And the countdown continues! Just 5 more sleeps ’til SPOONS, River’s Sigh B & B, Book 3 hits digital shelves everywhere (paper books to follow soon after). To celebrate and introduce you to Cade and Noelle a bit ahead of time, please enjoy chapters one and two!
SPOONS by Ev Bishop
~ Chapter 1 ~
Noelle’s girdle chewed at the flesh under her ribcage and the chub at the top of her thighs. And speaking of thighs, an itchy friction rash was forming. How on earth could her legs chafe when she wasn’t even walking? Good times. Sweat trickled under the unintentional cleavage bursting forth from the cotton V-neck she’d thought would travel well—thought wrong. Over the barren miles of highway, it became a stretched out, shapeless mess, like the rest of her come to think of it.
Eva and Emily, thank God, had finally stopped their incessant bickering and the manic buzz of some cartoon was the only sound blaring from the middle seat in the minivan. Normally she, and they, insisted they sit on separate bench seats, but the van was packed so full this trip, they had to share. The horror, the outrage!
When she was a kid, she and Melissa—Oh, God, sometimes the small, silly memories hurt the most, like her heart was being peeled—and their two brothers had traveled smashed into a big station wagon, sweaty legs sticking to the vinyl seats, miscellaneous elbows jabbing tender bits, not a gaming device or portable DVD player in sight. And yes, she used to walk to school up hill both ways, too. Her inner attempt at humor didn’t make her smile.
Noelle remembered those cramped road trips as happy times—or she did now, by comparison. Full of takeout chicken, raucous sing-alongs, and the glory of arriving at their destination, welcomed by their cousins and grandparents like they were long-lost, beloved relations, instead of people who lived just hours away and visited every holiday and random weekends too. So the beloved bit was true then, wasn’t it?
The white noise of the tires and the hazy blur of passing scenery didn’t have its usual soporific effect. Everything about this trip was the opposite of her family’s holidays those long years past. It was just her, the girls, and Cade. Except when punctuated by fighting—the kids’ or her and Cade’s—it was quiet. Dull, if she was generous. Joyless, if she was blunt.
And this second leg of their twenty-hour drive wouldn’t end with family fun to look forward to. Family would be there, yes, but at best, Cade and his parents and brothers tolerated each other. At worst, well . . . they were strangers, weren’t they? Cade had left after the last big blow out and said he was never going back. So why were they going to Greenridge? She’d asked, of course, but he’d just shrugged and muttered that a thirty-fifth wedding anniversary was nothing to sneeze at.
Noelle wasn’t so sure. Once she would’ve wholeheartedly agreed, but now she didn’t know if thirty-five years of marriage should be honored if it was the loveless, soulless union her in-laws were mired in.
She sighed heavily. Man, it was hot. So hot. They should’ve stayed one more night at the hotel and got the air conditioning fixed. She glanced at Cade. His knuckles were white on the steering wheel, and his well-muscled arms were taut. He always reminded her of a Viking or something, bear-like in size, with tawny hair, skin that turned honey brown with even the slightest sun, and glacier blue eyes. She hated that after all they’d been through, she still thought he was the most attractive man she’d ever met. Did he even look at her anymore? Did he see her at all?
She sighed again, but Cade didn’t so much as blink to register she’d made a sound. Nothing new there, either. When had he stopped asking if she was okay? Ah, well, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like she was beating down any doors to find out what latest thing was stressing him out. And in some ways she didn’t blame him for kyboshing the extra hotel night to fix the air conditioning. It wasn’t the expense, not at all. Of all the marital stresses they could lay claim to, money issues weren’t one of them. It was sharing confined space that was tough. The hotel only had one room left, and even though they’d slept in separate beds, Emily tucked in with her, Eva on the couch, the room was awkwardly intimate.
She shoved the last thought away and wondered, not for the first time, if their financial ease wasn’t almost a curse itself. She had appreciated and fueled Cade’s determination to get ahead, but what if that hadn’t been their primary focus? Scraping by financially took a toll on a relationship, yes, but maybe the reverse was true, too. Maybe too much affluence had its own price. Maybe if they hadn’t been so focused on money and accumulating things, they would’ve risen to the challenge of being each others’ source of pleasure, comfort, entertainment, etc. and avoided this complete disconnect. No, she was just making excuses. For them both. As usual.
She fidgeted. Cade still ignored her, his eyes intent on the road. How was it, she wondered, with him always focused on where they were going, that they’d gotten so far off track?
