Me and the Helpful Hurricane

Chapter 1



I am in trouble.

So. Much. Trouble.

With my boss.

I guess for those of you who read the books about my sisters, Claire and Tammy, you might be thinking that you’re about to read a romance.

I’m sorry, but that’s not what you’re getting in this book.

My name is Leah Harding. Harding is my maiden name, although I was married for two years. I never changed it.

I guess that’s how committed I was to the marriage.

Kids. We were stupid, right?

Anyway, it’s been fifteen years, and I have no desire to get married again.

So this book is not going to be a romance.

I’m sorry, but it’s probably going to be mostly about me complaining about my insufferable, arrogant, jerk, and—since I’m an honest person, I also need to say—very handsome, very smart, very compassionate boss.

His name is Doug Ripley.

And he is going to kill me when he sees what the ladies at the Cherry Tree Senior Living Center and I have done now.

It’s Saturday, and he shouldn’t be in, but he thrives on doing the unexpected.

Or maybe I should say he thrives on catching me doing the unexpected and then slapping me with a reprimand.

I’m still under the last reprimand that, if you read Tammy’s book, you know about.

Just suffice to say, my boss saw more of me than what I was planning on when the ladies at the assisted living center and I spent the entire night in the kitchen using plastic wrap and aluminum foil to make ourselves prom dresses.

Hey, sometimes you just have to make your own fun.

Doug doesn’t understand that.

That’s what we’re doing right now.

“We” as in me and Gertrude, who has salt-and-pepper hair that is naturally curly and cut close to her head. She’s in her late 70s, and she’s a hoot.

Although the leader, always the leader, of our little group is Agnes, who has snow-white hair and looks like the grandmother in “Little Red Riding Hood.”

At least, the way I always picture the granny to look. Kind of old, very sweet—the cookie baking kind of grandmother—except Agnes has a lot of tricks up her sleeve.

She’s 80, and she’s celebrating her eighth decade on this earth by getting me into as much trouble as she possibly can.

Let me rephrase.

She doesn’t want to die without completing all the items on her bucket list.

If you keep reading, you’ll hear Agnes talk a lot about her bucket list. It’s my job as the activities director at the Cherry Tree Senior Living Center in Good Grief, Idaho, where the ladies are all residents, to provide entertainment and activities.

Agnes is my right-hand lady.

Sometimes, I think she would do my job better than I do. But she’s too busy coming up with crazy ideas and plans to actually have a job.

She says now that she’s retired—she just retired a couple of years ago in her late seventies, from her job as administrative assistant at a potato-packing factory—that she’s busier now than she was when she was working.

I think Agnes is the kind of lady who was always very busy, but hey, I don’t argue with her.

Now, I suppose before I tell you why I’m in so much trouble—and why I’m sneaking around with a flower shovel in one hand and a bag of dirt in the other, creeping across the yard of Cherry Tree, right behind Agnes—I should tell you about the third member of our group this evening.

Her name is Harriet, and you won’t be able to miss her. Her hair is dyed a bright orange and has been for the last thirty years.

Before that, I think it might have been black, but when it turned gray, she decided she’d always wanted to be a redhead.

Once she chose the color, it turned out bright orange. She decided it gave her verve and made her flashy, and she didn’t want to change it.

So, she’s the easiest to pick out. Although Agnes’s snow-white hair sticks out too.

Regardless, despite being a redhead, or orange head, or whatever you call someone with orange hair, Harriet is the most laid back of the three and most likely to be in the back.

Unless I am.

Most of the time, I’m okay going along with everything we do, but this is kind of pushing things, and I’m already skating on thin ice, as Doug would say. He has a tendency to use old clichés like that, that we might have grown up with back in the olden days of the seventies and eighties.

I assume, although I could be wrong, that he’s older than I am, which is pushing forty.

Only when men age, they look good.

His hair is salt-and-pepper, but it makes him look distinguished. My hair, which is still more pepper than salt but is getting to the half-and-half stage, doesn’t make me look distinguished. It just makes me look old.

