February 13, 2024
Standalone Women's Fiction
This summer, three friends find the courage to step into the next chapter of their lives...
The rules of summer book club are simple:
- No sad books
- No pressure
- Yessssss, wine!
Besties Laurel and Paris are excited to welcome Cassie to the group. This year, the book club is all about fill-your-heart reads, an escape from the chaos of the everyday—running a business, raising a family, juggling a hundred to-dos. Even the dog is demanding (but the bestest boy).
Since Laurel’s divorce, she feels like the Worst Mom Ever. Her skepticism of men may have scarred her vulnerable daughters. Cassie has an unfortunate habit of falling for ridiculous man-boys who dump her once she fixes them. Paris knows good men exist. She’s still reeling after chasing off the only one brave enough—and foolish enough—to marry her.
Inspired by the heroines who risk everything for fulfillment, Laurel, Paris and Cassie begin to take chances—big chances—in life, in love. Facing an unwritten chapter can be terrifying. But it can be exhilarating, too, if only they can find the courage to change.
“How is it I’m thirty-seven years old and I still get a knot in my stomach when I get a note from the teacher, asking me to stop by?” Laurel Richards held out her cell phone. “Or in this case, a text.”
Paris grinned. “We never outgrow our fear of authority. We should, but we don’t. Which teacher?”
“Jagger’s homeroom teacher. I don’t get it. Neither of the girls is a troublemaker and it’s only three weeks until school’s out.”
She tried to ignore the unsettled feeling in her stomach. As far as she knew, her twelve-year-old was happy, had plenty of friends and was doing great in school. She was wrapping up seventh grade, had mostly As and Bs and, perhaps until today, had never been in trouble at school.
“Do you think it’s really bad?” she asked.
Paris, a pretty brunette with hazel eyes and an easy smile, rolled her eyes. “I love you, but if I had psychic powers I would use them to win the lottery. Jagger’s a sweetie. Maybe the teacher wants to give her an award. Don’t assume the worst.”
Laurel pressed a hand to her belly, wishing the yucky feeling would go away. “You’re right.” She quickly texted confirming she would be at the school at 2:20. “Maybe it isn’t bad at all. Maybe it’s great. Maybe they’ve decided Jagger is gifted and should start college in the fall. Not that I’ve saved enough to pay for it. I was supposed to have five more years. Oh, wait. If she’s that smart, she’ll get a scholarship. Problem solved!”
Paris’s humor returned. “I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be about her skipping the next five years of school.”
They both laughed before returning their attention to the crate of strawberries Paris had set on her battered desk. Each berry was a beautiful deep red and large, with that perfect shape. Next to the crate was an open box with scraps of fabric, glue, toothpicks, doll clothes and random pieces of doll furniture.
“I have the stage from when I did Romeo and Juliet with zucchini last summer,” Paris said, digging through the box. “I think I saved the costumes.”
“Zucchini costumes aren’t going to fit strawberries.” Laurel paused. “Weirdest thing I’ve ever said.”
“Last time we brainstormed about my fruit of the month, we decided on dancing asparagus. That was pretty weird.”
The Los Lobos Farm Stand, a fruit and vegetable stand by the highway in Los Lobos, had been in Paris’s family for three generations and was popular with both locals and tourists. Laurel was helping her friend expand her presence on social media. Part of that was a featured fruit—or vegetable—of the month. Sometimes the item chosen was simply photographed but other times Paris went all out with props, costumes and staging. The first strawberries of the season seemed event worthy.
“So we’re agreed,” Paris said, motioning to the crate. “A strawberry concert.”
Laurel nodded as she opened her backpack. She pulled out a sheet of paper printed with six tiny stand microphones. They would cut those out and glue them onto toothpicks. The stage Paris already had would be the backdrop. They would dress the strawberries, set them in front of the microphones and take pictures for all the fruit stand’s accounts. Once that was done, the stage would be placed on a shelf by the fresh flowers. Customers liked seeing it in person and getting their pictures taken beside it.
Two hours later six strawberries had been dressed in bits of lace or covered in glitter. Three sported pipe cleaner headpieces. The little microphones were in place and they’d used miniature cactus and wisps of decorative grasses to fill in the back of the stage.
“‘Strawberry Fields Forever,’” Paris said with a laugh.
“It’s going to be a hit.”
Laurel collected the halo lights she’d brought from her barn and set them up around the stage, then took about thirty pictures. They saved the dozen or so best ones.
“I’ll write the backstory tonight,” Paris said. “And post everything tomorrow. What are you going to do between now and 2:20?”
“Panic. Tell myself not to panic. I might also worry a little.”
Paris hugged her. “Jagger isn’t in trouble. It’s not in her nature. Have a little faith.”