She turned her head, willing away tears. Trees, trees, and more trees whipped past. How was she going to make it through the next month? And why did Cade insist on them staying for so long? If his reasoning behind the trip was unsatisfactory, his explanation for the trip’s duration was bizarre—especially timing wise. Who announces a big family vacation right after his wife asks for a separation?
“I just don’t get it,” she’d said for the umpteenth time before they left. “Pretending for a moment I understand your burning desire to have your first visit home in years coincide with some big dramatic anniversary shindig, why on earth does it have to be for so long? It’s way too much, and the kids will miss the first weeks of school.”
His response had been weary and resigned, like he considered talking to her some almost-too-heavy cross to bear. “I just want one more vacation with the girls while they’re young. Is that so much to ask? I want them to visit their grandparents, to get to know them a bit, before everything changes.”
Noelle’s eyelids were heavy and she was finally, mercifully, about to nod off when a bouncing motion in the backseat jolted her back to consciousness.
Emily was twisting in her seatbelt, peering at something out the window, and vibrating with excitement in that way only small children can, going from dead asleep to high alert in a heartbeat. “That was the sign. That was the sign!”
Her high-pitched glee sent a fire bolt of pain into Noelle’s brain.
“We’re almost there, Mom. Right, Dad?” Emily yelled at top volume.
“Inside voice, please,” Noelle said, about to add that yes, it was exciting, but Cade interrupted.
“She’s just happy. She’s not hollering to bug you.”
“Yeah, Mom. I’m just happy,” Emily parroted, and Noelle wanted to leap out of the vehicle. Cade was still talking to the girls.
“Just wait ‘til you see this place, guys. You’ll love it.” Cade’s voice couldn’t have been warmer—and it hammered yet another nail into the coffin of their marriage. Noelle knew it made her a fundamentally bad person, or at least the kind of person she didn’t want to be, but she was jealous of her daughters. No matter how things deteriorated between her and Cade or how distant he was from her, he was always there for his kids with every fiber of his being. It was one of his good qualities too, of course, but sometime in the past year or two she’d been left out and hadn’t been able to get back into the circle.
She wouldn’t change his love and support for the girls one iota—that wasn’t really necessary to say, was it? She hoped it wasn’t. Maybe it was something she needed to repeat like a mantra. You do not begrudge your children their father’s love. You do not begrudge your children . . . and she didn’t. She really didn’t. But she also didn’t like how he so easily and so consistently undercut her authority. Sometimes they’d even look at him after she’d issued a direction, as if to confirm that yes, they had to listen to her. And all too often he did what he’d just done now: joke it away or dismiss it, like he was somehow defending them from her when whatever she was asking for was perfectly reasonable.
If you’d told her in their early years together that one day she’d curse—or envy, at least—the very thing she loved most about him, she would’ve called you an idiot or worse.
She struggled upright, grabbed a container of citrus-scented wet wipes from the floor, and waved them over the backseat.
“Wake your sister,” she said as Emily took the wipes. “And clean your face and hands and straighten your hair. We don’t want Nan and Pops to think we’re a bunch of ragamuffins.”
Was it her imagination or did Cade grip the steering wheel even tighter? What did he want from her? She was so sick and tired of always having to guess what was crawling through his head.
In the backseat, Eva scrubbed her eyes blurrily.
“Don’t!” she shrieked as Emily jabbed her in the ribs.
“Mom told me to wake you up.”
“I’m already awake, stupid.”
“Don’t call me stupid. You’re stupid.”
And with that oh-so-witty comeback, the fight was on. Doing her best to tune out the rising volume of sisterly love—they were completely impervious to her pleas for them to knock it off—Noelle flipped the van’s sun visor down and surveyed the damage in its small mirror. She attempted to smooth her heavy auburn hair and to blot away the feverish heat in her cheeks.
The girls’ bickering increased. Great, just great. Even if, by some miracle, the family didn’t think they rolled in looking like a complete mess, it would be harder to hide they were a grouchy, broken disaster.
Why did the best things in life always turn out to be fiction? True love. Happily ever after. Teleportation machines. What Noelle wouldn’t give for a Beam me up, Scottie moment. What.