I don’t know what Doug looked like when he was younger, but he’s getting a little thick around the waist, which, again, doesn’t look bad on a man his age.

Me? The thickness I’ve gained around the waist stands out like flashing neon lights on a nativity scene at Christmastime.

It looks terrible, in other words.

All right, so you already know I have a shovel and a bag of dirt. And I’m crouched down, following Agnes, who also has a shovel and a bag of dirt.

We’re dumping the dirt at the far end of Cherry Tree.

I’m not too worried about people inside finding out what we’re doing.

First of all, there are only ten total residents, three of whom are outside with me. Of the ones who are still inside, most of them are not going to care. None of them are going to be surprised to see that Agnes and Gertrude and Harriet and I are up to some kind of craziness again.

The facility was built to hold fifty people.

If we don’t figure something out to get more people, and fast, it’s going to be closing.

Gertrude, Agnes, and Harriet don’t want to lose their home. All of them have lived their entire lives in Idaho, and they want to stay here.

I don’t want to lose my job. Not because of getting fired, and not because of Cherry Tree closing. The first being more likely than the second today, for me anyway.

But what else do I have to do on a Saturday morning, very, very early, than to work on digging a hole to China?

This is on Agnes’s bucket list. (I told you, you were going to be hearing about that.)

All of us know that we are not actually going to get to China, but we’re hoping to get a cave big enough at least to hide in.

That’s what the ladies said anyway. And I’m all for it.

Well, all for it except I know Doug is going to be extremely upset when he finds out that we’ve been digging a cave in the beautifully manicured lawn of Cherry Tree.

Now, just so you know that I’m not completely crazy or rude, we’re not doing it right in the middle, even though that was the softest spot and we thought it would be the easiest.

We aren’t trying to make trouble on purpose, just trying to have some fun, so we decided to dig our hole off to the side where it would be least noticeable.

But we have to put the dirt somewhere, and on the other side the nursing center in the back, there is already some dirt left over from when it was built five years ago. That seemed like the best place—read: “least noticeable” place.

Another truckload of dirt on that pile won’t really make a difference, right?

Agnes and I are on a team, and we carry dirt while Gertrude and Harriet dig, putting it in their burlap bags that Harriet, who’s late husband also worked at the potato-packing facility south of town, had from way back. Back when they used to use burlap bags.

I’m not sure how she managed to get them into Cherry Tree under the watchful eyes of her children, who helped her move in and made sure that she didn’t take more than what would fit in her small, allotted rooms.

But Harriet is one of those people who just seems to have everything you could ever need somewhere on her person or in her possession.

She’s actually a handy person to have around when you’re dealing with someone like Agnes, who never runs out of crazy, seemingly impossible ideas, which often have you needing those odd bits of paraphernalia, like duct tape, or yarn, which is what we used to sew our coverings together.

Our coverings didn’t impress Doug much either. Not really because we took the leaves off the trees in the front yard of Cherry Tree, but more because we wore the coverings to Walmart.

Considering that Agnes, Harriet, and Gertrude are adults in their seventies and eighties and are no strangers to burning their undergarments, they had a small bonfire in the front yard of the assisted living center, which my mom was called to put out.

If you’ve read my sisters’ books, you know that my mom is the fire chief in Good Grief.

Of course, my mom being who she is, she didn’t put the fire out but joined in the party, tossing her own undergarments on the blaze.

Since the fire company is all volunteer, she couldn’t be fired.

Actually, it gave the town something to talk about for a good long while. Winter in Idaho can be long and hard, and people love having us give them something to talk about.

Everyone in town except for Doug.

But even he knows that we need to do something in order to attract new residents to Cherry Tree, or the place is going to close.

Agnes has the idea, and I have to agree, that if we’re known as the hippest living center in the Northwest, people will want to retire here in droves.

I mean, come on, what does Florida weather have on a place where people make coverings, burn their undergarments, and go on whitewater rafting trips?

Okay, so we haven’t actually gone on a whitewater rafting trip, but that’s the plan.

