

Anyway, that has nothing to do with me and what I’m doing right now, crouched behind my car.

Like I said, I don’t normally do this, but I was in the middle of dyeing my hair. Yeah, for those of you who haven’t been cursed with the early gray—I got it from my dad—it stinks.

If I didn’t dye it, I’d be almost completely gray, and I’ve been tempted to let it go. After all, I only started hiding the gray to begin with because my husband didn’t want to be married to someone who looked like she was older than he was. Now that he’s been gone—goodness, has it been eight years already?—I don’t need to stay young-looking for him.

I guess I just didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me and thinking how old I looked and how glad he wasn’t with me.

Clutching the bag to my chest, I shake those thoughts out of my head. I can’t think about Cody without feeling like a loser.

He would be the first person to say I actually was a loser. There are so many times I think he’s right.

I close my eyes and lean my head against the back of my car.

I suppose I’m some kind of loser to be sitting hunched down behind my car hoping my neighbor leaves.

My good-looking, athletic, high-school-crush neighbor.

Please let him go. Please let him go, I chant in my head. A prayer, sure, but one I know I shouldn’t be uttering. I should have just squared my shoulders, forgotten about the fact that my hair looks hideous, and walked regally to my house rather than closing the car door quietly, scrunching down, and duck-walking to the back.

It feels like a smack in the forehead when I hear my front door open. My older sister hangs out at my house a lot, and she’s as perfect as I am not.

An English teacher.

That’s all I need to say about that. Right?

Every word spelled correctly.

Every verb tense perfect.

She can even outline sentences.

Like I said. She is perfect.

And she did not inherit our dad’s propensity for early gray. Her hair is a honey blonde, natural, falling in silky waves to the middle of her back.

She is even older than Trey than I am, but she is perfect for him.

I hear voices mumbling in the background. I’m still trying to dictate how this is going to go down. Whatever he wants, let it not be me.

But no such luck on that prayer either.

“Claire! Claire! I know you’re out there.” That’s my sister yelling at me. No-nonsense, like she’s still in front of a class of senior high English students who would rather be anywhere else, because who in the world would want to be sitting in high school English when there are frogs in formaldehyde only steps down the hall just waiting to be dissected, right?

More mumbling as they talk in lower tones. I could almost hear my sister saying she just ran out for her daughter’s backpack. It’s not like we have a huge yard or that my car’s parked a half an hour away. It’s like maybe fifty feet from the house.

There’s no way I could have been attacked by a moose or eaten by a grizzly, although we do have both in Idaho.

Not that I’ve ever seen any.

“Claire.” Now my sister sounds exasperated. “I can see your feet underneath the car. What are you doing? Get over here. Trey wants to talk to you.”

Man, I hate this. Not only did I do something stupid and immature, now I have to fess up to it.

Resigned, I straighten. But inspiration strikes when my phone, which I’d shoved in the back pocket of my jeans, because yes, I’m old enough to prefer wearing jeans over yoga pants, catches on the bumper of my car and clatters to the ground.

Of course!

I’ll just pretend I was on the phone.

My stomach unclenches slightly, and I smile, impressed with my brilliance.

Typically, I’m not the slightest bit creative and am actually quite boring. My ex made sure to tell me that too.

But this is just absolutely a stroke of genius if I do say so myself. Which I have to, because no one else is going to.

Well, possibly my mom, but your parents don’t count.

Grabbing my phone, I hold it to my ear with one hand, sliding the pink backpack a little bit to the side with the other. I can block it with my body a little at least so its sparkly brilliance doesn’t blind anyone—Trey—as I business walk into the house.

I’ve got my head down, and I’m nodding and making those humming noises that people make when they’re on the phone and agreeing with whoever’s talking to them while not interrupting them.

I’m good at that.

Not just on the phone, but as a nurse, I hear a lot of complaints on a daily basis, and while I love what I do and truly enjoy listening to my patients, sometimes you just have to nod and agree, because being sick stinks, and sometimes there’s just nothing you can do about it.

Regardless, I’ve made it to the steps—there’s three of them—with Trey and Tammy standing on the stoop.

Figuring I can be a little gracious, I lift my eyes, very, very conscious of the dye that feels like it’s solidified in my hair. I typically go for a golden brown, as close to my previous natural shade as possible, but this dye has been in long enough that I’m going to be at least seventeen shades darker than I normally am.

That’s fine. I moonlight as the girls’ basketball coach, and I can wear a baseball cap, right?

And as a nurse in Idaho, I can wear a beanie, even if it’s September. It gets cold early here.

Still, I’m gracious, lifting my fingers in a little wave and putting an expression on my face that says, goodness, I’d just love to stand here and talk with all of you fun people, but I’m in the middle of a very important phone conversation and just absolutely can’t.

It’s a new look for me, but I think I pull it off.

At least judging from the look on Trey’s face, he believes me.

The look on my sister’s face isn’t quite as trusting, but I’m typically not the slightest bit devious. She has her hand on the door, and she pulls it open for me. I might have made it inside and spent the next thirty minutes congratulating myself on my brilliance, except—I hear a phone ring.

Right beside my ear.

It’s mine, of course.