~ Chapter 2 ~
The oval sign loomed huge and unavoidable to their right. “You won’t be able to miss it,” his younger brother Callum had promised and as usual he was right, Cade thought gloomily. Still, the sign was attractive. To him anyway. He wondered if it was Noelle’s taste at all and a familiar leaden weight pushed in on him, making it hard to breath. But how long had it been since he’d had any clue what his wife wanted, what she liked, what would make her happy? Years maybe. Shouldn’t he be used to it by now?
As he turned into the long driveway, he slowed the minivan and studied the sign more closely. It was made from carved cedar and featured two mountains topped with glinting tin that looked like snow-topped peaks. A yellow sun rose up behind them. Block letters announced River’s Sigh B & B along the bottom. Somehow the effect was both artsy and businesslike. Cade wondered if his mother was behind its creation.
He shot a glance at the girls in the rearview mirror. They were squabbling as usual, but had listened to their mom and straightened their clothing. Eva was pulling her ebony curls—hair that always reminded him of his brother Callum’s—into a ponytail. Emily was scrubbing at the orange Slurpee stain that ringed her mouth. When had Noelle gotten so concerned about appearances anyway? He missed the woman who used to decorate with wooden plaques that said things like, “If you’ve come to see me, welcome. If you’ve come to see my house, make an appointment!” and who let the kids dress themselves no matter how outlandishly they did it. But she was gone because of him, so what could he really say?
He knew he overcompensated with the kids, was too soft which forced Noelle to be too hard. She was always the bad cop. He wasn’t even a cop. But after the battlefield that was his childhood with his dad, all he wanted was to keep the peace. He didn’t share every negative thought he had. He didn’t get enmeshed in long, pointless conversations about their problems. But instead of harmony in their home, it seemed to create the opposite.
And now they were on “holidays” with her suggestion that they separate, made just days earlier, burning a hole in his gut. She’d called it a “trial,” but he knew full well, even if she hadn’t voiced it out loud, what she really wanted was a divorce. She was just biding her time. He wanted to punch a hole in a fucking wall thinking about it—but, of course, he didn’t. He wasn’t like his dad. Not in all ways, at least. He could control himself. And he would. Why couldn’t Noelle see that? He was always working so hard to keep things together. Always.
“Wow,” Noelle said suddenly. “It really is gorgeous here, isn’t it?” The awe in her voice was cute and made her sound, for the briefest second, like the woman who used to love him.
The whole van went silent, as they each took in the ancient forest surrounding them. Massive cedars reached for the sky, some of them so big that Cade didn’t think the four of them, holding hands, could make a loop around their trunks. Other assorted conifers also crowded in, and random names came back to him. Hemlock. Spruce. Jack Pine. Fir. He was shocked by the variety of needle shapes, colors, and textures. How had he forgotten what a forest looked like? He’d grown up in Greenridge, for crying out loud. A leafy plant with jewel red berries drew his eye to the forest floor and its velvet carpet of gleaming moss.
Cade wasn’t an outdoors guy, not really—he spent his time obsessing about room dimensions and floor space—but he found himself wanting to get out of the van and rub some of the bark or touch the moss. He didn’t though. Instead he sped up. And then they were there, pulling up in front of a cedar shake home with a huge porch and old-fashioned multi-paned windows.
“Oh, look at the door!” Emily squealed. “I love it!”
Eva agreed with her sister for once, and they chattered on, pointing out log cabins visible here and there through the trees. Cade studied the bright blue door and wondered at it. Why paint it such a glaring, impractical shade? A neutral color would be better, less out there, more appealing to the masses—and Callum was running a business, after all. Maybe it was a gender thing. Maybe the color was the mysterious new wife’s idea—this Jo woman his old man couldn’t stand. Probably.
The door opened and Callum strode out, one hand raised in greeting, the other linked with the hand of a short woman with wild curls and a welcoming smile.
Cade almost restarted the van and threw it into reverse. This wasn’t the place for them. It was too cutesy. Too overtly cozy and cheerful. It would only highlight everything he and Noelle no longer had, everything they weren’t. It wouldn’t help her see they’d once had something good, something they should try to salvage.
It was too late though. Eva had pushed the release button on the side door, and she and Emily were piling out.
What had he done?
He patted his chest pocket and felt the reassuring outline of the letter folded there. At least he had a back up plan if this one failed, right?
Noelle climbed out of the van just as slowly as he did. Her forehead creased and her wide brown eyes narrowed. The weight on his chest increased. A huge desire to be anywhere but here might be the only thing he and his wife had in common anymore.