Once I sweet-talk Doug into it.

That is Gertrude’s idea. She feels like I need to put more honey in my interactions with Doug.

She always says, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

I, personally, don’t have any idea why anyone would want to catch flies.

But Gertrude just smiles at me like she knows something I don’t and suggests that I be nicer.

Then, of course, Agnes comes up with a crazy idea like this that I know is going to cost me my job and is certainly not going to get me any brownie points with Doug.

I think the only reason I haven’t been fired already is because he hasn’t been able to find anyone to take my place.

Good Grief isn’t that big.

While the ladies are fun and I enjoy my job, they’re known as somewhat of troublemakers around town.

We dump our bags of dirt on the pile, and Agnes straightens, a hand on her back.

I imitate her position and wonder how someone who’s eighty can have so much energy.

“Hurt?” I ask her about her back, knowing that it must. Mine does.

“It does, but it’s hurt for the last forty-five years, so this is nothing new.”

Agnes looks young for eighty, but she still has those fine wrinkles around her eyes, and her face wreathes in a smile. The smile wrinkles are deep and pronounced because Agnes spends the majority of every day with that look on her face.

I wish I were half as happy.

When a person is hanging around Agnes, it’s kind of hard not to be happy.

“That’s a beautiful sunrise,” she says, looking off to the east where the orange glow is melting with pink and blue above the mountains.

“It is indeed.”

I’ve had plenty of jobs over the years, so I’m not entirely worried about this one, but I do like to be responsible. “That light is going to make it more likely that Doug will see us if he happens to drive by. Which I think he does every Saturday just to check up on us.”

Agnes nods, a little bit of a twinkle in her eye. “You’re right. We need to work faster.” She hunches down. “And walk lower. Come on. Our hole is almost big enough for one of us to fit into it. If we work hard, all four of us might be able to get into it by this evening.”

“Hey. I don’t have to be in it. This is for you ladies,” I say, although there is a part of me that thinks it would be fun to hang out with the ladies in their cave.

I know. This is not the type of thing that ladies typically enjoy doing, especially senior ladies. But Agnes, Gertrude, and Harriet are not your typical ladies.

Agnes shoots me a look that says I’m crazy. But she answers me anyway. “We are most definitely making it a four-person cave, even if we don’t make it to China. I think, if we can fit four people into it, I can cross the China tunnel off my bucket list. My bucket list is so long I’m not sure I’m ever going to get to the end of it. I’ll have to make some alterations, I believe.”

I’ve never actually seen her bucket list, but she’s not kidding about it. She has a lot of things on it.

We hurry back, scrunched over, with me wondering how in the world this lady does it.

I guess she grew up in a generation that wasn’t afraid to work, and she’s done it all her life.

You’d think she’d be happy to retire and play bingo and knit.

You’d think wrong if you thought that. Not Agnes.

We pass Gertrude and Harriet, scrunched over and carrying their bags of dirt, and Agnes hisses in a whisper, “Get down further! If Mr. Ridley drives by, he’s going to be able to see us now that it’s light. If I’m going to cross this off my bucket list, we’ve got to hurry. And we can’t let him see us.”

Harriet smiles, although it’s kind of lost in the glow of her hair, which is reflecting the sunrise and is rather blinding. At least I don’t have to worry about losing her. Not that I would. Agnes would never allow anyone on her team to get lost.

I think that’s how she sees us at Cherry Tree. We’re people on her team, everyone helping to knock off the items on her bucket list.

“Wait until you see how much dirt we got,” Gertrude says, slightly less hissy and not quite as hunched over as we are.

That might cause Agnes some consternation, but it will not cause her to love them any less.

Agnes is fiercely loyal, and she and Gertrude and Harriet have been friends all their lives.

I’m a recent addition to their circle, but they’ve embraced me wholeheartedly.

Probably because I don’t shut down their crazy schemes the moment they come up with them.

Regardless, if we’re going to get this done, Agnes is right. We need to work quickly, and we can’t let Doug see us.