“I have a text from her teacher. Panic is required. It’s in the parent handbook.”
“Then you need an updated version.” Paris walked her to her minivan. “Let me know what happens.”
“You’ll be the first. We’re still on for book club?”
“You know it. I’m reading and loving Mackenzie’s Mountain.”
“Me, too.” Laurel grinned. “I mean come on. Wolf Mackenzie? I have no interest in dating but there’s something about that man.”
Paris sighed. “He’s sexy and powerful. I just know he has a really low, velvet-on-chocolate voice. The man makes me swoon and I think we can all agree I’m not the swooning type.”
“It’s the power of a good writer with a great story. Talk soon.”
Laurel left and drove back to her place, bypassing the big Victorian where she lived with her daughters and heading for her oversize barn. The massive structure was solid enough with a good roof. It needed paint and possibly new windows, but her priorities this past year had been getting more shelving and upgrading her shipping area, while also refurbishing the mother-in-law apartment in her house so she could rent it out and get some income from the unused space. Windows and paint were on next year’s list.
She spent the time until she had to leave for the middle school taking pictures of items she was ready to list on eBay, including several pieces of Carnival glass she’d bought at an estate sale in Riverside. Three photo boxes sat on a counter on the west side of her barn. Two were large enough to hold a decent-sized lamp or piece of artwork. One had a white background, the other black. Her third photo box was smaller, for things like jewelry or Glassybaby votive candle holders with the advantage of different colored backdrops.
She focused on getting the right shots, using a ruler to show the size. The largest Carnival glass platter had a small chip on the bottom and she shot it from a foot away, as well as close-up. When she posted the pictures, she would add an arrow so no one missed the chip. Her customers should be delighted by what they bought, not disappointed.
She left in plenty of time for her appointment and, after signing in at the front desk, walked into Mrs. Krysty’s empty homeroom class at exactly 2:19.
The fortysomething teacher with prematurely gray hair smiled as soon as she saw Laurel.
“You look panicked.”
“I’m having some breathing issues,” Laurel admitted lightly, shaking the other woman’s hand before sitting in the chair next to her desk. “I don’t usually get asked in for either of my girls.”
“That’s right. Jagger has a younger sister.”
“Ariana. She’s ten. She’ll be in middle school next fall.”
“We look forward to having her.” Mrs. Krysty rested her hands on the desk. “I want to start by saying that Jagger’s doing well in all her classes. I spoke to her other teachers myself and they think she’s an excellent student. She’s friendly, cooperative, bright and well-liked.”
The other woman smiled. “She seems to be a natural leader and has no trouble expressing her opinion.”
Laurel told herself to relax, that so far nothing bad was being shared—only she was pretty sure there was a giant “but” in her future.
“There have been a few odd comments,” Mrs. Krysty said slowly.
Odd comments? “About what?”
“It’s more a who.” She paused. “About men, actually.”
“Men? What does that mean?”
“Last week, in her European history class, the teacher showed how the Cold War was linked to World War II and other events of the past hundred years. Jagger said wars were started by men and if they would mind their own business, the world would be a better place.”
Mrs. Krysty offered a faint smile. “Conversation became heated and Jagger and another student got into a shouting match. Jagger told him that men have always subjugated women, that they only care about themselves and not their families, and for him to give her one example of a woman starting a war. Any war.”
“She’s not wrong,” Laurel murmured. “Women haven’t been in power until recently so they couldn’t start wars, but I’m guessing that isn’t your point.”
“No. In her social studies class they were discussing different forms of courtship. How some customs are similar to what we’re familiar with and some are not. The example was that even in modern India, many couples use matchmakers.”
Mrs. Krysty put on her reading glasses and glanced at her notes. “Jagger said she was never getting married because men can’t be trusted and always let you down. Women would be better off living together in groups and only letting in men so they can have babies, then locking them out.”
She dropped her glasses to the desk. “I understand you and Jagger’s father are recently divorced and that’s always traumatic for the children, but this seems like more than that. Jagger seems to dislike and mistrust men.”
“That can’t be true,” Laurel said automatically, as confused by what her daughter meant as by where she’d developed that attitude. “She’s never said anything to me.”
At least she didn’t think she had. It wasn’t as if they sat around discussing gender roles and whether or not men made good fathers in general. She knew Jagger was furious with her dad for leaving and that her oldest had become protective, but not to the point where she didn’t like men.
“What about the male role models in her life?” Mrs. Krysty asked. “How is she getting along with them?”
“Male role models?”
“Yes. An uncle, or grandfather. A family friend. Perhaps someone you’re seeing.”
“You mean am I dating? God, no. Not only does love turn women into idiots, the last thing I need in my life is some man screwing up everything that I’ve…” Her voice trailed off as horror swept through her.