Home > Home Sweet Holiday

Home Sweet Holiday
Author: Michele Paige Holmes

CHAPTER ONE

September

 

“Have you ever considered just getting a cat—or three?” Kerry frowned as she turned a slow circle, taking in the greenery in Anna’s apartment. “Cat ladies are legit. People get that. But plant ladies . . .” Her voice trailed off as she stared up at a seven-foot Norfolk Island Pine. “This is insane. You don’t need someone to look after your plants; you need a horticulturist.”

“Plants don’t require litter boxes, and they don’t shed.” Anna handed Kerry a clipboard with several papers on it. “Are you up for this or not?”

Kerry took the clipboard and began leafing through the pages. “How long did you say you’ll be gone?”

“Twelve. Weeks.” Just saying that out loud required Anna to take several deep breaths. Twelve weeks in Holiday. She had no idea how she was going to manage twelve hours, let alone three full months. But what choice did she have? “My parents have to go to the Mayo Clinic for my dad’s treatments. They need someone to take care of their store while they’re away.”

Kerry folded her arms. “And your siblings can’t help out with that because . . .”

“My brother just got a promotion at work, and his wife gave birth to their second child last month. My sister has three children and can’t be gone from them that long, and she can’t just pull them out of school to live in Holiday.”

“You don’t have a job too?” Kerry asked. “You don’t have a life?”

Her questions rubbed an already sore spot, rehashing the same arguments Anna had given her mother, albeit half-heartedly. Of course she would come home to help. Hearing that her dad was seriously ill and the reminder that she’d seen him only twice in the last four years, both times when he and Mom had flown out to see her in Seattle, had felt like an ice-cold bucket of guilt and regret dumped over her head. She shouldn’t have stayed away so long. She should have visited her parents, at least, if not her whole family and everyone else she loved.

Not everyone. Not Carson. Not Bree. Two of the people she’d loved the most. And the two who’d hurt her so much she’d fled Holiday and never returned.

“I don’t know.” Kerry was still flipping through the plant-care log. “Twelve weeks is a long time. A lot could happen. What if I kill them all?”

Twelve weeks is a very long time. At least Anna wasn’t worried about killing anyone now. For a while, when she’d hit the anger stage of grief during that first year, she’d fantasized about terrible things happening to Carson and Bree. But that was long past. And she’d known she could not really do anything hurtful herself. No matter how bad their betrayal had been.

“You won’t kill them.” Too many of them, anyway. Anna fully expected there would be casualties in her absence, but that couldn’t be helped. “Fifty dollars a week is six hundred bucks,” Anna reminded Kerry. “Well on your way to that Alaskan cruise you’ve been dreaming of.”

“What’s this one?” Kerry asked, fingering a glossy leaf of one of Anna’s favorites.

“A miniature magnolia tree. They have them all over the South—large ones, that is.”

“Ah.” Kerry nodded. “You didn’t say, ‘Can you take care of my trees while I’m gone?’ You asked if I could water your plants.”

Anna rolled her eyes. “If you can’t do it, I’ll ask Beth two doors down. She could probably use the extra money with that car repair she had last month.”

“All right. I’ll do it.” Kerry sighed dramatically, then tucked her fuchsia hair behind her ears and rolled up her sleeves. “Let’s get to it. You’d better explain each one. Oh, and I think I’ll film while you do.” She pulled her phone from her back pocket.

“Great. We’ll start on the first page, with the ones that need to be watered the most frequently. These roses . . .”

It took forty minutes for Anna to go over instructions for all the living things in her apartment. By the time she’d finished, she was starting to see Kerry’s point. “I guess this is a little much. I’m so used to it, and I got them all a little at a time, so I didn’t realize.”

“A little weird is more like it.” Kerry snorted.

“Says the woman with purple dreadlocks and more holes in her jeans than—”

“Than what?” Kerry frowned, looking down at her threadbare pants. “These are breathable. I like them.”

“And I like my plants,” Anna countered. “They help me breathe.”

“It does smell pretty good in here,” Kerry admitted. “A bit like a florist shop.”

Anna smiled. “It smells like home.”

* * *

Home. Or close enough—closer than she’d been or wanted to be for a long time. Anna peered out the window as the plane descended over the waterways and buildings of downtown Mobile. Four years ago she’d been on the brink of accepting a job offer here. This might have been home. At the time it was appealing, though not quite as appealing as the idea of living on the West Coast had been. She’d been wavering between the two options, undecided and unwilling to decide until after her wedding.

Our wedding. That had become theirs instead—Carson’s and Bree’s. Her two former best friends.

It had turned out that California wasn’t far enough away. Anna had left Holiday the same day Carson jilted her at the altar. With hardly a stop for food or sleep, she’d crossed the country to the opposite coast and had kept right on driving, past LA and San Francisco, north through the Redwoods and into Oregon. She’d driven through Portland and on to Seattle, stopping there only because she realized she was almost out of highway in the United States and had left her passport at home—in the suitcase she’d packed for her Caribbean honeymoon.

Seattle was home now. She had a good job, a healthy bank account, and an apartment overflowing with greenery to show for her past four years. What more could a person want?

Anna gripped the arm rests, bracing for impact as the plane touched down. No going back now. Her fantasy about being rerouted due to weather, followed by all Alabama airports being closed for weeks, hadn’t come to pass. Her parents would already be here, waiting.

They’d probably made a day of it, visiting some of their suppliers before coming to pick her up. Another fifteen minutes and she’d be in the Excursion with them, sandwiched between crates full of pickled beets and jars of preserves, heading south to Holiday and a past she didn’t feel ready to face.

All around her the other passengers began gathering belongings and preparing to depart as the plane taxied toward the terminal. Anna remained immobile, staring out the window at scenery not vastly different from what she was used to. Was that why she had chosen to search out a job in Seattle instead of taking the one already offered in Monterey? Had she, subconsciously, searched for a place like home?

She didn’t want to think so, didn’t want to think that she’d missed anything about Alabama—except her family. I didn’t try to find a replacement for home, she told herself firmly. Seattle was a big city; Holiday was about as small as towns came. In Holiday everyone knew everyone else and their business—including the reason her former fiancé and best friend had eloped and left her alone, in her wedding dress in front of a church full of people. In Seattle, Anna made sure no one knew her business. No one knew her thoughts, her mind, her heart. No one knew her at all.

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